Friday, 31 March 2017

Trump said he'd stop dragging us into war. That's yet another fat lie

President Trump has escalated US intervention in Syria. American strikes there now kill or injure more civilians than Russian strikes, says one report

‘Donald Trump loudly criticized President Obama’s air campaign against Islamic State as ‘too gentle’. Photograph: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump told a group of senators this week that the US military was “doing very well” in Iraq. “The results are very, very good,” Trump said. The families of the hundreds of innocents who have been killed in US airstrikes since Trump became president might disagree.
Remember when presidential candidate Donald Trump blasted former president George Bush for dragging the United States into the Iraq war, calling the invasion a “big, fat mistake”? How, then, does that square with now President Donald Trump stepping up US military involvement in Iraq, as well as in Syria and Yemen, and quite literally blasting hundreds of innocent civilians in the process?
As part of the campaign to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State, on 17 March, the US-led coalition launched airstrikes in a residential neighborhood that killed up to 200 people. The attacks demolished several houses filled with civilians who had been told by the Iraqi government not to flee.
These airstrikes rank among the highest civilian death tolls in a US air mission since the 2003 Iraq invasion. Responding to an international outcry at this enormous loss of innocent lives, Lt Gen Stephen Townsend, the top US commander for Iraq and Syria, declared: “If we did it, and I’d say there’s at least a fair chance that we did, it was an unintentional accident of war.”
Donald Trump loudly criticized President Obama’s air campaign against Islamic State as “too gentle” and called for a reassessment of battlefield rules designed to protect civilians. The US military insists that the rules of engagement have not changed, but Iraqi officers have been quoted in the New York Times as saying that there has been a noticeable relaxing of the coalition’s rules of engagement since President Trump took office.
President Trump has also escalated US intervention in Syria. In March, he authorized the deployment of 400 more troops to fight the Islamic State in Syria, and has upped the number of US airstrikes there.
According to the UK-based organization Airwars, for the first time since Russia intervened in Syria’s civil war in 2015, US strikes in Syria are now responsible for more civilian casualties than Russian strikes. Among the most devastating incidents was a strike on a school sheltering displaced people outside Raqqa that killed at least 30 people, and an attack on a mosque in western Aleppo that killed dozens of civilians while they were attending prayers.
The devastating airstrikes in Iraq and Syria are sowing panic and distrust. Residents have reported that more civilian buildings such as hospitals and schools are being attacked. The US military rationalizes that Islamic State is increasingly using these kinds of buildings for military purposes, knowing that there are restrictions on bombing them under international law.
The US defense secretary, James Mattis, insists that “there is no military force in the world that is proven more sensitive to civilian casualties” and the goal of the US military has always been zero civilian casualties. But, he added that the coalition “will not abandon our commitment to our Iraqi partners because of Isis’s inhumane tactics terrorizing civilians, using human shields, and fighting from protected sites such as schools, hospitals, religious sites and civilian neighborhoods.”
Human rights groups, however, say that US-led forces have failed to take adequate precautions to prevent civilian deaths, which is a gross violation of international humanitarian law. While Amnesty International condemns Isis for using civilians as human shields, it also insists that the US-led coalition still has an obligation not to launch attacks in which a significant number of civilians may be killed.
Trump’s deepening military involvement in the Middle East morass also extends to Yemen, with similar tragic consequences. The attack on the Yemeni affiliate of al-Qaida on 28 January resulted in the deaths of not just one Navy Seal, but dozens of Iraqi civilians, including 10 women and children.
Trump’s team has additionally upped the US involvement in Yemen’s civil war by providing more assistance to the Saudi-led campaign against the Houthis. President Obama had put a halt on the sale of precision-guided munitions to the Saudis because of the Saudi penchant for targeting civilian sites.
The US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is calling on President Trump to lift the ban, despite Amnesty International’s warning that new US arms could be used to devastate Yemeni civilian lives and implicate the administration in war crimes.
Potentially even more devastating is Mattis’s request that the US military participate in an attack on the Yemeni city of Hodeidah, a port that has been in the hands of the Houthi rebels. This is the port through which most of the humanitarian aid flows. With 7 million Yemenis already suffering from hunger, full disruption of the Hodeidah port could well tip the country into famine.
“The destructive cycle of intervention and chaos must finally come to an end,” roared Trump in one of his “thank you” speeches just after the election. To the cheers of the crowd, he promised that the United States would be pulling back from conflicts around the world that are not in America’s vital national interest.
It looks like that promise was one big, fat lie. Trump is dragging the United States even deeper into the Middle East quagmire, with more and more civilians paying the ultimate price.
Medea Benjamin is co-founder of the peace group CODEPINK.

The curious disappearance of climate change, from Brexit to Berlin

The word climate does not appear once in the letter triggering the UK’s departure from Europe. But it’s not just in London that the issue seems to be slipping from the political stage

The European flag waves on top of German Bundestag
More than 1,100 EU environmental safeguards will need translating into UK law. Photograph: Steffi Loos/Getty Images
The word climate does not appear once in the letter triggering the UK’s departure from Europe. Despite the world experiencing a second, successive, record annual rise in carbon dioxide concentrations, on one level the omission is hardly surprising.
When the environment minister, George Eustice, revealed that the government had commissioned no research at all on the likely impact of Brexit on environmental policy it reflected how low green issues had fallen on the political agenda. Just how far is revealed by the fact that more than 1,100 EU environmental safeguards will need translating into UK law.
Running very fast to stand still on climate change in the UK will be the best we can hope for. Up to 13 various bills need to be passed just to allow Brexit to happen, squeezing almost everything else out of Parliament’s agenda. Closing the vast gap between current climate plans and meeting the new international targets agreed in Paris in December 2015 has as much chance as a snowflake in a Westminster canteen kettle.
Priorities couldn’t have been clearer when the department for Brexit was moved into the old offices of the abolished department for energy and climate change. But the UK, with its particular set of circumstances, is not the only country seeing the curious disappearance of climate change from the political agenda.
The French capital, Paris, put its name on the latest global climate agreement. It was hailed as a diplomatic triumph which France basked in. Yet, at the country’s lengthy first presidential debate between five candidates, just a single passing remark from one candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, on climate change was reported. Separately, Emmanuel Macron earlier goaded Donald Trump by offering France as a haven for disaffected scientists, including climate scientists, but that’s as high profile as it got.
It was a similar story in the recent Dutch parliamentary elections where identity politics dominated. The so-called “three ‘I’s” of immigration, integration and Islam proved the principle battle ground, with the low-lying Netherlands seemingly sanguine about the existential threat of long-term sea level rise.
Germany’s federal election is due this autumn with no sign that the story will be different there. Climate did, of course, figure obliquely in the US elections last year, but only in a negative sense, as one of a handful of issues in Donald Trump’s campaign of disenlightenment, of truths to be denied.
Political explanations for the absence of climate change may be easy to construct: the general public aren’t talking about it so neither are politicians. But the very lack of discussion is a logical consequence of the signal from our politicians that it’s not an important issue. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Preserving a habitable climate is a primary responsibility. Without that there is no arena for any other aspiration a society might have, whether in business, science the arts – anything. Elected office is a job like any other which should mean having certain, basic competencies. These are the types of thing that in other trades mean you don’t inadvertently kill people, like safety knowledge in gas fitters.
No such requirements apply in politics. If they did, they would include being able to demonstrate a grasp of the basic, scientific facts of life, such as whether or not your programme is aligned to preventing irreversible climatic upheaval.
Politics focuses on occupation of the vaunted centre ground. The very idea of centrist politics conjures notions of stability, continuity and reassurance. But no large, mainstream political party competing for ‘centrist’ space has policies remotely capable of delivering those things in a climate sense.
Unconsciously, by not grasping the basic environmental facts of life, those who think of themselves inhabiting some political centre are, in fact, extremists. They preside over systems calmly marching us over a climate change cliff. It’s as if at home you know there’s a gas leak somewhere, but rather than sort it out, you opt to nip to the bingo and fritter away your savings instead.
In the UK at least, the media agenda is heavily led by Westminster. The absence of climate change there means it is virtually invisible elsewhere. That’s a leadership failure. The great irony is that in the UK, proper climate action could help solve many other pressing issues, such as job creation, innovation, direction for UK industry, transport, energy independence, security and more.
There is no climate fairy. The problem won’t disappear by leaving it to someone else, or pretending it doesn’t exist. But bring it centre stage and you may find magical solutions to other dilemmas.

No, wealth isn’t created at the top. It is merely devoured there

Bankers, pharmaceutical giants, Google, Facebook ... a new breed of rentiers are at the very top of the pyramid and they’re sucking the rest of us dry

Wall street
‘A big part of the modern banking sector is essentially a giant tapeworm gorging on a sick body’. Photograph: Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

This piece is about one of the biggest taboos of our times. About a truth that is seldom acknowledged, and yet – on reflection – cannot be denied. The truth that we are living in an inverse welfare state.
These days, politicians from the left to the right assume that most wealth is created at the top. By the visionaries, by the job creators, and by the people who have “made it”. By the go-getters oozing talent and entrepreneurialism that are helping to advance the whole world.
Now, we may disagree about the extent to which success deserves to be rewarded – the philosophy of the left is that the strongest shoulders should bear the heaviest burden, while the right fears high taxes will blunt enterprise – but across the spectrum virtually all agree that wealth is created primarily at the top.
So entrenched is this assumption that it’s even embedded in our language. When economists talk about “productivity”, what they really mean is the size of your paycheck. And when we use terms like “welfare state”, “redistribution” and “solidarity”, we’re implicitly subscribing to the view that there are two strata: the makers and the takers, the producers and the couch potatoes, the hardworking citizens – and everybody else.
In reality, it is precisely the other way around. In reality, it is the waste collectors, the nurses, and the cleaners whose shoulders are supporting the apex of the pyramid. They are the true mechanism of social solidarity. Meanwhile, a growing share of those we hail as “successful” and “innovative” are earning their wealth at the expense of others. The people getting the biggest handouts are not down around the bottom, but at the very top. Yet their perilous dependence on others goes unseen. Almost no one talks about it. Even for politicians on the left, it’s a non-issue.
To understand why, we need to recognise that there are two ways of making money. The first is what most of us do: work. That means tapping into our knowledge and know-how (our “human capital” in economic terms) to create something new, whether that’s a takeout app, a wedding cake, a stylish updo, or a perfectly poured pint. To work is to create. Ergo, to work is to create new wealth.
But there is also a second way to make money. That’s the rentier way: by leveraging control over something that already exists, such as land, knowledge, or money, to increase your wealth. You produce nothing, yet profit nonetheless. By definition, the rentier makes his living at others’ expense, using his power to claim economic benefit.

Facebook main campus in Menlo Park, California
‘From Wall Street to Silicon Valley, zoom in and you’ll see rentiers everywhere.’ The Facebook main campus in Menlo Park, California. Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP
For those who know their history, the term “rentier” conjures associations with heirs to estates, such as the 19th century’s large class of useless rentiers, well-described by the French economist Thomas Piketty. These days, that class is making a comeback. (Ironically, however, conservative politicians adamantly defend the rentier’s right to lounge around, deeming inheritance tax to be the height of unfairness.) But there are also other ways of rent-seeking. From Wall Street to Silicon Valley, from big pharma to the lobby machines in Washington and Westminster, zoom in and you’ll see rentiers everywhere.
There is no longer a sharp dividing line between working and rentiering. In fact, the modern-day rentier often works damn hard. Countless people in the financial sector, for example, apply great ingenuity and effort to amass “rent” on their wealth. Even the big innovations of our age – businesses like Facebook and Uber – are interested mainly in expanding the rentier economy. The problem with most rich people therefore is not that they are coach potatoes. Many a CEO toils 80 hours a week to multiply his allowance. It’s hardly surprising, then, that they feel wholly entitled to their wealth.
It may take quite a mental leap to see our economy as a system that shows solidarity with the rich rather than the poor. So I’ll start with the clearest illustration of modern freeloaders at the top: bankers. Studies conducted by the International Monetary Fund and the Bank for International Settlements – not exactly leftist thinktanks – have revealed that much of the financial sector has become downright parasitic. How instead of creating wealth, they gobble it up whole.
Don’t get me wrong. Banks can help to gauge risks and get money where it is needed, both of which are vital to a well-functioning economy. But consider this: economists tell us that the optimum level of total private-sector debt is 100% of GDP. Based on this equation, if the financial sector only grows, it won’t equal more wealth, but less. So here’s the bad news. In the United Kingdom, private-sector debt is now at 157.5%. In the United States, the figure is 188.8%.
In other words, a big part of the modern banking sector is essentially a giant tapeworm gorging on a sick body. It’s not creating anything new, merely sucking others dry. Bankers have found a hundred and one ways to accomplish this. The basic mechanism, however, is always the same: offer loans like it’s going out of style, which in turn inflates the price of things like houses and shares, then earn a tidy percentage off those overblown prices (in the form of interest, commissions, brokerage fees, or what have you), and if the shit hits the fan, let Uncle Sam mop it up.
The financial innovation concocted by all the math whizzes working in modern banking (instead of at universities or companies that contribute to real prosperity) basically boils down to maximising the total amount of debt. And debt, of course, is a means of earning rent. So for those who believe that pay ought to be proportionate to the value of work, the conclusion we have to draw is that many bankers should be earning a negative salary; a fine, if you will, for destroying more wealth than they create.
Bankers are the most obvious class of closet freeloaders, but they are certainly not alone. Many a lawyer and an accountant wields a similar revenue model. Take tax evasion. Untold hardworking, academically degreed professionals make a good living at the expense of the populations of other countries. Or take the tide of privatisations over the past three decades, which have been all but a carte blanche for rentiers. One of the richest people in the world, Carlos Slim, earned his millions by obtaining a monopoly of the Mexican telecom market and then hiking prices sky high. The same goes for the Russian oligarchs who rose after the Berlin Wall fell, who bought up valuable state-owned assets for song to live off the rent.

Carlos Slim
‘One of the richest people in the world, Carlos Slim, earned his millions by obtaining a monopoly of the Mexican telecom market and then hiking prices sky high.’ Photograph: Carlos Jasso/Reuters
But here comes the rub. Most rentiers are not as easily identified as the greedy banker or manager. Many are disguised. On the face of it, they look like industrious folks, because for part of the time they really are doing something worthwhile. Precisely that makes us overlook their massive rent-seeking.
Take the pharmaceutical industry. Companies like GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer regularly unveil new drugs, yet most real medical breakthroughs are made quietly at government-subsidised labs. Private companies mostly manufacture medications that resemble what we’ve already got. They get it patented and, with a hefty dose of marketing, a legion of lawyers, and a strong lobby, can live off the profits for years. In other words, the vast revenues of the pharmaceutical industry are the result of a tiny pinch of innovation and fistfuls of rent.
Even paragons of modern progress like Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Uber and Airbnb are woven from the fabric of rentierism. Firstly, because they owe their existence to government discoveries and inventions (every sliver of fundamental technology in the iPhone, from the internet to batteries and from touchscreens to voice recognition, was invented by researchers on the government payroll). And second, because they tie themselves into knots to avoid paying taxes, retaining countless bankers, lawyers, and lobbyists for this very purpose.
Even more important, many of these companies function as “natural monopolies”, operating in a positive feedback loop of increasing growth and value as more and more people contribute free content to their platforms. Companies like this are incredibly difficult to compete with, because as they grow bigger, they only get stronger.
Aptly characterising this “platform capitalism” in an article, Tom Goodwin writes: “Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.”

An iPhone
‘Every sliver of fundamental technology in the iPhone, from the internet to batteries and from touchscreens to voice recognition, was invented by researchers on the government payroll.’ Photograph: Regis Duvignau/Reuters
So what do these companies own? A platform. A platform that lots and lots of people want to use. Why? First and foremost, because they’re cool and they’re fun – and in that respect, they do offer something of value. However, the main reason why we’re all happy to hand over free content to Facebook is because all of our friends are on Facebook too, because their friends are on Facebook … because their friends are on Facebook.
Most of Mark Zuckerberg’s income is just rent collected off the millions of picture and video posts that we give away daily for free. And sure, we have fun doing it. But we also have no alternative – after all, everybody is on Facebook these days. Zuckerberg has a website that advertisers are clamouring to get onto, and that doesn’t come cheap. Don’t be fooled by endearing pilots with free internet in Zambia. Stripped down to essentials, it’s an ordinary ad agency. In fact, in 2015 Google and Facebook pocketed an astounding 64% of all online ad revenue in the US.
But don’t Google and Facebook make anything useful at all? Sure they do. The irony, however, is that their best innovations only make the rentier economy even bigger. They employ scores of programmers to create new algorithms so that we’ll all click on more and more ads. Uber has usurped the whole taxi sector just as Airbnb has upended the hotel industry and Amazon has overrun the book trade. The bigger such platforms grow the more powerful they become, enabling the lords of these digital feudalities to demand more and more rent.
Think back a minute to the definition of a rentier: someone who uses their control over something that already exists in order to increase their own wealth. The feudal lord of medieval times did that by building a tollgate along a road and making everybody who passed by pay. Today’s tech giants are doing basically the same thing, but transposed to the digital highway. Using technology funded by taxpayers, they build tollgates between you and other people’s free content and all the while pay almost no tax on their earnings.
This is the so-called innovation that has Silicon Valley gurus in raptures: ever bigger platforms that claim ever bigger handouts. So why do we accept this? Why does most of the population work itself to the bone to support these rentiers?
I think there are two answers. Firstly, the modern rentier knows to keep a low profile. There was a time when everybody knew who was freeloading. The king, the church, and the aristocrats controlled almost all the land and made peasants pay dearly to farm it. But in the modern economy, making rentierism work is a great deal more complicated. How many people can explain a credit default swap, or a collateralised debt obligation? Or the revenue model behind those cute Google Doodles? And don’t the folks on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley work themselves to the bone, too? Well then, they must be doing something useful, right?
Maybe not. The typical workday of Goldman Sachs’ CEO may be worlds away from that of King Louis XIV, but their revenue models both essentially revolve around obtaining the biggest possible handouts. “The world’s most powerful investment bank,” wrote the journalist Matt Taibbi about Goldman Sachs, “is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”
But far from squids and vampires, the average rich freeloader manages to masquerade quite successfully as a decent hard worker. He goes to great lengths to present himself as a “job creator” and an “investor” who “earns” his income by virtue of his high “productivity”. Most economists, journalists, and politicians from left to right are quite happy to swallow this story. Time and again language is twisted around to cloak funneling and exploitation as creation and generation.
However, it would be wrong to think that all this is part of some ingenious conspiracy. Many modern rentiers have convinced even themselves that they are bona fide value creators. When current Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein was asked about the purpose of his job, his straight-faced answer was that he is “doing God’s work”. The Sun King would have approved.

High street banks
‘A big part of the modern banking sector is essentially a giant tapeworm gorging on a sick body.’ Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images
The second thing that keeps rentiers safe is even more insidious. We’re all wannabe rentiers. They have made millions of people complicit in their revenue model. Consider this: What are our financial sector’s two biggest cash cows? Answer: the housing market and pensions. Both are markets in which many of us are deeply invested.
Recent decades have seen more and more people contract debts to buy a home, and naturally it’s in their interest if house prices continue to scale new heights (read: burst bubble upon bubble). The same goes for pensions. Over the past few decades we’ve all scrimped and saved up a mountainous pension piggy bank. Now pension funds are under immense pressure to ally with the biggest exploiters in order to ensure they pay out enough to please their investors.
The fact of the matter is that feudalism has been democratised. To a lesser or greater extent, we are all depending on handouts. En masse, we have been made complicit in this exploitation by the rentier elite, resulting in a political covenant between the rich rent-seekers and the homeowners and retirees.
Don’t get me wrong, most homeowners and retirees are not benefiting from this situation. On the contrary, the banks are bleeding them far beyond the extent to which they themselves profit from their houses and pensions. Still, it’s hard to point fingers at a kleptomaniac when you have sticky fingers too.
So why is this happening? The answer can be summed up in three little words: Because it can.
Rentierism is, in essence, a question of power. That the Sun King Louis XIV was able to exploit millions was purely because he had the biggest army in Europe. It’s no different for the modern rentier. He’s got the law, politicians and journalists squarely in his court. That’s why bankers get fined peanuts for preposterous fraud, while a mother on government assistance gets penalised within an inch of her life if she checks the wrong box.
The biggest tragedy of all, however, is that the rentier economy is gobbling up society’s best and brightest. Where once upon a time Ivy League graduates chose careers in science, public service or education, these days they are more likely to opt for banks, law firms, or trumped up ad agencies like Google and Facebook. When you think about it, it’s insane. We are forking over billions in taxes to help our brightest minds on and up the corporate ladder so they can learn how to score ever more outrageous handouts.
One thing is certain: countries where rentiers gain the upper hand gradually fall into decline. Just look at the Roman Empire. Or Venice in the 15th century. Look at the Dutch Republic in the 18th century. Like a parasite stunts a child’s growth, so the rentier drains a country of its vitality.
What innovation remains in a rentier economy is mostly just concerned with further bolstering that very same economy. This may explain why the big dreams of the 1970s, like flying cars, curing cancer, and colonising Mars, have yet to be realised, while bankers and ad-makers have at their fingertips technologies a thousand times more powerful.
Yet it doesn’t have to be this way. Tollgates can be torn down, financial products can be banned, tax havens dismantled, lobbies tamed, and patents rejected. Higher taxes on the ultra-rich can make rentierism less attractive, precisely because society’s biggest freeloaders are at the very top of the pyramid. And we can more fairly distribute our earnings on land, oil, and innovation through a system of, say, employee shares, or a universal basic income.
But such a revolution will require a wholly different narrative about the origins of our wealth. It will require ditching the old-fashioned faith in “solidarity” with a miserable underclass that deserves to be borne aloft on the market-level salaried shoulders of society’s strongest. All we need to do is to give real hard-working people what they deserve.
And, yes, by that I mean the waste collectors, the nurses, the cleaners – theirs are the shoulders that carry us all.
Pre-order Utopia for Realists and How Can We Get There by Rutger Bregman
Translated from the original Dutch by Elizabeth Manton

Climate change: global reshuffle of wildlife will have huge impacts on humanity

Mass migration of species to cooler climes has profound implications for society, pushing disease-carrying insects, crop pests and crucial pollinators into new areas, says international team of scientists

 Tropical fish like this Blue-barred Parrotfish are expanding their distribution towards the poles and destroying economically important kelp forests in Australia.
Tropical fish like this Blue-barred Parrotfish are expanding their distribution towards the poles and destroying economically important kelp forests in Australia. Photograph: Jason Edwards/NG/Getty Images

Global warming is reshuffling the ranges of animals and plants around the world with profound consequences for humanity, according to a major new analysis.
Rising temperatures on land and sea are increasingly forcing species to migrate to cooler climes, pushing disease-carrying insects into new areas, moving the pests that attack crops and shifting the pollinators that fertilise many of them, an international team of scientists has said.
They warn that some movements will damage important industries, such as forestry and tourism, and that tensions are emerging between nations over shifting natural resources, such as fish stocks. The mass migration of species now underway around the planet can also amplify climate change as, for example, darker vegetation grows to replace sun-reflecting snow fields in the Arctic.
“Human survival, for urban and rural communities, depends on other life on Earth,” the experts write in their analysis published in the journal Science. “Climate change is impelling a universal redistribution of life on Earth.”
This mass movement of species is the biggest for about 25,000 years, the peak of the last ice age, say the scientists, who represent more than 40 institutions around the world. “The shifts will leave ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in their wake, radically reshaping the pattern of human wellbeing … and potentially leading to substantial conflict,” the team warn. “Human society has yet to appreciate the implications of unprecedented species redistribution for life on Earth, including for human lives.”
Climate change driven by human greenhouse gas emissions is not just increasing temperatures, but also raising sea levels, the acidity of the oceans and making extreme weather such as droughts and floods more frequent. All of these are forcing many species to migrate to survive.
“Land-based species are moving polewards by an average of 17km per decade, and marine species by 72km per decade” said Prof Gretta Pecl at the University of Tasmania in Australia, who led the new analysis.

As temperatures increase and rainfall patterns change, pests such as mosquitoes are being pushed into new areas where people may have little immunity to the diseases they carry.
As temperatures increase and rainfall patterns change, pests such as mosquitoes are being pushed into new areas where people may have little immunity to the diseases they carry. Photograph: Anders Lindström/SVA
There are many documented examples of individual species migrating in response to global warming and some examples of extinctions. But Pecl said: “Our study demonstrates how these changes are affecting ecosystems, human health and culture in the process.”
The most direct impact on humans is the movement of insects that carry diseases, such as the mosquitoes that transmit malaria shifting to new areas as they warm and where people may have little immunity. Another example is the northward spread in Europe and North America of the animal ticks that spread Lyme disease: the UK has seen a tenfold rise in cases since 2001 as winters become milder.
Food production is also being affected as crops have to be moved to cooler areas to survive, such as coffee, which will need to be grown at higher, cooler altitudes, causing deep disruption to a global industry. The pests of crops will also move, as will their natural predators, such as insects, birds, frogs and mammals.
Other resources are being affected, with a third of the land used for forestry in Europe set to become unuseable for valuable timber trees in the coming decades. Important fish stocks are migrating towards the poles in search of cooler waters, with the mackerel caught in Iceland jumping from 1,700 tonnes in 2006 to 120,000 tonnes in 2010, prompting a “mackerel war” with neighbours in whose waters the fish had previously been.
The benefits to humans being provided by species, and the complex ecosystems they live in, are also at risk. Mangroves, for example, are migrating polewards in Australia and in the southern US, meaning the storm protection and fish nurseries provided are being lost in some places.

As mangroves migrate polewards in Australia and the southern US, the storm protection and fish nurseries they provide are being lost in some places.
As mangroves migrate polewards in Australia and the southern US, the storm protection and fish nurseries they provide are being lost in some places. Photograph: Marta Jarzyna
The shifting of animals and plants into new areas can sometimes lead to drastic changes, as those areas have not evolved with the incomers and lack natural defences. In Australia’s seas, kelp forests are being destroyed by an influx of tropical fish that eat them, threatening the important rock lobster trade.
The scientists also warn of feedback effects that can exacerbate climate change, citing the poleward spread of bark beetles in northern hemisphere forests. The beetles attack trees that may already be weakened by warmer, drier conditions, leading to more severe pest outbreaks and tree deaths. This in turn provides more fuel for forest fires, releasing more planet-warming carbon dioxide.
“Climate-driven species redistributions shouldn’t only be a concern for conservation biologists – they should worry everyone,” said Nathalie Pettorelli, at the ZSL Institute of Zoology in the UK, and one of the analysis team. “The world as a whole isn’t adequately prepared to handle the range of issues emerging from species moving across local, national, and international boundaries.”
She said plans to cope with climate change urgently needed to take these issues into account and said everyone could play a part in collecting much needed data on shifting species. “Citizen science can really help,” she said, with people reporting when they see new species in a region and some schemes are already set up.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Attack on union leader Sally McManus by the Australian newspaper backfires

Front-page News Corp story questioning her CV exposed as incorrect after mixing up student union and council

Sally McManus
Sally McManus at the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday. She said the Australian needed to do ‘more research’. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

The Australian newspaper has claimed that the union leader Sally McManus faked her CV when she said she was president of a university union for two years.
The story, headlined “Mystery of union chief’s uni claim”, said the ACTU secretary was “not elected to the student union council in any elections in 1991, 1992, 1993 or 1994”.
But her Macquarie University deputy student leader at the time and McManus herself have demolished the story, saying it was lacking in research and was the result of a mix-up between the student union and the student council.
Mark Greenhill, now the mayor of Blue Mountains council, said McManus was president of the Macquarie University student union. “I should know, I was her vice-president,” Greenhill said.
“Anyone aware of politics on Australian campuses in the 1990s would be aware, there was a separation between representative service and political bodies.
“A separate body, the Macquarie University student council, was the political body.”
The Australian’s associate editor, Brad Norington, who has written a series of articles critical of McManus, implied in an “exclusive” story that McManus had faked her experience on her professional profile on LinkedIn.
“The claim by ACTU secretary Sally McManus that she headed the student union at Macquarie University for more than two years is in dispute, with no records showing she ever held the post,” he wrote on the front page of the Australian.
“On her LinkedIn ‘experience’ profile, Ms McManus says she was president of the student union at North Ryde, in Sydney’s northwest, from August 1991 to August 1993, for ‘2yrs 1 mo’.”
The story was promoted by the Australian’s associate editor, Caroline Overington, on Twitter before an address by McManus at the National Press Club.
During questions McManus was asked about the discrepancy by a reporter from the Australian, Joe Kelly.
She said the paper needed to do “more research” because there used to be two bodies: the university students’ union and the students’ council.
“I was reminded that I was on both of them for a brief period of time. But I was president of the university union. I was there for two years and what our job was … is … running all the services for workers.
“So, for students, and we obviously employed all the workers as well. So that’s why we banned smoking in the student bar because that’s what we ran. So, yeah, the reports in the Australian just aren’t correct.”
On the Australian’s own website, several commenters pointed out that story was wrong. One said: “McManus was president of the student union not the student council. They are very different. The student union ran the facilities like catering, the student building, the bar etc. The student council was the political body. I am surprised that the editors have not already issued a correction.”
ACTU sources said the union movement didn’t bother responding to questions from the Australian any more because they were “irrelevant”.
Greenhill, who said he had not caught up with his old political mate in 20-odd years, said she had been level-headed and sensible when she was a student politician.
“In the past week the Australian newspaper has wrongly accused Sally of being a communist, an antisemite and now a fraud,” Greenhill said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.
“In all my dealings with her, Sally was a committed, progressive and level-headed leader and I am sure she will bring these values into her new role at the ACTU.”
The Australian addressed the error by publishing a second story on Wednesday afternoon with the headline “Sally McManus clarifies Macquarie Uni student union past”. The original story is still online.
“New ACTU secretary Sally McManus has sought to clear the air about her past life in student politics, saying she headed the university union which was responsible for providing services including the students’ bar,” Norington wrote.
“Ms McManus said today she was president of the university union at Macquarie University in Sydney’s northwest for two years in the early 1990s and during that time the body had taken the difficult and unpopular decision to ban smoking in the student bar.
“Following a report in the Australian today that no records existed of Ms McManus heading her university’s student union representative council, Ms McManus said Macquarie University had two student bodies – the university union and the students’ council.”
Norington has been approached for comment.

Senate coal inquiry's split result blamed on 'squabbling' parties

 Extract from The Guardian

Australian Conservation Foundation says Coalition and Labor failing workers and risking the country’s energy security

A coal-fired power station
A Senate inquiry into the retirement of coal-fired power stations towards lower-emissions energy sources split three ways. Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP

A major environment group has blasted Australia’s political parties for squabbling while energy security suffers after a Senate inquiry into the retirement of coal-fired power stations split three ways.
The Senate’s environment and communications references committee has been inquiring into mechanisms for an orderly transition away from coal-fired power to lower emissions energy sources for several months.
At the conclusion of the deliberations, the Greens, Labor and the Coalition all produced separate reports about the best way to manage the change, which were tabled in the Senate on Wednesday evening.
The main report, authored by the Greens, called on the government to adopt a national energy transition plan and a mechanism for the orderly retirement of coal-fired power stations. It also recommended the establishment of an energy transition authority to manage the transition for affected workers and communities.
Labor produced a separate report calling on the government to establish mechanisms to support a “just transition” including a national framework for worker redeployment schemes modelled on the Victorian government’s Latrobe Valley worker transfer scheme.
The Coalition declared the majority report did not “adequately or fairly reflect the evidence presented to the committee”.
“Further, the Coalition senators object to the ideologically driven conclusions, which are counter to the government’s technology agnostic policy approach.”
The Australian Conservation Foundation blasted the rolling contention among Australia’s parliamentarians over climate and energy policy.
“The final report into the closure of the coal industry, with dissenting reports from both Labor and Coalition senators, highlights the squabbling that has characterised energy policy in Australia over the last decade,” said the ACF’s climate change program manager, Gavan McFadzean.
McFadzean said the ACF had “come to expect fossil fuel ideology and nonsense from the Coalition but we are also disappointed federal Labor have missed an opportunity to show courage and lead in the inevitable structural reform, by failing to agree the early and orderly closure of Australia’s coal-fired generation capacity”.
“Unless parties can start working together to ensure a just transition for workers, both they and Australia’s energy security will suffer.”

Trump is leading coal miners out of a ditch – and into the abyss

Scrapping Obama’s Clean Power Plan won’t bring back jobs or save the towns of Appalachia. It will only serve to make America sicker and more disappointed

Trump Rolls Back green Energy
‘When coal country keeps foundering, what will the loud-mouthed president say then?’ Photograph:

On Tuesday, flanked by company executives and miners, Trump signed an executive order to swiftly nullify Barack Obama’s efforts to combat climate change. The clean power plan would have closed hundreds of coal-fired power plants, frozen construction at new ones and replaced them, in time, with wind and solar farms. Whether Trump withdraws from the Paris agreement or not, he will all but guarantee that American doesn’t meet the ambitious goals of the accord to drastically reduce greenhouse gases and slow the warming of the planet.
Some sneer at the largely white and poor people who depended on coal for their livelihoods, but their distress is understandable. Morally bankrupt political leaders have lied to them repeatedly, blaming the Environmental Protection Agency for the vast decline of coal country’s fortunes. While Republicans deserve far more blame, Democrats in states such as West Virginia have encouraged this canard: all you have to do is deregulate everything, they say, and the boom times will return.
Even coal executives understand how simplistic this narrative really is. Competition from natural gas is the culprit for coal’s struggles. Renewable energies are gaining a greater market share. And automation at coal plants means fewer jobs for the working class, even when executives increase their profit margin.
Cheap natural gas has changed the energy landscape. New drilling techniques in shale fields across the country have lowered production costs and driven energy prices down. Hydraulic fracturing, where millions of gallons of sand, water and chemicals are pumped underground to break open rock and release gas, is driving this energy revolution – while also polluting groundwater.
There just isn’t a market demand for coal. Production peaked two decades ago. Trump’s electoral sweep of Appalachia – in once Democratic West Virginia, he crushed Hillary Clinton by 42 points – undoubtedly motivated him to kill the clean power plan as quickly as he could, since his voters are particularly desperate. Political leaders keep failing them, and they want easy answers.
In the short term, Trump’s actions may make a slight difference. Share prices of energy companies soared this week. A few coal mines may stay open slightly longer.
But as with Trump’s Twitter bullying of companies to keep jobs in the US, stripping Obama regulations is no strategy for saving the jobs and towns of one of the country’s most economically depressed regions. America’s fraying social safety net and capitalism’s capriciousness punished coal country for decades, forcing poor people to rely on the whims of executives who once profited off the destruction of the planet.
Trump offers no serious hope for the millions of blue-collar workers who are losing their jobs to machines. Rather than shred environmental regulations, he can offer a vision for a future that is phasing out the reality of well-paid laborers with only a high school degree. A stimulus plan to put them to work elsewhere or even something akin to a guaranteed minimum income may be needed – not a shortsighted evisceration of what Trump Svengali Steve Bannon dubbed the “administrative state”.
When coal country keeps foundering, what will the loud-mouthed president say then? What lies will he proffer? Even his supporters deserve better.