The ultimate in terrorism: Waterworld

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Right now, should anyone care to search, we know where the most deadly weapons of mass destruction are — the nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia aside — and they’re not, obviously in Iraq. We don’t even need UN inspection teams to tell us about them, for the truth is inspection teams of scientists have been “out there” for years searching for them. Recently, the results have been pouring in and the news is that, unlike the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, these exist — and in far greater quantity and with greater power than we’ve previously imagined.

(By the way, those of you who want to catch the latest on the administration’s prewar wmd scam should check out What I Didn’t Find in Africa, the op-ed account in yesterday’s New York Times by Joseph C. Wilson, the former ambassador sent to Niger to check out the Iraqi uranium purchase story for VP Dick Cheney. Given how polite the diplomatic world he comes from is, it’s a powerful condemnation of the administration. )

I’m talking, of course, about that staggering weapon of mass destruction, the human assault on the environment that we know as global warming, rain-forest deforestation, and species extinction. Let’s admit the world is a mess in ways that are exceedingly hard for us all to grasp or truly believe. While our President has been taunting Iraqis (a sentiment for which military families all over America, including those of the three GIs who were murdered in the greater Baghdad area in the last 24-hours, must be thanking him from the bottoms of their hearts), donning fly-boy suits and generally strutting, preening, and talking tough about the war on terror, his administration has done everything it can to ignore, if not actually incite, a larger scale terrorism, which is inflicting massive damage on this planet and its atmosphere.

The policies of our reactionary nationalist administration (why anyone refers to them as “conservatives” is beyond me since the one thing they’re not in favor of is conserving anything) may have a fierce logic of sorts and they’re dreams of controlling the world forever by force show a certain kind of future orientation, but they seem intent on ensuring that “forever” will be a remarkably short number of years. In fact, in every sense that matters, a more futureless bunch is hard to imagine. (Even their own grandchildren won’t thank them for this.) Maybe some of them truly do believe that the Rapture will hit first and transport them en masse from this suffering earth. Explain it as you will, there should be a new word for their sorts of crimes — something like terricide.

In the meantime, though I’m no scientist, here’s my best shot at a little rundown on the planet they have no hesitation about despoiling for the most immediate of gains. (And, interestingly, almost all these articles come from the English popular and scientific press.) First of all, there are certain hotspots of diversity crucial to our planet’s existence as a biodiverse place, almost all located in tropical rainforests, and as the British Independent reports (Michael McCarthy, The Great Rainforest Tragedy),

“Data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, based on satellite observations, reveal that in the year to August 2002 the amount of rainforest cut down was 25,500 square kilometres, or 10,190 square miles – an area about the size of Belgium”

The rate at which Brazil’s rainforest is disappearing has leapt by 40 per cent in a single year. As the Independent continues,

The rate at which Brazil’s rainforest is disappearing has leapt by 40 per cent in a single year. As the Independent continues,

“Vast new tracts of virgin forest in the states of Mato Grosso and Para are being put to the chainsaw, according to figures from the Brazilian government, and turned into farmland – much of it used for growing soya beans, which end up as industrial cattle feed in Europe.

“What is being destroyed is the most species-rich habitat on Earth. It provides much of the world’s oxygen. It has been the subject of more green protests, and had more voices raised in its defence, than any other piece of ground on the planet. They seem to have availed it nothing.”

A Guardian piece on the same topic by John Vidal, their environmental editor (Disappearance of Amazon rainforest brings pledge of emergency action) suggests exactly what is being lost:

“Rainforests cover less than 2% of the Earth’s surface, yet they are home to some 40 to 50% of all life forms – as many as 30 million species of plants, animals and insects. Up to 30% of the world’s animal and plant species are found nowhere but in the Amazon, an area of 1.54 million sq miles (4.1 million sq km) – larger than western Europe.

“Scientists issue a warning that its rate of destruction poses serious threats, not just in respect of lost species but by reducing production of oxygen and unpredictable consequences for global weather patterns.”

Note that comment on weather patterns. Let’s face it, we all sense they’ve been weird, and somewhere in the backs of our minds is the phrase “global warming.” But our local experiences are always by their nature so anecdotal and at any moment “extreme” weather can happen anywhere. Now, however, the UN’s well respected, even staid World Meteorological Organization has offered a report on the world’s “extreme” weather conditions confirming that something larger and more ominous is occurring. A recent editorial in the Independent (see below) vividly summed up its horrifying findings, concluding: “The unstable world of climate change has long been a prediction. Now, the WMO says, it is a reality.”

Not only is global warming a reality, but we may not have seen the half of it. A recent report in New Scientist magazine (Global Warming’s Sooty Smokescreen revealed) indicates that atmospheric scientists believe one form of pollution is masking the effects of another:

“Smoke is clouding our view of global warming, protecting the planet from perhaps three-quarters of the greenhouse effect. That might sound like good news, but experts say that as the cover diminishes in coming decades, we are in for a dramatic escalation of warming that could be two or even three times as great as official best guesses. – aerosols may have reduced global warming by as much as three-quarters As [greenhouse] gases are expected to continue accumulating in the atmosphere while aerosols stabilise or fall, that means ‘dramatic consequences for estimates of future climate change’.

“One tentative estimate put warming two or even three times higher than current middle-range forecasts of 3 to 4 °C That suggests global warming well above the IPCC maximum forecast of 5.8 °C. Back-of-the-envelope calculations now suggest a “worst case” warming of 7 to 10 °C.”

And another report from the same magazine (Climatologists give waterworld warning for earth) points out:

“While some delegates were still reeling from the catastrophic floods that hit the [European] continent in August 2002, others warned that the risk of future flooding has been vastly underestimated. And studies of past episodes of climate change suggest that a wetter world may be not only a consequence of global warming but a trigger for further, more dramatic temperature rises.

“Current models of how climate change will affect average rainfall only take account of the ability of air to hold more water as it gets warmer. This means there will be more evaporation in a warmer world, and therefore more rainfall But that picture ignores the effects of greenhouse gases on plants, Betts pointed out. In response to high levels of carbon dioxide, plants shrink their stomata – the holes in the surface of their leaves through which gases pass in and out. This drastically reduces water loss from the plants, leaving more water in the soil.”

I’ve included below an essay by George Monbiot of the Guardian that sums up the stakes if that “worst case” warming should occur — and the stakes, put none too prettily include the sort of species extinction that might force us to take notice — a cascade of extinction in which we, too, might go the way of the rain forests.

Here’s the sad thing: right now, we’re left in the position of passive victims of meteorological weapons of mass destruction — and in the case of global warming, unfortunately, the worst of what goes up from all those burning fossil fuels doesn’t necessarily come down, not for a century or so anyway. The tragedy here is that, except in the fact that our short-term lives tend to give us a short-term perspective on our world, we are not at all helpless here. Elsewhere in the world, from the Kyoto global warming treaty, which this administration refused to sign, and which is at least a start, to the gearing up of the Japanese solar energy companies David Hochschild mentions below, there are actions to be taken that could ameliorate the worst affects of global warming and save the most biodiverse regions of our planet as a patrimony (or perhaps I mean matrimony) for our children and grandchildren. The problem is our government could care less about these weapons of mass destruction as long as the roads fill with SUVs and Humvees, so we’re on our own.

I include David Hochschild’s piece from the San Francisco Chronicle because he’s been instrumental in a local initiative to support solar power in the Bay Area, one of the more hopeful small-scale experiments in our country today and so his piece reminds us that part of resisting our neocon mullahs involves thinking about how to respond ourselves to the war being waged against our planet. Tom

Reaping the whirlwind
Extreme weather prompts unprecedented global warming alert
The Independent
July 3, 2003

In an astonishing announcement on global warming and extreme weather, the World Meteorological Organisation signalled last night that the world’s weather is going haywire.

In a startling report, the WMO, which normally produces detailed scientific reports and staid statistics at the year’s end, highlighted record extremes in weather and climate occurring all over the world in recent weeks, from Switzerland’s hottest-ever June to a record month for tornadoes in the United States – and linked them to climate change.

The unprecedented warning takes its force and significance from the fact that it is not coming from Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth, but from an impeccably respected UN organisation that is not given to hyperbole (though environmentalists will seize on it to claim that the direst warnings of climate change are being borne out).

To read more Independent editorial click here

Shadow of extinction
Only six degrees separate our world from the cataclysmic end of an ancient era
By George Monbiot
The Guardian
July 1, 2003

It is old news, I admit. Two hundred and fifty-one million years old, to be precise. But the story of what happened then, which has now been told for the first time, demands our urgent attention. Its implications are more profound than anything taking place in Iraq, or Washington, or even (and I am sorry to burst your bubble) Wimbledon. Unless we understand what happened, and act upon that intelligence, prehistory may very soon repeat itself, not as tragedy, but as catastrophe.

The events that brought the Permian period (between 286m and 251m years ago) to an end could not be clearly determined until the mapping of the key geological sequences had been completed. Until recently, palaeontologists had assumed that the changes that took place then were gradual and piecemeal.

George Monbiot’s book The Age of Consent: a Manifesto for a New World Order is published by Flamingo.

To read more Monbiot click here

An End to Fossil Fuels
Here comes the sun (power, that is)

By David Hochschild
The San Francisco Chronicle
July 3, 2003

The sun is rising from the west these days.

This week, workers began installing solar panels on the roof of San Francisco’s Moscone Convention Center, soon to be home to one of the largest solar electric systems in the nation. The $7.4 million project is the city’s first solar-energy installation since voters approved a $100 million bond to pay for solar, energy efficiency and other renewable energy sources for public buildings in November 2001.

The solar panels, which will provide clean electricity from the sun for more than 2 million visitors to the Moscone Center each year, are a dramatic, visible reminder that the campaign to wean America from fossil fuels can be led by cities. But what makes this project particularly appealing in these fiscally difficult times are the cost savings

David Hochschild is co-founder of the Vote Solar Initiative (, a nonprofit helping cities implement solar energy programs.

To read more Hochschild click here