Sunday, July 25, 2010

62. New Hypothesis about Human Evolution and Human Affection for Other Animals

ScienceDaily (July 20, 2010) — It's no secret to any dog-lover or cat-lover that humans have a special connection with animals. But in a new journal article and forthcoming book, paleoanthropologist Pat Shipman of Penn State University argues that this human-animal connection goes well beyond simple affection. Shipman proposes that the interdependency of ancestral humans with other animal species -- "the animal connection" -- played a crucial and beneficial role in human evolution over the last 2.6 million years.

"Establishing an intimate connection to other animals is unique and universal to our species," said Shipman, a professor of biological anthropology. Her paper describing the new hypothesis for human evolution based on the tendency to nurture members of other species will be published in the August 2010 issue of the journal Current Anthropology.

In addition to describing her theory in the scientific paper, Shipman has authored a book for the general public, now in press with W. W. Norton, titled The Animal Connection. "No other mammal routinely adopts other species in the wild -- no gazelles take in baby cheetahs, no mountain lions raise baby deer," Shipman said. "Every mouthful you feed to another species is one that your own children do not eat. On the face of it, caring for another species is maladaptive, so why do we humans do this?"

Shipman suggests that the animal connection was prompted by the invention of stone tools 2.6-million years ago. "Having sharp tools transformed wimpy human ancestors into effective predators who left many cut marks on the fossilized bones of their prey," Shipman said. Becoming a predator also put our ancestors into direct competition with other carnivores for carcasses and prey. As Shipman explains, the human ancestors who learned to observe and understand the behavior of potential prey obtained more meat. "Those who also focused on the behavior of potential competitors reaped a double evolutionary advantage for natural selection," she said.

Over time, Shipman explains, the volume of information about animals increased, the evolutionary benefits of communicating this knowledge to others increased, and language evolved as an external means of handling and communicating information through symbols. "Though we cannot discover the earliest use of language itself, we can learn something from the earliest prehistoric art with unambiguous content. Nearly all of these artworks depict animals. Other potentially vital topics -- edible plants, water, tools or weapons, or relationships among humans -- are rarely if ever shown," Shipman said. She sees this disproportion as evidence that the evolutionary pressure to develop an external means of storing and transmitting information -- symbolic language -- came primarily from the animal connection.

Shipman concludes that detailed information about animals became so advantageous that our ancestors began to nurture wild animals -- a practice that led to the domestication of the dog about 32,000 years ago. She argues that, if insuring a steady supply of meat was the point of domesticating animals, as traditionally has been assumed, then dogs would be a very poor choice as an early domesticated species. "Why would you take a ferocious animal like a wolf, bring it into your family and home, and think this was advantageous?" Shipman asks. "Wolves eat so much meat themselves that raising them for food would be a losing proposition."

Shipman suggests, instead, that the primary impetus for domestication was to transform animals we had been observing intently for millennia into living tools during their peak years, then only later using their meat as food. "As living tools, different domestic animals offer immense renewable resources for tasks such as tracking game, destroying rodents, protecting kin and goods, providing wool for warmth, moving humans and goods over long distances, and providing milk to human infants" she said.

Domestication, she explained, is a process that takes generations and puts selective pressure on abilities to observe, empathize, and communicate across species barriers. Once accomplished, the domestication of animals offers numerous advantages to those with these attributes. "The animal connection is an ancient and fundamentally human characteristic that has brought our lineage huge benefits over time," Shipman said. "Our connection with animals has been intimately involved with the evolution of two key human attributes -- tool making and language -- and with constructing the powerful ecological niche now held by modern humans."

61. Warmer Climate and Release of Carbon Dioxide by Inland Lakes

ScienceDaily (July 23, 2010) — Much organically bound carbon is deposited on inland lake bottoms. A portion remains in the sediment, sometimes for thousands of years, while the rest is largely broken down to carbon dioxide and methane, which are released into the atmosphere. Swedish researchers have shown that carbon retention by sediment is highly temperature-sensitive and that a warmer climate would result in increased carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere. 

The study is published in the current issue of the journal Nature. 

Particles of different kinds -- including microscopic algae, other plankton and humus from surrounding land areas -- are continuously deposited on lake bottoms. The breakdown of a portion of this matter by bacteria in the sediment contributes significantly to atmospheric carbon dioxide. Lake sediment nevertheless constitutes an important "carbon sink," serving to store -- sometimes for a very long time -- a significant portion of the carbon-containing material that does not decompose.

To date, it has been unclear to what extent organic, carbon-containing material remains on lake bottoms, as opposed to being broken down. A group of researchers under the leadership of Professor Lars Tranvik at the Department of Limnology at Uppsala University has found a strong connection between the carbon dioxide production of lake sediment and bottom-water temperature.

"What we have discovered is that a very similar temperature-dependence relationship holds for a wide range of lake-sediment types," says doctoral student Cristian Gudasz, who was responsible for data collection and evaluation. "Temperature affects carbon-dioxide production in much the same way regardless of a lake's nutrient content and geographic location and the chemical composition of the sediment."

The discovery of a broadly robust temperature-dependence relationship set the stage for an investigation of the effect of temperature on lake sediment in the boreal forest zone that runs through Eurasia and North America and contains millions of lakes. The annual rate at which bound carbon is deposited as sediment in the lakes of the boreal zone will fall by 4-27 per cent, depending on which climate forecasts are borne out, over the next hundred years. The production of carbon dioxide by lake sediment will increase correspondingly, resulting in higher levels of emissions to the atmosphere.

It is becoming increasingly clear that inland water systems play an important role in the global carbon cycle, in spite of the fact that they only cover 3 percent of the land area of the Earth. The study under consideration demonstrates how the role of inland water systems can be expected to change in response to climate change.

The project was carried out in collaboration with researchers at Linköping University within the scope of a major research undertaking focusing on the effects of environmental change on lake ecosystems and financed by Formas and the Swedish Research Council.

Monday, July 19, 2010

60. Civil Libertarian Lawyer Lynn Stewart Resentenced to 10 Years

On July 14, Judge John G. Koeltl of the Federal District Court in Manhattan increased the sentence of Lynne Stewart,  a civil libertarian lawyer falsely convicted of assisting terrorism, to 10 years — nearly five times as long as her original sentence.

In the context of "war of terror" crackdown on civil liberties, on April 9, 2002 Lynne Stewart was arrested. In February 2005, Stewart was convicted of charges of smuggling messages from her client Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman to his followers.  The Sheik has been serving a life-sentence for plotting to bomb the World Trade Center.   

In 2006, Stewart was sentenced to 28 months in jail, a relatively light sentence. Judge Koeltl acknowledged that there was "'no evidence that any victim was in fact harmed' by her actions" and noted her career as a "lawyer to the poor and the unpopular."

However, the arrest, trial and sentencing of Lynne Stewart are part of the attempt by the U.S. government to silence dissent, curtail vigorous defense lawyers, and install fear in those who would fight against the U.S. government’s repressive measures, especially those who want to help Arabs and Muslims being prosecuted for free speech.

Thus, the prosecutor appealed to a higher court for more severe punishment for Stewart.  In 2009, the higher court upheld the conviction and ordered Judge Koeltl to increase the sentence. 

Lynne Stewart is 70 years old and is under care for breast cancer. Ralph Poynter, her husband, characterized judge's decision as  “a death sentence."

“I’m somewhat stunned, Judge, by the swift change in my outlook,” Stewart said in court. “We will continue to struggle on to take all available options to do what we need to do to change this.”

She added: “I feel like I let a lot of my good people down,” to which people in the gallery shouted, “We love you.”

Monday, July 12, 2010

59. Mumia Abu-Jamal on Ecocide

Mumia Abu-Jamal is an award-winning Pennsylvania journalist who exposed police violence against minority communities. On death row since 1982, he was wrongfully sentenced for the shooting of a police officer. New evidence, including the recantation of a key eyewitness, new ballistic and forensic evidence and a confession from Arnold Beverly (one of the two killers of Officer Faulkner) points to his innocence! Mumia had no criminal record.

For the last 28 years, Abu-Jamal has been locked up 23 hours a day, denied contact visits with his family, had his confidential legal mail illegally opened by prison authorities, and put into punitive detention for writing his first of three books while in prison, Live From Death Row.

His case is currently on appeal before the Federal District Court in Philadelphia. Mumia's fight for a new trial has won the support of tens of thousands around the world, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, The European Parliament, Alice Walker, Paul Newman, Maya Angelou, Sister Helen Prejean, Danny Glover, Rage Against The Machine, the Detroit and San Francisco City Councils, Amnesty International, and many others. Mumia Abu-Jamal's fate rests with all those people who believe in every person's right to justice and a fair trial.

"I remain innocent. A court cannot make an innocent man guilty. Any ruling founded on injustice is not justice. The righteous fight for life, liberty, and for justice can only continue." Mumia Abu-Jamal , Oct. 31, 1998.

Mumia continues his to write and speak from the death row,  Recently, the Prison Radio Project recorded a brief essay of him on Ecocide, focusing on the BP oil spill disaster. 

To learn more about Mumia's case visit the Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal page on Who Is Mumia.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

58. Studies Predict Global Emissions Targets Will Lead to 4C (7F) Temperature Rise, Major Extinctions, Collapse of Greenland Ice Sheet

Guardian, Monday 5 July 2010 

The world is heading for an average temperature rise of   nearly 4C (7F), according to analysis of national pledges from around the globe. Such a rise would bring a high risk of major extinctions, threats to food supplies and the near-total collapse of the huge Greenland ice sheet.
More than 100 heads of state agreed in Copenhagen last December to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5C-2C (2.7-3.6F) above the long-term average before the industrial revolution, which kickstarted a massive global increase in the greenhouse gases blamed for warming the planet and triggering climate change.
But six months on, a major international effort to monitor the emissions reductions targets of more than 60 countries, including all the major economies, the Climate Interactive Scoreboard, calculates that the world is on course for a rise of nearly double the stated goal by 2100.
Another study by Climate Analytics, at the Potsdam Institute in Germany, suggests there is "virtually no chance" world governments will keep the temperature rise to below 2C, and the rise is likely to be 3.5C (6.3F) by the end of the century.
In both analyses the current commitments suggest a much better outcome than the estimated business-as-usual temperature rise of 4.8C (8.6F), but are well above the 2C maximum the UN hoped would be agreed at the next major meeting this December in Cancún, Mexico – and even further from the 1.5C target many developing nations argue is needed to stop the worst impacts of climate change in their countries.
In its last assessment of the problem in 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forecasts that a rise of more than 2C would lead to potential increases in food production, but an increasingly high risk of extinction for 20-30% of species, more severe droughts and floods, and a unstoppable "widespread to near total" loss of the Greenland ice sheet over very long time periods. However, at 4C it predicted global food production was "very likely" to decrease, "major extinctions around the globe", and near-total loss of Greenland's ice, precipitating 2-7m of sea-level rise in the long term. As temperatures rose, the severity of floods, erosion, water pollution, heatwaves, droughts and health problems such as malnutrition and diarrhoea diseases would also increase, said the IPCC.
"We're looking at a level which is much more extreme and profoundly dangerous," said Ruth Davis, chief policy adviser for Greenpeace. "It's arguable the UN process has become dangerously cut adrift from the science of climate change."
The Department of Energy and Climate Change said that, based on national offers of emissions reductions made in Copenhagen, the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) and other bodies had calculated that it was possible to meet the 2C target, although this would depend on the targets set beyond 2020.
"There's more work to do if we're going to avoid a 2C temperature rise which is why we're pushing the EU to cut its emissions by 30%," said a DECC spokesman. "Keeping below 2C is still possible from the high end Copenhagen accord offers, but will require steeper action after 2020."
However, many experts said the much higher temperature-rise estimates were a cause for serious concern that emissions cuts proposed for Cancún were too low and not enough was being done to prepare for further cuts beyond 2020, even though there are still nearly six months of negotiations before the talks.

 "We've made progress but we're clearly not headed where we need to be," said Andrew Jones, co-director of Climate Interactive, which is backed by several universities including MIT. "No one is talking about changing any of the 2020 proposals, so we should be worried." Climate Interactive's model is also backed by a panel of experts including Prof Bob Watson, chief scientific advisor to the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and a former head of the IPCC.
The Climate Interactive Scoreboard, for which researchers check daily for updates in emissions or other targets which would reduce pollution such as reductions in energy intensity or increases in renewable energy, makes a medium-range prediction of a 3.9C increase in temperatures, with a range of 2.3-6.2C (4.2-11.1F), based on committed targets, and a more encouraging 2.9C (5.2F) average, with a range of 1.7-4.6C (3.1-8.5F) based on "potential" commitments suggested but not enacted by many nations.
One of the major barriers to setting higher emissions cuts was a great many countries, including Canada and the EU, have said they do not want to increase their targets until the US sets significant reductions, which is proving hard for President Obama to achieve, said Davis.
Climate Analytics and Ecofys, under the banner of Climate Action Tracker, estimate a range of 2.8-4.3C.
The principal differences between the two calculations are that they use different models, and made different assumptions about what countries will do after their current targets expire, said Jones.
In both cases, there has been no improvement to the forecast outcome since the experts assessed the prospects immediately after the Copenhagen conference. 
The predictions will be particularly worrying for many watchers because the 2C target was based on research which suggested that at that level there was only a low to medium risk of key changes to the conditions in which humans survive; however an update of the "burning embers diagram" by the authors, published last year by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the US, suggested that at 2C there greater risk in all categories, including a significant to high risk to unique and threatened ecosystems, of extreme weather events and a global distribution of the worst threats.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

57. Human Hunters Might Have Caused Extinction of Woolly Mammoth and Saber-Toothed Cat

ScienceDaily (July 1, 2010) — A new analysis of the extinction of woolly mammoths and other large mammals more than 10,000 years ago suggests that they may have fallen victim to the same type of "trophic cascade" of ecosystem disruption that scientists say is being caused today by the global decline of predators such as wolves, cougars, and sharks.

In each case the cascading events were originally begun by human disruption of ecosystems, a new study concludes, but around 15,000 years ago the problem was not the loss of a key predator, but the addition of one -- human hunters with spears.

In a study published in the journal BioScience, researchers propose that this mass extinction was caused by newly-arrived humans tipping the balance of power and competing with major predators such as saber-toothed cats. An equilibrium that had survived for thousands of years was disrupted, possibly explaining the loss of two-thirds of North America's large mammals during this period.

"For decades, scientists have been debating the causes of this mass extinction, and the two theories with the most support are hunting pressures from the arrival of humans, and climate change," said William Ripple, a professor of forest ecosystems and society at Oregon State University, and an expert on the ecosystem alterations that scientists are increasingly finding when predators are added or removed.

"We believe humans indeed may have been a factor, but not as most current theory suggests, simply by hunting animals to extinction," Ripple said. "Rather, we think humans provided competition for other predators that still did the bulk of the killing. But we were the triggering mechanism that disrupted the ecosystem."

In the late Pleistocene, researchers say, major predators dominated North America in an uneasy stability with a wide range of mammals: mammoths, mastodons, ground sloths, camels, horses, and several species of bison. The new study cites previous evidence from carnivore tooth wear and fracture, growth rates of prey, and other factors that suggest that there were no serious shortages of food caused by environmental change 10,000 to 15,000 years ago.

Quite contrary to that, the large herbivores seemed to be growing quickly and just as quickly had their numbers reduced by a range of significant carnivorous predators, not the least of which was lions, dire wolves, and two species of saber-toothed cats. Food was plentiful for herbivores, the system was balanced, but it was dominated by predators.

"When human hunters arrived on the scene, they provided new competition with these carnivores for the same prey," said Blaire Van Valkenburgh, an expert at UCLA on the paleobiology of carnivores, and a co-author with Ripple on this study.

"The humans were also omnivores, and could live on plant foods if necessary," Van Valkenburgh said. "We think this may have triggered a sequential collapse not only in the large herbivores but ultimately their predators as well. Importantly, humans had some other defenses against predation, such as fire, weapons and living in groups, so they were able to survive."

But the driving force in eliminating the large mammals, according to the new theory, was not humans -- they just got the process started. After that, predators increasingly desperate for food may have driven their prey to extinction over long periods of time -- and then eventually died out themselves.

In recent studies in Yellowstone National Park and elsewhere, scientists from OSU and other institutions have explored these "trophic cascades," often caused by the loss or introduction of a single major predator in an ecosystem. With the elimination of wolves from Yellowstone, for instance, the numbers of elk exploded. This caused widespread overgrazing; damage to stream ecosystems; the slow demise of aspen forests; and ultimate effects on everything from trees to beaver, fish, birds, and other life forms. When wolves were re-introduced to Yellowstone, studies are showing that those processes have begun to reverse themselves.

"We think the evidence shows that major ecosystem disruptions, resulting in these domino effects, can be caused either by subtracting or adding a major predator," Ripple said. "In the case of the woolly mammoths and saber-toothed tiger, the problems may have begun by adding a predator, in this case humans."

The new analysis draws on many other existing studies in making its case.

For instance, other research describes this process with a model in modern times in Alaska. There, the allowance of relatively limited human hunting on moose caused wolves to switch some of their predation to sheep, ultimately resulting in a precipitous decline in populations not only of moose but also wolves and sheep.

The loss of species in North America during the late Pleistocene was remarkable -- about 80 percent of 51 large herbivore species went extinct, along with more than 60 percent of important large carnivores. Previous research has documented the growth rates of North American mammoths by studying their tusks, revealing no evidence of reduced growth caused by inadequate food -- thus offering no support for climate-induced habitat decline.

It seems that diverse and abundant carnivores kept herbivore
numbers below levels where food becomes limiting. By contrast, the large population of predators such as dire wolves and saber tooth cats caused them to compete intensely for food, as evidenced by heavy tooth wear. "Heavily worn and fractured teeth are a result of bone consumption, something most carnivores avoid unless prey is difficult to acquire," says Van Valkenburgh.

Trophic cascades initiated by humans are broadly demonstrated, the researchers report. In North America, it may have started with the arrival of the first humans, but continues today with the extirpation of wolves, cougars and other predators around the world. The hunting of whales in the last century may have led to predatory killer whales turning their attention to other prey such as seals and sea otters -- and the declines in sea otter populations has led to an explosion of sea urchins and collapse of kelp forest ecosystems.

"In the terrestrial realm, it is important that we have a better understanding of how Pleistocene ecosystems were structured as we proceed in maintaining and restoring today's ecosystems," the researchers wrote in their conclusion. "In the aquatic realm, the Earth's oceans are the last frontier for megafaunal species declines and extinctions."

"The tragic cascade of species declines due to human harvesting of marine megafauna happening now may be a repeat of the cascade that occurred with the onset of human harvesting of terrestrial megafauna more than 10,000 years ago. This is a sobering thought, but it is not too late to alter our course this time around in the interest of sustaining Earth's ecosystems."

Saturday, July 3, 2010

56. Corruption and the Danger of Counter Revolution in Cuba

Esteban Morales is Professor of Economics and Political Science at the University of Havana, Honorary Director of the Center for American Studies at the University of Havana, and member of the Commission Against Racism and Racial Discrimination of the National Union of Cuban Writers and Artists-UNEAC. This article was first published in Spanish on the UNEAC website under the title "Corrupcion: ¿La Verdadera Contrarevoluciòn?"on April 9, 2010.  The English translation below is from Norman Girvan's website. According to a recent article in Havana Times, Morales' membership in the Communist Party has been revoked as because of publication of his article and that he is appealing this decision.  However, in its June 8 article, Diario de Cuba reports that Morales denies the news that his party membership has been revoked. Regardless of which of these sources are reporting accurately, Morales' article in important reminder of the major challenges that remain before the Cuban revolution as its historic leaders leave power to younger leadership. 

By Esteban Morales
When we closely observe Cuba's internal situation today, we can have no doubt that the counter-revolution, little by little, is taking positions at certain levels of the State and Government.
Without a doubt, it is becoming evident that there are people in positions of government and state who are girding themselves financially for when the Revolution falls, and others may have everything almost ready to transfer state-owned assets to private hands, as happened in the old USSR.
Fidel said that we ourselves could put an end to the Revolution and I tend to think that, among other concerns, the Commander in Chief was referring to the questions relative to corruption. Because this phenomenon, already present, has continued to appear in force. If not, see what has happened with the distribution of lands in usufruct in some municipalities around the country: fraud, illegalities, favoritism, bureaucratic slowness, etc.
In reality, corruption is a lot more dangerous than the so-called domestic dissidence. The latter is still isolated; it lacks an alternative program, has no real leaders, no masses. But corruption turns out to be the true counter-revolution, which can do the most damage because it is within the government and the state apparatus, which really manage the country's resources.
Otherwise, let us look at something very simple. When is there powdered milk in the black market (which has been rising in price to 70 pesos per kilogram)? When the powdered milk reaches the state-owned warehouses. There's no better example than that. And so it is with the products acquired in the black market by part of a majority of the population. In other words, at the expense of the state's resources, there is an illegal market from which everyone benefits, except the State.
And what can you tell me about the street vendors, outside the large hard-currency stores, offering to sell everything. It is a corruption in which almost everyone participates, generated by the corruption of state functionaries. Because, as far as we know, in Cuba there is only one importer – the State. I don't think that what comes in the packages from Miami can generate a market that big, much less a market of lasting products.
Observe, too, the movement of pork meat from state-run stores to private outlets, the prices of beverages and water sold at the various tourism chains. The suspicious differences in prices that we stumble on so frequently.
In other words, it is evident that there is an illegal flow of products between the state's wholesale trade and the street commerce. An entire underground economy that the State is unable to control and will be impossible to set aright as long as the big imbalances between supply and demand that today characterizes our economy exists.
This economy is, then, a form of counter-revolution that does have concealed leaders, offers alternatives to the State's offerings, and has masses that practice it.
But the situation sketched above is not the most dangerous part of the affair we are now dealing with. That's only its popular surrounding.
What was recently learned regarding the weaknesses of a group of functionaries at a very high level – having to do with favoritism, the buddy system, certain acts of corruption and carelessness in the handling of sensitive information, as well as some evidence of a struggle for power waged by those functionaries – was information that, lamentably, was passing into the hands of the Spanish intelligence services, even though those services were very careful not to enlist the officials' participation. Those are extremely serious matters.
In other words, matters as sensitive as the hunger and hope for power, favoritism, corruption and unseemly statements about the country's top leadership, which were already known by the foreign special services. A real “political merchandise” with extremely high added value in the hands of the enemies of the Revolution.
When the Cuban government turned over to the FBI all the information it had about the activities of the counter-revolution in the United States, activities that included even the possibility of assassination attempts against the U.S. president, what did the FBI do? Instead of taking steps against the counter-revolution, instead of acting against the Cuban-American Mafia, they sought to find out, like hound dogs, where the information that Cuba had given them came from, what were the sources. And there we have our five devoted, heroic compatriots who have spent more than 11 years serving unjust sentences in U.S. prisons.
After the statements made by Fidel about how we ourselves can destroy the Revolution, about the existence of reasons to think that our Revolution may be reversible, what the U.S. special services must be doing is looking for information that corroborates Fidel's concerns.
They're looking for confirmation for the words of the Commander in Chief, watching closely what happens every day in Cuba, digging into everything that may allow them to find out where is the real counter-revolutionary force in Cuba, a force that can topple the Revolution, a force that appears to be not below but above, in the very levels of government and the state apparatus.
It is formed by the corrupt officials, not at all minor, who are being discovered in very high posts and with strong connections – personal, domestic and external – generated after dozens of years occupying the same positions of power. Note than none of the men “defenestrated” until now (at least since Trials 1 and 2) was a simple employee.
Very recently, General Acevedo, director of the IACC (Institute of Civil Aeronautics of Cuba) was removed, and what is making the rounds in unofficial circles about the reasons for his ouster is enough to keep people awake at nights.
There must be some truth in what they say, because this is a very small and familial country. The affair still has not had an exhaustive public explanation, as the people expect, because – if it's like the rumors say – the people's money and resources were squandered amid an economic situation that's quite critical to the country. So, either to vindicate Acevedo or to condemn him, you have to explain it to the people, the people the Revolution has created and formed, technically and scientifically, and who are prepared and with sufficient ability.
In reality, I must say, as a hypothesis, that what happened in the IACC is not unique. It has been discovered in other places and there may still be companies where the same is happening, i.e., where the chiefs are receiving commissions and opening bank accounts in other countries. Which is a working theory valid enough to open other investigations so that such affairs will not catch us by surprise. In economics, there is a “surprise audit” that is not meant to offend anyone and should not annoy anyone. To audit is not to offend; it is a mechanism of precaution that contributes to honesty.
An element we mustn’t fail to consider is that the focus of the United States' policy toward Cuba changed long ago (1986-1994). Today, basic attention is paid to Cuba's domestic reality. It is not an absolute orientation but it is fundamental and prioritized. Everything that's happening domestically in Cuba is being observed, monitored by the American politicians and particularly by the U.S. special services.
For obvious reasons that need not be explained, the Americans know better than us what Cubans and how many Cubans have bank accounts abroad. Who receive commissions and what business they're in. Because all the companies with which Cuba does business have intelligence apparatuses and almost all of them coordinate with the U.S. services. And if they don't, there are officials who, as soon as they get hold of sensitive information about Cuba, link up with the American services, which, by the way, pay handsomely for that information.
What's most lamentable is that the American services are better informed than we are about all the possible movements of our businessmen. And that's information that, if left to run, in other words, accumulate, is an excellent conduit for bribery, blackmail and the recruiting of any Cuban official. This doesn't mean it always works; there may be someone who becomes corrupt but doesn't allow himself to be recruited, because it is a very subtle matter. But whoever turns to corruption to enrich himself will find it difficult to retain other values.
Any Cuban functionary who, in his relations with any foreign enterprise, becomes corrupt, should know that that information could fall into the hands of the special services of any country, and from there to the hands of the American services it's but an instant. A dossier is immediately opened, and it is filled with information until it is considered necessary or pertinent to subject that functionary to bribery, blackmail or recruitment.
This is not being paranoid. Only fools fail to realize that any sensitive information about Cuba, its activities abroad or regarding any Cuban functionary, that is considered to be useful is very well paid by the special services of the United States. And if we don't know this by now, we're finished.
It is, then, a covert area of the subversion against Cuba that, particularly in the medium and long run, produces very good political dividends. It is an area of the counter-revolution that has nothing to do with the so-called dissidence, the piddling groups or the ill-called “ladies in white.”
Observe how the weaknesses of some Cuban functionaries were being transferred to the Spanish intelligence services. Cubans in the FAR and the MININT involved in drug trafficking. Discovered by Cuba in 1989, but that was already privileged information in the hands of the DEA, the FBI and the rest of the American special services.
Actions of that type seriously affect the ability of the country to press forward. It is as clear as a mathematical algorithm that the ability of any nation to deal with international confrontation is measured, in the first place, by its internal fortitude.
If at least Cuba could discover its corrupt officials early, the damage could be slighter. 

Thursday, July 1, 2010

55. Ecuador's Offer to Keep Its Oil in the Ground

A Dollar and Sense Feature

Keep It In The Ground

An alternative vision for petroleum emerges in Ecuador. But will Big Oil win the day?

By Elissa Dennis
The photos accompanying this article were taken by documentary photographers Ben Speck and Karin Ananiassen in Yasuní, Ecuador, March-April 2010, and are part of their seriesBlack Gold | Precious Green. More photos can be found © Anecdote Photos.

Map of Yasuní: © Finding Species, Inc..
In the far eastern reaches of Ecuador, in the Amazon basin rain forest, lies a land of incredible beauty and biological diversity. More than 2,200 varieties of trees reach for the sky, providing a habitat for more species of birds, bats, insects, frogs, and fish than can be found almost anywhere else in the world. Indigenous Waorani people have made the land their home for millennia, including the last two tribes living in voluntary isolation in the country. The land was established as Yasuní National Park in 1979, and recognized as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 1989.
Underneath this landscape lies a different type of natural resource: petroleum. Since 1972, oil has been Ecuador’s primary export, representing 57% of the country’s exports in 2008; oil revenues comprised on average 26% of the government’s revenue between 2000 and 2007. More than 1.1 billion barrels of heavy crude oil have been extracted from Yasuní, about one quarter of the nation’s production to date.
Davo Enomenga of the Waorani tribe in Yasuní, Ecuador.
holding a spear.
Davo Enomenga of the Waorani tribe in Yasuní, Ecuador. The Waorani hold legal rights to their land, but oil companies have been known to buy off communities with small gifts. Davo Enomenga controls a makeshift checkpoint where he keeps a traditional spear and a shotgun close at hand and demands gifts from anyone crossing his territory to reach oil.
At this economic, environmental, and political intersection lie two distinct visions for Yasuní’s, and Ecuador’s, next 25 years. Petroecuador, the state-owned oil company, has concluded that 846 million barrels of oil could be extracted from proven reserves at the Ishpingo, Tambococha, and Tiputini (ITT) wells in an approximately 200,000-hectare area covering about 20% of the parkland. Extracting this petroleum, either alone or in partnership with interested oil companies in Brazil, Venezuela, or China, would generate approximately $7 billion, primarily in the first 13 years of extraction and continuing with declining productivity for another 12 years.
The alternative vision is the simple but profound choice to leave the oil in the ground. Environmentalists and indigenous communities have been organizing for years to restrict drilling in Yasuní. But the vision became much more real when President Rafael Correa presented a challenge to the world community at a September 24, 2007 meeting of the United Nations General Assembly: If governments, companies, international organizations, and individuals pledge a total of $350 million per year for 10 years, equal to half of the forgone revenues from ITT, then Ecuador will chip in the other half and keep the oil underground indefinitely, as this nation’s contribution to halting global climate change.
The Yasuní-ITT Initiative would preserve the fragile environment, leave the voluntarily isolated tribes in peace, and prevent the emission of an estimated 407 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This “big idea from a small country” has even broader implications, as Alberto Acosta, former Energy Minister and one of the architects of the proposal, notes in his new book, La Maldición de la Abundancia (The Curse of Abundance). The Initiative is a “punto de ruptura,” he writes, a turning point in environmental history which “questions the logic of extractive (exporter of raw material) development,” while introducing the possibility of global “sumak kawsay,” the indigenous Kichwa concept of “good living” in harmony with nature.
Sumak kawsay is the underlying tenet of the country’s 2008 Constitution, which guarantees rights for indigenous tribes and for “Mother Earth.” The Constitution was overwhelmingly supported in a national referendum, but putting the document’s principles into action has been a bigger challenge. While Correa draws praise for his progressive social programs, for example in education and health care, the University of Illinois-trained economist is criticized for not yet having wrested control of the nation’s economy from a deep-rooted powerful elite bearing different ideas about the meaning of “good living.” Within this political and economic discord lies the fate of the Yasuni Initiative.

An Abundance of Oil

Ecuador, like much of Latin America, has long been an exporter of raw materials: cacao in the 19th century, bananas in the 20th century, and now petroleum. Shell discovered the heavy, viscous oil of Ecuador’s Amazon basin in 1948. In the 1950s, a series of controversial encounters began between the native Waorani people and U.S. missionaries from the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL). With SIL assistance, Waorani were corralled into a 16,000-hectare “protectorate” in the late 1960s, and many went to work for the oil companies who were furiously drilling through much of the tribe’s homeland.
Manuel Alvarado and Carmen Vargas stand beside an oil tap in their backyard.
Manuel Alvarado and Carmen Vargas. Tiputini is one of the three oil fields ready to be exploited should the ITT initiative fail. The tap from the test drilling is planted in the Alvarado family’s backyard, and is oozing crude oil, contaminating their soil and groundwater.
The nation dove into the oil boom of the 1970s, investing in infrastructure and building up external debt. When oil prices plummeted in the 1980s while interest rates on that debt ballooned, Ecuador was trapped in the debt crisis that affected much of the region. Thus began what Correa calls “the long night of neoliberalism”: IMF-mandated privatizations of utilities and mining sectors, with a concomitant decline of revenues from the nation’s natural resources to the Ecuadorian people. By 1986, all of the nation’s petroleum revenues were going to pay external debt.
After another decade of IMF-driven privatizations, oil price drops, earthquakes, and other natural disasters, the Ecuadorian economy fell into total collapse, leading to the 2000 dollarization. Since then, more than one million Ecuadorians have left the country, mostly for the United States and Spain, and remittances from 2.5 million Ecuadorians living in the exterior, estimated at $4 billion in 2008, have become the nation’s second highest source of income.
Close to 40 years of oil production has failed to improve the living standards of the majority of Ecuadorians. “Petroleum has not helped this country,” notes Ana Cecilia Salazar, director of the Department of Social Sciences in the College of Economics of the University of Cuenca. “It has been corrupt. It has not diminished poverty. It has not industrialized this country. It has just made a few people rich.”
Currently 38% of the population lives in poverty, with 13% in extreme poverty. The nation’s per capita income growth between 1982 and 2007 was only 0.7% per year. And although the unemployment rate of 10% may seem moderate, an estimated 53% of the population is considered “underemployed.”
Petroleum extraction has brought significant environmental damage. Each year 198,000 hectares of land in the Amazon are deforested for oil production. A verdict is expected this year in an Ecuadorian court in the 17-year-old class action suit brought by 30,000 victims of Texaco/Chevron’s drilling operations in the area northwest of Yasuní between 1964 and 1990. The unprecedented $27 billion lawsuit alleges that thousands of cancers and other health problems were caused by Texaco’s use of outdated and dangerous practices, including the dumping of 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into local water supplies.
Regardless of its economic or environmental impacts, the oil is running out. With 4.16 billion barrels in proven reserves nationwide, and another half billion “probable” barrels, best-case projections, including the discovery of new reserves, indicate the nation will stop exporting oil within 28 years, and stop producing oil within 35 years.
“At this moment we have an opportunity to rethink the extractive economy that for many years has constrained the economy and politics in the country,” says Esperanza Martinez, a biologist, environmental activist, and author of the book Yasuní: El tortuoso camino de Kioto a Quito (Yasuní: The Tortuous Road from Kyoto to Quito). “This proposal intends to change the terms of the North-South relationship in climate change negotiations.”

Collecting on Ecological Debt

The Initiative fits into the emerging idea of “climate debt.” The North’s voracious energy consumption in the past has destroyed natural resources in the South; the South is currently bearing the brunt of global warming effects like floods and drought; and the South needs to adapt expensive new energy technology for the future instead of industrializing with the cheap fossil fuels that built the North. Bolivian president Evo Morales proposed at the Copenhagen climate talks last December that developed nations pay 1% of GDP, totaling $700 billion/year, into a compensation fund that poor nations could use to adapt their energy systems.
“Clearly in the future, it will not be possible to extract all the petroleum in the world because that would create a very serious world problem, so we need to create measures of compensation to pay the ecological debt to the countries,” says Malki Sáenz, formerly Coordinator of the Yasuní-ITT Initiative within the Ministry of Foreign Relations. The Initiative “is a way to show the international community that real compensation mechanisms exist for not extracting petroleum.”
Map of Yasuní
Indigenous and environmental movements in Latin America and Africa are raising possibilities of leaving oil in the ground elsewhere. But the Yasuní-ITT proposal is the furthest along in detail, government sponsorship, and ongoing negotiations. The Initiative proposes that governments, international institutions, civil associations, companies, and individuals contribute to a fund administered through an international organization such as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Contributions could include swaps of Ecuador’s external debt, as well as resources generated from emissions auctions in the European Union and carbon emission taxes such as those implemented in Sweden and Slovakia.
Contributors of at least $10,000 would receive a Yasuní Guarantee Certificate (CGY), redeemable only in the event that a future government decides to extract the oil. The total dollar value of the CGYs issued would equal the calculated value of the 407 million metric tons of non-emitted carbon dioxide.
The money would be invested in fixed income shares of renewable energy projects with a guaranteed yield, such as hydroelectric, geothermal, wind, and solar power, thus helping to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels. The interest payments generated by these investments would be designated for: 1) conservation projects, preventing deforestation of almost 10 million hectares in 40 protected areas covering 38% of Ecuador’s territory; 2) reforestation and natural regeneration projects on another one million hectares of forest land; 3) national energy efficiency improvements; and 4) education, health, employment, and training programs in sustainable activities like ecotourism and agro forestry in the affected areas. The first three activities could prevent an additional 820 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, tripling the Initiative’s effectiveness.

Government Waffling

These nationwide conservation efforts, as well as the proposal’s mention of “monitoring” throughout Yasuní and possibly shutting down existing oil production, are particularly disconcerting to Ecuadorian and international oil and wood interests. Many speculate that political pressure from these economic powerhouses was behind a major blow to the Initiative this past January, when Correa, in one of his regular Saturday radio broadcasts, suddenly blasted the negotiations as “shameful,” and a threat to the nation’s “sovereignty” and “dignity.” He threatened that if the full package of international commitments is not in place by this June, he would begin extracting oil from ITT.
A Waorani woman with baby in Yawepare
A Waorani woman with baby in Yawepare. Some Waorani are disillusioned with the oil industry’s ability to lift people out of poverty, fear environmental effects, and wish to profit from sustainable tourism. Others hope the oil industry will bring sorely needed jobs and money.
Correa’s comments spurred the resignations of four critical members of the negotiating commission, including Chancellor Fander Falconí, a longtime ally in Correa’s PAIS party, and Roque Sevilla, an ecologist, businessman, and ex-Mayor of Quito whom Correa had picked to lead the commission. Ecuador’s Ambassador to the UN Francisco Carrion also resigned from the commission, as did World Wildlife Fund president Yolanda Kakabadse.
Correa has been clear from the outset that the government has a Plan B, to extract the oil, and that the non-extraction “first option” is contingent on the mandated monetary commitments. But oddly his outburst came as the negotiating team’s efforts were bearing fruit. Sevilla told the press in January of commitments in various stages of approval from Germany, Spain, Belgium, France, and Switzerland, totaling at least $1.5 billion. The team was poised to sign an agreement with UNDP last December in Copenhagen to administer the fund. Correa called off the signing at the last minute, questioning the breadth of the Initiative’s conservation efforts and UNDP’s proposed six-person administrative body, three appointed by Ecuador, two by contributing nations, and one by UNDP. This joint control structure apparently sparked Correa’s tirade about shame and dignity.
Correa’s impulsivity and poor word choice have gotten him into trouble before. Acosta, another former key PAIS ally, resigned as president of the Constituent Assembly in June 2008, in the final stages of drafting the nation’s new Constitution, when Correa set a vote deadline Acosta felt hindered the democratic process for this major undertaking. The President has had frequent tussles with indigenous and environmental organizations over mining issues, on several occasions crossing the line from staking out an economically pragmatic political position to name-calling of “childish ecologists.”
Within a couple of weeks of the blowup, the government had backpedaled, withdrawing the June deadline, appointing a new negotiating team, and reasserting the position that the government’s “first option” is to leave the oil in the ground. At the same time, Petroecuador began work on a new pipeline near Yasuní, part of the infrastructure needed for ITT production, pursuant to a 2007 Memorandum of Understanding with several foreign oil companies.

If the People Lead...

Amid the doubts and mixed messages, proponents are fighting to save the Initiative as a cornerstone in the creation of a post-petroleum Ecuador and ultimately a post-petroleum world. In media interviews after his resignation, Sevilla stressed that he would keep working to ensure that the Initiative would not fail. The Constitution provides for a public referendum prior to extracting oil from protected areas like Yasuní, he noted. “If the president doesn’t want to assume his responsibility as leader...let’s pass the responsibility to the public.” In fact, 75% of respondents in a January poll in Quito and Guayaquil, the country’s two largest cities, indicated that they would vote to not extract the ITT oil.
Martinez and Sáenz concur that just as the Initiative emerged from widespread organizing efforts, its success will come from the people. “This is the moment to define ourselves and develop an economic model not based on petroleum,” Salazar says. “We have other knowledge, we have minerals, water. We need to change our consciousness and end the economic dependence on one resource.”
Elissa Dennis is a consultant to nonprofit affordable housing developers with Community Economics, Inc. in Oakland, CA. She is traveling, primarily in Latin America, during a sabbatical year.
Resources: Live Yasuni, Finding Species, Inc.,; “S.O.S. Yasuni”; “Yasuni-ITT: An Initiative to Change History,” Government of Ecuador,