Saturday, June 29, 2013

1094. Behind Lynne Stewart's Denial of Compassionate Release

By Jeff Mackler, June 29, 2013
Many people have supported Lynne Stewart's fight for freedom

When I visited Lynne Stewart at FMC Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas last month, in a dark moment she wondered whether the cynicism of the Justice Department and the Bureau of  Prisons (BOP) might descend to the level of denying her the then much expected compassionate release. Whether these agencies might sight as grounds for such denial that her initial rounds of chemotherapy had slightly reduced in size some of the malignant tumors in her lymph nodes, sternum and back while leaving the most threatening of her Stage Four breast cancer  tumors in her lungs unaffected could not but cross her mind.

At that moment Lynne had good reason to expect that her release was imminent.
It was recommended by the FMC warden and New York-based probationary officials
had inspected and approved an appropriate Brooklyn family residence where she
would reside during treatment and for permanent proper care. Lynne even
pointed to statements from her Fort Worth hospital oncologist to the effect
that it was likely that they would not see each other again, implying that she
too recognized that Lynne's only serious hope for life was to be rapidly
transferred to the world renowned Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York

On June 25 Lynne's most feared outcome was confirmed in a three-paragraph
letter from BOP General Counsel Kathleen M. Kennedy in Washington, D.C.
Kennedy denied Lynne's request because Lynne's "health is improving," and that
her situation is "not extraordinary and compelling."

Lynne's response, "Disappointed But Not Devastated" (See below.) indicates
that her legal team intends to appeal this decision to Judge John Koeltl, the
judge who initially sentenced her to 28 months in prison but who later acceded
to political pressure, ordered a new sentencing hearing, and condemned Lynne
to ten years at FMC Carswell.

Stewart's case is the first in many years to expose yet another blatant
government violation of U.S. law, this one mandating compassionate release in
specified circumstances that particularly apply to Lynne. Indeed this 1984 law
has been virtually ignored, according to the government's own study, with
barely a dozen people being granted compassionate release annually out of
hundreds of thousands of federal prisoners over the past 30 years.

The scientific community considers Stage Four breast cancer to be incurable.
But many prominent institutions have noted that with excellent medical care
and high patient motivation, life can extended in some circumstances for
several years. The Fort Worth medical facility that FMC Carswell uses and the
conditions under which Lynne is permitted to receive treatment are far from
"excellent." She is literally shackled hand and foot and around her belly
while be taken to and from this facility. The results of her treatments are
routinely withheld for months, while necessary follow-up treatments are
delayed, as was the case when a newly discovered tumor in one lung was ignored
and soon after metastasized to the other and beyond.

Yet the most optimistic prospects for Lynne to live a few more years, provided
she receives "excellent" treatment are used to reject her request. In the
BOP's view Lynne must be not only dying but virtually near death to qualify
for compassionate release. The fight for her release now, Lynne repeatedly
states, is a matter of life and death.

Lynne's request that the U.S. Supreme Court hear her appeal is pending and
could be decided soon. If the hateful authorities at the BOP continue to
reject her compassionate release request, she could well be found innocent of
the frame-up terrorist conspiracy charges against her as a result of being the
lead counsel in the internationally watched case of the "blind sheik" Omar
Abdel Rachman and yet too close to death to experience but a few weeks or
months of life as a vindicated and free woman.

There is no time to delay. Join the fight for Lynne's life and freedom now.
Call today:

• US Bureau of Prisons Director Charles E. Samuels: 202-307-3198-ext. 3

• US Attorney General Eric Holder: 202-514-2001

• President Barack Obama: 202-456-1111

Thursday, June 27, 2013

1093. Letter from Lynne Stewart: Disappointed but Not Devastated

My Dear Friends, Supporters, Comrades:
A recent photo of Lynne Stewart after cancer treatment:
see Justice for Lynne Stewart for more information
I know we are all disappointed to the marrow of our bones and the depths of our hearts by the news that the Bureaucrats, Kafka like, have turned down my request for compassionate release.
Let me say, that we are planning ahead. The letter from the BOP (soon to be posted on the website) is flawed, to put it mildly. Both factually and medically it has major problems. We intend to go to court and raise these in front of my sentencing Judge Koeltl. At the first sentencing he responded to a query by one of the lawyers that he didn’t want me to die in prison — we’ll see if he can now live up to that. He is of course the same Judge who increased my sentence to 10 years — but this IS very different and we can only hope that we can prevail. Stay tuned for what we need from you. We will never give up.
In the meantime, once again, I grieve for my children and grandchildren who love me so much and had such great expectations of enjoying life together again in our beloved NYC and not just trying to, in the prison visiting room. My Ralph, too, whose dedication and love are only exceeded by the work he does on my behalf — but he is a born fighter and although he hurts, it all comes more naturally to him.
But for everyone else, I hope that your affront at this crass bureaucratic denial of the request which you by your signatures and letters and phone calls demanded — How far can we let this go? when a 73-year old woman who IS dying of cancer (maybe not on their timetable,) her life of good works ignored, be shunted aside … “she does not present circumstances considered extraordinary and compelling … at this time.” We must show them that I cannot be ignored, that YOU cannot be ignored.”
Fight On — All of Us or None of Us. An affront to one is an affront to all.
Love Struggle,
Lynne Stewart
June 26, 2013

*     *     *
Lynne Stewart’ husband Ralph Poynter was informed by Lynne this morning that she received a three-paragraph letter from Kathleen Kenney, General Counsel for the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Washington, D.C.:
Compassionate Release has been denied on the grounds that Lynne’s “health is improving.”
This claim is at once cynical and false. Lynne Stewart’s cancer continues to spread in her lungs. She remains in isolation as her white blood cell count remains so low that she is at risk for generalized infection. She weakens daily.
A message from Lynne will be released imminently.
We call upon all committed to the effort to secure Lynne Stewart’s release and to save her life to stand by for further notice of the response from Lynne, her husband Ralph Poynter, and her family and her lawyers – announcing the next actions that we, her supporters, will launch in response to this appalling betrayal of compassion and justice.
June 25, 2013

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

1092. Obama's Policy: How Much Change on Climate Change?

By Chris Williams,, Jun 26, 2013
Chris Williams
THE VAST majority of people own no significant amount of stocks or other financial assets. Every single person breathes air. Every single person depends on the growing of food and the nutrition it provides to stay alive. We can't live underwater. From these axioms, we should be able to divine a sense of what rational societal priorities reflect and emphasize.
The performance of the stock market and various associated financial services, though they hold no meaning to most people, are nevertheless referenced constantly, 24/7: rolling tickers, television programs, radio announcements and wall-to-wall newspaper coverage. Impossible to escape--my phone won't even let me delete the stocks app with which it came loaded.
Conversely, the news in May that carbon dioxide levels had broken through the symbolic barrier of 400 parts per million (ppm)--a level not seen since the beginning of our species' evolution on planet Earth, 3 million years ago--caused a barely perceptible ripple in the mass media.
As climate blogger Joseph Romm has argued, a large part of the reason for this can be laid at the door of the Obama presidency because "the net effect of the political incompetence and the messaging failure has been to turn the issue of the century into a virtual non-issue, which in turn has allowed the major media to all but ignore it, too."
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IT IS by these criteria--that climate changes poses an existential threat to human civilization--that we should judge President Obama's speech on climate on June 25, and set it within the context of his five years in power. This is a position he himself argued for during his speech when he said that we need to "be more concerned with the judgment of posterity" than short-term political considerations.
So is Obama, in the words of World Resource Institute President Andrew Steer, really "resetting the climate agenda" and can we honestly say that "it's a wonderful thing to see that he is really reclaiming this issue"?
While many other environmentalists, including Bill McKibben of, are fervently hoping that this is true, history and facts demonstrate otherwise. Obama's dismal domestic and international track record on environmental issues--it was, after all, he who was the lead protagonist in wrecking the international climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009--and his commitment to U.S. imperial power as a representative of American corporate interests surely point toward the need for a greater and more thoroughgoing critique than a character assessment of the man himself allows for.
Furthermore, it's hard to take someone seriously when that person has presided over the biggest expansion of the security state in U.S. history and relentlessly pursued government whistleblowers with unprecedented ferocity, and they say simultaneously in a climate speech that they are directing the EPA to generate new standards for the regulation of existing power plants in "an open and transparent way."
With a more systematic, broader analytical framework, unimpeded by misty visions of an Obama rebirth as a climate champion, one immediately recognizes the inadequacy of his Action Plan on Climate Change to keep the planet below the critical threshold of 2 degrees Celsius of average warming.
This needs to be acknowledged, even as we welcome the fact that--after a five-year hiatus, including a re-election campaign where he never even mentioned climate change--Obama has been forced to re-engage with the central issue of our time by the power of grassroots protest, even to the extent of referencing the divestment movement and the fight against the Keystone XL.
Rather than celebrating Obama's renewed "commitment" to environmental action, we should recognize it for what it is: After five years of doing all he can to promote fossil fuel production, it's the first, timid, grudging response of the U.S. state to the growing environmental movement against Obama and all that he represents: the economic, political and military priorities of U.S. imperial power.
The growth of the environmental movement and its threat to U.S. imperial and corporate interests has been well catalogued, tracked and, as we now know, extensively spied upon by the U.S. security apparatus. After reporting on a raft of documentary evidence to this effect, Dr. Nafeez Ahmed writes in the Guardian:
The Pentagon knows that environmental, economic and other crises could provoke widespread public anger toward government and corporations in coming years. The revelations on the NSA's global surveillance programs are just the latest indication that as business as usual creates instability at home and abroad, and as disillusionment with the status quo escalates, Western publics are being increasingly viewed as potential enemies that must be policed by the state.
There is, therefore, the overriding requirement that we continue to build the movement independent of the limitations imposed by the Democratic Party, until we achieve the kind of changes that are actually necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change, by stitching together all forces aimed at this objective.
The biosphere of which humans are a part cannot afford half measures or rely on dubious "friends" in high places. Nor can we set our sights any lower than the swift dismantling of the fossil-fuel infrastructure of death and its replacement with publicly owned and democratically controlled clean energy systems. As many studies have shown, this is eminently doable with current technology and will create millions of worthwhile jobs through the generation of genuinely renewable energy from sources such as wind and solar power, alongside massive energy efficiency and conservation measures.
Such a transformation is far less utopian than believing that capitalism can solve the problem that it created. Such a transition cannot mean a continuation or expansion of the criminal agro-fuel production, still less the increase in natural gas production through fracking, the continuation of nuclear power and the entirely ridiculous concepts of "clean coal" and carbon capture and storage, all of which Obama includes as part of his planned solution.
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THE FACT that Obama is using executive authority to attempt to push through some changes to U.S. energy and climate policy, most significantly new rules on existing power plants, is a reflection not of strength, but of his preceding weakness on the issue, turning it from a positive into a negative, as the right wing has made all the running.
Notwithstanding the catastrophic climate change that levels above 350 ppm of carbon portend and have already initiated--as droughts, floods, crop failures, super-storms and wildfires become the "new normal" across the globe from Australia to India, from the U.S. to Pakistan--politicians across the political spectrum greeted the news of 400 ppm of carbon with a giant shrug of collective indifference.
While on the one hand Obama's action plan doesn't require Congressional approval, and that can be seen as encouraging in the face of an utterly recalcitrant Congress, it is also a flaw. The new rules will be vigorously challenged in the courts, and as and when the other corporate party manages to work out how to win an election again, they can be overturned just as easily, assuming they have even been implemented.
It needs to be highlighted that, in contrast to how Democrats and Obama like to portray the issue, it is not a solidly partisan one. While elected Republicans are certainly more likely to be climate-change denialists, the reality is that things are much more regional and dependent on which state a political representative is from. A much more reliable indicator of whether a state's representative is pro- or anti- climate change policy and clean energy is whether the state's economy is directly connected to fossil fuels or ethanol production, rather than whether they are Democrats or Republicans.
And on the ground, where people are forced to deal with the growing ramifications of climate change and the disruption and cost to their lives, the picture is very different. As reported in a recent survey of self-described Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, 62 percent said the U.S. should address climate change, and 77 percent said that the U.S. should use more renewable energy sources. This is all the more remarkable given that virtually no political representative from either party has been arguing for these things, and they have certainly not appeared on the TV screens or in the newspapers of the mainstream media.
In contrast to Obama's glib reference to work being undertaken to prevent Miami from sinking below the waves, Jeff Goodell, writing in Rolling Stone, paints a very different picture, underlining the calamitous reality of climate change in an article cheerily titled "Goodbye Miami." On our present course, it is not a question of if, but when, the city of Miami--which vies with Las Vegas as the citadel to capitalist non-conformity with nature, along with most of southern Florida--will be underwater:
South Florida has two big problems. The first is its remarkably flat topography. Half the area that surrounds Miami is less than five feet above sea level. Its highest natural elevation, a limestone ridge that runs from Palm Beach to just south of the city, averages a scant 12 feet. With just three feet of sea-level rise, more than a third of southern Florida will vanish; at six feet, more than half will be gone; if the seas rise 12 feet, South Florida will be little more than an isolated archipelago surrounded by abandoned buildings and crumbling overpasses. And the waters won't just come in from the East--because the region is so flat, rising seas will come in nearly as fast from the West, too, through the Everglades.
Quoting Harold Wanless, chairman of the department of geological sciences at the University of Miami, Goodell writes, "Miami, as we know it today, is doomed...It's not a question of if. It's a question of when." Well before that happens, however, Miami faces critical problems with fresh water supply; the treatment and removal of sewage from antiquated sewage treatment facilities, which are already threatened with being overrun during storms; and the highly exposed 40-year-old Turkey Point nuclear plant, described by Philip Stoddard, the mayor of South Miami, as "impossible to imagine a stupider place to build a nuclear plant."
Of course, the other very "big problem" Florida has is that it is the epicenter of climate change denial, with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Rick Scott and assorted other representatives unmoved by the overwhelming scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change nor on the reality of their sinking state.
The fact that southern Florida, including unique ecosystems like the Florida Everglades, is on track to become a giant underwater theme park is not an isolated phenomenon. Many of the world's largest cities are low-lying ports, and 100 million Americans live within 3 feet of (current) high-tide markers. New York City is still recovering from the climate change-enhanced Superstorm Sandy, which, apart from poor or nonexistent planning, was all the more devastating because, as Obama finally noted, sea levels are already 12 inches above where they were 100 years ago--and the process is accelerating.
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INTO THIS context stepped the most powerful man on the planet, President Barack Obama. Promising to "halt the rise of the oceans," his swirling rhetoric is a match for the fiercest hurricane. It was impossible not to be moved by Obama's opening remarks, forcefully detailing the perilous condition of our planet, atmospheric pollution and the changes already wrought by global warming from the unrestrained burning of fossil fuels and the resultant increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.
But just as importantly, it also raised the question: Where has he been for the last five, wasted years? And if he really believes all that, why is he still equivocating on KXL and signing off on the need for an immense expansion of U.S. corporate and military might in the Arctic to facilitate fossil fuel and mineral extraction?
Obama's actions over the last five years in power--during two of which, the Democrats had super-majorities in both houses of Congress--even to his most fervent supporters, have been a damp squib.
From boasting about laying enough pipeline to circle the earth "and then some," to presiding over the massive expansion of coal exports and giving the presidential seal of approval to the further exploitation and development of the Arctic in competition with Russia and other nations, Obama, despite some much-belated moves on fuel economy standards, has quite clearly sided with the fossil fuel industry. His call for the Department of Defense to be run on renewable energy is hardly the way to preserve the planet.
As Romm has further pointed out, Obama's lack of action on climate was not primarily a result of Republican denial or corporate meddling, but a direct outcome of the policies enacted by the White House:
Team Obama's catastrophic climate silence--a silence his White House inanely imposed on much of the progressive and environmental establishment back in 2009 (see here)--coupled with his utter failure to push hard for a Senate vote, has turned a winning political "wedge" issue into something that is mistakenly perceived to be a political loser by much of the political establishment. His embrace of an "all of the above" energy strategy, which is to say no strategy at all, has legitimized a massive expansion of fossil fuel production--and export.
His lack of action in the face of increasingly obvious climate change-related weather events--which legitimizes the continued expansion of fossil fuel production, fracking and exploitation of the Arctic and offshore drilling--and the fact that the U.S. continues to fall behind other countries in the adoption of clean energy systems as a result of Obama's "all of the above" energy strategy helps explain why many environmentalists have become increasingly disillusioned with Obama.
On the basis of his extremely thin record, Obama nonetheless is still defended by some environmentalists, such as Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine, who penned an article in May entitled "Why Obama Might Actually be the Environmental President," and David Roberts of Grist, who said that Chait "gets it mostly right."
However, sections of even the mainstream environmental movement have been forced to adjust their priorities due to the impatience and anger of their membership, and, over the last few months, move toward a more confrontational stance with regard to the president they once unequivocally regarded as sympathetic to their interests. Now is not the time to backtrack and cuddle up to the Democrats, but to forge forward with implacable resolution, building resistance, protests and organization all across the country, while establishing solidarity with those in other countries fighting their own governments' corporate priorities.
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SINCE THE re-election of Obama, the environmental movement is the only social movement to date to pull off a national demonstration in the tens of thousands--in Washington, D.C., in February--and it has put hundreds of people on the streets to bird-dog Obama wherever he turns up, in order to voice their opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. A new movement for campus divestment from fossil fuels has sprung up on hundreds of campuses in a matter of months, and the anti-fracking movement continues to grow all across the country.
Thousands of people have pledged mass civil disobedience should Obama, as expected, sign off on the construction of the rest of the Keystone XL pipeline, in the same manner that he already assented to building the southern portion.
As White House spokesperson Jay Carney commented at the time, KXL is needed because of the ramped-up supply of U.S. oil: "We support the company's interest in proceeding with this project, which will help address the bottleneck of oil in Cushing that has resulted in large part from increased domestic oil production...We look forward to working with TransCanada to ensure that it is built in a safe, responsible and timely manner, and we commit to taking every step possible to expedite the necessary federal permits."
The reason KXL has not already been permitted, therefore, and why the Obama administration has repeatedly delayed its decision, despite its self-declared approval, must be put down to the force of protest by newly invigorated environmentalists. To quote Romm once more, "If Obama truly were the 'environmental president,' then Keystone would be a very, very easy decision for him," and would make protesting him unnecessary.
The change in the political dynamic has created the space for more radical and left-wing arguments to gain traction, with wide layers of activists around the slogan of the new group System Change, Not Climate Change: The Ecosocialist Coalition, which argues for complete independence from the Democratic Party and an emphasis on the systemic nature of the ecological crisis--and thereby the need, ultimately, for a completely different kind of society not driven by profit, warfare, racism and continual expansion.
In reference to this, contrary to preceding reports and in a surprise turn of events, Obama, in a set of remarks quite clearly directed at the environmental movement that has so far refused to back down on KXL, said in his speech that KXL would only receive the go-ahead from him if the pipeline "does not significantly affect carbon pollution."
Given that tar sands are widely recognized to be far more polluting than even regular oil extraction and processing; that the ripping apart of Indigenous lands and boreal forest large enough to be seen from space; and that the deposits are as large as Saudi Arabia and if developed represent "game over" for the planet, according to NASA climate scientist James Hansen; the immediate next words from Obama's lips should have inevitably consisted of: "and that's why I'm not approving KXL." Instead, a deafening silence ensued.
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OBAMA ENDED his speech by saying that he was "open to all sorts of new ideas." Here's some new ideas, then, for his consideration:
-- If you're serious about stopping global warming, you need to veto KXL.
-- If you're serious about regulating carbon emissions, establish a fixed and immediate limit, as has already been done for arsenic, mercury and other pollutants. That limit should be 350 ppm. The EPA, which already has the authority, can then work with the states to see how they will manage to make it happen.
-- If you're serious about moving away from dirty energy, then there needs to be a strict timeline established for the complete phasing-out of all coal and nuclear plants by 2030 and their replacement, not with natural gas or nuclear, but with wind and solar power.
-- If you're serious about addressing climate change due to deforestation and helping other countries, then subsidies to ethanol production, which diverts cropland from food to fuel, must end, and all debt owed by developing countries must be forgiven.
-- If you're really serious about carbon pollution, you can't with any honesty discuss solutions without making massive cuts in military spending. The Department of Defense is responsible for 80 percent of the U.S. government's energy consumption, and the U.S. military is by far the biggest polluter on the planet. Radical reductions in spending on the Pentagon are essential for human survival.
-- You made no mention of the need for enormous investment in and expansion of public transit. If you're serious about addressing climate change and making our cities more livable and the air more breathable, you will take the money you just saved by cutting military expenditures and apply it to the construction of new rail, light rail, tram and bus services, between and within cities, obviating the need for cars.
-- If you're really serious about connecting social and ecological questions, along with extra investment in public transit, you will fight for the institution of more progressive taxation and higher taxes on the mega-rich to pay for all the other necessary investments in critical infrastructure. Along with a new electricity grid, this will include such things as free universal child care and quality public education, in order to furnish the educated and informed young minds we need to build a sustainable future.
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IN REALITY, we're not going to get anything remotely like the points above without the growth and development of a massive social and ecological movement for change. We must take heart from the results of our efforts so far to more vigorously challenge the Obama presidency, and build on them without illusions that Obama has finally come to his senses.
Sadly, as a result of this one speech, though it came amid years of actively undermining climate regulations and promoting fossil fuel production and militarism, many well-meaning environmentalists and mainstream environmental NGOs will hop back on board the Obama fossil-fueled bus. The radical wing of the environmental movement must seek to push for a continuation of confrontation with the priorities of corporate capitalism and its political representatives in Congress and the Whitehouse.
What we should be doing is taking a leaf from the protest pages of the people of Turkey and Brazil. They have shown, if ever we needed more evidence, that mass protest uniting social and ecological demands into one unified movement independent of mainstream politicians has the power to change state policy at the national level. Furthermore, mass protest can affect thoroughgoing and immediate change in a matter days, while all the lobbying and backroom operating in the corridors of power took years to accomplish far less.
We should be looking to the people of South Africa, where Obama will be visiting and presented with an honorary degree at the end of the week. COSATU, the South African trade union federation representing 2.2 million workers, which was at the forefront of the anti-apartheid struggle, is calling for mass protests of Obama as workers march on the U.S. embassy under the slogan of "NObama"
In the run-up to his visit, Bongani Masuku, COSATU's international relations secretary, commented: "Obama is perpetuating American foreign policy. The U.S. is an empire run on behalf of multinational companies and the ruling class of America. U.S. foreign policy is militarizing international relations to sponsor and make their own weapons."
Masuku added that he is:
not disappointed because I didn't expect anything. It's not about the individual; it's not about the race he came from. It's about the class he represents. It's like he's the gatekeeper for white monopoly capital. He promised things we knew he wouldn't be able to do.
These are words we would do well to learn from in the U.S., as we redouble our efforts, build on our successes and fight the entrenched corporate interests that Obama so faithfully represents.
Chris Williams is the author of Ecology and Socialism . 

1091. Obama's Fracked-up Climate Strategy Will Guarantee Global Warming Disaster

By Nafeez Ahmad, The Guardian, June 25, 2013
President Obama delivering his Georgetown
University Speech, Photo: Bloomberg News
President Obama's much-anticipated speech at Georgetown University unveiling America's new climate change strategy offers welcome re-affirmation of the US government's recognition of global warming dangers. Plans to regulate coal plants, beef up defences against flooding and sea level rise, increase energy efficiency for homes and businesses, and fast track permits for renewable energy on public lands, are critical steps forward.
But the new climate strategy remains fatally compromised by Obama's unflinching commitment to the maximum possible exploitation of fossil fuels - a contradiction that has set the world on course to trigger unmitigated catastrophe in coming decades.
Central to the plan is Obama's reiteration of his commitment to cutting US greenhouse gas emissions 17% from 2005 levels by 2020. But this target is too little, too late - amounting to only a 4% cut in emissions compared with 1990 levels.
Even before this target was enshrined into US law, scientists warned that the pledge "will not be enough to head off dangerous climate change" as global temperatures would still breach the 2C target accepted by governments as the safe limit for global warming.
Indeed, one study found that:
"The pledges on the table will not halt emissions growth before 2040... Instead, global emissions are likely to be nearly double 1990 levels by 2040 based on present pledges."
A new study by Climate Action Tracker (CAT) out this month concludes that full implementation of the pledges would still lead to a 3.3C rise by 2100. Based on actual climate policies so far, however, CAT warned that governments are "less likely than ever to deliver on the Copenhagen pledges." If this continues, temperatures could exceed 4C by the end of the century, triggering positive feedbacks leading to further warming.
In the mix of Obama's plan are nuclear power and 'clean coal' technologies, all of which have huge questions marks over their ability to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. And though Obama promised to only ratify the Keystone XL pipeline if its "net effect" does not "significantly exacerbate" carbon pollution (which it already does), exploiting America's domestic shale oil and gas reserves through fracking remains an integral part of the new plan.
The defunct "net effect" argument has already been used to legitimise shale gas, officially touted as a clean bridge fuel. But shale gas is far from clean. In 2011, the first comprehensive analysis of emissions from shale gas in the journal Climatic Change found that:
"The footprint for shale gas is greater than that for conventional gas or oil when viewed on any time horizon, but particularly so over 20 years. Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20% greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon and is comparable when compared over 100 years."
In an updated analysis published last year, the study authors reiterated these findings:
"... for most uses, the GHG footprint of shale gas is greater than that of other fossil fuels on time scales of up to 100 years. When used to generate electricity, the shale-gas footprint is still significantly greater than that of coal at decadal time scales but is less at the century scale... We reiterate our conclusion... that shale gas is not a suitable bridge fuel for the 21st Century."
What about nuclear power? A 2008 study in the International Journal of Nuclear Governance, Economy and Ecology pointed out that the construction, mining, milling, transporting, refining, enrichment, waste reprocessing/disposal, fabrication, operation and decommissioning processes of nuclear power all release fossil fuel emissions. Also, nuclear power is not efficient enough to replace oil, gas and coal. To do so nuclear production would need to increase by 10.5 per cent every year from 2010 to 2050 - an "unsustainable prospect" requiring a "cannibalistic effect", whereby nuclear energy itself must be used to supply the energy for future nuclear power plants.
Study author Dr. Joshua Pearce further argued last year that unless nuclear power adopts "improved technology and efficiency through the entire life cycle to prevent energy cannibalism during rapid growth", the industry could "face obsolescence" compared to renewables. And a new report by the Berlin-based Energy Watch Group warns of a "high risk of a uranium supply gap for nuclear reactors before 2020."
What about carbon capture and storage (CCS), where we burn fossil fuels, but capture the carbon dioxide and 'sequester' it back underground? Some suggest we could capture half the world's emitted carbon in this way by the 2040s. Unfortunately, it sounds too good to be true - and it is. As environmental scientist Vaclav Smil calculates, to sequester just a fifth of current CO2 emissions:
"... we would have to create an entirely new worldwide absorption-gathering-compression-transportation- storage industry whose annual throughput would have to be about 70 percent larger than the annual volume now handled by the global crude oil industry whose immense infrastructure of wells, pipelines, compressor stations and storages took generations to build."
The financial and energy costs of CCS are therefore meteorically unsustainable.
The problem here is simple. Obama's new climate plan, however well intentioned (or not), is tied to fatally flawed energy politics. The world needs a climate strategy based on science - not wishful thinking inspired by the fossil fuel and nuclear lobbies.

Monday, June 24, 2013

1090. Follow the Money: GMO Scientists and Monsanto Receive the World Food Award

By By Doug Gurian-Sherman, Union of Concerned Scientists, June 20, 2013

As reported in the New York Times, the prestigious World Food Prize was awarded today to a trio of scientists who had important roles in the early development of crop genetic engineering. One, Robert Fraley, is at Monsanto, and another Mary-Dell Chilton, is with another seed giant, Syngenta. The third is European scientist Marc Van Montagu.
When I was a doctoral student doing research using molecular biology in the 1980s (and in the early 90s as a post-doctoral researcher at USDA), the contributions of Chilton and Van Montagu were invaluable. Thirty years later, the science of applied molecular biology in agriculture, genetic engineering, is mired in controversy.
While these awardees have made some important contributions to science, it has not translated into major positive contributions to agriculture and food security—the supposed purpose for awarding the World Food Prize.
Feeding the world?
Although genetic engineering has been widely adopted in a few major crops—mainly soybeans, corn, cotton and canola—only two general types of engineered genes, for resistance to herbicides and for killing certain insects, have been widely commercially successful after 30 years of trying.

These have provided some benefits, such as a reduction of chemical insecticide use on some of these crops, and some relatively small yield increases. Most of the yield increases for small farmers are from cotton, a low value crop, which is unlikely to pull these farmers out of poverty.
At the same time, in the countries that have used these technologies the longest, big problems are emerging. Weeds resistant to the herbicide used on Monsanto’s crops have reached epidemic proportions in the U.S., reportedly infesting about 60 million acres and increasing rapidly. This has increased herbicide use by hundreds of millions of pounds above where it probably would have been had these crops not existed.
And now insects resistant to Bt are emerging around the world. I was at the University of Illinois recently, where I heard a respected corn entomologist bemoaning the intention of corn farmers to return to the use of chemical insecticides to control rootworms that have developed resistance to Monsanto’s Bt gene for controlling that important pest.
On top of that, USDA does not even count the over 90 percent of corn seed—that’s close to 90 million acres—that is treated with neonicotinoid insecticides that are implicated in seriously harming bees and other beneficial organisms. One of the major producers of these insecticides is Chilton’s company, Syngenta.
The point is that the static and narrowly focused economic analyses that have touted the (limited) benefits of GE do not take into account that these products have been developed for use in monoculture agriculture systems, where their nominal value is very temporary (the industry’s solution is more of the same, e.g. new herbicide-resistant crops that will further increase herbicide use).
Add to this the questions raised about monopoly control of the seed supply via intellectual property (patents), weak-kneed regulators, and the challenge of using GE successfully for developing genetically and physiologically complex traits like drought tolerance, and the successes of this technology as applied so far are seen to be meager, and substantially outweighed by its faults.
And what about the opportunity costs of using this expensive technology instead of more effective and cheaper breeding methods and agroecology? It is often argued that we need all the tools in the toolbox to meet the coming challenges of agriculture (this is merely an assertion–there is really no real science behind it one way or the other). But with finite public resources for improving agriculture, it is also important to focus on the most cost-effective approaches, and those that give the best social outcomes. This is not an argument against GE per se, but against the facile, but convincing-sounding, argument that we “must” use it.
U.S. policy in support of corporate goals
Sadly, Secretary of State John Kerry also overstated the case about GE in his address at the World Food Prize announcement ceremony, claiming “dramatic increases in yield,” (not really very dramatic, and importantly, less than what crop breeding and agroecology provide). He made several aspirational claims, saying that biotechnology will reduce pesticide use (that is not the trend, as I have discussed above), or will reduce nitrogen fertilizer pollution. We have carefully analyzed this last claim, and while traditional breeding has made some progress toward improving nitrogen use efficiency, so far GE has not, and there is no good evidence that GE will improve upon what breeding can do. His claim that it has dramatically reduced loss to disease is simply wrong, unless one means the mere few thousand acres planted to a few virus-resistant crops.
Biotech has made some narrowly-defined progress on a very few crop traits, but they have been underwhelming when examined in the context of better alternatives like breeding and agroecology.
Given all of the real problems surrounding the use of this technology in the real world, how could the caretakers of the Prize possibly present it to these scientists?
Follow the money
Is anyone surprised to find that the biotech industry is a major supporter of the World Food Prize? Monsanto, according to the NYT article, has donated $5 million. Included in the long list of sponsors are other biotech giants, such as DuPont Pioneer, and supporters including the Gates Foundation and the Syngenta Foundation (not Syngenta Company, but we know who butters that bread).
The caretakers of the WFP have claimed that industry money did not influence their decision. Of course they would say this; can you imagine them saying something different? That is why the strong appearance of conflicts of interest is considered to be almost as important as a more direct smoking gun, because the latter is usually very well hidden. The current award of the WFP fails the appearance test miserably.
This is, unfortunately, all a part of the perverse influence that multinational industry money is having on science. For example, my colleague Gretchen Goldman recently posted a blog revealing a trail of corrupt influence by Syngenta on the process of science.
The role of private money in leveraging influence on science is exacerbated by congressional ideologues that have been hacking away at productive public sources of funds for decades, making scientists at public research institutions more and more dependent on handouts from the private sector that come with long strings attached, as I discussed several months ago. Unless this trend is reversed, we will all pay a high price when we can no longer have confidence in the independence of such a major facet of our society.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

1089. 54% of Pregnant Women Use Insecticides That Are Harmful to the Fetus, Spanish Study Shows

By Science Daily, June 20, 2013

Pregnancy and infancy are the periods of greatest vulnerability to the use of household insecticides. This is one of the findings of the first study of its kind to be carried out in Spain, which concludes that more than half of expectant mothers routinely use these chemical compounds.

Spanish researchers have described the use of domestic pesticides during pregnancy and the first year of life in nearly 2,500 women and children in Sabadell, Guipúzcoa and various areas of Asturias and the Valencian Community.
The study, published in Science of the Total Environment, also considers the socio-demographic and lifestyle factors most strongly linked to the use of these pesticides.
In 2003 and 2008, the authors monitored the women who agreed to take part in the project from the beginning of their pregnancy until birth and during their offspring's first few years of life.

"Pesticides are used in domestic environments to control infestations of insects or other living creatures," explains Sabrina Llop from the Higher Public Health Research Centre (CSISP) in Valencia, the leading author of the paper. "Exposure during pregnancy or infancy proves to have a negative impact on fetal growth and neurological effects, as well as increasing the risk of childhood leukemia," she continues.

The results show that 54% of pregnant women used some kind of insecticide inside the home and 15% made use of a combination of two or three methods.

45% of women used some kind of insecticide in their bedrooms: 5% throughout the whole year, 75% seasonally and 20% on an occasional basis. The most frequently used method in the bedroom was the electric device at 62%.

47% of pregnant women used insecticides in the rest of the house, 7% throughout the whole year, 67% seasonally and 26% occasionally. The most widely used method by women in other areas of the house was insecticide spray at 69%.
2% of women used other kinds of measures to control infestations in their bedrooms and 5% in the rest of the house. These other measures included cockroach traps, powder insecticide and chemical methods such as wave devices. Only 1% of women used insect repellents during pregnancy.

10% of pregnant women used outdoor insecticides, such as in gardens or vegetable plots and yards with plants: 9% every month, 14% every 2-3 months, 20% three times a year and 57% occasionally.

"These results are significant because they enable this information to be used to come up with preventive measures, especially at vulnerable stages of life," Llop affirms.

The less educated, the more pesticides
"Multiparous women, born in Spain, with a lower level of education, who have a garden, whose residence is near crops, and/or from Sabadell or Valencia are the most likely to use household pesticides," Llop asserts.

The use of these pesticides continued during their offspring's first year of life, although 20% of the women stopped using them. Sprays were the method that the participants were most likely to stop using in their bedrooms: 53% during pregnancy and 26% during infancy. In contrast, the use of the electric device remained constant.

Exposure routes
The main ways of being exposed to these substances are inhalation, skin contact and unintentional ingestion. In babies and children, ingestion of contaminated dust in the house is the most significant route of exposure to pesticides in the home.
The authors attribute this to babies spending more time at home and in general wearing fewer clothes than adults. In addition, their breathing zones are closer to the ground, where pesticide residue levels can be higher, and they are more likely to have close contact with plants, grass and other surfaces.
"Fetuses and children are especially vulnerable to pesticide exposure because their detoxification mechanisms and immune systems are not fully developed," Llop concludes.

1088. Why Closely Related Species Do Not Eat the Same Things

By Science Daily, June 21, 2013
Parasitic wasp laying eggs inside and aphid

Closely related species consume the same resources less often than more remotely related species. In fact, it is the competition for resources, and not their kinship, which determines the food sources of the species of a community. Under the effect of this competition, closely related species have specialized on different food resources. This is the conclusion of a study carried out by researchers from CNRS, the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle and Exeter University (United Kingdom). These results were obtained by studying trophic interactions between species at an extraordinary level of detail in an English meadow.

Published on 20 June 2013 in the journal Current Biology, the work provides important insights into the evolution of ecological communities at a time when certain are being disrupted by climate change and the arrival of invasive species.

In ecology, the present paradigm considers that kinship relations between species determine the identity of the partners with which the species interact: the more closely related the species, the more chance they have of interacting with the same partners. Thus, according to this view, two closely related species should share the same predators and the same preys. Recent work carried out by a team of researchers from CNRS, the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle and Exeter University shows that this is not necessarily the case. For the first time, the scientists have shown that although kinship between species effectively determines what feeds on species, it is competition for resources and not degree of kinship that determines what species feed on.

To arrive at this conclusion, they made a series of observations over a ten-year period in a meadow in the south east of England. These observations, carried out at an extraordinary level of detail, made it possible to establish the interactions between one hundred or so species situated on four trophic levels: plants (23 species), aphids that feed on these plants (25 species), wasps that lay their eggs in the bodies of the aphids (22 species), and other wasps that lay their eggs in the larvae of the preceding wasps inside aphids (26 species).

The researchers have shown that two closely related species of aphid, for example, are generally the prey of the same species of wasp. It is thus the kinship of species that determines the identity of their predators. On the other hand, these two closely related species of aphid do not necessarily feed on the same plants. Going up the food chain, the scientists observed that there was little chance that the most closely related wasps feed on the same species of aphid. This is explained by the fact that under the pressure of competition for food sources, closely related species diversify what they feed on, which has the effect of reducing competition. It was possible to reach this conclusion thanks to the level of detail of the observations made, enabling dynamics to be revealed at a very local scale.

At a time when global warming is creating an imbalance in communities and when numerous species are invading ecosystems to which they were previously alien, these conclusions need to be taken into account if it is wished to predict the new interactions that will result from such changes. In fact, these results show that the resources consumed by a species joining a community cannot be predicted by its kinship relations with those species already present.