Tuesday, June 14, 2022

3594. How Nonhuman Animals Perceive the World

 By Ed Yong, The Atlantic, June 13, 2022

Increasing light pollution in the U.S.

Within the 310,000 acres of Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park, one of the largest parking lots is in the village of Colter Bay. Beyond the lot’s far edge, nestled among some trees, is a foul-smelling sewage-pumping station that Jesse Barber, a sensory ecologist at Boise State University, calls the Shiterator. On this particular night, sitting quietly within a crevice beneath the building’s metal awning and illuminated by Barber’s flashlight, is a little brown bat. A white device the size of a rice grain is attached to the bat’s back. “That’s the radio tag,” Barber tells me. He’d previously affixed it to the bat so that he could track its movements, and tonight he has returned to tag a few more.

From inside the Shiterator, I can hear the chirps of other roosting bats. As the sun sets, they start to emerge. A few become entangled in the large net Barber has strung between two trees. He frees a bat, and Hunter Cole, one of his students, carefully examines it to check that it’s healthy and heavy enough to carry a tag. Once satisfied, Cole daubs a spot of surgical cement between its shoulder blades and attaches the tiny device. “It’s a little bit of an art project, the tagging of a bat,” Barber tells me. After a few minutes, Cole places the bat on the trunk of the nearest tree. It crawls upward and takes off, carrying $175 worth of radio equipment into the woods.

I watch as the team examines another bat, which opens its mouth and exposes its surprisingly long teeth. This isn’t an aggressive display; it only looks like one. The bat is unleashing a stream of short, ultrasonic pulses from its mouth, which are too high-pitched for me to hear. Bats, however, can hear ultrasound, and by listening for the returning echoes, they can detect and locate objects around them.

Echolocation is the primary means through which most bats navigate and hunt. Only two animal groups are known to have perfected the ability: toothed whales (such as dolphins, orcas, and sperm whales) and bats. Echolocation differs from human senses because it involves putting energy into the environment. Eyes scan, noses sniff, and fingers press, but these sense organs are always picking up stimuli that already exist in the wider world. By contrast, an echolocating bat creates the stimulus that it later detects. Echolocation is a way of tricking your surroundings into revealing themselves. A bat says “Marco,” and its surroundings can’t help but say “Polo.”

The basic process seems straightforward, but its details are extraordinary. High-pitched sounds quickly lose energy in air, so bats must scream to make calls that are strong enough to return audible echoes. To avoid deafening themselves, bats contract the muscles in their ears in time with their calls, desensitizing their hearing with every shout and restoring it in time for the echo. Each echo provides a snapshot in time, so bats must update their calls quickly to track fast-moving insects; fortunately, their vocal muscles are the fastest known muscles in any mammal, releasing up to 200 pulses a second. A bat’s nervous system is so sensitive that it can detect differences in echo delay of just one- or two-millionths of a second, which translates to a physical distance of less than a millimeter. A bat thus gauges the distance to an insect with far more precision than humans can.

Echolocation’s main weakness is its short range: Some bats can detect small moths from about six to nine yards away. But they can do so in darkness so total that vision simply doesn’t work. Even in pitch-blackness, bats can skirt around branches and pluck minuscule insects from the sky. Of course, bats are not the only animals that hunt nocturnally. In the Tetons, as I watch Barber tagging bats, mosquitoes bite me through my shirt, attracted by the smell of the carbon dioxide on my breath. While I itch, an owl flies overhead, tracking its prey using a radar dish of stiff facial feathers that funnel sound toward its ears. These creatures have all evolved senses that allow them to thrive in the dark. But the dark is disappearing.

Barber is one of a growing number of sensory biologists who fear that humans are polluting the world with too much light, to the detriment of other species. Even here, in the middle of a national park, light from human technology intrudes upon the darkness. It spews forth from the headlights of passing vehicles, from the fluorescent bulbs of the visitor center, and from the lampposts encircling the parked cars. “The parking lot is lit up like a Walmart because no one thought about the implications for wildlife,” Barber says.

Many flying insects are fatally attracted to streetlights, mistaking them for celestial lights and hovering below them until they succumb to exhaustion. Some bats exploit their confusion, feasting on the disoriented swarms. Other, slower-moving species, including the little brown bats that Barber tagged, stay clear of the light, perhaps because it makes them easier prey for owls. Lights reshape animal communities, drawing some in and pushing others away, with consequences that are hard to predict.

To determine the effect of light on the bats of Grand Teton, Barber persuaded the National Park Service to let him try an unusual experiment. In 2019, he refitted all 32 streetlights in the Colter Bay parking lot with special bulbs that can change color. They can produce either white light, which strongly affects the behavior of insects and bats, or red light, which doesn’t seem to. Every few days during my visit, Barber’s team flips their color. Funnel-shaped traps hanging below the lamps collect the gathering insects, while radio transponders pick up the signals from the tagged bats. These data should reveal how normal white lights affect the local animals, and whether red lights can help rewild the night sky.

Cole gives me a little demonstration by flipping the lights to red. At first, the parking lot looks disquietingly infernal, as if we have stepped into a horror movie. But as my eyes adjust, the red hues feel less dramatic and become almost pleasant. It is amazing how much we can still see. The cars and the surrounding foliage are all visible. I look up and notice that fewer insects seem to be gathered beneath the lamps. I look up even farther and see the stripe of the Milky Way cutting across the sky. It’s an achingly beautiful sight, one I have never seen before in the Northern Hemisphere.

Every animal is enclosed within its own sensory bubble, perceiving but a tiny sliver of an immense world. There is a wonderful word for this sensory bubble—Umwelt. It was defined and popularized by the Baltic German zoologist Jakob von Uexküll in 1909. Umwelt comes from the German word for “environment,” but Uexküll didn’t use it to refer to an animal’s surroundings. Instead, an Umwelt is specifically the part of those surroundings that an animal can sense and experience—its perceptual world. A tick, questing for mammalian blood, cares about body heat, the touch of hair, and the odor of butyric acid that emanates from skin. It doesn’t care about other stimuli, and probably doesn’t know that they exist. Every Umwelt is limited; it just doesn’t feel that way. Each one feels all-encompassing to those who experience it. Our Umwelt is all we know, and so we easily mistake it for all there is to know. This is an illusion that every creature shares.

Humans, however, possess the unique capacity to appreciate the Umwelten of other species, and through centuries of effort, we have learned much about those sensory worlds. But in the time it took us to accumulate that knowledge, we have radically remolded those worlds. Much of the devastation that we have wrought is by now familiar. We have changed the climate and acidified the oceans. We have shuffled wildlife across continents, replacing indigenous species with invasive ones. We have instigated what some scientists have called an era of “biological annihilation,” comparable to the five great mass-extinction events of prehistory. But we have also filled the silence with noise and the night with light. This often ignored phenomenon is called sensory pollution—human-made stimuli that interfere with the senses of other species. By barraging different animals with stimuli of our own making, we have forced them to live in our Umwelt. We have distracted them from what they actually need to sense, drowned out the cues they depend upon, and lured them into sensory traps. All of this is capable of doing catastrophic damage.

2 black and white photos: a close-up view of a sea turtle's head; a titmouse with head bowed and paws over eyes
A sea turtle’s hatchlings can be diverted away from the sea by artificial lights. For mice, human-made noise
can mask the sounds of predators. (Shayan Asgharnia for The Atlantic)

In 2001, astronomer Pierantonio Cinzano and his colleagues created the first global atlas of light pollution. They calculated that two-thirds of the world’s population lived in light-polluted areas, where the nights were at least 10 percent brighter than natural darkness. About 40 percent of humankind is permanently bathed in the equivalent of perpetual moonlight, and about 25 percent constantly experiences an artificial twilight that exceeds the illumination of a full moon. “‘Night’ never really comes for them,” the researchers wrote. In 2016, when the team updated the atlas, it found that the problem had become even worse. By then, about 83 percent of people—including more than 99 percent of Americans and Europeans—were under light-polluted skies. More than a third of humanity, and almost 80 percent of North Americans, can no longer see the Milky Way. “The thought of light traveling billions of years from distant galaxies only to be washed out in the last billionth of a second by the glow from the nearest strip mall depresses me to no end,” the visual ecologist Sönke Johnsen once wrote.

At Colter Bay, Cole flips the lights from red back to white and I wince. The extra illumination feels harsh and unpleasant. The stars seem fainter now. Sensory pollution is the pollution of disconnection. It detaches us from the cosmos. It drowns out the stimuli that link animals to their surroundings and to one another. In making the planet brighter and louder, we have endangered sensory environments for countless species in ways that are less viscerally galling than clear-cut rain forests and bleached coral reefs but no less tragic. That must now change. We can still save the quiet and preserve the dark.

Every year on September 11, the sky above New York City is pierced by two columns of intense blue light. This annual art installation, known as Tribute in Light, commemorates the terrorist attacks of 2001, with the ascending beams standing in for the fallen Twin Towers. Each is produced by 44 xenon bulbs with 7,000-watt intensities. Their light can be seen from 60 miles away. From closer up, onlookers often notice small flecks, dancing amid the beams like gentle flurries of snow. Those flecks are birds. Thousands of them.

This annual ritual, unfortunately, occurs during the autumn migratory season, when billions of small songbirds undertake long flights through North American skies. Navigating under the cover of darkness, they fly in such large numbers that they show up on radar. By analyzing meteorological radar images, Benjamin Van Doren showed that Tribute in Light, across seven nights of operation, waylaid about 1.1 million birds. The beams reach so high that even at altitudes of several miles, passing birds are drawn into them. Warblers and other small species congregate within the light at up to 150 times their normal density levels. They circle slowly, as if trapped in an incorporeal cage. They call frequently and intensely. They occasionally crash into nearby buildings.

Migrations are grueling affairs that push small birds to their physiological limit. Even a night-long detour can sap their energy reserves to fatal effect. So whenever 1,000 or more birds are caught within Tribute in Light, the bulbs are turned off for 20 minutes to let the birds regain their bearing. But that’s just one source of light among many, and though intense and vertical, it shines only once a year. At other times, light pours out of sports stadiums and tourist attractions, oil rigs and office buildings. It pushes back the dark and pulls in migrating birds.

In 1886, shortly after Thomas Edison commercialized the electric light bulb, about 1,000 birds died after colliding with illuminated towers in Decatur, Illinois. More than a century later, the environmental scientist Travis Longcore and his colleagues calculated that almost 7 million birds die each year in the United States and Canada after flying into communication towers. The lights of those towers are meant to warn aircraft pilots, but they also disrupt the orientation of nocturnal avian fliers, which then veer into wires or each other. Many of these deaths could be avoided simply by replacing steady lights with blinking ones.

We too quickly forget that we don’t perceive the world in the same way as other species, and consequently, we ignore impacts that we shouldn’t,” Longcore tells me in his Los Angeles office. Our eyes are among the sharpest in the animal kingdom, but their high resolution comes with the cost of low sensitivity. Unlike most other mammals, our vision fails us at night, so we crave more nocturnal illumination, not less.

The idea of light as a pollutant is jarring to us, but it becomes one when it creeps into places where it doesn’t belong. Widespread light at night is a uniquely anthropogenic force. The daily and seasonal rhythms of bright and dark remained largely inviolate throughout all of evolutionary time—a 4-billion-year streak that began to falter in the 19th century.

When sea-turtle hatchlings emerge from their nests, they crawl away from the dark shapes of dune vegetation toward the brighter oceanic horizon. But lit roads and beach resorts can steer them in the wrong direction, where they are easily picked off by predators or squashed by vehicles. In Florida alone, artificial lights kill baby turtles in the thousands every year. They’ve wandered into a baseball game and, more horrifying, abandoned beach fires. The caretaker of one property in Melbourne Beach found hundreds of dead hatchlings piled beneath a single mercury-vapor lamp.

black and white photo of cricket
Female crickets struggle to find the best mates when noise pollution masks the males’ songs. (Shayan Asgharnia for The Atlantic)

Artificial lights can also fatally attract insects, contributing to their alarming global declines. A single streetlamp can lure moths from 25 yards away, and a well-lit road might as well be a prison. Many of the insects that gather around streetlamps will likely be eaten or dead from exhaustion by sunrise. Those that zoom toward vehicle headlights will probably be gone even sooner. The consequences of these losses can ripple across ecosystems. In 2014, as part of an experiment, the ecologist Eva Knop installed streetlamps in seven Swiss meadows. After sunset, she prowled these fields with night-vision goggles, peering into flowers to search for moths and other pollinators. By comparing these sites to others that had been kept dark, Knop showed that the illuminated flowers received 62 percent fewer visits from pollinating insects. One plant produced 13 percent less fruit even though it was visited by a day shift of bees and butterflies.

The presence of light isn’t the only factor that matters; so does its nature. Insects with aquatic larvae, such as mayflies and dragonflies, will fruitlessly lay their eggs on wet roads, windows, and car roofs, because these reflect horizontally polarized light in the same way bodies of water do. Rapidly flickering light bulbs can cause headaches and other neurological problems in humans, even though our eyes are usually too slow to detect these changes; what, then, do they do to animals with faster vision, like insects and small birds?

Colors matter, too. Red is better for bats and insects but can waylay migrating birds. Yellow doesn’t bother turtles or most insects but can disrupt salamanders. No wavelength is perfect, Longcore says, but blue and white are the worst of all. Blue light interferes with body clocks and strongly attracts insects. It is also easily scattered, increasing the spread of light pollution. It is, however, cheap and efficient to produce. The new generation of energy-efficient white LEDs contain a lot of blue light, and the world might switch to them from traditional yellow-orange sodium lights. In energy terms, that would be an environmental win. But it would also increase the amount of global light pollution by two or three times. 

Thursday, June 9, 2022

3593. Biden’s War Strategy in Ukraine — Russia’s Defeat, Rejection of a Negotiated Settlement

By Barry Sheppard, June 2022 

Editor's Note: The following article was shared with me by a socialist friend.  I am posting it because Sheppard outlines aspects of the war in Ukraine that has not been covered in OPITW before including in my own March 7 essay "Humanity at Crossroad." Needless to say, I am not in full agreement with Sheppard as he does not take a critical attitude towards Russian imperialism and its actions. In his account, the focus is on U.S. imperialism, in particular, the Biden administration, which he correctly criticizes. But he clearly does not see the war in Ukraine as an inter-imperialist conflict; it is essentially presented as a poly by the U.S. administration to trap Russia into another quagmire as USSR was trapped in the Afghan war. He even seems to support the idea that USSR's war in Afghanistan was the prime reason for its downfall. I have slightly edited the text including fixing typing errors, formatting, and punctuations. KN 

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The June 4 New York Times prominently printed a long opinion piece by Christopher Caldwell titled “U.S. Helps Prolong Ukraine War”. While not an editorial, it was printed in the space editorials appear when they are written.

Caldwell is a neoconservative who opposes the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He is identified by the Times as “a contributing Opinion writer”.

In the article, Caldwell says, “But the United States has helped turn this tragic, local and ambiguous conflict into a potential world conflagration.”

He refers to an article written in the French daily Le Figaro by Henri Guarino, an advisor for past French president Nicolas Sarkozy:

“Mr. Guaino argues by misunderstanding the war’s logic the West, led by the Biden administration, is giving the conflict a momentum that may be impossible to stop. He is right.

“In 2014 the United States backed an uprising — in its final stages a violent uprising — against the legitimately elected government of Viktor Yanukovych …”

Caldwell doesn’t explain that this was a rightist uprising by Ukrainian nationalists, with armed far-right groups in the lead, who formed, with U.S. direct intervention, a rightist Ukrainian nationalist government. That government moved to ban the Russian language as one of the official languages of government, which it had been. It mandated the teaching of Ukrainian in schools in the Russian-speaking east.

These armed far-right groups look to the Ukrainian forces that collaborated with the Nazis in the Second World War for inspiration.

This new government rapidly launched a civil war against the largely Russian-speaking east. The armed far-right groups formed the Azov Brigade, which became the spearhead of the Ukrainian army up to today.

The West supported the Ukrainian nationalist side in this civil war, while Russia supported the resistance in the east.

The civil war came to a stalemate in the Donbas region that borders with Russia, but has continued to the present. Early this year the Ukrainian side launched a new offensive in the Donbas, resulting in troops from the two Peoples Republics in the Donbas and Russian troops stepping up their resistance.   

The West, led by the U.S., supported the new government’s pledge to join NATO, completing the eastward move of NATO to confront and threaten Russia all along its western border.

Crimea at the time was part of Ukraine. Crimea had been part of Russia since Czarist Russia had conquered it from the Ottoman Empire in the late 1700s. In the mid-1950s, the government of the Soviet Union moved Crimea from the Russian SSR to the Ukrainian SSR for administrative reasons, still part of the USSR.

Since Russia conquered Crimea, the port city of Sevastopol was the naval base of Russia’s (and then the Soviet Union’s) Black Sea Fleet. With the breakup of the USSR and the independence of Ukraine, it was agreed that the naval base would remain under Russia’s control.

If Ukraine had joined NATO in 2014, the naval base would fall under the U.S.’s control. Russia responded by retaking Crimea, supported by the Russian-speaking populace.

Caldwell writes “In recent years, Russia’s control of Crimea has seemed to provide a stable regional arrangement. Russia’s European neighbors, at least, have let sleeping dogs lie.

“But the United States never accepted the arrangement. On Nov. 10, 2021, the United States and Ukraine signed a ‘charter on strategic partnership’ that called for Ukraine to join NATO … and affirmed an ‘unwavering commitment to the reintegration of Crimea into Ukraine’.

“That charter ‘convinced Russia that it must attack or be attacked,’ Mr. Guaino wrote. ‘It is the ineluctable process of 1914 in all its terrifying purity’.”

The reference to 1914 is to the escalation by competing military blocs of rival imperialist countries that resulted in the First World War.

Caldwell also writes, “The United States started arming and training Ukraine’s military, hesitantly at first under President Barak Obama. Modern hardware began flowing during the Trump administration, though, and today the country is armed to the teeth.

“Since 2018, Ukraine has received U.S.-built Javelin antitank missiles, Czech artillery and Turkish Bayraktar drones, and other NATO-interoperable weaponry. The United States and Canada have lately sent up-to-date M777 howitzers that fire GPS-guided Excalibur shells. President Biden has just signed into law a $40 billion military [additional] aid package.

“In this light, mockery of Russia’s battlefield performance is misplaced. Russia is not being stymied by a plucky agricultural country a third its size; it is holding its own, at least for now, against NATO’s advanced economic, cyber, and battlefield weapons.

“This is where Mr. Guaino is correct to accuse the West of sleepwalking [into direct war against Russia].”

Caldwell concludes his long article: “The situation on the battlefield in Ukraine has evolved to an awkward stage. Both Russia and Ukraine have suffered heavy losses. But each has made gains, too.

“Russia has a land bridge to Crimea and control of some of Ukraine’s most fertile lands and energy deposits, and in recent days has held the battlefield momentum. Ukraine, after a robust defense, if its cities, can expect further NATO support, know-how and weaponry — a powerful incentive not to end the war anytime soon.

“But if the war doesn’t end soon, its dangers will increase. ‘Negotiations need to begin in the next two months,’ Henry Kissinger, the former U.S. Secretary of State,  warned last week, ‘before it creates upheavals and tensions that will not be easily overcome.’ ”

Caldwell says that to make no concessions to Russia would be “insanity”.

That the New York Times would feature this article so prominently indicates that an important section of the capitalist class’s political thinkers believes that Biden’s present course can “sleepwalk” into direct U.S. war with Russia with all its dangers and that a negotiated settlement with Russia must happen.

Germany, France, and Italy are calling for a negotiated settlement, and have met with Putin and Zelensky. Under this pressure, Biden said that the war would end with a negotiated settlement.

He also said that the U.S. would not tell Ukraine what to do about negotiations, meaning there will be none. Ukraine is not calling the shots in NATO’s war against Russia, the U.S. is, and the U.S. has blocked any negotiations with Russia.

For now, it is full steam ahead for Biden and his war machine, including threats to other countries that don’t go along. He is keeping all his sanctions against Russia, and stepping them up.

This includes his sanctions against Russian wheat and fertilizer. Russia is a major supplier to the world of those commodities, and the result has been a shortage of wheat worldwide, and hunger in much of the Third World dependent on Russia for them.

The White House and the major media in the U.S. have promoted the lie that Russia itself is to blame, turning the victim into the criminal and the criminal into the victim, as Malcolm X said about U.S. policy.

The U.S. administration visited Africa in an attempt to get those countries to stop importing Russian wheat which it sells at cheap prices, but they rejected that out of hand as their people face hunger.

What is the U.S. strategy in Ukraine? An article in CounterPunch by Dan Glazebrook in March explains that it has been to “bait and bleed” Russia.

Glazebrook writes, “The term bait and bleedwas defined by International Relations theorist John Mearsheimer in 2001 as a military strategy that involves causing two rivals to engage in a protracted war, so that they bleed each other white, while the baiter remains on the sideline, its military strength intact.”

“The current National Defence Strategy (NDS) of the USA explicitly endorses such a strategy, and it makes no bones about who it is aimed at. The NDS, authored by then-Secretary of Defence James Mattis in 2018, describes itself as ‘a clear road map for the Department of Defense to meet the challenges posed by a re-emergence of long-term strategic competition with China and Russia,’ adding that ‘interstate strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in US national security.’ 

“On p.5 of the summary document, under the heading ‘strategic approach,’ the NDS vows that ‘with our allies and partners, we will challenge competitors by maneuvering them into unfavorable positions, frustrating their efforts, precluding their options while expanding our own, and forcing them to confront conflict under adverse conditions.’ There it is, in black and white: it is official US policy to bait Russia into conflict.

“The US certainly has form in this regard. Until 1998, the mainstream view of US support for the anti-communist insurgency in Afghanistan throughout the 1980s was that it had been a response to the Russian invasion of December 1979.

“But in an interview in 1998, Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor to US President Jimmy Carter, admitted that the truth was the exact opposite. In fact ‘it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul.


And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention…The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, essentially: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war that was unsustainable for the regime, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.’

“Asked whether he regretted the move, which plunged Afghanistan into a conflict which is now into its fifth decade, he replied ‘Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it?’ 

“Plunging the Afghan people into a half-century of devastating war was of no consequence for the likes of Brzezinski. His successors clearly have the same attitude towards Ukraine.

“In a widely viewed 2015 lecture on Ukraine, Mearsheimer noted that ‘If you really want to wreck Russia, what you really want to do is encourage Russia to conquer Ukraine.’ The US and the UK – the latter in particular – appear to have been taking this advice very seriously.”

Putin fell into the trap with his invasion of western Ukraine and drive on Kyiv, with the purpose of imposing a government favorable to Russia, which was correctly denounced.

It also was a major blunder. Apparently, Putin was unaware that Ukraine had been “armed to the teeth”, and Ukraine repulsed the drive on Kyiv. Russia was forced to withdraw its forces, and regroup in the Donbas and the south.

The Russian war then became a defense against Ukraine joining NATO and a future NATO attack, and defense of Crimea.

Any realistic negotiated settlement would have to accept these justifiable Russian interests against NATO aggression. Germany and France appear to accept that. Biden doesn’t.

The New York Times reported that Ukraine’s regular army has been defeated in the Donbas. The Times doesn’t report the truth that the army there was the Azov Brigade. It was the Azov Brigade that was in the southern city of Mariupol and it was its last thousand fighters who surrendered to Russia.

Ukraine’s army in the Donbas is now composed of volunteers, the Times said. Biden has responded to Ukraine’s defeats with ever more sophisticated weapons, that the Ukrainian army doesn’t know how to use, the Times has just reported.

Among those weapons are ever more long-range ones. Putin has said that if those long-range weapons are used, Russia will respond.

To man those weapons, it is likely that NATO troops will have to be used. In this regard, Caldwell also reported, “The United States may be playing an even more direct role. There are thousands of foreign fighters in Ukraine. One volunteer spoke to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in May of fighting alongside ‘friends’ who ‘come from the Marines, from the States’.

“Just as it is easy to cross the line between being a weapons supplier and being a combatant, it is easy to cross the line from waging a proxy war to a secret one.”

The only way Russia will now be defeated in the Donbas and the land bridge to Crimea and Crimea itself — Biden’s goals — is by NATO troops entering the conflict, with the dangers Christopher Caldwell outlines.

Biden is attempting to re-create a unipolar world dominated by the U.S. First the defeat of Russia and then by the defeat of China.

Antiwar forces should be demanding a negotiated settlement with Russia now, thwarting Biden’s imperial goals. 

Thursday, June 2, 2022

3592. Climate Change: Time Is Running Out

By Editors, Monthly Review, June 2022

Time is running out for the world to carry out the social transformations necessary to avert irreversible climate catastrophe, keeping the increase in global average temperatures below 1.5°C (or below 2°C). The most optimistic scenario currently provided by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) describes a pathway in which the increase in temperature will not rise to 1.5°C until 2040, peaking at 1.6°C, and then falling back to 1.4°C by the end of this century. But to achieve this will require revolutionary scale transformational change in global social relations affecting the human relation to the climate and the planetary environment as a whole.

This was the clear message of the original draft by scientists of the most important climate change report to date: the Working Group III report on Mitigation of Climate Change of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), authored by 278 scientists from sixty-five countries, and drawing on some 18,000 scientific studies. The scientific report was completed in August 2021. The final report was then published, following alterations by governments of The Summary for Policymakers (SPM), in April 2022. Yet, the final governmental-drafted SPM—the only part of the climate change report that is widely read and that affects policy—negated almost all of what scientists themselves had previously agreed on with respect to mitigation in their original draft of the SPM, creating a sharp divergence between this and the rest of the 2,900-page report.

It is crucial to understand that, in the IPCC process, the lead authors of the report arrive at a scientific consensus with respect to the entire climate report, including the all-important SPM. But, before the IPCC report is published, the SPM requires a second, supposedly higher consensus, known as the governmental consensus, in which governments (with corporate lobbyists looking over their shoulders) decide on the final SPM line by line, rewriting what the scientists provided. This means that the published SPM is no longer entirely the result of scientific deliberations but is negotiated by political-economic interests. Governmental actors, however, are not able to alter the climate report as a whole, only the SPM (Juan Bordera, “How the Corporate Interests and Political Elites Watered Down the World’s Most Important Climate Report,” MR Online, April 27, 2022). The justification for the twofold consensus process is that the governmental consensus is simply meant to modify the scientific consensus to account for political realities and in order to forge an international agreement. In the case of the Mitigation report for AR6, however, the governmental consensus took an extreme form that in effect entirely erased the scientific consensus that had preceded it.

Alerted early on to what was likely to transpire, Scientist Rebellion (linked to Extinction Rebellion) leaked the Working Group III document to the press in August 2021 (though most of the mainstream press refused to make mention of the leaked report), which was then published on MR Online in September. Reading the leaked scientific summary and the governmental summary that displaced it, side by side, demonstrates that they are two entirely different SPMs, with the governmental consensus SPM annulling the scientific consensus SPM, in effect censoring and removing the most important conclusions of the scientists who had authored the overall Working Group III Mitigation report (“Advance Release! The Leaked IPCC Reports,” MR Online, September 8, 2021).

As early as October 2021, the BBC, relying on documents it had obtained from the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference then taking place, described how various governments were going to war on the scientific consensus in the SPM of the Working Group III Mitigation report. Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Australia, India, Japan, and Norway, together with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, were demanding the removal of parts of the SPM that had insisted on rapid reductions in fossil fuel energy. Australia lobbied against statements in the SPM that indicated that coal-fired plants need to be eliminated while protesting references to fossil fuel lobbyists in the reports. At the same time, most of these countries were seeking to reverse the science in the SPM pointing to the non-viability of carbon capture and sequestration. Saudi Arabia objected to phrases in the report pointing to the need for “accelerated mitigation” of climate change. Brazil and Argentina insisted on censoring the scientific report on the subject of decreasing meat-based diets. Switzerland sought to remove sentences in the scientific report pointing to the need of developing countries to receive financing from rich countries in order to meet the targets for emission reductions. India, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia attacked the scientific consensus for its negative assessment of the role of nuclear power in combating climate change and achieving sustainable development goals (“COP26: Document Leak Reveals Nations Lobbying to Change Key Climate Report,” BBC, October 21, 2021). All of these countries were successful in cutting out entirely or watering down what they regarded as the objectionable elements in the published version of the SPM, including references to “accelerated mitigation,” which no longer appears.

The numerous changes to the SPM for the 2022 IPCC Mitigation report, which was altered in almost every line, dramatically highlight the role of vested interests in censoring the science. A number of examples will suffice:

  1. A key finding of the scientific consensus report was that no net addition to current coal or gas plants could be built and that existing ones needed to be closed down within a decade if the below 1.5°C target was to be met. Not only was this eliminated in the governmental consensus SPM, but the SPM was rewritten to state that coal-fired plants could be increased, given possibilities for carbon capture and sequestration.
  2. The scientific consensus report stated that possibilities for “the scale-up, diffusion and global spread of carbon capture and storage, nuclear energy, and carbon removal technologies have not progressed as rapidly” as other, alternative energy, technologies, and were not likely to play the major role in climate change mitigation, which, at this point, would have to rely on social change and demand-side, low-energy solutions. This was removed from the governmental consensus SPM.
  3. The original draft SPM written by scientists compared the carbon emissions of the wealthiest 10 percent of the global population to those of the poorest 10 percent, indicating that the former account for ten times the per capita emissions of the latter. This comparison was deleted from the published report.
  4. Likewise, the SPM by scientists had indicated that the top 1 percent accounted for 50 percent of all aviation-based emissions, while this was dropped from the governmental SPM.
  5. Significantly, the science-based SPM explained that over 40 percent of developing country emissions were due to export production for developed countries. This is no longer included in the final SPM.
  6. The scientific consensus indicated that “incremental” change was not sufficient to address climate change, with its “lock-in” of high-emissions technologies, and that an “ambitious transformation” with a “systemic approach” aimed at a fundamental social transition, overcoming “vested interests,” was required. This was discarded in the governmental consensus.
  7. The summary approved by scientists indicated that “rapid GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions reductions and fundamental structural changes at global scale” were required to meet climate goals and that “accelerated policy development” was therefore essential. This is gone from the final SPM.
  8. The scientific consensus SPM underscored that “pathways consistent with limiting global warming to below 2°C and 1.5°C entail rapid emissions reductions and a fundamental transformation of all sectors and regions in order to reach net zero CO2 emissions.” This sentence is nowhere to be found in the governmental consensus SPM.
  9. A paragraph on the “rebound effects” of technologies (related to the Jevons Paradox), in which increased efficiency in the use of energy inputs in the current economic order can be seen as leading to higher rather than lower levels of carbon emissions given current economic tendencies, was removed from the final SPM.

With respect to specific social-ecological measures advanced by the scientific consensus report, the deletions were equally dramatic:

  1. A sentence in the scientific consensus SPM on how pathways based on “lower demand” are key to carbon dioxide emissions reduction is absent in the final governmental consensus SPM.
  2. Six successive paragraphs on the importance of demand-side reductions based on lower-energy solutions, requiring fundamental social change, which were part of the scientific consensus, were entirely deleted from the governmental consensus report. This included paragraphs emphasizing altering urban space and built environments, shifting away from a meat-based diet, and providing better human services with less expenditure of energy. Eliminated were sentences stating: “The impacts of improved service provision on the constituents of wellbeing have many more positive than negative impacts. In low-energy demand scenarios, final energy demand is 40% lower in 2050 than in 2018, while wellbeing is maintained or improved.”
  3. The scientific consensus discussed the building of new, more sustainable cities, but this was removed in the governmental consensus.
  4. A statement on “nature-based solutions to mitigate climate change, such as urban forestry and green infrastructure” also disappeared.
  5. A key paragraph on how “transition pathways…that prioritize equity” can promote “transformational changes” was excised in the governmental consensus.
  6. Although the term just transition is still included in passing in the governmental consensus report, the substantive discussion of this is expunged.
  7. A discussion in the scientific SPM addressing “lack of integration of environmental justice in climate mitigation activities” was removed from the governmental SPM.
  8. A paragraph on “accelerated system transitions consistent with sustainable development” necessary to achieve climate goals was deleted.
  9. The scientific consensus indicated that “new social norms” could be created if “10–30% of the population” committed itself to “low-carbon technologies, behaviours, and lifestyles.” This was trashed in the published SPM.
  10. The scientific consensus insisted on the need for mobilization of the population, especially vulnerable communities, to combat climate change: “Increasing the participation of women, and racialised and marginalised groups, amplifies the impetus for climate action. Collective action through formal social movements and informal lifestyle movements expands the potential for climate policy and supports system change (high confidence). Climate strikes have given voice to youth in more than 180 countries.” No trace of any of this is to be found in the final report.

Upon the release of the IPCC Working Group III Mitigation report, UN general secretary António Guterres, in a radical departure from the norm, issued a strong statement that the climate change report itself was “a file of shame” and revealed “a litany of broken climate promises” by the “vested interests” who were putting humanity “firmly on track towards an unlivable world.” Although Guterres did not make it entirely explicit, nevertheless it was clear from his choice of words and the occasion that his objections were in large part a response to the mangling of the original SPM written by climate scientists. “Some government leaders,” he stated, were “lying,” “saying one thing—but doing another,” continuing to promote “investment in new fossil fuel infrastructure,” thereby perpetuating “moral and economic madness.” In a statement that read like a defense of the annihilated scientific consensus SPM, the UN general secretary declared, “climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals,” but in his view “the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels” (“Mitigation of Climate Change Report 2022: ‘Litany of Broken Climate Promises’—UN Chief,” United Nations April 5, 2022).

The effective eradication of the entire scientific consensus in the published SPM of the April 2022 IPCC Mitigation report means the published SPM is in stark contradiction with various chapters of the Mitigation report, which still convey the underlying scientific consensus on mitigation. Thus, chapter one of the report underscores that some argue that “the character of social and economic development produced by the nature of capitalist society is ultimately unsustainable,” and cites radical, anticapitalist figures such as Jason Hickel and Andreas Malm. The word degrowth appears twenty-eight times in the full report. It is therefore necessary for those seriously concerned about the current climate emergency to rely primarily on the scientific report—that is, the published chapters of the report plus the leaked SPM, representing the actual scientific consensus. In contrast, the published, government (and corporation) redacted SPM should be entirely dismissed as the consensus of capital, and the betrayal of science, reason, and humanity. The science is clear. Without radical transformative social change that breaks with the logic of the existing mode of production and that points to a world of sustainable human development, there will be no future for humanity.