Meditations on Collapse
A review of Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
Reprinted from MuseLetter number 154 (February, 2005), www.museletter.com.
Civilizations collapse. That is the rule that we learn from history, and it is a rule whose implications deserve careful thought given the fact that our own civilization-despite its global extent and unsurpassed technological prowess-is busily severing its own ecological underpinnings. Thus we should pay close attention when Jared Diamond, one of the world's most celebrated and honored science writers, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel, devotes his newest and already best-selling book to the subject of how and why whole societies sometimes lose their way and descend into chaos.
Diamond uses his considerable popular nonfiction prose-writing skills-carefully honed in the crafting of scores of articles for Natural History, Discover, Nature, and Geo-to trace the process of collapse in several ancient societies (including the Easter Islanders, the Maya, the Anasazi, and the Greenland Norse colony) and show parallels with trends in several modern nations (Rwanda, Haiti, and Australia).
One theme quickly emerges: the environment plays a crucial role in each instance. Resource depletion, habitat destruction, and population pressure combine in different ways in different circumstances; but when their mutually reinforcing impacts become critical, societies are sometimes challenged beyond their ability to respond and consequently disintegrate.
The ancient Maya practiced intensive slash-and-burn horticulture, growing mostly corn. Their population increased dramatically, peaking in the eighth century C.E., but this resulted in the over-cutting of forests; meanwhile their fragile soils were becoming depleted. A series of droughts turned problem to crisis. Yet kings and nobles, rather than comprehending and responding to the crisis, evidently remained fixated on the short-term priorities of enriching themselves, building monuments, waging wars, and extracting sufficient food from the peasants to support their ostentatious lifestyles. The population of Mayan cities quickly began a decline that would continue for several centuries, culminating in levels 90 percent lower than at the civilization's height in 700.
The Easter Islanders, whose competing clan leaders built giant stone statues in order to display their prestige and to symbolize their connection with the gods, cut every last tree in their delicate environment to use in erecting these eerie monuments. Hence the people lost their source of raw materials for building canoes, which were essential for fishing. Meanwhile bird species were driven into extinction, crop yields fell, and the human population declined, so that by the time Captain Cook arrived in 1774 the remaining Easter Islanders, who had long since resorted to cannibalism, were, in Cook's words, "small, lean, timid, and miserable."
Regarding the Anasazi of the American Southwest, who left behind stone ceremonial centers that had been integrated into a far-flung empire, I can do no better than to quote Diamond's own summary:
Despite these varying proximate causes of abandonments, all were ultimately due to the same fundamental challenge: people living in fragile and difficult environments, adopting solutions that were brilliantly successful and understandable in the short run, but that failed or else created fatal problems in the long run, when people became confronted with external environmental changes or human-caused environmental changes that cities without written histories and without archaeologists could not have anticipated.
A second important theme in the book is that human choice can make the difference between prosperity and ruin. Diamond is quick to point out that he is not an "environmental determinist": while the leaders of the Maya and Easter Islanders made disastrous decisions that plunged their societies into collapse, others did better. He describes how the Inuit in the Arctic and Polynesians on Tikopia managed to create ways of life that were indefinitely sustainable, and why the Dominican Republic has had a more peaceful and economically stable history than its neighbor, Haiti.
Diamond argues that our modern global industrial society is creating some of the very same sorts of environmental problems that caused ancient societies to fail, plus four new ones: "human-caused climate change, buildup of toxic chemicals in the environment, energy shortages and full human utilization of the earth's photosynthetic capacity." Echoing the conclusions of the Limits to Growth study of 1972, Diamond notes that many of these problems are likely to "become globally critical within the next few decades."
There is much to admire in this book. Diamond's essential message-that our very persistence as a civilized society may depend upon well-led efforts to reduce the negative impact of our economic processes upon nature-is one that more people desperately need to hear. The author artfully skewers classic one-liner objections such as, "The environment has to be balanced against the economy," "Technology will solve our problems," and "If we exhaust one resource, we can always switch to some other resource meeting the same need." Collapse draws the reader into rich and fascinating discussions of specific modern instances in which collapse in some form already has occurred, is occurring, or is likely to occur-Rwanda, Haiti, and Montana-showing in each instance how political and economic events, emerging from underlying environmental crises and constraints, can lead to economic reversal, social disintegration, or even genocide.
Yet while this is a helpful discussion of the subject for readers who have never before contemplated the possibility that modern fossil-fuel-based industrialism may be unsustainable in the starkest meaning of the term, for readers who have been contemplating that fact for some time-and especially for those who have already made some efforts to draw parallels between the exuberance of modern industrial society and the similar qualities of ancient empires in their florescent stage immediately before their demise-Diamond's efforts fall short.
While the book is rigorous in detail, it is haphazard with regard to theory. Diamond's methodological prowess shines, for example, as he investigates the reasons for the failure of the Viking colony in Greenland: he uses the most recent archaeological data to build a careful, persuasive case that the Norse farmers simply failed to adjust their cultural attitudes to take advantage of the most abundant local protein source-fish-and hence starved. In the process, we learn a great deal about how these people lived, and about how archaeologists gather and piece together evidence in order to arrive at conclusions about the human past. Details matter, and Diamond is very good at moving beyond superficial similes ("America is like Rome prior to its fall") to look at particular places with care and nuance.
However, when presented with such a sweeping title and subject, readers need breadth of overview as much as depth of specificity. Why did the author select the examples he did? Why did he not choose to discuss Imperial China or Rome, or the ancient Mesopotamians or Egyptians? Why not, in addition to a thorough discussion of a few emblematic societies, also offer a comprehensive and systematic survey of all previous civilizations? This is not as daunting a prospect as it might seem: there have only been about 24 civilizations in all of human history (if we define civilization as a society with cities, writing, full-time division of labor, and relatively high levels of technological complexity). The wealth of data available would permit a fascinating comparative overview using a range of selected criteria.
Diamond refers on only three occasions (and then briefly) to Joseph Tainter's classic The Collapse of Complex Societies (Cambridge University Press, 1988), which is widely considered the standard work on the subject. He rightly criticizes Tainter for underemphasizing the role of environmental factors-especially resource depletion-in previous instances of collapse. However, Diamond does not take the time to explain Tainter's valuable contributions to the discussion. It is difficult for the reader to have the sense of building on a previous theory without an understanding of what the previous theory is. Theory was in fact one of the great strengths of Tainter's book: he surveyed all known complex societies, and systematically assessed dozens of prior serious discussions of collapse (including the ideas of Arnold Toynbee, Elman Service, Pitirim Sorokin, and Alfred Kroeber), so that when he got around to introducing his own hypothesis (which can be summarized as the inevitability of the diminishing of returns on societal investments in complexity) the reader felt a sense of participation in the refinement of our collective understanding of the problem. This doesn't happen to nearly the same degree in Collapse. Why? Perhaps Diamond was trying to avoid sounding academic and wanted to write in such a way that the maximum number of readers would commit themselves to the task of wading through a long book on a dreary subject. But something was sacrificed in the process.
Important contributions to the discussion about collapse have been made since the publication of Tainter's magnum opus; one that comes readily to mind is John Michael Greer's paper "How Civilizations Fall: A Theory of Catabolic Collapse," with its distinction between maintenance collapse, in which a society recovers and again achieves imperial status, and depletion collapse, in which disintegration is complete and final. Greer's essay-which he has encountered some difficulty in placing in a peer-reviewed journal (it is currently archived at www.museletter.com)-contains significant theoretical insights, though it comes from a relatively unknown researcher working with easily available historical materials. One cannot help but wonder why Diamond, with the considerable resources of a major publisher and willing graduate students, could not have done much more to advance the theory of collapse.
A second disappointment that readers already familiar with the subject matter may encounter with Collapse is the perception that, while the author is warning us that modern industrial civilization may be headed the way of the Classic Maya or the Easter Islanders, he seems satisfied with this warning. He offers, in essence, a message of the type we have come to expect: Humanity is undermining its ecological viability, but there are things we can do to turn the tide. Indeed, Diamond predictably devotes the last section of his last chapter to "reasons for hope," leaving the reader with evidence for thinking that collapse will not occur in our own instance after all. This excuses him from asking a question that appears to be tugging at more minds, and with more urgency, every day: What if it's already too late? Yes, if collapse can be averted, we should of course be working toward that end. But suppose for a moment that we have passed the point of no return, and that some form of collapse is now inevitable. What should we be doing in that case?
If we simply regard the question as unthinkable (because its premise is itself unthinkable), then we foreclose a discussion that could be extremely important. In a moment I intend briefly to state three good reasons for thinking that collapse is in fact unavoidable at this point. But even if there is only a moderate likelihood that industrial society is headed toward history's dustbin, shouldn't we be devoting at least some mental effort toward planning for a survivable collapse? Shouldn't we be thinking about what needs to be preserved so that future generations will have the information, skills, and tools that they need in order to carry on?
Here are my three reasons for concluding that Diamond has in fact made an extremely timid case for the likelihood of global industrial collapse; there are certainly others.
1. Diamond does not even hint at the phenomenon of the imminent global oil production peak. Even though he cites Paul Roberts' book the End of Oil and Kenneth Deffeyes' Hubbert's Peak in a note on page 551, he shows no understanding whatever of these authors' work. There is no discussion of the fact that oil production capacity is declining rapidly in nearly two dozen countries, while the world's reliance on oil for its essential energy needs continues to grow with each passing year. This is not a minor oversight. At least four independent studies now forecast that the global oil peak is likely to occur as soon as 2005 and probably before 2010, which means that there will not be enough time to invest in replacement energy sources before the decline begins; nor can we be assured that adequate replacement energy sources exist. In the estimation of a growing chorus of informed observers, the oil peak is likely to be a trigger for global economic crisis and the outbreak of a series of devastating resource wars.
2. At the same time, the global economic system and the world's monetary system are becoming increasingly dysfunctional for other reasons. Currently, the US dollar functions as the global reserve currency, and the dollar (like most other currencies) is loaned into existence at interest. This means that continual economic growth is structurally required in order to stave off a currency crash. Yet infinite growth within a closed system (e.g., the Earth) is impossible. So how long can growth continue? There are strong signs that the American economy, and hence that of the entire world, is headed soon toward a "correction" of unprecedented proportions. US debt (in the forms of consumer debt, government debt, and trade deficits) is at truly frightening levels and the American mortgage and real estate bubbles appear ready to burst at any moment. If one looks deeper, there are still other reasons to conclude that the global economy has nearly reached fundamental and non-negotiable restrictions on expansion. In his book The Limits of Business Development and Economic Growth (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), business strategist Mats Larsson makes the point that most of technology and business development in the past has had as its goal the reduction of time and cost in manufacturing. But nothing can be done at less than no time or at less than no cost. He cites the example of the printing and distribution of books and other written media: with these, Gutenberg famously reduced time and cost. Now, the Internet enables the electronic reproduction and distribution of books, films, and music at almost no cost and in almost no time. Similarly, labor cost in China is probably now at close to the absolute theoretical minimum. Larsson's conclusion is that economic growth is perilously close to its ultimate bounds, even when resource constraints are not factored into the calculation.
3. Averting collapse would require changes that must be championed and partly implemented by political leaders: unprecedented levels of national and international cooperation would be needed in order to allocate essential resources in order to avert deadly competition for them as they become scarce, and our economic and monetary systems would have to be reformed despite pressure from the entrenched interests of wealthy elites. Yet the American political regime-the most important in the world, given US military supremacy and economic clout-has evidently become terminally dysfunctional, and is now the province of a group of extremist ideologues who apparently have virtually no interest in international cooperation or economic reform. This is a fact widely recognized outside the US, and by many sober observers within the country. The problem is not merely that politicians are being bought and sold by corporations (this has been going on for decades), but that the entire system has been hijacked by partisans who pride themselves on making decisions solely on the basis of ideology and in supreme disdain for "reality." At the same time, the US electoral system has been eviscerated and commandeered by a single party (using various forms of systematic fraud that have now become endemic), so that a peaceful rectification of the situation by a vote of the people has become virtually impossible. Moreover, the American media have been so cowed and co-opted by the dominant party that most of the citizenry is blissfully unaware of its plight and is thus extremely unlikely to vigorously oppose the current trends. Diamond shows some limited awareness of this truly horrifying state of affairs, and he realizes that wise political leadership would be essential to the avoidance of collapse. Yet he refuses to draw the obvious conclusion: the most powerful of the world's current leaders are every bit as irrational as the befuddled kings and chiefs who brought the Maya and Easter Islanders to their ruin.
None of these three problems can be solved quickly or easily if at all; each of the first two is by itself a sufficient cause for collapse; the third will effectively preclude any attempts to reverse the slide toward international chaos; and all three will no doubt rebound upon each other synergistically.
Diamond's subtitle, "How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed," implies that, for modern industrial societies, success is still an option. Yet if "success" implies the ability to maintain current population levels and current per-capita rates of consumption, then we may already have exhausted our choices. We cannot replace dwindling non-renewable resources, we cannot make industrial wastes disappear, we cannot quickly restabilize the global climate, and we cannot revive species that have become extinct.
What, then, are Diamond's "reasons for hope"? He offers only two: first, that our problems are, in principle at least, solvable; and second, that environmental thinking has become more common in recent years. But for hope to be realized, he says, modern societies will have to make good choices in two areas. We will need "courageous, successful long-term planning," which, he says, is indeed being undertaken by some governments and political leaders, at least some of the time. What Diamond doesn't mention is that the single instance of long-term planning that might have made all the difference to the survival of our civilization-a sustained choice by the US to wean itself from fossil fuels, beginning in the 1970s at the time of the first oil shocks-was not followed through; as a result, economic crises and resource wars are now virtually assured. We will also, he says, need to reconsider some of our core values, and he cites a few examples of modern societies that have done this (e.g., over two decades ago China decided to restrict the traditional freedom of individual reproductive choice). However, Diamond may be underestimating the degree to which some of the "values" that we would have to change (such as our mania for continuous economic growth) are not mere preferences or easily reversible government policies, but necessities structurally reinforced by multiple layers of institution, privilege, and power.
Perhaps the message of Collapse would have had more of a cutting-edge quality if the book had appeared in the early 1970s, when mere warnings were appropriate. Collapse might have added to the chorus of voices raised on the first Earth Day, and might have helped drive home the importance of the often-misrepresented Limits to Growth study.
Today, however, we are living in a different era. Collapse has, in effect, already begun, even though we have seen only the first of the trigger events that will eventually rivet public attention on the cascading process of disintegration taking place around us. The question is no longer that of avoiding collapse, but rather of making the best of it.
One of the many virtues of Joseph Tainter's book was that he dissipated some of the pejorative cloud surrounding the word collapse, defining it simply as a reduction in social complexity. This helps us to see that the process can manifest in different ways: it can occur slowly or quickly (usually the process takes decades or even centuries); it can be complete or partial; and it can be controlled or chaotic. Such an understanding leads one to envision the possibility of a managed collapse.
Given Jared Diamond's emphasis on choice, it might have been helpful if he had studied what people chose to do during previous periods of collapse, and how certain actions helped or hindered personal survival and the survival of culture.
In our own instance, efforts to manage the collapse might take several forms. Initial work along these lines might be indistinguishable from actions taken to try to prevent collapse-the sorts of things many people have been doing at least since the 1970s: the active protest of war, the protection of ecosystems and species, the defense of indigenous and traditional cultures, and the adoption of lifestyles of voluntary simplicity.
Then, as fossil-fuel-based support infrastructures began to disintegrate, other strategies might come to the fore: efforts to re-localize economies, to build intentional communities, and to regain forgotten handcraft skills. Like the European monks of the Middle Ages, forward-thinking groups with useful knowledge and abilities could build cultural lifeboats-communities of preservation and service that help surrounding regions cope with change and stress.
It would be foolish to assert that such a program could avert all of the potholes on the road down to a sustainable level of societal complexity; however, if we do not make efforts to manage the process of economic and societal contraction, it is easy to imagine collapse scenarios that would be hellish indeed.
One hesitates to criticize too harshly a book that tries to tell the world a truth that all too many refuse to hear. And yet this isn't the book that it could have been. At this point in time, we could stand a prominent book by an important author that finally announces what so many of us know all too well: collapse has begun.
Such a message need not be fatalistic in tone, because fatalism implies absence of choice. Diamond is right: we always have some control over events, or at least our response to events. The choice we have now is not as to whether our society will collapse, but how.
Ladies and gentleman, the ship is sinking. I suggest that we set aside our immediate plans and consider how best to proceed, given the facts.
* * *
If Diamond focuses on the environmental aspects of collapse, Jane Jacobs-the legendary historian of cites who, in the 1960s, worked heroically to save the neighborhoods of Manhattan from the automotive fixations of urban redeveloper Robert Moses-explores the cultural dimensions of the process in her recent book Dark Age Ahead.
"Writing, printing, and the Internet give a false sense of security about the permanence of culture," writes Jacobs. The most important aspects of culture are continually reinforced through example, and are thus as perishable as flesh itself. Dark ages are terrible times when entire societies experience mass amnesia, forgetting arts, sciences, mathematics, and even fundamental conventions of conviviality. And this is the future that Jacobs sees as likely for us, given the perceived decay of what she declares to be the five pillars of civilized culture:
- Community and family,
- Higher education,
- The effective practice of science and science-based technology,
- Taxes and governmental powers directly in touch with needs and possibilities, and
- Self-policing by the learned professions.
Jacobs devotes a chapter to each of these pillars, offering unequivocal examples of dissolution-from soaring levels of household debt to Enron accounting fraud. Many of these individual problems are well known; Jacobs shows how they are related to one another as elements of a systemic cultural decline.
The author also cites examples to show that culture can be protected even in times of great challenge, as Japan managed to do in the late 19th century, or as Ireland did despite British colonization. The clear implication is that we could recover and preserve our own cultural integrity in the face of the threats confronting our own society.
Jacobs' writing is wonderfully sane, urbane, and intelligent. Her prose is never dry or pedantic, but glows with the richness of a lifetime's experience ranging from the Great Depression through activist struggles in the turbulent 1960s and '70s and up to the present.
If the book has a flaw, it is that Jacobs does not appear to understand the relationship between culture and energy: in her last chapter, "Dark Age Patterns," she discusses the differences between agrarian and post-agrarian society, yet she never mentions the single element that mostly accounts for the transformation from one to the other: access to cheap fossil fuels.
Alas, the vibrant urban North American and European industrial culture of the early twentieth century rode on a wave of expanding resource availability, and hence expanding savings, expanding technological competence, and expanding manufacturing capacity. For all its virtues and vices (and there were plenty of the latter), much of that culture is gone forever, as surely as is the oil that was burned to build it. We cannot revive or preserve any part of that culture that depends upon our use of still more fossil fuel. Instead, we and our descendants will have to invent new forms of culture appropriate to the available resource base. If these cultural forms are agrarian in nature, so be it.
* * *
A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order, by William Engdahl (Pluto Press, 2004), is essential reading for anyone who wonders how oil shaped world events during the twentieth century.
While Daniel Yergin, in The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power (Touchstone, 1993), focused primarily on the oil industry per se, Engdahl looks more at the geopolitical situation as it responded to new discoveries in the Middle East and elsewhere, and also brings to bear his considerable insight into monetary policy. The result is breathtaking, as the reader learns the background to wars, assassinations, and political upheavals-from the 1912 battle between the US and Britain for Mexico's oil, to the secret intrigues leading up to Operation Desert Storm.
A major theme in the book is the drive of the British banking and financial establishment to control global resources, and the dominating influence of these same interests in American policy decisions during the latter half of the century as the US became the world's dominant industrial and military power.
Along the way we learn the eerie similarities between Great Britain in the years just prior to World War I, after its own manufacturing and savings base had been hollowed out by its efforts toward globalization; and the US today. Then, Germany was a rival industrial power, seeking to build the Berlin-to-Baghdad railway to open access to Middle Eastern oil for continental Europe; now, China is America's competitor, rapidly industrializing and seeking long-term oil contracts in Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Africa, and Canada.
We see how the Second World War grew inevitably from the first, as Britain required the payment of unrealistic and ruinous reparations from Germany, opening the way to the ascendancy of Hitler (whom several top British and American financiers covertly supported).
We also discover the basis of the post-war global economic and petroleum regimes, with the US taking up the imperial mantle from Britain, and the Anglophile East-Coast liberal banking establishment calling the shots.
Unfortunately, toward the middle of the book Engdahl reveals himself to be a pro-nuclear cornucopian who sees no peril in a rapidly expanding human population and who assumes that the answer to global problems lies in more industrial growth. This opinion skews his statements on a number of issues, including the 1972 Limits to Growth study, which he badly mischaracterizes (he says in apparent seriousness that the authors merely "added modern computer graphics to the discredited essay of Malthus"). This is not a small failing, and one cannot help but wonder where else the author's ostensible statements of fact may actually constitute mere supposition or prejudice.
Nevertheless, in other respects the author's account of events meshes closely with other sources, and Engdahl fills in blanks believably and with explanatory potency. Even with its flaws, this book helps immeasurably to make sense of recent history. And without historical perspective, it is almost impossible to understand our current global political and economic situation, or to imagine what to do about it.
[This article from the San Francisco Chronicle's online "Gate" confirms what we said in our global warming series published last year: global warming is happening now, and it is not something we can stop simply by halting our carbon dioxide emissions. The carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which is responsible for climate change right now will go on wreaking havoc for another 50 to 100 years. We do need to cut global carbon dioxide emissions by at least the 50% to 70% recommended by the United Nation Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The Bush administration understands that this means the end of economic prosperity and industrial civilization as we know it. That is why Bush refuses to even acknowledge that global warming exists. Instead of cutting CO2 emissions, we are planning on raising them through increased reliance on coal, as pointed out in our series of last year.
Bush's answer to global warming, as to everything else, seems to be population reduction through warfare, and industrial cutbacks through the bombing of the industrial complexes of other countries. This fits in perfectly with his Evangelical, Christian Zionist (read that Christian Fascist) mindset. Woe to our grandchildren, if there is a future for them at all. - DAP]
It's much too late to sweat global warming
Time to prepare for inevitable effects of our ill-fated future
by Mark Hertsgaard
San Francisco Chronicle
February 13, 2005
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.
At the core of the global warming dilemma is a fact neither side of the debate likes to talk about: It is already too late to prevent global warming and the climate change it sets off.
Environmentalists won't say this for fear of sounding alarmist or defeatist. Politicians won't say it because then they'd have to do something about it. The world's top climate scientists have been sending this message, however, with increasing urgency for many years.
Since 1988, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, comprised of more than 2,000 scientific and technical experts from around the world, has conducted the most extensive peer-reviewed scientific inquiry in history.
In its 2001 report, the panel said that human-caused global warming had already begun, and much sooner than expected. What's more, the problem is bound to get worse, perhaps a lot worse, before it gets better.
Last month, the climate change panel's chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, upped the ante. Although Pachauri was installed after the Bush administration forced out his predecessor, Robert Watson, for pushing too hard for action, the accumulation of evidence led Pachauri to embrace apocalyptic language: "We are risking the ability of the human race to survive," he said.
Until now, most public discussion about global warming has focused on how to prevent it -- for example, by implementing the Kyoto Protocol, which comes into force internationally (but without U.S. participation) on Wednesday. But prevention is no longer a sufficient option. No matter how many "green" cars and solar panels Kyoto eventually calls into existence, the hard fact is that a certain amount of global warming is inevitable.
The world community therefore must make a strategic shift. It must expand its response to global warming to emphasize both long-term and short-term protection. Rising sea levels and more weather-related disasters will be a fact of life on this planet for decades to come, and we have to get ready for them.
Among the steps needed to defend ourselves is quick action to fortify emergency response capabilities worldwide, to shield or relocate vulnerable coastal communities and to prepare for increased migration flows by environmental refugees.
We must also play offense. We must retroactively shrink the amount of warming facing us by redoubling efforts to remove existing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and sequester them where they are no longer dangerous. One way is to plant trees, which absorb carbon dioxide via photosynthesis.
Researchers are exploring many other methods as well, some of them supported by the Bush administration. And Norway is burying carbon dioxide in abandoned oil wells beneath the North Sea.
The problem with the Kyoto Protocol is not that the 5 percent greenhouse gas emission reductions it mandates don't go far enough, though they don't. (The climate change panel urges 50 to 70 percent reductions.)
The problem is that Kyoto governs only future emissions. No matter how well the protocol works, it will have no effect on past emissions, which are what have made global warming unavoidable.
Contrary to the impression given by some news reports, global warming is not like a light switch that can be turned off if we simply stop burning so much oil, coal and gas.
There is a lag effect of about 50 to 100 years. That's how long carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas, remains in the atmosphere after it is emitted from auto tailpipes, home furnaces and industrial smokestacks.
So even if humanity stopped burning fossil fuels tomorrow, the planet would continue warming for decades.
So far, the greenhouse gases released during two-plus centuries of industrialization have increased global temperatures by about 1 degree Fahrenheit and raised sea levels by 4 to 7 inches.
They have also given rise to the larger phenomenon of climate change. The climate change panel scientists predict that because of global warming, the future will bring more and deadlier weather of all kinds -- more hurricanes, tornadoes, downpours, heat waves, droughts and blizzards -- and all that comes in their aftermath: flooding, landslides, power outages, crop failures, property damage, disease, hunger, poverty and loss of life.
In California, torrential rains induced a mudslide on Jan. 11 that killed 10 people, buried children alive and crushed dozens of houses. In 2003, a record summer heat wave killed 35,000 people, most of them elderly, in Western Europe. And this is just the beginning.
Scientists are careful to say that no single weather event can be definitively linked to global warming, but the trend is unmistakable to the insurance companies that end up paying the bill.
"Man-made climate change will bring us increasingly extreme natural events and, consequently, increasingly large catastrophe losses," an official of Munich Re, the world's large reinsurance company, said recently. Swiss Re expects losses to reach $150 billion a year within this decade.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair regards climate change as "the single biggest long-term problem" of any kind facing his country. His government's top scientist, Sir David King, goes further, calling climate change "the biggest danger humanity has faced in 5,000 years of civilization."
Although the Bush White House continues to downplay the urgency of global warming, some parts of the Bush administration have recognized the gravity of the situation. A report released last year by the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessments said that by 2020, climate change could unleash a series of interlocking catastrophes including mega-droughts, mass starvation and even nuclear war as countries like China and India battle over river valleys and other sources of scarce food and water.
All of this underlines the urgency of revising the world's response to climate change. To be sure, it remains essential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by strengthening the Kyoto Protocol and augmenting it with other measures. Otherwise, the amount of warming that civilization eventually will have to endure will prove too great to survive.
In the meantime, it is imperative to prepare against the climate change already on its way.
The need for such a two-track strategy of prevention and protection is gaining acceptance from most of the world's governments. In Britain, the Department of the Environment promises to publish its strategy for adapting to global warming by the end of 2005.
At the most recent international meeting on global warming, held in Buenos Aires in December, a majority of the delegates supported the establishment of a fund to aid countries already suffering from the early effects of global warming.
A leading candidate for such aid is Tuvalu. A Pacific atoll whose highest point is 12 feet above sea level, Tuvalu was largely submerged last year by 10- foot seasonal high tides. But the United States opposed the adaptation assistance, arguing that there is no "certainty what constitutes a dangerous level of warming... ."
Preparing to live through the global climate change bearing down on our civilization will be an enormous undertaking. It will require immense financial resources, technical expertise and organizational skill. But perhaps what's needed most of all, especially in the United States, is fresh thinking and political leadership -- an acceptance that climate change is inescapable and requires immediate counter-measures.
The unspeakable death and destruction wrought by the Indian Ocean tsunami showed what can happen when people are unprepared for disaster, but there is no reason global warming should take us by surprise.
Our civilization's early warning system -- the scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- have been telling us for years that great danger is approaching. The question is, will we act quickly and decisively enough to protect ourselves against the coming storm? Or will we simply stand and face our fate naked, proud and unafraid?
Mark Hertsgaard is the author most recently of The Eagle's Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World; and Earth Odyssey: Around the World In Search of Our Environmental Future.
Mom & Pop War Profiteering Team - Woolseys
By Evelyn Pringle
17 January 2005
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.
The Defense Policy Board (DPB) is a hand-picked group of 30 people that advises Bush administration officials on matters such as whether and when to go to war, or not. The current group was selected by Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Douglas Feith, and approved by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Everyone who is anyone in the arms and defense industry knows that palling up to DPB members is the ticket to getting a Pentagon contract.
Shortly after the war in Iraq began, the April 10, 2003 New York Times pointed out that several board members stood to benefit financially from the war. It reported that the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) documented that 9 of the members were "linked to companies that have won more than $76 billion in defense contracts in 2001 and 2002."
Promote War & Garner Positions For Profits
One of the members mentioned who stood to profit was R. James Woolsey. In addition to being a member of the DPB, Woolsey also sits on Navy and CIA advisory boards; and he is also a founding member of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq (CLI), a private group that was specifically set up by Bush in 2002, to find ways to increase public support for a war against Iraq.
Let me say right here and now that I think bold lines are crossed when people like Woolsey, who promote a specific war, financially benefit from their successful promotion. There should be a law that requires a standard recusal from all war profits by any policy advisor who advocates sending our young men and women off to die in that same war.
And I don't know about anybody else, but I've never heard of our government forming a group of promoters to rally support for a war before. I dare anyone to try and convince me that this war profiteering scheme wasn't well planned and managed from the get-go.
Mom & Pop Team Of War Profiteers
I would rate the husband and wife team of James and Suzanne Woolsey up there as one of the most blatant examples of war profiting that I've ever seen. They both remain policy advisors on Iraq, even though they both work for private firms that do business there. James has long wanted to use US military might to transform the Middle East. "And he has pushed for war with Iraq as hard as anyone, even before the terrorist attacks of Sep 11, 2001," according to the April 8, 2003 Global Policy Forum.
That's right - long before 9/11. In January 1998, James signed the now infamous letter to Clinton from the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) calling for regime change in Iraq (which Clinton trashed). In 1998, he also successfully lobbied to pass the Iraq Liberation Act (ILA), which allocated nearly $100 million for the Iraqi opposition, mainly the Iraq National Congress (INC), headed by none other than Ahmed Chalabi.
9/11 - Gift To Profiteering Team
The lobby for the war in Iraq immediately moved into high gear after 9/11. Within days, the DPB convened to discuss how they could use 9/11 to justify a war in Iraq. James was sent overseas to try to find a link between Saddam and bin Laden. He returned with the tale that an unnamed source had told the Czech intelligence that in April, 2001, he had observed a meeting between the lead 9/11 skyjacker and an Iraqi agent in Prague.
Even though the tale was deemed not credible by US, British, Israeli, and French, intelligence agencies, it became the basis of a major neo-con disinformation campaign against Saddam on cable news shows and editorial pages in major US newspapers.
James himself wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that said a foreign state had aided Al Qaeda in preparing the 9/11 attacks and pointed to Iraq as the prime suspect. In fact, James even went so far to allege that Saddam was behind the 1993 WTC bombing and the anthrax letters sent out after 9/11. In large part, the propaganda campaign was successful. A poll conducted in late 2002, showed that over half of those polled believed that Saddam was somehow linked to 9/11.
Woolsey & Chalabi - Secret Long-Time Buddies
Just when I think I have seen every dirty filthy angle by which money can be made in the war profiteering trade, something else turns up. I recently discovered a little tid-bit that I was unaware of. In addition to getting $100 million tax dollars allocated for the INC and Ahmed Chalabi in 1998, James also became lawyer and adviser to Iraq's "President in Waiting" in the same year.
With the help of the media, James must have forgot to mention this obvious conflict of interest while he was alleging collusion in 9/11 between Chalabi's enemy Saddam and bin Laden. This relationship definitely should have been made public before the war began because of its relevance to the truth or falsity of the justification given for waging war in Iraq to begin with.
Back in 1998, Chalabi sought legal help from Woolsey to secure the release of 6 of his INC associates from the detention center in Guam, even though the CIA said they were threats to US interests. James successfully freed Chalabi's minions and mowed a path for the so-called Iraqi defectors to feed bogus information to US intelligence teams.
The false information about WMDs and collusion between Saddam and bin Laden, that originated from the relationship of Chalabi and Woolsey, along with the resulting diversion of financial and military resources to Iraq, and away from the real terrorist bin Laden, has left the US with a limited ability to project military power anywhere else in the world. Any unexpected conflict would be a disaster with the military so overstretched in Iraq, and it looks like in large part, we can thank Woolsey and Chalabi for this predicament.
And as it turns out the CIA was right. One of men Woolsey freed, Aras Habib Karim, went on to become Chalabi's Chief of Intelligence, and has since leaked classified information to Iran, and is currently under investigation by the FBI. I wonder if James is representing the guy now?
James & Booz Allen Hamilton
At the same time that they were advocating for war in Iraq, its more than obvious that James and Suzanne Woolsey were positioning themselves for a future in defense-related firms, with an eye on the anticipated war profits.
James is a shining example of how the revolving door policy works in Washington. Although he left his position as director of the CIA in 1995, he remained a senior advisor on intelligence and national security policies. And he also now works for several private firms that do business in Iraq. According to Citizens for Public Integrity, in July, 2002, James joined Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm that "had contracts worth more than $680 million" that year.
In May, 2003, in his capacity as a vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton, James was a featured speaker at a seminar entitled "Companies on the Ground: The Challenge for Business in Rebuilding Iraq." He spoke of the potential business opportunities in the reconstruction of Iraq and how Bush planned to steer the contracts to US companies. Approximately 80 corporate executives paid $1100 to listen to what he had to say.
May, 2003 was only 2 months after the war began. If not for his advisory positions in the Bush administration, how would James possibly be able to put together a investor seminar with information on how to make money in Iraq?
In addition, "Booz Allen is a subcontractor for a $75-million telecommunications project in Iraq. The company does extensive work for the Defense Department as well. Recently, the Navy awarded it $14 million in contracts," according to the Aug 15, 2004 LA Times. In true Dick Cheney style, James said in an interview that "he had not been involved in Booz Allen's Iraq contracts," the Times reports. But then it really doesn't matter whether he was involved in a particular contract or not, because as a Vice President of the firm, he benefits from profits resulting from all contracts.
Besides, his recent statement to the Times belies the title of his own May, 2003 seminar which was: "Companies on the Ground: The Challenge for Business in Rebuilding Iraq." What is he trying to say? That he never got paid for speaking at that seminar? That none of the 80 executives that attended ever contacted Booz work in Iraq? Yeah, right.
James & Paladin Capital Group
James positioned himself all over the map. He is now a principal in the Paladin Capital Group, another defense-related firm. In part, here is how the firm describes itself on its web site, Paladin Homeland Security Fund, L.P. Investment Strategy:
As widely reported in public media, billions of dollars are being appropriated by the United States and foreign governments for replenishment of military stockpiles, deployment of new means to create more secure societies and creation of new standards, equipment, technologies and policies for coping with and recovering from the myriad forms of terrorism and attack. ... the General Partner believes that the Federal and State governments ... and indeed governments throughout the world, will look to ... private enterprise to address these issues. The General Partner believes that the private sector thus will look to expend billions of dollars to execute defense and security plans for security in the public sector and to deploy growth equity to produce the products and services that non-governmental organizations will require.
Operation of the Fund starts with an experienced management team. ... additional individuals who have prominent and distinguished records in relevant fields, including security, defense and information and technology sciences, have associated with Paladin Capital in connection with the Fund. These additional principals of the Fund include R. James Woolsey...
The Fund's Principals have extensive domestic and international experience in fund investments and in originating, underwriting, closing, monitoring and exiting investments similar to those that are proposed for the Fund. The additional Principals, including Mr. Woolsey... have extensive and distinguished track records in service within the security, defense and related fields.
Investment Guidelines Characteristics
Small to medium-sized, worker-friendly companies with the following characteristics: Must relate to defense, prevention, coping or recovery from disaster. Dual use: commercial and government applicability for products and services.
Surely no one could ever allege a possible conflict of interest between James serving on 3 defense-related boards (Navy, DPB, & CIA) with the US government and his involvement with this firm.
Global Options - James & DPB Member Livingstone
James is also plugged into Global Options, which is headed by his fellow DPB member Neil Livingstone. In addition to sitting on the DPB, Livingstone has served as a Pentagon and State Department advisor and has long called for overthrowing Saddam.
Livingstone was already promoting war against Iraq back in 1993, when he wrote an editorial for Newsday that said the US "should launch a massive covert program designed to remove Hussein." Well 11 years later, it looks like he finally got his wish, and just like his pal James, Livingstone is a regular speaker at investment seminars on Iraq.
Global Options provides contacts and consulting services to firms doing business in Iraq and "offers a wide range of security and risk management services," according to its website. Although James admits that he is a paid advisor at Global Options, he again says the work he does at the firm does not involve Iraq. And of course I believe him (not).
Suzanne - Better Half Of Profiteering Team
From 1993 - 2003, Suzanne was an executive with the National Academies, an institution that advises the government on science, engineering, and medicine. There's probably no big money to be made in that position and that's probably what motivated Suzanne seek a more potentially profitable government position.
And she sure found one. According to the Aug 15, 2004 LA Times, Suzanne is a trustee of a little-known arms consulting group that had access to senior Pentagon leaders directing the Iraq war.
Although she had zero experience with military or national security matters, in 2000 she became a trustee at the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), a nonprofit corporation paid to do research for the Pentagon. During the attack against Iraq, the IDA provided senior Pentagon officials with assessments of the operation.
Through this position, Suzanne had unlimited insider access to valuable information. For instance, the Times reported that in a June 3, 2003, briefing, Brigadier General Robert Cone of the Army, described the group's operation. ''This team did business" within the Army Central Command ''on a daily basis, by observing meeting and planning sessions, attending command updates, watching key decisions being made, watching problems being solved, and generally being provided unrestricted access to the business of the conduct of this war," Cone said, according to a transcript of the session.
The question is did Suzanne use the info to benefit the family business? I'll let the reader be the judge. She was appointed to "Fluor's board in January 2004, while Fluor and a partner, AMEC, were competing for two federal contracts to do reconstruction work in Iraq. A little more than a month after she was named, Fluor and AMEC got both contracts, with a combined value of $1.6 billion," according to the LA Times.
Although a Fluor official refused to discuss why Suzanne was chosen for the job, the official confirmed SEC filings that show, "Fluor pays outside directors (like Suzanne) $40,000 a year, plus stock options and additional fees for attending meetings," the Times reports.
As for the financial worth of her stock in the company, its looking good. Fluor's stock has risen steadily since the war in Iraq began. The Times reports that in August, 2004, it was $45 a share, up from a little more than $30 a share in March 2003. Reports filed with the SEC show Suzanne owns 1,500 shares of Fluor stock.
With Fluor making a bundle, it only stands to reason that all the more money can be funneled back into the Woolsey piggy bank. SEC filings show that Fluor reported that its revenue for the first quarter of the current fiscal year from work in Iraq totaled ''approximately $190 million. There was no work in Iraq in the comparable period in 2003," reports the Times.
I would be willing to bet that any defense related firm would have given an arm and a leg to find out what was being said during those IDA meetings and war planning sessions. Oh of course I'm not suggesting that Suzanne was feeding Fluor information before she came on board and that's why she was hired. But at the same time, its sure difficult to think of any other reason why she would be hired.
Here's another profiteering trick that I would never have thought of. Suzanne even managed to get paid while she gathered the insider information. Tax records show that in 2003, she was paid $11,500 for serving on the IDA. Who wouldn't want this gal on their team?
The overlapping public and private associations of the Woolsey's are merely 2 examples of the all too familiar pattern in the Bush administration, in which people who play key roles in advising officials on policies, are involving themselves financially with firms in related fields. And it should be noted that the profiteering is certainly not limited to war policies. Its rampant in every area of policy within the Bush administration.
Long-Term War - Thriving Family Business
Hands down, James should be awarded a plaque for being the #1 Iraq War Monger, and it should say: "What could be more sickening than a war-hungry non-combatant? A war-hungry non-combatant reaping profit from the blood of slaughtered women, children and men of Iraq," (Bill Berkowitz).
War-hungry James is still hard at it; promoting war for as far as the eye can see. On August 15, 2004, the LA Times reported that, "Last month, Woolsey appeared at a... news conference to announce the creation of a group called the Committee of the Present Danger, which he said would attempt to focus public attention on the threat ''to the US and the civilized world from Islamic terrorism."
On September 29, 2004 he participated in a forum entitled: "World War IV: Why We Fight, Whom We Fight, How We Fight," sponsored by the Committee on Present Danger and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. I wonder how many people who went to the polls on Nov 2, 2004, realized that a vote for Bush meant rubber-stamping more of World War IV?
Plan To Destroy and Conquer Iraq
The Iraqi citizens had no say-so in the Bush administration's decision to bomb the hell out of their country and the Iraqi people, now suffering the most as a result of the war, are not allowed to be involved in making decisions about the reconstruction of Iraq.
In comments that could have been made yesterday, Naomi Klein described what would happen to the Iraqis under Bush's war plan in the April 14, 2003 issue of the Guardian, "A people, starved and sickened by sanctions, then pulverized by war, is going to emerge from this trauma to find that their country had been sold out from under them. They will also discover that their new-found "freedom" - for which so many of their loved ones perished - comes pre-shackled by irreversible economic decisions that were made in boardrooms while the bombs were still falling. They will then be told to vote for their new leaders, and welcomed to the wonderful world of democracy."
Every one of her predictions has come true and Iraqis may be worse off than we realize. Klein reports that on October 13, 2004, Iraq's "health ministry issued a harrowing report on its post-invasion health crisis, including outbreaks of typhoid and tuberculosis and soaring child and mother mortality rates," while at the same time the "State Department announced that $3.5 billion for water, sanitation and electricity projects was being shifted to security."
How can anybody in their right mind expect the Iraqi people to be grateful to America for all this good fortune?
Stop The War Profiteering
It seems to me that we've taken our eye off the ball here. Granted, the web of corruption is bad enough in itself, but too little consideration is being given to the Iraqi lives at stake. Every profiteering dollar bilked or wasted is a dollar that could be spent on improving Iraq's basic living conditions like getting water, sanitation and electricity up and running again, or training Iraqi police and military forces, or developing jobs for Iraqis.
Instead our tax dollars are being funneled back to profiteers like the Woolseys, over the backs of not only our dead soldiers; but over 100,000 dead Iraqis as well. The administration had the chance to rebuild Iraq, and at the same time earn the trust of the Iraqi people, but instead it chose to rape and torture innocent Iraqi prisoners, raid the reconstruction fund, and deprive the Iraqis of everything essential to normal human life. The blatant acts of corruption by the occupational authority and US contractors have given the Iraqis every reason under the sun to mistrust the motives of Americans who say they want to help rebuild their country. And how can we expect their opinions to change as long as the obvious corruption continues?
If we ever expect to regain the trust of Iraqis, we have to stop the Woolseys, and others like them, who engage in this filthy, disgusting trade. For starters, I say all Bush war profiteers should be given 2 options: they can either recuse themselves from advising government officials on any matter of national security period, or they can donate all profits made through affiliations with defense-related companies to soldiers wounded in the war and families of soldiers killed in the war.
While this would definitely be a good first step, I won't hold my breath while waiting to see which option the greedy war-mongers choose.
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