Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Carbon Offset

A disturbing trend is developing in the industrial world: that of the business of carbon offset. In theory, you pay a company a certain amount of money, who then invest it in areas where carbon is conserved (like wind farms, buying forest reserves, supporting solar panel technology). The amount you pay is calculated based on how much "carbon" you waste each year, taking into account the car you drive, your heating and air conditioning bill, and other environmental factors. This is a growing business, according to NPR, who highlighted it on their morning talk show.

However, this brings up several issues regarding our consumption in modern society. Perhaps investing in wind farms helps to offset our SUV driving, but does it really encourage saving and conservation, which should be at the head of any greenhouse gas emission solution? I don't think so. One of the people that Matrin Kaste interviewed for his report hit it right on the head: it is very much akin to the indulgences sold by the Church before the Reformation. The theory goes, "pay up for your sins, and you'll be guaranteed a clean slate."
It is easy to pay off $80 or so a year and drive your Ford Excursion like there was no tomorrow. But that is not the point of trying to be a better consumer and global citizen. While it might prompt some people to think about their "eco-footprint," it also has the danger of giving leeway to those who should be thinking about it the most. Being able to pay off your carbon debt, so to speak, could encourage you to be more carless about your consumption patterns, with the expectation that you can just pay it off later and be free and clear. That is dangerous thinking.

And the effect is small, very local. Kaste notes that it would take close to $10billion a year for the US to get to 1990 levels of carbon emissions. People are just not shelling out that amount of money, and there is also a limit to how many forests you can buy and protect, how many wind farms can be created in one year (or over a particular area). And it is one thing to invest in wind farms, but people or businesses also have to sign up to use the greener energy that the farms are producing. Buying into the farm is only half of the equation; without someone using it, it is a futile gesture.

While this is an ingenious way of approaching the problem, and this sort of outside-the-box thinking should be encouraged, it should not delude us from the real goal of this movement: to reduce our consumption in order to ensure a healthier planet for the future. There is no buying our way out of that one, it only comes via hard work.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

John Glen said what?

I received an email recently recounting some statements regarding Iraq and the War on Terror (btw, always put Terror in capitals... otherwise the Terrorists win). They were reported to come from John Glen, US Senator and former NASA astronaut and pilot. Whether or not they are actually from him, I found the quotes hilariously wrong in a number of ways. They represented an obtuse point of view that so often is perpetuated without critical thought. Some of my rebuttals are posted here, along with the comments in thier entirety. The original comment is in italics; my thoughts are in regular text.

When some claim that President Bush shouldn't have started this war, state the following:
a. FDR led us into World War II.
b. Germany never attacked us; Japan did. From 1941-1945, 450,000 lives were lost, an average of 112,500 per year.
-->There is substantial evidence that the two sides, Japan and Germany, were collaborating on how to divide the world between them. There was a fair amount of communication going on, even if there was no explicit cooperation. And while Germany never formally declared war on the USA, before our entrance into the war there were numerous attacks on civilian ships and supply vessels in the Atlantic that today would garner the term “terrorist.” These attacks were against the United States, and it is wrong to say that Germany never attacked us.

1939 - Sept 3 . Submarine U-30 torpedoes British passenger liner Athenia without warning in the belief that she is an armed merchant cruiser; 28 American citizens are among the dead.
Sep 10. U.S. freighter Wacosta, bound from Scotland to New York is stopped by German submarine for three hours.
1941 - Jan 30. Germany announces that ships of any nationality bringing aid to Great Britain will be torpedoed.
May 21. Unarmed U.S. freighter Robin Moor, en route to South Africa and Mozambique, is stopped and sunk by German submarine U-69 (torpedo and gunfire) about 700 miles off the west coast of Africa. First American merchantman sunk by a U-boat in World War II. Crew given food and directions by submarine.
Sep 7 . SS Steel Seafarer bombed and sunk in Red Sea.
Oct 17. Kearney (DD-432) escorting a convoy was attacked by U-boat off the coast of Iceland with 11 killed.
Oct 19. Unarmed U.S. freighter Lehigh is torpedoed and sunk by German submarine U-126 off Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Oct 28. Oiler Salinas (AO-19), in convoy ON 28, is torpedoed by German submarine U-106 about 700 miles east of Newfoundland.
Oct 31. Reuben James (DD-245), an older destroyer on convoy duty west of Iceland, was sunk by U-boat with loss of 115 men.
Oct 31. DuPont (DD-152) is attacked by U-boat, but missed.
Dec 2 . German submarine U-43 torpedoes and sinks unarmed U.S. tanker Astral and her 37 man crew.
Dec 3 . Unarmed U.S. freighter Sagadahoc is torpedoed and sunk by German submarine U-124 in South Atlantic.

c. Truman finished that war and started one in Korea. North Korea never attacked us. From 1950-1953, 55,000 lives were lost an average of 18,334 per year.
d John F. Kennedy started the Vietnam conflict in 1962. Vietnam never attacked us.
e. Johnson turned Vietnam into a quagmire. From 1965-1975, 58,000 lives were lost, an average of 5,800 per year.
-->The whole of the Cold War can be summed up in one word: mistake. Our strategy was mistaken, our motivation was incorrect, our reasoning flawed. The projections we created never panned out. I think it is a common belief now that our involvement in Vietnam was not warranted, undesired by the Vietnamese, and ultimately was a waste of time.

f. Clinton went to war in Bosnia without UN or French consent. Bosnia never attacked us.
-->There was genocide happening on a rather large scale. It was evident that this needed to be done to help pacify the situation. (As we should be considering doing in Darfur, Sudan right now.) The UN swiftly came into the situation, as did NATO, to help negotiate a long-standing peace-keeping mission. I don’t see NATO or the UN offering to come in and aid in “peace-keeping” in Iraq. Also, Bush 41 was very hesitant to help the Kurds out, when the gassing was going on. If we had gone in then, with that clearly defined mission of helping stop a genocide, we would have garnered more support around the world. A decade late does not help your image.

He was offered Osama bin Laden's head on a platter three times by Sudan and did nothing. Osama has attacked us on multiple occasions.
-->The history of Osama bin Laden is large and varied. Yes, Clinton missed an opportunity to get him early on. But then again, it was the Reagan era that first trained and equipped this man (not entirely unlike Hussein himself), so there is plenty of blame to go around.

g. In the years since terrorists attacked us , President Bush has liberated two countries, crushed the Taliban, crippled al-Qaida, put nuclear inspectors in Libya, Iran, and, North
Korea without firing a shot, and captured a terrorist who slaughtered 300,000 of his own people.
-->"Liberated" is such a loose term. Afghanistan is still without some basic necessities, and there are substantiated reports that the Taliban is becoming stronger, bolder in the South and Eastern provinces. The chaos that is engulfing Iraq would hardly be called a “liberated” area of the world. The inspectors, while a good step forward, have hardly been able to arrest the progress that Iran and N. Korea have made in their nuclear programs. Bush lamblasted UN inspectors in 2002 and 2003 when making the decision to invade Iraq. Does he hope now that they will be more effective in even more extreme countries?

Here are links to very recent articles detailing the increase in attacks by Taliban.

The Democrats are complaining about how long the war is taking. But It took less time to take Iraq than it took Janet Reno to take the Branch Davidian compound. That was a 51-day operation.
-->Yes, however you must also take into account the severity of casualties that have resulted from each decision. The Branch Davidian compound was a stand-off, where the lives of 27 children were weighed against the benefits of running in, guns blazing. There was a large effort to try and negotiate a way out of that situation before resorting to combat methods. It was not war. The US went into Iraq without the regard for the Iraqi army or civilians that the FBI displayed when trying to release the Davidians at the compound. The FBI ended up killing 76 Davidian members, including their leader. Since January 2005, over 19,000 Iraqi civilians have died. The comparison is erroneous.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Good news on Planet: Forestation

There is a spot of bright news on the horizon. A recent report put out by the US National Academy of Sciences mentions that forests are actually being maintained in many parts of the world, if not actually increasing. In the last 15 years, the United States and China have shown the greatest gain in forest coverage. Even moreso, it shows a general trend of countries around the world of transitioning to reforestation rather than deforestation.

Below is a picture from the article. The red line shows a neutral area+density forest volume; countries above that line are gaining forest volume and mass; those below are losing it.

This is definitely positive news. However, i would counsel that there remains an issue with logging large, old-growth forest. These venerable trees form the backbone of an ecosystem; they harbor the most water, possess the greatest surface area for CO2 reductions, and anchor the soil the greatest against erosion and other degredation. These trees still need protection from deforestation.

But, allow yourself a smile at this good news, which is so rare in the arena of environmental protection.

Here is an article at Planet Ark about the report.
Here is the report in its entirety from PNAS.

Monday, November 13, 2006


There has been a lot of discussion about the ineffectiveness of the UN. That is the primary criticism coming from conservatives, that the UN talks and talks and makes resolutions and does not have the backbone to enforce them, instead relying on member states to provide the muscle for any operation the UN has resolved is necessary. There is an easy way to get around that. Introducing: The United Nations Strike Force.

The United Nations Strike Force (UNSF) would be responsible for the "first response" of any UN legislation that requires military action. In such areas as Darfur, Bosnia, and anywhere around the world where the UN has decided it necessary to step in and take a side for world peace and prosperity. It is a small, elite military unit (comparable to the Navy Seals, Army Rangers, Green Barets, etc.) that operate under the expressed juristiction of the UN. It is a small but well-equiped unit, with all the latest in warfare technology. A hybrid force of aerial, sea-based, and land forces that could work together in a fast-paced, high risk environment. The actual size of the unit would depend on the mission involved and the particulars of the creation of the unit by the UN, but I would imagine somewhere on the order of 10,000-20,000. Obviously some parts of a military would have to be foregone (aircraft carriers, for instance, require too many personnel to be operated effectively), but they could be surmounted by innovations in technology and planning (using the Joint Strike Fighter would enable vertical take-offs, putting these jets on smaller ships without the usual crew needed on a carrier).

The personnel involved would come from the member nations' militaries. However, they would be on a multi-year loan from their country to the UN. While they are serving the UN, they are UN Soldiers, not American/Canadian/French/etc. soldiers helping with a UN effort. Their loyalties lie with protecting the UN Charter and the decisions of the Security Council. They are UN Soldiers while they are there. The council would, of course, do their best to avoid sending troops to areas of the world where there would be a conflict of interest. So, any Muslim troops would not have been forced to fight against Saddam Hussein (but if they wanted to, no problem).

This force would not be the size of a regular standing army, and once they had cleared the way, removed major obstacles, then regular, member-sponsored peacekeepers would take their place. This would be a dangerous position to hold, as the soldiers would be working in some very hostile environments against a myriad of enemies. But they would be defending global peace, freedom, and rights, and that certainly is a just cause to be working towards.

Perhaps the most important part of this is that it would force countries to think twice before defying the UN's resolutions in the future. No longer could they scoff at sanctions, demands for cessation of activities, requests for entry to genocidal areas. For the UN would have a powerful muscle to strike with, and force them to capitulate to the UN. Used correctly, this could be a good tool to wrangle with despots the world over, who know that they can blow off the UN and not have to face serious consequences. That would change, and we could work quickly and effectively towards limiting conflict and establishing peace across the globe.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Midterms for all

It is quite amazing how these elections can reverberate around the world, and it reinforces how important American politics and policies are to the rest of the global population. With the take-back of the House (and perhaps the Senate... still seeing how a couple races end), the Democrats have offered a lot of hope to a great number of people.

In the Middle East, where in pro-Western Jordan, a newspaper editor said many Arabs "are delighted that the American voters have at least disassociated themselves from [President Bush's] dangerous policies."

At the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), some of the participants at a climate conference pointed to the midterm elections as a sign that positive changes might come about in the U.S.'s environmental attitude. "President Bush still has two more years in office so it's very unlikely that the U.S. negotiating posture will change," said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists. He added that the fact that Democrats, many of whom support emissions caps, took control of the House means climate and energy issues will be prominent in the 2008 presidential campaign.

It also has highlighted the need for a strong bipartisan (damn I hate that word; it just sounds like politician-speak for elections) work to keep the influence of America strong. Some around the globe worry that a rift in the power scheme of our legislature, coupled with a lame-duck second-term president might stall progress on international issues by weakening much-needed American influence. In other parts of the world:

"We hope American foreign policy will change and that living conditions in Iraq will improve," said 48-year-old engineer Suheil Jabar, a Shiite Muslim in Baghdad.

In Copenhagen, Denmark, 35-year-old Jens Langfeldt said he did not know much about the midterm elections but was opposed to Bush's values. He referred to the president as "that cowboy."

In Sri Lanka, some said they hoped the rebuke would force Bush to abandon a unilateral approach to global issues.

Only time will tell if the Dems can capitalize on their success and translate it into real domestic and international policy development. They have been given a chance to prove that they are different, along with a time-line: 2 years to show something, or forget about the Presidency in 2008. Time to get moving.

apologize for the delay

Hey everyone, I'm sorry for the lengthy delay in new postings. My personal life has taken some complicated turns, with the possibility of a return to academic life via graduate school, a lot of time has been spent prepping applications and the like. But never fear, I will do my best to keep on with this site, as there are tons of ideas that have been floating through my head and I want to get them down.