From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #932, Nov. 08, 2007
By Peter Montague
In response to a relentless stream of bad news about global warming, a cluster of major industries has formed a loose partnership with big environmental groups, prestigious universities, philanthropic foundations, and the U.S. federal government -- all promoting a technical quick-fix for global warming called "carbon sequestration."
"Carbon sequestration" is a plan to capture and bury as much as 10 trillion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide deep in the ground, hoping it will stay there forever. (A ton is 2000 pounds; a metric tonne is 2200 pounds; ten trillion is 10,000,000,000,000.) Though the plan has not yet received any substantial publicity, it is very far along.
The purpose of the plan is to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas). Carbon dioxide is the most important "greenhouse gas," which is thought to be contributing to global warming. A carbon sequestration program would capture the gas, turn it into a liquid, transport it through a network of pipelines, and pump it into the ground, intending for it to stay buried forever.
From an industrial perspective, carbon sequestration seems like a winning strategy. If it succeeded in reducing carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere, it would allow coal and oil firms to retain and even expand their market share in the energy business throughout the 21st century, eliminating the need for substantial innovation. Carbon sequestration would also greatly reduce the incentive for Congress to invest in renewable energy, which competes with coal and oil. Furthermore, carbon sequestration might deflect the accusation that the coal and oil corporations bear responsibility (and perhaps even legal liability) for the major consequences of global warming (more and bigger hurricanes, droughts, floods, and fires, for example). Finally, if the carbon sequestration plan were to fail, with grievous consequences for human civilization, failure would occur decades or centuries into the future when the current generation of decision- makers, researchers, philanthropists, and environmental advocates could no longer be held accountable.
For all these reasons, coal, oil, mining, and automobile corporations, plus electric utilities, are eager to get carbon sequestration going.
To accomplish their goal, the coal and oil firms are being helped by researchers at Princeton and Stanford universities, and by the Joyce Foundation in Chicago, which is underwriting a campaign by environmental advocates on behalf of industry's plan. Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Izaak Walton League, the Clean Air Task Force, the Michigan Environmental Council, and others have received substantial grants to advocate for carbon sequestration. Finally, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Stephen Johnson recently endorsed industry's plan. All the pieces are now in place and an aggressive campaign is under way to persuade state and federal legislators to endorse large-scale carbon sequestration.
What's at stake
After trillions of tons of carbon dioxide have been buried in the deep earth, if even a tiny proportion of it leaks back out into the atmosphere, the planet could heat rapidly and civilization as we know it could be disrupted. Quite plausibly the surface of the Earth could become uninhabitable for humans. Thus, one way or another, the future of humanity is at stake in the decision whether to endorse carbon sequestration or to develop the many renewable energy technologies that are available to eliminate our dependence on carbon-based fuels.
Major benefits for the coal industry
To one degree or another, carbon sequestration will benefit all of the industries involved, allowing them to continue business as usual, removing the need for substantial innovation, and reducing competition from renewable fuels. However, it is the coal industry that will benefit the most. One could argue that, without carbon sequestration, the coal industry itself cannot survive. Once large-scale carbon sequestration has begun, the coal industry will be free to unleash an enormous new enterprise turning coal into liquid fuels. The technology for coal-to-liquids, or CTL, was fully developed decades ago. CTL was devised by German chemists in the 1920s, and the Nazis could not have pursued World War II without it. Unfortunately, coal-to-liquids is an exceptionally dirty technology that produces twice as much carbon dioxide per gallon of fuel, compared to petroleum. Carbon sequestration would bury that extra carbon dioxide in the ground, thus solving the coal industry's biggest problem, making coal-to-liquids feasible, and assuring a future for the coal industry itself.
You have perhaps heard the phrase "clean coal." This contradictory term was coined by carbon sequestration advocates as a public relations ploy. In "clean coal," the word "clean" is narrowly defined to mean "coal that contributes less carbon to the atmosphere in the short term, compared to typical coal combustion."
In actual fact there is nothing clean about "clean coal." Even if large-scale carbon sequestration begins, the mining and burning of "clean coal" will continue to destroy hundreds of mountains in Appalachia, and will continue to pollute the Midwestern and Eastern states with millions of tons of deadly fine and ultrafine particles of soot ("fly ash"), plus nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur oxides (SOx), mercury, dioxins, radioactive particles, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and so on. Large tonnages of coal bottom ash will still be buried each year in shallow pits overlying aquifers, creating a perpetual and growing threat to drinking water supplies. In the Midwest and West, large tracts of land, and large amounts of scarce water, would still be contaminated or otherwise made unavailable for alternative uses. In sum, "clean coal" is an advertising slogan without substance. Furthermore, if even a small proportion of the sequestered carbon from "clean coal" ever leaks out of the ground, the planet could experience runaway global warming.
The danger of tiny leaks
It is important to distinguish between carbon dioxide and carbon itself. Carbon is an element, one of the 92 naturally-occurring building blocks of the universe. Carbon dioxide is a chemical compound made up of one carbon atom attached to two oxygen atoms (CO2). By weight, carbon dioxide is 27% carbon; in other words, one ton of elemental carbon will create 3.7 tons of carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is the main "greenhouse gas" thought to be contributing to global warming.
Before the industrial revolution, there were 580 billion tonnes of carbon in Earth's atmosphere; today there are 750 billion tonnes (an increase of 170 billion tonnes, or 29%, since about 1750). Because humans burn roughly 2% more coal, oil and natural gas each year (thus doubling total use every 35 years), the carbon buildup in the atmosphere is accelerating. Presently humans are emitting about eight billion tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere each year, not all of which is retained there.
Unfortunately, emissions of eight billion tonnes per year are sufficient to worsen a global warming problem.
The amount of carbon held in underground supplies of coal, oil and natural gas is very large. By a conservative estimate, worldwide there are 3510 billion tonnes of carbon remaining underground in coal; 230 billion tonnes of carbon in oil; and another 140 billion tonnes of carbon in natural gas (plus 250 billion tonnes in peat), for a total of 4130 billion tonnes of carbon held in fossil fuels globally. If 25% of this were burned and the carbon sequestered, leakage of only 0.8% of the total per year would exceed the current annual human contribution to atmospheric carbon (eight billion tonnes). And of course the oil and coal companies plan to burn far more than 25% of what remains in the ground. Their goal is to burn 100% of it. If they managed to burn 75% of remaining fuels, then annual leakage of 0.26% of the total would exceed the current eight billion tonne annual human contribution to atmospheric carbon. This could eventually lead to runaway global warming, plausibly rendering the Earth uninhabitable for humans.
It is now widely believed that humans must cut their carbon emissions 80% by the year 2050 to avert runaway global warming. (Actually, some now calculate that more than an 80% cut is needed -- but for the sake of argument, let's accept the lower 80% estimate at face value.) An 80% reduction from eight billion tonnes would allow humans to emit only 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon annually to avert runaway global warming.
If we accept this estimate of the carbon reduction needed -- cutting 80% from current levels -- then the allowable leakage must be reduced accordingly:
** if 25% of remaining fossil carbon is sequestered, any leakage above 0.16% (about one-sixth of one percent) of the total per year could eventually result in runaway global warming;
** if 75% of remaining fossil carbon is sequestered, then leakage greater than 0.05% (one-twentieth of one percent) of the total per year could eventually produce runaway global warming.
Can humans bury several trillion tons of carbon dioxide in the ground with complete confidence that 0.05% of it will not leak out each year? Never leak out? The leakage could begin at any time in the far distant future because the danger would lie buried forever, waiting to escape, a perpetual threat.
The short-term secondary effects of a carbon sequestration program are also worth considering.
Once large-scale carbon sequestration begins, it will be exceedingly difficult to stop. As soon as sequestration begins, the coal and oil corporations, and the environmental groups and universities advocating on their behalf, will assert that "carbon sequestration has been successfully demonstrated." Indeed, the environmental advocates are making such claims already, based on a very short history of pumping small amounts of carbon dioxide into oil wells to force more oil to the surface. But how can anyone "demonstrate" that leakage will never occur in the future? Such a demonstration cannot be made.
Furthermore, once the U.S. government begins to repeat the environmentalists' false claim that carbon sequestration has been "successfully demonstrated," why would China not adopt it? And India, countries in Africa, the Middle East and the former Soviet Union -- why wouldn't they adopt it? If we claim a right to threaten the future of humanity, don't others have an equal right to assert such a claim?
But can other countries devote the same resources we can devote to siting, engineering and geologic studies? Will they all be able to monitor for leaks far into the future, essentially forever? (For that matter, will the U.S. have that capability? Humans have no experience creating institutions with a duty of perpetual vigilance.)
If the carbon-sequestration advocates can get their program started, it seems likely that Congress will declare the global warming problem "solved" and carbon sequestration will be employed until all the recoverable fossil fuels in the ground have been used up.
If carbon sequestration advocates can get their program going, the U.S. will have little further incentive to invest in renewable sources of energy -- and so we stand to lose a unique opportunity to rebuild the U.S. economy on a sustainable basis and revive America's standing as an industrial leader in the world. Carbon sequestration, once it gets started, will allow 19th century energy technologies to dominate the U.S. throughout most of the 21st century.
In sum, to evade liability, to relieve pressure for innovation, to stifle competition, and to make a great deal of money, the proponents of carbon sequestration are betting the future of humans on an untestable technology -- permanent underground storage -- an act of hubris unparalleled in the annals of our species.
Minds already made up
But, you may ask, "Doesn't the U.S. have the strongest environmental protection laws in the world? Surely a vigilant Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will ask hard questions, and protect us from the bias of industry's hired experts?"
Last month U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Stephen Johnson announced that EPA will issue regulations covering carbon sequestration. However, as he was announcing EPA's intention, Mr. Johnson issued a ringing endorsement of carbon sequestration as the silver bullet to fix the nation's environmental and economic problems: "By harnessing the power of geological sequestration technology, we are entering a new age of clean energy where we can be both good stewards of the Earth, and good stewards of the American economy," Mr. Johnson said. Clearly, Mr. Johnson's mind is already made up.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) -- which earned its reputation as a "shadow government" by watchdogging EPA -- now shares EPA's giddy optimism toward carbon sequestration. In a letter to a California legislator, NRDC's George Peridas asserts that carbon sequestration can be "perfectly safe." And NRDC lawyer David Hawkins was quoted recently saying carbon sequestration can be carried out with "very very small risks." NRDC has a $437,500 grant from the Joyce Foundation to promote carbon sequestration on industry's behalf.
Clearly, these "experts" have their minds made up. But many common- sense questions remain:
** Given that there are many good alternatives, why would humans accept even a "very very small" risk of making their only home uninhabitable?
** And, given that the stakes are exceptionally high, shouldn't we approach this with a little humility and ask, "What if the experts are wrong? What if they are fallible and haven't thought of everything? What if their understanding is imperfect?" After all, geology has never been a predictive science, and humans have no experience burying lethal hazards in the ground expecting them to remain there in perpetuity.
** Since everyone alive today -- and all their children and their children's children far into the future -- could be affected, shouldn't we have a vigorous international debate on the wisdom of carbon sequestration versus alternative ways of powering human economies? Don't we have an obligation to develop a very broad international consensus before proceeding -- especially among the nations most likely to be harmed if carbon sequestration fails? [4,5,6,7,8].
** And finally, give the exceedingly high stakes, the irreversible nature of carbon sequestration, and the substantial and irreducible uncertainties involved, isn't this a decision that cries out for application of the precautionary principle?
 Carbon dioxide is the main "greenhouse gas" causing global warming. As humans burn carbon-containing fuels (coal, oil and natural gas), carbon in the fuel combines with oxygen in the air to create carbon dioxide, or CO2. In the air, CO2 acts like the glass roof on a greenhouse -- it lets in sunlight, which is converted into heat energy as it strikes the earth. When the heat energy radiates back into the sky, CO2 in the atmosphere acts like a mirror, reflecting heat back down to earth, warming the planet just as a glass roof warms a greenhouse. Global warming from this "greenhouse effect" was first described by Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius in 1896.
 Thirty-five million tons of CO2 are being pumped into depleted oil wells in Texas each year, to force oil to the surface. Thirty-five million is 0.00035 percent of ten trillion. Scaling up a 35 megaton operation by a factor of 285,000 is not a trivial problem but this is not mentioned by industry's advocates who are trying to persuade legislators to endorse large-scale carbon sequestration.
 Another human act that demonstrated similar hubris by a small technical elite was the explosion of the first A-bomb at the Trinity Site in southern New Mexico July 16, 1945. That morning, the Los Alamos scientists involved were not sure that the Bomb would work, but they also had a side-bet going among themselves because they were unsure whether the Bomb, if it did work, wouldn't ignite the Earth's atmosphere.
From: The Washington Post (pg. B1)
OFF TARGET IN THE WAR ON CANCER
By Devra Davis
[Devra Davis's most recent book is The Secret History of the War on Cancer.]
We've been fighting the war on cancer for almost four decades now, since President Richard M. Nixon officially launched it in 1971. It's time to admit that our efforts have often targeted the wrong enemies and used the wrong weapons.
Throughout the industrial world, the war on cancer remains focused on commercially fueled efforts to develop drugs and technologies that can find and treat the disease -- to the tune of more than $100 billion a year in the United States alone. Meanwhile, the struggle basically ignores most of the things known to cause cancer, such as tobacco, radiation, sunlight, benzene, asbestos, solvents, and some drugs and hormones. Even now, modern cancer-causing agents such as gasoline exhaust, pesticides and other air pollutants are simply deemed the inevitable price of progress.
They're not. Scientists understand that most cancer is not born but made. Although identical twins start life with amazingly similar genetic material, as adults they do not develop the same cancers. As with most of us, where they live and work and the habits that they develop do more to determine their health than their genes do. Americans in their 20s today carry around in their bodies levels of some chemicals that can impair their ability to produce healthy children -- and increase the chances that those children will develop cancer.
Consider the icon of American cancer, the cyclist Lance Armstrong. He's hardly alone as an inspiring younger survivor. Of the 10 million American cancer survivors who are alive five years after their diagnosis, about one in 10 is younger than 40. Could exposure to radiation and obesity-promoting chemicals help explain why, according to a study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the rates of the testicular cancer that Armstrong developed nearly doubled in most industrialized countries in the past three decades? Should we wait to find out?
I'm calling for prudence and prevention, not panic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Working Group have confirmed that American children are being born with dozens of chemicals in their bodies that did not exist just two decades earlier, including toxic flame retardants from fabrics. A new study by Barbara Cohn and other scientists at the Public Health Institute in Berkeley, Calif., finds that girls exposed to elevated levels of the pesticide DDT before age 14 are five times more likely to develop breast cancer when they reach middle age.
Yes, the war has had some important successes: Cancer deaths in the United States are finally dropping, chiefly because of badly belated (and still poorly supported) efforts to curb smoking, reductions in the levels of some pollutants and significant advances in the control of cancers of the breast, colon, prostate and cervix. But new cases of cancer not linked to smoking or aging are on the rise, such as cancer in children and non-Hodgkin lymphoma in people older than 55. And according to the CDC, cancer is the No. 2 cause of death for children and middle-age people, second only to accidents. The longer view is troubling: The National Cancer Institute reports that from 1950 to 2001, the number of cancers of the bone marrow, the bladder and the liver doubled.
Both public health and social justice demand that we focus more on the things that cause cancer. For example, blacks and other minorities still die of many forms of cancer more often than do whites. Could this be tied to the fact that so many African Americans hold blue- collar jobs, which may bring them into contact with carcinogens? Or because poor blacks are more likely to live in polluted neighborhoods, or eat diets higher in cancer-causing fats? We can't say, and we're not even trying to find out. The vast cancer-fighting enterprise has decidedly different priorities.
Even our triumphs in battling cancer can leave us with tragic shortcomings. Consider one irony of oncology: Many of the agents that can so effectively rout cancer early in life, such as chemotherapy and radiation, can also increase the risks of falling prey to other forms of the disease later on. According to a study in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, one out of every three girls treated with radiation before age 16 to arrest Hodgkin's disease -- a cancer of the lymphatic system that often occurs in young people -- will develop breast cancer by age 40. Of course, many cancers in children and young adults might have been avoided in the first place without earlier exposure to cancer-causing agents.
We also need to weigh the downsides of the way we use radiation today to find problems in the healthy public, especially the young. A consensus statement from the American College of Radiology notes that "the current annual collective dose estimate from medical exposure in the United States has been calculated as roughly equivalent to the total worldwide collective dose generated by the nuclear catastrophe at Chernobyl."
Most parents (and many emergency-medicine physicians) don't know that a single CT scan of a child's head can deliver the same radioactive dose as that in 200 to 6,000 chest X-rays. Some pediatric experts recommend that CT scans of children be restricted to medical emergencies and kept at doses as low as reasonably possible. Even so, according to the American College of Radiology, the use of CT scans has jumped tenfold in the past decade -- a change that stems from the profitability and growth of "defensive medicine," and one that has not resulted in any improvement in our overall health that I can discern.
The Food and Drug Administration, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency often lack the authority and resources to monitor and control tobacco smoke, asbestos, tanning salons and the cancer-causing agents in food, water and the everyday products we use on our bodies and in our homes. Under antiquated laws, chemical and radiation hazards are examined one at a time, if at all. Of the nearly 80,000 chemicals regularly bought and sold today, according to the National Academy of Sciences, fewer than 10 percent have been tested for their capacity to cause cancer or do other damage.
As a result of these policy failures, the United States often stands alone -- and not in a good way. Unlike Italy, Ireland, France, Albania, Argentina, Uruguay and many other countries, the United States has failed to ban smoking in public spaces nationwide. Unlike European children, American kids are exposed to small levels of known carcinogens in their food, air, shampoos, bubble baths and skin creams -- such as the clear, colorless liquid known as "1, 4-dioxane," a common contaminant that causes cancer in animals and has been banned from cosmetics by the European Union.
In fact, our growing dependence on many unstudied modern conveniences makes us the subjects of vast, uncontrolled experiments to which none of us ever consents. Consider cellphones, whose long-term health consequences could prove disastrous. Experimental findings show that cellphone radiation damages living cells and can penetrate the skull. Widely publicized research on cellphone use in the early 1990s indicates that the phones are safe, but those studies did not include any children and excluded all business users. While exposure levels are much lower on newer phones, the effects of gadgets that have increasingly become part of our children's lives remain unstudied.
That's unwise. Recent reports from Sweden and France, published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, reveal that adults who have used cellphones for 10 years or more have twice as much brain cancer on the side of their heads most frequently exposed to the phone. The Swiss and Chinese governments have set official exposure limits for cellphone microwave emissions that are 500 times lower than those the United States mandates. In Bangalore, India, it is illegal to sell a cellphone to a child younger than 16. As a basic precaution, people should use the phones with earpieces or speakers, and young children should not use them at all -- consistent with warnings recently issued by the German and British governments. Because brain cancer can take 10 years or longer to develop, national statistics cannot be expected to show the health impact of today's skyrocketing cellphone use. But we shouldn't wait for the cases to roll in before acting.
True, there are many uncertainties about environmental cancer hazards. But these doubts should not be confused with proof that environmental factors are harmless. The confusion arises for three different reasons. First, studying the ways that our surroundings affect our cancers is genuinely hard. Second, public and private funding levels for research and control of environmental cancer are scandalously low. Finally, those who profit from the continued use of some risky technologies have devised well-financed efforts to sow doubt about many modern hazards, taking their cue from the machinations of the tobacco industry. The best crafted public relations campaigns masquerade as independent scientific information from unimpeachable authorities.
No matter how much our efforts to treat cancer may advance, the best way to reduce cancer's toll is to keep people from getting it. We need to join the rest of the industrialized world by issuing a national ban on asbestos and forbidding smoking in the workplace and other public spaces. We must reduce the hazards faced by those working to build our homes, transport our goods and make the products we consume. We should restrict CT scans of children to medical emergencies, limit the use of diagnostic radiation in general, ban young children from using cellphones and keep the rest of us from using tanning beds. And we must recognize that pollutants do not need passports. Controlling cancer, like controlling global warming, can take place only on an international scale. We can -- and must -- do better.
Devra Davis, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health, directs the Center for Environmental Oncology. Her most recent book is "The Secret History of the War on Cancer."
PLASTIC COMPONENT BISPHENOL-A, FOUND IN EVERYONE, HIGHEST IN KIDS
By Naomi Lubick
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey of more than 2500 U.S. residents shows that nearly everyone in the country carries bisphenol A (BPA) in their bodies and that children carry the highest burden.
The chemical, used in plastics and food containers, acts as an endocrine disrupter. It has been shown to lead to obesity, depressed growth rates, and prostate cancer in laboratory animals, according to recent reviews by a National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) panel.
Led by Antonia Calafat of CDC's National Center for Environmental Health, researchers analyzed samples collected during the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) of 2003-2004. The team reported online October 24 in Environmental Health Perspectives that concentrations of a BPA metabolite in urine ranged from 0.4 to 149 micrograms per liter (micrograms/L), with an average of 2.6 micrograms/L. The researchers also established that children carry "significantly higher" BPA concentrations than adolescents, who in turn have higher levels than adults.
The new data suggest that people's everyday exposures to BPA are higher than the no-harm level (50 micrograms/L) set by the U.S. EPA, says Frederick vom Saal, a University of Missouri Columbia BPA specialist who served on the NIEHS panel. Animal studies indicate that an exposure dose would be about 10 times the amount found in blood and urine measurements. The observations from NHANES are also "disturbing in that it confirms without a doubt that the youngest are most at risk," he says. Babies probably have the highest BPA levels, but NHANES only includes children 6 years and older.
The release of the CDC's analysis means that the BPA data and accompanying behavioral survey information are available to epidemiologists for the first time, giving them an opportunity to tease apart the effects of lifestyle and BPA exposure.
Copyright 2007 American Chemical Society
GLOBAL WARMING GASES SET TO RISE BY 57%
By Agence France-Presse
By 2030, emissions of greenhouse gases will rise by 57% compared to current levels, leading to a rise in Earth's surface temperature of at least three degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit), the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Nov. 7.
In its annual report on global energy needs, the agency projected greenhouse-gas pollution would rise by 1.8% annually by 2030 on the basis of projected energy use and current efforts to mitigate emissions.
The IEA saw scant chance of bringing this pollution down to a stable, safer level any time soon. It poured cold water on a scenario sketched earlier this year by the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN's paramount authority on global warming and its effects.
The IPCC said that to limit the average increase in global temperatures to 2.4 C (4.3 F) -- the most optimistic of any of its scenarios -- the concentration of greenhouse gases would have to stabilize at 450 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. The IPCC warned that, to achieve this goal, CO2 emissions would have to peak by 2015 at the latest and then fall between 50% and 85% by 2050. But the 2007 edition of the IEA's World Energy Outlook saw no peak in emissions before 2020.
To achieve the 450 ppm target would mean that CO2 from energy sources would have to peak by 2012, and this would require a massive drive in energy efficiency and switch to non-fossil fuels, the report said. "Emissions savings (would have to) come from improved efficiency in fossil-fuel use in industry, buildings and transport, switching to nuclear power and renewables, and the widespread deployment of CO2 capture and storage in power generation and industry," the IEA said.
By 2030, the biggest polluters would be China, the U.S., India, Russia and Japan, the IEA said.
In a report issued this year, the IPCC said that since 1900, the mean global atmospheric temperature had risen by 0.8 C (1.44 F) and levels of CO2, which account for about three-quarters of greenhouse-gas output, are now at their highest in 650,000 years. This temperature rise has already caused glaciers, snow and ice cover to fall back sharply in alpine regions, reduced the scope of Arctic sea ice and caused Siberian and Canadian permafrost to retreat. By 2100, global average surface temperatures could rise by between 1.1 C (1.98 F) and 6.4 C (11.52 F) compared to 1980-99 levels, the IPCC said. Heatwaves, flooding, drought, tropical storms and surges in sea level are among the events expected to become more frequent, more widespread and/or more intense this century, the scientists said.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007
From: New York Times
THE 'GOOD GERMANS' AMONG US
By Frank Rich
"Bush lies" doesn't cut it anymore. It's time to confront the darker reality that we are lying to ourselves.
Ten days ago The Times unearthed yet another round of secret Department of Justice memos countenancing torture. President Bush gave his standard response: "This government does not torture people." Of course, it all depends on what the meaning of "torture" is. The whole point of these memos is to repeatedly recalibrate the definition so Mr. Bush can keep pleading innocent.
By any legal standards except those rubber-stamped by Alberto Gonzales, we are practicing torture, and we have known we are doing so ever since photographic proof emerged from Abu Ghraib more than three years ago. As Andrew Sullivan, once a Bush cheerleader, observed last weekend in The Sunday Times of London, America's "enhanced interrogation" techniques have a grotesque provenance: "Verscharfte Vernehmung, enhanced or intensified interrogation, was the exact term innovated by the Gestapo to describe what became known as the 'third degree.' It left no marks. It included hypothermia, stress positions and long-time sleep deprivation."
Still, the drill remains the same. The administration gives its alibi (Abu Ghraib was just a few bad apples). A few members of Congress squawk. The debate is labeled "politics." We turn the page.
There has been scarcely more response to the similarly recurrent story of apparent war crimes committed by our contractors in Iraq. Call me cynical, but when Laura Bush spoke up last week about the human rights atrocities in Burma, it seemed less an act of selfless humanitarianism than another administration maneuver to change the subject from its own abuses.
As Mrs. Bush spoke, two women, both Armenian Christians, were gunned down in Baghdad by contractors underwritten by American taxpayers. On this matter, the White House has been silent. That incident followed the Sept. 16 massacre in Baghdad's Nisour Square, where 17 Iraqis were killed by security forces from Blackwater USA, which had already been implicated in nearly 200 other shooting incidents since 2005. There has been no accountability. The State Department, Blackwater's sugar daddy for most of its billion dollars in contracts, won't even share its investigative findings with the United States military and the Iraqi government, both of which have deemed the killings criminal.
The gunmen who mowed down the two Christian women worked for a Dubai- based company managed by Australians, registered in Singapore and enlisted as a subcontractor by an American contractor headquartered in North Carolina. This is a plot out of "Syriana" by way of "Chinatown." There will be no trial. We will never find out what happened. A new bill passed by the House to regulate contractor behavior will have little effect, even if it becomes law in its current form.
We can continue to blame the Bush administration for the horrors of Iraq -- and should. Paul Bremer, our post-invasion viceroy and the recipient of a Presidential Medal of Freedom for his efforts, issued the order that allows contractors to elude Iraqi law, a folly second only to his disbanding of the Iraqi Army. But we must also examine our own responsibility for the hideous acts committed in our name in a war where we have now fought longer than we did in the one that put Verscharfte Vernehmung on the map.
I have always maintained that the American public was the least culpable of the players during the run-up to Iraq. The war was sold by a brilliant and fear-fueled White House propaganda campaign designed to stampede a nation still shellshocked by 9/11. Both Congress and the press -- the powerful institutions that should have provided the checks, balances and due diligence of the administration's case -- failed to do their job. Had they done so, more Americans might have raised more objections. This perfect storm of democratic failure began at the top.
As the war has dragged on, it is hard to give Americans en masse a pass. We are too slow to notice, let alone protest, the calamities that have followed the original sin.
In April 2004, Stars and Stripes first reported that our troops were using makeshift vehicle armor fashioned out of sandbags, yet when a soldier complained to Donald Rumsfeld at a town meeting in Kuwait eight months later, he was successfully pilloried by the right. Proper armor procurement lagged for months more to come. Not until early this year, four years after the war's first casualties, did a Washington Post investigation finally focus the country's attention on the shoddy treatment of veterans, many of them victims of inadequate armor, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and other military hospitals.
We first learned of the use of contractors as mercenaries when four Blackwater employees were strung up in Falluja in March 2004, just weeks before the first torture photos emerged from Abu Ghraib. We asked few questions. When reports surfaced early this summer that our contractors in Iraq (180,000, of whom some 48,000 are believed to be security personnel) now outnumber our postsurge troop strength, we yawned. Contractor casualties and contractor-inflicted casualties are kept off the books.
It was always the White House's plan to coax us into a blissful ignorance about the war. Part of this was achieved with the usual Bush-Cheney secretiveness, from the torture memos to the prohibition of photos of military coffins. But the administration also invited our passive complicity by requiring no shared sacrifice. A country that knows there's no such thing as a free lunch was all too easily persuaded there could be a free war.
Instead of taxing us for Iraq, the White House bought us off with tax cuts. Instead of mobilizing the needed troops, it kept a draft off the table by quietly purchasing its auxiliary army of contractors to finesse the overstretched military's holes. With the war's entire weight falling on a small voluntary force, amounting to less than 1 percent of the population, the rest of us were free to look the other way at whatever went down in Iraq.
We ignored the contractor scandal to our own peril. Ever since Falluja this auxiliary army has been a leading indicator of every element of the war's failure: not only our inadequate troop strength but also our alienation of Iraqi hearts and minds and our rampant outsourcing to contractors rife with Bush-Cheney cronies and campaign contributors. Contractors remain a bellwether of the war's progress today. When Blackwater was briefly suspended after the Nisour Square catastrophe, American diplomats were flatly forbidden from leaving the fortified Green Zone. So much for the surge's great "success" in bringing security to Baghdad.
Last week Paul Rieckhoff, an Iraq war combat veteran who directs Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, sketched for me the apocalypse to come. Should Baghdad implode, our contractors, not having to answer to the military chain of command, can simply "drop their guns and go home." Vulnerable American troops could be deserted by those "who deliver their bullets and beans."
This potential scenario is just one example of why it's in our national self-interest to attend to Iraq policy the White House counts on us to ignore. Our national character is on the line too. The extralegal contractors are both a slap at the sovereignty of the self- governing Iraq we supposedly support and an insult to those in uniform receiving as little as one-sixth the pay. Yet it took mass death in Nisour Square to fix even our fleeting attention on this long- metastasizing cancer in our battle plan.
Similarly, it took until December 2005, two and a half years after "Mission Accomplished," for Mr. Bush to feel sufficient public pressure to acknowledge the large number of Iraqi casualties in the war. Even now, despite his repeated declaration that "America will not abandon the Iraqi people," he has yet to address or intervene decisively in the tragedy of four million-plus Iraqi refugees, a disproportionate number of them children. He feels no pressure from the American public to do so, but hey, he pays lip service to Darfur.
Our moral trajectory over the Bush years could not be better dramatized than it was by a reunion of an elite group of two dozen World War II veterans in Washington this month. They were participants in a top-secret operation to interrogate some 4,000 Nazi prisoners of war. Until now, they have kept silent, but America's recent record prompted them to talk to The Washington Post.
"We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture," said Henry Kolm, 90, an M.I.T. physicist whose interrogation of Rudolf Hess, Hitler's deputy, took place over a chessboard. George Frenkel, 87, recalled that he "never laid hands on anyone" in his many interrogations, adding, "I'm proud to say I never compromised my humanity."
Our humanity has been compromised by those who use Gestapo tactics in our war. The longer we stand idly by while they do so, the more we resemble those "good Germans" who professed ignorance of their own Gestapo. It's up to us to wake up our somnambulant Congress to challenge administration policy every day. Let the war's last supporters filibuster all night if they want to. There is nothing left to lose except whatever remains of our country's good name.
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company
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