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#887 -- Capitalism 3.0, Part 2, 28-Dec-2006

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Rachel's Democracy & Health News #887

"Environment, health, jobs and justice--Who gets to decide?"

Thursday, December 28, 2006.............Printer-friendly version
www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here.
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Featured stories in this issue...

Capitalism 3.0, Part 2
  Here we continue our review of the important, thought-provoking
  book, Capitalism 3.0, by Peter Barnes. Part one of this review can
  be found here.
The Real Scoop on Biofuels
  The biofuels industry -- typically making ethanol from corn and
  biodiesel from soy -- is big business and getting bigger fast. New
  research shows that biofuels are far from environmentally friendly.
Scientists Reveal That Bears Have Stopped Hibernating
  Global warming is scrambling nature, with effects felt far and
  wide.
Is There a Microchip Implant in Your Children's Future?
  One day we will all happily be implanted with microchips, and our
  every move will be monitored. The technology exists; the only barrier
  is society's resistance to the loss of privacy. An expert on
  surveillance and society lays out how corporations and governments
  will team up to break down that fragile barrier.

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From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #887, Dec. 28, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

CAPITALISM 3.0, PART 2

By Peter Montague

Peter Barnes describes our current economic system as capitalism 2.0
or "surplus capitalism," because its main problem is finding buyers
for the gushing fire hydrant of goods that the system so easily
produces.

Barnes says surplus capitalism has three evident faults -- it is
devouring creation, it is producing ever-widening disparities between
rich and poor, and it largely ignores the needs of future generations.
Barnes proposes to solve these three problems not by abandoning
capitalism but by giving it a software upgrade -- turning it into
capitalism 3.0.

Peter Barnes believes that the corporate sector of the U.S. economy
and culture has grown so large and powerful that it cannot be
regulated or made "socially responsible" to any significant degree. In
this regard the book is deeply pessimistic about the future of
democracy and of the viability of the natural world.

During the 19th century, the corporation evolved into an institution
legally required to fulfill a single purpose -- to provide a steady
return on investment capital garnered from strangers. This they do
exceedingly well. As a result, since 1830 corporations have grown
exponentially and without limit. Now fully 2/3rds of U.S. gross
domestic product (GDP) is created by the largest 500 corporations.
(pg. 22) As part of their natural behavior, corporations privatize our
common wealth, extracting whatever they need from nature, community
and culture -- and they externalize their costs by dumping wastes into
the environment, minimizing their tax contributions, and reducing pay
and eliminating health-care and pension benefits for workers to the
extent allowed by law. (In Barnes's view, the corporate globalization
project is largely driven by a relentless search for cheap labor. For
a brief period in our history, labor unions provided a countervailing
power to the corporations, but Peter Barnes believes that that time is
gone, presumably forever.)

Using the basic strategy of privatization and externalization,
corporations have consolidated wealth for a fortunate few -- the 5% of
Americans who now own more wealth than the other 95% combined. (pg.
27) (Barnes does not say so, but, importantly, the structure of the
modern transnational corporation is the antithesis of democratic
decision-making. As a secondary, unanticipated result of the corporate
ascendancy, all the institutions of our culture have fallen under the
influence of the corporate elite -- including legislatures, the
judiciary, and the executive branch, but also the mass media, our
schools and colleges, churches, elections, workplace policies and
conditions, foreign trade, foreign policy, the military. Almost
without exception, all the institutions of our culture are now
disciplined by a hierarchical corporate perspective, and by the narrow
corporate quest for ever-growing wealth.)

Because the corporate sector cannot be reined in to any significant
degree, Peter Barnes believes, we must create an entirely new sector
within the economy to act as a counterbalance to corporate influence.
This he calls the "commons sector" and it would be created by
"propertizing" the commons but NOT privatizing the commons. The
commons would be "propertized" by giving everyone shares in it --
shares they receive at birth and own, but which they cannot sell,
trade or pass on to their heirs.

By "the commons" Barnes means,

1. Nature, which includes air, water, DNA, photosynthesis, seeds,
topsoil, airwaves, minerals, animals, plants, antibiotics, oceans,
fisheries, aquifers, quiet, wetlands, forests, rivers, lakes, solar
energy, wind energy... and so on;

2. Community: streets, playgrounds, the calendar, holidays,
universities, libraries, museums, social insurance [e.g., social
security], law, money, accounting standards, capital markets,
political institutions, farmers' markets, flea markets, craigslist...
etc.;

3. Culture: language, philosophy, religion, physics, chemistry,
musical instruments, classical music, jazz, ballet, hip-hop,
astronomy, electronics, the Internet, broadcast spectrum, medicine,
biology, mathematics, open-source software... and so forth. (pg. 5)

In Barnes's software fix for capitalism, the mechanism for managing
common property would be the trust -- an ancient legal mechanism that
is widely used in the modern world. Barnes proposes creating "common
property trusts" to manage the newly-created common property rights. A
trust is a legal arrangement whereby one party (a trustee) manages an
asset (the "trust property") for the benefit of a third party (the
trust beneficiaries). The trustee's sole duty is to manage the trust
property for the benefit of the beneficiaries.

Corporations using the commons would pay for the privilege, some of
the proceeds being paid to living beneficiaries as income. But
importantly, the trustees of the commons would operate under a strict
legal code requiring them to manage the trust for its long-term
productivity and survival. Trustees would be elected (or appointed)
for long terms, similar to the way many judges serve today. The
position of trustee would be an important one; trustees would be
respected, perhaps even venerated.

This commons sector would be managed according a set of principles,
which would vary somewhat depending on whether the asset was limited
(nature) or inexhaustible (ideas and cultural creations).

Here is the short version of the management principles:

1. Leave "enough and as good" in common -- a phrase first used by
John Locke, who argued that it's OK to privatize some parts of the
commons so long as "enough and as good" is retained in common
ownership. "Enough" of an ecosystem would mean enough to allow it to
regenerate itself and remain healthy.

2. Put future generations first. Trustees of common property would be
accountable to future generations (and could be sued by the present
generation if they were obviously failing in this duty).(pg. 75)

3. The more the merrier. Private property is inherently exclusive;
common property is inherently inclusive. For example, social security
and Medicare are efficient and fair because they include almost
everyone.

4. One person, one share. "In the case of scarce natural assets, it
will be necessary to distinguish between usage rights and income
rights. It's impossible for everyone to use a limited commons equally,
but everyone should receive equal shares of the income derived from
selling limited usage rights."

5. Include some liquidity. Whenever possible, common property owners
should receive some income from their share of ownership. People would
notice -- and care about -- common property if they received income
from it. But common property rights could not be traded or sold or
passed to offspring. They are a birthright that stays with an
individual for life.

In addition to creating "common property rights" and trusts to manage
them, Peter Barnes suggests that we extend the list of birthrights we
all receive free at birth. The Constitution presently guarantees each
of us several birthrights -- free speech, due process, habeas corpus
(though Congress recently revoked this 700-year-old birthright for
some of us), speedy public trials, and secure homes and property.
Barnes wants to add three additional birthrights to this list:

(a) An annual dividend (cash) paid by each common property trust to
every shareholder. Businesses using common property would pay the
relevant trust for the privilege of doing so, and the resulting cash
would be distributed to everyone who holds a share. To cite but one
example: firms trading shares on a stock exchange would pay for the
privilege of doing so because a stock exchange only works because the
community has created conditions allowing it to work -- the community
creates some of the value and so a common property trust should
receive some of the benefits.

(b) A start-up stake -- a lump sum of cash received at birth, which
would stay invested until age 18 at which time the individual could
use it for any purpose. (Example: In England every child born after
2002 now gets a trust fund seeded with $440 -- $880 if the child is in
the poorest 40% of families.) (pg. 109)

(c) Health risk sharing. In the U.S., social insurance principles have
been applied to the risks of old-age poverty, temporary unemployment,
and disability. The U.S. remains the only capitalist democracy that
has not yet applied these principles to the risk of ill health. Barnes
favors the Canadian system which is "incredibly simple," much cheaper
than the U.S. system, and provides health care and peace of mind to
all Canadians. (pgs. 113-114)

In his semi-final chapter, Barnes describes a set of institutions that
already exist somewhere, but which could be used much more widely. The
goal, he says, is to produce the most happiness with the least
destruction of nature. So here's an incomplete list

** Land trusts. Beside the agricultural land trust in Marin County,
California (described last week), Barnes points to the Dudley Street
neighborhood in Boston where a land trust owns 600 new and rehabbed
homes -- all with a cap on resale prices -- plus gardens, parks and
playgrounds.

** Surface water trusts -- The Oregon Water Trust acquires surface
water rights to protect salmon and other fish. Similar trusts have
appeared in Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and
Nevada.

** Groundwater Trusts. In San Antonio, Tex., the Edwards Aquifer
Authority limits groundwater withdrawals by issuing permits.

** Community Gardens -- The American Community Gardening Association
lists 70 major cities with community gardens.

** Farmers' markets -- There are now nearly 4000 farmers' markets
operating in 50 states.

** An American Permanent Fund -- this one does not yet exist. Barnes
says it would be "the centerpiece of the new commons sector proposed
in this volume. It's a way to fix, or at least ameliorate,
capitalism's flaw of concentrating private property among the top 5%
of the population." The American Permanent Fund's income would
initially come from selling pollution permits (chiefly carbon
dioxide). As Barnes envisions it, the sale of pollution rights would
create income at first, some of which would be invested in buying
stock in corporations. As the trust ratcheted down allowable
pollution, return on corporate shares would replace lost income from
pollution rights. Every individual in the nation would get an annual
payout from the trust, establishing the important principle of one
person, one share.

** A spectrum fund -- by which the airwaves (the electro-magnetic
spectrum that carries radio and TV signals) would be set up as a
trust, with everyone as beneficiary. No more free ride for the big
media corporations. It is well-established that the public owns the
airwaves -- why should the public not benefit by charging annual rent
for their use?

Suffice it to say that this is a book rich with interesting new ideas
-- or old ideas offered in a new context and a new light.

As Bill McKibben says, "It's an indispensable book on a critical
topic. You may not agree with everything Peter Barnes proposes, but we
all can benefit by engaging in the debate that this book so skillfully
draws us into."

So in closing I want to contribute to the debate this book will
provoke. Here are two questions the book raises for me:

a) Given the influence of modern corporations over all our
institutions -- and given the single purpose that makes them so
"efficient" and, at the same time, so destructive of nature and of
democracy -- how can we hope to insulate trustees of the commons from
corporate influence?

b) Given that the human footprint on the Earth is relentlessly
expanding, in effect crowding out the other creatures whose
existence is essential for the proper functioning of the biosphere
(upon which we ourselves depend), how can a system that requires
perpetual corporate growth be sustainable? The American Permanent Fund
is based on annual growth of corporate profits -- but such growth is
demonstrably destroying the biosphere, so we obviously require a
steady-state economy, not an endlessly-growing economy. Indeed, on a
finite planet, an endlessly-growing economy is a physical
impossibility. What will a steady-state economy look like and how can
the corporate form as we know it accommodate to this new requirement
of our survival?

Perhaps the most important point to make in closing is that some of
the ideas in this book might well be applied to a steady-state
economic system that was, by its nature, fundamentally different from
capitalism 2.0 (which requires perpetual growth on a finite planet).
In this sense, Peter Barnes's ideas might well outlast capitalism 2.0
and even 3.0 -- and might even outlast the corporate form itself -- as
the requirements of the biosphere begin to discipline our thinking and
entirely new steady-state economic forms emerge. In sum, this is a
book to take with you on the long haul ahead.

Return to Table of Contents

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From: Synthesis/Regeneration Winter 2006, Dec. 15, 2006

THE REAL SCOOP ON BIOFUELS

"Green Energy" Panacea or Just the Latest Hype?

By Brian Tokar*

You can hardly open up a major newspaper or national magazine these
days without encountering the latest hype about biofuels, and how
they're going to save oil, reduce pollution and prevent climate
change. Bill Gates, Sun Microsystems' Vinod Khosla, and other major
venture capitalists are investing millions in new biofuel production,
whether in the form of ethanol, mainly derived from corn in the U.S.
today; or biodiesel, mainly from soybeans and canola seed. It's
virtually a "modern day gold rush," as described by the New York
Times, paraphrasing the chief executive of Cargill, one of the main
benefactors of increased subsidies to agribusiness and tax credits to
refiners for the purpose of encouraging biofuel production.

The Times reported June 25, 2006 that some 40 new ethanol plants are
currently under construction in the US, aiming toward a 30% increase
in domestic production. Archer Daniels Midland, the company that first
sold the idea of corn-derived ethanol as an auto fuel to Congress in
the late 1970s, has doubled its stock price and profits over the last
two years. ADM currently controls a quarter of U.S. ethanol fuel
production, and recently hired a former Chevron executive as its CEO.

Several well-respected analysts have raised serious concerns about
this rapid diversion of food crops toward the production of fuel for
automobiles. WorldWatch Institute founder Lester Brown, long concerned
about the sustainability of world food supplies, says that fuel
producers are already competing with food processors in the world's
grain markets. "Cars, not people, will claim most of the increase in
grain production this year," reports Brown -- a serious concern in a
world where the grain required to make enough ethanol to fill an SUV
tank is enough to feed a person for a whole year. Others have
dismissed the ethanol gold rush as nothing more than the subsidized
burning of food to run automobiles.

The biofuel rush is having a significant impact worldwide as well.
Brazil, often touted as the most impressive biofuel success story, is
using half its annual sugarcane crop to provide 40% of its auto fuel,
while accelerating deforestation to grow more sugarcane and soybeans.
Malaysian and Indonesian rainforests are being bulldozed for oil palm
plantations -- threatening endangered orangutans, rhinos, tigers and
countless other species -- in order to serve at the booming European
market for biodiesel.

Are these reasonable tradeoffs for a troubled planet, or merely
another corporate push for profits? Two recent studies aim to document
the full consequences of the new biofuel economy and realistically
assess its impact on fuel use, greenhouse gases and agricultural
lands. One study, originating from the University of Minnesota, is
moderately hopeful in the first two areas, but offers a strong caution
about land use. The other, from Cornell University and UC Berkeley,
concludes that every domestic biofuel source -- those currently in use
as well as those under development -- produce less energy than is
consumed in growing and processing the crops.

The Minnesota researchers attempted a full lifecycle analysis of the
production of ethanol from corn and biodiesel from soy. They
documented the energy costs of fuel production, pesticide use,
transportation, and other key factors, and also accounted for the
energy equivalent of soy and corn byproducts that remain for other
uses after the fuel is extracted. Their paper, published in the July
25, 2006 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences, concluded that ethanol production offers a modest net energy
gain of 25% over oil, resulting in 12% less greenhouse gases than an
equivalent amount of gasoline. The numbers for biodiesel are more
promising, with a 93% net energy gain and a 41% reduction in
greenhouse gases.

The researchers cautioned, however, that these figures do not account
for the significant environmental damage from increased acreages of
these crops, including the impacts of pesticides, nitrate runoff into
water supplies, nor the increased demand on water, as "energy crops"
like corn and soy begin to displace more drought-tolerant crops such
as wheat in several Midwestern states.

The most serious impact is on land use. The Minnesota paper reports
that in 2005, 14% of the U.S. corn harvest was used to produce some
3.9 billion gallons of ethanol, equivalent to 1.7% of current gasoline
usage. About 1 1/2 percent of the soy harvest produced 68 million
gallons of biodiesel, equivalent to less than one tenth of one percent
of gas usage. This means that if all of the country's corn harvest was
used to make ethanol, it would displace 12% of our gas; all of our
soybeans would displace about 6% of diesel use. But if the energy used
in producing these biofuels is taken into account, the picture becomes
worse still. It requires roughly eight units of gas to produce 10
units of ethanol, and five units of gas to produce 10 units of
biodiesel; hence the net is only two units of ethanol or five units of
biodiesel. Therefore the entire soy and corn crops combined would
really only less than 3% of current gasoline and diesel use. This is
where the serious strain on food supplies and prices originates.

The Cornell study is even more skeptical. Released in July 2005, it
was the product of an ongoing collaboration between Cornell
agriculturalist David Pimentel, environmental engineer Ted Patzek, and
their colleagues at the University of California at Berkeley, and was
published in the journal Natural Resources Research. This study found
that, on balance, making ethanol from corn requires 29% more fossil
fuel than the net energy produced and biodisel from soy results in a
net energy loss of 27%. Other crops, touted as solutions to the
apparent diseconomy of current methods, offer even worse results.

Switchgrass, for example, can grow on marginal land and presumably
won't compete with food production (you may recall George Bush's
mumbling about switchgrass in his 2006 State of the Union speech), but
it requires 45% more energy to harvest and process than the energy
value of the fuel that is produced. Wood biomass requires 57% more
energy than it produces, and sunflowers require more than twice as
much energy than is available in the fuel that is produced. "There is
just no energy benefit to using plant biomass for liquid fuel," said
David Pimentel in a Cornell press statement this past July. "These
strategies are not sustainable."

The Cornell/Berkeley study has drawn the attention of numerous
critics, some of whom suggest that Ted Patzek's background in
petroleum engineering disqualifies him from objectively assessing the
energy balance of biofuels. Needless to say, in a field where both oil
and agribusiness companies are vying for public subsidies, the
technical arguments can become rather furious. An earlier analysis by
the Chicago-area Argonne National Laboratory (once a Manhattan Project
offshoot) produced data much closer to the Minnesota results, but a
response by Patzek pointed out several potential flaws in that study's
shared assumptions with an earlier analysis by the USDA. In another
recent article, Harvard environmental scientist Michael McElroy
concurred with Pimentel and Patzek: "[U]nfortunately the promised
benefits [of ethanol] prove upon analysis to be largely ephemeral."

Even Brazilian sugarcane, touted as the world's model for conversion
from fossil fuels to sustainable "green energy," has its downside. The
energy yield appears beyond question: it is claimed that ethanol from
sugarcane may produce as much as eight times as much energy as it
takes to grow and process. But a recent World Wildlife Fund report for
the International Energy Agency raises serious questions about this
approach to future energy independence. It turns out that 80% of
Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions come not from cars, but from
deforestation -- the loss of embedded carbon dioxide when forests are
cut down and burned. A hectare of land may save 13 tons of carbon
dioxide if it is used to grow sugarcane, but the same hectare can
absorb 20 tons of CO2 if it remains forested. If sugarcane and soy
plantations continue to spur deforestation, both in the Amazon and in
Brazil's Atlantic coastal forests, any climate advantage is more than
outweighed by the loss of the forest.

Genetic engineering, which has utterly failed to produce healthier or
more sustainable food (and also failed to create a reliable source of
biopharmaceuticals without threatening the safety of our food supply)
is now being touted as the answer to sustainable biofuel production.
Biofuels were all the buzz at the biotech industry's most recent mega-
convention in April 2006, and biotech companies are all competing to
cash in on the biofuel bonanza. Syngenta (the world's largest
herbicide manufacturer and number three, after Monsanto and DuPont, in
seeds) is developing a GE corn variety that contains one of the
enzymes needed to convert corn starch into sugar before it can be
fermented into ethanol. Companies are vying to increase total starch
content, reduce lignin (necessary for the structural integrity of
plants but a nuisance for chemical processors), and increase crop
yields. Others are proposing huge plantations of fast-growing
genetically engineered low-lignin trees to temporarily sequester
carbon and ultimately be harvested for ethanol.

However, the utility of incorporating the amylase enzyme into crops is
questionable (it's also a potential allergen), gains in starch
production are marginal, and the use of genetic engineering to
increase crop yields has never proved reliable. Other more complex
traits, such as drought and salt tolerance (to grow energy crops on
land unsuited to food production), have been aggressively pursued by
geneticists for more than twenty years with scarcely a glimmer of
success. Genetically engineered trees, with their long life-cycle, as
well as seeds and pollen capable of spreading hundreds of miles in the
wild, are potentially a far greater environmental threat than
engineered varieties of annual crops. Even Monsanto, always the most
aggressive promoter of genetic engineering, has opted to rely on
conventional plant breeding for its biofuel research, according to the
New York Times (Sept. 8, 2006). Like "feeding the world" and
biopharmaceutical production before it, genetic engineering for
biofuels mainly benefits the biotech industry's public relations
image.

Biofuels may still prove advantageous in some local applications, such
as farmers using crop wastes to fuel their farms, and running cars
from waste oil that is otherwise thrown away by restaurants. But as a
solution to long-term energy needs on a national or international
scale, the costs appear to far outweigh the benefits. The solution
lies in technologies and lifestyle changes that can significantly
reduce energy use and consumption, something energy analysts like
Amory Lovins have been advocating for some thirty years. From the
1970s through the '90s, the U.S. economy significantly decreased its
energy intensity, steadily lowering the amount of energy required to
produce a typical dollar of GDP. Other industrial countries have gone
far beyond the U.S. in this respect. But no one has figured out how to
make a fortune on conservation and efficiency. The latest biofuel hype
once again affirms that the needs of the planet, and of a genuinely
sustainable society, are in fundamental conflict with the demands of
wealth and profit.

* Brian Tokar directs the Biotechnology Project at Vermont's
Institute for Social Ecology (social-ecology.org), and has edited
two books on the science and politics of genetic engineering,
Redesigning Life? (Zed Books, 2001) and Gene Traders (To-ward
Freedom, 2004).

Return to Table of Contents

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From: The Independent UK, Dec. 21, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

SCIENTISTS REVEAL THAT BEARS HAVE STOPPED HIBERNATING

Climate Change vs. Mother Nature

By Genevieve Roberts

Bears have stopped hibernating in the mountains of northern Spain,
scientists revealed yesterday, in what may be one of the strongest
signals yet of how much climate change is affecting the natural world.

In a December in which bumblebees, butterflies and even swallows have
been on the wing in Britain, European brown bears have been lumbering
through the forests of Spain's Cantabrian mountains, when normally
they would already be in their long, annual sleep.

Bears are supposed to slumber throughout the winter, slowing their
body rhythms to a minimum and drawing on stored resources, because
frozen weather makes food too scarce to find. The barely breathing
creatures can lose up to 40 per cent of their body weight before
warmer springtime weather rouses them back to life.

But many of the 130 bears in Spain's northern cordillera -- which have
a slightly different genetic identity from bear populations elsewhere
in the world -- have remained active throughout recent winters,
naturalists from Spain's Brown Bear Foundation (La Fundacion Oso Pardo
- FOP) said yesterday.

The change is affecting female bears with young cubs, which now find
there are enough nuts, acorns, chestnuts and berries on the bleak
mountainsides to make winter food-gathering sorties "energetically
worthwhile", scientists at the foundation, based in Santander, the
Cantabrian capital, told El Pais newspaper.

"If the winter is mild, the female bears find it is energetically
worthwhile to make the effort to stay awake and hunt for food," said
Guillermo Palomero, the FOP's president and the coordinator of a
national plan for bear conservation. This changed behaviour, he said,
was probably a result of milder winters. "The high Cantabrian peaks
freeze all winter, but our teams of observers have been able to follow
the perfect outlines of tracks from a group of bears," he said.

The FOP is financed by Spain's Environment Ministry and the autonomous
regions of Cantabria, Asturias, Galicia and Castilla-Leon, where the
bears roam in search of mates. Indications of winter bear activity
have been detected for some time, but only in the past three years
have such signs been observed "with absolute certainty", according to
the scientists.

"Mother bears with cubs make the effort to seek out nuts and berries
if these have been plentiful, and snow is scarce," Mr Palomero said,
adding that even for those bears -- mostly mature males -- who do
close down for the winter, "their hibernation period gets shorter
every year".

The behaviour change suggests that global warming is responsible for
this revolution in ursine behaviour, says Juan Carlos Garcia Cordon, a
professor of geography at Santander's Cantabria University, and a
climatology specialist.

"Meteorological data in the high mountains is scarce, but it seems
that the warming is more noticeable in the valleys where cold air
accumulates," Dr Garcia Cordon said. "There is a decline in snowfall,
and in the time snow remains on the ground, which makes access to food
easier. As autumn comes later, and spring comes earlier, bears have an
extra month to forage for food.

"We cannot prove that non-hibernation is caused by global warming, but
everything points in that direction."

Spanish meteorologists predict that this year is likely to be the
warmest year on record in Spain, just as it is likely to be the
warmest year recorded in Britain (where temperature records go back to
1659). Globally, 2006 is likely to be the sixth warmest year in a
record going back the mid-19th century.

Mark Wright, the science adviser to the World Wide Fund for Nature
(WWF) in the UK, said that bears giving up hibernation was "what we
would expect" with climate change.

"It does not in itself prove global warming, but it is certainly
consistent with predictions of it," he said. "What is particularly
interesting about this is that hitherto the warming has seemed to be
happening fastest at the poles and at high latitudes, and now we're
getting examples of it happening further south, and heading towards
the equator.

"I think it's an indication of what's to come. It shows climate change
is not a natural phenomenon but something that is affecting not only
on the weather, but impacting on the natural world in ways we're only
now beginning to understand."

The European brown bear, with its characteristic pelt that ranges from
dark brown through shades of grey to pale gold, has black paws and a
tawny face. It has poor vision, although it sees in colour and at
night, and if threatened rears on its hind legs to get a better view.
It can live for up to 30 years. It has acute hearing, and an
especially fine sense of smell that enables it to detect food from a
long distance. It is carnivorous, but has a multifunctional dental
system with powerful canines and grinding molars perfectly adapted to
an omnivorous diet.

The animals would normally begin hibernation between October and
December, and resume activity between March and May.

The Cantabrian version of the brown bear, a protected species, was
once as endangered as the Iberian lynx or the imperial eagle still are
in Spain, but is now recovering in numbers. Between 70 and 90 bears
roamed Spain's northern mountains in the early 1990s; now 130 live
there.

Other Seasonal Freaks

The osprey found in the lochs and glens of the Scottish Highlands in
the summer months, usually migrate to west Africa to avoid the freeze.
This winter, osprey have been spotted in Suffolk and Devon. Swallows,
which also normally migrate to Africa for the winter have been also
seen across England this winter.

The red admiral butterfly, below, which hibernates in winter, has been
spotted in gardens this month, as has the common darter dragonfly,
usually seen between mid-June and October, which has been seen in
Cheshire, Norfolk and Hampshire.

The smew, a diving duck, flies west to the UK for winter from Russia
and Scandinavia. This year, though, they have been mainly absent from
the lakes and reservoirs between The Wash and the Severn.

Evergreen ivy and ox-eye daisies are still blooming and some oak
trees, which are usually bare by November, were still in leaf on
Christmas Day last year.

The buff-tailed bumblebee is usually first seen in spring. Worker bees
die out by the first frost, while fertilised queen bees survive
underground between March and September. This December, bees have been
seen in Nottingham and York.

Primroses and daffodils are already flowering at the National Botanic
Garden of Wales, in Carmarthenshire. 'Early Sensation' daffodils
usually flower from January until February. Horticulturalists put it
down to the warm weather.

Scientists in the Netherlands reported more than 240 wild plants
flowering in the first 15 days of December, along with more than 200
cultivated species. Examples included cow parsley and sweet violets.
Just two per cent of these plants normally flower in winter, while 27
per cent end their main flowering period in autumn and 56 per cent
before October.

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From: Toronto Star (Ontario, Canada) (pg. D1), Dec. 10, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

OP-ED: ONE GENERATION IS ALL THEY NEED

By Kevin Haggerty

By the time my four-year-old son is swathed in the soft flesh of old
age, he will likely find it unremarkable that he and almost everyone
he knows will be permanently implanted with a microchip. Automatically
tracking his location in real time, it will connect him with databases
monitoring and recording his smallest behavioural traits.

Most people anticipate such a prospect with a sense of horrified
disbelief, dismissing it as a science-fiction fantasy. The technology,
however, already exists. For years humane societies have implanted all
the pets that leave their premises with a small identifying microchip.
As well, millions of consumer goods are now traced with tiny radio
frequency identification chips that allow satellites to reveal their
exact location.

A select group of people are already "chipped" with devices that
automatically open doors, turn on lights, and perform other low-level
miracles. Prominent among such individuals is researcher Kevin Warwick
of Reading University in England; Warwick is a leading proponent of
the almost limitless potential uses for such chips.

Other users include the patrons of the Baja Beach Club in Barcelona,
many of whom have paid about $150 (U.S.) for the privilege of being
implanted with an identifying chip that allows them to bypass lengthy
club queues and purchase drinks by being scanned. These individuals
are the advance guard of an effort to expand the technology as widely
as possible.

From this point forward, microchips will become progressively smaller,
less invasive, and easier to deploy. Thus, any realistic barrier to
the wholesale "chipping" of Western citizens is not technological but
cultural. It relies upon the visceral reaction against the prospect of
being personally marked as one component in a massive human inventory.

Today we might strongly hold such beliefs, but sensibilities can, and
probably will, change. How this remarkable attitudinal transformation
is likely to occur is clear to anyone who has paid attention to
privacy issues over the past quarter-century. There will be no 3 a.m.
knock on the door by storm troopers come to force implants into our
bodies. The process will be more subtle and cumulative, couched in the
unassailable language of progress and social betterment, and mimicking
many of the processes that have contributed to the expansion of
closed-circuit television cameras and the corporate market in personal
data.

A series of tried and tested strategies will be marshalled to
familiarize citizens with the technology. These will be coupled with
efforts to pressure tainted social groups and entice the remainder of
the population into being chipped.

This, then, is how the next generation will come to be microchipped.

It starts in distant countries. Having tested the technology on guinea
pigs, both human and animal, the first widespread use of human
implanting will occur in nations at the periphery of the Western
world. Such developments are important in their own right, but their
international significance pertains to how they familiarize a global
audience with the technology and habituate them to the idea that
chipping represents a potential future.

An increasing array of hypothetical chipping scenarios will also be
depicted in entertainment media, furthering the familiarization
process.

In the West, chips will first be implanted in members of stigmatized
groups. Pedophiles are the leading candidate for this distinction,
although it could start with terrorists, drug dealers, or whatever
happens to be that year's most vilified criminals. Short-lived
promises will be made that the technology will only be used on the
"worst of the worst." In fact, the wholesale chipping of incarcerated
individuals will quickly ensue, encompassing people on probation and
on parole.

Even accused individuals will be tagged, a measure justified on the
grounds that it would stop them from fleeing justice. Many prisoners
will welcome this development, since only chipped inmates will be
eligible for parole, weekend release, or community sentences. From the
prison system will emerge an evocative vocabulary distinguishing
chippers from non-chippers.

Although the chips will be justified as a way to reduce fraud and
other crimes, criminals will almost immediately develop techniques to
simulate other people's chip codes and manipulate their data.

The comparatively small size of the incarcerated population, however,
means that prisons would be simply a brief stopover on a longer
voyage. Commercial success is contingent on making serious inroads
into tagging the larger population of law-abiding citizens. Other
stigmatized groups will therefore be targeted. This will undoubtedly
entail monitoring welfare recipients, a move justified to reduce
fraud, enhance efficiency, and ensure that the poor do not receive
"undeserved" benefits.

Once e-commerce is sufficiently advanced, welfare recipients will
receive their benefits as electronic vouchers stored on their
microchips, a policy that will be tinged with a sense of
righteousness, as it will help ensure that clients can only purchase
government-approved goods from select merchants, reducing the always
disconcerting prospect that poor people might use their limited funds
to purchase alcohol or tobacco.

Civil libertarians will try to foster a debate on these developments.
Their attempts to prohibit chipping will be handicapped by the
inherent difficulty in animating public sympathy for criminals and
welfare recipients -- groups that many citizens are only too happy to
see subjected to tighter regulation. Indeed, the lesser public concern
for such groups is an inherent part of the unarticulated rationale for
why coerced chipping will be disproportionately directed at the
stigmatized.

The official privacy arm of the government will now take up the issue.
Mandated to determine the legality of such initiatives, privacy
commissioners and Senate Committees will produce a forest of reports
presented at an archipelago of international conferences. Hampered by
lengthy research and publication timelines, their findings will be
delivered long after the widespread adoption of chipping is
effectively a fait accompli. The research conclusions on the
effectiveness of such technologies will be mixed and open to
interpretation.

Officials will vociferously reassure the chipping industry that they
do not oppose chipping itself, which has fast become a growing
commercial sector. Instead, they are simply seeking to ensure that the
technology is used fairly and that data on the chips is not misused.
New policies will be drafted.

Employers will start to expect implants as a condition of getting a
job. The U.S. military will lead the way, requiring chips for all
soldiers as a means to enhance battlefield command and control -- and
to identify human remains. From cooks to commandos, every one of the
more than one million U.S. military personnel will see microchips
replace their dog tags.

Following quickly behind will be the massive security sector. Security
guards, police officers, and correctional workers will all be expected
to have a chip. Individuals with sensitive jobs will find themselves
in the same position.

The first signs of this stage are already apparent. In 2004, the
Mexican attorney general's office started implanting employees to
restrict access to secure areas. The category of "sensitive
occupation" will be expansive to the point that anyone with a job that
requires keys, a password, security clearance, or identification badge
will have those replaced by a chip.

Judges hearing cases on the constitutionality of these measures will
conclude that chipping policies are within legal limits. The thin
veneer of "voluntariness" coating many of these programs will allow
the judiciary to maintain that individuals are not being coerced into
using the technology.

In situations where the chips are clearly forced on people, the
judgments will deem them to be undeniable infringements of the right
to privacy. However, they will then invoke the nebulous and
historically shifting standard of "reasonableness" to pronounce
coerced chipping a reasonable infringement on privacy rights in a
context of demands for governmental efficiency and the pressing need
to enhance security in light of the still ongoing wars on terror,
drugs, and crime.

At this juncture, an unfortunately common tragedy of modern life will
occur: A small child, likely a photogenic toddler, will be murdered or
horrifically abused. It will happen in one of the media capitals of
the Western world, thereby ensuring non-stop breathless coverage. Chip
manufactures will recognize this as the opportunity they have been
anticipating for years. With their technology now largely bug-free,
familiar to most citizens and comparatively inexpensive, manufacturers
will partner with the police to launch a high-profile campaign
encouraging parents to implant their children "to ensure your own
peace of mind."

Special deals will be offered. Implants will be free, providing the
family registers for monitoring services. Loving but unnerved parents
will be reassured by the ability to integrate tagging with other
functions on their PDA so they can see their child any time from any
place.

Paralleling these developments will be initiatives that employ the
logic of convenience to entice the increasingly small group of
holdouts to embrace the now common practice of being tagged. At first,
such convenience tagging will be reserved for the highest echelon of
Western society, allowing the elite to move unencumbered through the
physical and informational corridors of power. Such practices will
spread more widely as the benefits of being chipped become more
prosaic. Chipped individuals will, for example, move more rapidly
through customs.

Indeed, it will ultimately become a condition of using mass-transit
systems that officials be allowed to monitor your chip. Companies will
offer discounts to individuals who pay by using funds stored on their
embedded chip, on the small-print condition that the merchant can
access large swaths of their personal data. These "discounts" are
effectively punitive pricing schemes, charging unchipped individuals
more as a way to encourage them to submit to monitoring. Corporations
will seek out the personal data in hopes of producing ever more fine-
grained customer profiles for marketing purposes, and to sell to other
institutions.

By this point all major organizations will be looking for
opportunities to capitalize on the possibilities inherent in an almost
universally chipped population. The uses of chips proliferate, as do
the types of discounts. Each new generation of household technology
becomes configured to operate by interacting with a person's chip.

Finding a computer or appliance that will run though old-fashioned
"hands-on"' interactions becomes progressively more difficult and
costly. Patients in hospitals and community care will be routinely
chipped, allowing medical staff -- or, more accurately, remote
computers -- to monitor their biological systems in real time.

Eager to reduce the health costs associated with a largely docile
citizenry, authorities will provide tax incentives to individuals who
exercise regularly. Personal chips will be remotely monitored to
ensure that their heart rate is consistent with an exercise regime.

By now, the actual process of "chipping" for many individuals will
simply involve activating certain functions of their existing chip.
Any prospect of removing the chip will become increasingly untenable,
as having a chip will be a precondition for engaging in the main
dynamics of modern life, such as shopping, voting, and driving.

The remaining holdouts will grow increasingly weary of Luddite jokes
and subtle accusations that they have something to hide. Exasperated
at repeatedly watching neighbours bypass them in "chipped" lines while
they remain subject to the delays, inconveniences, and costs reserved
for the unchipped, they too will choose the path of least resistance
and get an implant.

In one generation, then, the cultural distaste many might see as an
innate reaction to the prospect of having our bodies marked like those
of an inmate in a concentration camp will likely fade.

In the coming years some of the most powerful institutional actors in
society will start to align themselves to entice, coerce, and
occasionally compel the next generation to get an implant.

Now, therefore, is the time to contemplate the unprecedented dangers
of this scenario. The most serious of these concern how even
comparatively stable modern societies will, in times of fear, embrace
treacherous promises. How would the prejudices of a Joe McCarthy, J.
Edgar Hoover, or of southern Klansmen -- all of whom were deeply
integrated into the American political establishment -- have manifest
themselves in such a world? What might Hitler, Mao or Milosevic have
accomplished if their citizens were chipped, coded, and remotely
monitored?

Choirs of testimonials will soon start to sing the virtues of
implants. Calm reassurances will be forthcoming about democratic
traditions, the rule of law, and privacy rights. History,
unfortunately, shows that things can go disastrously wrong, and that
this happens with disconcerting regularity. Little in the way of
international agreements, legality, or democratic sensibilities has
proved capable of thwarting single-minded ruthlessness.

"It can't happen here" has become the whispered swan song of the
disappeared. Best to contemplate these dystopian potentials before we
proffer the tender forearms of our sons and daughters. While we cannot
anticipate all of the positive advantages that might be derived from
this technology, the negative prospects are almost too terrifying to
contemplate. What might Hitler, Mao or Milosevic have accomplished if
their citizens were chipped, coded, and remotely monitored?

Copyright (c) 2006, Toronto Star Newspapers Limited.

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