Not Global Catastrophe Or Politics. Just Kissing…

March 11, 2014 - Comments Off

Here’s a fun little bit from Digg. And stay for the credits.

Truthtelling, At Long Last

March 7, 2014 - Comments Off

Long, but well worth reading…

Published on Friday, March 7, 2014 by Common Dreams

What Europe Should Know about US Mass Surveillance

Whistleblower delivers written testimony to European Parliament

by Edward Snowden

Common Dreams editor’s note: What follows is a statement addressed to an investigative panel of the European Parliament looking into the nature and scope of U.S. surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency and its partner agencies in Europe. Subsequent to the statement are specific answers to written questions posed by the panel to Mr. Snowden. The original statement from which this was reproduced is available here as a pdf.

–Introductory Statement–

I would like to thank the European Parliament for the invitation to provide testimony for your inquiry into the Electronic Mass Surveillance of EU Citizens. The suspicionless surveillance programs of the NSA, GCHQ, and so many others that we learned about over the last year endanger a number of basic rights which, in aggregate, constitute the foundation of liberal societies.Whistleblower Edward Snowden. (Photograph by Barton Gellman/Getty)

The first principle any inquiry must take into account is that despite extraordinary political pressure to do so, no western government has been able to present evidence showing that such programs are necessary. In the United States, the heads of our spying services once claimed that 54 terrorist attacks had been stopped by mass surveillance, but two independent White House reviews with access to the classified evidence on which this claim was founded concluded it was untrue, as did a Federal Court.

Looking at the US government’s reports here is valuable. The most recent of these investigations, performed by the White House’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, determined that the mass surveillance program investigated was not only ineffective — they found it had never stopped even a single imminent terrorist attack — but that it had no basis in law. In less diplomatic language, they discovered the United States was operating an unlawful mass surveillance program, and the greatest success the program had ever produced was discovering a taxi driver in the United States transferring $8,500 dollars to Somalia in 2007.

After noting that even this unimpressive success – uncovering evidence of a single unlawful bank transfer — would have been achieved without bulk collection, the Board recommended that the unlawful mass surveillance program be ended. Unfortunately, we know from press reports that this program is still operating today.

I believe that suspicionless surveillance not only fails to make us safe, but it actually makes us less safe. By squandering precious, limited resources on "collecting it all," we end up with more analysts trying to make sense of harmless political dissent and fewer investigators running down real leads. I believe investing in mass surveillance at the expense of traditional, proven methods can cost lives, and history has shown my concerns are justified.

Despite the extraordinary intrusions of the NSA and EU national governments into private communications world-wide, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the "Underwear Bomber," was allowed to board an airplane traveling from Europe to the United States in 2009. The 290 persons on board were not saved by mass surveillance, but by his own incompetence, when he failed to detonate the device. While even Mutallab’s own father warned the US government he was dangerous in November 2009, our resources were tied up monitoring online games and tapping German ministers. That extraordinary tip-off didn’t get Mutallab a dedicated US investigator. All we gave him was a US visa.

Nor did the US government’s comprehensive monitoring of Americans at home stop the Boston Bombers. Despite the Russians specifically warning us about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the FBI couldn’t do more than a cursory investigation — although they did plenty of worthless computer-based searching – and failed to discover the plot. 264 people were injured, and 3 died. The resources that could have paid for a real investigation had been spent on monitoring the call records of everyone in America.

This should not have happened. I worked for the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency. The National Security Agency. The Defense Intelligence Agency. I love my country, and I believe that spying serves a vital purpose and must continue. And I have risked my life, my family, and my freedom to tell you the truth.

The NSA granted me the authority to monitor communications world-wide using its mass surveillance systems, including within the United States. I have personally targeted individuals using these systems under both the President of the United States’ Executive Order 12333 and the US Congress’ FAA 702. I know the good and the bad of these systems, and what they can and cannot do, and I am telling you that without getting out of my chair, I could have read the private communications of any member of this committee, as well as any ordinary citizen. I swear under penalty of perjury that this is true.

These are not the capabilities in which free societies invest. Mass surveillance violates our rights, risks our safety, and threatens our way of life.

If even the US government, after determining mass surveillance is unlawful and unnecessary, continues to operate to engage in mass surveillance, we have a problem. I consider the United States Government to be generally responsible, and I hope you will agree with me. Accordingly, this begs the question many legislative bodies implicated in mass surveillance have sought to avoid: if even the US is willing to knowingly violate the rights of billions of innocents — and I say billions without exaggeration — for nothing more substantial than a "potential" intelligence advantage that has never materialized, what are other governments going to do?

Whether we like it or not, the international norms of tomorrow are being constructed today, right now, by the work of bodies like this committee. If liberal states decide that the convenience of spies is more valuable than the rights of their citizens, the inevitable result will be states that are both less liberal and less safe. Thank you.

I will now respond to the submitted questions. Please bear in mind that I will not be disclosing new information about surveillance programs: I will be limiting my testimony to information regarding what responsible media organizations have entered into the public domain. For the record, I also repeat my willingness to provide testimony to the United States Congress, should they decide to consider the issue of unconstitutional mass surveillance.

–Rapporteur Claude Moraes MEP, S&D Group–

Given the focus of this Inquiry is on the impact of mass surveillance on EU citizens, could you elaborate on the extent of cooperation that exists between the NSA and EU Member States in terms of the transfer and collection of bulk data of EU citizens?

- A number of memos from the NSA’s Foreign Affairs Directorate have been published in the press.

One of the foremost activities of the NSA’s FAD, or Foreign Affairs Division, is to pressure or incentivize EU member states to change their laws to enable mass surveillance. Lawyers from the NSA, as well as the UK’s GCHQ, work very hard to search for loopholes in laws and constitutional protections that they can use to justify indiscriminate, dragnet surveillance operations that were at best unwittingly authorized by lawmakers. These efforts to interpret new powers out of vague laws is an intentional strategy to avoid public opposition and lawmakers’ insistence that legal limits be respected, effects the GCHQ internally described in its own documents as "damaging public debate."

In recent public memory, we have seen these FAD "legal guidance" operations occur in both Sweden and the Netherlands, and also faraway New Zealand. Germany was pressured to modify its G-10 law to appease the NSA, and it eroded the rights of German citizens under their constitution. Each of these countries received instruction from the NSA, sometimes under the guise of the US Department of Defense and other bodies, on how to degrade the legal protections of their countries’ communications. The ultimate result of the NSA’s guidance is that the right of ordinary citizens to be free from unwarranted interference is degraded, and systems of intrusive mass surveillance are being constructed in secret within otherwise liberal states, often without the full awareness of the public.

Once the NSA has successfully subverted or helped repeal legal restrictions against unconstitutional mass surveillance in partner states, it encourages partners to perform “access operations.” Access operations are efforts to gain access to the bulk communications of all major telecommunications providers in their jurisdictions, normally beginning with those that handle the greatest volume of communications. Sometimes the NSA provides consultation, technology, or even the physical hardware itself for partners to "ingest" these massive amounts of data in a manner that allows processing, and it does not take long to access everything. Even in a country the size of the United States, gaining access to the circuits of as few as three companies can provide access to the majority of citizens’ communications. In the UK, Verizon, British Telecommunications, Vodafone, Global Crossing, Level 3, Viatel, and Interoute all cooperate with the GCHQ, to include cooperation beyond what is legally required.

By the time this general process has occurred, it is very difficult for the citizens of a country to protect the privacy of their communications, and it is very easy for the intelligence services of that country to make those communications available to the NSA — even without having explicitly shared them. The nature of the NSA’s "NOFORN," or NO FOREIGN NATIONALS classification, when combined with the fact that the memorandum agreements between NSA and its foreign partners have a standard disclaimer stating they provide no enforceable rights, provides both the NSA with a means of monitoring its partner’s citizens without informing the partner, and the partner with a means of plausible deniability.

The result is a European bazaar, where an EU member state like Denmark may give the NSA access to a tapping center on the (unenforceable) condition that NSA doesn’t search it for Danes, and Germany may give the NSA access to another on the condition that it doesn’t search for Germans. Yet the two tapping sites may be two points on the same cable, so the NSA simply captures the communications of the German citizens as they transit Denmark, and the Danish citizens as they transit Germany, all the while considering it entirely in accordance with their agreements. Ultimately, each EU national government’s spy services are independently hawking domestic accesses to the NSA, GCHQ, FRA, and the like without having any awareness of how their individual contribution is enabling the greater patchwork of mass surveillance against ordinary citizens as a whole.

The Parliament should ask the NSA and GCHQ to deny that they monitor the communications of EU citizens, and in the absence of an informative response, I would suggest that the current state of affairs is the inevitable result of subordinating the rights of the voting public to the prerogatives of State Security Bureaus. The surest way for any nation to become subject to unnecessary surveillance is to allow its spies to dictate its policy.

The right to be free unwarranted intrusion into our private effects — our lives and possessions, our thoughts and communications — is a human right. It is not granted by national governments and it cannot be revoked by them out of convenience. Just as we do not allow police officers to enter every home to fish around for evidence of undiscovered crimes, we must not allow spies to rummage through our every communication for indications of disfavored activities.

Could you comment on the activities of EU Member States intelligence agencies in these operations and how advanced their capabilities have become in comparison with the NSA?

- The best testimony I can provide on this matter without pre-empting the work of journalists is to point to the indications that the NSA not only enables and guides, but shares some mass surveillance systems and technologies with the agencies of EU member states. As it pertains to the issue of mass surveillance, the difference between, for example, the NSA and FRA is not one of technology, but rather funding and manpower. Technology is agnostic of nationality, and the flag on the pole outside of the building makes systems of mass surveillance no more or less effective.

In terms of the mass surveillance programmes already revealed through the press, what proportion of the mass surveillance activities do these programmes account for? Are there many other programmes, undisclosed as of yet, that would impact on EU citizens rights?

- There are many other undisclosed programs that would impact EU citizens’ rights, but I will leave the public interest determinations as to which of these may be safely disclosed to responsible journalists in coordination with government stakeholders.

–Shadow Rapporteur Sophie Int’Veld MEP, ALDE Group–

Are there adequate procedures in the NSA for staff to signal wrongdoing?

- Unfortunately not. The culture within the US Intelligence Community is such that reporting serious concerns about the legality or propriety of programs is much more likely to result in your being flagged as a troublemaker than to result in substantive reform. We should remember that many of these programs were well known to be problematic to the legal offices of agencies such as the GCHQ and other oversight officials. According to their own documents, the priority of the overseers is not to assure strict compliance with the law and accountability for violations of law, but rather to avoid, and I quote, "damaging public debate," to conceal the fact that for-profit companies have gone "well beyond" what is legally required of them, and to avoid legal review of questionable programs by open courts. (http://www.theguardian.com/uk- news/2013/oct/25/leaked-memos-gchq-mass-surveillance-secret-snowden) In my personal experience, repeatedly raising concerns about legal and policy matters with my co-workers and superiors resulted in two kinds of responses.

The first were well-meaning but hushed warnings not to "rock the boat," for fear of the sort of retaliation that befell former NSA whistleblowers like Wiebe, Binney, and Drake. All three men reported their concerns through the official, approved process, and all three men were subject to armed raids by the FBI and threats of criminal sanction. Everyone in the Intelligence Community is aware of what happens to people who report concerns about unlawful but authorized operations.

The second were similarly well-meaning but more pointed suggestions, typically from senior officials, that we should let the issue be someone else’s problem. Even among the most senior individuals to whom I reported my concerns, no one at NSA could ever recall an instance where an official complaint had resulted in an unlawful program being ended, but there was a unanimous desire to avoid being associated with such a complaint in any form.

Do you feel you had exhausted all avenues before taking the decision to go public?

- Yes. I had reported these clearly problematic programs to more than ten distinct officials, none of whom took any action to address them. As an employee of a private company rather than a direct employee of the US government, I was not protected by US whistleblower laws, and I would not have been protected from retaliation and legal sanction for revealing classified information about lawbreaking in accordance with the recommended process.

It is important to remember that this is legal dilemma did not occur by mistake. US whistleblower reform laws were passed as recently as 2012, with the US Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, but they specifically chose to exclude Intelligence Agencies from being covered by the statute. President Obama also reformed a key executive Whistleblower regulation with his 2012 Presidential Policy Directive 19, but it exempted Intelligence Community contractors such as myself. The result was that individuals like me were left with no proper channels.

Do you think procedures for whistleblowing have been improved now?

- No. There has not yet been any substantive whistleblower reform in the US, and unfortunately my government has taken a number of disproportionate and persecutory actions against me. US government officials have declared me guilty of crimes in advance of any trial, they’ve called for me to be executed or assassinated in private and openly in the press, they revoked my passport and left me stranded in a foreign transit zone for six weeks, and even used NATO to ground the presidential plane of Evo Morales – the leader of Bolivia – on hearing that I might attempt to seek and enjoy asylum in Latin America.

What is your relationship with the Russian and Chinese authorities, and what are the terms on which you were allowed to stay originally in Hong Kong and now in Russia?

- I have no relationship with either government.

–Shadow Rapporteur Jan Philipp Albrecht MEP, Greens Group–

Could we help you in any way, and do you seek asylum in the EU?

- If you want to help me, help me by helping everyone: declare that the indiscriminate, bulk collection of private data by governments is a violation of our rights and must end. What happens to me as a person is less important than what happens to our common rights.

As for asylum, I do seek EU asylum, but I have yet to receive a positive response to the requests I sent to various EU member states. Parliamentarians in the national governments have told me that the US, and I quote, "will not allow" EU partners to offer political asylum to me, which is why the previous resolution on asylum ran into such mysterious opposition. I would welcome any offer of safe passage or permanent asylum, but I recognize that would require an act of extraordinary political courage.

Can you confirm cyber-attacks by the NSA or other intelligence agencies on EU institutions, telecommunications providers such as Belgacom and SWIFT, or any other EU-based companies?

- Yes. I don’t want to outpace the efforts of journalists, here, but I can confirm that all documents reported thus far are authentic and unmodified, meaning the alleged operations against Belgacom, SWIFT, the EU as an institution, the United Nations, UNICEF, and others based on documents I provided have actually occurred. And I expect similar operations will be revealed in the future that affect many more ordinary citizens.

–Shadow Rapporteur Cornelia Ernst MEP, GUE Group–

In your view, how far can the surveillance measures you revealed be justified by national security and from your experience is the information being used for economic espionage? What could be done to resolve this?

- Surveillance against specific targets, for unquestionable reasons of national security while respecting human rights, is above reproach. Unfortunately, we’ve seen a growth in untargeted, extremely questionable surveillance for reasons entirely unrelated to national security. Most recently, the Prime Minister of Australia, caught red-handed engaging in the most blatant kind of economic espionage, sought to argue that the price of Indonesian shrimp and clove cigarettes was a "security matter." These are indications of a growing disinterest among governments for ensuring intelligence activities are justified, proportionate, and above all accountable. We should be concerned about the precedent our actions set.

The UK’s GCHQ is the prime example of this, due to what they refer to as a "light oversight regime," which is a bureaucratic way of saying their spying activities are less restricted than is proper (http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2013/jun/21/legal-loopholes-gchq-spy-world). Since that light oversight regime was revealed, we have learned that the GCHQ is intercepting and storing unprecedented quantities of ordinary citizens’ communications on a constant basis, both within the EU and without http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2013/jun/21/gchq-cables-secret- world-communications-nsa). There is no argument that could convince an open court that such activities were necessary and proportionate, and it is for this reason that such activities are shielded from the review of open courts.

In the United States, we use a secret, rubber-stamp Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that only hears arguments from the government. Out of approximately 34,000 government requests over 33 years, the secret court rejected only 11. It should raise serious concerns for this committee, and for society, that the GCHQ’s lawyers consider themselves fortunate to avoid the kind of burdensome oversight regime that rejects 11 out of 34,000 requests. If that’s what heavy oversight looks like, what, pray tell, does the GCHQ’s "light oversight" look like?

Let’s explore it. We learned only days ago that the GCHQ compromised a popular Yahoo service to collect images from web cameras inside citizens’ homes, and around 10% of these images they take from within people’s homes involve nudity or intimate activities (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/27/gchq-nsa-webcam-images-inte…). In the same report, journalists revealed that this sort of webcam data was searchable via the NSA’s XKEYSCORE system, which means the GCHQ’s "light oversight regime" was used not only to capture bulk data that is clearly of limited intelligence value and most probably violates EU laws, but to then trade that data with foreign services without the knowledge or consent of any country’s voting public.

We also learned last year that some of the partners with which the GCHQ was sharing this information, in this example the NSA, had made efforts to use evidence of religious conservatives’ association with sexually explicit material of the sort GCHQ was collecting as a grounds for destroying their reputations and discrediting them (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/26/nsa-porn-muslims_n_4346128.html). The "Release to Five Eyes" classification of this particular report, dated 2012, reveals that the UK government was aware of the NSA’s intent to use sexually explicit material in this manner, indicating a deepening and increasingly aggressive partnership. None of these religious conservatives were suspected of involvement in terrorist plots: they were targeted on the basis of their political beliefs and activism, as part of a class the NSA refers to as "radicalizers."

I wonder if any members of this committee have ever advocated a position that the NSA, GCHQ, or even the intelligence services of an EU member state might attempt to construe as "radical"? If you were targeted on the basis of your political beliefs, would you know? If they sought to discredit you on the basis of your private communications, could you discover the culprit and prove it was them? What would be your recourse?

And you are parliamentarians. Try to imagine the impact of such activities against ordinary citizens without power, privilege, or resources. Are these activities necessary, proportionate, and an unquestionable matter of national security? A few weeks ago we learned the GCHQ has hired scientists to study how to create divisions amongst activists and disfavored political groups, how they attempt to discredit and destroy private businesses, and how they knowingly plant false information to misdirect civil discourse (https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/02/24/jtrig-manipulation/).

To directly answer your question, yes, global surveillance capabilities are being used on a daily basis for the purpose of economic espionage. That a major goal of the US Intelligence Community is to produce economic intelligence is the worst kept secret in Washington.

In September, we learned the NSA had successfully targeted and compromised the world’s major financial transaction facilitators, such as Visa and SWIFT, which released documents describe as providing "rich personal information," even data that "is not about our targets" (http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/spiegel-exclusive-nsa-spies-on… transactions-a-922276.html). Again, these documents are authentic and unmodified – a fact the NSA itself has never once disputed.

In August, we learned the NSA had targeted Petrobras, an energy company (http://g1.globo.com/fantastico/noticia/2013/09/nsa-documents-show-united… brazilian-oil-giant.html). It would be the first of a long list of US energy targets. But we should be clear these activities are not unique to the NSA or GCHQ. Australia’s DSD targeted Sri Mulyani Indrawati, a finance minister and Managing Director of the World Bank (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/18/australia-tried-to-monitor-… presidents-phone). Report after report has revealed targeting of G-8 and G-20 summits. Mass surveillance capabilities have even been used against a climate change summit.

Recently, governments have shifted their talking points from claiming they only use mass surveillance for "national security" purposes to the more nebulous "valid foreign intelligence purposes." I suggest this committee consider that this rhetorical shift is a tacit acknowledgment by governments that they recognize they have crossed beyond the boundaries of justifiable activities. Every country believes its "foreign intelligence purposes" are "valid," but that does not make it so. If we are prepared to condemn the economic spying of our competitors, we must be prepared to do the same of our allies. Lasting peace is founded upon fundamental fairness.

The international community must agree to common standards of behavior, and jointly invest in the development of new technical standards to defend against mass surveillance. We rely on common systems, and the French will not be safe from mass surveillance until Americans, Argentines, and Chinese are as well.

The good news is that there are solutions. The weakness of mass surveillance is that it can very easily be made much more expensive through changes in technical standards: pervasive, end-to-end encryption can quickly make indiscriminate surveillance impossible on a cost- effective basis. The result is that governments are likely to fall back to traditional, targeted surveillance founded upon an individualized suspicion. Governments cannot risk the discovery of their exploits by simply throwing attacks at every "endpoint," or computer processor on the end of a network connection, in the world. Mass surveillance, passive surveillance, relies upon unencrypted or weakly encrypted communications at the global network level.

If there had been better independent and public oversight over the intelligence agencies, do you think this could have prevented this kind of mass surveillance? What conditions would need to be fulfilled, both nationally and internationally?

- Yes, better oversight could have prevented the mistakes that brought us to this point, as could an understanding that defense is always more important than offense when it comes to matters of national intelligence. The intentional weakening of the common security standards upon which we all rely is an action taken against the public good.

The oversight of intelligence agencies should always be performed by opposition parties, as under the democratic model, they always have the most to lose under a surveillance state. Additionally, we need better whistleblower protections, and a new commitment to the importance of international asylum. These are important safeguards that protect our collective human rights when the laws of national governments have failed.

European governments, which have traditionally been champions of human rights, should not be intimidated out of standing for the right of asylum against political charges, of which espionage has always been the traditional example. Journalism is not a crime, it is the foundation of free and informed societies, and no nation should look to others to bear the burden of defending its rights. Shadow Rapporteur Axel Voss MEP, EPP Group

Why did you choose to go public with your information?

- Secret laws and secret courts cannot authorize unconstitutional activities by fiat, nor can classification be used to shield an unjustified and embarrassing violation of human rights from democratic accountability. If the mass surveillance of an innocent public is to occur, it should be authorized as the result of an informed debate with the consent of the public, under a framework of laws that the government invites civil society to challenge in open courts.

That our governments are even today unwilling to allow independent review of the secret policies enabling mass surveillance of innocents underlines governments’ lack of faith that these programs are lawful, and this provides stronger testimony in favor of the rightfulness of my actions than any words I might write.

Did you exhaust all possibilities before taking the decision to go public?

- Yes. I had reported these clearly problematic programs to more than ten distinct officials, none of whom took any action to address them. As an employee of a private company rather than a direct employee of the US government, I was not protected by US whistleblower laws, and I would not have been protected from retaliation and legal sanction for revealing classified information about lawbreaking in accordance with the recommended process.

It is important to remember that this is legal dilemma did not occur by mistake. US whistleblower reform laws were passed as recently as 2012, with the US Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, but they specifically chose to exclude Intelligence Agencies from being covered by the statute. President Obama also reformed a key executive Whistleblower regulation with his 2012 Presidential Policy Directive 19, but it exempted Intelligence Community contractors such as myself. The result was that individuals like me were left with no proper channels.

Are you aware that your revelations have the potential to put at risk lives of innocents and hamper efforts in the global fight against terrorism?

- Actually, no specific evidence has ever been offered, by any government, that even a single life has been put at risk by the award-winning journalism this question attempts to implicate.

The ongoing revelations about unlawful and improper surveillance are the product of a partnership between the world’s leading journalistic outfits and national governments, and if you can show one of the governments consulted on these stories chose not to impede demonstrably fatal information from being published, I invite you to do so. The front page of every newspaper in the world stands open to you.

Did the Russian secret service approach you?

- Of course. Even the secret service of Andorra would have approached me, if they had had the chance: that’s their job.

But I didn’t take any documents with me from Hong Kong, and while I’m sure they were disappointed, it doesn’t take long for an intelligence service to realize when they’re out of luck. I was also accompanied at all times by an utterly fearless journalist with one of the biggest megaphones in the world, which is the equivalent of Kryptonite for spies. As a consequence, we spent the next 40 days trapped in an airport instead of sleeping on piles of money while waiting for the next parade. But we walked out with heads held high.

I would also add, for the record, that the United States government has repeatedly acknowledged that there is no evidence at all of any relationship between myself and the Russian intelligence service.

Who is currently financing your life?

- I am.

–Shadow Rapporteur, Timothy Kirkhope MEP, ECR Group–

You have stated previously that you want the intelligence agencies to be more accountable to citizens, however, why do you feel this accountability does not apply to you? Do you therefore, plan to return to the United States or Europe to face criminal charges and answer questions in an official capacity, and pursue the route as an official whistle-blower?

- Respectfully, I remind you that accountability cannot exist without the due process of law, and even Deutsche Welle has written about the well-known gap in US law that deprived me of vital legal protections due to nothing more meaningful than my status as an employee of a private company rather than of the government directly (http://www.dw.de/us-whistleblower-laws-offer- no-protection/a-17391500). Surely no one on the committee believes that the measure of one’s political rights should be determined by their employer.

Fortunately, we live in a global, interconnected world where, when national laws fail like this, our international laws provide for another level of accountability, and the asylum process provides a means of due process for individuals who might otherwise be wrongly deprived of it. In the face of the extraordinary campaign of persecution brought against me by my the United States government on account of my political beliefs, which I remind you included the grounding of the President of Bolivia’s plane by EU Member States, an increasing number of national governments have agreed that a grant of political asylum is lawful and appropriate.

Polling of public opinion in Europe indicates I am not alone in hoping to see EU governments agree that blowing the whistle on serious wrongdoing should be a protected act.

Do you still plan to release more files, and have you disclosed or been asked to disclose any information regarding the content of these files to Chinese and Russian authorities or any names contained within them?

As stated previously, there are many other undisclosed programs that would impact EU citizens’ rights, but I will leave the public interest determinations as to which of these may be safely disclosed to responsible journalists in coordination with government stakeholders. I have not disclosed any information to anyone other than those responsible journalists. Thank you.

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Edward Snowden

Whistleblower Edward Joseph Snowden is a US former technical contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee who leaked details of top-secret US and British government mass surveillance programs to the press.

The New Retirement? You’re Better Off Dead. The Kochs And The Waltons Got Your Money.

March 3, 2014 - Comments Off

From Common Dreams:

Seven Numbers that Add Up to a Death Tax for Retirement

by Paul Buchheit

The dream of a comfortable retirement is dying for many Americans. It’s being extracted as a form of tribute to the very rich, a redistribution of our nation’s wealth, a "tax" imposed on the middle and lower classes and paid for with their retirement savings.


1. A $6.8 Trillion Retirement Deficit in America. But $8 Trillion in New U.S. Wealth Was Created in 2013.
The problem is that most of the new financial wealth went to the richest 10% (almost 90 percent of all stocks excluding fast-disappearing pensions). Basically you already had to be rich to share in the new wealth, and the people taking the wealth can defer taxes as long as they want, and then pay a smaller rate than income earners. Meanwhile, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security, Americans are at least $6.8 trillion short of what they need for a comfortable retirement.

2. $6,500 is the Median Retirement Fund for Upper-Middle-Class 50- to 64-Year-Olds
That’s based on an analysis of the second-highest quartile of Americans by the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis. It may get worse before it gets any better. The percentage of 75- to 84-year-old seniors falling into poverty doubled from 2005 to 2009. That was BEFORE the recession. And the number of elderly Americans, notes the Administration on Aging, is steadily rising, likely by 75 percent between 2010 and 2030, to almost 70 million people.

3. ZERO Wealth Gained among 93% of Us, While the Richest 12,000 Families Made $100,000 EVERY Day
It’s estimated that the richest .01% each made at least $40 million last year. A work day for many of them consists of logging in to their portfolio to see how many tens of thousands of dollars were added in the previous 24 hours. A stunning 93 percent of Americans LOST wealth, on average, in the post-recession "recovery."

4. TWICE the Cost of Pensions — That’s What Ten States Pay in Corporate Subsidies
This comes from a study by Good Jobs First of ten states with severe pension issues. The study found that "in all 10 states, the total annual cost of corporate subsidies, tax breaks and loopholes exceeds the total current annual pension costs."
Americans who have worked all their lives, dutifully paying for their retirement years, continue to be accused of greed and threatened with pension cutbacks. David Cay Johnston calls it "nothing short of theft."

5. 40 Cents of Every 401(k) Dollar Goes to the Banks
Saving $1,000 a year for 30 years in a non-fee 401(k) fund and then holding the accumulated sum for another 20 years would net an investor $269,000. With a smallish-sounding industry average fee of 1.3%, the same investor would net just $165,000, a 39% reduction.

6. Two Dollars: The Approximate Wealth of Black Families for Every $100 of Wealth for White Families
According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), median wealth for black families in 2009 was $2,200, compared to $97,900 for white families. (Pew Research reported $5,677 for blacks, $113,149 for whites).
It doesn’t seem possible that this number could get worse. But since the recession, black and Hispanic wealth has dropped further, by 30 to 40 percent, as the wealth of white families dropped 11 percent.

7. Almost 10 Percent of an Underserved Household’s Retirement Money Goes for Financial Fees
A U.S. Office of Inspector General survey reports that "The average underserved household has an annual income of about $25,500 and spends about $2,412 of that just on alternative financial services fees and interest." That includes fees for payroll cards, prepaid cards, subprime auto loans, and numerous other financial products that are sold to over 68 million financially underserved U.S. households.

A Death Tax? It’s not the tiny amount paid on multi-million dollar estates. Instead, it’s the slow death of millions of baby boomers, the victims of 35 years of deregulated greed at the very top of our nation’s mountain of wealth.

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The Call of the Walking Dead

February 28, 2014 - Comments Off

Published on Friday, February 28, 2014 by Common Dreams

Through the Climate Portal: Humanity’s Tragic Flaw

by David Goldstein

The planet is sick and we’re ignoring all the signs at our own peril. (Image: Getty)In the autumn of 1992, I was alone in my studio apartment in Philadelphia, puking my guts out. Something bad had happened inside; it felt like a bomb had gone off in my belly. Just how bad was it? Was I bleeding internally? Was I dying?

I suspected what needed to be done: I had to call for an ambulance. But still, I hesitated. I just couldn’t believe it — I was not the sort of person who needed an ambulance. I was only 29-years-old. I’d been a three-sport athlete in high school. This sort of thing only happened to "other people" — people I read about in newspapers.

Fortunately, my survival instincts won out and I made the call. If you had asked at the time, even as the paramedics loaded me onto the stretcher, to name my strongest sensation, it would not have been the pain (though that was considerable); it would not have been the fear (ditto). It would have been this: I felt utterly stunned.

Stunned, because the doctor’s warnings had finally come to pass. I’d been diagnosed with an inflammatory disease of the large intestine called ulcerative colitis in 1984. The disease essentially directs excess heat/inflammation toward the walls of the colon. Over time, this can result in scarring, narrowing and, eventually, obstruction of the passageway.

Though doctors had repeatedly warned me of this scenario. I had refused to follow their treatment prescriptions. Why had I refused? For my own (in retrospect, quite unwise) personal reasons, I did not trust the doctors and so ignored their advice. Now there I was on the stretcher, my life unnecessarily put at risk.

Stunned, because even though the symptoms of the disease had been progressively worsening, I had not, until that very point, crossed "that line" where things become suddenly different, where the system suddenly flips into a different state of functioning. What had been manageable, though increasingly challenging, was, in an eye-blink, no longer manageable at all.

Looking back, I realize that a part of me simply had not been able to imagine this to be possible. It was as if I had stepped trough a portal. Up to that moment, I had been "David," living my familiar "David" life, with its ups and its downs. On the other side of the portal, a single train of thought crowded out all other motivations and desires: "Please, make this stop, please make it better. Please make it go back to the way it was before."

We find ourselves in a similar situation in 2014. The scientists are telling us that every second our planet is accruing excess heat equivalent to the heat generated by four Hiroshima atomic bombs. The physics is elementary and beyond dispute: The heat-trapping greenhouse blanket in our atmosphere is thickening primarily due to fossil fuels. The solution is, though hugely challenging, equally elementary: Stop thickening the blanket!

At the rate we are going, one thing is certain: A day will come when we will be stunned. Perhaps temperatures will cross a threshold beyond which our staple crops cannot grow. Perhaps the glaciers that provide water for hundreds of millions will shrink beneath a critical level. Perhaps storms of warming and rising oceans will make life in our many coastal megalopolises untenable. There are many candidates: We are moving ourselves out of our climate "Goldilocks Zone."

We will have crossed through the portal (in actuality, in the vast and complex climate system, there will be multiple lines to cross with multiple portals) and a single train of thought will crowd out all other motivations and desires: "Please make this stop, please make it better. Please make it go back to the way it was before."

But it’s even worse than that. I was one person with one specific problem, a problem that had been addressed by doctors thousands of times before. I was rushed to the hospital where, for three weeks, they pumped me full of cooling (and chock full of harmful side effects) prednisone and antibiotics. They stabilized me but, a couple years later, had to surgically remove my entire colon. The damage was just too much.

It won’t be like that for us as a species. The hotter we get, the less likely it will be that we can prevent further warming. The Arctic is recognized as the canary in the coalmine and the canary is doing even worse than we had thought. The Arctic has already warmed 2 degrees centigrade (3.6F) since 1970, three times faster than the planet overall. Over 40 percent of its summer sea ice cover has melted away. As the heat reflecting "mirror" ice is replaced by dark heat-absorbing sea water, the region warms which, in turn, melts more ice which leads to more dark water and more heat… and so on.

Scientists already knew about this classic feedback effect. But until now, they hadn’t realized how bad it truly was. A recent study finds that the ice-melt is absorbing two to three times more heat than estimated. It is, in fact, absorbing extra heat equivalent to fully one-quarter of the amount of heat being held in by atmospheric carbon dioxide. This is where we are headed: more heat creating more heat, to a point where further warming will simply take the situation out of our hands.

Theoretically, we can still pull back via a World War II level green energy mobilization together with rapid and permanent fossil fuel reduction. But we are not stopping. In fact, we are accelerating the process. We can’t imagine it. It is our tragic flaw. We’re still on the good side of the line. Yes, the symptoms are becoming more challenging, but things are still fundamentally manageable. They won’t stay that way for too much longer.

There is no prednisone for the planet short of enormously risky geo-engineering interventions. And, of course, if the damage is too much, we can’t just "cut out" human civilization. Well, more accurately, human civilization and many millions or billions can be "cut out," but that would suck.

Go to any climate blog and you will see scientists and "lay" people who profess alarm being ridiculed as "Chicken Littles." But sometimes the sky is actually falling. It happens. It is happening now and in rapidly shrinking time frames. We show every sign that we will simply have to cross over multiple lines, through multiple portals. Then, assuming our survival instincts kick in, we will act — at least more of us will. Will it be enough? Will it be too late? Time will tell.

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World’s Failure To Address Climate Change

February 27, 2014 - Comments Off

Long piece by Subhankar Banerjee over at Common Dreams.

Worth reading.

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The Ocean Bomb

February 10, 2014 - 10 Responses

From Common Dreams February 10, 2014:

There Is No Warming "Pause," says Study: The Planet Is Burning Up

Though surface temperature increases have slowed in recent years, global warming is accelerating rapidly as the oceans heat up

- Jon Queally, staff writer

What climate change denialists gain by ignoring the complexities of climate science, not to mention, the climate system is most impossible thing to calculate. A recent apparent pause in surface temperature rises can be accounted for by deep-sea warming assisted by unusually high trade winds in the Pacific Ocean. (Photo: Getty Images)Global warming has not "paused." Climate change has not hit a "speed bump." The planet’s temperature is not remaining steady and it certainly isn’t cooling. Earth, especially its ocean, are heating up… and rapidly.

Those are the findings and the consensus of the global scientific community. And a new study shows that the detectable slowdown of global surface temperature increases over the last fifteen years—a trend that climate change denialists have seized on to foment doubt among the general public—is, in fact, the result of a terrifying phenomenon in which the planet’s deep oceans are increasingly absorbing the world’s excess carbon, offering a false sense of temperature stability when the reality is very much the opposite.

The new study, conducted by U.S. and Australian scientists and presented in the journal Nature Climate Change, shows that unusually powerful trade winds in the Pacific Ocean have contributed to pushing the warmer ocean waters to greater depths, creating an illusion of a warming plateau on the surface.

As the Guardian reports:

The findings should provide fresh certainty about the reasons behind the warming hiatus, which has been claimed by critics of mainstream climate science as evidence that the models are flawed and predictions of rising temperatures have been exaggerated.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) addressed the warming pause issue in its 2013 climate report, pointing out that the Earth is going through a solar minimum and that more than 90% of the world’s extra heat is being soaked up by the oceans, rather than lingering on the surface.

According to the study, acceleration of Pacific trade winds has been twice as strong in the past 20 years compared with the prior 80 years and suggests the surface warming "hiatus" could "persist for much of the present decade if the trade wind trends continue." However, warn the scientists, when the winds return to their long-term average speeds, rapid surface temperature warming will resume and the consequences could be dire.

"Sooner or later the impact of greenhouse gases will overwhelm the effect," said Matthew England, a climate scientist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney and head researcher on the project. "And if the winds relax, the heat will come out quickly. As we go through the 21st century, we are less and less likely to have a cooler decade. Greenhouse gases will certainly win out in the end."

Putting the idea of the "speed bump" or "pause" in perspective, climate expert Dana Nuccitelli explains how it has acted as a vague and helpful "myth" to those with a vested interest in not addressing the perils of climate change. He writes:

Many popular climate myths share the trait of vagueness. For example, consider the argument that climate has changed naturally in the past. Well of course it has, but what does that tell us? It’s akin to telling a fire investigator that fires have always happened naturally in the past. That would doubtless earn you a puzzled look from the investigator. Is the implication that because they have occurred naturally in the past, humans can’t cause fires or climate change?

The same problem applies to the ‘pause’ (or ‘hiatus’ or better yet, ‘speed bump‘) assertion. It’s true that the warming of average global surface temperatures has slowed over the past 15 years, but what does that mean? One key piece of information that’s usually omitted when discussing this subject is that the overall warming of the entire climate system has continued rapidly over the past 15 years, even faster than the 15 years before that.

Energy accumulation in within distinct components of Earth’s climate system from 1971–2010.  From the 2013 IPCC report.

The speed bump only applies to surface temperatures, which only represent about 2 percent of the overall warming of the global climate. Can you make out the tiny purple segment at the bottom of the above figure? That’s the only part of the climate for which the warming has ‘paused’. As the IPCC figure indicates, over 90 percent of global warming goes into heating the oceans, and it continues at a rapid pace, equivalent to 4 Hiroshima atomic bomb detonations per second.

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Liberace Is Gonna Be So Pissed…

December 19, 2013 - 7 Responses

Police in Oklahoma now consider glitter, yes, glitter, to be a biochemical weapon, an instrument of terror.

Not only is Trans Canada corrupting democracy and co-opting police forces across the country to do its bidding, they are pushing for people who protest their vile product and actions to be treated as terrorists, with all the accompanying legal foofaraw and long prison sentences.

This is what happens when corporations arrogate to themselves the right to govern by buying politicians and political systems. It’s fascism, plain and simple.

But really, glitter? Glitter? The police and the FBI and hazmat teams called to respond to a glitter attack? Corporate thought at its acme of perfection.

Read all about it in Mother Jones, The Dissenter, and be sure to read the idiot comments following the article in NewsOK, one of my favorites being “Climate always changes, mostly for natural reasons. In the midst of global warming so allegedly severe that Al Gore and others call it a "crisis," isn’t it interesting that in the last week the US set over two thousand cold and snow records?”

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Koch Boys, Koch Boys, Whatcha Gonna Do When It Comes For You?

December 17, 2013 - One Response

From TomDispatch (Article by Dahr Jamail)

Are We Falling Off the Climate Precipice?
Scientists Consider Extinction
By Dahr Jamail

I grew up planning for my future, wondering which college I would attend, what to study, and later on, where to work, which articles to write, what my next book might be, how to pay a mortgage, and which mountaineering trip I might like to take next.

Now, I wonder about the future of our planet. During a recent visit with my eight-year-old niece and 10- and 12-year-old nephews, I stopped myself from asking them what they wanted to do when they grew up, or any of the future-oriented questions I used to ask myself. I did so because the reality of their generation may be that questions like where they will work could be replaced by: Where will they get their fresh water? What food will be available? And what parts of their country and the rest of the world will still be habitable?


The reason, of course, is climate change — and just how bad it might be came home to me in the summer of 2010.  I was climbing Mount Rainier in Washington State, taking the same route I had used in a 1994 ascent.  Instead of experiencing the metal tips of the crampons attached to my boots crunching into the ice of a glacier, I was aware that, at high altitudes, they were still scraping against exposed volcanic rock. In the pre-dawn night, sparks shot from my steps.

The route had changed dramatically enough to stun me. I paused at one point to glance down the steep cliffs at a glacier bathed in soft moonlight 100 meters below. It took my breath away when I realized that I was looking at what was left of the enormous glacier I’d climbed in 1994, the one that — right at this spot — had left those crampons crunching on ice. I stopped in my tracks, breathing the rarefied air of such altitudes, my mind working hard to grasp the climate-change-induced drama that had unfolded since I was last at that spot.

I haven’t returned to Mount Rainier to see just how much further that glacier has receded in the last few years, but recently I went on a search to find out just how bad it might turn out to be. I discovered a set of perfectly serious scientists — not the majority of all climate scientists by any means, but thoughtful outliers — who suggest that it isn’t just really, really bad; it’s catastrophic.  Some of them even think that, if the record ongoing releases of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thanks to the burning of fossil fuels, are aided and abetted by massive releases of methane, an even more powerful greenhouse gas, life as we humans have known it might be at an end on this planet. They fear that we may be at — and over — a climate change precipice hair-raisingly quickly.

Mind you, the more conservative climate science types, represented by the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), paint scenarios that are only modestly less hair-raising, but let’s spend a little time, as I’ve done, with what might be called scientists at the edge and hear just what they have to say.

“We’ve Never Been Here as a Species”

“We as a species have never experienced 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” Guy McPherson, professor emeritus of evolutionary biology, natural resources, and ecology at the University of Arizona and a climate change expert of 25 years, told me. “We’ve never been on a planet with no Arctic ice, and we will hit the average of 400 ppm… within the next couple of years. At that time, we’ll also see the loss of Arctic ice in the summers… This planet has not experienced an ice-free Arctic for at least the last three million years.”

For the uninitiated, in the simplest terms, here’s what an ice-free Arctic would mean when it comes to heating the planet: minus the reflective ice cover on Arctic waters, solar radiation would be absorbed, not reflected, by the Arctic Ocean.  That would heat those waters, and hence the planet, further. This effect has the potential to change global weather patterns, vary the flow of winds, and even someday possibly alter the position of the jet stream. Polar jet streams are fast flowing rivers of wind positioned high in the Earth’s atmosphere that push cold and warm air masses around, playing a critical role in determining the weather of our planet.

McPherson, who maintains the blog Nature Bats Last, added, “We’ve never been here as a species and the implications are truly dire and profound for our species and the rest of the living planet.”

While his perspective is more extreme than that of the mainstream scientific community, which sees true disaster many decades into our future, he’s far from the only scientist expressing such concerns. Professor Peter Wadhams, a leading Arctic expert at Cambridge University, has been measuring Arctic ice for 40 years, and his findings underscore McPherson’s fears.  “The fall-off in ice volume is so fast it is going to bring us to zero very quickly,” Wadhams told a reporter. According to current data, he estimates “with 95% confidence” that the Arctic will have completely ice-free summers by 2018.  (U.S. Navy researchers have predicted an ice-free Arctic even earlier — by 2016.)

British scientist John Nissen, chairman of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (of which Wadhams is a member), suggests that if the summer sea ice loss passes “the point of no return,” and “catastrophic Arctic methane feedbacks” kick in, we’ll be in an “instant planetary emergency.”

McPherson, Wadham, and Nissen represent just the tip of a melting iceberg of scientists who are now warning us about looming disaster, especially involving Arctic methane releases. In the atmosphere, methane is a greenhouse gas that, on a relatively short-term time scale, is far more destructive than carbon dioxide (CO2).  It is 23 times as powerful as CO2 per molecule on a 100-year timescale, 105 times more potent when it comes to heating the planet on a 20-year timescale — and the Arctic permafrost, onshore and off, is packed with the stuff.  “The seabed,” says Wadham, “is offshore permafrost, but is now warming and melting. We are now seeing great plumes of methane bubbling up in the Siberian Sea… millions of square miles where methane cover is being released.”

According to a study just published in Nature Geoscience, twice as much methane as previously thought is being released from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, a two million square kilometer area off the coast of Northern Siberia. Its researchers found that at least 17 teragrams (one million tons) of methane are being released into the atmosphere each year, whereas a 2010 study had found only seven teragrams heading into the atmosphere.

The day after Nature Geoscience released its study, a group of scientists from Harvard and other leading academic institutions published a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing that the amount of methane being emitted in the U.S. both from oil and agricultural operations could be 50% greater than previous estimates and 1.5 times higher than estimates of the Environmental Protection Agency.

How serious is the potential global methane build-up? Not all scientists think it’s an immediate threat or even the major threat we face, but Ira Leifer, an atmospheric and marine scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and one of the authors of the recent Arctic Methane study pointed out to me that “the Permian mass extinction that occurred 250 million years ago is related to methane and thought to be the key to what caused the extinction of most species on the planet.” In that extinction episode, it is estimated that 95% of all species were wiped out.

Also known as “The Great Dying,” it was triggered by a massive lava flow in an area of Siberia that led to an increase in global temperatures of six degrees Celsius. That, in turn, caused the melting of frozen methane deposits under the seas.  Released into the atmosphere, it caused temperatures to skyrocket further. All of this occurred over a period of approximately 80,000 years.

We are currently in the midst of what scientists consider the sixth mass extinction in planetary history, with between 150 and 200 species going extinct daily, a pace 1,000 times greater than the “natural” or “background” extinction rate. This event may already be comparable to, or even exceed, both the speed and intensity of the Permian mass extinction. The difference being that ours is human caused, isn’t going to take 80,000 years, has so far lasted just a few centuries, and is now gaining speed in a non-linear fashion.

It is possible that, on top of the vast quantities of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels that continue to enter the atmosphere in record amounts yearly, an increased release of methane could signal the beginning of the sort of process that led to the Great Dying. Some scientists fear that the situation is already so serious and so many self-reinforcing feedback loops are already in play that we are in the process of causing our own extinction. Worse yet, some are convinced that it could happen far more quickly than generally believed possible — even in the course of just the next few decades.

The Sleeping Giant Stirs

According to a NASA research report, “Is a Sleeping Climate Giant Stirring in the Arctic?”: “Over hundreds of millennia, Arctic permafrost soils have accumulated vast stores of organic carbon — an estimated 1,400 to 1,850 petagrams of it (a petagram is 2.2 trillion pounds, or 1 billion metric tons). That’s about half of all the estimated organic carbon stored in Earth’s soils. In comparison, about 350 petagrams of carbon have been emitted from all fossil-fuel combustion and human activities since 1850. Most of this carbon is located in thaw-vulnerable top soils within 10 feet (3 meters) of the surface.”

NASA scientists, along with others, are learning that the Arctic permafrost — and its stored carbon — may not be as permanently frosted as its name implies.  Research scientist Charles Miller of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is the principal investigator of the Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE), a five-year NASA-led field campaign to study how climate change is affecting the Arctic’s carbon cycle. He told NASA, "Permafrost soils are warming even faster than Arctic air temperatures — as much as 2.7 to 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius) in just the past 30 years. As heat from Earth’s surface penetrates into permafrost, it threatens to mobilize these organic carbon reservoirs and release them into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane, upsetting the Arctic’s carbon balance and greatly exacerbating global warming."

He fears the potential results should a full-scale permafrost melt take place. As he points out, “Changes in climate may trigger transformations that are simply not reversible within our lifetimes, potentially causing rapid changes in the Earth system that will require adaptations by people and ecosystems."

The recent NASA study highlights the discovery of active and growing methane vents up to 150 kilometers across. A scientist on a research ship in the area described this as a bubbling as far as the eye can see in which the seawater looks like a vast pool of seltzer. Between the summers of 2010 and 2011, in fact, scientists found that in the course of a year methane vents only 30 centimeters across had grown a kilometer wide, a 3,333% increase and an example of the non-linear rapidity with which parts of the planet are responding to climate disruption.

Miller revealed another alarming finding: "Some of the methane and carbon dioxide concentrations we’ve measured have been large, and we’re seeing very different patterns from what models suggest," he said of some of CARVE’s earlier findings. "We saw large, regional-scale episodic bursts of higher than normal carbon dioxide and methane in interior Alaska and across the North Slope during the spring thaw, and they lasted until after the fall refreeze. To cite another example, in July 2012 we saw methane levels over swamps in the Innoko Wilderness that were 650 parts per billion higher than normal background levels. That’s similar to what you might find in a large city."

Moving beneath the Arctic Ocean where methane hydrates — often described as methane gas surrounded by ice — exist, a March 2010 report in Science indicated that these cumulatively contain the equivalent of 1,000-10,000 gigatons of carbon. Compare this total to the 240 gigatons of carbon humanity has emitted into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution began.

A study published in the prestigious journal Nature this July suggested that a 50-gigaton “burp” of methane from thawing Arctic permafrost beneath the East Siberian sea is “highly possible at anytime.” That would be the equivalent of at least 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide.

Even the relatively staid IPCC has warned of such a scenario: "The possibility of abrupt climate change and/or abrupt changes in the earth system triggered by climate change, with potentially catastrophic consequences, cannot be ruled out. Positive feedback from warming may cause the release of carbon or methane from the terrestrial biosphere and oceans."

In the last two centuries, the amount of methane in the atmosphere has increased from 0.7 parts per million to 1.7 parts per million. The introduction of methane in such quantities into the atmosphere may, some climate scientists fear, make increases in the global temperature of four to six degrees Celsius inevitable.

The ability of the human psyche to take in and grasp such information is being tested. And while that is happening, yet more data continues to pour in — and the news is not good.

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire

Consider this timeline:

* Late 2007: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announces that the planet will see a one degree Celsius temperature increase due to climate change by 2100.

* Late 2008: The Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research predicts a 2C increase by 2100.

* Mid-2009: The U.N. Environment Programme predicts a 3.5C increase by 2100. Such an increase would remove habitat for human beings on this planet, as nearly all the plankton in the oceans would be destroyed, and associated temperature swings would kill off many land plants. Humans have never lived on a planet at 3.5C above baseline.

* October 2009: The Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research releases an updated prediction, suggesting a 4C temperature increase by 2060.

* November 2009: The Global Carbon Project, which monitors the global carbon cycle, and the Copenhagen Diagnosis, a climate science report, predict 6C and 7C temperature increases, respectively, by 2100.

* December 2010: The U.N. Environment Programme predicts up to a 5C increase by 2050.

* 2012: The conservative International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook report for that year states that we are on track to reach a 2C increase by 2017.

* November 2013: The International Energy Agency predicts a 3.5C increase by 2035.

A briefing provided to the failed U.N. Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen in 2009 provided this summary: “The long-term sea level that corresponds to current CO2 concentration is about 23 meters above today’s levels, and the temperatures will be 6 degrees C or more higher. These estimates are based on real long-term climate records, not on models.”

On December 3rd, a study by 18 eminent scientists, including the former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, James Hansen, showed that the long-held, internationally agreed upon target to limit rises in global average temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius was in error and far above the 1C threshold that would need to be maintained in order to avoid the effects of catastrophic climate change.

And keep in mind that the various major assessments of future global temperatures seldom assume the worst about possible self-reinforcing climate feedback loops like the methane one.

“Things Are Looking Really Dire”

Climate-change-related deaths are already estimated at five million annually, and the process seems to be accelerating more rapidly than most climate models have suggested.  Even without taking into account the release of frozen methane in the Arctic, some scientists are already painting a truly bleak picture of the human future. Take Canadian Wildlife Service biologist Neil Dawe, who in August told a reporter that he wouldn’t be surprised if the generation after him witnessed the extinction of humanity. All around the estuary near his office on Vancouver Island, he has been witnessing the unraveling of “the web of life,” and “it’s happening very quickly.”

"Economic growth is the biggest destroyer of the ecology," Dawe says. "Those people who think you can have a growing economy and a healthy environment are wrong. If we don’t reduce our numbers, nature will do it for us." And he isn’t hopeful humans will be able to save themselves. "Everything is worse and we’re still doing the same things. Because ecosystems are so resilient, they don’t exact immediate punishment on the stupid."

The University of Arizona’s Guy McPherson has similar fears. “We will have very few humans on the planet because of lack of habitat,” he says. Of recent studies showing the toll temperature increases will take on that habitat, he adds, “They are only looking at CO2 in the atmosphere.”

Here’s the question: Could some version of extinction or near-extinction overcome humanity, thanks to climate change — and possibly incredibly fast? Similar things have happened in the past. Fifty-five million years ago, a five degree Celsius rise in average global temperatures seems to have occurred in just 13 years, according to a study published in the October 2013 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A report in the August 2013 issue of Science revealed that in the near-term Earth’s climate will change 10 times faster than at any other moment in the last 65 million years.

“The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on the planet,” climate scientist James Hansen has said. “There are potential irreversible effects of melting the Arctic sea ice. If it begins to allow the Arctic Ocean to warm up, and warm the ocean floor, then we’ll begin to release methane hydrates. And if we let that happen, that is a potential tipping point that we don’t want to happen. If we burn all the fossil fuels then we certainly will cause the methane hydrates, eventually, to come out and cause several degrees more warming, and it’s not clear that civilization could survive that extreme climate change.”

Yet, long before humanity has burned all fossil fuel reserves on the planet, massive amounts of methane will be released. While the human body is potentially capable of handling a six to nine degree Celsius rise in the planetary temperature, the crops and habitat we use for food production are not.  As McPherson put it, “If we see a 3.5 to 4C baseline increase, I see no way to have habitat. We are at .85C above baseline and we’ve already triggered all these self-reinforcing feedback loops.”

He adds: “All the evidence points to a locked-in 3.5 to 5 degree C global temperature rise above the 1850 ‘norm’ by mid-century, possibly much sooner. This guarantees a positive feedback, already underway, leading to 4.5 to 6 or more degrees above ‘norm’ and that is a level lethal to life. This is partly due to the fact that humans have to eat and plants can’t adapt fast enough to make that possible for the seven to nine billion of us — so we’ll die.”

If you think McPherson’s comment about lack of adaptability goes over the edge, consider that the rate of evolution trails the rate of climate change by a factor of 10,000, according to a paper in the August 2013 issue of Ecology Letters. Furthermore, David Wasdel, director of the Apollo-Gaia Project and an expert on multiple feedback dynamics, says, “We are experiencing change 200 to 300 times faster than any of the previous major extinction events.”

Wasdel cites with particular alarm scientific reports showing that the oceans have already lost 40% of their phytoplankton, the base of the global oceanic food chain, because of climate-change-induced acidification and atmospheric temperature variations. (According to the Center for Ocean Solutions: “The oceans have absorbed almost one-half of human-released CO2 emissions since the Industrial Revolution. Although this has moderated the effect of greenhouse gas emissions, it is chemically altering marine ecosystems 100 times more rapidly than it has changed in at least the last 650,000 years.”)

“This is already a mass extinction event,” Wasdel adds. “The question is, how far is it going to go? How serious does it become? If we are not able to stop the rate of increase of temperature itself, and get that back under control, then a high temperature event, perhaps another 5-6 degrees [C], would obliterate at least 60% to 80% of the populations and species of life on Earth.”

What Comes Next?

In November 2012, even Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group (an international financial institution that provides loans to developing countries), warned that “a 4C warmer world can, and must be, avoided. Lack of action on climate change threatens to make the world our children inherit a completely different world than we are living in today.”

A World Bank-commissioned report warned that we are indeed on track to a “4C world” marked by extreme heat waves and life-threatening sea-level rise.

The three living diplomats who have led U.N. climate change talks claim there is little chance the next climate treaty, if it is ever approved, will prevent the world from overheating. "There is nothing that can be agreed in 2015 that would be consistent with the 2 degrees," says Yvo de Boer, who was executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2009, when attempts to reach a deal at a summit in Copenhagen crumbled. "The only way that a 2015 agreement can achieve a 2-degree goal is to shut down the whole global economy."

Atmospheric and marine scientist Ira Leifer is particularly concerned about the changing rainfall patterns a recently leaked IPCC draft report suggested for our future: “When I look at what the models predicted for a 4C world, I see very little rain over vast swaths of populations. If Spain becomes like Algeria, where do all the Spaniards get the water to survive? We have parts of the world which have high populations which have high rainfall and crops that exist there, and when that rainfall and those crops go away and the country starts looking more like some of North Africa, what keeps the people alive?”

The IPCC report suggests that we can expect a generalized shifting of global rain patterns further north, robbing areas that now get plentiful rain of future water supplies. History shows us that when food supplies collapse, wars begin, while famine and disease spread.  All of these things, scientists now fear, could happen on an unprecedented scale, especially given the interconnected nature of the global economy.

“Some scientists are indicating we should make plans to adapt to a 4C world,” Leifer comments. “While prudent, one wonders what portion of the living population now could adapt to such a world, and my view is that it’s just a few thousand people [seeking refuge] in the Arctic or Antarctica.”

Not surprisingly, scientists with such views are often not the most popular guys in the global room. McPherson, for instance, has often been labeled “Guy McStinction” — to which he responds, “I’m just reporting the results from other scientists. Nearly all of these results are published in established, esteemed literature. I don’t think anybody is taking issue with NASA, or Nature, or Science, or the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  [Those] and the others I report are reasonably well known and come from legitimate sources, like NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], for example. I’m not making this information up, I’m just connecting a couple of dots, and it’s something many people have difficulty with.”

McPherson does not hold out much hope for the future, nor for a governmental willingness to make anything close to the radical changes that would be necessary to quickly ease the flow of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere; nor does he expect the mainstream media to put much effort into reporting on all of this because, as he says, “There’s not much money in the end of civilization, and even less to be made in human extinction.” The destruction of the planet, on the other hand, is a good bet, he believes, “because there is money in this, and as long as that’s the case, it is going to continue.”

Leifer, however, is convinced that there is a moral obligation never to give up and that the path to global destruction could be altered. “In the short term, if you can make it in the economic interests of people to do the right thing, it’ll happen very fast.” He offers an analogy when it comes to whether humanity will be willing to act to mitigate the effects of climate change: “People do all sorts of things to lower their risk of cancer, not because you are guaranteed not to get it, but because you do what you can and take out the health protections and insurance you need in order to try to lower your risk of getting it.”

The signs of a worsening climate crisis are all around us, whether we allow ourselves to see them or not. Certainly, the scientific community gets it. As do countless communities across the globe where the effects of climate change are already being experienced in striking ways and local preparations for climatic disasters, including increasingly powerful floods, droughts, wildfires, heat waves, and storms are underway. Evacuations from low-lying South Pacific islands have already begun. People in such areas, out of necessity, are starting to try to teach their children how to adapt to, and live in, what we are causing our world to become.

My niece and nephews are doing something similar. They are growing vegetables in a backyard garden and their eight chickens provide more than enough eggs for the family.  Their parents are intent on teaching them how to be ever more self-sustaining.  But none of these heartfelt actions can mitigate what is already underway when it comes to the global climate.

I am 45 years old, and I often wonder how my generation will survive the impending climate crisis. What will happen to our world if the summer Arctic waters are indeed ice-free only a few years from now? What will my life look like if I live to experience a 3.5 Celsius global temperature increase?

Above all, I wonder how coming generations will survive.

Dahr Jamail has written extensively about climate change as well as the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. He is a recipient of numerous awards, including the Martha Gellhorn Award for Journalism and the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. He is the author of two books: Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq and The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. He currently works for al-Jazeera English in Doha, Qatar.

Copyright 2013 Dahr Jamail

Can We Hear the Drums Still?

November 22, 2013 - Leave a Response

Fifty years ago today…

Most everybody who was alive then in America is thinking, speaking, or writing those words.

November 22, 1963. I was in the Hyannis office of the Cape Cod Standard Times when the UPI teletype rang an alert and the first flash clattered onto the paper roll at 1:34 in the afternoon. And then the next. And the final one.

DALLAS, NOV. 22 (UPI) – THREE SHOTS WERE FIRED AT PRESIDENT KENNEDY’S MOTORCADE TODAY IN DOWNTOWN DALLAS.  JT1234PCS

FlASH      KENNEDY SERIOUSLY WOUNDED    PERHAPS SERIOUSLY   PERHAPS FATALLY BY ASSASSINS BULLET  JT 1239 PCS

FLASH PRESIDENT KENNEDY DEAD   JT135PCS

I spent the afternoon writing an obit for John F. Kennedy, updating the material in our files, pulling it all together.

I spent that weekend in Rhode Island, with Charlene, my love at the time. We watched the news and the funeral procession until we had to get out of the house and into the sunlight and fresh air where we could not hear the sound of drums.

Fifty years ago today…

I believe we would be living in a better world today had Oswald not pulled the trigger. We would be a better country, a better people. Instead we live now in a country run by the worst natures of our politics. It’s as if Kennedy’s spilled blood spread the poison of Oswald’s bitterness and hatred into the rivers of American history, until today the drums are louder, transformed from the solemn sound of grief and respect into bone rattling thunders of hatred and fear pounding into every village and town and city.

We have chosen to be a lesser people than we might have been.

Fifty years ago today…

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This Must Not Stand!

October 6, 2013 - 2 Responses

This morning NPR/KQED did a program on the Vietnam Wall. I caught some of it. I get emotional over that time. People I knew died in that war. Their names stand on that massive black granite. That was my time, my youth. It sticks with me. It sticks in my throat. It brings tears to my eyes today. And I look at the country today and I think ‘What did they die for?’ Never mind that it was a misbegotten war. At bottom those men fought not against some vague Communist threat, but for a vision of America as a good, decent place where the ideal was equality and fairness for everyone, a place where everyone had a fair and just chance to make their life into whatever they wanted.

No more.

The country has become a cesspool of vile and ugly politics and greed and hatred. The politicians have sold their souls to the rich and the rich want everything else too. They want to live with their boot on the neck of the poor, of the workers, of the middle class. They degrade education so they won’t be challenged by people who can think, so they can provide a steady stream of mindless drones for their minimum wage jobs.

The men who died in Vietnam didn’t die so the Koch brothers and their kind could turn America into a fascist fantasyland. They didn’t die for Exxon to pollute the land and the air and the water for obscene profits. They didn’t die for a bunch of Tea Party ignoramuses and bigots to corrupt the political process with their ignorance and hatred.

But that’s where we are today. It is disgusting. This isn’t the America any soldier died for. This is an America of lies and greed and deceit. This is an America whose vision has been corrupted by small-minded men and women who trade in lies and greed and deceit to feather their own nests at the expense of every working man and woman, of every man and woman struggling to make a good and decent life for their family, of every man and woman battling for a decent education and a fair chance to build the life they want.

This is an America whose vision has been corrupted by hatred, by racism, by bigotry against the poor and the disadvantaged, by the hatred, the racism, and the bigotry of a small group of politicians and rich men who care nothing for the country and whose every thought they direct at taking everything they can get their manicured, soft hands on, taking everything they can from the poor, from the workers, from the people who made it possible for the rich to wallow in their excesses of wealth.

This cannot stand.

It must not stand.

If it stands there will be blood in the streets, there will be wailing in the nights, there will be a genuine war that will make the bloodbath of the American Civil War look like a picnic, the draft riots of that time like afternoon tea on the lawn, and from abroad people of other nations will see an America writhing in madness and insanity. And all so a few people, a handful of rich people and their kneeling servants in Congress, in every political system in America, can get for themselves more, and more, and more.

This cannot stand.

It must not stand.

It must not.

In the name of every man and woman who has died or been torn up fighting for a proud vision of a free and democratic America, this must not stand.

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