There is no shortage of social justice causes trumpeted by the West† with a revolving medley of “child actorvists” at the forefront. The logical observer may question whether these endless multi-billion dollar campaigns have had any tangible effect at all, except in serving as a stalking horse for mass-mediated interferences in the affairs of other nations.
Whether it is about immigration, education or the whitewashing of terrorists, they are there, ready with their scripted messages. The latest sensation happens to be Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg who is trying save humanity from an environmental apocalypse by playing truant from school. Manufactured doyens however conveniently overlook real progress in the activist areas they were groomed for, revealing a strong pattern of bias in the process.
On Friday Aug 9 2019, more than a million Indians planted 220 million trees in a single day, with each tree representing a resident of the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP). According to state government official Awanish K. Awasthi: “The pits are geo-tagged and the saplings carry a QR code. So we can record how many saplings are planted and where.” The BBC had earlier cast doubts on whether Ethiopia had actually planted 350 million trees in July due to the lack of a verification mechanism.
This was not India’s first afforestation feat. In 2016, nearly 800,000 volunteers in UP planted 50 million trees in a single day while a year later,66 million saplings were embedded in just 12 hours by volunteers in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh.
India has targeted a total forest covercomprising33 percent of its landmass by 2030. While this initiative was launched under the general rubric of climate change, there were more immediate issues at stake. The spectres of desertification and groundwater depletion were enough to mobilize ordinary Indians into action.
The sheer design, organization and coordination involved in the Indian undertaking may be studied for years to come. Once verified, the afforestation model can be adapted in fields ranging from big data, artificial intelligence, sharing economy to contingency planning. A somewhat similar mobilization model was employed when Cyclone Fani hit eastern India during the first days of May. As The Conversation reported on May 13:
A record 1.2 million people (equal to the population of Mauritius) were evacuated in less than 48 hours, and almost 7,000 kitchens, catering to 9,000 shelters, were made functional overnight. This mammoth exercise involved more than 45,000 volunteers.
After studying the grim statistics for Hurricane Maria (Puerto Rico, US; 2017), Hurricane Harvey (Texas, US; 2017) and Cyclone Idai (Mozambique, Madagascar, Malawi and Zimbabwe; 2019), the authors concluded that the “world can learn from” from the Indian experience.
Yet, the momentary fascination with India’s mass mobilization skills dissipated just as quickly as the storm itself. The global risk researcher, stupefied by hours of BBC programming, was left to wonder: Where are those follow-up in-depth analyses? How come the world only came to know of India’s recent tree-planting milestone through a brief Associated Press report? Isn’t climate change the dernier cri?
One could excuse the BBC for disregarding Uttar Pradesh’s greening exploits as it was too busy fabricating videos on “large-scale protests” in Kashmir along side usual suspects like Al Jazeera and Reuters. Even Malala Yousafzai stepped forward to test the waters, only to be summarily rebuffed.
There may be other reasons behind the neoliberal media’s indifference here. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had earlier committed the cardinal sin of renaming the city of Allahabad as Prayagraj. This is a complete no-no in a West that inevitably sides with militant Islam. Take a look at Serbia, Syria, Libya and Myanmar, amongst numerous other examples. Additionally, India’s a forestation campaign (2016 to 2030)was being undertaken outside the ambit of parasitic Western NGOs at a paltry outlay of $6 billion. India was showing the way in cost savings and volunteer-based sustainability, without the need for star-studded events that child actorvism thrives on.
New Delhi’s indigenous efforts since 2015 were therefore deemed unsatisfactory by Extinction Rebellion superstar Thunberg. She pilloried India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a February 2019 video post:
“Dear Mr Modi, you need to take action now against the climate crisis, not just talking about It because if you keep going on like this, doing business as usual, and just talking about and bragging about the little victories, you are going to fail. And if you fail, you are going to be seen as one of the worst villains in human history in the future. And you don’t want that” (Emphasis added).
Do not seek a scintilla of sanity in the outburst above. Instead, note the timing: It was posted during the run-up to the April-May 2019 Indian general elections where Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won by a landslide victory, surpassing expectations thanks to neoliberal hissy-fits typified by the likes of Thunberg.
Does Thunberg consider the planting of 50, 66 and 220 million trees overnight– involving schoolchildren no less – as one of those insignificant “little victories”?Who is doing the talking and bragging and who is doing the actual planting here? One of India’s other “little victories” was in lifting 271 million people – numbering more than half the EU population– out of poverty in a mere 10 years.
If Thunberg’s views aren’t reflective of Western neoliberal racism, tell me what is? Here is where racial supremacist undercurrents are cleverly masked by the clarion call of “social justice”. Nothing non-Westerners do is good enough unless it involves and profits vested Western interests. Neoliberals and their neoconservative cousins feel they are entitled to run the affairs of other nations. If the line is not toed, an army of “child actorvists” are ready to selectively name and shame national leaders. How is this different from the use of child soldiers and human shields by an assortment of violent thugs and jihadis? And much like jihadis, a false flag calamity inflicted on a child actorvist would reap international sympathy for the “cause”, would it not? We shall see what the future holds…
Quite tellingly, when it comes to the question of extinction, French-Lebanese author Amin Maalouf sums up the prevalent Western hypocrisy perfectly: “Threats to pandas cause more emotion than threats to the extinction of Christians in the Middle East”. Another child actorvist, Bana Alabed, has been roped in to hasten that particular genocide.
The Incurably Colonized
Instead of India’s Modi, Thunberg could have trained her guns on Southeast Asian politicians for allowing the West to dump millions of tons of highly-toxic trash throughout the region. (India had another “little victory” by banning them). It cannot get more pathetic than Pakistani garbage appearing in an illegal Malaysian dumpsite! Is Thunberg really as environmentally literate as she claims to be? The organized crime networks involved in the regional garbage racket are also into money laundering, smuggling, organ harvesting and human trafficking.
Neoliberals and neoconservatives however have a soft spot for Southeast Asia (sans Mynamar) for a good reason: Its leaders and societies have an incurable inferiority complex towards all things Western, rendering them supine and receptive to machinations from the other side of the world. The region hosts innumerable Western-backed NGOs and affiliates whose sole role is to disrupt and shape the local political process. That is, when they are not discriminating against native talent, native ideas and native solutions. For a region that has had several developmental head-starts over India, Southeast Asia has yet to produce world-class scientists, innovators and products of any import, making it easy for West to offer their “expertise” and goods at huge costs. The media in “Asian values” bastions like Malaysia and Singapore are more likely to celebrate Thunberg’s theatrics than investigate real Asian success stories.
Just like neoconservatism, neoliberalism neatly divides the world along classic colonial lines. Can George Soros and his neoliberal backers claim a single success story from the countless “social justice” agitprops unleashed worldwide? Instead, such interventions have left behind a string of broken, emasculated and dysfunctional societies. Women and children are the biggest victims here. One could also include Thunberg’s Sweden in the list of nations facing a surge in sexual violence against women and children. Swedish schools are no longer safe and somehow no child activist has emerged to publicize this highly-proximate issue.††What is the celebrated “female education activist” Malala Yousafzai actually doing?
The idea that the East and West can cooperate, compliment and compete on an equal footing is an anathema to neoliberal and neoconservative minds. It is in “redundant societies” however where neoliberals find the most fertile ground for its destructive agendas. Redundant societies are ones the world would scarcely miss in case its populations were magically rendered extinct overnight –short-term raw material and supply chain disruptions notwithstanding. Is that the core idea behind Extinction Rebellion? Fewer humans are great for the environment, no?
A nation less contaminated by the neoliberal agenda is a nation poised for growth and technical breakthroughs. Look at the world around us: the relatively nationalistic South Korea, Japan, China and India (the “effective Asia”), Israel, Russia, and Eastern Europe are already challenging the West’s dominance in many critical areas. Even Iran is not doing too badly considering the circumstances.
In the meantime, one hopes that Thunberg will encounter flotsams of plastic as she yachts towards the upcoming UN powwow in New York. If so, these may turn out to be trash that were supposedly repatriated by Southeast Asian nations but which were dumped enroute by ships. To avoid “baseless allegations” like these, Thunberg could try some real environmental work by researching, tabulating and verifying claims that all repatriated trash had indeed reached their destinations in toto, as claimed. Maybe, this is a task too arduous for Thunberg. Let’s leave such little details to an Indian schoolgirl’s future dissertation, shall we? After all, she would have literally had her hands soiled in planting the future while others talked the big talk at big money events.
† The author defines the West as nations west of the Metternich line in Europe as well as the Anglo-American world, including geographically-dispersed nations such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It does not refer to European Civilization.
†† Anyone researching this topic should scrupulously avoid Google.
Satellites record second lowest Arctic sea ice extent since 1979
The polar oceans are among the most rapidly changing oceans in the world. The yearly cycle of the build-up and melting of Arctic sea ice is one of the earth’s vital signs and a key climate variable monitored by scientists.
While they may be far from the world’s major population centres, changes in the polar regions have global implications: they affect the world’s climate through carbon storage and/or release, heat balance, and other environmental and ecological impacts.
One of the most visible indicators of this change is the reduction in the extent of Arctic sea ice by the end of September each year.
Since 1979, scientists have observed a decrease in the extent of Arctic sea ice in all months of the year. The September minimum extent is 36.5 per cent smaller in the period 2010–2019 than it was in the 1980s.
In a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (IPCC, 2019), scientists observed a reduction trend of 12.8 per cent (± 2.3 per cent) per decade. With 4.1 million square kilometres, the 2019 minimum arctic sea ice extent is the second lowest (after the record low of 2012) since the beginning of satellite monitoring in 1979. This rate of decline is likely (between a 66 per cent and 90 per cent probability) to be unprecedented in at least the past 1,000 years.
Under a scenario of global heating of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, by the end of the 21st century, the Arctic ocean would only be ice-free in September once in every 100 years. Under a global warming scenario of 2°C, this would occur as much as one year in three, according the IPCC.
Loss of sea ice increases global heating. White snow reflects sunlight, whereas water absorbs it. Declining Arctic sea ice, therefore, amplifies the warming up of the Arctic. Temperatures increased by around 0.5°C per decade between 1982 and 2017, primarily due to increased absorbed solar radiation accompanying sea ice loss since 1979. This is twice as fast as the global average.
Not only is the extent of Arctic sea ice reducing, but it is also much thinner, and scientists observe a transition to younger ice. Five-year-old sea ice has declined by about 90 per cent since 1979.
This has several impacts. It reduces the reflection of light, thus contributing to thermal expansion of the oceans. The change in Arctic sea ice extent may influence mid-latitude weather, and it may affect the regional composition of species, their spatial distribution, and the abundance of many marine species, with impacts on the structure of ecosystems.
For instance, reduced ice cover is adversely affecting the habitat of polar bears which now need to travel greater distances and swim more than previously, particularly threatening young cubs.
While the science tells us that global heating is happening, the exact impacts on fragile habitats and ecosystems are much harder to predict.
“There is an urgent need to reduce our greenhouse gases emissions,” says Peduzzi.
Dying Wildlife on a Warming Planet
Authors: Meena Miriam Yust and Arshad M. Khan
The emaciated polar bear, a sorry remnant of magnificence, raiding garbage cans in an iconic, even infamous photo, is one consequence of global warming. As the September (2019) National Geographic cover story displays depressingly, Arctic ice collected over winter is sparser, thinner, and now disappears completely during summer in parts of Canada. If the effects of global warming are staring us in the face, then only the woefully or willfully ignorant – like Trump – can ignore them.
One more aspect of warming on Arctic ice has been reported recently. As we know, two-thirds of an iceberg lies under water. As sea water warms, melt increases and scientists have made measurements to discover that submerged parts of icebergs and glaciers entering the sea are melting significantly more than was previously believed, contributing to rising sea levels.
Researchers are warning that permafrost collapse in the Arctic is releasing nitrous oxide, methane, and carbon dioxide. The store is vast: nearly 1,600 billion tonnes of carbon lies trapped in the frozen soils of the permafrost region as a result of decaying organic matter over millennia. That is almost double the quantity in the atmosphere.
The environmental costs of global warming appear in yet other unexpected ways. A new paper in Science reports the threat to coral reef reproduction. Free-spawning marine species synchronize spawning as a way to ensure reproduction. In this way the gametes developed are so numerous that some escape their predators, ensuring species survival. Global warming is now affecting this reproductive synchrony, threatening coral reef recovery.
Rising ocean temperatures impact fish, plankton and crustaceans, in turn affecting the creatures that feed on them. So now sea birds, like the puffin, are struggling to stay alive. These are striking birds with black and white plumage, bright orange legs and feet, and, during the mating season, orange beaks. This past May, it was estimated that between 3,150 and 8,500 puffins starved to death in the Bering Sea, their emaciated bodies washing ashore on the Pribilof Islands, some 300 miles west of mainland Alaska. Prior to the mass deaths, there was a documented period of elevated sea surface temperatures in the eastern Bering Sea according to scientists. The unfortunate result was a shift in zooplankton composition and in forage fish distribution, both food sources for the puffin.
In Iceland, too, puffins are in trouble. Researchers discovered that thousands of puffin chicks had died from starvation in the summer of 2018. It turns out rising ocean temperatures have pushed cold-water fish farther north leaving the baby pufflings with little to eat. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has categorized the Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica) as vulnerable on its red list.
Rising ocean temperatures are also affecting food availability and the habitat of many Arctic creatures, including the walrus, polar bear, gray whale, arctic fox, and ice seal. Some are starving to death, some wandering long and far in search of food. Polar bears rely on sea ice to hunt seals at their breathing holes. When the sea is not covered in ice, breathing holes become unnecessary as the seals can come up anywhere for air, and are no longer easy for polar bears to snatch up. The World Wildlife Fund has reported a 40% drop in number of the southern Beaufort Sea polar bears between 2001 and 2010. Worse still, scientists forecasting global polar bear populations estimate a high probability that 30% of polar bears worldwide will be gone by 2050.
Declining sea ice is also harming seals. Baby harp seals lie on the ice during their fragile first few weeks of life. Without a thick and stable span of ice, seal pups may drown or be crushed by broken ice. In 2007, a then surprising 75 percent plus of pups died due to thin ice conditions; in 2010, nearly all. “Some years, when there’s poor ice in a given pupping ground, essentially all of the pups don’t make it,” says Duke marine biologist David Johnston. As temperatures continue to rise, seal survival becomes precarious.
The Pacific walrus population is in decline with only 129,000 animals left. Due to climate change, the floating summer ice that walruses used to haul themselves upon to rest is now way up north. Consequently the animals are swimming ashore and taking to land in huge numbers. Unfortunately their feeding grounds are far away from shore, forcing a 250 mile round trip. In addition to exhaustion from traveling long distances and food scarcity, walruses also face threats from being on the beach in vast crowds. In 2014, 35,000 walruses were seen together on the shore near Point Lay, Alaska. The animals, which can weigh as much as 1.5 tons, can be frightened easily by loud noises like airplanes, causing stampedes and mass deaths by trampling, especially of young calves – as many as 500 in one incident. If ice continues to diminish, their future looks bleak.
Then there are the gray whales. Their favorite crustacean is the amphipod – a small flat morsel with segments and antennae resembling a grasshopper. These lipid-rich crustaceans are devoured by whales in bulk. Over the past 30 years, as currents have warmed and sea ice has melted, amphipod populations have declined in the Bering Sea whale feeding area. As a result, gray whale mothers and babies have had no choice but to swim north through the Bering Strait and far into the Arctic Ocean in search of an alternate food supply. They are so hungry they are eating krill and mysid shrimp, but as it takes an enormous quantity to match the calories of lipid-rich amphipods, the whales remain hungry.
The North Atlantic right whale, a species federally classified as endangered, is also affected by the rising ocean temperatures. The Smithsonian reports that right whales eat more than 2,000 pounds each day, mostly copepods. Their favorite copepod, the Calanus finmarchicus, has dramatically declined because some of the deep waters of the north Atlantic have warmed almost 9 degrees Fahrenheit since 2004, forcing right whales to migrate elsewhere in search of food. Several right whales have been found dead in Canadian waters in recent months, and a sixth dead whale was found in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in July of this year. The steep rise since 2010 in the deaths of these whales from shipping vessel strikes as well as entanglement with fishing gear is attributed to the animals moving into new and unexpected areas where speed restrictions for vessels are not in place. With some 400 right whales left (out of 500 in the early 2000s) and about 100 breeding females, the species may face extinction if these trends continue. Researchers are hoping to use satellite technology to detect whales in new territory, allowing for faster responses in moving fishing nets and large vessels.
Creatures large and small face threats from melting ice. Lemmings are like hamsters of the tundra – small, furry rodents with faces and whiskers as adorable as the childhood pet. In winter, northern Norway lemmings burrow under the snow for insulation and protection from prey. During good snow seasons, they reach population peaks and their young prosper. But in Norway in recent years, rising temperatures are causing repeated thawing and icing periods resulting in poor snow conditions for the lemmings. The resulting altered and reduced population cycles mean lemmings are no longer reaching population peaks.
The arctic fox relies on lemmings as a primary food source, and scientists believe lemming decline has contributed to sharp declines and breeding failures in the arctic fox population of Norway. Arctic foxes also face threats from the red fox, a larger more aggressive animal, which historically lived south of the arctic fox habitat. Due to climate change and warming of the Arctic, however, the red fox is encroaching on arctic fox areas. Warming is also converting the tundra to shrublands, a habitat the red fox desires. The poor arctic fox faces loss of habitat, decreased food availability, increased competition for food, and possible displacement by the red fox. And with the Arctic continuing to warm, these changes will only become more extensive. Small wonder then that the arctic fox often has to travel long and hard to find food. One female captured all our hearts as it traveled 3,500 km from Norway to Canada in 76 days, its remarkable journey including 1,512 km on sea ice.
These few examples demonstrate the impact of global warming on diverse forms of life — from coral reefs and lemmings to the right whale. We learn that changes in plankton and tiny crustaceans can starve a giant whale and diminishing ice cover can cause polar bears to lose their primary food source, and we begin to register the intimate interconnectedness in the web of life. Human well-being too is tied to this chain of life. If fish decline, so does a food source for humans and the water birds that feed on fish, and as insect pollinators decline, so do our crops and the plants around us. A study suggests that 40% of insect species are in decline. And the U.S. and Canada have lost three billion birds since 1970. In this anthropocene age, humans are not rapacious owners but stewards of our planet, holding it in trust for succeeding generations. It is what the young led by Greta Thunberg are forcefully making clear to their elders.
Author’s note: This piece first appeared in CommonDreams.org.
The Climate Action Summit Fiasco
No one could fail to be touched by the fear (for the future) and urgency in Greta Thunberg’s young voice as she broke down while addressing world leaders on the last day of the UN Climate Summit. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Special Report on the oceans showed a worse prognosis, the patient is clearly worse.
Sad to say, despite all Greta’s efforts, nothing happened — no commitment by any of the major polluters. Trump sauntered by before going on to mock her in his address — a grown man bullying a 16-year old girl!
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres wanted a commitment to the higher ambition of limiting global warming to 1.5C instead of 2C. He got excuses, and of course no promise of net zero by 2050 from any major polluter. Net zero implies balancing carbon emissions with carbon removal. He also wanted a commitment to no new coal plants beyond 2020. Instead China, India and Turkey will be shamelessly expanding coal power well beyond that date.
China wanted the developed nations to take the lead due to their long history of emissions and consequent responsibility. It refused to make concrete commitments unless the US and EU did so. The EU blames Poland, a coal exporter; the US has Mr. Trump. In the end none of the major polluters (China, India, EU, US) did although 80 other countries pledged to reach net zero by 2050.
Included in the 80 who pledged were 47 least developed countries (LDCs) although they are the least responsible for the emissions. They have also been victimized by past colonialism, slavery, and for many the IMF’s notorious structural adjustment programs.
The climate data from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) presented at the summit is sobering: Global temperatures are up 1.1C since 1850 of which a 0.2C (or near 20 percent) rise occurred from 2011 to 2015. The five-year period from 2014 to 2019 is the hottest on record while carbon emissions over the same period are up 20 percent from the previous five years. Sea level rise since 2014 has averaged 5mm annually while the 10-year average up to 2016 was only 4mm.
One consequence of the sea level rise and warmer temperatures has been the human catastrophe from the unprecedented storms in Mozambique and the Bahamas recently.
Ninety percent of the excess heat from climate change is absorbed by water, and the WMO recorded the highest ocean heat content on record in 2018. It poses a special danger for the Greenland ice sheet and the Arctic. New research (July 2019) also finds melt under the water surface from glaciers reaching the sea and icebergs is ‘orders of magnitude’ greater than previously believed. It threatens a dramatic sea level rise by the end of the century.
Professor Brian Hoskins, a meteorologist from Imperial College London warns, “Climate change due to us is accelerating and on a very dangerous course,” adding “We should listen to the loud cry from the school children …” No one is listening Professor, despite human-induced warming exacerbating storms, wildfires, heatwaves, coastal flooding, etc. No, not a single major polluter stood up to make a commitment. The EU blames Poland which relies on coal exports and has veto power over any EU-wide policy; the US, Brazil and Saudi Arabia scrupulously avoided the event as if it were a plague.
The IPCC officially adopted its report on oceans and the cryosphere (those portions of Earth’s surface where water is in solid form, including sea ice, lake ice, river ice, snow cover, glaciers, ice caps, ice sheets, and frozen ground). Compiled by 100 scientists, it forecasts a catastrophic rise in sea levels, coastal flooding and worsening disasters. It moved none of the implacables — not even the terrifying fact that Greenland’s ice sheet alone can raise sea levels by 20 feet. All of it was ignored and instead of a breakthrough, the IPCC was left touting its evidence and reports at the end of the summit.
To summarize, nothing happened. The climate action summit became a climate inaction summit, and the climate can was kicked down the road to Chile for the next IPCC meeting in December.
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