Thursday, December 31, 2009

Blue Moon for New Year's Eve

Image source here; definition here.

Harper's contempt

Prime Minister vs. Parliament
Editorial, Toronto Star: How many times can Harper get away with closing down Parliament whenever his government is threatened?... This must represent a cover-up of serious wrongdoing.

James Travers, Toronto Star: This Prime Minister is willing to shut Parliament for reasons ranging from politically existential to merely expedient.

John Ibbitson, The Globe and Mail: The Harper government's decision to have Parliament prorogued in the dead of Christmas week sets a record for taking out the trash. That's the political term for a government dumping unwelcome or unpopular announcements at times when the news is likely to be ignored. Embarrassed by a damning report? Release it on a Friday afternoon before a long weekend. Determined to short-circuit an investigation into how the government mishandled the treatment of Afghan detainees? Wait until the eve of New Year's Eve... and suspend Parliament. For anyone who believes that our governments should be honest, open and accountable, this is a travesty.

John Bagelow, National Post: Harper's continuing assault on democracy is by not too obvious for anyone to ignore... His contempt for democratic process is never far below the surface. And now, once again, Parliament -- Canada's supreme elected body -- is about to be flicked away like a mosquito. We're watching political accountability and responsible government melt away before our unbelieving eyes.
Image: Toronto Star

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Afghanistan: moral trauma, no victory

Soldier's Heart
Joel Elliott, Maisonneuve: Grenier's OSI [Operational Stress Injury] categories are a useful way of understanding this new anguish. The first category of war-related psychological injury is 'trauma,' referring to an identifiable 'impact injury.' The second is 'fatigue,' caused by burnout. The third is 'grief,' caused by personal loss. And the final category is 'moral,' referring to the clash between a soldier's norms and values and the perceived irreconcilable demands of his or her deployment.

The first three categories are common to all warfare, but the fourth has resonance for a force grappling with an unconventional combat role in the unpopular Afghan war. This 'moral' trauma is further proof that not only does PTSD need to be accepted by the Canadian military as a legitimate medical problem... but it's a fight few soldiers can win on their own.

Vancouver Sun: Two in three Canadians do not believe a surge of more than 30,000 extra US troops will win the war in Afghanistan, says a new poll... Pollster John Wright... suggested the poll reflects three factors: Afghanistan's reputation for resisting outsiders, the experience of Vietnam and other modern wars, and a failure by public authorities to clearly define a victory... A separate recent poll showed 92 per cent support for Canadian Forces, an increase from the summer.

There was not one province or region across the country where a majority believed victory is in the cards. The highest level -- four in ten -- was in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The lowest was in Atlantic Canada at 24 per cent.
Image source here.

Monday, December 28, 2009

'Perimeter': the SPP by another name

Manufacturing consent at the Toronto Star
The Toronto Star embarrassed itself on Sunday by posting a pseudo-journalism trial balloon headed 'Canada warms to idea of a tougher 'perimeter.' The propaganda piece, written by an operative in the Star's Washington Bureau (no bio), with quotes from US academics and former political appointees, masqueraded as a news story. It claimed patronizingly that 'a new generation of more confident culturally secure Canadians' who don't have a 'fragile sense of self' is beginning to come around to the idea of a security perimeter with the US. The piece offered no supporting data, and ignored recent polls contradicting its assertions -- such as this one and this one.

As two commenters observed, this was:

Manufacturing consent with a headline. This column is the sort of opinion piece that gets published every now and then (especially after a security incident that slows travel across the border) to manipulate public opinion and gauge our degree of agreement (or surrender).

It looks like this 'article,' written apparently by someone based in Washington DC, is another attempt to run the integration idea up the flagpole to see if more of us can be manipulated to salute it.

Two others said:

No thanks, I don't want to be pulled into US casino capitalism and endless wars (any more than we already are).

One big beneficiary of such a perimeter would be the arms and 'security' industry. It would be another way to keep the US economy afloat, like the Harper purchase of military equipment. Weapons are the #1 US export, nearly the only things they make in any quantity anymore.

A perimeter would also allow the US to lock in Canada's natural resources.

So the waters were tested, and they proved to be rough. After spirited blowback, overwhelmingly against the premise of the 'article' and exposing its strategy, the Star closed comments and removed the piece from its main page. But it can still be found here. Enjoy the comments. For more reading pleasure, sort them by 'most agreed.'

So hear ye, hear ye! The 'Security and Prosperity Partnership' is dead. Long live the 'Perimeter'! And if you don't like it, you're 'culturally insecure'!
Image source here.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ashura in Iran: resistance to tyranny

Andrew Sullivan: The significance of this day, Ashura, the day Khomeini regarded as the turning point against the Shah, cannot be underestimated. Its symbolic power in Shia Islam, its themes of resistance to tyranny to the last drop of blood, its fusion of religious mourning and political revolt.

Video: from December 22: Two prisoners strung up on a gallows are rescued by a crowd. The police open fire, with casualties.

Reuters: In Iranian opposition website said forces refused orders to shoot at pro-reform protesters during clashes on Sunday in central Tehran... 'Police forces are refusing their commanders' orders to shoot at demonstrators in central Tehran... some of them try to shoot into air when pressured by their commanders,' the Jara website said.

Video of protesters freeing others taken prisoner in a van. 'We're seeing more and more seizure of the instruments of control -- burned baseej buildings, rescued prisoners, stolen helmets, burnt motorbikes.' (Andrew Sullivan)

Reformist leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi's nephew was killed today.

"Ali was a seyyed ... of the line of the Imam. Western analysts do not actually understand the importance of the twin mantles of heredity and scholarship to the Shi'ia... Killing a seyyed during Ashura? ... This is an exact parallel to the martyrdom of Imam Ali at the hands of Ummayyads. Husayn ibn Ali famously said he would prefer death to life under tyranny: '... Don't you see that the truth is not put into action and the false is not prohibited? The believer should desire to meet his Lord while he is right. Thus I do not see death as but happiness, and living with tyrants but as sorrow.'"
Images from sources quoted.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

'The death knell of American hegemony'

Storm clouds ahead for America
National Post: Just two and a half weeks after he was elected and before he even set foot in the White House, US President Barack Obama was presented with a 120-page report that was supposed to help him to peer into the future...

Many of the futuristic predictions in Global Trends 2025 are being overtaken by the rapidly shifting realities of the present, says Michael Klare, a professor of security studies at Hampshire College in Massachusetts... 'As a result of the mammoth economic losses suffered by the United States over the past year and China's stunning economic recovery, the global power shift the report predicted has accelerated... For all practical purposes, 2025 is here already.'

The United States' decline is so severe the world's economic powers have already floated the idea of adopting a 'basket' of global currencies to replace the US dollar as a medium of exchange.

Robert Pape, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, estimates between 2000 and 2008 the US share of the world's GDP fell by 32%, while that of China rose by 144%. 'America is in unprecedented decline,' he says. 'The self-inflicted wounds of the Iraq War, growing government debt, increasingly negative current-account balances and other internal economic weaknesses have cost the United States real power in today's world of rapidly spreading knowledge and technology. If present trends continue, we will look back at the Bush administration years as the death knell of American hegemony.'

The United States has experienced the most significant decline of any state, except the Soviet Union, since the mid-19th century, says Prof. Pape, adding: 'Something fundamental has changed.'...

'We are now at the start of what may become the most dramatic change in international order in several centuries, the biggest shift since European nations were first shuffled into a sovereign order by the peace of Westphalia in 1648,' writes Joshua Cooper Ramo in his book The Age of the Unthinkable. 'What we face isn't one single shift or revolution, like the end of World War Two or the collapse of the Soviet Union or a financial crisis, so much as an avalanche of ceaseless change. We are entering a revolutionary age.'
Image source here.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Plants and animals 'on the run' for survival

CBC News: Climate change will cause the world's ecosystems to move at an average speed of 0.42 kilometres per year... The research, published in the journal Nature, found that the projected speed of habitat shifting varies from one ecosystem to another... 'Expressed as velocities, climate-change projections connect directly to survival prospects for plants and animals. These are the conditions that will set the stage, whether species move or cope in place,' says study co-author Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution...

Legally protected areas such as parks and nature reserves may be especially vulnerable to habitat shift... The researchers estimate that only eight per cent of protected areas around the world will maintain their current climate conditions 100 years from now.

Animals 'on the run' from climate change
The Telegraph: Creatures and plants only able to tolerate a narrow range of temperatures will be most vulnerable... Those unable to match the migration speeds needed to escape the effects of global warming could vanish into extinction. Plants in almost a third of the habitats studied were thought to fall into this category... Fragmentation by human development made the situation more perilous in some areas as it left many species with 'nowhere to go.'

The researchers combined data on climate and temperature variation worldwide with projections to calculate the 'temperature velocity' for different habitats. This is a measure of how fast temperature zones are moving across the landscape as the planet warms -- and how quickly plants and animals will need to migrate to keep up.

The Guardian: The study found that global warming would have the lowest velocities in tropical and subtropical coniferous forests, where it would move at about 80 metres a year, and montane grasslands and shrublands -- a biome with grass and shrubs at high elevations -- with a projected velocity of about 110 metres each year. Global warming is expected to sweep more quickly across flatter areas, such as mangrove swamps and flooded grasslands and savannas, where it could have velocities above 1km a year. Across the world, the average velocity is 420 metres each year...

Wildlife in areas with low projected climate change velocities are not necessarily better protected... Habitats such as broadleaf forests are often small and fragmented, which makes it harder for species to move...

Global warming will cause temperatures to change so rapidly that almost a third of the globe could see climate velocities higher than even the most optimistic estimates of plant migration speeds. Some plants and animals may have to be physically moved by humans to help them cope, while protected areas must also be enlarged and joined together.

Image: A three-dimensional map of San Francisco Bay with colours representing the projected speed of habitat shift due to climate change. The speeds are slower (blue) at higher elevations. Source here.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Video: The Known Universe

This is a screen shot. For the video, go here or here.

For All to See
AMNH: After hovering over Mount Everest and the gorges that plunge to the Ganges, you are pulled through the Earth's atmosphere to glimpse the inky black of space over Tibet's high desert... Pulling farther and farther from Earth, you see the deep blue of the Pacific give way to night as the Sun comes into focus, the orbits of the solar system shrink smaller and smaller, the constellations Sagittarius and Scorpio stretch and distort, and, as the Milky Way recedes, the spidery structure of millions of other galaxies come into view. Then you reach the limit of the observable universe, the afterglow of the Big Bang. This light has taken more than 13.7 billion years to reach our planet...

The Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History maintains the Digital Universe Atlas, the world's most complete four-dimensional map of the universe... The Digital Universe will soon be updated with a more accurate and user-friendly software interface... 'I liken the Digital Universe to the invention of the globe,' says curator Ben R. Oppenheimer, an astrophysicist at the Museum. 'When Mercator invented the globe, everyone wanted one. He had back orders for years. It gave everyone a new perspective on where they live in relation to others, and we hope the Digital Universe does the same on a grander, cosmic scale.'

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ice age tree world's oldest being

At 13,000 years, tree is world's oldest organism
The Independent: It began life during the last ice age, long before [humans] turned to agriculture and built the first cities in the fertile crescent of the Middle East. It was already thousands of years old when the Egyptians built their pyramids and the ancient Britons erected Stonehenge.

The Jurupa Oak tree first sprouted into life when much of the world was still covered in glaciers. It has stood on its windswept hillside in southern California for at least 13,000 years, making it the oldest known living organism...

Scientists believe the tree, composed of a sprawling community of cloned bushes, is the oldest living thing because it has repeatedly renewed itself to ensure its survival through successive periods of drought, frost, storms and high winds.

The Jurupa oak, named after the Jurupa Hills in California's Riverside County, belongs to a species called Quercus palmeria, or Palmer's Oak. It was this fact that first alerted scientists to the idea that all was not what it seemed when it came to this particular stand of scrubby oak bushes.

'Palmer's Oak normally occurs at much higher elevations, in cooler, wetter climates. In contrast, the Jurupa Oak scrapes by in dry chaparral, wedged between granite boulders and stunted by high winds, atop a small hill in plain sight of suburban backyards,' said Professor Jeffrey Ross-Ibarra of the University of California Davis...

Ring counts show that the Jurupa Oak is growing extremely slowly... The scientists believe the oak began life in a far colder climate during the last ice age, said Andrew Saunders, another member of the team. 'This literally appears to be the last living remnant of a vanished woody vegetation that occupied the inland valleys at the height of the last ice age,' he said.

If the age estimate is correct, the oak would be 10,000 years older than the oldest American redwood tree. The study is published in the on-line journal Plos One.
Image source here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Despite Harper, Canadians still centre-left

Harper in control as decade winds down but polls say Canada hasn't moved right
Canadian Press: Canada enters the final year of the decade with Harper -- a conservative thinker once deemed 'unelectable' in this country by pollsters and pundits -- and his Conservative government firmly in command of the federal political and legislative agenda. But whether the country has moved to the right is another matter...

Tom Flanagan, a political scientist at the University of Calgary and Harper's former campaign director and chief of staff, agrees that the Conservative party is on the move in Canada, but not necessarily conservatism... At the level of Canadian political philosophy or ideology, 'I don't think there's been any big shift,' said Flanagan...

Others point to the celebration and promotion of the military and the absence of national debate on pharmacare and daycare as signals of a new conservatism in Canadian politics... 'I think it has more to do with political tactics,' countered Flanagan. By cutting taxes, particularly the GST, Harper has simply starved the centre-left of the fiscal room for new big-ticket social programs...

Harris Decima recently concluded an end-of-decade telephone poll on political values of more than 1,000 Canadians and came to a firm conclusion. 'Canadians are, on balance, small-l liberals,' says Gregg. Respondents, asked to self-identify their position on the ideological spectrum, hewed dominantly centre-left.

Of relative ideologies, 11 per cent said they were fairly left and just six per cent said they were fairly right. Putting all the numbers together, 29 per cent placed themselves left of centre, 30 per cent were 'perfectly in the centre,' and 21 per cent said they were right of centre... Harris-Decima also asked respondents to self-assess whether they had become more right-wing, more left-wing or had stayed the same over the past decade... The vast majority, 70 per cent, claimed to be unchanged, while 10 per cent said they'd moved to the right and 10 per cent said they'd moved left...

Gregg says Canadians are fiscally conservative and socially progressive. And even Flanagan believes the Harper government 'probably on most issues doesn't really represent a majority view in the country.'...

The old political ideal of wanting your policies to appeal to at least half the electorate is not part of the Harper Conservative equation. 'These guys are quite happy with 35 (per cent), as long as they can get the other four (parties) on the other 65 per cent,' said Gregg... 'Conservatives can take advantage of a divided left, they can govern and they can use their agenda-setting power to frame what we talk about,' said Flanagan. 'They're clearly consolidating their political support. And over a longer period of time -- if this goes on for years and years -- it may well shift public values on a lot of stuff. But that would be a longer term process which I don't think has really happened yet.'
Image source here.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

India the ancestral home of most Asians

India is 'thailand' to Asia, say scientists
Asia Times Online: Since 'thai' means 'mother' in classical Tamil, the language of the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu and said to be the oldest living language in the world, 'thailand' means motherland. However, India could be an ancient 'motherland' of Thailand and Asia in a more literal sense, according to a new investigative study, 'Mapping Human Genetic Diversity in Asia.'

The findings, from an unprecedented collaboration of over 80 researchers and 40 scientific institutions across Asia, reveal a twist in the history of human migration. It points to India, then Thailand and Southeast Asia, being the ancestral home to most Asians.

The paper is the first of its kind on Asian populations. Undertaken by the Singapore-based Human Genome Organization (HUGO), the study follows earlier multiple genetic studies on European populations.

THe HUGO Pan-Asian SNP Consortium, as the project is called, overturns accepted knowledge that multiple migrations of populations directly went to East Asian countries from Africa, nearly a hundred thousand years ago.

According to the new study, Dravidians -- the race of people who inhabit south India, including Tamils -- could be a common ancestral link to most modern-day Asians... Historically, Dravidians are considered India's original settlers... Aryan invaders from Europe pushed them south of the Vindhaya Mountains into the Deccan Plateau in southern India, over 3,500 years ago...

Previously it was thought -- because of archaeological, anthropological, and limited genetic data -- that Asia was populated by two waves of migration. One wave was from Southeast Asia, called the Southern route, and the second from Central Asia, called the Northern route... Findings now point to a single wave of migration from Southeast Asia...

Caucasians and Asians were then divided, with the Caucasians moving to the Levant, or the Asian side of the Mediterranean Sea. The people wave continued to India, and then to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines. From Southeast Asia, settlers migrated to other parts of Asia, including China.

If the study is accurate, the Han Chinese -- the single-largest ethnic group in Asia and in the world -- have ancestral links to southern China, northern Thailand and earlier in India.
Image: Neighbor-joining tree; source here.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Asteroid's close pass in 2029

Video: The Asteroid That Will Almost Hit Earth

Wired Science: Any number of undiscovered near-Earth objects could one day careen into the Earth, and there is a lot of talk at the American Geophysical Union meeting about tracking them. So far, though, only one discovered object has seemed even mildly likely to hit our planet.

That asteroid is Apophis, a 900- foot [275m] asteroid. Calculations released on Christmas Eve 2004 appeared to show that there was a greater than 2 percent chance the asteroid would hit the Earth in 2029. The asteroid appeared ready to give the Earth its closest shave since astronomers began looking for such things. It was judged a 4 on the Torino Impact Hazard Scale for a short time, the highest rating any near-Earth object has received.

As it turned out, more precise observations brought the risk of collision down to just 1 in 250,000, but the scare sparked greater interest and study in the fields of asteroid detection and defense.

Even though the asteroid doesn't look like it's going to h
it Earth, on April 13, 2029, it will come closer to Earth than any other near-Earth object that we know of. It will pass just 18,300 miles [30,000km] above the planet's surface.

Here, we see an exclusive animation created by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of what that approach will look like from the perspective of the asteroid. And whoo boy, does it seem close.

Friday, December 18, 2009

'No good evidence that women need this'

Menopause, as Brought to You by Big Pharma
The New York Times: Menopausal hormone therapy has long been pitched as a way to stave off what some doctors viewed as the undesirable aspects of female aging. In the popular 1966 book Feminine Forever, Dr. Robert A. Wilson, a gynecologist, used disparaging descriptions of aging women ('flabby,' 'shrunken,' 'dull-minded,' 'desexed') to upend the prevailing idea of menopause as a normal stage of life. Women an their physicians, Dr. Wilson wrote, should regard menopause as a degenerative disease that could be prevented or cured with the use of hormone drugs.

'No woman can be sure of escaping the horror of this living decay,' Dr. Wilson wrote. 'There is no need for either valor or pretense. The need is for hormones.'...

Dr. Wilson's book propelled the idea of hormone 'replacement' into the popular consciousness and onto physicians' prescription pads... As the popularity of estrogen grew, an increasing number of women developed cancer of the uterine lining, the endometrium. In 1975, an FDA panel concluded there was a link between Premarin and endometrial cancer. The company then sent a letter to doctors trying to mitigate such concerns... But the company never conducted further studies...

The company instead focused its risk research on the possibility of breast cancers associated with hormone replacement therapy. But two studies published in the mid-1970s in The New England Journal of Medicine reported that taking estrogen therapy had increased the risk of endometrial cancer by at least five times...

In 1980, researchers at Boston University Medical Center estimated that the use of hormone therapy (.pdf) had caused more than 15,000 cases of endometrial cancer in the United States between 1971 and 1975 alone. 'This represents one of the largest epidemics of serious iatrogenic disease' -- meaning disease caused by physician-administered treatments -- 'that has ever occurred in this country.'...

Wyeth used proxies to promote a wide range of heath benefits from hormone therapy, paying millions of dollars to influential doctors and medical groups and helping them develop abstracts for medical conferences and articles for medical journals... In 1996, for example, a federal study reported that breast cancer risk may have been 'substantially underestimated.' Wyeth reacted with plans to dismiss it as 'just one more paper,' and try to 'overshadow' it by directing journalists to other studies...

The National Institutes of Health ultimately decided to start using the term 'menopausal hormone therapy' instead of 'hormone replacement therapy,' says Marcia L. Stefanick, a professor of medicine at the Stanford University medical school who was principal investigator on the Women's Health Initiative study at her institution... She says the word 'replacement' implies that women need hormone drugs after menopause. 'But there is no good evidence that women need this after menopause.'
Image source here.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

China wins pipeline deal without war

China wins struggle for Pipelinestan
Juan Cole, Informed Comment: A common explanation for the US presence in Afghanistan is Washington's interest in Central Asian fuel sources -- natural gas in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and petroleum in Kazakhstan. The idea of Zalmay Khalizad and others was to bring a gas pipeline down through Afghanistan and Pakistan to energy-hungry India. Turkmenistan became independent of Moscow in 1991, making the project plausible. For this reason some on the political Right in the US actually supported the Taliban as a force for law and order.

If that was the plan, it has failed. Instead, China has landed the big bid to develop a major gas field in Turkmenistan, along with a pipeline to Beijing. Turkmenistan had strongly considered piping the gas to Moscow instead, but developed conflicts with Gazprom.

So the US is bogged down in an Afghanistan quagmire, and China is running off with the big regional prize...

I'm not sure very many politicians in Washington were ever really so interested in the gas pipeline. For someone like then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, making Afghanistan a US base may have aimed at surrounding and weakening Russia and keeping it from reemerging as a peer (a la the attempted push of NATO in places like Georgia).

Some US leaders, however, were pushing for it. In recent years a Turkmenistan pipeline was seen as a way of forestalling India from breaking the embargo on Iran. And I remember that in fall 2001, when congressmen asked Colin Powell how the Afghanistan war would be paid for, he replied that the region is rich in resources...

In any case the Chinese just demonstrated that you don't need war to get resources. Avoid costly adventurism and grow your economy like hell, and it all falls into your lap.
Image source here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Iran: Attempts to shame = badges of honour

Men in Hijabs
Transmission: Iranian oppositionists have launched a campaign in support of student Majid Tavakoli, who was arrested on Students Day on December 7 after giving a passionate speech during an antigovernment protest at Tehran's Amir Kabir University. Watch the speech here.

The semi-official Fars news agency posted pictures of Tavakoli dressed as a woman after he reportedly tried to escape by disguising himself. Fars paired a picture of Tavakoli with one of Abol Hassan Abni Sadr, Iran's first president after the 1979 revolution, who reportedly escaped in 1981 disguised as a woman.

In solidarity with Tavakoli, some Iranian men are taking pictures of themselves while wearing the Islamic hijab, which is compulsory for women in Iran, and posting the pictures on Facebook. They are calling for an end to Iran's mistreatment of prisoners including Tavakoli.

The Islamic Association of the Amir Kabir University has also condemned the arrest of Tavakoli and said that Tavakoli, whether dressed as a woman or a man, is the pride of Iran's student movement.

Emails from Iranians: 'It is ironic how headscarf, which was traditionally seen as a symbol of women's oppression (who are forced to wear it in public in Iran) is now being used by men to show membership in a liberation movement. It is worth noting that it is a violation of law to cross-dress in Iran.'

'A band of close-minded, desperate, brittle thugs are facing intelligent, resourceful, flexible opposition. They'll struggle increasingly to get their message across as each tactic they use is subverted, adopted or discounted by their foes. Every attempt to shame will become a badge of honour and respect. They've lost, it's just that they haven't realised it yet cos they still have all the oil & guns. They're too stupid to realise that in an educated country, money & guns aren't enough.'
Image source here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Countries most at risk from climate change

The World Bank has made a list of the five main threats arising from climate change: droughts, floods, storms, rising sea levels, and greater uncertainty in agriculture. Four of the world's poorest nations top the list of the 12 countries (.pdf)

Five of climate 'hit list' species in Canada

Canadian species among most threatened by climate change
Vancouver Sun: Canada is home to five of the 10 new 'hit list' species identified as the likeliest victims of climate change by IUCN, a leading global nature organization. The International Union for Conservation of Nature, the world's largest and oldest network of environmental scientists, has listed the Arctic fox, leatherback turtle, beluga whale, salmon and ringed seal among 10 species 'destined to be hardest hit by climate change.'...

'The polar bear has come to symbolize the impacts of climate change on the natural world,' the IUCN report (.pdf) states. 'But it is only one of a multitude of species affected.' The new 'flagship species' placed in the spotlight were 'chosen to represent the impact that climate change is likely to have on land and in our oceans and rivers.'...

In detailing the risks faced by the Arctic fox, the IUCN highlighted the transition of tundra habitat to less suitable boreal forest, competition from northward-moving red foxes and declines in traditional prey.

The study also notes how complex interrelationships between vulnerable species could affect populations in a domino-like fashion. 'Because polar bears and ringed seals are expected to decline due to climate change,' the report states, the Arctic fox's 'coastal populations are likely to face reductions in alternative food sources such as ringed seal pups and the remains of polar bear prey.'

The five other species cited in the ICUN report are the staghorn coral of the world's southern seas, Antarctica's emperor penguins, southern Africa's quiver tree, the tropical clown fish and Australia's koala.

Image source here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Harper 'throwing money at the military'

Canadian Military Spending 2009
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives: Canadians could be forgiven for thinking that they spend a mere pittance on their military: politicians and pundits constantly bombard us with the claim that Canada is a military miser. Most Canadians would probably be stunned to learn that Canada is actually among the top 15 military spenders in the world, and the 6th largest spender among the 28 members of NATO. They might also be surprised to learn that Canadian military spending is now higher than it has been in more than 60 years -- higher than it was during the Cold War, or indeed at any time since the end of the Second World War.

Canwest News: For the fiscal year that ends in March, Canada will have spent a little more than $21 billion on national defence. That's nearly 10 per cent of all federal government spending... After adjusting for inflation, Canadian military spending this year was up 9.6 per cent compared to last year and is even 15 per cent higher than at the peak of the Cold War in 1952-53.

Sun Media: A new study puts Canada near the top of the pack on defence spending... Latest budget estimates show Canada is spending $21.2 billion in the 2009-2010 fiscal year -- nearly 10% more than the year before. Bill Robinson, a defence analyst with the Rideau Institute, said the government is throwing money at the military at the expense of other important issues... And he sees little to show for our investment in terms of enhanced global security.

Ottawa Citizen: Contrary to claims often heard in Canada that UN peacekeeping is dead, the demand for such troops has actually grown in recent years. As of September, there were 83,853 UN peacekeeping soldiers participating in 15 operations around the world. The study points out that Canada was contributing just 55 military personnel at that time, while Cambodia contributed 58. Romania was right behind Canada, at 52.

At times in the 1990s there were more than 3,000 Canadian troops assigned to UN missions... Before the mid-90s, Canada was consistently among the top 10 contributors to UN peacekeeping missions.

'There has been a real decision by Canada to abandon peacekeeping, certainly in the military and government,' said the report's author, Bill Robinson. 'Peacekeeping, however, didn't go away.' He said senior Canadian military leaders and members of the defence lobby have been successful in convincing Canadians that 'peacekeeping is dead. What they haven't been successful at is convincing Canadians that peacekeeping has no value. Canadians take pride in peacekeeping and want to get back to it.'

In September, the government released the results of a public-opinion poll conducted for National Defence in which half of those Canadians surveyed said they wanted their soldiers to return to a 'peacekeeping-only' role. The Ipsos-Reid poll, done in March 2008, noted there was 'a small, but statistically significant increase' in the number of people who supported a peacekeeping-only international mission for Canadian soldiers. Military officers and soldiers, however, prefer combat-oriented operations, such as those in Afghanistan.
Image source:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

'Women's rights was the first enemy for us'

What jihadists oppose most
National Post: In an interview made available on the Internet last month, Dr. Hamid Tawfik, a Cairo-born physician who describes himself as a former jihadist, is asked why he came close to becoming a terrorist. He replies that it was the influence of 'a certain [fundamentalist] form of religious teaching' he encountered while at university. 'It was not poverty,' he explains. 'I came from a wealthy family. It wasn't lack of education. I was in medical school, my father was an orthopedic surgeon, my mother was a French teacher, so it wasn't any of this...

Later in the interview, in answer to the question of who is the 'enemy' -- is it the West, any non-Muslim, the Jews -- Dr. Tawfik is unequivocal: 'The West, but in particular, women's rights. Women's rights was the first enemy for us.'

He adds that it's strange feminism should have been the biggest gripe of jihadists, but it was. He is emphatic that this is why, wherever a 'radical [Islamist] group' acquires power, the first thing it does is suppress women. 'First thing, before anything else, they tell women not to go out, to wear the hijab...'

Cultures, like people, often have a greater tolerance for injury than for insult. When the West added the perceived 'insult' of women's rights in the second half of the 20th century, feminism emerged as the straw that broke the camel's back...

Muslim supremacists might have coped with modernity relegating their culture to second place, but couldn't tolerate a challenge to their status as patriarchs in their homes. Their chauvinistic strings... snapped when plucked under their own roofs by their own wives and daughters.
Image source here.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Islands of the People

Queen Charlotte Islands officially renamed Haida Gwaii
Vancouver Sun: Scratch Queen Charlotte Islands off your maps, the province has officially named the Islands Haida Gwaii as part of a broad-reaching land use and economic development agreement with the Haida First Nation.

The agreement, signed by Premier Gordon Campbell and Guujaaw,
president of the Haida Nation, calls for the province and Haida to reach a power-sharing arrangement for land-use decisions, revenue sharing for resources and carbon credits and $10 million in cash for the Haida to buy forest tenures.

'The protocol will support the Haida in their goal of building economic and social well-being for members of the Haida Nation and their neighbours on Haida Gwaii, Campbell said in a press release.

Guujaaw added that 'after 100 years of conflict, we have set the ground for a more productive era of peace. We have already agreed to the care and protection of the land, and now we develop processes for more responsible management.'
Image sources: Google Maps

Friday, December 11, 2009

Dennis Meadows: 'I think we are too late'

'Copenhagen Is About Doing As Little As Possible'
Spiegel Online: With his 1972 book, The Limits to Growth, Dennis Meadows was one of the first to war about the looming environmental crisis. The US economist spoke about the need to drastically change our behavior and why he doesn't expect much from the global climate change summit in Copenhagen.

Spiegel Online: Mr. Meadows, you simulated the future of the Earth back in 1972 with less computing power than a Blackberry. How good was your model on the limits to growth?

Dennis Meadows: Amazingly good, unfortunately. We are in the midst of an environmental crisis, which we predicted then. The difference is that we have lost 40 years during which humanity should have acted... Copenhagen? I don't take it seriously... If we rely on conferences instead of changing our lifestyles then things look bad... If people were to come together there with a fresh mind to achieve something then it would look different. This conference is essentially about doing as little as possible, not as much as possible.

Spiegel Online: You ask people to make personal sacrifices in order to preserve the environment and resources?

Meadows: I don't ask for it but I say if we don't change our behavior then we will be in serious trouble. People are getting sidetracked if they think that new green technology will solve all the problems. There is no magic button... I think we are too late. It might have been possible to prevent serious climate change in the 1970s and 1980s, but it isn't any more. We have pumped enough carbon dioxide already into the atmosphere to cause global warming. We are on a roller coaster at the top of the hill and all we can do is hold on tight...

Spiegel Online: You don't have a recipe for saving the world?

Meadows: We don't have to save the world. The world will save itself, like it always has. Sometimes it takes a few million years until the damage is repaired and a new balance has been established. The question is much more: How do we save our civilization?...

Spiegel Online: How will the necessary changes come about?

Meadows: Through a series of crises. It is only when there are abrupt climate changes, unpleasant ones, that the willingness will come about to really do something... Our first book had 13 different scenarios for how the Earth and humanity would develop. Of these, eight or nine were catastrophic, the others were not. But no one was interested in the positive scenarios. They weren't reported upon and people didn't try to live them out.
Image source here.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

'Unequivocal, global, and in one direction'

IGSP Climate-Change Index

IGSP: At the United Nations climate negotiations in Copenhagen, the International Geosphere-Biosphere programme launches the IGBP Climate-Change Index...

It brings together key indicators of global change: carbon dioxide, temperature, sea level and sea ice. The index gives an annual snapshot of how the planet's complex systems -- the ice, the oceans, the land surface and the atmosphere -- are responding to the changing climate. The index rises steadily from 1980 -- the earliest date the index has been calculated. The change is unequivocal, it is global, and, significantly, it is in one direction. The reason for concern becomes clear: in just 30 years we are witnessing major planetary-scale changes.

The index dips in just three years, 1982, 1992 and 1996 and looks effective at capturing major natural events that affect climate, and their knock-on effect on the planet. The dip in the curve in 1992 may have been caused by the massive Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption in the Philippines in 1991. The eruption was large enough to affect temperature and sea level on a planetary scale. The other falls coincide with the El Chichon volcanic eruption in Mexico in 1982 and the volcanic eruption on the Caribbean island of Montserrat in 1996. If this link proves robust, the index is an excellent visual tool to show how external events can have rapid planetary-scale effects. Of course, the overall direction of change -- a climbing cumulative index -- highlights the extent human activities are having on the planet's climate system.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cosmic crash in Canada boosted life

Did life begin in Sudbury?
Vancouver Sun: The mountain-sized meteorite that struck Sudbury nearly two billion years ago -- already known to have made the northern Ontario city a global mining mecca -- may have also triggered changes in Earth's ocean chemistry that allowed complex life to begin evolving on the planet...

Scientists John Slack and Bill Cannon of the US Geological Survey say the colossal Canadian impact 1.85 billion years ago may have generated an unprecedented 'mega-tsunami' that stirred oxygen into the deep ocean and jump-started the evolution of organisms beyond their bacterial beginnings.

Prior to the massive collision, which scientists have compared to an object the size of Mount Everest striking primeval Canada, anaerobic bacteria living in the depths of the ocean left their traces in distinctive iron formations that can be seen at various sites around Lake Superior...

Then, following the cosmic crash that left a 200-kilometre wide crater in the area around Sudbury, the layer of 'banded' iron formations abruptly stops and is covered by a strata of 'ejecta' -- shocked fragments of rock blasted hundreds of kilometres from the epicentre of the meteorite strike.

A number of Canadian and American scientists have been documenting these Sudbury ejecta sites over the past decade, gradually producing a clearer picture of an event now believed to rival in scale the Mexican impact 65 million years ago that's associated with the demise of the dinosaurs.

But in a 'speculative' paper published in the November issue of the journal Geology, Slack and Cannon suggest the Sudbury meteor strike was so enormous that the super-tsunami and shock waves that fractured parts of the Earth's crust far and wide combined to permanently alter the oxygen makeup of the planet's oceans.

Other scientists, Slack told Canwest News Service, 'have invoked gradual processes in Earth's history' to explain the sudden halt to the bacteria-assisted iron formations about 1.85 billion years ago. 'We're suggesting it was a catastrophic cause' linked to the Sudbury meteorite strike.

The mixing of the oxygenated upper surface of the ocean with oxygen-starved deeper waters may have doomed iron-loving bacteria and created a 'niche' for other microorganisms better suited to a marine environment evolving to favour oxygen-dependent life forms.
Image source here.

For kids of all ages: Lanterns to Copenhagen

Earth Hour Lantern Project:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Canadians don't want to go down with the ship

The forecast: Warmer, with a chance of survival
Debra Black, The Toronto Star: Tim Flannery believes the biggest challenge of the 21st century is to create sustainability for the human race. That's par for an environmentalist, and the consensus of a majority of scientists. But the quest is no small task given the resistance and denial in many circles, including among power players in the realms of politics and business...

'If we fail, all of our species' great triumphs, all of our efforts, will have been for naught,' he writes in his latest book Now or Never. 'And perhaps the last 4 billion years will have been for naught as well.'...

Is it as simple as people don't see it? I don't think it's as simple as that. The Europeans see it. They have fostered a whole lot of global energy technology. It's just that North Americans are much closer to a frontier society where business grabs whatever it wants without having to be accountable for the consequences. Canada, the United States and Australia are three great frontier societies. It's not an innately human thing. I think it's a cultural thing.

Would people got down with the ship rather than adopt change? I think if you were a person from a society that had done well from the 20th century then it's hard to let that go... For those people they would rather go down with the ship than adjust to the new world that is emerging.

What would you say to convince people who are naysayers? We're going to have to reach sustainability sooner or later, otherwise we won't have a civilization. This century we're facing some tough barriers. The climate crisis is the most severe. What it actually means in the end is we have to develop business and political models that don't take from society but add something to it.

The Toronto Star: A new poll suggested most Canadians don't agree with one of the Conservative government's key tenets on climate change. The federal Tories say they won't sign any deal in Copenhagen to replace the Kyoto Protocol unless developing countries also adopt tough targets. But 64 per cent of respondents to a Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey said rich nations have a responsibility to commit to higher and harder targets than developing countries. Most also want to see a binding agreement come out of Copenhagen, and 81 per cent said Canada should act independently of the United States... The Harris-Decima survey shows that 46 per cent of respondents would like to see Canada play a lead role in Copenhagen.
Image: An ark on Turkey's Mount Ararat built by Greenpeace in 2007 (Photo: Manuel Citak / Greenpeace); source here.