Tuesday, August 30, 2016

China and the Amazon Forest

China is searching constantly for supplies from overseas. And it wants to obtain them, naturally, as cheaply as it can. Now in prospect is China’s trans-Amazon railway— a 3,300-mile-long (5,000 km) artery to link the soya-growing areas and iron ore mines of Brazil to the southern Peruvian port of Ilo, providing a cheaper, shorter route than the Panama Canal. China is keen to build the railway because it would reduce by U$30 a tonne the cost of importing grain and minerals via the Panama Canal. Once operational, the line would be expected to carry  a third of Brazil`s soya exports to China, some 35 million tonnes annually.

Feasibility studies on three different trajectories were carried out by the China Railway Eryuan Engineering Group (CREEC). The route preferred by the Chinese, because it is cheaper and avoids the complex engineering work needed to traverse the Andes, would instead pass through heavily forested areas in the Amazon, home to many indigenous groups in both Brazil and Peru. Both Brazilian and Peruvian environmental protection agencies have criticised those who chose the route for showing little concern for its impacts. The Peruvian ministries of culture and the environment said that native communities must be consulted. But CREEC representatives told a Brazilian senate subcommittee that the responsibility for conducting studies on the environmental viability of the railway lay with Brazil and Peru. A study carried out by Brazil’s state-run rail operator, VALEC (Portuguese only), concluded that, besides impacting sensitive ecosystems, the railway would also require the construction of an entire town in the heart of the Amazon to house all the workers it employed.

China’s trans-Amazon railway was given the go-ahead in May 2015. The 3,300 km Brazilian stretch of the line begins on the Atlantic coast in the newly built port of Açu and runs due west, through the grain heartland of Mato Grosso state, then through the Amazonian states of Rondonia and Acre, to the Peruvian border, and then a further 1,700 km to the Pacific at Puerto Ilo. In Brazil the line would join other planned railways like the Centre-West Integration Railway, FICO, which will bring grain from neighbouring states. Some of the environmental licences necessary for the building of the railways have yet to be granted, although a bill to speed up the normally lengthy process is now before congress. CREEC wants work on the ambitious US$10bn trans-Amazon railway to begin in 2017, with completion set for 2025.

The environmental cost of a railway literally bisecting the Amazon region would be huge. Already about 20% of Brazil`s share of the forest (it is the country with the largest part) has been cleared for roads, cattle or grain. Between 2000 and 2010 the total Amazon region lost an area the size of the UK, about 240,000 sq. km. In 2005 and 2010 there were serious droughts. The dry season is growing longer, the rainy season shorter.  Scientists believe deforestation is contributing by sending more CO2 into the atmosphere, adding to climate change, which in turn contributes to the droughts. Some even believe that the Amazon rainforest is approaching a tipping point. Concerns for its devastating social and environmental impacts may not be enough to stop the railway because both the Brazilian and Peruvian governments seem keener to do business with China than they are to protect their indigenous communities and the so-called lungs of the world, the Amazon rainforest.

What could, however, prevent the line from becoming a reality is the possibility of an alternative, faster route, which is now taking shape. The BR163 highway, not yet fully paved, runs due north from Mato Grosso to connect with the new river port of Mirititiba on the Tapajos river, near the town of Itaituba.  From there, barges will take grain and minerals downriver to the terminal port at Santarem, located at the junction of the Tapajos with the Amazon, and then downstream to the Atlantic. Using the river system would cause much less environmental damage than a railway, although the BR163, which will feed the ports, has already caused considerable deforestation.

The Chinese onslaught on the Amazon is not confined to the railway. They have signed a deal with Ecuador to explore for oil in its part of Amazonia. And they are part of a consortium seeking to build a giant dam on the Tapajos river in Brazil. This project was recently suspended by a federal court because it would invade an indigenous area, but the consortium is appealing against the court’s decision.


Support the Unions

In America, according to an estimate from Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, the top 1 percent of earners take home 25 percent of the nation’s income and control 40 percent of the wealth. Meanwhile, working-class wages have fallen over the past 40 years.

Membership in labor unions peaked in 1954 with 34.8 percent of workers, according to the Congressional Research Service, and has fallen since.

In 2015, 11.1 percent of American workers were members of a union, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics. And that year median wages for union members were about 26 percent higher.

Why has union membership fallen?

One reason is that America’s workforce has largely shifted from low-skill manufacturing jobs — which are largely homogenous and easy to organize — to jobs involving high-skilled tasks that require a college education, and which are often more individualized. Moreover, with globalization and the outsourcing of jobs, American workers and the U.S. economy have been forced to compete against other countries where labor is often cheaper. Unions, by offering members higher wages, push up the cost of production and make it harder for American firms to compete. Add factory automation and the “demand for unskilled labor fell relative to the demand for skilled labor,” researchers at the Center for Economic Studies of the Census Bureau explained in a 2012 report. The Bureau defines unskilled workers “as clerical workers, laborers, operatives, and sales personnel, while skilled ones are taken to be craftsmen, managers, and professionals”

Dierk Herzer of Helmut-Schmidt-University in Hamburg, Germany examined the relationship between union membership and income inequality. He looks at two figures: The income share of the top 10 percent of earners in each U.S. state over the years 1964-2012, to measure inequality, and the rate of union membership in each state.

His findings were that in every state, the top 10 percent of earners gained control over a larger share of the wealth at the same time union membership declined. He saw a causal relationship between the density of union membership and income inequality over the long run. A 1 percent increase in union membership reduces the income share to the top 10 percent by 0.000514 percentage points. Given the average annual decline in union membership, that translates into the wealthiest 10 percent receiving an increase in income share of 0.00016 percent per year. The overall decline in union membership is responsible for about 5 percent of the increase in the income share of the top 10 percent. There is no evidence that income inequality led workers to leave unions. Moreover, a decrease in inequality does not boost union membership (even if it does hurt the wealth of the top 10 percent).

New York State had the highest union membership rate in the country at 24.7 percent; South Carolina had the lowest at 2.1 percent. Men were more likely to be members than women (11.5 percent compared to 10.6 percent). Public-sector workers were five-times more likely to be union members than private-sector workers. 

Black workers were more likely to be members than White, Asian or Hispanic workers finds a recent report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). Black immigrants are more likely than native Blacks to be unionized. In 2015, Black immigrant workers had a unionization rate of 16.9 percent compared to 13.8 percent for native Blacks. Unionization rates for Black workers have declined across all sectors, but the decline has been especially steep for manufacturing (from 42.3 percent in 1983 to 13.3 percent in 2015).
The report, “Black Workers, Unions, and Inequality”, finds that Black union workers experience higher wages and better access to health insurance and retirement benefits than their non-union peers.  Black union workers on average earn $24.24 per hour, compared to $17.78 for non-union Black workers. Black union workers on average earn 16.4 percent higher wages than similar non-union Black workers. Black union workers are also 17.4 percentage points more likely to have employer-provided health insurance 71.4 percent of Black union workers have employer-provided health insurance, compared to 47.7 percent of non-union Black workers. And 18.3 percentage points more likely to have an employer-sponsored retirement plan. 61.6 percent of Black union members have employer-sponsored retirement plans, compared to 38.2 percent of non-union Black workers. Black union workers in low-wage occupations have wages that are 18.9 percent higher than their non-union counterparts.

Despite the clear benefits of being a member of a union, decades of anti-union policy decisions have resulted in a tenuous environment for collective bargaining. Over the past three decades, the Black unionization rate has dropped 56 percent while the overall unionization rate has fallen 48 percent. The deunionization that has occurred over the past thirty years has occurred alongside and contributed to a rise in U.S. wage inequality.

Cherrie Bucknor, author of the report added that “unionization for Black workers is critical to narrowing the wage gap between Black and white workers. When talking about growing wage inequality, you can’t exclude unions and the role they play in that discussion.”

The Cruel Sea

Today’s media report of 6,500 refugees being rescued from numerous unseaworthy and sinking small ships off the coast of Libya. This, not long after another 1,100 refugees were saved near Sicily.  More than 100,000 refugees have now reached Italy after crossing the Mediterranean in the past year, most coming from Libya. Libya remains the main gateway to the Central Mediterranean, and officials there claim the country’s severe cash crisis is driving a surge in the number involved in migrant smuggling trade. 

The Mediterranean is becoming even more deadly for migrants. The first half of 2016 saw a 67 percent increase in the number of migrants who died or disappeared trying to cross the Mediterranean compared to the same period last year, according to figures released in a report by IOM last week. The vast majority of deaths occur in the Central Mediterranean, where one in 29 migrants lost their lives attempting the crossing between January and June. This is compared to one in 410 who used the much shorter Eastern Mediterranean route between Turkey and Greece.

Experts say smugglers are using increasingly dangerous strategies to maximise their profits.

“Every day, we see more young people are getting involved in smuggling,” a senior official from Libya’s Department for Combatting Illegal Immigration told IRIN. “There is no work, no cash in the banks, and all the young people know that they can get easy cash from this type of work.” The official said ordinary people with an empty garage, farm, or house near the coast are starting to use these as holding places for migrants, while waiting for favourable sea conditions. “There are smugglers currently operating all along the western coast from Tripoli to Zuwara, and, as soon as the sea is good, they are ready to quickly transfer the migrants from these holding places to the sea,” he explained.

The migrant trade on Libya’s Mediterranean shoreline has always operated on the basis of supply and demand, but, with black market exchange rates for foreign currency soaring to more than double the official exchange rate, smugglers have also now dropped their prices, making the journey more affordable.

“A journey that once cost around $1,000 now costs as little $200 or $300, and we are hearing that some new smugglers are accepting as little as $100 per person,” Amjid told IRIN. “There are so many migrants waiting to go that often smugglers are now putting five or even 10 boats out to sea at a time from one departure point, where before it was maybe one or two.” This practice of launching multiple boats at once is complicating search-and-rescue efforts and has contributed to this year’s higher death toll, according to the IOM report. Not only are more boats being launched simultaneously, but they are also being packed with more migrants.
“They’ve gone up from 100 people on the rubber boats to 150 or 160. On the wooden boats, from around 450 to 550 before, we’re now seeing 550 to 800,” said Peter Sweetnam, director of the Migrant Offshore Aid Station, a Malta-based NGO that operates two search-and-rescue vessels in the Mediterranean. “People aren’t normally wearing life jackets and the rubber boats often start to deflate when there are so many people on them,” Sweetnam added.

Smugglers began using inflatable boats last year when the supply of wooden, former fishing boats started running low. The EU’s Operation Sophia, launched last year with the aim of disrupting smuggling networks, destroys wooden boats following a rescue operation so they cannot be retrieved and reused by smugglers. But the smugglers have simply switched to using cheaper, rubber boats.

“These boats are meant for 10 people maximum, but the smugglers usually put 100-120 people into each one,” he said. “They don’t care about what happens to them at sea. They are just thinking about the money.”

The majority of migrants who set off from Libya are West Africans like Ali, who came to Libya in search of work. During 10 months there, he said he endured torture, imprisonment and being sold by traffickers. "In Libya, you can be killed at any second. Everybody has a gun. I just wanted to go out from there,” he told IRIN. Migrants from the Horn of Africa, particularly Eritreans, appear to have already started steering clear of Libya and increasing numbers are now attempting to set off for Europe from Egypt. Arrivals from Egypt now make up about 10 to 15 percent of all arrivals to Italy, said Flavio di Giacomo, a spokesman with IOM in Italy.



The pound has dropped and shares are down,
Whilst unemployment has increased;
The jobless Gove wears a new frown,
And the Farage barrage has ceased.
We’ve got no immigration now,
But still the leave camp makes a fuss;
There are no immigrants — but how?
Coz there’s no jobs for them - or us!
North of the Border, Scotland way,
The hairy Scots want to secede;
They’re looking forward to the day,
When they’ll undo the Brexit deed. (1)

Soon Ulster will join Ireland and,
Both Wales and Cornwall will withdraw;
From Britain to another land,
Like Celtic Brittany for sure.
And as for holidays abroad,
Forget the cruise around the Med;
The only break you’ll now afford,
Is lovely Jaywick Sands instead. (2)
We’ve lost the E.U. bureaucrats,
But still the UKIP-mongers moan;
These chuckleheaded Brexit twats,
Forgot we had some of our own!

And now we’ve got ‘our’ country back,
We can fulfil our destiny;
By waving the dis-Union Jack
And sinking into the North Sea!
We’ve got our own democracy,
Since we last had the E.U. Poll;
Our wealthy aristocracy,
Say they will fund the extra dole.
Congratulations, Brexitears,
What you’ve achieved took little brains;
The people in the coming years,
Will reap all your figmental gains!

(1) The SNP hope pro-Europe voters will choose ‘Independence’ at the next Scottish Referendum.

(2) Jaywick-an Essex seaside shanty town with 50% unemployment.

© Richard Layton

"the government cares more about animals than it does about us."

Following on from our earlier blog on conservation refugees, this story was featured on the BBC website

Two decades ago Batwa pygmies were thrown out of their native forests in Uganda to make way for the country's mountain gorilla tourism. They have lived here in abject poverty since being expelled from the forests they lived in as part of a much lauded conservation programme in the 1990s.

Since the days when Uganda's wildlife was hunted down and slaughtered in great numbers, the country has earned a reputation as a conservation success story. Elephant numbers have sky-rocketed and the population of wild mountain gorillas has been steadily increasing. Uganda's national parks now attract tourists from around the world and provide a significant boost to the country's economy.

Yet for the country's estimated 3,000 to 7,000 Batwa it has come at a great cost. The evicted Batwa were never compensated with land by the government and most now live as squatters or vassals to local landowners. A survey in 2000 found the life expectancy of the Batwa to be just 28, with almost 40% dying before the age of five. According to Penninah Zaninka, coordinator for the United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda (UOBDU), being landless has left them extremely vulnerable.

"They're completely dependent now," she says, sitting at her desk at UOBDU's headquarters in the nearby town of Kisoro. You can't have a voice if you don't have land. They [the town's non-Batwa residents] see them as inferior; they abuse them and mock them. In some places you'll see the Batwa shaking with fear when people talk to them."

Anette Ntakirutimana, 20, makes her meagre living working as a farm hand, and has to choose between food and money for her payment. If she chooses money, she gets less than $0.90 (£0.70) for a full day's labour, barely enough to keep her and her two young children alive. If she chooses food, then there is no chance of ever saving enough to change the way she is living. Occasionally she makes a little extra money by dressing in fake animal skins and dancing for tourists. She finds it demeaning. Like most of the Batwa, she has faced extreme discrimination. At school she was raped, then, two years ago, she almost died when a local landowner doused her in kerosene and set her alight after he caught her foraging for food in his garden.

To the Batwa the forest was everything. It provided them with meat, honey and fruits to eat, animal skins to keep them warm, herbs to treat their illnesses and, they believe, spirits of their ancestors to protect them. Jossy Muhangi, spokesman for the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), says that the pygmies' presence in the forest was damaging to the gorillas and that their eviction has played a part in significant increases in gorilla populations.
"The Batwa were always friends of the gorillas," he says. "They did not eat them, but their snares and traps were dangerous. And they could spread respiratory diseases".

In the 1930s the British colonial government declared vast swathes of the south-west to be forest reserves, forcing out some of the Batwa there and then. Others managed to avoid eviction until 1991 when Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni with support from the World Bank, officially gazetted the land into a series of national parks.

Mahuk Isaac remembers the day it happened as if it were yesterday. He was hunting in the Bwindi forest when the armed men arrived and told his family they had to leave.
"We could not imagine any other life," he says, sitting hunched over on a wooden bench in a dirt-encrusted suit many times his size. "But we could not argue. We were afraid of the guns." Isaac's family collected some personal items; spears, bows, cooking pots, animal skins and pets and walked out of the forest for the last time. In the following years five of his seven children died of disease. It is not the poverty that angers Mr Isaac, it is the humiliation of being dependent on others for everything. "In the forest what we had was ours," he says. "We are not happy here. Our survival depends on begging and working for others.

The Batwa feel they should be entitled to a cut of the country's lucrative mountain gorilla tourism industry, which earns up to $34m (£26m) each year, according to the International Gorilla Conservation Program. From each $600 fee paid by a tourist for a gorilla trek, $8 is allocated to local communities but nothing goes directly to the Batwa.

"If we had even a small part it would help with my childrens' education," says 22-year-old Robert Kaaben, who searches for food in garbage piles to supplement the little he earns from his hairdressing work. "But the government cares more about animals than it does about us."

India's poisoned water

More than half of south Asia's groundwater too contaminated to use. Salinity and arsenic affect 60% of underground supply across vast Indo-Gangetic Basin, a river basin supporting more than 750 million people in Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bangladesh. The Indo-Gangetic basin accounts for about a quarter of the global extraction of groundwater – freshwater which is stored underground in crevices and spaces in soil or rock, fed by rivers and rainfall.

The biggest threat to is not depletion but contamination. Up to a depth of 200m (650ft), some 23% of the groundwater stored in the basin is too salty, and about 37% “is affected by arsenic at toxic concentrations”. Groundwater can become salty through natural and manmade causes, including inefficient farmland irrigation and poor drainage. Arsenic, too, is naturally present, but levels are exacerbated by use of fertilisers and mining. Arsenic poisoning of drinking water is a major problem in the region.

Fifteen to twenty million wells extract water from the basin every year. The new study – based on local records of groundwater levels and quality from 2000 to 2012 – found that the water table was, in fact, stable or rising across about 70% of the aquifer. It was found to be falling in the other 30%, mainly near highly populated areas.

If you want the rational use of natural resources contact:
The World Socialist Party (India):
257 Baghajatin ‘E’ Block (East), Kolkata – 700086,
Tel: 2425-0208,
E-mail: wspindia@hotmail.com

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Doomed Paris Climate Change Agreement

Last December, at the Paris COP21 conference, 178 nations pledged to do their part to keep global average temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over preindustrial levels -- adding on an even more challenging, but aspirational goal of holding temperatures at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). To this end, each nation produced a pledge to cut it's own carbon emissions, targeting everything from the burning of fossil fuels to deforestation to agriculture.

Eight months later, a study in the journal Nature finds that those pledges are nowhere near as ambitious as they need to be to keep temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius, let alone 1.5 degrees. And in August, British scientists reported that this year's record El Niño has already pushed us perilously close to the 1.5 degree milestone. While a temperature rise of 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius, as opposed to 2.6 to 3.1 degrees Celsius, may not sound like much in numerical terms, many scientists have pinpointed the 2 degree target as the limit beyond which the world would face dangerous climate change. Impacts would likely, many say, become catastrophic if temperatures are allowed to come anywhere near 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit).

Joeri Rogelj, a researcher at the Energy Program of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), said that he wasn't surprised by findings showing that current national carbon reduction pledges would blast past the 2 degree target, leading to global warming of between 2.6 degrees Celsius and 3.1 degrees Celsius. He explained "The pledges currently on the table are a first step in a continuous process of pledging, reviewing, and taking stock to what they add up. This process has been defined by the Paris Agreement, and nations are thus expected to review and adjust their pledges in light of the best science over the coming years." The Paris Agreement was structured from the bottom up, whereby national pledges would be reviewed every 5 years (beginning in 2020) in order to make sure that carbon cut targets are boosted as time goes by. Rogelj cautioned, if pledges aren't sufficiently ramped up – and followed through on – it will make achieving the 2 degrees Celsius goal "significantly more ambitious" after 2030.

For some ecosystems a 2 degree C rise in temperature is already going to be a catastrophe. Tropical ecosystems, just like Arctic ecosystems, appear to be particularly vulnerable because species there have evolved within very specific and often narrow temperature ranges. As many species face escalating temperatures, they may simply not survive.

Nor is temperature the only global warming impact to consider: extreme weather, ocean acidification, and sea level rise are all effects that are currently, and will continue to be, felt across the tropics. Mark Urban, with the University of Connecticut, in a study last year looked at extinction risks for species linked to climate change. To get the best estimate possible, Urban analyzed findings from 131 studies.

He found that currently 2.8 percent of species face extinction due to climate change -- this with a warming of around 0.9 degrees Celsius. If that warming jumps to the Paris pledged 2 degrees, extinction rates could rise to 5.2 percent of all species on the planet. And if we hit 3.1 degrees Celsius this century, as projected by Joeri Rogelj's study, which totaled up the current Paris pledges and the maximum temperature rise they could bring? Then we could lose 9 percent of the world's species due to global warming.

That's nearly one-in-ten species facing extinction from climate change -- and of course that doesn't figure in extinction from other human induced threats like habitat degradation and destruction, deforestation, pollution, over-harvesting, poaching, invasive species, or a lethal combination of any two or more of these combined with climate change.

Population implosion

A couple of months ago, the Socialist Standard, had an article describing the decline in many nations population. South Korea is one such country. 

The South Korean government is urging its citizens to have more children. Among the "emergency measures" to enthuse its populace into starting, or growing, their family are financial support for couples seeking fertility treatment and extra paternity leave for parents welcoming a second child.

The Korea Herald reports that the measure were announced by the ministry of health and welfare following a 5.3 per cent drop in new born babies in the first five months of the year compared to the same time in 2015. South Korea's birth rate has plummeted since the 1960s despite billions of pounds worth of government spending. The government will spend up to £44m on the new measures, according to the Korea Times, although there are fears that state policy will not be able to overcome a corporate culture seen as "family-unfriendly".

Health minister Chung Chin-youb said: “The government prepared such emergency measures with a desperate mind that we must exert all possible efforts to block the current low birth rate that continues to decline” 

When aid isn't humanitarian

Haiti has among the highest rates of chronic poverty in the world. Almost one-third of all childhood deaths are due to under-nutrition. Although almost 80 percent of rural households farm, the agriculture sector with its persistent litany of natural disasters receives less than 4 percent of Haiti’s budget.

Peanut growers in Haiti have united to block the delivery of a 500-tonne shipment of nuts from the US. The shipment threatens to undermine the livelihood of thousands of people in the country. From Oxfam to Partners in Health, there has been fierce reaction to the “commodity dumping” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This program does nothing to boost capacity in Haiti and does nothing to address consistent food insecurity,” said Oxfam America senior researcher Marc Cohen.

"The dumping of these peanuts will create a big catastrophe, even bigger than the destruction of our rice production," said Jean Pierre Ricot, an agriculture expert. "Hundreds of thousands of families lost their livelihoods because of those policies. To face the problem, we need a fundamental battle to stop these policies."

Clearly, Haiti’s own peanut market stands to lose when surplus peanuts from the United States are flown in as food aid. This seemingly noble act of donating peanuts to Haiti has rightly been criticized as undermining the already struggling smallholding peanut farmers in Haiti. The USDA is looking for an international outlet for the domestic surplus of peanuts. From a Haitian farmer’s perspective, such dumping is a dangerous threat to an agricultural economy. It is merely the latest wave in similar policies that have marginalized Haitian farmers and worsened food security. The most notable example is subsidized US rice flooding the Haitian market. People bitterly remember example is the collapse of the local rice market. Haiti was largely self-sufficient in rice by the mid-1980s. But in subsequent years, Haiti repeatedly slashed tariffs on cheaper imported rice at the behest of the U.S. and the World Bank. As a result, U.S. subsidized rice inundated the market and the Caribbean country roughly the size of Maryland is now the second-biggest export destination for American rice growers, Also, in the early 1980s, fearing Haiti’s Creole pigs could spread African swine fever amid a deadly outbreak, the U.S. Congress authorized $23 million to slaughter local pigs and replace them with hybrid pigs from Iowa. The imported pigs struggled to adapt, often became sick and had few litters.

International aid experts warn that the US peanut donation could eventually become another cautionary tale about humanitarian aid from a wealthy nation that undermines a flimsy economy in a poor one. Smallholding Haitian peanut farmers and their families ultimately stand to lose. Critics say agricultural surplus aid and heavily subsidized food imports do more harm than good by undercutting local farmers and pushing Haiti further from self-sufficiency.

In the United States, there is the Marketing Assistance Loan program provides up-front financing to peanut-growers (and growers of other crops). The goal is that farmers repay the loans once they sell their crops. But if the price is too low to recoup the cost of the loan, they can also turning the product over to the government as a form of repayment. In other words, he U.S. government lends U.S. farmers money to grow peanuts, the farmers repay the government in excess peanuts, and the government ships the surplus peanuts to Haiti. A glut of peanuts has pushed prices lower, meaning that more farmers are handing their peanuts over to the Department of Agriculture instead of paying off their loans. Reuters estimates that about 145,000 tons of peanuts were forfeited to government last year. "That stockpile is enough to satisfy the average annual consumption of over 20 million Americans — more than the population of Florida," Reuters's Chris Prentice writes, "and puts the administration in a bind." After all, storing those peanuts is expensive and selling all of them could just push prices lower.

As part of a "humanitarian effort" to Haiti, the USDA crafted a deal that will result in 500 metric tons of packaged, dry-roasted peanuts grown in the United States to be shipped later this year to school children in Haiti who have little access to food," the department reports. Problem partially solved.

Except Haiti already grow their own peanuts. In January of last year, the U.S. government's Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative praised an effort to bolster peanut production by Haitian farmers. That effort was funded in part by the Clinton Foundation, which created the Acceso Peanut Enterprise Corporation to partner with a non-profit called Meds & Food for Kids and the University of Georgia.

In 2014, the Haitian peanut market was hampered when one use for the product -- providing a nutrient-rich food for malnourished children -- was undercut by American food donations. The World Food Programme had been buying peanut butter from Meds & Food for Kids and the Clinton partnership -- about half of the group's sales went to creating the paste -- but switched to a soy-corn blend after the United States Agency for International Development oversupplied the product in anticipation of a bad hurricane season. "No one seems to have pondered the local implications of the decision," the Guardian wrote at the time.

That appears to be the case once again. “If the U.S. really wanted to help Haiti they would focus on serious work improving irrigation and farmers’ access to credit,” said Haitian economist and activist Camille Chalmers, who argues that the peanut aid is mainly about drawing down the U.S. stockpile and benefiting American agribusiness.

Asia's rich get richer

The inequality takes two broad forms: inequality in income and wealth, and inequality of opportunity, which results from unequal access to basic essentials such as health and education, among others.

Asia is home to an increasing number of millionaires and billionaires, with the ultra-rich in the region accumulating wealth much faster than the ultra-rich in any other part of the world. At the other end of the spectrum, the region also accounts for two-thirds of the world’s extreme poor. According to UNESCAP, despite the rapid economic growth witnessed across much of Asia, the region still has 85 million chronically malnourished children under the age of five. Eighty percent of workers are not covered by any pension scheme, and just 20 percent of the region’s population has access to affordable health care.

 In China the richest 1 percent of households own a third of the country’s wealth, while the poorest 25 percent of households own just 1 percent of the wealth. In India, the top 1 percent increased its share of the country’s wealth from 36.8 percent in 2000 to a staggering 53 percent in 2016.

The rich always gets richer

Over that span of time, America’s total family wealth has more than doubled, to $67 trillion. But most average American families haven’t seen a nickel of that gain. In fact, the typical American family headed by someone under age 65 actually lost wealth between 1989 and 2013, after adjusting for inflation.

Families in the upper reaches of the American economy, by contrast, have done just swell. Families in the top 10 percent, the Congressional Budget Office calculates, have seen their net worths increase an average 153 percent. Families in the top 1 percent have done the best of all. Their overall share of the nation’s wealth, the new CBO report finds, has jumped from 31 percent in 1989 to 37 percent in 2013. Other reputable statistical methodologies, the CBO report acknowledges, put the current top 1 percent share of the nation’s wealth as high as 42 percent.

Wealth begets more wealth for the wealthy. Society is becoming ever more unequal.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Expelled from Eden

Last year our journal carried an article about conservation refugees - people evicted from their ancestral homelands in the name of conservation and nature reserves. Only a few days ago the blog posted on the plight of the Bushmen. 

In Hawaii at the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s congress, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples says, “The world’s most vulnerable people are paying the price for today’s conservation,” She has already sounded the alarm at the UN over the impact that conservation is having on tribal peoples in Kenya, Uganda, Bangladesh, Namibia, Botswana, Ethiopia, South Africa, Argentina, Chile and Ecuador.

Tauli-Corpuz will tell the congress that nature conservation is not working for people or for wildlife. “Houses are still being burned down, and people are being displaced violently. Protected areas continue to expand, yet threats against them are also increasing,” she will say. Vulnerable tribal peoples are being removed by force from India’s tiger reserves and forests; tribal groups such as the Ogiek and Sengwer, the San, Maasai and Baka are being forced out of forests and wildlife-rich plains in Africa; and from Thailand to Ecuador, Cameroon to Bangladesh, ethnic groups are being dispossessed in the name of protecting nature. Most of the world’s 6,000 national parks and 100,000 protected places have been created by the removal of tribal peoples. Hundreds more parks are being created every year as countries commit to meeting the UN’s goal to protect 17% of land by 2020. And the human toll is rising accordingly.

Simon Counsell, director of the UK’s Rainforest Foundation, said: “Much conservation is still in the mindset of being in opposition to people. The ‘conservation v people’ approach to protecting wildlife has worsened the lives of thousands of native people.” The foundation this year documented dozens of cases of human rights abuses in central Africa, where up to $500m has been spent in the last decade by the US, EU and other western donors to protect the world’s second largest swath of rainforest.

Governments are accessing wealthy conservation groups based in the US and Europe to take advantage of the billions of pounds of conservation money being offered by global banks, northern governments and foundations for climate change and biodiversity protection. The international money duly flows in, but recipient governments are not abiding by international laws to protect communities.

“Governments like conservation because there is a lot of money in it. It brings money from the Global Environment Facility and elsewhere. But when your economic priority is to generate money from conservation, you want to get rid of people from these protected areas. That is what is now happening,” Tauli-Corpuz told the Observer. 

Rosaleen Duffy, a political ecologist at Sheffield University, explained “There are still large-scale, violent evictions, generally in national parks, but they are less common now. But much more common is the everyday form of exclusion [of tribal groups] which makes it impossible for anyone to live in protected areas.”

Gonzalo Oviedo is head of social policy at the IUCN. He told the Observer: “Conservation has changed a lot. Governments are more likely now to restrict the rights of people who live in protected areas. They may ban hunting, or farming, the cutting down of trees or fishing. The effect is to force people to move. They are more careful now about evictions. But in practice they are reducing access to resources and reducing people’s ability to live in protected areas. People in reserves may not be allowed to do anything. They are often poorer than they were before, and the impact can be bigger than if they are moved out,” said Oviedo.

The WWF was accused by tribal defence group Survival International of funding and logistically aiding anti-poaching eco-guards in Equatorial Africa. The guards were allegedly victimising pygmy groups in the region. According to a 228-page complaint made to the OECD, the Baka people in Cameroon had been forbidden to enter many of their traditional hunting areas, despite the fact that their hunting is reported to have minimal impact on the environment. According to Duffy: “Some groups are in danger of becoming complicit in government wrongdoing. They rely on national governments to allow access. Some have very significant links with corporates and corporate sponsorship, and tend not to be very critical of what is going on. It can be difficult for them to talk out of turn. Some facilitate the process.”

The irony is that “anti-people” conservation doesn’t appear to be having a beneficial effect on wildlife and may in fact be self-defeating. Analysis this year of 34 large protected areas in Congo DRC, Cameroon, Gabon, the Central African Republic and the Republic of Congo found that conservation had displaced villages and led to conflict and multiple human rights abuses – and that animals including elephants, gorillas and chimps were still declining at alarming rates anyway.

“Conservation is clearly not working,” said Counsell. “Despite billions of dollars being poured into protected areas over this period and in spite of legally binding commitments to respect people’s rights, there was evidence that local indigenous and local communities across the world continue to pay a heavy price for protected areas,” he said. “A new model of saving nature is urgently needed because the anti-people agenda now being practised by many countries is not working and undermines attempts to protect nature. Not only is the present anti-people model which is being practised unjust. It marginalises the very people who have protected forests for millennia and who represent one of our best hopes for doing so in the future.”

Studies by the Centre for International Forestry Research and the World Bank have found that when traditional communities are given full legal rights to their land, they protect the environment efficiently and cheaply.
“In India, tribal peoples face arrest and beatings, harassment, threats and trickery and feel forced to ‘agree’ to leave their forest homes. But the evidence proves that tribal peoples are better at looking after their environment than anyone else”, says Sophie Grig of Survival. “In the BRT tiger reserve in southern India where tribal people have been allowed to stay, tiger numbers have increased at above the national average. There is no reason to believe that evicting tribes helps tigers. In fact, it’s harming conservation.”

Tauli-Corpuz will make the same argument. She will tell delegates that indigenous-owned lands are effective at resisting deforestation in Brazil; that in Namibia, community-based wildlife management has resulted in significant growth in wildlife populations; and in the US and Australia, indigenous peoples manage protected areas effectively. “Studies have demonstrated that the territories of indigenous peoples who have been given land rights have been significantly better conserved than the adjacent lands”.

Leading environmentalists and human rights advocates, including Noam Chomsky, Jonathon Porritt and Ghillean Prance, agree. Last year they appealed to conservationists to protect endangered tribes. In a letter to the Guardian, they stated: “Tribal peoples have managed their lands sustainably for generations. Forcibly removing them usually results in environmental damage. Such removals are a violation of human rights. The cheapest and quickest way to conserve areas of high biodiversity is to respect tribal peoples’ rights. The world can no longer afford a conservation model that destroys tribal peoples: it damages human diversity as well as the environment.”

Thousands of pastoralist Maasai groups in Tanzania have been evicted from a 1,500 sq km area close to the Serengeti, Maasai Mara and Ngorongoro national parks. The government has tried to remove them to establish exclusive game-hunting in the area. In 2009, a mass eviction left more than 200 homes burned and 3,000 people homeless.

Thousands of these tribespeople in India are being forcibly evicted from Kanha tiger reserve, though they do not hunt tigers and have lived in the forests with the animals for centuries. Many other adivasi, or tribal groups, are under notice to leave their forest homes to make way for tourism and tiger conservation. The Baiga have now set up a project to “save the forest from the forest department”.

The indigenous forest pygmy tribe which lives near Nki national park in south-east Cameroon, and the Bagyeli ethnic group of South Kribi have been forced out of their forests or massively restricted in what they hunt and fish. The groups says that they have become squatters on their own land, with entry into the forest restricted.

Thousands of ethnic Hmong and Karen hill tribes groups in northern Thailand have been displaced from their forests after they were designated national parks or protected areas. The groups have been classed as “illegal occupants” or “squatters” even though they have been living there for more than 100 years. The Hmong and Karen are routinely blamed for resource degradation but say their traditions protect nature.

These tribespeople, who have lived in the forests of central Bangladesh for centuries with other ethnic groups, have been evicted or prevented from living in traditional lands rezoned by the government as protected reserves in the 1980s. They are now restricted in where they live, move, and what they grow.

Kenya Forest Service guards have for years harassed and tried to evict Sengwer indigenous people from the western highlands. The 5,000 hunter gatherers were barred from their ancestral forests in 1964 but continue to return. Many now live in makeshift homes, camped out on roadsides.

The San, or Bushmen, peoples of the Kalahari desert in Botswana have been outlawed from their traditional lands to make way for tourism and mining. Even though they have lived in the desert for generations, they are considered a threat to wildlife. In a series of evictions, they have had their homes destroyed and water cut off and have been restricted from hunting. In 2006 the high court granted the Bushmen the right to return to their land, but the government has continued to enforce a permit system.

The Kenyan government has long been seeking to drive the Ogiek and others from the Mau forest to protect national water supplies and wildlife. The forest has been severely degraded after an influx of logging companies and illegal settlers, but the Ogiek, who have lived there for centuries, say they are not responsible and are resisting eviction. Many communities have had their homes burned but continue to fight to return.

The nomadic reindeer-herding Dukha tribe of northern Mongolia are struggling to survive after being banned from hunting in the name of conservation. Their traditional land was declared a protected area in 2013 and they face prison and restrictions on where they migrate to and hunt. The Dukha have hunted sustainably for generations, with their own strict rules governing the number of animals they can kill, and when and where they can hunt.

The Lickan Antay indigenous people from the Atacama desert in northern Chile live in a state-protected reserve but have been overwhelmed by tourism and conservation which leaves them little water and restricts them from access to many places. “Before the creation of the reserve there wasn’t a single tourist, and suddenly they’re everywhere. Our existence is now a constant battle,” says one member of the community.

The “forest people” of Sri Lanka were evicted from their homeland in what is now the Maduru Oya national park. Until recently, they hunted deer and wild boar, and collected honey, fruit and nuts. Today, they live outside their forest with small plots of land to grow rice and vegetables. They need a permit to enter the forest and those caught hunting risk arrest and violence.

The Provo or Gerry Dome

After British, Irish and other EU 'peace funding' thought to have amounted to around €3bn in the two decades since the paramilitary 'ceasefires', after 30 years of Sinn Fein holding political power, west Belfast has little to show by way of economic advancement. Sinn Fein blames the high unemployment, addiction and teenage pregnancy rates of recent years on 'Tory cuts', sidelining its own culpability as a holder of power in the devolved Stormont government. West Belfast Sinn Fein MLA Mairtin O Muilleoir is the North's Finance Minister.

The constituency consistently ranks in the bottom two or three of the 650 UK parliamentary constituencies on social and economic measurements. Andersonstown is a traditional Sinn Fein heartland but in recent elections the party's vote in west Belfast has dropped with the local People Before Profit party picking up 7,000 of its votes. The Sinn Fein hegemony in west Belfast is not under immediate threat but the decline in its vote is attributable to the party's failure to improve conditions in its longest-held constituency.

The proposed development of Casement Park has been opposed by both local residents and the emergency services, who have voiced safety concerns and it has been described as a vanity project. The proposed £77m (€90m) expansion of Casement Park into a 40,000-seater 'world-class' sporting and concert venue has been called the "Provo Dome" or "Gerry Dome", in the face of local opposition. Many people see Sinn Fein's promotion of the stadium as misplaced and grandiose in an area that, for the most part, is so severely blighted by poverty and social deprivation.

Degrowth towards a steady-state economy

The flood in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, It has been described as either a 500 year or a 1,000-year weather event, leaving at least 13 people dead and close to 60,000 homes ruined. According to meteorologists Jeff Masters and Bob Henson, August has been the wettest month in Baton Rouge in 174 years, when records were first kept.  The thousands of Baton Rouge area residents affected by this historic flooding will face the same struggle to return home that Katrina survivors experienced. Many of these survivors were already living in poverty before the floods hit. Of the 20 parishes that President Obama declared “a major disaster,” 17 had populations above the14.8% national poverty rate, and half of the disaster-declared parishes had more people living in poverty than the state poverty average of 19.8%. Two affected parishes, St. Landry and Washington, had poverty rates near 30%.

The planetary ecological crisis is escalating. Socialists point out capitalism's need for growth at all costs is the road to ruin. “Accumulate, accumulate, Moses and the prophets!” Capitalism can exist with permanent poverty, persistent hunger, and perpetual war but it cannot exist without constant capital expansion. There is little optimism for future because humanity’s extinction is the concomitant of capital's destructive course of development. From what we know global warming will cause a collapse in food supplies, water shortages, desertification or flooding of arable lands and the inundation coastal cities and deltas. This is likely to produce mass starvation, mass migration and wars. The Socialist Party case is that we need to build a higher form of social organisation before the present system destroys us all. We may well not be in a position to say “we told you so” as the world crumbles around us. Mitigating climate change requires a rapid and sustained economic contraction. If capitalism seriously embarked upon policies that cut GDPs they would dwarf the current austerity programmes that have provoked misery, strikes and occupations around the world.

Socialism will be a system of freely associated producers producing for human need, must develop out of capitalism. It is a global system without classes where human labour power no longer takes the form of value and the products of this labour are use values not commodities. Only the working class is in the position to create such a new society since we are an exploited class on whom the system is totally dependent and a class who can only free ourselves by overturning the whole system. Socialist wealth production will be made to serve human needs rather than profit and accumulation of capital. The present system is aimed at expanding capital, leaving human needs to be satisfied only incidentally. The present system entails massive waste production – one only has to think of the armaments and finance industries as examples. Socialist society will not be subject to the need to accumulate capital and will be able to move to a steady-state, non-expanding system; one which can be in balance with the ecosystem.

Another point to note is that new technology has enabled massive increases in the productivity of human labour to be achieved. This is one of the developments which will enable the construction of socialism by dramatically reducing working time and allowing more time for all to participate in the management and social organisation of society. It will also allow time and opportunity for individual potential to be fully developed, potential which is presently squandered by capitalism.

We admit that the planet’s resources are not inexhaustible, nevertheless these resources could provide for humanity’s needs, but only if they are used in a reasonable and rational way, i.e., in a manner directly opposed to capitalist logic, which is itself is the source of imbalance. For sure, the Western ruling classes are increasingly taking the route of new technologies, developing renewable energies, and promoting recycling and "clean" production, among other things. As a result, technological innovations are implemented, mainly in the developed countries, to prevent greenhouse gases from increasing "too much." But it is important to see that this route brings no solutions. Apart from the likelihood the corrective measures being taken will remain insufficient to reduce humanity’s ecological footprint, any pollution reduced in developed nations, is simply transferred to the Global South where has been less progress. Capitalism is fundamentally an unequal society. Its internal logic compels it suicidally forward caused by the appropriation of wealth by a minority and the need for unlimited consumption. To remedy the current destruction of the planet, we'll need much more than the technological revolution imagined by those who call for "sustainable” capitalist development. To challenge the mainspring of the capitalist system—the necessity of expansion - amounts to calling capitalism itself into question. To avoid the destruction of the planet, there are only two possible choices. Either to prevent the countries of the Global South from catching up with the "standard of living" of the Global North or to reconsider completely the economic model in both the North and the South. The latter option, the socialist choice, require that the purpose of production: is organized only to satisfy the needs of humanity; that the best possible use of technological innovations and the practice of recycling and the production of practical goods, not designed to break down after a few years is applied to eliminate most of the pollution and environmental harm. What is necessary is to discard what is superfluous to the future economic system.

Our objective is not an impoverishment of humanity, but its enrichment. Socialism must ultimately integrate the ecological question and create balance between the capacities to produce, the needs of populations, and the limits of the biosphere.

Solidarity V Prejudice

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the US national anthem before games due to oppression of African Americans and other minorities in the country. Kaepernick sat on the team's bench during the anthem before his team played host to the Green Bay Packers
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,"he said.  “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder." He added "I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. ... If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right." 

The governor of Maine declared a race war when he said that people of colour were enemies of his state, and appeared to suggest they should be shot. Speaking about Maine's effort to combat drug crime, Paul LePage said that He said: "When you go to war, if you know the enemy and the enemy dresses in red and you dress in blue, then you shoot at red. You shoot at the enemy. You try to identify the enemy and the enemy right now, the overwhelming majority of people coming in, are people of colour or people of Hispanic origin."

FBI statistics show that 1,211 people were arrested on charges of drug sales or manufacturing in Maine in 2014. Of those, 170 - 14.1% - were black, and almost all the rest were white.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Longevity inequality

During the last few years, the issue of pushing the retirement age to 70 gained ground as researchers noted that people are living much longer than they once did. In 1915, a 65-year-old man could expect to live until age 79.7 on average. In 2015, it was 86.1 years. That's 6.4 extra years of drawing Social Security benefits. For women, life expectancy has climbed from 83.7 years in 1915 to 88.7 in 2015.

It’s capitalism’s simple fix. Solve the problem of funding Social Security and Medicare for an aging country by making everyone to work until they are 70.  It is the idea being embraced by many politicians, has a long way to go. But it is being challenged in academic circles as a new form of inequality, dubbed "longevity inequality."

Studies have shown life expectancy varies based on income, race, education and even the state or county where people reside. The General Accountability Office dug into the issue this spring with a report that showed great discrepancies in life expectancy between income groups. Lower-income men approaching retirement live on average 3.6 to 12.7 fewer years than higher-income men, the GAO wrote in its report. And with those shorter life spans, the GAO noted, lower-income people would end up earning far less Social Security than the higher-income people because lower-income groups tend to live shorter than the national average for life expectancy. Dying earlier ends up cutting a low-income person's lifetime benefits by as much as 11 to 14 percent, said the GAO. Based simply on longevity, higher-income workers now get $70,000 more over a lifetime than low-income retirees, the GAO said.

Low-income people also depend more on Social Security than the affluent. Currently, monthly Social Security benefits on average equal about half of what lower-income people were making while working. Workers with relatively high career earnings received monthly checks that equal about 30 percent of what they earned while working. When people retire earlier than the full retirement age, their monthly check is reduced. Despite the reduction, the most common age to retire in 2014 was 62. Full retirement age is now 66. So a person who would have received $1,000 at age 66 would get only $750 at age 62.

Currently the average person in the low-income group who was making $20,000 when working would get $156,000 over a lifetime in Social Security benefits after retiring at age 62 and living to 83, according to the GAO. A person in the high-income group who was making about $80,000 would get about $355,000 over a lifetime after retiring at 62 and living to 83. But in the low-income group, living to 80 would be more likely. And that would mean receiving about $138,000 from Social Security after retiring at 62. The higher-income man would have a life expectancy of 86 and earn $411,000 from Social Security after retiring at 62.

People with college educations in better paid office jobs tend to live longer than those with low incomes. If the professional lives a lot longer than the roofer, after retiring at 70 the person who had the desk job could keep getting monthly Social Security checks for years longer than the roofer. So the argument is that a lot more Social Security will go to the affluent people than to those who met their demise at a much earlier point in life.

Another argument made against a retirement age of 70 is that it's not fair to people in the types of jobs that require brawn. Imagine a 68-year-old climbing on top of a house to replace the roofing. Then compare that person with a 68-year-old tapping a computer keyboard. Many people retire early because they have little choice. They become ill or encounter layoffs or other problems at work. About 36 percent of current retirees retired earlier than they planned, according to research by Employee Benefit Research Institute.  The Center For Retirement Research at Boston College recently ranked the jobs that would be the most likely to require a person to retire prior to full retirement age: rock splitter in a quarry, floor sander, steelworker, commercial diver, truck driver and oil rigger. White collar jobs where people tend to be the most able to continue working include: interior designer, lawyer, or aerospace engineer. Some professional jobs are also physically demanding and can become difficult with age, including surgeons and critical care nurses.


Hungary's Second Fence


Hungary says it is set to build a second “massive barrier" on its southern border and increase the number of “border hunters” in an attempt to keep out any possible fresh surge of refugees, almost a year after it erected a razor-wire fence to curb the influx of asylum seekers. The para-military police presence would also be raised to 47,000 from 44,000.

“Technical planning is under way to erect a massive defense system, with the most modern technical equipment, next to the existing line of defense which was built quickly [last year],” said Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban during an interview on public radio on Friday, adding that the new barrier would be “capable of stopping several hundreds of thousands” of refugees.  “The border cannot be defended with flowers and cuddly toys, the border can be defended with police, soldiers and weapons. ”

Last month, Human Rights Watch censured Hungary for its "cruel and violent treatment" of refugees before forcing them to return to Serbia.

“overtime dogs”

Chinese workers log an average of 2,000-2,200 working hours each year – far higher than their counterparts in the United States (1,790 hours per year), the Netherlands (1,419), Germany (1,371) and even Japan (1,719), according to OECD statistics.

Karoshi, the Japanese term for ‘death caused by overwork’, is now a reality in China, and that labour laws aren’t adequately protecting workers’ rights.

For many tech start-ups in China, their business models are not based on a unique idea, but one derived from somewhere else, either another start-up in China or one in the US. This leaves them only two ways to compete—on cost and speed. “And when you’re competing on low cost and speed, there’s really only one culture to be successful, and that’s a 24-7, 365 (day) culture.”

Edible forests

 Edible forests, otherwise known as food forests, are based on permaculture design and are intended to be self-sufficient by working in harmony with nature. They combine the aesthetics of a public park and the concepts of a community garden in order to create a space that offers food for the public. The main idea behind an edible forest is that all the food produced is free to take.

How can edible forests can sustain themselves? Biodiversity — the variety of life in a particular ecosystem — allows the forest to become self-functioning. Various species of trees, shrubs, ground coverings and vines all work together to maintain healthy soil, natural irrigation flows, sun exposure and pest control. This method also limits the use of pesticides, herbicides and intensive-labor techniques that are found in industrial agriculture.

Edible food forests are beneficial in urban areas where there is limited vegetation, and they can also help limit the “heat island effect” — a phenomenon that occurs when a city or metropolitan area is significantly warmer than its surrounding rural areas due to human activities. Furthermore, edible forests address food access issues by providing greater options in regions where healthy food can be difficult to find or afford.

Michael Bomford of the Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems program of Kwantlen Polytechnic University, located in British Columbia, noted that 16 percent of energy used by the U.S. goes into feeding people. When we think about the energy used for food production and distribution, we can’t forget to include the operations and management of food processing plants, packaging, transportation, retail (grocery stores) and restaurants. Most, if not all, of these components are eliminated by cultivating food in edible forests and community gardens.

UN condemns UK racism

UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said it was ‘seriously concerned’ about some British politicians’ rhetoric. Some British politicians’ “divisive, anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric” during the EU referendum campaign fuelled a surge in hate crimes immediately following the vote, a United Nations body has said. The report’s authors said they were concerned about “negative portrayal” of ethnic minority communities, immigrants, asylum-seekers and refugees in British media. 

The UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said it was “seriously concerned” that British politicians whipped up hatred and then “failed to condemn” racist abuse during the campaign. Immediately following the referendum hate crimes surged by 42 per cent in England and Wales. Many areas that voted strongly for Leave also posted even higher results.

"The committee remains concerned that despite the recent increase in the reporting of hate crimes, the problem of underreporting persists, and the gap between reported cases and successful prosecution remains significant,” the report also added. “As a result, a large number of racist hate crimes seem to go unpunished.”

‘Poor are born to serve the rich’

Pakistan parliamentarian, Senator Taj Haider of the PPP started a conversation about how the country has become the property of the ruling elite, and that all decisions were made in the interests of the rich.

 “We have sent hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis abroad to work as labour and send foreign exchange; apparently in the national interest and claimed that soon it will be proved that offshore companies were also made in the national interest. The poor of this country will never get to decide their own fates,” Senator Haider said.

To this, Senator Sardar Mohammad Yaqoob Khan Nasar of the PML-N, remarked that if everyone were to become wealthy, there will be no one to grow wheat or to work as labour. “This is a system created by God, and He has made some people rich and others poor and we should not interfere in this system,” he said.

Senator Haider replied that socio-economic classes were man-made phenomena with which God had nothing to do with.

Senator Mohammad Usman Khan Kakar said that God created all people equal and that the poor were not meant to serve the rich.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Nature not preserved

According to the latest official assessment from the government, birds and butterflies on farmland have continued their long term downward trend and 75% of over 200 “priority” species across the country – including hedgehogs, dormice and moths – are falling in number. Farmland birds fell to the second lowest level ever recorded in 2014, the most recent year for which data was available, 56% lower than in 1970. Farmland butterflies reached their lowest point in 2012 and small increases in the next two years did not significantly alter the overall downward trend. Wintering water birds have also declined in the last five years.

The Natural Environment Indicators for England also showed that water quality has fallen in the last five years, with just one in five rivers and lakes having high or good status, and the amount of time given by conservation volunteers has also fallen.

“This report paints a pretty grim picture of how our wildlife is faring in the countryside,” said Sandra Bell, at Friends of the Earth. “Added to recent new evidence that wild bees have been harmed by neonicotinoid pesticides, it’s clear that if we want to enjoy a thriving natural environment big changes are needed to our farming system.” 

Christine Reid, at the Woodland Trust, said: “It’s hard to be positive about the state of our wildlife when reading these figures…”

People often say that the reason that the world’s eco-systems are is in its current dire state is because there are too many people or because of the inevitable effects of industrialisation and modern technology. It is not the case that most modern industrial technologies are inherently destructive. And there exists no over-population crisis. The problem is in the way society - and particularly manufacturing and commerce - is run. The burning of fossil fuels like oil, coal, and gas, releasing carbon dioxide (CO2) resulting in global warming is, indeed, catapulting the planet towards disaster. However, it doesn’t have to be so. Environmental destruction is destroying large parts of the planet, threatening the existence of all species, including our own. However, this is not the result of bad choices made by individuals, but of how society is organised. Businesses maximise profits when they do not have to worry about the environment, while governments encourage investment when they do not try to impose strict regulations. As a result, it is up to the working class to defend the environment as we are the only people with an immediate interest in defending it.

At the Paris climate summit in December 2015, the agreement set out a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C. It has now become clear that on present trends, there is very little chance of it being achieved. Indeed, figures for February-March 2016 showed an increase of 1.38⁰C, already very near to the long-term target, even as all the indications suggest there will be major additional rises in the next few years. In any case, many climate scientists and energy analysts argue that the current targets for reducing emissions are far too low. This is because carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has a slow rate of circulation, meaning that – even if the rate of emissions is brought under control – there is a considerable 'lag' phase before concentrations are reduced.

According to Benjamin M Sanderson of the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR):
"If the world puts all its resources into finding ways to generate power without burning fossil fuels, and if there were international agreements that action must happen instantly, and if carbon emissions were brought down to zero before 2050, then a rise of no more than 1.5C might just be achieved."

Other climate experts argue that all coal-fired power-stations worldwide should be closed down by the early 2020s and all use of the internal combustion engine – in cars, trucks, buses and the rest – must end by 2030.

This all mandates an almost unbelievable rate of transition, yet such is the growing impact of climate disruption that it is becoming uncomfortably necessary. Heat-waves of more than 50⁰C in Iraq and India in recent weeks are yet further indications that climate disruption is a present-day reality, not something for the future that the world can respond to at leisure. It should be noted that for years we have had the technology to make buildings far more energy efficient which means less energy needs to be generated but implementation has been slow. Political and financial barriers remain major obstacles to addressing climate change. The technology to save civilization has existed for a while now, but it’s become increasingly clear over the last several decades that we had almost no chance of holding to any survivable temperature anyway, because of the psychopathy of the wealthy corporations.

Seriously tackling climate change  cannot happen, or not at least until climate-related disasters become so extreme that even the most recalcitrant of governments accepts the need for change. The implication is that only huge catastrophes with enormous loss of life in the millions will have the necessary impact. We need to make radical and fundamental changes immediately to our economic system to have any hope of surviving. What we need to talk about, is not more superficial improvements in our already available technologies but upending and completely abolishing capitalism.

It isn’t enough to place a price on emissions with a carbon tax and charge it to consumers. Like sales taxes and all other standalone consumption taxes, a carbon tax is, by nature, regressive. This means that people further down the economic ladder will have more difficulty paying them than their wealthier counterparts. Low-income households in the US spend, on average, 7.2 percent of their income on electricity and fuel — far more than higher income families, which pay about 2.3 percent. Simply put, any tax that increases the price of fossil fuels would hit lower-income families harder than their affluent counterparts because a bigger portion of their income would be subject to it. It is also clear that the environmental crisis affects everybody, and threatens the survival of the human race as a whole. However, even though the environmental crisis is a global threat, working class people are those most severely affected by it. We are the ones that have to do the dangerous jobs that cause environmental degradation and live in areas damaged by pollution, while those with money can afford to move elsewhere.

The goal is to change the way we produce, live, and work to reduce and limit the use of fossil fuels. A successful approach to climate change would be one in which people understand the true costs of dirty energy, and actively demand an economic system that rejects the use in favour of a cleaner future. Living in an eco-friendly way does not necessarily mean that we have to accept a lower standard of living. The real blame for the environmental crisis isn't because ordinary people leave too many lights on or use the wrong type of soap. It is the wasteful system of production for profit that is unsustainable. The real blame for the environmental crisis must be laid at the door of capitalism, governments, and the society that these forces have created. Capitalism is an enormously wasteful system of production, geared towards market competition and profit. For companies to survive this competition, they profits must be maximised. And to maximise profits, costs must be kept low. So just as paying workers is a cost that needs to be minimised, so is the cost of protecting the environment and disposing of waste safely. It is more profitable to shift these costs onto society in the form of pollution.

In a capitalist society, the success or failure of a state depends on the success of capitalism within it. Therefore promoting profit and growth of the economy is the key task of any state in capitalist society. Nations will not willingly enforce strong environmental protection laws against companies because it does not want to cut into their profits (and its own tax revenue). In addition, it is often feared that strong environmental laws will make countries 'unattractive for investment'. While in the long-term a global environmental crisis would affect everyone, not everyone shares an immediate interest in fighting it: the bosses and the state profit from the processes that harm the environment. Only the working class have a direct interest right now in defending the environment. As capitalism is an inherently destructive system, the only real way to stop the environmental crisis is to create a new society based on human need rather than profit. We will have to use our collective strength to build a new world, not based on the relentless drive for profit but on fulfilling human needs; including that of a clean and healthy environment.

The essential arguments of socialists can be easily summarised: if capitalism has a built-in ‘growth imperative’, and limitless growth is environmentally unsupportable, then capitalism is incompatible with sustainability. Therefore, if sustainability is to be taken seriously by all environmentalist, capitalism must be replaced with a post-growth or steady-state form of eco-socialism that operates within planetary limits. In the most developed regions of the world, this environmental equilibrium must be preceded by a phase of planned economic contraction, or ‘degrowth’. Obviously, degrowth by definition is incompatible with the growth imperative of capitalism, so here we have the Marxist claim confirmed: capitalism cannot be reformed; it has to be replaced.