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Archive for December, 2012

Scramble for the Arctic to Dominate Environmental Agenda

Scramble for the Arctic to Dominate Environmental Agenda

20.12.2012 | Issue 5040

2012 saw the climate-change-fueled dash for the Arctic’s riches dominate the environmental agenda.

The debate over the high north, the annual nightmare of forest fires and continuing battles between activists and developers over roads, mines and the Sochi Olympics are only likely to intensify next year.

Greenpeace activists stormed Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya oil rig in the Pechora Sea in the first of what will likely be many confrontations over the development of oil and gas on the Arctic shelf.

In less remote locales, the long battle over the Khimki forest dragged into a sixth year, with activists persuading the European Parliament to hold hearings on Vinci’s involvement and President Vladimir Putin revealing at his end-of-the-year news conference that the French construction company at one point had threatened to quit the project altogether.

New fights broke out across the country over construction projects. Plans to mine nickel deposits in the Voronezh region brought together an unlikely alliance of environmentalists, local residents and Cossacks.

Meanwhile, a vocal campaign by environmentalists and ecotourism entrepreneurs forced the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry to call an emergency summit over a road across a planned national park in the Khibiny Mountains in the Murmansk region.

Campaigners continued to face harassment. Suren Gazaryan, of the North Caucasus Environmental Watch, will  battle charges of threatening to kill a security guard at the gargantuan neoclassical construction on the Black Sea

coast that whistle-blower Sergei Kolesnikov called “Putin’s palace.”

Meanwhile, several anti-nickel campaigners in Voronezh have faced charges under draconian new laws regulating public protests.

Putin himself flew a bit too close to the sun in a stunt helping endangered cranes to migrate. The birds got lost, and the president was rumored to have hurt his back.

We cannot predict which animal Putin will endorse next year, though it is probably a safe bet it won’t be the Russian desman, the strange half-shrew, half-mole aquatic mammal  the anti-nickel campaigners made their mascot.

Nor can we forecast the weather, industrial accidents or natural disasters that could spell environmental catastrophe in the coming year. But below is our best forecast for environmental issues in the coming year.

Read more:
The Moscow Times


Solving Global Climate Change: Complete Transformation of the World

Tuesday, 18 December 2012 14:30

UN Climateers and the “Complete Transformation of the World”

Written by 

“It must be understood that what is occurring here, not just in Doha, but in the whole climate change process is a complete transformation of the economic structure of the world. That does not happen overnight. It should happen much quicker than it is happening, but it cannot happen overnight.”

Thus spoke climate chief Christiana Figueres, at the recent United Nations Climate Summit in Doha, Qatar, the two-week-long extravaganza that concluded in a marathon overtime session on December 8. Figueres, who bears the ostentatious title of executive secretary of UNFCCC/COP18/CMP8, uttered the admission quoted above during a December 3 press conference preceding the kick-off of the high-level session of the climate confab. For those who have been paying attention to UN activities, policies, programs, and pronouncements in general, and those related to UN climate-change blatherings in particular, the Figueres admission is shocking only insofar that it is so seldom we are treated to such candid confessions by those who mean to rule us and who mean to re-engineer the lives of everyone on the planet.

Executive Secretary Figueres expanded on this planned “transformation” in an earlier, November 21 interview with the Guardian, Britain’s most influential left-wing daily. While noting that sometimes her job is “thankless,” it is, nevertheless, inspiring, since she gets to help “guide” the “centralized transformation” of humanity and the planet. Her words:

It is the most inspiring job in the world because what we are doing here is we are inspiring government, private sector, and civil society to [make] the biggest transformation that they have ever undertaken. The Industrial Revolution was also a transformation, but it wasn’t a guided transformation from a centralized policy perspective. This is a centralized transformation that is taking place because governments have decided that they need to listen to science. So it’s a very, very different transformation and one that is going to make the life of everyone on the planet very different.

The “centralized transformation” Figueres so earnestly advocates would indeed “make the life of everyone on the planet very different” — and in ways that a sizable portion of the folks on this planet would vigorously object to, it is probably safe to say. Her transformative vision would also take central planning far beyond the realms already practiced during the most totalitarian epochs of Communist dictators Mao Tse-tung and Josef Stalin. Mao and Stalin, in their wildest dreams, could not have imagined a global regime for measuring CO2 and regulating every breath, every cooking fire, every watt of electricity, virtually every activity of every person on Earth. We risk belaboring those obvious points because not a single reporter or commentator in the so-called mainstream media, as far as we can tell, has seen fit to remark on, let alone express alarm over, this stupendous grab for global, despotic power.

Tsk, tsk, say the doubters; no need to get riled over the hyperbolic bloviations of UN bureaucrats at international forums. That’s what they do; it’s part of their job description — nothing to get seriously stressed over. So, relax; don’t worry, be happy.

We can indeed take some satisfaction in knowing that, despite the frantic end-of-the-world fulminations at Doha about global warming, the final takeaway from the summit fell far short of the organizers’ goals.

The world didn’t buy their “solutions,” even after being inundated in hysterical propaganda attempting to link Tropical Storm Sandy and other “extreme weather” with man-made global warming. Even President Obama realized he didn’t have support to press for any of the grandiose global climate schemes.

But that doesn’t mean we’re safe. Over the next 12 months, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will begin issuing its 5th Assessment Report, and the media fright peddling will run nonstop. And President Obama has let it be known that he is taking a different track to enact the UN climate agenda.

Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) is the one-man Truth Squad in the Senate who has done the most to expose the global-warming sham. In a video message delivered to the Doha summit on December 6, Sen. Inhofe noted: “While he has been racking up huge deficits and talking up tax increases, the President has already sent billions of American taxpayer dollars to the United Nations — and he’s managed to do it quietly so that no one will notice.”

“How many billions have already been handed over in the last three years?” Sen. Inhofe asked. “It’s hard to tell,” he answered. “There appears to be little in the way of transparency.” In addition, Sen. Inhofe has pointed out that the Obama administration is simply disregarding the Constitution and proceeding to implement the UNFCCC agenda through executive orders, the regulatory mandates of the EPA, and the many other programs of the Fedgov leviathan.

The fight must be taken to Congress, where irate taxpayers must convince House members to tie the purse strings and cut all funding to the UN, and to the Fedgov agencies that are feeding the UN beast.

At the Edge of the Carbon Cliff

At the Edge of the Carbon Cliff

Making the shift to a future climate with less than two degrees C of warming means 65 percent of existing coal power plants will have to be shut down in the next decade or two. Credit: Rennett Stowe/cc by 2.0Making the shift to a future climate with less than two degrees C of warming means 65 percent of existing coal power plants will have to be shut down in the next decade or two. Credit: Rennett Stowe/cc by 2.0

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Dec 17 2012 (IPS) – The most important number in history is now the annual measure of carbon emissions. That number reveals humanity’s steady billion-tonne by billion-tonne march to the edge of the carbon cliff, beyond which scientists warn lies a fateful fall to catastrophic climate change.

With the global total of climate-disrupting emissions likely to come in at around 52 gigatonnes (billion metric tonnes) this year, we’re already at the edge, according to new research.

To have a good chance of staying below two degrees C of warming, global emissions should be between 41 and 47 gigatonnes (Gt) by 2020, said Joeri Rogelj, a climate scientist at Switzerland’s Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich.

“Only when we see the annual global emissions total decline will we know we’re making the shift to climate protection,” Rogelj told IPS.

Making the shift to a future climate with less than two degrees C of warming is doable and not that expensive if total emissions peak in the next few years and fall into the 41-47 Gt “sweet spot” by 2020, Rogelj and colleagues show in their detailed analysis published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The study is the first to comprehensively quantify the costs and risks of emissions surpassing critical thresholds by 2020.

This shift means 65 percent of existing coal power plants will have to be shut down in the next decade or two.

“There are enormous benefits if global emissions decline before 2020. Failure to do so will mean we will need to use more nuclear, massive amounts of bioenergy, large-scale carbon capture and storage,” he said.

The costs and social implications from deploying all this will be “huge”, he said.

“Delay is by far the riskier option,” Rogelj said, noting that failure to act now means those additional risks, costs and social disruption will land on the heads of the next generation.

“We’re deciding that the next generation will have to pay significantly higher costs because we’re not doing anything now.”

These climate-disrupting emissions are primarily carbon dioxide (CO2) from burning fossil fuels and deforestation. The global total also includes other greenhouse gases that are warming the planet such as methane, nitrous oxide, and a few other chemicals.

In 1990, global emissions were 38.2 Gt, and in recent years, they have been growing at a rate of three percent per year. This growth is despite commitments by industrialised countries to reduce their emissions.

In 2009, all industrialised countries, including the United States, made emission reduction pledges under the Copenhagen Accord. However, even if countries reach their Copenhagen targets, global emissions will be about 55 Gt in 2020, the study estimates.

Staying below two degrees C is still feasible, but it will be far more expensive and difficult, imposing an additional cost burden amounting to trillions of dollars over 2020 to 2050.

Earlier this month, during the annual U.N. climate conference in Doha, governments declined to increase their emission cut targets. Citing economic difficulties, countries like the U.S. and those in the European Union looked to a new global climate treaty that would not make additional emission reductions until 2020.

Despite the urgent need to reduce emissions, the fossil fuel industry received a record 523 billion dollars in public subsidies in 2011, 30 percent more than the previous year, according to the International Energy Agency.

“Lots of actions at the local and national level are needed to bring emissions down over the next few years,” said energy researcher David McCollum of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), in Laxenburg, Austria.

Waiting until 2020 before emissions decline means millions of hectares of land will be needed to produce biofuel, billions of dollars invested in new nuclear power plants, and new technologies like carbon capture and storage must not only work but be effective on a large scale, McCollum told IPS.

“At 44Gt (in 2020) we can choose the most cost-effective reduction options. Above 55Gt, we need everything and they’d all better work,” he said.

The authors of the study acknowledge these numbers might be too optimistic because current climate models cannot incorporate emissions from melting permafrost and other natural sources of greenhouse gases that might result from increasing temperatures.

Staying below two degrees is not a matter of science or technology. It will be determined by political and social decisions to take the necessary steps to shift to low-carbon living, said McCollum.

And, in that regard, the choices made before 2020 are critical, both he and Rogelj conclude.

Global Surveillance State: Ecuador Implements “World’s First” Countrywide Facial- and Voice-Recognition System


The United States is often considered a world leader when it comes to deploying the latest biometric security and surveillance technologies. But it could have an unlikely new competitor: Ecuador.

According to Russian company the Speech Technology Center, the small Latin American country has successfully completed installation of “the world’s first biometric identification platform, at a nation-wide level, that combines voice and face identification capabilities.”

As I reported back in September, Speech Technology Center operates under the name SpeechPro in the United States. The company’s controversial technology enables authorities to build a massive database containing several million “voiceprints” of known criminals, suspects, or persons of interest. When authorities want to ID speakers on an intercepted call, the recording is entered into the database, which provides a match with what SpeechPro claims is about 97 percent accuracy. The system that the firm says it has provided to Ecuador also allows authorities to accumulate a large image database of suspects, with a facial recognition tool that supplements the so-called “VoiceGrid.” While facial recognition technology in the past has lacked accuracy, SpeechPro says it has invented algorithms which “deliver reliable results even when facial characteristics have undergone physical changes.”

A decade ago, implementing a sophisticated countrywide speech and face recognition system would have been a far-fetched prospect for all but a few of the world’s richest nations. But Ecuador’s embrace of the technology shows how the times have changed. According to Speech Technology Center’s CEO, Mikhail Khitrov, “we’re seeing a growing demand for these kinds of tailored voice and multi-modal biometric solutions—not just in Latin America, but in the global marketplace.” (Earlier this year the company’s U.S.-based president Alexey Khitrov told me that its biometric technology is used in more than 70 countries and that the Americas, Europe, and Asia are its key markets.)

In the hands of a crooked government, sophisticated speech and face recognition tools would prove useful for tracking down political dissidents and building biometric databases on activists or probing investigative journalists. SpeechPro says, for that reason, it only works with “trusted law enforcement agencies.” However, the company has beenaccused of selling to brutal authoritarian security agencies in countries like Kazakhstan, Belarus, Thailand, and Uzbekistan. And it’s likely human rights groups will be anxious to hear that Ecuador has now been added to the list, given that the country’s authorities have a less than sparkling record when it comes to corruption, accountability, and abuse of powers.

Ecuador has made international headlines frequently this year, but not for its procurement of advanced surveillance and security tech. The country has found itself at the center of a continuing diplomatic stand-off with Britain after granting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange asylum in its London embassy. Somewhat ironically, Assange recently co-authored a book, Cypherpunks, arguing that mass surveillance is spiralling out of control largely due to the technology becoming more affordable for poorer nations. In implementing a countrywide face and voice recognition system, Ecuador is providing more evidence that adds weight to Assange’s thesis.

Habitable Planet Detected Around Nearby Star

Potentially Habitable Planet Detected Around Nearby Star

By Mike Wall | – Wed, Dec 19, 2012


  • Artist's impression of five possible planets orbiting the star Tau Ceti, which is just 11.9 light-years from Earth.

    Artist’s impression of five possible …

  • Astronomers searching the skies for distant planets have detected two Saturn-sized worlds orbiting distant suns, the smallest planets found thus far outside our solar system. The discovery boosted the likelihood that even smaller planets - perhaps the size of Earth - exist elsewhere in the universe, Professor Steve Vogt of the University of California-Santa Cruz said. This artists concept shows a view of the discovered planet orbiting 79 Ceti. Reuters
    Astronomers searching the skies for distant planets have detected two Saturn-sized …

A sun-like star in our solar system’s backyard may host five planets, including one perhaps capable of supporting life as we know it, a new study reports.

Astronomers have detected five possible alien planets circling the star Tau Ceti, which is less than 12 light-years from Earth — a mere stone’s throw in the cosmic scheme of things. One of the newfound worlds appears to orbit in Tau Ceti’s habitable zone, a range of distances from a star where liquid water can exist on a planet’s surface.

With a minimum mass just 4.3 times that of Earth, this potential planet would be the smallest yet found in the habitable zone of a sun-like star if it’s confirmed, researchers said.

“This discovery is in keeping with our emerging view that virtually every star has planets, and that the galaxy must have many such potentially habitable Earth-sized planets,” study co-author Steve Vogt, of the University of California, Santa Cruz, said in a statement. “They are everywhere, even right next door.” [Gallery: 7 Potentially Habitable Exoplanets]

The five planet candidates are all relatively small, with minimum masses ranging from 2 to 6.6 times that of Earth. The possibly habitable world, which completes one lap around Tau Ceti every 168 days, is unlikely to be a rocky planet like Earth, researchers said.

“It is impossible to tell the composition, but I do not consider this particular planet to be very likely to have a rocky surface,” lead author Mikko Tuomi, of the University of Hertfordshire in England, told via email. “It might be a ‘water world,’ but at the moment it’s anybody’s guess.”


Spotting signals in the noise

Tau Ceti is slightly smaller and less luminous than our sun. It lies 11.9 light-years away in the constellation Cetus (the Whale) and is visible with the naked eye in the night sky. Because of its proximity and sun-like nature, Tau Ceti has featured prominently in science fiction over the years.

Astronomers have searched for exoplanets around Tau Ceti before and turned up nothing. But in the new study, researchers were able to pull five possible planetary signals out from under a mountain of noise.

Tuomi and his team re-analyzed 6,000 observations of Tau Ceti made by three different spectrographs, instruments that allow researchers to detect the tiny gravitational wobbles orbiting planets induce in their parent stars.

The three instruments are the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS), on the European Southern Observatory’s 3.6-meter telescope in La Silla, Chile; the University College London Echelle Spectrograph (UCLES) on the Anglo-Australian Telescope in Siding Spring, Australia; and the High Resolution Echelle Spectrometer, or HIRES, on the 10-meter Keck telescope atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

Using new analysis and modeling techniques, the team spotted the five faint signals, successfully separating them from noise caused by stellar activity and other factors.

“We pioneered new data modeling techniques by adding artificial signals to the data and testing our recovery of the signals with a variety of different approaches,” Tuomi said in statement. “This significantly improved our noise modeling techniques and increased our ability to find low-mass planets.”

The new analysis methods should aid the search for small planets, allowing more and more of them to be spotted throughout the galaxy, researchers said. [A Galaxy Full of Alien Planets (Infographic)]


A nearby planetary system?

The five planets remain candidates at this point and will not become official discoveries until they’re confirmed by further analysis or observations. And that’s not a sure thing, researchers said.

“I am very confident that the three shortest periodicities are really there, but I cannot be that sure whether they are of planetary origin or some artifacts of insufficient noise modelling or stellar activity and/or magnetic cycles at this stage,” Tuomi said, referring to the potential planets with orbital periods of 14, 35 and 94 days (compared to 168 days for the habitable zone candidate and 640 days for the most distantly orbiting world).

“The situation is even worse for the possible habitable zone candidate, because the very existence of that signal is uncertain, yet according to our detection criteria the signal is there and we cannot rule out the possibility that it indeed is of planetary origin,” he added. “But we don’t know what else it could be, either.”

If the Tau Ceti planets do indeed exist, their proximity would make them prime targets for future instruments to study, researchers said.

“Tau Ceti is one of our nearest cosmic neighbors and so bright that we may be able to study the atmospheres of these planets in the not-too-distant future,” James Jenkins, of the Universidad de Chile and the University of Hertfordshire, said in a statement. “Planetary systems found around nearby stars close to our sun indicate that these systems are common in our Milky Way galaxy.”

If confirmed, the Tau Ceti planets would not be the closest exoplanets to Earth. That title still goes to Alpha Centauri Bb, a roasting-hot, rocky world recently spotted just 4.3 light-years away, in the closest star system to our own.

The new study has been accepted for publication in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Follow senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwallor @Spacedotcom. We’re also on Facebookand Google+

Boycott Naked Juice

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Tell Naked Juice You’ve Joined the Boycott!

It came as no surprise that a company like PepsiCo donated $2.5 million to defeat Proposition 37, the California Right to Know ballot initiative to label GMOs. But many consumers were surprised to learn that PepsiCo owns some of their favorite organic and “natural” brands, including Naked Juice, Tostitos, Tropicana, Tazo, Loóza, Izze, Sabra, Smartfood, Stacy’s, Mother’s and Near East.

Now it’s payback time. The Organic Consumers Association has called for a Boycott of Naked Juice. We’re also asking consumers to use the form below to send an email to Mike Torres, senior director of communications for PepsiCo, telling him you’re all done buying Naked Juice – or any other Pepsi brand – until PepsiCo and Naked Juice support GMO labeling.

Mr. Torres  provides strategic corporate and marketing communications direction for all Tropicana and Naked brands and specialty beverages. He’s also responsible for overseeing the brands’ social media. So after you send him an email, please visit the Naked Juice Facebook page and tell the company what you think about its betrayal of the consumer’s right to know.

Background: Naked Juice, the Naked Truth

Naked Juice is the subject of a class-action lawsuit for fraudulently promising that its beverage products are “100% juice,” “all natural,” and “non-GMO.”

The lawsuit says that Naked Juice uses soy ingredients that are genetically engineered “by design or by contamination.” (Naked Juice doesn’t use certified organic or verified non-GMO soy.)
It also accuses Naked Juice of  intentionally using misleading language to give consumers “the false impression that the beverage’s vitamin content is due to the nutritious fruits and juices, rather than added synthetic compounds.” According to the lawsuit, Naked Juice contains calcium pantothenate, synthetically produced from formaldehyde; Fibersol-2, a proprietary synthetic digestion-resistant fiber produced by Archer Daniels Midland and developed by a Japanese chemical company; fructooligosaccharides, a synthetic fiber and sweetener; and inulin, an artificial and invisible fiber added to foods to increase fiber content without the typical fiber mouth-feel.

The plaintiffs are asking for compensatory and punitive damages as well as an injunction against Naked Juice stating that its products are 100 percent juice, are all natural and that they contain no genetically modified organisms.

Your Letter: Dear
Mr. Torres,

Like nine out of 10 Americans, I believe genetically engineered foods
should be labeled. I deserve a right to know what I’m eating and feeding
my family.

When I learned that PepsiCo donated $2.5 million to defeat Proposition
37, a California ballot initiative to label GMOs, I immediately joined
the Organic Consumers Association’s boycott of the “Traitor Brands.”

At first, I didn’t think I bought Pepsi products. After all, I don’t
drink beverages made from genetically engineered high-fructose corn
syrup. And I don’t eat genetically engineered corn fried in partially
hydrogenated vegetable oils made from genetically engineered canola, soy
or cottonseed oil.

But then I learned that Pepsi owns some of the natural and organic
brands that I’ve been buying for years, including Tostitos made with
organic corn, Tropicana organic orange juice, Tazo organic tea, Izze,
Near East and Naked Juice.

I’m boycotting all of these brands now, until Pepsi comes out in support
of GMO labels and spends as much as they did to defeat Proposition 37
to win GMO labeling initiatives like Label It WA’s I-522.


Mike Torres

Senior Director of Communications, PepsiCo

TSA Wants to Know if Airport Body Scanners Are Nuking You (As If They Already Don’t Know)

TSA Wants to Know if Airport Body Scanners Are Nuking You


The Transportation Security Administration is deciding to determine, once and for all, whether the so-called “nude” body scanners being deployed at airports nationwide are nuking passengers at unacceptable radiation levels.

The TSA is commissioning the National Academy of Sciences — a private non-profit filled with engineer and science scholars — to set the record straight. The academy’s mission is to review three other body-scanner studies — which have come under fire from the scientific community — and to also study passenger screening and manufacturing procedures “to estimate radiation exposure resulting from backscatter X-ray advanced imaging technology.”

A small community of scientists have raised health alarms over a type of “advanced imaging technology” scanner installed at U.S. airports. Already controversial on privacy grounds, the AIT scanners emit radiation to allow airport screeners to see through a passenger’s clothing to check for concealed explosives and weapons.

The move to satisfy the public and even congressional concerns that the machines are safe comes after millions of passengers have gone through the machines, and a whopping five years after TSA began deploying them.

The development also comes a year after a federal appeals court said the TSA breached federal law in 2009 when it formally adopted the airport scanners as the “primary” method of screening. The judges said the TSA violated the Administrative Procedures Act for failing to have a 90-day public comment period, and ordered the agency to undertake one.

That notice-and-comment period is expected to begin in the coming spring. The academy’s involvement is likely to head off, at least temporarily, allegations that the government has not adequately addressed health concerns.

The TSA is not commissioning further privacy or efficacy studies. Last year, Threat Level published a three-part series on whether the machines were effective, constitutional and safe.

At issue are the so-called backscatter-technology body scanners produced by Rapiscan Systems, which expose travelers to a small X-ray dose. A competing scanner deployed at airports — those deploying millimeter-wave technology produced by L-3 Communications – do not expose travelers to X-rays.

The TSA and Rapiscan say the machines are safe and expose passengers to a minuscule amount of radiation. But in a 2010 letter to the White House, academics argued the government did not adequately study the backscatter X-ray devices. They also noted the failure of the Centers for Disease Control to recognize the risks of blood transfusions at the outset of the AIDS epidemic.

The TSA has ordered about 500 of the Rapiscan devices at about $180,000 each.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which analyzed the Rapiscan 1000 at the company’s Los Angeles office, has published the leading and most often-cited study (.pdf). The 49-page report, released in a redacted form, concludes that the machines leak virtually no radiation to TSA staff and nearby passengers, and expose the traveler being scanned to only a fraction of the maximum exposure level deemed medically safe.

The Food and Drug Administration and the Army Public Health Command came to similar conclusions.

To be sure, the scientific debate has played out in the statistical hinterlands. Many critics of the technology agree that the increased cancer risk to any individual traveler is infinitesimal. But U.S. airports handle 700 million passengers annually — a large enough number that a small uptick in overall cancer risk can scale to a real-life concern.

If the scientist critics are right, it boils down to the cold calculus of whether more lives are saved by the marginal increase in security than are put to risk by the marginal dangers of the technology.


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