The true measure of power is how much you can get away with, which makes the gangsters running the U.S. effectively all-powerful.
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The Decider annoyed a lot of people with his dog-whistle claim that Iraq's current descent into chaos will in the fullness of time look like a historical "comma". I've concluded he's right: human atrocities at nearly any level of badness look exceedingly trivial in comparison to the end of fish -- apparently on schedule to occur some time in my seventies. The benign and familiar, relaxing and graceful, beautiful and tasty fish, metaphor for revolutionary organizing, occupant of our planet for half a billion years, incubator of the bone, is -- if present trends continue -- on the way out, as a result of a mere 100 years of superexploitation, or so sez a team of fancy scientists. (I got the impression their focus was merely on fishing, and didn't account for, e.g., the acidification of the seas due to increases in atmospheric CO2, which imperils shellfish and their plankton; so my armchair estimate is that the collapse could occur even faster. But what do I know.)
Half a billion years is about 10% of the age of the earth -- hard to miss on a really big historical scale; by comparison humans have been around for what, .01% of the age of the earth, and the industrial assault on fish doesn't show up until the seventh decimal place.
The good news: protecting fisheries can bring their populations back, and at present "only" about 30% of species are in a "state of collapse" (at 10% or less of natural populations). One hopes that around Jan 2009 there will be a US govt with priorities that are not utterly insane, and thinking people of the world will start to organize to prevent this calamity.
The enormous increase in agricultural productivity since WWII may have run its course---but increase in population hasn't, and we're beginning to see the very frightening consequences:
Food supplies are shrinking alarmingly around the globe, plunging the world into its greatest crisis for more than 30 years. New figures show that this year's harvest will fail to produce enough to feed everyone on Earth, for the sixth time in the past seven years. Humanity has so far managed by eating its way through stockpiles built up in better times - but these have now fallen below the danger level.
Food prices have already started to rise as a result, and threaten to soar out of reach of many of the 4.2 billion people who live in the world's most vulnerable countries. And the new "green" drive to get cars to run on biofuels threatens to make food even scarcer and more expensive.
The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), which produce the world's two main forecasts of the global crop production, both estimate that this year's grain harvest will fall for the second successive year.
[. . .]
The world's food stocks have shrunk from enough to feed the world for 116 days in 1999 to a predicted 57 days at the end of this season, well below the official safety level. Prices have already risen by up to 20 per cent this year.
[. . .]
Between 1950 and 1990 grain yields more than doubled, but they have grown much more slowly since. Production rose from around 630 million tons to 1.78 billion tons, but has only edged up in the past 15 years, to around 2 billion tons.
"The near-tripling of the harvest by the world's farmers was a remarkable performance," says Brown. "In a single generation they increased grain production by twice as much as had been achieved during the preceding 11,000 years, since agriculture began. But now the world has suffered a dramatic loss of momentum."
Apart from increasing yields, there has always been one other way of boosting production - putting more land under the plough. But this, too, has been running into the buffers. As population grows and farmland is used for building roads and cities - and becomes exhausted by overuse - the amount available for each person on Earth has fallen by more than half.
There are more than five people on Earth today for every two living in the middle of the last century. Yet enough is produced worldwide to feed everyone well, if it is evenly distributed.
It is not just that people in rich countries eat too much, and those in poor ones eat too little. Enormous quantities of the world's increasingly scarce grain now goes to feed cows - and, indirectly, cars.
The cows are longstanding targets of Brown's, who founded the prestigious Worldwatch Institute immediately after the 1974 conference, partly to draw attention to the precariousness of food supplies. As people become better-off, they eat more meat, the animals that are slaughtered often being fed on grain. It takes 14kg of grain to produce 2kg of beef, and 8kg of grain for 2kg of pork. More than a third of the world's harvest goes to fatten animals in this way.
Cars are a new concern, the worry arising from the present drive to produce green fuels to fight global warming. A "corn rush" has erupted in the United States, using the crop to produce the biofuel, ethanol - strongly supported by subsidies from the Bush administration to divert criticism of its failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.
Just a single fill of ethanol for a four-wheel drive SUV, says Brown, uses enough grain to feed one person for an entire year. This year the amount of US corn going to make the fuel will equal what it sells abroad; traditionally its exports have helped feed 100 - mostly poor - countries.
From next year, the amount used to run American cars will exceed exports, and soon it is likely to reduce what is available to help feed poor people overseas. The number of ethanol plants built or planned in the corn-belt state of Iowa will use virtually all the state's crop.
This will not only cut food supplies, but drive up the process of grain, making hungry people compete with the owners of gas-guzzlers. Already spending 70 per cent of their meagre incomes on food, they simply cannot afford to do so.
Brown expects the food crisis to get much worse as more and more land becomes exhausted, soil erodes, water becomes scarcer, and global warming cuts harvests.
You've heard about peak oil, of course, but this document makes a plausible case that a similar phenomenon is manifesting for other mineral resources.
A bit more about the monument, from the Sierra Club:
The Sequoia Task Force of the Sierra Club is protesting the Forest Service's decision to allow commercial logging to go forward in a logging project that is TODAY bulldozing huge swathes and removing ancient trees, many several centuries old, on ridgetops adjacent to five giant sequoia groves in the Giant Sequoia National Monument. This timber sale is called the Saddle Fuels Reduction Project and is all about removing big trees, not about fire control. This project will take more than 5 Million Board Feet of big timber! We have asked for an immediate halt to this project!
As Harper's reported over the Summer, the crowns of the trees in these ancient groves contain totally idiosyncratic ecosystems -- trees growing out of huge clots of soil blown up and trapped, odd sorts of small mammals and amphibians never found at ground level -- most aspects of which are completely unknown to science. Logging destroys these ecosystems. The crowns of any plantation forests which will replace old growth trees will be completely sterile, a "redwood desert", as these ecosystems take centuries to develop. Such barbarism!
Militarism, shortsightedness, secrecy, callous indifference toward the environment, wanton destruction of ocean life . . . all wrapped up in an odious, puss-filled blister-causing, crusted gel containing corroding artillery shell!
The story goes on and on, it's pretty depressing.
A clam dredging operation off the coast of Atlantic City, N.J., in 2004 pulled up an old artillery shell.
The long-submerged, World War I-era explosive was filled with a black, tar-like substance.
Bomb disposal technicians from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware were brought in to dismantle it. Three of them were injured, one hospitalized with large, pus-filled blisters on his arm and hand.
The shell was filled with mustard gas in solid form.
What was long-feared by the few military officials in the know had come to pass: Chemical weapons that the Army dumped at sea decades ago had finally ended up on shore in the United States.
While it has long been known that some chemical weapons went into the ocean, records obtained by the Daily Press of Newport News, Va., show that the previously classified weapons-dumping program was far more extensive than has ever been suspected.
The Army now admits in reports never before released that it secretly dumped 64 million pounds of nerve and mustard gas agent into the sea, along with 400,000 chemical-filled bombs, land mines and rockets and more than 500 tons of radioactive waste either tossed overboard or packed into the holds of scuttled vessels.
A Daily Press investigation also found:
These weapons of mass destruction virtually ring the country, concealed off the coasts of at least 11 states: six on the East Coast, including New Jersey and Maryland, two on the Gulf Coast, and in California, Hawaii and Alaska. Few, if any, state officials have been informed of their existence.
The chemical agents could pose a hazard for generations. The Army has examined only a few of its 26 dump zones, and none in 30 years.
The Army can't say exactly where all the weapons were dumped from World War II to 1970. Army records are sketchy, missing or were destroyed.
More dump sites probably exist. The Army hasn't reviewed records from the World War I era, when ocean dumping of chemical weapons was common.
"We do not claim to know where they all are," said William Brankowitz, a deputy project manager in the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency and a leading authority on the Army's chemical weapons dumping. "We don't want to be cavalier at all and say this stuff was exposed to water and is OK. It can last for a very, very long time."
A drop of nerve agent can kill within a minute. When released in the ocean it lasts up to six weeks, killing every organism it touches before breaking down into its nonlethal chemical components.
Mustard gas can be fatal. When exposed to seawater it forms a concentrated, encrusted gel that lasts for at least five years, rolling around on the ocean floor, killing or contaminating sea life.
Sea-dumped chemical weapons may be slowly leaking from decades of saltwater corrosion, resulting in a time-delayed release of deadly chemicals over the next 100 years and an unforeseeable environmental impact. Steel corrodes at different rates depending on the water depth, ocean temperature and thickness of the shells.
That was the conclusion of Norwegian scientists who in 2002 examined chemical weapons dumped off Norway's coast after World War II by the U.S. and British military.
Overseas, more than 200 fishermen over the years have been burned by mustard gas pulled on deck. A fisherman in Hawaii was burned in 1976 when he brought up an Army-dumped mortar round full of mustard gas.
Although it seems unlikely the weapons will begin to wash up on shore, last year's discovery that a mustard gas-filled artillery shell was dumped off the coast of New Jersey was ominous for several reasons.
It was the first ocean-dumped chemical weapon to make its way to shore in the United States.
It was pulled up with clams in relatively shallow water only 20 miles off the coast of Atlantic City. The Army had no idea chemical weapons were dumped in the area.
Most alarming: It was found intact in a residential driveway in Delaware.
It had survived being dredged up and put through a crusher to create cheap clamshell driveway fill sold throughout the Delmarva Peninsula in Delaware and Maryland.
Decades of Dumping
The United States never used chemical weapons in war but amassed a huge stockpile to be unleashed if enemy forces used them first. Their existence was a known, ultimately successful, deterrent.
The Army's secret ocean-dumping program spanned at least three decades, from 1944 to 1970.
The dumped weapons were deemed to be unneeded surplus. They were hazardous to transport, expensive to store, too dangerous to bury and difficult to destroy.
In the early 1970s, the Army publicly admitted it had dumped some chemical weapons off the U.S. coast. Congress banned the practice in 1972. Three years later, the United States signed an international treaty prohibiting ocean disposal of chemical weapons.
Only now have Army reports come to light that show how much was dumped, what kind of chemical weapons they were, when they were thrown overboard, and rough nautical coordinates of where some are located.
Extreme weather events -- including heat waves, floods and drought -- are likely to become more common over the next century in the United States because of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new study by Purdue University researchers.
The analysis, which is being published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, examines how heat-trapping gases linked to climate change may intensify precipitation, drought and other weather conditions. Instances of extreme heat will probably increase throughout the country, the scientists concluded, and many areas will experience heavier downpours even if rain becomes less frequent.
"I would be thrilled to be wrong," said Noah S. Diffenbaugh, a climate scientist at the Purdue Climate Change Research Center and the university's department of earth and atmospheric sciences. "It's definitely going to be more extreme hot temperatures."
The four-person research team, which included two scientists from the Earth Systems Physics Group at the Abdus Salam International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy, compared U.S. weather patterns from 1961 to 1985 with models of future weather patterns from 2071 to 2095.
Under this scenario, which assumes the amount of carbon dioxide in the air will roughly double over the next 100 years, the coldest days of the year in the Northeast will be as much as 18 degrees Fahrenheit warmer, and the temperatures currently experienced on the 18 hottest days of the year in the Washington area will prevail for two months.
The Southwest will become drier and hotter, the paper predicts, while the Gulf Coast will become warmer and experience less frequent, but more intense, rains.
and come back as a leaf:
Sweden's new funeral rite - bodies freeze-dried, powdered and made into tree mulch. A town in Sweden plans to become the first place in the world where corpses will be disposed of by freeze-drying, as an environmentally friendly alternative to cremation or burial. Jonkoping, in southern Sweden, is to turn its crematorium into a so-called promatorium next year.
Swedes will then have the chance to bury their dead according to the pioneering method, which involves freezing the body, dipping it in liquid nitrogen and gently vibrating it to shatter it into powder. This is put into a small box made of potato or corn starch and placed in a shallow grave, where it will disintegrate within six to 12 months. People are to be encouraged to plant a tree on the grave. It would feed off the compost formed from the body, to emphasise the organic cycle of life.
The technique was conceived by a Swedish biologist, Susanne Wiigh-Masak, 49, who said: "Mulching was nature's original plan for us, and that's what used to happen to us at the start of humanity - we went back into the soil.
"But we need to tell people in this day and age that this can once again be a dignified and comfortable option." According to Mrs Wiigh-Masak's method, which she has called "promession" - the promise to return to the earth what emerged from the earth - the dead body is frozen and dried, using liquid nitrogen.
A mechanical vibration then causes the body to fall apart within 60 seconds before a vacuum removes the water.
Then a metal separator picks out metals such as artificial hips and dental fillings.
Jonkoping's motivation for converting its crematorium into a promatorium is mainly practical. According to European environmental laws, it faced a multi-million pound bill for the installation at its 50-year-old crematorium of a new gas-cleaning system and furnace.
The alternative was the much cheaper conversion and a more environmentally friendly procedure.