Monday, September 30, 2013

Commonwealth Will Keep Environmental Power Over State Projects

Bennett's Wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus rufogr...
Bennett's Wallaby juvenile (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Chris McGrath

The Commonwealth will not delegate to the states decisions under its national environmental laws in which the states have a “conflict of interest”.

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt confirmed this significant commitment in an interview on ABC radio last Thursday.

The Coalition’s pre-election Policy for Resources and Energy promised to deliver a “one-stop-shop” for environmental approvals.

The policy read like a complete handover of all Commonwealth decisions to the states. But the Minister qualified the Coalition’s policy before the election when he was the Coalition’s environment spokesperson.

He said in an interview reported in the Weekend Australian in May 2013 that: “some matters would be reserved where the Commonwealth would be the one-stop-shop but overwhelmingly it would be the states."

In his recent radio interview, the Minister confirmed that the Commonwealth will retain control over decisions involving offshore Commonwealth waters, nuclear actions, and projects for which state governments are “likely to have a significant conflict of interest” as the proponent.

This alleviates the most significant concern about the one-stop-shop policy: where the state is the proponent they’ll have difficulty making an independent assessment.

Tasmanian Dam dispute re-visited

The famous battle to stop the flooding of the Franklin River in southwest Tasmania by the construction of the Gordon-below-Franklin Dam showed the importance of Commonwealth oversight over state projects.

In that dispute the Tasmanian Government’s Hydro-Electric Commission proposed to construct the dam with the vocal support of the state government.

Bob Hawke won the 1983 federal election on the back of a promise to stop the damming of the Franklin River. His government then won the most famous and influential environmental court case in Australian history.

It was a landmark in Australian constitutional law that showed the Commonwealth had enormous powers to enact laws to fulfil Australia’s international obligations.

Two steps forward, one back

In 1999 the Howard Government drew heavily on the powers recognised in the Tasmanian Dam case to enact the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act).

While not a panacea for environmental problems in Australia, the Act was a significant step forward by providing a more comprehensive and structured role for the Commonwealth in protecting the environment.

It provides a power to the Commonwealth to delegate final decisions on projects to state and territory governments but this has been virtually unused since the Act commenced.

At one stage the Gillard Government proposed to delegate final decisions to the states. This was placed on hold in late 2012 due to concerns it would create uncertainty and a patchwork regime across Australia.

The Queensland and Commonwealth environment ministers recently announced their agreement to a memorandum of understanding on delegating federal environmental decisions but few details have been provided.

The announcement did not say whether the Commonwealth would retain power over state projects.

While the claim is made that the “one-stop shop will set high standards, make swift decisions and deliver certain outcomes”, it is more likely to be a messy, backwards step for environmental protection in Australia.

Complications of water trigger

The new water trigger created under the EPBC Act also complicates the one-stop-shop policy. Now-retired MP, Tony Windsor, who championed the trigger, managed to include a legislative prohibition on it being delegated to state governments.

Just how big a complication this creates is evident in Greg Hunt’s recent announcement that 47 coal seam gas and mining projects currently being assessed will need to consider the water trigger.

All in all, the “one-stop-shop” policy looks like creating the patchwork regulatory regime that the Gillard Government ultimately decided not to pursue.

Chris McGrath has acted as a barrister in litigation under the laws discussed in this article. He has provided advice to the Commonwealth on aspects of its implementation. He was interviewed for the ABC radio program discussed in this article.

The Conversation

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Adversaries, Zombies and NIPCC Climate Pseudoscience

Key Note presentation by Vicente Barros , Co-c...
Key Note presentation by Vicente Barros , Co-chair of Working Group II, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (Photo credit: Citt)
by Michael J. I. Brown, Monash University

The warm start to Australian spring has been accompanied by a deluge of pseudoscience.

Anti-vaccination campaigners and aliens made appearances, but the deluge was primarily climate pseudoscience in the Murdoch Press and talk radio.

The deluge included interviews with, and an op-ed by, retired scientist Bob Carter, a lead author of the Non-governmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) reports.

What is the NIPCC? Is it just like the IPCC, but with an “N”?

Well, no. The NIPCC is a group of climate change “sceptics”, bankrolled by the libertarian Heartland Institute to promote doubt about climate change. This suits the Heartland Institute’s backers, including fossil fuel companies and those ideologically opposed to government regulation.

The NIPCC promotes doubt via thousand-page reports, the latest of which landed with a dull thud last week.

These tomes try to mimic the scientific reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), right down to the acronym. However, unlike the IPCC, the NIPCC reports are works of partisan pseudoscience.

Consensus and adversaries

We know that 97% of climate scientists have concluded, based on the evidence, that anthropogenic climate change is real. Contrary to recent claims in the media, there is remarkably good agreement between models of climate change and the temperature data.

There has been 0.12 degrees of warming per decade over the past 50 years, which is very similar to the expected warming of 0.13 degrees per decade.
The comparison between global temperatures (red) and models (grey) is actually very good, contrary to some claims in the media.

How does the NIPCC spread doubt, given the temperature record and consensus of professional scientists? The answer is manufactured partisanship.

The IPCC (no N) produces a comprehensive and critical overview of climate change science for governments. It is written by hundreds of scientists, anyone can volunteer to review drafts, and those comments appear online.

IPCC reports openly discuss the strengths, weaknesses, criticisms and uncertainties of the science. The reports provide policy makers with a range of plausible outcomes given rising atmospheric CO2.

Heartland’s NIPCC partially mimics the IPCC, but with key differences. It is written and reviewed by dozens of people, almost exclusively drawn from the “sceptic” community, and is consequently highly partisan.

Indeed, the NIPCC advocates an adversarial approach to assessing climate science, with partisan “teams” arguing for different positions. This call for an adversarial debate has also been repeated in recent op-eds by Bob Carter, Judith Curry and Gary Johns.

The call for adversarial debate is a variant of the debate ploy, a common pseudoscience tactic. At first glance having two teams present competing positions seems entirely reasonable, but this approach only works if the intended audience can effectively assess the arguments presented.

Can a general audience or policy makers distinguish truth from fiction when it comes to technical aspects of climate science?

Will a general audience know when someone is deliberately confusing transient climate response (TCR) with equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS)? Will they know that TCR and ECS differ by roughly a factor of two? Perhaps not.

Will they triangulate the truth, assuming technical arguments they don’t understand have equal merit? Quite possibly.

This is the fundamental problem with trying to resolve scientific questions via an adversarial approach, and this problem isn’t new.

Back in 1920, a large audience was unable to assess competing claims about the general relativity when Albert Einstein debated Phillip Lenard. That debate generated column inches and acrimony, but did nothing to advance science.

In this context, the IPCC’s comprehensive approach to evaluating climate science makes sense, with experts providing an overview of the science for policy markers. It also explains why the minority wishing to delay action are promoting an adversarial approach.

Zombie science

Does the NIPCC fairly and robustly assess the science? No. It is all too easy to find “debunked” papers getting a second life in latest NIPCC report.

Sea levels around Australia have risen by roughly 100mm during the past century, but Boretti (2012) claimed sea levels rose by only 50mm over that period.

However, John Hunter and I found that Boretti’s own flawed analysis gives an answer of 78mm. While Boretti himself grudgingly accepts that 50mm is wrong, this erroneous value is reported as fact by the NIPCC.

IPCC AR4 concluded that CO2 is the cause of increased global temperatures, with natural variability not playing a major role. It was thus surprising when McLean et al. (2009) concluded that global temperatures were varying largely in response to the El Niño–Southern Oscillation.

However, McLean’s analysis effectively subtracted out the long-term trend caused by CO2, so they only measured the (natural) causes of short-term variability.

Foster et al. (2010) thoroughly debunked McLean et al., and McLean perhaps debunked himself by predicting 2011 would be the coolest year since 1956. That year was anything but cool.

However, the McLean et al. conclusions are reported as fact in the latest NIPCC report, with no mention of the Foster et al. commentary.

Dead science lives in the NIPCC reports: Boretti and McLean are just the tip of the iceberg. Houston & Dean (2011), Scafetta & West (2005) and others also appear, all without mention that these papers were followed by highly critical commentaries.

It is this deliberately partisan, selective, and uncritical approach to evidence that marks the NIPCC report as a work of pseudoscience.

Bob Carter’s op-ed for the Daily Telegraph was titled “Report gives the truth about climate at last”, but I prefer a different description of NIPCC reports - one that may not be fit for publication.

Michael J. I. Brown receives research funding from the Australian Research Council and Monash University.
The Conversation

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Indonesia Sets a Carbon Time-Bomb

English: The last batch of sawnwood from the p...
The last batch of sawnwood from the peat forest in Indragiri Hulu, Riau Province, Indonesia. Deforestation for oil palm plantation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Erik Olbrei

One of the world’s major terrestrial carbon pools is rapidly deteriorating as large parts of Indonesia’s peatlands are deforested and converted to oil palm and paper plantations.

No longer a carbon sink, Indonesia’s peatlands are now a globally significant source of emissions.

The June fires in Sumatra once again drew international attention to Indonesia’s forests. At the fires' peak, 140,000 hectares were burnt in just one week.

Most fires were in peatland, much of it on land destined to become oil palm, or Acacia plantations for the paper industry. Fire remains the instrument of choice for low-cost land-clearing.

The fires were a reminder of the unsolved problem of peatland protection in Indonesia, and of the need for urgent action against the toxic combination of plantations, fire and poor governance that is destroying one of the world’s major carbon pools.

What exactly is peatland?

Indonesia’s peatlands are (or were) low-lying rainforests located close to coastal areas. Under the forest lies the peat itself, a below-ground accumulation of carbon-rich decayed vegetation.

Formed in swampy conditions where plant material fails to fully decay, peat can build up to a depth of 10 meters or more over thousands of years.

The greenhouse significance of Indonesia’s peatlands lies in the fact they can store up to 20 times as much carbon as tropical rainforests on normal mineral soils, 90% of it below ground. Peatlands release carbon for decades after deforestation as the underlying peat decomposes or is burnt.

Indonesia has by far the largest area of tropical peatland in the world: 22 million hectares. Sumatra, the Kalimantan provinces on the island of Borneo, and Papua have about a third each.

Global significance of Indonesia’s peatlands

Indonesia’s peatlands hold at least 57 billion tonnes (Gigatonnes or Gt) of carbon, making them a globally significant terrestrial carbon pool. The pool is comparable to the Amazonian rainforest, which holds about 86 billion tonnes.

To limit the world to 2 degrees of warming, we can emit no more than 600 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases between now and 2050. Indonesia’s peatland carbon alone, if released as CO2 in the atmosphere, is equivalent to one-third of the remaining carbon budget.

What then are the chances of Indonesia losing its entire peatland carbon stock?

Indonesia’s peatland in a downward spiral

Indonesia became a leading raw material supplier in the timber, paper and oil palm industries in the 1970s. Deforestation and degradation of Indonesia’s forests took place on an epic scale, and Indonesia lost more than half its peat forest cover.

Just over 10 million hectares remained forested by 2010. Only Papua retained large areas of pristine peat swamp forest.

This downward spiral won’t end any time soon. Each year Sumatra loses another 5% of its lowland forests; the situation is similar in the Kalimantan provinces. In all this, Papua is the new frontier.

With logging on the rise, pulp mills planned and large areas of land under concessions, it is poised to go the way of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

The extent of forest degradation is another sign of trouble ahead. Where peatland has been deforested, fragmented or drained, it is transformed from an unburnable resource into a tinder-box.

A detailed study which analysed over 10 million hectares of peatland in Sumatra and Kalimantan found that most was degraded. Less than 4% was covered by pristine peatswamp forests and just 11% or 1 million hectares were covered by relatively intact forests.

The remainder is on a trajectory of fire and conversion into plantations, as the recent events in Sumatra demonstrate.

Climate change itself is working against peatlands. In what is termed a “positive feedback cycle”, climate change is expected to produce more prolonged El Niño dry periods in Indonesia, leading to more intense fires, which in turn cause further climate change.

During the 2006 El Niño, there were 40,000 fire hotspots on Indonesia’s peatlands. The peatlands of Sumatra and Kalimantan are headed for collapse. Major question marks surround Papua’s peatlands.

What does it mean for Indonesia’s greenhouse emissions?

The peatlands of Sumatra and Kalimantan are no longer a carbon sink but a carbon source.

With steadily increasing emissions from decomposition of peatland combined with large contributions from fires during El Niño years, peatland emissions are now in the order of 1 Gt of CO2 a year on average and rising.

If Indonesia’s peatlands were a country, they would be the world’s 7th or 8th largest emitter. Over the coming decades, almost all of Sumatra and Kalimantan’s peatland carbon could be released.

More alarmingly, with half of Indonesia’s peatland deforested or degraded, around 100 Gt of CO2 or about 150 times Australia’s annual emissions could be released into the atmosphere over the coming decades.

With this situation Indonesia has little hope of achieving its pledge to cut its emissions by 26% or 41% by 2020, which relies heavily on reducing forests and peatland emissions.

What can be done about it?

Indonesia has fought hard to address the problems of deforestation and peatland loss. It has launched major campaigns to stamp out illegal logging.

It has established a Commission Against Corruption, whose clashes with the Indonesian Police are watched with fascination locally, and portrayed as the struggle of the plucky gecko versus the crocodile.

Indonesia has attempted without much success to enforce the law banning plantations on deep peat, impose due process in issuing forest concessions, and prevent fires on peatland.

It has implemented a moratorium against deforestation with the strong encouragement of Norway, established a national REDD agency (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), and issued regulations to protect remaining forests.

But in a country notorious for its entrenched political economy of korupsi, kollusi and nepotisme (hardly needing translation) these efforts have shown few results to date.

The solutions are well-known and have been aired extensively. Converting peatland to plantations has to stop, but this doesn’t mean that the oil palm industry has to end.

It does mean that existing concessions on peatland need to be transferred to degraded lands elsewhere. This is something Indonesia’s national development planning agency has long called for.
Laws protecting peat and banning fires need to be enforced vigorously.

And critically, Papua’s peatlands needs protection to ensure they do not go the way of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

None of these things are happening. A better understanding of the global significance of Indonesia’s peatlands is needed to spur Indonesian and international policy-makers into action.

Erik Olbrei has received funding from the Australian National University.
The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.
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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Cherry Pick All the Facts You Like, but Earth is Still Warming

Mean surface temperature change for 1999–2008 ...
Mean surface temperature change for 1999-2008 relative to average temperatures from 1940 to 1980 (Wikipedia)
by Richard Allan, University of Reading

In the run-up to the publication of the Fifth assessment report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) there is the usual flurry of activity among those with an interest in discrediting the substantial body of evidence demonstrating human influence on climate change.

Opinion pieces seem to generally follow the line: “the planet isn’t warming but if it is we are not the cause, and if we are the cause then it’s not important and may actually be beneficial …” (as neatly summarised by the Skeptical Science blog).

Sure enough, the Mail on Sunday published several inaccurate articles on climate change, which were then pounced upon and republished by various others such as the Telegraph in the UK and the Australian.

One of the most frequently misrepresented elements of climate science is the slowdown in global surface warming over the last 15 years. This fact, taken in isolation, is held as proof that human activity is not causing the climate to change. The latest science shows this to be false.

Changes in the sun’s rays, volcanic activity, particle air pollution and water vapour in the stratosphere may have contributed to the slowed rate of surface warming, reflecting some heat back into the atmosphere and so offsetting some of the heat caused by rising greenhouse gas concentrations.

However, since 2000, heating of the planet has in fact continued at a rate equivalent to more than 250 billion 1KW household electric heaters.

This is based upon evidence from thousands of automated ocean buoys that measure down to a depth of nearly 2km, combined with global satellite data measuring radiative energy entering and leaving the planet.

Recent research indicates the current slowing in the rate of surface warming is primarily caused by natural ocean variability linked to La Niña conditions affecting the Pacific.

During the 1980s and 1990s, heating from greenhouse gases warmed the upper layers of the ocean, which affected global surface temperatures.

In the 2000s, changes in ocean circulation have caused this additional heat energy to affect deeper layers beneath the sea surface as demonstrated using a combination of simulations and observations.

Illustration of how heating from rising greenhouse gas concentrations has affected surface temperature over recent decades. Richard Allan/University of Reading

Warming has therefore not stopped and simulations which capture this natural variability indicate that we can expect substantial rates of surface warming to return over the coming decades in response to rising greenhouse gases.

Another line taken by sceptics in the popular media is that climate sensitivity (the amount of global warming caused by a doubling of CO2 concentrations) is low, in which case adding more greenhouse gas will not have a big effect on society.

Previous IPCC reports have noted that the exact level of climate sensitivity is uncertain, ranging from around 1.5-4.5C.

Yet based upon observations, basic physics and detailed simulations we know rising temperatures cause increases in water vapour and diminishing surface ice which strongly amplify climate change (known as positive feedback) and explain why the middle of this range is close to 3C.

While recent studies have led to discussion of whether climate sensitivity is likely to be at the lowest end of the range, such a value would require substantial negative feedbacks. For example, increased reflection of sunlight by clouds as temperatures rise which, while possible, has not been observed.

And anyway, arguing over a few tenths of a degree in climate sensitivity masks the real issue: the damaging climate change expected in response to continued emissions of greenhouse gases, which are currently in line with worst case emissions scenarios used by the IPCC.

Other well-trodden climate sceptic claims that resurface regularly in the media refer to the warmth of the middle ages compared to today, suggest that Antarctic and Arctic ice is increasing, that CO2 levels have been higher than today’s, or that a rise in temperature increases CO2 levels, rather than the other way around.

These claims often confuse weather with climate and mix up processes that play out over hundreds, thousands or even millions of years. Crucially they largely ignore the vast body of evidence pointing to human influence on current and future climate change.

Entrenched views and confirmation bias apply to journalists, the public and scientist alike. But it’s important to consider why an opinion is voiced so fervently.

In the case of the Mail on Sunday a hint is offered in an editorial piece which uses an accompanying article riddled with inaccuracies to reaffirm the paper’s apparent agenda against wind farms and in favour of fracking.

The climate is highly complex and there will always be debate over what is causing each lump and bump in the temperature record.

The recent, much discussed slowdown in global surface warming is an example. The forthcoming IPCC report will be our best assessment of the science of climate change.

While it certainly cannot be considered perfect, it is built upon a vast body of evidence presented in the previous 2007 report, and will further demonstrate a clear connection between human activity and global warming, one that is set to increase in the near future, with ensuing serious consequences.

Richard Allan receives funding from the UK Natural Environment Research Council. He is affiliated with the National Centre for Atmospheric Sciences and National Centre for Earth Observation.
The Conversation

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Monday, September 23, 2013

In the City of London the Talk is Green, But Follow the Money

English: The City of London skyline as viewed ...
City of London skyline (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Steffen Böhm, University of Essex

The financial institutions in The City of London eagerly portray themselves as good citizens of the world, positively contributing to the stewardship of our planet and its people’s well-being.

In reality, however, they are bankrolling a massive expansion of carbon-intensive industries worldwide with grave implications for people and planet.

The City is proud to claim that it has an “international reputation for excellence in the field of sustainable development”.

It does so by striving to adopt measures to adapt to climate change, reduce emissions, support emissions trading schemes and sustainable cities initiatives such as green roofs. It plans to introduce a 20 mph speed limit, with the aim of reducing injuries and deaths on the roads.

Such talk might lead one to conclude the City of London is a model example, something echoed by many of the banks and other financial institutions based in The City, the most important financial district in the world.

For example, HSBC has been a signatory of the Equator Principles which aims to reduce the impact of large scale investment projects on the environment and local communities.

It publishes a substantial annual Sustainability Report, detailing the manifold ways in which the bank tries to reduce the impact of its activities on people and planet.

HSBC has also recently launched a substantial Water Programme that, with three leading NGOs, promises to improve access to drinking water and sanitation for millions of people across the developing world.

Now, I’m sure HSBC and its competitors are well-meaning and can have some positive impacts on people and planet. But what the banks' glossy sustainability brochures often forget to tell us, however, is how City institutions are inextricably linked to what Platform London has called the carbon web.

This web shows that our addiction to oil and other fossil fuels has not simply fallen from the sky. It is a particular institutional arrangement between government, the legal system, extractive industries as well as civil society.

The City and its financial institutions play a vital role in this web, not only holding it together but making extraordinary profits from it.

Recent LSE research has claimed that “the London Stock Exchange has become a carbon haven for fossil fuels”, showing that the FTSE 100 is dominated by multinational oil, gas and mining companies (often called the extractive industries).

Another recent report by the World Development Movement shows the inextricable link between The City and extractive industries, which are responsible for billions of investment in carbon intensive projects around the world.

The Bank of England plays its role through its quantitative easing (QE) programme.

While the government and Bank of England tell the UK electorate that the money that is printed (this is essentially what QE is) supports the UK economy and its under-pressure, small- and medium-sized companies as well as hard-working families, in reality it is more likely to end up in the newly discovered oil fields of Uganda and other lucrative investments in the extractive industries in the developing world.

This makes complete investment sense for the banks: high oil and commodities prices promise much bigger returns than a bog standard loan to a manufacturing firm in the Midlands.

The extraordinary thing is that the City’s billions of investments in the extractive industries, responsible for large quantities of carbon emissions, do not show up in the UK’s or the City’s carbon footprint calculations.

This is why many fear that a carbon bubble is in the making, which might burst within the next decade.

But people and the environment are already suffering.

In August 2012 I, together with Brazilian colleagues, followed some of the money channelled through The City to various remote places in the Andes in Argentina. As we speak, many people in the Andes - and many other parts of the world - are fighting against mega-mining projects.

One of the places we visited was Andalgalá, the town nearest to Argentina’s biggest mine, La Alumbrera. The mine is operated by GlencoreXstrata, the world’s third largest mining company, conveniently registered in the tax haven, Jersey.

What is often not well understood is that mega-extractive industry projects, such as this mine, often use millions of gallons of water and millions of tons of chemicals to literally wash gold, silver, copper and other valuable minerals out of the rock, selling these on international commodities markets.

The people we spoke to in the Andes didn’t want these mega-projects at their door steps, as they are very concerned about the implications for their health, livelihoods and the environment.

In the City, not all that seems green is in fact, green. There is an urgent need to follow the money that is channelled through the City around the world, to assess the real destruction it can cause.

Steffen Böhm receives funding from the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC), British Academy and East of England Co-operative Society.
The Conversation

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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Women's Knowledge: Three Reasons We Won't Solve Climate Change Without It

English: Jane Goodall with volunteers of Roots...
Jane Goodall with volunteers (Wikipedia)
by , UTNE Reader:

Katrina Rabeler wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Katrina is a freelance reporter and writer.

Women's equality goes hand-in-hand with finding real solutions to climate change. Here are three reasons why. 

1. Women are disproportionately affected by climate change

Increased flooding, drought, and desertification aren't good for anyone. But in developing countries and low-income communities, it's often women who are hit hardest.

In developing countries, women are responsible for collecting water in two-thirds of all households and grow 60 to 80 percent of the food, according to United Nations reports.

And if that makes women uniquely vulnerable to climate change, it also gives them an incentive for taking the lead in action and adaptation.

In Senegal, for example, where erosion and poor soil were making it hard to grow food, women from rural villages built stone walls and planted trees to retain and improve the soil. It worked, and their crops are now more productive than ever before. 

2. Women Control the Money

In North America, women manage more than half the wealth and make nearly 80 percent of consumer purchases. Women are beginning to take that purchasing power and consumer influence, and use it to encourage solutions to climate change.

Women are more likely to recycle, buy organic food and eco-products, and value low-energy transportation, according to a study of the 34 member counties of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Women are leading the shift to renewable energy sources and local, sustainable agriculture at the community level. 

3. We can't afford to miss out on women's knowledge

Women represent half of the population, of course, but they often aren't in control of half the decision-making. When that happens, humanity loses out on half of its brainpower, ideas, and cooperation. Greater women's equality often corresponds with greater care for the earth.

For instance, a study surveying 130 countries found that those with higher female representation in parliament were more likely to ratify international environmental treaties.

That's why why Osprey Orielle Lake, founder and president of the Women's Earth and Climate Caucus, is gathering 100 women from around the world in Suffern, N.Y., from September 20 to 23.

The participants will draft a Women's Climate Action Agenda, a document outlining steps they believe the world should take to address climate change.

"With the complexity of the climate crisis calling for unprecedented levels of collaboration and problem-solving skills to meet a deeply rooted dilemma," Lake says, "women in particular are poised to help solve and overcome this daunting challenge."

Lake says the initiative is not about creating new solutions, but about lifting up those that are already working.

She adds that existing women's networks are a largely untapped resource for spreading solutions to climate change such as solar, wind, and geothermal technologies; sustainable agriculture and permaculture; and new cultural narratives and economic structures.

Among the members of the International Women's Earth and Climate Initiative are primatologist Jane Goodall; United Nations climate change specialist Christiana Figueres; executive director May Boeve; environmental activist Vandana Shiva; and many other scientists, politicians, business leaders, indigenous leaders, activists, and community organizers.

Though the summit is invite-only, the general public is invited to follow and contribute to the discussions through interactive live-streaming during the conference at
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Thursday, September 19, 2013

BREAKING NEWS: Climbers Arrested and Shots Fired After Attempting to Occupy a Gazprom Oil Platform in the Russian Arctic

This is what oil company protection looks like in the Russian Nick Young, GREENPEACE

Overnight two activists have been arrested in the Arctic.

They were attempting to occupy a Gazprom oil platform in the Arctic to stop the Russian oil giant becoming the first company to produce oil from the icy waters of the region.

Gazprom is Shell’s new partner in crime, with plans to wring every drop of oil from the fragile Arctic environment.

We’re determined to stop them, but our peaceful protest was met with aggression from the Russian Coast Guard. They fired at least 11 warning shots at our ship and threatened our activists with knives and guns.

The real threat to the Arctic is from these reckless oil companies. That’s why we need your help now to put global public pressure behind this action, and strengthen our call to protect the Arctic from drilling and destruction.

Sign the petition to Save the Arctic now

At 4:30 am Moscow time, five inflatable boats set off from the Arctic Sunrise towards Gazprom’s platform. The Russian Coast Guard, which seemed to be under orders to protect the oil giant’s dangerous rig, responded quickly with a disproportionate use of force.

Two activists were stopped before they reached the platform, and although two more did successfully climb onto the rig, shots fired by the Coast Guard meant they could not stay long.

These are the kinds of lengths that the Russian authorities will go to protect the interests of oil companies.

But we will not be intimidated into silence and inaction. We’re up there taking action because someone has to stop the insane rush of companies like Shell and Gazprom to extract oil from the melting Arctic.

Together we’re going to draw a line in the ice to say: “You go no further.” Just like the very deep sea around New Zealand, it’s a step too far. The risk is not worth taking.

Over 3.9 million people have joined our call to #SaveTheArctic. But companies like Shell and Gazprom are still making plans to drill for oil in an ecosystem that is already under severe threat.

It’s clear that if we want to win, we need more. We need you. Please click here to stand with me and demand global protection for the Arctic. Thanks so much!

Nick and the whole crew at Greenpeace.

PS: We are posting ongoing updates to facebook and twitter if you want to see how this unfolds! - Nick and the whole crew at Greenpeace.

PS: We'll be posting ongoing updates here as things unfold.
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Monday, September 16, 2013

Conscious Consumption

Farmer plowing in Fahrenwalde, Mecklenburg-Vor...
Farmer plowing in Fahrenwalde, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Sophie Love, Online Opinion:

Sophie Love has been involved in the advertising and media industries since the 1980's 'greed is good' heydays. 

British by birth, but Australian by choice, she is passionate about this beautiful sunburnt continent and re-connecting Australians to their literal roots - where their food comes from. 

She runs a farm, a family, and a marketing/design agency. 

In her free time(!) she likes to put pen to paper and share her thoughts about a wide variety of issues and modern day dilemmas. You can read more at

A revolution is long overdue in our unconscious over-consumption. We have become inured to where our food or clothes come from or how they reach the supermarket shelves. Most people simply don't care, as long as it is cheap.

They don't know or care about Genetically Modified food and cotton - the gross manipulation of nature, the fact that ag-chemical giant Monsanto is funding GMO, that GMO crops are routinely sprayed with toxic cancer causing chemical Round-Up, and that Monsanto's aim is to own all the world's seeds and have them under patent - own the seeds, own all the food in the world - seeds are the beginning of life.

The vast majority couldn't care less where their meat comes from - many don't even know which animal their cold cut comes from. We have lost all respect for life - any life, whether it be human or animal. We are merciless, pitiless, selfish, angry.

And it may well be that the normal western diet of coffee, meat and alcohol overtaxes the body and fuels our rage.

But a shift is happening - populaces are protesting about live exports, which is great - they are beginning to equate animals with suffering and slaughter and their minds are opening to the treatment of the animals they expect on their plate. Ripples on the pond.

Most people don't know or question what chemicals are used to produce their broad-scale farmed fruit and vegetables, and what damage the run-off does to the ground where it kills earthworms, dung beetles etc and poisons the ground for generations to come, or how many fish and other stream and river life that same run off causes once it reaches the waterways.

Let alone what those same sprays are doing to the bees and air-borne insects which are all part of our incredibly complicated ecological tapestry. Cotton, wheat, corn etc ... it's so hard to be sure what we are buying if we shop in the big chain stores.

And then there is the way in which supermarkets and big food chains are screwing farmers to the wall on pricing, so they are forced to compromise quality for quantity, using every unnatural means available to meet the demands of a few big buyers.

Superphosphate in the soil, locking up the nutrients and salinating the soil, which then leaches into the waterways, killing wildlife etc ... and on and on it goes.

Of course there are the feedlots, breeding E Coli in cattle by forcing them to eat grain while standing cheek to jowl in unnatural concentration camps, fattening up for slaughter ... and the hormones and other chemicals used to grow obscenely large chickens to further fill our plates ... what about the global wave of infertility, surely that is related to all the unnatural hormones in our foods?

Now let's talk about the power  and water used in the industrialised farming system - pumping vast amounts of water onto parched lands - draining the rivers where the wildlife can no longer survive once their lifeblood is dried.

The devastating damage done to the landscape in order to produce coal fired power. The senselessness of our preoccupation with destroying the earth to dig coal out of the ground when solar is so readily available.

Indeed the industrial revolution is still powering our thinking, growing and raising practices, when we need to revert to a more local, agricultural, and needs-based farming system.

But there is a groundswell of people who are questioning the ethics and realities of the food and clothing industries. Who want to know where their food comes from - how it is grown or raised and killed (if they eat meat). People who are putting their consciousness onto their plates and making sure that they can account for the provenance of every mouthful. These are often the same people who don't want thirsty cotton clothing, bleached and then dyed with noxious chemicals.

These consumers would rather pay more for organic cotton or hemp - who care about factory slavery in Vietnam, Bangladesh and China. Who prefer natural wool products from sheep and alpacas raised solely for fleece, rather than petrochemically produced clothing which pollutes our blue planet.

We are all hypocrites in one way or another, such is the nature of our human-ness. We all make mistakes and fall down in some way in our consumption choices. It's hard to be a fully conscious being at all times, in all areas.

As we all tighten our belts and lockdown for a few more years of tight budgeting, it is time to become aware of where our hard earned dollars are going, to buy less and more consciously, closer to home, supporting local farmers and industries and paying for quality, not quantity - getting back to basics.
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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Monarch Butterfly Waystations

English: Photograph of a Monarch Butterfly.
Monarch Butterfly (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by C Tee Menser

Some years ago I became aware of the plight of the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus).

With its habitat being destroyed at an alarming rate, this beautiful pollinator is in peril in North America.

As a butterfly lover, I certainly wanted to help if at all possible.

I found out what is involved in creating Monarch habitats and established my own Monarch Waystation. It was easy to do, it was enjoyable, and the rewards were almost immediate.

Even when the number of Monarchs visiting my station is sparse, numerous other butterfly species come in abundance to enjoy the nectar sources.

Along with habitat destruction, the fact that this species of butterfly is the only one known to make a two-way migration may make waystations crucial to the survival of the Monarch.

Unable to tolerate cold weather or overwinter as larvae or pupae, Monarchs use cues from the environment to know when it is time for their unique migration. This migration can take them as far as 3000 miles and may take up to two months to complete.

Monarchs in eastern North America migrate to the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico or to Florida. Monarchs in western North America overwinter primarily in California.

In addition, waystations are necessary because the only source of food for Monarch caterpillars is milkweed plants. It is essential to include native milkweeds in any Monarch Waystation.

A Monarch Waystation can be small or large. It isn't the amount of planting space that makes a successful waystation but rather the types of plants found there. Colorful flowers are important for attracting Monarchs because butterflies are known to possess good color vision.

They can sense more colors than either bees or humans and can even see the color red. In addition to including native milkweeds, waystations may contain any of a number of plants of your choice that serve as nectar sources for the Monarchs.

The overwhelming majority of plants in my Monarch Waystation are natives and include Asclepias curassivica, Asclepias incarnata, Asclepias viridis, Asclepias verticillata, monardas, Gonolobus suberosus (Angelpod, a native vine related to milkweed), phlox, liatris, buddlejas, salvias, eupatoriums (Joe Pye Weed), nepetas, coreopsis, goldenrod, purple coneflowers, sedums, violas, asters, and marigolds.

Water sources are also necessary for butterflies to thrive. While a natural diet is always best, Monarchs can be lured closer to a deck, patio, or porch for observation by providing a source of artificial nectar.

Rather than using sugar, make this nectar with a heaping teaspoon of honey (preferably raw) dissolved in half a glass of water, with a drop of soy sauce or liquid amino acids added to provide additional minerals. Saturate a tissue or paper towel with the solution and place in a shallow dish.

Sliced fresh fruits like watermelon, apples, oranges, and bananas are also relished by Monarchs.
Feeding, observing, and even raising Monarchs can be an educational and rewarding experience for children and adults alike. It doesn't require a lot of space or expense.

Kits designed for farming Monarchs are available or can be made at home fairly easily. In just 25 to 32 days, you can raise and release some of these beauties into a waystation yourself.

For further information about Monarch Waystations and Monarch butterflies: and

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

What Next for Australia's Climate Policy?

English: A climate map of Australia.
Climate map of Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Frank Jotzo

Australia’s new government is likely to repeal the carbon price, by striking a deal with crossbenchers in the Senate after July 2014, or possibly going to a special election if it looks electorally attractive.

Still, carbon pricing remains the logical choice for Australia’s longer term climate policy.

Prime Minister Abbott has made it clear his incoming government will make the repeal of the “carbon tax” a priority - in line with his stance since becoming opposition leader in late 2009.

It is understood this means getting rid of the carbon pricing mechanism, including the emissions trading phase.

The Senate game

The Abbott government is expected to introduce laws to abolish the carbon pricing scheme and pass them in the House of Representatives. But this change - as well as others that the government may want to make - would require approval by the Senate, where the government has no majority.

The Labor party seems unlikely to agree to a repeal of the carbon price, nor will the Greens. Labor and the Greens together hold a majority in the Senate until the newly elected senators, comprising half of the chamber, take office on July 1 2014.

On current projections, there will then be 33 Liberal/National party senators, 25 Labor senators, ten Greens senators, and eight senators from minor parties and independents. Thirty-nine votes are needed to repeal the carbon price.

The Coalition would then be looking to get the votes of at least six of the crossbenchers. The majority of the crossbenchers from July 2014 are conservatives and several represent single-issue parties.

They include representatives from a new party founded by a billionaire miner, and from tiny groups that define themselves around offroad motoring and sports, as well as an obscure libertarian group.

Australia’s compulsory, preferential voting system together with voter disaffection has led to this bizarre outcome of micro-parties holding the balance of power.

Each crossbencher will want to extract political concessions from the government in exchange for their vote, but on the whole they are likely to side with the government. Some may also want to use the opportunity to leave their mark on the government’s climate policy.

Independent senator Nick Xenophon, for example, has made it known that he will vote for the repeal of the carbon price only if the Coalition’s “direct action” climate policy is improved.

A double dissolution?

All the while the government will threaten to go to a double-dissolution election. Abbott has maintained that he is prepared to go to a double dissolution over the carbon issue - the very step that then Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd failed to take in 2010.

Such a special election can be called by government if the same legislation passed by the lower house is twice rejected by the Senate.

It involves a simultaneous election of the lower house and all members of the Senate, which can be followed by a joint sitting of both houses for passage of the legislation in question.

The government may want to go to a double dissolution if it looks like this will give the Coalition the majority in the Senate, while retaining its comfortable majority in the lower house.

If future polls make such an outcome seem likely then we can expect prime minister Abbott and climate minister Greg Hunt to take an uncompromising line in the Senate, forcing a double dissolution.

But the government has every reason to be wary of a double dissolution because it could give micro-parties even more seats: fewer votes are then needed to attain a Senate seat. Meanwhile, some of the existing crossbenchers will want to avoid a double dissolution for fear of losing their seats.

So on balance, a deal in the Senate is more likely than a new election.

Carbon pricing once more?

For the carbon price to survive under the Abbott government, there would need to be a combination of crossbenchers demanding too high a price for their votes, and a double dissolution looking very unattractive to the government.

Stranger things have happened in the rollercoaster that is Australian climate policy. But it seems unlikely given the political prominence that the new prime minister has attached to the “carbon tax” issue.

Down the track however things could change again. Once the “carbon tax” issue loses its excessive political heat, there could once more be room for rational mainstream political discourse over climate change policy.

If the Labor party in opposition sticks to its support of carbon pricing, then the option will remain prominently in the mix. And mounting budgetary pressures will put the focus on carbon pricing as a source of government revenue.

How that debate goes will partly depend on the experiences in other parts of the world, not just in Europe where carbon prices remain low but also California, and the budding emissions trading schemes in China and other countries.

And it will depend on the experiences with alternative policies in Australia.

Details of the Coalition’s proposed “emissions reductions fund” are not yet clear, but the concerns from many are that it may impose more economic cost and administrative effort per unit of emissions reduced than emissions trading.

Recent analysis suggests that much more money than budgeted would be needed to achieve a 5% reduction in Australia’s emissions. Abbott however has said that no more money than allocated will be spent.

The question must be asked whether the government is indeed serious about cutting emissions.

If it is and wants to do so without putting a comprehensive price on carbon and without large on-budget expenditure, then it will need to expand schemes such as the renewable energy target - but indications are it is intent on winding this back.

Another option is direct regulation of businesses, like the Obama administration is now doing through emissions standards for power stations.

But direct regulation tends to be more costly to the economy than action through price incentives, and it goes against the Abbott government’s deregulation drive and credo of business friendliness.

At the end of the day, emissions trading or a carbon tax is the obvious climate policy choice for a market economy. But it needs a genuine commitment to take the economy on a lower carbon track, and putting policy ahead of political rhetoric.

Frank Jotzo receives funding (for research activities not salary) from the Australian Research Council and the Australian government.
The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.
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Friday, September 13, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Seeds of Destruction: The Diabolical World of Genetic Manipulation

Sacramento 2003 GMO USDA protest'Resist' flag
Sacramento 2003 GMO protest (Wikipedia)
by F. William Engdahl, Global Research,
Control the oil, and you control nations. Control the food, and you control the people”* - Henry Kissinger.

Seeds of Destruction: The Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation” by F. William Engdahl is a skillfully researched book that focuses on how a small socio-political American elite seeks to establish control over the very basis of human survival: the provision of our daily bread.

This is no ordinary book about the perils of GMO.  

Engdahl takes the reader inside the corridors of power, into the backrooms of the science labs, behind closed doors in the corporate boardrooms. 

The author cogently reveals a diabolical world of profit-driven political intrigue, government corruption and coercion, where genetic manipulation and the patenting of life forms are used to gain worldwide control over food production. 

If the book often reads as a crime story, that should come as no surprise. For that is what it is.

Engdahl’s carefully argued critique goes far beyond the familiar controversies surrounding the practice of genetic modification as a scientific technique. The book is an eye-opener, a must-read for all those committed to the causes of social justice and world peace.

What follows is the Preface to ”Seeds of Destruction: The Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation” by F. William Engdahl (available through Global Research):

“We have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of its population. This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so,we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives.We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction”- George Kennan, US State Department senior planning official, 1948.
This book is about a project undertaken by a small socio-political elite, centered, after the Second World War, not in London, but in Washington. 

It is the untold story of how this self-anointed elite set out, in Kennan’s words, to “maintain this position of disparity.” It is the story of how a tiny few dominated the resources and levers of power in the postwar world.

It’s above all a history of the evolution of power in the control of a select few, in which even science was put in the service of that minority. As Kennan recommended in his 1948 internal memorandum, they pursued their policy relentlessly, and without the “luxury of altruism and world-benefaction.”

Yet, unlike their predecessors within leading circles of the British Empire, this emerging American elite, who proclaimed proudly at war’s end the dawn of their American Century, were masterful in their use of the rhetoric of altruism and world-benefaction to advance their goals. 

Their American Century paraded as a softer empire, a “kinder, gentler” one in which, under the banner of colonial liberation, freedom, democracy and economic development, those elite circles built a network of power the likes of which the world had not seen since the time of Alexander the Great some three centuries before Christ - a global empire unified under the military control of a sole superpower, able to decide on a whim, the fate of entire nations.

This book is the sequel to a first volume, A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order. It traces a second thin red line of power. This one is about the control over the very basis of human survival, our daily provision of bread. 

The man who served the interests of the postwar American-based elite during the 1970’s, and came to symbolize its raw realpolitik, was Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. 

Sometime in the mid-1970’s, Kissinger, a life-long practitioner of “Balance of Power” geopolitics and a man with more than a fair share of conspiracies under his belt, allegedly declared his blueprint for world domination: “Control the oil and you control nations. Control the food, and you control the people.”

The strategic goal to control global food security had its roots decades earlier, well before the outbreak of war in the late 1930’s. 

It was funded, often with little notice, by select private foundations, which had been created to preserve the wealth and power of a handful of American families.

Originally the families centered their wealth and power in New York and along the East Coast of the United States, from Boston to New York to Philadelphia and Washington D.C.

For that reason, popular media accounts often referred to them, sometimes with derision but more often with praise, as the East Coast Establishment.

The center of gravity of American power shifted in the decades following the War. 

The East Coast Establishment was overshadowed by new centers of power which evolved from Seattle to Southern California on the Pacific Coast, as well as in Houston, Las Vegas, Atlanta and Miami, just as the tentacles of American power spread to Asia and Japan, and south, to the nations of Latin America.

In the several decades before and immediately following World War II, one family came to symbolize the hubris and arrogance of this emerging American Century more than any other. 

And the vast fortune of that family had been built on the blood of many wars, and on their control of a new “black gold,” oil.

What was unusual about this family was that early on in the building of their fortune, the patriarchs and advisors they cultivated to safeguard their wealth decided to expand their influence over many very different fields. 

They sought control not merely over oil, the emerging new energy source for world economic advance. 

They also expanded their influence over the education of youth, medicine and psychology, foreign policy of the United States, and, significant for our story, over the very science of life itself, biology, and its applications in the world of plants and agriculture.

For the most part, their work passed unnoticed by the larger population, especially in the United States. Few Americans were aware how their lives were being subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, influenced by one or another project financed by the immense wealth of this family.

In the course of researching for this book, a work nominally on the subject of genetically modified organisms or GMO, it soon became clear that the history of GMO was inseparable from the political history of this one very powerful family, the Rockefeller family, and the four brothers - David, Nelson, Laurence, and John D. III - who, in the three decades following American victory in World War II, the dawn of the much-heralded American Century, shaped the evolution of power George Kennan referred to in 1948.

In actual fact, the story of GMO is that of the evolution of power in the hands of an elite, determined at all costs to bring the entire world under their sway.

Three decades ago, that power was based around the Rockefeller family. Today, three of the four brothers are long-since deceased, several under peculiar circumstances. 

However, as was their will, their project of global domination - “full spectrum dominance” as the Pentagon later called it - had spread, often through a rhetoric of “democracy,” and was aided from time to time by the raw military power of that empire when deemed necessary. 

Their project evolved to the point where one small power group, nominally headquartered in Washington in the early years of the new century, stood determined to control future and present life on this planet to a degree never before dreamed of.

The story of the genetic engineering and patenting of plants and other living organisms cannot be understood without looking at the history of the global spread of American power in the decades following World War II. 

George Kennan, Henry Luce, Averell Harriman and, above all, the four Rockefeller brothers, created the very concept of multinational “agribusiness”. 

They financed the “Green Revolution” in the agriculture sector of developing countries in order, among other things, to create new markets for petro-chemical fertilizers and petroleum products, as well as to expand dependency on energy products. 

Their actions are an inseparable part of the story of genetically modified crops today.

By the early years of the new century, it was clear that no more than four giant chemical multinational companies had emerged as global players in the game to control patents on the very basic food products that most people in the world depend on for their daily nutrition - corn, soybeans, rice, wheat, even vegetables and fruits and cotton - as well as new strains of disease-resistant poultry, genetically-modified to allegedly resist the deadly H5N1 Bird Flu virus, or even gene-altered pigs and cattle. 

Three of the four private companies had decades-long ties to Pentagon chemical warfare research. The fourth, nominally Swiss, was in reality Anglo-dominated. As with oil, so was GMO agribusiness very much an Anglo-American global project.

In May 2003, before the dust from the relentless US bombing and destruction of Baghdad had cleared, the President of the United States chose to make GMO a strategic issue, a priority in his postwar US foreign policy. 

The stubborn resistance of the world’s second largest agricultural producer, the European Union, stood as a formidable barrier to the global success of the GMO Project. 

As long as Germany, France, Austria, Greece and other countries of the European Union steadfastly refused to permit GMO planting for health and scientific reasons, the rest of the world’s nations would remain skeptical and hesitant. 

By early 2006, the World Trade Organization (WTO) had forced open the door of the European Union to the mass proliferation of GMO. It appeared that global success was near at hand for the GMO Project.

In the wake of the US and British military occupation of Iraq, Washington proceeded to bring the agriculture of Iraq under the domain of patented genetically-engineered seeds, initially supplied through the generosity of the US State Department and Department of Agriculture.

The first mass experiment with GMO crops, however, took place back in the early 1990’s in a country whose elite had long since been corrupted by the Rockefeller family and associated New York banks: Argentina.

The following pages trace the spread and proliferation of GMO, often through political coercion, governmental pressure, fraud, lies, and even murder. If it reads often like a crime story, that should not be surprising. 

The crime being perpetrated in the name of agricultural efficiency, environmental friendliness and solving the world hunger problem, carries stakes which are vastly more important to this small elite. Their actions are not solely for money or for profit. 

After all, these powerful private families decide who controls the Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan and even the European Central Bank. Money is in their hands to destroy or create.

Their aim is rather, the ultimate control over future life on this planet, a supremacy earlier dictators and despots only ever dreamt of. Left unchecked, the present group behind the GMO Project is between one and two decades away from total dominance of the planet’s food capacities. 

This aspect of the GMO story needs telling. I therefore invite the reader to a careful reading and independent verification or reasoned refutation of what follows.

F. William Engdahl is a leading analyst of the New World Order, author of the best-selling book on oil and geopolitics, A Century of War: Anglo-American Politics and the New World Order,’ His writings have been translated into more than a dozen languages. 
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