The UN’s New Focus: Surviving, Not Stopping, Climate Change

The United Nations’ latest report on climate change contains plenty of dire warnings about the adverse impact “human interference with the climate system” is having on everything from sea levels to crop yields to violent conflicts. But the primary message of the study isn’t, as John Kerry suggested on Sunday, for countries to collectively reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Instead, the subtext appears to be this: Climate change is happening and will continue to happen for the foreseeable future. As a result, we need to adapt to a warming planet—to minimize the risks and maximize the benefits associated with increasing temperatures—rather than focusing solely on curbing warming in the first place. And it’s businesses and local governments, rather than the international community, that can lead the way.

“The really big breakthrough in this report is the new idea of thinking about managing climate change,” Chris Field, the co-chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) study, said this week, adding that governments, companies, and communities are already experimenting with “climate-change adaptation.”

Read more. [Image: Carlos Barria/Reuters]

My body is a site
for geopolitical warfare;
borders branded on me
before my birth,
stamped on skin and bone
like meat for the market.
Nationalities forced
onto me against my will,
languages shoved
down my throat.
All in efforts to sell me
to myself, and
even I’m not buying.
—  Nav K
The trite dichotomy that Egypt has “democrats who are not liberals” (the Brotherhood) and “liberals who are not democrats” (the huge crowds in the street), propounded most recently in the New York Times may sound smart at Manhattan cocktail parties, but it doesn’t take us very far into the minds of the Egyptian masses.

The root, the trunk and the branch of the uprisings that began in early 2011, in fact, is the fight for honor and dignity in the face of governments – whether Mubarak’s or Morsi’s – that have demanded submission, delivered few or no benefits, and left the Egyptian people feeling humiliated both at home and abroad.

Egyptians like to think of their ancient country as Umm al-Dunya, the mother of the world, not a struggling also-ran in a global economy dependent on demeaning loans from the International Monetary Fund or cynical charity from the Gulf Arabs who, when they come to Egypt, often treat the men as servants and the women as whores.
Labeling the violent acts of those Muslim Others as “terrorism” - but never our own - is a key weapon used to propagate this worldview. The same is true of the tactic that depicts their violence against us as senseless, primitive, savage and without rational cause, while glorifying our own violence against them as noble, high-minded, benevolent and civilized (we slaughter them with shiny, high-tech drones, cluster bombs, jet fighters and cruise missiles, while they use meat cleavers and razor blades). These are the core propagandistic premises used to sustain the central narrative on which the War on Terror has depended from the start (and, by the way, have been the core premises of imperialism for centuries). That is why those most invested in defending and glorifying this War on Terror become so enraged when those premises are challenged, and it’s why they feel a need to use any smears and distortions (he’s justifying terrorism!) to discredit those who do.

Musket, Map and Money by Jimmy Teng

How Military Technological Changes Shaped Geopolitics and the Fortunes of States and Civilizations

Seventeen years have passed since the publication of Jared Diamond’s groundbreaking Guns, Germs and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies - a Pulitzer winning global account on the rise of civilization, which formed the foundations to explain European supremacy in conquering other regions from the sixteenth century onwards, and dismantled unreservedly the theories of racial superiority in vogue with many researchers.

But the question why Europe performed better and why it emerged ultimately victorious in the competition with other civilizations in the second half of the past millennium still puzzles economists, sociologists, historians and the general public. It is now Jimmy Teng’s turn to contribute to the lively discussion on how the world became what we know today, in his Musket, Map and Money – released now fully Open Access by De Gruyter Open.

In Ukraine, We’re Witnessing What Comes After the War on Terror

Maybe this is how the “war on terror” ends.

Since entering his second term, President Obama has signaled his desire to close out a foreign-policy era that he believes has drained America’s economic resources and undermined its democratic ideals. But it hasn’t been easy. Partly, Obama remains wedded to some of the war on terror’s legally dubious tools—especially drone strikes and mass surveillance. And just as importantly, Obama hasn’t had anything to replace the war on terror with. It’s hard to end one foreign-policy era without defining a new one. The post-Cold War age, for instance, dragged on and on until 9/11 suddenly rearranged Americans’ mental map of the world.

Now Russia may have solved Obama’s problem. Vladimir Putin’s military intervention in Ukraine doesn’t represent as sharp a historical break as 9/11 did, but it does offer the clearest glimpse yet of what the post-war on terror era may look like. To quote Secretary of State John Kerry, what comes after the war on terror is the “19th century.”

Read more. [Image: Reuters/Ina Fassbender]

“China has been moving sand onto reefs and shoals to add several new islands to the Spratly archipelago, in what foreign officials say is a new effort to expand the Chinese footprint in the South China Sea. The officials say the islands will be able to support large buildings, human habitation and surveillance equipment, including radar.”

Why the LBJ of 1964 Wouldn’t Succeed In Washington Today

The LBJ Library recently held a multiday program to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, and by all accounts, the program was stirring and stimulating, up to and including President Obama’s speech.

But there was one downside: the reactivation of one of the most enduring memes and myths about the presidency, and especially the Obama presidency. Like Rasputin (or Whac-A-Mole,) it keeps coming back even after it has been bludgeoned and obliterated by facts and logic. I feel compelled to whack this mole once more.

The meme is what Matthew Yglesias, writing in 2006, referred to as “the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics,” and has been refined by Greg Sargent and Brendan Nyhan into the Green Lantern Theory of the presidency. In a nutshell, it attributes heroic powers to a president—if only he would use them. And the holders of this theory have turned it into the meme that if only Obama used his power of persuasion, he could have the kind of success that LBJ enjoyed with the Great Society, that Bill Clinton enjoyed in his alliance with Newt Gingrich that gave us welfare reform and fiscal success, that Ronald Reagan had with Dan Rostenkowski and Bill Bradley to get tax reform, and so on.

If only Obama had dealt with Congress the way LBJ did—persuading, cajoling, threatening, and sweet-talking members to attain his goals—his presidency would not be on the ropes and he would be a hero. If only Obama would schmooze with lawmakers the way Bill Clinton did, he would have much greater success. If only Obama would work with Republicans and not try to steamroll them, he could be a hero and have a fiscal deal that would solve the long-term debt problem.

If only the proponents of this theory would step back and look at the realities of all these presidencies (or would read or reread the Richard Neustadt classic, Presidential Power.)

Read more. [Image: JD Hancock/Flickr]

Rebel Leader Gives Bizarre Account of Plane Crash - Bodies at the crash site that should have been fresh were “drained of blood and reeked of decomposition”

———————-

A top pro-Russia rebel commander in eastern Ukraine has given a bizarre version of events surrounding the Malaysian jetliner crash — suggesting many of the victims may have died days before the plane took off.

The pro-rebel website Russkaya Vesna on Friday quoted Igor Girkin as saying he was told by people at the crash site that “a significant number of the bodies weren’t fresh,” adding that he was told they were drained of blood and reeked of decomposition.

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing-777 was shot down Thursday, killing all 298 people aboard. The plane was flying 10,000 meters above an area where Ukrainian forces have been fighting separatist rebels. Each side accuses the other of downing the plane.

U.S. intelligence authorities said a surface-to-air missile brought down the plane, and U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told the U.N. Security Council in New York on Friday that the missile was likely fired from a rebel-held area near the Russian border.

Girkin, also known as Strelkov and allegedly a former Russian military intelligence agent, said he couldn’t confirm the information. But it’s sure to add to the intense emotions surrounding the crash, with the rebels accused of shooting down the plane.

Girkin said “Ukrainian authorities are capable of any baseness.”

He claimed that a large amount of blood serum and medications were found in the wreckage.

Here’s an interesting story that somehow flew under the radar. I also like how the article was titled plainly and uninterestingly as “bizarre account” rather than a more objective title describing the account.

http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/rebel-suggests-malaysia-plane-victims-long-dead-24622107

Last fall, as oil prices crashed, Ali al-Naimi, Saudi Arabia’s petroleum minister and the world’s de facto energy czar, went mum. He still popped up, as is his habit, at industry conferences on three continents. Yet from mid-September to the middle of November, while benchmark crude prices plunged 21 percent to a four-year low, Naimi didn’t utter a word in public.

For 20 years, Bloomberg Markets reports in its May 2015 issue, the world’s $2 trillion oil market has parsed Naimi’s every syllable for signs of where supply and prices are heading. Twice during previous routs—amid the Asian financial crisis in 1998 and again when the global economy melted down 10 years later—Naimi reversed oil’s free fall by orchestrating production cutbacks among members of OPEC. This time, he went to ground.

Naimi and other Saudi leaders have worried for years that climate change and high crude prices will boost energy efficiency, encourage renewables, and accelerate a switch to alternative fuels such as natural gas, especially in the emerging markets that they count on for growth. They see how demand for the commodity that’s created the kingdom’s enormous wealth—and is still abundant beneath the desert sands—may be nearing its peak. This isn’t something the petroleum minister discusses in depth in public, given global concern about carbon emissions and efforts to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. But Naimi acknowledges the trend. “Demand will peak way ahead of supply,” he told reporters in Qatar three years ago. If growth in oil consumption flattens out too soon, the transition could be wrenching for Saudi Arabia, which gets almost half its gross domestic product from oil exports.

Last week, in a speech in Riyadh, Naimi said Saudi Arabia would stand “firmly and resolutely” with others who oppose any attempt to marginalize oil consumption. “There are those who are trying to reach international agreements to limit the use of fossil fuel, and that will damage the interests of oil producers in the long-term,” he said.  

U.S. State Department cables released by WikiLeaks show that the Saudis’ interest in prolonging the world’s dependence on oil dates back at least a decade. In conversations with colleagues and U.S. diplomats, Naimi responded to the American fixation on “security of supply” with the Saudi need for “security of demand,” according to a 2006 embassy dispatch. “Saudi officials are very concerned that a climate change treaty would significantly reduce their income,” James Smith, the U.S. ambassador to Riyadh, wrote in a 2010 memo to U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “Effectively, peak oil arguments have been replaced by peak demand.”

Before oil prices tanked last year, Saudi officials were bracing for global demand to level off as soon as 2025, says Mohammed al-Sabban, a senior economic adviser to the Saudi petroleum minister from 1988 to 2013. By letting prices fall, they may have bought themselves some time. At $60 to $70 a barrel, peak demand gets pushed back at least five more years, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch commodities researchers. Such a delay would be bad news for renewable energy companies and for anyone hoping to bend the demand curve lower—slowing or stopping the relentless rise of global oil consumption that has transformed the planet since the first commercial deposit was developed in Pennsylvania in the early 1860s.

Crude prices above $100 a barrel had been bringing a demand peak closer. “The past four years were a disaster for oil producers in terms of energy market share,” says Sabban, who was also Saudi Arabia’s chief international climate negotiator. “Emerging economies are getting more efficient and diversifying their energy sources. That has definitely impacted oil consumption.”

Saudi officials were in a state of “near panic” last summer, when they recognized how quickly demand growth in China was leveling off, in part because of persistently high crude prices, says Ed Morse, Citigroup’s head of commodities research. “Naimi saw the era of frantic fixed-asset investments in China was over,” says Morse, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for international energy policy, who still communicates regularly with Gulf Arab officials. “That translates to the end of rapid urbanization, the end of doing things in unbelievably energy-intensive ways.”

Substitution of lower-cost fuels is also taking a toll. Chinese diesel demand, after rising an average of 8 percent a year for a decade, actually fell in 2013 and 2014. The International Energy Agency attributes this partly to the country’s rapidly expanding fleet of natural gas vehicles. Chinese demand for oil this year is expected to rise to 10.6 million barrels a day, an increase of 2.6 percent, or half the average annual growth of the past decade and one-sixth the rate in 2004. China’s oil use is still climbing twice as fast as global consumption, but the IEA has in the past year shaved 500,000 barrels from its 2019 China demand forecast. More efficient autos and factories reduced the overall oil intensity of China’s economy—oil burned per unit of GDP—by 18 percent from 2008 to 2014. “If I were in Naimi’s shoes, I’d do exactly what he’s doing,” Morse says.