later Current affairs items
Current affairs items for 2013 and earlier: Energiewende Rosenberg Forum GM questions are not scientific The EU peace prize L'Aquila verdict French bashing Violence is decreasing Fictitious money Idle No More The horse meat scandal Aaron Swartz How to serve olive oil Why we pay taxes Copyright may be counterproductive Growth in Europe You have been warned No Scientific Consensus on GMO safety Ocean Warnings A New Common Market How to damage a company and a whole school system
When we visited Austria a couple of
years ago, I was impressed by the number of wind turbines along the
edge of the Rhine valley and on the high points of the Black Forest.
It was really impressive. But than Germany is really committed to
getting away from coal and nuclear power and decreasing their
dependency to Russian gas. It seems to be a national goal with all
the important political parties, public opinion and industry
favouring it. Clean power is seen as a way to give German industry a
head start in manufacturing the infrastructure for wind, solar and
bio-power. It is helping with employment and exports. The German
people do not see nuclear power as an alternative even in the short
term. (The seven oldest reactors were permanently closed after the
Fukushima accident because of public pressure) Germany is also
working on lowering the consumption of energy – instead of rising
as in most countries, it fell almost 1% between 2004-09, a period of
economic growth in Germany. Here is an article from the Technology
Review by David Talbot. On the pros and cons of the great German
Along a rural road in the western
German state of North Rhine–Westphalia lives a farmer named Norbert
Leurs. An affable 36-year-old with callused hands, he has two young
children and until recently pursued an unremarkable line of work:
raising potatoes and pigs. But his newest businesses point to an
extraordinary shift in the energy policies of Europe's largest
economy. In 2003, a small wind company erected a 70-meter turbine,
one of some 22,000 in hundreds of wind farms dotting the German
countryside, on a piece of Leurs's potato patch. Leurs gets a 6
percent cut of the electricity sales, which comes to about $9,500 a
year. He's considering adding two or three more turbines, each twice
as tall as the first.
The profits from those turbines are
modest next to what he stands to make on solar panels. In 2005 Leurs
learned that the government was requiring the local utility to pay
high prices for rooftop solar power. He took out loans, and in stages
over the next seven years, he covered his piggery, barn, and house
with solar panels—never mind that the skies are often gray and his
roofs aren't all optimally oriented. From the resulting 690-kilowatt
installation he now collects $280,000 a year, and he expects over $2
million in profits after he pays off his loans.
Stories like Leurs's help explain how
Germany was able to produce 20 percent of its electricity from
renewable sources in 2011, up from 6 percent in 2000. Germany has
guaranteed high prices for wind, solar, biomass, and hydroelectric
power, tacking the costs onto electric bills. And players like Leurs
and the small power company that built his turbine have installed
off-the-shelf technology and locked in profits. For them, it has been
remarkably easy being green.
What's coming next won't be so easy. In
2010, the German government declared that it would undertake what has
popularly come to be called an Energiewende—an energy
turn, or energy revolution. This switch from fossil fuels to
renewable energy is the most ambitious ever attempted by a heavily
industrialized country: it aims to cut greenhouse-gas emissions 40
percent from 1990 levels by 2020, and 80 percent by midcentury. The
goal was challenging, but it was made somewhat easier by the fact
that Germany already generated more than 20 percent of its
electricity from nuclear power, which produces almost no greenhouse
gases. Then last year, responding to public concern over the
post-tsunami nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, Chancellor Angela
Merkel ordered the eight oldest German nuclear plants shut down right
away. A few months later, the government finalized a plan to shut the
remaining nine by 2022. Now the Energiewende includes a turn
away from Germany's biggest source of low-carbon electricity.
Germany has set itself up for a grand
experiment that could have repercussions for all of Europe, which
depends heavily on German economic strength. The country must build
and use renewable energy technologies at unprecedented scales, at
enormous but uncertain cost, while reducing energy use. And it must
pull it all off without undercutting industry, which relies on
reasonably priced, reliable power. "In a sense, the Energiewende
is a political statement without a technical solution," says
Stephan Reimelt, CEO of GE Energy Germany. "Germany is forcing
itself toward innovation. What this generates is a large industrial
laboratory at a size which has never been done before. We will have
to try a lot of different technologies to get there."
The major players in the German energy
industry are pursuing several strategies at once. To help replace
nuclear power, they are racing to install huge wind farms far off the
German coast in the North Sea; new transmission infrastructure is
being planned to get the power to Germany's industrial regions. At
the same time, companies such as Siemens, GE, and RWE, Germany's
biggest power producer, are looking for ways to keep factories
humming during lulls in wind and solar power. They are searching for
cheap, large-scale forms of power storage and hoping that computers
can intelligently coördinate what could be millions of distributed
Estimates of what the transition will
cost vary widely, depending in part on how fast new technology can be
introduced and its price lowered. Various economic think tanks
predict that the country will spend somewhere between $125 billion
and $250 billion on infrastructure expansion and subsidies in the
next eight years—between 3.5 and 7 percent of Germany's 2011 GDP.
The long-term costs, including the expense of decommissioning nuclear
power plants, will be far higher.
Germany has already incurred
significant costs. Each monthly electric bill carries a
renewable-energy surcharge of about 15 percent (heavy industry is
exempt). Wholesale electricity prices have jumped approximately 10
percent since the eight nuclear plants were shut. The German grid is
strained as never before. And—ironically, given the Energiewende's
goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions—the decision to close the
nuclear plants has increased reliance on coal-fired power plants.
"This Energiewende is
being watched very closely. If it works in Germany, it will be a
template for other countries. If it doesn't, it will be very damaging
to the German economy."
Despite the costs, Germany could
greatly benefit from its grand experiment. In the past decade, the
country has nurtured not only wind and solar power but less-heralded
energy technologies such as management software and efficient
industrial processes. Taken together, these "green"
technologies have created an export industry that's worth $12
billion—and is poised for still more growth, according to Miranda
Schreurs, director of the Environmental Policy Research Center at the
Berlin Free University. Government policies could provide further
incentives to develop and deploy new technologies. "That is
know-how that you can sell," Schreurs says. "The way for
Germany to compete in the long run is to become the most
energy-efficient and resource-efficient market, and to expand on an
export market in the process."
If Germany succeeds in making the
transition, it could provide a workable blueprint for other
industrial nations, many of which are also likely to face pressures
to transform their energy consumption. "This Energiewende
is being watched very closely. If it works in Germany, it will be a
template for other countries," says Graham Weale, chief
economist at RWE, which is grappling with how to shut its nuclear
power plants while keeping the lights on. "If it doesn't, it
will be very damaging to the German economy and that of Europe."
In the city of Erlangen, 20 kilometers
north of Nuremberg, tight security greets visitors to the complex of
industrial buildings that house the labs and factories of the energy
giant Siemens, one of several contractors contributing to the
Energiewende. One of these buildings literally hums with
power—30 megawatts' worth. Inside is a giant steel and copper
machine that converts AC power to DC at a massive scale; it's
destined for installation on offshore platforms that must withstand
harsh North Sea storms for decades.
Germany needs this technology because
it's looking for the steadiest source of wind it can find, and that's
found far offshore—so far that the standard AC lines for
transmitting power won't work. To date, Germany has installed only
about 500 megawatts of offshore wind power, all within 90 kilometers
of land, in water less than 40 meters deep. Now energy companies are
planning to install 10,000 megawatts of wind power as far offshore as
160 kilometers, at depths of up to 70 meters. Several 10,000- to
20,000-ton offshore substations will convert gigawatts of AC output
to DC, which can span such distances without large energy losses.
"There is nowhere in the world where this has been done—building
offshore grids and offshore connections in this way and in this
amount," says Lex Hartman, director of corporate development at
Tennet, the Dutch grid company in charge of parts of Germany's
megascale North Sea effort.
Of course, all this just gets the power
to the beach. The electricity needs to traverse Germany to reach the
major industrial centers in the country's south. Some 3,800
kilometers of new power lines are needed, but only around 200 have
been built, with reluctant landowners and regional politicians
stalling progress and creating choke points. The delays and the novel
technologies make the German offshore wind program a huge gamble all
by itself. "Nobody really knows what the Energiewende
will cost," says Karen Pittel, an energy economist at the
University of Munich. "But especially those wind farms—they
are more or less pilot projects."
The uncertainties don't stop there.
Even with current levels of wind power, on windy days grid operators
must shut turbines down because there's nowhere to put the power.
When a cloud bank rolls over southern Germany on an otherwise sunny
day, the output of the region's many photovoltaic panels can drop by
hundreds of megawatts; the effect is like hitting the off switch on a
moderate-size coal-fired power plant, increasing the threat of
Without enough cheap, reliable power to
support the high-technology industry and the transportation system,
Germany's economy—and that of Europe as a whole—could be in
trouble. Already some German firms are building new manufacturing
facilities elsewhere; for example, last year the chemical producer
Wacker Chemie decided to build a polysilicon plant in Tennessee,
partly because energy costs in Germany were so high. Weale says, "The
quality of the supply would only have to deteriorate a little bit and
it would be quite serious for this high-technology industry.
We've already seen, even without the lights going out, that industry
is getting nervous."
To avoid catastrophe, Germany will have
to start deploying storage technologies and load-balancing
strategies at far larger scales. The country today has 31
pumped-storage power plants, which force water into uphill reservoirs
at night and then use the downhill flow to spin turbines to generate
power. Altogether, they can store 38 gigawatt-hours' worth of
electricity. That might sound like a lot, but it's less than 90
minutes of peak output from Germany's wind farms.
Batteries might help, but so far costs
are too high for them to play more than a niche role. In another
building in Erlangen, Siemens is building tractor-trailer-size
batteries based on three different lithium-ion technologies. Each
could power 40 German houses for a day, but the batteries are too
expensive to use for backup power. Instead, high-tech manufacturers
are likely to use them to ride out brownouts with, say, a 15-minute,
eight-megawatt jolt so that specialized equipment won't need costly
restart procedures. Prices would need to fall by at least half before
lithium-ion batteries could provide an economical way to store hours
of excess power from wind turbines.
Other storage technologies are being
developed but are still probably years from being practical, if they
ever will be. One new technology at Siemens, for example, produces
hydrogen by using surplus electricity to split water molecules. But
it is experimental and, at this stage, expensive.
Inevitably, some hot July week will
come when a high-pressure system stalls over Europe, stilling
turbines just when sunburned Germans reach for their air
conditioners. Until large-scale, cheap storage is available, gas
power plants, which can start up quickly and efficiently, will be the
most practical way to cope with these situations. But there's little
incentive to build such plants. Owners of gas plants meant to meet
peak power needs can no longer count on running for a certain number
of hours, since the need will no longer fall on predictable workday
afternoons but come and go with the sun and wind.
The goal is to use software to
transform thousands of renewable energy sources, each of which alone
is unreliable, into a vast network that utilities can depend on.
Says Ottmar Edenhofer, chief
economist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, "The
design of the electricity market will change fundamentally. You have
fluctuating demand, and at the same time a fluctuating supply. The
linkage and the interplay in these two dimensions has become the
subject of intense research. There could be new and emerging market
Duisburg is a gritty town just west of
Essen, a major World War II munitions manufacturing center that was
reduced to rubble by Allied bombing. This is where RWE, one of
Germany's four major utilities, is working at the frontier of another
crucial technology: virtual power plants, in which software
intelligently controls vast numbers of small power sources (and,
eventually, distributed storage sites) to coördinate their output
for sale on energy markets. The goal is to transform thousands of
renewable energy sources, each of which alone is unreliable, into a
vast network that utilities can depend on. It's a dazzling concept,
but one in its infancy.
Inside a lab that sits in front of a
Nazi-built bomb shelter shaped like a pointed witch's hat, RWE
researchers are testing a dozen gas-fired boilers and fuel cells
designed to generate both heat and electricity. In theory, utilities
could call on hundreds of thousands of home units—and larger ones
powering apartment or office buildings—to generate extra
electricity for the grid in a pinch. As much as 5 percent of
Germany's electricity could be produced this way—about the amount
utilities expect to draw from the new offshore wind farms.
Reaching that point could take decades
as homeowners and businesses gradually replace their existing boilers
and the infrastructure is put in place to synchronize hundreds of
thousands of power sources. But an hour east of Duisburg, in a
1960s-era office building on the edge of Dortmund, engineers are
testing a more modest network as a starting point. A basement server
room functions as a communications hub for 120 small generating
stations that together produce 160 megawatts of electricity from
renewable sources—mostly wind but also biomass and solar. Software
takes weather predictions into account and assembles a block of
renewable electricity from wind and solar, switching the biogas
plants on and off as needed to balance the fluctuating output and
create a block of stable power.
Early projects like this one are
stepping-stones toward more sophisticated systems that include demand
management: utilities would compensate customers for agreeing to have
their power consumption automatically curtailed during times of peak
demand. Someday the systems could also draw power from the batteries
of parked electric cars, or store excess power in them, to compensate
for shifts in the wind.
GE and other companies are pursuing
such concepts, too. "Today what we know is that the energy
market will be decentralized; it will be a fragmented market,"
says Reimelt, of GE. "Before, we had four utility companies.
Today we have 350 companies generating power, going up to a thousand,
and going up to a million if you count everyone with a solar panel on
the roof. So one of the trends that we see is that there must be less
emphasis on power generation and more on power management."
The floor-to-ceiling windows behind the
desk of Wolfgang Mayer, the burgermeister of the small Bavarian town
of Gundremmingen, provide a commanding view. A mile away stand the
twin cooling towers of the Gundremmingen Nuclear Power Station Units
B and C, which together are the largest source of nuclear power in
Germany. Nicely situated halfway between the industrial centers of
Stuttgart and Munich, the plant has the capacity to produce 2.6
gigawatts of power. Mayer is confounded by the Energiewende,
which threatens hundreds of jobs in town and could hurt tax revenues.
"They say 2017 to shut down Unit B, and 2021 for Unit C,"
he says, motioning toward the plant. "But they were the same
time starting up in 1989! A normal person cannot understand. What is
Mayer is not alone in his bafflement.
There is much about the current policy that arguably isn't logical.
In the short term at least, the decision to close the nuclear plants
means that the Energiewende will actually push utilities to
rely more heavily on coal. Last year, for example, RWE fired up two
long-planned new boilers at an existing facility near the Belgian
border that burns the dirtiest fossil fuel of them all: brown lignite
coal. Though these boilers are cleaner than the ones they're
replacing, the coal plant is the largest of its kind in the world,
and it's going full blast these days to keep up with power demand.
"If you close eight nuclear
plants, which were carbon-free, overnight, you will increase carbon
emissions," Weale says. "One will have to be more reliant
on coal than was previously expected. It may be hard to reduce CO2
emissions as quickly as one would like." Decisions made now
about what kinds of power plants to install will have repercussions
for decades, he says: "You can't make sudden changes from one
asset to another."
A second problem is that even when it
comes to alternative energy sources, Germany doesn't reward carbon
dioxide reduction. Rather, its policy establishes well-defined
subsidies for specific technologies: a kilowatt-hour of solar power
is rewarded more than power from offshore wind, which in turn earns
more than power from onshore wind. Even though solar subsidies have
been reduced to rates far lower than the ones Leurs locked in, solar
power still pays the highest rates. If reducing emissions were the
focus, however, more money would be directed toward reducing energy
use. "If you could choose the optimal instruments, focusing on
those areas first where you can achieve your goals most
inexpensively, you would focus not so much on renewables but much
more on efficiency," says Pittel, the energy economist from
The current subsidies also don't
encourage innovation as much as they make existing technologies
profitable. There's little incentive to, say, develop radically new
photovoltaic technologies, even though these might ultimately be the
only way to make unsubsidized solar power cheap enough to compete
with fossil fuels.
To some German economists, the
country's energy policy is simply wrong-headed. Hans-Werner Sinn,
president of the Ifo Institute for Economic Research at the
University of Munich, is especially scathing. "The Energiewende
is a turn into nowhere-land, because the green technologies are just
not sufficient to provide a replacement for modern society's energy
needs," he says. "It is wrong to shut down the atomic power
plants, because this is a cheap source of energy, and wind and solar
power are by no means able to provide a replacement. They are much
more expensive, and the energy that comes out is of inferior quality.
Energy-intensive industries will move out, and the competitiveness of
the German manufacturing sector will be reduced or wages will be
German politicians, of course, are
betting that Sinn is wrong. And plenty of encouraging signs argue
against his pessimism. The cost of solar panels has dropped sharply,
which means that solar power may become more competitive. Battery
costs may follow suit. If fossil fuels continue to become more
expensive, renewable power sources will look more attractive. "Forty
years is a long time, and one is continuously being surprised by
favorable technological developments—for example, the way in which
the price of solar cells is coming down," Weale says. "From
my point of view, I want to emphasize how challenging the
Energiewende is. At the moment, it's looking difficult. But
with the right incentives, one can have good reason to believe that
technological progress will be a lot faster than we currently
Most people have no idea how large and
important is the MacKenzie River Basin. Here are some 'facts and
the drainage basin is 1.8
million square kilometers (20% of the total size of Canada, 3 times
the size of France)
the MacKenzie river is
1800 km long, the longest in Canada and feed by 7 large rivers
(Peace, Athabasca, Liard, Hay, Peel, Nahanni, Slave). It discharges
more water into the Arctic Ocean than the St. Lawrence feeds into
in the MacKenzie basin are
three large lake holding a total of 4000cubic km of water, the Great
Slave, Great Bear and Athabasca lakes.
the area has vast
resources of oil, oil sands, natural gas and various minerals; the
industrial footprint in the region is twice as large as the maritime
provinces of New Brunswick, NovaScotia and Prince Edward Island.
The basin is important to
the environment with large intact original forests, wildlife, bird
migration paths. It also has large stores of methane that will be
released as temperature rises.
The area is in many
jurisdictions (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Yukon,
Northwest Territory, Nunavut)
There is going to be a group,
the Rosenberg Forum, to study the future of this area, chaired by
Henry Vaux, bringing together the governments and other interested
parties. It has the goals of identifying legal and scientific
principles relevant to the processes leading ultimately to a
coordinated basin-wide approach to management, as well as
prioritizing the filling of knowledge gaps. The forum's first meeting
is in September in Vancouver.
GM questions are not scientific
Lately I have noticed that some science
journalists are tut-tutting at other science journalists, bloggers
and even scientists for being anti-science in not supporting the use
genetic modified crops. To these people there is no difference
between anti-climate change, anti-vaccination and anti-GMO; if the
science is good then it should be supported. But what if the
economics, the legal problems, the agricultural practices and the
politics are all wrong. Why are genes (not modified organism seed)
but the actual genes being given patents? Why are Indian farmers
being driven to suicide by being trapped in a debt spiral? Why is the
heavy use of pesticides being encouraged rather than discouraged? Why
is Monsanto allowed to wield such enormous monopoly power?
There has just been a little bomb shell
in this debate, a French study and its publication. On the face of
it, the research was not great and it was publicized in an unusual
way. The paper has its supporters and detractors.
Here is part of a Guardian article
giving the researchers answers to their critics:
“Here are the criticisms in a
nutshell and Séralini's responses:
1. The French researchers were accused
of using the Sprague Dawley rat strain which is said to be prone to
developing cancers. In response Séralini and his team say these are
the same rats as used by Monsanto in the 90-day trials which it used
to get authorisation for its maize. This strain of rat has been used
in most animal feeding trials to evaluate the safety of GM foods, and
their results have long been used by the biotech industry to secure
approval to market GM products.
2. The sample size of rats was said to
be too small. Séralini responded that six is the OECD recommended
protocol for GM food safety toxicology studies and he had based his
study on the toxicity part of OECD protocol no. 453. This states that
for a cancer trial you need a minimum of 50 animals of each sex per
test group but for a toxicity trial a minimum of 10 per sex suffices.
Monsanto used 20 rats of each sex per group in its feeding trials but
only analysed 10, the same number as Séralini.
3. No data was given about the rats'
food intake. Seralini says the rats were allowed to eat as much food
as they liked.
4. Séralini has not released the raw
data from the trial. In response he says he won't release it until
the data underpinning Monsanto's authorisation of NK603 in Europe is
also made public.
5. His funding was provided by an
anti-biotechnology organisation whose scientific board Séralini
heads. But he counters that almost all GM research is funded by
corporates or by pro-biotech institutions.”
Then there is the question of how the
paper was released. Often journalists are given copies of papers
ahead of publication so that they can study them in order to write
knowledgeable reviews when the paper is published. This is done with
an embargo on the journalists publishing before the paper appears. In
the case of this particular paper, journalist had to sign an extra
clause for an embargoed copy. They had to promise not to show or
discuss the paper with any other people. Many journalists were
unwilling to sign and complained the embargo was unfair. They use the
time before papers appear precisely to discuss the paper with
scientists in order to understand paper better and to have quotes to
justify their opinions. On the face of it, the journalist's complaint
was reasonable. However, the researchers saw it differently. Some
think they were frightened of Monsanto's power. Things have happened
before with papers like this. “But it was a triumph for the
scientific and corporate establishment which has used similar tactics
to crush other scientists like Arpad Pusztai of the Rowett Institute
in Scotland, who was sacked after his research suggested GM potatoes
damaged the stomach lining and immune system of rats, and David Quist
and Ignacio Chapela, who studied the flow of genes from illegally
planted GM maize to Mexican wild maize.”
Probably the most telling part of this
sad paper's story is that the study was not principally about GM
maize but the effects of Roundup herbicide.
Because this research was done by a
French group and taken seriously by the French government, France has
been called "the most anti-science country in anti-science
Europe" by a Monsanto supporter. (France does not allow GM maize
and is lobbying the rest of Europe to do the same.) Neither France
nor Europe is anti-science but very supportive of much good science.
Europe's farmers and consumers are not asking for GM crops.
Environmentalist are against GM and government policy/legal groups
are suspicious. It has nothing to do with science as such.
Europe is not alone. Five million
Indian farmers are suing Monstanto for its responsibility for a
farmer suicide every 30 minutes in the 'suicide belt' where
Monsanto's GM Bt cotton has captured the market. The reason for the
suicides are terrible debts. One reason is the groundbreaking
'bio-piracy' charges. Monsanto gets paid when it sells its seeds. The
law gives producers the right to multiply the seeds they buy and
nowhere in the world is there a requirement to pay to use self-saved
seed. But with the bio-piracy charges, producers are in effect paying
Monsanto a private tax on production, every year, forever. This is
only one of the practices that Monsanto is accused of.
Starting a decade ago, 90% of the
country's cotton growers had adopted the GM cotton. This year the
Minister of Agriculture told cotton growing States in India. “Cotton
farmers are in a deep crisis since shifting to Bt cotton. The spate
of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt
cotton farmers." In the 5 years since GM cotton was accepted,
cotton yields have fallen year on year and pest attacks have
increased. The use of expensive pesticides has had to increase and
now the cost of growing cotton is greater than the return. The
farmers are deep in debt and are having crop failures with the Bt
cotton (it is not suitable for this particular climate), but the only
credit available from seed agents is for the Monsanto seed because
there are much higher commissions for the seed agents compared to
traditional seed. Monsanto is accused of giving bad advice, advice
that farmers could not understand, selling seed in areas where it was
unsuitable to the climate and other sharp practices.
It is not just peasant farming (like
India) that is suffering according to some. The herbicide-tolerant GM
soybean and corn) are losing their power because of super weeds and
super pests that require higher and higher amounts of pesticide. Resistant weeds have become a major problem for many farmers
reliant on GE crops. They must use more and more chemicals. The heavy use of pesticides has an
Of course, this news is attacked as 'anti-science' by the main stream
and is not to be believed.
This has nothing to do with science –
it is about laws, business practices, farming practices and probably
The EU peace prize
The European Union won the 2011 Nobel
Peace Prize and there has been a storm of disapproval from observers
outside the EU. This is not too surprizing; there is always some
complaints and this year there were 231 candidates so many
We have heard people say the EU is in a
mess, that it has not been 'at peace', and that its existence has not
stopped conflicts. I think these ideas are crazy.
From the end of the Roman Empire to
recently, large parts of Europe were almost continuously at war. Take
France and Germany: parts of the 30 Years War and the Wars of
Religion; War of the Spanish Succession; Wars of the France
Revolution; Napoleonic Wars; Franco-Prussian War, World War 1; World
War 2, to mention only the big ones that stick in my head. France and
England only stopped their on-off wars with the start of the 20th
century, all most a thousand years of little and big wars. Everywhere
you look there were long traditions of conflict. Each war left the
seeds of the next one.
A number of people were determined to
stop the tradition of war. In France, Germany and the low countries
there was the feeling that only economic integration could stop the
possibility of war. The EU was slowly born and has grown from 6 to 27
nations. There has not been a war inside the EU during the 60 odd
years of its existence – not a one. And this is not because there
were not a lot of scores to settle.
Besides stopping the cycles of war, the
EU set high standards for justice, democracy and protection of
citizens in its members and these standards were used to rise the
standards of states wanting to join the EU. Finally it eased the
ending of the iron curtain. There was a strong home for the new east
European countries to enter. The problems of the breakup of
Yugoslavia was the only violent conflict and the EU rose to the role
of the policeman and finally brought peace to the area and now many
of the Balkan states are joining the union.
Just because the EU is not perfect does
not mean that it is not responsible for peace in Europe and rising
the standards of justice, democracy and human rights in the
continent. That is what it got the prize for.
So what is wrong with the EU? Well, quite a bit is wrong, but not its lack of war in Europe. Although
the member states are democratic, the EU itself is not. It is a huge
bureaucracy that is only responsible to the governments (not the
people) of the member states. The European parliament has very little
power. This is how the countries seem to want it. There is poor
control of the money and parliamentary democracy to a certain extent
depends on the elected politicians holding the purse strings. This
will change slowly over time as it has been doing. It has been handling the Euro problem badly with hardship in continuous demonstrations/strikes/riots in southern Europe.
There is a big difference between riot and war.
But without this
top-down control, the EU would not have survived its early years. My
personal hope is that the EU becomes a union of the regions of Europe
rather than the larger present sovereign states. It should be a union
of places like Wales, Basque, Bavaria, etc. - the natural divisions
of the continent and the level where democratic government should
work best. The umbrella of the EU is still needed. It is not perfect
because it is still very experimental. Humanity has not tried to do
something like the EU before, so far it is not a centralized state, a
federation or an empire, but an attempt of equals to cooperate.
On a lighter note: You may think that I
exaggerate how warlike Europeans are/were. Stuart Leycock has written
a book, All the Countries We've Ever Invaded: And the Few We Never
Got Round To which looks at all
the invasions, big or small, official or unofficial, by the British.
The countries that have not had British invasions within their
current borders are only 22 out of 194: Andorra, Belarus, Bolivia,
Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Republic of,
Guatemala, Ivory Coast, Kyrgyzstan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Mali,
Marshall Islands, Monaco, Mongolia, Paraguay, Sao Tome and Principe,
Sweden, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Vatican City. It seems the French and
Americans have pretty long lists of invasions as well.
Now, everyone knows that earthquakes
have never been, and still aren't, accurately predictable. And in a
place like Italy, earthquakes are not unusual. In 1349, 1461 and 1703
there were earthquakes that destroyed the region of L'Aquila. In 2009
there was another quake, magnitude 6.3. It killed 309 people, injured
about a 1000 and made many thousand homeless. Six scientists and a
government official were convicted of multiple manslaughter for
giving a falsely reassuring statement a week before the quake and
given 6 year sentences plus heavy fines. The world's scientists
immediate voiced their fury at the verdict and the local population
So what should happen:
- There were tremors in the L'Aquila
region and the local people did as they usually did – they slept
in the open rather than in their houses. This situation lasted long
enough that the population was near to panic.
- A local man, Giampaolo Guiliani,
not a scientist but a technician who monitored radon levels,
predicted a large quake. This caused more panic and uncertainty in
the population, announcing a quake with his loudhailer. He had done
this on two previous occasions when there was no quake and had been
forced to stop tell people to evacuate and causing panic but he was
not stopped this time. (As it happens he was wrong about the site of
the damage and his advice would have made matters worst.)
- To deal with this situation, the
government convened the commission that gives advice on such risks.
They met and discussed the situation, gave advice to a government official and left. There were no minutes made of this
meeting until after the quake happened and there is a big difference
between what the scientists say they said and appears in the
minutes, against what the official announced to the press. The
official also feels he was misquoted. The scientists claim that what
they advised was that the tremors did not mean there was going to be
a big quake but it was a possibility. This is not what appeared in
the press. Between the scientists, the official, the reporters
and what people read into reports, the wrong message was taken. May
thought we had been given an 'all clear'.
- The local population took the
message (whether it was actually given or not) that a big quake was
unlikely and many of them resumed sleeping in their homes.
- A week later, the quake happened
and many who were sleeping in their houses died or were injured.
They were very angry because they thought they had been encouraged
to return to their homes. Guiliani spoke up again saying he was
vindicated and the scientists were guilty. He and grieving
relatives agitated for a trial.
- The commission members and the
government official were charged with manslaughter and the official
was fired. The head of the commission resigned as did his deputy and
a number of members. Some of possible replacements said they would
- The exact details of the charge
were not clear and the scientific community assumed that they were
being charged with not having correctly predicted the quake. This
caused many individuals and organizations to loudly condemn the
court action. The phrase, “having carried out a superficial
analysis of seismic risk and of having provided false reassurances
to the public.” was interpreted to mean not correctly
predicting and so was the notion of manslaughter interpreted this
- The group was not expecting to be
found guilty as they were the cream of Italy's siesmic authorities:
the head of the Serious Risks Commission, the former President of
the National Institute of Geophysics, the Director of the National
Earthquake Centre, the Director of the European Engineering, a
physicist, the Director of the Civil Protection Agency's earthquake
risk office, along with the official, now former,
Vice-President of the Civil Protection Agency's technical
department. Again it was not immediately clear why they were found
guilty as the full judgement was not released until later.
Condemnation from scientists became fury. The local population
approved of the verdict. The judge gave a longer sentence than the
prosecution asked for.
- It is now clear that the judgment
was not about prediction but about communication. The population
were not told so that they could understand what the risk was.
Prosecutors claimed locals were given "incomplete, imprecise
and contradictory" information on the dangers they faced. It is
also clear that there will be an appeal and a good probability that
the verdict will not stand and almost certainty that the sentences
will not be served even if the verdict does not completely
- There are still many people in the
region who believe that the accused criminally mislead the public,
and many people in the science community that believe that
scientists could refuse to work for the Italy government because of
the way these commissioners were treated.
- People need to be educated on the
subject and told “prediction is not possible”, “there is
danger in quakes but there is also danger in false alarms”, “you
cannot take revenge on someone for their advice and then expect to
have good advice in the future”, “people have some
responsibility to use their common sense”.
- The Italian Government needs to
take responsibility for the plans, facilities, building standards,
communication with the public and so on. Whenever there is a quake
(whether people are warned or not) what is needed from government is
good preparation and good services in the aftermath. Why was it
impossible to evacuate people, as people say? The government should
also publicly back their Commissions.
- The Commission needs to concern
themselves with who is relaying their advice and how. They probably
should have their own spokesperson, a communications expert. Someone
that does not mislead people. At the time of their meeting and
leaving, they appeared arrogant. A simple apology in time might have
helped – not for an error in prediction but an error in
- The judiciary should resist what
will appear to the world to be a kangeroo court reaching a bad
verdict and a gross sentence, because of unreasonable public
feeling. They might also have done something about a charlatan
pretending that he could predict a quake.
- Something should be done about
people living in stone houses in earthquake zones but given the
historic nature of the Italian towns, it is doubtful that anything
will change. This sort of earthquake would not have killed people in
places that make quake proof building a requirement.
Differing economic models are at the root of the sparring between the
UK and Europe especially France. France does not want what they call
Anglo-Saxon economics and the UK does not want the Rhine model.
The Anglo-Saxon model came into being in the 70s lead by the Chicago
school (Friedman and Hayek) and was the policy of Reagan, Thatcher and
their countries' later leaders. The aim is less regulation, less taxes
and smaller government. Its is libertarian and free market oriented
with the aim of greater overall prosperity. Of course, the UK and USA
do not think of their model is one of many but as simply mainstream
The Rhine capitalism is a name coined by Michel Albert in his book
"Capitalisme contre Capitalisme" where he contrasted the ideas of Reagan
and Thatcher with the mainstream thought in France, Germany and
Scandinavian countries. The aim of this economics is to be more
equitable, efficient and kinder - strong banks with close relationships
with companies along with a loss of power of stock exchanges through
more regulation. The system relies on a social partnership between
employers and unions. The economy should shared the values of most of
the citizens, especially equality and solidarity.
Some people talk of the German model and the Nordic model being somewhat
different from the Rhine model but they all have in common: social
security in illness, unemployment etc., reducing economic inequality,
strong banking system but weak equity market, solidarity based
insurances, a large public sector, and far reaching labor laws. The
Nordic model is known for its mixed economy, universal welfare, and
individual autonomy. This Nordic model has led in gender equality,
wealth redistribution and expansive fiscal policy with high public
spending and taxation.
So it is not surprising that there is friction between the UK and the
majority of the EU centered on France and Germany. They simply see
things differently. Times are hard so the UK is in favour of reducing
the Brussel's budget; but, times are hard and so much of Europe is in
favour of increasing the Brussel's budget so that it can support
European jobs and companies.
This time last year when S&P slightly lowered France's credit
rating, the French pointed out very strongly that they were doing
better than the UK but the UK's rating had not been lowered. Therefore
S&P was using criteria that were unfair (S&P did not like the
French government's involvement in industry). As far as Moody and Fitch
ratings are concerned the USA, UK, French and German ratings were
identical Aaa/AAA. But S&P gives AAA to the UK and Germany while
the USA has AA+ and France AA. S&P has said that it takes into
account governance as well as economic stats in making its ratings
while the other two don't. The UK took the France complaint to be
suggesting that the UK rate should be lowered and were annoyed but the
French were actually saying that their own rate should not have been
lowered. It took Cregg to calm things.
Now there is a fuss about another article in The Economist magazine.
This is the third articles critical of France. The magazine said that
Hollande and Ayrault were not brave enough to impose reforms against
public opinion. Therefore France was not going to be competitive and
would become a danger to the euro. The greatest crime that France was
accused of is raising taxes.
Of course the French are vivid. They point out that The Economist is
not even-handed. It is accused of sensationalism to sell papers, of
France bashing, of being absurd and making groundless predictions. It
has been called the “Pravda of finance” and “little Taliban of
It seems that The Economist is not happy with anything but the
Anglo-Saxon model and the French really dislike any suggestion that
they should be following that model. The irony is that it was the
Anglo-Saxon model, in full flight, that caused the financial melt down,
and this does not seem to have had any effect on the insistence by some
in the UK and USA that Europe must adopt that model. The French
certainly see the irony.
Violence is decreasing
Iowa State's Matt DeLisi has studied the cost of crime. 654 murders
from 8 states averaged a cost per murder of a little over $17,000
(victim costs, criminal justice system costs, lost productivity
estimates for both the victim and the criminal, but not prison costs).
The costs per murderer are often higher because murder is often
multiple and so costs are divided by the number of murders. The other
per crime costs are: rape $455,000, armed robbery $336,000, aggravated
assault $145,000, burglary $41,000. Compared to the cost of prevention
from prevention researchers, even expensive prevention programs are
cost effective and most programs are very inexpensive. It seems that
when ordinary people are aware of the cost effectiveness of prevention
programs they prefer them – politicians of both parties seem to prefer
harsh treatment as they believe it is what people want.
Politicians also believe that people are convinced that crime rates are
raising. Surprising for a deep recession, the crime rate has continued
its 20 year drop in the States. This is very noticeable as the crime
rate rose sharply and then peaked in 1990 after which it has fallen
sharply. Stats for Europe are not comparable. However property crime
rates seems to have soared from very low rates to a peak in about 1995
at about the same level as the earlier US peak and have fallen steadily
since. They are slightly higher now then American rates but falling at
the same rate. Violent crime also peaked in the US in the early 90s but
has not peaked in Europe and continues to rise. Despite this the rate
of violent crime is still lower in most European countries than in the
US. The French are in the lowish group of European countries in
both types of crime but has the common trend.
What causes crime rates to change? The BBC did a show – the graph is
from them. And the 10 reasons they found for which there was at least
some evidence are:
The Obama effect could explain the increased pace of the reduction of
the last few years. Black youth may be responding to a new role model.
The fall in demand for crack may be a factor as word got round of the
dangers of crack use and dealers were aggressively targets by
Smarter policing with innovative schemes, community education,
prevention programs, promotion of anti-theft devices and the like have
had results in many places.
Number crunching by police with computer systems to identify hot spots led to more effective use of police resources.
Increased availability of legal abortion after 1973 mean fewer unwanted
children raised in difficult circumstances. Those 'missing' children
would be coming to 20 in 1993.
More criminals were behind bars and therefore unable to offend.
Lead in petrol decrease between '75 and '85 so that today's 20 year olds were not exposed to dangerous levels.
The baby boomers grew up and so there are less late teen and early 20s (the criminal age) as a proportion of the population.
Video games are keeping young people off the streets and this more than
offsets any encouraging of violent behaviour from playing the games.
The proliferation of camera phones has increased the risk of identification and so is a deterrent.
New York is the star of the drop in crime – no other city in the
developed world has had a bigger or more sustained drop in crime. It
has not managed to deal with poverty, unemployment, drugs. It has not
increased incarceration or decreased minorities. Schools, inequalities,
living conditions have not been noticeably improved. There was a clean
up but it does not appear to be the reason for crime falling faster in
NY than in the rest of the country. The only reason that seems to hold
water is that the police force was strengthened, got out of the
stations and on to the streets, and concentrated on high crime areas.
They were seen where crime happens and were aggressive against it; the
additional costs of these officers was more than paid for by the drop
in cost of crimes and incarceration.
But perhaps people are just less violent. Steven Pinker has a new book,
"The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence in History and
its Causes". This goes against the feeling that most people have that
the world is an increasingly violent place. But Pinker has the numbers
of his side. Murder and warfare have declined from prehistory to today
and we are safer than we have ever been. Here are his reasons: the slow
emergence of states capable of playing the role of controlling
violence; the pacifying impact of commerce and trade on behaviour; the
impact of the Enlightenment on the way people thought about others; the
evolution of notions of etiquette over the centuries; the way print and
literacy expanded the "circle of empathy" beyond people's immediate
family; the importance of women in civilising men; and the "long peace"
that followed the second world war.
“Believe it or not, violence has been in decline for long stretches of
time, and we may be living in the most peaceful era in our species'
existence. The decline has not been steady; it has not brought violence
down to zero; and it is not guaranteed to continue. But it is a
persistent historical development, visible on scales from millennia to
years, from world wars and genocides to the spanking of children and
the treatment of animals.
The fact that violence is so pervasive in history, but nonetheless can
be brought down, tells us that human nature includes both inclinations
toward violence and inclinations toward peace – what Lincoln called
"the better angels of our nature" – and that historical changes have
increasingly favoured our better angels. These changes include the
development of government, commerce, literacy, and the mixing of ideas
and peoples, all of which encourage people to inhibit their impulses,
expand their empathy, extricate themselves from their parochial vantage
points, and treat violence as a problem to be solved rather than as a
contest to be won.”
Are we just domesticating ourselves?
Here is a surprising figure. The global
debt of the whole world is 3 times the global gross domestic product.
In other words it would take every single bit of the goods and
services of the whole world for three years to pay the world's debts.
The non-industrial world almost do not figure in this – small debts
and small GDP.
No one wants to pay all the debts –
that is not the point and not a good thing. It is just a way to
imagine how big the world's debts are. In fact debt is the only way
the current economic system has to create money so as to expand the
If you are wondering how this
debt-making-money thing works, here is the simplest example. I have a
bank account and I put 100 in it. The bank now can lend that 100 to
Jo, and he too has an account with 100 in it. Now there is 200 in
existence - simple. Banks are allowed to loan some multiple of money
on account (say 5 or 8 depending on the country). So 100 whatnots can
become 900 if the multiplier is 8.
Bank Act was passed in 1863 "From this point on
the entire US money supply would be created out of debt by bankers
buying US government bonds and issuing them from reserves for bank
notes...In numerous years following the [Civil] war, the Federal
Government ran a heavy surplus. It could not (however) pay off its
debt, retire its securities, because to do so meant there would be no
bonds to back the national bank notes. To pay off the debt was to
destroy the money supply.". - John
1913 the banks monopoly was consolidated formalized into the private
hands of a small and secretive group under the Federal Reserve Act.
"Loans alone cannot sustain the money supply because they zero
out when they get paid back. In order to keep money in the system,
some major player has to incur substantial debt that never gets paid
back; and this role is played by the federal government." -
As long as everyone is careful and
honest and transparent, this system sort of works. But it is totally
in the control of banks and so it is bankers that must be careful,
honest and transparent. But what happens when people take huge risks,
are dishonest and hide what is happening? Deregulation allowed this
to happen on a large scale and we are living with the result.
Interesting news: The Basel Committee
which is a group of banking regulators from 27 nations has published
new rules of the ratio of assets to loans. It will allow a wider
range of assets to be used in the ratio. It now includes some shares,
corporate bonds, and (believe it or not) high-quality residential
mortgage-backed securities. These assets are supposed to be real and
easily converted into cash. It was the imaginary worth of
mortgage-backed securities and the inability to convert them quickly
that caused the credit crunch that started the banking crisis. The
ratio is more stringent then it was in 2007 but is lenient compared
to the current bank holdings of these sorts of assets – currently
banks are hold large quantities of shares, corporate bonds and
mortgage backed securities. The change with take a couple of years.
Every once it a while, someone says
that the banks (or some of group) will have a 'take a hair cut'. In
other words, they will have a accept that a particular debt will
never by repaid and so write it off. But so far it is only the tax
payers that have been forced to pay.
Now I sometimes think that bankers etc.
have created a load of fictitious money (out of for instance
fictitious morgages – fictitious because they could not possibly be
paid off). They bought and sold this fictitious money to one another.
Now it is seen to be worthless, they insist the governments buy it.
We will pay until that fictitious money is all made real and in the
hands of bankers and large investors. Oh, how I hope I am wrong
because the amount will reduce us all to poverty given that it is a
largish part of a debt that is 3 times the global GDP.
Idle No More
When I returned to Canada at the
beginning of the '80s, I was shocked by the position of the natives.
I had been to a number of countries and seen a lot of different
situations of discrimination, and as an impartial outsider I learned
a lot about how discrimination works. Returning I saw there was
definitely discrimination against the natives in Canada, but a number
of people I knew and whose views I usually liked just couldn't see
it. They thought that they didn't discriminate personally (which may
have been true) and that was all that mattered. They could not see
the whole situation that the Canadian institutions and governments
had produced over the history of the country was gross
discrimination. They did not see that among the various
discriminations that various nations practice, Canada's stands out
with a dozen of so others that are discriminating in an especially
deep, wide and systematic way. Not a 'nice' Canada.
The archetype of systematic
discrimination was the old South Africa, and when they were setting
up apartheid, the white South Africans used Canada's way of dealing
with the natives as a model!! Eventually the whole world (including
Canada) disapproved of apartheid, but Canada saw no irony. It is
always harder to see that a small population is being mistreated by a much
larger one than the obviousness of a small privileged group
oppressing the majority.
When I grew up, I knew there was an
Indian Act, and reservations, and band chiefs. But I thought this was
normal. I didn't realized the import of such things. I knew about the
Riel Rebellion, Metis script, the loss of the buffalo. But the real
causes and effects of that history was not part of the story. But
when I returned to Canada, the system was obvious.
The Indian Act dates from 1876, many
years before apartheid was created. It is part of the founding of
Just taking the registered band-members
on reserves, we have hundreds of thousands of people who have no
democratic rights and no recourse to the laws that govern and protect
all Canadians. They must live on reserves with many, many rules
separating them from the rest of the population. Until recently, they
were educated in residential schools which separated children from
their parents with terrible consequences for their language and
culture, not to mention the widespread abuse suffered by the
individual children. Trade is regulated so that there is little
conducted across the reserve boundaries.
I knew when I was a child that the
reservation 'Indians' had free education and health care as well as
other services and sort of 'municipal' budget money for roads etc.
They paid no taxes. But if they wanted to give these privileges up
they could become ordinary citizens and they were said to have sold
their Indian status (for $200 if my memory serves me right).
The result of all this was ill health,
bad education, abuse of children, unemployment, destruction of native
culture without assimilation into the major culture, inadequate
housing and utilities, many local petty dictators. Only a handful of
bands lived acceptably comfortable and fullfilling lives.
The First Nation individuals that
escaped the reserve, formed a poor underclass, living in poverty,
underemployment and crime in city 'slums'. Many were alcoholics.
This all comes about because of the
Treaties. As each tribe was in effect (rarely 'in fact') conquered,
there would be a treaty, an agreement between the crown and a
sovereign tribal nation. These agreements were by and large honoured
by the tribe and not by the crown/government.
When I was young the received knowledge
was that the reservation Indians were dieing of TB and would all be
gone someday, while the non-treaty Indians would be assimilated into
main stream society. This would take a long time, but it was
inevitable and so there was no Indian Problem (as it was called then)
to worry about.
No one was talking like that when I
came back. The First Nations are about 2% of the population but that
percentage continually rose. They are a young group compared with the
rest of the population; they were having children and not dieing of
TB in large numbers.
That was what I knew before leaving
Canada – I didn't think it was a good or fair situation. But it was
only when I came back that I saw it as diabolical and systematic.
Now there is Idle No More in the news
and I feel that I should tell my non-Canadian readers why the
'natives are revolting'. There are several reasons: protection of the
environment and First Nations land, the living conditions on the
reservations, unilateral actions and lack of proper consultation or
respect. All sorts of grievances come together under the banner of
Idle No More. The most prominent were the oil sand and pipelines, the
Canadian budget, and housing on the Attawapiskat reserve. In the
background was the position of the Metis and non-status natives, the
police response (non-response?) to disappearing and murdered
aboriginal women, the aftermath of the examination of residential
school abuse, the division of tribes by the Canada/US border and no
doubt many, many more questions.
Idle No More was started by 4 women and
a website. When asked to identify their leaders and objectives,
Idle No More answered:
This movement has been guided by
Spiritual Elders, dreams, visions, and from peoples’ core values.
We are here to ensure the land, the waters, the air, and the
creatures and indeed each of us, return to balance and discontinue
harming each other and the earth.
The rest of this item is details of the
strands that have come together under this umbrella.
Greenpeace obtained (under Access to
Information) a letter to Ministers of the Canadian Government from 4
major oil and gas lobby groups. The industry had a problem with
environmental laws focusing on protecting the environment.
“[W]e believe that the basic
approach embodied in existing legislation is out-dated. At the heart
of most existing legislation is a philosophy of prohibiting harm;
'environmental' legislation is almost entirely focused on preventing
bad things from happening rather than enabling responsible outcomes.
This results in a position of adversarial prohibition, rather than
enabling collaborative conservation to achieve agreed common goals.”
The oil industry associations
explicitly identified the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the
Species at Risk Act, the National Energy Board Act, the Migratory
Birds Convention Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act as part
of this “out-dated” approach.
This of course fitted with the
Government's Oil Sands Advocacy Strategy. The government identified
the opposition to the strategy as environmental and aboriginal groups
and organizations among others. The Government was concerned with the
reputation of tar sands oil as 'dirty' and wanted to dispel that
image around the world and especially in Europe. The idea was to
change the laws that obstructed the ten fold expansion of the tar
sands production and to discredit the organizations and individuals
that opposed this.
The Harper government fashioned omnibus
budget bills to do this:
Omnibus budgets bills are not usually
important changes of policy but rather administrative business associated
with a budget. This one was passed in a hurry with minimum
discussion. The Navigable Water Act did spark the beginning of Idle
No More and chief Spence's hunger strike and they were joined with
others in opposition. When the government faced opposition to the
bills, it committed $9 million to an ad campaign on “responsible
resource development”. The more the Government pushes its tar sand
and pipeline agenda, the more the opposition is strengthened. Trying
to discredit scientists, reporters, environmentalists, first nations
does not seem to be working.
- Almost 3,000 environmental
assessments were canceled, as new rules were put in place to ensure
that there would be fewer (and less comprehensive) environmental
assessments in the future.
- Protections for fish and fish
habitat were narrowed, leaving most freshwater fishes with a much
lower level of habitat protection. This is important because the
loss or degradation of habitat is the most important factor leading
to a decline in the health of species worldwide.
- The Navigable Waters Protection
Act was renamed the Navigation Protection Act and federal protection
for waterways was limited to only 62 rivers, 97 lakes and the three
oceans. (There were 2.5 million protected lakes and rivers.) This was a boon to companies like Shell that were facing
uncomfortable questions about their proposal to reroute 21
kilometres of the Muskeg River so they could build a new open pit
tar sands mine, but was of concern to First Nations who use
waterways as a means to access their traditional territories and
exercise their constitutional rights to hunt, fish and trap. It this also a boon to pipeline companies.
- Cabinet ministers (i.e.
politicians, rather than independent agencies like the National
Energy Board) were given greater authority to make final decisions
about what is or isn’t good for the environment.
- Much to the dismay of the
international scientific community, the civil service which enforces
environmental laws was cut, as was the government’s own scientific
- Environment Minister Peter Kent
claimed that Canadian environmental groups concerned about the
expansion of the tar sands were being “used to launder off-shore
foreign funds". This ludicrous assertion was the excuse for new
rules in the budget bill in order to crack down on politically
active charities, along with $8 million for stepped up audits in
what the Globe and Mail newslpaper has called a “witch hunt”.
So why did Chief Spence go to Ottawa to
live in a teepee on hunger strike? One answer is the history of the
Attawapiskat First Nation. The band live in northern Ontario along
the Attawapiskat river and its entry into James Bay. The group ranges
for a few hundred kilometers up the river system and along the coast
of the Bay; but their reserve is half a square mile. The total
population is 2800 but only about 1500 live in the little settlement.
They speak a variety of Cree; some older people do not understand
The Attawapiskat location was a
gathering place for Cree in spring and summer for fishing. In the
winter they dispersed to hunt and trap over a large area. There are
some that still live in the traditional way, many more do for part of
the year, and it is a way of life understood by everyone in the group
– it is their identity. They still have a living culture connected
to the land: hunting, fishing, gathering, trapping. Because of their
isolation they came under the Treaties late. The reservation
community formed between 1930 and the '60s. Until the '60s it was a
settlement of traditional teepees. In the '60s and '70s permanent
buildings were constructed.
The Governance of the band is
supposed to be an elected Chief, Deputy Chief and a 12 member
council. They have 3 year terms of office. There has been a dispute
over the finances of the band. The band is policed by the
Nihnawbe-Aski Police Service which serves northern Ontario. The band
uses the 16 bed hospital in Mossonee which is part of the James Bay
group of hospital services. There is a nursing service and a doctor
visits the community about monthly. Emergencies are moved by air
ambulance to more southerly centers in north Ontario. There is a band
fire service and some recreational facilities.
The Attawapishat school
was opened in '53 and closed in 2000 because it was contamination by
a diesel leak in '79 (the largest spill to have occured in northern
Ontario}. The classes have been in portable buildings (8 double and 3
single portables) since then. Normal teaching is not possible in this
situation and this has lead to parents holding their children back
from school or finding education in other communities. The total
class room area is only half of Indian Affair's meager standards. A
new school was promised by the Minister in 2000, negotiations went on
for years and in 2008 the Government decided it would not
build the school. It was finally started started in the summer of
the Attawapiskat Council and Chief declared a state of emergency
because of a cold snap. The residents had been evacuated from thier
homes in 2009 due to flooding and were still living in makeshift
conditions. Many were in tents and temporary shelters which were not
protecting them from the cold. Public buildings and many houses were
without heating, water and electricity. There was a raw sewage spill
that had not been cleaned up. This crisis became a national scandal
with arguments about who knew what when. The Govenment announced
figures for all the money that had been transferred to the band with
the implied question of what happened to that money. It turned out
that the Government figures were misleading.
The Government claimed
ignorance. The Government should have known the state of Attawapiskat
as UNESCO had reported in 2004 on substandard and deteriorating
housing units, lack of heating and insulation, leaking pipes, diesel
fumes and toxic mould. In 2007 UNHCR reported major problems for
Canada's aboriginal peoples in housing, water, sanitation, and basic
services; they called for changes in governence, legislations,
polices and budgets. (Lately it has been difficult for UNESCO and
UNHCR officials to get visas to enter Canada. Treaty
6 Chiefs wrote to Harper because UN's James Anaya was denied a visa 3
times – 'blame the messager'.) Chief Spence raised concerns
about the housing and sewage back-up with the Federal Government in
2009. In the state of emergency, the Canadian Red Cross began a
program to help Attawapiskat in 2011.
In exasperation at the
bands conditions and angry at the Budget bills, Chief Spence started
her fast. The reaction of the Canadian Government was to plead
ignorance and innocence, claim that the band & chief were to
blame, and insisting that they would not be forced to discuss and do
something about the situation. It was a case of lies, intimidation,
lies about Attawapiskat
The normal situation is that
when the Ministry is not satisfied with band finances they intervene,
first demanding a plan to get the budget on track. If that fails,
they appoint a co-manager agreed with the band. And finally the
Ministry can appoint a third-party management without band agreement.
It has been over 10 years since Attawapiskat had any real control
over finances. Also they had to pay the costs of these measures out
of their budget. (There are 630 such bands in Canada with 157 being
overseen, 63 co-managed and 14 under third-party management. The
average cost to the band of third-party managers is $149,000.) These
interventions are often complete failures.
After Spence declared a state
of emergency, a third-party manager was appointed and 240 modular
homes were trucked to the community. The band returned to
co-management a few months later – this imposition of a third-party
manager was later found to be unreasonable by a Federal Court. This
was considered an attempt to smear Chief Spence.
An audit was ordered and showed that
$104 million was transferred to the band 2005-2011 and that
significant documentation was lacking on its spending. Spence says
the leaked audit is misleading and an attempt to distract from the
issues and smear her. She has only been chief since 2010 and the
audit goes back to 2005. Most of the documentation that was missing
was before her time. There seemed no reason for an audit because the
bands accounts were audited each year by an independent firm, signed
off by the Ministry and posted on the band website. As it happens,
Chief Spence and the co-manager were in a romantic relationship. He
denied any conflict of interest. There were a number of lies or
misleading statements about the amounts of money going to the band
and what they were for. For example Harper said that the band
received $90 million for housing. But this money was the budget for
all services from 2006 onward. It covered health, education,
utilities, maintenance as well as new housing. Then it was said that
the Federal Government gave the band $34 million in the then current
year. But that was not true. There is $17.6 million from the federal
funding, $4.4 million from provincial funding and $12million of its
own revenue that the community brings in. There was not much left for
new housing after all the other bills were paid. Again Harper appears
to have attempted to turn public opinion against the band.
The Auditor General of Canada has
reported on the Government's programs for First Nations reserves.
Since the last report conditions have worsened, the education gap has
widened, the shortage of adequate housing on reserves has become more
acute, and administrative reporting requirements have become more
onerous. Services are not comparable to those provided off reserves
by provinces and municipalities. There is a significant reporting
burden on small First Nations who have limited administrative
capacity and resources. "The government needs to go back and
come up with a new approach if we are going to seriously improve the
conditions on those First Nations reserves." When Sheila Fraser
was Auditor General she reported on aboriginal issues 31 times. There
was practically no press reporting of her repeated condemnation of
the Government, but the leaked financial audit was covered by
everyone with a lot of misleading spin.
In August 2012, the Federal Court
released its judicial review of the appointment of a Third Party
Manager in Attawapiskat. For those not familiar with the different
kinds of cases that come before the various courts in Canada, a
judicial review is a review of the legality of an action or decision
made by legislative and executive branches.
p. 78 "...the [Assistant
Deputy Minister] misunderstood the nature of the problem...what was
really an operational problem. While the [Attawapiskat First Nation]
were having trouble addressing the housing crisis, what they lacked
was not the ability to manage their finances...but the material
means to do so."
p.24,"Despite the [Prime
Minister's] comments about management, the Respondent has not
produced evidence of incorrect spending or mismanagement. In fact,
the reference by the Prime Minister as to the $90 million could not
have related exclusively to the funds made available for housing
repair or reconstruction."
p.21, "At no point prior to
the appointment of the [Third Party Manager] did department officials
indicate there was any problem with Band management. The Band was
already under a co-management regime and no issue of Band management
or financial administration was raised."
Auditor Genral Frazer's reports explain some of the problems:
Frazer had an issue with the reporting
burden for small First Nations. "Contribution agreements
involve a significant reporting burden, especially for small First
Nations with limited administrative capacity. Communities often have
to use scarce administrative resources to respond to numerous
reporting requirements stipulated in their agreements. We followed up
on Aboriginal Affairs efforts to reduce the reporting requirements of
First Nations and found progress to date to be unsatisfactory..."
"The use of contribution
agreements to fund services for First Nations communities has also
led to uncertainty about funding levels. Statutory programs such as
land claim agreements must be fully funded, but this is not the case
for services provided through contribution agreements. Accordingly,
it is not certain whether funding levels provided to First Nations in
one year will be available the following year. This situation creates
a level of uncertainty for First Nations and makes long-term planning
Frazer pointed out the burden of lack
of expertise. "The federal government established each First
Nation band as an autonomous entity and provides separate program
funding to each. Many of these First Nations are small, consisting of
communities that often have fewer than 500 residents. There are more
than 600 First Nations across Canada. Many of them are hampered by
the lack of expertise to meet the administrative requirements for
delivering key programs within their reserves. They often do not have
the benefit of school boards, health boards, or other regional bodies
to support the First Nations as they provide services to community
members." In other words,
the bands must provide services that would be provided by provinces
to most small communities using province's tax revenues. Not only do
small bands have to provide these services out of their budgets but
the Federal Ministries do not have the expertise that the provinces
have to help the bands organize these services.
The bands cannot
make their own decisions either. There is no use blaming the band
when they cannot set priorities. Many Canadians seem to think that
First Nations have self-governance and run themselves freely. Not
true. Ministerial approval is actually a requirement before any
capital expenditures can occur on reserve. That is the opposite of
'doing whatever they want' with the money. Bands are micromanaged
like a child or a mentally incompetent person.
A new Auditor
General of Canada also reported on First Nations in 2011. This report
identifies deficiencies in program planning and delivery by Indian
and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), Health Canada, the Canada
Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), and the Treasury Board of
Canada Secretariat. It gives the Federal Government a failing grade.
“In our view, many of the problems
facing First Nations go deeper than the existing programs' lack of
efficiency and effectiveness. We believe that structural impediments
severely limit the delivery of public services to First Nations
communities and hinder improvements in living conditions on reserves.
We have identified four such impediments: lack of clarity about
service levels, lack of a legislative base, lack of an appropriate
funding mechanism, and lack of organizations to support local service
delivery. I know this is going to look like mumbo jumbo at first, so
let me break it down a little for you. This will help explain why
millions of dollars of funding is not enough to actually improve the
living conditions of First Nations people, particularly those on
reserve.” In effect the
Government was accused of not keeping track of what it does, how it
does it, or whether what it is doing works. The provinces all have
some sort of Education Act that clearly lays out the roles and
responsibilities of education authorities, as well as mechanisms of
evaluation. There is generally no comparable federal legislation for
the provision of First Nations education, health-care, housing and so
on. Provincial building codes and inspection do not apply on
reservations. There is a federal National Building Code, but
enforcement and inspection has been a major problem. This has been
listed as one of the factors in why homes built on reserve do not
have a similar ‘life' to those built off reserve. Late and poor
timing for provision of funds is another key issue. First Nations
often cite a lack of
federal funding as the main reason for inadequate services.
There is endless paperwork required from the bands and then it is
completely ignored by the federal agencies. There is no learning from
The funding for many supplies and
materials is increased by the cost of transport in the north. The
cost of milk in Attawapiskat is over $9 per litre. This sort of
transport cost applies to everything brought in from the south. It is
not reasonable to compare budgets between northern and southern
The plain situation is that the band
was not given the funds to repair and replace the bulk of damage to
housing caused by a flood, or build a replacement school after a
diesel leak, or repair the failure of their sewage system. Very cold
weather left them in a life threatening situation. The crisis was not
their doing but the federal government's. They were smeared with
untrue stories and not helped by the government but by the Red Cross,
other charities and DeBeers in their time of need. Why DeBeers?
The De Beers Canada diamond mine that can dig up 600,000 karats a
year is on nearby Attawapiskat land.
Why is there no money? Is this
austerity? No it is theft. The Federal Government may complain about
the amount they spend on First Nations and how much they might save
but there are companies exploiting native lands and paying royalities
to the Federal Government. The First Nations do not see this money.
It would be enough to pay a large part of the $11 billion that the
Feds say they spend on all the First Nations. The north is very rich
in minerals, gold and diamonds, oil and gas, lumber, hydroelectric
opportunities. The Federal Government gets the money and keeps the
land owners, the First Nations, in poverty. Examples: An
estimated $100 million per year is extracted from the traditional
territories of the Algonquins of Barriere Lake. DeBeers is
constructing a $1 billion mine on the traditional territory of the
Ahtawapiskatowi ininiwak, with an anticipated revenue of $6.7
billion. Over $14 billion in oil and gas has been removed from the
traditional territory of the Lubicon Cree.
Criticism of Harper
Goodale MP from Wascana Saskatchewan is a Liberal, in the center with
parties to both left and right. This was written in the early days of
the Spence fast. He says:
was clearly demonstrated in 2006, the moment he (Harper) took office,
when he cancelled the Kelowna Accord. That fully-funded, five-year
Accord dealt with Aboriginal housing and water, healthcare,
education, economic development and stronger governance (including
the concept of a First Nations Auditor-General to ensure transparency
It took nearly 24 months of careful dialogue
to build the trusting relationship in which Kelowna was rooted. The
Accord had the support of the federal government, all 10 provinces
and three territories, and the five national Aboriginal organizations
– until Mr. Harper killed it.
Much goodwill was lost, but some
hope was rekindled in 2008 when the government apologized for
Canada’s sorry role in Indian Residential Schools. Sadly, there was
little follow-up. The same happened in 2011 after out-going
Auditor-General, Sheila Fraser, described Aboriginals as the most
impoverished people in the country – nothing changed.
a year ago, in response to the widely reported misery at
Attawapiskat, Mr. Harper agreed to a Crown-First Nations Summit. But
again, a year has passed with no progress, which brings us to the
Idle-No-More movement, a hunger strike by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa
Spence, and the tumult last week in Ottawa.
First, Mr. Harper
needs to give Chief Spence the private but sincere assurance that the
neglect of past years will be truly rectified. She must be persuaded
to live, not starve. Secondly, it will take time to restore the
respect and trust that made Kelowna possible, especially in the
complicated fields of treaty rights and land claims, but a credible
beginning must be made very quickly. On the federal side, the
government needs to be consultative, not unilateral. They must be
prepared to serve the greater public
merely a narrow ideological base. Third, immediate progress can be
made in several areas. For example, a Royal Commission could get to
work on what happened to hundreds of missing and murdered Aboriginal
women. The budget this spring could bring federal funding for the
K-12 education of First Nations children up to the higher
amounts-per-child that provinces invest in non-Aboriginal kids. And
the feds could get rid of their “cap” on funding for
post-secondary education and child welfare. These things would be a
Maude Barlow (Council of Canadians,
Food and Water Watch, Blue Planet Project) and Ken Georgetti
(Canadian Labour Congress) say:
“Imagine a country where the
national government introduces and passes legislation that
detrimentally affects all of its First Nations communities but it
doesn't bother to consult with them. Then a chief of an impoverished
northern First Nation community goes on a hunger strike to get a
meeting between the First Nations leadership and the government
several months after this legislation was passed. Does this have
implications for all Canadians? You bet it does. This will not be the
last time that individuals or groups will take such extreme measures
in response to the federal government's public policy process or lack
All Canadians owe a debt of
gratitude to Chief Theresa Spence's and Elder Raymond Robinson's
hunger strikes. These individuals are calling attention to an
intolerable situation among First Nations communities. They are also
highlighting concerns common to many Canadians about dangers posed by
unilateral government actions to the natural environment and the
state of our democracy.
Of major concern to First Nations
and many other Canadians are two omnibus budget bills (C-38 and C-45)
that were imposed upon the country during the past year. These bills
each comprised hundreds of pages and contained legislative changes
that went far beyond what was contained in the budget.
The omnibus bills will have an
especially damaging impact on First Nations communities. Bill C-45
amends the Navigable Waters Protection Act to ensure that future
resource projects will no longer trigger a federal
environmental assessment or force corporations to notify the federal
government of their plans. Certain key rivers in British Columbia,
along the path of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, for
example, will now be excluded from federal government environmental
This same bill also changed the
Fisheries Act in ways that First Nations believe will adversely
affect their traditional fishing rights. The omnibus bills also
replaced the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act with new laws that
will limit First Nations involvement in environmental assessments on
their own lands, as well as doing away with assessments entirely for
some projects. All of this will limit the ability of First Nations,
and the public at large, to present views and concerns on the
environmental impact of various resource development projects.
Bill C-45 also makes changes to the
Indian Act that will make it easier to lease out land for economic
development without adequately consulting band residents. The
Assembly of First Nations believes this means resource exploitation
on reserve land can occur without the solid consent of their
The government acted in a similarly
high-handed way when, without any consultation, it used Bill C-38 to
raise the age from 65 to 67 at which Canadians are eligible for the
Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement. When this
change is implemented, its greatest negative effects will be felt by
the most vulnerable workers. Those who have toiled for low wages,
often in the most physically demanding jobs, will be forced to work
for two extra years before receiving old age security benefits. This
happened despite overwhelming evidence from experts across the
political spectrum that this change was unnecessary.
Here is the problem. This government
drafts public policy and passes laws without facts or evidence to
support its positions. Ottawa allows only limited and perfunctory
consultation for stakeholders. If you stand up and speak out, you are
criticized and attacked in the House of Commons and the Conservative
public relations machine goes into overdrive to discredit your
position or organization. If you are a recipient of federal
government funding, you lose it by the next budget cycle. It's bully
American-style politics at its worst.”
are deeply ashamed of the persistence of poverty and deplorable
living conditions in First Nations communities, and that we still
have not settled land claims with them. Many also share First
Nations' concerns about the environmental implications of changes to
fisheries, environmental assessments, and water protection.”
independent UN expert, Mr Anaya, stressed
that the dialogue between the Government and First Nations should
proceed in accordance with standards expressed in the UN Declaration
on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration states
that indigenous peoples have the right to maintain their distinct
identities and cultures as a basis of their development and place in
the world, to pursue their own destinies under conditions of
equality, and to have secure rights over lands and resources, with
due regard for their traditional patterns of use and occupancy. The
Government affirmed a “commitment to continue working in
partnership with Aboriginal peoples and in accordance with a
relationship based on good faith, partnership and mutual respect,”
when it released a statement supporting the Declaration on 12
November 2010, said Mr. Anaya,
who has asked the Canadian authorities to provide relevant
information on this matter, in accordance with the terms of his
mandate from the UN Human Rights Council.
Rasmussen is a QC prominent in Constitutional, First Nations and
Territorial legal matters. She is also a friend of mine.
“... it certainly is a complex issue, but the major point is treaty
implementation. The Government of Canada entered into these
agreements, but they almost immediately failed to honour them. For
example, it took til 1992 to arrive at a framework agreement for
providing First Nations in Saskatchewan with the land they were
promised in the numbered treaties, starting with Treaty 4 in the
Regina area in 1874. And that was the easy issue! The medicine chest
clause, education, taxation and resource sharing (among others) are
outstanding issues of treaty implementation business that have not
been addressed. My experience is Canada either won't talk to First
Nations about any of these issues (generally, because they will claim
they are provincial responsibilities) or if they do talk, the talking
goes on for generations. It's time to DO something, because the
status quo, where a large segment of society is shut out of the
benefits of the land that was stolen from them, is not sustainable.
The reason why Harper needs to meet with Chief Spence is because he
has all his ministers on a tight leash (the way he has muzzled the
scientists) and no one is allowed to say anything - let alone do
anything. I see he has now actually agreed to meet, so he has finally
realized that politically he can't afford to have her health/death on
his hands. Rick Mercer has better rants on this topic than I!”
Mercer is a comedian who does a piece on how the Canadian
Constitution works – very true and very funny)
The end of
After a good deal
of maneuvering, there was a meeting arranged with the Prime Minister.
It is not to the liking of Chief Spence because the Crown (in the
person of the Governer General of Canada) was not included in the
meeting. The big national Chief and some other leaders went to the
meeting, Spence and a number of other leaders did not. This almost
split the First Nations: there were leaders who supported the young,
often female Idle No More attitudes and there were leaders who were
happy with the older, male, status quo. Chief Atleo was looking at a
revolt in the national organizations. Fences were mended in the end,
a concession was obtained from the everyone but Harper, there was a
little ceremony and the fasts were ended. Spence was taken to
hospital to recover. What did she get?
She got quite a
bit. Representatives from the Association of First Nations including
Atleo, the NDP caucus and the Liberal caucus all signed a declaration
of specific commitments they will work for as asked for by Spence.
A copy of the declaration, obtained
by CBC News, lists 13 commitments:
One important point
is the requirement for consent for federal legislation that affects
inherent or treaty rights. The constitutional requirement has been
for the government to meaningfully consult with aboriginals over
legislation that affects them. The notion of consent seems to take
the obligation much further.
- An immediate meeting between
the Crown, the federal and provincial governments, and all First
Nations to discuss treaty and non-treaty-related relationships.
- Clear work plans and timelines,
and a demand that the housing crisis within First Nations
communities be considered as a short-term immediate action.
- Frameworks and mandates for
implementation and enforcement of treaties on a nation-to-nation
- Reforming and modifying a
- A commitment towards resource
revenue sharing, requiring the participation of provinces and
- A commitment towards sustained
environmental oversight over First Nations lands
- A review of Bill C-38 and C-45
to ensure consistency with constitutional requirements about
consultation with aboriginal peoples.
- Ensure that all federal
legislation has the consent of First Nations where inherent and
Treaty rights are affected
- The removal of funding caps and
the indexing of payments made to First Nations.
- An inquiry into violence
against indigenous women.
- Equity in capital construction
of First Nation schools and additional funding support for First
- A dedicated cabinet committee
and secretariat within the Privy Council Office responsible for the
First Nation-Crown relationship.
- Full implementation of the
United Nations declaration of the rights of indigenous peoples.
Idle No More has
praised Chief Spense's achievement. But it was also their
achievement. It is unlikely that Chief Spense would have had the
effect she had without the protests of Idle No More. There are
protests and there are protests – blocking roads, bridges, railways
means days outside in a cold Canadian winter. That shows
environmentists and the First Nations
First Nations have been working together to fight the destruction of
the land and water in the north long before Idle No More. They are
now part of the larger movement. The First Nations have a cultural
attachment to nature and its protection that is often underestimated.
It is their duty, as they see it, to protect Mother Earth. It is also
their source of food in their traditional ways of life. And it is
their land and they have never surrendered it. They will resist it
being taken away from them, or being exploited in harmful ways. Much
concern is centered on the tar sands project (the largest industrial
project in the world) and its ruin of the lakes, streams and forest.
Two Alberta bands
with land in the tar sands project area are suing the government over
the omnibus bills. They started this case before Idle No More started
but it will be some time before the case is heard.
How can the Harper
government pry the land from First Nations? They say they intend to
do something like the Dawes Act in the US. They promise to “give”
First Nations the right to use reserve land, that is communal land,
as collateral. It means placing First Nations lands at risk of
purchase or foreclosure by non-band members. That leads to the
destruction of communities as the land disappears, just as it did in
tar sands development can pollute in an unprecedented way a huge
swath of land, river systems and air, changing it from healthy
productive wilderness to a black moonscape. There is an enormous
amount of tar to be mined (the second largest source of fossil fuel
in the world). So the implications for global warming are terrifying.
James Hansen has explained that burning that bitumen on top of
everything else we're combusting will mean it's "game over for
the climate." The fight over tar sands must be won by the First
Nations and the environmentists.
The Idle No More movement arose as a response to what organizers call
the most recent assault on indigenous rights in Canada: Bill C-45,
which passed on December 14. Bill C-45 makes changes to the Indian
Act, removes environmental protections, and further erodes the
treaties with native peoples through which Canada was created. If
Harper was going to continue development of the tar sands, he had no
choice but to remove protection from Canada's rivers and lakes,
because there's no possible way to mine and pipe that sludgy crude
without fouling lakes and rivers.
produces) “weakening of environmental assessment and the removal of
lakes and rivers from protection,” says Eriel Deranger,
Communication Coordinator of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, which
is directly downstream from toxic tar sands mining. She knows
firsthand the importance of protecting waterways from industrial
pollutants. “Indigenous people’s rights,” she says, “are
intrinsically linked to the environment.” She adds that the removal
of such protections paves the way for resource extraction, bringing
Canada closer to its self-stated goal of becoming a global energy
superpower. This isn’t just a native thing, Deranger says; this is
something that affects everyone.
There's trillions of dollars of oil locked up in Alberta's tar sands,
and Harper's fossil-fuel backers won't be denied. It is a matter of
life and death for the First Nations and they are not ready to back
This is old fashioned colonialism – appropriate wealth from
indigenous communities to their detriment and the colonial powers
benefit. It can happen within a country as well as some far-flung
empire. A powerful government cooperating with powerful business
interests is trying to force resource extraction from native, unceded
lands to benefit the (southern) Canadian economy without a care about
destroying the ecosystems that support the indigenous peoples.
The government also is trying to build pipelines to the BC coast and
through the US to the Gulf of Mexico. Both pipelines are resisted by
environmentalists, First Nations and local residents along the
routes. They are also trying to change the use of a pipeline in the
east to get tar from northern Canada to New England ports and this is
Government have let Enbridge do much of the environment impact
assessment that the government is supposed to do. (the fox in charge
of the hen house). By all accounts, Enbridge is failing to properly
assess the impact of the Northern Gateway Pipeline in British
Columbia especially its mandate to assess the impact on First Nations
in BC. Lawyers for coastal First Nations questioned the Enbridge
panel of marine experts on their knowledge of traditional Aboriginal
land use. The responses showed gaps in the consideration of impact on
the First Nations. Jennifer Griffith, legal counsel for the Haisla
First Nation asked the panel whether Aboriginal title rights factored
into the determination of significance of the land at the terminal
site in Kitimat, and Enbridge representative Jeffrey Green said they
After pointed and specific questions showed great ignorance of the
problems for First Nations, Dr. Tom Watson of Soleil Environmental
Consultants, Ltd., told those in attendance that, while the baseline
data regarding First Nations’ land use was incomplete, the
assessment’s conclusions were still applicable. Enbridge experts
defended the process, saying that if the assessment has determined
that there will be no significant damage to marine systems, it stands
to reason that there will be no adverse effects for the Aboriginal
groups who use them. The First Nations disagree and feel that the
process is flawed because their views were not incorporated into the
design of the assessment. Griffith said the latest round of hearings
has shown that the question of Aboriginal rights and title is beyond
the scope of the Joint Review Panel. “That was confirmed in the
testimony given by Northern Gateway that Aboriginal title hasn’t
been considered for the project.” The Haisla First Nation is
concerned that Enbridge is deferring parts of its assessment until
after the application to build is approved. “You’ll see that
Northern Gateway is relying on some future programs to address issue
that have clearly arisen in the context of the assessment.” For
example, Enbridge has suggested a committee made up of all interested
parties, including commercial and recreational fishers, to convene
regularly and address issues arising from the project. “It doesn’t
say how anything is going to get resolved, who has to get out of the
way if there is a problem,” Robert Janes, lawyer for the Gitxaala
nation said. “Maybe the tankers will be adjusted or maybe the
Aboriginal people are just going to be going to a committee and told,
here is our schedule. Adjust your fishing accordingly.” So there is
an environmental assessment that will OK a project without completing
the assessment until after the permission is given. Does that make
sense? And the government says that the assessment covers First
Nations rights and title but the assessment panel has not concerned
itself with them and is not going to. Who is going to consider these
areas before permission is given? The general public's trust in
Enbridge's methods took a hit when it was shown that they even
doctored an important map – did they think that the people who
lived there would not notice?
The panel's hearings are 'public
hearings'. But the panel limited access to the hearings room so it
could listen to statements without distractions. “Given the large
urban nature of Victoria and Vancouver and previous protests held in
both locations regarding the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway
project, the panel has decided that it will limit access to the
hearing room,” stated the directive. So in order to not have to
hear the disapproval of the public, the presenters were in one room
and the public listened to the proceedings in another.
There are also hearings on a proposed expansion to double the
capacity of the existing kinder Morgan's TransMountain pipeline from
the oil sands to the port of Vancouver.
The Keystone XL pipeline (Alberia in Canada is the US Gulf of Mexico) has strong opposition in both Canada and the
US. This opposition includes many Indian tribes in the path of the
pipeline. They have joined with Idle No More. Some American
environmentalist who had not worked closely before with Canadian
First Nations were somewhat awed by the knowledge and commitment of
Idle No More.
might think that oil pipelines are found all over the world so what
is so especially bad about these? They are not pumping oil but are
pumping diluted tar sand bitumen, called 'dilbit'. Bitumen
in its undiluted state is too viscous
to be transported by pipeline. To create a fluid capable of
transportation by pipeline, bitumen must be mixed with a fluid that
has much lower viscosity and will keep bitumen from precipitating
out of the mixture. The most common diluent used to dilute bitumen is
natural gas condensate (NGC), especially the naptha component. Due to
insufficient quantity of natural gas condensate in Alberta, bitumen
shippers also use refined naptha and synthetic crude oil (SCO) as
diluent, and import a considerable amount from the U.S.
Line9 resistance is about the pumping of dilbit through a pipeline
built to carry normal oil across the most populated part of Canada
and to the New England coast. The pipeline is currently used to pump
light crude oil from the South Portland tanker facility to refineries
in Canada. The tar-sands proposal would reverse the flow in one of
the pipeline's two underground pipes, sending tar sands from Alberta,
Canada, to Maine. Dilbit requires higher pressures, higher
temperatures, wears pipelines lines with corrosive chemicals and
included sand. Spills of dilbit are more toxic than normal oil and
the sludgy consistancy is difficult to clear up. Pumping this stuff
around North America is asking for a big disaster – this would end
in tears. Big money is involved. Engridge says, "Over the next three years we’re investing $15 billion
in three initiatives that can provide additional markets for about one
million barrels of Alberta production. And that is in addition to all
the regional pipeline development we’re undertaking in the oilsands and
elsewhere." (click on map to enlarge)
So there are three environmental problems and they are all enormous
threats – the tar sands mining and its effect on a large wilderness
area, the movement of the bitumen and the danger of spills, and the
global warming effect of the mining and the use of the fuel. It is
not surprising that the Harper government left the Kyoto accord, the
only country to do so (although some never signed up). This is not
just a Canadian or even North American problem; it is a global
problem and it drives a train through any attempts to reduce climate
change. The Sierra Club who for a long time has restricted itself to
lobbying, litigation and education is so alarmed by this tar sand
project that for the first time they are endorsing civil
disobedience. Environmentalist know that the Harper government must
The other Indians
During the events around Idle No More,
there has been another big event. There are up to a million more
Indians today than there were a while ago because of a court ruling. It
may be overturned in the future. No doubt the government will appeal
and it will climb to the Supreme Court for a final ruling. A
federal court ruled that up to a million Metis and non-status
Indians qualify as Indians under Section 91(24) of the British North
The federal government itself
acknowledged in a once-secret cabinet memorandum from 1972.
“The Metis and non-status Indian
people, lacking even the protection of the Department of Indian
Affairs and Northern Development, are far more exposed to
discrimination and other social disabilities. It
is fair to say that in the absence of Federal initiative in this
field they are the most disadvantaged of all Canadians.”
government insists that it is only responsible for the welfare of the
Status Indians and of Inuit. But provincial governments insist that
Ottawa is also responsible for meeting the special needs of Metis
citizens – originally people of French or Scottish and Indian
heritage – and of people who, by marriage or by moving, have lost
their status as Indians under the Indian Act. (Many of these losses
of status were scandalous misogyny.)
historical documentation on “half-breeds” is sickening. Judge
Phelan concluded the group of Metis and non-status Indians “has
been able to maintain its identity and form national, provincial and
regional associations claiming a potential membership of
approximately 1,000,000 people.” Metis
and non-status Indians, he believes, qualify as Indians under Section
91 of the BNA Act, provided they self-identify as such, and are
recognized as such by a Metis or Indian groups or organizations.
There is a problem
here. The Federal Government are not going to want to pay more. The
Provincal Government are going to want Federal money for what they
pay for Metis and non-status services. The new offical Indians are
going to want an improvement in their situation. And the Treaty
Indians do not want a cut to their support to cover the others. Even
though this has nothing to do with Chief Spence, it is sure to colour
the debates that Idle No More is creating. The 'other Indians' are
active in Idle No More.
It would not even
be surprising if the debate started to include the question of why
the areas with high aboriginal populations are still territories
rather than provinces. Are the Dene and the Inuit incapable of
running a province? The Federal Government can pick and choose when
to include or exclude the Territories when consulting with the
Provinces (as they do in including or excluding Metis and non-status
Indians from consultations with the First Nations).
done what they can get away with for over a hundred years and have
left Canada with this mess.
The Department of
Justice fights every fight with the First Nations but they often
lose. “The government’s method is always the same, fight as hard
as possible at every step, lose, interpret the decision as narrowly
as possible, and fight the next case on the same issues in the same
way. The purpose is to exhaust the funding and energy of the opponent
while continuing to exploit the resources.”
What can I say that is good about
Canada's treatment of First Nations?
There is a big
answer, if a bit sarcastic – the Canadian aboriginals are alive,
which is more than can be said for the natives of Newfoundland and
the Caribbean who were victims of complete genocide. There was no
Trail of Tears or Wounded Knee as in the US. In fact, many American
natives took refuge in Canada, preferring the RCMP to the US Cavalry.
That does not count for much in this day and age.
And on a lighter
note, there was a running joke on Twitter. Take a statement that smears
First Nations and put it in the context of the government in Ottawa.
“You can become the majority leader of #Ottawapiskat with only 33%
of band members voting for you”, “#Ottawapiskat debt hovering
around $600,000,000,000. Might be time for a third-party manager”
'The Journey of Nishiyuu' (The Quest for Unity)as it sets off
and 17 days out on the journey in support of Idle No More. They are
going from Northern Quebec on
a 1100 kilometer walk to Ottawa and intend to get there in March.
The horse meat scandal
We have horse meat in our beef – that
is the growing scandal in Europe. Starting with one discovery in
Ireland it has grown to involve the UK, than Luxembourg, France,
Italy, Holland, Sweden and on and on. It slowly rumbles along.
First the source of horse meat was
supposed to be in the UK but no – there are companies dealing with
horse meat but it was all properly labeled as horse meat and ship to
the continent not Ireland. Next it was done by the mafia in Italy
accused of bring horse meat from Bulgaria. But Bulgaria showed that
their horse meat was properly labeled. And Italy too showed that it
passed through Italy to Holland properly labeled as horse. Then it
was traced to France where it entered as horse and then by miracle
became beef before it passed to Luxembourg. The French company was
charged and shut down. All was well again.
But then people started doing DNA tests
on everything. And horse was turning up everywhere in processed and
frozen meat (patties, shepherd's pie, lasagna, meat balls, anything
made with mince and the like). What is more pork was turning up in
beef products as well as horse, even in kosher and halal. The whole
supply system and every maker of processed meat was finding that they
were in a mess.
This was not particularly a health
matter. There is nothing unhealthy about horse meat or pork as
compared to beef – in fact many would say it was healthier. The
problem was that if you could not trust the label then anything was
possible and given time, would probably happen. Using 'pink slime' in
prepared food is not legal in Europe but how could people know if it
was included. The situation was that horse meat cost 1/12th
the cost of beef. Pink slime and the like are even less costly. The
products are the sort that are sold in supermarkets rather then
butcher shops as frozen prepared products. Supermarkets were under
pressure from their consumers in the financial squeeze, and they put
pressure on suppliers for cheaper products. The suppliers could only
lower their costs by using less ingredients or less costly ones.
There were these sources of somewhat cheaper beef and so the
factories did not look to closely at what they were buying.
Who was to blame? The hot potato was
passed around for a while and ended up in the supermarkets lap. They
were told that they were responsible for what they sold, for it being
honestly labeled. They would have to test their products and inspect
the factories that made them. A number of 'high quality brands' have
taken a black eye. At the other end of the scale, beef for schools,
hospitals and prisons is tendered for in large quantities and not
surprisingly had a lot of horse in it. Again they were told to find
some way to check what they bought.
The government labs said they were only
responsible for the health and safely of food. They could not test
everything for different DNAs within their budgets and would only
test if there was reason to think that there was a health problem.
The EU and individual governments say
they are going to tighten the labeling/paper work/inspections in the
supply chain. The nature of the supply chain has been criticized but
those in the know say it will take time to reform it.
Some have been asking why processed
fowl and fish are not being DNA tested and the results are starting
to show that beef is not the only problem. However there is still no
It seems that countries vary in their
laws about horse meat. In some it is illegal to sell as human food,
in some it is not illegal but no one sells it, in some it is legal
and available. France is it the last group. There are shops that sell
horse meat and people eat it, although in smaller quantities than
Of course we are feeling a bit smug. We
do not buy the sort of products that were found contaminated. What we
used to do for ground beef was the usual French thing. At a butchers
we asked for ground beef and were shown a few lots of various stewing
type chunks of beef. What we wanted was cut and weighed and them put
through a grinder and wrapped up. I like the idea that the mince came
from a single cow; I like that it is freshly ground. Now they have
our own grinder at home so we just buy a piece the right size from a
cheapish cut. That way it is not ground until it is going to go into
the frying pan. Finally I like the way the butchers we use work. They
have their counter at the back of each of the two local little
supermarkets (if fact in most of the little supermarket chains).
There are windows into the cutting room so you can see the carcasses
and the cutting. They can trace every carcass to a slaughter house
(which is owned by the same company) and from there to the farm it
came from. Although it is a very large meat company, it works largely
as many more regional companies each with a slaughter house.
someone who comes up against paywalls continually in gathering
material for my blog (Thoughts on Thought) and occasionally in look
up things for this website, I was affected by Swartz' suicide. The
big publishing houses do not
pay for the research, they do not
pay for the written papers (if fact they sometimes have charges for
extras), and they do not
pay for the peer reviews. Their only cost is printing and
distributing. Their main customers are university libraries and so
they actually print very few copies of a paper. The very high cost of
periodical subscriptions is a large part of university budgets. We
pay for everything and they charge us for it when we try and see it. If
I want to see a paper, one little paper, it would cost me over $30 and
it would just be a link and not a printed mailed copy. That is highway
Here is what Anita
Bandrowski had to say about the event of Swartz' death.
A martyr for open
access scientific publishing
This is not a blog post that I ever
Likely many of you have heard that
there has been a tragedy in that on January 11, 2013 a very talented
young computer programmer and activist, Aaron Swartz, took his own
life in New York city. The young man, was one of the bright starts of
the computer generation, added significantly to Reddit and the RSS
specification among other work (started contributing at age 14!).
His later life, by this I mean his
early 20′s, was spent in fighting the closed world of science. He
was the founder of Demand Progress, an online activist group that was
able to mobilize enough like minded thinkers and used this influence
to black out wikipedia and google (partially) culminating in the
defeat of the SOPA/PIPA bills last year.
He was very opposed to the current
system for publishing science, in fact he broke the law in protest.
He did not intend to make money from his criminal activities, but he
certainly broke the law. He did not hurt anyone, his crime consisted
of putting a laptop into a small closet in the MIT library and
downloading millions of articles from the JSTOR archive. He believed,
as many including the former head of the National Institutes of
Health do, that information, especially information generated as a
result of billions of dollars of tax-payer money should not be the
exclusive right of a corporation. He believed that scientific
knowledge was the legacy of human endeavor and as such it should be
open to all humans. In this, he was not alone, but he was braver or
at least more industrious than most. He infringed the copyright
agreement of a group of for profit cooperations and told people about
For this crime, he was being sued in
criminal court and was facing 35 years in prison as well as a million
He took his own life and the case was
dropped by the prosecution.
Is this what it takes to reform a
broken system of scientific publishing?
In my opinion, he is a martyr for a
cause, I just never imagined that reforming scientific publishing
practices would require a martyr. In the many thousands of years that
scholars thought interesting things and put them on paper for others
to read, there have been many cases where some brave soul had to
protect that knowledge. Perhaps, Aaron is a modern Hypatia?
Regardless of his place in history, his
life and death should give us pause on what the President termed a
“national day of service.” For my part, I think that I will add
my currently unrepresented publications to the National Library of
Medicine’s PubMed Central and consider publishing in only the open
access subset of PMC from now on. It is certainly not a big gesture,
but possibly no less relevant than expressing outrage at the
prosecutors of Aaron’s case.
How to serve olive oil?
The EU made a regulation about how
olive oil would be served in restaurants and then quickly overturned
it. What was going on?
Through much of Europe, olive oil is
served in jugs or bowls so that customers can oil their food and dip
their bread. Without much forewarning the EU decided to change the
containers in which olive oil could be served. Oil would have to be
in containers that were impossible to refill and had
labels showing the brand and standard of the oil. There was an
outcry: it was wasteful, it was not ecological, it was expensive, it
was unnecessarily, it made dipping difficult. The EU backed down –
both the regulation and the removal of the regulation made the EU
Those who put forward the idea said
that it was needed to stop restaurants using cheap olive oil and
saying it was extra virgin. The people against the idea said that
there was no proof that this fraud was happening. The decision had
been taken in secret by an obscure committee, without public
discussion. The huge volume of criticism and satire prompted its
It all started in Portugal almost a
decade ago when restaurateurs were accused of the fraud and disputed
the accusations. A law similar to the later EU regulation was passed
in Portugal with fines set at between about 500 and 30,000 euros. The
olive oil producers were behind the law and had the clout to get it
passed despite no proof of widespread fraud. The law was great for the producers as consumption went from
6 to 8 kg/person/year. Italy passed a similar law with similar
When the financial crisis hit, the
olive oil producers felt the pinch. Consumption and prices had been
rising for a long time in Euope but now they stopped rising. Later
prices even fell. The more expensive extra virgin was not being used
as much and replaced by lower grades. Cheap oil was being imported
from North Africa and Turkey. Farmers were going under.
In June 2009, the EU’s Advisory Group
on Olives and Derived Products was working on a way to protect olive
oil producers. This advisory group meets twice a year in secret. Most
of the advisers in this group come from Copa-Cogeca which represents
the interests of 70 odd farming groups or about 26 million farmers.
It is powerful. Dacian Ciolos was a friend of Copa-Cogeca, the
EU's Agricultural Commissioner at the time, and sympathetic to southern Europe's
Each of the 27 Commissioners in the EU
oversees some of the 270 “comitology” committees. These
committees pass about 2500 regulations a year (compared to the 50 or
so passed by the European Parliament).
As drought as well as financial
problems in southern Europe made matters worse for the olive oil
producers, Ciolos, Copa-Cogeca, the Spanish government and the
advisory group put together a plan to save the industry. The plan
was: that the EU's subsidy for olive oil be maintained in the face of
all pressure to reform it, that more storage be created for the olive
oil 'lake', that quality tests be introduced to wreck imports from
outside the EU and that hotel and catering industries be forced to
use non-refillable, labeled containers.
The last item of the plan was put to
the Management Committee for the Common Organisation of Agricultural
Markets, a comitology committee. 15 of the 27 member states voted for
the measure. This was not a “qualified majority” and so the item
was neither passed nor rejected. When it came back, the Commissioner
was able to push it through. He did not notify some governments in a
manner that would have alerted them to change abstentions to opposing
The reaction against the Commissioner
was swift and angry. He had to back down – he was being vilified
and laughed at. And some governments wanted his head. Of course the climb down made Copa-Cogeca furious. The national
laws are still in place and more will probably be passed in other
southern European countries such as Spain and Greece under Copa-Cogeca's advice.
The nature of the inner workings of
Brussels has had a bright light shone on it.
Why we pay taxes
from Huffington Post: Prehistoric Politics & Today's Teams &
Taxes - Jag Bhalla
Prehistoric politics can teach us how
to prevent present-day errors. Human survival has been a team sport
for 10,000 generations. It still is. But too many political ideas now
hide that once self-evident truth.
A chain of team logic is anchored deep
in our pre-history and runs through the historic writings of
America's Founders, Abraham Lincoln, Alexis de Tocqueville, Adam
Smith and Charles Darwin. They all understood two now
under-appreciated principles. Firstly some redistribution is a
rational response to needing your team to be in good shape. Secondly
self-interest should never be allowed to damage the team you depend
Missing links in that chain are
provided by Chris Boehm, a leading anthropologist. In his book Moral
Origins he writes that our ancestors went through a "major
political transition" about 250,000 years ago, developing from
an "ape-like 'might is right'" species that "lived
hierarchically" into one that was much more "devoutly
egalitarian." Around then collaborative hunting became a more
successful strategy than going solo. Teams that chased big game
toward hunters could be much more productive -- but only if the
required division of labor, went hand in hand, with a fair division
of profits. However hunting success often depended on luck as well as
skill. Both problems were solved, then as they should be now, by the
logic of social insurance, which requires shared risks and some
This collective carnivores' dilemma was
a game changer. All hunters needed their teammates to be fed well
enough to be good chasers. And even the best hunters, when unlucky,
benefited from rules that required redistribution of meat. Team
players became more successful, as did those teams with the smartest
sharing rules. These rules became tools as important as spears or big
brains to our survival. And rules that tended to balance immediate
selfish gain with longer-term or group interests made for fitter
At this point you're likely wondering
how on earth Boehm can justify such detailed and sweeping claims.
He's spent 40 years studying present-day hunter-gatherers, who live
as closely as possible to the way those team-hunting ancestors did.
His deep data on their social practices shows for example that
typically meat sharing isn't done by the hunter who made the kill.
Instead it's redistributed by another stakeholder.
A crucial new insight Boehm provides is
that humans are predisposed to use "counter-dominant coalitions"
to "punish resented alpha-male behavior." For example, when
powerful individuals hog more than a fair share of meat, they're
punished by using ridicule, shaming, shunning, ostracism, and,
ultimately, the death penalty. The result is a sort of inverted
eugenics: the elimination of the strongest, if they abuse their
power. Astonishingly, such solutions aren't rare, they're the norm.
Our ancestors learned long ago, what Lincoln later would write, that
all good government must be "of the people, by the people, for
the people." Or the people will rebel.
The same team logic is built deep into
America's founding documents. The Constitution defines the duty to
"promote the general Welfare" as on a par with ensuring the
common defense. And the Declaration of Independence's first
justification for the American Revolution was to overcome barriers
preventing passage of "Laws the most wholesome and necessary for
the public Good."
Americans in the 1830s, according to
Alexis de Tocqueville, readily accepted the Founders' team logic. In
a chapter of his book Democracy in America, that's called
"How the Americans Combat Individualism by the Principle of
Self-Interest Rightly Understood," he says "an enlightened
regard for themselves constantly prompts them to assist one another
and inclines them willingly to sacrifice a portion of their time and
property to the welfare of the state." Sadly some loss of reason
has made us less willing.
Just as they were in our prehistory,
taxes are where the rubber meets the road on national team loyalty,
on paying for the Founders' "public good." The much
misrepresented Adam Smith usefully said, "Every tax... is, to
the person who pays it, a badge... of liberty. It denotes he is
subject to government."
The Founders, Tocqueville, Lincoln and
Smith all knew that liberty and the pursuit of happiness are in
effect government-enabled programs. No taxes mean no government, no
public good, no live-able liberty, and no practical platform on which
to build a private pursuit of happiness. Taxes are not a punishment.
And they aren't a transactional payment for what you directly get
back. They are the price of your liberty and of keeping your team in
good shape. What can look like a sacrifice is actually a sacred and
immeasurable gain. Logically this price of freedom must include
eternal vigilance against those that would harm the "public
good" or "general welfare."
A politics of individual interest, or a
narrow politics of parts, that seeks only its own advantage, while
weakening the whole, is a distorted form of self-interest that is
ultimately self-undermining. To damage what you depend on cannot
continue to be deemed rational. It's easy to see this with
team-hunting. But it's no less true in the economic transactions we
depend on. We all need our nation and economy to be healthy, which
means it's in our rational interests to pay the necessary price.
Human life is a team sport and not a
struggle of "social Darwinism." In fact that's a misnomer,
Charles Darwin himself wrote in The Descent of Man (1871),
"Social instincts... have given to [each human] some wish to aid
his fellows." He calls anyone without such team and social
instincts an "unnatural monster." Too many ideas in our
politics are monstrously opposed to our inalienable social and team
natures. Proudly pay your redistributive taxes. And don't let anyone
succeed by damaging your team.
Copyright may be counterproductive
Copyright is keeping books out of
print. Research by Paul Heald using Amazon's selections has shown
this clearly. The copyright law of 1923 has meant that books are not
reprinted as much as they used to be. A book first printed in 1850 is
more likely to be available today than one first published in 1950.
Heald says, "Copyright correlates significantly with the
disappearance of works rather than with their availability. Shortly
after works are created and proprietized, they tend to disappear from
public view only to reappear in significantly increased numbers when
they fall into the public domain and lose their owners."
Publishers are simply not publishing copyrighted titles unless they
are very recent. Copyright makes a book disappear and it reappears
after copyright expires.
After correcting for the number of
editions of books and the number of titles published each year, Heald
got the graph shown. So the generally accepted reason for copyright,
that it assures owner will profit from intellectual property and this
will result in availability and distribution of the property, is not
true. The copyrighted intellectual property is more likely to be
unavailable and not distributed.
Growth in Europe
Talk of the Euro's death have been exagerated. The recession is easing.
The two biggest Euro zone economies, Germany and France, plus the
largest EU non-Euro economy, Britain, have all returned to growth. The
growth is thought to be fueled by a recovery in consumption. This was
unexpected and so the strength is a surprise.
Unfortunately employment has not started to improve and Brussels
officials are warning governments to not be complacent. They point to
the large differences between states. The third and fourth largest
economies, Italy and Spain, are still in mild recession. Portugal has
improved greatly but Greece is falling deep into trouble.
The average for the 17 countries in the Euro zone and for the 27
countries in the EU is the same 0.3% growth. In the 27: most of the
eastern European countries had respectable growth. Bulgaria was down.
There was no figure for Denmark and Sweden was down.
The graph is of the Euro zone place the UK.
(I still think that austerity is not the best way to deal with recession.)
You have been warned
The IPCC Working Group 1 has given its
report. (259 authors from 39 countries and with 54677 comments
received and noted). Here are the highlighted parts of the
policymakers summary with some of the illustrations. An RPC is the
new Representative Concentration Pathway scenarios and are used to
predict the future under various policies to limit CO2 emissions .
There are four RPCs ranging from optimistic to pessimistic views of
what policies will emerge:
Warming of the climate system is
unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are
unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean
have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level
has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.
Each of the last three decades has been
successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding
decade since 1850. In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983–2012 was likely
the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years (medium
Ocean warming dominates the increase in
energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of
the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010 (high confidence). It is
virtually certain that the upper ocean (0−700 m) warmed from 1971
to 2010, and it likely warmed between the 1870s and 1971.
Over the last two decades, the
Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers
have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and
Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in
extent (high confidence).
The rate of sea level rise since the
mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the
previous two millennia (high confidence). Over the period 1901–2010,
global mean sea level rose by 0.19 [0.17 to 0.21] m.
The atmospheric concentrations of
carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to
levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. CO2
concentrations have increased by 40% since pre-industrial times,
primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land
use change emissions. The ocean has absorbed about 30% of the emitted
anthropogenic carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification.
Total radiative forcing is positive,
and has led to an uptake of energy by the climate system. The largest
contribution to total radiative forcing is caused by the increase in
the atmospheric concentration of CO2 since 1750.
Human influence on the climate system
is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas
concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing,
observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.
Climate models have improved since the
AR4. Models reproduce observed continental-scale surface temperature
patterns and trends over many decades, including the more rapid
warming since the mid-20th century and the cooling immediately
following large volcanic eruptions (very high confidence).
Observational and model studies of
temperature change, climate feedbacks and changes in the Earth’s
energy budget together provide confidence in the magnitude of global
warming in response to past and future forcing.
Human influence has been detected in
warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global
water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level
rise, and in changes in some climate extremes. This evidence for
human influence has grown since AR4. It is extremely likely that
human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming
since the mid-20th century.
Continued emissions of greenhouse gases
will cause further warming and changes in all components of the
climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and
sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.
Global surface temperature change for
the end of the 21st century is likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to
1850 to 1900 for all RCP scenarios except RCP2.6. It is likely to
exceed 2°C for RCP6.0 and RCP8.5, and more likely than not to exceed
2°C for RCP4.5. Warming will continue beyond 2100 under all RCP
scenarios except RCP2.6. Warming will continue to exhibit
interannual-to-decadal variability and will not be regionally
Changes in the global water cycle in
response to the warming over the 21st century will not be uniform.
The contrast in precipitation between wet and dry regions and between
wet and dry seasons will increase, although there may be regional
The global ocean will continue to warm
during the 21st century. Heat will penetrate from the surface to the
deep ocean and affect ocean circulation.
It is very likely that the Arctic sea
ice cover will continue to shrink and thin and that Northern
Hemisphere spring snow cover will decrease during the 21st century as
global mean surface temperature rises. Global glacier volume will
Global mean sea level will continue to
rise during the 21st century. Under all RCP scenarios the rate of sea
level rise will very likely exceed that observed during 1971–2010
due to increased ocean warming and increased loss of mass from
glaciers and ice sheets.
Climate change will affect carbon cycle
processes in a way that will exacerbate the increase of CO2 in the
atmosphere (high confidence). Further uptake of carbon by the ocean
will increase ocean acidification.
Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely
determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and
beyond. Most aspects of climate change will persist for many
centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped. This represents a
substantial multi-century climate change commitment created by past,
present and future emissions of CO2.
No scientific consensus on GMO
Here is the ENSSER
Statement issued 21 October 2012 by the European Network of Scientist
for Social and Environmental Responsibility. The original with the 57
references cited is at http://www.ensser.org
As scientists, physicians, academics,
and experts from disciplines relevant to the scientific, legal,
social and safety assessment aspects of genetically modified
organisms (GMOs), we strongly reject claims by GM seed developers and
some scientists, commentators, and journalists that there is a
“scientific consensus” on GMO safety and that the debate on this
topic is “over”.
We feel compelled to issue this
statement because the claimed consensus on GMO safety does not exist.
The claim that it does exist is misleading and misrepresents the
currently available scientific evidence and the broad diversity of
opinion among scientists on this issue. Moreover, the claim
encourages a climate of complacency that could lead to a lack of
regulatory and scientific rigour
and appropriate caution, potentially
endangering the health of humans, animals, and the environment.
Science and society do not proceed on
the basis of a constructed consensus, as current knowledge is always
open to well-founded challenge and disagreement. We endorse the need
for further independent scientific inquiry and informed public
discussion on GM product safety and urge GM proponents to do the
Some of our objections to the claim of
scientific consensus are listed below.
1. There is no consensus on GM food
Regarding the safety of GM crops and
foods for human and animal health, a comprehensive review of animal
feeding studies of GM crops found “An equilibrium in the number
[of] research groups suggesting, on the basis of their studies, that
a number of varieties of GM products (mainly maize and soybeans) are
as safe and nutritious as the respective conventional non-GM plant,
and those raising still serious concerns”. The review also found
that most studies concluding that GM foods were as safe and
nutritious as those obtained by conventional breeding were “performed
by biotechnology companies or
associates, which are also responsible
[for] commercializing these GM plants”. A separate review of animal
feeding studies that is often cited as showing that GM foods are safe
included studies that found significant differences in the GM- fed
animals. While the review authors dismissed these findings as not
biologically significant, the interpretation of these differences is
the subject of continuing scientific debate and no consensus exists
on the topic.
Rigorous studies investigating the
safety of GM crops and foods would normally involve animal feeding
studies in which one group of animals is fed GM food and another
group is fed an equivalent non-GM diet. Independent studies of this
type are rare, but when such studies have been performed, some have
revealed toxic effects or signs of toxicity in the GM-fed animals.
The concerns raised by these studies have not been followed up by
targeted research that could confirm or refute the initial findings.
The lack of scientific consensus on the
safety of GM foods and crops is underlined by the recent research
calls of the European Union and the French government to investigate
the long-term health impacts of GM food consumption in the light of
uncertainties raised by animal feeding studies. These official calls
imply recognition of the inadequacy of the relevant existing
scientific research protocols. They call into question the claim that
existing research can be deemed conclusive and the scientific debate
on biosafety closed.
2. There are no epidemiological
studies investigating potential effects of GM food consumption on
It is often claimed that “trillions
of GM meals” have been eaten in the US with no ill effects.
However, no epidemiological studies in human populations have been
carried out to establish whether there are any health effects
associated with GM food consumption. As GM foods are not labelled in
North America, a major producer and consumer of GM crops, it is
scientifically impossible to trace, let
alone study, patterns of consumption
and their impacts. Therefore, claims that GM foods are safe for human
health based on the experience of North American populations have no
3. Claims that scientific and
governmental bodies endorse GMO safety are exaggerated or inaccurate
Claims that there is a consensus among
scientific and governmental bodies that GM foods are safe, or that
they are no more risky than non-GM foods, are false.
For instance, an expert panel of the
Royal Society of Canada issued a report that was highly critical of
the regulatory system for GM foods and crops in that country. The
report declared that it is “scientifically unjustifiable” to
presume that GM foods are safe without rigorous scientific testing
and that the “default prediction” for every GM food should be
that the introduction of a new gene will cause “unanticipated
changes” in the expression of other genes, the pattern of proteins
produced, and/or metabolic activities. Possible outcomes of these
changes identified in the report included the presence of new or
A report by the British Medical
Association concluded that with regard to the long-term effects of GM
foods on human health and the environment, “many unanswered
questions remain” and that “safety concerns cannot, as yet, be
dismissed completely on the basis of information currently
available”. The report called for more research, especially on
potential impacts on human health and the environment.
Moreover, the positions taken by other
organizations have frequently been highly qualified, acknowledging
data gaps and potential risks, as well as potential benefits, of GM
technology. For example, a statement by the American Medical
Association’s Council on Science and Public Health acknowledged “a
small potential for adverse events ... due mainly to horizontal gene
allergenicity, and toxicity” and
recommended that the current voluntary notification procedure
practised in the US prior to market release of GM crops be made
mandatory. It should be noted that even a “small potential for
adverse events” may turn out to be significant, given the
widespread exposure of human and animal populations to GM crops.
A statement by the board of directors
of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
affirming the safety of GM crops and opposing labelling cannot be
assumed to represent the view of AAAS members as a whole and was
challenged in an open letter by a group of 21 scientists, including
many long-standing members of the AAAS. This episode underlined the
lack of consensus among scientists about GMO safety.
4. EU research project does not
provide reliable evidence of GM food safety
An EU research project has been cited
internationally as providing evidence for GM crop and food safety.
However, the report based on this project, “A Decade of EU-Funded
GMO Research”, presents no data that could provide such evidence,
from long-term feeding studies in animals. Indeed, the project was
not designed to test the safety of any single GM food, but to focus
on “the development of safety assessment approaches”. Only five
published animal feeding studies are referenced in the SAFOTEST
section of the report, which is dedicated to GM food safety. None of
these studies tested a
commercialised GM food; none tested the
GM food for long-term effects beyond the subchronic period of 90
days; all found differences in the GM-fed animals, which in some
cases were statistically significant; and none concluded on the
safety of the GM food tested, let alone on the safety of GM foods in
general. Therefore the EU research project provides no evidence for
sweeping claims about the safety of any single GM food or of GM crops
5. List of several hundred studies
does not show GM food safety
A frequently cited claim published on
an Internet website that several hundred studies “document the
general safety and nutritional wholesomeness of GM foods and feeds”
is misleading. Examination of the studies listed reveals that many do
not provide evidence of GM food safety and, in fact, some provide
evidence of a lack of safety. For example:
Many of the studies are not
toxicological animal feeding studies of the type that can provide
useful information about health effects of GM food consumption. The
list includes animal production studies that examine parameters of
interest to the food and agriculture industry, such as milk yield and
weight gain; studies on environmental effects of GM crops; and
analytical studies of the composition or genetic makeup of the crop.
Among the animal feeding studies and
reviews of such studies in the list, a substantial number found toxic
effects and signs of toxicity in GM-fed animals compared with
controls. Concerns raised by these
studies have not been satisfactorily
addressed and the claim that the body of research shows a consensus
over the safety of GM crops and foods is false and irresponsible.
Many of the studies were conducted over short periods compared with
the animal’s total lifespan and cannot detect long-term health
We conclude that these studies, taken
as a whole, are misrepresented on the Internet website as they do not
“document the general safety and nutritional wholesomeness of GM
foods and feeds”. Rather, some of the studies give serious cause
for concern and should be followed up by more detailed investigations
over an extended period of time.
6. There is no consensus on the
environmental risks of GM crops
Environmental risks posed by GM crops
include the effects of Bt insecticidal crops on non-target organisms
and effects of the herbicides used in tandem with herbicide-tolerant
As with GM food safety, no scientific
consensus exists regarding the environmental risks of GM crops. A
review of environmental risk assessment approaches for GM crops
identified shortcomings in the procedures used and found “no
consensus” globally on the methodologies that should be applied,
alone on standardized testing
procedures. Some reviews of the published data on Bt crops have found
that they can have adverse effects on non-target and beneficial
organisms – effects that are widely neglected in regulatory
assessments and by some scientific commentators. Resistance to Bt
toxins has emerged in target pests, and problems with secondary
(non-target) pests have been noted, for example, in Bt cotton in
Herbicide-tolerant GM crops have proved
equally controversial. Some reviews and individual studies have
associated them with increased herbicide use, the rapid spread of
herbicide-resistant weeds, and adverse health effects in human and
animal populations exposed to Roundup, the herbicide used on the
majority of GM crops.
As with GM food safety, disagreement
among scientists on the environmental risks of GM crops may be
correlated with funding sources. A peer-reviewed survey of the views
of 62 life scientists on the environmental risks of GM crops found
that funding and disciplinary training had a significant effect on
attitudes. Scientists with industry funding and/or those trained in
molecular biology were very likely to have a positive attitude to GM
crops and to hold that they do not represent any unique risks, while
publicly-funded scientists working independently of GM crop developer
companies and/or those trained in ecology were more likely to hold a
“moderately negative” attitude to GM crop safety and
to emphasize the uncertainty and
ignorance involved. The review authors concluded, “The strong
effects of training and funding might justify certain institutional
changes concerning how we organize science and how we make public
decisions when new technologies are to be evaluated.”
7. International agreements show
widespread recognition of risks posed by GM foods and crops
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety was
negotiated over many years and implemented in 2003. The Cartagena
Protocol is an international agreement ratified by 166 governments
worldwide that seeks to protect biological diversity from the risks
posed by GM technology. It embodies the Precautionary Principle in
that it allows signatory states to take precautionary measures to
protect themselves against threats of damage from GM crops and foods,
even in case of a lack of scientific certainty.
Another international body, the UN's
Codex Alimentarius, worked with scientific experts for seven years to
develop international guidelines for the assessment of GM foods and
crops, because of concerns about the risks they pose. These
guidelines were adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, of
which over 160 nations are members, including major GM crop producers
such as the
The Cartagena Protocol and Codex share
a precautionary approach to GM crops and foods, in that they agree
that genetic engineering differs from conventional breeding and that
safety assessments should be required before GM organisms are used in
food or released into the environment.
These agreements would never have been
negotiated, and the implementation processes elaborating how such
safety assessments should be conducted would not currently be
happening, without widespread international recognition of the risks
posed by GM crops and foods and the unresolved state of existing
Concerns about risks are well-founded,
as has been demonstrated by studies on some GM crops and foods that
have shown adverse effects on animal health and non-target organisms,
indicated above. Many of these studies have, in fact, fed into the
negotiation and/or implementation processes of the Cartagena Protocol
and Codex. We support the application of the Precautionary Principle
to the release and transboundary
movement of GM crops and foods.
In the scope of this document, we can
only highlight a few examples to illustrate that the totality of
scientific research outcomes in the field of GM crop safety is
nuanced, complex, often contradictory or inconclusive, confounded by
researchers’ choices, assumptions, and funding sources, and in
general, has raised more questions than it has currently answered.
Whether to continue and expand the
introduction of GM crops and foods into the human food and animal
feed supply, and whether the identified risks are acceptable or not,
are decisions that involve socioeconomic considerations beyond the
scope of a narrow scientific debate and the currently unresolved
biosafety research agendas. These decisions must therefore involve
the broader society. They should, however, be supported by strong
scientific evidence on the long-term safety of GM crops and foods for
human and animal health and the environment, obtained in a manner
that is honest, ethical, rigorous, independent, transparent, and
sufficiently diversified to compensate for bias.
Decisions on the future of our food and
agriculture should not be based on misleading and misrepresentative
claims that a “scientific consensus” exists on GMO safety.
The document was signed by 230 relevant scientists as of Oct 30 2013.
We have not been doing much measurement
of the oceans compared to land and air; we are fairly ignorant of
their systems and do not know their weaknesses and strengths. So it
may be that the real climate crunch will sneak up on us and come out
of the oceans. We do know that the rate of change in the oceans is
unprecedented in at least most of the earth's history. We must go back
300 million years to see similar conditions of warmth and
There is talk of the 'deadly trio':
warming, decline in oxygen, acidification. But I am not sure that
there are not other factors to watch, circulation changes, for
example, release of methane from the deep ocean or the loss of
buffering that the oceans do for the whole planet. Certainly
pollution and over-fishing are not helping.
Warming has been moving species towards
the poles or to lower depths. This is a problem if the warming is
faster than the ability of organisms to move and adapt. Many are sort
of 'glued' in place and may risk extinction. Warming along with
fertilizer and sewage runoff results in algae blooms that use up all
the oxygen in the water. This causes dead zones where very little can
thrive. When carbon dioxide in the air is absorbed by the oceans, it
reacts with water to produce an weak acid. This damages many
organisms. The combination makes the oceans less productive and the
organisms in the oceans more vulnerable. We are over-harvesting the
oceans and polluting them as well.
“Current conditions in the oceans
were similar to those 55 million years ago, known as the
Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum, that led to wide extinctions. And
the current pace of change was much faster and meant greater
stresses.” It does appear that we are in a beginnings of a mass
extinction. Acidification has reached a level where it is harming
coral reefs, crabs, oysters, other shelled animals, and some types of
plankton at the base of large marine food chains. Enough acid would
even dissolve the calcium carbonate structures surrounding many ocean
The latest audit by an international
team of marine scientists at the International Programme on the State
of the Ocean (IPSO) in their report, The State of the Ocean 2013:
Perils, Prognoses and Proposals, found that the world's oceans and
marine life are facing an unprecedented threat by combination of
industrial pollution, human-driven global warming and climate change,
and continued and rampant overfishing. “The health of the ocean is
spiraling downwards far more rapidly than we had thought. We are
seeing greater change, happening faster, and the effects are more
imminent than previously anticipated. The situation should be of the
gravest concern to everyone since everyone will be affected by
changes in the ability of the ocean to support life on Earth.”
Governments, all of them, know this.
Why is it that they cannot agree to cooperate on stopping the slide
to destruction? Why is money and growth more important then the
future of life? What happened in the Poland conference is enough to
make one cry.
A new common market
We once had a car with the country
badge of EAK. People would ask we where or what EAK was. It was East
Africa Kenya and at that time was one of the only signs left of the
East African Union that the Brits set up when they gave Uganda, Kenya
and Tanzania independence. Now 40 years later there is coming into
being the East African Community. It is modeled on the European
Union: single market, customs union, free movement of
labor/goods/services/capital, single currency, a central bank/fiscal
planning and shared infrastructure projects. They have been working
on it for a number of years and are now signing protocols. The new
community will have a population of 135 million and five countries:
Burundi, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda. There are a couple of
interesting aspects of this. These country are still having tribal
tensions and many citizens have much more identification with their
tribe than their country. It looks like they will skip the nation state
and go from tribe to regional community identity. It would be like
the way they skipped into the digital age and left out the stage of
laying copper wire all over the place. Mobile phones with computing
power is their answer. Another interesting aspect is the inclusion of
Burundi and Rwanda. These are two former French colonies that have
asked to join the British Commonwealth. They have closer ties with
Tanzania and Uganda then to other former French colonies. Tanzania
and Burundi and Rwanda were together as a German colony before WW1.
So it looks like the 5 are overcoming some of the legacy of
colonialism while using some of it to their advantage. Finally, as a
group they may be able to withstand some of the pressures that large
European, North American and Asian nations (no names needed) seem to
push on them. Good luck to them.
How to damage a company and a whole
If people want better schools they can
look at Finland and some other countries but if they want to save
money and win elections, they can follow what America did. Good
education means good teachers and good teachers happens when there is
a healthy teaching profession that is respected, proud and well paid.
Here is part of an article by David Morris on the mistreatment of
teachers in the States.
Good For Bill Gates Turns Out To Be Bad For Public Schools
Schools have a lot to learn from
business about how to improve performance, declared Bill Gates in an
Op Ed in the Wall Street Journal in 2011. He pointed to his own
company as a worthy model for public schools. Bill Gates foisted a
big business model of employee evaluation onto public school, which
his own company has since abandoned.“At Microsoft, we believed in
giving our employees the best chance to succeed, and then we insisted
on success. We measured excellence, rewarded those who achieved it
and were candid with those who did not.”
… The Microsoft model, called
“stacked ranking” forced every work unit to declare a certain
percentage of employees as top performers, a certain groups as good
performers, then average, then below average, then poor.
Using hundred of millions of dollars in
philanthropic largesse Bill Gates persuaded state and federal
policymakers that what was good for Microsoft would be good for
public schools (to be sure, he was pushing against an open door). To
be eligible for large grants from President Obama’s Race to the Top
program, for example, states had to adopt Gates’ Darwinian approach
to improving public education. Today more than 36 states have altered
their teacher evaluations systems with the aim of weeding out the
worst and rewarding the best.
… Needless to say, the whole process
of what has come to be called “high stakes testing” of both
students and teachers has proven devastatingly dispiriting. According
to the 2012 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, over half of
public school teachers say they experience great stress several days
a week and are so demoralized that their level of satisfaction has
plummeted from 62 percent in 2008 to 39 percent last year.
And now, just as public school systems
have widely adopted the Microsoft model in order to win the Race to
the Top, it turns out that Microsoft now realizes that this model has
pushed Microsoft itself into a Race to the Bottom. In a widely
circulated 2012 article in Vanity award-winning reporter Fair Kurt
Eichenwald concluded that stacked ranking “effectively crippled
Microsoft’s ability to innovate. “Every current and former
Microsoft employee I interviewed—every one—cited stack ranking as
the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that
drove out untold numbers of employees,” Eichenwald writes. “It
leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than
competing with other companies.”
This month Microsoft abandoned the
… Ms. Brummel listed four key
elements in the company’s new policy.
•More emphasis on teamwork and
•More emphasis on employee growth and
•No more use of a Bell curve for evaluating
•No more ratings of employees.
Sue Altman at EduShyster vividly sums
up the frustration of a nation of educators at this new development.
“So let me get this straight. The big business method of evaluation
that now rules our schools is no longer the big business method of
evaluation? And collaboration and teamwork, which have been abandoned
by our schools in favor of the big business method of evaluation, is
Big business can turn on a dime when
the CEO orders it to do so. But changing policies embraced and
internalized by dozens of states and thousands of public school
districts will take far, far longer. Which means the legacy of Bill
Gates will continue to handicap millions of students and hundreds of
thousands of teachers even as the company Gates founded along with
many other businesses, have thrown his pernicious performance model
in the dustbin of history.