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About 40 years ago in the early 1970s I visited Portuguese Guine, a Portuguese African colony. Today it is an independent country called Guinea Bissau. At that time I was immersed in studying revolutions in general, and mainly the wars for independence in sub-Saharan Africa. I published an article about the conflict entitled “The War of the Maps: PAIGC vs. Portugal.” The title is admittedly a bit strange at first but easily explained. The PAIGC (Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde) was the liberation movement in the colony, run by Amilcar Cabral. He claimed that his movement controlled three-fourths of the country, whereas the Portuguese government claimed it was in control of most of the country. How could such conflicting claims be reconciled?

Mickey during the war for independence of Portuguese Guine. January 1973

Mickey during the conflict in Portuguese Guine. January 1973

My study, based on a visit to the war zone, exposed the following: during the day the Portuguese were in control of much of the country but at night their secure positions proved only to be a few major population centers and some military outposts. At night the independence fighters controlled most of the countryside that lay outside of the perimeters of the urban centers and military outposts. Hence, the claims for which side in the conflict controlled what portion of the territory was well over 100 percent. Both sides were correct in their estimates of control, but they did not say anything about the parts of they day their estimates were valid.

This morning during a Starbuck’s coffee I listened to some of my favorite songs. Song #3 was Billy Joel’s “Goodnight Saigon,” about the war in Vietnam.

billy joel captures a wartime dilemma: stalemate

billy joel captures a wartime dilemma: stalemate. Does this song's lyrics apply to the current situation in Afghanistan?

The following phrase caught my attention for the first time:

“We held the day in the palm of our hands
They ruled the nights, and the nights
Seemed to last as long as six weeks…
On Parris Island.”

I got to thinking that is the way is goes in protracted conflicts. But then, who can really claim to control the country: Both sides or neither combatant, because of a stalemate?

I now believe that the force that controls territory during the nighttime rules the country. And to me that suggests that the Allied Forces-backed Karzai government — engaged in a non-conventional military conflict in Afghanistan against hostile Afghans forces including but not limited to the Taliban — are not in control of the country. Those forces in Afghanistan that have secure control over the countryside from dusk to dawn are in control.

I cannot see any way that situation will shift. It did not shift during the Soviet failed attempt to dominate the country. In fact, the Afghan people have defied attempts at control from outsider forces for two millennia. That is likely not to change anytime soon. Which leads to the logical conclusion: Bring home the allied forces and say, “we won.” Otherwise, it is a conflict without end.

(NOTE to readers) Be sure to see the Pickles cartoon at the end of this editorial.

Global warming of the earth’s atmosphere has been attributed to increases in the emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, especially carbon dioxide emissions that have resulted from the burning of fossil fuels. Land use activities, such as tropical deforestation (such forests were once referred to as the “lungs of the earth”) are also contributing to the amount of CO2 that stays in the atmosphere.

Global warming and tropical deforestation are “creeping” environmental changes, where today’s CO2 levels are like yesterday’s and tomorrow’s levels will be like today’s. Like the frog in the boiling water analogy, there is no hard and fast indicator for when a dangerous threshold has been crossed with regard to greenhouse gas levels, but once it has been crossed, major irreversible adverse changes are expected to occur. At that point major environmental troubles for society become visible and, with the benefits of hindsight, become attributable to a major change in the earth’s climate. For example, though scientists tell us there will be more extremes, it is hard to see that from day to day. Even under ‘normal’ climate conditions, one must keep in mind that record-breaking climate and weather events are occurring somewhere on the globe every year.

It appears that NO GOVERNMENT DEALS WELL IN ADVANCE OF A CREEPING ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE, UNTIL A CRISIS HAS EMERGED BUT BY THEN IT IS TOO LATE IN THE DAY TO RESPOND EFFECTIVELY. As a result, societies end up having to cope with an environmental crisis situation that is often more deadly, more destructive and more costly than if they had dealt with the less threatening seemingly harmless incremental changes from year to year or decade to decade.

Governments, the big ones especially, are backing up into the future. How to turn them around to look into the future is the challenge that has faced older generations alive today. Despite new technological breakthroughs, trying to get governments to figure out why or how to cope with slow onset, incremental but accumulating adverse environmental changes is an almost impossible task. As I proposed at the Nepal Small Earth Network-CCB conference <www.smallearth.org.np/>, we need to come up with a “Plot to Save the Planet”… and very soon. It seems that developing that plot will be up to the youth to develop, not the climate change negotiators who have become mired in detail (e.g., “not seeing the forest because the trees are in the way”).

I have come to realize, following the conference in Nepal and the first few days at UN COP16 <see earlier editorials here>, that we have to re-think the concept of “youth”. It has different connotations to different people. Teens are youth to other people. People still in a university are considered youth by still others. To many, the young are small, child-like, harmless humans who are seldom listened to until they become adults: but, is that how young people want to be viewed regardless of age?

I suggest that there be a decade-wise view of humans where youth are up to the teens (high school and early college years) and succeeding categories are to be branded as “20somethings”, the “ 30-somethings”, the “40-somethings”, and so forth. One could argue that each of these age groups (age cohorts) are generally speaking more like each other in terms of knowledge, goals, enthusiasms, shared lived history, etc. than they are with their neighboring age groups. The lines separating the adjacent age groups are not sharply defined so there is some flexible overlap.

The above suggestion means that I am … gasp … among the 70-somethings, the age group with lots of information and experience but with rapidly waning power to influence! The 20-somethings (with a degree of overlap with “youth”) are in the process of gaining knowledge, training and experience. They hold the keys to safeguarding the future. They are young adults (although it is often used, I do not like this term as it labels them with a junior status) preparing to take on the world. They are no longer youth, playing in a sand box or youth in middle school, ignored for their thoughts. They are out in the real world. They are increasingly demanding to be listened to and still unencumbered by bureaucratic rules and regulations. So, youth, the 20-somethings, the 30-somethings, the 40-somethings, and so on, of the world unite and challenge those professing to want to save the planet’s atmosphere but whose activities do not support their words.

As for those age groups in front of yours, hold them accountable for their “damnages” to the planet. [NB: “damnages” is damage that a decision maker knows will occur (and does occur), as a result of his/her decision or indecision].

As a final point on this, I would also argue that the 20-somethings and the 70-somethings make the best allies, as the former gain the tools that they need to bargain while the latter have the experiences that can be used to mentor and guide them without expectation of personal gain.

The day I wrote the first draft of this editorial I noted in my local newspaper the following cartoon called Pickles (free at http://comics.com/pickles/). It underscored the need for making explicit the possible contributions, at least in terms of mentoring, that older generations alive today can provide face to face to the younger generations.

A changing climate changes the environment. We know that. But it also may change culture. In a lesson that could have some relevance to human societies today, geographers at the University of Ottawa examined the overlap between climatic change and the changes in tool technology and other artifacts by Native American tribes during three ancient time periods.
Humans have lived on the North American continent long enough to have experienced dramatic shifts in climate caused by ice sheet expansion and retraction that altered patterns in temperature and precipitation. Plant and animal communities changed with these shifts, resulting in new ecosystems by which humans would have relied on.

In a comprehensive look at these shifts beginning 11,250 years ago, the researchers matched pollen and charcoal records with archaeological remains along the Eastern seaboard. They found with every major shift in climate and ecosystem, a corresponding alteration occurred in human cultures.

In the Paleoindian period, characterized by a tundra landscape and a coniferous forest environment during a cold snap called the Younger Dryas, humans were living in nomadic bands and hunted big game like caribou.

The lifestyle changed with the advent of the warmer Archaic period, about 11,600 years ago. Oak and pine came to predominate forests, followed by hemlock and beech as the climate became moister. These nut and fruit producing trees would have been an important source of nutrients, and humans settlements show the rise of semi-permanent base camps, fishing, and the hunting of smaller game.

The transition from Archaic to Woodland periods, 3,000 years ago, shows a dip in temperatures and deeper snowpacks; human population declined during this shift. But humans recovered and well into the Woodland they period began experimenting with maize agriculture, pottery, and permanent settlements.The authors write:

“… our work shows a close correspondence between periods of change in ecosystems and the archaeological record, and highlights the complex and multidirectional nature of human-climate relationships.”

Humans have shown a remarkable ability to adapt to new climate and environmental conditions. In today’s era of climate change, adapt or die is no different, no matter how much we can better buffer ourselves from the weather.

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BEIJING — China will spend $1 billion to alleviate its worst drought in six decades — a long dry spell in the world’s largest wheat-growing region that threatens further jumps in the commodity’s global price.

The funding announced late Wednesday is part of a government plan to boost grain production, divert water, build emergency wells and take other steps in the affected areas in central and northern China.
Snow fell Thursday in some of the driest areas, but it was minimal and has not eased worries about the winter wheat crop. The main wheat belt, including Shandong, Henan, Hebei, Anhui, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Gansu and Jiangsu provinces, has gotten virtually no precipitation since October.
CORN PRICES UP: Expect higher food prices as corn reserves lowest in 15 years

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The natural gas cartel, a dream of Russia’s just a few years ago, is dead. It died when a natural gas revolution broke out and Gazprom lost. Energy importing nations around the world are evaluating their own geology, currently, to see if they have shale reserves that can be tapped. Nations like Argentina, Germany, Poland, France, and Sweden are looking into their national shale reserves.
The shale gas revolution is changing the world we live in, and the power structures of the past. It is also quickly changing the politics of future energy relationships. Nations that had to be nice to an exporter, due to energy supplies, will be freed of their need for discretion.

Shale gas is quite simply changing the whole energy paradigm in real time.  The unlocking of source rock, has altered the future history of mankind.  The world has discovered and unlocked its newest true world changing source of stored energy.

  • In the 1700’s, the world used wood for its energy source. The great mansions were heated with wood.
  • In the 1800’s, coal provided the go-to source of transportable fuel.   It allowed railroads to rapidly move people at a pace faster than a horse. Coal powered the Industrial Revolution.
  • In the 1900’s, crude oil became the primary fuel.  It was refined into fuel for aircraft, for ships at sea and into gasoline and diesel.  Crude oil provided the necessary cheap energy to fuel the rapid expansion of civilization to the rest of the world.
  • The 2000’s arrived with the onset of peak light sweet crude oil.  The US had peaked in overall oil production decades before, and as the new century started its reserves in both oil and conventional natural gas where shrinking.

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From Blind Copying (bcc) to Basics (abc) in Science

Ilan Kelman, CICERO, Norway

Science has become mired in blindness: it is dominated by bcc representing “blind copying”. That is, blindly copying what has gone before without innovative thought. In science today, bcc means Bureaucracy, Corporatism, and Conservatism.

Bureaucracy. Science is being bogged down in interminable reporting, complicated paperwork systems, and paperwork for paperwork’s sake. Rather than scientists, senior researchers are morphing into bureaucrats. That does not mean reducing accountability or project management. Those are feasible without snowing people under with paper and checklists. Science is becoming increasingly bureaucratic without any increase in accountability.

Corporatism. Political leaders are heard today claiming that all money invested in science must have a business payback. Scientists are pummelled with corporatespeak such as visions, stretch goals, identities, and objectives. Those are useful approaches for structuring thoughts in certain contexts. They cannot apply to all contexts, especially exploratory research where the pathways and outcomes are not known–cannot be known–beforehand. If all research pathways and outcomes were known in advance, then we would not need research.

Conservatism. Increasing expectations from science focus on outputs, such as counting the number of peer reviewed papers and ticking off the list of deliverables. Any attempt to take a risk is discouraged because, heaven forbid, results might not be publishable. New case studies can be nixed because it is not known what is there–which is precisely why those case studies should be researched. A culture of fear prevails that we might actually learn something different from what we expected in the first place.

How could the bcc situation improve? We must move from the bcc of blind copying to the “back to basics” of abc. What is the basic purpose of science? To search for explanations and to gain knowledge. abc achieves that through Action, Boldness, and Curiosity.

Action. Much of science plods along, week to week, hoping for a breakthrough or to find something publishable. That should not preclude excitement, dynamism, and acting on desires to know and learn more. No punishment should exist for taking action to pursue a query where potential exists for important results, even if that means deviating from the original plan or using the assigned budget for other activities. Note that action does not necessarily mean activism. The action can be along the lines of simple scientific enquiry, following a lead that appeared even if not listed in the initial project plan.

Boldness. Science should not be afraid to take risks. Risking a project or part of a budget on a daring move, an odd case study, or a unique situation has the potential for immense gains. Even if 99% of bold decisions to strike out in new directions fail, the 1% success rate will pay back dividends that are orders of magnitude greater than the expense. The evidence? The transistor. The discovery of pulsars. The proof of the CFC-induced ozone hole. Amongst many others.

Curiosity. Scientists these days frequently seem scared to ask deep questions. For example, challenge a leading scientist in climate change to prove assertions made and the consequence can be ostracism from the clique along with personal attacks. Dare to pursue a topic because it interests you and the consequence is being hauled before bureaucratic superiors to justify your use of time and budget. Try to shift a budget line to take advantage of recent developments and the consequence is being labelled a troublemaker by the granting agency who must use time (and hence money) to determine whether or not to approve such a small change. Investigation for “sheer curiosity”–just because it is there–is frowned upon. What is the point of research if we cannot follow the tendrils of our minds?

Science is being killed by blind copying. We are losing creativity and innovation. Society loses in the long-run by having fewer explanations and less knowledge to apply for a better world. Where are the scientific visionaries and leaders today who can bring science back to life–back to basics?

Spectacular effects are used in the exhibition to show the causes and effects of global warming. The exhibition floor is covered with 10 cm of water to illustrate the effect of increasing sea level. The visitors will experience drops falling from the roof (rain), water vapour (clouds), airflow (wind) and water currents (ocean currents). –Klima X

  • by Kara Santos (Manila)
  • Saturday, January 15, 2011
  • Inter Press Service

As the impact of climate change worsens around the globe, a disaster-resilient village is poised to be a solution for urban poor battling the constant floods and typhoons that hit the Philippines.

The concept village, submitted by Johanna Ferrer Guldager of Denmark, is designed around elevated housing clusters. Each house employs green building technologies, such as the use of sustainable materials like bamboo for the floors, walls and roof. Roofs are used as a rainwater collection system leading to a water conservation tank, while small gardens between houses ensure food production even in times of disaster.

The concept won the global architectural design competition dubbed Design Against the Elements (DAtE), which aims to build the first green, liveable, affordable and disaster-resilient village in the country.

A panel of international and local jurors picked the winning architectural design from among 119 entries submitted by professionals and students from 30 countries.

‘We were very impressed with the different ideas from all over the world,’ architect Eleena Jamil of Malaysia, who served as one of the jurors, told IPS.

Jamil, who designed a school made of bamboo that won the Millennium School Design Competition for disaster-resilient schools organised in 2008, said that the winner was chosen because of its sustainability and practicality.

‘The ideas in the winning design are very easy to implement but it considers a holistic approach. It considers the way people interact within the community and how they could grow their own food,’ she said.

Criteria for the judging of entries factored in disaster-resiliency, innovative construction technology, socio-economic sustainability, cost-effectiveness and adaptability to other sites. Since the village will actually be a resettlement site for marginalised families, the design also needed to be practical to build.

Another design that allows houses to float by Dao Thanh Hai of Vietnam won in the student category of the competition. The design envisions a two- layered house, the core made of bamboo and wood set on floats and enclosed inside a wind and storm-proof frame made of ecobags, ecobeams and concrete frames. This ensures that the house inside floats up as floods rise while preventing the structure from being swept away.

‘There were some very exciting ideas in the student category especially the idea of a floating house and the use of sandbags. It’s actually a house that you can repeat everywhere, so that’s very good,’ Jamil told IPS.

According to DAtE, approximately 44 percent of the country’s population lives in informal squatter settlements which offer no shelter from possible climate disasters. In Quezon City alone, the largest city in Metro Manila, as many as 26,974 families live in what are considered danger zones, according to the Urban Poor Affairs Office.

Houses of informal settlers hang precariously along the backs of creeks and waterways, near or under power transmission lines, along sidewalks and on dumpsites, making them the hardest hit when disaster strikes.

‘Sustainable housing and environmentally safe villages should not only be the privilege of the well-to-do, but should be accessible also to the poor who are physically the most vulnerable to disasters,’ said Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista.

The local government has promised to build the pilot village to be called the House of San Miguel, after corporate sponsor San Miguel Corporation – which co-funded the competition – to accommodate roughly 500 families. ‘We hope to build this as soon as possible. We will be prioritising the poor who are most vulnerable to climate change,’ the mayor told media on the sidelines of the opening ceremonies.

Bautista stressed the importance of preparing for disasters especially with the ill effects of climate change being seen around the world.

This week, the strongest La Niña weather system in 50 years brought devastating rains and flash floods and is battering Australia and mountain towns near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Meanwhile, a drought in Argentina is putting agricultural production at risk.

Illac Diaz, the founder and executive director of non-profit group My Shelter Foundation, which spearheaded the competition, says that the goal of the contest was to plan homes and communities that could survive for weeks in the severely restricted conditions of a post-disaster situation.

‘Rather than spend millions on expendable handouts after disaster strikes, we wanted to work on something concrete ahead of time,’ said Diaz during the opening ceremonies ahead of the announcement of winners.

‘We don’t want to just keep on implementing whatever design that has been used before,’ Diaz told IPS. ‘Now through this contest, we have designs that hopefully will change the concept of low-income housing.’

The Philippines ranks as one of the ten most afflicted countries in the world in terms of lives and property lost due to climate change. In September 2009, Typhoon Ketsana dumped an average rainfall of an entire month in only six hours and cost 240 million dollars in damages.

On average, the country is battered by 20 typhoons every year, and stronger typhoons as well as droughts are on the rise. As part of the Pacific typhoon belt, more than 7,000 islands that make up the country are susceptible to sea level rise and storm surges with extreme changes in temperature.

Green building trends seen in the exhibited designs include roof and pocket areas for urban farming, use of solar panels, maximising natural light sources, rainwater filtration systems, and gray water recycling.

All the entries will be compiled in an encyclopaedia of architectural and planning solutions to address climate change and will be made available to designers and researchers worldwide.

‘The future of the Philippines will be climate-challenged and we need change to happen now,’ says Diaz.

The plight of polar bears continues as the climate gradually becomes warmer in the Arctic. Warmer temperatures cause the melting of sea ice, which is essential for polar bears to reach their prey, primarily seals. However, according to a recent study published in the journal, Nature, polar bears have a good chance at survival if humans significantly reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
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The Nepal Conference is already over, here are some updates from the conference.

Newsletter Day 1

Newsletter 2nd Day

Newsletter 3rd day

Newsletter 4th Day

Newsletter 5th Day

Conference Declarations

Link to conference blog

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