Tuesday, February 28, 2006

UK tactics, US brass tacs, French tax

Like some others, I was beginning to wonder what had happened to the British NGO coalition Stop Climate Chaos since its launch some months ago. But tomorrow's event (news of which is embargoed until midnight tonight, but which builds on this meeting today with Blair and co) looks like it could make some waves.

SCC's goal - a 3% year on year reduction in UK emissions - is continuous with Friends of the Earth's Big Ask last year. What prospect of meeting it?

It's conceivable, but unlikely, that the UK government will deliver on home energy efficiency. Harder to see where the political will come from to adequately address aviation. George Monbiot makes some helpful points here, but for once is less radical than I was in a 9 Jan piece which probably over-telescopes the plausible time scale:
"The billion or so of us who are already rich consumers have the choice to reduce the emissions from our lifestyles by 50 to 90% within a year or two with no compromise in lifestyle and in many cases with considerable improvement – with the very significant exception of the addiction of many of us to air travel".
One issue for SCC and its allies could be that they become a coalition of the willing - a choir that feels good singing together - that does not impress those outside the tent/church who are not amenable to exhortation and whose economic and political power cannot be overcome by confrontation or fiat, at least in the next ten years or so.

Some intiatives in the United States such as the Energy Future Coalition may have less ambitious goals but they do seem to line up more players - including labor, business and farming...at least for now. Better to promise less and deliver?

Another contrast to British efforts is the edict by Chirac to put a tax on flights (even if didn't start that way, it now has that top down imprimatur). If this goes ahead it may raise substantial revenues for development. But is the French tax intended to progressively curb demand for flights (increasing in size as number of flights diminishes?). I doubt it, but am glad to be corrected.

Also, let's not forget a European context in which the major gas supplier wants to reverse not only Gorbachev but Khrushchev.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Sunday, February 26, 2006


"If cruelty is no longer declared unlawful, but instead is applied as a matter of policy, it alters the fundamental relationship of man to government. It destroys the whole notion of individual rights. The [US] Constitution recognizes that man has an inherent right, not bestowed by the state or laws, to personal dignity, including the right to be free of cruelty. It applies to all human beings, not just in America—even those designated as 'unlawful enemy combatants.' If you make this exception, the whole Constitution crumbles. It’s a transformative issue."
So says Alberto Mora, the outgoing general counsel to the US Navy, to Jane Mayer (The Memo). Mora, whose mother was Hungarian and father was Cuban, adds that he does not fear reprisal for stating his opposition to the Administration’s emerging policy:
"It never crossed my mind. Besides, my mother would have killed me if I hadn’t spoken up. No Hungarian after Communism, or Cuban after Castro, is not aware that human rights are incompatible with cruelty...The debate here isn’t only how to protect the country. It’s how to protect our values."

Friday, February 24, 2006

A bit lumpy

A attack on the Abqaiq facility in Saudi Arabia is reported to have failed (see here and here). If certain players were sufficiently organised and ready to co-operate, supplies of oil from the Gulf, Nigeria, Venezuela and elsewhere could be cut quite a bit, contributing to instability. But what would be the stategic goals, and how would the interests of the different players be aligned?

Good knights and good luck

Ted Koppel's comment Will Fight for Oil offers mild rebuke to the Bush administration:
If [oil] did not enter into the Bush administration's calculations when the president ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003, it would have been the first time in more than 50 years that the uninterrupted flow of Persian Gulf oil was not a central element of American foreign policy.

...H. L. Mencken is said to have noted that "when someone says it's not about the money — it's about the money." Arguing in support of his fellow Arkansan during Bill Clinton's impeachment trial, former Senator Dale Bumpers offered a variation on that theme: "When someone says it's not about the sex — it's about the sex."
The point is fairly well taken; but Koppel - now retired from ABC and comfortable - is hardly the battler that Neal Ascherson calls for in his comment on Good Night and Good Luck (a homage to George Clooney's own father as well as Murrow).

Mark Lawson attacks the film as unfair and unbalanced but Peter Bradshaw is closer to the point when he says that criticism of abandoning impartiality in the face of Joe McCarthy's bullying reminds him of Churchill's line: he did not care to be impartial between the fireman and the fire.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Radical Islam - foe and friend

In a paper presented earlier today at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Sciences, Scott Atran notes that the use of suicide bombers has increased exponentially in the last three decades. (Risk in the Wild: Reassessing Terrorist Threats from the Field. The Moral Logic and Growth of Matyrdom: Instrumental Reasoning vs. Sacred Values - presented to the Risk Panel, 19 Feb 2006). The following is part of the conclusion:
"In Unveiling Jimaah Islamiya, one of JI's former top leaders Nasir Abas refutes what he believes to be the tendentious use of the Koran and hadith to justify suicide bombing against fellow Muslims and civilians...He reasons that the best way to turn altruistic suicide bombers who believe that what they are doing is sacred away from violence may be by religiously promoting competing sacred values, such as spreading the faith and promoting equal economic opportunity, as well as social and political advancement through education achievement and personal piety. Sincere alternative appeals to sacred values could undermine consensus for violent jihad. But it is not evident that the United States and it allies would or could embrace this process without strangling it".
Next to this it is instructive to place Hendrik Hertzberg´s commentary on the George Bush´s State of the Union address , in which the US president identifies "radical Islam" as the enemy. The choice of words, Hertzberg argues, is inept: as bad as Bush´s early talk of a crusade:
"Radical Islam is a far broader and more variegated phenomenon than the terrorist virus that infects it...In virtually every iteration, it demands the subordination of women the stunting of education, and curbing of freedom of speech, of the press, and of relgion. It should be opposed, as part of America´s thirty year old campaign on human rights. But it is not in and of itself a casus belli. Violence and terrorism are not intrinsic to it. And it emphatically not something which the United State should fight to the death".
A couple of comments here. First, it´s not "America" that fights for human rights. Some US institutions and individuals have on occasion played a notable role here, but it has always been flawed and complex and never "America" on its own. Beware self-regard and chauvinism (vide Fukuyama After Neoconservatism).

Second, pick your battles. The actual choices and opportunities available in what could prove to be very dangerous times may be more limited than one might wish. There may be some common ground with those who embrace non-violence however much one may disagree on particulars (for example, the non-violent but verging fundamentalist forces in places such as Malaysia, "a model progressive Muslim country that... makes laws that discriminate against women and that allows its religious authorities to snatch away the body of a dead man from his grieving [non-Muslim] family" but where the impetus for progressive reform may come from relatively progressive actors from within).

(Also, as Fukuyama may be right to say "Europe will be a central battleground in this fight")

Friday, February 17, 2006

Three ha'pence a foot

Greenland's glaciers are sliding towards the sea much faster than previously believed.

In footnote 4 to the Darwin tribute by Raymond Pierrehumbert on RealClimate, John Munro points out the irony of this news coming on a day that climate policy in his own country of New Zealand has gone backwards.

(the title of this post comes from Stanley Holloway)

Monday, February 13, 2006

Iranian cat and mouse

Among the factors influencing a US or Israeli decision to attack Iranian nuclear and other facilities looks to be when (if?) a 1,000 MW reactor nearing completion at Bushehr is fully fuelled and goes critical sometime later this year. Or so I conclude from Iran: Consequences of a War by Paul Rogers.

If an attack really were thought to be imminent would the Iranians not already be moving key players and capacities into hidden and shadow facilities away from the obvious targets? Do they have the ability and resources to move fast enough?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

"I am going to Disney"

The very first attempt at doing 'instant science' [using functional magnetic resonance imaging] is a collaborative effort [with]...a marketing firm.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Justice and asymmetrical power

In 55 BC, the Roman leader Pompey staged a combat between humans and elephants. Surrounded in the arena, the animals perceived that they had no hope of escape. According to Pliny, they then "entreated the crowd, trying to win its compassion with indescribable gestures, bewailing their plight with a sort of lamentation." The audience, moved to pity and anger by their plight, rose to curse Pompey — feeling, wrote Cicero, that the elephants had a relation of commonality (societas) with the human race.
-- Martha Nussbaum: The Moral Status of Animals.

Friday, February 03, 2006


In the State of the Union address, Mr. Bush suggested that "cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol" and other technologies would allow us "to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East".

But the next day, officials explained that he didn't really mean what he said. "This was purely an example," said Samuel Bodman, the energy secretary. And the administration has actually been scaling back the very research that Mr. Bush hyped on Tuesday night: the National Renewable Energy Laboratory is about to lay off staff because of cuts to its budget.

"A veteran researcher," reports The New York Times, "said the staff had been told that the cuts would be concentrated among researchers in wind and biomass, which includes ethanol."

-- Paul Krugman, State of Delusion, 3 Feb

Mr. Bush's main departure from many Democrats and another source of resistance to his energy plan is his opposition to higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars. Mr. Bush has also opposed any effort to impose a higher gasoline tax'.-- Elizabeth Bumiller, Bush's Goals on Energy Quickly Find Obstacles, 2 Feb

Neither nor

Ethnic minorities [in Denmark] are disproportionately likely to be unemployed or in low paid jobs, but the most worrying trend to Manu Saleem, a Copenhagen councillor [who is a Dane of Indian background and a non-Muslim] is that of those who leave school at 16 without basic reading and writing skills, 56% are from ethnic minority backgrounds. One of the most expensive education systems in the world is failing them. For a small country which prides itself on a highly educated, skilled workforce, the chances of these young people getting jobs are small.
-- 'I was convinced we had found a solution to living together - but not now' - Madeliene Bunting, 3 Feb