SEATTLE – Several Puget Sound cities are one step closer to water restrictions as the region’s record-setting hot, dry summer continues.
Seattle, Everett and Tacoma are all activating the first phase of their drought and water shortage plans, starting Tuesday. Those cities supply about two-thirds of all of the water used by Puget Sound residents and businesses – about 180 million gallons a day in the summer.
The conservation measures aren’t as drastic as in California, where people in some municipalities can’t water their lawns or wash their cars.
But city officials agree it is now imperative to begin with some voluntary steps, with local rivers running at historically low levels – killing off the oxygen fish need to survive.
Each city’s plan is a little bit different – but the basics are the same in each case. Residents are being asked to:
• Water plants early or late in the day – before 8 a.m. or after 7 p.m. – to prevent evaporation.
• Water longer but less frequently – a good soaking lasts longer.
• Fix leaks on faucets and toilets to stop wasting water.
• Use a broom instead of a hose to clean off driveways or patios.
Right now, all of these ideas are voluntary, but it’s clear that will change if conditions get worse – as we head into another round of hot weather this week.
It’s a double-whammy kind of year for the Pacific.
An unusually warm winter in Alaska failed to chill ocean waters. Then this winter’s El Nino is keeping tropical ocean temperatures high. Combine these and scientists are recording ocean temperatures up to 7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than average off the coasts of Oregon and Washington.
“This is a situation with how the climate is going, or the weather is going, that we just haven’t really seen before and don’t know where it’s headed,” says National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries biologist Chris Harvey.
This map shows sea surface temperatures off the West Coast. The darker the red, the farther the temperatures are above average.
Pacific Ocean temperatures regularly swing along a temperature spectrum. In fact, scientists have identified multi-decade cycles of warmer and cooler water.
“But right now, in the last couple of decades, we feel like we’ve seen maybe a little bit less stability in those regimes,” Harvey says.
This year, the temperatures are particularly high. The effects already appear to be rippling up and down the food chain.
When the ocean is warmer, it is less nutrient rich.
The humble copepod is a good illustration of this phenomenon. Copepods are small, crab-like organisms that swim in the upper part of the water column. They’re basically fish food for young salmon, sardines and other species.
But NOAA scientists have described the difference between cold-water copepods and warm-water copepods as the difference between a bacon-double cheeseburger with all the fixin’s and a celery stick.
Cold-water copepods are fattier and more nutrient-rich, making them a higher-value food for fish.
This warm-water copepod collected off Oregon this winter. They provided provide less energy to salmon and other fish than cool-water species. NOAA Fisheries/Northwest Fisheries Science Center
“The copepods that we associate with warmer water, which is what we’re seeing develop off the West Coast right now, tend to have lower energy content,” Harvey says. “There’s going to be probably an abundance of copepods out there, just not the high-energy ones we associate with higher fish production.”
Scientists are already making connections between these lower-nutrient waters and seabird die-offs in the Northwest and the widespread starvation of California sea lion pups, as well.
The warm water isn’t all bad news for Northwest fisheries. Some fish that like warm water, like albacore tuna, may be more abundant this year in waters off the Oregon and Washington coasts.
Harvey says the science suggests fisheries managers might want to take a more cautious approach when setting harvest rates in the coming years. But what these record-high temperatures say about the longer-term health of Northwest fisheries and other coastal wildlife is still unclear.
“For me the jury is out on this,” Harvey says. “We’re going to have to wait a couple years before we know if this was just a really, really bizarre bump in the road or if there’s more to it.”
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA — On Saturday, February 7, eight thousand Californians marched in the largest anti-fracking demonstration in US history. The “March for Real Climate Leadership” was held in downtown Oakland, Gov. Jerry Brown’s home city, in order to focus on the need for Brown to end fracking.”We’re here, marching in Jerry Brown’s hometown, to let him know climate leaders don’t frack,” said Linda Caputo, fracking coordinator for 350.org, an international organization that fights climate change.
The marchers assembled in front of City Hall in downtown Oakland, then traveled nearly two miles to the Lake Merritt Amphitheater where a rally was held. Various marchers held signs proclaiming “Idle No More,” “Our Oceans Are Rising, so we Rise Up,” ” No Keystone Pipeline,” “Save the Delta,” “Save Mother Earth,” among many others.
DESPITE RAIN AND WIND, THE MARCH WOUND ITS WAY THROUGH DOWNTOWN OAKLAND WHILE NATIVE WOMEN SANG THE “WOMEN’S WARRIOR SONG.”
Pacific Islanders sang traditional songs, along with many marchers drumming, singing, and sending a peaceful yet powerful message to Gov. Jerry Brown.
The march was organized by a large coalition of environmental organizations composed of the Indigenous Block to end fracking that included SF Idle No More, led by Pennie Opal Plant, Marshall Islanders, various California tribes, including Ohlone leader, Corrina Gould, Los Angeles Chapter of AIM, AIM West of Northern California, and many Native Americans from the Bay Area and other parts of California. The Indigenous Block led the march. Other organizations included labor unions, local environment justice groups such as 350.org ,Food and Water Watch, national NGO’s, various health activists, community activists, students, and those committed to protecting water and air for generations to come.
“Fracking is hurting our communities. It is sucking our drought ridden state of precious water resources, contaminating our groundwater in a region where 25% of the nation’s food is grown, and contributing to the impending climate crisis. Oil companies have made Californians feel powerless and silenced, because our governor is only listening to their money,” UC Berkeley student Eva Malis said.
Photo Credit: Charles Lopez
Contingents of marchers traveled from San Diego, Los Angeles, Fresno, and the central coast of California. The rally at Lake Merritt amphitheater began with a traditional Pacific Island chant, then a prayer by Bay area Marshall Island community leader Abon-Burch. Fuifuilupe Niumeitolu then introduced a group of Marshall Island youth who sang traditional songs about water and love for their Moana. Dianne Thomas, a community organizer from Carson, California reported that in 2011 Occidental Oil Company wanted to re-open old oil wells and build 200 new wells over a period of ten years.
“As a community, we continued to organize and fight Occidental Oil, even though we only had the support of one council member in our favor. The draft EIR report never got out of the response phase, and eventually Occidental Oil pulled out of Carson. When we all work together, we can prevail,” said Thomas.
On Monday, February 8, organizers of the anti-fracking march and rally will present Gov. Jerry Brown with 200,000 signatures demanding an end to fracking throughout California.
Note: Being Frank is the monthly opinion column that was written for many years by the late Billy Frank Jr., NWIFC Chairman. To honor him, the treaty Indian tribes in western Washington will continue to share their perspectives on natural resources management through this column. This month’s writer is Ed Johnstone, treasurer of the NWIFC and Natural Resources Policy Spokesperson for the Quinault Indian Nation.
By Ed Johnstone, Quinault Indian Nation, NWIFC Treasurer
OLYMPIA – Our planet is talking to us, and we better pay attention. It’s telling us that our climate and oceans are changing for the worse and that every living thing will be affected. The signs are everywhere. The only solution is for all of us to work together harder to meet these challenges.
We are seeing many signs of climate change. Our polar ice caps and glaciers are melting and sea levels are rising. Winter storms are becoming more frequent and fierce, threatening our homes and lives.
It is believed that we are witnessing a fundamental change in ocean and wind circulation patterns. In the past, cold water full of nutrients would upwell from deep in the ocean, mix with oxygen-rich water near the surface, and aid the growth of phytoplankton that provides the foundation for a for a strong marine food chain that includes all of us.
The change in wind and ocean patterns is causing huge amounts of marine plants to die and decompose, rapidly using up available oxygen in the water. The result is a massive low oxygen dead zone of warmer waters off the coasts of Washington and Oregon that is steadily growing bigger, researchers say. Large fish kills caused by low oxygen levels are becoming common, at times leaving thousands of dead fish, crab and other forms of sea life lining our beaches.
Low oxygen levels and higher water temperatures are also contributing to a massive outbreak of sea star wasting syndrome all along the West Coast. It starts with white sores and ultimately causes the star fish to disintegrate. While outbreaks have been documented in the past, nothing on the scale we are seeing now has ever been recorded.
We are also seeing basic changes in the chemistry of our oceans. Our atmosphere has been steadily polluted with carbon dioxide for hundreds of years. When that carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean, those waters become more acidic and inhospitable to marine life. Young oysters, for example, are dying because the increasingly acidic water prevents them from growing shells. Researchers say that ocean acidification could also amplify the effects of climate change.
Because we live so closely with our natural world, indigenous people are on the front line of climate change and ocean acidification. That is part of the reason that native people from throughout the Pacific region will gather in Washington, D.C. in July for our second First Stewards Symposium. Tribal leaders, scientists and others will examine how native people and their cultures have adapted to climate change for thousands of years, and what our future—and that of America—may hold as the impacts of climate change continue.
President Obama’s commitment to addressing adaptation to climate change in a real and substantive way is encouraging. Tribes stand ready to partner with the Administration and others any way we can to protect our homelands and the natural resources on which our cultures and economies depend. Only by all of us working together – supporting one another – will we be able to successfully face the challenges of ocean acidification and climate change.
This week, the exiled head of the Syrian opposition movement said he would meet representatives of President Bashar al-Assad in Geneva, a promising turn for a conflict that has left 100,000 dead, including many civilians, since spring 2011. It has been a long, bitter battle, but for many Syrians one root of the violence stretches back to several years before al-Assad’s troops began picking off anti-government protesters. Beginning in 2006, a prolonged, severe drought decimated farmland, spiked food prices, and forced millions of Syrians into poverty — helping to spark the unrest that eventually exploded into civil war.
The Syrian conflict is just one recent example of the connection between climate and conflict, a field that is increasingly piquing the interest of criminologists, economists, historians, and political scientists. Studies have begun to crop up in leading journals examining this connection in everything from the collapse of the Mayan civilization to modern police training in the Netherlands. A survey published today in Science takes a first-ever 30,000-foot view of this research, looking for trends that tie these examples together through fresh analysis of raw data from 60 quantitative studies. It offers evidence that unusually high temperatures could lead to tens of thousands more cases of “interpersonal” violence — murder, rape, assault, etc. — and more than a 50 percent increase in “intergroup” violence, i.e. war, in some places.
“This is what keeps me awake at night,” lead author Solomon Hsiang, an environmental policy post-doc at Princeton, said. “The linkage between human conflict and climate changes was really pervasive.”
Any cop could tell you that hot days can make people snap — last summer veteran police boss William Bratton argued that a warm winter contributed to a rash of murders in Chicago. But Hsiang and his colleagues wanted to see how this pattern held up across the globe, at different times and with different kinds of conflict, to gauge just how much the climate can lead to violence.
So they rounded up recent studies that could reliably show a causal connection between climate and violence in a variety of contemporary, historical, and experimental settings. They re-crunched the raw data from these studies to smooth out details specific to each case (temperature data was converted to deviation from average, rather than absolute temperatures, for example) in order to make apples-to-apples comparisons across time and across the world. What emerged was an unsettling new picture of the exact effect climate changes have on our tendency toward violence: For every one standard deviation toward warmer temperatures, the median frequency of “interpersonal” violence rose 4 percent. In the U.S., that would translate to an additional 56,000 violent crimes every year on top of the average 1.4 million (according to FBI data) we’ve experienced annually in the last decade. And that could just be the beginning: Hsiang’s study points out that inhabited places on Earth are likely to see warming of two to four standard deviations by 2050.
Meanwhile, the study found the median frequency of “intergroup” violence jumped 14 percent for every standard deviation; again, in the context of projected future warming, this means that by 2050 the threat of war could climb more than 50 percent in some places.
The study also found general agreement amongst case studies that exceptionally high and low rainfall — particularly when it impacts agricultural production — can lead both to interpersonal and intergroup violence. But even looking only at scientists’ projections for future temperature increases, the statistical rise in violent tendencies is significant enough, the study claims, that “amplified rates of human conflict could represent a large and critical impact of anthropogenic climate change.” In other words, it’s something we might need to prepare for — just like rising seas or nastier wildfires.
It’s not just isolated hot days that spur increased violence; the study found increased conflict in warmer-than-usual periods over time spans ranging from an hour (in a controlled experiment where police trainees were stuck in rooms of different temperatures and asked to respond to a hypothetical aggressor; cops in the hot room were much more likely to fire their weapons) to thousands of years (in an anthropological study [PDF] of how summer temperatures drove the collapse of ancient human settlements in northern Norway).
With this connection nailed down, Hsiang said, the next step is to better understand what exactly about higher temperatures leads to conflict; he compared the pursuit to that of early 20-century medical researchers who knew smoking caused cancer but didn’t understand why at a molecular level. In the case of Syria, it’s easy enough to draw a line from heat and drought to civil unrest, but that doesn’t help explain why a protest is more likely to boil into a riot on a hot day, or why more murders are likely to happen in a hot decade.
“We have a mountain of evidence,” he said. “But we can’t completely explain all the intervening steps.”
Arizona Democratic Sen. Jack Jackson Jr., Navajo, is resigning his post to work as a tribal liaison on environmental issues for the federal government.
Jackson had served one previous term in the state legislature between 2003 and 2005, overlapping with his father, Sen. Jack C. Jackson Sr., who served between 1985 and 2004. They became the first father and son to serve together in the Arizona State Legislature.
But the younger Jackson declined to seek re-election in 2005, and for a time worked as a consultant on tribal issues, among other roles. He returned to elected office in 2011, in the Arizona Senate, and began his second consecutive two-year term in January. But shortly thereafter, he was recruited to serve as senior advisor and liaison for Native American affairs in the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environment and Scientific Affairs.
Jackson’s new position was crafted in response to tribal leaders who have complained about improper consultation during the process to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline.
“We know that tribal leaders in North Dakota walked out of a consultation meeting with the State Department, saying that they wanted someone there like the President or Secretary Kerry to meet with them, as tribal leaders,” Jackson said, taking a break from unpacking boxes in Washington on July 4. “I believe that this new position, with someone who is Native American and has a background in dealing with tribes, hopefully that will help those tribal leaders remain at the table.”
Like all oil pipelines, the Keystone XL Pipeline falls under the State Department’s purview because of a 1968 executive order by Lyndon Johnson. Jackson’s bureau, its name often shortened to Oceans, Environment and Science (OES), works on a variety of issues besides energy. They range from water sanitation in developing countries, to climate change, to policies in space.
“For anything that deals with environmental and cultural impacts to tribes, the Department of State is trying to make sure that there’s someone there,” Jackson said.
Jackson is no stranger to Washington; he spent 12 years there after graduating from Syracuse University law school in 1989. He started as a legislative associate, and then was promoted to deputy director for the Navajo Nation Washington Office, representing the concerns of his people before the federal government. During his first stint in Washington, Jackson also worked as a legislative analyst at the National Indian Education Association and director of governmental affairs for the National Congress of American Indians.
He has been back in Arizona for 12 years, during which time he’s served on two different occasions in the state legislature and performed a variety of other roles. Most recently, he has been a senior strategist in the Blue Stone Strategy Group, a national Native-owned consulting firm that helps empower tribes in the areas of sovereignty, self-determination and self-sufficiency in the business and governmental sectors.
Even though he’s vacating his current term early, he said he’s proud of what he accomplished already this year. He was able to secure $2.4 million in emergency funding for the Red Mesa Unified School District, on a remote part of the Navajo nation near Arizona’s border with Utah. The district was threatened with financially necessary closure after it was ruled that it could not count its students from Utah when it received its Arizona state allocations.
He also worked to make tribes eligible to compete for moneys out of Arizona’s aviation fund, which go for maintenance and construction at public airports. There are 14 tribally-owned airports in Arizona. And he secured annual funding so that Navajo Technical College can build a permanent campus in Chinle, Arizona.
He said a farther-reaching effort he began in 2003 has been “inching its way” toward fruition: making sure tribes get back a fair portion of the transaction privilege taxes collected from non-Indian businesses on reservations. As it stands now, the state collects the money and divides it between the state, counties and municipalities, leaving tribes out of the equation. Finally, this year, Jackson’s legislation to remedy that formula made it out of committee – but died in the full Senate.
“I hope that next session my successor and representatives Hale and Peshlakai will be able to keep up that momentum,” Jackson said.
Jackson said he’ll miss his family and friends in Arizona, but he and his husband of five years, David Bailey, will keep a home in Phoenix to facilitate Bailey’s ongoing, Arizona-based job with U.S. Airways. So frequent travel to his homelands will be possible, Jackson said, adding that his new role is worth some sacrifice.
“Having a voice on environmental and cultural impacts on tribes is very important, especially now, with the things that our Mother Earth is facing,” he said. “As a Navajo person, my family made sure all the prayers and blessings were in place.”
At last, President Obama has tackled climate change and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a major speech. Recognizing that power plants are a huge source of unchecked CO2, the President is directing EPA to complete CO2 emission standards for new and existing power plants. Given that reducing emissions will require replacing a significant amount of fossil-fueled power generation with carbon neutral renewable power, clean energy advocates wonder what the Administration’s plans mean for biomass energy, the combustion of biological materials in power plants, instead of fossil fuels.
We already know what EPA is considering as a standard for new fossil fueled power plants – 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour (MWh), a standard that is difficult if not impossible for a coal plant to meet. What about biomass energy? Start with the simple fact that a biomass power plant emits about 3,000 lb of CO2 per MWh, far more than even a coal plant. Beyond that, the biomass power plants being built in the US are primarily wood-burners, with a typical 50 MW facility (tiny by coal plant standards) burning the equivalent of millions of trees per year. Cutting forests for fuel degrades forest carbon uptake, and transporting wood fuel takes hundreds of trucks per week, driven thousands of miles, belching more CO2 and pollution. Claims that stack emissions from burning biomass don’t matter – that the CO2 is eventually neutralized by forest regrowth, or that “waste” wood burned as fuel would have eventually decomposed and emitted the CO2 anyway – are nothing more than assumptions, and unrealistic ones at that, considering that last summer the US got a taste of the climate-to-come, experiencing record-breaking temperatures, extreme weather events and massive forest fires.
Even under the best case scenario, where forests are left alone to regrow for decades after being cut for biomass fuel, current modeling and science shows that it takes several decades to neutralize the extra CO2 emitted a biomass power plant. No serious climate scientist believes we can afford to wait decades to reduce emissions, and no serious policy-maker should promote investing billions of dollars into biomass energy infrastructure, with its deferred and hypothetical benefits of carbon reductions that are decades off, alongside wind and solar, where the reduction in CO2 emissions occurs right away.
Massachusetts recognized that biomass power plants increase emissions instead of reducing them, and took low-efficiency biomass energy out of the State’s renewable portfolio. The fact that wood-burning power plants are still considered “renewable” energy sources in the rest of the country is a testimony to the biomass industry’s lobbying clout. With CO2 emissions standards for power plants finally on the Administration’s radar, however, claims that biomass energy benefits the climate may finally bump up against reality.
Climate talk shifts from curbing CO2 to adapting to a new normal
Seth Borenstein, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Efforts to curb global warming have quietly shifted as greenhouse gases inexorably rise.
The conversation is no longer solely about how to save the planet by cutting carbon emissions. It’s becoming more about how to save ourselves from the warming planet’s wild weather.
It was Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s announcement last week of an ambitious plan to stave off New York City’s rising seas with flood gates, levees and more that brought this transition into full focus.
After years of losing the fight against rising global emissions of heat-trapping gases, governments around the world are emphasizing what a U.N. Foundation scientific report calls “managing the unavoidable.”
It’s called adaptation and it’s about as sexy but as necessary as insurance, experts say.
It’s also a message that once was taboo among climate activists such as former Vice President Al Gore.
In his 1992 book “Earth in the Balance,” Gore compared talk of adapting to climate change to laziness that would distract from necessary efforts.
But in his 2013 book “The Future,” Gore writes bluntly: “I was wrong.” He talks about how coping with rising seas and temperatures is just as important as trying to prevent global warming by cutting emissions.
Like Gore, governmental officials across the globe aren’t saying everyone should just give up on efforts to reduce pollution. They’re saying that as they work on curbing carbon, they also have to deal with a reality that’s already here.
In March, President Barack Obama’s science advisers sent him a list of recommendations on climate change. No. 1 on the list: “Focus on national preparedness for climate change.”
“Whether you believe climate change is real or not is beside the point,” New York’s Bloomberg said in announcing his $20 billion adaptation plans. “The bottom line is: We can’t run the risk.”
On Monday, more than three dozen other municipal officials from across the country will go public with a nationwide effort to make their cities more resilient to natural disasters and the effects of man-made global warming.
“It’s an insurance policy, which is investing in the future,” Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, Calif., who is chairing the mayors’ efforts, said in an interview Friday. “This is public safety. It’s the long-term hazards that could impact a community.”
Discussions about global warming are happening more often in mayors’ offices than in Congress. The Obama administration and local governments are coming up with thousands of eye-glazing pages of climate change adaptation plans and talking about zoning, elevation, water system infrastructure, and most of all, risk.
“They can sit up there and not make any policies or changes, but we know we have to,” Broward County, Fla., Mayor Kristin Jacobs said. “We know that we’re going to be that first line of defense.”
University of Michigan professor Rosina Bierbaum is a presidential science adviser who headed the adaptation section of the administration’s new National Climate Assessment. “It’s quite striking how much is going on at the municipal level,” Bierbaum said. “Communities have to operate in real time. Everybody is struggling with a climate that is no longer the climate of the past.”
Still, Bierbaum said, “Many of the other developed countries have gone way ahead of us in preparing for climate change. In many ways, the U.S. may be playing catch-up.”
Hurricanes, smaller storms and floods have been a harsh teacher for South Florida, said Jacobs.
“Each time you get walloped, you stop and scratch your head … and learn from it and make change,” she said. “It helps if you’ve been walloped once or twice. I think it’s easier to take action when everybody sees” the effect of climate change and are willing to talk about being prepared.
What Bloomberg announced for New York is reasonable for a wealthy city with lots of people and lots of expensive property and infrastructure to protect, said S. Jeffress Williams, a University of Hawaii geophysicist who used to be the expert on sea level rise for the U.S. Geological Survey. But for other coasts in the United States and especially elsewhere in the poorer world, he said, “it’s not so easy to adapt.”
Rich nations have pledged, but not yet provided, $100 billion a year to help poor nations adapt to global warming and cut their emissions. But the $20 billion cost for New York City’s efforts shows the money won’t go far in helping poorer cities adapt, said Brandon Wu of the nonprofit ActionAid.
At U.N. climate talks in Germany this past week, Ronald Jumeau, a delegate from the Seychelles, said developing countries have noted the more than $50 billion in relief that U.S. states in the Northeast got for Superstorm Sandy.
That’s a large amount “for one storm in three states. At the same time, the Philippines was hit by its 15th storm in the same year,” Jumeau said. “It puts things in context.”
For poorer cities in the U.S., what makes sense is to buy out property owners, relocate homes and businesses and convert vulnerable sea shores to parks so that when storms hit “it’s not a big deal,” Williams said. “I think we’ll see more and more communities make that decision largely because of the cost involved in trying to adapt to what’s coming.”
Jacobs, the mayor from South Florida, says that either people will move “or they will rehab their homes so that they can have a higher elevation. Already, in the Keys, you see houses that are up on stilts. So is that where we’re going? At some point, we’re going to have to start looking at real changes.”
It’s not just rising seas.
Sacramento has to deal with devastating droughts as well as the threat of flooding. It has a levee system so delicate that only New Orleans has it worse, said Johnson, the California capital’s mayor.
The temperature in Sacramento was 110 this past week. After previous heat waves, cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., have come up with cooling centers and green roofs that reduce the urban heat island affect.
Jacobs said cities from Miami to Virginia Beach, Va., are coping with mundane efforts: changes in zoning and building codes, raising the elevation of roads and runways, moving and hardening infrastructure. None of it grabs headlines, but “the sexiness is … in the results,” she said.
For decades, scientists referenced average temperatures when they talked about global warming. Only recently have they focused intensely on extreme and costly weather, encouraged by the insurance industry which has suffered high losses, Bierbaum said.
In 2012, weather disasters — not necessarily all tied to climate change — caused $110 billion in damage to the United States, which was the second highest total since 1980, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said last week.
Now officials are merging efforts by emergency managers to prepare for natural disasters with those of officials focused on climate change. That greatly lessens the political debate about human-caused global warming, said University of Colorado science and disaster policy professor Roger Pielke Jr.
It also makes the issue more local than national or international.
“If you keep the discussion focused on impacts … I think it’s pretty easy to get people from all political persuasions,” said Pielke, who often has clashed with environmentalists over global warming. “It’s insurance. The good news is that we know insurance is going to pay off again.”
Describing these measures as resiliency and changing the way people talk about it make it more palatable than calling it climate change, said Hadi Dowlatabadi, a University of British Columbia climate scientist.
“It’s called a no-regrets strategy,” Dowlatabadi said. “It’s all branding.”
All that, experts say, is essentially taking some of the heat out of the global warming debate.
Top secret US National Security Agency (NSA) documents disclosed by the Guardian have shocked the world with revelations of a comprehensive US-based surveillance system with direct access to Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft and other tech giants. New Zealandcourt records suggest that data harvested by the NSA’s Prism system has been fed into the Five Eyes intelligence alliance whose members also include the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
But why have Western security agencies developed such an unprecedented capacity to spy on their own domestic populations? Since the 2008 economic crash, security agencies have increasingly spied on political activists, especially environmental groups, on behalf of corporate interests. This activity is linked to the last decade of US defence planning, which has been increasingly concerned by the risk of civil unrest at home triggered by catastrophic events linked to climate change, energy shocks or economic crisis – or all three.
Just last month, unilateral changes to US military laws formally granted the Pentagon extraordinary powers to intervene in a domestic “emergency” or “civil disturbance”:
“Federal military commanders have the authority, in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the President is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation, to engage temporarily in activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances.”
Other documents show that the “extraordinary emergencies” the Pentagon is worried about include a range of environmental and related disasters.
“Environmental destruction, whether caused by human behavior or cataclysmic mega-disasters such as floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, or tsunamis. Problems of this scope may overwhelm the capacity of local authorities to respond, and may even overtax national militaries, requiring a larger international response.”
Two years later, the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Army Modernisation Strategy described the arrival of a new “era of persistent conflict” due to competition for “depleting natural resources and overseas markets” fuelling “future resource wars over water, food and energy.” The report predicted a resurgence of:
“… anti-government and radical ideologies that potentially threaten government stability.”
In the same year, a report by the US Army’s Strategic Studies Institute warned that a series of domestic crises could provoke large-scale civil unrest. The path to “disruptive domestic shock” could include traditional threats such as deployment of WMDs, alongside “catastrophic natural and human disasters” or “pervasive public health emergencies” coinciding with “unforeseen economic collapse.” Such crises could lead to “loss of functioning political and legal order” leading to “purposeful domestic resistance or insurgency…
“DoD might be forced by circumstances to put its broad resources at the disposal of civil authorities to contain and reverse violent threats to domestic tranquility. Under the most extreme circumstances, this might include use of military force against hostile groups inside the United States. Further, DoD would be, by necessity, an essential enabling hub for the continuity of political authority in a multi-state or nationwide civil conflict or disturbance.”
That year, the Pentagon had begun developing a 20,000 strong troop force who would be on-hand to respond to “domestic catastrophes” and civil unrest – the programme was reportedly based on a 2005 homeland security strategy which emphasised “preparing for multiple, simultaneous mass casualty incidents.”
The following year, a US Army-funded RAND Corp study called for a US force presence specifically to deal with civil unrest.
Such fears were further solidified in a detailed 2010 study by the US Joint Forces Command – designed to inform “joint concept development and experimentation throughout the Department of Defense” – setting out the US military’s definitive vision for future trends and potential global threats. Climate change, the study said, would lead to increased risk of:
“… tsunamis, typhoons, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and other natural catastrophes… Furthermore, if such a catastrophe occurs within the United States itself – particularly when the nation’s economy is in a fragile state or where US military bases or key civilian infrastructure are broadly affected – the damage to US security could be considerable.”
“A severe energy crunch is inevitable without a massive expansion of production and refining capacity. While it is difficult to predict precisely what economic, political, and strategic effects such a shortfall might produce, it surely would reduce the prospects for growth in both the developing and developed worlds. Such an economic slowdown would exacerbate other unresolved tensions.”
That year the DoD’s Quadrennial Defense Review seconded such concerns, while recognising that “climate change, energy security, and economic stability are inextricably linked.”
Also in 2010, the Pentagon ran war games to explore the implications of “large scale economic breakdown” in the US impacting on food supplies and other essential services, as well as how to maintain “domestic order amid civil unrest.”
Speaking about the group’s conclusions at giant US defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton’s conference facility in Virginia, Lt Col. Mark Elfendahl – then chief of the Joint and Army Concepts Division – highlighted homeland operations as a way to legitimise the US military budget:
“An increased focus on domestic activities might be a way of justifying whatever Army force structure the country can still afford.”
Two months earlier, Elfendahl explained in a DoD roundtable that future planning was needed:
“Because technology is changing so rapidly, because there’s so much uncertainty in the world, both economically and politically, and because the threats are so adaptive and networked, because they live within the populations in many cases.”
The 2010 exercises were part of the US Army’s annual Unified Quest programme which more recently, based on expert input from across the Pentagon, has explored the prospect that “ecological disasters and a weak economy” (as the “recovery won’t take root until 2020″) will fuel migration to urban areas, ramping up social tensions in the US homeland as well as within and between “resource-starved nations.”
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was a computer systems administrator for Booz Allen Hamilton, where he directly handled the NSA’s IT systems, including the Prism surveillance system. According toBooz Allen’s 2011 Annual Report, the corporation has overseen Unified Quest “for more than a decade” to help “military and civilian leaders envision the future.”
The latest war games, the report reveals, focused on “detailed, realistic scenarios with hypothetical ‘roads to crisis’”, including “homeland operations” resulting from “a high-magnitude natural disaster” among other scenarios, in the context of:
“… converging global trends [which] may change the current security landscape and future operating environment… At the end of the two-day event, senior leaders were better prepared to understand new required capabilities and force design requirements to make homeland operations more effective.”
It is therefore not surprising that the increasing privatisation of intelligence has coincided with the proliferation of domestic surveillance operations against political activists, particularly those linked to environmental and social justice protest groups.
Department of Homeland Security documents released in April prove a “systematic effort” by the agency “to surveil and disrupt peaceful demonstrations” linked to Occupy Wall Street, according to the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF).
Similarly, FBI documents confirmed “a strategic partnership between the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the private sector” designed to produce intelligence on behalf of “the corporate security community.” A PCJF spokesperson remarked that the documents show “federal agencies functioning as a de facto intelligence arm of Wall Street and Corporate America.”
In particular, domestic surveillance has systematically targeted peaceful environment activists including anti-fracking activists across the US, such as the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition, Rising Tide North America, the People’s Oil & Gas Collaborative, and Greenpeace. Similar trends are at play in the UK, where the case of undercover policeman Mark Kennedy revealed the extent of the state’s involvement in monitoring the environmental direct action movement.
A University of Bath study citing the Kennedy case, and based on confidential sources, found that a whole range of corporations – such as McDonald’s, Nestle and the oil major Shell, “use covert methods to gather intelligence on activist groups, counter criticism of their strategies and practices, and evade accountability.”
Indeed, Kennedy’s case was just the tip of the iceberg – internal police documents obtained by the Guardian in 2009 revealed that environment activists had been routinely categorised as “domestic extremists” targeting “national infrastructure” as part of a wider strategy tracking protest groups and protestors.
Superintendent Steve Pearl, then head of the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (Nectu), confirmed at that time how his unit worked with thousands of companies in the private sector. Nectu, according to Pearl, was set up by the Home Office because it was “getting really pressured by big business – pharmaceuticals in particular, and the banks.” He added that environmental protestors were being brought “more on the radar.” The programme continues today, despite police acknowledgements that environmentalists have not been involved in “violent acts.”
The Pentagon knows that environmental, economic and other crises could provoke widespread public anger toward government and corporations in coming years. The revelations on the NSA’s global surveillance programmes are just the latest indication that as business as usual creates instability at home and abroad, and as disillusionment with the status quo escalates, Western publics are being increasingly viewed as potential enemies that must be policed by the state.