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The Doomsday Clock moves to 5 minutes to midnight

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From six minutes to five. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has moved the minute hand of its Doomsday Clock, a simple graphic which reminds us how close human civilisation is to extinguishing itself through its own inaction over its own violent means.

“It is five minutes to midnight. Two years ago, it appeared that world leaders might address the truly global threats that we face. In many cases, that trend has not continued or been reversed. For that reason, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is moving the clock hand one minute closer to midnight, back to its time in 2007,” said the statement.

The last time the Doomsday Clock minute hand moved was in January 2010, when the Clock’s minute hand was pushed back one minute from five to six minutes before midnight.

The January 10, 2012 Doomsday Clock followed an international symposium held on 09 January 2012. The Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists reviewed the implications of recent events and trends for the future of humanity with input from other experts on nuclear weapons, nuclear energy, climate change, and biosecurity.

Questions addressed on January 9th included: What is the future of nuclear power after Fukushima?; How are nuclear weapons to be managed in a world of increasing economic, political, and environmental volatility?; What are the links among climate change, resource scarcity, conflict, and nuclear weapons?; and, What is required for robust implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention?

President of the United States Barrack Obama delivers a press brief along with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon on January 5, 2012. President Obama and Secretary Panetta delivered remarks on the Defense Strategic Guidance for the Defense Department going forward. They were joined by Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and the members of the Joint Chiefs and Service Secretaries(DOD Photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo)(RELEASED)

Despite the promise of a new spirit of international cooperation, and reductions in tensions between the United States and Russia, the Science and Security Board believes that the path toward a world free of nuclear weapons is not at all clear, and leadership is failing, according to the participants of the symposium.  The ratification in December 2010 of the New START treaty between Russia and the United States reversed the previous drift in US-Russia nuclear relations.

However, failure to act on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by leaders in the United States, China, Iran, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Israel, and North Korea and on a treaty to cut off production of nuclear weapons material continues to leave the world at risk from continued development of nuclear weapons.  The world still has approximately 19,500 nuclear weapons, enough power to destroy the Earth’s inhabitants several times over.   The Nuclear Security Summit of 2010 shone a spotlight on securing all nuclear fissile material, but few actions have been taken.  The result is that it is still possible for radical groups to acquire and use highly enriched uranium and plutonium to wreak havoc in nuclear attacks.

Obstacles to a world free of nuclear weapons remain.  Among these are disagreements between the United States and Russia about the utility and purposes of missile defense, as well as insufficient transparency, planning, and cooperation among the nine nuclear weapons states to support a continuing drawdown.  The resulting distrust leads nearly all nuclear weapons states to hedge their bets by modernizing their nuclear arsenals.  While governments claim they are only ensuring the safety of their warheads through replacement of bomb components and launch systems, as the deliberate process of arms reduction proceeds, such developments appear to other states to be signs of substantial military build-ups.

The movement of the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock will be of no concern to the US Department of Defense and the current government of the United States of America. On 05 January 2012 US President Barack Obama presented at the Pentagon the document entitled “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense”. Obama insisted that the US military budget would remain higher than those of the next 10 military powers combined.

The past decade, dominated by the “global war on terror” and the simultaneous wars and occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq, saw military spending in the US soar by more than 80%. The plan being implemented by Obama will maintain military spending at this unprecedentedly high level, even as the White House and the US Congress prepare to slash core social programs and benefits, including Medicare and Social Security.

See News Article: ‘Obama: Defense Strategy Will Maintain U.S. Military Pre-eminence’
See ‘You Can’t Have It All’ in Foreign Policy
See ‘New US defense policy challenges trust’ in People’s Daily Online
See ‘Pentagon plan changes game in Asia’ in People’s Daily Online

Powerful corporate interests are pleased with the new document, “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense”, and its promise of continued spending on a new stealth bomber, submarines, star wars technology and other air and sea weapons systems that are seen as the most efficient means of aggressively projecting US military might. US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta directly addressed these interests, declaring the Pentagon’s commitment to “preserving the health and viability of the nation’s defense industrial base.”

In his appearance at the Pentagon, Obama repeated his assertion that, based on the withdrawal from Iraq and the minimal troop reductions in Afghanistan, “the tides of war are receding”. On the contrary, the defense strategic guidance demonstrates that US imperialism remains committed to the use of armed force to assert its hegemony over the oil-rich regions of the Middle East and Central Asia, even as it gears up its war machine for an armed confrontation with China.

Commenting on the Doomsday Clock announcement, Lawrence Krauss, co-chair of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Board of Sponsors said: “Unfortunately, Einstein’s statement in 1946 that ‘everything has changed, save the way we think,’ remains true. The provisional developments of 2 years ago have not been sustained, and it makes sense to move the clock closer to midnight, back to the value it had in 2007. Faced with clear and present dangers of nuclear proliferation and climate change, and the need to find sustainable and safe sources of energy, world leads are failing to change business as usual. Inaction on key issues including climate change, and rising international tensions motivate the movement of the clock. As we see it, the major challenge at the heart of humanity’s survival in the 21st century is how to meet energy needs for economic growth in developing and industrial countries without further damaging the climate, exposing people to loss of health and community, and without risking further spread of nuclear weapons, and in fact setting the stage for global reductions.”

The Fukushima 50? Or the Fukushima 18,846?

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Japanese police man a checkpoint near the edge of the contaminated exclusion zone around the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station near Okuma, Fukushima prefecture, Japan Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011. Photo: David Guttenfelder, Pool

A new article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has exposed the large-scale and mostly invisible sub-contracting of labour in the international nuclear power industry. The article examines what has happened during the clean-up process at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and reveals exploitation of labour which is indefensible and criminal in view of the extreme hazards at the site following the 11 March 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

The reference to the 18,846 workers comes at the very end of the long and dense status sheet for 2011 December.

‘Nuclear nomads: A look at the subcontracted heroes’, By Gabrielle Hecht explains in dreadful detail how: during much of the cleanup process at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, thousands of subcontracted day laborers will be exposed to levels of ionising radiation well in excess of internationally recommended annual limits; how sub-contracted labourers account for some 90% of Japanese nuclear power plant workers during normal reactor operations; they often receive around three times the annual dose absorbed by a full-time plant employee; and how the sub-contracting approach within the nuclear industry carries exceptional risks and implications. Until these are recognised and documented, complex social and physiological realities will continue to be hidden.

The heroism of the ‘Fukushima 50’ – the plant and emergency workers who exposed themselves to extremely high radiation levels to get the reactors under control – was celebrated by the international media. But, during much of the clean-up process, thousands of workers were exposed to levels of ionising radiation well in excess of internationally recommended annual limits. Rather, in what amounts to premeditated and criminal negligence by the Government of Japan and by the power plant operator, Tepco, exposure limits were raised for both workers and the public, presumably in an attempt to reduce the number of cases that need to be documented as overexposures.

[See the 2011 December status document released by Tepco here (pdf)] [See the Fukushima nuclear emergency page for extensive background coverage, documents and material.] [See the running post on Fukushima for reportage and insights.]

In ‘Nuclear Nomads’ Hecht has asked: “So how many emergency workers are there anyway, and who are they?” A new document released by Tepco in December 2011 shows that over 18,000 men had participated in clean-up work by early December 2011. Some hailed the workers as “national heroes,” men willing to sacrifice their lives for the future of their nation. A few investigative reporters and scholars, however, uncovered a different story. The vast majority of these men are subcontract employees, recruited among local residents rendered unemployed by the disaster, or among the thousands of day laborers who eke out an existence in the margins of Japanese cities.

The Unit 4 reactor building of the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station is seen through a bus window in Okuma, Japan Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011. Media allowed into Japan's tsunami-damaged nuclear power plant for the first time then saw a striking scene of devastation: twisted and overturned vehicles, crumbling reactor buildings and piles of rubble virtually untouched since the wave struck more than eight months earlier. Photo: David Guttenfelder, Pool

‘Nuclear Nomads’ has quoted one such worker: “If [day labourers] refuse, where will they get another job?… I don’t know anyone who is doing this [cleanup work] for Japan. Most of them need the money.” Cleanup workers are issued with dosimeters, and are checked at the end of each shift. Unskilled temps get paid about US$130 a day. Many don’t have written employment contracts. When they reach their exposure limit, they lose their jobs and are replaced, ideally, by non-exposed workers. Some have opted to prolong their employment by leaving dosimeters behind while working.

The overview of the status of countermeasures at Fukushima Daiichi Units 1-4 issued by Tepco in 2011 December.

The article by Hecht lists implications of the sub-contracting approach to reactor maintenance:

(1) Greater exposure. As for the accident cleanup crew, the short-term financial incentive for the temps is to abandon their dosimeters for certain jobs, so that their radiation exposures are not officially recorded. This prolongs their employment – and increases their doses.

(2) No occupational disease. Subcontract workers are often dubbed nuclear nomads because they move around from workplace to workplace, living out of trailers. There’s no compulsory centralised system for tracking cumulative exposure and health data for these temps. The absence of interactions among labor, information, and health infrastructures means that workers’ health problems are not collected and recorded in a centralized database — thus, many severe health problems never qualify as occupational diseases. Workers rarely — if ever — benefit from compensation, because their diseases cannot be linked to past exposures in ways that are scientifically or legally persuasive.

(3) Collective dose. Utilities don’t include the exposures of temp workers in their own data. That, in turn, means that data for any given nuclear power plant vastly under-reports the true collective dose (i.e., the total exposure received by the sum of both utility and subcontract workers).

“We’re not talking about a small portion of Japan’s nuclear workforce,” Hecht has said in ‘Nuclear Nomads’. “Since the late 1980s, some 90 percent of nuclear power plant workers in the country have been subcontracted. Estimates suggest that on average, during any one subcontracted job, a worker receives two to three times the annual dose absorbed by a regular plant worker.”

Written by makanaka

January 10, 2012 at 14:00

Two films on social struggle: Egypt’s unfinished revolution, Kenya’s ‘unga’ revolution

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Although Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down in February 2011, the uprisings in Egypt continue. While the uniting rallying cry may have been against dictatorship, the struggle in Egypt that took headlines across the world in early 2011 reflected deeper social, political, and economic problems. The key demands of the revolution have still not been met. The continuation of military rule and the promise of more neoliberal economic policies lead many to believe it will be a long battle.

Protesters in Egypt are hopeful, however, as people all over the world revolt against an economic system that benefits the few at the expense of the many. This short documentary looks at the economic factors that led to the revolution, the reality of living under military rule, and brings up questions over the legitimacy of the current elections.

Rising prices and inflation in Kenya prompted the creation of a movement led by a grassroots civil society group, Bunge la Mwananchi, or The People’s Parliament. It staged demonstrations throughout the year to pressurise the Kenyan government to bring down the price of unga, or maize flour. IRIN’s latest film, ‘Kenya’s Unga Revolution’, follows one of Bunge la Mwananchi’s activists, Emily Kwamboka, as she takes to the streets to demand change in the lives of ordinary Kenyans.

Throughout 2011, Kenyans have faced the strain of rising food and fuel prices. According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, late and erratic rainfall led to an estimated 3.75 million people across the country becoming food-insecure. The World Bank’s Food Price Watch report states that the price of maize rose by 43 percent globally between September 2010 and September 2011.

IRIN’s latest film, ‘Kenya’s Unga Revolution‘, follows one of Bunge la Mwananchi’s activists, Emily Kwamboka, as she takes to the streets to demand change in the lives of ordinary Kenyans. “It’s high time people wake up. We need masses in this struggle. This is a fight that can’t be fought by just one or two people,” she told IRIN. Particularly affected were those living in Kenya’s urban areas, especially slum-dwellers. “Things have become so expensive, people are not even able to buy vegetables,” said Joash Otieno, a resident of Mathare, one of Nairobi’s slums. “Those who live in Mathare and other slums earn very low incomes,” he added.

The rising prices and inflation prompted the creation of a movement led by a grassroots civil society group, Bunge la Mwananchi, or The People’s Parliament. It staged demonstrations throughout the year to pressurize the Kenyan government to bring down the price of unga, or maize flour, from Ksh120 (US$1.40) a kilo, to KSh30 ($0.34).

A two-speed Europe, chronic unemployment and the Euro experiment

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Illustration: Presseurop / Chinese illustrator and cartoonist Luo Jie (William Luo) works for the Beijing English newspaper, China Daily.

There is worry in Europe about the euro, its ten-year-old currency, and about unemployment, which has stayed persistently high throughout 2011. The Euro press has reflected the worries and concerns of the salaried and the informal workers of Europe, and is now talking about whether there is already a ‘two-speed’ Europe. Presseurop has provided some insight:

In ‘Eurozone crisis – Will the EU end up like Yugoslavia?’ Serbian daily Politika remarks on the similarities with the years preceding the break-up of the federation founded by Tito. The Politika opinion said: “Seen from Belgrade, Zagreb or Sarajevo, the economic and institutional crisis that has struck the European Union has a certain air of déjà-vu. Relatively speaking, the European Union (EU) is beginning in many ways to resemble Tito’s Yugoslavia. As At a time when the EU is attempting to reinforce centralised control of its periphery, its foundations are being threatened by excessive nationalism and accumulated incompatibilities between member states.”

The “democratic deficit” suggests yet another parallel, according to the Serbian paper: in the one-party system in Yugoslavia, leaders were not elected by universal suffrage, just like the highly placed civil servants that manage today’s EU – in spite of the fact that all of the members of the Union have multi-party systems. In both cases, the fear that the more populous states would have too much influence has prevented the introduction of the principle of ‘one citizen, one vote’.

The 'La Tribune' front page on a 'two-speed' Europe

Presseurop also invokes the ‘two-speed Europe’ meme in ‘Employment – A two-speed Europe’. Mentioning the front-page headline ‘Europe split in two by unemployment’ of La Tribune, Presseurop has quoted the paper’s reporting on the growing gap between Southern and Northern Europe: “The rate in Germany has declined to a level not seen since 1991 while soaring to new high in Spain, where it is now almost 23%.”

The Paris business daily continued: “This European dichotomy is first and foremost a reflection of the state of the continent’s economies. While some countries have sunk into recession (Greece, Portugal, Spain), others have succeeded in maintaining growth, albeit modest.” Citing reforms undertaken before the crisis as one of the reasons for the healthier economies in the North, The Financial Times remarked that changes to labour legislation in Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria and Germany “have helped make the workers of these countries internationally competitive – a factor which is sorely lacking in the eurozone periphery”. Typically arrogant and dismissive opinionating from the British paper, which is notorious for kowtowing shamelessly before industry and American foreign policy dictates.

The Berlin leftish newspaper Tageszeitung (Taz) takes issue with this argument, and notes that the reforms undertaken by Berlin have not created new jobs, but simply redistributed them to a larger number of workers – a process that has resulted in the creation of a new low-pay sector. Reporting that 8.4 million Germans are ‘under-employed’, the Taz recalls that economic inequality in Germany has grown more rapidly than in other industrialised countries. Finally, the Berlin newspaper notes that to ‘celebrate’ the record of 41 million wage earners, the German government has spent 330,000 euros on a poster campaign ‘Danke Deutschland – Wirtschaft. Wachstum. Wohlstand.’ [“Thank you Germany – Economy. Growth. Prosperity”].

Taz is close to the truth, quite the opposite of what the feckless Financial Times, a speechwriter for predatory capitalism, would have us believe. Almost one in four people in the European Union was threatened with poverty or social deprivation in 2010. This is the conclusion of an official report by the European Commission presented in December. According to the report, 115 million people, or 23 percent of the EU population, were designated as poor or socially deprived. The main causes are unemployment, old age and low wages, with more than 8 percent of all employees in Europe now belonging to the “working poor”.

Single parents, immigrants and young people are worst affected. Among young people, unemployment is more than twice as high as among adults. Some 21.4 percent of all young people in the EU had no work in September 2011. Spain leads all other EU countries with a youth unemployment rate of 48 percent. In Greece, Italy, Ireland, Lithuania, Latvia and Slovakia youth unemployment is between 25 percent and 45 percent.

In countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Austria, youth unemployment rates are lower only because training takes longer and many unemployed young people are ‘parked’ in all sorts of schemes that exclude them from the official statistics – so much for the crafty and misleading ‘Danke Deutschland’ campaign. But even in these countries the chance of getting a decent-paying job is diminishing. Some 50 percent of all new employment contracts in the EU are temporary work contracts. For workers aged 20 to 24, the proportion is 60 percent.

Written by makanaka

January 8, 2012 at 14:47

Quiet numbers tell district tales – rural and urban India, part 4

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Dense colonies of low-rise apartment blocks in north-eastern Mumbai (Bombay). These date from the 1980s and despite their disrepair are out of reach for some 60% of the giant city's population which live in 'upgraded' slums.

Dr C Chandramouli, Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India, presaged the insights that would be provided by new census data in his introduction to the first provisional paper on the 2011 Census: “It provides valuable information for planning and formulation of policies by the government and is also used widely by national and international agencies, scholars, business persons, industrialists, and many more. In addition, the Census provides a basic frame for conduct of other surveys in the country. Any informed decisionmaking that is based on empirical data is dependent on the Census.”

When taken together with the 355 districts whose rural populations are all a million and above, the implications of such a concentration of the 0-6-year-old population in talukas and tehsils (more than those in town wards) become manifold. An immediate rendering of this concentration will take place in the health sector for it is there that imbalances in public expenditure and budget have been most severe.

The change in literacy rates for India's states from 2001 to 2011, with the 0-6 year olds excluded. The colours are: red (75% and below), ochre (75-80%), yellow (80-85%), lime green (85-90%) and green (90% and above). Maps: Census of India 2011

The Government of India has time and again claimed that the 11th Five-Year Plan (2007-12) has sought to raise the share of public expenditure on health (both central and in the states) from less than 1% of GDP in 2006-07 to 2% and then 3%. For this, the National Rural Health Mission (launched in 2005) was intended to strengthen healthcare infrastructure in rural areas, provide more sub-centres, better staff and equip primary health and community health centres.

Census 2011 will, over the months to come, indicate the degree to which these lofty aims — often held up as evidence of the government’s commitment to social equity — have been met. To do this, the ratios will be layered between study outputs that bring out the insights of correlating large demographic data sets — district health services, the national family health survey, planned rounds of the National Sample Survey and, despite the defensible criticism levelled against it, the 2011 BPL survey. Within this dauntingly complex data framework will need to be placed the Plan targets relating to infant mortality rate, maternal mortality rate, total fertility rate, under-nutrition among children, anaemia among women and girls, provision of clean drinking water for all, and raising child gender ratio for the age-group of 0-6.

Where do the 640 districts and their rural populations lie on a simple child gender ratio scale? Ranked by female to male ratio within the 0-6 years category of population, the top 10% of all districts (that is, 64 districts) register a gender ratio of at least 0.97 and up to 1.01. The districts with the 20 most favourable female to male ratios for the 0-6 population are Dakshin Bastar Dantewada, Bastar, Bijapur, Koriya, Rajnandgaon, Narayanpur and Korba (all Chhattisgarh); Tawang, Papum Pare and East Siang (all Arunachal Pradesh); Nabarangapur and Malkangiri (Orissa); Lahaul and Spiti (Himachal Pradesh), Nawada (Bihar), Chandauli (Uttar Pradesh), Mamit (Mizoram), Pashchimi Singhbhum (Jharkhand), Tinsukia (Assam), South Andaman, and West Garo Hills (Meghalaya).

Vegetables being farmed on agricultural land between two city wards of Panaji (Goa). As the populations of smaller towns in India has risen, their footprint on cultivable land has grown.

Among the top 10% of districts with gender ratios for the 0-6 age group that are favourable to females, Chhattisgarh has 14 while Orissa, Meghalaya, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh have 6 each. These are considered, by their states and by the central government’s ministries and departments, to be ‘backward’ districts, tribal in character, lacking in infrastructure and below par in economic development (discounting for this index the proclivity of the state to steal natural resources in the commons, the better to convert it to GDP with). Yet the residents of these districts have proven, as the 2011 data so emphatically shows, that they practice an equality that is far closer to that enunciated in our Constitution than is to be found in the ranks of the million-plus cities.

Even so, the picture at the other end of the scale is a worrisome one. Within the 0-6 years category of the rural population of districts, there are 154 districts whose female to male ratio is less than 0.90, ie 9 girls or less for every 10 boys. In this large set of districts with unfavourable gender ratios amongst the rural population category of 0-6 years, the range of this ratio drops to 0.70 (the average gender ratio for this group of districts being 850 girls to 1,000 boys). There are 24 districts in UP in this set (out of the state’s 71 districts), 20 districts each in Punjab and Haryana (out of their totals of 20 and 21 respectively), 18 each in Rajasthan and Maharashtra (out of 33 and 35 respectively) and 14 in Jammu & Kashmir (out of 22).

[This is the fourth of a small series of postings on rural and urban India, which reproduces material from my analysis of Census 2011 data on India’s rural and urban populations, published by Infochange India. See the first in the series here; see the second in the series here; see the third in the series here.]

Grains till 2016-17: the IGC speaks

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The International Grains Council (IGC) has prepared a summary of projections for grains and cereals. The IGC Secretariat has said of its work that “the figures represent the Secretariat’s view of the general development of the global grains economy in the period to 2016-17, taking into account a number of broad assumptions”.

These include assumed trends in population growth, prices, developments in agriculture and trade policy, as well as prospects for the global economy. “The latter have become increasingly uncertain over the past year”, the IGC Secretariat has said. The IGC has added the proviso that these estimates and the forecast derived from them are subject to risk, and this analysis assumes that current economic problems do not worsen. Here are the sections:

Total Grains
* World grains production in 2016-17 is projected to reach 1.98bn tons, a 158m. increase (+9%) compared with 2011-12; wheat output is forecast to rise by 30m. (4%) and maize by 94m. (11%).
* Despite heightened economic uncertainty, the analysis assumes any slowdown in global economic growth will be temporary and increasing prosperity will boost grains consumption, particularly for feed and industrial uses. Feed use is expected to rise at a slightly faster pace than in recent years, while increases in industrial use will slow from the very rapid rates in the past decade. Diversifying diets, particularly in favour of livestock products, will slow the rise in direct use of grains for human food. Total grains consumption is projected at 1.98bn. tons in 2016-17 (1.83bn. in 2011-12), including 659m. (630m.) for human food, 846m. (769m.) for feed and 343m. (302m.) for industrial uses.

World grains stocks are forecast to show little change in the medium term and are set to remain relatively tight, especially for maize. At the end of 2016-17, world grain carryover stocks are projected at 354m. tons (compared with 360m. at the end of 2011-12), including 118m. (123m.) of maize, 196m. (202m.) of wheat and 26m. (23m.) of barley.
* World grains trade is projected to increase by about 2% per year, to 273m. tons in 2016-17, with wheat and maize rising to new records. Increasing demand for wheat-based foods will lift wheat import needs in Africa and Asia. Imports of maize for feed will rise, especially in Pacific Asia, with China seen as a more regular buyer.

* Increases in world wheat production in the five years ending 2016 are expected to be broadly matched by use, and global stocks are expected to be maintained at close to recent levels.
* Planting decisions will be influenced by likely attractive prices for alternative crops, especially maize and oilseeds. Nevertheless, some rise in global wheat area is anticipated, led by gains in the CIS. After a relatively sharp increase of 1.6% in 2012-13, including a recovery in North America, global areas are projected to expand by around 0.4% annually. Taking into account slightly increased average yields over the period, world wheat production is projected to reach a record 714m. tons in 2016-17, representing an increase of 30m. compared with the estimate for 2011.
* World wheat consumption is projected to grow by 1.1% annually, close to the long-term average, reaching 716m. tons in 2016-17, up by 39m. compared with 2011-12. A continued increase in human food use accounts for half the rise, driven by expanding demand in developing countries. At 0.8% per year, the average annual increase is only slightly slower than the longer-term trend of 1.0%. Increases in world feed use mainly reflect a tight S&D outlook for maize and expectations that the cost of wheat will be more attractive than maize at times. Gains in industrial use are expected to accelerate, particularly for biofuels, although overall amounts will remain small relative to total consumption.
* World wheat carryover stocks are projected to stay relatively ample in the next five years, receding only slightly, to 196m. tons. Those in the eight major exporters are projected to show an initial rise, but then fall back to about the same level as currently.
* World wheat trade to 2016-17 is forecast to increase by around 2% per year, reaching a fresh record of 138m. tons. Increases in milling wheat trade will be sustained by rising demand in developing countries in Asia and Africa, while feed wheat may show some further gains if import costs are competitive with maize.

[The IGC forecast document is available here (pdf)]
[The spreadsheet (xls) with the major grains’ data is available here]

* Only a modest expansion in the global paddy (rice) area is forecast in the five years to 2016-17, with the average year-on-year increase projected at just 0.3% (compared to an average of 0.7% in the prior five-year period). To some extent, this reflects an expected contraction in China’s sowings, amid a continued shift to diets that are richer in protein. Taking into account slightly reduced average yield gains, global rice production (milled basis) is projected to increase by 23m. tons, to 482m. by 2016-17, an annual average growth rate of 1%.
* Global rice consumption is projected to reach 482m. tons by 2016-17, up by 25m. from 2011-12. At 1.1%, average growth, while broadly in line with the global population trend, will be lower than in previous years. This is due to a forecast contraction in China, as well as more moderate growth in other parts of Asia. Elsewhere, sub-Saharan Africa is expected to be one of the fastest growing regional markets, the result of a rising population and a shift away from traditional, locally-grown cereals.
* The world rice carryover is projected to rise only slightly over the next five years, to 103m. tons. In the five major exporters, stocks are expected to initially increase – centred on inventory accumulation in India and Thailand – before edging slightly lower. Their share of the world total will average around one-third through to 2016-17.
* Global rice trade is projected to expand by nearly 3% annually, to 37.2m. tons by 2017, broadly in line with maize but comfortably exceeding the year-to-year rise in wheat. Growth will be underpinned by larger shipments to Far East Asia, especially the Philippines, and sub-Saharan Africa. The latter sub-region will remain heavily dependent on imports to meet domestic requirements; their share of total consumption is forecast to average 45%.

Maize (Corn)
* The supply and demand for maize (corn) is projected to remain tight, with world inventories projected to drop to historically low levels.
* With firm global demand and generally tight availabilities expected to support world prices, maize plantings are projected to remain high across the forecast period. Increases in area and improvements in yields, especially in the US, Latin America and China, result in large consecutive crops. World maize production is forecast to increase to 949m. tons in 2016-17, some 94m. higher than the estimate for 2011.
* Global maize consumption is projected to rise to 949m. tons in 2016-17, up by 86m. from 2011-12. Growth in use is forecast to decelerate, mainly due to slowing industrial demand. With use for ethanol in the US levelling out, industrial consumption is projected to rise by 2% annually, compared to 12% in the last five years. Despite high prices, rising meat demand in developing countries will lift feed maize consumption by around 2% per year. Population growth, rising per capita incomes and changing dietary preferences are expected to boost meat consumption in parts of Asia, Latin America and Africa.
* World closing stocks are expected to tighten but, with supply and demand seen broadly in balance towards the end of the forecast period, the projected 2016-17 carryover of 118m. tons would only be 5m. below that at the end of 2011-12. US ending stocks are forecast to increase from recent lows, but China’s will decline.

Traditional knowledge and climate change

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The Enawene Nawe people live in the basin of the Juruena River in the southern Amazon rainforest. They perform the Yaokwa ritual every year during the drought period to honour the Yakairiti spirits, thereby ensuring cosmic and social order for the different clans. The ritual links local biodiversity to a complex, symbolic cosmology that connects the different but inseparable domains of society, culture and nature. Photo: UNESCO ICH / IPHAN

The connection between traditional knowledge and climate change is one that inter-governmental agencies really ought to pay a great deal more attention to. Several UN agencies, amongst them UNESCO and FAO, have done some sustained work on the subject. Their work, together with that of researchers and community leaders amongst indigenous peoples, has deserved a closer look for many years. Now, when ‘tipping points’ have been reached in several agro-ecological zones, it does seem gratuitous to look for ‘solutions’ (as they like to call it nowadays) from those who don’t see the world in terms of ‘problems’ and ‘solutions’.

The traditional knowlege of tribal peoples, indigenous peoples, ‘adivasi’ (an Indian/South Asian term which means original inhabitant), or first peoples as they are called in parts of the northern hemisphere is now being seen as being a repository for all sorts of ‘solutions’ for problems caused by global warming, but also by the reckless growth of countries fixated on economic development. On the United Nations University (UNU) website, an article about ‘Why traditional knowledge holds the key to climate change’ by Gleb Raygorodetsky does a very good job of explaining the links and how they may, respectfully, be consulted.

I replied and commented on several of the points raised by Raygorodetsky. These appear below, and follow significant passages or statements in his article (in italics):

“Although indigenous peoples’ ‘low-carbon’ traditional ways of life have contributed little to climate change, indigenous peoples are the most adversely affected by it. This is largely a result of their historic dependence on local biological diversity, ecosystem services and cultural landscapes as a source of sustenance and well-being.”

The Limbe is a side-blown flute of hardwood or bamboo, traditionally used to perform Mongolian folk long songs. Through the use of circular breathing, Limbe performers are able to produce the continuous, wide-ranging melodies characteristic of the long song. Players breathe in through the nose while simultaneously blowing out through the mouth, using air stored in their cheeks to play the flute without interruption. Single stanzas of folk long song last approximately four to five minutes. A single song consists of three to five or more stanzas, which requires performance of the flute to continue uninterrupted for twelve to twenty-five minutes. Photo: UNESCO ICH / Ts.Tsevegsuren

It’s a good thing you’ve enclosed ‘low carbon’ in quotations here. Within these societies – indigenous, first peoples, tribal – this label has little meaning – as unhelpful as calling certain communities ‘low-hydrological’ (if the ecosystem they inhabit is a semi-arid zone) or ‘low-pelagic’ (where a coastal community practices only artisanal fishing).

“The very identity of indigenous peoples is inextricably linked with their lands, which are located predominantly at the social-ecological margins of human habitation…”

As urbanisation has proceeded these margins have become clearer. The homogenous economic choices made by many state governments in the last 60-70 years has encouraged urbanisation and the consequent marginalisation of the indigenous – a Hobson’s choice for many of these communities: ‘assimilate’ (and thereby run the risk of losing your identity) or be marginalised.

“…they utilize 22 per cent of the world’s land surface. In doing so, they maintain 80 per cent of the planet’s biodiversity in, or adjacent to, 85 per cent of the world’s protected areas. Indigenous lands also contain hundreds of gigatons of carbon — a recognition that is gradually dawning on industrialized countries that seek to secure significant carbon stocks in an effort to mitigate climate change.”

Yaokwa, the Enawene Nawe people’s ritual for the maintenance of social and cosmic order, is integrated into their everyday activities over the course of seven months during which the clans alternate responsibilities: one group embarks on fishing expeditions throughout the area while another prepares offerings of rock salt, fish and ritual food for the spirits, and performs music and dance. The ritual combines knowledge of agriculture, food processing, handicrafts (costumes, tools and musical instruments) and the construction of houses and fishing dams. Photo: UNESCO ICH / IPHAN

They are therefore the earth’s primary stewards, and what we today call ‘earth science’ would have had no baselines to build upon had it not been for their culturally-rooted practices of conservation and thriftiness. However, I don’t know that an altruistic recognition is dawning. It has dawned on those of us who work in related areas, who read and write about TK and exchange notes, but the industrialised countries and the ’emerging economies’ alike today tend to see carbon stocks as market commodities – their preservation, and through such preservation the protection of tribal homelands, becomes a by-product, not a constitutional guarantee.

“The ensuing community-based and collectively-held knowledge offers valuable insights, complementing scientific data…”

The other way round!

“While unmitigated climate change poses a growing threat to the survival of indigenous peoples, more often than not they continue to be excluded from the global processes of decision and policymaking, such as official UN climate negotiations, that are defining their future.”

This is sadly, clearly, starkly true. They are excluded not only from climate discussion and negotiations, but also from many other policy fora. This is how tribal communities, indigenous peoples are treated both by international treaties and within states. Within countries and nations, the degree of exclusion is often greater in fact, and they have negligible or no political voice and weight, are economically impoverished and turned into dependants on welfare formulae that are constantly under threat. It is a precarious existence within states.

“The consequences of such marginalization are that many globally sanctioned programmes aimed at mitigating the impacts of climate change — such as mega-dam projects constructed under the Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM) framework — further exacerbate the direct impacts of climate change on indigenous peoples, undermining their livelihoods even more.”

Well said. The CDM has brought havoc to tribal folk and rural communities alike and ought to be wound up as soon as possible – and not replaced by another ‘market mechanism’ invented by global finance. As you point out in the following paragraph, the mutations of REDD are hardly better.

“One significant manifestation of the marginalization of indigenous peoples from the climate change policy and decision-making is the paucity of references in the global climate change discourse to the existing traditional knowledge on climate change.”

Visible here is the tendency of ‘science’ – a formalised system based on a ‘method’ that is seen today as an internationalised standard which evolved from 20th century Western civilisation – to disregard any other form of knowledge repository as equally valid and therefore worth learning from.

“The last IPCC Assessment (AR4, published in 2007) noted that indigenous knowledge is ‘an invaluable basis for developing adaptation and natural resource management strategies in response to environmental and other forms of change’.”

Naqqa-li is the oldest form of dramatic performance in the Islamic Republic of Iran and has long played an important role in society, from the courts to the villages. The performer – the Naqqa-l – recounts stories in verse or prose accompanied by gestures and movements, and sometimes instrumental music and painted scrolls. Naqqa-li was formerly performed in coffeehouses, tents of nomads, houses, and historical venues such as ancient caravanserais. Photo: UNESCO ICH / Department of Traditional Arts at the Research Center of ICHHTO

Then we must from the ‘outside’ take forward the UNU Traditional Knowledge Initiative (UNU-TKI) and the IPCC partnership to impress upon the IPCC AR5 authors, more than 800 of them, that TK must move from being a peripheral acknowledgement to a cornerstone of the IPCC’s work. Here is their calendar.

To the four points you have listed I would add a fifth, that of pursuing these four strenuously at the national and sub-national levels, for it is there that such recognition is most needed, and it is from there that reporting to the IPCC (and to the UNFCCC) is done.

The five points you have mentioned as being covered in more detail by the technical report currently being finalized for the IPCC are excellent summaries. When turned into guidelines they will go a long way towards educating ‘the scientific method’ about cosmologies that currently exist among indigenous societies, in which expressions of culture, transmission of values and inter-dependence are intrinsic elements. These are the subject of a UNESCO Convention, the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, and their importance to what we currently call ‘sustainable development’ cannot be over-emphasised.

“It is unfortunate, however, that many government policies limit options and reduce choices, thereby constraining, restricting and undermining indigenous peoples’ efforts to adapt. This is reflected in counterproductive policies, including those leading to increased sedentarization, restricted access to traditional territories, substitution of traditional livelihoods, impoverished crop or herd diversity, reduced harvesting opportunities, and erosion of the transmission of indigenous knowledge, values, attitudes and worldviews.”

That is a cogent, if depressing, summary of the many limits that government policy binds itself with. If we are urban, we are economically discriminated against if our consumption is less than a current optimal mean; if we are rural, we are gradually forced into producing goods and relinquishing our scarce natural resources in order that this consumption mean be satisfied; if we are indigenous and tribal, we are utterly ignored and our customary rights and traditional livelihoods are trampled upon.

Can the UNU(TKI)-IPCC cooperation remove this blind spot and right some of the wrongs committed in the name of ‘development’? I should hope so. It sounds like a careful and considered beginning, and yet we can’t see more time spent on ultimately inconclusive negotiations on climate, as happened recently in Durban. M K Gandhi had once said it well: “Make haste slowly.”

A warming northern hemisphere opens year 2012

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Climatic Data Center global climate anomalies map for 2011 November.

The US agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has through its National Climatic Data Center which monitor climate, released the 2011 November temperatures, temperature anomalies and precipitation report. This report and the accompanying charts continue the long set of readings and observations on global warming and climate change.

According to the UK Met Office, November 2011 was the second warmest November on record for the United Kingdom, Behind 1994, at 2.9°C (5.2°F) above normal. Provisionally, Scotland recorded its warmest November on record.

In Asia, China reported its third warmest November since national records began in 1951, according to the Beijing Climate Center. It was the warmest November on record in 12 provinces and second warmest in four provinces.

Cooler-than-average regions around the globe included Alaska, western Canada, much of Eastern Europe, Kazakhstan, and southwestern Russia. Alaska reported its sixth coolest November on record.

Here are the significant highlights:

* The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for November 2011 was the 12th warmest on record at 13.35°C (55.81°F), which is 0.45°C (0.81°F) above the 20th century average of 12.9°C (55.0°F). The margin of error associated with this temperature is +/- 0.07°C (0.13°F).
* Separately, the global land surface temperature was 0.61°C (1.10°F) above the 20th century average of 5.9°C (42.6°F), making this the 16th warmest November on record. The margin of error is +/- 0.11°C (0.20°F). Warmer-than-average conditions occurred across central and eastern North America, Northern and Western Europe, northern Russia, most of China and the Middle East, southeastern Australia, and southern South America. Cooler-than-average regions included Alaska, western Canada, much of Eastern Europe, Kazakhstan, and southwestern Russia.
* The November global ocean surface temperature was 0.39°C (0.70°F) above the 20th century average of 15.8°C (60.4°F), making it the 12th warmest November on record. The margin of error is +/- 0.04°C (0.07°F). The warmth was most pronounced across the north central and northwest Pacific, the Labrador Sea, and portions of the mid-latitude Southern oceans..
* The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for the September – November period was 0.52°C (0.94°F) above the 20th century average of 14.0°C (57.1°F), making it the 12th warmest such period on record. The margin of error is +/- 0.09°C (0.16°F.
* The September – November worldwide land surface temperature was 0.87°C (1.57°F) above the 20th century average, the seventh warmest such period on record. The margin of error is +/- 0.17°C (0.31°F).
* The global ocean surface temperature for September – November was 0.39°C (0.70°F) above the 20th century average and was the 12th warmest such period on record. The margin of error is +/- 0.04°C (0.07°F).
* The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for the January – November period was 0.52°C (0.94°F) above the 20th century average of 14.0°C (57.2°F), making it the 11th warmest such period on record. The margin of error is +/- 0.09°C (0.16°F).
* The January – November worldwide land surface temperature was 0.84°C (1.51°F) above the 20th century average — the seventh warmest such period on record. The margin of error is +/- 0.20°C (0.36°F).
* The global ocean surface temperature for the year to date was 0.41°C (0.74°F) above the 20th century average and was the 11th warmest such period on record. The margin of error is +/- 0.04°C (0.07°F).
* La Niña conditions continued during November 2011. According to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, La Niña is expected to continue through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2011/12.
* The average Arctic sea ice extent during November was 11.5 percent below average, ranking as the third smallest November extent since satellite records began in 1979. The extent was 1.3 million square kilometers (502,000 square miles) below average. This marks the 18th consecutive November and 126th consecutive month with below-average Arctic sea ice extent.
* On the opposite pole, the November Antarctic monthly average extent was 0.5 percent below the 1979–2000 average, the 11th smallest on record. This is the first November since 2002 with below-average Antarctic ice extent.
* Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent was much-above average during November with the fourth largest November snow cover extent in the 46-year period of record. Both the North American and Eurasian land areas had above-average snow cover extents.
* Much of Europe experienced extreme dryness during November. Both Germany and Austria reported their driest Novembers on record. Much-wetter-than-normal conditions occurred across parts of South Asia and northeast Africa.

Written by makanaka

January 1, 2012 at 12:13

A forest poem to the Amazon

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A new book from FAO (the UN Food and Agriculture Organization) with CIFOR (Center for International Forestry Research) and People and Plants International, features the uncommon quality of bringing together original scientific knowledge on fruits and useful plants of the Amazon forest and the sensibility to detect the deep interaction between life, traditional knowledge of our forests and folk culture. With its simple language making its contents accessible and practical, this book discusses aspects fundamental to the future of the Amazon and presents a development model that is economically and socially fair, and which respects the environment.

The first aspect is related to collective health, by strengthening the use of plants capable of substantially improving the nutritional value of our diet and, consequently, preventing the so called “illnesses of the poor”. The studies developed by the authors correlated the seasonal availability of fruits in the forest with the incidence of diseases, showing that during periods of scarcity the number of cases of some diseases is highest.

The second aspect is related to a powerful characteristic of the Amazon, still underexplored and poorly documented: the role of women in the knowledge and use of the non-timber forest patrimony. The advancement of sustainable experiences in the Amazon has witnessed a strong contribution of women – especially in the reinforcement of community actions and creativity to guarantee the social and material survival of the family. Women may be the strategic leverage to provide both the cement and scale needed to create a new paradigm in the region.

The third aspect is the ability to associate forests and development – which instead of “throwing us into the vortex of limitless competitiveness and selfishness, leads us to community, to solidarity, and to human and spiritual values as mediators of each one’s goals”, said Marina Silva, former Minister of the Environment of Brazil, who wrote the preface.

The reader will also find studies on the Articulated Movement of the Amazon Women (MAMA) from Acre, community management (Center of Amazonian Workers, CTA, project, Acre), environmental education (Health and Happiness Project, Santarém – Pará State; and SOS Amazon, Acre) and other tracks that lead to integral sustainability, in which it makes sense to take care of the environment since this is the way to take care of life itself, of children and our future. Marina Silva has called the book “An extraordinary poem to Amazonia”.

Written in easy-to-grasp, accessible language, the book seeks to take science out of the ivory tower and put it to work on the ground, in the hands of people. The release of ‘Fruit Trees and Useful Plants in Amazonian Life’ marked the close of the International Year of Forests.

Some 80% of people living in the developing world rely on non-wood forest products such as fruits and medicinal plants for their nutritional and health needs. This book provides information on Amazon fruits and plants, and is an example of how to make our knowledge accessible for poor people to help them maximize the benefits from forest products and services and improve their livelihoods. The layout of the book aims at allowing readers lacking in formal education to extract knowledge using pictures and numbers. Twenty five percent of people in developing countries are functionally illiterate — in rural areas this figure can reach close to 40%.

“Some 90 Brazilian and international researchers who were willing to present their research to rural villagers in alternative formats — including jokes, recipes and pictures — collaborated in the production of this book,” said Tina Etherington, who managed the publication project for FAO’s Forestry Department. “And a number of farmers, midwives, hunters and musicians contributed valuable insights and experience as well. The book is of interest to a worldwide audience because of its truly innovative way of presenting science and how those techniques can be transferred to other areas in the world.”

Patricia Shanley, Senior Research Associate at CIFOR and lead editor of the publication, said: “This is an unusual book. Written by and for semi-literate rural villagers, it weaves together a tapestry of voices about the myriad values forests contain. The book enables nutritional data and ecology to coexist alongside music and folklore making the forest and its inhabitants come alive.”

The Amazon is the largest contiguous tropical forest remaining in the world, with 25 million people living in the Brazilian Amazon alone. However, deforestation, fire and climate change could destabilize the region and result in the forest shrinking to one third of its size in 65 years, according to today’s publication. In addition to the environmental services they provide, forests like the Amazon are also a rich nutritional storehouse.

Fruits provide essential nutrients, minerals and anti-oxidants that keep the body strong and resistant to disease. Buriti palm fruit, for example, contains the highest known levels of vitamin A of any plant in the world. And açaí fruit is being hailed as a “superfood” for its high antioxidant and omega fatty acid content. Brazil nuts are rich in a complete protein similar to the protein content of cow’s milk, which is why they are known as the “meat” of the plant kingdom, said the publication.

Diego Rivera’s socialist murals, 80 years later, as a visual anthem for global resistance

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In The Uprising (1931), a woman with a baby at her hip and a working man fend off an attack by a uniformed soldier. Behind them, a riotous crowd clashes with more soldiers, who force demonstrators to the ground. The location is unclear, though the figures’ skin tone implies that the scene is set in Mexico or another Latin American country. In the early 1930s, an era of widespread labour unrest, images of the violent repression of strikes would have resonated with both US and Latin American audiences. The battle here stands as a potent symbol of universal class struggle.

In New York’s Museum of Modern Art, a new exhibition has opened that displays the artistic work of Diego Rivera, whose socialist murals of the 1930s depicted the onrush of capitalism and its effects on labour and rural cultivators in Mexico. The heroines and heros of the Occupy movement in the USA could not have asked for a more fitting epilogue to their struggle, for Rivera’s work is as relevant today as it was 80 years ago, and indeed more so, for in 1931 western capitalism had not the ravening tools it employs today.

Diego Rivera’s name is synonymous with epic murals of social revolution in the first decades of the 20th century. The powerful appeal of socialist politics following the Russian Revolution was felt by broad layers of the population in Mexico, especially with the economic collapse of 1929, and could not be ignored. Rivera’s connection with socialism went deep, for the power of his work was bound up not just with the radical nationalist Mexican Revolution, but also with the establishment of the first worker’s state in Russia in 1917.

Inspired by his experience of New York City, the panels also show a modern metropolis at the height of a building boom made possible by the legions of available labour during the Great Depression. The skyscrapers that came to define the city’s iconic skyline all went up in an astonishingly short period of time. Rivera took on New York subjects through monumental images of the urban working class and the social stratification of the city during the Great Depression. [See ‘The Socialist Art of Diego Rivera’ for more.]