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Posts Tagged ‘Poland

The Crimea syndrome

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Update: With the referendum complete, the Republic of Crimea has addressed the United Nations seeking recognition as a sovereign state and called on Russia to integrate it into the Russian Federation.

Pro-Russian Crimeans celebrate in Sevastopol on March 16, 2014 after partial votes showed that about 95.5 percent of voters in Ukraine's Crimea region supported union with Russia. Photo: RT / AFP / Viktor Drachev

Pro-Russian Crimeans celebrate in Sevastopol on March 16, 2014 after partial votes showed that about 95.5 percent of voters in Ukraine’s Crimea region supported union with Russia. Photo: RT / AFP / Viktor Drachev

However, a spokesperson for UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon told reporters the Crimea secession referendum will only exacerbate an “already complex and tense situation” and that the secretary-general is “deeply concerned and disappointed”. The UN position, as enunciated by Ki-moon, is for all parties to work for a solution that is guided by the principles of the United Nations Charter, “including respecting Ukraine’s unity and sovereignty”.

This is uncalled for and a display of partisanship that is not in accordance with the UN Charter in the first place, not for an inter-governmental body that has written “democracy” and “democratic principles” into more resolutions, statements and declarations that one can count. The Crimea referendum was held in the presence of international observers, including those from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The respect for sovereignty that Ki-moon expects for Ukraine, is equally to be expected for the Crimean population, and indeed for the populations of Somalia, Haiti, Sudan, Serbia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Syria. With these statements by Ki-moon, the role of the UN as a stabilising factor in international disputes comes into question. The embargos and restrictions and bans (collectively and incorrectly called ‘sanctions’ by the USA) against Russia are already coming into effect, despite advice from Mikhail Gorbachev, former leader of the Soviet Union, that they should be discarded.

15 Mar: In the first place, this is a referendum to be undertaken (on Sunday, 16 March 2014) in Crimea, which is in Ukraine, and involves residents of Crimea, not the residents of ‘western’ nations (or allies) – as the ruling regimes in the ‘western nations’ have taken to labelling themselves – and not residents of Russia.

The United Nations Security Council, a lame-duck body that has been used numerous times in the last 40 years to issue a rubber-stamp for the imposition of punitive embargoes (called ‘sanctions’ in American English) and for the waging of ‘just’ war (or wars of ‘liberation’, wars of ‘peace-building’ and wars to uphold ‘democracy’), has just voted on a resolution that calls the Crimean referendum illegal.

Russia vetoed this resolution (China abstained) and the ‘western allies’ voted for it. That the UN Security Council met to even consider such a resolution is testament to its nakedly partisan nature – serve the interests of the USA and its EU allies. The UNSC has no business to decide whether or not a referendum held in a region (province, republic, autonomous or otherwise) of any country is legal or not.

Why so? This is because, in its own words, the “Security Council takes the lead in determining the existence of a threat to the peace or act of aggression. It calls upon the parties to a dispute to settle it by peaceful means and recommends methods of adjustment or terms of settlement.”

A poll run by the Ria Novosti news service on its website shows the support - 72.8% in favour against 12.8% not in favour - for Crimea joining Russia.

A poll run by the Ria Novosti news service on its website shows the support – 72.8% in favour against 12.8% not in favour – for Crimea joining Russia.

A referendum is neither a threat to peace nor aggression, and there is no dispute involved that falls within the ambit of what the UNSC describes as dispute. The UNSC therefore, under the UN Charter, has no locus standi on a matter such as this.

The USA-drafted and USA-sponsored resolution that attempted to have declared the Crimea referendum ‘illegal’ should not have even been entertained. But instead, the USA and its EU allies sought to portray the referendum as “illegal, unjustified, and divisive. It will be administered under the barrel of a gun rather than under the eyes of international observers.”

So said Samantha Powers, the representative of the USA to the UN. Her words of staggering hypocrisy are exceeded only by the even more shameless hypocrisy of the US Secretary of State John Kerry on the matter, and by those of the president of the USA Barack Obama on the matter. America’s warmongering record since the end of World War Two stands as bloody counterpoint to the hypocritical disinformation being vomited out by the US government and being faithfully broadcast by pliant media.

The puppet government installed in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, as a result of the regime change engineered by the USA and Germany, and several more ‘western’ allies, also voted in its ‘Verkhovna Rada’ (parliament) for early dissolution of Crimean parliament (as reported by Itar-Tass). The coup-imposed government has cut off financial links to Crimea, but has pledged not to attack the peninsula militarily.

Even while Samantha Powers was arranging hypocrisy in great putrid piles around a US-drafted resolution that is nothing but crude sabre-rattling, NATO began air drills with fighter jets in Poland (which borders Ukraine). Recently dispatched US jets took part in the exercises, with more lies from Washington’s military hawks claiming that the drills were planned before the unrest in Ukraine. John Kerry has already denounced the scheduled referendum in Crimea on secession from Ukraine and reintegration into Russia as a “backdoor annexation” which proves nothing more than his limited but vicious vocabulary.

"Extremely high turnout at this polling station. Haven't spoken to anyone yet who's voted against joining Russia." pic.twitter.com/KiyJSmrN9b

“Extremely high turnout at this polling station. Haven’t spoken to anyone yet who’s voted against joining Russia.” pic.twitter.com/KiyJSmrN9b

Following the script of this phoney attempt at intervention through the UN Security Council – which also serves, in the twisted logic of the US-EU combine that fostered the Kiev coup and which is just as keen to foment a new conflict on Ukraine’s borders – it is not difficult to see the close-range reactions. The coup-installed government in Kiev will reject the results of the referendum and accuse Russia of violating international law by using its military might to ‘redraw Europe’s borders’ – with the ‘western nations’ ignoring their gory histories of redrawing borders in Africa, Asia and South America.

The government of Russia will angrily remind the world that these Ukrainian ‘authorities’ came to power as a result of a coup planned and carried out by pro-Western and anti-Russian extremists, inspired by the US and EU, and that ethnic Russians in Ukraine are now facing discrimination and worse. NATO may even revive its old favourite scheme to install US missile defence systems in Central Europe (the old story was that these would protect NATO allies against ‘rogue states’ like Iran). ‘Sanctions’ will follow, a variant of the Cold War will once again settle over Europe.

But the finance and economics of this confrontation will change. The US and EU are intent on having some semblance of what they call a state in Ukraine in which to funnel billions of dollars and euros – that this economy even before the engineered coup was ramshackle and corrupt (run by oligarchs, now replaced by other oligarchs) does not seem to be a consideration. The pliant media assisted by faithful think-tanks who march to the drumbeat of the US State Department will paint this movement of speculative capital as being necessary to create a prosperous and democratic society. There will be no reference made to Yugoslavia, where the same set of tactics was used, and which didn’t work.

There are other differences. The opposition in Crimea to the USA-backed and fascist-led putsch of 22 February 2014 in Kiev has infuriated the US government in Washington and its EU ‘western’ allies. In Ukraine, the coup-installed government takes its orders from the International Monetary Fund and from Wall Street bankers (the source of or gatekeepers of the said billions) and is preparing a programme of savage austerity measures against the working class – of the same kind that has ruined labour in Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain (which has also ruined labour in the ‘western allies’ but that ruination has been hidden better).

These foul machinations will be obscured by a typhoon of propaganda. Already incendiary proposals are circulating in the American and the global financial media. In an article titled ‘How to Put Military Pressure on Russia’, the Wall Street Journal (the house organ of the Davos parasites) has called for arming Polish Air Force F-16 fighters with nuclear weapons (!) and stationing detachments of US ground troops in Poland, Romania and the Baltic countries.

This has been backed by thuggish statements from Kerry, who said this week that if the Crimean vote takes place “there will be a very serious series of steps on Monday in Europe” and that sanctions against Russia would “get ugly fast”. Al Capone would have welcomed Kerry’s brand of diplomacy. Not far behind however are German chancellor Angela Merkel and Britain’s prime minister David Cameron. Also this week, Merkel said that planned EU sanctions are meant to cause “massive political and economic harm” to Russia, while Cameron promised, as any schoolyard bully does, that if we don’t “see Ukrainians and Russians talking to each other” (about what the USA and EU want, not about what the Ukrainians, Russians and Crimeans want) “then there are going to have to be consequences”.

The blatantly provocative and dangerously violent nature and tone of the pronouncements made by these heads of government and senior functionaries is to my mind in need of United Nations attention. Instead, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon told reporters in New York that the situation in Ukraine continues to deteriorate and there was “a great risk of dangerous, downward spiral”. He urged Russia and Ukraine not to take “hasty measures” that “may impact the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine”. Not a word by the UN sec-gen about the atrocious and dangerous misconduct by the heads of government of the ‘western nations’, by John Kerry, Barack Obama and Samantha Powers on this matter. So much for the ‘United’ part of the UN.

Written by makanaka

March 15, 2014 at 22:14

Climate, Midas, COP 19, greed, Warsaw, Bacchus, truth and Pan

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They have no faith, no shame and are inhuman in intent though not in form. They are the so-called ‘negotiators’ at the 19th session of the UNFCCC’s Conference of the Parties (COP19), and they are the hundreds of representatives of industry and businesses from all over the world, and the hundreds of palm-greasers, bare-faced liars, scoundrels and ecological criminals that have defied description from the very first COP. We peoples of the South had no hand in the appointment of these ‘negotiators’ and we have no means to halt the infestation of such Conferences of Parties by the worst ecological criminals of any age. Yet they are gathered together at the so-called ‘climate talks’ now concluding in the Polish capital of Warsaw.

The Transnational Institute's excellent visual expose of the lobby groups that block and distort attempts to address climate change.

The Transnational Institute’s excellent visual expose of the lobby groups that block and distort attempts to address climate change.

Poland’s current comprador government has accumulated a reputation for being pro-coal and dismissive of the evidence and impacts of climate change. anti-climate stance. Poland’s current comprador government, together with others from the European Union, has blocked efforts in the EU to bring in more sensible climate and energy policy (including increasing energy efficiency, renewables and emission reductions targets) and instead for pushing for the exploitation of shale gas and so called ‘clean coal’ – a misnomer as horrid as ‘clean nuclear’.

But this COP – number 19 in a ramshackle and expensive series that has for the last few years been traitorous to the hundreds of millions in the South who suffer daily the impacts of climate change – is a startling new low amongst a litany for COPs that have plumbed new lows recently. COP19 is the first United Nations climate talks to have corporate sponsorship, with some of the biggest ecological criminals and outright climate crooks as official ‘partners’, such as the steel company ArcelorMittal, the electricity and energy company Alstom and the automobile company BMW which panders to the most depraved consumer tastes.

Why have we not seen the application of moral courage by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, UNDP head Helen Clark, UNEP head Achim Steiner, UNICEF head Anthony Lake to prevent this hijack of a UN process? Because such censure has not issued from UN agency heads, the World Coal Association has in parallel with COP19 organised an International Coal and Climate Summit, whose joint ‘Warsaw Communiqué’ is an outrageously blunt call for more coal and false ‘solutions’ such as carbon capture and storage. Worse, this lies and deceit has been wrapped in the language of sustainable development (‘green economy’ repeated in the 190 languages of the UN system).

That is why this is a COP of fossil fuels merchants, cross-sectoral big business groups, carbon market and financial players, agribusiness corporations and agrofuels traders, and polluting industries of every choking description. They are the suited old boys’ clubs who have paid for spineless academics to dream up false solutions pertaining to climate change: shale gas (extracted through hydraulic fracturing), carbon capture and storage (CCS) and carbon markets. The big business that has effectively bought COP19 is on the brink of using a shotgun conclusion to serve their narrow economic interests, stunningly uncaring towards real, effective and fair climate action. It is as though the first instalment of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, only two months old, simply didn’t exist.

The fundamental weakness of the UNFCCC structure and approach is that it will not address the social-systemic contradictions generated by the power structure of today’s monopoly-finance capital – and this is because the ‘negotiators’ are the peoples’ representatives, the discussants have nothing whatsoever to do with community but are the agents of finance capital and extractive industry and the merchants of consumer doom. The UNFCCC has utterly and fatally lost sight of the changes to be considered in the context of a planetary emergency which cannot be confined within the narrow channels that the ruling class and its political power elite will accept.

The ‘deal’ that will be announced at the closing of COP 19 – like the previous few COPs – will make not even the slightest shift away from mere discussions of energy, efficiency, and technology, to the deeper questions of social needs and purposes, and the rational utilisation of resources in a manner that respects Nature and our Earth.

These rogues and ecological criminals must perforce be told the ancient myth of King Midas, whose wish was granted by the god Bacchus. The branch, the stream, his food – all turned to gold and thus the foolish king found himself, too late, a corporal being with no relation to Nature, on which his existence depended. This realisation caused the remorseful Midas to plead with Bacchus to be freed of this catastrophic ‘gift’. When Bacchus relented and restored to Midas his normal, human self and freed him of the ‘gift’, Midas devoted the remainder of his life to the worship of Pan, the god of Nature.

The ‘negotiators’, the representatives of the agribusiness, metals, fossil fuels, automobiles, electronics and other industries, the many lobbies working for this scheming lot, the fanged bankers and financiers and their servant economists, and the politicians all teeming at COP 19 are a collective Midas the Earth groans under. Only when they see for themselves the profound error of pursuing commodified wealth at the expense of both humanity and Nature will this deadly charade conclude.

Written by makanaka

November 23, 2013 at 19:50

Monsanto drops GM crop plans in Europe

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'Monsanocchio', by Raymond Burki, a Swiss cartoonist whose works are published in the Lausanne daily 24 heures. Courtesy: Presseurop

‘Monsanocchio’, by Raymond Burki, a Swiss cartoonist whose works are published in the Lausanne daily 24 heures. Courtesy: Presseurop

The signs have been gaining substance over the last two years. In western Europe (Britain excluded), citizens and independent researchers have demanded and end to GM food products. The support given to the seed-biotech-fertiliser conglomerates of the USA and Europe, by their governments has been well met by organised consumer awareness and resistance. It is no wonder then that these cartels have shifted the use of their tactics to Asia, where political establishments can be more easily influenced and where consumer awareness about the dreadful dangers of GM is generally lower than in western Europe.

Europe’s press is reporting that Monsanto, the fertiliser and biotechnology company, is withdrawing all permits requested to the European Commission to grow genetically modified corn, soy and sugar beet because it does not see “a commercial outlook” for these products (that’s what the public relations scoundrels call what we know and practice as informed consumer awareness).

German daily Die Welt reported that only a request to grow genetically modified corn (of the MON810 type) will be renewed. For the moment, this type of corn is the only genetically modified organism commercially cultivated in Europe, said Die Welt. While MON810 corn type is admitted into the EU, several countries including France, Germany and Italy have banned it at the national level, following citizen initiatives. Last year, German chemical firm BASF threw in the towel and relocated its biotechnology centre to the USA because genetic engineering is so strongly contested in Europe.

Monsanto has loudly insisted that its genetically modified products, including maize MON810, which is authorised in Europe, are safe for humans. It has an army of compromised ‘scientists’ on its payroll in every single country where it wants to push its GM products, and using its public relations agents has infiltrated media in every country that it sees as a market. But the evidence that GM is dangerous for humans and animals, for insects and plants alike grows by the day. A study conducted on rats for two years by a team of French researchers on Monsanto NK 603 corn revealed an abnormally high tumour and death rate – Monsanto’s own in-house studies, pushed out as counter-evidence by mercenary accomplices, were conducted for no more than three months!

Roadside shacks of people whose land has been taken over for soy fields in Alto Parana, Paraguay, which is among the South American countries with the most unequal land distribution. Paraguay has seen this situation escalate to the point where today, 2% of owners control 85% of the farmland. The regional situation is worse when one considers that the neighbouring countries – Brazil especially but also Argentina – are also experiencing land concentration for transgenic soybeans. Photo: Grain / Glyn Thomas / FoE

Roadside shacks of people whose land has been taken over for soy fields in Alto Parana, Paraguay, which is among the South American countries with the most unequal land distribution. Paraguay has seen this situation escalate to the point where today, 2% of owners control 85% of the farmland. The regional situation is worse when one considers that the neighbouring countries – Brazil especially but also Argentina – are also experiencing land concentration for transgenic soybeans. Photo: Grain / Glyn Thomas / FoE

Greenpeace noted the company will also seek to continue sales of its controversial MON810 maize, which was already approved in Europe and is the last remaining GM crop grown there. “The EU-wide authorisation for the cultivation of MON810 is expiring at the end of a ten-year period and the safety of the crop is due to be reassessed. The company is permitted to continue to use MON810 in Europe until the European Commission announces its decision,” stated Greenpeace.

The GM Freeze campaign welcomed Monsanto’s announcement that it is withdrawing pending applications to cultivate GM crops in the European Union but said this is not the end of Europe’s GM story. GM Freeze pointed out that Monsanto’s GM crops will still be imported into the EU, primarily for use in animal feed and biofuels, so the damage to ecosystems and human health caused by GM will continue elsewhere. The lack of labels on meat, eggs, dairy products and fish produced using GM feed means that Europe’s reliance on GM is hidden from consumers so they cannot easily avoid buying GM-fed products. Food companies should meet the clear demand for entirely non-GM foods by labelling those produced without GM, as is done successfully by many companies in Germany, Austria and France.

In tiresomely typical contrast, the government of the United Kingdom is to push the European Union to ease restrictions limiting the use of GM crops in the human food chain, reported The Independent. Britain’s Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is next week due to announce a UK government drive to increase Britain’s cultivation of GM foods! The newspaper said Britain’s ministers are hopeful of building support in Brussels for a change of heart on GM, with Germany seen as a key swing voter. The government of Britain’s craven attempts to relax the rules will face opposition from countries like Poland which in April became the eighth EU member state to ban the cultivation of GM crops.

Forgetting their ‘commitments’ to get GM out of their supply chains, big British food retailers – Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and Tesco – have gone in the opposite direction. Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer have joined Monsanto, Cargill and Nestle on the absurd Roundtable on Responsible Soy, a group that has been condemned by organisations around the world as a greenwash of existing bad practice in industrial soya monoculture. The Roundtable ‘certifies’ (judge and jury) GM soya as “responsible” despite growing evidence of adverse health, environmental and socioeconomic impacts in producer countries. Tesco is now backing GM soya production in South America, where it is grown in huge monocultures sprayed frequently with Roundup to the detriment of people and ecosystems there.

World crop estimates in June – lower wheat, corn and coarse grain, rice mixed

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Here it is, just released. The World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) of the USDA, 09 June 2011. Highlights and key points for the major crop groups follow:

Global wheat supplies for 2011-12 are projected slightly lower this month as an increase in beginning stocks is more than offset by lower production. Global beginning stocks are projected 4.9 million tons higher mostly reflecting increased stocks in Russia as feeding is reduced 2.0 million tons and 5.0 million tons, respectively, for 2009-10 and 2010-11. Beginning stocks for 2011-12 are also raised 0.5 million tons each for Argentina and Canada with the same size reductions in 2010-11 exports for each country. Partly offsetting is a 1.5-million-ton decrease for 2011-12 beginning stocks for Australia with higher 2010-11 exports.

World wheat production is projected 5.2 million tons lower for 2011-12. At 664.3 million tons, production would be the third highest on record and up 16.1 million from 2010-11. This month’s reduction for 2011-12 mostly reflects a 7.1-million-ton decrease for EU-27 wheat output. Persistent dryness, particularly in France, but also in Germany, the United Kingdom, and western Poland, has reduced yield prospects for EU-27. Production is also reduced 1.0 million tons for Canada as flooding and excessive rainfall, particularly in southeastern Saskatchewan and adjoining areas of Manitoba, are expected to reduce spring wheat seeding. Production is increased 1.5 million tons for Argentina and 0.5 million tons for Australia, both reflecting favorable planting conditions and strong producer price incentives to expand area. Production is also raised 0.5 million tons for Pakistan as increased use of higher quality seed and adequate water supplies resulted in higher-than-expected yields.

Global wheat trade for 2011-12 is projected slightly higher reflecting a 0.5-million-ton increase in expected imports by EU-27. Exports are lowered 3.0 million tons for EU-27. Export increases of 2.0 million tons and 1.0 million tons, respectively, for Australia and Argentina offset the EU-27 reduction. Exports are raised 0.3 million tons for Pakistan with the larger crop. Global wheat consumption is projected down 3.3 million tons, mostly reflecting a 2.5-million-ton reduction in EU-27 domestic use.

Global coarse grain supplies for 2011-12 are projected down 7.8 million tons this month with lower beginning stocks and production. Reduced U.S. corn production, lower EU-27 barley production, and reduced corn beginning stocks in China, more than offset increases in China corn production. EU-27 barley production is lowered 2.2 million tons as prolonged dryness across western and northern Europe has sharply reduced yield prospects in the major producing countries. China corn area is raised for 2010-11 in line with the most recent official government area estimates with the year-to-year percentage increase for 2011-12 largely maintained.

China corn production increases 5.0 million and 6.0 million tons, respectively, for 2010-11 and 2011-12 with yields unchanged month-to-month. More than offsetting the higher production levels is higher estimated corn consumption for both feeding and industrial use. China corn consumption is raised 8.0 million tons and 13.0 million tons, respectively, for 2010-11 and 2011-12. Together these changes leave projected 2011-12 corn ending stocks down 12.0 million tons for China. At the projected 51.0 million tons, China’s stocks would be down 2.7 million tons from 2010-11 and just below the levels of the preceding 2 years, better reflecting the continuing rise in domestic corn prices as production struggles to keep pace with rising usage. Although China’s stocks represent 46 percent of the world total for 2011-12, China is not expected to be a significant exporter.

Global 2011-12 corn trade is raised slightly this month with higher imports for EU-27 and higher exports for Ukraine. Ukraine exports are raised 1.0 million tons with higher production and stronger expected demand from EU-27. Russia exports are lowered 0.5 million tons with lower production. Other important trade changes this month include a 0.2-million-ton increase in sorghum imports by Mexico, driving the U.S. export increase, and a 1.5-million-ton reduction in EU-27 barley exports with lower production and tighter supplies. Barley imports are lowered for Saudi Arabia and China. Global corn ending stocks for 2011-12 are projected down sharply this month, falling 17.3 million tons mostly reflecting the usage revisions in China. The projected 5.2-million-ton drop in U.S. ending stocks accounts for most of the rest of the decline. Global corn stocks are projected at 111.9 million tons, the lowest since 2006-07.

Global 2011-12 rice supply and use are lowered from a month ago. Global production is projected at a record 456.4 million tons, down 1.5 million from last month’s forecast, primarily due to a decrease for China. Additionally, production projections are raised for Egypt and Guyana, but lowered for the United States and Cuba. China’s 2011-12 rice crop is projected at 138.0 million tons, down 2.0 million from a month ago; primarily due to the impact of prolonged drier-than-normal weather in the Yangtze River Valley affecting mostly early rice. Egypt’s crop is increased 0.9 million tons to 4.0 million due to a 33 percent increase in area—based on a recent report from the Agricultural Counselor in Cairo. The global import and export forecasts for 2011-12 are little changed from last month. Global consumption for 2011-12 is lowered 0.8 million tons, primarily due to lower consumption expected in China, but partially offset by increases for Egypt, EU-27, and Vietnam. Global ending stocks for 2011-12 are projected at 94.9 million tons, down 1.3 million from last month, due primarily to reductions for China and the United States which are partially offset by increases for Egypt, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

Global oilseed production for 2011-12 is projected at 456.9 million tons, down 2.3 million from last month, mainly due to lower rapeseed production. EU-27 rapeseed production is reduced 1.2 million tons to 18.8 million mainly due to lower yields resulting from dry conditions in April and May in major producing areas of France and Germany. Rapeseed production for Canada is lowered 0.5 million tons to 13.0 million due to reduced area planted resulting from excessive moisture this spring. China soybean production is reduced 0.5 million tons to 14.3 million reflecting lower area as producers shifted to corn. Other changes include increased sunflowerseed production for Russia, and reduced cottonseed production for Australia, Pakistan, and the United States. Brazil’s 2010-11 soybean production is increased 1.5 million tons to a record 74.5 million, reflecting yield and production increases reported in the most recent government survey. [Get the full WASDE report here.]

Big dry in Europe, big dry in USA

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This image, made with data collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite, reveals high temperatures that contributed to hazardous fire conditions. Image: NASA's Earth Observatory

An afterword about the drought conditions in the USA, centering on the state of Texas, and analysis from the USDA and the World Meteorological Organisation on the extremely dry conditions over northern Europe. This is May 2011 and keeping in mind what happened last year in Russia and Central Asia, we’re going to watch the big crop-growing areas very carefully over the next few weeks.

NASA’s Earth Observatory has said ‘Drought and Heat Create Hazardous Fire Conditions in Texas’ – So far in 2011, more than 1.4 million acres have burned in Texas, a result of some 800 fires. Why is fire activity so extreme in Texas this year? This image reveals high temperatures that contributed to hazardous fire conditions.

Fire needs dry fuel to burn, and weather conditions in March and April turned Texas into a tinderbox. The state began the winter dry season with abundant vegetation, following a moist spring in 2010. But then drought settled over the state in late 2010 and early 2011, culminating in the driest March on record. Many areas received less than 5 percent of their normal rainfall, according to the state climatologist.

In addition to being dry, March and April were warmer than normal. The image shows ground temperatures for April 7 to April 14 compared to long-term average for the week. The red tones indicate that most of Texas was much warmer than average, further drying out the abundant grasses, shrubs, and trees already suffering from a lack of rain.

In its latest World Agricultural Production report (2011 May) the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Foreign Agricultural Service has said that the European Union’s (EU) primary wheat and rapeseed region is struggling with dryness. “Dryness prevailed in northern Europe during March and April and continues into May, with far-below-normal precipitation levels and much-above-average temperatures. The high temperatures accelerated plant development so that crops are two to three weeks ahead of normal.”

Dry/drought conditions in Europe. Image: WMO

The report said that dryness is reportedly also interfering with fertilizer uptake by the crops. Both wheat and rapeseed crops need rainfall soon to prevent sharp yield reductions in northern France, northern Germany, England, and western Poland. These affected areas comprise a large portion of the EU’s primary wheat and rapeseed belt.

Planting conditions were generally favorable for EU winter wheat and rapeseed crops last autumn, with adequate soil moisture across most countries, including France and the United Kingdom. In some areas of central Europe however, (including Germany, Hungary, and Romania), rain and wet soils impeded planting, and some fields were likely left unplanted to be sown later with spring crops. Overall, the EU’s winter was rather mild despite one period during late February when minimum temperatures dropped to between minus 15 and minus 20 degrees Celsius for several days in snow-free areas of eastern Germany and western Poland.

The World Meteorological Union, for all its heavyweight authority, has only a couple of paras about the drought conditions in Europe 2011. “A long-lasting dry period persists over large parts of Europe since January 2011. According to data of the Global Precipitation Climatology Centre (GPCC), especially the months February to April 2011 had a considerable rain deficit over large parts of Europe. The 3-month totals over this period ranged between 40 and 80% of the long-term mean 1951-2000 over large areas (see figure below), in many parts of central Europe even below 40%.”

The United Kingdom had extremely dry conditions in March and April, said the WMO, especially in its southeastern parts and experienced its driest March since 1953. The other parts of western and central Europe all had a dry February, March and April. 2011 was up to now one of the driest 10 years in nearly whole Switzerland since 1864. April 2011 was one of the 10 driest April months in Germany since 1881, in continuation of similarly dry April months in 2007, 2009 and 2010. Also the preceding winter 2010/11 was very dry at least in western Europe, causing a very low soil moisture during March and April.

Written by makanaka

May 12, 2011 at 20:42

Europe’s workers say ‘no’ to top-down ‘austerity’

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Strikes in EU, September 2010. Photo: Socialist WorldAfter ordering drastic ‘austerity’ programmes in Hungary, Romania, Greece, Spain and Portugal, pressure is now being increased on other countries to significantly reduce the living standards of broad social layers. This is what ‘austerity’ in the EU, and particularly western Europe, actually means. It does not mean the ruling parties and their agencies do with smaller salaries. It means that the massive deficits in public finances resulting from the economic crisis and bank bailouts be countered by slashing wages and social spending.

The German government, acting on behalf of the German export industry, is calling the tune for western EU. This spells continuing trouble for Europe’s working classes for it has been clear for several years that the ruling coalition in Berlin is acting in concert with the most powerful European financial and business circles, in particular the German export industry which claims to have led Germany into a new phase of ‘growth’.

There is no lack of voices saying these policies are short-sighted. On Monday, four leading European economists warned in the Financial Times that such harsh measures were “necessary but risky”. They threaten to trigger a depression affecting the whole eurozone. The resulting economic, financial and social stresses could destroy the eurozone. They suggested, therefore, a European solution: the European Financial Stability Facility established in the spring should become a permanent instrument that can be used to support highly indebted countries.

But this week Europeans marched on the streets in protest against the impacts of ‘austerity’. Up to 100,000 took part in a march on Wednesday on the European Union buildings in Brussels, Belgium, organised by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), reported the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS). The march in the Belgian capital was the official centre-piece of Europe-wide demonstrations against austerity and cuts, though a general strike in Spain was by far the most significant expression of workers rising anger at the attack on their livelihoods.

Nearly 70% of Spanish workers — 10 million — took part in Wednesday’s general strike. In some sectors, such as mining, metal, auto manufacture, electronic, fishing and other industries, participation was nearly total. The movement also encompassed many self-employed workers and small businesses. Although the government tried to downplay the effects of the strike, the national grid operator Red Electrica Corp. said that electricity consumption was down by 20%.

The strike dealt a blow to business leaders, politicians and the media who claimed it would not be well supported. But without the minimum service levels agreed by the unions, which allowed the government and local authorities to determine how many airplanes, trains and buses had to be provided, the country would have ground to a complete halt.

[There’s more in Deutsch on the strikes from Die Tageszeitung of Berlin, which reported on the strikes in France, the protest against the pension ‘reform’ and the social impacts of ‘austerity’. The Liberation of France reported on the massive Spanish strikes, and Socialist World has reportage of the Brussels strike.]

Greece’s main union federations, representing about 2.5 million workers, did not strike on Wednesday and only organised a march to parliament in the evening. Only a few of the smaller unions called strike action, with hospital doctors stopping work for 24 hours. There was strike action by bus and trolley drivers for several hours and the Athens’ metro system and trams were shut down for a period at noon.

A demonstrator reacts after being hit by anti-riot police in central Barcelona during the general strike held in Spain. (Guardian) Photograph: Josep Lago/AFP/Getty Images

In Ireland, there were rallies hundreds strong in Belfast and Derry. A man drove a cement mixer covered with anti-bank slogans into the gates of the Irish parliament in Dublin to protest the bailout of the banks. In Portugal, there were protests in Lisbon and Porto. According to trade unions sources some 20,000 people took part in the evening demonstration in Lisbon.

Most of the other protests were in eastern Europe. In Poland, thousands marched in Warsaw against government plans to freeze wages and raise some taxes. They demanded the government guarantee job security and scrap plans to raise taxes. In Lithuania, some 400 protesters held an illegal demonstration in Vilnius. In Slovenia, around half of all public service workers continued a third day of an indefinite strike to protest at the government’s plan to freeze salaries for two years.

The Guardian reported that in Portugal, unions said 50,000 protesters joined a march in Lisbon and 20,000 in Porto. “It’s a crucial day for Europe,” said John Monks, general secretary of the European Trades Union Confederation, which orchestrated the events. “This is the start of the fight, not the end. That our voice be heard is our major demand today – against austerity and for jobs and growth. There is a great danger that the workers are going to be paying the price for the reckless speculation that took place in financial markets. You’ve really got to reschedule these debts so that they are not a huge burden on the next few years and cause Europe to plunge down into recession.”

In Brussels marchers from across Europe waved union flags and carried banners saying “No to austerity” and “Priority to jobs and growth”, bringing parts of the city to a halt. The protest was led by a group dressed in black suits and masks and carrying umbrellas and briefcases to represent financial speculators, acting as the head of a funeral cortege mourning the death of Europe.