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Why It’s Not Enough To Be Right About Climate Change | DeSmog Canada

Why It’s Not Enough To Be Right About Climate Change | DeSmog Canada.


A couple weeks back, I found myself enmeshed briefly in a local debate here in Calgary regarding the validity of the argument that a continent-wide spell of frigid weather raised a serious challenge to the scientific foundations of anthropogenic climate change. In the depths of the cold snap, a rookie city councillor, Sean Chu, tweeted:

I replied:

The exchange and other snarky dismissals of Chu’s line of reasoning got picked up by theCalgary Herald, which ran a news item on its blog and a follow-up piece defending Chu against “anthropogenic global warming religionists” on the op-ed page.

As we were engaged in our local rhetorical joust, climate change deniers continent-wide were re-enacting the same little drama on stages big and small, eventually inspiring one of those killer rapid-fire round-ups of TV news talking-head idiocy on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.“Apparently decades of peer reviewed study can be, like a ficus plant, destroyed in one cold weekend,” Stewart concluded.

In itself, any given one of these minor foofaraws (or are they argle-bargles?) is barely worth wasting the pixels contained in this sentence. But as a whole — as a tenaciously consistent, recurring pattern of discourse — they actually illustrate a singular challenge to concerted and sustained climate change action. So if you’ll stick with me, let’s unpack the mess a bit and take a look.

Now, the phrase “Hot enough for you?” is a cartoon cliché, a bit of glib small talk placed in a character’s mouth as a signifier for “obnoxious person.” I’d argue that its 21st century reboot should go like this: If global warming is real then why is it cold? This sentiment, the current iteration of which was parodied by Stewart, is trucked out by right-wing critics of action on climate change with such seasonal regularity that it has inspired its own Tumblr.

The line is especially notable for its tone, which is usually hyper-confident and self-congratulatory, freighted with the assumption that there’s not a climate scientist in the world who can possibly explain cold regional short-term weather on a warming planet. In Stewart’s clip round-up, the Fox commentators invoking the line sound like they’re dismissing the ravings of flat-earthers (as opposed to, you know, being flat-earthers).

Never mind that the argument backing the phrase is logically identical to the argument that the arrival of night proves the sun has been extinguished forever. Never mind indeed that the very moment this latest round of witty rejoindering swept frozen North America, Australia was sweltering under a record-breaking heat wave. No, your typical deployer of the If global warming is real then why is it cold? trope is not just convinced he’s right but delighted by the certainty he’s just sprung a logical trap on you that will have you stuck in a snowbank till the next summer heat wave.

The tendency among climate change advocates, in the face of such braying nonsense, is to fire back with a barrage of facts, footnoted arguments, citations and links. There’s even a whole subgenre in this vein, an online chapbook of bullet-pointed lists tallying the 8 ways to prove you’re right or 14 ways to debunk your right-wing uncle or 27 LOLCAT gifs that are more complex and nuanced than the baseless argument behind the question If global warming is real then why is it cold?

The hitch, though, is that the assertion, the line of thinking and the whole vast culture propping it up are not sustained by insufficient access to facts. They are sustained by a mistrust of the sources of those facts — and, moreover, the disseminators of them. In other words, it’s not them, it’s you. It’s us.

Let’s dissect another local case in point, which arrived in my Twitter feed hot on the heels of that city councillor’s musing on the connection between cold weather and climate change. It was a link to an ad in the Calgary Herald, touting the latest line of denial — that cosmic rays are largely responsible for climate change — from Friends of Science, an astroturf “public interest” group funded through the office of arch-conservative University of Calgary professor Barry Cooper.

I’d seen this line of reasoning already awhile back, when Friends of Science’s under-read Twitter feed sent me a link to the source of this paradigm-shifting scientific breakthrough in response to something or other I’d posted about climate science. Thus did I learn that Friends of Science has a new pet dissenter, an astrophysicist named Nir Shaviv who co-authored a paper in a journal called GSA Today arguing that “cosmic rays” were a bigger factor in climate change than anything people had ever done, and so “a significant reduction of the release of greenhouse gases will not significantly lower the global temperature, since only about a third of the warming over the past century should be attributed to man.”

Now, GSA Today is a legitimate scientific journal. This is a genuinely remarkable finding. It invites further consideration. And here’s where those of us in the consensus camp — which includes more than 97 per cent of climate scientists, the vast majority of Canadians and pretty much all of Europe — part ways.

You or I might consult a valid source — RealClimate.org, for example, which is written and curated by climate scientists — and we might discover in less time than it takes to tweet thatShaviv’s paper has been considered, responded to and determined not to actually bring the entire climate change consensus down into a pile of rubble.

Indeed, Michael Mann and Gavin Schmidt reported at RealClimate.org that the claims in Shaviv’s paper “were subsequently disputed in an article in Eos by an international team of scientists and geologists … who suggested that Shaviv and Veizer’s analyses were based on unreliable and poorly replicated estimates, selective adjustments of the data (shifting the data, in one case by 40 million years) and drew untenable conclusions, particularly with regard to the influence of anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations on recent warming.” So then: Just lousy science. Happens all the time. Move along.

But Mann and Schmidt go even further. They speculate on the impact of the study if cosmic rays had in fact done all the stuff Shaviv and his co-author said they did. “Even if the conclusions … had been correct,” they write, “this would be one small piece of evidence pitted against hundreds of others which contradict it. Scientists would find the apparent contradiction interesting and worthy of further investigation, and would devote further study to isolating the source of the contradiction. They would not suddenly throw out all previous results.”

There’s a really significant point there. Did you miss it? THEY WOULD NOT SUDDENLY THROW OUT ALL PREVIOUS RESULTS. (If net etiquette still allowed it, I’d have made the previous sentence blink like a late-’90s Geocities post.)

Friends of Science, however, has no qualms with throwing out all previous results. I’d speculate they uncovered Shaviv and Veizer’s paper on a needle-in-a-haystack hunt for something to use for the expressed purpose of throwing out all previous results. Convinced there must be a magic bullet, Friends of Science found one. They discovered a single data point against a thousand others and reckon they’d found Galileo in the pages of GSA Today. (Friends of Science’s Twitter feed actually cites Galileo in reference to Shaviv.) It’s a very slightly more highfalutin version of If global warming is real then why is it cold?

To come back to my point: there is no amount of contradictory data that you or I or RealClimate.org could assemble, no PowerPoint TED-exy talk we could deliver, no infographic so incontrovertible and compelling that it would convince the Friends of Science or anyone else peddling this line to reconsider their position in any fundamental way. The data doesn’t count. The accumulated facts don’t matter. This is about culture and social trust and a kind of tribalism. You’re wrong — or at least I am — because I’m One of Them.

The motivation here is explained in significant measure by a fine old Upton Sinclair line: “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” But it’s not just the financial investments or the near-term rewards; Friends of Science and their brethren on Fox News and on Calgary City Council are invested culturallyin climate change being something other than primarily human-caused. They are investedculturally in the idea that Gavin Schmidt and Michael Mann and thousands of other climate science PhDs are no more likely to know the truth than Nir Shaviv or Barry Cooper or anyone who just stepped outside into an abnormally chilly morning.

There’s a name for this, and (to amble finally to my main point) it is a vital concept for climate change communicators, climate scientists and anyone else with skin in this game to understand. The name is cultural cognition. It comes to us from Dan Kahan of Yale University and his colleagues, whose 2010 paper in the Journal of Risk Research is an essential read for the tribe David Roberts at Grist once dubbed climate hawks.

Cultural cognition, Kahan and his colleagues write, “is a collection of psychological mechanisms that dispose individuals selectively to credit or dismiss evidence of risk in patterns that fit values they share with others.” Subjects in Kahan’s study were divided into those holding “hierarchical and individualistic outlooks” and those holding “egalitarian and communitarian outlooks” — conservative and progressive, more or less. They “significantly disagreed on the state of expert opinion about climate change.” And they did so, the paper argues, due to the “polarizing effect of cultural cognition.”

Put more plainly, people tend to trust information only from sources and outlets they’ve already identified as their sort of people — sharers of common cultural values, members of their tribe. To reach those who reject the consensus on climate change, the paper concludes, “communicators must attend to the cultural meaning as well as the scientific content of the information.”

It’s not enough to be right. To put it in Colbert Nation’s terms, it has to feel truthy. The message has to come in the right frame, through the right kind of channel.

Among the tools Kahan et al. innumerate to do so are these:

1) “Identity affirmation” (a framework in which accepting the consensus leads to an outcome you already like — in the climate change context, perhaps energy independence or an entrepreneurial boom).

2) “Pluralistic advocacy” (emphasizing that experts from a range of backgrounds are involved — clergy and right-wing political icons like Bloomberg and Schwarzenegger as well as your Al Gores).

3) “Narrative framing” (stock characters, familiar arcs — maybe farmers and tradespeople and CEOs instead of activists and progressive policy wonks, engaged not in saving the planet but renewing the economy).

None of this is wholly new, of course. Climate hawks and other progressives have been talking about getting the frame right for years, playing up the entrepreneurial angle of green energy and cleantech, making a hero of Texas natural gas baron T. Boone Pickens. So why does the counterfactual denialist/hoax message persist? One possibility, very funnily illustrated in a little Socratic dialogue I found via Metafilter, is the “crazification factor” — the argument, based on the number of votes Alan Keyes got when he ran against Barack Obama in the 2004 Illinois Senate race, that there’s some core group of dug-in, dead-ender partisans who willnever move on some issues.

In the case of Obama v. Keyes, the number was 27 per cent. Polls suggest Canada’s denialist base is much smaller — in a 2012 survey, for example, 86 per cent of Canadians agreed that humans were at least partially responsible for climate change, and only two per cent flat-out denied it was happening.

The voice of the If global warming is real then why is it cold? contingent, however, seems much louder in the public discourse than a 1/50 share. Which leaves me wondering: Could part of the problem be that the engagement of this argument on any level — and particularly one of just-the-facts rebuttal — amplifies it well beyond its actual constituency? Might climate change advocates themselves be way off in their perception of the size and scope of opposition to their point of view? And if so, might it not be best to carry on as if everyone in the room already agrees that the guy making the “Hot enough for you?” joke is just being obnoxious for its own sake?

Image Credit: Polar Vortex wind currents on January 7th, 2014 from earth.nullschool.net and featured on the Washington Post.

CSEC used airport Wi-Fi to track Canadian travellers: Edward Snowden documents – Politics – CBC News

CSEC used airport Wi-Fi to track Canadian travellers: Edward Snowden documents – Politics – CBC News.

Privacy and security experts on CSEC

Privacy and security experts on CSEC 2:32

Airport Wi-Fi used to track Canadians

Airport Wi-Fi used to track Canadians 4:16

About The Author

Photo of Greg Weston

Greg Weston
National Affairs Specialist

Greg Weston is an investigative reporter and a regular political commentator on CBC Radio and Television. Based in Ottawa, he has afflicted governments of all stripes for over three decades. His investigative work has won awards including the coveted Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism. He is also the author of two best-selling books, Reign of Error and The Stopwatch Gang.

A top secret document retrieved by U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowdenand obtained by CBC News shows that Canada’s electronic spy agency used information from the free internet service at a major Canadian airport to track the wireless devices of thousands of ordinary airline passengers for days after they left the terminal.

After reviewing the document, one of Canada’s foremost authorities on cyber-security says the clandestine operation by the Communications Security Establishment Canada ( CSEC) was almost certainly illegal.

Ronald Deibert told CBC News: “I can’t see any circumstance in which this would not be unlawful, under current Canadian law, under our Charter, under CSEC’s mandates.”

The spy agency is supposed to be collecting primarily foreign intelligence by intercepting overseas phone and internet traffic, and is prohibited by law from targeting Canadians or anyone in Canada without a judicial warrant.

As CSEC chief John Forster recently stated: “I can tell you that we do not target Canadians at home or abroad in our foreign intelligence activities, nor do we target anyone in Canada.

“In fact, it’s prohibited by law. Protecting the privacy of Canadians is our most important principle.”

But security experts who have been apprised of the document point out the airline passengers in a Canadian airport were clearly in Canada.

CSEC said in a written statement to CBC News that it is “mandated to collect foreign signals intelligence to protect Canada and Canadians. And in order to fulfill that key foreign intelligence role for the country, CSEC is legally authorized to collect and analyze metadata.”

Metadata reveals a trove of information including, for example, the location and telephone numbers of all calls a person makes and receives — but not the content of the call, which would legally be considered a private communication and cannot be intercepted without a warrant.

“No Canadian communications were (or are) targeted, collected or used,” the agency says.

In the case of the airport tracking operation, the metadata apparently identified travelers’ wireless devices, but not the content of calls made or emails sent from them.

Black Code

Diebert is author of the book Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace, which is about internet surveillance, and he heads the world-renowned Citizen Lab cyber research program at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs.

He says that whatever CSEC calls it, the tracking of those passengers was nothing less than an “indiscriminate collection and analysis of Canadians’ communications data,” and he could not imagine any circumstances that would have convinced a judge to authorize it.

Cellphone-travelA passenger checks his cellphone while boarding a flight in Boston in October. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration issued new guidelines under which passengers will be able to use electronic devices from the time they board to the time they leave the plane, which will also help electronic spies to keep tabs on them. (Associated Press)

The latest Snowden document indicates the spy service was provided with information captured from unsuspecting travellers’ wireless devices by the airport’s free Wi-Fi system over a two-week period.

Experts say that probably included many Canadians whose smartphone and laptop signals were intercepted without their knowledge as they passed through the terminal.

The document shows the federal intelligence agency was then able to track the travellers for a week or more as they — and their wireless devices — showed up in other Wi-Fi “hot spots” in cities across Canada and even at U.S. airports.

That included people visiting other airports, hotels, coffee shops and restaurants, libraries, ground transportation hubs, and any number of places among the literally thousands with public wireless internet access.

The document shows CSEC had so much data it could even track the travellers back in time through the days leading up to their arrival at the airport, these experts say.

While the documents make no mention of specific individuals, Deibert and other cyber experts say it would be simple for the spy agency to have put names to all the Canadians swept up in the operation.

All Canadians with a smartphone, tablet or laptop are “essentially carrying around digital dog tags as we go about our daily lives,” Deibert says.

Anyone able to access the data that those devices leave behind on wireless hotspots, he says, can obtain “extraordinarily precise information about our movements and social relationships.”

Trial run for NSA

The document indicates the passenger tracking operation was a trial run of a powerful new software program CSEC was developing with help from its U.S. counterpart, the National Security Agency.

In the document, CSEC called the new technologies “game-changing,” and said they could be used for tracking “any target that makes occasional forays into other cities/regions.”

Sources tell CBC News the technologies tested on Canadians in 2012 have since become fully operational.

CSEC claims “no Canadian or foreign travellers’ movements were ‘tracked,'” although it does not explain why it put the word “tracked” in quotation marks.

Deibert says metadata is “way more powerful that the content of communications. You can tell a lot more about people, their habits, their relationships, their friendships, even their political preferences, based on that type of metadata.”

The document does not say exactly how the Canadian spy service managed to get its hands on two weeks’ of travellers’ wireless data from the airport Wi-Fi system, although there are indications it was provided voluntarily by a “special source.”

The country’s two largest airports — Toronto and Vancouver — both say they have never supplied CSEC or other Canadian intelligence agency with information on passengers’ Wi-Fi use.

Alana Lawrence, a spokesperson for the Vancouver Airport Authority, says it operates the free Wi-Fi there, but does “not in any way store any personal data associated with it,” and has never received a request from any Canadian intelligence agency for it.

A U.S.-based company, Boingo, is the largest independent supplier of Wi-Fi services at other Canadian airports, including Pearson International in Toronto.

Spokesperson Katie O’Neill tells CBC News: “To the best of our knowledge, [Boingo] has not provided any information about any of our users to the Canadian government, law enforcement or intelligence agencies.”

It is also unclear from the document how CSEC managed to penetrate so many wireless systems to see who was using them — specifically, to know every time someone targeted at the airport showed up on one of those other Wi-Fi networks elsewhere.

Deibert and other experts say the federal intelligence agency must have gained direct access to at least some of the country’s main telephone and internet pipelines, allowing the mass-surveillance of Canadian emails and phone calls.

‘Blown away’

Ontario’s privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian says she is “blown away” by the revelations.

“It is really unbelievable that CSEC would engage in that kind of surveillance of Canadians. Of us.

“I mean that could have been me at the airport walking around… This resembles the activities of a totalitarian state, not a free and open society.”

 Ann CavoukianPrivacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian. (Colin Perkel/Canadian Press)

Experts say the document makes clear CSEC intended to share both the technologies and future information generated by it with Canada’s official spying partners — the U.S., Britain, New Zealand and Australia, the so-called Five Eyes intelligence network.

Indeed, the spy agency boasts in its leaked document that, in an apparently separate pilot project, it obtained access to two communications systems with more than 300,000 users, and was then able to “sweep” an entire mid-sized Canadian city to pinpoint a specific imaginary target in a fictional kidnapping.

The document dated May 2012 is a 27-page power-point presentation by CSEC describing its airport tracking operation.

While the document was in the trove of secret NSA files retrieved by Snowden, it bears CSEC’s logo and clearly originated with the Canadian spy service.

Wesley Wark, a renowned authority on international security and intelligence, agrees with Deibert.

“I cannot see any way in which it fits CSEC’s legal mandate.”

Wark says the document suggests CSEC was “trying to push the technological boundaries” in part to impress its other international counterparts in the Five-Eyes intelligence network.

“This document is kind of suffused with the language of technological gee-whiz.”

Wark says if CSEC’s use of “very powerful and intrusive technological tools” puts it outside its mandate and even the law, “then you are in a situation for democracy where you simply don’t want to be.”

Like Wark and other experts interviewed for this story, Deibert says there’s no question Canada needs CSEC to be gathering foreign intelligence, “but they must do it within a framework of proper checks and balances so their formidable powers can never be abused. And that’s the missing ingredient right now in Canada.”

The only official oversight of CSEC’s spying operations is a retired judge appointed by the prime minister, and reporting to the minister of defence who is also responsible for the intelligence agency.

“Here we clearly have an agency of the state collecting in an indiscriminate and bulk fashion all of Canadian communications and the oversight mechanism is flimsy at best,” Deibert says.

“Those to me are circumstances ripe for potential abuse.”

CSEC spends over $400 million a year, and employs about 2,000 people, almost half of whom are involved in intercepting phone conversations, and hacking into computer systems supposedly in other countries.

It has long been Canada’s most secretive spy agency, responding to almost all questions about its operations with reassurances it is doing nothing wrong.

Privacy watchdog Cavoukian says there has to be “greater openness and transparency because without that there can be no accountability.

“This trust-me model that the government is advancing and CSEC is advancing – ‘Oh just trust us, we’re doing the right thing, don’t worry’ — yes, worry! We have very good reason to worry.”

In the U.S., Snowden exposed massive metadata collection by the National Security Agency, which is said to have scooped up private phone and internet records of more than 100 million Americans.

A U.S. judge recently called the NSA’s metadata collection an Orwellian surveillance program that is likely unconstitutional.

The public furor over NSA snooping prompted a White House review of the American spy agency’s operations, and President Barack Obama recently vowed to clamp down on the collection and use of metadata.

Cavoukian says Canadians deserve nothing less.

“Look at the U.S. — they’ve been talking about these matters involving national security for months now very publicly because the public deserves answers.

“And that’s what I would tell our government, our minister of national defence and our prime minister: We demand some answers to this.”

Russia backs Syria on chemical weapons plan – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

Russia backs Syria on chemical weapons plan – Middle East – Al Jazeera English.

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel also urged the Syrian government to intensify removal efforts [AP]
Russia has backed Syria as acting in good faith to eliminate its chemical weapons, after the US accused the government of Bashar al-Assad of stalling the plan due to end in June.

Mikhail Ulyanov, a Russian diplomat, was quoted by the Interfax news agency on Friday as saying that there was no need for additional pressure on Damascus over the destruction of its stockpiles.

“We see that the Syrians are approaching the fulfilment of their obligations seriously and in good faith,” he said.

The comment came after the US said just four percent of Syria’s declared chemical stock has been eliminated.

Efforts to remove these materials from Syria have “seriously languished and stalled”, said ambassador Robert Mikulak in a statement to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on Thursday.

“Syria must immediately take the necessary actions to comply with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, Executive Council decisions, and UN Security Council Resolution 2118,” said Mikulak, the US permanent representative to the OPCW.

Timelines adopted last year required that 100 percent of “priority one” chemicals be eliminated by December 31, 2013, while the deadline for removing “priority two” chemicals is Feburary 5. That deadline will also not be met.

The Syrian government has attributed the delays to “security concerns”, saying it needs additional equipment to ensure their safe transportation – a claim Mikulak rejected.

“Syria’s requests for equipment and open-ended delaying of the removal operation could ultimately jeopardise the carefully timed and coordinated multi-state removal and destruction effort,” he said.

During a visit to Poland on Thursday, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel also criticised Syrian efforts, saying he has asked his Russian counterpart to put pressure on Damascus to comply with the deal.

“I do not know what the Syrian government’s motives are – if this is incompetence – or why they are behind in delivering these materials,” Hagel told reporters in Warsaw, the capital. “They need to fix this.”

Peace talks continue

Meanwhile, peace talks between the Syrian government and the opposition continued on Thursday, with UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi reporting little progress.

In an afternoon update to the media in Geneva, Switzerland, Brahimi said he hoped the two sides would “draw some lessons” from the first round of talks, scheduled to end on Friday, in hopes of becoming better organised for the next round.


Geneva 1’s call for a transitional government

Terrorism was among the topics discussed on Thursday, Brahimi said, although there was no agreement on how to deal with it.

“We had tense moments and also rather promising moments,” he said.

Opposition delegation spokesman Louay Safi told reporters that the two sides had spoken about stopping the violence in Syria, noting the opposition presented evidence of government massacres within residential neighbourhoods.

Safi said the government wanted to speak first about issues such as ending the violence and bringing humanitarian aid, instead of dealing with the trickier issue of a political transition. “We believe this is the wrong sequence,” he added.

The opposition views a transitional government as the first step towards a political solution, and has insisted that President Bashar al-Assad step down.

The Geneva 1 communique, a never-implemented roadmap developed during 2012 talks, calls for a transitional government, but the regime denies the document requires Assad to resign.

Real wages have been falling for longest period for at least 50 years, ONS says | Business | theguardian.com

Real wages have been falling for longest period for at least 50 years, ONS says | Business | theguardian.com.

Real wages have been falling by 2.2% a year in the longest sustained period of falling real wages in the UK on record
Average earnings growth
Average earnings growth, with RPI inflation stripped out. Source: ONS

Real wages have been falling consistently since 2010, the longest period for 50 years, according to the Office for National Statistics, which said that low productivity growth seems to be pushing wages down.

The ONS study followed a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS)which said that while the fall in household incomes has now probably come to a halt, living standards are still “dramatically” down on what they were before the global financial crisis hit in 2008. The IFS analysis suggested “there is little reason to expect a strong recovery in living standards over the next few years”. According to the Office for Budget Responsibility, real earnings are not expected to return to their 2009-10 levels until 2018-19.

The government said last week that most British workers have seen their take-home pay rise in real terms in the past year.

Jobs website Adzuna showed in a report that salaries dropped to a 16-month low in December, equal to a real-term drop in wages of £2,136. In the year to December, salaries fell in every region of the UK aside from Wales, where salaries have risen 4.1% over the 12 months to December. Andrew Hunter, co-founder of Adzuna, said: “The recovery in the jobs market is far from over. The great news is unemployment has fallen at record levels, but wages are still stuck in a post-recession hangover – while the backlog of employees waiting for the right time to change jobs is clearing, salary levels are yet to catch up.”

Its Great Lake Shriveled, Iran Confronts Crisis of Water Supply – NYTimes.com

Its Great Lake Shriveled, Iran Confronts Crisis of Water Supply – NYTimes.com.

Launch media viewer
An abandoned ship rusts in the mud on the south shore of Lake Urmia, where only 5 percent of the water remains, Iranian environmental officials say. Morteza Nikoubazl for The New York Times

LAKE URMIA, Iran — After driving for 15 minutes over the bottom of what was once Iran’s largest lake, a local environmental official stepped out of his truck, pushed his hands deep into his pockets and silently wandered into the great dry plain, as if searching for water he knew he would never find.

Just an hour earlier, on a cold winter day here in western Iran, the official, Hamid Ranaghadr, had recalled how as recently as a decade ago, cruise ships filled with tourists plied the lake’s waters in search of flocks of migrating flamingos.

Now, the ships are rusting in the mud and the flamingos fly over the remains of the lake on their way to more hospitable locales. According to figures compiled by the local environmental office, only 5 percent of the water remains.

Iran is facing a water shortage potentially so serious that officials are making contingency plans for rationing in the greater Tehran area, home to 22 million, and other major cities around the country. President Hassan Rouhani has identified water as a national security issue, and in public speeches in areas struck hardest by the shortage he is promising to “bring the water back.”

Lake Urmia

Experts cite climate change, wasteful irrigation practices and the depletion of groundwater supplies as leading factors in the growing water shortage. In the case of Lake Urmia, they add the completion of a series of dams that choked off a major supply of fresh water flowing from the mountains that tower on either side of the lake.

“Only some years ago the water here was 30 feet deep,” Mr. Ranaghadr said, kicking up dust with each step on the dry lake bed. In the distance, spots of land — once islands where tourists would spend vacations in bungalows overlooking the blue waters — were surrounded by plains of brown mud and sand. “We just emptied it out,” he said with a sigh, stepping back into the car.

Iran’s water troubles extend far beyond Lake Urmia, which as a salt lake was never fit for drinking or agricultural use. Other lakes and major rivers have also been drying up, leading to disputes over water rights, demonstrations and even riots.

Major rivers near Isfahan, in central Iran, and Ahvaz, near the Persian Gulf, have gone dry, as has Hamoun Lake, in the Afghanistan border region. Dust from the dry riverbeds has added to already dangerously high air pollution levels in Iran, home to four of the 10 most polluted cities in the world, the United Nations says.

But nowhere is the crisis more pronounced than at Lake Urmia, once one of the largest salt lakes in the world — at 90 miles long and roughly 35 miles wide, it was slightly larger than Great Salt Lake in Utah. Environmentalists are warning that the dried salt could poison valuable agricultural lands surrounding the lake, and make life miserable for the three million people who live in its vicinity.

Along what used to be a lakeshore boulevard, worn-down snack bars and dressing rooms are testament to the days when people from across Iran would come to water-ski on the lake or cover themselves in its black mud, which is said to have healing powers.

About two decades ago, a local villager, Mokhtar Cheraghi, began to notice the water line receding. “First a hundred meters, then two hundred meters. After a while, we couldn’t see the shoreline anymore,” he said, standing in what was once his thriving cafe, Cheraghi’s Beach. “We kept waiting for the water to return, but it never did.”

Most people in the area blame the half-dozen major dams the government has built in the region for the lake’s disappearance. The dams have greatly reduced the flow of water in the 11 rivers that feed into the lake. As an arid country with numerous lofty mountain chains, Iran has a predilection for dams that extends to the reign of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.

Dam construction was given renewed emphasis under Mr. Rouhani’s predecessor as president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who as an engineer had a weakness for grand projects. Another driving force is the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which through its engineering arm, Khatam al-Anbia Construction, builds many of the dams in Iran and surrounding countries.

Half an hour’s drive into the mountains above the city of Urmia stands the mighty Chahchai Dam, collecting water that would otherwise have reached the lake. The dam, finished during Mr. Ahmadinejad’s first term, now holds a huge lake itself, which local farmers use for irrigating their lands.

“Some of Urmia’s water is here,” said Mr. Ranaghadr, raising his voice over the howling winds that blow down from the surrounding snowcapped peaks. “The people here need water, too, is what they say.”

Besides producing badly needed electricity, the dams are intended to address the water shortage. But too often, the water is wasted through inefficient irrigation techniques, particularly spraying, Mr. Ranaghadr and other experts say.

In recent decades, the amount of land dedicated to agriculture in the region, the country’s heartland, has tripled, with many farmers growing particularly thirsty crops like grapes and sugar beets, Mr. Ranaghadr pointed out. His department has calculated that about 90 percent of all the water that should end up in the lake is sprayed on fields.

In a 2005 book that he wrote on national security challenges for Iran, Mr. Rouhani estimated that 92 percent of Iran’s water is used for agriculture, compared with 80 percent in the United States (90 percent in some Western states).

“They turn open the tap, flood the land, without understanding that in our climate most of the water evaporates that way,” said Ali Reza Seyed Ghoreishi, a member of the local water management council. “We need to educate the farmers.”

The lake has also been attacked from underground. As part of the government’s drive to promote local agriculture, large landholdings were divided into smaller plots, and most of the new owners promptly dug new wells, soaking up much of the groundwater.

Analysis: Oil trains to keep rumbling through North America’s cities | Canada | Reuters

Analysis: Oil trains to keep rumbling through North America’s cities | Canada | Reuters.

A tanker with an inscription which reads, "empty and inspected", is pictured on the rail track in Lac-Megantic, November 21, 2013. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger
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By Solarina Ho

TORONTO (Reuters) – Mile-long trains carrying crude oil will likely keep chugging through North American cities even after a string of fiery disasters spurred safety officials to urge that railways send risky cargo along less populated routes.

Re-routing the crude-by-rail trains that support booming North American oil production would be hugely difficult given the location of major rail lines and lack of alternatives, industry watchers say, adding that skirting major centers carries different types of risks.

“In the U.S., rail built the West. Literally. The railroad came first, and then towns sprung up along the route. And so as a consequence, rail transit’s the heart of many of our cities and towns,” said Brigham McCown, a former chief counsel at the U.S. Department of Transportation and former head of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

“It’s called the main line for a reason,” he added.

The dangers of sending crude by rail due to increasingly clogged pipelines were highlighted last July, when an unmanned, runaway train carrying crude crashed into Lac-Megantic, Quebec, leveling the heart of the small lakeside community and killing 47 people.

Last week, the U.S. and Canadian transportation safety boards, which can only suggest and not impose new rules, recommended more rigorous route planning for shipping crude and other flammable liquids.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which urged that such shipments avoid populated areas, wants crude oil be added to a list of hazardous materials that already requires tougher routing protocols.

“We’re not asking for new rails to be built, we’re not asking for major modifications,” NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt told Reuters.

The thrust of the proposals is risk mitigation, not complete elimination, said Jason Kuehn, vice president for rail practice at management consulting firm Oliver Wyman, which makes route planning software used by Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd and CSX Corp.

Kuehn said existing routing regulations in the United States, which govern products such as anhydrous ammonia and chlorine gas, which are even more dangerous than crude oil, have been effective.


The Bakken oil fields of North Dakota pump out a type of crude that is more explosive and flammable than some others. It was involved at Lac-Megantic and in other major crashes last year.

But for Bakken oil headed to refineries in the east, alternative train routes are limited.

The most direct route eastward for Canadian Pacific and BNSF Railway Co, the two main railroads running through the Bakken region, is through Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, then Chicago.

“Getting oil from North Dakota to the refineries around Philly without going through Chicago, for one, is enormously difficult,” said Trains magazine writer Fred Frailey, who has followed the industry for more than three decades.

An alternative route for CP Rail, Canada’s second largest railroad, would require going north to Winnipeg, Manitoba, across Northern Ontario, southeast to Toronto and likely to Montreal before heading south to the United States. It’s a route that would swap Chicago for three of Canada’s largest cities.

CSX, which expects to ramp up U.S. crude shipments by 50 percent this year, mostly to East Coast refineries, said it already complies with federal routing guidelines for shipping the most hazardous materials.

“We will evaluate whether those protocols could be applied to oil shipments,” spokeswoman Melanie Cost said in an email.

“However, re-routing requires careful thought and analysis to make sure that hazardous materials operate over tracks that incorporate the most safety features, and that additional miles that may involve other risks are not added to shipments.”

Doniele Carlson, spokeswoman for Kansas City Southern, the smallest of U.S. Class I railroads, noted its network’s size limits routing options.

Some companies have rail lines that bypass city centers, traveling through the outskirts, but those tracks may not necessarily be equipped to handle a high-capacity load or trains traveling at higher speeds, industry experts said.

A crash in a less populated area might wreak less havoc, but emergency responders could take longer to reach a more remote site and may be less equipped to deal with it, they said.

Taking a circuitous route, or traveling on secondary tracks, will also mean a shipment of crude spends more time traveling longer distances, using more fuel, producing higher emissions, and costing more to ship.

“If you’re doubling the length that it takes to get from point A to B, you are potentially doubling the risk for an accident,” said transportation safety expert McCown.

The American Railroad Association and the Railway Association of Canada have said they support the recommendations to improve rail safety, but they declined to comment specifically about route planning. They point to an improving safety record.

The rate of main-track accidents has declined over the past 10 years in Canada and the United States, according to the most recent government data. In Canada, accidents fell 33 percent to 1.6 per million main-track train-miles in 2012, from 2.4 in 2011. In the United States, the main line accident rate fell some 20 percent to 0.8 in 2012, from 1.0 in 2011.

Canada had 2.6 accidents per million main-track train-miles in 2003. The United States had 1.5 in 2003.

But shipping companies are just as involved as the railways in deciding what cargoes are moved and how, and under government-mandated common carrier regulations, North American railroads are legally required to transport products they might otherwise choose to avoid.

“They’ve taken on an inordinate amount of the risk. Even though it’s not their car, and it’s not their product, and it might not have been loaded by them,” said Tony Hatch, independent transportation analyst at ABH Consulting.

“They don’t want to be on the front page of the paper unless it’s for opening a new terminal or cutting a ribbon.”

(Additional reporting by Kristen Hays in Houston; Editing by Jeffrey

UK nuclear plant detects elevated radiation – Europe – Al Jazeera English

UK nuclear plant detects elevated radiation – Europe – Al Jazeera English.

Sellafield is the largest nuclear power site in the UK [AP]
All non-essential staff have been told to stay away from the British nuclear reprocessing site, Sellafield, after detectors recorded an “elevated level” of radiation.

A statement from Sellafield said on Friday that levels of radiation at the Cumbria facility were above that which naturally occured, but “well below that which would call for any actions to be taken by workforce” on or off site.

A statement said: “As a result of a conservative and prudent decision, the Sellafield site is operating normally but with reduced manning levels,” it said in a statement.

“The site is at normal status and employees and operational plants are continuing to operate as investigations continue. All our facilities have positively confirmed there are no abnormal conditions and are operating normally.”

The UK’s decommissioning agency said it was too early to determine whether the radiation came from a leak. It said the workforce and general public were not at risk.

Sellafield is the UK’s largest and most hazardous nuclear site, and a store site for tonnes of highly radioactive waste.

It processes spent fuel and no longer produces power. It is undergoing a decommissioning and dismantling programme, run by the British company Amec, French group Areva and the US firm URS.

A report by the the Public Accounts Committee last year stated that the cost of cleaning the site had reached $111 billion and that costs would continue to rise.

The British energy ministry said it was in “constant contact” with Sellafield and there was “no reason to believe” the incident is more serious than its managers say.

India’s Central Bank Governor: “International Monetary Cooperation Has Broken Down” | Zero Hedge

India’s Central Bank Governor: “International Monetary Cooperation Has Broken Down” | Zero Hedge.

India’s recently crowned central bank head (and predecessor of the IMF’s Nostradamal Olivier Blanchard), Raghuram Rajan, has not had it easy since taking over India’s printer: with inflation through the roof, and only so much scapegoating of gold as the root of all of India’s evils, Rajan announced an unexpected 50 bps interest rate hike two days ago in an attempt to preempt the massive EM capital flight that has roundhoused Turkey, South Africa, Hungary, Argentina and most other current account deficit emerging markets. Whether he succeeds in keeping India away from the EM maelstrom will be unveiled in the coming days, although if last summer is any indication, the INR has a long way to fall.

Hinting that the worst is yet to come, was none other than Rajan himself, who yesterday in an interview in Mumbai with Bloomberg TV India, said that “international monetary cooperation has broken down.” Of course, when the Fed was monetizing $85 billion each and every month and stocks could only go up, nobody had a complaint about any cooperation, be it monetary or international. However, a 4% drop in the S&P from its all time high… and everyone begins to panic.

The reason for Rajan’s displeasure is because he believes that the DMs owe the EMs a favor: “Industrial countries have to play a part in restoring that, and they can’t at this point wash their hands off and say we’ll do what we need to and you do the adjustment.”Sorry Raghu – Bernanke hightailed it out of here and as Citi’s Steven Englander pointed out yesterday, left you “to twist in the wind.” Feel free to submit your thoughts on the matter in the overflowing complaint box in the Marriner Eccles lobby.

Instead of doing this, however, Rajan continued complaining to Bloomberg:

“Fortunately the IMF has stopped giving this as its mantra, but you hear from the industrial countries: We’ll do what we have to do, the markets will adjust and you can decide what you want to do,” Rajan said. “We need better cooperation and unfortunately that’s not been forthcoming so far.”

Rajan said yesterday developed countries might not like adjustments emerging markets take to cope with the outflows, without elaborating on specific measures. His surprise Jan. 28 move to raise the benchmark repurchase rate by a quarter point – – adding to increases of 50 basis points since he took over the Reserve Bank of India in September — was to stem consumer-price inflation running at close to 10 percent, he said.


“In an environment when there is external turmoil, we have to get our house in order and we can’t postpone that,” Rajan said. “So a collateral benefit of getting inflation down is that you also strengthen the belief in the value of the rupee.”

“When there is huge outside turmoil, even today post the Federal Reserve withdrawing stimulus further, it is extremely important that we both be seen on the same page.”

You know – this is truly wonderful: for once a central banker admits that his peers are on the verge of losing control of the globe – of course not in those words as the result would be sheer panic upon the realization that central bankers are just as clueless as everyone else – because while conducting central planning in one country is somewhat feasible for a period of time, doing so across every country across currencies, and capital markets, is impossible. And the Indian knows this.

He also knows that in a worst case scenario, the Indian Rupee will crash and burn and make last year’s record devaluation of the INR seem like breakfast at Gideon Gono’s. Which means that doing the right thing would mean allowing the people – his people – to preserve their wealth in the only real currency that will withstand whatever Emerging Market collapse may be headed this way. Gold.

Instead, what did the Indian Central Bank do? This.

  • Jan 21 – The government raises the gold import duty by 2% to 6%.
  • Jan 22 – The government more than doubles the duty on raw gold to 5%.
  • Jan 30 – Finance Minister P. Chidambaram says there are no plans for additional taxes or curbs on gold imports.
  • Feb 1 – The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) plans to introduce three or four gold-linked products in the next few months.
  • Feb 6 – The RBI says it would consider imposing value and quantity restrictions on gold imports by banks.
  • Feb 14 – The central bank relaxes rules on gold deposit schemes offered by banks by allowing lenders to offer the products with shorter maturities.
  • Feb 20 – The Trade Ministry recommends suspending cheaper gold jewellery imports from Thailand.
  • Feb 28 – India keeps its gold import duty unchanged in its annual national budget, defying industry expectations.
  • Feb 28 – India proposes a transaction tax of 0.01% on nonagricultural futures contracts, including for precious metals.
  • March 1 – The Finance Minister appeals to people not to buy so much gold.
  • March 18 – The Reserve Bank of India says it is examining banks that sell gold coins and wealth management products to identify “systemic issues”, with a view to closing any legal loopholes.
  • April 2 – The Finance Ministry suggests it is unlikely to raise the import tax on gold further to avoid smuggling and would instead introduce inflation-indexed instruments.
  • May 3 – The RBI restricts the import of gold on a consignment basis by banks.
  • June 3 – The Finance Minister says India cannot afford high levels of gold imports and may review its import policy.
  • June 5 – India hikes the gold import duty by a third, to 8%.
  • June 21 – Reliance Capital halts gold sales and investments in its gold-backed funds.
  • June 24 – India’s biggest jewellers’ association asks members to stop selling gold bars and coins, about 35% of their business.
  • July 10 – India’s jewellers announce they might continue a voluntary ban on sales of gold coins and bars for six months.
  • July 22 – The RBI moves to tighten gold imports again, making them dependent on export volumes, but offers relief to domestic sellers by lifting restrictions on credit deals.
  • July 31 – India hopes to contain gold imports well below the 845 tonnes that were shipped last year, the Finance Minister says.
  • Aug 13 – India hikes the import duty on gold for a third time in 2013, to 10%. Duties for silver and platinum are also increased to 10%. The customs duty on gold ore bars, ore, and concentrate are increased to 8% from 6%.
  • Aug 14 – India turns the screws on gold buying again, banning imports of coins and medallions and making domestic buyers pay cash.
  • Aug 29 –  India considers plan to allow commercial banks to buy gold direct from ordinary citizens
  • Sept 19 – India hikes import duty on gold jewerly to 15%

And so on.

So thank you for your fake concern Raghuram, but if you really wanted to help your people when the hammer hits, you would lift all capital controls on gold now, and allow your population to preserve their wealth in the only way they have known for the past two thousand years – by converting it into the barabrous relic. And since you won’t, enjoy reaping what you and your demented central-planning peers have sown.

“Fed Has Fingers & Thumbs On The Scales Of Finance,” Grant Tells Santelli And It “Will End Badly” | Zero Hedge

“Fed Has Fingers & Thumbs On The Scales Of Finance,” Grant Tells Santelli And It “Will End Badly” | Zero Hedge.

In a mere 140 seconds, Jim Grant explains to an almost stunned into silence Rich Santelli how we all “live in a valuation hall of mirrors” as the Fed manipulates everything. Thanks to it’s “fingers and thumbs on the scales of finance,” Grant continues, the Fed “insists on saving us from ‘everyday low prices'” – what they call deflation – and by doing so it manufactures “redundant credit” which “does mischief” in and out of markets. Grant, ominously concludes, “there is no suspense as to how [this will] end… [it will] end badly.”

Must watch… (especially for EM asset managers)…

CDC Prepares for Perfect Storm: “The Next Plane Could Bring a Pandemic…”

CDC Prepares for Perfect Storm: “The Next Plane Could Bring a Pandemic…”.

Mac Slavo
January 30th, 2014


It’s happening.

The avian flu virus, which up until last year infected poultry exclusively, has now mutated and crossed over to humans.

What’s even scarier is the fact that the Chinese have been unable to contain the novel H7N9 strain of the virus and health officials the world over are getting ready for the worst. It’s spreading and we now have confirmation that the virus has begun appearing in other countries.

On Thursday, billions of Chinese will be on the move to celebrate the Lunar New Year, creating ripe conditions for the spread of the influenza virus from those already infected. And many of those celebrations will include chickens, the primary carriers of H7N9. In addition, with the Winter Olympics, one of the world’s largest sporting events, just two weeks away, the virus could find the ideal conditions for breaking out.

And that means the next plane could bring a pandemic to the U.S. or anywhere else around the world. “The bottom line is the health security of the U.S. is only as strong as the health security of every country around the world,” says Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

“We are all connected by the food we eat, the water the drink and the air we breathe.”

But that’s not the worst of it. Last year the World Health Organization warned that H7N9 is one of the most lethal influenza strains ever identified.

Of the nearly 250 officially confirmed reports of human infection since last year, a quarter of those infected have died.

Those are the official numbers, but it is likely that the number of active infections could be a hundred-fold (or more) higher.

Moreover, like any flu virus, H7N9 continues to mutate and scientists recently suggested that all it would take for this particular strain to become a deadly global pandemic is an increase in its transmission rate.

It was initially thought that the virus only spread through human contact with poultry, but that theory was quickly turned on its head when a team of researchers at the University of Hong Kong confirmed that the virus had gone airborne.

If H7N9 mutates to transmission rates of other flu viruses, which is certainly a possibility, then we could well be looking at a mass global pandemic – and according to WHO the H7N9 is mutating eight (8) times faster than a typical flu virus.

To put this in perspective, the 1918 Spanish Flu infected as many as half a billion people (about a quarter of the world’s population). The mortality rate was somewhere in the area of 5% to 10%, with a final death toll of around 50 million people.

At a 25% mortality rate the H7N9 avlian flu, combined with modern transportation systems and metropolitan areas housing tens of millions of people, there is serious potential for a globally significant catastrophe.

Should this virus increase its transmission rate we could be looking at a scenario where a billion or more people contract the virus around the world.

The math is straight forward. One in four will perish.

While we’ve had pandemic scares in the recent past, this one really has researchers and global health officials spooked:

The fast mutation makes the virus’ evolutionary development very hard to predict. “We don’t know whether it will evolve into something harmless or dangerous,” He said. “Our samples are too limited. But the authorities should definitely be alarmed and get prepared for the worst-case scenario.”

As of yet, there is no available vaccine, and one novel mechanism of action for H7N9 is that as soon as it infects its host it develops rapid antiviral resistance, so traditional medicines like Tamiflu don’t work.

One infected student at a local school, or a restaurant worker, or a passenger on an airplane could take this to the next level.

And once it takes hold, there will be no stopping it.

Most don’t believe it is possible with our advanced sciences and research facilities.

History proves otherwise.

  • Plague of Justinian (541 – 542) – At it’s peak over 5,000 people per day died in the city of Constantinople
  • Black Death (1348 – 1350) – Over 75 Million Dead. Nearly 60% of Europe.
  • Smallpox (16th Century) – Wiped out entire civilizations like the Aztecs.
  • The Third Pandemic (1855 – circa 1990) – A Bubonic Plague that killed over 10 million in China and India
  • The Spanish Flu (1918 – 1919) – Over 50 million dead

The only steps one can take is to be ready in advance with a Pandemic Preparedness Plan, as recommended by Tess Pennington:

When an outbreak occurs, many will remain in a state of denial about any approaching epidemics. Simply put, most people believe themselves to be invincible to negative situations and do not like the idea change of any kind.

They will remain in this state until they realize they are unable to deny it to themselves any longer. Being prepared before the masses come out of their daze will ensure that you are better prepared before the hoards run to the store to stock up.

In addition to remaining isolated from the general population, you must have (in advance) access to food, water, medicine, and self defense armaments.

If such a virus were to spread, infecting millions and killing off 25% of those who contract it, you can be assured of widespread panic as the unprepared search and fight for resources.

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