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Tory anti-environment advocacy protects corporate, not public, interests | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com

Tory anti-environment advocacy protects corporate, not public, interests | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com. (source)

Tory anti-environment advocacy protects corporate, not public, interests

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg’s Telegraph screed supports Cameron’s contempt for green policies at our expense

Cuadrilla fracking site at Balcombe

Cuadrilla has doubled the height of its security fences and installed razor wire at its Balcombe site. Photograph: Wpa Pool/Getty Images

Yesterday Jacob Rees-Mogg, member of parliament for North East Somerset, wrote an article in the Telegraph claiming that the fundamental cause of the UK’s “high energy prices” is “climate changealarmism.” His piece coincided with Prime Minister David Cameron‘sannouncement that to tackle rocketing gas and electricity bills he would “roll back” green levies on energy bills and subject Britain’s “Big Six” energy giants to a “competition test.”

Even the Tory’s own lead environmentalist MP, Zac Goldsmith, was appalled. “In 2010, leaders fought to prove they were the greenest”, he said. “Three years on, they’re desperately blaming their own policies on the other. Muppets.”

But Rees-Mogg’s piece illustrates the insidious nature of the anti-environment economic ideology that has been so influential in the Tory party, and that has derailed the potential for meaningful environmental policy. Energy companies have announced prices rises against the background of government regulation and “green taxes”, he writes, because concern over climate change has led to unjustifiable opposition to coal and fracking:

“In the 2010s it is not the price of bread that is falsely and unnecessarily inflated by obstinate politicians but that of energy. There are cheap sources of energy either available or possible but there is a reluctance to use them. Coal is plentiful and provides the least expensive electricity per megawatt, while fracking may provide a boon of shale gas.”

He is wrong on both counts – laughably so. A number of recent scientific studies in major journals such as FuelEnergy, the International Journal of Coal Geology – to name just a few – have projected that a peak in world coal production is only a few years away, followed by production declines and spiraling prices.

As for fracking, its capacity to provide cheap shale gas has beenquestioned by leading independent experts who point to steep production declines at wells, along with overinflated industry reserve estimates that have led to a “bubble” that could burst in the next five years.

At the core of Rees-Mogg’s obfuscation on energy is an ideology that paints corporations as the key to prosperity for all:

“As the Government has made the price higher so the energy companies put a margin on top. High prices are almost expected.”

But this is also false. The fundamental cause of the high energy prices consistently dampening prospects for economic growth is the peak and plateauing of cheap conventional oil production since around 2005, which has ramped up oil prices and compelled a deepening dependence on increasingly expensive unconventional sources like tar sands, oil shale and shale gas. This is not particularly controversial – even Shell’s CEO has warned that shale gas will not reduce prices, and evidence submitted to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee by Bloomberg New Energy Finance shows that shale gas “will not be a panacea for bringing down gas and electricity bills” as costs will be “50% to 100% higher than in the US.”

Rees-Mogg then flirts unabashedly with climate denialism, arguing that the effect of carbon dioxide emissions on the climate “remains much debated”, and that climate models are inaccurate because it was “computer modelling” that led to the 2008 global banking collapse of 2008. Notwithstanding the obvious fact that climate models are completely different from the quantitative models that justified the reckless debt-expansion behind the global financial crisis, the former are only inaccurate in being too conservative – whereas the latter wererigged by financiers to maximise profits at taxpayer’s expense.

Rees-Mogg’s other case for inaction is that we are not responsible for climate change. Britain emits only “2 per cent” of the world’s CO2. What he ignores here is that the UK is still in the top ten of global emitters – and that if every country decided on inaction because it only contributes by itself a small percentage of emissions, then what we have is a recipe for abject failure.

Rees-Mogg would have us believe he is motivated by the plight of the poor, whom he says are “most particularly” punished as a “matter of choice not of necessity…. This can be stopped by ending the environmentalist obsession and delivering cheap energy.” But one might be forgiven for concluding that his real concern is corporate profiteering. The solution to high energy prices, he says, is “to free the market” – the same “free” market that led to the 2008 crash, the Eurozone crisis, and so on – “not to control prices which will simply reduce supply.”

This is hardly surprising. Rees-Mogg is a founding partner at Somerset Capital Management (SCM), a global asset management fund where hecurrently works as a macro specialist while also being an MP. Among its many investments, SCM specialises in emerging markets, including in the energy industry. Its largest holdings include oil majors such as the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) – which for instance is spearheading multibillion dollar deals to access the North American shale gas market – and Russia’s OJSC Rosneft Oil Company.

According to its interim report published in March this year, the fund pulled out of some energy projects on the basis of declining rates of profitability “due to the rising cost of production”, but viewed CNOOC’s recent ventures to exploit US fracking as “favourable.” In other markets such as India, China and Brazil, economic prospects were mixed as “both domestic consumption and exports put in lacklustre performances.” The overall assessment was uncertain, with the report noting that emerging market economies are “cooling”, and that “The market has periodic rallies but these show no real conviction.”

While Rees-Mogg’s firm profits from fracking abroad, Rees-Mogg himself uses his own parliamentary privilege to advocate fracking at home, while promoting a kind of free market extremism. In a speech last month during a Private Member’s Bill proposing amendments to the Deep Sea Mining (Temporary Provisions) Act 1981, Rees-Mogg reportedly urged for greater deregulation to permit British companies to explore the potential for off-shore and deep sea resources:

“That’s what this is really about: exploring these resources that could add to the wealth not only of the nation but of the globe at large; because as we’ve seen the emergence of the new economies – China, India, Brazil and of Russia – so we have seen demand for resources grow extraordinarily.”

“I would urge the Bill to have a more deregulatory ambition within it”, he added.

“It’s obviously wise to extend it purely for metals to include gas and to include liquids, because there may be all sorts of exciting things at the depths of the sea. There may be endless supplies of gas, there may be oils spurting out as if Saudi Arabia is on the seabed.”

Ironically, these are precisely the sorts of policies that could indirectly benefit corporate players like Somerset Capital Management, its holdings, and its clients in emerging markets and beyond. Indeed, SCM’s own indifference to environmental challenges is plainly stated on its website, where it declares:

“… we makes [sic] no claim to using environmental, social and governance concerns as tenets of ethics in the fashioning of investment returns.”

That might be all quite acceptable in its own context, but when this cavalier attitude becomes evident in public advocacy by our so-called political representatives, it’s time to start asking questions about the extent to which politics is being hijacked in the name of unaccountable corporate power.

Dr Nafeez Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It among other books. Follow him on Twitter @nafeezahmed

Tory anti-environment advocacy protects corporate, not public, interests | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com

Tory anti-environment advocacy protects corporate, not public, interests | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com. (source)

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg’s Telegraph screed supports Cameron’s contempt for green policies at our expense

Cuadrilla fracking site at Balcombe

Cuadrilla has doubled the height of its security fences and installed razor wire at its Balcombe site. Photograph: Wpa Pool/Getty Images

Yesterday Jacob Rees-Mogg, member of parliament for North East Somerset, wrote an article in the Telegraph claiming that the fundamental cause of the UK’s “high energy prices” is “climate changealarmism.” His piece coincided with Prime Minister David Cameron‘sannouncement that to tackle rocketing gas and electricity bills he would “roll back” green levies on energy bills and subject Britain’s “Big Six” energy giants to a “competition test.”

Even the Tory’s own lead environmentalist MP, Zac Goldsmith, was appalled. “In 2010, leaders fought to prove they were the greenest”, he said. “Three years on, they’re desperately blaming their own policies on the other. Muppets.”

But Rees-Mogg’s piece illustrates the insidious nature of the anti-environment economic ideology that has been so influential in the Tory party, and that has derailed the potential for meaningful environmental policy. Energy companies have announced prices rises against the background of government regulation and “green taxes”, he writes, because concern over climate change has led to unjustifiable opposition to coal and fracking:

“In the 2010s it is not the price of bread that is falsely and unnecessarily inflated by obstinate politicians but that of energy. There are cheap sources of energy either available or possible but there is a reluctance to use them. Coal is plentiful and provides the least expensive electricity per megawatt, while fracking may provide a boon of shale gas.”

He is wrong on both counts – laughably so. A number of recent scientific studies in major journals such as FuelEnergy, the International Journal of Coal Geology – to name just a few – have projected that a peak in world coal production is only a few years away, followed by production declines and spiraling prices.

As for fracking, its capacity to provide cheap shale gas has beenquestioned by leading independent experts who point to steep production declines at wells, along with overinflated industry reserve estimates that have led to a “bubble” that could burst in the next five years.

At the core of Rees-Mogg’s obfuscation on energy is an ideology that paints corporations as the key to prosperity for all:

“As the Government has made the price higher so the energy companies put a margin on top. High prices are almost expected.”

But this is also false. The fundamental cause of the high energy prices consistently dampening prospects for economic growth is the peak and plateauing of cheap conventional oil production since around 2005, which has ramped up oil prices and compelled a deepening dependence on increasingly expensive unconventional sources like tar sands, oil shale and shale gas. This is not particularly controversial – even Shell’s CEO has warned that shale gas will not reduce prices, and evidence submitted to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee by Bloomberg New Energy Finance shows that shale gas “will not be a panacea for bringing down gas and electricity bills” as costs will be “50% to 100% higher than in the US.”

Rees-Mogg then flirts unabashedly with climate denialism, arguing that the effect of carbon dioxide emissions on the climate “remains much debated”, and that climate models are inaccurate because it was “computer modelling” that led to the 2008 global banking collapse of 2008. Notwithstanding the obvious fact that climate models are completely different from the quantitative models that justified the reckless debt-expansion behind the global financial crisis, the former are only inaccurate in being too conservative – whereas the latter wererigged by financiers to maximise profits at taxpayer’s expense.

Rees-Mogg’s other case for inaction is that we are not responsible for climate change. Britain emits only “2 per cent” of the world’s CO2. What he ignores here is that the UK is still in the top ten of global emitters – and that if every country decided on inaction because it only contributes by itself a small percentage of emissions, then what we have is a recipe for abject failure.

Rees-Mogg would have us believe he is motivated by the plight of the poor, whom he says are “most particularly” punished as a “matter of choice not of necessity…. This can be stopped by ending the environmentalist obsession and delivering cheap energy.” But one might be forgiven for concluding that his real concern is corporate profiteering. The solution to high energy prices, he says, is “to free the market” – the same “free” market that led to the 2008 crash, the Eurozone crisis, and so on – “not to control prices which will simply reduce supply.”

This is hardly surprising. Rees-Mogg is a founding partner at Somerset Capital Management (SCM), a global asset management fund where hecurrently works as a macro specialist while also being an MP. Among its many investments, SCM specialises in emerging markets, including in the energy industry. Its largest holdings include oil majors such as the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) – which for instance is spearheading multibillion dollar deals to access the North American shale gas market – and Russia’s OJSC Rosneft Oil Company.

According to its interim report published in March this year, the fund pulled out of some energy projects on the basis of declining rates of profitability “due to the rising cost of production”, but viewed CNOOC’s recent ventures to exploit US fracking as “favourable.” In other markets such as India, China and Brazil, economic prospects were mixed as “both domestic consumption and exports put in lacklustre performances.” The overall assessment was uncertain, with the report noting that emerging market economies are “cooling”, and that “The market has periodic rallies but these show no real conviction.”

While Rees-Mogg’s firm profits from fracking abroad, Rees-Mogg himself uses his own parliamentary privilege to advocate fracking at home, while promoting a kind of free market extremism. In a speech last month during a Private Member’s Bill proposing amendments to the Deep Sea Mining (Temporary Provisions) Act 1981, Rees-Mogg reportedly urged for greater deregulation to permit British companies to explore the potential for off-shore and deep sea resources:

“That’s what this is really about: exploring these resources that could add to the wealth not only of the nation but of the globe at large; because as we’ve seen the emergence of the new economies – China, India, Brazil and of Russia – so we have seen demand for resources grow extraordinarily.”

“I would urge the Bill to have a more deregulatory ambition within it”, he added.

“It’s obviously wise to extend it purely for metals to include gas and to include liquids, because there may be all sorts of exciting things at the depths of the sea. There may be endless supplies of gas, there may be oils spurting out as if Saudi Arabia is on the seabed.”

Ironically, these are precisely the sorts of policies that could indirectly benefit corporate players like Somerset Capital Management, its holdings, and its clients in emerging markets and beyond. Indeed, SCM’s own indifference to environmental challenges is plainly stated on its website, where it declares:

“… we makes [sic] no claim to using environmental, social and governance concerns as tenets of ethics in the fashioning of investment returns.”

That might be all quite acceptable in its own context, but when this cavalier attitude becomes evident in public advocacy by our so-called political representatives, it’s time to start asking questions about the extent to which politics is being hijacked in the name of unaccountable corporate power.

Dr Nafeez Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It among other books. Follow him on Twitter @nafeezahmed

 

How the World Health Organisation covered up Iraq’s nuclear nightmare | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com

How the World Health Organisation covered up Iraq’s nuclear nightmare | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com. (source)

Ex-UN, WHO officials reveal political interference to suppress scientific evidence of postwar environmental health catastrophe

Spc Travis Hunter loads armor-piercing depleted uranium-tipped shells during the second Iraq war

Spc Travis Hunter loads armor-piercing depleted uranium-tipped 25mm shells during the second Iraq war Photograph: John Moore/AP

Last month, the World Health Organisation (WHO) published a long awaited document summarising the findings of an in-depth investigation into the prevalence of congenital birth defects (CBD) in Iraq, which many experts believe is linked to the use of depleted uranium (DU) munitions by Allied forces. According to the ‘summary report’:

“The rates for spontaneous abortion, stillbirths and congenital birth defects found in the study are consistent with or even lower than international estimates. The study provides no clear evidence to suggest an unusually high rate of congenital birth defects in Iraq.”

Jaffar Hussain, WHO’s Head of Mission in Iraq, said that the report is based on survey techniques that are “renowned worldwide” and that the study was peer reviewed “extensively” by international experts.

Backtrack

But the conclusions contrasted dramatically from previous statements about the research findings from Iraqi Ministry of Health (MOH) officials involved in the study. Earlier this year, BBC News spoke to MOH researchers who confirmed the joint report would furnish “damning evidence” that rates of birth defects are higher in areas experiencing heavy fighting in the 2003 war. In an early press release, WHO similarly acknowledged “existing MOH statistics showing high number of CBD cases” in the “high risk” areas selected for study.

The publication of this ‘summary document’ on the World Health Organisation’s website has raised questions from independent experts and former United Nations and WHO officials, who question the validity of its findings and its anonymous authorship. They highlight the existence of abundant research demonstrating not only significant rates of congenital birth defects in many areas of Iraq, but also a plausible link to the impact of depleted uranium.

For years, medical doctors in Iraq have reported “a high level of birth defects.” Other peer-reviewed studies have documented a dramatic increase in infant mortality, cancer and leukaemia in the aftermath of US military bombardment. In Fallujah, doctors are witnessing a “massive unprecedented number” of heart defects, and an increase in the number of nervous system defects. Analysis of pre-2003 data compared to now showed that “the rate of congenital heart defects was 95 per 1,000 births – 13 times the rate found in Europe.”

The purpose of the WHO study was to probe the data further, but some say the project is deeply flawed.

Politicised science

Dr. Keith Bavistock of the Department of Environmental Science, University of Eastern Finland, is a retired 13-year WHO expert on radiation and health. He told me that the new ‘summary document’ was at best “disappointing.” He condemned the decision from “the very outset to preclude the possibility of looking at the extent to which the increase of birth defects is linked to the use of depleted uranium”, and further slammed the document’s lack of scientific credibility.

“This document is not of scientific quality. It wouldn’t pass peer review in one of the worst journals. One of the biggest methodological problems, among many, is that the document does not even attempt to look at existing medical records in Iraqi hospitals – these are proper clinical records which document the diagnoses of the relevant cases being actually discovered by Iraqi doctors. These medics collecting clinical records are reporting higher birth defects than the study acknowledges. Instead, the document focuses on interviews with mothers as a basis for diagnosis, many of whom are traumatised in this environment, their memories unreliable, and are not qualified to make diagnosis.”

I asked Dr. Baverstock if, given the document’s avoidance of analysing the key evidence – clinical records compiled by Iraqi medics – there was reason to believe the research findings were compromised under political pressure. He said:

“The way this document has been produced is extremely suspicious. There are question marks about the role of the US and UK, who have a conflict of interest in this sort of study due to compensation issues that might arise from findings determining a link between higher birth defects and DU. I can say that the US and UK have been very reluctant to disclose the locations of DU deployment, which might throw further light on this correlation.”

If so, it would not be the first time the WHO had reportedly quashed research on DU potentially embarrassing for the Allies. In 2001, Baverstock was on the editorial board for a WHO research project clearing the US and UK of responsibility for environmental health hazards involved in DU deployment. His detailed editorial recommendations accounting for new research proving uranium’s nature as as a genotoxin (capable of changing DNA) were ignored and overruled:

“My editorial changes were suppressed, even though some of the research was from Department of Defense studies looking at subjects who had ingested DU from friendly fire, clearly proving that DU was genutoxic.”

Baverstock then co-authored his own scientific paper on the subject arguing for plausibility of the link between DU and high rates of birth defects in Iraq, but said that WHO blocked publication of the study“because they didn’t like its conclusions.”

“The extent to which scientific principles are being bent to fit politically convenient conclusions is alarming”, said Baverstock.

Environmental contamination from the Iraq War

Other independent experts have also weighed in criticising the WHO study. The British medical journal, The Lancet, reports that despite the study’s claims, a “scientific standard of peer review… may not have been fully achieved.”

One scientist named as a peer-reviewer for the project, Simon Cousens, professor of epidemiology and statistics at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), told The Lancet that he “attended a relatively brief meeting of around one and a half hours, so just gave some comments on an early presentation of the results. I wouldn’t classify that as thorough peer review.”

Just how distant the new WHO-sponsored study is from the last decade’s scientific literature is clear from a new report released earlier this year by a Tokyo-based NGO, Human Rights Now (HRN), which conducted a review of the existing literature as well as a fact-finding mission to Fallujah.

The HRN report investigated recorded birth defects at a major hospital in Fallujah for the year 2012, confirmed first hand birth defect incidences over a one-month period in 2013, and interviewed doctors and parents of children born with birth defects. The report concluded there was:

“… an extraordinary situation of congenital birth defects in both nature and quantity. The investigation demonstrated a significant rise of these health consequences in the period following the war… An overview of scientific literature relating to the effects of uranium and heavy metals associated with munitions used in the 2003 Iraq War and occupation, together with potential exposure pathways, strongly suggest that environmental contamination resulting from combat during the Iraq War may be playing a significant role in the observed rate of birth defects.”

The report criticised both the UN and the WHO for approaches that are “insufficient to meet the needs of the issues within their mandate.”

Definitive evidence

According to Hans von Sponeck, former UN assistant secretary general and UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, the gap between previous claims made by MOH researchers about the study, and the new ‘summary document’, justified public scepticism.

“The brevity of this report is unacceptable”, he told me:

“Everybody was expecting a proper, professional scientific paper, with properly scrutinised and checkable empirical data. Although I would be guarded about jumping to conclusions, WHO cannot be surprised if people ask questions about whether the body is giving into bilateral political pressures.”

Von Sponeck said that US political pressure on WHO had scuppered previous investigations into the impact of DU on Iraq:

“I served in Baghdad and was confronted with the reality of the environmental impact of DU. In 2001, I saw in Geneva how a WHO mission to conduct on-spot assessments in Basra and southern Iraq, where depleted uranium had led to devastating environmental health problems, was aborted under US political pressure.”

I asked him if such political pressure on the UN body could explain the unscientific nature of the latest report. “It would not be surprising if such US pressure has continued”, he said:

“There is definitive evidence of an alarming rise in birth defects, leukaemia, cancer and other carcinogenic diseases in Iraq after the war. Looking at the stark difference between previous descriptions of the WHO study’s findings and this new report, it seems that someone, somewhere clumsily decided that they would not release these damning findings, but instead obscure them.”

The International Coalition to Ban Depleted Uranium (ICBUW) has called for WHO to release the project’s data-set so that it can be subjected to independent, transparent analysis. The UN body continues to ignore these calls and defend the integrity of the research.

 

The crisis of civilisation is an unprecedented opportunity | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com

The crisis of civilisation is an unprecedented opportunity | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com.

 

Why the jury’s still out on the risk of Arctic methane catastrophe | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com

Why the jury’s still out on the risk of Arctic methane catastrophe | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com.

 

Peak oil lives, but will kill the economy | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | guardian.co.uk

Peak oil lives, but will kill the economy | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | guardian.co.uk.

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