Yemen Ceasefire Resolution Blocked at UN after Saudi and UAE ‘Blackmail’ Julian Borger / The Guardian
WASHINGTON (November 29, 2018) â€“ A United Nations resolution calling for a ceasefire and the resumption of humanitarian deliveries in Yemen has been stalled by the US and other Security Council members after a lobbying campaign by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to diplomats at the UN.
The resolution, drafted by Britain, called for a halt to the fighting for control of the port city of Hodeidah, the main entry point for supplies, and for guarantees from the warring sides that food and medicine could be delivered safely to a country at risk of a famine that could threaten the lives of 14 million Yemenis.
The Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, had strenuously opposed the resolution when the UK foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, visited Riyadh on 12 November. The UK pressed ahead, limiting the proposed ceasefire to Hodeidah and avoiding any direct criticism of the Saudi-led coalition in the text, which was circulated a week later.
British diplomats thought they had US support. The secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and the defence secretary, James Mattis, had issued a call for a ceasefire at the end of October.
But a UK push last week to have the resolution adopted quickly, ran into opposition led by the US mission. The US, China, Kazakhstan and Ethiopia all argued that the resolution should be delayed until the start of planned peace talks between the exile Yemeni government and Houthi rebels in Stockholm, which the UN special envoy, Martin Griffiths, hopes to broker at some point between 3 and 13 December.
“We look forward to offering more substantive comments to the draft once we have more information on the outcomes of the upcoming consultations,” the US mission told other council members in a message cited by Agence France-Presse.
A spokesman for the US mission said on Wednesday: “We remain engaged in the negotiations on the draft resolution. Our primary goal is a resolution to the conflict, and we support special envoy Griffiths’s efforts to achieve that goal.”
According to diplomatic sources, only Poland, the Netherlands and Peru actively supported quick passage of the resolution. France, Russia and Sweden were among the remaining council members who did not express an opinion. British diplomats had argued that the threat of famine was so catastrophic that there could be no delay, and were taken aback by the lack of support.
Diplomats familiar with the negotiations said Saudi Arabia and UAE intensively lobbied council members over the past week, threatening that the talks in Stockholm might not take place if the resolution passed.
“The Saudis blackmailed a number of missions saying it was possible the [Saudi-backed] government of Yemen won’t turn up in Stockholm if this goes through,” one diplomat said. “The reason [the Saudis and Emiratis] are so against this resolution is they just don’t want the Security Council to constrain their capacity for military action. They believe they can finish off the Houthis.”
A previous UK attempt to pass a ceasefire resolution on Yemen failed in similar circumstances in late 2016 after the outgoing secretary of state, John Kerry, persuaded his British counterpart, Boris Johnson, to drop the initiative on the grounds it would interfere with a peace initiative.
The state department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, said on Wednesday: “The thing that we are focused on — I don’t want to say the most right now, but one of our top things that we’re focusing on — is supporting the work that Martin Griffiths is doing right there. He has a process in place.”
The UK foreign office issued a statement saying: “Discussions on the resolution are ongoing and we will put it to a vote at the point that best delivers for the people of Yemen.”
On Monday, the heads of five major aid agencies warned that the US would share the blame for the worst famine in decades if it did not stop its military support for the Saudi-led coalition.
“If the government of Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, [the Houthi group] Ansar Allah, and other parties to the conflict fail to take these steps, and if the United States does not use all levers of pressure to compel them to do so, responsibility for the deaths of many more Yemeni civilians will lie not only with the parties to the conflict, but with the United States as well,” said the statement signed by leaders of the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam America, Care US, Save the Children USA and the Norwegian Refugee Council USA.
WASHINGTON (November 29, 2018) — At least five of the 37 Republican Senators who voted against advancing a resolution limiting the United States’s involvement in the war in Yemen have received campaign contributions from pro-Saudi lobbying groups.
Roy Blunt, John Boozman, Richard Burr, Mike Crapo and Tim Scott all received financial contributions from firms representing Saudi interests between 2016 and 2017, according to a recent investigation by the Centre for International Policy (CIP).
All five Republicans voted on Wednesday against advancing the resolution, which, if passed, would force the US to limit its support for the Saudi-UAE war in Yemen.
Blunt, one of the two Senators from Missouri, received at least $19,200 in campaign contributions from firms representing Saudi Arabia in 2017, the CIP said, with Boozman, Burr, Crapo and Scott, representing Arkansas, North Carolina, Idaho and South Carolina respectively, receiving contributions ranging from $1,000-$2,500 between 2016 and 2017.
Last year, the oil-rich kingdom spent at least $24 million to influence US policy and public opinion, according to disclosures to the Department of Justice made available through the Center for Responsive Politics’ Foreign Lobby Watch tool.
Around $18 million of that was paid to foreign agents acting on behalf of Saudi interests in 2017 and another $6m in spending has already been reported this year.
According to the CIP, it made Saudi Arabia one of the top 10 countries spending on influence and lobbying in the US.
But on Wednesday, the political donations appeared to have little effect when the US Senate opted to move forward with the resolution in a bipartisan 63-37 vote.
It’s Time to Send Saudi Arabia a Message
Delivering a massive blow to the Trump administration, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he flipped sides because of the way the government had handled the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“I changed my mind because I’m pissed,” Graham said following the vote.
“The way the administration has handled Saudi Arabia is not acceptable.”
Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post columnist, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to obtain documents certifying he had divorced his wife so he could remarry.
After weeks of repeated denials that it had anything to do with his disappearance, Riyadh eventually acknowledged that its officials were behind his murder.
In October, Graham had said he felt “completely betrayed” by the Saudis.
Senators on both sides of the political divide, many of whom have historically backed the US-Saudi relationship, have vented their anger over the killing and have pulled their support for the war in Yemen in an attempt to communicate their displeasure.
‘Despotic, Dishonest Dictatorship’
Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, who had also previously opposed the Yemen resolution, said it was “time to send Saudi Arabia a message both on its violation of human rights and the incredible humanitarian catastrophe it’s creating”.
Yemen has been torn apart by conflict since 2014, when Houthi rebels, allied with troops loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, captured large expanses of the country, including the capital Sanaa.
Saudi Arabia launched a massive aerial campaign against the rebels in March 2015, aimed at restoring the government of exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Since then, the US has been helping the Saudi-UAE military alliance with weaponry and logistical support. Until recently, it was also refuelling the alliance’s planes which were responsible for the more than 18,000 raids carried out on the war-ravaged country.
More than three-quarters of the population — some 22 million people — need humanitarian assistance, while 11 million require dire help in order to survive.
Senator Bernie Sanders, who co-sponsored the bill, said the time to end the US involvement in the war was now.
“We have already seen 85,000 children starved to death, the UN tells us that millions of people are facing starvation, 10,000 new cholera cases are developing each week because there is no clean drinking water in the country,” Sanders said following the briefing.
“All of that was caused by the Saudi-led invasion of Yemen three years ago, led by a despotic, dishonest dictatorship.”
Mounting Calls to End the War
The bipartisan bill intends to exploit a powerful but rarely activated provision in a 1973 law — the War Powers Act — that gives Congress the authority to overrule the president and withdraw troops if the former believes the conflict is not authorised.
Shireen Al-Adeimi, a Yemeni political analyst and assistant professor at Michigan State University, said while it was “shameful” Senators were receiving campaign donations from pro-Saudi groups, anti-war activists were hopeful the resolution had advanced and could help end the war.
“This was just the first hurdle,” she said.
“Now that we have permission to debate this issue, we expect a prolonged debate, over ten hours or more, which will be followed by a very long vote.
“Given all the setbacks this bill has faced in the past, we are hopeful that we can finally discuss it and vote upon it.”
The Trump administration, however, has threatened to veto the resolution if it passes.
Brett Bruen, a former director of Global Engagement in the White House under President Barack Obama, said it appeared Senators on both sides were not won over by the Trump administrations claims.
“It’s a major rebuke of the Trump administration and of Secretary Pompeo in particular, who this morning made his case about why the US support for the Saudi operations in Yemen were so critical,” he told Al Jazeera. “Clearly Senators were not convinced.
“What we’re seeing are several issue play out. The Trump administration for the first part of the term has been able to ride roughshod over congressional oversight.
“What we’re seeing now is both Democrats and Republicans saying: ‘We want to look at these issues. We want to look at the direction that you’re heading on whether it’s on Saudi Arabia, Iran or North Korea’.
Pressure has been mounting for the US to end its support for the conflict. According to a recent YouGov poll, 89 percent of liberals Americans and 54 percent of conservatives expressed an opinion opposing continued arms sales to the Saudi-UAE alliance fighting in Yemen.
Akbar Shahid Ahmed, a foreign affairs reporter with the Huffington Post, called Wednesday’s vote “unprecedented.”
“What this shows is that President Donald Trump hasn’t been able to keep his own party, and his allies like Senator Graham and Senator Corker in line,” he told Al Jazeera.
“The Saudis, lobbyists, the Secretary of Defense, none of them have been able to stop this anger which is brewing.
“Over the last three years we’ve seen the Senate get closer and closer [in pushing for a halt] to the sale of bombs, tanks etc to Saudi Arabia, but the Saudis have just continued in Yemen.
“They haven’t stopped. They keep saying: Iran, Iran, Iran. But that isn’t enough for Capitol Hill anymore.”
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
WASHINGTON DC (November 28, 2018) — The US Senate’s floor vote of 63 to 37 to invoke the War Powers Resolution to end the US role in the Saudi and United Arab Emirates war in Yemen is “historic” and will likely be followed by House passage of a companion resolution, Center for Economic and Policy Research Co-Director Mark Weisbrot said today.
“This is a historic vote reasserting Congress’s constitutional authority to decide when and where the US engages in wars,” Weisbrot said. “The Senate has never before exercised its powers under the 1973 War Powers Resolution.
“While the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, likely ordered and then covered-up by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, has angered many in Congress, this vote came close to passing earlier this year, before the assassination, and would have passed even if that had not happened.
“The Saudis’ war on Yemen, which has caused what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, and which has brought 14 million people to the brink of famine, is deeply unpopular.”
“Now that the Senate has passed this resolution, the House is likely to follow suit. The companion resolution introduced by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), H.Con.Res. 138, has 93 cosponsors, including all the Democratic leadership, Nancy Pelosi and the representatives who will chair the most important committees in the new Congress.”
Weisbrot has previously condemned the US military’s mid-air refueling, logistics, special operations, and targeting assistance to Saudi Arabia and the UAE to assist their operations in Yemen.
Comment to be clear, this was a vote for discharge, then comes cloture, then amendments (which could be awful), then passage,
and then there’s the House
and then there’s the veto
and then there’s the loophole in the bill
and then there’s noncompliance which is what people given immunity from impeachment do
But understanding all that, there’s a reason for the veto threat, there’s a reason Mattis and Pompeo were sent over to beg today, and the reason is the precedent of Congress voting to end a war, which is a VERY GOOD thing even with all its flaws
So, email and call senators and house members!
— David Swanson / World BEYOND War
UN Confirms US
Airstrike in Helmand Killed 23 Civilians 10 children are among the slain Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(November 30, 2018) — US helicopter attacks against the Helmand Province were reported to have killed dozens of civilians. NATO shrugged this report off, saying that the US hit a building that was “a fighting position.”
The UN confirmed on Friday that the US attack indeed killed 23 civilians, including eight women and 10 children. They also cited a local who said that the building in question was near some Taliban fighters, but this could not be confirmed.
This only adds to the number of civilians killed by the US in attacks against populated areas. In the Helmand Province, the Taliban controls much of the territory, though the US-backed still controls the provincial capital.
The US has greatly escalated the number of airstrikes against Taliban targets across the country, and it is unsurprising that the record number of strikes also means a precipitous rise in the number of civilians being killed.
Afghanistan War: US Strike in
Helmand Killed 23 Civilians, UN Says BBC World News
(November 30, 2018) — A US airstrike in Afghanistan on Tuesday killed as many as 23 civilians, with most victims women and children, the UN says.
The strike on a compound in Helmand province was called in during a joint operation between Afghan and US forces. Investigators said up to 10 children and eight women may have been killed. US forces say they are investigating.
Civilian casualties from aerial attacks have surged since the US announced a new Afghan strategy last year.
President Trump committed more troops to America’s longest war and significantly boosted the number of strikes targeting Taliban and Islamic State group positions in August 2017. The rules of engagement were also loosened, allowing more bombings.
The US-led NATO mission in Afghanistan said that Tuesday’s helicopter strike took place amid a firefight between US-advised Afghan special forces and Taliban fighters in Garmser district.
NATO said the Taliban had been using the building that was hit “as a fighting position”, and accused the militants of continuously using civilians as human shields.
A local resident who did not want to be named for fear of retaliation told the BBC that Taliban fighters were indeed near the building that was hit by the US strike. He said the youngest victim was about six years old, but this could not be verified.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan recorded 649 civilians casualties (dead and injured) as a result of aerial attacks in the first nine months of this year, the highest number in any year since systematic recording began in 2009.
In April, an attack by the Afghan Air Force — which is trained and equipped by the US — killed 30 children in northeastern Kunduz province at a graduation ceremony.
The US Air Force released nearly 6,000 weapons in the first 10 months of this year, compared to 4,361 in all of 2017 and 1,337 in all of 2016.
Most civilian casualties in Afghanistan are however still caused by anti-government groups like the Taliban and the Islamic State group (IS).
The Taliban are gaining ground across Afghanistan, as US officials pursue a peace deal that would bring an end to the 17-year war. The militants attended a landmark international meeting earlier this month in Moscow and a delegation from the group has also recently held meetings with US envoys in Qatar.
Related BBC News
Counting the cost of Trump’s air war in Afghanistan
Why Afghanistan is more dangerous than ever
Taliban ‘threaten 70% of Afghanistan’
Afghan Taliban attend landmark talks
US Airstrikes Kill Dozens in Eastern Syria US strikes targeted a hospital and a prison Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
The Global Extinction Rebellion Begins Dahr Jamail / Truthout
(November 15, 2018) — Dr. Gail Bradbrook, a mother of two boys, has seen enough of her government’s complicity in pumping increasing amounts of CO2 and methane into an already overburdened atmosphere.
A professor of molecular biophysics, her deep understanding of science has led her to confront the existential crisis facing humans. Acting on her love for her children and the disrupted world that is being left to them, she has channeled her horror about this crisis into action.
Dr. Bradbrook co-founded the group Rising Up!, which is now helping to organize the Extinction Rebellion, a movement composed of several thousand people across the UK that is using nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience to demand action on our climate emergency.
On October 31, more than 1,000 of them blocked Parliament Square in London, launching their mass civil disobedience campaign. They issued a “Declaration of Rebellion” against the UK Government for its inaction.
A “rebellion” might sound extreme, but given the times, it is not. This moment has been long in the making for Dr. Bradbrook. Truthout asked what compelled her to the point of fomenting a rebellion against her government. Was it the climate crisis, or government inaction?
“Something deeper,” Dr. Bradbrook replied. “A lifetime of a deeper knowing that something isn’t right . . . starting at age nine, a longing to be part of the change process and a ridiculous nerdy side that is always asking why? Why is [the state of the planet] like this?”
Bradbrook devoted herself to learning about economics and theories of change. She knew the system had to be changed before it killed us all, but for nearly a decade she repeatedly failed in her attempts to inspire or ignite a mass civil disobedience movement.
“So in 2016 I went on a deep retreat to address personal anxiety and to pray for guidance,” she explained. When she returned, Dr. Bradbrook galvanized the Extinction Rebellion.
Her online call to action is a critical overview of the extent the climate crisis and should be mandatory viewing for everyone. It has gone viral. The Extinction Rebellion is taking hold in the UK.
“The social model of power says that government and institutions don’t have power — we afford them power by our obedience to them, hence the social contract,” she told Truthout. “It’s time to break that. I believe our biggest responsibility right now is to step forward in acts of peaceful civil disobedience.”
“Based on the science,” reads the group’s website, “we have ten years at the most to reduce CO2 emissions to zero, or the human race and most other species are at high risk of extinction within decades.”
Her statement loosely references a recent UN report warning that humanity has only a dozen years to take dramatic actions in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (1.5C), or face catastrophic impacts.
In order to create a political crisis, Dr. Bradbrook believes mass civil disobedience must involve roughly three percent of her country’s population. She believes it’s possible to build such a coalition, because the kind of changes that Extinction Rebellion is advocating for would ultimately benefit everyone. The by-products of forcing governments around the world to take drastic actions to mitigate the climate crisis at hand are a more beautiful Earth, deeper connections and less frenetic lives.
“I think that the changes needed will also resolve many other issues we are facing,” Bradbrook explained. “That is why I call for those working in other fields to join this movement . . . there is a time for mass civil disobedience to change the system and I feel it has arrived.”
Lizia, who described herself to Truthout as a 20-year-old apprentice from Southeast London, said she joined Extinction Rebellion because she had always been moved by the suffering of our planetary citizens and the planet itself.
“What’s harder to swallow is when the suffering is needless and preventable,” she said. “Extinction Rebellion seems to me a culmination of everything I have fought for.”
Describing the sixth mass extinction as “unlike any other injustice I have protested against,” Lizia feels her government has been “apathetic and neglectful towards life” and believes they are actively supporting the slow annihilation that we are experiencing, “all in the name of greed and extremely short-sighted ‘benefits’ such as financial gain or political brownie points. I not only have a moral objection to their conduct, this is a fight for survival.”
During their action on October 31st in London, Extinction Rebellion sent out a press release, which read in part:
The disruption we have caused today is nothing to the destruction that is being unleashed by our leaders’ criminal inaction on climate and ecological breakdown. Just yesterday a WWF report announced that humanity has wiped out 60 percent of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970, yet Philip Hammond MP entirely neglected to mention climate breakdown in his budget. Our politicians have failed us. We must take our future into our own hands.
Today we pledge, in accordance with our consciences, and with a clear duty to our children; our communities; this nation and planet; a non-violent rebellion on behalf of life itself and against our criminally negligent government. The abject failure to protect citizens and the next generations from unimaginable suffering brought about by climate breakdown and social collapse is no longer tolerable.
We will not stand idly by and allow the ongoing destruction of all that we love. Our hearts break and we rage against this madness. We have both a right and duty to rebel in the face of this tyranny of idiocy, of this planned collective suicide. Join us.
George Monbiot, long-time climate change and environmental journalist for The Guardian spoke at the action, as did MP Caroline Lucas, Green Party MEP from South West England Molly Scott Cato, and 15-year-old activist Greta Thunberg, who is currently breaking Swedish law by refusing to go to school due to inaction on the climate.
More than a thousand people blocked the road in front of Parliament for the launching of the rebellion, and conscientious protectors of the Earth locked themselves onto each other in the middle of the road. Thousands of others supported the rebellion online and pledged future arrest and involvement in a series of actions planned for November.
Demands from the group include demanding the UK government tell the truth about the ecological emergency upon us, enact legally binding policies to reduce carbon emissions to net-zero by 2025, and create a national Citizens’ Assembly to oversee the changes needed as part of creating a functional democracy.
Extinction Rebellion describes the British government’s position towards our crisis as “criminal inaction.”
“Even the Most Optimistic Predictions Are Dire”
Dr. Bradbrook’s presentation outlines many of the basic facts of the climate crisis, and underscores how bleak our situation truly is.
After discussing the imperative to grieve what is happening, she outlines the over-conservative nature of much of the climate science most governments and mainstream media rely upon. She quotes Professor Hans Schellnhuber, who was the head of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the senior advisor to Pope Francis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the European Union: “Climate change is now reaching the end-game . . . the issue is the very survival of our civilization.”
Discussing non-linear temperature increases, Dr. Bradbrook spells out how Earth can easily tip into a “hothouse state” and remain there, considering the fact that there is already only a meager five percent chance of keeping global warming to 2Â°C. Yet even the goal of preventing the planet from warming more than 2Â°C is now acknowledged by most scientists as being an outdated politically influenced goal, with the real goal being more in the realm of limiting warming to 1.5Â°C, if not even 1Â°C, which we have already surpassed.
Of the sixth mass extinction event already well underway, Dr. Bradbrook outlines how one in four mammals, one in eight birds, one third of all the world’s amphibians and 70 percent of the world’s assessed plants are already an endangered species, and how a 2018 study of British mammals showed one in five could be extinct within a single decade.
“I don’t personally know how to deal with the grief from all of this, when I think about the specifics,” she says.
In her presentation, Dr. Bradbrook discusses a 2017 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that showed that there is a one in 20 chance that the 2.2 trillion tons of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere could cause an existential warming threat (meaning it could cause the extinction of humans) if Earth’s temperature warms to 5Â°C or greater, which it may very well do at current trajectories.
“It is equivalent to a one-in-20 chance the plane you are about to board will crash,” one of the authors of the study has said. “We would never get on that plane with a one-in-20 chance of it coming down but we are willing to send our children and grandchildren on that plane.”
This kind of warming would lead to loss of humans on a mass scale. Yet Dr. Bradbrook points out that governmental responses are nowhere near proportional to the amount of danger we face.
In fact, in some ways, they’re going backward. In the UK, the government has scrapped support for onshore wind, killed off the flagship green home scheme, sold off the green investment bank, watered down the incentive to buy a greener car, ditched the green tax target, and refused tidal power, among other regressive actions.
Meanwhile, London’s Heathrow Airport has approved a third runway that will increase the airport’s emissions by 7.3m tonnes — the carbon equivalent of more than the country of Cyprus. Fracking is tax subsidized, even though an increase in global methane emissions has been linked to fracking. Dr. Bradbrook’s presentation underscores how the UK is experiencing its worst period of environmental policy in 30 years.
“The scope of the crisis shows starkly just how massively our governments have failed us,” Lizia told Truthout of this aspect of the crisis.
“I have heard stories from generations above about retirement pensions, adequate healthcare, easy access to higher education, owning houses and vehicles . . . but in my own short lifetime I have witnessed spiraling desperation and consequent emotional detachment, apathy and abuse in the people around me from the failing of many vital services,” she said. “What on Earth will the result be to sit back and let those in charge handle an issue of this magnitude?”
And in the US, under the Trump administration, the situation is far worse.
Dr. Bradbrook’s presentation shows that the first IPCC report was in 1990, which was 28 years ago. The UN, even back then, warned us to keep global temperatures from reaching 1Â°C (above a late 19th century baseline temperature) or face societal collapse. Global temperatures are currently at 1.1Â°C, and will likely reach a 1.5Â°C increase within a decade from now. Carbon dioxide levels are now 60 percent higher than they were in 1990, and are still rising, as are methane levels.
“We have to conclude that conventional methods of dealing with climate change have failed,” Dr. Bradbrook says. “Governments have failed to implement the wide-scale changes that only they have the power to implement. And environmental organizations have failed to pressure governments enough to implement these changes.”
She then shares a quote from Dr. Kate Marvel of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who is studying human activities effect on the climate and what we can expect in the future.
“To be a climate scientist is to be an active participant in a slow-motion horror story,” Dr. Marvel has written. “We are inevitably sending our children to live on an unfamiliar planet . . . . As a climate scientist, I am often asked to talk about hope. Particularly in the current political climate, audiences want to be told that everything will be all right in the end. Climate change is bleak, the organizers always say. Tell us a happy story. Give us hope. The problem is, I don’t have any.”
Dr. Marvel adds something that is worth quoting in full:
Hope is a creature of privilege . . . .[T]he opposite of hope is not despair. It is grief. Even while resolving to limit the damage we can mourn. And here, the sheer scale of the problem provides a perverse comfort: we are in this together. The swiftness of the change, its scale, and inevitability binds us into one, broken hearts trapped together under a warming atmosphere. We need courage, not hope . . . Courage is the resolve to do well without the assurance of a happy ending.
Dr. Bradbrook is asking us to consider this ethical question: “What do you do when your government is actively promoting the gassing of the world and driving extinction events?”
Truthout asked Dr. Bradbrook what she is willing to risk with her actions for the Extinction Rebellion.
“Everything. I don’t mean to sound melodramatic, but my life, if necessary,” she replied. “My freedom. The risk of ridicule. Though I also pray for protection for myself and my children and those around us.”
While she is not actively seeking out danger, Dr. Bradbrook said she is willing to risk “everything” because “the stakes are so high,” and went on to quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.”
She notes how environmental activists in other parts of the world are being killed on a regular basis, and said this: “I come from a place of deep privilege, which is another reason to step out of its comforting deadly embrace and offer service.”
Lizia felt similarly, but added another angle.
“I believe that the fate of our futures lie with our youth,” she said. “We must find a way to adequately educate them not just academically, but also equip them with the true life skills required for survival, and allow them the space to grow wild and passionate.”
Dr. Bradbrook believes we are all locked into a damaging individualism, a constant and personal asking of “what about me” and “what do I need” and “how can I feel better.” She believes this is precisely what must change in order to raise our consciousness.
“I feel the time has come to be fully initiated into our service, to give up hope as a drug for our hidden worries that we are suppressing. To fully face the grief of these times and to act accordingly is what we are called upon now, which means being willing to take risks,” she said.
Dr. Bradbrook believes it is now our responsibility personally to honor the Earth by “making changes in our relationship to her.”
“Our personal responsibility is to fully face this crisis at an emotional level, to be willing to hit the depths of grief and despair, and then to act accordingly,” she explained. “To stop having our lives be about us, because they aren’t. We are here, I believe, to serve life, to make of ourselves worthy ancestors once we die.”
20-year-old Lizia underscored Dr. Bradbrook’s comment in a poignant way. She told Truthout about how, while playing sports at school, she was taught that winning didn’t matter, only that you participated and had fun.
Now, winning is a life-or-death matter: “‘Winning’ for me would be gaining some certainty that I will be able to grow old,” she said.
Dr. Bradbrook told Truthout that the actions of the rebellion must be disruptive, and they must be sacrificial. Recently, a major series of actions took place on November 12, and more are planned for November 17 at Parliament Square in London.
The Extinction Rebellion is being contacted daily by people around the world seeking to join, and is already in dialogue with groups from 15 countries, including the Climate Mobilization within the US.
When asked what she was willing to risk by joining the Extinction Rebellion, Lizia was blunt.
“My existence is at risk if I do nothing,” she said. “The lives of my siblings, my peers, everyone and everything I love are at risk if I do nothing. My friends are willingly being arrested, others are leaving education and ‘ruining their future prospects’ because â€“ what future?”
Dahr Jamail, a Truthout staff reporter, is the author of The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan (Haymarket Books, 2009), and Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq (Haymarket Books, 2007). Jamail reported from Iraq for more than a year, as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last 10 years, and has won the Martha Gellhorn Award for Investigative Journalism, among other awards. His third book, The Mass Destruction of Iraq: Why It Is Happening, and Who Is Responsible, co-written with William Rivers Pitt, is available now on Amazon. Dahr Jamail is also the author of the book, The End of Ice, forthcoming from The New Press. He lives and works in Washington State.
Copyright Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
The Underreported Dangers of Tear Gas Why tear gas, lobbed at migrants on the
southern border, is banned in warfare Alex Horton / The Washington Post
(November 27, 2018) — Military recruits enter the chamber one by one and don protective masks. Tear gas swirls. Then, the order: Take off your mask and breathe. Eyes well and throats tighten, and men and women training for war uncontrollably gag.
Nearly every uniform is coated in snot. Some recruits vomit.
The exercise demonstrates to troops that their equipment works. It also shows, in a visceral way, what happens if an enemy targets US forces with an agent such as tear gas, commonly known as CS gas — an aerosol compound considered a chemical weapon that has been outlawed on the battlefield by nearly every nation on Earth, including the United States.
But as a riot-control agent, 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile is legal to use by both police and federal authorities in the United States and many other countries.
On Sunday, US Customs and Border Protection agents fired the chemical agent at mostly Honduran migrants attempting to cross into the United States from Tijuana, Mexico — an unusual escalation of lobbing weapons over an international border at unarmed civilians seeking refuge, drawing condemnation from Democrats.
“I felt that my face was burning, and my baby fainted. I ran for my life and that of my children,” Cindy Milla, a Honduran migrant with two children, told the Wall Street Journal.
President Trump defended the use of tear gas on Monday, telling reporters it was deployed in response to “tremendous violence” during the confrontation with authorities.
“Three Border Patrol people yesterday were very badly hurt through getting hit with rocks and stones,” Trump said.
But that contradicts a Monday statement from CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, who said four of his agents were struck by rocks “but were wearing protective gear and did not suffer serious injuries.”
Trump also questioned why a parent would run into an area filling with tear gas, saying without evidence that some adults grabbed unrelated children “because they think they will have a certain status by having a child.”
Soon after, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement that “the accepted use of nonlethal force (also used by the Obama Administration in 2013) prevented further injury to agents and a mass illegal rush across the border.” The statement never mentioned tear gas.
Chemical weapons such as CS gas are indiscriminate and “uniquely terrorizing in their application,” which necessitated their ban in combat in 1993, said Kelsey Davenport, director of nonproliferation policy at the Washington-based Arms Control Association.
Once launched in a volley or thrown into an area, chemical weapons cannot be controlled and can drift toward people who are not targets, Davenport told The Washington Post on Monday.
In battle, that would include civilians and wounded troops, and even friendly soldiers if the winds shift. US battle planners in World War I accounted for American casualties from US forces’ own asphyxiating gas attacks.
On the border Sunday, officials described aggressive men rushing the fence, necessitating a response that included tear gas.
But women and children, some in diapers, also came into contact with tear gas, raising questions about whether the use of gas was an appropriate response.
Research has noted that an infant exposed to CS gas develops severe pneumonitis and requires a month of hospitalization. But the effects of tear gas on younger bodies is not well documented, said Anthony H. Cordesman, a biological and chemical weapons expert at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“We don’t have the ability to easily predict effects unless there is more history of use against children,” Cordesman told The Post. “It looks like we’re setting the precedent.”
CBP officials said 42 people, mostly men, were apprehended on the US side of the border.
A CBP spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on agency policies for when it is appropriate to use CS gas, whether there concerns about firing over the border, or how many rounds were fired. No serious injuries of migrants were reported.
The effects of tear gas generally subside an hour or so after contact, making it one of the least dangerous chemical weapons that have been used in the last century. Weapons such as mustard gas and nerve agents have been used in combat with devastating results, and the Syrian government has used chlorine gas to terrorize civilians and separatists there.
Photos of children and mothers fleeing from tear gas could sour public opinion on the border operation itself, Cordesman noted.
“You don’t want to escalate force to a level that discredits your operation,” he said.
The photos outraged Democrats critical of Trump’s response to the migrant caravan. Gavin Newsom, the Democratic governor-elect of California, argued that images of kids sprinting from tear gas run counter to American ideals.
“These children are barefoot. In diapers. Choking on tear gas,” he tweeted. “Women and children who left their lives behind — seeking peace and asylum — were met with violence and fear. That’s not my America. We’re a land of refuge. Of hope. Of freedom. And we will not stand for this.”
Tear gas was used during protests in Ferguson, Mo., after the 2014 police shooting death of Michael Brown, drawing similar rebukes from rights groups and citizens who said the police response was disproportionate.
Middle Eastern and African countries typically use CS gas more potent than what US authorities wield — with devastating results.
In 2013, Egyptian police fired tear gas into the back of a vehicle carrying supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi to prison, asphyxiating and killing 37 people. An attorney for the men posted photos of one corpse on Twitter with a face so darkened that families believed at first that the victims burned to death.
Other people have been killed by inhaling CS gas or by the projectiles themselves.
The first of subsequent chemical weapons bans occurred after World War I, Davenport said, after the international community was shocked by twisted corpses in the trenches and horrific wounds of troops who survived with blistered skin and scarred lungs.
In the modern era, the use of chemical weapons by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in war and against Iraqi civilians was a factor to push for a total ban of chemical agents, Davenport said.
The 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention banned not only the use of chemical weapons in war but also the production and stockpiling of weapons for 193 signatories, she said. Israel has signed but not ratified the convention. North Korea, Egypt and South Sudan have not taken action.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
America’s Post-9/11 Wars Have Cost $5.9 Trillion Not to mention 240,000 civilian deaths
and 21 million displaced. And yet a
congressional commission is urging
yet more money for a bloated Pentagon William Hartung / American Committee for East-West Accord
WASHINGTON (November 28, 2018) — Just in time for next year’s Pentagon spending debate, a new report is calling for a huge increase in the Defense Department’s budget, which is already at one of the highest levels since World War II. The document was produced by the National Defense Strategy Commission, a congressionally mandated group charged with assessing the Trump administration’s new national-defense strategy.
The premise of the new report is that America faces a “national security emergency” that leaves its ability to defend “its allies, its partners, and its own vital interests” increasingly in doubt.
As its solution, the commission calls for an increase in Pentagon spending of 3 to 5 percent above inflation for at least the next five years. According to calculations by Taxpayers for Common Sense, the high end of this range would mean an annual Pentagon budget of an astonishing $972 billion by 2024 — a potential boon for Lockheed Martin and its fellow weapons-makers, but a disaster for US taxpayers.
It is unlikely that Congress will sign off on such a hefty increase, but the fact that it has been put forward at all will provide more rhetorical ammunition for the hawks on Capitol Hill, making it all the harder to rein in runaway Pentagon spending.
It’s not as if the Defense Department is starved for funds. The United States spends more on its military than the next seven countries in the world combined (five of which are US allies). The increase in Pentagon spending in the past two years alone is greater than the entire military budget of Russia. And that’s before the massive increases proposed by the strategy commission.
Perhaps this proposal shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the source. The commission was co-chaired by Eric Edelman, an Iraq War supporter and former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, and Gary Roughead, the former chief of US naval operations and a current board member of Northrop Grumman, the fourth-largest weapons contractor in the United States.
The members of the National Defense Strategy Commission followed a time-tested playbook. They start by enumerating a long list of potential threats, exaggerating them in scale and importance; then they assert that the best way to address these challenges is to double down on the military-first approach that has characterized US foreign policy throughout this century.
Yet this argument ignores the fact that the greatest threats we face cannot be solved with military force, and that attempting to do so will have disastrous consequences, as America’s nonstop wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, and Somalia have demonstrated. The commission report gives lip service to diplomacy, but only as an adjunct to military power, not as a value in its own right.
We should be spending less time figuring out how to fight wars with Russia, China, Iran, or any other nation, and more on how to forge partnerships to address the biggest challenges to continued life on this planet: climate change and nuclear weapons.
But the new report is silent on the first problem, while on the second, it has not one discouraging word for the Pentagon’s dangerous, counterproductive plan to spend $1.2 trillion on a new generation of nuclear weapons over the next three decades.
Thankfully, there was another study released last week that takes a more critical view of America’s policy of endless war and runaway military spending. Issued by the Costs of War Project at Brown University, it estimates the full price of the United States’ post-9/11 wars at $5.9 trillion — a stunning figure when you consider that the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and beyond have caused far more harm than good.
The study takes a comprehensive look at the War on Terror, from the direct costs of overseas military operations to current and future spending on the veterans of those conflicts, to the budget of the Department of Homeland Security, to the interest on the debt resulting from the fact that these wars have been financed through deficit spending.
A companion report by the Costs of War Project tallies the immense human costs of the post-9/11 wars: over 240,000 civilian deaths, more than 21 million people displaced, widespread environmental devastation, and over 300,000 veterans suffering from traumatic brain injuries, to cite just a few examples. In the face of this catastrophe, the idea that a more militarized US policy is the answer to the world’s security challenges is absurd.
When the new Congress convenes in January, let’s hope it takes a fresh look at the consequences of our current policy of endless war and continuous preparation for war — and puts the report of the National Defense Strategy Commission back on the shelf, where it belongs.
William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex (Nation Books).
Comment ALL military spending across all departments (over $1 trillion per year) is for wars. These endless proclamations that only a fraction of it is for wars are highly misleading.
— David Swanson
Carl Conetta documented in about 2011 that the increases in the military budget over the previous 10 years, which were all justified politically as part of the war of terror, included $1.3 trillion for current wars, but $1.8 trillion in extra procurement spending. Also that most of that went to the Navy and Air Force to buy new warships and warplanes, not to the ground forces actually fighting lightly armed resistance forces and killing civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq. [M]ost of it was war spending for future wars that they never talked about — now they tell us they will be against Russia and China.
— Nicolas Davies
Victory for Tanzania’s Maasai Anuradha Mittal / The Oakland Institute
(November 21, 2018) — “If we can break the ground to lower a body, why can’t we break it for cultivation?â€
This question from a Maasai elder haunts me.
For years, the Maasai of Loliondo, Tanzania have lived under intimidation, harassment, and violence — simply for standing up for their land rights. Their homes have been burned. They are beaten and arrested. They suffer from hunger and starvation — all for the benefit of foreign safari companies.
Today, these communities celebrate a major victory!
In September — just a few short months after the Oakland Institute shattered the silence on this horrific situation, creating a groundswell of international attention and support for the Maasai — the East African Court of Justice made a game-changing decision. Its ruling forbids the Tanzanian government from evicting, threatening, beating, and confiscating cattle from the Maasai.
This is a huge victory. But it hasn’t come without risk.
When we started our work with the Maasai villagers, we were told that the field research would be too dangerous, that the safari companies might sue us, and that we would unleash the wrath of the Tanzanian government. But what mattered the most to us was: Could our research and advocacy help bring them justice?
In the face of mounting threats and pressure, the Maasai villagers refused to back down and neither did we. Instead, we brought their voices and struggles to hundreds of news outlets on six continents reaching audiences in the millions. We engaged the offices of several UN officials in their struggle. And we made sure the villagers had the support they needed to secure the court injunction.
This is the way of the Oakland Institute — relentless, fierce, and steadfast in our research and advocacy to ensure land rights for communities around the world.
In recent weeks the Tanzanian government has renewed its campaign of violence and intimidation against the Maasai, in violation of the Court’s ruling. This makes our work to support the Maasai villagers and bring international attention and solidarity to their struggle more important than ever.
And we continue to receive a flood of new appeals from communities asking us to support their struggles for their land, lives, and culture. From Latin America to Africa, the Middle East to Asia-Pacific, communities come to us because we refuse to give up.
“The indigenous communities in [Redacted] are now living in fear of losing their land and have lost hope of getting justice in [Redacted] as the Government has demonstrated that it can’t respect court rulings. The communities are now appealing to The Oakland Institute to come to their aid in helping them seek justice to respect the land rights of the Indigenous Communities in [Redacted].”
— An unsolicited request for support that we received in September 2018. Names and locations redacted for their protection.
But to respond to these appeals, to work with new community partners, and to provide the level of support, research, and campaigning that we have become known for worldwide, we need your help.
Thank you for making our work possible.
Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director, the Oakland Institute
Excerpt: Losing the Serengeti
Losing the Serengeti: The Maasai Land that was to Run Forever is based on field research, never publicly-seen-before documents, and an in-depth investigation into Tanzania’s land laws. This report is the first to reveal the complicity between Tanzanian government officials and foreign companies as they use conservation laws to dispossess the Maasai, driving them into smaller and smaller areas and creating a stifling map of confinement.
The report specifically exposes the devastating impact of two foreign companies on the lives and livelihoods of the Maasai villagers in the Loliondo area of the Ngorongoro District — Tanzania Conservation Ltd (TCL), a safari business operated by the owners of Boston-based high-end safari outfitter Thomson Safaris; and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based Ortello Business Corporation (OBC), which runs hunting excursions for the country’s royal family and their guests.
According to local villagers, TCL has made their lives impossible by denying them access to water and land and cooperating with local police who have beaten and arrested the Maasai.
Meanwhile, for 25 years, the OBC had an exclusive hunting license, during which time there were several violent evictions of the Maasai, many homes were burnt, and thousands of rare animals were killed. Although Tanzania’s Ministry of Natural Resources cancelled OBC’s license last year, the OBC remains active in the area, while the local villagers live in fear.
LOSING THE SERENGETI
The Maasai Land that Was to Run Forever Anuradha Mittal and Elizabeth Fraser / The Oakland Institute
In East Africa, the Great Rift Valley stretches lush and green for thousands of miles, threaded with streams, speckled with lakes, and home to some of the most diverse and abundant wildlife on the continent.
For centuries, it has also been home to the Maasai, semi-nomadic pastoralists who graze their cattle in the rhythm of the seasons, following the flush of grass, blending with the patterns established by the wild populations. The Maasai were once as rich as the land that supported them. Maintaining its health had everything to do with their own prosperity. Such an intimate connection made them de facto stewards of the land, conservationists without title or designation.
As with agriculturists the world over, the Maasai have weathered disease and drought, but the most serious threats of the past 75 years have come in the form of conservation laws, and more recently, foreign investment. As areas have been deemed “protected” or transferred to new owners, the Maasai have been driven into smaller and smaller areas, creating a map of confinement that is as stifling and foreign to them as a zoo to a lion.
Starting in the mid-20th century, a series of land and wildlife laws aimed at conservation in Northern Tanzania pushed the Maasai off large tracts of their traditional land, including present-day Serengeti National Park.
Initially, the Maasai were offered concessions — for instance, to relocate to the neighboring region of Loliondo and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. But for the past half-century, they have continued to face numerous evictions even from these regions, while additional laws have curtailed their rights to graze cattle and cultivate subsistence gardens, leading to widespread hunger.
When the rules of government are superimposed over the rules of nature, nature does not yield, but those who rely upon it — the indigenous — are forced to adapt, which usually means surrendering a way of life.
More recently, with ecotourism becoming the fastest growing sector within the tourism industry, East Africa’s Rift Valley has become a tourist destination, and to some, the Maasai are interruptions to the pristine view and wildlife experience advertised by the industry.
Two tourism-based companies in Loliondo have had a particularly negative impact on the Maasai — Tanzania Conservation Limited (TCL), a company owned by the couple that owns Boston-based Thomson Safaris, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based Ortello Business Corporation (OBC).
In 2006, TCL purchased a 96-year lease to 12,617 acres of land in Northern Tanzania from Tanzania Breweries Ltd (TBL). Three surrounding Maasai villages contest the sale of this land arguing that the land was sold to TBL in 1984 without their consent. TBL then abandoned the land in 1990. The Maasai villages assert that they are, therefore, the owners of the land through adverse possession.
Since TCL began occupying the land, the local communities have been denied access to vital grazing areas and watering holes, and face intimidation and violence from police, who are sometimes called in by the safari company, which has since established its business on the land. For more information about these allegations, please refer to the endnotes 4, 32, and 41.
Operations of the Ortello Business Corporation have also impacted the Maasai. In 1992, the OBC was granted a hunting license for 400,000 ha — home to more than 50,000 Maasai. Community resistance over more than 20 years led the government to reduce the area to 150,000 ha.
The license allowed the UAE’s royal family to conduct private hunting trips and the company even built an airstrip for exclusive use. The OBC also restricted access to lands and water used by the Maasai. In addition, Tanzanian government forces, in collaboration with OBC security guards, have violently evicted several Maasai communities — burning their bomas, their belongings, and displacing their livestock.
After decades of complaints against the company, Hamisi Kigwangalla, the newly appointed Natural Resources Minister, terminated OBC’s 25-year-old hunting concession in November 2017, suspended the Director of Wildlife, and ordered investigations into the dealings of the OBC as well as former Tanzanian tourism ministers.
These actions — in tandem with ongoing conservation pressures, laws passed by the Tanzanian government, and some government officials who favor investors over the Maasai — haven’t just pitted indigenous land rights against tourism and conservation. They actively disregard the Maasai way of life, and have led to intimidation, loss of livelihoods, starvation, and violent evictions.
This report exposes the hardships faced by the Maasai in the Loliondo region of Tanzania. It weaves together the travails of the communities most impacted by recent events with a history of land laws, unpacks various legal challenges, and exposes how these forces are leading to starvation, outbreaks of disease, and the destruction of a way of life.
The report also explores various ways forward, including immediate actions that must be taken, such as the restoration of the rights to graze and practice subsistence agriculture in Game Controlled Areas and the need for clear security of land tenure for the Maasai; various legal and policy remedies via the right to food and international case law; the role of non-state actors, including an exploration of the UN’s Guiding Principles for businesses on human rights; and local grassroots innovations such as Certificates of Customary Right of Occupancy (CCROs).
While this report focuses on the plight of the Maasai in Northern Tanzania, it is a reality that is all too familiar to indigenous communities around the world. In too many places, national governments, private corporations, and large conservation groups collude in the name of conservation, not just to force indigenous groups off their land — but to force them out of existence.
This colonization of indigenous land in the name of conservation must end.
In August 2017, fire and destruction ripped through several Maasai communities in Tanzania’s Loliondo region. Early reports suggested that 185 bomas had been demolished, displacing thousands of villagers, destroying their food, and leading to the loss of livestock along the way.
By early September, the extent of the damage had grown, with reports that 19 people had been arrested, 11 seriously injured, over 5,800 homes damaged, more than 20,000 left homeless, and significant losses of livestock.
According to the Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, the violent evictions began on August 10, 2017 and were set to last for two weeks. The Ministry’s press release notes that bomas were being burned under government orders, in order to preserve the ecosystems in the region and attract more tourists.
Claiming that false information was being spread about the nature of the exercise with the intention of generating hate against the government for its actions, the Ministry’s statement warned persons found to be misleading others.
A year before, in July 2016, similar intimidation was waged against the Maasai in Loliondo, when eight individuals — including villagers, civil society organization (CSO) members, and secondary school teachers — were arrested.
When a local lawyer and member of the Tanganyika Law Society, Advocate Shilinde Ngalula, attempted to follow up on these arrests, he was arrested as well. Though later released, he was not allowed to meet his clients who were still in detention.
When he arrived at the District Court as the counsel for the arrested, Ngalula was re-arrested in the court precincts — this time in his full court attire.15 According to the Tanganyika Law Society, the July 2016 arrests were allegedly linked to the long-standing land conflict between the Maasai pastoralist communities and foreign investors from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and United States.
It was through media and advocacy efforts of the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition, and the Tanganyika Law Society, that the accused were released on bail. However the arrests significantly worsened the climate of fear among the Maasai villagers.
In November 2017, OBC’s hunting license was cancelled and an investigation was launched by the Tanzanian government’s anti-corruption bureau. Local communities, however, remain cautious as they push for the land in dispute — 150,000 ha — to be gazetted as a Wildlife Management Area (WMA) as opposed to a Game Controlled Area, in effect a No-Go-Zone for the communities.
If declared a WMA, the process of creating the new land-use management plan will take at least two years, requiring meaningful consultation and the involvement of local communities.
Furthermore, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) is undergoing a new General Management Plan (GMP) after the expiry of the previous one. However, the Ngorongoro Pastoralist Council (NPC) — the organization that represents NCA residents — and the community members, have not yet been consulted.
Given the ongoing repression and widespread fear, the names of those interviewed for this report and any information that might endanger the informants and all who supported the research, has been redacted to ensure their safety and to protect them from retaliatory measures.
The Oakland Institute is very grateful to all who were willing to speak to us and who continue to courageously stand up to challenge the widespread oppression and theft of the Maasai lands and resources.
This report is dedicated to them and their daily struggles.
Copyright 2018 by The Oakland Institute
For more information:
The Oakland Institute
PO Box 18978
Oakland, CA 94619 USA
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Brooke Jarvis / The New York Times Magazine – 2018-11-28 19:46:46
The Insect Apocalypse Is Here What does it mean for the rest of life on Earth? Brooke Jarvis / The New York Times Magazine
(November 27, 2018) — Sune Boye Riis was on a bike ride with his youngest son, enjoying the sun slanting over the fields and woodlands near their home north of Copenhagen, when it suddenly occurred to him that something about the experience was amiss. Specifically, something was missing.
It was summer. He was out in the country, moving fast. But strangely, he wasn’t eating any bugs.
For a moment, Riis was transported to his childhood on the Danish island of Lolland, in the Baltic Sea. Back then, summer bike rides meant closing his mouth to cruise through thick clouds of insects, but inevitably he swallowed some anyway. When his parents took him driving, he remembered, the car’s windshield was frequently so smeared with insect carcasses that you almost couldn’t see through it.
But all that seemed distant now. He couldn’t recall the last time he needed to wash bugs from his windshield; he even wondered, vaguely, whether car manufacturers had invented some fancy new coating to keep off insects. But this absence, he now realized with some alarm, seemed to be all around him. Where had all those insects gone? And when? And why hadn’t he noticed?
Riis watched his son, flying through the beautiful day, not eating bugs, and was struck by the melancholy thought that his son’s childhood would lack this particular bug-eating experience of his own. It was, he granted, an odd thing to feel nostalgic about. But he couldn’t shake a feeling of loss.
“I guess it’s pretty human to think that everything was better when you were a kid,” he said. “Maybe I didn’t like it when I was on my bike and I ate all the bugs, but looking back on it, I think it’s something everybody should experience.”
I met Riis, a lanky high school science and math teacher, on a hot day in June. He was anxious about not having yet written his address for the school’s graduation ceremony that evening, but first, he had a job to do. From his garage, he retrieved a large insect net, drove to a nearby intersection and stopped to strap the net to the car’s roof.
Made of white mesh, the net ran the length of his car and was held up by a tent pole at the front, tapering to a small, removable bag in back. Drivers whizzing past twisted their heads to stare. Riis eyed his parking spot nervously as he adjusted the straps of the contraption. “This is not 100 percent legal,” he said, “but I guess, for the sake of science.”
Riis had not been able to stop thinking about the missing bugs. The more he learned, the more his nostalgia gave way to worry. Insects are the vital pollinators and recyclers of ecosystems and the base of food webs everywhere. Riis was not alone in noticing their decline.
In the United States, scientists recently found the population of monarch butterflies fell by 90 percent in the last 20 years, a loss of 900 million individuals; the rusty-patched bumblebee, which once lived in 28 states, dropped by 87 percent over the same period. With other, less-studied insect species, one butterfly researcher told me, “all we can do is wave our arms and say, ‘It’s not here anymore!’â€‰”
Still, the most disquieting thing wasn’t the disappearance of certain species of insects; it was the deeper worry, shared by Riis and many others, that a whole insect world might be quietly going missing, a loss of abundance that could alter the planet in unknowable ways. “We notice the losses,” says David Wagner, an entomologist at the University of Connecticut. “It’s the diminishment that we don’t see.”
Because insects are legion, inconspicuous and hard to meaningfully track, the fear that there might be far fewer than before was more felt than documented. People noticed it by canals or in backyards or under streetlights at night — familiar places that had become unfamiliarly empty.
The feeling was so common that entomologists developed a shorthand for it, named for the way many people first began to notice that they weren’t seeing as many bugs. They called it the windshield phenomenon.
To test what had been primarily a loose suspicion of wrongness, Riis and 200 other Danes were spending the month of June roaming their country’s back roads in their outfitted cars. They were part of a study conducted by the Natural History Museum of Denmark, a joint effort of the University of Copenhagen, Aarhus University and North Carolina State University.
The nets would stand in for windshields as Riis and the other volunteers drove through various habitats — urban areas, forests, agricultural tracts, uncultivated open land and wetlands — hoping to quantify the disorienting sense that, as one of the study’s designers put it, “something from the past is missing from the present.”
When the investigators began planning the study in 2016, they weren’t sure if anyone would sign up. But by the time the nets were ready, a paper by an obscure German entomological society had brought the problem of insect decline into sharp focus.
The German study found that, measured simply by weight, the overall abundance of flying insects in German nature reserves had decreased by 75 percent over just 27 years. If you looked at midsummer population peaks, the drop was 82 percent.
Riis learned about the study from a group of his students in one of their class projects. They must have made some kind of mistake in their citation, he thought. But they hadn’t. The study would quickly become, according to the website Altmetric, the sixth-most-discussed scientific paper of 2017. Headlines around the world warned of an “insect Armageddon.”
Within days of announcing the insect-collection project, the Natural History Museum of Denmark was turning away eager volunteers by the dozens. It seemed there were people like Riis everywhere, people who had noticed a change but didn’t know what to make of it. How could something as fundamental as the bugs in the sky just disappear? And what would become of the world without them?
Anyone who has returned to a childhood haunt to find that everything somehow got smaller knows that humans are not great at remembering the past accurately. This is especially true when it comes to changes to the natural world. It is impossible to maintain a fixed perspective, as Heraclitus observed 2,500 years ago: It is not the same river, but we are also not the same people.
A 1995 study, by Peter H. Kahn and Batya Friedman, of the way some children in Houston experienced pollution summed up our blindness this way: “With each generation, the amount of environmental degradation increases, but each generation takes that amount as the norm.”
In decades of photos of fishermen holding up their catch in the Florida Keys, the marine biologist Loren McClenachan found a perfect illustration of this phenomenon, which is often called “shifting baseline syndrome.” The fish got smaller and smaller, to the point where the prize catches were dwarfed by fish that in years past were piled up and ignored. But the smiles on the fishermen’s faces stayed the same size. The world never feels fallen, because we grow accustomed to the fall.
By one measure, bugs are the wildlife we know best, the nondomesticated animals whose lives intersect most intimately with our own: spiders in the shower, ants at the picnic, ticks buried in the skin. We sometimes feel that we know them rather too well. In another sense, though, they are one of our planet’s greatest mysteries, a reminder of how little we know about what’s happening in the world around us.
We’ve named and described a million species of insects, a stupefying array of thrips and firebrats and antlions and caddis flies and froghoppers and other enormous families of bugs that most of us can’t even name. (Technically, the word “bug” applies only to the order Hemiptera, also known as true bugs, species that have tube-like mouths for piercing and sucking — and there are as many as 80,000 named varieties of those.)
The ones we think we do know well, we don’t: There are 12,000 types of ants, nearly 20,000 varieties of bees, almost 400,000 species of beetles, so many that the geneticist J.B.S. Haldane reportedly quipped that God must have an inordinate fondness for them.
A bit of healthy soil a foot square and two inches deep might easily be home to 200 unique species of mites, each, presumably, with a subtly different job to do. And yet entomologists estimate that all this amazing, absurd and understudied variety represents perhaps only 20 percent of the actual diversity of insects on our planet — that there are millions and millions of species that are entirely unknown to science.
With so much abundance, it very likely never occurred to most entomologists of the past that their multitudinous subjects might dwindle away. As they poured themselves into studies of the life cycles and taxonomies of the species that fascinated them, few thought to measure or record something as boring as their number.
Besides, tracking quantity is slow, tedious and unglamorous work: setting and checking traps, waiting years or decades for your data to be meaningful, grappling with blunt baseline questions instead of more sophisticated ones. And who would pay for it? Most academic funding is short-term, but when what you’re interested in is invisible, generational change, says Dave Goulson, an entomologist at the University of Sussex, “a three-year monitoring program is no good to anybody.” This is especially true of insect populations, which are naturally variable, with wide, trend-obscuring fluctuations from one year to the next.
When entomologists began noticing and investigating insect declines, they lamented the absence of solid information from the past in which to ground their experiences of the present. “We see a hundred of something, and we think we’re fine,” Wagner says, “but what if there were 100,000 two generations ago?”
Rob Dunn, an ecologist at North Carolina State University who helped design the net experiment in Denmark, recently searched for studies showing the effect of pesticide spraying on the quantity of insects living in nearby forests. He was surprised to find that no such studies existed. “We ignored really basic questions,” he said. “It feels like we’ve dropped the ball in some giant collective way.”
If entomologists lacked data, what they did have were some very worrying clues. Along with the impression that they were seeing fewer bugs in their own jars and nets while out doing experiments — a windshield phenomenon specific to the sorts of people who have bug jars and nets — there were documented downward slides of well-studied bugs, including various kinds of bees, moths, butterflies and beetles.
In Britain, as many as 30 to 60 percent of species were found to have diminishing ranges. Larger trends were harder to pin down, though a 2014 review in Science tried to quantify these declines by synthesizing the findings of existing studies and found that a majority of monitored species were declining, on average by 45 percent.
Entomologists also knew that climate change and the overall degradation of global habitat are bad news for biodiversity in general, and that insects are dealing with the particular challenges posed by herbicides and pesticides, along with the effects of losing meadows, forests and even weedy patches to the relentless expansion of human spaces. T
here were studies of other, better-understood species that suggested that the insects associated with them might be declining, too. People who studied fish found that the fish had fewer mayflies to eat. Ornithologists kept finding that birds that rely on insects for food were in trouble: eight in 10 partridges gone from French farmlands; 50 and 80 percent drops, respectively, for nightingales and turtledoves. Half of all farmland birds in Europe disappeared in just three decades.
At first, many scientists assumed the familiar culprit of habitat destruction was at work, but then they began to wonder if the birds might simply be starving. In Denmark, an ornithologist named Anders Tottrup was the one who came up with the idea of turning cars into insect trackers for the windshield-effect study after he noticed that rollers, little owls, Eurasian hobbies and bee-eaters — all birds that subsist on large insects such as beetles and dragonflies — had abruptly disappeared from the landscape.
The signs were certainly alarming, but they were also just signs, not enough to justify grand pronouncements about the health of insects as a whole or about what might be driving a widespread, cross-species decline. “There are no quantitative data on insects, so this is just a hypothesis,” Hans de Kroon, an ecologist at Radboud University in the Netherlands, explained to me — not the sort of language that sends people to the barricades.
Then came the German study. Scientists are still cautious about what the findings might imply about other regions of the world. But the study brought forth exactly the kind of longitudinal data they had been seeking, and it wasn’t specific to just one type of insect.
The numbers were stark, indicating a vast impoverishment of an entire insect universe, even in protected areas where insects ought to be under less stress. The speed and scale of the drop were shocking even to entomologists who were already anxious about bees or fireflies or the cleanliness of car windshields.
The results were surprising in another way too. The long-term details about insect abundance, the kind that no one really thought existed, hadn’t appeared in a particularly prestigious journal and didn’t come from university-affiliated scientists, but from a small society of insect enthusiasts based in the modest German city Krefeld.
Krefeld sits a half-hour drive outside Dusseldorf, near the western bank of the Rhine. It’s a city of brick houses and bright flower gardens and a stadtwald — a municipal forest and park — where paddle boats float on a lake, umbrellas shade a beer garden and (I couldn’t help noticing) the afternoon light through the trees illuminates small swarms of dancing insects.
Near the center of the old city, a paper sign, not much larger than a business card, identifies the stolid headquarters of the society whose research caused so much commotion. When it was founded, in 1905, the society operated out of another building, one that was destroyed when Britain bombed the city during World War II. (By the time the bombs fell, members had moved their precious records and collections of insects, some of which dated back to the 1860s, to an underground bunker.)
Nowadays, the society uses more than 6,000 square feet of an old three-story school as storage space. Ask for a tour of the collections, and you will hear such sentences as “This whole room is Lepidoptera,” referring to a former classroom stuffed with what I at first took to be shelves of books but which are in fact innumerable wooden frames containing pinned butterflies and moths; and, in an even larger room, “every bumblebee here was collected before the Second World War, 1880 to 1930”; and, upon opening a drawer full of sweat bees, “It’s a new collection, 30 years only.”
On the shelves that do hold books, I counted 31 clearly well-loved volumes in the series “Beetles of Middle Europe.” A 395-page book that cataloged specimens of spider wasps — where they were collected; where they were stored — of the western Palearctic said “1948-2008” on the cover. I asked my guide, a society member named Martin Sorg, who was one of the lead authors of the paper, whether those dates reflected when the specimens were collected. “No,” Sorg replied, “that was the time the author needed for this work.”
Sorg, who rolls his own cigarettes and wears John Lennon glasses and whose gray hair grows long past his shoulders, is not a freewheeling type when it comes to his insect work. And his insect work is really all he wants to talk about.
“We think details about nature and biodiversity declines are important, not details about life histories of entomologists,” Sorg explained after he and Werner Stenmans, a society member whose name appeared alongside Sorg’s on the 2017 paper, dismissed my questions about their day jobs.
Leery of an article that focused on him as a person, Sorg also didn’t want to talk about what drew him to entomology as a child or even what it was about certain types of wasps that had made him want to devote so much of his life to studying them. “We normally give life histories when someone is dead,” he said.
There was a reason for the wariness. Society members dislike seeing themselves described, over and over in news stories, as “amateurs.” It’s a framing that reflects, they believe, a too-narrow understanding of what it means to be an expert or even a scientist — what it means to be a student of the natural world.
Amateurs have long provided much of the patchy knowledge we have about nature. Those bee and butterfly studies? Most depend on mass mobilizations of volunteers willing to walk transects and count insects, every two weeks or every year, year after year. The scary numbers about bird declines were gathered this way, too, though because birds can be hard to spot, volunteers often must learn to identify them by their sounds.
Britain, which has a particularly strong tradition of amateur naturalism, has the best-studied bugs in the world. As technologically advanced as we are, the natural world is still a very big and complex place, and the best way to learn what’s going on is for a lot of people to spend a lot of time observing it. The Latin root of the word “amateur” is, after all, the word “lover.”
Some of these citizen-scientists are true beginners clutching field guides; others, driven by their own passion and following in a long tradition of “amateur” naturalism, are far from novices. Think of Victorians with their butterfly nets and curiosity cabinets; of Vladimir Nabokov, whose theories about the evolution of Polyommatus blue butterflies were ignored until proved correct by DNA testing more than 30 years after his death; of young Charles Darwin, cutting his classes at Cambridge to collect beetles at Wicken Fen and once putting a live beetle in his mouth because his hands were already full of other bugs.
The Krefeld society is volunteer-run, and many members have other jobs in unrelated fields, but they also have an enormous depth of knowledge about insects, accumulated through years of what other people might consider obsessive attention.
Some study the ecology or evolutionary taxonomy of their favorite species or map their populations or breed them to study their life histories. All hone their identification skills across species by amassing their own collections of carefully pinned and labeled insects like those that fill the society’s storage rooms.
Sorg estimated that of the society’s 63 members, a third are university-trained in subjects such as biology or earth science. Another third, he said, are “highly specialized and highly qualified but they never visited the university,” while the remaining third are actual amateurs who are still in the process of becoming “real” entomologists: “Some of them may also have a degree from the university, but in our view, they are beginners.”
The society members’ projects often involved setting up what are called malaise traps, nets that look like tents and drive insects flying by into bottles of ethanol. Because of the scientific standards of the society, members followed certain procedures: They always employed identical traps, sewn from a template they first used in 1982. (Sorg showed me the original rolled-up craft paper with great solemnity.) They always put them in the same places. (Before GPS, that meant a painstaking process of triangulating with surveying equipment. “We are not sure about a few centimeters,” Sorg granted.)
They saved everything they caught, regardless of what the main purpose of the experiment was. (The society bought so much ethanol that it attracted the attention of a narcotics unit.)
Those bottles of insects were gathered into thousands of boxes, which are now crammed into what were once offices in the upper reaches of the school. When the society members, like entomologists elsewhere, began to notice that they were seeing fewer insects, they had something against which to measure their worries.
“We don’t throw away anything, we store everything,” Sorg explained. “That gives us today the possibility to go back in time.”
In 2013, Krefeld entomologists confirmed that the total number of insects caught in one nature reserve was nearly 80 percent lower than the same spot in 1989. They had sampled other sites, analyzed old data sets and found similar declines: Where 30 years earlier, they often needed a liter bottle for a week of trapping, now a half-liter bottle usually sufficed.
But it would have taken even highly trained entomologists years of painstaking work to identify all the insects in the bottles. So the society used a standardized method for weighing insects in alcohol, which told a powerful story simply by showing how much the overall mass of insects dropped over time. “A decline of this mixture,” Sorg said, “is a very different thing than the decline of only a few species.”
‘We notice the losses,
it’s the diminishment we don’t see.’ ‘
The society collaborated with de Kroon and other scientists at Radboud University in the Netherlands, who did a trend analysis of the data that Krefeld provided, controlling for things like the effects of nearby plants, weather and forest cover on fluctuations in insect populations.
The final study looked at 63 nature preserves, representing almost 17,000 sampling days, and found consistent declines in every kind of habitat they sampled. This suggested, the authors wrote, “that it is not only the vulnerable species but the flying-insect community as a whole that has been decimated over the last few decades.”
For some scientists, the study created a moment of reckoning. “Scientists thought this data was too boring,” Dunn says. “But these people found it beautiful, and they loved it. They were the ones paying attention to Earth for all the rest of us.”
The current worldwide loss of biodiversity is popularly known as the sixth extinction: the sixth time in world history that a large number of species have disappeared in unusually rapid succession, caused this time not by asteroids or ice ages but by humans.
When we think about losing biodiversity, we tend to think of the last northern white rhinos protected by armed guards, of polar bears on dwindling ice floes. Extinction is a visceral tragedy, universally understood: There is no coming back from it. The guilt of letting a unique species vanish is eternal.
But extinction is not the only tragedy through which we’re living. What about the species that still exist, but as a shadow of what they once were? In “The Once and Future World,” the journalist J.B. MacKinnon cites records from recent centuries that hint at what has only just been lost: “In the North Atlantic, a school of cod stalls a tall ship in mid-ocean; off Sydney, Australia, a ship’s captain sails from noon until sunset through pods of sperm whales as far as the eye can see. . . . Pacific pioneers complain to the authorities that splashing salmon threaten to swamp their canoes.”
There were reports of lions in the south of France, walruses at the mouth of the Thames, flocks of birds that took three days to fly overhead, as many as 100 blue whales in the Southern Ocean for every one that’s there now. “These are not sights from some ancient age of fire and ice,” MacKinnon writes. “We are talking about things seen by human eyes, recalled in human memory.”
What we’re losing is not just the diversity part of biodiversity, but the bio part: life in sheer quantity. While I was writing this article, scientists learned that the world’s largest king penguin colony shrank by 88 percent in 35 years, that more than 97 percent of the bluefin tuna that once lived in the ocean are gone. The number of Sophie the Giraffe toys sold in France in a single year is nine times the number of all the giraffes that still live in Africa.
Finding reassurance in the survival of a few symbolic standard-bearers ignores the value of abundance, of a natural world that thrives on richness and complexity and interaction. Tigers still exist, for example, but that doesn’t change the fact that 93 percent of the land where they used to live is now tigerless.
This matters for more than romantic reasons: Large animals, especially top predators like tigers, connect ecosystems to one another and move energy and resources among them simply by walking and eating and defecating and dying. (In the deep ocean, sunken whale carcasses form the basis of entire ecosystems in nutrient-poor places.)
One result of their loss is what’s known as trophic cascade, the unraveling of an ecosystem’s fabric as prey populations boom and crash and the various levels of the food web no longer keep each other in check. These places are emptier, impoverished in a thousand subtle ways.
Scientists have begun to speak of functional extinction (as opposed to the more familiar kind, numerical extinction). Functionally extinct animals and plants are still present but no longer prevalent enough to affect how an ecosystem works.
Some phrase this as the extinction not of a species but of all its former interactions with its environment — an extinction of seed dispersal and predation and pollination and all the other ecological functions an animal once had, which can be devastating even if some individuals still persist. The more interactions are lost, the more disordered the ecosystem becomes.
A 2013 paper in Nature, which modeled both natural and computer-generated food webs, suggested that a loss of even 30 percent of a species’ abundance can be so destabilizing that other species start going fully, numerically extinct — in fact, 80 percent of the time it was a secondarily affected creature that was the first to disappear.
A famous real-world example of this type of cascade concerns sea otters. When they were nearly wiped out in the northern Pacific, their prey, sea urchins, ballooned in number and decimated kelp forests, turning a rich environment into a barren one and also possibly contributing to numerical extinctions, notably of the Stellar’s sea cow.
Conservationists tend to focus on rare and endangered species, but it is common ones, because of their abundance, that power the living systems of our planet. Most species are not common, but within many animal groups most individuals — some 80 percent of them — belong to common species. Like the slow approach of twilight, their declines can be hard to see. White-rumped vultures were nearly gone from India before there was widespread awareness of their disappearance.
Describing this phenomenon in the journal BioScience, Kevin Gaston, a professor of biodiversity and conservation at the University of Exeter, wrote: “Humans seem innately better able to detect the complete loss of an environmental feature than its progressive change.”
In addition to extinction (the complete loss of a species) and extirpation (a localized extinction), scientists now speak of defaunation: the loss of individuals, the loss of abundance, the loss of a place’s absolute animalness. In a 2014 article in Science, researchers argued that the word should become as familiar, and influential, as the concept of deforestation.
In 2017, another paper reported that major population and range losses extended even to species considered to be at low risk for extinction. They predicted “negative cascading consequences on ecosystem functioning and services vital to sustaining civilization” and the authors offered another term for the widespread loss of the world’s wild fauna: “biological annihilation.”
It is estimated that, since 1970, Earth’s various populations of wild land animals have lost, on average, 60 percent of their members. Zeroing in on the category we most relate to, mammals, scientists believe that for every six wild creatures that once ate and burrowed and raised young, only one remains. What we have instead is ourselves.
A study published this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that if you look at the world’s mammals by weight, 96 percent of that biomass is humans and livestock; just 4 percent is wild animals.
We’ve begun to talk about living in the Anthropocene, a world shaped by humans. But E.O. Wilson, the naturalist and prophet of environmental degradation, has suggested another name: the Eremocine, the age of loneliness.
Wilson began his career as a taxonomic entomologist, studying ants. Insects — about as far as you can get from charismatic megafauna — are not what we’re usually imagining when we talk about biodiversity. Yet they are, in Wilson’s words, “the little things that run the natural world.” He means it literally. Insects are a case study in the invisible importance of the common.
Scientists have tried to calculate the benefits that insects provide simply by going about their business in large numbers. Trillions of bugs flitting from flower to flower pollinate some three-quarters of our food crops, a service worth as much as $500 billion every year. (This doesn’t count the 80 percent of wild flowering plants, the foundation blocks of life everywhere, that rely on insects for pollination.)
If monetary calculations like that sound strange, consider the Maoxian Valley in China, where shortages of insect pollinators have led farmers to hire human workers, at a cost of up to $19 per worker per day, to replace bees. Each person covers five to 10 trees a day, pollinating apple blossoms by hand.
By eating and being eaten, insects turn plants into protein and power the growth of all the uncountable species — including freshwater fish and a majority of birds — that rely on them for food, not to mention all the creatures that eat those creatures. We worry about saving the grizzly bear, says the insect ecologist Scott Hoffman Black, but where is the grizzly without the bee that pollinates the berries it eats or the flies that sustain baby salmon? Where, for that matter, are we?
Bugs are vital to the decomposition that keeps nutrients cycling, soil healthy, plants growing and ecosystems running. This role is mostly invisible, until suddenly it’s not. After introducing cattle to Australia at the turn of the 19th century, settlers soon found themselves overwhelmed by the problem of their feces: For some reason, cow pies there were taking months or even years to decompose.
Cows refused to eat near the stink, requiring more and more land for grazing, and so many flies bred in the piles that the country became famous for the funny hats that stockmen wore to keep them at bay. It wasn’t until 1951 that a visiting entomologist realized what was wrong: The local insects, evolved to eat the more fibrous waste of marsupials, couldn’t handle cow excrement.
For the next 25 years, the importation, quarantine and release of dozens of species of dung beetles became a national priority. And that was just one unfilled niche. (In the United States, dung beetles save ranchers an estimated $380 million a year.)
We simply don’t know everything that insects do. Only about 2 percent of invertebrate species have been studied enough for us to estimate whether they are in danger of extinction, never mind what dangers that extinction might pose.
When asked to imagine what would happen if insects were to disappear completely, scientists find words like chaos, collapse, Armageddon. Wagner, the University of Connecticut entomologist, describes a flowerless world with silent forests, a world of dung and old leaves and rotting carcasses accumulating in cities and roadsides, a world of “collapse or decay and erosion and loss that would spread through ecosystems” — spiraling from predators to plants.
E.O. Wilson has written of an insect-free world, a place where most plants and land animals become extinct; where fungi explodes, for a while, thriving on death and rot; and where “the human species survives, able to fall back on wind-pollinated grains and marine fishing” despite mass starvation and resource wars. “Clinging to survival in a devastated world, and trapped in an ecological dark age,” he adds, “the survivors would offer prayers for the return of weeds and bugs.”
But the crux of the windshield phenomenon, the reason that the creeping suspicion of change is so creepy, is that insects wouldn’t have to disappear altogether for us to find ourselves missing them for reasons far beyond nostalgia.
In October, an entomologist sent me an email with the subject line, “Holy [expletive]!” and an attachment: a study just out from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that he labeled, “Krefeld comes to Puerto Rico.” The study included data from the 1970s and from the early 2010s, when a tropical ecologist named Brad Lister returned to the rain forest where he had studied lizards — and, crucially, their prey — 40 years earlier.
Lister set out sticky traps and swept nets across foliage in the same places he had in the 1970s, but this time he and his co-author, Andres Garcia, caught much, much less: 10 to 60 times less arthropod biomass than before. (It’s easy to read that number as 60 percent less, but it’s sixtyfold less: Where once he caught 473 milligrams of bugs, Lister was now catching just eight milligrams.) “It was, you know, devastating,” Lister told me.
But even scarier were the ways the losses were already moving through the ecosystem, with serious declines in the numbers of lizards, birds and frogs. The paper reported “a bottom-up trophic cascade and consequent collapse of the forest food web.”
Lister’s inbox quickly filled with messages from other scientists, especially people who study soil invertebrates, telling him they were seeing similarly frightening declines. Even after his dire findings, Lister found the losses shocking: “I didn’t even know about the earthworm crisis!”
[if (gt IE 9)|!(IE)]> Brooke Jarvis is a contributing writer for the magazine. She last wrote about American children of undocumented parents.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Humans constitute just 0.01% of all life
but we have destroyed 83% of all the mammals in the wild
Stop Biodiversity Loss or We Could Face our Own Extinction, Warns UN Jonathan Watts / The Guardian
LONDON (November 6, 2018) — The world must thrash out a new deal for nature in the next two years or humanity could be the first species to document our own extinction, warns the United Nation’s biodiversity chief.
Ahead of a key international conference to discuss the collapse of ecosystems, Cristiana Pasca Palmer said people in all countries need to put pressure on their governments to draw up ambitious global targets by 2020 to protect the insects, birds, plants and mammals that are vital for global food production, clean water and carbon sequestration.
“The loss of biodiversity is a silent killer,” she told the Guardian. “It’s different from climate change, where people feel the impact in everyday life. With biodiversity, it is not so clear but by the time you feel what is happening, it may be too late.”
Pasca Palmer is executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity — the world body responsible for maintaining the natural life support systems on which humanity depends.
Its members — 195 states and the EU — will meet in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, this month to start discussions on a new framework for managing the world’s ecosystems and wildlife. This will kick off two years of frenetic negotiations, which Pasca Palmer hopes will culminate in an ambitious new global deal at the next conference in Beijing in 2020.
Conservationists are desperate for a biodiversity accord that will carry the same weight as the Paris climate agreement. But so far, this subject has received miserably little attention even though many scientists say it poses at least an equal threat to humanity.
The last two major biodiversity agreements — in 2002 and 2010 — have failed to stem the worst loss of life on Earth since the demise of the dinosaurs.
Eight years ago, under the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, nations promised to at least halve the loss of natural habitats, ensure sustainable fishing in all waters, and expand nature reserves from 10% to 17% of the world’s land by 2020. But many nations have fallen behind, and those that have created more protected areas have done little to police them. “Paper reserves” can now be found from Brazil to China.
The issue is also low on the political agenda. Compared to climate summits, few heads of state attend biodiversity talks. Even before Donald Trump, the US refused to ratify the treaty and only sends an observer. Along with the Vatican, it is the only UN state not to participate.
Pasca Palmer says there are glimmers of hope. Several species in Africa and Asia have recovered (though most are in decline) and forest cover in Asia has increased by 2.5% (though it has decreased elsewhere at a faster rate). Marine protected areas have also widened.
But overall, she says, the picture is worrying. The already high rates of biodiversity loss from habitat destruction, chemical pollution and invasive species will accelerate in the coming 30 years as a result of climate change and growing human populations. By 2050, Africa is expected to lose 50% of its birds and mammals, and Asian fisheries to completely collapse. The loss of plants and sea life will reduce the Earth’s ability to absorb carbon, creating a vicious cycle.
“The numbers are staggering,” says the former Romanian environment minister. “I hope we aren’t the first species to document our own extinction.”
Despite the weak government response to such an existential threat, she said her optimism about what she called “the infrastructure of life” was undimmed.
One cause for hope was a convergence of scientific concerns and growing interest from the business community. Last month, the UN’s top climate and biodiversity institutions and scientists held their first joint meeting. They found that nature-based solutions — such as forest protection, tree planting, land restoration and soil management — could provide up to a third of the carbon absorption needed to keep global warming within the Paris agreement parameters.
In future the two UN arms of climate and biodiversity should issue joint assessments. She also noted that although politics in some countries were moving in the wrong direction, there were also positive developments such as French president, Emmanuel Macron, recently being the first world leader to note that the climate issue cannot be solved without a halt in biodiversity loss. This will be on the agenda of the next G7 summit in France.
“Things are moving. There is a lot of goodwill,” she said. “We should be aware of the dangers but not paralysed by inaction. It’s still in our hands but the window for action is narrowing. We need higher levels of political and citizen will to support nature.”
Humanity Has Wiped out 60% of
Animal Populations Since 1970, Report Finds The huge loss is a tragedy in itself but also
threatens the survival of civilization Damian Carrington / The Guardian
(October 30, 2018) — Humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970, leading the world’s foremost experts to warn that the annihilation of wildlife is now an emergency that threatens civilisation.
The new estimate of the massacre of wildlife is made in a major report produced by WWF and involving 59 scientists from across the globe. It finds that the vast and growing consumption of food and resources by the global population is destroying the web of life, billions of years in the making, upon which human society ultimately depends for clean air, water and everything else.
“We are sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff” said Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at WWF. “If there was a 60% decline in the human population, that would be equivalent to emptying North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China and Oceania. That is the scale of what we have done.”
“This is far more than just being about losing the wonders of nature, desperately sad though that is,” he said. “This is actually now jeopardising the future of people. Nature is not a ‘nice to have’ — it is our life-support system.”
“We are rapidly running out of time,” said Prof Johan RockstrÃ¶m, a global sustainability expert at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “Only by addressing both ecosystems and climate do we stand a chance of safeguarding a stable planet for humanity’s future on Earth.”
Many scientists believe the world has begun a sixth mass extinction, the first to be caused by a species — Homo sapiens. Other recent analyses have revealed that humankind has destroyed 83% of all mammals and half of plants since the dawn of civilisation and that, even if the destruction were to end now, it would take 5-7 million years for the natural world to recover.
The Living Planet Index, produced for WWF by the Zoological Society of London, uses data on 16,704 populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians, representing more than 4,000 species, to track the decline of wildlife.
Between 1970 and 2014, the latest data available, populations fell by an average of 60%. Four years ago, the decline was 52%. The “shocking truth”, said Barrett, is that the wildlife crash is continuing unabated.
Wildlife and the ecosystems are vital to human life, said Prof Bob Watson, one of the world’s most eminent environmental scientists and currently chair of an intergovernmental panel on biodiversity that said in March that the destruction of nature is as dangerous as climate change.
“Nature contributes to human wellbeing culturally and spiritually, as well as through the critical production of food, clean water, and energy, and through regulating the Earth’s climate, pollution, pollination and floods,” he said. “The Living Planet report clearly demonstrates that human activities are destroying nature at an unacceptable rate, threatening the wellbeing of current and future generations.”
The biggest cause of wildlife losses is the destruction of natural habitats, much of it to create farmland. Three-quarters of all land on Earth is now significantly affected by human activities. Killing for food is the next biggest cause — 300 mammal species are being eaten into extinction — while the oceans are massively overfished, with more than half now being industrially fished.
Chemical pollution is also significant: half the world’s killer whale populations are now doomed to die from PCB contamination. Global trade introduces invasive species and disease, with amphibians decimated by a fungal disease thought to be spread by the pet trade.
The worst affected region is South and Central America, which has seen an 89% drop in vertebrate populations, largely driven by the felling of vast areas of wildlife-rich forest. In the tropical savannah called cerrado, an area the size of Greater London is cleared every two months, said Barrett.
“It is a classic example of where the disappearance is the result of our own consumption, because the deforestation is being driven by ever expanding agriculture producing soy, which is being exported to countries including the UK to feed pigs and chickens,” he said. The UK itself has lost much of its wildlife, ranking 189th for biodiversity loss out of 218 nations in 2016.
The habitats suffering the greatest damage are rivers and lakes, where wildlife populations have fallen 83%, due to the enormous thirst of agriculture and the large number of dams. “Again there is this direct link between the food system and the depletion of wildlife,” said Barrett. Eating less meat is an essential part of reversing losses, he said.
The Living Planet Index has been criticised as being too broad a measure of wildlife losses and smoothing over crucial details. But all indicators, from extinction rates to intactness of ecosystems, show colossal losses. “They all tell you the same story,” said Barrett.
Conservation efforts can work, with tiger numbers having risen 20% in India in six years as habitat is protected. Giant pandas in China and otters in the UK have also been doing well.
But Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International, said the fundamental issue was consumption: “We can no longer ignore the impact of current unsustainable production models and wasteful lifestyles.”
The world’s nations are working towards a crunch meeting of the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity in 2020, when new commitments for the protection of nature will be made. “We need a new global deal for nature and people and we have this narrow window of less than two years to get it,” said Barrett. “This really is the last chance. We have to get it right this time.”
Tanya Steele, chief executive at WWF, said: “We are the first generation to know we are destroying our planet and the last one that can do anything about it.”
The Age of Extinction What is biodiversity and why does it matter?
Biodiversity describes the rich diversity of life on Earth, from individual species to entire ecosystems. The term was coined in 1985 — a contraction of “biological diversity” — but the huge global biodiversity losses now becoming apparent represent a crisis equaling and quite possibly surpassing climate change.
Deforestation, poaching, industrial farming and pollution are some of the ways in which the planet’s natural ecosystem is being disrupted — with devastating results. This series will look at the myriad ways that human activity has ravaged biodiversity, and how we can fight back.
Women against the Bomb:
The Fate of the Earth Depends on Women How a feminist foreign policy
can save us from nuclear weapons Beatrice Fihn / The Nation
Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, speaks during a press conference on October 6, 2017.
This essay is adapted from the third annual Jonathan Schell Memorial Lecture on the Fate of the Earth, created by the Nation Institute and the Gould Family Foundation and co-sponsored by the New School and the Tishman Environment and Design Center at the New School.
(November 8, 2018) — On October 20, President Trump announced that the United States would pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty after more than 30 years. In doing so, he ended an agreement that abolished an entire class of nuclear weapons and recklessly pushed us to the brink of a new Cold War. He’s brought us back to a time when the United States and Russia could develop and expand their nuclear arsenals without restraint.
Trump’s decision is a wake-up call as much as it’s a clarion call. It highlights the flaws of a system in which one man can determine our collective fate, and makes clear why all nations need to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted by 122 countries at the United Nations last year. By banning nuclear weapons under international law, we can still pull the hand brake on a new arms race.
In a series for The New Yorker, Jonathan Schell wrote a masterpiece on the horrors of nuclear war. Schell’s series was such a tour de force that when it was published as a book, The Fate of the Earth, in 1982, The New York Times wrote: “It accomplishes what no other work has managed to do in the 37 years of the nuclear age. It compels us, and compel is the right word, to confront head on the nuclear peril in which we all find ourselves.”
Schell embedded his argument against nuclear weapons in human stories. As with climate change, simply explaining the basic facts rarely provokes action. Talking about the absurd number of nuclear weapons challenges people only to reduce stockpiles, but describing what the fire following a nuclear blast felt like at Hiroshima and Nagasaki makes us realize that these are weapons of mass slaughter.
The breakthrough for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons came after we showed political leaders the faulty foundations of the realpolitik arguments underpinning the nuclear world order.
When it comes to doomsday weapons, the supposed realists ignore reality. Reality like the 7,000-degree-Fahrenheit ground temperature in Nagasaki after an American B-29 bomber dropped “Fat Man” on the city in August 1945, or the radioactive rain that poured down later.
Reality like the people in Hiroshima crying out for help, although none was forthcoming because 42 of the city’s 45 hospitals had been instantly destroyed, and 90 percent of the doctors and nurses killed or injured. Or reality like the testimony from inhabitants of the Marshall Islands, where the United States conducted 67 nuclear blasts. One resident, Dretin Jokdru, recalled trying to survive on fish: “We got sick from them, like when your arms and legs fall asleep and you can’t feel anything. We’d get up in the morning to go to our canoes and fall over because we were so ill. We were dying.”
When faced with these realities, the insanity of what we have done for the last 73 years becomes hard to ignore. Recognizing the threat to humanity from climate change, ecological destruction, and nuclear weapons, we ask: “What is the fate of the earth?” I’d answer that by borrowing from former secretary of state Hillary Clinton: “The fate of women is the fate of the earth, and the fate of the earth is the fate of women.” To state this more explicitly: The survival of the human species depends on women wresting power from men. For too long, we have left foreign policy to a small number of men, and look where it has gotten us.
Roughly 1,000 miles west of New York City, a radioactive by-product of the Manhattan Project pollutes the air, soil, and water. Now where do you picture a pile of carcinogenic waste from the government’s most famous science project being stored? It’s not buried underground or contained within a lead-lined storage tank; it’s not in a secured government facility. It isn’t even in some remote field. No, this waste sits within the city limits of St. Louis, Missouri.
When a handful of St. Louis moms, families, and neighbors began experiencing headaches, nosebleeds, and breathing problems one winter, they identified the problem and organized. Now a bunch of moms in St. Louis are a regular feature at the State Capitol, lobbying their representatives to clean up the mess that is killing their community. They fittingly called their group Just Moms, and they are only one example of the women around the world leading the charge to fix the problems created by men.
Even if these weapons are never used — which, by the way, is unlikely — they still harm people. In Texas, contract workers at the Pantex Plant are removing plutonium cores from nuclear weapons by hand. Why? Because they need to make room for a new generation of even more lethal nuclear weapons. The United States is scheduled to spend at least $1.7 trillion updating its arsenal, because our leaders are locked in an archaic view of national security — one that believes against all reason that terror provides safety.
Since the dawn of the nuclear age, many serious men have said that we need to get rid of these weapons, but they have lacked the vision, creativity, and strength to do so. We can no longer leave it to the same men who created these problems to solve them. As with so many issues, the consequences of men’s nuclear hubris fall disproportionately on women. Women in Hiroshima and Nagasaki die from cancer at twice the rate of men due to ionizing-radiation exposure.
Findings from Chernobyl indicate that girls are considerably more likely than boys to develop thyroid cancer from nuclear fallout. Pregnant women exposed to nuclear radiation face a greater likelihood of delivering children with physical malformations or stillbirths, leading to increased maternal mortality. Near the Semipalatinsk nuclear-testing site in Kazakhstan, one out of every 20 babies is born with serious deformities. These effects will last for generations.
I should be careful here to make a distinction. I often say, “The leaders are not the problem; the weapon is.” This is a key point: While we might feel safer with Theresa May or Hillary Clinton in charge of our nuclear arsenals, we are not in fact safe. I don’t believe that having these weapons in the hands of women is a solution.
That is not what I mean by wresting power from men. When you are concerned about the ease of one person’s access to world-destroying firepower, the answer is not to choose the most level-headed person; the answer is to remove the possibility that anyone could be in that position in the first place. That is the power we must wrest from men and the feminist foreign policy we need.
In September, I found myself addressing an unprecedented gathering of powerful women. Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, invited female foreign ministers from around the world to convene in Montreal. The discussions were simultaneously refreshing and worrying. When the doors closed, brilliant women filled the wide-ranging conversations with remarkable insights.
Yet I found the debate around nuclear weapons limited — still set by men, like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was useless. Having more women in positions of power is insufficient if we are restricted to such an outdated, patriarchal worldview. We are in desperate need of a foreign policy that is cooperative, inclusive, and based in our shared humanity — that is to say, feminist.
Nuclear weapons are the beating heart of our colonial and patriarchal order. These weapons and the security apparatus that places faith in them are inherently dehumanizing. Consider that just a few months after the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a poll showed that less than 5 percent of Americans thought laying waste to those cities was a bad idea, and nearly a quarter said that the United States should have dropped more bombs in order to inflict maximum suffering and death before Japan had a chance to surrender.
Or consider the financial order that encourages banks to fund companies that produce nuclear weapons, so long as they produce them for European countries and the United States. Or consider how the proponents of deterrence claim that nuclear weapons have prevented war, in spite of the millions of deaths in proxy wars in Korea, Southeast Asia, Africa, and now the Middle East. The loss of those lives is considered a necessary evil or even a policy success.
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Or perhaps consider the swimsuit — yes, the swimsuit. You’ve probably never heard of one called the atome, the French word for “atom.” In 1946, it was declared the world’s smallest swimsuit. In addition to denoting the tiny size, the name was chosen to announce that the swimsuit would be as shocking as the atomic bomb — a tongue-in-cheek marketing campaign built on thousands of deaths.
A few weeks later, a competing designer released an even skimpier suit. He wanted his product to be provocative, even explosive, so he named it after a famous nuclear-test site: the Bikini Atoll. The tests at Bikini were called, appropriately, Operation Crossroads, and they were the first of many that would destroy lives and livelihoods in the Marshall Islands. Mistakes, miscalculations, and negligence saw the tests spread radiation across the islands, causing death, sickness, stillbirths, and deformities.
The first bomb had a picture of the Hollywood star Rita Hayworth stenciled on its side, and was even named “Gilda,” after her character in the 1946 film by the same name. The movie’s tagline? “Beautiful, deadly, using all a woman’s weapons.”
Or consider that the US military government of the Marshall Islands assembled the Bikinians and asked them to leave their homes — temporarily, the military governor assured them. When the residents doubted him, he implored them that it would be for “the good of mankind.”
Perhaps I’ve illustrated sufficiently that nuclear weapons are linked to patriarchy; perhaps not. Did I mention that former vice president Dick Cheney claimed that Barack Obama had “neutered” the international order with the Iran deal? Or that Pakistan said that efforts to keep it from developing nuclear weapons amounted to “castration”?
Whether or not you agree with the premise that nuclear weapons are part of a patriarchal world order, I hope you can at least agree that what we’re doing now is not working. We cannot move forward with new nuclear weapons that tie us to this security order; we cannot achieve peace by threatening mass murder; and we cannot build stability through instability. We must choose an approach that ends nuclear weapons before they end us.
Luckily, we know what works. Victory will require us first to change the terms of the debate. We need to articulate the human ramifications of nuclear war, move away from an understanding of international relations as a series of zero-sum battles, and accept that nuclear weapons know no borders.
Over 500 organizations make up our effort, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). We have worked to build a global movement, and in many places, it’s being led by women. Through these partnerships, we are helping to reshape how people talk about nuclear weapons, highlighting stories of real people. This moment in history is fragile, but it’s not hopeless.
For the first time, the majority of countries have stood up to nuclear-armed states and said: “Enough — we will not be held hostage to these weapons any longer.” Nine countries have deployed some 15,000 nuclear weapons, with more nations tacitly endorsing them by living happily under a nuclear umbrella. But there are 122 countries on our side. It’s been a year since the treaty was opened for signatures. So far, 69 states have signed it, and 19 have ratified it. Once 50 countries ratify it, the treaty will go into effect. At that point, nuclear weapons will be banned under international law.
I have to confess that there were moments in this campaign when I doubted that this treaty would ever happen. We expected a chorus of noes from the old guard, but even many allies cautioned us not to push too hard or expect too much. We learned very quickly, however, that the humanitarian case for banning nuclear weapons resonated, and those claiming to respect international law while relying on these weapons were soon forced into convoluted and nonsensical arguments. We also learned that fearless, committed women were a requirement to get things done.
I don’t believe that women are inherently more peaceful, but what I do know is that women are more realistic about what is needed to keep our families, communities, and world safe. I believe that women are the doers. We cannot afford to wait for some kindly but charismatic leader to rise up and change nuclear policy. We certainly can’t count on the current men in power to choose sanity and security over fear and instability. But we also can’t leave this to the dreamers.
In this movement, we are always going to be the optimists, but we are also the doers committed to ending the nuclear world order. We just want to achieve this through collaboration, not domination. We are the realists squarely facing up to the nuclear threat and formulating a strategy. Believing that we can keep these weapons indefinitely is a dream.
With the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, we have a plan, a legal framework, and momentum. What we need now is you. People everywhere need to claim their right to speak and act on nuclear issues. We need to bring democracy to disarmament and take action in local contexts.
The US Conference of Mayors supports our work. Several towns and cities, including Baltimore and Los Angeles, have endorsed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons; in August, the state of California did likewise. This is not just a symbolic victory: From the Manhattan Project onward, every nuclear weapon developed in the United States was designed in labs managed by the University of California. Right now, we’re also working to stigmatize those companies — like Boeing in Seattle and BlackRock, the largest investor in companies making nuclear weapons, in New York City — who benefit from Trump’s nuclear doctrine.
Instead of leaving life-and-death decisions to a few men, this movement allows us all to have a say in our future. To achieve a world free of nuclear weapons, we must all educate, motivate, and activate. In order to educate others, learn how your community, your bank, and the services you use are complicit in developing nuclear weapons, and share that information. Don’t let people forget that these weapons exist and that there’s something they can do to stop them.
To motivate, tell people about the treaty and the support behind it. Most people have no idea that this treaty was adopted and that another way is possible. And to activate, work with others to find concrete steps you can take — perhaps by engaging our local partners in ICAN. Also, don’t forget to tell your representatives that the United States should join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Most importantly, do what women making history have done for decades: Refuse to be constrained by the ruling order’s lack of vision and belief in humanity. When you’re called crazy, keep going, and when you’re told it doesn’t matter, know that it does.
For decades, only men were allowed to engage in high-level discussions about nuclear weapons and global security. It’s time to challenge that. The nuclear-ban treaty presents a chance for us to correct the course of history. We have pried open the door to the halls of power, and we have rooted our progress in international law. It is time to counter the old vision of the world with a new one based on reason and cooperation; it is time for a truly feminist foreign policy. The fate of the earth depends on it.
Beatrice Fihn is the executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
I Never Expected to Become a Conscientious Objector
Matt Malcom / World BEYOND War
(November 24, 2018) — I never expected to become a conscientious objector.
If you would have asked me two years ago to name the first things that came to mind when I heard this title, it would have been words like coward, afraid, selfish, ignorant, and unpatriotic.
I guess it’s how growing up tends to work. Now I see that these words couldn’t be farther from the truth.
This is my story, but it’s also the story of hundreds who have come before me, only some of them known. It’s the story of every unnamed fearless lover of peace who, never needed to don the uniform to realize that violence can never be a realistic solution to any conflict. For those wise enough to understand that war has so little to do with solutions, and so much to do with ego-centricism, manipulation, wealth and power.
I now realize that those people I was so quick to dismiss as idealistic and weak, are in fact the meek that might just inherit the earth.
My journey started with an idea, one wrapped in youthful ideas to succeed, project my own self-important image to the world, to be a warrior, to be brave and validated. This personal image became an obsession. I wanted validation, and wanted to go all the way. I worked out that I wanted to follow my father and grandfather in military service, that I wanted to be an officer in the Army like them but I wanted my own challenge too, a notch that only I would have under my belt.
My father received his commission through the University of Texas, and my grandfather went through Officer Candidate School on the heels of a prestigious enlisted career. I was going to make it through West Point.
So I set my sights on an appointment. I did everything in my power to make this dream a reality. I even attended a prep school (known as USMAPS) located up the road from West Point’s main campus when I was initially denied entrance into the class of 2015. A year later I was accepted into 2016 and I felt as if my life was complete.
For the first time in a long time, my freshman year was a period of not having any dreams or ambitions to achieve. Arriving at West Point was what I had so long ached for that I thought of little else.
In this newfound state in which I wasn’t constantly strategizing and working to get somewhere, there was an inner quietness I had never before known. I had time for personal reflection, challenge, and independent thinking. I was also introduced to a spiritual practice of contemplation which enhanced my capacity for challenging and thinking anew.
I started having very visceral aversions to my environment. First, it was the standardization and control of an institution like West Point. Not the usual sort of frustration with “plebe year” as it’s known, but a developing deep moral aversion to what we were doing and how we were doing it.
Then, I started feeling uncomfortable about the type of people we were training so hard to become; detached, amoral, apolitical, unaffected executors of violence and various state sponsored acts of aggression.
Then I saw the effect the lifestyle was taking on the Captains and Colonels that came back to teach. It became abundantly clear that if I did not get out quick I too would slip into disconnection, numbness, brokenness, and finally (the worst stage) acceptance.
I sat in the living rooms of too many men and women who had already walked my path and opened up about an inability to connect or feel love for their children. One instructor joking that if he did not schedule time for his children in his iPhone calendar he wouldn’t remember to play with them.
I nervously chuckled remembering this story with another group of officers at a church event assuming of course they would also feel unconformable about such numbness to life. To my surprise, they confessed a similar style of maintaining their family life.
I’m not saying they’re bad people, I’m saying this life did something to all of us, and I wasn’t sure it was healthy or helpful to the rest of society.
So I was then faced to asked, is this worth it? Not only for me, but what about the people that my occupation is to effect, those who are “over there” and those who are to receive the blows of my future aggressive acts in combat.
This question took the spotlight off of my own future and my own well-being and shined it brightly onto others, specifically the people I was being trained to kill.
Even more specifically, the innocent people caught in the middle chalked up to “collateral damage.” Of course no one wanted collateral damage, though this was often viewed from a strategic perspective without attaching the notion to human life. It was more like a margin of error that we were taught to stay within. If you went too far outside that margin (i.e. too many civilians died as a result of your decisions) the consequence would be jail time.
Around this time I was getting into my major — philosophy — in which these why questions were much more relevant. I learned how to ask really good questions, I learned how to listen to voices I had always disdained, I learned to open my mind and consider more than just what I had always known. I allowed myself to be challenged, and I challenged that which didn’t make sense.
One day standing on the granite steps of the cadet mess hall I remember asking my friend, “Mike, what if we’re the bad guys?”
It’s funny, no one ever thinks they’re the bad guy.
My world was falling apart.
As I approached my senior year it is clear now that I had become a master of suppression, distraction, self-denial, and also depression. On my honest days I realized that I too was well on my way to being a distant, disengaged father and husband one day. On my worst days I lied and said it would all get better when I was out there, maybe the active Army was better I naively told myself.
Of course, it didn’t get better. And I was slotted my last branch choice of Field Artillery — one of the most lethal branches possible.
As I went through my initial officer’s training the reality of violence became more palpable. I was killing scores of people daily in simulations. We watched videos of unarmed “convicted terrorists” being eviscerated as they sat unsuspecting in a circle. One managed to hobble away having lost a leg in the blast. Boom! Another round and the man disappeared.
Many of my classmates cheered, “Hell yeah!”
I was in the wrong place.
But the Army owned me. I had an eight year contract and they paid for my school.
One day a friend invited me to watch the movie Hacksaw Ridge, the famous story of a conscientious objector during WWII. I spent the film judging him, combating his idealism with my well-worn theological and logical arguments why sometimes sheepdogs were necessary, why war is justified. I’ve met Micheal Walzer for crying out loud, the man who penned the modern accumulation of everything Just War.
But, on some unconscious deep level in my psyche, the film worked on me.
Suddenly, in the middle of the movie I became extremely ill on the verge of vomiting. I ran to the restroom to take care of myself but instead of throwing up, I started weeping.
I was caught off guard as if I had been a casual observer to my behavior. I had no idea the reserves of emotion and belief that were locked inside my subconscious after years of learned repression.
Once it came up, though, there was no turning back.
So I set to doing something, anything to get out of the endless cycle of death, destruction, and killing. I knew I had to leave, and life would never be the same.
I began studying, learning who I was, what this up-to-now subconscious belief was all about.
I began complete deconstruction. I completely changed who I was reading, what I was thinking, the way I filtered the world. Everything I once held so sacred, taken off the shelf and shattered on the floor.
Peace became a reality that had long been hidden just beneath the surface of every seemingly unavoidable war. Meekness, open hearts, care-taking, refugee-welcoming and freedom for the marginalized became my greatest moral imperatives. Where once stood pillars of self-righteous behavior, now stood collapsed rubble. And if you looked hard enough, you might see the weeds and grass of new life poking through.
After two years of petitioning, waiting, and making myself show up for work everyday, I was finally discharged honorably as a conscientious objector in August of this year.
I now work for the Preemptive Love Coalition. We are a peacemaking organization that joins reconstruction efforts to weave the elements of peace into the fabric of renewing societies.
Our message is to show up, listen, and get out of the way. We love first, ask questions later and aren’t afraid of venturing behind the so called enemy lines. Most of our work is focused in Iraq and Syria at the moment, and I work on the stateside support team.
I am beyond lucky to have found an organization in which I fit so perfectly, and am even more grateful to wake up every day waging peace — especially in the regions where I had been training to wage war!
I share this story because on the other side of a life, an ego destroyed by love and compassion it’s all I have left. I hope that like the dead and buried acorn of an oak tree, it can one day emerge to stand tall the forest of peace. These seeds are being planted everywhere right now (in fact I am one of two conscientious objectors from my West Point Class!)
My goal has never been to change anyone’s thinking or get others to agree with me. Rather, I hope that in sharing my story the veterans of pacifism are encouraged, those waging peace everyday are emboldened, and those wondering who they are on the cusp of new birth could have a companion on an otherwise lonely, frightening journey.
1. The “war on terrorism” is a sham because terrorists are small groups or individuals who blow stuff up and kill people, and as a soldier you’d be doing the same thing.
2. That may change as the US national security strategy calls for war preparations against Russia and China, two powerful nations that do not threaten US national security. They do, however, have high tech destructive weapons that can destroy and kill.
3. As a soldier you would be in a huge bureaucracy with little chance of ever getting a responsible position. There are a dozen enlisted grades and a dozen officer grades above that, and you’d be at the very bottom of the pyramid.
4. Same goes for any thought about having a spouse and kiddies. You’d be living in a barracks with sergeants yelling at you, busting your gut in strenuous training.
5. The chance of physical injury is great, as training is dangerous and war is more so. The army needs infantry more than anything, and infantry soldiers must expect to carry a hundred twenty pounds for long distances and up hills, so back injuries are plentiful.
6. The chance of physical injury or death goes up with deployment to some country far away where the citizens are unhappy with your presence, and then shoot at you or blow off your legs with a roadside bomb made with fertilizer.
7. Mental injury, or PTSD, is also a real possibility even for soldiers who never see combat because a military life is high stress. It doesn’t end when you leave service; twenty veterans commit suicide every day.
8. Want an education or a useful trade that might be useful in civilian life? Forget those. A recruiter may make promises but remember the army needs infantry soldiers more than anything.
9. Expect to see the world? No, rather expect to be in a tent on the dirt in some backward country, with large sand barriers all around to protect you from vehicle bombers and helicopters bring in food and ammunition because the roads are too dangerous.
10. Finally, forget all that propaganda about you’d be protecting our freedom and keeping us safe, because neither is true. Your sacrifices will actually be paying the price for the large profits which go to the lucky members of the military industrial complex.
These are the interrelated components of our system: the frameworks, processes, tools and institutions necessary for dismantling the war machine and replacing it with a peace system that will provide a more assured common security. More info.
Think hard before you enlist in any military for any country.
Think about Section 9-b of the Enlistment/Reenlistment Contract before you sign.
It reads:â€¨ “Laws and regulations that govern military personnel may change without notice to me. Such changes may affect my status, pay, allowances, benefits, and responsibilities as a member of the Armed Forces REGARDLESS of the provisions of this enlistment/reenlistment document.”