About Exposing the Big Game

Jim Robertson

Tensions Between Iran, UK and US Spark Fears of War

In Iran, authorities say they’ve arrested 17 Iranian citizens and charged them with being CIA-trained spies for the United States. Iranian media reports that some have already been executed. This comes as tensions in the Persian Gulf continued to mount over the weekend following Iran’s seizure of a British oil tanker and its 23 crew members Friday in the Strait of Hormuz. Iran said it seized the tanker in retaliation for the British impounding of an Iranian tanker earlier this month off the coast of Gibraltar. The Iranian National Guard released video Sunday showing the vessel flying an Iranian flag. Britain says Iran forced the Stena Impero out of international waters and rerouted the tanker into Iranian territory. We speak with Narges Bajoghli, professor of Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins University and author of the forthcoming book, Iran Reframed: Anxieties of Power in the Islamic Republic.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Iran, where authorities say they’ve arrested 17 Iranian citizens and charged them with being CIA-trained spies for the United States. Iranian media reports some have already been executed.

This comes as tensions in the Persian Gulf continued to mount over the weekend following Iran’s seizure of a British oil tanker and its 23 crew members Friday in the Strait of Hormuz. Iran said it seized the tanker in retaliation for the British impounding an Iranian tanker earlier this month off the coast of Gibraltar. The Iranian National Guard released video Sunday showing the vessel flying now an Iranian flag. Britain says Iran forced the Stena Impero out of international waters and rerouted the tanker into Iranian territory. Audio released Sunday appears to show an Iranian official directing the vessel to change course.

HMS MONTROSE SPEAKER: Sepah Navy patrol boat, this is British warship foxtrot…

SEPAH NAVY PATROL BOAT SPEAKER: Foxtrot 236, this is a Sepah Navy patrol boat. No challenge is intended. No challenge is intended. I want to inspect the ship for security reasons. Over.

AMY GOODMAN: Britain classified Iran’s capture of the tanker as a “hostile act.” Today, Prime Minister Theresa May, who is expected to leave office Wednesday, is scheduled to hold a series of emergency Cabinet meetings. Iran said it seized the tanker in retaliation for the British impounding of an Iranian tanker earlier this month off the coast of Gibraltar.

MOHAMMAD JOAVAD ZARIF: This is economic terrorism, pure and simple. We need to repeat it again and again. And we do not negotiate with terrorists. They do not negotiate with terrorists. We do not negotiate with terrorists, because this is economic terrorism, what they’re doing.

AMY GOODMAN: Amidst heightened tensions with Iran over the safety of shipping lanes in the Gulf, the Pentagon has said U.S. troops are being deployed to Saudi Arabia to defend American interests from so-called emergent credible threats. Saudi Arabia confirmed King Salman had approved the move. The kingdom has not hosted U.S. combat forces since 2003, when then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced their withdrawal. Meanwhile, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton is in Tokyo, reportedly to meet with Japanese officials about a U.S.-led military coalition to safeguard shipping in the Strait of Hormuz.

For more, we go to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Narges Bajoghli, professor of Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins University, author of the forthcoming book, Iran Reframed: Anxieties of Power in the Islamic Republic. She’s also the director of The Skin That Burns, a documentary film about survivors of chemical warfare in Iran.

Professor Bajoghli, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk about this latest series of actions in the Strait of Hormuz, the latest news we’re getting just today that an unnamed Iranian official held a news conference saying they had arrested 17 people, somehow linked to the CIA, and that some of them were executed? He would not identify himself. And then we have this seizing of the British tanker following the seizing of the Iranian tanker. Can you respond to all that’s developing right now?

NARGES BAJOGHLI: Sure. Well, you know, President Trump’s maximum-pressure campaign against Iran is really a multipronged campaign. So, there is the issue of sanctions, which you had spoken about earlier in your segment, the economic sanctions that the Trump administration has put on Iran, especially on oil exports. That has been something that’s gained a lot of media attention. Iran, for the first year after President Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, sort of practiced a lot of restraint. In that first year, it tried not to retaliate in any way. However, as the oil sanctions increased in pressure and have resulted in the Iranian currency initially crashing quite a bit, what that’s entailed has been that Iran has promised that it will retaliate in order to show that it’s not going to stand by idly while maximum pressure is imposed on them.

And so, as things have heated up between the United States and Iran, Iran has attempted to react in different ways in order to sort of stand in front of different forms of American pressure, one being economic sanctions, the other being sort of ways that the Trump administration seems to be trying to corner Iran militarily. And so, Iran is trying to raise the stakes not only for the United States, but for EU countries, as well as other Persian Gulf countries, and saying that if there is further military confrontation in the region, it will be something that various countries will have to pay the cost of, not just the United States. So, really, Iran is trying to sort of show that U.S. pressures are going to have repercussions for not just the Americans, but also for other countries involved.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you know of what’s happened today with this arrest of Iranians that this unnamed official said were somehow linked to the CIA? Who knows if some were executed at this point?

NARGES BAJOGHLI: Right. Well, you know, I’m reading the news as you all are, as well. There has been a lot of — in different instances in this past year, there have been points at which the Iranian government has said that they are accusing certain individuals or groups of individuals of working either with the Americans, the CIA, or with other intelligence agencies. You know, this is one of those instances.

And this is why so many activists in Iran, civil rights — activists who are involved in civil society in Iran, have been so much against the sanctions and against this sort of pressure from the United States, because what this means is it further securitizes all of civic society within Iran. So, this is sort of — whether or not these individuals that they are claiming have ties to the CIA, the fact is, in this sort of environment, when there is this sort of maximum pressure from the United States, what ends up happening is that it becomes easy for the government within Iran to securitize the atmosphere and say that, you know, different people are involved in activities with the United States. Some may be — we don’t know — but it’s also a net that they can sort of cast widely. And that’s why a lot of lawyers, activists and rights workers in Iran have been very much against this sort of pressure from the United States, because it actually ends up working against those within Iran.

AMY GOODMAN: There’s an interesting piece in The Guardian that’s headlined “How Trump’s arch-hawk lured Britain into a dangerous trap to punish Iran.” And it says, “When” — he’s talking about the national security adviser — ”[John] Bolton heard British Royal Marines had seized an Iranian oil tanker off Gibraltar on America’s Independence Day, his joy was unconfined.” He tweeted, “Excellent news: UK has detained the supertanker Grace I laden with Iranian oil bound for Syria in violation of EU sanctions.”

It goes on to say, “Bolton’s delighted reaction suggested the seizure was a surprise. But accumulating evidence suggests the opposite is true, and that Bolton’s national security team was directly involved in manufacturing the Gibraltar incident. The suspicion is that Conservative politicians, distracted by picking a new prime minister [in Britain], jockeying for power, and preoccupied with Brexit, stumbled into an American trap.”

Talk about this, very significant. What? I guess Boris Johnson is expected to be the new prime minister of Britain, perhaps tomorrow, Theresa May leaving on Wednesday. But what this means bringing Britain in? I mean, what’s very interesting in all of this, which is probably not lost on many Iranians, is you go back to 1953, not a significant year for many Americans, but all Iranians, whether they were born then or not, know that that was the year that the U.S. CIA was involved with overthrowing the democratically elected president of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh, on behalf of what is now British Petroleum, right? Anglo-American Oil. What about this U.S.-U.K. alliance here?

NARGES BAJOGHLI: Right. So, in 1953, as you mentioned, it was the U.K., actually, who was trying to bring the United States into what ended up becoming a U.S.- and U.K.-led coup against the prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh, because he had nationalized Iranian oil and kicked out the British, who were controlling the Iranian oilfields. So, that incident ended up having large consequences in Iranian political history. Many historians point to the fact that that might have been even one of the reasons that, later on, the 1979 revolution came about, because the shah was reinstated after that coup, and he was extremely unpopular in Iran in the years after the 1953 coup.

In this instance, that The Guardian article that you’re referring to, it’s very interesting — well, part — another, you know, one of the reasons that this is very significant is that John Bolton was involved in the lead-up to the war with Iraq in 2002. In that war, the United States really relied heavily on the U.K., on Tony Blair, in coming behind it and in helping to lead that war into Iraq, and also the United States really needed its coalition in Europe in order to do so. In this instance, the Trump administration doesn’t have the support of the Europeans, including the United Kingdom, once it pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal in May of 2018. That was a deal that all of these — the United States, Europe, Russia and China had worked for years to build that deal and to come to terms with the Iranians on the nuclear issue. When the Trump administration decided to unilaterally pull out, the Europeans have tried, at least in word, to say that they continue to be committed to this deal, and have tried to figure out ways to work around the sanctions that the United States has unilaterally imposed on Iran.

And so, as this maximum-pressure campaign has ramped up, the Trump administration has tried to bring in allies in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel, in confronting Iran. For various reasons, some of those, including the Emirates specifically, have begun to, it seems at least, pull away from the U.S. in trying to support some sort of military or some sort of campaign against Iran.

Now, in this instance, with the reporting that The Guardian has put out today, what it’s showing is that John Bolton is trying to get the U.K. involved in confronting Iran. And if the United States can build some sort of coalition at least — and it seems like John Bolton, out of the Trump administration, really is at least the one strand that we can point to that wants some sort of military confrontation with Iran — that at the end of the day he wants some sort of regime change. And so, if he can — you know, if this reporting is true from The Guardian, and he’s really been able to set out this trap to bring the United Kingdom into this confrontation, that’s very significant. And none of this should be lost on — you know, we need to be able to connect these dots to who John Bolton was during the George W. Bush administration and his role in the Iraq War.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the significance right now — I mean, you have the two oil tankers, one held by Britain, one held by Iran, right now. You have the U.S., Trump, announcing they had shot down an Iranian drone, and Iran saying they haven’t. You have the U.S. sending troops to Saudi Arabia. How serious is this right now? And, Professor Bajoghli, you have done a lot of research over many years around the Revolutionary Guard. There are also divisions within Iran right now. And the question is: Who is being empowered by this conflict, that started with Trump pulling out of the Iran nuclear agreement, that led to these intense sanctions that’s putting intense pressure on the population?

NARGES BAJOGHLI: Yeah. So, you know, for many years, voters in Iran kept voting for reformists and moderates, in the hopes that they would engage with the West, and with the United States in particular, in order to bring Iran out of this isolation that it’s been in since the 1979 revolution, in which — you know, Iran is a country that’s been sanctioned by the United States for about 40 years now. And so, the idea with the Iran deal was to begin these sorts of conversations and to at least allow certain avenues of trade between Iran and Western powers.

The point that is happening today is that the moderates and the reformists kept pushing for: Let’s engage with the United States, let’s engage with the West. With Trump pulling out and imposing all of this pressure on Iran, right now what has happened is that it’s the hard-liners within the Islamic Republic, and especially within the Revolutionary Guard, who are gaining the upper hand here. And in the face of — again, as I mentioned, maximum pressure from the Trump administration is multipronged, so there are covert actions happening. There are the economic sanctions. There are very large media and social media campaigns being targeted at Iranians within the country. So, in this sort of atmosphere, what’s happening is that the hard-liners in Iran have been vindicated by saying, “See, we told you you could never trust the United States. We shouldn’t have gone down this path anyways.”

And so, in this instance, right now, for the moment at least, we’ve seen a united front on the Iranian leadership in standing up to what it sees as a war by the United States in multiple ways. It just hasn’t gotten to a hot war quite yet. But there is the sanctions, the media wars. All of these things are happening in tandem. And so, this is a situation in which the Iranian leadership is rallying around the flag, and they’re trying to get the Iranian public to rally around it, as well. And that has only — that will only benefit the hard-liners within Iran.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk, Professor Bajoghli, about the social media campaign that the U.S. has launched as part of its, quote, “maximum-pressure strategy”?

NARGES BAJOGHLI: Yes. Well, part — this is multipronged, as well. So, one of the things that we know, that journalists have been reporting on within the past month and a half, is the U.S. State Department has been funding social media campaigns that have been targeting American journalists, scholars, for those who are against the Trump administration’s Iran policies. Those have been smear campaigns, trolling campaigns. There have been letters sent to employers of these journalists and editors and scholars.

And then, on the Iran — within Iran, there has been a lot of money given by the U.S. State Department, as well as other entities, to promote either troll farms, to promote specifically satellite Iranian — so, Persian-language Iranian satellite stations that are broadcast to Iran. If you begin to trace the differences in the guests that they’ve been inviting within the past year, the kind of analysis that is being provided by some of these different stations, like Voice of America — there’s a Saudi-funded Iran International — all of these different satellite stations are embroiled in this wider maximum-pressure campaign, which is geared towards creating as much economic pressure on Iran through the sanctions and then really sowing feelings of discord and despair within the population, that it’s one of the hopes of John Bolton — and he’s mentioned this publicly many times — that maximum pressure will help — will lead to a situation in which Iranians within Iran will rise up and ask for regime change themselves.

And so, the economic sanctions are one part of it, and that’s sort of the more visible part that we’re seeing. But there’s an entire media campaign that’s going on around this, as well, that’s meant to both suppress dissent in the United States against what the Trump administration is doing, as well as create discord within Iran through these different media campaigns.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Bajoghli, in the last 30 seconds we have, what do you think needs to happen right now to avoid a war?

NARGES BAJOGHLI: Well, you know, Iran has said, and it stands by, and its actions show, that whatever actions the United States or European powers take militarily within Iran, Iran will retaliate. And so, what needs to happen at this stage is — there are talks between Iran and the United States going on now, as Zarif’s — Foreign Minister Zarif’s trip here last week in New York indicated. And so, those conversations really need to continue, and all sides need to begin to de-escalate, because whatever actions either the United States or any other powers take in the Persian Gulf region, Iran will retaliate, and eventually these tits-for-tats will lead to, I think, very devastating military confrontation in the Middle East, that it seems that no one really wants at this time.

AMY GOODMAN: Narges Bajoghli, we want to thank you for being with us, professor of Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins University.

NARGES BAJOGHLI: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Her book, Iran Reframed: Anxieties of Power in the Islamic Republic, is due out in September. She’s also director of The Skin That Burns, a documentary film about survivors of chemical warfare in Iran.

When we come back, we go to Hawaii to look at the growing resistance against the construction of a massive telescope on top of Mauna Kea, a sacred Native site in Hawaii. We’ll go to that site. Stay with us.

Implementing The One Viable Solution To Climate Change

The Earth seen from the Moon 1969

The Earth seen from the Moon 1969

WIKIPEDIA CREATIVE COMMONS

Last month, June 2019, was the hottest June ever recorded. Nine of the 10 warmest Junes in recorded history have occurred since 2010. As I write this article today, most of America is suffering an extreme heatwave. The frequency and intensity of extreme heat, excessive rainfall, hurricanes, floods and gigantic wildfires are increasing. Climate change, once a mere statistical figment of scientific prediction, is now happening as a matter of universally experienced fact.

This, scientists tell us, is just the beginning. The future is far more disquieting. For many years, public discussion has been focused, somewhat arbitrarily, on a possible increase in global temperature of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the estimated threshold for “dangerous” climate change.

While climatology is not yet a precise science, there is increasing evidence that the average global temperature is heading inexorably beyond 2 degrees Celsius and heading towards a threshold of 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit). Such a trajectory would have dire social and economic consequences. In the cautiously ominous words of the World Bank, “the limits for human and natural adaptation are likely to be exceeded.”

Almost all climate scientists now believe that this trajectory is primarily a result of human action, mainly, burning hydrocarbons, although other factors like deforestation have contributed. In principle, what is caused by human behavior can be changed by changes in human behavior. Yet coherent effective action to deal with, or respond to, the man-made global climate crisis has yet to happen, for several reasons.

The core of the problem is that the burning of hydrocarbons is the foundation of many of the huge improvements in the material well-being of the human race over the last century. We hesitate to set aside immediate tangible benefits that we experience many times every day, merely to avoid some distant future risk explained by some supposed expert whom we don’t know and whose thinking is difficult to figure. We hesitate to bear an immediate loss of well-being and comfort in the here and now merely to avoid a loss sometime in the distant future, which may in fact never happen.

This is not because we are stupid or evil. It’s our very nature. Our brains have been created to ignore risks that appear distant in time and place. Research shows that we all have built-in biases that limit a rational response. For instance, as a result of the “confirmation bias,” facts and reasons not only do not change our current convictions: they often make us even more resistant to change. Moreover, the “bystander effect” causes us to defer action in the hope that someone else will solve the problem: with climate change, the problem is that that someone else is us. As veteran ABC journalist Bill Blakemore has said, “Climate

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Don’t expect to find the answer any time soon, but this article continues here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2019/07/21/implementing-the-one-viable-solution-to-climate-change/#7941368911f5

Tennessee police say viral ‘meth-gators’ warning was a joke

Exposing the Big Game

Drug-addled alligators were a myth all along.

Tennessee police department on Friday clarified that its viral post from earlier this month asking citizens not to flush their drugs down the toilet for fear of creating “meth-gators” was just a joke.

CHICAGO ALLIGATOR REPORTEDLY MOVING TO FLORIDA: ‘CHANCE THE SNAPPER’ WILL ‘BE LIVING IN LUXURY’

“Let us be perfectly clear: the meth gator was a humorous illustration used to highlight the dangers of flushing drugs and other substances down your toilet,” the Loretto Police wrote on Facebook. “Alas, the meth-gator is not real. Let’s say that again: THE METH GATOR IS NOT (at this time) REAL.”

The…

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By punishing Iran, Trump risks a full-scale war between our two countries

The US president should resist the pressure from his advisers and de-escalate the explosive tensions in the Persian Gulf

 Mohammad Khatami was president of the Islamic Republic of Iran from 1997 to 2005

British flagged oil tanker ‘Stena Impero’ seized at Strait of Hormuzepa07731990 An Iranian Revolutionary Guard jet boat sails around the seized British-flagged tanker Stena Impero in Bandar Abbas, southern Iran, 21 July 2019. Media reported that Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) claims to have seized Stena Impero at the Strait of Hormuz with 23 crew on board. Stena Bulk has issued a statement that ‘UK registered vessel Stena Impero was approached by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter during transit of the Strait of Hormuz while the vessel was in international waters. On 20 July Stena Bulk informed that Head of Marine Affairs at the Port of Bandar Abbas is in contact with the crew members, who are in ‘good health’ and that Head of Marine Affairs has confirmed to them that no instructions have been received so far as to what will happen to the ship.’ EPA/HASAN SHIRVANI
 The British-flagged tanker, Stena Impero, seized in the strait of Hormuz: ‘By exiting the JCPOA, the Trump administration has moved against the very principles of dialogue, engagement and coalition-building.’ Photograph: Hasan Shirvani/EPA

Twenty-one years ago, on my recommendation, the UN general assembly named 2001 the year of “dialogue among civilisations”, and signalled its commitment to peace and its rejection of war and violence. The Iranian people, despite their own historic grievances and troubled history, opened a hopeful new chapter of engagement and dialogue with the Great Powers (US, UK and Russia). These hopes, however, were dashed by the terrorist atrocities of 11 September, 2001 and their tragic aftermath in devastating wars in west Asia. The catastrophic wars of Iraq and Afghanistan and other interventions in the region exacerbated already extant problems, and paved the way for the growth of international terrorism, civil wars in Syria and Iraq, and the depredations and war crimes still unfolding in Yemen. These conflicts have made the region unsafe and have impinged on security around the world.

In the same period, the development of Iran’s peaceful nuclear programme became a test of the dialogue on peace. In order to build trust with the international community my administration sought dialogue, and after years of difficult and tumultuous negotiations, President Rouhani’s government succeeded in concluding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – known as the Iran nuclear deal – with six other world powers.

Iran has repeatedly declared that it is not seeking to build a nuclear weapon. In addition to observing its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty (NPT), as a gesture of goodwill Iran accepted the JCPOA’s measures to ensure transparent verifiability of the peaceful nature of its civilian nuclear programme. The successful conclusion of the JCPOA was a major achievement which showed that reciprocity and mutual trust between Iran and the E3+3 were not only possible, but desirable. Furthermore, it acted as an important basis on which to build, containing within it the prospect of more fruitful and positive relations between our respective nations in the future. Sadly, Iran was the only country to abide by all the provisions of the JCPOA, while the other signatories have either breached or shirked their responsibilities under its terms.

While Iran was playing a decisive role in defeating the Islamic State’s reign of terror, the Trump administration decided to initiate a new round of hostilities against my country by illegally withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, violating UN security council resolution 2231 that the US had itself jointly sponsored, and waging a campaign of economic sanctions against the Iranian people. President Trump is thus punishing Iran and indeed the world community not for violating the JCPOA, but for complying with this UN-sanctioned international legal agreement. By exiting the JCPOA, the Trump administration has moved against the very principles of dialogue, engagement and coalition-building. It has spurned the cause of peace. Unrelenting sanctions and what is effectively a blockade on Iran impose collective punishment on a nation that has done absolutely nothing wrong. The present US administration is ratcheting up tensions in the Persian Gulf, making a conflagration or even a full-scale war between our two countries increasingly likely.

 Jeremy Hunt says ‘small window’ exists to save Iran nuclear deal – video

But the reimposition of brutal sanctions and renewed military threats will not force the Iranian government or my people into submission. Sanctions, like terrorism, are indiscriminate in their targets and ruinous in their consequences.

Today, the Middle East once again faces a crisis not of its own making; a crisis which was both unnecessary and avoidable. It doesn’t have to be this way, and escalating tensions can still be defused. Cool heads must prevail if the region is not going to find itself dragged into yet another violent maelstrom. This cycle of imperious unilateralism and the substitution of military solutions for political ones must stop, and the US administration must respect its international obligations by choosing dialogue over coercive diplomacy and threats of war.

As someone who has made it his life’s mission to defend the dialogue of cultures and civilisations, world peace, democracy, tolerance and human rights, I express my deep concern for the future of the Iranian nation and other nations of our region. It is in this spirit that I call on people of conscience in the US and across the world to promote peace and “dialogue among civilisations” instead of promoting the idea of a “clash of civilisations”. We must form a #CoalitionForPeace that says #NoWarWithIran to prevent disaster. With a view to the acute level of tensions in the Persian Gulf region, the situation is both fragile and explosive.

Despite the pressure coming from some of his advisers, President Trump still has the choice to reverse his administration’s unnecessary escalation. He should be aware that Iranians are steadfast. For well over a century since our 1905 constitutional revolution, Iranians have fought to preserve our dignity and independence. The JCPOA negotiating process was proof of Iran’s good faith and commitment to a respectful international peace. The question is whether the current US administration is willing to respond in kind, instead of continuing to issue insults and threats and using the kind of colonial language more befitting of 19th-century imperial administrators than a 21st-century world power.

It is easy to destroy, but far harder to build. Obstacles to a lasting peace are real. But they are not insurmountable. We must be proactive in our advocacy for peace and dialogue for our own sake and that of future generations. Dialogue, empathy and a willingness to listen to one another is the only way towards hopeful horizons of a bright future.

 Mohammad Khatami was president of the Islamic Republic of Iran from 1997 to 2005

Op-Ed: How cracking down on organized crime could save a tiny porpoise from extinction 

https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2019-07-19/vaquita-porpoise-mexico-do
cumentary> Show more sharing options

<https://www.latimes.com/opinion> Opinion

The vaquita, nicknamed the “panda of the sea” for its black-rimmed eyes and
mouth, is nearly extinct. Fewer than 15 are believed to exist.

(Los Angeles Times)

By Richard Ladkani

July 21, 2019

3:05 AM

Why should you care about the vaquita, a tiny porpoise you have probably
never seen, living in a sea you may have never touched, with a fate tied to
a fish you likely didn’t know existed?

Because the vaquita is a powerful symbol of what we are losing on our
planet. If we can’t save this smallest and most endangered porpoise on
earth, what hope is there for rhinos, tigers or elephants? Unless
governments and societies the world over get much more involved in saving
endangered creatures, we will be destined to live in a terribly quiet world
with nothing wild.

The vaquita is on the brink of extinction. Fewer than 15 are believed to
exist, all in the Sea of Cortez, the gulf separating Baja California from
mainland Mexico. As the giant sea-bass totoabas are poached, vaquitas –
nicknamed “pandas of the sea” for their black-rimmed eyes and mouth – are
caught as bycatch in massive commercial fishing nets and die.

The drop in vaquita numbers from almost 570 in 1997
<https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-vaquita-seafood-ban-20180726-stor
y.html> to a fraction of that today is directly linked to organized crime,
which drives the trafficking in totoaba swim bladders with complete
disregard for the destruction it leaves behind. A single bladder can fetch
up to $100,000 in China. There are millions to be made off of them, which
makes the trade almost unstoppable without the implementation of radical
measures.

It is not like the Mexican authorities haven’t tried. They declared the
vaquita habitat a natural reserve, imposed a fishing ban, helped fund the
VaquitaCPR <http://www.vaquitacpr.org/> rescue program, made the use of
gill nets illegal and started a compensation program for fishermen barred
from going out to sea. None of this has been able to stop the killing spree.

The chaos began after the Chinese hunted the bahaba, a giant sea bass in
nearby waters to the brink of extinction about a decade ago. As they
searched for a replacement, they found it nearly 8,000 miles away in the
totoaba, inhabiting an incredibly beautiful ecosystem that undersea explorer
Jacques Cousteau once described as the
<https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2004-jun-16-me-steinbeck16-story.ht
ml> “the aquarium of the world.”

After the Chinese mafia of Tijuana joined forces with the Mexican drug
cartels, the brutal hunt began for the totoaba, nicknamed “the cocaine of
the sea.” Both the vaquita and the totoaba are listed as critically
endangered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of
Wild Fauna and Flora <https://www.cites.org/eng/disc/what.php> .

To catch the totoaba, fishermen are lured into illegality by the prospect of
riches and later extorted by the cartels. They drop thousands of gill nets
into the sea, anchoring them to the ocean floor, creating walls of death. In
addition to annihilating the totoaba, the nets snare turtles, sharks, sea
lions, birds, even whales. The vaquita is the most endangered victim of this
slaughter.

The laws to protect the marine environment in the Sea of Cortez are weakly
enforced. Illegal fishing is still widely viewed in Mexico as a petty crime
and widespread corruption enables it, especially among the military and
police. Mexico’s new government under President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador
has shown little interest in environmental issues, even halting a program
that provided monetary compensation to fisherman barred from all fishing
within the vaquita refuge – driving more of them into working illegally with
the cartels.

If more isn’t done, this enchanting and unique ecosystem three hours south
of the U.S.-Mexico border will be lost forever, along with the vaquita and
the totoaba. To prevent this, the local fishermen cannot be sidelined
without viable options to provide for their families and the international
community – especially the U.S. and China, but most of all Mexico – needs to
take a more aggressive stance in cracking down on transnational crime
syndicates that are decimating this marine life.

In June, two Chinese nationals were arrested when their vehicle was stopped
for speeding in Orange County and they were found transporting totoaba swim
bladders worth nearly $4 million
<https://worldanimalnews.com/two-men-busted-in-california-with-endangered-to
toaba-bladders-worth-3-7-million-hunting-of-these-fish-is-responsible-for-on
ly-an-estimated-20-vaquita-remaining-in-the-wild/> . In March, Chinese
authorities prosecuted 11 people for smuggling $119 million worth
<https://phys.org/news/2019-03-china-prosecutes-people-million-totoaba.html>
of the bladders. And late last year Chinese customs officials confiscated
980 pounds of bladders
<https://phys.org/news/2019-03-china-prosecutes-people-million-totoaba.html>
estimated to be worth about $26 million.

Of course, there is no second chance when it comes to extinction and time is
running out. Yet it is not too late to turn the tide, even for the vaquita.
DNA studies by scientists who research the vaquita show that the porpoises
can come back, even from very low numbers. All they need is a safe habitat,
which means space to roam without any nets.

Employees from nongovernmental organizations such as Earth League
International <https://earthleagueinternational.org/our-team/> and Sea
Shepherd <https://seashepherd.org/> have been working relentlessly to stop
the killing and disrupt the criminal totoaba networks, often at the risk of
their own lives, but their efforts can only buy time. Government agencies
need to step in and resolve the crisis.

The cartels are feasting on profits that rival the drug trade’s, yet they
encounter little to no resistance. Until making money off of stalking and
killing marine animals is recognized for what it is – organized crime – and
punished accordingly, the dwindling vaquita and totoaba in the azure waters
of the Sea of Cortez won’t stand a chance.

Richard Ladkani <http://www.richardladkani.com/> ‘s recently released
documentary,
<https://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/la-et-mn-sea-shadows-documenta
ry-review-20190710-story.html> “Sea of Shadows,” is about the battle to save
the vaquita.

_____

<https://www.latimes.com/opinion> Opinion
<https://www.latimes.com/topic/op-ed> Op-Ed

Climate crisis needs radical food changes

Exposing the Big Game

Climate crisis needs radical food changes

19 Jul 2019
Sheep
The entire food system needs to change, researchers say. Image: By nima hatami on Unsplash

To feed 9 billion people by 2050, and keep planet Earth from overheating, will mean massive and radical food changes – and not just in the way food is grown.

To contain global temperatures to no more than 2 °C above the average for most of human history will require humanity to change its diet, contain its appetite and reform the entire system of food production and distribution.

This is the verdict of the latest study of the challenge set in Paris in 2015, when 195 nations promised to limit global warming – driven by profligate use of fossil fuels and by the conversion of forest, grassland and wetlands into commercial use – to “well below” 2 °C by 2100.

Researchers report in the journal Sustainability

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The Green New Deal Must Include Regenerative Agriculture and an End to Factory Farming

[Ah, to be young and green and so full of hp[e again. Don’t get me wrong, I believe factory farming is coming to an end soon–just not voluntarily and not until the rest of this so-called ‘civiliztion’ goes first…]

Exposing the Big Game

by

https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/07/18/green-new-deal-must-include-regenerative-agriculture-and-end-factory-farming

A millennial perspective on why the way we farm and how we consume food must be part of the conversation when it comes to the climate crisis

“A unique opportunity to address climate change can be found in our agriculture sector,” writes Kruger, “an area which must be made sustainable if we’re going to survive.” (Photo: PeopleImages/iStock)

This week, a petition signed by more than 100,000 people was delivered to Congress, outlining issues that should be addressed in Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey’s (D-MA) Green New Deal. This petition shows overwhelming support for the Green New…

View original post 1,224 more words

What the Ebola emergency means, what it doesn’t mean, and what’s next

Finally, the World Health Organization has declared the world’s latest Ebola outbreak a global health emergency. But what, exactly, does that mean?

The decision this week by the WHO’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, to designate the long-running Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo a public health emergency of international concern generated a flood of news coverage.

Some global health experts have been vociferously insisting for months now that a PHEIC (pronounced FAKE or PHEEK) needed to be declared. They say it could improve the outbreak response and speed an end to the crisis.

What is a PHEIC?

Sometimes it’s easiest to define something by talking about what it’s not. That’s definitely the case when trying to describe a PHEIC.

Despite the fact the name combines “emergency” and “international,” a PHEIC isn’t necessarily a true global emergency. It can be — say, if a new disease began to spread globally or another flu pandemic started.

But in the case of the latest Ebola outbreak, the reality is people in Indianapolis and Istanbul, Shanghai and Sydney are at no greater risk today than they were before the PHEIC was declared. The declaration is not the WHO’s way of sending up a flare to warn that Ebola will be spreading around the globe from northeastern DRC.

This event is a crisis in the affected region of DRC and a real risk to neighboring countries. Governments around the world need to be paying more attention to it, but the risk of global spread is low

So that’s what it isn’t. But what is it? 

A PHEIC is defined as “an extraordinary event that poses a public health risk to other countries through international spread and that potentially requires a coordinated international response.” In short, it’s a tool the WHO’s member states have given the global health agency to help it deal with difficult transmissible disease situations.

It was created when the International Health Regulations — a treaty designed to prevent and control the international spread of disease — were updated after the 2003 SARS outbreak.

(If you don’t remember SARS, it was a disease that spread rapidly from China to other parts of Southeast Asia and also to Canada, sickening more than 8,000 people and killing about 800. It was completely unknown and alarming. But scientists and public health authorities figured out quite quickly how to control SARS and, except for a few cases the following year, it hasn’t been seen since.)

The goal of the IHR is to keep the world safe from transmissible diseases like this by requiring countries to report dangerous outbreaks so their neighbors can be on the lookout for cases and prepare to respond if needed.

A PHEIC gives the WHO some temporary powers it can wield in a crisis. For instance, it can share information about what’s happening with other countries, even without the consent of the affected nation.

WHO’s director-general can also issue what are known as temporary recommendations; those typically take the form of instructions to other countries (and indirectly, companies) not to penalize the affected nation by closing borders, restricting airline flights, blocking importation of goods or suspending visas issued to people from the affected countries.

Wouldn’t you want to stop travel and commerce from a disease-affected country to prevent spread?

Here’s the thing: Countries that know they’re going to take a financial hit or be ostracized internationally are less likely to fess up when they’re dealing with a dangerous disease.

You don’t want to penalize a country that’s been forthcoming. But you also don’t want to make it harder to move people and goods into or out of the affected area. The WHO needs to send in teams of experts, of health workers who can assist in an outbreak response. Doctors Without Borders and the other NGOs working on a response need to be able to ship in equipment. If air travel is cut off or reduced during a health emergency, it impedes the world’s ability to control the disease.

Are there any downsides to declaring a PHEIC?

It was designed to help but experience has shown a PHEIC can be a double-edge sword. There have been real concerns that declaring a PHEIC in this case could hurt the economy of the region, which could further inflame the tensions between people in the affected region and the people trying to extinguish this outbreak.

What about those temporary recommendations? Don’t countries have to follow the instructions of the WHO director-general?

In a word: No. The WHO is not the world’s health police. The director-general can advise, urge, exhort, or even condemn countries. But at the end of the day, countries are sovereign and will do what they think is best for their citizens.

During the massive Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014-2016, many countries stopped issuing visas to citizens of the affected countries. The WHO publicly challenged a few to explain their actions. In at least one case, that led to an angry call to the director-general at the time, Margaret Chan. The country that made that angry call, Canada, did not change its visa policy.

And most airlines stopped flying to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, the countries at the heart of that outbreak. To this day there’s a deep well of gratitude in the global health community for Brussels Airlines and Royal Air Maroc, which heroically maintained flights into the region.

How often have PHEICs been declared?

Far less often than you’d think. For instance, an emergency committee of experts set up to assess the threat posed by Middle East Respiratory Syndrome met 10 times and decided at each meeting that MERS did not warrant declaring a public health emergency of international concern.

Is the disease a threat to some people in a few Arabian Peninsula countries? Yes. More than that? Not so far. The committee held firm even when a South Korean businessman who got sick in the Middle East went home and ignited a major outbreak — nearly 200 cases — in Seoul.

Likewise a large and dangerous yellow fever outbreak in Angola that moved into DRC’s capital, Kinshasa, in 2016 — an outbreak that nearly tapped out the global supply of yellow fever vaccine — was not declared a PHEIC.

There had been four PHEICs declared prior to this week’s addition of the DRC Ebola outbreak. The first time the tool was used was during the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, the first flu pandemic in 41 years. The West African Ebola outbreak of 2014-2016 was a PHEIC, as was the 2017 Zika virus outbreak in Latin America.

The other PHEIC was different from all the rest. It wasn’t a response to the emergence of a new disease, or one like Ebola that breaks out of nature occasionally to infect people. In 2014 the polio eradication campaign was floundering, and a decision was made to declare wild polio transmission a public health emergency of international concern. (That PHEIC remains in place five years later.)

The idea was to raise awareness of the issue at higher levels within governments around the world; that is what PHEICs are intended to do.

That, it’s hoped, is what will result from declaring the North Kivu-Ituri Ebola outbreak a PHEIC — that governments around the world, with their purses and emergency response expertise, will start paying more attention to this long-running crisis.

Running the numbers on an insane scheme to save Antarctic ice

SLIPPERY SLOPE —

It would take a lot. Like a real lot.

Antarctica's Pine Island Glacier sheds some icebergs. Could we... sort of... put them back?
Enlarge / Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier sheds some icebergs. Could we… sort of… put them back?

Imagine, if you will, the engineers of the king’s court after Humpty Dumpty’s disastrous fall. As panicked men apparently competed with horses for access to the site of the accident, perhaps the engineers were scoping out scenarios, looking for a better method of reassembling the poor fellow. But presumably none of those plans worked out, given the dark ending to that fairy tale.

A recent study published in Science Advances might be relatable for those fairy tale engineers. Published by Johannes Feldmann, Anders Levermann, and Matthias Mengel at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the study tackles a remarkable question: could we save vulnerable Antarctic glaciers with artificial snow?

Keeping our cool

Antarctica’s ice is divided into two separate ice sheets by a mountain range, with the smaller but much more vulnerable West Antarctic Ice Sheet representing one of the biggest wildcards for future sea level rise. In 2014, a study showed that two of the largest glaciers within that ice sheet—known as the Pine Island Glacier and Thwaites Glacier—had likely crossed a tipping point, guaranteeing a large amount of future ice loss that would continue even if global warming were halted today.

Much of the bedrock beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is actually below sea level, though it’s buried below kilometers of solid ice. This makes for situations where the bed beneath the ice slopes down as you go inland from the coast. That’s inherently unstable, and once a glacier starts retreating downslope, the invading water provides an increasing floating force that reduces the sliding friction that slows the seaward flow of ice.

In the case of the Pine Island and Thwaites Glaciers, it seems that this is exactly what’s happening. Although this process can take centuries to fully play out, this portion of the ice sheet contains enough ice to raise global sea level by more than a meter.

Is there some extraordinary measure that could prevent that loss and preserve these glaciers? It’s the kind of question people will often ask, and scientists (who know the scale of these things) generally ignore as implausible.

But in this case, the researchers decided to go wild. Using a computer model of the ice sheet, they simulated the effects of adding huge amounts of ice near the front of these two glaciers. The idea works like this: Where a glacier meets the sea, it transitions from grounded to floating. Behind this “grounding line,” the glacier sits on the bedrock and sediment beneath; in front it gets thinner and floats as an ice shelf. To preserve the glacier, you need to keep that grounding line from retreating downhill. Thicken the ice on the inland side of the grounding line, and the thickness of ice flowing over the line and into the ice shelf increases—its weight keeps the grounding line pinned in place.

This map shows bedrock elevation beneath the ice sheet, with the white box highlighting the area of the Pine Island and Thwaites Glaciers where snow would be added in this scenario.
Enlarge / This map shows bedrock elevation beneath the ice sheet, with the white box highlighting the area of the Pine Island and Thwaites Glaciers where snow would be added in this scenario.

The researchers played around with different amounts of ice added to the glaciers for different periods of time, ranging from 10 year treatments to 50 years. Spreading it out over a longer period could mean a less preposterous addition of ice each year, but they found that the total amount has to increase if you do it that way. So in the end, the scenario they selected was 7,400 billion tons of ice added over 10 years. That was enough to restabilize these glaciers, preventing their inexorable decline.

Two for one special

To put that into context, removing that much seawater from the ocean would lower global sea level by about 2 millimeters per year. Current total sea level rise is a little over 3 millimeters per year, so it would be like nearly halting sea level rise… by bailing water out of the ocean. We can call that a bonus positive.

This analysis is more about what it would take than what such a scheme would look like, but the basic options are to pump water up and hose it around—hoping it freezes quickly—or to freeze it into snow like the world’s most awkwardly located ski resort.

Here, the researchers transition to listing all the reasons this is impractical and all the negative impacts it could have. For starters, the seawater would have to be desalinated since salt would probably affect the physics and behavior of the ice. Simply pumping that much water up the 640 meters and spreading it over an area nearly the size of West Virginia would require the power of something like 12,000 wind turbines—and that’s without the very substantial energy requirements for desalination and snow-making.

“The practical realization of elevating and distributing the ocean water would mean an unprecedented effort for humankind in one of the harshest environments of the planet,” the researchers write.

The impacts on Antarctic ecosystems could also be huge. Pumping that water out of the sea near the coast would significantly alter the circulation of water, which might even become somewhat self-defeating, as it could bring more warm water up against the ice shelf, increasing melt.

In the Potsdam Institute’s press release, Levermann puts it this way: “The apparent absurdity of the endeavour to let it snow in Antarctica to stop an ice instability reflects the breath-taking dimension of the sea-level problem. Yet as scientists we feel it is our duty to inform society about each and every potential option to counter the problems ahead.”

And to be clear, this is in addition to halting climate change—the scenario the numbers are based on assumes the temperatures don’t keep rising. But as the alternative is eventual inundation of parts of the world’s coastal cities, an argument can be made that the cost could be worth paying. It least it gives us an idea just how hard it would be to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Methane, explained

Cows and bogs release methane into the atmosphere, but it’s by far mostly human activity that’s driving up levels of this destructive greenhouse gas.

Every time a cow burps or passes gas, a little puff of methane wafts into the atmosphere.

Each of those puffs coming out of a cow’s plumbing, added together, can have a big effect on climate because methane is a potent greenhouse gas—about 28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the Earth, on a 100-year timescale, and more than 80 times more powerful over 20 years. The effects aren’t just hypothetical: Since the Industrial Revolution, methane concentrations in the atmosphere have more than doubled, and about 20 percent of the warming the planet has experienced can be attributed to the gas.

There’s not that much methane in the atmosphere—about 1,800 parts per billion, about as much as two cups of water inside a swimming pool. That’s about 200 times less concentrated in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, the most abundant and dangerous of the greenhouse gases. But methane’s chemical shape is remarkably effective at trapping heat, which means that adding just a little more methane to the atmosphere can have big impacts on how much, and how quickly, the planet warms.

Methane is a simple gas, a single carbon atom with four arms of hydrogen atoms. Its time in the atmosphere is relatively fleeting compared to other greenhouse gases like CO2—any given methane molecule, once it’s spewed into the atmosphere, lasts about a decade before it’s cycled out. That’s a blip compared to the centuries that a CO2 molecule can last floating above the surface of the planet. But there are many sources of methane, so the atmospheric load is constantly being regenerated—or increased.

Methane’s sources

Today, about 60 percent of the methane in the atmosphere comes from sources scientists think of as human caused, while the rest comes from sources that existed before humans started influencing the carbon cycle in dramatic ways.

Most of methane’s natural emissions come from a soggy source: wetlands, which includes bogs. Many microbes are like mammals in that they eat organic material and spit out carbon dioxide—but many that live in still, oxygen-deprived spots like waterlogged wetland soils produce methane instead, which then leaks into the atmosphere. Over all, about a third of all the methane floating in the modern atmosphere comes from wetlands.

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There are a variety of other natural methane sources. It seeps out of the ground naturally near some oil and gas deposits and from the mouths of some volcanoes. It leaks out of thawing permafrost in the Arctic and builds up in the sediments under shallow, still seas; it wafts away from burning landscapes, entering the atmosphere as CO2; and it is produced by termitesas they chow through piles of woody detritus. But all of these other natural sources, excluding wetlands, only make up about ten percent of the total emissions each year.

Human sources of methane

Today, human-influenced sources make up the bulk of the methane in the atmosphere.

Other agricultural endeavors pump methane into the atmosphere, too. Rice paddies are a lot like wetlands: When they’re flooded, they’re filled with calm waters low in oxygen, which are a natural home for methane-producing bacteria. And some scientists think they can see the moment when rice production took off in Asia, about 5,000 years ago, because methane concentrations—recorded in tiny bubbles of ancient air trapped in ice cores in Antarctica—rose rapidly.

The small flask holds as much methane as the large one, as a powder rather than a gas.PHOTOGRAPH BY MARK THIESSEN, NAT GEO IMAGE COLLECTION

Methane also leaks into the atmosphere at gas and oil drilling sites. There are strict rules in place in many states and countries about how much leakage is allowed, but those rules have proven difficult to enforce. Recent studies suggest that wells in the U.S. alone are producing about 60 percent more methane than previously estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency. Worldwide, the energy sector contributes about a quarter of the annual methane budget.

Another major source? Waste. Microbes in landfills and sewage treatment centers chomp through the detritus humans leave behind and in the process pump out tons of methane each year—about 14 percent of the U.S.’s annual footprint.

Methane’s impact on climate, past and future

Methane may also have been the cause of rapid warming events deep in Earth’s history, millions of years ago. Under high pressure, like the pressures found deep at the bottom of the ocean, methane solidifies into a slush-like material called methane hydrate. Vast amounts of methane are “frozen” in place at the bottom of the sea in this chemical state, though the exact amounts and locations are still being studied. The hydrates are stable unless something comes along to disturb them, like a plume of warm water.

massive warming event that occurred about 55 million years ago may have been kicked off by destabilized hydrates, some scientists think. Methane percolated up from the seafloor into the atmosphere, flooding it with the heat-trapping gas and forcing the planet to warm drastically and quickly.

In the modern atmosphere, methane concentrations have risen by more than 150 percent since 1750. It’s not clear whether this rise will continue, or at what rate, but the IPCC warns that keeping methane emissions in check is necessary in order to keep the planet from warming further.