Home » Posts tagged 'UN'
Tag Archives: UN
The Financialization of Food and the Profitability of Poverty
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
The following is a brief excerpt from a chapter of The People’s Book Project, covering issues related to food, water, land grabs, environmental destruction, hunger and poverty. This excerpt examines the global food crisis.
There are a few things upon which humanity is entirely dependent for survival: food, water, land and the environment. One of the central questions with which humanity currently has to address its part, past and present, is the ways in which we, as a species, interact with our environment. When it comes to environmental issues, the primary focus is placed upon the issue of climate change, and while this is indeed an important issue, it could be said that this focus almost misses the forest for the trees. Climatic change is here to stay, it is an inevitability, and it is a requirement for humanity to begin the process of adaptation. However, climate change is not “the problem,” it is a symptom of the problems associated with the environment. The source of the problem is how human society – specifically Western state-capitalist society – interacts with the environment at the local and global level. When examining this question, the issues and concerns raised go far beyond climatic changes, though they all interact.
One cannot separate our interaction with the environment from the interaction between power structures and people, whether we are discussing large states, banks, corporations, international organizations, etc. In a global system in which people are themselves treated as commodities, where more than half the world’s population lives in abject poverty, with hunger and starvation increasing, with imperial powers destabilizing countries, bombing communities, supporting coups and waging wars, oppressing, impoverishing, and destroying, environmental issues are inseparable from social, political, and economic issues.
One need only look at the issue of militarization and war to see a clear relationship between these issues: wars are mostly waged by large states – whether directly or indirectly through proxies – against poor populations in weak ‘Third World’ states. Aside from the obvious destruction the physical war takes – through bombs and bullets – a nation’s infrastructure is destroyed, its people impoverished and oppressed. The American military system – by far the largest in the world – through the maintenance of aircraft carriers, ships, jets, equipment, transportation, weapons, with roughly one thousand military bases around the world, foreign occupations and operations, make this single institution known as the Pentagon “the largest institutional user of petroleum products and energy” in the world. The United States wages wars to secure resources around the world, to dominate and oppress populations, and in doing so, exploits and plunders those very same resources, destroys the environment, spreads poverty, death, and destruction. Its purpose is to serve minute – yet powerful – interests. Yet, it is devastating for the world’s people and the environment.
If we are truly interested with answering the question of how we move forward as a species in dealing with environmental issues, we must ask the parallel questions of how we deal with issues of poverty, hunger, land, exploitation, oppression, war, empire, and power. It seemingly makes the task harder, but it also makes the answers more plausible, and, indeed, possible.
Again, looking at the issue of climate change, we have seen countless international conferences held by global plutocrats, governments, international organizations, banks and corporations and global NGOs and environmental organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International, whose boards of directors are dominated by individuals from banks, corporations and oil conglomerates. And we phase surprise that nothing productive is done. The ‘solutions’ we are given for complex problems are based around ideas of carbon credits, carbon trading, carbon caps and carbon markets, effectively commodifying the entire atmosphere, turning pollution itself into a profitable enterprise, and thus, making the problems that much worse. We are told that there are ways to simply ‘Green’ the economy, to promote the interests of state-capitalism and the environment simultaneously. But in a system which has always subjugated the environment and the population at large to the powerful interests which dominate, we are fools to assume they have changed their interests.
A great deal of press was given to the 2009 Copenhagen Conference, and the fact that it ended in failure. The focus was on “who” screwed it up: it was China, it was America, it was Canada! Everyone was pointing the finger at one another. The reality, however, was far more revealing, not only of the failure of Copenhagen, but of the true intent and the result of pursuing environmental issues through the institutions of power which have created the environmental problems in the first place.
The Copenhagen conference was viewed by elites as a means to advancing their institutional power to a more global level, as internal UN documents revealed that the focus was on a “green economy,” noting: “moving towards a green economy would also provide an opportunity to re-examine national and global governance structures.” The document stated that “linkages between environmental sustainability and the economy will emerge as a key focus for public policymaking and a determinant of future market opportunities,” and one top official stated that the environmental, food, and economic “crises provide a unique opportunity for fundamental restructuring of economies so that they encourage and sustain green energy, green growth and green jobs.”
It sounds well enough, but its focus on “market opportunities” for the “green economy” ignores entirely the nature of “market opportunities” being one of the most significant factors in creating environmental crises in the first place. With a focus on advancing issues of “global governance” in order to address environmental issues, the role of dominant institutions in creating the environmental crisis is overlooked, and thus, the ‘solution’ is to enhance the power of those very same institutions to global levels, further removing power from populations and communities (where the real solutions to environmental issues lie). In short, if the issue of ‘power’ – and the global distribution of power between institutions and populations – is not addressed, the ‘solutions’ offered are, at best, little more than band-aids on broken arms.
China received a great deal of the blame for the failure of the Copenhagen talks, but there is more to this story. Perhaps the most significant factor was due to what was called the ‘Danish Text,’ a leaked Danish government document written in secret between the rich and powerful nations to serve as a framework for their actions and intentions at the conference. The agreement would have handed more power to the rich nations, and sideline the UN in any final agreement, as well as “setting unequal limits on per capita carbon emissions for developed and developing countries in 2050; meaning that people in rich countries would be permitted to emit nearly twice as much under the proposals.” In other words, with true Western cultural state-capitalist logic: find the problem, acknowledge the problem, then double the problem! The text was drafted by a select coterie of representatives from Denmark, the U.K. and the United States, and the draft “hands effective control of climate change finance to the World Bank; would abandon the Kyoto protocol – the only legally binding treaty that the world has on emissions reductions; and would make any money to help poor countries adapt to climate change dependent on them taking a range of actions.”
Thus, one of the central institutions of world power – the World Bank – which has advanced the interests of Western banks and corporations across the ‘developing’ world, promoting privatization, deregulation, exploitation, resource extraction, and ultimately, environmental degradation, would then be given the responsibility of ‘solving’ the environmental crisis. And how would it do this? The World Bank would be given control over the dispersal of funds in the same way that it has handled the dispersal of loans in the past. Here’s a hint: it comes with “strings attached.”
A senior diplomat at the talks described the Danish Text as “a very dangerous document for developing countries.” Among the many points in the document were to “force developing countries to agree to specific emissions cuts and measures that were not part of the original UN agreement” and to “weaken the UN’s role in handling climate finance,” as well as aiming to “divide poor countries further.” Allowing for the rich countries to increase their emissions, while poor countries face severe restraints, overlooks the fact that the countries with most emissions already are those very same rich countries. Preventing poor countries from producing emissions would prevent them from developing their own resources as they see fit, instead allowing for the rich countries to move in and further dictate policies in their own interests. Ultimately, it was a draft agreement to advance imperial domination of the rich world over the poor world, using the issue of “climate change” as the excuse.
When the Danish text was leaked, representatives of poor nations were “furious that it is being promoted by rich countries without their knowledge and without discussion in the negotiations.” One diplomat noted: “It is being done in secret. Clearly the intention is to get Obama and the leaders of other rich countries to muscle it through when they arrive next week. It effectively is the end of the UN process.” Further, “It proposes a green fund to be run by a board but the big risk is that it will be run by the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility,” a partnership of ten agencies including the World Bank and UN Environment Programme, thus bypassing more democratically accountable and representative institutions, such as the UN itself. This, stated one diplomat, “would be a step backwards, and it tries to put constraints on developing countries when none were negotiated in earlier UN climate talks.” Since poor countries already suffer the greatest burden, not only of poverty, but of environmental devastation and climatic change (not to mention, war, imperialism, and oppression), the notion of the powerful countries exporting their responsibility to the poor and oppressed does not only fail to address the issues, but would inevitably make the problems much worse. We tend to call this “market logic.”
The release of the Danish text prompted the developing nations, represented by the G-77 (the vast majority of the world’s population) to suspend their participation in the negotiations. Days following the conclusion of the Copenhagen conference, the UN’s climate chief wrote in a confidential internal memo that it was the ‘Danish Text’ that led to the ultimate failure of the talks, stating that, “the text was clearly advantageous to the US and the west, would have steamrollered the developing countries, and was presented to a few countries a week before the meeting officially started.” Within days of the leaking of the ‘Danish Text’, developing nations were accusing the rich countries of engaging in “climate colonialism.” The Sudanese diplomat to the conference stated, “This is all based on the dominance and supremacy of developed countries. One could say the Empire has been doing this since the 16th Century, the Empire has always ruthlessly grabbed natural resources – the new resource is the global atmospheric space and carbon space.” One activist and participant called the deal an act of “carbon colonialism.”
The British delegation at Copenhagen further inflamed tensions and calls of colonialism when it suggested the creation of a “climate fund” by diverting western aid budgets from poverty reduction funds into climate change “adaptation.” Thus, “money earmarked for education or health would be diverted into projects such as solar panels and wind farms,” incurring anger from several developing nations. As one commentator with the Guardian explained, Copenhagen was “a disaster for Africa,” the continent that contributes the least amount of carbon emissions in the world, and will disproportionately suffer the consequences more than any other. Several African nations were coerced into signing the final deal, even though they had walked out of negotiations following the Danish Text, with industrial rich nations threatening to withdraw foreign aid if the deal was not signed.
Again, this is but one of many examples of how environmental issues are intimately related to those of poverty, economics, imperialism, and power, more generally. To address one with any substance, we must address all with perseverance. Or, we could just continue to push for international conferences met with the self-congratulations of global elites who pride themselves on having flown around the world on taxpayers’ dollars to stay in five-star hotels and eat gourmet meals while they discuss issues of poverty and environmental protection, amounting to little more than “agreements to agree” at some point in the future, while globally, business as usual, and more accurately, accelerated rates of exploitation and devastation, dominate the decisions and actions of the powerful.
The Financialization of Food and the Profitability of Poverty
The global food crisis hit international headlines in 2008, with “food riots” erupting in dozens of countries around the world, in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. By May of 2008, it was reported that food riots had hit roughly 37 countries, with some of the more dramatic taking place in Cameroon, Niger, Egypt, and Haiti. At that time, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) warned: “Food is no longer the cheap commodity that it once was. Rising food prices are bound to worsen he already unacceptable level of food deprivation suffered by 854 million people… We are facing the risk that the number of hungry will increase by many more millions of people.”
Governments and repressive regimes around the world were under threat from the rising tide of food price rebellions (commonly referred to as “food riots”), with the rapidly accelerating costs of life’s necessities driving people to desperation, and even pushing governments to the brink of collapse. A UN adviser and economist, Jeffrey Sachs, noted, “It’s the worst crisis of its kind in more than 30 years… It’s a big deal and it’s obviously threatening a lot of governments. There are a number of governments on the ropes, and I think there’s more political fallout to come.” El Salvador’s president, Elias Antonio Saca, told the World Economic Forum that it “is a perfect storm… How long can we withstand the situation? We have to feed our people, and commodities are becoming scarce. This scandalous storm might become a hurricane that could upset not only our economies but also the stability of our countries.” A former adviser to the Ministry of Agriculture in Indonesia added that “[t]he biggest concern is food riots… It has happened in the past and can happen again.” In Haiti, where roughly 75% of the population earn less than $2 per day, with one in five children chronically malnourished, hunger had become so extreme that one “booming” commodity had become “the selling of patties made of mud, oil and sugar, typically consumed only by the most destitute.”
In Haiti, as protesters approached the presidential palace, United Nations “peacekeepers” fired rubber bullets on the hungry and starving, as well as using tear gas, and several protesters were reported to have been killed in the chaos. Food prices rose by an average of 40% since the middle of 2007, and with the price increases, came increased instability and social unrest. An adviser to the Haitian president commented: “I compare this situation to having a bucket full of gasoline and having some people around with a box of matches… As long as the two have a possibility to meet, you’re going to have trouble.”
The American government scrambled to increase “food aid” to countries around the world, fearful for the stability of its protectorates and puppet governments. A U.S. Senator, Richard Durbin, noted: “This is the worst global food crisis in more than 30 years… It threatens not only the health and survival of millions of people around the world, many of them children, but it also is a threat to global security,” with over 36 countries “now facing food crises [and] requiring help from abroad.”
An analyst at a major risk management agency told the Financial Times in November of 2008 that there had been “food protests in 25 countries in the past year,” adding: “In Indonesia the price of rice is directly correlated to the number of strikes or riots… A sharp increase in prices could cause production problems if there are strikes by workers and civil unrest could damage vital infrastructure like roads or telecoms or the government could impose a political crackdown.” The analyst provided advice for global corporations: “What global companies need to do is to avoid being seen as contributing to or being complicit with an issue. Some governments will blame rising food prices on the west, for example.” An analyst at an insurance conglomerate agreed: “Companies need to be aware of how they are perceived and seek to win hearts and minds.” In other words, what is needed is an excellent public relations campaign to ensure that western corporations do not get their deserved share of the blame for rising food prices. The advice was not to avoid contributing to the crisis, but to “avoid being seen as contributing,” after all.
In the span of a year between 2007 and 2008, the global price of wheat rose by 130%, the price of rice – the staple food for the majority of the world’s population – rose by 74%, going up by more than 10% in one day alone. While rising food prices were causing riots, social unrest, and the instability of governments across the ‘Third World,’ the prices were noticeably increasing within the industrial nations themselves, though by no means to the same degree, or with the same dramatic and devastating effects. The FAO estimated that food prices were likely to remain high for at least a decade. Global droughts, climate change, environmental destruction, massive farm subsidies in the west, population growth, and the development of biofuels (food for fuel), have all contributed to the rising costs of food. Of course, a number of other important factors were involved, such as the liberalization of food production and global markets, largely a staple of the neoliberal era, from the mid-1970s onward, and of enormous importance, the role of financial speculation, with banks, hedge funds, and investors speculating on food costs increasing, and thus, driving up the costs of food.
According to a confidential report by the World Bank in 2008 which was leaked to the Guardian, biofuels forced global food prices up by roughly 75%, contradicting the claims of the U.S. government, the main promoter and developer of biofuels, that their production led to a 3% price rise in the cost of food. Robert Bailey, a policy adviser at Oxfam stated: “Political leaders seem intent on suppressing and ignoring the strong evidence that biofuels are a major factor in recent food price rises… It is imperative that we have the full picture. While politicians concentrate on keeping industry lobbies happy, people in poor countries cannot afford enough to eat.” The World Bank estimated that the rising food prices pushed 100 million people worldwide below the poverty line, with government ministers at the G8 conference in Japan describing the food crisis as “the first real economic crisis of globalization.”
The World Bank report contested that: “Rapid income growth in developing countries has not led to large increases in global grain consumption and was not a major factor responsible for the large price increases.” The major droughts in Australia and elsewhere, according to the World Bank report, did not have a significant impact on food prices, with the biggest cause being the US and European drive for biofuels. The report noted: “Without the increase in biofuels, global wheat and maize stocks would not have declined appreciably and price increases due to other factors would have been moderate,” adding that the higher costs of energy and fertilizer contributed to a 15% increase of food costs. Use of biofuels has diverted grain production away from food and toward fuel, with over one-third of U.S. corn used to produce ethanol, and roughly half of vegetable oils in the European Union used to produce biodiesel. Further, farmers have been encouraged to put aside land for use in the production of biofuels instead of food. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the production of biofuels has encouraged financial speculation in food markets, as prices were expected to increase, and thus speculators were set to make enormous amounts of money if and when prices go up. Speculation, of course, is a self-fulfilling prophecy, as speculators betting that prices will go up inevitably pushes the prices up.
The production of biofuels has been a major strategy by North American and European governments in order to reduce dependency on foreign oil and address climate change and environmental issues. A secret report conducted by the British government – the Gallagher Report – released in 2008, reported that the development of biofuels played a “significant” role in the food price increases. All petrol and diesel in Britain had to contain 2.5% of biofuels by 2008, and was aimed to meet a target of 5% by 2010, while the EU was itself contemplating a 10% target for 2020. Naturally, this would increase food prices accordingly, creating much larger and deeper food crises.
For all the contributory factors, not least of which was the development of biofuels, which collectively account for moderate increases in the cost of food, the primary driver of the food prices was financial speculation. This has been made exceedingly evident as the food crisis was not ended in 2008, but has continued to reach new heights, and the crisis has become almost permanent.
At an emergency meeting on food price inflation in 2010, the UN’s special rapporteur on food, Olivier De Schutter, released a paper in which the increase of food prices was blamed on a “speculative bubble” created by pension funds, hedge funds, sovereign wealth funds, and big banks that speculate on commodity markets. The paper noted that beginning in 2001, “food commodities derivatives markets, and commodities indexes began to see an influx of non-traditional investors… The reason for this was because other markets dried up one by one: the dotcoms vanished at the end of 2001, the stock market soon after, and the US housing market in August 2007. As each bubble burst, these large institutional investors moved into other markets, each traditionally considered more stable than the last. Strong similarities can be seen between the price behaviour of food commodities and other refuge values, such as gold.” De Schutter further wrote: “A significant contributory cause of the price spike [was] speculation by institutional investors who did not have any expertise or interest in agricultural commodities, and who invested in commodities index funds or in order to hedge speculative bets.”
As prices nearly doubled between 2007 and 2008, riots erupted in over 30 countries and 150 million more people were pushed into hunger, the majority of commodity prices in 2010 remained well over 50% of their pre-2007 figures, and were set to continue upwards: “Once again we find ourselves in a situation where basic food commodities are undergoing supply shocks. World wheat futures and spot prices climbed steadily until the beginning of August 2010, when Russia – faced with massive wildfires that destroyed its wheat harvest – imposed an export ban on that commodity. In addition, other markets such as sugar and oilseeds [were] witnessing significant price increases.” Gregory Barrow of the UN World Food Program noted: “What we have seen over the past few weeks is a period of volatility driven partly by the announcement from Russia of an export ban on grain food until next year, and this has driven prices up. They have fallen back again, but this has had an impact.” Food prices were rising by roughly 15% per year in India, Nepal, Latin America and China. A British Green Party MP stated: “Food has become a commodity to be traded. The only thing that matters under the current system is profit. Trading in food must not be treated as simply another form of business as usual: for many people it is a matter of life and death. We must insist on the complete removal of agriculture from the remit of the World Trade Organization.”
In December of 2010, food prices reached a new record high, surpassing the 2008 levels, entering what an FAO economist referred to as “a danger territory,” adding that there was “still room for prices to go up much higher.” As John Vidal wrote in the Guardian, “[t]he same banks, hedge funds and financiers whose speculation on the global money markets caused the sub-prime mortgage crisis are thought to be causing food prices to yo-yo and inflate,” as they have taken “advantage of the deregulation of global commodity markets” and are thus “making billions from speculating on food and causing misery around the world.” Food prices were even rising 10% per year in Britain and Europe, with the UN reporting that prices could be expected to rise at least another 40% within the following decade.
In the mid-1990s, “following heavy lobbying by banks, hedge funds and free market politicians in the US and Britain, the regulations on commodity markets were steadily abolished.” What had previously been “contracts” between farmers and traders turned into “derivatives” which were to be bought and sold on international markets between global investors, “who had nothing to do with agriculture.” Thus, a global market of “food speculation” had been born, noted Vidal: “Cocoa, fruit juices, sugar, staples, meat and coffee are all now global commodities, along with oil, gold and metals.” The same institutions which were responsible for creating the massive housing bubble which resulted in the economic crisis, with foreclosures on millions of homes, reacted to the bursting of that bubble by creating a new one in commodity markets, notably food. Except with this bubble, people don’t have to wait for it to burst in order to suffer, as people are driven deeper into poverty and hunger as it inflates, all the while the institutional “investors” make a killing, quite literally.
When banks and investors began moving billions out of the housing market and into new markets, food speculation became especially attractive. Mike Masters, the fund manager at Masters Capital Management testified in the US Senate in 2008 that, “We first became aware of this [food speculation] in 2006. It didn’t seem like a big factor then. But in 2007/08 it really spiked up… When you looked at the flows there was strong evidence. I know a lot of traders and they confirmed what was happening. Most of the business is now speculation – I would say 70-80%.” In other words, roughly 70-80% of the food price increases were determined by speculation, compared to the plethora of other given reasons, combined. Masters warned the Senate: “Let’s say news comes about bad crops and rain somewhere. Normally the price would rise about $1 [per bushel]. [However] when you have a 70-80% speculative market it goes up $2-3 to account for the extra costs. It adds to the volatility. It will end badly as all Wall Street fads do. It’s going to blow up.”
The president of Strategic Investment Group in New York warned that this speculative market has only increased in size, and that “speculative demand for commodity futures has increased since 2008 by 40-80% in agriculture futures.” In 2010, one London-based hedge fund purchased more than 7% of the world’s stocks of cocoa beans, which drove the price of chocolate to its highest price in 33 years. The UN rapporteur on food, Olivier De Schutter agreed: “Prices of wheat, maize and rice have increased very significantly but this is not linked to low stock levels or harvests, but rather to traders reacting to information and speculating on the markets.” Deborah Doane of the World Development Movement noted: “People die from hunger while the banks make a killing from betting on food.”
The World Development Movement (WDM) issued a report in the Summer of 2010 blaming the rising food prices on investors and speculators, just as cocoa spiked to its 33-year high after a London hedge fund purchased massive amounts of cocoa stock. The report noted that “risky and secretive” speculative bets on food prices were exacerbating the conditions of the world’s poor, as well as sparking social unrest. Deborah Doane, director of the WDM, noted: “Investment banks, like Goldman Sachs, are making huge profits by gambling on the price of everyday foods. But this is leaving people in the UK out of pocket, and risks the poorest people in the world starving.” She added: “Nobody benefits from this kind of reckless gambling except a few City [of London] wheeler-dealers. British consumers suffer because it pushes up inflation, because of unpredictable oil and raw material prices, and the world’s poorest people suffer because basic foods become unaffordable.” The WDM estimated that Goldman Sachs likely made a profit of $1 billion in 2009 through speculating on food prices, though Goldman Sachs stated that these profits from poverty and hunger were “ludicrously overstated.”
Even in the establishment journal, Foreign Policy, ever an apologist and advocate for American imperialism and global hegemony, the food price increases were blamed on “Wall Street greed.” Perhaps not surprisingly, it was bankers at Goldman Sachs in 1991 that developed a derivative (speculative bet) based upon 24 raw materials, from metals and energy, to coffee, cocoa, cattle, corn, wheat and soy, known as the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index (GSCI). In 1999, when futures markets were deregulated, “bankers could take as large a position on grains as they liked, an opportunity which had, since the Great Depression, only been available to those who actually had something to do with the production of our food.” Other banks followed the lead of Goldman Sachs, and found that they too could reap enormous profits from speculating on food prices (and thereby causing mass poverty, hunger, and starvation), including Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Pimco, JP Morgan Chase, AIG, Bear Stearns, and Lehman Brothers. As Frederick Kaufman wrote: “The result of Wall Street’s venture into grain and feed and livestock has been a shock to the global food production and delivery system. Not only does the world’s food supply have to contend with constricted supply and increased demand for real grain, but investment bankers have engineered an artificial upward pull on the price of grain futures.” Speculation thus resulted in a situation where “imaginary wheat dominates the price of real wheat,” as “bankers and traders sit at the top of the food chain – the carnivores of the system, devouring everyone and everything below.”
Alan Knuckman is an analyst with Agora Financials, a consulting firm specializing in commodity investments, which has Knuckman spending his time on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT), the world’s largest commodity futures exchange. Knuckman stated: “This is capitalism in its purest form… This is where millionaires are made.” One might add, however, that it’s also where millions more people in hunger are “made.” Knuckman explained: “I trade in anything you can get in and out of quickly… I’m here to make money.” And that’s what he does, and he does it well. Knuckman reflected the view of many in his field, stating: “I don’t believe in politics… I believe in the market, and the market is always right.” When asked if the soaring food prices were the result of financial speculation, something in which he is directly engaged, Knuckman replied: “I don’t see it.”
One is reminded of a bad joke: two fish meet, one asks the other, “how’s the water today?” to which the other replies, “what’s water?” When one is entirely submerged in a specific universe, it requires a great deal of effort to remove one’s perspective to see a wider world view, and their place within it. Alan Knuckman is quite obviously far removed from the everyday struggles of most people, in his own country, let alone the rest of the world. When questioned by Der Spiegel about the high cost of food, he explained: “The age of cheap food is over… Most Americans eat too much, anyway.” While Americans spend roughly 13% of their disposable income, on average, on food, the world’s poor spend roughly 70% of their budget on food, and thus, high food prices for this population, with one billion people on earth classified as living in hunger, and with food prices hitting new record highs almost every passing year, pushing tens of millions more into poverty and hunger, these price-hikes are “life-threatening.” So what did Knuckman have to say about this? He contended that it amounted to “undesirable side effects of the market,” but of course, as he earlier stated, “the market is always right,” and thus, with that logic of thinking, there is nothing “wrong” with one billion people going hungry, nor with more being pushed into poverty and hunger, which are amounted to mere “undesirable side effects.” As he earlier explained, “I’m here to make money,” and obviously, everything else is incidental.
The international food market, which “is always right,” is also incidentally dominated by major banking houses, and the speculative trade in food securities was created and inflated by the very same banks that created, inflated, and profited off of the housing boom in the United States, such as Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Morgan Stanley, and JP Morgan Chase. These banks, hedge funds, and other speculators are able to reap enormous profits as millions are pushed into hunger and poverty, and the brilliance of this scheme is that the investors don’t have to produce a single thing, and never even come into contact with the real food market, whether production or distribution. They trade in “futures,” betting that prices will go up (or possibly down) in the future, and the real prices of food follow the speculative increases and decreases, and when prices go up, the speculators make money. The World Bank estimated that an increase of 10% in worldwide food prices pushes roughly 10 million more people into poverty, and that while there is enough food to feed the world, “many die of hunger simply because they can no longer afford to pay for it.”
In 2011, the annual meeting for Barclays faced protests by anti-poverty campaigners who were raising awareness about the role of Barclays in driving up food prices and profiting off of hunger, as the UK’s largest participant in food commodity trading, and one of the top three banks involved globally, according to information from the World Development Movement (WDM). The other top two banks in global commodity trading are Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Deborah Doane of the WDM noted: “First, it was sub-prime mortgages, now it’s food commodities… The lack of transparency in these markets bears worrying resemblance to the behaviour that led to the 2008 financial crash. Like any irrational asset bubble, the investors pile their money in for short-term profits, in spite of the consequences.” Estimates from WDM put the profits Barclays accumulated from food speculation at 340 million pounds in 2010.
By 2012, it was reported that Barclays had made as much as half a billion pounds in two years from food speculation. An official at Oxfam noted: “The food market is becoming a playground for investors rather than a market place for farmers. The trend of big investors betting on food prices is transforming food into a financial asset while exacerbating the risk of price spikes that hit the poor hardest.”
In an early 2012 interview with Der Spiegel, the head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), José Graziano da Silva, stated that, “speculation is indeed an important cause of the heavily fluctuating and very high prices” of food, and “only benefits banks and hedge funds, but not producers, processors and buyers – and certainly not consumers.” Apart from placing “regulations” on food speculation, da Silva suggested that the rich industrial countries should end their agricultural subsidies, noting that when the U.S. ended its subsidies for corn-based biofuels in the summer of 2011, global prices of corn immediately dropped, which “had a direct and positive effect on the food situation.” The FAO is hardly a radical organization, firmly entrenched within global power structures, it continues to promote “market solutions” to problems of hunger and food, though is critical of market “excesses.” Da Silva noted, however, that “there is enough food for everybody, but for many people, especially the poor, it’s simply too expensive. They are going hungry, even with full shelves of food.” Thus, when asked if the food crisis was “really a financial problem,” da Silva replied, “Of course.”
In 2011, speculative investment in agricultural commodities amounted to 20 times the amount of money spent by all countries of the world on food and agricultural “aid.” The three biggest players in agricultural commodity speculation – Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Barclays, respectively – have reaped hundreds of millions and billions in profits in this speculative assault against the world’s poorest billion people suffering from hunger. The UN rapporteur on food, Olivier De Schutter, noted: “What we are seeing now is that these financial markets have developed massively with the arrival of these new financial investors, who are purely interested in the short-term monetary gain and are not really interested in the physical thing – they never actually buy the ton of wheat or maize; they only buy a promise to buy or sell. The result of this financialisation of the commodities market is that the prices of the products respond increasingly to a purely speculative logic. That explains why in very short periods of time we see prices spiking or bubbles exploding, because prices are less and less determined by the real match between supply and demand.”
The UN World Food Programme referred to the 2008-2011 global spike in food prices as a “silent tsunami of hunger,” pushing 115 million more people into hunger and poverty since 2008. This, explained De Schutter, is “an absolute catastrophe” for the world’s poor. In Kenya, an unemployed single-mother looking after her eight-year-old daughter and 83-year old father explained that since the massive food price hikes: “We stopped eating lunch, and saved the little we had to eat for supper. We drank tea without sugar and sometimes we also missed breakfast. I had to travel so much to wash clothes to get money for food, but sometimes I was so weak I fell down. For supper, we had one or two cups of flour mixed with water and salt. Our life was so hard.” It is worth remembering – and reminding yourself continuously – that there is more than enough food in the world to feed the population of the world, yet, stories like this single mother’s are becoming increasingly common among billions of people. If ever there was a clear sign that something is fundamentally wrong with the global system – and “market solutions” – this is it.
In the summer of 2012, the United States experienced the worst draught in decades, contributing to increased speculation in food markets, driving prices up higher and inducing warnings of another major global food crisis on the brink. Chris Mahoney, the head of agriculture at Glencore, a major global commodity trader, let slip some industry honesty when he stated: “The U.S. weather starting mid-May… has been among the worst three or four years of the century, comparable to the dust bowl years of the mid-1930s… In terms of the outlook for the balance [profits] of the year, the environment is a good one. High prices, lots of volatility, a lot of dislocation, tightness, a lot of arbitrage opportunities… I think we will both be able to provide the world with solutions, getting stuff to where it’s needed quickly and timely, and that should also be good for Glencore.” The CEO of Glencore, Ivan Glasenberg, referred to the volatile food market as “a time when industry fundamentals are the most positive they have been for some time.” Put simply, increased food prices, and thus, increased hunger, is “good for Glencore.” Tens of millions more people pushed into abject poverty and hunger? No need to be concerned, that only means that “industry fundamentals are the most positive they have been for some time.”
What can we conclude, therefore, from a global system of ‘markets’ in which poverty and starvation create massive profits for a few select institutions and individuals, at the expense of literally billions of human beings, and entire nations and societies? Does this really reflect, as one trader stated that, “the market is always right”? Or does it reveal a market which benefits few at the expense of many? The answer is, of course, self-evident: so then why is the issue not framed in such a manner? Instead of acknowledging global markets as inherently and structurally (not to mention ideologically) immoral and wrong, we talk about “reforming” and “regulating” these markets as if minor changes would rectify the fundamental problems. The truth – as hard as it may be for many to accept – is that global markets are fundamentally wrong and immoral.
We acknowledge this type of immorality on an individual level, say with the literary character of Ebenezer Scrooge who profited from the misery of others, but when it reaches global institutional and ideological proportions, we often justify and excuse it, or possibly acknowledge that it is “not perfect” and there are “undesirable side effects,” possibly warranting ‘reform.’ Perhaps the institutional ideology could be best summarized by Ebenezer Scrooge when he was asked to donate to a charity to help the poor and hungry who were at risk of dying, to which Scrooge replied, “If they would rather die… they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
At what point is it acceptable to suggest that humanity is in need of an entirely new way of organization and function? In a world of seven billion people, when billions live in poverty, in slums, and with hunger, at what point do we begin to acknowledge that this system simply does not work? Sadly, it seems that people only often recognize this when they are among the poor, within the slums, and starving. By that point, however, their concerns become those of daily survival, not issues of reform or even activism and revolution. Their days are spent toiling and struggling for a meager dollar or two so that they could afford a meager meal, or if lucky, two meals. Looking after other family members, they do not have the luxury of education, information, and the ready capacity for organization and activism that we – who do not live in hunger and absolute poverty – have. If we continue to uphold a world system which has created and sustains and exacerbates the conditions and prevalence of global poverty, slums, and hunger, we doom others – and indeed ourselves – to that same fate.
Future samples from this chapter will focus on environmental degradation, poverty, and the global land grabs. If you found this excerpt of interest, please consider making a donation to The People’s Book Project to help the research and writing continue.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, with a focus on studying the ideas, institutions, and individuals of power and resistance across a wide spectrum of social, political, economic, and historical spheres. He has been published in AlterNet, CounterPunch, Occupy.com, Truth-Out, RoarMag, and a number of other alternative media groups, and regularly does radio, Internet, and television interviews with both alternative and mainstream news outlets. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project and has a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
 Sara Flounders, “Winner of Project Consored top 25 articles for 2009 – 2010 news stories: Pentagon’s role in global catastrophe,” IAC, 18 December 2009:
 UNEP, Background paper for the ministerial consultations, Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme, 14 December 2009: page 3
 John Vidal, Copenhagen climate summit in disarray after ‘Danish text’ leak, The Guardian, 8 December 2009: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/dec/08/copenhagen-climate-summit-disarray-danish-text
 Richard Black, Copenhagen climate summit negotiations ‘suspended’, BBC, 14 December 2009: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8411898.stm
 John Vidal, Copenhagen climate failure blamed on ‘Danish text’, The Guardian, 31 May 2010: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/may/31/climate-change-copenhagen-danish-text
 Louise Gray and Rowena Mason, Copenhagen summit: rich nations guilty of ‘climate colonialism’, The Telegraph, 9 December 2009: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/copenhagen-climate-change-confe/6771129/Copenhagen-summit-rich-nations-guilty-of-climate-colonialism.html
 Philippe Naughton, Copenhagen Summit: wealthy nations accused of ‘carbon colonialism’, The Sunday Times, 9 December 2009: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article6950081.ece
 Ben Webster, Britain angers poor nations with plan to switch cash from health to climate, The Times, 10 December 2009: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article6951047.ece
 William Gumede, Copenhagen is a disaster for Africa, The Guardian, 23 December 2009: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cif-green/2009/dec/23/copenhagen-africa-climate-change-deal
 Julian Borger, “Crisis talks on global food prices,” The Guardian, 27 May 2008:
 Marc Lacey, “Across globe, hunger brings rising anger,” The New York Times, 18 April 2008:
 Orla Ryan, “Food riots grip Haiti,” The Guardian, 9 April 2008:
 David M. Herszenhorn, “Senate Democrats Calling for More Food Assistance,” The New York Times, 29 April 2008:
 Jane Croft, “Food: Employers may have to become providers,” The Financial Times, 18 November 2008:
 Paul Vallely, “The other global crisis: rush to biofuels is driving up price of food,” The Independent, 12 April 2008:
 Aditya Chakrabortty, “Secret report: biofuel caused food crisis,” The Guardian, 3 July 2008:
 Julian Borger and John Vidal, “New study to force ministers to review climate change plan,” The Guardian, 19 June 2008:
 John Vidal, “UN warned of major new food crisis at emergency meeting in Rome,” The Guardian, 24 September 2010:
 Jill Treanor, “World food prices enter ‘danger territory’ to reach record high,” The Guardian, 5 January 2011:
 John Vidal, “Food speculation: ‘People die from hunger while banks make a killing on food’,” The Observer, 23 January 2011:
 Katie Allen, “Hedge funds accused of gambling with lives of the poorest as food prices soar,” The Guardian, 19 July 2010:
 Frederick Kaufman, “How Goldman Sachs Created the Food Crisis,” Foreign Policy, 27 April 2011:
 Horand Knaup, Michaela Schiessl and Anne Seith, “Speculating with Lives How Global Investors Make Money Out of Hunger,” Der Spiegel, 1 September 2011:
 Felicity Lawrence, “Barclays faces protests over role in global food crisis,” The Guardian, 25 April 2011:
 Tom Bawden, “Barclays makes £500m betting on food crisis,” The Independent, 1 September 2012:
 Spiegel Staff, “UN Food and Agricultural Chief: ‘Speculation Is an Important Cause of High Prices’,” Der Spiegel, 16 January 2012:
 Grace Livingstone, “The real hunger games: How banks gamble on food prices – and the poor lose out,” The Independent, 1 April 2012:
 Vince Heaney, “US drought renews food speculation concerns,” The Financial Times, 19 August 2012:
 Tom Bawden, “Unholy trade of making millions out of misery,” The Independent, 23 August 2012:
Economic Warfare and Strangling Sanctions: Punishing Iran for its “Defiance” of the United States
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
The economic sanctions imposed upon Iran are having the desired effect of punishing the population through hunger and economic strangulation, making life miserable for the many. As tensions increase between the “international community” (the West) and Iran, talk of war is in the air. For years, sanctions have been imposed upon Iran in an attempt to devastate its dependence upon the oil industry for 80% of its revenues. The West seeks ‘regime change,’ and we hear a never-ending proliferation of proclamations from Western leaders about respecting democratic rights and freedom for Iranians, in lambasting the Iranian government for its human rights record, portraying it as a state sponsor of terrorism, and, of course, that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons with a stated goal of wanting to ‘wipe Israel off the map.’
The propaganda has been consistent and increasingly desperate, and the claims are dubious at best, often relegated to the realm of blatant lies. Gazing through the propaganda, however, we must ask some important questions: what are the effects and purpose of sanctions? What has Iran done to make it the primary target of Western imperialism? Why is Iran such a ‘threat’ to the ‘world’?
In December of 2006, the United Nations imposed the first of four rounds of sanctions upon Iran to keep Iran in line with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The NPT has 189 states signed onto it, including five nuclear states, all permanent members of the UN Security Council – the United States, Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom – which binds nations to not develop nuclear weapons, to achieve complete disarmament of the weapons they have, and to pursue only peaceful nuclear enrichment. In 1996, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that, “the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be illegal under international law,” and would constitute a war crime.
Four nuclear states remain outside of the NPT: North Korea, India, Pakistan, and Israel, the only nuclear nation in the Middle East. Under the NPT, the five nuclear states are bound by law to disarm their nuclear weapons, which of course they have not done. The United States has since the end of World War II (when it dropped two atomic bombs on Japan) additionally threatened to use nuclear weapons against nations, largely ‘Third World’ states, over thirty times, including in Korea, Vietnam, and more recently, Iran.
George Bush rapidly expanded the United States’ development of nuclear weapons and even included nuclear ‘first-strike’ options in military and strategic plans, all of which was in gross violation of international law. When Obama became president, he delivered a speech in Prague announcing “America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” The following year Obama signed an agreement with Russia (the START Treaty) which planned for a 30% reduction in nuclear weapons by 2020, limiting their deployed warheads to 1,550. In other words, it reflected ‘the illusion of progress’ in small, incremental, long-term and largely toothless efforts to reduce the nuclear arsenals. Imagine yourself and another individual each have three guns and eighteen bullets, but then you sign an agreement stipulating that in seven years, you will have two guns and twelve bullets… are you now safer from the risk of being shot or shooting someone else? It only takes one bullet, one gun, to kill a person. So too does it only take one nuclear weapon, one delivery system, to kill millions.
Immediately thereafter, Obama then pledged “to spend $180 billion dollars over the next 10 years to upgrade and modernize the nuclear weapons complex so that more weapons can be produced if necessary.” In May of 2010, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference took place in New York City, attempting to reaffirm the three pillar agreement aimed at: non-proliferation, disarmament, and peaceful nuclear energy. The Non-Nuclear Weapons States (NNWS) pushed for a 2025 deadline for the total elimination of nuclear weapons, which was of course dashed by the nuclear states, which instead agreed to “accelerate concrete progress” toward disarmament, essentially, a meaningless statement. The Final Report, however, emphasized, much to the distaste of the United States, “the importance of Israel’s accession to the Treaty and the placement of all its nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards,” and called for the creation of a 2012 “nuclear-free zone in the Middle East in an attempt to pressure Israel to relinquish its undeclared nuclear arsenal.” Iran has expressed support for a nuclear-free Middle East and is a signatory to the NPT, though Israel refused to participate in the NPT. The United States of course responded to the singling out of Israel and omission of Iran as “deplorable,” and National Security Adviser James L. Jones stated that, “because of the gratuitous way that Israel has been singled out, the prospect for a conference in 2012 that involves all key states in the region is now in doubt and will remain so until all are assured that it can operate in a unbiased and constructive way.”
While the United States is in violation of the NPT, and Israel is not even a signatory, Iran is actually in compliance with the NPT. In 2005, the United States National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), compiled by all sixteen U.S. intelligence agencies (yes, there are sixteen of them!), stipulated that, “even if Iran decided it wanted to make a nuclear weapon, it was unlikely before five to ten years, and that producing enough fissile material would be impossible even in five years.” A 2007 NIE stated, “with high confidence that in fall 2003 Tehran halted its nuclear weapons programme … Tehran had not started its nuclear weapons programme as of mid-2007.” Further, the NIE admitted that, “we do not know whether [Iran] currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.” The nuclear watchdog of the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) consistently issued reports declaring it found no evidence of nuclear weapons facilities upon its inspections inside Iran, and referred to such accusations as “outrageous and dishonest.”
One may assume, however, that this is old news, and things may have changed since 2007. U.S. Secretary of Defense and former CIA Director Leon Panetta stated in an interview in January of 2012, “Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No. But we know that they’re trying to develop a nuclear capability. And that’s what concerns us.” Panetta added, of course, “I think the international strategy here, and this really has been an international strategy to apply sanctions, to apply diplomatic pressure on them, to try to convince Iran that if… they want to do what’s right, they need to join the international family of nations and act in a responsible way.” He added, “”I think the pressure of the sanctions, I think the pressure of diplomatic pressures from everywhere — Europe, United States, elsewhere — is working to put pressure on them, to make them understand that they cannot continue to do what they’re doing.” And of course, what’s a statement on Iran without the additional threat of reaffirming that the United States does not “take any option off the table.” James Clapper, the Director of the National Intelligence Council (which oversees all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies), stated on 31 January 2012 that, “We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.”
In November of 2011, the IAEA released a new assessment of Iran’s nuclear capabilities, which was quickly grasped onto by the Western media and politicians as evidence that past reports were wrong and that Iran was seeking to develop nuclear weapons. CNN had a headline, “IAEA report to detail efforts by Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.” The Wall Street Journal described it as the “most detailed assessment to date about Iran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons,” and claimed that, “It lays to rest the fantasies that an Iranian bomb is many years off, or that the intelligence is riddled with holes and doubts, or that the regime’s intentions can’t be guessed by their activities.”
In reality, however, analysts who actually studied the report instead of repeating politically-motivated statements derived from politically-blinding interpretations, stated that, “There is nothing in the report that was not previously known by the major powers.” In regards to nuclear weapons capabilities mentioned in the report, the bulk of the report, noted Julian Borger in the Guardian, “is historical, referring to the years leading up to 2003.” So while the report acknowledged, as earlier reports did, that there was a weapons program up until 2003, it also again acknowledged that it was stopped that same year. A nuclear Iran, therefore, was “neither imminent nor inevitable,” and there “has been no smoking gun when it comes to Iran’s nuclear weapons intentions,” regardless of the absurdities of the Wall Street Journal.
Since 2006, the United Nations Security Council has imposed four sets of sanctions on Iran in Resolutions 1737, 1747, 1803 and 1929, which “seek to make it more difficult for Iran to acquire equipment, technology and finance to support its nuclear activities. They ban the sale to Iran of materiel and technology related to nuclear enrichment and heavy-water activities and ballistic missile development, restrict dealings with certain Iranian banks and individuals, stop the sale of major arms systems to Iran (Russia has cancelled the sale of an anti-aircraft missile system) and allow some inspections of air and sea cargoes.”
On March 5, 2012, the IAEA chief, Yukiya Amano, said he had “serious concerns” over Iran’s nuclear program and its ambitions. It’s interesting to note, however, that in a ‘Confidential’ diplomatic cable from the U.S. State Department in 2009, American diplomats discussed Amano’s appointment to head the IAEA, and stated that he “displayed remarkable congruence of views with us on conducting the Agency’s missions,” and speaking to an American Ambassador, Amano “thanked the U.S. for having supported his candidacy and took pains to emphasize his support for U.S. strategic objectives for the Agency.” Though, Amano informed the Ambassador, “that he would need to make concessions to the G-77, which correctly required him to be fair-minded and independent, but that he was solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.”
So, as Amano emphasized that he would need to “make concessions to the G-77” in an attempt to present himself as “fair-minded and independent,” it should be asked: what is the G-77 and why is it a cause for concern? The G-77 is a group of ‘developing’ nations, organized as a coalition of nations at the UN, originally composed of 77 nations upon its founding in 1964, but today consisting of roughly 132 member countries, essentially consisting of the entire ‘Global South’ – Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. Closely related to the G-77 is the Non Aligned Movement (NAM), a grouping of countries that consider themselves to not be aligned with any one power bloc in the world, founded in 1961, now with 120 members and 17 observer nations, largely overlapped with that of the G-77, again representative of the majority of the world’s population.
Why are these organizations significant in relation to Iran? The answer is simple: they support Iran and it’s right to peaceful nuclear development. In 2006, the Non Aligned Movement called the United States “a grave threat to world peace and security,” explaining that the U.S. “is attempting to deprive other countries of even their legitimate right to peaceful nuclear activities.” That same year, Iran received the support of the G-77 in pursuit of peaceful nuclear ambitions, as stipulated in the NPT. In 2008, the NAM “backed Iran’s right to peaceful uses of nuclear power,” which was obviously contradictory to the “claims that most of the international community wanted Iran to stop enrichment.”
In 2010, as the United States was attempting to secure support for sanctions against Iran from Brazil, one of the fastest growing economies and most admired countries of the non-aligned world, Brazil, under the leadership of Lula da Silva, came out in support of Iran’s nuclear program. As one Brazilian diplomat stated, “When Brazil looks at Iran it doesn’t only see Iran, it sees Brazil too.” The New York Times then described this move to block sanctions against Iran as a “Spot on Brazilian Leader’s Legacy.” This was because Turkey and Brazil reached a deal with Iran to exchange uranium, which was described by the UN as “a step toward a negotiated settlement.” So, naturally, the move was attacked by the Western powers and their media stenographers.
A 2010 public opinion poll of the Arab world indicated that 57% of those polled felt that if Iran acquired nuclear weapons, it would be good for the stability of the Middle East. On top of that, 77% of respondents felt that Iran had a right to its nuclear program, which was especially high in Egypt, which polled at 97% in favour of Iran pursuing its right to a nuclear program, followed by Jordan at 94%. If Iran acquired nuclear weapons, 82% of Egyptians polled believed it would be beneficial for the Middle East. The two countries which were polled as posing the greatest threat to the Middle East were Israel at 88% and the United States at 77%, while Iran was viewed as a one of the two major threats to the region by only 10% of respondents, equal to those who viewed Algeria as a major threat.
A follow up poll in 2011 indicated that Iran increased as one of the region’s two major perceived threats, from 10% to 18%. From those polled, 64% said that Iran had a right to its nuclear program, while 25% felt that it would be a positive thing for the Middle East if Iran had nuclear weapons. While Iran was seen as one of the major threats to the region, with 18%, Israel remained as the largest threat at 71% and the United States at 59%. Mahmoud Ahmadinajad was tied for second as the most admired world leader tied with Hasaan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah at 13%, while Turkey’s leader Recep Erdogan got first place with 22%. Meanwhile, Barack Obama received 4%, falling below King Saud, Saddam Hussein, and Hugo Chavez, but just above Fidel Castro.
The main solution that isn’t being discussed, however, was the one agreed to at the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review in establishing a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. In a major poll of Israeli public opinion, less than half of Israelis support a strike on Iran, while 65% said it would be better if neither Israel nor Iran had a nuclear weapon, with 64% supporting the idea of a nuclear free zone in the region, which would mean Israel giving up its nuclear weapons. 60% of Israelis also favoured “a system of full international inspections” of the country’s nuclear arsenal, “as a step toward regional disarmament.”
So what is the threat posed by Iran, if not that of nuclear weapons?
In 2010, the Pentagon’s report to Congress stressed that Iran’s strategy in the region was not one of aggression, as our media and politicians would have us believe, but in fact, was a “deterrent strategy.” The report stated, “Iran’s nuclear program and its willingness to keep open the possibility of developing nuclear weapons is a central part of its deterrent strategy.” The U.S. approach to Iran, then, “remains centered on preventing it from obtaining nuclear weapons and on countering Iran’s influence in the Middle East.” Iran itself has claimed that it “pursues a defensive and deterrent strategy.” Why is the concept of ‘deterrence’ so important? As the United States and Israel continually frame Iran as being a “destabilizing” force in the region, they portray Iran as an aggressor and threat to security and stability with desires for regional domination and the destruction of entire nations. The fact that the Pentagon itself admits that Iran’s strategy is one of “deterrence” stipulates that Iran does not desire domination, but defense. So why is this a threat? It’s simple: America is the global empire, and as such, it has an assumed ‘right’ to dominate the entire world. Thus, the prospect of a nation “defending” itself or establishing a “deterrent” capability directly threatens American political-strategic and economic dominance of the entire world.
There is an important imperial concept to understand here: namely, the threat of a good example. This is a concept which is as old as empire, quite literally, and manifests itself in the concept that any nation which defies the empire has the ability to “set a good example” for other nations to defy the empire. This “threat” is all the greater if the nation is smaller and seemingly more insignificant, for if even a tiny little nation can successfully defy the empire, any nation could do it.
An excellent example of this concept is with Cuba. The Cuban Revolution in 1959 threw out the American puppet dictator and the monopoly of industry and banking held by Morgan and Rockefeller interests. The main problem with Cuba to the United States was not that it was Communist, per se, but, as explained in a 1960 National Intelligence Estimate, Cuba provided “a highly exploitable example of revolutionary achievement and successful defiance of the US.”
Since the United States seemed unable to overthrow Castro through covert military means, it was decided to use sanctions. Castro, however, had widespread popular support, and as Under Secretary of State Douglas Dillon feared at the time the Eisenhower administration was discussing the possibility of sanctions, they “would have a serious effect on the Cuban people.” However, he quickly changed his mind about caring about the Cuban people, and stated, “we need not be so careful about actions of this kind, since the Cuban people [are] responsible for the regime.” As the Assistant Secretary of State, Rubottom, added, “We have gone as far as we can in trying to distinguish between the Cuban people and their present government, much as we sympathize with the plight of what we believe to be the great majority of Cubans.” The sanctions imposed on Cuba were not designed to affect the regime directly, but rather to subject the Cuban population to hardship in the hopes that it would destroy Castro’s popular support and they would overthrow the regime. President Eisenhower remarked that, “if [the Cuban people] are hungry, they will throw Castro out.” The “primary objective” of the sanctions, explained Eisenhower, was “to establish conditions which will bring home to the Cuban people the cost of Castro’s policies and of his Soviet orientation.” CIA Director Allen Dulles added that, “a change in the sentiment of the lower classes… would only occur over a long period of time, probably as a result of economic difficulties.” Thomas Mann, the Assistant Secretary of State, agreed, explaining that sanctions would “exert a serious pressure on the Cuban economy and contribute to the growing dissatisfaction and unrest in the country.”
President Kennedy continued with this line of thinking, feeling that the embargo on Cuba would rid the country of Castro as a result of the “rising discomfort among hungry Cubans.” General Edward Lansdale, who was responsible for managing covert operations against Cuba, explained that the objective of the covert operations were “to bring about the revolt of the Cuban people,” and that these actions were to “be assisted by economic warfare.” The Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Lester Mallory declared that, “The only foreseeable means of alienating internal support… is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship.” And thus, Mallory continued, “every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba” in order “to bring about hunger, desperation and [the] overthrow of the government.” The Assistant Secretary of State Rubottom added that the approach was designed “in order to engender more public discomfort and discontent and thereby to expose to the Cuban masses Castro’s responsibility for mishandling their affairs.”
Nowhere are the devastating effects of sanctions more evident than in Iraq, between 1990 and 2000. The embargo “was intended to prevent anything from getting through to Iraq,” and “appeared to support the contention that the UNSC [United Nations Security Council] was using famine and starvation as potential weapons to force Iraq into submission.” These sanctions which began in 1990, were quickly followed up with the U.S. attack on Iraq in 1991, which destroyed Iraq’s entire infrastructure. Margaret Thatcher explained the objectives of the American and British assault against Iraq in 1991, stating that the objective was “not to limit things to a withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait but to inflict a devastating blow at Iraq, ‘to break the back’ of Saddam and destroy the entire military, and perhaps industrial, potential of that country.”
After the Gulf War, more sanctions were imposed upon Iraq, lasting the rest of the decade, and resulting in the deaths of roughly 1.5 million Iraqis, 500,000 of which were children. The New York Times was an ardent supporter of the sanctions, even stating that the UN “had enjoyed one of its greatest successes in Iraq.” Denis Halliday, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq overseeing the sanctions program resigned in 1998, calling the sanctions “a totally bankrupt concept” which “probably strengthens the leadership and further weakens the people of the country.” Upon his resignation, Halliday stated, “Four thousand to five thousand children are dying unnecessarily every month due to the impact of sanctions because of the breakdown of water and sanitation, inadequate diet and the bad internal health situation.” Just over a year later, Hans von Sponeck, Halliday’s replacement as UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, resigned in protest “at the impact of the sanctions on the civilian population.” The following day, another high UN official, the head of the UN World Food Program in Iraq, Jutta Purghart, resigned in protest.
Madeleine Albright, who was Secretary of State and prior to that, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations during the Clinton administration, was thus at the centre of the decisions and policies to place sanctions on Iraq. When she was asked in an interview if the deaths of over half a million Iraqi children were worth the price of sanctions, Albright replied, “This is a very hard choice, but we think the price is worth it.”
In February of 2012, the United States and the European Union imposed new sanctions on Iran targeting its oil sales. Between 2006 and 2010, the United Nations had imposed four sets of sanctions on Iran, including “a ban on the supply of heavy weaponry and nuclear-related technology to Iran, a block on Iranian arms exports, and an asset freeze on key individuals and companies. Resolution 1929, passed in 2010, mandates cargo inspections to detect and stop Iran’s acquisition of illicit materials.” In late January of 2012, the EU “approved a ban on imports of Iranian crude oil, a freeze of assets belonging to the Central Bank of Iran, and a ban all trade in gold and other precious metals with the bank and other public bodies,” and “agreed to phase in the oil embargo.”
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner went to Japan to attempt to pressure the Japanese to reduce their oil imports from Iran, as well as applying pressure on the Chinese to do the same. Japan relies upon Iran for 10% of its oil imports, and is the second largest customer for Iranian oil in the world, accounting for 17% of Iranian oil exports. China, the primary customer for Iranian oil, accounts for 20% of Iranian exports, India in third place with 16%, followed by Italy at 10%, South Korea at 9%, and 28% to other areas. China, however, continues to oppose trade sanctions on Iranian oil.
In response to the sanctions on Iran, Saudi Arabia has increased its output oil production levels to a level not seen since the late 1970s, in an attempt to balance the global supply of oil. As one oil industry analyst explained, “Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates are already close to their maximum production level, so it will all be up to Saudi Arabia.” Meanwhile, Iran is struggling to find new customers to purchase roughly 500,000 barrels of oil a day to make up for the loss of exports due to sanctions, what amounts to nearly 25% of Iran’s exports in 2011.
Oil is an important resource to control if a nation, like the United States, seeks to dominate the entire world. A 1945 memorandum to President Truman written by the Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs in the U.S. State Department, Gordon Merriam, stated: “In Saudi Arabia, where the oil resources constitute a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history, a concession covering this oil is nominally in American control.” Adolf A. Berle, one of Franklin Roosevelt’s closest advisers, particularly in relation to the construction of the post-War world, years later remarked that controlling the oil reserves of the Middle East would mean obtaining “substantial control of the world.”
As sanctions kicked in for Iran, the country immediately began to struggle to pay for basic food imports, such as “rice, cooking oil and other staples to feed its 74 million people.” The sanctions, thus, are “having a real impact on the streets of Iran, where prices for basic foodstuffs are soaring.” In early February, Malaysian exports of palm oil – “the source of half of Iran’s consumption of a food staple used to make margarine and confectionary” – was stopped due to Iran apparently being unable to pay for the imports. Iran had also defaulted on payments for rice from India, its top supplier of the staple food, and Ukrainian shipments of maize were cut in half. Iran has now been attempting to purchase large quantities of wheat to stock up on food supplies as the sanctions will further wreak havoc on the economy.
In the days of the British colonial empire, there was a saying in the diplomatic circles, “Keep the Persians hungry, and the Arabs fat.” Sanctions on Iran, explained the New York Times, “are turning into a form of collective punishment,” which while supposedly designed to deter Iran’s nuclear ambitions, tends to reflect the idea that “Western politicians also seem to believe that punishing the Iranian people might lead them to blame their own government for their misery and take it upon themselves to force a change in the regime’s behavior, or even a change in the regime itself,” just as was desired in Cuba. In fact, the sanctions, just as in Cuba, negatively effect the very middle class and pro-Western population which the West seeks to urge to overthrow the prevailing regime. Just as in Cuba then, it is likely that the result will be emigration out of the country by the middle class, strengthening the regime in power, and punishing the population into hunger.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.
Contribute to The People’s Book Project:
 Ronald C. Kramer and Elizabeth A. Bradshaw, “US State Crimes Related to Nuclear Weapons: Is There Hope for Change in the Obama Administration?” International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice (Vol. 35, No. 3, August 2011), pages 245-246.
 Ibid, page 246.
 Ibid, pages 248-249.
 Ibid, pages 249-250.
 Ibid, pages 250-252.
 Phyllis Bennis, “We’ve seen the threats against Iran before,” Al-Jazeera, 18 February 2012: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/02/201221510012473174.html
 Kevin Hechtkopf, “Panetta: Iran cannot develop nukes, block strait,” CBS News, 8 January 2012: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-3460_162-57354645/panetta-iran-cannot-develop-nukes-block-strait/
 Tabassum Zakaria, “Iran may or may not be building nuclear weapon, but they’re keeping their options open: U.S. intelligence chief,” The National Post, 31 January 2012: http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/01/31/iran-may-or-may-not-be-building-nuclear-weapon-but-theyre-keeping-their-options-open-u-s-spy-chief/
 Elise Labott, “IAEA report to detail efforts by Iran to develop a nuclear weapon,” CNN, 6 November 2011: http://articles.cnn.com/2011-11-07/middleeast/world_meast_iran-iaea-report_1_nuclear-weapon-iranian-nuclear-facilities-nuclear-program?_s=PM:MIDDLEEAST
 Opinion, “If Iran Gets the Bomb,” The Wall Street Journal, 10 November 2011: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204224604577027842025797760.html?mod=googlenews_wsj
 Julian Borger, “The IAEA report: what does it really mean and will it lead to war with Iran?”, The Guardian, 9 November 2011:
 Greg Thielmann and Benjamin Loehrke, “Chain reaction: How the media has misread the IAEA’s report on Iran,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 23 November 2011:
 BBC, “Q&A: Iran nuclear issue,” BBC News, 23 January 2012: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-11709428
 Alex Spillius, “Iran: watchdog says suspicious activities continue at blocked sites,” The Telegraph, 5 March 2012:
 US Embassy Cables, “New UN chief is ‘director general of all states, but in agreement with us’,” The Guardian, 2 December 2012:
 CBC, “Non-aligned nations slam U.S.,” CBC News, 16 September 2006:
 JESSICA T. MATHEWS, “Speaking to Tehran, With One Voice,” The New York Times, 21 March 2006:
 World Briefing, “Nations back right to nuclear power,” The Chicago Tribune, 31 July 2008:
 ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO and GINGER THOMPSON, “Brazil’s Iran Diplomacy Worries U.S. Officials,” The New York Times, 14 May 2010:
 ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO, “Iran Deal Seen as Spot on Brazilian Leader’s Legacy,” The New York Times, 24 March 2010:
 2010 Arab Public Opinion Poll: Results of Arab Opinion Survey Conducted June 29-July 20, 2010, The Brookings Institution, 5 August 2010:
 The 2011 Arab Public Opinion Poll, The Brookings Institution, 21 November 2011:
 SHIBLEY TELHAMI and STEVEN KULL, “Preventing a Nuclear Iran, Peacefully,” The New York Times, 15 January 2012:
 John J. Kruzel, “Report to Congress Outlines Iranian Threats,” American Forces Press Service, 20 April 2010:
 Press TV, “’Iran pursues deterrent defense strategy’,” Press TV, 22 September 2011:
 Document 620. Special National Intelligence Estimate, “Prospects for the Castro Regime,” 8 December 1960.
 Louis A. Pérez, Jr., “Fear and Loathing of Fidel Castro: Sources of US Policy Towards Cuba,” Journal of Latin American Studies (Vol. 34, No. 2, May 2002), pages 240-241.
 Ibid, pages 241-242.
 Abbas Alnasrawi, “Iraq: Economic Sanctions and Consequences, 1990-2000,” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 22, No. 2, April 2001), pages 208-209.
 Yevgeni Primakov, “The Inside Story of Moscow’s Quest For a Deal,” Time Magazine, 4 March 1991.
 Abbas Alnasrawi, “Iraq: Economic Sanctions and Consequences, 1990-2000,” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 22, No. 2, April 2001), page 214.
 Brian Michael Goss, “‘Deeply Concerned About the Welfare of the Iraqi People’: The Sanctions Regime Against Iraq in the New York Times (1996-98),” Journalism Studies (Vol. 3, No. 1, 2002), page 88.
 Patrick Cockburn, “UN aid chief resigns over Iraq sanctions,” The Independent, 1 October 1998:
 Ewen MacAskill, “Second official quits UN Iraq team,” The Guardian, 16 February 2011:
 John Pilger, “Squeezed to Death,” The Guardian, 4 March 2000:
 BBC, “Q&A: Iran sanctions,” BBC News, 6 February 2012:
 BBC, Japan ‘to reduce Iran oil imports’, BBC News, 12 January 2012:
 Bloomberg News, “Iran Sanctions Don’t Determine China’s Oil Needs, Official Says,” Bloomberg, 4 March 2012:
 Javier Blas and Jack Farchy, “Iran sanctions put Saudi oil output capacity to the test,” The Financial Times, 29 February 2012:
 JAVIER BLAS AND NAJMEH BOZORGMEHR, “Iran struggles to find new oil customers,” The Globe and Mail, 20 February 2012:
 Report by the Coordinating Committee of the Department of State, “Draft Memorandum to President Truman,” Foreign Relations of the United States, Diplomatic Papers, The Near East and Africa, Vol. 8, 1945, page 45.
 Lloyd C. Gardner, Three Kings: The Rise of an American Empire in the Middle East After World War II (The New Press, 2009), page 96; Noam Chomsky, “Is the World Too Big to Fail?” Salon, 21 April 2011: http://www.salon.com/2011/04/21/global_empire_united_states_iraq_noam_chomsky/
 Reuters, “Iran struggles to pay for basic foods as sanctions kick in,” Irish Times, 9 February 2012: http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2012/0209/1224311519827.html
 Michael Hogan, “Iran in talks to buy Russian, Indian wheat,” Reuters, 5 March 2012:
 Hooman Majd, “Starving Iran Won’t Free It,” The New York Times, 2 March 2012:
Climate Change: Breaking the “Political Consensus”
The Science of Climate Change: What does it Really Tell Us?
Global Research, August 7, 2008
The purpose of this report is to examine the science behind climate change so as to better understand the issue at hand, and thus, to be able to make an informed decision on how to handle the issue. The primary aim here is to examine climate change from a perspective not often heard in media or government channels; that of climate change being a natural phenomenon, not the result of man-made carbon emissions.
The “Science” of Consensus
When addressing the issue of climate change, it is important to understand that climatic change is an important field of study in science. However, it is not an exact science, like all sciences. Our understanding of the climatic sciences is always changing, just as our understanding of all sciences changes. If our understanding of science does not change, we would still think that the Earth was flat and the Sun revolved around our little planet. When these great achievements in science were first discovered, the scientists who discovered them were attacked, denounced, or even imprisoned.
There is an enormous political, social and economic interest in a scientific consensus, because it determines our understanding of our environment and all that is in it, including humanity, itself. A challenge to a perceived consensus is a challenge to all the powers in human society, as it can take a person’s understanding of the world we live in, and flip it upside down. This encourages people to think “outside the box,” fosters creativity and to be critical thinkers. This can ultimately threaten any power structure, as people may come to understand the forces that seek to control our lives. A consensus is an amazing tool in the hands of elites to control and manipulate people. And challenging a consensus is an amazing tool for people to remain free and independent thinkers.
This does not mean that any perceived consensus is inaccurate or completely manipulated. But it is important to understand how such a consensus can be used. It is also vital to understand that without questioning and challenging a scientific consensus, science would never advance. The key to scientific discovery is being able to change your perspective as the science changes. This is why debate on climate change must not be simply reduced to a one-sided debate; those who “know there is a problem,” and those who are “deniers.” All sides must be heard, so that we can come to a better understanding of the issue.
We hear consistently the one side of the debate, that climate change is caused by increased Carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, and that humans are the greatest contributor of this toxic greenhouse gas, and thus, the greatest contributor to climate change, and that there will be catastrophic consequences as a result. I hope to give voice to the other side of the debate.
A Brief Climate History
First of all, it is important to note that climate change is not new. There has always been climate change, and there will always be climate change. After all, there was a period known as the Ice Age, which was a long-term period of reduction in global temperatures. This expanded the continental ice sheets and glaciers. The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets were created in this period. The ice age left its imprint upon our environment, forming valleys, fjords, rock formations, and the like as glaciers advanced across the continents. As they receded when the ice age passed, it left the landscape altered and free for plant growth and life to flourish. The Great Lakes between Canada and the United States were carved out by ice. Following the Ice Age, the Halocene period began roughly 12,000 B.C. All human civilization has occurred within the Halocene period.
During the Halocene period, there was both global warming and cooling periods, which have lasted until today. During the period of 10,000 to 8500 BC, there was a slight cooling period known as the Younger-Dryas. However, that passed, and between 5000 and 3000 B.C., temperatures increased to a level higher than today. This period is referred to as the Climatic Optimum. It was during this warming period in history that Earth’s first great human civilizations began to flourish, such as ancient African civilizations around the Nile.
Between 3000 and 2000 B.C., a cooling period occurred, resulting in a drop in sea levels, from which islands such as the Bahamas emerged. There was a subsequent warming period between 2000 and 1500 B.C., again followed by a cool period, which led to glacial growth. The Roman Empire (150 B.C. – 300 A.D.) occurred during a cooling period, which went until roughly 900 A.D. During the period of 900 A.D. until 1200 A.D., a warming period occurred known as the Medieval Warming Period, or Little Climatic Optimum, which was warmer than today, allowing settlements to flourish in Greenland and Iceland.
Then a cooling period followed and between 1550 and 1850, temperatures were colder than at any other time since the end of the previous Ice Age, leading to what has been called the Little Ice Age. Since 1850, there has been a general warming period.
CO2 and Temperature
This latest warming period has also coincided with the Industrial Revolution, which saw the greatest output of human induced CO2, leading many, like Al Gore, to compare the rise in CO2 levels with the rise in temperatures, drawing a conclusion that the rise in CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere was the determining factor in the rise in temperatures. However, if one studies statistics and how to read and interpret stats and graphs, one of the primary lessons is that correlation does not imply causation. Simply put, two factors lining up on a graph, does not necessarily imply that there is a cause and effect relationship. One could take a graph of increases in temperatures and increases in the consumption of peanuts, and they may line up. However, common sense will tell us that eating peanuts does not increase global temperatures. Simply because there appears to be a correlation between the two, that does not imply that there is a cause and effect relationship.
When it comes to CO2, however, there is a much more important factor to analyze than simply statistical interpretation. Al Gore popularized the CO2/temperature connection in his movie, An Inconvenient Truth, in which he showed the correlation between the two on a graph. However, he interpreted the graph as evidence of a cause and effect relationship. His information came from an ice core sample related to CO2 emissions in the atmosphere. However, paleoclimatologist and earth sciences professor at USC, Lowell Stott, released findings of a study in September of 2007, which concluded that, “Deep-sea temperatures warmed about 1,300 years before the tropical surface ocean and well before the rise in atmospheric CO2” at the ending of the last ice age, which “suggests the rise in greenhouse gas was likely a result of warming,” not the cause of warming. [Emphasis added]
As well as this, an ice core sample of air bubbles in 2003, “revealed a precise record of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations” and concluded that, “the CO increase lagged Antarctic deglacial warming by 800 +/- 200 years and preceded the Northern Hemisphere deglaciation.” Simply put, the analysis of the ice core samples, published in Science Magazine, reported that CO2 increases lagged behind temperature increases by roughly 800 years.
In statistics, this is what is called a “lurking variable,” meaning a hidden variable that can have an outcome on the results of a statistic without having been taken into consideration in the statistic’s interpretation. For example, Al Gore’s graph showed a correlation between CO2 increases and temperature increases. The interpretation he gave was that the correlation implied causation; that because they lined up, there was an established relationship, and that relationship was defined as CO2 increases driving temperature. However, the lurking variable was that he did not take into consideration whether CO2 followed temperature increases, as the ice core samples have shown, but he rather chose to conclude that because they line up on a graph, CO2 is therefore the driver. This is bad science and statistical analysis at best, or intentional political deception at worst.
A Lesson in Weather and Carbon
I want to briefly cover what factors affect our weather on Earth and what greenhouse gases are so that we can better understand the science of climate change. Weather takes place in the atmosphere, which is the layer of air directly surrounding the Earth. Air is simply a mix of gases, the most plentiful of which is nitrogen, making up 78% of the air we breathe. Oxygen is 21% of the air we breathe, and the other 1% is a variety of different gases.
Weather tends to occur in the lowest level of the atmosphere, the troposphere. Air temperature, air pressure and humidity are the three factors that determine weather in the troposphere. The most important factors in determining temperature in the atmosphere are radiation arriving from the Sun and flowing from the Earth.
The Sun sends energy into space in a variety of ways. There is visible light, infrared heat rays and ultraviolet rays. Roughly 30% of solar radiation coming into the Earth’s atmosphere is reflected back out to space by clouds, while the remaining 70% is absorbed into the atmosphere, increasing the temperature. This is what is known as the greenhouse effect. Air temperature changes from day to night and season to season, as the amount of radiation from the Sun changes, largely determined by our planet’s tilt towards the Sun. The equator is the exception to the changing temperature with seasons, because it generally receives equal radiation from the Sun year-round.
Air pressure, the second determining factor in weather, is “the weight per unit of area of a column of air that reaches to the top of the atmosphere,” with pressure decreasing the higher you get, because there is less air above you. Humidity, the third main factor in determining weather, is a measure of the amount of water vapor in the air. The amount of water vapor that air can hold increases with temperature increases and decreases as temperatures decrease. When relative humidity is at 100%, water vapor condenses and forms droplets, changing from a gas to a liquid.
We often hear of “greenhouse gases” as being bad things. Yet, water vapor is the largest greenhouse gas of all. Carbon dioxide follows, with methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and many smaller gases. Water vapor is by far the largest greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, making up a much greater percentage than the gases that follow it.
CO2, or Carbon Dioxide, is produced by all plants, animals, fungi and microorganisms, and it is then absorbed by plants. As people breathe in oxygen, we then breathe out carbon dioxide, plants take it in through photosynthesis, and thusly emit oxygen for us to breathe in.
Carbon dioxide cannot be so simply classified as a toxin. In fact, it is a life accelerant. Recent research has shown that “shifts in rainfall patterns, cloud cover, and warming temperatures triggered a 6 percent increase in the amount of carbon stored in trees, grass, shrubs, and flowers,” in particular in the Amazon rain forests, which saw the greatest growth rates in the world. The study, conducted from 1982 to 1999, showed that “global climate change has eased climatic constraints on plant life around the globe, allowing vegetation to increase 6 percent.” Vegetation was taking in increasing amounts of CO2 in North America between 1982 and 1998, and “increased atmospheric CO2 and climate change are the primary causes of the recent U.S. vegetation increases.”
A NASA study revealed in 2001, that, “when the atmosphere gets hazy, like it did after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines in June 1991, plants photosynthesize more efficiently, thereby absorbing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,” as volcanoes emit massive amounts of CO2 during an eruption. Another study conducted in 2006 revealed that, “Diversity increases as the planet warms and decreases as it cools,” yet, deforestation can reverse this effect, simulating the effects of a global cooling trend.
In 2007, a new study revealed that as icebergs break off from Antarctica, “some as large as a dozen miles across – are having a major impact on the ecology of the ocean around them, serving as ‘hotspots’ for ocean life, with thriving communities of seabirds above and a web of phytoplankton, krill, and fish below,” and that the icebergs “can serve as a route for carbon dioxide drawdown” as it sinks into the sea.
In 2002, it was reported that, “The southern Saharan desert is in retreat, making farming viable again in what were some of the most arid parts of Africa,” and that, “dunes are retreating right across the Sahel region on the southern edge of the Sahara desert. Vegetation is ousting sand across a swathe of land stretching from Mauritania on the shores of the Atlantic to Eritrea 6000 kilometres away on the Red Sea coast,” which was largely attributed to increases in rainfall. A scientific study conducted in the Netherlands predicted that global warming “could significantly increase rainfall in Saharan Africa within a few decades, potentially ending the severe droughts that have devastated the region,” which could in effect cause a “greening of the Sahara.”
What Causes Climate Change?
If CO2 increases lag behind temperature increases, it does not make sense that CO2 can be the cause of temperature increases. It would be the equivalent of saying that growing older is caused by the graying of hair; there appears to be a cause and effect relationship, it is just of vital importance to understand which is the cause and which is the effect. So, from here we must examine what some major causes of climatic change can be.
The most important factor in climatic changes is what is called solar variations. This refers to radiation emitted from the Sun and its variations, in particular, the sunspot cycle. Sunspot cycles are the irregular rises and drops in the number of sunspots, which are regions on the Sun’s surface, which have lower temperatures than its surrounding area and strong magnetic fields. The cycles tend to last 11 years.
An important thing to note is that Earth is not the only planet that experiences climate change, as in 2002, it was reported that Pluto was “undergoing global warming in its thin atmosphere,” likely due to it’s orbit, which, “significantly changes the planet’s distance from the Sun during its long ‘year,’ which lasts 248 Earth years.” In 2006, it was reported that a new storm on Jupiter could indicate that the planet is “in the midst of a global change that can modify temperatures by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit.” As far back as 1998, it was reported that Neptune’s largest moon, Triton, “has been undergoing a period of global warming,” since 1989. This could have much to do with the fact that, as reported in 1997, the “Sun is getting hotter,” leading some scientists to say that Earth’s global warming “is part of a natural cycle for the planet.”
In 2004, the Telegraph reported that, “Global warming has finally been explained: the Earth is getting hotter because the Sun is burning more brightly than at any time during the past 1,000 years, according to new research.” The study, conducted by Swiss and German scientists, “suggests that increasing radiation from the sun is responsible for recent global climate changes.” Interestingly, the Sun “is brighter than it was a few hundred years ago and this brightening started relatively recently – in the last 100 to 150 years,” coinciding with the warming trend experienced since the Industrial Revolution. This is what can be referred to as a “lurking variable” in Al Gore’s analysis of his graphs of carbon and temperature increases since the Industrial Revolution. It is a lurking variable because though the temperatures and carbon emissions match up on a graph, it doesn’t take into account other factors that may influence the statistics, such as increasing radiation from the Sun, which also correlates with increasing temperatures.
National Geographic News quoted a scientist in 2007 that, “Simultaneous warming on Earth and Mars suggests that our planet’s recent climate changes have a natural—and not a human-induced—cause.” Mars’ ice caps had been diminishing for three years in a row, and the scientist, “Habibullo Abdussamatov, head of space research at St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in Russia, says the Mars data is evidence that the current global warming on Earth is being caused by changes in the sun.” He further stated that, “changes in the sun’s heat output can account for almost all the climate changes we see on both planets.” A NASA study in the same year also reported that Mars warmed since the 1970s, “similar to the warming experienced on Earth over approximately the same period,” which, they conclude, “suggests rapid changes in planetary climates could be natural phenomena.” A study in 2007 on climatic changes on Earth and Neptune suggested that, “some planetary climate changes may be due to variations in the solar system environment.”
In 2006, a study was conducted regarding Venus being the “solar system’s most inhospitable planet.” A planetary scientist at Oxford University stated, “It’s very disturbing that we do not understand the climate on a planet that is so much like the Earth,” and that, “It is telling us that we really don’t understand the Earth. We have ended up with a lot of mysteries.” Venus was “unbelievably hot, dense, and had virtually no oxygen.” Venus has a very pronounced greenhouse effect, as its “thick atmosphere traps solar radiation and heats the world to boiling point.” Scientists say that Venus being closer to the Sun than Earth is a factor, yet, there may be other factors. One brought up was that Venus’ atmosphere is almost entirely made up of CO2, which is effective at trapping heat. CO2 is roughly 95% of Venus’ atmosphere, compared to Earth’s atmosphere, which is 0.038% CO2, so it is extremely understandable that CO2 would have a greater effect upon Venus than Earth. The question as to why Venus has so much CO2 may be because it lost its water, whereas on Earth, “carbon dioxide is absorbed by the oceans, where it forms carbonate minerals and over the millennia is deposited as rock. That process was arrested early on Venus when it lost its oceans.” Perhaps we should put more focus into preserving and protecting our oceans.
Get Your Parka, Here Comes Global… “Cooling”?
There is a little problem with the whole “global warming” consensus, in that recent scientific research has shown that, “A study of sea temperature changes predicts a lull as traditional climate cycles cancel out the heating effect of greenhouse gases from pollution,” and that, “Global warming will be ‘put on hold’ over the next decade because of natural climate variations.” In other words, the natural climate cycles that Earth goes through, and always has gone through, has changed once again, just as a political consensus was reached. This is very significant because if CO2 was the prime cause for recent warming, and CO2 consumption has not gone down, yet, the Earth’s climate has engaged on a cooling trend, this appears to pose a problem for the CO2 hypothesis.
This cooling trend is supported by many recent events. In 2008, “Snow cover over North America and much of Siberia, Mongolia and China is greater than at any time since 1966,” and China went through its most brutal winter in a century. Also, when we are told that the Artic Sea ice is melting to its “lowest levels on record,” it is important to note that the records date back to 1972, and “that there is anthropological and geological evidence of much greater melts in the past.” As it turns out, the ice itself has not only recovered from melting, but has grown thicker in many places. With the previous melting of the Arctic, we have been told it was caused by human activity and will result in catastrophe. However, climate modelers, predicting the future climate with computer models based upon information they provide, such as CO2 consumption, are highly inaccurate, as, “Climate models until now have not properly accounted for the wind’s effects on ocean circulation, so researchers have compensated by over-emphasizing the role of manmade warming on polar ice melt.”
Many places have experienced unusual cold and snowfalls in the last year. Argentina got its first snowfall in Buenos Aires since 1918, Johannesburg, South Africa, experienced snow for the first time in 26 years, Baghdad experienced snow for the “first time in living memory,” and Saudi Arabia went through sub-zero temperatures and snow storms, making it the coldest winter in over 20 years.
Even the BBC reported that temperatures will decrease, “as a result of the cold La Nina current in the Pacific,” which is a natural phenomenon, and has a large effect on increasing cyclonic activity in the Atlantic. It’s interesting how La Niña and El Niño have disappeared from discussion on climate and hurricanes. Today, whenever there is a hurricane or natural disaster, it is instantly blamed on global warming and having been accelerated by human activity. Even Al Gore’s movie poster pictured a smoke stack with a hurricane coming out the top. An MIT climate scientist, who previously wrote about the link between hurricane energy and warming, produced a study in 2008 where he changed his pervious claims, saying that its not a clearly defined connection, saying there is a “lot of uncertainty,” and he was quoted as stating, “It’s a really bad thing for a scientist to have an immovable, intractable position.”
In March of 2008, NPR reported that after a survey of the ocean by 3,000 scientific robots, information was retrieved that showed that, “the oceans have not warmed up at all over the past four or five years. That could mean global warming has taken a breather.” The article quotes a NASA scientist as saying that, “the oceans are what really matter when it comes to global warming.”
In July of 2008, a major peer-reviewed journal of the American Physical Society, Physics and Society, concluded that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report “overstated” the effects of CO2 on temperature in their climate models by between 500 and 2000%. The paper concluded that there is no “climate crisis.” The paper further reported that CO2 will add “little more than 1°F (O.6°C) to global mean surface temperature by 2100;” that the IPCC report took their predictive information from four published papers, not 2,500, as was claimed; that “global warming” stopped ten years ago; the IPCC overstated the “effect of ice-melt by 1000%”; that 50 years ago, it was proved that “predicting climate more than two weeks ahead is impossible”; and that an important factor in explaining the previous warming was that, “In the past 70 years the Sun was more active than at almost any other time in the last 11,400 years.”
What About the Consensus?
We are often told, (especially by Al Gore), that on the issue of the effects of human activity on climate change, there is a “scientific consensus” on humans being the primary cause. If the above information does not provide some proof as to a lack of consensus on the subject, perhaps the fact that for the UN-organized 1992 Rio Earth Summit, which concluded that, “global warming and other environmental insults were threatening the planet with catastrophe,” was countered with a petition of scientists decrying, “the unsupported assumption that catastrophic global warming follows from the burning of fossil fuels and requires immediate action.” The number of signatories to the petition eventually reached 4,000 scientists, including 72 Nobel Prize winners. In 2000, to counter the Kyoto Protocol, a petition was made up of “1,500 clergy, theologians, religious leaders, scientists, academics and policy experts concerned about the harm that Kyoto could inflict on the world’s poor.”
A current petition makes the statement that, “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gasses is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth.” This petition has been signed by over 31,000 scientists.
The former editor of New Scientist magazine, Nigel Calder, wrote that, “When politicians and journalists declare that the science of global warming is settled, they show a regrettable ignorance about how science works.” He explained how roughly 20 years ago, “climate research became politicized in favour of one particular hypothesis,” and that the media, “often imagine that anyone who doubts the hypothesis of man-made global warming must be in the pay of the oil companies. As a result, some key discoveries in climate research go almost unreported.” He also explained the results of a scientific study conducted in 2001 in Denmark, which found that, “cloudiness varies according to how many atomic particles are coming in from exploded stars. More cosmic rays, more clouds. The sun’s magnetic field bats away many of the cosmic rays, and its intensification during the 20th century meant fewer cosmic rays, fewer clouds, and a warmer world. On the other hand the Little Ice Age was chilly because the lazy sun let in more cosmic rays, leaving the world cloudier and gloomier.” So not only is the Sun a determining factor, but so are cosmic rays.
I won’t state exactly what is causing climate change on our planet, as the reality is that there are many answers to that question; the Sun, cosmic rays, ocean currents and other natural phenomena, etc. However, it is safe to say that the wealth of science points to a natural change in our climate, and the entire history of the world and of all humanity supports this hypothesis. Throughout history, as in the earliest African civilizations, it was the ability of different peoples to change and adapt to climate change, which determined their survival as a civilization.
Today, we are trying to fight it. This is a dangerous road to walk, and history will not look kindly upon our scientific ignorance and politically fear-driven society. How will we be viewed in the future? How have we viewed the people of the past who thought the Earth was flat, or the Sun revolved around Earth?
Trying to fight and stop a natural phenomenon is possibly one of the most ignorant and dangerous things humanity has ever engaged in. How would history view a civilization that tried to reverse the spinning of the Earth, or the blowing of wind? It is a recipe for the fall of a civilization.
Much of the people in the world have been riled up with predictions of a catastrophic end to mankind and the world unless we don’t do something about so-called “man-made” climate change. Ironically enough, our refusal to adapt to a changing world, and instead a determination to fight it with our efforts to “go green” and “carbon neutral” may, in fact, cause the catastrophic end of our civilization. And sadly, in this instance, it would undeniably be a man-made disaster.
 Pidwirny, M. (2006). “Earth’s Climatic History”. Fundamentals of Physical Geography, 2nd Edition. http://www.physicalgeography.net/fundamentals/7x.html
 Terah U. DeJong, Clues to End of the Last Ice Age. USC News: September 27, 2007: http://www.usc.edu/uscnews/stories/14288.html
 Nicolas Caillon, et al., Timing of Atmospheric CO2 and Antarctic Temperature Changes Across Termination III. Science Magazine: Vol 299, March 14, 2003: Page 1728:
 Moran, Joseph M., Weather. World Book Online Reference Center. 2005. World Book, Inc. http://www.worldbookonline.com/wb/Article?id=ar596160
 Peter N. Spotts, World’s vegetation is cleaning more carbon from skies. Christian Science Monitor: June 6, 2003: http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/0606/p02s02-usgn.html
 John Roach, Climate Change Upped Earth’s Vegetation, Study Finds. National Geographic: June 5, 2003: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/06/0605_030605_climatechange.html
 Jeffrey Hicke, New satellite study shows vegetation increases in North America. Bio-Medicine: http://news.bio-medicine.org/biology-news-2/New-satellite-study-shows-vegetation-increases-in-North-America-9791-1/
 Goddard Space Flight Center, Large Volcanic Eruptions Help Plants Absorb More Carbon Dioxide From the Atmosphere. NASA: December 10, 2001: http://www.gsfc.nasa.gov/topstory/20011210co2absorb.html
 Rhett A. Butler, Does tropical biodiversity increase during global warming? Mongabay: March 30, 2006: http://news.mongabay.com/2006/0330-stri.html
 K.L. Smith, Jr., et al. (2007). “Free-Drifting Icebergs: Hotspots of Chemical and Biological Enrichment in the Weddell Sea,” Science 22 June 2007
 Fred Pearce, Africa‘s deserts are in “spectacular” retreat. New Scientist: September 18, 2002: http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn2811
 David Adam, Global warming could end Sahara droughts, says study. The Guardian: September 16, 2005: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2005/sep/16/highereducation.climatechange
 Robert Roy Britt, Global Warming on Pluto Puzzles Scientists. Space.com: October 9, 2002: http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/pluto_warming_021009.html
 Sara Goudarzi, New Storm on Jupiter Hints at Climate Change. Space.com: May 4, 2006: http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/060504_red_jr.html
 News, Global Warming Detected on Triton. Science A Go-Go: June 28, 1998: http://www.scienceagogo.com/news/19980526052143data_trunc_sys.shtml
 NYT, Sun Is Getting Hotter, Satellite Data Indicate. The New York Times: September 30, 1997: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0DE5D9133AF933A0575AC0A961958260
 Michael Leidig and Roya Nikkhah, The truth about global warming – it’s the Sun that’s to blame. The Telegraph: July 18, 2004: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/connected/main.jhtml?xml=/connected/2004/07/19/ecnsun18.xml
 Kate Ravilious, Mars Melt Hints at Solar, Not Human, Cause for Warming, Scientist Says. National Geographic News: February 28, 2007: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/02/070228-mars-warming.html
 Sunday Times, Climate Change Hits Mars. Times Online: April 27, 2007: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1720024.ece
 H.B. Hammel and G.W. Lockwood, Suggestive correlations between the brightness of Neptune, solar variability, and Earth’s temperature. Geophysical Research Letters: Vol. 34, April 19, 2007: http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2007/2006GL028764.shtml
 Robin McKie, Venus: the hot spot. The Guardian: April 9, 2006: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2006/apr/09/starsgalaxiesandplanets.spaceexploration
 AP, Buenos Aires gets first snow since 1918. USA Today: July 9, 2007: http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2007-07-09-argentina-snow_N.htm
 Mike Nizza, In Johannesburg, First Snowfall Since ’81. The New York Times: June 27, 2007: http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/06/27/in-johannesburg-first-snowfall-since-81/
 BBC, Baghdad Wakes Up to Rare Snowfall. BBC News: January 11, 2008: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7183881.stm
 RIA, Saudi Arabia covered with snow in coldest winter for 20 years. RIA Novosti: January 11, 2008: http://en.rian.ru/world/20080111/96210251.html
 Roger Harrabin, Global temperatures ‘to decrease’. BBC News: April 4, 2008: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7329799.stm
 Andrew C. Revkin, Hurricane Expert Reassesses Link to Warming. New York Times Blog: April 12, 2008: http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/04/12/hurricane-expert-reassesses-climate-link/
 Richard Harris, The Mystery of Global Warming’s Missing Heat. NPR: March 19, 2008: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=88520025
 Robert Ferguson, Proved: There is No Climate Crisis. Science and Public Policy Institute: July 15, 2008: http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/press/proved_no_climate_crisis.html
 Lawrence Soloman, 32,000 Deniers. National Post: May 16, 2008: http://network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/fpcomment/archive/2008/05/17/32-000-deniers.aspx
 OISM, Global Warming Petition. Petition Project: http://www.oism.org/pproject/
 Nigel Calder, An experiment that hints we are wrong on climate change. Times Online: February 11, 2007: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk//article1363818.ece?Submitted=true