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God moves to the left

America's evangelical Christians are anti-gay, pro-gun, keen on capital punishment and obsessed with lower taxes. And, of course, they all vote Republican. At least, that's what vicar Giles Fraser thought - until he went to meet them

Friday February 8, 2008

The Guardian

As night fell, a small group of pilgrims crept through a side door and into the silent and empty gloom of Canterbury cathedral. A hand-held torch did little to illuminate the wonders of the 14th-century nave. We felt our way past the place of Thomas Becket's murder, up a flight of stairs and gathered around a simple stone throne where the arch-bishops of Canterbury are consecrated. No one spoke. Faces were serious and tense. Here is the centre of gravity of world Anglicanism. Some of the party were not sure if they still wanted in. Many wanted them out.
 
These were unusual travellers to Canterbury, all progressive Christians, all leaders of big churches, and all struggling with what it meant to be a part of a world church that regards them as dangerous subversives. Many have blamed these people for forcing change and splitting the church. To me, they are the vanguard of a new progressive Reformation. They speak about God with a confidence that has little in common with the claustrophobic and institutional narrowness of the English church. They are my heroes.

But here I need to make a confession. I had known and admired most of these Virgin Atlantic pilgrims by reputation for a while, but had been in denial about one basic fact: that they were Yanks. Yes, I admit it. I suffered from that chronic prejudice of the left, an instinctive distrust of Americans with Bibles. Theologically speaking, what could the home of McDonald's offer a culture that painted the Sistine chapel? How can anyone who thinks the word "Jesus" has three syllables lead a progressive movement in the church? I knew it: I had to take on the source of all this prejudice and make a pilgrimage of my own. I needed to find out for myself: was there really such a thing as the Christian left in America?

"I love the Lord's day," boomed the rector of All Saints Church, Pasadena, in a guttural southern drawl, brimming with gum-chewing confidence. I shrank into my coffee. To non-religious Brits - and to quite a few religious ones, too - this sort of thing sends waves of ideological squeamishness down the cultural central nervous system. We just don't get it. Most days the Rev J Edwin Bacon Jr is up to say his prayers at 4am and in the gym by 5am. His church is packed to the rafters and is currently fundraising for a $40m (£20.6m) extension to the All Saints campus.

This is not a profile we would naturally associate with the left. Yet the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam war. His predecessors as rector marched with Martin Luther King and threw themselves in front of the trucks that hauled Japanese Americans off to internment camps during the second world war. He is pro-choice on abortion and conducts gay blessings. The bumper stickers in the church car park tell their own story of activism: "The Christian right is neither"; "Support the troops, bring them home."

It is a stance that has pitched Bacon's church into the centre of America's culture wars. The Sunday immediately before the last presidential election in 2004, a retired clergyman took to the pulpit in All Saints to deliver a sermon critical of the war in Iraq. In the great scheme of things it was hardly a call for revolution. Yet this 15-minute homily was to make front-page news all over the country and kick off three years of trench warfare between teams of Washington lawyers. The sermon idea was simple: if Jesus could speak to George Bush and John Kerry, what would he say?

"War is itself the most extreme form of terrorism," the preacher imagined Jesus telling the candidates. "Remember: the killing of innocent people to achieve some desired goal is morally repudiated by anyone claiming to follow me as their saviour and guide. Mr President, your doctrine of pre-emptive war is a failed doctrine. Forcibly changing the regime of an enemy that posed no imminent threat has led to disaster."

On that same day, all over the United States, thousands of preachers offered their congregations coded political references, asserting the importance of protecting the unborn child or the wickedness of homosexual marriage. But only one church got into trouble with the authorities for its message. Yes, you guessed it. Some weeks after the election, All Saints Pasadena received a letter from the Inland Revenue Service (IRS) informing them that this sermon had violated rules designed to keep charities out of politics and, as a result, their tax-exempt status was being reconsidered.

The IRS picked on the wrong church and at the end of last year it backed off, calling a halt to its investigation and withdrawing all charges. Unfortunately, it left hanging in the air the whole question of what constitutes legitimate political engagement from the pulpit. Which is why Bacon still is not happy: "This leaves me wondering whether we will be investigated again the next time I am called to preach against war, poverty, bigotry or any other of our core moral values as they relate to current social issues and policies." Ed Bacon is liberal Christianity on steroids, a seemingly implausible combination of fiery evangelical rhetoric and a progressive social conscience. Like peanut butter and jelly: unlikely until you taste it, when you realise it really works.

Although the development of leftwing politics in Britain owed a great deal to the evangelical left of radical Methodism, many of today's Christian lefties in Britain - such as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams - come from the more Catholic wing of the church. The Oxford movement sent generations of be-cassocked young men into the inner cities preaching good news to the poor. This was the tradition of the heroic slum priests who set up boxing clubs in the East End of London and built beautiful Gothic churches in the wrong part of town. I worked for a while in a church like this in Walsall. As whippet-thin pre-teens stripped the roof of its lead, we swung our incense and said our Hail Marys.

In the US , the Christian left has a more consistently evangelical DNA. Its great saint is Martin Luther King, and its signature tune is social activism. It's a religion of huge rhetorical power, managing to bring together the Bible's vision for a new social order as well as its call for individual transformation. Here, for example, is classic preaching from Baptist minister Tony Campolo, something of a guru to the new left-leaning evangelicals: "I have three things I'd like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don't give a shit. What's worse is that you're more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night."

On this side of the pond, we commonly think of US evangelical Christianity as the preserve of the right. Our lazy caricature is straight from central casting - the TV evangelist, active in the Republican party, obsessed with gay prejudice, gun ownership, capital punishment and low taxes. It's true that from Ronald Regan's presidential campaign onwards, the evangelical right became politicised as never before and were rightly credited with the electoral success of George W Bush. In 2004, nine out of every 10 white evangelicals voted Republican. On the other hand, two-thirds of non-white evangelicals voted for Kerry. And we often forget that born-again Jimmy Carter and Bible-quoting Bill Clinton were as much evangelicals as Bush. The reality is that US evangelicals are a mixed bunch.

As it happens, the evangelical/Republican alliance was never the love match it seemed. Back in 1964, Barry Goldwater was the Republican nominee for president. "Every good Christian should line up and kick Jerry Falwell's ass," was his reaction to the founder of the Moral Majority. As a libertarian of sorts, Goldwater famously defended a woman's right to abortion. "I don't have any respect for the religious right. There is no place in this country for practising religion in politics. That goes for Falwell, Robertson and all the rest of these political preachers. They are a detriment to the country." This attitude still lingers in the corridors of Republican power. Indeed, even at the height of the evangelical influence, it was always fiscal conservatives that were really pulling the strings, wrapping up their economic Darwinism in the language of faith for electoral advantage.

This election many conservative Christians are waking up to the fact that they have got absolutely zip out of their misadventure in Republican party politics. For all Bush's praise-the-Lord bravado, he has done nothing to change the laws on abortion and nothing to make gay marriage illegal. Disadvantaged churchgoers in the cornfields and ever-ailing rust belt have been had, voting against their economic interests to give tax breaks to billionaires. All Bush has done is associate their name with an unpopular war and a reputation for shrill and heartless moralising.

This may be why, according to the Christian Barna Research Group, a third of young evangelicals now claim to be embarrassed about being believers. "They're tired of the hard-edged politics that the Christian right has practised in the last couple of generations," says John Green from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life "They see all this, all this anger, without a lot to show for it." No surprise then that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been dropping to their knees and taking to the pulpit to claim full electoral advantage of this disillusionment. And although many Christians will still be voting for Baptist minister Mike Huckabee, in many ways he is a throwback. Huge numbers have been persuaded that Obama or Clinton are the future of Christian America.

The face of US Christianity is changing. The old generation of leaders are dying off or getting past it: Falwell went to meet his maker earlier this year (and I reckon he had some explaining to do), and the equally unpleasant Pat Robertson (the guy who called for the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez) is pushing 80. These people were a big deal politically. Robertson made a bid for the presidency in 1988 and actually polled ahead of Bush in the Iowa primary. But they are yesterday's men. The new breed of mega-church pastor is cut from a very different cloth.

Take someone like Bill Hybels from Willow Creek Community Church outside Chicago, one of the most influential churches in the US. Its sprawling campus is larger than Vatican City and is run by legions of Harvard MBAs. More Starbucks than St Paul's, they get 20,000 people to their stadium-like church on Sundays. OK, it's not what you would call cutting-edge progressive. But it is certainly not the hang 'em and flog 'em brigade either. It is all consumer-oriented short services, with catchy music and first-class childcare. And, increasingly, this sort of evangelical is leading the call for environmental justice, using the language of care for God's creation to the same purpose as those who prefer the secular language of green politics. Much to the irritation of old-school hard-core evangelicals, the new generation tend to avoid divisive social ethics in order to broaden their appeal. They are sunny, soft-focus, all-things-to-all-men evangelicals. Or, as they would be keen to insist, all things to all men and women. For unlike the defiantly unreconstructed old school, some would even go so far as to describe themselves as feminists.

For two months I travelled the US on my mini-pilgrimage, preaching in churches, staying with friendly church leaders and listening to the views of ordinary Christians in the pew. A lot has been said about those US Christians who are to the right of Attila the Hun and who believe multiple crazy things about the world and the world to come. We are rightly anxious about the degree of political influence these people have come to exert. But they are actually in the minority. We don't hear about the progressive side to US religion because it doesn't fit the stereotype. These Christians are passionately concerned with issues of poverty and social justice, they run soup kitchens, give generous proportions of their income to good causes, have taskforces to reduce their carbon footprint, go on demonstrations against the war, and speak out against the use of torture. God bless America.

· Giles Fraser is the vicar of Putney.

 

 

Darfur - War for Water

 

· Drought and advancing desert blamed for tensions

· Chad and southern Africa also at risk from warming

 

Julian Borger, diplomatic editor

Saturday June 23, 2007

 

 

The conflict in Darfur has been driven by climate change and environmental degradation, which threaten to trigger a succession of new wars across Africa unless more is done to contain the damage, according to a UN report published yesterday.

 

"Darfur ... holds grim lessons for other countries at risk," an 18-month study of Sudan by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) concludes.

 

With rainfall down by up to 30% over 40 years and the Sahara advancing by well over a mile every year, tensions between farmers and herders over disappearing pasture and evaporating water holes threaten to reignite the half-century war between north and south Sudan, held at bay by a precarious 2005 peace accord.

 

Article continues

The southern Nuba tribe, for example, have warned they could "restart the war" because Arab nomads - pushed southwards into their territory by drought - are cutting down trees to feed their camels.

 

The UNEP investigation into links between climate and conflict in Sudan predicts that the impact of climate change on stability is likely to go far beyond its borders. It found there could be a drop of up to 70% in crop yields in the most vulnerable areas of the Sahel, an ecologically fragile belt stretching from Senegal to Sudan. "It illustrates and demonstrates what is increasingly becoming a global concern," said Achim Steiner, UNEP's executive director. "It doesn't take a genius to work out that as the desert moves southwards there is a physical limit to what ecological systems can sustain, and so you get one group displacing another."

 

He also pointed to incipient conflicts in Chad "at least in part associated with environmental changes", and to growing tensions in southern Africa fuelled by droughts and flooding.

 

Estimates of the dead from the Darfur conflict, which broke out in 2003, range from 200,000 to 500,000. The immediate cause was a regional rebellion, to which Khartoum responded by recruiting Arab militias, the janjaweed, to wage a campaign of ethnic cleansing against African civilians. The UNEP study suggests the true genesis of the conflict pre-dates 2003 and is to be found in failing rains and creeping desertification. It found that:

 

· The desert in northern Sudan has advanced southwards by 60 miles over the past 40 years;

 

· Rainfall has dropped by 16%-30%;

 

· Climate models for the region suggest a rise of between 0.5C and 1.5C between 2030 and 2060;

 

· Yields in the local staple, sorghum, could drop by 70%.

 

In the Washington Post, the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, argued: "Almost invariably, we discuss Darfur in a convenient military and political shorthand - an ethnic conflict pitting Arab militias against black rebels and farmers. Look to its roots, though, and you discover a more complex dynamic. Amid the diverse social and political causes, the Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change."

 

In turn, the Darfur conflict has exacerbated Sudan's environmental degradation, forcing more than two million people into refugee camps. Deforestation has been accelerated while underground aquifers are being drained.

 

 

 

 

A cool reception

John Sauven

 

June 4, 2007 11:15 AM

 

http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/john_sauven/2007/06/a_cool_reception.html

 

So this is it. After years of denial, evasion and hostility George Bush has finally been forced to play defence on climate change. It's good news, right? Tony Blair called the president's speech yesterday "a big step forward". Well I call it a disaster. Last week George Bush committed a squalid street mugging on the G8 process and the Kyoto protocol, and Tony Blair just stood behind him grinning.

 

Bush's proposal - to develop a non-binding set of global emissions reduction targets by the end of 2008 - is a classic spoiler, intended to show his domestic audience and the wider world that the US is taking the issue seriously. The administration knows it has no place to hide and so, like so many times before, it has announced a plan to create the impression of action, a pathetic attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the world and an increasingly concerned US electorate.

 

The Bush administration's "new climate initiative" ignores both the scientific facts and the hard-earned experience of the last 15 years: voluntary measures do not work. The physics of the task we face is clear: global emissions must peak in the next 10 to 15 years and be drastically cut after that. In terms of the politics, the G8 are responsible historically for over 80% of the climate change we witness today and still emit over 40% of all global emissions now. They are therefore morally and legally bound to act first and act firmly. In order to achieve a global emission cut of 50%, the G8 must cut their own emissions by at least 80-90% by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels). Anything less will be neither adequate nor fair and certainly not safe.

 

This makes the US response all the more inadequate. Setting up yet another talking shop at a time when the world has a real chance of making progress at the G8 in Germany this month is an irresponsible move. For Blair to welcome the initiative is a similarly devastating indictment of the level of success he believes is achievable while Bush is still in office.

 

So where does the world go from here? The G8 must not allow this attempt at a procedural torpedo to hit its target. It still remains the only existing forum in which to mobilise action on a global scale, and the urgency of the problem demands that the leaders of the industrialised countries do not wait for the US to wake from its torpor. If all seven G8 countries that have ratified the Kyoto protocol declared their determination to cut their emissions by 30% by 2020 and 80-90% by 2050, this would be a major success. Kyoto-member countries can and must state clearly at the G8 meeting in Heiligendamm, that they will agree to these binding cuts under the protocol by 2009 at the latest. Bush, not having signed Kyoto and leaving office next year anyway, should be ignored.

 

It is amazing that the US administration is still claiming that technology and research can deliver the cuts necessary to stop the planet from suffering the worst effects of climate change. We already have the technology we need to make these cuts - renewable energy, decentralised power like combined heat and power, and massive energy efficiency programmes that could dramatically reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we pump into the atmosphere. What is required is a transformation in the way we think about energy usage, a massive overhaul of the ways in which we power the world's economies. The urgency of this problem is hard to overstate, and by delaying global action Bush is leaving the darkest of all presidential legacies.

 

 

Animal Extinction - the greatest threat to mankind

By the end of the century half of all species will be extinct. Does that matter?

By Julia Whitty. Published: 30 April 2007

 

In the final stages of dehydration the body shrinks, robbing youth from the young as the skin puckers, eyes recede into orbits, and the tongue swells and cracks. Brain cells shrivel and muscles seize. The kidneys shut down. Blood volume drops, triggering hypovolemic shock, with its attendant respiratory and cardiac failures. These combined assaults disrupt the chemical and electrical pathways of the body until all systems cascade toward death.

 

Such is also the path of a dying species. Beyond a critical point, the collective body of a unique kind of mammal or bird or amphibian or tree cannot be salvaged, no matter the first aid rendered. Too few individuals spread too far apart, or too genetically weakened, are susceptible to even small natural disasters: a passing thunderstorm; an unexpected freeze; drought. At fewer than 50 members, populations experience increasingly random fluctuations until a kind of fatal arrhythmia takes hold. Eventually, an entire genetic legacy, born in the beginnings of life on earth, is removed from the future.

 

Scientists recognise that species continually disappear at a background extinction rate estimated at about one species per million per year, with new species replacing the lost in a sustainable fashion. Occasional mass extinctions convulse this orderly norm, followed by excruciatingly slow recoveries as new species emerge from the remaining gene-pool, until the world is once again repopulated by a different catalogue of flora and fauna.

 

From what we understand so far, five great extinction events have reshaped earth in cataclysmic ways in the past 439 million years, each one wiping out between 50 and 95 per cent of the life of the day, including the dominant life forms; the most recent event killing off the non-avian dinosaurs. Speciations followed, but an analysis published in Nature showed that it takes 10 million years before biological diversity even begins to approach what existed before a die-off.

 

Today we're living through the sixth great extinction, sometimes known as the Holocene extinction event. We carried its seeds with us 50,000 years ago as we migrated beyond Africa with Stone Age blades, darts, and harpoons, entering pristine Ice Age ecosystems and changing them forever by wiping out at least some of the unique megafauna of the times, including, perhaps, the sabre-toothed cats and woolly mammoths. When the ice retreated, we terminated the long and biologically rich epoch sometimes called the Edenic period with assaults from our newest weapons: hoes, scythes, cattle, goats, and pigs.

 

But, as harmful as our forebears may have been, nothing compares to what's under way today. Throughout the 20th century the causes of extinction - habitat degradation, overexploitation, agricultural monocultures, human-borne invasive species, human-induced climate-change - increased exponentially, until now in the 21st century the rate is nothing short of explosive. The World Conservation Union's Red List - a database measuring the global status of Earth's 1.5 million scientifically named species - tells a haunting tale of unchecked, unaddressed, and accelerating biocide.

 

When we hear of extinction, most of us think of the plight of the rhino, tiger, panda or blue whale. But these sad sagas are only small pieces of the extinction puzzle. The overall numbers are terrifying. Of the 40,168 species that the 10,000 scientists in the World Conservation Union have assessed, one in four mammals, one in eight birds, one in three amphibians, one in three conifers and other gymnosperms are at risk of extinction. The peril faced by other classes of organisms is less thoroughly analysed, but fully 40 per cent of the examined species of planet earth are in danger, including perhaps 51 per cent of reptiles, 52 per cent of insects, and 73 per cent of flowering plants.

 

By the most conservative measure - based on the last century's recorded extinctions - the current rate of extinction is 100 times the background rate. But the eminent Harvard biologist Edward O Wilson, and other scientists, estimate that the true rate is more like 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate. The actual annual sum is only an educated guess, because no scientist believes that the tally of life ends at the 1.5 million species already discovered; estimates range as high as 100 million species on earth, with 10 million as the median guess. Bracketed between best- and worst-case scenarios, then, somewhere between 2.7 and 270 species are erased from existence every day. Including today.

 

We now understand that the majority of life on Earth has never been - and will never be - known to us. In a staggering forecast, Wilson predicts that our present course will lead to the extinction of half of all plant and animal species by 2100.

 

You probably had no idea. Few do. A poll by the American Museum of Natural History finds that seven in 10 biologists believe that mass extinction poses a colossal threat to human existence, a more serious environmental problem than even its contributor, global warming; and that the dangers of mass extinction are woefully underestimated by almost everyone outside science. In the 200 years since French naturalist Georges Cuvier first floated the concept of extinction, after examining fossil bones and concluding "the existence of a world previous to ours, destroyed by some sort of catastrophe", we have only slowly recognised and attempted to correct our own catastrophic behaviour.

 

Some nations move more slowly than others. In 1992, an international summit produced a treaty called the Convention on Biological Diversity that was subsequently ratified by 190 nations - all except the unlikely coalition of the United States, Iraq, the Vatican, Somalia, Andorra and Brunei. The European Union later called on the world to arrest the decline of species and ecosystems by 2010. Last year, worried biodiversity experts called for the establishment of a scientific body akin to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to provide a united voice on the extinction crisis and urge governments to action.

 

Yet, despite these efforts, the Red List, updated every two years, continues to show metastatic growth. There are a few heartening examples of so-called Lazarus species lost and then found: the wollemi pine and the mahogany glider in Australia, the Jerdon's courser in India, the takahe in New Zealand, and, maybe, the ivory-billed woodpecker in the United States. But for virtually all others, the Red List is a dry country with little hope of rain, as species ratchet down the listings from secure to vulnerable, to endangered, to critically endangered, to extinct.

 

All these disappearing species are part of a fragile membrane of organisms wrapped around the Earth so thinly, writes Wilson, that it "cannot be seen edgewise from a space shuttle, yet so internally complex that most species composing it remain undiscovered". We owe everything to this membrane of life. Literally everything. The air we breathe. The food we eat. The materials of our homes, clothes, books, computers, medicines. Goods and services that we can't even imagine we'll someday need will come from species we have yet to identify. The proverbial cure for cancer. The genetic fountain of youth. Immortality. Mortality. The living membrane we so recklessly destroy is existence itself.

 

Biodiversity is defined as the sum of an area's genes (the building blocks of inheritance), species (organisms that can interbreed), and ecosystems (amalgamations of species in their geological and chemical landscapes). The richer an area's biodiversity, the tougher its immune system, since biodiversity includes not only the number of species but also the number of individuals within that species, and all the inherent genetic variations - life's only army against the diseases of oblivion.

 

Yet it's a mistake to think that critical genetic pools exist only in the gaudy show of the coral reefs, or the cacophony of the rainforest. Although a hallmark of the desert is the sparseness of its garden, the orderly progression of plants and the understated camouflage of its animals, this is only an illusion. Turn the desert inside out and upside down and you'll discover its true nature. Escaping drought and heat, life goes underground in a tangled overexuberance of roots and burrows reminiscent of a rainforest canopy, competing for moisture, not light. Animal trails criss-cross this subterranean realm in private burrows engineered, inhabited, stolen, shared and fought over by ants, beetles, wasps, cicadas, tarantulas, spiders, lizards, snakes, mice, squirrels, rats, foxes, tortoises, badgers and coyotes.

 

To survive the heat and drought, desert life pioneers ingenious solutions. Coyotes dig and maintain wells in arroyos, probing deep for water. White-winged doves use their bodies as canteens, drinking enough when the opportunity arises to increase their bodyweight by more than 15 per cent. Black-tailed jack rabbits tolerate internal temperatures of 111F. Western box turtles store water in their oversized bladders and urinate on themselves to stay cool. Mesquite grows taproots more than 160ft deep in search of moisture.

 

These life-forms and their life strategies compose what we might think of as the "body" of the desert, with some species the lungs and others the liver, the blood, the skin. The trend in scientific investigation in recent decades has been toward understanding the interconnectedness of the bodily components, i.e. the effect one species has on the others. The loss of even one species irrevocably changes the desert (or the tundra, rainforest, prairie, coastal estuary, coral reef, and so on) as we know it, just as the loss of each human being changes his or her family forever.

 

Nowhere is this better proven than in a 12-year study conducted in the Chihuahuan desert by James H Brown and Edward Heske of the University of New Mexico. When a kangaroo-rat guild composed of three closely related species was removed, shrublands quickly converted to grasslands, which supported fewer annual plants, which in turn supported fewer birds. Even humble players mediate stability. So when you and I hear of this year's extinction of the Yangtze river dolphin, and think, "how sad", we're not calculating the deepest cost: that extinctions lead to co-extinctions because most living things on Earth support a few symbionts, while keystone species influence and support myriad plants and animals. Army ants, for example, are known to support 100 known species, from beetles to birds. A European study finds steep declines in honeybee diversity in the past 25 years but also significant attendant declines in plants that depend on bees for pollination - a job estimated to be worth £50bn worldwide. Meanwhile, beekeepers in 24 American states report that perhaps 70 per cent of their colonies have recently died off, threatening £7bn in US agriculture. And bees are only a small part of the pollinator crisis.

 

One of the most alarming developments is the rapid decline not just of species but of higher taxa, such as the class Amphibia, the 300-million-year-old group of frogs, salamanders, newts and toads hardy enough to have preceded and then outlived most dinosaurs. Biologists first noticed die-offs two decades ago, and, since then, have watched as seemingly robust amphibian species vanished in as little as six months. The causes cover the spectrum of human environmental assaults, including rising ultraviolet radiation from a thinning ozone layer, increases in pollutants and pesticides, habitat loss from agriculture and urbanisation, invasions of exotic species, the wildlife trade, light pollution, and fungal diseases. Sometimes stressors merge to form an unwholesome synergy; an African frog brought to the West in the 1950s for use in human pregnancy tests likely introduced a fungus deadly to native frogs. Meanwhile, a recent analysis in Nature estimated that, in the past 20 years, at least 70 species of South American frogs had gone extinct as a result of climate change.

 

In a 2004 analysis published in Science, Lian Pin Koh and his colleagues predict that an initially modest co-extinction rate will climb alarmingly as host extinctions rise in the near future. Graphed out, the forecast mirrors the rising curve of an infectious disease, with the human species acting all the parts: the pathogen, the vector, the Typhoid Mary who refuses culpability, and, ultimately, one of up to 100 million victims.

 

"Rewilding" is bigger, broader, and bolder than humans have thought before. Many conservation biologists believe it's our best hope for arresting the sixth great extinction. Wilson calls it "mainstream conservation writ large for future generations". This is because more of what we've done until now - protecting pretty landscapes, attempts at sustainable development, community-based conservation and ecosystem management - will not preserve biodiversity through the critical next century. By then, half of all species will be lost, by Wilson's calculation.

 

To save Earth's living membrane, we must put its shattered pieces back together. Only "megapreserves" modelled on a deep scientific understanding of continent-wide ecosystem needs hold that promise. "What I have been preparing to say is this," wrote Thoreau more than 150 years ago. "In wildness is the preservation of the world." This, science finally understands.

 

The Wildlands Project, the conservation group spearheading the drive to rewild North America - by reconnecting remaining wildernesses (parks, refuges, national forests, and local land trust holdings) through corridors - calls for reconnecting wild North America in four broad "megalinkages": along the Rocky Mountain spine of the continent from Alaska to Mexico; across the arctic/boreal from Alaska to Labrador; along the Atlantic via the Appalachians; and along the Pacific via the Sierra Nevada into the Baja peninsula. Within each megalinkage, core protected areas would be connected by mosaics of public and private lands providing safe passage for wildlife to travel freely. Broad, vegetated overpasses would link wilderness areas split by roads. Private landowners would be enticed to either donate land or adopt policies of good stewardship along critical pathways.

 

It's a radical vision, one the Wildlands Project expects will take 100 years or more to complete, and one that has won the project a special enmity from those who view environmentalists with suspicion. Yet the core brainchild of the Wildlands Project - that true conservation must happen on an ecosystem-wide scale - is now widely accepted. Many conservation organisations are already collaborating on the project, including international players such as Naturalia in Mexico, US national heavyweights like Defenders of Wildlife, and regional experts from the Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project to the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council. Kim Vacariu, the South-west director of the US's Wildlands Project, reports that ranchers are coming round, one town meeting at a time, and that there is interest, if not yet support, from the insurance industry and others who "face the reality of car-wildlife collisions daily".

 

At its heart, rewilding is based on living with the monster under the bed, since the big, scary animals that frightened us in childhood, and still do, are the fierce guardians of biodiversity. Without wolves, wolverines, grizzlies, black bears, mountain lions and jaguars, wild populations shift toward the herbivores, who proceed to eat plants into extinction, taking birds, bees, reptiles, amphibians and rodents with them. A tenet of ecology states that the world is green because carnivores eat herbivores. Yet the big carnivores continue to die out because we fear and hunt them and because they need more room than we preserve and connect. Male wolverines, for instance, can possess home ranges of 600 sq m. Translated, Greater London would have room for only one.

 

The first campaign out of the Wildlands Project's starting gate is the "spine of the continent", along the mountains from Alaska to Mexico, today fractured by roads, logging, oil and gas development, grazing, ski resorts, motorised back-country recreation and sprawl.

 

The spine already contains dozens of core wildlands, including wilderness areas, national parks, national monuments, wildlife refuges, and private holdings. On the map, these scattered fragments look like debris falls from meteorite strikes. Some are already partially buffered by surrounding protected areas such as national forests. But all need interconnecting linkages across public and private lands - farms, ranches, suburbia - to facilitate the travels of big carnivores and the net of biodiversity that they tow behind them.

 

The Wildlands Project has also identified the five most critically endangered wildlife linkages along the spine, each associated with a keystone species. Grizzlies already pinched at Crowsnest Pass on Highway Three, between Alberta and British Columbia, will be entirely cut off from the bigger gene pool to the north if a larger road is built. Greater sage grouse, Canada lynx, black bears and jaguars face their own lethal obstacles further south.

 

But by far the most endangered wildlife-linkage is the borderland between the US and Mexico. The Sky Islands straddle this boundary, and some of North America's most threatened wildlife - jaguars, bison, Sonoran pronghorn, Mexican wolves - cross, or need to cross, here in the course of their life's travels. Unfortunately for wildlife, Mexican workers cross here too. Men, women, and children, running at night, one-gallon water jugs in hand.

 

The problem for wildlife is not so much the intrusions of illegal Mexican workers but the 700-mile border fence proposed to keep them out. From an ecological perspective, it will sever the spine at the lumbar, paralysing the lower continent.

 

Here, in a nutshell, is all that's wrong with our treatment of nature. Amid all the moral, practical, and legal issues with the border fence, the biological catastrophe has barely been noted. It's as if extinction is not contagious and we won't catch it.

 

If, as some indigenous people believe, the jaguar was sent to the world to test the will and integrity of human beings, then surely we need to reassess. Border fences have terrible consequences. One between India and Pakistan forces starving bears and leopards, which can no longer traverse their feeding territories, to attack villagers.

 

The truth is that wilderness is more dangerous to us caged than free - and has far more value to us wild than consumed. Wilson suggests the time has come to rename the "environmentalist view" the "real-world view", and to replace the gross national product with the more comprehensive "genuine progress indicator", which estimates the true environmental costs of farming, fishing, grazing, mining, smelting, driving, flying, building, paving, computing, medicating and so on. Until then, it's like keeping a ledger recording income but not expenses. Like us, the Earth has a finite budget.

 

Reprinted with permission from Mother Jones magazine. © 2007, Foundation for National Progress. The Fragile Edge: Diving and Other Adventures in the South Pacific by Julia Whitty is published by Houghton Mifflin on 7 May

 

2. Poor Nations to Bear Brunt as World Warms

 

Joao Silva for The New York Times

 

By ANDREW C. REVKIN

Published: April 1, 2007

The world’s richest countries, which have contributed by far the most to the atmospheric changes linked to global warming, are already spending billions of dollars to limit their own risks from its worst consequences, like drought and rising seas. In its fourth assessment of global warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change used its strongest language yet in drawing a link between human

activity and recent warming. But despite longstanding treaty commitments to help poor countries deal with warming, these industrial powers are spending just tens of millions of dollars on ways to limit climate and coastal hazards in the world’s most vulnerable regions — most of them close to the equator and overwhelmingly poor.

Next Friday, a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body that since 1990 has been assessing global warming, will underline this growing climate divide, according to scientists involved in writing it — with wealthy nations far from the equator not only experiencing fewer effects but also better able to withstand them.

 

Two-thirds of the atmospheric buildup of carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping greenhouse gas that can persist in the air for centuries, has come in nearly equal proportions from the United States and Western European countries. Those and other wealthy nations are investing in windmill-powered plants that turn seawater to drinking water, in flood barriers and floatable homes, and in grains and soybeans genetically altered to flourish even in a drought.

 

In contrast, Africa accounts for less than 3 percent of the global emissions of carbon dioxide from fuel burning since 1900, yet its 840 million people face some of the biggest risks from drought and disrupted water supplies, according to new scientific assessments.

 

As the oceans swell with water from melting ice sheets, it is the crowded river deltas in southern Asia and Egypt, along with small island nations, that are most at risk. “Like the sinking of the Titanic, catastrophes are not democratic,” said Henry I. Miller, a fellow with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. “A much higher fraction of passengers from the cheaper decks were lost. We’ll see the

same phenomenon with global warming.”

 

Those in harm’s way are beginning to speak out. “We have a message here to tell these countries, that you are causing aggression to us by causing global warming,” President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda said at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in February. “Alaska will probably become good for agriculture, Siberia will probably become good for agriculture, but where does that leave Africa?”

 

Scientists say it has become increasingly clear that worldwide precipitation is shifting away from the equator and toward the poles. That will nourish crops in warming regions like Canada and Siberia while parching countries — like Malawi in sub-Saharan Africa — which are already prone to drought. While rich countries are hardly immune from drought and flooding, their wealth will largely insulate them from harm, at least for the next generation or two, many experts say. Cities in Texas, California and Australia are already building or planning desalination plants, for example. And federal studies have shown that

desalination can work far from the sea, purifying water from brackish aquifers deep in the ground in places like New Mexico. “The inequity of this whole situation is really enormous if you look at who’s

responsible and who’s suffering as a result,” said Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the United Nations climate panel. In its most recent report, in February, the panel said that decades of warming and rising seas were inevitable with the existing greenhouse-gas buildup, no matter what was done about cutting future greenhouse gas emissions. Mr. Miller, of the Hoover Institution, said the world should focus less on trying to rapidly cut greenhouse gases and more on helping regions at risk become more resilient.

Many other experts insist this is not an either-or situation. They say that cutting the vulnerability of poor regions needs much more attention, but add that unless emissions are curbed, there will be centuries of warming and rising seas that will threaten ecosystems, water supplies, and resources from the poles to the equator, harming rich and poor. Cynthia E. Rosenzweig, a NASA expert on climate and agriculture who is a lead author of the United Nations panel’s forthcoming impacts report, said that while the richer northern nations may benefit temporarily, “As you march through the decades, at some point — and we don’t know where these inflection points are — negative effects of climate change dominate everywhere.” There are some hints that wealthier countries are beginning to shift their focus toward fostering adaptation to warming outside their own borders. Relief organizations including Oxfam and the International Red Cross, foreseeing a world of worsening climate-driven disasters, are turning some of their attention toward projects like expanding mangrove forests as a buffer against storm surges, planting trees on slopes to prevent landslides, or building shelters on high ground.

Some officials from the United States, Britain and Japan say foreign-aid spending can be directed at easing the risks from climate change. The United States, for example, has promoted its three-year-old Millennium Challenge Corporation as a source of financing for projects in poor countries that will foster resilience. It has just begun to consider environmental benefits of projects, officials say. Industrialized countries bound by the Kyoto Protocol, the climate pact rejected by the Bush administration, project that hundreds of millions of dollars will soon flow via that treaty into a climate adaptation fund. But for now, the actual spending in adaptation projects in the world’s most vulnerable spots, totaling around $40 million a year, “borders on the derisory,” said Kevin Watkins, the director of the United Nations Human Development Report Office, which tracks factors affecting the quality of life around the world.

 

The lack of climate aid persists even though nearly all the world’s industrialized nations, including the United States under the first President Bush, pledged to help when they signed the first global warming treaty, the Framework Convention on Climate Change, in 1992. Under that treaty, industrialized countries promised to assist others “that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change in meeting costs of adaptation.” It did not specify how much they would pay. A $3 billion Global Environmental Facility fund maintained by contributions from developed countries has nearly $1 billion set aside for projects in poorer countries that limit emissions of greenhouse gases. But critics say those projects often do not have direct local benefits, and many are happening in the large fast-industrializing developing countries — not the poorest ones. James L. Connaughton, President Bush’s top adviser on environmental issues, defended the focus on broader development efforts. “If we can shape several billion dollars in already massive development funding toward adaptation, that’s a lot more powerful than scrounging for a few million more for a fund that’s labeled climate,” he said.

But it is clear that the rich countries are far ahead of the poor ones in adapting to climate change. For example, American farmers are taking advantage of advances in genetically modified crops to prosper in dry or wet years, said Donald Coxe, an investment strategist in Chicago who tracks climate, agriculture and energy for the BMO Financial Group. The new seed varieties can compensate for a 10 or 15 percent drop in rainfall, he said, just the kind of change projected in some regions around the tropics. But, he said, the European Union still opposes efforts to sell such modified grains in Africa and other

developing regions. Technology also aids farmers in the north. John Reifstack, a third-generation farmer in Champaign, Ill., said he would soon plant more than 30 million genetically modified corn seeds on 1,000 acres. It will take him about five days, he said, a pace that would have been impossible just four years ago. (Speedy planting means the crop is more likely to pollinate before the first heat waves, keeping yields high.) The seed costs 30 percent more than standard varieties, he said, but the premium is worth it. Precipitation is still vital, he said, repeating an old saw: “Rain makes grain.” But if disaster strikes, crop insurance will keep him in business.

All of these factors together increase resilience, Mr. Reifstack and agriculture experts said, and they are likely to keep the first world farming for generations to come. Robert O. Mendelsohn, an economist at Yale focused on climate, said that in the face of warming, it might be necessary to abandon the longstanding notion that all places might someday feed themselves. Poor regions reliant on unpredictable rainfall, he said, should be encouraged to shift people out of farming and into urban areas and import their food from northern countries. Another option, experts say, is helping poor regions do a better job of forecasting weather. In parts of India, farmers still rely more on astrologers for monsoon predictions than government meteorologists. Michael H. Glantz, an expert on climate hazards at the National Center for Atmospheric Research who has spent two decades pressing for more work on adaptation to warming, has called for wealthy countries to help establish a center for climate and water monitoring in Africa, run by Africans. But for now, he says he is doubtful that much will be done.

 

“The third world has been on its own,” he said, “and I think it pretty much will remain on its own.”

 

 

2. The Environment Fights Back

Jeffrey D. Sachs

 

The “soft” issues of environment and climate will become the hard and strategic issues of the twenty-first century. Yet there is almost no recognition of this basic truth in our governments or our global politics. People who speak about hunger and environmental crises are viewed as muddle-headed “moralists,” as opposed to the hard-headed “realists” who deal with war and peace. This is nonsense. The so-called realists just don’t understand the sources of tensions and stresses that are leading to a growing number of crises around the world.

 

 

Article begins:''

 

Our political systems and global politics are largely unequipped

for the real challenges of today’s world. Global economic growth and rising

populations are putting unprecedented stresses on the physical environment, and

these stresses in turn are causing unprecedented challenges for our societies.

Yet politicians are largely ignorant of these trends. Governments are not

organized to meet them. And crises that are fundamentally ecological in nature

are managed by outdated strategies of war and diplomacy.

Consider, for example, the situation in Darfur, Sudan. This horrible conflict is

being addressed through threats of military force, sanctions, and generally the

language of war and peacekeeping. Yet the undoubted origin of the conflict is

the region’s extreme poverty, which was made disastrously worse in the 1980’s by

a drought that has essentially lasted until today. It appears that long-term

climate change is leading to lower rainfall not only in Sudan, but also in much

of Africa just south of the Sahara Desert – an area where life depends on the

rains, and where drought means death.

Darfur has been caught in a drought-induced death trap, but nobody has seen fit

to approach the Darfur crisis from the perspective of long-term development

rather than the perspective of war. Darfur needs a water strategy more than a

military strategy. Its seven million people cannot survive without a new

approach that gives them a chance to grow crops and water their animals. Yet all

of the talk at the United Nations is about sanctions and armies, with no path to

peace in sight.

Water stress is becoming a major obstacle to economic development in many parts

of the world. The water crisis in Gaza is a cause of disease and suffering among

Palestinians, and is a major source of underlying tensions between Palestine and

Israel. Yet again, billions of dollars are spent on bombing and destruction in

the region, while virtually nothing is done about the growing water crisis.

China and India, too, will face growing water crises in the coming

 

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