The Only Terrifying Math That Gets Any Attention Is Defense Spending

Bill McKibben had a long piece on climate change this week, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” that has justifiably gotten a lot of attention. The terrifying math of the title is this:

  • Almost the entire world agreed in 2009 that we must keep global temperature increases below 2°C
  • Since then, the 0.8°C increase in temperature we’ve hit has brought far more damage than scientists expected
  • Humans can introduce no more than 565 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere if they want to keep the temperature from rising that 2°C which now seems too high
  • Fossil fuel companies already have in reserve–and plan to develop–2,795 gigatons of carbon fuels

The math means, McKibben explains, that to keep global warming within the consensus but already too high limit of 2°C, we’ve got to find some way to force the fossil fuel companies not to develop their existing reserves.

At this point, effective action would require actually keeping most of the carbon the fossil-fuel industry wants to burn safely in the soil, not just changing slightly the speed at which it’s burned.


According to the Carbon Tracker report, if Exxon burns its current reserves, it would use up more than seven percent of the available atmospheric space between us and the risk of two degrees. BP is just behind, followed by the Russian firm Gazprom, then Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Shell, each of which would fill between three and four percent. Taken together, just these six firms, of the 200 listed in the Carbon Tracker report, would use up more than a quarter of the remaining two-degree budget. Severstal, the Russian mining giant, leads the list of coal companies, followed by firms like BHP Billiton and Peabody. The numbers are simply staggering – this industry, and this industry alone, holds the power to change the physics and chemistry of our planet, and they’re planning to use it.

From this McKibben proposes a solution: Tax carbon to make it cost prohibitive to develop these reserves. To tax carbon you’ve got to undercut the fossil fuel industry’s power, and to do that you’ve got to villainize them, but heck that’s easy because they really are villains, since their business model will kill the planet. And so a movement like the South African divestment campaign can make it toxic to own fossil fuel stocks.

That’s a gross oversimplification–please do read the full article for a nuanced version.

Now, there’s nothing in the article that I disagree with. I’m all for making fossil fuel companies pay for the waste their industry creates. I’m all in favor of villainizing them to make that more likely.

But I’ll note that McKibben doesn’t utter the words that would both make it easier to villainize the fossil fuel industry and explains some of the underlying reasons why that’s not going to be enough.

“National security.” Or even “security.”

In that silence, McKibben is a mirror image of the same fault in Obama’s own strategy and discussions more generally about threats to this country, even fairly realistic ones.

Sure, all the details McKibben cites about evident and likely effects of climate change imply this is a security issue: 356 homes gone in Colorado Springs, spiking food prices, even entire countries disappearing.

But until we start using the language of national security, we won’t properly demonstrate the treachery of those who refuse to deal with this. Read more

Hugo Chavez’ Balsa Wood Drone

There were two very fascinating pieces of news out of Venezuela today.

First, Venezuela has officially surpassed Saudi Arabia in terms of proven petroleum reserves.

Venezuela surpassed Saudi Arabia to become the world’s largest holder of proven oil reserves, a resource that President Hugo Chavez promises to tap if he gets re-elected in October.

The South American country’s deposits were at 296.5 billion barrels at the end of last year, data from BP Plc (BP/) show. Saudi Arabia held 265.4 billion barrels, BP said yesterday in its annual Statistical Review of World Energy.


Venezuela now holds 18 percent of the world’s reserves, according to BP data.


Saudi Arabia now trails Venezuela with a 16 percent share of world proven oil reserves, according to the report. Canada ranks third with 175.2 billion barrels, or 11 percent of total, unchanged from the revised number for 2010.

While Saudi oil remains a lot easier to extract and refine, the assholes holding us by the nuts in the Middle East are now officially second fiddle to the asshole we tried to overthrow a decade back. Lucky for us, the guy in charge of Canada right now is an asshole who likes to suck up to America.

This state of affairs may be one reason why Chavez just rolled out Venezuela’s very own drone. In terms of capabilities, Chavez’ drone is not much more sophisticated than the balsa-wood and duck tape contraption Saddam had which Bush used to help drum up the Iraq War.

The drone has a range of 100 kilometers (60 miles), can reach an altitude of 3,000 meters (nearly 10,000 feet) according to General Julio Morales, head of the state-run Cavim arms manufacturer, which developed the aircraft.

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US Paramilitaries in Colombia: Now Twice as Illegal

Remember that Jeremy Scahill report that listed Colombia among the 75 places where JSOC has deployed?

The Nation has learned from well-placed special operations sources that among the countries where elite special forces teams working for the Joint Special Operations Command have been deployed under the Obama administration are: Iran, Georgia, Ukraine, Bolivia, Paraguay, Ecuador, Peru, Yemen, Pakistan (including in Balochistan) and the Philippines. These teams have also at times deployed in Turkey, Belgium, France and Spain. JSOC has also supported US Drug Enforcement Agency operations in Colombia and Mexico. The frontline for these forces at the moment, sources say, are Yemen and Somalia. “In both those places, there are ongoing unilateral actions,” said a special operations source. “JSOC does a lot in Pakistan too.”

In my post on it, I noted that we’re engaging in belligerent activities without apparent legal approval to do so. But that was because this program seemed to use the legal approval to fight al Qaeda to fight other entities, like Latin American leftist terrorist or drug cartels.

Wednesday, the Colombian aspect of our paramilitary activities became even more illegal, because a Colombian court struck down that country’s cooperation agreement with the US because it lacked Congressional approval. (h/t Max Fisher who has a bunch of interesting links on this development)

A high court in Colombia has voided an accord with the United States that would allow an increased U.S. presence on seven Colombian military bases. The ruling on Tuesday by the Constitutional Court declared the agreement signed by outgoing President Alvaro Uribe unconstitutional because it bypassed approval of the Congress.

The agreement was signed in October and faced intense criticism from Colombia’s more left-leaning neighbors, including Venezuela and Bolivia. President Juan Manuel Santos (pictured above right), who was inaugurated on Aug. 7, enjoys a wide political majority in Colombia’s Congress and told reporters Wednesday that the ruling would have no effect on cooperation between the U.S. and its closest ally in Latin America.

It may well be that Uribe’s successor, Santos, simply gets Congressional approval for this. But until that happens, this decision serves to heighten questions about US involvement in Latin American, not least with regards to incursions into populist Venezuela and Ecuador.

As Adam Isacson explains, this won’t prevent US paramilitaries from doing what they have already been doing.

U.S. military and contractor personnel were still acting under the authorities laid out in a series of old accords (1952, 1962, 1974, 2004, 2007), whose validity the Colombian court did not challenge.Under these old accords, U.S. personnel have already been frequently present at the seven bases listed in the DCA, as well as several others. The difference is that today, there is no “free entry”: each U.S. deployment is subject to a series of Colombian government approvals that would be unnecessary under the DCA. It also means that construction of new facilities at the Palanquero airbase in Puerto Salgar, Cundinamarca – for which Congress appropriated $46 million in 2010 – cannot yet begin.

But it may result in more scrutiny–in Latin America, at least–at what our troops and contractors are doing. (It also may increase pressure on the Administration to pass the free trade accord with Colombia.)

Bush: Let Colombia Kill Union Organizers–Or Hugo Chavez Wins

Oh, this should be fun. Bush chose today to send the Colombia Free Trade pact to Congress today, just one day after Mark Penn’s former contract with Colombia led to his firing resignation forfeiture of his Chief Strategist title with the Clinton campaign. I especially like this bit:

The president also has said that failing to approve a free-trade deal with Colombia would have the effect of encouraging Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez’s anti-American regime and casting the United States as untrustworthy and impotent across South America.

You see, I’m not convinced that Penn was fired resigned gave up his title because he mis-stated Clinton’s stance on the Colombia Trade pact.
If he had gone that far off the reservation, after all, you’d think he’d have been fired outright. So this may be just cover–to prevent unions from balking at Penn’s comment. Or a slap on the wrist, to ensure that Penn doesn’t speak out again in the remaining time of the campaign. Or, it could be that Penn doesn’t want responsibility for what’s going to happen in the next several weeks of the campaign. Or, it could be an attempt on Penn’s part to regain the business with Colombia.

But one thing’s clear. Anything short of a full end of the relationship between Penn and Clinton suggests only lukewarm disapproval that his meeting with the Colombians was reported in the press. Take that to mean what you will.

So now, after Democrats had hoped that Bush wouldn’t make the Senate vote on the pact, he’s doing just that.

Moreover, Democratic leaders balked at forcing the matter to a vote.

I can see why, when the economy is tanking and the country is being devastated by foreclosures and Wall Street is getting addicted to public financing, Bush would think the most important way to spend the Senate’s time is to consider sending more jobs to places where environmental regulations and pesky unions won’t trouble the captains of capitalism.

But I’m particularly intrigued that Bush is turning the US-Colombia pact into an issue of Chavez. Bush would love to start war-mongering against Chavez, along with Iran, and you could argue the Administration and its Colombian allies have already started doing just that. Of course, the US could make no credible military threat against Venezuela right now–we’ve squandered that ability in Iraq.

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The Venezuela Bust

It’s bad enough that the United States, a country that has provided election funds for its favored candidates in other countries for over fifty years (including, notably, Argentina and Venezuela), is now criminalizing the purported $800,000 donation from Hugo Chávez to Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Argentina. It’s bad enough that it stinks of yet another silly anti-Chávez campaign.

But the criminal complaint just doesn’t make any sense.

Here’s the Miami Herald’s description of the purported crime.

Their mission from the Chávez government, prosecutors say: to hush up a local Venezuelan man who was caught in August with a suitcase full of campaign cash as he arrived at a Buenos Aires airport with a high-ranking Argentine official. They pressured him not to reveal the source of the cash or its recipient.

And here are excerpts from some of the conversations between the accused and Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson, the guy caught carrying the $800,000 in Argentina.

At that meeting, FRANKLIN DURAN revealed to Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson the identity of the candidate in the Argentine Republic presidential campaign who was intended to receive the approximately $800,000 which had been confiscated at Aeroparque Jorge Newberry in Buenos Aires, Argentina. FRANKLIN DURAN further advised Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson that he (Duran) had spoken with a very high ranking official of DISIP, and a very high ranking official of the Justice Ministry of Venezuela, concerning the aborted donation. Read more