Month: December 2000

One Planet – December 20, 2000

Where No U.S. Media Has Gone Before

As in previous years, the U.S. press has largely ignored international news. If you’re not interested in the latest flood, hurricane, drought, earthquake, tsunami, or cyclone wreaking havoc in a small, destitute foreign country, then you’re out of luck, because that’s about all you’ll get. That, and a few other trivial stories.

This year, the trivia included: oil pipeline fires in Nigeria, Osama bin Laden, dead Chinese immigrants in shipping containers, kidnappings in Colombia, Osama bin Laden, Falun Gong detainees, Clinton travels to [insert name of country here], Osama bin Laden, elections in Serbia, nukes in North Korea, Osama bin Laden, and those damn Arab terrorists in Gaza, Lebanon, Egypt, Algeria, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and (have I forgotten any Middle Eastern countries?) Afghanistan.

All these idiotic stories distracted us from what turned out to be a year of brilliance and turbulence throughout the world. Here’s a list, sorted by region, of my favorite ignored international stories of the year–only a few of which I’ve been able to cover in this column.

Africa: African nations lead the fray against U.S. and European domination of the WTO; the adoption of sharia law in northern Nigeria and conflict in the southern Niger Delta send Nigeria down the path of balkanization; African and international human rights groups pressure the UN to track the source of wholesale diamonds and ban the sale of conflict diamonds; the World Bank admits that the money it loaned to Chad was used to buy weapons to fight its civil war; and UN peacekeepers are brutally murdered in Sierra Leone (but nobody notices because they’re all people of color). Asia/Pacific: the Indonesian military goes on a murderous rampage in Aceh Province and West Papua, in an eerie repeat of massacres in East Timor a year earlier; South Korea goes where the U.S. fears to tread, strengthening its ties with North Korea and discussing reunification; China, which survived the Asian economic collapse because of its partially closed economy, emerges as the powerhouse of the region; and East Timor holds its first elections.

Latin America: the U.S. Congress votes to fund drug lords and death squads in Colombia; Peru ditches its dictator (and his puppet-master); the sanctions against Cuba begin to melt; the new Mexican president, Vicente Fox, resumes peace talks with the Zapatistas; Ecuador’s idiotic government votes to accept the U.S. dollar as the national currency, which wipes out most people’s savings and sends the country’s economy down the toilet; and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gladly becomes the bad boy of Latin America by embracing Saddam Hussein, Moammar Quaddafi, and Fidel Castro–all in the same year.

Middle East/Central Asia: Iraq sanctions begin to melt; Ariel Sharon and the Likkud party sabotage the Israeli/Palestinian peace process; Iranian students take to the streets to demand rapprochement with the West and an easing of sharia law; labor unrest continues in India over the IMF-prescribed privatization of public companies and assets; in Afghanistan, the Taliban close the last existing schools for women (including private ones), prevent women doctors from treating women patients, and force the widows of soldiers killed while fighting the Soviets during the Afghan civil war to give up their jobs and starve to death; and the high price of oil gives a new boost to oil exploration in remote regions, including the Caspian Sea.

Europe: the European Union, appalled at the bombing of Serbia and Kosovo, sets up its own 60,000 troop security force to compete with (and eventually supplant) NATO; Mad Cow Disease and its human form, nvCJD, spreads from Britain to Belgium, France, and Germany, causing widespread panic on the continent; British activists make real headway against genetically engineered foods, and the issue of food safety becomes a mainstream concern in Britain; British agribusinesses disclose that they sold animal feed containing ground up bits of British cows infected with Mad Cow Disease to nations in the Third World as late as 1996, raising the specter of a worldwide epidemic of nvCJD (we’ll know for sure in a decade or so); UN Climate Summit collapses because of U.S. intransigence; and Jubilee 2000 decides to close up shop on December 31, 2000, even though meaningful debt relief is still only a dream for most of the world’s poorest nations.

Oh, and there’s the protesters who filled the streets in Australia, Czechoslovakia, Thailand, Ethiopia, Argentina, India, Ecuador, Chile, France, Zimbabwe, Indonesia, Mexico … and the list goes on.

Fish Fry

I noticed an appalling news item in the Scab-Intelligencer last week. Entitled “Skagit salmon nests ruined,” and written by Scab-veig Torvik, it told the gruesome tale of how Puget Sound Energy nearly destroyed the Skagit River’s annual chum salmon run over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Bill McMillan, a field biologist who lives on the banks of the Skagit River, noticed a sudden and enormous drop in the river’s water level on Thanksgiving Day that exposed at least 66 chum nests along 100 yards of the riverbed. That’s just what he could see from his home; the total damage was obviously worse than that, because the river runs another 50 miles beyond his home. Said McMillan, who knows a lot about salmon biology: “Conservatively, over half the chum redds were dewatered, maybe as many as three-quarters.”

McMillan noted that U.S. Geological Survey measurements showed that the river had been running at 3,000 cubic feet per second just two days before Thanksgiving, but dropped to only 125 cubic feet on Thanksgiving Day. “The river was virtually dewatered,” he said. This time of the year–the four weeks from mid-November to mid-December–is the most crucial time of year for developing salmon stocks in local rivers.

Why the drop in water levels? Puget Sound Energy drew enormous amounts of water out of the Baker and Skagit Rivers to refill the Baker River reservoir behind the Baker River dam. PSE representatives explained that rainfall for November was down 30 to 40%, and the reservoir was falling low.

Welcome to a world governed by global warming and privatized utilities.

This year, public utility managers have been in a panic over the rise in energy costs. You may have noticed a big jump in your electricity rates. Well, the deregulation and privatization of the California energy market has led to skyrocketing rates all along the west coast, because Pacific Northwest generating stations have contracts to sell their “excess” power to California. When we need that extra power here, our utility companies can’t buy it from our own, local generating stations, we have to buy it on the wholesale market and pay a higher price for it. That wholesale price is going up by leaps and bounds, because California’s deregulation has thrown its own energy market into chaos and forced California utilities to rely more and more on the wholesale market: a bigger demand drives the price up.

And so Puget Sound Energy feels the pinch, and takes it out on the local environment.

And then there’s global warming. We have, in fact, had the driest November in memory. Meanwhile, the news broadcasts show floods in Europe. The polar icecaps continue to melt; this summer, ships were able to sail right over the north pole, which was open water for the first time in recorded history. Small island nations in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans are disappearing under rising tides. In Venice, with its canals, and in The Netherlands, with its dikes and dams to keep out the rising sea, the panic is palpable.

This is why many of the European governments have already begun to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. They’re miles ahead of the U.S.

Last week, the U.N. Climate Conference in The Hague collapsed, after U.S. negotiators refused to back down on their proposal that existing forests and farms be recognized as “carbon sinks” that absorb greenhouse gases. These carbon “credits” would then be subtracted from the amount of emissions that the U.S. needs to cut to comply with the Kyoto Protocol.

Once again, the U.S. is not on the same page as the rest of the world. Dominique Voynet, a negotiator for the European Union, said that the U.S. is injecting free-market ideology into climate negotiations, which European nations rightly view as “the law of the jungle.” G-77 nations from the developing world also condemned the U.S. position.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Frank Loy, a key negotiator at the conference, responded with a lie, naturally: “Sure, we may be the world’s biggest polluter, but that does not tell you how we are making important progress in reducing our growth of emissions, which is now moving at a rate below that of most European countries.” In fact, most European countries are taking at least some steps to reduce emissions, while the U.S. is not taking even the most obvious one: requiring new automobiles (particularly SUVs and trucks) to meet reasonable emissions and fuel efficiency standards. And while emissions are decreasing in northern European nations, U.S. emissions have grown by 11% in the past decade.

Our goose-stepping U.S. press is lambasting those “European greens” and “radical environmentalists” for not accepting the U.S. negotiators’ position. Editorialists are bludgeoning us with a future scenario of Bush Jr. slicing holes in the Kyoto Protocol. But the U.S. position simply can’t go any further to the right from where it is now. Said Jennifer Morgan of the World Wildlife Fund: “Instead of accepting a protocol that would increase emissions into the atmosphere, the rest of the world said no.”

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