Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Sun, 08 Dec 2019 13:03:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Was Pensacola Shooter part of a terrorist Cell inside Saudi Officer Corps? Sun, 08 Dec 2019 06:04:55 +0000 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The information now emerging from AP and other sources about Saudi Air Force pilot 2nd Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamran is extremely disturbing inasmuch as it point to the possible existence of al-Qaeda cells inside the Saudi military.

Eric Schmitt, Frances Robles and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs at the NYT reported that Alshamran watched videos of mass shootings with Saudi friends at a dinner party the Wednesday before the Friday shooting. Then a terrorist watchdog site announced that it had found his Twitter account, on which he had posted a quote from the 9/11 mastermind Usama Bin Laden and gave evidence of hating Americans. He was enraged by the US wars in the Middle East and by the American complicity in dispossessing the Palestinians at the hands of Israel. Given that he was 21, his main experience of US wars was the rollback of ISIL in Iraq and Syria in alliance with Shiites and leftist Kurds, neither of them a favorite among Saudi conservatives.

If these reports are true, the shooting in some ways reflected the continuing contradictions in US Middle East policy, where Trump is determined to crush the Palestinians completely and let the far far right Likud Party run riot, but then wants to buddy up with Saudi Arabia, one of the more conservative societies in the world full of 20 million firm supporters of Palestinian rights. Israeli occupation of all of Jerusalem was given as one of his reasons for the 9/11 attacks by Usama Bin Laden.

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It is weird that someone of Alshamran’s generation quoted Bin Laden, who was killed by a US Navy Seal team when he was 13. It sounds to me as though he must have had older relatives or mentors who put that quote and Bin Laden’s legend in his mind.

There are also reports that the US is holding 10 of Alshamran’s fellow Saudi trainees. One of them was allegedly making a video of the shootings as they unfolded (Alshamran allegedly used his hand gun to kill 3 and wound 8). Two others were waiting in a car outside. Some of the Saudi trainees appear to be AWOL and unaccounted for.

Initially, it seemed possible that Alshamran was just an unbalanced individual, like the US sailor who killed two civilian workers at Pearl Harbor on Wednesday.

But if he was ideological and had associates, that’s more like a secret cell. Inside the Saudi Air Force.

The casual brutality of watching mass shooting videos for kicks speaks of a culture of sadism in the junior ranks of the Saudi officer corps.

It would come as no surprise if so. The Saudi Air Force has been intensively bombing the neighboring country of Yemen since 2015, and one human rights report estimated that a third of the strikes hit civilian targets (schools, hospitals, bridges people need to get food and so forth).

Then there was the grisly murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at an Istanbul consulate in October 2, 2018, at the hands of a team close to crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

The idea of al-Qaeda-inspired young officers making a coup in Saudi Arabia may seem far-fetched. But young officer coups have been a staple of Middle East politics for decades. That was what destroyed Afghanistan– a 1978 young officers Communist coup set off forty years of instability and killing fields.

Saudi Arabia typically produces 11% of the world’s petroleum and significant instability there would roil global energy markets.

The incident could further sour relations between Saudi Arabia and the US Congress, which has called for an immediate end of US military support to Saudi’s war on Yemen and is talking sanctions for the killing of Khashoggi.


Bonus Video:

PBS NewsHour: “Gunman watched shooting videos before rampage, says official”

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Billionaires Can buy our Presidential Election at $100/ vote and Still Make Money! Sun, 08 Dec 2019 05:03:44 +0000 ( ) – America’s wealthiest billionaires buy a national election at $100 a vote — and still make money.

Gracie Mansion, the official residence of New York’s mayors since 1942, hosted billionaire Michael Bloomberg for three terms.

The first of these terms began after Bloomberg, then the Republican candidate for mayor, spent an incredible $74 million to get himself elected in 2001. He spent, in effect, $99 for every vote he received.

Four years later, Bloomberg — who made his fortune selling high-tech information systems to Wall Street — had to spend even more to get himself re-elected. His 2005 campaign bill came to $85 million, about $112 per vote.

In 2009, he had the toughest sledding yet. Bloomberg first had to maneuver his way around term limits, then convince a distinctly unenthusiastic electorate to give him a majority. Against a lackluster Democratic Party candidate, Bloomberg won that majority — but just barely, with 51 percent of the vote.

That majority cost Bloomberg $102 million, or $174 a vote.

Now Bloomberg has announced he’s running for president as a Democrat, arguing he has the best chance of unseating President Trump, whom he describes as an “existential threat.” Could he replicate his lavish New York City campaign spending at the national level? Could he possibly afford to shell $174 a vote nationwide — or even just $99 a vote?

Let’s do the math. Donald Trump won the White House with just under 63 million votes. We can safely assume that Bloomberg would need at least that 63 million. At $100 a vote, a victory in November 2020 would run Bloomberg $6.3 billion.

Bloomberg is currently sitting on a personal fortune worth $52 billion. He could easily afford to invest $6.3 billion in a presidential campaign — or even less on a primary.

Indeed, $6.3 billion might even rate as a fairly sensible business investment. Several of the other presidential candidates are calling for various forms of wealth taxes. If the most rigorous of these were enacted, Bloomberg’s grand fortune would shrink substantially — by more than $3 billion next year, according to one estimate.

In other words, by undercutting wealth tax advocates, Bloomberg would save over $6 billion in taxes in just two years — enough to cover the cost of a $6.3 billion presidential campaign, give or take a couple hundred million.

Bloomberg, remember, wouldn’t have to win the White House to stop a wealth tax. He would just need to run a campaign that successfully paints such a tax as a clear and present danger to prosperity, a claim he has already started making.

Bloomberg wouldn’t even need to spend $6.3 billion to get that deed done. Earlier this year, one of Bloomberg’s top advisers opined that $500 million could take his candidate through the first few months of the primary season.

How would that $500 million compare to the campaign war chests of the two primary candidacies Bloomberg fears most? Bernie Sanders raised $25.3 million in 2019’s third quarter for his campaign, Elizabeth Warren $24.6 million. Both candidates are collecting donations — from small donors — at a $100 million annual pace.

Bloomberg could spend 10 times that amount on a presidential campaign and still, given his normal annual income, end the year worth several billion more than when the year started.

Most Americans don’t yet believe that billionaires shouldn’t exist. But most Americans do believe that America’s super rich shouldn’t be able to buy elections or horribly distort their outcomes.

But unfortunately, they can — or at least, you can be sure they’ll try.

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The Iraqi Street Revolution of 2019 is still Challenging the American-Installed Order Sun, 08 Dec 2019 05:02:09 +0000 Mustafa Habib | –

( – Neither of the two opposing groups seem to want to give any quarter and despite impactful events and legislative manoeuvres, nobody is any closer to common ground. 6.12.2019 | Baghdad Politics

A man in Baghdad’s informal “museum of martyrs”, a memorial to the young demonstrators who have been killed. (photo: صباح عرار:جيتي)

Almost six weeks have passed since the start of the anti-government protests in Baghdad and the distance between the protesters, and what they want, and the authorities, and what they believe the protesters should get, continues to grow.

The Iraqi prime minister announced that he would resign. But demonstrations have continued because as those participating say, it is the whole system that they believe is rotten. They want to see changes made to electoral laws and other basic rules. At the same time, Iraq’s political class is insisting on maintaining as much of the status quo as they think they can.

Proposed rules on elections are an example of how far apart the two sides are. The protesters want a new law that would enable genuine representation for voters and they even have a first draft of it, which they are circulating, asking other protest groups elsewhere to give an opinion, via lawyers or constitutional experts. They are seeking comprehensive political change and their new electoral law would make it possible to push Iraq’s established political parties out of power.

In Baghdad, the rules of the game don’t seem to have changed. Nor does there seem to be any acknowledgement that they should.

Meanwhile, Iraq’s parliamentarians are also discussing a new electoral law and they have a draft too. However their draft electoral law is very different from the protesters’ version and appears to have been written with a view to keeping established parties in power. Opinions from outside established political circles – for instance, the protesters’ or the public’s – have not been solicited.

Two factors have made a major impact in the last fortnight: Firstly, the resignation of the prime minister which has been perceived as a victory for the protesters and secondly, the fact that dozens of protesters were killed in Najaf and Nasiriyah. The death are changing general public opinion about the demonstrations.

Memorials have been held all around the country, even in Sunni Muslim-majority cities and provinces, like Mosul, Salahaddin, Diyala and Anbar, where locals did not really protest but instead showed solidarity with the protesters down south in variety of different ways.

Meanwhile in the corridors of power in Baghdad, nothing really seems to have changed. Every time Iraqi politicians select a new prime minister, there are heated discussions, meetings and long negotiations. Multiple names have been suggested for the job and most are part of the long-standing political establishment. In Baghdad, the rules of the game don’t seem to have changed. Nor does there seem to be any acknowledgement that they should.

A few days after prime minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi resigned, Iranian military leader Qassim Soleimani arrived in Baghdad – this too, is according to local political tradition, as Iraq’s allies and neighbours always want a say in the selection of any new leader. And some of the country’s politicians are still doing their best to discredit the protests, saying they were initiated by foreign agents, implying that the demonstrators are guilty of treason.

On the streets of the country, the scene is very different. Protesters are responding to the talk of ongoing negotiations in Baghdad with jokes. They scoff at the idea that the political establishment will remain in power and that a new prime minister will be selected as usual, and that this could even come close to satisfying the demands of the anti-government demonstrators – or that it would make the protesters forget those who have been killed.

Last week, the first rain of winter fell in Baghdad. No doubt the authorities were hoping the watery weather would discourage protesters and that they might return home. Instead they donned raincoats and prepared for a drop in temperature.

Given the intractable positions taken by both sides, how could this deadlock end?

In Iraqi history, major political changes have tended to lead to reprisal and revenge.

Up until now, the protesters have not formed any sort of body that could ostensibly represent them in negotiations with politicians. In some ways, the protesters seem to see this as a strong point. The majority of them are younger men with little or no political experience. There’s such a deep seated distrust of politics that even the protesters fear that, if they elect representatives, these may be susceptible to offers of money or power and that they could “sell the protests out”, as has happened previously in Iraq. Additionally, by not engaging in negotiations, they don’t get caught up in potentially months-long and difficult discussions with a government that is, many of them say, the best at procrastination and delay.

The current administration, and past ones, may have been proven a failure. But most of the demonstrators are not clear on how to remedy this, nor do they know how to prevent the manipulations of Iraq’s politicians. What some might describe as naivete has also been seen – at some demonstrations, protesters have been setting up theatrical scaffolding and “executing” dolls with politicians’ faces on them.

It is not hard to imagine that these kinds of actions – the threat of execution and prosecution – will only make those in power more intransigent. And that is apart from all the other good reasons for politicians’ stubbornness: Well-established parties have been in power in Iraq for 16 years and they will not easily surrender the wealth, position and power they have amassed over that time.

In Iraqi history, major political changes have tended to lead to reprisal and revenge. After the end of Saddam Hussein’s regime and the fall of his nationalist Baath party, Iraq saw several years of bloodshed and violence, with deaths on all sides. Prior to this, Saddam and the Baath party did the same thing when they seized power in the early 1960s, murdering and imprisoning thousands of Iraqis who they considered their enemies. And in 1958, when the Iraqi monarchy was overthrown, members of the Iraqi royal family were also murdered, their bodes dragged down streets or hung from power poles, in scenes that older Iraqis still remember with horror.

A complete overhaul of the current Iraqi system, established in 2003 after the end of Saddam Hussein’s regime, could ostensibly make thousands of political party members, military service people and even civil servants into “the enemy” – perhaps an enemy that will have to be fought. The country’s politicians are only too well aware of this danger. They are trying to prevent any such breakdown but at the same time, they appear to be refusing to make even the smallest concessions to their opponents, who simply carry on, in the country’s’ squares and streets.



Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Euronews: “Protesters killed in Iraq hours after US sanctions Iraqi militia leaders”

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Green Democracy: This small German town took back the power – and went fully renewable Sun, 08 Dec 2019 05:01:09 +0000 By Bertie Russell | –

The case for ambitious and transformative environmental policy is being made with increasing fervour and a series of “Green New Deals” – a reference to Roosevelt’s economic reform programme in the 1930s – have been proposed over the past 12 months in the US, Europe, and the UK. Such policies would involve massive state investment in the development of renewable energy infrastructure, retrofitting buildings to improve energy efficiency, and efficient and high-speed public transport.

F4 Luftbilder/

Reflecting the understanding that climate change demands deep systemic changes to the economy, the US version includes the introduction of a jobs guarantee: a public-sector job would be available to any US citizen that wants one. And in Europe, proposals call for public investment banks to invest 5% of GDP each year to “radically reduce Europe’s carbon emissions, constructing resilient and zero-emissions infrastructure”.

Serious commitments to decarbonise infrastructure at scale are no doubt essential. But climate justice theorists have long argued that technical fixes will be insufficient without a parallel transition to a global economy that does not rely on constant growth.

Addressing the climate emergency demands huge amounts of investment, but it also requires drastic changes to the forms of ownership and governance that underpin the contemporary capitalist economy. We need to move towards models of economic democracy, where everything from investment decisions to wages are decided democratically by workers and citizens.

Transitioning to renewable energy can be motivated on a local, as well as national, level.
Jason Blackeye/Unsplash, FAL

Confronting an abstract concept such as the “global economy” can seem like a daunting challenge. But shifting our perspective to the level of our towns and cities, innovative models of economic democracy are already empowering people to deliver real solutions to the climate emergency.

With 100% of its electricity coming from renewable sources (and more to spare), the German town of Wolfhagen is particularly demonstrative of what can be achieved when municipalities adopt innovative approaches to the ownership and governance of key infrastructure. Significant lessons can be drawn from Wolfhagen’s hybrid model of ownership, which can – and must – be applied to sectors beyond energy production.

Energy democracy

Triggered by the Fukushima disaster – and coupled with long-established social movements against fossil fuels – in 2011 the centre-right German government announced it was pursuing a national policy of Energiewende: energy transition. Yet in Wolfhagen, a town in central Germany with a population of around 14,000, this transition was already well underway.

Back in 2005, the local authority decided to take back the power. In what became the first steps to fulfilling Wolfhagen’s plan to become fully self-sufficient on renewable energy, the city government decided not to renew the private company E.ON’s licensing agreement, instead putting a public company – Stadtwerke Wolfhagen – in charge. Followed a 2008 decision that all household electricity would be provided from local renewable resources by 2015, the town committed to building a solar power park and a wind farm.

Driven partly by lack of financial resources, and partly by a vision of a co-produced and co-owned energy system, Wolfhagen decided to pursue an innovative form of “cooperative participation” that would put energy into the joint ownership of the municipality and a new citizen-led cooperative – BEG Wolfhagen. Speaking in 2011, the director of the public company Martin Rühl explained:

Through the cooperative participation we want to make the citizens not only co-owners and co-earners, but through the form of a direct participation in the Stadtwerke also co-decision-makers. For future projects, citizens and electricity customers will be at the table from the very beginning.

Wolfhagen at Christmas.
Torsten Lorenz/

Formed in 2012 by citizens who had been campaigning in favour of the wind farm development, the cooperative now owns 25% of the energy company. With more than 800 members and wealth of more than €3.9 million, the cooperative does more than just let citizens own a share in the towns energy company – it also lets them control it. The cooperative has two of the nine seats on the board of the energy company, providing citizens with voting rights on all issues concerning electricity production and supply in the region, ranging from the setting of energy prices through to reinvestment in new capacity.

The cooperative itself also has an energy-saving fund, which receives its funds directly from the profitable energy company. Governed by an Energy Advisory Board – comprised of nine cooperative members alongside one each from the local energy agency, the Stadtwerk, and the municipality – the fund is designed to support strategies and initiatives aimed at increasing energy efficiency among its members. In practice, this means citizen-led solutions to decarbonisation have now been provided with a regular and democratically controlled source of funding.

A just transition

What the experience of Wolfhagen shows is that the rapid decarbonisation of our energy supply is wholly compatible with new models of economic democracy. Strong and effective action to address the climate crisis can be met through processes of collective empowerment, without resorting to ecological authoritarianism.

Hybrid models of ownership not only have the potential to provide capital beyond that which can be provided by the state, but to do so in a way that is committed to the common interest. This flies in the face of the logic of private companies that are committed to the bottom line of delivering shareholder profits.

While national government funding is unquestionably needed, given the scale of the climate emergency, it does not have to be an absolute barrier to towns and cities taking action. Local governments shouldn’t use national government as an excuse for their own inaction.

If we’re really going to address the climate emergency, we’re going to need to drastically expand the number and diversity of spaces for meaningful democratic engagement. This doesn’t just mean engaging people in government decisions, but creating and funding spaces where citizens (along with government actors and social business intiatives) can collaborate in delivering radical alternatives across our economy.

Ultimately, the urgency and scale of transition required to meaningfully address our climate emergency demands that national governments pursue many of the ambitious plans for investment envisioned by supporters of a Green New Deal.

But Wolfhagen demonstrates that innovative approaches to the ownership and governance of utilities can not only unlock further cooperative capital investment, but also create new forms of democratic engagement in their governance. It’s precisely the creation of these democratic spaces that can enable citizens to move beyond individualistic efforts to “reduce their carbon footprint”, and instead place them at the core of innovation in delivering a just transition to a sustainable and democratic economy.

Click here to subscribe to our climate action newsletter. Climate change is inevitable. Our response to it isn’t.The Conversation

Bertie Russell, Research Associate, Urban Institute, University of Sheffield

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Green Steel Arrives for 1st Time in Mo.- How to get Low-Carbon Electric Cars and Buildings Sat, 07 Dec 2019 06:03:04 +0000 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Nucor is building the first wind-powered electric micro-mill for steel production in Sedalia, Mo., writes Jeffrey Tomich at E&E News. The plant will use electric arc furnaces to produce steel instead of coal-fired furnaces, which are still used in nearly a third of US steel mills.

Steel production world-wide accounts for 7% of carbon dioxide output, Tomich observes.

The new plant will employ 250 people.

Tomich notes that one report says 68% of US steel mills already use electric arc technology. That means that if you hook them up to wind or solar power plants, they would suddenly be far more earth-friendly. The American Midwest has enormous advantages in this regard, since it is the Saudi Arabia of wind.

Missouri has so far not taken much advantage of the wind bonanza, with 73% of its electricity generation coming from dirty, earth-wrecking coal.

In contrast, its neighbor to the north, Iowa, is on track in 2020 to get forty percent of its electricity from wind.

Not only will green steel plants cut CO2 emissions in that industry, but they have further implications. One of the knocks on electric cars is that a fair amount of carbon dioxide is produced in their construction. So although they do not burn fossil fuels if you fuel them off the solar panels on your roof, you have to drive them for a while before they are really green.

One of the bits of carbon that is baked into any electric vehicle is the steel used to construct it. Up until now, that steel was produced by burning coal (either in the furnace itself or to fuel the electric arc furnace), which is extremely dirty.

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But wind-powered electric arc furnaces will make the steel with a tiny fraction of the coal-driven CO2 emissions, and that step will in turn make the EVs constructed with that steel even greener.

It annoys the hell out of me that studies of EVs often use the fuel mix in that state’s grid to figure how green the EV is. These reporters and scientists don’t seem to stop to consider that we’re not limited by our state grid. We can fuel our autos with the solar panels on our own homes.

The other point that is often missed is that the grid is getting cleaner fast. In 2010 the Michigan grid was 66% percent coal, 3% renewables. But now, in 2019, coal provides only about 40%, and that will fall rapidly since several big coal plants are scheduled for closure by 2022. So if you bought an electric car 4 years ago and you fuel it from the state grid, it runs significantly more cleanly today than when you bought it. Michigan had only 3% renewable energy back then but renewables are 10% today, with nuclear at 25%. Some of the coal was replaced by wind, some with natural gas (which puts out half as much CO2 as coal). If you figure you’ll have the car for a decade, it will run far more cleanly at the end of its life than at the beginning because of vast changes in the grid (vaster and more rapid than the power companies now realize). That increasing trend toward less carbon intensity cannot be said of old gasoline and diesel vehicles. But also, the whole way of thinking is wrong since the logical thing is to put up solar panels on your house if you have one (66% percent of Americans are homeowners, and if you’ll be in your home more than 10 years you are literally costing yourself money by not putting up solar panels).

Nearly cosmic disruptions of old technology come about more quickly than most people realize. There were no smart phones in 1999, but now the world is full of billions of them.

Nucor’s wind-fueled electric steel mill, the first in the country, is one of those cosmic changes. It won’t be long before this way of proceeding is the norm.

The result will be a vast step forward in the health of our earth, which is at the moment getting lung cancer from all the carbon dioxide we are producing in its lungs.


Bonus video:

Missouri Partnership: “Nucor Steel Announces New Facility, 250+ Jobs In Missouri”

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Saudi Arabia’s Strategy to ‘Sportswash’ Abuses Sat, 07 Dec 2019 05:02:39 +0000 By Minky Worden | Director of Global Initiatives | –


(Human Rights Watch) – Saudi Arabia has been better known of late for serious human rights violations than sports spectacles. Yet the country is hosting the December 7 heavyweight world title boxing rematch between Andy Ruiz Jr. and Anthony Joshua, with likely millions watching around the world. A month later, the kingdom will host the Dakar Rally, a legendary desert race.

Under Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is rolling out ever more entertainment and sporting events, an apparent attempt to “sportswash” away its abusive rights reputation using large-scale events, with highly controlled environments, to show a progressive face of the kingdom.

Barely one year after Saudi state agents murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi officials are racing to lock in hosting contracts with other major sports federations.

But fans and viewers need to look past the glamour of these events. A recent Human Rights Watch report shows another side of Saudi Arabia, with widespread rights abuses including mass arrests and detention, a crackdown on dissent and free speech, surveillance and hacking, and jailing of the country’s most prominent women’s rights advocates, including Loujain al-Hathloul.

Sponsors, broadcasters, and athletes are affected by sports organizations’ choices to hold major events in countries that don’t respect basic human rights. In January, more than a dozen women drivers will take part in the Dakar Rally, another opportunity to highlight that the Saudi women’s rights activists who fought for and won the right to drive in Saudi Arabia remain banned from travel, on trial or behind bars.

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has grappled with fan anger since its 2014 10-year deal with the Saudi government, and has only recently negotiated for its female stars to be able to wrestle in the kingdom.

One positive dimension of Saudi Arabia’s newfound enthusiasm for sports is that the rules of sport increasingly require adherence to international human rights standards. As businesses, many sports bodies are increasingly adopting policies to ensure events are not brought to rights-abusing hosts. Earlier this year, the country’s bid to host an expanded 2022 World Cup failed in part due to human rights concerns. Increased pressure from fans and consumers would help ensure Saudi Arabia’s sports-hosting ambitions also raise the bar for human rights.

Instead of using sports to rehabilitate its global image, it would be cheaper and easier for Saudi Arabia to simply undertake fundamental human rights reforms and respect the basic rights of its citizens in order to improve its image and standing in the world.

Via Human Rights Watch

Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Sky News: “Ruiz Jr-Joshua 2: Is the fight ‘sportswashing’ Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations?”

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Your Global Carbon Dioxide Output will hit Record ~37 bn. Tons and it is Very Bad News Sat, 07 Dec 2019 05:01:38 +0000 By Pep Canadell, Corinne Le Quéré, Glen Peters, Pierre Friedlingstein, Robbie Andrew< , Rob Jackson and Vanessa Haverd | -

Global emissions for 2019 are predicted to hit 36.8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO₂), setting yet another all-time record. This disturbing result means emissions have grown by 62% since international climate negotiations began in 1990 to address the problem.

The figures are contained in the Global Carbon Project, which today released its 14th Global Carbon Budget.

Digging into the numbers, however, reveals a silver lining. While overall carbon emissions continue to rise, the rate of growth is about two-thirds lower than in the previous two years.

Driving this slower growth is an extraordinary decline in coal emissions, particularly in the United States and Europe, and growth in renewable energy globally.

A less positive component of this emissions slowdown, however, is that a lower global economic growth has contributed to it. Most concerning yet is the very robust and stable upward trends in emissions from oil and natural gas.

Coal is king, but losing steam

The burning of coal continues to dominate CO₂ emissions and was responsible for 40% of all fossil fuel emissions in 2018, followed by oil (34%) and natural gas (20%). However, coal emissions reached their highest levels in 2012 and have remained slightly lower since then. Emissions have been declining at an annual average of 0.5% over the past five years to 2018.

Coal emissions hit a peak in 2012 and have been declining ever since.
Global Carbon Project 2019

In 2019, we project a further decline in global coal CO₂ emissions of around 0.9%. This decline is due to large falls of 10% in both the US and the European Union, and weak growth in China (0.8%) and India (2%).

The US has announced the closure of more than 500 coal-fired power plants over the past decade, while the UK’s electricity sector has gone from 40% coal-based power in 2012 to 5% in 2018.

Whether coal emissions reached a true peak in 2012 or will creep back up will depend largely on the trajectory of coal use in China and India. Despite this uncertainty, the strong upward trend from the past has been broken and is unlikely to return.

Oil and natural gas grow unabated

CO₂ emissions from oil and natural gas in particular have grown robustly for decades and show no signs of slowing down. In fact, while emissions growth from oil has been fairly steady over the past decade at 1.4% a year, emissions from natural gas have grown almost twice as fast at 2.4% a year, and are estimated to further accelerate to 2.6% in 2019. Natural gas is the single largest contributor to this year’s increase in global CO₂ emissions.

This uptick in natural gas consumption is driven by a range of factors. New, “unconventional” methods of extracting natural gas in the US have increased production. This boom is in part replacing coal for electricity generation.

In Japan, natural gas is filling the void left by nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster. In most of the rest of the world, new natural gas capacity is primarily filling new energy demand.

Oil emissions, on the other hand, are largely being driven by the rapidly growing transport sector. This is increasing across land, sea and air, but is dominated by road transport.

Australia’s emissions have also seen significant reductions from coal sources over the past decade, while emissions from oil and natural gas have grown rapidly and are driving the country’s overall growth in fossil CO₂ emissions.

CO₂ emissions from fossil fuels in Australia (in million tonnes).

Emissions from deforestation

Preliminary estimates for 2019 show that global emissions from deforestation, fires and other land-use changes reached 6 billion tonnes of CO₂ – about 0.8 billion tonnes above 2018 levels. The additional emissions largely come from elevated fire and deforestation activity in the Amazon and Southeast Asia.

The accelerated loss of forests in 2019 not only leads to higher emissions, but reduces the capacity of vegetation to act as a “sink” removing CO₂ from the atmosphere. This is deeply concerning, as the world’s oceans and plants absorb about half of all CO₂ emissions from human activities. They are one of our most effective buffers against even higher CO₂ concentrations in the atmosphere, and must be safeguarded.

Fires and deforestation in the Amazon and Southeast Asia drove a new record high in land-related emissions.
Global Carbon Project 2019

Not all sinks can be managed by people – the open ocean sink being an example – but land-based sinks can be actively protected by preventing deforestation and degradation, and further enhanced by ecosystem restoration and reforestation.

For every year in which global emissions grow, the goals of the Paris Agreement are one step further removed from being achievable. We know many ways to decarbonise economies that are good for people and the environment. Some countries are showing it is possible. It is time for the rest of the world to join them.The Conversation

Pep Canadell, Chief research scientist, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere; and Executive Director, Global Carbon Project, CSIRO; Corinne Le Quéré, Royal Society Research Professor, University of East Anglia, University of East Anglia; Glen Peters, Research Director, Center for International Climate and Environment Research – Oslo; Pierre Friedlingstein, Chair, Mathematical Modelling of Climate, University of Exeter; Robbie Andrew, Senior Researcher, Center for International Climate and Environment Research – Oslo; Rob Jackson, Chair, Department of Earth System Science, and Chair of the Global Carbon Project,, Stanford University, and Vanessa Haverd, Senior research scientist, CSIRO

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Trump Fails again to Bring our Troops Home from Mideast: Mulling Escalation of 14,000 v. Iran Fri, 06 Dec 2019 05:51:30 +0000 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Trump’s Pentagon is allegedly mulling sending 14,000 US troops to the Middle East to counter Iran.

Although the Pentagon pushed back against the initial report, that had only said they were considering the troop escalation, and the Pentagon did not deny considering it.

Trump has sent 14,000 troops to the Mideast since last May. Apparently the bulk of them are on an aircraft carrier. Some 3,000 are being sent to Saudi Arabia to help man new Patriot anti-missile batteries provided to the Kingdom after the September Iran-backed drone and rocket strikes on the Abqaiq oil facility, which temporarily took 5% of the world’s oil off the market.

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(Remember, make the checks out to “Juan Cole” or they can’t be cashed)

Trump made a big splash in October by claiming to bring home the 1,000 special operations personnel embedded with the Kurds in northern Syria. In fact, in the end he sent 500 of them to guard the Syrian oil fields in Deir al-Zor and repositioned the rest in Iraq.

So he didn’t actually bring any troops home, but has sent in 14,000 in the past half-year. There are some 60,000 US troops in the Greater Middle East, but their exact distribution is now hidden by the Pentagon.

A new contingent of 14,000 troops would double the extra total sent in 2019 alone and bring the over-all number to 74,000.

Aside from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, most US troops in the region are not war fighters. There are nearly 5,000 sailors at the HQ of the 5th Fleet at Manama, Bahrain. There are another 11,000 at al-Udeid Air Force Base in Qatar, from which many air missions against ISIL in Iraq and Afghanistan and against the Taliban in the latter country are flown.

In June of 2017 Trump put the al-Udeid base in jeopardy by publicly backing the Saudi Arabian blockade of Qatar, but he was counter-acted by the Secretary of Defense James Mattis and then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

It is not clear to me how another 14,000 US troops would effectively do anything to block Iran. The 3,000 planned for Saudi Arabia to man the Patriot batteries make sense on the surface, at least, but that was part of the last 14,000-troop escalation. It is being reported that one Pentagon concern is Iranian missiles in Iraq. But Iraq currently doesn’t actually have a government and it is difficult to understand how Baghdad practically speaking could authorize an increase in 5,000 or so US troops stationed there (they largely advise the Iraqi Army on clean-up missions against the remnants of the ISIL terrorist group).

Iran does not have a significant number of Iranian troops outside the country. There may be a small contingent of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps advisers in Iraq at the invitation of Baghdad, though their welcome among the protesting masses they and their proteges among the Shiite Iraqi militias is growing thin. There are about 2500 Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps advisers in Syria. At the height of the civil war back in 2016 there were estimated to be another 7500 or so conscripted Afghan and other foot soldiers, but it isn’t clear how many of those are still in country. I doubt there are more than a handful of IRGC personnel in Lebanon, though Iran funds the Shiite party-militia, the Hizbullah.

Iran has mainly benefited from soft power in the region, which can’t be countered easily by 14,000 US troops.


Bonus video:

Press TV: “Iran’s indigenous air defense system shot down infiltrating drone early Friday”

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Is Iran an Expansionist Power or Just in Defensive Mode? Fri, 06 Dec 2019 05:03:59 +0000 By Edward Hunt | –

(Foreign Policy in Focus) – The Iranian military is focused on deterring external threats not launching an attack on its adversaries.

As the Trump administration continues to incite fears about Iran, portraying the country as an aggressor that is destabilizing the Middle East, a new report by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) provides a more nuanced view. It accepts some of the administration’s claims while indicating that Iran feels threatened by the United States and seeks to deter a U.S. attack.

Iranian air defense exercise via Wikimedia Commons

The report, which provides a detailed overview of Iran’s military capabilities, includes several insights into the Iranian government’s motives that U.S. officials rarely articulate. One of the report’s key assertions is that Iran’s military orientation is primarily defensive.

“Iran has focused on preparing and equipping its military forces for defense against air attack and ground invasion by a technologically superior adversary, primarily the United States,” the report states.

The publication of the report comes at a time of growing tensions between the United States and Iran. Since the Trump administration withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018, it has been waging an economic war against Iran, imposing crippling sanctions on the country and sending its economy reeling. Over the past year, Iran’s economy has contracted by more than 10 percent.

“We’ve now made Iran’s economy a shambles,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo boasted in September.

In late November, the country was rocked by protests, sparked by an increase in gasoline prices by the Iranian government. Hundreds of people were killed in violence not seen since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

U.S.-Iranian tensions have been further heightened by several attacks on U.S. assets and allies in the region. Over the summer, several commercial tankers were attacked. A U.S. surveillance drone was shot down. Then, in September, several oil facilities in Saudi Arabia were struck, allegedly by drones or missiles.

President Trump has blamed Iran, repeatedly threatening the country with war. “There’s plenty of time to do some dastardly things,” Trump commented in September, after the attack on the Saudi oil facilities.

Although the Trump administration has refrained from attacking Iran, it continues to portray the country as a serious threat that must be confronted. Administration officials assert that Iran supports terrorists, threatens Israel, and seeks regional hegemony. In November, a U.S. general warned that Iran will probably launch more attacks.

Not everyone in Washington agrees that Iran is acting merely to destabilize the Middle East, however. According to the DIA report, the Iranian government has been making a conscientious effort to develop and implement a military strategy that discourages the United States from attacking the country.

The Iranian government began developing its approach after the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. As those wars began, “Tehran began to adjust its military doctrine to better deter and counter the threats from technologically advanced Western militaries,” the report notes.

The Iranian government was especially fearful that Washington would exploit its growing military presence in the region. “The U.S. presence in the region created a sense of encirclement in Tehran, which continued to believe that Washington ultimately sought to overthrow the regime,” the report states.

As Iran felt increasingly threatened, it developed a deterrence strategy around three military capabilities, including long-range ballistic missiles, regional naval forces, and regional proxy forces. Iran’s effort to develop long-range ballistic missiles, which the Trump administration cites as a reason for its withdrawal from the nuclear deal, has actually been a central component of Iran’s deterrence strategy.

“Lacking a modern air force, Iran has embraced ballistic missiles as a long-range strike capability to dissuade its adversaries in the region—particularly the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia—from attacking Iran,” the report states.

The report’s assertions stand in stark contrast to the image of an aggressive and belligerent Iran that the Trump administration presents. Although the report sounds many of the same warnings as the Trump administration, noting that Iran aspires to become a dominant regional power, it clearly indicates that Iran has developed a military strategy with a focus on deterring a U.S. attack and defending itself.

“Iran’s conventional forces today remain primarily oriented for defensive missions,” the report notes.

So far, White House officials have remained silent about the report. The mass media has largely ignored it, despite the fact that the Department of Defense has promoted its release and its major findings.

In the meantime, the Trump administration continues to escalate its economic war against Iran. Administration officials are increasing the pressure in the hopes that the Iranian people will rebel against the Iranian government.

“The Iranian economy will shrink by somewhere on the order of 10 to 15 percent this year, and the regime knows their people won’t stand for this,” Pompeo said in September.

A related goal, according to some U.S. officials, is to pressure Iran into launching attacks that go beyond deterrence. The Trump administration, they warn, is trying to start a war.

As Representative Ted Deutch (D-FL) noted earlier this year, “there are a lot of people who fear that the policy is to provoke Iran so the U.S. has no choice but to respond.”

Edward Hunt writes about war and empire. He has a PhD in American Studies from the College of William & Mary.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus

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