Bin Laden, Climate Change, and Extremism

A new Bin Laden tape strikes out against the US… on its environmental platform?

He comes out against industrialized countries for not halting climate change, and then goes into the usual blame game.  This time however, his intent was “to inflict harm on the US economy” by encouraging nations to switch away from the greenback to other currencies.

While undoubtedly true, it is also hard to deny that those “other currencies” also come from the largest polluter (China), and one of the top exporters of GHG emitting fuels in the world (Russia), so it’s not really an accurate portrayal of the world.  Not to mention the hypocrisy of Bin Laden (with the size of the Bin Laden family construction business) coming out against climate change, when I am fairly certain most of the ardent followers of Bin Laden probably don’t believe in climate change (not that I know this for certain, religious-types tend towards lack of trust in science).

However, the more important part of the announcement is the shift towards environmental topics.  I believe it indicates that Bin Laden’s core ideology is losing strength, support, and relevance due to his isolation in Afghanistan/Pakistan.  This is an attempt to expand his reach and scope, despite the fact that a great deal of existing environmental damage is due to overpopulation and poor management of existing resources.

It is interesting to see Al Qaeda/Bin Laden adopt an environmental plank to their platform, however, ultimately the logic fails.  Shifting from the greenback to another currency will do little to nothing to affect or impact climate change.  Instead it merely promotes the misunderstanding and self-gratification, based on a slender kernel of truth, that extremists so largely operate under.

The burka is back

French legislators have tentatively moved forward to ban the burka in several public forums.  To me, perhaps the most telling quote from the NY Times article is this:

“Those who oppose the veil call it a symbol of the repression of women, but many of those who wear it say that they do so voluntarily as an expression of their faith. Their backers say that a ban would deny Muslim women freedom of expression and stigmatize them.”

In particular, this topic raises several questions.  How far will secularism go?  Will the removal of all public icons of faith be ordered?  What about expressions of faith in public?  What is the role of religion in a secular state?

In the Islamic countries, there are several countries, like Turkey, which have a secular state.  States, such as the US, are also nominally secular (separation of church and state), yet in fact America is among the most religious countries in the world.  There are continuous battles in the US over “religious” issues, such as the placement of religious icons, gay marriage, and so forth. 

Ultimately I believe the question rests on the balance between religious freedom and secularism.  Can a state be both secular, yet support religious freedoms?  I believe the answer is yes (and that the US, on the balance does a fair job of it).  France must face this question, and from what I can tell, sooner rather than later.

Google, China, and a stand on human rights

Quietly in the background of other news this morning (1/13/2010), there has been a statement from Google: that they will end the censoring of searches in China (it has been pointed out to me that there was a segment on 1/13 on Newshour.  At the time of my publishing this, it had yet to hit the front page of mainstream news, such as the NYT, local newspapers, or other such media.  I am also unable to find at what time Newshour released its article, but believe it was in the evening).  According to Google, this could end with Google.cn closing for business.  Why would Google pull out of China?  Because they used Google to launch attacks against human rights workers in China and across the globe.

I am glad that Google is taking a strong stand against cyberattacks, and hope that they follow through with their threat.  China has long been suspected of being a haven for cybercriminals, and for government sponsorship of cybercrime.  However, businesses, seeing lucrative profits in the rapidly growing economy, have been willing to pander to Chinese interests so they could gain access.  Supporting economic growth is one thing; standing aside while human rights watchers’ accounts are violated, while the government cracks down on free speech, and essentially just turning your head is another.

Why is Google’s involvement and taking a stance so critical?  Because Google is the 1,000 lb gorilla in the room.  Yes, some search engines will fill in the void if google closes down google.cn, but google.com still operates (for those who can use english), and other companies might also finally find the leadership and courage that it takes to stand against oppression.  It has always seemed odd to me, that the same media that always cries for freedom in the US, is so willing to bow to demands for censorship in other countries.  After all, there is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Q&A on the Declaration), which was broadly adopted (although without any binding legal force), by the United Nations.  China has also ratified other humans rights documents.

As with most cases of international law, it is hard to enforce.  China may say that it will protect human rights, but until the consumers and corporations which provide the lifeblood to the economy demand that those rights be enforced, it will do as it wills.  Hopefully Google will be a step in the right direction.

North Dakota, Minnesota, and carbon taxes

North Dakota has announced its intention to sue Minnesota over a proposed electrical generation carbon tax.

This should prove an interesting case for the courts.

Now, why would North Dakota be angry about Minnesota introducing an electrical generation carbon tax?  Because it exports electricity to Minnesota, which is its only sizable neighbor.  It also uses coal almost exclusively for its power generation.  Cheap, dirty coal.  Now, for those who are proponents of coal, as a nationally produced resource, I agree that it contributes to energy security from that angle.  However, the environmental costs of coal mining and coal-burning are well-known and documented.  In the US, a recent example in 2008 was the sludge that broke free of a dam in Tennessee.  The costs so far are approaching $1,000 million.

In some research I did a number of years back, preliminary carbon cost adder estimates to impact a state using primarily coal-fired power were in the $250+ per ton of emissions.  That is around 20 times what carbon is trading for in European markets, and about 2.5 times greater than most estimates I’ve even heard bandied about for a “high” carbon tax.  Needless to say, I do not think North Dakota faces a serious threat.  Now, Americans for Prosperity claims that it is “a significant carbon dioxide tax” while the reported amount from Scientific American is $3 – $34, hardly a “significant” level.  (In California, which pays MUCH higher rates for electricity, $50 per ton is about what it takes to shift the market away from fossil-fired power plants).  Additionally, retail sales have grown in Minnesota year over year (data reported as recent as 2007 – excel file), which would place an increase in demand, somewhat, if not entirely counteracting the effects of a carbon tax.

What strikes me as truly funny about the entire situation, is that North Dakota is considered “the Saudi Arabia of wind.” California has been discussing building the transmission necessary to get wind from Wyoming to California, yet North Dakota can’t get their energy across a single state line?  That thought aside, there is already transmission running from North Dakota to Minnesota… you’d just need to tie in the wind generation and ramp down the coal-fired plants a bit.

In all, I find North Dakota’s reluctance odd.  They have a neighbor willing to buy energy, have bountiful wind resources, yet they do not want to sell clean energy (apparently since they are against the tax that would also disadvantage generators of fossil-fuels regardless of location) to a state that wants to purchase it.  If that is not a perfect case of starting to internalize an externality (Wikipedia definition) and then letting the free-market resolve the situation, I don’t know what is.

2009 Milestones

I wanted to wish a happy new years to all my readers.  There are several milestones for my blog that I would like to share, as well as new features added:

  • Over 1000 visitors since the blog started in June
  • 36 posts
  • 28 comments
  • Ability to subscribe to my blog for email updates

Thank you to all my readers, and here’s to another year!

Nat

Too silly to believe… or is it?

I about couldn’t believe my own eyes when I read this article: Predator drone uses less encryption than your TV, DVD’s.  More importantly, the US has been aware of the issue since Bosnia, and removed the encryption, according to a CNN article, because “encryption was found to slow the real-time link”.

What will happen if it is discovered that US troops were placed at risk by the unencrypted video feed?  What if insurgents are able to jam the signal or take over the Predator and employ it against our own troops?  In this case, the military has placed operational convenience over the security, lives, and publicity of American citizens.

Why do I bring in publicity?  Imagine the outcry if/when these live-feeds are sent back out by insurgents in near real-time?  It is already well documented that Predator (and other UAV) attacks have killed civilians.  (NY Times link for more info on UAVs).  Furthermore, it also raises the question of how secure even the secured drones are.  If even standard satellite dish software can pick up the communications, what would a more advanced counter-project such as the North Koreans, Iranians, Chinese, or Russians be able to do?

US Hope for Copenhagen

As I have written in several previous articles (key one here), US leadership is key in the ongoing climate talks in Copenhagen.  Today, to my great surprise and astonishment, I was flipping through the headlines and noticed this on the NY Times: “U.S. Offer of Long-Term Aid Pushes Climate Talks Forward“.  At long, long, last, the US is starting to move back to the heady days of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and action on reducing CFCs released into the atmosphere (or more formally, the Montreal Protocol).

Yes, the funding is tied to countries such as China improving their emissions reporting.  Yes, the US is not raising the $100 billion / year by itself. 

However, if done right, this flow of aid could drastically reduce the impacts of increasing emissions from countries as their economies develop.  Emissions that will impact American citizens.  To even go out on a broad limb, it could help reduce potential terrorist attacks by decreasing motivation for people to become radicalized.

More importantly, it moves to counter the increasing influence of China across the G-77 (Group of 77), where Chinese wealth and influence has been spreading, often counter to the desires of the US and Europe in countries such as Sudan.

If this will be enough to break the deadlock, or more importantly have any long-term consequences for reducing the impacts of climate change, will be seen.  However, it is a step in the right direction.