Category SfP Bulletin January 2010
There are so many critical global problems at present, each of which could easily lead to the premature death of billions of people: climate change, nuclear war, extreme poverty at a time of enormous accumulation of individual wealth. Meanwhile, there are more localized crises, each of which lead to untold suffering: the two wars in Iraq and the sanctions regime, the resource-based wars of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Israel’s wars which could well expand into Iran. In this letter, I would like to raise a few of many questions, some of which are speculative based on impressions, and some of which are to some degree already researched.
First, is there any common thread to all these problems, an underlying cause that needs to be addressed immediately, especially given the time frame of climate change? One answer that is increasingly considered is that this is all a consequence of capitalism which by definition and practice requires perpetual growth and expansion.
The role of capitalism is increasingly part of the analysis, such as the work of James Gustave Speth, dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University, in his work The Bridge at the Edge of the world: capitalism, the environment, and crossing from crisis to sustainability (2008. Yale U Press: New Haven). Which aspects of capitalism can then be and need to be altered quickly? Some crucial areas seem to be interest rates, the unregulated financial sector, the very structure of corporations that requires growth, responsibility only to shareholders, and impunity regarding the public good.
What would rapid transformation mean for democratic processes and what is the essence of a democratic process? Regulation is not inherently undemocratic, and a socialistic arrangement of the economy is not inherently undemocratic either. Ambiguity about the political structure and economic set-up comes with the terms neo-liberalism (as implemented by the IMF and World Bank) and Leninist capitalism used to describe China. Is neo-liberalism democratic, and does Leninist capitalism imply a democratic process?
How has power become so entrenched? What is the role of leadership and of the public? Why is the “public” so often abstracted in such a way that responsibility becomes generalized materially and morally? My impression is that there is a great deal of reluctance to identify individual culpability as if the existence of systems or institutions explains behaviour. A corollary is that it is difficult to realistically assess how to change institutions if particular individuals are not held responsible. In his recent Toronto talk George Monbiot spoke about our “psychopathic” leaders. And when Richard Falk was last in Toronto, I had the opportunity to talk with him about leadership. He said that he is hoping to write more about it and that his impression is that in the United States, it is not that power corrupts but that powerful people have an ability to select corruptible people and exclude people with integrity and strength of character. He has taught a number of people who eventually entered the leadership class. Questions remain about whether this kind of insight can provide direction in terms of pressing criminal charges, shedding light on the current paralysis, clarifying interconnections such as those between banking, Canadian extraction industries and the military industrial complex, by looking to see who profits.
Among many other questions, why is it taboo here to discuss the need to cut back? Is it not deceptive to imply that while we cannot continue business as usual, that daily life need not actually change much because of technological solutions? Is there not a wishful illusion that others will have to give up a great deal but not us? The only person who really describes necessary cut backs is Monbiot in his book Heat. He spells out how it is necessary to eliminate most air travel and shipping (including imported produce). Looking at full-cost accounting which includes energy use, overall environmental degradation, and the place of people in the process, questions about the availability of agricultural land to feed the world’s people might include the amount of fertile land used for suburbs, for conversion to industry such as India’s Tata car, for biofuels, for pet food, for crops inessential for life like sugar and tobacco? What actually are the food necessities and what could be cut back if the aim is to prevent premature death worldwide?
Historical processes are generally complex and many factors contribute to shifts. Perhaps unique at this time is the availability of sufficient knowledge to confront and fix many of the deepest problems and yet the paralysis in applying these solutions. Going back to origins, it is helpful to consider Thucydides’ (through Pericles) words on democracy in which he focuses on the responsibility of citizens and leaders to be well-informed in the service of action and on the psychological capacity to experience deep feelings (i.e. not to shy away from “stress”): “We are unique in the way we regard anyone who takes no part in public affairs: we do not call that a quiet life, we call it a useless life. We are all involved in either the proper formulation or at least the proper review of policy, thinking that what cripples action is not talk, but rather the failure to talk through the policy before proceeding to the required action. True strength of spirit would rightly be attributed to those who have the sharpest perception of both terrors and pleasures and through that knowledge do not shrink from danger.”
Is there an implicit and convenient assumption that people are not able to, or should not make the “proper review of policy…[to] talk through the policy before proceeding to the required action”? It is timely and fortunate that science means knowledge.
The history of the idea
The idea of an Arctic Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone is not new. A regional limitation of nuclear weapons was proposed by the Soviet Union in 1956, with reference to Central Europe. A year later Polish diplomat Adam Rapacki put forward a plan to keep nuclear weapons out of Poland, Czechoslovakia, and West and East Germany, but it got nowhere – NATO claimed nuclear weapons had to be deployed to counter Warsaw Pact conventional forces. In 1958 Soviet President Nikolai Bulganin proposed an isolated Nordic one to the heads of government of Nordic countries, but, except for Finland, they rejected it as threatening to the strategic balance between eastern and western blocs. Sweden, Finland, Romania, and Bulgaria made proposals too. The first full-fledged Arctic NWFZ proposal came from a Russian and an American scientist, writing in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1964. Inuit organizations and councils, peace organizations and researchers, including Hanna Newcombe, became proponents. During the Cold War, however, “Russian and United States nuclear submarines played cat and mouse games in the Arctic waters, under the ice. The airspace above the Arctic was the transit route for the nuclear-armed bombers.”
Why is there renewed and growing interest in an Arctic Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone?
The age-old Greenland ice sheet is melting. Formed three million years ago when atmospheric CO2 levels were predominantly below 300 parts per million, that ice is melting at an accelerating rate as CO2, currently at 387 ppm, rises about 2 ppm per year. Arctic sea ice is going – in 2008 the Northwest Passage was ice-free. According to experts, in the not too distant future the northern polar sea may become open waters in the summer, and eventually permanently. It’s thawing so quickly – temperatures in the Arctic have increased at twice the global average – that navigable Arctic sea lanes are in sight, maybe even within a generation. That would bring huge economic potential for maritime commerce, with the northern route linking Europe, North America, and Asia. Imagine traffic like the Suez or Panama canals have! Now unreachable oil and natural gas reserves matching those of the Middle East could be accessible for exploitation – the continental shelf in the Arctic may have up to 25 per cent of the remaining reserves. Large scale fishing might develop in new opened areas. A geo-economic shift to the North is in sight. “A race for territory, energy, and protein has begun,” with states bordering the Arctic Sea, the European Union, NATO, and others having declared ambitions and claims. The Arctic states are seeking to identify their exclusive economic zones (200 nautical miles from the end of the continental shelf, plus 150 nautical miles on the seabed), submitting their claims, backed by scientific evidence, to a UN Convention on the Law of the Sea Commission for delimiting of sea areas and continental shelves for national jurisdiction.
What potential dangers loom?
Clearly the Arctic could become an area of high tension, and of danger, especially since the US and Russia face each other across the polar frontier. Forty percent of Canada is in the Arctic and some 11,000 mostly Inuit people live there. To protect Canada’s sovereignty claims, the Harper government has increased surveillance and military presence there. It has plans for new ice-capable naval patrol vessels, military facilities adjacent to the Northwest Passage sea route, a military training base, and a deep water port in the Arctic. According to Steve Staples, “American and Russian nuclear-armed submarines are patrolling in the Arctic,“ and “the Arctic is becoming a zone of increased military competition.” The British and French also rely on subs to deploy their arsenals and could operate missile subs in the Arctic. The Russians most important naval base for their nuclear armed subs (Zapadnaya Litsa), is north of the Arctic Circle, on the Kola Peninsula. Increased Russian aircraft operations have taken place in and outside Russian airspace in the past year and a special military force to defend its Arctic claims has been announced by President Dmitri Medvedev. As well, Denmark’s new defence paper proposed an Arctic military contingent of army, navy, and air force assets. Norway recently bought fighter jets suitable for Arctic patrols and held a large military practice last March (7,000 soldiers from 13 countries), as did Sweden (with 12,000 troops) in June. The deepest concern is that the US and Russia “converge on the Arctic” with competing claims. The eight states having territory to the north of the polar circle – Denmark (Greenland), Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden, the US (Alaska), and Canada, established the Arctic Council in 1996 to address cooperatively issues of sustainable development and environmental protection. Numerous bilateral discussions on cooperative security in the Arctic are being engaged in by Canada (with Denmark, Russia, the US, Norway).
How could an Arctic Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone help?
To avert nuclear confrontation is, however, clearly the most urgent issue. The call for an Arctic Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (NWFZ) issued by the Canadian Pugwash Group in 2007 was therefore timely. Such a zone is a “specified region in which countries commit themselves not to manufacture, acquire, test, or possess nuclear weapons.” The existing NWFZs are not exact copies of each other. Their general objective is to “relieve a zonal area from the threat of being involved in mass destruction war.” There is a growing NWFZ success story. By the Treaty of Antarctica, 1959, that continent was declared a demilitarized and thus nuclear weapon-free zone. Its pacific status was reinforced by the 1991 Madrid Protocol, which proclaimed it a natural reserve with only activities for peaceful purposes, scientific research, and environmental protection allowed (mining exploration being prohibited). The haven of peace at the South Pole makes the vision of a peaceful North Pole powerful. Some of the same motivations that prompted the Antarctic Treaty are in play in the North: concerns about both potential territorial disputes and military rivalry between the US and Russia.
By a series of treaties, eight major NWFZs have been established that “cover more than half of the world’s landmass (74% of all land outside of nuclear-weapon state territory), including 99% of the Southern Hemisphere land areas, while excluding most sea areas. They encompass 119 states (out of some 195) and 18 other territories. Some 1.9 billion people live in the zones.”. They include:
- Latin America and the Caribbean (by the Treaty of Tlatelolco, opened for signature in 1967 but entered into force in 2002 – 35 years and 8 months later), with a protocol of negative security assurances ratified by the big five Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) (China, France, the UK, US, and Russia);
- The South Pacific, 13 island states including Australia and New Zealand (by the Treaty of Rarotonga, opened 1985, entered into force 1986, 16 months later, with negative security assurances and a ban on nuclear testing ratified by the big four, but not the US);
- Southeast Asia, including Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam (by the Treaty of Bangkok, opened 1995, and entered into force five and half months later in 1997, no NWS protocols);
- Africa (by the Treaty of Pelindaba, opened 1996, entered into force July 2009, but the protocols are not yet ratified by the US and Russia);
- Mongolia (by a declaration in 1995); and
- Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan — separated from Mongolia by a 40 kilometre wide corridor where China and Russia meet) (opened 2006, entered into force two and a half years later in March 2009, but with no protocol ratification by NWS).
India and Pakistan, which identified themselves from May 1998 as nuclear weapon states are not recognized as such in the NPT, and their inclusion as guarantor states to these NWFZ treaties is raised from time to time.
The former German Democratic Republic – East Germany – was denuclearized by the 1990 reunification instrument, the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany, which was signed by both German republics, France, the UK, US, and USSR. Establishment of NWFZs is now the main trend in promoting the non-proliferation regime!
How can an Arctic NWFZ be achieved?
The Antarctic Treaty stands as a beacon: it’s kept Earth’s southernmost continent free of military and nuclear threats for half a century and enabled scientific cooperation benefiting the planet, especially in climate and atmospheric research. By the 1920 Spitzbergen Treaty, establishment of naval bases and fortifications is prohibited in this Norwegian Arctic archipelago, “which may never be used for warlike purposes,” – terms now taken as implying that the territory and territorial waters of Spitzbergen constitute a demilitarized and nuclear weapon-free zone. Finland’s Aaland Islands archipelago is also demilitarized. Also of relevance to the Arctic, the 1971 Sea-Bed Treaty, at its third review conference in 1989, was agreed to extend from shore to shore the prohibition of nuclear weapons on the sea-bed, ocean floor, and subsoil thereof.
Article VII of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty encourages establishment of NWFZs, as did the 1995 and 2000 NPT Review Conferences, as a matter of priority. National studies on a Nordic NWFZ zone have been done and an official authoritative report in 1991 was internationally endorsed. The eight states with territory north of the polar circle – Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the US – are the core for an Arctic NWFZ.
For starters, why doesn’t Canada denuclearize its Northwest Passage? The six non-nuclear weapon states – all but Russia and the US – could work on a regional treaty to assure no stationing of nuclear weapons in their territories. The commitment to non-possession of nuclear weapons is in Article II of the NPT, so remaining an NPT party would be a requirement. Canada, Denmark, Iceland, and Norway, as members of NATO, would have to make the NWFZ obligations take precedence over alliance commitments to receive control over nuclear weapons or accept them in their territories. But, as a case in point, Australia and New Zealand were partnered with the US in the ANZUS Treaty (Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty) at the time the South Pacific NWFZ was achieved, with the two countries as members. But, the Treaty of Rarotonga establishing it does not prohibit nuclear weapon transit, US communications bases in Australia, or the NWSs right to fire nuclear weapons from the zone. With the Southeast Asia NWFZ, the US refused to sign the security guarantees to non-use of nuclear weapons against or in the zone, as conflicting with rights of passage under the Law of the Sea.
In the Arctic case, “a side-negotiation with NATO for exceptions from alliance obligations regarding nuclear weapons” would be needed, according to Swedish expert Jan Prawitz. He suggests that realistically, since Russia has much of its strategic nuclear weapons on submarines homeported on the Kola Peninsula, “with few reasonable alternatives,” absence of sub-strategic nuclear weapons north of the polar circle, but presence and transit of strategic ones in the zonal area and at sea might be obligations assumed by Russia and the US. All nuclear weapons states would have to commit themselves to non-use and no-threat-of use obligations with respect to this Arctic zone, just as the other zones require. But, the US in the past has declared that “such zones should not interfere with existing security arrangements.” It has, however, legally bound itself to restrict its use of nuclear weapons by ratifying some other NWFZ treaties’ protocols.
Public opinion will have to be mobilized, peace groups and environmental organizations inspired, and grassroots energized – the key to achieving the South Pacific NWFZ. Such zones help stop both horizontal and vertical proliferation. A natural force for such disarmament is the indigenous population of the Arctic: their collaboration must be sought and integrated into the efforts. The South Pacific NWFZ was achieved through indigenous people and non-government organizations!
With the election of President Barack Obama, the rising chorus of world leaders recognizing the need for nuclear weapons abolition found a champion. Obama has made a U-turn from Bush nuclearism and has set a world free of nuclear weapons as the goal. Reduction of nuclear arsenals by the US and Russia, agreed to in July, is essential and should encourage disarmament momentum. To the goal of an Arctic NWFZ, another step forward in rolling back the nuclear threat, let’s say “Yes, we can!” – and start working on it.
The fourth roundtable of the Global Issues Project
This one-day roundtable took place at Ryerson University on Saturday 21 November. The event followed closely upon the public forum the previous evening on the same topics, held at the Koffler Centre. The papers and list of participants will be made available in due course. The roundtable was given the following stated objectives:
“ . . . to raise awareness of the relationship between population numbers, food security and a resilient food production system . . .” and to answer the following questions:
“Is food justice possible? Can the gap between rich and poor be reduced?” Are the world’s 1.2 billion hungry people “a problem of uneven use of the world’s food resources, or are there too many mouths to feed?”
“What is the carrying capacity of the Earth? Is technology the solution? What lifestyle changes are needed? Is contraception a key factor? What mechanisms can be identified to deal with social, demographic and ecological challenges?”
The four brief sessions, each followed by lively discussion, could not possibly have answered all of the above questions, but some preliminary conclusions are presented here.
It was made abundantly clear in the initial presentations that there is enough food harvested in today’s world to feed a larger population than now exists, though there are some severe local shortages. The first and foremost problem is low or very low income of the world’s poor, wherever they are. While the majority of poor people live in the Third World, the poor are numerous almost everywhere, with very many in Canada and the United States. Thus the prime cause of hunger worldwide is the systematically lower incomes in poor countries, but even in wealthy countries, the present income distribution is the prime cause of hunger. In North America income distribution is not the only food problem, since there is also widespread ignorance of nutrition — how to spend what little one has on food and how best to cook it. The ignorance tends to lead to obesity and other health problems. The wastage of food in Canada and the United States was estimated at 50 percent, yet the numbers of hungry families including especially hungry children are profoundly shocking. A guaranteed annual income for all adults would be practicable in both Canada and in the US, and could solve the income problem vis-à-vis food. Desirable though such a system might be from many standpoints, it alone could not guarantee good nutrition for all children. Much public education would be needed. Food banks were stated not to be the answer, and should be regarded as stopgap measures, as they can be far from adequate both from the standpoints of hunger elimination and nutrition.
Regarding the provision of food worldwide, it was considered that there too the current wastage is great (20 percent was estimated). While low income is a prime cause of shortage of food for millions of families, the food shortage itself is not global, notwithstanding today’s very low world grain reserves. Radical changes in global economic, investment, and trade policies are needed to reduce malnutrition. Hunger and starvation are largely the result of impoverishment resulting from the industrialized North’s policies. Many countries in the South are mired in poverty through the international loans they were induced to accept, consequent structural adjustment policies imposed by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, historically rising interest rates, and the resulting unending debt repayment; forced opening of their markets to international trade and corporations, undercutting of their farmers by subsidized agricultural products from the North, use of their land for growing flowers for export, crops for biofuels and trees for palm oil, the rising cost of fertilizers and oil, inadequate storage facilities contributing to loss of harvests: all these factors result in severe food insecurity in the South.
The desirability of a recognized right to food was also favoured, though of course such a right cannot be sustained when there isn’t any food. One conclusion was easily reached at the roundtable, namely, that today’s food insecurity is not ascribable to population numbers, though this would change soon enough in a business-as-usual scenario in which the population continues to rise at the rate of 74 million people per annum, and agricultural productivity and acreage continue to decline. Participants also noted the importance of ocean fish in diet and the decline in fish stocks of the last 20 years, and it was suggested that it no longer makes sense to supply ocean fish to people living hundreds of miles inland.
Considerable attention was paid to the relationship of food security and a resilient food production system. Here, agribusiness was widely criticized. Its productivity has been greatly exaggerated, and its determination to exterminate local seed sources was roundly criticized. One participant noted that local seeds have had the advantage of evolutionary adaptation to local conditions, whereas the stated productivity of genetically modified seeds is based largely upon laboratory tests that do not represent local growing conditions at all well. Other aspects of agribusiness were also criticized, for example, its monopolist tendencies, the deterioration of soil quality under its practices, the heavy dependence of agribusiness on fertilizers and pesticides, all of which also depend on oil supply. Agribusiness requires the total expenditure of four calories of oil energy to produce one calorie of food energy, a factor that exacerbates climate change. Nevertheless, because of its growing economic power, agribusiness is able to put local small-scale farmers out of business, and this was considered by the participants as a prime area for focus: to reverse that process — the need to support small-scale and organic farmers and promote local produce (for local consumption). Several participants raised the strongest objections to the current style of intense meat farming as shown in the movie Food Inc. Most compelling overall is that agribusiness is unsustainable because of its dependence on oil; therefore major change toward the mixed farm and the organic is called for.
It was also mentioned that a widespread change toward a vegetarian diet, or less meat eating, will be important in assuring the future adequacy of food supply.
When or before the world population reaches 9 billion, a severe food tension could appear, and a range of new measures will be needed. The practice of paving over first-class agricultural land will have to cease — the sooner the better. Second-class agricultural land not currently used for farming will have to be brought into use (and, if possible, improved in soil quality). Food production will have to be optimized on whatever land is available, and the growing of food in cities will have to be well developed. Returning compost generated in cities to restore farmlands depleted of soil nutriments could be important.
A leading question was posed to the roundtable: is the present, huge population a threat to the human race? There was strong agreement with the importance of a rapidly declining rate of population growth, and an eventual decline in population, but these needs must not be construed as arising from the current food situation. Rather, the matter of population is intimately related to how heavily we tread upon the Earth, and the ecological footprint of the human race is already 30 percent higher than the planet can provide sustainably. One presentation showed that, to achieve a sustainable Earth at 7 billion people in a just and equitable manner (for all the Earth’s inhabitants) would require a reduction of consumption of resources of more than a factor of five for the wealthiest 20 percent of humanity. It has been said elsewhere that if the human race could get off its oil dependence, it would roughly halve its ecological footprint, but this would still require a substantial cutback in the consumption of resources by the wealthiest 20 percent, if an equitable world is to be achieved. Viewed in this way, a population of seven billion is already very large. Other views that population decline is important included the notion of crowding. We share the planet with many creatures and plants, and it is well established that we are systematically eliminating them and their habitats. The roundtable ended on the note that a new, holistic paradigm is needed, one that puts the preservation of the web of life as its central philosophy.
Also discussed were many women’s issues in connection especially with the need for reproductive rights, and population limitation through family planning. It was stated that already 200 million women want the technical means of contraception, but do not have access to such assistance or cannot afford it. It was generally felt that family planning means should be widely available, free of charge. The cost would not be large, for example, infinitesimal compared with military expenditures. Most participants were already aware that the United Nations had been unable to pursue the necessary steps forward in family planning during the GW Bush period. Since then President Obama has called for the release of $50 million to the UN agency. Also an NGO (34 Million Friends of the United Nations Population Fund — a project of the United Nations Association of the USA, Pasadena chapter) is providing considerable funding.
The oft-repeated position was again voiced that it is of the highest importance to educate girls as well as boys and eliminate illiteracy among not only the young but also female adults. Women were also discussed in many other contexts, such as leadership in the spheres of food and population, and equity in the highest decision-making councils — some of the purposes for which education of women will be so important. Numerous detailed recommendations were received, including several relating to the failures to implement recommendations of the 1994 UN Cairo Conference on Population and the 1995 women’s Beijing Conference, as well as meeting Millennium Development Goals.
This effort was initiated by members of Science for Peace out of deep concern about the federal government’s obstruction of action on climate change, both domestically and internationally. The letter was signed by over 550 Canadian Faculty members, whose names are listed here . See also the letter in French and a press release by Science for Peace.
To the Honourable Prime Minister and the Ministers of the Canadian Government:
To the leaders of the Opposition Parties:
The undersigned university faculty members call on the Prime Minister and the Ministers of the Canadian Government and on the leaders of the Opposition Parties to respond to the planetary emergency of climate change. As we will argue, greenhouse gas emissions must be drastically reduced, and soon. The time frame is critical, and it is dictated by the physical environment, not by political or economic considerations. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, you can’t fool the environment any of the time.
It is unacceptable and horrifying by the standards of public health and morality that many industrialized nations are doing the opposite of what is required, by actually increasing greenhouse gas emissions. The Canadian government is particularly culpable, as it has persistently obstructed cooperative global action and even continues to invest in the growth of a carbon-based economy. The Energy Information Administration of the U.S. government predicts that Canada will continue to have the highest per capita carbon emissions in 2030 at 19 metric tons per person, whereas by contrast the continent of Africa will remain at current levels of 1.0 metric tons per person. The physical environment does not know national boundaries: our emissions bring premature death and hardship worldwide, especially to the people who did not cause the problem.
There is so much at stake. Societies are already facing threats of unprecedented severity as climate change is occurring faster than predicted. More intense and longer droughts occur over larger areas, extreme weather events are more frequent and have caused hundreds of thousands of deaths, melting mountain glaciers threaten water systems vital to agriculture, sea level rise begins to inundate island nations and now causes increased salinity in the Nile Delta which is the breadbasket of Egypt, the Inuit people are losing their means of subsistence, extreme heat waves cause thousands of deaths, there is altered distribution of diseases, and higher temperatures have led to massive forest fires and to the costly pine beetle infestation in western Canadian forests. Climate change and other contributing human activities are now causing species extinction estimated to be about a thousand times the natural rate.
The danger is imminent of an irreversible alteration of climate. The tipping point that must be avoided at all costs is the melting of the polar ice-sheets and of the permafrost. Should this happen, the loss of global reflectivity and the release of additional greenhouse gases may send the temperature skyrocketing.
The last time the world was only 1 degree C warmer than pre-industrial levels for a sustained period of time, sea level was five meters higher than today. Such a rise would submerge coastal areas and would inundate low-lying fresh water systems. When the climate was last 2 degrees C to 3 degrees C warmer, sea levels were perhaps 25 m higher than today. Such a catastrophe is admittedly some decades in the future, but preventing it requires action now.
New data from paleoclimate studies, using ice and sediment cores, indicate how much atmospheric CO2 the world can live with. When it stood above 450 parts per million, the polar ice was gone. To be safe from the tipping point, the level must be kept below 350 ppm; this estimate by the eminent NASA scientist James Hansen is endorsed by the Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
At present the concentration is 390 ppm. That is, we have overshot the target. To save a world in which humanity can thrive, it is essential to rapidly reduce carbon fuel emissions to zero and then pass to negative emissions by reabsorbing CO2 from the atmosphere. This is believed to be feasible by using various means including reforestation and underground sequestration. The required changes in energy use and generation will need to persist far beyond our lifetimes, but that must not blind us to the need to begin these changes immediately. If we postpone these very significant reductions we may slide past the tipping point to profound and essentially permanent climate change which might doom human civilization and even humanity.
Canada can still step aside from the path of ecological collapse, but the time is short. It is known that energy from renewable sources – wind, water, and solar – can be enough for the world to have a modified but still comfortable way of life. What is uncomfortable is making the transition so suddenly. Rapidly reducing to zero carbon emissions will inevitably incur substantial short-term dislocations and human insecurity. The need is everyone’s, and all of us must share in meeting it. Jobs lost in energy and extractive industries must be replaced by jobs in conversion to a sustainable economy, and unemployment during the changeover be cushioned by government support. With good leadership, Canada has shown it can make such rapid changes – for example, at the outbreak of World War II. We call on you to provide such leadership now, while there is still time.
The big immediate task is to put in place a precise timetable taking Canada to zero fossil fuel emissions in the near future. This means setting a precise time-profile of maximum emissions, falling quickly to zero (Hansen et al propose, for example, a linear decrease with time, leading to zero by 2030). The chosen schedule of emission reduction needs to be absolute and not subject to trade-offs of any kind.
Various detailed studies have shown how to proceed on the path toward an eventual completely renewable energy society. The huge emissions associated with the military industry cannot be tolerated; transportation and housing arrangements will have to be reconfigured; agricultural practices will have to become less carbon-intensive. The tar sands project is inconsistent with the requirement of zero emissions: tar sands extraction is ruinous to the atmosphere, to the Athabasca water system, and to a large tract of boreal forest. Even in the short term it has not benefited Canadians or Albertans because of the very low royalty rates and large federal subsidies.
Fortunately there are many people in Canada, including academics, who have long studied these problems and who are eager to help the government find the best solutions to each problem. We call on the Canadian government to acknowledge the gravity of the current climate crisis, to safeguard the future of our children and grandchildren who are at great risk here in Canada and worldwide, by taking the appropriate actions without further delay.
Mayor David Miller hosted a gathering of Torontonians in the council chamber of Toronto’s City Hall on November 13 and 14. He greeted us warmly and then settled back to watch a live, interactive streaming video on a giant screen of his counterpart in Hiroshima, Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, the president of Mayors for Peace — an organization to which Miller himself belongs. As Mayor Akiba noted in his speech, the great tragedies of history take their names from cities— from Guernica to Detroit, Stalingrad, Auschwitz, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. His organization is making nuclear weapons into a municipal issue, and by now 3240 cities worldwide have joined.
Mayor Akiba was followed in the initial session of the Zero Nuclear Weapons Forum by the British High Commissioner, Anthony Cary, and finally by the leading historian of nuclear weapons, Jonathan Schell. Then the moderator, Alexa McDonough, fielded questions from the audience. It was a splendid beginning.
The following day was full, with two lengthy forum sessions and a workshop. We began with another hook-up from overseas. Pavel Podvig spoke to us on the big screen from Geneva, then answered questions from the other panelists and the audience, moderated by Toronto Star journalist Olivia Ward. Podvig is a Stanford University scholar specializing in Russian and American nuclear weaponry, and the ongoing negotiations to replace the START treaty with one yielding even deeper cuts in the two arsenals. Podvig was followed by Professor Trevor Findlay of Carleton University, who spoke about the challenges of monitoring compliance with nuclear treaties, and by Project Ploughshare’s founder, Ernie Regehr, who paid special attention to NATO’s strategic policies, which still rely on nuclear weapons.
After a hasty lunch, the Canadian Pugwash group presented a discussion of their proposal to organize a nuclear weapon free zone in the Arctic. With Steven Stapes moderating, the panelists consisted of Adele Buckley, Michael Wallace and Michael Byers, who has just published a new book, “Who Owns the Arctic?”
The final forum was focused on the challenge of arousing political will in a population that would definitely prefer to see the abolition of nuclear weapons but, too often, has given up hope. We were invigorated by the streaming video presence of Rebecca Johnson from London. In Toronto the other panelists were two former Canadian ambassadors for disarmament, Christopher Westdal and Douglas Roche. Westdal reminded us that what we need is not more promises in the form of new treaties, but rather to have old promises kept. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was promised long ago and has never yet entered into effect. He would have us promote that as the primary order of business. For his part, Roche pursues a harder goal: a nuclear weapons convention leading to complete abolition of nuclear weapons. He asked the co-sponsors of the forum (Canadian Pugwash Group, Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, Physicians for Global Survival, and Science for Peace ) to launch a campaign for 5,000 individual letters to reach Prime Minister Harper, calling for Canada to pro-actively promote nuclear disarmament, beginning in May at the Non-Proliferations Review Conference.
The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty
This treaty establishes a bargain between states with nuclear weapons and those without. The treaty very clearly says that states without nuclear weapons agree not to acquire nuclear weapons. In rather vague terms, the treaty says that states that already have nuclear weapons (at the time of signing the US, USSR, Britain, France and China) agree to work on getting rid of them. All parties to the treaty share “the inalienable right … to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes”.
The NPT came into force in 1970 and 189 countries have signed it. There are only four countries that are not parties to the treaty: India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea. The treaty is credited with greatly slowing the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
There are two aspects to a NPT meeting – governmental and nongovernmental. Countries send official representatives to give statements and negotiate. At the same time, NGOs working on nuclear issues gather to fulfill their UN-sanctioned role which is “to provide credible analysis, views, and perspectives on the global nuclear regime, support progressive measures towards disarmament and non-proliferation, and bring media and public attention to these important issues.” (from “Information for non-government organizations” at www.reachingcriticalwill.org/legal/npt/revcon2010/information.html)
United Nations Department of Public Information
About 1,500 NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] with strong information programmes on issues of concern to the UN are associated with the Department of Public Information (DPI), giving the UN valuable links to people around the world. DPI helps these NGOs gain access to and disseminate information about the issues in which the United Nations is involved so that the public can better understand the aims and objectives of the world organization and support its work.
From “NGOs and the United Nations Department of Public Information: Some Questions and Answers” at http://www.un.org/dpi/ngosection/brochure.htm
Last May I spent three days at the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) at the United Nations in New York. I attended as a representative of the group Seriously, Time to Stop, but as the alternate Department of Public Information representative of Science for Peace, I am happy to share reflections on this meeting.
The NPT PrepCom began less than a month after US President Obama declared his intention to work toward a world without nuclear weapons in Prague. Initially, many of NGOs were deeply suspicious of his commitment. The suspicion seemed to soften over the time I was there. Certainly it helped to hear the Mayor of Hiroshima tell us that, as a politician intent on the elimination of nuclear weapons, he fully supported Obama and believed his approach was sound.
Obama said in his Prague speech that the US “will strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a basis for cooperation.” The commitment of the nuclear weapons states to disarmament in the NPT is weak but, nevertheless, valuable. It’s a bird in the hand.
The purpose of the PrepCom is to lay the groundwork for the NPT Review Conference (RevCon) which is held every five years. The good news from this PrepCom was that everyone agreed on an agenda for the RevCon this year! That may not sound too exciting but it was a breakthrough. At the last RevCon, delegates were still arguing over the agenda two weeks into the meeting.
This agreement seemed to confirm that the “decade of deadlock” caused by the Bush administration’s disdain for multilateral agreements was over. Cause for celebration indeed.
Of course, over the past eight or ten years governments have shifted resources, especially people, away from disarmament. The deadlock is over but it will take time to recover. And the task ahead is enormous – it’s not as if everyone was ready to disarm and George Bush just got in the way.
Canada, unfortunately, is not poised to be particularly helpful. Some of the representatives from Canadian NGOs arranged a meeting in New York with Marius Grinius, Canada’s Permanent Representative and Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Office of the United Nations and to the United Nations Conference on Disarmament. The meeting was off the record and no remarks can be attributed to anyone but I will tell you that Canada values the security that NATO offers above all else. NATO maintains that nuclear weapons are essential for security.
The PrepCom ultimately ended without accomplishing its second task, agreement on a list of recommendations for discussion at the RevCon, but I am hopeful that this year’s meeting will see substantial progress.
Eric Lars Tollefson passed away in Calgary, Alberta on September 20, 2009. He was born October 15, 1921, in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan and was raised on the family farm near Mossbank, Saskatchewan. He earned his B.A. Honors and M.A. from the University of Saskatchewan and a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from the University of Toronto. From 1951 he worked with the National Research Council in Ottawa, next Standard Oil of Indiana and later Chemcell Limited in Edmonton, where he enjoyed teaching occasional courses at Camrose Lutheran College. In 1967, Eric was invited to join the Chemical and Petroleum Engineering Department of the University of Calgary. He ultimately became Head of the Department, and was responsible for a number of research projects and graduate students. He was the recipient of numerous awards, including the R.S. Jane Memorial Award for Exceptional Achievement from the Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering. Eric was very concerned about the impact on the environment posed by the burning of fossil fuels, and the threat to civilization from nuclear weapons. He served as the first Chairperson of the University of Calgary Peace and Conflict Resolution Study Group and, for a time beginning in the 1980s, on the Executive of the Canadian Pugwash Group. Members of Science for Peace will remember the volume World Security, published by SfP in 1993, as a result of Eric’s initiative. From his style of participation within Pugwash, I found him to be one of those rare people who is profoundly peaceful at heart. He was a wonderful, loving husband, father and grandfather. In living memory of Eric Tollefson, a tree will be planted at Fish Creek Provincial Park. Eric is survived by his loving wife of sixty-two years, Jean (nee Andrews), their daughters Beverley (Manfred Delong), Janet, and Susan (Renndy Leniczek), and their grandchildren Amanda and Andrew Delong, and Jenna and Erica Leniczek.
In lieu of flowers, memorial tributes may be made to Parkdale United Church (Calgary) Foundation, Project Ploughshares Calgary or the Add Your Light Charitable Foundation (c/o Dr. Jan Tollefson).
Admiral Robert Hilborn Falls, CMM, CD, the Chief of Defence Staff of the Canadian Forces from 1977 to 1980, died peacefully in Ottawa 6 November 2009. He will be remembered by a few members of SfP as having attended and contributed to our 1985 disarmament conference the full proceedings of which are published under the title Defending Europe (Taylor and Francis 1986). Robert Falls was Vice-Chief of Defence Staff 1974-77. In 1985, after his retirement from the Navy, he became President of the Canadian Centre of Arms Control and Disarmament (now the Canadian Council for International Peace and Security).
The Tyranny of Rights by Brewster Kneen.
Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis by Al Gore.
A Hundred Holocausts: An Insiders’ Window into US Nuclear Policy by Daniel Ellsberg.
Selling Out: Academic Freedom and the Corporate Market by Howard Woodhouse. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009.
Societies of Peace: Matriarchies Past, Present and Future by Ed Heide. Goettner-Abendroth Inanna Publications.
The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism by Barry Sanders. AK Press, 2009.
If You Love This Planet: A Plan to Save the Earth by Helen Caldicott. W.W. Norton & Company, 2009.
Who Owns the Arctic?: Understanding Sovereignty Disputes in the North by Michael Byers. Douglas & McIntyre, 2009.
Canadian Dimension “End Times in Copenhagen” Nov/Dec 2009.
Next issue of Press for Conversion on Canada’s military/industrial complex.
Full text version of all articles from PDF edition is also available.