Oscar Opinions

February 26, 2011

The Buy In

February 26, 2011

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

Scientific American:

The international community faces the daunting task of determining which countries face the most significant impacts from global warming

Is it worse to be swallowed by the sea or racked by famine?

As climate change tightens its grip on the world, institutions charged with protecting the most vulnerable nations could be faced with just such a question. Because there is no international consensus for ranking the possibilities of future devastation — and because there are limited dollars lined up to help cope with climate change — some countries already are battling over who will be considered most vulnerable.

“This is a major, major topic of discussion and debate at the moment,” said Saleem Huq, head of the climate change group at the U.K.-based International Institute for Environment and Development.

Judging who is most threatened has real-world implications. Those at the top of the list — if ever such a list is developed and agreed upon internationally — could decide who is first in line to tap a multibillion-dollar Green Climate Fund.

The trail toward making such a determination, experts say, is strewn with scientific and political land mines. After all, many scientists consider China — susceptible to droughts, typhoons and sea level rise — to be the world’s most threatened nation. But with a gross domestic product of $4.99 trillion, should it be as eligible for aid as poverty-stricken Bangladesh?

Some small island nations like the Seychelles are middle-income countries, yet climate change threatens their very existence. And where in the mix to put a Colombia or Pakistan, which doesn’t fit neatly into any prescribed U.N. category yet suffers catastrophic flooding?

“There is simply no objective, scientific way of categorizing a ranking of 100-plus countries in order of who is more vulnerable than another,” Huq said. “The moment someone comes up with a list, there’s a problem.”

Yet economists are trying. Last year, the British firm Maplecroft developed an extensive ranking that analyzed countries’ exposures to weather extremes, sensitivity to damage tied to poverty, population, internal conflicts, dependence on agriculture, and capacity to adapt (Climatewire, Oct. 21, 2010).

And in January, former World Bank economist David Wheeler published a sweeping study quantifying the vulnerability of 233 nations, the risk to people in each of those countries from extreme weather events and agricultural loss, and putting the criteria in multiple dimensions.

‘There’s no one truth’
Wheeler, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, said the research is vital in order to sensibly allocate scarce climate change funding in proportion to the problems that countries are facing. He said it’s important to consider not only the weather-related threats facing a country, but also the nation’s ability to cope with crisis — everything from per capita GDP to whether a country has strong governing institutions and control over corruption.

“We have to combine these different aspects. There’s no one truth,” he said. In Wheeler’s assessment of nations rich and poor, China came out as far and away the world’s most vulnerable nation overall, followed closely by India. Bangladesh and Trinidad and Tobago also made the top 10, as did the African nations of Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Burundi, Sudan and Rwanda. But a different examination limited to just vulnerability to extreme weather risk found new countries on the endangered catalog, like Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia, Mozambique and the Philippines.

No rankings, experts agreed, take into account the political calculations that must also come into play when deciding how to prioritize and allocate money. Indeed, national leaders fiercely object to any ranking system that doesn’t have their country at or near the top…

Read it all.

Death In Venice

February 26, 2011

Der Spiegel:

The city of Venice absorbs 20 million tourists each year. In addition, rising water levels have meant an increasing number of floods each year. A new barrier aims to keep Mother Nature at bay, but Venice faces an equally big problem: Its population is shrinking dramatically as Venetians flee the city.

They cast off near the old fish market, relaxing in gondolas, sitting on velvety black benches, dressed in Mickey Mouse, mermaid and pirate costumes. A rock band is playing music while a porn star exposes her fake breasts in the middle of the Grand Canal. The Venetian Carnival is just around the corner. This isn’t some merry parade, however, but a bitterly angry demonstration against the impending demise of a grand old city.

It’s not Japanese tour groups or enchanted Germans taking snapshots of gondoliers singing “O sole mio” who are sitting in the gondolas. Instead, they are young Italians who were born in Venice and grew up in a city that now feels like Disneyland to them.

An official with the city’s cultural agency is dressed as a rat. “The flood is driving the rats onto land,” he says. He isn’t just referring to Venice’s winter floods, which have been transforming St. Mark’s Square into a big puddle more and more frequently. He also means the rising human flood of 20 million tourists that inundate the city every year. The city accepts them because they are the type of flood that brings in revenue.

“Venice is drowning,” says the rat, “and we are becoming extinct.”

The protest fleet docks at Piazzale Roma. The square is the gateway to Venice. Those who arrive there are likely to search in vain for the places depicted in the glossy photos of tourist brochures, the sites where Thomas Mann or Donna Leon wrote eulogies. The bridge to the mainland begins at the square, the terminal station discharges armies pulling their trolley cases and buses from the mainland spit out commuters by the minute at the ferry dock. The new high-tech “People Mover” elevated train picks up day trippers from the parking garages. The Benetton Group has bought the old railroad building and is converting it into a shopping center.

A Fairground with Old Walls

Anyone seeking Venice’s morbid charm should avoid this square. If he doesn’t, he’ll hate the city from the start.

This is the Venice of Chinese markets, gambling dens and fast food stands. Ship terminals are being excavated, and there are plans to build a metro to the new city airport and an offshore port. Everything is in fast motion, and everything is geared toward mass processing and profit. At its gateway, the city seems artificial, a fairground with old walls. Entry is still free.

“Welcome to Veniceland!” a clown shouts. People dressed in rat suits unfold Disney-esque city maps and tout the attractions. “Here you can surf the wakes of the cruise ships in the ‘Tsunami Channel’ and race up to the bell tower on a roller coaster at the ‘St. Marks Fun Camp.’ Shop to your heart’s content at ‘Little Shanghai,’ the former Murano glassblowers’ island. Be there live when police officers beat up handbag sellers from Africa. A show starts every hour. And visit the last real Venetians — on the San Michele cemetery island.”

Venice is sinking and Venice is dying. These dire predictions have become as regular as the tides. The city is accustomed to them and yet it has no solutions. It is true that the historic old city is losing its residents, as they move to the mainland to find work and an ordinary life. A few months ago, the city’s population dropped below 60,000. There are now two foreigners for every Venetian. Many believe that Venetians will be gone altogether by 2030.

The city, a magnet for tourists on the order of Mecca and Las Vegas, has already been cloned in Macau and elsewhere. But can the original, mobbed by millions, photographed again and again and loved to death, even be called a city anymore? What does Venice really need — residents or museum guards? Venice is a laboratory where one can observe what happens when global currents of people collide in a very small space.

Anyone Who Hopes to Save Venice Has to the Think Big

At the Arsenale, the abandoned shipyard at the other end of the city, a helicopter is lifting off on this afternoon. Giovanni Cecconi, 52, an engineer in metal-rimmed glasses and a blue parka, looks down at the sea. From the air, Venice looks like a fish, with a head, tail and fins, with the Grand Canal, which winds through the old city like an artery, feeding a web of hundreds of canals.

The historic central district looks tiny from above, surrounded by Venice’s future as a postmodern city. Evidence of the future can be found in the waters off the Lido beach island, where there is nothing in sight but the horizon and the sea. This is where the fish will be dried out, Cecconi explains. The lagoon surrounding Venice, as large as Lake Constance, but not as deep, will be protected at its three access points to the sea, so that it doesn’t overflow when the real floods arrive.

The helicopter lands on an artificial island made of landfill. Cecconi jumps out and rushes around as if he were on the set of a futuristic movie. “Think big,” he says frequently. Indeed, anyone who hopes to save Venice has to think big. Cecconi works for the Consorzio Nuova Venezia, the most powerful company in the city. He shows us excavations the size of bomb craters illuminated by glaring floodlights. The air is filled with the sound of jackhammers, but there isn’t much to see. The rescue of Venice is taking place underwater.

Venice’s savior is called MOSE, or Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico, a play on the Italian name for Moses, the prophet who parted the Red Sea to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt. It is a project of truly biblical proportions. Conceived after the great flood of 1966 and under construction for the past seven years, MOSE is a dike system the likes of which the world has never seen before — and comes at a price tag of €4.5 billion ($6.17 billion). Day and night, 3,600 workers are hard at work on 78 steel tanks that are being lowered into the water around the Lido barrier island and farther south.

When the sea is calm, the tanks, measuring 20 by 30 meters (66 by 98 feet) each and filled with water, remained anchored on the sea floor. If there is a threat of flooding and if water levels in the city rise above 1.1 meters, compressed air pushes the water out of the tanks and allows them to rise to the surface, creating a steel wall around Venice…

Read it all.

City Journal:

Palestinians on the West Bank were summoned by their government to attend a “Day of Rage” demonstration last Sunday. What were the demonstrators so angry about? Curiously, the Day of Rage wasn’t directed against the tyrannical regimes currently brutalizing Muslim and Arab protestors in a half dozen Middle East countries. Nor did the Palestinian demonstrators express rage over the fact that they don’t yet have an independent state of their own. Rather, it seems that Palestinian leaders are angry because the Obama administration dared to vote against a United Nations Security Council resolution declaring that Israel’s settlements on the West Bank are “illegal.” U.S. leaders “are liars who pretend to support democracy and peace,” said Al Fatah official and former Palestinian intelligence chief Tawfik Tirawi, in calling for the demonstration.

Here in a nutshell is everything that is wrong with the Obama administration’s approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict and the so-called “peace process.” When Obama arrived in office in January 2009, he was aware that just four months earlier Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert had offered Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas an independent state on a silver platter. With land swaps from Israel, the Palestinians would have received the equivalent of all the territory the Arabs controlled before the 1967 war, and they could have built their capital in East Jerusalem. Only one significant concession was demanded of President Abbas in return—a declaration that the Palestinians were giving up the “right of return” to Israel for the refugees from the 1948 war and their millions of descendants. But Abbas rejected Olmert’s generous proposal without the courtesy of an explanation or even a counteroffer—just as Abbas’s predecessor, Yasser Arafat, walked away from a similar deal proffered by President Clinton at Camp David at the end of 2000.

I suppose it represents some degree of progress that—unlike Arafat in 2000—Abbas didn’t respond to the 2008 Israeli peace offer by launching a violent intifada against Israel’s civilian population. Instead he went on the political offensive, trying to shift the conversation from the Palestinian refusal to compromise on the “right of return” to the alleged “threat to peace” of continued Israeli construction activity inside the existing West Bank settlements. Abbas’s diplomacy found a willing partner in the new American president, who was already offering apologies to the Arab world for America’s purported sins in an effort to prove that he was no George W. Bush. Obama then pressured the new Israeli government, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, to accept a one-year moratorium on all new settlement construction—even forbidding the addition of a single bedroom to existing family homes. This unilateral Israeli concession would supposedly entice Abbas to resume the direct negotiations that he had abruptly broken off in September 2008. But Obama’s gambit didn’t work. Abbas didn’t return to the bargaining table until there was just one month left on the construction moratorium. As time ran out, the negotiations were aborted once again…

Read it all.

NAZI! NAZI!

February 26, 2011

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

We Interrupt This Program

February 26, 2011

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

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