Friday, September 27, 2013 – Swords to Plowshares

Swords to Plowshares
by Sinclair Noe
DOW – 70 = 15,258
SPX – 6 = 1691
NAS – 5 = 3781
10 YR YLD – .02 = 2.62%
OIL – .16 = 102.87
GOLD + 12.40 = 1337.20
SILV + .05 = 21.88
The war hasn’t started,… yet.
And it looks like it won’t start any time soon; I refer, of course to US military intervention in Syria; the Syrian Civil War is ongoing, but the US didn’t jump into that quagmire. A funny thing happened in New York last night, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council have agreed on a resolution that will require Syria to give up its chemical weapons; yes, that means Russia and China signed off on the deal, but there will be no automatic penalties if the Syrians fail to comply. If Syria fails to comply, there would need to be further UN agreement on what measures to impose for noncompliance. Still, it is a remarkable turn of events considering that a few short weeks ago we had destroyers in the Mediterranean and it looked like bombs would fly at the drop of a hat.
The diplomatic breakthrough on Syria came as Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Zarif, said progress had been made toward a resolution of the nuclear dispute between his country and the West, suggesting it could happen in a year. Zarif met face to face with Secretary of State John Kerry in one of the highest-level discussions between the two countries in more than 30 years. Then, this morning President Obama revealed he had talked by phone with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, the first direct contact between the leaders of Iran and the United States since 1979. Obama said they discussed Iran’s nuclear program and said he was persuaded there was a basis for an agreement.
Mr. Obama added: “A path to a meaningful agreement will be difficult. And at this point both sides have significant concerns that will have to be overcome. But I believe we’ve got a responsibility to pursue diplomacy and that we have a unique opportunity to make progress with the new leadership in Tehran.”
So, the war hasn’t started, and that’s good. War is hell, and it’s expensive. War, the military industrial complex, and the national security state that accompanies it can cost and arm and a leg, literally. And for many years, that is where American taxpayers’ dollars have gone. Trillions of dollars. The Iraq war has cost somewhere north of $3 trillion, depending on the source for the numbers. And just to have the Tomahawk missile program sitting idle on the sidelines, waiting for potential deployment – that costs about $36,000 per hour. About $600 billion a year gets pumped into the Department of Defense, and that doesn’t include the civilian intelligence community or the Department of Homeland Security. And we’ve recently learned there is more money being pumped to the civilian contractors than we previously imagined.
Budget cuts at the Pentagon were long considered an impossibility and a formula in Congress for political suicide. Now, the austerity movement’s first major initiative in Washington, known as sequestration, those mandated, take-no-prisoners, across-the-board cuts in federal spending instituted by Congress, have in fact accomplished what nothing else could: the first downsizing of our defense spending in this century. Sequestration cut about $40 billion from the Pentagon’s funding this year. It’s a start.
If we were smart, we should be able to get some credits for not starting wars, because that would have pushed military expenditures into the stratosphere. For example, no military intervention in Syria should result in at least $80 billion extra that could be spent to hire teachers or build bridges or public transit or to help veterans or green energy; whatever.
There should be a process for converting from a war economy to a civilian peace-time economy. Consider the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia, a vast facility that repairs and rebuilds submarines. It spans 800 acres, contains 30 miles of paved roads and four miles of waterfront, employs 6,750 civilian workers, and has its own police and fire departments. Examining the current job categories at the shipyard reveals a skills base ready to be tapped to develop and produce green-energy technology. From electrical engineers and chemists to machinists, metal workers, and crane operators, there’s plenty of overlap between existing man- and womanpower in military industry and what’s needed for the robust growth of this country’s green energy sector.
For now, though, the shipyard is still doing submarines. And it will keep doing them until Congress makes new and different plans for this country. That’s just one example; there are plenty more all around the country. Taxpayers have invested billions of dollars over decades in developing inventive technology, building infrastructure, and training skilled workers to fulfill military contracts for the war economy. It’s time for the American public to start seeing all this harnessed to new purposes.
Right now lawmakers are loath to cut funding if it means erasing military jobs in their districts, and the military-industrial complex has been particularly clever in the way it has spread its projects across every state and so many localities. Converting military contracts into green energy contracts would make redirecting wasteful military spending more politically feasible, and the federal government already operates an array of programs, including the Pentagon’s own Office of Economic Adjustment, that could be expanded to help businesses and communities make the transition.
Moving public dollars into this country’s renewable energy sector could begin to lay the groundwork for a vibrant economy in the second and third decades of this century, while creating good jobs in a growth sector, working toward energy security, and helping this country reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. Like the construction of our interstate highway system in the 1950s, it’s an investment that would pay dividends for decades to come.

Maybe there is a better use of our time, energy, and money than to launch the next war.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released the first chapter of its fifth assessment on global warming this morning, and the unequivocal message is that human beings are the “dominant cause of observed warming” that’s been seen since the mid-20th century and we must take action to cut greenhouse gas emissions. This is not news; while the certainty around the scientific case for man-made climate change has tightened somewhat, much of the new report reiterates the conclusions reached in the last IPCC assessment,which was released in 2007. 
The new report says that even if the world begins to moderate greenhouse gas emissions, warming is likely to cross the critical threshold of 2C by the end of this century. That would have serious consequences, including sea level rises, heatwaves and changes to rainfall meaning dry regions get less and already wet areas receive more. The IPCC warned that the world cannot afford to keep emitting carbon dioxide as it has been doing in recent years. To avoid dangerous levels of climate change, beyond 2C, the world can only emit a total of between 800 and 880 gigatonnes of carbon. Of this, about 530 gigatonnes had already been emitted by 2011. We’re two-thirds of the way there. That has a clear implication for our fossil fuel consumption, meaning that humans cannot burn all of the coal, oil and gas reserves that countries and companies possess. In other words, we are fast approaching a tipping point, a point of no return.
Each of the IPCC’s last five big reports found that climate science has gotten increasingly certain that the planet is warming, and humans are the main cause. Scientists have a 95-100 percent certainty (“extremely likely”) that humans are causing temperatures to rise. Directly from the report: “It is extremely likely that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and other anthropogenic forcings together.” The report in 2001 was 66 percent certain, and the 2007 report was 90 percent certain. Scientific conclusions that cigarettes are deadly and that the universe is about 13.8 billion years old have similar levels of certainty.
The science finds that the atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amount of snow and ice has diminished, the global mean sea level has risen and that concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased. The central estimate is that warming is likely to exceed 2C, the threshold beyond which scientists think global warming will start to wreak serious changes to the planet. That threshold is likely to be reached even if we begin to cut global greenhouse gas emissions, which so far has not happened.
The IPCC assessments are important because they form the scientific basis of UN negotiations on a new climate deal. Governments are supposed to finish that agreement in 2015, but it’s unclear whether they will commit to the emissions cuts that scientists say will be necessary to keep the temperature below a limit at which the worst effects of climate change can be avoided. And the worst effects of climate change are scary; livelihoods across the planet will be affected, the sea levels will rise, major changes in the sources and availability of drinking water, massive displacements of hundreds of billions of people, the acidification of the oceans, raging forest fires, famine, starvation, and more.

The science grows clearer, the case grows more compelling, and the costs of inaction grow beyond anything that anyone with conscience or commonsense should be willing to even contemplate. 
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