Predicted probability of policy adoption (dark lines, left axes)  by policy disposition; the distribution of preferences (gray columns, right axes) for average U.S. citizens and elite groups. Date are compiled from roughly 1,800 different policy initiatives in the years between 1981 and 2002, these policy changes are compared with the expressed opinion of the United State public. Graphic: Gilens and Page, 2014

By Tom McKay 
16 April 2014

(PolicyMic) – A new scientific study from Princeton researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page has finally put some science behind the recently popular argument that the United States isn't a democracy any more. And they've found that in fact, America is basically an oligarchy.

An oligarchy is a system where power is effectively wielded by a small number of individuals defined by their status called oligarchs. Members of the oligarchy are the rich, the well connected and the politically powerful, as well as particularly well placed individuals in institutions like banking and finance or the military.

For their study, Gilens and Page compiled data from roughly 1,800 different policy initiatives in the years between 1981 and 2002. They then compared those policy changes with the expressed opinion of the United State public. Comparing the preferences of the average American at the 50th percentile of income to what those Americans at the 90th percentile preferred, as well as the opinions of major lobbying or business groups, the researchers found out that the government followed the directives set forth by the latter two much more often.

It's beyond alarming. As Gilens and Page write, "the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy." In other words, their statistics say your opinion literally does not matter.

That might explain why mandatory background checks on gun sales supported by 83% to 91% of Americans aren't in place, or why Congress has taken no action on greenhouse gas emissions even when such legislation is supported by the vast majority of citizens.

This problem has been steadily escalating for four decades. While there are some limitations to their data set, economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez constructed income statistics based on IRS data that go back to 1913. They found that the gap between the ultra-wealthy and the rest of us is much bigger than you would think, as mapped by these graphs from the Center On Budget and Policy Priorities.

Piketty and Saez also calculated that as of September 2013 the top 1% of earners had captured 95% of all income gains since the Great Recession ended. The other 99% saw a net 12% drop to their income. So not only is oligarchy making the rich richer, it's driving policy that's made everyone else poorer. [more]

Princeton Concludes What Kind of Government America Really Has, and It's Not a Democracy

Rufescent tiger heron (Tigrisoma lineatum) in Yasuni National Park in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Photo: Jeremy Hance

By Jeremy Hance
16 April 2014

( – In what is a major victory for environmentalists, campaigners with United for Yasuní have collected 727,947 signatures triggering a national referendum on whether or not oil drilling should proceed in three blocs of Yasuní National Park in Ecuador. The effort started last year after Ecuador's President, Rafael Correa, announced he was killing the Yasuní-ITT initiative, which called on the international community to pay into a trust fund to keep the most remote portions of the park free from oil exploitation. Currently, Yasuní National Park is considered the likeliest candidate for the most biodiverse place on the planet and is home to several indigenous tribes who have chosen voluntary isolation.

"Not only did we mobilize to get the needed signatures for the popular referendum, but we mobilized civil society for a greater call for a new development model that keeps oil in the ground and addresses the needs of its people," said Esperanza Martinez, President of Acción Ecologica. "We proved that defending Yasuní is not just about monetary contributions, or political statements, but a mobilized civil society."

Activists needed to gather half a million signatures, but collected over 100,000 more to make sure the results wouldn't be invalidated. But several hurdles remain for activists: signatures need to be verified by Ecuador's National Electoral Council and then the referendum needs to be deemed constitutional by the Constitutional Court. If the referendum passes these two tests, the question of whether or not oil drilling should go ahead in the Yasuní's ITT (Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini) blocs will go to the Ecuadorian public. Yet, victory isn't assured. Although opinion polls show a hefty support in Ecuador for keeping the ITT blocs unexploited, debate will likely be fierce given Correa's popularity and his pro-oil stance. [more]

Ecuador will have referendum on fate of Yasuni after activists collect over 700,000 signatures

The Rotunda at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, Virginia, October 2006. Photo: Aaron Josephson / Wikimedia

By Tom Jackman   
17 April 2014

(Washington Post) – Unpublished research by university scientists is exempt from the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled Thursday, rejecting an attempt by skeptics of global warming to view the work of a prominent climate researcher during his years at the University of Virginia.

The ruling is the latest turn in the FOIA request filed in 2011 by Del. Robert Marshall (R-Prince William) and the American Tradition Institute to obtain research and e-mails of former U-Va. professor Michael Mann.

Mann left the university in 2005 and now works at Penn State University, where he published his book “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars” about his theories on global warming and those who would deny it. Lawyers for U-Va. turned over about 1,000 documents to Marshall and ATI, led by former EPA attorney David Schnare, but withheld another 12,000 papers and e-mails, saying that work “of a propriety nature” was exempt under the state’s FOIA law.

In 2012, Circuit Judge Paul Sheridan sided with U-Va., saying that Mann’s work was exempt and that the FOIA exemption arose “from the concept of academic freedom and from the interest in protecting research.” Marshall and ATI appealed. […]

(Note: The Washington Post joined an amicus curiae brief in the case filed by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press supporting Marshall and the ATI.)

Mann said after the ruling, “This is a victory for science, public university faculty, and academic freedom. We are grateful for the vigorous defense waged by the University of Virginia in protecting their faculty and the integrity of research and scholarship. Hopefully the ruling can serve as a precedent in other states confronting this same assault on public universities and their faculty.” [more]

Va. Supreme Court rules for U-Va. in global warming FOIA case

'Global Progress Drives Demand' -- three graphs from the ExxonMobil report, 'Energy and Carbon - Managing the Risks', show human population growth, world GDP, and energy demand projected to the year 2040. Graphic: ExxonMobil

1 April 2014 (Associated Press) – On the same day the world's scientists issued their latest report on climate change and the risks it poses to society, America's biggest oil and gas company said the world's climate policies are "highly unlikely" to stop it from selling fossil fuels far into the future.

Exxon Mobil issued a report on Monday on the risks that climate change policies could pose to the value of its assets and future profitability, by coincidence on the same day as the latest paper by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a Nobel Prize-winning United Nations group assembled to assess the science and risks of climate change.

Both Exxon and its critics used IPCC research to bolster their cases.

Exxon's report was in response to the contentions of some shareholders and environmental activists that the assets underpinning the value of Exxon and other fossil fuel companies will be worth less as society restricts consumption of fossil fuels to fight climate change.

The report, the first detailed response to these concerns by a major oil company, acknowledges the need to adopt policies to address climate change. But it concludes that because oil and gas are so critical to global development and economic growth, governments are "highly unlikely" to adopt policies that cut emissions so sharply that fossil fuel consumption would be severely restricted.

"We know enough based on the research and science that the risk (of climate change) is real and appropriate steps should be taken to address that risk," Ken Cohen, Exxon's government affairs chief, said in an interview. "But given the essential role that energy plays in everyone's lives, those steps need to be taken in context with other realities we face, including lifting much of the world's population out of poverty."

Natasha Lamb, director of equity research at Arjuna Capital, a sustainable wealth management group that filed the shareholder resolution with Exxon, called Exxon's report a "milestone." "It's a huge first step in the right direction and it shows a lot of leadership," she said. […]

Exxon says that renewable energy sources are not now cheap enough nor technologically advanced enough to meet growing demand for energy, let alone also replace oil and gas. Governments therefore face a choice between restricting access to energy or raising the cost of energy significantly. In Exxon's view, governments will chose to raise the cost of fossil fuels to encourage alternatives somewhat, but stop well short of enacting policies that will sharply curtail consumption, especially in developing countries, because populations would resist and social upheaval would result.

Arjuna Capital's Lamb disagrees. "There's greater risk of social upheaval from climate change itself," Arjuna Capital's Lamb says. "[Exxon's report] ignores the cost of inaction." [more]

Exxon Mobil says climate change unlikely to stop it selling fossil fuels

Forest loss in Indonesia, 2000-2010. Forest clearing within areas zoned for timber, logging, oil palm, and mining accounted for nearly 45 percent of deforestation in Indonesia between 2000 and 2010. Graphic: / Abood, et al., 2014 / DOI:10.1111/conl.12103

By Rhett A. Butler
10 April 2014

( – Forest clearing within areas zoned for timber, logging, oil palm, and mining accounted for nearly 45 percent of deforestation in Indonesia between 2000 and 2010, finds a new study that examined forest loss within industrial concessions.

The research, published in the journal Conservation Letters, used a combination of satellite data and concession data to link specific activities to forest cover change. It found that of the 14.7 million hectares of forest cleared in Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, the Moluccas and Papua during the 2000's, 6.6 million hectares occurred within industrial concessions: 1.9 million hectares in fiber plantations; 1.8 million ha in logging concessions, 1.6 million ha in oil palm concessions, 0.9 million hectares in concessions with overlapping zoning, and 0.3 million hectares in coal mining concessions. The study did not assess the roughly 55 percent of deforestation that occurred outside concession areas, but oil palm development, illegal logging, industrial and smallholder agriculture, other types of mining, and fire would account for the majority of that loss.

Geographically, 48 percent forest loss within industrial concessions occurred in Kalimantan, followed by Sumatra (32 percent), Papua (12 percent), and Sulawesi (5 percent). Lowland forest accounted for three-quarters of forest loss in industrial areas. Peatlands conversion amounted to 21 percent of total loss.

The study also looked at greenhouse gas emissions from concession development. Pulp and paper plantations were the single largest source of carbon emissions during the period, accounting for more than a third of total industrial emissions. Oil palm (28 percent), logging (22 percent), and mixed concessions followed. Drivers varied dramatically by island: in Sumatra fiber plantations amounted to nearly 60 percent of emissions, while the palm oil industry in Kalimantan accounted for about 40 percent. Logging concessions were the biggest source of industrial land use emissions in Papua, Sulawesi, and the Moluccas. [more]

Forests in Indonesia's concession areas being rapidly destroyed

Aerial view of California's Folsom Lake, before the record drought dried it up. Photo: Google Earth

Aerial view of California's Folsom Lake, after the record drought dried it up. Photo: California Department of Water Resources

By Chris Dolce
23 January 2014

(Weather Channel) – California's reservoirs are severely depleted due to the ongoing widespread drought conditions in the state. As of 21 January 2014, 67 percent of California was in extreme drought [69% on 8 April 2014], the second worst category possible on the U.S. Drought Monitor [now 23% in “Exceptional” drought, the worst category].

According to the California Department of Water Resources, Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville are only 36 percent of capacity. Folsom Lake is just 17 percent capacity.

Starting with Folsom Lake above, we've matched up recent photos of these three depleted lakes from the California Department of Water Resources with images from Google Earth that show the lakes when they were much fuller. [more]

Stunning Before and After Photos of California's Lakes Depleted by Extreme Drought

In this 3 August 2011 file photo, Texas State Park police officer Thomas Bigham walks across the cracked lake bed of O.C. Fisher Lake, in San Angelo, Texas. The impacts of record-breaking heat and years of low or no rainfall can be felt years after the dry spell passes, and in February 2014, Texas is now struggling with some of the worst impacts of a historic one-year drought that crippled the state's lakes, agriculture and water supplies. More than 50 percent of Texas remains in drought despite more consistent rainfall in the past two years, climatologists said. Photo: Tony Gutierrez / AP

By Dave Burdick
8 Apr 2014

(Grist) – The world as we knew it is gone.

Even if nobody is talking explicitly about it, it’s clear that something terrible has happened and in its wake, humanity must once again reset its priorities. Can we, in this resource-scarce new world, fashion some kind of idyllic agrarian commune with shared goods, serene faces, and hemp robes? Or are we doomed to be selfish hoarders, creating even greater scarcity which we can then leverage for our own benefit? Also, is that … is that some kind of genetically modified man-wolfephant?

Post-apocalyptic science fiction isn’t new. But you may have noticed an uptick in books set in the wake of some kind of major climate disaster. Some call it “cli-fi” — sci-fi infused with the increasingly frightening impacts of climate change. The trope has deep roots, says science fiction scholar Istvan Csicery-Ronay, and plenty of room to grow.

In fact, of late, cli-fi has been creeping out of the fantasy and science fiction sections of bookstores and libraries and into the mainstream. Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam trilogy, for example, is everywhere. Its simple, cartoon-like, GMO-gone-wrong future isn’t hard to imagine. Once you get past the brand names and animal mashup portmanteaus (pigoons, rakunks, wolvogs), you realize you’re just looking at a version of us, not all that far in the future. It’s relatable, in a woozy way.

Cli-fi is “getting some interest from folks who are not necessarily interested in science fiction,” says Csicery-Ronay, an English professor at DePauw University in Indiana and co-editor of the journal, Science Fiction Studies. For some people, it may be even be a sort of gateway into science fiction, which has a long and proud history of tearing civilization down and making characters build it back, or deal with the consequences of living in someone else’s rebuilt world.

The Russians, according to Csicsery-Ronay, were pioneers of the genre. “They had a category, late 19th century, early 20th century, called the ‘If-This-Goes-On Fiction,’ kind of a warning,” he says, “a particular kind of dystopian fiction, that if a certain trend goes on, and we don’t stop, then this is what’s going to happen.”

An if-this-goes-on moment actually sparked the anticipated next novel from Paolo Bacigalupi, critically acclaimed writer of science fiction novels for young (Ship Breaker, Drowned Cities) and standard (The Windup Girl) adults.

“This is sort of my fetish,” Bacigalupi says. “Bad decisions made badly by bad people. What happens next?”

His latest inspiration? Erstwhile Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry. “I was down in Texas when their drought was getting going,” Bacigalupi says. “It was sort of biblical, apocalyptic heat. The cows were being put down because the land can’t support them. All this great systemic collapse stuff percolating around, and at the same time, Rick Perry … is organizing a prayer circle and praying for rain.

“That was the moment,” Bacigalupi says. [more]

Climate change: The hottest thing in science fiction

Members of the Peasant Unified Movement of Bajo Aguan, Honduras, carry mock coffins bearing pictures of people killed in land conflict clashes. There were 109 activist deaths between 2002-13 in Honduras, making it the world's second deadliest country for communities defending natural resources. Photo: Orlando Sierra / AFP / Getty Images

By Captain Paul Watson
16 April 2014

(Facebook) – Being a wildlife conservationist or an environmentalist is now considered one of the planet’s most dangerous occupations.

We face very dangerous and powerful vested interests each day. They outnumber us and they are financially and politically connected. They are ruthless and they will deal harshly with anyone who intervenes against them and the resource or species they have in their sights.

Over the years I have been beaten, jailed, shot, and threatened repeatedly. Fortunately none of my crew or I have suffered any serious injuries.

Over the last two years we have endured a legal assault by the Japanese Institute for Cetacean Research (ICR) which resulted in a victory for Sea Shepherd yet the ICR are still throwing lawyers at us. Our enemies have the money to hit us in the courts repeatedly and failing that they turn to violent attacks on the high seas where their government will condone any actions they take.

I have known and supported activists in the field who have been murdered for defending nature and in most cases their killers were never caught or prosecuted.

How bad is it? According to a recent study by the Guardian newspaper, the casualties average two per week with 908 activists murdered between 2002 and 2013. And the numbers have increased each year with the 51 killed in 2002 rising to 151 in 2013.

Unfortunately, we do not hear about most of them because they are usually poor grass-root activists tackling issues in their own communities.

Last year despite attempts by the Costa Rican government to downplay the seriousness of the murder of Jairo Mora Sandoval, we were able turn the media spotlight onto the case and suspects were arrested. Although Jairo had been beaten to death on Moins Beach for protecting sea turtles, a government spokesperson initially dismissed it as an accident.

In fact a study called Deadly Environment by Global Watch found that 80% of the conservationist murders took place in Latin America. Brazil being the most dangerous nation with 448 of the 908 global killings. Of these 448 murders only ten of the cases resulted in prosecutions meaning that in Brazil, 438 activist murders remain unsolved. 54 murders have been linked to police or military involvement.

These statistics are of grave concern to Sea Shepherd because we have Sea Shepherd groups with active projects in Brazil, Costa Rica, Chile, Argentina, Mexico and Ecuador, Senegal, Liberia, and Japan.


Ironically in Honduras, the second most dangerous country for environmentalists, 93 poor farmers in the fertile Bajo Aguan region have been murdered since 2010 over land conflicts with agribusinesses expanding African palm plantations that are traded globally on the lucrative carbon credits scheme. Death Squads are now roaming the country looking for anti-African palm farmers.

Eerily, as I was writing this posting, I received the following bulletin:

“Virunga National Park’s Chief Warden, Emmanuel de Merode, was shot today in an ambush on the road from Goma to Rumangabo. He is in serious but stable condition with bullet wounds in the chest”

This is a man I actually know. I am hoping the injuries will not be fatal.

In 2002 I had lunch with Conservationist Jane Tipton in St. Lucia. A year later she was shot in the head in her driveway. The murder remains unsolved.

This is one of the reasons I refused to be extradited to Costa Rica where there is a price on my head. This is a country where not one murder of an environmentalist over the last decade has been solved.

There is not a single case of an environmentalist or a conservationist killing any person. But if it did happen, it would be the leading news story internationally.

We now live in a world where holding up a protest sign makes a person an eco-terrorist and also a target. Yet we can be killed without a corporate journalist lifting an eyebrow and certainly not lifting a pen.

The message is clear. “Get in the way of our profits and we will kill you.”

With Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott describing environmentalists as agents of Satan and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper calling conservationists a threat to the national security of the country, the political message is clear. It’s open season on those who would defend the Earth.

908 environmental activists murdered! And hardly anyone is aware of it and without the few still genuine newspapers still in existence like the Guardian, no one would have been aware of how the Greenies are being picked off in the field.

One of the reasons that Sea Shepherd is so high profile in the media with our own television show (Whale Wars) is because we don’t intend to be lethally dealt with in obscurity. Kill one of us and the world will know.

Unfortunately the death toll will increase as resources are diminished and eco-systems are destroyed. The problem is that at some point the Green Movement will fight back. I cherish the non-violent foundation of the conservation movement. We have a noble legacy, in fact it is the only global movement that can claim a complete 100% rejection of violence as a solution. I don’t want to see it devolve into retribution with retaliatory violence but that will become an increasing possibility if the killing of us by them continues.

Despite having this unblemished record, the propaganda continues to spew out of the mainstream media about how violent environmentalist are. You don’t see us on horseback with semi-automatic weapons looking for a show-down with the BLM. In the mind of our enemies, violence is holding a protest sign, blocking a whaling ship or making a film. The same words are used repeatedly like “eco-terrorist, extremist, or militant.”

Yet when a Japanese whaling ship deliberately cuts a Sea Shepherd vessel in half, no one is arrested or even questioned. When a conservationist like Jairo Mora Sandoval repeatedly requests protection for the turtles and himself, he is ignored then killed. When the Premier of Western Australia illegally slaughters endangered sharks, the people trying to save sharks are threatened with jail-time.

The shooting this very day of Emmanuel de Merode will get big play in the Belgian media because he is from Belgium, but it most likely will be ignored by the major networks unless they can wedge it in between the latest Kardashian nonsense and whatever silly fad is in vogue at the moment.

What is clear is that it is fast becoming a more dangerous world out there for those of us who wish to protect biodiversity and natural habitats. We need to be more cautious and more mindful of self defense.

And people asked me why I sometimes wear a bullet proof vest?

My old one has a bullet hole in it.


Estimated annual offtake rates for Friday/Sunday bushmeat market days at the Daobly market in the Ivorian town of Taï along the Cavally River. The annual offtake was calculated by doubling the average of the observed Friday offtake, and doubling again to account for the similar volume of primates traded at Sunday markets. This value was multiplied by 52 to provide an estimated annual offtake for the bi-weekly market. Population percentages were based on estimates derived from population data at Taï National Park in Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone's Tiwai Island. Graph: Covey and McGraw, 2014

Estimated annual offtake rates for Friday/Sunday bushmeat market days at the Daobly market in the Ivorian town of Taï along the Cavally River. The annual offtake was calculated by doubling the average of the observed Friday offtake, and doubling again to account for the similar volume of primates traded at Sunday markets. This value was multiplied by 52 to provide an estimated annual offtake for the bi-weekly market. Population percentages were based on estimates derived from population data at Taï National Park in Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone's Tiwai Island. Graph: Covey and McGraw, 2014

ABSTRACT: According to the IUCN [1], four of the nine anthropoid species found in Liberia are classified as either Vulnerable or Endangered and this number is likely to rise in coming years due to an increase in bushmeat hunting and a growing human population. Bushmeat hunting is the primary cause of primate loss in West Africa and current estimated offtake rates combined with habitat loss have placed four taxa endemic to Upper Guinea forests in danger of extirpation. We surveyed one bushmeat market located on the Liberia – Ivory Coast border to assess the general impact of hunting in one area of Liberia. This market, located near the Ivorian town of Taї, receives meat daily from the Konobo District of eastern Liberia. We visited the market eight times over a four month period in 2009/2010, during which we counted 723 animals including 264 primates. According to our surveys of the market, Cercopithecus petaurista (Lesser spot-nosed monkey) [25% of all primates] was the most abundant primate, followed by Cercopithecus diana (Diana monkey) [19.3%], Cercocebus atys (Sooty mangabey) [12.1%], Colobus polykomos (King colobus) [11.4%], Procolobus verus (Olive colobus) [10.6%], Cercopithecus campbelli(Campbelli monkey) [10.2%], and Procolobus badius (Western red colobus) [9.5%]. We estimate an average of thirty-three primates were exchanged each day we visited and that a minimum of 9,500 primates are traded annually at this locale (6,900 during formal market days and 2,600 on non-market days). Based on an estimated offtake rate of 2.76%, our preliminary analysis suggests that primates in Liberia’s Konobo District are likely being hunted at rates approaching unsustainable levels and are in danger of extirpation.

Monkeys in a West African bushmeat market: implications for cercopithecid conservation in eastern Liberia


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