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Tom Engelhardt: Apocalypse When?

7:48 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

The U.S. Intelligence Community’s New Year’s Wish Megatrends, Game-Changers, Black Swans, Tectonic Shifts, and a World Not That Different From 2012

Global Trends 2030 cover

The National Intelligence Council's latest Global Trends report

Think of it as a simple formula: if you’ve been hired (and paid handsomely) to protect what is, you’re going to be congenitally ill-equipped to imagine what might be.  And yet the urge not just to know the contours of the future, but to plant the Stars and Stripes in that future has had the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) in its grip since the mid-1990s.  That was the moment when it first occurred to some in Washington that U.S. power might be capable of controlling just about everything worth the bother globally for, if not an eternity, then long enough to make the future American property.

Ever since, every few years the National Intelligence Council (NIC), the IC’s “center for long-term strategic analysis,” has been intent on producing a document it calls serially Global Trends [fill in the future year].  The latest edition, out just in time for Barack Obama’s second term, is Global Trends 2030.  Here’s one utterly predictable thing about it: it’s bigger and more elaborate than Global Trends 2025.  And here’s a prediction that, hard as it is to get anything right about the future, has a 99.9% chance of being accurate: when Global Trends 2035 comes out, it’ll be bigger and more elaborate yet.  It’ll cost more and still, like its predecessor, offer a hem for every haw, a hedge for every faintly bold possibility, a trap-door escape from any prediction that might not stick.

None of this should be surprising.  In recent years, with a $75 billion collective budget, the IC, that historically unprecedented labyrinth of 17 intelligence agencies and outfits, has been one of Washington’s major growth industries.  In return for almost unfettered funding and a more-than-decade-long expansion of its powers, it’s promised one thing to the American people: safety, especially from “terrorism.”  As part of a national security complex that has benefitted enormously from a post-9/11 lockdown of the country and the creation of a permanent war state, it also suffers from the classic bureaucratic disease of bloat.

So no one should be shocked to discover that its forays into an anxiety-producing future, which started relatively modestly in 1997, have turned into ever more massive operations.  In this fifth iteration of the series, the authors have given birth to a book-length paean to the future and its dangers.

For this, they convened groups of “experts” in too many American universities to count, consulted too many individual academics to name despite pages of acknowledgements, and held “meetings on the initial draft in close to 20 countries.”  In other words, a monumental effort was made to mount the future and reassure Washington that, while a “relative economic decline vis-à-vis the rising states is inevitable,” the coming decades might still prove an American plaything (even if shared, to some extent, with China and those rising powers).

Frack Is the New Crack

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Rebecca Solnit: 2013 as Year Zero for Us — and Our Planet

7:36 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Banners & signs at a Tar Sands protest. "All markets peak, all pipelines leak."

November 19 Tar Sands Blockade action in East Texas. Is 2013 our last chance to save the Earth?

In weather terms, 2012 in New York City began for me with crocuses.  On an early February day in a week in which the temperature hit 60 degrees, I spotted their green shoots pushing up through the bare ground of a local park on a morning walk — just as if it were spring.  The year was ending last weekend as I wandered with a friend past a communal garden in the same park and noticed that, in a December week in which the temperatures were in the mid-50s, the last few roses were still in bloom.

In between, in that park on a dark night in late October I watched a white-capped Hudson River roiling like some enraged beast, preparing for a storm surge that would flood lower Manhattan, plunging it into darkness and so turning it into “little North Korea,” briefly making true islanders out of New Yorkers and flooding out whole communities.  That, of course, was Hurricane Sandy, the Frankenstorm surprise of New York’s year (though anything but a worst case scenario).  And then, there was the American 2012 in which heat eternally set records and we experienced something close to an “endless summer.”

If climate change had a personality in this year of so many grim recordswildfires, drought, heat, carbon dioxide emissions — it would definitely be saying: “I’m not the thing your grandchildren will have to deal with, I’m yours!”

In such a new world of upheaval, tradition matters.  And there is one inviolable tradition at TomDispatch: Rebecca Solnit has the last word — as she has for years, peering into the future, sizing up the past, weighing alternatives to what is, and last year considering a season of being Occupied.  Now, for the first time in a long while, weather and climate change are a growing American preoccupation.  Of course, climate change is an area long occupied by the giant energy companies whose compassion extends no further than their bottom lines (which, like the heat, continue to set historical records).  Solnit in her year-ending, TomDispatch-closing piece suggests that it’s time for us to occupy the topic ourselves, and do our best to ensure that this planet, 2013 and beyond, remains a habitable place for us, our children, and our grandchildren.  There could be no more powerful New Year’s wish. Tom

The Sky’s the Limit
The Demanding Gifts of 2012
By Rebecca Solnit

As this wild year comes to an end, we return to the season of gifts. Here’s the gift you’re not going to get soon: any conventional version of Paradise. You know, the place where nothing much happens and nothing is demanded of you. The gifts you’ve already been given in 2012 include a struggle over the fate of the Earth. This is probably not exactly what you asked for, and I wish it were otherwise — but to do good work, to be necessary, to have something to give: these are the true gifts. And at least there’s still a struggle ahead of us, not just doom and despair.

Think of 2013 as the Year Zero in the battle over climate change, one in which we are going to have to win big, or lose bigger.  This is a terrible thing to say, but not as terrible as the reality that you can see in footage of glaciers vanishing, images of the entire surface of the Greenland Ice Shield melting this summer, maps of Europe’s future in which just being in southern Europe when the heat hits will be catastrophic, let alone in more equatorial realms.

For millions of years, this world has been a great gift to nearly everything living on it, a planet whose atmosphere, temperature, air, water, seasons, and weather were precisely calibrated to allow us — the big us, including forests and oceans, species large and small — to flourish. (Or rather, it was we who were calibrated to its generous, even bounteous, terms.) And that gift is now being destroyed for the benefit of a few members of a single species.

The Earth we evolved to inhabit is turning into something more turbulent and unreliable at a pace too fast for most living things to adapt to. This means we are losing crucial aspects of our most irreplaceable, sublime gift, and some of us are suffering the loss now — from sea snails whose shells are dissolving in acidified oceans to Hurricane Sandy survivors facing black mold and bad bureaucracy to horses starving nationwide because a devastating drought has pushed the cost of hay so high to Bolivian farmers failing because the glaciers that watered their valleys have largely melted.

This is not just an issue for environmentalists who love rare species and remote places: if you care about children, health, poverty, farmers, food, hunger, or the economy, you really have no choice but to care about climate change.

The reasons for acting may be somber, but the fight is a gift and an honor. What it will give you in return is meaning, purpose, hope, your best self, some really good company, and the satisfaction of being part of victories also to come.  But what victory means needs to be imagined on a whole new scale as the news worsens.

Unwrapping the Victories

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