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Disappearing Forests

Indonesia’s rainforests are fast disappearing. Forty percent of those that existed in 1950 have been destroyed. Indonesia now has the world’s second largest levels of greenhouse gas emissions, adding to global warming. The deforestation is largely the result of a corrupt political and economic system. Former president Suharto awarded huge logging concessions to family members and political allies. Much of the forest loss stems from the expansion of Indonesia’s plywood, pulp and palm oil industries. Wood processing industries openly acknowledge their dependence on illegally cleared wood. Millions of acres of forest have been cut for palm oil plantations, and owners have frequently used fire as a cheap method of forest clearing, which leads to uncontrolled wildfires that destroy even areas meant to be preserved.

During a climate conference last May in Oslo, Indonesia announced a two-year moratorium on granting new permits to clear rainforests, a potentially important advance toward slowing global warming. The move is scheduled to go into effect next January. Norway has donated $1 billion toward the moratorium, partly for monitoring and verification of reduced emissions, with a goal of 26-percent reduction by 2020. Activist groups like Greenpeace point out, however, that the moratorium leaves unprotected millions of acres already in the hands of logging companies, and deforestation will surely continue.

Bad Harvest

Thirteen people were killed and more than 600 wounded in Mozambique in early September as police tried to contain with rubber bullets and live rounds what had started out as a peaceful protest. Cars and tires were burning in the streets in the capital city of Maputo. Children were caught in the crossfire; two were killed. At the root of this little-reported mayhem were food prices. Mozambicans were enraged by a government plan to remove subsidies and allow prices for food staples like bread to rise as much as 30 percent, bad news for an already impoverished population.

The government quickly backtracked on its plans, but the violence was an unwelcome reminder of food riots around the world in 2008 that followed sharp spikes in basic commodity prices. Then market-distorting agricultural subsidies in the developed world, diversion of food crops to ethanol production and increasing transportation costs due to high oil prices were blamed for sudden increases in food costs.

In 2010, different but still worrisome factors are driving commodity prices. The world recession has taken a toll on production while simultaneously reducing the buying power of many of the world’s poorest people. Responding to tightening reserves and a poor expectation for this year’s harvest, Russia has banned grain exports. In August wheat prices had their most significant spike in 37 years. In Egypt food protests have already broken out, and more disorder is likely as price increases ripple across Africa and the Middle East. We hope an emergency U.N. meeting in Rome on Sept. 24 produces more than well-intentioned rhetoric; a practical, multilateral plan of action now to head off hunger and violence would be a most welcome harvest.

Unqualified Failure

The U.S. troops in Afghanistan face a host of uncertainties, but wondering about the reliability of an interpreter should not be one of them. Unfortunately, more than one quarter of the interpreters supplied to U.S. troops by the Ohio-based contractor Mission Essential Personnel may be unqualified, according to Paul Funk, a former employee of the company. Mission Essential Personnel denies any wrongdoing, but Mr. Funk alleges that someone at the company changed the grades on the language exams of many Afghan-linguist applicants from fail to pass. Among other charges, he also said that more highly skilled stand-ins often took tests on behalf of unqualified applicants.

Civilian interpreters can help troops make inroads with a community and collect valuable information for U.S. troops, but unqualified interpreters put lives at risk. “There are many cases where soldiers have gone out into the field and have spoken to elders [who] handed messages to the interpreter that a possible ambush three miles up the road would occur,” Funk told ABC News. “If the interpreter cannot read the message, they may be attacked.”

The problem of unqualified interpreters goes beyond Mission Essential. It is important to consider the ramifications of using subcontractors during wartime. Closer attention must be paid to the quality of their work. Americans were rightly angered to learn that U.S. troops were sent to war without sufficient body armor or with defective equipment. Unqualified civilian and Army interpreters also can put troops in unnecessary danger, resulting in failed missions and ill will between troops and local communities. Better regulation and accountability are needed.

 

Comments

Stanley Kopacz | 9/24/2010 - 11:25am
I must comment on the Raptor/wind turbine thing.  The problem is mainly with the early wind farm technology in Altamonte, California.  The rotational speed of the rotors is higher than later wind generators and there wasn't much thought given to the local bird population.  Lessons learned:  factor in the local ecology, slower rotor speeds.

Personally, I hope to put the lie to the need for massive centralization of power by practicing what I preach.  I'm an engineer so I'd rather demonstrate something than talk about it.  I'm semi-retired and starting to think about my retirement home and I want it to be "off the grid".  And that goes for transportation, too. 

The approach must be comprehensive.  There are houses that can cut heating needs by one-half or more (www.monolithic.com).  This makes it more amenable to passive solar heating.  The other step is to get my electrical and transportation energy from the environment.  Not as simple, but since electric motors are 80% efficient versus 20% for internal combustion engines, that's a big help.

ALso, location is very important.  Reducing the need for transportation by auto is a consideration.  I grew up in a row home, and everything was accessible by foot.  As a child, I did not have to be carted around to functions like a little pod.  I could get there myself.  Now I need to get in a car anytime I want to buy a toothbrush.


C Walter Mattingly | 9/24/2010 - 8:22am

Science certainly does improve over time, and it may be true that fossil fuel is the major factor contributing to global warming. I didn't really know in the 70's about global freezing, and I don't know now about global warming. Yet I agree that we should reduce the burning of dirty fuels and turn to clean air and water sources. The utility industry is more heavily controlled by government rules and regulations than any other major US industry I can think of. While it may be true that the industry is driven by large corporate entities, many of us believe that is preferable to being driven by a large bureaucratic entity, such as the one which currently drives our failing schools.
And all these other sources come with their own baggage and problems. We didn't develop a clean hydroelectric plant years ago because of a tiny fish; wind turbine blades have the potential to devastate our raptor population. Also there is little wind in the summer in windy locations such as Texas, when the residential need for power peaks.
Agreed about the desireability of using solar power, etc at the local level. That can help in certain locations in a relatively small but important way. Nuclear power is the only proven clean technology that can do the job on a massive scale. Even Sweden, aside from the US the last holdout among industrial nations, has now committed to building nuclear power plants.
If only we had shown the wisdom of the French, we would have saved hundreds of billions of dollars from imports of Middle Eastern and Venezuelan oil and also saved many 10s of thousands from premature death from the air and water pollution these filthy coal burning and oil burning plants have produced. Let's not delay any longer.

Stanley Kopacz | 9/23/2010 - 6:38pm

One thing about science, as opposed to politics, it gets better with time.  Computer models are better, more  satellites, better spectrometers.  Of course you can always take the view of Woody Allen in "Sleeper" that in 200 years, physicians will recommend cigarettes for your health due to the latest scientific findings but I think not.  The spectral absorption characteristics of carbon dioxide aren't changing and it's a good bet the climatologists have it right.  All the anti-warming people have on their side is non-scientific attitude.  As for nuclear power, the main problem I have with it is that there are hidden costs that can easily be swept under the rug.  A second problem is that it is centralized in the hands of large corporate entities.  I think it is more in line with the best of American individualism to tap into your own solar and wind power at a household level.

C Walter Mattingly | 9/23/2010 - 3:46pm

In fact, we killed the only adequate clean alternative energy program available a little over 30 years ago, nuclear energy. France was not so unwise. 80% of its power is from nuclear energy. The result? France has the cleanest air and water among the world's major industrial nation. The US? Polluted air and water and dependency on fossil fuels that drive our deficit.
I remember the same accusations of political pseudo-science and corporate mendacity around the same time. It was the skepticism about the coming Ice Age. Only cretans doubted the veracity of the fear, stirred up to grab research monies, fund new government agencies, and consolidate dollars and power in government hands. By now the glaciers were going to be advancing on the US frontier, threatening us all with frozen crops, etc.
Deja vu.

Stanley Kopacz | 9/23/2010 - 1:25pm
I'm a member of the Catholic Community and I'm not insulted.  Also, I'll take the consensus of the climatologist community over conservative political pseudo-science and corporate mendacity.  We should have started alternative energy programs in earnest thirty years ago but "don't worry, be happy" Reaganism took over.
Frederick Grewen | 9/19/2010 - 12:55pm
Your positions on "Global Warming" and other progressive issues are an insult to the Catholic comunity.  Anyone who continues to trumpet the dangers of anthropogenic global warming are nothing more than political hacks.

So, how is this progressive administration working out for you editors? 
C Walter Mattingly | 9/17/2010 - 5:09pm
Some of the decisions our government has made over the years to "help" or "solve" a problem are so obviously foolish that it is beyond comprehension that they continue to exist at all. Take subsidies on farmers raising tobacco. Why do we subsidize a poison that is killing our citizens? Or sugar which contributes to our greatest national health epidemic, obesity? Or the banning of nuclear energy. Why do we ban nuclear energy, a clean air source, only to replace it with coal, which has killed our citizens at a rate of 10,000 or so a year and contributed massively to carbon  and water pollution? Here, it is subsidies for corn ethanol. It is supposedly a clean fuel, but it turns out that the energy and oil consumption required to produce it is equal to what it purportedly saves, possibly even a net loss, all the while driving down the supply available for food and driving up the cost of corn worldwide.  And America here bemoans the potential shortage of grain!
We have but ourselves and our government to blame by subsizing that which kills us and starves us, while it also of course drives us into ever more massive deficits.

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