Monday, January 31, 2011

174. Modern Humans Reached Arabia Earlier Than Thought

Arabian Peninsula
ScienceDaily, January 27, 2011 

Artifacts unearthed in the United Arab Emirates date back 100,000 years and imply that modern humans first left Africa much earlier than researchers had expected, a new study reports. In light of their excavation, an international team of researchers led by Hans-Peter Uerpmann from Eberhard Karls University in Tübingen, Germany suggests that humans could have arrived on the Arabian Peninsula as early as 125,000 years ago -- directly from Africa rather than via the Nile Valley or the Near East, as researchers have suggested in the past.

The timing and dispersal of modern humans out of Africa has been the source of long-standing debate, though most evidence has pointed to an exodus along the Mediterranean Sea or along the Arabian coast approximately 60,000 years ago.
This new research, placing early humans on the Arabian Peninsula much earlier, will appear in the 28 January issue of Science.

The team of researchers, including lead author Simon Armitage from Royal Holloway, University of London, discovered an ancient human toolkit at the Jebel Faya archaeological site in the United Arab Emirates. It resembles technology used by early humans in east Africa but not the craftsmanship that emerged from the Middle East, they say. This toolkit includes relatively primitive hand-axes along with a variety of scrapers and perforators, and its contents imply that technological innovation was not necessary for early humans to migrate onto the Arabian Peninsula. Armitage calculated the age of the stone tools using a technique known as luminescence dating and determined that the artifacts were about 100,000 to 125,000 years old.

"These 'anatomically modern' humans -- like you and me -- had evolved in Africa about 200,000 years ago and subsequently populated the rest of the world," said Armitage. "Our findings should stimulate a re-evaluation of the means by which we modern humans became a global species."

Uerpmann and his team also analyzed sea-level and climate-change records for the region during the last interglacial period, approximately 130,000 years ago. They determined that the Bab al-Mandab Strait, which separates Arabia from the Horn of Africa, would have narrowed due to lower sea-levels, allowing safe passage prior to and at the beginning of that last interglacial period. At that time, the Arabian Peninsula was much wetter than today with greater vegetation cover and a network of lakes and rivers. Such a landscape would have allowed early humans access into Arabia and then into the Fertile Crescent and India, according to the researchers.

"Archaeology without ages is like a jigsaw with the interlocking edges removed -- you have lots of individual pieces of information but you can't fit them together to produce the big picture," said Armitage. "At Jebel Faya, the ages reveal a fascinating picture in which modern humans migrated out of Africa much earlier than previously thought, helped by global fluctuations in sea-level and climate change in the Arabian Peninsula."

This report by Armitage et al. was funded by the Government of Sharjah, the ROCEEH project (Heidelberg Academy of Sciences), Humboldt Foundation, Oxford Brookes University and the German Science Foundation (DFG).

Story Source:
The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Journal Reference:
  1. Simon J. Armitage, Sabah A. Jasim, Anthony E. Marks, Adrian G. Parker, Vitaly I. Usik, and Hans-Peter Uerpmann.The Southern Route “Out of Africa”: Evidence for an Early Expansion of Modern Humans into Arabia.Science, 28 January 2011: 453-456. DOI:10.1126/science.1199113

173. Genetically Modified Mosquito Released in Malaysia

Aedes aegypti mosquito

By Martin Enserink, Science Insider, January 24, 2011 
Some 6000 transgenic mosquitoes developed to help fight dengue were released in Malaysia on 21 December, according to a statement issued by the country's Institute for Medical Research (IMR) in Kuala Lumpur yesterday. Just like the first releases ever of the mosquitoes, on the Caribbean island of Grand Cayman in 2009 and 2010, the news came as a surprise both to opponents of the insects and to scientists who support them.
The mosquitoes were developed by Oxitec, a U.K. biotech firm that aims to fight dengue by releasing massive numbers of "genetically sterile" male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. When wild females mate with these transgenic males, there are no viable offspring; the hope is that, as a result, the mosquito populations will collapse.
The news appears to have caught the Malaysian media and public by surprise; many recent news stories reported that the study had been postponed after intense protests. As recently as 17 January, the Consumers' Association of Penang and Sahabat Alam Malaysia, two groups opposing the use of GM insects, called on the National Biosafety Board to revoke its approval for the study. Scientists, too, were under the impression that the work had yet to begin, says medical entomologist Bart Knols of the University of Amsterdam. A 24 January blog post by Mark Benedict, a consultant at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta who monitors the field closely, mentioned that the Malaysian study was "planned."
Knols worries that surprises such as the releases in Grand Cayman and Malaysia may erode public trust and provide anti-GM groups with ammunition. The two Malaysian groups, for instance, issued a statement yesterday saying they were "shocked ... we condemn the apparently secretive manner in which the trials have been conducted." Helen Wallace of the advocacy group GeneWatch UK says the lack of communication does little to instill confidence in Oxitec.
Oxitec's chief scientific officer, Luke Alphey, confirms that Malaysian media had it wrong. But Alphey says "nobody should have been terribly surprised" by the release. Once all the regulatory hurdles had been overcome, "it seems predictable that the next step would be the actual release," he says. Oxitec did not announce the news itself because that wasn't the company's role, says Alphey: "This was a study by the Malaysian government done in Malaysia. It was up to them to announce it."
Carried out in a remote area of Bentong, a district in the central state of Pahang, the study was designed to test transgenic males' survival and mobility, Alphey says. Some 6000 wild-type males, as well as controls, were released. The study ended on 5 January, after which insecticides were sprayed to kill any remaining mosquitoes, says IMR.
Wallace believes Oxitec is rushing ahead with field trials because it needs to start making money. In a recently posted analysis (pdf), GeneWatch UK claimed that the company is losing some £1.7 million ($2.7 million) per year and needs to pay back a £2.25 million ($3.6 million) loan by 2013. But Alphey says that's not the reason. "We are a for-profit company and finance is not irrelevant," he says. "But anyone who realizes that there are 50 to 100 million cases of dengue every year would feel a sense of urgency."
The study carried out in Grand Cayman last summer was much bigger. There, some 3 million mosquitoes were released to test whether they could actually help bring down the local population. A paper describing the results—an 80% decrease in mosquito numbers—has been submitted to Science, Alphey says. 

172. Wildlife Hysteria: Nova Scotia's War on Coyotes

Taylor Mitchell
By Billy MacDonald, Redtail Nature Awareness and David Orton, Green Web, January 31, 2011 

In Nova Scotia, coyotes are designated “other harvestable wildlife” and can be shot or otherwise killed year-round with no “bag limit”. There is also an NDP government-initiated subsidized trapping program, through a “pelt-incentive” of twenty dollars per dead coyote, for licenced trappers. We are informed that coyotes seen near communities, for example schools, “are to be captured and killed.” A Department of Natural Resources press release of Jan. 21, 2011, states that “More than 800 coyote pelts have been shipped to market this season, a 51 per cent increase over the same period last season.” Government media releases have spoken of aiming to kill 4,000 coyote! 

We are two people living at different, relatively isolated, rural locations in Pictou County, in Nova Scotia. Each of us has lived with coyotes – really wild dogs –in our immediate neighbourhoods, for over twenty-five years. We oppose the coyote fear-mongering and hatred in Nova Scotia, which encourages a dread of being in the woods where coyotes could roam. One of us has had hundreds of youth sleeping in woods at summer camps, with coyotes in the vicinity and with no incidents, for the past twenty years. 

Wildlife is “wild” and humans need to adapt to this. A measure of a supposedly civilized society should be human tolerance and co-existence with all other species, and concern for their well-being, not just for humans and their domesticated pets. We need a deeper ecological awareness. To elevate the trapper in Nova Scotia as the final authority on coyotes, as do government press releases and many media stories, is to disregard self-interest. It is equivalent to asking someone employed by the forest industry for an enlightened opinion on industrial forestry practices. 

We see coyotes, along with all the other wild animals, as an extension of ourselves. We are often thrilled to hear coyote territorial family calls where we live, usually in the evenings or early mornings. We are thankful that the Eastern Coyote, which moved into our province in a territorial expansion in the early 1970s, and is now to be found throughout Atlantic Canada, has replaced the long ago extirpated wolf as an important ecosystem predator. The first documented coyote to be trapped in Nova Scotia, was in 1977. Coyotes are an evolving and extremely adaptable species. ‘Our’ coyotes have a larger body size than the Western. This is a result of interbreeding with wolves, on the coyote’s migratory journey East.

Since the unfortunate death of a young woman, Taylor Mitchell, on a hiking trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, in October of 2009 – a first coyote-related human death for Nova Scotia – coyote hysteria has been on a roll. Taylor’s friends described her as a person who loved nature and wildlife. Her own mother spoke out publicly against any killing of coyotes because of her daughter’s death. Yet Taylor’s death has been used to help justify a slaughter of coyotes. The media have been full of stories of aggressive coyote behaviour. However aggressive “domestic” dog behaviour towards cyclists and walkers, which many of us are familiar with, seems to escape a sympathetic press. For example, in Point Pleasant Park in Halifax, the scene of the latest media coyote scare, a person would have a much greater chance of a dog bite than the thrill of seeing a probable passing-through coyote.  

We oppose this fear-mongering, provincial government-directed and media-stoked, towards our interactions with coyotes in Nova Scotia. It is creating a ripple effect which is negatively changing how we relate to Nature. There are “problem” people and “problem” coyotes, but we don’t go to war on a species. Do we eliminate all the dogs in a neighbourhood if the mailman gets bitten? 

Both of us feel that it is crucial for humans to come into a new, non-dominant, and compassionate relationship with the natural world. There is a need for a fundamental shift in societal and individual consciousness, and a new equilibrium, with all the species who share this Earth with us, to have any kind of long term ecological and social future. 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

171. U.S. Program to Lure Cuban Doctors to Defect

A Cuban Doctor Examines a Patient
By Cindy Jaquith, The Militant, February 7, 2011

Washington’s effort to lure doctors away from Cuba to politically undermine the revolution there has received some recent coverage in the big-business press. The January 15 Wall Street Journal features a story on the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, run by the U.S. immigration agency, that offers refugee status in the United States to any Cuban doctor working for the Cuban government in a medical mission abroad.

Begun in 2006, the program is one of many—like the enticements offered athletes and artists—designed to win defections from the Cuban Revolution.
Under the parole program doctors and some other Cuban health-care personnel on assignments abroad are eligible to apply for asylum through any U.S. embassy in the world. If their application is accepted, a visa is granted. Permanent residence status is guaranteed once they are on U.S. soil.

The program is part of Washington’s bag of tools to promote a “democratic counterrevolution” in Cuba by tightening its embargo to maximize the economic hardships of the Cuban people and financing opposition political groups, in hopes of fostering hostility to the government. These operations especially target middle-class layers, who are more vulnerable to seeking individual solutions to the challenge of living in Cuba as the world capitalist economic crisis deepens.
As of Dec. 16, 2010, there were 1,574 Cuban doctors who gained U.S. visas through the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, according to Freedom of Information Act documents obtained by the Journal. The paper acknowledged that “only a small percentage of Cuban doctors sent overseas have actually defected.” More than 37,000 Cuban health-care workers served in missions abroad in 77 countries in 2010 alone. Washington’s operation is aimed at weakening these missions, which have earned respect around the world.
The British capitalist daily the Independent noted, “They are heroes of the Haitian earthquake disaster … which President Barack Obama pledged a monumental United States humanitarian mission to alleviate… . Except these heroes are from the US’ arch-enemy, Cuba, whose doctors and nurses have put US efforts to shame.”

Author Nina Lakhani writes that there are 1,200 Cuban medical personnel in Haiti. They are deployed in 40 clinics across the island, and have treated 30,000 cholera patients since October. That’s 40 percent of all those struck by the disease. Not a single Haitian worker or peasant has had to pay anything for their treatment by Cuban doctors.

Cuban medical missions also shame U.S. “aid” programs in semicolonial countries by showing that disease, hunger, rodents, and other ills of capitalism are not inevitable. They can be ended. An example is the successful collaboration by the governments of Cuba and Equatorial Guinea to eradicate the rat population on the island of Annobón, something city planners in advanced capitalist countries have not achieved.

The Cuban infant mortality rate dropped to 4.5 per every 1,000 live births in 2010, the lowest in its history. In the United States the most recent figure available is for 2007. Overall infant mortality stood at 6.75, and for African Americans, 13.35. 

170. Havana Psychiatric Hospital Trial Concludes

Josè A. de la Osa, Granma International, January 24, 2011

From January 17-22, individuals implicated in the events which took place in January 2010 at Havana's Psychiatric Hospital were tried in the Second Criminal Courtroom of the Provincial People's Court within this city, for the crimes of negligence of minors, persons with disabilities, and misappropriation.
During oral arguments in the public trial, the prosecutor proposed sentences of six to 14 years' imprisonment for the hospital's director, deputy directors for Psychiatry, Clinical Surgery, Nursing and Administration, and the head dietician.
For the remaining defendants, who worked in administration and were charged with misappropriation of funds, sentences ranging from 10 to 12 years were solicited.
The court examined 70 witnesses and experts from the Medical Law Institute and the Central Criminology Laboratory, and a number of documents. For over 12 hours every day, the evidence was discussed and contrasted during court sessions.
During one of the sessions, a special report was presented on the results of an investigation undertaken by a national commission created by the Ministry of Public Health to study and determine the causes and conditions which led to the deaths which occurred at the hospital.
The commission was composed of 35 highly qualified scientific investigators who, as a whole, represented an important group of professionals from 14 specialties, including clinicians, intensive care specialists, integrated care family doctors, pathologists, heath administrators, epidemiologists, dieticians, anthropologists, biochemists, geriatricians, psychiatrists, pharmacists, logistics specialists and others.
The prosecutor maintained in his accusation that the hospital administration, despite having the experience, knowledge and resources available on-site, did not adopt necessary measures to protect patients, individually or collectively, from the impact of the January 9, 2010 cold front which produced very low temperatures, such as increasing the assignment of clothing, sheets and blankets to patients; preventing the entrance of cold air into wards with structural problems by covering windows and doors, or moving patients to rooms in better condition.
At the same time, the prosecutor insisted to the judges that those responsible for the lack of protection failed to reorganize or reinforce the human resources within the hospital in order to provide the protection needed by high risk patients, such as special medical or nursing services.
The prosecution alleged that those implicated knew that an increase in deaths due to respiratory illnesses had been observed during the winter period, this demonstrating the lack of commitment on the administration's part in the face of this situation, which led to insufficient attention to patients.
The prosecutor presented evidence of the failure, on the days when the events occurred, to implement procedures established in General Hospital Rules related to the organization, completion, management and integration of assistance. Among those which stand out were: the failure to provide adequate staff coverage on weekends: the designation as head of weekend staff of individuals who were not part of the administrative council and who did not have the authority to make decisions; and the failure to guarantee that staff and administrators were fulfilling their responsibilities and functions.
The prosecution explained that the aforementioned failures, allowed, tolerated and committed by the hospital administration, contributed to the events which took place.
He maintained that the hospital received a food allotment based on its 2,458 beds, of which only 1,484 were occupied on average, which guaranteed a diet including all basic nutritional components for patients, making it difficult to justify the situation encountered during the clinical evaluation which revealed signs of malnutrition, with a high number of patients diagnosed as anemic and lacking essential vitamins.
The prosecutor told the court that the failure on the part of some of the defendants to comply with internal control regulations and procedures, as well as regulations established by the Ministry of Public Health, led to misappropriation of resources intended for the nutrition of patients and of other products such as clothing and linens provided for patient use.
Given the facts presented, the prosecution concluded that the hospital administration did not act as the situation required; appropriate decisions were not made by those in authority. They failed their patients, failing to fulfill the responsibility conferred on them by the state.
Since these events came to light, sparing no technical or human effort, a difficult and painful investigation was undertaken in search of the truth, which touches every Cuban profoundly, unearthing such behavior in the heart of a sector which is the pride and strong point of Cuba and of many countries of the world, where, every day, health workers offer an unequivocal example of humanism, commitment and solidarity with the most needy.
Miguel Angel Valdés Mier, president of the Cuban Society of Psychiatrists, Ph. D. in Medical Sciences, who participated in the trial as an expert witness during one of the court sessions, affirmed that as a result of these painful events, he has felt " intense pain" over the deaths, which were used as a pretext to slander "one of the most noble conquests of the Revolution."
The team of lawyers who assumed the defense of the accused, publicly indicated that during the trial they were fully guaranteed the ability to perform their duties and in their closing statements expressed arguments supporting the defendants, such as considerations of a technical nature concerning the charges filed against the defendants.
The president of the Court declared the public, oral trial concluded for consideration of sentencing.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

169. Solidarity with the Rising Arab Masses

Demonstrators in Egypt facing the police

No More US Support to the Mubarak Dictatorship!
Hands off Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen!

The Egyptian people, inspired by the victory in Tunisia and building on their own heroic rallies and strikes in recent years, have now taken the lead in the regional revolt against US-backed dictatorships. Today, Friday, January 28th, masses have poured into the streets for the third straight day of protest, and are once again fighting valiantly against cops and troops armed with US made and paid for weapons.

It is the US government which has created and STILL supports the Mubarak regime to the tune of $1.5 billion a year as part of its regional military apparatus, and it is US banks and corporations that have imposed the neoliberal austerity regime of unemployment, poverty and malnutrition against which Egyptian workers have been rebelling for decades.

The US Department of Defense is meeting this very week with Egyptian military officials to discuss how to maintain this oppression. A DoD press briefing reports: "With regards to Egypt:… we actually this week are hosting senior Egyptian military leaders at the Pentagon for our annual bilateral defense talks… So that's just an example of how engaged we are with the Egyptians, even as these developments have taken place on the streets in Cairo and elsewhere…”

And it is the US State Department which has already begun maneuvers throughout the region to ensure that any governments that fall are replaced with equally compliant regimes -- maneuvers such as the visit by the head of “Near East Affairs” in the State Department this week to Tunisia, and by their “National Democratic Institute” to Yemen, to “advise” on “clean elections” – i.e. to plot how to subvert the goals of the masses in the streets.

It is therefore OUR responsibility as US antiwar activists to mobilize all our supporters to demand: Hands Off Egypt! End US aid to murdering, exploitative and corrupt governments!

The other regimes against which the Arab masses are now in revolt -- Tunisia, Yemen and Jordan -- are all likewise subservient to Washington's dictates in matters of war and economics, including especially in their toadying to Washington's main watchdog, Israel.

Similarly inspired by the regional upsurge, Palestinian activists have stepped up action against the corrupt, US-financed and armed Palestine Authority. A sit-in at the Palestinian embassy in London by Palestinian students was launched this week, and a worldwide petition demanding the resignation of Mahmoud Abbas and the democratization of Palestinian governing and movement structures has been launched: see

Every revolt -- in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Algeria -- has featured prominently demands for jobs for the huge numbers of unemployed youth who are at the core of the revolt. UNAC has made clear the link between the fight against war and for jobs, and by standing with the Arab masses at this time we are also saying we hope that workers in the US will fight with every bit as much determination for jobs for all, and for solidarity with workers fighting the same fight in every country.

A victory for the Arab masses is a victory for the cause of peace throughout the world!

Details on demonstrations can be found here:

Call the White House and State Department and demand, No More Support to the Mubarak Dictatorship! Hands off Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen!
Email: Tel:  Switchboard: 202-456-1414  Fax: 202-456-2461

U.S. Department of State: Main Switchboard:  202-647-4000 
Your Senators and congressperson:
The main Capitol switchboard 202-224-3121, and the Congressional switchboard 800-828-0498

Finally, we encourage all supporters organizing for the national antiwar marches on April 9th in New York City and San Francisco to work closely with Arab activists in the US to make sure our marches feature prominently their members and demands.

NorthernCaliforniaUNAC  415-49 NO WAR

168. Brazil to Cut Amazon Forest for the Giant Belo Monte Dam

The proposed site for the
Belo Monte Dam
By Robin Yapp, The Telegraph, January 28, 2011

The Belo Monte dam, which will be the third-largest such project in the world, has been strongly opposed by environmental campaigners and indigenous people who face being displaced. 

Last year James Cameron, the film director, compared the plans to the plot of his box office hit Avatar, in which the Na'vi race fight to protect their planet from outside forces seeking to extract resources.

Ibama, the Brazilian environment agency, said on its website that it has approved the clearing of 588 acres (238 hectares) of forest at the site where the dam will be built in the state of Para.

It also said that Norte Energia, the consortium that won the bidding to construct the dam, can begin building roads to reach the remote site on the Xingu River, a tributary to the Amazon.

Contracts for the dam - which the government expects to cost nearly £10bn - were finally signed last August after decades of disputes about plans for a dam in the area and a series of court injunctions.

But several potential legal hurdles remain, with licences still to be granted for the actual building of the plant, which the government wants to see completed by 2015.
The 3.7 mile wide dam will lead to around 190 square miles of land being flooded.

Environmental groups have warned that this could displace tens of thousands of people and threaten the survival of indigenous groups in the area.
But Brazil's government has been determined to press ahead with Belo Monte, which is crucial to efforts to keep up with rising demand for energy as the country's rapid economic growth continues.

Ministers have also defended the scheme as a source of clean and renewable energy and Edison Lobao, the Energy Minister, has referred to it as "the jewel in the crown."

167. The Union Movement and Climate Change: A Debate on Strategy

By Sean Sweeney, Labor Notes, January 28, 2011
Climate Activists Defend Union Jobs
With no fanfare and just a little private celebration, the international union movement claimed a small but important win in the latest round of UN climate talks in Cancun last year. They won an agreement from governments that climate protection measures must not come at the expense of workers.
Claiming the ultimate victory—a global climate deal with binding targets to reduce carbon emissions—depends on adopting a different approach, however.
The unions’ “inside” strategy of consultation and lobbying needs to be paired with a Seattle-style “outside” approach involving many thousands who force corporate and government elites to respond to the urgency of the crisis.
Already, 150 million “climate refugees” have been forced to leave their homes because they can no longer grow crops due to disappearing glaciers, or have been displaced due to droughts, flooding, and climate-induced diseases like malaria. In many, mostly poor countries and regions, the impact of climate change is already severe.
Several hundred labor representatives organized by the International Trade Union Confederation will spend 2011 preparing for the big showdown at the climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa, this December, hoping to help stop this disaster from spinning out of control. The ITUC is a global body that represents 176 million organized workers in 151 countries.
Unions must work with other social movements to turn these climate talks into a rallying point—and some U.S. unions could start by embracing the call for climate justice and breaking ties with polluting employers.
Climate justice makes good sense for workers, because the more ambitious the emission reductions commitments, the greater the number of climate jobs that are likely to be created across the economy. Already, the unions ensured that the principle of “a just transition for the workforce” was included in the report issued in Cancun. The principle recognizes that policies are needed to protect those workers who risk losing jobs in the transition to a low-carbon economy.
A “just transition” would guarantee that communities and workers who lost jobs in high-carbon industries would get long-term assistance, including investments for reconstruction to ensure coal-mining communities, for instance, don’t become carbon ghost towns.
Heating up 
Labor’s presence in climate talks has helped swell the army of progressive organizations and social movements that are pressing hard for a fair, ambitious, and binding global agreement when the Kyoto Protocol—a flawed first attempt to cap carbon emissions—expires in 2012.
In Cancun roughly 200 trade unionists from all over the world joined the ITUC’s delegation.
These union representatives not only acknowledge the huge threat posed by global warming to existing jobs and livelihoods, they also realize that dealing with the climate crisis presents an opportunity to bring about a fundamental shift in the course of economic development. Decisions taken (or avoided) in the next few years are likely to have serious long-term implications for workers and for human civilization in general.
The greatest challenge to a strong global deal comes from a push by the U.S. to replace legally binding emissions reduction targets with voluntary commitments.
Bargaining with nature, however, is simply not an option. The science is clear: While doubters have tried to discredit the scientific evidence by pointing to one flawed study, they have no answer for the thousands of studies showing the climate is in trouble, including some—like those highlighted by NASA scientist James Hansen—saying the situation is far worse than first imagined.
That’s why the ITUC has consistently fought for science-based emissions reductions target. A voluntary system would enable rich countries to limit their actual reductions.
Indeed, the pledges from developed countries at Cancun to cut their emissions amount to 16 percent reductions on 1990 levels at best. That puts the world on course for 5.4 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit of global warming by the century’s end. The consequences of this level of warming are almost unimaginable—half of Florida, for instance, could be underwater.
Science and solidarity 
Global labor endorsed the UN’s 2007 call for deep cuts in emissions consistent with the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The “IPCC scenario” requires developed countries to reduce their emissions by 25-40 percent by 2020, based on 1990 levels.
Such deep cuts are the responsibility of developed countries, because they have produced 80 percent of the cumulative emissions thus far. And they are possible with an overhaul of how we produce energy and transport ourselves and the goods we consume.
But some U.S. unions are on the wrong side of the battle between binding or voluntary emissions reductions that will dominate negotiations in the months ahead.
The AFL-CIO and the Blue Green Alliance (in which the Steelworkers are a key player) have supported the U.S. government’s stance, and have gone along with the “voluntary commitments” approach.
They’re concerned that U.S. manufacturing and energy-sector jobs would be threatened by a global deal that brought pressure to bear on U.S. employers. They support intellectual property restrictions on environmentally friendly technologies lest U.S. companies find themselves disadvantaged. These restrictions would make it harder to transfer technologies that fast-developing countries like India and Brazil need to reduce their carbon footprint.
Other U.S. unions have backed the global union position supporting science-based reductions and a binding global agreement. They are the Laborers, Transport Workers, Utility Workers, and the Service Employees.
Make the most of it
These unions recognize that ambitious targets driving this transition can also anchor a Green New Deal, creating a lot of good quality jobs and restructuring economic life around the needs of both people and the environment. Here is where labor could play a transformative role.
Traditional tools to battle the economic crisis have fizzled out. Stimulus money helped turn a terrible jobs situation into a bad one, but now municipal and state governments are slashing public spending and many face bankruptcy, so more jobs will be shed.
Unions can act to turn the situation around for workers through climate policy. Unions have been stuck on defense, holding a “stop the cuts” position in mobilizations against austerity measures in many countries in recent months.
They should shift to an offensive strategy, demanding a Green New Deal grounded in workers’ rights, labor standards, investments in infrastructure, and a strong public sector.
Sustained pressure from unions and other social movements could enable bold state interventions built around long-term public investments in mass transit, energy conservation, grid modernization, and renewable energy to address the crisis in jobs and climate simultaneously. Such a forward-looking approach builds unions and strengthens alliances.
Last September, the global union federations (somewhat like an international AFL-CIO) came together to launch the “Quality Public Services” campaign, which makes the connection between climate protection and the need for a strong public sector.
Unions everywhere can adapt the model, helping ensure that labor’s “inside” strategy in official climate talks is backed by an “outside” approach—educating and mobilizing members and communities around expanding environmental protections and public services.
December’s climate negotiations will bring an excellent opportunity for labor and climate activists to join South Africa’s robust union movement in the streets.
The real issue is not the size of the demonstration outside the talks, however, but whether or not the opportunity will be taken to bring the severity of the climate crisis and the opportunities it presents into union halls, communities, and gatherings around the world.
Sean Sweeney is director of the Global Labor Institute, a program of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University.