Monday, March 31, 2014

1368. United Nations Climate Change Panel’s Warning on Climate Risk: Worst Is Yet to Come

By Justin Gillis, The New York Times, March 31, 2014

YOKOHAMA, Japan — Climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and throughout the world’s oceans, scientists reported on Monday, and they warned that the problem was likely to grow substantially worse unless greenhouse emissions are brought under control.
The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that periodically summarizes climate science, concluded that ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct.
The oceans are rising at a pace that threatens coastal communities and are becoming more acidic as they absorb some of the carbon dioxide given off by cars and power p
Organic matter frozen in Arctic soils since before civilization began is now melting, allowing it to decay into greenhouse gases that will cause further warming, the scientists said. And the worst is yet to come, the scientists said in the second of three reports that are expected to carry considerable weight next year as nations try to agree on a new global climate treaty.
In particular, the report emphasized that the world’s food supply is at considerable risk — a threat that could have serious consequences for the poorest nations.
“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the intergovernmental panel, said at a news conference here on Monday presenting the report.
The report was among the most sobering yet issued by the scientific panel. The group, along with Al Gore, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for its efforts to clarify the risks of climate change. The report is the final work of several hundred authors; details from the drafts of this and of the last report in the series, which will be released in Berlin in April, leaked in the last few months.
The report attempts to project how the effects will alter human society in coming decades. While the impact of global warming may actually be moderated by factors like economic or technological change, the report found, the disruptions are nonetheless likely to be profound. That will be especially so if emissions are allowed to continue at a runaway pace, the report said.
It cited the risk of death or injury on a wide scale, probable damage to public health, displacement of people and potential mass migrations.
“Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hot spots of hunger,” the report declared.
The report also cited the possibility of violent conflict over land, water or other resources, to which climate change might contribute indirectly “by exacerbating well-established drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks.”
The scientists emphasized that climate change is not just a problem of the distant future, Studies have found that parts of the Mediterranean region are drying out because of climate change, and some experts believe that droughts there have contributed to political destabilization in the Middle East and North Africa.
In much of the American West, mountain snowpack is declining, threatening water supplies for the region, the scientists said in the report. And the snow that does fall is melting earlier in the year, which means there is less melt water to ease the parched summers. In Alaska, the collapse of sea ice is allowing huge waves to strike the coast, causing erosion so rapid that it is already forcing entire communities to relocate.
“Now we are at the point where there is so much information, so much evidence, that we can no longer plead ignorance,” Michel Jarraud, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization, said at the news conference.
The report was quickly welcomed in Washington, where President Obama is trying to use his executive power under the Clean Air Act and other laws to impose significant new limits on the country’s greenhouse emissions. He faces determined opposition in Congress.
“There are those who say we can’t afford to act,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement. “But waiting is truly unaffordable. The costs of inaction are catastrophic.”
Amid all the risks the experts cited, they did find a bright spot. Since the intergovernmental panel issued its last big report in 2007, it has found growing evidence that governments and businesses around the world are making extensive plans to adapt to climate disruptions, even as some conservatives in the United States and a small number of scientists continue to deny that a problem exists.
“I think that dealing effectively with climate change is just going to be something that great nations do,” said Christopher B. Field, co-chairman of the working group that wrote the report and an earth scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, Calif. Talk of adaptation to global warming was once avoided in some quarters, on the ground that it would distract from the need to cut emissions. But the past few years have seen a shift in thinking, including research from scientists and economists who argue that both strategies must be pursued at once.
A striking example of the change occurred recently in the state of New York, where the Public Service Commission ordered Consolidated Edison, the electric utility serving New York City and some suburbs, to spend about $1 billion upgrading its system to prevent future damage from flooding and other weather disruptions.
The plan is a reaction to the blackouts caused by Hurricane Sandy. Con Ed will raise flood walls, bury some vital equipment and conduct a study of whether emerging climate risks require even more changes. Other utilities in the state face similar requirements, and utility regulators across the United States are discussing whether to follow New York’s lead.
But with a global failure to limit greenhouse gases, the risk is rising that climatic changes in coming decades could overwhelm such efforts to adapt, the panel found. It cited a particular risk that in a hotter climate, farmers will not be able to keep up with “When supply falls below demand, somebody doesn’t have enough food,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a Princeton University climate scientist who helped write the new report. “When some people don’t have food, you get starvation. Yes, I’m worried.”
The poorest people in the world, who have had virtually nothing to do with causing global warming, will be high on the list of victims as climatic disruptions intensify, the report said. It cited a World Bank estimate that poor countries need as much as $100 billion a year to try to offset the effects of climate change; they are now getting, at best, a few billion dollars a year in such aid from rich countries.
The $100 billion figure, though included in the 2,500-page main report, was removed from a 48-page executive summary to be read by the world’s top political leaders. It was among the most significant changes made as the summary underwent final review during an editing session of several days in Yokohama.
The edit came after several rich countries, including the United States, raised questions about the language, according to several people who were in the room at the time but did not wish to be identified because the negotiations were private. The language is contentious because poor countries are expected to renew their demand for aid this September in New York at a summit meeting of world leaders, who will attempt to make headway on a new treaty to limit greenhouse gases.
Many rich countries argue that $100 billion a year is an unrealistic demand; it would essentially require them to double their budgets for foreign aid, at a time of economic distress at home. That argument has fed a rising sense of outrage among the leaders of poor countries, who feel their people are paying the price for decades of profligate Western consumption.
Two decades of international efforts to limit emissions have yielded little result, and it is not clear whether the negotiations in New York this fall will be any different. While greenhouse gas emissions have begun to decline slightly in many wealthy countries, including the United States, those gains are being swamped by emissions from rising economic powers like China and India.
For the world’s poorer countries, food is not the only issue, but it may be the most acute. Several times in recent years, climatic disruptions in major growing regions have helped to throw supply and demand out of balance, contributing to price increases that have reversed decades of gains against global hunger, at least temporarily.
The warning about the food supply in the new report is much sharper in tone than any previously issued by the panel. That reflects a growing body of research about how sensitive many crops are to heat waves and water stress. The report said that climate change was already dragging down the output of wheat and corn at a global scale, compared with what it would otherwise be.
David B. Lobell, a Stanford University scientist who has published much of the recent research and helped write the new report, said in an interview that as yet, too little work was being done to understand the risk, much less counter it with improved crop varieties and farming techniques. “It is a surprisingly small amount of effort for the stakes,” he said.

Timothy Gore, an analyst for Oxfam, the antipoverty group that sent observers to the proceedings in Yokohama, praised the new report as painting a clear picture of the consequences of a warming planet. But he warned that without greater efforts to limit global warming and to adapt to the changes that have become inevitable, “the goal we have in Oxfam of ensuring that every person has enough food to eat could be lost forever.”

1367. A Return to a World Marx Would Have Known

By Doug Henwood, The New York Times, March 30, 2014
Doug Henwood
This is one contribution to the New York Times blog "Room for Debate" that is dealing with the question: "Was Marx Right?"  For other contributions and comments see the NYT blog.  KN.

*     *     *

I don’t see how you can understand our current unhappy economic state without some sort of Marx-inspired analysis.
Here we are, almost five years into an officially designated recovery from the worst downturn in 80 years, and average household incomes are more than 8 percent below where they were when the Great Recession began, and employment still 650,000 short of its pre-recession high.
For years, excessive consumer borrowing muted the effects of stagnant wages. But low demand is stifling the economy, with no end in sight.
Though elites are prospering, for millions of Americans, it’s as if the recession never ended.
How can this all be explained? The best way to start is by going back to the 1970s. Corporate profitability — which, as every Marxist schoolchild knows, is the motor of the system — had fallen sharply off its mid-1960s highs. Stock and bond markets were performing miserably. Inflation seemed to be rising without limit. After three decades of seemingly endless prosperity, workers had developed a terrible attitude problem, slacking off and, quaintly, even going out on strike. It’s no accident that Johnny Paycheck scored a No. 1 country hit with “Take This Job and Shove It” in 1977 — utterly impossible to imagine today.
This is where Marx begins to come in. At the root of these problems was a breakdown in class relations: workers no longer feared the boss. A crackdown was in order.
And it came, hard. In October 1979, the Federal Reserve began driving interest rates toward 20 percent, to kill inflation and restrict borrowing, creating the deepest recession since the 1930s. (It was a record we only broke in 2008/2009). A little over a year later, Ronald Reagan came into office, fired the striking air-traffic controllers, setting the stage for decades of union busting to follow. Five years after Johnny Paycheck’s hit, workers were desperate to hold and/or get jobs. No more attitude problem.
The “cure” worked for about 30 years. Corporate profits skyrocketed and financial markets thrived. The underlying mechanism, as Marx would explain it, is simple: workers produce more in value than they are paid, and the difference is the root of profit. If worker productivity rises while pay remains stagnant or declines, profits increase. This is precisely what has happened over the last 30 years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity rose 93 percent between 1980 and 2013, while pay rose 38 percent (all inflation-adjusted).
The 1 percent got ever-richer and more powerful. But there was a problem: a system dependent on high levels of mass consumption has a hard time coping with the stagnation or decline in mass incomes.The development of a mass consumer market after Marx died, with the eager participation of a growing middle class, caused a lot of people to say his analysis was obsolete. But now, with the hollowing out of the middle class and the erosion of mass purchasing power, the whole 20th century model of mass consumption is starting to look obsolete.
Borrowing sustained the mass consumption model for a few decades. Non-rich households borrowed to buy cars, buy food, pay medical bills, buy ever-more-expensive houses, and so on. Conveniently, rich households had plenty of spare cash to lend them.
That model broke apart in 2008 and has not — and cannot — be revived. Without the juice provided by spirited borrowing, demand remains constricted and growth rates, low. (See also: Europe.)
Raising the incomes of the bottom 90 percent of the population through higher wages and public spending initiatives — stifled since Reagan starting putting the squeeze on them — could change that. But the stockholding class has resisted that, and they have a lot of political power.

And an extraordinarily lopsided economy is the result. We didn't expect that the 21st century would bring about a return of the 19th century's vast disparities, but it's looking like that's just what's happened.
Doug Henwood is editor of Left Business Observer, host of a weekly radio show originating on KPFA, Berkeley, and is author of several books, including "Wall Street: How It Works and For Whom" and "After the New Economy

Saturday, March 29, 2014

1366. Global Warming: Living on Borrowed Time in Bangladesh

By Gardiner Harris, The New York Times, March 28, 2014 
Bangladesh, with its low elevation and severe tropical storms, is among the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, though it has contributed little to the emissions that are driving it.  Photo credit: Kadir van Lohuizen for The New York Times
DAKOPE, Bangladesh — When a powerful storm destroyed her riverside home in 2009, Jahanara Khatun lost more than the modest roof over her head. In the aftermath, her husband died and she became so destitute that she sold her son and daughter into bonded servitude. And she may lose yet more.
Ms. Khatun now lives in a bamboo shack that sits below sea level about 50 yards from a sagging berm. She spends her days collecting cow dung for fuel and struggling to grow vegetables in soil poisoned by salt water. Climate scientists predict that this area will be inundated as sea levels rise and storm surges increase, and a cyclone or another disaster could easily wipe away her rebuilt life. But Ms. Khatun is trying to hold out at least for a while — one of millions living on borrowed time in this vast landscape of river islands, bamboo huts, heartbreaking choices and impossible hopes.
As the world’s top scientists meet in Yokohama, Japan, this week, at the top of the agenda is the prediction that global sea levels could rise as much as three feet by 2100. Higher seas and warmer weather will cause profound changes.
Climate scientists have concluded that widespread burning of fossil fuels is releasing heat-trapping gases that are warming the planet. While this will produce a host of effects, the most worrisome may be the melting of much of the earth’s ice, which is likely to raise sea levels and flood coastal regions.
Such a rise will be uneven because of gravitational effects and human intervention, so predicting its outcome in any one place is difficult. But island nations like the Maldives, Kiribati and Fiji may lose much of their land area, and millions of Bangladeshis will be displaced.
“There are a lot of places in the world at risk from rising sea levels, but Bangladesh is at the top of everybody’s list,” said Rafael Reuveny, a professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University at Bloomington. “And the world is not ready to cope with the problems.”
The effects of climate change have led to a growing sense of outrage in developing nations, many of which have contributed little to the pollution that is linked to rising temperatures and sea levels but will suffer the most from the consequences.
At a climate conference in Warsaw in November, there was an emotional outpouring from countries that face existential threats, among them Bangladesh, which produces just 0.3 percent of the emissions driving climate change. Some leaders have demanded that rich countries compensate poor countries for polluting the atmosphere. A few have even said that developed countries should open their borders to climate migrants.
“It’s a matter of global justice,” said Atiq Rahman, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Advanced Studies and the nation’s leading climate scientist. “These migrants should have the right to move to the countries from which all these greenhouse gases are coming. Millions should be able to go to the United States.”
River deltas around the globe are particularly vulnerable to the effects of rising seas, and wealthier cities like London, Venice and New Orleans also face uncertain futures. But it is the poorest countries with the biggest populations that will be hit hardest, and none more so than Bangladesh, one of the most densely populated nations in the world. In this delta, made up of 230 major rivers and streams, 160 million people live in a place one-fifth the size of France and as flat as chapati, the bread served at almost every meal.
A Perilous Position
Though Bangladesh has contributed little to industrial air pollution, other kinds of environmental degradation have left it especially vulnerable.
Bangladesh relies almost entirely on groundwater for drinking supplies because the rivers are so polluted. The resultant pumping causes the land to settle. So as sea levels are rising, Bangladesh’s cities are sinking, increasing the risks of flooding. Poorly constructed sea walls compound the problem.
The country’s climate scientists and politicians have come to agree that by 2050, rising sea levels will inundate some 17 percent of the land and displace about 18 million people, Dr. Rahman said.
Bangladeshis have already started to move away from the lowest-lying villages in the river deltas of the Bay of Bengal, scientists in Bangladesh say. People move for many reasons, and urbanization is increasing across South Asia, but rising tides are a big factor. Dr. Rahman’s research group has made a rough estimate from small surveys that as many as 1.5 million of the five million slum inhabitants in Dhaka, the capital, moved from villages near the Bay of Bengal.
The slums that greet them in Dhaka are also built on low-lying land, making them almost as vulnerable to being inundated as the land villagers left behind.
Ms. Khatun and her neighbors have lived through deadly cyclones — a synonym here for hurricane — and have seen the salty rivers chew through villages and poison fields. Rising seas are increasingly intruding into rivers, turning fresh water brackish. Even routine flooding then leaves behind salt deposits that can render land barren.
Making matters worse, much of what the Bangladeshi government is doing to stave off the coming deluge — raising levees, dredging canals, pumping water — deepens the threat of inundation in the long term, said John Pethick, a former professor of coastal science at Newcastle University in England who has spent much of his retirement studying Bangladesh’s predicament. Rich nations are not the only ones to blame, he said.
In an analysis of decades of tidal records published in October, Dr. Pethick found that high tides in Bangladesh were rising 10 times faster than the global average. He predicted that seas in Bangladesh could rise as much as 13 feet by 2100, four times the global average. In an area where land is often a thin brown line between sky and river — nearly a quarter of Bangladesh is less than seven feet above sea level — such an increase would have dire consequences, Dr. Pethick said.
“The reaction among Bangladeshi government officials has been to tell me that I must be wrong,” he said. “That’s completely understandable, but it also means they have no hope of preparing themselves.”
Dr. Rahman said that he did not disagree with Mr. Pethick’s findings, but that no estimate was definitive. Other scientists have predicted more modest rises. For example, Robert E. Kopp, an associate director of the Rutgers Energy Institute at Rutgers University, said that data from nearby Kolkata, India, suggested that seas in the region could rise five to six feet by 2100.
“There is no doubt that preparations within Bangladesh have been utterly inadequate, but any such preparations are bound to fail because the problem is far too big for any single government,” said Tariq A. Karim, Bangladesh’s ambassador to India. “We need a regional and, better yet, a global solution. And if we don’t get one soon, the Bangladeshi people will soon become the world’s problem, because we will not be able to keep them.”
Mr. Karim estimated that as many as 50 million Bangladeshis would flee the country by 2050 if sea levels rose as expected.
Even without climate change, Bangladesh is among the most vulnerable places in the world to bad weather: The V-shaped Bay of Bengal funnels cyclones straight into the country’s fan-shaped coastline.
Some scientists believe that rising temperatures will lead to more extreme weather worldwide, including stronger and more frequent cyclones in the Bay of Bengal. And rising seas will make any storm more dangerous because flooding will become more likely.
Bangladesh has done much to protect its population by creating an early-warning system and building at least 2,500 concrete storm shelters. The result has been a vast reduction in storm-related deaths. While Cyclone Bhola in 1970 killed as many as 550,000 people, Cyclone Aila in 2009 killed 300. The deadliest part of the storm was the nearly 10-foot wall of water that roared through villages in the middle of the afternoon.
The poverty of people like Ms. Khatun makes them particularly vulnerable to storms. When Aila hit, Ms. Khatun was home with her husband, parents and four children. A nearby berm collapsed, and their mud and bamboo hut washed away in minutes. Unable to save her belongings, Ms. Khatun put her youngest child on her back and, with her husband, fought through surging waters to a high road. Her parents were swept away.
“After about a kilometer, I managed to grab a tree,” said Abddus Satter, Ms. Khatun’s father. “And I was able to help my wife grab on as well. We stayed on that tree for hours.”
The couple eventually shifted to the roof of a nearby hut. The family reunited on the road the next day after the children spent a harrowing night avoiding snakes that had sought higher ground, too. They drank rainwater until rescuers arrived a day or two later with bottled water, food and other supplies.
The ordeal took a severe toll on Ms. Khatun’s husband, whose health soon deteriorated. To pay for his treatment and the cost of rebuilding their hut, the family borrowed money from a loan shark. In return, Ms. Khatun and her three older children, then 10, 12 and 15, promised to work for seven months in a nearby brickmaking factory. She later sold her 11- and 13-year-old children to the owner of another brick factory, this one in Dhaka, for $450 to pay more debts. Her husband died four years after the storm.
In an interview, one of her sons, Mamun Sardar, now 14, said he worked from dawn to dusk carrying newly made bricks to the factory oven.
He said he missed his mother, “but she lives far away.”
Impossible Hopes
Discussions about the effects of climate change in the Ganges Delta often become community events. In the village of Choto Jaliakhali, where Ms. Khatun lives, dozens of people said they could see that the river was rising. Several said they had been impoverished by erosion, which has cost many villagers their land.
Muhammad Moktar Ali said he could not think about the next storm because all he had in the world was his hut and village. “We don’t know how to support ourselves if we lost this,” he said, gesturing to his gathered neighbors. “It is God who will help us survive.”
Surveys show that residents of the delta do not want to migrate, Dr. Rahman said. Moving to slums in already-crowded cities is their least preferred option.
But cities have become the center of Bangladesh’s textile industry, which is now the source of 80 percent of the country’s exports, 45 percent of its industrial employment and 15 percent of its gross domestic product.
In the weeks after the storm, the women of Dakope found firewood by wading into the raging river and pushing their toes into the muddy bottom. They walked hours to buy drinking water. After rebuilding the village’s berm and their own hut, Shirin Aktar and her husband, Bablu Gazi, managed to get just enough of a harvest to survive from their land, which has become increasingly infertile from salt water. Some plots that once sustained three harvests can now support just one; others are entirely barren.
After two hungry years, the couple gave up on farming and moved to the Chittagong, Bangladesh’s second-largest city, leaving their two children behind with Mr. Gazi’s mother.
Mr. Gazi found work immediately as a day laborer, mostly digging foundations. Ms. Aktar searched for a job as a seamstress, but headaches and other slum-induced health problems have so incapacitated her that the couple is desperate to return to Dakope.
“I don’t want to stay here for too long,” Mr. Gazi said. “If we can save some money, then we’ll go back. I’ll work on a piece of land and try to make it fertile again.”
But the chances of finding fertile land in his home village, where the salty rivers have eaten away acre upon acre, are almost zero.
Dozens of people gathered in the narrow mud alley outside Mr. Gazi’s room as he spoke. Some told similar stories of storms, loss and hope, and many nodded as Mr. Gazi spoke of his dreams of returning to his doomed village.

“All of us came here because of erosions and cyclones,” said Noakhali, a hollow-eyed 30-year-old with a single name who was wearing the traditional skirt of the delta. “Not one of us actually wants to live here.”

1365. Discoveries Challenge Current Knowledge on Humans’ Arrival in the Americas

By Simon Romero, The New York Times, march 25, 2014 
Images from a cave drawing in Serra da Capivara National Park in Brazil
SERRA DA CAPIVARA NATIONAL PARK, Brazil — Niede Guidon still remembers her astonishment when she glimpsed the paintings.
Preserved amid the bromeliad-encrusted plateaus that tower over the thorn forests of northeast Brazil, the ancient rock art depicts fierce battles among tribesmen, orgiastic scenes of prehistoric revelry and hunters pursuing their game, spears in hand.
“These were stunning compositions, people and animals together, not just figures alone,” said Dr. Guidon, 81, remembering what first lured her and other archaeologists in the 1970s to this remote site where jaguars still prowl.
Hidden in the rock shelters where prehistoric humans once lived, the paintings number in the thousands. Some are thought to be more than 9,000 years old and perhaps even far more ancient. Painted in red ocher, they rank among the most revealing testaments anywhere in the Americas to what life was like millenniums before the European conquest began a mere five centuries ago.
But it is what excavators found when they started digging in the shadows of the rock art that is contributing to a pivotal re-evaluation of human history in the hemisphere.
Researchers here say they have unearthed stone tools proving that humans reached what is now northeast Brazil as early as 22,000 years ago. Their discovery adds to the growing body of research upending a prevailing belief of 20th-century archaeology in the United States known as the Clovis model, which holds that people first arrived in the Americas from Asia about 13,000 years ago.
“If they’re right, and there’s a great possibility that they are, that will change everything we know about the settlement of the Americas,” said Walter Neves, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of São Paulo whose own analysis of an 11,000-year-old skull in Brazil implies that some ancient Americans resembled aboriginal Australians more than they did Asians.
Up and down the Americas, scholars say that the peopling of lands empty of humankind may have been far more complex than long believed. The radiocarbon dating of spear points found in the 1920s near Clovis, N.M., placed the arrival of big-game hunters across the Bering Strait about 13,000 years ago, long forming the basis of when humans were believed to have arrived in the Americas.
More recently, numerous findings have challenged that narrative. In Texas, archaeologists said in 2011 that they had found projectile points showing that hunter-gatherers had reached another site, known as Buttermilk Creek, as early as 15,500 years ago. Similarly, analysis of human DNA found at an Oregon cave determined that humans were there 14,000 years ago.
But it is in South America, thousands of miles from the New Mexico site where the Clovis spear points were discovered, where archaeologists are putting forward some of the most profound challenges to the Clovis-first theory.
Paleontologists in Uruguay published findings in November suggesting that humans hunted giant sloths there about 30,000 years ago. All the way in southern Chile, Tom D. Dillehay, an anthropologist at Vanderbilt University, has shown that humans lived at a coastal site called Monte Verde as early as 14,800 years ago.
And here in Brazil’s caatinga, a semi-arid region of mesas and canyons, European and Brazilian archaeologists building on decades of earlier excavations said last year that they had found artifacts at a rock shelter showing that humans had arrived in South America almost 10,000 years before Clovis hunters began appearing in North America.

“The Clovis paradigm is finally buried,” said Eric Boëda, the French archaeologist leading the excavations here.
Exposing the tension over competing claims about where and when humans first arrived in the Americas, some scholars in the dwindling Clovis-first camp in the United States quickly rejected the findings.
Gary Haynes, an archaeologist at the University of Nevada, Reno, argued that the stones found here were not tools made by humans, but instead could have become chipped and broken naturally, by rockfall. Stuart Fiedel, an archaeologist with the Louis Berger Group, an environmental consulting company, said that monkeys might have made the tools instead of humans.

“Monkeys, including large extinct forms, have been in South America for 35 million years,” Dr. Fiedel said. He added that the Clovis model was recently bolstered by new DNA analysis ancestrally connecting indigenous peoples in Central and South America to a boy from the Clovis culture whose 12,700-year-old remains were found in 1968 at a site in Montana.
Such dismissive positions have invited equally sharp responses from scholars like Dr. Dillehay, the American archaeologist who discovered Monte Verde. “Fiedel does not know what he is talking about,” he said, explaining that similarities existed between the stone tools found here and at the site across South America in Chile. “To say monkeys produced the tools is stupid.”
Having their findings disputed is nothing new for the archaeologists working at Serra da Capivara. Dr. Guidon, the Brazilian archaeologist who pioneered the excavations, asserted more than two decades ago that her team had found evidence in the form of charcoal from hearth fires that humans had lived here about 48,000 years ago.
While scholars in the United States generally viewed Dr. Guidon’s work with skepticism, she pressed on, obtaining the permission of Brazilian authorities to preserve the archaeological sites near the town of São Raimundo Nonato in a national park that now gets thousands of visitors a year despite its remote location in Piauí, one of Brazil’s poorest states.
Dr. Guidon remains defiant about her findings. At her home on the grounds of a museum she founded to focus on the discoveries in Serra da Capivara, she said she believed that humans had reached these plateaus even earlier, around 100,000 years ago, and might have come not overland from Asia but by boat from Africa.
Professor Boëda, who succeeded Dr. Guidon in leading the excavations, said that such early dates may have been possible but that more research was needed. His team is using thermoluminescence, a technique that measures the exposure of sediments to sunlight, to determine their age.
At the same time, discoveries elsewhere in Brazil are adding to the mystery of how the Americas were settled.
In what may be another blow to the Clovis model of humans’ coming from northeast Asia, molecular geneticists showed last year that the Botocudo indigenous people living in southeastern Brazil in the late 1800s shared gene sequences commonly found among Pacific Islanders from Polynesia.
How could Polynesians have made it to Brazil? Or aboriginal Australians? Or, if the archaeologists here are correct, how could a population arrive in this hinterland long before Clovis hunters began appearing in the Americas? The array of new discoveries has scholars on a quest for answers.
Reflecting how researchers are increasingly accepting older dates of human migration to the Americas, Michael R. Waters, a geoarchaeologist at Texas A&M University’s Center for the Study of the First Americans, said that a “single migration” into the Americas about 15,000 years ago may have given rise to the Clovis people. But he added that if the results obtained here in Serra da Capivara are accurate, they will raise even more questions about how the Americas were settled.

“If so, then whoever lived there never passed on their genetic material to living populations,” said Dr. Waters, explaining how the genetic history of indigenous peoples links them to the Clovis child found in Montana. “We must think long and hard about these early sites and how they fit into the picture of the peopling of the Americas.”

1364. Cuba Opens Its Economy to Foreign Investment, Carefully

By Adam Molon, CNBC, March 28, 2014
In this Nov. 6, 2013 photo, small fishing boats float anchored on the opposite shore of a port under construction in the Bay of Mariel, Cuba. Authorities have high hopes that Mariel could become a strategic economic center. Photo credit: Franklin Reyes, AP
The Cuban government said this week that it will open most of the nation's economic sectors to international investment and allow the existence of wholly owned foreign firms in Cuba, as part of a new foreign investment law that is expected to pass on Saturday.
The Cuban government is also expected to cut the profit tax it charges foreign enterprises operating on the island to 15 percent from the current 30 percent.
But experts like John Kavulich, a senior policy advisor at the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said that while these proposed initiatives have the potential to bring positive, liberalizing reform to Cuba's economy, international firms should still approach with cautious skepticism.
"What they've announced they'd do, does it sound progressive? Yes. Does it have the potential to be progressive? Yes," Kavulich said, referencing the Cuban government and the newly proposed foreign investment legislation.
"But Cuba's had a foreign investment law since the 1980s. And one of the problems has been that when the government feels that they've made enough progress, they reverse course and try to take back or eliminate the opportunities that they've presented to companies. Any changes announced now have to be looked at in that historical context."
Currently, international firms are allowed to operate in Cuba only as minority stakeholders in so-called mixed companies that are majority-controlled by the government.
Kavulich pointed to a lack of legal and procedural transparency as a key issue affecting Cuba's business environment, noting that some of the key challenges foreign firms face in Cuba include repatriation of profits, arbitration of conflicts and disputes, and regulations requiring that Cuban personnel be hired through a state-run employment agency.
"On a plate of appetizers, it's not going to be the first appetizer that you select," said Kavulich of Cuba's international investment environment. "There are many countries throughout the world that are far more transparent and have a less hostage-like relationship with cooperating partners."
John McAuliff, executive director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, a nonprofit organization advocating warmer relations between the U.S. and Cuba, said that a new foreign investment law enacted within an opaque and evolving system like Cuba's could lead to misunderstandings for international investors, and, in some instances, even something potentially as bad as jail time.
"In a transitional situation where not all the rules are clear or not all the laws are clear, people could, through overreach, or greed, or ignorance, get themselves into trouble with local laws," said McAuliff. "There have been serious issues with people cutting corners and getting into trouble with the law, and facing criminal charges in Cuba."
Robert L. Muse, an attorney who specializes in U.S. laws relating to Cuba, said that in order for new Cuban foreign investment policies to be effective, specificity of terms and clarity of process are key.
"I would encourage Cuba to go very quickly from the general to the highly specific. What are the timelines? What are the approval processes? How are they going to be enforced? Then, move on to specificity of rule-making and regulations," said Muse. "It's not going to be good enough to make broad pronouncements that Cuba is now seeking foreign investment. Some questions are going to have to be pre-emptively answered."
Muse cautioned that international companies considering investment in Cuba should do so with their eyes wide open to the opportunities and risks present in the island's economy and politics.
"This is a country that is opening up after 60 years of dormancy in the investment sectors," said Muse. "You're almost pioneering your way in, but there are risks associated with it."
Andrew MacDonald, director and chief executive of Esencia Group, said he finds those risks worth taking. His company plans to build biomass power plants in Cuba through a joint venture formed with a state-owned company in Cuba's Ministry of Sugar.
"There are some unique factors," said MacDonald of international investment in Cuba. "It can be a tad bureaucratic at times, but the country is developing economically in the right direction."
MacDonald said that while his company has been able to work effectively within Cuban joint ventures through considerable efforts, the prospect of being able to form a wholly owned venture in Cuba is appealing.
"One of the issues in Cuba is that it is a little bit chicken-and-egg. You've got to do a lot of prework and invest a lot of resources before you get the joint venture approved, and then you can actually do the real work," said MacDonald. "From a foreign investment point of view, it's an attractive proposition to be able to own 100 percent of your company and not have to form a joint venture."
Whether working in joint venture arrangements or as a wholly owned entity, MacDonald said his company has no plans to exit Cuba.

"The opportunity side is enormous, because Cuba is a country rich in natural resources," he said. "We believe in the Cubans, and we respect them for their technical abilities and the resources they have."

Thursday, March 27, 2014

1363. Danish Zoo, Reviled in the Death of a Giraffe, Kills 4 Lions

By Dan Bilefsky, The New York Times, March 26, 2014
Lionesses on Wednesday in the Copenhagen Zoo, where two lions and their cubs were recently euthanized, stirring outrage. Credit Jens Dresling/POLFOTO, via Associated Press.
Denmark, the land of enchanting fairy tales and liberal social values, is becoming known as the land of dead zoo animals.
The Copenhagen Zoo, which generated global outrage last month when it killed a healthy 18-month-old giraffe named Marius, said it had to euthanize four lions this week to clear the path for a newly arrived young male lion. The zoo’s decision created a backlash on social media on Wednesday, with some calling the zoo’s staff members “serial killers” and “murderers.”
The zoo justified the killings of the two parents, ages 14 and 16, and their cubs on the grounds of genetic purity and conservation, noting that the new lion would invariably prey on the cubs, while there was a risk that the older male lion would try to breed with one of the female lions that were his offspring.
“If the zoo had not made the change in the pride now, then we would have risked that the old male would mate with these two females — his own offspring — and thereby give rise to inbreeding,” it said in a statement on Wednesday.
The zoo attracted international ire after shooting Marius in the head, and then, in what animal rights groups called a nightmarish spectacle, dissecting him in front of a crowd that included children, before feeding him to a group of lions. At the time, it invoked a similar argument, noting that zoos in Europe have a small gene pool and that there was a risk of inbreeding if Marius reproduced.
Some say the killings, fairly or not, are undermining Danes’ international image. “Danes are used to being looked upon as the good guys, as people who put a lot of money into foreign aid, and have a high living standard,” Bo Sondergaard, national affairs editor at Politiken, a leading Danish newspaper, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “Now when you say you are from Denmark, people say, ‘Oh, the giraffe killers.’ “
After Marius was killed, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals projected a giant lit-up message at the zoo’s entrance that read, “Zoos are animal prisons: You paid the ticket, Marius paid with his life.” One reader in Britain wrote to The Guardian that the “public execution of Marius and his equally public consumption by lions does rather make Danish noir crime on BBC4 easier to understand, psychologically.”
While animal rights activists on both sides of the Atlantic have expressed anger at the animal deaths, the emotional debate over animal euthanasia also reflects a cultural divide between the United States and Europe, which is relatively more open to euthanizing animals in the name of conservation and ensuring genetic diversity.
Gerald Dick, a zoologist who is executive director of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, said that the Danish approach was not unique and that zoos across Europe euthanized animals, typically only as a last resort. He noted that while American zoos preferred to use contraception to prevent overpopulation or inbreeding, European zoos often favored allowed animals to breed and express their natural behavior, including sexual reproduction.
“In Europe, there is a strict attempt to maintain genetically pure animals and not waste space in a zoo for genetically useless specimens,” he said. “The counterargument is that people want to see a giraffe in a zoo. But that is not good science in terms of conservation. Nobody wants to have to kill animals, but it is sometimes necessary.”
Jesper Mohring-Jensen, a biologist at the Jyllands Park Zoo in western Denmark, said that rather than being brutal, the Copenhagen Zoo was simply putting common sense above sentimentality. “It’s better for the animal to have a good life than to live” and have a bad life, he said by phone. “That is the Danish view, which is different from the American view. The discussion can sometimes become unscientific and based more on feelings than understanding of animals. Nature doesn’t have the same concept of justice as humans.”

Yet some noted a small justice in the fact that the lions killed were among those that had feasted on Marius’s remains.

Monday, March 24, 2014

1362. Indian Villagers Bring Down Hills as Lure of Mining Grows

By Max Bearak, The New York Times, March 19, 2014
Alldrina Nonglamin’s mine is one of hundreds of brand new pits near Meghalaya’s border with Bangladesh.
Photo credit: Himanshu Khagta
NONGTALANG, India — “Bomb, bomb, bomb!” shouted the miner, and his warning echoed off the walls of the decapitated hillock. Seconds later, an explosion sliced off yet another chunk of limestone, which crumbled into a pile somewhere near where the center of the hill used to be.
The mine’s owner, Alldrina Nonglamin, 40, barely noticed the explosion. On that morning in early January, she wore her bed slippers and a sarong tied over her shoulder as she surveyed the pile of rock that had once underlaid her orange and betel nut garden, her former source of income.
Proudly showing off the mounds of ammonium nitrate she uses as an explosive, she said, “I want to finish the hill quickly so I can level the land and build a big house. It might take 20 years, but maybe less also.”
Ms. Nonglamin is one of the many new mine owners in the Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya State who were surprised to find out that the pile of rocks they were living on might as well be made of cash. In the last few years, her village of Nongtalang, like so many other communities across this hilly northeastern state, has become home to an increasing number of family-owned limestone mines, whose owners are seeking wealth unheard of in a region accustomed to subsistence farming.
Hundreds of limestone mines now line the 60 kilometers, or 40 miles, of highway that lead through this region toward the border with Bangladesh.
Ms. Nonglamin took loans of more than $150,000 to purchase mining equipment after seeing the profits her neighbors were unearthing. In just one year, she has paid back more than half of the initial loan.
“My earnings are now 100 times better, and the loans are easily paid. My kids go to private school in the city. I’m a businesswoman with more than 100 employees, when before I was a farmer and sometimes a tailor,” she said.
With so many villagers rushing to mine the hills, small-scale miners are now extracting more rock per year all together than massive multinational corporations would in a smaller network of bigger mines, environmental activists say, and with little to none of the regulations those big companies are normally subjected to.
Just under 1,000 trucks of the low-grade rock are exported from the small mines to Bangladesh daily, where the world’s largest cement manufacturer, the French company Lafarge, buys most of it, processes it and churns out the fine cement powder that is ultimately transformed into the building blocks of that country’s infrastructural development.
Very few in this village of 2,000 resist the lure of mining in these hills, but those who do say runoff from the mines often goes straight into rivers that provide drinking water. Helpme Mohrmen, a local Unitarian minister who has organized poorly attended local protests and traveled to Delhi to speak to distant advocacy groups, refers to himself as “The Lone Ranger.”
“Our people have always had a deep reverence for nature,” Mr. Mohrmen said. “We give our rivers personalities. We call the animals our brothers and sisters. Each plant carries some meaning. I cannot understand why we have gone about killing our rivers for this mining, but now no one will join me because they don’t want to fight against their clan members.”
Tribal society in this part of Meghalaya is structured around clans, which often form political blocs and share economic interests. Those who open mines often employ fellow clan members, or at least spread the wealth earned through mining in the form of lavish gifts and parties. Clans also traditionally have viewed land as communal among members.
“There is this idea that we, as tribals, have inherited our land and have the right to do as we want with it,” Mr. Mohrmen said. “But no one can own a river.”
Nongtalang is Mr. Mohrmen’s home village, but he can count his allies there on one hand. One is Brightstar Pohsnem, 26, an elementary school teacher and the president of the one-year-old Nongtalang People’s Unity Movement, which has about a dozen members. They contend that the village can survive on farming alone and that the mines are not sustainable.
“In this village, we get our water straight from the river,” Mr. Pohsnem said. “As soon as the mining started, the water became undrinkable. Now they say they have stopped mining near the river, but they have buried the headwaters of the streams already. Maybe with the money they make from mining, they can buy clean water, but that is not a solution.”
Workers in the mine can earn as much as 3,000 rupees a day, or $50, all year round. That is on par with what they could earn on a market day selling oranges or betel nuts if they are lucky, but markets are held only once a week and only during the harvest period.
Mr. Pohsnem said villagers constantly lobbied him to recognize the value of mining. “People offer to buy me coffees, clothes or to go on picnics with their mining money,” he said. “But I know that is just how they became interested in mining, because of all those things you can get with money. They are not thinking properly about what they are doing.”
Yet the immediate benefits of the newfound wealth abound. Dolly Khonglah, a mine owner who also heads the Meghalaya International Exporters Chamber of Commerce, was able to fly her son to an upscale, private hospital owned by the Apollo Hospitals group in New Delhi, where he underwent a liver transplant.
“We have been interior-type people, so we are happy to see changes,” she said during an interview at the hospital.
“The limestone is a blessing of the land. Ten years ago, we couldn’t even go to Shillong,” she said, referring to Meghalaya’s capital. “Now we can come to Apollo.”
As the new prosperity brings advantages like access to better health care and a higher standard of living, even Mr. Pohsnem’s closest kin have questioned his stance. “My best friends from school and my neighbors have stopped talking to me,” he said. “They don’t understand why I am against mining.”
Looking at the floor in his small home, Mr. Pohsnem said that his feelings about mining boiled down to a fundamental difference in how he saw the future of his village. He does not imagine that the wealth, or the rock itself, is sustainable.
“We used to have deer and bears around here, but even the squirrels ran away after the mining. If they cannot drink the water, then how can we?” he asked. “It’s no use fighting — better that we buy a place elsewhere where there’s no mining.”
He laughed, mostly to himself. “The sad thing is that the mine owners are the only ones who have the money to do that.”
Both Ms. Khonglah and Ms. Nonglamin dream of passing on their mines to their children, but when Ms. Nonglamin was reminded that she had earlier said there might be only 20 more years of rock left, she said, “I cannot imagine that day. I haven’t thought about it.”

Ms. Khonglah admitted, “It is true. The rock may not last.”