The roar of military jets triggers a crusade for quiet

As ‘Growlers’ shatter the calm of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, a push for quiet grows.

Gordon Hempton searches for silence in the Hoh Rainforest of Olympic National Park.
Shawn Parkin

On a chilly March morning, acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton and his assistant, Laura Giannone, hiked into a glade of moss-draped maples in the Hoh Rainforest of northwest Washington’s Olympic National Park. They set up a tripod topped with ultra-sensitive recording equipment to listen to the murmurings of a landscape just then awakening from winter dormancy.

Above the low rush of the nearby Hoh River, the melodic trills of songbirds rippled through a still-leafless canopy. Then, suddenly, the low thrum of a jet aircraft built in waves until it eclipsed every other sound. Within half an hour, three more jets roared overhead.

Hempton has spent more than a decade fighting for quiet in this forest — the traditional homeland of the Hoh Indian Tribe, who lived here before it was a national park and now have a reservation at the mouth of the Hoh River. In 2005, Hempton dubbed a spot deep in the Hoh “One Square Inch of Silence,” and created an eponymous foundation to raise awareness about noise pollution. But he couldn’t stop the sonic intrusions from ramped up commercial air traffic and the Navy’s growing fleet of “Growler” jets training over the Olympic Peninsula. “In just a few years, this has gone from one of the quietest places on Earth to an airshow,” he told me.

As the Hoh got noisier, rather than concede defeat, Hempton broadened his effort into a global crusade. In 2018, he launched Quiet Parks International (QPI), to certify places that are relatively noise-free, in a bid to lure quiet-seeking tourists and thereby add economic leverage to preservation efforts. For Hempton, the sounds of nature are as critical to a national park as its wildlife or scenic vistas, and as the world gets louder, the importance of protecting quiet refuges as places of rejuvenation grows. “Our culture has been so impacted by noise pollution,” he said, “that we have almost lost our ability to really listen.”

Gordon Hempton has spent over a decade raising awareness of noise pollution.
Shawn Parkin

EVERYWHERE, PEOPLE ARE BECOMING MORE AWARE OF THE NOISE IN THEIR LIVES.Food critics routinely carry noise meters to restaurants, towns are banning gas-powered leaf blowers, and noise-metering apps are providing crowdsourced guides to refuges of quiet in cities worldwide. As evidence mounts that the stress of noise raises the risk of heart disease and stroke, so does interest in escaping the clamor.

Hempton visited the Hoh in March with Giannone, an Evergreen State College senior majoring in audio engineering and acoustic ecology, to train her in data collection for the Quiet Parks International certification. After recording, they went over her notes. The ambient sound averaged 25 decibels (whisper-quiet) and the peak noise, from a jet, hit nearly 70 decibels (vacuum-cleaner loud). Mix in the distant hum of vehicles and a chainsaw’s whine, and the longest period of unadulterated nature was just three minutes. By contrast, a cornerstone of the Quiet Park certification will be a noise-free interval of at least 15 minutes. The Hoh met that requirement easily — until recently.

“This is really incredible,” Hempton said, after Giannone tallied the noise intrusions. “This is a national park, and natural quiet is on the list of protected natural resources,” along with native plants, historic sites and dark night skies, among other assets.

Noise pollution in wilderness is not about loudness per se, according to Frank Turina, a program manager with the National Park Service’s Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division. Rather, it’s about how unnatural sounds can shatter “the sense of naturalness” essential to a wilderness experience, he said. “One of the biggest ways that civilization creeps into wilderness is through noise.”

Noise has particularly severe effects on wildlife. Research shows that the din of humanity remains pervasive in protected areas. Intrusive sound disrupts animals’ ability to navigate, avoid predators, locate food and find mates — beaching marine life, altering birdsong and causing stress that’s linked to shorter lifespans. “Obviously, we aren’t the only ones listening,” Hempton told me. “But we are the only ones who can choose to listen; wildlife listen to survive.”

Hempton hopes that the “quiet park” standards, which are still being finalized, help. Similar certifications, or “ecolabels,” have helped boost other environmental causes, including the Blue Flag beaches, created to protect fragile coastal environments, and the Dark Sky Places of the International Dark-Sky Association, which battles light pollution. Much of the work of QPI will involve cultivating an appreciation of quiet through educational programs and partnerships. For example, QPI partnered with a virtual-reality education nonprofit to create a VR tour of the Hoh to teach kids about noise pollution and ecology. Furthermore, the label will give tourists information they currently lack. Hempton suspects many will favor noise-free options. “We know from history that underlying every social movement is a widespread need for something that’s valued, but not being provided,” he said. “I feel all the ingredients for a social movement for quiet.”

The U.S. Navy’s Growler, an aircraft designed for electronic warfare.
U.S. Navy

CERTIFICATIONS HIGHLIGHT WHAT PEOPLE VALUE, according to Rob Smith, northwest regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association, and “a quiet park label says that the sounds of nature matter.” If local communities and the managers of Olympic National Park bid for a quiet-park certification, he said, “it would give us something to point to with the Navy to say, ‘This needs protection, too.’ ”

A few weeks after Hempton and Giannone visited the Hoh, the Navy released a final environmental assessment for its plan to add even more Growler jet training over the Olympic Peninsula — from the current 82 jets to 118 by 2022. The Growlers, which specialize in jamming enemy radar and communications, are named for their very loud, low-frequency roar.

Residents across the Olympic Peninsula have forged the Sound Defense Alliance to fight the expansion, lobbying to spread the jets around the country rather than have them all at Whidbey Island in Puget Sound. Sherry Schaaf, a retired schoolteacher who lives in Forks, about 20 miles northwest of the Hoh Rainforest, and her boyfriend, David Youngberg, are two of the anti-noise locals. Schaaf sometimes rents her house to people visiting Olympic National Park, and she and Youngberg often chat up out-of-towners. “Many of them talk about the quiet and how beautiful it is,” Schaaf said. “But they also say, ‘We heard the planes, and it was so loud and rumbling that we couldn’t even hear ourselves talk.’ ”

Since 2000, the National Park Service’s Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division has helped park managers across the country minimize noise by, for instance, restricting snowmobiles. But overflights are the biggest noise threat in backcountry areas, and the Federal Aviation Administration, not the Park Service, controls airspace. While the Park Service can request flight-pattern changes, as it successfully did for Rocky Mountain National Park, it can’t force the issue.

For their part, Navy officials said they work to minimize the Growlers’ disturbance by, for example, using flight simulators and other virtual training tools. But spreading out the Growler squadrons would involve costly inefficiencies and logistical complications that “would degrade the Growler community’s overall effectiveness,” according to a 2018 environmental impact statement. And Michael Welding, the Navy’s public affairs officer on Whidbey Island, pointed out that the vast majority of noise complaints are from people living near the Growler airfields, where pilots do low-altitude training, rather than from visitors to Olympic National Park.

Still, the roar of the jets is clearly audible in the park. Whether visitor numbers will fall significantly if overflights intensify is an open question: Research on whether eco-certifications influence tourists’ destination decisions is mixed. But profits aside, Vinod Sasidharan, a professor at San Diego State University who specializes in sustainable tourism, said certifications are often more about “raising awareness and setting transparent standards” within the tourism industry.

And tourism is vital for the Olympic Peninsula, said Youngberg, who spent more than two decades in the Navy, including deployment on an aircraft carrier during the Gulf War. Every year, about 3 million people visit Olympic National Park, pumping $385 million into the local economy in 2017, according to the Park Service. The park also supports more than 3,500 jobs in a region where unemployment is about double the national rate. Youngberg pointed out the decline of the region’s timber and fishing industries. “We’re a pretty poor county,” he said, “and it’s going to crush us if we lose tourism and our reputation for beauty, and peace and quiet.”

This story was supported by a grant from the Solutions Journalism Network.

Chris Berdik is a freelance journalist in Milton, Massachusetts. He covers science and education, and he’s the author of Mind Over Mind, a book about placebos in medicine and beyond. 

US warns China, Russia over Arctic amid environmental shifts

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the Trump administration is moving to assert America’s presence in the Arctic. He’s warning China and Russia that the U.S. won’t stand for aggressive moves into the region that’s rapidly opening up to development and commerce as temperatures warm and sea ice melts.

Pompeo says in a speech in Finland that the U.S. will compete for influence in the Arctic and counter attempts to make it the strategic preserve of any one or two nations. He says rule of law must prevail for the Arctic to remain peaceful.

The speech comes a day before Pompeo attends a meeting of the Arctic Council at a time of profound shifts in the region’s environment and widespread criticism of the Trump administration’s skepticism of climate change

History Shows Joe Biden 3.0 Is a Bad Idea

So Joe’s in now, and really, thank God. The corporate neoliberal “center” is dreadfully under-represented in the current tiny field of potential Democratic nominees. In the event candidates Buttigieg, Harris, O’Rourke, Booker, Klobuchar, Moulton, Inslee, Hickenlooper and Gillibrand fail to successfully advocate for continuing 30 years of failed conservative “centrist” Democratic policies, former Senator and Vice President Joe Biden (D-Delaware) will be there to shoot the gap.

:facebrick:

“The third time’s lucky,” reads Alexander Hilsop’s 1862 compendium of Scottish proverbs. I guess we’re all going to find out how true that is over the course of the 79 weeks standing between this ragged little patch of time and the 2020 presidential election. Senator Biden’s first run at the brass ring began on June 9, 1987, and ended in searing disgrace only 106 days later after his campaign was subsumed by plagiarism accusations and his questionable relationship with the facts of his own life.

Biden kicked off his third presidential run on Thursday with an ominous and somewhat cumbersome 6:00 am tweet — “[E]verything that has made America — America — is at stake.” The announcement tweet failed to mention Biden’s plans to attend a big-dollar fundraiser hosted by David Cohen, chief lobbyist for Comcast, the most despised company in the country. This, morosely, is par for a very long course.

Though he labels himself a friend to working people, Biden has a record of harming workers that spans decades. “His energetic work on behalf of the credit card companies has earned him the affection of the banking industry,” wrote Sen. Elizabeth Warren in 2002, “and protected him from any well-funded challengers for his Senate seat.”

“State laws have made Delaware the domicile of choice for corporations, especially banks,” writes Andrew Cockburn for Harpers, “and it competes for business with more notorious entrepôts such as the Cayman Islands. Over half of all US public companies are legally headquartered there.” Joe Biden spent 36 years as a Delaware senator until Obama raised him up in 2008, and during that time he served his core constituency with vigor.

Biden voted in favor of one of the most ruthlessly anti-worker bills in modern legislative history, the 2005 Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, depriving millions of the protections provided by Chapter 7 bankruptcy. For this, and for his pro-corporate labors stretching all the way back to 1978, he has earned the financial devotion of the too-big-to-fail club many times over.

Millennial voters are touted as the sleeping giant of the 2020 election: Turn them out in large numbers, goes the thinking, and you can practically start measuring the drapes in the Oval Office today. If this is true, and I believe it is, candidate Biden began his campaign behind an eight-ball roughly the size of, well, Delaware.

“Student debt broke $1.5 trillion in the first quarter of 2018 according to the Federal Reserve,” writes Mark Provost for Truthout. “Twenty percent of student borrowers default on their loan payments. Delaware’s own senator and former vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, is at the center of the decades-long campaign by lenders to eviscerate consumer debt protections.”

Biden became chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1987, at a time when Republicans were running actively racist campaigns under the gossamer veil of being “tough on crime.” Chairman Biden, who was about to spend 106 days failing to become president at the time, was not about to miss the boat. By 1994, he had become the Democratic champion for the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, a vicious piece of legislation which ushered in an age of mass incarceration that lawmakers today are still laboring to dismantle.

Biden’s problems on the matter of race go far beyond his full-throated support for the 1994 crime bill. “I do not buy the concept, popular in the ’60s, which said, ‘We have suppressed the Black man for 300 years and the white man is now far ahead in the race for everything our society offers,’” he said in 1975 regarding school desegregation. “‘In order to even the score, we must now give the Black man a head start, or even hold the white man back, to even the race.’ I don’t buy that.”

You can expect to see that quote at least once a day for as long as his campaign remains active. One can try to shrug off a 44-year-old quote as the words of a man whose opinions on race have “evolved” — he shared the ticket with Obama! — but his record on the issue is unavoidably long and bleak. “Joe Biden’s greatest strength is that he’s been in the mainstream of American politics for the last 50 years,” writes the NBCpolitics blog, The Fix. “And that’s his greatest weakness, too.”

In this, Biden mirrors the history of the party whose nomination he seeks, a party that was firmly on the wrong side of racial justice until the middle of the 1960s. “My state was a slave state,” he told Fox News in 2006. “My state is a border state. My state has the eighth-largest Black population in the country. My state is anything [but] a Northeast liberal state.” Later that same year, before a mostly Republican crowd in South Carolina, Biden joked that Delaware only stayed in the Union during the Civil War “because we couldn’t figure out how to get to the South.”

Joe Biden voted in favor of George W. Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq. I have spent the last 17 years of my life writing about that horrific war, and expect to still be writing about it right up until they wind me in my shroud. There is no lack of irony to be found in the fact that Biden ultimately decided not to run for president in 1992 because he voted against George H.W. Bush’s Gulf War resolution, believing that vote irretrievably damaged his chances for victory. Some 26 years later, his vote in favor of a different Iraq war will be around his neck like a blood-soaked millstone, and justly so.

And then there is the matter of Anita Hill, which rolls many of the most pressing issues of the day — women’s rights, the patriarchy, racism, the conservative balance of the Supreme Court, collusion with a Republican Party that thinks “bipartisanship” is hilarious — into a very hard ball.

“Joe Biden was the ringleader of the hostile and sexist hearing that put Anita Hill, not Clarence Thomas, on trial,” writes Shaunna Thomas, co-founder and executive director of the women’s group, UltraViolet. “In doing so, Biden caused tremendous harm to all survivors, he set back the movement, and he helped put Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court. This is not a subject he can sweep under the rug. This is not something he can just get out of the way before announcing his candidacy. This is not something one line in a speech or interview will fix.”

Prior to announcing his candidacy, Biden expressed regret for his treatment of Anita Hill, going so far as to say “I’m sorry” on the Todayshow in September 2018, which speaks volumes about how long he has been contemplating this campaign (Hill was not present in the studio to hear the apology). On the day he announced this third run, CNBC reported that Biden had spoken to Hill personally. “They had a private discussion,” said a campaign spokesperson, “where he shared with her directly his regret for what she endured and his admiration for everything she has done to change the culture around sexual harassment in this country.”

According to The New York Times, however, Hill was having none of it. “Ms. Hill, in an interview Wednesday, said she left the conversation feeling deeply unsatisfied and declined to characterize his words to her as an apology,” reported the Times. “She said she is not convinced that Mr. Biden truly accepts the harm he caused her and other women who suffered sexual harassment and gender violence.”

“I cannot be satisfied by simply saying I’m sorry for what happened to you,” Hill is quoted as saying. “I will be satisfied when I know there is real change and real accountability and real purpose. The focus on apology, to me, is one thing. But he needs to give an apology to the other women and to the American public because we know now how deeply disappointed Americans around the country were about what they saw. And not just women. There are women and men now who have just really lost confidence in our government to respond to the problem of gender violence.”

Joe Biden’s first three public endorsements — from conservative Democratic Senators Chris Coons (Delaware), Bob Casey (Pennsylvania) and Doug Jones (Alabama) — tell you all you need to know about who is rooting for his candidacy. A significant number of the policies he has devoted his life to are simply terrible. He’s a bannerman for a failed Democratic Party experiment, and the only people who don’t seem capable of perceiving that failure are the “centrist” Democrats cheering him on.

Biden is planning to run on the same “But I can win!” platform that worked out so poorly in the last election. The politics blog Crystal Ball labels him as potentially “The Most Experienced New President Ever,” which was also what some people were saying about Hillary Clinton in 2016. Even in the short time between now and then, a great many Democratic voters have demonstrably left him behind.

Three decades of watching conservative Democrats assist Republicans as they drove the country to the right is enough already. Alexander Hilsop’s proverb, I strongly suspect, is dead wrong on this one. Joe Biden is leading in the polls at the moment, but if he’s still in the race after Super Tuesday, I will be stunned. At least he’ll know how to find the exit. He’s done it before.

Joe Biden’s Legislative History Under Scrutiny as He Enters 2020 Race

Former Vice President Joe Biden has entered the 2020 race for the White House, becoming the 20th Democrat to seek the nomination in the largest and most diverse field of Democratic candidates ever to run for president. Biden will face scrutiny for his long and checkered record in the coming weeks, including his 1994 crime bill, that helped fuel mass incarceration with financial incentives to keep people behind bars, and his handling of Anita Hill’s sexual harassment allegations against Supreme Court justice nominee Clarence Thomas in 1991. Biden is also known for close ties to the financial industry and voting to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. In the weeks before Biden announced his bid for the presidency, at least seven women stepped forward to accuse him of inappropriate touching. We speak with Andrew Cockburn, Washington editor for Harper’s magazine, about Biden’s record. His recent piece is headlined “No Joe! Joe Biden’s disastrous legislative legacy.”

Transcript

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Former Vice President Joe Biden has entered the 2020 race for the White House, becoming the 20th Democrat to seek the nomination in the largest and most diverse field of Democratic candidates to ever run for president. Biden will hold his first fundraiser tonight in Philadelphia. It will be hosted by Comcast’s chief lobbyist, David Cohen.

AMY GOODMAN: In a campaign video released on social media this morning, Biden took aim at President Trump’s response to the 2017 “Unite the Right” march of white nationalists in Charlottesville. He began by talking about Charlottesville, the home of Thomas Jefferson, and then went on to talk about what happened most recently.

JOE BIDEN: It was there in August of 2017 we saw Klansmen and white supremacists and neo-Nazis come out in the open, their crazed faces illuminated by torches, veins bulging, and bearing the fangs of racism, chanting the same anti-Semitic bile heard across Europe in the ’30s. And they were met by a courageous group of Americans, and a violent clash ensued. And a brave young woman lost her life. And that’s when we heard the words of the president of the United States that stunned the world and shocked the conscience of this nation. He said there were, quote, “some very fine people on both sides.” “Very fine people on both sides”? With those words, the president of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it. And in that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That’s Joe Biden announcing his run for president. As a longtime senator from Delaware, Biden has run twice before for the Democratic nomination. The last time was in 2008, when he ultimately became then-Senator Barack Obama’s running mate. Biden’s third bid for the presidency comes in a Democratic political climate that is notably more progressive than the last time he sought the nomination.

Biden will face scrutiny for his long and checkered record in the coming weeks, including his 1994 crime bill that helped fuel mass incarceration with financial incentives to keep people behind bars. Biden has also long faced criticism for his handling of Anita Hill’s sexual harassment allegations against Supreme Court justice nominee Clarence Thomas in 1991. At the time, Biden was the chair of the Senate Judiciary committee. Biden is also known for close ties to the financial industry, notably helping push through a 2005 bill that made it harder for consumers to declare bankruptcy. According to The New York Times, the credit card issuer MBNAwas Biden’s top donor from 1989 to 2010.

AMY GOODMAN: One of Biden’s key legislative achievements was the 2005 bankruptcy law that made it harder to reduce student debt, preventing most Americans from claiming bankruptcy protections for private student loans. He also voted to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. In the weeks before Biden announced his bid for the presidency, at least seven women stepped forward to accuse him of inappropriate touching.

Well, last month, I spoke with Andrew Cockburn, Washington editor forHarper’s magazine, about Biden’s potential run for the presidency and his recent piece headlined “No Joe!” “Joe Biden’s disastrous legislative legacy” was the subtitle. I began in Part 2 of this discussion by asking Andrew Cockburn about Biden’s role in the 1994 crime bill.

ANDREW COCKBURN: He teamed up with Strom Thurmond, this sort of very aged, old segregationist from South Carolina, you know, really the face of — the face of everything that we’d been trying to get away from. And it was really, you know, Joe — he thought this was going to really propel him to the top. As he said to a former aide, who told me — I think it was around about 1990 — the aide was telling me how he, Joe, was always trying to hold hearings on crime and drugs. Every week, his poor staff had to sit around dreaming up a new excuse for a hearing on crime and drugs. And as Biden said to his staffer, he said, “I want when people hear the words ‘crime’ and ‘drugs,’ I want them to think ‘Joe Biden.’” I mean, he was really running, you know, like a — like George Bush Sr., on a sort of Willie Horton. You know, it’s astonishing that this man, this politician, should be considered a front-runner for the Democrats.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, could he simply say he’s changed since then, that he’s completely reversed his position?

ANDREW COCKBURN: Well, not really. I mean, he sort of — he’s flubbed on a few things. I mean, he changed — you know, he’s apologized for a few things — not, I note, on busing; not on choice, where his record is truly terrible. He has said that he’s kind of sorry, a bit sorry, about his crime legislation. And he said he’s sorry he voted for the financial deregulation, the key repeal of Glass-Steagall. He said that was the worst vote ever — ever of his entire career, which I’m — there’s a lot of competition there. So, but even if — you know, just thinking of his political viability, supposing he has to go through the campaign saying, “Well, I’m sorry I did what I did on busing. I’m sorry I did what I did on crime. I’m sorry I did what I did on banks,” he’s going to sound like another shifty politician.

AMY GOODMAN: And on Anita Hill, “I’m sorry what I did on Anita Hill”?

ANDREW COCKBURN: And Anita Hill, “I’m really sorry about Anita Hill.” He’s expressed some regret for that, I should admit. So, you know, basically, his record has very little that’s good about it. You know, he has his sort of shtick of being the friend of the working man, but, you know, he’s been a much better and closer friend of the financial industry.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what happened with Neil Kinnock, the speech.

ANDREW COCKBURN: Well, very bizarre, that. He, Neil Kinnock, who at that time was the leader of the Labour Party, had this standard stump speech.

AMY GOODMAN: In Britain.

ANDREW COCKBURN: In Britain, yeah, British Labour Party. And he would — in his stump speech, he would say that, you know, he was — why was it that he was the first Kinnock in a thousand years to go to college, and Mrs. Kinnock, he invoked, too, as being the first from her family to go to college. And he made a moving sort of rags-to-riches sort of piece out of that. And Biden — Biden heard this, or his speechwriter did, and thought, “That sounds good,” and simply substituted the word “Biden”: “Why am I the first Biden in a thousand years to go to college?” and so on, so forth. And, well, what’s particularly ironic about it is that Neil Kinnock was known in Britain as the “Welsh windbag,” because he went on and on. And, of course, Biden himself is a terrible windbag. So, it was really bizarre to have one windbag plagiarizing another.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to talk about Iraq. In 2002, former chief U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq, Scott Ritter, said, quote, “Sen. Joe Biden is running a sham hearing. It is clear that Biden and most of the Congressional leadership have pre-ordained a conclusion that seeks to remove Saddam Hussein from power regardless of the facts, and are using these hearings to provide political cover for a massive military attack on Iraq. These hearings have nothing to do with an objective search for the truth, but rather seek to line up like-minded witnesses who will buttress this pre-determined result,” Ritter said. That same year, in 2002, Senator Biden said, quote, “We must be clear with the American people that we are committing to Iraq for the long haul; not just the day after, but the decade after. … I am absolutely confident the President will not take us to war alone,” he said. Talk about the significance of that then, and then what it could mean for today.

ANDREW COCKBURN: Well, it fits into Biden’s, you know, worldview, or, well, behavior on the international stage, throughout, which is as, you know, a very hard-line hawk. You know, as you just said, or as Ritter said at the time, Biden was really doing everything he could to assist George Bush in the run-up to the illegal invasion of Iraq. You know, on the Foreign Relations Committee, he summoned just pro-invasion witnesses. As far as I know, he was certainly not one of the famous of the five senators who took the trouble to go down and read the National Intelligence Estimate, that Senator Bob Graham has talked about, which was locked away down in the basement, which would have told them that there was a lot of doubts in the intelligence community as to whether Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and so forth. No, he just — he wanted — you know, he was all for war, and he was all for occupation, as you said.

And that fits in with, you know, his record since, most notably as vice president. Obama made him, made Vice President Biden — gave him really the — well, the Iraq file, but also the Ukraine file. And Biden used that to be an ardent proponent of, you know, more arms for Ukraine, for intervention in what is really a civil war in Ukraine. Of course, his family — his son — had very extensive business ties in Ukraine, which doesn’t look too good. His son Hunter was on the board of the Ukrainian gas company. So, you know, Biden, whenever he’s been given the chance, he’s been for armed intervention. He was ardently for the expansion of NATO, the post-1990 — in the 1990s, which, you know, is really the root cause of the renewed — sort of the new Cold War. I mean, Biden was there. It’s no surprise that he describes John McCain as his best friend in the Senate.

AMY GOODMAN: Biden also said, in 2002, “I do not believe this is a rush to war; I believe it’s a march to peace and security.” So, Andrew Cockburn, if you could comment on his two runs for president, both failed? You know, all the media is saying the polls show he’s the — you know, number one now, followed by Bernie Sanders. But, of course, he’s got the biggest name recognition nationally. He was vice president for eight years under President Obama.

ANDREW COCKBURN: Well, that’s right. I mean, it is largely a factor of name recognition. But also, I mean, we have to think about those two runs. And what it showed — first of all, there was, as we’ve discussed, this astonishing gaffe in 1988, where he wasn’t just plagiarizing this British politician, by the way. It turned out that his speeches also had extensive passages lifted from Robert Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, unbelievably. So, you know, it’s kind of — it’s hard to explain this really sort of mental issue. But then that sank his — it’s not clear that his campaign was going anywhere, anyway, at that time.

And then, in 2008, you know, he didn’t even have that excuse of a plagiarism. I mean, he made an astonishing remark about Barack Obama early on, where he described him as “clean.” I mean, it was a very sort of racist — almost racist-sounding, patronizing remark. And he got nowhere. You know, he really sputtered in his campaign, sputtered and died.

So it’s pretty bizarre to me, this sort of — this cheering squad for Biden: you know, “Run, Joe! Run!” And I think, actually, what you — clip you showed, featured, of him at the firefighters’ convention yesterday, was very telling, because sounded like I can hear Donald Trump invoking, you know, low energy again. He didn’t sound like a, you know, ready-to-go politician at all to me. He sounded sort of rather weary. I have the feeling sometimes that he — in his heart, he doesn’t want to do it. That’s why we’ve had this sort of Hamlet performance for months now. And the people around him, all these longtime aides, this is their chance for, you know, a ticket in the big game, to be in on a big-time presidential campaign, and they’re kind of pushing him into it.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I think, you know, if he does run, those poll numbers will come down in a hurry. He’s not an effective campaigner. He hates preparation. He hates like debate prep. He’s not a great fundraiser. He doesn’t like having to sort of kowtow to big donors to get money. He’s got such an inflated ego. I really think that he is not — I’m not the only person saying this; people who’ve known him for a long time think the same — that he would really — what he really wants is to be anointed — you know, “Please, Mr. Biden, please come and be our candidate. Please come and be our president” — without having to go through the hard grind, the incredible exhaustion, of a modern presidential campaign.

AMY GOODMAN: Andrew, could you talk about the media’s coverage of him? You are really among the first, if not the first one, in this period, to start really seriously analyzing Joe Biden’s record as a senator and then as a vice president. Then the rest of the media started, well, repeating some of what you had to say.

ANDREW COCKBURN: Well, yes. So, thank you. That’s kind. But that is true. But, I mean, the pack — you know, now they’re all busy at work, like CNN digging out that very damning clip you played earlier. And there’s going to be a lot more of that. I mean, already there’s things I didn’t know that are coming up. And just imagine what it’s going to be like when he has 12 other Democrats, you know, sort of chasing him around the ring. It’s going to be like Lord of the Flies or something. It’s, you know, the people — you know, oppo researchers can be pretty good these days, and there’s a lot to come out.

And he has — you know, he has so many deficiencies as a candidate, including, I should say, because the Republicans are already saying it, a “me, too” problem. I mean, if you look on sort of Republican websites and Twitter accounts, there’s a montage going around of Joe Biden with women at photo ops, including some quite young women — children, really — you know, apparently fondling them. I’m sure it’s all very just avuncular and everything, but as one person, one political fundraiser and operative, said to me — a lady said, “I was never talking to him when he wasn’t stroking my back.” You know, he’s very tactile, which, I’m sure, is entirely innocent. But, you know, don’t think that the Republicans won’t make a lot of lot of hay with that, and probably his Democratic rivals, too.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Andrew Cockburn, Washington editor forHarper’smagazine. To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to democracynow.org.

When we come back, we look at a New York Times exposé detailing how Navy SEALs, who witnessed their platoon chief, Eddie Gallagher, commit war crimes in Iraq, were encouraged by their superiors not to speak out, and told they could lose their jobs for reporting him. Gallagher goes on trial for murder next month. We’ll speak with New York Times journalist Dave Philipps. Stay with us.

How Feedback Loops Are Driving Runaway Climate Change

If you think this summer has been intense as far as record warm temperatures, wildfires, drought, and flooding events around the Northern Hemisphere, you haven’t seen anything yet — unless you happen to live in the Arctic.

According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), air temperatures there are increasing at an “unprecedented rate” — twice as fast as they are around the rest of the globe. NOAA’s 2017 Arctic Report Card states unequivocally that the Arctic “shows no sign of returning to reliably frozen region of recent past decades.”

The Executive Summary of the report also adds, “Arctic paleo-reconstructions, which extend back millions of years, indicate that the magnitude and pace of the 21st century sea-ice decline and surface ocean warming is unprecedented in at least the last 1,500 years and likely much longer.”

recent report from National Geographic revealed that some of the ground in the Arctic is no longer freezing, even during the winter. Along with causing other problems, this will become yet another feedback loop in the Arctic, causing yet more greenhouse gasses to be released from permafrost than are already being released and impacting the entire planet.

The simplest explanation for a positive climate feedback loop is this: The more something happens, the more it happens. One of the most well-known examples is the melting of sea ice in the Arctic during the summer, which is accelerating. As greater amounts of Arctic summer sea ice melt away, less sunlight is reflected back into space. Hence, more light is absorbed into the ocean, which warms it and causes more ice to melt, and on and on.

One of his concerns about a feedback loop already at play in the Arctic is how the heating of that region is already being amplified by ocean currents that transport warmer, more southerly waters northwards into Arctic seabed waters where it can affect methane deposits in submerged permafrost and sub-seabed methane hydrates.

“The release of this methane contributes powerfully to overall warming – methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, which actually has a bigger effect [on] the atmosphere’s radiative balance than carbon dioxide on decadal timescales,” Dr. Leifer told Truthout.

Although climate is generally thought to occur on century timescales, human timescales and ecological adaptation timescales are measured in decades instead of centuries, and this is now how many climate processes are being monitored given the rapidity of human-forced planetary warming.

Dr. Peter Wadhams is a world-renowned expert who has been studying Arctic sea ice for decades.

His prognosis for the Arctic sea ice is grim: He says it is in its “death spiral.”

“Multi-year ice is now much less than 10 percent of the area of the ice cover; it was 60 percent or more before 2000,” Dr. Wadhams told Truthout. “[Sea ice] extent in summer is down to 50 percent of its value in the 1980s.”

Dr. Wadhams, who is also the President of the International Association for the Physical Sciences of the Ocean (IAPSO), noted that this primary feedback loop is much further along than most of us realize.

“I see the summer sea ice disappearing by the early 2020s,” Wadhams said. He noted that the change of albedo (a measure of reflection of solar radiation) due to the loss of sea ice and snowline retreat across the Arctic “is sufficient to add 50 percent to the warming effect of CO2 emissions alone.”

Alarmingly, on August 21, Arctic scientists told The Guardian that the oldest and strongest sea ice in the Arctic had broken up for the first time in recorded history. One of them described the event as “scary,” in part because it occurred off the north coast of Greenland, which is normally frozen year-round. The region has long been believed to be “the last ice area”: It was thought, at least until now, to be the final place that would hold out against the melting impacts from an increasingly warmer planet.

Abrupt Acceleration

Temperatures are rising most strongly in the Arctic, with some areas already showing an increase of as much as 5.7 degrees Celsius (10.26 degrees Fahrenheit).

Dr. Michael MacCracken, Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs with the Climate Institute in Washington, DC, explained to Truthout how, now that the Arctic is warmer, the temperature gradient between the tropics and the traditionally cold Arctic is reduced.

With a reduced gradient, the movement of warmth from low to high latitudes is slowed. As Earth rotates, this leads to a wavier jet stream that can carry low latitude warmth up to Alaska and elsewhere in the Arctic, and the southward reach of cold air in the Arctic to lower latitudes. This explains why New Orleans, for example, has recently experienced unusual freezing winter weather.

“In addition, the waves in the jet stream that result are shifting to the east less rapidly, which means the unusual weather patterns that are more frequently occurring are moving eastward less rapidly,” Dr. MacCracken explained. “So both wet and dry periods are lasting longer, contributing to both excessively wet (e.g., flooding) and excessively dry (e.g., wildfire) conditions.”

Dr. Wadhams is concerned about this as well.

“The jet stream effect is because Arctic air is warming faster than tropical air, so the temperature difference is decreasing,” he explained. “This reduces the driving force on the jet stream, so it then meanders, which brings hot air to the higher latitudes (and cold air to some low latitudes).”

Summer weather patterns are now increasingly likely to become stalled out over places like North America, portions of Asia, and Europe, according to a recent climate study that showed how a warming Arctic is causing heatwaves in other places to become more intense and persistent due to a slowing of the jet stream.

Dr. Leifer warned that as these processes continue and the Arctic continues to heat up faster than the tropics, the pole-equator temperature difference that controls our weather and causes three major weather circulation “cells” — tropical, mid-latitude, and arctic — will merge into a single weather cell. A similar merging of weather cells occurred during the time of the dinosaurs.

“The jet stream, which controls seasonal storms in the midlatitudes, is a result of these three cells, and would disappear in a single weather cell planet, dramatically altering rain patterns and almost certainly heralding an ecosystem catastrophe,” Leifer explained. “The plants that underlie the food chain would be replaced by others that the local animals (insects to apex predators) could not utilize — in short, an abrupt acceleration of the current Great Anthropocene Extinction event.”

The diminishment of the jet stream also contributes to another potentially catastrophic feedback loop within the Arctic seabed: Changes to the jet stream are causing longer and more intense heat waves to occur across the Arctic, which of course causes the Arctic Ocean to warm further.

Kevin Lister, an associate with the Climate Restoration Foundation in Washington, DC, co-authored a paper with Dr. MacCracken for the United Nations that addressed the crisis in the Arctic, among other climate disruption-related issues.

Unlike the most commonly accepted idea that global temperatures should not be allowed to increase by more than 1.5°C, Lister told Truthout that the planet reaching 1.5°C above baseline “is fundamentally dangerous and that the rate of change we are seeing today means we will not even be able to stop the temperature at this level.”

Lister said this conclusion was reached, in part, due to initial observations from Dr. Wadhams regarding how the loss of sea ice was amplifying rates of change in the Arctic.

Lister told Truthout that “methane emissions [in the Arctic] are already a severe risk,” and that he and Dr. MacCracken’s UN paper shows that once temperatures started rising they would be largely unstoppable due to the interacting nature of the feedback mechanisms.

“Thus, one feedback mechanism, such as sea ice melting, can trigger another, such as methane releases, which then accelerates the first in a tightening spiral,” he explained. “In reality, there are many critical feedback mechanisms and the interlocking effects between them means that the climate is far more unstable and irreversible than we are led to believe, and the climate’s change is likely to follow a super exponential progression once the temperature rises above a certain level.”

Dr. Leifer, who has been studying Arctic methane for years, shares the same concern.

“There is the potential for seabed methane deposits off Greenland to be destabilized by the input of warm melt water and also heat transport,” he said, in addition to having pointed out that this process has been occurring in other areas around the Arctic for many years.

As I have written in the past, we are currently facing the very real possibility of a major methane release in the Arctic. Such a release would be a catastrophe for the global climate — and the survival of humans and other species.

Could a Dire Situation Lead to a “War for Survival”?

Lister and Dr. MacCracken both believe that the global focus on a maximum allowable temperature increase target of 1.5°C above baseline is both dangerous and unachievable. Most media and governmental attention has centered on keeping the Earth from warming 2°C over pre-industrial revolution baseline temperatures, and ideally limiting warming to 1.5°C. This is based on a politically agreed upon goal set forth during the 2015 Paris Climate talks, which were nonbinding.

“It reflects the way that intergovernmental climate change policy has been managed which has been to arbitrarily set a temperature target, which was firstly 2°C and then latterly 1.5°C, and then to see if economic and political policy can deliver an appropriate carbon budget,” Lister explained. “This is clearly not a rational way to develop climate change policy.”

Lister and Dr. MacCracken both believe that, in an ideal world, the process would be the other way round; governments would decide a safe temperature rise based on the best science and then set an appropriate climate change policy. But this is not the world we live in.

Mark Serreze, the director of the US National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder, recently pointed out how the Arctic climate system has entered uncharted territory, so that even computer models are “no longer providing a reliable guide to the future.”

Dr. Leifer said that even if we prepare for the inevitable sea level rise from Greenland melting alone, accelerated melting there is “very bad,” as it reduces the time to implement plans. However, he noted, most countries are not in preparation mode to begin with.

“For example, a forward-looking society would encourage relocation through, say, tax incentives and disincentives from, say, most of Florida, to higher ground — even purely on a hurricane insurance basis,” he said. “Sadly, forward-looking is incompatible with our political system’s biannual money festival, aka elections. Still, very few other countries are doing better — excepting some northern European countries, like Holland — despite differences.”

The impacts of climate disruption aren’t waiting for our preparations, or lack thereof. Dr. Leifer believes that, sooner or later, the sea levels will rise dramatically.

Once this happens, he believes coastal cities will have to be abandoned due to sea level rise and increasingly destructive hurricanes. He believes that the sooner that departure happens, the less destruction and loss of human lives we will experience.

Dr. Leifer also expressed concern about the changes to the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), which is currently weakening and already at its weakest in at least the last 1,600 years.

Dr. MacCracken told Truthout that his greatest concern about Arctic feedback loops is that of the melting of the plateau of the Greenland Ice Sheet. He explained that the meltwater and warmth at the surface is penetrating down into the ice sheet, softening it enough that the glacial ice has started flowing outward, and as this happens, the surface of the ice sinks to lower altitudes.

This kicks in a feedback loop that ultimately causes warming to accelerate, which causes the ice to flow faster, which further accelerates the melting.

“The ice making up the Greenland Ice Sheet holds about the equivalent of 6-7 meters (~20 feet) of global sea level rise, and glaciological evidence makes clear that an order of approximately half of that melted during the last interglacial about 125,000 years ago, contributing significantly to the 4-8 meter rise in sea level at that time,” Dr. MacCracken said.

He pointed out that this rise was caused by a 1°C temperature increase, similar to the temperature increase Earth is experiencing right now (1.16°C above baseline).

“At that time, the atmospheric CO2 concentration was near 300 ppm and the warming was due to differences in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun; today, the orbital parameters are less favorable to significant warming, but the CO2 concentration is a good bit higher and growing,” Dr. MacCracken said. “And its warming influence acts all year long, making it not surprising that the loss of mass of ice from the Greenland Ice Sheet is going up rapidly with a stronger and stronger influence on sea level around the world.”

The rapidly melting Greenland Ice Sheet is precisely what is causing the AMOC to slow.

Moreover, an Arctic that is continuing to warm could lead to the failure of the Gulf Current, Dr. Leifer said.

“The resultant deep freeze that would hit Europe would destroy European agriculture and likely lead to a massive war for survival,” he warned.

UN Chief Calls for New Push to Rid World of Nuclear Weapons

by Reuters and Algemeiner Staff

https://www.algemeiner.com/2018/02/28/un-chief-calls-for-new-push-to-rid-world-of-nuclear-weapons/

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Photo: UN.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Monday for a new global effort to get rid of nuclear weapons, drawing a cautious response from envoys of atomic-armed powers at odds for decades over nuclear disarmament.

Speaking to the Conference on Disarmament at the UN complex in Geneva, Guterres said many states still wrongly thought that nuclear weapons made the world safer.

“There is great and justified anxiety around the world about the threat of nuclear war,” he said.

“Countries persist in clinging to the fallacious idea that nuclear arms make the world safer … At the global level, we must work towards forging a new momentum on eliminating nuclear weapons.”

MARCH 1, 2018 3:19 PM
0

Europeans Engage With Iran on Regional Issues as Trump Deadline Nears

European powers and Iran have started talks over Tehran’s role in the Middle East and will meet again this month…

The Conference on Disarmament is the world’s main forum for nuclear disarmament, but since 1996 it has been deadlocked by disagreements and distrust between rival nuclear powers.

Ambassadors from the United States, China and France said they shared his concerns about the current security environment but their comments suggested it would be an uphill struggle to end two decades of stalemate in nuclear negotiations.

US Ambassador Robert Wood said negotiators needed to “look reality in the eye” and accept that nuclear disarmament in the near term was unrealistic.

It was not the time for bold new disarmament initiatives, but the United States was committed to the “aspirational goal” of eliminating nuclear weapons and would stand by its commitments, Wood said.

“Even in these difficult times, the United States will seek the development of measures that may be effective in creating the conditions for future nuclear disarmament negotiations,” he told the forum.

Chinese Ambassador Fu Cong said China appreciated Guterres’ efforts but said reform should not be rushed.

“Reducing the role of nuclear weapons in national security doctrines and abandoning the nuclear deterrent policy based on the first use of nuclear weapons constitutes the most practical and feasible nuclear disarmament measure at present,” Fu said.

French Ambassador Alice Guitton said Guterres’ statement was very timely, but disarmament could not be decreed, it needed to be built with patience, perseverance and realism.

Dangerous direction

Guterres said talks should target not only nuclear, chemical and conventional arms but also autonomous and unmanned weapons, artificial intelligence, biotechnology and space-based systems.

There are currently around 15,000 nuclear weapons worldwide and the arms trade is flourishing more than at any time since the Cold war, with $1.5 trillion of spending annually, he said.

Taboos on nuclear tests and chemical weapons usage were under threat, he added, while talk of tactical nuclear weapons was leading in an extremely dangerous direction.

Earlier this month the United States published its “nuclear posture review,” which justified an expansion of its “low-yield” nuclear capability by saying it would deter Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons.

Last week diplomats and disarmament experts discussed Guterres’s initiative with UN officials during a retreat near New York, and he is expected to launch his plans around April or May with “practical and implementable actions.”

“The challenges are enormous, but history shows that it has been possible to reach agreement on disarmament and arms control even at the most difficult moments,” Guterres said.

Also: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/the-white-houses-bloody-nose-strategy-on-north-korea-sounds-trumpian-so-why-do-his-aides-hate-it/2018/02/26/9ec20744-18b5-11e8-b681-2d4d462a1921_story.html?utm_term=.a439977d1c53

War isn’t just bad for people — it harms wild animals, too

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/animalia/wp/2018/01/10/war-isnt-just-bad-for-people-it-harms-wild-animals-too/?utm_term=.9d325d23f49d&wpisrc=nl_rainbow&wpmm=1

 January 10

A baby mountain gorilla in the Sabyinyo Mountains of Rwanda. (Ivan Lieman/AFP/Getty Images)

As if we needed another argument against war, here goes: It’s bad for wild animals.

This is true even with low-level conflict, and it’s especially true if the conflict repeats or drags on, according to a new study published in Nature. In a wide-ranging examination of the net effect of such disruptions on African wildlife populations over more than six decades, researchers found the frequency of war — rather than the intensity — to be a key factor in declines of wildlife.

“It takes a relatively little amount of conflict, and a relatively low frequency of conflict, before the average population is declining,” said lead author Joshua Daskin, a conservation ecologist and postdoctoral fellow at Yale University. “All the socioeconomic things that come along with a war are probably making conservation quite difficult.”

The researchers’ conclusion might sound obvious, but there has been little previous examination of the overall impact of armed conflict on animals. The case-study work to date focused on specific conflicts’ consequences and actually found both positive and negative effects.

Those downsides are numerous. Land mines and bombs can kill fauna as well as human targets. Armies sometimes intentionally destroy critical habitat — by dumping herbicides on forests, for example, as the United States did during the Vietnam War — or finance their fight by selling ivory. Collapsed institutions mean less enforcement of laws protecting animals, and economic fallout can force desperate civilians to hunt wild animals for food.

On the other hand, wars can also cause human displacement, and “anything that causes people to vacate can be a beneficial thing for nonhuman wildlife,” said co-author Robert Pringle, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University. Poaching and habitat destruction might slow, and mining might stop. This is sometimes called the “refuge effect,” and it can be seen in the demilitarized zone dividing North Korea and South Korea.

Pringle and Daskin, who finished his PhD at Princeton last year, both do research in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park, where a 15-year civil war nearly decimated wildlife. They wanted to know more about the big picture — is war generally positive, negative or neutral for wildlife? Among other reasons, they note, the question is important because the vast majority of wars since 1950 have taken place in the world’s most biodiverse regions.

An elephant in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. (Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images)

The pair decided to focus on protected areas in Africa between 1946 and 2010. They mapped events  there using a standard definition — fights that killed at least one person in a broader battle that caused 25 human deaths in a year — and found conflicts in a depressing 71 percent of the areas during that time period. Then came the hardest part: finding reliable wildlife population data.

Daskin said he used published research as well as “gray literature” such as park management figures, government wildlife agency documents and reports from nongovernmental organizations. He looked only at populations of large herbivores, in part because they “have really outsize roles in maintaining these ecosystems,” but also because they’re counted more easily and therefore more frequently. In the end, Daskin had data for 253 wildlife populations and 36 species, including giraffes, warthogs and wildebeests.

Next, the authors looked at correlations between wildlife populations and variables that can influence them, like drought, human population density and the presence of mining, as well as two factors related to war: conflict frequency and conflict intensity.

When they crunched it all together, the biggest and only statistically significant predictor of wildlife declines was conflict frequency. While wildlife population trajectories stayed stable in peaceful times, they dropped with even a slight increase in conflict and were “almost invariably negative” in high-conflict zones, the authors found.

Pringle said they were somewhat surprised that conflict intensity wasn’t correlated with dips in wild animals. The numbers don’t suggest why, and Pringle said understanding these dynamics will take more research with larger data sets. But he and Daskin have some theories.

“Our interpretation is that conflict destabilizes everything. When people don’t feel secure, institutions start to break down, livelihoods start to be disrupted,” Pringle said. Yet intense conflict may provide a buffer for wildlife because “people evacuate. People don’t hang around and go set snares in the forest.”

Cinereous vultures on a rice paddy in South Korea near the demilitarized zone with North Korea. The area has become a nearly untouched nature refuge. (Jeon Heon-Kyun/European Pressphoto Agency)

The researchers emphasized that their findings were not limited to gloom. The only cases of extinction in the areas they studied took place in the Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve in Uganda, where giraffes and two species of antelope vanished between 1983 and 1995.

“War is awful for people. It’s bad for wildlife. But it’s not so cataclysmically bad that we should be giving up on anything,” Pringle said. “In fact, there are great opportunities for restoration.”

He and Daskin hope their findings can help governments and wildlife organizations better predict and mitigate the influence of conflict on wildlife. Both point to the place where they do work — Gorongosa National Park — as an example. It lost about 90 percent of its wildlife during the war that ended in 1992, but it’s now back to “about 80 percent of the prewar populations,” Daskin said.

“That’s been achieved not just by trucking in large numbers of animals from other protected areas, as has often been highlighted, but by creating the conditions in the local region for conservation to be possible,” Daskin said. “It’s an excellent case study in what can happen after the conflict.”

Read more:

30 years after Chernobyl disaster, camera study captures a wildlife wonderland

These heroic rats detect land mines. Now they might help save an endangered animal.

A rhino at a French zoo was killed for his horn. Could that happen here?

Two lions survived a circus, only to be killed and mutilated in a sanctuary

Elephant poachers are even deadlier than we knew

Mass shootings do not reflect human nature

by David Cantor

In the aftermath of mass murders, as in Las Vegas, we constantly hear that killing others arises from human nature. Filmmaker Ken Burns stated in his “Fresh Air” interview about his recent release on the Vietnam War, “War is human nature in spades.”

Yet, during my 28 years studying human beings’ killing of others, I discovered this from the leading expert on training human beings to kill in war, psychologist Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, in “On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society,” “[D]espite an unbroken tradition of violence and war, man is not by nature a killer.” Grossman invokes findings that even with military training and indoctrination, many soldiers deliberately fire over the enemy’s head.

As consistently indicated in a great many sources on morality in human beings and other animals, we see human nature in the altruistic, protective, compassionate, and cooperative behavior that takes hold in the aftermath of mass murder, in mass resistance to war, and in spontaneous celebration of war’s end.

This distinction is crucial for understanding and preventing violence and murder and for responding to perpetrators. If killing were natural, we would not collectively be so horrified by it. Maybe it would be OK for authorities to “lie us into war” if “we” could benefit at the expense of “them.” Instead, we experience moral injury from our representative government’s promoting official violence while demonizing killers acting on their own.

We reward and celebrate peacemakers and officers who make arrests without killing or injuring the accused. We teach children how to get along with other human beings, not how to kill them because it is “natural” to do so.

For killing to manifest an animal’s biological nature, the animal must have body parts adapted to killing other animals and to protecting against prospective victims’ defenses. It helps to have thick, tough skin; long, hard claws and powerful muscles for wielding them; long fangs and strong jaw and head muscles to sink them between a victim’s vertebrae; back and limbs especially suited to pouncing and chasing.

Obviously, human beings do not possess such physical traits.

As detailed in “The Comparative Anatomy of Eating” by Milton R. Mills, M.D., human beings have none of the anatomical or physiological traits that define animals who evolved in nature to kill other animals – the above plus an omnivore’s or carnivore’s dentition, saliva, and digestive tract. In nature, killing is mostly for eating. No naturally occurring human “equipment” correlates with that function.

Humans evolved as plant-foraging apes on the African savanna, with color vision good for distinguishing a great variety of edible leaves, fruits, berries, flowers, and other plants that eventually led to what we call “produce” when our species began living unnaturally through agriculture; versatile digits and nails adapted to picking, plucking, peeling; teeth good for tearing and grinding plants – not for ripping and scarfing flesh.

Human beings’ organized killing relies on innovation, not nature – on manufactured weapons, traps, rope and, more recently, poison, electrical current, toxic fumes. For killing, our elaborate imaginative and cooperative capabilities, adapted to avoiding predation and raising families while moving about the landscape foraging for plants to eat, are distorted to plan and coordinate assaults, attacks, murders, wars, eliminationist campaigns, and executions.

Our bodies alone – our original, natural condition – aid us in spotting our natural predators, grabbing children and fleeing, defending with rocks and tree branches, not in actively planning, organizing, and setting out to kill.

In making policies and establishing practices with regard to nonhuman animals, human beings and governments typically analyze the kind of animal involved. Except that other animals’ sentience, emotions, and intelligence are denied because our innate humaneness rebels against injuring and killing.

It is peculiar indeed that we craft policies and perpetuate practices for our own species based on ignorance of such a basic fact of our animality as whether or not it is natural for us to kill.

A native Chestnut Hiller and 1973 graduate of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, David Cantor is founder and director of Responsible Policies for Animals, in Glenside – www.RPAforAll.org.