Climate Crisis: Visualizing the Effects of Climate Change

future-summer-heat-20140709-001Climate Change means more than just on average hotter temperatures year round. There are also numerous consequences for sea levels, glaciers, weather patterns, weather stability, crop growth, fisheries, wildlife, forest fires, disease, parasites, rivers and fresh water tables. Explaining it can be a challenge, which is why visual tools like tables, maps and charts are so very useful.

Unfortunately, these too can seem bland and technocratic, and fail to capture the true extent and critical nature of Climate Change. Luckily, this past summer, a season that has been marked by uncharacteristically cool and hot temperatures, two particularly useful visual aids have been produced that seek to remedy this. By combining data-driven predictions with aids that are both personal and global in outlook, they bring the consequences of Climate Change home.

1001-blistering-summersThe first is known as 1001 Blistering Future Summers, a tool produced by the Princeton-based research and journalist organization Climate Central. This interactive map illustrates much hotter summers will become by the end of the century if nothing is done to stem global warming. Users simply type in the name of their hometown and the map compares current temperatures in their town to how high they will be and finds the geographic equivalent.

On average, according to Climate Central, daytime summer temperatures will be 4 to 6° Celsius (7 to 10° Fahrenheit) warmer across U.S. cities. That translates to most cities in the U.S. feeling like Florida or Texas feel in the summer today. For example, in the future, Boston will feel like North Miami Beach. And Las Vegas, where temperatures are projected to an average of 111 degrees, will feel more like Saudi Arabia.

dynamics_ccAs you can imagine, changes like these will have drastic effects that go far beyond scorching summers and inflated AC bills. Furthermore, when one considers the changes in a global context, and they will be disproportionately felt, they become even more disconcerting. And that is where the series of maps, collectively known as the “human dynamics of climate change”, come into play.

Developed by the U.K. Met Office (the official British weather forecast service) with the U.K. Foreign Office and several universities, they start with a “present-day” picture map – which shows trade in various commodities (wheat, maize, etc), important areas for fishing, routes for shipping and air freight, and regions with high degrees of water stress and political fragility.

dynamics_ccwThen the maps get into specific issues, based on climate forecasts for 2100 that assume that nothing will be done to stop global warming. You can see, for example, how higher temperatures could increase demand for irrigation water; how parts of the world could see increases and decreases in water run-off into rivers; how different areas are set for more flooding; and how the warmest days in Europe, parts of Asia, and North America are projected to be 6°C warmer.

The poster also has summaries for each region of the world. North Africa, for instance, “is projected to see some of the largest increases in the number of drought days and decreases in average annual water run-off.” North America, meanwhile, is forecast to see an increase in the number of drought days, increasing temperatures on its warmest days, and, depending on the region, both increases and decreases in river flooding.

climate-changeThe overall impression is one of flux, with changing temperatures also resulting in vast changes to systems that human beings heavily rely on. This is the most frightening aspect of Climate Change, since it will mean that governments around the world will be forced to cooperate extensively to adapt to changes and make do with less. And in most cases, the odds of this aren’t good.

For instance,the Indu River, a major waterway that provides Pakistan and India with extensive irrigation, originates in Pakistan. Should this country choose to board the river to get more use out of its waters, India would certainly attempt to intervene to prevent the loss of precious water flowing to their farmers down river. This scenario would very easily escalate into full-scale war, with nuclear arsenals coming into play.

climate_changetideThe Yangtze, China’s greatest river, similarly originates in territory that the country considers unstable – i.e. the Tibetan Plateau. Should water from this river prove scarcer in the future, control and repression surrounding its source is likely to increase. And when one considers that the Arab Spring was in large part motivated by food price spikes in 2010 – itself the result of Climate Change – the potential for incendiary action becomes increasingly clear.

And Europe is also likely experience significant changes due to the melting of the Greenland’s glaciers. With runoff from these glaciers bleeding into the North Atlantic, the Gulf Stream will be disrupted, resulting in Europe experiencing a string of very cold winters and dry summers. This in turn is likely to have a drastic effect on Europe’s food production, with predictable social and economic consequences.

Getting people to understand this is difficult, since most crises don’t seem real until they are upon us. However, the more we can drive home the consequences by putting into a personal, relatable format – not to mention a big-picture format – the more we can expect people to make informed choices and changes.

Sources: fastcoexist.com, (2), climatecentral.org, metoffice.gov.uk

Drone Wars: Bigger, Badder, and Deadlier

UAVsIn their quest to “unman the front the lines”, and maintain drone superiority over other states, the US armed forces have been working on a series of designs that will one day replace their air fleet of Raptors and Predators. Given that potential rivals, like Iran and China, are actively imitating aspects of these designs in an added incentive, forcing military planners to think bigger and bolder.

Consider the MQ-4C Triton Unmanned Aerial System (UAS), a jet-powered drone that is the size of a Boeing 757 passenger jet. Developed by Northrop Grumman and measuring some 40 meters (130 feet) from wingtip to wingtip, this “super drone” is intended to replace the US Navy’s fleet of RQ-4 Global Hawks, a series of unmanned aerial vehicles that have been in service since the late 90’s.

Triton_droneThanks to a sensor suite that supplies a 360-degree view at a radius of over 3700 kms (2,300 miles), the Triton can provide high-altitude, real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) at heights and distances in excess of any of its competitors. In addition, the drone possess unique de-icing and lightning protection capabilities, allowing to plunge through the clouds to get a closer view at surface ships.

And although Triton has a higher degree of autonomy than the most autonomous drones, operators on the ground are still relied upon to obtain high-resolution imagery, use radar for target detection and provide information-sharing capabilities to other military units. Thus far, Triton has completed flights up to 9.4 hours at altitudes of 15,250 meters (50,000 feet) at the company’s manufacturing facility in Palmdale, California.

?????????????????????????????????Mike Mackey, Northrop Grumman’s Triton UAS program director, had the following to say in a statement:

During surveillance missions using Triton, Navy operators may spot a target of interest and order the aircraft to a lower altitude to make positive identification. The wing’s strength allows the aircraft to safely descend, sometimes through weather patterns, to complete this maneuver.

Under an initial contract of $1.16 billion in 2008, the Navy has ordered 68 of the MQ-4C Triton drones with expected delivery in 2017. Check out the video of the Triton during its most recent test flight below:


But of course, this jetliner-sized customer is just one of many enhancements the US armed forces is planning on making to its drone army. Another is the jet-powered, long-range attack drone that is a planned replacement for the aging MQ-1 Predator system. It’s known as the Avenger (alternately the MQ-1 Predator C), a next-generation unmanned aerial vehicle that has a range of close to 3000 kms (1800 miles).

Designed by General Atomics, the Avenger is designed with Afghanistan in mind; or rather, the planned US withdrawal by the end 0f 2014. Given the ongoing CIA anti-terrorism operations in neighboring Pakistan are expected to continue, and airstrips in Afghanistan will no longer be available, the drones they use will need to have significant range.

(c) Kollected Pty Ltd.

The Avenger prototype made its first test flight in 2009, and after a new round of tests completed last month, is now operationally ready. Based on the company’s more well-known MQ-9 Reaper drone, Avenger is designed to perform high-speed, long-endurance surveillance or strike missions, flying up to 800 kms (500 mph) at a maximum of 15,250 meters (50,000 feet) for as long as 18 hours.

Compared to its earlier prototype, the Avenger’s fuselage has been increased by four feet to accommodate larger payloads and more fuel, allowing for extended missions. It can carry up to 1000 kilograms (3,500 pounds) internally, and its wingspan is capable of carrying weapons as large as a 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and a full-compliment of Hellfire missiles.

Avenger_drone1Switching from propeller-driven drones to jets will allow the CIA to continue its Pakistan strikes from a more distant base if the U.S. is forced to withdraw entirely from neighboring Afghanistan. And according to a recent Los Angeles Times report, the Obama administration is actively making contingency plans to maintain surveillance and attacks in northwest Pakistan as part of its security agreement with Afghanistan.

The opportunity to close the gap between the need to act quickly and operating from a further distance with technology isn’t lost on the US military, or the company behind the Avenger. Frank Pace, president of the Aircraft Systems Group at General Atomics, said in a recent statement:

Avenger provides the right capabilities for the right cost at the right time and is operationally ready today. This aircraft offers unique advantages in terms of performance, cost, timescale, and adaptability that are unmatched by any other UAS in its class.

??????????????????????????????What’s more, one can tell by simply looking at the streamlined fuselage and softer contours that stealth is part of the package. By reducing the drone’s radar cross-section (RCS) and applying radar-absorbing materials, next-generation drone fleets will also be mimicking fifth-generation fighter craft. Perhaps we can expect aerial duels between remotely-controlled fighters to follow not long after…

And of course, there’s the General Atomic’s Avenger concept video to enjoy:


Sources:
wired.com, (2)

Drone Wars: New Leaks Reveal Human Cost of Drone Strikes

drone-strikeIt would be an understatement to say that drones and UAVs are hot button issue right now. As an ongoing part of the “war on terror”, the use of remotely piloted vehicles to target terrorism suspects remain a popular one within the US, with 56% of respondents indicating that they supported it (as of Feb. 2013). However, when the matter of civilian casualties and collateral damage is introduced, the issue becomes a much stickier one.

What’s more, it is becoming increasingly evident that how the drone program is being presented is subject to spin and skewing. Much like the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs, it is in the Obama administration’s and the Pentagon’s best interest to present the issue in terms of “hunting terrorists” while categorically avoiding any mention of the real costs involved. And thanks to recent revelations, these efforts may prove to be more difficult in the future.

drone_mapIt was just over weeks ago, on July 22nd, that London’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism released a leaked Pakistani report that detailed numerous civilian casualties by drone strikes in the country’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). For years now, obtaining information about civilian casualties caused by US and NATO strikes in this region has been incredibly difficult – information which these documents have now provided.

The 12-page dossier was compiled for the the authorities in the tribal areas, the Bureau notes, and investigates 75 CIA drone strikes and five attacks by NATO in the region conducted between 2006 and 2009. According to the document, 746 people were killed in the strategic attacks. At least 147 of the victims were civilians, and 94 were children.

on April 3, 2009 in Now Zad in Helmand province, Afghanistan.This directly contradicts inquired made by the United Nations, which began investigating the legality of the drone program and strikes last year. According to the U.N.’s special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights (Ben Emmerson) Pakistan then claimed at least 400 civilians had been killed in U.S. strikes in the country since 2006. Quite the discrepancy.

And while a majority of other tallies relied on media reports of drone strikes, the FATA list was compiled by government officials who were sent out to investigate damage firsthand in the wake of attacks. According to the Bureau, on several occasions officials registered different casualty rates than the media outlets reported.

Drone-strike-damageThe Bureau went on record to say that there were gaps in the information provided, like why none of the names of the casualties were provided, or why civilian casualties were not provided for 2009, the last year covered in the report. It is possible that logistical factors played a role, such as the lack of accurate census data in the FATA region, and that casualty figures for the year 2009 were difficult to obtain due to the acceleration of drone strikes during that year.

It is this last aspect which is likely to give many pause, since it was the decision of the outgoing Bush administration to intensify drone strikes during the last few months of his presidency, a decision which the Obama administration adopted and maintained. And the list provided only shows a gap between the official numbers and those obtained on the ground during the years of 2006 and 2009, when the strikes began.

drone_loadoutWhat are we to make then of the years running from 2009 to 2013, where drone strikes in the western region of Pakistan became a much more common occurrence and the body count – civilian or otherwise – can only be expected to have escalated? This could another reason that figures were omitted from 2009, which is that the Pakistani government was concerned that they might spark outrage if they were to ever be made public.

However, that is all speculation at this point, and more time and investigation are certainly needed to determine what the cost in human terms has been. One thing is for sure though, the use of drones in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia are likely to become increasingly controversial as more information emerges and an accurate picture of the death toll is presented.

drone_map1For years now, the US government has denied that large civilian casualty counts exist, but it continues to withhold the numbers. But some claim those numbers will not shed any real light even if they are released, since it is still not clear how the US forces distinguish between civilians and “militants” or “combatants”.

In a major speech on national security in May 2013, Obama strongly defended the drone program but said the administration would codify the process it goes through before ordering attacks and would work with Congress to create more oversight. However, no promises were made about the number of deaths leading up to this declaration, whether or not those facts and figured would be made public, and strikes continue to take place which violate this new mandate.

obama_dronesAs the saying goes, “the first casualty of war is the truth”. And without much effort, one can easily draw parallels between this latest phase in the “war on terror” to the vagaries of Iraq, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, where information was withheld, numbers debated and legalities issued in order to justify highly questionable acts.

And for those old enough to remember, the specter of Vietnam is also apparent here. Then, as now, the public is forced to rely on leaked information and confidential informants simply because the official stories being issued by their government are full of discrepancies, denials, and apparent fabrications. One would think we had learned something in the last five decades, but apparently not!

Sources: huffingtonpost.com, thebureauinvestigates.com

Drone Wars: X-47B Makes First Carrier Landing!

X47B_arrested_landing_610x407In any developmental milestone, the X-47B made its first arrested landing aboard an aircraft carrier yesterday. This latest test, which comes after a successful arrested landing on an airstrip and a successful deployment from an aircraft carrier, may help signal a new era for the use of unmanned aircraft in military operations.

For months now, the US Navy has been testing the Unmanned Aerial Combat Air System – the first drone aircraft that requires only minimal human intervention – pushing the boundaries in the hopes of determining how far the new autonomous air system can go. And with this latest landing, they just proved that the X-47B is capable of being deployed and landing at sea.

nimitz-class-carrier-640x424Aircraft landings on a carrier are a tricky endeavor even for experienced pilots, as the ship’s flight deck is hardly spacious, and rises, falls, and sways with the ocean waves. To stop their forward momentum in the shortest distance possible, carrier aircraft have a hook on the underside of the fuselage that latches onto cables stretched across the flight deck. This means that pilots need to land precisely to grab the hook and come to a complete stop in time.

The test flight began when the drone took off from the Naval Air Station at Patuxent River, Md. and then flew to meet the USS George H.W. Bush at sea, a flight which took 35 minutes. Upon reaching the carrier, the same which it took off from this past May, it touched down and caught the 3 wire with its tailhook at a speed of 145 knots, coming to a dead stop in less than 350 feet. After the first landing, it was launched from the Bush’s catapult and then made a second arrested landing.

X-47BThe Navy tweeted about the success shortly after it happened, and Ray Mabus – Secretary of the Navy – followed that up with a press statement:

The operational unmanned aircraft soon to be developed have the opportunity to radically change the way presence and combat power are delivered from our aircraft carriers.

Naturally, there is still plenty of testing likely to be done before such drones can be considered ready to go into combat zones. For example, perhaps, automated drone-to-drone refueling is scheduled for some time in 2014, another aspect of the UCAS the Navy is determined to try before deploying them in actual operations. Still, for fans and critics alike, this was a major step.

Which brings us to the darker side of this latest news. For many, a fleet of semi or fully-automated drones is a specter that induces serious terror. Earlier this year, the Obama administration sought to allay fears about the development of the X-47 and the ongoing use of UAVs in combat operations by claiming that steps would be taken to ensure that when it came to life and death decisions, a human would always be at the helm.

drone_mapBut of course, promises have been broken when it comes to the use of drones, which doesn’t inspire confidence here. Just eight days after the Obama Administration promised to cease clandestine operations where drones were used by the CIA to conduct operations in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, one such drone was used to kill Wali ur-Rehman – the second in command of the Pakistani Taliban. This was a direct violation of Obama’s promise that UAVs would be used solely against Al-Qaeda and other known anti-US terrorist groups outside of Afghanistan.

What’s more, the development of unmanned drones that are able to function with even less in the way of human oversight has only added to many people’s fear about how, where, and against whom these drones will be used. Much has gone on that the public is now aware of thanks to the fact that only a handful of people are needed to control them from remote locations. If human agency is further removed, what will this mean for oversight, transparency, and ensuring they are not turned on their own citizens?

UAVsBut of course, it is important to point out that the X-47B is but an experimental precursor to actual production models of a design that’s yet to be determined. At this point, it is not farfetched to assume that preventative measures will be taken to ensure that no autonomous drone will ever be capable of firing its weapons without permission from someone in the chain of command, or that human control will still be needed during combat phases of an operation. Considering the potential for harm and the controversy involved, it simply makes sense.

But of course, when it comes to issues like these the words “trust us” and “don’t worry” are too often applied by those spearheading the development. Much like domestic surveillance and national security matters, concerned citizens are simply unwilling to accept the explanation that “this will never be used for evil” anymore. At this juncture, the public must stay involved and apprised, and measures instituted from the very beginning.

And be sure to check out this video of the X-47B making its first arrested landing. Regardless of the implications of this latest flight, you have to admit that it was pretty impressive:


Source:
news.cnet.com

Drone Wars: New Revelations and Broken Promises

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????People concerned about the use of drones might remember fondly how President Obama, in a speech held late last month, promised that the “drone surge” was effectively at an end. As it turns out, it took the President and his administration only eight days to break that promise. In a new strike, which killed four people it has been made clear that the clandestine war continues.

In Obama’s speech, he contended that “Beyond the Afghan theater, we only target al-Qaida and its associated forces, and even then, the use of drones is heavily constrained.” Among those constraints are the use of detainment instead of execution, and “respect for state sovereignty”. Perhaps most importantly, Obama underscored the drones will for now on only target “terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people.”

(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)(Released)To clarify this point, the White House even released a fact sheet clarifying whom it will and will not kill in the future. It stated that:

[T]he United States will use lethal force only against a target that poses a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons. It is simply not the case that all terrorists pose a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons; if a terrorist does not pose such a threat, the United States will not use lethal force.

However, this latest strike, which took out Wali ur-Rehman – the second in command of the Pakistani Taliban – and three other members shows that this is anything but the case. Rehman and his ilk are not members of Al-Qaeda, nor do they represent a terrorist group that is targeting the US and its citizens. Most importantly, they are not operating inside Afghanistan.

talibanFact is, Rehman and his compatriots pose a threat to only Pakistan, which is involved in an ongoing war with fundamentalist factions in its western provinces. They are the enemies of the Pakistani state, which is a nominal ally in the war on terror and with the war in Afghanistan. This makes his execution at the hands of the US a matter of protecting political and strategic interests, not anti-terrorism.

What’s more, there are indications that this strike may have been counterproductive for Pakistan. Pakistani military sources told Reuters in December that Rehman was “a more pragmatic” leader than incumbent Hakimullah Mehsud, with whom Rehman was said to be feuding. While Rehman was said to pursue reconciliation with the Pakistani government, the Pakistani military officers speculated that his rise “might lead to more attacks across the border in Afghanistan” on U.S.-led forces.

drone_warSo any way you slice it, this latest drone strike was a clandestine operation made by a government that claimed to be finished with such things. Lucky for us, there may be a way to gleam the truth about the secret history of the drone war and their ongoing use as tools of government policy.

As it turns out, there are ways to hack and record drone video feeds to see what they see right before they unleash death and destruction. And in an ironic twist, much of the credit for this revelation may go to a group of Iraqi insurgents. In 2008, U.S. troops in Iraq declared that Shi’ite insurgents had figured out how to tap and record video feeds from overhead American drones.

Hackers-With-An-AgendaBuilding on this, Josh Begley, a 28-year-old NYU grad student, is creating a software application that will allow anyone with basic coding skills to organize, analyze and visualize drone-strike data from Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia dating back to 2002. Based on information collected by the U.K. Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the Applicable Programing Interface (API) can be used to create interactive Websites that elaborate on the information and give it context.

The drone API, which is actually Begley’s master’s thesis, is not his first foray into capturing robot-attack data. His @dronestream Twitter feed documents all reported UAV attacks. Last year Begley created an iPhone app that tracks drone strikes, but Apple rejected it. Other developers have jumped on the bandwagon, too. London-based artist James Bridle runs a Tumblr blog that matches overhead satellite imagery to reports of drone attacks.

drone_target_1In an interview with Wired’s Danger Room, Begley explained that the purpose behind this software is the desire to bridge the “empathy gap” between Western audiences and drone-attack victims:

To Americans like me, what may have previously been blank spots on the map all of a sudden have complex stories, voices of their own. From 30,000 feet it might just be cars and buildings. But there are people in them. People who live under the drones we fly.

The public release of Begley’s API, which took five months to complete, is timed to coincide with the White House-promoted National Day of Civic Hacking on June 1. Hacking Day aims to “liberate government data for coders and entrepreneurs.” The ACLU, for one, is commemorating the event with an API linked to the group’s vast database of documents related to U.S.-sanctioned torture of terror suspects.

drone_map1After twelve years of drone strikes and promises that don’t appear to be being honored, the arrival of this app might just be what the public needs. And even though software giants like Apple may not be interested in developing it further, there are no shortages of talented individuals, professional hackers and hobby labs that will take up the cause.

It wouldn’t be too farfetched to think that a plethora of websites will begin to emerge that can track, monitor, and record all drone strikes, perhaps even as they happen. And combined with recent revelations about state-run data mining operations and software that is being designed to combat it, private citizens may be able to truly fight back against clandestine operations and government surveillance.

Sources: Wired.com, (2)

Climate Crisis: India Flood Death Toll Passes 1,000

india-floodIn recent days, my attention has been pretty firmly fixed on Alberta and the Canadian Priaries, due to the flooding that’s been taking place and forced the evacuation of 175,000 people – some of whom I’m related to. However, this morning I learned that other regions of the world, one’s which are far more accustomed to natural disasters, are also being effected, and more severely so.

This story comes from India, where once again, unpredictable weather patterns are causing a mass displacement of human beings. Every year, people living on the subcontinent are forced to deal with torrential rains – monsoons – which lead to overflowing river banks. However, in recent years, the unpredictable nature of these patterns have become a severe source of death, displacement and property damage.

india-flood4The province of Uttarakhand is home to some of India’s holiest shrines, and is also one of many parts of India where the Ganges river traverses. During the Monsoon’s that come in late summer, flooding is common and even depended on for the sake of farming. Every year, hundreds of thousands of devout Hindus make the pilgrimage to Uttarakhand during the summer months hoping to get in before the rains begin.

However, this year the monsoon rains arrived early, catching hundreds of thousands of tourists, pilgrims and local residents of guard. Tens of thousands of people remained stranded in high mountain passes and temple towns after the torrential rains washed away homes and roads and triggered landslides that cut off communication links with large parts of the state nearly a week ago.

india-flood1About 10,000 army and paramilitary troops, members of the disaster management agency and volunteers have taken part in six days of rescue and relief efforts. However, helicopter rescue efforts – which have been an essential part of the rescue effort so far – were suspended when dense fog descended on the Himalayan region this Sunday. Luckily, the army began resorting to building makeshift bridges and people were being rescued by road.

All told, some 80,000 people by road and air, according to a state government spokesman. The exact number of people who died in the heavy downpours and flooding of the Ganges River and its tributaries won’t be known until rescue efforts end. However, the state’s chief minister told reporters late on Saturday that the death toll had reached one-thousand.

india-flood2The rains in Uttarakhand were said to have been the heaviest in nearly 80 years and more rain is expected in the worst-hit districts of Chamoli and Uttarkashi over the next few days. According to meteorologists, an unusual clash of weather systems from opposite directions is to blame, as the monsoon advancing towards the west of South Asia combined with westerly winds for an unusually long time and with an extraordinary intensity, resulting in days of torrential rains.

And while India is no stranger to floods – over 3 million people were displaced when the Kosi river in Bihar burst its banks in 2008 – this year’s came as a shock due to their sudden appearance and intensity. Not only were the rains were six times more forceful than usual, they came on the heels of one of the weakest monsoon’s in 40 years, which left crops stricken by drought. Still, climate change experts are anything but surprises.

india-flood3In its fourth assessment report in 2007, the Inter- Government Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted that more extreme droughts, floods, and storms, would become commonplace in the future, and that these intense weather conditions would follow in close succession to each other, often in the same areas. In addition to this latest flood, several other volatile weather patterns predicted by the IPCC are beginning to show in India.

In the northwest alone, the water table is falling by about 1.6 inches per year, according to the GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) mission. At least half of India’s precipitation comes from the annual monsoon rains, and as they become increasingly diminished and unpredictable, the country faces an imminent threat of extreme water shortages.

Countries_by_population_density.svgChanging rainfall patterns aren’t the only climate- change effect threatening India’s water supply: Himalayan glaciers — the source for the many Indian rivers such as the Ganges — are melting at a rapid rate as a result of warmer temperatures. And the Doni river, whose water many consider no longer fit for human consumption, is gaining notoriety for its unpredictable nature — flash floods one day, barely a trickle the next.

This is just another indication of the effects Climate Change is having around the world. In developing regions of the world, especially those that are closer to the equator, rising temperatures mean weather systems that vacillate between drought and heavy rains, which has a devastating effect on agriculture. The combination of dry weather and powerful storms causes topsoil, the lifeblood of farming, to grow dry and then wash away.

India-Pakistan_Borderlands_at_NightWhat’s more, the majority of humanity lives in this region, which encompasses Central America, the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa,  the Middle East, South Asia and China. And in areas like the Indo-Gangetic Plain –  the densely-populated river valley that stretches from Pakistan to northern India – the combination of drought and floods will lead to hundreds of millions of deaths and refugees.

Factor in the number of deaths and displacements caused by rising tides and the effect on coastal regions, and you see why Climate Change experts are so very concerned about the problem. Not only is the environment and our way of life at stake here, our very existence is as well. The best we can hope for right now is that this season of crisis abates so we can get to the crucial work of getting our act together and developing cleaner ways of living.

And will somebody please start deploying those artificial trees and other carbon capture operations!

Sources: cbc.ca, bbc.co.uk, time.com

Drone Wars: New Promises, Same Problems

(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)(Released)The practice of using UAV’s as part of a targeted strategy in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen has become so frequent that its come to characterize the Obama administration’s handling of the “War on Terror”. Reaction to this policy has been increasingly critical, due in no small part to unanswered questions surrounding civilian death tolls and the rapid escalation of deployment. In response, the Obama administration announced this past week that the surge is at an end.

In a speech made to the National Defense University in Washington on Thursday, Obama emphasized that from now on, the use of UAV’s would be in the hand of the military instead of clandestine intelligence organizations such as the CIA. He also indicated that the rules for launching the strikes would be stricter. For instance, there must be a “near certainty” that no civilians will be killed, and the strikes are to become less frequent.

predator_profileWhile Obama would not declare an end to the war on terrorism, he did offer to work with Congress to constrain some of his own authorities for waging it, which may include the creation of a court modeled on the secretive one used by the NSA to oversea the surveillance of suspected foreign agents. He also expressed a preference to constrain “and ultimately repeal” the broad latitude of warmaking powers granted in the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF), an act that was created in 2001 by the Bush administration which is considered the wellspring of the “War on Terror”.

And above all, issues of legality are to take a backseat to the moral and ethical implications raised by ongoing use. Or as he put it: “To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance.”

Naturally, a great many questions remain. In addition to how drones will be used in the years to come to combat terrorism and militants, there’s also questions surrounding their use thus far. Despite pledges made by Obama that changes will be made, the history of the program is still shrouded in mystery. Fittingly, Bloomberg Businessweek created a map to serve as a reminder of the scope of that program, calling it the first ever “comprehensive compilation of all known lethal U.S. drone attacks.”

drone_map

It should be noted though that the numbers represent an estimate which were compiled with the help of the nonprofit Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Sources in Washington apparently offer a wide range of numbers, and the State Department remains hush hush on the issue of casualties. However, the estimates presented in this infographic still present a stark and sobering picture:

  • Yemen: at least 552 killed between 2002 and 2013. The site of the first ever drone strike in 2002.
  • Pakistan: at least 2,561 killed between 2004 and 2013.
  • Somalia: at least 23 killed between 2011 and 2012.

drone_map1Naturally, it is hoped that Obama’s promise to curb the use of drones represents a renewed commitment to comply with international law, treaties and human rights. However, what was apparently missing from the speech was an indication about how easy it will be to get information about strikes that are made in the future. According to the New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti, who provided live analysis of the speech, Obama’s speech didn’t address the issue:

One of the big outstanding questions is just how transparent the Obama administration will be about drone strikes in the future. Will administration officials begin to publicly confirm strikes after they happen?

There was no mention of this in the speech, and it is telling that the president did not mention the C.I.A. at all. It seems quite certain that past operations in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere are not going to be declassified anytime soon.

Also, moving operations from the C.I.A. to the Pentagon does not automatically mean that the strikes will be publicly discussed. The Pentagon is carrying out a secret drone program in Yemen right now, and it is very difficult to get information about those operations.

So… promises to curb the use of drones have been made, as well as promises to create some kind of oversight for future operations. And this does seem consistent with many of the criticisms made about the ongoing war on terrorism, specifically the Bush administrations handling of it and how his reliance on special executive powers were unlawful and unconstitutional.

But until such time as information on how these strikes occur and who is being killed, the issue will remain a contentious and divisive one. So long as governments can wage war with automated or remote machinery and kill people without transparency and in secrecy, will this not constitute a form of illegal – or at the very least, a very opaque – warfare?

Sources: wired.com, fastcoexist.com, businessweek.com