Climate change: swift political action can avert a carbon dioxide crisis – Observer editorial

Carbon dioxide levels have reached an all-time high. But there is some hope if governments take the figures seriously

The news that concentrations of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere reached a level of 400 parts per million last week might not appear to have immediate significance. The level is only a couple of units higher than last year, after all. Yet the development has undoubted importance.

With the realisation that carbon dioxide levels have achieved that symbolic 400ppm figure, it is now clear that two decades of warnings from scientists have fallen on deaf ears and that our leaders have failed completely to curtail rising outputs of greenhouse gases across the world. Indeed, they have allowed them to accelerate.

In the 1960s, levels rose at 0.7ppm a year. Today, they rise at 2.1ppm, as more and more nations become industrialised and increase outputs from their factories and power plants. As a result, the most conservative of scientific calculations suggest Earth now faces a 50-50 risk of a 2C rise in global temperatures by the end of the century. In fact, most researchers now believe the increase is more likely to reach 3 to 5C. Spreading deserts, rising sea levels and increasingly erratic violent storms look destined to blight our planet.

Earth has not had 400ppm of carbon dioxide in its atmosphere for millions of years. When it did, the Arctic was ice-free and sea levels were 40 metres higher. Our species has therefore never lived in a world that will be as hot as the one we are creating for our children and grandchildren. Civilisation rests on the happy fact that since the last ice age, the planet’s climate has been cool and stable, giving ancient farmers a chance to experiment with the growing of grasses and plants and so create the crops that now sustain billions of humans. All that is set to change, as temperatures rise, deserts extend and life-sustaining weather patterns are disrupted. Hundreds of millions of people would then be rendered homeless.

It is an apocalyptic vision. Yet it is not quite our destiny. There are signs from China and the US – the two nations responsible for most of Earth’s carbon dioxide output – that they are beginning to appreciate the dangers. American carbon dioxide outputs have dropped while China recently acknowledged it could not sustain its current levels of industrialisation without giving greater consideration to the environment. Equally, there are signs that low-carbon technology – new generation wind, tide and wave devices and carbon capture and storage systems – is beginning to be adopted in many nations. Given time, renewables could wean us from our oil, gas and coal dependency, cut carbon outputs and, in the process, give Britain an industrial boost. With our North Sea oil expertise and high winds and strong seas, we have the perfect credentials for developing a healthy, low-carbon power industry.

The problem is time. The government continues to send mixed signals about its commitment to renewable energy and so deters investment. A lull in outputs is now badly needed. If politicians can be made to understand that message and act at last, we have a chance. Hence the importance of highlighting the 400ppm figure reached last week.

Source: The Observer


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Bahrain Online founder Ali Abdulemam breaks silence after escape to UK

Bahrain blogger has been in hiding since being sentenced in absentia in 2011 to 15 years in prison for ‘plotting a coup’

On 18 March 2011 – in the middle of the Arab spring – the home of the prominent Bahraini blogger and human rights activist Ali Abdulemam was raided by security forces, along with those of fellow protesters who had taken to the streets to call for reform.

Abdulemam was not at home.

But a few months later, while on the run, he was tried in absentia by a military court and sentenced to 15 years in prison for “plotting a coup”.

In hiding ever since, he arrived in the UK a month ago, after a dramatic escape from Bahrain. In his first engagement since disappearing from public view, Abdulemam will speak next week at the Oslo Freedom Forum.

Now, he has broken his silence for the first time to speak to the Guardian, describing his treatment and his two years in hiding before being smuggled out of Bahrain in a secret compartment in a car. From Saudi Arabia, he went to Kuwait by land, where fishermen smuggled him into Iraq.

Aged 35, the former internet technology engineer with Gulf Air – who was fired for his high-profile activism – has not been able to contact his wife or his twin daughters since leaving Bahrain.

“I have just been waiting for the moment I could be reunited with them,” he said in his first newspaper interview since re-emerging.

It is a story that demonstrates the continuing human rights crisis in Bahrain and the price paid by those who have dared to stand up against the regime. Although victims of violations in a state ruled by a royal family from the Sunni minority have mainly come from the country’s majority Shia Muslim population, groups such as Amnesty have reported that anyone who expresses opposition to the ruling family is at risk of arrest, ill-treatment or other abuses.

Abdulemam launched the Bahrain Online blog in 1998, but began writing under his own name in 2001 amid promises of reform in the Gulf monarchy.

“I started using my own name because I wanted people to know it was a real person, a real activist behind it. I wanted to encourage people to think about reform and human rights,” he said.

Attacked by the local media, who called for his arrest for “encouraging sectarianism” and “insulting the king” – charges he adamantly denies – he was first arrested in 2005. “They accused me of spreading false news.”

However, his real problems began in 2010, in the runup to the Arab spring.

During a government crackdown on activists ahead of parliamentary elections, Abdulemam was summoned to the offices of the National Security Apparatus, which announced the next day he had been arrested while trying to flee to Qatar. His website was shut down on the same day.

According to Human Rights Watch: “The next Mr Abdulemam’s family heard of him was from a government news agency’s story, reporting that prosecutors were questioning Mr Abdulemam in a ‘terrorist network’ investigation. Mr Abdulemam, the account continued, had been ‘diffusing fabricated and malicious news on Bahrain’ and receiving funding from a London-based ‘terror mastermind’.”

None of this was true.

In any case, hHe did not find out the charges against him for weeks, during which time he says he was tortured and abused, and told to sign a false confession. “They said I was part of an organisation planning to bring down the state,” he told the Guardian from an undisclosed location in the UK.

“They didn’t tell me the charge until two days before my court appearance. I was not allowed a lawyer and when I tried to speak the prosecutor would not accept my answers.”

Held for five and a half months with other activists, he was released in February 2011 amid mounting demonstrations in the capital Manama calling for reform and the release of political prisoners that led Bahrain’s royal family to briefly attempt to negotiate an end to the political crisis.

“We had no access to the media but the authorities arranged visits for us and one of the people held with me saw in a newspaper that we were going to be released the day before. They let me go at midnight.” By 3pm the next day he was at Manama’s Pearl roundabout – the focus of the protests – and joined the demonstrations every day until police came for him again three weeks later.

“They raided my house again two days after martial law was announced, after Saudi forces came into Bahrain.”

He was not at home that night. It was the last time he saw his wife and children.

Now he feels that the world is ignoring the situation in Bahrain. “It is not that the world has forgotten Bahrain. The west and the international community has turned its back on us.

“People have died in jail. Our mosques have been damaged. People have been shot in the street. There is no justice. You see their blood in the road. The west’s response is that they see good reforms. But the reality is that people have no human rights. No civil rights.”

Source: The Guardian

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Watch out, George Osborne: Smith, Marx and even the IMF are after you

When even the IMF’s free market ideologues recoil from the UK chancellor’s austerity politics, democracy itself is at stake

George Osborne and his Treasury officials are gearing up for a fight. They’ve promised to make life difficult for the other side for the next two weeks. The unlikely opponents are the team of economists visiting from the IMF for a regular policy review.

Why has this routine meeting, which would hardly be noticed outside professional circles, become a confrontation? Because the IMF has recently dropped its support for the chancellor’s austerity policy and repeatedly urged him to rethink it. It even said he was “playing with fire”in refusing to change course.

This is an astonishing development. For in the past three decades the IMF has been the standard-bearer for austerity. Back in 1997 it even forced South Korea – with an existing budget surplus and one of the smallest public debts in the world (as a proportion of GDP) – to cut government spending. Only when the policy turned what was already the biggest recession in the country’s history into a catastrophe, with more than 100 firms going bankrupt every day for five months, did it do an embarrassing U-turn and allow a budget deficit to develop.

Given this history, being told by the IMF to go easy on austerity is like being told by the Spanish Inquisition to be more tolerant of heretics. The chancellor and his team should be worried.

If even the IMF doesn’t approve, why is the UK government persisting with a policy that is clearly not working? Or, for that matter, why is the same policy pushed through across Europe? A certain dead economist would have said it is because the government is “in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor“. Dead right.

Current policies in the UK and other European countries are really about making poor people pay for the mistakes of the rich. Millions of poor people have lost their jobs and the support they received through welfare, but how many of those top bankers who caused the crisis have suffered – except for a cancelled knighthood here and a partially returned pension pot there? If anyone has suffered in the financial industry, it is its poorer members – junior analysts who lost their jobs and tellers who are working longer hours for shrinking real wages.

In case you were wondering, it wasn’t Karl Marx who wrote the words that I quoted above. He would have never put it so crudely. His version, delivered with typical panache, was that the “executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie”. No, those damning words came from Adam Smith, the supposed patron saint of free-market economics.

To Smith and Marx, the class bias of the state was plain to see. They lived at a time when only the rich had votes (if there were elections at all) and so there were few checks on the extent to which they could dictate government policy.

With the subsequent broadening of suffrage, ultimately to every adult, the class nature of the state has been significantly diluted. The welfare state, regulations on monopoly, consumer protection, and protection of worker rights are all things that have been established only because of this political change. Democracy, despite its limitations, is in the end the only way to ensure that policies do not simply benefit the privileged few.

This is, of course, exactly why free-market economists and others who are on the side of the rich have been so negative about democracy. In the old days, free-market economists strongly opposed universal suffrage on the grounds that it would destroy capitalism: poor people would elect politicians who would appropriate the means of the rich and give handouts to the poor, they argued, completely destroying incentives for wealth creation.

Once universal suffrage was introduced, they could not openly oppose democracy. So they started criticising “politics” in general. Politicians, it was argued, would adopt policies that maximised their chances of re-election but damaged the economy – printing money, handing out favours to powerful monopolies, and increasing social welfare spending for the poor. Politicians needed to be prevented from making important policy decisions, the argument went.

On this advice, since the 1980s, many countries have ring-fenced the most important policy areas to keep politicians out. Independent central banks (such as the European Central Bank), independent regulatory agencies (such as Ofcom and Ofgem) and strict rules on government spending and deficits (such as the “balanced budget” rule) have been introduced.

In particularly difficult economic times, it was even argued, we need to insulate economic policies from politics altogether. Latin American military dictatorships were justified in such terms. The recent imposition of “technocratic” governments, made up of economists and bankers who have not been “tainted” by politics, on Greece and Italy comes from the same intellectual stable.

What free-market economists are not telling us is that the politics they want to get rid of are none other than those of democracy itself. When they say we need to insulate economic policies from politics, they are in effect advocating the castration of democracy.

The conflict surrounding austerity policies in Europe is, then, not just about figures on budget, unemployment and growth rate. It is also about the meaning of democracy.

As José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European commission, has recently recognised, the policy of austerity has “reached its limits” in terms of “political and social support”. If European leaders, including the British chancellor, keep pushing these policies against those limits, people will inevitably start asking: what is the point of democracy, when policies serve only the interest of the tiny minority at the top? This is nothing less than crunch time for democracy in Europe.

Source: Ha-Joon Chang in The Guardian


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The Layman’s Case Against Austerity

By Stephanie Kelton. Cross posted from New Economic Perspectives

Steve Kraske of The Kansas City Star recently interviewed me for a piece about austerity.  The story ran in today’s paper. It doesn’t provide much depth (unlike bloggers, journalists have strict space constraints!), so I followed up with a few comments on the Star’s website.  I thought I’d share them here, since I’m always trying to improve the way I communicate these ideas with non-economists.  So here’s my best effort to make the anti-austerity case in simple terms.

1. When we allow our economy to operate below full employment (as now), we are sacrificing trillions of dollars in lost output and income each year. We can never go back and recover it.  It is gone forever.  You’ve seen the debt clock?  Here’s the lost output clock.

2. Capitalism runs on sales. In survey after survey, we find that the Number One reason businesses are slow to hire and invest in new plant & equipment is a lack of demand for the things they produce.  Businesses hire and invest when they’re swamped with customers.  See this story in The Wall Street Journal.

3. The two decades after WWII certainly aren’t the only time that robust growth reduced the DEBT/GDP ratio.  During the late 1990s and early 2000s, the economy grew at an above average clip.  Unemployment fell to 3.7%.  Inflation remained modest.  There was a job vacancy for every job seeker in America — genuine full employment.  Because people were working, there was less spending to support the unemployed (food stamps, unemployment compensation, etc.) and more people paying income taxes. The deficit disappeared, and the national debt fell to around 40% of GDP.  So you do not need post-WWII conditions to support the argument that economic growth is the way to reduce the debt.

4. The debt/GDP ratio falls when the denominator grows faster than the numerator.  Right now, just about everyone is fixated on using austerity (raising taxes and slashing spending) to reduce the numerator (DEBT).  The problem, as Europe has kindly shown us for years, is that austerity “works” by crushing incomes, which in turn crush sales (or what we call GDP).  So instead of bringing the ratio down, austerity hampers growth, which causes deficits and debt loads torise.

5. Although virtually no one bothers to mention it, the deficit is currently falling at its fastest pace since the end of WWII.  Yes, right now in America, even before the sequester, the deficit was plummeting at a scorching rate.  Why?  Because the economy was recovering from the Great Recession.  Unemployment was falling and growth picked up to around 2.5 percent.  When people get jobs, they earn wages/salaries, pay income taxes and stop collecting unemployment.   

6. Policymakers on both sides of the political aisle are moving us in the wrong direction. The fiscal cliff and the sequester both impose austerity (tax increases and spending cuts) at a time when there are vast unused resources (labor, raw materials, excess capacity in our factories) and inflation is running below the Federal Reserve’s target.  These are exactly the wrong policies and they will hurt the economy.

7.  Saying that austerity is bad policy ≠ saying government needs to spend more money.  Businesses need customers, but the government does not have to be the one doing the buying.  We have been advocating a full payroll tax holiday (extended to the employee and the employer) for 5 years now.  That amounts to a 6.2 percent across-the-board cut in the wage bill, and the addition of almost $300/month to the take-home pay of the average worker.  Businesses need customers, and customers can be created by leaving more money in the hands of those who work for a living.  

8. We have a serious infrastructure problem in this country.  The American Society of Civil Engineers just released its2013 Report Card, and it is ugly. Our ports, roads, waterways, etc. are in serious disrepair.  This makes it more expensive for businesses to produce/ship goods, which raises U.S. prices and reduces our global competitiveness.  Meanwhile, we have millions of out-of-work construction workers and manufacturing workers — the people with exactly the kinds of skills that are needed to repair and rebuild our national infrastructure.  So we have useful work that needs to be done, millions of people who want to contribute and policymakers with no plan to connect the two.  

9. What holds us back?  Fear of the Chinese? Fear of bond vigilantes?  Fear of the ratings agencies?  Fear of becoming the next Greece?  Fear of turning into Zimbabwe?  Fear of sticking our grandchildren with a huge tax bill?  This is what they tell us as they impose austerity.  None of it — I repeat — none of it has the slightest bearing on our reality.  

10.  Final (and most important) point: The United States of America has sovereign money.  The US dollar comes from the US government.  It cannot come from anywhere else.  We can never run out of dollars or be forced into default like Greece, which does not have its own currency.  We do not need to borrow from the Chinese to do the things that we decide to do for our economy.  As long as the real resources (labor, raw materials, factory capacity) are available, the financial resources (money) can always be there.    This can be done without causing inflation as long as the additional spending does not outstrip the economy’s capacity to produce.  We can afford to cut taxes and spend more money to improve our infrastructure without burdening the next generation.  Failing to get the economy back to full employment will burden us all for years to come.


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White House warned on imminent Arctic ice death spiral

National security officials worried by rapid loss of Arctic summer sea ice overlook threat of permanent global food shortages

Senior US government officials are to be briefed at the White House this week on the danger of an ice-free Arctic in the summer within two years.

The meeting is bringing together Nasa’s acting chief scientist, Gale Allen, the director of the US National Science Foundation, Cora Marett, as well as representatives from the US Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon.

This is the latest indication that US officials are increasingly concerned about the international and domestic security implications of climate change.

Senior scientists advising the US government at the meeting include 10 Arctic specialists, including marine scientist Prof Carlos Duarte, director of the Oceans Institute at the University of Western Australia.

In early April, Duarte warned that the Arctic summer sea ice was melting at a rate faster than predicted by conventional climate models, and could be ice free as early as 2015 – rather than toward the end of the century, as the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projected in 2007. He said:

“The Arctic situation is snowballing: dangerous changes in the Arctic derived from accumulated anthropogenic green house gases lead to more activities conducive to further greenhouse gas emissions. This situation has the momentum of a runaway train.”

Duarte is lead author of a paper published last year in Nature Climate Change documenting how “tipping elements” in the Arctic ecosystems leading to “abrupt changes” that would dramatically impact “the global earth system” had “already started up”. Duarte and his team concluded: “We are facing the first clear evidence of dangerous climate change.”

New research suggests that the Arctic summer sea ice loss is linked to extreme weather. Rutgers University climate scientist Jennifer Francis points to the phenomenon of “Arctic amplification”, where:

“The loss of Arctic summer sea ice and the rapid warming of the Far North are altering the jet stream over North America, Europe, and Russia. Scientists are now just beginning to understand how these profound shifts may be increasing the likelihood of more persistent and extreme weather.”

Extreme weather events over the last few years apparently driven by the accelerating Arctic melt process – including unprecedented heatwaves and droughts in the US and Russia, along with snowstorms and cold weather in northern Europe – have undermined harvests, dramatically impacting global food production and contributing to civil unrest.

US national security officials have taken an increasing interest in the destabilising impact of climate change. In February this year, the US Department of Defense (DoD) released its new Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, which noted that global warming will have:

“… significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to greater competition for more limited and critical life-sustaining resources like food and water.”

The effects of climate change may:

“Act as accelerants of instability or conflict in parts of the world… [and] may also lead to increased demands for defense support to civil authorities for humanitarian assistance or disaster response, both within the United States and overseas … DoD will need to adjust to the impacts of climate change on its facilities, infrastructure, training and testing activities, and military capabilities.”

The primary goal of adaptation is to ensure that the US armed forces are “better prepared to effectively respond to climate change” as it happens, and “to ensure continued mission success” in military operations – rather than to prevent or mitigate climate change.

While the DoD is also concerned about the Arctic, the focus is less on risks than on opportunities:

“The Department is developing cooperative partnerships with interagency and international Arctic stakeholders to collaboratively address future opportunities and potential challenges inherent in the projected opening of the Arctic.”

Arctic “stakeholders” include US, Russian, Canadian, Norwegian and Danish energy firms, which are scrambling to exploit the northern polar region’s untapped natural wealth. The region is estimated to hold a quarter of the world’s remaining undiscovered oil and gas reserves, sparking concerted efforts by these countries to expand their Arctic military presence.

The US Homeland Security Department’s Climate Change Roadmap released last year raised similar issues, warning that climate change “could directly affect the Nation’s critical infrastructure”, as well as aggravating “conditions that could enable terrorist activity, violence, and mass migration”.

On the Arctic, the report highlights the imperative to protect US resource interests by increasing regional military penetration:

“Melting sea ice in the Arctic may lead to new opportunities for shipping, tourism, and resource exploration, but the increase in human activity may require a significant increase in operational capabilities in the region in order to safeguard lawful trade and travel and to prevent exploitation of new routes for smuggling and trafficking.”

public statement in response to news of the White House’s Arctic briefing released on Tuesday by the UK-based Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG) – a group of international climate scientists – called on governments to recognise that the dramatic loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic would amplify the types of extreme weather events that have already affected the world’s major food basket regions, undermining global food production for the foreseeable future with serious consequences for international security.

The group, which includes among its founding members leading Arctic specialists such as Prof Peter Wadhams, head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at Cambridge University, stated that:

“The weather extremes from last year are causing real problems for farmers, not only in the UK, but in the US and many grain-producing countries. World food production can be expected to decline, with mass starvation inevitable. The price of food will rise inexorably, producing global unrest and making food security even more of an issue.”

The AMEG statement adds that governments should consider geoengineering techniques – large-scale technological interventions in the climate system – to “cool the Arctic and save the sea ice” in order to avert catastrophe. Critics point out, however, that untested geoengineering technologies could have damaging unintended impacts on ecosystems, and that a regulatory framework is needed before embarking on major projects.

Dr Nafeez Ahmed is director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It.
Source: The Guardian EarthInsight blog
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Britain burnishes Bahrain’s record on press freedom

In an article for FP this week, Freedom House Vice President Arch Puddington laid out the 10 worst countries in the world to be a journalist. The list contained well-known dictatorships such as North Korea, Syria, and Cuba — and also the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain.

“Restrictions on the press have steadily worsened since pro-democracy protests began in 2011,” Puddington wrote on Bahrain. “Many domestic journalists have been arrested and detained without warrants and confessions have been extracted through torture”

The British government, however, takes a sunnier view of its longtime ally’s attitude toward the media. On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, the British embassy in Manama publishedtwo articles on media freedoms – one written by the editor-in-chief of a Bahraini government-controlled newspaper, and they other by a political group sympathetic to the ruling monarchy.

Unsurprisingly, both articles find little wrong with the Bahraini government’s crackdown on domestic unrest in the past two years — and find a great deal wrong in Western coverage of their country.  “So-called human rights organisations, which unfortunately are largely administered by ex-ideologists and even terrorists, today propagate their own version of the word ‘freedom’,” griped editor Anwar Abdulrahman. “[I]n today’s world there is a frequent tendency for the press to brand those in power as ‘baddies’, and the real wrongdoers as victims.”

The other article, written by an advocacy group called “Citizens of Bahrain,” directly questioned the value of a free press. “Those of us who have lived through [the recent domestic turmoil] would tend to believe that freedom of the press has limits,” the article argued. “When it comes to fabricating stories and using terminologies that polarize society, freedom of press should be looked into as a more complex matter than we may first realize.”

In an event in December, Bahrain’s crown prince praised Britain’s support for Bahrain, saying it “stood head and shoulders above others.” If there ever was any doubt, it should now be clear why the kingdom’s royals are so pleased with the British embassy. 

Source: Foreign Policy’s Passport blog


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Benefits cap leads to eviction notices in trial area – Guardian

Social landlords in Haringey say changes to welfare system are forcing them to take legal proceedings to terminate leases

Tenants participating in a trial of the government’s controversial benefit cap are being sent eviction letters because the welfare changes mean they “may not be able to afford the rent” and they may have to leave their homes within 14 days, according to documents obtained by the Guardian.

In the first tangible proof that the cap would lead to rising levels of homelessness, one of Britain’s biggest social landlords, Genesis, has issued a warning to tenants in Haringey – a London borough chosen by ministers to test plans to limit benefit payments to £26,000 a year – saying that it will now need to start legal proceedings to “terminate our lease”.

The letter from Genesis says it has been forced into taking these steps because of the “significant changes being currently introduced to the welfare benefit system”. The letter warns that, if the tenants do not offer a defence, a court can force eviction within 14 days.

The overall benefit cap set at £500 per week, or £350 for single people, was introduced in four London local authorities – Enfield, Bromley, Croydon and Haringey – in mid-April, and will be rolled out nationally later in the year. The Department for Work and Pensions has estimated that 56,000 households will be hit, with an average weekly loss of £93. The majority will be families with children.

Haringey council says it is “astonished by the premature threat” of eviction – which raised the possibility that scores of families may end up on the streets. It has 660 households who face an average £50-a-week loss because of the cap – and is spending £1.5m over three months to offer them homes within 1.5 miles of the borough.

Claire Kober, the Labour leader of Haringey council, said she knew of a number of social landlords using the threat of eviction since the benefit cap was introduced. “This behaviour of housing associations is completely unacceptable, especially given their stated social mission,” she said. “But this underlines to me that the fears that we expressed to government about the consequences of the benefit cap are coming true. The benefit cap is not addressing the cause of the rising housing benefitbill – just the symptoms.”

The government, wary of how councils would cope, deliberately slowed the implementation of the benefit cap, with councils applying the cash limits to just 60 claimants a week.

Duncan Shrubsole, policy director at the charity Crisis, said: “What’s happening in Haringey is an example of how brutal it is out there. Enfield council is considering moving 330 people out to places like Birmingham and Bradford. Every council testing this benefit cap has teams of housing officers warning tenants that they face some stark choices.”

In February, the Guardian revealed that Camden council in north London said 700 families faced being moved up to 200 miles away because the coalition’s benefit cap would mean they would be unable to afford their current accommodation or any other home in south-east England.

A spokesperson for Genesis at first denied that letters had been sent out. When confronted with the text of the letter, the social landlord, which manages about 30,000 homes across London and south-east England, said there had been a “cack-handed attempt” to explain the situation in Haringey to “some clients”. “That letter should not have been written that way. We are working with tenants in Haringey to help them out of arrears.”

Last month, the government was accused of misrepresenting statistics to claim that the cap on benefits had driven 8,000 people to find work.

The Department for Work and Pensions said: “We have been working hard over the last 12 months to support claimants who might be affected by the benefit cap – with Jobcentre Plus, councils and housing associations providing practical help, such as training to get into work and advice over housing options.”

Source: The Guardian 

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From the BBC: how not to eat healthily for £1 a day

A brilliant take-down of the BBC’s ‘eat healthily for £1 a day’ propaganda.

Aethelread the Unread

The BBC have published an article by one Brian Milligan, which purports to show that it is possible to eat a healthy, varied diet for less than £1 a day. The article is – and I’m being polite here – a complete farrago of nonsense from beginning to end. Let’s start with the idea that the diet Mr Milligan lived on for five days (a whole five days, imagine!) was ‘healthy’.

We’re not going to rely on my attempts to assess the quality of his meals here. Instead we’re going to avail ourselves of the opinion of a professional dietician. I should make it plain that this isn’t the result of some great feat of research on my part. I’m simply quoting the words of the dietician Mr Milligan himself contacted, and whose views he reports in his own article. Here goes:

“Those dinners looked great,” says Alison Hornby, of…

View original post 2,205 more words

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Bertrand Russell’s polite refusal to debate with Oswald Mosley

Bertrand Russell to Oswald Mosley in 1962. This is how to tell someone you won’t debate with them:


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16-year-old discovers catalyst to turn Egypt’s plastic waste into biofuel

Egyptian teen calculates that her method could generate $78 million in biofuels for country annually.


Photo: Euro

Azza Abdel Hamid Faiad is not your average 16-year-old. While most teens were delivering pizza or working on their tans this summer, Faiad was discovering a way to turn Egypt’s plastic waste into roughly $78 million worth of biofuels each year.

The idea to use plastic as biofuels is not new, but Faiad, a student at the Zahran Language School in Alexandria, Egypt, has found an inexpensive catalyst that could make the process not only economically feasible, but economically profitable for her country. Egypt’s plastic consumption is estimated to total 1 million tons per year, so Faiad’s proposal could completely transform the country’s economy, while also handling their plastic waste issues.

Faiad says that her catalyst, called aluminosilicate, could inexpensively break down plastic waste while producing gaseous products like methane, propane and ethane, which can then be converted into ethanol. She calculates that her discovery could inexpensively generate about 40,000 tons of cracked naphtha and 138,000 tons of hydrocarbon gases per year — equivalent to $78 million.

The green teen has already won an award for her findings at the 23rd European Union Contest for Young Scientists, and she is currently looking into patenting her idea through the Egyptian Patent Office.

Source: The Green Prophet

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