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Despair

2013-05-11

The New York Times online has a number of unpleasant stories today.  First, outstanding student loans now total one trillion dollars and Congressional action will be necessary to keep interest rates from rising to seven percent at a time when the prime rate is nearly zero.  Second, there is speculation that President Obama will approve the Keystone XL pipeline project.  Third, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have risen to 400 parts per million for the first time in four million years.  Fourth, the Sunnis of Iraq are revolting against a system put in place by the US military and continued by the Shiite dominated government that uses paid informants and near-indefinite detention.

Many young people, in their 30’s, have just graduated from college and owe tens of thousands of dollars on student loans.  At a time when base interest rates are near zero because of the poor economy, they are paying four percent and are threatened with an increase to seven percent.  At these rates, even with a good job, paying back those loans subtracts everything extra from one’s pay check.

Then there are people who have spent equally large amounts, from ten to fifty thousand dollars, on schools that have taught them nothing useful.  They have no marketable skill despite their “schooling” and are forced to take jobs working at fast food restaurants and the like.  These suffering people will soon find themselves behind on their loan payments and faced with obnoxious, threatening letters from the bank.  They will have their pay garnished.  As a result, they may not be able to pay their rent and may become homeless, even with a fast-food job.

The economy still has not recovered and many people are trapped by circumstances beyond their control.

In Iraq, the Sunni population has been abused for years by the system put in place by the US military.  This system uses paid informants to anonymously denounce suspected militants.  Once arrested, those denounced are held for prolonged periods without facing charges or even being interrogated.  The system is designed for abuse and to terrorize the Sunnis.  In addition, anyone who was a member of the Baath party or a military officer is disqualified from any position of trust and usually unemployed.  Violent demonstrations and violent government reactions have been increasing.  The government has promised reform but delivered nothing.

The rebellion in Syria has increased the motivation of Sunnis in Iraq, since the Alawite government of Syria is allied with Shiite Iran and Iraq.  Conditions are deteriorating, and continent-spanning civil war is likely to break out.  US and European governments are unable to commit arms to the Sunni side because the most powerful military faction in the Syrian rebellion is Al Nusra, which has declared its allegiance to Al Qaeda.  Israel has sent warplanes to destroy Syrian government missiles that were earmarked for Lebanon.  Syria has large stockpiles of the nerve gas sarin, and has probably used it in a limited fashion recently.  Russia has been delivering surface to air and anti-ship missiles to the Syrian government.  All these factors forecast a prolonged military struggle in Syria.

At the same time, there is speculation that President Obama’s Administration will approve the Keystone XL pipeline project.  Completion of the Keystone pipeline will allow Canadian tar sands oil to be piped to refineries in the New Orleans area.  Eventually, this refined oil will be shipped to China and other foreign destinations, since it is more than the United States needs for domestic consumption.  Burning of this tar sands oil will continue the process of altering the environment in negative ways.

From air monitoring stations worldwide, especially the famous Mauna Loa observatory, comes the news that carbon dioxide concentrations in the air have reached 400 parts per million.  This concentration has not been seen in approximately four million years.  For the last four hundred thousand years, a period that can be accurately measured by air bubbles trapped in ancient ice, concentrations have varied from 180 to 280 ppm.  During the last eight thousand years, concentrations have stayed close to 280 ppm.  Since about 1800, carbon dioxide has steadily increased, and in the last fifty years of accurate real time measurements, levels have increased from 315 ppm to today’s 400 ppm.  There is no doubt that this increase is due to burning of coal initially and a combination of fossil fuels from 1900 on.

It is predicted that levels will continue to increase to 800 ppm and more regardless of what we do now.  It is, unfortunately, impossible to predict with any accuracy how the climate will respond to these levels.  Most serious scientists believe that average temperatures will rise more than 2 degrees Celsius, and that severe weather events will increase in frequency dramatically.  Rising sea levels are also inevitable, but exact sea levels are very difficult to predict.  More than a foot of sea level rise is reliably predicted in the next hundred years, with more to follow.  Changes in weather patterns, with severe droughts and monsoons, have already begun to occur.

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