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General News    H3'ed 6/23/22

Tomgram: John Feffer, A Last Supper for Humanity?

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Yes, we're at war. And no, I don't mean Ukraine. The world is increasingly enveloped in what seems like a losing battle with extreme weather " from a devastating drought across much of the Horn of Africa to record spring temperatures (as well as floods) in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal. And then there's the Arctic, where temperatures are rising at a devastating seven times (yes, you read that right!) the global average. When it comes to extreme weather, though, you don't have to leave the United States anymore. It doesn't matter whether you're talking about fires like those in a Southwest and West gripped by an unprecedented megadrought or floods like the stunning recent ones in Yellowstone National Park, it's all intensifying. In fact, when was the last time you remember 100 million Americans being warned in mid-June to stay indoors due to extreme temperatures and humidity as a devastating early summer heat wave blanketed much of the country? Tucson broke its heat record at 115 degrees, while Phoenix tied one at 114 just as El Paso was topping its previous June records. And so it's gone " and so, given climate change, it will indeed go with increasing intensity in the years to come.

And though for some of us this is news, it really shouldn't be. After all, in 1965, a science advisory committee sent President Lyndon Johnson a report that predicted the effects of global warming in the early twenty-first century with remarkable accuracy. Similarly, in 1977, Jimmy Carter's chief science adviser and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy circulated a prescient memo meant to catch the president's attention on the coming climate crisis.

In neither case were there significant responses at the presidential level. And 35 years later, though the cost of alternative energy of various kinds has dropped significantly, we're still a fossil-fuelized planet, emitting record amounts of carbon as President Biden prepares to travel to Saudi Arabia to beg its blood-soaked ruler to pump yet more oil. Meanwhile, as John Feffer lays out so vividly today, the great and not-so-great powers of this planet are spending their time focused on fighting a devastating oil-powered war right at the edge of Europe. And worse yet, in elections in November 2022 and 2024, this country, the second-greatest emitter of fossil fuels and historically the top one, may put a climate-change-denying Republican cult back in power in Washington, ensuring that we'll do nothing whatsoever about any of this for the next six years or more.

So, it's sadly clear to me why, on a heating planet, TomDispatch regular Feffer, author of the Splinterlands trilogy of dystopian novels, is thinking about humanity's "last supper." And if it comes to that, we know one thing. It will be a distinctly hot meal. Tom

China Will Decide the Outcome of Russia v. the West
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In its attempt to swallow Ukraine whole, Russia has so far managed to bite off only the eastern Donbas region and a portion of its southern coast. The rest of the country remains independent, with its capital Kyiv intact.

No one knows how this meal will end. Ukraine is eager to force Russia to disgorge what it's already devoured, while the still-peckish invader clearly has no interest in leaving the table.

This might seem like an ordinary territorial dispute between predator and prey. Ukraine's central location between east and west, however, turns it into a potentially world-historical conflict like the Battle of Tours when the Christian Franks turned back the surging Ummayad army of Muslims in 732 AD or the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam in 1975.

The pivotal nature of the current war seems obvious. Ukraine has for some time wanted to join western institutions like the European Union. Russia prefers to absorb Ukraine into its russkiy mir (Russian world). However, this tug of war over the dividing line between East and West isn't a simple recapitulation of the Cold War. Russian President Vladimir Putin clearly has no interest in reconstituting the Soviet Union, much less in sending his troops westward into Poland or Germany, while the United States isn't wielding Ukraine as a proxy to fight the Kremlin. Both superpowers have far more circumscribed aims.

Nonetheless, the war has oversized implications. What at first glance seems like a spatial conflict is also a temporal one. Ukraine has the great misfortune to straddle the fault line between a twentieth century of failed industrial strategies and a possible twenty-first century reorganization of society along clean-energy lines.

In the worst-case scenario, Ukraine could simply be absorbed into the world's largest petro-state. Or the two sides could find themselves in a punishing stalemate that cuts off the world's hungriest from vast stores of grain and continues to distract the international community from pushing forward with an urgently needed reduction of carbon emissions. Only a decisive defeat of Putinism " with its toxic mix of despotism, corruption, right-wing nationalism, and devil-may-care extractivism " would offer the world some sliver of hope when it comes to restoring some measure of planetary balance.

Ukraine is fighting for its territory and, ultimately, its survival. The West has come to its aid in defense of international law. But the stakes in this conflict are far more consequential than that.

What Putin Wants

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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