Could methane trigger a climate doomsday within a human lifespan?

A new paper published appearing Thursday in the prestigious scientific journal Nature presents the worst-case scenario for runaway climate change that could leave the Earth entirely ice-free within a generation.

If global temperatures continue to rise, massive amounts of methane gas could be released from the 10,000 gigaton reserves of frozen methane that are currently locked in the world’s deep oceans and permafrost. Passing this climate tipping point would result in runaway global warming that would be far worse and more rapid than scientists’ current estimates.

The new paper suggests that exactly this type of cascading release of methane reserves rapidly warmed the Earth 635 million years ago, replacing an Ice Age with a period of tropical heat. The study’s lead author suggests it could happen again, and fast — not over thousands or millions of years, but possibly within a century.

Jimmy Carter is right to say the unsayable

Jimmy Carter’s willingness to tell the world the size of Israel’s nuclear arsenal, as he did this week, is just the latest sign of his desire to say what his fellow American politicians find unsayable about US policy in the Middle East.

On the basis of Carter’s speeches in Britain this week, many Europeans would embrace the 83-year-old former President as their ideal occupant of the White House. But in the actual presidential election in November, Carter’s comments, his trip last month to meet Hamas leaders and his book two years ago in which he accused Israel of “apartheid” put him beyond the pale. So much so that Barack Obama took pains to condemn the Hamas trip, despite Carter’s supportive remarks on his campaign, lest the pro-Israel lobby’s loathing of Carter transfer to him.

That may be Carter’s fate: adored abroad and shorn of influence at home. But the divisions within the Democrats on whether to talk to Hamas and Iran, as he urges, and the speed with which the problems will confront the winner in November, mean that if the next president is a Democrat, Carter’s views may have some sway, even if no politician will risk thanking him for them.

Worse than Bush

Many foreign-policy mavens have wondered which John McCain would step to the fore once he started running for president in earnest—the McCain who consorts with such pragmatists as Richard Armitage, Colin Powell, and George Shultz; or the McCain who huddles with “neocons” like Robert Kagan, John Bolton, and William Kristol (before he started writing op-eds for the New York Times).

Last month, the Times published a story about the battle for McCain’s soul that’s being waged by those two factions.

On Tuesday, McCain cleared up the mystery: He’s with the neocons. He is, fundamentally, in sync with the foreign policy pursued by George W. Bush for his first six years in office. The clincher is that he has now broken with the president on the one issue where Bush himself reversed course more than a year ago after realizing that his policy had failed. In two op-ed articles and a speech—all of them published or delivered on Tuesday, May 27—McCain called for a return to Bush’s original, disastrous approach.

An unwanted league

A puzzle of globalization is that despite the astonishing growth in communication and information flows, Washington lives in a bubble, seeing the world through its own lens, being surprised and disappointed again and again when the world does not conform to U.S. expectations. President Bush’s foreign policy is a study in the bubble approach, marked by the constant unsuccessful projection of ideas made in the USA onto unruly foreign realities. A major question for the next administration is whether it can move out of the bubble and more effectively connect the United States to the world.

In this regard, the declarations and debates about foreign policy in the presidential campaign so far are not especially reassuring. One of the most visible proposals, the calls by experts on both sides of the political aisle and by Sen. John McCain for the establishment of a League of Democracies to tackle the world’s problems, is an example of continued thinking within the bubble.

Human rights report assails U.S.

Sixty years after the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, governments in scores of countries still torture or mistreat their people, Amnesty International said Wednesday in a report that again urged the United States to close down the Guantánamo Bay detention camp in Cuba.

In its annual report, the London-based human rights watchdog said “flashpoints” in Darfur, Zimbabwe, Gaza, Iraq/ and Myanmar “demand immediate action.”

“World leaders are in a state of denial but their failure to act has a high cost,” Irene Khan, the secretary general of Amnesty International, said in a statement accompanying the report. “As Iraq and Afghanistan show, human rights problems are not isolated tragedies, but are like viruses than can infect and spread rapidly, endangering all of us.”

The New McCarthyism: Israel imposes a 10-year ban on American critic of Israeli policies

On Friday, Israeli security forces, Shin Bet, detained Norman Finkelstein when he tried to enter Israel, kept him in an airport holding cell for 24 hours, ordered him deported from the country, and then imposed a 10-year ban on his entry. Finkelstein, the son of a Holocaust survivor, is a Jewish-American author and academic who has frequently criticized the Israeli Government and provoked extreme animosity among right-wing factions in the U.S. He had flown to Israel 15 times previously without incident and was never charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime.

This morning, I interviewed Finkelstein regarding this episode and related issues (the audio for which is here). I also interviewed Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, whose animosity towards Finkelstein is intense and long-standing. Dershowitz, to his credit (and, given the below-described events, somewhat ironically) was quite critical of Israel’s exclusion of Finkelstein. The full interview with Dershowitz can be heard here.

Syria: Olmert’s political weakness may affect recently renewed peace talks

The recently revived peace talks between Syria and Israel may be hindered by the weakness of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, beleaguered by a political crisis, Syrian analysts said Wednesday.

The Syrian comment came shortly after Defense Minister Ehud Barak urged Olmert to step down or face early elections in light of the corruption investigation currently underway against him.

Washington’s new Jewish lobby presses Israel

Thanks in part to the influence of the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC, the U.S. government rarely gets tough with Israel, even on issues like Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank, which Washington views as harmful to the peace process. A new lobby group formed last month, J Street, wants to change that. Founded by a number of liberal Jews, J Street wants to see the administration press Israel not only for an end to settlement construction, but also a real peace effort between Israel and Syria and possibly talks between Israel and Hamas. The group’s name is a play on the political geography of downtown Washington, where K street is the traditional hub of lobbyists and J street doesn’t exist. Newsweek correspondent Dan Ephron sat down recently with the group’s executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami to discuss the organization’s agenda.

Why Israel is talking to its enemies

When President George W. Bush appeared before the Israeli Knesset recently and denounced those who appease “terrorists and radicals,” it was seen back home as a swipe against Democratic contender Barack Obama for saying that the U.S. should talk to its enemies. But his audience of Israeli legislators, who interrupted Bush’s speech at least 14 times with thunderclaps of applause, interpreted it otherwise. They saw it as the American President’s unswerving support of the Jewish nation on its 60th anniversary. Nevertheless, under instructions from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Israel envoys have been carrying out discreet talks with the very “radicals and terrorists” that Bush was warning against in his speech: Syria, the Lebanese militia Hizballah and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Talking to Hamas

Khalid Mishaal, the exiled leader of Hamas, isn’t packing his bags just yet, but his comfortable headquarters in a Damascus suburb could be closed down soon. In a surprise announcement last week, Israel and Syria confirmed indirect peace talks for the first time in eight years. Israel has long demanded that Syria cut ties with groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, but now the Golan Heights are on the negotiating table once again, and the stakes have changed dramatically.

In a late-night meeting, Mishaal was relaxed and smiling. He offered me green tea with ginger and a plate of semolina cookies. Mishaal recited a Quranic verse to open the hourlong interview, but that was his only reference to religion. Mishaal was all about divining the recent momentous events in the region: Israeli-Syria peace talks brokered by Turkey and an agreement, mediated by Qatar, to avert a new Lebanese civil war. The agreement confirmed Hezbollah’s power and Syria’s regional influence. It was a surprisingly peaceful conclusion to an 18-month confrontation that had escalated into a street war in West Beirut. Both deals, seemingly concluded without U.S. involvement and counter to the Bush administration’s policies, will affect Palestinian politics.

111 nations, minus the U.S., agree to cluster-bomb ban

More than 100 countries reached agreement Wednesday to ban cluster bombs, controversial weapons that human rights groups deplore but that the United States, which did not join the ban, calls an integral, legitimate part of its arsenal.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose personal intervention Wednesday led to final agreement among representatives of 111 countries gathered in Dublin, called the ban a “big step forward to make the world a safer place.”

In addition to the United States, Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan — all of them major producers or users of the weapons — did not sign the agreement or participate in the talks.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email