Thursday, May 03, 2007


A lot of people are confused by Vanity Fair - as in where on earth is it coming from? As a long-time regular reader I would say it is celebrity-drenched and focused - sometimes sickeningly so - but this is combined with some of the best investigative journalism around, funded to the max. Its an odd mixture but it works for me, although generally the magazine is not quite as sharp as it used to be. It does have an exemplary record for challenging George Bush and has consistently exposed major issues to do with Iraq and the War on Terror. It makes virtually all UK magazines look rather paltry and underfed, rather limited and timid, by comparison.

This second annual Green Issue is, by any standards, a winner. Get up to date with some key global issues - there are hours of important reading here and all are backed up with lots of links and further research on their excellent website. A thorough and important job. I thought it was worth examining in detail.

Right from the off: the cover is a photomontage. Leo was photographed by Annie Liebovitz on a glacier in Iceland; the bear (named Knut and born in captivity) in Berlin Zoo.

[Worth checking out the latest Canadian controversy, documented in this story in the Christian Science Monitor, which challenges whether polar bears are as endangered as is being made out by WWF, who claim that because of global warming, the bears could be extinct by the turn of the century]

(This 240pp-glossy mag obviously generates its own carbon footprint. They explain inside that they worked with The CarbonNeutral Company to 'offset' that. Of course, the whole concept of 'offsetting' is a thorny one).

Leonardo Dicaprio is following Al Gore's lead and has directed and produced a documentary 'The Eleventh Hour' that that will have its premiere at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

James Wolcott weighs into Rush Limbaugh - one of the world's foremost global warming scoffers. Wolcott is a style king with a sting like a viper, a pair of teeth like a wolverine and a knack for incendiary phrase-making. He wades into Limbaugh, shreds any credibility he might have, and paws over the entrails. Rush, he says: 'has injected millions of semi-vacant American skulls with a cream filling of complacency that has helped thrust this country into the forefront of backward leadership.'

In 'A Convenient Untruth', Michael Shnayerson does the same effective job - in a more restrained and forensic manner - on Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, an organisation that was given more than $2m by ExxonMobil (1998-2005); during this same period, ExxonMobil spent a reported $16m in total, funding climate change studies at some three dozen institutes. VF trailer the story: ' For the obligatory "opposing" view on climate change, the media often turn to Myron Ebell, policy analyst, sound-bite artist and oil-industry mouthpiece. While mainstream experts see global warming as a major crisis, the hotter it gets, the better Ebell likes it.' This piece effectively shreds and exposes Ebell's tarnished position.

'The Rise of Big Water' by Charles C. Mann is a genuinely disturbing piece on the state of the world's freshwater and how a small number of companies are taking over the ownership of municipal water systems around the globe. The world's top three water companies are all European -Veolia, Suez and Thames Water (now owned by a consortium headed by Macquarie, Australia's biggest investment). According to the UN, by 2000, governments in 93 nations had begun to privatise their drinking-water and wastewater service. Mann reports first-hand from China where the situation is already looking desperate. This issue is going to hit us a long time before global warming; as it is, one person out of every three on the planet lacks reliable access to fresh water.

'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Throne' by Michael Shnayerson claims that Prince Charles is now an environmental hero. This obviously plays in America but not over here. Nuff said.

'An Eco-System of One's Own' by Alex Shyoumatoff 'explores the global impact of the average American routine. Sidebars highlight four seminal climate-change reports and looks at Food Labelling.

'Jungle Law' by William Langewiesche: 'In a forsaken little town in the Ecuadorian Amazon, an overgrown oil camp called Lago Agrio, the giant Chevron Corporation has been maneuvered into a makeshift courtroom and is being sued to answer for conditions in 1,700 miles of rain forest said by environmentalists to be one of the world's most contaminated industrial sites.' [The piece runs over 17 pages !! Can you imagine a British magazine doing that!]

In a complementary piece - 'The Gasping Forest' - Alex Shoumatoff spends four weeks travelling across the Amazon, from the Andes to the Atlantic coast, and discovers that a combination of global warming and deforestation are dehydrating the Amazon basin. There always have been drought periods in the past but there used to be time for the forest to recover. Now the droughts are coming hard and fast. Noone is sure exactly where the tipping point is but one computer model has the Amazon completing the transformation to savanna by 2080.

Finally 'Quiet Thunder', by Michael Shnayerson profiles Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of PayPal, the man with a NASA contract for the next space shuttle, who is now funding the first new major car company for America for decades, in Silicon Valley. They are building the world's first high-performance electric sports car - the $92,000 Tesla - which can go from 0 to 60 in four seconds. It runs on lithium ion batteries and takes 3.5 hours for a complete recharge. The company is aiming to scale up its operations and be a producing a$30,000 mass-market car by 2010. Musk believes this is the beginning of the end of the internal combustion engine.

See: VF: The Green Issue

"Mitigation of Climate Change", the third volume of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report, will be launched in Bangkok tomorrow. It will claim that there is now 90% certainty (up from 66% from the last 2001 report) that it is "very likely" that human are the cause of climate change.

'What the report's authors (some 600 scientists) are absolutely certain of is that the world's climate is changing in a very significant way and will continue to do so in the forseaable future.' [Adam Spangler/Vanity Fair]

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