My Own Top Ten Stories of the Past Decade

by Paul Donahue 

06 January 2010

With the first ten years of the new millennium behind us, I have read several compilations of the most important stories of the past decade. Some of these stories have been well-covered by mainstream media, others have been largely ignored. Below is my own contribution to the list of important stories of the decade. These are all stories that have been grossly underreported or virtually ignored by the corporate media. In the classes I teach on ecology, the point I stress the most is that everything is connected. In many ways, these ten stories are all connected and are more like ten different aspects of the same story, the increasing corporate control of human society and destruction of the planet.

1. Global Warming - The existence of global warming has been proven. The fact that it is human-caused has been proven. All that is unknown is how bad things will get. What is clear is that actual conditions keep out-stripping even the worst predictions. Eminent climate scientists the world over are screaming at the top of their lungs that we need to immediately address what will likely be the greatest challenge our society has ever faced. One would think that level of alarm from such a prominent body of scientists might garner more attention from the media and action from politicians, but no such luck. At this point, the inaction of our so-called leaders has probably locked us into irreversible and catastrophic climate change. Given that millions will die as the result of this catastrophic climate change, their inaction qualifies as criminal negligence.

2. Loss of Biodiversity - The loss of the planet’s biodiversity continues at an ever-accelerating pace. Anthropogenic changes to the biosphere - habitat loss, pollution, climate change, etc. - and the resultant mass extinction of species has brought us to the planet’s sixth great extinction event. It is the greatest mass extinction of species since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. If current trends continue, one half of all species of life on Earth will be extinct in less than 100 years. This mass extinction will have untold consequences for the planet’s ecosystems. Many of the world’s scientists rank this mass extinction as one of the planet's gravest environmental threats, outranking even global warming. In the words of biologists Michael Novacek and Elsa Cleland, “The current massive degradation of habitat and extinction of species is taking place on a catastrophically short timescale, and their effects will fundamentally reset the future evolution of the planet's biota. The fossil record suggests that recovery of global ecosystems (from such extinction events) has required millions or even tens of millions of years.”

3. Peak Oil - The world began running out of oil when the first drop was pumped from the ground, but the situation is considerably farther along now than it was a hundred years ago. Oil production tends to follow a bell-shaped curve. This is true if you look at a single well, a country’s production, or entire world production. Peak oil is the point when half the oil is gone - the top of the bell-shaped curve. From then on, despite the fact that there is still plenty of oil left in the ground, it gets progressively more difficult and progressively more expensive to extract. The U.S. reached peak oil around 1970. Many other countries have reached peak oil since then. World peak oil is the really critical point. However, due to many countries keeping their oil reserve figures secret, it is difficult to know exactly how close we are to peak oil. Some analysts believe we have recently passed the peak, or at least reached a plateau. Most other analysts believe we are very close to peak oil. The peak of natural gas is believed to be not very far behind.

Our society is heavily based on oil and natural gas for almost everything - food production, transportation, manufacturing, heating, electrical generation. As these resources become increasingly scarce, their price will steadily rise. This will have profound consequences for our economy and our lives, in general. Given the tremendous amount of time it will take to bring sufficient alternative, renewable energy sources online, a sane society would be working overtime on that task. Instead, we are devoting our energy and resources to chasing the world’s remaining reserves of oil and natural gas, and exacerbating global warming in the process.

4. Global War on Terror (GWOT) - The GWOT is code for a war to control the world’s rapidly dwindling fossil fuel energy reserves. Iraq, with no weapons of mass destruction and no connection to 9/11 was not targeted at random. The country sits on a huge pool of oil. Iran sits on an even larger pool of oil. Afghanistan, from which not even one of the fictitious 9/11 terrorists hailed, was also not targeted at random. The country is key in the control of gas and oil pipeline routes. The same goes for Pakistan. If you control the pipeline routes, you control who gets the gas and oil, with the main goal being to cut out Russia and China. It’s the new “Great Game”. So-called terrorists just keep popping up in countries that have a strong connection to either fossil fuel reserves or transportation routes - Iran, Nigeria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, etc. Someone please let me know if we attack any countries lacking these fossil fuel connections. If you want more details, Google the term “Pipelineistan”.

5. 9/11 - The greatest crime in U.S. history has gone unsolved and the perpetrators unpunished. Whether or not airplanes brought down the World Trade Center towers on September 11th 2001 is no longer a question for conspiracy buffs. Several different types of scientific tests have confirmed the presence of thermite, a high-energy incendiary, in both the molten steel and dust of the World Trade center collapse and the results have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. It has been scientifically proven that the buildings were brought down through controlled demolition. Other anomalies with the government’s official story are WAY too numerous to list here. One would think that peer-reviewed scientific studies would warrant some press coverage, but I guess some truths are just too horrible or too inconvenient to face. Unfortunately, denying reality doesn’t change reality.

     What remains to be known is the identity of the people involved. A new, truly independent 9/11 truth commission needs to be formed, one with subpoena power to call witnesses and to compel those witnesses to testify under oath. Dick Cheney might be one of the first witnesses I would call. Even bigger than the tragedy of 9/11 itself is the fact the crime has been and continues to be used by U.S. politicians to justify atrocities abroad and the repeal of civil liberties at home.

6. Illegal Wars - The US-led wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are all illegal. Under international law, there are only two conditions under which one country can attack another, and the conditions were NOT met with any of these three countries. The politicians and generals sending the troops, the politicians authorizing funding for the wars, and the soldiers pulling the triggers and dropping the bombs are all committing illegal acts and they all meet the legal definition of war criminals. “Aggressive war” is considered to be the most egregious of war crimes. The people responsible for these wars belong in prison, not living in the White House, nor sitting in the Senate, nor welcomed home as heroes. If you disagree, check out the wording of the United Nations Charter, the Geneva Conventions, the Nuremberg Principles and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. In the words of historian Howard Zinn, “Imperial power will not be constrained by law voluntarily.” It’s up to us to change things.

7. Iraq Civilian Death Toll - The US-led war on Iraq has been responsible for a horrific number of human deaths, over 1.2 million according to the best studies. Civilians have constituted the vast majority of those killed, and with a very high percentage of those being children. The majority of the people killed died as the direct result of US bombs and bullets. If you don’t believe that figure, check out Project Censored’s #1 story for 2009. In addition, the war has turned an estimated 4.5 million more Iraqis into refugees. The UN-imposed sanctions following the first Gulf War killed at least another million Iraqis, including 500,000 children. Haven’t we killed enough Iraqis?

8. U.S. Wars Increasing the Threat of Terrorism - The US-led wars in the Middle East and Central Asia are increasing, not decreasing the threat of terrorism. This has been confirmed by US intelligence agencies, and it shouldn’t exactly come as a big surprise. Our wars have led to the violent deaths of millions of people across the Middle East and Central Asia. Every surviving loved one of these victims becomes a US-hating potential terrorist. When it comes to creating new terrorists, US so-called leaders have to be aware of the effect their wars are having, especially when told so by US intelligence agencies. Clearly, ending terrorism is not the goal with these wars.

9. Loss of Civil Liberties - Our country is considerably less free than it was a decade ago. This is not because of the actions of a few freedom-hating terrorists but due to the actions of freedom-hating US government officials. We are more surveilled and spied upon, and with fewer legal protections against unwarranted arrest and imprisonment than we were ten years ago. This attack on our civil liberties began in earnest under George W. Bush and has continued without a break under Barack Obama. As examples, habeas corpus rights were suspended by the Bush administration, and the Obama administration has gone to court to keep it that way, and they have fought to extend some of the more onerous provisions of the Patriot Act.

10. Loss of Democracy - Any American who still believes they live in a democracy is not paying attention. We live in a corporatocracy, a nation ruled by corporations, with corporate power and control growing year by year.

     Our election process is a sick joke. Political campaigns are funded through a system that is nothing more than legalized bribery, with the biggest donors having the greatest access to and influence over the politicians they finance. For most of the past decade we suffered under the rule of a president who clearly stole two elections. Many people cast their votes on electronic ballot machines whose results can be, and clearly have been, manipulated.

     The number of corporate lobbyists in Washington and the money spent on lobbying our so-called leaders both continue to soar. Corporate lobbyists and lawyers actually author important legislation and then get their pet members of Congress to introduce it on the floor of the House of Representatives. On important issues, such as energy policy or health care, industry representatives sit at the table with our so-called leaders while public interest groups are excluded from the debate.

     Third party candidates, those candidates that represent real change, not the Obama style of non-existent “change”, are almost totally excluded from the electoral process. These third party candidates are ignored or ridiculed by the corporate media. They are also excluded from the national presidential debates, the highly staged and managed media spectacles that are completely controlled by the Democratic and Republican parties. As a result, most Americans do not even know who the third party candidates are, never mind what they stand for.

     In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “Information is the currency of democracy.” If that’s true, we’re sunk. Most Americans get their news from television, a medium run by a handful of mega-corporations. The so-called liberal media are only as liberal as the conservative businesses that own them, and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation (Fox), and defense contractor General Electric (NBC) are about as far from liberal as one could ask. The other networks are not much different. In the words of Noam Chomsky, “Any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the US media.”

     With only a handful of mega-corporations controlling television, the situation is not much better if you look at all media to which we are exposed - television, radio, newspapers, magazines, books, music and movies. Media consolidation is rampant, with fewer and fewer mega-corporations controlling more and more of the flow of information every year. So far the internet has remained relatively free, but not because the mega media corporations have not tried to impose their control. We’ll see how long it stays free.

So there are my candidates for the most important stories of the past decade. Hopefully, ten years from now people will be able to write that global warming and the loss of biodiversity have been slowed and brought under control, our society has moved to a renewable and non-polluting energy source, peace has broken out across the Middle East and Central Asia, government officials are being held accountable for their illegal acts, civil liberties here in the US have been restored, and our country is on the path to a fully-functioning true democracy. It would be nice, wouldn’t it? I’m not holding my breath.

Paul Donahue
Pacifica, CA