OUR CRUCIAL SPRING CAMPAIGN IS NOW UNDERWAY
Please donate now to keep the mission and independent journalism of Common Dreams strong.
To donate by check, phone, or other method, see our More Ways to Give page.
Commenting on the announcement by Guantanamo's Chief Prosecutor that a total of just 20 detainees - down from a previous estimate of 36 - are to receive trials, Cori Crider, a Guantanamo attorney and Strategic Director at human rights charity Reprieve said:
"With nearly 800 people having been sent to Guantanamo over the years, this represents a total of under 3% who will even make it to trial - let alone be found guilty. This shockingly low figure demonstrates what a terrible mistake Guantanamo has been, and just how many lives have been ruined for no good reason.
"Meanwhile, more than half the prisoners still held in Guantanamo have been cleared for release, yet are going nowhere. It is high time President Obama got his act together and delivered on his promise to close this prison."
Reprieve is a UK-based human rights organization that uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantanamo Bay.
"The technology will create legions of opportunities to deceive and defraud voters in ways that extend well beyond any First Amendment protections for political expression, opinion, or satire," warned Public Citizen president Robert Weissman.
The head of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen on Tuesday called on the two major U.S. political parties and their presidential candidates to pledge not to use generative artificial intelligence or deepfake technology "to mislead or defraud" voters during the 2024 electoral cycle.
Noting that "political operatives now have the means to produce ads with highly realistic computer-generated images, audio, and video of opponents that appear genuine, but are completely fabricated," Public Citizen warned of the prospect of an "October Surprise" deepfake video that could go viral "with no ability for voters to determine that it's fake, no time for a candidate to deny it, and no way to demonstrate convincingly that it's fake."
The watchdog offered recent examples of deepfake creations, including an audio clip of President Joe Biden discussing the 2011 film We Bought a Zoo.
"Generative AI now poses a significant threat to truth and democracy as we know it."
"Generative AI now poses a significant threat to truth and democracy as we know it," Public Citizen president Robert Weissman said in a statement. "The technology will create legions of opportunities to deceive and defraud voters in ways that extend well beyond any First Amendment protections for political expression, opinion, or satire."
As Thor Benson recently noted in Wired:
There are plenty of ways to generate AI images from text, such as DALL-E, Midjourney, and Stable Diffusion. It's easy to generate a clone of someone's voice with an AI program like the one offered by ElevenLabs. Convincing deepfake videos are still difficult to produce, but... that might not be the case within a year or so.
"I don't think there's a website where you can say, 'Create me a video of Joe Biden saying X.' That doesn't exist, but it will," Hany Farid, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley's School of Information, told Wired. "It's just a matter of time. People are already working on text-to-video."
In a petition sent Tuesday to Federal Election Commission acting General Counsel Lisa J. Stevenson, Weissman and Public Citizen government affairs lobbyist Craig Holman asked the agency to "clarify when and how 5 USC §30124 ('Fraudulent misrepresentation of campaign authority') applies to deliberately deceptive AI campaign ads."
"Federal law proscribes candidates for federal office or their employees or agents from fraudulently misrepresenting themselves as speaking or acting for or on behalf of another candidate or political party on a matter damaging to the other candidate or party," Weissman and Holman noted.
"In view of the novelty of deepfake technology and the speed with which it is improving, Public Citizen encourages the commission to specify in regulation or guidance that if candidates or their agents fraudulently misrepresent other candidates or political parties through deliberately false AI-generated content in campaign ads, that the restrictions and penalties of 52 USC §30124 are applicable," the pair added.
"If we follow this roadmap, including in negotiations on the plastic pollution deal, we can deliver major economic, social, and environmental wins," said the director of the U.N. Environment Program.
Global plastic pollution can be reduced by 80% by 2040 if countries and companies make far-reaching changes using existing technologies, according to a report published Tuesday by the United Nations Environment Program.
Turning Off the Tap: How the World Can End Plastic Pollution and Create a Circular Economy comes less than two weeks before the start of a second round of negotiations in Paris on a legally binding global plastics treaty. While the required shifts outlined in the report are significant, UNEP stresses that they are practical, relatively inexpensive, and would yield benefits valued at more than $4.5 trillion.
Research has shown that plastic pollution is a life-threatening crisis poised to grow worse unless governments intervene to prevent fossil fuel and petrochemical corporations from expanding the production of single-use items.
"The way we produce, use, and dispose of plastics is polluting ecosystems, creating risks for human health, and destabilizing the climate," UNEP executive director Inger Andersen said in a statement. "This UNEP report lays out a roadmap to dramatically reduce these risks through adopting a circular approach that keeps plastics out of ecosystems, out of our bodies, and in the economy."
"If we follow this roadmap, including in negotiations on the plastic pollution deal," said Andersen, "we can deliver major economic, social, and environmental wins."
The report proposes a four-fold "systems change" to address "the causes of plastic pollution, rather than just the symptoms." As UNEP summarizes, it consists of the following:
"Even with the measures above, 100 million metric tons of plastics from single-use and short-lived products will still need to be safely dealt with annually by 2040—together with a significant legacy of existing plastic pollution," UNEP explains. "This can be addressed by setting and implementing design and safety standards for disposing of non-recyclable plastic waste, and by making manufacturers responsible for products shedding microplastics, among others."
According to the agency: "Theshift to a circular economy would result in $1.27 trillion in savings, considering costs and recycling revenues. A further $3.25 trillion would be saved from avoided externalities such as health, climate, air pollution, marine ecosystem degradation, and litigation-related costs. This shift could also result in a net increase of 700,000 jobs by 2040, mostly in low-income countries, significantly improving the livelihoods of millions of workers in informal settings."
Although UNEP's recommendations necessitate a substantial investment, it is "below the spending without this systemic change: $65 billion per year as opposed to $113 billion per year," the agency notes. "Much of this can be mobilized by shifting planned investments for new production facilities—no longer needed through reduction in material needs—or a levy on virgin plastic production into the necessary circular infrastructure. Yet time is of the essence: a five-year delay may lead to an increase of 80 million metric tons of plastic pollution by 2040."
While many progressive advocacy groups are likely to welcome UNEP's overall message that readily available solutions, backed by strong regulatory instruments, can help bring about a transformation from a "throwaway" society to a "reuse" society, the agency is facing criticism for its promotion of burning plastic waste in cement kilns.
"Burning plastic waste in cement kilns is a 'get out of jail free card' for the plastic industry to keep ramping up plastic production by claiming that the plastic problem can be simply burned away," Neil Tangri, science and policy director at the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), said in a statement. "Not only does this pose a grave climate and public health threat, it also undermines the primary goal of the global plastic treaty—putting a cap on plastic production."
Larisa de Orbe of the Mexican environmental justice groups Red de Acción Ecológica and Colectiva Malditos Plásticos echoed Tangri's argument.
"To tackle the plastic crisis, waste should not be burned, but its production should be drastically reduced, and single-use plastics should be banned," said Orbe. "Environmental authorities in Mexico and the [U.N.] Human Rights Rapporteur on Toxic Substances have recognized that the burning of waste in cement kilns has caused environmental disaster and the violation of human rights in the territories and communities near these activities."
Imports of plastic waste into Mexico grew by 121% between 2018 and 2021. As GAIA noted, a large portion of that "is suspected to be burned in cement kilns, which operate with few controls or emissions monitoring systems."
Linda Birnbaum, former director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program, called the U.N.'s promotion of burning of plastic waste in cement kilns "an irresponsible choice that has significant health implications for the communities living nearby."
"Burning plastic waste releases dioxins that stay in the environment forever, and are linked to cancers, reproductive, and developmental impairments," said Birnbaum. "These are the very same chemicals that are threatening the residents of East Palestine, Ohio."
Ahead of the first round of global plastic treaty negotiations in December, civil society organizations, scientists, and other advocates demanded robust rules to confront the full lifecycle impacts of the plastic pollution crisis.
After talks opened, the Break Free From Plastic (BFFP) alliance, comprised of more than 100 groups, emphasized the need to limit the ever-growing production and consumption of plastic and hold corporations accountable for the ecological and public health harms caused by manufacturing an endless stream of toxic single-use items.
The coalition launched a petition outlining what it described as the "essential elements" of a multilateral environmental agreement capable of "reversing the tide of plastic pollution and contributing to the end of the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution." According to experts associated with BFFP, an effective pact must include:
While the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee meetings in December (INC-1) and those scheduled to begin later this month (INC-2) mark the first time that governments have met to develop global regulations to restrict plastic production, the United States and the United Kingdom—the world's biggest per-capita plastic polluters—have so far refused to join a worldwide treaty aimed at curbing the amount of plastic waste destined for landfills and habitats, though both countries are reportedly now open to the idea.
"This is what happens when a petrostate and an oil executive lead global climate talks," said one critic.
With six months to go until the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP28, is set to take place in Dubai, comments by the designated president of the summit about his approach to mitigating the climate crisis are already setting off alarm bells with critics including former United Nations climate chief Christiana Figueres.
As The Guardian reported Tuesday, Figueres addressed in a recent episode of her podcast, "Outrage and Optimism," a speech given earlier this month by Sultan al-Jaber, the CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), whose appointment as president of COP28 sparked outrage among climate campaigners in January.
In comments Figueres described as "very worrisome," al-Jaber said at the Petersburg Climate Dialogue in Berlin that policymakers should focus on drawing down "fossil fuel emissions"—but not the extraction of fossil fuels themselves.
"We must be laser focused on phasing out fossil fuel emissions, while phasing up viable, affordable zero carbon alternatives," said al-Jaber, adding that "smart government regulation to... make carbon capture commercially viable" is needed.
Figueres, former executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, said al-Jaber was suggesting COP28 will support carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology—an unproven method of removing carbon emissions from smokestacks at power plants, which has failed in at least two high-profile projects in the United States and which climate campaigners say only serves as a distraction from genuine solutions to the climate emergency–eliminating the extraction of fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable energy.
"He is trying to say: 'Look, those of us who are producers of fossil fuels will be responsible for our emissions through enhanced carbon capture and storage. And we, or the COP presidency, will also support the zero carbon alternatives,'" said Figueres.
She added that dozens of countries have pushed for far-reaching commitments at previous global climate summits, with small island nations on the frontlines of the climate crisis joined by several countries in the Global North at last year's COP27 in unsuccessfully pushing for an agreement that called for a "phase-out" of fossil fuels instead of a "phase-down."
Al-Jaber's endorsement of a position embraced by fossil fuel companies like the one he heads is "very dangerous," said Figueres. "I just don't see most countries, and certainly not the vulnerable countries, being willing to support the COP president on this because it is a direct threat to their survival."
Instead of investing in CCS—which companies have poured billions of dollars into over the last several years with no success stories to show for it, as U.S. watchdog Food & Water Watchsaid this week—scientists have warned that policymakers must slash carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 in order to limit global heating to 1.5°C.
"We do not have CCS commercially available and viable over the next five to seven years," Figueres said. "It's just not going to happen."
While CCS costs an estimated $50 to $200 per tonne of carbon dioxide, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, energy experts agreed in a U.N. report released in 2021 that investing in renewable energy sources would save $55 billion in a year.
As one European official toldClimate Home News this month, CCS is currently a "luxury technology" that is currently being promoted mainly by "fossil exporting countries," while renewable energy sources "are the most affordable and readily available mitigation technologies."
Al-Jaber has been joined by United Arab Emirates Environment Minister Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiriin attempting to tamp down expectations that COP28 will yield far-reaching action to draw down the use of fossil fuels, as scientists have demanded.
In February, Almheiri said at the Munich Security Conference that "we need the oil and gas sector to be with us," while saying the industry should "phase out oil and gas in a just way."
Journalist Khaled Diab said after al-Jaber's comments this month that "this is what happens when a petrostate and an oil executive lead global climate talks."
\u201c"We must be laser focused on phasing out fossil fuel emissions,\u201d said COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber.\n\nBut carbon capture and storage cannot phase out emissions.\n\nThis is what happens when a petrostate and an oil executive lead global climate talks.\nhttps://t.co/bgY93ujxHO\u201d— Khaled Diab (@Khaled Diab) 1683194129
"When you are the president of the COP," said Figueres, "you cannot put forward the position of the country that you're coming from."