domingo, 22 de junho de 2008

Jim Rogers: A "Green" Coal Baron?

By CLIVE THOMPSON, New York Times, published June 22, 2008
Photograph by Peter Hapak; Illustration by Geoff McFetridge

Jim Rogers is the chief executive of the electric company Duke Energy.

When I met with Jim Rogers one day this spring, he tossed back two double espressos in a single hour. A charming and natty 60-year-old, Rogers is the chief executive of the electric company Duke Energy. But he has none of the macho, cowboy stolidity you might expect in an energy C.E.O. Instead, he lives to brainstorm. He spends more than half his time on the road, a perennial fixture at wonky gatherings like the Davos World Economic Forum and the Clinton Global Initiative, corralling “clean energy” thinkers and listening eagerly to their ideas. The day we met, he was brimming with enthusiasm for a new approach to solar power. Solar is currently too expensive to make economic sense, according to Rogers, because the cost to put panels on a roof is greater than what a household would save on electricity. But what if Duke bought panels en masse, driving the price down, and installed them itself — free?

“So we have 500,000 solar units on the roofs of our customers,” he said. “We install them, we maintain them and we dispatch them, just like it was a power plant!” He did some quick math: he could get maybe 1,000 megawatts out of that system, enough to permanently shutter one of the company’s older power plants. He shot me a toothy grin.

Even in this era of green evangelism, Rogers is a genuine anomaly. As the head of Duke Energy, with its dozens of coal-burning electric plants scattered around the Midwest and the Carolinas, he represents one of the country’s biggest sources of greenhouse gases. The company pumps 100 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, making it the third-largest corporate emitter in the United States.

Yet Rogers, who makes $10 million a year, is also one of the electricity industry’s most vocal environmentalists. For years, he has opened his doors to the kinds of green activists who would give palpitations to most energy C.E.O.’s. In March, he had breakfast with James Lovelock, the originator of the Gaia theory, which regards the earth as a single, living organism, to discuss whether species can adapt to a warmer earth. In April, James Hansen, a climatologist at NASAglobal warming, wrote an open letter urging Rogers to stop burning coal — so Rogers took him out for a three-hour dinner in Manhattan. “I would dare say that no one in the industry would talk to Lovelock and Hansen,” Rogers told me. Last year, Rogers astonished his board when he presented his plan to “decarbonize” Duke Energy by 2050 — in effect, to retool the utility so that it emits very little carbon dioxide. and one of the first scientists to publicly warn about

Perhaps most controversial, though, Rogers has long advocated stiff regulation of greenhouses gases. For the last few years, he has relentlessly lobbied Washington to create a “carbon cap” law that strictly limits the amount of carbon dioxide produced in the United States, one that would impose enormous costs on any company that releases more carbon than its assigned limit. That law is now on its way to becoming reality: last fall, Senators Joe Lieberman and John Warner introduced a historic “cap-and-trade” bill that would require the country to reduce its co2 emissions by 70 percent before 2050. Earlier this month, the bill failed to advance, but its sponsors will most likely reintroduce it next year once a new president is in office; meanwhile, a half-dozen other rival bills are currently being drawn up that all seek the same thing. One way or another, a carbon cap is coming.

Prominent environmentalists, thrilled, credit Rogers for clearing the way politically; many are his friends. “It’s fair to say that we wouldn’t be where we are in Congress if it weren’t for him,” says Eileen Claussen, head of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. “He helped put carbon legislation on the map.” This should be a golden moment for Rogers: he has godfathered a bill that could significantly reshape the electricity industry, help balance the world’s climate and establish his legacy as a visionary C.E.O. — a “statesman,” as he puts it. Instead, he is very, very worried, fearful that the real-world version of his dream legislation may end up threatening the company he has spent so many years building.

Though the details are devilish, the basic cap-and-trade concept is simple. The government makes it expensive for companies to emit carbon dioxide, and then market forces work their magic: those companies aggressively seek ways to avoid producing the stuff, to try to get a competitive edge on one another.

This is precisely how the government dealt with acid rain, back in the late ’80s. Acid rain, like global warming to a great extent, was caused by dangerous byproducts from burning coal: the chemicals sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, or “sox and nox,” as they were known colloquially. Environmentalists in the ’80s tried to get Ronald Reagan’s Environmental Protection Agency to crack down on sox and nox, but an antiregulatory mood prevailed. So a group of politicians and forward-thinking environmentalists turned to the marketplace instead.

Through legislation, the government first set a limit, or cap, on how much sox and nox could be discharged by the nation’s coal-burning utilities. These companies then regularly received allowances based on their historic levels of emissions. At the end of a predetermined period, every company had to possess enough in the way of allowances to cover the gases it released or face stiff penalties. Over time, the cap and the number of allowances were slowly reduced.

A system like this creates a carrot and a stick. An electrical utility that reduces its pollution below the cap has leftover allowances to sell to other companies. In theory, a virtuous cycle emerges: a company that invests money to clean up its emissions can more than recoup its outlay by selling unused allowances to its dirtier, laggard competitors. Furthermore, entrepreneurs have an incentive to develop cleanup technologies. And sure enough, following the Clean Air Act amendments in 1990, innovations emerged quickly, ranging from new coal blends to chemical “scrubbers” that removed sox and nox from the smokestacks. Government and industry officials predicted that solving the problem of acid rain could cost $4 billion in new investment — but the marketplace was so efficient that only an estimated $1 billion was needed.

A cap-and-trade program for co2 would try to harness the same dynamics. There are several bills under development — Lieberman-Warner is the most advanced, and the one most likely to pass next year — but they all take roughly the same approach. Greenhouse-gas emissions are capped in key carbon-dioxide-producing industries like gas, oil and electricity. Allowances are issued and companies are free to sell them to one another. Then the cap and number of allowances are ratcheted down over time, sparking, it’s hoped, the same Cambrian-like explosion in the development of cheaper, cleaner technologies.

If Rogers is keen on the idea of cap and trade, it’s because the acid-rain fight was one of his formative experiences as a C.E.O. His first job was a three-year stint as a journalist in Lexington, Ky. — “I was a journalist, so I’m allowed to be a little cynical at times,” he likes to joke — before heading to law school and working as a public advocate in his home state of Kentucky. In 1988, by then 40 years old, he switched sides — the Indiana electrical utility PSI Energy teetered on the verge of bankruptcy, and Rogers was offered the job of turning it around.

Part of what ruined PSI was a $2.7-billion write-off of its nuclear plant when local environmentalists forced PSI to halt its construction after the Three Mile Island accident. Rather than demonize the environmentalists, Rogers instead decided to “put on a flannel shirt” and meet with them in a cafe in Madison, Ind. Phil Sharp, a U.S. representative for Indiana at the time, recalls the activists’ astonishment. “They couldn’t believe it,” he says. “They were always used to taking on the big utility companies. Then he came in and instead of saying, 'What craziness is this?' he said, 'O.K., let’s talk.' ” It was partly self-protection, of course; Rogers knew that public opinion could ruin a company. Aware that the environmentalists were also worried about acid rain, Rogers decided it was a problem he should head off.

When cap and trade was proposed as a solution to acid rain, most energy executives whose companies burned coal hated the idea and lobbied fiercely against it. It wasn’t merely that they tended to resist regulation. They also didn’t believe it would work: they didn’t trust that the necessary technology would evolve fast enough. If it didn’t, they worried, very few firms would have extra allowances to sell, and the price of those on the open market would skyrocket. Companies might go broke trying to buy extra allowances to meet their cap.

Rogers was the outlier. He loved the elegance of the market-based approach, and he had a nerd’s optimism that the technology would bloom quickly. “And we were right,” he says. “So that’s what gave me the faith that this approach works. All you have to do is set the market up right.” PSI spent only $250 million to clean up its smokestacks, and allowances were “cheap and plentiful,” Rogers says.

Even as acid rain was being confronted in 1990, climate change was entering the public debate. By this time, Rogers was friends with a number of environmentalists and decided to dive into the science of global warming. He began inviting climate experts from Harvard, NASA and various research firms to brief him. “Pretty soon, I could see that the science was persuasive,” Rogers recalls. Many policy makers behind the acid-rain cleanup suspected that a cap-and-trade program could whip the carbon problem too. Rogers agreed. “What’s unusual about Jim is that he recognized these problems not as a woe-is-me burden but as real growth opportunities, opportunities to change his industry,” says Tim Wirth, president of the United Nations Foundation and a former senator from Colorado who helped write the acid-rain legislation. “That allows him to be cheerful in the face of the opposition.”

And there was plenty of opposition. Back then, merely acknowledging the existence of global warming was a thought crime among coal-burning energy executives. But as early as 2001, Rogers told a meeting of fellow C.E.O.’s in the industry that they should all work to pass a federal carbon cap. “They were stunned,” recalls Ralph Cavanagh, an energy program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, who was present at the meeting. “That was the first time I had heard a major energy executive say anything like this. But because he was chairman of their energy committee, he wasn’t just a flaky maverick.” Sharp, a longtime friend, chuckles when he remembers how much ire Rogers generated. “They hated him,” he says. “Nobody would invite him for golf.”

Rogers’s environmentalism has a weird flavor to it. Most people involved in the cap-and-trade process talk about their polar-bear moment — the instant when they realized the earth is imperiled. (John Warner, the Republican co-sponsor of the Lieberman-Warner bill, told me his inspiration came when he visited a forest he worked in as a teenager and found it decimated by a change in weather patterns.) In eight months of meeting with Rogers, listening to his speeches and watching him in action, I kept waiting to hear about his polar-bear moment, but it never came. Rogers’s environmentalism is practical, enthusiastic and intrigued by clean-tech innovations, not given to heartstring-tugging rhetoric about vanishing species or redwood trees.

Rogers does, however, talk frequently about “the grandchildren test.” “I want them to be able to look back and say, ‘My granddaddy made a good decision, and it’s still a good decision,’ ” he says. Though he’s only 60, Rogers already has seven grandchildren, and he frequently takes them on trips around the world. He told me, when we met for dinner in Charlotte, N.C., how he asked his 10-year-old granddaughter Emma what she wanted to do when she grew up; she said she wanted to “protect endangered species.” He found it striking that such a young child would already have a sense of the precariousness of nature. “She’s an old soul, let me tell you,” he says.

When asked why Rogers ended up taking such a contrary approach to his job, friends point to the fact that he never trained as an engineer — the background of most energy executives. He isn’t as insular, Sharp points out, so he’s interested in what critics have to say. “Usually what people do is circle the wagons,” Sharp says, “but he listens.”

It is also true that Rogers’s green focus has a purely strategic element. Anyone who was paying attention to public opinion on climate change could see that the government would, sooner or later, have to limit carbon emissions. So why not plan for that — start thinking about how your company would respond, start making friends in Washington? Rogers sunnily agrees that this was a large motivation for his environmental work. “I wanted to get out ahead of it,” Rogers told me the very first time I met him last August, in Washington, which he was visiting nearly weekly to brief and cajole senators.

“It’s the old saw — ‘If you’re not at the table, you’re going to be on the menu,’ ” he says. Last June, Rogers delivered a speech to the Senate environment committee, led by Barbara Boxer, which was beginning to assess the Lieberman-Warner bill. “I want the Senator Boxers, Senator Lieberman or Warner — I want them to feel confident that they can turn to me as an energy expert and trust me,” he said then.

To get a sense of the awesome challenge posed by “decarbonizing” electricity, go to one of Duke’s largest coal-fired plants, near Charlotte. When I visited last summer, I first wandered into the building that houses the furnace, a long tubular mass of steel with surprisingly graceful, almost art-deco lines. Then I climbed a flight of metal stairs to the rooftop, ascending through 120-degree air that left my shirt damp with sweat. Off to one side were the “scrubbers” — enormous metal contraptions that capture some of the acid-rain components by pumping the coal fumes through great waterfalls of limestone slurry. The process produces gypsum, a safe and inert mineral, which Duke sells for use in drywall. Looking down from the roof, I saw huge piles of limestone that dwarfed the trucks scurrying around them. Then it hit me: of the half-dozen structures in the coal plant, the majority are devoted not to producing energy but to cleaning it up. Or put another way, burning coal is trivially easy; it’s cleaning up the emissions that requires all sorts of work and machinery.

“Sometimes I tell people that Duke is really just a company that processes chemicals to produce clean air, and we get electricity as a byproduct,” Rogers said with a laugh when we met in his office afterward. If it’s this difficult to strip out acid-rain chemicals, I can hardly imagine what prodigious feats of engineering will be necessary to remove co2 from electricity production.

Rogers, however, maintains that it is possible to cut Duke’s co2 emissions to half of today’s levels by 2030. That would put the company in line with the goals set by the Lieberman-Warner bill or any of the other cap-and-trade alternatives, which mostly call for a 70 percent reduction in emissions by 2050. Rogers put a pad on his desk and began sketching a pie chart to show me how he’ll do it.

Currently, nearly all of Duke’s emissions come from its coal-fired plants. But those plants are aging; by 2050, every one of them will have to be replaced. If the company is going to replace them anyway, Duke might as well phase in “clean” sources.

It isn’t quite that simple, of course. No low-carbon sources are currently big or cheap enough — and it’s not clear when they will be. For example, Rogers calculates that Duke needs two new 2,200-megawatt nuclear plants. (One of them is currently under development in South Carolina.) But these plants are hellishly difficult to construct. They’re so expensive — many billions apiece — that historically they have required government guarantees, because Wall Street is loath to invest so much in such politically fraught projects. Rogers suspects that public opinion will shift in favor of nuclear energy eventually, because it offers huge amounts of reliable power with no direct co2 emissions.

What about renewable energy, like wind and solar? Rogers says that by 2030 they could make up as much as 12 percent of Duke’s energy supply, but they won’t be a big factor for another decade, because sunshine and wind are too irregular and the plants to harvest them are still too small. This year, Duke signed a 20-year deal to buy the entire electric output of the largest solar farm in the country, SunEdison’s plant in Davidson County, N.C. — it generates all of 16 megawatts, compared with 800 megawatts from a coal plant.

He drew another wedge in the pie chart for coal: it will shrink from producing nearly two-thirds of Duke’s power to just over a quarter. Rogers predicts coal will never go away, because it’s cheap and more accessible than any other energy source. The technology to remove co2 from the smokestacks and “sequester” it affordably is, he estimates, 10 to 15 years away. Duke is planning to build an experimental plant in Edwardsport, Ind., that will “gasify” coal, a tentative first step to capturing carbon. But Duke embarked on this venture only after securing a government subsidy of $460 million. Even if someone manages to make carbon sequestration feasible, Rogers worries that there’s a limit to what the public will tolerate. “We don’t know what happens if the carbon leaks back out of the ground, and we’ve never done it successfully on scale,” he told me. Later, he said, “So you’ll get the next version of Not in My Backyard — it’ll be Not Under My Backyard.”

When Rogers finished, his pie chart was neatly divided into the various fuel options. This plurality is a key part of his vision: no single energy source will save us. None is so plentiful or without costs that it dominates the others. “There’s no silver bullet,” he concluded, “just silver buckshot.”

Interestingly, the one green initiative Rogers says he hopes will emerge most quickly is focused not on generating power but on conserving it. Last year, he concocted the Save-a-Watt plan, which would let Duke profit from helping its customers drastically cut their energy use. Like roughly half the utilities in the United States, Duke is regulated; it can charge more for power only if it builds a new power plant and persuades the regulator to approve a rate increase to pay for it. But the fastest way to reduce a carbon footprint is by improving efficiency. Under Save-a-Watt, Duke would, for example, distribute “smart” meters that automatically turn off customers’ appliances during periods of peak power use. For its first experiment, Duke plans to cut the consumption of its customers in the Carolinas by 1,800 megawatts, which is equal to the output of two new coal-fired plants. The regulator would then let Duke charge higher rates for the electricity its customers do use to pay for all the efficiency technology. Save-a-Watt thus turns the power business on its head: rather than charge customers more to build plants, Duke will effectively charge them not to do so.

“I would rather spend $8 billion implementing efficiency than spend $8 billion on building a nuclear plant,” Rogers told me. Nuclear power has enormous construction and political risks. Efficiency doesn’t. After Rogers spoke with Bill Clinton at a private retreat last year, the former president was so fired up that when he later went onstage at the annual Clinton Global Initiative conference he raved about Save-a-Watt, declaring it “a simple, brilliant idea. It has the capacity to fundamentally change what we do in the United States.”

As the Lieberman-Warner bill took shape last spring and summer, Rogers ought to have been feeling triumphant. Instead, he was increasingly uneasy with what the senators were doing. He was particularly alarmed by the way they planned to hand out co2 allowances.

Among the many mind-numbing details in cap-and-trade politics, the allowances — permission to pollute, essentially — are the most charged. In the acid-rain trading market, the government freely gave the worst polluters the largest allowances, under the assumption that they faced the biggest challenges and needed the most financial help. But the Lieberman-Warner bill, like virtually every other cap-and-trade bill in the works, gives away only 75 percent of the allowances; the government auctions off the rest. Year by year, the percentage of allowances that will be auctioned off steadily rises, until nearly all of them are. In essence, with the stroke of a pen, the government creates a new and valuable form of property: carbon allowances. And for the government, we are talking about staggering amounts of money, the biggest new source of cash in years. Carbon allowances are projected to be worth $100 billion in the first year alone, rising to nearly $500 billion by 2050. To put that in context, an estimate prepared by the Congressional Budget Office predicts that the annual revenues from auctioning allowances will be equal to 15 percent of what the I.R.S. takes in.

Rogers sees this as a financial disaster for Duke. By his calculations, Duke would spend at least $2 billion in the first year alone and have to raise its rates immediately by up to 40 percent to cover that. Worse, coal-fired utilities would not get the special treatment they did under the acid-rain legislation. This time around, a large number of allowances would be given away to nuclear and hydroelectric utilities that already produce very little carbon dioxide. Those companies would not need their allowances and so could sell them for a healthy profit in coal-dependent states. The Lieberman-Warner rules, Rogers says, will effectively impose a “hidden tax” on those states — and they’re primarily the heartland states, where energy costs are already pinching industry and working-class families.

What especially enrages him, though, is how the government wants to spend the cash it raises from the allowances. As Lieberman-Warner worked its way through the Senate environment committee, senators attached assorted riders: $800 billion over the life of the bill for tax refunds to help consumers pay for their higher electric bills, $1 billion for deficit reduction and billions more in handouts to state governments. In industry speeches, Rogers characterized the bill as a “bastardization” of cap-and-trade economics. (He later apologized.) In conversations with me, he expressed special disdain for Barbara Boxer, the California senator who shepherded the bill through the Senate environment committee.

“Politicians have visions of sugarplums dancing in their head with all the money they can get from auctions,” Rogers told me last month. “It’s all about treating me as the tax collector and the government as the good guy. I’m the evil corporation that’s passing through the carbon tax so Senator Boxer can be the Santa Claus!” If the government was going to collect cash from carbon auctions, Rogers figured, at least it ought to invest that money in green-tech research. “A billion dollars for deficit reduction,” he vented. “A billion dollars! What is [Boxer] smoking? I thought we were solving carbon here.”

For all of Rogers’s careful effort to position himself as a forward thinker — and an advocate for the Midwestern coal states — that did not gain him any slack. Congressional insiders who watched Rogers lobby the Senate committee say that regional politics actually worked against him. The Democratic deal makers who promised to deliver the votes for the bill were “a left-center coalition” of senators, most of whom come from urban and coastal states that do not rely heavily on coal. (Boxer, for example, hails from California, which gets only a small percentage of its energy from coal.) “And a lot of people, Jim Rogers in particular, really didn’t play in the negotiations,” says a Congressional aide close to the Lieberman-Warner negotiations who did not have approval to talk to the press. “The members on the Democratic side aren’t particularly responsive to his concerns.”

So by this spring, Rogers found himself in the curious position of fighting tooth-and-nail against a bill he spent years pushing for. It is entirely possible that Rogers is right, and that the auctioning of allowances will lead to economic shocks. Many economists worry about the price of allowances rising out of control. “Clean” technology might not emerge fast enough. Nuclear power could flounder. Desperate to move away from coal, utilities might switch to burning natural gas, driving up its price and thereby substantially inflating the cost of heating American homes.

As Rogers went on the attack, critics countered that he sounded less like an environmental statesman and more like an old-school C.E.O. fighting for government pork, arguing baldly that what’s best for Duke is what’s best for the country — that cap-and-trade will only work if it’s set up in a way that best benefits Duke. John Rowe, the chief executive of Exelon — the country’s largest nuclear power company, which will profit handsomely by selling its allowances — argues that it’s only fair to hit Duke and others with higher costs. Customers in nuclear states have paid higher electric bills for years, because nuclear power is inherently more expensive to generate, Rowe points out. Duke could have switched to nuclear decades ago but didn’t, so now it must pay the price.

“Duke’s customers had a big cost advantage for a very long time,” Rowe told me. “And our feeling is you’re not entitled to have that made virtually permanent.” And he added, “This is sausage making, but Lieberman-Warner makes a pretty good sausage.”

The truth, perhaps inevitably, is that as carbon-cap laws become closer to reality, almost no one is happy. Coal-burning energy firms fear they’ll be destroyed. Environmentalists worry that the energy lobby will gut the bills.

This conflict was laid bare at Duke’s annual shareholders’ meeting in early May. Rogers started things off by devoting a full hour to his 40-year plan to decarbonize Duke. But when it was time for the question period, a dozen environmentalists lined up at the microphones and took up another hour lambasting Rogers for his new coal plant, now being built in Cliffside, N.C. If Rogers was really committed to breaking away from co2 emissions, why wasn’t he pouring the money into renewables?

“Business as usual for even another decade will be disastrous,” said Jim Warren, executive director of the North Carolina Waste Awareness and Reduction Network. A 25-year-old shareholder pleaded with Rogers to stop buying coal from mountaintop mines and foreswear nuclear energy. “What you invest in today, my generation has to pay for in the future,” she said. “Please do not steal from your grandchildren and leave us with a mess to deal with.”

But most of the shareholders, who numbered 250 or so, rolled their eyes as the environmentalists spoke; some openly heckled. “I would just like to caution our company not to get on this global-warming bandwagon,” one shareholder stood up to say. “I’ve read a lot of scientists, and there’s no agreement.” Rogers remained unwaveringly polite to the opposition, though — at several points shushing the hecklers, and thanking each speaker who laid into him.

When I saw Rogers a few days after the event, he grimaced at the memory of it. He is annoyed by opposition to his new coal plant; he also seems genuinely puzzled that local environmentalists don’t see the big picture as he does, that they don’t trust his 40-year plan to slash Duke’s carbon output. He maintains that the new plant will partly replace two older coal-fired ones, and because it is much more efficient, it will produce 30 percent less co2. “Our overall carbon footprint is going to go down,” he insisted. His frustration is the flip side of his desire to talk endlessly to critics of coal; he says he believes he can persuade anyone, which is probably why he seems so alarmed when he fails.

Yet many local environmentalists no longer believe Rogers, and they have precisely the opposite view of how the future should unfold. They view the Lieberman-Warner bill not as too strong but as too weak. They point out, correctly, that Duke stands to reap tens of billions in free allowances, even under the existing bill, money that will subsidize the burning of coal. “This bill gives huge windfall profits to a company that buys a lot of coal, like Duke,” says Frank O’Donnell, the head of Clean Air Watch, an environmental group. “I happen to think that it’s immoral. In a sense, you’re paying the polluter. You’re rewarding the very companies that are the source of the problem.” He says he doesn’t believe that coal-dependent companies will move fast enough unless they feel the tighter pressure of even more aggressive carbon caps. Rogers is simply “greenwashing” his company, saying all the right things so he can wear the mantle of the revolutionary without having to make the hard sacrifices.

Allegations like these perturb Rogers no end. Many protesters, he told me, are an “eco elite” who don’t understand the need working-class people have for affordable energy. But then, in another breath, he admits he also understands why they view him askance.

“There’s an interesting contradiction in my position,” he said. “I’ve struggled with it. On the one hand, I want to smooth out the transition for the customers, because we’ve got low prices. But on the other hand, and this is sort of the awkwardness of it, the other truth is as prices go up, people’s behavior is modified.” Change needs to come, but how fast?

“That’s the art in this, and not the science.”

Clive Thompson, a contributing writer for the magazine, writes frequently about technology.

Link to article at New York Times online: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/22/magazine/22Rogers-t.html

sexta-feira, 20 de junho de 2008

Bangladesh is set to disappear under the waves by the end of the century - A special report by Johann Hari

by Johann Hari, The Independent, Friday, 20 June 2008

Bangladesh, the most crowded nation on earth, is set to disappear under the waves by the end of this century – and we will be to blame. Johann Hari took a journey to see for himself how western profligacy and indifference have sealed the fate of 150 million people went to see for himself the spreading misery and destruction as the ocean reclaims the land on which so many millions depend.

Alamy, Battling the waves: many Bangladeshis depend on the ocean

This spring, I took a month-long road trip across a country that we – you, me and everyone we know – are killing. One day, not long into my journey, I travelled over tiny ridges and groaning bridges on the back of a motorbike to reach the remote village of Munshigonj. The surviving villagers – gaunt, creased people – were sitting by a stagnant pond. They told me, slowly, what we have done to them.

Ten years ago, the village began to die. First, many of the trees turned a strange brownish-yellow colour and rotted. Then the rice paddies stopped growing and festered in the water. Then the fish floated to the surface of the rivers, gasping. Then many of the animals began to die. Then many of the children began to die.

The waters flowing through Munshigonj – which had once been sweet and clear and teeming with life – had turned salty and dead.

Arita Rani, a 25-year-old, sat looking at the salt water, swaddled in a blue sari and her grief. "We couldn't drink the water from the river, because it was suddenly full of salt and made us sick," she said. "So I had to give my children water from this pond. I knew it was a bad idea. People wash in this pond. It's dirty. So we all got dysentery." She keeps staring at its surface. "I have had it for 10 years now. You feel weak all the time, and you have terrible stomach pains. You need to run to the toilet 10 times a day. My boy Shupria was seven and he had this for his whole life. He was so weak, and kept getting coughs and fevers. And then one morning..."

Her mother interrupted the trailing silence. "He died," she said. Now Arita's surviving three-year-old, Ashik, is sick, too. He is sprawled on his back on the floor. He keeps collapsing; his eyes are watery and distant. His distended stomach feels like a balloon pumped full of water. "Why did this happen?" Arita asked.

It is happening because of us. Every flight, every hamburger, every coal power plant, ends here, with this. Bangladesh is a flat, low-lying land made of silt, squeezed in between the melting mountains of the Himalayas and the rising seas of the Bay of Bengal. As the world warms, the sea is swelling – and wiping Bangladesh off the map.

Deep below the ground of Munshigonj and thousands of villages like it, salt water is swelling up. It is this process – called "saline inundation" – that killed their trees and their fields and contaminated their drinking water. Some farmers have shifted from growing rice to farming shrimp – but that employs less than a quarter of the people, and it makes them dependent on a fickle export market. The scientific evidence shows that unless we change now, this salt water will keep rising and rising, until everything here is ocean.

I decided to embark on this trip when, sitting in my air-conditioned flat in London, I noticed a strange and seemingly impossible detail in a scientific report. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – whose predictions have consistently turned out to be underestimates – said that Bangladesh is on course to lose 17 per cent of its land and 30 per cent of its food production by 2050. For America, this would be equivalent to California and New York State drowning, and the entire mid-West turning salty and barren.

Surely this couldn't be right? How could more than 20 million Bangladeshis be turned into refugees so suddenly and so silently? I dug deeper, hoping it would be disproved – and found that many climatologists think the IPCC is way too optimistic about Bangladesh. I turned to Professor James Hansen, the director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, whose climate calculations have proved to be more accurate than anybody else's. He believes the melting of the Greenland ice cap being picked up by his satellites today, now, suggests we are facing a 2.5-metre rise in sea levels this century – which would drown Bangladesh entirely. When I heard this, I knew I had to go, and see.

1. The edge of a cliff

The first thing that happens when you arrive in Dhaka is that you stop. And wait. And wait. And all you see around you are cars, and all you hear is screaming. Bangladesh's capital is in permanent shrieking gridlock, with miles of rickshaws and mobile heaps of rust. The traffic advances by inches and by howling. Each driver screams himself hoarse announcing – that was my lane! Stay there! Stop moving! Go back! Go forward! It is a good-natured shrieking: everybody knows that this is what you do in Dhaka. If you are lucky, you enter a slipstream of traffic that moves for a minute – until the jams back up and the screaming begins once more.

Around you, this megalopolis of 20 million people seems to be screaming itself conscious. People burn rubbish by the roadside, or loll in the rivers. Children with skin deformities that look like infected burns try to thrust maps or sweets into your hand. Rickshaw drivers with thighs of steel pedal furiously as whole families cling on and offer their own high-volume traffic commentary to the groaning driver, and the groaning city.

I wanted to wade through all this chaos to find Bangladesh's climate scientists, who are toiling in the crannies of the city to figure out what – if anything – can be saved.

Dr Atiq Rahman's office in downtown Dhaka is a nest of scientific reports and books that, at every question, he dives into to reel off figures. He is a tidy, grey-moustached man who speaks English very fast, as if he is running out of time.

"It is clear from all the data we are gathering here in Bangladesh that the IPCC predictions were much too conservative," he said. He should know: he is one of the IPCC's leading members, and the UN has given him an award for his unusually prescient predictions. His work is used as one of the standard textbooks across the world, including at Oxford and Harvard. "We are facing a catastrophe in this country. We are talking about an absolutely massive displacement of human beings."

He handed me shafts of scientific studies as he explained: "This is the ground zero of global warming." He listed the effects. The seas are rising, so land is being claimed from the outside. (The largest island in the country, Bhola, has lost half its land in the past decade.) The rivers are super-charged, becoming wider and wider, so land is being claimed from within. (Erosion is up by 40%.) Cyclones are becoming more intense and more violent (2007 was the worst year on record for intense hurricanes here). And salt water is rendering the land barren. (The rate of saline inundation has trebled in the past 20 years.) "There is no question," Dr Rahman said, "that this is being caused primarily by human action. This is way outside natural variation. If you really want people in the West to understand the effect they are having here, it's simple. From now on, we need to have a system where for every 10,000 tons of carbon you emit, you have to take a Bangladeshi family to live with you. It is your responsibility." In the past, he has called it "climatic genocide."

The worst-case scenario, Dr Rahman said, is if one of the world's land-based ice-sheets breaks up. "Then we lose 70 to 80 per cent of our land, including Dhaka. It's a different world, and we're not on it. The evidence from Jim Hansen shows this is becoming more likely – and it can happen quickly and irreversibly. My best understanding of the evidence is that this will probably happen towards the end of the lifetime of babies born today."

I walked out in the ceaseless churning noise of Dhaka. Everywhere I looked, people were building and making and living: my eyes skimmed up higher and higher and find more and more activity. A team of workers were building a house; behind and above them, children were sewing mattresses on a roof; behind and above them, more men were building taller buildings. This is the most cramped country on earth: 150 million people living in an area the size of Iowa. Could all this life really be continuing on the crumbling edge of a cliff?

2. 'It is like the Bay is angry'

I was hurtling through the darkness at 120 mph with my new driver, Shambrat. He was red-eyed from chewing pan, a leaf-stimulant that makes you buzz, and I could see nothing except the tiny pools of light cast by the car. They showed we were on narrow roads, darting between rice paddies and emptied shack-towns, in the midnight silence. I kept trying to put on my seatbelt, but every time Shambrat would cry, "You no need seatbelt! I good driver!" and burst into hysterical giggles.

To see if the seas were really rising, I had circled a random low-lying island on the map called Moheshkhali and asked Shambrat to get me there. It turned out the only route was to go to Coxs Bazar – Bangladesh's Blackpool – and then take a small wooden rowing boat that has a huge chugging engine attached to the front. I clambered in alongside three old men, a small herd of goats, and some chickens. The boat was operated by a 10-year-old child, whose job is to point the boat in the right direction, start the engine, and then begin using a small jug to frantically scoop out the water that starts to leak in. After an hour of the deafening ack-ack of the engine, we arrived at the muddy coast of Moheshkhali.

There was a makeshift wooden pier, where men were waiting with large sacks of salt. As we climbed up on to the fragile boards, people helped the old men lift up the animals. There were men mooching around the pier, waiting for a delivery. They looked bemused by my arrival. I asked them if the sea levels were rising here. Rezaul Karim Chowdry, a 34-year-old who looked like he is in his fifties, said plainly: "Of course. In the past 30 years, two-thirds of this island has gone under the water. I had to abandon my house. The land has gone into the sea." Immediately all the other men start to recount their stories. They have lost their houses, their land, and family members to the advance.

They agreed to show me their vanishing island. We clambered into a tuc-tuc – a motorbike with a carriage on the back – and set off across the island, riding along narrow ridges between cordoned-off areas of sand and salt. The men explained that this is salt-farming: the salt left behind by the tide is gathered and sold. "It is one of the last forms of farming that we can still do here," Rezaul said. As we passed through the forest, he told me to be careful: "Since we started to lose all our land, gangs are fighting for the territory that is left. They are very violent. A woman was shot in the crossfire yesterday. They will not like an outsider appearing from nowhere."

We pulled up outside a vast concrete structure on stilts. This, the men explained, is the cyclone shelter built by the Japanese years ago. We climbed to the top, and looked out towards the ocean. "Do you see the top of a tree, sticking out there?" Rezaul said, pointing into the far distance. I couldn't see anything, but then, eventually, I spotted a tiny jutting brown-green tip. "That is where my house was." When did you leave it? "In 2002. The ocean is coming very fast now. We think all this" – he waved his hand back over the island – "will be gone in 15 years."

Outside the rusty house next door, an ancient-looking man with a long grey beard was sitting cross-legged. I approached him, and he rose slowly. His name was Abdul Zabar; he didn't know his age, but guessed he is 80. "I was born here," he said. "There" – and he points out to the sea. "The island began to be swallowed in the 1960s, and it started going really quickly in 1991. I have lost my land, so I can't grow anything... I only live because one of my sons got a job in Saudi Arabia and sends money back to us. I am very frightened, but what can I do? I can only trust in God." The sea stops just in front of his home. What will you do, I asked, if it comes closer? "We will have nowhere to go to."

I was taken to the island's dam. It is a long stretch of hardened clay and concrete and mud. "This used to be enough," a man called Abul Kashin said, "but then the sea got so high that it came over the dam." They have tried to pile lumps of concrete on top, but they are simply washed away. "My family have left the island," he continued, "They were so sad to go. This is my homeland. If we had to leave here to go to some other place, it would be the worst day of my life."

Twenty years ago, there were 30,000 people on this island. There are 18,000 now – and most think they will be the last inhabitants.

On the beach, there were large wooden fishing boats lying unused. Abu Bashir, a lined, thin 28-year-old, pointed to his boat and said, "Fishing is almost impossible now. The waves are much bigger than they used to be. It used to be fine to go out in a normal [hand-rowed] boat. That is how my father and my grandfather and my ancestors lived.

"Now that is impossible. You need a [motor-driven] boat, and even that is thrown about by the waves so much. It's like the bay is angry."

The other fishermen burst in. "When there is a cyclone warning, we cannot go out fishing for 10 days. That is a lot of business lost. There used to be two or three warnings a year. Last year, there were 12. The sea is so violent. We are going hungry."

Yet the islanders insisted on offering me a feast of rice and fish and eggs. I was ushered into the council leader's house – a rusty shack near the sea – and the men sat around, urging me to tell the world what is happening. "If people know what is happening to us, they will help," they said. The women remained in the back room; when I glimpsed them and tried to thank them for the food, they giggled and vanished. I asked if the men had heard of global warming, and they looked puzzled. "No," they said. We stared out at the ocean and ate, as the sun slowly set on the island.

3. No hiding place

Through the morning mist, I peered out of the car window at the cratered landscape. Trees jutted out at surreal angles from the ground. One lay upside down with its roots sticking upwards towards the sky, looking like a sketch for a Dali painting. Shambrat had spat out his pan and was driving slowly now. "There are holes in the ground," he said, squinting with concentration. "From the cyclone. You fall in..." He made a splattering sound.

It was here, in the south of Bangladesh, that on 15 November last year, Cyclone Sidr arrived. It formed in the warmed Bay of Bengal and ripped across the land, taking more than 3,000 people with it. Like Americans talking about 9/11, everybody in Bangladesh knows where they were when Sidr struck. For miles, the upturned and smashed-out houses are intermixed with tents made from blue plastic sheeting. These stretches of plastic were handed out by the charities in the weeks after Sidr, and many families are still living in them now.

There have always been cyclones in Bangladesh, and there always will be – but global warming is making them much more violent. Back in Dhaka, the climatologist Ahsan Uddin Ahmed explained that cyclones use heat as a fuel: "The sea surface temperatures in the Bay of Bengal have been rising steadily for the past 40 years – and so, exactly as you would expect, the intensity of cyclones has risen too. They're up by 39 per cent on average." Again I circled a cyclone-struck island at random and headed for the dot.

The hour-long journey on a wooden rowing boat from the mainland to Charkashem Island passed in a dense mist that made it feel like crossing the River Styx. The spectral outline of other boats could sometimes be glimpsed, before they disappeared suddenly. One moment an old woman and a goat appeared and stared at me, then they were gone.

The island was a tiny dot of mud and lush, upturned greenery. It had no pier, so when the rowing boat bumped up against the sand I had to wade through the water.

I looked out over the silent island, and saw some familiar blue sheeting in the distance. As I trudged towards it, I saw some gaunt teenagers half-heartedly kicking a deflated football. From the sheeting, a man and woman stared, astonished.

"I was in my fields over there," Hanif Mridha said. "I saw the wind start, it was about eight at night, and I saw everything being blown around. I went and hid under an iron sheet, but that was blown away by the wind. The water came swelling up all of a sudden and was crashing all around me. I grabbed one of my children and ran to the forest" – he pointed to the cluster of trees at the heart of the island – "and climbed the tallest one I could reach. I went as high as I could but still the water kept rising and I thought – this is it, I'm going to drown. I'm dying, my children are dying, my wife is dying. I could see everything was under water and people were screaming everywhere. I held there for four hours with my son."

When the water washed away and he came down, everything was gone: his house, his crops, his animals, his possessions. A few days later, an aid agency arrived with some rice and some plastic sheeting to sleep under. Nobody has come since.

His wife, Begum Mridha, took over the story. Their children are terrified of the sea now, and have nightmares every night. They eat once a day, if they're lucky. "We are so hungry," she said. The new home they have built is made from twigs and the plastic sheet. Underneath it, they sleep with their eight children and Begum Mridha's mother. The children lay lethargically there, staring blankly into space over their distended bellies.

Begum Mridha cooks on a lantern. They eat once a day – if that. "It's so cold at night we can't sleep," she said. "The children all have diarrhoea and they are losing weight. It will take us more than two years to save up and get back what we had."

If cyclones hit this area more often, what would happen to you? Hanif looked down. He opened his mouth, but no words came.

4. Bangladesh's Noah

In the middle of Bangladesh, in the middle of my road trip, I tracked down Abul Hasanat Mohammed Rezwan. He was sitting under a parasol by the banks of a river, scribbling frenetically into his notebook.

"The catastrophe in Bangladesh has begun," he said. "The warnings [by the IPCC] are unfolding much faster than anyone anticipated." Until a few years ago, Rezwan was an architect, designing buildings for rich people – "but I thought, is this what I want to do while my country drowns? Create buildings that will be under water soon anyway?"

He considered dedicating his life to building schools and hospitals, "but then I realised they would be under water soon as well. I was hopeless. But then I thought of boats!"

He has turned himself into Bangladesh's Noah, urging his people to move on to boats as the Great Flood comes. Rezwan built a charity – Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha, which means self-reliance – that is building the only schools and hospitals and homes that can last now: ones that float.

We clambered on to his first school-boat, which is moored in Singra. In this area there is no electricity, no sewage system, and no state. The residents live the short lives of pre-modern people. But now, suddenly, they have a fleet of these boats, stocked with medicines and lined with books on everything from Shakespeare to accountancy to climatology. Nestling between them, there are six internet terminals with broadband access.

The boat began to float down the Curnai River, gathering scores of beaming kids as it went. Fatima Jahan, an unveiled 18-year-old girl dressed in bright red, arrived to go online. She was desperate to know the cricket scores. At every muddy village-stop, the boat inhaled more children, and I talked to the mothers who were beating their washing dry by the river. "I never went to school, and I never saw a doctor in my life. Now my children can do both!" a thin woman with a shimmering heart-shaped nose stud called Nurjahan Rupbhan told me. But when I asked about the changes in the climate, her forehead crumpled into long frown-lines.

I thought back to what the scientists told me in Dhaka. Bangladesh is a country with 230 rivers running through it like veins. They irrigate the land and give it its incredible fertility – but now the rivers are becoming supercharged. More water is coming down from the melting Himalayan glaciers, and more salt water is pushing up from the rising oceans. These two forces meet here in the heart of Bangladesh and make the rivers churn up – eroding the river banks with amazing speed. The water is getting wider, leaving the people to survive on ever-more narrow strips of land.

Nurjahan took me up to a crumbling river edge, where tree roots jutted out naked. "My house was here," she said. "It fell into the water. So now my house is here –" she motioned to a small clay hut behind us – "but now we realise this is going to fall in too. The river gets wider day by day."

But even this, Nurjahan said, is not the worst problem. The annual floods have become far more extreme, too. "Until about 10 years ago, the floods came every year and the water would stay for 15 days, and it helped to wet the land. Now the water stays for four months. Four months! It is too long. That doesn't wet the fields, it destroys them. We cannot plan for anything."

When the floods came last year, Nurjahan had no choice but to stay here. She lived with her children waist-deep in the cold brown water – for four months. "It was really hard to cook, or go to the toilet. We all got dysentery. It was miserable." Then she seemed to chastise herself. "But we survived! We are tough, don't you think?"

We sat by the river-bank, our feet dangling down towards the river. I asked if she agrees with Rezwan that her only option soon will be to move on to a boat. He is launching the first models this summer: floating homes with trays of earth where families can grow food. "Yes," she said, "We will be boat-people."

I clambered back on to one of the 42 school-boats in this area. Young children were in the front chanting the alphabet, and teenagers at the back were browsing through the books. I asked a 16-year-old boy called Mohammed Palosh Ali what he was reading about, and he said, "Global warming." I felt a small jolt. He was the first person to spontaneously raise global warming with me. Can you tell me what that is? "The climate is being changed by carbon dioxide," he said. "This is a gas that traps heat. So if there is more of it, then the ice in the north of the world melts and our seas rise here."

I asked if he had seen this warming in his own life. "Of course! The floods in 1998 and 2002 were worse than anything in my grandfather's life. We couldn't get any drinking water, so the dirty water I drank made me very sick. The shit from the toilet pits had risen up and was floating in the water, but we still had to drink it. We put tablets in it but it was still disgusting. What else could we do?"

Mohammed, do you know who is responsible for this global warming? He shakes his head. That answer lies a few pages further into the book. Soon he, and everybody else on this boat, will know it is me – and you.

5. The warming jihad

What happens to a country's mind as it drowns? Professor Philip Jenkins of Pennsylvania State University believes he can glimpse the answer: "The connection between climate change and religious violence is not tenuous," he says. "In fact, there's a historical indicator of how it could unfold: the Little Ice Age."

Between the ninth and 13th centuries, the northern hemisphere went through a natural phase of global warming. The harvests lasted longer – so there were more crops, and more leisure. Universities and the arts began to flower. But then in the late 13th century, the Little Ice Age struck. Crop production fell, and pack ice formed in the oceans, wrecking trade routes. People began to starve.

"In this climate of death and horror, people cast about for scapegoats, even before the Black Death struck," he says. Tolerance withered with the climate shocks: the Church declared witchcraft a heresy; the Jews began to be expelled from Britain. There was, he says, "a very close correlation between the cooling and a region-wide heightening of violent intolerance."

This time, there will be no need for imaginary scapegoats. The people responsible are on every TV screen, revving up their engines. Will jihadism swell with the rising seas? Bangladesh's religion seems to be low-key and local. In the countryside, Muslims – who make up 95 per cent of the nation – still worship Hindu saints and mix in a few Buddhist ideas, too. In the Arab world, people bring up God in almost every sentence. In Bangladesh, nobody does.

But then, as we returned to Dhaka, I was having a casual conversation with Shambrat. He had been driving all night – at his insistence – and by this point he was wired after chewing fistfuls of pan, and singing along at the top of his voice to the Eighties power ballads. I mentioned Osama bin Laden in passing, and he said, "Bin Laden – great man! He fight for Islam!" Then, without looking at me, he went back to singing: "It must have been love, but it's over now...."

I wondered how many Bangladeshis felt this way. The Chandni Chowk Bazaar – one of the city's main markets – was overcast the afternoon I decided to canvass opinions on Bin Laden. I approached a 24-year-old flower-seller called Mohammed Ashid, and as I inhaled the rich sweet scent of roses, he said: "I like him because he is a Muslim and I am a Muslim." Would you like Bin Laden to be in charge of Bangladesh? "Yes, of course," he said. And what would President Bin Laden do? "I have no idea," he shrugged. What would you want him to do? He furrowed his brow. "If Osama came to power he would make women cover up. Women are too free here." But what if women don't want to cover up? "They are Muslims. It's not up to them."

A very smartly dressed man called Shadul Ahmed was strolling down the street to his office, where he is in charge of advertising. "I like him," he said. "Bin Laden works for the Muslims." He conceded 9/11 "was bad because many innocents died," but added: "Osama didn't do it. The Americans did it. They are guilty."

As dozens of people paused from their shopping to talk, a pattern emerged: the men tend to like him, and the women don't. "I hate Bin Laden," one smartly dressed woman said, declining to give her name. "He is a fanatic. Bangladeshis do not like this." As the praise for Bin Laden was offered, I saw a boy go past on a rickshaw, stroking a girl's uncovered hair gently, sensuously. This is not the Arab world.

The only unpleasant moment came when I approached three women selling cigarettes by the side of the road. They were in their early thirties, wearing white hijabs and puffing away. Akli Mouna said, "I like him. He is a faithful Muslim." She said "it would be very nice" if he was president of Bangladesh. Really? Would you be happy if you were forced to wear a burqa, and only rarely allowed out of your house? She jabbed a finger at my chest. "Yes! It would be fine if Osama was president and told us to wear the burqa." But Akli – you aren't wearing a burqa now. "It's good to wear the burqa!" she yelled. Her teeth, I saw, were brown and rotting. "We are only here because we are poor! We should be kept in the house!"

I wanted to track down some Bangladeshi jihadis for myself, so I called the journalist Abu Sufian. He is a news reporter for BanglaVision, one of the main news channels, who made his name penetrating the thickets of the Islamist underground. He told me to meet him at the top of the BanglaVision skyscraper. As the city shrieked below us, he explained: "In the late 1980s, a group of mujahideen [holy warriors] who had been fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan came back to launch an Islamic revolution here in Bangladesh. They tried to mount an armed revolt in the north and kill the former Prime Minister. But it didn't come to much."

Islamic fundamentalism is hobbled in Bangladesh, because it is still associated for most people with Pakistan – the country Bangladesh fought a bloody war of independence to escape from.

But Sufian says a new generation of Islamists is emerging with no memory of that war. "For example, I met a 21-year-old who had fought in Kashmir, whose father was a rickshaw driver. He said it was his holy duty to establish an Islamic state here through violence. Most were teenagers. All the jihadis I met hated democracy. They said it was the rule of man. According to them, only the rule of God is acceptable."

He said it would be almost impossible to track them down – they are in prison or hiding – but my best bet was to head for the Al-Amin Jami mosque in the north-west of Dhaka. "They are fundamentalist Wahhabis, and very dangerous," he said. Yet when I arrived, just before 6pm prayers, it was a bright building in one of the nicer parts of town. Men in white caps and white robes were streaming in. An ice-cream stall sat outside. I approached a fiftysomething man in flowing robes and designer shoes. He glared at me. I explained I was a journalist, and ask if it would it be possible to look inside the mosque? "No. Under no circumstances. At all."

OK. I asked a few polite questions about Islam, and then asked what he thought of Osama bin Laden. "Osama bin Laden?" he said. Yes. He scowled. "I have never heard of him." Never? "Never." I turned to the man standing, expectantly, next to him. "He has not heard of Osama bin Laden, either," he said. What about September 11 – you know, when the towers in New York fell? "I have never heard of this event, either." Some teenage boys were about to go in, so I approached them. Behind my back, I can sense the Gucci-man making gestures. "Uh... sorry... I don't think anything about Bin Laden," one of them said, awkwardly.

I lingered as prayers took place inside, until a flow of men poured out so thick and fast that they couldn't be instructed not to speak. "Yes, we would like Osama to run Bangladesh, he is a good man," the first person told me. There were nods. "He fights for Islam!" shouted another.

The crowd says this mosque – like most fundamentalist mosques on earth – is funded by Saudi Arabia, with the money you and I pay at the petrol pump. As I looked up at its green minaret jutting into the sky, it occurs to me that our oil purchases are simultaneously drowning Bangladesh, and paying for the victims to be fundamentalised.

After half-an-hour of watching this conversation and fuming, the initially recalcitrant man strode forward. "Why do you want to know about Bin Laden? We are Muslims. You are Christian. We all believe in the same God!" he announced.

Actually, I said, I am not a Christian. There was a hushed pause. "You are... a Jew?" he said. The crowd looked horrified; but then the man forced a rictus smile and announced: "We all believe in one God! We are all children of Abraham! We are cousins!" No, I said. I am an atheist. Everyone looked genuinely puzzled; they do not have a bromide for this occasion. "Well... then..." he paused, scrambling for a statement... "You must convert to Islam! Read the Koran! It is beautiful!" Ah – so can I come into the mosque after all? "No. Never."

6. The obituarist?

In a small café in Dhaka, a cool breeze was blowing in through the window along with the endless traffic-screams. The 32-year-old novelist Tahmima Anam was inhaling the aroma of coffee and close to despair.

She made her name by writing a tender novel – A Golden Age – about the birth of her country, Bangladesh. When the British finally withdrew from this subcontinent in 1948, the land they left behind was partitioned. Two chunks were carved out of India and declared to be a Muslim republic – East Pakistan and West Pakistan. But apart from their religion, they had very little in common. The gentle people of East Pakistan chafed under the dictatorial fundamentalism imposed from distant Islamabad. When they were ordered to start speaking Urdu, it was enough. Her novel tells how in 1971, they decided to declare independence and become Bangladesh. The Pakistanis fought back with staggering violence, but in the end Bangladesh was freed.

Now Anam is realising that unless we change, fast, this fight will have been for the freedom of a drowning land – and her next novel may have to be its obituary.

Anam came to Bangladesh late. Her Dhaka-born parents travelled the world, so she grew up in a slew of international schools, but she always dreamed of coming home. Her passion for this land, this place, this delta, aches through her work. About one of her characters, she wrote: "He had a love for all things Bengali: the swimming mud of the delta; the translucent, bony river fish; the shocking green palette of the paddy and the open, aching blue of the sky over flat land."

"You can see what has started to happen," she says. The vision of the country drowning is becoming more real every day. Where could all these 150 million people go? India is already building a border fence to keep them out; I can't imagine the country's other neighbour – Burma – will offer much refuge. "We are the first to be affected, not the last," Anam says. "Everyone should take a good look at Bangladesh. This story will become your story. We are your future."

It is, she says, our responsibility to stop this slow-mo drowning – and there is still time to save most of the country. "What could any Bangladeshi government do? We have virtually no carbon emissions to cut." They currently stand at 0.3 per cent of the world's – less than the island of Manhattan. "It's up to you."

Anam is defiantly optimistic that this change can happen if enough of us work for it – but, like every scientist I spoke to, she knows that dealing with it simply by adaptation by Bangladeshis is impossible. The country has a military-approved dictatorship incapable of taking long-term decisions, and Dutch-style dams won't work anyway. "Any large-scale construction is very hard in this country, because it's all made of shifting silt. There's nothing to build on."

So if we carry on as we are, Bangladesh will enter its endgame. "All the people who strain at this country's seams will drown with it," Anam says, "or be blown away to distant shores – casualties and refugees by the millions." The headstone would read, "Bangladesh, 1971-2071: born in blood, died in water."

Link to article: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/bangladesh-is-set-to-disappear-under-the-waves-by-the-end-of-the-century--a-special-report-by-johann-hari-850938.html

quarta-feira, 11 de junho de 2008

Greenland, June 11, 2008

terça-feira, 10 de junho de 2008

Chart of Temperature Comparisons


Bush Administration's Message Machine -- the Pentagon's War Analysts

Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand

A PENTAGON CAMPAIGN Retired officers have been used to shape terrorism coverage from inside the TV and radio networks.

Published: April 20, 2008

In the summer of 2005, the Bush administration confronted a fresh wave of criticism over Guantánamo Bay. The detention center had just been branded “the gulag of our times” by Amnesty International, there were new allegations of abuse from United Nations human rights experts and calls were mounting for its closure.

How the Pentagon Spread Its MessageInteractive Feature
How the Pentagon Spread Its Message

Audio, video and documents that show how the military’s talking points were disseminated.

Message Machine

The Media Battleground

Message Machine David Barstow answers questions on his article about the Pentagon’s use of military analysts to create favorable news coverage.

Dining with Donald H. Rumsfeld, second from left, during his final week as secretary of defense were the retired officers Donald W. Shepperd, left, Thomas G. McInerney and Steven J. Greer, right.

Readers' Comments

Readers shared their thoughts on this article.

The administration’s communications experts responded swiftly. Early one Friday morning, they put a group of retired military officers on one of the jets normally used by Vice President Dick Cheney and flew them to Cuba for a carefully orchestrated tour of Guantánamo.

To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as “military analysts” whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.

Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.

The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.

Those business relationships are hardly ever disclosed to the viewers, and sometimes not even to the networks themselves. But collectively, the men on the plane and several dozen other military analysts represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized.

Records and interviews show how the Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse — an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.

Analysts have been wooed in hundreds of private briefings with senior military leaders, including officials with significant influence over contracting and budget matters, records show. They have been taken on tours of Iraq and given access to classified intelligence. They have been briefed by officials from the White House, State Department and Justice Department, including Mr. Cheney, Alberto R. Gonzales and Stephen J. Hadley.

In turn, members of this group have echoed administration talking points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false or inflated. Some analysts acknowledge they suppressed doubts because they feared jeopardizing their access.

A few expressed regret for participating in what they regarded as an effort to dupe the American public with propaganda dressed as independent military analysis.

“It was them saying, ‘We need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you,’ ” Robert S. Bevelacqua, a retired Green Beret and former Fox News analyst, said.

Kenneth Allard, a former NBC military analyst who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, said the campaign amounted to a sophisticated information operation. “This was a coherent, active policy,” he said.

As conditions in Iraq deteriorated, Mr. Allard recalled, he saw a yawning gap between what analysts were told in private briefings and what subsequent inquiries and books later revealed.

“Night and day,” Mr. Allard said, “I felt we’d been hosed.”

The Pentagon defended its relationship with military analysts, saying they had been given only factual information about the war. “The intent and purpose of this is nothing other than an earnest attempt to inform the American people,” Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said.

It was, Mr. Whitman added, “a bit incredible” to think retired military officers could be “wound up” and turned into “puppets of the Defense Department.”

Many analysts strongly denied that they had either been co-opted or had allowed outside business interests to affect their on-air comments, and some have used their platforms to criticize the conduct of the war. Several, like Jeffrey D. McCausland, a CBS military analyst and defense industry lobbyist, said they kept their networks informed of their outside work and recused themselves from coverage that touched on business interests.

“I’m not here representing the administration,” Dr. McCausland said.

Some network officials, meanwhile, acknowledged only a limited understanding of their analysts’ interactions with the administration. They said that while they were sensitive to potential conflicts of interest, they did not hold their analysts to the same ethical standards as their news employees regarding outside financial interests. The onus is on their analysts to disclose conflicts, they said. And whatever the contributions of military analysts, they also noted the many network journalists who have covered the war for years in all its complexity.

Five years into the Iraq war, most details of the architecture and execution of the Pentagon’s campaign have never been disclosed. But The Times successfully sued the Defense Department to gain access to 8,000 pages of e-mail messages, transcripts and records describing years of private briefings, trips to Iraq and Guantánamo and an extensive Pentagon talking points operation.

These records reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated.

Internal Pentagon documents repeatedly refer to the military analysts as “message force multipliers” or “surrogates” who could be counted on to deliver administration “themes and messages” to millions of Americans “in the form of their own opinions.”

Though many analysts are paid network consultants, making $500 to $1,000 per appearance, in Pentagon meetings they sometimes spoke as if they were operating behind enemy lines, interviews and transcripts show. Some offered the Pentagon tips on how to outmaneuver the networks, or as one analyst put it to Donald H. Rumsfeld, then the defense secretary, “the Chris Matthewses and the Wolf Blitzers of the world.” Some warned of planned stories or sent the Pentagon copies of their correspondence with network news executives. Many — although certainly not all — faithfully echoed talking points intended to counter critics.

“Good work,” Thomas G. McInerney, a retired Air Force general, consultant and Fox News analyst, wrote to the Pentagon after receiving fresh talking points in late 2006. “We will use it.”

Again and again, records show, the administration has enlisted analysts as a rapid reaction force to rebut what it viewed as critical news coverage, some of it by the networks’ own Pentagon correspondents. For example, when news articles revealed that troops in Iraq were dying because of inadequate body armor, a senior Pentagon official wrote to his colleagues: “I think our analysts — properly armed — can push back in that arena.”

The documents released by the Pentagon do not show any quid pro quo between commentary and contracts. But some analysts said they had used the special access as a marketing and networking opportunity or as a window into future business possibilities.

John C. Garrett is a retired Marine colonel and unpaid analyst for Fox News TV and radio. He is also a lobbyist at Patton Boggs who helps firms win Pentagon contracts, including in Iraq. In promotional materials, he states that as a military analyst he “is privy to weekly access and briefings with the secretary of defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other high level policy makers in the administration.” One client told investors that Mr. Garrett’s special access and decades of experience helped him “to know in advance — and in detail — how best to meet the needs” of the Defense Department and other agencies.

In interviews Mr. Garrett said there was an inevitable overlap between his dual roles. He said he had gotten “information you just otherwise would not get,” from the briefings and three Pentagon-sponsored trips to Iraq. He also acknowledged using this access and information to identify opportunities for clients. “You can’t help but look for that,” he said, adding, “If you know a capability that would fill a niche or need, you try to fill it. “That’s good for everybody.”

At the same time, in e-mail messages to the Pentagon, Mr. Garrett displayed an eagerness to be supportive with his television and radio commentary. “Please let me know if you have any specific points you want covered or that you would prefer to downplay,” he wrote in January 2007, before President Bush went on TV to describe the surge strategy in Iraq.

Conversely, the administration has demonstrated that there is a price for sustained criticism, many analysts said. “You’ll lose all access,” Dr. McCausland said.

With a majority of Americans calling the war a mistake despite all administration attempts to sway public opinion, the Pentagon has focused in the last couple of years on cultivating in particular military analysts frequently seen and heard in conservative news outlets, records and interviews show.

Some of these analysts were on the mission to Cuba on June 24, 2005 — the first of six such Guantánamo trips — which was designed to mobilize analysts against the growing perception of Guantánamo as an international symbol of inhumane treatment. On the flight to Cuba, for much of the day at Guantánamo and on the flight home that night, Pentagon officials briefed the 10 or so analysts on their key messages — how much had been spent improving the facility, the abuse endured by guards, the extensive rights afforded detainees.

The results came quickly. The analysts went on TV and radio, decrying Amnesty International, criticizing calls to close the facility and asserting that all detainees were treated humanely.

“The impressions that you’re getting from the media and from the various pronouncements being made by people who have not been here in my opinion are totally false,” Donald W. Shepperd, a retired Air Force general, reported live on CNN by phone from Guantánamo that same afternoon.

The next morning, Montgomery Meigs, a retired Army general and NBC analyst, appeared on “Today.” “There’s been over $100 million of new construction,” he reported. “The place is very professionally run.”

Within days, transcripts of the analysts’ appearances were circulated to senior White House and Pentagon officials, cited as evidence of progress in the battle for hearts and minds at home.

Charting the Campaign

By early 2002, detailed planning for a possible Iraq invasion was under way, yet an obstacle loomed. Many Americans, polls showed, were uneasy about invading a country with no clear connection to the Sept. 11 attacks. Pentagon and White House officials believed the military analysts could play a crucial role in helping overcome this resistance.

Torie Clarke, the former public relations executive who oversaw the Pentagon’s dealings with the analysts as assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, had come to her job with distinct ideas about achieving what she called “information dominance.” In a spin-saturated news culture, she argued, opinion is swayed most by voices perceived as authoritative and utterly independent.

And so even before Sept. 11, she built a system within the Pentagon to recruit “key influentials” — movers and shakers from all walks who with the proper ministrations might be counted on to generate support for Mr. Rumsfeld’s priorities.

In the months after Sept. 11, as every network rushed to retain its own all-star squad of retired military officers, Ms. Clarke and her staff sensed a new opportunity. To Ms. Clarke’s team, the military analysts were the ultimate “key influential” — authoritative, most of them decorated war heroes, all reaching mass audiences.

The analysts, they noticed, often got more airtime than network reporters, and they were not merely explaining the capabilities of Apache helicopters. They were framing how viewers ought to interpret events. What is more, while the analysts were in the news media, they were not of the news media. They were military men, many of them ideologically in sync with the administration’s neoconservative brain trust, many of them important players in a military industry anticipating large budget increases to pay for an Iraq war.

Even analysts with no defense industry ties, and no fondness for the administration, were reluctant to be critical of military leaders, many of whom were friends. “It is very hard for me to criticize the United States Army,” said William L. Nash, a retired Army general and ABC analyst. “It is my life.”

Other administrations had made sporadic, small-scale attempts to build relationships with the occasional military analyst. But these were trifling compared with what Ms. Clarke’s team had in mind. Don Meyer, an aide to Ms. Clarke, said a strategic decision was made in 2002 to make the analysts the main focus of the public relations push to construct a case for war. Journalists were secondary. “We didn’t want to rely on them to be our primary vehicle to get information out,” Mr. Meyer said.

The Pentagon’s regular press office would be kept separate from the military analysts. The analysts would instead be catered to by a small group of political appointees, with the point person being Brent T. Krueger, another senior aide to Ms. Clarke. The decision recalled other administration tactics that subverted traditional journalism. Federal agencies, for example, have paid columnists to write favorably about the administration. They have distributed to local TV stations hundreds of fake news segments with fawning accounts of administration accomplishments. The Pentagon itself has made covert payments to Iraqi newspapers to publish coalition propaganda.

Rather than complain about the “media filter,” each of these techniques simply converted the filter into an amplifier. This time, Mr. Krueger said, the military analysts would in effect be “writing the op-ed” for the war.

Assembling the Team

From the start, interviews show, the White House took a keen interest in which analysts had been identified by the Pentagon, requesting lists of potential recruits, and suggesting names. Ms. Clarke’s team wrote summaries describing their backgrounds, business affiliations and where they stood on the war.

“Rumsfeld ultimately cleared off on all invitees,” said Mr. Krueger, who left the Pentagon in 2004. (Through a spokesman, Mr. Rumsfeld declined to comment for this article.)

Over time, the Pentagon recruited more than 75 retired officers, although some participated only briefly or sporadically. The largest contingent was affiliated with Fox News, followed by NBC and CNN, the other networks with 24-hour cable outlets. But analysts from CBS and ABC were included, too. Some recruits, though not on any network payroll, were influential in other ways — either because they were sought out by radio hosts, or because they often published op-ed articles or were quoted in magazines, Web sites and newspapers. At least nine of them have written op-ed articles for The Times.

The group was heavily represented by men involved in the business of helping companies win military contracts. Several held senior positions with contractors that gave them direct responsibility for winning new Pentagon business. James Marks, a retired Army general and analyst for CNN from 2004 to 2007, pursued military and intelligence contracts as a senior executive with McNeil Technologies. Still others held board positions with military firms that gave them responsibility for government business. General McInerney, the Fox analyst, for example, sits on the boards of several military contractors, including Nortel Government Solutions, a supplier of communication networks.

Several were defense industry lobbyists, such as Dr. McCausland, who works at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, a major lobbying firm where he is director of a national security team that represents several military contractors. “We offer clients access to key decision makers,” Dr. McCausland’s team promised on the firm’s Web site.

Dr. McCausland was not the only analyst making this pledge. Another was Joseph W. Ralston, a retired Air Force general. Soon after signing on with CBS, General Ralston was named vice chairman of the Cohen Group, a consulting firm headed by a former defense secretary, William Cohen, himself now a “world affairs” analyst for CNN. “The Cohen Group knows that getting to ‘yes’ in the aerospace and defense market — whether in the United States or abroad — requires that companies have a thorough, up-to-date understanding of the thinking of government decision makers,” the company tells prospective clients on its Web site.

There were also ideological ties.

Two of NBC’s most prominent analysts, Barry R. McCaffrey and the late Wayne A. Downing, were on the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, an advocacy group created with White House encouragement in 2002 to help make the case for ousting Saddam Hussein. Both men also had their own consulting firms and sat on the boards of major military contractors.

Many also shared with Mr. Bush’s national security team a belief that pessimistic war coverage broke the nation’s will to win in Vietnam, and there was a mutual resolve not to let that happen with this war.

This was a major theme, for example, with Paul E. Vallely, a Fox News analyst from 2001 to 2007. A retired Army general who had specialized in psychological warfare, Mr. Vallely co-authored a paper in 1980 that accused American news organizations of failing to defend the nation from “enemy” propaganda during Vietnam.

“We lost the war — not because we were outfought, but because we were out Psyoped,” he wrote. He urged a radically new approach to psychological operations in future wars — taking aim at not just foreign adversaries but domestic audiences, too. He called his approach “MindWar” — using network TV and radio to “strengthen our national will to victory.”

The Selling of the War

From their earliest sessions with the military analysts, Mr. Rumsfeld and his aides spoke as if they were all part of the same team.

In interviews, participants described a powerfully seductive environment — the uniformed escorts to Mr. Rumsfeld’s private conference room, the best government china laid out, the embossed name cards, the blizzard of PowerPoints, the solicitations of advice and counsel, the appeals to duty and country, the warm thank you notes from the secretary himself.

“Oh, you have no idea,” Mr. Allard said, describing the effect. “You’re back. They listen to you. They listen to what you say on TV.” It was, he said, “psyops on steroids” — a nuanced exercise in influence through flattery and proximity. “It’s not like it’s, ‘We’ll pay you $500 to get our story out,’ ” he said. “It’s more subtle.”

The access came with a condition. Participants were instructed not to quote their briefers directly or otherwise describe their contacts with the Pentagon.

In the fall and winter leading up to the invasion, the Pentagon armed its analysts with talking points portraying Iraq as an urgent threat. The basic case became a familiar mantra: Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons, was developing nuclear weapons, and might one day slip some to Al Qaeda; an invasion would be a relatively quick and inexpensive “war of liberation.”

At the Pentagon, members of Ms. Clarke’s staff marveled at the way the analysts seamlessly incorporated material from talking points and briefings as if it was their own.

“You could see that they were messaging,” Mr. Krueger said. “You could see they were taking verbatim what the secretary was saying or what the technical specialists were saying. And they were saying it over and over and over.” Some days, he added, “We were able to click on every single station and every one of our folks were up there delivering our message. You’d look at them and say, ‘This is working.’ ”

On April 12, 2003, with major combat almost over, Mr. Rumsfeld drafted a memorandum to Ms. Clarke. “Let’s think about having some of the folks who did such a good job as talking heads in after this thing is over,” he wrote.

By summer, though, the first signs of the insurgency had emerged. Reports from journalists based in Baghdad were increasingly suffused with the imagery of mayhem.

The Pentagon did not have to search far for a counterweight.

It was time, an internal Pentagon strategy memorandum urged, to “re-energize surrogates and message-force multipliers,” starting with the military analysts.

The memorandum led to a proposal to take analysts on a tour of Iraq in September 2003, timed to help overcome the sticker shock from Mr. Bush’s request for $87 billion in emergency war financing.

The group included four analysts from Fox News, one each from CNN and ABC, and several research-group luminaries whose opinion articles appear regularly in the nation’s op-ed pages.

The trip invitation promised a look at “the real situation on the ground in Iraq.”

The situation, as described in scores of books, was deteriorating. L. Paul Bremer III, then the American viceroy in Iraq, wrote in his memoir, “My Year in Iraq,” that he had privately warned the White House that the United States had “about half the number of soldiers we needed here.”

“We’re up against a growing and sophisticated threat,” Mr. Bremer recalled telling the president during a private White House dinner.

That dinner took place on Sept. 24, while the analysts were touring Iraq.

Yet these harsh realities were elided, or flatly contradicted, during the official presentations for the analysts, records show. The itinerary, scripted to the minute, featured brief visits to a model school, a few refurbished government buildings, a center for women’s rights, a mass grave and even the gardens of Babylon.

Mostly the analysts attended briefings. These sessions, records show, spooled out an alternative narrative, depicting an Iraq bursting with political and economic energy, its security forces blossoming. On the crucial question of troop levels, the briefings echoed the White House line: No reinforcements were needed. The “growing and sophisticated threat” described by Mr. Bremer was instead depicted as degraded, isolated and on the run.

“We’re winning,” a briefing document proclaimed.

One trip participant, General Nash of ABC, said some briefings were so clearly “artificial” that he joked to another group member that they were on “the George Romney memorial trip to Iraq,” a reference to Mr. Romney’s infamous claim that American officials had “brainwashed” him into supporting the Vietnam War during a tour there in 1965, while he was governor of Michigan.

But if the trip pounded the message of progress, it also represented a business opportunity: direct access to the most senior civilian and military leaders in Iraq and Kuwait, including many with a say in how the president’s $87 billion would be spent. It also was a chance to gather inside information about the most pressing needs confronting the American mission: the acute shortages of “up-armored” Humvees; the billions to be spent building military bases; the urgent need for interpreters; and the ambitious plans to train Iraq’s security forces.

Information and access of this nature had undeniable value for trip participants like William V. Cowan and Carlton A. Sherwood.

Mr. Cowan, a Fox analyst and retired Marine colonel, was the chief executive of a new military firm, the wvc3 Group. Mr. Sherwood was its executive vice president. At the time, the company was seeking contracts worth tens of millions to supply body armor and counterintelligence services in Iraq. In addition, wvc3 Group had a written agreement to use its influence and connections to help tribal leaders in Al Anbar Province win reconstruction contracts from the coalition.

“Those sheiks wanted access to the C.P.A.,” Mr. Cowan recalled in an interview, referring to the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Mr. Cowan said he pleaded their cause during the trip. “I tried to push hard with some of Bremer’s people to engage these people of Al Anbar,” he said.

Back in Washington, Pentagon officials kept a nervous eye on how the trip translated on the airwaves. Uncomfortable facts had bubbled up during the trip. One briefer, for example, mentioned that the Army was resorting to packing inadequately armored Humvees with sandbags and Kevlar blankets. Descriptions of the Iraqi security forces were withering. “They can’t shoot, but then again, they don’t,” one officer told them, according to one participant’s notes.

“I saw immediately in 2003 that things were going south,” General Vallely, one of the Fox analysts on the trip, recalled in an interview with The Times.

The Pentagon, though, need not have worried.

“You can’t believe the progress,” General Vallely told Alan Colmes of Fox News upon his return. He predicted the insurgency would be “down to a few numbers” within months.

“We could not be more excited, more pleased,” Mr. Cowan told Greta Van Susteren of Fox News. There was barely a word about armor shortages or corrupt Iraqi security forces. And on the key strategic question of the moment — whether to send more troops — the analysts were unanimous.

“I am so much against adding more troops,” General Shepperd said on CNN.

Access and Influence

Inside the Pentagon and at the White House, the trip was viewed as a masterpiece in the management of perceptions, not least because it gave fuel to complaints that “mainstream” journalists were ignoring the good news in Iraq.

“We’re hitting a home run on this trip,” a senior Pentagon official wrote in an e-mail message to Richard B. Myers and Peter Pace, then chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Its success only intensified the Pentagon’s campaign. The pace of briefings accelerated. More trips were organized. Eventually the effort involved officials from Washington to Baghdad to Kabul to Guantánamo and back to Tampa, Fla., the headquarters of United States Central Command.

The scale reflected strong support from the top. When officials in Iraq were slow to organize another trip for analysts, a Pentagon official fired off an e-mail message warning that the trips “have the highest levels of visibility” at the White House and urging them to get moving before Lawrence Di Rita, one of Mr. Rumsfeld’s closest aides, “picks up the phone and starts calling the 4-stars.”

Mr. Di Rita, no longer at the Defense Department, said in an interview that a “conscious decision” was made to rely on the military analysts to counteract “the increasingly negative view of the war” coming from journalists in Iraq. The analysts, he said, generally had “a more supportive view” of the administration and the war, and the combination of their TV platforms and military cachet made them ideal for rebutting critical coverage of issues like troop morale, treatment of detainees, inadequate equipment or poorly trained Iraqi security forces. “On those issues, they were more likely to be seen as credible spokesmen,” he said.

For analysts with military industry ties, the attention brought access to a widening circle of influential officials beyond the contacts they had accumulated over the course of their careers.

Charles T. Nash, a Fox military analyst and retired Navy captain, is a consultant who helps small companies break into the military market. Suddenly, he had entree to a host of senior military leaders, many of whom he had never met. It was, he said, like being embedded with the Pentagon leadership. “You start to recognize what’s most important to them,” he said, adding, “There’s nothing like seeing stuff firsthand.”

Some Pentagon officials said they were well aware that some analysts viewed their special access as a business advantage. “Of course we realized that,” Mr. Krueger said. “We weren’t naïve about that.”

They also understood the financial relationship between the networks and their analysts. Many analysts were being paid by the “hit,” the number of times they appeared on TV. The more an analyst could boast of fresh inside information from high-level Pentagon “sources,” the more hits he could expect. The more hits, the greater his potential influence in the military marketplace, where several analysts prominently advertised their network roles.

“They have taken lobbying and the search for contracts to a far higher level,” Mr. Krueger said. “This has been highly honed.”

Mr. Di Rita, though, said it never occurred to him that analysts might use their access to curry favor. Nor, he said, did the Pentagon try to exploit this dynamic. “That’s not something that ever crossed my mind,” he said. In any event, he argued, the analysts and the networks were the ones responsible for any ethical complications. “We assume they know where the lines are,” he said.

The analysts met personally with Mr. Rumsfeld at least 18 times, records show, but that was just the beginning. They had dozens more sessions with the most senior members of his brain trust and access to officials responsible for managing the billions being spent in Iraq. Other groups of “key influentials” had meetings, but not nearly as often as the analysts.

An internal memorandum in 2005 helped explain why. The memorandum, written by a Pentagon official who had accompanied analysts to Iraq, said that based on her observations during the trip, the analysts “are having a greater impact” on network coverage of the military. “They have now become the go-to guys not only on breaking stories, but they influence the views on issues,” she wrote.

Other branches of the administration also began to make use of the analysts. Mr. Gonzales, then the attorney general, met with them soon after news leaked that the government was wiretapping terrorism suspects in the United States without warrants, Pentagon records show. When David H. Petraeus was appointed the commanding general in Iraq in January 2007, one of his early acts was to meet with the analysts.

“We knew we had extraordinary access,” said Timur J. Eads, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Fox analyst who is vice president of government relations for Blackbird Technologies, a fast-growing military contractor.

Like several other analysts, Mr. Eads said he had at times held his tongue on television for fear that “some four-star could call up and say, ‘Kill that contract.’ ” For example, he believed Pentagon officials misled the analysts about the progress of Iraq’s security forces. “I know a snow job when I see one,” he said. He did not share this on TV.

“Human nature,” he explained, though he noted other instances when he was critical.

Some analysts said that even before the war started, they privately had questions about the justification for the invasion, but were careful not to express them on air.

Mr. Bevelacqua, then a Fox analyst, was among those invited to a briefing in early 2003 about Iraq’s purported stockpiles of illicit weapons. He recalled asking the briefer whether the United States had “smoking gun” proof.

“ ‘We don’t have any hard evidence,’ ” Mr. Bevelacqua recalled the briefer replying. He said he and other analysts were alarmed by this concession. “We are looking at ourselves saying, ‘What are we doing?’ ”

Another analyst, Robert L. Maginnis, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who works in the Pentagon for a military contractor, attended the same briefing and recalled feeling “very disappointed” after being shown satellite photographs purporting to show bunkers associated with a hidden weapons program. Mr. Maginnis said he concluded that the analysts were being “manipulated” to convey a false sense of certainty about the evidence of the weapons. Yet he and Mr. Bevelacqua and the other analysts who attended the briefing did not share any misgivings with the American public.

Mr. Bevelacqua and another Fox analyst, Mr. Cowan, had formed the wvc3 Group, and hoped to win military and national security contracts.

“There’s no way I was going to go down that road and get completely torn apart,” Mr. Bevelacqua said. “You’re talking about fighting a huge machine.”

Some e-mail messages between the Pentagon and the analysts reveal an implicit trade of privileged access for favorable coverage. Robert H. Scales Jr., a retired Army general and analyst for Fox News and National Public Radio whose consulting company advises several military firms on weapons and tactics used in Iraq, wanted the Pentagon to approve high-level briefings for him inside Iraq in 2006.

“Recall the stuff I did after my last visit,” he wrote. “I will do the same this time.”

Pentagon Keeps Tabs

As it happened, the analysts’ news media appearances were being closely monitored. The Pentagon paid a private contractor, Omnitec Solutions, hundreds of thousands of dollars to scour databases for any trace of the analysts, be it a segment on “The O’Reilly Factor” or an interview with The Daily Inter Lake in Montana, circulation 20,000.

Omnitec evaluated their appearances using the same tools as corporate branding experts. One report, assessing the impact of several trips to Iraq in 2005, offered example after example of analysts echoing Pentagon themes on all the networks.

“Commentary from all three Iraq trips was extremely positive over all,” the report concluded.

In interviews, several analysts reacted with dismay when told they were described as reliable “surrogates” in Pentagon documents. And some asserted that their Pentagon sessions were, as David L. Grange, a retired Army general and CNN analyst put it, “just upfront information,” while others pointed out, accurately, that they did not always agree with the administration or each other. “None of us drink the Kool-Aid,” General Scales said.

Likewise, several also denied using their special access for business gain. “Not related at all,” General Shepperd said, pointing out that many in the Pentagon held CNN “in the lowest esteem.”

Still, even the mildest of criticism could draw a challenge. Several analysts told of fielding telephone calls from displeased defense officials only minutes after being on the air.

On Aug. 3, 2005, 14 marines died in Iraq. That day, Mr. Cowan, who said he had grown increasingly uncomfortable with the “twisted version of reality” being pushed on analysts in briefings, called the Pentagon to give “a heads-up” that some of his comments on Fox “may not all be friendly,” Pentagon records show. Mr. Rumsfeld’s senior aides quickly arranged a private briefing for him, yet when he told Bill O’Reilly that the United States was “not on a good glide path right now” in Iraq, the repercussions were swift.

Mr. Cowan said he was “precipitously fired from the analysts group” for this appearance. The Pentagon, he wrote in an e-mail message, “simply didn’t like the fact that I wasn’t carrying their water.” The next day James T. Conway, then director of operations for the Joint Chiefs, presided over another conference call with analysts. He urged them, a transcript shows, not to let the marines’ deaths further erode support for the war.

“The strategic target remains our population,” General Conway said. “We can lose people day in and day out, but they’re never going to beat our military. What they can and will do if they can is strip away our support. And you guys can help us not let that happen.”

“General, I just made that point on the air,” an analyst replied.

“Let’s work it together, guys,” General Conway urged.

The Generals’ Revolt

The full dimensions of this mutual embrace were perhaps never clearer than in April 2006, after several of Mr. Rumsfeld’s former generals — none of them network military analysts — went public with devastating critiques of his wartime performance. Some called for his resignation.

On Friday, April 14, with what came to be called the “Generals’ Revolt” dominating headlines, Mr. Rumsfeld instructed aides to summon military analysts to a meeting with him early the next week, records show. When an aide urged a short delay to “give our big guys on the West Coast a little more time to buy a ticket and get here,” Mr. Rumsfeld’s office insisted that “the boss” wanted the meeting fast “for impact on the current story.”

That same day, Pentagon officials helped two Fox analysts, General McInerney and General Vallely, write an opinion article for The Wall Street Journal defending Mr. Rumsfeld.

“Starting to write it now,” General Vallely wrote to the Pentagon that afternoon. “Any input for the article,” he added a little later, “will be much appreciated.” Mr. Rumsfeld’s office quickly forwarded talking points and statistics to rebut the notion of a spreading revolt.

“Vallely is going to use the numbers,” a Pentagon official reported that afternoon.

The standard secrecy notwithstanding, plans for this session leaked, producing a front-page story in The Times that Sunday. In damage-control mode, Pentagon officials scrambled to present the meeting as routine and directed that communications with analysts be kept “very formal,” records show. “This is very, very sensitive now,” a Pentagon official warned subordinates.

On Tuesday, April 18, some 17 analysts assembled at the Pentagon with Mr. Rumsfeld and General Pace, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

A transcript of that session, never before disclosed, shows a shared determination to marginalize war critics and revive public support for the war.

“I’m an old intel guy,” said one analyst. (The transcript omits speakers’ names.) “And I can sum all of this up, unfortunately, with one word. That is Psyops. Now most people may hear that and they think, ‘Oh my God, they’re trying to brainwash.’ ”

“What are you, some kind of a nut?” Mr. Rumsfeld cut in, drawing laughter. “You don’t believe in the Constitution?”

There was little discussion about the actual criticism pouring forth from Mr. Rumsfeld’s former generals. Analysts argued that opposition to the war was rooted in perceptions fed by the news media, not reality. The administration’s overall war strategy, they counseled, was “brilliant” and “very successful.”

“Frankly,” one participant said, “from a military point of view, the penalty, 2,400 brave Americans whom we lost, 3,000 in an hour and 15 minutes, is relative.”

An analyst said at another point: “This is a wider war. And whether we have democracy in Iraq or not, it doesn’t mean a tinker’s damn if we end up with the result we want, which is a regime over there that’s not a threat to us.”

“Yeah,” Mr. Rumsfeld said, taking notes.

But winning or not, they bluntly warned, the administration was in grave political danger so long as most Americans viewed Iraq as a lost cause. “America hates a loser,” one analyst said.

Much of the session was devoted to ways that Mr. Rumsfeld could reverse the “political tide.” One analyst urged Mr. Rumsfeld to “just crush these people,” and assured him that “most of the gentlemen at the table” would enthusiastically support him if he did.

“You are the leader,” the analyst told Mr. Rumsfeld. “You are our guy.”

At another point, an analyst made a suggestion: “In one of your speeches you ought to say, ‘Everybody stop for a minute and imagine an Iraq ruled by Zarqawi.’ And then you just go down the list and say, ‘All right, we’ve got oil, money, sovereignty, access to the geographic center of gravity of the Middle East, blah, blah, blah.’ If you can just paint a mental picture for Joe America to say, ‘Oh my God, I can’t imagine a world like that.’ ”

Even as they assured Mr. Rumsfeld that they stood ready to help in this public relations offensive, the analysts sought guidance on what they should cite as the next “milestone” that would, as one analyst put it, “keep the American people focused on the idea that we’re moving forward to a positive end.” They placed particular emphasis on the growing confrontation with Iran.

“When you said ‘long war,’ you changed the psyche of the American people to expect this to be a generational event,” an analyst said. “And again, I’m not trying to tell you how to do your job...”

“Get in line,” Mr. Rumsfeld interjected.

The meeting ended and Mr. Rumsfeld, appearing pleased and relaxed, took the entire group into a small study and showed off treasured keepsakes from his life, several analysts recalled.

Soon after, analysts hit the airwaves. The Omnitec monitoring reports, circulated to more than 80 officials, confirmed that analysts repeated many of the Pentagon’s talking points: that Mr. Rumsfeld consulted “frequently and sufficiently” with his generals; that he was not “overly concerned” with the criticisms; that the meeting focused “on more important topics at hand,” including the next milestone in Iraq, the formation of a new government.

Days later, Mr. Rumsfeld wrote a memorandum distilling their collective guidance into bullet points. Two were underlined:

“Focus on the Global War on Terror — not simply Iraq. The wider war — the long war.”

“Link Iraq to Iran. Iran is the concern. If we fail in Iraq or Afghanistan, it will help Iran.”

But if Mr. Rumsfeld found the session instructive, at least one participant, General Nash, the ABC analyst, was repulsed.

“I walked away from that session having total disrespect for my fellow commentators, with perhaps one or two exceptions,” he said.

View From the Networks

Two weeks ago General Petraeus took time out from testifying before Congress about Iraq for a conference call with military analysts.

Mr. Garrett, the Fox analyst and Patton Boggs lobbyist, said he told General Petraeus during the call to “keep up the great work.”

“Hey,” Mr. Garrett said in an interview, “anything we can do to help.”

For the moment, though, because of heavy election coverage and general war fatigue, military analysts are not getting nearly as much TV time, and the networks have trimmed their rosters of analysts. The conference call with General Petraeus, for example, produced little in the way of immediate coverage.

Still, almost weekly the Pentagon continues to conduct briefings with selected military analysts. Many analysts said network officials were only dimly aware of these interactions. The networks, they said, have little grasp of how often they meet with senior officials, or what is discussed.

“I don’t think NBC was even aware we were participating,” said Rick Francona, a longtime military analyst for the network.

Some networks publish biographies on their Web sites that describe their analysts’ military backgrounds and, in some cases, give at least limited information about their business ties. But many analysts also said the networks asked few questions about their outside business interests, the nature of their work or the potential for that work to create conflicts of interest. “None of that ever happened,” said Mr. Allard, an NBC analyst until 2006.

“The worst conflict of interest was no interest.”

Mr. Allard and other analysts said their network handlers also raised no objections when the Defense Department began paying their commercial airfare for Pentagon-sponsored trips to Iraq — a clear ethical violation for most news organizations.

CBS News declined to comment on what it knew about its military analysts’ business affiliations or what steps it took to guard against potential conflicts.

NBC News also declined to discuss its procedures for hiring and monitoring military analysts. The network issued a short statement: “We have clear policies in place to assure that the people who appear on our air have been appropriately vetted and that nothing in their profile would lead to even a perception of a conflict of interest.”

Jeffrey W. Schneider, a spokesman for ABC, said that while the network’s military consultants were not held to the same ethical rules as its full-time journalists, they were expected to keep the network informed about any outside business entanglements. “We make it clear to them we expect them to keep us closely apprised,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Fox News said executives “refused to participate” in this article.

CNN requires its military analysts to disclose in writing all outside sources of income. But like the other networks, it does not provide its military analysts with the kind of written, specific ethical guidelines it gives its full-time employees for avoiding real or apparent conflicts of interest.

Yet even where controls exist, they have sometimes proven porous.

CNN, for example, said it was unaware for nearly three years that one of its main military analysts, General Marks, was deeply involved in the business of seeking government contracts, including contracts related to Iraq.

General Marks was hired by CNN in 2004, about the time he took a management position at McNeil Technologies, where his job was to pursue military and intelligence contracts. As required, General Marks disclosed that he received income from McNeil Technologies. But the disclosure form did not require him to describe what his job entailed, and CNN acknowledges it failed to do additional vetting.

“We did not ask Mr. Marks the follow-up questions we should have,” CNN said in a written statement.

In an interview, General Marks said it was no secret at CNN that his job at McNeil Technologies was about winning contracts. “I mean, that’s what McNeil does,” he said.

CNN, however, said it did not know the nature of McNeil’s military business or what General Marks did for the company. If he was bidding on Pentagon contracts, CNN said, that should have disqualified him from being a military analyst for the network. But in the summer and fall of 2006, even as he was regularly asked to comment on conditions in Iraq, General Marks was working intensively on bidding for a $4.6 billion contract to provide thousands of translators to United States forces in Iraq. In fact, General Marks was made president of the McNeil spin-off that won the huge contract in December 2006.

General Marks said his work on the contract did not affect his commentary on CNN. “I’ve got zero challenge separating myself from a business interest,” he said.

But CNN said it had no idea about his role in the contract until July 2007, when it reviewed his most recent disclosure form, submitted months earlier, and finally made inquiries about his new job.

“We saw the extent of his dealings and determined at that time we should end our relationship with him,” CNN said.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 22, 2008
An article on Sunday about the Pentagon’s relationship with news media military analysts misidentified the military affiliation of one analyst, John C. Garrett. He retired as a colonel from the Marines, not the Army.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 24, 2008
The continuation of an article on Sunday about a Pentagon effort to use military analysts to generate favorable news coverage carried 10 paragraphs that were partly obscured in some editions by a chart.