Learning from Dogs

Dogs are integrous animals. We have much to learn from them.

Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

A revisit to earlier times.

with 5 comments

How time flies!

Last Monday, Jean and I had been living here in Merlin, Oregon for three years.

Why I am explaining this is because my day yesterday ended up being so busy that I ran out of time to focus on writing a fresh new post for you good people.

Thus, I decided to repost something that I published that first week we moved in to our Merlin home. Namely, a post published on the 16th October, 2012 under the heading of The death of the USA?.

So my apologies for you dear readers that recall this from three years ago, and welcome to the many new followers of this place that have signed up since then.


“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated!” Mark Twain.

Mark Twain

The Mark Twain quotation after hearing that his obituary had been published in the New York Journal.

Mistaken publications of obituaries aren’t as rare as you might expect. A recent example is of Dave Swarbrick, the British folk/rock violinist, who was killed off mistakenly by the Daily Telegraph in April 1999 when they reported that his visit to hospital in Coventry had resulted in his death. He did at least get the opportunity to read a rather favourable account of his life, not something we all get to do, and to deliver the gag “It’s not the first time I have died in Coventry”.

So why have I opened with this quote from Mark Twain?  Read on and I hope all will be clear.

A little under a week ago, I published a couple of posts that proposed that the United States of America is an empire in decline.  The first was What goes up? and the second Might just come down! As a Brit, I well know that aspect of British history!

However a recent conversation with a friend of many years back in England, who has also been a shrewd and wise entrepreneur for longer than I care to remember, argued that the evidence for the ‘end of the USA’ could be challenged.

He cited five reasons why he thought the USA would remain, more or less, in its dominant position.  They were:

  1. Spirit of innovation
  2. Relaxed labour laws
  3. The importance of Mexico
  4. The uncertainty of China in terms of the next ’empire’
  5. The likely energy self-sufficiency for the USA in the near-term.

So let me expand on each of those points.

Spirit of innovation

Let me quote from an article in TIME Magazine of the 5th June, 2011,

Innovation is as American as apple pie. It seems to accord with so many elements of our national character — ingenuity, freedom, flexibility, the willingness to question conventional wisdom and defy authority. But politicians are pinning their hopes on innovation for more urgent reasons. America’s future growth will have to come from new industries that create new products and processes. Older industries are under tremendous pressure. Technological change is making factories and offices far more efficient. The rise of low-wage manufacturing in China and low-wage services in India is moving jobs overseas. The only durable strength we have — the only one that can withstand these gale winds — is innovation.

Now there are plenty who would argue both ways in terms of the future innovation potential for the USA, as a recent article in The Atlantic does, see American Innovation: It’s the Best of Times and the Worst of Times.  But the spirit of innovation will, nonetheless, be a powerful economic potential for the USA for many years to come.

Relaxed labour laws.

Definitely an area that I have little knowledge of except for the subjective notion that compared to many other nations, the laws in the USA are much less of a restraint on economic productivity than elsewhere.

The importance of Mexico.

The importance in the context of providing the USA with a source of cheaper manufacturing facilities.  My English friend thought that this was a significant competitive advantage for the USA.  Now, as it happens, we had a couple staying with us over the week-end of the 6th/7th October.  The husband is a senior manager of Horst Engineering, an American firm based in Guaymas, Sonora County, Mexico.  Here’s a picture from their website,

We are a contract manufacturer of precision machined components and assemblies for aerospace, medical, and other high technology industries. Our core processes include Swiss screw machining, turning, milling, thread rolling, centerless grinding, and assembly. Our extensive supply chain offers our customers a full service logistics solution for managing their precision product requirements. We are ISO9001:2008 and AS9100 registered and proud of our 66 year, three-generation legacy of quality and performance.

I was told that many American and British firms were using Mexico rather than China for a number of reasons.  Not least because Chinese suppliers require full payment before shipment.  Plus that taking into account that financial aspect together with shipping costs and other logistical issues, China wasn’t as ‘cheap’ over all.  Here’s a recent announcement from Rolls Royce,

Rolls-Royce plans new Sonora hub

The burgeoning aerospace industry in Guaymas had its efforts validated recently when the venerable Rolls-Royce chose it as the site for its newest global purchasing office.

Surrounded by several of its aerospace manufacturing suppliers, London-based Rolls-Royce will move into a Guaymas industrial park owned by Tucson-based The Offshore Group to develop a supply hub for commercial jets and military aircraft around the globe.

“Rolls-Royce has very robust booking orders for the next 10 years,” said Joel Reuter, director of communications for Rolls-Royce in North America. “We need to double our production.”

Because a number of Rolls-Royce suppliers already operate in Guaymas, the city was a logical choice, Reuter said.

The uncertainty of China in terms of the next ’empire’

The point made in terms of China taking over ’empire’ status from the USA, as Simon Johnson argues over at Baseline Scenario, is countered by the fact that politically China is an unknown quantity.  Until China endorses some form of democratic process, that unknowingness is not going to disappear.

The likely energy self-sufficiency for the USA in the near-term.

I can’t do better than to ask you to watch this video!  Just 27-minutes long, it is a very interesting review of the energy future of the USA.

As the TED website suggests in terms of why you should listen to Amory Lovins,

Amory Lovins was worried (and writing) about energy long before global warming was making the front — or even back — page of newspapers. Since studying at Harvard and Oxford in the 1960s, he’s written dozens of books, and initiated ambitious projects — cofounding the influential, environment-focused Rocky Mountain Institute; prototyping the ultra-efficient Hypercar — to focus the world’s attention on alternative approaches to energy and transportation.

His critical thinking has driven people around the globe — from world leaders to the average Joe — to think differently about energy and its role in some of our biggest problems: climate change, oil dependency, national security, economic health, and depletion of natural resources.

More on Reinventing Fire may be found here.

So, don’t know about you, but I found those five points deeply convincing.  How about you?  Are the reports of the death of the USA  greatly exaggerated? Do leave a comment.


Now some three years later on, these five factors still seem to be valid.

What a funny lot we all are!

with 25 comments

We must constantly remind ourselves that we are the servants of Nature, not the other way around!

There is only one species of creature on this planet that has the power to destroy its own species, and much else: Homo sapiens!

It’s such an obvious reflection, yet it is also such an incredibly difficult commitment to make. I am speaking of the commitment to do more than “tut, tut” but to make a real difference in how each of us live, ensuring that we are making real changes year by year.

I am being little more than a “smart arse” in saying we should learn from dogs to live in harmony with our planet because, in truth, this is the one key area where we can’t learn from our dogs: we each have to learn for ourselves and influence others to do the same.

All of which is my way of introducing a very recent essay from Tom Dispatch. It now follows, but be aware that there were simply too many links to recreate in my republished version. It is republished with the very kind permission of Tom Engelhardt.


Tomgram: Michael Klare, Tipping Points and the Question of Civilizational Survival

Posted by Michael Klare at 8:00am, October 8, 2015.

In mid-August, TomDispatch’s Michael Klare wrote presciently of the oncoming global oil glut, the way it was driving the price of petroleum into the “energy subbasement,” and how such a financial “rout,” if extended over the next couple of years, might lead toward a new (and better) world of energy. As it happens, the first good news of the sort Klare was imagining has since come in. In a country where the price of gas at the pump now averages $2.29 a gallon (and in some places has dropped under $1.90), Big Oil has begun cutting back on its devastating plans to extract every imaginable drop of fossil fuel from the planet and burn it. Oil companies have also been laying off employees by the tens of thousands and deep-sixing, at least for now, plans to search for and exploit tar sands and other “tough oil” deposits worldwide.

In that context, as September ended, after a disappointing six weeks of drilling, Royal Dutch Shell cancelled “for the foreseeable future” its search for oil and natural gas in the tempestuous but melting waters of the Alaskan Arctic. This was no small thing and a great victory for an environmental movement that had long fought to put obstacles in the way of Shell’s exploration plans. Green-lighted by the Obama administration to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer, Shell has over the last nine years sunk more than $7 billion into its Arctic drilling project, so the decision to close up shop was no small thing and offers a tiny ray of hope for what activism can do when reality offers a modest helping hand.

As Klare makes clear today, when it comes to the burning of fossil fuels, reality — if only we bother to notice it — is threatening to offer something more like the back of its hand to us on this embattled planet of ours. He offers a look at a future in which humanity, like various increasingly endangered ecosystems including the Arctic, may be approaching a “tipping point.” Tom

Welcome to a New Planet

Climate Change “Tipping Points” and the Fate of the Earth

By Michael T. Klare

Not so long ago, it was science fiction. Now, it’s hard science — and that should frighten us all. The latest reports from the prestigious and sober Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) make increasingly hair-raising reading, suggesting that the planet is approaching possible moments of irreversible damage in a fashion and at a speed that had not been anticipated.

Scientists have long worried that climate change will not continue to advance in a “linear” fashion, with the planet getting a little bit hotter most years. Instead, they fear, humanity could someday experience “non-linear” climate shifts (also known as “singularities” or “tipping points”) after which there would be sudden and irreversible change of a catastrophic nature. This was the premise of the 2004 climate-disaster film The Day After Tomorrow. In that movie — most notable for its vivid scenes of a frozen-over New York City — melting polar ice causes a disruption in the North Atlantic Current, which in turn triggers a series of catastrophic storms and disasters. At the time of its release, many knowledgeable scientists derided the film’s premise, insisting that the confluence of events it portrayed was unlikely or simply impossible.

Fast forward 11 years and the prospect of such calamitous tipping points in the North Atlantic or elsewhere no longer looks improbable. In fact, climate scientists have begun to note early indicators of possible catastrophes.

Take the disruption of the North Atlantic Current, the pivotal event in The Day After Tomorrow. Essentially an extension of the Gulf Stream, that deep-sea current carries relatively warm salty water from the South Atlantic and the Caribbean to the northern reaches of the Atlantic. In the process, it helps keep Europe warmer than it would otherwise be. Once its salty water flows into sub-Arctic areas carried by this prolific stream, it gets colder and heavier, sinks to lower depths, and starts a return trip to warmer climes in the south where the whole process begins again.

So long as this “global conveyor belt” — known to scientists as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC — keeps functioning, the Gulf Stream will also continue to bring warmer waters to the eastern United States and Europe. Should it be disrupted, however, the whole system might break down, in which case the Euro-Atlantic climate could turn colder and more storm-prone. Such a disruption might occur if the vast Greenland ice sheet melts in a significant way, as indeed is already beginning to happen today, pouring large quantities of salt-free fresh water into the Atlantic Ocean. Because of its lighter weight, this newly introduced water will remain close to the surface, preventing the submergence of salty water from the south and so effectively shutting down the conveyor belt. Indeed, exactly this process now seems to be underway.

By all accounts, 2015 is likely to wind up as the hottest year on record, with large parts of the world suffering from severe heat waves and wildfires. Despite all this, however, a stretch of the North Atlantic below Iceland and Greenland is experiencing all-time cold temperatures, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. What explains this anomaly? According to scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Pennsylvania State University, among other institutions, the most likely explanation is the arrival in the area of cold water from the Greenland ice sheet that is melting ever more rapidly thanks to climate change. Because this meltwater starts out salt-free, it has remained near the surface and so, as predicted, is slowing the northern advance of warmer water from the North Atlantic Current.

So far, the AMOC has not suffered a dramatic shutdown, but it is slowing, and scientists worry that a rapid increase in Greenland ice melt as the Arctic continues to warm will pour ever more meltwater into the North Atlantic, severely disrupting the conveyor system. That would, indeed, constitute a major tipping point, with severe consequences for Europe and eastern North America. Not only would Europe experience colder temperatures on an otherwise warmer planet, but coastal North America could witness higher sea levels than those predicted from climate change alone because the Gulf Stream tends to pull sea water away from the eastern U.S. and push it toward Europe. If it were to fail, rising sea levels could endanger cities like New York and Boston. Indeed, scientists discovered that just such a slowing of the AMOC helped produce a sea-level rise of four inches from New York to Newfoundland in 2009 and 2010.


In its 2014 report on the status of global warming, the IPCC indicated that the likelihood of the AMOC collapsing before the end of this century remains relatively low. But some studies suggest that the conveyor system is already 15%-20% below normal with Greenland’s melting still in an early stage. Once that process switches into high gear, the potential for the sort of breakdown that was once science fiction starts to look all too real.

Tipping Points on the Horizon

In a 2014 report, “Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability,” Working Group II of the IPCC identified three other natural systems already showing early-warning signs of catastrophic tipping points: the Arctic, coral reefs, and the Amazonian forest. All three, the report suggested, could experience massive and irreversible changes with profound implications for human societies.

The Arctic comes in for particular scrutiny because it has experienced more warming than any other region on the planet and because the impact of climate change there is already so obvious. As the report put it, “For the Arctic region, new evidence indicates a biophysical regime shift is taking place, with cascading impacts on physical systems, ecosystems, and human livelihoods.”

This has begun with a massive melt of sea ice in the region and a resulting threat to native marine species. “For Arctic marine biota,” the report notes, “the rapid reduction of summer ice covers causes a tipping element that is now severely affecting pelagic [sub-surface] ecosystems as well as ice-dependent mammals such as seals and polar bears.” Other flora and fauna of the Arctic biome are also demonstrating stress related to climate change. For example, vast areas of tundra are being invaded by shrubs and small trees, decimating the habitats of some animal species and increasing the risk of fires.

This Arctic “regime shift” affects many other aspects of the ecosystem as well. Higher temperatures, for instance, have meant widespread thawing and melting of permafrost, the frozen soil and water that undergirds much of the Arctic landmass. In this lies another possible tipping-point danger, since frozen soils contain more than twice the carbon now present in the atmosphere. As the permafrost melts, some of this carbon is released in the form of methane, a potent greenhouse gas with many times the warming potential of carbon dioxide and other such gases. In other words, as the IPCC noted, any significant melting of Arctic permafrost will “create a potentially strong positive feedback to accelerate Arctic (and global) warming.” This, in fact, could prove to be more than a tipping point. It could be a planetary catastrophe.

Along with these biophysical effects, the warming of the Arctic is threatening the livelihoods and lifestyles of the indigenous peoples of the region. The loss of summer sea ice, for example, has endangered the marine species on which many such communities depend for food and the preservation of their cultural traditions. Meanwhile, melting permafrost and coastal erosion due to sea-level rise have threatened the very existence of their coastal villages. In September, President Obama visited Kotzebue, a village in Alaska some 30 miles above the Arctic Circle that could disappear as a result of melting permafrost, rising sea levels, and ever bigger storm surges.

Coral Reefs at Risk

Another crucial ecosystem that’s showing signs of heading toward an irreversible tipping point is the world’s constellation of coral reefs. Remarkably enough, although such reefs make up less than 1% of the Earth’s surface area, they house up to 25% of all marine life. They are, that is, essential for both the health of the oceans and of fishing communities, as well as of those who depend on fish for a significant part of their diet. According to one estimate, some 850 million people rely on coral reefs for their food security.

Corals, which are colonies of tiny animals related to sea anemones, have proven highly sensitive to changes in the acidity and temperature of their surrounding waters, both of which are rising due to the absorption of excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. As a result, in a visually dramatic process called “bleaching,” coral populations have been dying out globally. According to a recent study by the Worldwide Fund for Nature, coral reef extent has declined by 50% in the last 30 years and all reefs could disappear as early as 2050 if current rates of ocean warming and acidification continue.

“This irreversible loss of biodiversity,” reports the IPCC, will have “significant consequences for regional marine ecosystems as well as the human livelihoods that depend on them.” Indeed, the growing evidence of such losses “strengthens the conclusion that increased mass bleaching of corals constitutes a strong warning signal for the singular event that would constitute the irreversible loss of an entire biome.”

Amazonian Dry-Out

The Amazon has long been viewed as the epitome of a tropical rainforest, with extraordinary plant and animal diversity. The Amazonian tree cover also plays a vital role in reducing the pace of global warming by absorbing vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during the process of photosynthesis. For years, however, the Amazon has been increasingly devastated by a process of deforestation, as settlers from Brazil’s coastal regions clear land for farming and ranching, and loggers (many operating illegally) harvest timber for wood products. Now, as if to add insult to injury, the region faces a new threat from climate change: tree mortality due to a rise in severe drought and the increased forest fire risk that accompanies it.

Although it can rain year-round in the Amazon region, there is a distinct wet season with heavy rainfall and a dry season with much less of it. An extended dry season with little rain can endanger the survival of many trees and increase the risk of wildfires. Research conducted by scientists at the University of Texas has found that the dry season in the southern Amazonian region has grown by a week every decade since 1980 while the annual fire season has lengthened. “The dry season over the southern Amazon is already marginal for maintaining rainforest,” says Rong Fu, the leader of the research team. “At some point, if it becomes too long, the rainforest will reach a tipping point” and disappear.

Because the Amazon harbors perhaps the largest array of distinctive flora and fauna on the planet, its loss would represent an irreversible blow to global biodiversity. In addition, the region hosts some of the largest assemblages of indigenous peoples still practicing their traditional ways of life. Even if their lives were saved (through relocation to urban slums or government encampments), the loss of their cultures, representing thousands of years of adaptation to a demanding environment, would be a blow for all humankind.

As in the case of the Arctic and coral reefs, the collapse of the Amazon will have what the IPCC terms “cascading impacts,” devastating ecosystems, diminishing biodiversity, and destroying the ways of life of indigenous peoples. Worse yet, as with the melting of the Arctic, so the drying-out of Amazonia is likely to feed into climate change, heightening its intensity and so sparking yet more tipping points on a planet increasingly close to the brink.

In its report, the IPCC, whose analysis tends, if anything, to be on the conservative side of climate science, indicated that the Amazon faced a relatively low risk of dying out by 2100. However, a 2009 study conducted by Britain’s famed Meteorological (Met) Office suggests that the risk is far greater than previously assumed. Even if global temperatures were to be held to an increase of 2 degrees Celsius, the study notes, as much as 40% of the Amazon would perish within a century; with 3 degrees of warming, up to 75% would vanish; and with 4 degrees, 85% would die. “The forest as we know it would effectively be gone,” said Met researcher Vicky Pope.

Of Tipping Points and Singularities

These four natural systems are by no means the only ones that could face devastating tipping points in the years to come. The IPCC report and other scientific studies hint at further biomes that show early signs of potential catastrophe. But these four are sufficiently advanced to tell us that we need to look at climate change in a new way: not as a slow, linear process to which we can adapt over time, but as a non-linear set of events involving dramatic and irreversible changes to the global ecosphere.

The difference is critical: linear change gives us the luxury of time to devise and implement curbs on greenhouse gas emissions, and to construct protective measures such as sea walls. Non-linear change puts a crimp on time and confronts us with the possibility of relatively sudden, devastating climate shifts against which no defensive measures can protect us.

Were the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation to fail, for example, there would be nothing we could do to turn it back on, nor would we be able to recreate coral reefs or resurrect the Amazon. Add in one other factor: when natural systems of this magnitude fail, should we not expect human systems to fail as well? No one can answer this question with certainty, but we do know that earlier human societies collapsed when faced with other kinds of profound changes in climate.

All of this should be on the minds of delegates to the upcoming climate summit in Paris, a meeting focused on adopting an international set of restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions. Each participating nation is obliged to submit a set of measures it is ready to take, known as “intended nationally determined contributions,” or INDCs, aimed at achieving the overall goal of preventing planetary warming from exceeding 2 degrees Celsius. However, the INDCs submitted to date, including those from the United States and China, suggest a distinctly incremental approach to the problem. Unfortunately, if planetary tipping points are in our future, this mindset will not measure up. It’s time to start thinking instead in terms of civilizational survival.

Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left. A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @mklare1.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2015 Michael T. Klare


Just to repeat myself in that if you find this essay from Michael Klare one that you want to refer to again, then go across to the version published on TomDispatch so you can follow up the many links in that essay.

Greek dogs making sad headlines

with 6 comments

Once again, the power of unanticipated consequences.

I find it easy to lose sight of recent world events, for every new day seems to bring some new challenge to batter one’s emotions.

So a news item on the BBC website last Friday brought back into focus the debt challenges for Greece, or more pertinently, the Greek people, or even more precisely, Greek dogs.

Here’s what I read:

A million stray dogs ‘victims of Greek debt crisis’

3 October 2015 Last updated at 07:10 BST

Among the many problems brought on by the Greek debt crisis is a surging population of stray dogs.
Animal charities say there are now more than a million strays in Greece because people are simply abandoning pets they can no longer afford to keep.
There are fears it could lead to the spread of disease if the problem is not tackled soon, as Emilia Papadopoulos reports.

Emilia’s video report was uploaded to YouTube, thus allowing me to share the sad situation with you.

A quick search online found the following photograph.

cani randagi

Stray dogs in Athens.

That sad picture came from the ANSAmed website, that included a fuller report on the situation. That report ending:

According to the deputy mayor of Athens, Angelos Antonopoulos, who is also in charge of environmental issues, city officials in Athens picked up 457 dogs in the capital’s streets last year, providing medical treatment for 305 of them.

Antonopoulos, a vet by profession, admits that the number of cases of abandoned domestic animals – dogs in particular – has risen alarmingly because of the economic crisis, but says that a new trend is emerging for the same reason. Indeed, an increasing number of people who want to own a dog are choosing to adopt strays from the city’s doghouse rather than buying one from a pet shop or from dog-breeders. “People are becoming increasingly aware of the problem,” Antonopoulos says, providing a ray of hope for his four-legged patients. (ANSAmed).

Finally, I came across what appears to be a Greek charity, Stray.gr, and I’m going to contact them to see if readers of Learning from Dogs who wish to donate, can do so. Will report back.

The power of hope!

with 19 comments

It really is about good people refusing to let evil dominate our world.

The response to yesterday’s post was incredible and very gratifying.

For I was conscious that many would simply reject the proposition that I saw in John Zande’s book, namely that, “there was an evil origin to the universe and, more directly, that the deep, and growing, suffering of the pinnacle of evolution, us humans, can be traced back to that evil origin.”

The emotional challenge, of which I am acutely aware, is recognising that core proposition, that as we humans evolve so too does the capacity for human suffering, yet not wanting to give up on my personal core belief that better times ahead are possible, given sufficient people sharing that power of hope. Echoing what Sue wrote as a response to yesterday’s post that motivated me to reply, in part, thus:

If there was one sentence of yours that struck me as spot on, it was your declaration that what we think is what we create. Or as I often reflect, we are what we think.

Jean and I last night watched the latest BBC Panorama report about the migrant/refugee crisis in Europe. It was profoundly upsetting for reasons that many will understand.

George Monbiot’s essay that follows shortly is also profoundly upsetting.

But if hope is to be translated into a determination to make a difference, then it demands that we don’t ignore the pain but use our anger to fuel our passion to behave appropriately: We are what we think! Or in the much more eloquent words of Albert Einstein:

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.

George Monbiot is to be saluted for his commitment to questioning and I am privileged to have his permission to republish the following.


Inhospitable Planet

29th September 2015

There may be water on Mars. But is there intelligent life on Earth?

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 30th September 2015

Evidence for flowing water on Mars – this opens up the possibility of life; of wonders we cannot begin to imagine. Its discovery is an astonishing achievement. Meanwhile, Martian scientists continue their search for intelligent life on Earth.

We might be captivated by the thought of organisms on another planet, but we seem to have lost interest in our own. The Oxford Junior Dictionary has been excising the waymarks of the living world. Adders, blackberries, bluebells, conkers, holly, magpies, minnows, otters, primroses, thrushes, weasels and wrens are now surplus to requirements.

In the past four decades, the world has lost 50% of its vertebrate wildlife. But across the latter half of this period, there has been a steep decline in coverage. In 2014, according to a study at Cardiff University, there were as many news stories broadcast by the BBC and ITV about Madeline McCann (who went missing in 2007) as there were about the entire range of environmental issues.

Think of what would change if we valued terrestrial water as much as we value the possibility of water on Mars. Only three percent of the water on this planet is fresh, and of that two-thirds is frozen. Yet we lay waste to the accessible portion. Sixty percent of the water used in farming is needlessly piddled away by careless irrigation. Rivers, lakes and aquifers are sucked dry, while what remains is often so contaminated that it threatens the lives of those who drink it. In the UK, domestic demand is such that the upper reaches of many rivers disappear during the summer. Yet still we install clunky old toilets and showers that gush like waterfalls.

As for salty water of the kind that enthralls us when apparently detected on Mars, on Earth we express our appreciation with a frenzy of destruction. A new report suggests that fish numbers have halved since 1970. Pacific bluefin tuna, that once roamed the seas in untold millions, have been reduced to an estimated 40,000, yet still they are pursued. Coral reefs are under such pressure that most could be gone by 2050. And in our own deep space, our desire for exotic fish rips through a world scarcely better known to us than the red planet’s surface. Trawlers are now working at depths of 2000 metres. We can only guess at what they might be destroying.

A few hours before the Martian discovery was announced, Shell terminated its Arctic oil prospecting in the Chukchi Sea. For the company’s shareholders, it’s a minor disaster: the loss of $4 billion. For those who love the planet and the life it sustains, it is a stroke of great fortune: it happened only because the company failed to find sufficient reserves. Had Shell succeeded, it would have exposed one of the most vulnerable places on Earth to spills that are almost inevitable, where containment is almost impossible. Are we to leave such matters to chance?

At the beginning of September, two weeks after he granted Shell permission to drill in the Chukchi Sea, Barack Obama travelled to Alaska to warn Americans about the devastating effects that climate change, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, might catalyse in the Arctic. “It’s not enough just to talk the talk”, he told them. “We’ve got to walk the walk.” We should “embrace the human ingenuity that can do something about it.” Human ingenuity is on abundant display at Nasa, which released those astounding images. But when it comes to policy, the search for intelligent life goes on.

Let the market decide: this is the way in which governments seek to resolve planetary destruction. Leave it to the conscience of consumers, while that conscience is muted and confused by advertising and corporate lies. In a near-vacuum of information, we are each left to decide what we should take from other species and other people; what we should allocate to ourselves or leave to succeeding generations. Surely there are some resources and some places – such as the Arctic and the deep sea – whose exploitation should simply stop?

All this drilling and digging and trawling and dumping and poisoning – what is it for anyway? Does it enrich human experience, or stifle it? A couple of weeks ago, I launched the hashtag #extremecivilisation, and invited suggestions. They have flooded in. Here are just a few of the products my correspondents have found. All of them, as far as I can tell, are real.

An egg tray for your fridge, that syncs with your phone to let you know how many eggs are left. A gadget for scrambling them – inside the shell. Wigs for babies, to allow “baby girls with little or no hair at all the opportunity to have a beautifully realistic hair style”. The iPotty, that permits toddlers to keep playing on their iPads while toilet training. A £2000 spider-proof shed. A snow sauna, on sale in the United Arab Emirates, in which you can create a winter wonderland with the flick of a switch. A refrigerated watermelon case on wheels: indispensable for picnics. Or perhaps not, as it weighs more than the melon. Anal bleaching cream, for … to be honest, I don’t want to know. An “automatic watch rotator” that saves you the bother of winding your luxury wrist candy. A smart phone for dogs, with which they can take pictures of themselves. Pre-peeled bananas, in polystyrene trays covered in clingfilm. Just peel back the packaging …

Every year, clever new ways of wasting stuff are devised, and every year we become more inured to the pointless consumption of the world’s precious resources. With each subtle intensification, the baseline of normality shifts. It should not be surprising to discover that the richer a country becomes, the less its people care about their impacts on the living planet.

Our alienation from the world of wonders with which we evolved has only intensified since David Bowie described a girl stumbling through a “sunken dream”, on her way to be “hooked to the silver screen”, where a long series of distractions diverts her from life’s great questions. The song, of course, was Life on Mars.



David Bowie’s track Life on Mars from the album Hunky Dory was released in 1971. Courtesy of YouTube, here it is again:

More than a book review,

with 20 comments

a whole new way of looking at you and me, and the rest of humanity.

Back on September 16th, I published the post Of paradoxes, and headaches! It included the fact that I was about 20% of the way through John Zande’s book The Owner of All Infernal Names.

John Zande cover_zpsz7wuq9cc

On Tuesday evening of this week, I finished the book and, without doubt, I shall be publishing a review on Amazon books by the end of the week. First, I wanted to share a longer reflection of Zande’s book with all of you dear readers.


One of the many five-star reviews of this book that has been published on the relevant Amazon page opens simply: “This is a beautifully written, terribly uncomfortable book to read.” I couldn’t better that summary. This is, indeed, a beautifully written book. Yet it is also a book that will forever change the way you think about species: Homo sapiens.

Zande offers a powerful argument that, “Following then the Principle of Sufficient Reason, the observer concludes with a level of argued certainty that a Creator must exist.” Then sets out to demonstrate that this Creator, far from being an expression of universal love, is fundamentally an expression of universal suffering. Reminding the reader that, “This world was never good. It was never peaceful, and never without suffering.”

For the first time in my life, Zande’s words had cause for me to reflect on something that, hitherto, had never dawned on me. That if there is a God, why have I, and countless others, assumed that this God be necessarily benevolent. The evidence presented in Zande’s book is comprehensive: that there was an evil origin to the universe and, more directly, that the deep, and growing, suffering of the pinnacle of evolution, us humans, can be traced back to that evil origin. Better than that, frequently the book is almost scientific. And in the best of scientific traditions, Zande adopts the position of a neutral witness.

Whether or not you are relaxed about that previous paragraph, and I suspect many readers will not, it is impossible not to be in awe of the beauty, the power, and the eloquence of Zande’s words. Take this opening paragraph of Zande’s chapter titled A SIGHTLESS CREATION.

It is a basal vagary, a question that screams for attention and if left unresolved – if left problematic – could invalidate all practicalities of a functioning Creation lorded by a maximally wicked Creator: Would sentient, attentive, self-respecting life choose to live in a world underwritten by evil? Could self-aware life endure a thoroughly hopeless reality?

Whether one is a believer in a religious god or not, it will also be impossible not to have one’s deepest emotions and beliefs about the nature of humankind stirred very deeply around. No-one who reads this book will be left unchanged.

If you have ever pondered about the way the world is heading, or more accurately put, about the way that we humans are managing our existence on Planet Earth, then you need to read this book. Period!


Reinforcing what I have just written is the latest essay from George Monbiot, that will be published on Learning from Dogs on Friday.

No way to run a world!

with 14 comments

Why we have to learn integrity from our dogs, and soon!

After yesterday’s post about the ice dagger poised to fall on the heads of humanity, I was hoping to offer something more cheerful for today. Indeed, I had a guest post ready for publication but then ran into a small technical hitch that stopped it being scheduled for today.

So I turned to this recent article that appeared on The Conversation blogsite that is, unfortunately, another reminder of these mad times. It is republished within the terms of articles that appear on The Conversation.


How could VW be so dumb? Blame the unethical culture endemic in business.

Author: Edward L Queen, Director of Ethics and Servant Leadership Program, Emory University.

How much can corporate culture explain VW’s deception? Jim Young/Reuters

How much can corporate culture explain VW’s deception? Jim Young/Reuters

That far too much of the world’s corporate leadership is driven by moral midgets who have been educated far beyond their capacities for good judgment should be obvious after observing the events of the past week.

The financial industry-led economic collapse of 2008 should have taught us this lesson, but the specificity and clarity of it was brought home by news of price-gouging in the pharmaceutical industry and, even more blatantly, by the announcement that Volkswagen intentionally programmed thousands of its diesel automobiles to cheat emissions testing.

We should be outraged by such behavior and demand appropriate punishments and sanctions as well as restitution and correction. But we should not be shocked. As an ethicist who has looked at the behavior of individuals in business and corporations, I can point to a number of troubling trends that help explain these transgressions.

Impaired moral imaginations

For the past five to six decades, epigones of Milton Friedman have been emphasizing that the only duty of a corporation is return on investment (regularly ignoring his caveat of doing so within the law and social norms).

This lesson, drilled into generations of business school graduates, now drives tsunamis of corporate malfeasance. Data regularly demonstrate that business school students are more likely to cheat on examinations and assignments than their peers, although – and this is of interest for the Volkswagen case – they are closely followed by engineering students.

Are business school teaching the right values? mleiboff/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Are business school teaching the right values? mleiboff/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Additionally, some evidence suggests that not only are business students more impaired in their moral judgments in a broader sense than are those in other majors and professional schools, but that business schools themselves may be responsible.

More disturbing, observational and anecdotal evidence suggests that business students are not only impaired in their moral judgments but that significant percentages of them have severely impaired moral imaginations. By this I mean not only do they make bad ethical decisions, but they actually are incapable of identifying an ethical situation when they are presented with one.

Numerous interviews with business ethics faculty I have had over the past decade suggest that when business students are presented with an ethics case, that is a case where they have been told that there is an ethical problem, 20% to 30% of the students cannot find or identify the ethical issue. This has been borne out by my personal experience when teaching business students.

Unmistakable malfeasance

With regards to the Volkswagen scandal, let us be clear about the nature of the company’s activities. This was not a mistake, an error, an ethical lapse or poor judgment. This was an intentionally designed and executed violation of the law in both its letter and its spirit. It also was an ethical violation of the highest level.

Volkswagen intentionally deceived those to whom it owed a duty of honesty. It fraudulently misrepresented its automobiles to be other than what they were. Most significantly, it intentionally chose to do so and went out of its way to commit the wrong.

This last fact may make it far more difficult for VW to recover from the reputational hit than it perhaps has been for GM or Toyota. Even though the latter’s product defects cost people their lives, they did not intentionally produce such parts.

The sheer brazenness and conniving that went into Volkswagen’s actions are probably what shocked people the most. This was a highly technical and sophisticated operation that basically taught the emissions system how to distinguish between road travel, typical idling and idling while undergoing an emissions test.

No spin can mitigate that fact. There is and can be no claims of confusion or misunderstanding, no failures to communicate. This will erode people’s trust in Volkswagen as a company to a degree that the failures of other companies may not have experienced. In the Volkswagen scandal, just like the story about price gouging in pharmaceuticals that broke the same week, consumers are confronted with the stark reality of corporate malfeasance.

In both instances, the wrongdoing was exacerbated by the responses of the companies’ CEOs. The now former CEO of Volkswagen, Martin Winterkorn, basically acknowledged his incompetence and failure of leadership by claiming that he was unaware of the actions taken by his employees. Martin Shkreli, the CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, in a series of tweets responding to criticisms of its pricing of the drug Daraprim demonstrated a level of knowledge of moral and social norms that can only be described as clueless.

Redefining success

These events – and others – make clear that there is a need to look at the broader cultural realities that drive unethical decisions in business, particularly the perception that the only way of determining value and worth is money.

This situation is not new – as early as 1906 William James wrote in a letter to H G Wells, “The moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS. That – with the squalid cash interpretation put on the word success — is our national disease.”

When a person’s worth is determined only by money, only by success as it is and can be monetized, when one has no sense of being without the BMW, the Rolex, the Armani suits, the yacht, etc, the moral flabbiness emerges. Indeed, it engulfs entire organizations and perhaps even entire societies.


Those last two sentences of that essay need repeating over and over again. This may just be a blog about learning from our beloved dog companions but as my home page spells out, this is not some silly romantic notion:

As man’s companion, protector and helper, history suggests that dogs were critically important in man achieving success as a hunter-gatherer. Dogs ‘teaching’ man to be so successful a hunter enabled evolution, some 20,000 years later, to farming, thence the long journey to modern man. But in the last, say 100 years, that farming spirit has become corrupted to the point where we see the planet’s plant and mineral resources as infinite. Mankind is close to the edge of extinction, literally and spiritually.

Dogs know better, much better! Time again for man to learn from dogs!

So there!

Written by Paul Handover

September 29, 2015 at 00:00

The most beautiful dagger of them all!

with 14 comments

This is the wake-up call that we humans simply can’t afford to sleep through.


This stunningly beautiful image is of an Antarctic iceberg, with a cavity. It belies the power of ice to destroy the world that we currently experience, and that “we” is not just humans but vast tracts of nature and, of course, our dogs.

So what has got “my knickers in a twist“? Answer: A reminder that the potential melting of the Antarctic ice sheet is a real and tangible threat; something that mankind has understand within the next few years.

First, let me share some of the material from the website of Antarctic Glaciers.

Ice shelves, icebergs and sea ice

Ice shelves

An ice shelf is a floating extension of land ice. The Antarctic continent is surrounded by ice shelves. They cover >1.561 million km2 (an area the size of Greenland)[1], fringing 75% of Antarctica’s coastline, covering 11% of its total area and receiving 20% of its snow.

The difference between sea ice and ice shelves is that sea ice is free-floating; the sea freezes and unfreezes each year, whereas ice shelves are firmly attached to the land. Sea ice contains icebergs, thin sea ice and thicker multi-year sea ice (frozen sea water that has survived several summer melt seasons, getting thicker as more ice is added each winter).

You can see the flat, floating ice shelf is almost featureless.

You can see this flat, floating ice shelf is almost featureless.

With this in mind, let me turn now to a recent post from Patrice Ayme in which he spells out very clearly the metaphorical dagger hanging above all our heads.


Ice Sheets Melt: Academics Waking Up; New York Times In Denial

There has never been a more important moral, philosophical, military, civilizational, psychological, sociological and economic issue than the concerted holocaust of the biosphere by Homo Sapiens, presently passing one tipping point after another. Thus I will not present excuses for keeping abreast of any advance in understanding in the field. Even if it is just to confirm what I have long said.

The first scientific paper including computerized models of ice sheets melt predicts the obvious: if we burn all PROVEN fossil fuels reserves, ice will completely melt, all over Earth. Yet it is a big surprise to most scientists

This is humanity as a geologic force,” said Ken Caldeira, a researcher at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, California, an author of the paper. “We’re not a subtle influence on the climate system – we are really hitting it with a hammer.”

Nice to read. Nietzsche was doing philosophy with a hammer, we went further: we are doing climate with a hammer. Hopefully, it will crack soon: nothing like a great catastrophe to bring further fascism. Nihilism is bad thing, naivety, even worse. To please the powers that be, and thus to be taken seriously, serious climate scientists have made unwarranted, profoundly unscientific, over-optimistic declarations about the ice sheets. Now their time is up. In truth the GreenHouse emissions are completely out of control, and still increasing… At a geological scale, every year:


50 Gigatons Per Year: This GreenHouse Is Bigger Than CO2 Alone.

I didn’t expect it would go so fast,” Dr. Caldeira said. “To melt all of Antarctica, I thought it would take something like 10,000 years.” Didn’t they all. Why? Because only then would one be invited at the White House. Thinking correctly means, first, to think in a way that pleases those with power.

“Combustion of available fossil fuel resources sufficient to eliminate the Antarctic Ice Sheet” [Ricarda Winkelmann, Anders Levermann, Andy Ridgwell,, Ken Caldeira]:

“The Antarctic Ice Sheet stores water equivalent to 58 meters in global sea-level rise. We show in simulations using the Parallel Ice Sheet Model that burning the currently attainable fossil fuel resources is sufficient to eliminate the ice sheet. With cumulative fossil fuel emissions of 10,000 gigatonnes of carbon (GtC), Antarctica is projected to become almost ice-free with an average contribution to sea-level rise exceeding 3 m per century during the first millennium. Consistent with recent observations and simulations, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet becomes unstable with 600 to 800 GtC of additional carbon emissions. Beyond this additional carbon release, the destabilization of ice basins in both West and East Antarctica results in a threshold increase in global sea level. Unabated carbon emissions thus threaten the Antarctic Ice Sheet in its entirety with associated sea-level rise that far exceeds that of all other possible sources.”

The famous Doctor Hansen and his collaborators upset the establishment two months ago by predicting a rise of three meters within 85 years (they use the reasoning I have used before, namely that paleontological data show sea level rise of 5 to 9 meters, with a rise of just one degree Celsius; actually the reasoning was obvious since 2009, when I pointed out that “2C Is Too Much“). The new paper potentially confirms Hansen’s findings. As I said, the new paper tries to NOT upset the powers that be (differently from yours truly, who view most individuals and institutions in power more than suspiciously, and it shows). Thus, one has to read between the lines to deduce that, from the paper itself, interpreting it optimistically is completely unwarranted.

The paper says: “Consistent with recent observations and simulations, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet becomes unstable with 600 to 800 GtC of additional carbon emissions.” Hmm… Let’s see, how long would that take, at the present increasing rate? Now emissions of CO2 itself are around 35 Gt, per year. That’s a number often brandished, but, left at that, it’s disinformation. With other GreenHouse Gases, we are at 50 Gigatons of CO2 equivalent emission, per year. Sorry for taxing the mathematical capabilities of our great leaders: 12 x 50 = 600. This fits perfectly my “Ten Years To Catastrophe” essay. Thus, the West and EAST Antarctic Ice Sheet becomes unstable in TWELVE YEARS (according to this paper; I obtained the same rough estimate with a paleoclimate approach).

The United Nations has said that the rise of the sea would not likely exceed three feet in this century. Some island nations will be wiped out (oops). Yet experts officially hope that major cities could be protected from it, in the richest countries that is (re-oops), though at a cost in the trillions of dollars (contemplate the enormous works to protect London or Venice).

The New York Times mentioned the paper above, which say the ice sheets will start melting irreversibly within a decade, to argue, in Politically Correct fashion, that ice sheets respond slowly enough to changes in the climate that it simply takes longer than a century for large-scale melting to begin. As if that notion was in the paper. It is not. Far from it. As I have argued before, that notion is ridiculous.

Indeed, warm water will rush below the ice sheets in West Antarctica, and East Antarctica’s immense Wilkes and Aurora subglacial basins.


Subglacial Basins Are The Achilles’ Heel Of The Biosphere.

{WAIS = West Antarctica Ice Shelf; WB = Wilkes Basin; AB = Aurora Basin.]

Yet from that (tipping) point on, the paper found that thereafter, the sea would rise at the rate at a foot per decade, ten times faster than now, the New York Times admitted.

However the real text is much more alarming. Here is an extract:

The Antarctic Ice Sheet is severely affected by high carbon emissions through both the marine ice-sheet instability and surface elevation feedbacks. On the time scale of millennia, large parts of the ice sheet melt or drain into the ocean, raising global sea level by several tens of meters. Most of the ice loss occurs within the first millennium, leading to high rates of sea-level rise during this period (Fig. 3; for more details, see also fig. S6). Our simulations show that cumulative emissions of 500 GtC commit us to long-term sea-level rise from Antarctica of 1.15 m within the next millenium, which is consistent with the sensitivity of 1.2 m/°C derived with a different ice-sheet model (33, 34). Paleo data suggest that similar rates of sea-level rise have occurred during past warm periods (35). If the 2°C target, corresponding to about 600 GtC of additional carbon release compared to year 2010, were attained, the millennial sea-level rise from Antarctica could likely be restricted to 2 m. In our simulations, this would keep the ice sheet below the threshold for the collapse of the Wilkes Basin. However, if that threshold is crossed, the Antarctic ice cover is significantly reduced in thickness and area (Fig. 4). If we were to release all currently attainable fossil fuel resources, Antarctica would become almost ice-free. It is unclear whether this dynamic discharge would be reversible and, if so, on which time scales.”

As I already said, since 2010, we have added another 230 Gigatons. So we are within eight year of the Wilkes ice sheet, the largest in the world, to become unstable. The paper admitted that about half the Antarctic ice sheet would melt or fall into the sea in the first thousand years.”

The New York Times’ interpretation that it will take nearly a century for dramatic melting to start was obviously tainted. It is just driven by political Machiavellianism: let’s admit there is climate “change” just as there is sea level “change”, and misinform about the unfolding catastrophe (although Main Stream Media had to recently admit the snow pack in California last April was the lowest in at least 500 years). How do I know this? The scientific paper used computerized models of the huge ice sheets covering Antarctica and Greenland. It is the first paper to do so. Yet, according to the biased New York Times, it would have found exactly what the UN found, during this century… Although the UN did not incorporate the ice sheet melt models.

Once the ice sheet melting is incorporated, faster melting ought to have been predicted, for THIS century. However that grim prediction would have upset the powers that be. We don’t want that to happen. Now that they have the drone habit, killing throngs of people they know nothing about, who knows what’s coming next if one disparages them? Beheading and crucifixion at the most esteemed Saudi plutocracy?

For plutocrats, the Saudis are a model of Human Rights: thus they elected them to head the UN panel on Human Rights. And ice sheet melting is perfect: all great catastrophes call onto what Obama calls “leaders” (our masters). If a bit of engineered inflation could bring Hitler, imagine what an inflating ocean can bring! A great future for the few who rule us, tax free.

Patrice Ayme’


Let me close with two pictures:


That is a very great deal of water locked up in that ice!

and this one that shows how at least one would have a wonderful view of the sea from your room at the Boston Harbour Hotel!

The dagger has fallen!

The dagger has fallen!

 Interesting times!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,525 other followers

%d bloggers like this: