Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category
A story of a ship is just the tip of the iceberg!
This is the ship:
Just a ship out of many thousands that ply the trade routes across our oceans. She was built in 2011 and is classified as a bulk carrier. Her gross tonnage is 40,142 tons. She is 738 feet long and 105 feet wide.
So what, you may ask?
To answer that question, let me turn to a recent post over on TomDispatch generously offered for republication on Learning from Dogs. (Thanks Tom.)
Tomgram: Rebecca Solnit, The Age of Inhuman Scale
It was the stuff of fantasy, of repeated failed expeditions and dreams that wouldn’t die. I’m talking about the Northwest Passage, that fabled route through Arctic waters around North America. Now, it’s reality. The first “bulk carrier,” a Danish commercial freighter with a load of coal, just traveled from Vancouver, Canada, to Finland, cutting a week off its voyage, skipping the Panama Canal, and even, according to the Finnish steel maker Ruukki Metals, for whom the coal was intended, “reducing its greenhouse gas emissions because of fuel savings.”
When dreams come true, it’s time to celebrate, no? Only in this case, under the upbeat news of the immediate moment lies a far larger nightmare. Those expeditions from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries failed to find the Northwest Passage because Arctic sea ice made the voyage impossible. There simply was no passage. No longer. Thanks to global warming, the melting of ice — glaciers are losing an estimated 303 billion tons of the stuff annually worldwide — staggers the imagination. The Greenland ice shield is turning into runoff ever more rapidly, threatening significant sea level rise, and all of the melting in the cold north has, in turn, opened a previously nonexistent Northwest Passage, as well as a similar passage through Russia’s Arctic waters.
None of this would have happened, as the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change pointed out in its latest report, if not for the way the burning of fossil fuels (like that coal the Nordic Orion took to Finland) has poured carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In other words, we created that Arctic passage and made it commercially viable, thus ensuring that our world, the one we’ve known since the dawn of (human) time, will be ever less viable for our children and grandchildren. After all, the Arctic with its enormous reservoirs of fossil fuels can now begin to be opened up for exploitation like so much of the rest of the planet. And there can be no doubt about it: those previously unreachable reserves will be extracted and burned, putting yet more CO2 into the atmosphere, and anyone who tries to stop that process, as Greenpeace protestors symbolically tried to do recently at an oil rig in Arctic Russia, will be dealt with firmly as “pirates” or worse. That dream of history, of explorers from once upon a time, is now not just a reality, but part of a seemingly inexorable feedback loop of modern fossil-fuel production and planetary heating, another aspect of what Michael Klare has grimly termed the Third Carbon Age (rather than a new Age of Renewables).
If we don’t need a little perspective on ourselves and our world now, then when? Fortunately, TomDispatch regular Rebecca Solnit is here to offer us both that perspective and some hope for what we can do in the face of well-funded climate denialism and fossil-fuel company boosterism. Tom
Bigger Than That
(The Difficulty of) Looking at Climate Change
By Rebecca Solnit
Late last week, in the lobby of a particularly unglamorous downtown San Francisco building, a group of passionate but polite activists met with a bureaucrat who stepped forward to hear what they had to say about the fate of the Earth. The activists wanted to save the world. The particular part of it that might be under their control involved getting the San Francisco Retirement board to divest its half a billion dollars in fossil fuel holdings, one piece of the international divestment movement that arose a year ago.
Sometimes the fate of the Earth boils down to getting one person with modest powers to budge.
The bureaucrat had a hundred reasons why changing course was, well, too much of a change. This public official wanted to operate under ordinary-times rules and the idea that climate change has thrust us into extraordinary times (and that divesting didn’t necessarily entail financial loss or even financial risk) was apparently too much to accept.
The mass media aren’t exactly helping. Last Saturday, for instance, the New York Times gave its story on the International Panel on Climate Change’s six-years-in-the-making report on the catastrophic future that’s already here below-the-fold front-page placement, more or less equal to that given a story on the last episode of Breaking Bad. The end of the second paragraph did include this quote: “In short, it threatens our planet, our only home.” But the headline (“U.N. Climate Panel Endorses Ceiling on Global Emissions”) and the opening paragraph assured you this was dull stuff. Imagine a front page that reported your house was on fire right now, but that some television show was more exciting.
Sometimes I wish media stories were organized in proportion to their impact. Unfortunately, when it comes to climate change, there is not paper enough on this planet to properly scale up a story to the right size. If you gave it the complete front page to suggest its import, you would then have to print the rest of the news at some sort of nanoscale and include an electron microscope for reading ease.
Hold up your hand. It’s so big it can block out the sun, though you know that the sun is so much bigger. Now look at the news: in column inches and airtime, a minor controversy or celebrity may loom bigger than the planet. The problem is that, though websites and print media may give us the news, they seldom give us the scale of the news or a real sense of the proportional importance of one thing compared to another. And proportion, scale, is the main news we need right now — maybe always.
As it happens, we’re not very good at looking at the biggest things. They may be bigger than we can see, or move more slowly than we have the patience to watch for or remember or piece together, or they may cause impacts that are themselves complex and dispersed and stretch into the future. Scandals are easier. They are on a distinctly human scale, the scale of lust, greed, and violence. We like those, we understand them, we get mired in them, and mostly they mean little or nothing in the long run (or often even in the short run).
A resident in a town on the northwest coast of Japan told me that the black 70-foot-high wave of water coming at him on March 11, 2011, was so huge that, at first, he didn’t believe his eyes. It was the great Tohoku tsunami, which killed about 20,000 people. A version of such cognitive dissonance occurred in 1982, when NASA initially rejected measurements of the atmosphere above Antarctica because they indicated such a radical loss of ozone that the computer program just threw out the data.
Some things are so big you don’t see them, or you don’t want to think about them, or you almost can’t think about them. Climate change is one of those things. It’s impossible to see the whole, because it’s everything. It’s not just a seven-story-tall black wave about to engulf your town, it’s a complete system thrashing out of control, so that it threatens to become too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet, too wild, too destructive, too erratic for many plants and animals that depend on reliable annual cycles. It affects the entire surface of the Earth and every living thing, from the highest peaks to the depths of the oceans, from one pole to the other, from the tropics to the tundra, likely for millennia — and it’s not just coming like that wave, it’s already here.
It’s not only bigger than everything else, it’s bigger than everything else put together. But it’s not a sudden event like a massacre or a flood or a fire, even though it includes floods, fires, heat waves, and wild weather. It’s an incremental shift over decades, over centuries. It’s the definition of the big picture itself, the far-too-big picture. Which is why we have so much news about everything else, or so it seems.
To understand climate change, you need to translate figures into impacts, to think about places you’ll never see and times after you’re gone. You need to imagine sea level rise and understand its impact, to see the cause-and-effect relations between coal-fired power plants, fossil-fuel emissions, and the fate of the Earth. You need to model data in fairly sophisticated ways. You need to think like a scientist.
Given the demands of the task and the muddle of the mainstream media, it’s remarkable that so many people get it, and that they do so despite massive, heavily funded petroleum industry propaganda campaigns is maybe a victory, if not enough of one.
Four months ago, two bombers in Boston murdered three people and injured hundreds in a way spectacularly calculated to attract media attention, and the media obeyed with alacrity. Climate change probably fueled the colossal floods around Boulder, Colorado, that killed seven people in mid-September, but amid the copious coverage, it was barely mentioned in the media. Similarly, in Mexico, 115 people died in unprecedented floods in the Acapulco area (no significant mention of climate change), while floods reportedly are halving Pakistan’s economic growth (no significant mention), and 166 bodies were found in the wake of the latest Indian floods (no significant mention).
Climate change is taking hundreds of thousands of lives in Africa every year in complex ways whose causes and effects are difficult to follow. Forest fires, very likely enhanced by climate change, took the lives of 19 firefighters facing Arizona blazes amid record heat waves in July. Again, climate change generally wasn’t the headline on that story.
(For the record, climate change is clearly helping to produce many of the bigger, more destructive, more expensive, more frequent disasters of our time, but it is impossible to point to any one of them and say definitely, this one is climate change. It’s like trying to say which cancers in a contaminated area were caused by the contamination; you can’t, but what you can say is that the overall rise in cancer is connected.)
Not quite a year ago, a climate-change-related hurricane drowned people when superstorm Sandy hit a place that doesn’t usually experience major hurricane impact, let alone storm surges that submerge amusement parks, the New York City subway system, and the Jersey shore. In that disaster, 148 people died directly, nearly that many indirectly, losses far greater than from any terrorist incident in this country other than that great anomaly, 9/11. The weather has now become man-made violence, though no one thinks of it as terrorism, in part because there’s no smoking gun or bomb — unless you have the eyes to see and the data to look at, in which case the smokestacks of coal plants start to look gun-like and the hands of energy company CEOs and well-paid-off legislators begin to morph into those of bombers.
Even the civil war in Syria may be a climate-change war of sorts: over the past several years, the country has been hit by its worst drought in modern times. Climate and Security analyst Francesco Femia says, “Around 75 percent of [Syrian] farmers suffered total crop failure, so they moved into the cities. Farmers in the northeast lost 80 percent of their livestock, so they had to leave and find livelihoods elsewhere. They all moved into urban areas – urban areas that were already experiencing economic insecurity due to an influx of Iraqi and Palestinian refugees. But this massive displacement mostly wasn’t reported. So it wasn’t factoring into various security analyses. People assumed Syria was relatively stable compared to Egypt.”
Column Inches, Glacial Miles
We like to think about morality and sex and the lives of people we’ve gotten to know in some fashion. We know how to do it. It’s on a distinctly human scale. It’s disturbing in a reassuring way. We fret about it and feel secure in doing so. Now, everything’s changed, and our imaginations need to keep pace with that change. What is human scale anyway? These days, after all, we split atoms and tinker with genes and can melt an ice sheet. We were designed to think about human-scale phenomena, and now that very phrase is almost as meaningless as old terms like “glacial,” which used to mean slow-moving and slow to change.
Nowadays glaciers are melting rapidly or disappearing entirely, and some — those in Greenland, for example — have gushing rivers of ice water eating through their base. If the whole vast Greenland ice sheet were to melt, it could raise global sea levels by 23 feet.
We tend to think about climate change as one or two or five things: polar ice, glaciers melting, sea-level rise, heat waves, maybe droughts. Now, however, we need to start adding everything else into the mix: the migration of tropical diseases, the proliferation of insect pests, crop failures and declining crop yields leading to widespread hunger and famine, desertification and flooded zones and water failures leading to mass population shifts, resource wars, and so many other things that have to do with the widest systems of life on Earth, affecting health, the global economy, food systems, water systems, and energy systems.
It is almost impossibly scary and painful to contemplate the radical decline and potential death of the oceans that cover 70% of the Earth’s surface and the dramatic decrease of plankton, which do more than any other type of organism to sequester carbon and produce oxygen — a giant forest in microscopic form breathing in what we produce, breathing out what we need, keeping the whole system going. If you want to read something really terrifying, take a look at the rise of the Age of Jellyfish in this review of Lisa-Ann Gershwin’s book Stung!: On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean. Maybe read it even if you don’t.
Only remember that like so much about climate change we used to imagine as a grim future, that future is increasingly here and now. In this case, in the form of millions or maybe billions of tons of jellyfish proliferating globally and devouring plankton, fish eggs, small fish, and bigger creatures in the sea we love, we know, we count on, we feed on, and now even clogging the water-intake pipes of nuclear power plants. In the form of seashells dissolving in acidic waters from the Pacific Northwest to the Antarctic Ocean. In the form of billions of pine-bark beetles massacring the forests of the American West, from Arizona to Alaska, one bite at a time.
It’s huge. I think about it, and I read about it, following blogs at Weather Underground, various climate websites, the emails of environmental groups, the tweets of people at 350.org, and bits and pieces of news on the subject that straggle into the mainstream and alternative media. Then I lose sight of it. I think about everything and anything else; I get caught up in old human-scale news that fits into my frameworks so much more easily. And then I remember, and regain my sense of proportion, or disproportion.
The Great Wall, Brick by Brick
The changes required to address climate change are colossal, but they are made up of increments and steps and stages that are more than possible. Many are already underway, both as positive changes (adaptation of renewable energy, increased energy efficiency, new laws, policies, and principles) and as halts to destruction (for example, all the coal-fired plants that have not been built in recent years and the Tar Sands pipeline that, but for popular resistance, would already be sending its sludge from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico). The problem is planetary in scale, but there is room to mitigate the worst-case scenarios, and that room is full of activists at work. Much of that work consists of small-scale changes.
As Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune put it last week, “Here’s the single most important thing you need to know about the IPCC report: It’s not too late. We still have time to do something about climate disruption. The best estimate from the best science is that we can limit warming from human-caused carbon pollution to less than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit — if we act now. Bottom line: Our house is on fire. Rather than argue about how fast it’s burning, we need to start throwing buckets of water.”
There are buckets and bucket brigades. For example, the movement to get universities, cities, churches, and other entities to divest their holdings of the top 200 fossil-fuel stocks could have major consequences. If it works, it will be achieved through dedicated groups on this campus or in that city competing in a difficult sport: budging bureaucrats. It’s already succeeded in some key places, from the city of Seattle to the national United Church of Christ, and hundreds of campaigns are underway across the United States and in some other countries.
My heroes are now people who can remain engaged with climate change’s complex and daunting facts and still believe that we have some leeway to determine what happens. They insist on looking directly at the black wall of water, and they focus on what we can do about the peril we face, and then they do it. They do their best to understand scale and science, and their dedication and clarity comes from connecting their hearts to their minds.
I hear people who are either uninformed or who are justifying disengagement say that it’s too late and what we do won’t matter, but it does matter, because a rise in the global temperature of two degrees Celsius is going to be very, very different from, say, five degrees Celsius for almost everything living on Earth now and for millennia to come. And there are still many things that can be done, both to help us adapt to the radical change on the way and to limit the degree of change to which we’ll have to adapt. Because it’s already risen .8 degrees and that’s been a disaster — many, many disasters.
I spent time over the last several months with the stalwarts carrying on a campaign to get San Francisco to divest from its energy stocks. In the beginning, it seemed easy enough. City Supervisor John Avalos introduced a nonbinding resolution to the Board of Supervisors, and to everyone’s surprise it passed unanimously in April on a voice vote. But the board turned out only to have the power to recommend that the San Francisco Retirement Board do the real work of divesting its vast holdings of fossil-fuel stocks. The retirement board was a tougher nut to crack.
Its main job, after all, is to ensure a safe and profitable pension fund and in that sense, energy companies have, in the past, been good investments. To continue on such a path is to be “smart about the market.” The market, in the meantime, is working hard at not imagining the financial impact of climate change.
The failure of major food sources, including fishing stocks and agricultural crops, and the resultant mass hunger and instability — see Syria — is going to impact the market. Retirees in the beautiful Bay Area are going feel it if the global economy crashes, the region fills with climate refugees, the spectacularly productive state agricultural system runs dry or roasts, and the oceans rise on our scenic coasts. It’s a matter of scale. Your investments are not independent of nature, even if fossil-fuel companies remain, for a time, profitable while helping destroying the world as humanity has known it.
Some reliable sources now argue that fossil-fuel stocks are not good investments, that they’re volatile for a number of reasons and due to crash. The IPCC report makes it clear that we need to leave most of the planet’s fossil fuel reserves in the ground in the coming decades, that the choice is either to fry the planet or freeze the assets of the carbon companies. Activists are now doing their best to undermine the value of the big carbon-energy corporations, and governments clued in to the new IPCC report will likely join them in trying to keep the oil, gas, and coal in the ground — the fossil fuel that is also much of the worth of these corporations on paper. If we’re lucky, we’ll make them crash. So divesting can be fiscally sound, and there is a very strong case that it can be done without economic impact. But the crucial thing here isn’t the financial logistics of divestment; it’s the necessity of grasping the scale of things, understanding the colossal nature of the problem and the need to address it, in part, by pressuring one small group or one institution in one place.
To grasp this involves a feat of imagination and, I think, a leap of faith: a kind of conviction about what matters, about living according to principle, about understanding what is too big to be seen with your own eyes, about correlating data on a range of scales. A lot of people I know do it. If we are to pull back from the brink of catastrophe, it will be because of their vision and their faith. You might want to thank them now, and while your words are nice, so are donations. Or you might want to join them.
That there is a widespread divestment movement right now is due to the work of a few people who put forth the plan less than a year ago at 350.org. The president has already mentioned it, and hundreds of colleges are now in the midst of or considering the process of divesting, with cities, churches, and other institutions joining the movement. It takes a peculiar kind of genius to see the monster and to see that it might begin to be pushed back by small actions — by, in fact, actions on a distinctly human scale that could still triumph over the increasingly inhuman scale of our era.
Hold up your hand. It looks puny in relation to the sun, but the other half of the equation of scale is seeing that something as small as that hand, as your own powers, as your own efforts, can matter. The cathedral is made stone by stone, and the book is written word by word.
If there is to be an effort to respond to climate change, it will need to make epic differences in economics, in ecologies, in the largest and most powerful systems around us. Though the goals may be heroic, they will be achieved mostly through an endless accumulation of small gestures.
Those gestures are in your hands, and everyone’s. Or they could be if we learned to see the true scale of things, including how big we can be together.
Rebecca Solnit writes regularly for TomDispatch, works a little with 350.org, and is hanging out a lot in 2013 with the newly arrived Martin, Thyri, Bija Milagro, and Camilo, who will be 80 in the unimaginable year of 2093. Her most recent book is The Faraway Nearby.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.
Copyright 2013 Rebecca Solnit
So back to me! And the blindness of present-day society.
Or try cause and effect.
A blatant example of what is so wrong with these present times.
Yesterday, in my post, A return to integrity, I offered up the hope:
Each of us, whoever you are, for the sake of your children and for all of the children in the world, embrace today the qualities, the values of Nature.
Love, Honesty, Loyalty, Trust, Openness, Faithfulness, Forgiveness, Affection.
Now if the shenanigans going on over here in my home country aren’t bad enough, then a recent essay from George Monbiot about the UK’s Department of Environment (DOE) really takes the cake. The essay is called Age of Unreason, published in the UK Guardian newspaper, and for obvious copyright reasons, I can only offer limited extracts. This is how the essay opens:
The governments of Britain, Canada and Australia are trying to stamp out scientific dissent.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 1st Ooctober 2013
It’s as clear and chilling a statement of intent as you’re likely to read. Scientists should be “the voice of reason, rather than dissent, in the public arena.”(1) Vladimir Putin? Kim Jong-un? No, Professor Ian Boyd, chief scientific adviser at the UK’s department for environment.
Boyd’s doctrine is a neat distillation of government policy in Britain, Canada and Australia. These governments have suppressed or misrepresented inconvenient findings on climate change, pollution, pesticides, fisheries and wildlife. They have shut down programmes which produce unwelcome findings and sought to muzzle scientists. This is a modern version of Soviet Lysenkoism: crushing academic dissent on behalf of bad science and corporate power(2).
Mr. Monbiot offers a very convincing argument to show how Professor Ian Boyd used poor scientific data to justify the culling of British badgers and how Boyd’s boss, the UK’s Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, is playing down the dangers of global warming – even suggesting the process had its advantages. George Monbiot goes on to show how that aforementioned Department has claimed, “that its field trials of neonicotinoid pesticides on bees showed that “effects on bees do not occur under normal circumstances”! [my italics].
Oh, and that there was an attempt to cull British buzzards to enable the rich and famous to ‘enjoy’ better pheasant shoots!
And more! All very properly documented with footnotes.
Mr. Monbiot’s essay closes thus:
To be reasonable, when a government is manipulating and misrepresenting scientific findings, is to dissent. To be reasonable, when it is helping to destroy human life and the natural world, is to dissent. As Julien Benda argued in La Trahison des Clercs, democracy and civilisation depend on intellectuals resisting conformity and power(28).
A world in which scientists speak only through their minders and in which dissent is considered the antithesis of reason is a world shorn of meaningful democratic choices. You can judge a government by its treatment of inconvenient facts and the people who expose them. This one does not emerge well.
Please do go across and read the essay in full because Mr. Monbiot is a journalist whom one can trust. In stark contrast to so many that purport to be governing on our behalf.
As an Englishman grateful to have the right to live in this fair country, it pains me to see what is happening to both my old country and my new one. When I was granted my visa, my fiancee visa, from the US Embassy in London I was given a small booklet containing the text of the US Constitution. Page One is open in front of me at this moment:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Our many broken ways!
Introspection warning! Long rant from me!
On the 21st., I published a post Be in peace this day! It was noting this year’s International Peace Day. One of the comments left by Patrice Ayme, in response to an earlier comment from Alex Jones, was this:
Alex: I read your message, and I approve it. Very well put. As Lord Keynes said: ”In the end, we are all dead.” Death seems pretty violent to me. Yet, one can live with it, and embrace it, because, as there is no choice, we may as well.
War is not anymore a problem than peace is. What matters most is the harmony of the society with the environment, not strife within. Plutocrats have unbalanced the environment, so they should be reduced, and that means war, because peace certainly will not reduce them.
Force is the truth of man. Everything else is delusion, even the vegetarian style.
To which I replied:
Patrice, as much as I deeply respect your intellect, I fundamentally am at odds with the sentiments you express. But rather than hide behind a short reply that few will read and even fewer take notice of, I’m going to write a post exploring my reactions in detail. As always, your comments are welcomed.
This, then, is that post.
But where oh where to start? Perhaps by me setting out this general premise.
Wherever one looks, it seems there are examples of madness bordering on the criminally insane.
In so many ways and at so many levels we are running the very real risk that by 2050 the end of this present era of human civilisation by the end of the century will be unavoidable. Ergo: Born after 1980? Then brace yourself for the end times.
The only solution is to adopt the core values of humanity. Very soon!
So on to a few examples of the present madness (and I would be the first to admit that I am, perhaps prejudicially, inclined to see the darkness of our present times).
First: Climate Change
The recent IPCC report made it clear that climate change is most likely a result of man’s activities on this planet. As the summary for policy makers says (selected extracts):
Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.
Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.
and [my emboldening]
Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes (Figure SPM.6 and Table SPM.1). This evidence for human influence has grown since AR4. It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.
George Monbiot in his blog on The Guardian newspaper, wrote:
But denial is only part of the problem. More significant is the behaviour of powerful people who claim to accept the evidence. This week the former Irish president Mary Robinson added her voice to a call that some of us have been making for years: the only effective means of preventing climate breakdown is to leave fossil fuels in the ground. Press any minister on this matter in private and, in one way or another, they will concede the point. Yet no government will act on it.
As if to mark the publication of the new report, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has now plastered a giant poster across its ground-floor windows: “UK oil and gas: Energising Britain. £13.5bn is being invested in recovering UK oil and gas this year, more than any other industrial sector.”
The message couldn’t have been clearer if it had said “up yours”. It is an example of the way in which all governments collaborate in the disaster they publicly bemoan. They sagely agree with the need to do something to avert the catastrophe the panel foresees, while promoting the industries that cause it.
It doesn’t matter how many windmills or solar panels or nuclear plants you build if you are not simultaneously retiring fossil fuel production. We need a global programme whose purpose is to leave most coal and oil and gas reserves in the ground, while developing new sources of power and reducing the amazing amount of energy we waste.
But, far from doing so, governments everywhere are still seeking to squeeze every drop out of their own reserves, while trying to secure access to other people’s. As more accessible reservoirs are emptied, energy companies exploit the remotest parts of the planet, bribing and bullying governments to allow them to break open unexploited places: from the deep ocean to the melting Arctic.
And the governments who let them do it weep sticky black tears over the state of the planet.
The BBC News website published some reactions from notable people. Take this one:
Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester
What has changed significantly since the last report is that we have pumped an additional 200 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. Annual emissions are now 60% higher than at the time of the first report in 1990 and atmospheric CO2 levels are the highest they have been for over two million years.
So what are we doing in the UK to help reverse this reckless growth in emissions? Record levels of investment in North Sea oil, tax breaks for shale gas, investment in oil from tar sands and companies preparing to drill beneath the Arctic.
Against this backdrop, the UK Treasury is pushing for over 30 new gas power stations, whilst the government supports further airport expansion and has dropped its 2030 decarbonisation target – all this alongside beleaguered plans for a few wind farms and weak energy efficiency measures. Governments, businesses and high-emitting individuals around the world now face a stark choice: to reduce emissions in line with the clear message of the IPCC report, or continue with their carbon-profligate behaviour at the expense of both climate-vulnerable communities and future generations.
OK, let’s move to another example of our collective madness.
Second: The way we treat the natural wildlife.
Last Thursday, the New York Times published an item about a recent report confirming the terrible cost to our wildlife of fragmenting their habitat. Here are the opening paragraphs, including the leading photograph in that NYT piece.
In Fragmented Forests, Rapid Mammal Extinctions
In 1987, the government of Thailand launched a huge, unplanned experiment. They built a dam across the Khlong Saeng river, creating a 60-square-mile reservoir. As the Chiew Larn reservoir rose, it drowned the river valley, transforming 150 forested hilltops into islands, each with its own isolated menagerie of wildlife.
Conservation biologists have long known that fragmenting wilderness can put species at risk of extinction. But it’s been hard to gauge how long it takes for those species to disappear. Chiew Larn has given biologists the opportunity to measure the speed of mammal extinctions. “It’s a rare thing to come by in ecological studies,” said Luke Gibson, a biologist at the National University of Singapore.
Over two decades, Dr. Gibson and his colleagues have tracked the diversity of mammals on the islands. In Friday’s issue of the journal Science, they report that the extinctions have turned out to be distressingly fast.
“Our results should be a warning,” said Dr. Gibson. “This is the trend that the world is going in.”
On a similar theme, many will recall my post back on the 19th, Pity the bees; pity us when I drew attention to the drastic reduction in the numbers of wild bees, including the quote “the vanishing honeybee could be the herald of a permanently diminished planet.“
Third: Money and power.
Again from The New York Times but this time an essay by Paul Krugman.
Plutocrats Feeling Persecuted
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Published: September 26, 2013
Robert Benmosche, the chief executive of the American International Group, said something stupid the other day. And we should be glad, because his comments help highlight an important but rarely discussed cost of extreme income inequality — namely, the rise of a small but powerful group of what can only be called sociopaths.
For those who don’t recall, A.I.G. is a giant insurance company that played a crucial role in creating the global economic crisis, exploiting loopholes in financial regulation to sell vast numbers of debt guarantees that it had no way to honor. Five years ago, U.S. authorities, fearing that A.I.G.’s collapse might destabilize the whole financial system, stepped in with a huge bailout. But even the policy makers felt ill used — for example, Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, later testified that no other episode in the crisis made him so angry.
And it got worse. For a time, A.I.G. was essentially a ward of the federal government, which owned the bulk of its stock, yet it continued paying large executive bonuses. There was, understandably, much public furor.
So here’s what Mr. Benmosche did in an interview with The Wall Street Journal: He compared the uproar over bonuses to lynchings in the Deep South — the real kind, involving murder — and declared that the bonus backlash was “just as bad and just as wrong.”
OK, that’s enough ‘copying’ from me so please go and read more about the plight of those poor billionaires. But if the NYT and Paul Krugman will forgive me, here’s the paragraph towards the end of the Krugman essay that makes me sick [my emboldening]:
The thing is, by and large, the wealthy have gotten their wish. Wall Street was bailed out, while workers and homeowners weren’t. Our so-called recovery has done nothing much for ordinary workers, but incomes at the top have soared, with almost all the gains from 2009 to 2012 going to the top 1 percent, and almost a third going to the top 0.01 percent — that is, people with incomes over $10 million.
(Patrice Ayme has a parallel essay over at his blog.)
Staying with the struggles of our billionaires for a moment longer, try the recent report on Bloomberg about the recent Monaco Yacht Show that included this:
As the yacht size has stretched — this year saw the launch of a record-holding 590-footer called the Azzam — so has the list of distractions onboard. Soaking in a jacuzzi, shooting hoops on a floating court or playing a baby grand Steinway piano no longer cut it.
“There is a change in attitude of super-yacht owners,” said Bert Houtman, founder and chairman of the Netherlands-based U-Boat Worx, surveying two of his submarine models on display quai-side in Monaco. “They’re fed up with drinking white wine and riding jet skis so they’re looking for another thrill.”
“A lot of guys who are billionaires have profound financial accomplishments and are now concerned about their legacy,” said Deppe. (Marc Deppe, Triton Subs vice-president of sales and marketing.)
It’s enough to make one weep!
Fourth: Politicians and governments not serving their peoples.
Making this my last example. Simply because a recent item published on Naked Capitalism had so much detail on what is wrong with our leaders; in this particular case regarding the American Affordable Care Act (ACA). This is how the article opens:
Many people, and especially Obama supporters, characterize the ACA (ObamaCare) as “just starting” or a “work in progress” and then go on to urge that the program will have “glitches,” needs to be “tweaked,” isn’t yet “fully implemented,” and so forth. We think it’s a mistake to see the ACA as just starting. We also think it’s a mistake not to weigh the costs of ObamaCare’s stately three-year progress toward partial coverage for the the American people, and just as important to weigh the opportunity costs.
The ACA was passed in March 2010, incorporating many features designed to meet Republican objections to the Bill. Yet, in the end, Democrats never put Medicare for All on the table, abandoned the public option and many other features, and did not get a single Republican vote in either chamber.
The Democrats even saw to it that the bill was fiscally neutral over a 10 year projection at a time when the tanked economy needed more deficit spending and the jobs that would have brought. And to do that, they postponed implementation of most of the bill for more than three years, until now, allowing people to go without care, to die, to divorce, and to lose their homes or go bankrupt due to medical bills, just so they could argue that the bill was fiscally neutral. In gauging the record of the bill, these 3 to 3.5 years of waiting for its implementation and their real costs to the people of the United States must be taken into account.
It also must be taken into account that in the year before the ACA was passed there were some 45 million Americans uninsured, and they were dying at the rate of 1,000 more for every million than in the general population. That is, lack of insurance was causing more than 45,000 fatalities per year. (The cost of those deaths in money terms: $1.38 trillion).
This is how the article closes [my emphasis]:
That’s what we’ve lost by not trying to pass HR 676 and by trying instead to take a bipartisan insurance company conciliation approach to passing the ACA. This post, gives the total for the anticipated opportunity cost by comparing Romney’s 2012 alternative to the ACA, the baseline of no reform at all, the ACA, and Medicare for All over the period 2010 – 2022. Bottom line: the ACA is projected to cost 286,500 lives through 2022, assuming no change. That’s a lot better than the baseline and a lot better than Romney’s 2012 alternative. But it’s still terrible compared to what we might have had if we had a President who really represented people rather than Wall Street.
What if an effort to pass HR 676 had failed in 2009 because too many Democrats in the Senate defected to pass it? Well, I think this would have been very unlikely with the very large Democratic majority and the popularity of the president at its height, but even if it would have failed, then the Democrats could still have compromised with members of their party to pass enhanced Medicare for All for everyone under 26 and over 45, or under 26 and over 50, or whatever compromise would have moved those wayward Democrats up to the 50 vote mark. Such a compromise bill would still have lowered the fatalities substantially by providing insurance for those who needed it most and by enhancing the Medicare program for seniors (full coverage and no co-pays). It would also have been something Democrats could have run on and built upon in each successive election year, rather than having to defend the sorry ACA with its package of inadequate goodies, silly mandate, IRS enforcement, high cost for lousy coverage, and Rube Goldberg eligibility determination. Again there would have been no Tea Party, because Tea Partiers like Medicare, and there would have been no Republican nationwide sweep in 2010, no gerrymandering, no voter suppression, no anti-woman bills, and none of all the rest of the nonsense we’ve seen because the Democrats did what they did.
Earlier in the post I offered a general premise that included, “Wherever one seems to look there are examples of madness bordering on the criminally insane.“
To my mind, these examples support that premise. Trust me, there are countless more examples.
So what to do? Because I am fundamentally at odds with the sentiment expressed by Patrice Ayme; “Force is the truth of man. Everything else is delusion, even the vegetarian style.“
The answer takes us to tomorrow’s post, A return to integrity.
And, yes, it does mention dogs! Rather a lot as it happens!
… to live here, but it helps!
This was a guest post sent to me by regular contributor, Chris Snuggs, back in May. It somehow slipped between the cracks, so to speak, and only came to light when I was trawling through a pile of draft posts.
Despite, or even because of, Madam Merkel’s re-election it still seemed a valuable post to publish. Chris lives in Germany and has a very good perspective on things.
It may also serve as an interesting reflection on the IPCC’s report when it is published later this week.
Over to Chris.
“Angela Merkel would seem to want it both ways.” (“Der Spiegel”)
The above comment caught my eye as I browsed through “Der Spiegel” this morning. Frau Merkel is delaying difficult decisions on energy production and “carbon backloading” until after the September elections in Germany.
Nothing earth-shattering in itself, of course. It is human nature to want it both ways, and examples do not lack.
One does somehow feel, however, that it has got worse in recent years. Kids want a highly-paid job without working their way up through the company hierarchy. Spain et al want to enjoy German prosperity by using EU “structural funds” without actually doing the boring hard work over decades. And politicians of course want growth and prosperity and a vast state apparatus plus a voter-bribing welfare system but without debt – or indeed troublesome whinging from the voters. However, as the proverb goes: “You can’t have your cake AND eat it.”
However, this article quoted is about something more serious than mere short-term greed, which is not exactly new in the history of Mankind. No, we are now applying the illusion that we can have it both ways in an area that threatens life on the planet – Global Warming of course.
As a concerned member of the “We don’t want to die from Global Warming Brigade”, I am more worried than ever about what is going on, and Germany is a symbol. Whatever the Germans do, they tend to do thoroughly and efficiently. They have a fairly large Green Party, a large investment in solar power and until recently seemed to be setting an example to Europe and the world. However, …..
• Germany will this year start up more coal-fired power stations than at any time in the past 20 years as the country advances a plan to exit nuclear energy by 2022. Two coal-fired plants opened in 2012 and six more will open this year, adding up to 7 percent of Germany’s capacity. A dozen more are on track to open before 2020. Greenhouse gas emissions in Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, rose 1.6 percent last year as more coal was burned to generate power, the Environment Ministry said two days ago.
• With the current carbon price, utility companies that have invested in low-carbon electricity generation such as wind and nuclear are losing market share to companies that produce energy using coal. Some companies are already acting on the low price of carbon in Europe. E.ON, for example, one of Germany’s largest utilities, announced recently that clean-energy investments will be cut to less than €1 billion in 2015 from €1.79 billion last year.
The thing is, if serious and efficient Germany is backsliding on emissions what are the chances for the rest of the world, with standards of living far below Germany and desperate to catch up?
An understanding of the problem of CO2 emissions is hardly new, yet it seems to me true to say that nothing serious is being done about it. There is lots of talk, noble efforts by Al Gore et al, international conferences, carbon-trading schemes and so on, but all the time CO2 emissions are increasing. Last week we learned that atmospheric CO2 has now reached 400 parts per million, a level not seen for 4 million years.
Despite this (and the consequences predicted seem to range from merely uncomfortable to threatening to life on Earth), the search for, exploitation and use of fossil fuels are all increasing. A student of logic would surely say that this is irrational; we are lowering ourselves to the level of lemmings, except that they can’t help it but we could.
We are completely hooked on fossil fuels; that is the problem. We have one minister ranting on about “saving the planet” and another proudly announcing new oil-wells, new areas earmarked for shale-fracking, developing countries opening new coal-fired power-stations. Industry in the west is making some efforts to clean up its act but these are being predictably swamped by growth in the developing economies.
It would be funny if it weren’t so serious. A few years ago “experts” talked about the end of oil as resources ran out but as we get cleverer at extracting it from more and more difficult places the availability of fossil fuels is actually going up! On top of this the melting poles (and Greenland) are opening up new areas for exploitation by the oil companies.
“Oil companies”. Yes, the Big, Bad and Ugly Culprits … and yet the last time I checked oil companies do not actually run the country they are based in. (Conspiracy and “Plutocrats run the World” theorists will certainly disagree with this, but that is another story!)
No, governments rule their countries, and while some are dictatorships and plenty of others are totally corrupt, there are a good number of democracies involved in this headlong rush to disaster. Worse, we are in a massive generalised recession and yet emissions are still creeping up. What will happen once “growth” takes off once more – as it will, these things going in cycles.
Living in Germany, I have personally been horrified by the decision to phase-out nuclear power. The Green movement is politically significant here and the government reacted rapidly and negatively to the Fukushima incident. This was indeed terrible, but does not change the facts:
- Nuclear is totally free of CO2 emissions.
- There has never been a serious accident in Western Europe.
- France still today derives over 70% of its electricity from nuclear.
- Nuclear designs are far safer than they were years ago.
- Nobody in their right mind would build a nuclear power station in an earthquake zone as the Japanese did – though if they want nuclear (and they have few natural resources) they don’t have a lot of choice
- Europe of course is an earthquake-free zone, except for Southern Italy.
- Nobody either would build one where the cooling pumps could be flooded by a tsunami – as the Japanese (usually so clever) ALSO did.
There are nonetheless dangers in nuclear of course, but:
- ONLY nuclear can currently provide enough power to satisfy our needs without CO2 emissions. Solar and wind are feeble pinpricks in comparison.
- There is no sign of a Deux ex Machina on the horizon that will solve the emission problems associated with fossil fuels.
My personal conclusion is that without nuclear we are doomed, since we seem totally incapable of reducing CO2 without it. On the contrary, now that shale-fracking has come on stream the emissions seem likely to rocket, with a presumable corresponding increase in Global Warming. And as far as that is concerned, it does seem to me – as a layman, like most of us – that we are involved in a vicious circle: the more the poles and Greenland melt, the more radiation is absorbed by the oceans and the more CO2 is released. People have talked about a “tipping point”, but it could just as easily be an “explosion point” – after which a geometrically increasing temperature in an unstoppable feedback cycle takes us to a Venusian scenario.
Not wishing to be to gloomy, but Frau Merkel’s procrastination is worrying. Politicians do things with such short-term considerations. She seems to be waiting till after the elections, but excuse me Frau Merkel, saving the planet can’t be put on hold.
Yes, whatever Europe does is pointless if India, China and South America are going to steam ahead, but someone has to set an example, and at the moment, Germany is burning much more coal AND opening new coal-fired power stations just as we should be cuttting back.
What is the solution? Nobody seems to know. If they do, they aren’t acting up on it. It is rather depressing. All Europe’s politicians are talking about at the moment is increasing growth = burning more fossil fuels. Even France is cutting back on nuclear ….
WHO WILL SAVE US?????
Finally, a few facts about emissions:
• The world emitted 31.8bn tonnes of carbon dioxide from the consumption of energy in 2010 – up 6.7% on the year before.
• The world emits 48% more carbon dioxide from the consumption of energy now than it did in 1992 when the first Rio summit took place.
• China and India together are building four new coal-fired power stations per week
• China – which only went into first place in 2006 – is racing ahead of the US, too. It emitted 8.3bn tonnes of CO2 in 2010 – up 240% on 1992, 15.5% on the previous year.
• China now emits 48% more CO2 than the USA – and is responsible for a quarter of the world’s emissions. Chinese per capita emissions, however, are still around 60% lower than in the USA (now involved in extensive shale-fracking)
• Global coal consumption grew by over 5% in 2010; gas by over 2%.
• Renewable energy accounted for only 2.2% of global energy output in 2011, despite all the fanfare over wind turbines and solar panels.
I tried to get a handle on some of these statistics. 31.8 billion tons of CO2! I went into the garden yesterday and tried to imagine the volume of gas that would weigh one ton. Impossible of course, so I looked it up: it is apparently 556.2m3 or a cube with sides of 8.3m.
Another amazing stat from this site (http://www.icbe.com/carbondatabase/CO2volumecalculation.asp) is that every year the United States emits a 33.14cm high blanket of carbon dioxide over its entire land area.
HAVE A GOOD DAY!!!!!
Conclusive evidence that mankind is part of nature!
Subtext = There are times when our arrogance and mindlessness beggars belief.
Sorry, if you pick up on a degree of emotion in today’s post. It’s impossible to hide!
Here’s what has fed that.
A few days ago, I came across some stunning images of bees, over on the Flickr website. Particularly, I was here and offer below a small sample of what was seen:
Much more may be learned about bees by going to the USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab (BIML). The BIML website is here.
Then coincidentally (seems to be happening much of this week!) Jean and I watched the latest TED Talk by Marla Spivak. It was called: Why bees are disappearing.
Marla’s talk is just 15-minutes long, and I beg of you to watch it because the ramifications for all of warm-blooded life on this planet are frightening if we don’t amend our ways – and amend them pretty damn soon!
Honeybees have thrived for 50 million years, each colony 40 to 50,000 individuals coordinated in amazing harmony. So why, seven years ago, did colonies start dying en masse? Marla Spivak reveals four reasons which are interacting with tragic consequences. This is not simply a problem because bees pollinate a third of the world’s crops. Could this incredible species be holding up a mirror for us?
Marla Spivak researches bees’ behavior and biology in an effort to preserve this threatened, but ecologically essential, insect. Full bio »
You may also want to go across to the University of Minnesota‘s Bee Lab website, where there is much more from Marla about our bees.
What next? Well may you ask!
I came across an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about a “Report links antibiotics at farms to human deaths“. Here’s a taste of that article:
Washington – The Centers for Disease Control on Monday confirmed a link between routine use of antibiotics in livestock and growing bacterial resistance that is killing at least 23,000 people a year.
The report is the first by the government to estimate how many people die annually of infections that no longer respond to antibiotics because of overuse in people and animals.
CDC Director Thomas Frieden called for urgent steps to scale back and monitor use, or risk reverting to an era when common bacterial infections of the urinary tract, bloodstream, respiratory system and skin routinely killed and maimed.
“We will soon be in a post-antibiotic era if we’re not careful,” Frieden said. “For some patients and some microbes, we are already there.”
The SFC report later goes on to say:
At least 70 percent of all antibiotics in the United States are used to speed growth of farm animals or to prevent diseases among animals raised in feedlots. Routine low doses administered to large numbers of animals provide ideal conditions for microbes to develop resistance.
“Widespread use of antibiotics in agriculture has resulted in increased resistance in infections in humans,” Frieden said.
It concludes, thus:
Legislation goes nowhere
Organic certification prohibits antibiotic use, but raising such animals is costly, he said.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, first introduced legislation in 1980 to restrict antibiotic use in livestock. For the past decade, Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., has introduced similar bills, joined in recent years by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., but the measures have gone nowhere.
“We constantly hear from the pharmaceutical and livestock industry that antibiotic use in livestock is not a problem and we should focus on human use,” said Avinash Kar, a staff attorney at the San Francisco office of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that has sued the FDA to force it to ban using antibiotics to promote growth in livestock. The case is now pending before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
See what I mean about mankind’s collective madness!
But I’m still not finished!
Because over at Alternet.org was this piece:
Americans Are 110 Times More Likely to Die from Contaminated Food Than Terrorism
September 17, 2013 - This article first appeared on Truth-Out.org.
One of the most important revelations from the international drama over Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks in May is the exposure of a nearly lunatic disproportion in threat assessment and spending by the US government. This disproportion has been spawned by a fear-based politics of terror that mandates unlimited money and media attention for even the most tendentious terrorism threats, while lethal domestic risks such as contaminated food from our industrialized agribusiness system are all but ignored. A comparison of federal spending on food safety intelligence versus antiterrorism intelligence brings the irrationality of the threat assessment process into stark relief.
In 2011, the year of Osama bin Laden’s death, the State Department reported that 17 Americans were killed in all terrorist incidents worldwide. The same year, a single outbreak of listeriosis from tainted cantaloupe killed 33 people in the United States. Foodborne pathogens also sickened 48.7 million, hospitalized 127,839 and caused a total of 3,037 deaths. This is a typical year, not an aberration.
See what I mean about our mindlessness! That article continues:
We have more to fear from contaminated cantaloupe than from al-Qaeda, yet the United States spends $75 billion per year spread across 15 intelligence agencies in a scattershot attempt to prevent terrorism, illegally spying on its own citizens in the process. By comparison, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is struggling to secure $1.1 billion in the 2014 federal budget for its food inspection program, while tougher food processing and inspection regulations passed in 2011 are held up by agribusiness lobbying in Congress. The situation is so dire that Jensen Farms, the company that produced the toxic cantaloupe that killed 33 people in 2011, had never been inspected by the FDA.
I can’t stomach any more (whoops, pardon the pun!) so if you want to read to the end, it’s here.
OK, sufficient for today! Need to find a dog to curl up with.
Damn, Jean’s beaten me to it!
As they say in the old country, it’s an ill wind that doesn’t blow anyone any good!
So often when I stare at the screen wondering just what on earth to write about, along comes something to fire me up.
In this case, it was a small clutch of disconnected items that seemed to have a common thread for me.
The first was reading the links in this morning’s Naked Capitalism summary and seeing this:
The REAL Fukushima Danger
The Real Problem …
The fact that the Fukushima reactors have been leaking huge amounts of radioactive water ever since the 2011 earthquake is certainly newsworthy. As are the facts that:
- Scientists have no idea where the cores of the nuclear reactors are
- Radiation could hit Korea, China and the West Coast of North Americafairly hard
But the real problem is that the idiots who caused this mess are probably about to cause a much biggerproblem.
Specifically, the greatest short-term threat to humanity is from the fuel pools at Fukushima.
If one of the pools collapsed or caught fire, it could have severe adverse impacts not only on Japan … but the rest of the world, including the United States. Indeed, a Senator called it a national security concern for the U.S.:
The radiation caused by the failure of the spent fuel pools in the event of another earthquake could reach the West Coast within days. That absolutely makes the safe containment and protection of this spent fuel a security issue for the United States.
Move south of the equator if that ever happened, I think that’s probably the lesson there.
Former U.N. adviser Akio Matsumura calls removing the radioactive materials from the Fukushima fuel pools “an issue of human survival”.
So the stakes in decommissioning the fuel pools are high, indeed.
But in 2 months, Tepco – the knuckleheads who caused the accident – are going to start doing this very difficult operation on their own.
The New York Times reports:
Thousands of workers and a small fleet of cranes are preparing for one of the latest efforts to avoid a deepening environmental disaster that has China and other neighbors increasingly worried: removing spent fuel rods from the damaged No. 4 reactor building and storing them in a safer place.
The Telegraph notes:
Tom Snitch, a senior professor at the University of Maryland and with more than 30 years’ experience in nuclear issues, said “[Japan officials] need to address the real problems, the spent fuel rods in Unit 4 and the leaking pressure vessels,” he said. “There has been too much work done wiping down walls and duct work in the reactors for any other reason then to do something…. This is a critical global issue and Japan must step up.”
Apologies, that’s more than sufficient to ruin your day! If you really want to read to the end, the item is here.
However, the next item carries a much more positive thread. It was an essay that was highlighted on Linked-In back in June.
The Number One Job Skill in 2020
What’s the crucial career strength that employers everywhere are seeking — even though hardly anyone is talking about it? A great way to find out is by studying this list of fast-growing occupations, as compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Sports coaches and fitness trainers. Massage therapists, registered nurses and physical therapists. School psychologists, music tutors, preschool teachers and speech-language pathologists. Personal financial planners, chauffeurs and private detectives. These are among the fields expected to employ at least 20% more people in the U.S. by 2020.
Did you notice the common thread? Every one of these jobs is all about empathy.
In our fast-paced digital world, there’s lots of hand-wringing about the ways that automation and computer technology are taking away the kinds of jobs that kept our parents and grandparents employed. Walk through a modern factory, and you’ll be stunned by how few humans are needed to tend the machines. Similarly, travel agents, video editors and many other white-collar employees have been pushed to the sidelines by the digital revolution’s faster and cheaper methods.
But there’s no substitute for the magic of a face-to-face interaction with someone else who cares. Even the most ingenious machine-based attempts to mimic human conversation (hello, Siri) can’t match the emotional richness of a real conversation with a real person.
Coincidentally, that thought about the ‘magic of a face-to-face interaction’ really echoed in me. Why? Because, I was ruminating on the wonderful world of human interaction this world of blogging delivers. It seems to combine all the benefits of meeting real people with a global consciousness of those same real people spread way beyond our own local domains.
Hence the reason why I offer the next seemingly unrelated item. The recent post from Sue Dreamwallker that I am republishing in full.
This is just a short post to say a Big thank you to all of my readers and to those who visit regular and comment upon my posts. You Bring with you such light and encouragement, and I often at a loss to say how much your kind support means.
I logged onto my Blog today and discover that my readership has swelled to 400 followers and so I just want to say a Big thank you for all of my oldest friends who have been with me since my beginnings of Windows Live Spaces days when I started in 2007, My first real post after transferring was called Finding Answers here on WordPress. And I remember well spending the best part of a Day getting to know and personalise my header and Blog back then as everything was alien that day was in Oct 2010. A move I am so pleased to have made, as I just love the W.P. Community of friends we have gathered here and whom I have got to know and love.
And I just want to say a big thank you to all of my newest arrivals who have clicked the follow button.. I hope to get around to discovering your blogs as soon as time allows.And to say thank you to my email subscribers also.. And Welcome, I hope you enjoy my thoughts and if not please don’t be shy to air your opinions for that’s how we grow and learn by sharing knowledge and understanding.
Today I just want to post what I have been up to in recent days besides the ‘Day-job’ in picture format.. So if you click the photos, you should be able to read more in the caption headings.. [Photos available on Sue's blogsite.]
Take care all of you and I have a busy week a head in my Day Job, so I will catch you when I can…
Love and Blessings
Still the resonances continued. For Rebecca Solnit published yesterday an incredibly powerful essay over on TomDispatch. It was called Victories Come in All Sizes. As always, Tom writes a wonderful introduction. Let me skip to Rebecca’s opening paragraphs.
Joy Arises, Rules Fall Apart
Thoughts for the Second Anniversary of Occupy Wall Street
By Rebecca Solnit
I would have liked to know what the drummer hoped and what she expected. We’ll never know why she decided to take a drum to the central markets of Paris on October 5, 1789, and why, that day, the tinder was so ready to catch fire and a drumbeat was one of the sparks.
To the beat of that drum, the working women of the marketplace marched all the way to the Palace of Versailles, a dozen miles away, occupied the seat of French royal power, forced the king back to Paris, and got the French Revolution rolling. Far more than with the storming of the Bastille almost three months earlier, it was then that the revolution was really launched — though both were mysterious moments when citizens felt impelled to act and acted together, becoming in the process that mystical body, civil society, the colossus who writes history with her feet and crumples governments with her bare hands.
She strode out of the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City during which parts of the central city collapsed, and so did the credibility and power of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, the PRI that had ruled Mexico for 70 years. She woke up almost three years ago in North Africa, in what was called the Arab Spring, and became a succession of revolutions and revolts still unfolding across the region.
Such transformative moments have happened in many times and many places — sometimes as celebratory revolution, sometimes as terrible calamity, sometimes as both, and they are sometimes reenacted as festivals and carnivals. In these moments, the old order is shattered, governments and elites tremble, and in that rupture civil society is born — or reborn.
It really is an essay that you need to read in full.
However, this further extract covering the closing paragraphs explains why it resonated so strongly with me in terms of the rising consciousness of all the millions of ordinary people just trying to leave the world in a better place:
Part of what gave Occupy its particular beauty was the way the movement defined “we” as the 99%. That (and that contagious meme the 1%) entered our language, offering a way of imagining the world so much more inclusive than just about anything that had preceded it. And what an inclusive movement it was: the usual young white suspects, from really privileged to really desperate, but also a range of participants from World War II to Iraq War veterans to former Black Panthers, from libertarians to liberals to anarchist insurrectionists, from the tenured to the homeless to hip-hop moguls and rock stars.
And there was so much brutality, too, from the young women pepper-sprayed at an early Occupy demonstration and the students infamously pepper-sprayed while sitting peacefully on the campus of the University of California, Davis, to the poet laureate Robert Hass clubbed in the ribs at the Berkeley encampment, 84-year-old Dorli Rainey assaulted by police at Occupy Seattle, and the Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen whose skull was fractured by a projectile fired by the Oakland police. And then, of course, there was the massive police presence and violent way that in a number of cities the movement’s occupiers were finally ejected from their places of “occupation.”
Such overwhelming institutional violence couldn’t have made clearer the degree to which the 1% considered Occupy a genuine threat. At the G-20 economic summit in 2011, the Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, said, “The reward system of shareholders and managers of financial institution[s] should be changed step by step. Otherwise the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ slogan will become fashionable in all developed countries.” That was the voice of fear, because the realized dreams of the 99% are guaranteed to be the 1%’s nightmares.
We’ll never know what that drummer girl in Paris was thinking, but thanks to Schneider’s meticulous and elegant book, we know what one witness-participant was thinking all through the first year of Occupy, and what it was like to be warmed for a few months by that beautiful conflagration that spread across the world, to be part of that huge body that wasn’t exactly civil society, but something akin to it, perhaps in conception even larger than it, as Occupy encampments and general assemblies spread from Auckland to Hong Kong, from Oakland to London in the fall of 2011. Some of them lasted well into 2012, and others spawned things that are still with us: coalitions and alliances and senses of possibility and frameworks for understanding what’s wrong and what could be right. It was a sea-change moment, a watershed movement, a dream realized imperfectly (because only unrealized dreams are perfect), a groundswell that remains ground on which to build.
On the second anniversary of that day in lower Manhattan when people first sat down in outrage and then stayed in dedication and solidarity and hope, remember them, remember how unpredictably the world changes, remember those doing heroic work that you might hear little or nothing about but who are all around you, remember to hope, remember to build. Remember that you are 99% likely to be one of them and take up the burden that is also an invitation to change the world and occupy your dreams.
Rebecca Solnit, author most recently of The Faraway Nearby spent time at Occupy San Francisco, Occupy Oakland, and Occupy Wall Street in 2011 and wrote about Occupy often for TomDispatch in 2011-2012. This essay is adapted from her introduction to Nathan Schneider’s new book, Thank You, Anarchy (University of California Press).
Copyright 2013 Rebecca Solnit
The final element was from an email yesterday in from Chris Snuggs. Chris has previously written guest posts on Learning from Dogs, the last one being In Defence of Politics back on July 8th. In that email was the following photograph.
Let me draw out the thread that I saw in all these items.
That is that the 1% that Rebecca Solnit wrote about are incredibly powerful people, with access to more power, money and control than one can even imagine. But what that 1% cannot control is the growing consciousness, the growing mindfulness and awareness of millions of people across this planet that something as simple and pure and beautiful as unconditional love will conquer all.
The most fundamental lesson that we can learn from dogs!
Where hope and inspiration meets the cold world of reality!
Yesterday’s post Don’t frighten the horses was all about reminding me that fear is a very bad motivator. I promoted the Transition message, ”If we can’t imagine a positive future we won’t be able to create it.”
Easy to say, easy to write, less easy to put into practice in the face of really chilling predictions.
My way of introducing today’s guest post, a recent post from TomDispatch. This was an essay by Michael Klare that has been widely shared and commented upon. For good reason. It challenges to the core the terrible consequences of not changing, of not having that image of the positive future we all so badly need.
So with the gracious permission of Tom Engelhardt, here is that essay.
Tomgram: Michael T. Klare, 2040 or Bust
If you’re an oil exec, the world is a rosy place — and I’m not talking about the pink haze of heat that’s been rising from the burning American West all summer. I’m talking about energy consumption where the news just couldn’t be cheerier. Despite declines in North America and Europe, according to a new study by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), world consumption of petroleum products in 2012 rose to record heights, a staggering 88.9 million barrels a day. Increases in Asia in particular were impressive, as a snazzy little animated graphic of soaring global oil use, 1980-2012, at the EIA’s website makes clear.
And speaking of upbeat news, there was another rosy record set in 2012 (at least, if you’re an oil exec who could care less about the fate of the planet): carbon dioxide emissions leaped into the atmosphere in record quantities, 31.6 billion tons of CO2, even as U.S. greenhouse gas emissions dropped, in part because utilities were switching from coal to natural gas. Of course, significant amounts of the coal not used in this country get shipped off to places like China where it no longer counts as U.S. emissions when it heads skyward.
Anyway, put the two together and you can practically see the heat haze of an eternal summer rising on the eastern horizon. In fact, these days even the worst news for the rest of us can be good news for the energy industry. For example, the possibility of an American intervention in Syria, a spreading conflict in the region, and chaos in Middle Eastern oil markets has already helped raise the price of a barrel of crude oil above $115. An American air assault on Syrian military facilities in Damascus could send that price over $120 and cause pain at the pump in the U.S. as well. So you and I won’t be happy, but oil execs will be toasting their good fortune.
In the coming years, there’s likely to be no end to this sort of good news, as Michael Klare,TomDispatch energy expert and author of The Race for What’s Left, makes clear today. If you thought fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions were at unbeatable levels, just wait until he introduces you to Earth 2040. If, by then, you’re the CEO of a big energy company, you’ll truly be in the pink. As for the rest of us, if you’ll excuse the expression, we’ll be in the red. Tom
Our Fossil-Fueled Future
World Energy in 2040
By Michael T. Klare
What sort of fabulous new energy systems will the world possess in 2040? Which fuels will supply the bulk of our energy needs? And how will that change the global energy equation, international politics, and the planet’s health? If the experts at the U.S. Department of Energy are right, the startling “new” fuels of 2040 will be oil, coal, and natural gas — and we will find ourselves on a baking, painfully uncomfortable planet.
It’s true, of course, that any predictions about the fuel situation almost three decades from now aren’t likely to be reliable. All sorts of unexpected upheavals and disasters in the years ahead make long-range predictions inherently difficult. This has not, however, deterred the Department of Energy from producing a comprehensive portrait of the world’s future energy system. Known as the International Energy Outlook (IEO), the assessment incorporates detailed projections of future energy production and consumption. Although dense with statistical data and filled with technical jargon, the 2013 report provides a unique and disturbing picture of our planetary future.
Many of us would like to believe that, by 2040, the world will be far along the path toward a green industrial future with wind, solar, and renewable fuels providing the bulk of our energy supplies. The IEO assumes otherwise. It anticipates a world in which coal — the most carbon-intense of all major fuels — still supplies more of our energy than renewables, nuclear, and hydropower combined.
The world it foresees is also one in which oil remains a preeminent source of energy, while hydro-fracking and other drilling techniques for extracting unconventional fossil fuels are far more widely employed than today. Wind and solar energy will also play a bigger role in 2040, but — as the IEO sees it — will still represent only a small fraction of the global energy mix.
Admittedly, International Energy Outlook is a government product of this moment with all the limitations that implies. It envisions the future by extrapolating from current developments. It is not visionary. Its authors can’t imagine energy breakthroughs that have yet to happen, or changes in world attitudes that may affect how energy is dealt with, or events like wars, environmental disasters, and global economic recessions or depressions that could alter the world’s energy situation. Nonetheless, because it assesses current endeavors that are sure to have long-lasting repercussions, like the present massive worldwide investments in shale oil and shale gas extraction, it provides an extraordinary resource for imagining the energy crisis in our future.
Among its major findings are three fundamental developments:
* Global energy use will continue to rise rapidly, with total world consumption jumping from 524 quadrillion British thermal units (BTUs) in 2010 to an estimated 820 quadrillion in 2040, a net increase of 56%. (A BTU is the amount of energy needed to heat one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit.)
* An increasing share of world energy demand will be generated by developing countries, especially those in Asia. Of the nearly 300 quadrillion BTUs in added energy needed to meet global requirements between now and 2040, some 250 quadrillion, or 85%, will be used to satisfy rising demand in the developing world.
* China, which only recently overtook the United States as the world’s leading energy consumer, will account for the largest share — 40% — of the growth in global consumption over the next 30 years.
These projections may not in themselves be surprising, but if accurate, the consequences for the global economy, world politics, and the health and well-being of the planetary environment will be staggering. To meet constantly expanding world requirements, energy producers will be compelled to ramp up production of every kind of fossil fuel at a time of growing concern about the paramount role those fuels play in fostering runaway climate change. Meanwhile, the shift in the center of gravity of energy consumption from the older industrial powers to the developing world will lead to intense competition for access to available supplies.
To fully appreciate the significance of the IEO’s findings, it is necessary to consider four critical trends: the surprising resilience of fossil fuels, the degree to which the world’s energy will be being provided by unconventional fossil fuels, the seemingly relentless global increase in emissions of carbon dioxide, and significant shifts in the geopolitics of energy.
The Continuing Predominance of Fossil Fuels
Anyone searching for evidence that we are transitioning to a system based on renewable sources of energy will be sorely disappointed by the projections in the 2013 International Energy Outlook. Although the share of world energy provided by fossil fuels is expected to decline from 84% in 2010 to 78% in 2040, it will still tower over all other forms of energy. In fact, in 2040 the projected share of global energy consumption provided by each of the fossil fuels (28% for oil, 27% for coal, and 23% for gas) will exceed that of renewables, nuclear, and hydropower combined (21%).
Oil and coal continue to dominate the fossil-fuel category despite all the talk of a massive increase in natural gas supplies — the so-called shale gas revolution – made possible by hydro-fracking. Oil’s continued supremacy can be attributed, in part, to the endless growth in demand for cars, vans, and trucks in China, India, and other rising states in Asia. The prominence of coal, however, is on the face of it less expectable. Given the degree to which utilities in the United States and Western Europe are shunning coal in favor of natural gas, the prominence the IEO gives it in 2040 is startling. But for each reduction in coal use in older industrialized nations, we are seeing a huge increase in the developing world, where the demand for affordable electricity trumps concern about greenhouse gas emissions.
The continuing dominance of fossil fuels in the world’s energy mix will not only ensure the continued dominance of the great fossil-fuel companies — both private and state-owned — in the energy economy, but also bolster their political clout when it comes to decisions about new energy investment and climate policy. Above all, however, soaring fossil-fuel consumption will result in a substantial boost in greenhouse gas emissions, and all the disastrous effects that come with it.
The Rise of the “Unconventionals”
At present, most of our oil, coal, and natural gas still comes from “conventional” sources — deposits close to the surface, close to shore, and within easy reach of transportation and processing facilities. But these reservoirs are being depleted at a rapid pace and by 2040 — or so the Department of Energy’s report tells us — will be unable to supply more than a fraction of our needs. Increasingly, fossil fuel supplies will be of an “unconventional” character – materials hard to refine and/or acquired from deposits deep underground, far from shore, or in relatively inaccessible locations. These include Canadian tar sands, Venezuelan extra-heavy crude, shale gas, deep-offshore oil, and Arctic energy.
Until recently, unconventional oil and gas constituted only a tiny share of the world’s energy supply, but that is changing fast. Shale gas, for example, provided a negligible share of the U.S. natural gas supply in 2000; by 2010, it had risen to 23%; in 2040, it is expected to exceed 50%. Comparable increases are expected in Canadian tar sands, Venezuelan extra-heavy crude, and U.S. shale oil (also called “tight oil”).
By definition, unconventional fuels are harder to produce, refine, and transport than conventional ones. In most cases, this means that more energy is consumed in their extraction than in the exploitation of conventional fuels, with more carbon dioxide being emitted per unit of energy produced. As is especially the case with fracking, the extraction of unconventional fuels normally requires significant infusions of water, raising the possibility of competition and conflict among major water consumers over access to supplies that, by 2040, will be severely threatened by climate change.
Relentless Growth in Carbon Emissions
By 2040, humanity will be burning far more fossil fuels than today: 673 quadrillion BTUs, compared to 440 quadrillion in 2010. The continued dominance of fossil fuels, rising coal demand, and a growing reliance on unconventional sources of supply can only have one outcome, as the IEO makes clear: a huge jump in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.
Carbon dioxide is the most prominent of the anthropogenic greenhouse gases being pumped into the atmosphere, and the combustion of fossil fuels is the primary source of that CO2; hence, the IEO’s projections on energy-related carbon emissions constitute an important measure of humankind’s ongoing role in heating the planet.
And here’s the bad news: as a result of the continued reliance on fossil fuels, global carbon emissions from energy are projected to increase by a stunning 46% between 2010 and 2040, jumping from 31.2 billion to 45.5 billion metric tons. No more ominous sign could be found of the kind of runaway global warming likely to be experienced in the decades to come than this grim figure.
In the IEO projections, all fossil fuels and all of the major consuming regions contribute to this nightmarish future, but coal is the greatest culprit. Of the extra 14.3 billion metric tons of CO2 to be added to global emissions over the next 30 years, 6.8 billion, or 48%, will be generated by the combustion of coal. Because most of the increase in coal consumption is occurring in China and India, these two countries will have a major responsibility for accelerating the pace of global warming. China alone is expected to contribute half of the added CO2 in these decades; India, 11%.
New Geopolitical Tensions
Finally, the 2013 edition of International Energy Outlook is rife with hints of possible new geopolitical tensions generated by these developments. Of particular interest to its authors are the international implications of humanity’s growing reliance on unconventional sources of energy. While the know-how to extract conventional energy resources is by now widely available, the specialized technology needed to exploit shale gas, tar sands, and other such materials is far less so, giving a clear economic advantage in the IEO’s projected energy future to countries which possess these capabilities.
One consequence, already evident, is the dramatic turnaround in America’s energy status. Just a few years ago, many analysts were bemoaning the growing reliance of the United States on energy imports from Africa and the Middle East, with an attendant vulnerability to overseas chaos and conflict. Now, thanks to American leadership in the development of shale and other unconventional resources, the U.S. is becoming less dependent on imported energy and so finds itself in a stronger position to dominate the global energy marketplace.
In one of many celebratory passages on these developments, the IEO affirms that a key to “increasing natural gas production has been advances in the application of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies, which made it possible to develop the country’s vast shale gas resources and contributed to a near doubling of total U.S. technically recoverable natural gas resource estimates over the past decade.”
At the same time, the report asserts that energy-producing countries that fail to gain mastery over these new technologies will be at a significant disadvantage in the energy marketplace of 2040. Russia is particularly vulnerable in this regard: heavily dependent on oil and gas revenues to finance government operations, it faces a significant decline in output from its conventional reserves and so must turn to unconventional supplies; its ability to acquire the needed technologies will, however, be hindered by its historically poor treatment of foreign companies.
China is also said to face significant challenges in the new energy environment. Simply to meet the country’s growing need for energy is likely to prove an immense challenge for its leaders, given the magnitude of its requirements and the limits to China’s domestic supplies. As the world’s fastest growing consumer of oil and gas, an increasing share of its energy supplies must be imported, posing the same sort of dependency problems that until recently plagued American leaders. The country does possess substantial reserves of shale gas, but lacking the skills needed to exploit them, is unlikely to become a significant producer for years to come.
The IEO does not discuss the political implications of all this. However, top U.S. leaders, from the president on down, have been asserting that America’s mastery of new energy technologies is contributing to the nation’s economic vitality, and so enhancing its overseas influence. “America’s new energy posture allows us to engage from a position of greater strength,” said National Security Advisor Tom Donilon in an April speech at Columbia University. “Increasing U.S. energy supplies act as a cushion that helps reduce our vulnerability to global supply disruptions and price shocks. It also affords us a stronger hand in pursuing and implementing our international security goals.”
The Department of Energy’s report avoids such explicit language, but no one reading it could doubt that its authors are thinking along similar lines. Indeed, the whole report can be viewed as providing ammunition for the pundits and politicians who argue that the emerging global energy equation is unusually propitious for the United States (so long, of course, as everyone ignores the effects of climate change) — an assessment that can only energize advocates of a more assertive U.S. stance abroad.
The World of 2040
The 2013 International Energy Outlook offers us a revealing peek into the thinking of U.S. government experts — and their assessment of the world of 2040 should depress us all. But make no mistake, none of this can be said to constitute a reliable picture of what the world will actually look like at that time.
Many of the projected trends are likely to be altered, possibly unrecognizably, thanks to unforeseen developments of every sort, especially in the climate realm. Nonetheless, the massive investments now being made in conventional and unconventional oil and gas operations will ensure that these fuels play a significant role in the energy mix for a long time to come — and this, in turn, means that international efforts to slow the pace of planetary warming are likely to be frustrated. Similarly, Washington’s determination to maintain U.S. dominance in the exploitation of unconventional fuel resources, combined with the desires of Chinese and Russian leaders to cut into the American lead in this field, is guaranteed to provoke friction and distrust in the decades to come.
If the trends identified in the Department of Energy report prove enduring, then the world of 2040 will be one of ever-rising temperatures and sea levels, ever more catastrophic storms, ever fiercer wildfires, ever more devastating droughts. Can there, in fact, be a sadder conclusion when it comes to our future than the IEO’s insistence that, among all the resource shortages humanity may face in the decades to come, fossil fuels will be spared? Thanks to the exploitation of advanced technologies to extract “tough energy” globally, they will remain relatively abundant for decades to come.
So just how reliable is the IEO assessment? Personally, I suspect that its scenarios will prove a good deal less than accurate for an obvious enough reason. As the severity and destructiveness of climate change becomes increasingly evident in our lives, ever more people will be pressing governments around the world to undertake radical changes in global energy behavior and rein in the power of the giant energy companies. This, in turn, will lead to a substantially greater emphasis on investment in the development of alternative energy systems plus significantly less reliance on fossil fuels than the IEO anticipates.
Make no mistake about it, though: the major fossil fuel producers — the world’s giant oil, gas, and coal corporations — are hardly going to acquiesce to this shift without a fight. Given their staggering profits and their determination to perpetuate the fossil-fuel era for as a long as possible, they will employ every means at their command to postpone the age of renewables. Eventually, however, the destructive effects of climate change will prove so severe and inescapable that the pressure to embrace changes in energy behavior will undoubtedly overpower the energy industry’s resistance.
Unfortunately, none of us can actually see into the future and so no one can know when such a shift will take place. But here’s a simple reality: it had better happen before 2040 or, as the saying goes, our goose is cooked.
Michael Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, a TomDispatch regular, and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left, just published in paperback by Picador. A documentary movie based on his book Blood and Oil can be previewed and ordered at http://www.bloodandoilmovie.com. You can follow Klare on Facebook by clicking here.
[Note to readers: As most of this text is based on a single document, International Energy Outlook 2013, there are fewer hyperlinks to source material than is usual in my pieces. The report itself can be viewed by clicking here.]
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.
Copyright 2013 Michael T. Klare
So how to return to a hopeful place?
Like this. Saw this a couple of days ago on Cat Skoor’s blog I Vary Widely. Seemed most appropriate.
Or might that be in the name of insanity?
John Hurlburt is a frequent contributor to Learning from Dogs, as a quick search through the blog will reveal.
A few days ago, John sent Jean and me a film to watch. It was the documentary Surviving Progress. We watched it on Monday evening. Here’s more on the film and related information.
Here’s the trailer.
Published on Apr 6, 2012
Surviving Progress Trailer (Documentary 2012).
Directed by Mathieu Roy, Surviving Progress documentary film is based on the best selling book A Short History of Progress. From Executive Producer Martin Scorsese, this provocative documentary explores the concept of progress in our modern world, guiding us through a sweeping but detailed survey of the major “progress traps” facing our civilization in the arenas of technology, economics, consumption, and the environment….
“Every time history repeats itself the price goes up.”
Surviving Progress presents the story of human advancement as awe-inspiring and double-edged. It reveals the grave risk of running the 21st century’s software — our know-how — on the ancient hardware of our primate brain which hasn’t been upgraded in 50,000 years. With rich imagery and immersive soundtrack, filmmakers Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks launch us on a journey to contemplate our evolution from cave-dwellers to space explorers.
Ronald Wright, whose best-seller, “A Short History Of Progress” inspired this film, reveals how civilizations are repeatedly destroyed by “progress traps” — alluring technologies serve immediate needs, but ransom the future. With intersecting stories from a Chinese car-driving club, a Wall Street insider who exposes an out-of-control, environmentally rapacious financial elite, and eco-cops defending a scorched Amazon, the film lays stark evidence before us. In the past, we could use up a region’s resources and move on. But if today’s global civilization collapses from over-consumption, that’s it. We have no back-up planet.
Surviving Progress brings us thinkers who have probed our primate past, our brains, and our societies. Some amplify Wright’s urgent warning, while others have faith that the very progress which has put us in jeopardy is also the key to our salvation. Cosmologist Stephen Hawking looks to homes on other planets. Biologist Craig Venter, whose team decoded the human genome, designs synthetic organisms he hopes will create artificial food and fuel for all.
Distinguished Professor of Environment Vaclav Smil counters that five billion “have-nots” aspire to our affluent lifestyle and, without limits on the energy and resource-consumption of the “haves”, we face certain catastrophe. Others — including primatologist Jane Goodall, author Margaret Atwood, and activists from the Congo, Canada, and USA — place their hope in our ingenuity and moral evolution.
Surviving Progress leaves us with a challenge: To prove that making apes smarter was not an evolutionary dead-end.
Surviving Progress is a 2011 Canadian documentary film loosely based on A Short History of Progress, a book and a 2004 Massey Lecture series by Ronald Wright about societal collapse. The film was produced by Daniel Louis, Denise Robert, and Gerry Flahive and written/directed by Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks.
So now to reactions to the film.
To say that it was compelling watching is both correct and, yet, emotionally disconnected.
The blunt truth is that the film is scary beyond belief. Like watching a giant wave about to engulf you, or a snake about to strike; nothing to do but be transfixed; to be mesmerized by these last few moments of your life.
Because a reasonable conclusion to the weight of evidence put forward by the film is that the time left to pull back from the certainty of the end of life on Planet Earth is minuscule. By that I mean we are speaking of a decade, perhaps two at most. Ninety-nine percent of the people reading this, living in your neighborhood, or your region, or your country will suffer the terrible consequences of the impending end of this planet as a home for life.
Unless there is most incredible awakening of global consciousness in the next two or three years. Unless the free world, from the highest in those lands to the vast masses of decent, working people, say, “Enough is enough.”
Unless every level of society, from local and national Governments, from Universities, from Churches, from employers both large and small, recognize that this time it’s different. This is about to become a global crisis.
I taken the following from the Amazon page for Ronald Wright’s book A Short History of Progress, that inspired the film:
From Neanderthal man to the Sumerians to the Roman Empire, A Short History of Progress dissects the cyclical nature of humanity’s development and demise, the 10,000-year old experiment that we’ve unleashed but have yet to control. It is Wright’s contention that only by understanding and ultimately breaking from the patterns of progress and disaster that humanity has repeated around the world since the Stone Age can we avoid the onset of a new Dark Age.
“the 10,000-year old experiment that we’ve unleashed but have yet to control.“
So let’s seek some solace. Back to John Hurlburt who in a post in July, Maybe home is found in our quietness, offered this:
Our world is increasingly spiritually, morally, mentally, physically and economically bankrupt. Many people would like to change the world one way or another. Most don’t really know why. Some folks simply don’t care. The idea is to leave life a bit better than we found it when we were born.
The fact is we’re all intrinsically sacred in a universe we didn’t create. We tend to prioritize illusion and delusion above reality. Playing God is a precursor of evil. A supreme faith in Money is self contradictory and ultimately fatal. Arrogance compounds the problem.
We connect in unified awareness through serene meditation. We experience harmony within an emerging celestial symphony. Answers flow from the inside out as we surrender to the eternal energy flow.
Be still and know…
an old lamplighter
I was going to close with a quotation from that most famous of Brits, Winston Churchill. The one that goes: “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”
But after I had put the post ‘to bed’, so to speak, I started to read the Transition Primer from Transition US. It was such a positive message that I decided to write about Transition tomorrow. Then there was a quote in the Primer that just had to be the one to close today’s post.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Ever noticed how quickly a dog returns to wagging its tail!
Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch and the clarity of looking backwards.
A few weeks ago, I said that I was trying to move away from writing about the big issues in our lives and refocus on the meanings, both literal and figurative, on what we can learn from dogs. Not been entirely successful with that ambition!
For example, yesterday’s post that included the most incredible video illustrating the size of the universe didn’t mention the ‘dog’ word at all. However, what yesterday did do is to remind us that even the grandest aspect of mankind’s behaviours, of the rise and fall of empires, is a very long way from the the grandness of the universe.
So with that preamble, let me move on to Tom’s recent essay, again published with Tom’s permission. As so often with essays that are published on TomDispatch this one sets out a reality of the America of today that is surely unsustainable. Interesting times!
Tomgram: Engelhardt, Alone and Delusional on Planet Earth
And Then There Was One - Delusional Thinking in the Age of the Single Superpower
By Tom Engelhardt
In an increasingly phantasmagorical world, here’s my present fantasy of choice: someone from General Keith Alexander’s outfit, the National Security Agency, tracks down H.G. Wells’s time machine in the attic of an old house in London. Britain’s subservient Government Communications Headquarters, its version of the NSA, is paid off and the contraption is flown to Fort Meade, Maryland, where it’s put back in working order. Alexander then revs it up and heads not into the future like Wells to see how our world ends, but into the past to offer a warning to Americans about what’s to come.
He arrives in Washington on October 23, 1962, in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a day after President Kennedy has addressed the American people on national television to tell them that this planet might not be theirs — or anyone else’s — for long. (“We will not prematurely or unnecessarily risk the costs of worldwide nuclear war in which even the fruits of victory would be ashes in our mouth, but neither will we shrink from the risk at any time it must be faced.”) Greeted with amazement by the Washington elite, Alexander, too, goes on television and informs the same public that, in 2013, the major enemy of the United States will no longer be the Soviet Union, but an outfit called al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and that the headquarters of our country’s preeminent foe will be found somewhere in the rural backlands of… Yemen.
Yes, Yemen, a place most Americans, then and now, would be challenged to find on a world map. I guarantee you one thing: had such an announcement actually been made that day, most Americans would undoubtedly have dropped to their knees and thanked God for His blessings on the American nation. Though even then a nonbeliever, I would undoubtedly have been among them. After all, the 18-year-old Tom Engelhardt, on hearing Kennedy’s address, genuinely feared that he and the few pathetic dreams of a future he had been able to conjure up were toast.
Had Alexander added that, in the face of AQAP and similar minor jihadist enemies scattered in the backlands of parts of the planet, the U.S. had built up its military, intelligence, and surveillance powers beyond anything ever conceived of in the Cold War or possibly in the history of the planet, Americans of that time would undoubtedly have considered him delusional and committed him to an asylum.
Such, however, is our world more than two decades after Eastern Europe was liberated, the Berlin Wall came down, the Cold War definitively ended, and the Soviet Union disappeared.
Why Orwell Was Wrong
Now, let me mention another fantasy connected to the two-superpower Cold War era: George Orwell’s 1948 vision of the world of 1984 (or thereabouts, since the inhabitants of his novel of that title were unsure just what year they were living in). When the revelations of NSA contractor Edward Snowden began to hit the news and we suddenly found ourselves knee-deep in stories about Prism, XKeyscore, and other Big Brother-ish programs that make up the massive global surveillance network the National Security Agency has been building, I had a brilliant idea — reread 1984.
At a moment when Americans were growing uncomfortably aware of the way their government was staring at them and storing what they had previously imagined as their private data, consider my soaring sense of my own originality a delusion of my later life. It lasted only until I read an essay by NSA expert James Bamford in which he mentioned that, “[w]ithin days of Snowden’s documents appearing in the Guardian and the Washington Post…, bookstores reported a sudden spike in the sales of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel 1984. On Amazon.com, the book made the ‘Movers & Shakers’ list and skyrocketed 6,021 percent in a single day.”
Nonetheless, amid a jostling crowd of worried Americans, I did keep reading that novel and found it at least as touching, disturbing, and riveting as I had when I first came across it sometime before Kennedy went on TV in 1962. Even today, it’s hard not to marvel at the vision of a man living at the beginning of the television age who sensed how a whole society could be viewed, tracked, controlled, and surveiled.
But for all his foresight, Orwell had no more power to peer into the future than the rest of us. So it’s no fault of his that, almost three decades after his year of choice, more than six decades after his death, the shape of our world has played havoc with his vision. Like so many others in his time and after, he couldn’t imagine the disappearance of the Soviet Union or at least of Soviet-like totalitarian states. More than anything else, he couldn’t imagine one fact of our world that, in 1948, wasn’t in the human playbook.
In 1984, Orwell imagined a future from what he knew of the Soviet and American (as well as Nazi, Japanese, and British) imperial systems. In imagining three equally powerful, equally baleful superpowers — Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia — balanced for an eternity in an unwinnable global struggle, he conjured up a logical extension of what had been developing on this planet for hundreds of years. His future was a version of the world humanity had lived with since the first European power mounted cannons on a wooden ship and set sail, like so many Mongols of the sea, to assault and conquer foreign realms, coastlines first.
From that moment on, the imperial powers of this planet — super, great, prospectively great, and near great — came in contending or warring pairs, if not triplets or quadruplets. Portugal, Spain, and Holland; England, France, and Imperial Russia; the United States, Germany, Japan, and Italy (as well as Great Britain and France), and after World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union. Five centuries in which one thing had never occurred, the thing that even George Orwell, with his prodigious political imagination, couldn’t conceive of, the thing that makes 1984 a dated work and his future a past that never was: a one-superpower world. To give birth to such a creature on such a planet — as indeed occurred in 1991 — was to be at the end of history, at least as it had long been known.
The Decade of the Stunned Superpower
Only in Hollywood fantasies about evil super-enemies was “world domination” by a single power imaginable. No wonder that, more than two decades into our one-superpower present, we still find it hard to take in this new reality and what it means.
At least two aspects of such a world seem, however, to be coming into focus. The evidence of the last decades suggests that the ability of even the greatest of imperial powers to shape global events may always have been somewhat exaggerated. The reason: power itself may never have been as centrally located in imperial or national entities as was once imagined. Certainly, with all rivals removed, the frustration of Washington at its inability to control events in the Greater Middle East and elsewhere could hardly be more evident. Still, Washington has proven incapable of grasping the idea that there might be forms of power, and so of resistance to American desires, not embodied in competitive states.
Evidence also seems to indicate that the leaders of a superpower, when not countered by another major power, when lacking an arms race to run or territory and influence to contest, may be particularly susceptible to the growth of delusional thinking, and in particular to fantasies of omnipotence.
Though Great Britain far outstripped any competitor or potential enemy at the height of its imperial glory, as did the United States at the height of the Cold War (the Soviet Union was always a junior superpower), there were at least rivals around to keep the leading power “honest” in its thinking. From December 1991, when the Soviet Union declared itself no more, there were none and, despite the dubious assumption by many in Washington that a rising China will someday be a major competitor, there remain none. Even if economic power has become more “multipolar,” no actual state contests the American role on the planet in a serious way.
Just as still water is a breeding ground for mosquitos, so single-superpowerdom seems to be a breeding ground for delusion. This is a phenomenon about which we have to be cautious, since we know little enough about it and are, of course, in its midst. But so far, there seem to have been three stages to the development of whatever delusional process is underway.
Stage one stretched from December 1991 through September 10, 2001. Think of it as the decade of the stunned superpower. After all, the collapse of the Soviet Union went unpredicted in Washington and when it happened, the George H. W. Bush administration seemed almost incapable of taking it in. In the years that followed, there was the equivalent of a stunned silence in the corridors of power.
After a brief flurry of debate about a post-Cold War “peace dividend,” that subject dropped into the void, while, for example, U.S. nuclear forces, lacking their major enemy of the previous several decades, remained more or less in place, strategically disoriented but ready for action. In those years, Washington launched modest and halting discussions of the dangers of “rogue states” (think “Axis of Evil” in the post-9/11 era), but the U.S. military had a hard time finding a suitable enemy other than its former ally in the Persian Gulf, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. Its ventures into the world of war in Somalia and the former Yugoslavia were modest and not exactly greeted with rounds of patriotic fervor at home. Even the brief glow of popularity the elder Bush gained from his 1990-1991 war against Saddam evaporated so quickly that, by the time he geared up for his reelection campaign barely a year later, it was gone.
In the shadows, however, a government-to-be was forming under the guise of a think tank. It was filled with figures like future Vice President Dick Cheney, future Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, future Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, future U.N. Ambassador John Bolten, and future ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, all of whom firmly believed that the United States, with its staggering military advantage and lack of enemies, now had an unparalleled opportunity to control and reorganize the planet. In January 2001, they came to power under the presidency of George W. Bush, anxious for the opportunity to turn the U.S. into the kind of global dominator that would put the British and even Roman empires to shame.
Pax Americana Dreams
Stage two in the march into single-superpower delusion began on September 11, 2001, only five hours after hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 smashed into the Pentagon. It was then that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, already convinced that al-Qaeda was behind the attacks, nonetheless began dreaming about completing the First Gulf War by taking out Saddam Hussein. Of Iraq, he instructed an aide to “go massive… Sweep it all up. Things related and not.”
And go massive he and his colleagues did, beginning the process that led to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, itself considered only a precursor to transforming the Greater Middle East into an American protectorate. From the fertile soil of 9/11 — itself something of a phantasmagoric event in which Osama bin Laden and his relatively feeble organization spent a piddling $400,000-$500,000 to create the look of an apocalyptic moment — sprang full-blown a sense of American global omnipotence.
It had taken a decade to mature. Now, within days of the toppling of those towers in lower Manhattan, the Bush administration was already talking about launching a “war on terror,” soon to become the “Global War on Terror” (no exaggeration intended). The CIA would label it no less grandiosly a “Worldwide Attack Matrix.” And none of them were kidding. Finding “terror” groups of various sorts in up to 80 countries, they were planning, in the phrase of the moment, to “drain the swamp” – everywhere.
In the early Bush years, dreams of domination bred like rabbits in the hothouse of single-superpower Washington. Such grandiose thinking quickly invaded administration and Pentagon planning documents as the Bush administration prepared to prevent potentially oppositional powers or blocs of powers from arising in the foreseeable future. No one, as its top officials and their neocon supporters saw it, could stand in the way of their planetary Pax Americana.
Nor, as they invaded Afghanistan, did they have any doubt that they would soon take down Iraq. It was all going to be so easy. Such an invasion, as one supporter wrote in the Washington Post, would be a “cakewalk.” By the time American troops entered Iraq, the Pentagon already had plans on the drawing board to build a series of permanent bases — they preferred to call them “enduring camps” — and garrison that assumedly grateful country at the center of the planet’s oil lands for generations to come.
Nobody in Washington was thinking about the possibility that an American invasion might create chaos in Iraq and surrounding lands, sparking a set of Sunni-Shiite religious wars across the region. They assumed that Iran and Syria would be forced to bend their national knees to American power or that we would simply impose submission on them. (As a neoconservative quip of the moment had it, “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.”) And that, of course would only be the beginning. Soon enough, no one would challenge American power. Nowhere. Never.
Such soaring dreams of — quite literally — world domination met no significant opposition in mainstream Washington. After all, how could they fail? Who on Earth could possibly oppose them or the U.S. military? The answer seemed too obvious to need to be stated — not until, at least, their all-conquering armies bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan and the greatest power on the planet faced the possibility of defeat at the hands of… well, whom?
The Dark Matter of Global Power
Until things went sour in Iraq, theirs would be a vision of the Goliath tale in which David (or various ragtag Sunni, Shiite, and Pashtun versions of the same) didn’t even have a walk-on role. All other Goliaths were gone and the thought that a set of minor Davids might pose problems for the planet’s giant was beyond imagining, despite what the previous century’s history of decolonization and resistance might have taught them. Above all, the idea that, at this juncture in history, power might not be located overwhelmingly and decisively in the most obvious place — in, that is, “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known,” as American presidents of this era came to call it – seemed illogical in the extreme.
Who in the Washington of that moment could have imagined that other kinds of power might, like so much dark matter in the universe, be mysteriously distributed elsewhere on the planet? Such was their sense of American omnipotence, such was the level of delusional thinking inside the Washington bubble.
Despite two treasury-draining disasters in Afghanistan and Iraq that should have been sobering when it came to the hidden sources of global power, especially the power to resist American wishes, such thinking showed only minimal signs of diminishing even as the Bush administration pulled back from the Iraq War, and a few years later, after a set of misbegotten “surges,” the Obama administration decided to do the same in Afghanistan.
Instead, Washington entered stage three of delusional life in a single-superpower world. Its main symptom: the belief in the possibility of controlling the planet not just through staggering military might but also through informational and surveillance omniscience and omnipotence. In these years, the urge to declare a global war on communications, create a force capable of launching wars in cyberspace, and storm the e-beaches of the Internet and the global information system proved overwhelming. The idea was to make it impossible for anyone to write, say, or do anything to which Washington might not be privy.
For most Americans, the Edward Snowden revelations would pull back the curtain on the way the National Security Agency, in particular, has been building a global network for surveillance of a kind never before imagined, not even by the totalitarian regimes of the previous century. From domestic phone calls to international emails, from the bugging of U.N. headquarters and the European Union to 80 embassies around the world, from enemies to frenemies to allies, the system by 2013 was already remarkably all-encompassing. It had, in fact, the same aura of grandiosity about it, of overblown self-regard, that went with the launching of the Global War on Terror — the feeling that if Washington did it or built it, they would come.
I’m 69 years old and, in technological terms, I’ve barely emerged from the twentieth century. In a conversation with NSA Director Keith Alexander, known somewhat derisively in the trade as “Alexander the Geek,” I have no doubt that I’d be lost. In truth, I can barely grasp the difference between what the NSA’s Prism and XKeyscore programs do. So call me technologically senseless, but I can still recognize a deeper senselessness when I see it. And I can see that Washington is building something conceptually quite monstrous that will change our country for the worse, and the world as well, and is — perhaps worst of all — essentially nonsensical.
So let me offer those in Washington a guarantee: I have no idea what the equivalents of the Afghan and Iraq wars will be in the surveillance world, but continue to build such a global system, ignoring the anger of allies and enemies alike, and “they” indeed will come. Such delusional grandiosity, such dreams of omnipotence and omniscience cannot help but generate resistance and blowback in a perfectly real world that, whatever Washington thinks, maintains a grasp on perfectly real power, even without another imperial state on any horizon.
Today, almost 12 years after 9/11, the U.S. position in the world seems even more singular. Militarily speaking, the Global War on Terror continues, however namelessly, in the Obama era in places as distant as Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. The U.S. military remains heavily deployed in the Greater Middle East, though it has pulled out of Iraq and is drawing down in Afghanistan. In recent years, U.S. power has, in an exceedingly public manner, been “pivoting” to Asia, where the building of new bases, as well as the deployment of new troops and weaponry, to “contain” that imagined future superpower China has been proceeding apace.
At the same time, the U.S. military has been ever-so-quietly pivoting to Africa where, as TomDispatch’s Nick Turse reports, its presence is spreading continent-wide. American military bases still dot the planet in remarkable profusion, numbering perhaps 1,000 at a moment when no other nation on Earth has more than a handful outside its territory.
The reach of Washington’s surveillance and intelligence networks is unique in the history of the planet. The ability of its drone air fleet to assassinate enemies almost anywhere is unparalleled. Europe and Japan remain so deeply integrated into the American global system as to be essentially a part of its power-projection capabilities.
This should be the dream formula for a world dominator and yet no one can look at Planet Earth today and not see that the single superpower, while capable of creating instability and chaos, is limited indeed in its ability to control developments. Its president can’t even form a “coalition of the willing” to launch a limited series of missile attacks on the military facilities of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. From Latin America to the Greater Middle East, the American system is visibly weakening, while at home, inequality and poverty are on the rise, infrastructure crumbles, and national politics is in a state of permanent “gridlock.”
Such a world should be fantastical enough for the wildest sort of dystopian fiction, for perhaps a novel titled 2014. What, after all, are we to make of a planet with a single superpower that lacks genuine enemies of any significance and that, to all appearances, has nonetheless been fighting a permanent global war with… well, itself — and appears to be losing?
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture (recently published in a Kindle edition), runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.
Copyright 2013 Tom Engelhardt
But as my preamble reminded us, if Tom’s essay gets your emotions running, then turn back to yesterday’s post and put it all back into place!
An update to yesterday’s post.
don’t consider myself an envious type, but I have to admit to being jealous of your location there, Paul. Deer in the back garden! Amazing. I guess I’m lucky to see the odd squirrel. But (as usual) I digress…
Trees… yes. Were I King of the Earth my first edict would be to make it illegal to chop down any more trees anywhere for any reason, and to reward true reforestation efforts (while banning old-forest lumbering dressed up as ‘reforestation’).
As I’m not, the extent of my singing for the trees is limited to pledges on such worthy projects as Who Bombed Judi Bari? (less than subtle hint: just 39 hours to go, as I write).
Your first image above is wonderful, and is a terrific, healing counterpoint to the images I see elsewhere, such as in the clip below, of what we’re doing to our home, out of sight of most people. Thank you.
That comment also included this video:
I thought readers would be interested in learning more by visiting the Kickstarter Campaign page and just possibly offering whatever pledge you can afford.
The importance of this campaign was underlined by the fact that just last Wednesday my daughter Maija, son-in-law Marius, and grandson Morten visited the Redwood Forest as part of their holiday with us in Oregon. Here are three of their pictures taken just two days ago.
So do whatever you can, please! There are just 26 hours to go at the time of posting this: 9:10 am PDT.
Thanks to Pedantry for bringing this to the attention of LfD readers and followers.