Posts Tagged ‘China’
With thanks to Cynthia for including me on her recent email.
FDA seeks pet owner help on dangerous jerky treats
From Associated Press October 23, 2013 8:17 AM EST
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Food and Drug Administration is appealing to dog and cat owners for information as it struggles to solve a mysterious outbreak of illness and deaths among pets that ate jerky treats.
In a notice to consumers and veterinarians published Tuesday, the agency said it has linked illnesses from jerky pet treats to 3,600 dogs and 10 cats since 2007. About 580 of those pets have died.
The FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine has run more than 1,200 tests, visited pet treat manufacturing plants in China and worked with researchers, state labs and foreign governments but hasn’t determined the exact cause of the illness, the FDA statement said.
“This is one of the most elusive and mysterious outbreaks we’ve encountered,” Bernadette Dunham, a veterinarian and head of the FDA vet medicine center, said in the statement.
Pets can suffer from a decreased appetite, decreased activity, vomiting and diarrhea among other symptoms within hours of eating treats sold as jerky tenders or strips made of chicken, duck, sweet potatoes or dried fruit.
Severe cases have involved kidney failure, gastrointestinal bleeding, and a rare kidney disorder, the FDA said.
Most of the jerky treats implicated have been made in China, the FDA said.
The FDA has issued previous warnings. A number of jerky pet treat products were removed from the market in January after a New York state lab reported finding evidence of up to six drugs in certain jerky pet treats made in China, the FDA said. The agency said that while the levels of the drugs were very low and it was unlikely that they caused the illnesses, there was a decrease in reports of jerky-suspected illnesses after the products were removed from the market. FDA believes that the number of reports may have declined simply because fewer jerky treats were available.
That FDA Notice is here. I have taken the liberty of republishing it in full.
Jerky Pet Treats
Since 2007, FDA has received reports of illnesses in pets associated with the consumption of jerky pet treats. As of September 24, 2013, FDA has received approximately 3000 reports of pet illnesses which may be related to consumption of the jerky treats. The reports involve more than 3600 dogs, 10 cats and include more than 580 deaths.
What we are doing
FDA is working with laboratories across the country to investigate causes. To date, testing for contaminants in jerky pet treats has not revealed a cause for the illnesses.
We have tested for:
- Metals or Elements (such as arsenic, cadmium and lead, etc.)
- Markers of irradiation level (such as acyclobutanones).
- Antibiotics (including both approved and unapproved sulfanomides and tetracyclines)
- Mold and mycotoxins (toxins from mold)
- Nephrotoxins (such as aristolochic acid, maleic acid, paraquat, ethylene glycol, diethylene glycol, toxic hydrocarbons, melamine, and related triazines)
- Other chemicals and poisonous compounds (such as endotoxins).
Testing has also included measuring the nutritional composition of jerky pet treats to verify that they contain the ingredients listed on the label and do not contain ingredients that are not listed on the label. Another area of investigation includes the effects of irradiation and its byproducts.
What consumers can do
Watch your pet closely. Signs that may occur within hours to days of feeding the jerky treat products are decreased appetite, decreased activity, vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes with blood or mucus), increased water consumption and/or increased urination. Severe cases are diagnosed with pancreatitis, gastrointestinal bleeding, and kidney failure or the resemblance of a rare kidney related illness called Fanconi syndrome.
If your pet has experienced signs of illness, please report it to FDA. Once a consumer has filed a report with their local FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator, or electronically through our safety reporting portal, FDA will determine whether there is a need to conduct a follow-up phone call or obtain a sample of the jerky pet treat product in question. While FDA does not necessarily respond to every individual complaint submitted, each report becomes part of the body of knowledge that helps to inform FDA on the situation or incident.
What veterinarians can do
The “Dear Veterinarian” letter to veterinary professionals explains how they can provide valuable assistance to the agency’s investigation, requests that veterinarians report to FDA any cases of jerky pet treat-related illness that come to their attention and, when requested, that they also provide samples for diagnostic testing by the Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network (Vet-LIRN), a network of veterinary laboratories affiliated with FDA.
I just mentioned this to Jeannie who says that while we do feed our dogs jerky treats, she is careful to purchase only those brands that are made in the USA.
Feel free to republish this howsoever you wish.
A real pleasure and privilege to republish this article from Mr. Monbiot.
For some time now I have subscribed to the articles published by The Permaculture Research Institute of Australia. From time to time references have been made to PRI articles here on Learning from Dogs.
Recently, I read a PRI essay that had been penned by George Monbiot. It was called The Great Unmentionable. It blew me away. So I took a deep breath and dropped George M. an email asking if I might republish it here. George was very gracious in giving me such permission.
First some background to George Monbiot for those who are unfamiliar with his work and his writings. As his website explains:
I had an unhappy time at university, and I now regret having gone to Oxford, even though the zoology course I took – taught, among others, by Richard Dawkins, Bill Hamilton and John Krebs – was excellent. The culture did not suit me, and when I tried to join in I fell flat on my face, sometimes in a drunken stupor. I enjoyed the holidays more: I worked on farms and as a waterkeeper on the River Kennet. I spent much of the last two years planning my escape. There was only one job I wanted, and it did not yet exist: to make investigative environmental programmes for the BBC.
After hammering on its doors for a year, I received a phone call from the head of the BBC’s natural history unit during my final exams. He told me: “you’re so fucking persistent you’ve got the job.” They took me on, in 1985, as a radio producer, to make wildlife programmes. Thanks to a supportive boss, I was soon able to make the programmes I had wanted to produce. We broke some major stories. Our documentary on the sinking of a bulk carrier off the coast of Cork, uncovering evidence that suggested it had been deliberately scuppered, won a Sony award.
Anyway, to the article in question that was published on the Guardian Newspaper’s website, 12th April 2013.
The Great Unmentionable
April 12, 2013
We have offshored both our consumption and our perceptions
By George Monbiot
Every society has topics it does not discuss. These are the issues which challenge its comfortable assumptions. They are the ones that remind us of mortality, which threaten the continuity we anticipate, which expose our various beliefs as irreconcilable.
Among them are the facts which sink the cosy assertion, that (in David Cameron’s words) “there need not be a tension between green and growth.”
At a reception in London recently I met an extremely rich woman, who lives, as most people with similar levels of wealth do, in an almost comically unsustainable fashion: jetting between various homes and resorts in one long turbo-charged holiday. When I told her what I did, she responded, “oh I agree, the environment is so important. I’m crazy about recycling.” But the real problem, she explained, was “people breeding too much”.
I agreed that population is an element of the problem, but argued that consumption is rising much faster and – unlike the growth in the number of people – is showing no signs of levelling off. She found this notion deeply offensive: I mean the notion that human population growth is slowing. When I told her that birth rates are dropping almost everywhere, and that the world is undergoing a slow demographic transition, she disagreed violently: she has seen, on her endless travels, how many children “all those people have”.
As so many in her position do, she was using population as a means of disavowing her own impacts. The issue allowed her to transfer responsibility to other people: people at the opposite end of the economic spectrum. It allowed her to pretend that her shopping and flying and endless refurbishments of multiple homes are not a problem. Recycling and population: these are the amulets people clasp in order not to see the clash between protecting the environment and rising consumption.
In a similar way, we have managed, with the help of a misleading global accounting system, to overlook one of the gravest impacts of our consumption. This too has allowed us to blame foreigners – particularly poorer foreigners – for the problem.
When nations negotiate global cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, they are held responsible only for the gases produced within their own borders. Partly as a result of this convention, these tend to be the only ones that countries count. When these “territorial emissions” fall, they congratulate themselves on reducing their carbon footprints. But as markets of all kinds have been globalised, and as manufacturing migrates from rich nations to poorer ones, territorial accounting bears ever less relationship to our real impacts.
While this is an issue which affects all post-industrial countries, it is especially pertinent in the United Kingdom, where the difference between our domestic and international impacts is greater than that of any other major emitter. The last government boasted that this country cut greenhouse gas emissions by 19% between 1990 and 2008. It positioned itself (as the current government does) as a global leader, on course to meet its own targets, and as an example for other nations to follow.
But the cut the UK has celebrated is an artefact of accountancy. When the impact of the goods we buy from other nations is counted, our total greenhouse gases did not fall by 19% between 1990 and 2008. They rose by 20%. This is despite the replacement during that period of many of our coal-fired power stations with natural gas, which produces roughly half as much carbon dioxide for every unit of electricity. When our “consumption emissions”, rather than territorial emissions, are taken into account, our proud record turns into a story of dismal failure.
There are two further impacts of this false accounting. The first is that because many of the goods whose manufacture we commission are now produced in other countries, those places take the blame for our rising consumption. We use China just as we use the population issue: as a means of deflecting responsibility. What’s the point of cutting our own consumption, a thousand voices ask, when China is building a new power station every 10 seconds (or whatever the current rate happens to be)?
But, just as our position is flattered by the way greenhouse gases are counted, China’s is unfairly maligned. A graph published by the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee shows that consumption accounting would reduce China’s emissions by roughly 45%. Many of those power stations and polluting factories have been built to supply our markets, feeding an apparently insatiable demand in the UK, the US and other rich nations for escalating quantities of stuff.
The second thing the accounting convention has hidden from us is consumerism’s contribution to global warming. Because we consider only our territorial emissions, we tend to emphasise the impact of services – heating, lighting and transport for example – while overlooking the impact of goods. Look at the whole picture, however, and you discover (using the Guardian’s carbon calculator) that manufacturing and consumption is responsible for a remarkable 57% of the greenhouse gas production caused by the UK.
Unsurprisingly, hardly anyone wants to talk about this, as the only meaningful response is a reduction in the volume of stuff we consume. And this is where even the most progressive governments’ climate policies collide with everything else they represent. As Mustapha Mond points out in Brave New World, “industrial civilization is only possible when there’s no self-denial. Self-indulgence up to the very limits imposed by hygiene and economics. Otherwise the wheels stop turning”.
The wheels of the current economic system – which depends on perpetual growth for its survival – certainly. The impossibility of sustaining this system of endless, pointless consumption without the continued erosion of the living planet and the future prospects of humankind, is the conversation we will not have.
By considering only our territorial emissions, we make the impacts of our escalating consumption disappear in a puff of black smoke: we have offshored the problem, and our perceptions of it.
But at least in a couple of places the conjuring trick is beginning to attract some attention.
On April 16th, the Carbon Omissions site will launch a brilliant animation by Leo Murray, neatly sketching out the problem*. The hope is that by explaining the issue simply and engagingly, his animation will reach a much bigger audience than articles like the one you are reading can achieve.
(*Declaration of interest (unpaid): I did the voiceover).
On April 24th, the Committee on Climate Change (a body that advises the UK government) will publish a report on how consumption emissions are likely to rise, and how government policy should respond to the issue.
I hope this is the beginning of a conversation we have been avoiding for much too long. How many of us are prepared fully to consider the implications?
So very difficult to pick out the sentence that carried the most power, for the essay is powerful from start to end. But this one did hit me in the face, “The impossibility of sustaining this system of endless, pointless consumption without the continued erosion of the living planet and the future prospects of humankind, is the conversation we will not have.“
Finally, I can’t resist reminding you, dear reader, of the point made by Prof. Guy McPherson in his book Walking Away from Empire, which I reviewed on March 6th. particularly in the first paragraph of the first chapter; Reason:
At this late juncture in the era of industry, it seems safe to assume we face one of two futures. If we continue to burn fossil fuels, we face imminent environmental collapse. If we cease burning fossil fuels, the industrial economy will collapse. Industrial humans express these futures as a choice between your money or your life, and tell you that, without money, life isn’t worth living. As should be clear by now, industrial humans — or at least our “leaders” — have chosen not door number one (environmental collapse) and not door number two (economic collapse), but both of the above.
Maybe this is why we seem unable to have the conversation because to do so means we have to look at ourselves in the mirror. Each one of us, you and me, has to address something so deeply personal. Back to Prof. McPherson and page 177 of his book (my emphasis):
It’s no longer just the living planet we should be concerned about. It’s us. The moral question, then: What are you going to do about it?
For my money, Mr. Monbiot is yet another voice of reason in the wilderness; another voice that deserves to be followed. I say this because by way of introduction to his philosophy, he opens thus:
My job is to tell people what they don’t want to hear. That is not what I set out to do. I wanted only to cover the subjects I thought were interesting and important. But wherever I turned, I met a brick wall of denial.
Denial is everywhere. I have come to believe that it’s an intrinsic component of our humanity, an essential survival strategy. Unlike other species, we know that we will die. This knowledge could destroy us, were we unable to blot it out. But, unlike other species, we also know how not to know. We employ this unique ability to suppress our knowledge not just of mortality, but of everything we find uncomfortable, until our survival strategy becomes a threat to our survival.
“… until our survival strategy becomes a threat to our survival.”
I sense the growing of this threat to the point where maybe within less than a year the vast majority of open-minded, thinking individuals know the truth of where we are all heading.
Noam Chomsky, Who Owns the World?
Once again, I am indebted to Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch fame for granting me permission to republish yet another fascinating essay.
In fact, this post was scheduled for Learning from Dogs very shortly after Tom’s essay appeared on TomDispatch some 5 months ago. For reasons that escape me now, I parked it and then forgot about it. But what is striking is that, as Tom points out in his introduction, the essay from Noam Chomsky was originally published on Tom Dispatch in April 2011, the thick end of 21 months ago. It reads as if it was off the press today. What a truly strange world we all live in.
I include a link to Noam Chomsky’s website after the essay, so now to Tom’s introduction:
In Noam Chomsky’s “Who Owns the World?” — the most popular TomDispatch post of all time (which means the last 10 years) — he wrote of one key imperial principle: “The U.S. cannot tolerate ‘any exercise of sovereignty’ that interferes with its global designs.” Hence, the under-reported but staggering U.S. build-up in the Persian Gulf.
Of late, most “build-up” publicity has gone to the Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia (to “contain” China), including an announcement that 60% of U.S. naval power will sooner or later be deployed to Asian waters. But much of this remains a promise for the future. The real “pivot” focus of the moment, if it can even be called that after all these years, remains Iran.
That country is largely surrounded by American military bases continually being built up, including a new missile defense radar station at a secret site in Qatar, part of a developing U.S. regional anti-missile system. In addition, there is an ongoing build-up of U.S. commando forces; of the military power of U.S. regional allies, thanks to new weapons systems of all sorts regularly being put on offer by Washington; of U.S. naval forces in the Persian Gulf, already enormous and still growing, including not one but two aircraft carrier battle groups, minesweepers, a new “floating base” for possible special operations forces, and tiny drone submersibles being “rushed” to the region. And don’t forget a similarly large-scale build-up of U.S. air power, including the deployment of the most advanced U.S. fighter plane, the F-22, to a base in the United Arab Emirates.
Add this to a series of warlike acts, including ever-tightening oil sanctions against Iran, the release of cyber worms meant to infect Iranian computer systems connected to its nuclear program, and an evident Israeli campaign to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists, and you have quite a “pivot” in what is, let’s not forget, the oil heartlands of the planet. Much of this is being covered in a scattered, almost absentminded way in the mainstream media. Yet anyone familiar with how World War I began knows that massive military build-ups or mobilizations — and a rickety Iranian regime is doing its best to respond regionally with its own mini-military build-up — can lead to war, whether either side actually intends it or not. A U.S. ship recently firing on an Indian boat — and killing one fisherman — near Iran is a reminder of where such inherently trigger-happy situations can lead.
Add to all this the fact that the planet’s former self-proclaimed “sole superpower” is visibly decaying and increasingly desperate to maintain its pretensions to global dominance, and you have a formula for future disaster. Isn’t it sad in its own way that Chomsky’s piece, first posted at this site in April 2011 (like the 2004 Chalmers Johnson piece reposted last Sunday), is in no way outmoded? It’s not faintly ready for the dustbin of history, and in fact, it remains ahead of its moment. In this sense, the United States is a Chomskyan nation, eerily following the path he’s laid out for it and so, undoubtedly, heading for something ugly indeed. Tom
Is the World Too Big to Fail?
The Contours of Global Order
By Noam Chomsky
The democracy uprising in the Arab world has been a spectacular display of courage, dedication, and commitment by popular forces — coinciding, fortuitously, with a remarkable uprising of tens of thousands in support of working people and democracy in Madison, Wisconsin, and other U.S. cities. If the trajectories of revolt in Cairo and Madison intersected, however, they were headed in opposite directions: in Cairo toward gaining elementary rights denied by the dictatorship, in Madison towards defending rights that had been won in long and hard struggles and are now under severe attack.
Each is a microcosm of tendencies in global society, following varied courses. There are sure to be far-reaching consequences of what is taking place both in the decaying industrial heartland of the richest and most powerful country in human history, and in what President Dwight Eisenhower called “the most strategically important area in the world” — “a stupendous source of strategic power” and “probably the richest economic prize in the world in the field of foreign investment,” in the words of the State Department in the 1940s, a prize that the U.S. intended to keep for itself and its allies in the unfolding New World Order of that day.
Despite all the changes since, there is every reason to suppose that today’s policy-makers basically adhere to the judgment of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s influential advisor A.A. Berle that control of the incomparable energy reserves of the Middle East would yield “substantial control of the world.” And correspondingly, that loss of control would threaten the project of global dominance that was clearly articulated during World War II, and that has been sustained in the face of major changes in world order since that day.
From the outset of the war in 1939, Washington anticipated that it would end with the U.S. in a position of overwhelming power. High-level State Department officials and foreign policy specialists met through the wartime years to lay out plans for the postwar world. They delineated a “Grand Area” that the U.S. was to dominate, including the Western hemisphere, the Far East, and the former British empire, with its Middle East energy resources. As Russia began to grind down Nazi armies after Stalingrad, Grand Area goals extended to as much of Eurasia as possible, at least its economic core in Western Europe. Within the Grand Area, the U.S. would maintain “unquestioned power,” with “military and economic supremacy,” while ensuring the “limitation of any exercise of sovereignty” by states that might interfere with its global designs. The careful wartime plans were soon implemented.
It was always recognized that Europe might choose to follow an independent course. NATO was partially intended to counter this threat. As soon as the official pretext for NATO dissolved in 1989, NATO was expanded to the East in violation of verbal pledges to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. It has since become a U.S.-run intervention force, with far-ranging scope, spelled out by NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who informed a NATO conference that “NATO troops have to guard pipelines that transport oil and gas that is directed for the West,” and more generally to protect sea routes used by tankers and other “crucial infrastructure” of the energy system.
Grand Area doctrines clearly license military intervention at will. That conclusion was articulated clearly by the Clinton administration, which declared that the U.S. has the right to use military force to ensure “uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies, and strategic resources,” and must maintain huge military forces “forward deployed” in Europe and Asia “in order to shape people’s opinions about us” and “to shape events that will affect our livelihood and our security.”
The same principles governed the invasion of Iraq. As the U.S. failure to impose its will in Iraq was becoming unmistakable, the actual goals of the invasion could no longer be concealed behind pretty rhetoric. In November 2007, the White House issued a Declaration of Principles demanding that U.S. forces must remain indefinitely in Iraq and committing Iraq to privilege American investors. Two months later, President Bush informed Congress that he would reject legislation that might limit the permanent stationing of U.S. Armed Forces in Iraq or “United States control of the oil resources of Iraq” — demands that the U.S. had to abandon shortly after in the face of Iraqi resistance.
In Tunisia and Egypt, the recent popular uprisings have won impressive victories, but as the Carnegie Endowment reported, while names have changed, the regimes remain: “A change in ruling elites and system of governance is still a distant goal.” The report discusses internal barriers to democracy, but ignores the external ones, which as always are significant.
The U.S. and its Western allies are sure to do whatever they can to prevent authentic democracy in the Arab world. To understand why, it is only necessary to look at the studies of Arab opinion conducted by U.S. polling agencies. Though barely reported, they are certainly known to planners. They reveal that by overwhelming majorities, Arabs regard the U.S. and Israel as the major threats they face: the U.S. is so regarded by 90% of Egyptians, in the region generally by over 75%. Some Arabs regard Iran as a threat: 10%. Opposition to U.S. policy is so strong that a majority believes that security would be improved if Iran had nuclear weapons — in Egypt, 80%. Other figures are similar. If public opinion were to influence policy, the U.S. not only would not control the region, but would be expelled from it, along with its allies, undermining fundamental principles of global dominance.
The Invisible Hand of Power
Support for democracy is the province of ideologists and propagandists. In the real world, elite dislike of democracy is the norm. The evidence is overwhelming that democracy is supported insofar as it contributes to social and economic objectives, a conclusion reluctantly conceded by the more serious scholarship.
Elite contempt for democracy was revealed dramatically in the reaction to the WikiLeaks exposures. Those that received most attention, with euphoric commentary, were cables reporting that Arabs support the U.S. stand on Iran. The reference was to the ruling dictators. The attitudes of the public were unmentioned. The guiding principle was articulated clearly by Carnegie Endowment Middle East specialist Marwan Muasher, formerly a high official of the Jordanian government: “There is nothing wrong, everything is under control.” In short, if the dictators support us, what else could matter?
The Muasher doctrine is rational and venerable. To mention just one case that is highly relevant today, in internal discussion in 1958, president Eisenhower expressed concern about “the campaign of hatred” against us in the Arab world, not by governments, but by the people. The National Security Council (NSC) explained that there is a perception in the Arab world that the U.S. supports dictatorships and blocks democracy and development so as to ensure control over the resources of the region. Furthermore, the perception is basically accurate, the NSC concluded, and that is what we should be doing, relying on the Muasher doctrine. Pentagon studies conducted after 9/11 confirmed that the same holds today.
It is normal for the victors to consign history to the trash can, and for victims to take it seriously. Perhaps a few brief observations on this important matter may be useful. Today is not the first occasion when Egypt and the U.S. are facing similar problems, and moving in opposite directions. That was also true in the early nineteenth century.
Economic historians have argued that Egypt was well-placed to undertake rapid economic development at the same time that the U.S. was. Both had rich agriculture, including cotton, the fuel of the early industrial revolution — though unlike Egypt, the U.S. had to develop cotton production and a work force by conquest, extermination, and slavery, with consequences that are evident right now in the reservations for the survivors and the prisons that have rapidly expanded since the Reagan years to house the superfluous population left by deindustrialization.
One fundamental difference was that the U.S. had gained independence and was therefore free to ignore the prescriptions of economic theory, delivered at the time by Adam Smith in terms rather like those preached to developing societies today. Smith urged the liberated colonies to produce primary products for export and to import superior British manufactures, and certainly not to attempt to monopolize crucial goods, particularly cotton. Any other path, Smith warned, “would retard instead of accelerating the further increase in the value of their annual produce, and would obstruct instead of promoting the progress of their country towards real wealth and greatness.”
Having gained their independence, the colonies were free to ignore his advice and to follow England’s course of independent state-guided development, with high tariffs to protect industry from British exports, first textiles, later steel and others, and to adopt numerous other devices to accelerate industrial development. The independent Republic also sought to gain a monopoly of cotton so as to “place all other nations at our feet,” particularly the British enemy, as the Jacksonian presidents announced when conquering Texas and half of Mexico.
For Egypt, a comparable course was barred by British power. Lord Palmerston declared that “no ideas of fairness [toward Egypt] ought to stand in the way of such great and paramount interests” of Britain as preserving its economic and political hegemony, expressing his “hate” for the “ignorant barbarian” Muhammed Ali who dared to seek an independent course, and deploying Britain’s fleet and financial power to terminate Egypt’s quest for independence and economic development.
After World War II, when the U.S. displaced Britain as global hegemon, Washington adopted the same stand, making it clear that the U.S. would provide no aid to Egypt unless it adhered to the standard rules for the weak — which the U.S. continued to violate, imposing high tariffs to bar Egyptian cotton and causing a debilitating dollar shortage. The usual interpretation of market principles.
It is small wonder that the “campaign of hatred” against the U.S. that concerned Eisenhower was based on the recognition that the U.S. supports dictators and blocks democracy and development, as do its allies.
In Adam Smith’s defense, it should be added that he recognized what would happen if Britain followed the rules of sound economics, now called “neoliberalism.” He warned that if British manufacturers, merchants, and investors turned abroad, they might profit but England would suffer. But he felt that they would be guided by a home bias, so as if by an invisible hand England would be spared the ravages of economic rationality.
The passage is hard to miss. It is the one occurrence of the famous phrase “invisible hand” in The Wealth of Nations. The other leading founder of classical economics, David Ricardo, drew similar conclusions, hoping that home bias would lead men of property to “be satisfied with the low rate of profits in their own country, rather than seek a more advantageous employment for their wealth in foreign nations,” feelings that, he added, “I should be sorry to see weakened.” Their predictions aside, the instincts of the classical economists were sound.
The Iranian and Chinese “Threats”
The democracy uprising in the Arab world is sometimes compared to Eastern Europe in 1989, but on dubious grounds. In 1989, the democracy uprising was tolerated by the Russians, and supported by western power in accord with standard doctrine: it plainly conformed to economic and strategic objectives, and was therefore a noble achievement, greatly honored, unlike the struggles at the same time “to defend the people’s fundamental human rights” in Central America, in the words of the assassinated Archbishop of El Salvador, one of the hundreds of thousands of victims of the military forces armed and trained by Washington. There was no Gorbachev in the West throughout these horrendous years, and there is none today. And Western power remains hostile to democracy in the Arab world for good reasons.
Grand Area doctrines continue to apply to contemporary crises and confrontations. In Western policy-making circles and political commentary the Iranian threat is considered to pose the greatest danger to world order and hence must be the primary focus of U.S. foreign policy, with Europe trailing along politely.
What exactly is the Iranian threat? An authoritative answer is provided by the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence. Reporting on global security last year, they make it clear that the threat is not military. Iran’s military spending is “relatively low compared to the rest of the region,” they conclude. Its military doctrine is strictly “defensive, designed to slow an invasion and force a diplomatic solution to hostilities.” Iran has only “a limited capability to project force beyond its borders.” With regard to the nuclear option, “Iran’s nuclear program and its willingness to keep open the possibility of developing nuclear weapons is a central part of its deterrent strategy.” All quotes.
The brutal clerical regime is doubtless a threat to its own people, though it hardly outranks U.S. allies in that regard. But the threat lies elsewhere, and is ominous indeed. One element is Iran’s potential deterrent capacity, an illegitimate exercise of sovereignty that might interfere with U.S. freedom of action in the region. It is glaringly obvious why Iran would seek a deterrent capacity; a look at the military bases and nuclear forces in the region suffices to explain.
Seven years ago, Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld wrote that “The world has witnessed how the United States attacked Iraq for, as it turned out, no reason at all. Had the Iranians not tried to build nuclear weapons, they would be crazy,” particularly when they are under constant threat of attack in violation of the UN Charter. Whether they are doing so remains an open question, but perhaps so.
But Iran’s threat goes beyond deterrence. It is also seeking to expand its influence in neighboring countries, the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence emphasize, and in this way to “destabilize” the region (in the technical terms of foreign policy discourse). The U.S. invasion and military occupation of Iran’s neighbors is “stabilization.” Iran’s efforts to extend its influence to them are “destabilization,” hence plainly illegitimate.
Such usage is routine. Thus the prominent foreign policy analyst James Chace was properly using the term “stability” in its technical sense when he explained that in order to achieve “stability” in Chile it was necessary to “destabilize” the country (by overthrowing the elected government of Salvador Allende and installing the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet). Other concerns about Iran are equally interesting to explore, but perhaps this is enough to reveal the guiding principles and their status in imperial culture. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s planners emphasized at the dawn of the contemporary world system, the U.S. cannot tolerate “any exercise of sovereignty” that interferes with its global designs.
The U.S. and Europe are united in punishing Iran for its threat to stability, but it is useful to recall how isolated they are. The nonaligned countries have vigorously supported Iran’s right to enrich uranium. In the region, Arab public opinion even strongly favors Iranian nuclear weapons. The major regional power, Turkey, voted against the latest U.S.-initiated sanctions motion in the Security Council, along with Brazil, the most admired country of the South. Their disobedience led to sharp censure, not for the first time: Turkey had been bitterly condemned in 2003 when the government followed the will of 95% of the population and refused to participate in the invasion of Iraq, thus demonstrating its weak grasp of democracy, western-style.
After its Security Council misdeed last year, Turkey was warned by Obama’s top diplomat on European affairs, Philip Gordon, that it must “demonstrate its commitment to partnership with the West.” A scholar with the Council on Foreign Relations asked, “How do we keep the Turks in their lane?” — following orders like good democrats. Brazil’s Lula was admonished in a New York Times headline that his effort with Turkey to provide a solution to the uranium enrichment issue outside of the framework of U.S. power was a “Spot on Brazilian Leader’s Legacy.” In brief, do what we say, or else.
An interesting sidelight, effectively suppressed, is that the Iran-Turkey-Brazil deal was approved in advance by Obama, presumably on the assumption that it would fail, providing an ideological weapon against Iran. When it succeeded, the approval turned to censure, and Washington rammed through a Security Council resolution so weak that China readily signed — and is now chastised for living up to the letter of the resolution but not Washington’s unilateral directives — in the current issue ofForeign Affairs, for example.
While the U.S. can tolerate Turkish disobedience, though with dismay, China is harder to ignore. The press warns that “China’s investors and traders are now filling a vacuum in Iran as businesses from many other nations, especially in Europe, pull out,” and in particular, is expanding its dominant role in Iran’s energy industries. Washington is reacting with a touch of desperation. The State Department warned China that if it wants to be accepted in the international community — a technical term referring to the U.S. and whoever happens to agree with it — then it must not “skirt and evade international responsibilities, [which] are clear”: namely, follow U.S. orders. China is unlikely to be impressed.
There is also much concern about the growing Chinese military threat. A recent Pentagon study warned that China’s military budget is approaching “one-fifth of what the Pentagon spent to operate and carry out the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” a fraction of the U.S. military budget, of course. China’s expansion of military forces might “deny the ability of American warships to operate in international waters off its coast,” the New York Times added.
Off the coast of China, that is; it has yet to be proposed that the U.S. should eliminate military forces that deny the Caribbean to Chinese warships. China’s lack of understanding of rules of international civility is illustrated further by its objections to plans for the advanced nuclear-powered aircraft carrier George Washington to join naval exercises a few miles off China’s coast, with alleged capacity to strike Beijing.
In contrast, the West understands that such U.S. operations are all undertaken to defend stability and its own security. The liberal New Republic expresses its concern that “China sent ten warships through international waters just off the Japanese island of Okinawa.” That is indeed a provocation — unlike the fact, unmentioned, that Washington has converted the island into a major military base in defiance of vehement protests by the people of Okinawa. That is not a provocation, on the standard principle that we own the world.
Deep-seated imperial doctrine aside, there is good reason for China’s neighbors to be concerned about its growing military and commercial power. And though Arab opinion supports an Iranian nuclear weapons program, we certainly should not do so. The foreign policy literature is full of proposals as to how to counter the threat. One obvious way is rarely discussed: work to establish a nuclear-weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the region. The issue arose (again) at the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) conference at United Nations headquarters last May. Egypt, as chair of the 118 nations of the Non-Aligned Movement, called for negotiations on a Middle East NWFZ, as had been agreed by the West, including the U.S., at the 1995 review conference on the NPT.
International support is so overwhelming that Obama formally agreed. It is a fine idea, Washington informed the conference, but not now. Furthermore, the U.S. made clear that Israel must be exempted: no proposal can call for Israel’s nuclear program to be placed under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency or for the release of information about “Israeli nuclear facilities and activities.” So much for this method of dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat.
Privatizing the Planet
While Grand Area doctrine still prevails, the capacity to implement it has declined. The peak of U.S. power was after World War II, when it had literally half the world’s wealth. But that naturally declined, as other industrial economies recovered from the devastation of the war and decolonization took its agonizing course. By the early 1970s, the U.S. share of global wealth had declined to about 25%, and the industrial world had become tripolar: North America, Europe, and East Asia (then Japan-based).
There was also a sharp change in the U.S. economy in the 1970s, towards financialization and export of production. A variety of factors converged to create a vicious cycle of radical concentration of wealth, primarily in the top fraction of 1% of the population — mostly CEOs, hedge-fund managers, and the like. That leads to the concentration of political power, hence state policies to increase economic concentration: fiscal policies, rules of corporate governance, deregulation, and much more. Meanwhile the costs of electoral campaigns skyrocketed, driving the parties into the pockets of concentrated capital, increasingly financial: the Republicans reflexively, the Democrats — by now what used to be moderate Republicans — not far behind.
Elections have become a charade, run by the public relations industry. After his 2008 victory, Obama won an award from the industry for the best marketing campaign of the year. Executives were euphoric. In the business press they explained that they had been marketing candidates like other commodities since Ronald Reagan, but 2008 was their greatest achievement and would change the style in corporate boardrooms. The 2012 election is expected to cost $2 billion, mostly in corporate funding. Small wonder that Obama is selecting business leaders for top positions. The public is angry and frustrated, but as long as the Muasher principle prevails, that doesn’t matter.
While wealth and power have narrowly concentrated, for most of the population real incomes have stagnated and people have been getting by with increased work hours, debt, and asset inflation, regularly destroyed by the financial crises that began as the regulatory apparatus was dismantled starting in the 1980s.
None of this is problematic for the very wealthy, who benefit from a government insurance policy called “too big to fail.” The banks and investment firms can make risky transactions, with rich rewards, and when the system inevitably crashes, they can run to the nanny state for a taxpayer bailout, clutching their copies of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman.
That has been the regular process since the Reagan years, each crisis more extreme than the last — for the public population, that is. Right now, real unemployment is at Depression levels for much of the population, while Goldman Sachs, one of the main architects of the current crisis, is richer than ever. It has just quietly announced $17.5 billion in compensation for last year, with CEO Lloyd Blankfein receiving a $12.6 million bonus while his base salary more than triples.
It wouldn’t do to focus attention on such facts as these. Accordingly, propaganda must seek to blame others, in the past few months, public sector workers, their fat salaries, exorbitant pensions, and so on: all fantasy, on the model of Reaganite imagery of black mothers being driven in their limousines to pick up welfare checks — and other models that need not be mentioned. We all must tighten our belts; almost all, that is.
Teachers are a particularly good target, as part of the deliberate effort to destroy the public education system from kindergarten through the universities by privatization — again, good for the wealthy, but a disaster for the population, as well as the long-term health of the economy, but that is one of the externalities that is put to the side insofar as market principles prevail.
Another fine target, always, is immigrants. That has been true throughout U.S. history, even more so at times of economic crisis, exacerbated now by a sense that our country is being taken away from us: the white population will soon become a minority. One can understand the anger of aggrieved individuals, but the cruelty of the policy is shocking.
Who are the immigrants targeted? In Eastern Massachusetts, where I live, many are Mayans fleeing genocide in the Guatemalan highlands carried out by Reagan’s favorite killers. Others are Mexican victims of Clinton’s NAFTA, one of those rare government agreements that managed to harm working people in all three of the participating countries. As NAFTA was rammed through Congress over popular objection in 1994, Clinton also initiated the militarization of the U.S.-Mexican border, previously fairly open. It was understood that Mexican campesinos cannot compete with highly subsidized U.S. agribusiness, and that Mexican businesses would not survive competition with U.S. multinationals, which must be granted “national treatment” under the mislabeled free trade agreements, a privilege granted only to corporate persons, not those of flesh and blood. Not surprisingly, these measures led to a flood of desperate refugees, and to rising anti-immigrant hysteria by the victims of state-corporate policies at home.
Much the same appears to be happening in Europe, where racism is probably more rampant than in the U.S. One can only watch with wonder as Italy complains about the flow of refugees from Libya, the scene of the first post-World War I genocide, in the now-liberated East, at the hands of Italy’s Fascist government. Or when France, still today the main protector of the brutal dictatorships in its former colonies, manages to overlook its hideous atrocities in Africa, while French President Nicolas Sarkozy warns grimly of the “flood of immigrants” and Marine Le Pen objects that he is doing nothing to prevent it. I need not mention Belgium, which may win the prize for what Adam Smith called “the savage injustice of the Europeans.”
The rise of neo-fascist parties in much of Europe would be a frightening phenomenon even if we were not to recall what happened on the continent in the recent past. Just imagine the reaction if Jews were being expelled from France to misery and oppression, and then witness the non-reaction when that is happening to Roma, also victims of the Holocaust and Europe’s most brutalized population.
In Hungary, the neo-fascist party Jobbik gained 17% of the vote in national elections, perhaps unsurprising when three-quarters of the population feels that they are worse off than under Communist rule. We might be relieved that in Austria the ultra-right Jörg Haider won only 10% of the vote in 2008 — were it not for the fact that the new Freedom Party, outflanking him from the far right, won more than 17%. It is chilling to recall that, in 1928, the Nazis won less than 3% of the vote in Germany.
In England the British National Party and the English Defence League, on the ultra-racist right, are major forces. (What is happening in Holland you know all too well.) In Germany, Thilo Sarrazin’s lament that immigrants are destroying the country was a runaway best-seller, while Chancellor Angela Merkel, though condemning the book, declared that multiculturalism had “utterly failed”: the Turks imported to do the dirty work in Germany are failing to become blond and blue-eyed, true Aryans.
Those with a sense of irony may recall that Benjamin Franklin, one of the leading figures of the Enlightenment, warned that the newly liberated colonies should be wary of allowing Germans to immigrate, because they were too swarthy; Swedes as well. Into the twentieth century, ludicrous myths of Anglo-Saxon purity were common in the U.S., including among presidents and other leading figures. Racism in the literary culture has been a rank obscenity; far worse in practice, needless to say. It is much easier to eradicate polio than this horrifying plague, which regularly becomes more virulent in times of economic distress.
I do not want to end without mentioning another externality that is dismissed in market systems: the fate of the species. Systemic risk in the financial system can be remedied by the taxpayer, but no one will come to the rescue if the environment is destroyed. That it must be destroyed is close to an institutional imperative. Business leaders who are conducting propaganda campaigns to convince the population that anthropogenic global warming is a liberal hoax understand full well how grave is the threat, but they must maximize short-term profit and market share. If they don’t, someone else will.
This vicious cycle could well turn out to be lethal. To see how grave the danger is, simply have a look at the new Congress in the U.S., propelled into power by business funding and propaganda. Almost all are climate deniers. They have already begun to cut funding for measures that might mitigate environmental catastrophe. Worse, some are true believers; for example, the new head of a subcommittee on the environment who explained that global warming cannot be a problem because God promised Noah that there will not be another flood.
If such things were happening in some small and remote country, we might laugh. Not when they are happening in the richest and most powerful country in the world. And before we laugh, we might also bear in mind that the current economic crisis is traceable in no small measure to the fanatic faith in such dogmas as the efficient market hypothesis, and in general to what Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, 15 years ago, called the “religion” that markets know best — which prevented the central bank and the economics profession from taking notice of an $8 trillion housing bubble that had no basis at all in economic fundamentals, and that devastated the economy when it burst.
All of this, and much more, can proceed as long as the Muashar doctrine prevails. As long as the general population is passive, apathetic, diverted to consumerism or hatred of the vulnerable, then the powerful can do as they please, and those who survive will be left to contemplate the outcome.
Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor emeritus in the MIT Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. He is the author of numerous best-selling political works. Recent books include a new edition of Power and Terror, The Essential Chomsky (edited by Anthony Arnove), a collection of his writings on politics and on language from the 1950s to the present, and Hopes and Prospects, also available as an audiobook. His web site is http://www.chomsky.info. To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Chomsky discusses the recent shredding of the principles of the Magna Carta, click here or download it to your iPod here. This piece is adapted from a talk given in Amsterdam in March 2011.
Copyright 2011 Noam Chomsky
As I indicated in my introduction, Noam’s website is here. Hope you can call back tomorrow as I continue with a look at the world we now live in.
That pesky ‘law’ regarding the power of unintended consequences.
As many of you are aware, last week was an unusual format for Learning from Dogs in that the whole of the week was dedicated to republishing Dr. Samuel Alexander’s essay The Sufficiency Economy – Envisioning a Prosperous Way Down. If you missed that, the first chapter was a week ago today under the title of Where less is so much more.
Moving on. Many living in Northern California and South-West Oregon will have had a timely reminder that nature is tapping mankind on the shoulder in new and challenging ways. I’m referring to the massive storm that was featured in a recent Climate Crocks article that delivered over a foot of rainfall in recent days. Here in Southern Oregon we received over 10 inches! Hence the growing awareness that we have to do something!
I am an actuary interested in finite world issues – oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. The financial system is also likely to be affected.
I’m very grateful to Gail for so promptly giving me written permission to republish her work. It is very relevant to all of us.
World leaders seem to have their minds made up regarding what will fix world CO2 emissions problems. Their list includes taxes on gasoline consumption, more general carbon taxes, cap and trade programs, increased efficiency in automobiles, greater focus on renewables, and more natural gas usage.
Unfortunately, we live in a world economy with constrained oil supply. Because of this, the chosen approaches have a tendency to backfire if some countries adopt them, and others do not. But even if everyone adopts them, it is not at all clear that they will provide the promised benefits.
The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997. If emissions had risen at the average rate that they did during the 1987 to 1997 period (about 1% per year), emissions in 2011 would be 18% lower than they actually were. While there were many other things going on at the same time, the much higher rise in emissions in recent years is not an encouraging sign.
The standard fixes don’t work for several reasons:
1. In an oil-supply constrained world, if a few countries reduce their oil consumption, the big impact is to leave more oil for the countries that don’t. Oil price may drop a tiny amount, but on a world-wide basis, pretty much the same amount of oil will be extracted, and nearly all of it will be consumed.
2. Unless there is a high tax on imported products made with fossil fuels, the big impact of a carbon tax is to send manufacturing to countries without a carbon tax, such as China and India. These countries are likely to use a far higher proportion of coal in their manufacturing than OECD countries would, and this change will tend to increase world CO2 emissions. Such a change will also tend to raise the standard of living of citizens in the countries adding manufacturing, further raising emissions. This change will also tend to reduce the number of jobs available in OECD countries.
3. The only time when increasing natural gas usage will actually reduce carbon dioxide emissions is if it replaces coal consumption. Otherwise it adds to carbon emissions, but at a lower rate than other fossil fuels, relative to the energy provided.
4. Substitutes for oil, including renewable fuels, are ways of increasing consumption of coal and natural gas over what they would be in the absence of renewable fuels, because they act as add-ons to world oil supply, rather than as true substitutes for oil. Even in cases where they are theoretically more efficient, they still tend to raise carbon emissions in absolute terms, by raising the production of coal and natural gas needed to produce them.
5. Even using more biomass as fuel does not appear to be a solution. Recent work by noted scientists suggests that ramping up the use of biomass runs the risk of pushing the world past a climate change tipping point.
It is really unfortunate that the standard fixes work the way they do, because many of the proposed fixes do have good points. For example, if oil supply is limited, available oil can be shared far more equitably if people drive small fuel-efficient vehicles. The balance sheet of an oil importing nation looks better if citizens of that nation conserve oil. But we are kidding ourselves if we think these fixes will actually do much to solve the world’s CO2 emissions problem.
If we really want to reduce world CO2 emissions, we need to look at reducing world population, reducing world trade, and making more “essential” goods and services locally. It is doubtful that many countries will volunteer to use these approaches, however. It seems likely that Nature will ultimately provide its own solution, perhaps working through high oil prices and weaknesses in the world financial system.
Elastic Versus Inelastic Supply
It seems to me that many bad decisions have been made because many economists have missed the point that crude oil supply tends to be very inelastic, while other fuels are fairly elastic. Let me explain.
Elastic supply is the usual situation for most goods. Plenty of the product is available, if the price is high enough. If there is a shortage, prices rise, and in not too long a time, the market is well-supplied again. If supply is elastic, if you or I use less of it, ultimately less of the product is produced.
Coal and natural gas usually are considered to be elastic in their supply. To some extent, they are still “extract it as you need it” products. Supply of natural gas liquids (often grouped with crude oil, but acting more like a gas, so it is less suitable as a transportation fuel) is also fairly elastic.
Crude oil is the one product that is in quite short supply, on a world-wide basis. Its supply doesn’t seem to increase by more than a tiny percentage, no matter how high the price rises. This is a situation of inelastic supply.
Even though oil prices have been very high since 2005 (shown in Figure 3, below), the amount of crude oil has increased by only 0.1% per year (Figure 2, above).
In the case of oil, both supply and demand are quite inelastic. No matter how high the price, demand for oil doesn’t drop back by much. No matter how high the price of oil, world supply doesn’t rise very much, either.1
In a situation of inelastic supply, the usual actions a person might take appear to work when viewed on a local basis, but backfire on a world basis, if not everyone participates. When one country tries to conserve crude oil (whether through a carbon tax, gasoline tax, or higher automobile mileage requirement), it may reduce its own consumption, but there are still plenty of other buyers in the market for the oil that was saved. So the oil gets used by someone else, perhaps at a slightly lower price. World oil production remains virtually unchanged. Thus, a reduction in oil usage by an OECD country can translate to more oil consumption by China or India, and ultimately more development of all types by those countries.
Adding Substitutes Adds to Carbon Emissions
If we don’t have enough crude oil, one approach is to create substitutes. Because crude oil supply is inelastic, though, these substitutes aren’t really substitutes, though. They are “add ons” to world oil supply, and this is one source of our problem with increasing world emissions.
What do we use to make the substitutes? Basically, natural gas and coal, and to a limited extent oil (because we can’t avoid using oil). The catch is, that to make the substitutes, we need to burn natural gas and coal more quickly than we would, if we didn’t make the oil substitutes. Since the supply of coal and natural gas is elastic, it is possible to pull them out of the ground more quickly. Thus, making the substitutes tends to increase carbon dioxide emissions over what they would have been, if we had never come up with the idea of substitutes.
The increased use of coal and natural gas is pretty clear, if a person thinks about coal-to-liquids or gas-to-liquids. Here, we need to first build the plants used in production, and then with each barrel of substitute made, we need to use more natural gas or coal. So it is very clear that we are extracting a lot of additional coal and natural gas, to make a relatively smaller amount of oil substitute. There is often a substantial need for water to make the process work as well, adding another stress on the system.
But the same issue comes up with biofuels, and with other renewables. These too, are add-ons to the world oil supply, not substitutes. While theoretically they might produce energy with less CO2 per unit than fossil fuel systems, in absolute terms they lead to natural gas and coal being pulled out of the ground more quickly to be used in making fertilizer, electricity, concrete, and other inputs to renewables.2
Carbon Taxes and Competitiveness
Each country competes with others in the world market place. Adding a carbon tax makes products made by the local company less competitive in the world marketplace. It also signals to potential coal users that the countries adopting the carbon taxes are willing to a leave a greater proportion of world coal exports to those who are not adopting the tax, thus helping to keep the cost of imported coal down.
Asian countries already have a competitive edge over OECD countries in terms of lower wages and lower fuel costs (because of their heavy coal mix), when it comes to manufacturing. Adding a carbon tax tends to add to the Asian competitive edge. This tends to shift production offshore, and with it, jobs.
China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001. Figure 4 shows clearly that its fuel consumption ramped up rapidly thereafter. It seems likely that the number of Chinese manufacturing jobs and spending on Chinese infrastructure increased at the same time.
Economists seem to have missed the serious worldwide deterioration in CO2 emissions in recent years by looking primarily at individual country indications, including CO2 emissions per unit of GDP. Unfortunately, this narrow view misses the big picture–that total CO2 emissions are rising, and that CO2 emissions relative to world GDP have stopped falling. (See my posts Is it really possible to decouple GDP growth from energy growth and Thoughts on why energy use and CO2 emissions are rising as fast as GDP. See also Figure 1 at the top of the post.)
The Employment Connection
I have shown that in the US there is a close correlation between energy consumption and number of jobs. (For more information, including a look at older periods, see my post, The close tie between energy consumption, employment, and recession.)
There are several reasons why a connection between energy consumption and the number of jobs is to be expected:
(1) The job itself in almost every situation requires energy, even if it is only electricity to operate computers, and fuel to heat and light buildings.
(2) Equally importantly, the salaries that employees earn allow them to buy goods that require the use of energy, such as a car or house. (“Energy demand” is what people canafford; jobs allow “demand” to rise.)
(3) The lowest salaried people can be expected to spend the highest proportion of their salaries on energy-related services (such as food and gasoline for commuting). The wealthy spend their money on high priced goods and services, such as financial planning services and designer clothing that require much less energy per dollar of expenditure.
The thing I find concerning is the close timing between the ramp-up of Asian coal use and thus jobs using coal, and the drop-off of US employment as a percentage of US population, as illustrated in Figure 6 below. Arguably, the ramp up in world trade is just as important, but some aspects of programs that are intended to save CO2 emissions also seem to encourage world trade.
Of course, the US did not sign the Kyoto Protocol or enact a carbon tax, and it is its jobs that I show falling as a percentage of population. It is more that the CO2 solutions act as yet another way to encourage more international trade, and with it more “growth”, and more CO2.
Using More Biomass is Not a Fix Either
Burning more wood for fuel and creating “second generation” biofuels from biomass seems like a fix, until a person realizes that we are reaching limits there, as well.
In June 2012, twenty noted scientist published a paper in the journal Nature called Approaching a State Shift in the Earth’s Biosphere. This report indicates that humans have already converted as much as 43% of Earth’s land to urban or agricultural uses. In total, 20% to 40% of Earth’s primary productivity has been taken over by humans. The authors are concerned that we may now be reaching a tipping point leading to a state shift, because of loss of ecosystem services as use of biological products increases. With this state change would come a change in climate. Simulations indicate that this tipping point may occur when as little as 50% of land use is disturbed. This tipping point may be even lower, if world-wide synergies take place.
On Our Current Path – Lacking Good Solutions
While this list of problems relating to current proposed solutions is not complete, it gives a hint of the problems with reducing CO2 emissions using approaches suggested to date. There are many issues I have not covered.
One issue of note is the fact the cost of integrating intermittent renewables (such as wind and solar PV) increases rapidly, as we add increasing amounts to the grid. This occurs because there is more need to transport the electricity long distances and to mitigate its variability through electricity storage or fossil fuel balancing. (See for example, Low Carbon Projects Demand a New Transmission and Distribution Model, Grid Instability Has Industry Scrambling for Solutions, and Hawaii’s Solar Power Flare-Up.)
While the problems noted in these articles are probably solvable, the cost of these solutions has not been built into energy balance analyses. Energy balances (or EROEI estimates) as currently reported do not vary with the proportion of intermittent renewables added to the grid. If energy balance analyses were adjusted to reflect the high cost of adding an increasing proportion of wind or solar PV to the grid, they would likely show a rapidly declining energy balance, above a certain threshold. This would indicate that while adding a little intermittent renewables (as we have done to date) can be a partial solution, adding a lot is likely to have serious cost and energy balance issues.
Another issue that is difficult to deal with is the fact that we are not dealing with a temporary problem with CO2 emissions. The idea is not to slow down the burning of fossil fuels, and burn more later; what we really need to do is to leave unburned fossil fuels in the ground for all time. This is a problem, because there is no way that we can impose our will on people living 10 or 50 years from now. The Maximum Power Principle of H. T. Odum would seem to indicate that any species will make use of whatever energy sources are available to it, to the extent that it can. Even if we temporarily defeat this tendency with respect to humans’ use of fossil fuels, I don’t see any way that we can defeat this tendency for the long term.
Considering all of these issues, it does not appear that most of the “standard” solutions will really work.3 What other options do we have?
The Earth has been handling the problem of shifting conditions for over 4 billion years. The earth is a finite system. Nature provides that finite systems, such as the Earth, will cycle to new states of equilibrium over time, as conditions change. While we would like to defeat Earth’s tendency in this regard, it is not at all clear that we can. Part of this cycling to a new state is likely to be a change in climate.
A state change is a cause for concern to humans, but not necessarily to the Earth itself. The Earth has moved from state to state many times in its existence, and will continue to do so in the future. The changes will bring the Earth back into a new equilibrium. For example, if CO2 levels are high, species that can make use of higher CO2 levels (such as plants) are likely to become dominant, rather than humans.
Exactly how this state change might occur is subject to different views. One view is that changing CO2 levels will be a primary driver. The Nature article referenced previously suggested that increased disturbance of natural ecosystems (as with greater use of biomass) might force a state change. My personal view is that a financial collapse related to high oil price may be part of Nature’s approach to moving to a new state. It could bring about a reduction in world trade, a scale back in CO2 emissions, and a general contraction of human systems.4
However the change takes place, it could be abrupt. It will not be to many people’s liking, since most will not be prepared for it.
Steps That Might Work to Slow CO2 Emissions
It would be convenient if we could slow CO2 emissions by working to produce energy with less CO2. This option does not seem to be working well though, so I would argue that we need to work in a different direction: toward reducing humans’ need for external energy. In order to do this, I would suggest two major steps:
(1) Reduce the world’s population, through one-child policies and universal access to family planning services. This step is necessary because rising population adds to demand. If we are to reduce demand, lower population needs to play a role.
(2) Change our emphasis to producing essential goods locally, rather than outsourcing them to parts of the world that are likely use coal to produce them. I would suggest starting with food, water, and clothing, and the supply chains necessary to produce these items.
Changing our emphasis to producing essential goods locally will have a multiple benefits. It will (a) add local jobs, and (b) lead to less worldwide growth in coal usage, (c) save on transport fuel, and (d) add protection against the adverse impact of declining world oil supply, if this should happen in the not too distant future. It should also help reduce CO2 emissions. The costs of goods will likely be higher using this approach, leading to less “stuff” per person, but this, too, is part of reaching reduced CO2 emissions.
It is hard to see that the steps outlined above would be acceptable to world leaders or to the majority of world population. Thus, I am afraid we will end up falling back on Nature’s plan, discussed above.
 Michael Kumhof and Dirk Muir recently prepared a model of oil supply and demand (IMF working paper: Oil and the World Economy: Some Possible Futures). In it, they assume a long run price-elasticity of oil supply of 0.03, and remark that a paper by Benes and others indicates a range of 0.005 to 0.02 for this variable. The long term price elasticity of oil demand is assumed to be .08 in the Kumhof and Muir analysis.
 I would argue that standard EROEI measurements are defined too narrowly to give a true measure of the amount of energy used in making a particular substitute. For example, EROEI measures do not consider the energy costs associated with labor (even though workers spend their salaries on clothing, and commuting costs, and many other good and services that use fossil fuels), or with financing costs, or of indirect impacts like wear and tear on the roads by transporting corn for biofuel.
Other types of analysis have ways of dealing with this known shortfall. For example, when the number of jobs that a new employer can be expected to add to a community is evaluated, the usual approach seems to be to take the number of jobs that can be directly counted and multiply by three, to estimate the full impact. I would argue that with substitutes, some similar adjustment is needed. This adjustment which would act to increase the energy use associated with renewables, and reduce the EROEI. For example, the adjustment might divide directly calculated EROEI by three.
A calculation of the true net benefit of renewables also needs to recognize that nearly the full energy cost is paid up front, and only over time is recovered in energy production. When renewable production is growing rapidly, society tends to be in a long-term deficit position. Typically, it is only as growth slows that society reaches as net-positive energy position.
 I obviously have not covered all potential solutions. Nuclear power is sometimes mentioned, as is space solar power. There are new solutions being proposed regularly. Even if these solutions would work, ramping them up would take time and require use of fossil fuels, so it is wise to consider other options as well.
 The way that limited oil supply could interfere with world trade is as follows: High oil prices cause consumers to cut back on discretionary goods. This leads to layoffs in discretionary sectors of the economy, such as vacation travel. It also leads to secondary effects, such as debt defaults and lower housing prices. The financial effects “concentrate up” to governments of oil importing nations, because they receive less tax revenue from laid-off workers at the same time that they pay out more in unemployment benefits, stimulus, and bank bailouts. (We are already at this point.)
Eventually, countries will find that deficit spending is spiraling out of control. If countries raise taxes and cut benefits, this is likely to lead to more lay offs and debt defaults. One possible outcome is that citizens will become increasingly unhappy, and replace governments with new governments that repudiate old debt. The new governments may have difficulty establishing financial relationships with other governments, given that most are major debt defaulters. Such issues could reduce world trade substantially. With the drop of world trade would come much more limited ability to maintain our current systems, such as electricity and long distance transport.
The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated! Mark Twain.
Mark Twain quotation after hearing that his obituary had been published in the New York Journal.
Mistaken publications of obituaries aren’t as rare as you might expect. A recent example is of Dave Swarbrick, the British folk/rock violinist, who was killed off mistakenly by the Daily Telegraph in April 1999 when they reported that his visit to hospital in Coventry had resulted in his death. He did at least get the opportunity to read a rather favourable account of his life, not something we all get to do, and to deliver the gag “It’s not the first time I have died in Coventry”.
So why have I opened with this quote from Mark Twain? Read on and I hope all will be clear.
Integrity is always about getting to the truth!
A little under a week ago I published a couple of posts that proposed that the United States of America is an empire in decline. The first was What goes up? and the second Might just come down! As a Brit I well know that aspect of British history!
However a recent conversation with a friend of many years back in England, who has also been a shrewd and wise entrepreneur for longer than I care to remember, argued that the evidence for the ‘end of the USA’ could be challenged.
He cited five reasons why he thought the USA would remain, more or less, in its dominant position. They were:
- Spirit of innovation
- Relaxed labour laws
- The importance of Mexico
- The uncertainty of China in terms of the next ’empire’
- The likely energy self-sufficiency for the USA in the near-term.
So let me expand on each of those points.
Spirit of innovation
Let me quote from an article in TIME Magazine of the 5th June, 2011,
Innovation is as American as apple pie. It seems to accord with so many elements of our national character — ingenuity, freedom, flexibility, the willingness to question conventional wisdom and defy authority. But politicians are pinning their hopes on innovation for more urgent reasons. America’s future growth will have to come from new industries that create new products and processes. Older industries are under tremendous pressure. Technological change is making factories and offices far more efficient. The rise of low-wage manufacturing in China and low-wage services in India is moving jobs overseas. The only durable strength we have — the only one that can withstand these gale winds — is innovation.
Now there are plenty to argue both ways in terms of the future innovation potential for the USA, as a recent article in The Atlantic does, see American Innovation: It’s the Best of Times and the Worst of Times. But the spirit of innovation will be a powerful economic potential for the USA for many years to come.
Relaxed labour laws.
Definitely an area that I have little knowledge of except for the subjective notion that compared to many other nations, the laws in the USA are much less of a restraint on economic productivity than elsewhere.
The importance of Mexico.
Importance in the context of providing the USA with a source of cheaper manufacturing facilities. My English friend thought that this was a significant competitive advantage for the USA. Now, as it happens, we had a couple staying with us over the week-end of the 6th/7th October. The husband is a senior manager of Horst Engineering, an American firm based in Guaymas, Sonora County, Mexico. Here’s a picture from their website,
We are a contract manufacturer of precision machined components and assemblies for aerospace, medical, and other high technology industries. Our core processes include Swiss screw machining, turning, milling, thread rolling, centerless grinding, and assembly. Our extensive supply chain offers our customers a full service logistics solution for managing their precision product requirements. We are ISO9001:2008 and AS9100 registered and proud of our 66 year, three-generation legacy of quality and performance.
I was told that many American and British firms were using Mexico rather than China for a number of reasons. Not least because Chinese suppliers require full payment before shipment. Plus that taking into account that financial aspect together with shipping costs and other logistical issues, China wasn’t as ‘cheap’ over all. Here’s a recent announcement from Rolls Royce,
Rolls-Royce plans new Sonora hub
The burgeoning aerospace industry in Guaymas had its efforts validated recently when the venerable Rolls-Royce chose it as the site for its newest global purchasing office.
Surrounded by several of its aerospace manufacturing suppliers, London-based Rolls-Royce will move into a Guaymas industrial park owned by Tucson-based The Offshore Group to develop a supply hub for commercial jets and military aircraft around the globe.
“Rolls-Royce has very robust booking orders for the next 10 years,” said Joel Reuter, director of communications for Rolls-Royce in North America. “We need to double our production.”
Because a number of Rolls-Royce suppliers already operate in Guaymas, the city was a logical choice, Reuter said.
The uncertainty of China in terms of the next ’empire’
The point made in terms of China taking over ’empire’ status from the USA, as Simon Johnson argues over at Baseline Scenario, is countered by the fact that politically China is an unknown quantity. Until China endorses some form of democratic process, that unknowingness is not going to disappear.
The likely energy self-sufficiency for the USA in the near-term.
I can’t do better than to ask you to watch this video! Just 27-minutes long, it is a very interesting review of the energy future of the USA.
As the TED website suggests in terms of why you should listen to Amory Lovins,
Amory Lovins was worried (and writing) about energy long before global warming was making the front — or even back — page of newspapers. Since studying at Harvard and Oxford in the 1960s, he’s written dozens of books, and initiated ambitious projects — cofounding the influential, environment-focused Rocky Mountain Institute; prototyping the ultra-efficient Hypercar — to focus the world’s attention on alternative approaches to energy and transportation.
His critical thinking has driven people around the globe — from world leaders to the average Joe — to think differently about energy and its role in some of our biggest problems: climate change, oil dependency, national security, economic health, and depletion of natural resources.
More on Reinventing Fire may be found here.
So, don’t know about you, but I found those five points deeply convincing. How about you? Are the reports of the death of the USA greatly exaggerated? Do leave a comment.
A wonderful news item from the BBC from their China ‘desk’.
Here’s how it was presented on the BBC News website.
A stray dog has completed a 1700km journey across China after joining a cycle race from Sichuan province to Tibet.
The dog, nicknamed “Xiaosa”, joined the cyclists after one of them gave him food.
He ran with them for 20 days, covering up to 60km a day, and climbing 12 mountains.
Cyclist Xiao Yong started a blog about Xiaosa’s adventures, which had attracted around 40,000 fans by the end of the race.
Yong now hopes to adopt Xiaosa.
Luckily, someone smart grabbed the BBC footage and uploaded it to YouTube thus allowing me to include that below:
I did several Google searches for Xiao Yong’s blog but failed to come across it – never mind, it doesn’t detract from a delightful story this Memorial Day week-end here in America.
Whatever the outcome of the US elections, a real change is desperately needed.
I stay neutral in terms of American party politics. As a ‘alien resident’, otherwise known as a Green Card holder, I am not eligible to vote anyway plus I readily admit to neither following nor understanding American politics.
But the focus on the late Ernest Callenbach’s words the last two days on Learning from Dogs has left me feeling pretty uncertain about the future for the USA. In reading those words, despite the many elements of hope and optimism that Callenbach engenders, it is difficult not to feel the scale of the challenges facing this great nation. Take these words toward the end of Callenbach’s essay,
Since I wrote Ecotopia, I have become less confident of humans’ political ability to act on commonsense, shared values. Our era has become one of spectacular polarization, with folly multiplying on every hand. That is the way empires crumble: they are taken over by looter elites, who sooner or later cause collapse. But then new games become possible, and with luck Ecotopia might be among them.
Humans tend to try to manage things: land, structures, even rivers. We spend enormous amounts of time, energy, and treasure in imposing our will on nature, on preexisting or inherited structures, dreaming of permanent solutions, monuments to our ambitions and dreams. But in periods of slack, decline, or collapse, our abilities no longer suffice for all this management. We have to let things go.
I have subscribed to the print version of The Economist for many years. Indeed, it is the only broad-reaching newspaper that I read on a regular basis. So in the last edition (May 12th), I couldn’t ignore the interesting position taken by Lexington under the title of Declinism resurgent. [NB. Not sure if you will be able to access that link without a subscription, Ed.]
The sub-heading sets the theme – The election campaign encourages America to feel worse about itself than it needs to
The third paragraph reads thus,
America is prone to bouts of “declinism”. In the 1980s the country was in a funk about the rise of Japan and its own vanishing competitiveness. Another bout was bound to follow China’s rise, two grinding wars and the deep recession of 2008. The gloom is nourished by a fountain of declinist literature. In “Time to Start Thinking” Ed Luce of the Financial Times ponders an America “in descent”. Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Thomas Mann of Brookings claim in a book on America’s politics (reviewed here two weeks ago) that “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks”.
Immediately followed by,
Yet anyone who prefers their glass half-full can find grounds for optimism. The first Boeing 787 Dreamliner has just landed in Washington, DC. It will be decades before China can make such a machine. The IMF is predicting average growth of over 2% for 2012 and 2013, not meteoric but not bad for a mature economy. America has a young workforce, with plenty of skilled people knocking at the door to come in. It still has more of the world’s best universities than any other country. It is the world’s largest producer of natural gas and its biggest food exporter. Amid the gloom, the economy is getting “Better, Stronger, Faster”, argues Daniel Gross, in a book of that name published this week.
Lexington then concludes,
The binary illusion
People tend to think in black and white. America is either in decline or it is ordained to be for ever the world’s greatest nation. Government is either paralysed or it is running amok, stifling liberty and enterprise and snuffing out the American dream. The election campaign accentuates the negative and sharpens this binary illusion. The Republicans say that Mr Obama is leading America into socialised serfdom; the Democrats retort that Mr Romney would restore the conditions that caused the recession. Little wonder that, according to polls, most voters do not believe that either man has a clear plan for fixing the economy.
Charles Dickens said of the United States that if its citizens were to be believed America “always is depressed, and always is stagnated, and always is at an alarming crisis, and never was otherwise.” On a variety of objective measures, it is in an awful mess right now. And yet America of all countries still has plenty of grounds to hope for a better future, despite its underperforming politics, and no matter who triumphs in November.
So a different perspective than the one articulated by Ernest Callenbach. But whatever the political result later in this year’s US presidential elections, if that new government doesn’t address the need for urgent attention to what mankind is doing to Planet Earth then the rest of the political agenda will become increasingly irrelevant.
I’ll close with that old saying, “Will the last person to leave Planet Earth, please turn the lights off!“