Learning from Dogs

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

Posts Tagged ‘climate change

The Natural order.

leave a comment »

Back to the basics of life.

Regular readers of Learning from Dogs will recall that just under a week ago I published an essay under the title of A bedtime story for mankind.  The post centred around an essay from Patrice Ayme.  Patrice’s essay could be summarised as follows: “At the present rate of greenhouse gases emissions, within nine years, massively lethal climate and oceanic changes are guaranteed.

Then just last Sunday, Patrice published a second essay reinforcing that first one.  The subsequent essay was called Ten Years to Catastrophe.  I was minded to republish that but upon reflection thought that there was a better option.  That was to explore the deep, core questions that both of Patrice’s essays raised in my mind and, presumably, must be raised in the minds of countless thousands of others.  Questions along the lines of a comment I submitted to that subsequent post from Patrice.

Do you have an idea, even a sense, of when global leaders, elected Governments, the ‘movers and shakers’ in societies, will truly embrace the global catastrophe that is heading our way?

And a supplementary question: What would be the indicators that Governments were acknowledging the task ahead?

Frankly, they weren’t especially good questions but they were an attempt by me to open up a debate on whether or not this is the “beginning of the end” of life for us humans.  Central to what was going through my mind was the core question of how did it all go wrong?

Welcome to Payson, AZ

Welcome to Payson, AZ

On Monday evening, I rang John Hurlburt, a close friend of Jean and me from our Payson, Arizona days and kicked around those questions .  It was a most enlightening conversation.  John is an active founder member of Transition Town Payson and Payson recently welcomed the Great March for Climate Action in their walk from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. (An essay on that event coming soon.)

Anyway, from out of that conversation with John came the idea of a series of essays here on Learning from Dogs about the past, present and future of man’s relationship with Nature.  The aim is to offer an essay on a weekly basis but we’ll see how it goes.  Wherever possible, I will use the essays and posts from other bloggers that reinforce the vision. As always, your feedback in the form of ‘Likes’ or comments will reflect on the value of the essays to you.

After John and I finished the call, he sent me an email with what could be best described as his vision for these essays.  Here is that email [my emphasis].

Integral Vision

Everything fits together. Otherwise, we’d simply be disassociated atoms.

Human beings are a consciously aware component of Nature. We have a DNA-level directive to survive as a species and as individual members of a species …. in that order!

We are consciously aware components of the conscious interaction between energy and matter in a predominently smoothly emerging cyclic universe with departures from time to time into pockets of chaos.

We disconnect from reality when we become self-centered, often during the various stages of our lives. When we are blessed we continue to live and learn.

Issues of ideology, rational thought, economics, politics, religion, history and science become insignificant in comparison to the whelming power of Nature.

Such is life. It comes with the territory. Spirituality, Nature and Science describe the metanexus in which we live.

Maintain an even strain,

an old lamplighter

Ref: Episcopal “Catechism of Creation”

Ideas, feedback and comments, as always, hugely welcomed.

About these ads

A bedtime story for mankind.

with 24 comments

The latest IPCC report is more than dry science; it’s our future!

Regular readers of Learning from Dogs will be aware that yesterday I published a post called A bedtime story for Jimmy.  It was prompted by learning of an eight-year-old who was offered the opportunity of shooting a wild turkey early last Saturday morning.  The penultimate paragraph read as follows:

If we care for nature then we care for the health of our lands, for our forests and for our seas. We are careful with how we live our lives. If we care for nature then as we live our lives we do our best to leave things better for those that come after us.

Little did I know when writing my post that on the same day of publication would be a chilling post from Patrice Ayme; a post that Patrice has generously given me permission to republish in full.

Indeed, little did I know that when I composed my preface to Jimmy’s story and included these words:

However, this eight-year-old lad is facing a future that demands that he and all his generation accept that embracing nature, totally and whole-heartedly, is their only hope of not being the last generation of humans on this beautiful planet.

That less than twenty-four hours later Patrice’s perspective on the latest IPCC report made that sentence of mine far from hyperbole!  Here is that essay from Patrice.

ooOOoo

Terminal Greenhouse Crisis.

A CRASH TECH PROGRAM IS NEEDED, & HAS TO INVOLVE HYDROGEN.

At the present rate of greenhouse gases emissions, within nine years, massively lethal climate and oceanic changes are guaranteed.

Such is the conclusion one can draw from the Inter Governmental Panel On Climate Change of the UN (the IPCC, with its top 300 climate scientists from all over the world). About 78% of the emissions have to do with heating, cooking, and basic, necessary industrial activities, such as making cement.

They are not elective.

As Bad As An Asteroid?

As Bad As An Asteroid?

Notes: CO2 FOLU = CO2 emissions from Forestry and Other Land Use. F-gases = Fluorinated gases covered under the Kyoto Protocol. At the right side of the figure: Emissions of each greenhouse gas with associated error bars (90% confidence interval).

Only a crash program of construction of several hundreds of new technology nuclear fission plants, an all-out renewable energy program, with massive solar plants all over the American South and the (similar latitude) Sahara desert, plus a massive hydrogen economy to store the wind and solar energy could allow us to mitigate the massive lethal change incoming.

In other words, it is already too late to avoid the massive lethal change.

What’s the problem? Simple mathematics. It’s evaluated that human activities in the last century or so released 515 billion tons of greenhouse gases. The IPCC and the best experts believe that 800 to 1,000 billion tons of such gases would bring a rise of global temperatures of two degrees Celsius.

At the present rate, that’s nine years to reach the upper reaches: one trillion tons of GHG.

Most of the temperature rise will be in the polar regions, melting those, and inducing worldwide climate catastrophe, especially if emissions of polar methane turn apocalyptic. The polar regions are the Achilles heel of the Earth’s present biosphere. By striking there mostly, enormous changes can be brought to bear, as they would destroy the Earth’s air conditioning and oceanic circulation.

In 2014, trade winds in the Pacific had four times the energy they usually have, creating abnormally intense ocean upwelling off the west coast of North America, thus a high pressure ridge (thus a drought there), causing a world wide oscillation of the jet stream that dragged cold polar air down the east coast of the USA, before rebounding as continual storms and rain on the west coast of Europe, and so forth.

Nobody can say the weather was normal: precipitation in England beat all records, dating 250 years, whereas most of California experienced extreme drought.

At this point, warm water is piling down to 500 meters depth in the western Pacific in what looks like a preparation for a massive El Nino, similar to the one in 1997-98. If this happens, global temperature records will be smashed next year.

Massively lethal means death to the world as we know it, by a thousand cuts. It means cuts to democracy, privacy, life span, food intake. Some of these are already in plain sight: the Ukraine war is already a war about gas, no less an authority as dictator Putin says so.

Tom Friedman in “Go Ahead, Vladimir, Make My Day.” takes the situation lightly. “SO the latest news is that President Vladimir Putin of Russia has threatened to turn off gas supplies to Ukraine if Kiev doesn’t pay its overdue bill, and, by the way, Ukraine’s pipelines are the transit route for 15 percent of gas consumption for Europe. If I’m actually rooting for Putin to go ahead and shut off the gas, does that make me a bad guy?

Because that is what I’m rooting for, and I’d be happy to subsidize Ukraine through the pain. Because such an oil shock, though disruptive in the short run, could have the same long-term impact as the 1973 Arab oil embargo — only more so. That 1973 embargo led to the first auto mileage standards in America and propelled the solar, wind and energy efficiency industries. A Putin embargo today would be even more valuable because it would happen at a time when the solar, wind, natural gas and energy efficiency industries are all poised to take off and scale. So Vladimir, do us all a favor, get crazy, shut off the oil and gas to Ukraine and, even better, to all of Europe. Embargo! You’ll have a great day, and the rest of the planet will have a great century.”

It’s not so simple. The investments needed are massive, and all the massive investments so far have to do with fracking… Which is, ecologically speaking, a disaster. 3% methane leakage makes fracking worse than burning coal. And this leakage is apparently happening.

Unbelievably, some of the countries with coal beds got the bright idea to burn the coal underground. Australia, about the worst emitter of CO2 per capita, experimented with that. It had to be stopped, because some particularly toxic gases (such as toluene) were coming out, not just the CH4 and CO the apprentice sorcerers were looking for.

Carbon Capture and Storage does not exist (but for very special cases in half a dozen special locations, worldwide, not the thousands of locales needed). And CSS will not exist (profitably).

What technology exist that could be developed (but is not yet)? Not just Thorium reactors. The hydrogen economy is a low key, and indispensable economy. Water can be broken by electricity from wind and sun, and then energy can be stored, under the form of hydrogen. Nothing else can do it: batteries are unable to store energy efficiently (and there is not enough Lithium to make trillions of Lithium batteries).

The hydrogen technology pretty much exist, including for efficient storage under safe form (one thick plate of a material that cannot be set aflame can store 600 liters of hydrogen).

Another advantage of storing hydrogen is that oxygen would be released. Although it may seem absurd to worry about this, too much acidity in the ocean (from absorption of CO2) could lead to phytoplankton die-off, and the removal of half of oxygen production.

In this increasingly weird world, that’s where we are at.

Oh, by the way, how to stop Putin? Europe should tell the dictator he can keep his gaz. Now. As good an occasion to start defending the planet, and not just against fascism.

Patrice Aymé

ooOOoo

I can’t add anything at a scientific level to what Patrice has written.  But I can offer this.  Each and every one of us needs to make sure the message is spread as far and wide as possible (you are free to share and republish this post) and then do something, however small it may seem, to make a difference. And do it now!

For the sake of all the Jimmys in the world – and all the turkeys!

Written by Paul Handover

April 17, 2014 at 00:00

A bedtime story for Jimmy.

with 7 comments

Inspired by hearing a young boy shoot a wild turkey early on Saturday morning.

Preface

Because we have horses, friends living close to us called to warn that early on Saturday morning, a young lad, accompanied by his father, would be experiencing what it was like to shoot a wild turkey at close range.  The turkeys are easy targets; almost pets.

So it was that around 6:30am last Saturday morning that a single shot rang out and we knew that a turkey had been killed. Now in fairness to American history it’s not that long ago that the early settlers relied on hunting to survive.  The first permanent European settlement in Oregon wasn’t until 1811. Thus hunting may be something close to the American’s heart; so to speak.  However, this eight-year-old lad is facing a future that demands that he and all his generation accept that embracing nature, totally and whole-heartedly, is their only hope of not being the last generation of humans on this beautiful planet.

Jean and I thought the following was an appropriate way of expressing our feelings.

ooOOoo

Dear Jimmy,

What was it like to point your gun at that turkey and pull the trigger?  What did you feel as you saw the bullet hit and the turkey fall to the ground?

Now I wasn’t there with you, of course, but I could imagine the thrill and excitement that you would have felt. Not many young lads of your age get to handle a gun and shoot a turkey.

But Jimmy, what we feel as an eight-year-old is a very poor indicator for what we feel when we are much older.  Possibly the only exception is love, which is a golden feeling at any age.

So, if you will forgive this sixty-nine-year old from reading an eight-year-old a very short bedtime story, I will get started.

The world, this enormous world, must seem infinitely huge to you.  Even if you stand on the shoulders of your Dad, your eyes ten feet above the ground, the horizon is just four miles away.  You could run to that horizon in less than an hour.  However, to run all the way around the world at that same speed would take you, dear Jimmy, nearly two hundred and sixty days of running; running twenty-four hours a day!  It’s a very big planet!

Look at this wonderful picture of our planet.  Have you ever seen anything more beautiful!

Planet Earth 1

 

It must seem to you that there is nothing an eight-year-old could do to harm this planet we all live on.

That’s true! There is nothing you could do to harm the planet.

However, when you get older and reach the point where you have a job, drive a car, fly to places on an aeroplane, heat your house and a million other things that we grown-ups do, then all of us together, all the millions of people living on this green planet can hurt it.

Indeed, Jimmy, you may have already heard of things like climate change and global warming being spoken about on the television.  All of the people living on this planet are hurting it.  And the people who are really going to see how we humans are hurting the planet, and how the planet is changing, are all the people who, like you Jimmy, are not yet even finished school.

So what does shooting a wild turkey have to do with caring for your planet throughout the many years ahead for you?

If we care for nature then we care for the health of our lands, for our forests and for our seas. We are careful with how we live our lives.  If we care for nature then as we live our lives we do our best to leave things better for those that come after us.

Jimmy, sleep well my young man. Wake knowing the death of that turkey was not in vain.  Wake with love in your heart. Love for every living creature.

Only love for all creatures will offer all creatures a future.

Only love for all creatures will offer all creatures a future.

ooOOoo

Written and offered with peace.

 

 

 

Written by Paul Handover

April 16, 2014 at 00:00

Duh! Is it me!

with 9 comments

Sometimes, one does have to wonder!

Years ago I recall hearing the retort, “What part of the word no are you having trouble with!

It made me laugh out loud.

It comes to mind again, and this is why.

The accumulation of evidence mounts almost on a daily basis that mankind is critically affecting the viability of Planet Earth. Not only threatening a sustainable home for tens of thousands of species but, most importantly, for homo sapiens.

Yesterday, I included a report that suggested we may be on the verge of one of the largest El Ninos in history.  The presumption being that the extra heat energy in the atmosphere is transferring to the Pacific waters.

Today, I want to stay with the theme that it is nature, not mankind, that is dictating our future; that our leaders, are way ‘behind the drag curve’ to use an aviation expression.

But let me offer yet another lesson from dogs.  Learnt from understanding the role of the ‘alpha’ dog; the leader.

When dogs lived in the wild the size of their pack, or community, was around fifty animals.  The most senior in status was the alpha dog.  The alpha dog was a female who had two important roles on behalf of the pack.  First, the alpha dog had the pick of the male dogs to ensure the optimum genetic health of the entire group.

Second, it was alpha dog that, in the rare circumstances of their pack’s territory becoming unsustainable, made the decision for her pack to find a new territory.

Humans are on the verge of understanding that our ‘territory’ is rapidly becoming unsustainable.  Just a great shame we don’t have any ‘alpha leaders’ to find ‘a new territory’.  Clearly in a metaphorical sense.  Because the last time I looked a ‘backup’ to Planet Earth wasn’t anywhere close!

No better illustrated than by a recent essay from George Monbiot that I am republishing in full within his blanket permission to so do.  The essay is called Loss Adjustment and was published in the Guardian newspaper on the 1st April 2014.

ooOOoo

Loss Adjustment

When people say we should adapt to climate change, do they have any idea what that means?
By George Monbiot

To understand what is happening to the living planet, the great conservationist Aldo Leopold remarked, is to live “in a world of wounds … An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.” (1)

The metaphor suggests that he might have seen Henrik Ibsen’s play An Enemy of the People (2). Thomas Stockmann is a doctor in a small Norwegian town, and medical officer at the public baths whose construction has been overseen by his brother, the mayor. The baths, the mayor boasts, “will become the focus of our municipal life! … Houses and landed property are rising in value every day.”

But Dr Stockmann discovers that the pipes were built in the wrong place, and the water feeding the baths is contaminated. “The source is poisoned …We are making our living by retailing filth and corruption! The whole of our flourishing municipal life derives its sustenance from a lie!” People bathing in the water to improve their health are instead falling ill.

Dr Stockmann expects to be treated as a hero for exposing this deadly threat. After the mayor discovers that re-laying the pipes would cost a fortune and probably sink the whole project, he decides that his brother’s report “has not convinced me that the condition of the water at the baths is as bad as you represent it to be.” He proposes to ignore the problem, make some cosmetic adjustments and carry on as before. After all, “the matter in hand is not simply a scientific one. It is a complicated matter, and has its economic as well as its technical side.” The local paper, the baths committee and the business people side with the mayor against the doctor’s “unreliable and exaggerated accounts”.

Astonished and enraged, Dr Stockmann lashes out madly at everyone. He attacks the town as a nest of imbeciles, and finds himself, in turn, denounced as an enemy of the people. His windows are broken, his clothes are torn, he’s evicted and ruined.

Yesterday’s editorial in the Daily Telegraph, which was by no means the worst of the recent commentary on this issue, follows the first three acts of the play (3). Marking the new assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the paper sides with the mayor. First it suggests that the panel cannot be trusted, partly because its accounts are unreliable and exaggerated and partly because it uses “model-driven assumptions” to forecast future trends. (What would the Telegraph prefer? Tea leaves? Entrails?). Then it suggests that trying to stop manmade climate change would be too expensive. Then it proposes making some cosmetic adjustments and carrying on as before. (“Perhaps instead of continued doom-mongering, however, greater thought needs to be given to how mankind might adapt to the climatic realities.”)

But at least the Telegraph accepted that the issue deserved some prominence. On the Daily Mail’s website, climate breakdown was scarcely a footnote to the real issues of the day: “Kim Kardashian looks more confident than ever as she shows off her toned curves” and “Little George is the spitting image of Kate”.

Beneath these indispensable reports was a story celebrating the discovery of “vast deposits of coal lying under the North Sea, which could provide enough energy to power Britain for centuries.” (4) No connection with the release of the new climate report was made. Like royal babies, Kim’s curves and Ibsen’s municipal baths, coal is good for business. Global warming, like Dr Stockmann’s contaminants, is the spectre at the feast.

Everywhere we’re told that it’s easier to adapt to global warming than to stop causing it. This suggests that it’s not only the Stern review on the economics of climate change (showing that it’s much cheaper to avert climate breakdown than to try to live with it (5)) that has been forgotten, but also the floods which have so recently abated. If a small, rich, well-organised nation cannot protect its people from a winter of exceptional rainfall – which might have been caused by less than one degree of global warming – what hope do other nations have, when faced with four degrees or more?

When our environment secretary, Owen Paterson, assures us that climate change “is something we can adapt to over time” (6) or Simon Jenkins, in the Guardian yesterday, says that we should move towards “thinking intelligently about how the world should adapt to what is already happening” (7), what do they envisage? Cities relocated to higher ground? Roads and railways shifted inland? Rivers diverted? Arable land abandoned? Regions depopulated? Have they any clue about what this would cost? Of what the impacts would be for the people breezily being told to live with it?

My guess is that they don’t envisage anything: they have no idea what they mean when they say adaptation. If they’ve thought about it at all, they probably picture a steady rise in temperatures, followed by a steady rise in impacts, to which we steadily adjust. But that, as we should know from our own recent experience, is not how it happens. Climate breakdown proceeds in fits and starts, sudden changes of state against which, as we discovered on a small scale in January, preparations cannot easily be made.

Insurers working out their liability when a disaster has occurred use a process they call loss adjustment. It could describe what all of us who love this world are going through, as we begin to recognise that governments, the media and most businesses have no intention of seeking to avert the coming tragedies. We are being told to accept the world of wounds; to live with the disappearance, envisaged in the new climate report, of coral reefs and summer sea ice, of most glaciers and perhaps some rainforests, of rivers and wetlands and the species which, like many people, will be unable to adapt (8).

As the scale of the loss to which we must adjust becomes clearer, grief and anger are sometimes overwhelming. You find yourself, as I have done in this column, lashing out at the entire town.

http://www.monbiot.com

References:

1. Aldo Leopold, 1949. A Sand County Almanac. Oxford University Press.

2. Read at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2446/2446-h/2446-h.htm

3. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/telegraph-view/10733381/The-climate-debate-needs-more-than-alarmism.html

4. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2593032/Coal-fuel-UK-centuries-Vast-deposits-totalling-23trillion-tonnes-North-Sea.html

5. http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http:/www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/sternreview_index.htm

6. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/sep/30/owen-paterson-minister-climate-change-advantages

7. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/31/ipcc-report-adaptation-climate-change

8. http://ipcc-wg2.gov/AR5/images/uploads/IPCC_WG2AR5_SPM_Approved.pdf

ooOOoo

Now watch this film!

Published on Apr 6, 2014
Hollywood celebrities and respected journalists span the globe to explore the issues of climate change and cover intimate stories of human triumph and tragedy. Watch new episodes Sundays at 10PM ET/PT, only on SHOWTIME.

It’s the biggest story of our time. Hollywood’s brightest stars and today’s most respected journalists explore the issues of climate change and bring you intimate accounts of triumph and tragedy. YEARS OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY takes you directly to the heart of the matter in this awe-inspiring and cinematic documentary series event from Executive Producers James Cameron, Jerry Weintraub and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The natural world.

with 7 comments

Hardly seems necessary to say this but natural forces are ‘top of the pyramid‘!

As is so often the case, a few outwardly disconnected events offered a deeper picture; well they did for me!

The first was a recently published post by Alex Jones over on his blog The Liberated Way.  Alex lives in Colchester, Essex, North-East of London, a place where I ran a business way back in the ’80′s’ and lived not far away in the village of Great Horkesley.  Many people, including many Brits are unaware that Colchester, or Camulodunon as the Celtics called it, meaning “the Fortress of Camulos” (Camulos was the Celtic god of war), was the Capitol city in Roman days and that evidence of man’s settlement goes back 3,000 years.

Anyway, back to the thread of today’s post.

That first post from Alex.  A post under the title of Catching a fox.  Alex has generously given me permission to republish it.

Catching a fox.

After two years of hunting I catch a fox with my camera.

fox_colchester

After two years of frustration I finally photograph a fox, which appeared out of nowhere in my garden.

Nature is a shifting tapestry of life, often catching me by surprise with magical manifestations of wildlife that abruptly vanish before I can catch a brief record of its passing through my life. It is a matter of chance that I get lucky with my camera, and I was in luck today.

This morning a fox manifested in my garden. The fox sat looking at me, it had a forlorn look about it, but the fox was content to sit and watch me as it sun bathed in the warmth of a tranquil garden. I had my camera with me, so I made up for two years of frustration by firing off dozens of photographs of my elusive wary model. The fox made my day.

The second event was a chance photograph of a vulture taken two days ago here at home.

Ah, that early morning sun feels good on my back feathers!

Ah, that early morning sun feels good on my back feathers!

 oooo

Ah, that sun feels good on my back feathers!

Damn! Thought it was too good to last!

Now I’m sure that readers so far will find these three photographs, of the fox and the vulture, are producing feelings of pleasure; feelings of wonderment about the natural world around us.

That world of nature ‘speaks’ to us.  If we are prepared to listen.

It spoke to South-West England in February earlier this year:

rail-emergency-workers-inspect-damaged-track-along-the-seafront-at-dawlish-in-south-west-england-

Dawlish – Rail emergency workers inspect damaged track along the seafront.

There are signs that Mother Nature will be speaking to us again; fairly soon. From EarthSky:

Warm water in Pacific could spark a monster El Nino in 2014

Scientists are watching a giant mass of sub-surface water in the Pacific. When this water reaches the sea surface, it could set off a powerful El Nino.

Scientists are watching a giant mass of sub-surface water in the Pacific. When this water reaches the sea surface, it could set off a powerful El Nino.

The giant red blob in this image is a huge, unusual mass of warm water that currently spans the tropical Pacific Ocean. Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist who writes about weather and climate for Slate, says the volume of water is big enough to cover the United States 300 feet deep. And that’s a lot of warm water, he says. Holthaus also says that, as the sub-surface warm water in the Pacific moves eastward – propelled by anomalous trade winds – it’s getting closer to the ocean’s surface. Once the warm water hits the sea surface, it will begin to interact with the atmosphere. Why? Because Earth’s oceans and atmosphere are always interacting. In this case, the warm water will likely boost temperatures and change weather patterns … and possibly bring on a monster El Nino in 2014. There are signs this is already beginning to happen. Read more at Slate.

If one clicks on the link to that Slate article, one then reads:

By Eric Holthaus

The odds are increasing that an El Niño is in the works for 2014—and recent forecasts show it might be a big one.

As we learned from Chris Farley, El Niños can boost the odds of extreme weather (droughts, typhoons, heat waves) across much of the planet. But the most important thing about El Niño is that it is predictable, sometimes six months to a year in advance.

That’s an incredibly powerful tool, especially if you are one of the billions who live where El Niño tends to hit hardest—Asia and the Americas. If current forecasts stay on track, El Niño might end up being the biggest global weather story of 2014.

The most commonly accepted definition of an El Niño is a persistent warming of the so-called “Niño3.4” region of the tropical Pacific Ocean south of Hawaii, lasting for at least five consecutive three-month “seasons.” A recent reversal in the direction of the Pacific trade winds appears to have kicked off a warming trend during the last month or two. That was enough to prompt U.S. government forecasters to issue an El Niño watch last month.

Forecasters are increasingly confident in a particularly big El Niño this time around because, deep below the Pacific Ocean’s surface, off-the-charts warm water is lurking:

Now I’m not going to post the whole of that article so for that reason strongly recommend you read the rest here. However, I am going to offer a couple more extracts.

Like this:

The warm water just below the ocean’s surface is on par with that of the biggest El Niño ever recorded, in 1997-98. That event caused $35 billion in damages and was blamed for around 23,000 deaths worldwide, according to the University of New South Wales. The 1997-98 El Niño is also the only other time since records begin in 1980 that sub-surface Pacific Ocean water has been this warm in April.

Or like this:

One of the theories put forth by the mainstream scientific community to explain the slow-down since 1998 has been increased storage of warm water in the Pacific Ocean. If that theory is true, and if a major El Niño is indeed in the works, the previously rapid rate of global warming could resume, with dramatic consequences.

As I wrote last fall, the coming El Niño could be enough to make 2014 the hottest year in recorded history, and 2015 could be even warmer than that. The 1997-98 super El Niño was enough to boost global temperatures by nearly a quarter of a degree Celsius. If that scale of warming happens again, the world could approach a 1ºC departure from pre-industrial times as early as next year. As climate scientist James Hansen has warned, that’s around the highest that temperatures have ever been since human civilization began.

Now I’m not trying to be a ‘drama queen’ but there are times when one does wonder what it will take for those who govern us to wake up to the fact that Mother Nature is getting more and more restless.

I shall return to this theme tomorrow.

Trust, truth and community, Pt. Two.

with 7 comments

Musings on truth and the corrosive nature of fear.

Yesterday, in Part One, I explored how easy it is to signal to the public that they are not to be trusted.  I used the case of PayPal’s changes to their ‘privacy’ policy which, as Wolf Richter wrote, only partially tongue-in-cheek perhaps, made “the NSA, which runs the most expansive spying dragnet in history, is by comparison a group of choirboys.

Truth

Again, back to Roget’s Thesaurus.

truth noun

1. Correspondence with fact or truth: accuracy, correctness, exactitude, exactness, fidelity, veraciousness, veracity

2. Freedom from deceit or falseness: truthfulness, veracity

So that’s all clear then!

If only it was that easy.  So many aspects of our modern lives are exposed to complex issues.  None more complex than, of course, the issue of humans having a damaging effect on the planet’s climate.  Or if one wants something more esoteric then try the origins of the universe. (So far as the former is concerned, then my personal belief is that mankind is damaging the global climate.  But do I have the scientific background to support that belief? No Sir!)

However, one thing that our complex society does offer is the opportunity to spread fear. Indeed, fear pervades popular culture and the media.  I picked up that theme from an essay published by David L. Altheide and R. Sam Michalowski of Arizona State University.

Just a random example of the spread of fear.

The link to that essay is here. It opens, thus:

Fear pervades popular culture and the news media. Whether used as a noun, verb, adverb, or adjective, an ongoing study finds that the word “fear” pervades news reports across all sections of newspapers, and is shown to move or “travel” from one topic to another. The use of fear and the thematic emphases spawned by entertainment formats are consistent with a “discourse of fear,” or the pervasive communication, symbolic awareness and expectation that danger and risk are a central feature of the effective environment. A qualitative content analysis of a decade of news coverage in The Arizona Republic and several other major American news media (e.g., the Los Angeles Times, and ABC News) reveals that the word “fear” appears more often than it did several years ago, particularly in headlines, where its use has more than doubled. Comparative materials obtained through the Lexis/Nexis information base also reveals that certain themes are associated with a shifting focus of fear over the years (e.g., violence, drugs, AIDS), with the most recent increases associated with reports about children. Analysis suggests that this use of fear is consistent with popular culture oriented to pursuing a “problem frame” and entertainment formats, which also have social implications for social policy and reliance on formal agents of social control.

No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear. [my italics]

That last sentence offers the words of Edmund Burke, the Irish statesman and author from over 200 years ago. So, perhaps, nothing changes in this regard!

In my old country, the British press love to sell their newspapers on the back of fear.  Here are some examples of lurid front pages.

horse meat

oooo

meltdown

oooo

autism

However, it doesn’t end there. Fear of the unknown, of forces beyond our control, are behind the incredible number of conspiracy theories, many of them quite famous.  WikiPedia lists dozens of them. One that was voiced by friends of ours concerned HAARP, which is an acronym for High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program.  It was a perfectly legitimate research programme, one that was unclassified, albeit a program that was shut down in July, 2013.

But that didn’t stop it being regarded by many as deeply suspicious, “Many conspiracy theories surround HAARP. Some theorists believe that it is being used as a weather-controlling device that can trigger catastrophic events, such as floods, hurricanes, etc. Others believe that the government uses HAARP to send mind-controlling radio waves to humans.”  Taken from here.

As it happens, this was a programme that I was acquainted with back in my UK days.

OK, time to round this off.

This new, digital world allows the sharing and spreading of information in a manner unimaginable from, say, 25 years ago.  It has many positive attributes, as I will touch upon in tomorrow’s post.  But it also has the power to spread fear and misinformation.  In a world that is becoming more complex and more uncertain year by year, it takes effort by every one of us to stop, think and check on anything that has the potential to upset one.

It takes the power of community to keep us rooted in the stuff of our daily lives, to live calmly and stay in touch with the truth.  More on the power of community tomorrow.

Immediate concern? Try this!

with 4 comments

Talk about extreme ends of the spectrum!

Yesterday, I posted about the prediction that in four billion years the Milky Way galaxy would collide with the Andromeda galaxy.  I called the post Not of immediate concern.

Today, I am writing about something that is of immediate concern. That is if you regard the next couple of decades as ‘immediate’.

The post is prompted by an item that was published on the BBC News website two days ago.  It carried the title Climate inaction catastrophic – US

Climate inaction catastrophic – US

By Matt McGrath
Environment correspondent, BBC News, Yokohama, Japan

The costs of inaction on climate change will be “catastrophic”, according to US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Mr Kerry was responding to a major report by the UN which described the impacts of global warming as “severe, pervasive and irreversible”.

He said dramatic and swift action was required to tackle the threats posed by a rapidly changing climate.

Our health, homes, food and safety are all likely to be threatened by rising temperatures, the report says.

Scientists and officials meeting in Japan say the document is the most comprehensive assessment to date of the impacts of climate change on the world.

In a statement, Mr Kerry said: “Unless we act dramatically and quickly, science tells us our climate and our way of life are literally in jeopardy. Denial of the science is malpractice. There are those who say we can’t afford to act. But waiting is truly unaffordable. The costs of inaction are catastrophic.”

Putting to one side the mild irony of a representative of the US Government wringing his hands about what mankind is doing to our climate, the report is valuable and potentially significant.

The report was from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which is, as their website explains:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988 to assess the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant for the understanding of human induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for mitigation and adaptation.

Watch this 5-minute video of Stanford professor Dr. Chris Field, co-chair of that IPCC working group, addressing some of the key questions raised by this latest report.  In particular, focus on Dr. Field discussing the potential of the loss of the Greenland ice cap around 3 min 30 seconds.

Back to the BBC report (which you should read in full!).  Back to Dr. Chris Field being quoted as saying:

I think the really big breakthrough in this report is the new idea of thinking about managing climate change as a problem in managing risks. Climate change is really important but we have a lot of the tools for dealing effectively with it – we just need to be smart about it.

BBC climate-change-impacts_v2

It would be easy to get into the mindset that humanity is not going to change its ways in time.

But, then again, the pace of growing awareness about what the changes are that we all need to make, and make relatively soon, is dramatic.

Maybe, just maybe, this will turn out alright!

Fingers-crossed1

For all the young people in the world, I do so hope!

 

Science and understanding

with 5 comments

Our weather systems are entirely driven by the laws of science.

Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.

So wrote William Wordsworth.

The last twelve months has been a period of untypical weather in many parts of the world.  It’s easy to scratch one’s head with puzzlement and blame it on the most convenient and fashionable theory of the moment.  Unusual jet stream pattern; polar vortex; aliens! You get the idea! However, the principle behind what is happening to the weather systems across our planet is very straightforward.  Our weather systems are described by the laws of science.

Thus it is a great pleasure to offer the following guest post from a scientist: Martin Lack.  Martin should be no stranger to readers of Learning from Dogs; his most recent contribution was the major three-part essay From Environmentalism to Ecologism.

Martin is the author of the blog Lack of Environment and this essay was first published there on the 11th July, 2012.

ooOOoo

Conserving mass, water, and energy

I must admit that I am rather fond of quoting Sir Arthur Eddington as having once said, “…if your theory is found to be against the Second Law of Thermodynamics, I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.” Without quibbling over the detail, the Law of Conservation of Mass is pretty darn close; but what, you may ask, has this got to do with climate change denial?

Conservation of mass of water
Well, consider for a moment that scientists seem to agree that there has been a 4% increase in the average moisture content of the Earth’s atmosphere since 1970. That being the case, I am bound to say that this extra 4% is making its presence felt in the UK at the moment! This year we have had the wettest 3 months (April – June) in over 100 years; the wettest June on record; the rain is still falling (sometimes as much as 80mm in a day); and – we are now being told – there is no change anticipated in coming weeks. So, if you’re coming over for the Olympics, expect to get wet!

However, whilst the UK suffers from near Biblical levels of flooding, if the Law of Conservation of Mass is to be upheld and – all other things like terrestrial ice volume remaining equal(!) – the volume of water in the oceans is to remain constant, then it must be failing to rain somewhere else. If so, is there any evidence to support this theory Law? Well, funnily enough, there is: Whilst the UK continues to receive more rain than it wants or needs (all hose pipe bans and drought restrictions have now been lifted), many parts of the World continue to suffer from persistent drought (in sub-Saharan West Africa) and/or record-breaking temperatures (in most of North America).

Sadly, none of this seems to stop self-confessed scientifically-illiterate English graduates such as James Delingpole from ridiculing the entire notion of global warming simply because it is raining a lot here at the moment. It may seem that he has just got a nasty case of tunnel vision and/or short-term memory loss but this is what the fake sceptics always do; they never look at the big picture: Rather than look at daily, monthly, or even annual average temperatures over multi-decadal periods to determine significant long-term trends; they just cherry pick data to reach fallacious conclusions such as “global warming stopped in 1998″.

I am therefore left hoping that the 57% of the British adult population that seem to fall for this kind of nonsense will soon decide that it is time to stop running down the up escalator and, by embracing the reality of what is happening, decide to become part of the solution rather than being part of the problem. If not, climate change denial may well lead to a failure to conserve mass; with the mass in question being the sustainable number of humans this planet can support in the long-term.

Conservation of mass of carbon
If the Law of Conservation of Mass explains why anthropogenic global warming climate disruption is not invalidated by any amount of cold weather or torrential rainfall in one place; can it be used to validate concern regarding a 40% increase CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere? Funnily enough, it can: Since the Industrial Revolution began in the mid-18th Century, a vast amount of fossilised carbon has been burnt; with the carbon it contained combining with oxygen in the air to form CO2. Note here that the oxygen was in the air anyway; whereas the carbon had been out of circulation for hundreds of millions of years. All this new carbon has to go somewhere and, given that it will be many more millions of years before any of it gets taken back out of circulation by nature, it is either making the atmosphere warm-up or it is reducing the pH of seawater (just enough to make life very difficult for corals and shellfish).

So then, what is the human response to all this? Shall we stop burning the fossil fuels now we know we’re causing a problem? It doesn’t look like it! It seems far more likely that we shall gamble the future habitability of all the planets diverse ecosystems on finding a way to defeat the Law of Conservation of Mass by artificially removing this carbon from the biosphere: Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). And do you know what I find most astonishing about CCS? It is the fact that our governments are spending huge sums of money on long-term tests to simulate the effects of CO2 leaking from a submarine CCS repository – to see if it has any noticeable effects on marine life?

Errr, hello-oh? If any CO2 ever escapes from any CCS repository, the entire exercise will have been a complete waste of time and money! The CO2 will be back in circulation and the Law of Conservation of Mass will have won (again). If the genie will not stay in the bottle we will all be in big trouble: Rather than being likely to“collapse in deepest humiliation”; such a failure to defeat the Law of Conservation of Mass will probably result in the collapse of the entire planetary ecosystem; because of our other big problem – the Law of Conservation of Energy: The reason the atmosphere is warming up in the first place; more energy is coming in from the Sun than is getting out into Space!

Conclusions
So, this year’s weather should be a wake-up call to all of us: Irrespective of the actual kind of extreme weather being experienced in any one place, the impacts on agriculture seem to be equally destructive and spiralling food costs the inevitable end result: All just as was predicted by people dismissed for decades as doomsayers: People like Garrett Hardin, Paul Ehrlich, Dennis Meadows, E.F. Schumacher, William Ophuls, Mathis Wackernagel, Ernest Callenbach, and Lester Brown… It looks like that darn ‘wolf’ finally showed up!

Funnily enough, it turns out that a doubling in the size of the global human economy every 50 years is not sustainable after all; and worshipping at the Temple of the God of Growth has got us in some serious trouble; otherwise known as a global debt crisis (see the short video embedded below). We thought we could just lend imaginary money to each other indefinitely but someone blinked and the spell was broken. Sadly, it turns out the Emperor was naked after all; it’s just a shame that by the time we realised this we were all completely sold on the latest fashion ourselves: The New Clothes are everywhere; and we have all been left looking for fig leaves to cover our genitals.

Just as The Limits to Growth (Meadows et al) predicted all those years ago, the Earth is running out of the ability to cope with the effects of our chronically dysfunctional mis-management of it. This was why, as I pointed out six months ago, the failure of food harvests in 2010 led to the Arab Spring of 2011… Are you, like me, wondering what is going to happen this time around? My prediction is that some economist such as Tim Worstall will get himself on TV and tell everyone that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is a load of old rubbish; and that technology will save us from the consequences of our selfish pursuit of profit at any cost; and from our failure to recognise that we humans are not superior to nature – we are part of it – and we cannot survive without it. Or, to put it another way, as a Native American tribal leader once did:
When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.

ooOOoo

I can add nothing to the above other than to thank Martin for giving me the opportunity to republish his post.

Written by Paul Handover

January 31, 2014 at 00:00

Synchronocity!

leave a comment »

Funny how things go around!

According to the online version of the Merriam Webster dictionary, one of the two definitions of synchronicity is:

:  the coincidental occurrence of events and especially psychic events (as similar thoughts in widely separated persons or a mental image of an unexpected event before it happens) that seem related but are not explained by conventional mechanisms of causality —used especially in the psychology of C. G. Jung

That seems sufficiently apt to warrant the choice of title for today’s post.

Here’s why!

Yesterday, Chris Snuggs left a comment to my post Unconditional love. Essentially, Chris made the argument that much of what we see as wrong with the world is not new; not new at all [my insertion of the image of and link to the Great Fire of London].

Great Fire of London. September 2nd-5th, 1666.

Great Fire of London. September 2nd-5th, 1666.

What I mean is, the danger of thinking that today’s events are somehow special and different in kind than throughout history, a feeling generated by the fact that WE are living NOW. However, is it not true that ALL ages of Mankind have seen disasters, wars, dangers, catastrophes, including natural ones? How must those have felt who lived through the 30 Years War, the plague, the Great Fire of London, Stalin’s purges and of course the holocaust?

Even in these present times, Chris doubted that mankind had not been here before [my emphasis]:

WHAT then is special about OUR era? Well, Patrice is and rightly very concerned about the kleptocracy. The staggering statistic that emerged the other day about 85 individuals having as much wealth as 3,5 BILLION people was yet another wake-up call, especially as history seems to tell us that A) there have ALWAYS been kleptocracies and B) they ALWAYS end in revolution, dictatorship or social collapse. But the point is, this is nothing NEW. On the contrary, it has in many societies been the normal progression of things for millenia.

So what about Global Warming, as in man-caused? Chris wrote:

No, all my uncertainties lie in the area of GW. It’s pretty clear that there Is global warming, but A) Is it our fault? B) What should we DO about it? and C) Is it too late anyway?

The notion that it is too late to prevent widespread, major consequences from the heating of our planet is widely shared; I sing the siren’s song myself.

So when an item came along yesterday from Transition Network’s blog courtesy of Rob Hopkins pointing out that Chris, me and many others may be wrong to sing the ‘doom and gloom’ song, it naturally caught my eye.  A quick call to the Transition Network team in Totnes, Devon gave me permission to republish on Learning from Dogs, so here it is. Thanks TN team.  (My thoughts follow the TN piece.)

ooOOoo

Lipkis on Holmgren: “Our job is to make viable the alternative and have it ready”

You know how sometimes someone will just put something you were thinking far more eloquently and clearly than you would have been able to? On Thursday we’ll be posting an interview with Andy Lipkis of TreePeople in Los Angeles. When I talked to Andy last week, it was 80°F, and a state of drought emergency had just been declared (in LA, not Totnes, it was raining here, as usual). At the end of the interview, I asked for his thoughts on the recent debate sparked by David Holmgren’s Crash on Demand article. I asked him “Can we achieve the action on climate change that we need within the existing paradigm, or do we need to deliberately bring the economy down, to deliberately crash it?”.  Here’s what he told me.

Andy Lipkis

Andy Lipkis

“This system is so armoured to defend itself from a deliberate crash that much of our resources and intelligence networks are focused on exactly stopping that. On the flip side, the crash is already happening. We don’t have to engineer it: it’s already been engineered into the system. Check it out: Infrastructure systems are in breakdown in major cities around the world, with severe climate exceeding the designed capacity for storms, floods, water shortages, heat events resulting in increasing numbers of people being dislocated, injured or killed.  In the US, taxpayers are unwilling or unable to pay for the rapidly inflating costs for upgrading and climate-proofing the outmoded infrastructure systems, all the while, climate change denial campaigns prevent communities from preparing for and protecting themselves from the impacts.

I think our job is to make viable the alternative and have it ready. If we’ve really done our homework, we could scale this thing in a flash in California right now because this crash is upon us. And I hope we’re going to be able, perhaps within months…I invented a cistern that could replace the backyard fence or wall, that could hold 5,000 – 20,000 gallons and could be manufactured locally. The City’s going “hey, maybe we should do that now”. Now. Because it’s going to rain again, even if this drought lasts some years, we could deploy them quickly, just as they did in Australia’s 12 year drought.

I think we’ve been trained to spend time on these battles, on the negativity, and we lose people.  We’ve lost precious decades. The crash is on its way. We don’t have to do anything. We need the time to convert people and move people. We need to use examples of Australia and what’s happening now in California to tell those stories, because I agree, denial, defending the system is keeping it pumping.  But as you saw from Snowden and all the evidence, for those of us who went through the ‘60s and ‘70s in protest, I don’t think that’s going to succeed. If we focus on that our best leaders are going to end up in jail for too long.

When you look at how fast people change when you add inspiration, when you add attraction, people change on a dime! When we were growing up, there were – I don’t know if you had The Munsters?  One of the only people who we all knew who was doing yoga and eating yoghurt was Uncle Fester. But when we started seeing beautiful, sexy male and female bodies doing that, it started selling, moving people by the millions and then billions to choose these lifestyles.

I’m not saying the marketplace is the only answer, I’m just saying that if we choose attraction and inclusion we can create those markets, as you’re starting to do. Your stories over and over again on what’s happening with local currency – it’s time to tell the stories better and use those market forces, because people will choose those because they’re less painful and more attractive. And to be smart, to say wow, yeah.

The Bush administration was ready for all Americans to be protesting to try to stop the Iraq war. They expected that, they built that into their design. I was so amazed that they could say they didn’t care what the people said, that I had to think through why they did not care about that. How did they make it resilient?  Because all they cared about was as long as people kept consuming, especially petroleum, their objective was being met. They were counting on no-one changing lifestyles.

The most radical thing sometimes that you can do is actually vote with your feet and vote with your dollars. I was going – “wow, yeah, they’re counting on people complaining”. Protesting and not changing. I started thinking that even the Obama administration is still using the same metrics as the Bush administration was, saying people won’t change on energy. “It’s going to take 35 years to reduce our energy use by 30%”. Well that’s bullshit, because we can choose to do that in a week.

So, I decided that I was going to show that that’s possible even in my own lifestyle. I drive a Prius which is especially fuel efficient, but I’m going to stop driving that car two or three days a week. I told my secretary to book meetings downtown where I could get the bus to. I got out of the car, took the bus, and it actually became a really cool thing. I started investing my dollars in the local bus system. I did it for over two years.  I blogged about it. A lot of other people stopped full time car use,  and right at the right time as gasoline prices were spiking, a proposal came out to build a new transit system. It’s always been rejected in LA, but the voters at that moment chose to fund 40 billion dollars to build a new subway system in Los Angeles so we could get out of our cars. It’s a radical move, but it’s starting to happen.

So maybe that’s a long complicated answer, but we’ve built the right foundation. Our happiness, our health is the answer. It’s infectious. Our job is to be that much more infectious and inclusive. And don’t put up barriers of titles. Don’t put up barriers of shame and blame. Be open to learning fast and welcoming people in. We’re hacking the system and making it so much better. If we invite that kind of creativity, the generation that’s inheriting this right now is really ready to take this home.

ooOOoo

Don’t know about you but I find that compelling. It’s far too easy to wait for others to fix the problems. Too easy to see the issues as insurmountable. Each of us has the ability and the common-sense to make a change in our lives. Whether it is a small, medium or large change in your behaviour, you will make a difference.

So if you have been inspired by this, as Jeannie and I have been, commit to making a difference.

From Environmentalism to Ecologism, Part Three.

with 9 comments

The concluding Part Three of Martin Lack’s guest essay.

Part One is here: Part Two is here.

ooOOoo

Can ecologism be regarded as an ideology in its own right? (Part 3)

Therefore, having now surveyed all the relevant “territory”, we shall now consider the third and final part of the answer to the question as proposed in the Introduction.

Ecologism – Neither left nor right, but out in front?

According to Philip Shabecoff, it was members of the European Green parties that were the first to assert that they are “neither left nor right but out in front” (2000: 109).

For this to be true, ecologism would have to represent a new paradigm that rejects (or at least challenges) beliefs central to conventional politics (of any orientation). This, it is here argued, is indeed the case: In a discussion of the libertarian ideas of John Locke and Adam Smith, William Ophuls observed that they “…have not gone unchallenged, but with very few exceptions, liberals, conservatives, socialists, communists, and other modern ideologies have taken abundance for granted and assumed the necessity of further growth” (Ophuls 1977: 145).

What is the problem with modernity?

As suggested by Anthony Giddens, modernity encompasses “…modes of social life or organisation which emerged in Europe from about the seventeenth century onwards and which subsequently became more or less worldwide in their influence” (Giddens 1991: 1).

The problem is that the accumulation of personal wealth has become the sole objective of many people in modern society; and perpetual growth is posited as a means whereby even the poorest might achieve it.

Karl Marx (as cited by Jon Elster) coined the term “money fetishism” to describe the belief that money (and/or precious metals) have intrinsic (use) value rather than just instrumental (exchange) value, which Marx felt was as misguided as the religious practice of endowing inanimate objects with supernatural powers (Elster 1986: 56-7).

However, whereas Karl Marx saw capitalism as the problem, the ideology that he gave his name to is just as guilty of Daly’s “growthmania”. For example, whereas Jack Goody accepts that capitalism has been “…connected with the growth of rationality and of secularisation; more recently with urbanisation and industrialisation”, he also notes that for Marxist regimes “…modern meant industrialisation without capitalism” (Goody 2004: 6).

The terms “use value” and “exchange value” were first put forward by Aristotle (384-322 BC) who, according to Daly, also recognised the danger of focusing on the latter (i.e. whereby the accumulation of wealth becomes an end in itself) and, alluding to Marx’s criticism, Daly suggested that the paperless economy (where no useable commodities actually change hands) is the logical end-point for money fetishism (Daly 1992: 186).

Finally, on the subject of the consequences of “the problem”, although the centrally-planned economies of the former USSR and China would appear to have had their day, the flaws of the capitalist system they seem so keen to embrace have also revealed themselves in recent time. For example, when John Gray came to write the introduction to the second edition of his book “False Dawn: The Delusions of Modern Capitalism”, he included the following comment:

In the first edition of this book, published in March 1998, I wrote: ‘Today’s regime of global laissez-faire will be briefer than even the belle époque of 1870 to 1914, which ended in the trenches of the first world war’… Not much more than a decade ago this seemed outlandish, but there have since been many signs that global capitalism was heading for a fall (Gray 2009: xii).

Does ecologism provide the answers?

The starting point for ecologism is the concept of carrying capacity (the maximum population of a species) that an ecosystem can support in perpetuity (Dryzek 2005: 27). In this instance, the species is Homo sapiens and the ecosystem is the planet Earth. Therefore, in 1968, Hardin suggested that these limits exist and must be faced. In 1993, frustrated by the absence of discussion on population growth in international politics, he pointed out that:

Two centuries of intermittent wrestling with population problems have produced useful insights about the reality and nature of limits… Four centuries of sedation by the delusion of limitlessness have left humanity floundering in a wilderness of rhetoric… From this it must be inferred that someday political conservatism will once again be defined as contented living within limits. The limitless world view will have to be abandoned (Hardin 1993: 5-6).

In 1968, his solution had been “...mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon by the majority of the people affected” (Hardin 1968: 1247). However, in an apparent reference to the work of an array of scholars including Malthus, Hardin, Meadows, Ehrlich and others, Daly lamented that:

Anyone who asserts the existence of limits is soon presented with a whole litany of things that someone once said could never be done but subsequently were done… Continuing to study economies only in terms of the [exchange value of money] is like studying organisms only in terms of the circulatory system, without ever mentioning the digestive tract. (Daly 1992: 185-186).

Much more recently, Daly has reminded us that, “Ecological limits are rapidly converting ‘economic growth’ into ‘uneconomic growth’-that is throughput growth that increases costs by more than it increases benefits, thus making us poorer not richer” (Daly 2007: 39).

So, it would seem that the challenge of living “within our planet’s means” remains significant; one that few politicians are willing to discuss (because there are no votes to be gained in doing so). It is this fact that the environment cannot speak for itself (i.e. it is disenfranchised) that led Goodin to the conclusion that “nature has interests… as deserving of protection as anyone else’s, which must be ‘encapsulated’ as part of a discursive participatory democracy” (Goodin 1996: 835).

Similarly, whereas Goodin used the term “encapsulated interests” (to describe how one party’s interests are incorporated in those of another), Dobson suggested that non-human animals and future generations of humans (and maybe even other species) are “new environmental constituencies” requiring human representatives to look after their interests (Dobson 1996: 125).

All that needs to be decided is who we shall admit into the “community of justice” (i.e. how radical you want to be).

Citing Low and Gleeson (1998) and Baxter (1999), Derek Bell therefore distinguishes environmental and ecological justice as follows: Environmental justice concerns the distribution of environmental benefits and burdens among human beings. Whereas ecological justice is concerned with justice between human beings and the rest of the natural world (Bell 2006: 208). Furthermore, Bell also spells out the importance of this distinction (just in case any reader has not appreciated it yet) as follows:

Advocates of environmental justice merely insist that the instrumental value of the environment to humans should be recognised in a theory of social justice or justice among humans. Ecological justice makes the much more radical claim that justice extends beyond relations among humans so that we can talk about ‘justice to nature’ (Bell 2006: 208).

Conclusions

The question that has been addressed herein is whether or not ecologism can or should be regarded as a political ideology in its own right given that both socialists and conservatives can lay claim to some aspects of ecological politics.

In order to provide a defensible answer to this question, it was necessary to define what is meant by ecological politics (i.e. the pursuit of policies that are concerned with the environment; but which are not merely or predominantly anthropocentric) and ecologism (i.e. the pursuit of environmental policies that are biocentric or ecocentric). This therefore highlighted the fact that the two are not the same thing; and that ecological politics also includes anthropocentric environmentalism.

However, it has been demonstrated that, rather than being a simple dividing line within the field of ecological politics, anthropocentrism and ecocentrism represent opposite ends of a spectrum along which it is possible to adopt a variety of philosophical positions. Furthermore, although it has also been demonstrated that it is very difficult to be entirely one thing or the other, when faced with difficult policy decisions, almost everyone (both socialists and conservatives included), tends to favour self-preservation. Therefore, the default position of all humans tends to be towards the anthropocentric end of the spectrum.

Nevertheless, to avoid the tautological response to the question (“ecologism must be regarded as a distinctive political ideology in its own right because it is!”), it was deemed necessary to demonstrate how and why both socialists and conservatives can lay claim to ecological politics (although the majority of both socialists and conservatives do not do so) and, therefore, how and why the ecologism that both find so challenging must be regarded as a political ideology in its own right.

In so doing, it has been shown that some socialists find common cause with those that seek equal rights for the environment; whereas some conservatives may do so in pursuit of maintaining the status quo. However, both generally assume the necessity of further growth (Ophuls); what Daly called ‘growthmania’. Furthermore, capitalism is fixated upon the inherent value of things we may consume; whereas Marxism (an extreme form of socialism) is fixated upon the inherent value of things we may produce. However, ecologism insists that nature has inherent – if not intrinsic – value in and of itself; independent of our finding a use for it.

Ecologically-minded scientists and economists have pointed out that the Earth is finite and its capacity to accommodate humans is finite; whereas the evidence of at least the last 40 years is that many prefer to refuse to accept this reality and, as Schumacher pointed out, are spending environmental capital as if it were income. Therefore, because ecologism demands justice that is ecological (ecocentric) – not just environmental (anthropocentric), it represents a fundamental challenge to conventional politics and, as such, must be regarded as a distinctive political ideology in its own right.

References

Baxter, B. (1999), Ecologism: An Introduction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Bell, D. (2006), ‘Political Liberalism and Ecological Justice’ [online], Analyse & Kritik 28, pp.206-22. [Paper originally presented at ECPR General Conference, Marburg, 18–21 September 2003]. Available at <http://analyse-und-kritik.net/2006-2/AK_Bell_2006.pdf> [accessed 18 April 2011].

Daly, H. (1992), Steady State Economics (2nd edition). London: Earthscan.

Daly, H. (2007), Ecological Economics and Sustainable Development, Selected Essays of Herman Daly. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Dobson, A. (1996), ‘Representative democracy and the environment’, in Lafferty, W. and Meadowcroft, J (eds), Democracy and the Environment: Problems and Prospects. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, pp.124-39.

Dryzek, J. (2005), The Politics of the Environment (2nd edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ehrlich, P & Ehrlich, A. (1996), Betrayal of Science and Reason. New York: Island Press.

Elster, J. (1986), An Introduction to Karl Marx. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Giddens, A. (1991), The Consequences of Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Goodin, R. (1996), ‘Enfranchising the earth, and its alternatives’, Political Studies, 44, pp.835-49.

Goody, J. (2004), Capitalism and Modernity: The Great Debate. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Gray, J. (2009), False Dawn: The Delusions of Modern Capitalism, 2nd edition. London: Granta.

Hardin, G. (1993), Living Within Limits: Ecology, Economics, and Population Taboos. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Low, N. and Gleeson, B. (1998), Justice, Society and Nature: An Exploration of Political Ecology. London: Routledge.

Malthus, T. (1798), An Essay on the Principle of Population. London: J Johnson.

Ophuls, W. (1977), Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity. San Francisco: Freeman & Co..

Shabecoff, P., (2000), Earth Rising: American Environmentalism in the 21st Century, Washington DC: Island Press.

ooOOoo

I know a good number of readers have followed Martin’s essay since Tuesday and I would like to thank Martin, on my own account and on behalf of all LfD readers, for giving me the opportunity to republish the essay.

Written by Paul Handover

January 23, 2014 at 00:00

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 972 other followers

%d bloggers like this: