Learning from Dogs

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

Posts Tagged ‘climate change

Life without water.

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“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”

That sub-heading is a quotation from W. H. Auden and while directed at man it applies to all animal life including our beloved dogs.

The drought that California is experiencing is world-wide news but, possibly, the fact that this drought extends to much of the Pacific West Coast on the United States is not as widely known.

Here in Merlin, Southern Oregon, our own ‘all-year’ creek, Bummer Creek, that flows through our property has been dry for about two weeks. Our grass fields are parched brown and many of the trees are signalling a shortage of water.  And let’s not even think about the underground aquifer that supplies our drinking water.

BummerCk

Bummer Creek as of yesterday afternoon.

From drought comes the risk of fire. The Oregonian newspaper runs an interactive real-time fires map that shows just how much of Oregon, California and Washington is burning, something over a million acres according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center.

All of which makes a sombre introduction to a recent essay over on TomDispatch, republished here with the very kind permission of Tom Engelhardt. (But see my note at the end of the essay.)

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Tomgram: William deBuys, Entering the Mega-Drought Era in America

Posted by William deBuys at 4:17pm, August 16, 2015.

The other day here in New England it was chilly, rainy, and stormy and I complained. Where was the sun? The warmth? The summer? I happened to be with someone I know from California and he shook his head and said, “It’s fine with me. I like it rainy. I haven’t seen much rain in a while.” It was a little reminder of how insular we can be. California, after all, is in the fourth year of a fearsome drought that has turned much of the North American West, from Alaska and Canada to the Mexican border, into a tinderbox. Reservoirs are low, rivers quite literally drying up, and the West is burning. In rural northern California, where the fires seem to be least under control, the Rocky Fire has already burned 109 square miles and destroyed 43 homes, while the Jerusalem Fire, which recently broke out nearby, quickly ate up almost 19 square miles while doubling in size and sent local residents fleeing, some for the second time in recent weeks.

Fires have doubled in these drought years in California. The fire season, once mainly an autumnal affair, now seems to be just about any day of the year. (This isn’t, by the way, just a California phenomenon. The latest study indicates that fire season is extending globally, with a growth spurt of 18.7% in the last few decades.) In fact, fire stats for the U.S. generally and the West in particular are worsening in the twenty-first century, and this year looks to be quite a blazing affair, with six million acres already burned across the region and part of the summer still to go. And here’s the thing: though “I’m not a scientist,” it’s pretty hard at this point not to notice — though most Republican candidates for president seem unfazed — that this planet is heating up, that today’s droughts, bad as they are, will be put in the shade by the predicted mega-droughts of tomorrow, and that the problem of water in the American West is only going to deepen — or do I mean grow shallower? TomDispatch regular William deBuys, an expert on water in that region and author of A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest, has already written dramatically of a future “exodus from Phoenix.” For clues to what we will all experience sooner or later, he now turns to California, that bellwether state in which, as he writes, the future always seems to play itself out first. Tom

California First

As Both Climate Victim and Responder, the National Style-Setter Leads the Way
By William deBuys

Long ago, I lived in a cheap flat in San Francisco and worked as the lone straight man in a gay construction company. Strangely enough, the drought now strangling California brings back memories of those days. It was the 1970s. Our company specialized in restoring the Victorian “gingerbread” to the facades of the city’s townhouses, and I got pretty good at installing cornices, gable brackets, and window hoods, working high above the street.

What I remember most, though, is the way my co-workers delighted in scandalizing me on Monday mornings with accounts of their weekend exploits.

We were all so innocent back then. We had no idea of the suffering that lay ahead or of the grievous epidemic already latent in the bodies of legions of gay men like my friends, an epidemic that would afflict so many outside the gay community but was especially terrible within it.

It’s unlikely that many of those guys are alive today. HIV was already in the population, although AIDS had yet to be detected or named, and no one had heard of “safe sex,” let alone practiced it. When the epidemic broke out, it was nowhere worse than in trendsetting San Francisco.

By then I had returned to New Mexico, having traded my hammer for a typewriter. When I announced my intention to leave California, the guys all said the same thing. “Don’t go back there,” they protested. “You’ll just have to go through all of this again!”

All of this required no translation. It meant the particular newness of life in that state, which was always sure to spread eastward, as Californian styles, attitudes, problems, tastes, and fads had been spreading to the rest of the country almost since the days of the Gold Rush.

Hippies, flower power, bikers, and cults. The movies we see and the music we listen to. The slang we pick up (I mean like, what a bummer, dude). Wine bars and fern bars, hot tubs and tanning booths, liposuction and boob jobs. The theft of rivers (Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown) and the theft of baseball teams (Brooklyn still mourns). Gay rights, car culture, and the Reagan Revolution. Scientology, mega-churches, Buddhist chic, and exercise videos. If they didn’t actually start in California, they got big and came to national attention there. Without the innovations of Silicon Valley, would you recognize your mobile phone or computer? Would you recognize yourself?

It’s the same with climate change. California in the Great Drought is once again Exhibit A, a living diorama of how the future is going to look for a lot of us.

And the present moment — right now in 2015 — reminds me of San Francisco as the AIDS epidemic broke out. Back then we had no idea how bad things were going to get, and that is likely to be true now, as well. As usual, California is giving us a preview of our world to come.

The Arrival of the Bone-Dry New Normal

On the U.S. Drought Monitor’s current map, a large purple bruise spreads across the core of California, covering almost half the state. Purple indicates “exceptional drought,” the direst category, the one that tops both “severe” and “extreme.” If you combine all three, 95% of the state is covered. In other words, California is hurting.

Admittedly, conditions are better than at this time last year when 100% of the state was at least “severe.” Recent summer rains have somewhat dulled the edge of the drought, now in its fourth year. Full recovery, however, would require about a foot of rain statewide between now and January, a veritable deluge for places like Fresno, which in good times only get that much rain in a full year.

lastunicorn

To be clear, the current drought may not have been caused by climate change. After all, California has a long history of periodic fierce droughts that arise from entirely natural causes, some of them lasting a decade or more. Even so, at a minimum climate change remains a potent factor in the present disaster. The fundamental difference between California’s current desiccation and its historical antecedents is that present conditions are hotter thanks to climate change, and hotter means drier since evaporation increases with temperature. Moreover, the relationship between the two is non-linear: as temperature creeps up, evaporation gallops. Bottom line: the droughts of the future will be much more brutal — and destructive — than those of the past.

California is already on average about 1.7° Fahrenheit hotter than a century ago, and its rate of warming is expected to triple in the century ahead. The evaporative response to this increase will powerfully amplify future droughts in unprecedented ways, no matter their causes.

Throughout the state, draconian cutbacks in water use remain in force. Some agricultural districts are receiving 0% of the federally controlled irrigation water they received in past years, while state water deliveries are running at about 15% of normal.

Meanwhile, a staggering 5,200 wildfires have burned in the state’s forests and chaparral country this year, although timely rains everywhere but in the northern parts of California and the rapid responses of a beefed-up army of firefighters limited the burning to less acreage than last year — at least until recently. The blow-up of the Rocky Fire, north of San Francisco, in the early days of August — it burned through 20,000 acres in just a few hours — may change that mildly promising statistic. And the fire season still has months to go.

So how is this a trendsetter, a harbinger for lands to the east? California’s drought is deep and long — we don’t yet know how long — and the very long-term forecast for an immense portion of western North America, stretching from California to Texas and north to South Dakota, is for a future of the same, only worse. Here is the unvarnished version of that future (on which an impressive number of climate models appear to agree) as expressed in a paper that appeared in Science Advances last February: “The mean state of drought in the late 21st century over the Central Plains and Southwest will likely exceed even the most severe mega-drought periods of the Medieval era in both high and moderate emissions scenarios, representing an unprecedented fundamental shift with respect to the last millennium.”

Let’s unpack that a little bit: principal author Benjamin Cook of NASA and his colleagues from Columbia and Cornell universities are saying that climate change will bring to the continent a “new normal” more brutally dry than even the multiple-decades-long droughts that caused the Native American societies of Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde to collapse. This, they add, is now expected to happen even if greenhouse gas emissions are significantly lowered in the decades to come. The impact of such droughts, they conclude, will exceed the bounds of anything known in the history of the continent or in its scientifically reconstructed pre-history.

In other words, the California drought of recent years offers only a foretaste of what is to come. Incidentally, Cook, et al. are by no means outliers in the literature of climate prediction. Other important studies with similar forecasts support a steadily broadening consensus on the subject.

And North American droughts will have to compete for attention with countless other climate change impacts, especially the hundreds of millions of refugees worldwide who will be put into motion by rising sea levels and other forces that will render their present homes unlivable.

A User’s Guide to Climate Change

If California points the way to dry times ahead, it also gives us an early glimpse of how a responsible society will try to live with and adjust to a warmer future. The state has imposed stringent new limits on water use and is actively enforcing them, and in general, individual consumers have responded positively to the new requirements, in some cases even exceeding mandated conservation goals.

In a similar spirit, the state has augmented its wildland fire-fighting capacity to good effect, even as the fire danger has approached levels never before seen.

Perhaps most impressively the state has adopted its own pioneering cap-and-trade program aimed at rolling back total greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels. Under cap-and-trade, carbon polluters have to obtain permits to continue their emissions, and only a finite number of such permits are made available. A coal-burning power plant or a refinery has to buy its permit from the state or from another company that already has one. This way, a ceiling is established for total greenhouse gases emitted by the most energy-intensive sectors of the economy.

Although the jury may still be out on how well the program meets its goals, there is no debating its positive impact on the state treasury. In the fiscal year just begun, the auction of permits under California’s cap-and-trade program will net approximately $2.2 billion, a windfall that will be spent on mass transit, affordable housing, and a range of climate-adaptation programs. And by the way, the warnings of nay-sayers and climate deniers that cap-and-trade would prove a drag on the economy have proved groundless.

In a manner similar to the U.N.’s prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, California now publishes an assessment every three years of both its vulnerability to climate change and the steps it plans to take to mitigate or adapt to its effects. The report is a model of its kind and draws on copious California-specific scientific research, some of which is funded by the state.

You might think California’s neighbors would follow suit, and eventually, as with most things Californian, they undoubtedly will. If President Obama’s just-announced “Clean Power Plan” withstands the expected court challenges, it will prove a powerful spur in that direction as it mandates state-by-state reductions in power plant carbon emissions that will, in the end, drive them 32% below 2005 levels. Many states will undoubtedly have to adopt cap-and-trade systems in order to comply. As they set about devising their own programs, where do you think they will look for a workable example? You guessed it: California.

An “Island” Again, or Nearly So

In the seventeenth century, Spanish cartographers thought California was an island separated from the rest of North America by the legendary Straits of Anian. In some ways, nothing has changed. In late July, while California Governor Jerry Brown was at the Vatican joining Pope Francis in calling for urgent global action to combat climate change, his opposite numbers across the putative straits continued to assume the posture of startled ostriches.

Doug Ducey, the Republican governor of Arizona, admits that the climate may indeed be changing but doubts that humans play a causal role in it. Susana Martinez of New Mexico, also a Republican, continues to insist that climate science is inconclusive, while former governor of Texas and current presidential candidate Rick Perry adamantly remains “not a scientist,” although he knew enough to inform us in his 2012 campaign screed Fed Up that climate change science is “a contrived phony mess.”

In general, when it comes to climate change, the leadership of statehouses across the country remains as troglodytic as the House of Representatives. Only in Hawaii, Oregon and Washington on the West Coast, Minnesota in the Midwest, and a handful of Northeastern states will governors even acknowledge the importance of acting to curb climate change as well as adapt to it.

This year, the deniers may get a boost from an unlikely source. Warm surface waters seem to be brewing something special in the Pacific Ocean. Says one researcher, “The El Niño event currently ongoing in the eastern and central Pacific is strengthening. The only question is whether it will be just a significant event, or a huge one.”

El Niño draws the winter Pacific storm track southward, bringing precipitation to southern California, Arizona, and points eastward. If the southern tier of states has a wet winter, the Republican rain-dancers will feel confirmed in their official doubt and denialism, much as a broken clock is right at least twice a day.

Occasional El Niños, however, will not avert the long-term new normal for California and much of the West. As that state is showing, adaptation will soften some of the blows, and possibly, if we act soon enough and strongly enough, we may manage to cap the overall changes at some still livable level. The jury will be out on that for quite some time.

Meanwhile, as in pre-AIDS San Francisco, we are all still in a state of at least semi-innocence. Maybe we can imagine in an intellectual way what it might be like to lose the forests across half of the continent, but can any of us conjure the feeling of how that would be?

After many missteps and halting starts, the medical and public health establishments finally came to the assistance of the victims of AIDS. As difficult as that was, it was easy compared to the remedies climate change will demand. And for much of the damage there will be no remedy. Get ready.

William deBuys, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of eight books, the most recent of which is The Last Unicorn: A Search for One of Earth’s Rarest Creatures. He has written extensively on water, drought, and climate in the West, including A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest.

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

Copyright 2015 William deBuys

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Again, there are far too many links for me to bring across to this republication but I do recommend that if you have an extra special interest in William deBuys essay that you check through all the links in the original version to be read here.

Written by Paul Handover

August 20, 2015 at 00:00

Climate Change and Humanity: Postscript.

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A personal viewpoint after reading Tom’s essay Is Climate Change a Crime Against Humanity?

Last Thursday, July 3rd, I republished a post, what Tom calls a Tomgram, from TomDispatch comparing the USA’s attitude to the very small risk of a country exploding a weapon of mass destruction, WMD, over American soil to the 95% risk of the USA being harmed from the effects of climate change.  Here’s an extract from the central part of Tom’s essay:

So here’s a question I’d like any of you living in or visiting Wyoming to ask the former vice president, should you run into him in a state that’s notoriously thin on population: How would he feel about acting preventively, if instead of a 1% chance that some country with weapons of mass destruction might use them against us, there was at least a 95% — and likely as not a 100% — chance of them being set off on our soil? Let’s be conservative, since the question is being posed to a well-known neoconservative. Ask him whether he would be in favor of pursuing the 95% doctrine the way he was the 1% version.

After all, thanks to a grim report in 2013 from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we know that there is now a 95% -100% likelihood that “human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming [of the planet] since the mid-20th century.” We know as well that the warming of the planet — thanks to the fossil fuel system we live by and the greenhouse gases it deposits in the atmosphere — is already doing real damage to our world and specifically to the United States, as a recent scientific report released by the White House made clear. We also know, with grimly reasonable certainty, what kinds of damage those 95% -100% odds are likely to translate into in the decades, and even centuries, to come if nothing changes radically: a temperature rise by century’s end that could exceed 10 degrees Fahrenheit, cascading species extinctions, staggeringly severe droughts across larger parts of the planet (as in the present long-term drought in the American West and Southwest), far more severe rainfall across other areas, more intense storms causing far greater damage, devastating heat waves on a scale no one in human history has ever experienced, masses of refugees, rising global food prices, and among other catastrophes on the human agenda, rising sea levels that will drown coastal areas of the planet.

Tom’s essays had many great links to background research papers and other supporting material.  The penultimate link was embedded (my italics) in this sentence: “In the case of a major exchange of such weapons, we would be talking about “the sixth extinction” of planetary history.”  That linked to the Amazon page describing the book, released earlier this year, of the same name written by Elizabeth Kolbert, as follows:

A major book about the future of the world, blending intellectual and natural history and field reporting into a powerful account of the mass extinction unfolding before our eyes

Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In The Sixth Extinction, two-time winner of the National Magazine Award and New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert draws on the work of scores of researchers in half a dozen disciplines, accompanying many of them into the field: geologists who study deep ocean cores, botanists who follow the tree line as it climbs up the Andes, marine biologists who dive off the Great Barrier Reef. She introduces us to a dozen species, some already gone, others facing extinction, including the Panamian golden frog, staghorn coral, the great auk, and the Sumatran rhino. Through these stories, Kolbert provides a moving account of the disappearances occurring all around us and traces the evolution of extinction as concept, from its first articulation by Georges Cuvier in revolutionary Paris up through the present day. The sixth extinction is likely to be mankind’s most lasting legacy; as Kolbert observes, it compels us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.

Here’s an interview of Elizabeth Kolbert taken from the Democracy Now programme. It’s a tad under 20 minutes so easy to put aside a little of your time to watch it.

PLEASE DO!

Published on Feb 11, 2014
February 2014 on Democracy Now!

In the history of the planet, there have been five known mass extinction events. The last came 65 million years ago, when an asteroid about half the size of Manhattan collided with the Earth, wiping out the dinosaurs and bringing the Cretaceous period to an end. Scientists say we are now experiencing the sixth extinction, with up to 50 percent of all living species in danger of disappearing by the end of the century. But unlike previous extinctions, the direct cause this time is us — human-driven climate change. In “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History,” journalist Elizabeth Kolbert visits four continents to document the massive “die-offs” that came millions of years ago and those now unfolding before our eyes. Kolbert explores how human activity — fossil fuel consumption, ocean acidification, pollution, deforestation, forced migration — threatens life forms of all kinds. “It is estimated that one-third of all reef-building corals, a third of all fresh-water mollusks, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivion,” Kolbert writes. “The losses are occurring all over: in the South Pacific and in the North Atlantic, in the Arctic and the Sahel, in lakes and on islands, on mountaintops and in valleys.”

Elizabeth Kolbert, is well known for her reporting on global warming as a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine, which led her to investigate climate species extinction. Her new book is The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. In 2006, she wrote Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change.

Make no mistake, that short video interview doesn’t pull any punches.  Just as Kolbert’s book.  It is very tempting to want to hide, to close one’s ears and eyes and pretend it’s all a bad dream and, soon, we will awaken to a bright, new dawn.

(Now for something really lovely! It’s 1:40pm on Sunday, 6th)

I took a quick break to think about my next sentence.  I was looking for some words that would encourage us all to do something!  Because as John Hurlburt recently wrote: “Failure to act condemns us to death as a species of fools.

In that short break I saw that someone else had signed up to follow Learning from Dogs.  That person describes herself as Elsie Bowen-Dodoo.  Her blog is called BowenDiaries. On her About page, Elsie writes:

Elsie Bowen-Dodoo. Living life with a purpose. Persevering to inspire all races.

I write to inspire people hoping that they reading my articles and stuff will be touched to do something positive in their lives.

We really can all make this world a better place to live in.

Talent should not be wasted.

This is the picture on Elsie’s home page.

Positive inspiration!

Positive inspiration!

So here’s my take on where we, as in all mankind, are at.

  • We have to turn our backs on growth, greed and materialism.
  • Each of us must place caring for our planet our highest priority in life.
  • Each of us must be alive to making a positive difference.
  • Being true to what we know is right will set us free.
  • This will also create ripples of positive energy that will set others free.
  • That is the only sustainable way to go.

Let me close by returning to dogs.  After all this blog is called Learning from Dogs! By recognising, of course, that these are challenging times. As we are incessantly reminded by the drumbeat of the doom-and-gloom news industry every hour, frequently every half-hour, throughout the day. A symphony of negative energy.

Yet right next to us is a world of positive energy. The world of dogs. A canine world full of love and trust, playfulness and relaxation. A way of living that is both clear and straightforward; albeit far from being simple. As anyone will know who has seen the way dogs interact with each other and with us humans.

In other words, dogs offer endless examples of positive behaviours. The wonderful power of compassion for self, and others, and of loving joy. The way to live that we humans crave for. A life full of hope and positive energy that keeps the power of negativity at bay.

That is the only way forward!

Oliver, Cleo and Hazel playing together.

Oliver, Cleo and Hazel joyfully playing together.

Market forces.

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A powerful essay from Paul Gilding.

Having our good friends, Andy and Trish, with us for a few days means, quite rightly, that time with them is top of our list; so to speak.

Thus I want to republish a recent post from Paul Gilding that seems to me to be right on the mark.

But first an apology.  About 10 minutes ago (07:40 US PDT yesterday) I pressed the ‘reblog’ key over on Paul Gilding’s posting in error.  Subscribers to Learning from Dogs will have been sent an email to that reblog and then discovered that I had deleted it, in favour of this approach!

Mr Paul Gilding.

Mr Paul Gilding.

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THE GLOBAL ENERGY MARKET’S MOMENT OF TRUTH

If you want to know what addressing climate change will really be like for business and investors, then take a look at today’s electricity and energy markets. Driven by climate policy, technology development, business innovation, NGO campaigns and investment risk analysis, creative destruction is inflicting itself upon the sector with a vengeance – and the process has just begun.

Value is being destroyed at an incredible scale with just one example being European utilities losing $750 billion in market cap in recent years. Another is the huge losses in value for coal companies and the cancellation of a large number of new coal mining projects around the world as the forecast growth in China and India evaporates. As I argued in my last Chronicle, Carbon Crash Solar Dawn, this is not a temporary market blip but a fundamental shift. Company strategies and business models that have been working for generations are collapsing. In parallel we see the creative side of the process, with new industries being built, entrepreneurs flourishing and massive wealth being created. Now the market is working, as it should, allocating capital to the places where risk and return are best aligned. It is at once a beautiful and brutal process to observe.

This is an important inflection point to acknowledge, with significant implications that should reframe our thinking about these issues.

For a start it means, climate policy and its economic consequences have now shifted from future forecasts to present reality. This reality, with all its brutality for existing businesses, give us important insights into what to expect as the world wakes up to climate change. Business is already waking up to what that means in a market economy – creative destruction unleashed to destroy slow responders.

This suggests that traditional corporate responsibility, which argued sustainability was good for all businesses, is outmoded and not helpful. We have moved into an era of win/lose rather than win/win, and with that, sustainability is shifting from ‘environmentalists vs business’ to ‘business vs business’ as I covered in this earlier Chronicle.

Taken together this means we need to change the way we talk and think about climate change and business. Sustainability is not good for many businesses – in fact it means they’ll have to go out of business. This is what sustainability at its core is all about – things that are unsustainable will stop.

While on the one hand this is blindingly obvious, it is a conversation many in business and politics don’t want to acknowledge. So when the previous Australian government brought in its carbon pricing scheme, it went to great lengths to argue that Australia would still have a healthy coal industry. And President Obama’s new regulations on CO2 emissions in the US power industry are likewise being positioned as being as much about health and air pollution as climate policy.

But as Michael Grunwald argues in this Time Magazine piece on “Obama’s War on Coal” – a phrase used by the coal industry to suggest this is unfair and unreasonable – it’s time to face up to the reality of climate action. It is a war on coal, pure and simple. Grunwald calls it the “just but undeclared war ”. But rather than “just” with its moral overtones, we could simply argue it is “necessary” based on any objective analysis of what’s good for the economy and for society. What is necessary is to move a range of companies out of the economy and replace them.

Coal is first in the firing line. As a major cause of CO2 emissions and with the lack of market support for Carbon Capture and Storage suggesting “clean coal” is either a delusion or at best an expensive PR campaign, coal simply has to go. That means coal companies will go out of business, and then oil companies and gas companies will follow them.

This is not a problem at all for the economy, as they will be replaced with new companies and new industries, which will create new jobs, new wealth and new innovations. But it is a major problem for the incumbents who will cease to exist and for their owners who will lose their money. Unless we have that conversation honestly and openly, we are setting ourselves up for pain and suffering we can easily avoid or at least minimise by thinking through the consequences and being better prepared for their departure.

Of course the best way to minimise the pain would be for fossil fuel companies to transition to new areas of business, to use the great wealth they have created to diversify into sustainable sources of profit. But most of them won’t. It’s not that they couldn’t – it’s just that they won’t. And it’s not just coal but also oil and gas who are, for the most part, in strong denial about what’s coming and so won’t be prepared, as well explained in this article by Giles Parkinson at RenewEconomy.

We shouldn’t be surprised. History shows how rare it is for companies to transform and survive major market and technology shifts. That’s why the average life expectancy of a successful multinational is only 40-50 years. And that’s why the financial markets – who act without ideology based on looking at the data – are rapidly responding. They are stripping value from fossil fuel exposed utilities and the resource companies that provide their fuel. They are also downgrading credit risk, with Barclays recently issuing a warning the investors should no longer see utilities as a “sturdy and defensive subset of the investment grade universe”. The report concluded: “We see near-term risks to credit from regulators and utilities falling behind the solar plus storage adoption curve.” No doubt Deutche Bank considered these risks when they recently announced they wouldn’t consider funding a major new coal port next to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

So while the idea of “war on coal” is in some ways an accurate summary of the momentous threats the industry faces from a range of forces that are consciously and deliberately coming after them, we could also just see this as how markets work.

Fossil fuels provide us with energy, but they also destroy value across the economy – by driving climate change, damaging health and increasing costs for taxpayers while imposing unmanageable risks on other companies who rely on a stable climate for their business success. So the market is simply doing its job, pricing in some of these costs using the proxies of regulatory, credit and technology risk.

The market is working …. and fossil fuels are losing.

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Hope you agree with me that it’s a great essay and, also, I hope you followed the links – they are all very interesting.

Those of you who are not familiar with Paul Gilding can find out more about him here.  Plus the following TED Talk by Paul is highly recommended viewing.

Not seeing the wood for the trees!

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A postscript to the last two days.

This week is taking on a life of it’s own, so far as Learning from Dogs is concerned!

For when I penned Monday’s post, Running on Empty, I had not yet read George Monbiot’s essay Are We Bothered?. When I did so, it struck me as the perfect sequel to Monday’s post and formed the crux of yesterday’s post The nature of delusions.  That second post also included a personal account of my delusion with regard to ocean sailing and seemed sufficiently wordy not to be extended by my further reflections.

Thus the decision to run over to a third day!

Let me offer, first of all, my own reflections to George Monbiot’s concerns. That I distill, using his words, to: “The more we consume, the less we care about the living planet.” Expanded in his concluding paragraph:

So the perennially low level of concern, which flickers upwards momentarily when disaster strikes, then slumps back into the customary stupor, is an almost inevitable result of a society that has become restructured around shopping, fashion, celebrity and an obsession with money. How we break the circle and wake people out of this dreamworld is the question that all those who love the living planet should address. There will be no easy answers.

When I first read Mr. Monbiot’s essay, I found myself nodding in agreement. Yet, upon further reflection, I became less sure that “a society that has become restructured around shopping, fashion, celebrity and an obsession with money.” was the core of the issue.  I think it is a symptom.

Stay with me awhile I take a small deviation. To dogs, and other animals.

Many creatures have a powerful and instinctive means of assessing danger.  One only needs to observe the wild black-tailed deer that frequent our property to know that the slightest hint of danger or the unknown has them dashing away to safety.

A young black-tailed deer seen at home last September.

A young black-tailed deer seen at home last September.

Dogs are the same in that they will run early on from a danger.

Humans also have the propensity to be cautious about a clear and present danger.  However, it’s my proposition that when the danger is unclear and when that danger threatens the very essence of who we are and the world that we have constructed around us, we can be blind to the point of madness. I can think of many examples in support of that thesis and I’m sure you can too.

Yes, we have “a society that has become restructured around shopping, fashion, celebrity and an obsession with money.” But I contend only because of the power of capitalism, of the power of modern marketing and advertising and the allure of being ‘one of the crowd’.

So back to my proposition.  It is this.

That when our lives are threatened by something unclear, complex and, ultimately, of devastating impact, we are very reluctant to embrace it and even more reluctant to both embrace it and escape to safety; whatever the latter implies.

Mankind’s effect on the environment, the rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere, the increasing acidification of the oceans, the growing concerns about global weather, and on and on, are the most unclear, the most complex and the most devastating of futures to embrace.

(Thanks to Patrice for using this recently.)

(Thanks to Patrice for referring to this recently.)

So it really is no surprise to see mankind in general behaving as though this is a bit of a hangover, and an aspirin and a good night’s sleep will sort it! Especially when there is so much money and control invested in selling the same message; the message that there really is nothing to worry about.

There will be a so-called ‘tipping point’. A point in our awareness where the urgency to prevent the destruction of the biosphere will be paramount. And it will be a miracle if when that point arrives it isn’t far too late to save us.

I truly hope that I am wrong.

oooo

Remember what I wrote in yesterday’s post? About experiencing an Atlantic gale?

Fewer than 48-hours before my estimate of coming into Horta Marina on the Azores island of Faial, Songbird of Kent was struck by an early, fierce Winter gale. I seem to recall it was touching Force 10 Beaufort Scale (54 – 63 mph or 48 – 55 knots).

Anyway, it just about finished me off: literally as well as psychologically! I was so frightened, so utterly scared that I could think of nothing else other than getting to Horta and never going sailing again.

It revealed my delusion!

That was my ‘tipping point’ when it came to ocean sailing.

The gale subsided and I motor-sailed the 150-odd miles to Horta without any break for sleep or rest. Came into the harbour early in the morning after the second night since the gale. As soon as I was securely berthed, I closed the boat up and found a local hotel where a hot shower and a clean bed could restore a part of me.

Within a week, I had engaged a crew to sail the boat to Plymouth in South-West England and I flew back to England on a commercial airline.

Once Songbird of Kent arrived at Plymouth, she was put up for sale at a price that wouldn’t delay matters and that was that!

Oh, and I have never read any more books about single-handed ocean sailing. (But see my P.S.!)

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P.S.

In yesterday’s post, I referred to Les Powells. Remember when I was in Larnaca, Cyprus? This is what I wrote:

Living on a boat close to me was Les Powles. Many will not have heard of Les but this quiet, softly-spoken man knows a thing or two about solo ocean sailing. As an article in The Guardian newspaper explained (in part):

In the 1980s and 90s a British man called Les Powles sailed three times round the world – always single-handedly, once non-stop. He couldn’t afford a radio transmitter, and on his greatest adventure he didn’t speak to anyone for 329 days. At 84, his ­circumnavigating days are now behind him, but he still lives on his boat, the Solitaire. What’s the ­appeal of sailing, I asked him. “It’s the solitude. When you’re out at sea on your own, there’s no government or bankers to worry about. You’re not ­responsible to anyone but yourself.”

Three times around the world – solo!

Thus getting to know Les was a great inspiration in getting me over the hurdle of can I really do this! (Les once said to me “the first three days are the worst!”)

Anyway, I have discovered that Les is living happily on his boat in Lymington, England and has written a book about his sailing life.

Les Powells book

It has been ordered and arrives today. This one will be read – from the comfort and safety of our rural home in Oregon!

The nature of delusions.

with 8 comments

Sometimes the truth isn’t so obvious!

Yesterday, I wrote a post under the title of Running on empty!  I listed just a few recent items that had left me feeling very dispirited.  Trust me, not a familiar place!

I also raised the question ……

All of this is sending out a message. The message that if we are not very, very careful this could be the end-game for human civilisation on this Planet.

But do you know what really puzzles me?

It’s that this message is increasingly one that meets with nods of approval and words of agreement from more and more people that one sees going about one’s normal life.

…… then didn’t expand on what was puzzling me!

Let me come at this again; in full!

But do you know what really puzzles me?  It is the terrible lethargy across so many societies. The lack of any substantial social and political force for change. Especially, when so many scientists involved in climate research are warning we are leaving it dangerously late.

I’m no psychologist; far from it. But I want to recount a true story that gave me an insight into one of my own delusions.  Please stay with me because it does have a message at the end of it! ;-)

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Many years ago, I spent 5 years living on a boat in Larnaca in Cyprus.  My boat was a wonderful heavy-displacement ocean-going yacht.  A type known as a Tradewind 33.  Here is a picture of my boat.

Tradewind 33 - Songbird of Kent.

Tradewind 33 – Songbird of Kent.

For years I had devoured all the books written by the great yacht sailors who had sailed the oceans, many of them completing solo circumnavigations of the world.  Part of me wanted to sail the oceans.

Living on a boat close to me was Les Powles.  Many will not have heard of Les but this quiet, softly-spoken man knows a thing or two about solo ocean sailing. As an article in The Guardian newspaper explained (in part):

In the 1980s and 90s a British man called Les Powles sailed three times round the world – always single-handedly, once non-stop. He couldn’t afford a radio transmitter, and on his greatest adventure he didn’t speak to anyone for 329 days. At 84, his ­circumnavigating days are now behind him, but he still lives on his boat, the Solitaire. What’s the ­appeal of sailing, I asked him. “It’s the solitude. When you’re out at sea on your own, there’s no government or bankers to worry about. You’re not ­responsible to anyone but yourself.”

Three times around the world – solo!

Thus getting to know Les was a great inspiration in getting me over the hurdle of can I really do this!  (Les once said to me “the first three days are the worst!”)

Thus it came about that I departed Larnaca and worked my way Westwards along the Mediterranean, eventually arriving in Gibraltar.  After a few days getting ‘Songbird’ ready for my first ocean leg, Gibraltar to the Azores, I took a deep breath and headed West out into the Atlantic Ocean. Frankly, I was a tad too late to be starting out but the thought of spending a Winter in and around Gibraltar was too much to contemplate and, anyway, it was only 8 or 9 days sailing to the Azores; a distance of 1,125 land miles or 980 nautical miles.

Fewer than 48-hours before my estimate of coming into Horta Marina on the Azores island of Faial, Songbird of Kent was struck by an early, fierce Winter gale.  I seem to recall it was touching Force 10 Beaufort Scale (54 – 63 mph or 48 – 55 knots).

Anyway, it just about finished me off: literally as well as psychologically! I was so frightened, so utterly scared that I could think of nothing else other than getting to Horta and never going sailing again.

It revealed my delusion!

It proved that I had been in love with the courageousness of those many ocean sailors that I had read about. In love with the idea of a solo Atlantic crossing and being seen as a courageous hero. But, in truth, utterly in denial about what ocean sailing was really about!

So with the theme of delusion in your head, have a read of a recent post by George Monbiot. The post is called Are We Bothered? It is republished with the kind permission of George.

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Are We Bothered?

May 16, 2014

The more we consume, the less we care about the living planet.

By George Monbiot, published on the Guardian’s website, 9th May 2014

That didn’t take long. The public interest in the state of the natural world stimulated by the winter floods receded almost as quickly as the waters did. A YouGov poll showed that the number of respondents placing the environment among their top three issues of concern rose from 6% in mid-January to 23% in mid-February. By early April – though the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had just published two massive and horrifying reports – the proportion had fallen back to 11%.

CarbonBrief has plotted the results on this graph:

GM1

Sustaining interest in this great but slow-burning crisis is a challenge no one seems to have mastered. Only when the crisis causes or exacerbates an acute disaster – such as the floods – is there a flicker of anxiety, but that quickly dies away.

Why is it so difficult to persuade people to care about our wonderful planet, the world that gave rise to us and upon which we wholly depend? And why do you encounter a barrage of hostility and denial whenever you attempt it (and not only from the professional liars who are paid by coal and oil and timber companies to sow confusion and channel hatred)?

The first thing to note, in trying to answer this question, is that the rich anglophone countries are anomalous. In this bar chart (copied from the website of the New York Times) you can see how atypical the attitudes of people in the US and the UK are. Because almost everything we read in this country is published in rich, English-speaking nations, we might get the false impression that the world doesn’t care very much.

GM2

This belief is likely to be reinforced by the cherished notion that we lead the world in knowledge, sophistication and compassion. The bar chart puts me in mind of the famous quote perhaps mistakenly attributed to Gandhi. When asked by a journalist during a visit to Britain, “What do you think of Western civilization?”, he’s reputed to have replied, “I think it would be a good idea.”

Our erroneous belief that we are more concerned about manmade climate change than the people of other nations informs the sentiment, often voiced by the press and politicians, that there’s no point in acting if the rest of the world won’t play its part. For example, last year the Chancellor, George Osborne, remarked:

“I don’t want us to be the only people out there in front of the rest of the world. I certainly think we shouldn’t be further ahead of our partners in Europe.”

But we’re not “the only people out there in front of the rest of the world.” In fact we’re not in front at all. As this map produced by Oxford University’s Smith School suggests, we are some way behind not only some other rich nations but also a number of countries much poorer than ours.

GM3

As for the US, Australia and Canada, they are ranked among the worst of all: comprehensively failing to limit their massive contribution to a global problem. We justify our foot-dragging with a mistaken premise. Our refusal to stop pumping so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is pure selfishness.

Both the map and the bar chart overlap to some degree with the fascinating results of the Greendex survey of consumer attitudes.

For years we’ve been told that people cannot afford to care about the natural world until they become rich; that only economic growth can save the biosphere, that civilisation marches towards enlightenment about our impacts on the living planet. The results suggest the opposite.

As you can see from the following graph, the people consulted in poorer countries feel, on average, much guiltier about their impacts on the natural world than people in rich countries, even though those impacts tend to be smaller. Of the nations surveyed, the people of Germany, the US, Australia and Britain feel the least consumer guilt; the people of India, China, Mexico and Brazil the most.

GM4

The more we consume, the less we feel. And maybe that doesn’t just apply to guilt.

Perhaps that’s the point of our otherwise-pointless hyperconsumption: it smothers feeling. It might also be the effect of the constant bombardment of advertising and marketing. They seek to replace our attachments to people and place with attachments to objects: attachments which the next round of advertising then breaks in the hope of attaching us to a different set of objects.

The richer we are and the more we consume, the more self-centred and careless of the lives of others we appear to become. Even if you somehow put aside the direct, physical impacts of rising consumption, it’s hard to understand how anyone could imagine that economic growth is a formula for protecting the planet.

So what we seem to see here is the turning of a vicious circle. The more harm we do, the less concerned about it we become. And the more hyperconsumerism destroys relationships, communities and the physical fabric of the Earth, the more we try to fill the void in our lives by buying more stuff.

All this is accompanied in the rich anglophone nations with the extreme neoliberalism promoted by both press and politicians, and a great concentration of power in the hands of the financial and fossil fuel sectors, which lobby hard, in the public sphere and in private, to prevent change.

So the perennially low level of concern, which flickers upwards momentarily when disaster strikes, then slumps back into the customary stupor, is an almost inevitable result of a society that has become restructured around shopping, fashion, celebrity and an obsession with money. How we break the circle and wake people out of this dreamworld is the question that all those who love the living planet should address. There will be no easy answers.

http://www.monbiot.com

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Tomorrow I will offer my own reflection on all of this – and finish off the story of me and ocean sailing!

Prediction is easy ….

with 5 comments

…. unless it involves the future!

There was a recent TED Talk that really made me sit up and think.  Before I introduce the talk, let me offer a personal view.  I’m speaking about the changing nature of the Earth’s climate.

On balance I believe that the climate of our planet is changing and, again on balance, I believe that mankind’s activities especially with regard to CO2 emissions are the primary cause.

But here’s the rub! I’m not a scientist.

So when scientist Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist no less, recently gave a twelve-minute TED Talk about the complexity of Planet Earth’s climate I found it compelling.

Here is is.

Published on May 1, 2014
You can’t understand climate change in pieces, says climate scientist Gavin Schmidt. It’s the whole, or it’s nothing. In this illuminating talk, he explains how he studies the big picture of climate change with mesmerizing models that illustrate the endlessly complex interactions of small-scale environmental events.

Then just two days later, on May 3rd, Alex Jones, he of the blog The Liberated Way, posted Unpredictable nature, that I have the pleasure in republishing in full.  Read it and then reflect on Alex’s post and the talk given by Gavin Schmidt.

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Unpredictable nature

Posted on May 3, 2014
Nature is always full of surprises.

Amber the fox reflects the unpredictable face of nature showing up in my garden by surprise on random days.

Amber the fox reflects the unpredictable face of nature showing up in my garden by surprise on random days.

I went camping and woke to frost on the ground. I wrote yesterday that summer had arrived in Britain. A pool of water from recent rains had frozen over.

One thing you quickly learn about nature is its unpredictability. Everything in nature has its own free will, and will determine its own unpredictable path regardless of what humanity thinks. Those that are able to let go of control enjoy a nature full of surprises.

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Thanks to the modern-day internet, it takes only a moment to find a relevant quotation to close today’s post.

It is always wise to look ahead, but difficult to look further than you can see.Sir Winston Churchill.

The Natural order – life and death.

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Nature imposes herself on us humans in absolute terms.

I do not believe in any form of life after death.  Jean is uncertain.  Many good people do believe in some form of spiritual afterlife.

However, one thing is sure. Our living mind and body will die.

These few words are an introduction to the first essay under the broad title of The Natural order. On the 23rd April I introduced the idea of writing a regular essay “about the past, present and future of man’s relationship with Nature.

Thus it did seem entirely appropriate to ‘kick off’ the essays with reflections about life and death.

Alex Jones of The Liberated Way blog recently wrote a post under the title of ‘The circle of life and death‘.  I am republishing it in full with Alex’s kind permission.

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The circle of life and death

Posted on April 27, 2014 |
Nature reminds me life and death is a circle.

The circle of life and death.

The circle of life and death.

I visit a house, the noise of hungry little birds emanating from a nest hidden in the roof, busy parents flying in and out feeding their brood. Less than a week before summer (1st May) I encounter life all about me, like a vast fountain of creativity, as plant and animal erupt into growth and creation. I feel a sense of joy at the life all about me, like dipping my feet in crystal clear spring waters.

Amongst this carnival of life a reminder that with life there is also death. Helix our cat is an effective hunter, a blue tit is found dead upon the ground. I feel no sadness for the death, it is a natural part of the cycle of nature, my animistic viewpoint is of a small spirit returning to the source, and from then renewing. No anger for Helix, since this is the nature of cats, despite being fed, a cat must follow the primal instinct of its nature to hunt. I carry the dead blue tit to an overgrown spot of trees and grass, here I place the blue tit to decay and thus become part of the life of plant and animal of that place, such is the circle of life and death.

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There can’t be a single person on this planet who does not understand that our human life is finite.

Life span of early man: Until fairly recently, little information existed about how long prehistoric people lived. Too few fossilized human remains made it tough for historians to estimate the demographics of any population. Anthropology professors Rachel Caspari and Sang-Hee Lee chose instead to analyze the relative ages of skeletons found in archeological digs in eastern and southern Africa, Europe, and elsewhere. Comparing the proportion of those who died young, with those who died at an older age, the team concluded that longevity only began to significantly increase (that is, past the age of 30 or so) about 30,000 years ago – quite late in the span of human evolution.

In an article published in 2011 in Scientific American, Caspari calls the shift the “evolution of grandparents”, as it marks the first time in human history that three generations might have co-existed. ( Source: Longevity Throughout History.)

Thus given that living much past the age of thirty years is a relatively recent experience, it baffles me beyond comprehension that we, as in mankind, have become so short-sighted about reinvesting in the one and only natural planet that sustains us.

Beautifully expressed in another wonderful essay from John Hurlburt.

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 Notes on the Human Dilemma

The metanexus of Faith, Nature and Science form an integral vision of the reality in which we exist. We are components of Creation living in an emerging universe. As consciously aware life forms we are each and all responsible to the Nature of God in a steadily emerging universe. Change is both constant and inevitable. Species that don’t adapt, do not survive.

Our human problems are obvious.

The essential growth of human conscious awareness remains questionable.

There is a blatant disregard for Nature. The rate of Natural disasters is increasing everywhere on Earth

Civil unrest is bordering on a second Civil War and is already in that state in many other nations of the world.

Imminent economic collapse remains probable as long our world economy is based on a foundation that has been leveraged at least twenty-five times above any realistic material foundation on Earth.

Are we a moral species?

A steady increase in natural disasters worldwide is inevitable until we change in response to Nature’s warnings or become extinct. The collapse of morality threatens the existence of global civilization.

The virtual extinction of the human race in its present state is all but assured within the next century unless we adapt to the Reality we presently blithely ignore or chose to vilify.

We still have a choice.

Our alternative to what has been euphemistically referred to as “new reality” is the process of education, reformation and transformation on a personal level. The objectives are an obvious need to adapt to constant natural change and create a species renaissance in harmony with the reality of God, Nature and Science.

There is clearly a need for a global economy that is based on our primal need for clean air, clean water, clean food and clean energy. We need to maintain our balance through gratitude for the blessings of the life we share and equal justice for all. We need to remember that we are not in charge of anything except our responsibilities to God, Nature and each other.

Under these simple guidelines, a healthy, growing future remains possible as we prepare to migrate from our home planet and relieve the consumptive consequences of an exponentially growing and ravenous demographic ruled by the artificial symbol of Money.

Sound impossible? Au contraire…

The world is being forced to re-evaluate its economic premises. Here are a few proven solutions to help create a naturally invigorated economy.

We can cut air pollution dramatically overnight by converting commercial diesel engines to far more cost-effective bio-fuels without a single change to the diesel mechanisms.

Bio-diesel distillation plants can filter and recycle the clean water we need to live.

We are capable of growing our own food with recycled organic fertilizers.

We have begun the process of harnessing the limitless clean renewable energy provided by the sun, the wind and hydraulic power.

Electric cars that may be fueled by solar energy are winning world class races.

The list of what we are capable of doing is only limited by our imaginations.

The questions to ask ourselves are:

 

Are we at the beginning of a new world or at the end of an old world?

 

Are we a part of the problem or part of a realistic solution?”

 

What will be the harvest of our lives?”

 

an old lamplighter

 

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