A new world order.

Two very different essays that, nonetheless, do sing to a common tune.

I sit here with a heavy heart. Why, you may ask?

Because I really wish I wasn’t setting the scene to a couple of disturbing essays.  The first from Patrice Ayme.  His essay is called Plutocracy: New World Order with the subtitle of The New World Thinking. The New World Emoting. The second essay is from Mattea Kramer and Jo Comerford under the TomDispatch umbrella.  Their title is How America Became a Third World Country.

That heaviness comes from an emotional conflict.  The conflict between never having been more contented in our beautiful Oregonian home and the tiny voice in my head that says that I shouldn’t throwing darts at the country that has been generous in welcoming me as a resident.

But I justify publishing these two essays in this manner.  Just as Pharaoh leads the barking whenever the dogs sense something threatening their ‘territory’, then too should citizens (I use the term in the broadest sense) start barking when they sense something threatening the integrity of their country.

So today the Patrice Ayme essay and tomorrow the TomDispatch essay.  I’m very grateful to both Patrice and Tom for their permission to republish their essays.

oooOOOooo

PLUTOCRACY: NEW WORLD ORDER

Obama just  nominated Commerce Secretary the billionaire heiress who discovered him, and introduced him to the Rubin-Summers-Goldman-Sachs-Citigroup conspiracy. Penny Priztker was condemned to pay a 460 million dollar fine by the Federal government in 2001, for financial malfeasance. 460 million, that’s more than Mitt Romney’s fortune, that made small rank and file democrats huff and puff, in indignation, a few months ago, just like their mighty masters told them to do.

Now, if the 460 million dollars fine felon becomes chief, that’s fine, as long as the masters of the people don’t ask the People to huff and puff about the fine. The finer the fine, the finer the master, say the little People, and they bleat, satisfied. As Obama put it:”Priztker is one of the most eminent personalities of our country“. When Pluto reigns, down is up.

When Common Decency Is A Hindrance
When Common Decency Is A Hindrance

Plutocracy is the New World Order. The New World Thinking. The New World Emoting.

To get some perspective on this, it’s good to have a retrospective look at the greatest plutocratic realms of the past, and ponder why extremely wealthy fascism rose, increasingly, in the Orient, while clever democracy rose, occasionally, in the West. And sometimes fell, disastrously, for reasons related.

It turns out that, when Rome became fascist and plutocratic, it turned to Oriental despotism, and criminals, indeed, came to command and control.

***

PERSIA REIGNED WITH ALL CRAFTS; YET NOT SMART ENOUGH:

Establishing  giant, metastatic empires in the Orient is nothing new: the Hittites tried it, they proceeded to invade Lebanon and the rich valleys behind, Egyptian territory. However young Pharaoh Ramses II, defeated them at Qadesh, next to present day Damascus. Through courageous combat in that battle which defined his long rule, Ramses rescued victory from the jaws of defeat, somewhat miraculously.

Ramses lost ground, though, and later made a loving peace with his enemies. Then, the Hittites having been destroyed by the mysterious coalition of the Peoples of the Sea, the Assyrians tried to impose their own giant metastatic empire, using the harshest methods. That brought them so many enemies that they got invaded from all quarters, annihilated as a nation first, and an army, later.

Then the union of Medes and Persians, thanks to three remarkable leaders, established a giant fascist empire, from Ethiopia to Central Asia, Libya to India. The third emperor, Darius, besides being excellent at sword-play in the dark, and a great general, proved capable of using a free market economy, switching to so called Keynesianism, and then a command and control economy, as needed. Darius established a giant “Royal” road network (ancestral to the one the Romans would build, four centuries later).

A Persian Pony Express, with posts every five miles, would bring news from distant corners of the empire in a week. Darius went on to invade the Scythians, land of the Amazons, present day Ukraine.

Darius’ Persia was the greatest empire, so far, larger than the present day continental USA. It became so, thanks to a great variety of methods of socio-economic governance. Some of these methods would later be used by the West, massively. Not just the communication network, the free market, the command and control, but also a crafty diplomacy of seduction, cooptation and local autonomy (that’s how the Ionian Greeks and Phoenicians became collaborators of Persia; whereas Alexander would annihilate Tyr).

However, unbelievably, tiny Athens broke the Persian empire, inaugurating the next great event, still on-going, the rise of the West. Again and again, minuscule Greek armies routed the juggernauts of professional giant armies. Again and again, small democracies proved superior to large fascist foes. I claimed that mental superiority entailed military superiority.

***

FREE IN THE WEST, SLAVES IN THE EAST

Herodotus explained the Greeks’ military superiority: free men are more motivated in battle, as they fight for themselves, he said. But it’s not clear that elite Persian soldiers did not feel free.

So I hold something slightly different: free men are, living in an “open society” are not just more motivated, but, simply, more intelligent. Yes, intelligent.

Yet how come that the free men tended to be in the West, and the subjugated ones, in the East? And this for 4,000 years, defining the “West” as anything west of Mount Lebanon. Why did so much of the Mediterranean turn out propitious to freedom and individual initiative? What of the enormous Celto-German forests, from Spain to the Baltics?

Two factors played a role:

1) Trade, with the big man, the leader being the ship owner-captain (Tyr, Phoenicia, Crete, Athens, Carthage, etc.). This required to excel at technology and adaptative intelligence, confronting nature.

2) Small owner-peasants. The West’s agricultural system did better thanks to small, free owner-peasants.  The owner peasant was captain of his own plot of land, and found himself in a situation roughly similar to the ship captain. Such people worked hard, and thought hard about outwitting nature. All of Germany was this way, until the military encroachment of Rome in the beginning of its plutocratic phase, brought, by reaction, a militarization of German society (this is what archeology shows).

A demographic core of owner-peasants was the core of the success of the Roman republic, and its successors, the Imperium Francorum, and France, or anything working along French lines (most of Europe). When enjoying this basic culture, of free, independent peasants, the West did very well. Why so? Because thinking by oneself, for oneself, makes one more intelligent.

***

WHY THE ORIENT IS DUMBER:

The Orient did better when the peasants could cultivate. That meant, when they had water. That was not obvious in the increasingly parched lands, from the Maghreb to India. First, there, one needed to bring water to agricultural lands. Whereas in the West, both water and arable land were in the same place, not so in the East. In the East water was on rocky mountains, arable lands in parts of plains at the bottom of said mountains. To bring the former to the latter, one needed great hydraulic works. Underground canalizations, sometimes fifty feet deep, could extend dozens of miles.

Such extensive works meant armies of workers and maintenance people. And also standing armies to establish and protect the necessary order. Plus a field army to roam around the empire, and keep the static defenses obedient.

In other words, food on the carpet in the parched, basin and range Orient meant a large fascist system to make it possible, and everybody enslaved to it, in a military organization (Christianity and Islam, both oriental religions, kept much of this essential psychological character: fascist god on top, giving absolute, even capricious  orders to its slaves below).

***

ALL TOGETHER NOW, DOWN THE ROMAN ROAD TO HELL?

What consequences today? Western countries do not depend upon small owner-peasants anymore, but upon giant farms, or agribusinesses, for food procurement. Even trade has become unbalanced: production on one end of the Earth, increasing unemployment, at the other end.

Giant agribusinesses, and unbalanced trade became facts of empire in Rome, and lasted centuries. It was a deliberate plot of Roman plutocracy. At some point, six senatorial families owned most of North Africa. Seneca, Nero’s tutor, the plutocratic philosopher of note, used to boast that he had no idea how many giant properties he owned on the various continents.

That delocalization and globalization made Rome, and Italy into an empty shell of its former self. As those who had the power, the senatorial families, wished. What they feared first, was a proud, potent, empowered People.

(Part of) Italy would resurrect as independent republics, more than a millennium later.

What’s the morality of the story? Men have a strong instinct for doing things right. In a plutocratic system, though, men who do things wrong get rewarded, and this goes on, until the situation exponentiates and breaks down. Thus plutocratic systems are intrinsically pathological: they reward criminals. Not just criminal according to the laws of men, but criminals according to the laws of nature.

In the Orient, life is harder, less natural, militarization exploits part of the Dark Side, because human beings, by living there, live in a less optimal situation. In the West, the rise of plutocracy did not have these excuses.

The Romans knew this well. The Roman republic was the product of a revolution against Tarquinus Superbus, the king of Rome, of Etruscan origin. So the founding act of five centuries of Roman republic was an anti-plutocratic revolt. Same for Athens (several times, during the same centuries).

The Romans passed a strong anti-plutocratic law. That law limited, by force the size of a family’s fortune; it fixed an upper bound on how much one could own. The Second Punic war saw the death, on the battlefield, of too many of the best leading Romans. Meanwhile the conspirators of wealth, back behind the walls of the fortified cities, as Hannibal was roaming the countryside, established a New World order of rents.

When Carthage got defeated, those men of greed kept on pushing, and tried to grab control of the state. After several wars of distraction against Macedonia, Carthage, Numantia, Corinth, etc. it became clear that was what was going on to thousands of the best Romans, led by top nobles (in mind and ancestry), the Gracchi.

The Gracchis mostly tried to impose the wealth limitation law. They also succeeded to impose a land redistribution (an unthinkable socialist measure in the post Thatcher-Reagan world!). Yet, the Gracchi and their supporters lost a civil war. All got killed, by the private armies of the plutocrats. By 100 BCE, when Caesar was born, the dice had long been thrown. Only extreme measures could address the situation (extreme measures that Caesar and Cicero, on the good side, would try).

Now what? Losing democracy, means, ultimately, that we will lose not just freedom, but intelligence itself. It is difficult to imagine how the Americans will pull out of their present death spiral into furthering the wealth of the .1%. When bandits are called “philanthropists”, all values have been inverted in a country: gangsters are in control, the mafia has got metastatic. It will go on, all inverted, until it explodes, or get trampled over. The commerce chief will be a certified felon.

The situation in Europe is not as desperate: conditions for a revolt exist. Although Goldman Sachs has its servants in place all over, the Italians threw out one of them, a Goldman Sachs partner, Mario Monti, at the first chance they got.

Some may sneer, as they notice that, once again I used “Orient” and “Occident” according to old Greco-Roman semantics. What of the true Orient, the far-out East, China and company? Well, I will hide behind my usual observation: it’s Western culture that conquered the world. Present day China’s ideology has very little that is specifically Chinese, besides what the West and China had in common, such as the more or less free market. The idea of “People” (Populus) and “Republic” (Respublica) are Roman. So the very title of China, the “People Republic of China” is, well, (Greco-)Roman.

The dangers threatening China, accordingly, like those threatening us, are those that devastated the Roman republic. For the reasons exposed above, the development in the West, of a more advanced civilization was first, thus why everybody adopted it later.  Rome was first to rise as high as it did. But, the greater the rise, the greater the fall. By 700 CE, the fall of Rome had been so great, that China had risen higher, on many indicators. The West, invaded by hordes of savages for more than six hundred years (beyond even 400 CE to 1000 CE) was fighting for survival.

Plutocracy as a New World Order is not just the end of many things. In the fullness of time, plutocracy is the end of everything.

Even the Will to Power. Slave masters are not so masterful. After all, they are enslaved to their slaves.

When Rome went down, Roman plutocrats whined that the “world was getting old“. By this they meant that resources were being exhausted, and that, in its stupidity plutocratic civilization could not find a technology out.

Right now, the world is not getting old, it’s getting killed. And that’s worst.

***

Patrice Ayme

31 thoughts on “A new world order.

  1. If the political system in the USA is broken, it’s no good, but Americans usually don’t rely on the government to get things done and sorted out. The strength of the country lies in its people.

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  2. Another amazing piece of synchronicity, Paul. Although it went AWoL somewhere in the editing process, I have now inserted the link from my blog post about Stephan Lewandowsky (today) to the original post on your blog (where it was first published). For those struggling to make the intellectual connection between the NWO and Lewandowsky, his research highlights the prevalence of libertarian ideology amongst climate change deniers whereas the New World Order is their favourite conspiracy theory, which is invoked whenever some aspect of the physical world might otherwise require them to question the wisdom of, as David Suzuki has recently put it, “elevating economics above the biosphere”.
    http://www.straight.com/news/david-suzuki-nature-not-economy-imposes-real-bottom-line

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    1. Thanks Martin,

      Your link back to my post is appreciated. So, too, the link to that straight (dot) com story from David Suzuki, whose website is here.

      If there’s one very positive and encouraging aspect of these times it is the way that vast numbers of ordinary people are commenting and sharing crucial ideas.

      Best wishes,

      Paul

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  3. Something I want to say, to reassure Paul, who I thank for publishing my essay. As hank667 says, we did not create us. We are creatures of the universe. Moreover; this is an extremely small planet (not a “super Earth”. so we are running out of resources, big time, and not in a few centuries, as we would be, on a “super Earth”!)

    At this point, whatever happens in any country, even small ones such as Israel or North Korea, has, potentially a deep, if not catastrophic impact.

    “Talking about the “American People” in a general manner, as luv2sex does, is very bold. Since its creation, the population of the USA has multiplied about 150 times. And nearly tripled since 1945. Some of its moral characteristics have changed noticeably in the meantime, some for the best (no more slavery; and scalps don’t bring cash as they did in 1667 Boston).

    The strength of any country lies in its people, always have, always will. Countless countries have broken in the past, thanks to indigenous plutocracy. However, for the first time, it’s the entire world, advanced civilization, conscious life, the biosphere itself, that are threatened. That is distinctly, undeniably, new.

    Elevating economics above the biosphere is the mark, not just of the devil, but of the horrendously stupid.

    Thanks again, Paul, for advertizing my thoughts.
    PA

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  4. There is nothing new in saying ‘our civilisation will collapse because of our evil and selfish ways’. Mankind has been predicting that since the dawn of Man. You may well respond: ‘but this time its different’. They all said that too.

    If there are/were any societies in history that did not have a wealthy/privileged elite, they are/were very very rare. This seems to be the norm of human society.

    Perfect democracy and meritocracy do not exist. I am English, but have regularly worked with people of many different cultures, and also lived long periods in other countries. In my experience, the ideal of perfect democracy/meritocracy seems to be strongest in Anglo-Saxon cultures, and other north European (Netherlands and Scandinavia). In most other parts of Europe and most of the world, how you get on is much more linked to who you know, not what you know. This is such a norm in so many countries, that it is ‘taken’ and rarely complained about. I don’t know the nationality of Patrice Ayme, perhaps French? If so, then he should be very aware of this.

    The US political world is easily criticised for being dominated by the super-rich. I agree, this is a fault and big concern. But every political system has its failings. The UK likes to consider itself a model of democracy as the ‘Mother of Parliaments’. But its governments remain dominated by graduates of the private school system and elite universities of Oxford and Cambridge (as well as white upper-middle-class males). So many other political systems are dominated by a political elite or nepotism.

    Yes, you can find many problems in our political systems, but when was it any better?

    And is the world heading for self-destruction? In a similar vein, yes we have many many concerns and problems to address, but when did we have fewer? Mankind has proved pretty good at solving problems. But one unfortunate result is that they create a side-effect of new problems. For example, the problem of over-population does not result from self-indulgent pro-creation, but rather from the fact we have been so successful in medical and social advancement, that people, particularly infants, are surviving much longer than ever before. And so far, our trend towards choosing fewer children has not yet created a balance, though there is room for optimism here as populations seem to be stabilising (even falling) in some of the most advanced countries. But then, the next new problem is an aging population, where the young will have to support the every growing per cent of pensioners.

    Another example is the solving of malnutrition in the developed world. Through most of history, there was always a (tiny) percentage of obese people and a percentage of malnourished. Historically, the latter far exceeded the former. But having ‘solved’ malnutrition, the scales tip (metaphorically as well as physically) in the other direction. Obesity becomes the new problem.

    I HAVE ONE BIG QUESTION FOR PATRICE. If the present and future seem so dire, in which period in history would you prefer to have lived? I cannot think of one myself, and present an example of why below.

    I am a big fan of English diarist Samuel Pepys http://www.pepysdiary.com, who lived in 1600s London, writing a daily diary between 1660 and 1669. He lived through the English Civil War, the strict puritanism of Cromwell, the Great Plague, the Great Fire of London; of about 8 siblings, only about 3 survived to adulthood; he had a bladder stone removed without anesthetic – an operation with a survival rate of < 50%; he and his wife could not have children (with no prospect of IVF, etc). And yet, he was a great lover of life. He didn't sit there and cry into his ale. He accepted the world was far from perfect, and got on with life and made the best of it. He famously buried his best wine and Parmesan cheese in his garden to save it as the Great Fire was moving towards his house! If he only knew what we have now?

    I think people who claim we have it worse now than ever before in some way insult all those who have lived in the past – and still live in desperately under-developed countries now. We also need to maintain an optimism that we are capably of solving problems. Otherwise we give up.

    Thankfully, the wold's survival is not dependent on the words of bloggers and commenters like us. We have to thank the very practical scientists and engineers who are finding and constructing solutions (though inevitably creating new problems on the way). Of course, we also need to thank many others in our society: campaigners, NGOs, aid-workers, our hard-working workforce, 'some' morally sound politicians, etc.

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    1. Oakwood, as I said in my reply to today’s post, a detailed response to your thoughtful comment will be along later! I have my fingers crossed that Patrice will be able to reply; he is the best person to respond to the points you raise.

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  5. Dear Oakwood: I am a philosopher, not an engineer. Although I have maximum formal training in physics and mathematics (OK, not applied physics).

    Having the right philosophy is more important than having the right engineering. Rome had the right engineering (enough to make steam ships, as the French engineer Papin did in the 17C). But not the right philosophy (so emperors forbade to use advanced engineering).

    To answer your points:

    It’s precisely because mankind has been predicting that “our civilization will collapse because of our evil and selfish ways” that civilizations have kept improving, as they had to, due to out increasingly more powerful technologies (that require us to be ever more moral).

    “You may well respond: ‘but this time its different’. They all said that too.” Well, the reason they said that, is it was true, it is true, and it is more true than ever. Contrarily to what Nietzsche and much antique mythology believed, the world is not an eternal return of the same.

    For example, as we keep on pumping CO2, we modify the atmosphere for hundreds of thousands of years. This never happened before, ever since there were dinosaurs, and they disappeared (allusion to Dekkan Super Traps: http://patriceayme.wordpress.com/2009/11/21/trapped-by-super-traps/

    I do not know how one can brandish “Anglo-Saxon” society (whatever that means) as the template of democracy/meritocracy while contemplating the British “Chamber of (mostly HEREDITARY) Lords”. I really do not. I am familiar with English society, and that is clearly an insufferable class society. Much more than the society of the USA. (The Netherlands is led by a hereditary plutocrat worth half a billion dollars, thoroughly loved in another orgasm of debasement!)

    I am a USA citizen; that may lead you to modify your wanton French bashing; although I am thoroughly familiar with France, it’s neither the first, nor the second place where I have lived. I do not get in the French republic the arrogant, demeaning class impression I get in England. I was in both France and England in the last few weeks, by the way.

    No country that is not a republic can call itself a democracy, as the ancient Romans would have been delighted to tell you.

    The question is not whether the situation is more dire now rather than before. We are as if trying to fly a new vehicle, the latest version of spaceship Earth. It never existed before. And thus may crash. We don’t want to crash.

    Be it only for the children.

    Thanks for your long and informative comment. I appreciate, and will learn more about the gentleman you mentioned.
    Patrice

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  6. Thanks for the reply. A couple of quick points.

    I have no intention to bash the French. My comments were an observation about cultural differences, not a criticism. I love France and the French and have French family.

    By Anglo-Saxon, I mean British and other cultures evolved from it, such as USA, Canada, Australia.

    By suggesting Anglo-Saxons have an ‘ideal’ for democracy/meritocracy, I don’t mean they are better at it, and much of your comments about the British are correct. What I mean, is they have the strongest (and I think most unrealistic) belief that it is achievable. For example, they often believe that taking out a dictator and imposing elections (as in Iraq) will quickly solve problems, completely failing to understand the cultural differences, such as the power of tribal and religious alliances, etc.

    I note what you say about the Dutch, but don’t really agree. Yes, hereditary monarchs are ‘undemocratic’, but with constitutional monarchies (which have very limited political influence), it makes little difference, apart from the unjustness of individuals being born into such wealth and privilege. In any case, ‘republics’ in name often create their own mini monarchies: In the USA, the Kennedys, the Bushes and Bill/Hillary Clinton in India, the Nehru/Gandhi dynasty, etc. In many other countries, leaders are relatives of previous ones.

    What I know of the Netherlands, it is a relatively classless society. I have a good Dutch friend who is shocked at the class differences he sees in the UK.

    If you could name a place and period you would prefer to have lived in as being better than what we face today, that would be interesting to hear.

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    1. Dear Oakwood. I would like to apologise for the ill-tempered nature of some of our previous exchanges and I am sorry if I did not quite manage to avoid emotionally-charged language in my most recent remarks on this blog today (I honestly did try). I hope that you will also accept that I am not attacking you personally. As you are the only hydrogeologist I have come across in cyberspace, I would really like to be able to understand you better. If I cannot engage in rational discussion with you, what hope is there of me doing so with anyone else?

      Although I would not dare to speak for Patrice, I suspect he has not specified another time in which he would prefer to have lived because he does not dispute that we are all very lucky to have been born into the modern World and into something other than abject poverty. However, if you are willing to accept that neither of us disputes the advantages of modernity, I hope you will also be willing to accept that neither of us is seeking to take humanity back to the Dark Ages. Assuming that you are willing to accept this, I would genuinely like to know your answer to a simple question:

      Why do you think the vast majority of relevantly-qualified and active researchers in earth systems science have reached the conclusion that we need to stop pumping CO2 into the atmosphere as fast as we possibly can because it will get harder to avoid excessive climate change the longer we take to do so? However, I would appreciate it if you could avoid deconstructing the question (e.g. by querying the size of the majority, or what constitutes an expert, or the degree of certainty that we can have in the conclusion) and just explain why you think the time to act has not yet arrived?

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      1. Oakwood, that’s a very generous comment from Martin and it would be wonderful if you could answer that question. Not just for Martin’s sake but for mine as well.

        Reflecting on what ‘better’ time to be alive, that strikes me as largely a red-herring question. My own thought is to be alive today offers the most wonderful opportunity ever in the history of mankind. Because if ever a generation was tasked with sweeping aside greed, lies and selfishness this is the generation to be part of.

        Saving our beautiful planet for the countless generations to come is a unique selfless opportunity, perhaps uniquely in the affairs of man.

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    2. Dear Oakwood: It seems we are rather in agreement, then! :-)! As I argue in a quick essay I am deriving from the preceding, lots of the miraculous situations in so called “Anglo-Saxon countries” has to do with those havens being islands. Or more exactly, in most cases, island-continents (even NZ is a mini-continent!)

      Guderian’s panzers would have been in London before Paris, had there be a land bridge between Dunkirk and Kent, let me insolently, but pertinently, remind you…
      PA

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  7. I am also 100% in agreement with what Martin (Lack) said. The notion of ‘deconstructing the question’ is completely bingo (as Paul would say). It’s done all too much in all too many debates! I will use it looking forward…
    PA

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    1. Paul used the word “bingo” to highlight the almost simultaneous timing of your comments. Therefore, what I think you mean to say, Patrice, is that “deconstructing the question” is merely a means of avoiding having to answer it. Furthermore, there is a word beginning with “b” that I would use to describe the responses of people who deconstruct questions, but “bingo” is not it…

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  8. Although it seems completely off-topic for this post, I have been posed a couple of questions which Paul has invited me to respond to.

    I will respond to the question(s) in three following comments.
    I don’t know how to do bold here, but would use some if I did.

    The question(s)
    “Why do you think the vast majority of relevantly-qualified and active researchers in earth systems science have reached the conclusion that we need to stop pumping CO2 into the atmosphere as fast as we possibly can because it will get harder to avoid excessive climate change the longer we take to do so?
    … explain why you think the time to act has not yet arrived?

    To keep it simple, I see two questions here:
    1. Why do the majority of climate scientists claim to believe man-made climate change is significant and serious? (I will call it AGW = anthropogenic global warming)
    2. Why am I an AGW-sceptic?

    I will also follow with a few comments on scientific consensus.

    I will also introduce my own ‘rules’ on a response – for anyone who wishes to. Abuse and claims I am dishonest and wrong because I don’t agree with a consensus will be ignored for their ignorance.

    I don’t expert to convert anyone to my thinking, but as a minimum hope to provide Paul with some better understanding of the thinking of an AGW-sceptic

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  9. I will first address question 2. (Apologies in advance for the length of the comment)

    I am an ‘earth-systems’ scientist with degrees in Geophysics and Hydrogeology and around 25 years working experience in both those fields, but mostly hydrogeology.

    (Note: working scientists are every bit as important to our advancement as academics/researchers. Academia is a career choice available to the better scientists (though a few duds manage to survive by playing the right games). But many excellent scientists and engineers choose to work in the ‘real world’ where science is applied, but also often includes active research, written up in reports, but not necessarily in peer-reviewed journals; and often have a far more immediate level of responsibility in terms of the quality and implications of their work. If an academic ‘gets it wrong’, the worst things that may happen are: embarrassment, loss of research grant, even loss of job. If a working scientist/engineer gets it wrong, then: bridges may collapse, planes may crash, people may be poisoned, etc. Also ‘peer review’ does mean its right, but just that it adds to the debate.)

    I have followed the scientific debate for many years, reading much that is written on both sides, including a big proportion of the IPCC reports.

    Very much like hydrogeology, climate science is a multi-disciplinary science dependent on a level of knowledge and expertise in a whole range of disciplines. For example, I need to understand quite a lot about chemistry, although I don’t have a degree in chemistry. I have to keep learning, by reading, researching, learning from expert colleagues, etc. I also need to know something of maths, statistics, fluid mechanics, weather patterns, computer modelling, microbiology, water treatment, etc. There are better experts in each one of those subject areas, but that’s their focus and they would not normally be able to pull things together to develop a ‘conceptual model’ of a hydrogeological system.

    There is a lot of overlap between scientific disciplines, especially in ‘Earth systems’, Therefore, to suggest you must be a ‘climate scientist’ to understand all of the scientific and statistical arguments, is incorrect. For example, the hockey stick tree ring studies are principally statistical exercises rather than ‘climate science’, and require an understanding of how the Earth’s climate has changed in the past, which geologists are only too aware of.

    As a hydrogeologist, I am very experienced in studying time-series data, and judging whether conclusions drawn from them are plausible and reliable. Of course, my conclusions may not always be correct. Others may disagree with me. But that’s how science develops.

    It would take me pages to explain all my reasons for being an AGW-sceptic, so instead I will focus on one key example of where I find a key conclusion unreliable.

    THE DIVERGENCE PROBLEM IN TREE-RING TEMPERATURE PROXY STUDIES

    I will refer to a ‘typical’ paper by Michael Mann et al, 2008, Proxy-based reconstructions of hemispheric and global surface temperature variations over the past two millennia, PNAS (http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2008/09/02/0805721105.full.pdf+html ). Its main conclusions are:

    “Recent warmth appears anomalous for at least the past 1,300 years whether or not tree-ring data are used. If tree-ring data are used, the conclusion can be extended to at least the past 1,700 years, but with additional strong caveats. The reconstructed amplitude of change over past centuries is greater than hitherto reported, with somewhat greater Medieval warmth in the Northern Hemisphere, albeit still not reaching recent levels.”

    Thus, they claim their work shows current temperatures are unprecedented in at least the past 1300 years, including the Medieval Warm Period (MWP). This is extremely important. If current temperatures are not warmer than the MWP, then there is far less reason for alarm about the current climate. For example, we don’t have records of such things as droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc being noticeably worse or more common during the MWP. (I know, some will respond: ‘regardless of whether its warmer now, predictions are it will get much worse’. But that is a separate argument). Thus, it seems to be very important to the AGW-case that current temperatures are unprecedented, and changing more quickly than in the past 1000 to 2000 years.

    Despite, their stated conclusions, their work does not show that now is warmer than the MWP. On their graphs in their Figure 3, current temperatures show as warmer. But the proxy data themselves do not show this. The only data that do are the instrumental data. So if proxy data do not align with instrumental data since the 1980s onwards, how can we rely on them to show us the MWP was cooler than now? We can’t.

    They try to address this with the following statement:

    “the observed warming rises above the error bounds [ie., the highest possible temperature indicated by proxy data – my words] of the estimates during the 1980s decade, consistent with the known ‘‘divergence problem’’, wherein the temperature sensitivity of some temperature-sensitive tree-ring data appears to have declined in the most recent decades. Interestingly, although the elimination of all tree-ring data from the proxy dataset yields a substantially smaller divergence bias, it does not eliminate the problem altogether. This latter finding suggests that the divergence problem is not limited purely to tree-ring data, but instead may extend to other proxy records.”

    If you look around at other literature, despite what we hear about ‘settled science’ nobody knows the cause of the ‘divergence’ problem. There is only speculation that it might be something to do with modern air pollution or perhaps CO2 itself.

    Here’s what SkepticalScience says:

    “The divergence problem is a physical phenomenon – tree growth has slowed or declined in the last few decades, mostly in high northern latitudes. The divergence problem is unprecedented, unique to the last few decades, indicating its cause may be anthropogenic. The cause is likely to be a combination of local and global factors such as warming-induced drought and global dimming. Tree-ring proxy reconstructions are reliable before 1960, tracking closely with the instrumental record and other independent proxies.”

    So, the proxies are “reliable before 1960s”. But back until when? Around 1880, when temperatures were cooler. There is no evidence whatsoever that the proxies were reliable at other periods of higher temperatures. And we are expected to accept this as ‘settled science’.

    In fact, it is possible the divergence problem happens every time its warmer. They certainly don’t know this is not the case. The real answer is from very basic statistics:

    If the proxy data cannot reproduce the higher temperatures of today, we cannot rely on them to compare with other warmer periods in the past. I don’t care if 99.9% of climate scientists tell me this is acceptable science, I will not agree with them, unless they can produce convincing evidence the science (not just speculation) to back it up.

    (I’ve seen one very comical response more than once: ‘We don’t need recent proxy data to be accurate because we have instrumental data to tell us the temperature.’ For example, a John Havery Samuel says: “A technical concern with one proxy since 1960, when we have perfectly good temperature records already, is an irrelevance.” This COMPLETELY misses the point (and I don’t know whether through ignorance or deliberate distortion). Accurate proxy data today are needed, not to tell us the temperature, but to demonstrate that proxy data are reliable for understanding historical temperatures. That’s simple, basic science. )

    The argument that the ‘divergence problem’ does not bring into question proxy studies is just one example of supposed ‘settled’ evidence in the case for AGW. There are others which collectively bring down the case to one of opinion. Here are a few others:
    • Mann et al’s original hockey stick (1998) (as well as a number of other studies) shows an unprecedented temperature rise in the first half of the 20th century, a temperature change that most climate scientists believe can be explained by natural phenomena, such as the Sun (while failing to reproduce the man-made rise in the 2nd half of the century, due to the divergence problem explained above). Thus, we are expected to believe there was both an unprecedented NATURAL temperature rise and unprecedented MAN-MADE rise in the same century. Not impossible, but statistically highly unlikely.
    • The ‘record’ (in just 35 years) of minimum summer ice in the Arctic is repeatedly presented as evidence for impending doom. However, the record MAXMUM ice cover in the ANTarctic, at the same time, is dismissed with ‘we have another explanation for that’.
    • Whatever the weather, blame global warming. A few years ago, milder winters and earlier springs in the UK were hailed as evidence of AGW. But now we get lots of snow, and appalling spring, cooler summers, etc, and guess what, its due to global warming.
    • Hot/dry weather and floods around the world are routinely highlighted as ‘more evidence’ whereas as cold weather extremes and records are dismissed as ‘just natural variation’ – again, and again and again.
    • Those who highlight the lack of rising temperature for the past 10-15 years are routinely dismissed as deniers and liars. We’re told, ‘but the last decade is the warmest in a 100 years’. No-one disputes that. Given the world warmed by 0.8 degC in 100 years, that’s perfectly reasonable, and is not a defence against the fact that warming has at least paused.
    • We’re told: ‘but the heat is going into the ice caps and the deep oceans and atmospheric heat is just a small percentage of the total’, How convenient. In the 1980s and 1990s, atmospheric temperature was enough for ‘proof’ of serious AGW. We didn’t hear anything about ocean heat then. No-one suggested that perhaps the warming was due to a release of previously ‘hidden’ ocean heat. Or that we shouldn’t read too much into a small atmospheric temperature rise.
    • We see again and again, whatever happens, whatever the data show, the theory is revised to ‘show’ that nothing has changed. This is simply not plausible science.
    • We’re told, the physics of CO2-induced global warming is just that, ‘physics’, and we can’t change that however much we dispute it. No-one disputes the physics. But, the atmosphere (believe it or not) is very complicated. We have the physics that says aerosols reflect the Sun’s heat, that clouds may increase and also reflect more heat. We now hear the relationships with the oceans is very important (which we didn’t hear before). Thus the debate is not about the reality of the CO2-global warming physics. Its about the sensitivity of the system and which physical phenomena will dominate.

    Some will respond: ‘but all of these arguments have been debunked many times’. All they really mean is another opinion or speculation has been given by an AGW believer. Nothing wrong with these, but don’t claim they represent settled science.

    I have no problem with scientists believing in AGW and believing it a serious threat. But when so much of their case is based on weak arguments, I do have a problem with claiming the case is ‘settled’ and that anyone who questions or challenges it is a liar, denier, conspiracy theorist, etc.

    Both sides of the debate have their extremists and nutters. My interest is in the rational middle ground. To suggest an ‘eccentric’ like Christopher Monckton is ‘typical’ of all AGW-sceptics is just like claiming all Conservative voters are fascist and all Labour voters communist. It has no place in informed and educated debate.

    The term “denier” was introduced with the intention of associating AGW-sceptics with Holocaust Deniers. That is to say, AGW-sceptics are putting millions of lives at risk through their lies and ignorance. Given the weakness of the AGW case, the use of the labels ‘denier’, ‘deny’, denial’ seems to represent an insult to every victim of the Holocaust.

    And why is it not time to act now? I am an environmentalist and see many environmental and social problems that need addressing. In particular, the need for ‘sustainability’ in all we do. There remain millions dying each year from such things as malnutrition, lack of safe drinking water, malaria, etc. These are hard facts with zero room for any doubt. Given the weakness in the AGW-case, it is not a priority. I see some benefits in acting. For example, in many cases a reduction in CO2 emissions leads to much improved energy-efficiency, and less pollution. However, the case is not made for diverting money and effort from the more immediate priorities, covering pristine countryside in wind farms to satisfy urban energy demands, or using more biofuels at the expense of more hunger.

    Thus, belief in AGW is not a simple moral argument which some would want to believe of good vs evil, or capitalist vs environmentalist, etc.

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    1. My dear Oakwood, I am lost for words. Such a comprehensive response much of which would take very careful reading for this non-scientist!

      I’m minded to use your ‘mini essay’ as a post in its own right, sometime w/c 10th June. It deserves that. Paul

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      1. As suggested, Paul, I will respond to you in full via email (so that you can include it in your post). However, for now, all I will say is this: Despite being asked not to, Oakwood deconstructed my question and spent most of his time avoiding the fact that it is no longer just scientists that say it is time to act. Furthermore, even if not the invocation of full-blown conspiracy theory, his remark about “duds” who survive by “playing games” seems to me to come perilously close to an accusation of incompetence or scientific malpractice (mentioning no names directly of course – not in that particular sentence anyway).

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      2. I doubt many are still reading the comments to a post some 7 days old, so I will be bringing a selection of the comments to a new post for sometime next week.

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  10. Paul, but its written to be readable to a non-scientist. It may take time, but should be accessible.

    In summary:
    – I am an Earth systems scientist
    – I have followed the AGW scientific arguments on both sides for many years
    – Hydrogeology (my field) and climate science have quite a lot in common, the main one being they require some knowledge and expertise in a wide range of disciplines. Its not a simple case of saying ‘your an expert or not’.
    – For example, I need to know quite a bit about chemistry, although I am not an ‘expert chemist’
    – I am experienced in studying long time period data, and judging its credibility (this also in common with climate science). Much of the key AGW arguments are based on data and statistics.
    – There are many reasons for being an AGW-sceptic, needing many pages. I give one main example:
    – The ‘divergence problem’ applies to tree ring proxy temperature graphs. Most (perhaps all, proxy) graphs cannot reproduce modern temperature data from about the 1980s onwards (in fact the very period of detectable man-made global warming).
    – Because of this, we cannot rely on proxy graphs to conclude now is warmer than the past.
    – Although climate scientists claim the divergence problem is only a modern thing, and does not affect historic data, this is purely a statement or belief. There is no convincing science to back that view.
    – For that reason, I am sceptical of the value of prroxy graphs to show current temperatures are unprecedented
    – I list a number of other brief examples
    – I do not believe in conspiracy theories and have no problem with climate scientists believing in AGW. But in view of the examples I give, I do have a problem in them saying ‘the science is settled’.
    – There are some benefits from acting on the AGW scare now, such as improved energy efficiency and reduced pollution. There are also negatives, such as windfarms on pristine countryside and biofuels causing increased hunger.
    – Too much focus on the AGW threat (based on relatively weak scientific arguments) diverts effort and money from more immediate and certain problems.
    – I am an environmentalist who cares about the future of our planet and sustainability. My views on AGW are based purely on the science.

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    1. All greatly appreciated.

      It’s going to appear as a separate post on LfD one day the w/c 10th June. Naturally, I will link back to your comments on this post.

      Like

  11. Paul, any honest response is welcome, but I presume you would not have them answer on your behalf. Its your blog of course.

    Like

  12. Now to question 1: Why do the majority of climate scientists believe AGW is significant and serious?

    I cannot easily answer that.

    But then, I can’t easily answer why, in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, we were told the ‘expert consensus’ was that Iraq had WMD. After reading the two ‘dodgy’ dossiers from Blair’s camp, and hearing other ‘evidence’, (including that presented by Colin Powell to the UN), and although I am by no means a chemical weapons expert, I became a WMD-sceptic. Those who doubted were dismissed as pacifists and appeasers and were told they would have blood on their hands. If I applied the logic of some AGW-believers, I would have admitted I was ‘wrong’ simply because I opposed the consensus. However, it turned out that I, and the 1-2 million anti-War marchers, proved to be more accurate than we could ever have expected. We disagreed with the ‘expert consensus’ (based on the evidence we were presented with at the time), and were proven to be 100% right. (BTW, before that, I was very pro-Blair).

    So, what’s the link with AGW? It illustrates that claims of an ‘expert consensus’ does not mean it must be right. Another parallel was there was an enormous amount of political pressure to ‘believe’, whereas now with AGW, there is an enormous pressure of ‘political correctness’. In the same way WMD-sceptics were vilified, AGW-sceptics are also vilified and insulted by terms like ‘denier’, ‘liar’, ‘conspiracy theorist’, etc. This only damages the credibility of those who use such tactics.

    The ‘political correctness’ is the reason I choose to remain anonymous. I work successfully in the environmental sector, but know my job prospects would be damaged if I openly expressed my AGW-sceptic views.

    With climate science, I don’t believe in a conspiracy. I think many AGW believers are very honest in their own belief. But its rather like a policeman who is convinced he knows the murderer, but just can’t find enough evidence to convict. At best, he finds circumstantial evidence convincing. At worst, he allows himself to rely on very weak or even inaccurate evidence, but with the conscience that he’s done nothing wrong because the ultimate result is the ‘right’ one.

    In a similar vein, I believe climate scientists allow themselves to accept questionable evidence (such as dismissing the divergence problem) as convincing.

    And how can the majority be in the wrong? There are many examples in the history of science when the majority were wrong. One example is that of John Snow and the Broad St cholera incident in London in 1854. http://www.ph.ucla.edu/epi/snow/broadstreetpump.html
    The expert consensus was that cholera was carried between people by ‘bad air’ (or miasma). During a cholera outbreak (with 500 deaths), Snow studied the data and concluded it was spread via one contaminated water pump shared by many inhabitants. His conclusions persuaded the council to lock the pump, but the scientific and medical world did not accept his conclusions for many years.

    Because of Snow’s non-consensus conclusions, the lives of thousands, later millions were saved. So, was Snow wrong in his conclusions because he objected to the consensus? Of course not.

    I don’t have an answer of why so many climate scientists believe the case for serious AGW, and I assume their motive is belief in the scientific case. But, as in my example, the consensus can be wrong.

    Of course, the implication in the question is I should agree with the consensus because it is a consensus. We often see this argument pushed (as in yet another recent study claiming a 97% consensus), where clearly the main intention is to smother out awkward questions about the weakness in the AGW case (some examples I gave in the earlier comment).

    Such an argument may work with non-scientists. Indeed, to use it as argument in placing of presenting the science itself is an indication you neither understand the science or the scientific process. For scientists it is a completely nonsensical and meaningless argument. Of course, when presented with such a claimed consensus, you think hard and read their arguments more carefully. I, and many other scientists have done the same. And still we find some key scientific and statistical arguments unreliable.

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    1. Oakwood, I’m ready to publish the dialogue between you and Martin Lack regarding AGW. However, I think it only proper that you reveal your identity before I so do. Feel free to send me an email if you want to ‘chat’ away from this blog.

      Like

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