Category: Capitalism

What on earth are we going to do?

A very powerful essay from George Monbiot.

Today and tomorrow I am posting essays that have nothing to do with dogs! Today, I am sharing George’s gloom about the future, tomorrow I am sharing our human capacity for incredible ingenuity and technology.

Because I sense we are a species of two extremes; the very mad and the very clever!

I don’t have an answer but I can share these two essays.

Today, I give you George Monbiot’s essay Suing For Survival.

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Suing For Survival

Our legal action against the government aims to shut down fossil fuels

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 4th March 2020

Our survival is not an afterthought. The defence of the living planet cannot be tacked retrospectively onto business as usual. Yet this is how almost all governments operate. They slap the word “sustainable” on damaging projects they have already approved, then insist this means they’ve gone green. If we are to survive and prosper, everything must change. Every decision should begin with the question of what the planet can withstand.

This means that any discussion about new infrastructure should begin with ecological constraints. The figures are stark. A paper published in Nature last year showed that existing energy infrastructure, if it is allowed to run to the end of its natural life, will produce around 660 gigatonnes of CO2. Yet, to stand a reasonable chance of preventing more than 1.5°C of global heating, we can afford to release, in total, no more than 580 gigatonnes. In other words, far from building new fossil power plants, the survival of a habitable planet means retiring the damaging projects that have already been built. Electricity plants burning coal and gas and oil will not secure our prosperity. They will destroy it.

But everywhere special interests dominate. Construction projects are driven, above all, by the lobbying of the construction industry, consultancies and financiers. Gigantic and destructive schemes, such as the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway, are invented by lobbyists for the purpose of generating contracts. Political support is drummed up, the project achieves its own momentum, then, belatedly, a feeble attempt is made to demonstrate that it can somehow become compatible with environmental promises. This is what destroys civilisations: a mismatch between the greed of economic elites and the needs of society.

But last week, something momentous happened. The decision to build a scheme with vast financial backing and terrible environmental impacts was struck down by the Court of Appeal. The judges decided that government policy, on which planning permission for a third runway at Heathrow was based, had failed to take account of the UK’s climate commitments, and was therefore unlawful. This is – or should be – the end of business as usual.

The Heathrow decision stands as a massive and crucial precedent. Now we must use it to insist that governments everywhere put our survival first, and the demands of corporate lobbyists last. To this end, with the Good Law Project and Dale Vince, the founder of Ecotricity, I’m pursuing a similar claim. In this case, we are challenging the UK government’s policy for approving new energy projects.

On Tuesday, we delivered a “letter before action” to the Treasury solicitor. We’ve given the government 21 days to accept our case and change its policy to reflect the climate commitments agreed by Parliament. If it fails to do so, we shall issue proceedings in the High Court to have the policy declared unlawful. We’ll need money, so we’ve launched a crowdfunding appeal to finance the action.

It’s hard to see how the government could resist our case. The Heathrow judgement hung on the government’s national policy statement on airports. This, the judges found, had not been updated to take account of the Paris climate agreement. New fossil fuel plants, such as the gas burners at Drax in Yorkshire the government approved last October, are enabled by something very similar: the national policy statements on energy infrastructure. These have not been updated since they were published in 2011. As a result, they take no account of the Paris agreement, of the government’s new climate target (net zero by 2050, as opposed to an 80% cut) or of Parliament’s declaration of a climate emergency. The main policy statement says that the European Emissions Trading System “forms the cornerstone of UK action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector”. As we have left the EU, this, obviously, no longer holds. The planning act obliges the government to review its national policy statements when circumstances change. It has failed to do so. It is disregarding its own laws.

These outdated policy statements create a presumption in favour of new fossil fuel plants. Once a national policy statement has been published, there is little objectors can do to prevent damaging projects from going ahead. In approving the Drax plant, the secretary of state for business and energy at the time (Andrea Leadsom) insisted that the policy statement came first, regardless of the climate impacts. Catastrophic decisions like this will continue to be made until the statements change. They are incompatible with either the government’s new climate commitments or a habitable planet.

While we are challenging the government’s energy policies, another group – the Transport Action Network – is about to challenge its road building schemes on the same basis. It points out that the national policy statement on road networks is also outdated and incompatible with the UK’s climate commitments. The policy statement, astonishingly, insists that “any increase in carbon emissions is not a reason to refuse development consent“, unless the increase is so great that the road would prevent the government from meeting its national targets. No single road project can be disqualified on these grounds. But the cumulative effect of new road building ensures that the UK will inevitably bust its carbon targets. While carbon emissions are officially disregarded, minuscule time savings are used to justify massive and damaging projects.

Transport emissions have been rising for the past five years, partly because of road building. The government tries to justify its schemes by claiming that cars will use less fossil fuel. But because they are becoming bigger and heavier, new cars sold in the UK now produce more carbon dioxide per kilometre than older models.

The perverse and outdated national policy statement locks into place such damaging projects as the A303 works around Stonehenge, the A27 Arundel scheme, the Lower Thames crossing, the Port of Liverpool access road, the Silvertown tunnel in London and the Wensum Link road in Norfolk. A government seeking to protect the lives of current and future generations would immediately strike down the policy that supports these projects, and replace it with one that emphasised walking, cycling and public transport.

A third action has been launched by Chris Packham and the law firm Leigh Day, challenging HS2 on similar grounds. Its carbon emissions were not properly taken into account, and its environmental impacts were assessed before the government signed the Paris agreement.

Already, the Heathrow decision is resonating around the world. Now we need to drive its implications home, by suing for survival. If we can oblige governments to resist the demands of corporate lobbyists and put life before profit, humanity might just stand a chance.

http://www.monbiot.com

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Now this essay is about the situation in the U.K. but only a fool would think that it’s not relevant to the rest of the planet.

I beseech you to read it!

“Life before profit.” Now there’s a thought!

How to live with uncertainty.

Another essay that is nothing to do with dogs!

I have long been a subscriber to The Conversation. They seem to be politically neutral as well as giving permission for their essays to be republished elsewhere.

This particular essay chimed with me because for some time, one or two years sort of time-span, the number of people agreeing with the statement, “It’s a strange world“, has measurably grown. At first I thought it was a question of politics, both sides of The Atlantic, but I have recently come to the opinion that it is deeper than that.

This encapsulates the idea perfectly.

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How CEOs, experts and philosophers see the world’s biggest risks differently

By   Professor of Ethics and Business Law, University of St. Thomas

January 27, 2020

We live in a world threatened by numerous existential risks that no country or organization can resolve alone, such as climate change, extreme weather and the coronavirus.

But in order to adequately address them, we need agreement on which are priorities – and which aren’t.

As it happens, the policymakers and business leaders who largely determine which risks become global priorities spent a week in January mingling in the mountainous resort of Davos for an annual meeting of the world’s elite.

I participated in a global risk assessment survey that informed those at the Davos summit on what they should be paying the most attention to. The results, drawn from experts in a broad range of disciplines including business, happen to be very different from what company CEOs specifically see as the biggest threats they face.

As a philosopher, I found the differences curious. They highlight two contrasting ways of seeing the world – with significant consequences for our ability to address societal risks.

Wildfires in Australia have destroyed more than 3,000 homes and razed more than 10.6 million hectares since September. AP Photo/Noah Berger

Two perspectives on the biggest risks

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report consolidates the perceptions of about 800 experts in business, government and civil society to rank “the world’s most pressing challenges” for the coming year by likelihood and impact.

In 2020, extreme weather, a failure to act on climate change and natural disasters topped the list of risks in terms of likelihood of occurrence. In terms of impact, the top three were climate action failure, weapons of mass destruction and a loss of biodiversity.

The specific perspective of corporate leaders, however, is captured in another survey that highlights what they perceive as the biggest risks to their own businesses’ growth prospects. Conducted by consultancy PwC since 1998, it also holds sway in Davos. I’ve been involved in that report as well when I used to work for the organization.

In sharp contrast to the World Economic Forum’s risk report, the CEO survey found that the top three risks to business this year are overregulation, trade conflicts and uncertain economic growth.

President Trump’s trade war and other economic concerns tend to be the focus of corporate CEOs. AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Economic or ethical

What explains such a big difference in how these groups see the greatest threats?

I wanted to look at this question more deeply, beyond one year’s assessment, so I did a simple analysis of 14 years of data generated by the two reports. My findings are only inferences from publicly available data, and it should be noted that the two surveys have different methodologies and ask different questions that may shape respondents’ answers.

A key difference I observed is that business leaders tend to think in economic terms first and ethical terms second. That is, businesses, as you’d expect, tend to focus on their short-term economic situation, while civil society and other experts in the Global Risk Report focus on longer-term social and environmental consequences.

For example, year after year, CEOs have named a comparatively stable set of narrow concerns. Overregulation is among the main three threats in all but one of the years – and is frequently at the top of the list. Availability of talent, government fiscal concerns and the economy were also frequently mentioned over the past 14 years.

In contrast, the Global Risk Report tends to reflect a greater evolution in the types of risks the world faces, with concerns about the environment and existential threats growing increasingly prominent over the past five years, while economic and geopolitical risks have faded after dominating in the late 2000s.

A philosophical perspective

Risk surveys are useful tools for understanding what matters to CEOs and civil society. Philosophy is useful for considering why their priorities differ, and whose are likelier to be right.

Fundamentally, risks are about interests. Businesses want a minimum of regulations so they can make more money today. Experts representing constituencies beyond just business place a greater emphasis on the common good, now and in the future.

When interests are in tension, philosophy can help us sort between them. And while I’m sympathetic to CEOs’ desire to run their businesses without regulatory interference, I’m concerned that these short-term economic considerations often impede long-term ethical goals, such as looking after the well-being of the environment.

An uncertain world

Experts agree on at least one thing: The world faces dire risks.

This year’s Global Risk Report, titled, “An Unsettled World,” depicts on its cover a vulnerable earth in the shadow of a gigantic whirlpool.

The cover photograph of the Global CEO Survey, which reported the lowest CEO confidence in economic growth since the Great Recession, shows an incoming tide beneath looming dark clouds, with the words: “Navigating the Rising Tide of Uncertainty.”

Between the covers, however, the reports demonstrate a wide gap between two influential groups that need to be on the same page if we hope to resolve the world’s biggest threats.

Last century, in the same year that World War II drew to a close, Bertrand Russell proclaimed that

Bertrand Russell. Naci Yavuz/Shurterstock.com

the purpose of philosophy was to teach us “how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralyzed by hesitation.”

In the 21st century, philosophy can remind us of our unfortunate tendency to let economic priorities paralyze action on more pressing concerns.

[ You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can read us daily by subscribing to our newsletter. ]

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Bertrand Russell was a great philosopher. Well he was that and much more. Wikipedia remind us that he “was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, writer, essayist, social critic, political activist, and Nobel laureate.”

He died at the age of 97 on the 2nd February, 1970; fifty years ago as of yesterday.

I’ll close with another quote from the great man:

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts. …”

What if Reporters Covered the Climate Crisis

Like Murrow Covered World War II?

The new Covering Climate Now project will help media “tell the story so people get it.”

This is how the speech by Bill Moyers is introduced in this issue of The Nation:

The following is an abridged version of the speech by the iconic TV newsman Bill Moyers, as prepared for delivery at a conference at the Columbia Journalism School on April 30. A video of the speech can be seen at TheNation.com/moyers-speech.

Well, we have the advantage of going straight to the video.

What is journalism for, if not to awaken the world to looming catastrophes?

A new dog food alert.

This came in on Saturday.
Dear Fellow Dog Lover,

Pet Supplies Plus is recalling pig ears dog treats in 33 states because they may be contaminated with Salmonella bacteria.
To learn more including which states are included in the recall, please visit the following link: Pet Supplies Plus Recalls Pig Ears Dog Treats in 33 States

That link is the following.

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Pet Supplies Plus Recalls Pig Ears Dog Treats in 33 States

July 5, 2019 — Pet Supplies Plus is recalling bulk pig ears supplied to over 400 retail stores in 33 states due to potential Salmonella contamination.

Bulk pig ears were distributed to Pet Supplies Plus stores in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

Developing Story

The Pet Supplies Plus recall may or may not be related to another developing story.

On July 3, 2019, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the Agency is investigating contaminated pig ear dog treats that may be connected to human Salmonella infections that have sickened 45 people in 13 states.

Twelve patients are hospitalized.

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investigating a multistate outbreak of drug-resistant Salmonella infections linked to contact with pig ear treats.

None of the 45 cases are confirmed to be a result of purchasing pig ears from Pet Supplies Plus, according to the company.

The investigation is ongoing. The Dog Food Advisor continues to monitor this developing story.

What’s Recalled?

Bulk pig ear dog treats were stocked in open bins. Prepackaged branded pig ears are not included in this recall.

Because the bulk pig ear dog treats were sold in open bins, the company provided the following image of the related in-store sign.

About Salmonella

Salmonella can affect animals eating the products and there is risk to humans from handling contaminated pet products, especially if they have not thoroughly washed their hands after having contact with the products or any surfaces exposed to these products.

Individuals infected with Salmonella should monitor for some, or all, of the following symptoms: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping and fever.

Rarely, Salmonella can result in more serious ailments, including arterial infections, endocarditis, arthritis, muscle pain, eye irritation, and urinary tract symptoms.

Consumers exhibiting these signs after having contact with this product should contact their healthcare providers.

Pets with Salmonella infections may be lethargic and have diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, fever, and vomiting.

Some pets will have only decreased appetite, fever and abdominal pain.

Infected but otherwise healthy pets can be carriers and infect other animals or humans. If your pet has consumed the recalled product and has these symptoms, please contact your veterinarian.

What Caused the Recall?

Testing by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development revealed that aging bulk pig ear product in one of Pet Supplies Plus stores tested positive for Salmonella.

The company has removed bulk pig ear product from the shelves at all its stores and has stopped shipping bulk pig ears from its Distribution Center.

PSP is working with the FDA as they continue their investigation into what caused the reported Salmonella outbreak.

What to Do?

Consumers who have purchased bulk pig ears should discontinue use of the product and discard it.

Consumers who have further questions are welcome to contact Pet Supplies Plus Neighbor Service team at 734-793-6564 between Monday and Friday 9 am to 4 pm ET (excluding holidays).

U.S. citizens can report complaints about FDA-regulated pet food products by calling the consumer complaint coordinator in your area.

Or go to https://www.fda.gov/petfoodcomplaints.

Canadians can report any health or safety incidents related to the use of this product by filling out the Consumer Product Incident Report Form.

Get Dog Food Recall Alerts by Email

Get free dog food recall alerts sent to you by email. Subscribe to The Dog Food Advisor’s emergency recall notification system.

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Share this amongst your dog owner friends.

Dogs are so, so special!

A lovely item on BBC News is being republished.

Sean Coughlan wrote a most delightful piece on the BBC News website the other day.

No matter how many times dogs are referred to it always cheers me up to read about them, especially on a major news website.

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Dogs ‘prevent stressed students dropping out’

By Sean Coughlan, BBC News family and education correspondent

July 2nd, 2019

Therapy dogs are used in more than 1,000 universities and colleges in the US – Getty Images

Stress among students really can be reduced by spending time with animals, according to research from the US.

It has become increasingly common for universities to bring “therapy dogs” on to campus – but claims about their benefits have often been anecdotal.

Now, scientists say they have objective evidence to support the use of dogs.

Patricia Pendry, from Washington State University, said her study showed “soothing” sessions with dogs could lessen the negative impact of stress.

Dogs are also used to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder – Getty Images

The study of more than 300 undergraduates had found weekly hour-long sessions with dogs brought to the university by professional handlers had made stressed students at “high risk of academic failure” or dropping out “feel relaxed and accepted”, helping them to concentrate, learn and remember information, she said.

A children’s hospital in California got its first therapy dog this year – Getty Images

“Students most at risk, such as those with mental health issues, showed the most benefit,” said Dr Pendry.

The dog therapy research team at Washington State University

It has also become more common in the UK, with Buckingham, University College London, Cambridge, Nottingham Trent, London Metropolitan and Swansea among those deploying dogs.

The University of Middlesex has even put “canine teaching assistants” on to the staff, to stop lonely students dropping out.

The university study involved 300 undergraduates at Washington State

Previous research has suggested stroking pets can reduce stress hormone levels.

Students spent an hour with dogs, brought to the university by professional handlers

“There does seem to be something specific about the reducing of anxiety from the petting of animals,” said Dr Pendry.

Middlesex University has put dogs on the staff as “canine teaching assistants”

“Do we fully understand the mechanism? No,” said Prof Nancy Gee, a psychologist at the State University of New York and researcher from the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition, also part of the project.

But students appeared to “feel calmer and more socially supported”, giving them more confidence in their studies.

Even just looking at animals could sometimes lighten the mood, Prof Gee added.

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This is such a lovely piece. Professor Nancy Gee sums up what we feel when we are close to a dog and yet ponders on the precise science of it.

It’s true! Even just looking at a dog, or more in our case, definitely lightens the mood.

Just look at the exchange of softness in that third photograph from the top. The one about a children’s hospital in California that took on its first therapy dog.

The power of a photograph

No words to say how I feel!

The bodies of Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter lie on the bank of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico. AP Photo/Julia Le Duc

This is a terrible photograph. It has been widely shown but that doesn’t make it any less terrible.

Patrice Ayme recently wrote about the tragedy but for today I am republishing the article in The Conversation.

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How much power can one image actually have?

By

Associate Professor, School of Journalism and Communication, University of Oregon

Professor of Psychology, University of Oregon

When the Associated Press published Julia Le Duc’s photograph of a drowned Salvadoran man, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, and his 23-month old daughter Valeria, it sparked outrage on social media. According to Le Duc, Ramírez had attempted to cross the Rio Grande after realizing he couldn’t present himself to U.S. authorities to request asylum.

But beyond raising awareness via Twitter and Facebook feeds, does an image like this one have the power to sway public opinion or spur politicians to take action?

As journalism and psychology scholars interested in the effects of imagery, we study the ability of jarring photos and videos to move people from complacency to action. While graphic imagery can have an immediate impact, the window of action – and caring – is smaller than you’d think.

A political catalyst?

Photographs and videos – through their perceived authenticity – can have an effect on people.

Research suggests that the graphic photo of slain Emmett Till in his open casket served as a “political catalyst” in mobilizing Americans to action in the civil rights movement. Similarly, news images have been credited as playing an important role in ending the Vietnam War.

But not all scholars agree. A recent article argued that it was a “myth” that the iconic “napalm girl” photo swayed public opinion and hastened the end of the Vietnam War.

Did the ‘napalm girl’ significantly shift public opinion on the Vietnam War? manhhai/flickr, CC BY

We must also look to psychology to understand the impacts of emotional news content. Research demonstrates that audiences need an emotional connection – and not merely a “just-the-facts” reporting approach – as “prerequisite for political action” when it comes to appreciating the importance of distant mass suffering. And imagery can trigger this emotional connection by overcoming the psychic numbing that occurs when casualties mount, images blur and lost lives become merely dry statistics.

Images from Syria

In April 2017, gut-wrenching images seem to have awakened the world to the human atrocities happening in Syria. Following a chemical bomb attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, graphic photos and videos documented the horrific effects of the banned nerve agent sarin. Millions bore witness to excruciating human suffering: gasping, choking, writhing and dying. More than 500 people were injured, with at least 86 deaths, including 28 children.

The vivid, closeup images of sarin attack victims were resonant enough to break through the complacency of people and politicians accustomed to bad news emerging from the war-torn nation. In President Trump’s response – which included a retaliatory missile strike – he seemed to recognize the value of the Syrian lives depicted in the horrific photos and videos.

Syrian doctors treat a child following a suspected chemical attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, northern Idlib province, Syria. Edlib Media Center, via AP, File

“When you kill innocent children,” he said during a news conference, “that crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line – many, many lines.”

The limits of an image

Nonetheless, even though the attacks may have briefly heightened U.S. concerns over the wars in Syria, the photographic documentation of the suffering in Syria wasn’t new.

The 2015 photos of a tiny Syrian boy’s lifeless body resting face down in the sand similarly stirred the world’s collective consciousness. Within hours of its release, the photo had reached 20 million people through Twitter, with many more millions seeing it on the front pages of newspapers the next day. Afterwards, government restrictions on accepting refugees were loosened while private donations to organizations like the Red Cross spiked dramatically.

A year later haunting images of a young boy in the back of an ambulance, caked in dirt and blood, galvanized the world.

But the emotional and compassionate responses to both photographs were short-lived. The bombing of civilians in Syria continued. Refugees continued risking their lives to escape the war zone.

After a photograph of a dead Syrian boy went viral in 2015, the number of daily donations to a Swedish Red Cross campaign designated specifically for aiding Syrian refugees spiked dramatically – but only for a brief window. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, CC BY-SA

Since the publication of Le Duc’s photo of the dead migrants, supportive politicians may feel emboldened to sound the alarm on the plight of Central American migrants. Donations to immigrant aid organizations might briefly spike.

But it seems that a photograph, no matter how emotionally devastating, can only do so much.

Yes, it can create a window of time when we’re motivated to act, and we’ll usually do so if we have effective options to pursue. This could mean a charitable donation at the individual level or, collectively, a surge of political will. However, psychology research from the “arithmetic of compassion” suggests that sympathy for distant human suffering declines when we’re presented with rising body counts. Sometimes we’re discouraged by the scope of the problem and this stops us from doing things that actually make a difference – even if partial solutions can save lives. Other times, if the options for helping others seem too narrow or ineffective, we’ll turn away and stop caring.

Images can alert us to the horrors of violence, mass migration and poverty. But as we have seen time and again, photographs and news footage of human suffering generally precipitate a short-term emotional reaction, rather than a sustained humanitarian response.

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As one reads the article it is much more than a comment on a single image despite how terrible that photograph may be.

The two scientists set out to show that the period that we are alarmed or terrified or just plain sad at the state of nations is rather short.

Maybe it’s the self-protective nature of our species that does this.

But it still doesn’t diminish the horror of that top photograph.

Reflections on the future

Father’s Day ….

….. was OK in the morning but for some reason I was in a dark mood in the afternoon.

(And if you want to skip today’s post I don’t blame you at all. This is not my usual style albeit it is important.)

I was reflecting on the state of the world. Global population was well in excess of seven billion people. The longevity of those people was increasing. That’s good news. The health standards were increasing. That’s also good news.

However, the pressure on farming is intense. More and more land is required. The natural world is under supreme pressure. Extinction rates of many natural species are soaring.

Planet Earth has far too many people!

OK, maybe in time the population level will come down but right now it is too high.

Then in came Tom Engelhardt’s latest essay. I read it and reflected. Is it too dark to post? Then Jeannie said that if you really want to share it then publish it.

Here it is, published with Tom’s kind permission.

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Tomgram: Engelhardt, Trump Change

Posted by Tom Engelhardt at 4:23pm, June 16, 2019.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch.

If Donald Trump Is the Symptom…
Then What’s the Disease?

By Tom Engelhardt
Don’t try to deny it! The political temperature of this country is rising fast. Call it Trump change or Trump warming, if you want, but grasp one thing: increasingly, you’re in a different land and, whatever happens to Donald Trump, the results down the line are likely to be ever less pretty. Trump change isn’t just an American phenomenon, it’s distinctly global. After all, from Australia to India, the Philippines to Hungary, Donald Trumps and their supporters keep getting elected or reelected and, according to a recent CNN poll, a majority of Americans think Trump himself will win again in 2020 (though, at the moment, battleground-state polls look grim for him).

Still, whether or not he gets a second term in the White House, he only seems like the problem, partially because no president, no politician, no one in history has ever gotten such 24/7 media coverage of every twitch, tweet, bizarre statement, falsehood, or fantasy he expresses (or even the clothes he wears). Think of it this way: we’re in a moment in which the only thing the media can’t imagine saying about Donald Trump is: “You’re fired!” And believe me, that’s just one sign of a media — and a country — with a temperature that’s anything but 98.6.

Since you-know-who is always there, always being discussed, always @(un)realdonaldtrump, it’s easy enough to imagine that everything that’s going wrong — or, if you happen to be part of his famed base, right (even if that right isn’t so damned hot for you) — is due to him. When we’re gripped by such thinking and the temperature’s rising, it hardly matters that just about everything he’s “done” actually preceded him. That includes favoring the 1%, deporting record numbers of illegal immigrants, and making war (unsuccessfully) or threatening to do so across significant parts of the planet.

Here, then, is the question of the day, the sort you’d ask about any patient with a rising temperature: If Donald Trump is only the symptom, what’s the disease?

Blowback Central

Let me say that the late Chalmers Johnson would have understood President Trump perfectly. The Donald clearly arrived on the scene as blowback — the CIA term of tradecraft Johnson first put into our everyday vocabulary — from at least two things: an American imperium gone wrong with its never-ending wars, ever-rising military budgets, and ever-expanding national security state, and a new “gilded age” in which three men (Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffett) have more wealth than the bottom half of society and the .01% have one of their own, a billionaire, in the Oval Office. (If you want to add a third blowback factor, try a media turned upside down by new ways of communicating and increasingly desperate to glue eyes to screens as ad revenues, budgets, and staffs shrank and the talking heads of cable news multiplied.)

Now, I don’t mean to sell Donald Trump short in any way. Give that former reality TV star credit. Unlike either Hillary Clinton or any of his Republican opponents in the 2016 election campaign, he sensed that there were voters in profusion in the American heartland who felt that things were not going well and were eager for a candidate just like the one he was ready to become. (There were, of course, other natural audiences for a disruptive, self-promoting billionaire as well, including various millionaires and billionaires ready to support him, the Russians, the Saudis… well, you know the list). His skill, however, never lay in what he could actually do (mainly, in these years, cut taxes for the wealthy, impose tariffs, and tweet his head off). It lay in his ability to catch the blowback mood of that moment in a single slogan — Make America Great Again, or MAGA — that he trademarked in November 2012, only days after Mitt Romney lost his bid for the presidency to Barack Obama.

Yes, four years later in the 2016 election, others began to notice the impact of that slogan. You couldn’t miss the multiplying MAGA hats, after all. Hillary Clinton’s advisers even briefly came up with the lamest response imaginable to it: Make America Whole Again, or MAWA. But what few at the time really noted was the crucial word in that phrase: “again.” Politically speaking, that single blowback word might then have been the most daring in the English language. In 2016, Donald Trump functionally said what no other candidate or politician of any significance in America dared to say: that the United States was no longer the greatest, most indispensable, most exceptionable nation or superpower or hyper-power ever to exist on Planet Earth.

That represented a groundbreaking recognition of reality. At the time, it didn’t matter whether you were Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or Marco Rubio, you had to acknowledge some version of that formula of exceptionalism. Trump didn’t and, believe me, that rang a bell in the American heartland, where lots of people had felt, however indirectly, the blowback from all those years of taxpayer-funded fruitless war, while not benefitting from infrastructure building or much of anything else. They experienced blowback from a country in which new billionaires were constantly being created, while the financial distance between CEO salaries and those of workers grew exponentially vaster by the year, and the financing of the political system became a 1% affair.

With that slogan, The Donald caught the spirit of a moment in which both imperial and economic decline, however unacknowledged by the Washington political elite, had indeed begun. In the process, as I wrote at that time, he crossed a psychologically taboo line and became America’s first declinist candidate for president. MAGA captured a feeling already at large that tomorrow would be worse than today, which was already worse than yesterday. As it turned out, it mattered not at all that the billionaire conman spouting that trademarked phrase had long been part of the problem, not the solution.

He caught the essence of the moment, in other words, but certainly didn’t faintly cause it in the years when he financed Trump Tower, watched his five Atlantic City casinos go bankrupt, and hosted The Apprentice. In that election campaign, he captured a previously forbidden reality of the twenty-first century. For example, I was already writing this in June 2016, five months before he was elected president:

“In its halcyon days, Washington could overthrow governments, install Shahs or other rulers, do more or less what it wanted across significant parts of the globe and reap rewards, while (as in the case of Iran) not paying any price, blowback-style, for decades, if at all. That was imperial power in the blaze of the noonday sun. These days, in case you hadn’t noticed, blowback for our imperial actions seems to arrive as if by high-speed rail (of which by the way, the greatest power on the planet has yet to build a single mile, if you want a quick measure of decline).

“Despite having a more massive, technologically advanced, and better funded military than any other power or even group of powers on the planet, in the last decade and a half of constant war across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa, the U.S. has won nothing, nada, zilch. Its unending wars have, in fact, led nowhere in a world growing more chaotic by the second.”

Mind you, three years later the United States remains a staggeringly powerful imperial force, with hundreds of military bases still scattered across the globe, while its economic clout — its corporations control about half the planet’s wealth — similarly remains beyond compare. Yet, even in 2016, it shouldn’t have been hard to see that the American Century was indeed ending well before its 100 years were up. It shouldn’t have been hard to grasp, as Donald Trump intuitively did, that this country, however powerful, was already both a declining empire — thank you, George W. Bush for invading Iraq! Mission Accomplished! — and a declining economic system (both of which still looked great indeed, if you happened to be profiting from them). That intuition and that slogan gave Trump his moment in… well, dare I call it “the afternoon sun”? They made him president.

MTPGA

In a sense, all of this should have been expectable enough. Despite the oddity of Donald Trump himself, there was little new in it, even for the imperial power that its enthusiasts once thought stood at “the end of history.” You don’t need to look far, after all, for evidence of the decline of empires. You don’t even have to think back to the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991, almost three decades ago in what now seems like the Stone Age. (Admittedly, Russian President Vladimir Putin, a brilliant imagineer, has brought back a facsimile of the old Soviet Union, even if, in reality, Russia is now a rickety, fraying petro-state.)

Just take a glance across the Atlantic at Great Britain at this moment. And imagine that three-quarters of a century ago, that modest-sized island nation still controlled all of India, colonies across the planet, and an impressive military and colonial service. Go back even further and you’ll find yourself in a time when it was the true superpower of planet Earth. What a force it was — industrially, militarily, colonially — until, of course, it wasn’t.

If you happen to be looking for imperial lessons, you could perhaps say that some empires end not with a bang but with a Brexit. Despite all the pomp and circumstance (tweeting and insults) during the visit of the Trump royal family (Donald, Melania, Ivanka, Jared, Donald Jr., Eric, and Tiffany) to the British royals, led by a queen who, at 93, can remember better days, here’s something hard to deny: with Brexit (no matter how it turns out), the Earth’s former superpower has landed in the sub-basement of history. Great Britain? Obviously that adjective has to change.

In the meantime, across the planet, China, another once great imperial power, perhaps the greatest in the long history of this planet, is clearly on the rise again from another kind of sub-basement. That, in turn, is deeply worrying the leadership, civilian and military, of the planet’s “lone superpower.” Its president, in response, is wielding his weapon of choice — tariffs — while the U.S. military prepares for an almost unimaginable future war with that upstart nation, possibly starting in the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, the still-dominant power on the planet is, however incrementally, heading down. It’s nowhere near that sub-basement, of course — anything but. It’s still a rich, immensely powerful land. Its unsuccessful wars, however, go on without surcease, the political temperature rises, and democratic institutions continue to fray — all of which began well before Donald Trump entered the Oval Office and, in fact, helped ensure that he would make it there in the first place.

And yet none of this, not even imperial decline itself, quite captures the “disease” of which The Donald is now such an obvious symptom. After all, while the rise and fall of imperial powers has been an essential part of history, the planetary context for that process is now changing in an unprecedented way. And that’s not just because, since the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, growing numbers of countries have come to possess the power to take the planet down in a cataclysm of fire and ice (as in nuclear winter). It’s also because history, as we’ve known it, including the rise and fall of empires, is now, in a sense, melting away.

Trump change, the rising political temperature stirred by the growing populist right, is taking place in the context of (and, worse yet, aiding and abetting) record global temperatures, the melting of ice across the planet, the rise of sea levels and the future drowning of coastlines (and cities), the creation of yet more refugees, the increasing fierceness of fires and droughts, and the intensification of storms. In the midst of it all, an almost unimaginable wave of extinctions is occurring, with a possible million plant and animal species, some crucial to human existence, already on the verge of departure.

Never before in history has the rise and decline of imperial powers taken place in the context of the decline of the planet itself. Try, for instance, to imagine what a “risen” China will look like in an age in which one of its most populous regions, the north China plain, may by century’s end be next to uninhabitable, given the killing heat waves of the future.

In the context of both Trump change and climate change, we’re obviously still awaiting our true transformative president, the one who is not a symptom of decline, but a factor in trying to right this country and the Earth before it’s too late. You know, the one who will take as his or her slogan, MTPGA (Make The Planet Great Again).

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs TomDispatch.com and is a fellow of the Type Media Center. His sixth and latest book is A Nation Unmade by War (Dispatch Books).

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands,Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2019 Tom Engelhardt

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I’m 74. I don’t know how long I’ve got.

Part of me wants to live for a long time. That’s why I am vegan and trying to stay as fit as I can. (I’m also aware that Jeannie’s Parkinson’s Disease is a terminal disease and that in the latter stages she will need me to look after her.)

But then again I’m not sure I want to live in a world that continues to degrade especially continues to degrade in natural ways.

What’s the answer?

What do others who are on or around my age think about it?

What is the disease?

How much time do we have left?

A post from Patrice Ayme.

I have subscribed to Patrice Ayme for some time now. I don’t know who he is because he writes under a pseudonym, or a nom-de-plume. (And, indeed, I may have the gender incorrect but I’m pretty sure it’s a male.)

Patrice writes frequently and doesn’t mince his words.

But then he writes about really serious matters and often has criticism for the ‘ruling classes’.

Such as he has in the post that was published on the 6th May. I left a comment:

It’s extremely worrying and not something that can be put off. The clock is at 5 minutes to midnight. In Britain Extreme Resistance are pursuing a campaign that may just produce a political outcome. And, indeed, the English Government have come up with goals to combat climate change.

So keep banging your drum, Patrice, and hope that urgent action across the world isn’t too far away.

To which Patrice replied:

Dear Paul:
thanks! Here I am fighting with my daughter’s school, which has decided to install artificial, plastic grass. It’s horrendous for the environment, and it endangers the lives of children (in many ways, including a disease called “SUBEROSIS” caused by organic cork.) Here real ecologist take it hard, and have started to burn artificial plastic flame retardant fields: 13,000 were recently installed in the USA, a proof of mass corruption…
Feel free to use my essay on your site, BTW, of course…
And thanks again…
P

Now I hadn’t heard of Suberosis before, but no problem, a quick web search brought up Wikipedia and this:

Suberosis is a type of hypersensitivity pneumonitis usually caused by the fungus Penicillium glabrum (formerly called Penicillum frequentans) from exposure to moldy cork dust.[1][2] Chrysonilia sitophilia, Aspergillus fumigatus, uncontaminated cork dust, and Mucor macedo may also have significant roles in the pathogenesis of the disease.[1]

Cause

Cork is often harvested from the cork oak (Quercus suber) and stored in slabs in a hot and humid environment until covered in mold.[1] Cork workers may be exposed to organic dusts in this process, leading to this disease.[1]

I don’t fully understand how the laying of artificial grass leads to possible Suberosis.

But I have decided to republish even though it has nothing to do with dogs! (Well, not directly.)

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Nature Collapsing, Plutocracy Thriving

Both phenomena are related. The more nature collapses, the more plutocracy thrives (see the multi-centennial fall of Rome, for reference). Small people and other losers have no interest to see nature collapse. However, plutocracy does. Because Pluto-Kratia, Evil-Power, is best expressed and justified during war-like states, and civilizational collapse sure qualifies.

Plutocracy survived the collapse of the Roman and Carolingian empires with flying colors. In the Roman case, most noble families had a bishop in their midst. The collapse of the Renovated Empire of the Romans (Renovatio Imperii Romanorum) and its renewal by the Ottos and Capets brought the feudal order, another plutocratic success.

Now is no different: we have a terminal CO2 crisis bringing in extreme, sudden temperature, acidification and ocean rises: 1% of US CO2 is from state subsidized private jets. Nobody notices, because media have made sure to create entire generations just preoccupied by celebrities, not by what is going on, which is really most significant.

Nor has the media been keen to notice the likes of Biden annihilated the Banking Act of 1933, in the 1990s, bringing in the age of the financial plutocracy… itself a heavy financier of fossil fuels. So all what some schools are thinking of is installing “Apps”, and plastic grass, instead of teaching sustainable global citizenship. We are cruising towards an apocalypse, at an increasing pace: the Sixth Mass Extinction. The United Nations just came up (May 6, 2019) with an analysis made by 132 countries and 455 scientists: one million species are disappearing. For example, nearly all amphibians.

https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/06/world/one-million-species-threatened-extinction-humans-scn-intl/index.html

One problem with burning forests in the tropics is that what is left are often extremely poor soils (differently from northern European soils, which are very forgiving, explaining in great part why north west Europe replaced the Greco-Roman world…) Cattle grazing on a tract of illegally cleared Amazon forest in Pará State, Brazil. In most major land habitats, the average abundance of native plant and animal life has fallen by 20 percent or more, mainly over the past century,,, [Credit Lalo de Almeida for The New York Times]

In Africa, burned forest is often replaced by lateritis, a soil which is red, baked, hard… for the good reason that it is full of Aluminum.

It is the Sixth Mass Extinction, but this time the dinosaurs have thermonuclear weapons.

What to do? Get involved, get aware, protest. Protests can become unbearable to the powers that be.

This is the way the fascist government of Brunei on the island of Borneo was just dealt with. It drew powerful international condemnation when it rolled out its interpretation of sharia laws on April 3. Now, the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, reverted his decision: after all, the country won’t enforce Islamic laws that include stoning to death for rape, adultery and gay sex.

Killing all the people who got killed in World War Two was atrocious. However, what is now unfolding has the potential to be way way worse. Einstein said he didn’t know which weapons will be used to fight World War Three, but next it would be sticks and stones. That was naively optimistic. If we acidify further the ocean with acid from CO2, we may kill the Earth’s oxygen making mechanism. Not really news, as this was clear five years ago already:

https://patriceayme.wordpress.com/2014/05/30/global-hypoxia/ 

Many behave as if there will be no tomorrow, because they feel that way! It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, it has to be resisted.

What’s needed, beyond recording what’s going on, is interpreting it, going beyond, building ideas, and moods meant to last. Only deeper thinking can do this, and ensure a planet capable of lasting. Because we are not at the regional level anymore. When climate change, plus nefarious human impact, forced the Harappan civilization to abandon its homeland, the Indus valley, it was dealing with forces it had no idea existed. Maybe there are such forces out there. But there are also plenty of forces we can see, and which are plenty lethal enough, at civilizational scale, and the scale of the entire biosphere. Stop. And think. One million species are marching towards extinction, among the plants and animals we know.

Patrice Ayme

***

***

From NYT:

WASHINGTON — Humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, posing a dire threat to ecosystems that people all over the world depend on for their survival, a sweeping new United Nations assessment has concluded.

The 1,500-page report, compiled by hundreds of international experts and based on thousands of scientific studies, is the most exhaustive look yet at the decline in biodiversity across the globe and the dangers that creates for human civilization. A summary of its findings, which was approved by representatives from the United States and 131 other countries, was released Monday [May 6, 2019] in Paris. The full report is set to be published this year.

Its conclusions are stark. In most major land habitats, from the savannas of Africa to the rain forests of South America, the average abundance of native plant and animal life has fallen by 20 percent or more, mainly over the past century. With the human population passing 7 billion, activities like farming, logging, poaching, fishing and mining are altering the natural world at a rate “unprecedented in human history.”

At the same time, a new threat has emerged: Global warming has become a major driver of wildlife decline, the assessment found, by shifting or shrinking the local climates that many mammals, birds, insects, fish and plants evolved to survive in. When combined with the other ways humans are damaging the environment, climate change is now pushing a growing number of species, such as the Bengal tiger, closer to extinction.

As a result, biodiversity loss is projected to accelerate through 2050, particularly in the tropics, unless countries drastically step up their conservation efforts.

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I’m in the autumn of my life and may not live to see the consequences of what we are doing to Nature and to the Planet.

Then again, if some of the predictions bear true, I won’t have to live an awful lot longer to experience real change.

It’s time for a complete re-analysis of our relationship with the natural world.

The End of Ice

Climate disruption at its worst!

Margaret K. recently emailed me a link to a recent Ralph Nader Radio programme.

As I said in my email to her after Jeannie and I had listened to it:

OK. Have listened to it just now.
I don’t know what to say.

Frankly, I’m overwhelmed. I need some time to let it settle down but it’s going to be featured on the blog very soon.
Thank you

Paul

I’m still ‘processing’ it but that doesn’t stop me from sharing it with you.

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Ralph spends the whole hour with independent journalist, Dahr Jamail, author of “The End of Ice,” his first person report on the front lines of the climate crisis.

In late 2003, award-winning journalist, Dahr Jamail, went to the Middle East to report on the Iraq War, where he spent more than a year as one of only a few independent US journalists in the country. Mr. Jamail has also written extensively on veterans’ resistance against US foreign policy. He is now focusing on climate disruption and the environment. His book on that topic is entitled, The End of Ice.

“So much of what we talk about is so dire and so extreme and so scary and also disheartening that I quote Vaclav Havel, the Czech dissident writer and statesman. And he reminds us that as he said, ‘Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something is worth doing no matter how it turns out.” And that’s where I get into this moral obligation that no matter how dire things look, that we are absolutely morally obliged to do everything we can in our power to try to make this better.”  Dahr Jamail, author of “The End of Ice”

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Now here’s the link to the radio programme: Link

(It’s a download so wait just a short time for it to play.)

Do put an hour to one side and listen to this important and compelling programme.

Please!

An introduction to Scientists Warning

The power of networking!

I am indebted to Margaret K. for including a number of videos in her long comment to my post The End Of Ice. They are being watched.

On Monday morning we watched one of them Deep Adaptation. It was a stark message.

It is included below. It’s 39 minutes long.

Please watch it!

Then if you are so minded their website is here. It’s free to join and you will be left with the feeling that you are doing something important. From that website:

The Union of Concerned Citizens of Earth

At some point we realize that humanity has strayed down a rabbit hole from which it cannot seem to emerge.  This quagmire is the belief in the idea of Consumerism, with its cast of advertising executives, bankers and economists, corporate CEOs, politicians, etc.  We have evolved a defective ‘operating system’ that insists on infinite, accelerating economic growth despite the ecological costs – namely the destruction of Nature.  Those who have signed or endorsed the Scientists’ Warning through this website have displayed a clear understanding of what is wrong and how we must head to avoid the worst of ecological destabilization that we have inflicted on Mother Earth.  We are all therefore de facto members of what we are calling the Union of Concerned Citizens of Earth.

“The world will have to start listening to the good scientists and not the ones paid to justify dodgy developments.”
– Greer Hart