Category: Politics

The arrow of time.

Everything, eventually, falls into decay.

What is deeply fascinating, at a number of levels, is how time only goes one way. At every single level of our experience, from the scale of the universe down to the tiniest particle known to science, it all flows forward. The arrow of time!

I was reminded of this interesting question of time in a book that has been published by a local Oregon author, John Taylor Our Curious UNIVERSE (the book is not available online otherwise I would have linked to it.)

It got me thinking of age. How we are all aging. How there is nothing that we can do to stop it. How the only thing we can do is to change our relationship with age. That then reminded me of an item that was published on The Conversation site a week ago that I wanted to share with you – share within the terms provided by The Conversation. The article was called It’s time to measure 21st century aging with 21st century tools.

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It’s time to measure 21st century aging with 21st century tools

March 4, 2016

Disclosure statement

The research was conducted in the framework of the European Research Council ERC-2012-AdG 323947-Re-Ageing

Sergei Scherbov receives funding from the European Research Council ERC-2012-AdG 323947-Re-Ageing

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The populations of most countries of the world are aging, prompting a deluge of news stories about slower economic growth, reduced labor force participation, looming pension crises, exploding health care costs and the reduced productivity and cognitive functioning of the elderly.

These stories are dire, in part because the most widely used measure of aging – the old-age dependency ratio, which measures the number of older dependents relative to working-age people – was developed a century ago and implies the consequences of aging will be much worse than they are likely to be. On top of that, this ratio is used in political and economic discussions of topics such as health care costs and the pension burden – things it was not designed to address.

Turning 65 in 2016 doesn’t mean the same thing as hitting 65 in 1916. So instead of relying on the old-age dependency ratio to figure out the impact of aging, we propose using a series of new measures that take changes in life expectancy, labor participation and health spending into account. When you take these new realities into account, the picture looks a lot brighter.

 How facts from the census questionnaire were tabulated into statistics in 1950. The U.S. National Archives/Flickr
How facts from the census questionnaire were tabulated into statistics in 1950. The U.S. National Archives/Flickr

Our tools to measure aging have aged

The most commonly used measure of population aging is the “old-age dependency ratio,” which is the ratio of the number of people 65 years or older to those 20 to 64.

But, since the old-age dependency ratio was introduced in the early 1900s, most countries have experienced a century of rising life expectancy, and further increases are anticipated.

For instance, in 1914, life expectancy at birth in Sweden was 58.2 years (average for both sexes). By 2014, it had risen to 82.2 years. In 1935, when the U.S Social Security Act was signed into law, 65-year-olds were expected to live 12.7 more years, on average. In 2013, 65 year-olds may expect to live 19.5 years more.

But these changes aren’t reflected in the conventional statistics on aging. Nor is the fact that many people don’t just stop working when they turn 65, and that people are staying healthier for longer.

To get a better sense of what population aging really means today, we decided to develop a new set of measures that take these new realities into account to replace the old-age dependency ratio. And instead of one ratio, we created several ratios to evaluate health care costs, labor force participation and pensions.

Who retires at 65 anymore?

One of these new realities is that the number of people working into their late 60’s and beyond is going up. In 1994, 26.8 percent of American men aged 65-69 participated in the labor force. That figure climbed to 36.1 percent in 2014 and is forecast to reach 40 percent by 2024. And the trend is similar for even older men, with 17 percent of those aged 75-79 expected to still be working in a decade, up from just 10 percent in 1994.

Clearly, these older people did not get the message that they were supposed to become old-age dependents when they turned 65.

Depot Supervisor Eric Headley, 74, takes a call on his mobile phone while at work for Pimlico Plumbers in London July 29, 2010. Britain announced plans to scrap the fixed retirement age next year, saying it wanted to give people the chance to work beyond 65, but business leaders warned the move would create serious problems. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett (BRITAIN - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY) - RTR2GUL1
Depot Supervisor Eric Headley, 74, takes a call on his mobile phone while at work for Pimlico Plumbers in London July 29, 2010. Britain announced plans to scrap the fixed retirement age next year, saying it wanted to give people the chance to work beyond 65, but business leaders warned the move would create serious problems. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett.

This isn’t unique to the U.S. Rates like these in many countries have been rising. In the U.K., for instance, the labor force participation rate of 65- to 69-year-old men was 24.2 percent in 2014, and in Israel it was 50.2 percent, up from 14.8 percent and 27.4 percent, respectively, in 2000. In part this is because older people now often have better cognitive functioning than their counterparts who were born a decade earlier.

So, instead of assuming that people work only from ages 20 to 64 and become old-age dependents when they hit 65, we have computed “economic dependency ratios” that take into account observations and forecasts of labor force participation rates. This tells us how many adults not in the labor force there are for every adult in the labor force, giving us a more accurate picture than using 65 as a cutoff point. We used forecasts produced by the International Labour Organization to figure this out.

The old-age dependency ratio in the U.S. is forecast to increase by 61 percent from 2013 to 2030. But using our economic dependency ratio, the ratio of adults in the labor force to adults not in the labor force increases by just 3 percent over that period.

Clearly, doom and gloom stories about U.S. workers having to support so many more nonworkers in the future may need to be reconsidered.

Is the health care burden going to be so high?

Another reality is that while health care costs will go up with an older population, they won’t rise as much as traditional forecasts estimate.

Instead of assuming that health care costs rise dramatically on people’s 65th birthdays, as the old-age dependency ratio implicitly does, we have produced an indicator that takes into account the fact that most of the health care costs of the elderly are incurred in their last few years of life. Increasing life expectancy means those final few years happen at ever later ages.

In Japan, for example, when the burden of the health care costs of people aged 65 and up on those 20-64 years old is assessed using only the conventional old-age dependency ratio, that burden is forecast to increase 32 percent from 2013 to 2030. When we compute health care costs based on whether people are in the last few years of their lives, the burden increases only 14 percent.

Pension ages are going up

The last reality we considered concerns pensions.

In most OECD countries, the age at which someone can begin collecting a full public pension is rising. In a number of countries, such as Sweden, Norway and Italy, pension payouts are now explicitly linked to life expectancy.

In Germany, the full pension age will rise from 65 to 67 in 2029. In the U.S., it used to be 65, is now 66 and will soon rise to 67.

Instead of assuming that everyone receives a full public pension at age 65, which is what the old-age dependency ratio implicitly does, we have computed a more realistic ratio, called the pension cost dependency ratio, that incorporates a general relationship between increases in life expectancy and the pension age. The pension cost dependency ratio shows how fast the burden of paying public pensions is likely to grow.

For instance, in Germany, the old-age dependency ratio is forecast to rise by 49 percent from 2013 to 2030, but 65-year-old Germans will not be eligible for a full pension in 2030. Our pension cost dependency ratio increases by 26 percent over the same period. Instead of indicating that younger Germans will have to pay 49 percent more to support pensioners in 2030 compared to what they paid in 2013, taking planned increases in the full pension age into account, we see that the increase is 26 percent.

Pranom Chartyothin, a 72-year-old bus conductor, sells and collects bus tickets in downtown Bangkok, Thailand, February 3, 2016. Such scenes will only become more common in Thailand as its population rapidly ages, unlike its neighbours with more youthful populations. The World Bank estimates the working-age population will shrink by 11 percent by 2040, the fastest contraction among Southeast Asia's developing countries. Thailand's stage of economic development, the rising cost of living and education, and a population waiting longer to get married are among the reasons it is ageing more quickly than its neighbours. An effective contraception programme in the 1970s also played a part, said Sutayut Osornprasop, a human development specialist at the World Bank in Thailand. Picture taken February 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTX269SM
Pranom Chartyothin, a 72-year-old bus conductor, sells and collects bus tickets in downtown Bangkok, Thailand, February 3, 2016. Such scenes will only become more common in Thailand as its population rapidly ages, unlike its neighbours with more youthful populations. The World Bank estimates the working-age population will shrink by 11 percent by 2040, the fastest contraction among Southeast Asia’s developing countries. Thailand’s stage of economic development, the rising cost of living and education, and a population waiting longer to get married are among the reasons it is ageing more quickly than its neighbours. An effective contraception programme in the 1970s also played a part, said Sutayut Osornprasop, a human development specialist at the World Bank in Thailand. Picture taken February 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva.

Sixty-five just isn’t that old anymore

In addition to this suite of measures focused on particular aspects of population aging, it is also useful to have a general measure of population aging. We call our general measure of population aging the prospective old-age dependency ratio.

People do not suddenly become old-age dependents on their 65th birthdays. From a population perspective, it makes more sense to classify people as being old when they are getting near the end of their lives. Failing to adjust who is categorized as old based on the changing characteristics of people and their longevity can make aging seem faster than it will be.

In our prospective old-age dependency ratio, we define people as old when they are in age groups where the remaining life expectancy is 15 years or less. As life expectancy increases, this threshold of old age increases.

In the U.K., for instance, the conventional old-age dependency ratio is forecast to increase by 33 percent by 2030. But when we allow the old-age threshold to change with increasing life expectancy, the resulting ratio increases by just 13 percent.

Populations are aging in many countries, but the conventional old-age dependency ratio makes the impact seem worse than it will be. Fortunately, better measures that do not exaggerate the effects of aging are now just a click away.

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Yes, we live in interesting times!

Anger alert!

This report from my old country is despicable!

Before leaving England in 2008 to be with my Jeannie, I lived in South Devon. Lived in the small village of Harberton, just a few miles west of Totnes. But never had cause to form an opinion, good or bad, of my local police force: The Devon and Cornwall Police. Until now!

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Why Did Police Keep a Dog Locked in a Cage for 2 Years?

3169853.largeBy: Laura Goldman, March 6, 2016

Follow Laura at @lauragoldman

Stella has spent the last two years locked in a 3-by-9 foot cage in a kennel in Devon, England. She has never been let out to exercise or play.

In 2014, Stella was taken away by police from her owner, Antony Hastie, because she was “potentially dangerous.” Did she bite or attack someone? No. Under the UK’s Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, Stella is illegal and considered a threat to public safety – but only because of her breed. Stella is a pit bull mix.

Stella was taken to a private kennel owned by Devon and Cornwall Police. She was put in a cage that she has only been allowed to leave twice in the past two years, and only for behavior assessments.

“We were always told not to exercise or go into a kennel with any dogs, regardless of character, that had been brought in under the Dangerous Dogs Act,” Laura Khanlarian, who worked at the kennel, told BBC News.

“We were under no circumstances allowed to touch any of those dogs — which was hard,” Khanlarian said. “Animal welfare comes before anything, and that was my job. I don’t believe I would be doing it properly if I would sit back and think that’s okay. It wasn’t okay — it’s not okay.”

The dogs that were “so kind and needed us the most for reassurance – we were never able to give that to them,” she told SWNS TV.

Khanlarian lost her job when she breached her employment contract by interacting with the seized dogs.

Contrary to Khanlarian’s eyewitness account, Devon and Cornwall Police issued a statement claiming that of the hundred or so dogs they’ve seized over the past two years, Stella was the only one deemed too dangerous to be exercised by kennel staff.

Apparently Devon and Cornwall Police haven’t read “The Welfare of Dogs Seized in Kennels: A Guide to Good Practice,” created for police departments by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in collaboration with animal welfare officers, local authority dog wardens and police dog legislation officers.

All dogs “must have daily access to outdoor safe and secure areas, away from the kennel area and this should be at least 30 minutes per day,” the guide states (yes, “must” is emphasized in bold).

The Dangerous Dogs Act is breed-specific legislation (BSL), laws that apply only to certain breeds (usually pit bulls). BSL is opposed in the United States by virtually every major animal welfare organization because it punishes well-behaved dogs and responsible owners. Besides, it’s expensive to enforce and has not proven to increase public safety anywhere that it’s been enacted.

“It’s terrible. It’s unjustified. It’s wasting huge amounts of money and it’s not doing a single thing to prevent dog bites,” Kendal Shepherd, a veterinarian and animal behavior expert with 30 years of experience working with dogs, told BBC News. “It’s cruel. But it’s what our system forces us to do.”

Stella’s owner has gone to court 11 times over the past two years, trying in vain to get his beloved dog back. She had never showed any signs of aggression before she was seized, he said.

But Cornwall and Devon Police said — in the same statement in which they claimed Stella was the only dog in their kennel not let out of her cage – that Stella had “threatened and shown aggressive behavior toward two Police Community Support Officers,” had shown “aggressive behavior prior to being seized” and “attempted to bite a court appointed independent expert during the dog’s assessment.”

Last month, Torquay Magistrates’ Court ordered Stella to be destroyed.

Stella’s heartbreaking situation is similar to that of Lennox, a therapy dog from Northern Ireland that was seized because he was perceived to be a pit bull mix. Despite an international outcry and pleas for his life from dog experts like Victoria Stilwell, Lennox was euthanized in 2012.

Several rescue organizations in the United States had offered to take in Lennox, to no avail.

Perhaps Animals R Family will have better luck with Stella. The nonprofit rescue has offered to fly her to its headquarters in Connecticut, where BSL is banned.

“Breed specific legislation is wrong and ineffective. In the US, pit bulls are one of the most popular dogs for family pets,” the rescue wrote on its Facebook page.

Please sign and share the petition asking for Stella to be released.

Photo credit: YouTube

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Inevitably, this was signed by Jean and me seconds after it was read. Please do everything in your power to support this petition and stand behind Sharon, the originator of the Care2 Petition.

Thank you from all of my being. This is wrong on just so many levels it makes me ashamed to be a human or English. You can not torture and destroy animals because of outdated laws. Henry VIII killed people for not being Christian, where would we be if that was still lawful????? Animals only EVER ask for love. I have been around more animals than I have had hot dinners in my life and I’m 50 now. Someone please help me make this a happy ending.

Sincerely,
sharon smart

Please also send a message of support to AnimalsRFamily because it might just make a difference. Their contact page is here.

The behaviour of dogs is always a product of the humans who are around them, it is never a function of the dog alone! (And please see my post tomorrow about our own Pit Bull mix.)

Interconnections Three

Is there a case for optimism? You bet there is!

To be honest, at a personal level I just don’t know the answer to that question. It seems to depend on the mood that Jean and I are in at any particular time. All I can fall back on is that well-used saying from me: “Never underestimate the power of unintended consequences”.

In other words, we shouldn’t underestimate the strength of millions of good people when their demands start reaching out to those in power. (And whatever your reaction to this post, please don’t miss watching the inspirational Al Gore speech towards the end of this post.)

Recently over on the Grist site there was an article about the critical changes that each and every one of us should be making. I want to share it with you in full.

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Want to fight climate change? Here are the 7 critical life changes you should make

Interconnections Two

Continuing the stark assessment of where we are today.

In yesterday’s post I covered the first five of the eleven facts about sea-level rise. Here are the rest of those facts.

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11 alarming facts about sea-level rise

Russell McLendon, February 26, 2016.

6. Sea levels could rise another 1.3 meters (4.3 feet) in the next 80 years.

sea-level rise mapThis map shows areas that would flood (marked in red) due to 1-meter sea-level rise. (Photo: NASA)

In another study published this month, scientists report that global sea levels will likely rise 0.5 to 1.3 meters (1.6 to 4.3 feet) by the end of this century if greenhouse gas emissions aren’t rapidly reduced. Even if last year’s Paris Agreement does spur ambitious climate policy, sea levels are still projected to rise 20 to 60 cm (7.8 to 23.6 inches) by 2100. Taken with the longer-term effects from melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, that means any strategy to endure sea-level rise must involve adaptation plans as well as efforts to slow the trend.

7. Up to 216 million people currently live on land that will be below sea level or regular flood levels by 2100.

coastal flooding in Typhoon FitowHigher sea levels can exacerbate storm surges, like this 2013 flood in Wenzhou, China. (Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Of the estimated 147 million to 216 million people in harm’s way, between 41 million and 63 million live in China. Twelve nations have more than 10 million people living on land at risk from sea-level rise, including China as well as India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia and Japan. Bangladesh is especially vulnerable, identified by the U.N. as the country most in danger from rising seas. Once the ocean rises by 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) next century, it will affect 16 percent of Bangladesh’s land area and 15 percent of its population — that’s 22,000 km2 (8,500 mi2) and 17 million people.

The situation is also urgent for low-lying island nations like Kiribati, the Maldives, the Marshall Islands and the Solomon Islands, where land is already so close to sea level that a few inches make a world of difference. Some are even mulling mass relocations — the government of Kiribati, for one, has a web page outlining its strategy for “migration with dignity.” A town on Taro Island, the capital of Choiseul Province in the Solomon Islands, is also planning to move its entire population in response to rising seas. The small community of Newtok, Alaska, has already begun the difficult process of transplanting itself away from the encroaching coast.

8. Sea-level rise can contaminate water used for drinking and irrigation.

saltwater intrusionSea-level rise can aid saltwater intrusion of freshwater aquifers, as seen in this schematic illustration. (Image: NRC.gov)

In addition to surface flooding, sea-level rise can both push up the freshwater table and contaminate it with seawater, a phenomenon known as saltwater intrusion. Many coastal areas rely on aquifers for drinking water and irrigation, and once they’re tainted by saltwater they may be unsafe for humans as well as crops.

It is possible to remove salt from water, but the process is complex and costly. San Diego County recently opened the Western Hemisphere’s largest desalination plant, for example, and several other sites are proposed in the state. Yet that may not be practical for many coastal communities, especially in less wealthy nations.

9. It can also threaten coastal plant and animal life.

loggerhead sea turtle hatchlingFloods fueled by rising seas may harm baby sea turtles, like these South African loggerheads. (Photo: Jeroen Looyé/Flickr)

Humans aren’t the only ones who’ll suffer as sea levels rise. Any coastal plants or animals that can’t quickly move to new, less flood-prone habitats could face dire consequences. As one 2015 study noted, sea turtles have a long-established habit of laying eggs on beaches, which need to stay relatively dry for their babies to hatch.

Inundation for one to three hours reduced egg viability by less than 10 percent, the study’s authors found, but six hours underwater cut viability by about 30 percent. “All embryonic developmental stages were vulnerable to mortality from saltwater inundation,” the researchers write. Even for hatchlings that do survive, being starved of oxygen in the egg could lead to developmental problems later in life, they add.

Other beach life may also be at risk, including plants. A recent study found that some salt marshes can adapt, both by growing vertically and by moving inland, but not all flora will be so fortunate. “Trees have to work harder to pull water out of salty soil; as a result, their growth can be stunted — and if the soil is salty enough, they will die, a common sign of sea-level rise,” Climate Central explains. “Even trees that are especially suited to salty soil can’t survive repeated flooding by seawater.”

10. Global flood damage for large coastal cities could cost $1 trillion a year if cities don’t take steps to adapt.

sea-level rise in TokyoThis Google Earth simulation shows a Tokyo neighborhood with 1.3-meter sea-level rise. (Image: Google Earth)

The average global losses from flooding in 2005 were about $6 billion, but the World Bank estimates they’ll rise to $52 billion per year by 2050 based on socioeconomic changes alone. (That means things like increasing coastal populations and property value). If you add the effects of sea-level rise and sinking land — which is happening even faster in some places — the cost could surge to $1 trillion per year.

11. It’s too late to stop sea-level rise — but not too late to save lives from it.

iceberg off GreenlandA full moon shines over an iceberg that broke off Greenland’s Jakobshavn Glacier. If the entire Greenland ice sheet melted, sea levels would rise about 6 meters, or 20 feet. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Unfortunately, CO2 emissions linger in the atmosphere for centuries, and today’s CO2 levels have already committed Earth to dangerous sea-level rise. About 99 percent of all freshwater ice resides in two ice sheets: one in Antarctica and one in Greenland. Both are expected to melt if humanity’s CO2 output isn’t curbed quickly, but the question is when — and how much damage we still have time to prevent.

The Greenland ice sheet is smaller and melting more quickly. If it completely melted, sea levels would rise by about 6 meters (20 feet). The Antarctic ice sheet has been more buffered from warming so far, but it’s hardly immune, and would raise the ocean by 60 meters (200 feet) if it melted. (Estimates vary widely on how long these ice sheets might survive — while most expect they’ll take centuries or millennia to melt, a controversial 2015 paper suggested it could happen much more quickly.)

Sea levels have naturally risen and receded for billions of years, but they’ve never risen this quickly in modern history — and they’ve never had so much human help. It’s unclear what effect they’ll have on our species, but what is clear is that our descendants will still be dealing with this problem long after we’re all gone. Giving them a head start on a solution is the least we can do.

“With all the greenhouse gases we already emitted, we cannot stop the seas from rising altogether, but we can substantially limit the rate of the rise by ending the use of fossil fuels,” says Anders Levermann, a climate scientist at Columbia University and co-author of the new study on future sea-level rise. “We try to give coastal planners what they need for adaptation planning, be it building dikes, designing insurance schemes for flooding or mapping long-term settlement retreat.”

As another recent study pointed out, any policy decisions made in the next few years and decades “will have profound impacts on global climate, ecosystems and human societies — not just for this century, but for the next ten millennia and beyond.”

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Tomorrow, in the final part of this three-part posting I will look at some positive things that we can all be doing now.

But let me leave you with a rather beautiful consequence of these changing times. As seen over on Grist:

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Incredible glacier art pays homage to our disappearing ice

Interconnections One.

The beat of a butterfly’s wings.

From Wikipedia:

The Butterfly Effect is a concept that small causes can have large effects. Initially, it was used with weather prediction but later the term became a metaphor used in and out of science.[1]

In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state. The name, coined by Edward Lorenz for the effect which had been known long before, is derived from the metaphorical example of the details of a hurricane (exact time of formation, exact path taken) being influenced by minor perturbations such as the flapping of the wings of a distant butterfly several weeks earlier. Lorenz discovered the effect when he observed that runs of his weather model with initial condition data that was rounded in a seemingly inconsequential manner would fail to reproduce the results of runs with the unrounded initial condition data. A very small change in initial conditions had created a significantly different outcome.

We all live in an interconnected world. Frankly, it’s such an obvious statement that one presumes that very few would not agree with the sentiment expressed within it.

But (and you knew there was a ‘but’ coming, didn’t you!) very few of us (and I include Jean and me to a very great extent) really understand, “A very small change in initial conditions had created a significantly different outcome.”

Take these few items; more or less randomly read over the last few days.

Such as this post over on Patrice Ayme’s blog.

Biblical Flood Starting Anew

Abstract: update on Sea Level Rise. The meat of the essay is at the end, in the section “THE SITUATION IS ACTUALLY CATACLYSMIC“.

Heard of The Flood? As in the Bible? Sea level rose 120 meters (400 feet), in the period centered around 10,000 years ago. The cause? More than half of Earth’s ice melted in a few millennia,  During the rest of the early Holocene, the rate of rise of the world’s ocean reached peaks as high as 60  millimeters (2.5 inches) per year. The melting of the ice happened because Earth’s positional and orbital parameters had made northern hemisphere’s summers too warm (most of the ice shields rested on the large continents of the north). Nowadays only two enormous ice shields are left: Greenland and Antarctica.

Those who enjoy catastrophes will love it: we have 75 meters of further sea rise to enjoy pretty soon, on our way to a Jurassic climate (the Jurassic was characterized by gigantic warm shallow seas on top of the continents). Here was the situation in the Miocene, when CO2 was at 500 ppm (where we will be at in ten years, see conclusion below).

Patrice said that the essence, the meat, of his essay was at the end. Here are his closing words:

Three scientific papers published in the last two months support my, admittedly drastic, point of view. One observed the collapse of a colossal glacier in northwest Greenland, eaten by a current at one degree C. It was a miniature reproduction of what to expect for entire ice shields. Two others observed the past, and that Antarctica was unstable at 500 ppm CO2. What they did not say is how dramatic the situation was. Indeed, sounding moderate is how they get funded by a benevolent, plutocratically ruled government (and by government, I also mean the corrupt Supreme Court, not just the latest elected buffoons). The scientists who evoked the 500 ppm of CO2 omitted two significant details, where the devil lurks. They claimed that it would take 30 years to get there. That’s not correct; at the present rate, we will add 100 ppm of CO2 within 25 years. But not just that: there are other man-made GreenHouse Gases (GHG): CH4, NOx, Fluorocarbons, etc. All these gases warm up the lower atmosphere much more than CO2. So the correct measurement is not CO2 ppm, but CO2 EQUIVALENT ppm.

We are right now ABOVE 450 ppm in EQUIVALENT CO2, and will be at 500 ppm within ten years. Let’s hope there will be more boats than on the Titanic.

Patrice Ayme’

P/S: If anything, the preceding is a conservative estimate. Indeed very serious scientists evaluated already the man-made greenhouse gases at 478 ppm in 2013. This means we will be above 500 ppm in CO2 equivalent within six years, in line with my previous analyses, such as “Ten Years To Catastrophe“. See:

http://oceans.mit.edu/news/featured-stories/5-questions-mits-ron-prinn-400-ppm-threshold

Now it’s not all ‘doom and gloom’ and there is much that each and every one of us can do. More of that in Interconnections Three on Thursday.

But to continue with this ‘wake up call’ I’m going to republish in full an item that was recently published over on Mother Nature Network: 11 alarming facts about sea-level rise. To stop today’s post being excessively long, I’m going to split that MNN article over today and tomorrow. Here are the first 5 alarming facts. (Don’t read them just before turning the light out when going to bed tonight!)

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11 alarming facts about sea-level rise

Russell McLendon,  February 26, 2016.
 Up to 216 million people currently live on land that will be below sea level or regular flood levels by 2100. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Up to 216 million people currently live on land that will be below sea level or regular flood levels by 2100. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The ocean is coming for us. Global sea levels are now rising by 3.4 millimeters per year, up from an average rate of 1.4 mm per year last century. In just 80 years, the ocean could be a full 1.3 meters (4.3 feet) taller than it is today.

That kind of planetary sea change can be hard to fathom — unless you live in a low-lying place like Miami, the Maldives or the Marshall Islands, where the effects of sea-level rise are already apparent. But within just a few decades, the problem will become unavoidable in major coastal cities around the world, from New Orleans, New York and Amsterdam to Calcutta, Bangkok and Tokyo.

We all know why this is happening. Rising seas are one of the most salient effects of man-made climate change, triggered by thermal expansion of seawater as well as the influx of melting glaciers. Yet many people still see it as a distant risk, failing to grasp how (relatively) quickly the sea is swallowing shores worldwide. And since half of all humans now live within 60 kilometers (37 miles) of a coast, this isn’t a niche issue.

To help put things in perspective, here’s a deeper look at the problem:

1. Global sea levels have already risen by 8 inches (200 mm) since 1880.

sea-level-rise-1880-2014

The chart above was produced by NASA’s Earth Observatory, based on data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO). Most of those historical data come from tide-gauge measurements, which are now complemented by satellite observations.

2. Not only are sea levels rising; the rate of their rise is rising.

Average global sea-level rise is now 3.41 mm per year, but the rate varies widely by location. (Image: NASA GSFC)
Average global sea-level rise is now 3.41 mm per year, but the rate varies widely by location. (Image: NASA GSFC)

On average, sea levels rose by 1.4 mm from 1900 to 2000. The yearly pace had surpassed 3 mm by 2010, and now it’s up to 3.4 mm per year.

3. That’s the fastest sea-level rise Earth has experienced in 3,000 years.

Cb5MxZ4WIAAAW06If not for surging carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, sea levels should have only risen about an inch or two last century, and might have even fallen. Instead, thanks to the highest CO2 levels at any point in human history, global sea levels rose by 5.5 inches (14 cm) between 1900 and 2000. That’s the fastest oceanic advance in 27 centuries, according to a study published Feb. 22, and it’s still speeding up.

“The 20th century rise was extraordinary in the context of the last three millennia — and the rise over the last two decades has been even faster,” says lead author Robert Kopp, a climate scientist at Rutgers University, in a statement.

“Scenarios of future rise depend upon our understanding of the response of sea level to climate changes,” adds co-author Benjamin Horton. “Accurate estimates of sea-level variability during the past 3,000 years provide a context for such projections.”

4. Every vertical inch of sea-level rise moves the ocean 50 to 100 inches inland.

Miami coastal flooding
Rising seas worsen regular flooding — like this 2015 high tide in Miami Beach — for many coastal cities. Miami is in the midst of a five-year, $400 million effort to upgrade its stormwater pump program. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

5. That’s already causing flood problems in many big coastal cities.

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE EFFECT ON BIG COASTAL CITIES

As the ocean invades coastal cities, the first signs of trouble are often urban saltwater floods. These can also happen naturally, though, so to determine the influence of rising seas, a new report by Climate Central models “alternative histories simulating the absence of anthropogenic climate change” at 27 U.S. tide gauges.

Out of 8,726 days since 1950 when unaltered water levels exceeded the National Weather Service thresholds for local “nuisance” floods, 5,809 didn’t exceed those thresholds in the alternative histories. “In other words,” the report explains, “human-caused global sea level rise effectively tipped the balance, pushing high-water events over the threshold, for about two-thirds of the observed flood days.”

Coastal flooding days have more than doubled in the U.S. since the 1980s, according to the report, in places ranging from Miami, Virginia Beach and New York to San Francisco, Seattle and Honolulu. According to a 2014 report, at least 180 floods will strike Annapolis, Maryland, during high tides every year by 2030 — sometimes twice a day. The same will be true for about a dozen other U.S. cities by 2045, not to mention many other low-lying urban areas around the world.

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To be continued tomorrow.

One way to fix America!

Albeit, a slightly tongue-in-cheek fix from this ex-Brit.

I thought after yesterday’s pretty grim and turgid post that today’s offering should be connected but not in nearly such a dark manner.

The following came to me having done quite a few rounds so it’s not clear whom I should thank. But it’s an interesting proposition; nonetheless.

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A MESSAGE FROM THE QUEEN

To the citizens of the United States of America from Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II:

In light of your failure to nominate competent candidates for President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective immediately. (You should look up ‘revocation’ in the Oxford English Dictionary.)

Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths, and territories (except North Dakota, which she does not fancy).

Your new Prime Minister, David Cameron, will appoint a Governor for America without the need for further elections.

Congress and the Senate will be disbanded. A questionnaire may be circulated next year to determine whether any of you noticed.

To aid in the transition to a British Crown dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:

———————–

  1. The letter ‘U’ will be reinstated in words such as ‘colour,’ ‘favour,’ ‘labour’ and ‘neighbour.’ Likewise, you will learn to spell ‘doughnut’ without skipping half the letters, and the suffix ‘-ize’ will be replaced by the suffix ‘-ise.’ Generally, you will be expected to raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels. (look up ‘vocabulary’).

————————

  1. Using the same twenty-seven words interspersed with filler noises such as ”like’ and ‘you know’ is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication. There is no such thing as U.S. English. We will let Microsoft know on your behalf. The Microsoft spell-checker will be adjusted to take into account the reinstated letter ‘u” and the elimination of ‘-ize.’

——————-

  1. July 4th will no longer be celebrated as a holiday.

—————–

  1. You will learn to resolve personal issues without using guns, lawyers, or therapists. The fact that you need so many lawyers and therapists shows that you’re not quite ready to be independent. Guns should only be used for shooting grouse. If you can’t sort things out without suing someone or speaking to a therapist, then you’re not ready to shoot grouse.

———————-

  1. Therefore, you will no longer be allowed to own or carry anything more dangerous than a vegetable peeler. Although a permit will be required if you wish to carry a vegetable peeler in public.

———————-

  1. All intersections will be replaced with roundabouts, and you will start driving on the left side with immediate effect. At the same time, you will go metric with immediate effect and without the benefit of conversion tables. Both roundabouts and metrication will help you understand the British sense of humour.

——————–

  1. The former USA will adopt UK prices on petrol (which you have been calling gasoline) of roughly $10/US gallon. Get used to it.

——————-

  1. You will learn to make real chips. Those things you call French fries are not real chips, and those things you insist on calling potato chips are properly called crisps. Real chips are thick cut, fried in animal fat, and dressed not with catsup but with vinegar.

——————-

  1. The cold, tasteless stuff you insist on calling beer is not actually beer at all. Henceforth, only proper British Bitter will be referred to as beer, and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as Lager. South African beer is also acceptable, as they are pound for pound the greatest sporting nation on earth and it can only be due to the beer. They are also part of the British Commonwealth – see what it did for them. American brands will be referred to as Near-Frozen Gnat’s Urine, so that all can be sold without risk of further confusion.

———————

  1. Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as good guys. Hollywood will also be required to cast English actors to play English characters. Watching Andie Macdowell attempt English dialect in Four Weddings and a Funeral was an experience akin to having one’s ears removed with a cheese grater.

———————

  1. You will cease playing American football. There is only one kind of proper football; you call it soccer. Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play rugby (which has some similarities to American football, but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or wearing full kevlar body armour like a bunch of nancies).

———————

  1. Further, you will stop playing baseball. It is not reasonable to host an event called the World Series for a game which is not played outside of America. Since only 2.1% of you are aware there is a world beyond your borders, your error is understandable. You will learn cricket, and we will let you face the South Africans first to take the sting out of their deliveries.

——————–

13.. You must tell us who killed JFK. It’s been driving us mad.

—————–

  1. An internal revenue agent (i.e. tax collector) from Her Majesty’s Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all monies due (backdated to 1776).

—————

  1. Daily Tea Time begins promptly at 4 p.m. with proper cups, with saucers, and never mugs, with high quality biscuits (cookies) and cakes; plus strawberries (with cream) when in season.

God Save the Queen!

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Can’t beat that for advice!

Preliminaries taking place!
Preliminaries taking place in a very genteel (British) fashion!

None so blind …

…. as those who choose not to see!

Note: This is a long and pretty depressing post yet one that contains a critically vital message. Just wanted to flag that up.

This is not the first time I have used this expression as a header to a blogpost. The first time was back in August 2013 when I introduced the TomDispatch essay: Rebecca Solnit, The Age of Inhuman Scale.

I am using it again to introduce another TomDispatch essay. Like the Solnit essay a further reflection on the incredible madness of these present global times.

But before getting to that essay let me refer to a recent Patrice Ayme post. It is called: New Climate Lie: Magical CO2 Stop Possible.

Patrice included this graph:

To Stay Below 2C, CO2 Emissions Have To Stop Now. We Are On The Red Trajectory: Total Disaster
To Stay Below 2C, CO2 Emissions Have To Stop Now. We Are On The Red Trajectory: Total Disaster

Adding:

Tempo depended upon the CO2 concentration, pitch upon the Earth global temperature, distortion upon the energy balance on land in watts per square meter. The numbers used were past and anticipated. After 2015, the graphs became two: one was red, the bad case scenario, the other was blue, and represented the good scenario.

As I looked at the blue graphs, the optimistic graphs, I got displeased: the blue CO2 emissions, the blue temperature, and the blue power imbalance, had a very sharp angle, just in 2016. First a sharp angle is mathematically impossible: as it is now, the curves of CO2, and temperature are smooth curves going up (on the appropriate time scale). It would require infinite acceleration, infinite force. Even if one stopped magically any human generated greenhouse gases emissions next week, the CO2 concentration would still be above 400 ppm (it is 404 ppm now). And it would stay this way for centuries. So temperature would still rise.

The composer, who was on stage, had been advised by a senior climate scientist, a respectable gentleman with white hair, surrounded by a court, who got really shocked when I came boldly to him, and told him his blue graph was mathematically impossible.

I told him that one cannot fit a rising, smooth exponential with a sharp angle bending down and a line. Just fitting the curves in the most natural, smooth and optimistic way gives a minimum temperature rise of four degrees Celsius. (There is a standard mathematical way to do this, dating back to Newton.)

Read Patrice’s essay in full here.

However, I find the malaise gripping us in these times to be infinitely more difficult to understand than what is or is not mathematically possible. I just can’t get my mind around the possibility that we are in an era where greed, inequality and the pursuit of power and money will take the whole of humanity over the edge.

Why, for goodness sake, is the U.S., my adopted home country, pursuing gas exports? As I read here: United States On Path to Becoming Major Exporter of Natural Gas Despite Climate Impacts
Here’s a taste of this report from Julie Dermansky of Desmogblog:

A flare at Cheniere Energy Sabine Pass LNG facility. ©2016 Julie Dermansky
A flare at Cheniere Energy Sabine Pass LNG facility. ©2016 Julie Dermansky

But rather than acknowledging the climate risk posed by further expansion of LNG export infrastructure, the U.S. Congress and the Obama administration are moving in the opposite direction.

The natural gas export industry may grow even more rapidly if the first new bipartisan energy legislation drafted since 2007 passes. The Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015, known as S. 2012, would expedite permitting for LNG export terminals.

The bill’s passage was considered imminent until it derailed with the introduction of an amendment that would provide emergency aid towards solving the lead-contaminated water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Now the passage of the bill hinges on whether the Senate will come to terms on aid to Flint.

Lobbying for the bill has been heavy. As DeSmog’s Steve Horn reported: “The list of lobbyists for S.2012 is a who’s who of major fossil fuel corporations and their trade associations: BP, ExxonMobil, America’s Natural Gas Alliance, American Petroleum Institute, Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, Southern Company, Duke Energy and many other prominent LNG export companies.”

I highlighted the name ExxonMobil in that extract because that company is the subject of Tom Engelhardt’s essay from Bill McKibben. Republished here with Tom’s kind permission.

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Tomgram: Bill McKibben, It’s Not Just What Exxon Did, It’s What It’s Doing

Shining a light on these times.

There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip.

That sub-heading is a very old proverb supporting the idea  “that even when the outcome of an event seems certain, things can still go wrong.”

That proverb came to me when I was reading a TomDispatch essay that was published last Tuesday. I couldn’t make up my mind about whether or not to continue with yesterday’s mood of “Living in interesting times” but in the end decided to so do. Because Peter Van Buren’s essay, published as a Tomgram, needs to be widely read so that as many as possible appreciate the need to reach out to those that should be supported.

I am very grateful to Tom Engelhardt for his continuing permission for me to republish his TomDispatch essays.

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Tomgram: Peter Van Buren, Minimum Wage, Minimum Chance

We live in interesting times!

The impending ‘banquet of consequences’.

The Welcome page of this blog includes this:

Dogs ‘teaching’ man to be so successful a hunter enabled evolution, some 20,000 years later, to farming,  thence the long journey to modern man.  But in the last, say 100 years, that farming spirit has become corrupted to the point where we see the planet’s plant and mineral resources as infinite.  Mankind is close to the edge of extinction, literally and spiritually.

I continue that theme in Part Two of my book (Chapter 7: This Twenty-First Century)

Bad news sells! Bad news also causes stress and worry. In my previous explanation, I explained that the last thing you want is a catalogue of all the things that have that power to cause you stress and worry. However, I do see three fundamental aspects of this new century that have their roots in that loss of principles that I referred to in the previous chapter. They are

1. the global financial system,
2. the potential for social disorder, and
3. the process of government.

Because they are at the heart of how the coming years will pan out.

The first aspect, our global financial system, was selected because it underpins all our lives in so many ways. When I was living in southwest England I was a client of Kauders Portfolio Services[1]. The founder of the company, David Kauders, published[2] a book, The Greatest Crash, in 2011. It was an obvious read for me at that time and I still have the book on my shelves here in Oregon.
David explained that whether we like it or not, our lives are inextricably caught up in the twin dependencies of the global financial system: credit and debt. As he wrote in his opening chapter:

Households can barely afford their existing debts, let alone take on more. Since households now prefer not to borrow, indeed some even choose to pay back debt, it follows that those who have already borrowed, as a group, can no longer contribute to economic expansion.
People can be divided into borrowers and savers. With existing borrowers unable to afford or unwilling to take on extra debt, can new borrowers be found instead? Those who do not need to borrow are unlikely to volunteer. Except for the young wishing to buy houses, facing the reality that house prices are beyond their pockets, where are the new borrowers?
Businesses are also under pressure. There has been an inadequate recovery from recession, business prospects are poor as households cut back their spending. Lack of bank lending is a symptom rather than a cause, for if existing businesses were to be given more credit, they would probably be unlikely to find profitable growth opportunities in a world of austerity.

Later on in the book David describes this as “the financial system limit”. In other words, the period of growth and expansion, especially of financial and economic expansion, has come to an end in a structural sense. This was his perspective from 2011.

Recently, I chose to reread The Greatest Crash. What struck me forcibly, reading the book again some four years later on, was how visible this “system limit” appeared in the world today. Everywhere there are signs that the era of growth has come to an end. Many countries are now indebted to a point that reinforces the proposition of there being a financial system limit. The United States is greatly in debt[3] but the only thing mitigating that situation, for the time being anyway, is that the American dollar is the quasi dominant global currency.
The changing nature of the global population is also reinforcing the fact that this is the end of a long period of growth. Even without embracing the question of how much longer we can increase the number of people living on a finite planet, the demographics spell out a greater-than-even chance of a decline in consumption and economic activity. Simply because in all regions of the planet, except for India where there is still a growing youth element in the country, people are ageing. To state the obvious, ageing persons do not consume as much as middle-aged and younger persons.
Thus, the world’s economy that is just around the corner is certainly going to be very different to what it has been in the past. It is not being widely discussed. Worse than that, there is a widespread assumption adopted by many governments that a return to the “normal” economic growth of previous times is a given. Many do not share that assumption.

The second aspect that isn’t being spoken about is the potential for massive, widespread social disorder. All summed up in just three words: greed, inequality, and poverty. Just three words that metaphorically appear to me like a round, wooden lid hiding a very deep, dark well. That lifting this particular lid, the metaphorical one, exposes an almost endless drop into the depths of where our society appears to have fallen.
Even the slightest raising of awareness of where this modern global world is heading is scary. I have in mind the author Thomas Piketty who warned[4] that, “the inequality gap is toxic, dangerous.” Then there was the news in 2015[5] that, “Billionaires control the vast majority of the world’s wealth, 67 billionaires already own half the world’s assets; by 2100 we’ll have 11 trillionaires, while American worker income has stagnated for a generation.”

The third and final aspect that isn’t being widely discussed is the process of government. Not from the viewpoint of “left” or “right”, Labour or Conservative, Democratic or Republican (insert the labels appropriate to your own country), that is being discussed ad nauseum, but from the viewpoint of good government. It might be a terrible generalisation but it is still a fair criticism to say that many peoples of many countries have lost faith in their governments.
There appears to be a chronic absence of open debate about the need for good government, what that good government would look like, and how do societies bring it about.

If we were a dog pack, then our leader, our female mentor dog, would have moved us all to a new, pristine territory!


[1] My relationship was terminated when I became a resident of the United Staes in 2011.
[2] 2011, Sparkling Books.
[3] http://www.usgovernmentdebt.us offers on the 14th November, 2014 that the Federal Debt of the United States was about $18,006,100,032,000.
[4] In his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Belknap Press, 2014).
[5] http://www.marketwatch.com/story/capitalism-is-killing-americas-morals-our-future-2015-05-22.

Yes, these are indeed very interesting times!

So, dear reader, you can understand why a recent article over on Naked Capitalism spoke to me. It was penned by Satyajit Das, a former banker and the author of a number of books. Both Satyajit and Yves, of Naked Capitalism, were delighted to offer me permission to republish the full post.

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Satyajit Das: Age of Stagnation or Something Worse?

Yves here. If you’ve read Das regularly, one of the characteristics of his writing is wry detachment. The shift to a sense of foreboding is a big departure.

By Satyajit Das, a former banker and author whose latest book, The Age of Stagnation, is now available. The following is an edited excerpt from Age of Stagnation (published with the permission of Prometheus Books)

If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth, only . . . wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair. C.S. Lewis

The world is entering a period of stagnation, the new mediocre. The end of growth and fragile, volatile economic conditions are now the sometimes silent background to all social and political debates. For individuals, this is about the destruction of human hopes and dreams.

One Offs

For most of human history, as Thomas Hobbes recognised, life has been ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’. The fortunate coincidence of factors that drove the unprecedented improvement in living standards following the Industrial Revolution, and especially in the period after World War II, may have been unique, an historical aberration. Now, different influences threaten to halt further increases, and even reverse the gains.

Since the early 1980s, economic activity and growth have been increasingly driven by financialisation – the replacement of industrial activity with financial trading and increased levels of borrowing to finance consumption and investment. By 2007, US$5 of new debt was necessary to create an additional US$1 of American economic activity, a fivefold increase from the 1950s. Debt levels had risen beyond the repayment capacity of borrowers, triggering the 2008 crisis and the Great Recession that followed. But the world shows little sign of shaking off its addiction to borrowing. Ever-increasing amounts of debt now act as a brake on growth.

Growth in international trade and capital flows is slowing. Emerging markets that have benefited from and, in recent times, supported growth are slowing.

Rising inequality and economic exclusion also impacts negatively upon activity.

Financial problems are compounded by lower population growth and ageing populations; slower increases in productivity and innovation; looming shortages of critical resources, such as water, food and energy; and manmade climate change and extreme weather conditions.

The world requires an additional 64 billion cubic metres of water a year, equivalent to the annual water flow through Germany’s Rhine River. Agronomists estimate that production will need to increase by 60–100 percent by 2050 to feed the population of the world. While the world’s supply of energy will not be exhausted any time soon, the human race is on track to exhaust the energy content of hundreds of millions years’ worth of sunlight stored in the form of coal, oil and natural gas in a few hundred years. 10 tons of pre-historic buried plant and organic matter converted by pressure and heat over millennia was needed to create a single gallon (4.5 litres) of gasoline.

Europe is currently struggling to deal with a few million refugees fleeing conflicts in the Middle East. How will the world deal with hundreds of millions of people at risk of displacement as a resulting of rising sea levels?

Extend and Pretend

The official response to the 2008 crisis was a policy of ‘extend and pretend’, whereby authorities chose to ignore the underlying problem, cover it up, or devise deferral strategies to ‘kick the can down the road’. The assumption was that government spending, lower interest rates, and the supply of liquidity or cash to money markets would create growth. It would also increase inflation to help reduce the level of debt, by decreasing its value.

It was the grifter’s long con, a confidence trick with a potentially large payoff but difficult to pull off. Houses prices and stock markets have risen, but growth, employment, income and investment have barely recovered to pre-crisis levels in most advanced economies. Inflation for the most part remains stubbornly low.

In countries that have ‘recovered’, financial markets are, in many cases, at or above pre-crisis prices. But conditions in the real economy have not returned to normal. Must-have latest electronic gadgets cannot obscure the fact that living standards for most people are stagnant. Job insecurity has risen. Wages are static, where they are not falling. Accepted perquisites of life in developed countries, such as education, houses, health services, aged care, savings and retirement, are increasingly unattainable.

In more severely affected countries, conditions are worse. Despite talk of a return to growth, the Greek economy has shrunk by a quarter. Spending by Greeks has fallen by 40 percent, reflecting reduced wages and pensions. Reported unemployment is 26 percent of the labour force. Youth unemployment is over 50 percent. One commentator observed that the government could save money on education, as it was unnecessary to prepare people for jobs that did not exist.

Future generations may have fewer opportunities and lower living standards than their parents. A 2013 Pew Research Centre survey conducted in thirty-nine countries asked whether people believed that their children would enjoy better living standards: 33 percent of Americans believed so, as did 28 percent of Germans, 17 percent of British and 14 percent of Italians. Just 9 percent of French people thought their children would be better off than previous generations.

The Deadly Cure

Authorities have been increasingly forced to resort to untested policies including QE forever and negative interest rates. It was an attempt to buy time, to let economies achieve a self-sustaining recovery, as they had done before. Unfortunately the policies have not succeeded. The expensively purchased time has been wasted. The necessary changes have not been made.

There are toxic side effects. Global debt has increased, not decreased, in response to low rates and government spending. Banks, considered dangerously large after the events of 2008, have increased in size and market power since then. In the US the six largest banks now control nearly 70 percent of all the assets in the US financial system, having increased their share by around 40 percent.

Individual countries have sought to export their troubles, abandoning international cooperation for beggar-thy-neighbour strategies. Destructive retaliation, in the form of tit-for-tat interest rate cuts, currency wars, and restrictions on trade, limits the ability of any nation to gain a decisive advantage.

The policies have also set the stage for a new financial crisis. Easy money has artificially boosted prices of financial assets beyond their real value. A significant amount of this capital has flowed into and destabilised emerging markets. Addicted to government and central bank support, the world economy may not be able to survive without low rates and excessive liquidity.

Authorities increasingly find themselves trapped, with little room for manoeuvre and unable to discontinue support for the economy. Central bankers know, even if they are unwilling to publicly acknowledge it, that their tools are inadequate or exhausted, now possessing the potency of shamanic rain dances. More than two decades of trying similar measures in Japan highlight their ineffectiveness in avoiding stagnation.

Heart of the Matter

Conscious that the social compact requires growth and prosperity, politicians, irrespective of ideology, are unwilling to openly discuss the real issues. They claim crisis fatigue, arguing that the problems are too far into the future to require immediate action. Fearing electoral oblivion, they have succumbed to populist demands for faux certainty and placebo policies. But in so doing they are merely piling up the problems.

Policymakers interrogate their models and torture data, failing to grasp that ‘many of the things you can count don’t count [while] many of the things you can’t count really count’. The possibility of a historical shift does not inform current thinking.

It is not in the interest of bankers and financial advisers to tell their clients about the real outlook. Bad news is bad for business. The media and commentariat, for the most part, accentuate the positive. Facts, they argue, are too depressing. The priority is to maintain the appearance of normality, to engender confidence.

Ordinary people refuse to acknowledge that maybe you cannot have it all. But there is increasingly a visceral unease about the present and a fear of the future. Everyone senses that the ultimate cost of the inevitable adjustments will be large. It is not simply the threat of economic hardship; it is fear of a loss of dignity and pride. It is a pervasive sense of powerlessness.

For the moment, the world hopes for the best of times but is afraid of the worst. People everywhere resemble Dory, the Royal Blue Tang fish in the animated film Finding Nemo. Suffering from short-term memory loss, she just tells herself to keep on swimming. Her direction is entirely random and without purpose.

Reckoning Postponed

The world has postponed, indefinitely, dealing decisively with the challenges, choosing instead to risk stagnation or collapse. But reality cannot be deferred forever. Kicking the can down the road only shifts the responsibility for dealing with it onto others, especially future generations.

A slow, controlled correction of the financial, economic, resource and environmental excesses now would be serious but manageable. If changes are not made, then the forced correction will be dramatic and violent, with unknown consequences.

During the last half-century each successive economic crisis has increased in severity, requiring progressively larger measures to ameliorate its effects. Over time, the policies have distorted the economy. The effectiveness of instruments has diminished. With public finances weakened and interest rates at historic lows, there is now little room for manoeuvre. Geo-political risks have risen. Trust and faith in institutions and policy makers has weakened.

Economic problems are feeding social and political discontent, opening the way for extremism. In the Great Depression the fear and disaffection of ordinary people who had lost their jobs and savings gave rise to fascism. Writing of the period, historian A.J.P. Taylor noted: ‘[the] middle class, everywhere the pillar of stability and respectability . . . was now utterly destroyed . . . they became resentful . . . violent and irresponsible . . . ready to follow the first demagogic saviour . . .’

The new crisis that is now approaching or may already be with us will be like a virulent infection attacking a body whose immune system is already compromised.

As Robert Louis Stevenson knew, sooner or later we all have to sit down to a banquet of consequences.

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henrifredericamiel148210Very interesting times indeed!

Loving our wilderness

Loving our wilderness is another vital loving relationship

I quite deliberately named today’s post so that it would extend the theme of loving relationships posted yesterday.

So the recent announcement from the White House, “White House announced President Obama signed proclamations Friday to protect almost 2 million acres of pristine lands.” is to be welcomed with open arms. The article published in The Press Enterprise explained that those millions of acres were in California.

 The Castle Mountains, shown, will be declared a national monument in the Mojave Desert, along with Sand to Snow and Mojave Trails. KURT MILLER, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

The Castle Mountains, shown, will be declared a national monument in the Mojave Desert, along with Sand to Snow and Mojave Trails.
KURT MILLER, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

President Barack Obama established three national monuments today, Feb. 12, that cover almost 2 million acres in the Mojave Desert, the White House announced.

Obama used his power under the Antiquities Act to sign a proclamation designating the Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow and Castle Mountains national monuments. The move bypasses similar legislation, introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that has languished for years in Congress.

Feinstein asked the president in August to use his executive power to create the monuments. She praised the action in a statement: “I’m full of pride and joy knowing that future generations will be able to explore these national monuments and that the land will remain as pristine and as it is today. To a city girl like me, this expanse of desert, with its ruggedness and unique beauty, is nothing short of awe-inspiring.”

While on the subject of California, there is more good news from the Canis lupus 101 blog.

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Wolves get a grudging welcome from Northern California ranchers

By Tim Holt February 11, 2016
Photo: Oregon Fish And Wildlife
Photo: Oregon Fish And Wildlife
Wolves such as OR 25, a 3-year-old male, have crossed the Oregon border, and Northern California ranchers are preparing to accommodate them.

We are going to have a viable population of wolves in the far northern reaches of California, and it will be with the grudging cooperation of our ranchers.

That was the takeaway from a public hearing held last month in Yreka (Siskiyou County), where the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife invited public comment on its draft plan for accommodating our new four-footed residents, and where there were as many Stetsons in the audience as you’d see at a cowboy poetry convention.

Where are the wolves?

premium_landscapeYes, there was some foaming at the mouth, some evidence of the government-hating libertarianism this region is known for. “We don’t want people in Sacramento telling us how to live our lives,” grumbled one rancher.
But on the whole, there was a lot of thoughtful comment by those in attendance, and the beginnings of a dialogue between those who are charged with facilitating the wolves’ re-entry, and those who will be most affected by it. There was a focus on practical, down-to-earth matters — the threat to one’s livelihood when livestock are killed by predators, and the impracticality of maintaining 24-hour surveillance on sprawling ranch lands.

There was not much discussion of the nonlethal methods that can be used to ward off wolf depredations, although a number of speakers strongly urged that radio collars be put on wolves so ranchers can be warned if they’re getting near their cattle or sheep. That idea is already in the draft wolf management plan, as well as hazing techniques that include spotlights and air horns, as well as guard dogs and mobile electric fences.

Suzanne Asha Stone was on hand as the Rocky Mountain field representative for Defenders of Wildlife. After listening to some of the ranchers’ comments, she said, “This is verbatim what we heard in Idaho 20 years ago,” when wolves were introduced in Yellowstone National Park. Ranchers in that state were naturally concerned about the impact those wolves would have on their livelihoods. Two decades later, through programs Stone and her organization have helped implement, nonlethal strategies have reduced wolf kills of livestock in Idaho to “near zero,” she said. And that’s with a wolf population than now totals 770.

According to Stone, “It takes a while living with wolves before people realize that their worst fears won’t come true.”

I think most ranchers in California’s far north respect the wildlife around them, but their relationship with it is complicated by the need to make a living. Looking closely at the strategies used in Idaho would be a good first step in helping convince them that there are ways to reconcile ranching with the presence of this new predator.

John Wayne has long been a conservative icon, the personification of rugged individualism in the Wild West. In the 1963 movie “McLintock,” made late in his career, Wayne plays a cattle rancher and land baron. At one point he tells his daughter what he plans to do with his holdings after he dies: “I’m gonna leave most of it to the nation, really, for a park, where no lumber mill (can) cut down all the trees for houses with leaky roofs, nobody’ll kill all the beavers for hats for dudes, nor murder the buffalo for robes.”

John Wayne was no tree hugger. But neither, like the ranchers up here, should he be reduced to a simple stereotype.

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Back to Governments or is this case the U.S. Government and a little-known unit known as Wildlife Services. Another arm reaching out to love our wilderness? H’mmm. Not according to Wolves of Douglas County blog:

PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 12, 2016

Wildlife Services—ever heard of it? No, not the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. That’s something different. The Fish and Wildlife Service is part of the Department of the Interior, charged with enforcing wildlife laws, restoring habitat, and protecting fish, plants, and animals. Wildlife Services isn’t your state fish and game commission, either, which issues hunting and fishing licenses and manages local wildlife.
Wildlife Services is a federal agency under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and it specializes  in killing wild animals that threaten livestock—especially predators such as coyotes, wolves, and cougars. Outside the ranching community, Few have heard of Wildlife Services.
Since 2000, the agency has killed at least two million mammals and 15 million birds. Although it’s main focus is predator control in the West, Wildlife Services also does things like bird control nationwide at airports to prevent crashes and feral pig control in the South.

What one hand gives out, the other takes away.

Funny old world!