Category: Strategy

The End of Ice – A review

Background

On January 21st this year I republished a post by Tom Engelhardt and called it The song this planet needs to hear. His post was essentially a piece written for Tom by Dahr Jamail. It was called A Planet in Crisis and it included reference to a recently published book The End of Ice.

Subsequently, I decided to order the book by Dahr Jamail, it arrived a week ago and I ended up finishing it last Saturday.

I was minded to publish a review of the book, and here it is:

The End of Ice by Dahr Jamail

This is a book that I wished I had not read.

Yet, this is a book that once started I wanted to finish, and finish quickly.

It’s a brilliant book. Very impressive and very readable.  But I speak of it from a technical point-of-view.

Now that I have finished it life will never be quite the same again. Nor, for that matter, for anyone else who chooses to read it.

Dahr Jamail has a background as a reporter, with some other books under his belt. But his reporting skills really come to the fore with The End Of Ice. For he has travelled the world speaking to experts in their own field and listening to what they say about the future prognosis of the planet that you and I, and everyone else lives on.

Earth has not seen current atmospheric CO2 levels since the Pliocene, some 3 million years ago. Three-quarters of that CO2 will still be here in five hundred years. Given that it takes a decade to experience the full warming effects of CO2 emissions, we are still that far away from experiencing  the impact of all the CO2 that we are currently emitting. (p.5)

And if you are below the age of 60 or thereabouts you are going to experience this changing world head on. To be honest, whatever age you are things are starting to change.

Take this:

We are already facing mass extinction. There is no removing the heat we have introduced into our oceans, nor the 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide we pump into the atmosphere every single year. There may be no changing what is happening, and far worse things are coming. (p.218)

It really is a grim read. A grim but necessary read.

The eight chapters in the book spell out what is already happening. The diminishing glaciers and rising snow levels, the loss of coral, the rise in sea level and the loss of vast tracts of land as a consequence. Then there is the future of forests around the world. As I said, it is a grim read but a necessary one.

Towards the end of the book Dahr Jamail quotes author and storyteller Stephen Jenkinson:

“Grief requires us to know the time we’re in,” Jenkinson continues. “The great enemy of grief is hope. Hope is a four-letter word for people who are willing to know things for what they are. Our time requires us to be hope-free. To burn through the false choice of being hopeful and hopeless. They are the two sides of the same con job. Grief is required to proceed.” (p. 218)

Upon finishing this superb book, that you really do need to read, the one emotion that I was left with was grief. For what we have done to this planet. For what we are doing to this one and only home of ours.

Grief.

P.S. Dogs would not have done this to our beautiful planet.

How to walk your dog on a pet leash.

A guest post from Anoop Nain.

From time to time I receive inquiries as to whether or not I publish guest posts. And if they are not trying to sell something then I am more than happy to do so.

So here is a guest post from Anoop Nain.

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How to walk your dog on a leash?

By Anoop Nain.

Walking with your dogs should be a fun activity, free from stress and worries. Unfortunately, for many dog parents it can be more complicated. Here are some common problems faced by the people when walking their dogs and some solutions to address those problems.

Preventing Pulling
Leash pulling is one of the most common dog walking challenges. There may be a number of factors at play, but often pulling is due to excitement on the walk and a lack of focus. If your pleasant dog walking dream has turned into a tug-of-war game with your pooch, here are some tips you can try to stop them from pulling on the leash.

  • The first step to stop your dog from being a major-league puller is to make sure your dog is paying attention to you and not everything around you while you walk.
  • Walk in front of your dog. This will allow you to be seen as the pack leader. You should always be the first one out the door and the first one in.
  • Keep the leash really short (This will allow you to have more control).
  • With your dog calmly by your side or behind you, make different moves, such as – start, st
    op and turn. This way, he/she will start paying attention to you in order to keep up.
  • Stop walking if your dog begins to pull. When he stops pulling, begin walking forward again. Repeat this until your dog understands that pulling will prevent him from moving forward.
  • If your dog obeys you and shows good behavior, reward him/her by allowing him to sniff around.

Stop Constant Sniffing

Does your dog want to sniff everything on walks, or mark his territory? Rest assured; you are not alone! Sniffing is totally normal in dogs but constant sniffing while walking, especially when you have not allowed him to do so is not acceptable. As a responsible pet parent, you should not allow your furry kid to decide when and where to sniff.

Dogs, who pull on walks to sniff do so because they find it rewarding. Everytime your pooch pulls on the leash he gets to sniff something, which is a form of reward for him/her. You have to teach him/her that pulling no longer works and good behavior will get him/her reward from you. Here are some tips to try:

  • Keep the leash short but not tight. Walk in front of your dog and make sure his head is up during the walk. Stay focused on your destination and maintain your calm-assertive energy. When your dog starts following you, allow him brief breaks to relieve himself and explore the area around him. These breaks are your dog’s reward for obeying you.
  • Never reward your dog when he stops to sniff. Many people think treats will lure their dog to get up and walk again. But, it is wrong as you’re rewarding them for stopping.
  • Don’t pull on the leash because your dog will only strain harder due to “oppositional reflex.” It means when you try to pull your dog to make him move, he/she will pull in the other direction to maintain balance.
  • Instead of pulling your dog, stop and say your dog’s name or do something strange that distracts them, like squeaking a toy, whistling or anything to capture their attention and distract them from the thought that they don’t want to move anymore. When using a squeaky toy to distract him/her, remember not to actually give your dog the toy as your dog will see it as a reward for stopping.

Lunging and barking at other dogs and people

If you always have to walk to the other side of the street to prevent your dog from lunging, barking and snapping at other dogs and people, then you need to fix this problem as soon as possible. This problem is commonly known as leash reactivity. Most leash reactivity is caused by fear, anxiety or discomfort. Dogs bark and lunge at others to warn them.
Here’s what you can do to fix it:

  • To ‘heal’ your leash reactive dog, you have to identify the triggers and then avoid them altogether for some time. After some time, you have to gradually reintroduce them after desensitization and counter conditioning. For example: you can initially walk your dog when there are no other dogs or people around.
  • Then gradually, you have to figure out what your dog’s threshold is with other dogs – Does he/she get triggered when the other dogs are just a few meters away, or just seeing one on the other side of the park makes them agitated?
  • Once you have figured out your dog’s threshold with other dogs, you can ask a friend with a well behaved dog for help. You friend has to walk his/her dog within sight of yours. Each time the dog is in sight, shower your dog with lots of praise and treats. By doing this you will make an association between seeing the dog and getting lots of treats and praise.

Important thing to remember: Never punish your dog for his reactivity. Doing so will make the problem even worse. Dogs learn by making associations, and you want your dog to associate other dogs with pleasant things. So, make all the sessions positive by using lots of rewards.
When reframing your dog’s opinion of seeing other dogs and people, be protective of what he is exposed to and be careful where you take him. Just one fight is enough to trigger leash reactivity.
As you reframe your dog’s opinions of other dogs, consider not walking your dog for some time. Instead, just sit on your front porch with your dog on leash, and practice giving him rewards every time another dog comes into your dog’s line of sight.
When desensitization and counter-conditioning is done right, your dog will turn his head away on seeing another dog and look into your eyes, expecting a reward. Over time he will come to tolerate or even look forward to meeting other dogs.

WALKING TOOLS YOU CAN USE TO TRAIN YOUR POOCH

Training your dog to be a ‘good boi or gal’ on a leash can take few weeks to months of regular practice and patience. To make your job a bit easier, here are some humane walking tools that can be used:
Head harnesses

Head harnesses are designed to fit around your dog’s snout, with the leash attaching in front to gently turn his head when he starts pulling. This tool can be effective for short-term pull-prevention but it must be properly fitted and used appropriately to avoid stress and injuries.
Front-hook harnesses

These harnesses work exactly like head harnesses but they are fastened on your dog’s chest. When your dog starts pulling, it turns your dog back towards you, discouraging pulling.
No-pull harnesses
When the dog starts pulling, these specially designed harnesses discourage pulling by applying gentle pressure to the dog’s chest or legs.
All these tools can be quite effective for training your dogs but they must be gradually introduced, properly fitted, and used appropriately.
Wrap up
Training your pooch is an important and necessary part of your life together. It is a great bonding experience and well worth the effort! So train your dog to put his/her best paw forward and you will soon be able to enjoy the world with your happy, fun and leash friendly four legged companion.

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So it needs little else from me save to explain Anoop’s background. In response to me asking for him to provide a little about himself he wrote:

Anoop Nain is a proud father of four rescued dogs and two Flemish giant rabbits. Besides being a full-time dog father, he is a freelance content writer/blogger and an educationist, with more than 6 years experience in the field of content writing.

I hope you enjoyed this guest post.

The disaster of empire?

The view of Alfred McCoy

Despite Tom Engelhardt giving me permission years ago to republish his essays I rarely go down that path. Not because many of his essays aren’t deeply interesting but because he doesn’t to the best of my knowledge write about dogs!

However, a recent TomDispatch was sufficiently concerning that I am republishing it for you.

It’s quite a long article.

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Tomgram: Alfred McCoy, Grandmasters of the Universe

Posted by Alfred McCoyat, December 2, 2018.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch.

Whether you realize it or not, we are in a new age of imperial geopolitics on a grand — and potentially disastrous — scale. TomDispatch regular Alfred McCoy, author of In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, lays out devastatingly just what that is likely to mean in the age of Donald Trump. And once you’ve read his piece on a century-plus of geopolitical thinkers who helped reorganize this planet in genuinely discordant ways, perhaps you’ll feel it’s time for us to imagine a new kind of geopolitics, one that finally addresses the disaster of empire and the ways in which such geopolitical thinking now intersects with another kind of disaster: climate change. For catastrophic as the previous versions of geopolitics may have been, just wait until such imperial and national follies, including the drive of China and India to build new coal plants galore, meet global warming.  By this century’s end, that phenomenon may leave significant parts of the planet facing six nightmarish crises at once, ranging from mega-droughts and mega-fires to rising sea levels and catastrophic flooding. Or what about the possibility that intense heat waves (sparked in part by the massive burning of coal) will, later in this century, make the north China plain, now the most heavily populated part of that country, uninhabitable and do the same for parts of northern India and South Asia? Or what about the recent estimate in a congressionally mandated report on climate change (carefully released by the Trump administration on Black Friday in an attempt to bury it) that this country will also be deeply affected, as, for instance, wildfires of the kind that just devastated parts of California will triple, and the U.S. economy will be downsized by 10% or more by 2100?

We are now on a planet guaranteed, barring a miracle of coordinated human action, to find itself in a set of geo-ruins of an unprecedented sort by 2100, ruins that will remain so on a time scale anything but historical or in any way human. With that in mind, consider McCoy’s account of the “architects of imperial disaster” who got us to just this spot and to an American president whose goal in life is to do everything humanly possible to pump more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Tom

Trump’s Trade Czar, The Latest Architect of Imperial Disaster
Five Academics Who Unleashed the “Demon” of Geopolitical Power
By Alfred W. McCoy

As Washington’s leadership fades more quickly than anyone could have imagined and a new global order struggles to take shape, a generation of leaders has crowded onto the world stage with their own bold geopolitical visions for winning international influence. Xi Xinping has launched his trillion-dollar “Belt and Road Initiative” to dominate Eurasia and thereby the world beyond. To recover the Soviet Union’s lost influence, Vladimir Putin seeks to shatter the Western alliance with cyberwar, while threatening to dominate a nationalizing, fragmenting Eastern Europe through raw military power. The Trump White House, in turn, is wielding tariffs as weapons to try to beat recalcitrant allies back into line and cripple the planet’s rising power, China. However bizarrely different these approaches may seem, they all share one strikingly similar feature: a reliance on the concept of “geopolitics” to guide their bids for global power.

Over the past century, countless scholars, columnists, and commentators have employed the term “geopolitics” (or the study of global control) to lend gravitas to their arguments. Few, though, have grasped the true significance of this elusive concept. However else the term might be used, geopolitics is essentially a methodology for the management (or mismanagement) of empire. Unlike conventional nations whose peoples are, in normal times, readily and efficiently mobilized for self-defense, empires, thanks to their global reach, are a surprisingly fragile form of government. They seem to yearn for strategic visionaries who can merge land, peoples, and resources into a sustainable global system.

The practice of geopolitics, even if once conducted from horseback, is as old as empire itself, dating back some 4,000 years. Until the dawn of the twentieth century, it was the conquerors themselves — from Alexander the Great to Julius Caesar to Napoleon Bonaparte — whose geopolitical visions guided the relentless expansion of their imperial domains. The ancient Greek historian Plutarch tried to capture (or perhaps exaggerate) the enormity of Caesar’s conquest of Gaul — a territory that comprises all of modern France and Belgium — by enumerating the nine years of war that “took by storm more than eight hundred cities, subdued three hundred tribes, and fought pitched battles… with three million men, of whom he slew one million… and took as many more prisoners.”

In his own account, however, Caesar reduced all of this to its geopolitical essentials. “All Gaul is divided into three parts,” he wrote in that famous first sentence of his Gallic Wars. “Of all these, the Belgae are the bravest, because… they are the nearest to the Germans, who dwell beyond the Rhine, with whom they are continually waging war; for which reason the Helvetii also surpass the rest of the Gauls in valor, as they contend with the Germans in almost daily battles.” When those formidable Helvetii marched out of their Alpine cantons to occupy Gallic lowlands in 58 BC, Caesar deployed geopolitics to defeat them — seizing strategic terrain, controlling their grain supplies, and manipulating rival tribes. Instead of enslaving the vanquished Helvetii as other Roman generals might have, Caesar, mindful of the empire’s geopolitical balance, returned them to their homelands with generous provisions, lest the German “barbarians” cross the Rhine and destabilize Gaul’s natural frontier.

In more modern times, imperial expansion has been guided by professional scholars who have made the formal study of geopolitics a hybrid field of some significance. Its intellectual lineage is actually remarkably straightforward. At the end of the nineteenth century, an American naval historian argued that seapower was the key to national security and international influence. A decade later, a British geographer observed that railroads had shifted the locus of global power landward into the interior of the vast Eurasian continent. In the succeeding century, a succession of scholars would draw on these two basic ideas to inspire bold geopolitical gambits by Nazi Germany, Cold War Washington, post-Soviet Russia, and even Donald Trump’s White House.

There is, in fact, a common thread in those disparate scholarly lives: in each case, the study of geopolitics seemed to change the trajectory of their careers, lifting them from the margins of society to the right hand of power. There, at moments when the empire they lived in was experiencing a crisis, their unconventional, even eccentric, ideas won influence — often in what would prove in the long term a nightmarish fashion.

Over the last century or so, while the actual application of such thinking regularly proved problematic at best and genuinely horrific at worst, geopolitics would remain a seductive concept with a persistent power to entice would-be practitioners. It would also prove an enormously elusive style of thinking, making it difficult to distinguish between the banal and the brilliant, between the imperially helpful and the imperially devastating.

Charting the interplay of land, people, and resources inside any empire, much less in a clash between such behemoths, is impossibly difficult. Admittedly, geopolitics in the hands of a grandmaster has, in the past, led to the crushing of armies and the conquest of continents. But seemingly similar strategies have also produced searing defeat and disaster. Caesar’s deft geopolitical balancing of Gaul and Germany on the fulcrum of the Rhine survived for some four centuries; Napoleon’s similar attempt lasted all of seven years.

Telling the difference, in the historical moment, is a daunting task and one that hasn’t turned out well in the last century. With that in mind, let’s now approach the careers of five modern “grandmasters” of geopolitics with an appropriate skepticism.

America’s Strategic Visionary

In 1890, as the industrial boom of the Gilded Age prepared the nation for a debut on the world stage, Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, arguably America’s only original strategic thinker, published his famed Influence of Seapower Upon History. In it, he argued that naval power was the determining factor in the fate of nations. Born at West Point, where his father taught military tactics to Army cadets, Mahan came to the study of strategy almost by birthright. After graduating from the Naval Academy and having an indifferent career at sea, he became the head of the Naval War College in 1886. There, he developed novel geopolitical ideas that would revive a stalled career.

By analyzing sea power through a wide range of factors, including the defensibility of ports, national technological prowess, and the nature of good government, Mahan would produce the first serious study of geopolitics in the guise of a guide to naval strategy. In the process, he became an international celebrity, influencing admirals from London to Tokyo and inspiring leaders worldwide to join a naval arms race that would drain their treasuries to build costly battleships. The admiral who headed Germany’s navy, for instance, distributed 8,000 copies of Mahan’s history in translation and in the process won passage of the country’s first naval bill in 1898, funding his fateful challenge to British sea power.

As Europe’s empires continued to spread globally in the 1890s, Mahan’s prolific prose persuaded Washington that national defense required the creation of a genuine blue-water navy and bases in both the Caribbean and the Pacific. So important were such bases for the nation’s defense that, as Mahan gravely concluded, “No European state should henceforth acquire a coaling position within three thousand miles of San Francisco” — a distance that encompassed the Hawaiian Islands, soon to become U.S. possessions.

Like many advocates of geopolitics to come, Mahan would use seemingly precise strategic concepts to project his country’s current position into a murky future. As his geopolitical principles took physical form after 1898, they would produce an indefensible string of bases stretching across the Pacific from Panama to the Philippines.

Following his doctrine, the Navy ordered Admiral George Dewey’s squadron to seize Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War of 1898, which he did by sinking the Spanish fleet. Within five years, however, Japan’s stunning victory over the Russian fleet in the Sea of Japan forced Washington to withdraw much of its navy from the Western Pacific. In 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt began building a new Pacific bastion at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, not in Manila Bay, saying that the Philippines, by then an American colony, is “our heel of Achilles.” Making matters worse, the Versailles peace settlement at the end of World War I conceded the Mariana Islands in the Western Pacific to Japan, allowing its navy to block the sea-lanes from Pearl Harbor to Manila Bay — a geopolitical reality that would doom General Douglas MacArthur’s Philippine command to a searing defeat at the start of World War II.

At that war’s end, however, Washington finally resolved this geopolitical conundrum by conquering Japan and building a chain of more than 100 bases from that country to the Philippines, making the Pacific littoral the strategic fulcrum for the defense of one continent (North America) and dominion over another (Eurasia).

Sir Halford Propagates Geopolitics

Little more than a decade after Mahan wrote his influential studies of seapower, Sir Halford Mackinder, head of the London School of Economics (LSE), published a seminal article that shifted the focus of geopolitics from sea to land. Writing in 1904, as the 5,700 miles of the Trans-Siberian Railway was still being built from Moscow to Vladivostok, Mackinder argued that future rail lines would knit Eurasia into a unitary landmass that he dubbed “the world island.” When that day came, Russia, perhaps in alliance with another land power like Germany, could control Eurasia’s sprawling “heartland,” allowing “the use of vast continental resources for fleet-building, and the empire of the world would be in sight.”

This path-breaking analysis came at a fortuitous time in Mackinder’s academic career. After teaching geography at Oxford for 10 years, he had failed to win a professorship and his marriage collapsed. At this low ebb in his life, he tried to establish himself as an exploratory geographer by making the first recorded ascent of Mount Kenya. Using the “moral suasion of my Mauser” rifle to force his 170 African bearers to “obey like the faithful dogs they are,” Mackinder moved through the famine-stricken foothills leading to that mountain by extracting food from hungry villages at gunpoint. Then, in September 1899, at the cost of 10 porters shot and many more whipped for “malingering,” he traversed glaciers to reach the summit at 17,000 feet. His triumph before a cheering crowd at the Royal Geographical Society in London was, however, marred not by his treatment of those bearers but by his failure to bring back significant findings or scientific specimens.

So, in yet another career change, Mackinder joined the LSE where he produced that influential article on geopolitics. At the end of World War I, he turned it into a book that contained his most memorable maxim: “Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island; Who rules the World-Island commands the World.”

Mackinder’s expertise in imperial geopolitics helped launch his political career, including gaining him a seat in Parliament. In 1919, amid the turmoil of the Russian revolution, Britain was shipping arms to anti-Bolshevik forces there under General Anton Denikin. At Winston Churchill’s behest, the cabinet then appointed Mackinder as a special high commissioner for southern Russia. In a unique test of his “heartland” theory, Mackinder made an abortive attempt to rally the Czarist forces by meeting General Denikin inside his railcar in the Caucasus to propose an alliance with Poland and promise a mass evacuation in the event of defeat. Upon return to London, ignoring the general’s role in slaughtering some 100,000 Jews, Mackinder recommended recognizing his government and providing aid — advice the cabinet quickly dismissed.

From that brief moment at the apex of power, Mackinder soon fell into obscurity — losing his seat in Parliament, retiring from the LSE, and settling into a sinecure as chairman of the Imperial Shipping Committee. Were it not for the surprising later appeal of his ideas in Nazi Germany and Vladimir Putin’s Russia, his name would have been largely forgotten.

The Sorcerer’s Nazi Apprentice

As the Versailles peace conference of 1919 stripped Germany of its colonial empire and placed its Rhineland frontier under foreign occupation, Karl Haushofer exchanged his general’s baton for a geography professorship at Munich University. There, he would apply Mackinder’s concepts in an attempt to assure that his fatherland would never again engage in the sort of strategic blunders that, in World War I, had led to such a humiliating defeat.

While Mackinder himself was courting the powerful in postwar London, Haushofer was teaching geopolitics to future top Nazis in Munich — first to his graduate assistant Rudolf Hess (later to become the deputy Führer), and then to Adolf Hitler himself while he was writing Mein Kampf during his incarceration at Munich’s Landsberg Prison in 1924. Both Haushofer and his son Albrecht, who would train Nazi diplomats in the geopolitics of European conquest, were later rewarded with influential positions in the Third Reich. By dressing the British don’s idea of the Eurasian heartland as the pivot of world power in the local garb of Lebensraum (or “the Greater German Reich’s dazzling ascent by war… for extension of its living space”), Haushofer helped propagate an enticing logic of expansion that would send Hitler’s army on the road to defeat.

In 1942, Hitler dispatched a million men, 10,000 artillery pieces, and 500 tanks to breach the Volga River at Stalingrad and capture Russia’s heartland for lebensraum. In the end, the Reich’s forces would suffer 850,000 casualties — killed, wounded, and captured — in a vain attempt to break through the East European rimland into the world island’s heartland.

Appalled by the attack on Russia, Haushofer’s son joined the underground’s attempt to assassinate Hitler and was imprisoned. Before he was finally shot by the SS (on the day the Allies captured Berlin), he would compose mournful sonnets about geopolitical power, which he saw metaphorically as buried deep under the sea until “my father broke the seal” and “set the demon free to roam throughout the world.” A few months later, Karl Haushofer and his Jewish wife committed suicide together when confronted with the possibility that the victorious allies might prosecute him as a senior Nazi war criminal.

The Liberator of Eastern Europe

As the United States recoiled from its searing defeat in Vietnam, Zbigniew Brzezinski, an émigré Polish aristocrat and autodidact when it came to geopolitics, went from teaching international relations in New York to being President Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor in Washington. There, his risky geopolitical gambits gained an attentive audience after the Soviet Red Army invaded Afghanistan in 1979.

As an intellectual acolyte of Mackinder, Brzezinski embraced his concept of the Eurasian heartland as the “pivot” of global power. But in marked contrast to Mackinder’s failure in southern Russia in 1920, Brzezinski would prove adept at applying that geopolitician’s famous dictum on the dynamic that tied Eastern Europe to Eurasia’s heartland. (In the end, however, his Afghan moves would help give rise to Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, the 9/11 attacks, and the never-ending war on terror of this century.)

Wielding a multi-billion-dollar CIA covert operation in Afghanistan like a sharpened wedge, Brzezinski drove radical Islam deep into the heart of Soviet Central Asia. In the process, he drew Moscow into a debilitating decade-long Afghan war, so weakening it that Eastern Europe would finally break free from the Soviet empire in 1989. Asked about the enormous human suffering his strategy inflicted on Afghanistan and his role in creating a militant Islam hostile to the United States, he would remain coolly unapologetic. “What is most important to the history of the world?” he responded in 1998. “The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?”

In retirement, Brzezinski resumed his study of Mackinder’s theory, doing a better job as an armchair analyst than he had as a presidential adviser. In a 1998 book, he warned that dominance over Eurasia remained “the central basis for global primacy.” To control that vast region, Washington, he insisted, would have to preserve its “perch on the Western periphery” of Europe and hold its string of “offshore bases” along the Pacific littoral. Should these conditions change, he predicted with some prescience, “a potential rival to America might at some point arise.”

Putin’s Geopolitical Visionary

In the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse, a Russian rightist ideologue, Alexander Dugin, would revive Mackinder’s ideas yet again to promote expansion into Eurasia. In the process, he would become “a major influence” on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the 1980s, as the Soviet Union was beginning to unravel, Dugin was still moving in Moscow’s bohemian circles as a dabbler in the occult and a fringe member of the “ultra-nationalist and anti-Semitic organization Pamiat.” After the Soviet collapse, he became chief ideologue for an eclectic alliance of patriotic and punk-rock groups called the New Bolshevik Party, serving as its candidate for a seat in the 1995 Duma legislative elections and winning just 1% of the vote.

At this political nadir for both him and his country, Dugin recycled Mackinder’s long-forgotten writings in a 1997 bestseller, The Foundation of Geopolitics: Russia’s Geopolitical Future. As his book moved into its fourth printing and he “became a pole star for a broad section of Russian hardliners,” he began teaching geopolitics to military officers at the General Staff Academy, later lecturing on it to elite students at Moscow State University, and anchoring Landmarks, a weekly television show on the subject. In those years, Moscow bookstores even opened special sections for geopolitics, the legislature formed a geopolitics committee, and the Russian leadership began to embrace Dugin’s vision of expansionist nationalism.

Drawing on Haushofer’s German writings, he argued that Russia should become a Eurasian bastion against “the conspiracy of ‘Atlanticism’ led by the United States and NATO… aimed at containing Russia within successive geographic rings” of the former Soviet republics. To achieve the destiny envisioned by Mackinder, Russia needed, in Dugin’s view, to dominate Eurasia — annexing Ukraine, conquering Georgia, incorporating Finland, and bringing the Balkan states (Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria) under its rule as an Orthodox “Third Rome.” To advance such ideas, Dugin founded the Eurasia Youth Union of Russia in 2005, first to serve as “human shields” to fight against the Orange revolution in Ukraine and later to counter the “degeneration” caused by American cultural influence.

For the past decade, he has been a forceful advocate for Russian expansionism. During that country’s war with Georgia in 2008, he was photographed with a rocket launcher in South Ossetia and quoted in the national press calling for its annexation. After serving as “the brains behind Vladimir Putin’s wildly popular annexation of Crimea” in March 2014, Dugin embraced the Russian minority in eastern Ukraine, prodding the Russian president to openly support their separatist militia.

While advocacy of aggressive geopolitics has given Dugin significant political influence and Putin unprecedented popularity in Russia, it is still unclear whether in the long run such expansionism, in defiance of international norms, will prove a geopolitical masterstroke or a diplomatic debacle.

The Geopolitics of Trump’s Trade War

Most recently, a dissident economist and failed California politician named Peter Navarro has parlayed his hostility toward China into the role of key architect of Donald Trump’s “trade war” against Beijing. Like his Russian counterpart Alexander Dugin, Navarro is another in a long line of intellectuals whose embrace of geopolitics changed the trajectory of his career.

Raised by a single mom who worked secretarial jobs to rent one-bedroom apartments where he slept on the couch, Navarro went to college at Tufts on a scholarship and earned a doctorate in economics from Harvard. Despite that Ivy League degree, he remained an angry outsider, denouncing the special interests “stealing America” in his first book and later, as a business professor at the University of California-Irvine, branding San Diego developers “punks in pinstripes.” A passionate environmentalist, in 1992 Navarro plunged into politics as a Democratic candidate for the mayor of San Diego, denouncing his opponent’s husband as a convicted drug-money launderer and losing when he smirked as she wept during their televised debate.

For the next 10 years, Navarro fought losing campaigns for everything from city council to Congress. He detailed his crushing defeat for a seat in the House of Representatives in a tell-all book, San Diego Confidential, that dished out disdain for that duplicitous “sell out” Bill Clinton, dumb “blue-collar detritus” voters, and just about everybody else as well.

Following his last losing campaign for city council, Navarro spent a decade churning out books attacking a new enemy: China. His first “shock and awe” jeremiad in 2006 told horror stories about that country’s foreign trade; five years later, Death By China was filled with torrid tales of “bone-crushing, cancer-causing, flammable, poisonous, and otherwise lethal products” from that land. In 2015, a third book turned to geopolitics, complete with carefully drawn maps and respectful references to Captain Mahan, to offer an analysis of how China’s military was pursuing a relentless strategy of “anti-access, area denial” to challenge the U.S. Navy’s control over the Western Pacific.

To check China, the Pentagon then had two competing strategies — “Air-Sea Battle,” in which China’s satellites were to be blinded, knocking out its missiles, and “Offshore Control,” in which China’s entire coastline was to be blockaded by mining six maritime choke points from Japan to Singapore. Both, Navarro claimed, were fatally flawed. Given that, Navarro’s third book and a companion film (endorsed by one Donald Trump) asked: What should the United States do to check Beijing’s aggression and its rise as a global power? Since all U.S. imports from China, Navarro suggested, were “helping to finance a Chinese military buildup,” the only realistic solution was “the imposition of countervailing tariffs to offset China’s unfair trade practices.”

Just a year after reaching that controversial conclusion, Navarro joined the Trump election campaign as a policy adviser and then, after the November victory, became a junior member of the White House economic team. As a protectionist in an administration initially dominated by globalists, he would be excluded from high-level meetings and, according to Time Magazine, “required to copy chief economic adviser Gary Cohn on all his emails.” By February 2018, however, Cohn was on his way out and Navarro had become assistant to the president, with his new trade office now the co-equal of the National Economic Council.

As the chief defender of Trump’s belief that “trade wars are good and easy to win,” Navarro has finally realized his own geopolitical dream of attempting to check China with tariffs. In March, the president slapped heavy ones on Chinese steel imports and, just a few weeks later, promised to impose more of them on $50 billion of imports. When those started in July, China’s leaders retaliated against what they called “typical trade bullying,” imposing similar duties on American goods. Despite a warning from the Federal Reserve chairman that “trade tensions… could pose serious risks to the U.S. and global economy,” with Navarro at his elbow, Trump escalated in September, adding tariffs on an additional $200 billion in Chinese goods and threatening another $267 billion worth if China dared retaliate. Nonetheless, Beijing hit back, this time on just $60 billion in goods since 95% of all U.S. imports had already been covered.

Then something truly surprising happened. In September, the U.S. trade deficit with China ballooned to $305 billion for the year, driven by an 8% surge in Chinese imports — a clear sign that Navarro’s bold geopolitical vision of beating Beijing into submission with tariffs had collided big time with the complexities of world trade. Whether this tariff dispute will fizzle out inconsequentially or escalate into a full-blown trade war, wreaking havoc on global supply chains and the world economy, none of us can yet know, particularly that would-be geopolitical grandmaster Peter Navarro.

The Desire to be Grandmaster of the Universe

Though such experts usually dazzle the public and the powerful alike with erudition and boldness of vision, their geopolitical moves often have troubling long-term consequences. Mahan’s plans for Pacific dominion through offshore bases created a strategic conundrum that plagued American defense policy for a half-century. Brzezinski’s geopolitical lunge at the Soviet Union’s soft Central Asian underbelly helped unleash radical Islam. Today, Alexander Dugin’s use of geopolitics to revive Russia’s dominion over Eurasia has placed Moscow on a volatile collision course with Europe and the United States. Simultaneously, Peter Navarro’s bold gambit to contain China’s military and economic push into the Pacific with a trade war could, if it persists, produce untold complications for our globalized economy.

No matter how deeply flawed such geopolitical visions may ultimately prove to be, their brief moments as official policy have regularly shaped the destiny of nations and of empires in unpredictable, unplanned, and often dangerous ways. And no matter how this current round of geopolitical gambits plays out, we can be reasonably certain that, in the not-too-distant future, another would-be grandmaster will embrace this seductive concept to guide his bold bid for global power.

Alfred W. McCoy, a TomDispatch regular, is the Harrington professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, the now-classic book which probed the conjuncture of illicit narcotics and covert operations over 50 years, and the recently published In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power (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 2018 Alfred W. McCoy

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We are now on a planet guaranteed, barring a miracle of coordinated human action, to find itself in a set of geo-ruins of an unprecedented sort by 2100, ruins that will remain so on a time scale anything but historical or in any way human.

Indeed!

Back to dogs tomorrow!

Can we really avoid the ‘train crash’?

The idea that humanity will not prevent the approaching disaster is beyond belief!

One of the results of all you great people signing up to follow Learning from Dogs is that it encourages me to share things that strike me as so, so important.

Another of the results in there being, as of today, 3,349 following this place, is that I get the sense of what many of you good people also feel is important. Ergo, it is clear to me, clear beyond doubt, that caring and loving a dog or two makes you a person who cares and loves passionately this beautiful planet that is our home.

The emotion that is spilling out of me via these words to you is a result of having just read an essay published recently on The Conversation site and shared with you today.

Directly, it has nothing to do with our dear dogs. Yet, in a way, it does!

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7.5 billion and counting: How many humans can the Earth support?

By Associate Professor of Mathematics, College of the Holy Cross, July 9th 2018.

Humans are the most populous large mammal on Earth today, and probably in all of geological history. This World Population Day, humans number in the vicinity of 7.5 to 7.6 billion individuals.

Can the Earth support this many people indefinitely? What will happen if we do nothing to manage future population growth and total resource use? These complex questions are ecological, political, ethical – and urgent. Simple mathematics shows why, shedding light on our species’ ecological footprint.

The mathematics of population growth

In an environment with unlimited natural resources, population size grows exponentially. One characteristic feature of exponential growth is the time a population takes to double in size.

Exponential growth of world population

It took 127 years for the world population to double from one billion to two. By contrast, it took only 47 years, from 1927 to 1974, to double from two billion to four. Since 1960, world population has grown by about one billion every 13 years. Each point represents an additional one billion people.

[Ed: Text taken from a chart displayed in the article.]

Exponential growth tends to start slowly, sneaking up before ballooning in just a few doublings.

To illustrate, suppose Jeff Bezos agreed to give you one penny on Jan. 1, 2019, two pennies on Feb. 1, four on March 1, and so forth, with the payment doubling each month. How long would his $100 billion fortune uphold the contract? Take a moment to ponder and guess.

After one year, or 12 payments, your total contract receipts come to US$40.95, equivalent to a night at the movies. After two years, $167,772.15 – substantial, but paltry to a billionaire. After three years, $687,194,767.35, or about one week of Bezos’ 2017 income.

The 43rd payment, on July 1, 2022, just short of $88 billion and equal to all the preceding payments together (plus one penny), breaks the bank.

Real population growth

For real populations, doubling time is not constant. Humans reached 1 billion around 1800, a doubling time of about 300 years; 2 billion in 1927, a doubling time of 127 years; and 4 billion in 1974, a doubling time of 47 years.

On the other hand, world numbers are projected to reach 8 billion around 2023, a doubling time of 49 years, and barring the unforeseen, expected to level off around 10 to 12 billion by 2100.

This anticipated leveling off signals a harsh biological reality: Human population is being curtailed by the Earth’s carrying capacity, the population at which premature death by starvation and disease balances the birth rate.

World population projections

In 2020, the UN predicts that there will be 7,795,482 people worldwide.

[Ed: Text taken from a chart displayed in the article.]

Ecological implications

Humans are consuming and polluting resources – aquifers and ice caps, fertile soil, forests, fisheries and oceans – accumulated over geological time, tens of thousands of years, or longer.

Wealthy countries consume out of proportion to their populations. As a fiscal analogy, we live as if our savings account balance were steady income.

According to the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental think tank, the Earth has 1.9 hectares of land per person for growing food and textiles for clothing, supplying wood and absorbing waste. The average American uses about 9.7 hectares.

These data alone suggest the Earth can support at most one-fifth of the present population, 1.5 billion people, at an American standard of living.

A man works recycling plastic bottles outside Hanoi, Vietnam. REUTERS/Kham

Water is vital. Biologically, an adult human needs less than 1 gallon of water daily. In 2010, the U.S. used 355 billion gallons of freshwater, over 1,000 gallons (4,000 liters) per person per day. Half was used to generate electricity, one-third for irrigation, and roughly one-tenth for household use: flushing toilets, washing clothes and dishes, and watering lawns.

If 7.5 billion people consumed water at American levels, world usage would top 10,000 cubic kilometers per year. Total world supply – freshwater lakes and rivers – is about 91,000 cubic kilometers.

World Health Organization figures show 2.1 billion people lack ready access to safe drinking water, and 4.5 billion lack managed sanitation. Even in industrialized countries, water sources can be contaminated with pathogens, fertilizer and insecticide runoff, heavy metals and fracking effluent.

Freedom to choose

Though the detailed future of the human species is impossible to predict, basic facts are certain. Water and food are immediate human necessities. Doubling food production would defer the problems of present-day birth rates by at most a few decades. The Earth supports industrialized standards of living only because we are drawing down the “savings account” of non-renewable resources, including fertile topsoil, drinkable water, forests, fisheries and petroleum.

The drive to reproduce is among the strongest desires, both for couples and for societies. How will humans reshape one of our most cherished expectations – “Be fruitful and multiply” – in the span of one generation? What will happen if present-day birth rates continue?

Population stays constant when couples have about two children who survive to reproductive age. In some parts of the developing world today, couples average three to six children.

We cannot wish natural resources into existence. Couples, however, have the freedom to choose how many children to have. Improvements in women’s rights, education and self-determination generally lead to lower birth rates.

As a mathematician, I believe reducing birth rates substantially is our best prospect for raising global standards of living. As a citizen, I believe nudging human behavior, by encouraging smaller families, is our most humane hope.

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This essay from Professor Hwang is one of those articles that one frequently sees online that comes across as really interesting but, in the end, only gets a skim read; at best.

So if you didn’t fully comprehend what the good Professor included then ‘Stop‘ and go back and read it all very carefully.

Don’t just be alarmed at Professor Hwang writing:

This anticipated leveling off signals a harsh biological reality: Human population is being curtailed by the Earth’s carrying capacity, the population at which premature death by starvation and disease balances the birth rate.

Or:

Though the detailed future of the human species is impossible to predict, basic facts are certain. Water and food are immediate human necessities. Doubling food production would defer the problems of present-day birth rates by at most a few decades. The Earth supports industrialized standards of living only because we are drawing down the “savings account” of non-renewable resources, including fertile topsoil, drinkable water, forests, fisheries and petroleum.

Be concerned that each and every one of us, as in you and me, can only prevent the train crash by making a change in how we live: Today!

Otherwise ….

In so many ways we are such a clever and inventive race, capable of exploring the farthest reaches of outer space and the innermost aspects of quantum mechanics. Surely we must learn to live sustainably on beautiful Planet Earth!

Lateral thinking

In debt to Edward de Bono.

One of the great differences between us humans and our beloved dogs is that frequently we think too much! But it’s worse than that. We think too much and get caught up in some spiral from which we can’t think ourselves back out. Perhaps that can be likened to a dog worrying away at something that the dog thinks is being overlooked by it’s human friend, or over-licking a wound or such.

A very quick web search will bring up the background information on Dr. de Bono who was responsible for overturning the way we think. It was de Bono who attended an IBM Office Products management course that I was attending, far too many moons ago, when I was promoted from being a salesman to the first rung of the management ladder; the position of Marketing Manager. It was during de Bono’s talk that I first learned of lateral thinking and what de Bono called the “PO” moment.

Just watch the first minute of this talk to get an appreciation of what the PO moment is. Seriously, the video starts with Simon Middleton defining a PO moment. It’s relevant to the rest of this post.

As you all know Jean has Parkinson’s Disease (PD). We have come to understand that PD affects different people in different ways, albeit there are some aspects that many PD sufferers share.

Take this symptom as described on the APDA website:

Many individuals report difficulties in multitasking and organizing daily activities.

In recent weeks I noticed I was becoming frustrated because although I was suggesting to Jeannie a number of what I thought were pleasant things to do in and around our property they weren’t being done.

As much as I tried to say to myself to chill out, this is all down to Jean’s PD, I couldn’t push out of sight the growing frustration that my help was being rejected, and I know I have a problem dealing with rejection! I really didn’t want my frustration to build up to anger.

Eventually, one morning last week after I came back to the bedroom from having fed the horses and the deer I blurted out, rather clumsily I admit, this frustration that was close to becoming a real annoyance.

At first Jean was upset by what I said, understandably so, but then we settled down to examining each suggestion of mine and where I was coming from. Then the conversation became very productive and in a moment of creative thinking I suggested what turned out to be a ‘PO’ moment. In other words, we had both agreed that while we acknowledged the fact that Jean was not motivated to do the things I was suggesting nonetheless it was important that we choose another day and time to discuss how I should remind Jean of these ‘overlooked’ suggestions and, more importantly, how it could be done in a loving and constructive manner.

It was a fascinating outcome and I immediately jumped out of bed, went to my office room next to the bedroom, grabbed a new, unused notebook and came back to the bedroom.

“Jean, let’s write this down in the book as a reminder of something we need to return to and resolve in a creative way! Let’s call these reminders Pharaoh moments!”

Jean very happily agreed!

I then explained to Jean that this felt very much like one of de Bono’s PO moments and calling it a Pharaoh moment was a beautiful way of remembering our wonderful dog.

It was beyond doubt an example of Jean and me thinking laterally.

So thank you, dear Edward, your legacy still endures.

I will close today’s post by inviting you to watch either or both of these talks by de Bono.

The first is a little over 4 minutes long.

Or a longer video that is still highly recommended:

Published on 22 Oct 2015

Edward de Bono is the originator of the concept of Lateral Thinking, which is now a firm entry in the Oxford English Dictionary. Dr de Bono was born in Malta. As a well-established academic, de Bono was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and holds an MA in psychology and physiology from Oxford. He is a Professor at many leading institutions around the world. He is an author of many best-selling books, and is known as the world’s leading authority on thinking.
I write this post as a very happy man who has lived the value and benefits of not bottling up one’s feelings!

Smoke and Mirrors

Let me start with a quotation:

I’m not a pessimist, even though I do think awful things are going to happen.

James Lovelock

The author of that quote is fellow Englishman, albeit a tad older than yours truly, Mr. James Lovelock. WikiPedia describes him, thus (in part):

James Ephraim Lovelock CHCBEFRS[2] (born 26 July 1919) is an independent scientist, environmentalist and futurist who lives in Devon, England. He is best known for proposing the Gaia hypothesis, which postulates that the Earth functions as a self-regulating system.[5]

Moving on.

These times in this fine country, The United States of America, are troubling as Rebecca Gordon set out so compellingly in yesterday’s post.

But what is so terrible about these times is the failure to put integrity at the heart of every pronouncement that comes from a Government. And it would be grossly unfair to pick on the present US Government as the only example of this failure.

Because just a few mouse clicks can inform millions of us as to the real issues. Such as the effect that Climate Change is having on our health, as this recent Grist article so aptly put it in the opening paragraphs:

Here are 4 ways climate change is messing with our brains — for the worse.

We might think of climate change as purely physical: wildfires blazing through forests, rising seas lapping at the doors of coastal homes.

But those brutal conditions also affect our mental health, changing how we think and act. Mental health professionals are paying attention to the link between climate change and emotional health — and health insurance companies are, too.

Or take the issue of the state of America’s water. Recently the subject of an important essay just presented by Naked Capitalism:

America’s Hidden Water Affordability Crisis

Yves here. Grist has been doing an admirable job of keeping on top of this important yet oddly still-under-the-radar story. In the US, the big driver of rising water costs is the need to invest in aging, neglected water works. But water is going to become an issue in many places for differing reasons. As we have been saying for years, the natural resource that is projected to come under pressure first is potable water. And please don’t push desalination as a magic bullet. That costs money (both the plants and new transportation infrastructure, uses energy, plus has the not-trivial problem of how to dispose of the salt residues.

By Ciara O’Rourke, a freelance writer and 2015-16 Ted Scripps Fellow in Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado Boulder. Originally published by Fusion and reproduced at Grist as part of the Climate Desk collaboration

When Elizabeth Mack wondered about a future in which Americans wouldn’t be able to pay for water, a couple of colleagues waved her off. “Don’t be ridiculous,” they said. But the idea niggled at Mack, an assistant professor at the Department of Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciences at Michigan State University. And in January, in an article published in the science journal PLOS ONE, she asked a new question: Is there a burgeoning water affordability crisis in the United States?

Mack, along with research assistant Sarah Wrase, determined that if water rates increase at projected amounts over the next five years, the percentage of households that can’t pay their water bills could triple from 11.9 percent to more than a third. Nearly 14 million households nationwide already struggle to afford water services. An additional 27.18 million — or 8.5 percent of the country’s population — could soon face the same challenges.

Yes, integrity in politics is more, so much more, than a nice idea from this silly old Brit now living in Oregon. Here’s a post I published some four years ago that says it as clearly as it needs to be said.

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Reflections on Integrity.

Going back to basics.

Many will know the origins of this blog; a chance comment by Jon Lavin back in England in early 2007 that dogs were integrous, (a score of 210 as defined by Dr David Hawkins).

Way back in 2009, I wrote this:

“There is nothing to fear except the persistent refusal to find out the truth, the persistent refusal to analyse the causes of happenings.” Dorothy Thompson.

When I started Learning from Dogs I was initially rather vague but knew that the Blog should reflect the growing need for greater integrity and mindfulness in our planetary civilisation. Here are some early musings,

Show that integrity delivers better results … integrity doesn’t require force … networking power of a group … demonstrate the power of intention … cut through the power of propaganda and media distortion …

Promulgate the idea that integrity is the glue that holds a just society together … urgent need as society under huge pressures …. want a decent world for my grandchildren … for all our grandchildren …. feels like the 11th hour….

But as the initial, rather hesitant, start to the Blog settled into a reliable, daily posting, and as the minuscule number of readers steadily grew to the present level of many hundreds each day, the clarity of the purpose of Learning from Dogs also improved.

Because, while it may sound a tad grandiose and pompous, if society doesn’t eschew the games, half-truths and selfish attitudes of the last, say, 30 years or more, then civilisation, as we know it, could be under threat.

Or, possibly, it’s more accurate to say that our civilisation is under threat and the time left to change our ways, to embrace those qualities of integrity, truth and consciousness for the very planet we all live on, is running out.

Time left to change our ways is running out.

So what’s rattled my cage, so to speak, that prompted today’s reflection? I’ll tell you! (You knew I was going to anyway, didn’t you!)

I’m drafting these thoughts around noon Pacific Standard Time on Sunday, 17th. At the same time, tens of thousands of ordinary good folk (40,000 plus at the latest estimate) are gathering by the Washington Monument ready to march past the White House demanding that President Obama block the Keystone XL pipeline and move forward toward climate action.

Do I trust the US Government to take this action? On balance, no! That hurts me terribly to write that. I really want to trust and believe what the President of my new home country says.

State of the Union speech 2013. AP photo.
State of the Union speech 2013. AP photo.

Here’s a snippet of what the President did say in his State of the Union speech on February 12th.

Now, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods, all are now more frequent and more intense.

We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science and act before it’s too late.

A frank admission that the climate is changing in dramatic ways; the overwhelming judgment of science – fantastic!

The evidence that burning carbon-based fuels (coal, oil, gas) is the primary cause of today’s high CO2 levels is overwhelming. As a recent BBC radio programme reveals (being featured tomorrow) huge climate changes going back millions of years are a natural part of Earth’s history. However, as one of the scientists explains at the end of that radio programme, the present CO2 level, 395.55 ppm as of January, is now way above the safe, stable limit for the majority of life species on the planet.

But say you are reading this and are not yet convinced?

Let me borrow an old pilot’s saying from the world of aviation: If there’s any doubt, there’s no doubt!

That embracing, cautious attitude is part of the reason why commercial air transport is among the most safest forms of transport. If you had the slightest doubt about the safety of a flight, you wouldn’t board the aircraft.

If you had the slightest doubt about the future for civilisation on this planet likewise you would do something! Remember, that dry word civilisation means family, children, grandchildren, friends and loved ones. The last thing you would do is to carry on as before!

Which is where my lack of trust of leaders comes from!

Back to that State of the Union speech. Just 210 words after the spoken words “act before it’s too late” (I counted them!) Pres. Obama says, “That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.

Here’s the relevant section:

I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

Now, four years ago, other countries dominated the clean-energy market and the jobs that came with it. And we’ve begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let’s generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year. Let’s drive down costs even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.

Now, in the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that. That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.

We don’t require any more oil to be used. We are already using a staggering amount of it. Let me refer you to an essay on Nature Bats Last called Math. The scary kind, not the fuzzy kind. Prof. McPherson wrote:

I performed a little rudimentary math last week. A little because even a little pushes my limit for math, these days. And rudimentary for the same reason. The outcome was staggering: We’re using oil at the rate of 5,500 cubic feet per second (cfs).

5,500 cubic feet per second” Don’t know about you but I have some trouble in visualising that flow rate. Try this from later in the essay:

Here’s another shot of perspective: We burn a cubic mile of crude oil every year. The Empire State Building, the world’s ninth-tallest building, towers above New York at 1,250 feet. The world’s tallest building, Taipei 101, is 1,667 feet from ground to tip.

Put those buildings together, end to end, and you have one side of a cube. Do it again, and you have the second side. Once more, but this time straight up, and you have one big cube. Filling that cube with oil takes nearly 200 billion gallons … which is about one-sixth the size of the cube of oil we’re burning every year.

Burning a cubic mile every year! Yes, Mr. President, more oil permits is a wonderful way of taking action before it’s too late!

cubic mile
Image taken from http://www.flashevap.com/bigthings.htm

So let’s see what transpires? Let’s see if integrity is given the highest political focus. As in “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.” Because if there’s ever been a time when all of us, from every spectrum of society need honesty about what we are doing to the planet, it’s now!

As the tag on the home page of this blog says, “Dogs are integrous animals. We have much to learn from them.

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Going to close with two more quotations from Mr. Lovelock.

The first:

You never know with politicians what they are really saying. And I don’t say that in a negative way-they have an appalling job.

And the second one to close today’s post:

If you start any large theory, such as quantum mechanics, plate tectonics, evolution, it takes about 40 years for mainstream science to come around. Gaia has been going for only 30 years or so.

New growth required!

New trees offer a good metaphor!

As regular followers of this place know (and a huge thank-you to you all) much of last Friday was spent planting trees in a grassy meadow just to the East of our house.

P1150940
A part view of the area where the trees were planted: Kentucky Coffeetrees; Northern Catalpas; a Red Maple, Eastern Redcedars.

An hour before I sat down to write this post (now 13:30 PST yesterday) I didn’t have a clue as to what to write. Then I read Patrice Ayme’s latest essay and, wow, it punched me in the face. For it resonated so strongly with a few other recent readings.

Patrice’s essay was called Trump A Demagogue? So What? and it opened thus:

“We empowered a demagogue” laments the New York Times ostensibly bleeding heart liberal, the kind Mr. Kristof, in his false “Mea Culpa” editorial, “My Shared Shame: How The Media Made Trump”. By this, Mr. Kristof means that Mr. Trump is a bad person. However, Mr. Kristof’s choice of the word “demagogue” is revealing. (Actually it’s not really his choice: “demagogue” is not Mr. Kristof’s invention: he just repeats like a parrot the most prominent slogan of the worldwide campaign of insults against Trump).

Trump a demagogue? Is Mr. Sanders a “demagogue”, too? (As much of the financial and right-wing press has it: for The Economist and the Financial Times, Trump and Sanders are both “demagogues” and that’s their main flaw.)

To understand fully the word “demagogue” one has to understand a bit of Greek, and a bigger bit of Greek history.

Then later on in that essay, Patrice goes on to quote Andy Grove:

A hard day may be coming for global plutocrats ruling as they do thanks to their globalization tricks. And I am not exactly naive. Andy Grove, founder of Intel, shared the general opinion that much of globalization was just theft & destitution fostering an ominous future (the Hungarian immigrant to the USA who was one of the founders of Intel). He pointed out, an essay he wrote in 2010 that Silicon Valley was squandering its competitive edge in innovation by neglecting strong job growth in the United States.

Mr. Grove observed that: …”it was cheaper and thus more profitable for companies to hire workers and build factories in Asia than in the United States. But… lower Asian costs masked the high price of offshoring as measured by lost jobs and lost expertise. Silicon Valley misjudged the severity of those losses, he wrote, because of a “misplaced faith in the power of start-ups to create U.S. jobs.”

Silicon Valley makes its money from start-ups. However, that phase of a business is different from the scale-up phase, when technology goes from prototypes to mass production. Both phases are important. Only scale-up is an engine for mass job growth — and scale-up is vanishing in the United States (especially with jobs connected to Silicon Valley). “Without scaling,” Mr. Grove wrote, “we don’t just lose jobs — we lose our hold on new technologies” and “ultimately damage our capacity to innovate…

The underlying problem isn’t simply lower Asian costs. It’s our own misplaced faith in the power of startups to create U.S. jobs. Americans love the idea of the guys in the garage inventing something that changes the world. New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman recently encapsulated this view in a piece called “Start-Ups, Not Bailouts.” His argument: Let tired old companies that do commodity manufacturing die if they have to. If Washington really wants to create jobs, he wrote, it should back startups.

Friedman is wrong. Startups are a wonderful thing, but they cannot by themselves increase tech employment.”

Spot on! For in my previous life I was the founder of two businesses. First up was Dataview Ltd, based in Colchester, that was formed in the late 1970s and soon became the global distributor of the word processing software Wordcraft, written by Englishman Pete Dowson. Dataview also initiated the ‘dongle’, a software/hardware security device to protect Wordcraft.

The Wordcraft dongle.
The Wordcraft dongle.

The second company founded by me was Aviation Briefing Ltd ‘AvBrief’ that is still going today, albeit with me no longer involved!

So I can reinforce, with hundreds of hours of lost sleep and tears, that growing a company and increasing employment, especially the employment of great technical people, is a very different matter to the start-up phase.

Frankly, regarding Dataview, it was only the luck of meeting Sid Newman that saved my bacon. For within 12 months of starting trading I was already sinking under the load of trying to be the number one salesman (that I was good at) and being the company general manager (that I was total crap at). Sid had years of experience at general management and very quickly let me get on with what I really loved – opening up Wordcraft distributorships all over the world.

The analogy with planting trees is very apt. For any clown can plant the tree but parenting that young tree into a mature forty-foot high beauty takes professional management.

Clown work! (This is a Red Maple, by the way!)
Clown work! (This is a Red Maple, by the way!)

Tomorrow I will return and offer a viewpoint as to how we, as in society, are currently bereft of professional managers.

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.

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.

ooOOoo

henrifredericamiel148210Very interesting times indeed!