Reflections on these present times, concluding part.
I closed yesterday with, So maybe there’s a blindness with humans, and then set out the characteristics of that blindness. One of those characteristics being,
Our obsession with how things are now prevents us from reflecting on those signs that indicate changes are under way, even when the likely conclusions are unmistakeable. The ecological and climatic changes being the most obvious example of this strange blindness that mankind possesses.
Let’s move this on a little. The arguments from a wide range of scientists are overwhelmingly in favour of the proposition that mankind is using vastly more resources from the planet than the planet can provide. Take oil. This graph show past and projected oil production for the whole Earth out to 2050, less than 40 years away.
Here’s an extract from that website which I encourage you to read in full,
The part before 2007 is historical fact. The part that comes afterward is an ASPO extrapolation.
This graph is worth careful attention as a lot of world history is written into it. Note the steep rise in oil production after World War II. Note that 1971 was the peak in oil production in the United States lower 48. There is a sliver of white labled Arctic oil. That is mostly Alaskan Prudhoe Bay oil, which peaked in 1990. Prudhoe Bay was almost big enough to counteract the lower 48 peak of 1971. The sliver is very narrow now. The OPEC oil embargo of 1973 is very visible. The oil produced by non-OPEC countries stayed nearly constant while OPEC production nearly halved. The embargo caused the world economy to slow. But the high cost of energy spurred the development of energy efficient automobiles and refrigerators and a lot of other things. Note the effect of the collapse of the Russian economy in 1990 on Russian oil production. Note the rapid increase in oil production when the world economy boomed near the end of the twentieth century. Oil was $12 a barrel at that time. Note that European (North Sea) oil peaked in 2000. Note especially what would have happened if the 1973 embargo had not occurred. It is possible that the world would now be on the steep part of the right side of the Hubbert curve.
Take population growth. Here’s a graph that shows that going through seven billion, which is due shortly, is likely to be way short of the eventual peak. Likely peak might be in the range of eight to ten billion! Just take a look at that graph,
Take global warming. Here’s a graph from NASA, from which I quote,
The five warmest years since the late 1880s, according to NASA scientists, are in descending order 2005, 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2006. (reported in the year 2007!)
No apologies for bashing you around the head with these graphs and figures – most people have a good sense about these aspects of our life on this planet. But, in a very real sense, that’s the point.
The point that despite powerful and obvious evidence, mankind has great difficulty accepting obvious trends and understanding that whatever ‘today’ feels like, ‘tomorrow’ is almost certainly not going to be more of the same.
At the risk of hammering this point to death, here are two pictures and some text to show how quickly ‘today’ changes and becomes ‘tomorrow’.
Scientist left speechless as vast glacier turns to water
by Helen Turner, Western Mail
THESE images show the astonishing rate of break-up of an enormous glacier in north Greenland – from ice to water in just two years.
The before and after photographs, which left a Welsh scientist who led the 24-month project “speechless”, reveal the worrying effects of climate change in an area previously thought too cold to be much affected.
Dr Alun Hubbard, a reader at Aberystwyth University’s Centre for Glaciology, returned from the Petermann Glacier in north-west Greenland a month ago, but did not see the stark images documenting the changes until this week.
He said: “Although I knew what to expect in terms of ice loss from satellite imagery, I was still completely unprepared for the gob-smacking scale of the break-up, which rendered me speechless. It was just incredible to see. This glacier is huge, 20km across, 1,000m high.”
“It’s like looking into the Grand Canyon full of ice and coming back two years later to find it’s full of water.”
“It’s quite hard to get your head around the scale of the change. To be able to see that, everything changed in such a short period of time, I was speechless.”
Do read the full article on the Wales Online website here.
Stay with me a little longer, if you will.
It’s amazing how much money you can make just shuffling paper backwards and forwards. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a piece praising John Paulson who made a killing from the subprime disaster as an entrepreneur. But what did he make? What did he leave behind? Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, argued: “I wish someone would give me one shred of neutral evidence that financial innovation has led to economic growth — one shred of evidence. US financial services increased its share of value added from 2% to 6.5% but is that a reflection of your financial innovation, or just a reflection of what you’re paid?”
Just let that quote from Paul Volcker stay with you for a while. Satyajit goes on to say,
Management and directors of financial institutions cannot really understand what is going on – it’s simply not practical. They cannot be across all the products. For example, Robert Rubin, the former head of Goldman Sachs and Treasury Secretary under President Clinton, encouraged increased risk taking at CitiGroup. He was guided by a consultant’s report and famously stated that risk was the only underpriced asset. He encouraged investment in AAA securities assuming that they were ‘money good’. He seemed not to be aware of the liquidity puts that Citi had written which meant that toxic off-balance sheet assets would come back to the mother ship in the case of a crisis. Now, if he didn’t understand, others would find it near impossible. And I’m talking about executive management.
Non executives are even further removed. Upon joining the Salomon Brothers Board, Henry Kaufman, the original Dr. Doom found that most non-executive directors had little experience or understanding of banking. They relied on board reports that were, “neither comprehensive … nor detailed enough … about the diversity and complexity of our operations.” Non-executive directors were reliant “on the veracity and competency of senior managers, who in turn … are beholden to the veracity of middle managers, who are themselves motivated to take risks through a variety of profit compensation formulas.”
Kaufman later joined the board of Lehman Brothers. Nine out of ten members of the Lehman board were retired, four were 75 years or more in age, only two had banking experience, but in a different era. The octogenarian Kaufman sat on the Lehman Risk Committee with a Broadway producer, a former Navy admiral, a former CEO of a Spanish-language TV station and the former chairman of IBM. The Committee only had two meetings in 2006 and 2007. AIG’s board included several heavyweight diplomats and admirals; even though Richard Breeden, former head of the SEC told a reporter, “AIG, as far as I know, didn’t own any aircraft carriers and didn’t have a seat in the United Nations.”
In other words, there is no shortage of information from all corners of the world to show, with very little doubt, that the last few decades have seen unprecedented mistakes by national governments, mistakes in corporate governance, a lack of understanding of economic fundamentals, poor financial and social management, and on and on and on.
But practically all of us, and I mean all of us, didn’t see it at the time, didn’t see where it was heading and only now, when it is full in our faces, do we get it and see it for what it has really been, a long period of over two decades where the ‘me‘ has been more important than the ‘us‘.
That me versus us even being promoted, if that’s the right word, by a British Prime Minister twenty-five years ago. That quote from Margaret Thatcher back in 1987, “And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.” (Margaret Thatcher, talking to Women’s Own magazine, October 31 1987)
Let me draw this all together, yesterday’s part and this concluding part.
There is significant evidence, real hard evidence, that the patterns of mankind’s behaviours of the last few decades cannot continue. Simply because mankind will go over the edge of self-extinction. Darwin’s evidence and all that! We have to accept that humans will see the bleedin’ obvious before it is too late. We have to keep the faith that our species homo sapiens is capable of huge and rapid change when that tipping point is reached, so eloquently written by Paul Gilding in his book, The Great Disruption, reviewed by me here. We have to embrace the fact that just because the world and his wife appears to be living in total denial, the seedlings of change, powerful change, are already sprouting, everywhere, all over the world.
So let’s welcome those changes. Let’s nurture those seedlings, encourage them to grow and engulf our society with a new richness, a new fertile landscape.
Let’s embrace the power of now, the beauty of making today much better and letting go of tomorrow.
For today, I am in charge of my life,
Today, I choose my thoughts,
Today, I choose my attitudes,
Today, I choose my actions and behaviours.
With these, I create my life and my destiny.
It’s very difficult to make predictions, especially when they involve the future!