Tag: Winston Churchill

That little old word ‘truth’.

Truth: the true or actual state of a matter.

Well nothing complicated about the definition, is there!  If only society was equally motivated by getting to the truth of climate change.  Yes, I know I’m being naive!

Why my mini-rant?

I’m well in to James Hansen’s book Storms of my Grandchildren and it’s confirming my fears about the issues that are facing mankind now!  But more of that later.

What triggered me putting ‘pen to paper’ was a recent report from the Yale forum on climate change and the media.  Here’s how it opened,

Scientific Consensus Stronger than Scientists Thought?

Bruce Lieberman   May 2, 2012

More than two decades after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) began publishing the latest scientific consensus on the globe’s changing climate, widespread doubts persist in the U.S. over whether there really is widespread agreement among scientists. It’s the primary argument of those who deny basic scientific foundations of warming.

But new and innovative survey results suggest the consensus among scientists might actually be stronger than the scientists themselves had thought.

The battles to define and debunk scientific consensus over climate change science have been fought for years. In 2004, University of California San Diego science historian Naomi Oreskes wrote about a broad consensus she found after studying 928 scientific papers published between 1993 and 2003.

But what I found deeply fascinating was that later on Bruce Lieberman, the report’s author, lists in detail the actual levels of agreement compared to the perceived levels.  To make it easier to take in, I have amended the telling differences to italic.

In sum, the newly released poll results identified surprisingly common points of agreement among climate scientists; and yet for each point, those scientists underestimated the amount of agreement among their colleagues. The results:

  • Human activity has been the primary cause of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures in the last 250 years. (About 90 percent of respondents agreed with this characterization, but those respondents estimated that less than 80 percent of their scientist colleagues held that view.)
  • If governmental policies do not change, the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere will exceed 550 parts per million between 2050 and 2059. (More than 30 percent agreed, but those respondents estimated that just over 20 percent of their peers held that view.)
  • If and when atmospheric CO2 concentrations reach 550 ppm, the increase in global average surface temperature relative to the year 2000 will be 2-3 degrees Celsius, or 3.2-4.8 F. (More than 40 percent agreed, but those respondents estimated that less than 30 percent held that view.)
  • If governmental policies do not change, in the year 2050, the increase in global average surface temperature relative to the year 2000 will be 1.5-2 degrees Celsius, or 2.4-3.2 F). (More than 35 percent agreed, but those respondents estimated that just over 30 percent held that view.)
  • The likelihood that global average sea level will rise more during this century than the highest level given in the 2007 assessment of the IPCC (0.59 meters, 23.2 inches) is more than 90 percent. (More than 30 percent agreed, but those respondents estimated that less than 20 percent held that view.)
  • Since 1851, the U.S. has experienced an average of six major hurricane landfalls (> 111 mph) per decade. The total number of major hurricane landfalls in the U.S. from 2011-2020 will be seven to eight. (Nearly 60 percent agreed, but those respondents estimated that just over 30 percent held that view.)
  • The total number of major hurricane landfalls in the U.S. from 2041 to 2050 will be seven to eight. (About 35 percent agreed, but those respondents estimated that less than 30 percent held that view.)
  • Given increasing levels of human activity, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere can be kept below 550 ppm with current technology — but only with changes in government policy. (Nearly 70 percent agreed, but those respondents estimated that just over 50 percent held that view.)

Now back to Hansen’s book.  Here’s what Hansen writes starting on p.144,

Getting to the truth!

Sea level rise is one of the two climate impacts that I believe should be at the top of the list that defines what is “dangerous,” on any time scale that humanity can imagine.  Ice sheets take thousands of years to build up from snowfall.  Reasonable “adaptation” to a large sea level rise is nearly impossible, because once ice sheets begin to rapidly disintegrate, sea level would be continually changing for centuries.  Coastal cities would become impractical to maintain.

The other climate change impact at the top of my “dangerous” list is extermination of species.  Human activities already have increased the rate of species extinctions far above the natural level.  Extinctions are occurring as humans take over more and more of the habitat of animal and plant species.  We deforest large regions, replace biologically diverse grasslands and forests with monoculture crops, and introduce foreign, invasive animal and plant species that sometimes wipe out the native ones.

Hansen points out that about a billion people live at elevations less than 25 metres (81 feet).

I included a short video of James Hansen in a Learning from Dogs Post just a few days ago.  You’ll find it here – go and watch it – and think about the truth!

Photo: Winston Churchill, photographed by Cecil Beaton, at 10 Downing Street, London, in 1940.

Men stumble over the truth from time to time, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened.– Winston Churchill

The Winston Churchill effect?

Forgive me for making this a much shorter contribution but the efforts of the previous two posts took rather a long time!

This is about the debt situation in the United States of America and, as always, Learning from Dogs trying to get to the underlying truth.

It’s from the BBC and it’s a radio programme that is included in this Post.

But why the headline referring to Churchill?  Well in the programme Justin Webb, of the BBC, reminds the world of a characteristic of the American Nation noted by Sir Winston Churchill, “Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing…after they have exhausted all other possibilities.”  (But caution about the precise wording of that quote – see here!)

Here’s the article that accompanied the BBC broadcast, the radio programme is after this article,

Is the US in denial over its $14tn debt?

Is America in denial about the extent of its financial problems, and therefore incapable of dealing with the gravest crisis the country has ever faced?

This is a story of debt, delusion and – potentially – disaster. For America and, if you happen to think that American influence is broadly a good thing, for the world.

The debt and the delusion are both all-American: $14 trillion (£8.75tn) of debt has been amassed and there is no cogent plan to reduce it.

The figure is impossible to comprehend: easier to focus on the fact that it grows at $40,000 (£25,000) a second. Getting out of Afghanistan will help but actually only at the margins. The problem is much bigger than any one area of expenditure.

The economist Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, is no rabid fiscal conservative but on the debt he is a hawk: “I’m worried. The debt is large. It should be brought under control. The longer we wait, the longer we suffer this kind of paralysis; the more America boxes itself into a corner and the more America’s constructive leadership in the world diminishes.”

The author and economist Diane Coyle agrees. And she makes the rather alarming point that the acknowledged deficit is not the whole story.

The current $14tn debt is bad enough, she argues, but the future commitments to the baby boomers, commitments for health care and for pensions, suggest that the debt burden is part of the fabric of society:

“You have promises implicit in the structure of welfare states and aging populations that mean there is an unacknowledged debt that will have to be paid for by future taxpayers, and that could double the published figures.”

Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations acknowledges that this structural commitment to future debt is not unique to the United States.  All advanced democracies have more or less the same problem, he says, “but in the case of the States the figures are absolutely enormous”.

Mr Haass, a former senior US diplomat, is leading an academic push for America’s debt to be taken seriously by Americans and noticed as well by the rest of the world.

He uses the analogy of Suez and the pressure that was put on the UK by the US to withdraw from that adventure. The pressure was not, of course, military. It was economic.

Britain needed US economic help. In the future, if China chooses to flex its muscles abroad, it may not be Chinese admirals who pose the real threat, Mr Haass tells us. “Chinese bankers could do the job.”

Because of course Chinese bankers, if they withdrew their support for the US economy and their willingness to finance America’s spending, could have an almost overnight impact on every American life, forcing interest rates to sky high levels and torpedoing the world’s largest economy.

Not everyone accepts the debt-as-disaster thesis.

David Frum is a Republican intellectual and a former speech writer to President George W Bush.

He told me the problem, and the solution, were actually rather simple: “If I tell you you have a disease that will absolutely prostrate you and it could be prevented by taking a couple of aspirin and going for a walk, well I guess the situation isn’t apocalyptic is it?

“The things that America has to do to put its fiscal house in order are not anywhere near as extreme as what Europe has to do. The debt is not a financial problem, it is a political problem.”

Mr Frum believes that a future agreement to cut spending – he thinks America spends much too big a proportion of its GDP on health – and raise taxes, could very quickly bring the debt problem down to the level of quotidian normality.

‘Organised hypocrisy’

I am not so sure. What is the root cause of America’s failure to get to grips with its debt? It can be argued that the problem is not really economic or even political; it is a cultural inability to face up to hard choices, even to acknowledge that the choices are there.

I should make it clear that my reporting of the United States, in the years I was based there for the BBC, was governed by a sense that too much foreign media coverage of America is negative and jaundiced.

The nation is staggeringly successful and gloriously attractive. But it is also deeply dysfunctional in some respects.

Take Alaska. The author and serious student of America, Anne Applebaum makes the point that, as she puts it, “Alaska is a myth!”

People who live in Alaska – and people who aspire to live in Alaska – imagine it is the last frontier, she says, “the place where rugged individuals go out and dig for oil and shoot caribou, and make money the way people did 100 years ago”.

But in reality, Alaska is the most heavily subsidised state in the union. There is more social spending in Alaska than anywhere else.

To make it a place where decent lives can be lived, there is a huge transfer of money to Alaska from the US federal government which means of course from taxpayers in New York and Los Angeles and other places where less rugged folk live. Alaska is an organised hypocrisy.

Too many Americans behave like the Alaskans: they think of themselves as rugged individualists in no need of state help, but they take the money anyway in health care and pensions and all the other areas of American life where the federal government spends its cash.

The Tea Party movement talks of cuts in spending but when it comes to it, Americans always seem to be talking about cuts in spending that affect someone else, not them – and taxes that are levied on others too.

And nobody talks about raising taxes. Jeffrey Sachs has a theory about why this is.

America’s two main political parties are so desperate to raise money for the nation’s constant elections – remember the House of Representatives is elected every two years – that they can do nothing that upsets wealthy people and wealthy companies.

So they cannot touch taxes.

In all honesty, I am torn about the conclusions to be drawn. I find it difficult to believe that a nation historically so nimble and clever and open could succumb to disaster in this way.

But America, as well as being a place of hard work and ingenuity, is also no stranger to eating competitions in which gluttony is celebrated, and wilful ignorance, for instance regarding (as many Americans do) evolution as controversial.

The debt crisis is a fascinating crisis because it is about so much more than money. It is a test of a culture.

It is about waking up, as the Americans say, and smelling the coffee. And – I am thinking Texas here – saddling up too, and riding out with purpose.

NB: Copyright BBC © 2011 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

Here’s the 30 minute broadcast under the Analysis series from Radio 4 on the BBC.(Just click on this link) analysis_20110628-1024a

Earth Policy Release

Finding the right solutions for the 21st century and the next generation.

Just before presenting the release from the Earth Policy Institute that came out on the 20th, here’s a reminder about watching the film, Plan B, that I wrote about on the 4th April.  It’s a very good film from an excellent and creditable source.  You can watch it for FREE from PBS, BUT ONLY UNTIL THE END OF APRIL!

Here’s the link – Plan B, the film

Now to the release published in full on Learning from Dogs.

Earth Policy Release
World on the Edge
Book Byte
April 19, 2011



By Lester R. Brown

We need an economy for the twenty-first century, one that is in sync with the earth and its natural support systems, not one that is destroying them. The fossil fuel-based, automobile-centered, throwaway economy that evolved in western industrial societies is no longer a viable model—not for the countries that shaped it or for those that are emulating them. In short, we need to build a new economy, one powered with carbon-free sources of energy—wind, solar, and geothermal—one that has a diversified transport system and that reuses and recycles everything. We can change course and move onto a path of sustainable progress, but it will take a massive mobilization—at wartime speed.

Whenever I begin to feel overwhelmed by the scale and urgency of the changes we need to make, I reread the economic history of U.S. involvement in World War II because it is such an inspiring study in rapid mobilization. Initially, the United States resisted involvement in the war and responded only after it was directly attacked at Pearl Harbor. But respond it did. After an all-out commitment, the U.S. engagement helped turn the tide of war, leading the Allied Forces to victory within three-and-a-half years.

In his State of the Union address on January 6, 1942, one month after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced the country’s arms production goals. The United States, he said, was planning to produce 45,000 tanks, 60,000 planes, and several thousand ships. He added, “Let no man say it cannot be done.”

No one had ever seen such huge arms production numbers. Public skepticism abounded. But Roosevelt and his colleagues realized that the world’s largest concentration of industrial power was in the U.S. automobile industry. Even during the Depression, the United States was producing 3 million or more cars a year.

After his State of the Union address, Roosevelt met with auto industry leaders, indicating that the country would rely heavily on them to reach these arms production goals. Initially they expected to continue making cars and simply add on the production of armaments. What they did not yet know was that the sale of new cars would soon be banned. From early February 1942 through the end of 1944, nearly three years, essentially no cars were produced in the United States.

In addition to a ban on the sale of new cars, residential and highway construction was halted, and driving for pleasure was banned. Suddenly people were recycling and planting victory gardens. Strategic goods—including tires, gasoline, fuel oil, and sugar—were rationed beginning in 1942. Yet 1942 witnessed the greatest expansion of industrial output in the nation’s history—all for military use. Wartime aircraft needs were enormous. They included not only fighters, bombers, and reconnaissance planes, but also the troop and cargo transports needed to fight a war on distant fronts. From the beginning of 1942 through 1944, the United States far exceeded the initial goal of 60,000 planes, turning out a staggering 229,600 aircraft, a fleet so vast it is hard even today to visualize it. Equally impressive, by the end of the war more than 5,000 ships were added to the 1,000 or so that made up the American Merchant Fleet in 1939.

In her book No Ordinary Time, Doris Kearns Goodwin describes how various firms converted. A sparkplug factory switched to the production of machine guns. A manufacturer of stoves produced lifeboats. A merry-go-round factory made gun mounts; a toy company turned out compasses; a corset manufacturer produced grenade belts; and a pinball machine plant made armor-piercing shells.

In retrospect, the speed of this conversion from a peacetime to a wartime economy is stunning. The harnessing of U.S. industrial power tipped the scales decisively toward the Allied Forces, reversing the tide of war. Germany and Japan, already fully extended, could not counter this effort. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill often quoted his foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey: “The United States is like a giant boiler. Once the fire is lighted under it, there is no limit to the power it can generate.”

The point is that it did not take decades to restructure the U.S. industrial economy. It did not take years. It was done in a matter of months. If we could restructure the U.S. industrial economy in months, then we can restructure the world energy economy during this decade.

With numerous U.S. automobile assembly lines currently idled, it would be a relatively simple matter to retool some of them to produce wind turbines, as the Ford Motor Company did in World War II with B-24 bombers, helping the world to quickly harness its vast wind energy resources. This would help the world see that the economy can be restructured quickly, profitably, and in a way that enhances global security.

The world now has the technologies and financial resources to stabilize climate, eradicate poverty, stabilize population, restore the economy’s natural support systems, and, above all, restore hope. The United States, the wealthiest society that has ever existed, has the resources and leadership to lead this effort.

One of the questions I hear most frequently is, What can I do? People often expect me to suggest lifestyle changes, such as recycling newspapers or changing light bulbs. These are essential, but they are not nearly enough. Restructuring the global economy means becoming politically active, working for the needed changes, as the grassroots campaign against coal-fired power plants is doing. Saving civilization is not a spectator sport.

Inform yourself. Read about the issues. Share the Earth Policy Institute’s publications with friends. Pick an issue that’s meaningful to you, such as tax restructuring to create an honest market, phasing out coal-fired power plants, or developing a world class-recycling system in your community. Or join a group that is working to provide family planning services to the 215 million women who want to plan their families but lack the means to do so. You might want to organize a small group of like-minded individuals to work on an issue that is of mutual concern. You can begin by talking with others to help select an issue to work on.

Once your group is informed and has a clearly defined goal, ask to meet with your elected representatives on the city council or the state or national legislature. Write or e-mail your elected representatives about the need to restructure taxes and eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. Remind them that leaving environmental costs off the books may offer a sense of prosperity in the short run, but it leads to collapse in the long run.

During World War II, the military draft asked millions of young men to risk the ultimate sacrifice. But we are called on only to be politically active and to make lifestyle changes. During World War II, President Roosevelt frequently asked Americans to adjust their lifestyles and Americans responded, working together for a common goal. What contributions can we each make today, in time, money, or reduced consumption, to help save civilization?

The choice is ours—yours and mine. We can stay with business as usual and preside over an economy that continues to destroy its natural support systems until it destroys itself, or we can be the generation that changes direction, moving the world onto a path of sustained progress. The choice will be made by our generation, but it will affect life on earth for all generations to come.

Adapted from Chapter 13, “Saving Civilization,” in Lester R. Brown, World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011), available online at www.earth-policy.org/books/wote

Additional data and information sources at www.earth-policy.org

The learning curve.

A guest post from Dr John W Lewis.  John and I have known each other for some years now, both of us sharing a group aircraft that was based in Exeter, SW England.  His areas of interest and competence are described here.  But these days when John and I chat about the world in general and nothing in particular we often come back to the topic of innovation.  So bear that in mind as John muses on the rather gloomy nature of a recent post on Learning from Dogs.

John writes:

John Lewis

Having read the recent Post, Group Human Insanity, my first instinct is that I have nothing particular worthwhile to say that has not been said before.  But, of course, the time to apply minds is exactly when the answers don’t readily come to mind, so I will continue!

In a way, it’s probably a case of applying the sentiment on the old wartime poster, “Keep calm and carry on!” or as Winston Churchill said, “I’f you’re going through hell, keep going!”.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t need to change, because we do. It doesn’t mean that we don’t need to put a lot more effort into things that matter, because we do. But, as has been said before, “you can’t connect the dots looking forward, only looking backwards”. In other words, “it is very difficult to make predictions, especially about the future”.

Reading about this kind of thing in books, such as  “Freakonomics” or “Drive” or “Switch” suggests that we don’t really understand the mechanism by which behavioural changes happen in populations, although some of the discoveries of Everett Rogers about the diffusion of innovations is relevant here. To refer to another book, there is probably going to be a lot of “Who moved my cheese?” hemming and hawing behaviour going on too.

All we really know is that when the environment (in the most general sense) is changing rapidly, populations are much better off if they are diverse in their characteristics and behaviour; also I believe (but am not sure) that it’s true to say that increased communication assists populations in adapting to changes in the environment.

So the most important thing to do is to let lots of different people do lots of different things in search of ways forward.  If you like, we need to split up (within the multidimensional behavioural space in which we operate) into smaller groups to dodge the big boulders.

We need to communicate lots of information and lots of ways of interpreting and verifying not only the information itself, but also the operational implications of that information (which may be very different things). Hopefully this will reduce (but it will never eliminate) instances of mass movements (as in stampedes) based on partial information which misdirect substantial resources into activities that turn out to be dead ends.

If we don’t believe that there are any viable ways forward, then we might as well give up and just enjoy what’s left of the good times!

But if there are ways forward, then the way to find them is to have lots of people scouting ahead on lots of fronts and passing information around so that we maximise the chances of finding those ways forward, and having lots of other people striving to find ways to make use of that information and testing out those ways forward.

Whether this is all obvious, or not, I don’t know; but it probably is. One thing we do know is that telling people what to do is emphatically not going to work! Just look at some of the stories on the Breaking The Mould website.

Instead, we are better off when people are asking questions, gathering information and passing it around. I believe that if these behaviours are adopted in a population, as a result of ‘external’ pressures building up, then changes and innovations will inevitably occur, and this is about the best that we can do! Fortunately, I think that is what tends to happen anyway.

So, in a sense, as I referred to above: “Keep calm and carry on”  (By the way, a Google search on that phrase unearths a variety of interesting stuff and variations such as “Get excited and make stuff”)


Dr John W Lewis

Email: john.lewis@holosoft.com
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