Tag: World Bank

Sandy’s legacy perhaps?

Will history show in a few years that Hurricane Sandy was a turning point?

Not available to watch in the USA, there’s been a programme on BBC TV under the heading of Sandy: Analysis of a Hurricane.  I am told by those who have watched it that it is chilling in a very frightening way.  It shows the power, both literally and metaphorically, of the effects of much warmer seas off the US eastern seaboard.

Yesterday was the concluding part of Ellen Cantarow’s essay.  If you missed it and want to read it, Part One is here and Part Two here.  In that second part, I included a video showing graphically, in a very creative way, the effect of New York City addeding 54 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (equivalent) to the atmosphere in 2010.  I saw that video in a recent post by Christine of 350orbust fame.

Christine has very kindly given me written permission to republish that post.  I have left out the video as that was included on Learning from Dogs yesterday, as just mentioned.

Our Carbon Pollution: Is It Different From Raw Sewage?

In a very short time – years or at most decades – humans will look back at our spewing of carbon pollution into the atmosphere with the same disgust and disbelief that we now look back on people in the middle ages in Europe who dumped their raw sewage into the streets. Here’s a recent video that makes tangible the carbon emissions that New York City spews out every day.

The good news is that Hurricane Sandy may have started a new discussion in the U.S. on climate change in general, and pricing carbon pollution in particular (sadly, in Canada we are lagging far behind. Our current federal government is intent on dragging us back into the 20th Century):

  • Speaking to Bloomberg News, oil and gas giant Exxon reiterated its support for a carbon tax yesterday. A spokeswoman for the company said that the tool could “play a significant role in addressing the challenge of rising emissions.” Click here to read full article.
  • The right wing American Enterprise Institute recently held a day-long conference on pricing carbon: Yesterday, the American Enterprise Institute hosted a conference to talk about anything and everything related to the economics of carbon taxes.  Normally, a full-day conference with more than a dozen speakers on a tax issue in DC will be lucky to get more than a few dozen attendees, even with a free lunch.  Carbon taxes, though, are different.  The enthusiasm for this issue is such that there were over 200 attendees, many of whom stood for half the day.

What makes carbon taxes different? Simply put, people across the political spectrum now know that putting a price on carbon is an indispensable tool for dealing with our climate and budget problems, and that a carbon tax is the most politically viable path forward.  This dynamic has created an exciting amount of momentum that now needs to be turned into policy. Read more on ThinkProgress.

  • This week, in an open letter, a coalition of the world’s largest investors (responsible for managing $22.5 trillion in assets) called on governments on Tuesday to ramp up action on climate change and boost clean-energy investment or risk trillions of dollars in investments and disruption to economies. They said rapidly growing greenhouse gas emissions and more extreme weather were increasing investment risks globally.
  • The World Bank – now headed by a scientist, for the first time ever – released a report this week calling for urgent action on climate change. “Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided,” warns we’re on track for a 4°C warmer world marked by extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise.
  • On the good news front – the Tesla Model S won the 2013 Car of The Year award, the first electric car to win in the 60 year history of the award! Read more. Also under the heading of  “good news”, Harvard Students have voted to support their university’s divestment from the fossil fuel industry (read more).

It feels like we’re on the edge of a paradigm shift. What do you think?

For all our sakes, I do hope Christine is correct in her judgment.

A view from the Radical Middle

Promoting the thoughts of Per Kurowski.

A few days ago, I published a delightful story sent to me by Richard Maugham about Helga’s Bar.  It was a tongue-in-cheek look at the crazy world of finance and banking that we seem to be living in at present.

One of the regular readers of Learning from Dogs is Per Kurowski and he left a couple of comments.  The first being,

As a former ED at the World Bank, 2002-2004, living close to Washington, writing articles and being an assiduous blogger, I’ve been in the middle of many discussions about those many of the challenges our world faces. And my friend, I am sorry to say, our prospects to solve these problems, do not seem good.

One of the main reasons for that negative outlook, is that I have been able to witness how the discussion of many of these problems, no matter how urgent these are, so often get hijacked by a political agenda, or by a group that decides making a business, or a living, out of it.

If we cannot break out of this mold, unfortunately, the world is toast, and this, not only from a global warming perspective.

which was then followed up by,

By the way, I managed to sit down a prominent and important bank regulator in my chair yesterday, though he was invisible and quite silent!

I then replied,

Per, just love that. Any chance of you penning a guest post that could set the background to that video in terms that make it easy for the punter to understand?

So here is Per’s interview (sound volume is a little low) and his views.

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Paul… well here is “a brief summary of my thoughts on banks and risks”

Capital requirements for banks which are lower when the perceived risk of default of the borrower is low, and higher when the perceived risk is high, distort the economic resource allocation process. This is so because those perceptions of risk have already been cleared for, by bankers and markets, by means of interest rates and amounts of exposures.

All the current dangerous and obese bank exposures are to be found in areas recently considered as safe and which therefore required these banks to hold little capital. What was considered as “risky” is not, as usual, causing any problems. This is not a crisis caused by excessive risk taking by the banks, but by excessive regulatory interference by naïve and nanny type regulators.

And, if that distortion is not urgently eliminated, all our banks are doomed to end up gasping for oxygen and capital on the last officially perceived safe beach… like the US Treasury or the Bundesbank.

Bank regulators have no business regulating based on risk perceptions being right, their role is to prepare for when these perceptions turn out to be wrong.

A nation that cares more for history, what it has got, the haves, the “not-risky”, the AAA rated or the “infallible” sovereigns, than for the future, what it can get, the not-haves, the risky, the small businesses or the entrepreneurs, is a nation on its way down.

Per.

oooOOOooo

You may read more from Per on his blog here, and also read Per’s Tea with FT blog!  So let me close by saying that Per’s summary seems like a blast of sanity in an otherwise crazy world!

Too hot to handle!

A stark reminder that more of the same will hurt us.

On the 14th August I published a post with the title of From feeling to doing.  The post was a 15-minute video presented by David Roberts of Grist showing, in essence, how fundamentally simple was the issue of climate change and how profound the implications if we didn’t halt the rise in the temperature of Planet Earth.

I’m not going to insert that video in this post because you can click on the link above and do that yourself.  What I will do is to draw your attention to the accompanying article on Grist under the title of Climate change is simple: We do something or we’re screwed. That article includes the slides that were in the video, such as this one:

So with that in mind, here’s what the BBC published on their news website yesterday morning,

Science advisor warns climate target ‘out the window’

Pallab GhoshBy Pallab Ghosh, Science correspondent, BBC News

One of the Government’s most senior scientific advisors has said that efforts to stop a sharp rise in global temperatures were now unrealistic.

Professor Sir Robert Watson said that the hope of restricting the average temperature rise to 2C was “out the window”.

He said that the rise could be as high as 5C – with dire conseqences.

Professor Watson added the Chancellor, George Osborne, should back efforts to cut the UK’s CO2 emissions.

He said: “I have to look back (on the outcome of sucessive climate change summits) Copenhagen, Cancun and Durban and say that I can’t be overly optimistic.

“To be quite candid the idea of a 2C target is largely out of the window.”

As the BBC points out Professor Watson is a highly respected and world renown scientist on climate change policy and is currently Chief Scientist at the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and a former Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  Professor Watson was also with the World Bank and an advisor to former Vice President Al Gore.  The BBC item goes on,

Professor Watson, who is due to step down from his role at Defra next month, suggested that the Chancellor, George Osborne, reconsider his opposition to tough measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Mr Osborne has said that the UK’s ambitious targets for CO2 should be relaxed so as not to drive businesses to countries which have set themselves much lower targets.

“I would say to George Osborne, ‘work with the public sector. Work with the public on behavior change. Let’s demonstrate to the rest of the world that we can make significant progress here” Professor Watson argues that the UK and Germany should continue to take the lead in driving efforts to reach an effective international treaty.

Hurt Poorest

“If we carry on the way we are there is a 50-50 chance that we will get to a 3 degree rise,” he said.

“I wouldn’t rule out a 5 degree world and that would be quite serious for the people of the world especially the poorest. We need more political will than we currently have”.

The IPCC 2007 assessment summarised the probable impact of various temperature rise sceanrios.

It shows that the impact on human health, the availability of food and water, the loss of coastlines becomes progressively worse as the average temperature of the planet rises.

The 2C target was agreed at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in 2010.

The majority of countries though prefer a lower target of 1.5C.

A number of analyses have also concluded that the 2C would be missed. The most recent was by the International Energy Agency earlier this year.

Professor Watson added that deep cuts in CO2 emissions are possible using innovative technologies without harming economic recovery.

“This doesn’t take a revolution in energy technology, an evolution would get us there.”

What I would add to this report that has been widely circulated is that while it’s natural to assume, ‘We need more political will than we currently have‘, that political will flows from the will of the people.

Take the effect of a 4C rise, as David Roberts explains,

Which is described in the Grist article as,

Here’s the edition of the Royal Society journal that came out of the conference on 4 degrees C of warming. Read through it and see if you think “hell on earth” is an exaggeration. Desertification, water shortages, agricultural disruptions, rising sea levels, vanishing coral, tropical forest die-offs, mass species extinctions, oh my. Kevin Anderson, one of the lead scientists involved, was moved to say that “a 4 degrees C future is incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable.”

So come on people, get real!  Make sure that the democratic systems work and that our leaders know the sort of change that has to take place.  As the wise Professor highlighted, ‘… deep cuts in CO2 emissions are possible using innovative technologies without harming economic recovery.’  Sort of makes sense to me.  How about you?

Options for the future

That damn edge, embrace it or ….. or what?

It’s some ago that I read Lester Brown’s book World on the Edge but I still recall the effect it had on me.  Namely, this is not some environmentalist’s ‘willy waving’ but something that has the potential to hurt, I mean HURT!  Since the book was published the stream of information and evidence has turned into a flood of awareness that if we don’t change our ways soon then we, as in the vastness of human life, will go over the edge.

So it was a good reminder to come across a recent extract on the Earth Policy Institute website that is republished in full, as follows:

No previous civilization has survived the ongoing destruction of its natural supports. Nor will ours. Yet economists look at the future through a different lens. Relying heavily on economic data to measure progress, they see the near 10-fold growth in the world economy since 1950 and the associated gains in living standards as the crowning achievement of our modern civilization. During this period, income per person worldwide climbed nearly fourfold, boosting living standards to previously unimaginable levels. A century ago, annual growth in the world economy was measured in the billions of dollars. Today, it is measured in the trillions. In the eyes of mainstream economists, our present economic system has not only an illustrious past but also a promising future.

Mainstream economists see the 2008–09 global economic recession and near-collapse of the international financial system as a bump in the road, albeit an unusually big one, before a return to growth as usual. Projections of economic growth, whether by the World Bank, Goldman Sachs, or Deutsche Bank, typically show the global economy expanding by roughly 3 percent a year. At this rate the 2010 economy would easily double in size by 2035. With these projections, economic growth in the decades ahead is more or less an extrapolation of the growth of recent decades.

But natural scientists see that as the world economy expanded some 20-fold over the last century, it has revealed a flaw—a flaw so serious that if it is not corrected it will spell the end of civilization as we know it. At some point, what had been excessive local demands on environmental systems when the economy was small became global in scope.

A study by a team of scientists led by Mathis Wackernagel aggregates the use of the earth’s natural assets, including carbon dioxide overload in the atmosphere, into a single indicator—the ecological footprint. The authors concluded that humanity’s collective demands first surpassed the earth’s regenerative capacity around 1980. By 2007, global demands on the earth’s natural systems exceeded sustainable yields by 50 percent. Stated otherwise, it would take 1.5 Earths to sustain our current consumption. If we use environmental indicators to evaluate our situation, then the global decline of the economy’s natural support systems—the environmental decline that will lead to economic decline and social collapse—is well under way.

How did we get into this mess? Our market-based global economy as currently managed is in trouble. The market does many things well. It allocates resources with an efficiency that no central planner could even imagine, much less achieve.

However the market, which sets prices, is not telling us the truth. It is omitting indirect costs that in some cases now dwarf direct costs. Consider gasoline. Pumping oil, refining it into gasoline, and delivering the gas to U.S. service stations may cost, say, $3 per gallon. The indirect costs, including climate change, treatment of respiratory illnesses, oil spills, and the U.S. military presence in the Middle East to ensure access to the oil, total $12 per gallon. Similar calculations can be done for coal.

We delude ourselves with our accounting system. Leaving such huge costs off the books is a formula for bankruptcy. Environmental trends are the lead indicators telling us what lies ahead for the economy and ultimately for society itself. Falling water tables today signal rising food prices tomorrow. Shrinking polar ice sheets are a prelude to falling coastal real estate values.

Beyond this, mainstream economics pays little attention to the sustainable yield thresholds of the earth’s natural systems. Modern economic thinking and policymaking have created an economy that is so out of sync with the ecosystem on which it depends that it is approaching collapse. How can we assume that the growth of an economic system that is shrinking the earth’s forests, eroding its soils, depleting its aquifers, collapsing its fisheries, elevating its temperature, and melting its ice sheets can simply be projected into the long-term future? What is the intellectual process underpinning these extrapolations?

We are facing a situation in economics today similar to that in astronomy when Copernicus arrived on the scene, a time when it was believed that the sun revolved around the earth. Just as Copernicus had to formulate a new astronomical worldview after several decades of celestial observations and mathematical calculations, we too must formulate a new economic worldview based on several decades of environmental observations and analyses.

The archeological record indicates that civilizational collapse does not come suddenly out of the blue. Archeologists analyzing earlier civilizations talk about a decline-and-collapse scenario. Economic and social collapse was almost always preceded by a period of environmental decline.

For past civilizations it was sometimes a single environmental trend that was primarily responsible for their decline. Sometimes it was multiple trends. For Sumer, rising salt concentrations in the soil, as a result of an environmental flaw in the design of their otherwise extraordinary irrigation system, led to a decline in wheat yields. The Sumerians then shifted to barley, a more salt-tolerant crop. But eventually barley yields also began to decline. The collapse of the civilization followed.

For the Mayans, it was deforestation and soil erosion. As more and more land was cleared for farming to support the expanding empire, soil erosion undermined the productivity of their tropical soils. A team of scientists from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has noted that the extensive land clearing by the Mayans likely also altered the regional climate, reducing rainfall. In effect, the scientists suggest, it was the convergence of several environmental trends, some reinforcing others, that led to the food shortages that brought down the Mayan civilization.

Although we live in a highly urbanized, technologically advanced society, we are as dependent on the earth’s natural support systems as the Sumerians and Mayans were. If we continue with business as usual, civilizational collapse is no longer a matter of whether but when. We now have an economy that is destroying its natural support systems, one that has put us on a decline and collapse path.

The reality of our situation may soon become clearer for mainstream economists as we begin to see some of the early economic effects of overconsuming the earth’s resources, such as rising world food prices. On the social front, the most disturbing trend is spreading hunger.

As rapid population growth continues, cropland becomes scarce, wells go dry, forests disappear, soils erode, unemployment rises, and hunger spreads. As environmental degradation and economic and social stresses mount, the more fragile governments are losing their capacity to govern. They become failing states—countries whose governments can no longer provide personal security, food security, or basic social services, such as education and health care. As the list of failing states grows longer each year, it raises a disturbing question: How many states must fail before our global civilization begins to unravel?

How much longer can we remain in the decline phase, whether measured in natural asset liquidation, spreading hunger, or failing states, before our global civilization begins to break down? We are dangerously close to the edge. Peter Goldmark, former Rockefeller Foundation president, puts it well: “The death of our civilization is no longer a theory or an academic possibility; it is the road we’re on.”

Adapted from World on the Edge by Lester R. Brown.  The message is clear.

But if you haven’t read the book it’s available online, for free!  Just go here and not only will you find the link to the book but also links to other valuable materials.

Founder and President of the Earth Policy Institute, Lester Brown, speaks about his new book World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse. The issues, says Brown, are critical — and the big question is whether we can change direction before “we go over the edge.” Among his points: solar, wind and geothermal energy, with energy efficiency, can provide all the power we need, but a massive effort must be made now to fully shift to these clean, safe, renewable energy technologies. He strongly rejects nuclear power.

Joining the dots?

A guest post from Perfect Stranger.

Introduction

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of publishing a guest post from Patrice Ayme about the important subject of Energy Question For The USA

One of the comments on that Post was from Per Kurowski, a former Executive Director of the World Bank.  He reported about a letter he wrote that was published in the Financial Times back in April, 2005.  That letter set out the case for,

A sensible country would raise tax on petrol, so what is US waiting for?

Sir, it is hard to understand the United States of America! It has a huge fiscal deficit; it has a huge current-account deficit; it is by far the world’s biggest oil consumers both in absolute and in relative terms; now willing to explore for oil and gas in Alaska, it shows itself to be aware of the difficult energy outlook the world faces; it seems aware and resolute about the environmental problems (ignore the Alaska part) as it imposes other expensive environmental regulations, such as recycling—which, as no one likes to do it, requires the hiring of Salvadoreans; it speaks all over the place about having to reduce the vulnerabilities of its oil supplies.

As any other sensible country would, in similar circumstances, increase the taxes on petrol consumption and substantially help to solve all the above-mentioned problems; and as the US has always shown willingness to pull together as a nation, recently even to the extent of going to war on shaky grounds, the big question remains: why is it that the leaders of the US do not even want to talk about a substantial tax on petrol?

The letter struck me as eminently sensible.  Then a while later Perfect Stranger emailed an equally valid alternative approach and that now follows as a guest post.

oooOOOooo

Many years ago while working for Lehman Bros I did a spreadsheet relating to oil profits based on government taxes, I can assure you that having the USA government (or any other government) raise taxes on oil will do the complete opposite to what everyone expects it will do.

Any taxes raised will only end up in the federal coffers, they will not harm the oil companies because they will simply marginally raise the price of fuel meaning they will still receive the same profits while the government gets even more. The consumers will hurt in the pocket and nothing else will happen.

If for some reason the government found a way to stop the oil companies from any marginal increases then the oil companies would simply raise their fuel transportation costs and lump the entire loss on the Petrol Station operators meaning the operators would lose out, the oil companies would still receive the same profit and the government would still end up with more money in their coffers.

But oil consumption would remain the same, in other words .. raising taxes (or lowering them ) will do no good whatsoever

So the answer to using less fossil fuels, as I keep on saying, is not up to any government nor is it up to the oil companies nor is it up to science, the blame lies entirely on the people who choose to drive to the shops to buy their bread and milk instead of walking whatever short distance that might require.

This is something I have found throughout the entire global warming movement, everybody tends to expect that it is up to governments and science to find solutions when in reality it is we who cause the problems and it is we who should be fixing them … THE GOVERNMENTS CANNOT HELP THOSE WHO WILL NOT HELP THEMSELVES, as long as we keep demanding the same lifestyle they have no choice but to provide us with it.

It is the same with coal, gas and oil in power plants, they only get burnt because we as consumers draw the power from the grid, in other words, we demand it, and if the companies don’t provide enough we get all sorts of blackouts,then we whinge, the companies get fined, directors get jailed for failing in their duty to the public and still .. more coal, gas and oil gets delivered to the power plants.

Spending less Energy and Wasting less Heat is actually the “only” solution that will work, anything else, any other form of debate or discussion on the issue is just another way of extending a debate that should have been over decades ago .. because that is the only possible solution, there really is no other solution, none whatsoever, there are no other answers.

The truth of the matter is that nobody wants to do anything about it except to continue the debate all the while expecting others to resolve the issue while they sit on their butts and talk about how things are going ever so slowly and that it must all be the fault of somebody else.

The oil companies cannot stop producing fuel nor should they be stopped as this would destroy our entire civilization, I am amazed at the ignorance in even discussing such an issue, it’s as if people imagine that by stopping oil and other fossil fuels over, say the next 10 years, that somehow some magical system would suddenly develop to replace them.

Do you realize that it took over a hundred years to build our existing fossil fuel based society and that currently only 3% of that has been replaced by alternative energy sources and that it has taken 3 decades for that to occur, all over the world?

There is no miracle technology that can be implemented fast enough to save us, there never has been, EVER, even nuclear power cannot be produced fast enough for our needs, we have to save ourselves.

So use some common sense and realize that the only possible solution to the global warming issue is for all of us to get into conserving energy and wasting less heat and above all … educating others into doing the same thing.

You leave it too long and we are all going to die ,,,,,, and it’s a guarantee we shall blame some else for it 😦

Footnote: This is a warning given to us by one of the greatest scientists who ever lived, comparable only to both Issac Newton and Albert Einstein.

Lord Kelvin

Within a finite period of time past, the Earth must have been, and within a finite period of time to come the Earth must again be, unfit for the habitation of man as at present constituted, unless operations have been, or are to be performed, which are IMPOSSIBLE under the laws to which the known operations going on at present in the material world are subject.” – Lord William Kelvin.

As they say, the solutions to the problems of the future may always be found in the lessons of the past.  As we can see by Lord Kelvin’s warning, this problem has never had a technical solution and we have little time to learn that one lesson.

oooOOOooo

As much as I respect Per’s opinion, indeed I wrote yesterday, “The points you make seem complete common sense.” the argument put forward by Perfect Stranger really does ‘join the dots’ for me and, I suspect, for many others.  Indeed, as Wen Scott commented on last Tuesday’s Post,

For my own personal experience, my husband and I have concluded that the only way we can make a contribution is to make our own grass-roots changes. We are solar, heat with wood (carbon neutral), composting toilets and kitchen scraps, and lately are choosing as much local food, goods and services as possible. The Transitions movements are a great example and well worth emulating for all of us.

I think it’s pretty clear that waiting around for governments and big business to solve environmental problems is dangerous to our health and well-being — it’s important to hear voices directly from our scientists, but I think we are very foolish (insane) to refuse to take action now. What are people waiting for, and at this date, does it really make much difference who or what is causing such environmental and climate devastation?

What’s the saying…. walk softly and leave nothing behind but your footprints. Even that may be too little, too late, but let’s hope not.

And it is thanks to Wen’s blogsite that I was linked to the following video,

We are living in exceptional times. Scientists tell us that we have 10 years to change the way we live, avert the depletion of natural resources and the catastrophic evolution of the Earth’s climate.

The stakes are high for us and our children. Everyone should take part in the effort, and HOME has been conceived to take a message of mobilization out to every human being.

For this purpose, HOME needs to be free. A patron, the PPR Group, made this possible. EuropaCorp, the distributor, also pledged not to make any profit because Home is a non-profit film.

HOME has been made for you : share it! And act for the planet.

Yann Arthus-Bertrand

HOME official website
http://www.home-2009.com

PPR is proud to support HOME
http://www.ppr.com

HOME is a carbon offset movie
http://www.actioncarbone.org

More information about the Planet
http://www.goodplanet.info

Harvest moon

There’s always much more to people than meets the eye!

I can’t recall at what point in the life of Learning from Dogs that Per Kurowski popped up over the parapet but it was pretty early on.  Per has been a great supporter of my varied efforts to promote the way that dogs are a wonderful example of integrity, trust and openness.

Anyway, Per comes from a background that one might not associate with the rest of this article.  Per used to be a director at the World Bank.  One of his Blogs includes this:

I warned many about the coming crisis, long before it happened, on many occasions and in many places, even at the World Bank. They did not want to listen and that´s ok, it usually happens, but what is not ok, is that they still do not seem to want to hear it. “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” (Plato: 427 BC – 347 BC)

Just a couple of days ago, I posted about the moon that passed closer to the Earth on the 19th than for the last 20 years.  Per added a comment to that Post, “And this is a homemade version of the beautiful Harvest Moon song by Neil Young” With this link.  At that link you can watch and listen to Per singing ‘Harvest Moon’ recorded by Neil Young.  Enjoy.

Here was that moon, as seen from Payson in Arizona with some cloud in the sky!

 

That moon!

 

Finally, for those interested in the lyrics, here they are.

Come a little bit closer
Hear what I have to say
Just like children sleepin’
We could dream this night away.

But there’s a full moon risin’
Let’s go dancin’ in the light
We know where the music’s playin’
Let’s go out and feel the night.

Because I’m still in love with you
I want to see you dance again
Because I’m still in love with you
On this harvest moon.

When we were strangers
I watched you from afar
When we were lovers
I loved you with all my heart.

But now it’s gettin’ late
And the moon is climbin’ high
I want to celebrate
See it shinin’ in your eye.

Because I’m still in love with you
I want to see you dance again
Because I’m still in love with you
On this harvest moon.
Come a little bit closer
Hear what I have to say
Just like children sleepin’
We could dream this night away

But there’s a full moon risin’
Let’s go dancin’ in the light
We know where the music’s playin’
Let’s go out and feel the night

Because I’m still in love with you
I want to see you dance again
Because I’m still in love with you
On this harvest moon

When we were strangers
I watched you from afar
When we were lovers
I loved you with all my heart

But now it’s gettin’ late
And the moon is climbin’ high
I want to celebrate
See it shinin’ in your eye

Because I’m still in love with you
I want to see you dance again
Because I’m still in love with you
On this harvest moon

Food prices are up, up and up!

Interesting release from the Earth Policy Institute.

On the 3rd February I wrote a piece about the above Institute of which I had recently become aware.  That was in conjunction with the book World on the Edge that I had started reading.  Since then I have been summarising chapters on Learning from Dogs under the general heading of Total, Utter Madness.

So with food prices continuing to reach record levels around the world, with all the implications this carries for millions of families, I was interested to read the following which was emailed to me on the 15th from the EPI.

World One Poor Harvest Away From Chaos

www.earth-policy.org/plan_b_updates/2011/update91

By Lester R. Brown
Earth Policy Release
Plan B Update
February 15, 2011

Today there are three sources of growing demand for food: population growth; rising affluence and the associated jump in meat, milk, and egg consumption; and the use of grain to produce fuel for cars.

In early January, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that its Food Price Index had reached an all-time high in December, exceeding the previous record set during the 2007-08 price surge. Even more alarming, on February 3rd, the FAO announced that the December record had been broken in January as prices climbed an additional 3 percent.

Will this rise in food prices continue in the months ahead? In all likelihood we will see further rises that will take the world into uncharted territory in the relationship between food prices and political stability.

Everything now depends on this year’s harvest. Lowering food prices to a more comfortable level will require a bumper grain harvest, one much larger than the record harvest of 2008 that combined with the economic recession to end the 2007-08 grain price climb.

If the world has a poor harvest this year, food prices will rise to previously unimaginable levels. Food riots will multiply, political unrest will spread and governments will fall. The world is now one poor harvest away from chaos in world grain markets.

Over the longer term, expanding food production rapidly is becoming more difficult as food bubbles based on the overpumping of underground water burst, shrinking grain harvests in many countries. Meanwhile, increasing climate volatility, including more frequent, more extreme weather events, will make the expansion of production more erratic.

Some 18 countries have inflated their food production in recent decades by overpumping aquifers to irrigate their crops. Among these are China, India, and the United States, the big three grain producers.

When water-based food bubbles burst in some countries, they will dramatically reduce production. In others, they may only slow production growth. In Saudi Arabia, which was wheat self-sufficient for more than 20 years, the wheat harvest is collapsing and will likely disappear entirely within a year or so as the country’s fossil (nonreplenishable) aquifer, is depleted.

In Syria and Iraq, grain harvests are slowly shrinking as irrigation wells dry up. Yemen is a hydrological basket case, where water tables are falling throughout the country and wells are going dry. These bursting food bubbles make the Arab Middle East the first geographic region where aquifer depletion is shrinking the grain harvest.

While these Middle East declines are dramatic, the largest water-based food bubbles are in India and China. A World Bank study indicates that 175 million people in India are being fed with grain produced by overpumping. In China, overpumping is feeding 130 million people. Spreading water shortages in both of these population giants are making it more difficult to expand their food supplies.

Beyond irrigation wells going dry, farmers must contend with climate change. Crop ecologists have a rule of thumb that for each 1-degree-Celsius rise in temperature during the growing season, grain yields drop 10 percent. Thus it was no surprise that searing temperatures in western Russia last summer shrank the grain harvest by 40 percent.

On the demand side of the food equation, there are now three sources of growth. First is population growth. There will be 219,000 people at the dinner table tonight who were not there last night, many of them with empty plates. Second is rising affluence. Some three billion people are now trying to move up the food chain, consuming more grain-intensive meat, milk, and eggs. And third, massive amounts of grain are being converted into oil, i.e. ethanol, to fuel cars. Roughly 120 million tons of the 400-million-ton 2010 U.S. grain harvest are going to ethanol distilleries.

Encouragingly, President Sarkozy of France vowed to use his term as president of the G-20 in 2011 to stabilize world food prices. Thus far the talk has been about such measures as regulating export restrictions and speculation, but if the G-20 ends up treating the symptoms and not the causes of rising food prices, the effort will be of little avail.

What is needed now is a worldwide effort to raise water productivity, similar to the one launched by the international community a half century ago to raise cropland productivity. This earlier effort tripled the world grain yield per acre between 1950 and 2010.

On the climate front, the goal of cutting carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050—the widely accepted goal by governments—is not sufficient. The challenge now is to cut carbon emissions 80 percent by 2020 with a World War II-type mobilization to raise energy efficiency and to shift from fossil fuels to wind, solar, and geothermal energy.

On the demand side, we need to accelerate the shift to smaller families. There are 215 million women in the world who want to plan their families, but who lack access to family planning services. They and their families represent over a billion of the world’s poorest people. While filling the family planning gap, we need to simultaneously launch an all-out effort to eradicate poverty. Once under way, these two trends reinforce each other.

And in an increasingly hungry world, converting grain into fuel for cars is not the way to go. It is time to remove subsidies for converting grain and other crops into automotive fuel. If President Sarkozy can get the G-20 to focus on the causes of rising food prices, and not just the symptoms, then food prices can be stabilized at a more comfortable level.

Lester R. Brown is President of the Earth Policy Institute and author of 
World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse.

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

Feel free to pass this information along to friends, family members, and colleagues!

*This piece was originally published through Global Viewpoint, LA Times Syndicate, on Monday, February 9, 2011.

Small update. Some few hours after writing the above piece, the BBC News Website had an item on soaring food prices.  Here’s a taste (pardon the pun!).

The World Bank says food prices are at “dangerous levels” and have pushed 44 million more people into poverty since last June.

According to the latest edition of its Food Price Watch, prices rose by 15% in the four months between October 2010 and January this year.

Food price inflation is felt disproportionately by the poor, who spend over half their income on food.

If you want to read the February Food Price Watch report published by the World Bank, then that link is here. http://www.worldbank.org/foodcrisis/food_price_watch_report_feb2011.html

Approaches to ‘growth’.

Some thought-provoking articles on the need, or otherwise, of continued growth.

Intellectually, most people, if they stopped and thought about it, would not challenge the absurdity of the notion that a finite rock in space, Planet Earth, can handle an infinite increase in the demands and resources of that finite planetary body, our home in space!

Yet the reality is very different.  For many complex reasons, way beyond the competencies of this writer to fully explain, we, as in the peoples of Planet Earth, continue to behave as though there are no limits to the resources of this beautiful planet that is home for all of us.

Here are some extracts from some recent items that have passed across my ‘in-box’.

A piece from the CASSE website:

What If We Stopped Fighting for Preservation and Fought Economic Growth Instead?

by Tim Murray

Seriously.

Each time environmentalists rally to defend an endangered habitat, and finally win the battle to designate it as a park “forever,” as Nature Conservancy puts it, the economic growth machine turns to surrounding lands and exploits them ever more intensively, causing more species loss than ever before, putting even more lands under threat. For each acre of land that comes under protection, two acres are developed, and 40% of all species lie outside of parks. Nature Conservancy Canada may indeed have “saved” – at least for now – two million acres, but many more millions have been ruined. And the ruin continues, until, once more, on a dozen other fronts, development comes knocking at the door of a forest, or a marsh or a valley that many hold sacred. Once again, environmentalists, fresh from an earlier conflict, drop everything to rally its defense, and once again, if they are lucky, yet another section of land is declared off-limits to logging, mining and exploration. They are like a fire brigade that never rests, running about, exhausted, trying to extinguish one brush fire after another, year after year, decade after decade, winning battles but losing the war.

Just read again the sentence, “For each acre of land that comes under protection, two acres are developed, and 40% of all species lie outside of parks.” Powerful ideas.

Anyway, do read the article in full and see if it changes your attitude.  Here’s how it ends.

Sir Peter Scott once commented that the World Wildlife Fund would have saved more wildlife it they had dispensed free condoms rather invested in nature reserves. Biodiversity is primarily threatened by human expansion, which may be defined as the potent combination of a growing human population and its growing appetite for resources. Economic growth is the root cause of environmental degradation, and fighting its symptoms is the Labor of Sisyphus.

The next article is from The Christian Science Monitor writing about how scientists are getting a new idea about the rate of loss of polar ice.

The seasonal cooling effect of light-reflecting snow and ice in the Northern Hemisphere may be weakening at twice the rate predicted by climate models, a new study shows, accelerating the impact of global warming.

By Pete Spotts, Staff writer / January 18, 2011

A long-term retreat in snow and ice cover in the Northern Hemisphere is weakening the ability of these seasonal cloaks of white to reflect sunlight back into space and cool global climate, according to a study published this week.

Indeed, over the past 30 years, the cooling effect from this so-called cryosphere – essentially areas covered by snow and ice at least part of the year – appears to have weakened at more than twice the pace projected by global climate models, the research team conducting the work estimates.

This is a well-constructed article, easy to read with obvious conclusions.  Towards the end, the author writes:

Snow appears to have its maximum cooling effect – reflecting the most sunlight back into space – in late spring, as the light strengthens but snow cover is still near its maximum extent for the year. Sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has its biggest effect in June, before its annual summer melt-back accelerates, explains Don Perovich, a researcher at the US Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, N.H., and a member of the team reporting the results.

The final article that I want to include is one from the website Foreign Policy. I’m going to take the liberty of reproducing it in full because it strikes me as an extremely intelligent commentary on where mankind is in terms of our attitudes to growth.

Thomas Homer-Dixon
ECONOMIES CAN’T JUST KEEP ON GROWING

Humanity has made great strides over the past 2,000 years, and we often assume that our path, notwithstanding a few bumps along the way, goes ever upward. But we are wrong: Within this century, environmental and resource constraints will likely bring global economic growth to a halt.

Limits on available resources already restrict economic activity in many sectors, though their impact usually goes unacknowledged. Take rare-earth elements — minerals and oxides essential to the manufacture of many technologies. When China recently stopped exporting them, sudden shortages threatened to crimp a wide range of industries. Most commentators believed that the supply crunch would ease once new (or mothballed) rare-earth mines are opened. But such optimism overlooks a fundamental physical reality. As the best bodies of ore are exhausted, miners move on to less concentrated deposits in more difficult natural circumstances. These mines cause more pollution and require more energy. In other words, opening new rare-earth mines outside China will result in staggering environmental impact.

Or consider petroleum, which provides about 40 percent of the world’s commercial energy and more than 95 percent of its transportation energy. Oil companies generally have to work harder to get each new barrel of oil. The amount of energy they receive for each unit of energy they invest in drilling has dropped from 100 to 1 in Texas in the 1930s to about 15 to 1 in the continental United States today. The oil sands in Alberta, Canada, yield a return of only 4 to 1.

Coal and natural gas still have high energy yields. So, as oil becomes harder to get in coming decades, these energy sources will become increasingly vital to the global economy. But they’re fossil fuels, and burning them generates climate-changing carbon dioxide. If the World Bank’s projected rates for global economic growth hold steady, global output will have risen almost tenfold by 2100, to more than $600 trillion in today’s dollars. So even if countries make dramatic reductions in carbon emissions per dollar of GDP, global carbon dioxide emissions will triple from today’s level to more than 90 billion metric tons a year. Scientists tell us that tripling carbon emissions would cause such extreme heat waves, droughts, and storms that farmers would likely find they couldn’t produce the food needed for the world’s projected population of 9 billion people. Indeed, the economic damage caused by such climate change would probably, by itself, halt growth.

Humankind is in a box. For the 2.7 billion people now living on less than $2 a day, economic growth is essential to satisfying the most basic requirements of human dignity. And in much wealthier societies, people need growth to pay off their debts, support liberty, and maintain civil peace. To produce and sustain this growth, they must expend vast amounts of energy. Yet our best energy source — fossil fuel — is the main thing contributing to climate change, and climate change, if unchecked, will halt growth.

We can’t live with growth, and we can’t live without it. This contradiction is humankind’s biggest challenge this century, but as long as conventional wisdom holds that growth can continue forever, it’s a challenge we can’t possibly address.

Thomas Homer-Dixon is the CIGI chair of global systems at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Canada.

As Rob Dietz of CASSE wrote in a recent email to me, “I’m a big Thomas Homer-Dixon fan.  His book, The Upside of Down, is outstanding.

Economic growth may one day turn out to be a curse rather than a good, and under no conditions can it either lead into freedom or constitute a proof for its existence” Hannah Arendt (1906-1975).

 

Well said, Hannah!

I am scared!

Guest author, Per Kurowski, on a rather sobering topic!

I do not know what worse, the arrogance of the regulators thinking they can squeeze out the risk in banking by imposing different and completely arbitrary capital requirements based on the opinions of some few human fallible credit rating agencies, or their childish innocence not knowing this creates systemic risks of gigantic proportions.

What I do know is that an amazing number of intelligent people have fallen for this absurd and extremely dangerous regulatory paradigm. Honestly… I am truly scared!

How could I not be with regulators who can authorize banks to leverage up 62.5 to 1 on public debts like Greece’s while at the same time placing a 12.5 to 1 ceiling on the lending to the small businesses and entrepreneurs whom we depend so much on for our jobs.

Better hope they don't need funding!

All those financial and regulatory experts who kept mum when they should have spoken out on the financial crisis about to happen are now, quite effectively, circling their wagons in order to promote the myth that no one knew. False many did! In order to benefit from the lessons we must learn, they should not be allowed to succeed.

On October 19, 2004, as an Executive Director of the World Bank (2002-2004) I presented a written formal statement at the Board and that included the following:

We [I] believe that much of the world’s financial markets are currently being dangerously overstretched through an exaggerated reliance on intrinsically weak financial models that are based on very short series of statistical evidence and very doubtful volatility assumptions.

And I was no investment banker, nor a regulator, nor an investor, and so to me it is clear that all of them, had they done their job right, should have known… and that this crisis should have been nipped in the bud much earlier, as

Per Kurowski

the real explosion in truly bad mortgages took off in 2004, when the SEC in April delegated the setting of the capital requirements for the investment banks to the Basel Committee, and the G10 in June approved Basel II.

In order to understand it all don’t follow the money… follow the AAAs.  In case you missed “The Financial Crisis explained to dummies, non-experts and financial regulators” you can read it here.

By Per Kurowski

PS. I have put up a document that resumes most of what I said before and during my term as an Executive Director.