"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Human Caused Climate Instablility’

Climate Change 2013: Where We Are Now – Not What You Think

In Uncategorized on December 31, 2013 at 7:54 pm

The flats.Oldspeak: “The intensity of climate heat extremes across the Northern Hemisphere has already increased 10 to 100 times since the 1951 to 1981 period…Cold weather extremes can even intensify on a warmer planet as the range of volatile weather increases with more energy in the atmosphere. Cold weather extremes in 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 in the eastern United States and Europe, including Snowmeggedon in the Northeast US in 2010, validate modeling that increases these extremes because of Arctic warming… National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist Kevin Trenberth, two-time lead scientist for the IPCC, has spelled out a fundamental truth when answering the question: “Was this weather event caused by climate change?” His response, published in Climatic Change in March 2012: “All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.” (Emphasis added) -Bruce Melton

” Translation = WE’RE FUCKED.  As long as things hum along status quo, we and much of the life on this planet will become extinct. Even if we start removing more carbon from the atmosphere than we put in it from now on, we’re fucked. i rather resent the author’s implication that there are solutions that just require ‘political and financial will’. NO. Those solutions needed to be implemented 20 years ago. We are losing 200 species per day. The time for solutions have long passed. WE ARE FUCKED.  irreversible non-linear feedback loops have been triggered and will continue unpredictably and ever more violently. Enjoy your remaining time in our relatively stable and predictable ecology. it will soon be no more. Happy New Year!” :-/OSJ

By Bruce Melton @ Truthout:

We are in the midst of an era of frightening contradictions, when it comes to public understandings of climate change. While climate changes are occurring more quickly than scientists have ever predicted, most people’s knowledge of these realities remains hazy and clouded by political overtones. Because of both the counter-intuitive nature of climate change and the massive misinformation campaigns created by the fossil fuel industry, the general population is 20 years behind most climate scientists when it comes to the straightforward fact of “believing in” climate change. This is an ominous statistic: Now that scientists are predicting that even worse impacts than previously understood will happen significantly sooner, a rapid global response will be necessary for any attempt to stave them off. We are likely closer to irreversible dangerous climate change – if it has not begun already – and to take action, there must be a basic public consensus. There is, however, some hopeful news on the technological front if action is taken soon.

In 1976, Wallace Broeker was one of the first to suggest climate change could alter our planet harmfully within our lifetimes. Even though a few scientists said in the ’70s we could be headed for an ice age, Broeker had already made the connection, and those few climate scientists have not talked about a coming ice age in nearly 40 years. Broeker is arguably the grandfather of climate science: He’s been at it for 55 years.

One of his first jobs was under Willard Libby, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1949 for discovering carbon-14 dating. This rare but predictable form of carbon is radioactive, and it completely decays in about 55,000 years. It is because of carbon-14 dating that we know for absolutely certain that the extra carbon dioxide in our atmosphere came from burning fossil fuels.

There are many other ways that we know for sure. The physics of the greenhouse effect are easily demonstrated in the lab, and even the simplest models from the early 1980s prove their effect. Surprisingly, the complicated high resolution climate models of today yield results that are quite similar to those of the simplest models of the early 1980s.

2013 1226-5aBut how are we supposed to trust the models when weather people can’t even get the seven-day forecast correct? Weather models predict what you need to wear to work or school this week. They are built out of the most recent weather data, and by the time they run off five or six days into the future, they are often wrong.

One can load a climate model up with any old weather data; this week’s, last month’s or last year’s. It doesn’t matter where the models start in time. Climate scientists create scores and hundreds of model runs and then average all of those wrong forecasts together to get average weather. Average weather is climate. Climate is not the seven-day forecast. The chaos that makes weather models wrong so quickly is actually what makes climate modeling work so well.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2013

Climate measurements continue to become both more precise and more reliable – and thus, more terrifying. A new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which combines the work of 2,000 scientists from 154 countries, drawing from millions of observations from more than 9,000 scientific publications, confirms and strengthens previous predictions and adds one new and very important observation. Even 100 percent emissions reductions will no longer keep our climate from changing dangerously.

2013 1226-5bThese volunteer scientists also did something they normally don’t do this time. They debunked a climate myth. This is the “temperature flattening myth” that is so present in this perceived debate and that has become so prevalent in our society. Their story goes that earth’s temperature stopped warming in 1998, therefore climate change is not real. In 1998, we had the largest El Nino ever recorded. This massive warming of surface waters in the southern Pacific raised the temperature of Earth in that one year by about 0.15 degrees, or as much as it rose because of global warming in the previous decade.

The IPCC 2013 prominently sinks this myth as the fifth statement of fact in their Summary for Policy Makers (SPM): “Trends based on short records are very sensitive to the beginning and end dates and do not in general reflect long-term climate trends.” (SPM, Page 3) The mythmakers chose 1998 as the beginning of their myth.  This is plain and simple cherry picking. If one looks at the trend beginning in 1997, the temperature rise is anything but flat. If one begins in 1994, the annual rise rivals the fastest rise in the instrumental record from 1976 to 1997.

Since 1998, the global temperature record has been broken three times and tied once. The new IPCC report tells us that half of warming (57%) that should have already occurred has been masked by aerosols mostly emitted since the turn of the century in rapidly developing Asian nations (yes, warming would double if cooling smog pollutants were suddenly cleaned up in Asia). (SPM, Page 9) The new IPCC report also tells us the deep oceans are now warming, whereas before they were not, and 90 percent of actual warming has gone into the oceans (SPM, Page 4).

There is also new work, post IPCC 2013, that shows that warming since the turn of the century has been significantly greater than we thought. The reason is that the United Kingdom’s temperature record simply ignores the Arctic. The Arctic is the most rapidly warming place on Earth, but there are no thermometers there. Using advanced statistics, this new work adds Arctic temperatures back in.

A Brave New Proclamation

The brave new proclamation in the new IPCC report was saved as the next to the last statement of fact in the SPM :”A large fraction of anthropogenic climate change resulting from CO2 emissions is irreversible on a multi-century to millennial time scale, except in the case of a large net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere over a sustained period.” A large “net” removal . . . this means greater than 100 percent annual emissions reductions . . . In other words, we have to take more out than we are putting in every year. We must begin to remove some of the long-lived carbon pollution that we have already placed in our skies. (SPM, E.8, Page 20)

If we would have reduced our emissions to 1987 levels by 2012 – as was suggested prudent by the Kyoto Protocol – that would have been all that was needed. In the last 28 years we have emitted as many greenhouse gas pollutants as we emitted in the previous 236 years. (10) Somehow, we must begin to remove some of the load of long-lived greenhouse gases that have been accumulating in our sky.

Good News: The Solutions are Within our Grasp 

The economic evaluations of the solutions to climate change show that 1 percent of global gross domestic product ($540 billion in 2012) is what we need to spend to control climate pollution every year – using existing technologies, techniques and policy.

This $540 billion may sound like a lot, but it’s no more than we spend on either the Clean Water Act or the Clean Air Act in the US every year. It is no more than we spend on the military in the United States every year – not counting wars. It’s twice what we spend disposing of urban garbage across the planet every year. It’s no more than what we lose to normal weather losses and delays every year in the US – not counting climate change enhanced weather extremes. It’s no more than we spend on advertising across the globe every year. It’s only 25 percent of what we spend on health care in the United States every year – before Obamacare.

The scale is large and the amount of work immense, but treating climate pollution is not unlike many other things that have been accomplished across this planet over decades past for amounts of money that are relatively small. Another reference: Exxon Mobile has a market capitalization of $417 billion alone.

Extraordinary Urgency and New Climate Paradigm

Now that I have put you at ease with the simplicity of the solutions, the hard truth is that this global greenhouse gas experiment has gone horribly wrong. There are discoveries that are extraordinarily important to the discussion of appropriate policy and behavior that are unknown by all but a few.

The new paradigm of climate science states that oil is responsible for 2.5 times more warming than coal in short-term climate time frames (20 years or less). The reason is because coal emits an enormous amount of sulfur dioxide when it burns. Sulfur dioxide is a global cooling pollutant – it cools instead of warms.

Up until recently, science has not known much about cooling pollutants and the chemical reactions that take place in the atmosphere and clouds, water vapor and indirect effects. Now we know. We used to only understand global warming gases by their test tube signatures on warming. Now we know these complicated things about how everything behaves in the atmosphere, and when the math is done, oil is responsible for 2.5 times more warming in the short term than coal. The cooling pollutants are short-lived though, so after 20 years, carbon dioxide becomes the king of the warming gases once again.

But it is the short term that is crucial. If we cross an abrupt change threshold in the short term, or an irreversible threshold, our goose is cooked. In the long-term, we are far more likely to be able to develop solutions to mitigate for greenhouse gas warming. But if we fail to control radical climate change in the short term, we are toast.

Abrupt Change

Professor Broeker’s primary focus has been abrupt climate change. From his bio at the Columbia Earth Institute: “The climate system has jumped from one mode of operation to another in the past [warm to cold, cold to warm]. We are trying to understand how the earth’s climate system is engineered, so we can understand what it takes to trigger mode switches. Until we do, we cannot make good predictions about future climate change. . . ” Over the past six or eight hundred thousand years, our climate has almost always changed in radical jumps from one mode to another. In the last 110,000 years, Greenland ice cores show 23 of these events where the average global temperature jumped 9 to 14 degrees globally in time frames of as little as a few decades to as short as a few years.

Then there is the climate lag. It takes 30 or 40 years for greenhouse warming to catch up to atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases because of the great capacity of our oceans to cool the planet. This means that today we are operating on atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases from the 1970s. In the last 29 years we have emitted as many greenhouse gases as we emitted in the previous 236 years. Because of the great cooling effect of the oceans, we have not yet begun to see the warming that this recent doubling of greenhouse gases will bring.

The Life of Carbon Dioxide

And carbon dioxide lasts a lot longer in the atmosphere than we have understood previously. This is largely because as it warms, less carbon dioxide can dissolve into the oceans or stay in the soils. We once understood that the life of carbon dioxide in our sky was 100 to 200 years. Now we know that 75 percent of CO2 stays in the sky for 300 years and the quarter stays there forever (in relevant time frames of 10,000 years or more).

This is all happening with only a very slight amount of warming and our climate is a long, long way from catching up to greenhouse gas concentrations. Climate change projected by the IPCC 2013 report under the business-as-usual scenario projects warming in the next 80 to 90 years to be bigger than the Paleocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum extinction event 56 million years ago, only changes today are happening 100 times faster than then.

Way More than Climate Weirding

There are many more new climate science discoveries than the IPCC reports. Climate change is and has in the past manifested itself in ways that are completely foreign to mankind’s existence on this planet.

Icequakes appeared in the seismic record for the first time in early 1993, but it took seismologists another decade to determine they were coming from Greenland. They have a different signature from earthquakes, so some sophisticated filtering was required to pinpoint the locations of these quakes. About 184 of them happened between 1993 and 2007 when this research was completed. These icequakes are 1,000 times more powerful than any ice seismic event ever recorded. They register between 4.6 and 5.1 on the Richter scale and can last 30 to 150 seconds. Normal ice seismic events register 2.7 and last only a second or less. There is a time lapse movie of one of these icequakes.

Evidence of climate change-caused Tsunamis a half-mile high (mega tsunamis) was discovered in Hawaii and they happened about 120,000 years ago, when it was only a degree or two warmer than today, in between our last ice age and the one before. They were likely caused as rising sea level destabilized the steep volcanic slopes of the Hawaiian Islands, resulting in mega underwater landslides. Blocks of earth a mile wide moved intact 100 miles across the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. The evidence is earth material stripped away from the sides of the Hawaiian Islands in a way that would not have happened with a landslide, and coral debris deposited in its place.

The Amazon has already flipped from a carbon sink to a carbon source because a 100-year drought in 2005 and another drought in 2010 that was half-again more extreme have killed over 2 billion trees in the Amazon. As a result, the decaying trees are releasing more greenhouse gases than the entire Amazon normally absorbs every year in a nondrought year.

2013 1226-5cThe West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapsed 122,000 years ago, and it is quite likely that we saw 10 to 20 feet of sea-level rise occur in a century to as little as a decade. Separate records from reefs across the world tell us this tale. It happened about the same time as the mega tsunamis in Hawaii and was caused by what are referred to as dynamical ice sheet changes in the 2007 IPCC report.

However, the IPCC tells us that sea levels will rise only 7 to 23 inches, in its 2007 report, and 14 to 59 inches, in its 2013 report. The IPCC also tells us in its reports that those dynamical ice sheet changes are not considered in their evaluation. The research is there, but it is too new or the scant 100 century old evidence is too tenuous for a consensus process such as the IPCC’s.

IPCC Underestimates: Conservative Consensus Syndrome

2013 1226-5dScientific American tells us very succinctly in the first sentence of a 2012 article how 20 years of IPCC reports underestimate climate change: “Across two decades and thousands of pages of reports, the world’s most authoritative voice on climate science has consistently understated the rate and intensity of climate change and the danger those impacts represent.”  A few examples:

* Antarctica is losing ice 100 years ahead of schedule. As recently as the 2007 IPCC report, the consensus opinion said that Antarctica would not begin to lose ice until 2100 or later. The recent 2013 IPCC report, however, tells us that not only has Antarctica already started to lose ice, but it has almost caught up with Greenland.

* Arctic sea ice is declining 70 years ahead of schedule as of a record-smashing year in 2007, according to work from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. In 2012, the record-smashing 2007 record was itself smashed by an even greater decline in Arctic sea ice.

* The IPCC predicted an annual sea-level rise of less than 2 millimeters per year in 2001. But over the last 15 years, the oceans have actually risen 3.4 millimeters per year, about 80 percent more than projected.

* Carbon dioxide emissions are worse than the IPCC’s worst-case scenario. Instead of reducing emissions across the planet, total emissions since 1987 have increased 81 percent. In the last 28 years, we emitted as many greenhouse gas pollutants as we had emitted in the previous 236 years.

It’s not just the IPCC that underestimates. Even though global emissions are way up, US carbon dioxide emissions appear to be way down; down 16 percent since the peak in 2007. This would be good, but it’s a mirage. In 2011, 1.5 gigatons of CO2 were offshored in China (mostly) through goods produced there and shipped to the United States. This leaves the United States with an increasing, not decreasing, inventory in 2011. Our emissions have actually increased 11 percent since the “peak” year before the decline began in 2007.

Aerosols from the East Have Cooled the Planet – A LOT!

2013 1226-5eRapidly developing Asian nations are emitting far more greenhouse gases and other air pollutants than ever before. China just exceeded the US in emissions in 2006. Just six years later in 2012, they are emitting nearly twice as much as the United States (88 percent more). These greenhouse gases are emitted along with other air pollutants like sulfur dioxide. In developing nations, air pollution regulations are not as stringent and a lot more sulfur dioxide is emitted.

The sulfur pollutants (aerosols) are cooling pollutants, not warming pollutants like carbon dioxide. The air pollution is so bad in Asia that it is having a global impact on temperature. Remember, the IPCC says that aerosols are masking half of the warming (57%) that we should have experienced. When the masked warming is added back in, global temperature is right at the upper edge of the worst-case scenario, as is carbon dioxide.

Extremes Caused or Enhanced by Climate Change

2013 1226-5fThe intensity of climate heat extremes across the Northern Hemisphere has already increased 10 to 100 times since the 1951 to 1981 period. Specifically mentioned in a paper from NASA are the Texas/Oklahoma heat wave of 2011 and the Moscow Heat wave of 2010 that killed 11,000, and we shouldn’t forget the European heat wave of 2003. A European Union Health Program study now shows 70,000 to 80,000 excess deaths beyond what would have occurred normally for that summer.

Cold weather extremes can even intensify on a warmer planet as the range of volatile weather increases with more energy in the atmosphere. Cold weather extremes in 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 in the eastern United States and Europe, including Snowmeggedon in the Northeast US in 2010, validate modeling that increases these extremes because of Arctic warming.

National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist Kevin Trenberth, two-time lead scientist for the IPCC, has spelled out a fundamental truth when answering the question: “Was this weather event caused by climate change?” His response, published in Climatic Change in March 2012: “All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.”

The Fairness Bias

2013 1226-5gSo why in the world is all this stuff not being reported? For one, the public is 20 years behind climate science. In 1990, 60 percent of climate scientists believed in climate change. Today, about 60 percent of the public believes in climate change and 97 percent of climate scientists believe.

Even more important is the “fairness bias.” This has been well documented in the literature and it concerns the great perceived debate. The media are not climate scientists and do not know whom to believe. Almost no climate scientists trust the media’s coverage of climate change. Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists say that climate change is real, but the three percent who do not are reported with very loud, well-funded and persistent voices, and the mainstream media reports both sides “fairly.”

This “fairness bias” thing goes back a long way. It’s based in the Fairness Act and the Equal time Act and even the Journalistic Creed. It’s only fair to be fair. It’s a moral thing; give both sides a say. This works great when we are talking about issues. But science is not an “issue.”

2013 1226-5hThe wealthiest and most powerful industry in the world perceives itself to be at risk of extinction and has invested literally hundreds of millions of dollars in campaigns to discredit climate science (propaganda campaigns). The propaganda created by these industries uses some of the same exact propaganda people and firms as were used in the smoking debate, the acid rain regulations debate and the ozone depleting chemical regulation debate. They take the 3 percent opinion and promote it endlessly, regardless of how many times these few scientists have been disproven in the literature.

By giving the 3 percent equal time to the 97 percent, the media bias their reporting. That and maybe they simply don’t understand the scientists’ press releases when they refer to dendrochronologists, oxygen isotopes and precession.

The Scandal of the Scandals

The media has also played a role in furthering the discrediting of climate science because of sensationalistic reporting of supposed climate scandals. The big three:

* Climate Gate Email Scandal: Wording taken out of context in stolen emails was widely reported as proving climate scientists were dishonest in their work. Six independent reviews cleared all scientists involved.

* Himalayan Glaciers: A few errors in tens of thousands of facts are reported in the media ruthlessly, but the reason for the error is not. The 2007 IPCC report said that Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035. There was a simple Scribner’s error. The date should have been 2350. The error was in a short discussion of Himalayan glaciers in Volume 2 of the report Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Volume 1, The Physical Science Basis, had a 45-page discussion of global ice that was all correct, including the parts about the Himalaya.

* Amazongate: The United Kingdom’s Sunday Times erroneously posted a story about how badly the 2007 IPCC report misrepresented climate change impacts on the Amazon rainforest that made headlines across the world. Five months later – with almost no press whatsoever – the Times retracted the entire article and published a 400-word apology.

Sky Mining: Really Good News

Broeker, like a few others, has recognized the likelihood that our global society will not be able to end the burning of fossil fuels and strongly advocates, along with emissions reductions, the collection and disposal of climate pollution in very similar ways that we collect and dispose of garbage. We can take it out of coal plant smokestacks, but that is less than half. There is no magic bullet to get the rest from transportation and buildings, and the IPCC says we need to remove more than 100 percent of emissions.

We can do this. But there is an academic hurdle to overcome. Using traditional calculations of the heat required for a chemical reaction to occur, CO2 capture from coal burning power plants works because flue gasses are 10 to 15 percent CO2. The typical air concentration is 0.3 percent or about 33 to 50 times less. When the math is done and the pilot flue gas capture tests are costed, it takes $60 a ton to remove CO2 from flue gas and $500 or more per ton for air capture. (63) This argument is very pervasive in industry. They say you can’t beat physics, so air capture is a bust. While valid, this argument is displaced.

We need to focus on energy generation, not energy (heat) requirements. The flue gas removal process takes about 700 degrees or 1,300 degrees F. The new air capture techniques happen from near-room temperature to less than 100 degrees C. The cost to remove a ton of CO2 from the atmosphere in a full-scale pilot plant is expected to be $200 per ton. Once fully industrialized, it is expected to be $30 per ton.

Broeker puts it this way in his biography Fixing Climate: “If you extract a certain amount of CO2 from the air, you could replace that same amount by burning a fossil fuel without harming the planet.”  It takes 170 times more energy to make electricity from the wind as it does from fossil fuels.  It is much more efficient to make electricity from coal and then extract carbon dioxide from the wind. Moreover, the new technologies are simply cheaper because they operate at far cooler temperatures.

Sky mining is a promising solution to our climate pollution needs. We took it out of the ground and put it in the sky; now we must take it out of the sky and return it to the ground.

At $200 per ton of CO2, we can remove 50 ppm CO2 from the atmosphere for $21 trillion. This is $13 trillion less than US military and health care spending from 2000 to 2009 ($34 trillion). Worth repeating an endless number of times: Once fully industrialized, the price drops to $20 or $30 per ton.

Because half of the CO2 we emit stays in our sky in time frames that matter, once the new solutions are fully industrialized, we can remove 27 years worth of climate pollution from our sky for what the US spends on health care in less than two years.

This is $3 or $4 trillion to basically fix climate change – remove 50 ppm CO2 from the sky for no more than the cost of a couple of years of health care . . . We might have to do this a few or even several times, but the cost would still be something similar to what the US alone has spent on its military and wars since the turn of the century.

Please tell your friends. To prevent dangerous climate change, we must now convince the public and our leaders to act decisively and robustly. Simple emissions reductions will no longer prevent dangerous climate change.

See also “Climate Change 2013: Where We Are Now,” a detailed reference with critical passages from firewalled papers and additional supplementary information.

Bruce Melton

Bruce Melton is a professional engineer, environmental researcher, filmmaker, and author in Austin, Texas. Information on Melton’s new book, Climate Discovery Chronicles can be found along with more climate change writing, climate science outreach and critical environmental issue documentary films on his web sites and http://www.climatediscovery.com Images copyright Bruce Melton 2012, except where referenced otherwise.

The Climate Change Now Initiative is a nonprofit outreach organization reporting the latest discoveries in climate science in plain English.

 

U.N. Bodies & Health Authorities Now Being Advised To Prepare For A Global Temperature Rise of 4°C

In Uncategorized on November 26, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Oldspeak: “The link between rapid climate change and human extinction is basically this: the planet becomes uninhabitable by humans if the average temperature goes up by 4-6°C. It doesn’t sound like a lot because we’re used to the temperature changing 15°C overnight, but the thing that is not mentioned enough is that even a 2-3°C average increase would give us temperatures that regularly surpass 40°C (104°F) in North America and Europe, and soar even higher near the equator. Human bodies start to break down after six hours at a wet-bulb (100% humidity) temperature of 35°C (95°F).“-Nathan Curry

We are already planning for a 4°C world because that is where we are heading.  I do not know of any scientists who do not believe that. We are just not tackling the enormity of the task we face to keep it below the agreed 2°C danger threshold. “If we had the kind of politicians we really need we could still put in place policies that can save the planet from going over the danger level. But there is no evidence at the moment that we have that quality of politicians, so we all have to be prepared for the most likely scenario, which is a 4°C rise in temperature.  If we do not prepare to adapt we simply won’t be able to.” –Mark Maslin, professor of climatology at University College in London

“Ignore the propaganda. On our present course, life as we know it will end.  There is no technology that will enable us  to adapt adequately to the climactic changes to come.   There are already parts of the world where it is no longer possible for ‘normal’ life to continue.  People who are studying the climate are preparing for a uninhabitable world. Are you?” -OSJ

By Paul Brown @ Climate News Network:

UN bodies and health authorities are being advised to prepare for a world temperature rise of 4°C because scientists no longer believe that politicians are capable of holding the temperature rise below the internationally agreed limit, 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

Mark Maslin, professor of climatology at University College in London, was speaking at a conference here which also heard that some parts of the world were already in danger of becoming too hot for humans to inhabit.

Science and health professionals were invited by the Global Climate and Health Alliance to assess this bleak future for the human race at the end of the first week of climate talks, where little progress has been made to slow global warming.

Wrong kind of politicians

Professor Maslin said: “We are already planning for a 4°C world because that is where we are heading. I do not know of any scientists who do not believe that. We are just not tackling the enormity of the task we face to keep it below the agreed 2°C danger threshold.

“If we had the kind of politicians we really need we could still put in place policies that can save the planet from going over the danger level. But there is no evidence at the moment that we have that quality of politicians, so we all have to be prepared for the most likely scenario, which is a 4°C rise in temperature. If we do not prepare to adapt we simply won’t be able to.”

Professor Maslin said that scientists were in a Catch 22 situation. They wanted to tell politicians that it was still possible to save the planet and had shown how to do it in the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, released in September. At the same time scientists were aware that there was not the political appetite to deal with the problem.

He said all UN bodies were now being advised to prepare for a rise of 4°C, because there is no evidence to show that the world is prepared to turn away from the present pathway of rising carbon emissions.

Currently the temperature has risen 0.8°C on pre-industrial levels, and with the increase this year to 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere it will rise further towards the 2°C threshold.

Professor Maslin said: “I think everybody outside the scientific arena has underestimated the size of the problem.”  The average American emits 16 tons of carbon dioxide a year, the average UK citizen 8 tons and the average Chinese 5 tons.

Every country, he said, had to reduce their citizens’ emissions to 2 tons per person to avoid dangerous climate change. “That is a big ask, particularly for a country like China which is still growing fast.”

Dr. Liz Hanna, from the Australian National University’s National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, said parts of her country were already reaching the threshold° where it was impossible for normal life to continue because of the heat.

Killing their workers

She said the Australian Government was ignoring climate change and still expecting places like Darwin to expand. But that was unlikely because they would soon become untenable.  “If employers ask people to continue to work in temperatures above 37°C, they will be killing them in increasing numbers,” she said.

Dr Hanna said humans were well suited to living in cool conditions and felt comfortable in temperatures between 20°C and 23°C because their muscles produced heat from within.

But in parts of Arizona, Australia and India temperatures were reaching – and for days staying above – the thermal maximum of endurance, which was around 37°C, the core heat of the human body.  Above that temperature, and sometimes below, depending on the combination of heat, humidity and air speed, keeping cool put too much strain on the heart and people began to die.

She said that she was studying how human societies could survive such daytime temperatures and continue to work. “There could be some night working, or people could work, rest in cool rooms, and then work again, but their productivity would drop and it would be economically unviable to have factories or farms in such conditions.”

Her researches were focusing on how to keep essential services like farming, police, ambulance, district nurses, construction and mining going in a warming world. “Obviously these people will be risking their lives if they continue to try and work outside when the ambient temperature is above 37°C,” she said. – Climate News Network

U.S. Atmospheric Methane Concentrations Are 50% Higher Than Previously Thought

In Uncategorized on November 26, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Oldspeak: “Tick, tick, tick, tick….. in the wake of recent news that there are multiple and one ginormous  methane seeps venting  from the bottom of the oceans off the coast of the U.S. into the atmosphere, of ponds in the Canadian arctic venting significant and previously unknown amounts methane into the atmosphere, and 2 times as much methane venting from the arctic methane time bomb a.k.a. the East Siberian Arctic Shelf that will affect the entire globe venting 20 million tons per year of methane into the atmosphere, this is not good news. This irreversible feedback loop is ACCELERATiNG as a result of human activity.” -OSJ

By Becky Orskin @ Live Science:

Thanks in large part to gas wells and cow farms, the United States is spewing 50 percent more methane, a potent greenhouse gas, than previous estimates have measured, according to a new study.

For the study, published Monday (Nov. 25) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from universities and government labs fanned out across the United States in 2007 and 2008 and measured levels of methane gas in the air. Though methane breaks down in the atmosphere after only 10 years, faster than carbon dioxide, it’s about 30 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat escaping the Earth — the greenhouse effect that leads to global warming.

Total methane emissions in the United States were 1.5 to 1.7 times higher than amounts previously estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency and by the International Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR), respectively, the study found.

The difference between the estimates comes from ways the various groups calculate methane emissions, the researchers said in a statement. The U.S. EPA and EDGAR count total emissions from the source, such as each cow and each unit of coal and natural gas sold in the country. The new study tracked actual methane emissions in the air, the scientists said.

“The bottom-up and top-down approaches give us very different answers about the level of methane gas emissions,” lead study author Scot Miller, a graduate student at Harvard, said in the statement. “Most strikingly, our results are higher by a factor of 2.7 over the south-central United States, which we know is a key region for fossil-fuel extraction and refining. It will be important to resolve that discrepancy in order to fully understand the impact of these industries on methane emissions.”

Man-made sources contributed about 60 percent of the methane, and 40 percent of the gas was from natural sources such as wetlands, the study concluded. Nearly 25 percent of the total man-made methane emissions were from Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. [Greenhouse Gases: The Biggest Emitters (Infographic)]

In California, a related study led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found the state’s total methane emissions are 1.3 to 1.8 times higher than the California Air Resources Board estimate. Those findings were published Oct. 3 in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

The air samples were collected by aircraft and from instruments stationed on telecommunications towers. The research team is now tracking present-day methane levels to measure changes related to the boom in U.S. oil and gas production.

Becky Oskin
Becky was a science reporter at The Pasadena Star-News. She has freelanced for New Scientist and the American Institute of Physics and interned at Discovery News. She earned a master’s degree in geology from Caltech, a bachelor’s degree from Washington State University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what her latest project is, you can follow Becky on

U.N. Weather Agency: “We need to act now… time is not on our side.”- Atmospheric Greenhouse Gas Concentrations At Record High. Again.

In Uncategorized on November 12, 2013 at 1:18 pm

By absorbing much of the added heat trapped by atmospheric greenhouse gases, the oceans are delaying some of the impacts of climate change. Photo: WMO/Olga Khoroshunova

Oldspeak: “Heat-trapping gases from human activities have upset the natural balance of our atmosphere and are a major contribution to climate change… Our climate is changing, our weather is more extreme, ice sheets and glaciers are melting and sea levels are rising.  We need to act now, otherwise we will jeopardise the future of our children, grandchildren and many future generations. Time is not on our side.-WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.

“Translation: “We’re fucked. But our children and grandchildren are exponentially more fucked. ” No one in positions of power anywhere in the 1st world “advanced” nations  is interested in acting now. They’re interested in “extend and pretend”. “Delay and Pray.” They meet at ineffectual climate conferences to negotiate  incremental decades long rates of change, not the radical, revolutionary change necessary right now. There is no implementable global response to the existential threats that our current carbon-nuclear based systems are creating.  There’s no profit in it. The profit is in tar sands. Methane (a.k.a. “Natural”) gas. Coal.  Efforts are underway to expand their extraction and exploitation in previously inaccessible areas of the planet.  These systems require our destruction for its continued sustenance. We are hurtling headlong toward global ecological collapse.  So, enjoy what tolerable time we have left on this dying world, as in short order, life on earth will be come fully intolerable.  Expect the worst, because it’s coming. Sandy & Haiyan are just a primer. Our infinite growth based civilization incontrovertibly assure our destruction.” -OSJ

 

By U.N. News Center:

The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a record high in 2012, continuing an upward trend which is driving climate change and which will shape the future of the planet for hundreds and thousands of years, according to the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The agency’s annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin shows that between 1990 and 2012, there was a 32 per cent increase in radiative forcing – the warming effect on the climate – because of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping long-lived gases such as methane and nitrous oxide.

Carbon dioxide, mainly from fossil fuel-related emissions, accounted for 80 per cent of this increase, WMO stated in a news release. The atmospheric increase of CO2 from 2011 to 2012 was higher than its average growth rate over the past 10 years.

What is happening in the atmosphere, said the Geneva-based WMO, is “one part of a much wider picture.” Only about half of the CO2 emitted by human activities remains in the atmosphere, with the rest being absorbed in the biosphere and in the oceans.

The latest findings “highlight yet again how heat-trapping gases from human activities have upset the natural balance of our atmosphere and are a major contribution to climate change,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.

He recalled that the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stressed in its recent Fifth Assessment Report that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.

“As a result of this, our climate is changing, our weather is more extreme, ice sheets and glaciers are melting and sea levels are rising,” said Mr. Jarraud.

He underscored that limiting climate change will require large and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. “We need to act now, otherwise we will jeopardize the future of our children, grandchildren and many future generations,” said Mr. Jarraud. “Time is not on our side,” he added.

The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin reports on atmospheric concentrations – and not emissions – of greenhouse gases. Emissions represent what goes into the atmosphere, the agency pointed out. Concentrations represent what remains in the atmosphere after the complex system of interactions between the atmosphere, biosphere and the oceans.

At the same time, the Emissions Gap Report 2013, involving 44 scientific groups coordinated by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), urges wide-ranging global action to close the emissions gap.

If the international community fails to take action, the report warned, the chances of remaining on the least-cost path to keeping global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius this century will quickly diminish and open the door to a range of challenges.

Under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), governments have agreed to limit the global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

The report, which was released yesterday as leaders prepare to meet for the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Warsaw, finds that although pathways exist that could reach the 2-degree Celsius target with higher emissions, not narrowing the gap will exacerbate mitigation challenges after 2020.

This will mean much higher rates of global emission reductions in the medium term; greater lock-in of carbon-intensive infrastructure; greater dependence on often unproven technologies in the medium term; greater costs of mitigation in the medium and long term; and greater risks of failing to meet the 2-degree Celsius target.

“As the report highlights, delayed actions mean a higher rate of climate change in the near term and likely more near-term climate impacts, as well as the continued use of carbon-intensive and energy-intensive infrastructure,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

“This ‘lock-in’ would slow down the introduction of climate-friendly technologies and narrow the developmental choices that would place the global community on the path to a sustainable, green future.

“However,” he added, “the stepping stone of the 2020 target can still be achieved by strengthening current pledges and by further action, including scaling up international cooperation initiatives in areas such as energy efficiency, fossil fuel subsidy reform and renewable energy.”

 

 

Is Our System of Government Incapable Of Meeting The Challenges We Face?

In Uncategorized on October 22, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Oldspeak:We have entered a “long emergency” in which a myriad of worsening eco-logical, social, and economic problems and dilemmas at different geographic and temporal scales are converging as a crisis of crises. It is a collision of two non-linear systems—the biosphere and biogeochemical cycles on one side and human institutions, organizations, and governments on the other. But the response at the national and international levels has so far been indifferent to inconsistent, and nowhere more flagrantly so than in the United States, which is responsible for about 28 percent of the fossil-fuel carbon that humanity added to the atmosphere between 1850 and 2002.

The “perfect storm” that lies ahead is caused by the collision of changing climate; spreading ecological disorder (including deforestation, soil loss, water shortages, species loss, ocean acidification); population growth; unfair distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of economic growth; national, ethnic, and religious tensions; and the proliferation of nuclear weapons—all compounded by systemic failures of foresight and policy…

Part of the reason for paralysis is the sheer difficulty of the issue. Climate change is scientifically complex, politically divisive, economically costly, morally contentious, and ever so easy to deny or defer to others at some later time. But the continuing failure to anticipate and forestall the worst effects of climate destabilization in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence is the largest political and moral failure in history. Indeed, it is a crime across generations for which we have, as yet, no name.

Barring a technological miracle, we have condemned ourselves and posterity to live with growing climate instability for hundreds or even thousands of years. No government has yet shown the foresight, will, creativity, or capacity to deal with problems at this scale, complexity, or duration. No government is prepared to make the “tragic choices” ahead humanely and rationally. And no government has yet demonstrated the willingness to rethink its own mission at the intersection of climate instability and conventional economic wisdom. The same is true in the realm of international governance. In the words of historian Mark Mazower: “The real world challenges mount around us in the shape of climate change, financial instability . . . [but there is] no single agency able to coordinate the response to global warming….

These issues require us to ask what kind of societies and what kind of global community do we intend to build? It is certainly possible to imagine a corporate-dominated, hyper-efficient, solar-powered, sustainable world that is also grossly unfair, violent, and fascist. To organize society mostly by market transactions would be to create a kind of Ayn Randian hell that would demolish society, as economist Karl Polanyi once said. Some things should never be sold—because the selling undermines human rights; because it would violate the law and procedural requirements for openness and fairness; because it would have a coarsening effect on society; because the sale would steal from the poor and vulnerable, including future generations; because the thing to be sold is part of the common heritage of humankind and so can have no rightful owner; and because the thing to be sold—including government itself—should simply not be for sale.

So what is to be done?…. Canadian writer and activist Naomi Klein proposes that we strengthen and deepen the practice of democracy even as we enlarge the power of the state. “Responding to climate change, requires that we break every rule in the free-market playbook and that we do so with great urgency. We will need to rebuild the public sphere, reverse privatizations, relocalize large parts of economies, scale back overconsumption, bring back long-term planning, heavily regulate and tax corporations, maybe even nationalize some of them, cut military spending and recognize our debts to the global South. Of course, none of this has a hope in hell of happening unless sit is accompanied by a massive, broad-based effort to radically reduce the influence that corporations have over the political process. That means, at minimum, publicly funded elections and stripping corporations of their status as “people” under the law.” –David W. Orr

“So we know what needs to be done, the know the problem requires a globally coordinated response, we know it needs to start happening LAST WEEK. “But the continuing failure to anticipate and forestall the worst effects of climate destabilization in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence is the largest political and moral failure in history.” Why? Greed and insatiable thirst for more have so thoroughly infected the totalitarian psyches of our most powerful and influential “citizens”. They have co-opted the political systems of the world, buying major influence over its workings. Drastically restricting and obstructing any meaningful environment based reforms. The information dissemination systems say very little about the perilous future that is all but guaranteed by the unrelenting, increasingly dangerous and toxic extraction and burning of fossil fuels  There is no indication these systems will change anytime soon. The people will have to drive the change if there is to be any.” -OSJ

By David W. Orr @ Alter Net:

The following is excerpted from The State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Possible [2] by the Worldwatch Institute. Copyright 2013 by the Worldwatch Institute. Reproduced by permission of Island Press, Washington DC.

The first evidence linking climate change and human emissions of carbon dioxide was painstakingly assembled in 1897 by Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius. What began as an interesting but seemingly unimportant conjecture about the effect of rising carbon dioxide on temperature has turned into a flood of increasingly urgent and rigorous warnings about the rapid warming of Earth and the dire consequences of inaction. Nonetheless, the global dialogue on climate is floundering while the scientific and anecdotal evidence of rapid climate destabilization grows by the day.

We have entered a “long emergency” in which a myriad of worsening eco-logical, social, and economic problems and dilemmas at different geographic and temporal scales are converging as a crisis of crises. It is a collision of two non-linear systems—the biosphere and biogeochemical cycles on one side and human institutions, organizations, and governments on the other. But the response at the national and international levels has so far been indifferent to inconsistent, and nowhere more flagrantly so than in the United States, which is responsible for about 28 percent of the fossil-fuel carbon that humanity added to the atmosphere between 1850 and 2002.

The “perfect storm” that lies ahead is caused by the collision of changing climate; spreading ecological disorder (including deforestation, soil loss, water shortages, species loss, ocean acidification); population growth; unfair distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of economic growth; national, ethnic, and religious tensions; and the proliferation of nuclear weapons—all compounded by systemic failures of foresight and policy. As a consequence, in political theorist Brian Barry’s words, “it is quite possible that by the year 2100 human life will have become extinct or will be confined to a few residential areas that have escaped the devastating effects of nuclear holocaust or global warming.”

Part of the reason for paralysis is the sheer difficulty of the issue. Climate change is scientifically complex, politically divisive, economically costly, morally contentious, and ever so easy to deny or defer to others at some later time. But the continuing failure to anticipate and forestall the worst effects of climate destabilization in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence is the largest political and moral failure in history. Indeed, it is a crime across generations for which we have, as yet, no name.

Barring a technological miracle, we have condemned ourselves and posterity to live with growing climate instability for hundreds or even thousands of years. No government has yet shown the foresight, will, creativity, or capacity to deal with problems at this scale, complexity, or duration. No government is prepared to make the “tragic choices” ahead humanely and rationally. And no government has yet demonstrated the willingness to rethink its own mission at the intersection of climate instability and conventional economic wisdom. The same is true in the realm of international governance. In the words of historian Mark Mazower: “The real world challenges mount around us in the shape of climate change, financial instability . . . [but there is] no single agency able to coordinate the response to global warming.”

The Problem of Governance

In An Inquiry into the Human Prospect, in 1974, economist Robert Heilbroner wrote: “I not only predict but I prescribe a centralization of power as the only means by which our threatened and dangerous civilization will make way for its successor.” Heilbroner’s description of the human prospect included global warming but also other threats to industrial civilization, including the possibility that finally we would not care enough to do the things necessary to protect posterity. The extent to which power must be centralized, he said, depends on the capacity of populations, accustomed to affluence, for self-discipline. But he did not find “much evidence in history—especially in the history of nations organized under the materialistic and individualistic promptings of an industrial civilization— to encourage expectations of an easy subordination of the private interest to the public weal.”

Heilbroner’s conclusions are broadly similar to those of others, including British sociologist Anthony Giddens, who somewhat less apocalyptically proposes “a return to greater state interventionism”—but as a catalyst, facilitator, and enforcer of guarantees. Giddens believes the climate crisis will motivate governments to create new partnerships with corporations and civil society, which is to say more of the same, only bigger and better. David Rothkopf of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace likewise argues that the role of the state must evolve toward larger, more innovative governments and “stronger international institutions [as] the only possible way to preserve national interests.”

The performance of highly centralized governments, however, is not encouraging—especially relative to the conditions of the long emergency. Governments have been effective at waging war and sometimes in solving— or appearing to solve—economic problems. But even then they are cumbersome, slow, and excessively bureaucratic. They tend to fragment agencies by problem, rather like mailbox pigeonholes, but the long emergency will require managing complex systems over long time periods. Might there be more agile, dependable, and less awkward ways to conduct the public business in the long emergency that do not require authoritarian governments, the compromises and irrational messiness of politics, or even reliance on personal sacrifice? Can these be made to work over the long time spans necessary to stabilize the climate? If not, how else might we conduct the public business? Broadly, there are three other possibilities.

First, champions of markets and advanced technology propose to solve the climate crisis by harnessing the power of markets and technological innovation to avoid what they regard as the quagmire of government. Rational corporate behavior responding to markets and prices, they believe, can stabilize climate faster at lower costs and without hair-shirt sacrifice, moral posturing, and slow, clumsy, overbearing bureaucracies. The reason is said to be the power of informed self-interest plus the ongoing revolution in energy technology that has made efficiency and renewable energy cheaper, faster, less risky, and more profitable than fossil fuels. In their 2011 book, Reinventing Fire, Amory Lovins and his coauthors, for example, ask whether “the United States could realistically stop using oil and coal by 2050? And could such a vast transition toward efficient use and renewable energy be led by business for durable advantage?” The answer, they say, is yes, and the reasoning and data they marshal are formidable.

But why would corporations, particularly those in highly subsidized extractive industries, agree to change as long as they can pass on the costs of climate change to someone else? Who would pay for the “stranded” oil and coal reserves (with an estimated value in excess of $20 trillion) that cannot be burned if we are to stay below a 2 degree Celsius warming—often thought to be the threshold of catastrophe? Would corporations continue to use their financial power to manipulate public opinion, undermine regulations, and oppose an equitable sharing of costs, risks, and benefits? How does corporate responsibility fit with the capitalist drive to expand market share? Economist Robert Reich concludes that given the existing rules of the market, corporations “cannotbe socially responsible, at least not to any significant extent. . . . Supercapitalism does not permit acts of corporate virtue that erode the bottom line. No corporation can ‘voluntarily’ take on an extra cost that its competitors don’t also take on.” He further argues that the alleged convergence of social responsibility and profitability is unsupported by any factual evidence.

There are still larger questions about how large corporations fit in democratic societies. One of the most insightful students of politics and economics, Yale political scientist Charles Lindblom, concluded his magisterial Politics and Marketsin 1977 with the observation that “the large private corporation fits oddly into democratic theory and vision. Indeed, it does not fit” (emphasis added). Until democratized internally, stripped of legal “personhood,” and rendered publicly accountable, large corporations will remain autocratic fiefdoms, for the most part beyond public control.

These issues require us to ask what kind of societies and what kind of global community do we intend to build? It is certainly possible to imagine a corporate-dominated, hyper-efficient, solar-powered, sustainable world that is also grossly unfair, violent, and fascist. To organize society mostly by market transactions would be to create a kind of Ayn Randian hell that would demolish society, as economist Karl Polanyi once said. Some things should never be sold—because the selling undermines human rights; because it would violate the law and procedural requirements for openness and fairness; because it would have a coarsening effect on society; because the sale would steal from the poor and vulnerable, including future generations; because the thing to be sold is part of the common heritage of humankind and so can have no rightful owner; and because the thing to be sold—including government itself—should simply not be for sale.

A second alternative to authoritarian governments may lie in the emergence of national and global networks abetted by the Internet and advancing communications technology. They are decentralized, self-replicating, and sometimes self-correcting. In time, they might grow into a global system doing what traditional governments and international agencies once did—but better, faster, and cheaper. Some analysts believe that the old model of the nation-state is inadequate to meet many of the challenges of the long emergency and is losing power to a variety of novel organizations. Anne-Marie Slaughter of Princeton University, for one, envisions networks of “disaggregated states in which national government officials interact intensively with one another and adopt codes of best practices and agree on coordinated solutions to common problems,” thereby sidestepping conventional inter-governmental practices and international politics.

Below the level of governments there is, in fact, an explosion of nongovernmental organizations, citizens’ groups, and professional networks that are already assuming many of the functions and responsibilities once left to governments. Writer and entrepreneur Paul Hawken believes that the world is already being reshaped by a global upwelling of grassroots organizations promoting sustainable economies, renewable energy, justice, transparency, and community mobilization. Many of the thousands of groups Hawken describes are linked in “global action networks,” organized around specific issues to provide “communication platforms for sub-groups to organize in ever-more-specialized geographic and sub-issue networks.” Early examples include the International Red Cross and the International Labour Organization.

Recently clusters of nongovernmental groups have organized around issues such as common property resources, global financing for local projects, water, climate, political campaigns, and access to information. They are fast, agile, and participatory. Relative to other citizens’ efforts, they require little funding. But like other grassroots organizations, they have no power to legislate, tax, or enforce rules. In Mark Mazower’s words, “Many are too opaque and unrepresentative to any collective body.” Much of the same, he believes, can be said of foundations and philanthropists. By applying business methods to social problems, Mazower writes, “Philanthrocapitalists exaggerate what technology can do, ignore the complexities of social and institutional constraints, often waste sums that would have been better spent more carefully and wreak havoc with the existing fabric of society in places they know very little about.” Moreover, they are not immune to fashion, delusion, corruption, and arrogance. Nor are they often held account-able to the public.

So what is to be done? Robert Heilbroner proposed enlarging the powers of the state. Green economy advocates believe that corporations can lead the transition through the long emergency. Others argue that an effective planetary immune system is already emerging in the form of networks. Each offers a piece in a larger puzzle. But there is a fourth possibility. Canadian writer and activist Naomi Klein proposes that we strengthen and deepen the practice of democracy even as we enlarge the power of the state. “Responding to climate change,” she writes:

“requires that we break every rule in the free-market playbook and that we do so with great urgency. We will need to rebuild the public sphere, reverse privatizations, relocalize large parts of economies, scale back overconsumption, bring back long-term planning, heavily regulate and tax corporations, maybe even nationalize some of them, cut military spending and recognize our debts to the global South. Of course, none of this has a hope in hell of happening unless sit is accompanied by a massive, broad-based effort to radically reduce the influence that corporations have over the political process. That means, at minimum, publicly funded elections and stripping corporations of their status as “people” under the law.

Democracy, Winston Churchill once famously said, is the worst form of government except for all the others ever tried. But has it ever been tried? In columnist Harold Myerson’s words, “the problem isn’t that we’re too democratic. It’s that we’re not democratic enough.” The authors of the U.S. Constitution, for example, grounded ultimate power in “we the people” while denying them any such power or even much access to it.

Political theorist Benjamin Barber proposes that we take some of the power back by revitalizing society as a “strong democracy,” by which he means a “self-governing community of citizens who are united less by homogeneous interests than by civic education and who are made capable of common purpose and mutual action by virtue of their civic attitudes and participatory institutions rather than their altruism or their good nature.” Strong democracy requires engaged, thoughtful citizens, as once proposed by Thomas Jefferson and John Dewey. The primary obstacle, Barber con-cedes, is the lack of a “nationwide system of local civic participation.” To fill that void he proposes, among other things, a national system of neighborhood assemblies rebuilding democracy from the bottom up.

Political theorists Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson similarly propose the creation of deliberative institutions in which “free and equal citizens (and their representatives), justify decisions in a process in which they give one another reasons that are mutually acceptable and generally accessible, with the aim of reaching conclusions that are binding in the present to all citizens but open to challenge in the future.” Reminiscent of classical Greek democracy, they intend to get people talking about large issues in public settings in order to raise the legitimacy of policy choices, improve public knowledge, and increase civil discourse. (See Box 26–1.) A great deal depends, they concede, on the durability and vitality of practices and institutions that enable deliberation to work well.

Political scientists Bruce Ackerman and James Fishkin propose a new national holiday, Deliberation Day, on which citizens would meet in structured dialogues about issues and candidates. They believe that “ordinary citizens are willing and able to take on the challenge of civic deliberation during ordinary times” in a properly structured setting that “facilitates genuine learning about the choices confronting the political community.”

Legal scholar Sanford Levinson believes, however, that reforms will be ineffective without first repairing the structural flaws in the U.S. Constitution, which is less democratic than any of the 50 state constitutions in the United States. He proposes a Constitutional Convention of citizens selected by lottery proportional to state populations to remodel the basic structure of governance. Whether this is feasible or not, the U.S. Constitution has other flaws that will limit effective responses to problems of governance in the long emergency.

Philosophers have argued through the ages that democracy is the best form of government, and some have claimed that the deeper it is, the better. By “deeper” they mean a structure that spreads power widely, engages more people, and invites them to take a more direct role in the shaping of policy.

Most liberal (current) democracies do not meet that definition, being republican in form and thus giving most power and decision making responsibility to elected representatives. In some of these republics, democracy is even further degraded. In the United States, for instance, Supreme Court decisions over the years have established that there is essentially no difference in civic standing between individual citizens and corporations or other private interests that can and do spend billions of dollars on political advertising, lobbying, and propaganda (over $8 billion in the 2010 election cycle).

But it is not simply such distortions of democracy that compel a closer look at the benefits of deepening it. The democracies that most of the industrial world lives in have been derided by political theorist Benjamin Barber as “politics as zookeeping”—systems designed “to keep men safely apart rather than bring them fruitfully together.” In fact there are major potential advantages in bringing people fruitfully together in the political arena, not least with respect to the environmental crises that beset humanity now. Paradoxically, one of the weaknesses of liberal democracy may be not that it asks too much of its citizens but that it asks too little. Having mostly handed off all responsibility for assessing issues and setting policy to elected politicians, voters are free to indulge themselves in narrow and virulently asserted positions rather than having to come together, work to perceive the common good, and plot a course toward it.

One antidote to this is deliberation. Deliberative democracy can take many forms, but its essence, according to social scientist Adolf Gundersen, is “the process by which individuals actively confront challenges to their beliefs.” It can happen when someone reads a book and thinks about what it says, but in the public sphere more generally it means engaging in pairs or larger groups to discuss issues, com-pare notes, probe (not attack) one another’s assertions, and take the opportunity to evolve a personal position in the interests of forging a collective one. Deliberative democracy, in Gundersen’s words, “challenges citizens to move beyond their present beliefs, develop their ideas, and examine their values. It calls upon them to make connections, to connect more firmly and fully with the people and the world around them.” When arranged to address environmental aims, deliberative democracy “connects the people, first with each other and then with the environment they wish not simply to visit, but also to inhabit.”

Given the uneven record of democracies in educating their people into citizenship, true deliberation might be difficult to learn, especially in countries where the politics are strongly adversarial. Deliberative democracy is a “conversation,” Gundersen says, “not a series of speeches.” Conversations involve respectful listening—not just waiting to talk—as well as speaking. Yet there is an untapped hunger for it that can be released when the circumstances are conducive. And Gundersen has established through 240 hours of interviews with 46 Americans that deliberation about environmental matters “leads citizens to think of our collective pursuit of environmental ends in a more collective, long-term, holistic, and self-reflectiveway.” Such thinking might be the indispensable foundation for achieving anything like sustainability.

In this regard the U.S. Constitution is typical of others in giving no “clear, unambiguous textual foundation for federal environmental protection law,” notes legal scholar Richard Lazarus. It privileges “decentralized, fragmented, and incremental lawmaking . . . which makes it difficult to address issues in a comprehensive, holistic fashion.” Congressional committee jurisdiction based on the Constitution further fragments responsibility and legislative results. The Constitution gives too much power to private rights as opposed to public goods. It does not mention the environment or the need to protect soils, air, water, wildlife, and climate and so it offers no unambiguous basis for environmental protection. The commerce clause, the source for major environmental statutes, is a cumbersome and awkward legal basis for environmental protection. The result, Lazarus notes, is that “our lawmaking institutions are particularly inapt for the task of considering problems and crafting legal solutions of the spatial and temporal dimensions necessary for environmental law.”

The U.S. Constitution is deficient in other ways as well. Posterity is mentioned only in the Preamble, but not thereafter. The omission, understandable when the Constitution was written, now poses an egregious wrong. In 1787, the framers could have had no premonition that far into the future one generation could deprive all others of life, liberty, and property without due process of law or even good cause. And so, in theologian Thomas Berry’s words: “It is already determined that our children and grandchildren will live amid the ruined infrastructures of the industrial world and amid the ruins of the natural world itself.” The U.S. Constitution gives them no protection whatsoever.

Further, with a few notable exceptions—such as in Ecuador—most constitutions pertain only to humans and their affairs and property. We privilege humans, while excluding other members of the biotic community. A more expansive system of governance would extend rights of sorts and in some fashion to species, rivers, landscapes, ecologies, and trees, as legal scholar Christopher Stone once proposed. In Thomas Berry’s words: “We have established our human governance with little regard for the need to integrate it with the functional order of the planet itself.” In fact, from our bodies to our global civilization we are part of a worldwide parliament of beings, systems, and forces far beyond our understanding. We are kin to all that ever was and all that ever will be and must learn what that fact means for governance.

Building the Foundations of Robust Democracies

The history of democracy is complex and often troubled. In classical Athens it lasted only 200 years. Political philosopher John Plamenatz once wrote that “democracy is the best form of government only when certain conditions hold.” But those conditions may not hold in established democracies in the long emergency ahead and may be impossible in less stable societies and failed states with no history of it. The reasons are many.

For one, citizens in most democratic societies have become accustomed to comfort and affluence, but democracy “requires citizens who are willing to sacrifice for the common good and [restrain] their passions,” notes political theorist Wilson Carey McWilliams. How people shaped by consumption will respond politically in what will certainly be more straitened times is un-known. Political analyst Peter Burnell cautions that “democratization does not necessarily make it easier and can make it more difficult for countries to engage with climate mitigation.”

Even in the best of times, however, representative democracies are vulnerable to neglect, changing circumstances, corruption, the frailties of human judgment, and the political uses of fear—whether of terrorism or sub-version. They tend to become ineffective, sclerotic, and easily co-opted by the powerful and wealthy. They are vulnerable to militarization, as James Madison noted long ago. They are susceptible to ideologically driven factions that refuse to play by the rules of compromise, tolerance, and fair play. They work differently at different scales. And they cannot long endure the many economic and social forces that corrode political intelligence and democratic competence.

Democracies are also vulnerable to what conservative philosopher Richard Weaver once described as the spoiled-child psychology, “a kind of irresponsibility of the mental process . . . because [people] do not have to think to survive . . . typical thinking of such people [exhibits] a sort of contempt for realities.” Psychologists Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell believe that the behavior Weaver noted in the 1940s has now exploded into a full-blown “epidemic of narcissism.” Such failures of personality, judgment, and character could multiply under the stresses likely in the long emergency.27

We are between the proverbial rock and a hard place. There is no good case to be made for smaller governments in the long emergency unless we wish to sharply reduce our security and lower our standards for the public downward to a libertarian, gun-toting, free-for-all—Thomas Hobbes’s nightmare on steroids. On the contrary, it will be necessary to enlarge governments domestically and internationally to deal with the nastier aspects of the long emergency, including relocating people from rising oceans and spreading deserts, restoring order in the wake of large storms, managing conflicts over diminishing water, food, and resources, dealing with the spread of diseases, and managing the difficult transition to a post-growth economy. On the other hand, we have good reason to fear an enlargement of government powers as both ineffective and potentially oppressive.

Given those choices, there is no good outcome that does not require something like a second democratic revolution in which we must master the art and science of governance for a new era—creating and maintaining governments that are ecologically competent, effective at managing complex systems, agile, capable of foresight, and sturdy over an extraordinary time span. If we intend for such governments to also be democratic, we will have to summon an extraordinary level of political creativity and courage. To meet the challenges of the late eighteenth century, James Madison argued that democracy required a free press that served a well-informed and engaged citizenry, fair and open elections, and reliable ways to counterbalance competing interests. But he feared that even the best government with indifferent and incompetent citizens and leaders would sooner or later come to ruin.

In our time, strong democracy may be our best hope for governance in the long emergency, but it will not develop, persist, and flourish without significant changes. The most difficult of these will require that we confront the age-old nemesis of democracy: economic oligarchy. Today the majority of concentrated wealth is tied, directly or indirectly, to the extraction, processing, and sale of fossil fuels, which is also the major driver of the long emergency. Decades of rising global inequality have entrenched control in a small group of super-wealthy individuals, financiers, corporations, media tycoons, drug lords, and celebrities in positions of unaccountable authority.

In the United States, for example, the wealthiest 400 individuals have more net wealth than the bottom 185,000,000 people. Six Walmart heirs alone control as much wealth as the bottom 42 percent of the U.S. population. Rising inequality in the United States and elsewhere reflects neither efficiency nor merit. And beyond some threshold it divides society by class, erodes empathy, hardens hearts, undermines public trust, incites violence, saps our collective imagination, and destroys the public spirit that upholds democracy and community alike. Nonetheless, the rich do not give up easily. According to political economist Jeffrey Winters, the redistribution of wealth has always occurred as a result of war, conquest, or revolution, not as a democratic decision or from the benevolence of plutocrats.

Toward the end of his life, historian Lewis Mumford concluded that the only way out of this conundrum is “a steady withdrawal” from the “megamachine” of technocratic and corporate control. He did not mean community-scale isolation and autarky, but rather more equitable, decentralized, and self-reliant communities that met a significant portion of their needs for food, energy, shelter, waste cycling, and economic support. He did not propose secession from the national and global community but rather withdrawal from dependence on the forces of oligarchy, technological domination, and zombie-like consumption. Half a century later, that remains the most likely strategy for building the foundations of democracies robust enough to see us through the tribulations ahead.

In other words, the alternative to a futile and probably bloody attempt to forcibly redistribute wealth is to spread the ownership of economic assets throughout society. From the pioneering work of progressive economists, scholars, and activists such as Scott Bernstein, Michael Shuman, Gar Alperovitz, Ted Howard, and Jeff Gates we know that revitalization of local economies through worker-owned businesses, local investment, and greater local self-reliance is smart economics, wise social policy, smart environmental management, and a solid foundation for both democracy and national resilience.

Simultaneously, and without much public notice, there have been dramatic advances in ecological design, biomimicry, distributed renewable energy, efficiency, ecological engineering, transportation infrastructure, permaculture, and natural systems agriculture. Applied systematically at community, city, and regional scales, ecological design opens genuine possibilities for greater local control over energy, food, shelter, money, water, transportation, and waste cycling. It is the most likely basis for revitalizing local economies powered by home-grown efficiency and locally accessible renewable energy while eliminating pollution, improving resilience, and spreading wealth. The upshot at a national level is to reduce the need for government regulation, which pleases conservatives, while improving quality of life, which appeals to liberals. Fifty years ago, Mumford’s suggestion seemed unlikely. But in the years since, local self-reliance, Transition Towns, and regional policy initiatives are leading progressive changes throughout Europe and the United States while central governments have been rendered ineffective.

A second change is in order. Democracies from classical Athens to the present are only as vibrant as the quality and moral power of the ideas they can muster, mull over, and act upon. Debate, argument, and civil conversation are the lifeblood of the democratic process. In our time, said to be an age of information, one of the most striking characteristics is the triviality, narrowness, and often factual inaccuracy of our political conversations. Much of what passes for public dialogue has to do with jobs and economic growth, but it is based on economic theories that fit neither biophysical reality nor the highest aspirations of humankind. The rules of market economies are said to date from Adam Smith 237 years ago, but those of natural systems are 3.8 billion years old. Allowed to run on much longer, the mismatch will destroy us.

At the dawn of the modern environmental era, in 1970, the National Environmental Policy Act required all federal agencies to “utilize a systematic, interdisciplinary approach which will insure the integrated use of the natural and social sciences and the environmental design arts in planning and in decision-making.” Nonetheless, the government and corporations, foundations, and nonprofit organizations still work mostly by breaking issues and problems into their parts and dealing with each in isolation. Separate agencies, departments, and organizations specialize in energy, land, food, air, water, wildlife, economy, finance, building regulations, urban policy, technology, health, and transportation as if each were unrelated to the others.

Reducing wholes to parts is the core of the modern worldview we inherited from Galileo, Bacon, and Descartes. And for a time it worked economic, scientific, and technological miracles. But the price we pay is considerable and growing fast. For one, we seldom anticipate or account for collateral costs of fragmentation or count the benefits of systems integration. We mostly focus on short-term benefits while ignoring long-term risks and vulnerabilities. Imponderables and non-priced benefits are excluded altogether. The results corrupt our politics, economics, and values, and they undermine our prospects.

Nonetheless, we administer, organize, and analyze in parts, not wholes. But in the real world there are tipping points, surprises, step-level changes, time delays, and unpredictable, high-impact events. To fathom such things requires a mind-set capable of seeing connections, systems, and patterns as well as a perspective far longer than next year’s election or an annual balance sheet. Awareness that we live in systems we can never fully comprehend and control and humility in the face of the unknown gives rise to precaution and resilient design.

One example of this approach comes from Oberlin, a small city of about 10,000 people with a poverty level of 25 percent in the center of the U.S. “Rust Belt.” It is situated in a once-prosperous industrial region sacrificed to political expediency and bad economic policy, not too far from Cleveland and Detroit. But things here are beginning to change. In 2009, Oberlin College and the city launched the Oberlin Project. It has five goals: build a sustainable economy, become climate-positive, restore a robust local farm economy supplying up to 70 percent of the city’s food, educate at all levels for sustainability, and help catalyze similar efforts across the United States at larger scales. The community is organized into seven teams, focused on economic development, education, law and policy, energy, community engagement, food and agriculture, and data analysis. The project aims for “full-spectrum sustainability,” in which each of the parts supports the resilience and prosperity of the whole community in a way that is catalytic—shifting the default setting of the city, the community, and the college to a collaborative post-cheap-fossil-fuel model of resilient sustainability.

The Oberlin Project is one of a growing number of examples of integrated or full-spectrum sustain-ability worldwide, including the Mondragón Cooperative in Spain, the Transition Towns movement, and the Evergreen Project in Cleveland. In different ways, each is aiming to transform complex systems called cities and city-regions into sustainable, locally generated centers of prosperity, powered by efficiency and renewable energy. Each is aiming to create opportunities for good work and higher levels of worker ownership of renewably powered enterprises organized around necessities. The upshot is a global movement toward communities with the capacity to withstand outside disturbances while preserving core values and functions. In practical terms, resilience means redundancy of major functions, appropriate scale, firebreaks between critical systems, fairness, and societies that are “robust to error,” technological accidents, malice, and climate destabilization. In short, it is human systems designed in much the way that nature designs ecologies: from the bottom up.

It is time to talk about important things. Why have we come so close to the brink of extinction so carelessly and casually? Why do we still have thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert? How can humankind reclaim the commons of atmosphere, seas, biological diversity, mineral re-sources, and lands as the heritage of all, not the private possessions of a few? How much can we fairly and sustainably take from Earth, and for what purposes? Why is wealth so concentrated and poverty so pervasive? Are there better ways to earn our livelihoods than by maximizing consumption, a word that once signified a fatal disease? Can we organize governance at all levels around the doctrine of public trust rather than through fear and com-petition? And, finally, how might Homo sapiens, with a violent and bloody past, be redeemed in the long arc of time?

Outside of Hollywood movies, stories do not always have happy endings. Human history, to the contrary, is “one damn thing after another” as an undergraduate history major once famously noted. And one of those damn things is the collapse of entire civilizations when leaders do not summon the wit and commitment to solve problems while they can. Whatever the particulars, the downward spiral has a large dose of elite incompetence and irresponsibility, often with the strong aroma of wishful thinking, denial, and groupthink abetted by rules that reward selfishness, not group success.

In the long emergency ahead, the challenges to be overcome are first and foremost political, not technological or economic. They are in the domain of governance where the operative words are “we” and “us,” not those of markets where the pronouns are “I,” “me,” and “mine.” At issue is whether we have the wherewithal, wisdom, and foresight to preserve and improve the human enterprise in the midst of a profound human crisis. Any chance for us to come through the trials of climate destabilization in a nuclear-armed world with 10 billion people by 2100 will require that we soon reckon with the thorny issues of politics, political theory, and governance with wisdom, boldness, and creativity.

Bigger Than That- (The Difficulty Of) Looking At Climate Change In The Age Of Inhuman Scale

In Uncategorized on October 13, 2013 at 6:58 pm

Oldspeak:Some things are so big you don’t see them, or you don’t want to think about them, or you almost can’t think about them. Climate change is one of those things. It’s impossible to see the whole, because it’s everything…. it’s a complete system thrashing out of control, so that it threatens to become too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet, too wild, too destructive, too erratic for many plants and animals that depend on reliable annual cycles. It affects the entire surface of the Earth and every living thing, from the highest peaks to the depths of the oceans, from one pole to the other, from the tropics to the tundra, likely for millennia — and…it’s already here.

It’s not only bigger than everything else, it’s bigger than everything else put together.  But it’s not a sudden event like a massacre or a flood or a fire, even though it includes floods, fires, heat waves, and wild weather.  It’s an incremental shift over decades, over centuries.  It’s the definition of the big picture itself, the far-too-big picture. Which is why we have so much news about everything else, or so it seems.

To understand climate change, you need to translate figures into impacts, to think about places you’ll never see and times after you’re gone. You need to imagine sea level rise and understand its impact, to see the cause-and-effect relations between coal-fired power plants, fossil-fuel emissions, and the fate of the Earth. You need to model data in fairly sophisticated ways. You need to think like a scientist.” –Rebecca Solnit

“Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick….” -OSJ

It was the stuff of fantasy, of repeated failed expeditions and dreams that wouldn’t die.  I’m talking about the Northwest Passage, that fabled route through Arctic waters around North America.  Now, it’s reality.  The first “bulk carrier,” a Danish commercial freighter with a load of coal, just traveled from Vancouver, Canada, to Finland, cutting a week off its voyage, skipping the Panama Canal, and even, according to the Finnish steel maker Ruukki Metals, for whom the coal was intended, “reducing its greenhouse gas emissions because of fuel savings.” 

When dreams come true, it’s time to celebrate, no?  Only in this case, under the upbeat news of the immediate moment lies a far larger nightmare.  Those expeditions from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries failed to find the Northwest Passage because Arctic sea ice made the voyage impossible.  There simply was no passage.  No longer.  Thanks to global warming, the melting of ice — glaciers are losing an estimated 303 billion tons of the stuff annually worldwide — staggers the imagination.  The Greenland ice shield is turning into runoff ever more rapidly, threatening significant sea level rise, and all of the melting in the cold north has, in turn, opened a previously nonexistent Northwest Passage, as well as a similar passage through Russia’s Arctic waters.

None of this would have happened, as the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change pointed out in its latest report, if not for the way the burning of fossil fuels (like that coal the Nordic Orion took to Finland) has poured carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  In other words, we created that Arctic passage and made it commercially viable, thus ensuring that our world, the one we’ve known since the dawn of (human) time, will be ever less viable for our children and grandchildren.  After all, the Arctic with its enormous reservoirs of fossil fuels can now begin to be opened up for exploitation like so much of the rest of the planet.  And there can be no doubt about it: those previously unreachable reserves will be extracted and burned, putting yet more CO2 into the atmosphere, and anyone who tries to stop that process, as Greenpeace protestors symbolically tried to do recently at an oil rig in Arctic Russia, will be dealt with firmly as “pirates” or worse.  That dream of history, of explorers from once upon a time, is now not just a reality, but part of a seemingly inexorable feedback loop of modern fossil-fuel production and planetary heating, another aspect of what Michael Klare has grimly termed the Third Carbon Age (rather than a new Age of Renewables).

If we don’t need a little perspective on ourselves and our world now, then when? Fortunately, TomDispatch regular Rebecca Solnit is here to offer us both that perspective and some hope for what we can do in the face of well-funded climate denialism and fossil-fuel company boosterism”. –Tom

By Rebecca Solnit @ TomsDispatch:

Late last week, in the lobby of a particularly unglamorous downtown San Francisco building, a group of passionate but polite activists met with a bureaucrat who stepped forward to hear what they had to say about the fate of the Earth. The activists wanted to save the world.  The particular part of it that might be under their control involved getting the San Francisco Retirement board to divest its half a billion dollars in fossil fuel holdings, one piece of the international divestment movement that arose a year ago.

Sometimes the fate of the Earth boils down to getting one person with modest powers to budge.

The bureaucrat had a hundred reasons why changing course was, well, too much of a change. This public official wanted to operate under ordinary-times rules and the idea that climate change has thrust us into extraordinary times (and that divesting didn’t necessarily entail financial loss or even financial risk) was apparently too much to accept.

The mass media aren’t exactly helping. Last Saturday, for instance, the New York Times gave its story on the International Panel on Climate Change’s six-years-in-the-making report on the catastrophic future that’s already here below-the-fold front-page placement, more or less equal to that given a story on the last episode of Breaking Bad. The end of the second paragraph did include this quote: “In short, it threatens our planet, our only home.” But the headline (“U.N. Climate Panel Endorses Ceiling on Global Emissions”) and the opening paragraph assured you this was dull stuff. Imagine a front page that reported your house was on fire right now, but that some television show was more exciting.

Sometimes I wish media stories were organized in proportion to their impact.  Unfortunately, when it comes to climate change, there is not paper enough on this planet to properly scale up a story to the right size.  If you gave it the complete front page to suggest its import, you would then have to print the rest of the news at some sort of nanoscale and include an electron microscope for reading ease.

Hold up your hand. It’s so big it can block out the sun, though you know that the sun is so much bigger. Now look at the news: in column inches and airtime, a minor controversy or celebrity may loom bigger than the planet. The problem is that, though websites and print media may give us the news, they seldom give us the scale of the news or a real sense of the proportional importance of one thing compared to another.  And proportion, scale, is the main news we need right now — maybe always.

As it happens, we’re not very good at looking at the biggest things. They may be bigger than we can see, or move more slowly than we have the patience to watch for or remember or piece together, or they may cause impacts that are themselves complex and dispersed and stretch into the future. Scandals are easier.  They are on a distinctly human scale, the scale of lust, greed, and violence. We like those, we understand them, we get mired in them, and mostly they mean little or nothing in the long run (or often even in the short run).

A resident in a town on the northwest coast of Japan told me that the black 70-foot-high wave of water coming at him on March 11, 2011, was so huge that, at first, he didn’t believe his eyes. It was the great Tohoku tsunami, which killed about 20,000 people. A version of such cognitive dissonance occurred in 1982, when NASA initially rejected measurements of the atmosphere above Antarctica because they indicated such a radical loss of ozone that the computer program just threw out the data.

Some things are so big you don’t see them, or you don’t want to think about them, or you almost can’t think about them. Climate change is one of those things. It’s impossible to see the whole, because it’s everything. It’s not just a seven-story-tall black wave about to engulf your town, it’s a complete system thrashing out of control, so that it threatens to become too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet, too wild, too destructive, too erratic for many plants and animals that depend on reliable annual cycles. It affects the entire surface of the Earth and every living thing, from the highest peaks to the depths of the oceans, from one pole to the other, from the tropics to the tundra, likely for millennia — and it’s not just coming like that wave, it’s already here.

It’s not only bigger than everything else, it’s bigger than everything else put together.  But it’s not a sudden event like a massacre or a flood or a fire, even though it includes floods, fires, heat waves, and wild weather.  It’s an incremental shift over decades, over centuries.  It’s the definition of the big picture itself, the far-too-big picture. Which is why we have so much news about everything else, or so it seems.

To understand climate change, you need to translate figures into impacts, to think about places you’ll never see and times after you’re gone. You need to imagine sea level rise and understand its impact, to see the cause-and-effect relations between coal-fired power plants, fossil-fuel emissions, and the fate of the Earth. You need to model data in fairly sophisticated ways. You need to think like a scientist.

Given the demands of the task and the muddle of the mainstream media, it’s remarkable that so many people get it, and that they do so despite massive, heavily funded petroleum industry propaganda campaigns is maybe a victory, if not enough of one.

Four months ago, two bombers in Boston murdered three people and injured hundreds in a way spectacularly calculated to attract media attention, and the media obeyed with alacrity. Climate change probably fueled the colossal floods around Boulder, Colorado, that killed seven people in mid-September, but amid the copious coverage, it was barely mentioned in the media. Similarly, in Mexico, 115 people died in unprecedented floods in the Acapulco area (no significant mention of climate change), while floods reportedly are halving Pakistan’s economic growth (no significant mention), and 166 bodies were found in the wake of the latest Indian floods (no significant mention).

Climate change is taking hundreds of thousands of lives in Africa every year in complex ways whose causes and effects are difficult to follow. Forest fires, very likely enhanced by climate change, took the lives of 19 firefighters facing Arizona blazes amid record heat waves in July.  Again, climate change generally wasn’t the headline on that story.

(For the record, climate change is clearly helping to produce many of the bigger, more destructive, more expensive, more frequent disasters of our time, but it is impossible to point to any one of them and say definitely, this one is climate change.  It’s like trying to say which cancers in a contaminated area were caused by the contamination; you can’t, but what you can say is that the overall rise in cancer is connected.)

Not quite a year ago, a climate-change-related hurricane drowned people when superstorm Sandy hit a place that doesn’t usually experience major hurricane impact, let alone storm surges that submerge amusement parks, the New York City subway system, and the Jersey shore. In that disaster, 148 people died directly, nearly that many indirectly, losses far greater than from any terrorist incident in this country other than that great anomaly, 9/11. The weather has now become man-made violence, though no one thinks of it as terrorism, in part because there’s no smoking gun or bomb — unless you have the eyes to see and the data to look at, in which case the smokestacks of coal plants start to look gun-like and the hands of energy company CEOs and well-paid-off legislators begin to morph into those of bombers.

Even the civil war in Syria may be a climate-change war of sorts: over the past several years, the country has been hit by its worst drought in modern times. Climate and Security analyst Francesco Femia says, “Around 75 percent of [Syrian] farmers suffered total crop failure, so they moved into the cities. Farmers in the northeast lost 80 percent of their livestock, so they had to leave and find livelihoods elsewhere. They all moved into urban areas — urban areas that were already experiencing economic insecurity due to an influx of Iraqi and Palestinian refugees. But this massive displacement mostly wasn’t reported. So it wasn’t factoring into various security analyses. People assumed Syria was relatively stable compared to Egypt.”

Column Inches, Glacial Miles

We like to think about morality and sex and the lives of people we’ve gotten to know in some fashion. We know how to do it. It’s on a distinctly human scale. It’s disturbing in a reassuring way.  We fret about it and feel secure in doing so. Now, everything’s changed, and our imaginations need to keep pace with that change. What is human scale anyway? These days, after all, we split atoms and tinker with genes and can melt an ice sheet. We were designed to think about human-scale phenomena, and now that very phrase is almost as meaningless as old terms like “glacial,” which used to mean slow-moving and slow to change.

Nowadays glaciers are melting rapidly or disappearing entirely, and some — those in Greenland, for example — have gushing rivers of ice water eating through their base. If the whole vast Greenland ice sheet were to melt, it could raise global sea levels by 23 feet.

We tend to think about climate change as one or two or five things: polar ice, glaciers melting, sea-level rise, heat waves, maybe droughts. Now, however, we need to start adding everything else into the mix: the migration of tropical diseases, the proliferation of insect pests, crop failures and declining crop yields leading to widespread hunger and famine, desertification and flooded zones and water failures leading to mass population shifts, resource wars, and so many other things that have to do with the widest systems of life on Earth, affecting health, the global economy, food systems, water systems, and energy systems.

It is almost impossibly scary and painful to contemplate the radical decline and potential death of the oceans that cover 70% of the Earth’s surface and the dramatic decrease of plankton, which do more than any other type of organism to sequester carbon and produce oxygen — a giant forest in microscopic form breathing in what we produce, breathing out what we need, keeping the whole system going. If you want to read something really terrifying, take a look at the rise of the Age of Jellyfish in this review of Lisa-Ann Gershwin’s book Stung!: On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean. Maybe read it even if you don’t.

Only remember that like so much about climate change we used to imagine as a grim future, that future is increasingly here and now. In this case, in the form of millions or maybe billions of tons of jellyfish proliferating globally and devouring plankton, fish eggs, small fish, and bigger creatures in the sea we love, we know, we count on, we feed on, and now even clogging the water-intake pipes of nuclear power plants. In the form of seashells dissolving in acidic waters from the Pacific Northwest to the Antarctic Ocean. In the form of billions of pine-bark beetles massacring the forests of the American West, from Arizona to Alaska, one bite at a time.

It’s huge. I think about it, and I read about it, following blogs at Weather Underground, various climate websites, the emails of environmental groups, the tweets of people at 350.org, and bits and pieces of news on the subject that straggle into the mainstream and alternative media. Then I lose sight of it. I think about everything and anything else; I get caught up in old human-scale news that fits into my frameworks so much more easily. And then I remember, and regain my sense of proportion, or disproportion.

The Great Wall, Brick by Brick

The changes required to address climate change are colossal, but they are made up of increments and steps and stages that are more than possible. Many are already underway, both as positive changes (adaptation of renewable energy, increased energy efficiency, new laws, policies, and principles) and as halts to destruction (for example, all the coal-fired plants that have not been built in recent years and the Tar Sands pipeline that, but for popular resistance, would already be sending its sludge from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico). The problem is planetary in scale, but there is room to mitigate the worst-case scenarios, and that room is full of activists at work. Much of that work consists of small-scale changes.

As Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune put it last week, “Here’s the single most important thing you need to know about the IPCC report: It’s not too late. We still have time to do something about climate disruption. The best estimate from the best science is that we can limit warming from human-caused carbon pollution to less than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit — if we act now. Bottom line: Our house is on fire. Rather than argue about how fast it’s burning, we need to start throwing buckets of water.”

There are buckets and bucket brigades. For example, the movement to get universities, cities, churches, and other entities to divest their holdings of the top 200 fossil-fuel stocks could have major consequences. If it works, it will be achieved through dedicated groups on this campus or in that city competing in a difficult sport: budging bureaucrats. It’s already succeeded in some key places, from the city of Seattle to the national United Church of Christ, and hundreds of campaigns are underway across the United States and in some other countries.

My heroes are now people who can remain engaged with climate change’s complex and daunting facts and still believe that we have some leeway to determine what happens. They insist on looking directly at the black wall of water, and they focus on what we can do about the peril we face, and then they do it. They do their best to understand scale and science, and their dedication and clarity comes from connecting their hearts to their minds.

I hear people who are either uninformed or who are justifying disengagement say that it’s too late and what we do won’t matter, but it does matter, because a rise in the global temperature of two degrees Celsius is going to be very, very different from, say, five degrees Celsius for almost everything living on Earth now and for millennia to come. And there are still many things that can be done, both to help us adapt to the radical change on the way and to limit the degree of change to which we’ll have to adapt. Because it’s already risen .8 degrees and that’s been a disaster — many, many disasters.

I spent time over the last several months with the stalwarts carrying on a campaign to get San Francisco to divest from its energy stocks. In the beginning, it seemed easy enough. City Supervisor John Avalos introduced a nonbinding resolution to the Board of Supervisors, and to everyone’s surprise it passed unanimously in April on a voice vote. But the board turned out only to have the power to recommend that the San Francisco Retirement Board do the real work of divesting its vast holdings of fossil-fuel stocks. The retirement board was a tougher nut to crack.

Its main job, after all, is to ensure a safe and profitable pension fund and in that sense, energy companies have, in the past, been good investments. To continue on such a path is to be “smart about the market.” The market, in the meantime, is working hard at not imagining the financial impact of climate change.

The failure of major food sources, including fishing stocks and agricultural crops, and the resultant mass hunger and instability — see Syria — is going to impact the market. Retirees in the beautiful Bay Area are going feel it if the global economy crashes, the region fills with climate refugees, the spectacularly productive state agricultural system runs dry or roasts, and the oceans rise on our scenic coasts. It’s a matter of scale.  Your investments are not independent of nature, even if fossil-fuel companies remain, for a time, profitable while helping destroying the world as humanity has known it.

Some reliable sources now argue that fossil-fuel stocks are not good investments, that they’re volatile for a number of reasons and due to crash. The IPCC report makes it clear that we need to leave most of the planet’s fossil fuel reserves in the ground in the coming decades, that the choice is either to fry the planet or freeze the assets of the carbon companies. Activists are now doing their best to undermine the value of the big carbon-energy corporations, and governments clued in to the new IPCC report will likely join them in trying to keep the oil, gas, and coal in the ground — the fossil fuel that is also much of the worth of these corporations on paper. If we’re lucky, we’ll make them crash. So divesting can be fiscally sound, and there is a very strong case that it can be done without economic impact. But the crucial thing here isn’t the financial logistics of divestment; it’s the necessity of grasping the scale of things, understanding the colossal nature of the problem and the need to address it, in part, by pressuring one small group or one institution in one place.

To grasp this involves a feat of imagination and, I think, a leap of faith: a kind of conviction about what matters, about living according to principle, about understanding what is too big to be seen with your own eyes, about correlating data on a range of scales. A lot of people I know do it. If we are to pull back from the brink of catastrophe, it will be because of their vision and their faith. You might want to thank them now, and while your words are nice, so are donations. Or you might want to join them.

That there is a widespread divestment movement right now is due to the work of a few people who put forth the plan less than a year ago at 350.org. The president has already mentioned it, and hundreds of colleges are now in the midst of or considering the process of divesting, with cities, churches, and other institutions joining the movement. It takes a peculiar kind of genius to see the monster and to see that it might begin to be pushed back by small actions — by, in fact, actions on a distinctly human scale that could still triumph over the increasingly inhuman scale of our era.

Hold up your hand. It looks puny in relation to the sun, but the other half of the equation of scale is seeing that something as small as that hand, as your own powers, as your own efforts, can matter. The cathedral is made stone by stone, and the book is written word by word.

If there is to be an effort to respond to climate change, it will need to make epic differences in economics, in ecologies, in the largest and most powerful systems around us. Though the goals may be heroic, they will be achieved mostly through an endless accumulation of small gestures.

Those gestures are in your hands, and everyone’s. Or they could be if we learned to see the true scale of things, including how big we can be together.

Rebecca Solnit writes regularly for TomDispatch, works a little with 350.org, and is hanging out a lot in 2013 with the newly arrived Martin, Thyri, Bija Milagro, and Camilo, who will be 80 in the unimaginable year of 2093. Her most recent book is The Faraway Nearby.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.

 

 

Last Hours of Humanity: Warming the World to Extinction

In Uncategorized on October 13, 2013 at 6:12 pm

(Image: <a href=" http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-106825397/stock-photo-refinery-with-smoke-and-global-warming-concept.html?src=NbITD5enX9lI4lerT943VQ-1-0"> via Shutterstock </a>)

Oldspeak:Will several centuries of burning fossil fuels release enough carbon into the atmosphere to mimic the effects of past volcanic and asteroid activity and provoke a mass extinction?

If our burning fossil fuels warms the oceans enough that that methane melts and is quickly released into the atmosphere, the Earth will be in its sixth mass extinction.

And make no mistake about it, the animals and plants that are most heavily hit by mass extinctions are those that are largest and at the top of the food chain.

That means us.

We must stop the carbon madness and move, worldwide, to renewable 21st century energy sources.” –Thom Hartmann

“The grim reality is, we’re ALREADY in earth’s sixth mass extinction. We’re witnessing its beginning. We’re losing 200 species PER  DAY. irreversible positive feedbacks have already begun.  Accelerated ocean acidification/warming/deoxygenation/mass extinctions , massive increases in methane releases globally  and permafrost melt have methane levels in the arctic higher than they’ve been in 400,000 years.  Phytoplankton, the organisms crucial to all life on earth, producers of half the worlds oxygen and sequestering carbon have decreased 40% since 1950. And there are no serious efforts to stop the extractive energy systems that are creating  these catastrophic positive feedbacks, in fact these systems are being EXPANDED.  The show is going on, whether we want to see it or not.” -OSJ

By Thom Hartmann @ Truthout:

If you were standing outdoors looking at the distant and reddening sky 250 million years ago as the Permian Mass Extinction was beginning, unless you were in the region that is known as Siberia you would have no idea that a tipping point had just been passed and soon 95% of all life on earth would be dead.

It’s almost impossible to identify tipping points, except in retrospect.

For example, we have almost certainly already past the tipping point to an ice-free Arctic. And we are just now realizing it, even though that tipping point was probably passed a decade or more ago.

This is critically important because in the history of our planet there have been five times when more than half of all life on Earth died. They’re referred to as “mass extinctions.”

One – the one that killed the dinosaurs – was initiated by a meteorite striking the Earth. The rest all appear to have been initiated by tectonic and volcanic activity.

In each case, however, what happened was that massive amounts of carbon-containing greenhouse gases – principally carbon dioxide, were released from beneath the Earth’s crust and up into the atmosphere.

This provoked global warming intense enough to melt billions of tons of frozen methane on the oceans floors. That pulse of methane – an intense greenhouse gas – then brought the extinction to its full of intensity.

While in the past it took continental movement or an asteroid to break up the crust of the earth enough to release ancient stores of carbon into the atmosphere, we humans have been doing this very aggressively for the past 150 years by drilling and mining fossil fuels.

So the question:

Will several centuries of burning fossil fuels release enough carbon into the atmosphere to mimic the effects of past volcanic and asteroid activity and provoke a mass extinction?

Geologists who study mass extinctions are becoming concerned. As more and more research is coming out about the massive stores of methane in the Arctic and around continental shelves, climate scientists are beginning to take notice, too.

The fossil fuel companies are sitting on roughly 2 trillion tons of underground carbon. That, in and of itself, is enough to warm the earth by 5 or 6°C, and is an amount of carbon consistent with tipping points during past mass extinctions.

There are an additional estimated 2 trillion tons of methane stored in the Arctic and probably 2 to 5 times that much around continental shelves all around the Earth.

If our burning fossil fuels warms the oceans enough that that methane melts and is quickly released into the atmosphere, the Earth will be in its sixth mass extinction.

And make no mistake about it, the animals and plants that are most heavily hit by mass extinctions are those that are largest and at the top of the food chain.

That means us.

We must stop the carbon madness and move, worldwide, to renewable 21st century energy sources.

This is why we’ve produced a short documentary on this topic, and a short e-book titled The Last Hours of Humanity: Warming the World to Extinction that you can find at www.lasthours.org.

Please check it out and share it with as many friends as possible.

The future of humanity is at stake.

Empire Under Obama, Part 1: Political Language & The ‘Mafia Principles’ Of International Relations

In Uncategorized on October 11, 2013 at 6:53 pm

Oldspeak: “When it comes to empire, language is equally – if not more – deceptive; hiding immoral, ruthless and destructive interests and actions behind the veil of empty words, undefined concepts, and make-believe ‘values.’ I firmly believe that in order to understand the world – that is, to gain a more realistic understanding and view of how the global social, political and economic order actually functions – we need to speak more plainly, directly, and honestly to describe and dissent against this system. If we truly want a world without war, destruction, empire and tyranny, we must speak honestly and openly about these concepts. If we adopt the language of deception to describe that which we are given no accurate words to describe, we run a fool’s errand….

To rectify this, we must speak and think honestly about empire. To think and speak honestly, we must look at the world for what it is, not to see what we want to see, that which supports our pre-conceived notions and biases, but to see what we want to change. We have at our fingertips more access to information than ever before in human history. We have the ability to gather, examine and draw explanations from this information to create a more coherent understanding of the world than that which we are presented with through the media and political pandering. In establishing a more accurate – and ever-evolving – understanding of the world, we are able to reveal the lies and hypocrisy of those individuals, institutions and ideologies that uphold and direct the world we live in.” –Andrew Gavin Marshall

“Basically, our society is structured to perpetuate and proliferate this “the language of deception” a.ka. Propaganda. The public mind is utterly enveloped in and animated by the language of deception. We’ve created whole industries to propagate it, we’re bombarded with waves of deception on multivariate and variegated media and infotainment platforms. it’s much like Chomsky said when he remarked “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.” We must awaken from our comfortably numb, narcissism and ego moderated states of passivity and obedience. We must look beyond  and let go of the “necessary illusions” of political, social, cultural, material & spiritual differences. We must resist, degrade and withdraw our support for this latest imperial empire. For the sake of our life support system, our mother earth, we mush reverse this cursed course we’re on. We must cease valuing consumption of life over conservation of life. We’re losing, 200 species A DAY. We’ll bear witness to the extinction level events we’ve precipitated, i guess at this point it’s just a mater of how we choose to face the end of our civilization. As gluttonous blood lustful infinitely growing locusts,  devouring all in our paths?  Or as courageous, accepting, fearless lovers of all that we see before us…” -OSJ

By Andrew Gavin Marshall @ The Hampton Institute:

In the first part of this essay series on ‘Empire Under Obama,’ I will aim to establish some fundamental premises of modern imperialism, or what is often referred to as ‘international relations,’ ‘geopolitics’, or ‘foreign policy.’ Specifically, I will refer to George Orwell’s writing on ‘political language’ in order to provide a context in which the discourse of imperialism may take place out in the open with very little comprehension on the part of the public which consumes the information; and further, to draw upon Noam Chomsky’s suggestion of understanding international relations as the application of ‘Mafia Principles’ to foreign policy. This part provides some background on these issues, and future parts to this essay series will be examining the manifestation of empire in recent years.

On August 21, the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad was accused of using chemical weapons on its own population, prompting Western countries – led by the United States – to declare their intention to bomb Syria to somehow save it from itself. The reasons for the declared intention of launching air strikes on Syria was to punish the Syrian government, to uphold international law, and to act on the ‘humanitarian’ values which the West presumably holds so dear.

George Orwell discussed this in his 1946 essay, Politics and the English Language, written two years prior to the publication of 1984. In his essay, Orwell wrote that, “the English language is in a bad way” and that language is ultimately “an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.” The decline of language, noted Orwell, “must ultimately have political and economic causes… It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” Still, Orwell suggested, “the process is reversible.”[1] To reverse the process, however, we must first understand its application and development.

When it comes to words like “democracy,” Orwell wrote: “It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different.”[2]

In our time, wrote Orwell, “political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of political parties.” Thus, he noted, “political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.” Orwell provided some examples: “Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification.” This type of “phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.”[3] Today, we use words like counterinsurgency and counterterrorism to describe virtually the same processes.

Thus, noted Orwell: “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms… All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia… But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can be spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better.” Political language, wrote Orwell, “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”[4]

These critiques are arguably more valid today than when Orwell wrote them some 67 years ago. Today, we not only use political language to discuss ‘democracy’ and ‘liberty,’ but to justify war and atrocities based upon our ‘humanitarian’ interests and ‘values.’ I have previously discussed the uses and abuses of political language in the context of the European debt crisis, using words like ‘austerity,’ ‘structural reform,’ ‘labour flexibility’ and ‘economic growth’ to obfuscate the reality of the power interests and effects of the policies put in place, spreading poverty, misery and committing ‘social genocide.'[5]

When it comes to empire, language is equally – if not more – deceptive; hiding immoral, ruthless and destructive interests and actions behind the veil of empty words, undefined concepts, and make-believe ‘values.’ I firmly believe that in order to understand the world – that is, to gain a more realistic understanding and view of how the global social, political and economic order actually functions – we need to speak more plainly, directly, and honestly to describe and dissent against this system. If we truly want a world without war, destruction, empire and tyranny, we must speak honestly and openly about these concepts. If we adopt the language of deception to describe that which we are given no accurate words to describe, we run a fool’s errand.

In other words, if you are against war and empire in principle, yet engage in the concocted debates surrounding whatever current war is being pushed for, debating the merits of the one of usually two positions fed to the populace through the media, punditry and pageantry of modern political life, then you simply reinforce that which your own personal values may find so repulsive. If you are not given a language with which to understand issues and the world in a meaningful way, then you are curtailed in your ability to think of the world in a non-superficial way, let alone articulate meaningful positions. By simply adopting the political language which makes up the ‘discourse of empire’ – allowing for politicians, pundits, intellectuals and the media to justify and disagree to various degrees on the objectives and actions of empire – your thoughts and words become an extension of that discourse, and perpetuate its perverse purposes.

In the recent context of Syria, for example, those who are ‘in principle’ against war, and hold personal values akin to those ‘humanitarian’ values which are articulated by the political elites in the name of justifying war, may then be succumbed into the false debate over – “what is the best course of action?” – “to bomb or not to bomb?” – and while the horror of chemical weapons use may trigger an impulse to want to end such usage, the media and political classes have framed the debate as such: should we let Syria get away with using chemical weapons? Should provide more support to the ‘rebels’? How should we try to end the conflict in Syria?

This is a false debate and empty, for it poses answers as questions instead of questions looking for answers. In other words, the question is not – ” what can we do to help Syria?” – the question is: “what have we done in Syria?” When you ask that question, the answer is not appealing, as the strategy of the West – and specifically the United States – has been to prolong the civil war, not stop it. Thus, when you have asked the right questions, and sought more meaningful answers, then you can ask – “what can we do to help Syria?” – and the answer becomes simpler: stop supporting civil war. But one must first learn to ask the right questions instead of choosing from one among many pre-packaged “solutions.”

Mark Twain once wrote, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uniformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re misinformed.” If you view yourself as ‘politically conscious’ or ‘engaged,’ and yet, you engage only with thoughts and words presented to you by the corporate-owned media and politicians – who allow for a very limited spectrum of variation in views – you’re not “politically conscious,” but rather, politically comatose. Though your own personal values, interests and intentions may be honourable and sincere, they are made superficial by adopting superficial language and thoughts.

To rectify this, we must speak and think honestly about empire. To think and speak honestly, we must look at the world for what it is, not to see what we want to see, that which supports our pre-conceived notions and biases, but to see what we want to change. We have at our fingertips more access to information than ever before in human history. We have the ability to gather, examine and draw explanations from this information to create a more coherent understanding of the world than that which we are presented with through the media and political pandering. In establishing a more accurate – and ever-evolving – understanding of the world, we are able to reveal the lies and hypocrisy of those individuals, institutions and ideologies that uphold and direct the world we live in. The hypocrisy of our self-declared values and intentions is exposed through looking at the real actions and effects of the policies we pursue under the guise of political language.

If the effects of our actions do not conform to the values we articulate as we undertake them, and yet, neither the language nor the policies and effects change to remedy these inconsistencies, we can come to one of two general conclusions. One, is that our political leaders are simply insane, as Einstein defined it – “doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results” – or; they are liars an deceivers, using words for which they hold personal definitions which are not articulated to the populace, attempting to justify the indefensible, to promote the perverse and serve interests which the general population may find deplorable. While I think that – in many cases – it would be presumptive to rule out insanity altogether, it strikes me as more plausible that it is the latter.

Put in different terms, politicians – if they rise high enough to be in positions in which they become advocates and actors in the propagation of empire – are high-functioning sociopaths: they deceive and manipulate for their own selfish interests, hold no hesitations to act immorally and knowingly cause the suffering and destruction of others. Imagine what our world would look like if serial killers were running countries, corporations, banks and other dominant institutions. I imagine that our world would look exactly at it is, for those who run it have the same claims to moral superiority as your average serial killer; they simply chose another path, and one which leads to the deaths of far more people than any serial killer has ever – or could ever – achieve.

So, let’s talk about Empire.
Mafia Principles and Western ‘Values’

Renowned linguist, scholar and dissident Noam Chomsky has aptly articulated Western – and notably American – foreign policy as being based upon ‘Mafia Principles’ in which “defiance cannot be tolerated.” Thus, nations, people and institutions which “defy” the American-Western Empire must be “punished,” lest other nations and peoples openly defy the empire. This principle holds that if a smaller, seemingly more insignificant global actor is able to “successfully defy” the empire, then anyone could, and others would likely follow.[6]

Thus, for the empire to maintain its ‘hegemony’ – or global influence – it must punish those who detract from its diktats, so that others would not dare defy the empire. As Chomsky has suggested, this is akin to the way the Mafia would punish even the smallest of vendors who did not pay their dues, not because of financial loss to the ‘Godfather,’ but because it sends a message to all who observe: if you defy the Godfather, you will be punished.

Extending this analogy to ‘international relations,’ we can conclude that the United States is the ‘Godfather’ and the other major Western states – notably Britain, France, and Germany – are akin to the Mafia ‘capos’ (high-level bosses). Then you have China and Russia, who are significant crime bosses in their own right, though far from holding anywhere near the same weight of influence as the ‘Godfather.’ Think of them as separate crime families; usually working with the Godfather, as there is a relationship of co-dependency between them all: the Godfather needs their support, and they need the Godfather’s support in order for all parties to have a significant influence in their criminal racketeering and illicit markets.

As with any crime families, however, cooperation is often coupled with competition. When the Godfather steps on the personal turf of the other crime families – such as Syria in relation to Russia and China – then the other families push back, seeking to maintain their own turf and thus, maintain their leverage when it comes to power and profits.

Now, for those who believe American and Western political leaders when they discuss ‘values’ that they uphold, such as ‘democracy’, ‘liberty’, the ‘rule of law’, or any other ‘humanitarian’ notions of life, justice and peace, I have two words for you: grow up. The Western world has no precedent for upholding values or acting on the basis of ‘morality.’ One of the central issues we face when dealing with modern empire is that we have very little means – or practice – in communicating honestly about the nature of the world, or our role within it. Language is undermined and inverted, even destroyed altogether. Waging war in the name of ‘peace’ undermines any meaningful concept of peace which we may hold. Supporting coups in the name of democracy reveals an empty and inverted concept of what we may typically think of as democracy. Yet, this is common practice for the West.

When Cuba had its revolution in 1959, brining Castro to power on a little island just south of the United States, overthrowing the previous American-supported dictator, the U.S. implemented a policy of covert, military and economic warfare against the tiny and desperately poor nation. The main reasoning was not necessarily that Cuba had become ‘Communist’, per se, but rather, as a 1960 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate noted, Cuba had provided “a highly exploitable example of revolutionary achievement and successful defiance of the U.S.”[7] For the ‘Godfather,’ such an example of “successful defiance” could spur other nations to attempt to defy the U.S. Thus, Cuba had to be made an example of.

When the Eisenhower administration imposed economic sanctions upon Cuba (which have been extended through every subsequent administration to present day), the objective was articulated within internal government documents of the National Security Council (NSC) and other U.S. agencies responsible for the maintenance and expansion of American imperialism (such as the State Department, CIA, Pentagon, etc.).

Noting that the sanctions “would have a serious effect on the Cuban people,” denying them medical equipment, food, goods and necessities, President Eisenhower explained that the “primary objective” of the sanctions was “to establish conditions which bring home to the Cuban people the cost of Castro’s policies,” and that, if Cubans were left hungry, “they will throw Castro out.” Under the Kennedy administration, a top State Department official stated that, “every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba… to bring about hunger, desperation and [the] overthrow of the government.”[8]

In other words, the intentions of sanctions are to punish populations in order to undermine support for regimes that “successfully defy” the empire. No concerns are paid to the actual suffering of human beings, though, as these policies are articulated by the political class – and their supporters in the media and intellectual establishment – they were justified on the basis of a grand struggle between the “democratic” West and the “threat” of totalitarian Communism, of upholding “values” and supporting “freedom” of peoples everywhere.

Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor, was appointed by President Reagan in the early 1980s to chair the National Bipartisan Commission on Central America (known as the ‘Kissinger Commission’) which was created to assess the strategic threat and interests to the United States in Central America, as many nations had been experiencing revolutions, leftist insurgencies against U.S.-backed dictators, and large social movements. The Reagan administration’s response was to undertake a massive war of terror in Central America, killing hundreds of thousands and decimating the region for decades. Kissinger provided the imperial justification for the U.S. to punish the tiny Central American countries for their “defiance” of the Godfather, when he wrote in 1983, “If we cannot manage Central America… it will be impossible to convince threatened nations in the Persian Gulf and in other places that we know how to manage the global equilibrium.”[9] In other words, if the Empire could not control a tiny little region just south of its border, how could it be expected to wield influence elsewhere in the world?

Henry Kissinger and former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski co-chaired President Reagan’s U.S. National Security Council-Defense Department Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy, outlining U.S. imperial strategy and interests over the long term, publishing the report, Discriminate Deterrence, in 1988. They wrote that the U.S. would continue to have to intervene in conflicts across much of the Third World, because they “have had and will have an adverse cumulative effect on U.S. access to critical regions,” and if such effects cannot be managed, “it will gradually undermine America’s ability to defend its interest in the most vital regions, such as the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean and the Western Pacific.”[10]

Noting that most Third World conflicts were “insurgencies, organized terrorism, [and] paramilitary crime,” which included “guerrilla forces” and “armed subversives,” referring to revolutionary and resistance movements, the U.S. would have to acknowledge that within such “low intensity conflicts,” the “enemy” is essentially “omnipresent,” meaning that the U.S.-designated enemy is essentially the population itself, or a significant portion of it, and thus, “unlikely ever to surrender.” But it would be necessary for the U.S. to intervene in such wars, the report noted, because if they did not do so, “we will surely lose the support of many Third World countries that want to believe the United States can protect its friends, not to mention its own interests.”[11]

In other words, if the U.S. does not intervene to crush insurgencies, uprisings, rebellions or generally steer the direction of ‘internal conflicts’ of Third World nations, then its proxy-puppet governments around the world will lose faith in the ability of the Godfather/Empire to support them in maintaining their dictatorships and rule over their own populations if they ever get into trouble. It would also damage the ‘faith’ that the Godfather’s ‘capos’ (or Western imperial allies like France and Britain) would have in the U.S.’s ability to serve their imperial interests. If client states or imperial allies lose faith in the Godfather, then the U.S. likely won’t remain the Godfather for long.

An internal assessment of national security policy undertaken by the Bush administration in 1991 was leaked to the media, which quoted the report’s analysis of U.S. imperial policy for the future: “In cases where the U.S. confronts much weaker enemies, our challenge will be not simply to defeat them, but to defeat them decisively and rapidly… For small countries hostile to us, bleeding our forces in protracted or indecisive conflict or embarrassing us by inflicting damage on some conspicuous element of our forces may be victory enough, and could undercut political support for U.S. efforts against them.”[12] In other words, the weaker the “enemy,” the more “decisive and rapid” must be their defeat, so as not to “embarrass” the empire and undermine its reputation for maintaining power and punishing those who defy its power. Imagine a small-time crook standing up to the Godfather in defiance: his punishment must not only be quick, but it must be severe, as this sends a message to others.

It has since been acknowledged by top imperial strategists and government agencies that the Cold War was little more than a rhetorical battle between two behemoths to advance their own imperial interests around the world. Samuel Huntington, one of the most influential political scientists of the latter 20 th century, closely tied to the American imperial establishment and served in high-level government positions related to the running of foreign policy, commented in a 1981 discussion, when reflecting upon the “lessons of Vietnam,” that “an additional problem” for strategists when they decide that there is a conflict in which “you have to intervene or take some action,” he noted, “you may have to sell it in such a way as to create the misimpression that it is the Soviet Union that you are fighting… That is what the United States has been doing ever since the Truman Doctrine [of 1947].”[13]

In other words, the concern of the ‘Cold War’ was not really the Soviet Union, it was the populations across the ‘Third World’ who were seeking independence and an end to imperialism. However, to intervene in wars where the interests were about repressing popular uprisings, revolutions, crushing independence movements, maintaining imperial domination and subjugation, one cannot – if you proclaim to be a ‘free’ and ‘democratic’ society upholding grand ‘values’ – articulate accurately these interests or the reasons for intervening. Thus, as Huntington noted, the United States would “create the misimpression that it is the Soviet Union that you are fighting.” So long as the domestic population was made to fear some outside malevolent enemy – formerly the Soviet Union and today ‘terrorism’ – then strategists manage to justify and undertake all sorts of atrocities in the name of fighting “communism” or now “terrorism.”

When the Cold War was coming to an official end and the Soviet Union was collapsing in on itself, President George H.W. Bush’s administration released the National Security Strategy of the United States in 1990 in which it was acknowledged that following decades of justifying military intervention in the Middle East on the basis of a Cold War struggle between democracy and communism, the actual reasons for intervention “were in response to threats to U.S. interests that could not be laid at the Kremlin’s door.” Further, while the Soviet Union collapses, “American strategic concerns remain” and “the necessity to defend our interests will continue.”[14]

In 1992, Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote an article for the establishment journal, Foreign Affairs, in which he bluntly assessed the reality of the ‘Cold War’ battle between America and the USSR – between the causes of democratic ‘liberation’ versus totalitarian communism – writing: “The policy of liberation was a strategic sham, designed to a significant degree for domestic political reasons… the policy was basically rhetorical, at most tactical.”[15]

America’s imperial interests had long been established within internal government documents. In a 1948 State Department Policy Planning document, it was acknowledged that at the time the United States controlled half the world’s wealth with only 6.3% of the world’s population, and that this disparity would create “envy and resentment.” The task for American in the world, then, was “to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming,” and instead focus “on our immediate national objectives,” which were defined as managing foreign policy in such a way as “to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security.” With such an objective in mind, noted the report, “We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction.”[16]

In other words, to maintain the “disparity” between America’s wealth and that of the rest of the world, there was no point in pretending that their interests were anything otherwise. Imperial planners were direct in suggesting that “we need not deceive ourselves” about their objectives, but this did not imply that they did not have to deceive the American population, for whom internal documents were not meant to be read.

In the Middle East, imperial interests were bluntly articulated by the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, who defined the region as “an area in which the United States has a vital interest.” The oil wealth of Saudi Arabia and the region as a whole was said to “constitute a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history,” and that controlling the oil would imply “substantial control of the world.”[17]

Threats to these interests were quick to arise in the form of Arab Nationalism – or “independent nationalism” – most effectively represented by Gamal Abdul Nasser in Egypt, where nations sought to pursue a policy both foreign and domestic in their own interests, to more closely address the concerns of their own populations rather than the interests of the Godfather, and to take a ‘neutral’ stance in the Cold War struggle between the US and USSR.

A 1958 National Security Council report noted that, “In the eyes of the majority of Arabs the United States appears to be opposed to the realization of the goals of Arab nationalism,” and rather, that the US was simply “seeking to protect its interests in Near East oil by supporting the status quo” of strong-armed ruthless dictators ruling over repressed populations. This, the report noted, was an accurate view that Arab peoples held of the U.S., stating that, “our economic and cultural interests in the area have led not unnaturally to close U.S. relations with elements in the Arab world whose primary interest lies in the maintenance of relations with the West and the status quo in their countries.” Further, because the U.S. was so closely allied with the traditional colonial powers of the region – France and Britain – “it is impossible for us to avoid some identification” with colonialism, noted the report, especially since “we cannot exclude the possibility of having to use force in an attempt to maintain our position in the area.”[18]

Thus, a key strategy for the U.S. should be to publicly proclaim “support for the ideal of Arab unity,” but to quietly “encourage a strengthening of the ties among Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Iraq,” all ruthless tyrants, in order to “counterbalance Egypt’s preponderant position of leadership in the Arab world.” Another strategy to “combat radical Arab nationalism and to hold Persian Gulf oil by force if necessary” would be “to support Israel as the only strong pro-West power.”[19]

In Latin America, long considered by U.S. imperial planners as America’s ‘backyard,’ the “threat” was very similar to that posed by Arab nationalism. A 1953 National Security Council memo noted that there was “a trend in Latin America toward nationalistic regimes maintained in large part by appeals to the masses of the population,” and that, “there is an increasing popular demand for immediate improvement in the low living standards of the masses.” For the U.S., it would be “essential to arrest the drift in the area toward radical and nationalistic regimes” which was “facilitated by historic anti-U.S. prejudices and exploited by Communists.” To handle this “threat,” the NSC recommended that the United States support “the development of indigenous military forces and local bases” to encourage “individual and collective action against internal subversive activities by communists and other anti-U.S. elements.” In other words: the U.S. must support repression of foreign populations.[20]

American strategy thus sought to oppose “radical and nationalistic regimes” – defined as those who successfully defy the U.S. and its Mafia capos – and to “maintain the disparity” between America’s wealth and that of the rest of the world, as well as to continue to control strategically important resources and regions, such as oil and energy sources. America was not alone in this struggle for global domination, as it had its trusted Mafia capo “allies” like Britain, France, Germany, and to a lesser extent, Japan, at its side. Concurrently, other large powers like Russia and China would engage in bouts of cooperation and competition for extending and maintaining influence in the world, with occasional conflicts arising between them.

The International Peace Research Institute (IPRI) in Oslo, Norway, compiled a dataset for assessing armed conflict in the world between 1946 and 2001. For this time period, IPRI’s research identified 225 conflicts, 163 of which were internal conflicts, though with “external participants” in 32 of those internal conflicts. The number of conflicts in the world rose through the Cold War, and accelerated afterward.[21] The majority of conflicts have been fought in three expansive regions: from Central America and the Caribbean into South America, from East Central Europe through the Balkans, Middle East and India to Indonesia, and the entire continent of Africa.[22]

Another data set was published in 2009 that revealed much larger numbers accounting for “military interventions.” During the Cold War era of 1946 to 1989 – a period of 44 years – there were a recorded 690 interventions, while the 16-year period from 1990 and 2005 had recorded 425 military interventions. Intervention rates thus “increased in the post-Cold War era.” As the researchers noted, roughly 16 foreign military interventions took place every year during the Cold War, compared to an average of 26 military interventions per year in the post-Cold War period.[23]

Interventions by “major powers” (the US, UK, France, Soviet Union/Russia, and China) increased from an average of 4.3 per year during the Cold War to 5.6 per year in the post-Cold War period. Most of these interventions were accounted for by the United States and France, with France’s numbers coming almost exclusively from its interventions in sub-Saharan Africa. During the Cold War period, the five major powers accounted for almost 28% of all military interventions, with the United States in the lead at 74, followed by the U.K. with 38, France with 35, the Soviet Union with 25, and China with 21.[24]

In the post-Cold War period (1990-2005), the major powers accounted for 21.2% of total military interventions, with the United States in the lead at 35, followed by France with 31, the U.K. with 13, Russia with 10, and China with 1. Interventions by Western European states increased markedly in the post-Cold War period, “as former colonial powers increased their involvement in Sub-Saharan Africa,” not only by France, but also Belgium and Britain.[25]

Meanwhile, America’s actual share of global wealth has been in almost continuous decline since the end of World War II. By 2012, the United States controlled roughly 25% of the world’s wealth, compared with roughly 50% in 1948.[26] The rich countries of the world – largely represented by the G7 nations of the U.S., Japan, Germany, the UK, France, Italy and Canada – had for roughly 200 years controlled the majority of the world’s wealth.[27] In 2013, the 34 “advanced economies” of the world (including the G7, the euro area nations, and Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea) were surpassed for the first time by the other 150 nations of the world referred to as “emerging” or “developing” economies.[28]

Thus, while the American-Western Empire may be more globally expansive – or technologically advanced – than ever before, the world has itself become much more complicated to rule, with the ‘rise’ of the East (namely, China and India), and increased unrest across the globe. As Zbigniew Brzezinski noted in 2009, the world’s most powerful states “face a novel reality: while the lethality of their military might is greater than ever, their capacity to impose control over the politically awakened masses of the world is at a historic low. To put it bluntly: in earlier times, it was easier to control one million people than to physically kill one million people; today, it is infinitely easier to kill one million people than to control one million people.”[29]

Notes

[1] George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language,” 1946.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Andrew Gavin Marshall, “Austerity, Adjustment, and Social Genocide: Political Language and the European Debt Crisis,” Andrewgavinmarshall.com, 24 July 2012:

http://andrewgavinmarshall.com/2012/07/24/austerity-adjustment-and-social-genocide-political-language-and-the-european-debt-crisis/

[6] Seumas Milne, “‘US foreign policy is straight out of the mafia’,” The Guardian, 7 November 2009:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/nov/07/noam-chomsky-us-foreign-policy

[7] Andrew Gavin Marshall, “Economic Warfare and Strangling Sanctions: Punishing Iran for its “Defiance” of the United States,” Andrewgavinmarshall.com, 6 March 2012:

http://andrewgavinmarshall.com/2012/03/06/economic-warfare-and-strangling-sanctions-punishing-iran-for-its-defiance-of-the-united-states/

[8] Ibid.

[9] Edward Cuddy, “America’s Cuban Obsession: A Case Study in Diplomacy and Psycho-History,” The Americas (Vol. 43, No. 2, October 1986), page 192.

[10] Fred Iklé and Albert Wohlstetter, Discriminate Deterrence (Report of the Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy), January 1988, page 13.

[11] Ibid, page 14.

[12] Maureen Dowd, “WAR IN THE GULF: White House Memo; Bush Moves to Control War’s Endgame,” The New York Times, 23 February 1991:

http://www.nytimes.com/1991/02/23/world/war-in-the-gulf-white-house-memo-bush-moves-to-control-war-s-endgame.html?src=pm

[13] Stanley Hoffmann, Samuel Huntington, et. al., “Vietnam Reappraised,” International Security (Vol. 6, No. 1, Summer 1981), page 14.

[14] National Security Strategy of the United States (The White House, March 1990), page 13.

[15] Zbigniew Brzezinski, “The Cold War and its Aftermath,” Foreign Affairs (Vol. 71, No. 4, Fall 1992), page 37.

[16] George F. Kennan, “Review of Current Trends U.S. Foreign Policy,” Report by the Policy Planning Staff, 24 February 1948.

[17] Andrew Gavin Marshall, “The U.S. Strategy to Control Middle Eastern Oil: “One of the Greatest Material Prizes in World History”,” Andrewgavinmarshall.com, 2 March 2012:

http://andrewgavinmarshall.com/2012/03/02/the-u-s-strategy-to-control-middle-eastern-oil-one-of-the-greatest-material-prizes-in-world-history/

[18] Andrew Gavin Marsha, “Egypt Under Empire, Part 2: The ‘Threat’ of Arab Nationalism,” The Hampton Institute, 23 July 2013:

http://www.hamptoninstitution.org/egyptunderempireparttwo.html#.UjTzKbxQ0bd

[19] Ibid.

[20] Andrew Gavin Marshall, “The American Empire in Latin America: “Democracy” is a Threat to “National Security”,” Andrewgavinmarshall.com, 14 December 2011:

http://andrewgavinmarshall.com/2011/12/14/the-american-empire-in-latin-america-democracy-is-a-threat-to-national-security/

[21] Nils Petter Gleditsch, Peter Wallensteen, Mikael Eriksson, Maragreta Sollenberg, and Havard Strand, “Armed Conflict 1946-2001: A New Dataset,” Journal of Peace Research (Vol. 39, No. 5, September 2002), page 620.

[22] Ibid, page 624.

[23] Jeffrey Pickering and Emizet F. Kisangani, “The International Military Intervention Dataset: An Updated Resource for Conflict Scholars,” Journal of Peace Research (Vol. 46, No. 4, July 2009), pages 596-598.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Robert Kagan, “US share is still about a quarter of global GDP,” The Financial Times, 7 February 2012:

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/d655dd52-4e9f-11e1-ada2-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2euUZAiCV

[27] Chris Giles and Kate Allen, “Southeastern shift: The new leaders of global economic growth,” The Financial Times, 4 June 2013:

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/b0bd38b0-ccfc-11e2-9efe-00144feab7de.html?siteedition=intl#axzz2euUZAiCV

[28] David Yanofsky, “For The First Time Ever, Combined GDP Of Poor Countries Exceeds That Of Rich Ones,” The Huffington Post, 29 August 2013:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/28/gdp-poor-countries_n_3830396.html

[29] Zbigniew Brzezinski, “Major Foreign Policy Challenges for the Next US President,” International Affairs, 85: 1, (2009), page 54.

A False Choice For The Ages – Capitalism Or The Environment: On A Dying Planet You Can’t Have Both

In Uncategorized on October 8, 2013 at 11:40 am

https://theoldspeakjournal.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/698e1-cap_env.jpgOldspeak: “The capitalist drive to maximize profits explains the externalizing of environmental costs. Capitalism allows small minorities to profit at the expense of others. Private ownership of what are social means of livelihood allows capitalists to make decisions that pass the real costs of industry to communities, workers, future generations and other species… Worse, capitalism requires constant growth because it always needs more profit. Making ever more profit is what motivates people to make investments. But what happens when the environment needs a smaller human footprint? When, at least in wealthier countries, we must learn to live with much less stuff? Supporters of capitalism claim the system is based on freedom and choice, but when it comes to the environment for many people this amounts to the freedom to choose between destroying the planet or having a job…. The business pages are full of stories quoting the captains of the carbon-industrial complex as telling us what amounts to: “You must choose between economic prosperity and what is good for the environment, because you can’t have both.”…some so-called environmentalists look to capitalism for solutions. That’s like asking the fox to fix the hen-house. You can’t be a serious environmentalist and support capitalism. A sustainable economy is incompatible with a system that constantly demands more profit.” –Gary Engler

“How do we free ourselves from the ruthlessly cannibalistic drives of our hyper-violent, destructive and unsustainable economic system & choose the life of our planet, and by extension, us, over the extractive, exploitative, real cost externalizing, computer generated “profit” generating machine that is Capitalism? A fellow blogger over at Cyber Street Soap Co.  has the idea OSJ has been advocating for years- Withdraw your support for it. When they says “…freedom must be built from the inside out, starting with yourself. It cannot be done by sitting in your comfy home “truthing” about our evil rulers. It can’t even be done by standing around with a sign, after which you will probably return to your comfy home feeling all proud of yourself, then go back to your shit corporate job because you “need the money.” Sorry, but this just won’t work….As long as you keep laboring for their corporations to get some of their money, so you can continue buying their products in their fucking stores… nothing will change. Period. If you continue obeying their laws and seeking their permission, nothing will change. But if enough of us stop playing into their system, real things will happen. Not one shot needs to be fired. Not one fist needs to be raised in violence (or even protest) against our leaders. If you stop watering the plant, the plant will wither away. Simple.” -Bradely Durden. We have no choice. We simply cannot continue to support a system that is slowing and surely destroying us and our planet. Planet must trump “profit” and “growth”. We must make the environment and its continued sustainablility the center of our economic system. “we must hardwire the health of the ecosystem directly to the standard measurements of economic health so that the state of the environment is immediately visible in all economic transactions. Global finance, trade and investment must all be conducted within a system that makes the preservation of the climate, rather than profit, the highest priority. One possible approach is the introduction of a global “eco-currency.” The international community would establish an international currency, an “eco-currency,” whose value is linked directly to the state of the climate (both globally and locally) and that currency would serve either as a universal currency within which international transactions take place, or it could be a factor that significantly impacts all the global currencies.” –Emanuel Pastreich. The end of the world as we know it is the only possible outcome if we continue on this omnicidal course. There is no Capitalism on a dead planet.” -OSJ

By Gary Engler @ Dissident Voice:

If all you care about is making more stuff, capitalism may be the best system ever. But if you want to save the planet from environmental catastrophe our current economic system is a dead end.

I remember in my socialist youth often being told: “Your ideas sound good but that’s just not how things work in real life.”

In my socialist sixties these same words seem appropriate as an analysis of mainstream environmentalism today.

Here is the harsh reality:

The capitalist drive to maximize profits explains the externalizing of environmental costs. Capitalism allows small minorities to profit at the expense of others. Private ownership of what are social means of livelihood allows capitalists to make decisions that pass the real costs of industry to communities, workers, future generations and other species.

Worse, capitalism requires constant growth because it always needs more profit. Making ever more profit is what motivates people to make investments. But what happens when the environment needs a smaller human footprint? When, at least in wealthier countries, we must learn to live with much less stuff?

All the evidence shows capitalism is really lousy at dealing with declining markets. Every time the economy shrinks for a sustained period capitalism goes into a crisis. Banks crash, unemployment rises and wars are often necessary to get capitalism out of its crisis.

Supporters of capitalism claim the system is based on freedom and choice, but when it comes to the environment for many people this amounts to the freedom to choose between destroying the planet or having a job. The promoters of tar sands, fracking, coal mining and pipelines are explicit about this and, in fact, go even further. The business pages are full of stories quoting the captains of the carbon-industrial complex as telling us what amounts to: “You must choose between economic prosperity and what is good for the environment, because you can’t have both.”

If we continue with capitalism, they are correct.

Yet some so-called environmentalists look to capitalism for solutions. That’s like asking the fox to fix the hen house. You can’t be a serious environmentalist and support capitalism. A sustainable economy is incompatible with a system that constantly demands more profit.

Now that the human population has passed seven billion, it should be obvious that we inhabit a planet of finite resources. But population growth is not the problem. Human energy remains our most precious and underutilized resource. Once basic material needs for food, clothing, housing and health care have been met, human well-being depends less on consumption than on opportunities for education, employment, social participation and social recognition.

Science leaves little reasonable doubt that the burning of currently known reserves of coal, oil and natural gas will push atmospheric carbon dioxide levels past a tipping point, after which rising global temperatures will irreversibly undermine the conditions on which human life as we know it depends.

Despite the weight of evidence and the urgency of the problem, capitalism rests on the expansion of fossil fuel production and use.

Around the planet trillions of dollars are being spent to develop massive deposits of shale oil and gas. In Canada capitalist investment is focused on expanding oil production from tar sands. The promoters claim that these developments will create jobs. But the funds required to develop and transport that fuel will create far fewer jobs than would be produced if equivalent amounts were spent on the development of solar, wind and geothermal power. Far more jobs could be produced with investments in domestic employment for domestic markets, in the production and distribution of local agriculture, clothing, shoes and communications products. More jobs would be created by investments in child care, elder care, social housing, public transit and other green infrastructure.

But capitalism prefers investments in fossil fuels because corporate profits now largely depend on cheap fuel. Equivalent profits cannot be made meeting actual human needs.

So, we have some important choices to make: Support capitalism or support the environment. Build a different sort of economic system that can prosper in harmony with the environment or fiddle with capitalism as our planet burns.

Gary Engler is an elected union officer and co-author of the just released New Commune-ist Manifesto — Workers of the World It Really is Time to Unite, an updating of the original designed to provoke discussion about the future of unions and the Left. Read other articles by Gary.

Scientists Warn ‘Mass Extinction’ In Seas May Be Underway

In Uncategorized on October 7, 2013 at 8:28 pm

Oldspeak: “Humankind faces an immediate and pressing choice between exerting ecological restraint and allowing global ecological catastrophe….as with terrestrial ecosystems, humankind has been expanding the natural capital of the ocean with little restraint…. although concealed beneath the waves, the evidence of wholesale degradation and destruction of the marine realm is clear, made manifest by the collapse of entire fisheries and the growth of deoxygenated dead zones, for example. The cumulative result of our actions is a serial decline in the ocean’s health and resilience; it is becoming demonstrably less able to survive the pressures exerted upon it, and this will become even more evident as the added pressures of climate change exacerbate the situation…The belief among scientists is that the window of opportunity to take action is narrow. There is little time left in which we can still act to prevent irreversible, catastrophic changes to marine ecosystems as we see them today…. Failure to do so will cause such large-scale changes to the ocean, and to the overall planetary system it supports, that we may soon find ourselves without the natural capital and ecosystem services necessary to maintain sustainable economies and societies as we know them, even in affluent countries…Without significant changes in the policies that influence human interactions with the marine environment, the current rate of ecosystem change and collapse will accelerate and direct consequences will be felt by all societies. Without decisive and effective action, no region or country will be immune from the socioeconomic upheaval and environmental catastrophe that will take place – possibly within the span of the current generation and certainly by the end of the century. It is likely to be a disaster that challenges human civilisation” –International Programme on the State of the Ocean Report (2013)

This is no small thing. The scientists note that each of the earth’s five known mass extinctions was preceded by at least one of the “deadly trio”—acidification, warming and deoxygenation—and said they fear that “the next mass extinction” of sea life is already underway, the first in some 55 million years.” –Scott Martelle

“The Situation couldn’t be more clear. The “deadly trio”  that preceded all other mass extinctions are in full bloom across the globe There is a very narrow window for possibly averting global ecological catastrophe. Yet if you spend any time watching fossil fuel and bankster corporation financed infotainement outlets, the wholly manufactured crises of ” U.S. Government “Shutdown” (except for 90% of military personnel btw) and “debt ceiling debate” are the most dire threats to humanity. And still we ever more “drill baby drill” permanently destroying countless watersheds. Untold species of life going extinct. Less oxygen in the seas and air than pre-industrial times as we relentlessly cut down the ancient forests that clean our air for paper to blow our noses and wipe our asses. This is not sustainable. Seems like substantive change will not come until it’s far too late to matter” -OSJ

Related Story:

Life Or Death in the Open Seas

By Scott Martelle @ Truthdig:

Remember the articles about how the ocean was absorbing more carbon and heat, giving us a slight reprieve from the effects of global warming? Not so good for the ocean, it turns out. Scientists from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean warn in a new report that the seas are changing much more rapidly than previously thought, and becoming increasingly inhospitable to life.

The ocean is shielding us from the worst effects of accelerating climate change by absorbing excess CO2 and heat from the atmosphere. The twin effects of this — acidification and ocean warming — are combining with increased levels of deoxygenation, caused by nutrient run-off from agriculture near the coast, and by climate change offshore, to produce what has become known as the ocean’s ‘deadly trio’ of threats whose impacts are potentially far greater because of the interaction of one on another. The scale and rate of this change is unprecedented in Earth’s known history and is exposing organisms to intolerable and unpredictable evolutionary pressure.

This is no small thing. The scientists note that each of the earth’s five known mass extinctions was preceded by at least one of the “deadly trio”—acidification, warming and deoxygenation—and said they fear that “the next mass extinction” of sea life is already underway, the first in some 55 million years. Given the role of the ocean in the worldwide ecosystem, from the plankton that absorb sun energy to the fish we eat—more about that in a moment—the rapid poisoning of the seas will have grave consequences for nearly all species. “These impacts will have cascading consequences for marine biology, including altered food web dynamics and the expansion of pathogens,” the report said.

Some of these conclusions were contained in a 2011 IPSO report, but the new one says the changes underway are occurring at a much faster and more intense rate than previously believed.

And then there’s the overfishing and poor fisheries management to add another stressor to the biological health of the seas:

Continued overfishing is serving to further undermine the resilience of ocean systems, and contrary to some claims, despite some improvements largely in developed regions, fisheries management is still failing to halt the decline of key species and damage to the ecosystems on which marine life depends. In 2012 the UN FAO determined that 70% of world fish populations are unsustainably exploited, of which 30% have biomass collapsed to less than 10% of unfished levels. A recent global assessment of compliance with Article 7 (fishery management) of the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, awarded 60% of countries a “fail” grade, and saw no country identified as being overall “good.”

They offer some potential steps to lessen the impact, but given the lack of international response to the looming ecological crisis, don’t expect much action in this issue, either. Still, the scientists says the world community should:

—Cut global carbon dioxide emissions enough to limit the global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius. They note that “current targets for carbon emission reductions are insufficient in terms of ensuring coral reef survival and other biological effects of acidification.” And they say that current models don’t include added effects on the atmosphere from methane release from a melted permafrost and coral dieback, which “mean the consequences for human and ocean life could be even worse than presently calculated.”

—Emphasize small-scale fisheries, seek regional cooperation for management of shared environments and ban “destructive fishing gear” with laws that are enforced.

—“Build a global infrastructure for high seas governance that is fit-for-purpose. Most importantly, secure a new implementing agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction under the auspices of” the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.