Saturday, November 18, 2017

Is 2018 Our Year of Reckoning?

People out this way realize that the earthquake called the "Big One" could arrive any day. We've heard the seismologists tell us that we're probably overdue for that once every three to four centuries temblor that will rock the Cascadia subduction zone. It's expected to be an order of magnitude greater than the worst that can hit the San Andreas fault.

In 2015, Kathryn Schulz scared the bejesus out of a lot of people in the Pacific Northwest with her article in The New Yorker, "The Really Big One."  If you're in a mood for the willies, do read it.

Ever mindful of Ms. Schulz' fine article, my attention was snagged by this headline in The Guardian, "Upsurge in big earthquakes predicted for 2018 as Earth rotation slows." It seems there's some direct correlation between a slowing of the planet's rotation and a slew of really big earthquakes. Who knew?

Scientists have warned there could be a big increase in numbers of devastating earthquakes around the world next year. They believe variations in the speed of Earth’s rotation could trigger intense seismic activity, particularly in heavily populated tropical regions.

The link between Earth’s rotation and seismic activity was highlighted last month in a paper by Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado in Boulder and Rebecca Bendick of the University of Montana in Missoula presented at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America.

“The correlation between Earth’s rotation and earthquake activity is strong and suggests there is going to be an increase in numbers of intense earthquakes next year,” Bilham told the Observer last week.

“It is straightforward,” said Bilham. “The Earth is offering us a five-year heads-up on future earthquakes.”

George Monbiot Attacks the Predator State

Watch this and see if you can spot anything that resembles what's going on in our own country?

Think of it as terminal stage neoliberalism, the gutting of the state itself and the hiving off of its national wealth to the richest of the rich. James Galbraith explores how it all ends in his book about America, "The Predator State." It's worth a read.

What's That Smell? What's Burning?

I've been devoting a bit of extra time lately to the endless hot mess also known as the Middle East. To put it simply, hash is not being settled.

If there's a term for the Muslim world these days it has to be SNAFU. Situation Normal, All F#@ked Up.  Remember Gulf War I, Operation Desert Storm? That kicked off in August, 1990, getting the west sucked in. Before that there were other, more localized wars. Israel's various wars with its neighbours. The Iran-Iraq war that ran from 1980 to 1988. For a variety of reasons those folks just cannot get along and, with that in mind, we decided 27 years ago that we'd take a shot at it too. Guess who's still there, still at it? EVERYBODY, including us. Now the Russians are back in and China has feelers into the region, the new Silk Road stuff, aka the Belt and Road initiative.

The Saudis are more worrisome than ever. There's been a "reverse" palace coup with the crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman, rounding up his cousins and putting them under arrest for corruption. This is the same, non-corrupt, bin Salman who, while on holiday, spied a yacht belonging to, I believe, an Italian guy and bought it from him on the spot for about $450-million, telling the former owner to clear out that same day.

The Saud I most closely follow is prince Bandar bin Sultan, agitator extraordinaire, former ambassador to the US and close personal friend of the Bush family who sometimes called him "Bandar Bush." Bandar was also implicated in the British Aerospace bribery scandal surrounding years of sales of jet fighters to Syria.

That mess in Syria? That looks like a lot of it might have been Bandar's doing. He was not happy when Obama rejected his demand (not request, demand) that the US send a large ground force into Syria to topple Assad.  Bandar threatened to raise, train and equip his own Sunni army in the deserts of Jordan which, it's thought, manifested in the Islamist jihadi group, al Nusra. Some have tied Bandar to ISIS as well.

Shortly before he retired as head of MI6 in 2004, Sir Richard Dearlove received a courtesy call from Bandar. During the small talk, prince Bandar dropped a bombshell on Sir Richard.

Prince Bandar told him: "The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally 'God help the Shia'. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them."

There is no doubt about the accuracy of the quote by Prince Bandar, secretary-general of the Saudi National Security Council from 2005 and head of General Intelligence between 2012 and 2014, the crucial two years when al-Qa'ida-type jihadis took over the Sunni-armed opposition in Iraq and Syria. Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute last week, Dearlove, who headed MI6 from 1999 to 2004, emphasised the significance of Prince Bandar's words, saying that they constituted "a chilling comment that I remember very well indeed".

He does not doubt that substantial and sustained funding from private donors in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to which the authorities may have turned a blind eye, has played a central role in the Isis surge into Sunni areas of Iraq. He said: "Such things simply do not happen spontaneously." This sounds realistic since the tribal and communal leadership in Sunni majority provinces is much beholden to Saudi and Gulf paymasters, and would be unlikely to cooperate with Isis without their consent.

And, in case you're a bit confused, there is only one Saudi Arabia and, yes, it's the same one that the current government, like the previous government, considers Canada's ally.  Go figure, eh?

Things change. Bandar appears to be under lock and key. Crown prince Salman says he's going to reform Saudi Arabia including getting rid of radical Wahhabism. He's also planning to get the family out of the oil business. 

One thing that hasn't changed is that he's still out to get Iran and the Shia. 

The CBC's Michael Coren is just one of a variety of journalists and foreign policy types who have been recently warning that the next big Middle Eastern war is looming and it will be ugly.

The next war in the north [Lebanon] will likely involve prolonged artillery attacks followed by massive infantry and tank infiltration. It will not be pretty. And it's likely to happen sooner rather than later, and directly or indirectly involve Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and even Russia.

There are several factors to consider. First, in September, IDF's Northern Command conducted its largest military exercise in 20 years, involving tens of thousands of troops, tanks, aircraft and even the navy. Such planning takes an incredibly large amount of time and the manoeuvres themselves are extraordinarily costly.

The imagined enemy was Hezbollah. Israel has also attacked Syrian positions several times in recent months, partly to remind Damascus who is the boss of the block, but also to test how they will respond. Syria has always regarded Lebanon as a virtual province and Israel is determined to teach it — and Hezbollah — a lesson, and to reassert its authority.

Second, the Sunni superpower of Saudi Arabia is in an increasingly hot war with the Shia world and in particular, Iran. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is heir to the throne and while young, he is the effective ruler of the country. He's economically progressive, internationally connected and determined to modernize the country and also have it throw its weight around.

The civil war in Yemen, for example, is now almost three years old and had led to the deaths of at least 5,000 civilians, many of them children. Saudi Arabia backs the government, in particular with its air force, while Iran supports the Houthi rebels.

Coren's take seems feasible and it's more or less consistent with the recently expressed views of others how an Israeli war on Lebanon would end, assuming that it did end? What of the Sunnis and the Shia? Saudi Arabia versus Iran. What of Assad's Syria and a rehabilitated Shiite regime in Baghdad? How do the combatants keep one war from bleeding into another? What of Russia and China? And if prince Salman is really intent on wiping out radical Sunni Islamism, how will he deal with the jihadis after he turns on them?

It strikes me that the Middle East is on the verge of slipping from SNAFU into full contact FUBAR. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Sorry, But That's Not What I See in the Picture

Did Al Franken really grope Leeann Tweeden's breasts as she now claims? I don't buy it.

She concluded that he groped her based on a photo that she later saw.  Here's the pic.

What do you see in the picture? That's definitely Al Franken and that appears to be Ms. Tweeden. She's wearing a standard kevlar helmet and a ballistic vest. Franken is posing for the person who took the photograph, yukking it up. He's posing for a picture. Does that mean he's groping the woman? No, it doesn't.

Now you might imagine that Franken is posing for a photograph evidencing himself committing a sexual offence. What he's doing is obviously in atrociously bad taste. That, however, is not the same as groping the woman.

Can  a woman's breast even be groped through a bulletproof vest? And if he did that, how would she not wake up? Enlarge the photo. His left hand is plainly not in contact with the vest and the shadows beneath the fingers of the right hand suggest that hand isn't in contact with the vest either. So his hands aren't in contact with the ballistic vest, she didn't feel any such contact, she didn't wake up either. Only later, on seeing the picture, did she conclude that she had been fondled.

What Franken did was extremely stupid but it was not groping. Groping is sexual. Sexual assault isn't done for the sake of a photograph, something that could leave you in criminal jeopardy.

On the strength of this photo I'm not convinced that he groped this woman. Now, if other women come forward with complaints that they were sexually assaulted by Franken, those additional allegations would probably change my mind. Until that happens I think he's just a boneheaded lout.


Well, well, well. Perhaps the aggrieved Ms. Tweeden figured the rest of the USO tour photos wouldn't come out. Unfortunately for her they did and they don't bear out her story, the poor, innocent thing.  Far from being traumatized by Franken's sexual abuse they were getting on very well indeed.

And there was groping that, by today's standards, would constitute sexual assault. That occurred when Tweeden groped a guitarist's ass on stage.

She sure got herself a mittful of butt.  You go girl.

As for the offending kiss, well it seems she had no problem wrapping herself around Franken either.

My take? I think the local morning news anchor had a chance to get on the national networks and took it. She made up the stuff about Franken groping her breasts and exaggerated the business about the kiss although she didn't hesitate to grope a guy's ass while she was at it.

Canada Won't Kill Its Own

Canada will not kill off Canadian jihadis who fought for ISIS to keep them from ever re-entering Canada.

That might not surprise most Canadians but what makes it notable is that the U.S., Britain, France, Australia and perhaps others intend to hunt down and execute their own nationals who joined ISIS in Syria.

Even the interviewer seemed surprised at the answer Rory Stewart, the U.K. minister of international development, gave about how Britain should deal with citizens who chose to leave the country to join ISIS.

"I'm afraid we have to be serious about the fact these people are a serious danger to us, and unfortunately the only way of dealing with them will be, in almost every case, to kill them," Stewart told BBC Radio's John Pienaar last month.

Stewart, a former diplomat, continued: "These are people who are executing people … who have held women and children hostage, who are torturing and murdering, trying, by violence, to impose their will. Our response has to be, when somebody does that, I'm afraid, to deal with that."

The Sunday Times reports that Britain's Special Air Service, SAS, has been given a "kill list" of British jihadis, including notorious ISIS recruiter and convert Sally Jones, and a dozen others with British university degrees in technical fields such as electronics.

Brett McGurk, former U.S. president Barack Obama's special envoy for the fight against ISIS, who retains his post under Donald Trump, stated it explicitly on a recent visit to Syria. "Our mission is to make sure that any foreign fighter who is here, who joined ISIS from a foreign country and came into Syria, that they will die here in Syria."

"They're not just talking about it," said Christian Leuprecht, an expert on terrorism and security at Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont. "Australia is another country that's taken the same approach — that they would prefer that those individuals who've been identified as foreign fighters not return home."

France, too, is working to eradicate its jihadis overseas. A Wall Street Journal investigation published in May quoted French and Iraqi officials describing French special forces co-operating with Iraqi units to hunt down and kill French jihadis.

The federal government doesn't seem to know what to do other than issue assurances they'll try to keep an eye on any of the 200 to 240 Canadian jihadis who went to the Middle East to join ISIS.

Goodale said anyone who poses a terrorist risk, homegrown or from elsewhere, is viewed "with the greatest of seriousness" by Canada's intelligence, security and police agencies.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said his department's job is ensuring foreign fighters don't become a threat.

"We will make sure that we put every type of resource into place so Canadians are well protected," he told a crowd at the Halifax International Security Forum on Friday.

Since Canada isn't targeting jihadis on the battlefield or successfully convicting them in court, says Leuprecht, "the third option is that they just show up and live peacefully ever after. Or not so peacefully."

Leuprecht says deradicalization programs are highly controversial and there is little empirical evidence that they work. In any case, Canada doesn't have such a program.

It's Time to Consign GDP to the Rubbish Bin of History

GDP as a measure of national progress has become a lie. Today growth isn't progress. It's theft. It's a practice of robbing the future to maximize activity today. Heading toward the edge of a cliff is not progress no matter how much faster you're going.

Exceeding your one and only biosphere's ecological capacity is not progress. We've been "growing" ever since the early 70s when we first began exceeding our planet's ecological carrying capacity but only by resorting to conjuring tricks. We've grown our populations by rapidly growing our food production through the use of excessive irrigation plus chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides but, in the process, we've been rapidly degrading our farmland to the point that the UN Food and Agriculture Organization warns we've got no more than 60 harvests left. Where is the progress in that? Future generations will need arable farmland but to meet our demands today we will deny them their future.  Where is the progress in that?

Today's Deutsche Welle looks at our lethal addiction to growth and explores our alternatives.

In 2017, Earth Overshoot Day — the date when humanity spent Earth's resource budget to live sustainably for the year — fell on August 2. In 1987, it landed on December 9. Today, we need 1.7 planets to meet our consumption demands — and that number could rise to two planets by 2030.

Unless we get that growth under control, not only will we be facing an "ecosystem collapse" due to the loss of species and conversion of land for industry and agriculture, we won't be able to stop global warming, according to some economists.

"The Paris commitments are unlikely to be met if we continue with growth of the economy," said Philip Lawn, a senior lecturer in environmental economics at Flinders University in Australia. Solving the climate crisis and continuing with economic business as usual are "incompatible" and "delusional," he added.


In the US and Europe, the idea of "degrowth" — a movement around downsizing production and consumption, and moving the economy away from infinite expansion in a just and equitable way — is gaining traction.

That's partly because of the growing gap between rich and poor. Part of the problem is that we measure society's economic progress and well-being using Gross Domestic Product (GDP), say some economists.

GDP measures the market value of all final goods and services produced in a country but ignores things like high unemployment and negative impacts on the environment that growth may have, such as increased air pollution. (Not everyone agrees with this assessment, of course.)

Economists like Lawn advocate using a measure called the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), which takes a variety of indicators into account related to economic, social and environmental progress.

In a number of industrialized countries, GDP has soared, while GPI has stagnated or declined. Take Australia. In the 1950s and 1960s, GPI and GDP largely went up together but since the 1970s, GDP has taken off while GPI declined significantly.

A point comes when growing the material welfare of a country doesn't increase the material welfare of the individual, said Lawn. At this point, growth should stabilize and there should be an emphasis on managing resources, distributing wealth more equitably and improving goods.

"Steady State" or "Full Earth" economics is based on shrinking economic activity until it is a subset of the environment. We have strayed far past our planet's ecological carrying capacity over the past forty years and reality is beginning to catch up with us and it's frightening. There aren't many who want to reduce their perceived standard of living but it's not a matter of choice. We either return to the limits of the biosphere and do it on our own terms or we'll be driven back and that won't be on our terms.

The important part of steady state economics is that, while it restrains consumption and production along with population at roughly sustainable levels, it still accommodates growth - not in GDP but growth in knowledge and quality of life.

The Bottomless Abyss that is Brexit

Will parliamentary democracy be the first/worst victim of Brexit. Curiously enough both The Economist and George Monbiot think that's quite possible.

First up, The Economist:

BRITAIN should have been better placed than any other country to fight off the populist fever that is spreading around the world. The House of Commons is one of the oldest representative institutions on Earth. The country’s last violent revolution was in the middle of the 17th century.

Far from fighting off the virus of populism, Britain is becoming its most surprising victim. British politicians may look civilised compared with, say, Hungary’s Viktor Orban or America’s Donald Trump. But Mr Orban rules a country that has been scarred by communism and Mr Trump is hedged in by checks and balances galore. Americans will be rid of Mr Trump by 2021 or 2025. The Brexit referendum will continue to shape British politics for decades to come.

Britain has succumbed to the populist virus because it decided to apply the most powerful tool in the populist toolbox—the referendum—to the most profound question in British political economy—its relationship with its main political and economic partner. The subsequent debate pitted Britain’s entire ruling class, from the leaders of the three main political parties to the heads of multinational companies, against a ragbag army of rebels, troublemakers and mavericks. By voting Leave, the British not only elected to change their relationship with the European Union but also to reorder their political system.

The most visible result of this reordering is the chaos of daily politics. Since the referendum two of Britain’s three main parties have lost their leaders, Theresa May has fought a botched election, the cabinet has been paralysed by infighting and Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s hard-left leader, has become prime-minister-in-waiting. The less visible result is a constitutional revolution. Before the referendum, Parliament was sovereign (though, as Brexiteers rightly pointed out, the EU kept encroaching on that sovereignty). Now, for the first time in Britain’s long parliamentary history, most MPs feel obliged to vote for a policy that they oppose—in other words, to give in to a populist revolution. Three-quarters of MPs voted for Remain. Only two parties, with a combined total of nine MPs—the UK Independence Party with one and the Democratic Unionists with eight—supported Brexit. Still, the chances of Parliament scuppering the withdrawal are small.

The strongest justification of the referendum is that it was a one-off vote to settle the vexed constitutional question of Britain’s relationship with the EU: once Britain has reasserted its independence, the sovereignty of Parliament will be restored and populism contained. This is wishful thinking. If Britain withdraws from the EU, the economic shock will be profound. Those who will suffer most will be the very people who voted for Brexit as a cry of defiance (the depreciation of sterling since the referendum has already disproportionately hit the lowest-paid, by pushing up the price of food and fuel). Meanwhile, if Parliament somehow scuppers the process, there could be riots in the streets.

George Monbiot sees a post-Brexit Britain in danger of losing its national identity and becoming easy pickings for authoritarian rule.

So what is this country we are asked to love? This might once have been an easy question to answer. National identity was built around a range of institutions, considered to represent the national interest. Rebellion against them was characterised as treason. But one by one, these institutions have been subverted from within.

We were promised that in leaving the EU we would regain our sovereignty. But in abandoning an association based on equal standing, we expose ourselves to coercion by other nations. Our relationship with the US, especially under the stewardship of the trade secretary Liam Fox, is likely to look like that of servant and master.

So what remains, to which we might attach ourselves? In countries with a strong cultural sense of nationhood, the question is less pressing. But in the UK as a whole and England in particular, almost every cultural reference point is poorly defined, weak and contested. All that remain as widely shared, commonly accepted sources of national pride are our public services: the NHS, the BBC, the education system, social security, our great libraries and museums. But all have been gutted, disciplined and undermined by those who roundly assert their patriotism.

When the enabling state, providing robust public services and a strong social safety net, is allowed to wither, what remains is the authoritarian state, which must coerce and frighten. Consider the decline of neighbourhood policing – essential for preventing crime and gathering intelligence on everything from vandalism to planned terror attacks – and its replacement with ever more draconian laws.

As the enabling state shrinks, the flags must be unfurled, the national anthem played, schoolchildren taught their kings and queens, and more elaborate pieties offered to dead soldiers, because nothing else is left with which to hold us together. National pride becomes toxic, and is used as a weapon against anyone who seeks to express their love for the country by reforming it. The institutions charged with defending the national interest become its deadly enemies.

Is It Fear?

After digesting yesterday's essay by UBC prof William Rees about how humanity is suffocating other forms of life on our planet, I was left wondering what they're afraid of, why aren't they talking to us about what is happening, right now, beneath our own feet?

As Rees pointed out, "We are clever enough to document — in exquisite detail — various trends that portend the collapse of modern civilization, yet not nearly smart enough to extricate ourselves from our self-induced predicament.

For a decade, perhaps a bit more, I've been covering one major report after another on research documenting the alarming collapse of non-human life - insect, mammals, birds, sea mammals, fish, the lot. Some species have fallen extinct but the worrisome problem is that virtually all species are in severe decline, often upwards of 66% of their numbers over the past 40 years which, of course, coincides with the advent of neoliberalism.

Even in Canada, everything from casual windshield “surveys” to formal scientific assessments show a drop in insect numbers. Meanwhile, domestic populations of many insect-eating birds are in freefall. Ontario has lost half its whip-poor-wills in the past 20 years; across the nation, such species as nighthawks, swallows, martins and fly-catchers are down by up to 75 per cent; Greater Vancouver’s barn and bank swallows have plummeted by 98 per cent since 1970. Heard much about these things in the mainstream news?

Scientists estimate that at the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago, H. sapienscomprised less than one per cent of the total weight of mammals on the planet. (There were probably only two to four million people on Earth at the time.) Since then, humans have grown to represent 35 per cent of a much larger total biomass; toss in domestic pets and livestock, and human domination of the world’s mammalian biomass rises to 98.5 per cent!

It took all of human history — let’s say 200,000 years — for our population to reach one billion in the early 1800s, but only 200 years, 1/1000th as much time, to hit today’s 7.6 billion! Meanwhile, material demand on the planet has ballooned even more — global GDP has increased by over 100-fold since 1800; average per capita incomes by a factor of 13. (rising to 25-fold in the richest countries). Consumption has exploded accordingly — half the fossil fuels and many other resources ever used by humans have been consumed in just the past 40 years.

As the Bonn climate summit wraps up it reveals how ineffectual our nations have become and why they'll never succeed in bringing climate change under control. They're still treating climate change as a standalone crisis. They imagine they're dealing with a disease but it's really just one of several symptoms of the greater threat that confronts us - ourselves.

You cannot take climate change in isolation of its companion threats that are also existential. Climate change cannot be separated from over-population and over-consumption of our planet's finite resources.  Rees pointed it out beautifully. It took our species 200,000 years to reach one billion and just another 200 years to increase that more than seven fold and, in the course of those same 200 years, GDP has swelled about a hundred fold. That's hundreds of times more production, more consumption, more waste, more pollution and contamination of every form imaginable. And what are our politicians doing? With their corporate partners they're obsessively pursuing perpetual, exponential growth. Every foot is on the gas pedal but nobody's hands are on the wheel.

That's not democratic leadership. That's nihilism.

They can't even respond to climate change beyond purely gestural proposals - carbon taxes. What exactly is that going to do? Nothing, it's a sop.

Rees didn't write an op-ed. He penned an essay. He wasn't expressing an opinion. He was writing from fact, scientific knowledge documented in "exquisite detail." His was not some dodgy belief-based construct. That's the crap peddled to us by our political caste, the nihilists.

Surely we have reached a point where you have to ask yourself why you're supporting and empowering nihilists. Why? The science has been pouring in for more than a decade. There's a mountain of research and analysis and it's compelling. 

What's your problem? Is it simply too much to take in? Can you not get your mind around the enormity of the change that has set in over just the past forty years? Do you, like our leaders, need to pretend this isn't happening or that it's not immediate or a mortal threat to our civilization?

Farewell to Nova Scotia?

Nova Scotia could become Canada's second island province thanks to climate change and sea level rise.

Mayor David Kogon of Amherst, N.S., said sea levels are projected to rise in the Bay of Fundy over 15 to 20 years to the point where the Isthmus of Chignecto will flood, even without a storm surge.

The isthmus is a narrow, low-lying strip of land that is about 20 kilometres at its narrowest point.

"If the Isthmus of Chignecto, which is all that connects Nova Scotia to New Brunswick, is flooded out, then Nova Scotia will be surrounded by water," said Kogon in an interview Thursday, adding that with the right storm the isthmus could flood sooner.

"If the highway and rail line are under water, you've completely cut Nova Scotia off from the rest of mainland Canada."

I know, I know, Newfoundland is also an island only it's Newfoundland and Labrador, right? Not the same thing.

Fossil Fuels Built the World's Biggest Sovereign Wealth Fund. Now Norway Wants to Ditch Fossils.

When it comes to fossil energy, Canadian politicians have been - well - f#@kups.  That's doubly true for those idiots in Alberta.

Way back when there was a Wild Rose premier who understood what Alberta had, how to realize the benefit of it and how to avoid the built-in perils. That gentleman was Peter Lougheed.

Lougheed knew that oil wealth was volatile. It was a boom and bust commodity that could, in cycles, overheat an economy and then collapse it. He advocated for slow, controlled development and for setting the riches aside to avoid overheating the economy.

After Lougheed left his successors followed their own path, let' er rip. And all the misery and woes that Lougheed had warned them about came to pass - again and again and again.

Across the Atlantic, the Viking crowd had heard Lougheed's words and took them to heart.  Norway began to manage its North Sea oil reserves according to Lougheed's formula. They treated their oil bounty for what it was, a windfall that belonged to all Norse, today and into the future. And so little Norway came to own the world's largest sovereign wealth fund, today in excess of a trillion dollars.

Now, seeking to safeguard that mountain of cash, Norway's sovereign wealth fund is moving to divest many billions in oil and gas stocks. Norway, it seems, realizes this Carbon Bubble is going to burst and doesn't want to be around for the big pop.

Wow, first it was the Saudis who announced plans to sell off Aramco and now Norway wants out.

Norway, which relies on oil and gas for about a fifth of economic output, would be less vulnerable to declining crude prices without its fund investing in the industry, the central bank said Thursday. The divestment would mark the second major step in scrubbing the world's biggest wealth fund of climate risk, after it sold most of its coal stocks.

"Our perspective here is to spread the risks for the state's wealth," Egil Matsen, the deputy central bank governor overseeing the fund, said in an interview in Oslo. "We can do that better by not adding oil-price risk."

Imagine if we could write the next two paragraphs about Ottawa and Alberta:

Built on the income that western Europe's largest energy supplier has generated for more than 20 years, the fund's investment decisions are guided by ethical rules encompassing human rights, some weapons production, the environment and tobacco. Norway's fossil-fuel investments are coming under increasing scrutiny from a public that aims to be a climate leader without jeopardizing one of the world's highest standards of living.

The fund has doubled in value over the past five years and was just given the go-ahead to boost its stock holdings to 70 per cent of its portfolio from 60 per cent to help drive returns. The government, which also controls Statoil ASA and offshore oil and gas fields, was forced to withdrew cash from the fund for the first time last year to meet spending commitments after oil prices dropped.

If only but, of course, we can't. Alberta took the Mardi Gras route and now faces the very real risk of bitumen becoming a stranded asset leaving the provincial and federal governments holding the bag for the costs of cleaning up the environmental devastation known as Athabasca.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

It's Called "Competitive Displacement" And There Are No Winners.

Competitive displacement is what happens to native species when humans come to dominate an ecosystem. Those native species are displaced, often by way of extinction. William Rees, professor emeritus of human ecology at the University of British Columbia, says the already severe loss of biodiversity points to imminent environmental collapse.

A curious thing about H. sapiens is that we are clever enough to document — in exquisite detail — various trends that portend the collapse of modern civilization, yet not nearly smart enough to extricate ourselves from our self-induced predicament.

Even in Canada, everything from casual windshield “surveys” to formal scientific assessments show a drop in insect numbers. Meanwhile, domestic populations of many insect-eating birds are in freefall. Ontario has lost half its whip-poor-wills in the past 20 years; across the nation, such species as nighthawks, swallows, martins and fly-catchers are down by up to 75 per cent; Greater Vancouver’s barn and bank swallows have plummeted by 98 per cent since 1970. Heard much about these things in the mainstream news?

Too bad. Biodiversity loss may turn out to be the sleeper issue of the century. It is caused by many individual but interacting factors — habitat loss, climate change, intensive pesticide use and various forms of industrial pollution, for example, suppress both insect and bird populations. But the overall driver is what an ecologist might call the “competitive displacement” of non-human life by the inexorable growth of the human enterprise.

On a finite planet where millions of species share the same space and depend on the same finite products of photosynthesis, the continuous expansion of one species necessarily drives the contraction and extinction of others. (Politicians take note — there is always a conflict between human population/economic expansion and “protection of the environment.”)


One needs look no further to explain why wildlife populations globally have plunged by nearly 60 per cent in the past half century. Wild tigers have been driven from 93 per cent of their historic range and are down to fewer than 4,000 individuals globally; the population of African elephants has imploded by as much as 95 per cent to only 500,000 today; poaching drove black rhino numbers from an already much reduced 70,000 in 1960 to only 2,500 individuals in the early 1990s. (With intense conservation effort, they have since rebounded to about 5,000). And those who still think Canada is still a mostly pristine and under-populated wilderness should think again — half the wildlife species regularly monitored in this country are in decline, with an average population drop of 83 per cent since 1970. Did I mention that B.C.’s southern resident killer whale population is down to only 76 animals? That’s in part because human fishers have displaced the orcas from their favoured food, Chinook salmon, even as we simultaneously displace the salmon from their spawning streams through hydro dams, pollution and urbanization.

The human band-wagon may really have started rolling 10 millennia ago but the past two centuries of exponential growth greatly have accelerated the pace of change. It took all of human history — let’s say 200,000 years — for our population to reach one billion in the early 1800s, but only 200 years, 1/1000th as much time, to hit today’s 7.6 billion! Meanwhile, material demand on the planet has ballooned even more — global GDP has increased by over 100-fold since 1800; average per capita incomes by a factor of 13. (rising to 25-fold in the richest countries). Consumption has exploded accordingly — half the fossil fuels and many other resources ever used by humans have been consumed in just the past 40 years. (See graphs in: Steffen, W et al. 2015. The trajectory of the Anthropocene: The Great Acceleration. The Anthropocene Review, Volume: 2 Issue: 1, page(s): 81-98.)

Yes, our species is dominating the world but that doesn't mean we're winning, just that we may be the last losers in a human-driven extinction event. And don't look to your leaders for help. They're far more responsible than the rest of us for this. They have steered us on this nihilistic trajectory. And even Cap'n Selfie will not veer from this path. All he'll do is drag us ever nearer the edge.

Will doctor Reese's warning stir us to action? Of course not. His will just be the most recent and powerful warning to end up straight down the memory hole. I've been writing about this at least as far back as 2008. Here are some links - here and here and here and here and here. There are plenty more if you want to search this blog.

These reports and studies going back a decade and more confirm the professor's argument that humans are profoundly clever in documenting "in exquisite detail" this building trend toward collapse but "we're not nearly smart enough to extricate ourselves" from this nightmare of our own making.

WTF? Now It's "Pollution Denial"?

Remember those climate change deniers?  Well they may still find solace in the bosom of the CBC but by and large they're now thoroughly discredited. Although they seem to have found new territory to work their R.J. Reynolds magic. This time it's air pollution.

The meme goes like this, "Modern air is too clean." That clean air, just not good for you, nope. If you can't feel the very air you breathe, you're missing out. It's the very sort of thing that appeals to a deviant like Donald J. Trump.

Despite report after report linking air pollution to deterioration of the lungs, heart and brain, Prof Robert Phalen believes the air is “too clean” for children.

After all, everybody needs a bit of immune-system-boosting dirt in their lungs.

“Modern air is a little too clean for optimum health,” he told the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), one of the world’s largest scientific societies, in 2012.

“My most important role in science is causing trouble and controversy,” he added.

Now the director of the air pollution health effects laboratory at the University of California, Irvine, is set to be appointed as a scientific adviser by Donald Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

But Phalen isn’t alone. Pollution denial is starting to appear outside the US, in countries where the air is much more toxic.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Today in Extinction News

What a week it's been on the mass extinction front. It began with an official US delegation to the Bonn climate summit that tried to turn it into a fossil fuels trade show. Sort of like pushing cigarettes at a lung cancer symposium. All class, America. All class.

Then there was the report out of the International Energy Agency that concluded the United States will pass Saudi Arabia at its peak in the extraction and sale of gas and oil by 2025.  Washington has served notice. As far as the US and fossil fuels are concerned, it'll be burn baby, burn.

Now it's Brazil's turn in the dirty energy spotlight. It seems the Brazilians figure that old Carbon Bubble has to burst sometime and they want to get as much of their fossil fuel reserves on the market before that happens.

Brazil is planning a fire-sale of its oil resources before shrinking global carbon budgets push down demand and prices, environmental groups have warned.

The focus of concern is a government proposal for up to $300bn in tax relief to companies that develop offshore oilfields that opponents claim would use up 7% of humanity’s emission budget if global warming is to be kept below 2C.

Climate Observatory, WWF, Greenpeace and other groups say the subsidies could spark a get-it-out-of-the-ground race with fossil fuel rivals such as the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Norway and the UK.

The accusations contradict Brazil’s position at this week’s climate talks, where the country’s negotiators have urged the world to be more ambitious in cutting carbon emissions.

“The country is doing the exact opposite – increasing emissions and opening itself up to big oil with billionaire subsidies at a time when the country still tries to recover from its worst recession,” said Carlos Rittl, executive secretary of Climate Observatory.

Every Now and Then Justin Comes Through

A pleasant surprise from prime minister Justin Trudeau - he pissed off the gangster/president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte. Good one, Justin.

Trudeau said he told Duterte about the need for the rule of law in the Philippines, and also made a friendly offer of support to help the Philippines move forward.

Trudeau said Duterte — whose violent crackdown on drug dealers and drug users by his government’s forces have left thousands dead — was receptive to the comments during what the Canadian prime minister called a very cordial and positive exchange.

Duterte, however, seemed to remember it differently.

“I said, ‘I will not explain. It is a personal and official insult,’” he told a news conference later Tuesday of his discussion with Trudeau. “‘It angers me when you are a foreigner, you do not know what exactly is happening in this country. You don’t even investigate.’”

Relax Rodrigo, settle down. After all you made a new BFF, a guy who likes the cut of your jib, the Mango Mussolini himself.

Two Creepy Cops, Same Day

Look who is gracing the CBC web site this morning. Why it's those two creepy cops, Harper's own Julian Fantino and Toronto Police stalwart, James "Give'em the full clip" Forcillo.

Forcillo has been arrested for breaching his bail conditions.

Fantino is celebrated for cutting the ribbon on his new business - a marijuana shop. That's right, Julian the guy who equated legalizing pot with "legalizing murder" has seen the light and the light is green.

The two of them, they're just creepy.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Bannon Gets Buyer's Remorse

Steve Bannon couldn't get enough of Alabama Republican Roy Moore. Trump endorsed Moore's opponent, Luther Strange, for the Republican senate nomination but Bannon went for Moore. When the Moore scandal broke, the besotted Fenian attacked the Amazon/Bezos/Washington Post conspiracy to take down the Tea Party favourite, his boy Roy.

I pretty much knew all that anyone should need to know about Moore when I read that, as an army captain in Viet Nam, Moore had crafted himself a bed built of sandbags so his soldiers couldn't frag him while he slept. Then it turned out Moore wasn't leading his men up Hamburger Hill or the Ia Drang valley. They were a unit of MPs guarding Vietnamese prisoners or war who might or might not have been fighting for the north. They were REMFs, "rear echelon mother f#@kers" who must have had thoughts about offing Roy but not because he was going to lead them into insane risks in combat. Roy must've figured they wanted him to eat a frag grenade because he deserved to die - and Roy knew it.

Now all those women, five to date, have come out to accuse Repug Roy, of messing with underage kids. No, not exactly fuckin'em but giving them the Louis C.K. once-over. Molesting them a bit, no penetration.

Sean Hannity has rallied to Moore's side and his show's advertisers have drawn a line and decided to beat feet, following advertisers from previous fiascos.

And now, the curiously florid Steve Bannon, is getting cold feet. He's even seemingly contemplating where he'll bury the remains.

Bannon said late last week that "I will put him in a grave myself" if he finds that Moore lied to him about the accusations leveled against him in a Washington Post article. There's been no public reaction by Bannon to a press conference Monday held by a fifth woman who accused him of sexually assaulting her when she was 16 years old.

Initially, Bannon referred to the Washington Post's report as an orchestrated political attack. "The Bezos-Amazon-Washington Post that dropped that dime on Donald Trump, is the same Bezos-Amazon-Washington Post that dropped the dime this afternoon on Judge Roy Moore," he declared in a speech in Manchester last week after the story broke. He has also railed at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over Moore, calling it a "desperate attempt" for him to hold onto power.

Bannon has seen Moore as the means to challenge establishment Republicans, throwing his support behind Moore during the primary against President Trump's and Senate Republicans' preferred candidate, incumbent Sen. Luther Strange. Moore beat Strange handily in the recent primary election.

CBS News has confirmed that Bannon has told those close to him that he's not comfortable with the sexual harassment accusations, though he also suspects the story might be part of a GOP establishment hit job to sink Moore's candidacy. But his friends have advised him that it's unlikely that all the accusations are without merit, and they think he should distance himself from Moore soon.

I'm left wondering if Roy Moore isn't being seen by moderate Republicans (who are already rightwing extremists) as an opportunity to purge the GOP of the very ultra right extremists they invited into the party when they imagined they could control them. It ain't a civil war until the other party strikes back.

There's blood in the water and the Big Sharks are circling like buzzards.

Burn Baby, Burn

If America has its way, your grandkids' chances of coping with climate change, already iffy, will be a lot worse. If anything the United States is poised to be the unchallenged bad boy of fossil fuels for the next several decades at least according to the International Energy Agency.

By 2025, the growth in American oil production will equal that achieved by Saudi Arabia at the height of its expansion, and increases in natural gas will surpass those of the former Soviet Union, the agency said in its annual World Energy Outlook. The boom will turn the U.S., still among the biggest oil importers, into a net exporter of fossil fuels.

“The United States will be the undisputed leader of global oil and gas markets for decades to come,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said Tuesday in an interview with Bloomberg television. “There’s big growth coming from shale oil, and as such there’ll be a big difference between the U.S. and other producers.”

The agency raised estimates for the amount of shale oil that can be technically recovered by about 30 per cent to 105 billion barrels. Forecasts for shale-oil output in 2025 were bolstered by 34 per cent to 9 million barrels a day.

The U.S. industry “has emerged from its trial-by-fire as a leaner and hungrier version of its former self, remarkably resilient and reacting to any sign of higher prices caused by OPEC’s return to active market management,” the IEA said.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Is Trump Steering America Away From Democracy?

The headline in Foreign Policy, "Trump Isn't Sure if Democracy is Better Than Autocracy," is jarring. It would be so much less troubling if America wasn't already so far down the road in that very direction. Harvard prof Stephen Walt, like a latter day Paul Revere, sounds the warning.

What a difference a couple of decades make. Back in the early to mid-1990s, Americans (and some others) were pretty much convinced that U.S.-style liberal democracy was the wave of the future worldwide. The Warsaw Pact had crumbled, Latin American dictatorships were turning to the ballot box, human rights were spreading, and liberal institutions were all the rage. Francis Fukuyama famously described mankind as having reached the “end of history,” and Tom Friedman was telling useveryone had to don the “Golden Straightjacket” and embrace DOSCapitalism 6.0. The main exemplar of this system, of course, was the mighty and successful U.S. of A.

Fast-forward to 2017, however, and autocracy seems back in vogue. Russia has reverted to de facto dictatorship, Chinese President Xi Jinping has consolidated more power than any leader since Mao, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has undertaken a wide-ranging purge of potential opponents and consolidated vast power in his own hands. Egypt is once again governed by a brutal and corrupt military dictatorship, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has cracked down on journalists and academics, purged the government, and put thousands in jail, and he is slowly strangling what once seemed to be a promising experiment in moderate Islamic government. No one quite knows what sort of government will eventually emerge in the remnants of a shattered Syria, but it is a safe bet it won’t be democratic. And the ruling parties in Hungary and Poland are headed in authoritarian directions, openly rejecting liberal ideals, and would probably be ineligible for European Union membership if they were applying for it today.

Meanwhile, what does the United States government have to say about these trends? Under Donald Trump, mostly words of praise. The Divider-in-Chief seems entirely comfortable with — and maybe even a little envious of — the various autocrats who are richer or more powerful than he is (or both) and free from those inconvenient constitutional constraints and checks and balances that keep getting in the way of Trump’s feuds, whims, and destructive impulses. This is the president, after all, who called our justice system a “laughingstock,” said he regretted not having more control over it, and fired FBI head James Comey because he wouldn’t offer the president unswerving personal loyalty and shut down the Russia investigation. He’s also the guy who suggested we don’t really need a State Department because “I’m the only one that matters.” Now there’s a guy who thinks the ideal system of government is one where a leader gets to do whatever he wants. Sorry, Donald, but that’s precisely the system of government that Americans have long rejected and that many sacrificed their lives to prevent being imposed here.

But instead of standing up for America as a beacon of democracy, Trump congratulated Xi Jinping on his acquisition of even more power, meekly accepted Chinese dictates about talking to the press, and has nothing but good things to say about the ambitious Saudi crown prince (despite the latter’s chaotic program and repeated foreign-policy blunders). Indeed, like any good parvenu, Trump seems easily dazzled by vulgar displays of excess and unable to distinguish between the interests of the United States and the self-interest of his extended family. As Edward Luce sagely observed in the Financial Times, the affinity between the House of Saud and the House of Trump is if anything over-determined. And don’t forget his earlier bromance with Vladimir Putin, which Trump has been forced to downplay amid continuing suspicions of collusion between Russia and Trump and/or his advisors back in the 2016 campaign.

Needless to say, this behavior is a sharp departure from past U.S. practice. To be sure, the United States has often been inconsistent in its support for democracy and all-too-willing to ally with dictators and tyrants when there were important strategic issues at stake. But it is one thing to acknowledge tradeoffs between core political values and other interests and sometimes to favor the latter, and quite another to cast off our ideals completely and rush to praise those who trample on them daily. To do so is also bad strategy, as it squanders something that has been a valuable diplomatic asset in the past: namely, the belief that the United States did in fact stand for something other than naked self-interest, even if its actual performance fell short of its own professed ideals.


This reversal of fortune is not what people expected in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, but it is also not surprising. Instead of moving from strength to strength, the world’s major democracies have all suffered a series of self-inflicted wounds over the past 25 years. The United States invaded Iraq on false pretenses, bungled the occupation, and then suffered a financial crisis that could have been avoided with greater regulatory oversight. America’s domestic political order became increasingly dysfunctional, with public confidence in politicians sinking to new lows (and without considerable justification). Even worse, hardly anyone of consequence was held accountable for these screw-ups, reinforcing public perceptions of an out-of-touch and self-protective elite and fueling the populist wave that Trump exploited so successfully (and quickly betrayed).

So is it time to sound the death knell for democracy? If the 1900s were the “American Century,” will the 2000s be a new Age of Autocracy? Not so fast. ...The United States and other democracies have had a pretty bad run over the past two decades (in part because they were in such good shape they could afford to be stupid), but they retain a capacity for self-correction (as the recent elections in Virginia and New Jersey suggest). It is also worth remembering that the United States recovered faster from the 2008 crisis than almost anyone else, an achievement for which Barack Obama never got enough credit.

Where I part company with Dr. Walt is that nowhere does he address what he defines as "democracy" and what distinguishes it from autocracy. It's the "demos" part that concerns me. Demos - rule by the common citizen. Demos - an equal say and an equal chance.

The Republicans' "tax reform" is not an exercise in democracy. It is about as undemocratic as legislation can be.  It's the handiwork of a "bought and paid for" Congress whose members no longer even try to conceal or pretend that they're in service to their sponsors, the 1%. They now speak of their corruption quite openly, presumably because they know the voting public won't retaliate.

Then there's the research paper out of Princeton in 2014 by professors Gilens and Page that convincingly demonstrated that government "of the people, by the people, for the people" had been displaced by oligarchy in service to the richest of the rich. The Republican tax bill is just a culmination of that transition.

Getting rid of the Mango Mussolini won't repair the rot on Capitol Hill.

#Thee Too

If Harvey Weinstein did anything good in his life it may be the role he played in bringing sexual harassment of women to the forefront. Harvey did a lot to expose the licentious nature of his stomping grounds, Hollywood, where the "casting couch" has been the stuff of jokes for generations.

Harvey did for show biz what a host of fundamentalist preachers have done for the evangelists going back to Jimmy Swaggert,  Jim Bakker, Ted Haggard, Eddie Long and others. It's no wonder these evangelical fundamentalists support a self-confessed serial sexual predator president or now rally behind alleged teen molester, Roy Moore. Those two guys must seem like part of the family.

Now old wounds are being revisited. An article in The Atlantic stirs the nasty embers of Bill Clinton's sordid past and reminds us of how far women have come since Anita Hill bravely testified before the Senate about what she had endured from Clarence Thomas.

Every traditional bastion of male power is coming under the spotlight. Politics is foremost. News reports indicate that the Weinstein Effect is sweeping state houses across the US as women are emboldened to confront their abusers.

Politics and sex scandals go hand in hand. Wiki has a list of US sex scandals going back to 1776 featuring names such as Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Daniel Webster, James Buchanan, Grover Cleveland, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding and John Kennedy. Remember, those were from the days when the press considered presidential peccadilloes off limits.

From 1970 on the list includes members of Congress and it's a real tsunami of debauchery, straight and gay.

Now the Europeans are taking a look at their own history of sexual abuse/harassment. Deutsche Welle published this graphic.

Oddly enough the Scandinavian countries seem to be the hotbed of harassment, especially Sweden where 81% of women report having been sexually harassed at least once since age 15.

Scandinavia, of all places — regarded as a group of model countries in terms of gender equality — produced some strikingly negative results. In Sweden 81 percent of women stated that they had been sexually harassed in one form or another from the age of 15 onwards. These rates are similarly high in Denmark, the Netherlands and Finland. Three out of four French women have also experienced sexual harassment. At the other end of the scale is Bulgaria, where just 24 percent of women indicated that they had been harassed at some point in their lives. The levels are similarly low in Romania and Poland.

"We found that in certain member states it's less likely that women will talk about incidences of sexual violence or harassment with other people," says [Joanna Goodey, of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights]. She explains that history has had a hand in the fact that in Sweden, for example, it is normal nowadays to report sexual assaults. Unlike in eastern Europe, gender equality has been a subject of discussion there for many years, she points out.

Are we really on the verge of a tide change on sexual harassment and women's rights? In The Guardian, Jessica Valenti writes that, for women, the sheer scale of this thing is exhausting.

Meanwhile a self-admitted serial sexual predator remains ensconced in the White House. Wake me up when he's run out on a rail.

It's 15,000 Voices This Time. The Message is the Same. Change or Die.

In 1992, 1500 scientists warned the world to change or die. 25-years later it's the same message only this time it carries the signatures of 15,000 scientists.

This new cautioning — which gained popularity on Twitter with #ScientistsWarningToHumanity — garnered more than 15,000 signatures.

William Ripple of Oregon State University's College of Forestry, who started the campaign, said that he came across the 1992 warning last February, and noticed that this year happened to mark the 25th anniversary.

Together with his graduate student, Christopher Wolf, he decided to revisit the concerns raised then, and collect global data for different variables to show trends over the past 25 years.

Ripple found:
A decline in freshwater availability.
Unsustainable marine fisheries.
Ocean dead zones.
Forest losses.
Dwindling biodiversity.
Climate change.
Population growth.

There was one positive outcome, however: a rapid decline in ozone depletion.

"The trends are alarming, and they speak for themselves," Ripple said, though he notes the improvement in the ozone hole illustrates that humanity can make change when needed.
"The scientists around the world are very concerned about the state of the world, the environmental situation and climate change," Ripple said. "So this allows them to have a collective voice."
Growing middle class and its carbon footprint

"Since 1992, carbon emissions have increased 62 per cent," Ripple said. "And the global average temperature change has paralleled that. Also since 1992, we have two billion more people on Earth, which is a 35 per cent increase."

However, he notes that there has been a rapid decline in fertility rates, but said that likely won't show up in the data until later.

One of the chief concerns is population growth, but not in terms of numbers. Instead, the focus is on our ecological footprint with an increase in consumerism that puts a toll on the environment.

The Rampaging Middle Class

"What is happening is that the global middle class is growing, and it's growing extremely rapidly," said co-author Eileen Crist, a professor at Virginia Tech's Department of Science and Technology in Society.

That comes from the very positive outcome of getting people out of poverty. But there's a catch.

"But what sometimes people miss … they miss what's happening in the middle," Crist said. "Which from an ecological perspective of the planet is the most significant event: the rapid rise of the global middle class, which is now more than three billion people in the world and it's expected, by 2050 or so, to rise to five billion people."

And it's the middle class where people begin to increase their carbon footprint: they buy appliances and cars, eat more meat and travel.

In August I wrote a post in which I tried to estimate just how much our per capita ecological footprint, measured in GDP, had increased since the advent of the Industrial Revolution. The only reliable stats I found were for England. It worked out to roughly a 30 to 40 times increase per person.

One of the most elusive statistics to hunt down is per capita GDP growth. It is a measure of output but it also reflects energy and resources consumed, production of goods, services and waste. Record keeping in Britain has allowed per capita GDP to be charted from today back to 1270. The results are impressive. Per capita GDP first reached 2,000 pounds (adjusted to 2013 sterling) in 1832. By 1900 the Industrial Revolution had swelled that to 4,800 pounds per capita. The 12,000 pound mark fell in 1970. That doubled again to 24,000 pounds per capita GDP in the year 2000, increasing to 28,000 just before the crash of 2008. To make sense of this, the average Briton's production increased from 4,800 pounds in 1900 to close out that century at 24,000 pounds per capital GDP. In the course of one century, the 20th, that's a five fold increase in per capita GDP. In 1900 the global population stood at 1.6 billion. We closed out that century at just over 6 billion and now stand at 7.5 billion. Taking total per capita GDP in 1900 and total population in 1900 we have now grown humanity's ecological footprint by something in the order of 30 to 40 times. And we're still trapped in perpetual, exponential growth.

Reading this again I realize my calculations omitted one critical factor, the decline in rates of mortality/the increase in longevity over that same period. Not only has our production/consumption (GDP) gone up and our overall population soared but we're also living longer by an order of two, even three decades since 1900. If nothing else that makes the 30-40X estimate pretty safe.

And yet our political leadership, across the world, still clings to neoclassical economics and the slavish pursuit of perpetual, exponential GDP growth. That is their orthodoxy and, even though it has now reached a level of toxicity, they have no interest whatsoever in changing course no matter how many scientists urge just that.

Comey Goes Biblical on Trump's Ass

Former FBI director, James Comey, is using Trump's favourite medium, Twitter, to fight back against the Mango Mussolini.

In one of his latest tweets, he quoted a sermon from the late English Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon about the difference between a truth and a lie.

“If you want truth to go round the world you must hire an express train to pull it; but if you want a lie to go round the world, it will fly; it is light as a feather and a breath will carry it.” Rev. Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1855).

— James Comey (@Comey) November 11, 2017

The tweet included a picture of the Great Falls of the Potomac. Comey explained hours later that he included the picture because he likes it and it reminded him of his favourite Bible verse. Quoting Amos 5:24, he said, "But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."

A Britain Great No Longer

Between Brexit and Trump, Britain has become Great no more. At least that's how Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair's chief of staff from 1995 to 2007 sees it.  The worst part, according to Powell, is that his nation's decline into irrelevance has been entirely self-inflicted.

As Simon Fraser, the former Foreign Office permanent secretary, said in a speech last week: “It is hard to call to mind a major foreign policy matter on which we have had a decisive influence since the referendum.” To put it even more cruelly: we have rendered ourselves irrelevant.

Even if we did still have influence, we don’t have any attention to spare for the rest of the world because all of our efforts are going into the destructive process of Brexit. Just as blood goes to the stomach when you have a large meal, so most of our civil servants and diplomats are working on dismantling our EU membership rather than on maximising our influence around the world, – and paradoxically we are taking on thousands more to do so in the pursuit of less bureaucracy.

We can’t even get the negotiations with the EU right, even though that is supposed to be the government’s principal objective, because cabinet ministers cannot agree on what they want the end state of our relations with the EU to be. Our interlocutors in Brussels are giving up because they have nothing to engage with. And meanwhile the Brexiters are gearing up to blame the Europeans and our own quisling civil servants.

Britain has historically been the strong and stable democracy in Europe on which others – both the Europeans and the US – could depend. In the first world war, in the second, in the cold war and in building a liberal, free-trading and open Europe, we played a central role. We took pride, as Douglas Hurd put it, in punching above our weight. Now we have taken to punching each other in a polarised and uncertain country. Italy appears more politically stable, and France far more internationally relevant.

What puzzles our friends and erstwhile allies most is that all of this is self-inflicted. We didn’t have to give up the two pillars on which our nation has depended for so long. And we didn’t have to do so when we had nothing with which to replace them.

Oh well, perhaps Britain is retreating from the world order at an auspicious time. The fabric of our global community is fraying. Consensus is harder to forge and, even then, often brittle. Even the Dreadnought nations now sail into dangerous waters. Punching, whether above or below one's weight, becomes increasingly pointless in an era of Perma-War.

It's Not Just the Depth of the Challenge, It's the Magnitude.

Let this idea soak in for a minute. A report from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research concludes that Europe's only hope of meeting its Paris greenhouse gas emissions commitments will require  the phasing out of all fossil fuels, including natural gas, by 2035.

That's the decarbonization of Europe in just 17 years. It's not just banning diesel cars or shuttering all coal power plants. It's the lot - home heating, electrical supply, trucks and cars, the lot in a breathtakingly short interval of 17 years.

That would be a Herculean undertaking for Europe's advanced economies - if they could afford it. Much of the EU membership, however, is plagued by one weakness or another. Some states are broke or almost there. Others are wracked with social or political turmoil. Then there's Poland where "coal is king" and they're proud to admit it.

Can Europe do it? Possibly but it's hard to see how. Even if they could find that extra mountain of Euros where do they find the political will or the public support for the sacrifice this would entail?

Meanwhile, 2017 is expected to set a record for fossil fuel consumption. Over the past couple of years fossil fuels seemed to have plateaued. 

The expected jump in the carbon emissions that drive global warming is a “giant leap backwards for humankind”, according to some scientists. However, other experts said they were not alarmed, saying fluctuations in emissions are to be expected and that big polluters such as China are acting to cut emissions.

Global emissions need to reach their peak by 2020 and then start falling quickly in order to have a realistic chance of keeping global warming below the 2C danger limit, according to leading scientists. Whether the anticipated increase in CO2 emissions in 2017 is just a blip that is followed by a falling trend, or is the start of a worrying upward trend, remains to be seen.

Let's see. 2018 is a hop, skip and a Black Friday away. Emissions have to peak by 2020 and then begin to plummet (which would require governments to intervene to shut down high carbon fossil fuels such as bitumen) and just keep free-falling for years until the GHG beast is slain. That means we'll need to bring on stream massive amounts of alternative clean energy beginning in 2021 to replace the fossil fuels we'll be abandoning plus meet the growing needs of a still burgeoning global population.  Do you see any signs of that happening where you live?

The longer we wait - and we do so love to wait - the more the challenge grows in both depth and magnitude. Meanwhile, across the far north, nature is stirring.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Dr. Hedges Diagnoses the Disease That Is Neoliberal Globalism.

Chris Hedges writes that, in order to fully grasp the disease of neoliberalism, it helps to take stock of the symptoms.

The disease of globalized corporate capitalism has the same effects across the planet. It weakens or destroys democratic institutions, making them subservient to corporate and oligarchic power. It forces domestic governments to give up control over their economies, which operate under policies dictated by global corporations, banks, the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund. It casts aside hundreds of millions of workers now classified as “redundant” or “surplus” labor. It disempowers underpaid and unprotected workers, many toiling in global sweatshops, keeping them cowed, anxious and compliant. It financializes the economy, creating predatory global institutions that extract money from individuals, institutions and states through punishing forms of debt peonage. It shuts down genuine debate on corporate-owned media platforms, especially in regard to vast income disparities and social inequality. And the destruction empowers proto-fascist movements and governments.

There are within America’s corporate power structures individuals, parties and groups that find the hysterical, imbecilic and irrational rants of demagogues such as Trump repugnant. They seek a return to the polished mendacity of politicians such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. They hope to promote the interests of global capitalism by maintaining the fiction of a functioning democracy and an open society. These “moderates” or “liberals,” however, are also the architects of the global corporate pillage. They created the political vacuum that the demagogues and proto-fascist movements have filled. They blind themselves to their own complicity.

The 400 richest individuals in the United States have more wealth than the bottom 64 percent of the population, and the three richest Americans have more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of the U.S. population. This social inequality will only get worse as the weak controls that once regulated the economy and the tax code are abolished or rewritten to further increase the concentration of wealth among the ruling oligarchs. Social inequality at this level, history has shown, always results in these types of pathologies and political distortions. It also, potentially, presages revolution.

Attack the symptoms and the state will be passive. Attack the disease and the state will be ruthless.

Once Trump’s base begins to abandon him—the repression in Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a good example of what will happen—the political landscape will turn very ugly. Trump and his allies, in a desperate bid to cling to power, will openly stoke hate crimes and violence against Muslims, undocumented workers, African-Americans, progressives, intellectuals, feminists and dissidents. He and his allies on the “alt-right” and the Christian right will move to silence all organs of dissent, including corporate media outlets fighting to restore the patina of civility that is the window dressing to corporate pillage. They will harness the power of the nation’s substantial internal security apparatus to crush public protests and to jail opponents, even those who are part of the faux resistance.

The Fox is Guarding the Hen House. Really, No Kidding. It's True.

The Trump government has just awarded a $2.83 million contract for security at its Russian installations including the US embassy in Moscow and its consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok.

The US embassy in Moscow is to be guarded by a company owned by a former head of KGB counter-intelligence who worked with British double agent Kim Philby and young Vladimir Putin, after cuts to US staff demanded by Russia. 

Elite Security, a private company and the oldest part of the eponymous holding, was founded in 1997 by Viktor Budanov and his son Dmitry, according to a Russian business registry.

A 2002 article posted on the site of Russia's foreign intelligence service identified Mr Budanov as a major general in the agency who became a Soviet spy in 1966 and retired a year after the collapse of the USSR.

His long work in Soviet and Russian intelligence could raise questions about whether the guard services contract poses a security or intelligence risk to the US mission.

The Telegraph's request for comments went unanswered by Tillerson's State Department.

The White On the March

An estimated 60,000 white supremacists took part in a torchlight parade through the streets of Warsaw this weekend.

Police estimated 60,000 people took part in Saturday’s event, in what experts say was one of the biggest gathering of far-right activists in Europe in recent years.

Demonstrators with faces covered chanted “Pure Poland, white Poland!” and “Refugees get out!”. A banner hung over a bridge that read: “Pray for Islamic Holocaust.”

The march organised by far-right groups in Poland is an annual event originally to mark Poland’s independence in 1918. But according to Nick Lowles, from UK anti-extremism group Hope Not Hate, it has become an important rallying point for international far-right groups.

Many carried the national white-and-red flag while others held banners depicting a falanga, a far-right symbol dating to the 1930s. A demonstrator interviewed by state television TVP said he was on the march to “remove Jewry from power”.

“It was a beautiful sight,” the interior minister, Mariusz Błaszczak, said. “We are proud that so many Poles have decided to take part in a celebration connected to the Independence Day holiday.”