Tuesday, September 30, 2014


There's no better word to describe the chaos in Iraq and Syria than FUBAR.  If you don't know what it is, Google it.

There are some breathtakingly simple minds beating the drums for Canada to engage in combat against the Islamic State, ISIS.  The trouble is that simple minds, even among self-identified Liberals,  get a lot of good people killed.

The Harper government is chomping at the bit to "get some" ISIS butt and there are enough bellicose Liberals ready to go along.  What Harper and his backers have in common is a phenomenally naive grasp of what is going on and how Western intervention is liable to turn out.

Foreign Policy's Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, has a dandy assessment of the mess we're likely to get ourselves into.

Looking at our Syria policy, it has begun to dawn on me that we really face a two-part conundrum that we will have difficulty unpacking. First, there's the obvious: Hitting the Islamic State (IS) strengthens Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Second: If we choose to hit him, we'll buck up IS, al-Nusra Front, and the rest of the swell groups that are in the Syrian opposition, not to mention alienating our new friends, Iraq's prime minister, and of course, Iran, and a few of our old acquaintances like Putin.
That two-part conundrum only reinforces my real concern: the new and potentially slippery slope that is at the heart of our approach. And it's not boots on the ground. Instead, it's the reality that we're being pulled inexorably like a moth to a flame not just toward a military conflict with Assad, but toward bearing the responsibility for fixing -- or worse, for creating -- the new Syria. Indeed, under the realist's rubric of striking IS to keep America safe, we may well end up in the very place U.S. President Barack Obama has willfully tried to avoid: nation-building.
...IS is a symptom of a problem. If it weren't for a failing Syrian state and a weak one in Iraq, we wouldn't be having this conversation. It's the chaos and vacuum combined with the grievance-producing policies of Assad and former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki that created the opportunity and the pool of recruits owhich IS and other jihadists feed. 
It is only logical to assume that the only stable end state that can, in the president's words, "ultimately destroy ISIL," is good governance in both countries.  And in Syria that means getting rid of Assad and finding new leaders with a more inclusive approach to govern the country.
Second, we can't control our local allies on the ground. It's already evident that beggars can't be choosers. The local Syrian opposition will take our weapons, money, and training on the assumption that the fight is going to be against IS. But who is going to control them? Who will order them to fight against IS once we train them, rather than against Assad, the evil one who has killed their comrades, families, and friends? These forces won't be like predator drones controlled from Toledo. And what about their cooperation with Nusra, which they feel is the most effective force in the field? They already believe the United States has betrayed them and they will use every asset to take advantage of us in order to do what they want to do in the end -- and that means directing fire against the regime. And if they do fight Assad, are we going to stand by not assisting or defending them as we've done with the Kurds and others in Iraq? Already there's more talk of a no-fly zone along the Turkey-Syria border, perhaps as a condition of getting the Turks more committed to the fight. And finally, who stops the ethnic cleansing when Sunnis enter liberated regime areas and start killing Alawites?
...one of the reasons the Saudis and other Gulfies chose to become part of this coalition is about more than just fear of jihadists. They also see an opportunity here to get the United States to engage militarily in Syria not just against IS but against Assad, too. The Arabs understand the contradictions inherent in U.S. policy.
...defeating IS and Islamist jihadists requires Assad's ouster. And while the last thing the United States needs now is another trillion-dollar social science experiment, this time in Syria, the president has now placed America and his successors in the middle of a mess that could evolve in that direction. And something tells me that before it's over, we'll have taken on not only IS, but the Assads, too. The question is what comes after and who's responsible for it? To quote the immortal worlds of Alfred E. Neuman: What, Me Worry?
By the way, if we're really insistent on a bombing campaign to take down the Islamic State, we could begin by leveling Qatar.

How Did Canada Enlist in America's "Permanent Warfare Legion"?

I recently came across an article asking the reader to recall the world pre-9/11.

September 11th, 2001 - the 21st century had just begun, the very beginning of the third millennia A.D.  Somehow everything changed on that horrible day. How many of us could have imagined that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 would so powerfully change the world, the way we lived, how we are governed?

Remember, "you're either with us or you're with the terrorists"?  George w. Bush and his supposed line in the sand.  No one stood up to him.  No one responded, "Says who?"  No, Americans were grievously upset, looking for enemies, spoiling for a fight, and so we fell dutifully in line.  It was no time to be challenging the global hegemon.

We jumped aboard the bus, heedless that the driver was pissed to the gills and, worse, in a rage.  How did we think that was likely to turn out?  Did we think that, having us aboard the bus, they would let us off at the next stop?  Hells bells, we're still riding that bus as it veers along the road from shoulder to shoulder.

The purpose of war is to get back to peace.  Without peace, war is kind of pointless - killing for the sake of killing.  Yet that's what we do now.  It's like playing "whack a mole" with humanity instead of wooden rodents.

Proof in point.  We fight wars now without knowing how to win them.  We go to war without objectives upon which we can forge peace.  It's our lack of clearly defined metrics that allows incompetent political and military leadership to keep this party going, forever. Killing becomes a "make work" job.

The Taliban, al Qaeda, ISIS, and other Arab names we can't be bothered to recognize or learn.  That's who we fight - for now.

What's in it for the Permanent Warfare State if we somehow came to our senses, devised a strategy and defeated these enemies?  What then?  Who next?

A cynic could be forgiven for assuming that we don't really set out to defeat Islamic extremism because, for now, they're the only game in town.  We know they need us to keep their recruits and financial support pouring in.  They're the home team fighting the Crusaders.  That's a powerful narrative in their corner of the world.

Just as the best thing that ever happened to al Qaeda was the American conquest of Iraq, some experts think ISIS beheaded those two American journalists because it desperately needed Crusader intervention to keep going.  And what kind of good sports would we be if we didn't accommodate them?

How is it we could defeat the Third Reich and its Axis in under seven years but we failed to defeat a bunch of farmboys with Korean War-vintage assault rifles in more than a dozen years.  We had all the state-of-the-art hardware; the strike fighters, the attack helicopters, the tanks and armoured fighting vehicles, the artillery, the aerial surveillance drones - everything. We even had them outnumbered.

We went into the Afghan war without a clear strategy to win and, a dozen years on, we still had no strategy to win.  We went in marching to victory and we left just hoping that the place wouldn't collapse before we evacuated. Yeah, that's what we did. We evacuated.  Our troops held quiet ceremonies in remembrance of comrades sacrificed to our folly and then we left.

Now we're off to rain death from above on ISIS.  We'll bomb them, that's what we'll do.  We'll bomb them because, for us, it's about the safest way to bring modern, high-tech violence into play.  The folks at home don't like friendly body counts.  Whether it works or not is beside the point.  That much is inarguable from the degree of success All the King's Horses and All the King's Men have achieved over the past decade-plus in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere in the Muslim world.

Perhaps bombing is to modern warfare what the centuries old practice of bloodletting was to medicine - a placebo that was usually harmless in moderation but every now and then killed the patient.  We've become catatonic with our obsession over geopolitical humours and vapours.

Why does this matter?  It's all water under the bridge now anyway, isn't it?  Well no, it's not.  Not hardly.  In fact we're just getting started in what promises to be a century of revolt and violence.  The experts have a term for it, the "New War."  If there's one adjective for this type of war, it's "chaotic."

New War is chaos and it demands a new pragmatic approach to conflict between states as well as conflict between states and non-state actors be they militias, terrorists, insurgents, separatists or just well-organized criminals.

Surely if Afghanistan taught us anything it's that the heavy-firepower/low manpower Western way of warfare is not suitable to New War.  Even if we fail at it, we do pride ourselves on conducting warfare in accordance with lofty humanitarian rules and principles.  At the outset we expect to wage war, get stuck in, emerge victorious and get out before the Stanley Cup finals with time to spare.  That's how we wind up playing "whack-a-mole."  It's all we understand.

We consider ourselves above the brutality and treachery of New War in which loyalties can shift and rules (to the extent there are any) can change with the winds; where state and various non-state actors can ally and then turn on each other; where little is as it seems.

New War is not humane war, it's war of slaughter and atrocity.  It's war of intimidation and terror whether that be massacring prisoners by the hundreds or beheading journalists.

When the Romans fought the barbarians they discovered that the way to win over a village in mortal fear of the Goths was to be even more brutal with the villagers.  The Romans out-barbarianed the barbarians.

I do not suggest for a moment that we in the West adopt the Roman way of defeating what may seem to be little more than rabid dogs.  It is completely unacceptable that we should adopt New War tactics and worsen the suffering of the beleaguered and powerless who just happen to stand between us and our adversary.

What I do suggest is that we start picking our fights. There is nothing to be gained - for anyone - in fighting a war we're not prepared to win.  There is no reason to engage in hostilities unless we know, from the outset, that we're going to win and just how we'll go about it.

We need to understand that, in New War, securing the civilian population is even more important than defeating your adversary in the field.  In New War, the side that controls the civilian population wins. The other side loses.

We failed in Afghanistan because the Talibs were able to control and administer territory and the people who lived there.  We patrolled the villages but we had an inadequate force incapable of securing them.  Ours was a garrison force of the sort that has been defeated in insurgencies from Algeria to Vietnam.

Here's the thing.  There is no end of bad guys out there and they've all got our number.  Yes we might intervene in their troubles - for a while - and we'll undoubtedly show up with enough high-tech everything to be seemingly invincible.  We are masters of the battlefield but they rule the backstreets and the alleys.

We're much better at bombing than bombing is at winning wars.  As a substitute for major ground combat, bombing often postpones critical outcomes.  In New War that can be rife with consequences.  Look what happened to Libya.

Washington could have cajoled Egypt's military to use its impressive arsenal of M-1A1 Abrams tanks and F-16 strike fighters to roll over the Libyan border and take out Gaddafi.  It would have been over in a week and the rebel command structure was in place to establish an interim government.

Instead, we delayed, for months.  It was long enough for what had been a pretty clean cut civil war to degrade into a New War into which al Qaeda in North Africa managed to insinuate itself fighting the rebels as much as it ever did the regime.  The Islamists even assassinated the rebel leader poised to become the Libyan leader in the post-Gaddafi era.

What did we do?  We bombed and we bombed and we bombed and then we declared victory when Gaddafi was captured and killed.  What does that victory look like today?  The country has descended into chaos and anarchy and there's no solution in sight.

So, after Afghanistan and Iraq and Libya, why do we still insist on doing this? Why does Canada feel obliged to join the fight against ISIS if Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Egypt won't mobilize their ground forces to clean them out?  If the Arabs won't do the heavy lifting, why should the Crusaders do it for them?  It's not like we have a great track record with this sort of thing.

We need some rules, some guidelines to see Canada through this tumultuous century.  How about a rule that we not get into wars that we're not prepared to win?  How about reviving the Powell Doctrine?

The Powell Doctrine states that a list of questions all have to be answered affirmatively before military action is taken by the United States:
  1. Is a vital national security interest threatened?
  2. Do we have a clear attainable objective?
  3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
  4. Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
  5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
  6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
  7. Is the action supported by the people?
  8. Do we have genuine broad international support?[2]

We just can't go through a succession of wars without end.  If we go to war it has to be a war that matters enough to warrant our exertions and resources to the exclusion of everything else.  Afghanistan was important but not that important that it should ever have tied down Western forces for more than a decade.

We must also be ever mindful of the Permanent Warfare State at our border. That old, military-industrial complex Eisenhower warned of?   It's become something else now, something much bigger and harder to control.  As Andrew Bacevich demonstrates in The New American Militarism, today it's become the military-industrial-neoconservative-Christian fundamentalist-for profit warfighting complex that has no intention of ever being stood down.  Just today Obama gave America's Afghan war another 10-year lease on life. 

Sometimes you just gotta say no.

Washington, Kabul Kiss & Make Up. US Troops Stay in Afghanistan Until 2024.

Hamid Karzai talked tough about getting Western forces out of Afghanistan immediately if not sooner.   Afghanistan, however, is under new management that means America's longest war ever will be extended for another decade.

Barack Obama, elected president in 2008 on a wave of anti-war sentiment, will pass off both the Afghanistan war and his new war in Iraq and Syria to his successor.  In 2010, his vice president, Joe Biden, publicly vowed the US would be "totally out" of Afghanistan "come hell or high water, by 2014." 

In fairness to Joe, he said "hell or high water."  He didn't say ISIS.  What's that word I'm looking for?  Oh yes, "quagmire."

October 9. Miami's Day of Reckoning.

On October 9, the Earth, sun and moon will align just so to create a King Tide, the highest tides of the year.   In Miami, all eyes will be on the rising seas.

On high tides or in the event of storm surge, Miami streets are awash in sea water.  Storm sewers back up or the ocean can simply rise up through the porous limestone bedrock. 

There's something of an epiphany under way in south Florida.  For years sea level rise was ignored.  In Miami, the construction industry is still buzzing building condos and shopping malls.  Now the obvious can no longer be ignored.  What will come of it is unclear.  No one has any ideas yet how to hold back the sea, particularly when it rises beneath your feet.

For more of the soggy future in store for Miami, check out this article from Rolling Stone.

In North Carolina, meanwhile, science is girding for a battle with the state's political caste to get the truth out about what sea level rise means for coastal residents.  The state boasts a string of low-lying barrier islands, many of them featuring grand southern mansions and high-end resorts.  There's a lot of wealth tied up in the state's coastal properties and the rightwing legislature is loathe to put property values at risk by loose talk about storm surges and sea level rise.

North Carolina legislators tried to limit state scientists from forecasting anything more than 8 inches of sea level rise this century but the scientific community dug in its heels.  The legislators then fell back on a compromise, a new report limited to a 30-year time frame.

The report will anticipate a foot of sea level rise by 2045 and, while the rate is expected to increase significantly in the second half of this century, the legislature doesn't want to hear about that.

Living Planet Report 2014 - Biodiversity Body Blow

Forty years and counting.  That's how long mankind has been outpacing nature's replenishment rate of essential natural resources - water, biomass, the atmosphere.  For 40-years we've been running ecological deficits at a steadily increasing rate.  Not only are we consuming more than the Earth can provide, our shortfall is getting worse year by year. 

Just out, the biennial Living Planet Report for 2014, produced by the World Wildlife Fund in collaboration with the Global Footprint Network and the Zoological Society of London.

The central theme is that, not only are humans consuming renewable resources at more than 1.5 times the Earth's ability to replenish them but animal and plant species are falling extinct because of it.  We're not only eating our seed corn, we're eating their share too.  To put this in context, over the past 40-years, the Earth has lost 50% of its wildlife.

"It is no coincidence that our Ecological Footprint has climbed while biodiversity has plummeted. Overshoot is a core pressure on biodiversity, and WWF is the leading conservation organization recognizing and addressing this link," said Mathis Wackernagel, President and Co-founder of Global Footprint Network. "Humanity must learn to live within the budget of nature, not just for our own welfare and resilience but also for the well-being of countless other species on our planet."

Global Footprint Network provides the Living Planet Report’s measure of humanity's Ecological Footprint, which calculates the amount of biologically productive land and sea required to produce all the resources a population consumes and to absorb its waste, with prevailing technology.

According to the report, it would take 1.5 Earths to produce the resources necessary to support humanity’s current Ecological Footprint. This global overshoot means, for example, that we are cutting timber more quickly than trees regrow, pumping freshwater faster than groundwater restocks, and releasing CO2 faster than nature can sequester it.

"Nearly three-quarters of the world's population lives in countries struggling with both ecological deficits and low incomes," noted Dr. Wackernagel. "Growing ecological constraints demand that we focus on how to improve human welfare by a means other than sheer expansion."

And thus the argument is made for the urgent need to transition from neoclassical, GDP growth based economics into a Steady State economy in which the economy is maintained within the capacity of the environment.  That sounds so obvious and yet the very idea is heretical in the boardrooms and legislatures of the Western world. 

An eye-opening fact sheet about what our species has become and what it means to the Earth and everything living on or in it is available here.  To see an analysis of ecological deficit or surplus by country, go here.  The good news, for Canadians, is that our country remains in a healthy ecological surplus - a function of the massive size of our landmass and our relatively small population.  The less than happy news is that the sole country with which we share a border, the United States of America, is running a serious ecological deficit.  How this disparity will play out between our two nations and our peoples is worrisome, the more so because this is a looming problem we're not even beginning to discuss. 

If there's one key thing to take away from this, perhaps it's that climate change, while a clearly existential threat to all life on Earth, is not our only inescapable and potentially existential challenge.  Whether it's greenhouse gas emissions or over-consumption or overpopulation, the answer is the same - we have to live well within the finite capacity of our environment and leave enough left over for everything else that lives.

We have to keep in mind that our own survival depends on our ability to share the environment with all other life forms and, if we can't do that, we too perish. Our species is already consuming renewable resources at 1.5 times the Earth's replenishment rate.  What does that leave for other life on this planet?  Nothing. Actually less than nothing.  We're already dipping deeply into our planet's reserves.  Essentially, from August onward, we're living off those reserves.  As these resource reserves reach critical levels we will trigger the collapse of other species that, in turn, will rapidly hasten our own.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Heather Mallick Lowers the Boom

Is this blunt enough for you?

"The planet is headed for a climate catastrophe, and soon. Make that now. Your reaction will be either a quick calculation as to whether you’ll be able to die in time to skip the whole thing, or an appalled realization that your children are in for pain and your grandchildren for a terrible fate."

Heather Mallick has an enormous talent for getting to the point.  She brings that talent to bear as she weighs in on Naomi Klein's "This Changes Everything."

"Meticulously researched and briskly rational in tone, her just-published book is one of the basic texts of the modern era, by which I mean since the Scotsman James Watt invented the coal-fired steam engine in 1776. Hasn’t perdition come quickly on its wee cloven hooves?

"Until then power came from water wheels. With Watt’s device, owners could build factories near the urban poor, hire cheaply, cut prices and stabilize production that used to depend on the whims of weather. Ironically it’s weather that will finish us off now. Capitalism is magical until it isn’t. Skip ahead 240 years and here we are, basically doomed by its profit formula.

[Klein's book] "portrays fossil fuel corporations as victims of their own nature. Programmed like computers, they could not reverse themselves even if they wished to. Only governments can do it. Even then, international free-trade agreements allow corporations to sue nations to stop this, the very reason smart Germany has just objected to Canada’s new European trade deal. Stephen Harper knuckled under to corporations but the Germans are smarter than that.

"This magnificent textbook has already been attacked by people who didn’t read it, apparently for the high school reason that Klein is too famous, or that the book is too hard on the West. But science has spoken. There are 2,795 gigatons (a gigaton is 1 billion metric tons) of fossil fuel reserves already claimed by industry that will be extracted and burned. “We know how much more carbon can be burned between now and 2050 and still leave us a solid chance (roughly 80 per cent) of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius,” writes Klein. “That amount is 565 gigatons.”

"That’s 2,795 vs. 565, not even faintly close, and humans haven’t agreed even in principle to slow down. “2 degrees now looks like a utopian dream,” Klein writes, and 4 degrees is reliably said to be “incompatible with any reasonable characterization of an organized, equitable and civilized global community,” a.k.a. life as we sort of know it. Many experts say we’ll go far beyond 4 degrees."

There's the core dilemma.  Survival of our civilization and some measure of decent life for our grandchildren hinges on leaving 80% of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground, unburned.  You begin filling that 80% quota, with the filthiest, highest-carbon fossil fuels - coal and bitumen for starters.  You shut down Athabasca just as you shut down our asbestos mines and production of CFC aerosols.  You do it because you must because people in their masses will suffer and die if you don't.  You do it because you have no right to condemn your grandchildren to a horrible life for the sake of dubious profits today.  You do it because, unlike Stephen Harper, you give a dam about others.

Listen Up. Does This Sound Familiar?

It seems to be an unavoidable part of neoliberalism - the sense of being ruled, not governed by consent.  It's the degradation of democracy, the detachment of the rulers from the ruled that is paralleled by the compression of the political spectrum so that one party becomes largely indistinguishable from the others, all of them in service to the corporate state.

The good news and the bad news is that this modern political caste, grey suits stuffed with wet cardboard, inevitably spawns populist movements but they can either be more democratic or more authoritarian.  As we saw in the 20th century, populism can easily go either way and sometimes with catastrophic consequences.

Richard Seymour describes this phenomenon in play in Westminster where, he contends, the political caste is now seen as an occupying power.  See for yourself if his remarks don't sound familiar.  He's painting a picture of what could lie in store for Canada.

Both the SNP and Ukip have been banging their respective drums for years – Ukip wanting to rescue the British state from the EU and metropolitan pinko elites, the SNP wishing to inter it – but their current traction is unprecedented. Why should it suddenly be that each finds an enthusiastic audience? Why is it that Westminster increasingly appears to significant groups of voters, to not be the “cradle of democracy” as it has sometimes been vaingloriously styled, but as an occupying power? And why is this impasse of representative democracy registering as a crisis of Britain?

...George Monbiot wrote, at the zenith of New Labourism, that Britain had become a “captive state”. It was a society where corporations penetrated the epicentre of government, where politicians of all major parties converged on a single model of statecraft – neoliberalism – and where more and more democratic functions were outsourced to quangos and businesses. This was true enough, and its effects were registered in the ensuing sharp drop in electoral turnout and party membership – the traditional indices of popular political participation. But what we are seeing now may be a deep institutional crisis akin to the collapse of the postwar compromise in the 1970s.

The fact that this is expressed in a national form is neither accidental nor a distraction. Britain has been heading toward a crisis for years. As long as it was a multinational state at the heart of a global empire – one in which Scotland was an enthusiastic participant – Britain had a purpose. And in the postwar era, Westminster was able to deliver certain social reforms on this basis. The memory of these goods is what Gordon Brown invoked when he cautioned against the loss of the British welfare state if Scotland chose independence.

But there are generations of people who have no memory of either empire or postwar social democracy. It is they, overwhelmingly, who absconded to the yes camp; their elders who remained firmly no. This is why the demand for the reterritorialisation of political authority is gaining popular traction. Whether it is devolution in Scotland and Wales, demands for local representation in Manchester and Yorkshire, or the renewed calls for English votes for English laws, there is a recognition on all sides that the centralised power of Westminster is itself part of the democratic deadlock. It is coterminous with a spatial distribution of wealth and power, which is sometimes too simply called “the north-south divide”. As Danny Dorling argues, this divide is getting worse in austerity Britain. Westminster’s distance from ordinary people is physical, social and cultural as well as political, and the most effective populist responses tap into this fact.

Seymour sees in the decline of British democracy the abandonment by the Left of its historical role in driving political policy.  The once centre-left Labour Party was neutered under Tony Blair, shifted well to the right, Blairified if you will.  In Canada we have seen the Liberals part company with their traditional centre-left partners while the NDP, under Layton and Mulcair, shamelessly moved to centrism leaving the left flank of our political spectrum abandoned, empty.  Today, if you're not centre-right, there's really not much for you and so our politics has become estranged from our people.  We have been surrendered to the right.

The English left has no coherent response. Whereas most of the Scottish left found a renewed purpose in the Radical Independence Campaign, English nationalism has only benefited the right. As such, only in localised situations, where a popular revolt has long been brewing against cartel politics – Tower Hamlets or Bradford, for instance – has the left made a breakthrough.

By contrast, the right is filled with energy. Farage speaks of a new constitutional settlement, and the Tories have long appropriated the language of local democracy. This is because they believe local parliaments can be made to compete with one another, thus engendering a race to the bottom over taxes and regulations. Such might have been the hope entertained for an independent Scotland, if it weren’t for the “far left” and “greenies” that Rupert Murdoch warned were empowered by the campaign.

This is the problem. If the right leads the way in reorganising the British state, then the populist energies harnessed to that purpose will only be rallied behind a new elite – one still addressed at Westminster.

I think the lesson is clear.  We need to rehabilitate the left in Canada within the NDP but also as a viable element of the Liberal Party.  If we don't, our very democracy is at risk.

Just Under 8 Inches an Hour

If you were looking at something moving at 8 inches an hour, you would notice that wouldn't you? 

20 cm or just about 8 inches per hour is the pace at which wildlife - fauna and flora - is migrating away from the equator due to climate change.  That's almost 5 metres a day.  That's roughly 1.8 kilometres a year or more than 70-kilometres since the migration is believed to have started 40-years ago.

Plant life tends to migrate slowly but animal life, that's another story altogether.  The denizen of the Sea of Cortez, the Humboldt squid, seemed to migrate from the waters of Baja to the beaches of Vancouver Island quite rapidly, possibly within a year.  Sardines from California also seem to have migrated to our waters very quickly with their predators, white-sided dolphins, and their predators, transient orcas, in hot pursuit.   Even the return of large numbers of Humpback whales to our waters may reflect the migration of the whales' prey.  Something must have seemed inviting.

Species have moved towards the poles (further north in the northern hemisphere, to locations where conditions are cooler) at three times the rate previously accepted in the scientific literature, and they have moved to cooler, higher altitudes at twice the rate previously realised.

Analysing data for over 2000 responses by animal and plant species, the research team estimated that, on average, species have moved to higher elevations at 12.2 metres per decade and, more dramatically, to higher latitudes at 17.6 kilometres per decade.

For Alpine species, plants and animals, this migration can be a death sentence.  While climate change may compel them to migrate ever higher, they can go only so far before they reach an altitude at which they can no longer survive.  When they reach that line, they die.

Simply moving to higher latitudes can also be difficult due to both natural and man-made obstacles to migration.  America's fortification of its border with Mexico can present an insurmountable blockage to anything that can't fly over the fence.  Some creatures can't cross waterways, others are unable to cross deserts. 

First author Dr I-Ching Chen, previously a PhD student at York and now a researcher at the Academia Sinica in Taiwan, said: “This research shows that it is global warming that is causing species to move towards the poles and to higher elevations. We have for the first time shown that the amount by which the distributions of species have changed is correlated with the amount the climate has changed in that region.”

Co-author Dr Ralf Ohlemüller, from Durham University, said: “We were able to calculate how far species might have been expected to move so that the temperatures they experience today are the same as the ones they used to experience, before global warming kicked in.  Remarkably, species have on average moved towards the poles as rapidly as expected.”

...previous studies suggest that climate change represents a serious extinction risk to at least 10 per cent of the world’s species. Professor Thomas says: “Realisation of how fast species are moving because of climate change indicates that many species may indeed be heading rapidly towards extinction, where climatic conditions are deteriorating."


Neoliberalism Has Made Us What We Are Today - And That Isn't Pretty

Neoliberalism is a social, political and economic model best suited to those with psychopathic personality traits.

That, in any case, is the conclusion of Paul Verhaeghe, who dissects neoliberalism and what it has done to us in The Guardian.

"Thirty years of neoliberalism, free-market forces and privatisation have taken their toll, as relentless pressure to achieve has become normative."

"..the financial crisis illustrated at a macro-social level (for example, in the conflicts between eurozone countries) what a neoliberal meritocracy does to people. Solidarity becomes an expensive luxury and makes way for temporary alliances, the main preoccupation always being to extract more profit from the situation than your competition. Social ties with colleagues weaken, as does emotional commitment to the enterprise or organisation.

"Bullying used to be confined to schools; now it is a common feature of the workplace. This is a typical symptom of the impotent venting their frustration on the weak – in psychology it’s known as displaced aggression. There is a buried sense of fear, ranging from performance anxiety to a broader social fear of the threatening other."

The bullying reference struck me because it is precisely what I hear mid-level public servants complain has spread through their work place.  Performance anxiety, job insecurity, the sense of fellow workers being threatening.  That seems to have taken hold since the arrival of the Harper regime.

"...Our society constantly proclaims that anyone can make it if they just try hard enough, all the while reinforcing privilege and putting increasing pressure on its overstretched and exhausted citizens. An increasing number of people fail, feeling humiliated, guilty and ashamed. We are forever told that we are freer to choose the course of our lives than ever before, but the freedom to choose outside the success narrative is limited. Furthermore, those who fail are deemed to be losers or scroungers, taking advantage of our social security system."

A good measure of Social Darwinism has been inculcated in us.  Even those most vulnerable to it seem to embrace it.  It's powerfully corrosive of social cohesion, an attribute that we, as a people, will need to find our way through the travails that await us this century.  "Every man for himself" becomes a mantra for social ruin.

"A neoliberal meritocracy would have us believe that success depends on individual effort and talents, meaning responsibility lies entirely with the individual and authorities should give people as much freedom as possible to achieve this goal. For those who believe in the fairytale of unrestricted choice, self-government and self-management are the pre-eminent political messages, especially if they appear to promise freedom. Along with the idea of the perfectible individual, the freedom we perceive ourselves as having in the west is the greatest untruth of this day and age.

"The sociologist Zygmunt Bauman neatly summarised the paradox of our era as: “Never have we been so free. Never have we felt so powerless.” We are indeed freer than before, in the sense that we can criticise religion, take advantage of the new laissez-faire attitude to sex and support any political movement we like. We can do all these things because they no longer have any significance – freedom of this kind is prompted by indifference. Yet, on the other hand, our daily lives have become a constant battle against a bureaucracy that would make Kafka weak at the knees. There are regulations about everything, from the salt content of bread to urban poultry-keeping."

Yes, indifference, disengagement, disaffection are the usual by-products of today's neoliberalism.  There are those, such as our prime minister, who have learned to exploit this.  The fewer citizens who turn out at the polls the better for Stephen Harper.  He needs merely appeal to the fears, resentments and bigotry of a small segment of the voting public, barely 20% of eligible voters, to achieve a majority provided enough other eligible voters can be kept away from the ballot box. 

"...There are constant laments about the so-called loss of norms and values in our culture. Yet our norms and values make up an integral and essential part of our identity. So they cannot be lost, only changed. And that is precisely what has happened: a changed economy reflects changed ethics and brings about changed identity. The current economic system is bringing out the worst in us."

This very economic system that brings out the worst in us is still accommodated by our political classes - all of them.  There's a reason there is not one federal leader today - Conservative, Liberal or New Democrat - speaking out against the scourge of neoliberalism, much less offering the public a "New Deal."  Mulcair, trying to stay ahead of the shadow of Horwath, is claiming to have turned Left but it's an unconvincing performance. 

So what are we to do?  A vote for Harper or Trudeau or Mulcair is still a vote for the continuation of neoliberalism at the expense of social democracy.  It is a vote for social and economic feudalism, the relentless advance of increasingly illiberal democracy. 

There's a study coming out of Princeton this fall that addresses the death of democracy in the United States and the ascent of plutocracy and the corporate state.  We need to pay close attention to those findings because the same process is already well underway here in Canada.  If we don't defend democracy it is at risk of remaining in name only.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

David Cameron's Women Problem

Why is it always the dweebs?  Conservative P.M. David Cameron's Minister for Civil Society (and Dick Pics), Brooks Newmark, has resigned in disgrace.   The Belgravia resident, father of five, was caught in a tabloid, social media sting.  Newmark thought he was sending dick pics via twitter to an ardent admirer who was, in reality, a tabloid reporter.

Newmark has always been a vocal advocate of the Tory party boosting its appeal to women. He is a founder of the Tory campaign body, Women2Win, which works to help women become Tory candidates in the hope of increasing the representation of women in the Conservative party in parliament.
Newmark is co-chair of the group, and is often quoted responding to the party's problems with appealing to - and representing - women. He is also a figure Tory MPs often refer to when attempting to defend their party's attitude to women, ie. a male Tory MP who bangs the drum for women's representation. Now they will no longer be able to use Newmark for this, at least for a good while, and he will inevitably become less of an appealing face of Women2Win and solving the Conservatives' "women problem" in general.

Could Climate Change be Detroit's Salvation?

Will climate change be America's 21st century equivalent of William Tecumseh Sherman's "march to the sea"?  The Union general has a lasting place in infamy in the southern states for leading his army on a devastating march from Atlanta to Savannah, laying waste not only to military targets but also infrastructure, industry and civilian property along the route. 

In recent decades the south has "risen again."  Industries, such as Boeing, chasing cheap labour and weak labour laws, have flocked to the region.  But the region is also the most vulnerable part of America to climate change impacts - floods, droughts, severe storm events, sea level rise and coastal saltwater inundation plus killer heatwaves.  This leads some experts such as Matthew Kahn, professor of economics, UCLA Institute of the Environment, to believe that climate change will revive the fortunes of the languishing Rust Belt states and even abandoned cities like Detroit.

Climate change poses several significant risks to US south-west cities. Major south-west cities such as Los Angeles, Phoenix and Las Vegas face mega-drought and severe heatwave risk. Climate scientists continue to study how long drought could last. Policymakers debate how to allocate increasingly scarce water between agricultural and urban interests.

While economists advocate raising water prices to reflect increased scarcity, politicians shy away from this in order to gain short-term political support. Suppose that the mega-drought persists and desert cities such as Phoenix begin to experience summer temperatures above 43C? In my book Climatopolis, I predict that US urbanites will adapt to these new realities by moving to other cities that are better able to adapt to the new conditions.

Locations such as Detroit (to the north and endowed with water) are prime examples of where we can build our future cities.

The US has more than 300 major cities. These cities will compete to see which (due to natural geographic features and smart local public policies) are best able to cope with Mother Nature's blows. The winners from this competition will experience a net influx of population and rising property prices.

Urbanites will win because they will have a greater menu of destination locations to choose from. Property owners in cities whose quality of life suffers will experience an asset value loss.
They bet on the wrong location.

It does raise the question of what a major exodus out of the US south, especially the south-central and south eastern states, or as I like to call them, Redneckistan, could mean to the more liberal north.  Will they leave that knuckle-draggin', white trash, Dixie culture behind or will they carry that cultural ebola with them? 

The idea of a Rust Belt renaissance is intriguing.  It would be great to see economic and political power restored to the north.  That would be better, all round, for Canadians.

Oh, Damn. The Word is Getting Out.

Don't believe a word of it.  Stay where you're at.  You really wouldn't like it here anyway, really.

An article in The Guardian, "Is Alaska the new Florida? Experts predict where next for America's "climate refugees." is, in a word, unsettling.

The article speculates that, by 2100, Alaska may be a top migration destination for Americans seeking refuge from a much harsher, more hostile climate in the lower 48.  However the bulk of the article suggests the Alaska reference was really a red herring:

"The answer is the Pacific north-west, and probably especially west of the Cascades," said Ben Strauss, vice president for climate impacts and director of the programme on sea level rise at Climate Central, a research collaboration of scientists and journalists. "Actually, the strip of coastal land running from Canada down to the Bay Area is probably the best," he added. "You see a lot less extreme heat; it's the one place in the west where there's no real expectation of major water stress, and while sea level will rise there as everywhere, the land rises steeply out of the ocean, so it's a relatively small factor."

Clifford F Mass, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington, writes a popular weather blog  in which he predicts that the Pacific north-west will be "a potential climate refuge" as global warming progresses. A Seattle resident, he foresees that "climate change migrants" will start heading to his city and to Portland, Oregon, and surrounding areas.

"The Pacific Ocean is like our natural air-conditioning," Mass said in a telephone interview. "We don't get humidity like the east coast does."

As for the water supply? "Water is important, and we will have it," he said. "It's a pretty benign situation for us – in fact, warming up just a little bit might be a little bit welcome around here."

Already, he said, Washington state is gearing up to become the next Napa Valley as California's wine country heats up and dries out. "People are going crazy putting in vineyards in eastern Washington right now," Mass said.

Hmm, sounds suspiciously like a Chamber of Commerce pitch to me.  Notice how there wasn't a single mention of how we get earthquakes out here?  Or those really big black & white creatures that prowl the coastal waters?  And, don't forget, we don't have the CN Tower or Marine Land either.  Did I point out that visitors mention that our air smells of the sea?  And we're lucky if we get snow two or three days a winter. You'll miss all that snow and ice.  That sort of thing really gets in a person's blood and, besides, how else do you exercise in the winter?

Did I mention the coastal Rain Festival that usually runs from October to June?  It makes this place the wettest part of Canada - by a country mile.  The Atlantic provinces are next and they're not even close.

So Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan - and you too, Alberta - just stay put.  You really wouldn't like it out here.  Trust me.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Canada, Australia Denounced as "Axis of Carbon"

The high-carbon bromance between Stephen Harper and Tony Abbott has led Inside Climate News to brand the duo the "Axis of Carbon."

...these two governments, with their energy-rich domains sprawling across 
opposite ends of the earth, will present strikingly similar defenses against what much of the rest of the world is offering. And their stance is earning them opprobrium among advocates of strong and immediate action.

While a consensus is forming around setting a price on carbon and urgently converting to a carbon-free economy, Canada and Australia have turned themselves into an axis of carbon. If they attract others, this axis could become a potent force standing in the way of progress toward a universally binding pact.

It’s not terribly surprising that these two countries have staked out political positions as far from the mainstream as their continental edges are from the equator.

...Canada and Australia might well be ostracized as among the worst shirks.

Two European environmental organizations, the Climate Action Network Europe and Germanwatch, ranked Australia next to last and Canada last among developed nations in their 2014 Climate Change Performance Index.

The ranking takes into account both the actual emissions of greenhouse gases and the governments’ policies. After an election that brought Abbott to power on a promise to abolish a new tax on carbon, Australia scored worse than usual on the policy side

Canada, for its part, “still shows no intention of moving forward with climate policy and therefore remains the worst performer of all industrialised countries,” the report said.

Both countries are major sources of fossil fuels for the rest of the world. Canada is the world’s biggest exporter of oil to the United States and is pushing hard to win new export markets. Australia is the 10th biggest producer and second biggest exporter of coal in the world.

Hey, Think You're Resilient?

"Resilience."  It's the new climate change buzz word.  It applies to individuals, communities, institutions, and infrastructure.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from repeated climate change impacts. It's the ability to withstand repeated floods, for example.  That might require making your home resilient by having it mounted on stilts well above ground level.  It might entail constructing new floodways to channel flash floods away from communities.

Resilience planning was one topic of discussion at the 2014 World Climate Week summit in New York.

It's not just the Third World that is taking up the issue of resilience.  In the United States, the Department of Homeland Security is exploring ways of protecting the infrastructure of American cities from climate change impacts.

"Increasingly, we've moved ...from a security focus to a resiliency focus," said Caitlin Durkovich, assistant secretary for infrastructure protection at Homeland Security, an agency better known for its fight to curb terrorist threats.
Durkovich spoke Thursday on a panel at the Rising Seas Summit, a three-day conference organized by the U.S.-based Association of Climate Change Officers to discuss tools and ideas on building resiliency, particularly against rising sea levels.
In the aftermath of 2012's Hurricane Sandy, which devastated large swathes of the Northeastern U.S and caused over $60 billion in damages, Durkovich said her department reviewed the task of rebuilding with a new focus on "how to think about baking in resilience from the get-go."

To that end, she said, she has assembled a team of specialists, including city planners, in conjunction with the National Academy of Science to develop better tools for planning.
...the Portland, Maine area is being looked at in terms of risks from rising sea level, how floods might be mitigated and how to deal with saltwater intrusion into what had been bodies of fresh water. The results will then be shared with other coastal communities, she said.
California, which has the country's second longest coastline after that of Alaska, also is looking increasingly at climate change adaptation and resilience, said fellow panelist Ken Alex, senior policy advisor and director of the California Governor's Office of Planning and Research. 
He said California derives about $1 billion annually from its emissions cap-and-trade program, which sells greenhouse gas emissions permits, and the state has decided that all that revenue must be spent in ways "linked to resilience."
You'll find no comparable effort underway in Canada.  Ottawa could care less.  It doesn't want to discuss climate change impacts or resilience planning.   That costs money, potentially up to a trillion dollars or more, and the Harper regime, having defunded the federal government, now quests for a balanced budget.  

Which means the problem devolves to the provinces.  At least that's what I had expected when I contacted my own town's municipal engineer.  We're a seaside resort town.  We depend on summer tourism revenue.  We have these amazing, shallow beaches where kids can frolic safely in the salt water.  Parents love it.  It brings them here in droves.  

So what, I asked, is being done to prepare for sea level rise?  I fully expected to hear of some provincial task force underway to guide all the coastal communities, including Vancouver and Victoria, on what to expect and preparations for meeting the impacts - resilience.  No, sorry, nothing of the sort.

Our provincial government is standing idle, leaving it to our municipalities to do their own studies and planning.  Apparently the none-too-liberal Liberal government doesn't want to find itself in a spot where it's asked to help fund resilience initiatives for coastal communities.  

It's this "head in the sand" approach that is going to backfire on us and it's not just a coastal problem.  Across the country, long-neglected infrastructure is failing.  Much of it is old and in poor upkeep and now it has to withstand climate change impacts for which it was never designed.  It's a looming, trillion dollar nightmare.

We're not a society that remains capable of raising that kind of money.  We won't accept the tax burden.  The idea that infrastructure spending is an investment in our communities, our safety and our prosperity into the future is too ethereal for us, an affront to our need for instant gratification.  Let someone else do it, at some other time.  Kick it down the road.  

Unless we manage to kick this selfish mentality, we have already become part of a dying society.  Go to the Third World.  See what happens when infrastructure collapses.  Watch torrents of freshwater erupt from the streets while there's nothing to be had from the taps.  Encounter washed out bridges that don't get repaired.  Experience rotating power outages, streets plunged into darkness.  

We're left to repair an overpass or to fix a broken water main when one fails but that does nothing to overhaul an entire system that is in decay.  That is merely putting out fires, not preparing for the future.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sounds Like a Shakedown to Me

Christy Clark has a lot riding on British Columbia's natural gas.  The premier has been promising enormous riches for the province from the sale of liquefied natural gas to Asia.

Perhaps Christy's foreign gas partners sense her vulnerability.  That could explain why Malaysia's Petronas is threatening to pull out of Pacific Northwest LNG in which it holds a 62% interest.

Petronas CEO, Shamsul Abbas, is threatening to scuttle the $10-billion venture.

"Rather than ensuring the development of the LNG industry through appropriate incentives and assurance of legal and fiscal stability, the Canadian landscape of LNG development is now one of uncertainty, delay and short vision," Abbas told the Financial Times

To:     Christy
From: Shamsul

Cough up the subsidies, grants, deferrals and other "appropriate incentives" or Pacific Northwest LNG and your credibility are toast.

FBI Report on America's Mass Shootings Paints Dark Picture

There's something for every side in a new report from the FBI showing an alarming increase in mass shootings in America.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation identified 160 mass shootings that killed 486 people and injured 557 between 2000 and 2013.  The study found that the average number of such incidents increased from 6.4 a year between 2000 and 2006 to 16.4 from 2006 through 2013.

The shootings 'are cropping up around the country at an alarming rate,' Jmes Yacone, an FBI agent in charge of the bureau's critical incident response group, said at a news conference in Washington.

The report found that most mass shootings are over in well under 5-minutes and about a third last less than 2-minutes.  In 107 of 160-mass shootings for which timelines existed, police arrived after the violence ended.

Jon Stewart Explains Why Climate Change Remains Lodged in the Bowels of Congress

You're Paying for Those Pot Holes Whether They're Fixed or Not

It's no secret that essential infrastructure in North America is in a bad way. Neglect driven by tax cutting has led to deterioration in everything from roadways to overpasses, bridges, sewers and water mains.  The end result is essential infrastructure in immediate need of repair and replacement.

An illustration of the problem comes from a forced retreat of the "just in time" manufacturing sector.

Companies like Whirlpool and Caterpillar are making costly additions to their otherwise sinewy supply chains to compensate for aging U.S. roads that are too potholed and congested for "just in time" delivery.
Some opt to keep more trucks and inventory on the road. Others are leasing huge "just in case" warehouses and guarded parking lots on the edges of big cities. All that activity raises costs, which are expected to increase even more if roads are allowed to deteriorate further and an improving economy boosts traffic.
Whirlpool, for instance, has set up a network of secure drop lots outside Chicago, Milwaukee and Minneapolis. A washing machine that used to go from regional distribution center to local distribution center to customer in one day now sits overnight in a parking lot.
It "adds an extra day of lead time, which means extra inventory," said Whirlpool Corp logistics chief Michelle VanderMeer.

Then there are the parking lots and the guards. “That’s real physical infrastructure and security that we have to pay for," she said. "We’d rather be investing our money elsewhere," she added, declining to estimate Whirlpool's expenses.
Last summer, as Calgary flooded, the World Council on Disaster Management held its annual conference in Toronto.
Dr. Saeed Mirza, emeritus professor at Montreal's McGill University specializing in structural engineering, added that the monumental infrastructure costs accumulated over decades of negligence have left Canada particularly vulnerable to catastrophic events.
"The frequency and intensity of these events has been increasing at an escalating rate and what was a one-in-100-year event at one time may become the norm," he said.
Mirza estimated that Canada's infrastructure requirements have reached a cost of about $1-trillion, while a recent survey by the McKinsey Global Institute earlier this year stated that worldwide infrastructure needs are about $57 trillion.
Canada needs a major infrastructure overhaul.  The premiers are trying to engage the federal government but Harper thinks a $50 billion programme spread out over ten years should suffice.  
 Welcome to Third World Canada.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Climate Change Deal We Cannot Live Without

Just what does all this squabbling about greenhouse gas emissions really mean? What has to go into an effective climate change agreement?  What factors are in play?

Here, courtesy of Vox.com, are a few charts that reveal a climate deal is both urgently needed and extremely difficult to craft.

First up, where we stand today.  Annex B countries are the wealthy nations that participated in the Kyoto Accords.  Non-Annex B countries, the poor nations and the emerging economic superpowers, now account for the lion's share of global emissions.

Next is an illustration of per capita emissions.  While we're still higher than the developing world they are catching up.  In fact, China's per capita emissions have now overtaken Europe's.

Emissions records, however, can be misleading.  While China is an easy target for criticism, it fires back that most of its emissions result from "outsourcing" of Western production.  Attribute those emissions back to the land of WalMart and you more than offset our supposed emissions cuts.

The thing is, we don't really have the luxury of time to squabble about who is responsible for what.  Without a regime of substantial, global emissions cuts we're on course to exhaust our total carbon budget by 2045.  Once there we can kiss goodbye any reasonable hope of keeping global warming within the 2C cap.

Yet, here's where it gets tricky.  We have accurate figures on the amount of atmospheric greenhouse gases already emitted.  We have accurate figures on the total amount of greenhouse gases we can emit into the atmosphere before we blow through the 2C target. There are only a few ways to stay within that target and that's going to mean sacrifice with some advantaged countries called upon to make the greatest cuts.

The western world's current share of emissions is 31%.  Our "suppliers" - China and India - account for another 32%.  That leaves the Third World with just 37%.

The "Equity" model reflects how emissions would be allocated by population. There, the Third World would have a legitimate claim to 53% of the remaining capacity.  The western world would be slashed back to around 11% (from the current 31%).  That would pretty much kill off our fossil-fuel based economy and require a rapid and radical transition to non-carbon, renewable energy. Given how successfully our governments have conditioned us to believe that losing fossil fuels will be the end of life as we know it, we're not going to accept the Equity model and, let's face it, we have all the guns.

That leaves the Blended model that gives the West an undeserved 'extra' share but increases the Third World share nominally.

Bear in mind that this proposal incorporates both a major cut in total emissions compounded by substantial reductions in our share of those reduced total emissions.  The pie has to get smaller and our slice of it even smaller yet. Which goes a long way to explaining why our supposed prime minister ducks a world leaders' summit on climate change.

The reality depicted in these charts utterly confounds Stephen Harper's vision of Canada as a filthy fossil-fuel superpower.  Like it or not, the world is going to have to squeeze into the equivalent of Carbon Spanx.  That's a tight fit and leaves little room for high-cost/high-carbon energy like - oh, I don't know - Athabasca bitumen.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

US Lobsters Take Climate Refuge in Canada

They're voting with their - oh, I don't know - legs, tails, claws?  However they're doing it, American lobster stocks are heading north, to Canada.

Lobster fishermen across southern regions of Connecticut and New York hauled in their traps this month in accordance with the second annual fall closure of their fisheries as state officials strive to sustain what little is left of their prized crustacean populations.

According to Connecticut's Department of Eneregy and Environmental Protection, the amount of lobster caught fell from 3.7 million pounds in 1998 to 120,000 pounds in 2013, including a 100,000 pound drop since 2012.

...But a few hundred miles north, the story is much different, as lobstermen off the shores of Maine and eastern Canada hve almost doubled production levels.

"Our largest LFA, or lobster fishing areas, the Canadian Maine Gulf and Bay of Fundy, have been persistently climbing over the last 10 to 15 years," said MichAel Tremblay, a biologist focused on crustaceans at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  

This report seems to mirror what we're seeing here on the West Coast.  Certain marine species are already migrating out of the south into Canadian waters with prey fish stocks seemingly drawing their predator species ever northward.