Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A New Phenomenon "Climate Departure" Arriving All Too Soon.

Science has warned us that climate change isn't going to be linear. It isn't going to be a gradual, steady progression. It will come in sometimes jarring blows.

One of these jarring blows is just a few years away. The name they've given it is "climate departure." It refers to a transition that will be sweeping the world beginning around 2020 in the tropics and spreading into the northernmost regions by 2047.

I read about this today over at Lorne's blog, Politics and Its Discontents. He mentioned a new study that sounded eerily like something I read in a research paper two or three years ago. I followed the links back to the summary of the latest study and, sure enough, it mentioned that there had been several papers that came to the same conclusions. Damn.

Climate departure in going to be an abrupt process whereby a new climate displaces the old climate. In the new climate, every year will be hotter than the hottest recorded year of the old climate. Every year. Hotter than the hottest. Perpetual extreme heat and more, much more.

...climates without modern precedents could cause large and potentially serious impacts on ecological and social systems1–5. For instance, species whose persistence is shaped by the climate can respond by shifting their geographical ranges4–7, remaining in place and adapting 5,8, or becoming extinct 8–11. Shifts in species distributions and abundances can increase the risk of extinction 12, alter community structure3 and disrupt ecological interactions and the functioning of ecosystems. Changing climates could also affect the following: human welfare, through changes in the supply of food13 and water14,15; human health 16, through wider spread of infectious vector-borne diseases, through heat stress 19 and through mental illness 20; the economy, through changes in goods and services 21,22; and national security as a result of population shifts, heightened competition for natural resources, violent conflict and geopolitical instability 23. Although most ecological and social systems have the ability to adapt to a changing climate, the magnitude of disruption in both ecosystems and societies will be strongly determined by the time frames in which the climate will reach unprecedented states1,2. Although several studies have documented the areas on Earth where unprecedented climates is likely to occur in response to ongoing greenhouse gas emissions 24,25, our understanding of climate change still lacks a precise indication of the time at which the climate of a given location will shift wholly outside the range of historical precedents.

Does that sound apocalyptic? Well it kind of does, doesn't it? Most ecological and social systems can adapt to a changing climate, provided it's gradual and over many centuries. That sort of benign change is not what's expected from Climate Departure.

The first in line to receive a Climate Departure working over are the tropics. The earlier report singled out a few areas that could be hit by 2020, among them the Caribbean nations.

What begins in 2020 will move through the tropics and then spread poleward, arriving in the Arctic around 2047. Here's a map of the tropical zone.

What the chart shows is most of Africa, the greater part of South America, a big chunk of India and Southeast Asia are in the crosshairs for early impact climate departure. What's also notable is how little territory/refuge remains in the Southern Hemisphere. The main refuge is to the north into China, Russia, Europe and North America. North Africa and the Middle East are desert, that won't help.

So, if climate departure does kick off in 2020 as these reports suggest, we've only got a few years to figure out what we're going to do when the migrants come knocking. These certainly are interesting times. Wish they weren't.

Canada's Dust Bowl

We call it the "prairies" but before long we may be calling it the "dust bowl."

The Prairie Climate Centre at the University of Winnipeg has just created a prairie climate atlas showing projected warming at several carbon levels over the next several decades.

“Many do not fully appreciate how much the Prairie climate is expected to change,” says climatologist Dr. Danny Blair, the Director of Science for the Prairie Climate Centre and Principal of the University of Winnipeg’s Richardson College for the Environment.

Here's a video of what could lie in store for the agricultural belt and every major city in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Tell Me We Have a Plan B. Please, Tell Me.

The business about the immovable object meeting the irresistible force? It's nonsense. The immovable object is just a myth. Nothing is immovable.

We like myths. We've built our society on myths or, more accurately, outright lies, real whoppers too.

One of them is the myth of perpetual growth. In particular, constant, never ending growth in GDP. That's how we gauge the viability of our economy and, in a world in which the economy prevails, also our state and our society. We have allowed the economy to become the tent pole for every aspect of our lives.

Consider the tent pole something called "neoliberalism." It's a term that is not readily defined. Until recently many, especially the High Priests of neoliberalism, even denied its existence. However they can't do that any more because it's faltering - badly. Our societal tent pole isn't going to be holding up that tent much longer. We had better figure out what we'll do next, our Plan B.

An article in today's Guardian warns that you're witnessing the death of neoliberalism. You've got a front row seat, on the inside. The bell is sounding. The show is about to begin.

You hear it when the Bank of England’s Mark Carney sounds the alarm about “a low-growth, low-inflation, low-interest-rate equilibrium”. Or when the Bank of International Settlements, the central bank’s central bank, warns that “the global economy seems unable to return to sustainable and balanced growth”. And you saw it most clearly last Thursday from the IMF.

What makes the fund’s intervention so remarkable is not what is being said – but who is saying it and just how bluntly. In the IMF’s flagship publication, three of its top economists have written an essay titled “Neoliberalism: Oversold?”.

The very headline delivers a jolt. For so long mainstream economists and policymakers have denied the very existence of such a thing as neoliberalism, dismissing it as an insult invented by gap-toothed malcontents who understand neither economics nor capitalism. Now here comes the IMF, describing how a “neoliberal agenda” has spread across the globe in the past 30 years. What they mean is that more and more states have remade their social and political institutions into pale copies of the market. Two British examples, suggests Will Davies – author of the Limits of Neoliberalism – would be the NHS and universities “where classrooms are being transformed into supermarkets”. In this way, the public sector is replaced by private companies, and democracy is supplanted by mere competition.

The results, the IMF researchers concede, have been terrible. Neoliberalism hasn’t delivered economic growth – it has only made a few people a lot better off. It causes epic crashes that leave behind human wreckage and cost billions to clean up, a finding with which most residents of food bank Britain would agree. And while George Osborne might justify austerity as “fixing the roof while the sun is shining”, the fund team defines it as “curbing the size of the state … another aspect of the neoliberal agenda”. And, they say, its costs “could be large – much larger than the benefit”.

From the 1980s the policymaking elite has waved away the notion that they were acting ideologically – merely doing “what works”. But you can only get away with that claim if what you’re doing is actually working. Since the crash, central bankers, politicians and TV correspondents have tried to reassure the public that this wheeze or those billions would do the trick and put the economy right again. They have riffled through every page in the textbook and beyond – bank bailouts, spending cuts, wage freezes, pumping billions into financial markets – and still growth remains anaemic.

And the longer the slump goes on, the more the public tumbles to the fact that not only has growth been feebler, but ordinary workers have enjoyed much less of its benefits. Last year the rich countries’ thinktank, the OECD, made a remarkable concession. It acknowledged that the share of UK economic growth enjoyed by workers is now at its lowest since the second world war. Even more remarkably, it said the same or worse applied to workers across the capitalist west.
This is why, yesterday, I penned an open letter to our new prime minister urging him to enact what I termed "Just Society 2," an initiative to salvage our democracy and our society from the scourge of neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism, along with its companion disorders - free market fundamentalism and globalization - is a scam. It is nothing more than a now failed ideology that was launched on a narrow theory we now know was premised on very unwise assumptions. Thank you Messrs. Hayek and Friedman. Thank you Margaret Thatcher. Thank you Ronald Reagan. Thank you Brian Mulroney. Thank you every flunky president and prime minister so instrumental in perpetuating this self-destructive myth in the intervening years, the current crew included.

The tent pole is only as strong as public confidence in it. When that confidence fails, so too the tent pole.

As I wrote yesterday:

Just as the Charter vested in Canadians real democratic power, neoliberalism has undermined our democracy, eroded our state sovereignty. It has ushered in the rise of corporatism. Today the imbalance isn't between the state and the citizenry. Your father resolved that. It's now between the corporate sector and the citizenry.

The imbalance lurks behind a variety of social ills, societal malignancies, including the wage gap: the rise of inequality of wealth, income and opportunities; the severance of the bond between government and citizen; the subordination of the responsibilities of government to the populace in favour of the influences of commerce. All of this, and more, leaves us with a society that is no longer as "just" as your father left us. It is tarnished, enfeebled, and, at its rotten heart, transactional. These are the benchmarks of a society in serious decline that, if not arrested and reversed, ensure eventual democratic collapse.

We too have been lulled into remaking our "social and political institutions into pale copies of the market." We have all too freely surrendered important incidents of our national sovereignty to this same market to the point where, in many critical areas that impact on the lives of our people, the market and our government (or what remains of it) co-govern.

Neoliberalism is a con game, a confidence game. It works on the strength of the confidence of the duped. That confidence can be lost in a heart beat when the prey finally realize they've been had, swindled. 

The writing is on the wall. It's now the solemn duty of our government, Justin Trudeau and Company, to read it and act. What they do today and in the days and months ahead may make the difference between merely bad or much, much worse.

I Never Thought It Would Come to This. I'm Agreeing with Ibbitson.

In today's column in The Globe and Mail, Tory lapdog John Ibbitson looks at the government's assisted dying law. He concludes the Trudeau Grits are acting just like the Harper Tories. I hate to say it but he's right.

The Liberal government’s handling of the bill resembled the Conservatives at their worst.

To bring the new federal law into compliance with the Supreme Court ruling on assisted dying, the government created a committee, which recommended measures to end the lives of, not only those dying from an intolerably painful illness, but those suffering from intolerable chronic or mental illness. Mature minors might also quality.

But the government calculated that the public was not prepared to go there, and so pared back the grounds for seeking a medically assisted death. Many observers warn that the government bill, as written, would be unlikely to survive a court challenge. So the Trudeau government is mimicking the Harper government in passing legislation that many authorities consider judicially invalid.

Potentially unconstitutional bills, warring over the hammer of closure and confusion in the Senate. Where have we heard that before?

He's right. You know it. I know it. Faced with a tough call - for his party, that is - Trudeau has, again, gone weak-kneed, incapable of doing the right thing. Once again he shows us that, when difficult, even perilous, problems arise, we can't count on him when we may need him most.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Trump Lends ISIS a Helping Hand

There have been reports that ISIS has begun having trouble recruiting new volunteers and hanging on to those who've entered service. Donald Trump may be a partial answer to their problems.

Former CIA/NSA Director, Michael Hayden, is a well-known US foreign policy expert. He says Trump is unwittingly aiding ISIS with his inflammatory anti-Muslim rhetoric.

"The jihadist narrative is that there is undying enmity between Islam and the modern world."

"When Trump says they all hate us, he's using their narrative," Hayden said. "He's feeding their recruitment video."

Hey, Slick. Here's an Idea.

The Liberal Party is the party of the young. Trudeau won their support. Mulcair and Harper didn't. That's why Trudeau is prime minister and Mulcair settled for picking up Trudeau's old lease at the Motel 6 out on the Gloucester Highway.

Trudeau won their support. Now he's got to earn it. Until he consolidates it with meaningful action, he could lose it again. During the decades of neoliberalism the young stayed away from the polls. The parties didn't resonate with them. Politics didn't speak to their worries, their issues. That has to change.

And so I've penned this open letter to our fledgling prime minister.

Dear Mr. Trudeau:

I was around when your father captured our imagination with his "Just Society" idea. It was riveting. Rights were to be enshrined, readily enforceable. Government powers were to be restrained, limited, put into a democratic balance with the rights of the people and of individuals.

Not only did he dream it. He proposed it. He sold it to us. We bought it. Then, best of all, he fulfilled his promise and delivered us our own Magna Carta, our very own great Charter.

How brilliantly this, our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, has served us during the intervening decades and it is as fresh and meaningful today as it was the day it was enacted. How wonderfully it served us during the last regime when it regularly thwarted Harper's impulsive instincts.

I'm going to suggest that you take a page out of your father's book and bring us "Just Society 2."

The Charter was all about entrenching constitutional, liberal democracy. In the intervening years, however, a new threat has arisen - neoliberalism. Just as the Charter vested in Canadians real democratic power, neoliberalism has undermined our democracy, eroded our state sovereignty. It has ushered in the rise of corporatism. Today the imbalance isn't between the state and the citizenry. Your father resolved that. It's now between the corporate sector and the citizenry.

The imbalance lurks behind a variety of social ills, societal malignancies, including the wage gap: the rise of inequality of wealth, income and opportunities; the severance of the bond between government and citizen; the subordination of the responsibilities of government to the populace in favour of the influences of commerce. All of this, and more, leaves us with a society that is no longer as "just" as your father left us. It is tarnished, enfeebled, and, at its rotten heart, transactional. These are the benchmarks of a society in serious decline that, if not arrested and reversed, ensure eventual democratic collapse.

Your come from behind triumph in the last election wasn't due to the Old Fart vote. It was the legions of young Canadians who turned out to vote Liberal that put you over the top. A smart politician would understand that, once you've got a demographic advantage, you nurture it lest it move on to someone else.

And you should remember, you weren't entirely responsible for your youth vote. So was Harper. Who can forget this charming little ditty?

You might have noticed the line about how, if the next guy (that would be you) is no better than Harper they'll send him packing too.

Back to neoliberalism/free market fundamentalism/globalization. That was sold to us as something as powerful and unquestionable as some law of physics. It was an irresistible truth and only penury and ruin awaited us if we resisted. However, if we embraced it, it would be a future of sweetness and light.

Here's the thing. Imagine if on a particular Sunday in Christian churches around the world, the priest/minister/pastor informed the congregation that the "afterlife" thing, well that was all sort of made up. Not real. Surely you all knew that, didn't ya? Yeah, well, it was a great way to get people coming back for 2,000 years and it was too good to let go. No harm, no foul, eh?

How full would those pews be the next Sunday? Not very, I'm guessing. The afterlife thing has worked so well precisely because the guys preaching it can never get called on it. It's your reward - after - life. You gotta be dead to claim it.

Neoliberalism, like Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Islamism, every-other-ism, is an ideology. It's made up. It's not based on any real science. It's faith based and it rests on a lot of dodgy assumptions. Now here's the problem. You're not supposed to have to wait until you're dead to reap your neoliberal reward. No, you're supposed to get that here on Earth and it's supposed to come in the form of more jobs and better wages. Think of it as "prosperity" in lieu of "afterlife."

Only it hasn't lived up to all the promises, except for a very small segment of the population, the most advantaged of us all. They're making out like, well, bandits and the rest of us are getting screwed which also closely resembles banditry. People are tired of getting screwed.

Neoliberalism has run out of time. It's losing its following, rapidly. That's what has sent Americans in droves to back a pathological liar and blowhard. Even the IMF, the very temple of neoliberalism is now calling "bullshit" on that failed religion, blaming it for driving inequality and economic chaos.

That's the problem with ideologies, religious or economic. They're belief based. Once the belief evaporates there's nothing left, nothing to salvage, nothing to rebuild.

The problem with neoliberalism is that it's a bad tooth, it has to be pulled before the toothache is going away. Until it's pulled the pain is going to get steadily worse. Other complications may set in.

That means sweeping away the failed ideology, separating fact from fiction. It means reconsidering our economic policy, rebuilding opportunities for a vibrant manufacturing sector free of the restraints that we accepted under these trade deals. It means giving our young people at least some taste of the opportunities that we enjoyed at their age.

Jefferson knew and he warned his countrymen that democracy is always in peril and, every now and then, it needed a real shakeup to reset it. That time is here now in Canada.

Take the opportunity that's staring you in the face. Oh yeah, if you do I promise I'll stop calling you "Slick."

It's Just Too Good. I Couldn't Help Myself.

Enjoy, you know it's true.

When Are We Going to Quit This Bitumen Addiction?

There was a news report last week about aerosol contamination coming from the Athabasca Tar Sands.

Trust The Tyee's Andrew Nikiforuk to get to the bottom of what's really happening. It's a much bigger problem than the news stories conveyed.

Tote that Barge, Lift that Bale, Time's a Runnin'

Now there's a good reason to invest heavily in the hazmat fossil energy business with all its hazmat dilbit and its hazmat pipelines to tidewater and its hazmat lumbering supertankers floundering through our coastal waters like wallowing time bombs. Not.

A federal government think tank, Policy Horizons Canada, says the global dominance of fossil fuels could be all but gone in 10 to 15-years.

"It is increasingly plausible to foresee a future in which cheap renewable electricity becomes the world's primary power source and fossil fuels are relegated to a minority status," reads the conclusion of the 32-page document, produced by Policy Horizons Canada.

The little-known government organization provides medium-term policy advice to the federal bureaucracy, specializing in forecasts that peer a decade or two into the future.

The findings aren't radical or surprising. This is becoming a global consensus. It's actually not "becoming" anything. It is the global consensus.

"It's absolutely not pie in the sky," said Michal Moore from the University of Calgary's School of Public Policy. "These folks are being realistic — they may not be popular, but they're being realistic."

Marty Reed, CEO of Evok Innovations — a Vancouver-based cleantech fund created through a $100-million partnership with Cenovus and Suncor — had a similar take after reading the draft report.

"You could nit-pick a couple of items," he said. "But at a high level, I would say the vast, vast majority of what they wrote is not even controversial, it's very well accepted."

So, Justin, you better stop dreaming of the low hanging fruit and get working on a viable industrial policy that reaches beyond carbon energy. The IMF says governments in Canada are squandering $35 billion each and every year in direct and indirect subsidies to the fossil energy giants. Enough. You've got other needs for that money that can have a lasting value to the country and our people. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

We're Finally Coming To Our Senses. When Will Our Political Caste Come to Their Senses?

Even the High Temple of free market fundamentalism, the IMF, acknowledged last week that globalization, the economic arm of neoliberalism, fuels inequality and creates economic chaos.

They're finally coming around to what John Ralston Saul proclaimed 10 years ago when he wrote, "The Collapse of Globalism."

Nobel laureate economist, Joe Stiglitz, has been warning of the same thing for years. James Galbraith has written a book about neoliberalism's hellspawn, "The Predator State." Philip Mirowski has dissected this malignancy to show how neoliberalism survived the 2008 financial meltdown in "Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste."

Globe and Mail business writer, Eric Reguly, wrote about it in two recent articles. One explored how globalization has turned governments against their own blue and white collar middle class citizens. In a companion piece he makes the case for the free trade revolt now beginning to erupt.

Western governments did virtually nothing constructive to manage the worst effects of globalization on their populations, such as the loss of millions of jobs.

No wonder more and more Europeans and North Americans are not buying the free-trade hype any more. The marginal trade gains could be more than offset by greater pressure on working-class jobs or laxer regulations on, say, food quality. Europeans also fear that both TTIP and CETA are essentially undemocratic. They were negotiated almost entirely behind closed doors, and both have dispute resolution mechanisms that would allow companies to sue governments for damages if profits are hit because of changes in government policy or regulations. In effect, the provisions would rob their governments of their sovereignty.

Unfortunately our governments haven't figured this out. They're still stuck in the rancid hollow ideology of neoliberalism and that goes for the current prime minister, Slick. Above all else he envisions himself as a global trader. He's no economist but all of his advisors have almost certainly spent their careers deeply invested in neoliberalism and free market fundamentalism.

It's time Justin put on the long pants and recognized that we need new political and economic models to replace the failed ideologies of the past forty years. He needs to come to his senses and recognize that we have been robbed of our sovereignty and its past time to take that back.

If they're not going to serve the public interest, we should ask whose interest they are serving, other than their own.

It's Time to Hang the Priests of Neoliberalism.

Failing to fairly tax the rich reminds me of nothing so much as the stadium extortion game that major league teams now routinely play with municipal and state governments. Give me a new stadium and all the concession revenues or I'm taking my team and walking.

Why does that sort of shakedown work? Because there's another municipality somewhere willing to pay for the privilege of becoming the next shakedown victim. They're honing the knife they're going to hold to their own throat. Only it's not their own throat, it's some future mayor's throat. It's whomever is in power when the "stadium shakedown cycle" rolls over again.

We do the same thing when it comes to taxation. With the big and the powerful, we roll over.  The Globe's Eric Reguly says a new study on globalization and the free mobility of capital, means middle class Canadians are getting doubly screwed.

Western governments have been forcing the middle classes to shoulder more of the overall tax burden. Why? Because the middle classes are the easiest targets. Tax wealthy mobile professionals and they hit the road, moving to low-tax areas like Monaco. Ditto corporations; the recent tax-inversion craze has seen dozens of big companies use takeovers to shift their legal headquarters to tax havens such as Ireland.

In this sense, the Western middle-income classes are losing twice. Jobs are disappearing and their relative tax loads are rising.

By the mid-1990s, NAFTA was already in place. A few years later, most of the European countries opened their borders under the Schengen agreement and China joined the World Trade Organization. Dozens of countries signed bilateral free-trade agreements.

During that era, OECD governments came under enormous pressure to fund greater social welfare spending, partly to insure their workers against the economic shocks triggered by free trade. At the same time, the tax bases in some of these countries eroded, the result of the mobility of wealthy professionals and corporations. The governments’ response? “Between 1994 and 2007, the average OECD economy responded to higher [trade] openness by placing a higher tax burden on the relatively immobile middle-income classes,” the trio of authors said.

How will governments reduce the wealth divide if they have convinced themselves that open markets mean it’s difficult or impossible to boost the taxes on the mobile rich?

Endless surveys, including ones from Harvard Business School and the Pew Research Center, point to rising wealth inequality and middle-class stagnation as a top social and economic concern.

Shifting the tax burden to the middle class as globalization continues apace – new trans-atlantic and transpacific trade negotiations are under way – will only make the wealth divide worse.

Now, none of this should come as a surprise. The studies Reguly cites are new but this wealth gap/inequality problem has been chronicled, in relentless and unassailable detail, by the best minds such as Nobel laureate economist Joe Stiglitz. Read his books, especially, Freefall; The Price of Inequality; and The
Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do About Them.

The critical point to understand - and never forget - is that if you're on the wrong side of the wealth gap and the inequality problem, the party to blame is your government.

Stiglitz demonstrates that modern inequality is neither merit nor market driven. It is legislated. It is the hallmark of neoliberalism, the political and economic disease that has infected our legislators, our leaders. 

Canadian politicians don't come right out and say it but they subscribe to this "wealth creator/job creator" mantra that's embedded in the free market capitalism/globalization faith. Did I say "faith"? Why yes I did. That's because it's faith-based economics. It's an ideology, nothing more. It survives despite empirical evidence, facts, showing that it's failed us. Our political caste, the current management included, clings to it for one simple reason - they know nothing else. They don't have a fu#king clue of what else to do or how to change even if that's what they wanted. They're indentured to it and because of that, so are we.

Here are some helpful thoughts from John Ralston Saul on our economic disease: neoliberalism/free market fundamentalism/globalism. He writes that we are currently wallowing in, "a vacuum of economic thought, which adds an element of even greater uncertainty becAuse economics is a romantic, tempestuous business, rather theatrical, often dependent on the willing suspension of disbelief by the rest of us."

"Civilizations, religions, languages, cultures, nations, even nation-states tend to last centuries. For economic theories a quarter century is a good run. A half-century is unusual. More than that is something to boast about."

He goes on to point out that free trade flourished in earlier times and was at its zenith at the outbreak of the First World War:

"Keynes went on to demonstrate the extent of economic interdependence inside Europe in 1914. Germany had been the leading customer of Russia, Norway, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy and Austria-Hungary; the second best of Britain, Sweden and Denmark; the third best of France; and the primary supplier to Russia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Switzerland, Italy, Austria-Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, as well as the second largest to Britain, Belgium and France. Neither these investments nor this trade stopped these countries from slaughtering each other in an unprecedented way for five years."

"Instead the closest, most integrated of economic and trading partners went to war with each other in a particularly vicious manner. And immediately after that they variously embraced communism and fascism and the worst of racism and, almost incidentally, high tariff barriers. And then they went to war again.

The author has one chilling insight on how globalism was hijacked. He notes that "commerce" today has become the fiefdom of capital markets, not trade in goods and services as was intended at the outset.

"It isn't simply a matter of failures and unforeseen contradictory forces. The most revealing measurement is the system's own successes. Why? Because it increasingly feels as if even the promises fulfilled are not having the expected effect. A few questions will suggest the pattern."

"Most of the foreign exchange movements are about speculation, not investment or wealth creation. The amounts involved are forty to sixty times that of real trade. Serious supporters of Globalization like Jagdish Ghabwati and partial critics like the economist Joseph Stiglitz and a growing number of others are horrified by what they see as a hijacking of free trade movement to support open capital markets."

He argues that free trade and wealth, in the sense of national well being have become decoupled. His book is now ten years old but that's also a measure of how long we have wallowed in this interregnum, waiting for some new models of economics and governance. One point his book proves, convincingly, is that there's no foundational truth to globalism/market fundamentalism/neoliberalism that is rooted in inevitability as so many of us have been led to accept. It is an ideology, nothing more, akin to a religion and it is entirely faith-based.

Our previous prime minister, Shifty, was a true believer. Our current prime minister, Slick, goes to the same church. He's very much a neoliberal adherent of globalized free trade, the very ideology that preys so miserably on middle class Canadians. When the media were conducting their post mortem on the Trudeau government at six months, Justin held himself up foremost as an agent for international trade.

Trudeau has promised to increase taxes on the wealthiest Canadians and lower taxes for the middle classes but he confuses symptoms with the disease. Taxes, sure, but that's no lasting solution. It's power that Canadians need restored, power that successive governments have yielded through corporatism, globalization and its companion political apparatus, neoliberalism. Tax hikes here, tax breaks there -  that's a sop, gestural and nothing more. That changes budget to budget, election to election, government to government.

There is no sense, none, that Trudeau grasps the scourge that neoliberalism visits on ordinary Canadians.

It was just this week that the High Temple of neoliberalism, the International Monetary Fund, shattered forty years of orthodoxy to admit that neoliberalism is fueling inequality and stunting economic growth. Will Trudeau heed the message, accept the obvious? Don't count on it. He, or more accurately his advisors, have invested their careers in this ideology. It's all they know. Even if they did want to chart another course, find a better economic model, they wouldn't know how to begin.

Yes, This IS Racist

The manufacturer of a popular Chinese laundry detergent is blaming Westerners for making a fuss over a TV commercial that is hopelessly racist.

Methinks the Chinese need a few sessions in cultural awareness.

Well, That's Certainly Big of Them. Conservatives Back Down on Gay Marriage - Sort Of, In a Way, a Bit Maybe

Sorry, but I still hear that sound of knuckles dragging on the ground.

The Conservatives, we're told, have removed a provision in their policy book that defined marriage as "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" or something along those lines.

Now this is apparently a seismic event, a real breakthrough in the Tory psyche, an unburdening of sorts, or something.

So, what does it really mean? Why not ask Tory leadership contender, Maxime Bernier.

It’s about telling Canadians that you can love whom you want.”

They're telling us, the plebs, that it's now okay to love whom we want. It's an act of political benevolence, of sorts. "Okay, be gay if you must."

Can We Trust Them? Don't Hold Your Breath.

The G7 leaders have struck a pact to end fossil fuel subsidies by 2025. It sounds great, in principle, but do we have any reason to believe them?

In Canada our governments admit to annual subsidies of around 2.5 billion. Is that what will be ending? How much of that is provincial (a lot) and how will Ottawa get the western premiers to go along?

The real problem is that the amount our federal and provincial governments acknowledge is the tip of the iceberg. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) ran the numbers of all our direct and indirect subsidies - grants, deferrals, exemptions, the provision of natural capital (public property) either at no cost or below market values - and its total was just under $35 billion each and every year.

So what number are we going to be using? This is the sort of issue that Slick can get pretty weasley on. Until he acknowledges the IMF number there's absolutely no reason to believe that Ottawa will be making much of a dent in the subsidy scam.

There's no reason to think that he'll still be in charge by 2025 in any case and, besides, it's just a promise. We've heard a lot of promises from that fellow and we've learned that he doesn't always come through on his word.

As for America? Dream on.

The Weather Guy Says - It Ain't Your Grandpa's Weather Any More

He's not your TV weather guy. When he gets it wrong he's in trouble. Paul Douglas owns a company that provides weather forecasts to Fortune 500 companies that need to know what's coming and can risk a lot of money on his advice. He also, it seems, is an evangelical.

Douglas has written an excellent piece in The Guardian. Here are a few excerpts, teasers:

Whatever happened to normal weather? Earth has always experienced epic storms, debilitating drought, and biblical floods. But lately it seems the treadmill of disruptive weather has been set to fast-forward. God’s grandiose Symphony of the Seasons, the natural ebb and flow of the atmosphere, is playing out of tune, sounding more like a talent-free second grade orchestra, with shrill horns, violins screeching off-key, cymbal crashes coming in at the wrong time. Something has changed.

...by the turn of the 21st century this warming seemed to be flavoring much of the weather I was tracking, turning up the volume of extremes, loading the dice for weather weirding. Multiple strands of data confirm Earth has a low-grade fever, a warming trend that transcends periodic heat released from El NiƱo.

People ask “What’s a couple of degrees, Paul?” Well, when was the last time youwere a couple of degrees warmer? Chances are you felt miserable. And there were visible, tangible symptoms: sweating, chills, headaches, nausea. Your physician popped a thermometer in your mouth and confirmed you had a fever. Chances are you didn’t make a fuss, argue with the doctor, or deny the diagnosis.

Both NASA and local farmers confirm a longer growing seasons, with more allergens, pests and invasive species. Rainfall rates are increasing; wet areas trending even wetter. My home state of Minnesota has witnessed four separate 1-in-1,000 year floods since 2004.

A warmer atmosphere is increasing water vapor levels overhead, juicing storms, fueling an increase in flash floods in the summer, and heavier winter snows along the East Coast of the USA. “All storms are 5 to 10 percent stronger in terms of heavy rainfall” explained Dr. Kevin Trenberth, at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

From the mega-blaze that swept across Fort McMurray, Alberta to repeated flooding of Houston, scorching heat in India, perpetual drought from California to Australia, and a record year for global hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones in 2015, the symptoms of a warming ecosystem are becoming harder to dismiss or deny.

In a day and age of scammers, hackers, hucksters and special interests it’s good to be skeptical. You should be skeptical about everything. Some of the biggest skeptics on the planet are scientists. In fact, science is organized skepticism. Climate and weather are flip-sides of the same coin; everything is interconnected. Climate scientists tell us the climate is warming and meteorologists are tracking the symptoms: freakish weather showing up with unsettling regularity. Even if you don’t believe the climate scientists or your local meteorologist do yourself and your kids a favor. Believe your own eyes.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Hey, You Wanna Talk Dirt?

It's a pretty simple proposition. If there are three things that will probably kill you and you put your efforts into fighting one of them the other two that you ignored will probably kill you. If your house is on fire and you put all your efforts into fighting the fire in the kitchen your house is still going to burn to the ground.

By now most sentient people accept that climate change poses a mortal threat to human civilization, if not immediately, in two or three decades. That realization has become sufficiently widespread that our political caste, those to whom we've entrusted the reins of power, are talking of doing something about it. Maybe they will, maybe they won't. That's a cornucopia of "ifs" and "buts".

Yesterday I wrote about how humans aren't particularly well suited to dealing with existential threats. Human nature has a number of mechanisms, flaws that leave us pretty vulnerable. Sometimes we do the right thing. Sometimes we don't - ask the Maya, the Anasazi, the Easter Islanders, the Greenland Norse.

In yesterday's post I concluded by mentioning a chilling observation by Jared Diamond in the closing chapters of his book, "Collapse." Diamond argues, very convincingly, that when you have existential threats you must solve them all or you'll fail to rectify any of them. That's why I contend that if we're to tackle climate change it won't work unless we also deal with overpopulation and our massive over-consumption of Earth's resources.

Humanity is growing in total numbers and in per capita consumption. There are increasingly more of us, each (on average) consuming a growing quantity of resources - water, energy, agricultural products, goods of all descriptions. That means we're rapidly spooling up economic activity. That means more resources, more energy and more waste.

Our roster now stands at 7+ billion, heading to 9+ billion perhaps as soon as the middle of this century. To put that in perspective, we were at 3 billion in the 60s. Mankind didn't reach 1 billion until somewhere around 1814. In other words it took us 11,000 years of civilization to first reach 1 billion and just another 200 years in which to multiply seven fold.

50%, that's the number bandied about. The International Energy Agency says humans will need some 50% more energy by 2050. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization and several other august bodies figure we'll need 50% more agricultural production to feed the global herd by 2050.

Which leads me to a problem rarely mentioned in polite company - the rapid decline in our agricultural capacity. As a follow up to some courses I've done in war studies, I became curious about food security issues and regional destabilization. In reading some of the assigned materials on global food supply I came across a paper that I found sufficiently interesting to read in its entirety. That was my introduction to the problem of loss of farmland - soil degradation, desertification and so on.

It was just one paper and I had other things to do so I moved on to other things. The issue didn't seem to have a lot of traction, perhaps the danger was overstated.

Then, in December, 2014, Scientific American published an item about a UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) report warning that mankind had about 60 years of farmland left. What a mind-boggling thing to say. 60 years of farmland left, what could that possibly mean? Preposterous!

Yet the UN agency warning was consistent with what I had read previously through independent study. So I followed up and found all sorts of research coming to that same conclusion. Here's the thing. Yes, we grew to 7+ billion mouths but, to fill those mouths, we had to resort to the parlour tricks of the Green Revolution - intensive exploitation of surface and groundwater resources, ever increasing applications of soil exhausting chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, and industrial-scale agricultural farming practices.

Think of it as the old-time farmer who pushes his plough horse to exhaustion until it collapses and dies. That's about where we're at with our stocks of farmland.

Then there's the spreading problem of salination. A lot of groundwater contains trace amounts of salt. Groundwater used for irrigation evaporates, leaving the salts behind. Over time the level of salt in the topsoil increases until it will no longer support plant life. That's what took down the Mesopotamians and our growing dependence on groundwater for irrigation has brought the problem back.

Even our most productive and well-managed agricultural areas are already degraded. Here's a map based on UN FAO data that shows you what we're dealing with - today.

I should mention that this is a commonly accepted graphic. You'll find it pretty much everywhere the subject is discussed. Now think of it, especially the red parts, in the context of human settlement. The major farming zones of the world, in China, India and the US, are in the red.

So why don't we hear about this? I came across an article in, of all places, Time Magazine where a soils expert dealt with that question. He said we don't hear about it because "it's not sexy." We're only talking about dirt. Dirt's everywhere. Don't you ever mop your floor?

Which brings us to a brief discussion about where soil comes from and where it's been going. Soil is a creation of nature. It comes from the effects of wind and sun and rain and lichens eating away at rock. Nature takes its sweet time making soil. It produces roughly one millimetre every hundred years. That's one centimetre, less than half an inch, every thousand years.

Human activity is depleting that fertile top soil at around 40-times its rate of natural generation. Think of the Dust Bowl of the Dirty 30s. You deplete the soil, drought finishes the job, winds blow it away, you're screwed so you gather up the kids, load up as much furniture as you can carry on the truck and move to greener pastures.

Soil experts think that rate of relative loss of fertile soil is going to increase, markedly so, in the next couple of decades. Whereas we're told we'll need about 50% more production to "feed the herd" our agricultural capacity is set to decline by an estimated 30% in that same interval.

Now if you look on the chart above you'll see the vast tracts of yellow territory, stable soil. Canada's sitting pretty. So is Russia. The rest not so much.

Unfortunately the yellow zones are boreal forest, tundra and bare rock. There is soil there but most of the biomass is in the plants themselves, not in the thin soil. And, as was driven home by the ongoing Fort Mac wildfires, the region is susceptible to sustained drought.

Climate change will extend normal growing temperatures northward, to be sure. What it will not do is tilt the Earth's axis of rotation to expose those northern tracts to the same sunlight exposure that supports photosynthesis in more temperate regions. In other words when it comes to the north being our salvation, you're confronted by a soils problem, a drought problem and a sunlight problem. There'll be some gain but it won't offset the damage done in our traditional agricultural areas.

There are some things that Canada and Russia can do but they're costly and dislocative and it would be hard to find the political will necessary to act. I've been working on a couple of ideas but it's not yet time to get into them. The truth is it may never be time, not before the options are foreclosed.

Straight Talk From the Senate

A number of Liberal senators say they'll oppose the Trudeau government's assisted dying legislation when it reaches the upper chamber.

Senator Jim Cowan put the argument as plainly as possible: "The wording in Carter is very clear ... there is nothing in there about it being a terminal illness, nothing about age. Any attempt by Parliament to take away rights that have been granted and confirmed by the Supreme Court is out of order and I think the bill falls short."

Senator Andre Pratte put it this way: "The bill as it's written now tries to restrict the Supreme Court ruling and ... tries to limit doctor assisted death to people who suffer from terminal illness, and that's not what the court said."  

The Trudeau government, perhaps showing instincts better associated with its predecessor, seems to have trouble fully accepting the rule of law. It's trying to squirm out from under the Charter ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada.

The SCC didn't create the Charter. Trudeau's stalwart dad did that to enshrine the rights of all Canadians and restrain government from intruding on those rights. The Court's function is to interpret the legislation and that's just what they did in the Carter case. They spoke and they spoke clearly. Trudeau is playing politics with the ruling, trying to water it down, promising he may obey the law at some time in the future. Trudeau is using a political ploy to undermine every Canadian's rights under the Charter.

Sorry, Justin, you may be a prince but you're no king.

Friday, May 27, 2016

America Suspends Supply of Cluster Bombs to Saudi Arabia

Thank God Canada doesn't produce cluster bombs or else Steffie Dion would have writer's cramp signing the contracts. From Foreign Policy:

Frustrated by a growing death toll, the White House has quietly placed a hold on the transfer of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia as the Sunni ally continues its bloody war on Shiite rebels in Yemen, U.S. officials tell Foreign Policy. It’s the first concrete step the United States has taken to demonstrate its unease with the Saudi bombing campaign that human rights activists say has killed and injured hundreds of Yemeni civilians, many of them children.

The move follows rising criticism by U.S. lawmakers of America’s support for the oil-rich monarchy in the year-long conflict. Washington has sold weapons and provided training, targeting information, and aerial refueling support to the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen. It has also sold Riyadh millions of dollars’ worth of cluster bombs in recent years.

You know who else has a fondness for using cluster weapons against civilian areas? Our other really good ally, Israel.

National Observer - How Canadian Journalists Have Failed to Solve the Murder of Their Own Profession

Vancouver's alternative media outlet, the National Observer, says that Canada needs to go after Facebook and Google for millions of dollars in unpaid taxes.

Canada's newspapers are bleeding money. The problem is a slump in advertising revenue.  When Harper came to power the feds were spending 18% of their advertising budget on the papers. Today it's just 1%.

While the print media bleeds out, 27% of the government's ad budget is now spent online. The kings of online advertising are - you guessed it - Google and Facebook.

Yet despite their substantial sales and marketing operations in Canada, both companies process all transactions in US dollars directly to their US headquarters.

Neither charges GST.

So here are the Panama Papers questions Canadians should be asking:

Do Google and Facebook receive federal government ad revenue, and if so, are they taxed on that income?

Do they pay any tax here on their Canadian earnings?

Last year the Guardian reported that Facebook’s total 2014 UK tax remittance was less than $7000, which happens to be less than the tax bill of the average British wage-earner. Using its network of corporate entities in Ireland and Cayman, Facebook had reportedly collected more than $1 billion in UK earnings tax-free out of the country, according to the Daily Mail.
Facebook pays $7,000 tax to UK, hands out $534 million in employee bonuses

That same year, according to Reuters, Google sheltered some $15 billion (CAD) in Bermuda. Its corporate tax rate has been reported as low as 2.4 per cent. And it's not paid to the countries that generate the income.

The Guardian reported in March that the European Commission is set to table legislation forcing Google, Facebook, Apple and other large multinationals to publicly disclose their profit and tax arrangements with each of the EU governments where they operate.

When overwhelming public outcry drove tax reforms in the UK, Google wascompelled to pay $240 million in back taxes. This deal still drew harsh criticism. Meantime, Facebook has similarly been forced to invoice most sales through Facebook UK rather than the Irish affiliate.

Although that arrangement was expected to yield hundreds of millions in tax to UK coffers going forward, Facebook immediately offset its UK tax liability by declaring an award of $534 million (CAD) in bonuses to its UK employees over the next three years.

When asked to provide details about its tax planning in Canada and abroad, Facebook told National Observer in a statement: “We have always, and will continue, to meet our tax obligations everywhere we operate.”

France’s Tuesday gambit is a signal that Europe has had it with the shell games.

Canada should join them.

Instead of asking the federal government to provide his own company with tax incentives and subsidies, Paul Godfrey should ask them to level the playing field and tax Facebook and Google.

Major US Study Links Cell Phones to Cancer

A new report released by the US National Institutes of Health has reignited the cell phone/cancer issue. A major, multi-year study concludes that cell phone exposure is linked to two cancers, one a brain cancer, the other a heart tumor.

Researchers at the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP), a federal interagency group under the National Institutes of Health, led the study. They chronically exposed rodents to carefully calibrated radiofrequency (RF) radiation levels designed to roughly emulate what humans with heavy cell phone use or exposure could theoretically experience in their daily lives. The animals were placed in specially built chambers that dosed their whole bodies with varying amounts and types of this radiation for approximately nine hours per day throughout their two-year lifespans.

“This is by far—far and away—the most carefully done cell phone bioassay, a biological assessment. This is a classic study that is done for trying to understand cancers in humans,” says Christopher Portier, a retired head of NTP who helped launch the study and still sometimes works for the federal government as a consultant scientist. “There will have to be a lot of work after this to assess if it causes problems in humans, but the fact that you can do it in rats will be a big issue. It actually has me concerned, and I’m an expert.”

The researchers found that as the thousands of rats in the new study were exposed to greater intensities of RF radiation, more of them developed rare forms of brain and heart cancer that could not be easily explained away, exhibiting a direct dose-response relationship. Overall, the incidence of these rare tumors was still relatively low, which would be expected with rare tumors in general, but the incidence grew with greater levels of exposure to the radiation. Some of the rats had glioma—a tumor of the glial cells in the brain—or schwannoma of the heart. Furthering concern about the findings: In prior epidemiological studies of humans and cell phone exposure, both types of tumors have also cropped up as associations.

In contrast, none of the control rats—those not exposed to the radiation—developed such tumors. But complicating matters was the fact that the findings were mixed across sexes: More such lesions were found in male rats than in female rats. The tumors in the male rats “are considered likely the result of whole-body exposure” to this radiation, the study authors write. And the data suggests the relationship was strongest between the RF exposure and the lesions in the heart, rather than the brain: Cardiac schwannomas were observed in male rats at all exposed groups, the authors note.

It's Not Just Americans Who Need to Fear Donald Trump. It's Humanity.

Where is Lee Harvey Oswald, now that we need him? Donald Trump vows to derail the Paris climate agreement, virtually ending any prospect of averting runaway global warming. This man is an abomination.

Now What Do You Think the Chances Are?

Was he trying to convey a message to the people that, if they vote to leave the EU, this is the future that awaits them?

There he was, Britain's own prime minister, David Cameron, in jeans and rough jacket buying a 3rd hand Nissan Micra for the little lady, Samantha Cameron, the mother of his children.

At 1,495 pounds, I'll bet Samantha has purses that cost more than the well used Nissan.

I guess Cameron was trying to go the humble, ordinary guy route to quell the controversy over his previous gift to Samantha, this, Rosie Lyburn:

Rosie is Mrs. Cameron's fashion (and social) advisor, and she costs the government some 53,000 quid a year.

The optics are ridiculous. There's an incredibly wealthy man, a child of privilege and advantage, buying a beater for his incredibly privileged and advantaged wife and apparently with little input from his "other half."

"Oh, don't worry about me dear. I'll make do with the Bentley and the driver."

Let's Remember Where and What We Were Back When

Something to dwell on over the weekend.

When It Comes to Climate Change, the Real Killer Is All In Your Mind.

It's not severe drought or epic floods, some of them lasting months or years. It's not severe storm events of ever increasing frequency, duration and intensity. It's not sea level rise. The real danger is in your mind, our minds, how we receive and process information, how we choose our fate.

When societies or civilizations collapse, one of the proximate causes is choices that either the entire community or some powerful segment of it has made. Sometimes those decisions are taken knowing that they mean eventual collapse. We are quite capable of acting in ways today that will imperil future generations. We're doing it now and we're doing it on a scale never before imagined or possible.

Jared Diamond's book "Collapse, How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed," is a lengthy tome running to some 525 pages. To me, the essence of it is found in the 14th chapter, "Why do some societies make disastrous decisions?"

Diamond focuses on how groups make disastrous decisions and identifies four categories of situations.

"First of all, a group may fail to anticipate a problem before the problem actually arrives. Second, when the problem does arrive, the group may fail to perceive it. Then, after they perceive it, they may fail even to try to solve it. Finally, they may try to solve it but may not succeed."

1. Failure to Anticipate

The author says there are several reasons for failing to anticipate a problem before it arrives. One is having no prior experience with what could go wrong. And, here, he cites the example of early Brits colonizing Australia and thinking it would be great to import rabbits and then foxes.

"Even prior experience is not a guarantee that a society will anticipate a problem, if the experience happened so long ago as to have been forgotten. 

"...In modern literate societies whose writing does discuss subjects besides kings and planets, that doesn't necessarily mean that we draw on prior experience committed to writing. We, too, tend to forget things."

Here Diamond uses the example of the 1973 Arab oil embargo and how Americans flocked to fuel efficient compact cars only to slowly return to fuel guzzling SUVs.

Next up is "reasoning by false analogy." We assume the present mirrors something from the past. He uses the example of generals who go into wars prepared to fight the last war and get caught unawares. Here he cites the French experience with the Maginot Line.

2. Failure to Perceive

The second situation is failing to perceive a problem that has actually arrived and for this he gives three categories.

"First, the origins of some problems are literally imperceptible. For example, the nutrients responsible for soil fertility are invisible to the eye, and only in modern times did they become measurable by chemical analysis. [In many areas of the world] most of the nutrients had already been leached out of the soil by rain before human settlement. When people arrived and began growing crops, those crops quickly exhausted the remaining nutrients, with the result that agriculture failed. Yet such nutrient-poor soils often bear lush-appearing vegetation; it's just that most of the nutrients in the ecosystem are contained in the vegetation rather than in the soil, and are removed if one cuts down the vegetation."

Another category is "distant managers" for which he gives the example of a Montana timber company operated by managers in Seattle who failed to see the degradation of their forest ecology.

The most dangerous situation, one that effects almost all of us today, is creeping change known as "creeping normalcy" or "landscape amnesia."

"The prime example in modern times is global warming. We now realize that temperatures around the world have been slowly rising in recent decades, due in large part of atmospheric changes caused by humans. ...As for the time that I write these lines, President Bush of the U.S. is still not convinced of its reality, and he thinks that we need more research. The medieval Greenlanders had similar difficulties recognizing that their climate was gradually becoming colder, andthe Maya and Anasazi had trouble discerning that theirs was becoming drier."

"Politicians use the term 'creeping normalcy' to refer to such slow trends concealed within noisy fluctuations. If the economy, schools, traffic congestion, or anything else is deteriorating only slowly, it's difficult to recognize that e4ach successive year is on he average slightly worse than the year before, so one's baseline standard for what constitutes 'normalcy' shifts gradually and imperceptibly. It may take a few decades of a long sequence of such slight year-to-year changes before people realize, with a jolt, that conditions used to be much better several decades ago, and that what is accepted as normalcy has crept downwards."

Diamond then explores the companion dilemma of "landscape amnesia." He uses the example of a glacier that he and his friends regularly climbed in his youth. Decades later he went back to climb it again only to find it greatly receded. His friends, who had remained in the area, had observed the decline gradually and through this had largely lost sight of what had occurred.

3. Perceiving a Problem but Failing to Try to Solve It.

"Many of the reasons for such failure fall under the heading of what economists and other social scientists term 'rational behavior,' arising from clashes of interest between people. That is, some people may reason correctly that they can advance their own interests by behavior harmful to other people. Scientists term such behavior 'rational' precisely because it employs correct reasoning, even though it may be morally reprehensible. The perpetrators know that they will often get away with it or if the law isn't effectively enforced. They feel safe because the perpetrators are typically concentrated (few in number) and highly motivated by the prospect of reaping big, certain and immediate profits, while the losses are spread over large numbers of individuals. That gives the losers little motivation to go to the hassle of fighting back, because each loser loses only a little and would receive only small, uncertain, distant profits even from successfully undoing the minority's grab."

"A frequent type of rational bad behavior is 'good for me, bad for you and for everybody else' - to put it bluntly, 'selfish.' As a simple example, most Montana fishermen fish for trout. A few fishermen who prefer to fish for pike, a larger fish0-eating fish not native to western Montana, surreptitiously and illegally introduced pike to some western Montana lakes and rivers where they proceeded to destroy trout fishing by eating the trout. That was good for the few pike fishermen and bad for the far greater number of trout fishermen."

"An example producing more losers and higher dollar losses is that, until 1971, mining companies in Montana on closing down a mine just left it with its copper, arsenic, and acid leaking out into rivers, because the state of Montana had no law requiring companies to clean up after mine closure. In 1971 the state of Montana did pass such a law, but companies discovered that they could extract the valuable ore and then just declare bankruptcy before going to the expense of cleaning up. The result has been about $500,000,000 of cleanup costs to be borne by the citizens of Montana and the U.S.  Mining company CEOs had correctly perceived that the law permitted them to save money for their companies, and to advance their own interests through bonuses and high salaries, by making messes and leaving the burden to society."

The author then explores the "tragedy of the commons" so instrumental in environmental disasters such as the collapse of fish stocks. There the mentality is "if I don't catch that fish, somebody else will come along and take it, so it makes no sense for me to refrain from overfishing." The obvious solution, anathema to free market fundamentalism, is regulation and meaningful enforcement. In most cases to date, one of the other has been neglected.

Worsening the situation is when commercial harvesters have no long-term stake in preserving the resource.  This is commerce by plunder. Hit an area, clean it out, and move on to somewhere else. Diamond chronicles how forestry companies pillaged the once lush rainforests by purchasing leases, clear cutting, and then leaving. He contrasts this with the behaviour of timber companies that actually purchase the land, anticipate repeated harvests and implement proper land and resource management policies.

Then there's the class factor in which the interests of the elite are pursued at the expense of the rest of society.

"Especially if the elite can insulate themselves from the consequences of their actions, they are likely to do things that profit themselves, regardless of whether those actions hurt everybody else.  Such clashes... are becoming increasingly frequent in the modern U.S., where rich people tend to live within their gated compounds and to drink bottled water.  For example, Enron's executives correctly calculated that they could gain huge sums of money for themselves by looting the company coffers and thereby harming all the stockholders, and that they were likely to get away with their gamble."

In other words, the way we think, the ways in which we perceive and process information, and human nature itself are mankind's ultimate Achilles' Heel.

That's about enough for now. I'll come back (I hope) to address Diamond's thoughts on how we may perceive a problem, try to solve it, yet fail no matter how good our efforts.

One thing I want to focus on is his chilling observation, directly applicable to our species today, that there are some problems that are so inter-connected that it is futile to try to solve any of them because success hinges on solving all of them.

There are three existential threats facing humanity today - climate change, overpopulation and excessive consumption of resources. You have to solve all three of them or else you will ultimately fail on all three. These are the common threads that run through every major calamity that besets us today.

We're becoming increasingly active on dealing with climate change but we're failing to address the other two. Yet it's only when you consider them collectively that the common solutions and the daunting change that portends emerge clearly.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Shell CEO - No Solar Until It's Profitable

Royal Dutch Shell CEO, Ben van Beurden, says the energy giant won't be moving into solar energy until it proves profitable.

I know something that might change Ben's mind. Eliminate all the subsidies, direct and indirect, that go to the fossil fuelers and direct that money, $34-billion each and every year in Canada (according to the IMF) into renewables, including solar.

We're currently paying the hydrocarbon giants not to switch to renewables and we're paying them royally with these unconscionable subsidies.  Pull the free money, top that with $30 a ton carbon taxes escalating $10 a ton every five years thereafter, and you won't have outfits like Shell sneering down their noses at renewable, clean energy.

Trudeau's Elbow From a Different Angle.

Sorry, Ruth Ellen.

Harper and Associates Consulting, Inc.

That's the formal name of Shifty Steve Harper's new company. Joining him are, oh so predictably, Ray Novak (unemployed prime ministerial ball scratcher) and Jeremy Hunt, veteran Harper advisor.

Actually, HAC Inc. is just the formal, company name. It'll be carrying on business under a different name, "STFU, Now You Listen Here!"

Don't Wanna Know. Keep It to Yourself.

Close, but no cigar.

Exxon and Chevron shareholders have voted down resolutions demanding that their companies explore their vulnerability to climate change action.

Chevron shareholders voted 41% in favour. Exxon shareholders came in at 38% in favour. Support does seem to be growing but the executive and directors remain off the hook - for now.

The number of shareholders supporting the climate-risk measures “is significant, and it will continue to grow,” said Beth Richtman,investment manager at the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, which manages about $290 billion. Calpers owns about $1 billion worth of Exxon shares and approximately $600 million in Chevron stock.

“There’s a groundswell of share owners who are going to keep pushing this forward,” she said. “We need to see them rise to the realm of best practices in terms of climate risk reporting, and we’re not there yet.”

While the shareholder votes aren’t binding, supporters of the measures declared victory even in defeat after the oil companies’ annual shareholder meetings Wednesday.
“You have to read this as a shot across the bow of the industry,” saidAndrew Logan, director of the oil and gas program at Ceres, a Boston-based nonprofit group that advocated for the proposals.

Attack of the Psycho Sheep

This one's too good to pass up.

Dateline: Rhydypandy, a village in Wales.

A flock of sheep has gone on what is being described as a "psychotic rampage" through the village of Rhydypandy after apparently eating cannabis plants dumped by a local grow-op factory.

County councillor Ioan Richard raised the alarm, saying the sheep have been "roaming the village" causing havoc by breaking into homes.

"There is already a flock of sheep roaming the village causing a nuisance," he said.

"They are getting in people's gardens and one even entered a bungalow and left a mess in the bedroom."

He warned of the dangers of the rest of the flock discovering the remains of the cannabis plantation dumped at Rhydypandy, in the Swansea valley in South Wales.

He said: "I dread to think what will happen if they eat what could well be cannabis plants - we could have an outbreak out of psychotic sheep rampaging through the village."

Dreadful, ghastly, foul - relax, it sounds like they've got the munchies. Get some chips, maybe a bag of Oreos, - problem solved. Oh yeah, you should also confiscate their rolling papers and lighters while you're at it.

Would Napoleon Have Chosen Waterloo?

The Harper/Ambrose Conservatives are gathering in Vancouver for a whoop-up. Seems like an odd place for Tories to gather. Sure it's beautiful, much nicer than any place where they still reign, but it's sort of like Napoleon going back with the boys for a reunion at Waterloo.

Vancouver wasn't Tory-friendly in the last election. The whole coast, including Vancouver Island, sent Tory candidates packing.

I suppose it could have been worse. It could have been the Maritimes but, then again, we know what Tories think of those indolent folks down east.

I'm not sure nature wants the Conservatives out here either. We've been having balmy, sunny weather. It seems that'll end this afternoon. It's going to turn cold and damp and the sunny warmth won't be back until Monday.

Mr. Ambassador, You're Not a Cop

He rose to fame by taking down Michael Zehaf-Bebeau when the gunman stormed Parliament's centre block. That probably had something to do with former House of Commons Sergeant at Arms, Kevin Vickers, being appointed Canada's ambassador to Ireland. Nice gig.

Old habits, it seems, die hard. Ambassador Vickers was in attendance in Dublin today for a commemoration of British soldiers who fell putting down the October Rising when Irish Republicans tried to take Northern Ireland by force.

Protester, meet Mr. Ambassador.

A protester wearing an "Easter Rising" t-shirt got up and yelled "this is a disgrace." Vickers intervened, tackling the man and apparently holding him until the cops could arrest him.

Kevin, great catch and everything, but... you're an ambassador, not event security. That's why they had cops there. You have to leave it up to that other nation's cops to decide if and when they'll arrest somebody. That's not your call.

The video is better than the photo:


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Another First for the Athabasca TAR Sands

You knew they're grotesque. You knew they're dirty. You knew they create massive amounts of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. The Athabasca Tar Sands are an environmental calamity.

All that and more, the "more" part being the emission of noxious, organic aerosols.

The aerosols are minute particles, roughly 1/10th the diameter of a human hair or less, that are created when chemical-laden vapours from the mining and processing of bitumen react with oxygen in the atmosphere and are transformed into solids that can drift on the wind for days.

While researchers have long thought that the oil sands must be a source of such particles, the new results, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, show that their impact on air quality is significant and of potential concern to communities that are downwind.

The oil-sands aerosols are similar in abundance to those that U.S. researchers recorded rising from the massive oil spill caused by the Deepwater Horizon drilling-rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. But they are ever-present.

“The oil spill lasted a few months, and the Alberta oil-sand operations are an ongoing industrial activity,” said Joost de Gouw, a Colorado-based research physicist with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who led the oil-spill measurements.

“The take-away is that there’s more that’s emitted into the atmosphere than we’ve fully appreciated,” said Jeffrey Brook, an air-quality researcher with Environment and Climate Change Canada who participated in the oil-sands study. “There is a need to continue to improve our knowledge about where these emissions go.”

The researchers believe that many thousands of people living downwind of the Tar Sands are inhaling these invisible droplets with every breath, every day, year in and year out.

Scientists are still trying to understand the complex health effects those particles can trigger when inhaled, but they have been linked in previous studies to lung cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

How Do You Go From Emperor to Shopkeeper? Harper's AfterLife.

The rumour is everywhere. Shifty Steve Harper will resign his seat in Parliament this summer to pursue other opportunities.

One theory is that he'll set up some sort of foreign policy institute. Bad idea. While, on the international scene, Harper frequently liked to scold other leaders, he really didn't champion any notable initiative. He didn't build any grand alliances. He didn't bring peace to any troubled spot. He has no foreign policy legacy worth mentioning even if it could be recalled - and it can't.

The legendary foreign policy types tended to have vision. Harper, domestically or internationally, was never burdened by the weight of vision. No great statesmanship there - not at the United Nations (which he despised), nor at the
G7, NATO, APEC or just about anywhere else.

The alternative theory is that Harper is planning to enter business, pick up a few directorships, that sort of thing. Not sure he's cut out for that either. Personality problems. A person with dictatorial instincts might not be a good fit on a board of directors.

Brian Mulroney - there's a man who embodied directorial qualities. A jovial personality, a guy who could lean over and tell the next guy some dirty joke, a man who could seek out compromise or at least some accommodation.

Harper - he's convinced he is always, has always been, shall always be the brightest man in the room. He acts on belief, dispensing with evidence or fact. He has a low threshold for frustration, cussing out subordinates, kicking chairs across the room. He's a bully and, like all bullies, a coward - first one into the janitor's closet sort of guy. He's cold and lifeless, utterly joyless. He angers easily and cultivates grievance. Sum it all up, he really, really does not play well with others. He's a nasty, churlish little piggy.

What could he do? Maybe some third-rate burger joint franchise might work, the sort of place he could staff with guest workers from the Philippines, that sort of thing. He could hide out in the office/closet with the water heater; berate the staff all day and carry on his life as a professional shit.

I don't know. Any other ideas? Feel free to weigh in.