Saturday, November 30, 2019

What's More Dangerous - Climate Change or Our Political Leadership?

A recurring theme on this blog has been the precipitous decline in political leadership in Canada and many other nations during the neoliberal era.

Professor, historian and celebrated futurist, Yuval Harari, addresses this collapse in his book, "Homo Deus." He writes of governance falling ever further behind technology and losing its way, the reins of power slack in atrophied hands.

In the coming decades it is likely that we will see more Internet-like revolutions, in which technology steals a march on politics. Artificial intelligence and biotechnology might soon overhaul our societies and economies - and our bodies and minds too - but they are hardly a blip on the current political radar. Present-day democratic structures just cannot collect and process the relevant data fast enough, and most voters don't understand biology and cybernetics well enough to form any pertinent opinions. Here traditional democratic politics is losing control of events and is failing to present us with meaningful visions of the future.
Ordinary voters are beginning to sense that the democratic mechanism no longer empowers them. The world is changing all around, and they don't understand how or why. Power is shifting away from them, but they are unsure where it has gone. In Britain voters imagine that power might have shifted to the EU, so they vote for Brexit. In the USA voters imagine that 'the establishment' monopolises all the power, so they support anti-establishment candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. The sad truth is that nobody knows where all the power has gone. Power will definitely not shift back to ordinary voters if Britain leaves the EU, nor if Trump takes over the White House.
Fear Not an Era of Authoritarian Rule.
In science-fiction films ruthless Hitler-like politicians are quick to pounce on new technologies, putting them in the service of this or that megalomaniac political ideal. Yet flesh and blood politicians in the early 21st century, even in authoritarian countries such as Russia, Iran or North Korea, are nothing like their Hollywood counterparts. They don't seem to be plotting any Brave New World. The wildest dreams of Kim Jong-un and Ali Khamenei don't extend much beyond atom bombs and ballistic missiles: that is so 1945. Putin's aspirations seem confined to rebuilding the old Soviet bloc, or the even older tsarist empire.  
Precisely because technology is now moving so fast, and parliaments and dictators alike are overwhelmed by data they cannot process quickly enough, present-day politicians are thinking on a far smaller scale than their predecessors a century ago. Consequently, in the early 21st century politics is bereft of grand visions. Government has become mere administration. It manages the country but it no longer leads it. Government ensures that teachers are paid on time and sewage systems don't overflow, but it has no idea where the country will be in twenty years
To a certain extent, this is a very good thing. Given that some of the big political visions of the 20th century led us to Auschwitz, Hiroshima and the Great Leap Forward, maybe we are better off in the hands of petty-minded bureaucrats. Mixing godlike technology with megalomaniacal politics is a recipe for disaster. Many neo-liberal economists and political scientists argue that it is best to leave all the important decisions in the hands of the free market. They thereby give politicians the perfect excuse for inaction and ignorance, which are reinterpreted as profound wisdom. Politicians find it convenient to believe that the reason they don't understand the world is that they don't need to understand it.
...It is dangerous to trust our future to market forces, because these forces do what's good for the market rather than what's good for humankind or for the world. The hand of the market is blind as well as invisible, and left to its own devices it may fail to do anything at all about the threat of global warming or the dangerous potential of artificial intelligence.

Some people believe that there is somebody in charge after all. Not democratic politicians or autocratic despots, but rather a small coterie of billionaires who secretly run the world. But such conspiracy theories never work, because they underestimate the complexity of the system. A few billionaires smoking cigars and drinking Scotch in some back room cannot possibly understand everything happening on the globe, let alone control it. Ruthless billionaires and small interest groups flourish in today's chaotic world not because they read the map better than anyone else but because they have very narrow aims. In a chaotic system tunnel vision has its advantages and the billionaires' power is strictly proportional to their goals. When the world's richest tycoons want to make another billion dollars they can easily game the system in order to do so. In contrast, if they felt inclined to reduce global inequality or stop global warming, even they wouldn't be able to, because the system is far too complex.
As Harari sees it, human civilization has reached the end of its rope. Nothing proves this better than the abrupt decline of our political leadership. There's a reason they can so often appear to govern as though we were still in the in the 80s. It reflects nothing so much as their inability to evolve beyond that. It is why we remain in the rut of neoliberalism long after it has failed us.

Consider Canada's recently proclaimed climate emergency. In an emergency, governments mobilize the nation. Its industrial base, its people are harnessed to the effort. It is a time, as Churchill put it, in which we must do what is required. It is not enough that we do "our best." What measures typical of an emergency, an existential threat at that, have you observed? Does the government's go-ahead for construction of a new and expanded bitumen pipeline count? No, if that emergency proclamation looks like a farce, that is because it is a farce, one in which, despite all the consequences for the future, we happily collude.

Harari's observation that, "democratic politics is losing control of events and is failing to present us with meaningful visions of the future," is a damning indictment of our leaders.  There is no vision and, without vision, there is no conception, no planning, no action.

I tried to make this point in a recent post asking whether we were going to fight climate change as ineptly as we fought the Taliban in Kandahar. The approach reveals close and worrisome parallels.  Our leadership is not in it to win. They're not even in it for the consolation prize, a somewhat survivable crash landing. They "have no idea where the country will be in twenty years."  No, they have an election in four years, monies to raise, campaigns to organize.

What can we expect from a school marm or his adversary, a summer-help insurance clerk? How did two visionless men of such meagre talent rise to lead our two dominant political parties? How did their parties choose them? Where has all the real talent gone?

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Carbon Taxes - Too Little, Too Late Says Former Liberal Environment Minister

Former Ontario environment minister, Glen Murray, says it's too late to expect carbon taxes to do any meaningful good.

Glen Murray was the minister of environment in Ontario in 2017 when that province introduced its short-lived cap-and-trade carbon pricing system, which was killed off by the new Tory government just over a year later. 
Murray, who is now working as a clean tech entrepreneur, says carbon taxes will take too long to work, given how quickly the planet is warming. 
“If we had 40 years, 30 years, maybe that would work,” he said Wednesday.
“Do we have enough time for incrementalism as slow-motion pricing?” Murray asked. “The answer to that is no.” 
Murray said Canada has spent the better part of the last decade mired in political fights over whether carbon taxes or cap-and-trade systems are acceptable and now has “run out runway” to give them a chance. 
He also said those battles have left politicians with a lack of willpower to set the price high enough to be truly effective. 
Meanwhile, international scientists say the world has to cut greenhouse-gas emissions almost in half by the end of the next decade to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Canada has so far pledged to cut them by about a third and the policies in place – or on the way – leave the country significantly shy of even that.

China, China, China

Judging by the number of reports on its website, the CBC appears to have realized that Canada has a China problem. See here, here, and here. As coverage goes, it's C to C- grade stuff, the pedestrian sort of thing we've come to expect from Mother Corp.

In Tuesday's NYT, columnist Thomas Friedman had a more interesting China piece. He argues that the Berlin Wall may be an artifact of the past but there's a new wall emerging, one that will partition America's sphere of influence from China's.
On Nov. 9, European leaders gathered in Berlin to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was an anniversary worth celebrating. But no one seemed to notice that almost exactly 30 years after the Berlin Wall fell, a new wall — a digital Berlin Wall — had begun to be erected between China and America. And the only thing left to be determined, a Chinese business executive remarked to me, “is how high this wall will be,” and which countries will choose to be on which side.

This new wall, separating a U.S.-led technology and trade zone from a Chinese-led one, will have implications as vast as the wall bisecting Berlin did. Because the peace, prosperity and accelerations in technology and globalization that have so benefited the world over the past 40 years were due, in part, to the interweaving of the U.S. and Chinese economies.
...Former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson gave a speech here a year ago trying to kick-start that discussion. “For 40 years,” Paulson noted, “the U.S.-China relationship has been characterized by the integration of four things: goods, capital, technology and people. And over these 40 years, economic integration between the two countries was supposed to mitigate security competition. But an intellectually honest appraisal must now admit both that this hasn’t happened and that the reverse is taking place.”

That reversal is happening for two reasons. First, because the U.S. is — rightly — no longer willing to accept China’s unfair trade restrictions on importing of U.S. goods and its stealing of the intellectual property of U.S. firms — something we tolerated for many years before China became a technology powerhouse. 
And second, because, now that China is a technology powerhouse — and technological products all have both economic and military applications, unlike the toys, T-shirts and tennis shoes that used to dominate our trade — the two sides are struggling to figure out what to buy and sell from and to each other, without damaging their national security. 
The net result, argued Paulson, is that “after 40 years of integration, a surprising number of political and thought leaders on both sides advocate policies that could forcibly de-integrate the two countries across all four of these baskets.” And if that trend continues, “we need to consider the possibility that the integration of global innovation ecosystems will collapse as a result of mutual efforts by the United States and China to exclude one another.”
That, Paulson concluded, is “why I now see the prospect of an Economic Iron Curtain — one that throws up new walls on each side and unmakes the global economy, as we have known it.” Yikes!
Trump Plays the Huawei Card.
...China’s most important technology manufacturer and scores of its affiliates across the globe were blacklisted and could no longer buy parts from their major U.S. suppliers — such as Google, Qualcomm, Intel, Micron and Microsoft — without a special license. U.S. officials argued that Huawei was guilty of facilitating Chinese espionage — or would do so in the future if China’s government asked it to — and had engaged in fraud, technology theft and violations on U.S. sanctions against Iran.

However much justified, this move was the equivalent of China freezing out Apple and Microsoft. In was an earthquake in China’s tech lands. It “woke up everybody in China,” a prominent Chinese telecom executive told me. “We now have to think about this world differently,” the executive explained. “We need to build on a mix of our own technologies to be sure that we are safe. They totally underestimated what they have done.”

Lots of Chinese tech companies are now thinking: We will never, ever, ever leave ourselves again in a situation where we are totally dependent on America for key components. Time to double down on making our own. 
At the same time, U.S. manufacturers are saying to themselves: We’d better think twice about building our next factory in China or solely depending on a supply chain from there. 
The ripping sound you hear is the sound of two giant economies starting to decouple.
Look Who's Here - Thucydides, and He's Brought His Trap!

For some time I've been following China's economic ascendancy and the ripples emanating from it. There's a powerful neo-nationalism spreading across China at the popular level, the government level and especially throughout the officer class of China's fast-catching-up military.

If Hank Paulson is right and the economic ties that bind China and the United States are dissolving that could be a very dangerous event in China's economic ascendancy. It could energize a Thucydides Trap scenario, a term that refers to the far better than even chance that the displacement of a dominant power by an ascendant rival will result in war between them. Remember, this is a country that still craves revenge for its "Century of Humiliation" that has been observing National Humiliation Day since 1916.

For decades we've assumed that the tight integration of the US and Chinese economies would deter open conflict between them. What if....

Will Canada Fight Climate Change the Way We Fought the Taliban?

Canada, like most ISAF member nations, did a lousy job in Afghanistan. Harper said we were in it to win. We would drive the Taliban out - for good. We would transform Afghanistan into a democratic nation where the rights of women and children would be respected. We would never cut and run.

How did that turn out? The Talibs never left, not on our watch, not since. They've been taking control of more territory in that country than ever before. Now the United States is negotiating with them privately, without the Kabul government. Afghanistan has never overcome the dual scourge of tribalism and warlordism so toxic to democracy. The women and children? Well...  And, yes, we cut and ran.

Now we seem to be doing something quite similar in our supposed fight against climate change. How so?

We're falling back on efforts that are plainly gestural. We're not in it to win.

In Afghanistan that meant never measuring the commitment, force levels and such, to the challenge. We foolishly took over the Kandahar mission with a minuscule force, it's numbers somewhere between 10 to 20 per cent of what was needed to defeat the Talibs given the population of Kandahar. We had no choice but to become a garrison force, ceding control of the province to the bad guys at night and much of the day time when we didn't put in an appearance outside the wire. We would mount missions. When we did the enemy would fade away and wait until we went back to base. Whack-a-Mole.  When you're fighting an insurgency and you can't protect the civilian population, you lose. No surprise, we lost.

On climate change 'gestural' means ineffective measures that are disconnected from the enormity and urgency of the threat. We don't talk about what's coming, how soon, and what we must do to avert the worst possible outcomes.

We don't talk about the inadequacy of our emissions targets or why we're in no position to meet them.  Why not? We point to a $30 per ton carbon tax but we never talk about how much or how little good that might do. Why not? We're really dropping the ball on the mitigation side just as we dropped the ball in Kandahar. We want a blue ribbon for participation just like what they give kids at preschool track day.

We never, ever, but never talk about the other side of the coin - adaptation. We're like the little pig in the straw house as the wolf draws ever closer. We don 't talk about what's coming or what we can still do to weather the storms. Why not? We have the longest coastlines of any nation but we're not doing much if anything to prepare for sea level rise. Why not? We have this worsening wildfire problem that's spreading black soot and small particulate matter, the PM 2.5 stuff that embeds carbon, sulfur, nitrogen and heavy metals in our lungs but we're not talking about it. Why not? We have ocean acidification and aquatic heatwaves that spawn algae blooms and dead zones that threaten our fisheries but we're not talking about it. Why not? We have a wide range of threats to our domestic food security from droughts to floods, severe heatwaves, pest and disease migration and proliferation. We're not talking about it. Why not? 

Then there's the big one - our outdated, inadequate and decaying infrastructure, the circulatory system of our economy; bridges, roads, railways, sea and airports, electrical grids.  A lot of that was built in my late father's time. It was designed and engineered and constructed for a time that is now past, a gentler time. It was never designed to withstand the demands of our new climate. Replacing, repairing and upgrading our existing critical infrastructure could be the greatest public works programme in our country's history, not that far off from European reconstruction in the immediate postwar years. We're not talking about it. Why not?

Our approach to climate change, both mitigation and adaptation, is every bit as half-assed as was our commitment to the men and women we sent on a hopeless mission to Kandahar.

Why aren't we talking about this, all of it, in meaningful detail? I expect that's because talking about these things would reveal just how much trouble we're really in and both the enormity and urgency of the threats and what is required to at least blunt them. That's a conversation our leaders would rather put off for a future government to handle.

European Parliament Declares "Climate Emergency"

When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, the EU is well ahead of the petro-states, Canada included. Ottawa may have proclaimed a "climate emergency" first but, chances are, the Euros are more sincere.
Although passed with a comfortable majority, with 429 votes in favour, 225 votes against and 19 abstentions – MEPs across the political spectrum warned against making symbolic gestures. 
Environmental campaigners said the declaration was not backed by sufficient action. “Our house is on fire. The European parliament has seen the blaze, but it’s not enough to stand by and watch,” said Greenpeace’s EU climate policy adviser, Sebastian Mang, shortly before the vote. 
In a separate vote on Thursday, MEPs backed a resolution stating that current EU climate targets were “not in line” with the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which calls for keeping global heating “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels, but aiming to cap temperature rises at 1.5C.
MEPs backed a tougher target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030, an improvement on the current 40% target, but derided by Green politicians and campaigners as inadequate.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Asleep at the Wheel

With another UN climate summit next week there are plenty of papers flooding in. Canada needs a carbon tax of no less than $210 per ton of GHG emissions, sort of thing. These give us an idea of the daunting challenges that we'll have to confront if the world is to have any chance of a "soft landing" on climate change.

There's a constant theme - the longer you avoid action the more it will cost in the long run. It's been said that Canada needs a trillion dollars worth of infrastructure overhaul but, if we don't, it will cost the economy far more in the future.

Only it's not just a matter of how much more it'll cost or how much harder it will be down the road. That implies we still have options that already might have been foreclosed. What if we've already pulled that trigger? What if those options to address the climate crisis have already been lost?

A new paper in the journal Nature considers if it's already too late, whether we have already crossed so many tipping points that we're hooped. The authors include the current and past directors of the prestigious Potsdam Institute, Johan Rockstrom and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, two of the big guns in the field of climate change.

The report notes it wasn't that long ago that it was believed these tipping points might be triggered by 5 degrees Celsius of heating. Now research suggests a lower threshold of 1 to 2 degrees Celsius which means we may already be too late to avert real trouble.

If current national pledges to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions are implemented — and that’s a big ‘if’ — they are likely to result in at least 3 °C of global warming. This is despite the goal of the 2015 Paris agreement to limit warming to well below 2 °C. Some economists, assuming that climate tipping points are of very low probability (even if they would be catastrophic), have suggested that 3 °C warming is optimal from a cost–benefit perspective. However, if tipping points are looking more likely, then the ‘optimal policy’ recommendation of simple cost–benefit climate-economy models4 aligns with those of the recent IPCC report2. In other words, warming must be limited to 1.5 °C. This requires an emergency response.

Raising the Alarm.

As well as undermining our life-support system, biosphere tipping points can trigger abrupt carbon release back to the atmosphere. This can amplify climate change and reduce remaining emission budgets.

Deforestation and climate change are destabilizing the Amazon — the world’s largest rainforest, which is home to one in ten known species. Estimates of where an Amazon tipping point could lie range from 40% deforestation to just 20% forest-cover loss8. About 17% has been lost since 1970.

...With the Arctic warming at least twice as quickly as the global average, the boreal forest in the subarctic is increasingly vulnerable. Already, warming has triggered large-scale insect disturbances and an increase in fires that have led to dieback of North American boreal forests, potentially turning some regions from a carbon sink to a carbon source9. Permafrost across the Arctic is beginning to irreversibly thaw and release carbon dioxide and methane — a greenhouse gas that is around 30 times more potent than CO2 over a 100-year period.
Have We Already Blown the 'Carbon Budget'?
The world’s remaining emissions budget for a 50:50 chance of staying within 1.5 °C of warming is only about 500 gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2. Permafrost emissions could take an estimated 20% (100 Gt CO2) off this budget10, and that’s without including methane from deep permafrost or undersea hydrates. If forests are close to tipping points, Amazon dieback could release another 90 Gt CO2 and boreal forests a further 110 Gt CO211. With global total CO2 emissions still at more than 40 Gt per year, the remaining budget could be all but erased already.
Entering the Cascade.

The cascade is a world of knock-on effects and dangerous synergies in which the sum is far greater than the parts.
In our view, the clearest emergency would be if we were approaching a global cascade of tipping points that led to a new, less habitable, ‘hothouse’ climate state. Interactions could happen through ocean and atmospheric circulation or through feedbacks that increase greenhouse-gas levels and global temperature. Alternatively, strong cloud feedbacks could cause a global tipping point.

...In our view, examples are starting to be observed. For example, Arctic sea-ice loss is amplifying regional warming, and Arctic warming and Greenland melting are driving an influx of fresh water into the North Atlantic. This could have contributed to a 15% slowdown since the mid-twentieth century of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) , a key part of global heat and salt transport by the ocean. Rapid melting of the Greenland ice sheet and further slowdown of the AMOC could destabilize the West African monsoon, triggering drought in Africa’s Sahel region. A slowdown in the AMOC could also dry the Amazon, disrupt the East Asian monsoon and cause heat to build up in the Southern Ocean, which could accelerate Antarctic ice loss.
What Humanity has Wrought.
Atmospheric CO2 is already at levels last seen around four million years ago, in the Pliocene epoch. It is rapidly heading towards levels last seen some 50 million years ago — in the Eocene — when temperatures were up to 14 °C higher than they were in pre-industrial times.
Do the Math.
We define emergency (E) as the product of risk and urgency. Risk (R) is defined by insurers as probability (p) multiplied by damage (D). Urgency (U) is defined in emergency situations as reaction time to an alert (τ) divided by the intervention time left to avoid a bad outcome (T). Thus:
E = R × U = p × D × τ / T 
The situation is an emergency if both risk and urgency are high. If reaction time is longer than the intervention time left (τ / T > 1), we have lost control.
Fighting for the Consolation Prize, Playing for Time.
We argue that the intervention time left to prevent tipping could already have shrunk towards zero, whereas the reaction time to achieve net zero emissions is 30 years at best. Hence we might already have lost control of whether tipping happens. A saving grace is that the rate at which damage accumulates from tipping — and hence the risk posed — could still be under our control to some extent.
It was at the Paris climate summit in 2015 that the community of nations sought to keep global warming at less than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Schellnhuber explained that meeting that goal would require nothing less than the "induced implosion" of the fossil fuel industries. Governments would have to immediately begin reining them in and then shutting them down. Survival meant bursting the 'carbon bubble.'  Fossil fuels, especially coal and bitumen, would have to be abandoned, left in the ground, as we resorted to lower-carbon fossil energy through the transition to alternative clean energy.

The past four years have demonstrated that, among the petro-states, there's no appetite for that induced implosion. Instead we're doubling down on fossil fuel production, including the really high-carbon, low-value products that will wreak havoc among all species on Earth.

Good On Justin Trudeau

Credit where credit's due. Full marks to the Trudeau government for not legislating CN rail workers back to work. After eight days it seems the company and its workers have reached a tentative contract and the trains are rolling once again.

The right to strike is enshrined in article 23(4) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which provides, "Everyone has the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests."

The right to strike has been established in international law for decades, in global and regional instruments, such as in the ILO Convention No. 87 (articles 3, 8 and 10), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (article 8), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (article 22), the European Convention on Human Rights (article 11), and the American Convention on Human Rights (article 16). The right is also enshrined in the constitutions of at least 90 countries. The right to strike has in effect become customary international law. 
The right to strike is also an intrinsic corollary of the fundamental right of freedom of association. It is crucial for millions of women and men around the world to assert collectively their rights in the workplace, including the right to just and favourable conditions of work, and to work in dignity and without fear of intimidation and persecution. Moreover, protest action in relation to government social and economic policy, and against negative corporate practices, forms part of the basic civil liberties whose respect is essential for the meaningful exercise of trade union rights. This right enables them to engage with companies and governments on a more equal footing, and Member States have a positive obligation to protect this right, and a negative obligation not to interfere with its exercise. 
Moreover, protecting the right to strike is not simply about States fulfilling their legal obligations. It is also about them creating democratic and equitable societies that are sustainable in the long run. The concentration of power in one sector – whether in the hands of government or business – inevitably leads to the erosion of democracy, and an increase in inequalities and marginalization with all their attendant consequences. The right to strike is a check on this concentration of power.
Harper considered this nonsense, often ordering workers back on the job almost immediately they moved to strike. That created a huge advantage to corporations over labour.

Theodore Roosevelt, drew on Abraham Lincoln's words, in his 1910 New Nationalism speech:
Of that generation of men to whom we owe so much, the man to whom we owe most is, of course, Lincoln. Part of our debt to him is because he forecast our present struggle and saw the way out. He said: 
"I hold that while man exists it is his duty to improve not only his own condition, but to assist in ameliorating mankind."

"Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. 
Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration."
This does not mean that labour has an absolute right to strike indefinitely. If the strike power, once sufficiently exercised, is ineffective, government may need to intervene with binding arbitration or other remedies.

The inescapable fact, however, is that the Tories are anti-labour. Scheer's shrill demands that CN workers be forced back to work show that nothing has changed since Harper's day.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Coming Apart at the Seams?

The Tories are a "big tent" party, especially for social conservsatives, the gang who call the shots in  Redneckistan. They had one of their own running the show during the Harper era and they thought Harper's successor, Andrew Scheer, would carry the same flag. Only, in their eyes, Scheer wimped out. He failed to keep the faith. He let down the side.

The progressive side, what remains of it, is already out for Scheer. Now it's the redneck base that is honing its knives. Sounds like a good, old fashioned, Tory skinning party is in the works.
“A lot of social conservatives have no interest whatsoever in backing Andrew Scheer," ex-Conservative MP and defeated leadership candidate Brad Trost told The Globe and Mail. “We feel we are being made the whipping boy for his communications blunders.” 
Mr. Trost, along with the Campaign Life Coalition and evangelical Christian leader Charles McVety, all told The Globe the Conservatives need a new leader. And the anti-abortion group, Right Now, which ranked Mr. Scheer as its second choice during the leadership race, said it is taking a “wait-and-see” approach before making its own decision. 
Mr. Scheer’s office said it didn’t have a comment on the criticism.

During the election, the party came out with “confusing and garbled” messages on abortion and abortion funding, said Alissa Golob, the co-founder of Right Now. She said Mr. Scheer’s position that the party would continue to fund overseas abortions through foreign aid, was against party policy and his position on whether MPs would be able to introduce anti-abortion legislation was unclear.
All of this is bad enough but, to add insult to injury, the Globe's John Ibbitson has already written Scheer's obituary. He says the 'summer help insurance clerk' simply hasn't got what it takes.
Leading the fractious Conservative Party of Canada is a challenge for any leader. Andrew Scheer does not appear up to that challenge. Within the party, people are asking whether he will step down now or draw out the agony until April’s leadership vote. 
Mr. Scheer’s supporters have good reason to be upset by this lack of loyalty. The Regina MP took a party that appeared doomed to a decade in opposition and brought it to the brink of victory in the Oct. 29 election. The Conservatives increased their seat count and won the popular vote, reducing Justin Trudeau’s Liberals to a minority government. Why on earth would the Tories be in almost-open rebellion after such a result? 
The answer is simple: Mr. Scheer is a leader who is unable to convince.
For starters, his tactical judgment is unconvincing. On the weekend, he fired his chief of staff and communications director, more than a month after the election. Such bloodlettings are best dealt with immediately after a loss. 
This was yet another example of the leader’s chronic inability to head problems off at the pass. (Not dealing with the question of his American citizenship before the election might have been the worst such example.) A politician needs to have a certain touch. Mr. Scheer lacks it.
A word of advice for my Tory friends. If you're planning on attending the party in April don't wear your good shoes. 

A New Term - "Climate Procrastination"

A decade ago, our hopes of a climate emergency "soft landing" depended on slashing greenhouse gas emissions by just over three per cent per year, every year.

Only we didn't do that. We did the opposite. Mankind, particularly its deeply flawed political leadership, procrastinated. We didn't curb our emissions. Some did but not enough to grow overall emissions. Call it 'climate procrastination.'

A decade later, thanks to the growth in emissions, the price of that soft landing has doubled to seven per cent per year, each and every year. Such is the reign of the climate procrastinators.

Yesterday the World Meteorological Organization, WMO, weighed in with a report that we've hit a new high for atmospheric emissions loading, warning that there's no sign of a slow down much less a decline. I decided not to post that because, well, by now it sounds like a broken record, an existential broken record but repetitive in any event. When you've thrown yourself off a cliff what is there to say when you're halfway down? "Oh look, we're halfway to the rocks."

Today's climate crisis greeting comes to you from the United Nations.  Guess what? It'll take more than rigorous emissions cuts if we want that soft landing. Brace yourself. We may have to fall back on geo-engineering.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released its annual Emissions Gap Report on Tuesday — 168 pages, compiled by 57 leading scientists from 33 institutions across 25 countries — calling on governments to act immediately, within the next decade, to limit global warming to 1.5 C or 2 C by 2100. 
"By now, we know all we need to know. The science is pretty clear, and very frightening," said Anne Olhoff, head of strategy, climate and planning and policy at UNEP. "But we also know we have the technological options that are needed, at least to the short to medium term."
So, with our bright eyed and bushy tailed prime minister, where does Canada stand on guard for the world? Do you really need to ask?

Some key highlights from the report include: 
Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) have increased 1.5 per cent annually over the past decade. 
By 2030, annual emissions need to be 15 gigatonnes of CO2 lower to reach the 2 C goal, and 32 gigatonnes lower for 1.5 C. 
GHG emissions have to drop by 2.7 per cent per year from 2020 to 2030 for the 2 C goal, and by 7.6 per cent per year for the 1.5 C target. 
To reach these goals, efforts must increase at least fivefold for the 1.5 C goal and threefold for the 2 C. 
Of the G20 nations, of which Canada is one, only five countries have committed to Nationally Determined Contributions(NDC) set out in the Paris Agreement, which outline each country's efforts to reduce national emissions to limit global warming to 2 C below pre-industrial levels. 
Canada has not committed.
Yes, sadly, Canada has not committed. We've committed instead to building a massive new pipeline to flood world markets with high-carbon, low-value, climate-wrecking bitumen, as much as we can as fast as we can before the worst of the worst fossil fuels become stranded.

In a grotesquely hollow gesture, Mr. Trudeau has pledged that Canada will be carbon neutral by 2050 if only we get an unbroken string of future prime ministers so much better than the current iteration. That rattling noise? That's Mr. Trudeau kicking the can down the road.

The good news? Someone else will be picking up the tab for our lethal carbon profligacy - at least for the first decade or two.
Jennifer Francis, a senior scientist at Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Mass., an independent research organization that studies climate change, said that a 3.2 C warming world would cause untold suffering. 
"Looking at migration, [a 3.2 C increase] would make what we're seeing coming out Latin America now into Mexico and into the U.S. look like nothing," Francis said. "There's just going to be people suffering in places where it will become literally uninhabitable, where they won't be able to grow food anymore, where their animals won't be able to live anymore. 
"That's what I worry about the most, the conflict and the misery that's going to happen around the world," she said. "That's what keeps me up at night."
I guess we should apologize.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Justin's Pipeline Stasi Are Still At It.

The Crown corporation that owns the Trans Mountain Pipeline is running an intelligence operation against pipeline opponents. That's right. The government is spying on Canadians who have committed no crimes.

The federally owned Trans Mountain Corporation is monitoring pipeline opponents and designating some as persons of interest who warrant closer scrutiny, according to internal records provided to CBC News.

The Trans Mountain documents show its security officials recorded the names of individuals who posted anti-pipeline videos and statements on social media, along with the names of those tagged in the posts or who shared the content.

Trans Mountain also singled out two individuals it considered to be persons of interest — labelled "POI" in the documents — and compiled information on their movements and their interactions with different protest groups targeting other resource projects.
Apparently making common cause with an indigenous group opposed to Trudeau's pipeline can get you singled out as a POI.

Remember, Big Brother is watching.

Just In Time for Christmas

I thought he was shallow but cardboard shallow?

Just in time for Christmas, Wayfair is offering a life size cut out of our prime minister, Justin Trudeau.

The best part - he's on sale. Order now and get yours on sale. Save three bucks while supplies last.

Nestle Confesses to Buying Fish Caught by Slaves.

I know, I know, another Nestle outrage. Cat food made from fish harvested by slave labour in Thailand. Only this story is a little bit different.

This time, the Swiss food giant investigated itself and went public with its findings.
Impoverished migrant workers in Thailand are sold or lured by false promises and forced to catch and process fish that ends up in global food giant Nestlé SA's supply chains. 
The unusual disclosure comes from Geneva-based Nestlé​ SA itself, which in an act of self-policing planned to announce the conclusions of its yearlong internal investigation on Monday. The study found virtually all U.S. and European companies buying seafood from Thailand are exposed to the same risks of abuse in their supply chains.
...The labourers come from Thailand's much poorer neighbours Myanmar and Cambodia. Brokers illegally charge them fees to get jobs, trapping them into working on fishing vessels and at ports, mills and seafood farms in Thailand to pay back more money than they can ever earn. 
"Sometimes, the net is too heavy and workers get pulled into the water and just disappear. When someone dies, he gets thrown into the water," one Burmese worker told the non-profit organization Verité commissioned by Nestle.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Stiglitz - It's Time to Ditch GDP

Justin Trudeau, Bill Morneau and every other perpetual-exponential-growther, or PEG'er, are joined at the hip to GDP, gross domestic product. They are GDP's high priests. It is, to them, the ultimate measure of success or failure, how they justify most of their increasingly bad decisions. That puts them with the dinosaurs which, oddly enough, happens to be where we might all wind up if we don't change course.

Joe Stiglitz is a fascinating character. He did his doctorate on the perils of inequality. He rose to be chief economist at the World Bank. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics. He's campaigned against rising inequality most of his life.

Joe believes it's time for clear-headed leaders to 'retire' metrics such as GDP.

So what if GDP goes up, if most citizens are worse off? In the first three years of the so-called recovery from the financial crisis, about 91% of the gains went to the top 1%. No wonder that many people doubted the claims of politicians who were then saying the economy was well on the way to a robust recovery.

...If our economy seems to be growing but that growth is not sustainable because we are destroying the environment and using up scarce natural resources, our statistics should warn us. But because GDP didn’t include resource depletion and environmental degradation, we typically get an excessively rosy picture.

These concerns have now been brought to the fore with the climate crisis. It has been three decades since the threat of climate change was first widely recognized, and matters have grown worse faster than initially expected. There have been more extreme events, greater melting of glaciers and greater natural habitat destruction.
It is clear that something is fundamentally wrong with the way we assess economic performance and social progress. Even worse, our metrics frequently give the misleading impression that there is a trade-off between the two; that, for instance, changes that enhance people’s economic security, whether through improved pensions or a better welfare state, come at the expense of national economic performance. 
Getting the measure right – or at least a lot better – is crucially important, especially in our metrics- and performance-oriented society. If we measure the wrong thing, we will do the wrong thing. If our measures tell us everything is fine when it really isn’t, we will be complacent.
And it should be clear that, in spite of the increases in GDP, in spite of the 2008 crisis being well behind us, everything is not fine. We see this in the political discontent rippling through so many advanced countries; we see it in the widespread support of demagogues, whose successes depend on exploiting economic discontent; and we see it in the environment around us, where fires rage and floods and droughts occur at ever-increasing intervals.
Stiglitz argues for new metrics that are relevant to the climate change epoch. The post-war era is over and our politicians need to accept that. They must stop governing as though we were still in the 80s because we're not. That era is gone and it's not coming back.

It may not feel like it but we're in a fight for survival. The stakes couldn't be higher. Global warming and severe weather events of increasing frequency, intensity and duration; ocean acidification and deep ocean heating; species extinction and migration; the proliferation and spread of infectious diseases; overpopulation; resource depletion and exhaustion; desertification; deforestation; the decline by more than half in global populations of both terrestrial and marine life; degradation of arable farmland; the rise of autocracy displacing liberal democracy; inequality and austerity dissolving the bonds of social cohesion; social unrest and upheaval; nuclear proliferation and terrorism. Growing the GDP answers none of these things. Carrying on as though we're still in the 80s only deepens our vulnerabilities.

We've got to stop focusing on quantity and, instead, address quality. That means addressing inequality, in all its permutations. That means coming to grips with automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, income and wealth redistribution.  It means recognizing that our present isn't a continuation of the past so much as the onset of a very different future for which we'll pay dearly if we don't get it right. Change is coming. Change is happening. It's up to us to decide if that change will be on our terms.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Kyiv on the Potomac

The New York Times' right-of-center columnist, Bret Stephens, now argues that Trump must be impeached - and removed - before he transforms Washington into Kyiv on the Potomac.
...if the congressional testimonies of Marie Yovanovitch, Bill Taylor, Gordon Sondland, Alexander Vindman and especially Fiona Hill make anything clear, it’s that the president’s highest crime isn’t what he tried to do to, or with, Ukraine.

It’s that he’s attempting to turn the United States into Ukraine. The judgment Congress has to make is whether the American people should be willing, actively or passively, to go along with it. 
I’ve followed Ukrainian politics fairly closely since 1999, when I joined the staff of The Wall Street Journal Europe. It has consistent themes that should sound familiar to American ears.
The first theme is the criminalization of political differences. Years before Trump led his followers in “Lock Her Up” chants against Hillary Clinton, then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych did exactly that against his own political rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, who was sentenced to seven years in prison on a variety of byzantine charges after she had narrowly lost the 2010 election. 
She spent three years in prison before her release during the 2014 Maidan Revolution. Key to Yanukovych’s efforts to discredit Tymoshenko was — who else? — Paul Manafort.
A second theme is the use of political office as a shield against criminal prosecution and as a vehicle for personal and familial enrichment. Why have so many of Ukraine’s oligarchs — including Burisma Holdings founder Mykola Zlochevsky — also served as government ministers? Simple: Because, until recently, it shielded them from criminal prosecution thanks to parliamentary immunity, while also providing them with the means to use government power for their own benefit.
The third theme is what one might call the netherworldization of political life, in which conspiracy theories abound, off-stage figures yield outsized influence, and channels of formal authority are disconnected from the real centers of power.

...The fourth theme is covert Russian interference, usually facilitated by local actors. ...long before the Kremlin’s “little green men” arrived in Crimea in 2014, Russia and its agents were using every dirty trick at their disposal, from poisoning a future Ukrainian president with dioxin to poisoning the media landscape with disinformation. Too often, it worked, whether because its victims were suggestible, corrupt, fearful or simply not paying attention. 
That last point was also made by Fiona Hill in her testimony on Thursday, where she warned members of the House Intelligence Committee that they ran the risk of themselves falling victims to “politically driven falsehoods,” regarding a bogus theory about Ukrainian political interference, “that so clearly advance Russian interests.” 
Yet the person who is both the principal consumer and purveyor of those falsehoods is the president of the United States, just as he has been a purveyor of so many other conspiracy theories. Even now, this should astound us. 
It doesn’t, because we’ve been living in a country undergoing its own dismal process of Ukrainianization: of treating fictions as facts; and propaganda as journalism; and political opponents as criminals; and political offices as business ventures; and personal relatives as diplomatic representatives; and legal fixers as shadow cabinet members; and extortion as foreign policy; and toadyism as patriotism; and fellow citizens as “human scum”; and mortal enemies as long-lost friends — and then acting as if all this is perfectly normal. This is more than a high crime. It’s a clear and present danger to our security, institutions, and moral hygiene.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Earth, 2019

Remember the street scenes in the original Blade Runner?

It's True. North Pacific Marine Mammals Dying Off.

It was barely a week ago that I spoke with a fellow at Fisheries and Oceans Canada about the ecological devastation sweeping the Pacific Northwest and, in particular, coastal British Columbia.

Our discussion focused on a report in The New York Times about a contagious form of cancer that was believed to have originated in Bay mussels on the BC coast. The report claimed that this strange cancer had spread to South America and had been found in the blue mussels common to French waters.

I had to wait a few days for my calls to be returned. When I was contacted the federal agency's response was dispiriting and reflected how broken Ottawa's DFO has become.

The fellow who called must have just read the NYT article. He babbled on rather foolishly. He was reading it as we babbled. He said really foolish things, sounding like Martin Short's character, the greasy lawyer, Nathan Thurm. Ah, there were so many species of mussels and the article was vague. No, I pointed out, it was quite specific - "bay mussels."  He then hummed and hawed. He then tried to slough it off, telling me to take it up with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

I then turned to another report about an infectious disease that had migrated through the newly opened Arctic waters from the North Atlantic to the North Pacific and was said to be devastating our marine mammals. Nonsense said this idiot, we're awash in marine mammals.

All I had to go by was a recent drive up the coast in search of signs of life, especially sea lions and otters. I couldn't find a trace. That's certainly not conclusive and maybe this DFO doubtful starter was right. Then I stumbled across another article, this time in The Guardian, about a form of distemper that has indeed migrated from the North Atlantic into the North Pacific.
“There’s long been concern that melting Arctic sea ice could allow disease to pass between the Atlantic and the Pacific,” Tracey Goldstein, an expert in marine animal diseases at the University of California, Davis, and one of the lead authors of a report, said. “Now here we are.” 
Phocine distemper virus, or PDV, has long been a threat to seal populations in the northern Atlantic, along with several strains of influenza, but had not previously been identified in the Pacific. It was first recognised in 1988 following a massive epidemic in harbour and grey seals in north-western Europe with a second event of similar magnitude and extent in 2002. The 1988 outbreak killed thousands of Britain’s seals. 
The virus attacks the immune system, leaving animals susceptible to pneumonia and in the most severe cases can kill a seal within 10 days of infection. The two outbreaks, which both started on the Danish island of Anholt in the Kattegat strait, killed about 23,000 harbour seals in 1988 and 30,000 seals in 2002. The virus is believed to spread through contact between infected individuals and has killed animals in the waters of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the UK and Germany.
Okay, so Ottawa's fisheries agency is asleep at the switch on shellfish cancer and marine mammal distemper. Is there anything else they can fuck up? Why, yes indeed. How about the completely unnatural disaster backed by DFO, fish farms?

Bonny Glambeck, campaign director of Clayoquot Action, said that members of her organization recently spotted divers at work and biowaste containers being loaded with dead fish at Cermaq’s Binns Island salmon farm near Ahousat. 
A similar clean-up operation was observed at the adjacent Bawden Bay farm. 
“They are still netting out dead fish at a tremendous rate and putting them into mort bins. The die-off is causing a tremendous amount of pollution in the ocean,” said Glambeck. As the dead fish decompose, their scales and body parts float around the ocean.

Water around the farms had turned from blue to “a dark brown muddy river-like colour,” she added. 
Typically, each ocean-pen confined feeding operation contains about half a million Atlantic salmon and produces nitrogen- and phosphorus-rich sewage equivalent to a city the size of 180,000 people. The effluent contains feces and uneaten fish food. 
The algal bloom die-off follows two years of sea lice plagues that Cermaq could not control with pesticides or mechanical de-licing equipment. 
“Cermaq’s operations are caught in a vicious cycle of sea lice and die-offs, said Glambeck. “We’ll see if the [federal] Liberals keep their election promise to move this industry into onshore tanks by 2025.” 
Harmful algal blooms, which have caused the farmed salmon industry billions of dollars in recent years, have expanded their range and frequency as climate change has warmed, acidified and robbed coastal waters of normal oxygen levels.
I would call Ottawa's Department of Fisheries and Oceans to ask for their take on this but recent experience shows they're not likely to have one.  Let's put it this way, the Canadian Coast Guard or what remains of it excepted, Ottawa is not a force for good on the British Columbia coast.

Eleven Steps to a Sustainable Planet

For years I've been hammering home the idea that survival of life on Earth as we know it absolutely depends on three changes -  weaning ourselves off fossil fuels as quickly as possible, massively curbing our rapacious overconsumption of Earth's resources, and reversing our population to no more than three, probably two billion people. In other words, mankind must live in harmony with nature, the biosphere, Spaceship Earth. If we don't, we die.

I have no science qualifications. My studies focused on history, international affairs, economics and law. Still there's a mountain of research available that is written for the general public. Start devouring that and you get a working grasp of the science. My views, however, were just one individual's opinion.

Earlier this month, William Rees, UBC professor emeritus of human ecology and ecological economics, presented a list of 11 steps to survival that do seem aligned with what I've been pitching.
Here, then, is what an effective “Green New Deal” might look like: 
1. Formal recognition of the end of material growth and the need to reduce the human ecological footprint
2. Acknowledgement that, as long as we remain in overshoot — exploiting essential ecosystems faster than they can regenerate — sustainable production/consumption means less production/consumption
3. Recognition of the theoretical and practical difficulties/impossibility of an all-green quantitatively equivalent energy transition; 
4. Assistance to communities, families and individuals to facilitate the adoption of sustainable lifestyles (even North Americans lived happily on half the energy per capita in the 1960s that we use today)
5. Identification and implementation of strategies (e.g., taxes, fines) to encourage/force individuals and corporations to eliminate unnecessary fossil fuel use and reduce energy waste (half or more of energy “consumed” is wasted through inefficiencies and carelessness); 
6. Programs to retrain the workforce for constructive employment in the new survival economy
7. Policies to restructure the global and national economies to remain within the remaining “allowable” carbon budget while developing/improving sustainable energy alternatives; 
8. Processes to allocate the remaining carbon budget (through rationing, quotas, etc.) fairly to essential uses only, such as food production, space/water heating, inter-urban transportation; 
9. Plans to reduce the need for interregional transportation and increase regional resilience by re-localizing essential economic activity (de-globalization);  
10. Recognition that equitable sustainability requires fiscal mechanisms for income/wealth redistribution
11. A global population strategy to enable a smooth descent to the two to three billion that could live comfortably indefinitely within the biophysical means of nature
“What? A deliberate contraction? That’s not going to happen!” I hear you say. And you are probably correct. It should by now be clear that H. sapiens is not primarily a rational species. 
But in being correct you only prove me correct. Disastrous climate change and energy shortages are near certainties in this century and global societal collapse a growing possibility that puts billions at risk.
Dr. Rees is right. We have to grow smaller. As James Lovelock pointed out years ago there is no longer any room for "sustainable growth." We must enter a new paradigm, one of sustainable retreat.

Is this dubious standard of living we're so attached to really worth the the murderous cost it will inflict on the planet both in our lifetimes but especially for future generations? Must we really go over this cliff?

The important lesson here is that we do have a choice. We can keep going down the path that every politician in Canada has us on or we can live. You can't have both - which goes a long way to explain the near pathological cognitive dissonance of our political caste.

If we do come to our senses, if we do accept that the relentless pursuit of perpetual exponential growth is, to borrow the words of Springsteen, a "suicide trap," then we have to make up for a lot of years squandered. As professor Rees puts it:
A rational world with a good grasp of reality would have begun articulating a long-term energy and consumption wind-down strategy 20 or 30 years ago.

China Still Stuck on Coal

Some have the idea that China will lead the world to a green future of renewable energy. That's an idea that sounds good but doesn't stand up to facts.  China isn't giving up on coal power plants. It's surging ahead.

As other nations close coal plants, China brings new coal plants online even faster.
China’s growing appetite for new coal-fired power stations has outstripped plant closures in the rest of the world since the start of last year, data shows. 
Elsewhere countries reduced their capacity by 8GW in the 18 months to June because old plants were retired faster than new ones were built. But over the same period China increased its capacity by 42.9GW despite a global move towards cleaner energy sources and a pledge to limit the use of coal. 
Christine Shearer, an analyst at the NGO Global Energy Monitor, said: “China’s proposed coal expansion is so far out of alignment with the Paris agreement that it would put the necessary reductions in coal power out of reach, even if every other country were to completely eliminate its coal fleet.”
...China is also helping to finance a quarter of all the new coal projects in the rest of the world, including in South Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh. 
China’s coal investments, including domestic projects, mean it is backing more than half of all global coal power capacity under development.

Conclusion: The global community is not taking climate change seriously even as it poses a genuinely existential threat to the survival of civilization, the survival of our species and the survival of most other species with which we share this planet, its lands and its oceans. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The Age of Grifters - It's Only Beginning

It's a disease, a contagion spreading around the world, and it's got a long run ahead of it. The Triumph of Grifters.

New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo captures this disease that has trashed once healthy societies  and warns there's plenty more where that came from.

We will remember the 2010s as a grifter’s paradise. These were the years when our collective sense of objective reality totally fell apart and when politics, business, technology, culture and even ordinary life fell fully under the sway of a new breed of swindler, huckster, influencer, troll and hacker. 
Scams and fakery were not just ascendant this decade — they were often the dominant story line. It was a time of “life comes at you fast” and “milkshake duck.” The primary feeling of the 2010s was one of punch-drunken disorientation, of always having the rug pulled out from under you. And this was the big lesson of the 2010s: Almost nothing is as it seems. Doubt everything. Trust no one.
Doubting everything may be a workable plan for individual survival in a fracturing media universe dominated by algorithms and digital media of dubious authenticity, but pervasive doubt could just as well bring on civilizational ruin. Getting through modern life seems to require adopting a corrosive view of society that makes a hash of our fundamental ideas about the value of cooperation and trust among our fellow humans. We’re bringing on a death-spiral of distrust — and I fear that in the 2020s and beyond, grifters peddling alternative facts may come to suffocate us all.
...The grift wasn’t limited to politics. The tech industry welcomed hucksters with open arms. Look at WeWork, Uber and Theranos — once high-flying start-ups that promised to change the world in big ways and small, each unmasked for peddling false prospects, unreal tech or hiding systemic corruption and abuse. Facebook and other social media services were not just a haven of state-sponsored disinformation; with dodgy, easily gamed stats, social media increasingly came to provide a false view of the world.
...Our information system has slipped its moorings, and as a result, lying and scheming and fraud has simply become too effective a life strategy. As I argued in March, when the celebrity college admissions scandal broke, we’re seeing the “uberization” of corruption — bending the rules is becoming routine and pervasive, a push-button cheat code for modern life. 
It’s not a big leap from “Trust no one” to “swindle everyone.” Happy new decade, I guess.
It's hard to dispute Manjoo's contentions. We are at the mercy of an emerging oligarchy of grifters. We have become distracted, divided, confounded and I see nothing remotely inadvertent in our plight. It's the Lord of the Flies without the schoolboys, the desert island and the wrecked airplane.

Monday's post on Bernard Stiegler discusses the proletarianization of modern thought and cognition. We are succumbing to a madness triggering social disaffection. When we are forced to exist in two or more radically differing realities, communication fails and, with it, social cohesion. We are diminished, dangerously weakened, fearful and vulnerable and there are those who freely exploit us. That will cost us dearly.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Now We May Find What Boris is Made Of.

Donald Trump may have a golden opportunity to get his hands on Julian Assange - if he ever wanted him.

The Swedes have dropped the rape investigations so the Brits have no cause to hold the guy on that business. He's still got the failing to appear convictions but Assange should soon be free as a bird.

The Americans used to want Assange - the 2016 election, WikiLeaks dishing Hillary's emails, possible coordination with the Russians, etc. but I can't see how Trump would ever want to stir those ashes.

If Trump does want Assange it will be interesting to see how his Brit Mini-Me, Boris Johnson, answers the call.

Right, Blame Gaia

Drylanders don't see it. If only they did.

The oceans are heating. They're spawning oceanic heat waves that play proper hell with the marine ecology. Here, just off the west coast of Vancouver Island, we have "The Blob" - an area of superheated ocean that can stretch nearly all the way to Hawaii. It's associated with oceanic dead zones, the sharp decline in marine species and who knows what else - hey, this is pretty new stuff.

You may not have heard much about heavy floods in Africa but, if you've followed the news at all, you've heard about the extreme brush fires plaguing
Australia and the seemingly endless drought across that country's agricultural zones.

Guess what? Those African floods and the Australian conflagration are now being put down to superheating of the Indian Ocean. It's called the Indian Ocean Dipole.
Scientists and humanitarian officials say this year’s record Indian Ocean dipole, as the phenomenon is known, threatens to reappear more regularly and in a more extreme form as sea surface temperatures rise. 
Of most concern are years in which the sea surface off the coast of Africawarms up, provoking increased rains, while temperatures off Australia fall, leading to drier weather. 
It is similar to El Niño and La Niña in the Pacific, which cause sharp changes in weather patterns on both sides of the ocean (and into the Atlantic, north and south).
India is also impacted.
Recent research suggests ocean heat has risen dramatically over the past decade, leading to the potential for warming water in the Indian Ocean to affect the Indian monsoon, one of the most important climate patterns in the world.
The oceanic events are the stuff for hydrologists and oceanographers. We lay people can get the loss of Arctic sea ice or the retreat of glaciers, that sort of thing, but ocean currents and heat absorption/release, that's much harder to grasp.

Waiting in the wings is the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, PDO, which is an extended play version of El Nino lasting 20 to 30 years. I won't dwell on it but you can read about it here.

Like it or not, the oceans are reshaping our lives, our societies, and they're just getting started. You can't fix these things with penny ante carbon taxes.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Isn't that Brainwashing?

Have we been brainwashed? Are we making our own decisions or is that something that we imagine?

Many years ago I realized that we, but especially the American people, had been groomed, conditioned. How else to explain their counterintuitive behaviours? How else do you get that many people to rise up against their own interests? Why not ask a convicted bank robber, Bernard Stiegler.

After a transformative stretch in a French prison, Stiegler emerged to write a book, "The Age of Disruption: Technology and Madness in Computational Capitalism."
He dauntingly refers to the present’s “absence of epoch” — i.e., today’s lack of any significant political ethos. This “absence of epoch,” during a time of critical ecological changes, is why so many have been left disaffected, fast becoming (in Stiegler’s heavily italicized prose) “mad with sadness, mad with grief, mad with rage.”

So how does all of this relate to our present politico-economic malaise? Stiegler believes that digital technology, in the hands of technocrats whom he calls “the new barbarians,” now threatens to dominate our tertiary memory, leading to a historically unprecedented “proletarianization” of the human mind. For Stiegler, the stakes today are much higher than they were for Marx, from whom this term is derived: proletarianization is no longer a threat posed to physical labor but to the human spirit itself. This threat is realized as a collective loss of hope.
...Today, billions of people are reliant on information technology that reduces culture to bite-sized chunks (the thought-span of a Tweet), and which is used primarily for marketing purposes by a monopoly of tech giants. Stiegler believes that such a situation threatens to dissolve the social bonds that embed individuals in collective forms of life. Most worrying of all, social networks are becoming the main source of cultural memory for many people today. 
... Stiegler firmly believes that a distinction must always be upheld between “authentic thinking” and “computational cognitivism” and that today’s crisis lies in confusing the latter for the former: we have entrusted our rationality to computational technologies that now dominate everyday life, which is increasingly dependent on glowing screens driven by algorithmic anticipations of their users’ preferences and even writing habits (e.g., the repugnantly named “predictive text” feature that awaits typed-in characters to regurgitate stock phrases).  

How Many is Enough? How Many is Too Many?

I've stumbled across a book in my stack of overdue reading, a mystery book. All I know is that I didn't buy it. Somebody must have sent it but 'whom' remains unknown.

It's the usual 450-500 page tome, softcover, but obviously new. I thought I might as well give it a go but, for some reason, I decided to start at the third and final part. That's odd, for me at least.

The book is Homo Deus, A Brief History of Tomorrow, a 2016 offering from Israeli prof Yuval Noah Harari. He's an Oxford PhD so he's certainly credentialed. He may be incredibly famous and popular but I hadn't heard of him.

Homo Deus is one of those books that gets in your mind. It makes you ask yourself questions that never occurred to you before - questions that needed asking but never were.

It was time to check out prof Harari. Ain't that what Google's for? From The Guardian I learned that he began his career in academia researching medieval warfare. Then he burst into the public eye with a book called Sapiens.

On almost every page of Sapiens, a bible of mankind’s cultural and economic and philosophical evolution, our millennial battles with plague and war and famine, Harari announced himself a Zen-like student of historical paradox: “We did not domesticate wheat,” he wrote, “wheat domesticated us”; or “How do you cause people to believe in an imagined order such as Christianity, democracy or capitalism? First, you never admit that the order is imagined.”
Cracking Homo Deus at Part III plunged me headlong into thinking about the value, the need for homo sapiens, you, me, all the others who now tower over the biosphere nearly eight billion strong. I will give you more insights into Harari's wonderful book in future posts but, for now, it's my question - how many is enough?

The question brings to mind a comment I left yesterday on Owen's Northern Reflections blog:

Humanity has three mortal addictions. Cheap fossil energy is only one. It is compounded by our relentless growth in the global population. Those two are then compounded by exponential growth in GDP - extraction/production/consumption and waste. 
All three of those rise to the level of existential threats. One or more of them will do us in, at least as we now live. The question is reduced to which one - or perhaps two - of them has the shortest fuse. We're burning more climate-bending hydrocarbons than the environment can bear. That stops at some point. We've burdened the biosphere with with our sheer numbers at least twice its carrying capacity. Whole lotta people going to die. And we're using more resources than the planet can sustainably provide - by a factor of 1.75 times and that's growing. 
If you listen you can hear all three of those fuses crackling, hissing and popping. Nobody is much interested in putting them out - any of them. 
We had a chance to do this on our own terms but we weren't up for the heavy lifting.
There are three factors, each an existential threat, that directly bear on the question of how many is enough - our addiction to hydrocarbons, our relentless propagation and our rapacious over-consumption of the planet's resources. Each drives the others with an extinctive synergy.

Too many, too many, too many. Altogether too many.

We're told if we only better manage ourselves, our food production, etc., we can handily support eight billion or ten. But that statement assumes that eight billion or ten or twelve is a good thing. We assume a merit in that that is founded on something we imagine. Odd that 'why' never comes into the discussion. Why not?

If we did produce enough food, today, to end all hunger, what then? Wouldn't we then have even more people? Wouldn't those extra people consume even more energy? Wouldn't they accelerate the pace at which we're exhausting the planet's finite stocks of essential resources? In other words, it's not about shoving enough food into ever more mouths, not when the whole dynamic of human interaction with the biosphere is so gravely out of whack.

So, if eight billion is too many (it is) then ten billion must surely be out of the question. That question becomes how many is enough. How do we figure that out? What's the math?

How do we justify the human population? What are the merits of eight billion copies of ourselves? How is eight billion better than, say, two billion? Is two billion too few? Too few for what?

Do we need some justification for our numbers? I so wish we'd had this discussion 70 years ago but that horse has plainly left the barn.

Professor Harari suggests that most of mankind is on the verge of becoming obsolete, redundant. He contends we are on the cusp of all manner of scientific advancements, the most powerful of which will be mathematical, algorithms. We will divide into classes, the essentially useless and the few who (if they're lucky) control the algorithms that will allow them to do things like gene editing, extend their longevity. breed super-humans and, well, own everything including everyone else.

He makes very compelling arguments. Don't take my word for it. Arguing with me is not really that helpful. It's his hypothesis after all. Don't shoot the messenger because it just leaves an awful mess that somebody else has to clean up.

However you don't have to dispute Harari's arguments to address the questions posed here - why do we need people and how many is enough?

Wade in, fang and bloody claw.

If you want a bit of help composing your thoughts, this will scramble a few neurons.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Don't Take This Personally. It's Just Business.

Re-Education U. - Razor Wire Campus

A jarring report today in The New York Times on Chinese oppression of its Muslim ethnic minorities, mainly Uighurs, in its westernmost territories adjoining Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The newspaper has obtained 400 pages of internal Chinese government documents that call for "absolutely no mercy" in crushing dissent. The documents indicate the Chinese have already shipped over a million Uighurs, Kazakhs and others to internment camps for "retraining."

Children saw their parents taken away, students wondered who would pay their tuition and crops could not be planted or harvested for lack of manpower, the reports noted. Yet officials were directed to tell people who complained to be grateful for the Communist Party’s help and stay quiet.
...The Chinese leadership wraps policymaking in secrecy, especially when it comes to Xinjiang, a resource-rich territory located on the sensitive frontier with Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia. Predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups make up more than half the region’s population of 25 million. The largest of these groups are the Uighurs, who speak a Turkic language and have long faced discrimination and restrictions on cultural and religious activities.
...Since 2017, the authorities in Xinjiang have detained many hundreds of thousands of Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslims in internment camps. Inmates undergo months or years of indoctrination and interrogation aimed at transforming them into secular and loyal supporters of the party. 
Of the 24 documents, the directive on how to handle minority students returning home to Xinjiang in the summer of 2017 offers the most detailed discussion of the indoctrination camps — and the clearest illustration of the regimented way the party told the public one story while mobilizing around a much harsher narrative internally.
Even as the document advises officials to inform students that their relatives are receiving “treatment” for exposure to radical Islam, its title refers to family members who are being “dealt with,” or chuzhi, a euphemism used in party documents to mean punishment.

The government sends Xinjiang’s brightest young Uighurs to universities across China, with the goal of training a new generation of Uighur civil servants and teachers loyal to the party. 
The crackdown has been so extensive that it affected even these elite students, the directive shows. And that made the authorities nervous. 
“Returning students from other parts of China have widespread social ties across the entire country,” the directive noted. “The moment they issue incorrect opinions on WeChat, Weibo and other social media platforms, the impact is widespread and difficult to eradicate.”
...The authorities appear to be using a scoring system to determine who can be released from the camps: The document instructed officials to tell the students that their behavior could hurt their relatives’ scores, and to assess the daily behavior of the students and record their attendance at training sessions, meetings and other activities.
Family members, including you, must abide by the state’s laws and rules, and not believe or spread rumors,” officials were told to say. “Only then can you add points for your family member, and after a period of assessment they can leave the school if they meet course completion standards.
"Round up everyone who should be rounded up."
The party had previously used the phrase — “ying shou jin shou” in Chinese — when demanding that officials be vigilant and comprehensive in collecting taxes or measuring harvests. Now it was being applied to humans in directives that ordered, with no mention of judicial procedures, the detention of anyone who displayed “symptoms” of religious radicalism or antigovernment views. 
The authorities laid out dozens of such signs, including common behavior among devout Uighurs such as wearing long beards, giving up smoking or drinking, studying Arabic and praying outside mosques.
Meanwhile, as mom and dad are busy at "school" being re-educated, Beijing is shipping in Han Chinese "settlers", shades of what was done to Tibet.

This brings me to the point of this post - must we really do business with regimes as odious as China's or the Saudis'? Where do we draw the line? Yes - they're big, I get it. Too big to oppose? This is a brutal, totalitarian regime, a threat to global peace and a bully.

You may be dismissing this. It's China's problem, after all. No reason for us to worry.  If you think that, you haven't been listening to what's being said in Beijing and other Chinese power centres.

The Chinese have been remarkably candid, probably because they think we're a pretty complacent bunch. The Chinese are not really keen on becoming the new United States of America. They get the whole liberal democracy/capitalism thing, the model we formulated for the world order post WWII, and they're not fans.

China played by our rules, at least in the capitalism context, and it paid off biggly for them. But they've never warmed to democracy. Ask the people of Tibet. Ask the Uighurs or the people of Hong Kong.

The Chinese believe, as in war so in peace, to the victors go the spoils. China wants to define the next world order. It really does. Just ask it. They're also dealing with this "Century of Humiliation" thing, especially China's military brass. The Chinese have been marking National Humiliation Day since 1916. They remember that it was less than three centuries ago that China and India had the largest and second-largest economies in the world. Then we (that's you, Britain) put in an appearance, showed them what was what, and became the economic titans. Somebody is out for a little payback.

American military officers who have been involved with their Chinese counterparts have returned home with the willies.  Apparently when they engage in war games, the Chinese do not play nice. The enmity, it is claimed, is visceral. Then again, the Americans don't always help. I recall an op-ed in the Proceedings of the US Naval Institute in which an officer lamented how the Chinese were bound for first place and America was allowing that "without a fight." Bad attitude.

So China wants a new, made in Beijing, world order, one that has little time for western liberal democracy, and it wants the world, or at least most of it, to fall into step. What if that became the price of admission to a new form of globalism? You want to play, you pay.

Then you've got the 8-gazillion tonne gorilla in the room - climate change.  China may be the biggest emitter today, barely, but it also has a huge population that makes the junk we want and, besides, we had a 200-year head start with the carbon fuels.

Climate change could destabilize China and India. It could be an economy wrecker too. What then?

You've got an emerging dominant power (Thucydides Trap) in a mood to throw its weight around and rewrite the rules of the road, with a rapidly modernizing military led by guys with massive chips on their shoulders, facing devastating and destabilizing climate change impacts in the not-distant future.

Is it really in our best interests to simply ignore this? Maybe it's time we began taking a few more things personally. Not everything can be written off as "business."