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Britain Succumbs to Fear — Europe Shattered by Deteriorating Physical and Political Climate

In Central India, during 2016, millions of farmers who have lost their livelihoods due to a persistent drought made worse by climate change are migrating to the cities. The climate change induced monsoonal delays and ever-worsening drought conditions forced this most recent wave of climate change refugees to make a stark choice — move or watch their families starve.

It’s a repeat of a scene that happened in Syria during 2006 through 2010, but on a much larger scale. A scene that will repeat again and again. In Bangladesh and the other low lying coastal and delta regions of the world, hundreds of millions will be uprooted by sea level rise. In the US Southwest, India, Africa, South America, the Middle East and Southern Europe hundreds of millions more will be uprooted by drought. All because we, as a global civilization, failed to work together to halt fossil fuel burning soon enough and prevent a temperature increase great enough to wreck cities, states, and regions and to start to destabilize human civilization.

Punjab Well

(In India, water sources like this Punjab well and major rivers are running dry. Climate change is melting glaciers in the Himalayas even as it is helping to delay the seasonal monsoon. As a result, millions of farmers have lost their livelihoods and are migrating to the cities. It’s a situation similar to what occurred in Syria, but one that is likely to ultimately produce a much larger wave of migrants. Will we, as a global community, do all we can to help and welcome these migrants? Will we provide the systems of global and national equality that are necessary to achieve this result? Or will we fear them, allowing such fear to have a deleterious effect on our various political systems as occurred in Britain last week? Image source: Commons.)

The Need For Global Unity and Equality in the Face of Severe Climate Externalities

It has always been a wondrous and difficult ideal to strive for global unity. During the 20th Century, the United Nations was established in the hopes of preventing cataclysmic world wars lead by nuclear-armed states. From these global treaties sprang numerous other agreements. These in turn facilitated trade and cooperation on a larger scale than ever before. In the 1980s and 1990s an international treaty called The Montreal Protocal enabled the prevention of a global catastrophe in the form of the loss of the protective ozone layer by internationally regulating the use of ozone-destroying chemicals. This was the first time global governments effectively worked together to prevent a major harmful geophysical change to the Earth System by reigning in corporate excess and, to one degree or another, agreeing to set aside short term gain in favor of long term sustainability.

The hope and example provided by this rational policy has since been undermined by what could best be defined as the deleterious influence of individual and corporate special interests. In many cases, international trade agreements — the upshot of global cooperation — have been co-opted by various corporate powers to promote private interests in the name of international unity. Trade has been used to erode the political power of national unions, to force fossil fuel dependence in various regions, and to undermine equality based policies of national governments around the world. Such use of international trade policies has promoted an increasing tragedy of exploitation of public and natural resources by private entities in which equality has been undermined, wealth has been concentrated at the top, environmental regulations have been removed, circumvented, or ignored, and the global atmosphere has been polluted with a devastating volume of greenhouse gasses.

Extreme Rainfall Events

(Greenhouse gas pollution forces global temperatures higher which in turn increases evaporation and loads the atmosphere up with moisture, which in turn drives increasing instances of extreme rainfall events on one end of the weather spectrum and extreme drought conditions on the other end. Over recent years, rainfall records have been shattered with greater and greater frequency as a result. And incidences of extreme flooding, like that seen last week in West Virginia, which has damaged or destroyed 500 homes, adds to the wave of climate refugees and lends urgency to need to work together on a global scale to mitigate the damage by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to help the displaced. Hat tip to Peter Sinclair for the above image provided by the 2015 Lehmann extreme rainfall study.)

If the Montreal Protocol and the Paris Climate Summit represent the best face of global cooperation, then trade agreements like TTIP can represent its dark side. One set gives an example of how the world must work together now in order to preserve the foundation of global civilization. The other has often become little more than a divisive monetary and political power grab by numerous giant corporations now ranging the globe (the Godzilla Zombie Corps of Growth Shock). One has the potential to save the world. The other — if it leads to increasing wealth inequality, increasing externalization of harms, loss of government regulatory control of corporations, and privatization of public assets — will inevitably wreck it.

Brexit — The Culmination of Greed, Fear, and Climate Change

By the end of the 20th Century and the start of the 21st Century global unity was coming under strain due to these forces of systemic inequality and harm eroding global monetary policies coupling with the rising impacts of human caused climate change. Creation of laissez-faire markets combined with fossil fuel based energy dominance to first help drive major commodity price spikes in the early to mid 2000s and then to generate the wave of crashes during the 2008 financial meltdown. Corporate pushed austerity measures generated increasing inequality in Europe post collapse even as climate change enabled a wave of Middle Eastern refugees moving westward — spurred on by the Syrian drought. The synergistically destructive forces of rising inequality and fear of migrants — fueled by right wing political voices across Europe — generated large cracks in Europe’s economic union. Failure to identify the causes of loss of income, pensions, and healthcare among Europeans as the result of corporate-driven austerity measures lead to a wrongful scape-goating of migrants and inflamed hatred across the continent.

In Europe last week, these socially destructive cracks widened yet again. A campaign emerging out of a xenophobic UK-based right wing group named Brexit (feeding on the same anxieties as Trump in the US) leveraged mass migration fears to run a successful campaign against the UK remaining within the European Union. A primary focus of the Brexit movement was targeting Syrian migrants — the very individuals who lost their livelihoods due to a climate change induced drought. People who basically had to make the same choice as many living in India today — move or starve.

Underlying the xenophobic fears that helped spur the UK’s vote for EU succession was concern over the TTIP — a treaty that the EU is now considering and that many think would open the UK’s National Healthcare System to a deleterious privatization. Brexit capitalized on these fears by claiming that both migrants and the EU were a threat to UK citizens’ access to healthcare. In truth, TTIP is probably a worse threat to UK healthcare than migrants, but this particular concern fed into the overall Brexit fear mongering. And it was this combination of a very real threat of loss of equality and economic security driven by laissez-faire economic policies together with the ultimately imagined and inflamed fear of scapegoat migrants that spurred the UK’s economic secession.

The Dark Consequences of Economic Systems Engineered to Optimize Wealth Concentration and Externalize Harm

The thing to learn from all this is that market liberalization (a negative venture that all too often fosters wealth concentration, market collapse, and extremely harmful pollution and is not to be confused with the liberation of people, which is an entirely positive venture) and a failure to regulate and reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions leads to very destructive political consequences. On the right, what we’ve seen is a fostering of immigrant scape-goating and climate change denial as a political smoke screen to mask the environmental and economic harms that their policies are causing. And the reliance on these two explosive communications strategies seeds a combined attack on science and destabilization of political systems. One that by itself represents a threat to the underpinnings of functioning and benevolent advanced societies.

Bakersfield Fire

(Erskine Fire burns along the southern rim of California’s Central Valley in 105 degree [F] heat on Sunday. The fire, which has now destroyed 250 structures and killed two people, is just one of many examples of how extreme events spurred by climate change can render people homeless. Sea level rise, drought, extreme rains, extreme cyclones, wildfires, and crop loss are all caused or made worse by climate change. Such events will inevitably result in a growing wave of global migrants. If we are to expect human civilization to survive without spiraling into worsening conflict, we must establish plans now to help those displaced by climate change and to ensure that those hosting migrant populations do not have fears and hatreds inflamed by rising inequality. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

When facing climate change, we will have to first deal with the problems caused by failed neo-liberal thinking. We cannot deal with climate change without the necessary regulations on greenhouse gasses. And we absolutely cannot deal with climate change effectively in a situation where global inequality is worsened and social stresses threaten to tear the very institutions that allow us to cooperate apart. Joe Romm was absolutely right in his most recent essay — we have a choice now. Cooperate to deal with climate change and inequality — or fail. Fail in the ugliest most heinous way possible as hatred, xenophobia, and competition for resources tears international institutions and states apart. For, in the end, cooperation in dealing with climate change means that we will have to promote fairness and equality as a means to reduce a stability-wrecking panic. We will have to make the solemn and reassuring promise to help each other. To help those who are starving and migrating. To help those who are losing healthcare benefits and economic prospects. To help them both and to at the same time stem the spread of combined exploitation and global poverty.

In places like India and Bangladesh, in the US Southwest, in Brazil, in Southern Europe, in Africa, and along the coastal cities of the world, the next wave of migrants is building. They include many of the people who are now reading this blog. Will we do the moral, just thing — as the Pope has urged us — and resolve ourselves to help them? Will we ultimately resolve to help ourselves? For climate change is a crisis that prefers no race, no location, no nationality. And in the end it will make refugees of us all.

Links:

Drought Migrants Flee to India’s Cities

Brexit, Trump Just the Beginning, Climate Will Drive Refugees and Resentment

LANCE-MODIS

Commons

West Virginia’s Deadly Flooding Disaster

Extreme Rainfall Events Increased Under Global Warming

Growth Shock

California Today: Wildfires Earlier Than Ever

Cameron Forced to Back Down From NHS TTIP Deal

The Keeling Curve (Please Support Public, Non Special Interest Based Science)

Pope Francis’s Encyclical

Hat tip to Peter Sinclair

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to 65 Karin

Hat tip to Webej

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Growth Shock and How the Gods of Our Greed Continue to Fail Us

Number_of_Planet_Scenarios_2008

(Number of Planet Scenarios as Calculated by the World Foot Print Network. Note that according to current data, our pace of consumption currently overshoots Earth’s sustainable resource base by about 50% requiring about 1.5 Earths to meet our needs. By 2050, consumption will nearly demand the yearly productivity of three Earths. Overshoot causes irreparable harm to resources and ecosystems resulting in a collapse of the resource base. See image below.)

We are living in the age of limits, the age of consequences, the age when our quest for an endless expansion of the production of goods and services and the resulting endless concentration of wealth under pure capitalism has resulted in ever more intense degrees of Growth Shock even as it risks a devastating collapse of current day industrial civilizations.

It is a world where Western governments run by ultra-conservative political servants of the oil and gas industry engage in scientific book burning, as recently happened in Canada. A world where 85 people own more wealth than 3.5 billion of their fellow human beings. A world where it is possible for one individual to consume the same amount of resources as hundreds of thousands of his fellows.

In this world, hydrogen sulfide gas is building up in the deep ocean, a bleeding Earth is contributing its own increasing volumes of methane and CO2 to a human-caused global warming nightmare, a world where CO2 levels have passed 400 parts per million, a level not seen in 4.5 million years.

We live in a place where rock stars like Neil Young join with indigenous peoples and environmentalists in a rebellion against the fossil fuel giants who rule so much of our planet and who seek to enforce continued and increasing consumption of dirty, dangerous and depleting fossil fuels. A place where climate scientists are forced to become political activists, to risk prison sentences, to have any hope of keeping a shred of the bounty of Earth safe for their grandchildren. A world where bloggers and activists are increasingly threatened and imprisoned for expressing their previously inalienable right of free political speech.

We live in a world that is an ongoing and intensifying wreckage. A calamity caused by our worship of the failed gods of our greed, a disaster born of our turning away from our fellow man, of our loss of faith in our ability to work together through rational and representative governments, and of our dramatic failure to impose limits — both upon ourselves and upon the most criminally greedy among us.

We are living in the age of Growth Shock and on this unsustainable path the days of human civilization upon this Earth are numbered. There are no second or third Earths to which we can extend our madness that is an economic system designed to endlessly increase consumption of finite resources. There are no green fields of Mars or Venus for us to plunder. The worlds within our reach are barren and as far as even our great telescopic eyes can see across the vast expanse of space there is nothing, nothing even within an insurmountable gulf of light years, of which we could even have cause to dream of to slake our boundless want.

No. We are here. And of all the worlds within our reach fair Earth is Alone. And so we must set our task to live within our means here. To find ways to be happy that do not involve an attempt at endless, mad, and harmful expansion. That do not involve an attempt at burning all the fossil fuels and rapidly ruining our atmosphere and climate for ages and ages to come. Ours is the terrible and hopeful task of the Easter Islanders, of the residents of Tikopia — one group who succeeded in living happily and sustainably upon an island world of limited resources, and the other who desperately and miserably failed.

Our choices are as essential as they are dire and we are making them now, mostly for ill.

Environmentalists get it. Ecologists get it. Anthropologists get it. Druids get it. Scientists get it. Everyday people slaving away under minimum wage or worse get it. Those who live in the shanty towns get it. Those who live down wind of a coal plant get it. Those in West Virginia who had their water ruined get it. Those who live in fracking towns where their water is at risk or must be pumped in get it. Those in British Columbia protesting tar sands pipeline expansion get it. Some in the drying, burning west get it. Some in the storm-wracked east get it. The middle class of America who has been scape-goated and sacrificed on the alter of billionaire greed for the past 30 years should have gotten it by now. Muslims in the middle east who would have rather found water than oil get it. Christian monks who construct solar panel farms get it. South Pacific Islanders witnessing their nations being devoured by the waves get it. So many more who have been forgotten, abused, or who remain unnamed get it.

And now, an economic historian, who clearly gets it, has broken ranks from the mainstream to pen the extraordinarily brave and insightful work: Green Capitalism, the God that Failed. Consider:

We can’t shop our way to sustainability because the problems we face cannot be solved by individual choices in the marketplace. In the final analysis, the only way to align production with society’s interests and the needs of the environment is to do so directly. The huge global problems we face require the visible hand of direct economic planning to reorganize the world economy to meet the needs of humans and the environment, to enforce limits on consumption and pollution, to fairly ration and distribute the goods and services we produce for the benefit of each and every person on the planet and to conserve resources so that future generations of humans and other life forms also can live their lives to the full. All this is inconceivable without the abolition of capitalist private property in the means of production and the institution of collective bottom-up democratic control over the economy and society. And it will be impossible to build functioning democracies unless we also abolish global economic inequality. This is the greatest moral imperative of our time, and it is essential to winning worldwide popular support for the profound changes we must make to prevent the collapse of civilization. A tall order to be sure. But we will need even taller waterproof boots if we don’t make this happen. If Paul Hawken, Lester Brown, Francis Cairncross and Paul Krugman have a better plan, where is it?

In the niddling little details, Richard Smith may be wrong. You can make steel without coal, for example (biomass can provide the coking carbon and electric furnaces can smelt the metal) and total renewable energy production worldwide is now 20% of overall demand (not .6 percent as stated in Smith’s report), plug in electric vehicles, especially when run by renewable power sources, do result in an overall lowering of fossil fuel emissions, and, yes, you can eventually weed out all the carbon-producing fossil fuel inputs from a manufacturing chain (just not all waste and pollution).

But all that over-pessimism aside, Smith is correct in the broad brush. Steel production is limited by its coal or biomass coking base and overall mineral and energy inputs. If you use coal, it is also limited by long-term damage to the climate and to water supplies. Manufacturing, no matter how efficient, will always produce some waste and consume some resources that are not recyclable.

Overshoot_2

(Classic ecological overshoot and degraded carrying capacity. Image source: The Elephant in the Room)

And, most importantly, any economic model requiring endless exponential growth in the consumption of labor and resources is eventually doomed to fail especially when it is primarily based, as it is today, on a set of finite materials (fossil fuels) that through their ever increasing use cause untold damage to the world in which we live. When such a model is also based on an endless funneling of wealth to the top of the economic spectrum it is socially horrific as well. A Godzilla Zombie of a thing.

To survive the age of Growth Shock will require not just a transition away from dirty, dangerous and depleting fuels. It will also require economic systems that do not demand more materials and resources than our single Earth can provide. And, in this, Mr Smith is absolutely correct. We need to reverse the trend that has so undermined both our faith in and the direct effectiveness of our systems of government. Corporatism, commercialism, and laissez faire neoliberal globalized capitalism all must vastly recede. The zero sum game must be put back into its box. Governments must be enabled to impose effective rules and constraints even as it is also enabled to redistribute wealth to its people. It must be enabled to gap fill for the industries it will most certainly have to shut down by providing alternate jobs programs and livelihoods for those who will inevitably be put out of work. It can no longer be the ineffective baby-sitter for anarchic corporations who do what they want, when they want, however they want. Either through active responsibility or passive turning away and collapse, those days are coming to an end. Lastly, the world’s civilizations must learn to work together effectively, acquiescing to rules and constraints that benefit all people.

These are tall orders. But if we wish to retain some shade of our current wealth and Earth’s current richness and beauty, if we wish to establish a powerful, capable, and effective world civilization, if we wish to pursue justice for all peoples and not just the wealthy, then we must pursue these goals with passion and ardor. For the path we are currently on has no viable future.

Voter Suppression Didn’t Work, So Grasping Republicans Turn to Undermining Democracy

Image

The United States is endowed with a democracy that remains the envy of the world. Now, a group of republicans, embittered after a stinging defeat during the 2012 election, seeks to undermine that democracy in order to rig the electoral college in their favor.

Republican state legislators in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia are attempting to change state election rules so as to apportion electoral college votes to counties rather than the entire state. The result of this cherry-picking is that democratic presidential candidates would have to win the popular vote by 6 percent or more (a landslide) in order to edge out republicans in the electoral college.

The reason has to do with demographics. Most democrats concentrate in or near cities. So republican success in re-apportioning electoral college votes to counties would result in a tipping of the scales dramatically against democratic candidates. It would also result in a virtual nullification of the popular vote in elections. Popular vote totals would count less while where the votes came from would count more.

This kind of manipulation, funny games, and distortion is entirely normal for the current republican party. The same party that sand-bagged voting rights in an attempt to suppress the vote in key battleground states. The result was lines in which voters waited, in many cases, all day to exercise their right to vote. Other republican funny business has included purging voter rolls, multiple attempts at voter intimidation (almost always struck down in court), publishing fallacious information about voting dates in official public documents, and questionable instances of monkeying with voting machines.

The most recent attempts at voter disenfranchisement through fiddling with the electoral college system is just one more example of the sense of entitlement many republicans seem to have. They don’t believe they need to win on issues or to appeal to the hopes, needs and concerns of a broad segment of the American people. Instead, any means to win seems justified to their increasingly myopic world-view.

Links:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/itsallpolitics/2013/01/25/170276794/some-in-gop-want-new-electoral-college-rules

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-01-25/republicans-split-over-electoral-college-change-proposals.html

 

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