Stepping back from the precipice

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Over recent years, Climate Change (aka Global Warming or Anthropogenic Climate Change) has taken over as the driving influence of local, regional, state, national and international governments and social organizations.

We are constantly bombarded by dire warnings of imminent doom resulting from our profligate CO2 emissions causing increasing climate change and all of its alarming effects on human civilization and the natural world.

And yet, strangely, nothing changes. The number of cars on the streets and highways continues to increase. Highways are jammed. Garages remained stuffed to the ceilings with stuff, purchased in shopping sprees of lemmingly dimensions. Two and three cars wait patiently in the driveway and parked on streets for the daily trip to the 7-11. Electricity consumption increases at the demand of proliferating electronic devices and their ubiquitous charging stations. TeeVees must be bigger and bigger, demanding more and more energy 24 hours a day.

If climate change is such a big deal, why aren’t we drastically changing our societies to do something about it? Why are we increasing our impacts on our planet instead of reducing them?

For that matter, what specifically can those who are concerned about the impacts of human consumption and development do to drastically reduce or even stop them? How can we change human civilization, cultures and societies, such that humans live in balance with natural geophysical cycles?

These are deep, big picture questions that I’ve never seen fully addressed in any forum or by any agency. George Monbiot, in his continuing series on restoring democracy has come the closest to examining the deep societal, governmental and economic factors that contribute to the increasing impacts of human societies on the natural world.

Judging by today’s headlines, no one is paying attention.

There are ways forward, backward or maybe sideways that could forestall the inevitable outcome of the present course of human growth and development.

In future posts, I’ll explore this vexing conundrum of our present unsustainable civilization, and the necessary reforms, and revolutionary changes required to step back from the precipice, turn around and take a step forward.

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The Past is Prelude

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When I first saw the image on the right of Donald Trump, our newly elected President of the United States, it immediately brought to my mind the striking portrait by Arnold Newman of industrialist Alfried Krupp, who oversaw German factories during World war II that were largely worked by slave labor from concentration camps. The devilish image of the millionaire industrialist, taken in 1963, has long haunted my increasing concern for rising fascism in the United States.

The Trump election just concluded is not a victory of populism over elitism, as the Trump team has portrayed. It is a victory of ignorance, fear, intolerance, xenophobia and nationalism over rationalism, critical thinking, and engagement in democracy and community.

The Trump campaign has mobilized millions of people who feel disenfranchised from the political and economic processes. The Great American Dream has become a nightmare for many, and recent politicians have done nothing to engage the people of this country nor even acknowledge their needs and fears. As Greg Palast has noted, we have The Best Government Money Can Buy, and with a political system dominated by corporate funding, only those who support the economic status quo are allowed entry into the process in any meaningful way.

Does Donald Trump’s election mean that fascism has triumphed in the United States? It remains to be seen if candidate Trump will continue unmodified as President Trump. It remains to be seen if the United States’ system of checks and balances has survived recent Neocon attempts to strengthen the independent role of the President. It remains to be seen how millions who voted for Trump will respond to the reality of President Trump. It remains to be seen how millions who voted against Trump will respond to the challenge of a fascist insurrection.

There is some of candidate Trump’s rhetoric that I agree with: abandoning global trade agreements, tighter controls on immigration, cooperative relationships with other countries, abandonment of US imperialism, global economic hegemony. These positive propositions are seemingly at odds with Trumps overt xenophobia, misogyny and intolerance, so it’s difficult to reconcile his bombastic public appearance with any rational government foreign policy.

But then, the government is much more than its titular leader, and the proof will be in Trump’s selection of cabinet and informal advisors. Judging by the ghosts of politics past hovering about the President-elect’s flamboyant hairdo, the future looks grim indeed.

Trump had it right that the election was rigged, probably because he has the receipts. Trump represents a Neocon victory far greater than that of George W. Bush, in that it is a victory of one Neocon darling over another. The fix was in on both sides of the ballot; the outcome was preordaned.

Krupp’s fascism was destroyed in the ashes of World War II. Whether or not it rises Phoenix-like in the new guise of President Donald Trump depends on the engagement of the people of the United States in the day to day political process of Democracy.

“Eternal vigilance is not only the price of liberty; eternal vigilance is the price of human decency.” Aldous Huxley

Climate Change and Road Congestion

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This is a post about cause and effect, or rather, the lack of cause and effect.

Climate change and road congestion are related, not in a causal relationship, as one might unthinkingly conclude, but as emergent phenomena in complex, chaotic systems far from equilibrium.

If you made it through that paragraph unscathed, I’ll explain further. If not, see my post on Chaos HERE.

Climate prognostication and traffic planning exist in a world of linear relationships, the “If you push something hard enough, it will fall over” world. Every effect has direct discernible cause(s), such that planners can always count on a predictable outcome from any given action. For instance, climate change is caused by human produced CO2 in the atmosphere; traffic congestion is caused by insufficient capacity in highways. Thus, the stories go, if we decrease human produced CO2, climate change will stop or at least decrease; if we add lanes to the highways, traffic congestion will decrease. It seems intuitive.

While this approach has served humans well for generations, in our modern world of 7 billions and counting, with our global societies and ubiquitous technological innovations, linear cause and effect is overcome by the complexity and chaos of our social and technological relationships.

Climate is an emergent phenomenon of chaotic nonlinear relationships among numerous variables and feedbacks, a spaghetti tangle of natural cycles on the Earth, in the solar system and beyond, including human industrial activity and land use changes.

We know that climate changed long before human activity had any other than very local effects. Assuming that modern observed climate variation is “caused” by human production of CO2 is not only factually wrong, it diverts attention from the reality of natural climate variation, misapplies enormous human resources and economies, and ignores the inescapable necessity that humans accommodate to natural cycles rather than attempting to control them.

We know from observation that traffic congestion is often the result of accidents or tailbacks at off and on ramps. Sometimes we run into a clot of cars on the freeway that has no discernable cause and that clears up for no discernable reason, leaving no car parts on the verge to reveal its dynamics. We also know that widening the highway may temporarily relieve existing traffic congestion, but in a relatively short period of time congestion returns in the newly created lanes and ramps.

These seemingly disparate observations are the result of increasing numbers of cars interacting within the complex system of individual driving habits and distractions, on and off ramps and local road conditions, resulting in non-linear responses to small changes in driving conditions. Increasing highway capacity only increases the complexity of these interactions and does not address the root causes of traffic congestion.

If humans fail to learn that we cannot control climate by reducing CO2 production, and that widening the highway will not reduce traffic congestion, then we fail to explore social changes that accommodate to natural climate variation, and reduce dependence on automobiles and truly reduce traffic congestion.

It’s time for a new approach to human growth and development, technology and society. It’s time to apply our growing understanding of chaos and complex, non-linear systems to everyday problems of moving about on a planet with highly variable and unpredictable climates.

 

Why I’m voting for the Green Party in November

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the Green Party’s Party’s Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka are combining genuine social movement activism with an electoral campaign for a Green New Deal—a many-sided program that is much more than just another bit of progressive policy wonkery. It’s an existential necessity for a decent future, one that combines a giant livable ecology-saving program of national and energy and economic reconversion with a giant jobs program and universal health insurance paid for by genuinely progressive taxation (long overdue in “New Gilded Age” America) and massive reductions in the nation’s giant Pentagon System (which accounts for half the world’s military spending). How does any environmentally sentient and peace-advocating lefty not vote for all of that in the current age of savage inequality, rampant militarism, and ever-more imminent eco-catastrophe?

Source: Paul Street: Keep Calm and Vote Green: Fascism Is Not Coming – Truthdig

Between the Hammer and the Nail

ed359-global_warming_or_global_coolingYes, I know everyone has jumped aboard the Global Warming bandwagon, hammered together the climate change apartment house and moved in lock stock and barrel to the CO2-causes-Climate-Change studio apartment. It’s a shame that such a ramshackle edifice dominates the climate science skyline.

“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Abraham Maslow, The Psychology of Science, 1966

Part One

Climate change has become the cause celebre of modern thought and action, the hammer employed to bang on almost everything else. Every Progressive cause from highway congestion to homelessness simply must be cast in the glare of Climate Change and/or Global Warming. Every organization from the United Nations to my local County Board of Supervisors is invested in the concept as the source of funding for addressing all social ills.

The basis for this totalitarian acceptance of human caused climate change, aka Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is the theory of radiative forcing of atmospheric warming, the so-called Greenhouse Effect. As we’ll see later, this is an instance of an attempt to prove an experiment by invoking a theory, rather than the accepted scientific process of proving a theory by experimentation and hypothesis testing.

Carbon dioxide radiative forcing was first proposed by Joseph Fourier in 1824, demonstrated by experiment by John Tyndall in 1859, and quantified by Svante Arrhenius in 1896. The unfortunate and inaccurate descriptor “Greenhouse Effect” was first employed by Nils Gustaf Ekholm in 1901.

The basic premise of the “Greenhouse Gas” theory is that greenhouse gases raise the temperature at the surface of the Earth higher than it would be without them (+33º C). Without these gases in the atmosphere (water vapor (0 to 4%), Carbon dioxide (0.0402%), Methane (0.000179%), Nitrous oxide (0.0000325%) and Fluorinated gases (0.000007%) life on this planet would be impossible.

This basic theory is deployed to buttress the assumptions that increased atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations (mainly CO2) cause increased global average surface temperature, and, therefore lowering atmospheric CO2 concentrations will reduce or even reverse increases in global average surface temperature.

Let’s look at the observations and assumptions that have led to this erroneous conclusion.

Observations and Assumptions

  1. Observation – Humans produce greenhouse gases through industrial activity, agriculture and respiration, increasing the atmospheric concentration of CO2 from ~300 ppmv to ~400 ppmv over the past 58 years
  2. Observation – The calculated measure of global average surface temperature has increased by about 0.8° Celsius (1.4° Fahrenheit) since 1880.
  3. Assumption – Adding more CO2 to the atmosphere causes an increase in global average surface temperature.
  4. Assumption – Increase in global average surface temperature will cause changes in global climates that will be catastrophic for all life on Earth.
  5. Conclusion – Therefore, reducing human CO2 production will result in a reduction in atmospheric CO2 concentration and a consequent reduction in increase of global average surface temperature, stabilizing global climates and preventing catastrophic climate change.

Items 1 and 2 are observations with which few climate scientists disagree, though there may be quibbles about the details. CO2 and temperature have both increased, since at least 1850.

Items 3 and 4 are assumptions because there is no evidence to support them. The correlation between global average surface temperature and atmospheric CO2 concentration is not linear and it is not causal. In fact, deep glacial ice cores record that historical increases in CO2 concentration have lagged behind temperature rise by 200 to 800 years, suggesting that, if anything, atmospheric CO2 increase is caused by increase in global average surface temperature.

Nevertheless, the “consensus” pursued by global warming acolytes is that Svante Arrhenius’ 1896 “Greenhouse Gas” theory proves that rising CO2 causes rising temperature.

However, in the scientific method, we do not employ a theory to prove an experiment. Since we have only one coupled ocean/atmosphere system to observe, the experiment in this case is the Earth itself, human CO2 production, naturally occurring climate variation, and observed changes in atmospheric CO2 and global average surface temperature. There is no control with which to compare observations, thus we can make no scientifically valid conclusions as to causation. If we had a second, identical planet earth to compare atmospheric changes in the absence of human produced CO2, we would be able to reach valid conclusions about the role of CO2 in observed climate variation, and we would have an opportunity to weigh other causes of climate variation shared by the two systems.

To escape from our precarious position between the hammer and the nail, we should understand all possible causal factors, human caused, naturally occurring, from within and from without the biosphere in which all life lives.

Based on our current cosmology, it is my conclusion that we live in a chaotic, nonlinear, complex coupled ocean/atmospheric adaptive system, with its own set of naturally occurring and human created cycles that interact to produce the climate variation we observe. This variation is not the simple linear relationship touted by the IPCC and repeated in apocalyptic tones by those who profit from its dissemination, but rather is a complex interplay of varying influences, that results in unpredictable climate variation.

More about chaos and complexity in the next installment.

 

The -ism That Isn’t

It’s increasingly clear that human societies of every stripe are engaged in a program of natural habitat and environmental destruction as a direct result of their focus on population and economic growth with accompanying increases in material consumption. Mainstream politics and economics stride on in lock step toward the yawning abyss clearly visible on the near horizon.

Global warming, aka climate change, captures the minuscule imaginations of politicians and their journalistic lapdogs, while their corporate puppet masters take full advantage of the resulting fear mongering to line their own pockets. Amid this frenzy of faux activity, natural habitats continue to decline, species continue to go extinct, water supplies diminish, topsoil continues to wash away downstream and real human pollutants continue to pile up in the corners of all ecosystems around the globe.

Some social and political activists offer alternatives to the status quo, none of which, to any great extent, offer a meaningful alternative to the dominant social systems. Among these, so-called “ecosocialism” is presented as a solution to growth dependent industrial socialism and capitalism.

 

Hans Baer: “Democratic eco-socialism rejects a statist, growth-oriented, productivist ethic and recognizes that humans live on an ecologically fragile planet with limited resources that must be sustained and renewed as much as possible for future generations.”

Source: A vision of democratic ecosocialism

The above Hans Baer quote from Climate and Capitalism expresses the response of a minority of socialists to environmental degradation at the hands of a growing human population and its expansionist political and economic systems.

Ecosocialism is, of course, an anthropocentric political and economic philosophy, attempting to project environmental concern in an otherwise human centered endeavor. It fails in this attempt because it is, first and foremost, conceived by socialists who are not ecologists, environmentalists or even scientists. It merely tacks on the label “Eco-” onto “Socialist,” without challenging prevailing economic, political and social relationships among humans and the non-human world.

For example, the statement “humans live on an ecologically fragile planet” is inaccurate and self-serving. Ecologists know that natural ecological systems are robust, vibrant and adaptive. It is human destruction of natural habitat and exploitation of “natural resources” that depletes natural biodiversity and interferes with natural ecological interrelationships that leads to the erroneous conclusion  of “fragile” ecosystems. Labeling the planet as “fragile” takes the responsibility for its degradation away from human action and responsibility.

The phrase “with limited resources that must be sustained and renewed” assumes that “resources,” that is air, water, sunlight, soil, minerals, plants and animals, are solely for human use, and ignores the irreducible necessity of these resources to the non-human world. It also assumes that humans can “sustain and renew” these resources, rather than concluding that humans must instead reduce our consumption and exploitation of natural raw materials required by all living things.

Finally, the phrase “for future generations” appears frequently in ecosocialist discussion, underlining the basic assumption that preserving vibrant ecosystems is necessary for human betterment rather for the intrinsic necessity of all life.

Human impact on the natural world is the product of per capita economic throughput (consumption) multiplied by population. Ecosocialism attempts to address only the consumption part of this equation, assuming that socialist economic and social systems will result in overall population stabilization, ignoring the fact that human population has already overshot the carrying capacity of this planet, as is evidenced by increasing environmental degradation and ecosystems failure.

Humans are an animal species, subject to the same instinctive drivers of population growth as are all other animal species. The difference between humans and other animal species is that humans have largely eliminated predators that keep human population growth in check. While rapidly evolving bacteria and viruses may change that relationship at some future date, at present human population growth continues, even in countries with social conditions conducive to smaller families.

Depending on increased standard of living and improved social relationships as the sole regulators of human population growth is unrealistic and ultimately defeating. Raising the standard of living of the entire human population to a threshold level that might result in decreased population growth is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Whether caused by excessive consumption or excessive population growth, the ship is still going down.

What is required, if humans are to continue to live on this planet, is for human societies to function within natural ecological cycles and interrelationships, not above but side-by-side with all other species, as part of the natural world, not outside of it.

Rather than tacking “eco-” onto “socialism,” those concerned with human impacts on the world on which we live would do better to envision a human world that first and foremost exists as a contributing and cooperative part of the natural world.

The name is not important. Yet another -ism isn’t the answer.