Saturday, November 27, 2010

blister data update

A new climate events link collection has been added to blister data. The 2010 GHG data are in; we're at 387 ppm, highest concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gases ever. Colder winters are to be expected now. Food prices are rising. South Dakota and other grain-belt states suffer freak weather. COP-16 in Cancun starts Monday.

Seventy-three months left.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

leading the future

--climate happenings are at the data bank--

Not all U.S. Republicans are corrupt, dim-witted climate skeptics. Meet the exception: Rep. Bob Inglis, Republican of South Carolina, ranking member of the Energy & Environment Subcommittee, and a man of integrity, who went yesterday on record against deniers at a House Science subcommittee hearing on the science of climate change. The only buzz-kill is that Inglis is an outgoing House Representative. He was defeated. He stated that his "belief in climate science was partly responsible" for his election defeat.

Okay. I want you to stop right here and savor this turn of phrase. His belief in climate science. In American English this is now a proper phrase. It is acceptable, grammatically and culturally, to speak of one's "belief in climate science." Just as there are some who believe in Santa Claus, and some who don't, there are the select few Americans who believe in climate science.

This is what deepening disenlightenment means. And this sickness of the American mind is bound to enter the history books. In the twentieth century, eighty years ago, there were some Germans, not many, but a few, who believed that Jews were people like you and me. Others, the many, the loud, and the well-funded disagreed. They believed that Jews were their misfortune. The majority of Germans then decided that the Jews were a race out to get them. They even had think tanks committed to the cause. Where did they get this wit and wisdom from? Beats me. I guess they pulled it out of their asses. But remember, this stuff stays in the history books.

For all times to come, for all future generations, the Germans will be known as the one people who once went nuts and evil and fired up the ovens at Auschwitz in the 2oth century. And for all times to come, for all future generations, due to Tea Partiers & Republicans-sans-Inglis, the Americans will be known as the one people who went nuts and evil and caused global heating in the 21st century. And pulled the plug on policies such as cap and trade. Yesterday the only national carbon cap-and-trade exchange in the United States, the Chicago Climate Exchange, called it quits.

In the 1950s, it was a somewhat iffy proposition to walk around in Europe and show that you're German. In the 2030s, I predict it's going to be an equally iffy proposition to move about in the world and show that you're American. Watch out, America! Don't go so nuts and evil on the world! Historians track every move you make.

This is what Inglis said:

"And we're here with [an] important decision to be made. And I would also suggest to my Free Enterprise colleagues--especially conservatives here--whether you think it's all a bunch of hooey, what we've talked about in this committee, the Chinese don't.

"And they plan on eating our lunch in this next century. They plan on innovating around these problems, and selling to us, and the rest of the world, the technology that'll lead the twenty-first century.

"So we may just press the pause button here for several years, but China is pressing the fast-forward button. And as a result, if we wake up in several years and we say, geez, this didn't work very well for us [...] then what we'll find is we're way behind those Chinese folks. [...]

"And you know what? They plan on leading the future."

Seventy-three months left.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

the hairy conundrum

--climate happenings are at the data bank--

The world economy is fragile but recovering. The US economy is troubled, not recovering. Asia-Pacific leaders met in India, Korea, and Japan in the past week, pledging, as the NYT notes, “to rectify global economic imbalances and move toward creating a regional free-trade zone.” President Obama was criticized for “failing to finalize a free-trade pact with South Korea.”

About a month ago The Economist devoted an issue to economic growth, or rather, to the lack thereof, called “The Quest for Growth.” On the cover (see above) is a guy straining to push a few hairs out of his pate. Underneath it says, grow, dammit, grow! The IMF published its semi-annual World Economic Outlook in October, Recovery, Risk, and Rebalancing. Of course “recovery” refers to the fact that stalled growth sickens the economy. Of course economies are sick when they don't grow, healthy when they do; ‘health’ and ‘growth’ are synonyms. (An oncologist would beg to differ, but economics ain't medicine.) As the foreword (p. 15) by O. Blanchard makes clear, “unless advanced economies can count on stronger private demand, both domestic and foreign, they will find it difficult to achieve fiscal consolidation. And worries about sovereign risk can easily derail growth.”

Everyone is affected. I’m no exception. The position I hold at the University of South Florida since 1995 was created as a line to meet new needs in the Philosophy Department and the Environmental Science & Policy program. Philosophy was expanding and had to have someone in German thought, especially Kant; Environmental Studies (ESP) was planned as a department and needed builders and teachers.

That I have a job is the direct result of Florida’s boom years. That close friends are out of jobs now is the direct result of the boom having come to an end. Right now Philosophy is doing fine, because it’s close to the core of the educational mission of the university, and because it’s supportive of the signature area of the university, sustainability. But as a state university, the school depends on funds that the state of Florida gets through taxes, whose amount depends on how business is doing. With business slow and unemployment high, fewer people pay fewer taxes; this translates into less money for educating the next generation. So … grow, dammit, grow!

As the core statement of the Institute of Growth Studies (Giessen, 2008) puts it, “continuous growth is seen as the benchmark for any successful economic policy and is therefore the most urgent objective for any government that wants to stay in office. While politicians, interest-groups, and think-tanks fiercely debate the conditions under which this goal can be achieved most effectively, there is hardly any dispute about the necessity to meet it. The reason for this is very simple: without economic growth unemployment rises, social secularity systems are not sustainable and funding education and research becomes difficult.”

On the side of the Earth system, the need NOT to grow is also imperative. The world population grew from 1.6 billion in 1900 to 6 billion in 2000 (in 2010, the world population is close to 6.9 billion). The world economy grew even faster. Chapter 5 of the IMF's World Economic Outlook (May 2000) is a summary of ‘the world economy in the twentieth century’. The authors state (p. 150-151), “the total amount of goods and services produced in the twentieth century is estimated to have exceeded the cumulative total output over the preceding recorded human history … Between the years 1900 and 2000 world GDP at constant prices has increased about 19-fold, corresponding to an average annual rate of growth of 3 percent."

Because of this fourfold increase of our numbers and nineteen-fold increase of the market, we are hurtling from the Holocene into the Anthropocene. The first price of growth is the greatest extinction of species the Earth has seen for the past sixty-five million years. But because of this double human increase in numbers and wealth, pressure on resources has grown excessive. We have crossed the sustainable-yield thresholds of pretty much all the resources we use. So the other price we pay is that we’re running out of good stuff.

Our pressure on nature pushes the Earth System away from of its current optimal state. We are impairing the dampening mechanisms or negative feedbacks that keep the system in balance. Thus the third and lethal price of growth is climate change. As Lovelock succinctly put it in his most recent book, The Vanishing Face of Gaia (Basic Books, 2009), 156, “Global heating would not have happened but for the rapid expansion in numbers and wealth of humanity.”

Lovelock has mixed feelings (p. 85), “to become carbon neutral, to put on sandals and a hair shirt and follow the green puritans”. But what else can we do? (The sister site, blisterdata, has suggestions right on top.) The problem is a conflict of economy and Earth, and in this conflict neither side yields. We are pushing climate out of whack. All the multinationals financing the GOP denial machine cannot change this fact. It’s physics. At the same time we're committed to growth, because if we don’t grow, we won’t have jobs. Global civilization renounced the vision of communism and is stuck with the market. And markets must grow. But the fact that seven billion people on the planet seem to embrace McDonalds and dismiss Karl Marx fails to assuage the Marxist suspicion that capitalism risks collapse through its inner contradictions. Unfortunately Gaia votes communist.

At this point in time it sure looks as if capitalism lacks the flexibility to evolve to a stable system. There doesn’t seem to be a snowball’s chance in hell for the political will to re-engineer our economies accordingly. We need jobs, no? Grow, dammit, grow! And at this point in time it seems inconceivable how the economic stagnation that would be required by biospherical balance could ever amount to social stability—just as it seems inconceivable how economic downsizing, demanded by a sustainable world, could ever amount to collective prosperity. And yet conceiving of the inconceivable is what we need to do. For if we don’t, the future will simply be the meeting of an irresistible force with an immovable object.

It’s physics. We have work to do. Seventy-three months left.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

told you so

--climate happenings are at the data bank--

Disenlightenment deepened last night yet another notch. Der Spiegel calls the 2010 US midterm election an election of fury and writes (in German), "only two years after Barack Obama's victory of hope, the nation is demoralized, divided, and fuming. Now the angriest have screamed the loudest and managed to grab a seat at the table of power."

The Guardian's analysis of the election sums up what's most relevant for civil evolution in the headline, "Barack Obama's green agenda crushed at the ballot box." The lead is, "with a slew of new climate change deniers entering Congress, Barack Obama's environmental ambitions are now dead." It appears that the election's sleeper issue was the cap-and-trade system.

"It saw the defeat of a handful of Democrats from conservative states who voted for last year's climate change bill." So there will be no new climate legislation. The US cannot support any global mitigation attempts anymore. A new Chevron-backed proposition has passed that requires a two-thirds majority for new state taxes. The House of Representatives is poised for "sweeping investigations of climate science and of Obama administration officials such as Lisa Jackson,who heads the EPA."

In principle it is great that a third party arises from a grassroots movement, despite the quite undemocratic Electoral College whose winner-takes-all system perpetuates a two-party system in the US. But what an irony this is! Finally a grassroots movement goes to Washington and seizes power, and then it turns out that these revolutionaries and idealists are just the same old paleo-conservatives as the Republicans, both pushing for a predatory corporate agenda, both heavily funded by multinational corporations, both wanting a future of more consumerism, more arms, more oil, and both wallowing in denial of climate science.

So phase two begins. A biospherical storm is gathering at the horizon. And as the sky darkens and the wind picks up, the most powerful nation on the planet has decided to cross its arms in ideological defiance and proudly say there is no storm.

Seventy-three months left.