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To confront power, one must first name it: Neoliberalism and the sustainability crisis

To confront power, one must first name it: Neoliberalism and the sustainability crisis

Recently, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker ordered references to human-caused climate change be deleted from the state Deparment of Natural Resources website. Scientific findings concerning the natural world have become an embarrassment for the neoliberal world view. The answer in this case seems to be to delete them.

But what is the neoliberal world view and why is it important to understand? Paraphrasing theologian Walter Wink British writer George Monbiot explains that in order to confront power, one must first name it. The power Monbiot has in mind is the power of those enacting the neoliberal agenda. He explained in a talk last year that this ideology is embraced by leaders of both the political right and left throughout much of the world.

More disturbing is that few people are aware of this fact, and fewer still can define what neoliberalism is. It’s important to understand that this ideology animates much of the governing class on the planet. It’s important because this ideology almost completely opposes doing anything serious about climate change or any of the other environmental and social ills which afflict us.

First, neoliberalism should not be confused with modern-day liberalism which is generally associated with tolerant social policies and governmental intervention in and regulation of the economy. To the contrary, neoliberalism harkens back to 19th century classical liberalism. Neoliberals champion a return to laissez-faire economics by means of the privatization of public services and property, fiscal austerity, deregulation and, of course, free trade.

Neoliberalism was first enunciated in the late 1930s as a response to fascism and communism. Only later did neoliberal ideas find their full expression in the presidency of Ronald Reagan and the government of Britain’s Margaret Thatcher. For obvious reasons neoliberal ideas have been championed and lavishly supported by wealthy corporate interests.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Yes, the Arctic’s Freakishly Warm Winter is Due to Humans’ Climate Influence

Yes, the Arctic’s Freakishly Warm Winter is Due to Humans’ Climate Influence

The Arctic’s seasonal cycle means that the lowest sea ice concentrations occur in September each year. But while September 2012 had less ice than September 2016, this year the ice coverage has not increased as expected as we moved into the northern winter. As a result, since late October, Arctic sea ice extent has been at record low levels for the time of year.

Late 2016 has produced new record lows for Arctic ice. NSIDCAuthor provided

These record low sea ice levels have been associated with exceptionally high temperatures for the Arctic region. November and December (so far) have seen record warm temperatures. At the same time Siberia, and very recently North America, have experienced conditions that are slightly cooler than normal.

Temperatures have been far above normal over vast areas of the Arctic this November and December. Geert Jan van Oldenborgh/KNMI/ERA-InterimAuthor provided

Extreme Arctic warmth and low ice coverage affect the migration patterns of marine mammals and have been linked with mass starvation and deaths among reindeer, as well as affecting polar bear habitats.

Given these severe ecological impacts and the potential influence of the Arctic on the climates of North America and Europe, it is important that we try to understand whether and how human-induced climate change has played a role in this event.

Arctic attribution

Our World Weather Attribution group, led by Climate Central and including researchers at the University of Melbourne, the University of Oxford and the Dutch Meteorological Service (KNMI), used three different methods to assess the role of the human climate influence on record Arctic warmth over November and December.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Arctic Drilling Ban Reveals Crucial Difference Between Obama and Trudeau on Climate

Arctic Drilling Ban Reveals Crucial Difference Between Obama and Trudeau on Climate

But the difference between how the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office explained this announcement reveals a major rift between the leaders in their understanding of how to address the climate threat.

At the end of November, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau failed a key test of his understanding of what is required to stop climate change by approving the Kinder Morgan and Line 3 pipelines. During his speech he defended his actions:

I have said many times that there isn’t a country in the world that would find billions of barrels of oil and leave it in the ground while there is a market for it.”

But just weeks later, the U.S. did exactly that. As part of President Obama’s announcement to permanently ban oil and gas development in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, the White House released a fact sheet explaining its justification.

…if lease sales were to occur and production take place, it would be at a time when the scientific realities of climate change dictate that the United States and the international community must be transitioning its energy systems away from fossil fuels.”

In essence, the White House is saying that further offshore oil and gas development in these areas fails a climate test — that these projects aren’t in line with the action needed to meet international goals to fight climate change. This is a crucial signal that President Obama and his team are finally beginning to understand that action to restrict the supply of fossil fuels is ultimately required to reach a safe climate future.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Mass Extinction and Mass Insanity


Caters Extremely rare albino elephant, Kruger National Park in South Africa
Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back …

Springsteen, Atlantic City

“Erwin Schrodinger (1945) has described life as a system in steady-state thermodynamic disequilibrium that maintains its constant distance from equilibrium (death) by feeding on low entropy from its environment – that is, by exchanging high-entropy outputs for low-entropy inputs. The same statement would hold verbatium as a physical description of our economic process. A corollary of this statement is that an organism cannot live in a medium of its own waste products.”
Herman Daly and Kenneth Townsend

What drives our economies is waste. Not need, or even demand. Waste. 2nd law of thermodynamics. It drives our lives, period.

First of all, don’t tell me you’re trying to stop the ongoing extinction of nature and wildlife on this planet, or the destruction of life in general. Don’t even tell me you’re trying. Don’t tell me it’s climate change that we should focus on (that’s just a small part of the story), and you’re driving an electric car and you’re separating your trash or things like that. That would only mean you’re attempting to willfully ignore your share of destruction, because if you do it, so will others, and the planet can’t take anymore of your behavior.

This is the big one. And the only ones amongst us who don’t think so are those who don’t want to. Who think it’s easier to argue that some problems are too big for them to tackle, that they should be left to others to solve. But why should we, why should anyone, worry about elections or even wars, when it becomes obvious we’re fast approaching a time when such things don’t matter much anymore?

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Radical Realism About Climate Change

Radical Realism About Climate Change

BERLIN – Mainstream politics, by definition, is ill equipped to imagine fundamental change. But last December in Paris, 196 governments agreed on the need to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels – an objective that holds the promise of delivering precisely such a transformation. Achieving it will require overcoming serious political challenges, reflected in the fact that some are advocating solutions that will end up doing more harm than good.

One strategy that has gained a lot of momentum focuses on the need to develop large-scale technological interventions to control the global thermostat. Proponents of geo-engineering technologies argue that conventional adaptation and mitigation measures are simply not reducing emissions fast enough to prevent dangerous warming. Technologies such as “carbon capture and storage” (CCS), they argue, are necessary to limit damage and human suffering.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change seems to agree. In its fifth assessment report, it builds its scenarios for meeting the Paris climate goals around the concept of “negative emissions” – that is, the ability to suck excess carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

But this approach ignores serious problems with the development and deployment of geo-engineering technologies. Consider CCS, which is the process of capturing waste CO2 from large sources like fossil-fuel power plants and depositing it in, say, an underground geological formation, thereby preventing it from entering the atmosphere.

It sounds good. But what makes it economical is that it enables enhanced oil recovery. In other words, the only way to make CCS cost-effective is to use it to exacerbate the problem it is supposed to address.

The supposed savior technology – bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) – is not much better. BECCS begins by producing large amounts of biomass from, say, fast-growing trees which naturally capture CO2; those plants are then converted into fuel via burning or refining, with the resulting carbon emissions being captured and sequestered.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

What a Trump Win Means For the Global Climate Fight

What a Trump Win Means For the Global Climate Fight

Donald Trump’s ascension to the presidency signals an end to American leadership on international climate policy. With the withdrawal of U.S. support, efforts to implement the Paris agreement and avoid the most devastating consequences of global warming have suffered a huge blow.

With the unexpected triumph of Donald Trump, what’s in store for U.S. climate and energy policies? Answering that question is hard since Trump has never run a public institution and thus has no track record. His most cited comment about global warming — that it was a Chinese hoax invented to destroy American jobs — came in November 2012 from a 19-word tweet, hardly the medium for reasoned policy analysis. He promises to pump more oil and gas, restore the coal industry, and roll back regulations, but those claims are not rooted in any plan for how to achieve them. In my lifetime, no one has ever become president after having said so little about what they would actually do with the reins of power.

With so little to guide predictions, the reality of a Trump presidency has become a national Rorschach test.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Donald Trump on election night in New York City.

Conservatives and the anti-establishment imagine an ascendant Trump will set a path for a more competitive national economy, smaller government, and a stronger defense. The left predicts a horror show of policy reversals and seediness. This Rorschach test is now playing out as the country grapples with what all this means for climate and energy.

One thing is clear: The Trump administration will inflict more harm on global cooperation around climate than any prior president. After the successful Paris agreement last year, that cooperation was finally poised to make progress with decisive U.S. leadership. I doubt that a Trump presidency will kill the Paris process — too many other countries are too invested in its success.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Fruit and nut crops decline as climate change melts fog

Fruit and nut crops decline as climate change melts fog

California produces 95% of U.S. fruit and nut crops that depend on disappearing Tule fog.

The soupy thick tule fog that regularly blanketed the Central Valley has been slowly disappearing over the past three decades, declining by 46%, a University of California, Berkeley study has found. Tule fog is a dense ground fog that usually forms during calm winds and cold temperatures after the first significant rainfall of the season and can be so dense there is only 5 feet of visibility.

“It is jeopardizing fruit growing in California, we’re getting much lower yields” said Dennis Baldocchi, a biometeorologist at UC Berkeley and lead author of the study.

Almonds, pistachios, cherries, apricots and peaches rely on the thick ground fog to hold down temperatures and bring on a dormant period, a necessary physiological process that helps them produce buds, flowers and fruit during the growing season.

“If we don’t get enough chill, the flowers and fruit doesn’t form, an insufficient rest period impairs the ability of farmers to achieve high-quality fruit yields,” said Baldocchi, a professor of environmental science, policy and management.

In 1980, for instance, there was an average of 37 foggy days in Fresno compared with 22 now. Long-term averages were used in an attempt to correct for times of drought. Only two foggy days were recorded this past winter.

Held down by warmer air from the surrounding mountains, the fog can linger for days or even weeks and cover as much as 400 miles from Bakersfield to Red Bluff (Tehama County).

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Peak Oil & System Justification: Avoidance

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The researchers found that being intolerant of ambiguity is associated with such conservative characteristics as unwavering certainty and strong loyalty to particular people and positions.
Conservatives don’t feel the need to jump through complex, intellectual hoops in order to understand or justify some of their positions. They are more comfortable seeing and stating things in black and white.…

THE DRAWBACKS OF AVOIDANCE

As much as those on the Right seek to avoid ambiguity, nuance, and examination of the various complexities of most significant social, political, and economic issues, the resistance to acknowledging the potentially drastic impacts and implications of a peak in oil production and climate change cannot be fairly or honestly explained in a sentence or two. Our 21st Century planet is not exactly a black and white/either-or/yes-no world.

Of course, that immediately presents a bit of a challenge. Being pre-disposed to ignoring or dismissing any set of facts which create cognitive dissonance [or stimulate the fear they are actually trying to avoid], may offer some comfort, but….For those ensconced inside their denial bubbles, choosing to ignore the very information they’ll need to manage the conditions which arouse those very fears is a curious approach.

The conservative inclination to “cut to the chase” in decision-making and policy-making is a time-saver, to be sure! But once we get beyond kindergarten or first grade problem-solving, avoiding the complexities of modern society’s greatest challenges [with the myriad perspectives, differences, needs, purposes, and expectations which contribute to both the challenges and the solutions] by cutting to the chase is at its very best intellectually lazy. Actually, it’s counterproductive in the extreme.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

 

David Suzuki: We Can’t Dig Our Way Out of the Fossil Fuels Hole

David Suzuki: We Can’t Dig Our Way Out of the Fossil Fuels Hole

Rather than focusing on short-term economic and corporate priorities, though, politicians should first consider the long-term health and well-being of the people they’re elected to represent. When it comes to climate change and fossil fuels, many aren’t living up to that.

We celebrate the federal government’s decision to implement nation-wide carbon pricing, even though what’s proposed won’t, without additional measures like regulations, get us to our commitments under the Paris Agreement, which is also inadequate for keeping global warming from catastrophic levels. A government could be forgiven for going slow on a measure opposed by some industrial sectors, provinces and citizens, but it’s difficult to take a government seriously when it approves or supports expanding fossil fuel infrastructure and development while the world continues to break warming records, with increasingly dire consequences.

massive B.C. “carbon bomb” LNG project in the midst of critical salmon-rearing territory, in defiance of many area First Nations’ wishes. Likely approval of at least one more bitumen pipeline to support expanded oil sands development. A provincial government that pretty much says, “We’ll support federal efforts to fight climate change if you support our efforts to fuel it.” None of this makes sense.

As a report from non-profit Oil Change International and 14 other groups concludes, “The potential carbon emissions from the oil, gas, and coal in the world’s currently operating fields and mines would take us beyond 2°C of warming,” and “The reserves in currently operating oil and gas fields alone, even with no coal, would take the world beyond 1.5°C.” That’s without any new development!

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The most important and misleading assumption in the world

THE MOST IMPORTANT AND MISLEADING ASSUMPTION IN THE WORLD

Part one of this blog post explained how macroeconomic models are flawed in a fundamental way.

These models are coupled to models of the Earth’s natural systems as Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs) that are used to inform climate change policy. Most IAM results presented in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports show climate mitigation costs as trivial compared to gains in economic growth.

The referred to “elephant in the room” (from part one of this series) is the fact that economic growth is usually simply assumed to occur.  No matter what the quantity or rate of investment in the energy system or the level of climate damages, the results indicate that economy will always grow. This defies intuition, and begs the question: If the costs of climate mitigation really are so small, then why is there so much disagreement over a low-carbon transition?

One way to explain the problem is via a term called “total factor productivity,” or TFP. TFP is the Achilles Heel of macroeconomics, and why no one talks about the aforementioned elephant with the exposed heel in the macroeconomics classroom.

Essentially economic output, or GDP, is usually modeled as being dependent upon the amount of labor in the workforce, the amount of capital (e.g., factories, machines, computers, buildings), and TFP.

TFP can be understood as all of the reasons why the economy grows that are not already characterized by the quantity of labor and capital.  In statistical terms it’s called a “residual,” or the amount unexplained by an assumed underlying equation of economic growth.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Peak Oil; Climate Change; & System Justification Pt 10

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Shaping our identity in large part by the groups we align ourselves with for emotional, psychological, cultural, and political reasons are powerful anchors—individually and collectively. All of us are much more inclined to seek out information and assurances which bolster who we believe ourselves to be rather than contemplate facts or assessments casting doubt about our choices and conclusions.

GROUP INFLUENCE

The more solidly anchored one might be in the identity of their chosen group(s), the less likely it is that information contradicting “group-think” will be received well, or at all. Human nature being what it is, we’re all psychologically inclined to seek out and accept information which supports our beliefs and values, and thus much less inclined to consider data which casts doubts on what we’ve come to believe.

Being actively critical of something one is dependent on is thought to be psychologically uncomfortable, and therefore avoided in favor of increased perceptions of legitimacy, trust, and desirability. System justification theory posits that people are motivated to justify and legitimize the status quo and the system in which one lives. Many mechanisms for this motive have been proposed and studied, including threats to the system, decreases in personal control, feelings of restricted exit, and feelings of dependence on the system. In such situations, instead of becoming increasingly critical of a system that one is dependent on, which would cause considerable dissonance and psychological discomfort, people have been shown to become increasingly motivated to justify and legitimize that system (citations in original quote).

So the message that our technological prowess is a direct contributor to the problems of a warming planet, and/or that for all of our ingenuity and technological advances industry will not overcome the realities of drawing down a finite resource, is especially troubling to a conservative mindset firmly convinced that our market system can solve any problem.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Climate change doubled the chances of Louisiana heavy rains, scientists warn

A Coast Guardsman looks out from an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter searching for stranded residents in Baton Rouge, LA on Aug. 15, 2016

A Coast Guardsman looks out from an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter searching for stranded residents in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on 15 August, 2016. Credit: Melissa Leake/US Dept. of Agriculture.
Climate change doubled the chances of Louisiana heavy rains, scientists warn

Torrential rains unleashed on south Louisiana in August were made almost twice as likely by human-caused climate change, according to a quick-fire analysis released just weeks after the flood waters subsided.

The team of scientists concluded that such an event is expected to occur a minimum of 40% more often now than in 1900, but their best estimate is that the odds have now halved.

Dr Friederike Otto, a senior researcher in extreme weather and attribution in the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University, who wasn’t involved in the research, tells Carbon Brief:

“It is a very striking example of the impact that climate change already has on us today…it is the rainfall event with the highest increase in risk that has been analysed, that I’m aware of.”

The new research is the latest in what are known as “single event attribution” studies. This one is notable for being the first collaboration between scientists at the World Weather Attribution (WWA) project and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

A view from an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter shows flooding and devastation in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 15 August 2016

A view from an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter shows flooding and devastation in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 15 August 2016. Credit: Melissa Leake/US Department of Agriculture.

Historic rains

On 10 Aug 2016, a low pressure system swept into south Louisiana from the Gulf of Mexico. A combination of unusually warm water providing extra “fuel” for the storm and its sluggish movement meant it dumped a huge amount of rain in one area for several days in a row.

The WWA team said in a summary accompanying their findings:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Macro and Climate Economics: It’s Time to Talk About the ‘Elephant in the Room’

MACRO AND CLIMATE ECONOMICS: IT’S TIME TO TALK ABOUT THE “ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM”

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series by the author. Up next: “The most important and misleading assumption in the world.

If we want to maximize our ability to achieve future energy, climate, and economic goals, we must start to use improved economic modeling concepts.  There is a very real tradeoff of the rate at which we address climate change and the amount of economic growth we experience during the transition to a low-carbon economy.

If we ignore this tradeoff, as do most of the economic models, then we risk politicians and citizens revolting against the energy transition midway through.

On September 3, 2016, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping each joined the Paris Climate Change Agreement to support U.S. and Chinese efforts to greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) limits for their respective country. This is an important signal to the world that the presidents of the two largest economies and GHG emitters are cooperating on a truly global environmental matter, and it provides two leaps toward obtaining enough global commitments to set the Paris Agreement in motion.

The economic outcomes from models used to inform policymakers like Presidents Obama and Xi, however, are so fundamentally flawed that they are delusional.

The projections for climate and economy interactions during a transition to low-carbon economy are performed using Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs) that link earth systems models to human activities via economic models. Several of these IAMs inform the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the IPCC reports in turn inform policy makers.

The earth systems part of the IAMs project changes to climate from increased concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, land use changes, and other biophysical factors.  The economic part of the IAMs characterizes human responses to the climate and the changes in energy technologies that are needed to limit global GHG emissions.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Peak Oil; Climate Change; & System Justification Pt 8

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Of course it’s threatening to think that our lifestyles, systems of governing, and capitalist processes themselves may all face drastic changes in the not-too-distant future because of the facts and reality of Peak Oil and climate change! I’m certainly notthe poster-child for Peak Oil advocacy and lifestyles. I have a very nice, capitalist, well-to-do lifestyle. To hell with all of you, I don’t want MY life to change!

STATING THE OBVIOUS

I’ve noted this on several occasions: I’m willing to wager that almost all those urging greater awareness of the oil production/energy supply challenges we’ll be facing soon enough would be delighted to be proven wrong. None of us are eagerly—or in any other manner—awaiting the onset of the inevitable magnitude of personal, economic, commercial, and cultural changes which our beliefs about peak oil suggest. Being wrong about this would be ideal, but we—I—have serious doubts about that outcome being the likeliest.

There’s too large a group of ardent and well-financed others well aware of the inherent limitations finite resources carry. They more than most appreciate how widespread will be the impact of a diminishing energy supply colliding with increasing demand and a growing worldwide population. They also understand—as do those opposing/denying the facts of climate change—the costs and consequences to their own organizations once their Business As Usual practices succumb to the production facts of these finite resources.

What worries us: the problems will be of such scope and impact and complexity that we strongly believe in a need for planning to take place now—by all of us, both Left and Right—and we’re not seeing enough honest, intelligent, rational analysis from those whose contributions will be every bit as important and meaningful. The ideology sponsoring practical and effective adaptations and solutions won’t matter to us if they work.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How Climate Change Could Jam The World’s Ocean Circulation

How Climate Change Could Jam The World’s Ocean Circulation

Scientists are closely monitoring a key current in the North Atlantic to see if rising sea temperatures and increased freshwater from melting ice are altering the “ocean conveyor belt” — a vast oceanic stream that plays a major role in the global climate system.

Mariusz Kluzniak/Flickr
Melting ice flows into the northern Atlantic Ocean in eastern Greenland.
Susan Lozier is having a busy year. From May to September, her oceanographic team is making five research cruises across the North Atlantic, hauling up dozens of moored instruments that track currents far beneath the surface. The data they retrieve will be the first complete set documenting how North Atlantic waters are shifting — and should help solve the mystery of whether there is a long-term slowdown in ocean circulation. “We have a lot of people very interested in the data,” says Lozier, a physical oceanographer at Duke University.

A similar string of moorings across the middle of the Atlantic, delving as deep as 3.7 miles from the Canary Islands to the Bahamas, has already detected a disturbing drop in this ocean’s massive circulation pattern. Since those moorings were installed in 2004, they have seen the Atlantic current wobble and weaken by as much as 30 percent, turning down the dial on a dramatic heat pump that transports warmth toward northern Europe. Turn that dial down too much and Europe will go into a deep chill.

Researchers have been worried about an Atlantic slowdown for years. The Atlantic serves as the engine for the planet’s conveyor belt of ocean currents: The massive amount of cooler water that sinks in the North Atlantic stirs up that entire ocean and drives currents in the Southern and Pacific oceans, too. “It is the key component” in global circulation, says Ellen Martin, a paleoclimate and ocean current researcher at the University of Florida.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai III: Cataclysm
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