368. James Lovelock, warms to eco-sceptics

March 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

Strong words. Lots of wisdom. Don’t make enemies out of people. Science is too ingrown. The scientific method allows for criticism..

What, I wondered, would be the great man’s view on the latest twists in the atmospheric story — the Climategate emails and the sloppy science revealed in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC? To my surprise, he immediately professed his admiration for the climate-change sceptics.“I think you have to accept that the sceptics have kept us sane — some of them, anyway,” he said. “They have been a breath of fresh air. They have kept us from regarding the science of climate change as a religion. It had gone too far that way. There is a role for sceptics in science. They shouldn’t be brushed aside. It is clear that the angel side wasn’t without sin.”As we were ushered in to dinner, I couldn’t help wrestling with the irony that the so-called “prophet of climate change”, whose Gaia theory is regarded in some quarters as a faith in itself, was actively cheering on those who would knock science from its pedestal.Lovelock places great emphasis on proof. The climate change projections by the Meteorological Office’s Hadley Centre — a key contributor to the IPCC consensus — should be taken seriously, he said. But he is concerned that the projections are relying on computer models based primarily on atmospheric physics, because models of that kind have let us down before. Similar models, for example, failed to detect the hole in the ozone layer;it was eventually found by Joe Farman using a spectrometer.How, asks Lovelock, can we predict the climate 40 years ahead when there is so much that we don’t know? Surely we should base any assumptions on things we can measure, such as a rise in sea levels. After all, surface temperatures go up and down, but the rise in sea levels reflects both melting ice and thermal expansion. The IPCC, he feels, underestimates the extent to which sea levels are rising.Do mankind’s emissions matter? Yes, they undoubtedly do.No one should be complacent about the fact that within the next 20 years we’ll have added nearly a trillion tons of carbon to the atmosphere since the industrial revolution. When a geological accident produced a similar carbon rise 55m years ago, it turned up the heat more than 5C. And now? Well, the effect of man-made carbon is unpredictable. Temperatures might go down at first, rather than up, he warns.How should we be spending our money to prevent possible disaster? In Britain, says Lovelock, we need sea walls and more nuclear power. Heretical stuff, when you consider the vast amount that Europe plans to spend on wind turbines.“What would you bet will happen this century?” a mathematician asked him. Lovelock predicted a temperature rise in the middle range of current projections — about 1C-2C — which we could live with. Ah, but hadn’t he also said there was a chance that temperature rises could threaten human civilisation within the lifetime of our grandchildren?He had. In the end, his message was that we should have more respect for uncertainties and learn to live with possibilities rather than striving for the 95% probabilities that climate scientists have been trying to provide. We don’t know what’s going to happen and we don’t know if we can avert disaster — although we should try. His sage advice: enjoy life while you can.

via Grandaddy of green, James Lovelock, warms to eco-sceptics | Charles Clover – Times Online.


367. MAHB seminar at Stanford today

March 17, 2010 § Leave a comment

    1. Per person divided from society, say on the order of $20k for everyone whose income is under 100k, after the age 6. Normal social welfare costs could be eliminated through this alternate and easier to manage system. It also deals with student costs.
    2. Massively intense industrialization with zero emissions technologies that produce the needed items for society.
  • A very good discussion following up on the coal discussion last week ( the need to buy out the coal companies to prevent their co2 production). We ended last week with questions about money and finance. And today we added to it the problem of “unemployment”, which was reframed as a “problem” that the label “unemployment” hides aspects of that may be part of the solution. Obviously the core problem of not working is not receiving an income, under the normal model of no job no pay. To call it “unemployment” however suggests that the answer must be “employment”, but there are alternatives. Follow the argument:

    If we desperately need a major tech push because the currently anticipated pace of tech innovation and deployment is too slow and small scale to sum up to enough change to deal with warming issues (and others such as pollutions), then we must be able to do such an enlivened push on innovative technologies (think nano and bio).

    But what gets in the way of such a major escalation in tech innovation and new industrialization to meet the needs of a more open and sustainable society is that such an expansion would be highly automated, and lead to further loss of jobs, which people rightly fear, both in loss of jobs and loss of wealth.

    But if this resistance were to disappear, rapid tech progress could be made.

    How? It requires something like a negative income tax or guaranteed annual wage. More attractively this could be called a “social dividend” paid to everyone in society based on their being a part of a productive society which in part they “own” and deserve a dividend on the profits thereof. Alaska sends a check to each resident based on the amount of the state owned oil pumped each year. A good outline of this approach is in Capitalism 3.0 by Peter Barnes.

    This led us this afternoon to the political question of how it could be done. We are now talking about two proposals. (we are talking US at this point, but as a model to be extended to the rest of the world).

    There obviously would be massive shifts in social needs (for example long commutes for the poorest workers would dissapear).

    What would be necessary for this to work is a new compelling social narrative that conveys the major aspects in a convincing and attractive systems – holistic way.

    So to get to the narrative we expanded the picture:

    We must avoid

  • Radical climate change
  • Civil wars based on resources and migrations
  • Agricultural collapse through climate and overuse.
  • Coping with the brittleness of the necessary energy shift.
  • Failing world economies

As one can see, sustaining, even enhancing feelings of economic security and well being are absolutely essential.

So the positive moves are

  • New industrialization
  • Annual citizen dividend and
  • Legalize drugs (the cost savings would be large).

Other issues necessary to face.

  1. The need to constrain the concentration of profits obtained through leveraged investments. Basically to take banking back to the original function of loans for productive activities, not derivatives nor selling loan portfolios.
  2. Higher taxes as proposed by Warren Buffet (whose taxes were lower than his staff’s.)
  3. The need to create a culture that gives meaning to non-job holding lives. Extended leisure (the promise of which after ww2 was confiscated by policies that paid workers less and the rich more), and local projects.

If dividends are ok for the rich, they should be ok for the poor.

But the key point here is to get on with the necessary elements for coping with the crisis of a successful expanding species (what a rocky road that has been!) that has reached the boundaries of a round and increasingly crowded world. In other words, the time has come to give up conquest and empire (our ten thousand year history) and embrace meeting our fellow humans in a humanizing project of enhancing the quality of life through appropriate technologies and management of the natural world.

We also discussed the need to take everyone’s opinion seriously and try to meet all argument – mostly fears of economic loss and loss of social roles. Thomas Jefferson’s “Declaration” phrase.. “and the pursuit of happiness” meant for him the number of happenings in a life, the range of roles that brought one’s talents into the social process. Not hedonism but engagement.

We expect in part this question of self worth would be met by increased local initiatives in agriculture, schooling, and recreation. There are plenty of needs and so plenty to do.

So this is the first draft of our alternative narrative.

see http://mahb.stanford.edu

366. Continuing UN report on “other worlds are possible.”

March 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

There is some real courage in this short book. The metaphor of “other worlds” is right to the core. The write, and quote

Since the Second World War, development, so-called, has been as much about power play and geo-politics as it has the improvement of people’s lives. As Chaterjee and Finger write, the Cold War underpinned the Western development paradigm and the values upon which it is based: The Cold War became one of the driving forces of industrial development, because it stimulated scientifc and technological progress on the one hand, and promoted military-induced industrial production on the other…the Cold War cemented the nation-state system and thus reinforced the idea that nation- states were the most relevant units within which problems had to be addressed. Indeed, because of the Cold War, the nation-states continued to be seen as the units within which development occurs and must be promoted, because it is economic and military strength that defnes each nation’s relative power… Again, industrial development came to be seen as a means to enhance national power…9

Another frame, the cold war.Win by out producing. “we will bury you.” what a terrible heritage! That takes us back to the origins of WW! and he clash of empires, also over production and competition to be a player. Banks.

Climate change is a serious threat to human development. But it is also holds opportunity. Rethinking how to share a fnite planet, meeting our collective needs whilst living within environmental limits could not only rescue civilisation (yes, the stakes are that high) but be a way to tackle deeply entrenched problems of social injustice, and greatly improve overall human well-being.

So, we expand successfully till we bump into the round planet problem, and failing to respond, lose the chance to get to civilization. Remember Fred Hoyle on nuclear power?


They quote Jeffry Sachs he is mostly a problem in my mind)

The good news is that well more than half of the world, from the Bangladesh garment worker onward…is experiencing economic progress. Not only do they have a foothold on the development ladder, but they are actually climbing it. The climb is evident in rising personal incomes and the acquisition of goods such as cell phones, television sets, and scooters… The greatest tragedy of our time is that one sixth of humanity is not even on the development ladder.

Besides the obvious climate implications, there is no sensitivity to the fact that third world people are scrambling against larger economic realities. Life is painful just to keep up with others getting ahead. My recent rip to Guatemala showed a country both making progress and burnt out.this lack of sympathy and imagination i take as one of the real failures of American power.

Use of literature:

In Goethe’s famous tragedy there is a parable for development and the growth economy. Faust’s character has many incarnations. His frst self is the dreamer. But the dreamer is dissolved and Faust transformed into the lover. Finally, in his last transformation and ‘romantic quest for self-development… he will work out some of the most creative and some of the most destructive potentialities of modern life,’ writes Berman, ‘he will be the consummate wrecker and creator, the dark and deeply ambiguous fgure that our age has come to call, “the developer”.’

a good way of putting it (quoting in the text).

and 4). He wrote that the physical view of the economy ‘is governed by the laws of thermodynamics and continuity’ and so ‘the question of how much natural resource we have to fuel the economy, and how much energy we have to extract, process and manufacture is central to our existence’.

This normalizes the question without much ideology. Who cannot take this seriously? Our own local Hewlett Foundation gets into the mix. One can imagine the committee meetings where this happened.Perhaps i can track down a participant and get the story.

Yet there is a continued focus on economic growth as the answer to all the world’s ills. For example, the Commission on Growth and Development (funded by the governments of Australia, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the World Bank, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation) was ‘brought together by the belief that the world’s challenges – political, environmental, misunderstandings within and between nations, vast differences in living standards within and across countries – are best met in conditions of rising and sustained prosperity, and expanding opportunities’.20 Its underlying assumption is that ‘…poverty cannot be reduced in isolation of economic growth…’21

365. Stanford students.

March 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

The topic for the  seminar this last week was “what can happen.” After lots of directions mentioned, we focuses on education, especially in the sense of communities of practice dealing with climate change, and concluded that education would be more important in dealing with climate change than technology. Strong statement, woke me up.

Shanks and i worked with Castilleja school on integrating globalization issues, including climate, into their curricula. The faculty and board seem ready to move on an education that meets the basics more quickly so that real time can be spent on more advanced and challenging projects of engagement.

I am reading the UN report mentioned earlier and it has some paragraphs worth critiquing.

Industrial development…can be traced back to the Industrial Revolution and beyond. Indeed, the idea of development is rooted in the Enlightenment ideal of a rational society of free and responsible citizens, i.e., ultimately a society governed by scientifc principles and managed accordingly. The emergence of industrial production in the nineteenth century was rapidly incorporated into the development paradigm: industrial development came to be seen as a means – so to speak the motor – of making this modern and rational society come true.
Unfortunately, the means turned into an end, development became a goal in itself.

The problem here is that it looks like a desire for progress was the engine, but alternative view is that banking used the IR for profit, not for any intrinsic reasons.

364. Obama lost year. a good analysis of why people are so angry, esp on the right.

March 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

Many people do not trust te experts. who have brought war, bank failure, population, and increasinglyly thratening technologies they can’t afford. The anger at lost jobs, children dead in the two wars, all add up. here is some first hand reporting about that world.

George Packer,   A Reporter at Large, “Obama’s Lost Year,” The New Yorker, March 15, 2010, p. 4

ABSTRACT: A REPORTER AT LARGE about President Obama and the economy. Martinsville and the county that surrounds it, within Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District, have lost twelve thousand jobs, and the town now has an unemployment rate of twenty per cent—the highest in Virginia, and one of the highest in America. In the middle of January, Representative Tom Perriello, the freshman Democrat who represents the Fifth District, visited the town. The Obama Administration’s agenda was stalled in Congress, and Perriello was at the top of the list of endangered Democrats in the fall election. So it was with more than a little urgency that Perriello wanted to publicize the distribution of ten million dollars in grants from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, otherwise known as the stimulus package. One of his aides, Ridge Schuylers, found dozens of nascent projects in renewable energy in Martinsville, all initiated by local farmers and entrepreneurs. Perriello was an emblematic member of the Obama generation—a practical-minded idealist, skeptical of Washington but also eager to make government work on behalf of the farmer, the seamstress, the small businessman. But he expressed frustration over the Administration’s first year in office, and he bemoaned the Democrats’ failure to explain the Recovery Act to the public. His concern was that the Obama Administration was too cautious, and too close to Wall Street. Some liberal economists had argued for direct government spending on infrastructure, but the Administration ignored such calls. Obama had a goal to be post-partisan, and that hampered him. Perriello faulted the Administration not just for the size and composition of the stimulus, but for its lack of imagination. The Administration’s approach to the Recovery Act set the pattern for everything that followed: legislative compromises that watered down the bill’s impact; an immediate campaign by opposition politicians and media to declare the program a failure; a weak, uncoordinated Administration effort to explain and champion the stimulus package; gradual public disillusionment. According to Perriello and other Democrats, a turning point was in mid-March, when news broke that A.I.G. would pay its employees almost a hundred and sixty-five million dollars in bonuses. The Administration could have seized the moment and put Republicans on the defensive, but it chose not to. Mentions Paul Begala and Gene Sperling. For David Axelrod, the Administration’s lapses in communication were almost a point of honor. A year in, Obama’s Presidency resembles in uncanny ways Ronald Reagan’s at the same point. Reagan’s talent for phrasemaking and anecdote derived from having a strong world view, but the same qualities that had allowed Obama to make a case for himself in 2008; his aversion to partisan small-mindedness and ideological oversimplification—prevented him from making the case for his political agenda in 2009. As President, he has not rendered the country’s story in a way that is memorable and convincing. Mentions Dean Price, the co-owner of Red Birch biodiesel truck stop.

via Obama : The New Yorker.

363. Europe On the Ropes An alternate compelling scenario

March 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

Good to read it all this is just an exccerpt. I;ve been interested in stories that people feel more compelling than global climate issues. Here is another such.

let;s take a closer look at the European banking industry. The following is not pretty reading. I have rarely, if ever, felt this apprehensive about the outlook. So, if the crisis has made you depressed already, don't read any further. What is about to come, will make your heart sink.

More leverage in Europe

Let;s begin our journey by pointing out a regulatory 'anomaly' which has allowed European banks to take on much more leverage than their American colleagues and which now makes them far more vulnerable. In Europe, unlike in the US, it is only risk-weighted assets which matter to the regulators, not the total leverage ratio. European banks can therefore apply a lot more leverage than their US counterparties, provided they load their balance sheets with higher rated assets, and that is precisely what they have been doing.


On the 11th February the Daily Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent Bruno Waterfield wrote an article under the header: “European banks may need £16.3 trillion bail out, EC document warns.” In the article, the reporter revealed that he has seen a secret document produced by the EU Commission which briefed the union’s finance ministers on the true extent of the banking crisis. Less than 24 hours later, the article’s header was changed to “European bank bail-out could push EU into crisis” and two paragraphs had mysteriously disappeared. Here they are:

“European Commission officials have estimated that “impaired assets” may amount to 44pc of EU bank balance sheets. The Commission estimates that so-called financial instruments in the ‘trading book’ total £12.3 trillion (13.7 trillion euros), equivalent to about 33pc of EU bank balance sheets.

In addition, so-called ‘available for sale instruments’ worth £4trillion (4.5 trillion euros), or 11pc of balance sheets, are also added by the Commission to arrive at the headline figure of £16.3 trillion.”

Do yourself a favour – read those two paragraphs again. Newspaper editors do not change content light-heartedly. Did the Telegraph editor receive a call from Downing Street? Or Brussels? Did he have second thoughts about the avalanche that he could possibly instigate? I don’t know and I probably never will. But one thing is certain. If the EU Commission’s estimate of £16.3 trillion of impaired assets is correct, then the crisis is far worse than any of us could ever imagine. Not only would we have to get us

via Europe On the Ropes – John Mauldin’s Outside the Box – InvestorsInsight.com | Financial Intelligence, Advice & Research / Investment Strategies & Planning for Individual Investors..

362. and further, back to the 1850's and electricity

March 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

I like it when the frame is extended.

Brad DeLong ultimately nailed it in my opinion with the Electrical Revolution starting in 1850. Though he refers back to 1825 when the same problems seemed to occur, I do not think they were as nearly correlated in 1825. By 1850, the electrical revolution was on and it never stopped. Every generation of capitalists, since then, was presented with the next generation of technology so powerful they could gleefully knock out the old stalwarts and force an economic wide restructuring to their benefit.

via Economist’s View: Shiller: A Crisis of Understanding.

Where Am I?

You are currently viewing the archives for March, 2010 at Reflections on GardenWorld Politics Douglass Carmichael.