Climate Change and Politics in Copenhagen: We Won’t Get Fooled Again?

I'm so tired of being misled by our leaders that I search for people who don't sugarcoat what they see happening. This leads to inner conflict: the satisfaction of getting a somewhat realistic view of the problems that we face up the creek, and anger from realizing that how skilled our leaders are at promising to solve problems to gain power.

John Michael Greer doesn't sugarcoat what he sees. Below are some excerpts from his recent essay on the politics of climate change conference in Copenhagen. Don't read this unless you enjoy dark humor and you want to become more cynical. The realization that there are no easy solutions is always very difficult to swallow.

Link: The Archdruid Report: The Human Ecology of Collapse.

The question that has to be asked is whether a modern industrial society can exist at all without vast and rising inputs of essentially free energy, of the sort only available on this planet from fossil fuels, and the answer is no.

…will somebody please explain to me someday how a head of state got given the Nobel Peace Prize while he was enthusiastically waging two wars?

Meanwhile the socialists are insisting that it’s all capitalism’s fault and can be solved promptly by a socialist revolution, never mind the awkward little fact that the environmental records of socialist countries are by and large even worse than those of capitalist ones; other radicalisms of left and right make the same claim as the socialists, often with even less justification.

I think a great many people are beginning to realize that whatever results come out of Copenhagen, a meaningful response to the increasing instability of global climate will not be among them.

Suppose, for the sake of discussion, that Obama agreed to cut US carbon emissions far enough to make a real impact on global climate change. Would those cuts happen? No, because Congress would have to agree to implement them, and Congress – even though it is controlled by a Democratic majority – has so far been unable to pass even the most ineffectual legislation on the subject.

Suppose the improbable happened, and both Obama and Congress agreed to implement serious carbon emission cuts. What would the result be? Much more likely than not, a decisive Republican victory in the 2010 congressional elections, followed by the repeal of the laws mandating the cuts. Carbon emissions can’t be cut by waving a magic wand; the cuts will cost trillions of dollars at a time when budgets are already strained, and impose steep additional costs throughout the economy.

any nation that accepts serious carbon emission cuts will place itself at a steep economic disadvantage compared to those nations that don’t.

Business executives whose companies will bear a large share of the costs of curbing carbon emissions have funded some very dubious science, and some even more dubious publicity campaigns, in order to duck those costs; academics have either tailored their findings to climb onto the climate change bandwagon, or whored themselves out to corporate interests willing to pay handsomely for anyone in a lab coat who will repeat their party line; politicians on both sides of the aisle have distorted facts grotesquely to further their own careers.

Beneath all the yelling, though, are a set of brutal facts nobody is willing to address. Whether or not the current round of climate instability is entirely the product of anthropogenic CO2 emissions is actually not that important, because it’s even more stupid to dump greenhouse gases into a naturally unstable climate system than it would be to dump them into a stable one. Over the long run, the only level of carbon pollution that is actually sustainable is zero net emissions, and getting there any time soon would require something not far from the dismantling of industrial society and its replacement with something much less affluent.

Even if it turns out to be possible to power something like an industrial society on renewable resources, the huge energy, labor, and materials costs needed to develop renewable energy and replace most of the infrastructure of today’s society with new systems geared to new energy sources will have to be paid out of existing supplies; thus everything else would have to be cut to the bone, or beyond.

I long ago lost track of the number of global warming bumper stickers I’ve seen on the rear ends of SUVs.

Nobody, but nobody, is willing to deal with the harsh reality of what a carbon-neutral society would have to be like. This is what makes the blame game so popular, and it also provides the impetus behind meaningless gestures of the sort that are on the table at Copenhagen.

a strong case can be made that the most viable option for anyone in a leadership position is to enjoy the party while it lasts, and hope you can duck the blame when it all comes crashing down.

the immediate costs of doing something about the issue are so high, and so unendurable, that very few people in positions of influence are willing to stick their necks out, and those who do so can count on being shortened by a head by others who are more than willing to cash in on their folly.

Learning from Ants

Eldon Taylor (Dec 15, 2009, InnerTalk InTouch, The Least Among Them) describes how ants have provided insights into life, from the time he was a boy. I can relate.

Years ago when I was but a mere 8 or 9 years old, I spent several consecutive days burning ants in my back yard. It is embarrassing to think about it now, but at the time I missed the meaning of what I was doing. I would dig up large anthills, and we had many, shoot some lighter fluid on the area and light a rolled sheet of wax paper that I used like a torch to spread the flames. Sometimes I would place small milk cartons on the hills and pretend they were houses going up in flames.

I had friends who did similar things to pass the summer days away so somehow I didn't think of what I was doing in any light other than normal and "so what?" Then one night I had a dream. In the dream the ant leaders came to speak with me. They were very courteous and formal, like grown ups, and they showed me the devastation I was bringing to their families and their young. I had wrecked their homes and tortured family members and they had dragged back to their graveyards the burnt and twisted remains of brothers and sisters. They also showed me around their homes as they were before I had started my fires and digging, sticking, drowning and otherwise tormenting these creatures. In the days before my boredom executed this pastime, the ants lived in harmony. They worked together to build, store and foster good works to create a strong future for their young and unborn. Their strength, courage and work ethic were most impressive even to a small child like myself.

I awoke from the dream frightened and nauseous. I felt terrible for what I had done. I never burnt another anthill or ant. I threw this afternoon pastime away for good and in time thought very little about ants. Although in twenty-twenty hindsight I can see that my learning should have transferred from ants to all animals, it didn't work quite that way for me. It did work well enough for me to refuse to take biology in High School because I objected to cutting up frogs, but by the time I entered adulthood most of the message had seriously dimmed.

Then one day, while riding in a limo to the airport in Tampa Bay, the driver and I had a conversation. It started with the nature of spirituality and the distinction between spirituality and religion.

After some "lofty and elegant" philosophies the driver looked at me and said, "You know what? I believe in prayer." He then went on to explain why. It was the ants again–ants that he had seen in a nature show on television. Ants that he said buried their dead and prayed. I left him at the airport and thanked him for the insight. "If ants pray," he said in parting, "then there must be a reason that goes beyond what we know."

As soon as I returned home I checked. Sure enough, ants lived up to my dream in real life. I pulled a quick article off the web from Encyclopedia Bugtannica and it began with, "They plant gardens, herd and milk bugs such as aphids, raise armies for battles, take slaves, and even bury their dead in ant cemeteries." The article just titled, "Ants" went on to speak of the loyalty, efficiency, diligence, sacrifice and teamwork that ants share." I thought of the many times on approach to landing that I had looked out the aircraft window, down on the anthills of man. Tiny vehicles traveling along skinny roadways, small houses and other buildings crowded together, itsy bitsy people and even more miniscule animals likes dogs carrying out their day–all just like ants; busy, busy little ants with no apparent purpose to the observer passing by from this altitude. And yet, when you live down there instead of in the plane, you learn the purpose, the dreams, the goals and ambitions and more. I wonder, what more would I learn if I lived with the ants?

How foolish it is for us so-called enlightened human beings to think that we are the only intelligent moral creatures on this planet. How on earth will we ever come to understand ourselves if we overlook the world that we live in? Just where is the divide between knowledge of ourselves and knowledge of the world we participate in? How could a single ant gain personal insight without standing back and witnessing the whole of the ant world? It is all too easy to just be so busy that we fail to take stock of the everyday everything that surrounds us–or is it just me? Do you notice the lives of all the creatures large and small that dwell with and near you? Do they matter? Do you think there is a lesson from the ants to all of us and if so what? What does it all mean anyway?

The Two Root Problems that Plague the United States: Too Much Debt and Corporate Influence in Politics

Nathan Martin sees two major problems clouding the future of the United States.

Link: Nathan's Economic Edge: FREEDOM’S VISION – Introduction….

There are currently two ROOT PROBLEMS that plague the United States:

1. Our current money system is comprised almost entirely of debt backed money. This system is only 38 years old and yet it has already reached the limits of mathematical growth. The economy, on every level, is saturated with debt. There is not enough income to mathematically EVER repay this debt, and thus CHANGE IS GOING TO HAPPEN, whether we like it or not, or whether we believe it or not. Any system that is designed in such a manner is mathematically destined to fail from conception.

2. We have lost sight of the purpose of CORPORATIONS. The concept of a corporation first came about when Europe was exploring the new world. This was a very expensive and risk filled proposition, wealthy individuals could lose everything by losing a ship at sea and subsequently having family members of the deceased sue them. Thus the necessary capital for exploration and advancement dried up. And out of that came the concept of limited liability. Thus the Corporation was born as a way to serve mankind so that exploration could continue.

Today, corporations seem to have risen to a special place, one that is higher than man. This is because capital has concentrated so greatly that corporations use their money to influence politicians and to write laws in their favor. Yes, this is an extension of the Golden Rule, whereby those with the gold make the rules. But it is now at such an extreme that politicians on the national stage cannot get elected without massive infusions of their money – and thus there is a circle that feeds into them and makes them even larger and more powerful.

These two root problems are now intertwined as some of the largest corporations in America are the ones who are producing and controlling the quantity of our money. They use their vast money to buy BOTH SIDES of political issues thus ensuring that their interests are represented. This super representation has got to stop as it affords a few individuals power and control over the majority who do not have the same access. This is NOT how our political system is supposed to work. This is why our solution addresses BOTH of these key issues – a sustainable future will not exist unless the balance of power is restored – that political and power balance will help to bring the quantity of money back under control as well.

Quite literally, the QUANTITY OF MONEY IS OUT OF CONTROL, especially when one considers the shadow banking world of derivatives. Just look at how quickly the math of debt went from millions to billions and now on to trillions. Did YOUR income advance by a like amount? No! And that is exactly why the inflationary math of debt backed money does not work.

Bill Still’s movie, “The Secret of Oz” presents history in a fascinating way, he then picks up on author L. Frank Baum’s symbolisms and spells them all out for you – The yellow brick road, the silver slippers, the Emerald City, the mindless Scarecrow, the heartless Tin Man, the cowardly Lion. Even the witches and flying monkeys have meanings that you will find fascinating.

This brings us to Bill Still’s quote from The Secret of Oz, “It’s not WHAT backs our money, it’s WHO CONTROLS its QUANTITY!”

There are four key words in that sentence that are simple to understand:

WHAT – The problem is that our money is now backed by debt. In the past, our dollar has been backed simply by the rule of law, debt free – supported by the “good faith and credit of the United States.” Such was the case with Colonial Script or Lincoln’s Greenbacks. The dollar has also been backed by both gold and by silver. While those who support commodity backed money have the right idea in that they seek to control the quantity of money, this has proven to be much harder in practice than in reality and is why today no modern country uses commodities to back their money. Yes, it is possible to create the national money debt free AND to control the quantity of money. What most reasonable people can agree is that of all the things NOT to have behind our money, debt is it!

WHO – There are two choices here, the government who represents the collective People, or the bankers who represent themselves as individuals. Currently it is the BANKERS who issue and control the quantity of money, not the government as most are led to believe. By design, the system is backed by debt and PRIVATE central bankers collect interest payments on the debt backed money from YOU. In other words, big banks get to collect hundreds of billions of dollars annually just so we can have the “privilege” of trading for goods with their private debt-based money. We know this sounds harsh, but it is true! This system concentrates the money power into the hands of a few allowing them control over politics and works to MINIMIZE FREEDOM for the vast majority of Americans.

CONTROL – Here’s the simple truth – NO SYSTEM OF MONEY has ultimately withstood the test of time. WHY? Could it be that regardless of WHAT backs the money or WHO controls the quantity, any time that the quantity of money gets out of control CONFIDENCE will eventually be lost? Of course. But throughout history, some systems have fared better than others. Is it possible to have the advantages of flexibility and to still keep prices under control? We think so, and we’re going to spell out how.

QUANTITY – Too little quantity and the economy will suffer. Too much quantity and the economy will also suffer, just in a different way. Finding the right balance, then, is where a sustainable and productive system will be found.

Both Sides of the Global Warming Debate Are Wrong

John Michael Greer, one of my favorite sources of intelligence, describes why the global warming debate is so polarized, with scientific "evidence" being used by both sides. He suggests that we should be more concerned about Peak Oil, which is less controversial and more predictable, but not very marketable. Excerpts below.

Click on the link below to read the whole essay. The comments are very interesting also.

Link: The Archdruid Report: Hagbard's Law

…Hagbard’s Law is a massive factor in modern societies. Coined by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson in their tremendous satire Illuminatus!, Hagbard’s Law states that information can only be communicated between equals, since in a hierarchy, those in inferior positions face very strong incentives to tell their superiors what the superiors want to hear rather than ‘fessing up to the truth. The more levels of hierarchy between the people who gather information and the ones who make decisions, the more communication tends to be blocked by Hagbard’s Law; in today’s governments and corporations, the disconnect between the reality visible on the ground and the numbers viewed from the top of the pyramid is as often as not total.

Many of my readers will be aware that two examples of this sort of figure-juggling surfaced in the last couple of weeks. From somewhere in the bowels of the International Energy Agency (IEA), a bureaucracy created and funded by the world’s industrial nations to provide statistics on energy use, two whistleblowers announced that the 2009 figures that were about to be released had been jiggered, as past figures had been, under pressure from the US government. The reason for the pressure, according to the whistleblowers, was that accurate figures would be bad for the US economy – as indeed they would be, for much the same reason that a diagnosis of terminal illness is bad for one’s prospects of buying life insurance.

Of course news stories about the leaks brought a flurry of denials from the IEA. Doubtless some people were fooled; still, the gaping chasm between the IEA’s rosy predictions of future oil production and the evidence assembled by independent researchers has been a subject of discussion in peak oil circles for some years now, and it was useful to have insiders confirm the presence of fudge factors outside analysts have long since teased out of the data.

The second and much more controversial example came to light when persons unknown dumped onto the internet a very large collection of private emails from a British academic center studying global warming. Like everything else involved with global warming, the contents of the emails became the focus of a raging debate between opposed armies of true believers, but the emails do suggest that a certain amount of data-fudging and scientific misconduct is going on in the large and lucrative scientific industry surrounding climate change.

The result is a great deal of faux science that manipulates experimental designs and statistical analyses to support points of view that happen to be fashionable, either within a scientific field or in the broader society. I saw easily half a dozen examples of this sort of thing in action back in my college days, which spanned all of five years and two universities. Still, you don’t need a ringside seat to watch the action: simply pay attention to how often the results of studies just happen to support the interests of whoever provided the funding for them. You don’t need to apply a chi-square test here to watch Hagbard’s Law in action.

There’s good reason to think that the feedback loop by which popular attitudes generate their own supporting evidence via dubious science has distorted the global warming debate. The fingerprints show up all over the weird disconnect between current global warming science and the findings of paleoclimatology, which show that sudden, drastic climate changes have been routine events in Earth’s long history; that the Earth was actually warmer than the temperatures predicted by current doomsday scenarios at the peak of the current interglacial period only six thousand years ago; and that the Earth has been a hothouse jungle planet without ice caps or glaciers for around 80% of the time since multicellular life evolved here. Technically speaking, we’re still in an ice age – the current interglacial is on schedule to end in the next few thousand years, giving way to a new glaciation for a hundred thousand years or so, with several million years of further cycles still in the pipeline – and claims that setting the planetary thermostat a little closer to its normal range will terminate life on Earth are thus at least open to question.

What interests me most about the current global warming debate is that these facts, when they get any air time at all, commonly get treated as ammunition for the denialist side of the debate. This hardly follows. Paleoclimatology shows that the Earth’s climate is unstable, and prone to drastic shifts that can place massive strains on local and regional ecosystems. It’s equally clear that number juggling in a British laboratory does not change the fact that the Arctic ice sheet is breaking up, say, or that a great many parts of the world are seeing their climates warp out of all recognition. Even if natural forces are driving these shifts, this is hardly a good time to dump vast quantities of greenhouse gases into an already unstable atmosphere – you could as well claim that because a forest fire was started by lightning, dumping planeloads of gasoline around its edges can’t possibly cause any harm.

The problem with the global warming debate just now is that tolerably well funded groups on both sides are using dubious science to advance their own agendas and push the debate further toward the extremes. The common habit of thinking in rigid binaries comes into play here; it’s easy enough for global warming believers to insist that anyone who questions their claims must be a global warming denier, while their opponents do the same thing in reverse, and the tumult and the shouting helps bury the idea that the territory between the two polarized extremes might be worth exploring. As a result, moderate views are being squeezed out, as the radicals on one side try to stampede the public toward grandiose schemes of very questionable effect, while the radicals on the other try to stampede the public toward doing nothing at all.

It’s instructive to compare the resulting brouhaha to the parallel, if much less heavily publicized, debate over peak oil. The peak oil scene has certainly seen its share of overblown apocalyptic claims, and it certainly has its own breed of deniers, who insist that the free market, the march of progress, or some other conveniently unquantifiable factor will make infinite material expansion on a finite planet less of an oxymoron than all logic and evidence suggests it will be. Still, most of the action in the peak oil scene nowadays is happening in the wide spectrum between these two extremes. We’ve got ecogeeks pushing alternative energy, Transition Towners building local communities, “preppers” learning survival skills, and more; even if most of these ventures miss their mark, as doubtless most of them will, the chance of finding useful strategies for a difficult future goes up with each alternative explored.

The difference between the two debates extends to the interface between statistics and power discussed earlier in this post. Both sides of the global warming debate, it’s fair to say, have fairly robust political and financial payoffs in view. The established industrial powers of the West and the rising industrial nations elsewhere are each trying to use global warming to impose competitive disadvantages on the other; fossil fuel companies are scrambling to shore up their economic position, while the rapidly expanding renewables industry is trying to elbow its way to the government feed trough; political parties are lining up to turn one side or the other into a captive constituency that can be milked for votes and donations, and so forth.

Still, I find myself wondering if Hagbard’s Law plays a much bigger role here than any deliberate plan. The global warming story, if you boil it down to its bones, is the kind of story our culture loves to tell – a narrative about human power. Look at us, it says, we’re so mighty we can destroy the world! The peak oil story, by contrast, is the kind of story we don’t like – a story about natural limits that apply, yes, even to us. From the standpoint of peak oil, our self-anointed status as evolution’s fair-haired child starts looking like the delusion it arguably is, and it becomes hard to avoid the thought that we may have to settle for the rather less flattering role of just another species that overshot the carrying capacity of its environment and experienced the usual consequences.

The Magazine Cover Jinx Hits Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods’s image as a clean-living sports icon is in tatters – adding irony to the front cover of Golf Digest magazine’s January issue, which went to press before the sex scandal broke.

Tiger Woods on the cover of Golf Digest advising Obama

This is another chapter in a long history of magazine covers signaling a major trend change. For example, Business Week picked Enron as the most successful business in American just before it disintegrated. Being on the cover of Sport Illustrated has seemingly jinxed athletes and teams many times.

Magazine cover appearances may signal the Peak of Hubris for the fallen idols.

Link: Best man speech could draw Tiger Woods out of hiding – Times Online.

The magazine features a mocked-up picture of Woods acting as caddie to President Obama, to illustrate an article headlined “10 Tips Obama can take from Tiger.” The feature, now causing some embarrassment at Golf Digest, suggests that the President, struggling to turn around a recession, could learn the art of “the quick recovery” from the famously adept golfer.

“Woods is a good role model…because he has always been able to pull himself together after setbacks,” it notes, also observing: “Woods never does anything that would make himself look ridiculous.”

I doubt that Obama will be getting any advice from Tiger.