Transparency, Transgressions, Bots, Trolls and Hackers

Today, we live in a world of illusion more than ever before. We cannot be certain where much of the ‘information’ we are exposed to comes from or how accurate it may be. The lie is the new normal. Deception has grown as politicians and corporate CEOs ignore calls for transparency. We must do our own research, but most do not have the resources, skills, or time.

As is clearer by the day, some yet unknown level of influence by Russian bots, trolls, and hacks of U.S. electoral computing networks and political email may have tipped the electoral balance in 2016. “Fake news,” political opinion, and facts are routinely conflated in attempts to control the public perceptions of the increasingly difficult problems we face. Deception dominates discussion. Discerning thoughts do not.

It is easy to become paranoid under the conditions we now face. The role of a “free press” is to question authority as well as any other claims to truth. News operations should challenge opinion with facts to lead where they may. More often broadcasters merely report conflicting opinions as if facts do not matter. Only a few good investigative reporters remain and judges threaten them with jail if they do not reveal their sources of evidence of official transgressions or institutional corruption. Whistle blowers have no protection in the new security state.

Reality Show Trumps Reality

The president attacks all major media, from CNN to the New York Times, as “fake news,” never bothering to substantiate his claims with any evidence whatsoever. His fawning ‘supporters’ simply believe whatever he says. That is relatively easy for those unable to engage in critical thinking. Too many naively believe in the empty loftiness of “Make America Great Again,” as an easy rhetorical remedy for their very real pain. Trumpist spin-doctors conflate political leaks of administrative transgressions with national security threats.

Nostalgia for an imaginary past that never was nor ever will be is no basis for public policy. Neither should empty rhetoric that frames the propagation of delusions in flag-waving sleight of hand, claiming to produce jobs while stealing the commonwealth for the oligarchs. Taking deregulation to the extreme while pushing for vast tax cuts for the wealthy by cutting deeply into healthcare on the backs of under- and unemployed Americans reflects the accelerating trend toward complete oligarchy.

Tilting Toward Collapse

There will be no job-growth in a nation that has collapsed under the weight of rising sea levels, extreme draught, flash floods, failed crops, resource exhaustion, and superstorms – not to mention top-down corruption. Princeton professor Michael Oppenheimer was longtime chief scientist of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate and Air Program. He was also an early force in the U.N. efforts to track climate change caused by global warming. Oppenheimer recently estimated that our chances for staying under the maximum two degrees of global warming called for in the Paris Climate Accords, are now less than 10 Percent. Many agree that the maximum to avoid catastrophic climate change is 1.5 degrees.

Our shrinking probability of success in meeting minimal emissions reductions to avoid climate chaos has resulted primarily from the imposition of intellectual dishonesty upon the public discourse. On top of that, various efforts to take collective action contrary to the interests of the fossil-fuel industry have faced attacks on all fronts. Massive funding of front groups and state legislation opposing climate action by the Koch brothers, the use of bots and trolls to influence elections, and the avoidance of transparency in corporate and governmental actions, all contribute to an atmosphere of fear and illusion, stifling rational action.

A website set up to help consumers choose low-emissions based products within their zip codes to reduce their carbon footprint and save money was attacked by what appeared to be Russian bots and trolls, severely damaging communications with its users and prospects. Expensive security upgrades became necessary. Its efforts to recover the losses and expand its services, the Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign of A Parallel World were stifled, apparently by trolls working in the interests of fossil energy.

More and more, a Trumpist federal administration and the propagandists it enables have taken control of the public discourse. They make every effort to stifle dissent and thwart efforts to counter the destruction of the fossil-fueled industrial economy.

Eminent Reasoning

Neil deGrasse Tyson, the popular articulate astrophysicist with a growing media presence, offers an extremely important four-minute video on “Science in America”

Neil.deGrasse.Tyson_Brainpickings

Neil deGrasse Tyson  ~ Source: Brainpickings.org

containing, in his words, “what may be the most important words I have ever spoken.” It is all about finding truth in the face of emotional, ideological, and delusional denial of facts in order to avoid the difficult political decisions that are necessary to solve the monumental problems we face today. His clear common-sense approach to explaining the role science has played, demonstrates how it more than ever needs to play a central role in salvaging progress for American civilization. Please watch it and tell me what you think.

Exxon’s Money or Your Life: Immoral Capital is Still in Charge

What makes the majority of politicians most uncomfortable about Bernie Sanders is not that he is a “democratic socialist” (Notice, they usually leave out the “democratic” part.) Most do not understand the concept anyway. They just find the word an easy target for the personal derision of Bernie, the disheveled outsider who has remained an outsider working on the inside for decades.

What really disturbs the political and media elites about Bernie is that he is an authentic moralist. It is Bernie’s insistence on framing economic issues in moral terms that most offends the political “pragmatists” of whatever party persuasion. Unfortunately, in order to be accepted as a member of the Washington Establishment you have to give up any sense of personal morality in favor of platitudes and political “compromise” of moral principles.

American political culture sustains a powerful pretense of morality as it’s justification for the politics of the economic system. Economics itself stands firmly in the quicksand of magical thinking rooted in the consensual adulation of a simple phrase mentioned only a couple of times by the politically deified Adam Smith: “the invisible hand.”[1]

That magical thinking extends to the supposedly necessary and “natural” financial structure of an impossible economic objective: endless economic growth in a world of obviously finite resources.

Both the “invisible hand” and the perpetual growth machine are claimed – endlessly and with a straight face on CNBC – to offer the best and only solution to providing for the general welfare of humanity. Well, look at where that has got us. What is conveniently ignored or denied by our immoral economic system apologists is the completely unprecedented destruction it has wrought upon people and planet. The “business model” of immoral capital, simply put, is to extract maximum “value” from people, land and ecosystems, then leave the waste in its wake, looking for the next “resource” to plunder.

Unbounded Global-Scale Immorality

Hurricane Patricia, Category-5, about to make landfall south of Puerto Vallarta, 23 October 2015. Unprecedented.

Hurricane Patricia, Category-5, about to make landfall south of Puerto Vallarta, 23 October 2015. Unprecedented.

The most egregious execution of the plunder capital business model must be the actions of Exxon’s executive decision-makers over the last four decades. In the 1970s, its own scientists had discovered the trend of global warming in Exxon’s internal climate research program. The Exxon scientists reported to their bosses that global warming would trigger climate destabilization. It has been known for awhile that Exxon has funded propaganda efforts at “climate denial” since global warming became a public concern. But the Big Lie was much bigger than anyone knew.

Recent investigative reporting by Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times, revealed the greater evil of Exxon. “As Croasdale’s team was closely studying the impact of climate change on the company’s operations, Exxon and its worldwide affiliates were crafting a public policy position that sought to downplay the certainty of global warming.”[2] Exxon executives knew from the 1970s on how fossil fuel burning was causing global warming and they knew from reports of their own scientists the highly probable catastrophic consequences that would have for the planet by destabilizing climate around the world. Yet their only concern was for the company’s operations.

In 1988 renowned NASA scientist James Hansen testified before the U.S. Congress, expressing concern about his findings from research on climate models he had begun over a decade earlier. He knew that only a small window of opportunity remained to change the course of energy production and consumption before the ultimate climate catastrophe could no longer be averted. Exxon had a moral choice. The executive “leadership” of Exxon chose the immoral strategy, risking the extinction of the human species in favor of its own corporate bottom line. If that is not a crime against humanity, then nothing is.[3]

Imagine the impact of Exxon’s prodigious scientific research and its massive databases collected on CO2 in the atmosphere and on global warming might have had on skeptical congressmen in 1988. Confirmation of Hansen’s analysis by Exxon’s large-scale empirical investigations might have spurred serious climate actions decades ahead of present-day fits and starts. Indeed, today, the continued faltering of climate-policy efforts is in part due to Exxon’s massive climate-denying propaganda effort. Exxon took the exact opposite of a moral path, the most evil of all possible paths. It launched the same propaganda strategy of denial that the tobacco industry previously used to sow seeds of doubt about the scientific facts of cancer caused by Americans’ tobacco use. Well, Big Tobacco was a piker compared to Big Oil.

Economic Justice Must Be Societal and Global in Scope

What if there existed an international court actually capable of meting out justice for high crimes against humanity committed by corporations and their executives? I would surmise that complete confiscation of every asset of Exxon and its subsidiaries would provide a minimal down payment for compensation to the people of the world. Incarceration for life with hard labor on projects designed to mitigate the damage they have wrought would be a minimal “punishment” for the decision-makers. Would that be sufficient punishment? Who cares? The planet is in a state of emergency that is still barely recognized for its urgency by political decision-makers. We need to apply all available resources to undoing as much of Exxon’s damage that we possibly can.

Of course the responsible executives must be punished. Past failures to hold bad executive actors to account for their crimes continue to encourage such behavior. We can afford no more of it. It is good to see that Bernie Sanders and others are pushing for a Justice Department investigation to determine if there is sufficient evidence of racketeering to prosecute the Exxon Offenders. No “expert consulting” form of “community service” sentencing for these guys – we don’t need them for that. Only hard physical labor on climate action projects will do. After all, that’s what the greatest victims of Big Oil have to do every day just to survive.

The haze of corporate propaganda and the fog of political oratory still form a thick ethical overcast that blankets the national consciousness. They project a false image that implies, “We’re taking care of this.” Meanwhile, profits and political corruption keep flowing right along with climate degradation.

A serious illusion blocking adequate climate action globally is the “debate” over responsibility between the “developed” and “developing” nations for funding and taking major climate actions. However, the sweep of history we call the Industrial Era demonstrates that it is a much simpler matter. Big Oil would prefer the “debate” continue while it reaps more profits from our doom.

The Earth is Warming...

The Earth is Warming…

China may be the world’s currently most prolific polluter. How much of its emissions come directly from Corporate America’s outsourced manufacturing? Well, nearly every product of U.S. corporations sold in the Big Box stores is made there. North America and Europe are the source of most of the total carbon emissions since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution two-hundred years ago. The total CO2 already emitted is the source of our growing current and near-term climate disruptions. All current and future emissions have to be drastically reduced (as in, to zero) to avert climate collapse. And who suffers most from past and current emissions? The non-industrial peoples of the equatorial regions that were most plundered for the materials to feed the industrial and economic growth machine, that’s who.

Immoral Capital Must Pay, Humanity Must Receive

The only moral solution is also the only viable solution that has a chance at slowing climate destabilization before it becomes irreversible. It is largely a matter of cause and effect. In fact, those who have gained the most economic wealth from the extraction, manufacturing, consumption, and waste of planetary resources must pay the most to reverse the headlong charge to species extinction (ours). It is quite simple: they have the money and they are responsible for the problem. The only viable solution, however, will not be an easy one. After all, the very corporate elite from which the money must be taken is protected by the political elite that has pandered to corporate criminality all along.

Those nations whose land, populations, and resources have been most plundered by these industrial processes and typically suffer most from the climate consequences, must receive support to “weather the storm” created by the industrial north. They must also find near zero-carbon paths to sustainable development – not growth – with that support. China, India, and to a much lesser degree a number of other developing nations must turn away from emulating the industrial nations and instead find sustainable paths to ecological economies. The industrial nations, for their part, must rapidly construct their own ecological economies from the remains of the disintegrating global-growth economy.

However, immoral capital is still in charge of the economies of the world. It is immoral capital that forced austerity on the Greek people to protect itself from the immoral actions of plunder capital (Goldman Sachs) and politics (former military ‘governments’ and their moneylenders). Immoral capital still attempts to make its victims pay for repairing the damage it has inflicted on the economies of its victims.

The institutionalized immorality of today’s capital is relentless and is bolstered by international political structures. However, Iceland provided the world a model for responding to attempts to force a nation’s people to take the punishment for the crimes of private bankers. The U.S. revolving-door Wall Street politicians did just the opposite, bailing out the criminal banks and brokerage houses and saddling the nation with unprecedented debt.

Corrupt politicians protect immoral capital by convincing the people that we must save “capitalism” from itself by “fixing” it. Congressional agents of the corporate elite try to convince the people that we need “market solutions” and “investment in technology” to save the planet by saving their doomed endless-growth economy. Nothing is thought to work unless it feeds the corporate pig.

To get a sense of the disconnect, just look at the world climate trajectory and species extinction rates today – it shows up in diverse research reports online from NOAA, NASA, and numerous university climate research centers, including the recent report by Stanford University researchers on the accelerating Sixth Mass Extinction. [4] Then look at CNBC and see the bulk of the business of immoral capital proceed as usual – a total disconnect. We must build ecological capital fast. You can fool many people for awhile, but you can never fool Mother Nature.
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[1] Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. (1759) Part 4: Utility’s Effect Upon Approbation. Chapter 1, and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776) Book IV, Chapter II. In his A History of Astronomy, written before The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith used the term to refer to “natural phenomena otherwise explainable.” As Joseph Stiglitz put it, “the reason that the invisible hand often seems invisible is that it is often not there.” See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_hand#Other_uses_of_the_phrase_by_Smith.
[2] Los Angeles Times, “What Exxon knew about the Earth’s melting Arctic,” by Sara Jerving, Katie Jennings, Masako Melissa Hirsch and Susanne Rust (Oct. 9, 2015). Accessed at http://graphics.latimes.com/exxon-arctic/ . Bill McGibbon’s article, “Exxon’s climate lie: ‘No corporation has ever done anything this big or bad,’” concisely describes Exxon’s treachery in The Guardian.
[3] Democracy Now! aired a good summary and discussion of the Exxon situation, including prospects for a Justice Department investigation on October 21, 2015. See: http://www.democracynow.org/2015/10/21/prison_for_exxon_execs_calls_grow
[4] See for diverse examples: http://www.noaa.gov/climate.html; http://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/; http://news.stanford.edu/news/2015/june/mass-extinction-ehrlich-061915.html, and http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/5/e1400253

Predators Like Us

Leave it to a practicing member of an indigenous culture to “say it like it is,” in the most direct way imaginable. I had watched a very interesting episode of “Nature” on PBS (January 28, 2015), about the incursion of killer whales into the Arctic seas. It got me thinking of the predatory practices of ‘Man’ in the world, writ small and large. The arrival of killer whales – Orcas – happened because of the warming of those waters due to human induced global warming. The disruption of local ecologies has not been caused by human predation by indigenous hunters. Instead, humans have plundered various components of the earth’s systems on a planetary scale, with increasingly obvious destabilizing effects.

The killer whales are hunters, perhaps the most effective hunting species in all the oceans of the planet. Their effectiveness is largely due to their highly complex communication and coordination in trapping and dispatching their prey. Orcas are among the very smartest mammals of the sea. They have played their predator role in balanced oceanic ecologies for a very long time. But now, planetary scale human environmental predation has resulted in climate changes that allow the Orcas to range much farther north than ever before. They now reach into arctic seas where they had never before ventured. Such changes have consequences.

The hunting practices of killer whales since their Arctic incursion have altered the ecology of the region. In talking with the PBS film makers, an Inuit hunter commented on the effects of the arrival of killer whales in his hunting grounds in a very matter of fact way. The Orcas attack Narwhal (Monodon monoceros), a medium sized predatory whale that feeds primarily on small deep-water flatfish and codfish. The Narwhal is a critical component of the Inuit diet. Because of its rapier like snout protruding like a horn, Narwhals are called the “unicorn of the sea.” With only about 75,000 in existence, primarily in the Arctic, they are classified as ‘near threatened” with extinction. With the incursion of Orcas into the arctic and their prodigious group hunting skills incorporating military-like strategy, Narwhals survival as a species could be more severely threatened.

The Inuit hunter casually commented, “They are predators like us.” That got me to thinking of the many and various ways humans are indeed quite predatory creatures. In the past, and still today for some indigenous peoples in various locations around the globe, humans are predators. Within a particular region their predations are mostly in balance with the other elements of the local ecology. In some other settings humans may be primarily pastoralists or agrarian peoples rather than hunters. Industrialists, on the other hand, are primarily predators, but their prey are not limited to animal populations. They (we) prey upon the land itself and extract all manner of materials and organisms needed for industrial processes.

In some regions where severe drought or other climate changes have disrupted a local ecosystem, indigenous groups may over-hunt or over fish. They may also over harvest forests, just like the Easter Islanders did, severely damaging the ecosystem upon which they depend for survival. But the Inuit, human predators in the arctic, did not disrupt the ecological balance between Narwhal, and Orca – there never was one. Before climate changes allowed their northern migration, Orcas were not part of that ecology. Instead, it is the predatory extractive practices of modern industrial societies far away that have altered the relationships between arctic species, including humans.

World industrial economic waste has changed climate conditions so that an external species could enter the arctic ecosystem, disrupting its former balance. All the long term local consequences of this ecological disruption will not be known immediately. It is likely, however, that at minimum local Inuit hunters will be forced to adapt to a declining Narwhal population. Similar situations are occurring all over the world. The particulars in each case are different. But the process is the same.

Planetary climate disruption has diverse local effects, from drought to floods to more powerful storms to changed water temperature and ocean acidity. These changes can alter species relations either with each other or with changed conditions of their environment. In each case the result is the same: increasing rates of species extinctions. [“Climate deniers” seem incapable of thinking of complex systems or consequences of interactive changes within or among them.]

The industrial age was born of a culture that perceived humanity as separate and apart from nature and preordained to dominate it. Western industrial culture was launched and is driven by the belief that is it destined to control the natural world. Such beliefs, or very similar ones, are now held worldwide. Yet the world industrial system is just past its peak. The near exhaustion of resources to extract, the record concentration of wealth, the faltering of the world financial system all collide, producing chaos. They both cause and combine with the tipping point of earth-systems destabilization to form the greatest crisis of human survival ever. The world economic growth machine has hit the wall.

The earth systems that could sustain industry at smaller scale as innovative technologies accelerated exploitation of limited resources are now being destabilized. Contrary to the ideology of individual free will in an economy of ever-expanding opportunity, Mother Earth presents us with a very limited choice. Either adapt to the realities of earth-systems limits or die. To survive we have but one choice. Human populations must radically change the ways we live in the real world by abandoning the illusions we have held to for centuries.

Magical Thinking: It’s Everywhere and Getting More Dangerous

We all labor under certain illusions, some modest and minor, others enormously majestic. Social illusions have always been with us. We tend to think of the myths of “primitive” peoples as illusions and our own beliefs as facts. But that may be the biggest illusion of all. Some of what at first appear to be outlandish illusions turn out to be, on further investigation, valid and useful. Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein come to mind. Their scientific theories were at first dismissed as blasphemous or absurd.

Illusions, Then and Now
For millennia, human groups have labored on the basis of illusions, myths, or stories. Such stories gave them a conceptual framework for making decisions about their lives in the places they inhabited. What seems to confuse us moderns is that the stories on which ancients and “primitives” depended for guidance in their lives seem so fanciful and unreal. Yet they worked. As anthropology eventually figured out, the myths of ancient and indigenous peoples worked for them in their time and place. That is because they were consistent with the conditions of life for those groups in their environments. However little sense they make for us, their structure and content led to useful behavior for the tribe, or group, in the lived environment. However unreal the myths of others may seem in our modern and post modern context, they worked in their time and place.
Today, the stakes are much higher at a vastly larger scale. Many of the myths and stories we believe are increasingly unrelated to the conditions of modern life. The social and environmental conditions of the modern world have changed radically in the last two hundred years. The illusions of any era seem perfectly reasonable to those who believe them. In more stable times, those illusions were relatively stable over time and were consistent with the conditions under which people lived. When they were not, the group that held them in spite of changing conditions died off because their myths failed to lead to the decisions needed for survival.
That’s pretty much where we find ourselves today, except that the scope and depth of changing conditions are worldwide and “mission critical” for human survival. The scary part is that we may very well be wandering down the same path to collapse as the societies of the past that failed to respond to changed conditions because they insisted on holding to the beliefs they had always felt comfortable with.

Science and Magical Thinking
We are very proud of our science, technology, and exploitation of fossil fuel energy, which have produced the conditions and conveniences of modern life. The exploitation of fossil-fuel energy has allowed an overabundance of new and entertaining products the world has never before known. We pride ourselves on our reasoning, our “rationality.” But in many ways such pride rests on illusions that can kill us.
Then there are the utterly foolish notions of those anti-scientists such as Senator James Inhofe.  In the face of mountains of evidence from all over the world for human caused global warming, Inhofe declared it all “the greatest hoax.” Inhofe’s magical thinking is, of course, closely tied to the oil and gas interests that support him.
The very science and technology that has for a very short historical period allowed us to live in relative luxury, have produced conditions that are disrupting the earth systems upon which we rely. But our industrial culture has failed to inform us of the dangerous environmental and social trends that have resulted from our extractive massive-waste producing economy.
Instead, the most important element of science itself, skepticism, has been suppressed by the culture of consumerism brought on by the economic domination of society by the corporate state. It is relatively easy to manipulate a population that is mostly unable to engage in critical thinking by encouraging and directing magical thinking. One of the key components of magical thinking is the ignoring of evidence – the Inhofe syndrome. In contrast, critical thinking is attuned to the many forms of illusions that marketers use to convince us to buy buy buy – both products and politics. Reasoning on the basis of evidence overcomes the untruths of magical thinking.

The Growing Danger of Magical Thinking
Magical thinking results from the capacity to ignore evidence in determining one’s beliefs. It is able to override both facts and logic in order to arrive at a comfortable belief that relieves the believer of the responsibility to critically judge all claims to knowledge. Magical thinking overrides facts and ignores logic in order to retain the comfort of believing that, for example, dire circumstances that may require us to make difficult decisions simply do not exist. We don’t want global warming to disrupt climate, damage crops, raise the sea level, and cause long term droughts, or produce resource wars, etc., etc. It is easy to ignore ominous facts if you allow magical thinking to shape your beliefs. The relief from responsibility is a powerful unconscious motivator.
The short term economic interests of some giant corporations are for people to not believe the overwhelming scientific evidence for anthropogenic climate disruption. Exxon-Mobil paid the same marketing and public relations propagandists that had helped the tobacco industry deny the harm done by cigarettes, to plant all sorts of “climate denial” disinformation in the mass media. Continued magical thinking resulting in “climate denial” puts us all at grave risk.

The Chasm between Environmental Theory and Human Imagination

Reading [and writing] about climate disruption and social change is disturbing enough. But the unabated climate-disrupting and society-disrupting economy of extractive wealth concentration, keeps me wondering whether we have much chance at all. Lately, I have a growing sense that something very fundamental is missing in the discussions of most environmentalists. Well, maybe more than ‘something’ – some things.

For one thing, too many environmentalists are too tuned to simplistic solutions, most of which are tied to some profitable enterprise. Another thing, most of the solutions that dominate the public discussion are about competing methods of energy production. Little is said about reducing energy use – something the Europeans are far better at than we are. A third missing element is that discussions of climate change almost entirely exclude consideration of emerging social chaos.

Chaos Ignored

Various forms of chaos related to climate disruption and social breakdown seem to be rapidly accelerating. Most analyses of the situation continue down a multi-lane road of refining conceptual understandings and defending tightly held misunderstandings. But the discussions, however insightful, provide little “on the ground” development of lines of action that reflect the urgency of the human condition.

Having a better understanding of the collision course of the extractive-growth economy with the earth systems it disrupts is more and more important. But movement toward viable science-based and practical counter measures is not merely imperative, it is urgent. Every imaginable countermeasure would likely involve such major social change that avoiding chaos seems unlikely.

Discussions of climate action tend to be global in scope and vague on specifics. Yes, it’s a global problem, but actions must be taken in concrete ways in particular places – both geographic and institutional places. That can only happen when urgency aligns specific carbon emissions suppressing actions with practicality to yield optimum effects.

Some emissions-reducing actions are theoretically great, until all the “overlooked” energy inputs and risk factors are considered. But such strategies are often far too lengthy in implementation. Even if adding nuclear power plants were a viable option, it would simply take too long to accomplish. With nuclear power, the theory has worn very thin and honest total-cost and ongoing risks vs. benefit calculations yield very negative results. But time makes it irrelevant anyway. Climate chaos will already have caused economic and social chaos.

Imaginative Practicality

The time it would take to implement an action and the magnitude of its relative impact are critical variables in any attempt to determine priorities. For the most part, actions that can be taken quickly will also require less energy inputs to accomplish. That is a good thing. For example, a comprehensive program to retro-fit insulation and weather stripping in homes, office buildings, and factories could significantly reduce carbon emissions. The “built environment” consumes 40% of all energy produced in the U.S. A program to reduce that could be implemented quickly.

Production of insulation materials would of course need to be ramped up. Needed materials will have to be produced in much greater volume in existing factories and begun in new or previously abandoned factories. Training of new employees could be accomplished fairly quickly. Much of the work is not all that complex. Energy-efficiency evaluators could be fully trained in a few months. Unemployment, of course, would plummet if such a program were nationally implemented.

Here – and in many other examples of potentially quick and feasible carbon emissions suppression programs – is where human imagination seems to falter. I hate to use the term, “political will,” but there it is. The political-economic forces that dominate our society, polity, and media, do not have the imagination to recognize the potential of the most important strategies for carbon-emissions suppression. A program of massive reduction in emissions from the “built environment” alone presents huge business opportunities.

Dangerous Distractions vs. The Real Deal

Total social mobilization is required for many of the less sexy but more effective actions to suppress carbon emissions to very low levels. Whatever the net benefits of alternative fuels and renewable energy sources, their levels of reduced carbon emissions are far too insufficient in the short run. “Winning too slowly is the same as losing…” as Bill McKibben put it.

The production of ethanol as an “alternative fuel,” for example, is driven almost entirely by dominant political and economic forces – special interests – not by any motivation to reduce carbon emissions. It is not a viable climate stabilization strategy; it is a good strategy for agri-business to make a lot of money. Ethanol production will never contribute to carbon emissions suppression, but it will suppress food production. It is a dangerous distraction, the exact opposite of an evidence based rational priority.

If we expect to get anywhere in the attempt to restraint global warming and the catastrophic consequences of planetary thermal overload, somehow a societal cost-benefit based comprehensive strategy must be implemented. Good grief! That would require large-scale science driven setting of carbon-emissions suppression priorities and their implementation at scale.

The current political climate leaves little room for wide-eyed hope. Necessity demands collective creativity. It seems that only a broad and committed social movement demanding the most effective actions can actually force a comprehensive carbon emissions reduction strategy to be undertaken.

Collapse: Converging Crises and the American Oligarchs

Two new studies now being reported converge in frightening ways with the most recent data on climate disruption. Their results reflect the growing likelihood that the converging crises of economy, social justice, and ecology will lead to the collapse of civilization and even the sixth mass extinction. (Kolbert, 2014)

First, Gillens and Page (2014) studied empirical records in the period from 1981 through 2010, and showed that the outcomes of national policy debates have had almost no relationship to the preferences of the general population, but are highly correlated with the interests of economic elites; the obvious inference is that we live in an oligarchy with the trappings of formal democracy – not exactly news. But previous research results were mixed and did not settle which model of political process is valid. The researchers found that the opinions of citizens of median income and lower have had no bearing on social policy outcomes. But the interests of economic elites (who happen to fund most of politics) are clearly reflected in law and policy. Uncomfortable as it is to admit, oligarchs rule, and like the Russian oligarchs, many are ruthless.

Second, a new study of the dynamics between human activity and nature, using mathematical models based on historical examples, predicts the collapse of civilizations when economic stratification or ecological strain surpass carrying capacity. Either economic stratification or ecological strain can independently lead to collapse. Together, well… But collapse can be avoided if a sustainable rate of resource use is achieved and if resources are distributed equitably, so that carrying capacity is not exceeded. (Motesharrei, et al, 2014) Industrial societies today, especially the U.S., have fundamentally failed to even work seriously to find a path to either economic equity or ecological sustainability as climate chaos fast approaches. (Politically motivated public gestures of little substance don’t really count.)

The latest International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports gently urge an accelerated response to climate disruption because the indicators continue to accelerate. But with lags before effects of emissions are observed and felt, and positive feedback loops accelerate – dark arctic seas absorb much more solar radiation than reflective ice sheets – we are surely approaching a tipping point where mitigation efforts will not be enough and adaptation sufficient for survival will be nearly impossible. Like all previous reports, current assessments underestimate the urgency of accelerating climate disruption.

We are in a multi-faceted trap. The oligarchs continue to grab all they can, ignoring the signs of the end of the wealth they so desperately want to control. The corporate media continue to ignore the obvious, slowing public awareness of the immediacy of the human existential crises. And as the politicians are locked into their self-aggrandizing roles as the agents of the oligarchs, the people have no say over political decisions that affect human survival.

The economic-growth machine and its ideology grind on with full political support from the agents of oligarchy (congress and president) as if the old normal still applies. Interestingly, when we look at historical examples of the collapse of civilizations, such as the Maya and the Easter Islanders described by Jared Diamond, it is clear that collapse was not inevitable. Rather, it resulted from the failure of elites to adapt social behavior to changing conditions of climate and/or ecology as they continued down their paths of self-glorification. The difference today is that it is no longer some small ecological niche that is disrupted; it is the entire planet.

Only massive public mobilization and rapid reorganization leading to ecologically viable and equitable economics has a chance of staving off the collapse of civilization. It is hard to imagine how such massive change could be accomplished. The American social and economic mobilization at the outset of World War II, comes to mind, but the elites and the people were united and the transformation required was much smaller, as were the stakes. We live in perilous times. We must act, together, now.
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Diamond, Jared, (2005) Collapse: How societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Penguin Books, 2006.

Gillens, Martin and Bejamin I. Page, (April 9, 2014, unpublished paper) “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” Forthcoming, Fall 2014 in Perspectives on Politics.

Kolbert, Elizabeth, (2014) The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. New York: Henry Holt.

Motesharrei, Safa, Jorge Rivas, and Eugenia Kalnay, “Human and nature dynamics (HANDY): Modeling inequality and use of resources in the collapse or sustainability of societies.” Ecological Economics 101 (2014) 90-102.

Errors, Mistakes, and Stupidity: Why Magical Thinking Can Be Deadly

We humans are both rational and emotional beings.  The mix between the two can produce some strange and amusing results.  Conventional economics assumes that all human behavior is rational in the sense that everyone chooses only actions that serve their best economic interests and the result is the best overall outcome for everyone.  Yet all sorts of factors are known to influence behavior.  So, we have to conclude that the “scientific” theory that has become the greatest intellectual source of public policy is built on an empirically falsified myth.  Human decisions are demonstrably based on many psychological and social factors as well as economic ones.  No wonder we have so much concentration of wealth at the top and so much unemployment and poverty among the general population.  But that’s another (related) story.

It is well known among social scientists that human decisions result from a complex of emotional, experiential, and rational elements.  We resist changing our minds about things that we have been comfortable with for a long time.  People change their behavior more often in response to the perception that their neighbors and friends have done so than because of any rational argument.  In fact, social psychologists have long known that people often act on impulse or under some other influence they may not even be aware of and then produce a “rationale” for what they have done after the fact.  On top of that, mistakes can be made because of misconceiving the situation, and the results can be catastrophic.  That is why ballistic missile systems with nuclear warheads involve so many “fail-safe” features.  Even so, there have been numerous incidents where nuclear missiles were almost launched in error.  No human system or related technology is completely fail-safe.

Looking at the big picture is not the forte of most of us.  We are busy trying to “make ends meet” or make a million bucks.  Citizen participation has been largely taken out of the political process.  Decisions of public policy are usually made in response to the economic interests of powerful institutions and supported by their propaganda.  Some fairly simple logic and clear evidence may easily refute such propaganda when it is counter-factual, but is rarely heard in the mass media, which is controlled by those same powerful institutions.  Yet the truth sometimes leaks out.  So it is with global warming and climate disruption.

I recently ran across a YouTube video that reminded me of those good old “type I” and “type II” errors that form the basis for statistical decision making for risk analysis in science.   In a very humorous way, “One Guy” demonstrated the failed logic of “climate deniers” who place their magical thinking above scientific evidence.  The problem is not just that they don’t understand the facts – although they often don’t – it is that, whatever their psychological or other sources of their conclusions, their logic for deciding what to do about the future is fatally flawed.  And, if accepted as the basis for public policy, that logic could be fatal for the planet.

Here is the real-world situation we face as a species:  If we assume for argument’s sake that we don’t know if global warming and climate disruption are “real” or can produce complex catastrophic results for the planet, there are two choices.

  • Do nothing, because climate scientists may be wrong and the actions taken to counter global warming will be expensive and wasted if scientists are wrong.
  • Take action (drastically cut carbon emissions and invest in carbon neutral technology) because if the climate scientists are right, failing to take action will result in mass extinctions and possibly extinction of the human race.

The possible consequences of the first choice are: 1) It’s the right decision (because climate disruption is not real) and we save a lot of money; and 2) It’s the wrong decision (because climate disruption is real) and the results for humanity are catastrophic (massive death and destruction if not extinction).

The possible consequences of the second choice are:  1) It’s the right decision (because climate disruption is real) and we spend a great deal of money and employ many people to reduce carbon emissions, with the result that we save humanity through major changes in the way we all live; and 2) It’s the wrong decision (because climate disruption is not real) and we spend a lot of money and employ many people in reducing carbon emissions when it was not necessary.  When faced with maybe saving some money but maybe destroying the planet in the process, or spending a lot of money to save the planet, what would you do?  I’d spend the money.  Full employment is a valuable side benefit.

There are errors by incompetence and errors by corruption – some are by corrupt incompetence .  Both can be confounded with elements of magical thinking, which results from combining ignorance, rigid belief, and ill-logic with an inability to perform critical thinking.  When you combine an aversion to complexity with magical thinking and unwavering belief in the face of facts [confirmed evidence from observation], the result is insistence that absurd counter-factual assertions must certainly be true.  Unwavering believe in the face of evidence really is stupid, especially when it can in some situations – such as climate disruption – be catastrophic in its consequences.