Thursday, May 21, 2015

De-carbonization—the new buzzword in climate change policy?

Today we have a cheery little piece from Deutsche Welle about the issues facing the upcoming climate change conference in Paris this Fall.  Keep in mind here that DW is an organ of the German government and that only a tiny handful of countries even come close to taking the issues of climate change as seriously as do the Germans.  So this article is about as enlightened as elected governments and mainstream media get.

We are in such trouble!  Start with the historically obvious fact that the climate change conferences have accomplished absolutely nothing of substance since that first one in Berlin in 1995.  I have charted the atmospheric CO2 concentrations against these well-intentioned but ultimately irrelevant conferences since then. So will Paris 2015 accomplish anything of substance?  I bet NO!

(click to enlarge)

There is one hopeful note.  The idea of decarbonization seems to have finally gotten a spot on the agenda.  Apparently, decarbonization is just a fancy term for doing away with fire—a strategy so obvious it occurred to me in the late 1980s.  Unfortunately, this is listed as a long-term goal, NOT a stop-everything-else-and-let's-do-it immediate objective.  So if you remove the possibility for a real solution, everything else is just window dressing.  Oh well, at least the Paris Conference attendees will have some excellent restaurants to choose from.

The we're-wrong-about-everything-else IMF has weighed in and their "solution" is to stop the $5.3 trillion in subsidies granted the fossil fuel industries.  Now I am sure that given a long enough time frame, making fuels more expensive will reduce demand.  In the meantime, such a move will cause enormous economic hardship for those of us who must either use fossil fuels or we die.  Learning to get along without fire will be the biggest cultural change in the history of the human race but our friends at IMF think that the problems will magically disappear with some tax-policy tinkering.

And of course, no one is even talking about the house-cleaning the economics profession must undertake to rid themselves of the austerity ghouls who preach belt-tightening when what we need is $trillions invested in the real economy.

Climate countdown: 200 days to Paris

DW  Irene Quaile  20.05.2015

Negotiators have just 200 days left to prepare for the key UN climate conference in Paris, tasked with a new global agreement to reduce CO2 emissions and limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. A tall order?

When the international community meets in Paris at the end of November, the pressure to succeed will be stronger than ever. Time is running short to come up with a new global agreement to halt climate change. In March, the global monthly average carbon dioxide concentration surpassed 400 parts per million. It was the first time in recorded history with such a high.

CO2, released into the atmosphere through the burning of coal, oil and gas, is one of the chief factors responsible for the rise in global temperature. As one of the chief greenhouse gases, countries have to reduce such emissions dramatically in order to achieve the goal set by the international community of keeping global warming to under 2 degrees Celsius, a benchmark seen as triggering potentially dangerous consequences.

Too big for one meeting

The United Nations Climate Secretariat UNFCCC - based in Bonn, Germany - is working around the clock to prepare for the key Paris meeting and ensure that governments put firm pledges on the table. The next round of preparatory talks will take place in Bonn early in June.

But climate change has become an issue on the agenda of other key international meetings. This week, Germany's Chancellor Merkel hosted the Petersberg Climate Dialogue in Berlin. The annual round of informal talks was launched in 2010, after the failed climate summit in Copenhagen the year prior.

Among the representatives of 35 countries attending were the president and foreign minister of France, which will host the key talks at the end of the year. Paris is also currently staging a Climate Week, which will include a high-level business summit to mark the "200 days" to Paris talks.

Decarbonization: a long-term goal

In a joint statement, Merkel and Hollande said they would strive, with all partners in the UN, "to decarbonize fully the global economy over the course of this century." That would mean a complete turn away from burning oil, gas and coal.

Merkel also expressed tentative support for a contentious coal levy, proposed by her cabinet to slash emissions from the most-polluting, soft-coal-burning plants in Germany. "We need credible fulfillment of our 40 percent goal, and I believe that the levy mechanism is one possibility," Merkel said Tuesday in Berlin.

Merkel stressed that the fight against climate change may not come at the expense of competitiveness and prosperity. "We cannot do without growth - we just have to generate it in a different way."

Hollande also stressed the need for low-emission technologies and "innovative ways to attract investment."

Both Merkel and Hollande emphasized that incentives for business were essential to "reach an ambitious, comprehensive and binding UN climate agreement by the end of this year."

Jennifer Morgan, Global Director of the Climate Program at the World Resources Institute (WRI), told DW that companies have a massive role to play. "Companies are the ones that can bring in innovation, out-compete each other to find the solutions," Morgan said. "They're the ones that can engage their consumers in the solution, as some companies are now doing."

Falling short for 2-degree target

And while there is no shortage of high-profile meetings with politicians stressing the need for rapid climate action, the pledges on the table so far are not sufficient to cut emissions to the level necessary to keep to the 2-degree target. Countries have been asked to put their figures on the table by October. So far, 38 countries have done so.

Morgan told DW there is still a gap between what has been promised and what is necessary. She said available solutions are not yet being deployed at the scale or speed required to accomplish an orderly transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy.

"What Paris can help do is close that gap, both by getting stronger targets and commitments from countries," Morgan said. She added that the agreement itself should include a mechanism that will strengthen targets every five years, and aim toward a long-term goal of phasing out emissions by mid-century. "That type of ambition can send signals that can accelerate the pace of change - which is very much needed," Morgan concluded.

Positive signs

On the road to a new world climate agreement, there have been positive signals from the world's biggest emitters - China and the USA - with both agreeing to new limits on carbon emissions starting in 2025. China said its emissions would peak by 2030.

India, which is the world's number-three emitter of greenhouse gases, has been under pressure to come up with its own commitments. During a recent visit to China by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the two largest developing nations issued a rare joint statement calling on rich countries to increase their efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

China and India also urged wealthy countries to provide finance and technology to emerging countries to help them reduce their own emissions. They called on the developed world to honor its commitment to provide $100 billion per year by 2020 to developing countries already struggling with the impacts of climate change.

Historical debt?

Developing countries point out that the industrialized world is responsible for the rise of past emissions, and argue that it should therefore be primarily responsible for reducing emissions and funding climate adaptation in developing countries.

India, for instance, says it will focus on increased use of clean energy to fight the adverse effects of climate change - but cannot commit to emissions cuts as it still needs to industrialize to lift millions of people out of poverty.

The Paris conference aims to bring significant progress not only on cutting emissions, but also on financing adaptation to climate change and compensating developing nations for loss and damage as a result of climate change.

At the Berlin climate dialogue this week, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed that she would use the next G7 summit - to be hosted by Germany in June, and with an emphasis on several environmental issues - to remind her western partners of that funding pledge. She stressed the need to involve and support developing nations in the fight against climate change, saying global action taken in the next 15 years would be crucial.

Growing recognition of fossil-fuel costs

Experts agree that putting a global price on CO2, making it expensive to emit climate-harming gases, is a key instrument in the decarbonization process. Merkel has called for a reformed version of the European Union's Emissions Trading System (ETS), to be adopted globally. Earlier this month, the European Union agreed on a deal to start reforming the ETS from 2019, such as to raise the price of carbon pollution to a more restrictive level.

This week, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) published a new estimate on the "true cost of fossil fuels." It calculates that fossil fuel companies are benefitting from global subsidies of $5.3 trillion (4.8 trillion euros) a year - equivalent to $10 million for every minute of every day.

The IMF calculated the sum by including the costs incurred by governments through the burning of coal, oil and gas. These include the harm caused to local populations by air pollution, as well as to people around the globe affected by floods, droughts and storms driven by climate change.

The IMF - one of the world's most respected financial institutions - said that ending subsidies to fossil fuels would cut global carbon emissions by 20 percent.

No alternative

France's foreign minister Laurent Fabius, who will chair the key Paris summit, told the Petersberg Dialogue in Berlin that more countries were coming out in support of a long-term decarbonization goal, as part of the proposed UN climate pact.

The goal of Paris would be to limit warming to between 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius more than pre-industrial levels, said Fabius: "We must commit ourselves very resolutely, because there isn't an alternative solution - for the simple reason that there isn't an alternative planet."

German environment minister Barbara Hendricks spoke of a moral obligation to fight climate change, but stressed the need to take a long-term approach to "terminate the age of fossil fuels."

With just 200 days to go until the start of the two-week Paris meeting, the sobering assumption seems to be that the conference itself will not come up with enough pledges to keep to the 2-degree target, let alone the 1.5-degree target that many experts say would be a preferable goal.

Yet there is also widespread acknowledgement that there is no alternative to a world climate agreement. Mechanisms must somehow be put into place to steadily increase momentum in a transition to a low-carbon economy by the second half of this century. more

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Iceland's Pirate Party rethinks democracy

One of the primary fascinations of my life concerns the social changes that come from changes in communication technology.  It started with my childhood lessons that taught me there simply would not have been a Protestant Reformation without the invention of Gutenberg's printing press.  Many of Luther's teachings would have been ridiculous without printing—universal literacy, the priesthood of believers, congregational singing.  So naturally, I have been very curious about the social and political ramifications of the Internet—especially the ability to distribute high quality pictures and video.

The most obvious manifestation of the democratization of video is the exposure of corrupt and murderous policing practices.  Police have been beating up on the poor and racial minorities for a least a century but now these incidents show up on the Internet.  iPhone video was also partly responsible for Romney's political defeat when a bartender caught him talking like a country club jerk in front of his rich buddies.

I would offer some suggestions but I am handicapped by my slack-jawed awe when contemplating the social possibilities of the Internet / video revolution.  I remember distinctly where I was when I saw the for first time a video camera communicating with a desktop computer through a Firewire cable.  So I still think of these things as borderline miraculous.  But there are now young adults who have always lived in a world were such things are routine.  They won't get sidetracked by hardware awe and get straight to the subject of what can be done with the new technological possibilities.

The various Pirate Parties in Europe are essentially made up of young people who maintain the attitude that with the new ways to communicate, the world simply must change.  Not all of their ideas are enlightened, but most are pretty interesting.  And this example of what Icelandic Pirates are up to is especially interesting.  As it should be.  After all, the Icelanders have over a millennium of experience with democracy and are the direct descendants of Vikings—folks who once raised piracy to an art form.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Churches and the environment

We sang "This is my Father's World" at my grandfather's funeral.  He was a farmer in Southeastern Kansas who was passionate about caring for the land.  He put in terraces during the days of WPA to virtually eliminate soil erosion—terraces you can still see from space on Google maps.  So the idea that maximum conservation measures are a manifestation of religious devotion is not a new idea for me.  So when I see that Pope Francis is going to issue a Papal encyclical on climate change, my only reaction is, "What has taken you so long?"

I keep track of Catholic politics out of sheer curiosity.  After the glory days of Vatican II, ignoring the politics of that institution meant you were going to miss a LOT.  Unfortunately, the popes who followed John XXIII were comically reactionary who appointed extreme right-wing cardinals and bishops.  Here in USA, we got 45 years of abortion politics, a frontal assault on public education, and the destruction of the Progressive Democratic Party—among other baleful influences.

So now we find ourselves with a Pope who is actually interested in larger issues than sex (including the question of how Christians are supposed to act around issues like the environment).  And for some reason, I find this important.  As someone who got his fill of religious mumbo-jumbo growing up, I spent most of my adult life hoping that such forms of organized ignorance were just going to disappear.  Now in my old age, I am coming to the conclusion that religion will never go away because it fills too many holes in too many lives.

I have been watching in amazement at the return of the Orthodox Church in Russia.  Not only has Putin declared that he was baptized and wears his mother's cross for those shirtless photo shoots, but at the V-70 parade May 9th, the head of the Russian military, Defense Minister Shoigu crossed himself, Orthodox-style, to signal the parade was about to start.  Considering how thoroughly the Marxists tried to eliminate the influence of the Orthodox Church in USSR, it has made quite a comeback.

Yes, I know—religion will not solve a problem like climate change.  But making it a moral issue will help make up the minds of millions who will never understand the chemistry.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Hard times for farmers—again

This is a tale of what happens when times get tough for that quintessential Producer Class occupation—farming.  I tend to have a LOT of empathy for those who grow our food—they work harder than slaves, they are routinely called peasants or worse, all the while remaining the most economically vulnerable occupation on earth.  Think about it—when the economic tides turn people can relocate, factories can be moved to new locations, but a farm is by definition attached to a place.  So while you can move the farmer, you cannot move the farm.  So a farmer is attached to a location that is vulnerable to anything from outright military invasion, punitive tax policies, to something as whimsical as changing tastes in food.  I mean, I certainly did not believe I would ever see the day when wheat or milk was believed to be bad for us.  Even worse, when the farm goes down, for whatever reason, the farmer is thrown into a nearly bottomless economic pit where he loses his occupation, his sense of worth, the tools of his trade, his home, and probably at least part of his family who will blame him for his failure.  It's a LONG way down!  During the great industrialization, farmers forced from the land could get jobs in the booming factories, but this option doesn't much exist anymore.

Understand, this economic abyss isn't only felt in USA or North America.  The problems of farm failures in India make our problems look utterly insignificant.  These are problems of agriculture itself and as I have discovered from extensive reading on the subject, the cultural solutions date back as far as the Sumerians.

Here in Minnesota, I do not yet see actual distress in agriculture.  Most importantly, the folks who managed to escape the horror of the 1980s are the same folks who did not borrow recklessly (or other manifestation of Producer over-reach) and most have squirreled away at least part of the recent good times when high corn prices made it possible to believe in prosperity again.  But in all honesty, I don't think many will actually get paid to raise a crop this year.  It is probably a good thing everyone is driving a new pickup because there won't be many of those for a while.  Just remember that for a real farmer, a pickup is a tool, NOT a fashion statement so having a reliable one is good for the farm itself.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

New desalinization strategies

Supplying sufficient fresh water will continue to become an even bigger problem as the globe gets hotter and the population soars.  The world may be covered in water but only about 1% can be used by humans.  We know how to get salt out of sea water but so far the methods are expensive and use crazy amounts of energy.  But as the need grows and more engineering is thrown at the problem, solutions seem to become more realistic.  This is especially true as we enter an age when solar electricity is becoming more affordable—seemingly by the minute.  Because with enough cheap energy, massive desalinization it quite doable.  Even better, desalinization is one of those activities that are not necessarily time sensitive—so the machinery can run while the sun shines and shut down when it does not.  We might not live to see desalinization provide water for crop irrigation, but providing sufficient water for human consumption from the sea seems well with the abilities of of current engineering practices.

And there seems to be much more efficient ways to get the salt out in the lab stage.  Here we see a pilot project from MIT that seems to be just begging  to be scaled up to at least the size needed to provide for a medium-sized city.  Like so much in life, once the energy is available, the rest is pretty easy.  Well, not easy, but far from impossible.  And yes, there are still a lot of kinks to be worked out but working out kinks is what great engineering is all about.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Keeping the boot on China's neck with TPP

USA trade policy is so screwed up one wonders if anyone who understands the essential elements of production is ever consulted.  I mean, industrial skills that required generations of hard work and innovation to acquire have just been given to countries that offered nothing more than lax environmental regulation and low labor costs.  So after we take our industrial crown jewels and offshore them, we actually sit around wondering why we have mind-boggling trade deficits.  It MUST be currency manipulation.  It MUST be that those sneaky countries are cheating.  Everything, but the real problems that come from reducing this once interesting nation to the status of mere shoppers.

I am going to let Tony take on the these crazy "trade" agreements for the blog.  It's not that he is more pissed off about them than I, (I seriously doubt that would be possible) its because I am still worn out from all the energy I expended fighting NAFTA.  All that effort and all I have to show for it is the VERY minimal pleasure of saying "I told you so!"  Besides, Tony is really good at this sort of thing.

And fast track for TPP may in fact be defeated.  I still rate the possibility as very low because the pirates have had a long run of winning these sorts of things, but unlike the NAFTA fight, there are a LOT more people now who understand what these agreements actually mean for living standards.  So as the resistance to TPP becomes more organized, the arguments in favor become increasingly desperate and crazy.  So in the spirit of Predator Class madness, we see no less than the Council on Foreign Relations inform us that we need TPP or the nefarious and scary Chinamen will come and get us.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Popular rule—a sick lie

One of the more amazing things I discovered when I visited Finland in 1989 was that people my own age (39) were so well represented in the government.  I am not quite certain why that surprised me—after all, the Constitution sets the minimum age for being President at 35 and 30 for membership in the Senate.  And if one reads our history it is quite easy to discover people in their 30s that had important jobs.  Yet in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the cultural revolution of the 60s, it was almost impossible to find anyone in the Boomer cohort who were expected to take on big-time adult responsibility.

There were several reasons why this was so.  1) The WW II generation was still very much in control of everything and showed no signs of relinquishing any of their power.  2) Many Boomers had managed to convince themselves that sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll WERE the important issues. 3) The antiwar movement left many of the best and brightest of the Boomer generation with criminal records and other blots on their records that made it easy to exclude them from any conversation where important matters were discussed.

Of course, these were just the latest excuses offered to justify the practices of making democracy irrelevant.  In colonial America, others excuses were made to limit power to property-owning male members of the Church of England—of British descent.  Today, the subjects of economics and "national security" have been put off limits to popular control.  Overwhelming majorities opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and bailout of Wall Street in 2008 and it did not make one little bit of difference.  The "little people" had no voice in either matter.  And it did not matter one whit that in both cases, the voice of the people was overwhelmingly correct.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Parasite Capitalists

Once again, someone realizes that the Farmer's Alliance, the Populists, Thorstein Veblen (and about a million others who watched in horror and fury at the drooling Predators of industrialization who were looting the greatest burst of human genius in recorded history) were spot on in their critique of the Leisure Classes.  I know when it happened to me, the revelation just stunned me.  I mean, if someone compares the activities of an Elon Musk or a Steve Jobs with a Jamie Dimon or a George Soros, one could wonder how such different people could even be of the same species.  And yet, there are whole schools of thought with enthusiastic and loyal adherents who lump such completely different people with such different motivations under the heading of "Capitalism."  This intellectual laziness is mostly traceable to the musings of Marx but this foolishness lives on because unless one is exposed to the complexities of high-end production, there is little reason to suspect that banksters and integrated circuit production engineers are not in fact interchangeable.

So on this Monday in May, we should celebrate that one more person has seen the light.  And yes, Moore is absolutely correct—hedge funds are a pluperfect example of Leisure Class uselessness.  Worse, these thieves are sucking the very vitality out of the society that has made them "rich."  Yes indeed, the parasite can often kill the host.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Ray McGovern on Vietnam 40 years later

With the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon and the end to the big military commitment in Vietnam, the time is probably right for taking stock one more time.  It is truly unfortunate that the catastrophes of that insane war were never discussed all that thoroughly because, with our collective failure to understand what went wrong, we have managed to stumble into many more foreign policy disasters.

At 65, I am about as young as anyone can be and still have personal memories of the acute ethical dilemmas that faced the young men of my generation. For example, if someone burned his draft card in 1965, he was probably arrested, tried, and sentenced to some serious jail time.  By 1969, someone doing the same thing was just ignored because there was no practical way to arrest everyone who did such things.  But even though it took less courage to oppose the USA invasion of Vietnam by the time I was a college freshman in 1968, it was still virtually impossible to know anything important about the issue.  I was a news junkie who watched the TV newscasts and read the daily papers quite religiously but it wasn't until the good books about Vietnam that came out in the 1980s that I had a clue what had really happened.

It wasn't that our class and younger didn't have anything useful to offer the antiwar movement.  But mostly we were ignorant kids who made decisions based mostly on the zeitgeist.  For many it wasn't anything more than "girls say yes to guys who say no" and other cultural clues.  So it is fascinating to read the reflections of someone like Ray McGovern who was both old enough and in a position to know what was going on while it was happening.  This meant he was in a position to suffer real consequences for telling the truth.  His ethical dilemmas were infinitely more acute than the guy who discovered that if he said something against the Vietnam War, some delicious lass was going to sleep with him that night.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Important site update—new video is coming

Back in February, I gave a speech on how someone would think if they were to take seriously the mega-problem of climate change.  The speech went well enough as these things go and it was captured by a videographer who knows how to take pictures.  But there were glitches like when the slides wouldn't advance smoothly, hemming and hawing, and assorted scenes where I really needed a drink of water.  A pass through the video editing program got rid of the most serious glitches, but I was left with the problem of WAY too much of me—talking head.  Worse, it ran slightly more than an hour and while I have long-posting privileges at Youtube, the chance of anyone watching such a beast was close to zero.

So, I have decided to divide the speech into more bite-sized chunks, cover the radical editing with some interesting b-roll, and post quality footage to both Youtube and Vimeo.  The point of these little movies is to provide video backup for a plan as outlined by Tony yesterday.  Essentially they will include:

1. The uselessness of protests—marching in circles

2. How we got into this mess—the ultimate seduction of fire

3. Class analysis and solutions—from the trap constructed by geniuses

4. How much would this cost?—and how do we get the money to pay for it?

One of the main reasons for all this video enthusiasm lies in the fact that I have finally upgraded my computing power.  Because I know how to get major results from Macs and wanted another, I was stuck with a narrow range of choices because Apple hasn't put a lot of effort into the big desktop box in recent years.  In fact, they don't really make one anymore.  But when they did make one, they were serious machines.  Expensive yes, but beautifully built.  So I got an early 2009 Mac Pro which was the least expensive version that will run the latest OS X (Yosemite).  Had to do some internal upgrades when I got it home but I now have the muscle to effectively edit high-def video.

Rumor has it that the Mac Pro is the computer that "saved" Pixar's Finding Nemo.  The big trick of that movie was realistic looking water.  But it took MAJOR horsepower to render.  The original Mac Pro still used the Motorola CPUs in the G5 models.  But they were inefficient and pumped out major heat so the case was made from machined aluminum, it had an open grate front and back, plus 11 fans.  Failure by Motorola to improve on these energy hogs is what drove Apple into the arms of Intel.  And Apple made the CPU changeover in time to save a kid's movie.  My new tool has a second-generation quad-core Intel chip.  It has just four fans and they almost never run unless I am doing something strenuous like rendering out an animation sequence or compressing video.

There are slide-out trays for 3.5" hard drives.  It is possible to have 24 tb of internal storage.  There is generous and well-ventilated space for PCI cards so really high-speed external storage is possible.  This box can easily be tricked out to do 4k video editing and the price for 4k is drifting down.

I am not quite done fiddling but I have already edited a two-minute video for a local environmental effort with it.  I am ready to rock and roll.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Replace the TPP with a $100 trillion world trade program

The TPP has brought the issue of "free trade agreements" to the fore again, so I think it is time we looked honestly at what has happened to the three North American countries in the grand-daddy FTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Let's look at the Big Picture of what has happened since NAFTA came into effect on January 1, 1994:

USA. In the 21 years since, the United States has devolved from a representative democratic republic with the most stable middle class and well paid working class in the world, into a plutocratic oligarchy, with the worst income inequality and the worst measures of social welfare of any western industrialized country, and a middle class that now lives a precarious existence, and a working class segments of which are now recording declines in life expectancies.

CANADA. Since NAFTA came into effect, Canada has regressed to a national economy dominated by an industry in resource extraction (oil and gas) - the traditional condition of colonial status. Certain circles in the USA now refer to Canada as "Texas of the north." Other reviews of the "success" of NAFTA in Canada have cited increased exports of beef, agricultural, wood and paper products, and mineral and mining products - all raw materials in which colonials typically specialize. The only advanced industrial sector to show growth has been automobile manufacturing - and this sector was already well established in Windsor, Ontario, immediately across the St. Clair River from Detroit.

MEXICO. Since the "blessing" of NAFTA, Mexico has fallen victim to the anarchy of ruthless, murderous illicit drug and criminal cartels. Ironically, one of the original arguments used by proponents of NAFTA was that increased trade would lead to more opportunities in the real economy for Mexican citizens, making it more difficult for drug cartels to operate in Mexico.

Syriza runs out of energy and ideas

While most people on the planet wanted Syriza to succeed with their strategy of politically confronting the Troika and their insatiable payment demands, most of us also had the sinking feeling that they were as likely to succeed as any other victim of a loan-sharking operation.  But instead of confronting some thugs willing to break your legs, Greece was up against heavy artillery—organized slander in the organs of the press, financial blackmail, and probably threats of real violence in the form of the Sixth Fleet.  No wonder Syriza is backing down.

The only reason for hope lies in the fundamental fact that there is simply no way Greece can pay those debts.  As Michael Hudson likes to remind us, debts that cannot be repaid will not be repaid.  So in the long run, the program Syriza was attempting to sell to the rest of Europe may ultimately end up looking like the reasonable plan after all.

The immediate reason for Syriza's failure lies in their unwillingness to leave the Euro.  I find this fact extremely interesting for a number of reasons:
  • It demonstrates the incredible desire of peoples of small nations to become members of a very exclusive club such as the EU / Euro.
  • It demonstrates the incredible power of the neoliberal narrative. Even though the neoliberal assumptions make Scientology look positively rational, the European "left" seems unable to understand important monetary concepts with enough clarity to muster a meaningful response.  And while it was great fun watching Greece try to guilt-trip the Germans, that was hardly going to be enough.
  • It shows how few people are actually willing to stand up against the banksters—there's an incredible amount of cowardice out there folks.
The neoliberal agenda simply must be stopped.  And just because Greece was not big or strong enough to stop it doesn't mean they were wrong to try.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Bank for International Settlements is WAY above the law

Lest anyone doubt that the big global bankers have scary amounts of power, consider how unlikely it is for any of them to go to jail—no matter how many laws they break.  I guess it only makes sense—after all, the #1 demand of the world's central banks is that they be absolutely independent from ANY control by anything so lowly as an elected official.  Surprisingly, most lowly elected officials actually believe that central bank independence is a good idea.

Ah, the joys of running the global money supply with no fear of anyone ever calling you to account for your actions.  Not surprisingly, almost anyone who has a chance to join such a fraternity will do so.  And the world's finance ministers tend to kiss the rings of those in the club with the hope that some day, they can join too.  It is the perfect recipe for producing arrogant people.

Arrogant people are often wrong about almost everything because they refuse to believe the evidence they are wrong.  Unfortunately, this time, the evidence they refuse to believe is that their policies make certain that climate change will NOT be meaningfully addressed.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Electrical storage strategies

Lest anyone believes that just because solar cells are affordable the conversion to the new green world is now a slam dunk, such folks should be reminded that there are plenty of problems left to solve.  These include methods for long-distance transmission of large amounts of electricity and the biggie—storage.  The most common method for electrical storage—batteries—is very expensive, uses a bunch of environmental hazardous materials, and seem impervious to huge research budgets.  Yes, lithium-ion batteries are much better than the carbon batteries of my youth, but they still do not offer a realistic alternatives for a host of applications.

This should be a field day for the inventors because anyone or company who actually figures out a good and inexpensive method for electrical storage will most certainly become rich and famous.  My guess is that there will be several winners based on local conditions.  As with generation where wind turbines make a great deal most sense to the people of Minot North Dakota than Wheeling West Virginia, so hydroelectric storage makes a lot more sense in Norway than Bangladesh.  My guess that while inventiveness will obviously play a role, most of this involves world-class engineering.

Of course, there are some halfway measures that could tide us over until we get the storage problem solved.

1) Make hay while the sun shines.  This is simply taking advantage of the natural opportunities. This is the strategy of sailing—go as far the winds will take you and when they fail, wait, or set new sails.

2) Redesign the infrastructure so we can dramatically lower the use of electricity at night.  LED bulbs are a BIG step in the right direction but daylight-only dishwashers, high-efficiency TVs, and rethinking all the light we waste will probably reduce the need for storage.

3) Differential pricing.  When there is an excess of electricity, make it free.  If people know when it's free, they could do energy-intensive jobs that can be postponed.

Anyway, this is a nice article about the current thinking on storage.  Brown sounds very British so I am a bit surprised he doesn't include some eccentric's idea to use giant clock springs, but it IS a fine intro to the subject.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Free Trade has Free in it. Don't oppose freedom!

Oligarchy apologist and hack, a.k.a. "economist" Gregory Mankiw had an op-ed in the Sunday New York Times, Economists Actually Agree on This: The Wisdom of Free Trade.

Well, not all economists agree. I'm beginning to lose patience with God: if there were justice in the universe, Mankiw would be run over by a armored car carrying cash to a clientele of payday lenders.

Anyway, one poster on DailyKos credits Mankiw's article with changing his mind on the TPP.

And on heart surgery.

I can't help but conclude by the same logic that it would be a great idea for me to have open heart surgery. After all, medical researchers and cardiac specialists are almost unanimous in saying that the surgery is statically beneficial to the patients who get it done. Since I'm a big believer in science, say no more, I don't have any need to get down in the weeds with all the 'why' questions. I'm in excellent health now and can't wait to experience how fantastic I'll feel afterwards.
The very first comment is pure genius. It may not be the commenters' original, but I think it is, because posters on DailyKos are pretty good at giving credit when due. Forthwith, here is one of the best commentaries on FTAs, "free trade agreemnets" I have ever seen:

1). Free Trade has Free in it. Don't oppose freedom.
2). Free Trade has Trade in it. Don't oppose trade.
3). All FTAs are always great, because neoliberalism.
4). When US exports rise after a FTA, game over. FTAs rule!
5). When US exports fall after a FTA, it wasn't the FTA's fault.
7). Yes, it has the exact same language. But more FREE!
8). No, it is not a problem that corporations write it.
9). THIS time, the corporations put words that say labor things and environmental things in it. It's basically a revolution.
10). No, the new rules can't be enforced or punished. But FREE!

Musk as a Producer Class hero

Climate change is exposing a serious problem in the social order.  Because the underlying cause of atmospheric carbon loading is the use of fire, it is a problem completely outside of the known methods for collective social action.  I mean, think about it, have you ever read any religious or political manifesto that condemns the use of fire?  I have been around religion and politics my whole life and I have never seen anything like that—although I supposed it might be theoretical possible.  MOST religions and political movements spend their major energy on the subject of sex.  It's kinda of like rock music that way.  I remember the music of the late 60s and early 70s as the sound track of my political activism.  Yet now that I have made a serious attempt to collect the best pop music from that era, I discover that about 95% of the genre is a manifestation of the band's sexual energy.

So here we have have it—a problem that is right in the wheelhouse of the nerd elites.  I have a friend who took a course at Harvard called "Physics for Poets."  Such a class might be good in theory but the outcome is that he never learned real physics.  At least he didn't learn the main reason for such a course at Harvard—the idea that science is this exotic sub-specialty that you hire done if necessary.  Because if you confuse thinking about the social implications of a phenomena like fire, with the thinking necessary to replace a human activity that has existed since before recorded history, you wind up becoming Bill McKibbon—the author of over 20 excellent books on climate change who couldn't dream up any solution more meaningful than a march on the UN.  Of course Veblen nailed it in 1899 when describing the Leisure Classes—if you don't respect the useful arts, the best you can be is a third-rate critic of the practitioners of those arts.

But as so many people have pointed out to me, of course a global problem like climate change is political.  "At least we can vote out the people who stand in the way of a serious effort."  It's a valid point.  Yes it would be a good idea to incarcerate the brazen criminals who have seized control of society's economic levers to enrich themselves.  Yes it would be wonderful if the politicians would vote to spend a serious fraction of the $100 trillion it will require to update the global infrastructure.  But just remember, even IF we were to close down Goldman Sachs and sentence their big criminals to hard labor, AND got the congress to fund a development bank to spend the big bucks for new systems, we would still only be at day one of real solutions.  So when I argue that climate change is not a political problem, I am really arguing that compared to solving a problem like eliminating fire, the politics is just a Leisure-Class detail.

Fortunately, we really aren't at day one for building out solutions.  Because while a Harvard boy was organizing a march on the UN and concerned bureaucrats were jetting to Durban and Lima, some members of the Producer elites have been busy actually rolling out their vision for a new society.  Earlier this month, I wrote a post about a man named Fred Olsen who is making the crazy-difficult problem of erecting off-shore wind turbines almost routine.  And today we see an enthusiastic California lefty praising the accomplishments of Elon Musk.  A good reminder that if the problems of climate change are to be solved, it will be done under the direction of engineering visionaries like Musk and Olsen.  The best the Leisure Classes can do is ensure that such people are properly funded, and then get out of the way.

Just remember, the recent explosion of solar installations is not due to hectoring by the NGOs, or a religious awakening, or the fact that we all got good karma at the same time.  Solar installations are exploding because folks did the hard work of figuring out how make affordable solar panels.