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US Perspectives

Living in interesting times

By Gregory Diamant

O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
That has such people in’t!. Shakespeare, The Tempest

Gregory Diamant

We are certainly living in interesting times: as many scientists confirm we have crossed over from the Holocene era to the Anthropocene era with the long-term and short- term (disruptive) climate changes becoming part of our daily existence. Despite the millions spent by corporations and wealthy individuals to convince us otherwise, the debate is essentially over: more than 97 percent of peer-reviewed scientists know that the earth is warming due to man made release of greenhouse gases. Between 1991 and 2012 there were 33,700 peer-reviewed climate change papers and only 34 of them disagreed that climate change was caused by human activities. Those who deny this by word or deed must be charter members of the “Flat Earth Society” or…bankers.

Banks have been on a coal funding spree: between 2005 and mid 2013 bankers have ponied up over US$113 billion for coal mining projects, a 400 percent increase over previous years. Unsurprisingly, there are now 1200 new coal plants under construction worldwide. Over US$600 billion has been spent in 2012 searching for fossil fuel. In 2011 governments have granted fossil fuel subsidies in the order of US$523 billion, more than six times the amount of subsidies for renewable sources of energy. Let’s not forget that we bailed out the financial industry to the tune of US$800 billion. If our governments were truly concerned about climate change following the money trail will soon disabuse us of any positive notions of the ethical concerns of our leaders, especially when we review their actions at the farcical “climate summits.” As Eduardo Galeano said, “If nature were a bank, they would have already rescued it.”

For the most part, our US political representatives, regardless of party affiliation, are a thoroughly corrupt bunch who work in an ethically challenged and hopelessly compromised political system. The power of money (shown in the continual “dialing for dollars” of our anointed politicians) is further illustrated by those legalized bagmen known as lobbyists. The pecuniary power is also aided by the “intellectual” gasbags resident in many foundations, on the airwaves and on the editorial boards of our local and national newspapers. They spew a toxic mantra of “the market will fix the problem with glorious new technologies that are just around the corner (like carbon sequestration)”. Thus the cunning selfishness of our corporate and political elite.

What is to be done? Until and unless our citizenry are aware of the facts and are motivated to put pressure on our ruling powers and counter the power of money with the power of bodies, things will continue to deteriorate, Sure, we can save water, reduce our individual carbon footprint and save where we can. And we should do that. But please note the word in the previous sentence: individual. Therein lies a trap: most of the damaging ecological effects come from macro political and economic practices. We will have to act in a collective way in order to change them and slow down the destructive forces that have been released. And that brings us back to Shakespeare and his somewhat sardonic words (and to Huxley who appropriated it for his eponymous novel that warned us of our naïve faith in technology): a brave new world, indeed, glittery and spinning out of control.

Gregory Diamant is a retired businessperson and sometime actor living in San Miguel.



Time to cool it with climate change

By John Wharton

John Wharton

With January on record as being this century’s coldest month ever, it may seem odd to be advocating job-killing restrictions on our economy in the name of solving what was known, until our inexplicable fourteen-year cold snap, as ‘global warming.’

But those favoring actions, which might cost the world economy an estimated US$40 trillion, seem unfazed at how often their projections have been found wildly inaccurate. This year’s warming-related ‘polar vortex’ of frigid Arctic air was mentioned in Time magazine in its 1974 article “Another Ice Age?” saying “‘scientists have found other indications of global cooling: the so-called circumpolar vortex.” In 1975, Newsweek magazine concurred with its cover story on “The Cooling World.” Should we spend trillions believing the experts then…or now?

Furthermore, one hears no satisfactory explanation from perhaps self-serving scientists of such ‘inconvenient truths’ as the world-wide ‘Medieval Warming Period’ of the eleventh century when the frozen wasteland of Greenland was temperate enough to allow farming. History shows also that wine grapes were grown 300 miles farther north in Europe then than is today possible. Obviously, at that time, industry was an insignificant contributor to CO2 and yet temperatures were clearly higher than they are today with our highly industrialized societies.

Such inexplicable anomalies clearly suggest that climate models are far from perfect and simply inadequate to predict such a complex phenomenon as global climate. Just as a huge number of respected experts confidently predicted the collapse of the world’s computers at the dawn of the 21st Century (the Y2K non-event), today’s doomsayers may be attempting to worry voters into funding hugely expensive (ie, profitable) projects to stave off a non-problem. China is so blasé about the climate ‘threat’ that it happily continues to bring one coal-fired power plant online each day while the Indian government “has consistently argued against greenhouse gas mitigation commitments for developing countries,” despite planetary warming’s likely disproportionate effect on countries like India.

But suppose the planet is warming. So what? It wouldn’t be the first time and certainly wouldn’t be the last. The aforementioned warming period, reports Stanford University historian Thomas Moore, “produced a technological revolution — the use of bronze, the fermentation of wine, and the invention of writing. With a more benign climate and less severe storms, the Baltic region shipped amber to the Mediterranean… merchants [were able] to carry goods through the Brenner Pass, the gateway between northern and southern Europe.” Shippers are today eagerly planning new trade routes through the more open Arctic passage, cutting transportation time and costs dramatically.

Sure, if ocean levels rose the two feet predicted this century, there would be some unhappy beachfront millionaires in Manhattan and Malibu but would over half a billion acres of virgin farmland in Greenland be such a bad thing for the human race? We humans are endlessly adaptable, even to climate change.

Many respected scientists argue that we are, instead, entering a new ice age. Others credibly point to solar flares to explain extreme weather events. The only certainty is that we simply don’t know clearly what’s going on, just as no one can unfailingly predict financial markets, despite Wall Street’s finest minds using mankind’s fastest computers. And just as with the stock market, it is likely foolish to bet the ranch on any one ‘sure thing.’ Much better to carefully monitor events—and watch your wallet when a know-it-all from ‘the establishment’ tells you to trust his ‘expert’ opinion.

John Wharton is owner of Shelter Theater and a retired financial analyst and economist.

The opinions expressed in these articles are responsibility of the authors


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