Monday, August 29, 2016

Humans have caused climate change for at least 180 years

As part of my video project, I have created a graph that compares the big changes triggered by the ingenuity of the Industrial Revolution and the increase in atmospheric CO2.  This graph will be animated and the central focus surrounds the first mathematical description of the relationship between CO2 and changes in climate first postulated by Svante Arhennius in 1896.  If we date the start of the Industrial Revolution at 1750, the changes had been happening for 146 years before a Nobel winning chemist noticed them.  Interestingly, those 146 years had only increased atmospheric CO2 by about 20 ppm.  That is roughly the same amount as the increase since 2004.  No wonder it required a world-class chemist to figure it out back then.

The CO2 levels are indicated by the yellow line with the light blue fill underneath.  Click to enlarge.

As research methods and instrumentation have gotten better, it now seems pretty obvious that the climate started to change almost as soon as humans got serious about burning coal.  Which makes perfect sense when you think about it.  After all, coal is a form of carbon that had been put into long-term storage before humans discovered all the useful things that could be done with those dirty rocks.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Climate change and air conditioning

Perhaps the least surprising news about economic "development" and climate change is that soon after a family in China (or similar) gets a TV, thoughts turn to the one device that helps them cope with their increasingly hot and miserable lives—air conditioning.  And it doesn't take long for people to view their artificially cooled lives as a necessity ranking right up there with a roof that keeps out the rain.

While it IS possible to build very comfortable structures that don't require tons of cooling, the easiest and most reliable way is to plunk down the money for that humming compressor that spits out cool air.  Those who try it tend to really like it,  Suddenly, miserable places are transformed into the Sun Belt.

The problem is that air conditioning is a notorious energy hog.  And when the electricity to run these things come from burning coal, massive cooling leads to hotter climates.  Of course, it doesn't have to be that way.  Cooling loads tend to be highest whenever the sun shines brightest.  Bingo.  Solar-powered cooling is physically possible so in theory, this should become one of the next big marketing opportunities.  We will see if that happens because right now, the boom in air conditioning is being supplied with technologies that assume electricity from a reliable power grid.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Is Russia really going to throw Neoliberalism overboard?

Those of us who hail from the heterodox economic traditions keep wondering in some amazement at the persistence of neoliberal thought.  I mean, how much evidence of failure will it take to discredit these people?  We have had major meltdowns and corruption on a scale so vast that it boggles the mind in just the last 25 years and yet the persistence of belief marches on.  It's not that I have not had experience with this sort of behavior before.  My mother once got a letter from a 95-year-old friend who was very sick.  In spite of his age and health, he closed with a paragraph stating that he was still convinced that the Lord Jesus Christ was coming back during his lifetime to take him home to heaven.  He had believed that he would be Raptured since he was a teenager—why stop now?  He died in less than two weeks.

This is what I think of when I read that some neoliberal believes that high interest rates are good for the economy or that privatizing a public good leads to greater prosperity.  Makes a belief in the Rapture look positively enlightened by comparison.  In the case of Russia, we find the toxic waste of neoliberalism crippling an economy already under stress from organized economic sanctions and a dramatic fall in the price for oil—Russia's big deal export.  Russia's economy should logically be on a wartime footing given the external threat.  And yes, there have been some remarkably successful war economies organized in traditionally capitalist havens (see USA 1941-45).  If you look at these successful war economies, they look almost nothing like neoliberalism.  So why has V. Putin chosen to keep the Yeltsin-era neoliberals around to mismanage his economy when almost anything else would make his country stronger and more able to cope with external threats?  Good. Damn. Question.

It turns out Mr. Putin has been asking this very question.  And he looks like he is about to throw some neoliberals overboard.  If he thinks the western press has been hostile, wait until his tries ridding himself of the official economic religion.  Insane Tyrant will be the kindest description by the folks at the Guardian.

Of course, this conversion to a more rational economics may still be wishful thinking.  The writers below who argue that Russia is going to try something else, Engdahl, Hudson, and Roberts, are known critics of the neoliberal madness.  They want someone (with a reasonable chance of success) to try the heterodox methods.  There is a lot of pride on the line here.  I know how that feels.  It has been nearly 30 years now since I first reassembled the most successful ideas of the USA Progressives from 1873-1973—the effort that led to Elegant Technology.  With every bump and crash that demonstrates once again how neoliberalism tends towards Gilded Age Neofeudalism I ask myself—will anyone with the necessary clout ever stand up to this crazy thinking?  It's only the survival of the species that's at stake, after all.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Ellen Brown on Green Party economics

Ellen Brown probably knows more about the history of the various monetary debates that have swept USA since before it was a nation than anyone I can think of.  So we can reasonably assume that she has some grasp of just how difficult it is to mount a meaningful assault on the conventional "wisdom" of the "sound money" crowd.  The fiat currency folks have all the good arguments on their side and have been supported by such luminaries as Franklin, Peter Cooper, and Edison.  Yet even today, someone like Hillary Clinton is at least as big a monetary reactionary as William McKinley.  I honestly have no idea why the sound money crowd never seems to go away no matter how many economic disasters can be laid at their door.  But my best guess is that the simplicity of their argument must connect with the public's inner moron.

And so our dear Ellen keeps on trucking.  Like most people of her worldview, she seems to think that some day people will tire of the non-stop disaster that is neoliberalism and want an alternative.  And by gawd, she has found several.  So today she dissects the economic arguments of Jill Stein, the head of the Green Party ticket, and finds quite a lot to recommend it.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

You simply must see this—Assange on the state of USA elections

Julian Assange special: Do Wikileaks have the email that will put Hillary Clinton in prison? (E376)6 Aug, 2016

Afshin Rattansi goes underground with Julian Assange. We talk to the founder of Wikileaks about how the recent DNC leaks have no connection to Russia. Plus what are Hillary Clinton's connections to Islamic State, Saudi Arabia and Russia?

It must be odd to be Julian Assange.  He is trapped in the Ecuadorean embassy which is far from the worst place to sit out official persecution—think Martin Luther in the Wittenberg Castle.  Except that Assange is hooked into the global intelligence in ways that Luther couldn't even imagine.  And because of his ability to view documents that are meant to be hidden, he is arguably the most informed human to have ever lived.

Not surprisingly, since his mission in life seems to be exposing liars, his focus tends to be on the Leisure / Predator classes—because that is where liars tend to congregate.  From a Producer POV, for once I am not insulted by being ignored.  After all, a passionate devotion to honesty is the top drawer of the Producer toolset.  So GO Julian!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Environmental records shattered

Well, the scientists have once again delivered the very bad news—climate change is now definitely underway and these crazy-hot summers are the new normal.  People are getting very frightened and are becoming very impatient that the brains that can measure this change are not proposing genuine strategies for how to cope.  And time is running out.

I have been beavering away at producing my version of a serious strategy but it is a ton of work and I have the ambition of a 67-year-old man who sometimes gets beaten down by the magnitude of the problem.  On the other hand, getting back up to speed with Adobe After Effects has been fun.  I am pretty sure the last time I used it it was version 4.x and now it's up to 13.8.  So because it's Adobe, every button has been moved (gaaah).  The good news is that it is much more versatile.

I want to use every tool I can find to make things VERY clear.  After all, climate change is easily the biggest problem that has ever faced the human species.  However, the methods to solve this massive problem are well within the range of human possibilities.  The goal is to convey these two messages as understandably as possible.

And so I am actually working on an extremely positive story.  I only hope I have the energy to finish this monster.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Essays on the Democratic National Convention

As a young political junkie, I used to watch the political conventions with an almost religious fervor.  I stayed up to watch Barry Goldwater deliver his "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue" speech from the Cow Palace in 1964.  I watched George McGovern deliver his "Come Home America" acceptance speech delivered at 3:00 am in 1972.  I sputtered in helpless rage as the Chicago police rioted in 1968 essentially beating anyone they could reach.  But as political conventions became more scripted, they became a whole lot less interesting.  This year I made a conscious effort to not watch these circuses.  I am just too old to survive such intense lying.

Of course, this doesn't mean I wasn't curious about the proceedings.  So I watched Colbert's coverage and read dispatches on sites I trusted.  And if these reports are to be believed—and there is no reason not to—these gatherings were even worse than I had imagined they would be.  Here are three of the best dispatches from the front.

First up we have an angry and heartfelt blast from Margot Kidder who was raised outside the bubble of "American Exceptionalism."  Swaggering arrogance is never welcome but when it comes dressed in the garb of the best the MIC has to offer, it becomes positively revolting and there is probably no way Ms. Kidder could be talked down from her righteous rage—even by someone like me who detests "exceptionalism" as much as she does.  So I'll just say, "You Go Girl."

Next we find Jeffrey St. Claire pointing out some of the absurdities of the Democratic Convention. (He even quotes Hunter Thompson.) It's quite a list and he still probably missed a few.  The problem the Democrats have is they claim to represent the interests of the average Joe—the same average Joe who hasn't had a raise since 1973—while in fact they have become an arm of global predatory lending.  Then there is the problem of promoting an "It Takes a Village" concern for humanity while at the same time promoting a belligerent militarism that would make Dr. Strangelove cringe.

Finally we get a report about the Wikileaks disclosure of the shenanigans practiced at the DNC against Bernie Sanders. Writer Patrick Lawrence marvels at the speed which this story of political corruption became a story about the evils of Putin and Russian intelligence.  Now I have NO idea if this is Putin's handiwork—Lord knows he has plenty of reasons to loathe Hillary Clinton.  But those of us who believe in fair elections must celebrate whoever posted the evidence that the Democratic nominating process was rigged.  My guess is that this point will be lost because after all, fair elections are not nearly so profitable and amusing as a new Cold War will be.