« January 2012 | Main | November 2011 »

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Predictions for 2012

A few predictions for the coming year:

<famous celeb> will divorce <another famous celeb>

Oi, Mr Brand, you could have waited a few days! There'll be more. Dead cert, as always.

As the western world rushes at an ever-accelerating pace towards third-world status, we'll see more problems with crumbling infrastructure, in particular the North American electricity power grid.

California and New Zealand both suffered the consequences of inadequately resilient electric power grids in 2011. Expect this sort of occurrence to become more commonplace over the next few years. Both countries, by the way, have had over 40 years to sort out the already known by the 1970s grid problems; both failed to do so.

More 'weird weather' across the globe, bringing large loss of life, crop failures, and high staple food prices. Expect major 2007-scale floods in the United Kingdom.

And they'll still deny that it's climate change, insisting that it's natural variations in the weather.

A bad year for the UK's Labour Party. The knives will be out for Ed Miliband. It's unlikely that he'll still be Labour leader this time next year.

The polls are already showing ridiculously large public support for the Tories. This is likely to increase, as an increasingly insecure public seeks security in "strong leadership". We learn from history, etc...

The 'Occupy' movement won't go away, but is likely to split into multiple factions of varying degrees of militancy.

In the USA and beleaguered eurozone countries, there'll be physical violence against the elite or symbols of the elite. Things will get a lot nastier, and governments will become even more repressive against ordinary citizens. The term 'domestic terrorism', or something similar, will get a lot of media attention.

Strong laws to regulate the banksters will not be enacted.

Measures pretending to be the same will be, but they'll have been drafted with the aid of the guilty parties with enough loopholes to satisfy the corrupt and greedy.

The financial crash will continue unabated, and governments will even more zealously chant their religious mantras of "growth at any cost".

Pissing against the wind never was a good idea, and attempting to 'grow' in a world in which availability of real physical and ecological resources is contracting rapidly is the worst possible strategy, which can only hasten collapse.

More "Household name" High Street stores will vanish from the urban landscape.

I'd thought this one before the announcements about the difficulties being experienced by Blacks and Barratts. There'll be more to come.

People start to wake up to reality. Physical, ecological, psychological and spiritual reality. And that will bring great suffering.

For many people, acknowledging reality will involve psychological trauma as their dreams and hopes are shown to be cruel delusions. The upside is, as Kahlil Gibran wrote in The Prophet, "the deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain".

On that cheerful note, Happy New Year.

Postscript, January 1st

The ink's hardly dried on this blog post and the Grauniad comes up with this: "2012 could be 'disastrous' for retail sector, warn analysts".

Postscript 2, January 18th

This week, gift shop chain Past Times and clothing retailer Peacocks have both gone into administration. They haven't vanished from the High Street yet, but hey, it's only January and there's more to come.

Postscript 3, February 22nd

Greenbang reports today that US power blackouts leave record numbers in the dark. Whilst not confirming my prediction (it's way too soon for that), the article makes it clear that there is a problem which needs dealing with.

It was confirmed today that 224 Peacocks stores have ceased trading, including the one here in Worcester (which opened in May, 2009), so though the name survives in other towns and cities, it has definitely vanished from my urban landscape.

Postscript 4, May 16th

Clinton Cards is the latest victim of the recession.

Postscript 5, June 8th

Dmitry Orlov has also noticed the fragility of the North American electric power grid.

Postscript 6, June 30th

Apple Crop Destroyed. 90 Percent loss in Michigan, Ontario due to Bizarre Spring. Deniers: “More Co2 Needed”.

Corn jumps on US Midwest drought, up 12 pct in two days, reports Reuters.

Postscript 7, July 4th and 6th

Jesse's Café Américain pleads: Mr. President, Fix This Power Grid... John Cooper also finds the situation intolerable. Dave Cohen comments on Multilple Failures in the United States. The Associated Press story he cites backs up my claim that we've had plenty of time to fix electricity grid problems.

Postscript 8, July 17th

Electric Forecast Calls for Increasing Blackouts - "From falling investment to falling deer, America’s power grid is falling down. A lack of political will and willingness to rely on Band-Aids may doom efforts to improve the nation’s power infrastructure."

Postscript 9, July 18th

George Mobus, in his excellent "Question Everything" blog, is Watching the Global Economic System self-destruct: "It is ironic, though, that the very thing that everyone is just so sure is the cure to the problem, growth, is actually the cause of our predicament in the first place. Economic growth at a time of approaching limits of critical resources is exactly the opposite of a healthy economy. The economy is entering a phase, a permanent phase, of on-going contraction that no one will be able to halt with any conceivable fiscal or monetary policies. In the end they won't even be able to slow the contraction down after it builds momentum."

Postscript 10, July 20th

Record cereal prices stoke fears of global food crisis: "corn prices hitting a record high of $8.16 (£5.19) a bushel on Thursday, while soya beans hit a high of $17.17"

Postscript 11, July 31st

Second blackout in India in two days leaves 670 million without power, reports Reuters. "Half of India's 1.2 billion people were without power on Tuesday as the grids covering a dozen states broke down, the second major blackout in as many days and an embarrassment for the government as it struggles to revive economic growth. Stretching from Assam, near China, to the Himalayas and the deserts of Rajasthan, the power cut was the worst to hit India in more than a decade."

Postscript 12, August 2nd

Aging power grid on overload as U.S. demands more electricity, reports the Washington Post.

Postscript 13, August 5th

Attack on Sikh temple labelled 'domestic terrorism'.

Postscript 14, August 20th

Be sure to read Nicole Foss' article "India Power Outage: The Shape of Things to Come?"

Postscript 15, Sept 6th

Extreme Weather Supersizes Global Food Price Tags

Postscript 16, Sept 24th

JJB Sports is the latest victim of the 'downturn'. Oct 1st: JJB Sports in administration with 2,200 job losses.

Postscript 17, Sept 24th

Flood! There were some in the summer, but today's floods have had a bigger impact. It is the most intense September storm in thirty years, reports the BBC. "Now climate experts warn that every house in the country is at risk of flooding", reports the Indy.

Postscript 18, Oct 10th

Wet weather set to hit UK food prices, reports the Beeb. "The National Farmers' Union (NFU) said wheat yields in England were down by almost 15% on the five-year average, with productivity down to 1980s levels." "Winter barley yields were up 1.6%; spring barley yields were down 7.4% and oilseed rape yields were up 5.9%, so it was a "mixed picture" but the wheat harvest was the most crucial. Mr Johnson said fruit and vegetable crops had also been affected, with potatoes and apples particularly badly affected."

Note the complete absence of any mention of climate change, as I predicted.

Postscript 19, October 18th

"More than 30 chain stores closing a day", reports The Guardian. "The UK's struggling retail chains are closing their shops at a rate of more than 30 a day across the UK as the economic downturn continues, according to research. Figures show that across the UK embattled retailers closed 32 stores a day in July and August as Britain's high street continued to suffer from the consumer spending slump. That figure is up from 20 a day in the first six months of 2012."

Postscript 20, October 31st

And the next chain to likely to become no more than a ghost in our rapidly-fading memories is Comet. Both Retail Week and the Financial Times are reporting that it will go into administration tomorrow.

The BBC has a chart of High Street retailers who've been hit the hardest.

Postscript 21, December 12th

US Power Grid Vulnerable To Just About Everything

Postscript, 22, December 24th

In floods whose impacts are more severe than November's, the main rail link to Devon and Cornwall is washed out. And there's more to come. The Severn here is at its highest level since January 2008.

Retailers 'facing critical financial issues', reports the Beeb. "Nearly 140 retailers are in a "critical condition" despite Christmas being their peak trading time, business recovery firm Begbies Traynor has said. Its UK business solvency survey found 13,700 more firms were in distress, a 35% rise in the quarter to December. It said many could struggle to meet their quarterly rent payment, due on Christmas Day."

Looks like I'm going to be able to go green and recycle my 2012 predictions for 2013!

FBI investigated Occupy Wall Street as 'domestic terrorists': 'the FBI treated the Occupy movement as potential criminals and "domestic terrorists" despite the fact that Occupy demonstrations were overwhelmingly peaceful and the Bureau admits that protest organizers did "not condone the use of violence."'

And on the subject of 'Occupy', I got it both right and wrong. Two major offshoots of the Occupy movement, Occupy Sandy, and Strike Debt emerged this year ('multiple factions'?), very different from the original.

Posted by Phil at 12:39 PM
Edited on: Monday, December 24, 2012 1:32 PM
Categories: Comment, Waffle

Sunday, December 18, 2011

We Are the One Percent

Half of mankind's carbon emissions come from the top one percent.

We are the one percent.

Or, as Walt Kelly's Pogo famously put it forty years ago, "We have met the enemy and he is us".

Well, anyone gets on a plane, or in the UK earns over £30,000 is.

The rest of us, well, don't get smug, we're all among the 700 million top consumers of fossil fuels, or the top 10%.

This lecture, in which Prof Kevin Anderson talks of that one percent, is from July this year.

Professor Kevin Anderson - Climate Change: Going Beyond Dangerous
View another webinar from DFID

It's the usual story. If we want to prevent disastrous climate change, we, the over-consuming top 1%, must change our ways.

Which is why we still need to talk about austerity, but not in Cameron's sense, but in the sense of a purposeful reduction in our affluence in order to save, not the economy, but the planet.

Posted by Phil at 10:30 PM
Edited on: Sunday, December 18, 2011 11:01 PM
Categories: Comment, Environment

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Power Corrupts

The second edition of Daniel S. Halacy's The Coming Age of Solar Energy (1973, or 1975 in paperback) starts with an interesting quote from Earl Cook's The Flow of Energy in an Industrial Society (Scientific American, Sept 1971):

"Power corrupts" was written of man's control over other men but it also applies to his control of energy resources. The more power an industrial society disposes of, the more it wants. The more power we use, the more we shape our cities and mold our economic and social institutions to be dependent on the application of power and the consumption of energy. We could not now make any major move toward a lower per capita energy consumption without severe economic dislocation, and certainly the struggle of people in less-developed nations toward somewhat similar energy consumption levels cannot be thwarted without prolonging mass human suffering. Yet there is going to have to be some leveling off in the energy demands of industrial societies. Countries such as the U.S. have already come up against constraints dictated by the availability of resources and by damage to the environment.

Halacy's book is interesting to read retrospectively. A whole two paragraphs devoted to climate change!

By the year 2000 it is estimated that [carbon dioxide concentrations] may have climbed to between 375 and 400 parts per million

Close, we hit 375ppm in 2002.

... by the year 2020 we may have increased the ambient air temperature over the United States by as much as 2.5 degrees F.
... some scientists feel that a few degrees could upset things dramatically

A bit on the high side, perhaps, as current estimates are around 1 degree Celsius (1.8 deg F) warming by 2020.

Posted by Phil at 6:23 PM
Edited on: Thursday, November 01, 2012 8:11 PM
Categories: Comment, Environment

Money Annihilates Distinctions

"The love of money is the root of all evil" said St Paul in 1 Timothy 6:10, but I prefer a slight variant:

The concept of money is the root of all evil

Still hyperbole, I know, but I'm trying to express the essence of a profound problem.

I happened upon the following gem by accident today when searching for the origin of another quote. Here's a small excerpt from Roy Rappaport's Adaptive Structure and its Disorders (1977):

High-energy technology is, of course, not alone in impelling maladaptive trends. All-purpose money has also played a part. In addition to its obvious contribution to the concentration of real wealth and regulatory prerogative, it flows through virtually all barriers, increasing the coherence of the world system enormously. Its ability to penetrate whatever barriers may have protected previously autonomous systems against outside disruption rests upon its most peculiar and interesting property: it annihilates distinctions. It tends to dissolve the differences between all things by providing a simple metric against which virtually all things can be assessed, and in terms of which decisions concerning them can be made. But the world upon which this metric is imposed is not as simple as this metric. Living systems - plants, animals, societies, ecosystems - are very diverse and each requires a great variety of particular materials to remain healthy. Monetization, however, forces the great ranges of unique and distinct materials and processes that together sustain or even constitute life into an arbitrary and specious equivalence and decisions informed by these terms are likely to simplify, that is, to degredate and to disrupt, the ecological systems in which they are effective. Needless to say the application of large amounts of mindless energy under the guidance of the simplified or even simple-minded and often selfish considerations that all-purpose money makes virtually omnipotent and, when united with a capitalist ideology, even sacred, is in its nature stupid, brutal, and almost bound to be destructive.
With increases in the amounts of energy harnessed, with increases in the internal differentiation of social systems, with the monetization of even larger portions of life, the contradiction between the direction of cultural evolution on the one hand and the maintenance of living processes, both meaningful and material, has become increasingly profound. We are led to ask whether civilization, the elaborate stage of culture with which are associated money and banking, high-energy technology, and social stratification and specialization, is not maladaptive. It is, after all, in civilized societies that we can observe most clearly oversegregation, overcentralization, oversanctification, hypercoherence, the domination of higher- by lower-order systems, and the destruction of ecosystems. Civilization has emerged only recently - in the past six thousand or so years - and it may yet prove to be an unsuccessful experiment.
What are taken to be evolutionary advances institutionalize new contradictions and set new problems as they solve or resolve older problems or overcome earlier limitations, and social systems may eventually become paralyzed by accumulating structural anomalies at the same time that they are increasingly perturbed by mounting substantive difficulties. It may be recalled that both Bateson and Slobodkin have argued that it is good evolutionary strategy for evolving systems to change no more than persistence requires, but increasing systemic deformity may require radical correction. Revolution has historically been an ultimate corrective response of systems so affected by maladaptation as to be unable to respond homeostatically to events continually perturbing them. Flannery has argued that the radical correction of structural anomaly has been an important factor in the evolution of civilization (1972), and inquiry into the dynamic relationship among structural anomaly, substantive problem, and profound corrective processes is, in other terms, central to the thought of Marx.
Bateson (1972), however, has located the problem at a level that may be beyond the reach of revolutionary correction - in the characteristics of human intelligence. He argues that purposefulness is the dominant characteristic of human reason, a plausible suggestion, for purposefulness, encompassing both foresight and concentration, must have been strongly selected for during man's two or three million years on earth (and even earlier among man's prehuman forebears and other animals). But, located in the conscious minds of individuals and serving in the first instance their separate survivals, purposefulness must incline toward self-interest or even selfishness. (Indeed the philosopher Bergson in in recognizing this problem took religion to be society's defense against the "dissolving power" of the human mind.) That some human purposes are selfish cannot be gainsaid. But Bateson suggests that the problem of purposefulness is more profound. Purposefulness, he argues, has a linear structure. A man at point A with goal D takes actions B and C, and with the achievement of D considers the process to be completed. Thus, the structure of purposeful action is linear: A - B - C -, D. But the world is not constructed in linear fashion. We have already discussed the circular structure of cybernetic, that is, self-correcting, systems, and it is well known that ecosystems are roughly circular in plan, with materials being cycled and recycled through the soil, the air, and organisms of many species. Moreover, the circularity of both cybernetic and ecosystemic structure blurs the distinction between cause and effect, or rather suggests to us that simple linear notions of causality, which lead us to think of actors, objects upon which they act, and the transformation of such objects, are inadequate, for purposeful behavior seldom affects only a single object, here designated D, but usually many other objects as well, often in complex and ramifying ways. Among those being affected in unforseen and possibly unpleasant ways may be the actor himself.
It may be suggested, however, that linear, purposeful thought is adequate to the needs of simple hunters and gatherers, and not very destructive to the ecological systems in which they live, because both the scope and power of their activities are limited. It is when linear thought comes to guide the operations of an increasingly powerful technology over domains of ever increasing scope that disruption may become inevitable.

The process of annihilation of distinctions is also a process of alienation from nature, or what Keith Farnish calls "disconnection". And, as Charles Eisenstein notes in Sacred Economics, it depersonalises its users:

Just as money homogenizes the things it touches, so also does it homogenize and depersonalize its users: “It facilitates the kind of commercial exchange that is disembedded from all other relations.” In other words, people become mere parties to a transaction. In contrast to the diverse motivations that characterize the giving and receiving of gifts, in a pure financial transaction we are all identical: we all want to get the best deal. This homogeneity among human beings that is an effect of money is assumed by economics to be a cause. The whole story of money’s evolution from barter assumes that it is fundamental human nature to want to maximize self-interest. In this, human beings are assumed to be identical. When there is no standard of value, different humans want different things. When money is exchangeable for any thing, then all people want the same thing: money.

So, money leads to alienation, and alienation leads to... evil, of course (Colossians 1:21).

Damn that Cameron bloke for putting me in a biblical frame of mind.

Happy 400th birthday to the King James Bible.

Postscript, March 10th, 2012

Gary Alexander's Report on the Planet Earth from the Intergalactic Study Group on Worlds in Transition is a rather good rant on the dysfunctional nature of the whole concept of money.

Postscript, Sept 5th, 2012

Over at the A Prosperous Way Down site, Mary Logan asks What is Money?

Postscript, Sept 22nd, 2014

Interesting comment in an article about "Flood Wall Street", A climate of disobedience: the coming destituent flood:

"Through its univocal conception of value, capital serves to shape our actions and how we imagine our relationships with one another and the ecosystems that support us. It also mediates how we cooperate together to reproduce our world. This reconfiguration of personal and social life in strictly economic terms obliterates a whole ecosystem of values which are foundational to the continued maintenance of life on this planet."

The article has a link to The Financial Crisis as a Crisis of Imagination (.pdf), which is an interesting dissertation on the "imaginary" nature of money.

"Our endless fascination with the worthlessness of money is in some ways a catharsis for our conscription within a society where we are compelled to elevate money above all other values"

Posted by Phil at 5:25 PM
Edited on: Thursday, January 01, 2015 8:53 PM
Categories: Comment, Environment