Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

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Are we all Britain haters now?

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Here in the UK, the Daily Mail has got itself a lot of publicity for printing an article last Saturday entitled “Man Who Hated Britain”.  The article was about the late father of Ed Milliband, who is the current leader of the Labour Party (and could therefore be our next Prime Minister).  For the avoidance of any doubt, I must declare that I think such an eventuality would be a disaster for Britain.  However, I digress…

Basically, the Daily Mail’s argument is that, if for no other reason than that he died in 1994, many people may not realise that Ralph Miliband was a passionate believer in the political philosophy of a certain Karl Marx (oh and, yes, he was Jewish as well).  Choosing to ignore the fact Milliband senior joined the Royal Navy and settled down to married life here after the War, the Daily Mail based its entire article on something he wrote in his diary when he arrived here as a refugee from the Nazis (at the tender age of 17).

Despite asking for and being given a right to reply, Ed Milliband has had to put up with the Daily Mail refusing to apologise and – indeed repeating its criticism of his father.  In essence, therefore, the Daily Mail’s position is that you cannot love Britain if you are a Socialist.  However, this is nothing new; this has always been the position of the Daily Mail – they have just never found such a blunt way to say it before.  The Independent newspaper has helpfully summarised the whole story in this article yesterday.

Unfortunately for the Daily Mail, this is an easily falsifiable argument; especially when you consider that the newspaper routinely uses xenophobic headlines to attract readers:  It does not matter whether the subject is radical Islamic preachers, environmental protestors, or climate scientists – according to the Daily Mail they all hate Britain.

With regard to radical Islamic preachers in Britain, I agree it does seem somewhat hypocritical to criticise the country in which you have chosen to live.  However, to be entirely fair, they have chosen to work here; and they are living here in the hope that they can turn the UK into an Islamic state.  Does this mean that they ‘hate’ Britain?  No it does not; it just means they don’t like it the way it is.

Exactly the same logic applies to environmental campaigners and climate scientists.  To label them as anti-British (anti-Western or anti-progress) is grossly unfair.  They are not anti-British – they just believe Britain would be better if it was not at war with Nature.

So what is the Daily Mail up to?  I think it is essentially peddling xenophobia.  This may well have originated as an evolutionary survival mechanism.  However, today, in the absence of any predators, xenophobic tribalism is essentially a maladaptive coping strategy:  It is a method of absolving oneself of responsibility for anything; and shifting the blame for everything on to somebody else.

This is essentially what climate change denial is:  Many of those of a religious persuasion tell themselves humans cannot be changing the Earth’s climate (because God won’t allow that to happen).  Many of those of a humanist persuasion tell themselves that we are not changing the Earth’s climate (because that would require us all to admit we have made a mess of things).

Seen in this light, we would all appear to be planet haters now.  If we can admit this to ourselves and to each other; I think that this might be the first step on a long road towards doing something about it.

In the meantime, my response to those who think there is still something inherently evil about Communism is as follows:

It is amazing how so many – who no doubt consider themselves to be very much right-of-centre politically – forget that the first people to be called “Christians” would today be described as Communists.* So, I think a little less contempt is called for; and a lot less hypocrisy.

Marxism is essentially Industrialism without the Capitalism. Whereas Marxism prioritises production; Capitalism prioritises consumption. As such, both are deeply mired in the unsustainable delusion of ‘growthmania’.  It may be that Capitalism has proven itself far better at wealth creation, but, neither system has proven to be very good at providing equal opportunity for all.

* The Bible makes it clear that, in the very earliest years at least, Christians formed a self-supporting community of people within which property and food were shared. Therefore, those who think there is something inherently evil about Communism have got stuck in the past: McCarthyism never did do anyone much good; and it is now at least 50 years out of date.

Having said all that, I am still not a ‘Watermelon’ (i.e. green on the outside but red on the inside).  I remain a (non-financial) supporter of the Conservative Party and, as such, I live in the hope that one day soon it may stop allowing ideology to prejudice its attitude to science; and accept what climate scientists are telling us will happen if we do not take radical steps to decarbonise our economies by 2050.  For goodness sake, even business leaders are now saying we must do this.  What the hell are we waiting for?

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UPDATE:   On 1 October 2013, in a welcome attempt to put the record straight, The Daily Telegraph has re-published its very fair-minded obituary of Professor Ralph Milliband from its edition of 7 June 1994.  (H/T  Roger Davies [@4589roger] on Twitter).

Conservatives for conservation (of a habitable planet)

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Whilst I am aware of – and have previously quoted – Lord Deben (i.e. leader of of the Committee on Climate Change – the advisory group David Cameron and George Osborne are ignoring so studiously), I was not aware of the campaign he is heading on Twitter.  Thanks must therefore go to John Havery Samuel for alerting me to James  Murray’s Are the Green Tories preparing a fight back? article on the BusinessGreen website.

As a child, just about everyone in the UK will probably remember learning about the story of Elijah humiliating the prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel (i.e. as recounted in 1 Kings 18 in the Old Testament).  However, not all may recall the crisis of faith that followed this tremendous victory (see 1 Kings 19).  Although I have never really had the moment of victory, I often feel that I have sure spent a long time having a crisis of faith.  However, once you appreciate that I am a socially-conservative environmental realist (see links below if you don’t believe me), I think my persistent feeling that I am in an extreme minority becomes entirely understandable.

I would very much recommend that you read the entire story (i.e. of Green Conservatives preparing a fight back) on James’ blog.  Hopefully these opening paragraphs will encourage you to do so:

One of the bright spots in an otherwise pretty dispiriting summer for the UK environmental movement has been the unlikely emergence of Tory grandee John Gummer as Twitter’s latest eco-warrior. Now known as Lord Deben, the former Environment Secretary and current chair of the independent Committee on Climate Change has provided a beacon of centre-right common sense on matters environmental – and all in 140 characters.

He has argued that fracking may be useful, but will never provide a silver bullet for the UK’s energy crisis; repeatedly challenged “climate deniers and dismissers” to provide one example of a credible institution that supports their crackpot theories; and taken numerous pot shots at ill-informed anti-green commentators and several of his climate denying colleagues in the Lords. All because, in his own words, “no reasonable person would ignore expert opinion and wager his children’s future on the contrarian views of people who are not peer reviewed”.

It has been a breath of fresh air and a useful reminder that not all Conservatives have signed up to the reckless vision being relentlessly promoted by Lord Lawson and the Murdoch press – a vision whereby fracking miraculously saves the economy and climate change is either not really happening or left to look after itself. They may not have access to the media foghorm enjoyed by their less progressive colleagues, but there are some Tories who still understand the existential threat posed by climate change, the value of the green economy, and the relationship between conservation and Conservatism. The big question for the UK’s green political scene is whether or not there are enough of them and whether they can wrestle back control of a narrative that Lord Lawson and his friends have recently steered in their own direction.

For those that would challenge my assertion that I am (or can be) ‘socially conservative’, I can only refer you to things I have written on this blog previously:

A brief history of mine (12 March 2012).

Why I am not a socialist (25 June 2012).

Why I am not [just] a capitalist (26 June 2012).

Similarly, for those that would challenge my assertion that I am an environmental realist, I can only refer you to the following:

The problem with inverting reality (31 January 2012).

Conserving mass, water and energy (11 July 2012).

Entropy – an unauthorised biography (7 September 2012).

Stop climate chaos within the UK government

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Jesus of Nazareth once said, “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall…” If so, the next UK government is likely to be (at least led by) the Labour Party.  OMG – the thought of it is almost enough to make me emigrate to Australia…

For those of you who are not following UK politics (i.e. about 99% of the Earth’s human population), I shall, in due course, explain what makes me say that our government is divided and therefore, even if it is not going to fall, is certainly going to be ineffective.  For now, given the nature of this blog, you will not be surprised to learn that I intend to focus on the ways in which the UK’s current (coalition) government appears to be completely schizophrenic – in statements made regarding anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD).  Before getting into this subject, however, I should like first to deal with a couple of objections that may be raised as a result of this introduction:

1.  Will not coalition governments always be somewhat schizophrenic?  May be so, but, this has not stopped our coalition government making progress.  Indeed, in the midst of an unprecedented global financial crisis, I think it has worked well.  This remark will no doubt surprise many readers in the UK – especially those who have amnesia and have forgotten the mess into which the last Labour government got this country; and/or have been duped into thinking the Labour Party must have learned from its mistakes.  Hopefully, this begins to address the second objection…

2. What would be so bad about the UK having a Labour government?  Sadly, all I think Labour Party politicians have learned to do (as did the Conservatives) is to say whatever is most likely to get them elected.  They are still just as beholden to vested interests (trade unions) as they ever were – just as the Conservatives are beholden to vested interests (big business).  Sadly, although it would be better if vested interests did not control politicians, it has always been in the long-term best interests of this country to favour the interests of big business (rather than trade unions).

Again, this will probably surprise (if not anger) many readers in the UK (and elsewhere).  However, although I have a great deal of sympathy with the views of people like Oliver Stone and John Pilger (who see Capitalism as the root of all evil in the World), if the 20th Century can teach us anything, it is one very simple thing:  Marxism does not work. This is because Marxism = [Growthmania – Capitalism] …and you cannot blame politics for a problem that resides within the human heart, as in: “the love of money is the root of all evil”.

All of the above will hopefully explain why, apart from a brief mental aberration (between 1997 and 2003 – prompted by a certain Anthony Blair), I have always voted for the Conservative Party.

However, unless the Party kills off the libertarian and anti-scientific cancer that is currently growing within it, I am not sure that I will be able to vote for it in the future.  Sadly, I think I will become one of the many that does not vote in elections.  This is because our democracy is a complete sham.  This is something else we can learn from the 20th Century:  Without a form of proportional representation, the majority of voters (who do not vote for winning candidates) are disenfranchised by first-past-the-post electoral systems.

However, I digress.  I was supposed to be explaining how our current coalition government is divided when it comes to policy on acknowledging and mitigating ACD – and why this matters.

I am very grateful to a faithful follower of this blog – one Lionel A Smith – for alerting me to the content of BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions programme on 7 June 2013 and for sending me a link to a post on the SkepticalScience website that was prompted by this broadcast.  This post begins as follows:

An extraordinary – and worrying – insight into the mind of Owen Paterson, Secretary of State for the Environment here in the UK, was provided during a June 7th edition of the political Q&A programme Any Questions…  This week’s panel was made up of Peter Hain, Labour MP for Neath, Leanne Wood, leader of Plaid Cymru, Owen Paterson, UK Secretary of State for the Environment and James Delingpole, blogger and well-known inhabitant of an alternate universe when it comes to climate science…

Having read this piece on SkepticalScience, I decided – as was suggested by one of the many commenters – to send a message to the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron via the Internet.  I also sent the message to my MP (who has confirmed she has forwarded to the PM’s office asking for a response).  My message was as follows:

Subject: The Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP

I refer to Mr Patterson’s remarks in response to a question about climate change on BBC Radio Four’s Any Questions programme last week (the question posed approximately 29 minutes and 20 seconds into the broadcast).
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b021438w

Can the Prime Minister please explain how Mr Paterson can be Environment Minister and make so comprehensively flawed remarks as he did in response to this question?

Mr Paterson’s remarks are completely at odds with those of Edward Davey.
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/06/04/2097641/uk-climate-minister-slams-media-and-blinkered-deniers-its-the-science-stupid

Given the recent attempts by Energy Minister Michael Fallon to question the credibility of Tim Yeo in the recent Energy Bill debate (at about 1345 hrs on 4 June [c.1405-06]), could the Prime Minister also offer any kind of reassurance that, in the future, the government will speak with one voice on the subject of anthropogenic climate disruption?

The message was subject to a 1000-character limit – hence the absence of any quotations.  However, for the benefit of those wanting to understand the issue without having to follow all the links, here are the important bits, which demonstrate the extent to which the Coalition is currently being completely schizophrenic, intellectually incoherent, and – therefore – completely ineffective.

Paterson: “…the climate’s always been changing… Peter [Hain] mentioned the Arctic and I think in the Holocene the Arctic melted completely… we then had a little ice age, we had a middle age warming – the climate’s been going up and down – but the real question which I think everyone’s trying to address is – is this influenced by manmade activity in recent years and James [Delingpole] is actually correct… the temperature has not changed in the last seventeen years and what I think we’ve got to be careful of is that there is almost certainly… some influence by manmade activity but I think we’ve just got to be rational (audience laughter)… and make sure the measures that we take to counter it don’t actually cause more damage…”

Davey: “Of course there will always be uncertainties within climate science and the need for research to continue…  But some sections of the press are giving an uncritical campaigning platform to individuals and lobby groups who reject outright the fact that climate change is a result of human activity.  Some who even deny the reality of climate change itself.  This is not the serious science of challenging, checking and probing.  This is destructive and loudly clamouring scepticism born of vested interest, nimbyism, publicity seeking… or sheer blinkered, dogmatic, political bloody-mindedness…  By selectively misreading the evidence, they seek to suggest that climate change has stopped so we can all relax and burn all the dirty fuel we want without a care.  This is a superficially seductive message, but it is absolutely wrong and really quite dangerous.”

Fallon:  “I have read a report of a speech delivered by [Tim Yeo] during the recess, in which—I was somewhat puzzled to see this—he said about climate change that, ‘the causes are not absolutely clear. There could be natural causes, natural phases that are taking place’… [Tim Yeo interjects with an explanation of the context of this selective quotation, after which Fallon continues]… I am sure that those who support my hon. Friend will be grateful for that explanation. The quotation I have seems pretty clear to me, but it is for him to explain it. If he is not so sure any more, why should the rest of us be so sure?”

Net result:  Climate change deniers 2, environmental realists 1 …and this is just the tip of the iceberg…  The Energy Bill debate (from which the latter quotation is extracted) was littered with speeches and interjections by Conservative politicians who very are very clearly convinced that ACD is either a scientific hoax or a political conspiracy.

Given this level of inconsistency within the Coalition, the government only just defeated an amendment to this Bill (that would have required carbon reduction targets to be set now).  It therefore must be hoped that – helped by the House of Lords – reality will dawn on enough of these anti-science MPs to get the Bill amended before it is passed into Law (it would only require about 15 MPs to vote for the amendment to get it inserted).

Why?  Well as John Ashton, has said, no one who votes against carbon reduction targets can be considered to be taking the need to reduce carbon emissions seriously (see here).  Sadly, by doing so, they are going against the advice of the vast majority of relevant experts in atmospheric physics and – given the stance of the International Energy Agency and the International Monetary Fund – that of experts in energy policy and economics as well.

Help end 1 trillion USD of corporate tax evasion

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In advance of the G8 Summit to be held in Northern Ireland, Avaaz is asking people to sign a petition to help encourage President Obama and Canadian PM Harper do the right thing.

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Dear friends,

In days, world leaders will decide whether to plug a gigantic $1 trillion per year corporate tax loophole – and get enough money to end poverty, put every child in school and double green investment! A deal is close, but US President Obama and Canadian PM Harper are being lobbied and on the fence – let’s press them to stand up to corruption and end the massive yearly heist:

Sign the petition

In days, governments will discuss whether to plug a gigantic $1 trillion per year corporate tax loophole – enough money to end poverty, put every child in school, and double green investment! Most governments want powerful multinationals to pay these taxes, but the US and Canada are on the fence. To get a deal, we need them to feel the pressure.

$1 trillion is more than every country combined spends on their military. It’s bigger than the budgets of 176 nations. It’s $1000 each for every family on the planet. And believe it or not, it’s the amount that our largest corporations and wealthiest individuals evade each year in taxes.

This should be a no-brainer. To massively boost our public finances in a time of painful cuts and debt, all we need to do is ensure that everyone pays the taxes they’re supposed to.  But big US corporations are fiercely lobbying to protect their dodgy practices. A massive public campaign will help identify and hold accountable the two leaders – President Obama and Prime Minister Harper, who are considering siding with corruption over this gigantic step forward for the planet. Let’s get to one million voices and then Avaaz will deliver our call to leaders and the media in the middle of the negotiations:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/g8_tax_havens_r/?bSkdncb&v=25627

Apple, one of the world’s wealthiest companies, paid basically $0 in tax on $78 billion they made in recent years by setting up shell corporations in low-tax countries and posting profits abroad. This kind of global tax evasion gives multinational firms a huge advantage over smaller domestic companies. It’s as bad for a healthy market economy as it is for democracy and economic stability.

But in days, governments will consider a plan that would make it harder for companies and individuals to evade taxes by hiding their money offshore and in tax shelters. The plan would require countries to share information to expose where the money is hidden and require “fake” companies to reveal who’s really behind them. If talks go well this week, the G8 could agree to the whole thing later this month.

In hard times, when governments everywhere are cutting spending on vital social priorities, it’s particularly galling that the wealthiest get a free pass from paying their fair share. (Even more so when the hard times were caused by massive government handouts to bail out banks owned by the same people). Governments are finally getting serious about plugging these holes in our finances, but the US and Canada are falling sway to powerful business lobbies.

A large public petition that’s well covered by the media will help highlight which countries are blocking the agreement, and make this a political issue for Obama and Harper to deal with. A powerful call from the world’s people to choose to give a massive boost to our planet instead of preserving corrupt loopholes will also help these leaders to find their consciences and good sense. We can’t let the lobbyists win this one in the shadows, let’s bring the spotlight of public attention to this massive decision for our planet:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/g8_tax_havens_r/?bSkdncb&v=25627

Every week, our community strives in and often wins fights for human rights, democracy, conservation and more. But some decisions have the power to affect thousands of causes at once, often preventing many problems from ever happening. $1 trillion per year in public funding would make a massive difference in the lives of children who could go to school, lives that could be saved, peace that could be built, habitats that could be protected, and so much more. For the sake of all these future struggles that we might not need to fight, let’s win this one.

With hope,

Alex, Jeremy, Christoph, Marie, Ian, David, Paul, Ricken and the whole Avaaz team

PS – Many Avaaz campaigns are started by members of our community! Start yours now and win on any issue – local, national or global: http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/start_a_petition/?bgMYedb&v=25479

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MORE INFORMATION:

Europe’s push against tax fraud gains momentum (BBC)
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-22627330

The Corrosive Effect of Apple’s Tax Avoidance (New York Times)
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/24/business/making-companies-pay-taxes-the-mccain-way.html

Factbox: Apple, Amazon, Google and tax avoidance schemes (Reuters)
http://in.reuters.com/article/2013/05/22/eu-tax-avoidance-idINDEE94L07Z20130522

Tax havens are entrenching poverty in developing countries (The Guardian)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/may/14/tax-havens-entrenching-poverty-developing-countries

The missing $20 trillion (The Economist)
http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21571873-how-stop-companies-and-people-dodging-tax-delaware-well-grand-cayman-missing-20

Europe’s lost trillion in taxes (CNN)
http://money.cnn.com/2013/05/21/news/economy/europe-taxes/index.html

Military spending by country (The Economist)
http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2013/04/daily-chart-9

The Business Case Against Overseas Tax Havens (ASB Council)
http://asbcouncil.org/sites/default/files/library/docs/taxhaven_report.pdf

The bail-out bubble will burst…

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…because that is what all bubbles do!

At the risk of adding insult to injury (in the wake of Hurricane Sandy), I think the worst is yet to come – and I am not talking about the weather (unprecedented or otherwise).

It is already over a year since I first watched – and then blogged about – the revelatory movie Inside Job.  In this movie, Hollywood megastar Matt Damon narrates the story of the 2008 financial meltdown.  Since then, I have learnt a great deal from a variety of very knowledgeable bloggers – including Per Kurowski and Patrice Ayme – to whom I remain extremely grateful for their patience in teaching such a minnow in the sphere of economics.

I am afraid I do not really enjoy reading; I think I am a visual learner.  I find it much easier to assimilate information from video presentations rather than reading blogs, articles, papers, and books. Thus it is that I find I have learnt more in watching a 45-minute documentary than I have learnt in an entire year of reading the above.  Or, perhaps, it may be more accurate to say that the 45-minute video has just pulled it all together.

The video in question is based on the 2009 book Financial Fiasco by historian,  Johan Norberg, who is (according to Wikipedia) “devoted to promoting economic globalization and liberal positions [and since 2007] has been a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.”   The video, Overdose: The Next Financial Crisis, is – in the words of Norberg himself – “the story of the greatest financial crisis of our time; the one that is on its way.”   I first watched the video without knowing who Norberg is and, once I found out, it seemed almost inconceivable that a fellow of the CATO Institute could produce such a devastating critique of his own ideology.  For this reason alone, I think it is well worth watching.

With my thanks to the Asia Singapore blog for providing a source of quotations from the video, these are some of the best (in case you missed them and/or are unsure whether to watch it):

“After they did the dot-com bubble and that burst, they re-inflated it with real estate bubble and when that burst, they have created the bubble of all bubbles. It is not only the United States now. This is a global bubble. They are all into it. It is called the bail-out bubble. Hey the economy is going down, recession is setting in, sales don’t look good, exports soft, need more money. How about we call it stimulus package!” (Gerald Celente, Trend Analyst Trends Research Institute)

Low interest rates caused the housing bubble. Cheap loans caused the people to buy more and bigger homes. House prices began to rise 10 percent a year. So many took out a second mortgage to fund consumption…  Why do you need a decent income to buy a home if you can get rich by just living in it? The market even coined a term NINA loans. No Income, No Assets.  No Problem! You will get a loan anyway…  (Norberg)

“There was a huge moral hazard created by the government in the mortgage market. When the government started to guarantee the mortgages, then the lenders stopped worrying about getting their money back, because the government said we guarantee it…  The housing bubble that they inflated blew up with all the carnage and all the bankruptcies.  And now what is their solution: We’ll just do the same thing we did before…  Let’s print money and buy mortgages, let’s buy credit card debts, buy student loans…  to get to the same excessive risk taking and gambling on the Wall Street.  Let’s try to convince American’s already loaded with huge debt to go and buy new stuff and go into deeper to debt.  The banks do not wanna lend them money, let’s make them lend more money. This is economic suicide.”  (Peter Schiff, Euro Pacific Capital)

Forewarned is forearmed, as they say, so I would recommend all who are in any doubt to watch the video.

Written by Martin Lack

1 November 2012 at 00:02

Andrew Marr’s ‘Age of Plunder’ is now

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‘Age of Plunder’ was the title of Episode 5 of Andrew Marr’s History of the World (which was first broadcast in the UK on Sunday).  Regular readers of this blog will by now be aware that, whilst I like Marr’s presentation style, I am more than a little suspicious of his political bias.  For those who have not read them, I would recommend you first read my posts about episodes 1 and 2  and episodes 3 and 4.  However, because of its synchronicity with the current state of global business and politics, I have decided to write about Episode 5 in isolation.

In Marr’s epic attempt to cover the whole of Human history in 8 hours, Episode 5 represents the opening part in the second half of the 8-part series.  Having concluded the previous episode in front of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of The Last Supper, Episode 5 begins in 1492 with the story of Christopher Columbus.  I am therefore sorry to have to say it, but, let’s face it, Columbus was an idiot.

Given that Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī had accurately determined the circumference of the Earth in the ninth Century (see Episode 4), why did Columbus think the Earth was much smaller?  I suppose you could argue that we should be grateful he did not still think the Earth was flat!  May be so but, was he, in fact, an early example of a contrarian thinker who, unlike Galileo, turned out to be wrong?  Galileo based his thinking on decades of careful observations by others; whereas Columbus appears to have rejected any evidence that conflicted with his preconceived ideas.  Does this remind you of anyone?

Marr’s next topic was Martin Luther’s rebellion against the hypocrisy of the Roman Catholic Church in 1517, which was selling indulgences (i.e. forgiving the sins of people and their dead relatives) in order to raise money for the replacement of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  Obviously, this was just one of many objections that Luther had but his bravery in taking on his employer was I think another pivotal event in human history.  Not least because of the 11 million people that died in the 125 years of religious war his actions triggered.  No wonder British historian Lord Acton concluded that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  It was true 500 years ago – and it is true today.

In 1494, the Treaty of Tordesillas (revising the papal bull of 1493), gave an automatic right to Spain and Portugal to claim any new lands found west and east of the chosen line of longitude.  Unfortunately, due to lands already claimed, the diving line did not pass between Africa and South America (such as 30oW) and was not even a sensible number – it was decided by picking a point a certain distance west of the Cape Verde Islands – which is why people speak Portuguese in Brazil and Spanish in the rest of that continent.  Marr skipped over this historical accident to focus on the disgraceful entrapment by the Spanish of the Incan emperor Atahualpa (1497-1533): Despite the fact that Atahualpa had never seen a book before (and could not read), the Spanish used his rejection of a Bible as an excuse to kill thousands of his people and take him prisoner…  It is a disgraceful period of Christian history – one people tend to forget when watching movies like The Missionary and singing hymns like Amazing Grace

Other subjects covered in this episode included an examination of the events leading up to Shogun’s decision to order all Christians out of Japan in 1587; and the long history of trouble between England and Holland arising from the discovery (in 1512) of Nutmeg in the Banda Islands in what is now Indonesia.  However, my attention was caught by Marr’s rendition of the two other main stories he chose to tell:

1. Ivan the Terrible, who ruled Russia at a time when Europe was going through what is commonly known as the Little Ice Age (another favourite meme for those who dispute the modern consensus regarding anthropogenic climate disruption).  At the time, Russia was fairly insignificant but, thanks to Ivan the Terrible’s conquest of Siberia, Russia made a fortune out of trading furs with Europe (and Siberia also turned out to have been a fortuitous conquest when huge amounts of coal oil and gas were discovered – that of melting permasfrost is not so welcome I suspect).

2. The invention of commodity speculation in Holland in 1637, a country that went totally mad buying and selling tulip bulbs – so-called ‘Tulip mania’ – and then decided the whole thing was stupid.  The first ever stock market “bubble” to burst.

So it was that Marr decided to call his programme ‘The Age of Plunder’…  However, I think that the real age of plunder began with the Industrial Revolution.  Clearly one cannot deny all the benefits that have accrued to a (global) minority as a result, but, I believe that only a fool would way this benefit (which is yet to accrue to the vast majority) has been gained at no cost.  On the contrary, the exponential growth in human population, resource consumption, and waste production that has been facilitated by a super-abundance of cheap energy (i.e. fossil fuels) has pushed the dynamic equilibrium of our global life support systems (scientists like to call them “essential ecosystem services”) to – and I suspect now beyond – breaking point.

As I said on this blog way back in February this year:

We need to stop treating nature as an enormous warehouse whose goods can be used up without paying for them; and start living in a way that reflects the fact that our survival as a species is dependent upon nature not being degraded to the point that it ceases to function properly. If we do not, the Sun is not going to go out but, in not so many decades from now, it might get hot enough that we cannot go outside (much) to enjoy it.

Here then is another video you may enjoy:

What’s wrong with our politicians

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(Please note the absence of a question mark)

Last Wednesday, I eventually called a halt to an online discussion, which was threatening to get off-topic, by promising to dedicate a separate post to the subject today.

I think the problem is that we need altruistically-motivated public servants who enter politics to try and make the World a better place. Unfortunately, most of us get ideologically-driven career politicians who seek power in the World because they think they know best.

However, with my thanks to Christine, blogging at 350orbust.com, for bringing him to my attention, the President of Uruguay may well be a rare exception. I cannot put it better than Christine does at the start of her own post about a speech he gave at the Rio+20 Earth Summit in June this year:

President José Mujica of Uruguay [is] so unusual because here we see a political leader speaking the truth about our current situation…

The contemporaneous subtitling (i.e. simultaneous translation) is not very good and makes it harder than it need to be to fully appreciate what he says. However, his passion and his intent are clear; and make it well worth watching despite this. Nevertheless, thanks to the wonders of Google, I have tracked down a transcript of the speech made by a blogger in Uruguay (who was also appalled by the on-screen translation); but…
I really do think you should watch it. Therefore, even though I am sure the translator would not mind me reproducing the text in full here, I have not done so.

For an opposing view, by someone who considers president Mujica to be a dangerous misanthopic Communist, please visit ExPatBob’s blog. I am most certainly not a Communist sympathiser, but I find it very hard to fault President Mujica, when he says stuff like this:

I ask this question: what would happen to this planet if the people of India had the same number of cars per family as the Germans?… Does the world today have the material elements to enable 7 or 8 billion people to enjoy the same level of consumption and squandering as the most affluent Western societies?… Are we ruling over globalization or is globalization ruling over us?… Today, man does not govern the forces he has unleashed, but rather, it is these forces that govern man… And no material belonging is worth as much as life… I’m not talking about returning to the days of the caveman, or erecting a “monument to backwardness”. But we cannot continue like this, indefinitely, being ruled by the market, on the contrary, we have to rule over the market.

Is the UK government on a flight from reality?

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This week, I was very pleased to discover that some of my recent output has been listed on a Weekly round-up of blogosphere posts related to anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) on the Science blogs website.  However, I was even more grateful when I saw mention, within that round-up, of a very significant event in British politics last week.

Over recent months, I have posted quite a lot of stuff about hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and carbon capture and storage (CCS); culminating in the items I posted last week (discussed below).  It is therefore ironic that I did not notice the row that erupted last week as a result of a public letter to the Secretary of State for the Energy and Climate Change (Ed Davey) from the Chairman of the government’s relevant independent advisory body (the Committee on Climate Change [CCC]) – former Conservative Environment Minister John Selwyn Gummer (now Lord Deben) – as publicised in The Guardian last Thursday.

The UK government published a draft Energy Bill in May this year, on which I commented at the time – in ‘A very unsustainable Energy Bill’.  At that time, I was concerned about the stated aim of the UK government to become less reliant upon imported gas. More specifically, I was (and am) concerned that it is planning to replace this with oil shale gas (from fracking); rather than encouraging people to get off the grid altogether by investing in micro-generation (such as solar panels).

It seems, therefore, that anticipation had been growing that an announcement would soon be made that the UK is likely to remain reliant upon new gas-fired power generation (without CCS) well beyond 2030.  If the UK pursues this strategy it will do so despite the following:
— 1. The widespread international agreement – of organisations such as the International Energy Agency (IEA); numerous scientists such as James Hansen; and even influential (and formerly sceptical) economists such as William Nordhaus – that humanity can no longer afford to delay decarbonising its energy generation systems.
— 2. The agreement reached at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh in 2009 that – in energy generation a least – fossil fuel subsidies and fossil fuel use both need to be phased out.
— 3. The fact that the Earth has five times more conventional fossil fuel than is now considered safe to burn; and therefore now is not the time to be finding a whole load more unconventional fossil fuels to burn as well.

This all makes me wonder if George Osborne has been paying too much attention to what libertarian ideologues like Richard Lindzen are probably telling him.  Wherever this transparently intellectually incoherent policy is coming from, it was clearly this refusal to phase out fossil fuel use (now that we know it is causing ACD) that drove Lord Deben to publish the CCC’s letter last Thursday.  In it, he began by stating:

Extensive use of unabated gas-fired capacity (i.e. without [CCS] in 2030 and beyond would be incompatible with meeting legislated carbon budgets. These are, of course, designed to balance the costs and risks of meeting long-term objectives and they require significant investment in low-carbon power generation over the next two decades…

What is even more surprising is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer decided to respond so promptly – quite possibly due to the CCC’s suggestion that pursuing gas (from fracking) instead of equivalent investment in renewable energy could be illegal because (as the CCC letter continues):

Unabated gas-fired generation could therefore not form the basis for Government policy, given the need under the Climate Change Act to set policies to meet carbon budgets and the 2050 [emissions reduction] target.

As I made clear on my blog last week, having benefited from an exchange of emails with Professor Robert Mair (on fracking) and with Dr Bryan Lovell (on CCS), I remain convinced that pursuing fracking as a panacea to all our energy problems is insane; but have reluctantly come to accept that we may have to rely upon CCS if we are to avoid significant ACD.  However, this is no excuse for doing as George Osborne has done – effectively telling his own independent advisors that, once again, the non-scientist knows what the best course of action is.

Indeed, apart from putting your hands over your ears and shouting “La la la, I can’t hear you!”, there can only one possible reasons for doing as George Osborne has done – he must believe we can continue to burn fossil fuels with impunity and/or doubt the reality of catastrophic ACD if we do not use CCS to prevent it.

I therefore think it is crunch time for the UK’s Coalition government.  Prime Minister David Cameron, whom I support on many issues, famously said he wanted to make it “the greenest government ever”.  Sadly, it seems to be failing significantly in many ways:  In addition to crippling the green revolution at birth – by removing most of the incentives to get individual households to invest in Solar PV panels on their roofs (etc) – it now seems set to pursue energy independence in the form of fracking.  As The Guardian concludes:

The argument over the [decarbonisation] target is now likely to reach the top of the government with pressure mounting on Cameron to face down critics of the government’s green policies and adopt the CCC recommendations in full.

Will Cyprus unearth the truth?

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… By succeeding in getting the EU’s new Transparency Laws enacted?

With my thanks to all my old friends at Tearfund, I have already emailed my MP about the corruption in Africa that, along with all the evils of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, ensures that Africa stays poor.

If you live in the UK, please consider taking action. Tearfund may be a Christian charity but, faith in God is not a pre-requisite for fighting corruption (wherever it may be found). However, if using Tearfund as a vehicle to make your voice heard bothers you, I am quite sure many other charities have campaigns running to promote the cause of getting these Transparency Laws in place. What could be more important than eliminating corruption? OK, I know; saving the planet is but – lets face it – they are two sides of the same coin…

This month Cyprus takes the baton as president of the European Union – with responsibility for steering finance negotiations on these new transparency laws. European leaders finally have the opportunity to agree new transparency laws. They need to know that Christians across Europe want to tackle corruption and release poor communities to benefit from the wealth beneath their feet.

Call on the Cypriot Government to fight for transparency.

However, the World’s biggest multi-national companies (with some secrets to hide?) are using their power to try and water down these transparency laws. If they succeed this will make it significantly harder for poor communities to hold their governments to account. But we also have power, and together we can call on Cyprus to ensure new transparency laws do truly help poor communities.

Act Now: Call on the Cypriot government to fight for transparency!

Thank you so much for your support.

The Campaigns Team.

P.S. Once you’ve taken action, why not share this video with your friends?

Written by Martin Lack

12 July 2012 at 10:56

Lack of moral environment

with 28 comments

This may have little to do with the environment but – I’m sorry – I simply cannot remain silent any longer about the revelation that the financial services industry in London is almost unbelievably corrupt. We are watching history being made here; this is bigger than the Olympics – and I think it will take the City of London decades to recover its reputation (if it ever can). It may be the CEO of Barclays, Bob Diamond, that has hit the headlines, but this scandal is set to envelop at least 20 banks; and I think there will be very few that will not eventually be tainted by it.

I stayed up late last night to watch two weekly current affairs programmes on the BBC, Question Time and This Week. The first question on the former set the tone for the evening: “Is there any integrity left in British Banking?”… The panel – including the CEO of brokering firm Tullett Prebon – were unanimous in their condemnation of Barclays; and every single one of them called for Bob Diamond to resign.

However, despite the unanimous view that he should resign (or be fired), a view clearly shared by the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron, most people seem to think he will not go, simply because so many other banks are being investigated for the same thing; manipulation of the LIBOR – the interest rate banks use to lend each other money and/or make huge bets on future performance of equities. The fractions of a percentage involved are miniscule; but the sums of money involved are huge. This is indicative of the way in which the financial services sector is completely detached from reality; some of the trades involved sums of money in excess of the annual economic output of the entire planet.

Put simply, this money does not exist; and yet it has corrupted many of those involved. I therefore think the award for the soundbite of the evening must go to Michael Portillo, a former Conservative Minister in the Thatcher government, who said on This Week last night that (I paraphrase):

“If Pakistani cricketers can get sent to jail for match fixing, surely these traders should be sent to jail for what they have done…?”

Like I said at the start of this rant, I think it will take the City of London decades to recover its reputation (if it ever can); and I am very worried that no-one will ever be sent to jail for what they have done. However, I really hope action will be taken; and I hope that our politicians will stop trying to score political points against each other. This is no time for the present Coalition government to blame the previous Labour administration for light touch regulation. This kind of hypocrisy is almost as contemptible as the amoral behaviour of the bankers involved. How does the analogy go… “Before you try to take a splinter out of the eye of your fellow-man, remove the plank from your own!” The main reason we are in this financial mess is due to the action of another coalition – that between Reagan and Thatcher in the 1980s – which allowed the ‘Big Bang’ de-regulation of the financial services sector in London in 1986. This was the message of the movie Inside Job.

Barclays shares lost 16% of their value yesterday; but this is much bigger than Barclays. This scandal exposes the fact that our entire banking system is utterly corrupted; and rotten to the core. As many of the contributors to last night’s programme suggested, the high-street banks should now be separated from the investment banks. However, I do not think the Augean Stables can ever be cleaned-up; it needs to raised to the ground and completely re-built.

So, what, if anything, has this to do with the environment? A great deal, I suspect, because a very large proportion of humanity has very clearly taken its collective eye off the ball… I will close with the wise words of a Native American leader and poet:

When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted…
only then will you discover you cannot eat money.

See http://lackofenvironment.wordpress.com/2012/02/17/white-mans-folly/

Written by Martin Lack

29 June 2012 at 08:39

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