Archive for the ‘History’ Category
The 18th Conference of the Parties (COP18) to the UN’s Framework Convention on climate Change (UNFCCC), ended in Doha (Qatar) last weekend. Sadly, this event was not considered newsworthy in the mainstream media in the UK. Irrespective of the outcome of COP18, the X Factor and the tragic death of a nurse following a hoax phone call were considered far more important than the diminishing prospects for international cooperation to avert a climate catastrophe.
Back in the real world – as opposed to the sweet-smelling rose garden of our celebrity-obsessed media – the consequences of the UNFCCC’s failure to prevent continual growth in carbon dioxide emissions over the last 20 years have been reported by a wide range of bodies. The news is not good.
Even before COP18 had ended, Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo, was on record as having told the AFP news agency:
If we make a judgment based on what we’ve seen in these negotiations so far, there is no reason to be optimistic. – Fractious Doha talks bode ill for 2020 deal, observers say
Writing for the website of the Global Travel Industry News website – let’s not talk about its carbon footprint for now – Wolfgang H. Thome (a PhD from Uganda) reported the outcome of COP18 as follows:
In spite of the writing now being clearly on the wall, and climate change projections suggesting an average rise of temperatures by 2 degrees C 40 years from now, and up to 5+ degrees C by the end of the century, the main polluters have once again succeeded to push tough decisions into the future. – Doha’s failure spells doom for Africa
A team of observers from the Center for American Progress website, introduced their summary of events as follows:
The end of this year’s UN climate summit last weekend in Doha, Qatar, marked a period of transition… to… a three-year process to create a new comprehensive climate treaty, which will be applicable to all countries and cover 100 percent of global emissions. – See here for the full briefing on the outcome.
There is just one problem with the glacial speed of the UNFCCC’s progress towards a Treaty to replace the failed Kyoto Protocol – unlike glacier melting in the real world – it is not accelerating in response to the increasingly obvious warming of the planet.
With my thanks to fellow-blogger Paul Handover for alerting me to it – via his most recent post – the Yale Forum on Climate Change and The Media has reported that the renowned British climate scientist – and prominent critique of UK government policy – Professor Robert Watson, recently told a California audience that:
Fundamentally, we are not on a path toward a 2 degree world… Average global temperatures could rise 2 to 7 degrees C by the end of the century, driving a litany of environmental change… Therefore, we must adapt… – Forget About That 2-Degree Future
What scares me about this is that, as Clive Hamilton suggested (in Requiem for a Species), believing that we can adapt to the accelerating change that our leaders are ignoring is very probably a fanciful delusion in itself. – http://www.clivehamilton.net.au/cms/media/documents/speeches/launch_speech_for_website.pdf
We have failed to heed the warning signs and therefore, just as William Ophuls predicted (in Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity), we are currently in the process of reducing the Earth’s long-term ecological carrying capacity. Furthermore, the longer our political “leaders” take to acknowledge – and respond to – this fact, the greater the collateral damage is going to be. – http://www.greatchange.org/ophuls,ecological_scarcity.html
In the long run, unmitigated climate change is almost certainly going to cause genocide on an unprecedented scale – at least 100 times greater than the extermination of 6 million Jews by the Nazis 70 years ago. As was the case back then, an awful lot of people seem to be just standing around allowing it to happen.
It’s amazing really; thanks to the hypocrisy of the Communist Party of China (CPC) since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, China has achieved in 36 years what Western Capitalism has taken more than ten times as long to achieve. Thanks to Andrew Marr’s History of the World, I recently became aware of the way in which stock markets were first created in the wake of the World’s first commodity trading bubble – the tulip mania of Holland in the 1630s…
Since that time, Western Capitalism has succeeded in inventing and then abolishing slavery (but not before making sure that this colonial exploitation denuded an entire continent of the one thing that might have enabled it to prosper on its own terms)… It invented industry, pollution, and sewage treatment works… It invented colonial exploitation and then made a great show of renouncing it; only to perpetuate it by other means – through the instruments of multi-national companies, stock markets, trade agreements, and global institutions… It extended the right to vote to all men and then even women too… It lifted huge numbers of people out of absolute poverty and tantalised millions more with the promise of a better life… In the UK, we invented mandatory education for all children; and created and later abolished Grammar Schools – favouring instead the Comprehensive system that has succeeded only in failing all children equally…
In the final analysis, however, globalised Capitalism has – just like the Atlantic Slave Trade – served only the interests of those who were already better-off; and it has been spectacularly successful in one thing only – making them even more wealthy than they were before… We may well have eradicated Smallpox but, in the last Century – irrespective of the changes of government – the gap between rich and poor has grown steadily wider and wider. The trickle-down effect of the Reagan and Thatcher era was a cruel myth; in reality wealth has become evermore concentrated in the hands of a super-wealthy elite. Some, like Patrice Ayme, would call it a plutocracy but – whatever you want to call it – its only interest today is in ensuring its own survival. In a way, it is analogous to the Skynet of the movie Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines: It has become self-aware and is proceeding to exterminate its enemy – humanity itself.
As I said, the CPC has achieved all this in only 36 years and it too has now hit the growthmania equivalent of what Marathon runners refer to as “The Wall”… Ten times as fast and just as successfully, having promised to raise all its people out of poverty, it has comprehensively failed to achieve its stated aims. Once again, I find myself quoting John Gray from page xiv of the 2009 edition of False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism:
Along the way, however, the CPC decided to construct a protective fortress around itself in the form of a million millionaires; and a burgeoning middle class… The CPC has embraced the need to tackle climate change but only because it perceives it as a threat to its own long-term survival… Sadly, although it has not taken its foot off the economic accelerator, the fuel tank is now empty… It has lent so much money to the West and seen very little return in recent years… It has cities the size of Lower Manhattan with dozens of skyscrapers built and no-one to rent them to… What a mad, mad, World this is in which we all live…
But don’t just take my word for it, see it and read it for yourself, courtesy of the BBC’s China correspondent, Damian Grammaticas… In the run up to the latest renewal of the CPC’s very own plutocracy, Damian is once again performing a valuable public service by focusing on the spectacular contradictions that the CPC’s multi-decadal abuse of power has caused:
In the past two decades China’s economy has grown by 10% a year and more than 400m people have been lifted out of poverty. But China’s growth has been deeply uneven. Those in the right places with the right connections have been able to become astonishingly rich. There are now 1.4 million Chinese US dollar millionaires. The number of billionaires has grown from 15 in 2006 to 251 today.
Week in China: Guizhou, the poorest province
China’s economic growth has been deeply uneven. Most have seen their lives improve in the past two decades, and 400 million Chinese have lifted themselves out of poverty. But those in the right places with the right connections, usually in the cities, have gained incredible riches. So China today is among the most unequal countries in the world. The serious and growing inequalities are a problem China’s next leaders know they must tackle as the gap between the rich and the rest grows wider.
China’s ever-widening wealth gap
For more of my thoughts on (the climate sceptic) Andrew Marr’s History of the World programmes, you will have to cut and paste the programme title into the search box in the right-hand column.
For more of my many thoughts on China, you can do a category search (or just click here) – which presents all my related posts in reverse chronological order.
Two weeks ago, I posted a blog about episodes one and two of Andrew Marr’s History of the World. Last week, I forgot to watch the third episode but caught up with it on the BBC’s iPlayer during the week. Having now watched the fourth episode, as was just broadcast, I am going to comment here on both episode 3 and 4. First though, a quick recap… Despite the rather grandiose title for the series, it is a history of the World from the perspective of Homo sapiens only:
— Episode 1 – from 70 to 7 thousand years ago (i.e. up to the invention of agriculture and cities).
— Episode 2 – up to approximately 400 BC (i.e. the birth of democracy and the death of Socrates).
— Episode 3 – up to approximately 600 AD (i.e. the birth of Mohamed and the invention of Islam).
— Episode 4 – up to approximately 1500 AD (i.e. Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of The Last Supper).
Therefore, if we were to represent the entire 4600 million years of the Earth history by one calendar year, the 70 thousand year history of Homo sapiens covered in this series of programmes would begin at 23:52 hrs on 31 December!
Having secured permission to make eight episodes of almost an hour in length, Andrew Marr apparently decided that this would give him sufficient time to tell no more than about 60 stories; and so set about choosing 60 significant events in human history. In the second episode, the most significant event was the Greco-Persian battle of Marathon.
In the third episode, the most significant event was probably the life of the man who would become known to Christians as St Paul. Marr spent quite a long time telling his story and, arguably, with good reason: As with the battle of Marathon, things could have turned out very differently for Western Europe (and therefore modernity) if Saul had not become Paul on the road to Damascus in about 35AD.
The remainder of the episode was not without incident; returning briefly to both India and China – to note the spread of Buddhism to much of south east Asia thanks to Ashoka; and to cover the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, whose legacy includes the Terracotta Army in Xian. However, by far the most traumatic event, alluded to at the start of the episode, but dramatised in full towards the end, was the martyrdom in Carthage in 203AD of Perpetua and Felicity. Much of the story seems to have been recorded by Perpetua herself but, having refused to renounce her faith in Christ – and having handed over her baby to the care of her parents – her death at the hands of a young gladiator is described by those who witnessed it. This whole thing made me feel very uncomfortable, as I find martyrdom very scary (but not for the reason you might imagine): I am worried that there may not be that much difference between the bravery required to die rather than renounce your faith; and the brainwashing required to kill as many “non believers” as you can by killing yourself.
Moving swiftly on, Andrew Marr fitted in a visit to the Nazca Lines in Peru, to see how that civilisation came to an end, in similar fashion to the Maya in Central America, in an accelerating frenzy of human sacrifice in an attempt to appease their gods (who they thought were unhappy with them). Yet again, it seems (to me at least), Marr gave cursory acknowledgement to the potential for human mismanagement of the environment to have unintended consequences; and emphasised instead his favoured meme that climate change is natural. This time, the change in question being the year without sunshine of 535-36 AD. Again, Wikipedia has a good summary and, within this, the key source (alluded to by Marr) appears to be a 1999 book by David Keys, entitled Catastrophe: A Quest for the Origins of the Modern World, in which is presented evidence for 30 years of heavy rain followed by 30 years of drought. The strange thing is that, although the evidence for the long-term effects seems to be straightforward, there seems to be remarkably little agreement about which volcano was responsible. However, to my mind, the whole thing just serves to underline the seriousness with which we should view a potential eruption of the Katla volcano on Iceland.
Andrew Marr then finished the episode by cheerfully noting that the chaos caused by this eruption (wherever it all emanated from) was global; and probably facilitated the Arabic conquest of Jerusalem (637AD) and, once the Koran had been written and agreed upon, the consequential spread of Islam.
At this point, things start to get more familiar (to me here in the UK at least). In episode 4 Marr covers the period the Vikings to the Renaissance; from the vacuum left behind after the fall of Rome – to the rediscovery of classical knowledge and the foundations of modernity. Along the way, we are regaled by tales…
— Of the Viking leader Oleg who took control of Kiev (and then re-wrote their history for them to make it sound like he was invited in); and who then invited a whole range of religious leaders to try and convert him; chose to become Greek Orthodox; and then promptly re-fashioned it to make it more to his own liking – the Russian Orthodox church was born.
— Of the brilliant work of Muslim scholars and astronomers such as Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī, (who accurately determined the circumference of the Earth in the ninth Century) and whose name is reflected in what we now call Algebra.
— Of Genghis Khan who forged the greatest Empire form a band of people who bucked the trend by not settling down and building cities – but remained nomadic – simply because the grasslands they called home were not fertile enough for growing crops.
— Of Marco Polo who spent 24 years travelling around Asia and the rest of his life telling highly exaggerated stories all about it.
In all of this there was very little in the way of mention of climate change; but plenty in the way of environmental mismanagement and an early forerunner of the Law of Unintended Consequences – the Black Death (an inadvertent import from China to Europe) being a case in point. There was also the fascinating story of the arrival in Cairo (in 1324 AD) of an African King, Mansa Musa who, quite literally, put Mali on the map (i.e. the Catalan Atlas) by bringing with him so much gold – and handing it out so freely – that the price of the precious metal plummeted (was that an unintended consequence too?).
Running through the entire episode was an almost paradoxical juxtaposition of religious tension (if not outright war) and trade (i.e. mutually beneficial economic development). For example, both before and after the great siege of Constantinople (1453 AD), the Venetians happily traded with their Muslim counterparts in the East. However, it seems that with the creation of Istanbul, the Middle Ages came to an end: It was replaced, of course, by the Renaissance; borne out of the indulgences of the nouveau riche of the City States of northern Italy. One of the greatest beneficiaries of all being possibly one of the greatest polymaths of all – Leonardo da Vinci. And the rest, as they say, is history…
(or is it the curse of Cassandra?)
Andrew Marr’s History of the World is the latest BBC programme featuring the eponymous presenter (although the word Human is clearly missing from the title somewhere). The second installment was broadcast in the UK on Sunday night and, I have to say, it was an improvement on the first. Some may ask, “If you thought the first was bad then why did you watch the second?” Well, the answer is that I was almost willing Andrew Marr to prove me wrong. You see, I suspect he is peddling a libertarian agenda; but I am hoping that he is not.
The first programme in the series covered the emergence of Homo sapiens from Africa 70,000 years ago – and their subsequent conquest of the entire planet (and the extinction of Neanderthals in the process) – up to the emergence of agriculture, urbanisation and civilisation 7,000 years ago. The worst thing about the programme was the repetitive – and almost subliminal – message that climate change is natural and we cannot stop it. Wheareas Marr emphasised the way in which Homo sapiens were almost wiped out by natural changes in climate; he appeared to gloss over a complementary truth: Modern civilisation only came about – and has only persisted – because of the relative stability of sea levels and temperature over that last 7,000 years. I suspect, therefore, that Marr has been having too many lunches with the likes of Lords Monckton and Lawson. Whatever the case may be, episode 1 does not seem to have impressed Tom Sutcliffe of The Independent newspaper either.
In the second programme, this ‘climate change is natural’ meme made a brief appearance at the start; only to be juxtaposed with the suggestion that, although nature has been a tough adversary, human beings are their own worst enemy. Even though I not misanthropic, I am much more content with this assertion than the one that says climate change is natural and/or we must adapt to it: This is an utterly fallacious argument that can only be sustained by ignoring the fact that the change now underway is much faster than all previous natural change because human activity is causing most of it.
Nevertheless, I think Andrew Marr redeemed himself somewhat in this second episode: With his usual amiable style of delivery, he talked the viewer through the history of human civilisation, visiting places like the Assyrian city of Nineveh, the Persian city of Babylon, the Lydian city of Sardis, and the Greek city of Athens. Also thrown into the mix were brief accounts of the rise and fall of the Phoenicians as a maritime trading empire; the emergence of Buddhism in India and of Confucism in China; and Alexander the Great’s admirable early attempts at cosmopolitanism and globalisation (nice ideas; shame about the outcome).
However, as indicated by the title of this post, the thing that grabbed my attention was the emergence of what we now call democracy in Greece (i.e. in Greek, Demos = people; and Cratos = power); and how contingent our concept of democracy is… If the Persians had not gone down to such a highly-implausible defeat in a battle 26 miles from Athens, we might be missing a lot more than just a name for the longest event on the athletics schedule at the Olympic games: Had the Persians beaten the Athenian army at Marathon, the course of human history would have been very different indeed!
So why have I focussed on the case of Socrates, who was effectively accused and convicted of being dangerously subversive in 399BC and, having been found guilty, was required to kill himself by drinking poison…? Well, leaving aside the bizarre method of “execution”, what exactly was his crime? According to Andrew Marr, Socrates merely raised questions regarding the limitations of democracy and/or how dissenters should be dealt with. According to Wikipedia (link above), Socrates was accused of corrupting the youth of the city and of impious acts (namely “failing to acknowledge the gods that the city acknowledges” and “introducing new deities”). Socrates philosophical musings were clearly seen as subversive and anti-democratic. However, all Socrates appears to have been guilty of is being one of the first to recognise the fallacy of the marketplace of ideas. He basically challenged the notion that majority opinion will always be right; and championed the idea that expert opinions should carry more weight. He also held unusual religious views. He was, in essence, a free thinker, a non-conformist, and anti-Establishment.
Modern science has much for which it should be grateful to Socrates; and so have Environmentalists: In essence, environmentalism is the consequence of thinking outside the box; it arises from pursuing the consequences of science wherever they lead; and refusing to be prevented from reaching any particular conclusion simply because it may be politically inconvenient.
Nowadays, fortunately, those who challenge the received wisdom of our political leaders are not executed (by poisoning, hanging, beheading or any other unpleasant means). Unfortunately, however, we just seem to be ignored instead.
Therefore, even though all we are really doing is embracing the Newtonian reality that all actions have consequences (especially when it comes to issues surrounding waste, pollution, and recycling), we seem to have swapped the philosophical legacy of Socrates for the mythological curse of Cassandra (whom no-one would believe).
Connecting some more dots…
It is almost a year since I published 3 posts on my old (disused) Earthy Issues blog (on the MyTelegraph website); and I believe they deserve being brought to the attention of a wider audience. They cover (1) the philosophical roots of scepticism; (2) the political misuse of scepticism; and (3) the psychological causes of denial (such as that Leon Festinger identified in people disappointed by false prophecies of the end of the World and/or their assumption into Heaven). Here then is the first of them:
The philosophical roots of scepticism
The philosophical roots of scepticism lie in the 3rd Century BC; and the Greek philosopher Pyrrho, who saw scepticism as the logical end-point of intellectual inquiry. According to Pyrrho, the intellectually mature sceptic would still seek knowledge (because he or she “does not claim to know that truth cannot be found”); and would therefore be “prepared to investigate and evaluate any new argument in relation to any conclusion” [see Scepticism by Arne Naess (1968); pages 5-6]. It is self-evidently the case that climate change sceptics do not do this, and do not accept it when their alternative hypotheses are shown to be flawed. Unfortunately, exactly the same “catch-22 situation” has resulted in the ongoing failure of some people to accept that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was and is a complete fraud (hereinafter referred to as the PEZ problem).
In his 1991 book Unnatural Doubts, Michael Williams focused on modern Cartesian scepticism (i.e. named after René Descartes), which proposes that “there is no such thing as knowledge of the external world” (1991: xii). Williams also suggested that the fundamental question regarding scepticism is whether doubts raised are “natural” or “intuitive”; or (as he cited Thompson Clarke as having put it) is the sceptic examining… “our most fundamental convictions [about the nature of reality] or the product of a large piece of [their own] theoretical philosophising about empirical knowledge…?” (ibid: 1). Clearly, climate change “sceptics” are doing the latter; because the fundamentals of the so-called “greenhouse effect” are not in dispute. What is questioned is the primacy of CO2 emissions as the cause of the changes we are witnessing; despite the repeated rebuttal of alternative explanations (i.e. due to the PEZ problem).
In 1996, Timothy Fuller edited and posthumously published what he described as a summary of the thoughts of Michael Oakeshott [1901-1990] on modern politics and government (in The Politics of Faith and the Politics of Scepticism). In this book, scepticism is discussed as a political rather than philosophical entity; with the politics of faith and the politics of scepticism as two poles of political thought: Oakeshott equated the politics of faith with authoritarian control “for the purpose of achieving human perfection” [i.e. utopianism such as that of Karl Marx] (ibid: 24); and the politics of scepticism with government “detached from the pursuit of human perfection” [i.e. a utilitarian approach] (ibid: 31). Therefore, if Oakeshott’s dichotomy may be reduced to one of optimism (idealism) versus pessimism (realism), then climate change sceptics are clearly engaged in the politics of faith; in that they seek to maintain the optimistic belief that AGW is not a real problem.
In 2002, Neil Gascoigne summarised the sceptical position as one that questions the reality of anything and everything we think we know (Scepticism p.1); and cited two arguments used by sceptics to generate doubts, namely (1) the “argument from ignorance” [e.g. we cannot prove we are not dreaming]; and (2) the “Agrippan argument” [e.g. a childish retort of "why" in response to any adult statement of fact] (ibid: 6). Although some climate change sceptics do this in a debating context, this is often to avoid confronting the reality of the weight of scientific evidence arrayed against them. This, in turn, often leads to the demand, based on either the ‘we are like Galileo’ or ‘marketplace of ideas’ fallacies, that their alternative explanations deserve equal consideration; even if they have been repeatedly shown to be erroneous elsewhere (i.e. the PEZ problem once again).
Therefore, whereas blind faith and scepticism should be irreconcilable, in the context of thinking about ongoing anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), they are indistinguishable: The denial of human responsibility for what is happening to our climate is caused by cognitive dissonance and maintained by confirmation bias. However, just like all the other disinformation campaigns, I believe it is destined to fail; and the sooner the house of cards collapses the better it will be for all of us.
Record-breaking rainfall in the UK, unprecedented storms and temperatures in Washington DC, record-breaking droughts, floods, landslides, and bush-fires all around the world… Will the fake sceptics admit they are wrong when we see 1-in-100 year floods every 5 years? Or must we wait until they are an annual feature? Just how much longer must we wait for people to admit they are wrong; and that this is not normal?
“There is none so blind as those who will not see” (Jeremiah 5:21)
People of the world, for God’s sake, please open your eyes!
The world may not be about to end but, are the signs that it is past its best not clear enough to see? This is not random weather; this is what happens when we ignore what scientists have been telling for over 150 years.
Please Connect the Dots!