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The Problem with Empiricism – Ludwig von Mises Institute Canada

The Problem with Empiricism – Ludwig von Mises Institute Canada.

Mark Twain’s coined phrase “there are lies, damn lies, and statistics” has the privilege of being used far too often and not nearly enough. The saying is invoked by people who see a genius in the mirror but are much too dense for their own good. They are the ones who feign skepticism while eagerly accepting whatever empirical evidence bolsters their own dogma.

These perpetrators of the crime against intellect are by and large statists, namely economists. They spend their days waiting to pounce on detractors on the first blip of data that justifies their collectivism. Unemployment inched up? Need more government stimulus! Unemployment falls slightly? Thank Heavens Washington is spending so much money to put people to work!

The key here is that any piece of data can be taken and spun into a web narrative to fit an agenda. Government-gathered statistics often provide a potpourri of easily-moldable fictions. And because the facts and figures come straight from the state’s mouth, they are often taken as Gospel. Anyone who thinks otherwise – that bureaucrats might have their own motives for possibly fudging information – is smeared as a tinfoil-chewing crank in need of immediate institutionalization.

The exception is when news breaks that some rogue public servant doctored stats for pure political purposes.

The New York Post, a paper not exactly known for its pride in accurate reporting, recentlyclaimed the Census Bureau was aware manipulation of the employment report was going on in the run-up to the 2012 election. Just a few months out from when America put Sugar Daddy Obama back in the Oval Office, the national unemployment rate happened to fall from 8.1% to 7.8%. It wasn’t all that significant of a drop, but the talking heads sure made it sound like the Second Coming. The Post – which is relying on an unknown but “reliable source” – claims the figure was intentionally faked.

It goes without saying that unfounded claims based on a mysterious origin aren’t the most credible of sources. Even the everyday man on the street is wary about unnamed sources of information. He wants some kind of supporting evidence that isn’t just hearsay.

The Post report may be all smoke and no gun, but it’s not far from the realm of possibilities. Public sector workers have every incentive to keep their layabout jobs. In 2010, Census Department employee Julius Buckmon was fired for fudging results. He claims to have been given orders from higher-ups.

It also doesn’t help that the method the government uses to measure unemployment is already lackluster enough. Workers at the Bureau of Labor Statistics simply call up households and inquire about the inhabitants’ working situation. They don’t hook respondents up to a polygraph machine. The whole thing is based on the trustworthiness of the average schmuck. And even when the data is gathered the least severe measure of total employment, known as U3, is used as the headline number in media reports. The measuredoes not account for discouraged workers, who are tossed into the U6 bracket along with part-time workers seeking full-time employment. So the biochemist washing dishes at his local diner while scouring the classifieds each morning for a new position is left out. Since the beginning of America’s economic doldrums five years ago, the U6 unemployment rate has failed to drop below double-digits. But by highlighting only the “headline” number, the President and his press apparatchiks shine a light onto an otherwise dark employment picture.

Government manipulation of data is nothing new historically. Stalin famously had Western economists fooled for decades with erroneous reports on economic growth in his communist paradise. In 1989, Paul Samuelson, arguably the most influential academic economist of the late twentieth century, wrote in his famed textbook the “Soviet economy is proof that, contrary to what many skeptics had earlier believed, a socialist command economy can function and even thrive.” Two years later, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics disintegrated. No mea culpa was ever issued.

Despite the philosophical shortcomings of pure empiricism, the great breadth of society has a fetish for data. The reason is simple. Numbers and statistics don’t just save us from having to make coherent arguments, they make it easy to not have to think very hard.

That’s the problem with radical scientism and empirics in general: the notion that logic is not needed to interpret information to fully understand the surrounding world. Stats and figures are malleable. They can be used to make the case for laissez faire, statism, interventionism, or whatever “ism” strikes your fancy.

Data is useless without a sound theory to interpret it. Otherwise, it may as well be a sheet of randomized numbers. Yet the empirical positivists are quick to dismiss the idea that things can be proved without observable evidence. As the late Murray Rothbard asked in his essay “In Defense of Extreme Apriorism”:

“what is the vaunted ‘evidence’ of the empiricists but the bringing of a hitherto obscure proposition into evident view?”

An evidence-only approach to the dismal science is destined to die on the mantle of popular methodology. Whatever the data may show, it can be easily explained away in empty pontificating and counterfactual hypothesizing. The adherents to scientism are left babbling in their own incoherent rationale. Basically, no amount of factual confirmation will convince the true believers of positive empiricism. They talk a good game of sensory verification, but have an excuse for their own canon under each sleeve.

It’s not paranoid gibberish to assume government bureaucrats would juice the numbers to make sure their preferred knight in shining armor stays in the White House. As much as Nancy Pelosi, Paul Krugman, and the New York Times editorial board would like to pretend, public servants are not boy scouts donned with merit badges as far as the eye can see. They are just as selfish and conniving as Wall Street traders.

Here is the most important lesson not taught in government 101: politicians and their over-paid henchmen lie. They’ll sell you lemon, break the warranty, set the bank loose on you, and then demand your undying loyalty. Everything they say should be taken with a grain of FDA-approved salt, including monthly data reports.

James E. Miller is editor-in-chief of the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada. Send him mail


B.C. Smelter To Blame For Illnesses, Say Washington Residents

B.C. Smelter To Blame For Illnesses, Say Washington Residents.

Residents of a small town in northern Washington state may turn to courts to force a B.C. mining company to address what they say is a high prevalence of certain diseases in their community.

Northport, Washington, a town of about 375 people, is 30 kilometres downstream on the Columbia River from Teck Resources’ lead-zinc smelter in Trail, B.C.

Jamie Paparich, who grew up Northport, began an independent public health study two and a half years ago after observing that the number of people there with diseases such as Crohns, colitis, multiple sclerosis and thyroid disorders was unusually high with respect to the population.

“There is just too many people with all those illnesses in a small little town of 375. You don’t expect to know almost 20 people with multiple sclerosis in a town that small,” Paparich says.

That work caught the attention of a research group at Harvard University, who then followed up and confirmed a number of Paparich’s findings.

Now, top U.S. litigator Steve Berman, who made his name with class action law suits against companies like Enron, Exxon, Boeing and Rio Tinto, is visiting Northport to gauge support for a potential suit against Teck Resources.

“There’s time I think it’s so frustrating and nothing has gotten better,” says Paparich.

“But then stuff like this happens. The Harvard study is coming to a head and it’s going to blow the lid off things. And then these lawyers, who I have a lot of faith in, want to talk to town people. So I think it’s coming to a head.”

For its part, Teck has admitted to polluting the Columbia River, but says there is no proven link between its smelter and illness in Northport.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.




Chart Of The Day: How China’s Stunning $15 Trillion In New Liquidity Blew Bernanke’s QE Out Of The Water | Zero Hedge

Chart Of The Day: How China’s Stunning $15 Trillion In New Liquidity Blew Bernanke’s QE Out Of The Water | Zero Hedge.

Much has been said about the Fed’s attempt to stimulate inflation (instead of just the stock market) by injecting a record $2.5 trillion in reserves into the US banking system since the collapse of Lehman (the same goes for the ECB, BOE, BOJ, etc). Even more has been said about why this money has not been able to make its way into the broader economy, and instead of forcing inflation – at least as calculated by the BLS’ CPI calculation – to rise above 2% has, by monetizing a record amount of US debt issuance, merely succeeded in pushing capital markets to unseen risk levels as every single dollar of reserves has instead ended up as assets (and excess deposits as a matched liability) on bank balance sheets.

Much less has been said that of the roughly $2 trillion increase in US bank assets, $2.5 trillion of this has come from the Fed’s reserve injections as absent the Fed, US banks have delevered by just under half a trillion dollars in the past 5 years. Because after all, all QE really is, is an attempt to inject money into a deleveraging system and to offset the resulting deflationary effects. Naturally, the Fed would be delighted if instead of banks being addicted to its zero-cost liquidity, they would instead obtain the capital in the old-fashioned way: through private loans. However, since there is essentially no risk when chasing yield and return and allocating reserves to various markets (see JPM CIO and our prior explanation on this topic), whereas there is substantial risk of loss in issuing loans to consumers in an economy that is in a depressionary state when one peels away the propaganda and the curtain of the stock market, banks will always pick the former option when deciding how to allocated the Fed’s reserves, even if merely as initial margin on marginable securities.

However, what virtually nothing has been said about, is how China stacks up to the US banking system when one looks at the growth of total Chinese bank assets (on Bloomberg: CNAABTV Index) since the collapse of Lehman.

The answer, shown on the chart below, is nothing short of stunning.


Here is just the change in the past five years:

You read that right: in the past five years the total assets on US bank books have risen by a paltry $2.1 trillion while over the same period, Chinese bank assets have exploded by an unprecedented $15.4 trillion hitting a gargantuan CNY147 trillion or an epic $24 trillion – some two and a half times the GDP of China!

 Putting the rate of change in perspective, while the Fed was actively pumping $85 billion per month into US banks for a total of $1 trillion each year, in just the trailing 12 months ended September 30, Chinese bank assets grew by a mind-blowing $3.6 trillion!

Here is how Diapason’s Sean Corrigan observed this epic imbalance in liquidity creation:

Total Chinese banking assets currently stand at some CNY147 trillion, around 2 ½ times GDP. As such, they have doubled in the past four years of increasingly misplaced investment and frantic real estate speculation, adding the equivalent of 140% of average GDP – or, in dollars, $12.5 trillion – to the books. For comparison, over the same period, US banks have added just less than $700 billion, 4.4% of average GDP, 18 times less than their Chinese counterparts – and this in a period when the predominant trend has been for the latter to do whatever it takes to keep commitments off their balance sheets and lurking in the ‘shadows’!


Indeed, the increase in Chinese bank assets during that breakneck quadrennium is equal to no less than seven-eighths of the total outstanding assets of all FDIC-insured institutions! It also compares to 30% of Eurozone bank assets.

Truly epic flow numbers, and just as unsustainable in the longer-run.

But what does this mean for the bigger picture? Well, a few things.

For a start, prepare for many more headlines like these: “Chinese buying up California housing“, “Hot Money’s Hurried Exit from China“, “Following the herd of foreign money into US real estate markets” and many more like these. Because while the world focuses and frets about the Fed’s great reflation experiment (which is only set to become bigger not smaller, now that the Fed has thrown all caution about collateral shortage to the wind and will openly pursue NGDP targeting next), China has been quietly injecting nearly three times in liquidity into its own economy (and markets, and foreign economies and markets) as the Fed and the Bank of Japan combined!

To be sure, due to China’s still firm control over the exchange of renminbi into USD, the capital flight out of China has not been as dramatic as it would be in a freely CNY-convertible world, although in recent months many stories have emerged showing that enterprising locals from the mainland have found effective ways to circumvent the PBOC’s capital controls. And all it would take is for less than 10% of China’s new credit creation to “escape” aboard from the Chinese banking system, the bulk of which is quasi nationalized and thus any distinction between prive and public loan creation is immaterial, for the liquidity effect to be as large as one entire year of QE. Needless to say, the more effectively China becomes at depositing all this newly created liquidity, the faster prices of US real estate, the US stock market, and US goods and services in general will rise (something the Fed would be delighted with).

However, while the Fed certainly welcomes this breakneck credit creation in China, the reality is that the bulk of these “assets” are of increasingly lower quality and generate ever lass cash flows, something we covered recently in “Big Trouble In Massive China: “The Nation Might Face Credit Losses Of As Much As $3 Trillion.” It is also the reason why China attempted one, promptly aborted, tapering in the summer of 2013, and why the entire third plenum was geared toward economic reform particularly focusing on the country’s unsustainable credit (and liquidity) creation machine.

The implications of the above are staggering. If the US stock, and especially bond, market nearly blew a gasket in the summer over tapering fears when just a $10-20 billion reduction in the amount of flow was being thrown about, and the Chinese interbank system almost froze when overnight repo rates exploded to 25% on even more vague speculation of a CNY1 trillion in PBOC tightening, then the world is now fully addicted to about $5 trillion in annual liquidity creation between just the US, Japan and China alone!

Throw in the ECB and BOE as many speculate will happen eventually, and it gets downright surreal.

But more importantly, as with all communicating vessels, global liquidity is now in a constant state of laminar flow – out of central banks: either unadulterated as in the US, Japan, Europe and the UK, or implicit, when Chinese government-backstopped banks create nearly $4 trillion in loans every year. If one issuer of liquidity “tapers”, others have to step in. Indeed, as we suggested a few weeks ago, any possibility of a Fed taper would likely involve incremental QE by the Bank of Japan, and vice versa.

However, the biggest workhorse behind the scenes, is neither: it is China. And if something happens to the great Chinese credit-creation dynamo, then we see no way that the rest of the world’s central banks will be able to step in with low-powered money creation, to offset the loss of China’s liquidity momentum.

Finally, when you lose out on that purchase of a home to a Chinese buyer who bid 50% over asking sight unseen, with no intentions to ever move in, you will finally know why this is happening.


Ron Paul Asks “Can Karzai Save Us?” | Zero Hedge

Ron Paul Asks “Can Karzai Save Us?” | Zero Hedge.

After a year of talks over the post-2014 US military presence in Afghanistan, the US administration announced last week that a new agreement had finally been reached. Under the deal worked out with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the US would keep thousands of troops on nine military bases for at least the next ten years.

It is clear that the Obama Administration badly wants this deal. Karzai, sensing this, even demanded that the US president send a personal letter promising that the US would respect the dignity of the Afghan people if it were allowed to remain in the country. It was strange to see the US president go to such lengths for a deal that would mean billions more US dollars to Karzai and his cronies, and a US military that would continue to prop up the regime in Kabul.

Just as the deal was announced by Secretary of State John Kerry and ready to sign, however, Karzai did an abrupt about-face. No signed deal until after the next presidential elections in the spring, he announced to a gathering of tribal elders, much to the further embarrassment and dismay of the US side. The US administration had demanded a signed deal by December. What may happen next is anybody’s guess. The US threatens to pull out completely if the deal is not signed by the end of this year.

Karzai should be wary of his actions. It may become unhealthy for him. The US has a bad reputation for not looking kindly on puppet dictators who demand independence from us.

Yet Karzai’s behavior may have the unintended benefit of saving the US government from its own worst interventionist instincts. The US desire to continue its military presence in Afghanistan – with up to 10,000 troops – is largely about keeping up the false impression that the Afghan war, the longest in US history, has not been a total, catastrophic failure. Maintaining a heavy US presence delays that realization, and with it the inevitable conclusion that so many lives have been lost and wasted in vain. It is a bitter pill that this president, who called Afghanistan “the good war,” would rather not have to swallow.

The administration has argued that US troops must remain in Afghanistan to continue the fight against al-Qaeda. But al-Qaeda has virtually disappeared from Afghanistan.
 What remains is the Taliban and the various tribes that have been involved in a power struggle ever since the Soviets left almost a quarter of a century ago. In other words, twelve years later we are back to the starting point in Afghanistan.

Where has al-Qaeda gone if not in Afghanistan? They have branched out to other areas where opportunity has been provided by US intervention. Iraq had no al-Qaeda presence before the 2003 US invasion. Now al-Qaeda and its affiliates have turned Iraq into a bloodbath, where thousands are killed and wounded every month. The latest fertile ground for al-Qaeda and its allies is Syria, where they have found that US support, weapons, and intelligence is going to their side in the ongoing war to overthrow the Syrian government.

In fact, much of the US government’s desire for an ongoing military presence in Afghanistan has to do with keeping money flowing to the military industrial complex. Maintaining nine US military bases in Afghanistan and providing military aid and training to Afghan forces will consume billions of dollars over the next decade. The military contractors are all too willing to continue to enrich themselves at the expense of the productive sectors of the US economy.

Addressing Afghan tribal elders last week, Karzai is reported to have expressed disappointment with US assistance thus far: “I demand tanks from them, and they give us pickup trucks, which I can get myself from Japan… I don’t trust the U.S., and the U.S. doesn’t trust me.”  

Let us hope that Karzai sticks to his game with Washington.Let the Obama administration have no choice but to walk away from this twelve-year nightmare. Then we can finally just march out.



Have We Reached ‘Peak Gold’? | Zero Hedge

Have We Reached ‘Peak Gold’? | Zero Hedge.

Led by countries such as Russia and China, central banks have recently become net buyers of gold. Meanwhile, ETF gold outflows have been a temporary source of supply this year, but obviously this cannot persist. It’s also unreasonable to assume that recycling will make up a significantly greater piece of supply without the price of gold increasing substantiallyWith the grade of current producing gold mines being 32.6% higher than undeveloped deposits, it makes the supply scenario even more clear. Not only is the current yearly mine supply difficult to sustain, but future mines coming online will be challenged by grade and margins to be economical at today’s prices. Mathematically, unless we have high-grade, high ounce deposits that are being fast tracked online, it will be very difficult to find a way to get supply to match demand. Have we reached peak gold?


(click image for large legible version)


“We’ve Been Conditioned Over The Years To Trust Paper Money”

“We’ve Been Conditioned Over The Years To Trust Paper Money”.



“We’ve Been Conditioned Over The Years To Trust Paper Money”

Published in Market Update  Precious Metals  on 25 November 2013

By Mark O’Byrne

Today’s AM fix was USD 1,231.75, EUR 911.60 and GBP 760.57 per ounce.
Friday’s AM fix was USD 1,241.75, EUR 918.59 and GBP 766.75 per ounce.

Gold remained unchanged Friday, closing at $1,243.20/oz. Silver slipped $0.12 or 0.6% closing at $19.87/oz. Platinum fell $5.50 or 0.4% to $1,437.74/oz, while palladium dropped $6.50 or 0.9% to $729.72/oz. Gold and silver both fell on the week at 3.46% and 4.24% respectively.

Gold in U.S. Dollars, 1 Day – (Bloomberg)

Gold initially ticked slightly higher in Asia overnight after the U.S., China, Russia, the UK, France and Germany reached an agreement with Iran yesterday to limit Iran’s nuclear programme. The agreement allows for the easing of sanctions on trading gold with Iran. This has prevented Iran from diversifying into gold in recent months.

Two hours into trading and gold was slightly higher at $1,244.50/oz. However, gold prices then came under pressure, with more concentrated, significant sell orders commencing at exactly 0600 GMT. Sharp, concentrated selling took place which pushed gold prices from $1,238/oz to $1,225 or $13 in less than two minutes. Interestingly, a volume buyer then stepped in and gold then bounced higher to $1,233/oz.

The detente with Iran is not as bearish for gold as is thought. While the threat of any imminent conflict with Iran has eased in the short term, the move allows Iran to begin accumulating gold again – another source of significant sovereign demand.

There is also still risks of a military confrontation in the region. Israel and Saudi Arabia were extremely opposed to the deal and significant tensions remain in the powder keg that is the Middle East.

On Friday, gold managed to close with a slight gain, but that didn’t stop prices from suffering their biggest weekly loss in 10 weeks – down 3.4%. Gold’s falls came amid peculiar trading on the COMEX last week which saw COMEX suspend trading twice on Wednesday. The incessant speculative chatter over possible, but unlikely, tapering of the Federal Reserve’s debt monetisation programme continues.

DEMAND IN CHINA remains robust as seen in Shanghai gold premiums. Closing wholesale premiums continue to strengthen, gold closed at a $33 premium at $1,265.69 (see table below) today, up from a $11.25 premium at $1,265.69/oz on Friday.

Gold Prices / Fixes / Rates / Vols – (Bloomberg)

The Shanghai Gold Exchange saw ‘recorded deliveries’ of 17.950 tonnes bringing November totals to 216.018 tonnes. Gold deliveries on the SGE are headed for another extremely large delivery month once settled as Chinese jewellers and bullion dealers stock up for Chinese New Year.

LATEST CFTC DATA from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission showed hedge funds got increasingly bearish on gold, with speculators scaling back exposure after the most aggressive pullback in positioning since March 2012 the week prior. Net longs on gold dropped to the lowest level in four months.

COMEX warehouse activity was interesting Friday as physical silver bullion saw very significant movement in COMEX warehouses. 2,554,353 troy ounces were received and 18,335 troy ounces shipped out.  HSBC USA was the large recipient of 1.954 million ounces of silver.

JOHN PAULSON, hedge fund billionaire recently told his clients that he won’t invest any more of his own money in his gold fund, owing to an uncertainty over when inflation will accelerate. Paulson’s PFR Gold Fund is reportedly down 63% year-to-date.

It is important to note that Paulson is not selling his gold and is maintaining his very large position in gold which is a vote of confidence by one of the largest investors in the world.

Gold in U.S. Dollars, 5 Days – (Bloomberg)

GOLDCORE’S MARK O’BYRNE was interviewed by the SGT Report over the weekend and the video has just been released and can be viewed here .

“We have these huge fundamental factors that should be contributing to higher gold (and silver) prices, and that’s why many people are scratching their heads and asking ‘why isn’t this happening?’”

“We’re down about 25% year to date despite these strong fundamentals.”

Mark explains how for 53 years the Chinese people were banned from owning gold. But that all changed in 2003, and now the enormous demand by 1.3 billion Chinese over the last ten years is causing a paradigm shift, as gold and silver moves from the West to the East.

He says how silver remains very undervalued and will likely reach its inflation adjusted high of $140/oz in the coming years.

Silver remains a tiny market with all above ground refined silver in the world at roughly 1 billion ounces for a total valuation of less than $20 billion at today’s prices.

Therefore, all the silver in the world is worth less than the total market capitalisation of one tech darling, Twitter. It is worth less than the  total market capitalisation of Tesla.

All the investment grade silver in the world, is worth roughly what the Federal Reserve prints in one week – $19.6 billion. Incredibly, at $85 billion per month, the Federal Reserve is printing money and buying its own debt to the tune of $19.6 billion a week – “mind boggling”.

As for the race to debase and the manipulation of precious metal prices, Mark says, “They can mess around with the price all they want, ultimately the price of everything in the long term will be dictated by supply and demand, particularly for a physical commodity like gold.”

VIDEO: “China’s Insatiable Demand For GOLD Causing PARADIGM SHIFT”

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The Sky Is Falling: Chicken Little Was Right All Along, By Don Wilkin « Speaking Truth to Power

The Sky Is Falling: Chicken Little Was Right All Along, By Don Wilkin « Speaking Truth to Power.

ChickenMy obsession with sustainability dates back to 1969, the year I started my doctoral dissertation on human carrying capacity.  I became aware that there was real danger of overshooting that capacity and that if we consumed enough of our ecological capital, we risked a population crash and even possible human extinction.  In the meantime, I warned, we could expect a long, bumpy slide into poverty as resources were used up.  Colleagues accused me of sounding like Chicken Little.

Since then, our exploding consumption, while causing a modest (but temporary) reduction in poverty, has been confused with real prosperity despite global resources having been ravaged and inequality having ballooned to record heights.  I was guilty of underestimating our greed and overestimating the time we had left.  It wasn’t until this last decade that ecological footprint analysis confirmed we had already overshot Earth’s carrying capacity back in the early ‘70s.

The overshoot is now in its fifth decade and continues to gather momentum as the ultimate human ecological disaster:  mass extinction, fisheries depletion, aquifer overpumping, nonrenewable natural resource depletion, soil erosion, glacial melting, ocean acidification, nuclear waste accumulation, more violent storms, rising sea levels, skyrocketing  food prices, plummeting energy return on energy invested, growing numbers of permanently displaced environmental refugees, and growing global financial instability.  Regrettably, 79 million net new people join the global mayhem each year, yet we don’t seem particularly concerned about it, assuming, I suppose, it will take care of itself.  It will.  No one will want to be around when that happens, though.

I am well aware, after nearly a half century of trying, that my sense of impending doom is not widely shared.  The sun still shines, gas tanks are full of ethanol, fridges are fully stocked with thousand-mile salads and 3000-mile bananas, and we are warm and cozy.  Few can even conceive of the possibility of an impending collapse of human civilization, but there are notable exceptions.  My angst is shared by those who, like myself, have studied critical resources in detail and have come to similarly dark conclusions about our future possibilities:  James Hansen, climate; Lester Brown, food production; Craig Dilworth, technology; Chris Clugston, nonrenewable natural resources; Paul Ehrlich, population; Richard Heinberg, fossil fuels; Julian Cribb, agriculture; Paul Farrell, global capital; and Jared Diamond, eco-social collapse, to name a few.  Regrettably, putting lipstick on the pig, their warnings are too often couched in false hope – or as a friend of mine calls it – hopium.  “We can avoid the breakdown of human civilization if only we will work together to (fill in the blank,) if we do it quickly enough.”  One or two of them have likened our situation to being of the same urgency with which we mobilized for World War II.  I’m afraid it is at least that compelling and even that may not prove enough.

In a recent analysis of the world’s nonrenewable natural resources (NNRs), author Chris Clugston found that, as of the economic collapse of 2008, 63 of our 89 most critical NNRs were globally scarce.  In a private conversation, he believed that 2008 was the peak of human material well-being and he expected, after plateauing for maybe a decade, it would be sharply downhill from there.  In 2012, he stated his belief that global economic/societal collapse was “possible within the next 5 years, probable within 15, and all but certain within 25.”  The year 2017 struck an ominous note because that was the deadline the International Energy Agency gave us for substantially reducing carbon emissions or risking runaway global climate change.  We’ve made virtually no progress since their warning.  Quite the contrary.  A highly fracked economy (no pun intended) has more than fully “recovered” from its 2008 meltdown and we’re off to the GDP races once again, setting new records for energy consumption every year.  Though economists rejoice, climate scientists and ecologists shudder.

The Global Footprint Network has been refining their methods for several decades now.  Their analyses are solid.  When they say we are consuming 50% more than Earth’s annual ecological restorative capacity, you can be sure it’s at least that, and such profligacy has to have consequences.  Their analysis shows that, since 1970, Earth’s overall restorative capacity has declined by almost half while the human population has more than doubled and overall resource consumption has increased even more.  This suggests that, by 2060, it could all be over – no more reserve bio-capacity left anywhere.  That’s when human death rates must necessarily skyrocket, if they haven’t already.

Deny-ers insist we’re doing just fine.  As technologically gifted as we are and with God on our side wanting us all to be rich, we will work it out with little personal discomfort or sacrifice.  The world’s plummeting ecological capacity puts the lie to such Pollyannish delusions.  By the time reality sets in, our global ecological accounts will be all but empty and there won’t be anything left to restore.

The physical impossibility of continuing as we presently are for more than another few decades seems lost on the vast majority, despite the clarity and preponderance of all monitored trends now.  If only a handful of us and practically no public officials really believe such a meltdown is coming, what can realistically be done to prepare for it?  Can we avoid having to reduce our population?  Couldn’t we all just live more sustainably?  Fat chance.  It isn’t reasonable to expect the third-world, now experiencing for the first time the goodies they have watched middle class Americans enjoy for generations, to voluntarily cut back on their newly acquired tastes for personal vehicles, computers, cell phones, meat, milk, and eggs.  Nor, in truth, are formerly-middle-class Americans likely to give up too much more than they already have.  People don’t commonly volunteer to live in deeper poverty, no matter how worthy the cause, having once experienced the benefits of wealth, privilege, and relative immunity from disease, crime, and violence.  Typical half-hearted attempts at sustainable lifestyles in the western world won’t forestall global economic collapse anyway and they could even trigger it.  The optimum time for funding alternative energy with a good stiff carbon tax was about twenty years ago.

Despite well-meaning attempts by many of my friends to live more sustainably, I am convinced the only equitable, humane, and effective way to pull our fat out of the fire at this late date, if it could be done at all, would be to immediately and dramatically reduce human fertility worldwide to half of replacement for the next three to four generations, somewhere between “one or none” and “one will do, stop at two.”   All other attempts to live more sustainably would be – in fact are being – entirely undone by our huge and growing numbers.  Such restraint would have to continue until we got our numbers WAY down, certainly below a billion, and possibly below half a billion depending on how long it took.  That level of voluntary reproductive restraint, I don’t need to tell you, would be unprecedented in human history.  Economic collapse is a far more probable resolution to our overshoot problem.

Realistically, most of us won’t survive global economic collapse.  The vast majority of us have neither the skills nor the resources to survive in a purely local economy.  Despite the earnest efforts of groups like Sierra Club and the Transitions network, it is unlikely that anything can now stop the global economy – and human civilization with it – from collapsing around our heads sometime in the next two to four decades.  Most will apparently blithely continue to enjoy our final faux prosperity while it lasts.  By the time the meltdown gets their full and undivided attention, it will be too late.  The only question then will be how many, if any, will survive to start the insanity all over again?  God forbid.

I take little comfort in being old enough to be cashing in my chips before the most serious stages of civilization’s decline and collapse.  That doesn’t make it any better for my kids and grandkids.  I feel we owe them a realistic assessment of the predicament we have left them.  My heartfelt warning to them is that children born today are probably being sentenced, should they survive to adulthood, to living through the darkest period of human history.  The decision to bring a child into the world today is – or should be – an excruciating one, a choice between small hope for a survivable future with starkly limited opportunities versus a far higher probability of a much more debased, dispiriting one.

I personally would choose not to reproduce now even if I could (my vasectomy has sealed that path.)  If this past century represents the pinnacle of human ability to sustainably manage and equitably share our global commons, and if, despite our (apparently benumbed) big brains and digital libraries overflowing with the accumulated wisdom of all human history, we can aspire to no higher economic goals than ever-greater material consumption, constant growth, and perpetual crowding at the expense of all other species on this planet, including other humans, it might be better if human reproduction were put on the evolutionary back burner for a very long while.  Only a radical pruning provides any hope for a post-human “founder” population sometime in the future with substantially more reverent attitudes toward Earth and more caring and social responsibility toward one another.

A final point – one can guarantee an argument merely by suggesting the need to stabilize, let alone reduce, human numbers.  After worshiping at the altar of perpetual growth for 200 years, that’s pure sacrilege.  One can elicit even greater anger by pointing out that what evolutionary success we have had to this point has been a result of inborn proto-socialist tendencies in all human beings.  We are a modestly evolved social mammal, and socialist (small “s”) – or mutualistic – or cooperative – communities have been central to whatever evolutionary success we have enjoyed as a species.  This fact suggests the best and possibly only way forward from here, at least for an insightful few.  To wit:

If we do manage to pull back from the abyss, or if enough of us survive the plunge, it will surely be because small groups of us have formed mutualistic communities for the express purpose of helping one another eke out a largely local living from a depleted planet Earth. We will be painfully aware, by then, that a sustainable lifestyle must involve subordinating our reproductive inclinations to the long-term well-being, not just of our own community, but of the larger ecological community on which our well-being depends.  We will certainly understand that a global ecosystem is a sacred trust that demands our respect and, yes, our reverence.  Finally, we will need the humility to understand that we need a healthy global ecosystem far more than it needs us, and that we need to invest at least as much of our treasure in husbanding that priceless natural legacy as in pursuing our own material well-being.

Don Wilkin is a Human Ecologist and may be contacted at: wilkin@olympus.net



Is oil-by-rail boom an accident waiting to happen? | Jeff Rubin

Is oil-by-rail boom an accident waiting to happen? | Jeff Rubin.

Tick, tick, tick. The countdown to another rail accident is already on. A 90-car derailment last week in Alabama is only the latest in a series of train wrecks unfolding across North America. The next one, as promised by a dangerous combination of lax regulations and booming traffic, is just around the bend.

Fracking may be paving the way towards energy independence for North America, but that doesn’t mean Big Oil has the infrastructure in place to move all that new oil around the continent. Whether British Columbians on the Pacific coast or Nebraskans in the corn belt, the public doesn’t want new pipelines running through their backyards.

Rail, of course, has come to the rescue, regaining a prominence for the oil industry that it hasn’t enjoyed since early last century. The number of barrels being moved by rail has soared on both sides of the border. The extra traffic has certainly been a boon for the bottom line of railways. Investors in rail stocks, though, would be wise to take a long look at whether the good times will keep rolling.

At first blush, the immediate prospects certainly appear bright enough. In North Dakota, home of the prolific Bakken light oil play, workers are scurrying to build as many as 20 terminals that will eventually allow more than half-a-million barrels a day to move by rail. In Canada, rail shipments have nearly tripled since the beginning of the year to 175,000 barrels a day. What’s more, moving oil-by-rail in this country may still be in the early innings.

Plans are afoot to build three rail-loading terminals in western Canada with a combined capacity of 350,000 barrels a day. Exxon, meanwhile, is also musing about building its own rail terminal in Edmonton to handle production from its massive Kearl oil sands project. All together, the planned construction of new terminals could mean as much as 900,000 barrels of oil are moved by rail in Canada in the coming years. That volume, as might be expected, roughly equals the capacity of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

While the rail terminals will be new, the tanker cars doing the hauling will not. Much of the oil moved around the U.S. and Canada is shipped via an aging tanker model known as the DOT-111. These cars, the subject of repeated warnings from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, have a thin metal skin that’s easily punctured in the event of a derailment.

Railways themselves don’t own the tanker cars, they just hitch their locomotives to a train of leased cars and away they go. The shale oil boom has been great for third-party vendors such as Procor Ltd. in Canada and Union Tank Car in the U.S. As an aside, both outfits are owned by Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett’s holding company, which is seeing big bets on rail pay off, such as buying Burlington Northern Sante Fe in 2010.

Rail companies are busy leasing as many tanker cars as they can, even as questions are still being asked about the recent derailments in Alberta and Alabama. Thanks to booming oil traffic, though, railway profits are up. At CN, third-quarter earnings beat expectations, setting the stage for a stock split. According to chief executive Claude Mongeau, CN sees oil playing an even bigger role in the future. Not to be outdone by its rival, CP Rail has moved 45 million barrels of oil on 65,000 carloads through the third quarter and expects to haul upwards of 90,000 carloads by year-end.

In all the excitement over rising share prices and short-term profits, shareholders shouldn’t lose sight of the potential liabilities, both on the balance sheet and in the real world. As more oil gets moved around North America, more accidents will surely follow. We can only hope none of them are on the tragic scale of Lac-Megantic. At the moment, regulators are scrambling to wrap their arms around the boom in rail traffic, but they’ll eventually catch up. Any new pipelines, too, would similarly take the bloom off the rose for railways. Oil-by-rail may be pushing rail stocks higher for now, but the risks are becoming clearer with every new accident.


All Bulled Up With No Place To Go | KUNSTLER

All Bulled Up With No Place To Go | KUNSTLER.

The financial wires and pod-waves are all lit up these days like it was happy hour at the Lottery Winner’s Lounge.  It appears that the American economy — capital management division — has found the long-wished-for magic alternative energy source: horseshit. It is fueling the conversation all over the Web and over the senile mainstream media megaphones. One technical analyst, celebrity Tweeter Ralph Acampora of Altaira Wealth Management, actually said this week that the USA would be “energy independent by 2016.” That’s rich. We’d only have to come up with 8.5 million new barrels of oil a day, or give up driving cars altogether.

Apparently, the Federal Reserve is not just hosing down the markets with liquidity (i.e. money for nothing), but has also turned its headquarters in lower Manhattan into the world’s biggest stationary crack pipe. Meanwhile, more than a few professional observers of the financial scene say there can’t be any bubble because that’s the only thing everybody talks about and bubbles only form when nobody notices them.

That’s just not true. Plenty of people were hollering and finger-pointing about the housing bubble years before it blew up the banking system, including yours truly in a book published in 2005 (The Long Emergency). The reason there is so much anxious chatter about the current bubble is because the bubble is there for all to see, and when it pops it is sure to leave a lot more rubble on the ground than the last time — for instance, the wreckage of trust in all paper investments, which would be quite an historic financial innovation. Since the interventions and manipulations of markets and interest rates are perfectly obvious, one would have to conclude from the current sentiment that faith in the crookedness of finance has completely solidified. The markets have now discounted their own dishonesty.

The story making the rounds these days is that the USA’s industrial economy is on the rise again; that the housing market has “recovered;” that (according to Meredith Whitney) the “central corridor” of the nation (Texas to Minnesota) is the second coming of Japan in the 1960s; that we have more oil than we know what to do with; that the nation has bred a super-race of intrepid entrepreneurial risk-takers like unto no other society in history; and finally that whatever else we are or are not, America is the cleanest shirt in the laundry basket of Mother Earth.

This is all horseshit of course, being smoked in the New York Fed’s crack pipe.

Here’s what’s actually going on. The Federal Reserve can only pretend to have any option besides force-feeding “money” into Wall Street as if it were a Strasbourg Goose with Crohn’s disease. What passes through goose is a vile toxic substance called malinvestment, which turns the energies of society into activities that produce nothing of value, like hedge fund employee bonuses, NSA operations, Tesla car promotion, Frank Gehry condo towers, drone strikes against Afghani wedding parties, Obama photo ops, inflated auction prices of oil paintings, and Barney’s new Jay-Z holiday fashion collection.

The Fed makes regular noises about ending the force-feeding program (a.k.a. “quantitative easing” or “bond purchases”) issued in the recorded minutes of its Open Market Committee (FOMC). The propaganda is called “forward guidance” to give it the appearance of seriousness and rectitude, but its actual nature is more like what goes on in a Jerry Lewis movie of the 1960s — a kind of antic mugging. Lately it’s referred to as “taper talk” in reference to the threat of tapering the Fed’s purchases of US Treasury bonds and other debt paper, which runs at around $85 billion a month. Sometime soon, the Fed may announce a tiny taper of say $10 billion a month. This head-fake taper will cause the interest rates on the ten-year-bond to shoot up north of 3 percent and threaten to bankrupt the government — which is too broke to pay interest that high on the loans it takes. The markets will have a whack attack over the tiny taper. The Fed will freak out at the odor of deflationary depression and go back to full-tilt force-feeding of the sick goose.

The outcome will be some combination of a complete loss of faith in paper currency and the “assets” denominated in it, a complete loss of trust between banks that they are solvent enough to do business with each other, and a conclusive implosion of Wall Street and all the institutions in and around it, extending to the executive branch of the federal government. The sorry little appendage to all that, US economy, will be left in the cold and dark, whimpering for its mommy.


“We Have to Consume Less”: Scientists Call For Radical Economic Overhaul to Avert Climate Crisis | Democracy Now!

“We Have to Consume Less”: Scientists Call For Radical Economic Overhaul to Avert Climate Crisis | Democracy Now!.


This is viewer supported news

A pair of climate scientists are calling for what some may view as a shocking solution to the global warming crisis: a rethinking of the economic order in the United States and other industrialized nations. Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows-Larkin of the influential Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in England say many of the solutions proposed by world leaders to prevent “runaway global warming” will not be enough to address the scale of the crisis. They have called for “radical and immediate de-growth strategies in the United States, EU and other wealthy nations.” Anderson says that to avoid an increase in temperature of two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the world would require a “revolutionary change to the political and economic hegemony.”


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Frédéric Chopin, here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we flew into Warsaw, we flew into Frédéric Chopin Airport. Yes, we’re broadcasting from the U.N. climate change summit here in Warsaw, Poland, the country of Copernicus and Marie Curie—the first metal she named, polonium, for Poland, and then, of course, radium.

We turn now to a pair of climate scientists who are calling for what some may view as a shocking solution to the climate crisis: a rethinking of the economic order in the United States and other industrialized nations. Their names are Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows-Larkin. They work at the influential Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in England, as well as the University of Manchester.

They were featured in a recent widely read article by Naomi Klein headlined “How Science Is Telling Us All to Revolt.” According to Anderson and Bows-Larkin, many of the solutions proposed by world leaders to prevent “runaway global warming” will not be enough to address the scale of the crisis. They have called for, quote, “radical and immediate de-growth strategies in the U.S., EU and other wealthy nations.” Anderson has said that to avoid an increase in temperature of two degrees Celsius—that’s 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit—the world would require a, quote, “revolutionary change to the political and economic hegemony.”

Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows-Larkin are here in Warsaw at the U.N. climate summit. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! It was rare to be able to actually sit across the table from you, because I know you don’t fly. You came here by train, Dr. Anderson.

KEVIN ANDERSON: Yes, that’s the case. We haven’t flown for—I haven’t flown for eight years. And Alice is something similar, I think.



KEVIN ANDERSON: Because the carbon dioxide emissions from flying, I mean, it’s sort of emblematic of modern life, for the wealthy few of us, that it symbolizes what we do, day in, day out. We don’t think twice about burning more and more carbon. So it’s important for us to make—it’s a symbolic gesture. But then, hopefully, that catalyzes action with other people to also say, “We, too, can make those sorts of changes.”

AMY GOODMAN: And so, how long did it take you to go from England to Poland by train?

KEVIN ANDERSON: It’s 23 hours from Manchester to arrive in Warsaw. But during that, we got a night’s sleep, and we managed to work the rest of the time on the train and have a meal. So, you know, it’s civilized, comfortable form of travel.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the dire situation we’re in and whether you feel that is expressed here at the U.N. climate summit.

KEVIN ANDERSON: Well, we’ve been in a dire situation now. It’s, I really think, since the late 19—well, the early 1990s, when we started to recognize this is a very severe situation. We’re now 20 years on from the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. Emissions are 60 to 70 percent higher than they were then. And the situation just gets worse every single year. We’re now at the point where this magical number of two degrees C, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, temperature rise, which really is the threshold between acceptable and dangerous climate change, so going above that temperature we start to see many, many really very, very dire impacts. We’re at the cusp of being able to make those changes. If we don’t do it in the next few years, we’ve literally left it too late. We will have gone beyond that sort of temperature threshold. We’ll have locked the future, our own children’s future, and for the rest of the planet, into high temperature changes, changes in precipitation, changes in weather, that we will not—well, most of us will simply not be able to deal with.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Bows-Larkin, tell us what two [degrees] Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and four degrees Celsius looks like.

ALICE BOWS-LARKIN: Well, at two degrees, you’re facing the widespread mortality of corals, many more extreme weather events, you know, more flooding, droughts and so on. But the problem is that we’re not on track for two degrees. You’d be forgiven for thinking, listening to the negotiations, that we are on track for two degrees and that’s something that’s reasonably straightforward to attain. The emissions profile, the emissions levels at the moment are more on track with a four degree of warming than a two degree of warming. So that means that much greater impacts is the kind of level or the—that’s where we’re heading for at the moment.

At four degrees, you’re going to be seeing much more devastating consequences, up to things like 30 percent reduction in the wheat yields and rice yields in low latitudes; 80 centimeters of sea-level rise, which will be absolutely devastating for people in coastal, low-lying communities—so much greater impacts at four degrees than two degrees.

And remember, these are global average temperatures, that the sea—the Earth is made up much more of sea than land. Temperatures rise more slowly over the sea. So, on land, those temperatures are higher. So, two degrees, on average, might be three or four degrees when you’re on land. And then, four degrees average temperature—you know, the thing that we really experience are things like heat waves and so on. We experience weather. And so, if you’re in a city and you experience a heat wave, maybe you’re going to be looking at more like eight to 10 degrees warmer in a heat wave on that hottest day of the year than we experience at the moment. So if you’re in New York or Chicago, for example, imagine 10 to 12 degrees or eight to 10 degrees warmer than the hottest days. Very extreme temperatures. And we just can’t—we don’t know we can adapt to that sort of level. And it will be devastating to ecosystems.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Anderson, you say we need “radical and immediate de-growth strategies.” What exactly does that mean?

KEVIN ANDERSON: In the short term, the only way we can get our emissions down is to actually reduce the level of energy we consume. Now, we can also put low-carbon energy supply in place, you know, power stations that are renewable—wind, even nuclear, as well. These are all very low-carbon power stations and other energy sources. But they take a long time to put in place. And we now—we’ve squandered the opportunity we had to make those changes. So, we still need to do that, but it’s going to take us 20, 30 years to do that. So what we need to do in the interim is to reduce the amount of energy we consume, and therefore reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that we emit.

And the levels of reduction we now need in carbon dioxide, and therefore energy consumption, are such that for many of us—for the wealthy of us, certainly—we can’t carry on as we’re going now. So we’ll have to consume less. And there’s absolutely no way out of that. The maths are absolutely clear. But it’s worth bearing in mind this is an equity issue, not just between the poorer south and richer north, but actually within our own countries, within the U.S. There will be many people in the U.S., probably the majority of people in the U.S., actually are relatively low carbon emitters, but there will be a small group of us, maybe 20 or 30 people in the U.S. or in the U.K. and in the EU, and our emissions are probably several fold, sometimes maybe even tenfold, the emissions of the average person that are there. So I think that this is not an issue where we all have to see less consumption. It’s those of us that consume well above the average that will have to see significant reductions in the short to medium term, once you put the low-carbon power stations in place.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk specifically, I mean, about what people use—for example, refrigerators, for example.

KEVIN ANDERSON: Well, refrigerator is a good example. Refrigerators are a major energy consumer in our homes. But you look at the size of the refrigerators you have in the U.S. They’re much, much bigger than the ones that we traditionally would use in Europe and the U.K. There’s no real need for that. If the refrigerator is that much bigger, that means it uses that much more energy. So, in that very simple case, you can imagine a quite rapid phase-out of the existing refrigerators for much smaller designs, but also much more efficient designs.

We will have to fly much less often than we do now. We’ll have to think about even some of the issues to do—difficult ones to accept, maybe things like hygiene, where we’ve now normalized showering every day, sometimes twice a day. That means we have to wash—change our clothes every day, and then we have to use more washing machines. So you see this sort of build up, one thing after another, that over the last 10 or 15 years we’ve moved from what were quite high carbon lifestyles to these completely profligate, extraordinarily high carbon lifestyles, and we’ve made them normal, that, actually, what we did 10 or 15 years ago, if we did that now, we’d think we were strange. But, you know, in that time, the emissions have gone up. We have squandered the chance now pretty much to make a gradual, evolutionary change to how we do what we do, and now we’ve left it to the point where we need, you know, radical, almost overnight change, particularly amongst those of us that are actually the major consumers.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Bows-Larkin, you said something interesting yesterday at your presentation, that if we don’t do something right now at a global level, that’s when lifestyle changes will be even—will have to further be changed in the future. If people are concerned about changing their lifestyle, if we don’t do it now, it will be more drastic in the future.

ALICE BOWS-LARKIN: Well, one of the problems is that the emissions, they gradually accumulate in the atmosphere. So, you know, if we come up with great new technologies to get where we want to get to in, say, 2050, then we’ll have built up lots of emissions, lots of carbon dioxide emissions, in the meantime. So, that means that the earlier you can actually cut those emissions, the easier it will be to achieve change overall and the more likely it is that we’ll be able to achieve these grand climate goals. But that points to doing things that you can do in the short term. So you can address consumption and behavior and demand-side measures. That’s not saying it’s easy. It’s going to be incredibly challenging. But we don’t have much debate about consumption and about demand. When I go to energy meetings, we talk primarily about energy supply, particularly electricity supply. But to change that takes a long time. You know, we need to be changing it, but it’s going to take a long time.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you, for young women who are listening right now—especially in the United States, women tend not to go into science, though more are—how did you end up becoming a climate scientist at one of the most esteemed climate institutes in the world, the Tyndall Centre?

ALICE BOWS-LARKIN: Well, I started off with a real interest in the stars, actually, so as in astronomy. And I decided to do a physics degree, because I was really interested in that. And then I felt that I—whilst that was very interesting and I really enjoyed the science, I wanted to try to apply my physics to something that was a bit more to do with, you know, some of the big societal problems. And so I ended up being a climate scientist. I did climate modeling for a while at Imperial College down in London. And then I was more interested in the kind of communication side and the policy side, which is why I’m now at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, where we’re in the Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering Department, where there are very few women, which is a shame, because I think that we have a lot to offer in science and engineering.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Anderson, the issue of equity—how does climate change affect different countries, different populations differently?

KEVIN ANDERSON: Well, if we think about the poor parts of the world, firstly, and very unfortunately, they’re actually geographically more vulnerable to many of the impacts of climate change, the increased sea level rise and so forth, so that they are often actually situated in a place that’s going to suffer the impacts earlier than we will in the wealthier North. Secondly, that we are in the wealthier North, we have the ability and the wherewithal to be able to protect ourselves and adapt to some of the changes that will occur, but the poorer parts in the South simply won’t have that ability. So they’ll be hit by more impacts than we will, and then they will actually have less money to actually be able to deal with those impacts, adaptation and so forth. And then, I think the other problem that goes with all of this, that they face many other problems as it is now. So, this is just one other concern that’s layered on top of the many other challenges that these parts of the world are facing. And the rates of change that we’re talking about now are ones whereby I think many of these communities will simply be unable to survive, even in sometimes the poor state that they are now.

AMY GOODMAN: Last night we went over to the convergence space of young activists.


AMY GOODMAN: Many of them were planning the protest, the big walkout that has happened here. Very interesting, as they planned to walk out, they took off their outer clothes, and they were wearing these white T-shirts that said, “Polluters talk, we walk,” and on the back it said, “We will be back.” Well, last night, Democracy Now!’s Amy Littlefield spoke with Ruth Nyambura, a young woman from Kenya, who traveled to Warsaw to demand climate justice here at the U.N. climate summit. She described how climate change is already transforming lives in Kenya.

RUTH NYAMBURA: We already have climate refugees. And especially pastoralist communities are the worst affected by climate change. Just to give a—just to give an example, in Kenya we have two rainy seasons—the long rains and the short rains. And this is one—the short rains, which are supposed to begin late September, early October, one of the most important planting seasons. And the rain delayed ’til 1st of November. And at this particular point, it stopped raining. We already have a drought alert for next year. In Turkana, we already have people who are starving. So, we’re already going into 2014 knowing full well that we’re going to have serious problems with regards to food.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Ruth Nyambura with the African Biodiversity Network from Nairobi, Kenya, speaking to Democracy Now!’s Amy Littlefield. Alice Bows-Larkin, your response, how countries like Kenya, continents like Africa, are being affected?

ALICE BOWS-LARKIN: Yeah, the impacts of climate change are being much more widely felt in places like Africa than in a place like the U.K., for instance, where we have very variable weather, we have high levels of good-quality lifestyles, and so we are less affected by climate change. Unfortunately, many of the parts of the world that are going to see the impacts first are going to be those that are most vulnerable, where people don’t have the wherewithal to be able to adapt to change. And that’s the kind of thing that’s being seen already in Africa and that we will see more and more frequently in the future.

AMY GOODMAN: This issue of loss and damage, what industrialized countries, the traditional polluters, owe to other countries?

KEVIN ANDERSON: Well, that’s certainly how I see it. I see it as reparation, that we have basically said to these parts of the world, “You can’t develop and be successful, as we have—on the same mechanisms that we have in the West.” We’ve used fossil fuels to bring us this wonderful quality of life that we have today, and we’re basically saying that because of climate change, these poor parts of the world can no longer go down that same route. So it’s incumbent on those of us that actually enjoy the benefits of—or have enjoyed significantly the benefits of fossil fuels, now try to help those poor parts of the world. So I say it simply is reparation. It is what we owe them, rightly owe them, to help them develop using slightly more expensive renewable, low-carbon energy systems, so they, too, can live qualities of lives like us. But at the moment, in the West, we are very reluctant to really help them, other than lip service.

AMY GOODMAN: Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore gave a TED Talk in which he discussed ways individuals can help avert climate change. This is a clip of that talk.

AL GORE: It is easier than you think. It really is. A lot of us in here have made that decision, and it is really pretty easy. It means—it means reduce your carbon dioxide emissions with the full range of choices that you make, and then purchase or acquire offsets for the remainder that you have not completely reduced.

AMY GOODMAN: You were just listening to Vice President Al Gore. Alice Bows-Larkin, your response?

ALICE BOWS-LARKIN: I mean, there’s an awful lot that we can do as individuals, and I think those of us who are either in the limelight or in leadership positions should be kind of setting an example. But that’s not to say that that’s necessarily going to do the job. We need bottom-up and top-down action. We need change at all levels. We need leadership from our policymakers.

But when it comes down to individual action, you know, one of the things that actually isn’t going to bring down emissions is the issue of offsets, so carbon offsets. They’re not going to help us reduce our emissions, because at the moment we don’t have a cap on emissions overall. If we did, if we had a cap at a global level, which is what we would all hope for, we could then exchange emissions rights. But we don’t have that. So carbon offsets are not going to reduce emissions.

So we need to be looking at our own actions in the energy we consume, the kind of things that we purchase, all of our different lifestyle choices. But that’s particularly those of us who are being watched, if you like. I think governments need to act. Governments need to start discussing consumption and behavior, and how can you bring in policies that actually get to the people who are emitting the most emissions, which is only a few of us in the world.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask about the role of scientists and protest, so that brings us to James Hansen, known as the leading climate scientist in the United States, retired this year as director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies so he can be more activist. He has been arrested multiple times in recent years protesting mountaintop removal, coal mining, demanding action on climate change. A few years ago, I talked to him about his arrests at these protests.

JAMES HANSEN: These protests are what we call civil resistance, in the same way that Gandhi did. We’re trying to draw attention to the injustice, because this is really analogous. This is a moral issue, analogous to that faced by Lincoln with slavery or by Churchill with Nazism, because what we have here is a tremendous case of intergenerational injustice, because we are causing the problem, but our children and grandchildren are going to suffer the consequences.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s James Hansen, retired last year as director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, there for many years. Professor Kevin Anderson, that role that you feel scientists should be playing and the role that’s played right here at the COP?

KEVIN ANDERSON: I think we—I think the scientific community has for too long really let the policymakers, and indeed the wider public, down, that we haven’t been as vociferous as we should have been about what our science is telling us. So, our science is telling us, and has told us, to be honest, for 10 to 15 years at least, that—you know, explain the situation that we’re in and that we need these radical levels of change. But we have not—we have not translated that in a language that indicates how important that is. We have used language which is more acceptable to the policymakers. It’s more politically palatable. So we’ve converted, you know, “impossible within the current economic framework” to “a little bit challenging.” Now, that’s not a fair reflection of what our analysis is showing us. So I think, to some extent, though there’s some excellent work that’s been done by the scientists just to show how severe this problem is, the actual language that we’ve used isn’t one that’s demonstrated that severity to the policymakers.

And that’s really evident here. If you sit in to the big plenary sessions, what you hear are these ministers with sort of platitudes and “We must do something about it”—all motherhood and apple pie, and, oh, we can have green—we can have everything; we have our cake, and we can eat it. The science is showing this is completely misguided. But I don’t think we, as scientists, are that vociferous, that vocal in saying, “Hang on, you’re not talking about the issue as we’re understanding it from our own analysis.” So I think we need to be much more engaged. And it is—as James Hansen points out, this is now a moral question. It is not a question that can be resolved with technical solutions. It is now a question that—which is much more embedded in what we do as civil society, in our political structures, in our economic structures, in our attitude towards wealth and well-being of other people in the world, as well as within our own countries. This is now a moral question, not just a scientific question.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Anderson, talk about the pressure that climate scientists face. I mean, you had the big scandal of the emails at East Anglia being exposed and hacked. You’ve been called the “Ayatollah of the green movement.”

KEVIN ANDERSON: I think—actually, I think for scientists who want to be very honest about their research and communicate it openly and so everyone can hear it, for us, we’re attacked almost from both sides. We’ve got the skeptics on one side, that call us alarmists and so forth; and we’ve got other—other people on the other side, our own colleagues, our own peers, and indeed our own research and funding bodies, who are actually reluctant for us to stand up and be quite as what they would say is being political, as I almost turn that around and say that actually the silence of many scientists I see as being very political, that we have sat by and let our work be misused repeatedly by policymakers—and we’re doing that again at this Conference of the Parties event here in Warsaw—and that by staying quiet, we’re effectively saying we agree with them using our work like this. That is not the role of science or the scientists. Our role as scientists is to stand up for the analysis that we do. And it if is misused, we should be louder and louder and louder about how it is being misused. But at the moment, there is pressure from both sides for us as scientists to stay quite quiet about this, just to say, “Oh, it’s an issue, a problem that we can resolve in the current way of thinking.” You know, that’s all rubbish. The analysis and the maths are really clear about this now. We need radical change.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about the United States and then China. You visited China, I believe by train, a few years ago, right?

KEVIN ANDERSON: Yes, there and back by train, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: First start talking about the United States.

KEVIN ANDERSON: Well, the United States very clearly has a major historical responsibility—


KEVIN ANDERSON: —for the situation we’re in, because of the fossil fuels it’s burned—as, of course, has the U.K. and the EU. So, all of the industrialized countries have a major responsibility, because we have put out the emissions, since we’ve been—since we’ve known about climate change. Remember, we knew about climate change very significantly by the mid-’80s. It became a major political issue by the time of the Earth Summit in 1992. We’re now 21 years later, and we’ve done absolutely nothing about it but watch emissions rise, day in, day out, year in, year out. So we have to have some responsibility. You know, our scientists were telling our policymakers, who were making the right sort of noises 21 years ago, and we’ve done nothing. So we now—in the U.S., in the U.K., in the EU—we have a significant responsibility to get our emissions down and to put the—you know, to put our own house in order. And at the same time, of course, we also have the wherewithal to be able to do that. We’ve got great intellectual skills and inventive skills in the U.S., in the EU and so forth. We have the money to be able to put those into practice. So there are many things that we can actually—we can actually do and deliver within these wealthier parts of the world now.

AMY GOODMAN: China? How long did it take you to get there?

KEVIN ANDERSON: It took me 11 days to get from Manchester to Shanghai. It was the most productive period of my academic career. I managed to write a paper on the way there and another paper on the way back. So it was much more quicker than flying, from a sort of productive point of view.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the difference between using train and using a plane, in terms of energy consumption.

KEVIN ANDERSON: Well, a lot of people just ask me that question: Is the train that much better than the plane? Actually, it doesn’t really matter, in terms of the journey, whether it’s better or not, because what happens if you go by train is you don’t go very often. So you immediately curtail about how much you travel. And also, you plan when you get there to spend longer there. So I went to China, and I spent two weeks doing a lecture tour in China, as many of my colleagues flew there to give 20-minute talks and then flew back the following day, and then probably the following week were flying to another venue. So, it’s not the actual emissions from the journey that matter; it’s how it makes you change your life.

Virtually everyone that I’ve spoken to who’s flown here say, “Oh, I flew here and then got a taxi into Warsaw.” So people who fly already do not then use public transport to, say, travel back into the town. It normalizes a whole load of high-carbon activities, that we then—that then become what we do every single day. And, of course, it’s very challenging then to think, “Actually, I—well, actually, I could get to—could get to Warsaw by train from Manchester, yeah.” That would never cross their mind, because it’s only a two-hour flight. And when they fly here, they’re flown here, they’ve got the taxi here. We take the train here, and then we take the bus and the tram, and we go to our hotel. It’s not that challenging.

You know, we manage to engage with scientists around the world using all of the forms of communication that we’re all using here. So there are plenty of virtual forms of communication. There’s expertise all around the world now. We do not have to keep flying around the world in a sort of old-fashioned, colonial style. You know, here’s the great white hope, the great white males from the rich parts of the world, flying around to the poor parts of the world, telling them how they should be living their lives. So I think that we really need to be stepping away from thinking about the world like that.

And when you come to somewhere like China, China has wonderful expertise, good universities, great inventive capacity, and also an ability to put those things in practice much quicker than we can do in the West. It also has many problems, as well. Its emissions now are very, very high indeed. But whilst everyone criticizes China—and certainly there are many things we can criticize it for—it’s building a coal-fired power section roughly every week—but it puts up a wind turbine roughly every hour. It’s brought a lot of its investment spent on renewable power. Solar power around the world is much cheaper now, thanks to the Chinese. So, you know, as in the U.S., there are good things in China, and there are bad things in China. What we need to focus on is trying to improve the things that we can do well, which we have all of that capacity. We have all that ingenuity. And we even have a lot of the public will to make those changes that are necessary. The polls always tell us that people are keen to move to cleaner forms of energy. But, you know, for whatever reasons, politic—we still seem to be stuck in a rut of what we did back in the 20th century. We’re now in the 21st century.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think the folks were right, Alice Bows-Larkin, to walk out of these talks, saying, “Polluters talk, we walk”?

ALICE BOWS-LARKIN: I think that it’s important that if the scientists and the science is not being adhered to or listened to, and that there is frustration, I think those people who are in those civil society organizations need to make a stand and to raise the profile. I’m a great believer in communication. I worked in science communication for a while myself. And, you know, different parts of this community that are here—the academics, the civil society, the journalists and so on—we all have a different role to play. And civil society are trying to raise the profile, the fact that, you know, this is a huge and an urgent problem. And actually, you would not get that sort of message from the negotiations, that it’s urgent at all. You know, you get the sense that really we can, you know, wait a while, and at some point we will sort some targets out. Well, it’s, frankly, going to be too late. And it’s—you know, not setting any targets before 2015 means it will be too late to avoid a two-degree target, because emissions are supposed to have globally reached a peak by then. Well, of course, they can’t reach a peak if we don’t have a target.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both very much for being with us. Professor Kevin Anderson is deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, and Alice Bows-Larkin is senior research fellow there at the Tyndall Centre. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We’re broadcasting from the U.N. climate summit in Warsaw, Poland. We’ll be back in a minute.



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