Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Interesting Stuff


What is going to happen when the glaciers in Tibet melt away and India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and China find themselves deprived of drinkable water?

What will happen when the Gulf Stream Ocean conveyer belt stops, an Ice age is triggered in Europe and the Amazonian rainforest burns as a result?

What are we going to do when we run out of natural reserves in the next one hundred years?

What are we going to do when carbon concentrations in the atmosphere are above 400ppm (We're at 389ppm), the level of global warming is above 2 degrees and global warming becomes self-sustaining and unstoppable?

What are we going to do when we have severe draughts, crop failures and not enough food to feed the world population?

What are we going to do if we have a Nuclear war as a result of fights over what is left of available resources on Earth?

What are we going to do if the Amazonian rainforest, home to most of the Earth's wildlife and generating 20% of the world's oxygen is either burned down or logged down?

What are we going to do when we reach peak oil and most of us can't afford to put oil in our tanks because the price is too dear?

What are we going to do when our attempts to reduce our carbon emissions result in less global dimming and the Planet warms at a faster rate?

What are we going to do when the level of global warming reaches 6 degrees and the 10,000 billion tonnes of methane trapped at the bottom of the Oceans are released in the atmosphere triggering an explosion 10,000 times greater than the World's stockpile of Nuclear weapons?

What will happen to us if the atmosphere is destroyed as a result of the release of the immense greenhouse gases trapped all over the Planet by a stable climate?

Is doing nothing about all this a viable option?

As you ponder these questions, I'm sure you'll come to the same conclusion as I: trying to do anything is futile, stick your head in the sand, do nothing and pretend everything is fine. Place your trust in the Science God whilst you keep on flying and shopping until the Earth is no more.

Monday, 27 April 2009


In my view Government is the most unsustainable type of organisation on the Planet. It collects the largest amount of revenue of any organisation in the country yet it is incapable of generating even a fraction of its expenditure as income. A Government should be at least in part a social organization involved in loss making social enterprise financed by taxes. On the other hand, Governments should be involved in joint ventures with companies to compete against the monopoly of existing corporations. A prime example of that in my mind is the Microsoft software. Every new edition is ever more unsustainable, ever more useless and requires a new purchase. If the people understood the schemes divided by corporations to obtain steady incomes, there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning. In the case of Microsoft, every new version of Windows takes up more space on the hardisk and requires a new computer. Each computer is made out of some rare metals that in some cases only have 2 decades ahead of them before they disappear. Further the software itself may not have been changed for the last decade and no one would notice the difference. Windows is a monument to the engineering of needs for a service that we don't need and that we don't want. Further Microsoft is guilty of several antitrust legislation breaches and of taking legal steps to make the debate about antitrust allegations last as long as possible. Rather than fine them, the State would do better to engineer a product that is better and cheaper. If it could only reap a fraction of the profits of the windows operating system, it would do well for itself. The cost of doing this? Only a fraction of the potential income. My suggestion would be to take the free ubuntu linux system, improve it and commercialize it.
Think about a government earning its own income. We the citizens would no longer be required to pay taxes and companies would end up paying less taxes as well. Obscene amounts of money wouldn't be transfered in such large quantities to obscure shareholders. Everyone would benefit. Instead what does the Government do? It squanders 250 of perfectly good money to every couple who has a new born child. As if the world wasn't over populated enough as it is, the Government feels it is a good idea to pay to incentivise the birth of one more child that will end up being responsible for 900 tonnes of carbon emissions over its lifetime. And I'm not even going to go into the incentives for single teenage mums to feed on taxpayer's money.
The Government should be focused on generating some of its own income, cutting its expenses and reducing the tax burden. An easy way to do that would be to instaure a single child policy thereby reducing the need for hospital staff, medication and teachers. The State needs to learn to weed off the taxpayer's breast.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Non Renewable Natural resources how much is left?

All of the following figures come from the prestigious French magazine, Internationally renowned and highly regarded by the Scientific community: Science et Vie, June 2008.
All the figures are based on proved and probable reserves and assume current consumption stays the same. Of course, both assumptions are unrealistic as more reserves may be found but since world population is expected to rise by another 30% over the next 40 years, new discoveries may be offset by a rising population's needs.

Aluminum: 131 years

Coal: 150 years

Cobalt: 112 years

Copper: 31 years

Gold: 17 years

Iron: 79 years

Lead: 22 years

Natural Gas: 64 years

Nickel: 40 years

Palladium: 15 years

Petroleum: 42 years

Platinum: 56 years

Silver: 13 years

Tin: 17 years

Uranium: 32 years

Zinc: 17 years

Conclusion: 100 years from now, the Planet will have been pillage, future generations will have nothing left to build on and our legacy to them will be a climate in which they can barely live in. That's why they politely call our mode of development unsustainable. In reality, anyone who agrees with it is either barking mad or totally ignorant. Unfortunately, the majority in this instance may be excused for total ignorance. Thank the corporations, the press and your government for that. If any of these representatives are still alive when the shit hits the fan, maybe we can get the guillotine out again for consolation and chop their heads off. Future generations are going to need a triple doze of Prozac to cope with the reality we've left for them to inherit. Smile, you're part of the developped, civilized world.

What do I get out of adopting a green lifestyle

"I know that as people learn to do better, they do better, they feel better, and they sleep better as a result of making a good choice." Russell Simmons, Hip Hop Mogul, Grist, 28/4/09

Realizing what people will lack in the future gives you a sense of appreciation of what you have today. Most people go through life always wanting more. Where does it stop?
You could live longer.
You would definitely be healthier.
You will have a lower risk of cancer and disease caused by chemicals in the food supply and cleaning products.
You'll benefit the environment.
You'll influence others.
You'll contribute to changing the culture and changing society.
You'll do what most others won't.
You'll become more self-sufficient.
You'll become more knowledgeable.
You'll live the way Nature intended us to.
Greatful to the environment for giving you life, you'll live in harmony with it not destroying it unwittingly.
You'll feel like a new person.
You'll be proud of yourself for doing things you didn't know you could.
You'll be at peace with yourself knowing that you're doing everything you can to avoid the impending disaster.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Moral Obligation

What does it mean to be green?
What does it mean to be an ecowarrior?
What does it mean to be environmentally friendly?

To me all these terms are fashionable and are used to designate people who are foolish enough to chose an ecolifestyle and self-restraint. Ecowarrior, in particular rings in my head as Don Quichotte, an imbecile on a horse fighting an invisible and for all purposes, inexistent enemy.

This is how the world looks at it. Our culture is heavily under attack from the advertising, corporate and liberal mentality at the same time as it is undergoing a crisis of scale. People do not get the link in between their consumption choices and their pollution because it is not labelled on products, it is not debated enough in the media and for all intents and purposes, why should I restraint from doing something if my neighbour isn't and why should I vote for a government gun-ho on restraining my personal freedom? Screw that!

First and foremost, acting to stop global warming is about change and people don't like change. People are creatures of habit. It's easy to give and to receive but taking away raises havock. Whilst our consumption goes on unchecked, our primitive tribal mind doesn't get the global picture: there are 10 to 14 times more of us than the Earth can sustain on this Planet and we all want everything now. We're only interested in the short-term. Screw the long-term. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. That's why as a shareholder, I want a quarterly report not an annual one! And you the CEO if you don't show me some kind of growth trend in my shares, I'll dump them.

Despite what you think of it, no matter how difficult it might be, everyone of us has a moral obligation to do everything they can to reduce their carbon footprint. Life is at stake. Since we've all been given that gift, it is our obligation to pass it on to future generations. We are all able to participate in economic activity, able to enjoy the freebies given to us by our beautiful planet, the air, the trees, the food, the habitat. It's up to us to preserve all of that and we all have a tremendous power to do that in our daily lives.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Flight tax

The government's income's fallen and we're on the brink of bankruptcy?

Not a problem. There's an easy way out.

Here's a policy idea for politicians looking for funding: tax each airline passenger for the estimated amount of greenhouse gases produced by their flight. Ensure that the passenger is not taxed based on the airline's reported emissions but on the true emissions including contrail and nitrogen which triples the reported total. That should make the price of each ticket 50-60 dearer dissuading week-end escapades and bringing much needed revenue to the Treasury.

Use the tax to fund subsidies in cavity wall insulation, loft insulation, condensing boilers and to heavily subsidize the installation of uneconomical renewable energy facilities such as tidal wave and biomass. I recently read alarming reports from the charity REF about the fact that most renewable energy investment goes into the least capital intensive technology, wind, preventing us from having a balanced portfolio of renewable energy power stations.

Any jobs lost in airlines as a result of these taxes could be gained in the renewable energy sector.

Sure enough there would be a public backlash and people would complain for a while but do you notice anyone complaining when they go and fill up at the petrol station?

Saturday, 4 April 2009

A note of hope on the politics of climate change

In my previous post, I noted how useless politicians were in dealing with climate change issues. There is another side to that argument that wouldn't exist if it weren't for the fact that Barrack Obama was elected President. He is living proof of our species potential.

Within his first days of office, he takes decisive decisions to address environmental, social and legal issues in the U.S.. He thereby demonstrates true leadership. At what cost? Demonstrating true leadership is a balancing and highly skilled exercise. A study of Obama's statements is extremely revealing: he is capable like no other politician of speaking to the electorate as a whole.

In dealing with problems, he adopts a dual approach which can be observed in nuanced, balanced statements attempting to find outcomes satisfying opposite views and thereby catering to a wider audience, a true exercise in democracy. He is capable of doing this at the same time as he furthers a single-sided agenda. The secret of his leadership resides in his highly skilled communication ability to satisfy both sides of the electorate in order to get an issue really satisfying one side to move up the agenda.

The cost will come in the future as true leadership means that sooner or later powerful interests in the electorate will be alienated and find a way to undermine the progress that has been made. This is what lead Obama to be elected in the first place: a combination of the financial crisis and Bush's lack of leadership. But the same effect will be at play in the future, change leads on to more change.

The essence of leadership is this: you can either be good to people or good for people. Being good for them justifies taking actions they disagree with in the present but that the leader expects will benefit them in the future. This process can't really be described as good or bad.

Our society is badly in need of true leadership but it is a rare commodity. I'm a big believer that the leadership that society needs exists in every individual who discovers they are capable of taking matters in their own hands and achieving significant changes.

The crisis of inactivity

"The meaning of the industrial revolution was that nature was turned into a resource that was considered endlessly abundant. The deterioration of the environment of our planet is an outward mirror of an inner condition. Like inside, like outside." Source: the 11th Hour

The problem we are having with our ecological impact is not just one of carbon output. The problem is one of failure of carbon reduction initiatives. If we wanted we could reduce our carbon emissions. The problem is in finding the will. It seems to me that will lacks in politicians, it lacks in individuals, it lacks in industry, it lacks in society as a whole.

Is the problem to do with our economic system? Does capitalism engender unstoppable levels of pollution? Another way to phrase the problem is: can society as a whole change fast enough to dodge levels of global warming that would bring civilization to an end? James Lovelock is pessimistic on the subject judging that mankind isn't intelligent enough to avoid its own unmaking. Most environmentalists would rather live in a state of denial than admit to that, including myself.

Capitalism has huge benefits for mankind. It enables it to secure the basics and fulfill its secondary needs but in the process it is self-destructive judging by what the science tells us about the state of the Planet. As a species we have an inbuilt compulsory need for security. We need the security that we can secure adequate supplies of food and shelter to survive and past that stage, we need to be occupied. Capitalism is the solution to these needs. At an individual level, we are sometimes so caught up in trying to make a living that we have no time to consider the environmental impact of our lives and no time to do anything about it either.

If we look at politicians, they are no different to us. One area of economics that helps us understand their motivations is game theory. Politicians have to operate in a constrained environment of incentives and punishment. Politicians are no different to you or me, they will do what they can to remain in office. In doing so, taking measures that risk allienating them public support in the short term are undesirable outcomes. That's why there is no tax on plane travel or any restriction of any kind on travel routes or number of plane journeys, despite the fact that plane pollution is one of the most important causes of global warming and one of the easiest to address. The market fixes the problem through supply and demand. The only restriction existing on plane travel is that of available runways in the UK. Since the market only regulates itself through supply, demand and price, it is not capable of looking after its long term interest: its ability to continue as an entity indefinitely. Rather, it is preoccupied with the short-term issue of keeping the whole complex system functioning. As the financial crisis demonstrates: to insure its long-term survival, the market needs a regulatory framework that defines the boundaries in which it can operate. That is the Yin and Yang of the market if you like.

The Yin and Yang of the Planet is imbalanced: ecological systems are collapsing and not enough is being done to address their collapse, namely a reduction in the carbon emissions that are aggravating the warming. They say that hindsight is a beautiful thing. In hindsight, we could have regulated the derivatives market and avoided the worst of a crisis that has so far required us to borrow trillions to see ourselves out of it. In the end the market got its way: it wanted freedom to operate as it saw fit, it got it and in the process it created a Yin and Yang imblance: the abscence of regulation. Regulation could have avoided the issuing of so much junk debt and the insurance of that junk debt to a level of eight times the actual amount of the junk debt! It didn't and that created the crisis. In hindsight, people might have preferred regulation at the cost of not being able to live as well as they desired. Now the price they have to pay is insecurity. Insecurity is a better price to pay than life itself. At least if you don't have a job, you still have a life. So long as you scramble to find food and shelter, you'll live.

The next crisis, the environmental crisis, is far worst: what it will deprive us of this time is our lives. James Lovelock made an educated guess that the world's population would decrease from 9 billion in 2050 to 1 billion in 2100. The same happened on Easter Island seven centuries ago. Population peaked at 7000 and then shrinked 90% once the inhabitants had deforested the Island to erect the world famous Moai Statues. With no trees left, the inhabitants were no longer able to build boats so they killed each other to avoid starving to death. A genius wasn't required to see that to insure their own survival, the inhabitants needed to insure the survival of the forest but the inhabitants were to preoccupied in fulfilling their short-term need of securing protection from the Gods to distinguish the tree from the forest. This lack of foresight cost them their civilization. When the island was rediscovered by a Western explorer in the 16th century, only a few hundred starved, bony survivors remained. To this day, the abundant tropical forest that once rellished the island has not returned.

Individuals cannot count on politicians to deal effectively and decisively with global warming before it's too late. Politicians are elected in a democracy to fulfill the needs of individuals and the short-term need of individuals is prosperity. Individuals, like the market, are not capable of looking after their long-term interest: survival of the species. For an individual to gather the motivation to look after their long-term interest, a crisis is needed. Not until they find their homes flooded or their food supply dwindling will individuals take decisive action to protect themselves. Unfortunately, in the case of the global warming crisis, the crisis once it is set is unstoppable and causes total annihilation of the ecosystems and the species that depend upon it. The perversity of the environmental crisis is that it will not manifest itself in life threatening ways until it is already too late and it cannot be avoided.

Why should we expect politicians to deal with the environmental crisis if the reward they get for it is a media storm, discreditation alongside getting voted out of office?

Judging by the most recent scientific reports, it's already too late anyway. But we may still have a shot, albeit a very uncertain one since no one can really tell you how we can take back the carbon we've put in the atmosphere and avoid the methane burried at the bottom of the ocean from coming out. But I trust in human ingeniosity, I just hope we'll find something. In the meanwhile, we need to find ways to reduce our carbon emissions.

Coming back to capitalism, I'm a big believer that adequately manipulated, it can indeed offer a solution to our problem: the environmental crisis. The solution is the week-end.

Thanks to the wealth we are able during week days, we have as a nation, an untapped potential of 51 billion hours, worth at minimum wage, 304 billion a year. Desperate times call for desperate measures. What to do with this free time?

The most important life saving infrastructure that needs to be built is a means to absorb the excess carbon that has built up in the atmosphere over the past 50 years. That carbon needs to be sucked in and stored. Storage reserves exist but what we need is pipeline infrastructure leading to geological areas where the carbon can be stored along with a worldwide network of chimney infrastructure to suck in the carbon. This solution was presented in New Scientist in February 09 but it was among the least economical. In carbon capture and storage, we cannot take into account economical factors. You can't dump stuff in the atmosphere or in the oceans without being able to retrieve it and without knowing its long term effect. It's just too dangerous. I've read of particles that could be sent out in the atmosphere to reflect sunlight that could self-destruct but I'm sceptical about this. How can these particles be controlled? What if they have any secondary or unexpected effects? To me the common sense solution would be to put the carbon back where we found it and for that, we have a huge untapped man hour reserve that could well solve our problems without costing us our lifestyles.

So how do you get people to work on their week-ends? And more importantly, how do you get them to learn the skills required to do the necessary work? How do you mobilize an entire society?

The answer is in our past. In the past, military drafting was compulsory. A cultural, social and economical change of the magnitude of using up people's week-ends for production would require a military-style level of organization. Some people would have to work a seven day week continuing with their normal jobs whilst others would be taken away from their job to work full-time in the carbon sucking manufacturing sector. In the past, peasents use to work a 6 day week, Sunday was God's day and you stopped work that day to honour God. Sunday was never really a day for rest. The idea of resting at weekends to recharge your batteries is nice but would you stop to rest at weekends if your life was endangered?

Now that most of society is without faith, working Sunday isn't such a problem anymore. Even if society was with faith, it would be an honour to work on Sunday to protect God's gift to mankind: the Planet.

Initially, the measure could work by getting people to volunteer to either work weekends in their firms or to work on carbon sucking manufacturing full-time. It could also work on a rota system where people would spend a year in this system, a year out then another year in. I think it would work best targeting the service and public sector industry in the sectors that are deemed the least stressful such as administration, IT, banking, retail etc... where the need for rest is least required.

The untapped potential is there. It's up to us to seize it and do something to address the crisis of inactivity.