Truth, honesty, and loss

Poppies in the moat of the Tower of London, 2014

(Artificial) Poppies in the moat of the Tower of London

Dear Paul,

A few days ago, you asked: Wherein lays the truth?

I believe that the crux of the matter lies in one of the quotations you offer:

“… we are in a generational struggle to defend the principles of the free market against people who want to undermine it or strip it away.”

This choice of words reveals a perception clouded by ideology.

Whether one includes oneself in the ‘we’ of the above quote will effectively determine one’s stance on various issues such as global warming, climate change, austerity, free market fundamentalism, corporate corruption, wealth inequality, population, immigration, peak oil, belief in the viability of infinite growth on a finite planet — and possibly the existence of the Loch Ness monster, too.

You previously said ‘Vested interests, perhaps‘. Personally, I would strike the ‘perhaps’.

Mr. Truth is a shifty character whose principal skills are subterfuge, disguise and, most of all, misdirection.

'It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.' - Ansel Adams

Special thanks for the pointer to The Toll-Booth Economy, in which George Monbiot cogently argues that corporations are the enemy within. His words underscore the reason I no longer wear a red poppy on this day. I believe that to do so would be an insult to the memories of those who laid down their lives for democratic freedoms we clearly no longer respect — because if we did respect them, we might do more about their erosion.

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Capitalism vs The Climate

I believe myself to be a realist. I have no doubt that many who know me would scoff at this, having long ago slotted me firmly in the ‘pessimist’ pigeonhole.

Nevertheless, my weeks of late seem to be full of Thursdays. As in “This must be Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays.” This particular week, my copy of Naomi Klein’s new book This Changes Everything arrived and, though snuffling and sneezing from a streaming cold, I tore through it in about five thick gulps.

I found it a fascinating read.

The book is aptly subtitled ‘Capitalism vs The Climate’. Here’s a passage that I think summarises both the book, and our situation, rather well:

The idea that capitalism and only capitalism can save the world from a crisis created by capitalism is no longer an abstract theory; it’s a hypothesis that has been tested and retested in the real world. We are now able to set theory aside and take a hard look at the results: at the celebrities and media conglomerates that were supposed to model chic green lifestyles who have long since moved on to the next fad; at the green products that were shunted to the back of the supermarket shelves at the first signs of recession; at the venture capitalists who were supposed to bankroll a parade of innovation but have come up far short; at the fraud-infested, boom-and-bust carbon market that has failed miserably to lower emissions; at the natural gas sector that was supposed to be our bridge to renewables but ended up devouring much of their market instead. And most of all, at the parade of billionaires who were going to invent a new form of enlightened capitalism but decided that, on second thought, the old one was just too profitable to surrender.

We’ve tried it Branson’s way. (And Buffett’s, Bloomberg’s, Gates’s, and Pickens’s way.) The soaring emissions speak for themselves. There will, no doubt, be more billionaire saviors who make splashy entrances, with more schemes to rebrand capitalism. The trouble is, we simply don’t have another decade to lose pinning our hopes on these sideshows. There is plenty of room to make a profit in a zero-carbon economy; but the profit motive is not going to be the midwife for that great transformation.

This is important because Branson was onto something with his pledge [to spend $3 billion developing technologies to battle climate change — a pledge he has yet to fulfil]. It makes perfect sense to make the profits and proceeds from the businesses that are most responsible for exacerbating the climate crisis help pay for the transition to a safer, greener future. Branson’s original idea — to spend 100 percent of the proceeds from his trains and airlines on figuring out a way to get off fossil fuels — was, at least in theory, exactly the kind of thing that needs to take place on a grand scale. The problem is that under current business models, once the shareholders have taken a slice, once the executives have given themselves yet another raise, once Richard Branson has launched yet another world-domination project and purchased another private island, there doesn’t seem to be much left over to fulfill the promise.

– Naomi Klein, ‘This Changes Everything’, pp 252-3

A half pint of beer

It’s in print so it must be true.

One of the many features of homo fatuus brutus is an uncompromising optimism, a trait that has helped to get us to the top of the food chain. Unfortunately, we’re busily demolishing all the links below us. Our species has had so much practise finding ways out of problems that the precipice ahead is literally unthinkable, as in ‘impossible to think about’. And yet, full of hope and optimism, Klein points to a path out of the nightmare. ‘This Changes Everything’ is the kind of book I would love to write; though I doubt I could ever flavour our predicament with the verve and confident enthusiasm with which she has imbued it.

I’m too much the realist, you see ;)

In fact, having finished the book, I’m resolved to read it again to try to figure out how Klein pulled off the optimistic view trick… because where she sees burgeoning mass activism everywhere, I only see sporadic signs; bubbling under, perhaps, but never making enough impact.

Whitehall is just one place that must be choked by a throng demanding action every week — not just once in a blue moon — until Those In Power feel their cosy positions under threat. Because until they feel they absolutely must act, they.
Absolutely.
Will.
Not.

Whether optimist, pessimist, or realist, we all need to pull together, soon, because the last drop will soon be gone — and there will be no way to refill the glass.

Posted in ... wait, balance, Business, Capitalism, Climate, Core thought, Economics, Education, Energy, Environment, History, what? | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

What can I do?

Humanity’s demands on our planet’s resources now exceeds nature’s ability to regenerate by a massive 50%. This means that we would need one and a half planet Earths to support humanity’s current ecological footprint. And — largely due to ignorance — the gulf is widening; every year, homo fatuus brutus demands more and more of the one planet upon which it lives.

The mounting costs of this problem include deforestation, fresh-water scarcity, biodiversity loss, climate change, and more economic instability and inequality.

“Yes,” I hear you say, “this may be so, but what can I do?” Well, here are two options:

  1. Measure your own ecological footprint with the ecological footprint calculator. This measures your impact on our planet’s resources and then offers simple lifestyle changes to reduce your footprint.
  2. Support Global Footprint Network’s ‘crowdrise’ goal (follow link for more information).

Smokie in concert in Moscow, 1994 (I was there). Funny story… when Smokie arrived at the airport for the gig, the band was mobbed by Russians who demanded that they should play ‘What can I do’. In the days leading up to the concert, Smokie were practising this song — one that they hadn’t played for twenty-odd years — not far from the office where I was working. The tune wafted repeatedly down the hallway as I toiled away.

Smokie 1994Why were the Russian fans so adamant that this particular song must feature in the concert? It turns out that — unbeknown to Smokie, all these years — ‘What can I do?’ sounds like the Russian phrase ‘Wodka nido': bring vodka! (and so, naturally, the song was a big hit in Russia when it was first released back in the mid-1970s).

Mitakuye Oyasin.

Posted in ... wait, balance, Biodiversity, Communication, Computers and Internet, Core thought, crowdsourcing, Culture, Economics, Education, Energy, Environment, Food, Health, History, Just for laughs, memetics, Music, People, Phlyarology, Strategy, Water, what? | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

This changes everything

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A multitude of drops

Global Footprint Network pointed me to ‘My Drop in the Oceans’ — a global currency platform designed to empower people to value nature through partnerships with businesses and local authorities. I’ve signed up and claimed my free money already :)
DIO logo

My Drop in the Oceans is a global currency platform founded on the belief that economic and social progress depends on fundamentally changing the way we value nature.

My Drop in the Oceans converts the value of environmental costs into DIO, a complimentary currency for citizens and businesses to use in ways that reward sustainable actions towards positive environmental impact. A MyDIO account enables citizens and businesses to bank with nature, practice smart consumption and be rewarded for their investments in sustainability. By empowering citizens and businesses to acknowledge the value of nature, DIO is uniquely designed to return value to nature one drop at a time.

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This all starts with you and me…

… and it ends with us, too — one way or another.

Who’s Gonna Stand Up

Protect the wild, tomorrow’s child.
Protect the land from the greed of man.
Take up the dams! Stand up to oil!
Protect the plants, and renew the soil.

Who’s gonna stand up and save the Earth?
Who’s gonna say that she’s had enough?
Who’s gonna take on the big machine?
Who’s gonna stand up and save the Earth?
This all starts with you and me…

Damn the dams! Starve the takers!
Save the rivers! Feed the givers!
Let’s build a dream and save our world
We’re the people who are known as ‘Earth’.

Who’s gonna stand up and save the Earth?
Who’s gonna say that she’s had enough?
Who’s gonna take on the big machine?
Who’s gonna stand up and save the Earth?
This all starts with you and me…

Ban fossil fuel! Draw the line
Before we build one more pipeline.
Ban fracking now! Save the waters!
Build a life for our sons and daughters!

Who’s gonna stand up and save the Earth?
Who’s gonna say that she’s had enough?
Who’s gonna take on the big machine?
Who’s gonna stand up and save the Earth?
This all starts with you and me…

Who’s gonna stand up?

Posted in Climate, Communication, Core thought, Culture, Drama, Energy, Environment, GCD: Global climate disruption, Health, Music, People, Phlyarology | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

The march of progress: ONWARD!

Keep calm - and trash the planet...

My silence here of late is largely due to the distressing feeling that not only is humanity heading, in lockstep, in entirely the wrong direction; we’re changing pace from a jog to a trot, chivvied along by blinkered politicos whose vocabulary is constrained by a single word, one belying lunacy.

The word, of course, is ‘growth’.

I missed out on Overshoot Day.
Here’s an update of the current state of play:
People's Climate March, London, 21 September 2014
Earth Overshoot Day dates
2014: August 19
2013: August 20
2012: August 22
2011: September 27
2010: August 21 *
2009: September 25
2008: September 23
2007: October 6
2006: October 9
2005: October 11

* see my earlier post No Plan(et) B for an explanation of this apparent aberration.

You may be aware that our planet’s leaders (sic) have been invited to attend a junket Climate Summit in New York on 23 September 2014. A few concerned folks (including me, and, who knows, maybe even you?) will be attending various events around the world such as the People’s Climate March in advance of this occasion to try to raise awareness.

If none of this interests you, then perhaps I can entice you instead with JourneyQuest Episode One: ONWARD!

… After all, you must be in need of a little more *cough* encouragement.

PS nod kelled fokkad ka!*

* Yes, I know some orcish. See icon at foot of page for my geek credentials.

Posted in Climate, crowdsourcing, Drama, Environment, Fantasy, GCD: Global climate disruption, JourneyQuest | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

CO2 – present and past

Can you spare just four minutes to watch this (silent) video, please?

Good words thieved from the YouTube comment thread (reinventing the wheel is futile):

David Furphy: “Watch this excellent 3 minute animation  and you’ll immediately get how much Industrial Age humans have altered carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and how different the current level (400 ppm) is from the last eight hundred thousand years (180-280 ppm).

It also shows how the northern hemisphere, with so much more land mass and industrial activity than the southern hemisphere, appears to “breathe” carbon dioxide in and out on an annual cycle.”

Max Yekhlakov: “keep calm and carry on
we’re just returning to pre-Carboniferous levels of atmospheric carbon oxides, it is all part of the plan ;)”

Jari Juslin: “Yup. If you are an insect, lizard or algae, you have nothing to worry about!”

More on this subject (much more!) is available from NOAA (the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and CO2now.org. Visit 350.org for T-shirts and other useful ideas.

Posted in Climate, Communication, Education, Environment, GCD: Global climate disruption, History, Science, Strategy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Goldilocks zone, planet, idea

I was watching the BBC’s marvellous ‘Wonders of the Solar System‘ documentary series the other day. Somewhere within it (I can’t recall exactly where), Brian Cox, the charismatic presenter of the series, refers to our Earth as ‘the Goldilocks planet‘. This little infonugget has been trundling about in my noggin ever since, and I finally realised why: it reminds me of a rather poorly phrased comment I made on Lack of Environment some time ago (I can’t find the comment).

In my comment, I referred to what I think of as the ‘Grand Experiment’ of homo fatuus brutus — our tinkering, in recent times, with the very air we breathe. Our combined inability to admit that this is unwise (such admission, naturally, being a prerequisite to actually doing something about it) may be the biggest mistake we’ll ever make. The ‘poorly phrased’ part was the suggestion that this mistake might be our last, if our actions were to succeed in, as I recall putting it, “moving the Eaarth outside the Goldilocks zone“.

Habitable zone relative to main star's luminosityIn retrospect, my reference to the Goldilocks ‘zone‘ was a poor choice; that zone is the region around a star within which planets are capable of supporting life-as-we-know-it. Recent research does suggest that our own planet is much closer to the inner boundary of our solar system’s ‘Goldilocks zone’ than previously thought (see eg here, although I admit I’ve “done a James Delingpole” — I haven’t actually looked at the research). And the additional heat being absorbed by our biosphere as a side-effect of our polluting activity is truly colossal (around four Hiroshima atomic bombs worth of heat every second).

Even so, suggesting that our actions could physically alter our planet’s orbit was a poor metaphor. My comment, on the face of it, should quite rightly have been dismissed out of hand as being made by a total and utter phlyarologist (by the current dictionary definition, ie ‘one who speaks nonsense’). I should have referred to our Goldilocks planet, not the Goldilocks zone in which it sits. Rest assured that I have slapped myself on the wrist for making such a dumb mistake.

What I was actually trying to say, as opposed to what I said, makes sense when one considers the Goldilocks concept, which is based on the “not too hot, not too cold, just right” principle from the tale from which the label arose. If our planet is indeed close to the inner edge of our sun’s habitable zone, then this means our biosphere is almost (but not quite) ‘too hot’ by dint of its position relative to the source of most of our energy — the sun. What this suggests, though, is that it wouldn’t take much to tip our biosphere over the edge, into the runaway greenhouse effect (the one that James Hansen believes is inevitable if we continue on our present course of inaction against the causes of climate change).

Which, of course, would mean that the ‘Grand Experiment’ could well be the biggest mistake we’ll ever make — since it would also be the very last one.

I’ve come to conclude that if we burn all reserves of oil, gas, and coal, there is a substantial chance that we will initiate the runaway greenhouse. If we also burn the tar sands and tar shale, I believe the Venus syndrome is a dead certainty.

Dr James Hansen (2009) Storms of My Grandchildren p236

[edit 10May2014]
This is one of those rare and wonderful blogglings in which the comments add much to the original offering. Having admitted one mistake already, I am indebted to ccgwebmaster for having pointed out that Dr Hansen has recently clarified the position regarding the possibility of the Venus syndrome on Earth. (Read on for more…)

[/edit]

Posted in ... wait, what?, Climate, Communication, Core thought, Culture, Education, Energy, Environment, GCD: Global climate disruption, History, memetics, Phlyarology, Science, Strategy | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

A date with sanity

I would like to refer you back to the second video clip on ‘We are what we do‘, the one entitled ‘Arctic Death Spiral and the Methane Time Bomb’. It’s a bit long by today’s go-faster standards: well over an hour. Time well spent, I suggest. In fact, if you haven’t already seen it, your time would be better spent watching that than continuing to read my feeble drivel.

You may want to download the video via deturl.com. Deturl.com is a bit cryptic, but the time spent figuring it out is a good investment — the site will enable you to download many video clips so that you can watch them at your leisure instead of having to download them afresh each time — which may also save you money. I also like to think that the (admittedly tiny) reduction in the load placed on the Internet’s infrastructure by doing so helps the global digital commons in a small way — an example of something that, if scaled up, could have a big impact.

Now, on to the point of this post…

There are several places within ‘Arctic Death Spiral and the Methane Time Bomb’ that feature dates, at the lower right. For instance, at time 58:39 there is a legend ‘3/6/13′.

Clearly, the ’13’ refers to 2013 — just a baker’s dozen years after we learnt what a mistake it was not to store years as four digits. So short, our attention span: we’ve forgotten the millennium bug lesson already.

But, it’s worse than that.

These dates are associated with clips from other video footage, and there is no way to be sure whether the date format used in those clips is month/day/year (which USAns and others will assume) or day/month/year (which Brits like me, and others, will assume). The date ‘3/6/13′ could thus be either 06Mar2013 or 03Jun2013 [1]. So much for data accuracy in scientific material.

My main point, though, is this: if we cannot even agree upon a universal date format, what chance have we of co-operating on anything more important?

Homo fatuus brutus strikes again.


Image of an unusual 'rocking' calendar (for the year 2014)[1] A long time ago — well, for me, anyway: and, as it happens, in a galaxy that resembled this one but was very, very different — during my early interactions with these new-fangled computer thingies, I taught myself BASIC (beginner’s all-purpose symbolic instruction code). My first computer was a ZX Spectrum; my second was an Amstrad PCW (personal computer word-processor).

Why am I waffling on about this? I’m getting to it…

There was a magazine dedicated to the PCW, ‘8000 Plus’, that ran a regular feature showcasing BASIC programs that were written in just ten lines of code. I toyed with the idea for some time before coming up with such a program of my own, in 1986: I called it ‘valiDATE’. I recall struggling to coerce the mass of code into the requisite ten lines, and the sense of achievement when I finally succeeded. Sadly, I no longer have a copy of the program (such is the fleeting nature of digital memory).

What valiDATE did was accept any date in any format and convert it into what I call ‘UUDF': universally unambiguous date format. UUDF is ‘nnMmmyyyy'; ie two digits for the day, three letters representing the month (the first upper case, the next two lower case) and then — anticipating Y2K — a four-digit year. UUDF has the benefit of a fixed length (any date from 01Jan0001 through to 31Dec9999 is just nine characters) and it features inbuilt separation of the three fields, by virtue of the switch from numeral to letter and back again.

<detour type=’minor’>

It’s true that from 1988 we’ve had the option to use ISO 8601 — which has many advantages, but to my mind the biggest downsides with that standard are a) it’s hard to read and b) it offers too many choices which overcomplicate it; YYYY-MM-DD or YYYYMMDD; YYYY-MM but, importantly, not YYYYMM (so as to try to avoid confusion with the ‘truncated form’ YYMMDD — though the attempt fails because that format is still used, and there are similar conflicts with the very common DDMMYY and MMDDYY, albeit that separators are often used in those).

Unsurprisingly, nobody at the ISO asked me for my opinion when they were deciding on the ISO 8601 standard. There is, of course, absolutely no reason why they should as I’m just another grunt; though if they had I might have tried to argue that UUDF is more legible than an all-numeric code, and that, while it might seem that only using the digits 0-9 might make data entry easier, what it really does is makes it more error-prone because it’s all too easy to enter a wrong digit and not realise it.

Oddly enough, I came across this very problem just this past week: I had entered ‘12022010’ instead of ‘12122010’. The error there is easily overlooked: and yet the difference between ’12Feb2010′ and ’12Dec2010′ is immediately obvious.

I do grant you that I had made the mistake of using a dash of parochial thinking in my design of UUDF; I had neglected to consider that those whose first language is other than English will have different names for each of the months. But even so, catering for all such differences is infeasible, and English, by dint of Old Empire (and the linguistic laziness of your average Brit) is more common across our world than almost all other languages.

Given the unlikelihood of our calendar system being changed anytime in the near future, what’s needed is twelve short, unique alphabetic labels, and, though these could be chosen from any language, the set Jan/Feb/Mar/Apr/May/Jun/Jul/Aug/Sep/Oct/Nov/Dec is as good as any and better than many.

</detour>

For instance: consider the UUDF 01Apr2014. The same date is commonly expressed in a multitude of different ways. In ISO 8601 it could be either (!) 2014-04-01 or 20140401. In fact I often use the latter when naming computer files because of the automagical-date-sort-on-name feature. Alternatively, you can take your pick from many other formats, including 1.4.14, 4/1/14, 1st April ’14, April 1 2014, 1 April 2014… and, of course, All Fools’ Day.

Yes, I chose that date for this example for good reason. We are all fools. I say again: if we cannot even agree upon a universal date format, what chance have we of co-operating on anything more important?

Posted in ... wait, what?, Communication, Computers and Internet, Core thought, Culture, Drama, Education, History, Ludditis, Phlyarology, Science, Strategy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments