Who believes in evolution? Who believes in human-induced climate change?

February 25th, 2015 by Klaus Rohde

What do leading figures of the political Right, i.e. the Republicans in the U.S. and the Liberals in Australia, think about important scientific theories? Here are some answers.

EVOLUTION, views of possible Republican candidates for President of the U.S. (a quote from The New Yorker, February 19, 2015: The Evolution Catechism, by Adam Gopnik):

“none of the likely Republican candidates for 2016 seem to be convinced. Former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida said it should not be taught in schools. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas is an outright skeptic. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas will not talk about it. When asked, in 2001, what he thought of the theory, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said, ‘None of your business.’ ”

http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/evolution-catechism

HUMAN-INDUCED CLIMATE CHANGE, views of the then opposition leader and now Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, and the then leader of the Liberals in the Australian Parliament, Nick Minchin (a quote from Klaus Rohde: The Balance of Nature and Human Impact, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2013, page 403):
“According to Malcolm Turnbull, a prominent Liberal, the leader of the Australian Liberal party……., Tony Abbott, has publicly declared that man-induced climate change is “crap” (ABC, 2009). Also according to Turnbull, Nick Minchin, the former leader of the Liberals in the Senate, has declared that all the fuss about global warming is nothing but a left-wing conspiracy (ABC, 2009). Lefties who lost their cherished Communist cause now need a new one, and they found it: global warming”.

Compassion and cooperation, not selfishness is at the basis of human evolution, unfortunately missing in neoliberal economics as often practised

February 23rd, 2015 by Klaus Rohde

Lynn Margulis proposed a long time ago that cooperation is at the root of evolution even at the cellular level. That is, evolution is more than a selfish struggle between entities (the survival of the fittest). Indeed, cells of which we are composed, consist of components that were originally separate organisms but found it advantageous to live together supporting each other (in symbiosis). Her idea has been supported by much empirical evidence. Other authors have found evidence for the same principle at the levels of individuals and groups of individuals. Now P. A. Spikins and collaborators have found evidence that compassion with other individuals, cooperation between them, has evolved very early in human evolution, indeed – according to her – a sense of aesthetics and cooperation evolved before higher (human) intelligence and selfish behaviour had evolved. Neanderthal men which lived many thousands, and Australopithecines which lived millions of years ago and are our direct ancestors, apparently (indicated by fossil evidence) showed acts of kindness and cooperation.

See here for evidence:

https://www.york.ac.uk/media/archaeology/documents/staff/staffpersonalfiles/Compassion7.pdf

A summary of the research is given in a recent book:

http://www.amazon.com/How-Compassion-Made-Human-Archaeology/dp/1781593108

One should ask: what is the basis of the widespread assumption in neoliberal economics that if we all live and work with our selfish interest foremost in our minds, an “invisible hand” will lead to the best for everybody? The idea that selfishness is our main characteristic is simply foolish and contradicts evolutionary evidence. We are primarily social beings and our survival depends on compassion and cooperation with others.

Global Divestment Day

February 14th, 2015 by Klaus Rohde

“According to a groundbreaking study released in January by the University College London, in order to prevent catastrophic climate change, 92 percent of U.S. coal, all Arctic oil and gas, and a majority of Canadian tar sands must stay “in the ground.”

See here:

http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/01/07/groundbreaking-study-confirms-we-must-leave-fossil-fuels-ground

“Climate activists worldwide mobilized Friday for what they’re calling Global Divestment Day, which will see more than 400 actions and protests calling on top institutions to pull their financial support for coal, oil, and gas companies.”

See here:

http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/02/13/global-divestment-day-kicks-call-clean-energy-future

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is wrong: coal is not the future!

Climate change sets stage for droughts of unprecedented proportions

February 13th, 2015 by Klaus Rohde

An article in Science Advances published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (link below) predicts that large parts of the United States will this century experience droughts much stronger than previously predicted, unprecedented in American history during the last millenium.

http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/1/e1400082

“Abstract

In the Southwest and Central Plains of Western North America, climate change is expected to increase drought severity in the coming decades. These regions nevertheless experienced extended Medieval-era droughts that were more persistent than any historical event, providing crucial targets in the paleoclimate record for benchmarking the severity of future drought risks. We use an empirical drought reconstruction and three soil moisture metrics from 17 state-of-the-art general circulation models to show that these models project significantly drier conditions in the later half of the 21st century compared to the 20th century and earlier paleoclimatic intervals. This desiccation is consistent across most of the models and moisture balance variables, indicating a coherent and robust drying response to warming despite the diversity of models and metrics analyzed. Notably, future drought risk will likely exceed even the driest centuries of the Medieval Climate Anomaly (1100–1300 CE) in both moderate (RCP 4.5) and high (RCP 8.5) future emissions scenarios, leading to unprecedented drought conditions during the last millennium.”

For a brief summary see also here:

http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/02/12/climate-change-sets-stage-droughts-unprecedented-proportions

A quote from the latter: “The coming drought age—caused by higher temperatures under climate change—will make it nearly impossible to carry on with current life-as-normal conditions across a vast swath of the country,….”

Similar studies have not been made for Australia, but – considering the generally drier and more extreme conditions in Australia than the US – it seems likely that effects of climate change on drought conditions here will be at least as severe.

Climate models do not overestimate long-term effects of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations

January 29th, 2015 by Klaus Rohde

The apparent “pause”, i.e. a smaller than predicted increase in air temperature over the last years in spite of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations has led some to believe that climate models are incorrect and that we should not worry too much about global warming. An important study by two leading climate researchers just published in Nature has now shown that the so-called pause is due to short-term chaotic fluctuations and that predictions for long-term trends are correct. We must expect serious global warming in future years. Abstract of the paper, published online 28 January 2014, below:

Jochem Marotzke & Piers M. Forster

Nature
517,
565–570
(29 January 2015)
doi:10.1038/nature14117

Most present-generation climate models simulate an increase in global-mean surface temperature (GMST) since 1998, whereas observations suggest a warming hiatus. It is unclear to what extent this mismatch is caused by incorrect model forcing, by incorrect model response to forcing or by random factors. Here we analyse simulations and observations of GMST from 1900 to 2012, and show that the distribution of simulated 15-year trends shows no systematic bias against the observations. Using a multiple regression approach that is physically motivated by surface energy balance, we isolate the impact of radiative forcing, climate feedback and ocean heat uptake on GMST—with the regression residual interpreted as internal variability—and assess all possible 15- and 62-year trends. The differences between simulated and observed trends are dominated by random internal variability over the shorter timescale and by variations in the radiative forcings used to drive models over the longer timescale. For either trend length, spread in simulated climate feedback leaves no traceable imprint on GMST trends or, consequently, on the difference between simulations and observations. The claim that climate models systematically overestimate the response to radiative forcing from increasing greenhouse gas concentrations therefore seems to be unfounded.

The State of the Earth and the Reaction of France and the Western World to Terrorist Attacks

January 18th, 2015 by Klaus Rohde

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet (about 2.2million cu.km, 10% of the total ice mass of Antarctica) has begun to collapse and may already have passed the point of no return. If all the ice in it will melt, sea levels will rise by about 4.6 m, and this may happen within the next few hundred years if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, flooding large coastal areas, coastal cities and even some cities far inland, such as Washington D.C. For details see here:

http://time.com/96173/antarctic-glacier-loss-is-unstoppable-study-says/

Overfishing, effects of climate change such as acidification, pollution particularly by plastics, etc., threaten the health of our oceans. Effects will be on the world’s food supply, air quality, climate stability, etc. The Global Oceans Commission has outlined a “rescue package” including a limit to gas and oil exploration, capping subsidies for commercial fishing, and creating MPAs, marine protected areas. For details see here:

http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/06/24-2

What is largely responsible for all the mess? Our present economic system, in other words neoliberal capitalism with its overexploitation and little consideration of environmental impacts. See here:

“That Was Easy: In Just 60 Years, Neoliberal Capitalism Has Nearly Broken Planet Earth”

http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/01/16/was-easy-just-60-years-neoliberal-capitalism-has-nearly-broken-planet-earth

However, why worry about all this, humans apparently cannot wait and are trying to speed things up even more.

Consider the recent attacks by some Muslim fanatics on the French satirical magazine Charlie and the reaction of Western governments to it. It seems that the proper reaction of the French government would have been to play things down and not up. But it did exactly the opposite, it played things up thus demonstrating “strength” to the electorate (President Hollande’s ratings went up by about 15%!!) and demonstrated to potential terrorists how to successfully challenge the west. It seems that the reaction was exactly what the terrorists wanted. Things were made even worse by millions of copies of the magazine with a cartoon of Mohammed on the front page distributed in various languages, causing uproar among muslims in many if not all countries (see attacks in Niger, planned attacks in Belgium, and the reaction of governments of various Muslim countries). Even the Pope, in strong terms, objected to the obvious insults against the Prophet and indeed any religion. – We are seeing, it seems to me, an ever increasing disregard for the rights of others, of the future of mankind, all in the name of short-term gains for the few who own the riches, and the political class which is trying to hold on to power whatever the long-term costs.

Australia has one of the worst extinction records of any country

January 15th, 2015 by Klaus Rohde

A team of scientists recently went to Bramble Cay off northern Australia to search for the Bramble Cay melomys, a small rodent recorded only there and not seen for about seven years. They failed to find any trace of the species, suggesting that it is extinct. Since European colonisation, 30 mammals (more than 10% of Australia’s mammal species) have become extinct, demonstrating that Australia has one of the worst extinction records of any country.

“More than 1,850 animals and plants are listed as threatened under Commonwealth legislation (the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act).”

Full article here:

https://theconversation.com/another-australian-animal-slips-away-to-extinction-36203?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+15+January+2015+-+2303&utm_content=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+15+January+2015+-+2303+CID_cdc9a19de26c1a4b01b7c8b0360cf71f&utm_source=campaign_monitor&utm_term=Another%20Australian%20animal%20slips%20away%20to%20extinction

In the global context (from a recent article in Science:http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2015/01/14/science.1259855)
About 10 species per million species a year are lost even without human influence. At present extinction rates are 100-1000 times higher. Which means that we may be undergoing one of the great mass extinctions of Earth just now.

Hundreds of Professors of Stanford University sign an open letter urging the University to fully divest fossil fuels

January 13th, 2015 by Klaus Rohde

About 300 professors of Stanford University, one of the most prestigious universities in the US, including two Noble prize winners (physics and chemistry) and a winner of the Field medal (mathematics) signed an open letter to the President and Board of their University urging them to fully divest fossil fuels. “The letter notes that in order to stay beneath the scientifically designated 2-degree warming threshold, beyond which we face cataclysmic climate disruption, scientific consensus says we must cap fossil fuel emissions at 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide. Current fossil fuel companies claim holdings sufficient to produce 2795 gigatons.” Similar letters were earlier signed by 226 members of Harvard University, and members of the University of California, Berkeley.

http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/01/12/something-momentous-happening-hundreds-stanford-professors-call-full-fossil-fuel

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/interactive/2015/jan/11/stanford-fossil-fuel-divestment-letterHundreds of professors of Stanford University sign letter to urge

The end of the university?

January 13th, 2015 by Klaus Rohde

This is what Terry Eagleton, the noted Catholic-Marxist literary critic, has to say about the university today in an interview in Times Higher Education http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/features/interview-terry-eagleton/2017733.fullarticle

“What I would say about the university today,” he says, “is that we’re living through an absolutely historic moment – namely the effective end of universities as centres of humane critique, an almost complete capitulation to the philistine and sometimes barbaric values of neo-capitalism.”

He sums it up in a nutshell!

Why the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement is a Pending Disaster

January 8th, 2015 by Klaus Rohde

There are worrying trends towards an ever increasing concentration of economic and political power in the hands of a few. The negotiations about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) point in the same direction. Here are excerpts from a relevant article in Commondreams, January 7, 2015, by Robert Reich, one of the USA’s leading experts on the economy, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, who has served in three US administrations. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century.
Full article here: http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/01/07/why-trans-pacific-partnership-agreement-pending-disaster

Why the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement is a Pending Disaster

“For three decades, free trade worked. It was a win-win-win.
But in more recent decades the choice has become far more complicated and the payoff from trade agreements more skewed to those at the top.

Tariffs are already low. Negotiations now involve such things as intellectual property, financial regulations, labor laws, and rules for health, safety, and the environment.

It’s no longer free trade versus protectionism. Big corporations and Wall Street want some of both.

They want more international protection when it comes to their intellectual property and other assets. So they’ve been seeking trade rules that secure and extend their patents, trademarks, and copyrights abroad, and protect their global franchise agreements, securities, and loans.

But they want less protection of consumers, workers, small investors, and the environment, because these interfere with their profits. So they’ve been seeking trade rules that allow them to override these protections.

Not surprisingly for a deal that’s been drafted mostly by corporate and Wall Street lobbyists, the TPP provides exactly this mix.

What’s been leaked about it so far reveals, for example, that the pharmaceutical industry gets stronger patent protections, delaying cheaper generic versions of drugs. That will be a good deal for Big Pharma but not necessarily for the inhabitants of developing nations who won’t get certain life-saving drugs at a cost they can afford.

The TPP also gives global corporations an international tribunal of private attorneys, outside any nation’s legal system, who can order compensation for any “unjust expropriation” of foreign assets.

Even better for global companies, the tribunal can order compensation for any lost profits found to result from a nation’s regulations. Philip Morris is using a similar provision against Uruguay (the provision appears in a bilateral trade treaty between Uruguay and Switzerland), claiming that Uruguay’s strong anti-smoking regulations unfairly diminish the company’s profits.

Anyone believing the TPP is good for Americans take note: The foreign subsidiaries of U.S.-based corporations could just as easily challenge any U.S. government regulation they claim unfairly diminishes their profits – say, a regulation protecting American consumers from unsafe products or unhealthy foods, investors from fraudulent securities or predatory lending, workers from unsafe working conditions, taxpayers from another bailout of Wall Street, or the environment from toxic emissions.

The administration says the trade deal will boost U.S. exports in the fast-growing Pacific basin where the United States faces growing economic competition from China. The TPP is part of Obama’s strategy to contain China’s economic and strategic prowess.

Fine. But the deal will also allow American corporations to outsource even more jobs abroad.

In other words, the TPP is a Trojan horse in a global race to the bottom, giving big corporations and Wall Street banks a way to eliminate any and all laws and regulations that get in the way of their profits.

At a time when corporate profits are at record highs and the real median wage is lower than it’s been in four decades, most Americans need protection – not from international trade but from the political power of large corporations and Wall Street.

The Trans Pacific Partnership is the wrong remedy to the wrong problem. Any way you look at it, it’s just plain wrong.