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

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

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”.

Global Divestment Day

Saturday, February 14th, 2015

“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

Friday, February 13th, 2015

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.

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

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

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

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

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.

Why the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement is a Pending Disaster

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

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.

Unusually heavy flooding in parts of Malaysia not due to illegal logging, according to the Kelantan government. Australian bush fires not due to climate change

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

The recent flooding in large parts od Southeastern Asia (Sri Lanka, southern Thailand, Malaysia, western Indonesia) were unusually heavy, although floods are common during the monsoon season. In Malaysia, more than 250,000 people were displaced and about two dozen killed. ‘The National Security Council (NSC) confirmed the massive flood that hit Kelantan (in the Northeast of peninsuar Malaysia) was the worst in the history of the state.’ – See more at: http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/worst-floods-in-kelantan-confirms-nsc#sthash.4jtKhJEI.dpuf

A number of reasons have been given, illegal logging,”God’s wrath or climate change or PAS or Umno Baru”……. “neglect and under-investment by the government – both state and federal. It is also the people’s lack of will to force Putrajaya to provide the badly needed national funds to build flood defences and develop the state.”

According to http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2015/01/04/shahidan-says-uncontrolled-logging-in-kelantan-the-cause-of-flooding/, uncontrolled logging is the major cause of the excessive flooding. However, according to http://www.mysinchew.com/node/104775?tid=4

“KOTA BAHARU, Jan 4 (Bernama) — The Kelantan government has denied uncontrolled logging in Hulu Kelantan as a major cause of the massive flooding in the state.

Menteri Besar Datuk Ahmad Yakob said the disaster was due to continuous heavy rain in Gua Musang from Dec 21 to 23.

“I firmly refute the allegation as logging has been frozen in the Lojing Highlands since 2006.

“The unusually heavy rain for three days which recorded the highest rainfall distribution at 1,295mm was equivalent to the distribution of rainfall for 64 days,” he said in a statement, here, today.

“It is the power of Allah to bring such heavy rain in such a short time.

“I am calling on the people in the state to take this as a sign from Allah,” he said.

Ahmad said at the present stage, all parties should help to restore all areas destroyed and assist the flood victims who lost their homes and belongings.”

It seems that the Kelantan authorities use the same logic as the Australian Prime Minister, who said that particularly strong bush fires in Australia were not due to climate change but the Australian way of life. Did it occur to the Kelantan authority who made above claim that particularly heavy rains might be a consequence of logging? Concerning the reference to Allah, there are disturbing similarities with some Australian reactions as well. Cardinal George Pell, as Archbishop of Sydney (a good friend of the Prime Minister and self-declared climate expert), wrote in one of Murdoch’s tabloids that “some of the hysteric and extreme claims about global warming are also a symptom of pagan emptiness…belief in a benign God who is master of the universe has a steadying psychological effect…In the past pagans sacrificed animals and even humans to placate capricious and cruel gods.Today they demand reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.” (for further details see K. Rohde ed. 2013: The Balance of Nature and Human Impact. Cambridge University Press).

A footnote, unfortunately not from a comic strip: the Australian government has replaced “climate change” by “climate variability” in its official terminology.

Climate change policy and media control under the Abbott government. Two quotes from the Sydney Morning Herald, November 29-30, 2014

Saturday, November 29th, 2014

1)Title page:
Exclusive Fears of political interference.
Plan to control ABC”
“The government would gain new powers to set out what it expects from the ABC under a recommendation of the confidential Lewis Review, raising fears of political interference in the national broadcaster”

2) Ross Gittins in “Parko signs off with a look at challenges”
“One of Tony Abbott’s first acts on becoming Prime Minister was to sack the secretary of the Treasury, Dr. Martin Parkinson. Parkinson’s crime was to believe – as did the government he had been serving – that we need to take effective action against climate change.
Abbott also sacked Parkinson’s obvious successor at Treasury, Blair Comley, for the same crime. It was a disgraceful, vindictive way to treat loyal and proficient public servants.”

See my previous posts on the same topics.

Climate change policy and economics

Friday, November 28th, 2014

Scientists almost unanimously agree that human induced climate change will have serious effects on humans. They agree that action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, especially CO2 is urgently needed. Why then is it so difficult to convince governments to take efficient steps to tackle the problem? The answers seem to be: 1) humans have evolved to react to short-term changes in the environment but not to changes that may happen in the distant future, where distant is defined as something exceeding a few years or perhaps decades (the prime minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, for example, recently declared that what happened in 16 years does not interest him), 2) governments (in particular conservative governments) argue that switching to renewable energies would have serious consequences for the economy, reducing the average income of the population. By doing this, they play on the greed of people, who, they believe, like themselves do not care about the future of their children and grandchildren sufficiently to sacrifice some of their income. To get their policies through, they ignore or ridicule the science of climate change, and propagate the falsehood that economics is a “science” whose mathematical equations give an unequivocal answer to what economic policies must be followed, and that alternatives do not exist. These policies include 1) keep the budget always balanced or in surplus, 2) keep taxes low, 3) don’t worry about inequality, because a “secret hand” will always make sure that the rich will invest their wealth in ways best for everybody, 4) private business can do things always better than state-owned ones, 5) in toto: don’t interfere with the workings of the “secret hand”. These extreme neo-liberal ideas are based on Milton Friedman. Any ethical considerations aimed at removing inequality, or intrusions of the state for example by stimulating the economy in economic crises, are disallowed. In Australia, for example, the former Labor government was ridiculed and accused of wasting public money by financing government programs to avoid a recession as experienced by several states during the recent financial crisis. And programs supporting renewable energy programs (such as wind- and solar power) were scaled back as soon as the Liberal/National government took over in September 2013, for the reason that the Prime-Minister and many of his ministers did not believe in the “crap” of climate change. Policies favouring renewable energies were claimed of being “socialism in disguise”.

How then can we set things right? Stuart Kauffman, well known for his work on self-organization in evolution (The Origins of Order, At Home in the Universe) has extended his important findings to economics (Stuart Kauffman: On Ethical and Intellectual Failures in Contemporary Economics, In: Entangled Political Economy, Advances in Austrian Economics 18, 259-282). I give a brief outline of his most important findings.

Stuart Kauffman refers to “contemporary Anglo-American Economics” (as opposed to “Austrian Economics”) and criticises two major points, 1) that economics “at least since Milton Friedman” is supposed to be a positive mathematizable science free of normative issues” (i.e. does not consider ethical questions), and 2) that it does not consider the most important factor responsible for economic growth, i.e., the enormous increase in “goods and production capacities”. Thus, whereas there may have been 1,000 to 10,000 of these 50,000 years ago, today there are “perhaps 10 billion”. Concerning the first point, Kauffman discusses the Edgeworth Box and the Contract Curve, pointing out that there is no economic theory which explains on which part of the latter we settle, and that prices cannot resolve the matter, because different points of the curve correspond to different prices. Kauffman uses game theory to show that “fairness” usually determines on which part of he Contract Curve we settle, provided we must not trade with each other. But fairness cannot be mathematized, it is determined by our evolution. We are social animals like monkeys and apes. Give each of a group of monkeys 10 grapes a day, and they are all peaceful and harmonious, but give one of them suddenly some bananas and the rest the usual grapes, the latter will become agitated and throw the grapes at you. They believe to be unfairly treated. More important perhaps is the second point. As in the evolution of the biosphere and unlike physics, no laws exist which “entail” the evolution of the “econosphere”. In other words, we cannot foresee (or decribe by laws/differential equations) how the economy will develop, how it will increase its diversity. Economic development, like biological evolution, creates its own unforeseeable opportunities. This is simply ignored by “Anglo American Economics”, but shows how important diversification is for economies (The Australian Prime Minister Abbott’s policy to invest even more in coal and actively reduce development of renewable energy sources, seen in this context, is extreme economic vandalism and stupidity).

His conclusion (I quote): “The failures above are likely to play major roles in the lapse to mere greed in our major financial institutions, and in our inadequate capacities to help drive growth in much of the povery-struck world”.

Important references
Kauffman, S. (1995). At home in the Uinverse. New York: Oxford University Press.
Kauffman, S. 2014. On ethical and intellectual failures in contemporary economics. In Entangled Political economy. Advances in Austrian Economics 18, 259-282.
Longo, G., Montevil, M. and Kauffman, S. (2012a). No entailing laws, but enablement in the evolution f life. Physics ArXiv posted
Longo, G., Montevil, M. and Kauffman, S. (2012b). No entailing laws, but enablement in the evolution of he biosphere. In Proceedings of the fourteenth international conference on genetic and evolutionary computation conference companion 1379-1392

Australian fascism?

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

Anyone can chose her/his own way to hell, and each country can chose its own way to fascism. In a number of countries, such as Italy, Spain, Germany and various American countries, fascism in the 20th century was “achieved” along different routes, but they had a few things in common, first of all concentration of economic and political power in the hands of a ruling elite made possible by suppression of a genuinely free press and labor unions.

In a number of posts prior to the Australian elections in September 2013, I gave examples which demonstrate a distinct fascist trend in the then opposition led by Tony Abbott
(https://krohde.wordpress.com/article/on-the-way-to-fascism-climate-change-xk923bc3gp4-138/).
The opposition won the election, supported by the right-wing (mainly Murdoch-run) media, and mainly on the basis of a campaign that the Labor government under Julia Gillard had broken the election promise of not introducing a carbon tax aimed at reducing carbon emissions, i.e., global warming. My earlier post had suggested what would happen if the Liberal-Nationals would win the election, but what actually did happen was far worse.Tony Abbott, just prior to the election, promised that he would not reduce funding for education, the public broadcasters (ABC and SBS), health, that there would be no changes to pensions and no new taxes, to mention only the most important ones. (http://www.phonytonyabbott.com/content/broken-promises). All these promises have been broken or attempts are underway to break them. Just recently, the government announced cuts to the ABC of more than Austr.$ 250 million, and to the SBS of about Austr.$ 50 over five years. These cuts are very substantial and may severely affect the functioning of the broadcasters. Today, Mark Scott, the chairman of ABC, announced that about 400 jobs, mainly from the News services, would be cut. But the main emphasis of the attack on the public broadcasters is to cut the editorial powers of the Managing Director. The government intends to ensure that board members of the ABC, appointed by the government, become directly involved in broadcasting policy, in order to guarantee a “more balanced” program. To date ABC and SBS are the only broadcasters that have given a balanced view on politics, climate change etc..This has been a thorn in the eyes of Abbott and ministerial colleagues for a long time. For example, the minister of agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, declared that the ABC should give more time to climate “sceptics”, in other words those who base their views not on scientific evidence but on what is good for mining magnates. Abbott stated that there are two world views, one presented by the Murdoch media, which control about two thirds of the printed media, and the other by ABC, and that his view is the former. Abbott, at least until recently, was a “climate sceptic”, in line with the beliefs of his friend and co-religionist George Pell, until recently Archbishop of Sydney.

Aims of the Abbott government, some still in the process of being accepted by parliament, include deregulation of university fees, i.e. allowing universities to increase or introduce fees for courses, which would disproportionately disadvantage students from poorer backgrounds, introduction of a $7 co-payment fee for doctor visits (for all patients, including the poorest), giving the go-ahead for new harbours on the Great Barrier Reef, cancellation of security measures introduced by the Labor government for financial advisors to give advice in the best interest of the client (introduced because some scandals ruined thousands of people who had followed advisors’ advice for investments that was given to maximise profits to the advisor), scaling back the Gonski reforms aimed at making education more equitable, removing school positions for confession-free ethical instruction but not for chaplains at schools, reducing the clean energy targets, which make clean (solar and wind) energy less profitable), etc.

Abbott’s views are further documented by his statements that coal was good for Australia, that Australia had too many national parks (which led the recent Brooker price winner to declare that he was ashamed to be Australian), that the ABC was un-Australian, and by his welcome address at the recent G20 meeting in Brisbane, in which he listed the achievements of his government as turning back the boats of asylum seekers, intention of introducing doctor fees, deregulating university fees, abolishing the carbon and mining taxes, etc.

All this indicates quite strongly that there are indeed strong fascist trends: the poorer become more disadvantaged, the wealth and power of a few mining magnates becomes even greater, endangering the very survival of humans, and the press becomes more concentrated and ruled by a handfull of people (mainly Rupert Murdoch).

Finally, many of the measures mentioned above are claimed to be necessary to return an economy, allegedly mismanaged by the previous Labor government, to surplus. In fact, Labor handed one of the soundest economies on Earth over to the Liberals/Nationals. And this in spite of the fact that they had to stimulate the Australian economy in order to avoid a recession experienced by many countries. They were lauded for doing this by leading international economists, including for example the Nobel prize winning American economists Stieglitz and Krugman. – This raises the question: is the government well aware of the basically sound state of the Australian economy, and are all the measures allegedly taken to get the economy back on a sound footing nothing but a lame excuse for getting the “essentials” through, i.e., keeping the population dumb by giving the right-wing press a monopoly and permitting an ever increasing concentration of the wealth of the nation in a few hands?