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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”.

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

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

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.

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.

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

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

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?

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

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

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.

Two ways to mislead the public

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015

Australian media are highly concentrated, two thirds of the printed media are controlled by Rupert Murdoch’s News Cop. (of America’s Fox News fame), about one quarter by Fairfax. TV channels and radio also are heavily biased towards the political right, balanced to a small degree by the public broadcasters ABC and SBS. Murdoch media are almost ridiculously one-sided, favouring the Abbott government (Liberals/Nationals coalition). For example, it is almost impossible to find scientifically correct information on climate change in The Australian and The Daily/Sunday Telegraph, two of Murdoch’s principal newspapers, but a lot on the views of so-called climate change sceptics/deniers, such as Lord Monckton, which reflects the views expressed by the prime minister and various ministers. The Sydney Morning Herald, one of Fairfax’s main newspapers, gives more balanced views, which means that it publishes some excellent articles on economics, current political events, the science of climate change, etc., but also the views of right-wing ideologues.

The way how regular contributors to the Daily Telegraph, such as Piet Akermann (formerly a Vice-President of Fox News in the USA), and Amanda Devine, both climate sceptics, present their “information”, is straightforward, they ridicule the science of climate change as “socialism in disguise”, and propagate political issues from the angle of extreme right-wing economics, i.e., measures that favour the rich at the expense of the poorer. – The Abbott government acknowledged the contribution made by these right-wing commentators to its winning the election, by inviting them to a tête-à-tête soon after their election victory, and by doing its best to reduce the influence of ABC and SBS by cutting their funding and threatening direct interference in their political direction.

But there is another – more indirect and seemingly more persuasive – way, such as that taken by Paul Sheehan in the Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax). An example in the Sydney Morning Herald January 1, 2015: “It’s high time to put aside bad news and focus on the good”. He points out that average household wealth in Australia is now close to $ one million, that Australia has “one of the world’s most stable, transparent and sophisticated financial sectors”, the “eigth largest share-market in the world despite having the 53rd largest population”, and among large economies with more than 10 million people, the third or fourth highest per capita income. My comment: All this, and the fact that the previous Labor government left a budget in much better shape than that of most other advanced economies, shows that the government’s claim that we are in an emergency situation and urgently require severe cuts to various welfare programs, foreign aid etc., is a lie. Nevertheless, Paul Sheehan goes on to make a comparison with Europe and Angela Merkel: “…..Angela Merkel…..likes to offer a set of basic facts to those constantly calling on government to do more, and thus spend more, in the name of fairness….Europe has 7 per cent of the world’s population. It produces 25% of the worlds economic output. But it represents 50 per cent of the world’s spending on social welfare. – In other word’s, Europe is on an unsustainable path, already reflected in high unemployment rates, stagnant growth, pervasive youth unemployment and demographic decline.”… Sheehan then continues that Australians do not “want to heed Merkel’s warnings.” They are “not willing to halt the growth in social spending….Australians are clearly willing to rip off their grandchildren,……”

In toto, Sheehan justifies the present government’s attempts to introduce budget measures that harm the less well off, although he does not mention specific ones (no unemployment benefits for a certain period, introduction of fees for seeing a doctor even for the poor, deregulation of university fees, etc.etc.). He does not mention that the rich are already heavily favoured by capital gains discounts, negative gearing, and other rules. He does not mention that the government’s could easily bring the budget back to surplus if the richer would be only slightly more heavily (but not only nominally) burdened, and he also forgot to mention that the government did not follow up on the rule introduced by the previous Labour government to cut down on tax avoidance schemes by large multinational companies which would have earned the government about $600 million. Last not least, he forgot to mention that Merkel’s comments refer to a much higher “starting point”: in Germany education from Kindergarden (preschool) to University is free, Germany does not send refugees including (until recently) children to camps on small islands overseas (Nauru, Manus Island) or to Cambodia, which has no facilities to absorb large numbers of refugees, but spends enormous funds to accommodate them decently, etc.

Perhaps even the poor would be willing to accept cuts in order not to rip off their offspring, if the rich would be asked to do the same. One should not forget, eminent economists have shown that an increase in inequality reduces economic performance!

World events and economics from a socialdemocratic perspective

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

With this post I wish to draw attention to a blog by Professor John Qiggin. Professor John Qiggin is an economist in the School of Economics and the School of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland, Australian Research Council Federation Fellow, Laureate Fellow at the University of Queensland, and a member of the Board of the Climate Change Authority of the Australian Government. You will find interesting discussions on current world and particularly Australian political events in his blog. Among other topics, he argues that nuclear energy is not viable (in Australia) and that we need more efficient energy use and development of renewable energies: http://johnquiggin.com/2014/12/15/tell-em-theyre-dreaming/

http://johnquiggin.com/

Destructive changes to shareholder rights

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

Josh Frydenberg, a former Federal Court Judge, has blasted as “destructive” the Abbott government’s intention to remove rules that force companies to hold extraordinary meetings of shareholders if requested by at least 100 shareholders. Reasons given by the government are to remove red tape, supposedly “abused” by unions, environmental and advocacy groups such as GetUp! which stand up for labour standards and protest against logging and the abuse of poker machines, etc. (SMH 31 December 2014).

Another step in concentrating economic and political power in the hands of a small elite.