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What's the real global threat? Not terrorism.

by Plutonium Page Wed Jul 27th, 2005 at 11:00:05 AM EST

(Cross-posted at The Next Hurrah.)

Look to the Arctic to see the effects of the real global threat:  climate change.

The following images were generated by the NASA - Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio.  They illustrate the receding ice in Greenland.  Click each image to enlarge it.

From left to right: color scale (cm/year receding), and the east coast of Greenland.


Now, courtesy of the ASTER science team/U. of Maine, this is the Kangerdlugssuaq glacier in Greenland.  It is moving three times faster than it was in 1996, because it is melting.  The dotted yellow line is where the glacier ends today.

And now for a story to go with the pictures.  It has to do with those damned Greenpeace terrorists, and what they've been up to.  Their latest act of terrorism:  a trip to the Arctic, accompanied by scientists from the U. of Maine Climate Change Institute, to determine how fast some of the glaciers are melting.

Here's what the Greenpeace folks, and two scientists found:

Independent scientists onboard the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise yesterday discovered that a Greenland glacier has accelerated in the past nine years exceeding all expectations and has now become one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world. These observations validate predictions about impacts to Greenland glaciers from recent global warming.

The specifics are important.  The glacier is moving three times faster than in 1996, and the edge of it is receding faster (three miles) than in the past:

Outlet glaciers like Kangerdlugssuaq transport ice from the heart of the Greenland Ice Sheet to the ocean and discharge icebergs, which contribute to sea level rise. Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier alone transports or "drains" four percent of the ice from the Greenland Ice Sheet, and so any changes in the speed of these glaciers holds tremendous significance in terms of sea level rise.


Preliminary findings indicate Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier on Greenland's East Coast could be one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world with a speed of almost nine miles per year. The measurements were made this week using high precision GPS survey methods.  In 1996, measurements made with satellite imagery revealed the glacier's speed was three miles per year.  In addition, Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier has unexpectedly receded approximately three miles since 2001 after maintaining a stable position for the past 40 years.

The scientists discuss their findings on their blog, mentioning that their videographer filmed the glacier for two hours, and they could actually see the glacier moving.

Finally, a predicted consequence of the accelerated melting of Arctic glaciers is rising sea levels.  Will Florida (and Jeb Bush) eventually end up under water?  How about the Netherlands?  Will we see the canal water rise, right outside our house?

All sarcasm aside, the seriousness of climate change is underscored by the U. Maine scientists' findings.

If you are still not convinced that climate change is very serious, and very real, check out this slide show, of "then and now"  (1928 and 2002) pictures of various places in Iceland.  The changes are dramatic, to put it mildly.

Yawn... yeah, I know, it's just another climate change story.  No big deal, right?  Just something those damned liberals invented.

Good pics PP.

Well, bad scary terrifying pics actually.  But substantive.  And I hope y'all will excuse me blowing a little steam out my ears 'cos pics like these underscore my sense of futility, bigtime.  How the flaming H do we get people (Joe and Jane Average) to understand the implications of these data?  And their own role in creating these conditions?

Sometimes it makes me feel like frothing at the mouth, actually, to watch the corpomedia freaking out about suicide bombers Eeeeek and Islamist Fundies Oooo-er, and Oh Dear the Price of Gas Just Went Up Another Dime a Gallon...  while I'm reading the marine biologists' reports and the pest control reports and watching the temperate zone move steadily North, and wondering what hurricane season will look like this year... and man o man, it's like watching a buncha teenagers squabbling and pushing and shoving on a high-speed rail crossing in front of an oncoming train.

When I'm lying awake around 0300, Turrists are the last thing on my mind.  I'm thinking about all that freshwater being dumped into the Arctic ocean, about the crash in plankton levels off my own local coast and the decimation of several marine bird species, about the drought in Spain and the water use of Midwestern farmers and the cod that are never coming back.  I'm wondering what the UK will do if the Gulf Stream really does "switch off".  I'm wondering if there's any place left to run.  I'm wondering how bad the famines in Africa will get as the drought/flood cycle intensifies.  I'm wondering what happens when the Oglalla runs dry.

And meanwhile the Amurkans are squandering their national treasure -- throwing money and fuel and materiel and international reputation away with both hands -- all stuff that they are gonna need if climate destabilisation really starts to bite -- so that they can cling to that Ozzie and Harriet dream.  And the Chinese want to imitate that?  Christ, convene the taxonomists, we gotta rename this species:  homo sapiens just isn't an appropriate toe tag.

Turrists?  Hah.  The terrorist who scares me the most is the average member of the global elite (you and me, folks, remember the How Rich Are You site?) who -- some of us anyway -- can see the writing on the wall,  the brick wall that is, the one just ahead, yet we go on flying on aeroplanes, driving our cars, leaving the lights on, using the clothes drier even in sunny weather, buying the longhaul food -- staring into the abyss and saying, in effect, Bring It On!  I don't exempt myself, though I try a bit more than the average resident of the Empire to reduce my fossil foolery.  It's as if we're hypnotised by the inertia of the quotidian.  Sure, the planet is burning but I need to go see my goddaughter's graduation.  Sure, we're slaughtering Iraqis for control of their oil but really, it's just too darned inconvenient to do without my car.  

It would be more understandable if the effects of climate destab were guaranteed to hit only Other People -- nasty, but understandable.  But jeez, the brick wall is non-discriminatory, it's all of us heading for the Big Splat Moment.  We are literally all in this together... it's our own kids whose future we are complicating and imperilling and impoverishing -- our own selves if we are young enough.  I.  DON'T.  GET.  IT.  [sound of hair tearing].  Are we really heading for Canticle for Leibowitz territory?

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon Jul 25th, 2005 at 09:14:08 PM EST
Some years ago, I used to freelance writing for high school textbooks. My editor asked me to do some chapters for an environmental text. First assignment - endangered species. I'm a biologist. The research broke my heart. Second chapter - atmosphere and climate change. Severe depression and hair tearing. Third chapter - human population growth . . .

But I still have a car. And air conditioning. And all that other Stuff.

Whistling in the dark.

by Janet Strange (jstrange1925 - that symbol - hotmail, etc.) on Tue Jul 26th, 2005 at 02:15:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Instead of Canticle for Leibowitz territory I'm afraid it's The Sheep Look Up territory...  Someone mentioned it on a post over at Booman Tribune, and I just finished reading it.  It was published in 1972, and hits the nail on the head on several fronts regarding our current situation or the likely result of the path we are blithely following.

I'd say more, but your rant says it all.


What is the use of a house if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on? - Thoreau

by Dem in Knoxville (green_planet_2000 (at) yahoo (dot) com) on Tue Jul 26th, 2005 at 02:00:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
DAMN, someone else has read The Sheep Look Up well I am impressed.  I usually find that when I mention this book no one has ever heard of it.  The companion volume Stand on Zanzibar is also pretty good and was innovative writing for its time...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue Jul 26th, 2005 at 07:10:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hi De. I bought it after you mentioned but could not finish it and did not find it so convincing. Maybe I need to try again.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Jul 28th, 2005 at 12:33:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hey Page, bop over to the organic ag thread for another scary side effect of global warming.  Criminy.

Well, as they say about GPS aboard small craft:  "at least when you sink, you know exactly where you are. sinking."  We may be the first dominant species in terrestrial history to know, quite precisely, why we are experiencing a slow agonising die-off (or a quick spectacular one).  Won't that be nice.  I think I'll just go and pull the covers over my head for a while.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon Jul 25th, 2005 at 10:03:01 PM EST
How did I miss that one? Oh yeah, we've been painting (water-soluble paint, of course... none of that nasty stuff).

And yes, the photos are scary.

What really irritates the hell out of me these days is that the Democratic party, as well as some liberal blogs, are nearly silent on the environment.  This is incredibly frustrating to me.  I think EuroTrib is one of the few blogs where I've seen prominent stories on the environment.

There is a huge argument going on at dailyKos right now.  You know what it's about?

"Hillary Clinton SUCKS!"

I'm sorry, but that's just not a helpful discussion.  What are liberals about, anyway?  Populism, environmentalism, etc.

More on that later.  Sorry about the rant.

by Plutonium Page (page dot vlinders at gmail dot com) on Tue Jul 26th, 2005 at 04:05:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I too cannot understand why the Democrats can't see that this is an essential item for them to be addressing front-and-center.  As if our decendants are going to care in 100 years who John Bolton or Karl Rove were, when they cannot find clean water to drink, or are dying of malaria in Chicago.  A pie fight over Hillary - now that's an essential issue for the "reality based people" to be addressing.

Yeah. :-P

The American Empire deserves to fall if neither party can see the big picture...

Thanks for another great diary, BTW.

What is the use of a house if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on? - Thoreau

by Dem in Knoxville (green_planet_2000 (at) yahoo (dot) com) on Tue Jul 26th, 2005 at 02:11:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Their eternal struggle for power is more important to them than what they would do with the power once they got it (kinda like W).
by Coriolanus on Wed Jul 27th, 2005 at 09:05:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Excellent article, Page, thank you! Makes a person wonder how long are we (the human race) going to sit and watcg, before we realize how much trouble we are in? Do our backs have to be completely against the wall?

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Tue Jul 26th, 2005 at 02:33:51 AM EST
In this case more likely feet in the water.

PS Living in the Netherlands there is cause for concern.

China's summer floods affect 90 million people, destroy 702,000 houses


  • London Bombing Diaries @ European Tribune

    'Sapere aude'
  • by Oui (Oui) on Tue Jul 26th, 2005 at 03:06:45 AM EST
    [ Parent ]
    Found this data on UNDP website (and it is only 2000 statistics), which I find interesing, which gives rank and the percentage of carbon dioxide emissions by each country, by region and the world:

    Carbon dioxide emissions - Share of world total (%) Anthropogenic (human originated) carbon dioxide emissions stemming from the burning of fossil fuels, gas flaring and the production of cement. Emissions are calculated from data on the consumption of solid, liquid and gaseous fuels, gas flaring and the production of cement.


    1    Norway 0.2
    2    Sweden 0.2
    3    Australia 1.4
    4    Canada 1.8
    5    Netherlands 0.6

    6    Belgium 0.4
    7    Iceland (.)
    8    United States 23.1
    9    Japan 4.9
    10    Ireland 0.2

    11    Switzerland 0.2
    12    United Kingdom 2.3
    13    Finland 0.2
    14    Austria 0.3
    15    Luxembourg (.)

    16    France 1.5 1
    17    Denmark 0.2
    18    New Zealand 0.1
    19    Germany 3.2
    20    Spain 1.2

    21    Italy 1.8 2
    22    Israel 0.3
    23    Hong Kong, China (SAR) 0.1
    24    Greece 0.4
    25    Singapore 0.2

    26    Portugal 0.2
    27    Slovenia 0.1
    28    Korea, Rep. of 1.8
    29    Barbados (.)
    30    Cyprus (.)

    31    Malta (.)
    32    Czech Republic 0.5
    33    Brunei Darussalam (.)
    34    Argentina 0.6
    35    Seychelles (.)

    36    Estonia 0.1
    37    Poland 1.2
    38    Hungary 0.2
    39    Saint Kitts and Nevis (.)
    40    Bahrain 0.1

    41    Lithuania (.)
    42    Slovakia 0.1
    43    Chile 0.2
    44    Kuwait 0.2
    45    Costa Rica (.)

    46    Uruguay (.)
    47    Qatar 0.2
    48    Croatia 0.1
    49    United Arab Emirates 0.2
    50    Latvia (.)

    51    Bahamas (.)
    52    Cuba 0.1
    53    Mexico 1.8
    54    Trinidad and Tobago 0.1
    55    Antigua and Barbuda (.)

    56    Bulgaria 0.2
    57    Russian Federation 5.9
    58    Libyan Arab Jamahiriya 0.2
    59    Malaysia 0.6
    60    Macedonia, TFYR (.)

    61    Panama (.)
    62    Belarus 0.2
    63    Tonga (.)
    64    Mauritius (.)
    65    Albania (.)

    66    Bosnia and Herzegovina 0.1
    67    Suriname (.)
    68    Venezuela 0.7
    69    Romania 0.4
    70    Ukraine 1.4

    71    Saint Lucia (.)
    72    Brazil 1.3
    73    Colombia 0.2
    74    Oman 0.1
    75    Samoa (Western) (.)

    76    Thailand 0.8
    77    Saudi Arabia 1.5
    78    Kazakhstan 0.5
    79    Jamaica (.)
    80    Lebanon 0.1

    81    Fiji (.)
    82    Armenia (.)
    83    Philippines 0.3
    84    Maldives (.)
    85    Peru 0.1

    86    Turkmenistan 0.1
    87    Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (.)
    88    Turkey 0.9
    89    Paraguay (.)
    90    Jordan 0.1

    91    Azerbaijan 0.1
    92    Tunisia 0.1
    93    Grenada (.)
    94    China 11.5
    95    Dominica (.)

    96    Sri Lanka (.)
    97    Georgia (.)
    98    Dominican Republic 0.1
    99    Belize (.)
    100    Ecuador 0.1

    101    Iran, Islamic Rep. of 1.3
    102    Occupied Palestinian Territories ..
    103    El Salvador (.)
    104    Guyana (.)
    105    Cape Verde (.)

    106    Syrian Arab Republic 0.2
    107    Uzbekistan 0.5
    108    Algeria 0.4
    109    Equatorial Guinea (.)
    110    Kyrgyzstan (.)

    111    Indonesia 1.1
    112    Viet Nam 0.2
    113    Moldova, Rep. of (.)
    114    Bolivia (.)
    115    Honduras (.)

    116    Tajikistan (.)
    117    Mongolia (.)
    118    Nicaragua (.)
    119    South Africa 1.4
    120    Egypt 0.6

    121    Guatemala (.)
    122    Gabon (.)
    123    São Tomé and Principe (.)
    124    Solomon Islands (.)
    125    Morocco 0.2

    126    Namibia (.)
    127    India 4.4
    128    Botswana (.)
    129    Vanuatu (.)
    130    Cambodia (.)

    131    Ghana (.)
    132    Myanmar (.)
    133    Papua New Guinea (.)
    134    Bhutan (.)
    135    Lao People's Dem. Rep. (.)

    136    Comoros (.)
    137    Swaziland (.)
    138    Bangladesh 0.1
    139    Sudan (.)
    140    Nepal (.)

    141    Cameroon (.)
    142    Pakistan 0.4
    143    Togo (.)
    144    Congo (.)
    145    Lesotho ..

    146    Uganda (.)
    147    Zimbabwe 0.1
    148    Kenya (.)
    149    Yemen (.)
    150    Madagascar (.)

    151    Nigeria 0.1
    152    Mauritania (.)
    153    Haiti (.)
    154    Djibouti (.)
    155    Gambia (.)

    156    Eritrea (.)
    157    Senegal (.)
    158    Timor-Leste ..
    159    Rwanda (.)
    160    Guinea (.)

    161    Benin (.)
    162    Tanzania, U. Rep. of (.)
    163    Côte d'Ivoire (.)
    164    Zambia (.)
    165    Malawi (.)

    166    Angola (.)
    167    Chad (.)
    168    Congo, Dem. Rep. of the (.)
    169    Central African Republic (.)
    170    Ethiopia (.)

    171    Mozambique (.)
    172    Guinea-Bissau (.)
    173    Burundi (.)
    174    Mali (.)
    175    Burkina Faso (.)

    176    Niger (.)
    177    Sierra Leone (.)

    All developing countries 36.9 T
       Least developed countries 0.4 T
    Arab States 4.5 T
    East Asia and the Pacific 17.6 T
    Latin America and the Caribbean 5.6 T
    South Asia 6.3 T
    Sub-Saharan Africa 1.9 T
    Central and Eastern Europe and the CIS 12.2 T
    OECD 51.0 T
    High-income OECD 46.2 T

    High human development 52.8 T
    Medium human development 38.7 T
    Low human development 1.0 T

    High income 47.8 T
    Middle income 37.6 T
    Low income 8.5 T

    World 100.0 T 3

    "Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

    by whataboutbob on Tue Jul 26th, 2005 at 03:29:46 AM EST
    The U.S. is at the top, of course (all those damned SUVs).

    Click the graphic for more details:

    by Plutonium Page (page dot vlinders at gmail dot com) on Tue Jul 26th, 2005 at 03:59:45 AM EST
    [ Parent ]
    What's the ranking system?  it doesn't seem to align with the percentages...?

    The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
    by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue Jul 26th, 2005 at 01:10:11 PM EST
    [ Parent ]
    I think the ranking may be per capita emissions?

    What is the use of a house if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on? - Thoreau
    by Dem in Knoxville (green_planet_2000 (at) yahoo (dot) com) on Tue Jul 26th, 2005 at 02:12:20 PM EST
    [ Parent ]
    The ranking is actually by HDI-ranking (Human Development Index).  Norway has the highest HDI, closely followed by Sweden and others as listed above.  The HDI primarily reviews 3 main elements to determine human development:  per capity income, life expectancy and literacy.
    This is a good place to start to learn more on this important annual review made by UNDP.
    The listing above is not a ranking on emissions - simply the relevant absolute numbers for each country as ranked by HDI.
    by ask on Wed Jul 27th, 2005 at 04:20:45 PM EST
    [ Parent ]
    Pictures from GSFC are hidden from view, here link to features on the environment and climate change.

    As well as today's Shuttle start.


    The Environment and Climate Change

  • National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC)
  • United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)
  • ESA - Observing the Earth plus links

    Other terrorism:

  • Ricin - Al Zarqawi - Bly Oregon - Niger ◊ @ European Tribune

    'Sapere aude'
  • by Oui (Oui) on Tue Jul 26th, 2005 at 09:25:05 AM EST
    Outside the reach of Utah Law, corporations are offering multi-million dollar contracts for nuclear dump facilities on Indian reservation in Skull Valley.

    Where are the protests by the environment watchers - or isn't it an election year and therefore not advantageous?

  • Indian Reservation       < Click picture to enlarge >


  • Ricin - Al Zarqawi - Bly Oregon - Niger ◊ @ European Tribune

    'Sapere aude'
  • by Oui (Oui) on Tue Jul 26th, 2005 at 02:54:28 PM EST
    Great diary, great comments.
    by Coriolanus on Tue Jul 26th, 2005 at 04:28:22 PM EST

    Heh.  Last time I checked, I was a girl ;-)

    by Plutonium Page (page dot vlinders at gmail dot com) on Tue Jul 26th, 2005 at 06:34:12 PM EST
    [ Parent ]
    Time to check again?  That plutonium does strange things to the hormones.... ;-)
    by canberra boy (canberraboy1 at gmail dot com) on Fri Jul 29th, 2005 at 11:05:00 AM EST
    [ Parent ]
    I'm not so sure. Suppose there are only two options, one being to get all nuclear warheads under control (or destroyed), and option two is to stop global warming in its tracks. And suppose they both cost the same. Which is preferable?

    Without the first, developed countries are at risk due to terrorist-controlled warheads. Without the second, third world countries are at risk due to sea level rise. Up to now the west has never worried much about side effects in Africa or South Asia...

    by asdf on Tue Jul 26th, 2005 at 07:22:24 PM EST
    I note in passing that if climate destabilisation plus peak oil effects proceed apace, the social disruption and chaos it causes may be sufficient to make law -- national or international -- a moot point, and efforts at coordinated projects-of-civilisation (such as nuclear arms control) futile, if indeed any attempt at all could be made.  Possibly slowing down global warming is a sine qua non on which all other civil/civic efforts depend?

    Speaking of no-win theoretical choices:You can always count on some helpful soul to throw a flaming torch on troubled pools of gasoline... a somewhat trolly poster over at MoA suggests

    There are plenty of solutions available. For example, we could slaughter (or sterilize, if there's enough time left) every human on the planet with an IQ lower than, say, 90. Result: instant lowering of the population by a vast number (thus relieving some of the strain on the ecology) and much more intelligent behavior from the remaining population.
    In order to make evolution start working on humanity, we either have to make a deliberate move (i.e. slaughter or sterilize groups which are deemed retrograde) or wait for a crisis which will kill or disable most of us in any case, and which is almost certainly coming in the form of ecological disaster. The difference is that if we ignore our dinosaur brains and choose a deliberate move, we get to pick what survives. If we wait for the disaster, it's random. If you accept that an ecological disaster which will kill billions is on the way, then there is no argument against directed mass slaughter or sterilization which does not boil down to "I'm squeamish," since the alternative is to let even larger numbers of people die anyway.

    The ensuing discussion is of course somewhat heated.  And I should perhaps point out that I am not in sympathy with the notions quoted above.

    Leaving aside the question of the validity (I thought it long since exploded) of IQ tests as a measure of anything recognisable as "intelligence", the captious poster does raise troubling questions about the fate of humanity and how we are going to deal with peak oil and the collapse of various overstressed ecosystems.

    The questions on the table are:

    1. is "cleverness" really the quality we need most in order to survive whatever is coming next?   or is human cleverness the root problem, and are there other human values/talents that might be more adaptive at this point?  what human values/talents should we be encouraging to make as soft a landing as possible?

    2. is it possible to make rational "lifeboat" choices about impending resource shortages?  does anyone have the right to make such choices?  can anyone be trusted with the disinterested and uncorrupted implementation of triage or other catastrophic strategies?

    3. if we do not make organised/rationalised choices then are we (as the trolly poster suggests) implicitly consenting to and endorsing a chaotic, privilege- and violence- driven scenario in which the wealthiest and meanest are likely to survive?

    The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
    by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue Jul 26th, 2005 at 08:55:07 PM EST
    [ Parent ]
    I think you have hit the nail on the head. The whole matter boils down to a question of whether the West will think only of its own concerns, or if it will also take into account the Third World.

    To this point the trend has been to exploit the Third World, and I don't see this changing.

    by asdf on Wed Jul 27th, 2005 at 02:53:51 PM EST
    [ Parent ]
    It's not either/or. Nor is environmental degredation something that will magically bypass the white nations. It has far more to do with an agrarian age religion clinging to life in an industrial cum information-based society. Religions don't go down without a fight.
    by Coriolanus on Wed Jul 27th, 2005 at 09:09:23 PM EST
    [ Parent ]
    1. Cleverness: I guess my take is if you're going to be clever, don't half-ass it. Go all the way. We have a schizophrenic society with many people looking back with nostolgia to the glory days of agricultural civilization. The rest of us seem to be looking forward to a technotopia of wind farms and nanotech abundance. The middle-ground is eroding beneath our collective feet.

    2. No.

    3. No. We consent to nothing; it will just happen. Such a scenario is so common in history that it is the norm. Unfortuantely, civilization has run out of hinterlands where it can lick its wounds.
    by Coriolanus on Wed Jul 27th, 2005 at 09:15:39 PM EST
    [ Parent ]
    Maybe there's a distinction between "cleverness" and "wisdom."  Certainly capitalist/mercantile culture with its emphasis on carny games, Ponzi schemes and other sleight-of-hand tricks for getting power and prestige, rewards the quick and clever rather than the long-term thinkers or the wise.  A business culture in which the best way to make money off an enterprise is to run it into the ground, or to run up the stock prices of a firm that has never made anything useful in its sweet short life, is a culture where cleverness (the cleverness of con artists, scam merchants, and card sharps) is valued more highly, imho, than is warranted.  Criminals are often incredibly clever in the schemes they figure out for stealing, defrauding, etc...

    Well, I can't get these thoughts to gel, but I have a feeling that cleverness,per se, has perhaps an innate tendency to turn towards short horizons.

    BTW, all civilisations are agricultural :-)  without agriculture there's no food, and without food there's no civilisation (just a lot of frantic starving people who eventually resort to eating each other).  An essential question in our time is the relative social prestige, visibility, and share of public expenditure allotted to farming vs (say) transport, entertainment, and usury.  

    We have marginalised farming (industrialised it, centralised it, brought it under a command economy controlled by a handful of megacorps), so that only a tiny percentage of the population works at it and they have very low status (the finance/planning elite who own the agricorps are a different matter, they have high prestige and a lot of well-greased political power, but they are not really interested in farming).  We have instead culturally centralised transport and entertainment;  almost every person knows the person who fixes their car, and spends hours per day in close contact with their car, sees cars all the time, and spends a large percentage of their salary on the car and other transport modes;  in an earlier generation we would have spend less on transport and more on food, and we would be used to seeing (e.g.) dead meat being cut up in the butcher's shop, buying local milk and cheese from the dairyman, purchasing potatoes with the dirt still on 'em from the greengrocer's stall, and smelling the fish market early in the morning.  Now, the vast majority of urban dwellers have never seen a live chicken or a live cow (except on TV), nor have they any idea where their food comes from (or what's in it for that matter);  but they know a great deal about different brands of cars and where to get a smog check or how to get out of a speeding ticket.  Our priorities have become those of a previous generation's aristocracy -- to know everything about transport and entertainment and nothing about where our food comes from.

    This I see as still being slaves to C18 and C19 memes:  the idea that it is somehow higher-prestige, smarter, cooler to devote the lion's share of our paycheque to entertainment and transport than to good food.  It still adds up to a lot of money, diminished savings, etc.  The cost of our choice is that while we have unparallelled private and public entertainment (admittedly of the brainless and spectacular kind), astonishingly luxurious and energy-squandering transport at ridiculously low cost, we also have very cheap, very bad, very unhealthy food (and very little food security due to our dependence on fossil fuel and long supply lines).

    I can imagine a future that is not an either/or scenario:  one where the balance has been somewhat restored and a higher percentage of the population does a more diversified, smallholder type of farming for local markets, while the sleek modern wind turbines stalk across their fields;  where fuel-efficient public transport networks using slower speed modes like barge and rail mean that transport eats a smaller proportion of each family's budget per month, while food is a bit more expensive (but of higher quality and less likely to cause various autopathic conditions, thus reducing medical costs and improving quality of life...)  I don't see why a post-peak culture should not be both high-tech and agrarian.  Even now, moves are underfoot to distribute solar panels to hundreds of thousands of peasant homes in Malaysia.

    The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

    by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Wed Jul 27th, 2005 at 11:59:53 PM EST
    [ Parent ]
    and very welcome. A post-peak culture can indeed be both high-tech and agrarian, but I fear it won't happen until after we've hit the brick wall...or at least nicked it pretty badly.

    After being back in the States for a bit and then visiting friends in Paris, I just don't see any possibility of addressing the situation until it's upon the entire planet. The lifestyle is too settled, too seductive, and too separate from reality (e.g. your point that no one knows where their food comes from in industrialized societies).

    Unfortunately for the Jewish-Christian-Islamic worldview that predominates, the "dominion" that God gave Adam over creation came to mean "absolute ownership" instead of "stewardship". In this change, the concept of responsibility for what one holds was lost.

    About my only hope is that some portion of European and Chinese leaders see the situation and begin to seriously address it. At least in the current Chinese political/economic structure, marshalling the society toward a cleaner and sustainable civiliation may prove easier.

    But I'm not counting on it.

    by gradinski chai on Thu Jul 28th, 2005 at 02:47:00 AM EST
    [ Parent ]
    @DeAnander: I agree with your excellent comment entirely and don't see why you felt you couldn't get your thoughts to gel ;-)

    Just one thing puzzles me: why 18C and 19C memes? It seems to me the slide from paying for food to consecrating a bigger chunk of one's budget to transport and entertainment is more 20C. Where do you see the genesis of this in the 18-19Cs?

    by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Jul 28th, 2005 at 07:26:55 AM EST
    [ Parent ]
    I was thinking that in C18 and C19 western culture, it was a rich person's privilege to spend lots of money on private carriages and travel.   this was a larger chunk of expenditure than food, I suspect.  expensive entertainments were also for the wealthy only -- it was an upper-class habit to spend a lot on weddings, parties, opera-going, Ascot attendance, etc.

    ordinary people did not travel much, nor did they spend greatly on entertainment;  housing, clothing, and food were the essential money expenditures;  entertainment was more likely to be local or extemporised and low-budget.  it was an aristocratic habit to squander money on what we would now call "discretionary spending."  the morality of the time considered such spendthrift behaviour somewhat immoral (aristocracy had a special license for immorality -- loose sexual morals, spectacular alcholism, gambling, outrageous expenditures on clothing etc).  ordinary people pursued an ethic of "use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without," and conscientious saving and thrift -- from necessity, one suspects, not innate moral superiority :-)

    now we are all encouraged, as mass consumers, to throw things away rather than fix them, to spend like there is no tomorrow, to gamble (lotteries and stock markets), to buy far in excess of our needs, to gorge on huge meals -- to live like dissolute aristos.  

    one downside of the "large quantities of disposable generic goods" consumerism is that we no longer have a favourite and familiar shirt or jacket that lasts 20 years (even if expertly darned a bit here and there).  the specific, the particular, the unique and the personal are lost to the replicable, the generic, the standardised, the collective.  it is odd that a culture of such rabid individualism produces such remarkable uniformity (whole demographics predictably wearing, driving, reading, watching what market researcher expect them to)...

    btw a side issue to ponder is that the C19 and C18 aristo had a leg up on the mass consumer -- often the goods that he/she purchased were of highest quality and had very long lifetimes -- luxury hunting rifles passed down from father to son to grandson, furniture and carriages that supported the privileged backsides of three or four generations, solid silverware, etc.  these durable goods were lovingly maintained, cleaned, and spit-polished by a small army of servants for each aristo.  so families accrued a wealth of material possessions over time.  by contrast the consumer goods of an ordinary person dying today are worth very little and, due to deliberate obsolescence, corner-cutting and shoddy workmanship, will be worth nearly nothing to the next generation (unless they turn out to be gomi of the "collectible" kind and worth some absurd amount on Ebay)...

    well I'm going to go wandering even further off into Wild Blue Yonderland here and see where it takes me... again this is not a thought-out position, just some ideas that have been nagging at me lately.  much of this train of thought could probably be derailed without great effort...

    we can see it as a huge advance in "quality of life" that Everyman and Everywoman were offered the chance to own their own private chariot (the automobile) at the critical turning points (the Fordist moment in the US, the postwar boom in Euroland).  we could see this as a genuine "vulgarisation of privilege" -- the kind that Engels envisioned as revolutionary -- or we can see it as a kind of zero sum game, the offering of an ersatz mass-produced imitation of aristocratic privileges in return for loss of the inherent value/quality of such privileges (see Illich on the issue of privileges that cannot by their nature be vulgarised).  

    when Everyman has a chariot, the streets are choked with the damn things and Everyman spends a lot of his time sitting in a traffic jam :-)  certainly not enjoying the elite motorist's experience of a generation earlier, being often the only automobile on many many miles of road and being able to intimidate (by both mass and class) lowlier forms of transport out of his way.  this is still the fantasy that automobile advertisers sell -- though they are video spots now and very slick, the message has not changed since the ad campaigns targeted to the elite in the 20's:  you alone with your powerful automobile on the open road (shades of Mr Toad!).

    another mess of pottage traded away for ersatz aristocracy, imho, is local control and knowledge of more immediate survival issues such as our food...  slick professional entertainment became affordable to all (home theatre, TV, CD-quality sound);  affordable air travel brought the middle class (of the wealthy nations that is, the vast majority of the human race has never flown on an aeroplane and probably never will) into the  Jet Set (sort of -- air travel in coach today bears very little resemblance to the champagne and kid-glove facilities enjoyed by Jet Setters back in the day).  

    I think we could argue that the content/quality of the entertainment, like air travel, declined as it was vulgarised (even as the presentation, i.e. packaging quality advanced with improved technologies).  a similar case might be made for food:  in the old days you could eat fine healthy N Atlantic cod and local taters wrapped in greasy old newspaper (fish and chips);  today you can buy minced pollock (the cod are gone) in "shaped fish patties" with reconstituted chip-shaped formed-potato objects, but packaged in the most gorgeous 4-colour offset-printed freezer box -- the cover of which is graced with a better photo portrait of the alleged product than any wedding photo from 40 years ago even from the wealthiest families.  

    real aristos had servants who picked over the fruit from the market so that only the prettiest and least flawed ended up in the silver bowl on the sideboard -- but today "everyone" can enjoy picture-perfect fruit bred for looks rather than taste -- apples that taste like slightly apple-flavoured packing material.  what is offered to the masses is the often the packaging or surface appearance of luxury, with the actual content (nutritious, intellectual, artistic, prestigious) missing or adulterated beyond recognition.

    I think Jane Jacobs (Dark Age Ahead), Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death, Building a Bridge to the Eighteenth Century), Ivan Illich (too many cites to list here, but the classic essay "Energy and Equity" is a good starting point) all offer clues and pointers to what ordinary people traded for our glittery cut-rate, wannabe-aristo consumer elitism.

    we might never have signed that Faustian pact (our parents and grandparents that is), imho, had we not firmly fixed in our minds the tropes of feudal Europe as interpreted through the pop lit of C18/19.  don'cha think the McMansion is merely a cookie-cutter, lego-block knock-off of the country home on a private estate? and was that meme in its turn perhaps inherited by the Europeans from the Roman villa -- each colonised people imitating its colonisers, century after century...?  pretty much as the "romance novel" (Grade Z supermarket variety) is a cheap knock-off of an earnest imitation of a decent pastiche of an original like Jane Austen or the Brontes?

    what Engels didn't "get" was that the vulgarisation of some privileges is inherently epigonal...  either by virtue of resource drawdown and loss of quality, or inherent unvulgarisability...

    boy, am I rambling or what...

    The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

    by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Jul 28th, 2005 at 07:31:46 PM EST
    [ Parent ]
    I remember a say in Italy, attributed to Kissinger; it goes more or less like that:

    «L'italiano è il popolo più intelligente del mondo. Ha un solo difetto: è troppo furbo»

    But I can find the original citation in English, so it doesn't help you about the wording you are searching for...

    I guess there is similar sayings in other language along the line of "it's not clever trying being too clever" which play with the different meaning of clever.

    As far as I can say, "furbo " translates many ways: astute, clever, slick.

    La répartie est dans l'escalier. Elle revient de suite.

    by lacordaire on Thu Jul 28th, 2005 at 08:53:11 AM EST
    [ Parent ]

    "BTW, all civilisations are agricultural :-)  without agriculture there's no food, and without food there's no civilisation (just a lot of frantic starving people who eventually resort to eating each other)"

    ...isn't necessarily true. It's true that all advanced civilizations are agricultural, but there have been complex human cultures that did not rely upon agriculture, and had plenty of food. For example, the native people of the Pacific Northwest of North America lived off fishing, hunting, gathering, and trading with nearby groups. While many Indian groups further west did farm, those in the Pacific Northwest did not.

    One could argue that their culture doesn't meet some of the definitions of a civilization (for example, the first definition of the American Heritage Dictionary, requires widespread use of writing and "advancement in the sciences," two things that were not present.) However, most of the definitions of civilization would match that culture and other pre-agricultural cultures.

    As Jared Diamond argues in "Guns, Germs, and Steel," early agricultural societies actually provide fewer calories per person than pre-agricultural societies. It's the only way to feed that many people in that complex of a society, but it's still not as much food as before agriculture provided for large-scale population growth.

    Really, I see agriculture as simply the first wave of industrialization. First came simple farming tools and domesticated animals, things that have been around for thousands of years. Then, throughout the last thousand years or so, tools became ever more complex machines. Finally, there was a revolution in intensive energy sources starting with coal and continuing with oil, that began in the last couple hundred years or so.

    by Cascadia Progressive on Thu Jul 28th, 2005 at 05:41:17 PM EST
    [ Parent ]
    I thought of that shortly after posting.  Thanks for the correction/expansion.  I think of "civilisation" as its literal meaning, "living in cities"...  but would definitely call the NW Native American culture a high culture -- highly developed art, rule of law, complex social relations of production and redistribution...

    The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
    by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Jul 28th, 2005 at 07:34:18 PM EST
    [ Parent ]
    I just came across this which I find extremely disconcerning:
    New Asia-Pacific climate plan
    Dennis Shanahan, Political Editor
    July 27, 2005

    AUSTRALIA has joined the US, China, India and South Korea in a secret regional pact on greenhouse emissions to replace the controversial Kyoto climate protocol.
    The alliance, which is yet to be announced, will bring together nations that together account for more than 40 per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

    This may be the death of the Kyoto-protocol.  Sponsored by the US and the two big developing countries that already have concessions with regards to the treaty.  Sad to see Australia following this path.
    by ask on Thu Jul 28th, 2005 at 10:32:33 AM EST
    Don't forget that Australia also did not sign Kyoto.

    But as this is based on voluntary mechanisms, it will not give birth to the sophisticated financial tools made possible by Europe's detailed reglations (based on Kyoto). That will keep the real action in the Kyoto countries, with Canada and Japan having joined the Euopean scheme.

    In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

    by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Jul 28th, 2005 at 12:23:11 PM EST
    [ Parent ]
    Envisat - Phytoplankton Bloom

    A colourful summer marine phytoplankton bloom fills much of the Baltic Sea in this Envisat image.

    Monitoring phytoplankton is important because they form the base of the marine food web - sometimes known as 'the grass of the sea'.

    On a local level, out-of-control blooms can devastate marine life, de-oxygenating whole stretches of water, while some species of phytoplankton and marine algae are toxic to both fish and humans. It is useful that fishermen, fish farmers and public health officials know about such events as soon as possible.

    Globally, phytoplankton is a major influence on the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, and hence need to be modelled into calculations of future climate change.


    'Sapere aude'

    by Oui (Oui) on Sat Jul 30th, 2005 at 03:23:04 AM EST
    These sites on the environment and climate change.
  • ESA
  • NASA
  • UNEP


    'Sapere aude'

  • by Oui (Oui) on Sat Jul 30th, 2005 at 07:28:02 PM EST
    [ Parent ]

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