Sunday, January 8, 2017

A Power Zone Manifesto

" The physical requirements are not negotiable. They cannot be bargained down, discounted, or put on a layaway plan."

Fire in the New Valley, Egypt - PlanetLab
2016 was a year for revolutions. Really it was only a continuation of the Tunisian Spring that began in 2010 or, even before that, the Arab labor strikes that ran from 2006 to 2008, followed by insurgencies and civil wars in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, civil uprisings in Bahrain and Egypt, large street demonstrations in Algeria, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman and Sudan and minor protests in Djibouti, Mauritania, the Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and the Western Sahara, then the 2008 financial crash, Occupy, the collapse of Greece, the Ukrainian civil war, Brazil, Venezuela, Turkey, many more and eventually Brexit and Trump. A major slogan of the demonstrators in the Arab world was Ash-sha`b yurid isqat an-nizam ("the people want to bring down the regime"). It applied equally well to Brexit and Trump.
 It is no coincidence that all this revolutionizing started with the crash of the world’s energy pyramid in 2005 and the climate chickens coming home to roost about the same time. It has been papered over by financial fictions in the West (Ponzinomics), but 2005 marked the start of the long emergency and the decidedly different times in which we now live. Historic, concurrent and rapid state failures in the Middle East, Northwest Africa, South and Southeast Asia, Europe and North America are either coming, or have already arrived. This week we are witnessing the implosion of México, next week it could be Japan.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

— Yeats (1919)

In Failing States, Collapsing Systems (Springer 2017), Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed writes:
Yet while policymakers and media observers have raced to keep up with events, they have largely missed the biophysical triggers of this new age of unrest – the end of the age of cheap fossil fuels, and its multiplying consequences for the Earth’s climate, industrial food production, and economic growth.

What we are about to undertake is to write a prescription. Essentially, over the next 10 or 12 weeks, we are going to write a book comprised of a string of these blog posts, chapter by chapter. We intend to lay out the whole philosophy of the change required, and then describe, in mechanical detail, not only what must be done, but how it can be accomplished without bloodshed but with plenty of gaity, song and dance. We are calling this our Power Zone Manifesto.

Power Zone: A kite wind window is the area where the kite can fly. This is a three-dimensional semi-dome. In the wind window there are three components: the power zone, the intermediate zone and the edge of the wind window. When you can feel the wind in your back, you will find the power zone lying in front of you. In the picture you see the red and orange colored areas where this is indicated. This is the part where the kite catches wind the most and thus where the kite generates the most power. A Power zone is a risk zone where you should go with caution, but this does not mean it’s dangerous. It’s a learning process on how to use it.

Manifesto: (1620, Italian, from manifestare — denunciation, and Latin, manifestus) a written statement that describes the policies, goals, and opinions of a person or group
— Mirriam-Webster  

We are embarking, with this first installment of the New Year, on a journey together. We are sending a kite into the power zone. Our subject is climate change, but more importantly, civilizational change. The two are a coupled pair, like matter and anti-matter. Not everyone understands that yet, or appreciates the gravity of the situation, and that is unfortunate but okay. The full horror will reveal itself gradually, in fits and starts, and in times and places not of our choosing. Here, in 2017, we take it on faith that we still have options. That faith could be entirely misplaced  but from the available evidence we cannot say either way — the climate juggernaut is in motion but perhaps still reversible. Faith gives us agency. Apostasy does not. We are creatures that exercise agency as an inherited condition. Take that away and we psychologically shatter, wither and die. We need to feel we have choices. We need to be able to exercise will.
So, feeling the wind at our back, we edge the kite closer to the power zone. 

Escondida Mine, Chile, PlanetLab
It has been said that what distinguishes homo from other animals is our ability to make tools. We disagree. Other apes make tools. A crow uses a stick dabbed with honey to catch ants. A humpback whale, having neither hands nor feet, may fashion a bubble net to snare its lunch, humming a song of its own composition as it reels in the harvest. 

Perhaps one thing that distinguishes homo from other animals is our ability to accumulate knowledge culturally, and to do so more rapidly than, say, the lessons passed by each generation of she-wolves to their young, or the nuanced dances of honey bees.

Climate change is occurring so rapidly now, and with such apparent acceleration, that it forces us to go beyond even our high rates of cultural cataloging. We do not have the luxury of slow, generational change. Already born are children who will experience an Earth four or five degrees warmer than it is right now, maybe even much hotter. 

Graeme Taylor, in A Realistic (Holistic) Approach to Climate Mitigation, World Future Review 2016, Vol. 8(3) 141–161, writes:
In general, a realistic climate mitigation strategy must (1) clarify the requirements for a safe global climate, (2) develop a viable strategy for managing critical risks and ensuring safe outcomes (e.g., a multitrack approach capable of both accelerating change within existing institutions and catalyzing systemic transformation), (3) progressively build scientific and political support for this strategy, and (4) develop national and international alliances to educate, encourage, and pressure decisionmakers at all levels to take effective action.

Diplomats and politicians have been slow to come to agreement about the requirements for averting catastrophic climate change. Rather than clarify, they have generally done everything possible to obscure. Scientists, by contrast, have been gradually moving into consensus for the last century or more and now are at nearly complete unanimity, with piercing clarity. 

In broad stroke, to reestablish the relatively stable climate of the last 10,000 years, the Holocene epoch, we must restore the relationship between energy arriving and leaving Earth’s land, oceans and atmosphere.
By any reasonable measure, we are outside the zone of safety already.
The physical requirements to return to a safe climate zone are these:

  1. Humans must stop adding carbon to the atmosphere (and thereby to the oceans);
  2. We must stop throwing off the balance of nitrogen, phosphorus and other critical cycles that maintain photosynthetic equilibrium and the energy balance of the Earth in relation to the Sun;
  3. We must reverse desertification;
  4. We must arrest the degradation of biodiversity;
  5. We must restore the naturally regenerative systems and allow them to heal the damage that has been done.

These five physical requirements are not negotiable. They cannot be bargained down, discounted, or put on a layaway plan. This creates a dilemma for human societies, because, as far back as our emergence from the past ice age and the adoption of agriculture, we have been marking progress by measures that result in the precise opposite of these requirements. 

Atmospheric carbon dioxide, at least a third attributable to agriculture, is on track to peak after 2050 at 600 ppm, more than double the Holocene mean. But agriculture was only made possible by the advent of the gentle Holocene.

Agriculture made us sedentary, created a system of division of the commons and private property, installed capitalism (to borrow and lend lands and seed and to apportion risks and profits) and militarism (to protect property, stored harvests and contract rights), codified laws beyond the moral variety handed down on tablets from God, and gave rise to cities and monumental state architectures.

Could it be that to meet the five requirements we next need to undo all that? Is that even possible?

This is what regime change looks like

Taylor’s second point is more difficult to address than his third and fourth. We have been building political support the same way we built the scientific support, only much more slowly. National and international alliances have been forged, across all parts of civil society, and those continue to exert pressure on decisionmakers. To find “a multitrack approach capable of both accelerating change within existing institutions and catalyzing systemic transformation,” however, is a much bigger ask.

Taylor correctly summarizes the state of international negotiations:
Critics argue that the Paris Agreement failed to deal with many crucial issues. These include assessing and managing the real risks and costs of climate change; defining greenhouse gas (GHG) concentration safety limits; determining a time frame for emissions to peak; stopping fossil fuel subsidies; imposing carbon pollution taxes; limiting both fossil fuel supply and demand; developing clean substitutes for nonelectrical uses of fossil fuel energy; ensuring that climate change costs are borne equitably by rich and poor nations; reducing resistance to climate mitigation through developing alternative, nonpolluting uses for fossil fuels; and planning the transformation of the global political economy into a sustainable system.

Because it does not take a holistic, precautionary risk management approach to climate modeling, it does not recognize that biophysical limits and timelines are nonnegotiable, and that passing critical thresholds creates the potential for systemic failure or state change. For instance, the Paris Agreement does not place safety limits on atmospheric CO2 and other GHG concentrations, an absolute cap on ocean and atmospheric temperature increases, an absolute cap on ocean acidification, or a specified timeline for reducing GHG emissions.
None of these deficiencies was corrected in Marrakech, nor are they expected to be corrected in COP-23 in Bonn next year. This does not make the UNFCCC multi-stakeholder process useless, it just means it is very slow. Like climate itself, it moves in fits and spurts. We can agree: it is probably not up to the challenge posed by exponential chaos.

Plutonium Valley, Nevada Test Site, PlanetLab
If you are toying with some of these ideas, before you throw in the towel and say its hopeless, lets start by naming the deluding passions.

The world is not easily divided between those who deny climate change is a problem and those content to criticize the political stalemate as the karma of capitalism. Nor is it easily divided between those who assume that governments have the matter under control and those that believe the AI singularity will deal with it by dint of human ingenuity.

There is a spectrum of opinion out there. One may overlap with another, or the roles reverse without warning. What is “conservative” actually? What is “liberal?”

Reframing Reality

One might think from the plain definition of the word that conservatives are those who seek to protect and “conserve” the resources that confer wealth upon societies. Those would be things like soil, water, clean air, biodiversity and a system of social contracts that prevents despoliation of the commons. And yet, whether you are speaking of conservatives in the US, UK, Europe or somewhere else, they all have in common a disdain for these very things, and are doing everything possible to use up, trash, and deregulate the expropriation of resources while at the same time relaxing restrictions on pollution and habitat destruction.

On the flip side of that coin we have the liberals — like deer in the headlights when it comes to net energy and peak everything. “Liberal” should mean broad-minded, generous, and progressive. Instead, in an era that screams for rapid build-down of over-extended economies, liberals champion expansion, whether it be programs to resettle, educate and empower refugees, conferring rights to “sustainable development” on non-industrialized, rapidly overpopulating countries or sending out a high-tech military empire in search of the final drops of fossil sunlight in order to sustain the nonnegotiable.

Caught between these polar conflicts are masses of sheeple, running this way and that, trying to escape the pull of the power zone. Knowing that Ash-sha`byurid isqat an-nizam  is the dominant sentiment, regimes are running scared, whether they are regimes of government, economics, academia, or science. Regime change is in vogue. The world has become a free-fire zone.

Cooler heads will eventually prevail. Some pain may have to be experienced first. A change is coming, and next week we will continue to tease out some of its outlines.
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


dex3703 said...

Thank you for the encouragement. I need it.

BTW, the first link (about exceeding limits) is broken.

Ian Graham said...

Why the reference to laws on stone tablets from g-o-d?
Who wrote the 'rough beast slouching toward Bethlehem'? that sure looks like an allusion to the new religious coin minted out of judaism.
What place does religion find in your post-energy apocalypso!

(All rhetorical, since I've yet to see any post from AB here in the commentaries, meager as they are.)

Jenny Goldie said...

Climate change is a symptom of overshoot, as is this, the sixth extinction of species. Radical solutions are required and that must include an end to population growth. Climate change is mainly caused by the burning of fossil fuels, but deforestation for agriculture to feed ever more mouths, and agriculture itself, contribute significantly to the problem. We have to get global population back down to under two billion people and that may require a global one-child policy, hopefully voluntary, but the greater the overshoot, the greater the likelihood of coercive, authoritarian, solutions.

Albert Bates said...

Thanks for the good point Jennie. Population factors large in my manifesto and you are prompting me now to devote a whole chapter to that. We are still in the problem statement part of the manifesto but we'll plenty to say about population when we get to solutions.

Ian I see religion like Bill Maher, as more an impediment to change than an aid, although there are pockets of enlightened views within the sector. Bhutan or Haudeneshaunee, for instance. I guess my problems are mainly with the Eastern Mediterranean desert religions that started a few thousand years ago, with the mores and restrictions of that time and place. If we get stuck in those now, the future is not bright. Oh, and as for the broken links, those were all the science journal references and paywall issues. If you google the articles, you may find some in the open literature. Try Google Scholar.

Don Stewart said...

The following ideas are still half-baked, but since you are going to save the world in 10 or 12 weeks, perhaps now is a good time to unload them on you.

I believe it is a true statement that 'minds' have to change. In order to make that statement operational, we have to have some definition of 'mind'. I think that Dan Siegel is closest to giving us a good definition, in his new book Mind: A Journey Into the Heart of Being Human. Dan suggests that a human mind is the result of energy and information flow from not only all our bodily parts but also from our society and from our tools and our ecosystem. The mind is not the brain, but instead an emergent structure (like a whirlpool in a stream). The mind can use the brain as a tool.

Health is defined as the state of differentiation and integration. We pay separate attention to each source of information and energy and then integrate them. We know that we are in the 'health zone' when we are avoiding rigidity on the one side and chaos on the other.

Please note that the 'mind' as defined by Siegel, can operate under consciousness or without consciousness. Even if we first decide to do something and only then enlist our brain to come up with a rationalization, Siegel's definition of mind still makes sense.

I want to build on Siegel's Wheel of Awareness...which you can find described on his website. Briefly, the patient (he is a psychiatrist) sits at a table and makes contact with each of their bodily senses and the exosomatic influences by directing their attention to each in turn. Finally, the patient turns their attention inward toward the person who is paying attention. The mind is the emergent structure which then integrates the flows of information and energy.

Now suppose that we expand the Wheel of Awareness to include additional concerns. For example, the carbon cycle and desertification and the other items you list in this post. As more illustration, suppose we add dietary concerns for example. We would meditate on the anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and detoxification properties of the food we are about to eat (as opposed to giving a sky-god thanks for creating the universe). In short, we can take the Wheel of Awareness practice and expand the subjects of concern to cover all the bases you will be describing over the next dozen weeks or so.

Now one might object that concerns for the carbon cycle is not the same as checking in with one's sensory apparatus. I agree, but I don't think the extension is impossible. Humans can definitely study subjects which are not immediately intuitive. For example, we can study the carbon cycle, the causes of desertification, and which food and life style practices are anti-inflammatory, provide antioxidants, and foster detoxification. A Wheel of Awareness type practice, or using a Rosary, or some other mechanism can be used to keep the circuits in the mind active. If the circuits in the mind are exercised enough and consistently enough, then the mind will include those concerns when it goes about its differentiation and integration work.

The goal is not to have someone make a scientific deduction that desertification or eating sugar is bad...but to change the behavior by systematically building the necessary pathways in the mind. The goal should be that the behaviors tend to become automatic.

For what it is worth....Don Stewart

Unknown said...

Very glad you are doing this Al, much needed I think. I look forward to seeing more.

The religion question for me is answered by noting that religion, defined in my dictionary as "one's relationship with the powers and principles of the whole, universe, God etc." is a matter of one's personal inside life, the realm of psychology and faith etc.. I think it is problematic when used to describe what we call "organized religions." People coming together to celebrate their relationship with the whole is a very a good thing but when instead it becomes an organization seeking to influence others, trying to get them to conform or whatever, then it is politics, "the art and practice of influencing others."

I see the eco crisis, "our house" in crisis, as having 2 parts, logic and nomic.
Logic is the science, the indisputable physical evidence and physical consequences assessed according to strict principles of validity. Thus scientists can more readily find consensus. Still, there are assumptions made based on beliefs that may impede finding solutions so a willingness to examine these may be important.

Nomic, meaning law or rules, is the agreement we must have. Here we get further into the realm of beliefs, human behavior and mass psychology. This is the realm of the sovereign, of politics, governance and most importantly money.

The money system is by far the most influential of systems and, with the help of its social management system is being used to control governments, corporations and everything else. Thus we have a considerable political project who's #1 goal should be changing the monetary system from privately issued credit as money, usury based money, to a sovereign money system, a public money system, where money is issued as an asset, instead of a debt, money that continuously circulates doing more instead of being extinguished as a loan is paid off. The sovereign money system was presented in a bill to Congress in 2011-12, The NEED Act, HR 2990. It is basically the Chicago Plan that FDR disastrously passed on, along with some public spending priorities no longer encumbered with scarcity of money, but the big private banks of issue and their networks would no longer be allowed to create money.

This would be a change from the Economics of Greed, to the Economics of Care and have profound positive psychological consequences for society then allowing us the freely address the climate issue becasue cost would no longer be a matter of money, instead cost would be a matter of resources, labor, material, know-how etc.. This resource based economy of care will help us repair the metabolic rift, our separation from nature that debt-for-money industrialism created, and help mend the web of life.

Monetary science will be good know too if we go into collapse and are faced with organizing self-governence and creating economies that work for people and planet and not against.

Unknown said...

I guess Yeats has fallen off the pop charts. :)

I be happy to be a conservative or a liberal if either word still meant anything. Instead, I call myself a doomer, knowing that it's now the bottom of the ninth, and the bases are loaded with fat cat billionaires.

All my best wishes are with you Albert. I'll be looking forward to the rest of the presecription.

Unknown said...

I think we are pat conservative and part liberal and to divide that is un-natural. I agree with Gilbert Keith Chesterton; "The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected."




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