Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Great Pause Week 28: Politicizing Pandemic

"Einstein observed that great powers do not act on the basis of facts only but manufacture the facts to serve their purposes."


Demonic forces feed on ignorance 
 — I Ching

Wengui Guo, who sometimes goes by Miles Kwok, is a mysterious, narcissistic, and some would say schizophrenic Chinese oligarch. His personal story reads more like Fred Trump than the real estate scion’s famous son, but there are elements Guo shares with the latter. His first fortune came when, barely 20, he put himself in the right place at the right time and started building city high rises on borrowed money. He soon learned that the better position in that proposition was to be the lender in pin-striped suit, not the borrower in hard hat. He formed a string of capital investment groups to tap into the largest cashflows of China’s great 20th Century expansion, legally and illegally. He had the good sense to get out before the anti-corruption reforms introduced by Xi Jinping caught up to him and he fled with his money to Hong Kong, New York, and the French Riviera. 

Guo’s New York apartment is a 9,000-square-foot residence along Central Park that he bought for $67.5 million in 2015. …Guo had picked his apartment for its location, its three sprawling balconies and the meticulously tiled floor in the entryway. He has the best apartment in London, he said; the biggest apartment in Hong Kong. His yacht is docked along the Hudson River. He is comfortable and, anyway, Guo likes to say that as a Buddhist, he wants for nothing. If it were down to his own needs alone, he would have kept his profile low. But he has a higher purpose. He is going to save China.

 — The New York Time

According to the Times and other sources, a former female employee alleges in an ongoing lawsuit that he repeatedly raped her, a charge he disputes. The woman says Guo lured her to the U.S. from China to work as his assistant and then kept her prisoner for three years, repeatedly assaulting and raping her. The suit says she escaped while in London and went to the Chinese embassy, where she filed a criminal complaint with Chinese authorities. China was unsuccessful in extradition because Guo claimed political persecution as an opponent of Xi.

“Utilizing his world-wide publicity, high profile, social media accounts, and seemingly endless financial means, Defendant Guo regularly uses his public platform and power to defame and harass his enemies,” says a defamation complaint filed by former Trump crime family confidant Sam Nunberg. Nunberg is among many unhappy former Guo associates who have sued the billionaire after he reneged on their deals and slandered them. 

But there are darker similarities between Guo and the Donald than rape, theft, and slander. It was on Guo’s yacht that the FBI arrested former campaign manager and White House political advisor Steve Bannon, holding a lit cigar and wearing a blue polo shirt with the collar turned up, on allegations Bannon siphoned “Build the Wall” donations into his private accounts. There is a separate FBI investigation, set in motion by the New York State Attorney General and the Securities, and Exchange Commission, into GTV Media Group, a company formed by Bannon and Guo. 

A YouTube video shows Wengui Guo putting his arm around the sunburned Bannon aboard the yacht as the former campaign chairman denounces the Chinese government and extols the alleged benefits of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19. 

Let’s file all that away for a moment and turn to the recent backflip by the CDC over mask efficacy and a controversial paper recently making the rounds in the Alt-pandemic Bizarro world. 

Concerning the CDC, it is now apparent that the agency was hijacked months ago and perverted to serve as an agent of mass infection rather than internationally-respected sentinel of health protection. Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Reports were edited over the objections of their authors or withheld entirely, as with an issue describing the Covid susceptibility of youth. Last week CDC issued detailed guidance noting that the principal transmission mode was airborne droplets and recommending masks as potentially even more effective in arresting spread than a vaccine. This week the White House handlers yanked that guidance and POTUS went on the campaign trail railing against masks, distancing, and the idea that CoV-2 could infect anyone but the very elderly. “Young people have great immune systems,” he said, “amazing immune systems.”

As we have been saying in this space for several months, since at least the date the US Attorney General testified under oath before Congress that the White House had a plan to invalidate vote-by-mail ballots by finding loopholes in state law, this POTUS has had no intention of being limited to one term, or even two. Over and over again, he has spelled it out in off-the-cuff remarks that make his handlers wince.

(During a Sept. 23 news conference) “Well, we’re going to have to see what happens. You know that. I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots. And the ballots are a disaster….We want to have — get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very trans- — we’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly; there’ll be a continuation. The ballots are out of control. You know it.”
(Sept. 23 Oval Office comments) “But in terms of time, we go to January 20th. But I think it’s better if you go before the election because I think this — this scam that the Democrats are pulling — it’s a scam — this scam will be before the United States Supreme Court. And I think having a 4–4 situation is not a good situation, if you get that.”
(At a Sept. 13 rally) “The Democrats are trying to rig this election because that’s the only way they’re going to win.”
(At an Aug. 20 rally) “So this is just a way they’re trying to steal the election, and everybody knows that. Because the only way they’re going to win is by a rigged election.”
(At an Aug. 17 rally) “We are going to win four more years. And then after that, we’ll go for another four years because they spied on my campaign. We should get a redo of four years.”
(At a Sept. 13 rally) “And 52 days from now we’re going to win Nevada, and we’re going to win four more years in the White House. And then after that, we’ll negotiate, right? Because we’re probably — based on the way we were treated — we are probably entitled to another four after that.”
(During a July 19 Fox News Sunday interview) “No. I have to see. Look you — I have to see. No, I’m not going to just say ‘yes.’ I’m not going to say ‘no.’ And I didn’t last time, either.”
 (In a July 30 tweet) “With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history,” Mr. Trump wrote. “It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”

On September 14, an article popped up on Zenodo, a website for scientists and academics to upload their work before it has gone through any formal peer-review process. The paper was authored by four Chinese virologists, Yan Li-Meng, Kang Shu, Guan Jie, and Hu Shanchang, entitled, Unusual Features of the SARS-CoV-2 Genome Suggesting Sophisticated Laboratory Modification Rather Than Natural Evolution and Delineation of Its Probable Synthetic Route. According to the researchers, 

“the origin of SARS-CoV-2 has remained mysterious and controversial. The natural origin theory, although widely accepted, lacks substantial support. The alternative theory that the virus may have come from a research laboratory is, however, strictly censored on peer-reviewed scientific journals. Nonetheless, SARS-CoV-2 shows biological characteristics that are inconsistent with a naturally occurring, zoonotic virus. In this report, we describe the genomic, structural, medical, and literature evidence, which, when considered together, strongly contradicts the natural origin theory.” 

Top virologists have examined the claims of Yan, et al, and found them wildly untethered to basic principles of immunology and genetics. In many cases their conclusions are so absurd as to be laughable. “It’s deeply speculative, and the scenarios proposed are not very believable,” said Alina Chan, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University and MIT’s Broad Institute. Of course, none of that matters in the fact-free environment of Fox News, where one of POTUS’s most valued advisors, Tucker Carlson, welcomed the lead Chinese researcher to prime time and gave her not just any platform, but the most widely watched news channel in the United States. On a September 15 segment on Fox Business, host Lou Dobbs and the Hudson Institute’s Michael Pillsbury — an informal adviser to Trump on China — spent time praising Yan’s work. POTUS retweeted Dobbs’s tweet of the clip.

The fake news was also picked up by figures on the left, such as Andrew Kimbrell, founder of the Nader-supported International Center for Technology Assessment. Kimbrell announced

After considerable research, including a thorough review of the selected research materials and discussions with experts in the field, we have come to agree with the view that the virus causing COVID-19 did not evolve naturally but rather is the product of one of the high-security bio-medical laboratories in Wuhan, China. 
We believe that there is a preponderance of circumstantial and scientific evidence demonstrating that the ‘laboratory virus’ hypothesis is not only possible but probable. By contrast, recent refutation of the hypothesis that the virus originated at a Wuhan wet market and new findings that the virus has not been found in nature despite significant effort to do so, makes the view that the virus evolved naturally unlikely. 

But whom, exactly, was behind the misleading “research” of Yan, Kang, Guan and Hu? Richard Condit, Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at the University of Florida, followed the breadcrumbs. They led him to the yacht of Wengui Guo, scented by the smoke of Bannon’s cigars and the coconut aroma of sunburn cream. The original article was published by Zenobo with the affiliations of its authors excised but the downloadable PDF reveals the paper was sponsored jointly by the Rule of Law Foundation, a 501(c)(3) educational charity founded by Guo, and the Rule of Law Society, a 501(c)(5) lobbying group with Steve Bannon as its chairman.

Behind Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani can be seen lead author Yan Kang, reflected in the mirror, and Steve Bannon

“This all plays into Bannon’s larger argument about China and the threat it poses to everybody on the planet,” said Michael Swaine, an expert on Chinese security issues at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “It just serves his interests.”

Rule of Law Foundation’s website says it is accepting tax-deductible donations to create a free society in China, but the organization’s exempt status was revoked by the IRS some years ago. 

All of this is of a piece with the politicization of the pandemic, the legalistic machinations to give POTUS a second term by limiting the vote to only those heedless enough of Covid to vote in person, and the triumph of mass hysteria over science (historically concomitant with pandemics but now weaponized by clickbait social media), but there is an even darker side.

As someone who has lost a number of childhood and college friends to the War in Indochina, the faked Gulf of Tonkin episode in August, 1964 left, for me, a lasting impression. It was more tangible, say, than reading about other causa belli in history classes — the Boston Tea Party, cross-border provocations against México and the annexation of California, the sinking of the USS Maine, the assassination of ArchDuke Ferdinand, the sinking of the Lusitania, or cross-border provocations against North Korea in 1950. Small wonder, then, that as an adult I immediately saw in modern events — the invasion of Grenada in 1983 or Panama in 1989, the 9/11 attack, the supposed nuclear weapons program in Iraq, the Sarin gas bombing in Syria, or the disinformation campaigns against Cuba, Venezuela, or Crimea and Eastern Ukraine merely ongoing pretexts for brazen wars of aggression.


After his regretful experience with the Manhattan Project, ending in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Albert Einstein observed that great powers do not act on the basis of facts only, but manufacture the facts to serve their purposes and to force their will upon smaller nations. The facts being manufactured by Breitbart, Fox, Dobbs, Carlson, Kimbrell, and the Pompeo State Department place the US on a war footing with China; they push a narcissistic president to respond forcibly to a purported Chinese bio-weapons attack that killed 200,000 Americans and wrecked the global economy. 

That new “super-duper” nuclear capability the president bragged about to Bob Woodward and in his UN General Assembly address this week is unlikely to have the first strike needed to destroy China’s missile launch ability, never mind two billion Chinese, since it appears by analysts to be merely a midgetization of the W76–2, a Trident 1 SLBM warhead modified to reduce its explosive power for more flexible tactical use. To retaliate for the dastardly “China Virus,” POTUS might more likely rely upon submarine-launched W88s and Minuteman III LGM-30s, ensuring his “standing tall” legacy within the party of Reagan and W. Faked science about a laboratory origin of CoV-2 provides a committed narcissist all the false pretext he needs to start World War III. To those in his inner circle, nothing says second term more than a shooting war.

This is where pandemic denialism, fueled by social media tribalism, spills over into a Near Term Extinction event. Since the presidential election may be foregone, the single most important action USAnians can take in November would be to vote out these 23 less-shielded crime family members and hope, simultaneously, his generals hide the football when the old man is on a tear.

Alaska: Dan Sullivan (2.2% victory margin in last election)
Arizona: Martha McSally 13.7%
Arkansas: Tom Cotton 17.0%
Colorado: Cory Gardner 1.9%
Georgia: David Perdue 7.7%
Georgia: Kelly Loeffler 13.8%
Idaho: Jim Risch 30.6%
Iowa: Joni Ernst 8.3%
Kansas: Pat Roberts 10.6%
Kentucky: Mitch McConnell 15.5%
Louisiana: Bill Cassidy 11.8%
Maine: Susan Collins 36.2%
Mississippi: Cindy Hyde-Smith 7.2%
Montana: Steve Daines 17.7%
Nebraska: Ben Sasse 32.9%
North Carolina: Thom Tillis 1.5%
Oklahoma: Jim Inhofe* 39.5%
South Carolina: Lindsey Graham 15.7%
South Dakota: Mike Rounds 20.9%
Tennessee: Bill Hagerty 
Texas: John Cornyn* 27.2%
West Virginia: Shelley Moore Capito 27.6%
Wyoming: Mike Enzi 54.8%

* In 2005 when the Senate passed a resolution 90–9 barring the use of “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment” in CIA and military interrogations, these Senators voted in favor of torture as the official policy of the United States.


Help me get my blog posted every week. All Patreon donations and Blogger subscriptions are needed and welcomed. You are how we make this happen. Your contributions are being made to Global Village Institute, a tax-deductible 501(c)(3) charity. PowerUp! donors on Patreon get an autographed book off each first press run. My next book, Plagued, comes out October 1. A children’s version of Dark Side of the Ocean, called Making Waves, should be out by Christmas. Please help if you can.




Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Great Pause Week 27: The Agony and the Idiocy

"If there is no one left alive there is no need for an economy."


As the costs of uncontrolled pandemic and uncontrollable wildfires, storms, droughts and floods spread through insurance and mortgage markets, pension funds and other institutions, some in government and finance are coming slowly around to the realization that being battered by such frequent and devastating shocks cannot be sustained forever. The usual band-aid approaches aren’t going to work much longer. 

Mr. Biden’s climate policy proposals are the most ambitious and expensive ever embraced by a presidential candidate, and most of them would meet resistance in Congress. 

 — The New York Times, 8 Sep 2020

‘Transition risks’ of a green economy could be just as disruptive to our financial system as the possible physical manifestations of climate change, and moving too fast, too soon could be just as disorderly as doing too little, too late. 

 — Heath Tarbert, Republican Chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission 

Bob Woodward: But the virus and the economy are related…
The President: A little bit.

Some months ago the tradecraft journal Foreign Affairs reported:

In early May, a 29-year-old man visited several bars and nightclubs in the South Korean capital of Seoul and soon after tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. South Korean health authorities promptly launched an enormous contact-tracing effort, tested 83,000 people, and identified and isolated nearly 250 newly infected cases. Their swift action prevented this “superspreading” event from reigniting a much wider outbreak. As of early June, there has not been a major uptick in cases in South Korea — new infections remain under 50 per day — and the country is carefully but safely returning to a semblance of normalcy.

Contrast that to when passengers on a cruise ship contracted Covid and one of them died. The announcement came as the ship approached San Francisco with 3,533 passengers aboard. The passengers were removed to an Air Force base. There, nearly two-thirds refused to be tested, with some stating that federal officials had discouraged them from doing so, and others admitting that they did not want to be tested because they wanted to be released from quarantine. They were.

From the early days of the pandemic, wags in politics and the media — those who make their livings as sculptors of public opinion — almost to the man or woman, regardless of party or religion, parroted the conventional wisdom separating epidemic control and economic prosperity. Such a dichotomy, as any fool can see, is absurd. An economy is no more than rules for the game of life, and if there is no one living, there is no need for an economy. Economies world-wide won’t stop being crippled as long as people keep getting sick and dying, and going back to business too soon or unprotected only makes the economic damage worse. 

In his latest campaign appearance, President Cobblepot said the US national strategy is now “herd mentality;” trying to get everyone sick so it will end. Put aside the lunacy of an approach that was briefly tried in England and Sweden and failed within weeks. Quick back-of-the-envelope calculation tells us that “herd mentality” would require (a) lasting immunity-conferring antigens (yet unknown); and (b) roughly 7 million deaths in the United States, assuming borders were hermetically sealed.

The lack of safety in a “herd mentality” approach could well keep all but the most diehard Cobblepot minions away from the polls in November and, with his already-telegraphed strategy of challenging the legality of mailed ballots, William “Butch” Barr, the president’s latest bag man, is now preparing to deliver a four year renewal of the Gotham follies unless derailed by write-ins for #Kanye2020 from a bored polity thirsting for less Sturm und Drang and more Kardashian. (Still, this crime family is more prepared than most. Supreme Court Justice Kushner can write the majority opinion to prevent any unexpected outcome.)

The economy/health dichotomy is trotted out every time there is a nuts-and-bolts discussion about where the money will come from to restore hurricane-thwarting coastal wetlands, earthquake-proof crumbling bridges and dams, provide universal health care and guaranteed minimum standard of living, or reverse climate change. 

No money for any of that, move along.

Getting back to Covid (is it still here?), many outside the US echo chamber recognized quickly that economy and ecology are paired in more ways than Greek word origins. South Korea, which had a memorably bad experience with SARS, knew all too well that any economic loss from Covid would be proportional to its willingness to spend — quickly, efficiently, and without reservation.

Others who set a scale on the table and weighed externalities like the stock market, GDP, tax revenues, protests, or elections in the balance, can now measure those results.

For the US, the worst quarterly economic drop during the Great Depression was about 26%. In the 2008–9 financial crisis it was “only” 8.4%. In 2020, so far, it’s 32.9% 

This year Covid has cost the US, in taxpayer dollars, more than the nation spent to pay for all of the U.S. wars going back to the American Revolution. Comparable down payments have been made by the European Central Bank, the Bank of Japan, and the Peoples Bank of China. It is safe to say that the whole world is now in a financial pickle it’s never been in before. There is no one left to bail out any of the others.

Pumping that much new currency into global circulation is certain to cause inflation, the classic remedy for which is raising interest rates to slow lending, but this week the Fed announced it had no plans to do that. Interest rates, for now, will hover close to zero. After all, the pandemic is getting over, right? There’s a vaccine, right? Why rush to address a new problem when you can just wait?

Unemployment metrics are so corrupted one doesn’t dare venture to guess the true numbers of the newly destitute. A better gauge might be the length of breadlines at soup kitchens.

Wildfire and hurricane evacuations can be superspreader events. There are a range of ways those can be handled. Going back to a different cruise ship example, a single 80-year-old gentleman boarding a Princess ship in Japan on January 10, developing a cough on January 19, and disembarking in Hong Kong on January 25, where he was diagnosed, alerted Taiwanese officials who placed the ship in quarantine. Over 700 people out of 3,711 passengers had become infected by that gentleman and 14 later died. In Taiwan, tracers used mobile phone geolocation to identify 627,386 people at risk after coming in contact with passengers in various ports. 

Think about that as you look at the next row of cots to yours on that high school basketball court. Welcome to herd mentality.

As for the stock market, its near-term recovery should be more concerning than reassuring. The market fell 48% after the 1929 crash. It then rebounded 48% in an up move lasting five months. But, in 1930, the market collapsed 86%, not to recover for a decade. Compared to the deep wounds inflicted in 2020, and deepening on into 2021 and likely 2022, the 1929–39 example was just a hiccup.

In 1932, the US tossed out its Grand Old Party idiocracy, elected Franklin Roosevelt, and embarked upon a long road to recovery. That might have continued through the Post-War period, had Roosevelt’s key theoretician and 1940 vice president, Henry A. Wallace, become president, but old-line Democrats threw Wallace under the bus in 1944 for the pusillanimous Harry S. Truman.

Wallace had championed conciliatory policies towards the Soviet Union, a Good Neighbor policy towards Latin America, desegregation of public schools, racial and gender equality, free trade, and a national health insurance program. It was probably the race thing that sent him under the bus. Wallace, in 1942, said “peace must mean a better standard of living for the common man, not merely in the United States and England, but also in India, Russia, China, and Latin America. Not merely in the United Nations, but also in Germany and Italy and Japan.” Truman dropped the atomic bomb and started the Cold War arms race. Although he integrated the army, racism remained alive and well at the Democratic Party base.

Return with us now to those glorious days of FDR. As we face an unchecked climate threat that will render millions more jobless, homeless, deathly sick, and hopeless, Roosevelt and Wallace provided all the illumination we need to light our way out. We need a new Civilian Conservation Corps driving tank battalions of Tigercat Carbonator-500s, transforming tinder-dry and burnt-over woody wastes into biochar for forest soils; Wallace’s “ever-normal granary;” a new Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act; Urban Victory Gardens; fair rationing of essential commodities; intelligent use of the Defense Production Act; guaranteed family income and healthy housing; and open access to life-long learning for all.

Placing economic growth and public protection at loggerheads is a fool’s move. The problem with each is the solution for the other. In my more optimistic moments I imagine that these 3 imposed years of death, mourning, and penitent introspection might help to replace the sentimental drivel, disregard for nuance, and governance by superstition that has visited upon us such calamity. I can only hope for a massive pivot to reason and science. 

That may be too much to expect. #Kanye2020.

Help me get my blog posted every week. All Patreon donations and Blogger subscriptions are needed and welcomed. You are how we make this happen. Your contributions are being made to Global Village Institute, a tax-deductible 501(c)(3) charity. PowerUp! donors on Patreon get an autographed book off each first press run. My next book, Plagued, comes out October 1. A children’s version of Dark Side of the Ocean, called Making Waves, should be out by Christmas. Please help if you can.



Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Great Pause Week 26: Beer Cascades

"The Scots forest smallholding system is inherently democratic. It encourages innovation and prevents exploitation and waste."

Last week we looked at the Scottish distillery & pub chain BrewDog and its pledge to remove twice as much carbon from the air as it emits every year. It is buying carbon offsets until it can ramp up its reforestation strategy and it has purchased, with crowdsourced punk equity, 2,050 acres just north of Loch Lomond, where it will restore 1400 acres of native woodlands in the highlands and 650 acres of peatland in the lowlands. One of the premiums for punks who contribute will be access to the BrewDog Forest nature camp for hiking, partying, and retreats.

BrewDog’s reforestation design goals, besides carbon sequestration, are biodiversity, natural flood attenuation and rural economic development. I cannot begin to express how important these other goals are. If you’re narrowly focused on hauling down CO2, you could, through dumb design, plant acres of non-native monocultures. That is not a forest. That is an impoverishment.

Not long ago I watched Outlaw King, a 2018 fictional recreation of how Robert the Bruce III, ancestor of Prince Charles, liberated Scotland from England in the early 14th Century after the martyrdom of William Wallace, as depicted by Mel Gibson in Braveheart. The filmmakers laid in many long sweeping shots of grassy highlands. I had to ask Mr. Google if it was true that Scotland was barren of trees in that time. “T’was,” He said.

The felling of trees didn’t wait for the clearances of the clans to make room for English sheep. They began in Roman times. The Caledonian Forest dates to the last glaciation ending about 7000 BC. It reached its maximum extent about 2000 years later when the climate warmed wetter and windier. For millennia, wildlife and humans flourished in a mosaic of trees, heath, grassland, scrub and bog until the dawn of herding and agriculture. There stands a yew in Glen Lyon estimated at 3000–5000 years, before hieroglyph was first set to papyrus in Egypt. 

Yet, by the time the legions of Rome defeated the Caledonians in AD 82, at least half the forests were gone, felled to build homes and barns and heat them in the long dark winter months. The Romans did their best to harvest and export the other half.

By the time of the Industrial Revolution there was still enough forest left in Scotland for charcoal to cold-filter whiskey and feed the blast furnaces of Birmingham. Then, in the 1919 to 1927 period, with a world reeling from the twin disasters of trench warfare and the Spanish Flu, two British lords, Simon Fraser and John Stirling-Maxwell, launched a plan of land-settlement allied to forestry that could still serve as an ecovillage/eco-regions blueprint today.

Fraser and Maxwell created smallholdings of approximately ten acres, let for £15 a year. With men and women to care for the small trees and companion livestock and crops, the holdings were a great success and filled a genuine need in the rural countryside when Scotland entered the Great Depression. 

“In practice, of course, these smallholdings attracted the cream of our men whom we were glad to employ on full time….”

Later government studies saw the program more as harm prevention than a profitable enterprise, reporting that it “was never a directly economic proposition, but in the pre-war days when motor traffic was lacking and it was much more important than today to have a solid caucus of skilled woodsmen living in the forests, the indirect benefits were inestimable.” (Ryle, Forest Service, 1969

The Scots forest smallholding system is inherently democratic. It encourages innovation and prevents exploitation and waste. From 1934 and onwards the government recruited woodsmen, including the Women’s Timber Corps, groups of conscientious objectors, and workers from Belize to replenish lost highland forest and improve timber stands.

Unfortunately, these battalions of the underemployed ignored the 31 species of deciduous trees and shrubs native to Scotland, including ten willows, four whitebeams and three birch and cherry and a hundred other species so prized by the smallholders (and by pine marten, twinflower, crested tit, Scottish crossbill, black grouse, capercaillie and red squirrel). Instead, they covered almost half of the all forest land in the country with Sitka spruce and another 20% with Douglas fir, lodgepole pine, larches, and Norway spruce. The government foresters seemed to be preparing for another Ice Age.

This has left a gaping hole in the cultural fabric for the BrewDog punks to fill. 

Most scenarios that achieve the Paris targets of limiting catastrophic heating to 1.5°–2.0°C rely on large-scale carbon dioxide removal (CDR) to drive net emissions negative after mid-century. Scenarios that overshoot emissions in the first half of the century must return Earth to the Paris temperature target or some barely habitable climate still within reach, by going strongly negative in the second half. This strategy is sort of like underdog Muhammed Ali doing Rope-A-Dope for 8 rounds in the Rumble in the Jungle or Silky Sullivan falling 41 lengths behind the field only to run the last quarter mile in 22 seconds. For this Hollywood-style come-from-behind finish, conversion to renewables and near-term experiments in CDR need to start now and prepare to ramp up rapidly, much the same way Big Pharma is prepping its vaccines. Once the best CDR methods are proven, they’ll need to operate for a century or so and become ubiquitous — an investment involving financial flows of billions to trillions of dollars per year.

And that’s the world’s plan. You can argue that it is a bad plan. You can say that CDR is fairy dust. You can point out that nobody in their right mind would take such a risk on the habitability of the whole planet, but that’s our designated plan. It wasn’t crafted, drafted, negotiated, and voted. It is the default result when you can’t negotiate and vote something meaningful because wealthy interests are spending billions to make sure you can’t. That, and the neurological discount factor Homo Sapiens evolved even before the last glaciation.

Variation among the different CDR methods’ constraints of scale, cost, or profit structures suggests governments and financial institutions will likely produce some rough ordering of these methods over the next decade or two. After studying this subject for many years, my best guess is that the low hanging fruit will shake out to be the natural varieties of negative emissions technologies (NETs) such as tree planting and conversion of photosynthetic wastes (from aquaculture, forestry and agriculture) to biochar and all its value-chains of products. The leading study on that in 2017 concluded we could pull 11.3 billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere and ocean annually by 2030, at a marginal profit, and double that if we paid carbon credits and subsidized the drawdown at $100/ton. If the switch to renewables will bring man-made emissions down from 40 billion tons per year to half or a quarter of that by 2030, NETs could be actually pushing us back into a comfortable Holocene climate by mid-century, although admittedly there are still a lot of unknowns. 

For the BrewDog punk foresters this will be an opportunity to tap more potentials from their ecological restoration of the highlands, lowlands and other locations. A single tree can sequester 100 tons during its lifetime. If it falls and rots on the forest floor, all that goes back to the atmosphere. If it burns in wildfire, a large part will go back to the atmosphere. If it is harvested before it dies or is changed into biochar when it does, that 100 tons becomes a credit in the climate bank. By step harvesting — overplanting and then thinning at regular intervals — the greater sequestration intensity of juvenile trees can multiply the 100-ton average drawdown rate by orders of magnitude, and all that photosynthetic wealth can be turned to valuable, durable products.

While it is possible BrewDog could be paid upwards of $100/ton for CO2 removal on a carbon exchange like Nori or Puro, more likely the aforementioned scheme of smallholder forested lots would generate far more income for rural Scotland by reviving lost crafts. Woodsmiths could build homes of timber and straw; fence and furnish them with coppiced poles and roundwood; heat and generate home power with firewood and pellets (using smokeless stoves like the Biolite, that produce both electricity and biochar); harvest fruit and nuts and process them; extract leaf proteins and medicinals; graze animals in the under-stories; and make biochar, bio-oils, and wood vinegar for fertilizers, mold-proof paints and plasters, insulation board, biocrete, polymers, electronic conductors and fuel cells, carbon fiber for 3D printers and structural wraps, water and whiskey filters, rubberizing compounds, lubricants, cattle-, aquaculture-, and poultry-probiotics, carbon black, graphene, and kitty litter. Brand all those new products BrewDog BioPunk. Build not only woodland homes, but homebrew Cool Labs.

This kind of distributed economic ramp compares favorably to BECCS (Biomass Energy with Carbon Capture and Removal), DACCS (Direct Air Carbon Capture and Removal — artificial trees), enhanced weathering (spreading rock dust), and other contrived, exotic CDRs which have yet to be proven at scale, cost $40-$1000/ton and likely will have significant impacts on water use, biodiversity, and other ecosystem health indicators. 

The three most discussed means to accelerate CDR — (1) profitable products incorporating the removed carbon, (2) emissions-pricing policies like offset credit exchanges, and (3) government contracting at a scale that dwarfs the Manhattan or Apollo projects — all assume a stable world economy. In other words, they are prone to disruption in an era ravaged by the four horsemen of the Trumpocalypse:

  • Killer virus(es) on the loose;
  • Economic collapse;
  • Racial conflict and rioting; and
  • Extreme weather.

Only a fourth possibility, CDR organized like the Scots’ forest smallholding system, with local cooperative structures meeting basic needs, is truly anti-fragile. The story could as easily be kelp forests in the tropics, rebuilding fish populations and coral reefs while softening hurricanes. Or it could be grasslands in Mongolia, holding back the desert while marketing salad bar yak. 

Or the story could be beer brewers in Scotland, bringing back the trees of Caledonia while they sip their punk ale.

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Sunday, September 6, 2020

The Great Pause Week 25: Carbon Negative Beer

"Watt recognized, like few others in business, that carbon neutral is not good enough. We have to go beyond zero not decades hence but now. Today."

Almost all ancient civilizations had a God of Beer. Recently another ascended from out of nowhere, or rather, from the world of beer, but I am canonizing him less for being a Beer Olympian than for getting into the Legion of Drawdown Superheroes.

Into our epic saga of how human life on Earth came to be rescued in its final desperate hours comes punk brewmaster James Watt. In 2007 he launched, with Marvin Dickie, a string of pubs called BrewDog, that grew to 102 bars across the globe and craft beer brands today consumed in more than 60 countries. In 2010, they claimed the world record for the strongest beer ever made with a 110-proof IPA called “The End of History,” with a nod to Francis Fukuyama.

That beer sold for 700 pound sterling per bottle, making it also the most expensive beer in history. A government panel tasked with encouraging responsible alcohol consumption criticized another, less potent (18.2%) of BrewDog’s beers named for the firebombing of Tokyo. Watt’s thumb-to-the-nose response was to create a low alcohol beer and market it as “Nanny State.” A warning on the label of BrewDog’s Tactical Nuclear Penguin (32%) states: “This is an extremely strong beer, it should be enjoyed in small servings and with an air of aristocratic nonchalance. In exactly the same manner that you would enjoy a fine whisky, a Frank Zappa album, or a visit from a friendly yet anxious ghost.”

Tactical Nuclear Penguin began life as a 10% imperial stout in June 2008. The beer was aged for eight months in an Isle of Arran whisky cask and eight months in an Islay cask making it the company’s first double cask aged beer. After an intense 16 months, the final stages saw the beer stored at -20 degrees in an ice cream factory for three weeks. As the beer got colder, BrewDog Chief Engineer Steven Sutherland decanted the beer periodically, leaving only ice in the container, creating more intensity of flavors and a stronger concentration of alcohol for the next phase of freezing. The process was repeated until it reached 32%.

 — Mike Hanlon, New Atlas

Like its beer ghosts, BrewDog’s team spirits soared, along with its stock value

Until Covid struck.

On March 18, 2020 Watt emailed his shareholders:

I am writing to tell you that things over the next few months are going to be very, very difficult for us.
Covid-19 has already had a colossal impact on our business and we have lost almost 70% of our revenue overnight.
The reality is our business, and the vast majority of businesses, now face a fight to be able to survive and make it through this crisis.
We have two main priorities at the moment. Number one: survive. Number two: preserve as many of the 2,000 jobs we have created at BrewDog as possible.

Watt signs his emails, “Emperor Penguin.”

Twenty of BrewDog’s recently opened bars closed permanently, sending their penguins off the floes. A drive-through service was offered in some locations where alcohol sales were still permitted. Part of the distillery began making a hand sanitizer, which the company gave out for free. But there was no escaping how catastrophic the pandemic was becoming for them. 

Before he put on a hops apron for the first time, Watt had been a licensed sea captain with an honors degree in law and economics. He also self-styled himself a loudmouth punk, an anti-business businessman. His 2016 paperback, Business for Punks, did not excise profanities but still managed to land Penguin as a publisher and hit high up the Amazon business charts. 

One piece of his book’s advice may explain how Watt later earned my recommendation for climate solutions sainthood: “In marketing, lead with the crusade, not the product.” Before the crisis, Watt had gone to Professor Mike Berners-Lee, researcher and author of How Bad are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything, at the Institute for Social Futures of Lancaster University. Berners-Lee’s team, Small World Consulting, penned BrewDog’s Sustainability plan, titled Make Earth Great Again

BrewDog’s breakthrough brand was Punk IPA introduced at a moment when craft beers were exploding. Recognizing before most that the key to craft was keeping it local, BrewDog kept its pubs edgy and intimate and spread them out, stocking them with limited edition local beers.

“We have been a Marmite* brand pretty much from day one,” Watt said, in a long LinkedIn post responding to critics of his perceived arrogance. 

*Marmite is a distinctively UK, black, salty spread made from spent beer grains, invented by Justus von Liebig in 1902 (its called Vegemite in Australia). 

“People often criticize us, sometimes for good reason too. All companies make mistakes, we have made many on our 13 year journey and we are always happy to hold our hands up when we get something wrong, and we have done so on many occasions.”

At the end of August, BrewDog announced that it had become the world’s first carbon-negative international beer brand. This time, it had got something right. Really right.

BrewDog dug itself out of the hole the pandemic had dug for it the same way it had built its brand in Northern Scotland. It went to the people with its crowdfunding initiative, Equity for Punks. It raised £73m (US$ 97.6 million) over six rounds to “scale up without selling out.”

  • The brewery and UK bars are now wind-powered. 
  • BrewDog turns its spent grain into green gas to power the brewery. 
  • It is building an onsite anaerobic digester to turn wastewater into clean water and produce CO2 to carbonate beers. 
  • It is electrifying its vehicle fleet.
  • In building local brewing sites across the UK, EU, US and Australia, it has significantly reduced the miles its beer travels to reach the consumer. 
  • It purchased 2,050 acres just north of Loch Lomond, where it will plant one million broadleaf trees to restore 1400 acres of native woodlands in the highlands and restore 650 acres of peatland in the lowlands. The reforestation design goals, besides carbon sequestration, are biodiversity, natural flood attenuation and rural economic development. We’ll talk more about this next week.

Last month Watt told the trade journal Beverage Daily (put on your best Scots’ brogue): 

“The scientific consensus is clear: we are sleepwalking off the edge of a cliff. Unless the world confronts the urgent carbon problem, science tells us that the results will be catastrophic. There has been too much bullshit for too long. Governments have proved completely inept in the face of this crisis. The change our world and society needs has to come from progressive business and we want to play our role and nail our colors to the mast. Huge change is needed right now, and we want to be a catalyst for that change in our industry and beyond.” 

Other initiatives outlined in the report include: 

  • Repurposing cans: “Due to print-ready processes, minimum run sizes, errors in production and errors in forecasting, almost one billion perfectly good drinks cans never get used every year. We have one million old-branded cans ourselves which we have re-labelled and launched on our e-commerce platform. And we will continue to repurpose any wasted can into a PUNK IPA beer.” 
  • Mega Beer that replaces 20% of barley with surplus fresh bread. 
  • Bad Beer Vodka using beer that would otherwise be wasted (such as beer that does not meet quality standards or is too old) to develop a zero waste vodka. 
  • Overworks Sour Beers that use fruit that is cosmetically defective or near the end of its shelf life. 
  • Alcohol-free BrewPup dog biscuits made from spent spelt, along with recycled-plastic Punk IPA bottle toys. And if your dog has a thirst, BrewDog makes Subwoofer IPA, an alcohol-free, hop-free, non-carbonated doggy beer with added B Vitamins and Probiotics.

Watt recognized, as few others in the spirits industry, or any other business, that carbon neutral is not good enough. We have to go beyond zero not decades hence but now. Today.

BrewDog has pledged to remove twice as much carbon from the air as it emits every year. Work on the forest is expected to start early in 2021 but in the meantime the company will be working on a series of projects for offsets. 

If this were mainstream media, our tale could wrap up here — a story of inspired creativity and turnaround in the face of global challenges. But I am not your usual storyteller. I am a determined sequestrator with high, nigh impossible, goals. Next week I will take this story up a notch by looking at what BrewDog might have done, and may still do, to multiply their carbon cascades.

Your Patreon donations and Blogger subscriptions are needed and welcomed. You are how we make this happen. Your contributions are being made to Global Village Institute, a tax-deductible 501(c)(3) charity. PowerUp! donors on Patreon get an autographed book off each first press run. My winter book, Dark Side of the Ocean, is shipping out now. My next book, Plagued, should be out in a few months. Please help if you can.





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