Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Plastic - Climate Connection Runs Through Whales







"Restoring normal whale activity to the oceans would capture the CO2 equivalent of 2 billion trees. Our plastics threaten all that."

 

One of the most memorable thrills of my lifetime — there have been too many to easily remember — was my first swim with Atlantic whale sharks off of México, in the Straits of Cuba. My guide up on the boat motioned to me, treading water and scanning the horizon for any dorsal fins, to “dive, dive!” and I did, just in time to see a shark some 30 feet long, with an open mouth nearly 5 foot wide, converging directly on my position, at speed.

I dodged to my left as fast as I could, not hazarding the time it would take to bring my camera up and record the moment. By the time I positioned my small Canon point-and-shoot, the shark was past me, devouring plankton to the starboard of the boat. These giant sharks are herbivores, so he or she was probably trying to avoid me as much as I was trying to avoid him or her. Here is the picture I took:


Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus), currently on the Red List of threatened species, first appear in the geological record along with Manta rays, at the Eocene-Oligocene boundary about 34 million years ago. That was when one of the largest extinctions of marine invertebrates and mammals in Europe and Asia, likely triggered by volcanism, dropped Earth’s temperature some 15°C over just a few hundred thousand years, isolating a warm water niche near the equator at a time when the continents were much closer together. One relative of whale sharks is the Mesozoic plankton-feeding dinosaur, Megachasma (big mouth), which roamed the oceans 135 million years before Rhincodon typus. Whale sharks are 15 times older than we are, or about 100 times older than our current evolutionary form as Homo sapiens.

Whale sharks, which can live up to 130 years and grow 60 feet long, are well adapted to warming oceans. They are only rarely found in waters below 70°F (21°C) and have annual migration routes in both the Eastern and Western hemispheres, tracking plankton blooms to warming waters.

They are part of a growing repertoire of climate solutions.

Annual catch of Sei, Fin, and Blue Whales prior to IWC Moratorium in 1985
Toothed whales, as well as baleen whales, are descendants of land-dwelling mammals of the artiodactyl order (even-toed ungulates). Unlike the whale sharks, which use baleen to filter large volumes of water in order to feed, modern toothed cetaceans, including dolphins and porpoises, track prey using sonar. They echolocate by emitting a series of clicks at various frequencies from their melon-shaped foreheads that reflect off objects, and are retrieved through the lower jaw. Odontoceti (toothed cetaceans) also use enhanced fat synthesis — wax ester deposits nor branched fatty chain acids — to store calories in insulating blubber, giving them a wider range of habitats and greater depth of dive. Baleen whales and sharks never mastered that blubber trick and that keeps them in warmer surface waters.

Phytoplankton — those little green plants growing on the surface of fresh and salt waters — are highly efficient carbon sequestrators. Worldwide, their “biological carbon pump” transfers about 10 GtC (gigatons, or billion long tons, of carbon, or 37 GtCO2) from the atmosphere to the deep ocean each year. All human activity, from fossil fuel burning to soybean farming, adds about the same. Homo and phytoplankton are a matched respiratory cycle. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently observed:

These microscopic creatures not only contribute at least 50 percent of all oxygen to our atmosphere, they do so by capturing about 37 billion metric tons of CO2, an estimated 40 percent of all CO2 produced. To put things in perspective, we calculate that this is equivalent to the amount of CO2 captured by 1.70 trillion trees—four Amazon forests’ worth….

Until the industrial era, Phytoplankton were the thermostat that moderated human- or volcano-induced warming to maintain a balance between Iceball Earth and Hothouse Earth. Whenever river, lake or ocean surfaces began to warm, equatorial growths of plankton would speed up, converting carbon dioxide into oxygen and carbon. The oxygen would rise to the atmosphere, freshening our air, and the carbon would be eaten by fish like whale sharks or sea turtles or descend to the depths to decompose or be entombed.


Even small changes in the growth of phytoplankton may affect atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, which feed back to global surface temperatures. A very large change would occur if there were any significant loss of plankton-feeders. When a baleen whale scoops up plankton or a toothed cetacean rises to breathe, they also defalcate. The nitrogen, potassium and other important minerals in their excretions are food for the plankton bloom. Take away the whales, and you remove this important source of fertilizer. When a whale, turtle, shark, or dolphin dies, they sink to the ocean floor to be eaten, decompose, or be entombed in sediments. If the floor is deep enough, their carbon, as methane, is trapped and cannot rise to the surface and return to the atmosphere. Without these plankton-feeders, and those that feed on them, more plankton would decompose close to the surface, on their way to the depths, or in shallow sediments, returning their carbon to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide or methane. There would also be a substantial loss of the nutrient flows that fertilize plankton blooms, greatly reducing their extent.

The whales are sequestrators.

Scientists at the IMF have calculated the value of a whale at $2 million each due to the important role they have in reducing greenhouse gases. A Blue Whale, for example, can take nearly 30 metric tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere, for centuries, compared to the around 15 kg captured by a tree each year.

At a minimum, even a 1 percent increase in phytoplankton productivity thanks to whale activity would capture hundreds of millions of tons of additional CO2 a year, equivalent to the sudden appearance of 2 billion mature trees. Imagine the impact over the average lifespan of a whale, more than 60 years.

Our conservative estimates put the value of the average great whale, based on its various activities, at more than $2 million, and easily over $1 trillion for the current stock of great whales.    

We once had 5 million whales in all the world’s oceans. Today there are about 1.3 million. By the 1930s we were killing 50,000 per year, mostly for outdoor lighting and axle grease. Generating 50% of all oxygen and capturing 40% of CO2 produced, phytoplankton rely on whales to provide nutrients and maintain their numbers. If the number of whales was restored to around 5 million this would significantly increase phytoplankton numbers. Even a 1% increase in phytoplankton would capture millions of tons of additional CO2, says the IMF.


We estimate that, if whales were allowed to return to their pre-whaling numbers—capturing 1.7 billion tons of CO2 annually—it would be worth about $13 per person a year to subsidize these whales’ CO2 sequestration efforts.

Since the role of whales is irreplaceable in mitigating and building resilience to climate change, their survival should be integrated into the objectives of the 190 countries that in 2015 signed the Paris Agreement for combating climate risk.

Many of us labor under the illusion that whale populations are recovering since the International Whaling Commission put a moratorium in place in 1985/86. If, thanks in no small measure to Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd, whaling is largely curtailed today, having been reduced to renegade Japanese research vessels and coastal dolphin hunts, the populations should be recovering, right? Wrong.

Enter plastics. Globally, at least 23% of marine mammal species, 36% of seabird species, and 86% of sea turtle species are now threatened by plastic debris. So far, over 270 species, including turtles, fish, seabirds, and mammals, have been observed to have impaired movement, starvation, or death from exposure to plastics, although studies in the northern Gulf of California found that as few as one in every 50–250 (range: 0–6.2%) carcasses are recovered from cetacean deaths at sea. Some 300 other species of marine fauna are thought to be in jeopardy. (Laist 1997; Wabnitz and Nichols 2010; Williams 2011; Sigler 2014). Ingestion of plastic has been documented in 48 (56% of) cetacean species, with rates of ingestion as high as 31% in some populations (Baulch and Perry 2014).


Plastics are forever. Approximately, 10,000 shipping containers plummet off cargo ships into the ocean each year. A shipping crate carrying 28,000 plastic ducks was lost at sea between Hong Kong and the USA in the Pacific Ocean over 20 years ago but at least 2000 of the ducks are believed to be still circulating, while others have been found washed ashore in Hawaii, Alaska, South America, Australia, and the Pacific Northwest.


We are increasing not only the amount of plastic in the environment, including microplastics prone to ingestion by baleen filter-feeders, but the rate by which that amount is growing. We are just at the upward turning junction of the J-curve. In the 1960s, 5 million tons of plastic were manufactured worldwide each year. By 30 years from now, there will be not 250 million tons entering the ocean, like today, but 1800 million. It's exponential. Almost one-third of plastic produced is used to manufacture single-use “disposable” plastics such as coffee cup lids, stirrers, or straws. Each year we design and sell more disposable products using materials that float and last forever.


What is being “disposed of” with every straw, stirrer, bathtub duck, and Halloween costume are the whales. And with the whales go the ocean’s thermostat.

 

The IMF report concluded with a prescription and a warning:

Healthy whale populations imply healthy marine life including fish, seabirds, and an overall vibrant system that recycles nutrients between oceans and land, improving life in both places. The “earth-tech” strategy of supporting whales’ return to their previous abundance in the oceans would significantly benefit not only life in the oceans but also life on land, including our own.

With the consequences of climate change here and now, there is no time to lose in identifying and implementing new methods to prevent or reverse harm to the global ecosystem.  This is especially true when it comes to improving the protection of whales so that their populations can grow more quickly. Unless new steps are taken, we estimate it would take over 30 years just to double the number of current whales, and several generations to return them to their pre-whaling numbers. Society and our own survival can’t afford to wait this long.



We have to save the whales. There is no escaping that. But to save the whales, we must also save the turtles, and the gulls, and those little green plants that bob on the waves. To do all that, the first step is to do no more harm. We have to banish non-biodegradable plastics from our lives.





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Sunday, October 27, 2019

Ukrainian Rhapsody

"Our future will be more about artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and non-state actors than stump speeches from the back of a bunted caboose. Facebook and Twitter have been weaponized."


There has been a recurrent theme here at The Great Change over the past several months. It began with revelations from whistleblowers from Cambridge Analytica speaking to Parliamentary inquiries in London to the effect that the US 2016 election was not the only election being hacked—you had to look to Australia, Brazil, Malaysia, India, Kenya, and Malta too—and that social media like Facebook and Twitter were being manipulated rather than voting machines. After the Diebold scandals of 2000 and 2004, a number of states and nations began to revert to paper ballots. A machine hack would still suffice in many places, such as my own state of Tennessee, as is easily demonstrated, but the long game is in hacking minds, not machines.

An enduring trope in our culture has been a short, almost insignificant scene from the first Star Wars film, A New Hope, that but for George Lucas’s sense of humor could have fallen to the cutting room floor. The scene is only 30 seconds but has lingered in the pop culture for 40 years.
EMPIRE TROOPER SERGEANT (to Luke Skywalker): Let me see your identification.
OBI-WAN KENOBE (staring into the Sergeant’s visor and subtly waving his fingers): You don’t need to see his identification.
SERGEANT (to other four Empire guards): We don’t need to see his identification.
OBI-WAN: These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.
SERGEANT: These aren’t the droids we’re looking for.
OBI-WAN: He can go about his business.
SERGEANT: You can go about your business.
OBI-WAN: Move along.
SERGEANT: Move along, move along.
(Next Scene)
LUKE: I can’t understand how we got by those troops, I thought we were dead.
OBI-WAN: The Force can have a strong influence on the weak-minded.
That is it, in essence—the neurobiology of election manipulation. Over the decades a film trope has morphed into a catch-phrase— “Move along, nothing to see here.”



Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the quality of public education in the United States has been stagnant to declining for many years. It trains test-takers to give rote answers rather than stimulating creativity by constant questioning. This has the tendency, long-term, to elevate weak-minded followers of social memes to an electoral majority and a majority of the elected representatives. While the United States ranks high among nations in education spending, a closer look reveals that most of that spending has been on teacher pay and hardscape while leaving test scores unchanged or even declining.

Moreover, the US privatized education system, like its companions—privatized health care, privatized veterans care, privatized justice and prison systems, etc., is inefficient, ineffective, bloated, declining in performance, and failing those it is intended to serve. I could compare these examples to how bloated corporate US military avionics has fallen behind Russian, Israeli or Chinese technology for basic indicators like fighter jets, missiles, and air defense systems, but that is poking the hornets’ nest.

One effect of privatized education that grows in cost while delivering less is our student loan bubble coupled with trillion-dollar delinquency rates. This serves to consign the college-educated workforce to detestable, unfulfilling and uncreative work. Debt-slavery marches them lock-step in shackles from blank cubicles to home entertainment cocoons and back each day. A manufactured rabble, now tethered to social media on their daily commute and rationed work breaks, become easy prey to the new breed of vote management hacksters.

The big kerfuffle over Russian trolls electing Donald Trump in 2016 is only amazing in its ability to consistently overlook some 80 elections in other nations whose outcome was determined by campaign-finance or hardware vote-hacking by the CIA over many decades, using tools that much resemble and perhaps pioneered the Cambridge Analytica variety.

Recall, for instance, the 2014 regime change in Ukraine, where President Barack Obama spent $5 billion paying Ukrainians to riot and dismantle their Russia-allied government in favor of one that could potentially bring Ukraine into NATO’s orbit. We would know little of this had not whistleblowing hackers posted a telephone conversation between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and then US Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, to YouTube. We can now see the complete sequence that followed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s election tampering directive:
21 November 2013: Protests start after Ukraine announces it will not sign a deal aimed at strengthening ties with the EU
17 December: Russia agrees to buy $15 billion of Ukrainian government bonds and slash the price of gas it sells to the country
16 January 2014: Parliament passes a law restricting the right to protest
22 January: Two protesters die from bullet wounds during clashes with police in Kyiv; protests spread across many cities
25 January: President Yanukovych offers senior jobs to the opposition, including that of the prime minister, but these are rejected
28 January: Parliament votes to annul protest law and President Yanukovych accepts the resignation of PM and cabinet
29 January: Parliament passes an amnesty law for detained protesters, under the condition occupied buildings are vacated

The Secretary of State’s fingerprints on the crime scene were revealed by her hacked emails, so she and the State Department, notably Susan Rice in her new memoir, Tough Love, defected attention to Wikileaks hacker Julian Assange, who is now on the verge of death by torture after 8 years of arrest without charge.

Now rewind to the Bush-Cheney presidency and the political context of Ukraine becomes a little clearer (although we could go back to its Viking origins, or even 32,000 BCE if we wanted):
2000: Chernobyl nuke is finally brought to cold shut down, 14 years after the explosion that wafted fallout around the globe. The health of millions of Ukrainians is adversely affected. Popular sentiment against the US-backed government in Kyiv is strong.
2002: General election that should have been a clean sweep away from the US, based on polls, results in a hung parliament. Opponents of President Kuchma allege widespread electoral fraud.
2002: The government announces a decision to launch a formal bid to join NATO.
2005: Pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko becomes president after winning the December election re-run. Relations with neighboring Russia sour, leading to frequent disputes over gas supplies and pipeline transit fees.
2006: Socialist Party abandons Orange Revolution allies to form a coalition with Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions and the Communists.
2010: Yanukovych is declared winner in the second round of the presidential election.
2010: Parliament votes to abandon NATO membership aspirations.
In the 1990s, Victoria Nuland was chief of staff to Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott before moving on to serve as deputy director for former Soviet Union affairs. She also served as the principal deputy foreign policy adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney and then as U.S. ambassador to NATO. In 2011 she became a special envoy for Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and then Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs. From that position, she earmarked $1 billion in “non-lethal” aid to Ukraine in 2014. While she had advocated for a more conventional defensive weapons delivery to Ukraine she was forced to settle for the Clinton/Obama 5- billion-dollar social media manipulation campaign.

This is an important juncture in world history.
2014 February - US-sponsored Euromaidan protests. Violent anti-government demonstrators occupy buildings in the center of Kyiv, including the Justice Ministry building, and riots leave 98 dead, approximately fifteen thousand injured, and 100 missing. Parliament votes to remove the president and set an election for 25 May to select his replacement. Pro-US opposition takes over.
2014 In a Crimea-wide referendum, residents of that Autonomous Republic (retaining a “special status” within Ukraine) vote for reunification with Russia. Russia formally annexes the Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol. The government in Kyiv accuses Moscow of deliberately stirring up tensions in the east by bringing in professional activists and provocateurs and predicts that eastern Ukraine will be next to join Russia. "Donetsk, Lugansk, Kharkiv have the same situation as in Crimea – 75% of people want to join Russia in eastern Ukraine,” a Kyiv spokesman tells Reuters.
Hoping to forestall a rift with Europe, Russian President Vladimir Putin telephoned the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and told her that the referendum in Crimea complied with international law. The next day a US-drafted motion to the UN Security Council declared the Crimea referendum invalid. The motion was defeated. Nonetheless, the US and EU impose harsh economic and trade sanctions on Russia and send weapons to Kyiv to fight a growing insurgency against the pro-Western coup in eastern Ukraine.
2014 April - Pro-Russian armed groups seize parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions on the Russian border. The government launches a military operation in response. 
2014 May - Leading businessman Petro Poroshenko wins the presidential election on a pro-Western platform.
The civil war in Ukraine, which has taken away from Kyiv the Donetsk, Lugansk, Kharkiv regions as predicted, has killed 13,000 people, most of them civilian non-participants. The US puppet regime in Kyiv is very keen to get anti-tank weapons, particularly Javelin missiles, to counter the Russian-armed rebellion against NATO-armed Ukraine.

Remember the Javelin? It came up in the US president’s phone call to the Ukrainian president on July 25, 2019, right after the latter reminded the former that he had stayed in a Trump hotel recently.

In May 2018 Ukraine purchased 210 Javelin missiles and 37 launchers from the United States for an estimated $47 million. A shoulder-launched weapon, Javelin uses an imaging infrared system to detect and lock onto tanks at distances of up to 4,750 meters (3 miles). The missile detonates its first warhead on impact to trigger the reactive armor tiles on Russian tanks, neutralizing their unique defense system, then uses a second warhead to penetrate a tank’s main armor. One missile, one tank. Boom.

Political survival in Ukraine has for centuries often hinged on finding a strong patron abroad. This sometimes led to disaster, most famously in the case of Ivan Mazepa, the Cossack leader of an embryonic state in eastern Ukraine in the 17th century. Initially, an ally of Peter the Great of Russia, Mazepa, worried by the rise of powerful Cossack rivals, switched sides to ally with Russia’s great enemy at the time, Sweden, which he thought would offer protection. Instead, it led him to crushing defeat by Russia at the Battle of Poltava in 1709.
“Ukrainians all the time tried to form an alliance with the stronger side,” said Volodymyr Yermolenko, editor in chief at Ukraine World, an online magazine. Mazepa, despite his defeat, is revered as a national hero in Ukraine for trying, albeit with catastrophic consequences, to hold Russia at bay by finding a powerful patron in the West.
—Andrew Higgins, The New York Times, Sept 27, 2019

When Cobblepot put the touch on Zelensky by suspending $400 million in military aid (read interest-bearing loans for weapons systems to fill the coffers of the Military Industrial Congressional Complex) to Ukraine, he did more than just expose the seamy underside of his family extortion rackets. That $400 million bribe pales in comparison to the $5-billion social media campaign waged by Nuland-Hillary to overturn the 2010 election in Ukraine and set off the civil war.

On October 24, 2019, the New York Times reported:

The war began in 2014 after street protesters deposed Ukraine’s kleptocratic, pro-Kremlin president. Russia responded by helping stir up rebellions in two eastern provinces, and since then Russia has wielded the military advantage, able to slip tanks, antiaircraft weapons and soldiers into Ukraine at will.

Ukraine has fought back with repeated appeals for aid, diplomatic pressure, Western sanctions against Russia — and with an army that is holding on by its fingernails.

We hear this official version of events being parroted almost every day by congressmen and candidates passing back and forth between impeachment hearings. Take, for instance, these sound bites from the latest Democratic debate:
Klobuchar: I'm still waiting to find out from him how making that call to the head of Ukraine and trying to get him involved in interfering in our election makes America great again… It doesn't make America great again. It makes Russia great again.  
Booker: We cannot allow Russia to not only interfere in the democracies of the Ukraine, and Latvia, and Lithuania, but even not calling them out for their efforts to interfere in this democracy are unacceptable.

Contrast the realism of Tulsi Gabbard and Andrew Yang. Asked about withdrawal from Syria, Gabbard said:
[P]oliticians in our country from both parties have supported this ongoing regime-change war in Syria that started in 2011, along with many in the mainstream media, who have been championing and cheerleading this regime-change war.
Not only that, but the New York Times and CNN have also smeared veterans like myself for calling for an end to this regime-change war. Just two days ago, The New York Times put out an article saying that I'm a Russian asset and an Assad apologist and all these different smears. This morning, a CNN commentator said on national television that I'm an asset of Russia. Completely despicable.

As president, I will end these regime change wars by doing two things -- ending the draconian sanctions that are really a modern-day siege… and I would make sure that we stop supporting terrorists like Al Qaida in Syria who have been the ground force in this ongoing regime-change war.

Asked about Putin and Russia, Yang said:
We have to look at the chain of events. How did we get here? The fact is, we were falling apart at home, so we voted in Donald Trump, and he's now led us down this dangerous path with erratic and unreliable foreign policy.
We have to let Russia know, look, we get it. We've tampered with other elections, you've tampered with our elections. And now it has to stop. And if it does not stop, we will take this as an act of hostility against the American people. I believe most Americans would support me on this.
But Russian hacking of our democracy is an illustration of the 21st-century threats. Artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, climate change, loose nuclear material, military drones, and non-state actors, these are the threats that are going to require our administration to catch up in terms of technology.

We all know we are decades behind the curve on technology. We saw when Mark Zuckerberg testified at Congress the nature of the questioning. 

At that point, the CNN moderator abruptly cut him off.

What mainstream media like The New York Times and CNN have in common with Chinese hackers targeting LeBron James, Nike and the NBA, or Steve Bannon’s Cambridge Analytica targeting the elections in Kenya or Mexico, is they are getting in at the opening of an entirely new era of how we decide how leaders are chosen, where our money is spent, and when and where wars will next be fought. Trump got where he is by mastering social media and reality TV. He was pitch-perfect for the lowest common denominator. As Yang said, our future will be more about artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and non-state actors than stump speeches from the back of a bunted caboose. Facebook and Twitter have been weaponized. Your daddy’s ballot box defenses have been breached.

"They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” 
—Hosea, an 8th-century BCE prophet who authored the book of prophecies bearing his name. Hosea (“He helps” in Aramaic) 8:7.

Obi-Wan waives his hand and says “These aren’t the droids you are looking for… move along….”  And it worked. But these were weak-minded guards. With The Force, Luke and Obi-Wan were able to “mask” the truth and proceed. This president, and most of those vying to be our next, are only doing the same.

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You encourage me to do more and then tell you about it. Help me get my blog posted every week. All Patreon donations and Blogger subscriptions are needed and welcomed. Those are how we make this happen. PowerUp! donors on Patreon get an autographed book off each first press run. Please help if you can.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

LeBron’s Chinese Troll Mobs

"In the 36 hours after James’ delete, a troll mob with bot support sent a flame tsunami at the Rockets and the NBA."



Even CNN has taken to comparing what is going on today to a Classical Greek play.
Trump himself perfectly encapsulated the depths of his hubristic delusion when he famously declared “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
Those of us watching from our armchairs associate the drama being played out on a world stage more with old episodes of The Sopranos than with Greek tragedies (do our schoolchildren still read Aeschylus?)


One of the right’s indefatigable champions, David Stockman, says the end will come with neither bang nor whimper, neither with the gavel of impeachment nor overtaking second term victory laps, but instead with total, ruinous, global financial collapse some time in the next 12 months.
"Since starting in Washington as a legislative assistant in 1970, we have seen every business cycle and President up close and personal. So we know that the Donald committed the most egregious rookie mistake in the history of the American presidency.
That is, he insouciantly embraced a financial bubble that was destined to crash and took ownership of a struggling, geriatric business cycle expansion that had “recession ahead” written all over its forehead.
After all, the Donald was sworn in during month #90 of what was already the third-longest business expansion in American history and he was elected for a 48-month term. That means it would be month #138 when his first term ends–a point never, ever reached before.
***
Europe is rolling over into recession, the Red Ponzi is floundering under its massive load of debt and malinvestment and the US economy is imperiled by $70 trillion of public and private debt and egregious Wall Street bubbles whose days are clearly numbered.
Moreover, recessions have not been outlawed by the economic gods and there are overwhelming odds that the next one will hit before November 2020.
And when it does, Wall Street, the US economy and the Donald’s fantasy of MAGA will come tumbling down with it.
Of course, Stockman has been out on the corner in this same sandwich board every day for the past several decades, predicting the end is nigh, and … silence. Crickets. Economic boom times. But he sells a lot of books and newsletters and we wish him well with his latest, Peak Trump.

Still, watching a White House press conference with the President of Italy, who had come to beg POTUS not to start a trade war with the Eurozone, I couldn’t help but wonder how it must sell back in Rome to see their man kneeling to kiss the ring of someone whose body language mimics Benito Mussolini as parodied by Chico Marx.

And the US Ambassador to the EU, the man cradling a lit match in front of the Santa Ana winds, is who, exactly? Oh yeah, I remember. Gordon Sondland, million-dollar donor to President Cobblepot, who has been the ambassador in Brussels since July 2018.
Meanwhile, at the presidential debates in Ohio, the moderators — CNN and The New York Times — did not pose a single question to the candidates about the climate crisis. Nothing to see here, move along. The Tuesday night media spotlight was instead directed to a tweet by L.A. Lakers superstar LeBron James concerning … wait for it … Hong Kong protests. James holds the media box up to the light to inspect, barely believing this is happening. He is being boycotted by his fans at shoe-wear outlets because he tweeted and then deleted something about another team’s general manager being ignorant of politics. He shakes the box and holds it to his ear. Is there something loose rattling around in there?

“You never know the ramifications that can happen,” James told reporters after Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. “And we all seen what that did. Not only did for our league, but for all of us in America, for people in China as well. And sometimes you have to think through things that you say that may cause harm not only for yourself but for the majority of the people. I think that’s just a fine example.”

James was referring to Morey’s tweet and delete of an image that read ”Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong” that has nearly ruined a streaming deal with China worth (to James and others) $1.5 billion over the next five years. Chinese state television said they would henceforth not be showing Rockets games. The risks of offending the Chinese are particularly high for James, who has a lifetime deal with Nike that could exceed $1 billion. While the U.S. is Nike’s biggest market at the moment, its growth strategy is China. If James is seen as criticizing China, Nike is screwed in China. If James is seen as defending China, Nike is screwed in the U.S. 

Onto the shores of this emerging sports brand Dunkirk wade the spawn of Cambridge Analytica and escaped NSA big data pranking, now run feral in the cyberverse.

A review of 170,000 tweets by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab shows that Morey and James were the targets of a pro-Chinese-government twitter attack (Twitter is banned in China). In the 36 hours after James’ delete, a troll mob with bot support sent a flame tsunami at the Rockets and the NBA, 22% from accounts with 0 followers and 50% from accounts with fewer than 13 followers. The tweetstorm included 4,855 total users who had never tweeted until they jumped on this and 3,677 accounts that didn’t exist before Morey’s tweet. Meanwhile, from the balconies of James’ eight-bedroom, eleven-bath, four-fireplace mansion in Los Angeles (with garage space for 10 cars), he can see the glow of fires cresting the North Los Angeles hills and smell smoke. Nothing to see there, move along.

A helicopter drops water while battling the Saddleridge fire in northern Los Angeles on Friday.

The creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, couldn’t resist piling on James with an episode called “Let Them Eat Goo,” about lunches at South Park Elementary being replaced with faux meat. Cartman yells at students who favor the change or are protesting for ethical food choices.

“We all talk about freedom of speech,” he says. “Yes, we do have freedom of speech, but at times there are ramifications for the negative that can happen when you are not thinking about others and only thinking about yourself.”

The “Let Them Eat Goo” episode starts at a Park South cannabis farm where Marsh grouses that “the whole doing business in China thing has sort of bitten us in the ass and now we aren’t selling enough weed to keep up with our costs.” So they come up with a plan to use their discarded hemp products for plant-based fast food.

Acknowledging that the Chinese pressure being felt by the NBA was real, Parker and Stone issued a public apology last week in which they said, “Like the NBA, we welcome Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts. We too love money more than freedom and democracy.”
Something is broken here, but we dare not say what it is, do we, Mr. James?

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, in one of his Zen Center lectures, recalled that in wartime, “some young people, encouraged by the militaristic mood of Japan, recited to me this line from the Shushogi: ‘To understand birth and death is the main point of practice.’ They said, ‘Even though I don’t know anything about the sutra, I can die easily at the front.’ That is group practice. Encouraged by trumpets, guns and war cries, it is quite easy to die. That kind of practice is not our practice….”

“Although, first of all, we practice with people, our goal is to practice with mountains and rivers, with trees and stones, with everything in the world, everything in the universe, and to find ourselves in this big cosmos. When we practice in this big world we know intuitively which way to go. When your surroundings give you a sign showing which way to go, even though you have no idea of following a sign, you will go in the right direction. The way to practice with everything is to have calmness of mind.”
I am not trying to be esoteric here, never mind the Aeschylus. My point is that we are all running around like headless chickens, driven by troll mobs and bot algorithms. We ignore a real existential threat to focus instead on celebrity basketball shoes. That is our contemporary group practice. What is missing is calm reflection, by each of us, on our situation. We need to free ourselves of these crazy viral influences and think for ourselves again. From that calm will come not only the smell of smoke but also the best way to fight the fire. That calm center doesn’t come from Twitter, in case you didn’t already know.
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Sunday, October 13, 2019

Soft Paths to Zero

"While reducing emissions should be a priority, it is morally questionable to focus on relatively cheaper emissions reduction without drawdown. This merely shifts the responsibility, and cost, onto the backs of future generations."



Being still somewhat in the Greenwich Meridian, I got up this morning while it was still dark, grabbed some kombucha from the fridge, turned on the laptop (aaghh, light!), opened a Google doc and commenced to write this post. Then the power went off.
My UPS/surge protector (a heavy core of grounded 12-penny nails and a lightweight capacitor circuit) held my consigned thoughts only long enough for orderly shutdown. Then I was back in the dark. I would have better started my day with quill pen and beeswax candle. As it is, I did the next best thing and went to ballpoint, yellow pad, and solar-charged torch.
I can hear my UPS ping from time to time as the Meriwether Lewis rural electric co-op tries to re-establish connectivity. This could go on for hours. Here in Tennessee brown-outs and blackouts are normal, nearly daily, so we are perhaps better adapted than most. Our ecovillage was here a decade before we even had indoor toilets and running water, never mind electricity and phones. Typically these blackouts last only 30 minutes to three hours. Some Californians may have to go a month. We are prepared, they weren’t. The alternatives, climate Armageddon in places like Paradise California, Abaco Island Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and as I write this parts of Los Angeles, are far more dire.
I am in solidarity with the 800,000 customers across 34 California counties, several million people, who were severed their electrical umbilical by PG&E just after midnight and early Wednesday morning, a cautionary measure when the winds of October turned hot and dry enough to spark utility-bankrupting-scale wildfire. Over the stench of rotting fish and produce, PG&E said it would communicate with affected customers directly via automated calls, texts and emails, telling them how many days or weeks the shutdown would last. Except, that won't do anything. With no power over that vast area, automated calls, texts and emails are not going to mean anything. Mobile phones won't work. They might try smoke signals or messenger pigeons. Maybe a Pony Express? Welcome to the new normal in the Anthropocene. We were only part way into becoming cyberamphibians and now we have to retreat to more familiar waters.
I can hear my UPS ping from time to time as the Meriwether Lewis rural electric co-op tries to re-establish connectivity. This could go on for hours. Here in Tennessee brown-outs and blackouts are normal, nearly daily, so we are perhaps better adapted than most. Our ecovillage was here a decade before we even had indoor toilets and running water, never mind electricity and phones. Typically these blackouts last only 30 minutes to three hours. Some Californians may have to go a month. We are prepared, they weren’t. The alternatives, climate Armageddon in places like Paradise California, Abaco Island Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and as I write this, the outer burbs of Los Angeles, are far more dire.
I just bounced in from London where the Commonwealth, under the guidance of its sage Secretary General, Patricia Scotland, has placed its 53 member countries on battle footing for the climate crisis. While others may focus on Brexit or Trumpzit or other exotic baits thrown into the bubbling info-swamp, gathered here in Marlborough House were the top tier of Emergency Planetary Technicians. We exchanged stories, strategies, and new tools. We saw examples of cutting edge projects from Belize, Kiribati, the Maori of Aotearoa and the Kalinago of Dominica.
 
We equipped ourselves with their inspiration and powerpoints and returned to the front lines of our own individual projects. For me, that meant getting up early the next several mornings, grabbing a kombucha and driving to Nashville to attend the Living Product Expo. I confess, I did not know a lot about the Living Product Institution other than some association with green building and sustainability design, but I soon found myself in the company of another group of Emergency Planetary Technicians, with an almost completely different approach to carbon reversal than the group in London.

This photo of Carib Cultural Village by the Sea (Kalinago Barana Aute) is courtesy of TripAdvisor. The buttresses are distinctive vernacular to the region. Some very large buildings withstood the recent Category 5 hurricanes because they were anchored in this way.

In London we were talking about hurricane-resistant structures built to ancient design with materials that pull down CO2; Cool Lab microenterprise hubs that combine drawdown with the 17 sustainable development goals; recovering lost wisdom for harmonious occupation of our space island whose atmosphere above us is, for most, less than the distance to the nearest shopping mall. In Nashville we were talking about getting the largest construction companies and product manufacturers in the world to sign on to the 2050 roadmap — half emissions by 2030; half again by 2040; zero by 2050. One, Skanska AB, a multinational construction and development company based in Sweden, with $145 billion in annual revenues, has pledged to hit its zero goal for all construction by 2045. As author and natural builder Bruce King (The New Carbon Architecture) reminded us, the world builds the equivalent of another New York City every 35 days, and greenhouse gas emissions come with every shovel of sand and yard of rebar. 
We saw glue-lam structural beams from crop waste, highrises built of LEGO blocks of bamboo and rice paste, and tables and desk chairs of mycelium. Most in these conferences have little awareness of charcrete and charpolymers (Burn: Using FIre to Cool the Earth is still too new and they tend to think of biochar as mere fertilizer) but I did my best to inoculate the architects, engineers, and manufacturers with Cool Lab concepts and the suite of tools discussed in London. For their part, they inspired me with the Living Product Challenge’s proposed improvements to the Declare label and expansions of Life Cycle Assessment into the Handprint system.
Meetings like these are cascading. The Land Institute’s Prairie Festival (Sept. 27-29) “Carbon, Culture, and Change: From the Ground Up”; Al Gore’s Climate Underground event (Oct 14-15) at his Caney Fork Farm in Carthage with catering by Alice Waters; the VERGE-19 gathering in Oakland (Oct 22-24) with its conferences-within-a-conference: VergeCarbon with separate tracks for Biological: Farms & Forests; Carbontech: Fuels & Materials Innovation; and Sequestration: Industry & Utilities and then VergeCircular, Verge Energy, and Verge Transport. 
Through research and support for pilot- and demonstration-scale projects, Secretary General Patricia Scotland has fashioned her mandate for the Commonwealth — learn more about CO2 removal and deploy natural climate solutions that are rapid, lasting and cost-effective. As you go, cull the wasteful and ineffective. Investing in these early-stage technologies today will lead to parallel advances as previously seen with computers, communications systems, solar cells, aircraft, and cars. Some climate solutions could have trans-boundary environmental, social, and economic impacts, which can be benign or adverse. There may be thresholds of scale where positive benefits turn negative. But, as Paul Hawken said in his recent Bioneers talk,
“Even if we turned off every fossil fuel combustion source today, we will still move to climate chaos. We need to stop putting our greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to be sure. We also need to bring CO2 back home where it came from. That can’t be done with a Tesla.”
 
Bruce King recalled FDR’s deadline of 2 years for the Manhattan Project, JFK’s deadline of 10 years for the Apollo moon landing, and reminded us that Greta Thunberg has set another deadline for us all now. The Carbon Clock produced by the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change in Berlin predicts that we have 9 years before the CO2 levels in the atmosphere will warm the planet by 1.5°C. That’s Greta’s deadline: her 25th birthday.
"While reducing emissions should be a priority, it is morally questionable to focus on relatively cheaper emissions reduction without drawdown. This merely shifts the responsibility, and cost, onto the backs of future generations."
Of course, we need to acknowledge the fine print. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) puts the likelihood of a given outcome in terms of a lower (33 percent), medium (50 percent) or high (66 percent) probability. It gives the odds we will blow through 1.5°C in the high range. Many of us would argue we have already passed that mark. We are already likely committed to crossing 2 degrees as well.
You can hit people over the head with top-down regulation but then you get resistance. Or you can lead people to their higher callings and the rewards to be found in frugal husbandry, ethical manufacturing and construction, and product revolutions. This is not to say there will be no resistance. The 21st century automobile revolution will throw thousands of outmoded GM assembly line workers out of their jobs, as it has already done with coal miners. Truthfully, those disgruntled GM workers now need to get more into to reversing climate change like the rest of us. 
Either way, sacrifice will be required. If you are reading this by candlelight in rural Tennessee or the PG&E non-service area, you already know. And you have likely already considered, you’d rather this than your whole town burned down.





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