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Posts Tagged ‘climate change

“The surface of American society is covered with a layer of democracy, from beneath which the old aristocratic colors sometimes peep”*…

Almost three decades ago, one of us, Jack Goldstone, published a simple model to determine a country’s vulnerability to political crisis. The model was based on how population changes shifted state, elite and popular behavior. Goldstone argued that, according to this Demographic-Structural Theory, in the 21st century, America was likely to get a populist, America-first leader who would sow a whirlwind of conflict.

Then ten years ago, the other of us, Peter Turchin, applied Goldstone’s model to U.S. history, using current data. What emerged was alarming: The U.S. was heading toward the highest level of vulnerability to political crisis seen in this country in over a hundred years. Even before Trump was elected, Turchin published his prediction that the U.S. was headed for the “Turbulent Twenties,” forecasting a period of growing instability in the United States and western Europe.

Given the Black Lives Matter protests and cascading clashes between competing armed factions in cities across the United States, from Portland, Oregon to Kenosha, Wisconsin, we are already well on our way there. But worse likely lies ahead.

Our model is based on the fact that across history, what creates the risk of political instability is the behavior of elites, who all too often react to long-term increases in population by committing three cardinal sins. First, faced with a surge of labor that dampens growth in wages and productivity, elites seek to take a larger portion of economic gains for themselves, driving up inequality. Second, facing greater competition for elite wealth and status, they tighten up the path to mobility to favor themselves and their progeny. For example, in an increasingly meritocratic society, elites could keep places at top universities limited and raise the entry requirements and costs in ways that favor the children of those who had already succeeded.

Third, anxious to hold on to their rising fortunes, they do all they can to resist taxation of their wealth and profits, even if that means starving the government of needed revenues, leading to decaying infrastructure, declining public services and fast-rising government debts.

Such selfish elites lead the way to revolutions. They create simmering conditions of greater inequality and declining effectiveness of, and respect for, government. But their actions alone are not sufficient. Urbanization and greater education are needed to create concentrations of aware and organized groups in the populace who can mobilize and act for change.

Top leadership matters. Leaders who aim to be inclusive and solve national problems can manage conflicts and defer a crisis. However, leaders who seek to benefit from and fan political divisions bring the final crisis closer. Typically, tensions build between elites who back a leader seeking to preserve their privileges and reforming elites who seek to rally popular support for major changes to bring a more open and inclusive social order. Each side works to paint the other as a fatal threat to society, creating such deep polarization that little of value can be accomplished, and problems grow worse until a crisis comes along that explodes the fragile social order.

These were the conditions that prevailed in the lead-up to the great upheavals in political history, from the French Revolution in the eighteenth century, to the revolutions of 1848 and the U.S. Civil War in the nineteenth century, the Russian and Chinese revolutions of the twentieth century and the many “color revolutions” that opened the twenty-first century. So, it is eye-opening that the data show very similar conditions now building up in the United States…

Two scholars long-ago predicted political upheaval in America in the 2020s. Why it’s here and what we can do to temper it: “Welcome To The ‘Turbulent Twenties’.” An important– and bracing– read.

As to how these challenges might unfold (JIC you’ve not yet seen this widely-circulated piece): “The Election That Could Break America.”

Of course, domestic issues are only one dimension of the challenges facing us. We have to deal with those same issues on a global level, as they play out in radically-changing geopolitics and geo-economics– all underlain by climate change: “Are we living at the ‘hinge of history’?

And finally, for those interested in the “plumbing” that enables the slide toward autocracy: “Money Laundering for 21st Century Authoritarianism: Western Enablement of Kleptocracy” (pdf).

* Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

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As we step up, we might recall that it was on thus date in 1962 that Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published. A pioneering study of the long-term dangers of pesticide use, it challenged the practices of agricultural scientists and the government, and called for a change in the way humankind relates to the natural world.

Carson documented her accusations that the chemical industry spread disinformation, and that public officials accepted those marketing claims unquestioningly. Unsurprisingly, the book was met with fierce opposition by chemical companies; but, thanks to public opinion, it sparked numerous changes: it led to a reversal in the United States’ national pesticide policy, and a nationwide ban on DDT for agricultural uses, and helped to inspire an environmental movement that led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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Written by LW

September 27, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Reason is the first casualty in a drought”*…

The 100th meridian runs from pole to pole, 100 degrees longitude west of the prime meridian in Greenwich, England. It cuts through six U.S. states, forming a partial boundary between Oklahoma and Texas. Powell identified this line as marking the point where the average annual rainfall dropped from 61 centimeters on the eastern edge to 46 centimeters at the western edge. New research shows a sharp aridity gradient still exists, but it’s moved east a bit, closer to the 98th meridian. Climate models predict it will move farther eastward in coming decades. Credit: National Atlas, modified by K. Cantner, AGI.

n 1878, without benefit of the Landsat program, GPS or Google, and just a decade after the creation of the National Weather Service, John Wesley Powell first advanced the idea that the climatic boundary between the United States’ humid East and arid West lay along a line “about midway in the Great Plains” — almost exactly 100 degrees longitude west of the prime meridian in Greenwich, England. This line, the 100th meridian, runs from pole to pole and cuts through six U.S. states, forming a partial boundary between Oklahoma and Texas. The 100th meridian also corresponds roughly to the 600-meter elevation contour as the land rises from the Great Plains toward the Rockies.

In his 1878 “Report on the Lands of the Arid Region of the United States,” Powell identified the “arid region” as the land west of the 51-centimeter-per-year rainfall line, which closely tracked the 100th meridian. This amount of rainfall per year is about the minimum that permits farming without irrigation, and it also greatly influences the types of crops that can be grown. The line Powell noted as dividing the arid and humid sections of the continent has become known as the “effective” 100th meridian.

Powell’s original goal in describing the effective 100th meridian as a dividing line was to persuade the federal government to bear in mind the greater aridity when planning for settlement and development in the western territories, which would be very different than in the moisture-rich east…

Today, the 100th meridian is still considered a climatic boundary line, but that will likely change in the coming decades: The 51-centimeter rainfall line is gradually moving east due to climate change, according to recent research…

The very middle of the U.S. is becoming increasing drier, with what are sure to be huge consequences: “Dividing line: The past, present and future of the 100th Meridian.”

* Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water

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As we ponder parching, we might send environmentally-unfriendly birthday greetings to C. Montgomery Burns; he was (fictionally) born on this date in 1893. A recurring character in the animated television series The Simpsons (voiced initially by Christopher Collins, and currently by Harry Shearer), he is the evil, devious, greedy, and fabulously wealthy owner of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant and, by extension, Homer Simpson’s boss.

“Excellent.”

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Written by LW

September 15, 2020 at 1:01 am

“When morality comes up against profit, it is seldom that profit loses”*…

 

mpact investing

 

This month marks the anniversary of the U.S. Business Roundtable’s 2019 call for a shift from “shareholder capitalism” toward “stakeholder capitalism.”

Business leaders asked us to imagine a transformed world, but a bat virus in Wuhan had its own ambitious plans — and has, for the time being, transformed the world in quite another way. It has thrust government to the center, pushing business, whatever its approach to capitalism, to the sidelines.

Nobody could reasonably expect business alone to fix the pandemic. Nonetheless, some investors under the banner of “impact investing” argue that business alone will be able to fix the other big problems ailing the global economy, such as climate change or global female literacy, without sacrificing commercial returns. This view has garnered interest from major banks, consultancies, business lobby groups, and even former prime ministers. One of impact investing’s leading champions, Sir Ronald Cohen, believes that it could be the “revolution” that will save capitalism and solve many of the world’s greatest problems.

It is an enticing vision of an enlightened post-pandemic economy, and, as an impact investor and economist, we support its ambitions. However, if we really want to reform capitalism, then impact investing as it is traditionally conceived will not be enough. The pandemic is not a mere anomaly; there are profound limits to what business can do profitably in normal times too. We need to reform the rules that govern how our economy works — and impact investors have a critical role to play [in changing those rules]…

From Harvard Business Review, “Impact Investing Won’t Save Capitalism.”

* Shirley Chisholm

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As we endeavor to ensure equitable equities, we might recall that it was on this date (Friday the 13th) in 2013 that Google suffered an outage: all of its services were unavailable for five minutes, including Google Search, YouTube, and Google Drive.  During that brief window, internet traffic around the world dropped by 40 per cent.

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Written by LW

August 13, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Water, water everywhere”*…

 

Miami

 

On November 14, 2016, six days after Donald Trump was elected president, a man named Richard Conlin found an octopus in the parking garage of his Miami Beach apartment building. The translucent creature, which a viral photo showed sitting in a small puddle by a row of cars, had been brought ashore by an unusually large high tide that sent sludgy water rushing through nearby streets. A local biologist speculated that the octopus had found its way inside one of the apartment building’s drainage pipes: the pipes had been positioned well above the waterline when the condo complex was constructed, but rising sea levels meant they were now submerged at high tide, allowing aquatic creatures to make their way inside. (Conlin wrote on Facebook that he spotted a small school of fish swimming in another puddle.)

The octopus makes for an apt little parable not just about the extent to which climate change is already changing daily life in the United States, but about the way in which it is doing so. The cephalopod did not arrive in the parking garage Day After Tomorrow-style, on the crest of an apocalyptic wave, but by means of a crucial yet neglected piece of infrastructure. The alarming fact the octopus represents is not that the ocean threatens to destroy us, but that it threatens to destroy the structures we have built in its midst.

Miami, as you may have heard, is doomed: depending on which study you prefer, the city will be underwater by 2100, 2060, 2050, or whenever the next hurricane hits. It is poised to see two, five, eight, ten, or twelve feet of sea-level rise in the next century. Even numbers on the low end of that range would be enough to inundate Conlin’s apartment building, not to mention billions more dollars of real estate. Tidal flooding events of the kind that brought the octopus ashore increased by more than 400 percent between 2006 and 2013, and the city has only barely been spared by a number of major hurricanes in that same time span. The right storm—The Big One, as they call it in Florida—could raze whole swaths of Miami, send its property market and tourism industry into a death spiral, and spur a mass exodus of domestic climate refugees. Even in the absence of such a storm, the city’s lowest-lying neighborhoods may need to be abandoned by midcentury if the rest of it is to be preserved…

The coming scramble for free space won’t be as bad as it could have been, though, because many of the most vulnerable homes in the city don’t have anyone living in them in the first place. The glistening condo towers that make up the high end of Miami’s housing market serve predominantly as parking lots for foreign capital, much of it of dubious origin. The absentee ownership rate in many of these buildings is well above 50 percent, and even as the streets of Miami Beach begin to flood, the emirs and mafiosi who own these apartments will be somewhat insulated from the crash in the rest of the city’s housing market, since the selling point of these condos is not their view of the Biscayne Bay but their ability to serve as storage units for foreign capital.

For everyone who actually lives in Miami, though, it’s going to get ugly, and there isn’t much the city can do about it. [Journalist Mario Alejandro] Ariza opens the book [Disposable City: Miami’s Future on the Shores of Climate Catastrophe] with the image of an enormous water pump designed to flush out water from the streets in the event of a high tide or a hurricane; the city has installed a number of these pumps in the past few years, financing them with a new climate-oriented municipal bond, and has also endeavored to raise dozens of miles of streets. Even if these interventions always worked out, which they don’t—a former mayor of Miami Beach prioritized installing pumps and raising roads near property he owned, inadvertently increasing flooding in nearby businesses he didn’t own—they wouldn’t be enough to forestall a crisis that is coming sooner rather than later. With enough money from the federal government, the city could in theory move the most vulnerable homeowners out of harm’s way before it’s too late, build green infrastructure to absorb floodwaters, and sponsor high-density affordable housing for those who want to stay, but a hat trick in that regard seems unlikely. If sea level rise reaches nine feet by the end of the century, though, none of these interventions will matter: all of Miami and much of South Florida will be underwater. Even if the city doesn’t sink altogether, hundreds of thousands of Miamians will likely be displaced to Orlando, Atlanta, and other nearby cities, none of which are going to feel exactly like paradise in the year 2100…

Miami’s bleak future on the front line of climate change; “The City That Lived.”

And to put it into a broader context: “2020 Is our Last, Best Chance to Save the Planet” and  “The Great Climate Migration Has Begun.”

* Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

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As we search for a drop to drink, we might spare a thought for a man who successfully manged water in a different physical state, Frank Joseph Zamboni, Jr.; he died on this date in 1988.  An engineer and inventor, he is best known for the modern ice resurfacer, seen at work at hockey games and figure skating competitions; indeed, his surname is the registered trademark for these devices.

220px-Frank_Zamboni source

 

“If you talk to the animals they will talk with you and you will know each other”*…

 

species

 

The prevailing belief in a separation between humans and everything else is an essential function of a contemporary global economy which has permitted unprecedented levels of unsustainable resource extraction. The increasingly complex challenges human beings face in relation to the non-human world call for a paradigm shift: it is becoming ever more urgent to embrace new stories about ourselves and our relation to each other. This is the aim of ‘Stories on Earth’, Failed Architecture’s project for the parallel program of the Dutch Pavilion for the Venice Biennale 2021. Stories on Earth is an experiment which brings together spatial designers and writers to devise new spatial narratives that accommodate the inherent interrelationship between humans and the non-human. We selected three designers whose works challenge humans’ relationship with nature, and three writers with personal and professional connections with Caribbean storytelling…

Six designers and writers participating in FA’s project for Venice Biennale 2021 speak with one composite voice about nature, humanity, and storytelling at: “Stories on Earth: A Collective Voice for the Human and Non-Human.”

On this same topic, check in with musician and humanitarian Peter Gabriel, ecologist Carl Safina, technologist and novelist Jonathan Ledgard, prominent author and speaker on animal behaviour, Temple Grandin, and others…

We are pleased to announce the Interspecies Conversations Public Event 2020 in collaboration with the Coller Foundation, Google and MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms. We would be delighted if you could join us and contribute to the conversation!

Interspecies I/O’s mission is to encourage, explore and facilitate interfaces for interspecies communication and approaches for deciphering the communication of non-human animals. With the aim to positively impact species conservation, welfare, empathy, compassion, enrichment, sustainability and understanding. It brings together a multidisciplinary group drawn from the sciences, arts and humanities in a rich collaborative forum, to advance the understanding and appreciation of the mental lives and intelligence of the diverse species with which we share our planet…

… at “Interspecies Conversations Public Conference 2020.”

And to complete the hat-trick, Matt Webb’s “On speaking with dolphins.”

* “If you talk to the animals they will talk with you and you will know each other. If you do not talk to them you will not know them, and what you do not know you will fear. What one fears one destroys.”  – Chief Dan George

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As we “Talk to the Animals,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1983 that the first “test-tube baboon” was born; as The New York Times reported

A female black baboon, believed to be the first nonhuman primate conceived in a laboratory dish, has been born at the Southwest Foundation for Research and Education in San Antonio. The baby, named E. T., for embryo transfer, was born July 25, six months after its ”test-tube” fertilization and, coincidentally, on the fifth birthday of Louise Brown, the first human conceived ”in vitro.”…

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