Saturday, 31 January 2015

The Doomsday Clock and denial

Opinion: 10 reasons you don’t hear the Doomsday Clock ticking

By Paul B. Farrell

30 January, 2015

We’re numb, ignoring what amounts to 400,000 nuclear bombs a day

The Doomsday Clock was just reset: It’s now “Three Minutes to Midnight,” warns the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. It’s loud ticking is a grim reminder, as Joe Romm put it on ClimateProgress, that “Earth’s rate of global warming is 400,000 Hiroshima bombs a day.” Yes, a civilization-ender, and yet, Gallup polls dismiss the warning — the public doesn’t consider climate change a major national priority.

The threat was also summarized in Scientific American: The Doomsday Clock is “a visual metaphor to warn the public about how close the world is to a potentially civilization-ending catastrophe. Experts on the board said they felt a sense of urgency this year because of the world’s ongoing addiction to fossil fuels, procrastination with enacting laws to cut greenhouse-gas emissions and slow efforts to get rid of nuclear weapons.”
Yes, global warming is as powerful and lethal as 400,000 atomic bombs exploding daily, said James Hansen, former head of NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies.
America is addicted to Big Oil. But paradoxically, that’s numbing us to the terminal ticking sound of the disasters ahead. Our brains are trapped in denial — not just Big Oil and their right-wing climate-science deniers — but more than 100 million average Americans. We’re deaf. Dumb. Blind. To the threats.
This is a problem of psychology, behavioral economics and the neurosciences. As anthropologist Jared Diamond, author of “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed,” put it: Our brains still haven’t learned the lessons of history. Remember, centuries ago two million people lived in the Mayan civilization. But like “so many societies the elite made decisions that were good for themselves in the short run and ruined themselves and societies in the long run.”
As a result, the Mayan civilization collapsed “because of a combination of climate change, drought, water-management problems, soil erosion, deforestation.” Diamond added the rulers “managed to insulate themselves from the consequences of their actions.” Forests being chopped down. But “the kings didn’t recognize that they were making a mess until it was too late.”
Flash forward, “similarly, in the United States at present, the policies being pursued by too many wealthy people and decision makers are ones that, as in the case of the Mayan kings, preserve their interests in the short run but are disastrous in the long run.”
Yes, today the old pattern is repeating. Listen to 10 excuses Americans make. All of us, not just Big Oil but all across America, Washington, Wall Street, and yes, all over Main Street. Here’s why we are already repeating the same fate as the Mayans in today’s world of endless hypocrisy and denials about global warming, failing to prepare, oblivious of the coming storms. We are self-destructing our civilization and our planet with nonsense rationalizations like these:

1. Climate costs must be balanced against jobs and the economy

This is Big Oil’s biggest argument. In fact, the only “jobs and economy” the oil industry cares about are their own hundreds of thousands of jobs, over $100 billion in annual profits and trillions in revenues the last decade. Diamond warns: environmental solutions are not a “luxury” with just a cash outflow. “This puts the truth exactly backwards. ... Environmental messes cost us huge sums of money both in the short run and in the long run” and “cleaning up or preventing those messes saves us huge sums in the long run, and often in the short run as well.”
2 . Technology will solve all our climate problems

In Robert Gordon’s provocative National Bureau of Economic Research paper, “Is U.S. economic growth over?” we learn that not only is America’s GDP dropping to under 1% by 2100, Silicon Valley innovations and new technologies will not trigger a new Industrial Revolution reversing the trajectory of this future. “This faith in the future is based on an unsubstantiated track record that technology has solved more problems than it created, and will solve existing problems without creating new problems,” says Diamond. “Actual experience is the opposite.”
3. If you exhaust one resource, just switch to another that works as well

Jeremy Grantham’s GMO firm manages $120 billion, warns that “We’re running out completely of potassium (potash) and phosphorus (phosphates), both essential in food production, and eroding our soils.” Worse, Grantham’s research indicates they “cannot be manufactured and cannot be substituted for.” Total depletion will make it impossible to feed the 10 billion people predicted on the planet by 2050.
4. We just need more genetically modified crops and better distribution to get food where needed

Diamond says “this argument misses in two ways: That First World countries do or can produce more food than their citizens consume. And surplus First World food could be exported to the Third World.” And that will “alleviate starvation.” Bad assumptions: Rich nations have large poverty too. Plus we know China and the Saudis are already buying and hoarding millions of acres of land in poor countries. Distribution is not a problem, greed and the politics of inequality is.
5. Improvements in life span, health, and per capita wealth prove life on Earth has been getting better for decades

Yes, “for affluent First World citizens,” says Diamond. Plus public-health advances have “increased life spans in the Third World. But life span is not a sufficient indicator: billions of Third World citizens, about 80% of the world’s population” still survive on a few dollars a day. And as Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz, author of “The Price of Inequality,” put it: “There is less equality of opportunity in the United States today than in almost any advanced industrial country.” The inequality gap’s widening, the top 1% captured 93% of the income growth since 2008.
6. Earlier dark predictions by fear-mongering environmentalists prove wrong

Yes, some predictions by environmentalists proved incorrect. But it’s “misleading to look selectively for environmentalist predictions that proved right, or anti-environmentalist predictions that proved wrong.” The world is headed for an increasing frequency and intensity of climate disasters. The recent 166 mph supertyphoon in the Philippines was the largest ever recorded, leaving 1.5 million homeless.
7. The population crisis is solving itself

Critics dismiss overpopulation by arguing that “the rate of increase of the world’s population is decreasing,” meaning that “world population will level off at less than double its present level.” But Diamond warns that “even if it does, the world’s present population is already living at a non-sustainable level ... the bigger danger is the increase in human ‘impact’ as the Third World achieves First World living standards.” Why? Developed nations consume 32 times more resources, dump 32 times more waste than do undeveloped nations.
8. Planet Earth can easily handle infinite population growth

This one is dumb and dumber: Assumes population growth will continue forever. Diamond says it “can’t be taken seriously.” This myth is perpetuated by our misguided economics profession as the justification for the excesses of capitalism. Today the economy is choking on this myth that’s being challenged by critics, contrarians, environmentalists, ecologists and billionaires and power-players like Tom Steyer, Hank Paulson and Michael Bloomberg.
9. Climate-change concerns are the luxury of affluent First World citizens who have no business lecturing desperate Third World citizens

As an anthropologist, Diamond has travelled to many Third World countries, and documented their damaging environmental problems. What he’s discovered is that the Third World is quite well aware of global warming, climate change and the impact of environmental disasters on their world. They know very well how they are being harmed by population growth, deforestation, overfishing, and other problems. And how globalism and giant corporations like Exxon Mobil are too often the culprits.
10. If environmental problems get desperate, so what, it’ll happen after I die, so I can’t take them seriously today

Big Oil is narcissistic, focused on quarterly earnings. Meanwhile, Diamond’s focused on 2050, the next generation: “Most or all of these environmental problems will become acute within the lifetime of young adults now alive. Our goal of helping the next generation enjoy good lives 50 years from now. It makes no sense for us to do help our own children, while simultaneously doing things undermining the world in which our children will be living 50 years from now.”
Bottom line: We won’t act till its too late, Big Oil and today’s generation and their denial need to be shocked awake. The goal is to “persuade investors, policy makers and the public that the consequences of unchecked carbon emissions would eventually blow away whatever short-term costs are involved in curbing the pollution.”
Warning, today it’s too hot, by 2050 it’ll be too late.

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