Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

Flux and Transformation

February 18, 2018

This is a comment inspired by a video whose URL is at the end of the post, about interconnectivity, and how the human body replaces itself, by absorption and excretion.

There are a lot of processes which demonstrate interconnectivity, however, far more importantly this argument really demonstrates the possible basis of reality is flux, change and transformation.

This is difficult to get, because the whole trend of western metaphysics is towards the idea that reality is eternal and unchanging, whether this is expressed in notions of the unchanging God, or the unchanging archetypes, or the unchanging nature of elementary particles such as atoms. All of these ideas can support interconnectivity, but it is the interconnectivity between things which do not change – at best it is about ‘flow’ of unchanging things.

This view of reality as fixed, seems to lead towards pathological behaviour, as action becomes setting up the perfect structures, the perfect reality and clinging to it. Spirituality is about clutching to peace, or growing in a particular way. Psychology can insist that we should always be happy or self-actualising or something. Politics is about holding to the structures you have pronounced to be the best – at the moment our politics seems devoted to maintaining the power of established corporations and their plutocracy rather than the survival, or gentle transformation, of the world they depend upon.

However, if reality is flux and transformation, then everything changes all the time. Furthermore, given complex systems theory, it seems that everything changes unpredictably in specific; we might be able to predict trends, but we cannot predict specific results. One of the properties specified by what we call ‘reflexivity’ is that if people think they understand the ‘systems’ they are in, then their behaviour changes and the system changes the way it works. This change may not be for the better.

In his book known as ‘metaphysics’, Aristotle points out that Plato accepted the world is flux, but insisted that real reality is fixed, because otherwise it is impossible to speak truth. If everything is constantly changing then you cannot say anything true about them, as they will have changed. Aristotle seems correct in his interpretation of Plato to me, and this is a classic example of a philosopher encountering an uncomfortable position (ie everything is flux) and deciding that because it is uncomfortable it is untrue.

There are other ways around this problem. Firstly it may not be possible to speak absolute truth, but that does not mean we cannot speak and think as accurately as we can (and that means accepting flux, misunderstanding and degrees of uncertainty). We can also speak in terms of flux, talking say of ‘patterns’ rather than structures, and temporary stasis rather than permanent equilibrium, we can give up expectations that we should know how things will turn out, and be prepared to learn from events as they happen. At the moment, if our actions produce bad results we are prone to deny this, and apply our actions more stringently and rigorously.

To reiterate, we are caught in and part of a series of largely unpredictable fluxations. However, if we think that things should be eternal and unchanging, or we think that good things should be unchanging, we attempt to imprison that flux. This generally adds to suffering and increases apparent destruction and disorder. A current example, is the refusal to deal with climate change, and the tendency in Australian and US politics of trying to accelerate and maintain fossil fuels, old styles of concrete, environmental clearing and de-naturing. This is an attempt to cling onto an old order which nowadays produces destruction, and will produce more and more suffering the longer it is clung to.

These points should be obvious to Jungians, as expectation of flux comes out of alchemy, and alchemy is the art and science of transformation. It tells us that the world is constantly transmuting, and that transmutation processes can look messy and chaotic, and that attempts to avoid the realisations of painful stages can be disastrous. It also provides symbolic guides for working with events rather than against events, or providing direction without compulsion. As such alchemy is still the radical way, and difficult for us to really approach, but it may be necessary.


Some remarks on Geo-Engineering

January 22, 2018

Geoengineering (GE) involves the attempt to solve the problems of climate change by altering the Earth’s ecology.

It comes in two forms:
Solar Radiation Management (SRM) in which you try and lower the amount of the Sun’s energy/heat reaching the earth’s surface. This can involve: mirrors in space, reflective gasses in the upper atmosphere, or painting mountains white.

Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) in which you try and suck CO2 from power stations or from the atmosphere. One problem with this technique is the question of what you do with the CO2 once it is extracted.

The idea of GE is that we can continue on with polluting, and try and lower the effects of that pollution. A common argument is that there is no evidence we can halt CO2 production and climate change, at this moment, so GE may give us a longer period in which we can change, or transition to a new set of energy generators.

The primary question for both SRM and CDR is a simple one. GE, like everything else that depends on humans, is unlikely to be immune to its social bases. If the dynamics of contemporary societies are inherently destructive of ecologies, then GE is unlikely to prevent that destruction, nor to give a breathing space for new developments. It is likely to help make things worse, or continue the destructive dynamics of that system.

Clearly if we use SRM, the system has to be continually maintained, and that will cost billions. There will be ongoing arguments over who should pay, and how much they should pay. If there is a financial collapse or large scale war, then that maintenance is unlikely to be without problems. In which case climate change would have the brakes taken off, and would accelerate rapidly, causing even worse climate turmoil.

The governing idea of SRM seems that it is easier to change the whole ecological system than to change a political arrangement of economic power and profit. This I’m not sure about. The risk of unintended consequences when fiddling with a system as complex as that of climate is very high. We may already be living in a complex maladaptive system, which is bent on its own destruction and SRM simply magnifies this.

GE could be the equivalent of encouraging smoking to preserve corporate profits, while trying to do research in the hope of some day being able to postpone the inevitable and increasing cancer toll. It might be simpler to discourage people from smoking and to make cigarettes less profitable.

Basically, it can be suggested that if GE becomes the main way of dealing with problems of Climate change, then we live in a society in which ‘instrumental reason’ does not function very well as there are cheaper and possibly better options available, but those options require us to challenge established corporate power, and we are unlikely to do that successfully. I think the last 20 to 30 years of politics in the English Speaking world demonstrates that this failure is very likely to be the case.

Amazingly it is true that among people who both support corporate dominance and deny climate change, GE is quite popular. At the moment I can hypothesise this is precisely because GE does not challenge corporate power, and provides an opportunity for leeching money away from the taxpayers, but I don’t know. It certainly strikes me that if you really wanted less State intervention in life, then you would not want geoengineering.

I have not seen any viable self-supporting GE proposals. Nearly all of them require massive tax-payer subsidies, and some require appear to need massive cross-national governance and regulation. Of course we could give the massive subsidies to private enterprise and hope they do they job without any oversight, but I doubt that will appeal even to the pro-corporate power lobby. With CDR when that involves storage of CO2 underground, we know that ultimate and infinite responsibility of checking for leaks and collapse of storage, will reside with governments and taxpayers, as corporations do not last that long and will not take on those responsibilities. At the least, it seems probable that people will be concerned about other countries freeloading on their efforts, and there will be massive governmental jaunts to try and sort this out. The likelihood of small government and GE seems miniscule.

Humanities, Universities and Neoliberalism

January 1, 2018

The problem of the usefulness of the Humanities again. The problem is really “how do you do anything in a neoliberal age?” I’m not sure you can deal with the question of the value of the Humanities without some idea of what you are talking about, and some of the problems arise from this confusion so.

a) Humanities is the study and understanding of, and thinking with, the best works of art, literature and philosophy that we think exist. This list should always be challengeable, because tastes and appreciations change. For example, I personally do not think the absence of Virgil is a problem, it’s an improvement. In general, this understanding requires knowing something about the socio-cultural background and reception of these works. So humanities is bound up with:

b) Social Studies (note I’m not using the term social sciences, as there is massive dispute about the extent to which any social study can be a science in the way physics is, or biology is, or geology or astronomy are) Social studies inherently involves meaning and interpretation (so it requires (a)). Social studies is the study of how human social and cultural life works in general. Economics is a sub branch of social studies, even though it pretends not to be, primarily to protect itself from a criticism of its values.

c) Linguistics – not the learning of languages, which could be part of (a), but attempting to understand how languages work, what the impact on thinking is, and how they function in social life. For me this includes Rhetoric, because there is little language without attempts at persuasion.

There might be other divisions one can make, the categories do not have to be firm or bounded.

Humanities tend to be conservative and social studies tend to be leftist or critical. On the whole, neoliberals think both are a waste of time; subjects should simply support capitalism and corporate power. Ultimately humanities (a) cannot be justified in terms of profit; criticism (b) should simply be stopped as its wrong; and everyone knows how to speak (c) so all are vulnerable in corporatised universities.

Neoliberals control universities, as they control most things in our societies. They like building, restructuring and making money, more than thinking. Money goes into CEO and star performer salaries, not to the academic staff in general or student services. Making money is the only mark of value. The idea that a university exists as a space for independent thought, or for learning how to think is, in neoliberal terms, a pointless waste of money. If there is no job at the end of it, and no profit then subjects should go. Consequently, academics should teach paying students what they want to hear, or do research which is profitable and brings in money. I recently read of computer science academics who were not interested in supervising PhD’s that would not lead to a start up company; this may not be true of course.

If work ends up criticising the contemporary establishment, then it is usually treated as drivel by that establishment. Scientists have started to learn this point as well. We all know how climate scientists have been attacked for speaking unwanted truth to power. Nowadays pure science that is of no corporate interest, or which shows corporate ‘science’ is faulty, is unwelcome. It is seen as political, rather than as part of a search for greater accuracy. Humanities and social studies are automatically considered political, because they are about people and how people behave, and all politics makes assumptions about humans. Even historical research which challenges clichés about socially foundational events, such as Athenian democracy, the American Revolution, or the invasion of Australia, or the beneficence of capitalism, is inherently political, and therefore either to be ignored or persecuted.

Humanities and social studies are useful, if useful is worthwhile considering. Writers and media people, might find courses on poetry, literature, language and rhetoric useful, as might other people who want to gain some cultural depth and independence of thought, or who might want to persuade people of something. People who want to go into governance, management or journalism had better know something about social studies, if they don’t want to mess things up in normal ways. If values or ethics are important, then having an idea of the range of possible values and how they tend to function is useful as well – although again it will seem pointless to neoliberals as it conflicts with their decided understanding. In neoliberalism, ethics is always about making money, and that is pretty obvious and may need no complex thinking.

Finally, in neoliberalism there is no such thing as ‘community’, the only class positions that are allowed to exist should be marked by wealth, and human connection should be financial – everything else is simply false. The idea of a community of scholars of intellectuals has no meaning in modern politics. If neoliberals want thought they will set up a think tank, and know what they are going to get in advance; that’s value for money.

Basically the struggle everywhere is between life and neoliberalism. The more the neoliberal ‘free market’ mob win, the less there is to live for. And conservatives should know this as well; they used to.

Markets and politics, to flog a dead horse

October 4, 2017

You may have heard or read that in the US and in Australia the right wing parties are campaigning to maintain coal and to over-regulate renewables. There are plenty of news items to this effect, especially after Rick Perry’s recent announcements – which may or may not become law, but reflect the general campaign.

Some libertarians, or idealist capitalists, actually object to this, and express surprise that it is happening…

For what its worth I think it is worth repeating that, historically, this is how capitalism always works.

Politics and power can shape markets, therefore players in markets will compete to shape markets through politics to gain advantage in those markets. That seems to be an inevitable road that established businesses will take to defend both their establishment and profitability.

In a situation in which capitalism is made the only good (as in neoliberalism or libertarianism), this is unpreventable. Politicians depend on business for campaign funds and support, so business ends up buying politics, and there is no surviving power base with which to reliably curtail business influence – because of business opposition to unions etc.

As established businesses tend to be the wealthy well connected businesses, they tend to have an advantage, and this is called conservatism 🙂

Climate change and prosperity

September 23, 2017

People can argue that climate change will bring economic prosperity. This is supposed to arise because currently frozen areas will become less frozen, the northwest passage will open, and we can more easily obtain minerals and oil from currently inhospitable locations.

So, let’s be clear – there may well be parts of the world which do appear to get a strategic or financial advantage from climate change. That is indeed possible. That does not mean the rest of the world will not suffer severely, nor that the melting ice will not mean that sea levels will almost certainly rise impacting many communities, that mountain glaciers will almost certainly shrink lessening water supplies, that deserts will probably expand, and that existing farming areas may become less productive. It is also possible that this could cause global warfare as people fight over access to water and arable land.

Indeed, I might argue that one of our problems is that we live in an economic system in which fantasies of wealth are encouraged to take precedence over survival, or even over having a healthy eco-system. Wealth has become symbolically equivalent to life and happiness. However, there is no prosperity if a civilisation undermines the ecologies it needs to survive or flourish. With current trends of climate change, it would seem that there is only increased hardship for most people, whatever the new economic openings (at best – it is hard to predict what the worst could be).

The fantasy of boom, also tends to be unreal because our economic system is problematic. Since the 1980s it certainly does not look like the proceeds from economic booms have been shared around. They have mostly gone to particular, and very small, groups of people, while the problems of economic busts have been shared around. So an economic boom arising because of the artic opening up, or tundras melting, is not likely to help that many people, or compensate the rest of us for the climate becoming tumultuous and hard.

It is probably better to put the money and effort into stabilizing climate, before pursuing fantasies of gain.

How can scientists predict future temperatures when they cannot predict the weather accurately?

September 20, 2017

Firstly, climate scientists cannot predict the exact temperature of a particular place, in exactly 50 years, easily or at all, any more than they can predict the exact temperature at a certain time, in a specific place, in one month’s time. And while this is problem raised by ‘skeptics’, this predictive ability is not an ability claimed by any climate scientists that I have read, and is of no relevance to the ongoing issues of predicting general increase in average global temperatures.

Weather systems form complex systems, and prediction in complex systems is notoriously difficult over length of time. We can predict climate trends such as: the average global temperature may rise by a particular order of magnitude, or that sea ice will melt and ocean levels rise, that low lying land will be flooded, and that deserts will expand, that weather will become more tumultuous, that storms are likely to get bigger, and that people will move as a result. But you cannot predict exact weather patterns for particular places. If we could, it would actually make climate change less devastating, as we could plan for it.

You can also predict that given the continuance of the circumstances we are in, it is extremely improbable that average temperatures will trend towards decrease, or that weather will become simple and nicely warmer everywhere. Indeed the prediction that this will not happen has been born out for years, and there is no sign that such climate beneficence will happen. However, it is possible that as climate patterns change some particular places may get colder – for example, if the gulf stream stops or shifts southward, then this may happen with the UK.

The point to bear in mind, is that climate and weather are complicated, but continuance of, or return to, the normal weather patterns of 20 years ago seems improbable in the extreme, and it is far more likely that weather events will become even more extreme than they are now, until (possibly) a new ‘steady state’ arises when the forces producing climate change have ceased. However, I am told that when we look at the last time the earth had high levels of CO2 and high temperatures (50 million years ago), massive storms may well have marked that normality.

We might add that other factors of the Anthropocene (such as peak phosphorus), make the prediction of livability of earth systems even more complex and fraught, but that is another question.

Action on Climate Change

September 17, 2017

Some random comments.

Let us be clear, the issue is that people should not emit more greenhouse gases than the environment can handle, if we wish our ‘civilization’ to survive – not that we should not emit any. Not emitting any greenhouse gases is impossible, and the system emits and reprocesses these emissions naturally, just not as much as we are currently emitting.

Coal is particularly bad in terms of the poisons it emits at all stages in its production and use. There is very little positive to say about coal (that is not in the ground) at this stage in our history. Coal mining and power probably needs to be eliminated, as there is no evidence that coal can be made ‘clean’ or environmentally friendly to the degree that we need it to be.

We probably also need to work at changing what seems to constitute modern life. Modern life is not a product of free choice but of what we were offered and chose within a particular set of social arrangements that did not value ecological survival.

That needs to change – and frankly I’m not sure people really ‘need’ or ‘want’ disposable bottles, polluting and failing concrete, coal power, massive amounts of beef, destroyed fishing grounds, and so on. This can be modified, and hopefully will modify.

It will be hard of course. Some of the problem may well be that the system we live in seems to create a psycho-spiritual emptiness which we fill by purchasing products – and this keeps us acting as wage slaves and generally making ourselves feel empty. This is part of the pattern of domination which we often call neoliberalism, but is probably better ‘capitalist plutocracy’.

Recognising plutocracy is important. I’ve rarely met anyone who is interested in renewables, who is not aware that these new technologies are being resisted by people who have lots of wealth, power, status and symbolic resonance tied up in fossil fuels. It’s pretty much an every day experience, and the established powers have heaps of money to throw around to influence the debate. Without them, and without the triumph of neoliberalism, we probably would not be having a debate; we would be engaged in finding the best solutions. Resisting plutocracy is important but difficult.

My main problem with the “energy problem” is that it distracts attention from the other ecological crises which are happening simultaneously. These are produced by building (concrete), mining, farming methods and so on, which are destroying our fresh water supplies, downing our oxygen supplies, wrecking the phosphorus cycle, killing the oceans and so on.

To be real, we need a lot more action on a lot more fronts.

Christiana Figueres 05

September 17, 2017

Notes on a talk given by Christiana Figueres (Ex-Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) at the Energy Lab 05:
[My comments in square brackets]

[During the Paris talks, there was much activist discussion about the presence of fossil fuel companies at the discussion and the amount of influence they may have exerted. In this answer to a question, she may well be responding to this…]

We all know that fossil fuel companies have large amounts of fossil fuel reserves and exploration processes on their balance sheets. These are reserves, which if abandoned [as we do need them to be], will probably cause massive loss in share price and could drive the companies out of business [- or make the subject to takeover bids from less principled companies]. Consequently, many of these companies are putting up a strong fight against change.

However, they don’t want to be the “Kodak of the Twentyfirst century”, superseded by a newer and better technology.

Their survival is ultimately in their hands. There is no point in demonising them, they are working within the parameters they are used to, and the parameters which ensure their survival. If you demonise them then they will see themselves as being a corner and fight to the death. They have huge amounts of money they can throw at this fight – they can win – relatively easily [see how well they have been doing so far and they are not yet desperate].

We need them because of their experience and because they not only have masses of money which could be spent constructively, but because they have amongst the biggest engineering capacity and experience of anyone on the planet. We need this capacity devoted to being constructive. Energy demand will likely increase, so we need energy companies.

So we invite them to the table to get them involved.

There are some good examples of change in oil companies.

StatOil from Norway. They have rights to drill the Artic. They know this is not popular. They know the drilling is expensive, especially given the price volatility of oil. The problem is that abandoning previously promised exploration, with money already sunk into it, would damage their share price.
However, they are also seeking a future based on their experience, and building huge wind power platforms. They know heaps about building stable platforms at sea – so this is really good.

Similarly, Total from France, is migrating its capacity. They have bought a big solar panel company and are set to improve its panels, especially for sale in high temperature countries. They have bought a lithium battery company and are set to try and improve the batteries.

Change is happening.

Christiana Figueres 04

September 17, 2017

Notes on a talk given by Christiana Figueres (Ex-Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) at the Energy Lab 04:
[my comments in square brackets]

On the Paris negotiations and the way they were formatted….

Equity is a guiding principle of the negotiations. This is because we need to respect people’s sovereignty, and not impose what to do. People, and States in particular, resist imposition; especially in chaotic and unpredictable situations – like that of climate change.

The Paris Agreement is based on what people think they can do after consultation with their people and ‘interested parties’ or ‘stakeholders’ [which, in the contemporary world, are usually the economic and military elites]. Then these countries come back to the discussion and tell us what they think they can do, which is good for them.
This is called the “Nationally Determined Contribution”.

The problem is that this will not measure up to what we need. So the agreement is designed to be dynamic. Every five years there is another meeting and people decide what they can do now, given their experiences and the improvements in technology and its availability. That is, we expect the NDC’s to approach what is needed. [However, fossil fuel companies and their servants could derail this path – the path seems to be built on optimism, and requires people’s political action to keep it going]

This so called ‘ratchetting period’ was originally going to be every ten years, so its actually more responsive than originally planned and some targets have already been achieved before expected. It is better to under-promise and over-deliver – [that way people are not discouraged – we hope]

Christiana Figueres 03

September 14, 2017

Notes on a talk given by Christiana Figueres (ex-Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) at the Energy Lab 03:

Technology and markets

We need to be aware that the economy and the energy situation forms a system.

Renewables are not fossil fuels, they have different characteristics. If your energy system is set up for fossil fuels then it is already not ‘technology neutral’, it is historically biased in favour of fossil fuels and the characteristics of fossil fuel power. Consequently, there is a legacy effect in the system which inhibits innovation, both politically and in terms of expectation of how energy should behave and what factors of that energy production can be ignored.

[For example we ignore the slow response time of coal power, the amount of poison and health problems, it generates, the fact that it cannot be turned down when we don’t need it, its tendency to fail with unexpected temperatures, the amount of subsidy we pay, and so on]

In Chile, which has the advantage of not having coal or oil, the electricity market is fully open. There are no subsidies for fossil fuels or for renewables. They simply have auctions and those companies which can provide the lowest electricity price win the auction. So far that has been renewables. It has not been coal.

India can also be freer of this legacy inertia, and India has recently announced that no new coal power plants will be built in India in the next ten years. This will give time for renewables to develop and demonstrate their worth. They aim for 60% of all power to be renewable by 2027.

Increases in electricity prices have nothing to do with renewables, as is often argued. Renewables have not been around long enough to cause the price rises in those countries in which price rises have been occurring. It is like blaming a baby for the ongoing dysfunction of a family. The baby cannot do it entirely by itself, and the problems were around before it came on the scene. Prices are high because of the way markets are structured and they are structured around fossil fuels. To repeat: fossil fuel markets are set up not to be technology neutral.

Fossil fuels are like libraries – huge centres of generation. Nowadays you almost do not need libraries. You have information online.
We are moving to a decentred market in power where you do not need to go to a centralised place of generation. Australia has the world’s biggest market penetration of rooftop solar, it is moving towards decentred power, irrespective of policy. Some of us will generate more power than we need for ourselves. We are moving from the library to the internet.