Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
February 02, 2007

Unstoppable? Not!

There has been massive industry intervention to stop or modify the global warming report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It will be out today and will report that global warming indeed has human causes and will lead to significant higher temperatures and sea levels.

This will necessitate massive migration of people from desertificating and flooding areas into other places. Poorly managed, as it will likely be, such migration will result in further conflicts like the one in Darfur - only bigger.

The Guardian reports that ExxonMobil, through the American Enterprise Institute, has offered scientists $10,000 plus expenses for writings that attack the report:

The letters, sent to scientists in Britain, the US and elsewhere, attack the UN's panel as "resistant to reasonable criticism and dissent and prone to summary conclusions that are poorly supported by the analytical work" and ask for essays that "thoughtfully explore the limitations of climate model outputs".
The letters were sent by Kenneth Green, a visiting scholar at AEI, who confirmed that the organisation had approached scientists, economists and policy analysts to write articles for an independent review that would highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the IPCC report.

(The Guardian is very late in reporting this. The AEI letter was written in July and has been public at least since early November.)

The attempt to deny global warming has failed, but it is already visible what the new strategy of former global warming deniers will be.

In September Kenneth Green came up with this:

If the president simply acknowledges that humans are probably causing some climate change, that warming will likely continue, and that warming might pose serious challenges for human societies and ecosystems, his epiphany will be a bit late, but at least reasonable.
The main reason focusing on greenhouse gas reduction is bad policy is that intractable economic dynamics make preventing greenhouse gas emissions in the near future virtually impossible and guarantee the waste of most resources invested in the attempt.

There are no facts that support Green's assumption of bad policy. Of course the intractable economic dynamics can be changed - that is exactly what Kyoto, higher gas taxes and stricter mileage limits would do.

The base of the new fudge Green is mixing is the unfounded "virtually impossible" attribute. If global warming is happening, and he now admits that, there is nothing we can do about it. It is "unstoppable" so why should we care, he says.

The Associated Press has already jumped onto that propaganda wagon. The headline of their current piece on the UN report is: Warming 'likely' man-made, unstoppable. The LA Times titles the same way: U.N. says there's no stopping global warming.

This is an attempt to depict global warming as a pure yes or no binary decision that has now been decided on. Earlier they said there is no global warming, so why care about it. Now they admit there is global warming and tell us that there is nothing we can do about it.

But like most things in life, global warming is a gradual. The newest (conservative) estimates given by the IPCC predict a temperature rise of 2-11.5 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100 and a sea level rise of 7-23 inches by the end of the century.

The ranges given are partly related to uncertainties in the prediction models. But they also express the uncertainty in estimating the outcome on the political side. How much human will and money will be invested to slow down global warming? How effective will the economic and technical measures be?

Global warming will be with us for our lifetime, but we can affect the size of the consequences it brings with it. Will 20 million in Bangladesh have to flee from rising sea levels or 80 million? Will this happen through 30 years, allowing a smoother adoption, or within a shorter, more chaotic time frame? In case you don't care about Bangladesh, will all of Manhatten or New Orleans be flooded, or only parts of it?

We can slow down global warming by lowering our energy footprint in this world and by using renewable energies for the footprint we believe we need to have. But Mr. Green and his donors from ExxonMobile only care about the profits they make through fossil fuels. By painting global warming as an on/off issue they try to avoid any of the needed attempts to reduce their use.

Describing global warming as unstoppable is semantically correct. But it is also their trick to make people believe nothing can be done to make it less severe. Instead they want money to develop technical solutions to soften the effects of the catastrophe.

We are sitting in a fast driving bus and we see that we will crash the wall in front of us. Sensible passengers ask the driver to push the brakes for a slower, less severe impact. But Mr. Green urges the driver to speed up. He turns to the passengers and offers to sell them pillows so the crash will not hurt them so much.

For the passengers, there is nothing unstoppable about this.

Posted by b on February 2, 2007 at 10:30 UTC | Permalink


Ahhh, you might want to read my two posts here and here... though a bit long as they dovetails very nicely with this topic.

Posted by: Uncle $cam | Feb 2 2007 11:34 utc | 1

Good work b, as usual..
The New Science Wars Also see,

Posted by: Uncle $cam | Feb 2 2007 12:16 utc | 2

Describing global warming as unstoppable is semantically correct. But it is also their trick to make people believe nothing can be done to make it less severe. Instead they want money to develop technical solutions to soften the effects of the catastrophy.


White House Barred Negroponte From Saying ‘Global’ And ‘Warming’ In Same Sentence

also, crooks and liar's has this: Interference in Science “Stunning”

Posted by: Uncle $cam | Feb 2 2007 12:52 utc | 3

Anything like this appearing on American TV yet?

BBC reports on climate refugees.

Posted by: Hamburger | Feb 2 2007 14:36 utc | 4

Today is a good day to reflect upon the possibility of correcting damage to the Earth. The NYT has an article on Johnson a player for the Patriots that has suffered cerebral damage, it is alleged, that has brought about a mental weakness that resembles incipient Alheizmer's disease. He is only 35 or so and he is practically an invalid. He suffered concussions and some time he had to refrain from playing but pressures from the team, himself, social etc made him play while suffering more concussions. Apparently this trauma was the origin of his cerebral degeneration. It may be said that if he had retired after the first event he would have avoided the present problem. However the avoidance would not have been total, he might have died in a car collision and that collision would have masked the degeneration that was already proceeding. Abstention delays but does not erase. We see in cancer of the lung that people that stopped smoking two years previously still develop the cancer and many people that stopped many years before still develop the disease, it is as if our life events leave an indelible mark in our lives and limit it. In the case of the football player he alleges that he was forced to play even if he was not feeling up to par. That is he was the toy of those social pressures that make us perform indignities. To say that we can avoid performing them is the same as saying that the only alternative to life is suicide. Nature remembers everything that we have done to her and we cannot avoid doing it to her because we are part of her and cannot have an objective view of her ways and we act, and many at times, the act of reparation may be itself destructive. Think of the king of that small town afflicted by a plague which he wants to control and he pushes his investigation until a seer that by the way is blind, beautiful insight, like Paul on the road to Damascus, tells him that he is the very cause of the plague and the catastrophe ensues with himself blinding himself and cursing his life. Every action that we take is material and all material interactions end up in heat so heating is a given. The result of it may be a destruction that we call catastrophe but that is merely a word. The catastrophe may be the mechanism of passage from this social organization to the next. I offer my head to all sorts of opprobrium.

Posted by: jlcg | Feb 2 2007 15:17 utc | 5

Bangladesh is a country at sea level. The same part of Florida. But there are many parts in the world without the problen of the sea level. All Siberia, and Mongolia and India has no this problems.
Perhaps the real question is the overpopulation of certain countries.
I believe actually we are to many people concentrated in some areas. I ask you all: How many people you think is the best for the Earth?
When the oil will finish in a few decades (2 ?) the excess of Co2 and the warming of the sea will desapear as a problem. And everybody will be happy.

Posted by: Why not? | Feb 2 2007 17:06 utc | 6

Humans now are like dinosaurs in the Cretaceous period. We are the dominant species, but there are too many of us, and we are destroying our own environment.

There are now more than 6 billion people on earth; my guess is that earth's optimum is 2 billion. This means that there will be unprecedented wars and natural calamities in this century. Look at what happened in Florida today as just one of many more natural calamities.

This means that 3-4 billion people need to be eliminated before the earth can reach some kind of balance. George Bush can kill some people, but not that many. Most likely there will be some pandemic like SARS or bird flu which will cut the human species down to size.

Reducing carbon footprints is not something which will happen while Bush/Cheney, Exxon and the AEI are around. It has to be something much bigger and much deadlier before most people get the message.

Posted by: Chris Marlowe | Feb 2 2007 17:14 utc | 7

This is where I part company with the Cassandra’s.

Whether it's right-wing control-freak neo-nuts and end-of-timers, or left-wing peace-lovin’ reality-based activists – it seems that everyone is gleefully anticipating the elimination of a few billion people.

Global Warning is junk-science and mass-hysteria.

Are you being had? Follow the money.

Posted by: DM | Feb 2 2007 18:52 utc | 8

Why the long faces? There are plenty of opportunities to make lots of money on this crisis. To start with, we can pump excess seawater into the Dead Sea, Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Qattara Depression, et al. I'm sure Bechtel, Fluor, Suez are up to the task. Of course we'll need plenty of dams as well.

Posted by: biklett | Feb 2 2007 19:16 utc | 9

Not surprisingly, someone has already been working on it:

Posted by: biklett | Feb 2 2007 19:28 utc | 10

As far as I'm concerned, fuckheads like Green and the heads of Exxon and their like are just committing crimes against humanity, and should be treated consequently.

Posted by: CluelessJoe | Feb 2 2007 20:03 utc | 11

Ahh, DM, Are you being had? Follow the money...

It's not [just]"follow the money" [anymore] but rather "follow the money and the status of the job or social position"

Hence all the stategic powerful job placements with people who have no experience other than the same ideology as the mayberry Machivellis...

Global Warning is junk-science and mass-hysteria.

I suspect the issue is to complex, and none are completely right.

Posted by: Uncle $cam | Feb 2 2007 20:35 utc | 12

I'd like to point MoA folks to a recent post by DeAnander:

I cannot rave enough about Alf Hornborg's The Power of the Machine which ties off a lot of loose ends and has changed my brain.

I just started reading Hornberg's book, which looks at the ways we ignore the vital interconnections between technology (machine), ecology (nature), and economy (exchange), and how our modes of discourse lead us astray. I haven't gotten far enough along to offer examples yet, but reading the opening chapters I feel as though Robert Anton Wilson, Korzybski, Amory Lovins, and maybe Buckminster Fuller are whispering in the back of my mind: the map is not the territory, examine your premises, "I don't know, let's see."

One man's paradigm is another's 20 cents.

Posted by: catlady | Feb 2 2007 21:49 utc | 13

"There are now more than 6 billion people on earth; my guess is that earth's optimum is 2 billion."

Wadaya mean?

The whole 6 point 2 billion would fit nicely into the State of Texas with each person having 1135 sq. feet of space. Of course places like Crawford would have to share.In fact if you built 25 story buildings 1 block square you could fit them all in 25 cities the size of Dallas-Fort Worth.

Posted by: pb | Feb 2 2007 22:25 utc | 14

pb -#14,

Good point. Sometimes it helps to put things in perspective. I find that most people prefer larger cities - more opportunity, entertainment, etc. Comparatively fewer prefer remote areas like where I live. I guess that is one reason why property values are relatively inexpensive around here. There are disadvantages to living dispersed - such as no Cable or DSL Internet access, a longer ride for shopping, no public transport, etc.

Posted by: Rick | Feb 2 2007 23:41 utc | 15>Turner "apologises" for bomb scare...

imagine if those devices had been placed by a notfer action group, say an environmentalist NGO. they'd be on trial for "ecoterrorism" by now.

Posted by: DeAnander | Feb 3 2007 0:30 utc | 16

pb #14 not imho a very good point, but alas one which is repeatedly made (the old "Stand on Zanzibar" chestnut) and hence must be repeatedly deconstructed.

I can store a hella lot of cattle in a CAFO feedlot at extreme density. but that does not mean that they only "require" that acreage. a vastly larger area is required to grow the fodder to keep them alive, and to absorb their urine and faeces, and to collect the water for them to drink. then add the footprint of the industrial activities needed to haul those necessities long distances to reach the CAFO: trucks, highways, mines, smelters, oil fields, refineries. the CAFO acreage is the tip of the iceberg. to say, "whaddaya mean we have too many cattle, they all fit in this relatively small CAFO perimeter" is naive at best, more likely disingenuous.

similarly every city is a "core" which must for its survival dominate a vast periphery from which it imports (buys or steals) every necessity of life for its inhabitants -- peripheral hectarage which cannot support local inhabitation because its productive capacity is redirected to the core. being able to store e.g. 1 bio people in a small footprint does not mean that their food, water, fibre and other resource footprint is the same size. quite the contrary.>further discussion here.

it makes very little difference to the Global Footprint calculation whether you live in a Jetsons arcology or out in a rural district: the big variables are what you eat, how much water you use, how often you drive or fly. water, arable land, fossil fuel, carbon emissions: those are the constraints on the model, not square footage for sleeping and sitting.

we can imagine regimes in which the concentration of population into compressed storage, plus draconian sumptuary laws and rationing, make dense cities a "lower impact" way forward, but (a) these scenarios have some seriously dystopian aspects, and (b) in the real world, the developmental direction of real cities is not towards monumental arcology construction but, as M Davis documents, sprawling slums. which also have seriousl dystopian aspects. it seems doubtful to me whether sufficient energy and materials resources remain for the kind of monumental construction that the arcologists dream of.

Posted by: DeAnander | Feb 3 2007 0:47 utc | 17

I followed the money.

Exxon had it all.

Posted by: super390 | Feb 3 2007 1:20 utc | 18


Econterrorism just doesn't scan as well as ecoterrorism.

Posted by: biklett | Feb 3 2007 1:59 utc | 19

All is not enough.

What if you could "make" money out of thin air? Like selling Carbon Credits?

Sounds silly?

Well, so did the Y2K bug.

In case anyone is not aware, the entire Y2K hysteria was no more than a ploy to extract a shit-load of Government and Corporate money to fix crappy old COBOL code that was well past it’s use-by date.

But boy! Weren’t we deluged with catastrophic scenarios!

In this ‘post-industrial’ world, the 'established order' is going to find it increasingly difficult to compete with upstarts. Who wants competition anyway? Much better to fall back on good old proven Mercantilist theory.

Carbon Credits sounds like a good way to maintain control. And hey – no problem in getting all these hippies and greenies on board for this one.

Posted by: DM | Feb 3 2007 2:18 utc | 20


I disagree - it does make a difference how people live, and as our world becomes smaller, it will become even more important. And specifically, to dismiss the notion in the efficiency of cities is certainly a mistake. The productivity (produce/acre) of farmland has been nothing short of phenomenal. Historians have likened the invention and use of the plow as earth changing as any other in the history of mankind. Usually it is politics (and war) that reduce sustainability. Over the last decades, the oceans are starting to be over-fished, but hydroponics and a host of other technologies are yet to be developed. People’s ability to concentrate energy to do work has increased beyond population growth by even larger margins. Intel’s new line of CPU’s (Central Processor Units – and these are now parallel processors on one chip) use about half the energy of previous Pentium IV CPU’s of just one year ago. When one is talking of approximately 100 watts of power saved in each computer throughout the civilized world, that is one hell of a lot of energy saved. I probably could go through every commodity item and predict similar savings – from (automobile) transportation to (refrigeration) food preservation.

It has been politically correct to be pessimistic and believe that humankind has been on the edge of extinction since before written history – and maybe such concepts were and still are correct, but how many of us would look back in history and say that humans were on the verge of extinction since the beginning of time? So often I find an all too pessimistic attitude here, whether it is in influencing politics or even improving one’s personal life.

To be sure, I do not dismiss human’s impact on the climate – energy use, carbon emissions, etc. In college Physics, I learned of no universal law or axiom that states all energy comes from the burning of carbon fuels. To the contrary, there is much that can be done to harness other energy sources - global water currents, wind/solar, earth’s inner heat, fusion, and probably many other possibilities that have not been explored. Moreover; weaning off carbon fuels and burning hydrogen wherever/whenever a fuel is needed would be very significant. Problems of pollution need to be solved no matter how many people live on this planet. With the power of today’s technology, a few people can make a big mess. If you don’t believe me, just look at Bush/Cheney (hey -especially Cheney). Fools like these make over population worries superfluous.

Posted by: Rick | Feb 3 2007 2:59 utc | 21

bbc photo journal of venezuela's urban organic garden experiment in the middle of caracas -- Harvest in Caracas

Since coming to power in 1999, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has implemented a range of social and economic programmes. One of them aims to change the way city dwellers think about food through the creation of organic urban gardens and to promote self-sufficiency.

this is based on the success of the program in cuba. longer article on the organopónico bolivar I
Feeding Ourselves: Organic Urban Gardens in Caracas, Venezuela

In the middle of the modern, concrete city of Caracas, Venezuela, Noralí Verenzuela is standing in a garden dressed in jeans and work boots. She is the director of the Organopónico Bolivar I, the first urban, organic garden to show its green face in the heart of the city of Caracas, Venezuela.

One afternoon while international crowds swarmed the city for the World Social Forum, I visited the "organoponic" garden to talk with Verenzuela about the garden’s place in the city and Venezuelan politics. To Verenzuela, the garden represents a shift in the ways that Venezuelans get their food. "People are waking up," she told the press. "We've been dependent on McDonald's and Wendy's for so long. Now people are learning to eat what we can produce ourselves."

Busy commuters might miss the corner of green between busy sidewalks at the Bellas Artes metro stop and the shiny skyscrapers of the Caracas Hilton. Still, if you pass by several times, your eye might wander toward the color of plants in the otherwise concrete city. At the edge of the garden, a squat concrete shed has a window onto the sidewalk. Inside, shelves display bunches of lettuce and carrots for sale to the public at much cheaper prices than found in the grocery stores.

This 1.2-acre plot tucked into what was an empty lot is part of a plan led by the government of President Hugo Chavez to shift the Venezuelan economy toward what it calls "endogenous development." Defined by its roots, the word "endogenous" means "inwardly creating," which is what the leaders of the Bolivarian Revolution would like to make the economy of Venezuela.

Posted by: b real | Feb 3 2007 5:29 utc | 22


Gosh, I love your analysis. It's so easy to say that the Y2K bug was just a lie, because it was fixed in time. It's always easy to deny a catastrophe that is averted. Let's name some others -- smallpox isn't actually dangerous, all that immunization that wiped it out was just a ploy to sell hypodermics. Thermonuclear war wouldn't be so bad, all this anti-nuke propaganda is backed by conventional arms dealers. Joe McCarthy wouldn't really have done any harm if left unchecked, he's just the victim of a plot by people who wanted to discredit the Republicans.

Get real. There are no serious scientists who deny global warming; it is agreed that the earth is getting hotter. (The only people who deny that part are anti-science, as for example American Christian fundamentalists.) The only point at issue is whether or not human activity is at the root of it, and unfortunately "junk science" applies to the arguments of only one side, and it ain't the environmentalists. Are there people who will turn a profit if we decide to do something about it? Sure. It's unavoidable. But you might as well argue that the real reason people want to stop the Iraq war is because they want to make a profit on reconstruction; go ahead and see how far that gets you.

As for overpopulation vs landmass: people who argue that we could all fit into Texas are missing the point. It isn't so much the people themselves as the vast amounts of land needed to raise crops (which then can't support much of an ecosystem), the fuel used for transportation, the byproducts of manufacture (even non-industrialized manufacture), etc. etc. etc. Even if you squeezed us all into Texas, you'd still have to farm multiple continents to raise food for us all, and you'd still have people travelling hundreds of miles to see each other. To say nothing of the riots there would be if you stopped manufacturing things. There's a demand part of the problem, too, not just supply.

Posted by: The Truth Gets Vicious When You Corner It | Feb 3 2007 5:43 utc | 23

Gosh, I love your flawed syllogism.

DM believes that the Y2K Bug was a hoax. A bug is like a virus. Therefore DM believes that the smallpox virus is a hoax.

I’ll take you up on this “no serious scientists who deny global warming” meme later – but for the moment - I would like to here from anyone who can back-up this “averted disaster” crap about the Y2K “bug”. Oh – and I would like to see some documentation - preferably from someone who knows what they are talking about.

Fixing up a few date routines with a well known deadline is about the simplest task imaginable – even for IT guys.

Posted by: DM | Feb 3 2007 6:41 utc | 24


Wow, what a post. You managed to miss my point and prove that you have no clue what you're talking about on the Y2K bug.

My point was that your dismissal of the Y2K bug on the grounds that there was no disaster is predicated on a lack of disaster after a lot of time and effort spent on preventing a disaster. That's hardly good evidence. A computer bug is not like a virus, as any programmer can tell you. (If there's any medical analogy at all, a bug in a program is more like an allergy.)

As for the Y2K bug itself: most of the disaster scenarios which were given involved not programs running on standard computers, which can sometimes be recompiled, but embedded systems, which are not directly fixable. Yes, the use of COBOL made Y2K bugs more likely, but it was hardly the sole cause of the problem, or the most worrisome part of it. Only someone who was completely unaware of the scope of the problem could possibly think it was.

People who know what they're talking about on global warming... will you accept NASA? The British Royal Society? The British Weather Service? Reports from oil companies (yes, even they have talked about it, albeit to deny their role in causation)? I can probably find a bunch of academic sources if you want, but I'd rather that you decline the ones that are easy to find first.

P.S. I'll be offline for a couple of days, so it may take a while before I get back to you. Just a note.

Posted by: The Truth Gets Vicious When You Corner It | Feb 3 2007 8:05 utc | 25

@The Truth Gets Vicious When You Corner It

Thanks for explaining to me that a computer bug is not like a virus. Although I should have guessed as much after spending the last 30 years writing all these Y2K bugs.

Gee wizz, NASA ! The British Royal Society !

Of course, you will excuse me for being off-hand in my dismissal of the British Weather Service.

If anyone wants a serious discussion on the merits of the claims of Global Warming and the "we're all doomed philosophy" - let's start by dispensing with the name dropping and the "scientists say" crap. There's enough of that shit in the tabloids and on the telly.

This other thing about massive depopulation is just plain pathalogical.

Posted by: DM | Feb 3 2007 8:34 utc | 26


Ah, a reply before I even go offline. How convenient.

You won't take the word of the people who monitor the data (the weather services), you won't take the word of the people who analyze the data (the scientific organizations), and you didn't even come back with any alternatives which might be able to convince you. Sounds to me like you have some contrarian guru who rejects all conventional interpretation merely because it is conventional, and are sticking to him because it's more comfortable than admitting an alternative. (Or maybe you are the contrarian guru yourself.) Well, okay, but for some reason I'm reminded of Douglas Adams' quip about how exceptionally brilliant children sometimes seem to be stupid, but sometimes stupid children seem to be stupid as well. Every contrarian with a theory thinks they're Galileo and will be proved right by history; most of them aren't even Blondlot, who at least did some useful work before he "discovered" N-rays. It's hardly a point in your favor that the oil companies, who we come to instantly if we "follow the money" as you suggested, are pushing the same way you are.

But more to the point: if you won't take their word for it, what, precisely, would it take to sway you? We've got melting glaciers, melting snow on mountains, melting icecaps, people in Alaska buying air conditioners for the first time ever, islands slipping under the waves because of rising sea levels, biomes shifting, deserts growing at ever-increasing rates, decades (and in some cases centuries) of temperature data showing definite upward trends, multiple computer simulations of increasing complexity, core samples from the icecaps... What more do you want? Quite frankly, your disbelief in global warming sounds a lot more like religious fervor than science; you seem to just say "this is the way it is, and all evidence to the contrary is just lies." Either provide some method by which your belief can be challenged, or else abandon your claims to scientific rigor and admit you merely have faith.

Posted by: The Truth Gets Vicious When You Corner It | Feb 3 2007 9:13 utc | 27

I probably have to side with The Truth on this one. while it is true that every PC manufacturer in the world and all software companies jumped on the bandwagon and used scare techniques to sell their wares, it does not negate the fact that there were indeed real problems that needed to be solved. and solved they were, I know we started actively addressing the issue in '98 and every piece of code in the software we used as well as hardware was looked at and deemed y2k ready or not.

In spite of all this, some things were missed but nothing significant. I do recall reading that the chinese pretty much ignored the whole deal but can't remember if they had problems or not.

I certainly do not hope for a mass die-off of humans though I tend to think we have overpopulated the earth. we may be able to reverse the trend as the populations of some european countries have actually declined in the last years. China made remarkable progress in controlling its population and others are slowly recognizing the limits of what the planet can support.

the best example I have seen was posted here some time ago and spoke of yeast and how it must eat and grow continuously or it will die, if it is in a fixed space it produces enough toxins to kill itself anyway. I fear we are very near the max ourselves. It will take another massive breakthrough in technology to push the envelope wider. perhaps when we discover and harness dilithium crystals the next frontier will be opened.

Posted by: dan of steele | Feb 3 2007 9:13 utc | 28

Re: Scarcity.

Humans are not yeast.

Posted by: Monolycus | Feb 3 2007 10:01 utc | 29

I’ll pick-up on the Global Warming and Yeast argument later – but my last word on this (yawn) – Y2K thing is ..

it does not negate the fact that there were indeed real problems that needed to be solved. and solved they were

Of course. But the problem was relatively simply to solve, and there was never any chance that it would not be solved. In fact, most critical software and systems were Y2K ready long before 1998 and long before the hype in the media (the bandwagon).

There was no “averted disaster” unless you count paying a bit of overtime to fix some crap code or upgrading a BIOS a disaster. If you can remember – the hysteria was so intense that people were actually scared.

Well, it seems that people scare easy. We can scare them about Weapons of Mass Destruction. Hell, we can even scare them that all the polar ice caps are gonna melt an’ they’re all gonna drown.

Posted by: DM | Feb 3 2007 10:57 utc | 30

points well taken DM on both crises. what worries me most about global warming is the stuff we don't know such as how the gulf stream currents will be affected. also the speed of the change is worrisome, if migration is forced will it happen gradually or within a year or two? if suddenly great portions of the earth become hostile to human life you can imagine the strife created by billions moving from one place to another.

oh and yes people are actually the biggest bunch of wusses you can imagine, to hear the mayor of Boston the people that left some little blinking signs laying around should be locked away and pay a half million dollars to the police department which somehow overlooked this clear and present danger for three weeks. so you can add cartoon characters to toothpaste and bottled water as possible terrorist tools.

Posted by: dan of steele | Feb 3 2007 12:22 utc | 31

In fact, most critical software and systems were Y2K ready long before 1998


PCs were still being made in '98 that were not compliant. I had to test them and make them so or ditch 'em in '99. This was my personal experience and that of others I know.

Posted by: jcairo | Feb 3 2007 13:03 utc | 32

Global warming, in its upcoming foreseeable ‘isolated’ effects are scary to some but advantageous to others. Eg. melting permafrost in Switzerland is seen as a catastrophe (tourist trade) but you can bet your boots and your fur hat and all the rest that Putin will find digging in Siberia a lot easier.

Nobody cares if Tuvalu sinks under water - it is in fact its only claim to fame.

These short sighted nationalistic, thus individual, prognostications, accompanied with hand rubbing or hand wringing, circumvent the global problem, neatly apportion or dice it down to manageable proportions.

The difficulty is that climate science (with which I have no quarrels) cannot present sure-fire scenarios. I think it is pretty fine on causes and many complex interaction, but the feedback loops, well, it is asking a bit much.

For humans, the problem is not just climate, but environmental changes of any kind that destabilize the very fragile, temporary (some would say insane) built-up or husbanded (agri) environments we have constructed. A minor flood, a low water table, a big storm, a 3.4 quake, and whole communities go poof, and that is without considering the life-blood of energy (oil, fertilizer, tractors, etc.) that maintain or sustain (what is the pc term?) most of us. So climatic or earth events interact with these milieus (are in part caused by actions in them as well) to produce nasty results. This is one - but only one - of the reasons why ‘global warming’ receives so much press - it allows us to attribute cause to forces in the environment that are not under human control (‘the weather’, etc.) or are so only in a vague way, CO2 in the past, “its unstoppable” etc.

Posted by: Noirette | Feb 3 2007 16:19 utc | 33

The reason for Global warming is: Humans are dumber than trees.

Posted by: pb | Feb 3 2007 17:52 utc | 34

In fact, most critical software and systems were Y2K ready long before 1998


PCs were still being made in '98 that were not compliant.

Sorry. I'm supposed to shut-up already about this stuff.

The 'source' for that statement is principally - me. All the workaday types of computer systems (insurance, banking, logistics etc etc) – all work with forward dates and there was no chance that they were going to ‘crash’ at the stroke of midnight in the year 2000.

Even if there was a bunch of PC’s with a non Y2k-compliant BIOS – the majority of these machines were used as nothing more than a terminal interface to the corporate systems. The IBM’s and the Unix servers were not to ‘crash’ at the stroke of midnight in the year 2000.

We all had to do “due diligence” with Y2K – but people were not going to get stuck in elevators, airplanes were not going to fall out of the sky, supermarkets were not going to run out supplies.

The uniformed hysteria promulgated through the media was the hoax.

Posted by: DM | Feb 3 2007 21:26 utc | 35

"All the workaday types of computer systems (insurance, banking, logistics etc etc) – all work with forward dates"

all but the ones that rolled over to jan 01 00 along with any software or in-house stuff with 00 not 0000 date fields.

no crashy maybe, but no worky unless datey no meaning

sea level rising and warming is not a hoax

that it has happened in the past is no hoax

that it could happen again with or without our help is no hoax

that the media hypes crap is true (toilet bowl is today, no?)

the media also says crap like CO2 is necessary for life why worry we're pumping the sky full of it. well, yes it is, as is O2. So lets pump more O2 into the sky. Oh right, it would kill us.

approx 1300 experts release a report backing the science behind the climate vs the unimpeachable source, AKA dm...

Posted by: jcairo | Feb 4 2007 10:40 utc | 36

crooks and liars highlights

Nations Back World Environmental Agency

Posted by: annie | Feb 4 2007 17:27 utc | 37

god how i love it when the old malthus "we are too many" argument gets trotted out - trashed way back in the 19thC by thomas hardy in 'jude the obscure' (and more recently by steve jones in 'almost like a whale')

people who believe this shit should do the right thing and reduce the human population now, starting with themselves

you know it makes sense

Posted by: Dismal Science | Feb 5 2007 0:11 utc | 38

lets start with a crash course in climate change:

1 If you burn coal-based things (oil, coal, gas, plants, animals) you release carbon dioxide. This is basic chemistry. We have burnt a lot of oil, gas and coal thus releasing lots of carbon dioxide in the athmosphere.

2 Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse-gas. This you can prove for yourself, if you have a good source of carbon dioxide, a plastic tube that you can see through and a camera or binoculars through which you can see in the IR-spectrum. Place a source of heat at one end of the tube and the IR-measurer at the other. Insert carbon dioxide. Watch how the heat source looks cooler as heat is reflected by the carbon dioxide.

3 Carbon dioxide in the athmosphere is now somewhere around 380 ppm. Look it up or go measure it. Takes some chemistry skills to measure though.

4 Carbon dioxide has historically been pretty stable at 280 ppm during the last couple of thousand years. It has varied with ice ages and warming periods, but has never been over 300 pm during the last 160 000 years or so that has been measured through ice cores. This is not easily checked yourself, but as far as I know nobody denies this.

5 Carbon dioxide is expected to keep rising. The Kyoto protocoll aims at stabilising at 550 ppm by 2100. Left unchecked it is expected to be closer to 650 ppm by that time. Again, as far as I know nobody denies this. (However, one can note that the Kyoto protocoll ar far from a magic bullet.)

6 Doubling the level of a greenhouse-gas (now I have not mentioned methane here, but that one looks just as bad) will in probability cause some severe changes to the weather patterns. This is were the climate change deniers usually stake their claim, by arguing that all changes will be for the better (warmer and greener) or that since we do not know what changes there will be, we should not expect any.

which step do you have problems with?

Posted by: a swedish kind of death | Feb 5 2007 1:44 utc | 39

And then the question of our spacious lifestyles.

DeA notes correctly that we humans consume most space by eating and other consumption. In contrast we use very little just standing around. "Ecological footprint" is a concept that has been developed to measure the area of which we live. That is the whole area that is needed to produce our stuff, to uphold our lifestyle. This one is pretty good, do check it out.

The relevant question right now is not how much you consume but how much we consume as a species. The World Wildlife Foundation answers: more then the sustainable global output. 1.3 times more if I recall the numbers correctly. We are using up not only the revenue but the capital. This can not go on forever, and that which can not go on forever will not go on forever. If a species digs away its foundation, then it is facing starvation and death for many members.

So is the only way out to lessen the numbers of humans - voluntarily or involuntarily? Good question, if you go to page 14-15 in the WWF Living Planet Report for 2006 (pdf) there is an interesting chart. From it you can see that not all humans has an unsustainable lifestyle. Actually it is just the rich parts of the planet. The mayority of the worlds nations (among them India and China, which probably makes it the mayority of the worlds human inhabitants) has a sustainable lifestyle (if you do not want to fit some wild animals in there too, then it gets more problematic).

So just kill the rich (or take Dismal Sciences advice if you are rich). And the indian peasants will go on their sustainable way. But the life of indian peasants is not all that fun. So is there another way?

If we turn to page 19 in the same report there is another interesting chart. On one axis footprint and on the other Human Development Index (as developed by UNDP). Unsurpriseingly the countries we know as rich has a huge footprint and a high standard, while the poor nations has a small footprint and a low standrad. Sustainable good living would here be defined as a footprint below world average biocapacity and above UNDPs threshold for "high human development". So is it possible to achieve?

Apparently so, because there is one country fullfilling those criterias.


Posted by: a swedish kind of death | Feb 5 2007 2:19 utc | 40

I’ve been biting my tongue, askod, well curbing my fingers but you’ve inspired me to respond.


Do you believe that the increase of CO2 concentration in the Earth’s atmosphere by approximately a third over the last century is a hoax?

Or do you believe that CO2 blockage of Long Wave Radiation to space is a hoax?

Because if both these statements are not a hoax then how could there not be a forcing effect upon the earth’s climate system? If both these statements are true then anyone versed in basic high school physics could deduce that the system is being forced toward a warmer climatic regime.

It is true that the science community does not understand the system well enough to make definitive long term predictions with a high confidence level but, we have measured and confirmed that the climate system has been moving in a warmer direction as predicted by theory. The feedbacks in the system are not well understood so there lies a source for uncertainty. Something we don’t yet suspect could, and eventually will, start the pendulum swinging in the opposite direction but we have no idea how or when.

So one thing I can agree with is that global warming as a long range prediction is unknown, but global climate change due to anthropogenic factors is a certainty because it is already happening and we are observing it.

Either way, when complex interactive dynamical systems are forced from equilibrium, the interactions are chaotic and quite likely extreme and violent. This is also something that the science community has been documenting. The weather extremes and frequency of events have been observed to be increasing on a global basis.

The only voices that have been deriding this evidence have consistently been linked to those corporate interests that would be financially affected by any program to curb the excesses that have been creating this scenario.


Y2k may have been totally a hoax, but it does not follow that this is reason to discard the evidence on global climate change. How far have you checked this out? If you need links to check up on any of my above claims, just say so and I’ll delve in aid you in your research.

Posted by: Juannie | Feb 5 2007 2:42 utc | 41

the opinion of 1300 people (give or take, including a couple here that paid attention in high school) who may have spent their careers studying the topic against that of a angry pair of initials and a literate pseudo economist... Hmmm

Posted by: jcairo | Feb 5 2007 4:44 utc | 42

I'm back, and it looks like a lot of my argument has been made for me while I was away. Thanks, everybody!

I'd like to expand a bit on a meta-question, here.

A while back, I made the comment (I forget which thread it was in) that abandoning technology was not a solution to the world's problems. (And was promptly labeled an unreconstructed technophile for doing so.) a.s.k.o.d.'s comments in #40 are, broadly speaking, my justification for that comment. Consider:

Let's take it as read that the WWF's comments are accurate, or close enough to work from. Then: in the long term, the current state of the world cannot be maintained. There just aren't enough resources to support our use of them.

Things which could make the world maintainable:

1. All the rich people, who have the unsustainable lifestyles, could change their lifestyles to match those of the poor, which are sustainable. This might solve the problem, but it is not realistic. The rich (using the term loosely, to mean "first-world countries") will not give up their standard of living in any substantial way. Coercing the first world into becoming third-world is not a realistic option; they would rather kill people to claim extra resources than use fewer resources. Which brings us to:

2. Lose a lot of the world's population. This is actually quite easy, even it you throw in the stipulation of not using nuclear weapons (which kill other things as well). Just drop a bunch of the more deadly viruses into the public transportation/water supply/whatever of a bunch of large cities at once, and it will more or less happen automatically. (Of course, the trick is to do it without killing yourself, but that could probably be managed with enough effort.) The U.S. has this capability, and has had it for at least a few decades. Other countries probably have it as well (call me a cynic). This is morally unacceptable to most people, but eventually it's going to be the default option unless there are major (and unlikely) changes in the human condition. (Heck, we're lucky it hasn't happened already by chance. I remember reading that one of the cases of ebola -- or some other deadly and easy-to-transmit disease; it's been a while -- which was treated in North America was somebody who got sick on an incoming plane, and wasn't isolated for quite a long time because nobody recognized the symptoms; we first-worlders are unbelievably lucky that that didn't wipe most of us out right there.)

3. Find a way to make a low-resource lifestyle acceptable to people with currently high-resource lifestyles, then phase out the high-resource alternatives via legislation, consumer boycotts, etc. This is the positive option which is actually possible -- and to do it, you would need -- tadaaa! -- technology! Realistically, you will not be able to get America to stop its love affair with cars before disaster (of one kind or another) happens. But what if you could make a majority of cars, and effectively all new cars, powered by some medium which could derive its energy from arbitrary sources, including sustainable ones? That's coming up; hydrogen-powered cars are one such option, and there are apparently others. Not all the sustainability problems have technological solutions -- our cultural obsession with the acquisition of possessions, for example, is probably unsustainable no matter what -- but a lot of them do, and most of the ones that would end up killing a lot of people in the relatively near future can at least be addressed that way.

Posted by: The Truth Gets Vicious When You Corner It | Feb 5 2007 6:43 utc | 43

askod #39, thanks

Posted by: annie | Feb 5 2007 8:18 utc | 44

Faced with such resistance, AEI modified its proposal last month and sent out a new round of offers, asking academics to contribute to a book examining the broad policy options for dealing with global warming.

Hayward and Green wrote that "climate change has tended to be caught in a straightjacket between so-called 'skeptics' and so-called 'alarmists' with seemingly little room left in the middle for people who may have reasonable doubts or heterodox views about the range of policy descriptions that should be considered for climate change of uncertain dimensions."

Several environmental activists and climate scientists questioned why AEI would offer a $10,000 honorarium to scientists to critique the IPCC survey. Andrew Dessler, another Texas A&M atmospheric science professor, who has worked with both Schroeder and North, said the move represents an effort by climate skeptics to create "reasonable doubt" in the minds of policymakers who are debating whether to limit greenhouse gases.

AEI President Christopher DeMuth issued a letter Friday saying his group will continue to challenge orthodox thinking on climate change: "The effort to anathematize opposing views is the standard recourse of the ideologue; one of AEI's highest purposes, here as in many other contentious areas, is to ensure that such efforts to do not succeed."

AEI Critiques of Warming Questioned

Posted by: b | Feb 5 2007 9:56 utc | 45

I am reminded a line from William Blake

A truth that's told with bad intent,
Beats all the Lies you can invent

(from memory only – might not be precise)

My problem is the hysteria. This is almost entirely a media event -- and there are a number of bandwagons rolling.

My problem is with all the little lies (including "indisputable evidence", "no scientist").

And of course, if anyone would dare to doubt (perhaps the sun and moon wouldn't go out) - but they are surely in the pay of the devil himself.

The hoax is the media story. Carried out by the same silly sub-editors. "More evidence of global warming: Hottest day since 1910". (think about it).

I don't need your google links, and I don't need to know how many "scientists" (or junket attendees) are true devotees of this new religion.

I am sure you don't need my google links either. If anyone is interested in anything other than re-enforcing their own pre-conceived ideas, you can find plenty of links.

This is obviously not the forum to win friends and influence people by shouting ‘Global Warming Hoax’ – so I'll give just one link (from the current Drudgereport page) – and bow out of this thread.

Posted by: DM | Feb 5 2007 10:49 utc | 46

don't bow out. Who wants an echo-chamber?

Astrophysicist Nir Shariv, one of Israel's top young scientists, describes the logic that led him -- and most everyone else -- to conclude that SUVs, coal plants and other things man-made cause global warming.

Step One Scientists for decades have postulated that increases in carbon dioxide and other gases could lead to a greenhouse effect.

Step Two As if on cue, the temperature rose over the course of the 20th century while greenhouse gases proliferated due to human activities.

Step Three No other mechanism explains the warming. Without another candidate, greenhouses gases necessarily became the cause.

This is a common approach to discredit global climate change. The thing here is of course that they focus on step two and three instead of step one. Actually it has not been argued for decades, it has been argued for at least a century. Steps one and two in my crash course upthread has been known at least since the early 20th century. Though back in the days, most subscribed to the "warmer and greener" scenario.

If you notice I do not argue their steps two and three at all in my post. And that is quite intentional. Releasing enough of carbon dioxide in the athmosphere will cause climate to change, and there is very little doubt about that. How it will change is where the debate is at. And that is a debate I am not competent in following as I do not understand their models good enough.

To argue by their steps two and three is to accept that we should not try to limit what we in advance can see to be unsustainable before we have proof that the effects is already taking place.

And as I see it that is what has been done in the past, leading us to where we are actually today. Very little has been done and effects are showing on a scale ("freaky weather") that is observable to many, to a mass-market. So you have the MSMs interest and their view that everything has to be dumbed-down ("warmest weather ever"). And then you get quick explanations and are sold quick fixes. Sure, that is annoying but it does not change the underlying science.

Dr. Shariv's digging led him to the surprising discovery that there is no concrete evidence -- only speculation -- that man-made greenhouse gases cause global warming. Even research from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change-- the United Nations agency that heads the worldwide effort to combat global warming -- is bereft of anything here inspiring confidence. In fact, according to the IPCC's own findings, man's role is so uncertain that there is a strong possibility that we have been cooling, not warming, the Earth. Unfortunately, our tools are too crude to reveal what man's effect has been in the past, let alone predict how much warming or cooling we might cause in the future.

Yes, climate studies are messy and different methodologies gives different answers. Then again that is the case with messy complex systems. But to discuss "man's role" in general in stead of greenhouse gases is a sligth of hand to avoid that in the case of greenhouse gases the answers is quite unanimous and straightforward.

It is interesting that critiques are not found so much within the climate studies community but rather from astronomers, who generally deal in different kinds of models with good determinism between variables. Dr Shariv's insistence on having found one or two variables that can match the change in temperature is revealing. That is not the way the climate works according to established knowledge. If it was there would not be so strict limits in weather forecasting for example. The climate is a messy complex system with lots of feedback loops in different directions.

It is btw interesting how high standards are for climate models to be accepted in contrast to economic models, considering that the former are much more sophisticated.

Posted by: a swedish kind of death | Feb 5 2007 13:16 utc | 47

Juannie wrote: So one thing I can agree with is that global warming as a long range prediction is unknown, but global climate change due to anthropogenic factors is a certainty because it is already happening and we are observing it.

Absolutely. IPCC report: With more than 2000 scientists contributing you get a conservative, compromise position - everything is watered down; it is the only way the screed can be published at all, so people agree as they don’t want their work and pov to be entirely wasted. Also, the extremes that tend to be disregarded, rejected or camouflaged are the uncomfortable ones vs. the soporific, business-as-usual ones. If only for that reason, one can guess that the effects will be more violent and more rapid than generally assumed. Another reason is that there is always a cut-off, dated, point, for taking scientific articles into account; it has to stop somewhere, and as far as I remember, that date is some ways back (2005 or early 2006..?).. so such reports always ‘old’ in a way.

I live in an affected climate change spot. Latest poll (yesterday): 56% in Switz. are very afraid of climate change (low 50’s in German part, middle 60’s in French speaking part); 70% believe it is due to human action; 70% want to do something about it; and 70% are against building a new nuclear plant. OK, polls are not good data, it is very easy to get people to say they are afraid of something.

The Gvmt, however (our minister of Environment is an educated man, smart, respected, a socialist) is set on giving the people what they want - lots of yummy cheap electricity. The latest prop. in the canton of Geneva is to built two gas-fired (electricity and hot water) plants, these would be the 2nd and 3rd in the whole country.

Such a split between ‘public opinion’ and ‘Gvmnt action’ (even if only projected) really requires deep discussion. I fear that in a way it has become conventional, a lot of empty posturing, and leads nowhere, though it presents a ‘balanced’ face.

Posted by: Noirette | Feb 5 2007 13:33 utc | 48

Chris wrote: There are now more than 6 billion people on earth; my guess is that earth's optimum is 2 billion. This means that there will be unprecedented wars and natural calamities in this century. ... This means that 3-4 billion people need to be eliminated before the earth can reach some kind of balance. George Bush can kill some people, but not that many. Most likely there will be some pandemic like SARS or bird flu which will cut the human species down to size.

Bush can kill as many people as he likes.

Besides that, the human pop. on earth is dependent on fertilized, mechanized, piped-or-etc. watered agriculture (Green revolution, etc.) When oil or other laid-down thru time energy resources become scarce, either because of lack of availability, or ‘price’ (a mechanism that knocks some consumers out of the game), or the lack of investment, as to get energy you need to invest energy, modern agriculture breaks down. The EROEI of world agriculture is not good, and it is largely dependent on fossil fuels, on exploiting the underground to feed, harvest, transform crops (with nitrogen fertilizer, tractors, factories, etc.) and managing water. When the machine power goes, so does the food. Sunlight contributes little. The danger is there, and it is not new: famines have been endemic, in energy poor countries, of course, lamented by the West and splashed over the TV screens to the profit of ‘humanitarian’ orgs.

How many people the earth can sustain depends on geopolitical arrangements, technological savvy, and the level of ‘confort’ demanded by some segments - the rich, the armed, the powerful, first World Gvmts and people, local potentates, etc. - and to what lengths they are willing to go to ensure their life style, how they view the general situation, etc.

One billion or 6; both are imaginable.

Posted by: Noirette | Feb 5 2007 15:19 utc | 49

So is the only way out to lessen the numbers of humans - voluntarily or involuntarily?

only if we take the hyperconsumption lifestyle as (ahem) "non-negotiable." the affluent nations are already taking steps to preserve that lifestyle, which inevitabiy destroy, shorten, and impoverish the lives of the global and local poor: in a sense, die-off -- aka class war -- is already with us, in slo-mo. [how many people have died prematurely of AIDS in Africa because they could not afford drugs whose prices was artificially jacked up by western pharmacorps intent on maintaining "investor returns" to keep the casino capitalist economy humming? how many have died and will die as the northern powers squabble over control of the last big oil reserves? how many are dying and will die in drought, wildfire, and flood, or in the chaos of failed states, as agriculture and water systems fail in the areas most-affected by climate destabilisation? the die-off is already happening, just in a piecemeal deniable way.]

And specifically, to dismiss the notion in the efficiency of cities is certainly a mistake. The productivity (produce/acre) of farmland has been nothing short of phenomenal. Historians have likened the invention and use of the plow as earth changing as any other in the history of mankind.

I don't see any necessary connection between the "efficiency" of cities and the plough -- this reads as a non sequitur to me. but two points I would like to make in passing are (a) that for N Europe the big watersheds in yield per hectare were not so much the plough per se but crop rotation and the horse collar and horse-shoeing -- these were the innovations that, post-Occupation (Roman in this case) boosted grain agriculture to the point of supporting larger hamlets and market towns and the episcopalian structure of clerical authority; cf Illich and Prodi on the history of canon law and mandatory confession and mediaeval social organisation, and its interaction with techology, tools, and agricultural organisation... and (b) that plough agriculture is not necessarily more 'efficient' as it tends over time to destroy topsoil and encourage promiscuous deforestation (cf Manning's provocative work 'Against the Grain', as well as recent research in no-till agriculture and polyculture that calls into question the whole notion of "efficiency" as applied extractive monocropping).

cities are indeed efficient; the question is, what are they efficient at? they have been historically very efficient at the concentration of wealth and power in elite hands, the creation of a self-perpetuating managerial class, and the stripmining of an ever-expanding periphery to feed this concentration and these unproductive mouths. I cannot think of one culture known to us by its monumental construction and concentration of population in cities that has not (a) been based on extreme repression, slavery, and constant imperial expansionism, and (b) followed the clockwork arc of imperial expansion, overshoot, bankruptcy and failure. this seems to me to reflect all the efficiency of the bottle rocket; there used to be trees -- until we cut almost every last one of them down -- which had stood longer than the arc of most empires, and around/among these trees diversity, complexity and life -- biotic wealth -- was enhanced, not impoverished and laid waste. now that's what I would call efficiency.

Posted by: DeAnander | Feb 5 2007 22:59 utc | 50

re no-till, david r montgomery's got a new book due in may that sounds to be very relevant/interesting -- Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations

David R. Montgomery sees in the recent rise of organic and no-till farming the hope for a new agricultural revolution that might help us avoid the fate of previous civilizations.

Posted by: b real | Feb 5 2007 23:07 utc | 51

this "efficiency" meme really needs to be deconstructed loudly and often.

all "efficiency" means is that some input is being minimised while keeping output steady or increasing output -- usually labour, but other "optimisations" could be targeted. there are two traps here: one is the famous old engineering proverb, "better, faster, cheaper: I can give you only 2 out of 3," and the other is the sleight-of-hand by which one resource is squandered to minimise another. or perhaps these are two faces of the same trap.

in the case of industrial agriculture two forms of quality are diminished in the quest for maximum quantity per hour of labour... let's take a detour to note that the quest for minimising labour input (which is what almost all modern people think of as "efficiency") is motivated (1) by the desire of cities to minimise the number of people actually living in the countryside so as to divert the maximum productivity to the city dweller; (2) the desire of large landowners (Enclosure and concentration of land ownership being a prerequisite for the formation of imperial cities) to minimise the number of persons paid or fed on the plantation per tonne of yield (slavery is another way of achieving "labour efficiency" for landowners); (3) the associated desire of urban elites to minimise the potential for rural revolt/rebellion by reducing the population of farmers to a bare minimum (rebellion in the provinces is very difficult to manage and control).

anyway, the process of minimising labour inputs per tonne of yield per season is not the same as the process of maximising yield per hectare. as has been pointed out frequently by myself and others, dense small scale polyculture is actually more productive per hectare and per gallon of water and can with conscientious composting and soil maintenance be made nearly independent of external inputs. so already, a huge chunk of quality or efficiency (yield per hectare and sustainability over time) is being thrown out the window to optimise yield per labour hour.

the process of maximising yield per agricultural labourer by applying mechanisation and "efficiencies of scale" has reached its apex (or nadir) in factory farming, which relies on sleight-of-hand to substitute fossil energy and taxpayer subsidy for labour and productivity. most of the "advances" in yield for industrialised ag have been from the cultivation -- enabled by fossil-intensive irrigation and massive external inputs -- of hectarage not previously considered arable. it has increased yields by expansion to make up for declining yield per hectare, and by external inputs to make up for declining soil quality and depth (loss and compaction of topsoil on factory farmed lands is well documented). an agricultural effort which burns 10 kc of fossil fuel to produce 1 kc of crop -- most of which is not even edible as harvested but requires further kc of chemical processing in order to become nominally edible -- can hardly be called "efficient" in any sense that a biologist or physicist would understand.

the nutritional value of crops produced by this extractive process is also turning out to be inferior to that of crops produced by healthy soil -- not to mention the long term damage to rivers and coastal waters caused by runoff of excess synthetic fertilisers and pesticides from industrially "farmed" (read 'stripmined') land. as consumers are starting to realise, the flavour and texture of many industrial foods are also inferior to their "less optimised" varieties. which raises fascinating questions about "advances" in ag which reliably produce food that tastes worse and is less nourishing. it raises the question "what is food for?" -- is it to nourish people and taste good, or to serve as a vector for wealth accumulation by elites?

this is the other trap or face of the trap: that focussing obsessively on the optimisation of one term in a complex system usually produces distortions and dysfunctions elsewhere in the system. an obsessive focus on quantity tends to produce lower quality. an obsessive focus on the accumulation of cowrie shells leads to the loss of forests, topsoil, pollinators, fish, etc.

it passes for "efficient" only in terms that a finance capitalist would understand -- Enron accounting writ even larger.

sorry if this is a bit incoherent as I am writing in between debugging,..

Posted by: DeAnander | Feb 6 2007 0:53 utc | 52


the fallacy of most technological "fixes" can be restated: TANSTAAFL, no?

Posted by: catlady | Feb 6 2007 1:45 utc | 53

DeAnander, looks like you've had your coffee/green tea or whatever.

Your point of view helps recast the question from "how many people" to "what quality of life?"

I can afford fresh vegetables and quality fish and meats as well as "supplements" as required, but when I speak with people who shop for families, the cost of organic produce (roughly double) is prohibitive. The organic products are mostly imported of course, with a high real energy cost.

There was a series of articles about the "100 mile diet" on The Tyee. The idea is to live for a year on foods grown and produced within 100 miles of your home.

Here's a quote from the article cited above, "... the ingredients typically travel between 2,500 and 4,000 kilometres, a 25 percent increase from 1980 alone.
we took our inspiration from a meal we created entirely from the bounty around us while staying at our off-the-grid cabin in northern British Columbia: a Dolly Varden trout, chanterelle mushrooms, dandelion greens and potatoes--all from the fields, forests, and streams within easy walking distance.
So our rules, when we began, were purist. It was not enough for food to be locally produced (as in bread made by local bakers.) No. Every single ingredient had to come from the earth in our magic 100-mile circle."

The series wraps up with this summary:

"We couldn't let the spirit of the 100-Mile Diet die. We've heard from too many of you and we've been blown away and immensely grateful. Around the world, people have launched their own 100-mile experiments, local eating has been called "the next organics," and human-scale economics is poised to take on agribusiness. So this is what it's like to be around for the birth of a movement…

We plan to be a part of it. Starting today, the adventure continues at"

Posted by: jonku | Feb 6 2007 1:46 utc | 54

About cities as being efficient, according to Jane Jacobs they are (have been) efficient at innovating, inventing civilization from trade and commerce to agriculture through "labor-saving" methods.

Today that innovation can take place anywhere there is knowledge and tools ...

Posted by: jonku | Feb 6 2007 1:49 utc | 55

The great revolution needed to save mankind [sic] from the projected assaults against life by the controllers of the megamachine demands first of all a displacement of the mechanical world picture with an organic world picture, in the center of which stands man himself [sic], in person -- "cool and composed," as Whitman says, "before a million universes." In taking an organic model one must renounce the paranoid claims and foolish hopes of the Power Complex, and accept finiteness, limitation, incompleteness, uncertainty, and eventual death as necessary attributes of life -- and more than this, as the condition for achieving wholeness, autonomy, and creativity. ... This new model will in time replace megatechnics with biotechnics; and that is the first step toward passing from power to plenitude. Once an organic world picture is in the ascendant, the working aim of an economy of plenitude will be, not to feed more human functions into the machine, but to develop further man's [sic] incalculable potentialities for self-actualization and self-transcendence, taking back into himself [sic] deliberately many of the activities he [sic] has too supinely surrendered to the mechanical system.

Under the power complex the purely quantitative concept of unlimited abundance, not merely material but symbolic abundance, has served as the guiding principle. As opposed to this, an organic system directs itself to qualitative richness, amplitude, spaciousness, free from quantitative pressure and crowding, since self-regulation, self-correction, and self-propulsion are as much an integral properties of organisms as nutrition, reproduction, growth, and repair. Balance, wholeness, completeness, continuous interplay between the inner and the outer, the subjective and the objective, aspects of existence are identifying characteristics of the organic model, and the general name for an economy based on such a model is an economy of plenitude. Such plenitude is distinct from mere quantitative affluence or unqualified abundance.

As soon as this organic standard prevails, that which is small, quantitatively insignificant, or unrepeatable may turn out to be highly significant and valuable, just as a minute trace element in the soil or the diet, once left out in nutrition tables based on calories, may make the difference between health and disease. On these terms, the old folk saying "Enough is plenty" turns out to be wisdom.

--lewis mumford, the pentagon of power

...there is an idealization of agriculture that places it at the pinnacle of human achievement. Learning how to produce food by intention, instead of harvesting it from nature, is frequently considered by archaeologists the most fateful and portentous development in human history. Agriculture enabled surplus accumulation, stable settlement, and larger population concentrations, thus creating the foundation of civilization. Civilization, in turn, enabled the sophisticated and complex development of different realms of culture -- the arts, religion, politics, and written language.

Looking for agriculture in terms of civilization, early anthropologists were blind to wildlands shaped by centuries if not millenia of in-depth knowledge and careful management. There activities were swept under the encompassing label "hunting and gathering." Thus a major historical distortion was created.
The dichotomy between hunting and gathering and food production has tended to disguise the existence of a rich continuum of human-plant interactions ranging from true gathering to full domestication.
Some scholars have speculated that the sorts of protoagricultural practices employed by the indigenous people of California are not only very ancient (perhaps thirty thousand to fifty thousand years old in Africa, Europe, and Asia) but also nearly universal among human cultures.
When societies adopted agriculture, it triggered a trend toward the simplification of human relationships with nature. Today's agriculture relies on fewer and fewer crops, monoculture, chemical fertilizer, and pesticides, creating homogenized landscapes in which everything is dead but the crop. Subsidized by massive inputs of fossil fuels and tending to degrade the soil over time, our agricultural practices are clearly unsustainable. Critics of industrial agriculture contend that sustainable agriculture can only come from considering agricultural systems as ecosystems, dependent on diversity, natural processes, and species interactions for healthy functioning. In such "agroecosystems," predatory and parasitic insects feed on insect pests, insects from outside the system pollinate the crops, soil fertility is maintained through nutrient recycling, and mutualistic interactions benefit the crop plants. Ironically, the practice of this type of agriculture has many similiarities with the protoagriculture of indigenous people in California. In both cases, the production of food is part of bigger and more complex processes. Thus awareness of how California Indians blurred the line between gathering and agriculture can be helpful in the design of sustainable agroecosystems, which resemble the managed "natural" ecosystems of the Indians.

--m. kat anderson, tending the wild: native american knowledge and the management of california's natural resources

Posted by: b real | Feb 6 2007 4:55 utc | 56


The climate is a messy complex system with lots of feedback loops in different directions.

I guess so. You are probably familiar with most of these people. Are you certain that there is nothing to debate about the veracity of Global Warming claims? Media hysteria aside, you are really certain, that it needs no further debate?

A difficult call I should think.

Global Warming: The Cold, Hard Facts?

Believe it or not, Global Warming is not due to human contribution of Carbon Dioxide (CO2). This in fact is the greatest deception in the history of science. We are wasting time, energy and trillions of dollars while creating unnecessary fear and consternation over an issue with no scientific justification. For example, Environment Canada brags about spending $3.7 billion in the last five years dealing with climate change almost all on propaganda trying to defend an indefensible scientific position while at the same time closing weather stations and failing to meet legislated pollution targets.

No sensible person seeks conflict, especially with governments, but if we don't pursue the truth, we are lost as individuals and as a society. That is why I insist on saying that there is no evidence that we are, or could ever cause global climate change.

Maybe for the same reason we believed, 30 years ago, that global cooling was the biggest threat: a matter of faith. "It is a cold fact: the Global Cooling presents humankind with the most important social, political, and adaptive challenge we have had to deal with for ten thousand years. Your stake in the decisions we make concerning it is of ultimate importance; the survival of ourselves, our children, our species," wrote Lowell Ponte in 1976.

I was as opposed to the threats of impending doom global cooling engendered as I am to the threats made about Global Warming. Let me stress I am not denying the phenomenon has occurred. The world has warmed since 1680, the nadir of a cool period called the Little Ice Age (LIA) that has generally continued to the present. These climate changes are well within natural variability and explained quite easily by changes in the sun. But there is nothing unusual going on.

Sadly, my experience is that universities are the most dogmatic and oppressive places in our society. This becomes progressively worse as they receive more and more funding from governments that demand a particular viewpoint.

And ..

The Natural Resources Stewardship Project (NRSP) is offered as a means to redress this serious problem. A federally incorporated, non-profit, non-partisan organization, NRSP will help balance the debate on the environment in Canada and abroad.

Posted by: DM | Feb 6 2007 10:33 utc | 57

are the Estonians funding NRSP?

sorry DM, I tend to be cynical about these things

Posted by: dan of steele | Feb 6 2007 10:53 utc | 58

Cynical? Me too. Are the people at of unimpeachable character? Know where 'their' funding comes from?

Look, I don't know if CO2 is a problem -- or if it's sunspots -- but I can smell bullshit at 50 paces.

... or maybe I'm just a bit old-fashioned, and like to stick with the Global Cooling scare.

Posted by: DM | Feb 6 2007 11:13 utc | 59

you misunderstand me, jcairo.

i think that the 19th C neo-malthusian arguments, adapted for the 21st C climate change crisis by those who wish to cast the roots of the problem as one of generalised overpopulation rather than overconsumption by particular sectors, are as hideous and as wrong now as they were 200 years ago.

i am very definitely not in the 'climate change is a hoax' camp.

Posted by: Dismal Science | Feb 6 2007 17:16 utc | 60

comprende, gracias

Posted by: jcairo | Feb 6 2007 18:59 utc | 61

DM- you may like this

You Benefited From Fossil Fuels, Why Can’t We?

2500 scientists recently gathered in Paris and made a clarion call about an impending climate disaster. They said it was very likely that burning fossil fuels were to blame for most warming over the past 50 years. Their report warns of a new ice age engulfing the earth, while hurricanes, droughts and other apocalyptic disasters may play havoc with our planet.
[D]espite our trust in the honesty of the eminent scientists and their fear for the future of the planet, we in the developing world have also the right to receive this advice with great suspicion. Our first question is why now? The answer is easy. The industrial world senses the balance of trade power shifting. They want to maintain the lead and find no better way than to trash the old commodity and technology and usher in a new age of clean energy and technology: A technology that the developing world has to wait another 200 years to catch up to.

The political and scientific elite of the industrial world do not want to see the world as flat. They should have the higher ground. So whenever anyone comes closer to where they stand, they move a bit higher and describe the lower rung as the gutter, the source of all waste and evil.

Fossil fuels have nurtured the development of the industrial world for generations. They were the masters of its drilling, its processing, its pricing and its consumption. Back then carbon emissions were greater than they are today where CO2 capture and sequestration techniques are more advanced. Even back then the world was experiencing droughts, hurricanes, and spikes of heat. But the politicians and their coalition of the willing scientists preferred to remain silent. It is only when lucky ones from the Third World started benefiting from what the West enjoyed for generations that the fruit seems to have suddenly become rotten and harmful.
With all our respect to you, distinguished scholars, we cannot but smell conspiracy in your advice to deprive the Third World everything of worth. You can mock our feelings if you like, but sometime ago you even accused our African nomadic herdsmen of being a major cause of global warming. You pointed the finger at our domesticated livestock; ruminant animals (cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, and camels), which you say, produce significant amounts of methane as part of their normal digestive processes. And methane, you say, is dangerous to the environment. So the Africans have to get rid of their cattle, sheep and goats and the Asians have to do away with their stable rice because it also emits methane. We wonder how shall we survive without our cattle and our rice? Do you want us to remain just a dumping ground for your excess corn waste or genetically modified food?
Distinguished scholars, you have every right to teach your people to lessen their waste before it swallows them. But you have to know sirs, cruise vessels and African dhows don’t produce the same amount of waste.

[h/t to latin america news review]

Posted by: b real | Feb 6 2007 19:33 utc | 62>That would be the same NSRP that is the successor to "Friends of Science," both funded and created by the Alberta petroleum industry? Oh, definitely a disinterested party. The good old Institute of Tobacco Studies rides again.

The WAshPo article has a point -- not that climate destabilisation is a hoax, which is about as lucid as claims by some of the more loony African nationalists that AIDS is a hoax perpetrated by the West [perpetrated maybe, hoax no] -- but that efforts are made in Western media to redirect the public gaze from the prime offenders (affluent industrialised nations) and onto blaming the poor (what else is new) for their far smaller contribution to the problem.

Utterly agree with Dismal Sci [stop the presses!] that the racist and xenophobic neoMalthusian thread (into which Kunstler is starting to stray alarmingly) is more distraction from the real problem. The old biblical adjuration about the dust speck in our neighbour's eye and the 2x4 in our own comes to mind.

And speaking of xenophobic arrogance, I have to note that it is far from true that "no one cares if Tuvalu is sinking.">That is something that is worrying the country's 11,000 inhabitants. I assume that most USians would be pretty ticked off if, as American coastlands are increasingly damaged by intensifying storm conditions and rising sea levels -- one, two, many Katrinas? -- the Chinese who go on happily burning mountains of coal say complacently, "Who cares what happens to Chesapeake Bay, no one famous [in China] comes from there and anyway I prefer to vacation in Australia." I think destroying the beautiful homeland of 11,000 people is kind of a major issue, myself. Either we all matter, or no one does.

meanwhile I sure hope DM>got his $10K from Exxon :-)

Posted by: DeAnander | Feb 6 2007 22:02 utc | 63

Cheney's banker attacks his policies

The investment manager who looks after an estimated $5m (£2.5m) of Vice-President Dick Cheney's money has criticised America's energy policy.

In an email to clients - presumably Mr Cheney among them - Jeremy Grantham rails against the country's refusal to confront climate change.

"The US is the only country in which environmental data is steadily attacked in a well-funded campaign of disinformation," writes Mr Grantham, whose comments were revealed by the website

Of George Bush's call to replace 20 per cent of petrol with ethanol, Mr Grantham says: "US corn-based ethanol, as opposed to efficient, Brazilian sugar-based ethanol, is merely another US farmer-protection programme, made very expensive both directly and indirectly by inflating real agricultural prices."

Posted by: b | Feb 7 2007 10:24 utc | 64

NSRP is unbiased?

sorry only way it would post. silly typepad

Posted by: jcairo | Feb 7 2007 11:08 utc | 65

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