Science

The Environmental Poverty of the Reformist Left.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 18/08/2018 - 6:54pm in

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Science

The reformist Left sucks big time. Climate change, probably the greatest threat to our civilisation, is emblematic of that. It’s hard to decide what’s worse: those reformists who couldn’t be bothered to have an opinion on that or those who actually do have one.

A recent episode illustrates that.

A few weeks ago Nathaniel Rich published “Losing Earth: The Decade we Almost Stopped Climate Change”, a long -- really long -- account of anthropogenic global warming’s metamorphosis from a point of bipartisan agreement to a deeply divisive issue. The piece monopolised last Aug. 1 NYTimes magazine, which suggests the Clintonite wing of the US Democratic Party -- of which NYTimes and WaPo are the “official” press -- might be trying to re-brand itself as the Environmentally Very Serious alternative, ahead of 2020. Rich’s thesis is that it took the efforts of John Sununu (apparently a Satan-like character during the Bush I Administration) to derail the consensus. Then Rich startlingly concludes: “All the facts were known, and nothing stood in our way. Nothing, that is, except ourselves.”

Isn’t it a bit Rich to argue that it was all Sununu’s fault and then blame the rest of us for that? Consider this: Rich was born in 1980. He must have been an extremely influential kid during the late 1980s if all of us, presumably including himself, are to be blamed. Oh, I get it now: he didn’t mean “us” as in “all of us” but as in “all of you”. Well, you get the idea.

The “lefty” commentariat were quick to cast the first stone, and justly so. Even Peter Dorman joined hands with Naomi Klein (frequent target of his own critiques) in that righteous purpose. The Dorman-Klein convergence, however, was of necessity short-lived.

Klein’s fall from grace began, I think, thus:

“Simply blaming capitalism isn’t enough. It is absolutely true that the drive for endless growth and profits stands squarely opposed to the imperative for a rapid transition off fossil fuels. [But i]t is absolutely true that the global unleashing of the unbound form of capitalism known as neoliberalism in the ’80s and ’90s has been the single greatest contributor to a disastrous global emission spike in recent decades, as well as the single greatest obstacle to science-based climate action ever since governments began meeting to talk (and talk and talk) about lowering emissions”.

Dorman was characteristically harsh with Klein. Moreover, it’s not clear to me why he dislikes “neoliberalism” so. Still, I share that dislike: “neoliberalism”, I’d argue, whatever believers might say, boils down to a mental disease affecting capitalists and their handmaids only, a kind of demonic possession turning otherwise generous, sensible entrepreneurs (often gentile farmers and industrialists) into greedy, stupid “rentiers” (often Jewish financiers). That’s just plain ridiculous. If neoliberalism were the problem, the solution would be either psychiatric treatment or exorcism/religious conversion.

Apparently, indeed, the issue Dorman has with Klein is precisely her anti-“neoliberalism” prescription: a conversion to “Indigenous teachings about the duties to future generations and the interconnection of all of life”.

To that Dorman opposes:

“No, capitalism is not an ideology.  What makes Jeff Bezos a capitalist is not his belief system but his ownership and deployment of capital. Capitalism is a system of institutions that give economic and political primacy to the possession and control of capital. (…)

“What motivates Team Capital is not a shared philosophy, but the belief, probably justified, that really effective action would eat into the value of their investments.  Fighting climate action is as rational for them as cutting an unnecessary production cost or cultivating a new, profitable market.”

I have nothing to object. In his golden years Dorman re-invented the definition of bourgeois. With that in mind, his critique, believe it or not, is that he is a “scientific socialist”, against Klein’s “utopian socialism”. Not bad.

Predictably, however, my joy was ephemeral. Dorman prescribes “carbon tax or a capped permit system”. Presumably that will teach “Team Capital” once and for all that climate action is rational from their perspective.

Then, there are the commentators:

  1. Bruce Wilder cringes when he sees “capitalism” reified into a political actor. He has no problem, however, when he sees “neoliberalism” reified into a political actor. Or the “science of climate change”, which “has been remarkable for its clear-eyed pursuit of a sophisticated understanding of the physical processes now set in motion and an assessment of the consequences”.
  2. For Calgacus the members of “Team Capital” are “simply idiots”, who don’t know where their interests lie. He, no doubt, knows better. Good luck in his application to the job of capo di tutti capi of “Team Capital”.
  3. Barkley Rosser joins Klein in her denunciation of socialist command economies’ environmental failures. Which is fair enough. Then he reminds us of China’s own accomplishments in that area.

QED.

Male Contraception is Coming Soon

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/08/2018 - 5:00pm in


Researchers joke that male birth control is always 10 years away — but clinical trials are finally happening.

Set Controls For the Heart of the Sun

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 09/08/2018 - 5:00pm in


NASA is sending a probe into the fiery corona of the sun. Can we come?

Is Capitalism Rigged in Favour of Elites?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 09/08/2018 - 1:47pm in

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Australia, Fun, Science

To answer that question The Economist is hosting a debate between Jason Furman (formerly a top adviser in the socialist [sic] Obama administration, currently at Harvard Kennedy School) and Deirdre McCloskey (University of Illinois at Chicago). Furman has been making the Yes case; McCloskey the Nope.


Personally, I think the contest is unfair. Furman’s job is like shooting fish in a barrel. McCloskey, on the other hand, is fighting an uphill battle if there ever was one.

I will abstain from commenting on Furman’s opening intervention. I’ll put it this way: meh. As I have a soft spot for the underdogs (in this case I think I better keep the old patriarchal conventions, you know, just to be on the safe side) I’ll comment on McCloskey’s.

You have to give her this: she tries. Always the consummate theoretician of economic rhetoric, she uses rhetoric to dodge Furman’s punches. She bends over backwards, does all sorts of verbal gymnastics. The problem is that it ain’t working. She may be a theoretician of rhetoric, but she ain’t no practitioner. Much to learn she still has, as Keynes and/or Friedman could have said.

In the process, after all those contortions, she becomes unwittingly hilarious. One example? Her closing remark:

“Be of good cheer, then. The poor shall inherit the earth.”

We’ll inherit the earth, after it’s gotten scorched and dry.

(source)(source)You know capitalism is in trouble when even a guy like Furman has to concede it has serious problems. You know things are worse than you imagined when apologists like McCloskey make you laugh.

Life on Mars?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 03/08/2018 - 5:00pm in


NASA says nobody can terraform Mars. Not even Elon Musk.

Total Lunar Eclipse Ruined By “Folding” Aldi Chair

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 03/08/2018 - 8:10am in


Despite clear night skies for Saturday’s total lunar eclipse, NSW South Coast residents had their viewing interrupted when a man lost his shit while trying to collapse a folding camping chair.

Dozens of camera tripods belonging to amateur astronomers were knocked off a headland as the 48 year-old man struggled to fold up his 2016 Aldi folding camping chair in the darkness of the eclipse. It is estimated that damage to camera equipment totaling $5,000 was done by the the man and his $24 chair.

Quick-thinking millennials at the scene posted ‘000’ on social media within seconds of the incident starting.  But police did not arrive until later, after a grown-up phoned the number and spoke with a helpful emergency services operator.

Police attempted to calm the man by applying capsicum spray to his face.  “It seemed to just made him angrier. We don’t understand why.”, a police spokesperson said.

The man was eventually soothed by an off-duty psychologist, Donnie Tyler, who repeatedly whispered to the man:
Turn around bright eyes
Turn around bright eyes

“I was trained to deal with these Total Eclipse situations back in the 1980’s”, Tyler later explained. “I knew what to do as soon as I saw him throwing the chair around and yelling  ‘I don’t know what to do. I’m always in the dark.
We’re living in a powder keg and giving off sparks.’ “

The man was later released on bail.  His lawyer read a statement on his behalf:
Once upon a time I was falling in love [with Aldi Special Buys]
Now they’re only falling apart
And there’s nothing [more] I can say
Total Eclipse of the Heart

As at mid-morning today, Police Rescue, SES and SAS crews at the scene were unable to fold up the chair.  It’s an experience described by many, including prominent astrophysicists.

“The 2016 Aldi camping chair design exploits a loophole in conventional physics, making it impossible to fold up.”, said Ian Hobby of the Astronomical Society. “The camping chair is our best  evidence of an ever-expanding universe.”, he went on and on to explain. “Almost everything  in the universe will eventually shrink down to the size of a single grain of sand. But that grain of sand will be orbited at a great distance by ‘folding’ camping chairs.  Even further out there will be a large belt of ‘collapsible’ beach tents.”

Scientists are now pointing to other anomalies in the space-time continuum that are observable only at Aldi. “We still don’t understand how an Aldi checkout operator can scan 700 items in less time than it takes a Woollies checkout operator to figure out how to open a single re-usable shopping bag.”, Hobby said. “And that’s despite Aldi having conveyor belts of a length that is theoretically impossible on earth.”

Dean Jackson

You can follow The (un)Australian on twitter or like us on facebook

Sadistic Woollies Shopper Reckons 15c Is A Bargain For Chance To Choke A Dolphin To Death

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 02/08/2018 - 9:07am in

wool

A thrifty psychopathic Woolworths shopper with a pathological hatred of dolphins believes that a 15 cent plastic bag that he has found is the bargain of a lifetime.

“The last time I choked a dolphin in person I had to hire a boat and a crew and battle a heavy sea just to get close enough to spray some expanding electrician’s foam down its blowhole,” said Caringbah dolphin hater Sandy Ricks. “But thanks to Woollies I can dispatch one of those dead-eyed driftnet tearing flipper waving bastards for the cost of a sauce sachet. And I don’t even have to get seasick. Bonza.”

Ricks may be tempted to start shopping at Coles now that the retail giant has back tracked on its own policy and started offering free plastic bags. “FREE!!!. Whacko, now I can really do some serious damage to those tuna breathed sonar clicking aquatic show ponies,” said an elated Ricks. “Aldi had better come to the party and start giving away some plastic. Admittedly they did have some pretty neat looking dolphin whacking clubs for sale in the middle aisle last time I was there.”

Woolworths will continue to charge 15c for a plastic bag, citing positive feedback from dolphin hating customers very satisfied with the resemblance between the green Woolies bag and a jellyfish.

Peter Green
http://www.twitter.com/Greeny_Peter

You can follow The (un)Australian on twitter or like us on facebook.

Haughty Imperialism: Genetically Modifying the Way to Food Security?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 28/07/2018 - 12:00am in

Colin Todhunter Those familiar with the debate around genetically modified organisms (GMOs) may be forgiven for thinking that science alone can solve the world’s food problems. The industry asserts that GMOs are vital if the world is to increase agricultural productivity and we are going to feed a growing global population. There is also the distinct impression that the GMO issue is all about ‘science’ and little else. People who question the need for and efficacy of GM have been labelled anti-science elitists who are responsible for crimes against humanity as they supposedly deny GM food to the hungry. Critics stand accused of waging a campaign of fear about the dangers of GM. In doing so, the argument goes that, due to ideology, they are somehow denying a technological innovation to farmers. Critics have valid concerns about GMOs and have put forward a credible evidence to support their views. But instead of engaging in open and honest debate, we see some scientists hardening their positions, lashing out at critics and forwarding personal opinions (unrelated to their specific discipline) based on their perceived authority as …

Why Davos Man Loves Big History

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 27/07/2018 - 9:01pm in

On the face of it, David Christian’s Origin Story doesn’t look like the kind of book that demands a political analysis. Subtitled A Big History of Everything, I imagine it will strike most readers as a weightier, less amusing, version of Bill Bryson’s Short History of Nearly Everything – a book for the interested non-specialist, if not the shameless dilettante. Its author, an Australian academic, is the sort of populariser that can communicate complex concepts with an energy and enthusiasm bordering on showmanship. His 2011 TED talk ‘The History of Our World in 18 Minutes’ has been viewed over eight million times. No doubt they’ll be a TV series, or Netflix doco, down the road. Make room, Prof. Neil Degrasse Tyson.

Unlike space and time, however, books do not appear ex nihilo, and the story of how this particular book came to exist is an interesting one. A book, of course, should be judged on its contents, not on the circumstances of its conception. Nevertheless, the events leading up to the publication of Christian’s opus, which purports to be a history of humankind told from a universal perspective, and to furnish our embattled species with a new and globalising mythos, strike me as inseparable from its thesis. So what is the origin story of Origin Story?

Notwithstanding the creation of atoms and molecules and intelligent life and the printing press, it all began with Bill Gates. In 2008 the tech billionaire was exercising on his private treadmill and watching a series called Big History, which took its title from the approach to history pioneered by Prof. Christian (then at San Diego State University) – an approach combining numerous disciplines from both the humanities and sciences, and beginning, not with farming and the invention of writing as per traditional history, but with the creation of the universe itself. Impressed with its ambition and scope, Gates decided to track Christian down, and to bung him a cool $10m to develop a course for high-school students. The resulting course, The Big History Project, is essentially Origin Story in embryo.

Nor was Gates the only rich-lister to be impressed by the concept of Big History. In 2015, Christian was invited to address the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, and his speech (introduced by Al Gore) seems to have touched off an enthusiasm for histories of the longue durée variety. In the last two years especially, there has been much discussion amongst the Davos faithful about the newish concept of the Anthropocene – a geologic designation describing the profound effect that the human species has had on the planet, pressed into service, more often than not, in debates around anthropogenic climate change. In 2016 Davos was abuzz with the news that the International Commission on Stratigraphy was considering a recommendation to make the designation official, while last year the executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Johan Rockström, was invited to present a talk entitled ‘Beyond the Anthropocene’. The excitement has even extended to the decor. In 2017 the meeting featured Tomas Saraceno’s installation Aerocene, the purpose of which, according to the artist, was to propose a new, post-Anthropocene epoch, ‘where we together learn how to float and live in the air, and to achieve an ethical collaboration with the environment’.

Christian’s Origin Story, then, did not appear in a cultural vacuum. To adapt one of the author’s favoured metaphors – the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears – it emerged, or is emerging, at a time when the conditions for its reception were/are ‘just right’ – at least amongst a certain, influential cohort. The question is: What is it about Big History that so appeals to this powerful cohort? Why are the global elite so taken with the new historiography?

Well, it’s reassuringly global, for a start. Eschewing the microscope for the telescope, Big History takes a species-level view of humankind’s development, which must be reassuring indeed when the economic class to which you belong is in the frame for massive inequality, economic and environmental collapse, and a host of other planetary evils. I’m not being facetious here. Big History in its various forms necessarily obscures much messy detail in favour of a panoramic perspective. Referring to ‘the Anthropocene narrative’ and how it operates ideologically in the debate on anthropogenic climate change, Andreas Malm and Alf Hornborg summarise the issue thus:

The Anthropocene narrative portrays humanity as a species ascending to power over the rest of the Earth System. In the crucial field of climate change, this entails the attribution of fossil fuel combustion to properties acquired during human evolution, notably the ability to manipulate fire. But the fossil economy was not created nor is it upheld by humankind in general […] Steam-engines were not adopted by some natural-born deputies of the human species: by the nature of the social order of things, they could only be installed by the owners of the means of production. A tiny minority even in Britain, this class of people comprised an infinitesimal fraction of the population of Homo sapiens in the early 19th century […] Capitalists in a small corner of the Western world invested in steam, laying the foundation stone for the fossil economy: at no moment did the species vote for it either with feet or ballots, or march in mechanical unison, or exercise any sort of shared authority over its own destiny and that of the Earth System.

Even if the Davos faithful are genuine in their desire to combat climate change and environmental degradation more generally, they are unlikely to warm to a narrative that points to the devastation wrought by a system based on endless growth. But with its focus on the species as a whole (and thus on no one in particular) the Anthropocene narrative circumvents this problem. As Malm has put it elsewhere: ‘Climate science, politics, and discourse are constantly couched in the Anthropocene narrative: species-thinking, humanity-bashing, undifferentiated collective self-flagellation, appeal to the general population of consumers to mend their ways and other ideological pirouettes that only serve to conceal the driver.’

The same point could be made about Christian’s universal focus in Origin Story, which is similarly instrumental in its desire to instil a global consciousness that can be weaponised in the fight against climate change. His central idea is that the universe in general, and human societies in particular, have developed across certain ‘thresholds’ that have led to ever-greater complexity – this in the teeth of the more general tendency towards entropy that will do for us all in the end. Christian identifies eight key thresholds that have brought humanity to its current juncture: the creation of matter in the wake of the Big Bang; the formation of stars and galaxies; the emergence of chemical complexity; the formation of the Earth and solar system; the emergence of life on Earth; the emergence of Homo sapiens; the development of agriculture; and the dramatic and possibly catastrophic emergence of the modern world, or Anthropocene. But however fascinating it may be to think about the development of human life in these terms, the effect of such a narrative is to collapse natural and human history in a way that ‘naturalises’ the latter. In one sense, the idea that human beings evolved from other animals, which emerged from rudimentary life-forms, which are composed of molecules and atoms, which formed after the Big Bang, is a tautology: who is claiming otherwise, apart from creationists and other oddballs? But to insist that human history be viewed as part of this broader process is something else entirely, and nothing like as value-free as Christian makes it sound.

To his credit, Christian is not deterministic. He knows that what he calls ‘collective learning’ differentiates humans from other species: that our knowledge accumulates over generations, with the result that we are no longer at the mercy of nature, and can argue for different versions of the future. But if this is the case – and I believe it is – then what is the point of the Big History narrative, other than to provide a bit of inspiration? A truly instrumental history would stress, not humanity’s ‘origin story’, but the ways in which the exploitation of nature and dangerous inequality are mapped into a system based on waged labour, profit, property and perpetual growth. Christian’s Carl Sagan-like wonderment is affecting and sincere. But his belief that such a posture will be politically and economically effective is unconvincing.

It’s also, it seems, a cause of mild tension between Christian and his principal patron, Bill Gates. Consider, for example, this revealing passage from Gates’ laudatory review of Origin Story, published on his website, gatesnotes.com:

The book ends with a chapter on where humanity – and the universe – is headed. David is more pessimistic about the future than I am. He gets a little stuck on the current economic and political malaise happening in the West, and I wish he talked more about the role innovation will play in preventing the worst effects of climate change.

So: The one occasion on which Christian’s thesis approaches politics and economics is the one from which the billionaire recoils. No doubt the ‘innovations’ that Gates believes will deliver us from climate change are of a determinedly non-political nature.

In the words of educationalist Diane Ravitch, one of Gates’ most strident critics: ‘When I think about history, I think about different perspectives, clashing points of view. I wonder how Bill Gates would treat the robber barons. I wonder how Bill Gates would deal with issues of extremes of wealth and poverty.’ Drawing explicitly on the ideas of complexity theory – a species of computer science that explains how complexity increases over time – Big History necessarily obscures such questions of distribution and power in a way that is no doubt appealing to Gates. Indeed, the very language of Big History is implicitly flattering to the billionaire and his analogues. In Origin Story, the evolution of human brains under social pressures is explained in terms of ‘computational tasks whose complexity increases exponentially as groups get larger’, while the Big Bang itself is described in terms borrowed from computer science: the cosmos, writes Christian, ‘bootstrapped’ itself. Not since the conservative historian Niall Ferguson described the six ‘killer apps’ of Western civilisation (competition, science, property owning democracy, modern medicine, the consumer society and the Protestant work ethic, in case you’re interested) has a metaphor so clearly identified the black-skivvied ‘gurus’ of Silicon Valley with the progress of the human species.

And that, surely, is the key point about Big History: that in making increasing complexity the measure of human development it obscures the ideological aspects of that desperately uneven process and makes such development as is yet to happen identical with the ‘complexity’ that Gates and his Silicon Valley pals have effectively privatised in the pursuit of profit. In the rarefied air of Davos-Klosters, Prof. Christian’s ‘origin story’ becomes a just-so story for the global elite – a universal history for the Masters of the Universe.

Marx and Engels were overstating the case when they said that all history was the history of class struggle; but they understood that human history was a site of conflict and exploitation – that humans, though bounded by their material nature, were also unique in their ability to recreate the conditions of their own reproduction. In recent times, and thanks in no small part to writers such as Naomi Klein, we’ve come to see how the exploitation of human labour and the environment are part of the same process of capitalistic development, and that the existential challenge we face is matter, nor just of technology, but of political economy. In that sense, these panoramic histories strike me as a giant leap backwards. The last thing we need is an origin story in which Davos Man can cast himself as the agent of our species’ progress.

The World’s Biggest Coral Reef is Headed For Collapse

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 27/07/2018 - 5:00pm in


Cyclones, starfish, pollution... bleaching... climate change.

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