Thursday, November 27, 2014

Human Population and the Antropogenic Extinction Event

Regardless of things we don't fully know, such as wherever the tipping points in global temperature rise are, however fast global warming may occur...

AGW and numerous other resource/pollution/land-use/extraction-effect problems can be addressed addressed, generally speaking, by population reductions.  A general assumption: half as many people, half as many such problems.  But actually problems tend to rise at least exponentially because of network effects, additionally with basic limits, self-sustaining tipping points, and so on.  So we could be more than twice as worse off with twice as many people, and so on.

Anyway, in the great Crooked Timber blog on AGW (op was the China/USA agreement, preliminary thoughts) the point was well made that voluntary population reductions (by forgoing pregnancy, etc) cannot solve the impending AGW tipping point to global civilizational collapse problem (aka 3 degrees Celsius and above).  We need 97% reduction by 2050 to stay below 2 degrees (not exactly a balmy afternoon either, expect melting ice sheets and desertification, see the book on 3 degrees, and for all we know 2 degrees might be the aforementioned tipping point, and some would prefer to stay below 1 degree…aka the ultimate effect 350ppm when we are now already 400ppm).  Meanwhile, business as usual is headed straight to hell (aka 6 degrees) by 2100, which we hope isn't the end of human history.  And once we get to 6 degrees, who knows how much more will be induced by further tipping points.  A previous episode of 6 degree warming resulted in one of the largest extinction events ever.

The problem is, to stay below the comparatively-safe-but-who-knows 2 degrees, we need 97% reduction in human net CO2 by 2050, from 36GtC to 1GtC per year.

No voluntary reduction in population control through restriction of birthing is going to decrease population that much that fast.

But this misses two key points.  First, changes in climate from increased CO2 tend to have a lifetime of 100,000 years or more.  Meanwhile we do not want human history to end at 2050, 2100, or whatever.  And presuming it doesn't, and assuming no rapid die-offs or miraculous changes, the climate goes on. (As does the environment generally.)  If net carbon production is still going on at 2050 or even 2100, it will likely continue the next year, and so on.  Changes in human population through voluntary control are slow but could continue indefinitely, ultimately reducing human population to a level that has both advanced technology and sustainability.  There is limited research on what this might be, and of course nobody knows what ultimate population might be, nor the technological infrastructure that will be available to sustain it (unfortunately, we are not building enough sustainable infrastructure now, which would be 100% renewable systems).  (I have often guessed at about 1 billion humans with a highly eco-conscious society, and the benefit of a sustained-mass-command-effort to build sustainable energy and transportation that starts real soon now.  Sadly it could be lower, much lower if we don't build out the required systems or do so well, we could suffer a huge involuntary loss through collapse of civilization's ability to organize food and energy production, leaving only pockets of survivors--which looks pretty likely within a few hundred years, and that is not the ultimate worst case possible which is planetary Venusification at unknown but presumed very low risk.)

Second: CO2 isn't the only problem, by far.

So even if it won't solve the immediate problem, global population restriction through control of birthing will be necessary for long term sustainability and should begin now at the fastest politically acceptable rate.  I am fine with a one-child policy, enforced by post-birth sterilization and humane administrative means (i.e., no forced abortions, and no harm to children) for violators.  And the usual freely available education and opportunity for women, birth control, and abortion on a voluntary basis.

If we don't control population through reasonable controls on birthing, more extreme measures will be forced on us by necessity.

The environmental footprint of humans in the not-so-far-off future will have to be at current subsistence indigenous levels.  Meanwhile, industrial society cranks away, promising to industrialize globally and raise all the world to lucky wage-slave status of western society workers.  If in fact consumer society is replicated everywhere it will be the greatest disaster ever.

And meanwhile economists, even in the IPCC report, blithely project 4 times greater average human income in 2100, for which environmental loss can be calculated as some fraction.  Well that is because of the "income bias" of economists.  If instead you look at the well being of the global commons, of eviscerating wildlife, of decimating ocean life, melting ice sheets, deserts, rising sea level, greater storms, declining water levels and land productivity, you would see epochal catastrophe, from which sustaining mass human income is improbable and mass loss of human lives inevitable.  Some "4 times greater income per capita".  Markets are not somehow going to save the commons because the commons have only been the dumping grounds for markets.  Nor will commons-saving innovation be driven by markets, see above.  The only hope for humanity is collective solutions to preserving the commons and providing social insurance, and possibly much more.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

World at 2 degrees warming, 3 degrees, etc

(All temps in Celsius of course.)

Long ago Nordhaus set a plausible goal for the human forced temperature increase of 2 degrees C.

That become an internationally recognized, or at least mentioned, standard…the target.

Well, by now, the failure to ratchet up or even meet standards, 3 degrees would pretty much be on target if all countries actually met voluntary targets for themselves they have already set.  And they've blown past all previous proposed targets already, so there's good chance they won't keep remaining commitments either.

Well, this can't be so bad, how about 5 or 6 degrees which many climatologists believe is plausible over 100 years.

What these would mean to climate, looking back at earth history, is discussed here.

2 degrees, which goes back in the record to when CO2 was 360-400ppm, btw (from before the development of Agriculture to when the Industrial Revolution started, we were at 290; we're at 400 now, and that will climb another 100, 200, or 300 before 2100, if not more, and continuing up after that).  Like major deserts in the center of most continents, no annual ice in the northern hemisphere, sea level 25 meters higher.

That's 2 degrees, the target which we might meet if we stopped all CO2 production in 5 years…or maybe not.

3 degrees, 5 degrees, etc., sound like very different Planets.  It gets far worse rapidly at some points.  The level of change is not linear but more like exponential over all.  Plus there are "tipping points" which have automatic positive feedback.  If we reach a tipping point, which might be between 2-3 degrees, we cannot prevent another rise.  For example if we reach a point where the amazon rainforest is deforested, methane clathrates all bubble out, then microbes eat all the dead venation in the soil everywhere, we might not be able to prevent another 2-3 degree rise (or more, as tipping points lead to crossing other tipping points).

Back over at the "Planet saved due to US/China Agreement" blog at Crooked Timber, comment 29 features ZM commenting about the decreases in CO2 production which would have to occur to keep us to only 2 degrees.  Basically it would have to plummet radically, not the sort of weak tea people talk about.  We have to get down to 1GtC per year globally by 2050, from 36GtC per year now.  (Or we could just stop emitting altogether (net zero) in 5, or 10 years, depending on climate model assumptions, and I suspect all those models leave out the huge hard-to-model feedbacks like methane clathrates we may be facing.)  Here's what ZM says is the IPCC scenario for 198GtC total emissions by 2050:

2015-2016 = 36GtC p.a. = 36GtC over the period
2016-2020 = 15GtC p.a. = 60GtC over the period
2020-2030 = 5GtC p.a. = 50GtC over the period
2030-2040 = 3GtC p.a. = 30GtC over the period
2040-2045 = 2GtC p.a. = 10GtC over the period
2045-2049 = 1GtC p.a. = 4GtC over the period
2049-2050 = 1GtC p.a. = 1GtC over the period
That's pretty radical, all right.  We'd need to drop emissions more to less than 50% of current levels by 2020, for example.  And even that's putting off the heavy lifting as much as possible.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Policing the Police?

Yesterday, a Grand Jury refused to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

This could have been predicted from past outcomes quite well.  Police Officers are rarely indicted, much less convicted, of offenses related to their handling of suspects, even when, as is not infrequent, the suspect ends up dead.  How many deaths are caused by police?  About 3% of all homicides.  Further, there is considerable evidence of racial and other biases involved regarding who ends up dead after an encounter with the police.


Monday, November 24, 2014

The next 300 years

Here's an optimistic version in a book I'm buying, "The Collapse of Western Civilization."  300 years from now a scholar looks back at what happened.

I learned about that book and more in this great blog…especially the comments section, and especially deep into the comments section where my perennial favorites Bruce Wilder (who should write books…as someone in this blog says...but since he blogs I read his writing) and Sandwichman get going back and forth along with a newer guy I like a lot, ZM, and others.  It's very much like the book above, but with Bruce showing how the collapse of civilizations went on back through history as well, and this new one fits right in, except for being global.

Here's Bruce talking about what I've thought similar things about many times…that we will not get out act together with regards to a renewable energy substitution program before it's too late.  He ends on the optimistic note that 300 years (or whenever) the survivors will get their act together, and plan a better kind of society even amidst the fossil fuel mass extinction event.  I share his entire view here…except that the part about the survivors is still very optimistic, and it may be more than 300 years before humans escape the collapse of global fossil fueled civilization reaches orderly planning, and the actual conditions for that may still be horrific compared to the world bequeathed us, which deserves mention at this point.

As you say, the most urgent issue is, do we use our remaining carbon budget and “cheap” fossil fuel production capacity to construct a renewable energy generation capacity (and I would emphasize an economical energy consumption infrastructure to match)? 
I think humans will not. Somethings will get built, but too little, too late. And, as things get rougher, the first instinct of collective panic will be austerity. More of the world will be cut off from access to resources, as elites substitute intensified administrative extraction to offset declining energy surpluses. Desperate and expedient measures will increase the pollution generated, will increase the critical depletion of fresh water and other vital resources.
Anything we do now that makes long-run sense will require short-term pain, which will fall disportionately on rentiers with a stake in existing systems. The preservationist impulse will inspire denial and forlorn hope. And, the pressure on incomes from declining industrial production and agricultural output will just make it harder to divert resources to investing in a viable future. 
It won’t be an “irrational” response. The ROI won’t be there, on a downward slope for the whole economy.
It is a kind of a race condition. The kick-in-the-ass catastrophe that would motivate getting control of the situation happens too late, after the capacity to respond has already been damaged and handicapped to much to permit a response of adequate magnitude.
I can imagine truly frightening catastrophes inspiring some truly horrifying and desperate expedients — wars and epidemics and mind-bogglingly ill-advised geo-engineering schemes — before orderly and well-planned re-structuring.

This is just one point of many interesting ones made in the long dialog.  ZM is hopeful that a "war time mobilization" of resources may be applied to building the renewable energy and sustainable transportation systems we will need for a sustainable world, and before the super-catastrophes.

A "war time mobilization" is a command economy in large part, but intended to have limited duration, and need not be anything like totalitarian.  With a command economy, you might have many worries, but ROI need not be one of them.

In our neoliberal world, ROI is a sacred Monolith, that we must keep building more of each quarter, even if it means ruining the basis of our existence.

Easter Island came to mind when I read the story about Google abandoning it's renewable energy transformation project.  Google's energy scientists were telling the story in a blog published by IEEE.  (BTW, I'm a member of IEEE myself, but am astounded by the large numbers of outspoken denialists, concern trolls, and the "forlorn hopeful" Bruce alludes to above among the ranks in IEEE, if not necessarily the publications, and quasi-denialism was in full force in the comment section.)  Forlorn hopes such as that substitution will save us, the market will get it right (even though common goods aren't included), and so on.  Well Google's scientists were taking up another (not new) forlorn hope: that some currently unforeseen technology will save us.  For the time being, the ROI isn't there, so Google isn't going to transform our energy future until that unforeseen technology arises.

They didn't actually use the term ROI, but it was clear that was what they meant, and what their analysis was about.  They didn't discuss any physical limitations.  I believe the science that says that we can meet the needs of every human on earth now quite easily with renewable energy.  The ultimate supply is comparatively endless, the only problem is capturing a tiny bit of it, which can be done using little more land, or even less, than we currently do.  We even still have the surplus useable carbon energy to make the transition, if we start right now.  We easily have the human power, the materials, minerals, etc., though with some special minerals there might well be and probably will easily be substations.  Substitutions like that are likely not a problem, and have already been seen in the past few years as we have already seen in renewable energy technologies.

The problem is, it can't be done right now mostly because of who owns the present.  Just as Bruce says so eloquently.

Eventually that will change, in one way or another, and either with only a minor extinction event, or a very big one.

We are Easter Island.

Easter Island Monoliths.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

States: No Substitute Has Been Proven Yet

Many leftists are anti-statists, often using the label Anarchist, but strongly distinguished from the rightist propertarian version of anarchism sometimes seen today.

Left anarchism, most often technically understood as anarcho-syndicalism, proposes collective ownership of the means of production through co-ops and collectives which themselves cooperate without an overlord.

Tribal collectivism (small scale anarcho-syndicalism) was the human way until the invention of Agriculture.  Since then, society became hierarchical then privatized--the opposite of collectivism.

So you can't say collectivism is unnatural to humans.  But it has been taken away by the arc of history, but restored in various ways in various places.  Adapted to modern circumstance, anarcho-syndicalism is the most complete modern form of anarchistic collectivism suitable for an industrial or post-industrial society, in which people work in complex organizations, which become the locus of medium to large scale collective ownership and control, but without higher levels of top down control, such as modern states.

Collectivism has only been attempted at state level in name only, such as USSR, or in limited forms, such as Social Democracy.  But I have no doubt that full state democratic socialism is possible, despite a few failed examples.  And I continue to believe in Marx's concept: first socialism, then communism.  The ultimate communism that Marx discussed was indistinguishable from anarchism, everything just happening so that all needs are met, and all abilities tapped.

Whether socialism comes first or not…the best world with anarcho-syndicalism is the one with anarcho-syndicalism everywhere.

Anarcho-syndicalism has been seen in scales up to regions of modern states, such as region of Mondragon in Spain.  It's not proven that it would work in even larger scales, where collectives themselves would have to cooperate.  The most detailed theory about how anarcho-syndicalism could work on larger scales is Participatory Economics.  I admire many concepts of Participatory Economics, which ought to serve as a compass for designers of the future, but likely not a blueprint--it's sufficiently complex and different from modern society that one imagines that considerable adaptation may be required to form an actual successful society, and the inventors of PE admit as such.

The same could be said of "true communism".   The thing commonly called Communism isn't really communism as Marx or most modern communists would define it.  (Noam Chomsky does the best job of disproving the claim that the USSR was actually socialist as it claimed.)  The "really existing communist states" of China (as it existed from 1949 until about about 1980 when it pivoted to capitalism), Cuba, and the former USSR were not communist other-than-in-name even by generous stretching of the definition (based on collective ownership of the means of production, and worker democracy on all scales).  The correct and yet polite way to refer to such states would be Social Fascist.  So the largest scale on which true communism has been demonstrated is identical to that of anarcho-syndicalism, because at the level of a single or small number of cooperating collectives they are identical.  So Mondragon is both the largest example of both anarcho-sydicalism and true communism.  The original Mondragon collectivist society was crushed by Franco and I'm not sure how much the current one (the Mondragon Corporation) is comparable.

Meanwhile, the human population of the world has continued to grow further beyond that scale, and at least since World War II bourgeois democracy (of, by, and for the capitalists) has reigned supreme, along with often forgotten tens of millions of deaths and other atrocities it has required to continue that reign amidst many challengers.

Socialist elements have by necessity and struggle been added to bourgeois democracy.  If these elements had not been added, likely Marx's forecast of the demise of capitalism would have already happened.  The resulting form is called Social Democracy (actually, social bourgeois democracy), which is now ubiquitous, but also highly variable.  The United States of America used to be a progressive leader in Social Democracy, with spirited leaders such as Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, but at least since the 1970's it has been a leading laggard--tending mainly toward pulling the whole thing down.  Denmark and Norway are the best examples of Social Democracy, and not coincidentally states where poverty has most nearly vanished.

Thus, socialism as it best really exists today (and not in name only) is actually tied to capitalist states, an ironic but not unforeseeable development--in fact it was exactly predicted and encouraged by Marx as the way forward, even if he might not have foreseen it enduring so long.

So lets not throw out the baby with the bathwater.  Liberal bourgeois states, even the USA, have within them the some means for reform by and for the people, and those means, including representational voting mass demonstration, are the best available for the foreseeable future.  And not "Revolution," which has a proven tendency to go the wrong way.  One might hope for a good revolution eventually, under circumstances that are inconceivable today--such as mass awareness of the evils of capitalism and  universal understanding of their roots in property (property is theft, all forms of wealth are coercion, capitalism is atomized slavery ultimately to itself), and the withering away of the capitalist control apparatus to nearly if not entirely nothing.  But meanwhile, if you meet a Revolutionary today, the worst thing is to follow him.

I'm worried about the fostering of an anti-statism which precisely exists to remove the socialist elements from modern bourgeois democracy.  That's clearly the thrust of American Libertarianism, for example, which has broad appeal to a certain segment of US society (including most Republicans), and American Libertarianism is a great example of a movement with plutocratic backers and which serves plutocratic and oligarchic ends, despite rhetoric to the contrary.

Anarchists with left leanings should be wary of being used as tools by these people, or as tools of the many self-described Anarchists (anarcho-capitalists) who are really Propertarians.  As I see it, the ultimate ideal anarchist/communist society is so far away as to be hardly worth thinking about, and that won't change until such time as nearly everyone knows it has.  Meanwhile, the task at hand is restoring, maintaining, and improving social democracy, as well as illuminating the fundamental evils of capitalism.

States are now and for the foreseeable future the best maintainers and supporters of Social Democracy.  State power is the only useful (even if decreasingly so) power to counter the power of global capitalism.  Sure, the left wants to see global people power supreme, but many things are in the way of that, none the least the power apparatus of capitalism itself, now both state and global.  Global people power must continue as it has in the last 100 years, primarily as an influence, never correctly a wielder of state power.

Particular states, such as the United States of America, may be hated more for their imperial adventurism and authoritarian than their internal affairs--which still have a significant social democratic element.  The way to counter Imperialism is through direct anti-imperialism, not a universal anti-statism.  It's true that USA's imperialism backs global capitalism, and that opposing and ending that imperialism is one of the most urgent tasks today.  But how does that fit with a broad anti-statism that would apply to the many states that are not imperialist but more the victims of US imperialism?  Many conservatives believe that capitalism remains possible without US imperialism.  I actually suspect that is true, and just as with the rise of Social Democracy in the 1900's, it would be an improvement on the present day capitalism.  Anyway, why not work with those conservatives in the anti-Imperialism movement.  But not in any movements that roll back social democracy, such as the anti-statist ones.

Only when and as freed from capitalism first can we be universally anti-statist.