1. Historical Background

Usually media deal with day to day political questions, politicians speak of global interests, CEO’s feel as global players. In fact, this reduces the horizon. We refer to the human sphere, a limited part of out planetary ecosystem. Mankind is a minor element of the biosphere. Other living beings are far more successful, take insects or bacteria. Even our domestic animals outnumber humans by large. Our present world-economy and international politics are the result of WW2 and postwar contracts mainly determined by the victorious alliance. The bipolar world has undergone an outright revolution since 1989 with the collapse of the socialist block. Today, the world is shaped by an uncontrolled expansion of one superpower that has somehow lost reality-control. The present economic crisis is the consequence of the erroneous equalization of freedom with uncontrolled economic activity. This vision has led to regard everything beginning from inanimate nature to our fellow human beings as elements in a giant business environment.

Why is there such a cleavage between Europe and the USA in this fundamental outlook on the world ? Mere political, religious or ideological categories are not adequate to explain this. A short historic flashback may help. Recalling the immigration story of the USA, people have fled persecution, intolerance or misery mainly in Europe and arrived in the new world hoping to find a haven of peace. In fact, they brought with them mentalities from their contemporary European society and tended to conserve these values and behaviors as a means of finding a cohesion in a shifting context. We can see many religious beliefs dating back to before 1800, political concepts from the 19th century and economic ideas from before WW2 determining the present US landscape presently. One ethnoreligious group was the Jewish community from central Europe that fled persecution from 1880 to WW2. According to Wikipedia : In the Middle Ages, European laws prevented Jews from owning land and gave them powerful incentive to go into other professions that Europeans were not willing to do. During the medieval period, there was a strong social stigma against lending money and charging interest among the Christian majority (based on Leviticus 25:36), who decried the practice as “usury”. As a modern system of capital began to develop, loans became necessary for commerce and industry. Jews were able to gain a foothold in the new field of finance by providing these services: as non-Catholics, they were not bound by the ecclesiastical prohibition against “usury”; and in terms of Judaism itself, Hillel had long ago re-interpreted the Torah’s ban on charging interest. In the modern world, intellectual professions have traditionally been considered particularly “Jewish.” These include banking and finance, law, medicine, science, social sciences, psychology, academia, and more recently computers.

While Europe suffered a complete destruction of it’s social framework and value system during WW2, many preexistent European values moved to the US society and are determining the present situation. These historic facts partly explain the difference in political development based on an individualistic approach, whereas Europe has gone in a more collective direction. Concerning 1989, the US have not gone forward, but have revived concepts from before the great depression. This explains ( in part) why the US have relied so heavily on the finance sector and committed some of the same errors, leading to the economic dohuwabohu.

2. Definitions of Nature

After these remarks, I would like to switch from politics to the next level. We tend to refer everything surrounding us to our human system of values, the anthropocentric vision. This is a spontaneous property of every living creature. Since we have been so successful, we have managed to partly overcome natural selection and immediate dependency on our ecosystem by culture and lately the technological instruments.

Resuming the presocratic origins of natural philosophy goes beyond the scope of this simple Blog. The stoic definition of nature was the all-embracing, the normative. Nature was also the antithesis of culture, metaphysics and technique. Christianity distinguished the natural and the supernatural. Galileo wrote : La filosofia è scritta in questo grandissimo libro che continuamente ci sta aperto innanzi agli occhi (io dico l’universo), ma non si può intendere se prima non s’impara a intender la lingua, e conoscer i caratteri, ne’ quali è scritto. Egli è scritto in lingua matematica, e i caratteri son triangoli, cerchi, ed altre figure geometriche, senza i quali mezi è impossibile a intenderne umanamente parola; senza questi è un aggirarsi vanamente per un oscuro laberinto. He thus introduced scientific thinking into our relation to nature. The term „Philosophie der Natur“ was reintroduced in the 18th century and led to speculations about the relation of man and nature.

Mankind has maintained an ambiguous attitude towards nature. It ranges from a romantic idealization to a possessive exploitation, from an introverted contemplation to ruthless destruction. Scientific approaches tend to focus on respectful analysis, while commercial activities bring about massive damages. This is reflected in the ongoing discussion.

3. Changing Concepts

The original definition of politics comes from the Greek polis, the city. Politics is the process by which groups of people make decisions. We tend to have an image of party politics, ideology, power struggle that unfortunately does not live up to this definition. Institutionalization and historic events have formed is.

One crucial moment was the French revolution of 1789, whereby the separation of powers was introduced, along with the principles “liberté, fraternité, égalité”. Aristocratic privileges were abolished, the state became secular. At this moment we have to redefine this concept, namely, we need to abandon religious and ideological concepts. Most constitutions call on some religious principle. More than this historical relict is not acceptable. We are experiencing wars, terrorism, massacres by governments and groups in the name of religion, in fact these are simply political movements usurping political power and legitimacy. The west and especially the USA have to refrain from building up a provocative counter position.

And politics has to be separated from the grip of economics. No country has been capable of maintaining a clear separation of powers allowing politicians to translate the will of the voters. Reality looks rather like a democratic election of representatives, followed by an intensive lobbying by all kinds of groups ( completely unrelated to the popular will and factual majorities) to bend politicians around. In fact the Goliath economy is always stronger than the political David.

Modern states need a redefinition of political powers creating a complete separation between politics, economic forces, religious groups to allow politicians to take their decisions to the best of their knowledge and without external pressure. This is of course wishful thinking, but it has to be the aim.

Going back to the idea of nature, we have outgrown the concepts inherited from our constitutions, the US was created in 1787, how could they foresee today’s state of affairs ?

Mankind is colonizing the solar system. This is our common framework. And the consequences are evident. Not our petty politics set the pace for our common action. The solar system with it’s physical laws, the planet earth with it’s chemical, biological and ecological laws is our existential support and determines the supreme guidelines. Mankind is ( a particular) subspecies of the biosphere, among many other living beings. We have to achieve a radical expansion of horizon. We have to abandon the wrong idea that we are the center and only purpose of creation. It is nature that created all life, including man.

Our decisions and actions have to follow these principles :

Is our activity compatible with an ecological equilibrium, is it sustainable, do we respect the principles of surrounding nature and do we make responsible use of fossile, natural and human resources, sparing and conserving all we can for future generations ?

Political left-right categories, telescoping new words into used and abused terms is simply not appropriate any more.

For this purpose, we have to integrate natural and social sciences into our national and international institutions.  These groups of scientists must have a well-defined role in the political decision making that goes far beyond their advice of experts. We don’t need panels and papers that are not translated into specific government decisions and actions. State secretaries, ministers need to be experts for all the problems we are facing today. This does not mean a technocratic government as we have seen.

It means that new positions are created, representing and institutionalizing the latest scientific knowledge. And this knowledge has to serve as the basis for the administration. Not complete layman opinions, not big corporate, ideological etc interests. For this to work, the voters need to be better informed and to exert much more direct power upon the politicians. Once every four years ( US model) is not enough, with Internet, people can express their will every day if necessary. And the political culture needs to evolve accordingly. Using low taxes, lean state arguments as the only yard-stick for all decisions is simply undemocratic and shortsighted.

4. Enlarging the Picture

Along this line, one nation cannot bring this about. We need international institutions ( I refer to the United Nations) that are not the punchingball of regional, religious, economic or ideological alliances. The UN is the victim and hostage of the veto powers and communities of purpose not devoted to the common cause. While we observe this tussle, time is running out. A clean beginning on fresh premises is needed.

A new organization replaces the UN and uses another approach to reach consensus. The historical facts of 1945 are simply not relevant for coming generations. Special privileges for veto powers are undemocratic. A tried and tested system would consist of two assemblies. The first one gives each member one vote. The second gives each nation a number of members according to it’s population. And an executive council must take operational decisions. But there is a special catch to this : These assemblies are only one part of a supreme organization.

Since the supreme entity is planet earth ( as long as we have no settlements elsewhere), each sphere has it’s representation :

the geosphere

the hydrosphere

the atmosphere

the biosphere

They must be regarded as legal entities obeying natural laws and placed above the narrow self-interests of mankind. Their equilibrium, their sustainable development, their survival is the supreme guiding criterion.

Each one of them is being represented in an planetary council, along with mankind.

This council has the responsibility and function to mediate between the natural and the human interests.

Again, experts of natural and human sciences  provide objective and unbiased criteria to reach a consensus.

This council is the authority granting rights to it’s members.

Each sphere is subdivided into logical substructures :

The hydrosphere consists of the different rivers, lakes, oceans and all regional and functional cycles we know.

The biosphere counts with the all living organisms from bacteria, flora and fauna. Mankind does not only have a political representation in it’s resurrected UN. All civil populations are members with their innate and inalterable rights based on their biological origin. Of course these civil populations and their individual members must be protected with their specific cultures, independently of their social, political, ethnical, gender etc attributes.

5. Conclusion

The main idea behind this ( I admit, quite Utopian ) concept is to free nature and civil populations from their dependency of national governments. As we know, even developed nations have a structural democratic deficit. Developing countries struggle on a much more elementary level in a larger context that is unfavorable to a peaceful and prosperous development.

Civil populations are invariably the defenseless victimss of dictators, rivaling warlords, economic competition, natural disasters, epidemics, poverty to name just a few. The presently available juridic instruments and institutions serve a noble purpose, but they are biased by the anthropocentric view. Governments have almost absolute power over their natural resources, economy, agriculture, population and therefore protection of certain minorities often can only be implored in order to be graciously granted by those in power. This view is wrong. Human rights are no luxury, no privilege. The ruling class cannot decide over life and death of their population on arbitrary criteria. It is exactly the contrary.

Every single human being receives his dignity and human rights independent and super ordinated to the political organization he or she is living in.

How does upward redistribution work ?

The average consumer is under pressure to buy more goods than he can afford or needs. There is publicity, social and cultural factors that lead to an average spending of 140 % of the yearly income by each US citizen. This overspending explains the growing private debt ( sub prime, credit cards, individual credits) and it shows where the money flow is going. It went into volatile speculation and was partly destroyed, but it also found it’s way to the fortunate strata of the society. Through outsourcing to China manufacturing cost and jobs in the USA were reduced, China is also the major creditor (24 %), together with Japan (20%). Cheap liquidity was provided until interest rates started climbing due to mutual distrust among money lenders, and this led to the collapse of the system. This proves that this model is in contradiction with basic financial laws and is not sustainable.

After the crisis the administration is still following the advice of big finance, it is not acting in the higher interest of the US population. It avoids profound reforms and provides massive fresh liquidity again, to promote consumption rapidly. In the short term this is adequate and for the functioning of the economy, this is vital. In the longterm this will impose an intolerable burden on the US taxpayer and on the world economy. The consequence is either deflation ( no recovery), inflation ( in case of a recovery), if not stagflation.

What has to change

The change must happen at the level of the single citizen first. His spending pattern has to change. This is the inevitable prerogative. No more private debts should be produced, this means longterm austerity, leading to an expense of less than 100 % of the income. Of course, such an advice does not sound attractive. But is is practiced in other parts of the world with good result. People should spend only the money they actually possess and stop living on credits. All else is a recipe for disaster.

The second process is political. The US political system is taylor-made for the rich classes only, but this fact is a taboo wrapped up in images of the american way of life. The role of middle and lower classes is merely to finance the upper 10%, in political terms they are powerless. If 90 % ( 270 millions) of Americans are happy playing this role of living with unbearable debts for coming generations and with a continuous financial downward shift, then this may be fine.

Otherwise, the majority in the US population could seek a political change where the average income increases, job security is better, taxes get the money where it is and redistribute it towards those that really need it. Namely the middle and lower classes. They need effective instruments and measures against unemployment, a health care system for all, insurances for the disabled and provisions for retired people. And incentives to invest real money, (not debts) into longterm saving like the house, secure pension funds etc. I am talking about social security and a welfare-state that deserves this name.

The usual objection is : who will pay for this ? The typical question that only a millionaire can ask and answer. Does anyone object to billions being spent for a completely failed economic policy ?

Questions and Outlook

Does the wealth of the industrialized countries depend on the very poverty in developing economies ? Are they poor because we are rich ? Is the global toll of poverty ( malnutrition, diseases, war etc) indispensable for the good functioning of the global economy and particularly the US corporate and finance industry ? Would a less unjust, inhumane and arrogant world trade order destroy this world economy, does the affluence of a few depend vitally from 1 billion people living in apocalyptic misery ? The same question is valid for the US as a nation, where the mechanism is the same, but on a much higher material level.

Presuming that in the US the Gini coefficient became similar to the one in Japan, where there is much less economic inequality, how would this affect the economy ?

I start with a guess, that the GNP would remain the same, for simplicity. Now, if the middle class had a higher income and the upper class were „poorer“, I can conclude for sure that overall consumption would increase, benefiting the overall economy. This is because 10 persons earning 100 000 $ a year will consume more goods and services collectively than one person earning 1 million a year. Just consider food, housing, cars, clothes for 10 versus 1 households. The same holds true for any country.

From this fact I conclude, that without structural changes the present system in the US must and will increase the pressure on the classes indulging in mass consumption. This is the only way for your money to flow upward. The trend is inevitable : the poorer the people, the harder it is to make them spend. Because the middle class is getting poorer, the present system will simply offer new credits and push harder for consumption. This is the mentality of the governing class, they cannot exist without ever increasing gains and wealth, call it an ideological or mental problem. Because the US political and economical establishments are intimately linked, there is no democratic control over this mechanism. The natural limit of this development is a tiny rich society and an overwhelming poor mass, without any middle class, I expect this to happen in 50 years or so. By this time, low class Americans will know what is means to live in a third world country, back home…

Exactly for this reason, the US people will someday realize the striking parallel : the US and the world economy are both undergoing a process of wealth distribution that is sustainable neither economically nor ecologically. In the developing countries, the shocking consequences are apparent today. Famines are pushing people to hunger revolts. Rural populations are accumulating around cities, because traditional farming is not more possible. Epidemics, political instability, wars and mass emigrations into industrialized countries are the inevitable consequence. They can leave their ghetto for a richer country today, but can we leave our planet if we destroy it ?

Our iniquitous economic system is ransacking not only the American middle class, but poor populations worldwide.

The world economy should not be a poverty producing machine, it should allow people to live in dignity, just as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are preaching on their websites as their mission.

A common effort is needed to force the WB, IMF ( and a few others) to do what they are supposed to do, and not exactly the contrary.

Useful links in the order used in the text :

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gini_Coefficient_World_Human_Development_Report_2007-2008.png

http://www.sustainablemiddleclass.com/Gini-Coefficient.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_public_debt

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_external_debt

http://pgpblog.worldbank.org/why_doesnt_capital_flow_from_rich_to_poor_countries

http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/capital_flows_2003_03.htm

http://www.worldbank.org/depweb/beyond/global/chapter4.html

http://www.ilo.org/global/About_the_ILO/Media_and_public_information/Press_releases/lang–en/WCMS_099406/index.htm

http://moattari.info/2008/02/18/gini-index-a-measure-of-inequality/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worldbank

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confessions_of_an_Economic_Hit_Man

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Monetary_Fund

http://www.globalpolicy.org/socecon/bwi-wto/critics/stiglitzindex.htm

Global Cooling

May 8, 2009

But knowing that it is Global Warming. Belief or facts. Create confusion with apparent facts. Overnight experts claming to know what nobody else on this planet knows, or that is being hidden – the conspiracy feeling. There are bloggers insisting on the existence of global cooling (Ref 1). To prove this, a multitude of isolated facts are produced, going from periodic solar activity, the oceanic temperature to graphs showing seasonal variations of arctic ice. A luster of scientific seriosity impresses many readers not aware of the pitfalls.

The worldwide consensus regarding climatic change is this (Wikipedia)  : In February 2007, the IPCC released a summary of the forthcoming Fourth Assessment Report. According to this summary, the Fourth Assessment Report finds that human actions are “very likely” the cause of global warming, meaning a 90% or greater probability. Global warming in this case is indicated by an increase of 0.75 degrees in average global temperatures over the last 100 years.
The phenomenon of arctic shrinkage has been observed since at least 1950 and it is accelerating, with the cold winter of 2007 marking an exception (Ref 2)
At least since the publication of the IPCC in 2007, global warming is a fact accepted by scientists and informed laymen (Ref 3).

I am a layman, but I know that the worldwide ecology is infinetely complex. Climate change, desertification, the polar melting, the migration of flora and fauna due to these factors, all this is being researched seriously and requires profound knowledge. Research has been conducted for decades and the conclusions are concordant. Computer programs extrapolating climatic changes can simply not be reproduced or invalidated by anybody during a commercial break, on his laptop.

The ongoing debate over the very existence of global warming has no scientific base, it is an ideologic one. Let’s recall the Bush administration. They systematically denied any human influence on the climate change, they boycotted the Kyoto agreement, systematically blocking all efforts of the worldwide community to take effective measures against the CO2-induced climatic change. One specifity of the US debate is a tendency to engage and perseverate in undefensable theories like : infallibility of a totally deregulated economy, creationism, worldwide menace through terrorism, feeling of superiority over all international laws and organisations etc.
The Bush administration preached low taxes, a lean state and the inexistence of any climatic problems for the simple reason that they did not want to spend any money for infrastructure, for international organisations, and among these was the Kyoto protocol – money was the motif. Behind a religious, almost ideologic façade, this administration simply and effectively directed all public and private financial resources towards their own lobbies and for specific objectives : finance sector, oil industry, military-industrial complex etc. The general public bought this smokescreen so well, because the average GOP voter was convinced that every tax $ was wasted. A certain avarice led people to vote not for their convictions, but for these reasons. In this way, the GOP administration has ransacked their countries resources and partly those of the worldwide economy and ecology.

After this small recapitulation lets get on with the climate debate. Based on pseudo-scientific facts presenting a fragmented and thus distorted view, the overwhelming positive evidence is simply eclipsed. Psychologically certain people might get a kick from convincing a group of adepts to believe a theory that is diametrically opposed to the conclusions of thousands of scientists. I would call this the conspiracy feeling : a group is formed by a hermetic belief that is contrary to the mainstream.  Negationism is a well-known subterfuge used in many contexts. Apart from the all-time classic (the shoa), it is very popular to displace the discussion, psychologically this is known als freudian repression. Creationsts build a complex system only to contradict the evident existence of natural evolution. The pope makes backwards contortions to avoid admitting that jews can go to heaven without being first converted to christianism, he creates arguments to deny priests a right of marriage, to deny the necessity of using condoms, just to cling to the holy scripture in the face of overwhelming evidence. In the US, politics has castrated scientific research for years only to please certain religious groups fighting against abortion etc. While forbidding stemcell research, use of embryos and red genetic technology, green genetic engineering was supported without any criticism, again using a tactic of denial, namely of it’s potential dangers. Denial is also used by adepts of sects believing in intelligent design, in the return of aliens … the list is endless.

I see this psychological trait of denial or negationism as quite characteristic of certain sections of the US population. It is quite remarkable to see such a degree of irrational thinking in a socienty claiming to be so rational and scientifically savvy. Of course, admitting that greenhouse-gases are the main culprit for global warming might be a confession too painful to make, since the US are the largest producer of CO2 worldwide. It could challenge the way of life of a nation.

Ref 1 : Wikipedia : Global cooling was a conjecture during the 1970s of imminent cooling of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere along with a posited commencement of glaciation. This hypothesis never had significant scientific support, but gained temporary popular attention due to a combination of press reports that did not accurately reflect the scientific understanding of ice age cycles, and a slight downward trend of temperatures from the 1940s to the early 1970s. Today, General scientific opinion is that the Earth has not durably cooled, but undergone global warming throughout the 20th century.[“Summary for Policymakers” (PDF). Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 2007-02-05. http://ipcc-wg1.ucar.edu/wg1/Report/AR4WG1_Print_SPM.pdf. Retrieved on 2007-02-02.]

Ref 2 Wikipedia : Records of Arctic Sea ice from the United Kingdom’s Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research go back to the turn of the 20th century, although the quality of the data before 1950 is debatable. Still, these records show a persistent decline in Arctic Sea ice over the last 50 years.[2].
Reliable measurements of sea ice edge begin within the satellite era. From the late 1970s, the Scanning Multichannel Microwave Radiometer (SMMR) on Seasat (1978) and Nimbus 7 (1978–87) satellites provided information that was independent of solar illumination or meteorological conditions. The frequency and accuracy of passive microwave measurements improved with the launch of the DMSP F8 Special Sensor Microwave/Imager SSMI in 1987. Both the sea ice area and extent are estimated, with the latter being larger, as it is defined as the area of ocean with at least 15% sea ice.
In a modelling study of the 52-year period from 1948 to 1999 Rothrock and Zhang (2005) find a statistically significant trend in Arctic ice volume of −3% per decade; splitting this into wind-forced and temperature forced components shows it to be essentially all caused by the temperature forcing.
The trends from 1979 to 2002 have been a statistically significant Arctic decrease and an Antarctic increase that is probably not significant, depending exactly on which time period is used. The Arctic trends of −2.5% ± 0.9% per decade; or about 3% per decade[3]. Climate models simulated this trend in 2002[4], and attributed it to anthropogenic forcing.
The September ice extent trend for 1979–2004 is declining by 7.7% per decade[5].
Record Low Arctic Sea Ice in 2007 – Showing the Northwest passage open
In 2007 the ice melt accelerated. The minimum extent fell by more than a million square kilometers, the biggest decline ever. The minimum extent fell to 4.14 million km², by far the lowest ever. New research shows the Arctic Sea ice to be melting faster than predicted by any of the 18 computer models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in preparing its 2007 assessments.[6]
While the Northern Hemisphere sea ice reached new record lows, on September 12, 2007 the Southern Hemisphere sea ice area reached 15.91 million km², close to the maximum recorded of 16.02 million km².[7]
The Antarctic increase is 0.8% per decade[8] although this depends on the period being considered. Vinnikov et al.[9] find the NH reduction to be statistically significant but the SH trend is not.
Scientific parameter to quantify the extent of sea ice
In the overall mass balance, the volume of sea ice depends on the thickness of the ice as well as the areal extent. While the satellite era has enabled better measurement of trends in areal extent, accurate ice thickness measurements remain a challenge. “Nonetheless, the extreme loss of this summer’s sea ice cover and the slow onset of freeze-up portends lower than normal ice extent throughout autumn and winter, and the ice that grows back is likely to be fairly thin”[2].

Ref 3 : Global warming is the increase in the average temperature of the Earth’s near-surface air and oceans since the mid-twentieth century and its projected continuation. Global surface temperature increased 0.74 ± 0.18 °C (1.33 ± 0.32 °F) during the last century.[1]A[›] The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that anthropogenic greenhouse gases are responsible for most of the observed temperature increase since the middle of the twentieth century,[1] and that natural phenomena such as solar variation and volcanoes probably had a small warming effect from pre-industrial times to 1950 and a small cooling effect afterward.[2][3] These basic conclusions have been endorsed by more than 40 scientific societies and academies of science,B[›] including all of the national academies of science of the major industrialized countries.[4]
Climate model projections summarized in the latest IPCC report indicate that global surface temperature will probably rise a further 1.1 to 6.4 °C (2.0 to 11.5 °F) during the twenty-first century.[1] The uncertainty in this estimate arises from the use of models with differing climate sensitivity, and the use of differing estimates of future greenhouse gas emissions. Some other uncertainties include how warming and related changes will vary from region to region around the globe. Most studies focus on the period up to 2100. However, warming is expected to continue beyond 2100 even if emissions stop, because of the large heat capacity of the oceans and the long lifetime of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.[5][6]
Increasing global temperature will cause sea levels to rise and will change the amount and pattern of precipitation, probably including expansion of subtropical deserts.[7] The continuing retreat of glaciers, permafrost and sea ice is expected, with the Arctic region being particularly affected. Other likely effects include shrinkage of the Amazon rainforest and Boreal forests, increases in the intensity of extreme weather events, species extinctions and changes in agricultural yields.
Political and public debate continues regarding the appropriate response to global warming. The available options are mitigation to reduce further emissions; adaptation to reduce the damage caused by warming; and, more speculatively, geoengineering to reverse global warming. Most national governments have signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.