Thursday, August 25, 2016

Bankrolling Islamic Extremism

The House of Saud has plenty of money to splash around whether it's billions of dollars to buy Canadian built death wagons or to fund radical, often violent, Islamic fundamentalism around the world. A New York Times report shows that our esteemed customer and supposed ally in the war on terror is also the state that primarily sponsors Islamist theocracy and its often violent movements.

Don't like barbaric practices? Can't stand state sponsored Islamist terrorism? Well, I guess you could always start by selling the culprit billions of dollars of armoured fighting vehicles.

Follow the link, read the report, ask yourself how hard does Justin Trudeau have to look the other way to support Saudi Arabia.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Why the F-35 Is a Lousy Idea - For Everyone

Not for nothing has Lockheed's "joint strike fighter" been called America's "kick in the front door" weapon.  That's what it is designed to do, penetrate hostile airspace with sophisticated air defences and take down that air defence network.

That narrows the F-35's intended adversaries to Russia or China or key satellite states they're willing to go to war to defend. For the sake of this discussion let's leave it at Russia and China.

When you bleed your treasury to buy the F-35 what you're really after is the sizzle, not the steak. The stealth sizzle or whatever remains of it. Because, while it does have some intriguing electronic wizardry, stripped of the stealth factor its really a pretty mediocre light bomber. It gets about a C+/B- on standard strike fighter attributes such as range, speed, payload, agility, that sort of thing.

Let's not debate whether this warplane's stealth remains viable after its intended adversaries have had two decades to develop and refine countermeasures (and they have). Let's pretend it works as advertised. Let's pretend Russia and China are somehow stuck technologically in the 1990s.

Now let's create a scenario where the United States and its obedient allies, its aerial Foreign Legion, decide to attack China. Fortunately we have America's roadmap to such an attack in the 2012 dress rehearsal known as "Operation Chimichanga." Even though they had to use F-16s reprising the role of the then unavailable F-35s it was a roaring success. The F-35 force with F-22 Raptors flying cover went in and obliterated the critical air defence infrastructure, clearing the way for an armada of stealth and then conventional bombers to work their magic. Look at that, they're invincible.

Only this scenario leaves out what the other side might be doing at the same time. You see here's the problem. You can't mobilize an effort of this magnitude without attracting a lot of attention. That gives the other side time to assess the gathering threat and prepare both defences and possibly pre-emptive strategies.

If you want to attack China, you'll first have to deploy squadrons, perhaps even wings, of warplanes for the attack. They carry a lot of baggage - big, non-stealthy refueling tankers, electronic warfare aircraft (AWACS), electronic surveillance aircraft (JSTARS), and all the people and stuff they need on the ground for an air campaign.

You can't deploy these damned things without the other guy's analysts being able to discern what you're about to do with them. To use them you have to place your own entire military on high alert and that's all but impossible to conceal. You must prepare for everything from a pre-emptive strike against your forward bases by jittery defenders to a nuclear launch on detection of the 35's essential support aircraft nearing your airspace. Your entire military is not stealthy. You can't hide them.

For defenders it can trigger the "use'em or lose'em" mentality. Do you simply wait until the stealth attackers take down your air defences and leave your strategic weaponry vulnerable to destruction or do you prepare to launch your missiles, both land based and on your subs?

This reminds me of nothing so much as the strategic destabilization of the Cold War, first when the Americans toyed with the idea of adding the neutron bomb to their arsenal and then when both sides got into the Dr. Strangelove scenario of "launch on detect" nuclear tipped short and intermediate range missiles - one faulty circuit and the robots end the world.

There are still nuclear tripwires. You trigger one of them and we finally get to find out which of those theories of nuclear escalation is the most accurate. Only we may not survive for the debate afterwards.

Nuclear warfare is a confidence game. The more confidence you have that your adversary is not planning an attack the less bellicose you too become. That was the magic gift of so much of the espionage of the Cold War, building confidence between the Soviet Union and the U.S. They knew what we were up to, we knew what they were up to and it was pretty much, "okay, that's cool."

The F-35 undermines that essential confidence. The Americans don't talk about it much but the Lightning II is also a nuclear strike bomber. So when you see squadrons of those things massing in Kadena you might wonder if any of those will be coming your way with tactical nuclear weapons to take out your entire command and control system. A nuclear first-strike. Wouldn't you want to eliminate that threat preemptively? I sure would if I was responsible for the air defence of the People's Republic.

The F-35 is designed to fight battles that, for so many good reasons, we don't think to fight any more. For the air wars we do wage, we get by just fine with cheaper, more rudimentary and robust multi-role fighters. Using the F-35 to whack insurgents is like leaving the pickup in the garage and taking the Lamborghini to Home Depot to get a load of plywood. Now that might make a lot of sense to your 16-year old son with his raging hormones just as the F-35 makes a lot of sense to certain generals with their own raging martial hormones. Yet it's not difficult to figure out which one you would take.

Does it strike you as odd that we haven't begun to discuss these issues - not in Canada, not in Britain, not even in the United States. Nobody in line to arm themselves with the F-35 is discussing what it would mean to use them for their intended purpose. That strikes me as more than a little curious.

For me, the F-35 is a lousy idea - for everyone. In a world still awash with nuclear weaponry, with half a dozen nations teetering on the brink of joining the nuke club, with new missiles, warheads and submarines all the rage, the last thing anyone, the West or our never-quite-specified adversaries, needs is another source of instability, the F-35.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Will the Real Donald Trump Please Stand Up

By now everyone is familiar with Donald Trump's use of Twitter to communicate with his supporters. Trumps tweets are a regular source of outrage among his opponents. They're a vehicle for spreading anger, bombast, threats, even racism.

But what if only some of those tweets were really Trump's? According to a report in Scientific American, Trump has been using ghost-tweeters. An analysis has been able to distinguish the tweets that Trump has sent from those written by others using his account. The creepy part is that the really nasty tweets, the worst of the lot - they're Donald Trump's.

Earlier this month visual effects artist Todd Vaziri put forth the idea that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump likely shares his Twitter account with campaign ghostwriters. The assumption was based on the curious differences in tone and message of @realDonaldTrump on the social media platform. According to Vaziri, Trump most likely used his Samsung Galaxy Android smartphone to tap out the most inflammatory microblog messages whereas the more toned-down tweets came from his staff using their iPhones. Now a quantitative analysis has proved him correct.

Data scientist David Robinson saw Vaziri’s speculation, which was neither new nor terribly shocking, as the perfect opportunity to test new tools he had developed to analyze the emotions behind social media posts. After mining nearly 1,400 messages from @realDonaldTrump, Robinson confirmed that the account’s Android and iPhone tweets were from different people who posted at different times of the day and used hashtags, links and retweets in distinct ways. He also found that Trump’s Android tweets were for the most part angrier and more negative than his staff’s iPhone messages, which generally featured benign announcements and images. “My goal was to determine the difference between the iPhone and Android tweets—and to see whether the suspicion of Todd Vaziri and others could be backed up quantitatively,” says Robinson, who last year earned a PhD in quantitative and computational biology from Princeton University and now works for Stack Overflow, a question and answer site for computer programmers.

Robinson found that Trump himself uses nearly double the number of words related to disgust, sadness, fear, anger and other negative sentiments than tweets posted to his feed via iPhone. In addition, the iPhone tweets were 38 times more likely to contain either a picture or a link, which Robinson attributes to the campaign’s interest in calling attention to significant events and projecting some semblance of diplomacy, such as wishing the U.S. Olympic team good luck.

Our Federal Government is "Missing the Boat" on Climate Change

It's fair to say that successive Canadian federal governments, Trudeau's included, and most of our provincial governments, Christy Clark's included, have failed their people on climate change. We're still a petro-state ruled by petro-pimps who show no sign of turning the page to usher in alternative, renewable, clean energy. You'll know when they do. That'll be the day they finally cut off support, estimated by the IMF at $34 billion a year, to Canada's fossil fuel producers.

Now the Canadian Medical Association is warning that our governments' lack of action on climate change is putting Canadians' health in jeopardy.

At the CMA's annual general counsel meeting, keynote speaker, Dr. James Orbinski spoke of climate change as "the greatest global threat to health of the 21st century." He said Canada "has missed the boat" on climate change.

“There are direct impacts of the effects of climate change on health,” said Dr. Orbinski, past president of Medécins sans Frontièrs and a leading scholar in global health, referencing the catastrophic impact of forest fires, flooding and drought, the increase in certain infectious diseases and the effects of air pollution.

You Can See It From Space

The inland waters separating Vancouver Island from the mainland are beset by a massive algae bloom.  The image above was captured by a NASA satellite.

So far the bloom is not considered dangerous to human or marine life.

The scientist behind Vancouver Island University's harmful algae monitoring program, says coccolithophorids are the cause.

Haig says coccolithophorids bloom near B.C. during the summertime are normal but where it's blossomed this year, is notable.

"It's a group that blooms quite often off the west coast of [Vancouver] Island in June or July of most years, but we don't usually see it in the Strait of Georgia."

She says she doesn't think warmer ocean temperatures are the cause, but it could be related to increasing ocean acidification which signals climate change.

With the bloom ongoing, she says more time and research is needed to truly understand what is going on in the water.

"It could be a climate change story, but it could also be a once in 20 year or 50-year event," she said. "We're still trying to figure that out."

For those familiar with the dark emerald green waters of majestic Desolation Sound, here's what the place looks like today:

The Problem We Won't Admit Even Exists

There's a security scandal underway concerning the French manufacturer of the stealth submarine, Scorpene. The Australians, who recently ordered similar boats, are particularly vexed. From The Australian:

There is almost no breach of ­national security more serious than the disclosure of the stealth secrets of a country’s submarine fleet.

A submarine is only as effective as the secrets it keeps. If an enemy knows those secrets, the game is over. As the old wartime saying goes, “loose lips sink ships.”

That is why Australia should be deeply concerned by the Snowden-style leak of 22,400 secret documents written by the same French shipbuilder, DCNS, that will design Australia’s future submarine fleet.

The leaked DCNS documents describe in excruciating detail — line by line and bolt by bolt — the entire combat abilities of India’s new six-boat Scorpene submarine fleet. It has dealt a hammer blow to India’s national security and it begs the question; if it has happened to India, why couldn’t it happen to us?

Australia cannot afford to spend $50 billion on the biggest defence project in the nation’s history only to have it potentially compromised by sloppy security about confidential information.

Hmmm, sloppy security. Serious business. But not when it comes to another amazing bit of stealth warfighting gear, the Lockheed F-35 joint strike fighter.

Someone (everybody knows it's China) had a field day hacking Lockheed and British Aerospace computers downloading (stealing) massive amounts of data (secrets) and millions of lines of computer code (stealth operating system) of the F-35. Then Iran managed to hack a Lockheed RQ-170 super secret stealth drone, bringing it in for a crash landing. Chinese aerospace types didn't waste any time getting to Tehran. They scoured the drone for Lockheed's stealth secrets - shaping, materials, coatings and such and they went home with plenty of parting gifts, mainly the drone's electronic wizardry.

The hacks and the RQ-170 capture caused a big kerfuffle for a while but then the noise went silent and nobody has had much to say about it since. It's as though a blanket was thrown over it. After all the F-35, like American banks, is too big to fail.

The Australians are grappling with a legitimate security concern in the French sub leaks. It's a good thing, F-35 customers don't seem to care.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Hamsterkaufe, Bitte

Nobody is sure what this is about but the German government is urging residents to stockpile food and water - Hamsterkaufe - in the event of a national emergency.

Citizens are advised to store enough food to last them 10 days, because initially a disaster might put national emergency services beyond reach.

Five days' water - two litres (half a gallon) per person daily - is advised.

The German news website Frankfurter Allgemeine (FAZ) said the new concept was set out in a 69-page German Interior Ministry document.

The document said "an attack on German territory, requiring conventional defence of the nation, is unlikely". But, it said, a major security threat to the nation in future could not be ruled out, so civil defence measures were necessary.


The Beebs is reporting that Germany is also toying with reinstating a draft, conscription. The idea is to train young Germans to aid the army in times of national disaster. One German newspaper had this response:

Stephane Dion Dropped from Environment Committee

The Liberal who is probably most associated with environmentalism has been dumped from the Commons environment committee.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has removed Global Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion from the environment, climate change and energy committee which he chaired.

 Although he will continue to serve on some cabinet committees studying other issues, Dion's removal from the environment committee was notable. He is a renowned environmentalist and advocate for climate action, and was among the team of delegates who attended the Paris climate summit in 2015, during which Canada endorsed a 1.5 degree limit to global warming. As Liberal party leader in the 2008 federal election, he campaigned for a "green shift" carbon tax as part of a strategy to combat climate change. Dion was defeated by Stephen Harper who formed a minority government.

Maybe Uncle Steffie was seen as a potential problem to the government's bitumen-pimping policies.

May Stays

Elizabeth May has chosen to remain leader of the Green Party. It's not entirely clear what that means to the party or Green members.

She said that while many well-intentioned groups (i.e. the United Church of Canada and the Quakers) have supported the BDS movement, it's no place for a "serious" federal political party. Ouch, wince.

Was It Something I Said?

This whole Ryan Lochte business really got under my skin. I haven't paid much attention to the aquatic buffoon until he got into a mess of his own making in Rio. Even as video emerged proving he'd lied, he refused to admit he'd lied - passing it off as a mere excess of exaggeration by another privileged Yank. Even Americans were infuriated with this bozo.

And so I read about Lochte's sponsorship deals. Apparently there was a valuable endorsement deal with Speedo - makes sense. That led me to fire off an indignant email to Speedo warning that if they didn't drop Lochte, his scandal would be their scandal.

Seems that email worked. Speedo has dumped Lochte.

And Now a Few Words from John Maynard Keynes

As a follow up to my previous post about the futility of defining "normal" in this age of rapid and constant change, here are a few delightful musings from legendary economist, John Maynard Keynes.

The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones. 

The day is not far off when the economic problem will take the back seat where it belongs, and the arena of the heart and the head will be occupied or reoccupied, by our real problems - the problems of life and of human relations, of creation and behavior and religion.

Most men love money and security more, and creation and construction less, as they get older.

I do not know which makes a man more conservative - to know nothing but the present, or nothing but the past.

For at least another hundred years we must pretend to ourselves and to every one that fair is foul and foul is fair; for foul is useful and fair is not. Avarice and usury and precaution must be our gods for a little longer still.

Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.

It is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil.

Americans are apt to be unduly interested in discovering what average opinion believes average opinion to be.

Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assaults of thoughts on the unthinking.

Would that we had Keynes with us today for much of his thinking goes to the dynamic changes now overtaking us. One of his ideas was to euthanize the rentier class (we now call them the "1%") as unproductive and a drag on society. Sounds reasonable.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Define "Normal"

As I've explored issues from globalism to climate change, one aspect that stands out is our concept of "normal." What is normal?

It's curious how quickly and resolutely we embrace ideas as orthodoxy, imbuing them with the status of some law of nature. Take GDP growth. Western leaders (and most others) see steady, constant GDP growth as a measure of their nation's economic health and a testament to their own prowess at governance. It's as though GDP growth was inscribed on tablets someone brought back from a stroll up some mountain. That's bollocks.

GDP growth is a concept hatched in the wake of WWII. It wasn't "a thing" when the Wright brothers took to the skies or when Dillinger terrorized the mid-west. No, it was a post-war idea. That's a good thing. Why? Because our enshrined goal of 3% annual GDP growth is lethally exponential. 3% annual GDP growth over 50 years expands the economy by a factor of 4.4. After a century your economy has swelled by a factor of more than 19 times. A century and a half and your overall production and consumption is 84 times greater than your GDP in Year One. Two centuries and it's 369 times greater. You, your society, your economy - it's all going to implode and it's not going to be pretty.

We think this concept of continual GDP growth is normal but it's not. It's self-defeating, self-destructive but you won't find a leader in the western world who is not committed to growth as the solution to all problems. You can't blame them all. It was a fine idea back when there was a huge surplus of resources and demand never exceeded supply.  We didn't know it at the time but we passed that point somewhere in the early to mid-70s. Since then our idea of normal has been steering us into trouble.

Our leaders continue to cling to globalism as normal. Even Trudeau is toying with the Trans Pacific Partnership. He'll do whatever the Americans do. You, you're just a pawn, inconsequential.  These are solemn deals between world leaders to surrender elements of national sovereignty to the globalized corporate sec tor for supposed benefits that do not materialize where they're promised. These deals were supposed to benefit the general public - more jobs, better wages. Instead they delivered fewer jobs, lower wages, economic stagnation for most, massive wealth redistribution for the benefit of the few and yet our leaders failed to act. Even as the International Monetary Fund rebukes globalism as a rotten system that stagnates economies and fuels inequality, our leaders keep their pens at the ready to ink the next toxic deal. It is, after all, their "normal."

The Weather Network has a story today about a NASA report on Arctic sea ice that speaks to an emerging term, a "new normal."

“A decade ago, this year’s sea ice extent would have set a new record low and by a fair amount. Now, we’re kind of used to these low levels of sea ice – it’s the new normal.”

Surely it robs "normal" of all useful meaning if it doesn't reflect elements of equilibrium, permanence.  Merriam-Webster suggests as much with this definition:

a : according with, constituting, or not deviating from a norm, rule, or principle b : conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern.

What's going on in the Arctic isn't a matter of conformity to any norm, rule, or principle. It is a process of deviation from normal, a small component of a far greater, all-encompassing deviation from what we ever knew as normal.

Exponential GDP growth isn't normal. There's no equilibrium or permanence to it. We're running out of stuff, running into walls. That can't be normal. Nothing that's inherently self-destructive, including globalism, can be considered normal. To the contrary, it's the foundation of chaos, now and to come.

How perverse is it that our political caste should treat as normal models that are so inherently chaotic and self-defeating? To me they resemble nothing so much as these sailors who failed to let go of the mooring lines of the USS Akron.

Needless to say, hanging on too long was a death sentence for those sailors. Hanging on too long to outdated and failed models of trade and other "normal" policies by our leaders will have different consequences but they'll be visited upon the population as a whole.

There is no normal to climate change either. We are transitioning from one geological epoch, the Holocene, to a man-made geological epoch, the Anthropocene. We have gone from one steady-state that lasted an abbreviated 11,000 years but it will take centuries, if not millennia, before we reach the next steady-state. Even as we toy with ideas for reclaiming control of our environment, through geo-engineering perhaps, it races further beyond our reach.

Humans like certainty, I understand that. Yet, when you're in an indefinite era of chaos, what good can come of even trying to define normal?

Like a person swept away in the torrent of a flash flood and grasping for tree branches, you can try to cling to normalcy but it's an illusion abetted by our tendency to ignore the past. We cease to connect conditions 20, 30 or 50 years in the past with our notion of normal. In the process, normal loses most of its meaning and nearly all of its utility.

Politicians use the term "creeping normalcy" to refer to slow trends concealed within noisy fluctuations. If the economy, schools, traffic congestion, or anything else is deteriorating only slowly, it's difficult to recognize that each successive year is on the average slightly worse than the year before, so one's baseline standard for what constitutes "normalcy" shifts gradually and imperceptibly. 

If the embrace of normalcy has indeed become a potentially dangerous and disruptive illusion, perhaps it is time to adopt more agile frameworks better suited to conditions of chaos. This calls for taking a hard look and identifying what has outlived its usefulness. This would extend into all our modes of organization - political, social, economic, industrial and environmental. In each there are feet of clay - globalism, neoliberalism, consumerism and such that prevent us from responding quickly and effectively to sometimes rapid and dramatic change. Identify what doesn't work and why and then acknowledge that for ignoring it or kicking it down the road can be disastrous.

With enough time societies would move past globalism, neoliberalism and consumerism whether by choice or by necessity or both. The problem is that time was a luxury that may have been part of the Holocene but is in scarce supply in this transition to the Anthropocene. Time in the Anthropocene has become as precious as access to clean drinking water or clean air. We can't afford to waste it.

Oh Look, It's Prime Minister Showboat !!

I'm sorry, maybe it's just me. I'm a bit irked at how our prime minister, who seems to disappoint on the tough issues, never passes up a photo-op even when it comes to insinuating himself at a concert, perhaps the final concert, of a great Canadian band, the Tragically Hip.

Sure, the Hip's lead singer, Gord Downie, is dying of brain cancer. Sure this may be the band's final concert. That doesn't mean that prime minister Showboat can't stage an appearance, grab a bit of the limelight.

His staff posted the prime ministerial marquee days in advance. Justin Trudeau would be appearing at the Tragically Hip concert. And sure enough, there he was, surrounded by his security, cool as fuck.

Narcissism seems to run pretty deep with world leaders and wannabes alike these days  - Erdogan, Trump, Trudeau. It's all "look'it me, loot'it me."

I just wish he did half as good a job at governing as he does at photo-ops.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

PTSD For the Masses

Think of it as PTSD for the masses. No war fighting experience necessary. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder mainly delivered to your home free of charge through your television set or those floodwaters pouring through your front door.

So, if it's not going to be aerial bombardment or high velocity machine gun fire, just how does it work? Simple, climate change. It'll drive you bonkers, maybe.

I set out this summer to look into the toll climate change was taking on scientists researching in the field. There have been a number of anecdotal stories of researchers in therapy or others quitting their jobs to take up a quiet teaching position in some community college or high school, anything to  get away from the grinding reality of climate change.

As expected there's plenty of research into researchers into climate change matters. It does seem to be a crappy job with iffy long-term prospects. You might want to steer your kids into some other field - an exciting career in payday loans perhaps?

Right about now you're probably asking, "but what about me?" Right you are. Got you covered.  Turns out there's plenty of ongoing research into that too - you, I mean.

Last summer Britain's foremost medical journal, The Lancet, published the first papers of its Commission on Health and Climate Change. Most of the papers addressed the physical impacts of climate change on the general population. Maybe not the best bedtime reading.

There's plenty of research into the mental health toll climate change is expected to exact. The US National Institutes of Health has several papers. Here's one predictive synopsis:

Increasing ambient temperatures is likely to increase rates of aggression and violent suicides, while prolonged droughts due to climate change can lead to more number of farmer suicides. Droughts otherwise can lead to impaired mental health and stress. Increased frequency of disasters with climate change can lead to posttraumatic stress disorder, adjustment disorder, and depression. Changes in climate and global warming may require population to migrate, which can lead to acculturation stress. It can also lead to increased rates of physical illnesses, which secondarily would be associated with psychological distress.

Special attention is being paid to farmers and farming communities. Sucks to be them. Maybe not so much. More data is needed but did you know that farmers start off with one of the highest rates of suicide by occupation?

An outfit calling itself Psychologists for Social Responsibility suggests that in developed countries the emotional aspects of climate change may dominate. Here's what they figure Americans can expect.

Heat waves that can engender increased interpersonal violence, anxiety, depression, and reduced work capacity apart from sickening or killing those unable to find the means to remain cool. Recall Chicago in 1995 when about 700 people died during a massive heat wave, and across the country in 2006. Also, consider the European heat wave of 2003 that killed more than 45,000 people and created a host of human stressors, anxiety, and depression for those who survived.

Prolonged droughts, heavy rains that run off quickly, and less snowfall, such as we’ve seen recently in the West, Southeast, Southwest, and Rocky Mountain states -- which can contaminate or diminish water supplies, severely limit farming and food production, and cause damaging flash floods that all contribute to stress, anxiety, and depression.

More and/or more-powerful storms, such as we experienced with Hurricane Katrina, that include infrastructure-destroying flash floods, storm surge, and damaging winds; displace tens of thousands of people; and disrupt the normal rhythms of families and communities for months or years if not forever. Research continues to show the severe and persistent psychological consequences of these events in adults and children.

Sea level rise, which will create inordinate stress, depression, grief, and post-traumatic stress as it inundates many of our coastal areas and displaces tens of thousands of U.S. residents or requires us to build walls and enlist other costly means to keep the water from harming our communities and polluting our water supplies.

More polluted air, which causes asthma; increases risks for a host of diseases, including heart disease and cancer that have their own mental health sequelae; and is associated with higher rates of anxiety, depression, and even schizophrenia.

Stress, anxiety and depression, okay, but schizophrenia?  Abnormal social behaviour and inability to distinguish what is real... hmmm, that does sound a bit like the denialist tribe. Can cognitive dissonance lead to flipping out? I suppose that does make sense.

Given the recent catastrophic flooding in Louisiana, this warning from the Union of Concerned Scientists seems timely:

“An intensely traumatic event will have a substantial effect on the mental health of many survivors,” said psychologist and researcher Carl F. Weems, an associate professor at the University of New Orleans. “The more severe and intense your exposure to traumatic experiences during a disaster, the more likely that you will have severe mental health symptoms. If you watch someone die or your house floods, you tend to have more intense effects.”

...According to Weems, research suggests that between 25 and 50 percent of all people exposed to an extreme weather disaster may have some adverse mental health effects, the degree of severity depending on a number of things, including the person’s age, coping capacity, and proximity to the devastation.

“When you have one of these massive disasters, the effects are long-range,” he said. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, for example, researchers found no decline in cases of posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms even after more than two years. “Even now we have seen a relatively small drop-off in symptoms. This suggests that we will have to respond to future disasters in new ways, that different kinds of interventions are needed three and four years down the road.” Weems added that the current federal disaster response policy makes little provision for long-term mental health treatment. 

Lise Van Susteren (yeah, Greta's "normal" sister) is mentioned in a report in where she discusses what she calls "Pretraumatic Stress Disorder."

Lise Van Susteren, M.D., a psychiatrist in Washington, D.C. and co-author of a report on climate change and mental health from the National Wildlife Federation(3) notes that “We are seeing right now a full range of psychiatric conditions associated with climate change. In the aftermath of extreme weather events, especially, we see acute cases of people depressed, anxious about the uncertainty of their living conditions, about the future, their possessions and livelihoods. Some develop PTSD.” Van Susteren also notes that higher temperatures and heavy rainfalls are also associated with increased use of alcohol and drugs, a rise in the crime rate (assaults and murders) and higher suicide rates.

Stress and anxiety about potential climate threats is also affecting some. “Pretraumatic stress disorder is being seen among activists, some climate scientists and young people who can’t stop thinking about the disasters that lie ahead,” said Van Susteren. ”They struggle to force the unwanted thoughts from invading joys they “should” feel in the present.”

Speaking from personal experience, perhaps the best remedy for Pretraumatic Stress Disorder is age. Informed seniors know they've got a reserved seat on the last chopper out of Saigon. Sorry folks but we'll leave you all our stuff. Hope that helps.

Stress, anxiety, PTSD keep being brought up in the medical/psychiatric literature much of it firewalled. It seems pretty clear that we can expect some significant change in our communities, our society as these impacts set in and spread. Governments, already cash strapped, will be hard pressed to respond effectively.

We can't blame governments for all - or most of our woes. The finger we should be pointing is at ourselves. I'll finish up with this passage from the American Psychological Association

...why have we — as individuals and as a society — generally failed to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in the face of such serious consequences?

According to Anthony Leiserowitz, PhD, the director of Yale University's Project on Climate Change Communication, it's because "you really couldn't design a worse fit for our underlying psychology" than climate change.

The pain of paying more for gas at the pump, turning down the thermostat, or deciding to forgo airplane trips is real and immediate. And yet those actions can feel minuscule compared with what needs to be done to limit global warming. Meanwhile, the most serious consequences of climate change seem remote — far away and far in the future.

"It's kind of the perfect challenge," says Columbia University psychologist Elke Weber, PhD, who studies environmental decision-making. "The costs [of reducing carbon emissions] are immediate and upfront. But the benefits come in dribbles and with great uncertainty. The public doesn't easily have the tools to think about that and weigh costs and benefits and outcomes."

Friday, August 19, 2016

Well, There Goes the Neighbourhood

These are exciting times for Vancouver Island as large numbers of marine creatures move into local waters, migrating out of the south.

One species that has shown up in strength is the humpback whale. They attract a lot of attention from tourists on whale watcher excursions and from kayakers alike. This is what awaited a bunch of kayakers in the Discovery Islands off Campbell River.

If You Want to Stop Hearing These Stories, You Have to Act Now

Okay, July was the hottest month on record. Not the hottest July, the hottest month period. 2016 is now virtually guaranteed to be the hottest year ever, just as 2015 was in its turn. The last 15-months have each consecutively been record hot months. It's just plain getting hotter. It's going to keep getting hotter.  Too bad the Dauphin is too busy peddling bitumen to notice. If only he knew I'm sure he'd do something. Sure he would.

Interesting new development reported at (yeah, as in "physics"). Scientists have discovered that sea level rise in the Pacific Ocean accurately predicts global temperature changes. I know, I know, who cares? Wait just a minute.

Based on the Pacific Ocean's sea level in 2015, the team estimates by the end of 2016 the world's average surface temperature will increase up to 0.5 F (0.28 C) more than in 2014.

In 2015 alone, the average global surface temperature increased by 0.32 F (0.18 C).

"Our prediction is through the end of 2016," said first author Cheryl Peyser. "The prediction is looking on target so far."

Okay, now let's unpack that. We're already above 1 degree Celsius in heating since the pre-industrial era. Our leaders have agreed that the "never exceed" point for warming, the point at which we may have a reasonable chance of avoiding catastrophic, runaway global warming is 1.5 degrees Celsius. In other words we have less than half a degree Celsius to play with before we blow through that 1.5 C limit. Only we used up 0.18 degree Celsius in 2015 and we stand to add another 0.10 C this year. Wait a second. Hell's Bells - that's 0. 28 degrees Celsius of our somewhat less than 0.5 degrees Celsius limit and we've done it in just TWO years.

If we had a plan, a workable agreement, to really slash our carbon emissions over the next few years, we might have cause for hope. We don't have such a plan, there is no agreement, and every million tonnes of oil and gas and coal we continue to burn will create greenhouse gases that go directly atop the existing figures. It's too late to fend off serious, even deadly, climate change impacts for the next several centuries but, and here's the point, we can always continue to make the future far worse than it need be. We can make the future worse and, with a Parliament chock full of Petro-Pols, you can be sure we will.

An old friend came to visit recently and at one point we somehow wound up watching a bit of YouTube. In particular we watched Russian dash cam video. As we went through it I was struck that it seemed to resemble our government's approach to climate change.  Watch it if you like, as little or as much as you can bear. Then ask yourself...

And We're a Long Way From Done Yet

Here's the problem. When our leaders are debating how little they can get away with doing about climate change,  they're looking only at the tip of the iceberg, the part above water. That's their frame of reference.

Despite how much publicity it has received, most of us have a poor if not erroneous understanding of atmospheric greenhouse gases and what they hold in store for the next few decades and over the two centuries following that.

There's already a lot of atmospheric GHG, enough that we've already locked in 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming even if we abandoned fossil energy entirely tomorrow. The stuff is very persistent, especially CO2, and it will continue to cause the planet to heat until, over a very long time, we're long gone and it finally dissipates.

At last December's Paris climate summit there was general agreement to limit warming to 1.5 C. We are effectively already there, just give it a few more years to work its magic.

Then there are the knock-on effects this 1.5C will create. That could add another 1.5C over a couple of centuries from the heating effect of the loss of reflective ice caps and glaciers. That's a total of 3 degrees Celsius without factoring in other natural feedback loops such as a massive methane release from melting permafrost and warming northern lakes and seabed.

Now, bad as this mess already is, we have a new government dragging its heels in the footsteps of its predecessor, intent on driving the extraction and export of ever increasing amounts of Athabasca bitumen. The greenhouse gas emissions from that initiative go directly on top of the basic 1.5 C plus the additional, long-term 1.5C plus the added warming from the methane feedback loop and so on.

Is "genocidal" too strong a word to use? There is credible scientific opinion concluding that we're on the path to a major extinction event, the first in our planet's history created by any species of life, by one species - mankind. It lacks the malevolence of concentration death camps of the Holocaust, the killing fields of Cambodia or the slaughterhouse of Rwanda yet, in raw numbers, it could eclipse all of them in sheer numbers.

Some, such as Gaia hypothesis creator, James Lovelock, foresee mankind emerging from this century with a population reduced to a few hundred million. If he's remotely correct that's talking not about millions of deaths or even hundreds of millions but many billions of humans wiped out through man's own indifference, greed and neglect. How genocidal is that? Global, encompassing almost every species, the lot wiped out. Maybe we should change it to "omnicidal."

Think about the image of that iceberg the next time you're treated to a heaping helping of climate change nonsense from Trudeau enviromin, Lady Cathy - especially when she gets to the part about keeping warming under 1.5C. When she starts on about 1.5C you know she's talking with her head up her past.

"The Way We've Been Thinking Can't Be Right"

It was some 30-years ago that those shameless libertines - Thatcher, Reagan and Mulroney - hopped into bed with the comely whore, neoliberalism, and we've been getting screwed over ever since.

Their successors are still in bed with neoliberalism. Yeah, that goes for Trudeau too - in spades. But that's not the worst of it. The real creepy part is that , today, they're in bed with a corpse and yet they're still just merrily shagging away.

A corpse, I say? Pay no heed to what I say but you might want to listen to those who are calling out our political necrophiles. People like John Ralston Saul who took neoliberalism's pulse a decade ago and found its once beating heart, globalism, stilled and dead.

Or, if Ralston Saul isn't to your liking, how about Joseph Eugene Stiglitz, economist extraordinaire, Nobel laureate and all?

Since the late 1980s and the so-called Washington Consensus, neoliberalism — essentially the idea that free trade, open markets, privatisation, deregulation, and reductions in government spending designed to increase the role of the private sector are the best ways to boost growth — has dominated the thinking of the world's biggest economies and international organisations like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

The policies of Ronald Reagan and Clinton in the US and Margaret Thatcher in the UK are often held up as the gold standard of neoliberalism at work, while in recent years in Britain George Osborne and David Cameron's economic policies continued the neoliberal tradition.

Since the 2008 financial crisis, however, there has been a groundswell of opinion in both economic and political circles to suggest that the neoliberal consensus may not be the right way forward for the world. In the past few years, with growth low and inequality rampant, that groundswell has gained traction.

Stiglitz, who won a Nobel Memorial Prize in economics in 2001 for his work on information asymmetry, has been one of neoliberalism's biggest critics in recent years, and he says the "neoliberal euphoria" that has gripped the world since the 1980s is now gone.

"We've gone from a neoliberal euphoria that 'markets work well almost all the time' and all we need to do is keep governments on course, to 'markets don't work' and the debate is now about how we get governments to function in ways that can alleviate this," he said.

In other words, Stiglitz says: "Neoliberalism is dead in both developing and developed countries."

Stiglitz is not alone in his belief that neoliberalism has its problems, though his argument that the consensus is "dead" is somewhat more forthright than those of many others. In a blog post in May, three economists from the IMF — long one of the greatest champions of the neoliberal consensus — questioned the efficacy of some aspects of it, particularly when it comes to the creation of inequality.

..."The increase in inequality engendered by financial openness and austerity might itself undercut growth, the very thing that the neoliberal agenda is intent on boosting," Jonathan Ostry, Prakash Loungani, and Davide Furceri argued. "There is now strong evidence that inequality can significantly lower both the level and the durability of growth."

"There are a lot of people thinking the same thing at this point, that basically some aspects of the neoliberal agenda probably need a rethink," [Jonathan, Ottawa born son of Sylvia and Bernard] Ostry told the Financial Times on the day the blog was published, adding: "The crisis said: 'The way we've been thinking can't be right.'"

We are not thinking right, indeed. The evidence is all around us, inescapable. Yet not one of our political leaders, Trudeau included, has thought about slipping out of that bed and maybe taking a long, hot shower. Nope, it's their turn, and they've got some more shagging to do.

And there's the problem. Three decades of hard-thrusting neoliberalism has rendered statesmanship and leaders of vision, redundant and worthless.  The political process, thanks to globalism, has been so neutered as to tolerate only technocrats like Harper and Trudeau. The way they're thinking can't be right. It isn't.