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Total number of comments: 8 (since 2013-11-28 16:33:20)


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  • Is Paul Ryan right that Obama's Foreign Policy is Blowing up in Our Faces?
    • Nit-picking a bit, I know, but is 'genocide' really the right term here? A crime against humanity. But not the extermination of an entire people, so not strictly within the definition of genocide.

  • The Collapse of the Climate Change Contrarians and the End of Coal
    • I'm afraid I don't follow you. Having re-read my post I don't see anywhere where I was 'sneering' as you seem to be implying. As for 'apocalypticists' - I think the scenarios I described are pretty apocalyptic. They certainly don't lead me to the conclusion: "What? Me worry?" I place great value on the full natural diversity of the world -and- on humanity's literate, cultural and technological civilisation. I am very, very worried. For one thing, I am worried that oil companies seem to have bumped the peak oil curve, at least for some decades to come. That is, it seems economically feasible - under our current, market-based, profit-driven system - for oil companies to continue extracting and profiting from oil long past the point where it is ecologically disastrous to do so.

      I don't think I was even disagreeing with the substance of Juan's conclusion, just with some of the detail.

      As for acceptable endpoints: I'd like to see a path (a real one - not just vague hopes and sentiments) to a future were our civilisation (in some modified form) can continue indefinitely alongside... no, as part of.. the natural world on which it depends. We already know a lot, perhaps even most, of what needs to be done to achieve this: the rest is down to politics and action. Either the destruction of human society -or- the destruction of even a part of the natural diversity of the world are terrible, terrible consequences by themselves. I want to see both avoided.

    • I wasn't intending to imply a choice between coal and wood, or suggest that burning coal as a fuel was a good thing (hence my last sentence). Rather, I was trying to recount how we came to be where we are.

      Juan had already made a comparison of the two and I believe his conclusion, in the scope of that very limited either-or, was the wrong one. My preference is for a fast transition from wood/coal/petroleum to nuclear in the near term, moving to wind/solar/hydro in the longer term (but not ignoring investment in, and development of, these renewables in the near term).

      By the way, I'm not a fan of nuclear either. I just don't see a realistic path without it in the medium term. Also, some of the new nuclear reactors are (as best as I understand it) both much safer, simply as a result of the physics involved *and* can be fuelled by the waste products of existing nuclear processes, which have to be dealt with somehow anyway. These reactors can thus reduce the danger from existing nuclear waste products and be used to generate energy whilst also being immune to Chernobyl-type events. It seems hard to see how doing this is a bad idea. (Caveat: I'm no expert in nuclear power.)

      George Monbiot has talked about this here:

      link to

      Also, I don't believed I 'glossed over' externalities. I explicitly mentioned them and the fact the energy companies are allowed to get away with ignoring them. I completely agree that the 'market' is at fault here and is unlikely to form any part of the solution. I agree with Juan: extracting, selling and burning coal and petroleum as a fuel ought to be, or rapidly become, illegal. Much of the world's remaining fossil fuel simply needs to be left in the ground.

    • I believe there are some things wrong in the last paragraph.

      "and we could well be putting our survival as a species at risk. We are certainly likely to kill off most other species."

      This seems the wrong way around.

      We are probably putting our survival as a species at risk. And we are definitely putting our survival as a literate, technological society at risk.

      A scenario where a much diminished population of humans continue to survive with stone-age or similar capabilities and, at first anyway the salvage from our current industrial civilisation, seems plausible. Whether such a population could ever again reach a level of technological sophistication approaching ours is debatable: one could easily imagine a sequence of diminishing peaks, a repeat of the history of the last few thousand years, but in reverse. After each peak the survivors are in a worse position for the next rise. Such a population might struggle on for a very long time. But they might also be driven to extinction rapidly. (The effect of climate change on the demographics of disease might play a part here.)

      However, it seems *very* unlikely that we are putting the survival of 'most other species' at risk. Perhaps you mean most other macro-species? Certainly a much diminished world, without giraffe and gibbon, whale and wallaby, coral and capybara seems plausible. A world where most or all large species are extinct, including many plant species too. If this happens humans will almost certainly be one of them. Rafts of others may become extinct too. Even now bees are greatly diminished in the UK for example. A lot of this will result not from, or not only from, climate change but also from habitat destruction. Though, of course, the two are linked.

      But 'most other species' means mainly micro-organisms, followed by insects. It is hard to see how our actions will make much difference to them. The exception would be if one of the climate change forcings, or a combination of them, or an as-yet unidentified one, caused an unexpected run-away effect heating the planet beyond the capacity to support life (or at least advanced life-forms). I'm not aware of any climate scientist, or climate model, that is currently predicting this though. (I may be wrong.)

      In summary it seems our current trajectory, if not changed, will be catastrophic for human civilisation, terrible and possibly - not necessarily - fatal for our species, and very bad for life on this planet, fully warranting the nomenclature 'fifth extinct' which is often used.

      One further thing. The poor old dodo is rather abused. It did not, after all, drive itself to extinction, it was pushed. Before the invasion and wanton destruction by humans - who apparently largely killed the dodo for 'sport', since it was not very palatable - the dodo was superbly adapted to its island environment. (It it hadn't been, it wouldn't have been there, after all.) Perhaps a better analogy would be a virus so virulent that it kills or incapacitates its host, risking its own chances of survival in the process.

    • Re "Coal is smelly, produces clouds of unpleasant smoke, is relatively expensive to transport, and in every way worse than wood and charcoal."

      I believe this is true except in the most important way from an industrial (and hence profit-seeking) perspective: you get more energy out of coal for the amount of energy you put in.

      As I understand it each transition in energy technology has had the effect, very roughly, of a ten-fold increase in return on investment, from wood, to coal, to petroleum, and - if the transition were completed - to nuclear. This is ignoring the externalisation of other costs, of course. But this is, of course, exactly what most energy companies are allowed to do.

      Actually, I'm not sure the statement is true in another way. Imagine a world where we all switched back to wood as an energy source. How long would it be before there were no forests left anywhere? The statement was probably true when the human population was smaller, but not now: a warning world with some surviving forests is better than a deforested world (which would certainly be warming anyway as a result).

      None of this changes the fact that coal is a terrible fuel, of course.

  • Supreme Court declines to take US Health Care in direction of Sub-Saharan Africa
    • Juan,

      You ought to have another colour (red?) for countries (governments, I mean, not electorates) attempting to *end* universal health care.

      That is how it is in the UK at the moment, especially in England. (Scotland and Wales gain some protection via their devolved powers: though whether they can hold out against profiteering and big business, is yet to be seen.)

      The current coalition government - really a Conservative government with some wannabe Tory hangers-on in tow - has passed legislation to completely re model the NHS. Nearly everyone opposes this, public and healthcare professionals alike. The claimed intent is to open up the system to competition and introduce market 'efficiencies'. This is despite the fact they have been experimenting with an 'internal market' system for years and it has been a disaster; and despite the examples from other countries that show what a bad idea this is.

      The real aim is the neo-liberalisation of healthcare: profiteering and privatisation.

      There is no mandate for the change: it was not included in the manifesto of either the Conservative (Tory) or Liberal Democrat party at the last election. More than a million people have signed a petition against the changes. And the various professional health organisations speak out against the changes almost weekly. What support existed - and there was some amongst GPs, who made some nominal gains from the bill - is falling away rapidly, as the true future shape of the NHS becomes clear.

      But a large number of the Lords (our archaic second chamber) and certainly MPs too have vested interests in healthcare start-ups and, lo!, the bill was passed.

      Private insurance companies and health start-ups are popping up all over the place. Private health insurance - once seen as a bit of an eccentric oddity - is now common, and is commonly included as a 'benefit' of better paid jobs. The presence of a 'healthcare industry' is now widely recognized, and the phrase often passes without comment. Healthcare industry lobbying is increasing and, now, we are moving towards privately run, for-profit hospitals. And 'commercial confidentiality' is increasingly cited to keep the public from knowing the details of privatisation plans.

      The government produced a risk register of the dangers of these plans, then refused to publish it (though an earlier draft was leaked). They have been ordered to disclose the register by the Information Commissioner (twice) and by a tribunal (once). Flouting normal democratic processes in the UK, the government used a bit of arcane trickery to block publication even then - a mechanism used only three times in the last decade, and which places this document's content on a par with the UK's preparations for the Iraq war. The content of the final document will now never be disclosed to the public.

      In the UK, private companies are creaming off the easier medical procedures at inflated profits and dumping the difficult medical problems back on the NHS, which is increasingly besieged and under strain. Doctors and (especially) nurses now seem to feel that they are in constant conflict with management (the very thought of 'management' in health provision would have been somewhat novel ten or so years ago: in the past medical professionals ran hospitals, now managers are everywhere).

      Once all the services of a hospital were controlled by the hospital. Now services like cleaning and sanitation are out-sourced, less accountable and standards have declined. This has coincided with an increase in outbreaks of in-hospital infects. This may or may not be cause and effect.

      The ethos of the NHS has completely changed. Once everyone involved in the NHS, doctors and nurses but also cleaners and support staff, drivers and maintenance, saw themselves as performing a valued and respected service, a public good and a duty. There was even some similarity to the ethos of the military; the NHS was, after all, constructed in the aftermath of WWII in an era of real austerity - not the faux austerity hoisted on the UK now, largely as a pretext for neo-liberal impositions.

      I can only urge solidarity between those seeking to build a universal healthcare system in the US and those seeking to save one in the UK.

      I hope one day, when these battles have been fought and won, a time will come for the founding of a GHS: a Global Health Service. Perhaps funded by a Tobin or Robin Hood tax.

  • Green Sunday: Good News on Clean Energy
    • Juan,

      It looks like some of the 'Moroccan' part of the DESERTEC plan includes the construction of wind-farms in Western Sahara. Doesn't this pose legal and moral difficulties? Isn't Western Sahara still a disputed territory?

      There is a map from DESERTEC's site here (scroll down a bit):

      link to


  • Continued Protests in Tunisia

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