Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Racing Toward An Uninhabitable Planet

William Rees believes that the climate crisis could cause mass human extinction. He writes:

On Aug. 15, in a memorable session of the BBC’s HardTalk, [Roger] Hallam irritated multiple cultural nerves by claiming, on the basis of “hard science,” that six billion people will die as a result of climate change in coming decades.
More specifically, our ruling elites’ inaction and lies on climate change will lead to climate turmoil, mass starvation and general societal collapse in this century. Normally unflappable HardTalk host, Stephen Sackur, just couldn’t wrap his mind around Hallam’s unyielding assertions.

There are lots of scientists who are as sceptical as Sachur:

One key to understanding these scientists’ rejections is their language. They assert that there is “no mainstream prediction” nor analysis in the “peer reviewed literature” that climate change will precipitate such catastrophic human mortality.
But keep in mind that scientists are reluctant, for professional reasons, to go far beyond the immediate data in formal publication. Moreover, organizations like the United Nations, including even its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, are so dominated by economists’ concerns and bent by political considerations that extraneous noise obscures the scientific signal.

But, if you look at data on the human population explosion, Hallam's claim becomes quite believable:

When something is growing exponentially, it has a constant doubling time. For example, a population growing at two per cent a year will double every 35 years. Interestingly, the increase that occurs during any doubling period will be greater than the sum of the increases experienced in all previous doublings.
As the figure below shows, it took 200,000 years for the human population to reach its first billion in the early 1800s. In other words, population growth was essentially negligible for 99.95 of human history. But when sustained exponential growth kicked in, it took just 200 years — 1/1000th as much time — for the population to top 7.5 billion early in this century!

The same exponential math applies to the climate crisis:

As much as a decade ago a climate symposium organized to discuss the implications of a 4 C warmer world concluded, “Less than a billion people will survive.” Here [Hans Joachim] Schellnhuber is quoted as saying: “At 4 C Earth’s... carrying capacity estimates are below 1 billion people.” His words were echoed by professor Kevin Anderson of the U.K.’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change: “Only about 10 per cent of the planet’s population would survive at 4 C.”
Similarly, in May of this year, Johan Rockström, current director of the Potsdam Institute opined that in a 4 C warmer world: “It’s difficult to see how we could accommodate a billion people or even half of that.... There will be a rich minority of people who survive with modern lifestyles, no doubt, but it will be a turbulent, conflict-ridden world.” Meanwhile, greenhouse gas concentrations are still increasing.
Keep in mind that a global temperature increase averaging 4 C means land temperatures would be 5.5 to 6 C warmer away from the coasts. Much of the tropics would be too hot for humans and many densely populated parts of the temperate zone would be desertified. A 4 C warmer world map suggests that as much as half the planet would become uninhabitable. (A ‘4 C world’ assumes business-as-usual or no new climate policies in coming decades. Note, however, that known and unknown ‘feedback’ mechanisms could make 4 C possible, even with new politically acceptable policies in place.)

We are racing -- blindly -- toward an uninhabitable planet.

Image: Countercurrents

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Locked And Loaded

Donald Trump says his country is "locked and loaded" for a confrontation with Iran. Before he wanders into the desert again, Andrew Bacevich writes that Trump would do well to remember how the United States got entangled in Iran:

In 1987, an Iraqi warplane attacked an American Navy frigate, the Stark, on patrol in the Persian Gulf. Accepting Saddam Hussein’s explanation that the attack, which killed 37 sailors, had been an accident, American officials promptly used the episode, which came at the height of the Iran-Iraq war, to ratchet up pressure on Tehran. The incident provided the impetus for what became a brief, and all but forgotten, maritime war between the United States and Iran.
After the Stark episode, American and Iranian naval forces in the gulf began jousting, an uneven contest that culminated in April 1988 with the virtual destruction of the Iranian Navy.
Yet the United States gained little from this tidy victory. The principal beneficiary was Hussein, who wasted no time in repaying Washington by invading and annexing Kuwait soon after his war with Iran ground to a halt. Thus did America’s “friend” become America’s “enemy.”
The encounter with Iran became a precedent-setting event and a font of illusions. Since then, a series of administrations have indulged the fantasy that the direct or indirect application of military power can somehow restore stability to the gulf.
In fact, just the reverse has occurred. Instability has become chronic, with the relationship between military policy and actual American interests in the region becoming ever more difficult to discern.

Much of American foreign policy provides a study in the law of unintended consequences:

The conviction, apparently widespread in American policy circles, that in the Persian Gulf (and elsewhere) the United States is compelled to take sides, has been a source of recurring mischief. No doubt the escalating rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran poses a danger of further destabilizing the gulf. But the United States is under no obligation to underwrite the folly of one side or the other.
Supporting Iraq in its foolhardy war with Iran in the 1980s proved to be strategically shortsighted in the extreme. It yielded vastly more problems than it solved. It set in train a series of costly wars that have produced negligible benefits. Supporting Saudi Arabia today in its misbegotten war in Yemen is no less shortsighted.
Power confers choice, and the United States should exercise it. We can begin to do so by recognizing that Saudi Arabia’s folly need not be our problem.

Mr. Bacevich is no idle theoretician. Americans -- and others -- would be wise to head his warning.

Image: Modern Diplomacy

Monday, September 16, 2019

Pas Comme Les Autres

Martin Patriquin writes that there are  stark parallels between the Adscam scandal of the 1990's and the SNC-Lavalin scandal of today:

A quick refresher: In 1995, utterly spooked by Quebec's near-exit from the federation, the Liberal government of the day devised a plan to essentially sell Quebecers on Canada's many merits and delights. In theory, this branding exercise would make the Maple Leaf ubiquitous at sporting events, hunting shows and on Quebec's formidable festival circuit. In practice, this exercise was entrusted to Liberal-connected ad firms in the province, which billed inflationary amounts for work often not done. 
The ensuing scandal, also birthed by the Globe and Mail, had a feedback loop effect. English Canada resented the Liberal Party's rank Quebec favouritism, which Quebecers themselves resented for the graft and corruption done in their name. The Liberals were relegated to near-rump status in Quebec in the following years, and it took nearly a decade for the party to recover from the cacophony of outrage and arrests. Lavscam has many similar ingredients: ample finger wagging from English Canada and a Liberal government willing to break the rules for an allegedly corrupt Quebec-based business.

But, in Quebec, the outrage felt in the rest of the country hasn't taken hold. Why?

Simple: as a large, home-grown entity, SNC-Lavalin is less a company than corporate god. Like Couche-Tard, GardaWorld, Bombardier and CGI Group, to name a few, SNC is a symbol of Quebec success and might on the world stage.
When one of these corporate gods is sold off — like, say, when an U.S.-based Lowes bought Quebec-based Rona in 2016 for an absurd amount of money — the reaction is less joyous than wake-like. "What will be the next Quebec crown jewel to be sold off?" wondered one columnist in a familiar fit of pique. 
Being a Quebec corporate god holds a lot of water and hides a lot of sin. Even before the Globe and Mail revelations, the Quebec government included the company on a list of 10 "strategic" firms that would be protected from foreign takeovers. 
In the wake of the Globe's revelations, when SNC-Lavalin's decampment to foreign shores became a very real possibility, the company's myriad alleged overindulgences at the behest of Muammar Gaddafi's homicidal regime became an afterthought. Far more important, as Quebec Premier François Legault put it last February, was to "settle" SNC's inconvenient legal situation and "protect the headquarters and the thousands of good, well-paying jobs we have at SNC-Lavalin."
In attempting to do exactly this, Trudeau endeared himself to Quebec's political and media classes — and, apparently, to most Quebecers themselves. 

Quebecers will tell you that la belle province is "pas comme les autres." And they will have a large say in who becomes the next prime minister.


Sunday, September 15, 2019

It Follows You Forever

Social media are taking down lots of candidates these days. There is one ugly fact that we all now live with: What you write or do on the Internet lives on forever. Robin Sears writes:

It is too much to hope that young people will not say and do dumb things. We all did. But is it too much to expect that they will not lie about them when they are seeking public office?
It shouldn’t be. But once again, a spate of bozo candidate moments has bedevilled the launch of each party’s campaigns.
Everything from domestic abuse to antisemitism, to white supremacy, to Islamophobic attacks have taken down candidates from every party.

We all do stupid things in our youth. But, these days, if you try and lie about the stupid things you've done, the lies will catch up with you:

Do these idiots think that in these days of eternal digital life for every dumb thing you have said or done that they won’t be exposed? How many cases of lives and reputations ruined do they need to hear about to understand that that has not been true for more than a decade now.
Seeking the privilege of holding public office is not filling in a job application. The standards of character and integrity are much higher. For it is entirely appropriate when a hidden embarrassment is revealed, for voters to ask: “Well, if she will lie about that, what else will she lie to me about?”
Yes, the parties will need to continue to tighten their vetting processes, but few screening processes can pick out every determined liar, not even polygraphs.
So the obligation is on the aspiring candidate.
They are the ones who must ask themselves before seeking the trust of thousands of voters, is there something I have done that I am ashamed of? Are there things I have said I wish, years later, I could take back?
Most of us have examples of each in our lives. The next question is quite simple: If I disclose it and offer a genuine apology for it, could I still be accepted as a candidate?
If you honestly cannot see that happening, stand down.

Good advice for political candidates -- indeed, for all of us.

Image: Twitter

Saturday, September 14, 2019

What They Won't Talk About

There are lots of issues on the agenda this time around. But, Bob Hepburn writes, there's one issue none of the leaders will touch:

Missing will be plans on how to address what is arguably the most critical issue of all — our increasingly fractured nation.
It’s the big election issue that no one is talking about.
Indeed, this election is actually about fractures between urban and rural, highly educated and moderately educated, elites and ordinary folks. It’s an election about solitudes — West versus East, the rich versus the middle class versus the poor.
While the leaders may talk a little about these divides, none will likely say anything truly unique. Instead, they will simplistically say “vote for me and I will resolve these issues.”

True, we've always been a divided nation. But some divisions can cause irreparable harm. As a kid, I grew up in the middle of Quebec -- and Canada's -- Two Solitudes. The end result was The October Crisis. We survived that and developed the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But this time around, we are faced with multiple simmering divisions:

Today, 62 per cent of us believe the country is divided and 51 per cent feel it has worsened over the past 10 years, according to a recent Ipsos poll.
On the urban-rural divide, the split is huge and growing, especially on issues such as the carbon tax and gun controls. In Tuesday’s election in Manitoba, for example, outside of Greater Winnipeg the NDP won only two ridings and the Liberals none.
Many politicians, notably Ontario Premier Doug Ford, have made careers of pitting suburban and rural voters against those living in cities. In trying to appeal to non-urban voters, Ford last year branded downtown voters as “people who look down on the common folk, the people who think they are smarter than other people.”
At the same time, the rich-poor gap has grown so wide that the poor have given up on most politicians working to achieve income equality. In fact, they believe — rightly in many cases — that no politician will save them soon and that few will even try.
What the poor do see too often are politicians bowing to the rich and ultra-rich, that 1-per-cent crowd that fights against their taxes going up, money that could be spent to repair decaying schools or fixing playgrounds in poverty-ridden areas.

If we ignore those divisions, there will be an explosion. They must be addressed.

Image: HuffPost Canada

Friday, September 13, 2019

Red Tories

Pundits are suggesting that this election will be won or lost in Ontario -- primarily because Ontario is Canada's most populous province. When politicians come looking for votes here, Tom Walkom writes, they need to remember that Ontarians are Red Tories -- and they have been for a long time:

Analysts often divide voters into two camps: progressive or conservative. That is a useful distinction as far as it goes. But it doesn’t capture Ontario’s political culture which, typically, is an amalgam of both.
In general, Ontarians are wary of abrupt change. They tend to value competent management over ideology. They usually see balance as a virtue.
This is the Tory side of Red Tory-ism.
But voters in Canada’s largest province are also willing to use the state to achieve social goals. Since the early 20th century, they have backed public power in the form of Ontario Hydro (indeed, they eventually punished former premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals for privatizing part of that utility).
This is the Tory side of Red Tory-ism.
But voters in Canada’s largest province are also willing to use the state to achieve social goals. Since the early 20th century, they have backed public power in the form of Ontario Hydro (indeed, they eventually punished former premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals for privatizing part of that utility).

Once again, Justin Trudeau is presenting himself as a Red Tory:

This time around, Trudeau’s Liberals are again emphasizing their Red credentials. On Thursday, they promised to beef up subsidies for first-time home buyers in Canada’s hot housing markets, including Toronto.
They have announced that they have no interest in balanced budgets and are signalling that they will promise a comprehensive pharmacare scheme.
With one important exception, they have made few overtures to the Tory side of the typical Ontario Red Tory. That exception is the Liberal climate-change strategy, which emphasizes the classic, if ultimately unsatisfying, Tory virtue of balance — in this case, between the economy and the environment.

Andrew Scheer -- who still walks in Stephen Harper's shoes -- defines himself very much as a Blue Tory:

Scheer’s Conservatives have focused almost completely on the Tory side of Red Toryism. They accuse the Liberals of poor financial management. They accuse them of incompetence in foreign affairs, particularly with regard to China.
Scheer accuses Trudeau personally of malfeasance in the SNC-Lavalin affair.
Here, he runs the danger of going too far. Slagging Trudeau personally goes over well with the committed Conservative base. But an undecided Ontario Red Tory might find Scheer’s harsh language disturbingly reminiscent of the take-no-prisoners approach to politics associated with Harper.

Doug Ford has tried that message -- and it hasn't worked very well.

Here's the really big question: How will Elizabeth May do in a Red Tory province?

Image: The Toronto Star

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Iceberg

Andrew Scheer is hoping that no one will use the F-word -- Ford -- during the election campaign. Rob Benzie writes:

While the premier’s Progressive Conservatives won 76 of Ontario’s 124 provincial ridings in last year’s election, Scheer’s federal Conservatives fear he could hurt them where they need to win most.
Yes, Ford did his national counterparts a favour by postponing this past Monday’s scheduled return of the legislature until Oct. 28 — a week after the election.
And he has promised he’s “not getting involved” in the campaign.
But it may be difficult for the limelight-loving premier of Canada’s most populous and electorally important province to remain in the shadows for the next six weeks.

But the F-word doesn't know when -- or how -- to  shut up:

Indeed, just last Friday, Ford, whose government is spending $30 million fighting federal carbon pricing measures, fired a salvo at Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in an email fundraising appeal for his provincial party.
“It makes me so angry that we have to deal with the federal carbon tax. Because it isn’t just gas. It’s everything. Groceries move by truck. Homes are heated with natural gas,” he wrote.
“Honestly … it just makes me sick. Politicians who want to make your life more expensive don’t deserve to get elected. End of story.”

And just before the start of the campaign, Ford declared that stickers, purportedly showing the gross unfairness of the carbon tax, be placed on every gasoline pump in the province:

In that vein, Ford’s mandatory stickers attacking the federal carbon plan began appearing on gas pumps two weeks ago.
However, the Tory-blue decals — printed by Astley Gilbert at a cost to the treasury of $4,954 — are being challenged by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which argues that compelled speech violates the Constitution’s protection of free speech.
Vandalized and peeled off so quickly that supplies have run short, they may end up as a historic curio because the premier has suggested he might abandon the fight against Ottawa’s carbon pricing if the Trudeau Liberals are re-elected.
“We’ll be consulting with cabinet and we’ll move forward from there, but I do respect democracy,” he said two weeks ago.
It’s that sort of freewheeling style that alarms the button-down team around Scheer.

Scheer has every right to be concerned. Ford's the iceberg in the channel that could sink his ship.

Image: medium