Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Climate Crisis Agenda

While some media coverage of the International Energy Agency report this week stressed what it confirmed about the ongoing climate crisis, the Agency itself (and some news reports) stressed its proposals to prevent runaway climate deterioration and collapse that would likely spell the end for this human civilization.

The report does confirm the urgency of other science-based studies: that (as the National Geographic wrote in its first graph) " If the world waits until 2020 to take action on global climate change, it will undoubtedly be too late."

Let's pause for a moment and take that in.  In the midst of all the worthy issues, idiotic trivialities, shameless posturing and greedy inflation of nonsense that absorbs every facet of this constant overwhelming blitz of private and public information that absorbs our time, we're being told once again that we have less than seven years to save humanity, at least in its present form.

Which is made even more poignant by the main IEA message: four fairly simple steps that together may well slow carbon poisoning of the planet just enough to limit the climate damage before it becomes apocalyptic.

According to the IEA, they are:
  • Targeted energy efficiency measures in buildings, industry and transport account for nearly half the emissions reduction in 2020, with the additional investment required being more than offset by reduced spending on fuel bills.
  • Limiting the construction and use of the least-efficient coal-fired power plants delivers more than 20% of the emissions reduction and helps curb local air pollution. The share of power generation from renewables increases (from around 20% today to 27% in 2020), as does that from natural gas.
  • Actions to halve expected methane (a potent greenhouse gas) releases into the atmosphere from the upstream oil and gas industry in 2020 provide 18% of the savings.
  • Implementing a partial phase-out of fossil fuel consumption subsidies accounts for 12% of the reduction in emissions and supports efficiency efforts.
Or as the Christian Science Monitor summarized it:

"Over the next seven years, aggressive efforts to tackle greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants, refineries, and pipelines, and especially to boost energy efficiency, could still keep the world on track to meet its goal of holding increases in global average temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

What’s more, those efforts need not come at the expense of a profitable energy sector, a concern that has fueled opposition to international agreements on curbing emissions and slowing climate change."

A couple of other features of these proposals: they are basically intensifications of policies and efforts already begun, and while they may shift profits from some corporations, they all generate economic activity and generate new jobs.

The IEA and others have the figures to back all this up.  Energy efficiency may seem like just a feel good drop in the bucket, but it is not.  And there are simple adjuncts or changes that can contribute enormously.  For example, it's been estimated that making all roofs and roadways white (to reflect sunlight) would be the equivalent of taking all cars off the roads for 18 years.

The Monitor article is interesting also because it places the advocacy of such efforts in context of upcoming international attempts to finally address the climate crisis in a real way.  Some progress may have been made in that regard in the latest meeting between President Obama and leaders of China.

Big Commerce Is Watching You

The revelations about national security telephone and internet data mining bring up a lot of issues, as well as a lot of misinformation, opportunism and hysterical bloviating.  Here's an explanation and defense of the program, here's what such a program could lead to, and here's Josh Marshall's careful parsing of the whistleblowing part of it.

While all of this bears monitoring, I have perhaps different points of view.  Apart from its secondary importance when ranked with global heating as something to concentrate on and get all upset about in the media, it further illustrates to me how effectively we've been propagandized into getting hysterical about abuses real and imagined in government that we let slide or ignore in the corporate complexes.

While agencies of the federal government may be gathering vast amounts of data on who is calling who,  I don't see the same outrage about tech corporations with playful names following my every keystroke on the internet or reading my address book and sending me emails about what they find.  There is no privacy on the internet, and very little over any phone system that gets outside of a wire connection.  The feds monitor emails for key words--haven't we known that for awhile now?--to lead them to terrorists and child pornographers.  The private sector basically is using every available means, skirting the law or simply staying ahead of it, to learn as much as possible about each one of us, down to the most private details.  Technological means are constantly developed and refined to interpret information in order to predict behavior and profile every one of us.

So while the private sector can gather all the information it wants in order to sell us stuff, and set prices individually according to what they think they can get us to pay, anything the government does is an abuse of privacy.

I'm not necessarily defending these NSA programs, and certainly not the Patriot Act, nor do I believe it's wrong to question possible overreach by the national security state.  Abuses that are more than theoretical, like censorship or monitoring what information I access (something that those internet companies do routinely), or torture or even the force-feeding of inmates at Guantanamo (which got very little media coverage and no big outrage), merit coverage and outrage.  But it's curious to me that people go nuts over government getting involved in health care but don't seem to mind when corporations engage in price fixing and multiple abuses that have driven the cost of US healthcare through the roof and cost people their lives.  They rail about Medicare abuse, when its private individuals and businesses who are cheating Medicare.  So the government is always big and bad, while it it doesn't seem to be big and bad enough to control the banks, the oil companies or corporations in general.

Moreover, corporations are unaccountable to anybody except their bottom lines, and if they are too big and powerful to fail, not even to the courts.  But government is still at least theoretically accountable to the courts and more to the point, run by elected officials, who can be replaced by voters.

Which of course is part of the answer: because government is accountable, these controversies are political--people get voted out or in because of them.  Whereas we all feel powerless to change the behavior of the most powerful corporations, and elected officials are wary of touching them, since their wealth finances their campaigns.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Emerson for the Day

"The best you can write is the best you are."


Sunday, June 09, 2013

Sports Weekend

It's time to step back a bit from baseball, as my two teams begin what looks like a solid month playing each other.  The Giants and the Pirates start visiting each other's spectacular ball parks on Tuesday.  A glass half full way of looking at it is that I win either way.  On the other hand...

A sport that I don't follow at all is hockey.  The few hockey games I've watched were Stanley Cup finals in which the Penguins were involved, usually the deciding game.  Not many of those either. (Now it's not going to happen at all this year.)  I just don't like the game.

But there's another way of looking at it, a poetic way.  This is from a prose poem by Robert Bly from his book What Have I Ever Lost By Dying?

"How weird the goalies look with their African masks!  The goalie is so lonely anyway, guarding a basket with nothing in it, his wide lower legs as wide as ducks'...No matter what gift he is given, he always rejects it...

The goalie has gone out to mid-ice, and now he sails sadly back to his own box, slowly; he looks prehistoric with his rhinoceros legs; he looks as if he's going to become extinct, and he's just taking his time...

When the players are at the other end, he begins sadly sweeping the ice in front of his house; he is the old witch in the woods, waiting for the children to come home."