Archive for the ‘Crisis’ Category

Microcephaly: ‘It’s not the end of the world’

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

Laney (age 13)

BBC Medical Science — Microcephaly has come to prominence since the news reports of the Zika virus being linked to birth defects. The condition causes the head to be small in size and the brain to under-develop. But it is not known why babies are born with microcephaly. Gabrielle Frohock from Austin, Texas, US is a mum of three daughters – her last born – nicknamed Laney – has microcephaly. This is her story.


“After she was born doctors saw her head was too small. They did a cat scan the same day and diagnosed her with microcephaly. Part of the corpus callosum, or the nerve fibres, didn’t form at the back of the head that connects the two hemispheres of the brain. Doctors didn’t expect her to survive beyond a few months old. I had never heard of the condition before, and it was complete and utter devastation when we got the news. We also found out later she has a chromosome disorder that may be a cause of the microcephaly. I was determined I would love her and hold her – I did not put her down for six months, as I didn’t know how long she would survive. …

“When you have a child you love it unconditionally – when you have a special child, for me it’s a love without expectation. If she never says she loves me or never talks, it doesn’t matter. She’s a gift to me. It’s been heartbreaking but I never knew that kind of love existed. It only takes little things to make her happy. She can crawl now – and she can push a button on her favourite toy. We celebrate her birthday like you can’t imagine every year! She has brought so much joy in our lives. She is so wonderful, sweet and loving.” (02/03/2016)


Inequality and Modernization

Saturday, January 16th, 2016

Ronald Inglehart

Foreign Affairs — Ronald Inglehart writes: During the past century, economic inequality in the developed world has traced a massive U-shaped curve—starting high, curving downward, then curving sharply back up again. In 1915, the richest one percent of Americans earned roughly 18 percent of all national income. Their share plummeted in the 1930s and remained below ten percent through the 1970s, but by 2007, it had risen to 24 percent. Looking at household wealth rather than income, the rise of inequality has been even greater, with the share owned by the top 0.1 percent increasing to 22 percent from nine percent three decades ago. In 2011, the top one percent of U.S. households controlled 40 percent of the nation’s entire wealth. And while the U.S. case may be extreme, it is far from unique: all but a few of the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for which data are available experienced rising income inequality (before taxes and transfers) during the period from 1980 to 2009.

The French economist Thomas Piketty has famously interpreted this data by arguing that a tendency toward economic inequality is an inherent feature of capitalism. He sees the middle decades of the twentieth century, during which inequality declined, as an exception to the rule, produced by essentially random shocks—the two world wars and the Great Depression—that led governments to adopt policies that redistributed income. Now that the influence of those shocks has receded, life is returning to normal, with economic and political power concentrated in the hands of an oligarchy.

Piketty’s work has been corrected on some details, but his claim that economic inequality is rising rapidly in most developed countries is clearly accurate. What most analyses of the subject miss, however, is the extent to which both the initial fall and the subsequent rise of inequality over the past century have been related to shifts in the balance of power between elites and masses, driven by the ongoing process of modernization.

In hunting-and-gathering societies, virtually everyone possessed the skills needed for political participation. Communication was by word of mouth, referring to things one knew of firsthand, and decision-making often occurred in village councils that included every adult male. Societies were relatively egalitarian.

The invention of agriculture gave rise to sedentary communities producing enough food to support elites with specialized military and communication skills. Literate administrators made it possible to coordinate large empires governing millions of people. This much larger scale of politics required specialized skills, including the ability to read and write. Word-of-mouth communication was no longer sufficient for political participation: messages had to be sent across great distances. Human memory was incapable of recording the tax base or military manpower of large numbers of districts: written records were needed. And personal loyalties were inadequate to hold together large empires: legitimating myths had to be propagated by religious or ideological specialists. This opened up a wide gap between a relatively skilled ruling class and the population as a whole, which consisted mainly of scattered, illiterate peasants who lacked the skills needed to cope with politics at a distance. And along with that gap, economic inequality increased dramatically. (01/16/2016)


Understanding Climate Change

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015


BBC Science — The average temperature of the Earth’s surface has increased by about 0.85°C (1.4F) in the last 100 years. Thirteen of the 14 warmest years were recorded in the 21st Century, with 2015 on course to set another record.

Scientists believe that gases released from industry and agriculture (known as emissions) are adding to the natural greenhouse effect, the way the Earth’s atmosphere traps some of the energy from the Sun.

Human activities such as burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas are increasing the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas responsible for global warming. Carbon-absorbing forests are also being cut down.

The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is now higher than at any time in the last 800,000 years and reached a record high in May this year.

Higher temperatures, extreme weather events and higher sea levels are all linked to a warming climate and could have a drastic effect on the world’s regions.

Since 1900, sea levels have risen by on average about 19cm globally. The rate of sea-level rise has accelerated in recent decades, placing a number of islands and low-lying countries at risk.

The retreat of polar ice sheets is an important contributor to this rise.

Arctic sea ice is also shrinking because of higher temperatures, though it makes little contribution to raised sea levels.

An area of sea ice roughly 10 times the size of the UK has been lost when the current day is compared with average levels from the early 1980s. (12/09/2015)


An Open Letter to GAIA

Sunday, August 17th, 2014

Kahili King

Future Positive Serge Kahili King writes:


Dear Gaia,

Thank you for your last communication. The birdsongs were delightful, the sunrise was spectacular, and the scent of plumeria carried into my room by your trade winds was a very nice touch. I certainly admire your mastery of the sensory medium.

But this is more than just a letter of praise, much as you deserve it. It’s a plea for assistance in the survival of our species.

Oh, I know that many humans (one of your more rambunctious, prolific and mischievous group of apes, in case you aren’t familiar with the term we apply to ourselves) are very concerned about your survival, but they don’t know you as well as some of us . Those of us around the world who communicate with you on a regular basis know that your survival is not at stake. You would still be you whether you were a parched desert, a landless ocean, a ball of ice, a globe of lava or even a radioactive mass. And I’ve no doubt that you are creative enough to come up with some form of life under any conditions, since that’s one of your specialties.

No, Gaia, the problem is us humans, the apes with imagination. Not only have we put ourselves in danger, but we are endangering a lot of your other species in the plant and animal realms. Of course, I realize that we may not be high on your priority list. We are fairly numerous, but we don’t come anywhere near matching the numbers of your plants, insects, fishes, rodents and birds, even though we’ve tried pretty hard to diminish them. And I know we haven’t been around as long as some of the ones I’ve just mentioned. And I also know that your natural forces have wiped out considerable numbers of species over the eons. So why am I writing in hopes that you’ll help us? (08/17/2014)


State of the Species

Sunday, August 17th, 2014

Future Positive The mechanisms in use  by modern humanity see to me to be obsolete and no longer working. In my 68 revolutions around the Sun, I have never seen so much human caused chaos and disorder. I first read this essay in the November/December 2012 issue of Orion Magazine. This essay was a finalist for a 2013 National Magazine Award in the Essay category. I originally re-posted it on CommUnity of Minds in November of 2012, and was reminded of it again today. It was and is well worth revisiting. –-Timothy Wilken

Charles C. Mann

Charles C. Mann writing in 2012: By 2050, demographers predict, as many as 10 billion human beings will walk the earth, 3 billion more than today. Not only will more people exist than ever before, they will be richer than ever before. In the last three decades hundreds of millions in China, India, and other formerly poor places have lifted themselves from destitution—arguably the most important, and certainly the most heartening, accomplishment of our time. Yet, like all human enterprises, this great success will pose great difficulties.

In the past, rising incomes have invariably prompted rising demand for goods and services. Billions more jobs, homes, cars, fancy electronics—these are things the newly prosperous will want. (Why shouldn’t they?) But the greatest challenge may be the most basic of all: feeding these extra mouths. To agronomists, the prospect is sobering. The newly affluent will not want their ancestors’ gruel. Instead they will ask for pork and beef and lamb. Salmon will sizzle on their outdoor grills. In winter, they will want strawberries, like people in New York and London, and clean bibb lettuce from hydroponic gardens.

All of these, each and every one, require vastly more resources to produce than simple peasant agriculture. Already 35 percent of the world’s grain harvest is used to feed livestock. The process is terribly inefficient: between seven and ten kilograms of grain are required to produce one kilogram of beef. Not only will the world’s farmers have to produce enough wheat and maize to feed 3 billion more people, they will have to produce enough to give them all hamburgers and steaks. Given present patterns of food consumption, economists believe, we will need to produce about 40 percent more grain in 2050 than we do today.

How can we provide these things for all these new people? That is only part of the question. The full question is: How can we provide them without wrecking the natural systems on which all depend?

Scientists, activists, and politicians have proposed many solutions, each from a different ideological and moral perspective. Some argue that we must drastically throttle industrial civilization. (Stop energy-intensive, chemical-based farming today! Eliminate fossil fuels to halt climate change!) Others claim that only intense exploitation of scientific knowledge can save us. (Plant super-productive, genetically modified crops now! Switch to nuclear power to halt climate change!) No matter which course is chosen, though, it will require radical, large-scale transformations in the human enterprise—a daunting, hideously expensive task.

Worse, the ship is too large to turn quickly. The world’s food supply cannot be decoupled rapidly from industrial agriculture, if that is seen as the answer. Aquifers cannot be recharged with a snap of the fingers. If the high-tech route is chosen, genetically modified crops cannot be bred and tested overnight. Similarly, carbon-sequestration techniques and nuclear power plants cannot be deployed instantly. Changes must be planned and executed decades in advance of the usual signals of crisis, but that’s like asking healthy, happy sixteen-year-olds to write living wills.

Not only is the task daunting, it’s strange. In the name of nature, we are asking human beings to do something deeply unnatural, something no other species has ever done or could ever do: constrain its own growth (at least in some ways). Zebra mussels in the Great Lakes, brown tree snakes in Guam, water hyacinth in African rivers, gypsy moths in the northeastern U.S., rabbits in Australia, Burmese pythons in Florida—all these successful species have overrun their environments, heedlessly wiping out other creatures. Like Gause’s protozoans, they are racing to find the edges of their petri dish. Not one has voluntarily turned back. Now we are asking Homo sapiens to fence itself in.

What a peculiar thing to ask! Economists like to talk about the “discount rate,” which is their term for preferring a bird in hand today over two in the bush tomorrow. The term sums up part of our human nature as well. Evolving in small, constantly moving bands, we are as hard-wired to focus on the immediate and local over the long-term and faraway as we are to prefer parklike savannas to deep dark forests. Thus, we care more about the broken stoplight up the street today than conditions next year in Croatia, Cambodia, or the Congo. Rightly so, evolutionists point out: Americans are far more likely to be killed at that stoplight today than in the Congo next year. Yet here we are asking governments to focus on potential planetary boundaries that may not be reached for decades. Given the discount rate, nothing could be more understandable than the U.S. Congress’s failure to grapple with, say, climate change. From this perspective, is there any reason to imagine that Homo sapiens, unlike mussels, snakes, and moths, can exempt itself from the natural fate of all successful species?

To biologists like Margulis, who spend their careers arguing that humans are simply part of the natural order, the answer should be clear. All life is similar at base. All species seek without pause to make more of themselves—that is their goal. By multiplying till we reach our maximum possible numbers, even as we take out much of the planet, we are fulfilling our destiny.

From this vantage, the answer to the question whether we are doomed to destroy ourselves is yes. It should be obvious.

Should be—but perhaps is not.  (08/17/2014)


November 2013, Warmest Weather Recorded

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

The Atlantic Journal— Rebecca J. Rosen reports: If you live in the eastern half of the United States, last month probably seemed like a normal November for you, perhaps even a bit chilly.

But, historically, the month was anything but.

According to NOAA, November 2013 was the warmest November since at least 1880, the year when NOAA’s global temperature records begin. During the 20th century, the average global temperature for November was 55.2° F; in 2013 we managed to beat that by 1.40° F.

The longer three-month period, stretching from September to November, was also unusually warm—the second warmest on record since 1880; only 2005 was warmer. For the entire year to date, 2013 is on track to be among the top five or six warmest years since we started keeping track. All ten of the ten warmest years on record have happened in the past 15 years. (12/18/2013)


Understanding Mechanism and Consequence

Sunday, November 17th, 2013
CommUnity of Minds

First Atomic Bomb Explosion

CommUnity of Minds — Timothy Wilken, MD writes: Human intelligence develops over time and can achieve four levels of understanding. We start with PERCEPTION then develop and sometimes master CONCEPTION, then develop and sometimes master MECHANISM and finally develop and sometimes master CONSEQUENCE. These levels are sequential–CONCEPTION follows and depends on first mastering PERCEPTION, MECHANISM follows and depends on first mastering CONCEPTION, and  finally CONSEQUENCE follows and depends on first mastering MECHANISM.

It is possible for most humans to understand, and then master their intelligence fully. Those who choose to do so, can with practice, develop the ability to access five modes of thinking: Survive, Adapt, Control, Create, and Co-Operate at will. With additional study and contemplation they can gain mastery of the four levels of knowing: PERCEPTION, CONCEPTION, MECHANISM, and CONSEQUENCE.

PERCEPTION is the understanding of space and sameness—spacial integrity— recognizing WHAT is associated with Good Space and WHAT is associated with Bad Space. PERCEPTION is also knowing WHERE to go to enable or avoid a recognized event—knowing WHERE to go to secure Good Space and WHERE to go to avoid Bad Space. PERCEPTION enables the ability of Adaptation.

CONCEPTION is the understanding of time and difference—temporal sequence—local cause and effect, and from that understanding knowing WHEN to act in time to encourage a desired event, or WHEN to act in time to discourage an undesired event from occurring. CONCEPTION enables the ability of Control.

MECHANISM is the understanding of HOW things work together—what events and actions are necessary to produce a desired resultant—knowing how PERCEPTION and CONCEPTION relate to each other. MECHANISM enables the ability of Creation.

And finally, CONSEQUENCE is the understanding of the potential risks and benefits of our actions and their effects on our selves and upon others. CONSEQUENCE enables the ability of Co-Operation.

Let me provide one example of these four levels of knowing, and how they might apply to one problem currently threatening our civilization. As Albert Einstein warned us over sixty-six years ago: “The splitting of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.”

Einstein had discovered one of Nature’s MECHANISMS: E=mc2

The scientists and technicians working at the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico used their KnowHow to weaponize this MECHANISM of Nature with the creation of nuclear bombs.

Now let us examine the threat of nuclear weapons from the perspective of our four levels of human knowing.

PERCEPTION is the level of knowing necessary to adapt to a nuclear event — to know what is associated with a nuclear blast, and to know where to go to escape from the blast of a nuclear weapon. Where is Good Space? Where can I go to avoid Bad Space?

CONCEPTION is the level of knowing necessary to control a nuclear event — to know when to act to either detonate, or deactivate a nuclear weapon. What is the proper sequence of actions to control the process? And, when do I enter the activation code? Or, when do I enter the deactivation code?

MECHANISM is the level of knowing necessary to create a nuclear event — to know how reality allows the forces of nature to interact and result in a nuclear explosion — E=mc2. And, it also is the level of understanding necessary to invent and manufacture the technology of a nuclear weapon — the Manhattan Project. How do I design a nuclear device?

And finally, CONSEQUENCE is the level of knowing necessary in order to co-Operate — to know why we should never have created nuclear weapons in the first place. Why are we creating these devices? What will be the consequence of their existence? (11/17/2013)


Honeybees and Consequence

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

CommUnity of Minds — Timothy Wilken, MD writes: The animals have perceptual intelligence. It is perceptual intelligence that allows the animals to survive in the fight or flight world of adversarity and to adapt to their environment.

We humans share the perceptual intelligence of the animals, but are blessed with a 2nd form of intelligence called conceptual intelligence. Conceptual intelligence allows us to speak with a voice, be aware of Time, and learn from our mistakes. It is conceptual intelligence that allows we humans to control the events in our lives by understanding how cause and effect work, to use tools to leverage our actions, and lets each new generation start from where the last generation left off.

Some humans learn to use their perceptual intelligence together with their conceptual intelligence to generate a 3rd form of intelligence called  genius intelligence. Examples of humans possessing  genius intelligence include: Albert Einstein in science, Michael Jordan in sports, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in music. It is genius intelligence that allows some humans to understand mechanism. Those understanding mechanism can invent new tools of science and technology, create new ways of playing basketball, and create original musical masterpieces.

A few humans learn to use their perceptual intelligence together with their conceptual and together with their genius intelligence to generate a 4th form of intelligence called goodness intelligence. Examples of humans possessing goodness intelligence include: Jesus of Nazareth, Siddhartha Gautama, known as the Buddha, Lao Tzu, Florence Nightingale, Albert Schweitzer, Mohandas Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and the Dali Lama to name a few. It is goodness intelligence that allows a few humans to understand consequence. Those understanding consequence can see the truth. They can see good action. They know that they should avoid hurting others, and whenever possible they should help others.

As today’s author warns: “Beginning nearly a decade ago, honeybees started dying off at unusually and mysteriously high rates—this past winter, nearly one-third of U.S. honeybee colonies died or disappeared.”

Goodness intelligence grants us humans the ability to understand consequence. If we understand consequence, then we realize that we should move as quickly as possible to understand the plight of the honeybee. For only if we understand this crisis can we hope to rescue the honeybee, and perhaps rescue ourselves as well.


Winner Takes All

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Web of Debt BookWeb of Debt — Ellen Brown writes: Cyprus-style confiscation of depositor funds has been called the “new normal.”  Bail-in policies are appearing in multiple countries directing failing TBTF banks to convert the funds of “unsecured creditors” into capital; and those creditors, it turns out, include ordinary depositors. Even “secured” creditors, including state and local governments, may be at risk.  Derivatives have “super-priority” status in bankruptcy, and Dodd Frank precludes further taxpayer bailouts. In a big derivatives bust, there may be no collateral left for the creditors who are next in line.

Shock waves went around the world when the IMF, the EU, and the ECB not only approved but mandated the confiscation of depositor funds to “bail in” two bankrupt banks in Cyprus. A “bail in” is a quantum leap beyond a “bail out.” When governments are no longer willing to use taxpayer money to bail out banks that have gambled away their capital, the banks are now being instructed to “recapitalize” themselves by confiscating the funds of their creditors, turning debt into equity, or stock; and the “creditors” include the depositors who put their money in the bank thinking it was a secure place to store their savings.

The Cyprus bail-in was not a one-off emergency measure but was consistent with similar policies already in the works for the US, UK, EU, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, as detailed in my earlier articles here and here.  “Too big to fail” now trumps all.  Rather than banks being put into bankruptcy to salvage the deposits of their customers, the customers will be put into bankruptcy to save the banks.

The big risk behind all this is the massive $230 trillion derivatives boondoggle managed by US banks. Derivatives are sold as a kind of insurance for managing profits and risk; but as Satyajit Das points out in Extreme Money, they actually increase risk to the system as a whole.

In the US after the Glass-Steagall Act was implemented in 1933, a bank could not gamble with depositor funds for its own account; but in 1999, that barrier was removed. Recent congressional investigations have revealed that in the biggest derivative banks, JPMorgan and Bank of America, massive commingling has occurred between their depository arms and their unregulated and highly vulnerable derivatives arms.  (04/18/2013)


The Recreation

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

File:Creación de Adán.jpgCommUnity of Minds — Don Halcom writes: In the next sixty years the entire world will be forced to re-create itself. This is not a prophecy of doom but a fact.  The single event that will require this re-creation is the exhaustion of fossil fuels. The world consumption of energy per capita grows faster, with respect to time, than the population growth. This predicts the exhaustion of fossil fuels sooner than the optimists calculate.

The entire infrastructure created by the exploitation of fossil fuels will have to be replaced by a new one. Literally everything will need to be changed. The clothes we wear, the food we eat, the houses we live in, the lights we use, the heat we need, the transportation we use, the roads we use, the medicines we need, the energy we use — everything about the infrastructure will have to be re-created.  We are that dependent upon fossil fuels.

The desperation of this event cannot be minimized. Politicians, economists, businessmen, philosophies, governments, armies or the clergy will not solve this problem. Only one institution has any chance of performing this re-creation and that is science. Without science, all the other institutions are useless for this task.

Science and the exploitation of fossil fuels created our current infrastructure. Science and something new will have to re-create a new infrastructure. Any other path will only lead to a total collapse of modern civilization. If you believe that this is an exaggeration, then you are part of a group that does not understand the current world we live in. It is very easy to take our surroundings for granted and assume they will always be the same. The existential event that is about to confront mankind will swamp any other disaster in the history of the world. If you do not believe me just hide and watch it happen. If you do believe me then get involved with the re-creation. Procrastination will only lead to a condition that will not allow the re-creation to occur in a peaceful manner. We must have sufficient motive, resources and time to accomplish the re-creation. It is a problem of bootstrapping ourselves to a new world. …

The most important conclusion is that massive energy consumption is the creator of population growth. We cannot support 7 billion people (or more) without the use of fossil fuels energy. There is only a finite amount of sunshine and land to create the future energy requirements.

We must reduce our current crude oil energy equivalent consumption by an estimated 80%. About 20% of our current crude oil energy consumption should support a world population of about 1 billion with a life style similar to our current system.

Here is the most difficult part to execute; we must initiate controlled population reduction in a planned way over about the next sixty year from about 7 billion to about 1 billion. Population should stabilize at about 1 billion. Our grand children demand it. Religion will be the major obstacle here. In my opinion, wars are not ethical solutions.

About 12% of the earth’s agricultural land could be devoted to BioDiesel production. This is about four times the current land used for cooking oils. Remember that at least 60% of the earth’s agricultural land is required to maintain the current status quo of crude oil based energy equivalence. I did not include coal and natural gas in these calculations which will also become exhausted in the future. To replace the latter two will require even more agricultural land. The game only gets more intractable. We will have to determine the plants we want to use to replace the coal and natural gas. Got any good ideas? I will guarantee that no “computer” scientist or economist or banker or politician or stock market analyst or pure mathematician or justice of the Supreme Court will solve these problems.

Diesel engines and jet turbines will be the only engines in the future. Electric motors/generators will also be used.

We are no longer going to have the energy resources to employ all of our current working population when fossil fuels become extinct. We are already seeing hints of this. All of the infrastructure will be smaller as well as the goods for sale from such a system. All of economics is the result of the real physics of the planet and not the reverse. We can only use what we are given.

Failure to abide by the above suggestions will result in the ugliest set of wars we can imagine and will kill most of our grand children in a short period of time. Stupidity is not an excuse.

I apologize for presenting such a dark calamity but it is better to know about it now than to wake up one morning and find WWIII erupting outside our windows. It will happen if we do not wisely execute the transformation of our existing infrastructure and that begins now, not 50 years from now. Time and resources are the enemies.

I fully realize that our current ways of thinking and living are opposed to this transformation ever occurring. We do not live on a planet chocked full of infinite resources. I repeat; stupidity is not an excuse. Our current crop of politicians and economist may, in fact, be that stupid. Infinite growth requires infinite resources which do not exist on this planet. If your daddy told you that this is not true, then your daddy was wrong. Do your own thinking. Make it scientific thinking this time and not just another fairy tale about the princess and the knight in shining armor living happily ever after. We cannot have everything, we only imagine we can. This is dangerous thinking. The world is changing too rapidly to day dream about the good old days. Make our dreams about tomorrow realistic. Please help modulate our lusts. (01/09/2013)