Strategies of Communication on Climate Change

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Unreal Reality of jumping out - part II

by Max Iacono

Part II:  Can world human society be transformed to improve its chances for future survival, and how?

Continuing directly from Part I of this post “Humanity’s current predicament and what could be done”…

…and without now delving into the entire history of the World Bank Group from its beginning to the present, I would simply reiterate /recapitulate what I have just indicated in Part I above by saying that recently there were two main periods of World Bank history.  Interested readers can read about the entire history of the World Bank Group’s main institutional components i.e. the IBRD (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development) (initially set up to address the reconstruction needs of post-World War II Europe) and the IDA (International Development Association)  (established to assist and promote the economic and social development of developing countries)  and the IFC (International Finance Corporation) (the private sector mobilization arm of the W.B) which taken together all comprise what is called “The World Bank Group”, a history which can be found here:  

 …and also here:

 The two recent most important periods once again were these:

1)   The period of the so-called “structural adjustment” of macro /national economies and the liberalization and privatization and deregulation of the various economic, social and administrative sectors  of  developing countries (in roughly the 1980’s and early 1990’s) and the associated more general transition towards a new balance and roles for States and Markets. 

2)   The subsequent period of so called PRSPS (Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers)  i.e. national policy frameworks with their relatively integrated and complementary multi sector-level policies and policy reforms designed for poverty reduction, and the pursuit of the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) (still not achieved) with more attention being paid also to “sustainability” and to environmental issues as well as to improved “knowledge management” among the various national and international development actors,  but without necessarily putting these goals first and foremost and at the center of “policy”;   with policy here meaning the policy of the World Bank Group,  the various national policy frameworks of nation states, and global multilateral or international policies.

The first period corresponded -or responded to- the so-called “Washington Consensus” and the second was an attempt to take into account some of its shortcomings and criticisms.  (this very roughly speaking)   The Washington Consensus was fundamentally an evolving neoliberal paradigm and vision and –as earlier indicated- also intended to modify the prior existing balance and relationship between States and Markets i.e. where national economies earlier presumably could be run from “the commanding heights of the state” towards a more “facilitative and regulatory role” for the State with implementation and policy and program delivery left to market forces and the private sector.   It also significantly deepened and extended globalization and all of its transactions and exchanges of goods, services, capital, information, knowledge and etc.

Once again, I am not trying to say in this short think piece that the World Bank Group and the IMF are now  -in their present form, with their present mandates, and with their present governance structure and internal institutional capacities and capabilities,  the right institutions to help design and implement seriously the massive transformations of the world economy which I (and many others) believe are required to address CO2 emissions, global warming, climate change, limits to growth, peak resources, and etc. Which incidentally are just some of the most serious and pressing environmental problems though there are also several others (e.g. increasingly serious biodiversity loss and pollution) and all of which need to be viewed and tackled in the broader context of the Limits to Growth systems paradigm which takes into account the actual biophysical realities and conditions of both “sources and sinks” and of the “carrying capacity” of the planet.  (something which mainstream economics with its “economic growth forever” and “price signals” paradigm generally speaking does NOT do)

What I am suggesting is that a significantly reconfigured World Bank and IMF have at least SOME of the initial technical capacities and know-how which would be needed and could be useful to mobilize to begin to significantly reform and restructure the globalized world economy (again, at present premised on a continuing economic growth which clearly cannot go on forever on a finite planet) and the economies of the 196 nation states currently seated at the United Nations.    And that therefore how to implement such a “great transformation” (as it repeatedly has been called)  is in fact – fundamentally-  “perhaps not a mystery”?    The World Bank is haltingly and very partially moving in this direction anyway but:  a) in piecemeal fashion and not wholeheartedly and comprehensively and single-mindedly; and b) only as concerns “emerging” or “developing” economies and not regarding “advanced” or “developed” economies and c) not necessarily mobilizing all the other partners that could work together with it;  (i.e. “the network” acting in concert which was mentioned earlier)

So why am I saying all of this?  Because at least in the climate change activism community and the environmental community more broadly there seems to be some confusion or ambiguity -and even ignorance or avoidance,  regarding what actually needs to be done comprehensively and at scale  (and very soon) and who could do it and how the relevant actors -national and international- would go about doing it practically speaking.   Environmentalists –and also scientists- as well intentioned as most of them typically are have little experience in managing or reforming economies.  (And professional economists are often using the wrong paradigms and mental models and as a result,  the results which they can achieve are also often less than satisfactory) 

Communicating better with or to the various and diverse and complex strata of the general public which is out there and may not yet be fully convinced regarding the problem and its nature (about both the scientific facts, the biophysical and social systems’ effects and the problems which inevitably flow from these, and the rational conclusions about what humanity needs to do, or ought to do,  which derive from both) and further mobilizing NGO’s and others (the environmental movement and community) to alert much better to the dangers and also to undertake practical activism of various kinds,  are  all VERY important  things to do.

Mobilizing local stakeholders to deal with mitigation and adaptation -and very partially also with prevention or reversal- also is important as I had indicated and supported in my earlier post on this blog by the title “the important thing is to do something”

But in addition to alerting and mobilizing the public and its various tiers and segments (as indicated, there is also a great diversity within “the public” which includes everyone from “committed deniers” to  the un-informed or “apathetic", as well as to those who are persuaded but don’t know what to do)   and stepping up the very useful activities of NGO’s and the environmental movement as a whole,  what eventually must happen is for the actual economic and social major transformations called for by the massive overall problem that humanity collectively faces,  to get underway seriously and actually be implemented,  if humanity wishes to survive and leave a livable planet to posterity. Such transformations would need to include internalizing all the so called economic “externalities”  -which may be external in an economic sense but are internal in a real biophysical systems sense- and also fully take into account Limits to Growth (economic as well as demographic) and Peak Oil and peak other resources.

Enough has been said about these several important issues already elsewhere so I don’t need to repeat it all again here.  However it is probably important to at least mention that classical mainstream economics augmented by some aspects of institutional economics (Douglas North et. al)  (i.e. the mainstream  economic models currently in use whether Supply Side or Keynesian) generally do NOT adequately take into account biophysical system variables and parameters and their dynamics and interactions.  This should include taking fully into account “sources and sinks”,  and stocks, flows, system delays and sub-system interactions and dynamics of the real and tangible material variables (and not just money) such as remaining resources, rates of depletion,  and such things as EROEI, various types of pollution, positive and negative feedback effects, and etc.  Looking at things in terms of supply and demand and responses to price signals alone is insufficient.  (and will become increasingly insufficient the closer the overall world economy gets to the physical capacity limits of the planet;  economics worked better earlier when the ratio of the two was smaller i.e. when the world economy was relatively small relative to the biophysical capacity of the planet to accommodate it and sustain it)

Therefore a new economics that is going to take into account both classical mainstream economics and a new kind of “physical and social systems thinking in interaction" economics also would probably need to be rapidly developed,  so as to help economists, analysts, planners and political leaders make much better sense of what is actually happening in national economies and in the world economy as a whole.   (current World Bank staff is –to my knowledge- not at all well-versed in such a new  “systems thinking” economics although certain research units at the IMF are at least considering the issue.)  (and most world politicians seem totally oblivious to such considerations)

Please see the abstract of the following recent IMF paper:

and also the following review of IMF research policy:

 But to sum up regarding this whole overall issue of “what is to be done” at scale my view is that not nearly enough which is concrete and specific has been said yet, let alone has started to be implemented.  And in particular about “the who and the how” of who should do “what” and when to implement the needed (comprehensive) world economic transformation in time.  i.e. before we reach average earth temperatures several degrees above pre-industrial times and before irreversible self-amplifying loops and runaway effects have set in.

Can the World Bank Group and the IMF and the “broader network” of other development and commercial banks which I mentioned at the beginning of this piece (in Part I of this post) ever be organized and mobilized and be totally re-oriented and reconfigured and their staffs adequately retrained and strengthened so they can be placed at the effective service of the urgently needed economic, social and political transformations?   Personally –given the current state of international relations (and the various realities of the current international system at least as I have come to know it and understand it)-  and the current political and economic and social policies of the key countries of the planet,  I regrettably DO NOT think so.   But it is theoretically possible at least as far as concerns the needed economic transformations sphere and this is all I wished to convey for the consideration of others within this think piece.  What would need to happen?

The key countries -the politically powerful and economically wealthier and demographically most significant-  of the world first, followed by all the others, would have to begin by recognizing and openly communicating officially to the world public and to their own national publics that we face an unimaginable disaster if we do not act and act soon and decisively and effectively. (and comprehensively)  But for this to occur the “power vectors” or the “power systems” or the “political and economic vested interests” that actually govern and run these countries through their governmental institutions (parliamentary, executive and judicial at national, provincial and local levels, as well as at international level) would need to start to see their own “interests” very differently from the way they see them at present.  That is, much more intelligently since if the world economy and world society collapse they inevitably will collapse along with the rest.   (first class tickets on the Titanic with lots of paper money to spare, certainly will not be of much help)

Who are some of these “power systems or vectors” and their corresponding “interests” which strongly influence governments’ decisions and policies?   This is of course debatable but those which have been mentioned repeatedly by knowledgeable analysts are:  i) the military industrial complex (of various powerful nations,  often also acting in concert);  ii) the fossil fuel complex of big oil and big coal corporations (e.g. the “seven sisters”)   iii) the finance and banking (Wall Street, City of London and etc.) complex of major financial institutions and large banks;  iv)  big industrial agriculture and the “big food” and “big pharma” industries; (which keep us eating unhealthy foods and then “cure us” of the ailments we inevitably develop)  v) the big “national security” industry and their  “big secrecy” internal and external apparatuses; (recently in the spotlight and not exactly favorably)  ..and..  vi) the mainstream corporate media both print and television and Internet and parts of mainstream academia and also aspects of mainstream religions (which all together support and directly or indirectly legitimize ideologically all the preceding industries, systems or “complexes” and their broad and diverse range of practices including also continuing economic and demographic growth and the ubiquitous “consumerism”)

These industries also have very powerful lobby groups and some of their top level staff also play “musical chairs” and rotate between the various branches of governments, industry and “consulting” and assorted lobbying roles and posts within nations and sometimes also across them.  (for instance many major nations have active parliamentary lobby groups in other nations and particularly in the U.S.)   What governments do or don’t do and which policies and rules and political and policy and regulatory frameworks end up being implemented is probably far more influenced by these people and these “complexes” than it is by “we the people” or by the voters.   

There are countless examples of such "revolving door job rotations” between senior positions in government and its agencies and the senior executive or advisory positions of each of the six “complexes” or industries listed above. One such example, recently the subject of significant criticism (whether warranted or not), is the one below which pertains to the possible nomination of the next chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve and his earlier career path and benefits from a number of Wall Street firms and the "Finance and Banking Complex". But there also have been very many other such cases and examples for each of the other “complexes” (most notably perhaps the Military Industrial Complex) which when taken together raise very serious questions about who actually runs or controls governments and their key institutions. (and in whose interests and for whose benefit)
 It is beyond the scope of this post to try to describe each of these six power systems and their complex inter-relationships to governments, or to the ultimate orientation and quality of national or global governance, or to policies, in any depth. However a very good general description of one of them (the “Seven Sisters” of the petroleum industry) is provided in the following set of four episodes recently produced and aired by the television station Al Jazeera which I think are well worth watching in their entirety.   If readers watch these videos they can then perhaps “extrapolate” what is shown and described also to the other five “complexes” or power systems I have listed above and perhaps thereby obtain what I would consider a more “realistic” “overall idea” of who actually runs the world and how.  Bearing in mind that the effects on governments and policies of the six power systems or complexes I just identified (and quite readily and easily too, since they too are “no mystery”) tend to be synergistic and cumulative.  

 But if these national and international power systems and power vectors and vested interests (e.g. “the seven sisters”) would change their stances or could be compelled to do so by popular pressure,  a new consensus could then be articulated and developed and established which would NOT be the old neoliberal paradigm “Washington Consensus” but instead would be a “Collective International Consensus for Common Survival and Authentic and Equitable Sustainability?   Is such a thing even remotely possible?   But if ever achieved, such a consensus then would give top priority to “Collective Survivability”, and not necessarily just to profits or to a loosely and vaguely defined “sustainability”,  and also would have the authority to over-ride and trump national sovereignty whenever needed,  and would get on with the job of restructuring and transforming the globalized world economy and world society bit by bit and place by place towards a specific agreed upon authentically sustainable end-state scenario?

The earlier neoliberal paradigm program with a greater role for markets and a different role for the state than those which had existed previously during the so called “Cold War” period was implemented in roughly 20 years and this new “survivability / sustainability” paradigm’s program (which is far more difficult to implement both technically and politically) might take 30-50 years to implement?  (I am only guessing very roughly) Therefore given the current rate of steady increase of CO2 into the atmosphere (and the steady increase of its increase i.e. not just the velocity of its accumulation but also its acceleration given also the many newly "emerging" nations and their rapidly growing "middle classes" and urbanization)  and the likely extremely serious global warming effects which will occur by 2063, what this “50-year time frame” means is that in fact we should have started 30-40 years ago at the very latest.  But better late than never?

In such a “new political and ideological and intellectual context” the World Bank,  a broader network of development and commercial banks, the IMF, UN programs and UN specialized agencies, bilateral “donors”, and the many other state and non-state actors at international and national levels (for instance the framework of ministries and public agencies and entities which exists in every country) and which are now involved in what is at present called “development assistance” or “national economic development and management”  would receive and mobilize brand new mandates, additional staff with new capacities and skill sets, and additional financial and technical resources so that they could orchestrate and oversee and implement the massive transformation effort required at global, national and local levels with the participation and contribution of the very large number of different kinds of actors and stakeholders which this would require.  

All countries would come under these new mandates and requirements and their derivative programs and not only the developing nations, but also the so-called “developed” and industrialized ones.   So what I am saying in fact is that the U.S. and the developed and industrialized OECD countries (e.g. the EU)  -as well as China and the BRICS-  all would need to undergo major restructuring and reforms just as Zambia or Paraguay or Papua New Guinea would.    

As I already have indicated above very clearly,  I DO NOT think the above is at all “politically realistic” – at least not at this time-.   I believe it may become “realistic” possibly (though it still would not very likely)  only after the dramatic effects of ever increasing CO2 emissions will be fully observable and their catastrophic impacts will be directly experienced by various populations and their leaderships,  more and more.  But by then it will likely be far too late to implement the needed transformations. (runaway feedback effects such as Arctic melting and methane release are already now at work)   

Regrettably in the current international system “political realism” trumps “real biophysical realism” i.e. that based on the laws of physics and of ecology and of chemistry and biology and of other key resource and tangible material and energy realities, availabilities, stocks, flows, delays and other complex system parameters, dynamics, interactions, feedbacks,  and their various effects.

Which are the key countries that could theoretically create and lead this new “Collective International Consensus for Survivability” which then could lead to the other steps described above? Others may disagree and may wish to add or delete countries from my list which follows, but those below are the key countries in my opinion which could hold the key to beginning the transformation that is required and without whose leadership and commitment we are surely headed towards disaster.  Disaster for the current human cohort of 7 billions,  or disaster for future generations, or disaster for both and to differing extents depending on what ends up being done or not done:  

The United States;  The European Union; other OECD countries, and  the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).   The other two members of the U.N. Security Council (which could potentially also play a role since real and actual world security is -in this instance- actually at stake)  also could be added, namely the U.K. and France although they are already represented by the EU.   This isn’t to say that there aren’t also several other important countries and - with respect to climate change in particular- Canada and Australia being just two which immediately come to mind since both are very resource rich and one holds the tar sands and the other huge coal reserves.  And Venezuela with its Orinoco tar sands and Indonesia with its large coal reserves also are important, as are many other countries.  (Japan, Germany, and etc.)

And this is why above I had suggested the G-20 for the leadership role since it is an already existing international body that meets regularly.  But again, the G-20 will never do anything or be able to agree on a course of practical actions unless the economic and political “interests” which are the real power behind its 20 governments (and their various national and international stakeholders) start to see their own “interests” very differently.  

Rather it is to suggest that the countries above probably could decide (if they wished to; even if at the moment their national political, economic, social and cultural elites clearly do NOT wish to,  or are not ready to do so collectively and seriously yet; since if they were, what to do would be just as clear to them as it is to me or to any of the readers of this blog -or even much clearer given the intellectual and technical and advisory resources which they easily can have access to and mobilize, and that I and others reading or contributing to this blog mostly lack, to launch a World Program or a Crisis Emergency Response to climate change and to Limits to Growth. 

This program or “Great Transformation” would be of the kind which has been described as being needed –indeed indispensable-,  by Paul Gilding and by Tapio Kanninen and by the WBGU below,  and also by many others.  (The Club of Rome and etc. etc.)  In fact no dearth of analyses and recommendations of what needs to be done exists. (but regrettably very little is being done to actually implement them)

Interested readers should carefully review the publications below and examine the different types of programs or emergency responses suggested.  Are they the same or are they different?  Can a consensus on how best to proceed be achieved by having a qualified group of international multi-disciplinary experts carefully review them all and make (practically implementable) recommendations that then actually will be launched and followed?

If the political consensus and political will were to (magically?) somehow emerge the technical and institutional capacities and some of the policy tools and measures needed to implement the needed transformation program are in part already defined and available.  All they would have to do is be significantly re-oriented, reconfigured, strengthened, augmented and re-focused and the implementing actors get to work.  Hence “no “mysteries” (or at least “less of a mystery”) about what needs to or could be done.  

Readers also may wish to note that I have tried to articulate a possible (though perhaps only remotely so) solution path based on the currently existing international relations and global institutional context and its main current institutional frameworks.   Some may rightfully consider that to be able to implement the above program,  major institutional reforms to the international system order first would be required.  For instance a complete overhaul and updating of the United Nations system has been discussed for a very long time but very little actually has been done to reform even just its main current institutions i.e. the General Assembly, the Security Council or the ECOSOC  or its programs (e.g. UNDP) and its many U.N.  specialized agencies.  (many of which suffer from serious organizational, bureaucratic and managerial problems due to various U.N. system-wide or institutionally-specific issues)  As an overall result global governance is weak and often depends on an almost impossible to achieve consensus and on voluntary contributions or participations on the part of the 196 (and often very fractious) member states.  

The same is true for regional governance when one looks at –for instance - the present quandary of the European Union. (though other regional institutions such as the African Union or ASEAN are at even earlier and less functional stages of institutional development)  The EU now cannot move backwards to individually fully sovereign states and it cannot seem to move forward towards a federal Europe either,  yet its current institutional configuration and stage of overall institutional development and internal inter-dependence is inherently unstable; that is, over the past roughly fifty years a growing number of European nations have managed to come together and have set up a Common Market,  some more or less representative European institutions (the European Commission, The European Council, the European Parliament),  the European “Communities” , the relatively free movement of people (Shengen),  a European Central Bank and a Common Currency;  (the Euro) but the common currency is now creating some very serious problems for the current EU membership (since countries which otherwise would,  now can no longer devalue their currencies)  and is leading to a two-track Europe,  a generally counterproductive austerity, and a whole host of other economic and political problems, divisions and dilemmas;  to go forward the European Union would need to undertake several new major steps including significant Finance and Banking Sector Reforms and much improved financial and banking sector common regulation,  the establishment of Eurobonds,  the establishment of a common Fiscal Union on both the revenue collection and the spending side and finally the establishment of a real Political Union and a Federal Europe.  Will the current EU given its current governance institutions and those of each member state be able to do this (this further self-transformation and development) in the next 20 years or is this more likely to take one hundred years as various national political and economic interests and elites will continue to wish to safeguard their own so called sovereignty (reinforced by the significant cultural and identity differences between the various national populations)  and narrow self- interests and generally will fail to see “the long-term forest through the short-term trees of their many ongoing national level problems”?  (which in several countries are very serious and have been nearly intractable for decades)

Unfortunately such broad institutional reforms are quite likely to take even longer than trying to get a world economic transformation underway one way or another.  (at G-20 level or at U.N. level and mainly in the context of existing institutions)   And time is of the essence as writers such as Paul Gilding and others have repeatedly pointed out.   An Emergency Response is needed before Earth heats up any further and is further irremediably degraded.    So we probably cannot wait for UN system reform and for adequate Global Governance to take place or to emerge.

But for additional views on the possible reform of Global Institutions and an improvement and strengthening of global governance Tapio Kanninen (see above) also offers a very good analysis and many useful suggestions.  Chapter 8 “The Future: Thinking Big about Global Institutions and World Governance” of his recent book “Global Institutions: Crisis of Global Sustainability” ….“discusses organizational and governance solutions to manage effectively the interlinked global problems of the future and takes the global emergency described in previous chapters as its starting point”.   This book –which I have read and can strongly recommend to interested readers- is available here:

And now it is time for me to end this very long post for whose length and probable tediousness I need to apologize to readers.
So as I ponder once again what I had considered in my opening introduction to Part I of this post (Namely  “An Unbearable Lightness of Being”,  “An End to History”,  “TINA”,  or Pier Paolo Pasolini’s sui generis analyses and criticisms of modern society in his “Scritti Corsari” , I am not at all sure whether this think piece of mine has been in any way helpful or not.  

But as I also said at the outset I think it probably describes an “unrealistic reality” which might perhaps at least orient or inspire some.  In any case it is what I happen to think though I am not even sure whether it inspires or de-motivates me personally.  But it is my own infinitesimal contribution to the current thinking and discussion about “what to do” at scale once the “persuasion of others” phase is hopefully soon completed.  What can be done and who should do it and how and by when?  These are very basic and important questions that I believe we all should be thinking about.

Naturally if there are other ways to reform and transform the entire world economy and society from top to bottom (and bottom to top and laterally too) in time to avert catastrophe and collapse that others might be able to think of (and that hopefully also might be far more “realistic” than what I have just finished describing)  I certainly would be quite interested in hearing what they are and how such could and /or would be practically implemented.   Or if someone can make a fully truthful and realistic case for why BAU could just continue indefinitely –but which would be something other than the usual misleading propaganda- that highly improbable argument too,  would be very welcome.

But I do believe we need to go beyond improving our communications about the science (and/ or about the ongoing observable effects of climate change, or about the other many environmental degradation and destruction problems of various types which are occurring and that we are continually reading about,    or about the other Limits to Earth’s “sources and sinks” problems and the overshooting of the planet’s carrying capacity, and  also go well beyond talking about and extending some of the good initial partial results achieved so far through the environmental movement’s actions and political activism)  and begin to talk specifically and concretely about what actually needs to happen comprehensively and at scale and how it can be done.

Whether this then will actually ever occur or not is probably “another question”.   And if the answer to that question will end up being mainly in the negative (as I personally suspect it will be) then what is most likely to occur is either a big collapse or a series of small ones.  And if that’s where we will be heading then the key questions will become instead how best to mitigate the worst effects and the worst of the pain to come and how to try to safeguard at least “some sort of a future" for future human generations.  I leave up to each reader individually whether she or he prefers to be “pessimistic” or “optimistic” about all or any of the above.

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