Strategies of Communication on Climate Change

Monday, December 30, 2013

Robots pass the Turing test: they'll debate climate change for us

Given the level of the debate on climate change in the comments of blogs and on twitter, I am not surprised that robots can easily pass the Turing test in there. A 2010 report, reproduced below, tells of a pro-science chatbot, but I am sure that there are anti-science chatbots as well. Isn't it nice? So much hassle avoided! In the end, I hope they'll come back telling us who won. Wouldn't it be a good idea also to have drones fight wars among themselves for us?

Nigel Leck, a software developer by day, was tired of arguing with anti-science crackpots on Twitter. So, like any good programmer, he wrote a script to do it for him.

The result is the Twitter chatbot @AI_AGW. Its operation is fairly simple: Every five minutes, it searches twitter for several hundred set phrases that tend to correspond to any of the usual tired arguments about how global warming isn’t happening or humans aren’t responsible for it.
It then spits back at the twitterer who made that argument a canned response culled from a database of hundreds. The responses are matched to the argument in question – tweets about how Neptune is warming just like the earth, for example, are met with the appropriate links to scientific sources explaining why that hardly constitutes evidence that the source of global warming on earth is a warming sun.

The database began as a simple collection of responses written by Leck himself, but these days quite a few of the rejoinders are culled from a university source whom Leck says he isn’t at liberty to divulge.

Like other chatbots, lots of people on the receiving end of its tweets have no idea they’re not conversing with a real human being. Some of them have arguments with the chatbot spanning dozens of tweets and many days, says Leck. That’s in part because AI_AGW is smart enough to run through a list of different canned responses when an interlocutor continues to throw the same arguments at it. Leck has even programmed it to debate such esoteric topics as religion - which is where the debates humans have with the bot often wind up.

“If [the chatbot] actually argues them into a corner, it tends to be two crowds out there,” says Leck. “There’s the guns and God crowd, and their parting shot will be ‘God created it that way’ or something like that. I don’t know how you answer that.”

The second crowd, Leck says, are skeptics so unyielding they won’t be swayed by any amount of argumentation.

Occasionally, the chatbot turns up a false positive - for example, it has a complete inability to detect sarcasm. This proved to be a problem when a record heat wave hit L.A. last summer, causing innumerable tweets of the form “It’s 113 degrees outside - good thing global warming’s a myth!”
Leck always apologizes when AI_AGW answers someone who isn’t actually arguing about the science of climate change and then subsequently whitelists his or her account. The bot also has a kind of learning algorithm in it in that can be trained not to respond to phrases that cause false positives.
In the future, Leck would like to expand AI_AGW by giving it the ability to learn new arguments from the twitter feeds of others who debate climate skeptics - allowing it to argue into the ground an ever expanding array of anti-science tweeters who are unwilling or unable to look up the proper scientific literature themselves.

In a way, what Leck has created is a pro-active search engine: it answers twitter users who aren’t even aware of their own ignorance.

Update: some guy on Hacker News sums it up better than I ever could.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Santa sells all his coal assets!

Happy Christmas to all the frogs who are trying to jump out of the boiling water before it is too late (and convincing all the other frogs, too!)

Friday, December 20, 2013

Climate change communication: why do we keep making the same mistakes?

We should know, by now, that what we have been doing in climate communication just doesn't work; we aren't getting anywhere. We need to think of something new, more effective.

Here, Joe Brewer, research director for Culture2 Inc., does just that, presenting some ideas based on the concept of "meme". The task we face is not going to be easy, but if don't try new methods, we are not going to succeed.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Greenhouse gases: are we sure it is our fault?

Data on atmospheric oxygen concentration from the Mauna Kea observatory (link). This result shows that oxygen goes down as carbon dioxide goes up - it is what you would expect as the result of the combustion of fossil fuels. And, yes, it is us who burn them. 

While the preferred weapon against climate science seems to be character assassination, it is also true that climate is a complex subject and there are perfectly correct reasons for perplexity. One is whether the CO2 increase in the atmosphere is really the cause of global warming change - and not an effect of it.

The reasoning goes as follows: we see an increase in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere and, yes, we also see an increase of planetary temperatures. But how can we be sure that CO2 causes warming and not the reverse? After all, if something else (say, the Sun) were to heat the planet, then we would expect the oceans to release CO2! And in those plots that Al Gore was so fond to show in his movie, warming comes first, then CO2 increases. So, it could really be the Sun (or cosmic rays, or whatever else coming from outer space) and not us.

Alas, it doesn't work that way. The additional CO2 in the atmosphere does not come from the oceans. On the contrary, oceans are a sink that absorbs part of the CO2 we humans generate. How do we know it? Well, there are several ways; one is that ocean water is becoming more acidic. Now, CO2 is an acidic molecule. If oceans were emitting CO2, they would become less acid, not more acid. That shows that oceans are absorbing CO2, not emitting it. Another way, even simpler, is to look at the oxygen record - shown in the figure above.

Suppose that is the sun that warms the oceans and, consequently, causes them to release CO2 in the atmosphere. Then, oxygen is not consumed and you wouldn't expect its atmospheric concentration to change. Actually, if oceans are warming, the may release some oxygen together with the CO2, so the concentration of oxygen should increase. But this is not what we see. We see that the oxygen concentration in the atmosphere is going down, not up.

Suppose instead that CO2 comes from the combustion of fossil fuels. "Combustion" means combining the carbon and the hydrogen contained in these fuels with oxygen. So, the more we burn fuels, the less oxygen remains. The oxygen concentration, then, should go down with time. And this is exactly what we see (see figure above).

With plenty of fantasy, you might find a way to concoct a different theory explaining these data. But remember that there is something called the "Occam's razor." What we see is simple: we burn fossil fuels, we increase the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, that causes warming. It is straightforward: it is not the Sun, it is us.

  • About the loss of oxygen in the atmosphere and its long term effects, see this post on Cassandra
  • For a more detailed treatment of the same question discussed here, see this post on Real Climate
  • About Al Gore's movie and the lag between temperature and CO2 concentration also see Real Climate    

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Seven Powers of Planet Earth

 Guest post by Max Iacono

Max Iacono discusses the powers that rule the Earth and prevent the necessary change

…that is, the Seven Main Power and Policy development and implementation “Complexes” which run Human Society here on Happy Planet Earth and are preventing serious action on both Climate Change and regarding the many issues and problems deriving from Limits to Growth on a finite planet,  while at the same time also creating numerous additional ones nearly as serious  (though perhaps not quite) ….

I believe there are seven main such “Power and Policy” “Complexes” which shape and determine policies and outcomes in the United States and elsewhere in the Western “democracies”.   And although somewhat differently,  also in countries like Russia and China and other… “emerging countries”.  (and incidentally in what sense can a country with a more than 5000 year history be considered to be "emerging" it often is referred to?) 

One of these has been quite well-known for a very long time, ever since U.S. President Eisenhower warned about its dangers,  and it is:

1)  The Military-Industrial Complex ;

The other major ones are:

2)  The Fossil Fuels Complex; i.e. so-called “Big Oil “ and “Big Coal”;

3)  The Finance and Banking Complex;  Wall Street, the City of London and the big investment banks e.g. Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan Chase, Deutsche Bank and others;

4)  The Agro-Industry & Food,  and the Pharmaceuticals & Medical Complex; e.g. Cargill, Nestle, Monsanto, ConAgra, and Archer Daniels Midland...and Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Merck & Co. and Eli Lilly and many other such companies from other western countries.  These two industries also could be listed separately but I am listing them together as one overall complex because they are two sides of the same coin, namely the coin of food & human nutrition and “health”.  To put it “humorously” one is made sick by having the wrong kind of diet and nutrition and eating junk foods, and one is then “cured” by a plethora of mostly useless and dangerous medicines including also some dangerous and avoidable medical procedures.  (although this phenomenon occurs not only at the individual level but also at the societal level)

5)  The National “Security” Complex; the NSA and the rest of the so-called intelligence community;

6)  The Mainstream Ideology and Mainstream Culture Complex,  the Mainstream Media, Madison avenue, parts of Mainstream Academia, Hollywood and a number of other components.  A very important component of ideology and culture which is present and is typically operating at all levels and sectors in all societies is made up of the main and the lesser religions; these include the three main monotheistic religions, the main eastern religions, indigenous religions and the new religious movements, and the many sects or offshoots of each.

7)  Other Complexes corresponding to other major -though lesser- industries and sectors for  different countries  e.g. the Tobacco Industry ;

How should we think of such Complexes and in what sense is the word  “complex” being used?

Basically all the Complexes are led by the particular Industry and its industry and business associations and involve forms of collusion and cooperation (often tacit and invisible) between: 

a) the industry and its many corporations, contractors and sub-contractors  

b) the particular national government and its state apparatus (the executive branch and its ministers and the state bureaucracy and its heads and senior management; the legislative branch, parliaments and parliamentary committees, who draft or pass laws and determine budgetary appropriations and policies;  and the judicial branch and its court decisions as well as regulatory agencies and the respective industry regulatory frameworks which they oversee or administer);  

c) the scientific and academic, and the applied and commercial, research communities;  

d) the media community and the advertising and marketing community;  

e) industry business and professional associations;  and 

f) a very wide assortment of lobbyists of various kinds operating and moving throughout the complex and acting as catalysts and facilitators, (playing a range of advisory and promotional and other roles)  but who also are direct beneficiaries;  and finally...

g) international public organizations / institutions -such as the IMF and the World Bank, and the WTO or the World Intellectual Property Organization and some of the UN specialized agencies- which also sometimes play some higher order “system maintenance or extension or furthering” roles.

The main purpose of any one of these Complexes is to make sure that the policies -governmental and public policies, and private sector / corporate policies and strategies both national and international- which are implemented will result in greater profits for the particular industry and its companies or other entities and for the owners and managers of the Complex, including also greater “compensation” for the various executives. (and of course also the facilitating lobbyists who help to “lubricate” the system and keep it all in good working order) . And this regardless of the costs or harm resulting to the public and the citizens of various countries -and to the global or local environment-.

These executives as well as some of the lobbyists also typically rotate between the various components and organizations of the overall complex in the course of their careers thereby giving The Complex greater staying power and resiliency and continuity and consistency and also (real) “sustainability” .

The specific components of each Complex and their dynamics and operations vary somewhat from Complex to Complex.   But their purpose and their basic “strategic and operational formulas” or mechanisms -though they are more organic and network-like than mechanical-  are the same, or are at least very similar.

The links below provide good descriptions and illustrations of each of the Seven Main Complexes.   As mentioned above there also exist a number of other ones which also can differ from country to country.   And there also are of course  (many) other descriptions and explanations of what they are and how they function in addition to the ones I have listed (identified) below only for illustration purposes:

1) The Military Industrial Complex:

            i)  What it is can be found  here ii) What its scope is:  here iii)  Military industrial 
            complex companies: here  iv)  Rethinking the Military   Industrial Complex:   here v)  The 
            Canadian Military Industrial Complex:      here vi) The EU’s military industrial complex: here 
            and vii)  The Egyptian  military industrial complex: here  (but as I said above there also are 
            many  others and they are mostly interlinked)

2)  The Fossil Fuels Complex:  

            i)     A documentary history of the “Big Oil”  “Seven Sisters” can be found  here           
            ii)    “Big Coal”: here
            iii)   “The military-industrial-fossil fuels nuclear-state-terror-complex”: here             
            (Bill McKibben had just published “Global Warming’s Terrifying  New Math” at Rolling   
           Stone.  And the above was a response by David  Schwartzman)
            iv)    The companies most responsible for climate change: here

3)  The Finance and Banking Complex:

            i)  The Anatomy of the Recent Financial Crisis:  here           
            ii)  The Petrodollar System: here
            iii) How Bankers are Bankrupting America: here           
            iv)  Business and Government Collusion: here

4)   The Agro Industry and Food,  and the Pharmaceutical and Medical Complexes:

            i) An in-depth description of how the various components of this particular complex work   
             together to produce certain policies and  “health” outcomes: here
            And specifically the book’s chapter 13: Understanding the System;   Chapter 14:  Research and 
             Profit;  Chapter 15: Media Matters; Chapter 16: Government Misinformation; Chapter 18:   
             Blinded by the Light Bringers.       
            In generic terms the preceding chapters describe how the other  Complexes work as well.  The  
            interactive formula of various players and  what they do and how they accomplish it is very  
            similar if not precisely  the same.

            ii)  The Agro-Industry Complex: here
            iii)  Big Pharma and Big Medical Complex: here  and here

5)  The National Security Complex:

            i)  Overview of the Complex and of the NSA:  here           
            ii)  The Reality and Scope of the Complex:  here
            iii) National Security Complex is “too big to fail”:  here

6)   The Ideology and Culture Complex:

            i)  Basic Concepts in the Manufacturing of Consent: here           
            ii)  Interview with Noam Chomsky : here           
            iii)  The Mainstream Media:  here           
            iv)  How the Mainstream Media Deceives on Environmental Issues: here
            v)  Fox “News”: here           
            vi)  Capitalism’s Ideological Crutches: here
            vii)  The Ideology Process of  Ruling Elites:  here
            viii)  Madison avenue, advertising and creating a consumer culture: here
            ix)   Hollywood, Bollywood and Nollywood: here ,  here and here  And the Brazilian,  
            Egyptian, Mexican and Turkish soap opera and “telenovelas” entertainment industries are other 
            interesting examples of how culture and ideology and "lifestyle models" are proposed or shaped 
            in certain ways and for certain ends and not others.  Additional relevant articles easily can be 
            found using the Google search engine.
            x)  The Military-Academic Complex: here and The Academic-Industrial  Complex: here and the 
             “Military-Media Industrial Complex: here;   and “The Main Academic Theories of international 
             relations and foreign  policy”: here 

              But there are a number of more specific ones in addition to the main three “traditions” (realism, 
              liberalism and “radicalism”) and their  sub-schools which are identified in the article,  such as 
              “the clash of  civilizations” notion,  or how to interpret Iran or  Israel or Syria or Africa or 
               Latin America or China (e.g. " "the pivot to Asia") or most other significant world situations 
               and contexts, and which together can have a profound influence on how the world is 
               understood and thus approached and dealt with by various "players".  Are academia,  large 
               universities and government and business thinking  “independently” of one another?  And are 
               they each also thinking "independently" of the mainstream paradigm? Or ARE they (together) 
               the mainstream paradigm?  And where is the "mainstream paradigm" leading us to?

And one other very important component of the Ideology and Culture complex which also contributes to the “mainstream paradigm” is the “Religions Complex”:

            xi) The” Religions Complex” encompasses the many relationships and influences and interactions of the main world religions -or the trans-cultural and international faiths-, the indigenous religions, and the new religious movements that may exist and operate in a given society -and their respective institutions and organizations- to  national and local and international politics, culture, economics and business;  What is religion can be found here  .  The main religious groups here . The interconnections between politics and religion around the globe is a vast subject;  a basic outline of topics is here .  The critical role of religions in global politics and in the practice of  international relations and international affairs is here .  The influence of the religious right in the U.S. is here and of the Israeli lobby, it  is here. The massive secret Vatican archives, why are they secret?, is  here . The Roman Catholic church, population, and the Republican party in the U.S. here . Reflections on caste and class, hierarchy and dominance in India here . Islamic “principlism” in Iran here . Islam in Saudi Arabia here .  Ultraorhodox jews pose challenges in Israel, here . Buddhism and politics in south-east Asia, here . Sex, ideology, religion, 10 myths about population growth: here (but the preceding are only a small sample of the information available on the “Religions Complex” and its main interactions and influences on all areas of national and global society)

7)    The Tobacco industry Complex is just one example among many other such examples for a large number of "lesser" industries and is described here  And another such industry is retailing and merchandising as exemplified by Walmart.  See for instance this article which was just published:  here

And one final additional “lesser” industry (which in fact is not “lesser” at all) which must be mentioned in a post such as this concerned with what major industry-government-state-media-plus-other-actors “complexes” are doing to:    a) prevent progress in addressing climate change and limits to growth and their derivative environmental issues while at the same time b) severely aggravating those same issues directly and indirectly,  is the mining and mineral extraction industry.   Some of the largest mining companies that can be counted within this Complex are as follows:  BHP Billiton, Vale, Rio Tinto, Shenhua, AngloAmerican, Suncor, Xstrata, Barrick, Freeport Mc Moran;  They are active on every continent.  The entire top 100 instead can be viewed here   For how they and other lesser “junior mining” companies are “plundering the planet” please see  here and here  .  The serious problems with the extractive industries sector in Africa are discussed here .  The political economy and historical role of “extractivism” is discussed: here  .  And the new Chinese neo-colonialism operating in Africa is discussed here  . Are such complexes operating only in “corrupt Africa”?  What about right in the European Union in Sweden and in Finland “under the northern lights”?  Please see the video: here .

The above are the seven major complexes (the last one,  number 7,  includes  only a few examples for "other industries") which exist in the United States and throughout the Western nations (but also China and Russia) and in  the “developing” countries where their related industries and governments operate either “through” the complexes which exist in the United States, and/or also through additional complementary or supplementary “domestic or indigenous” complexes.   For instance Britain and France each have their own military industrial complex (and Italy and Belgium have lesser ones) but these are closely tied to and interact with (and often cooperate with) the U.S. Military Industrial Complex.  These military-industrial complexes also market and sell military equipment and systems to developing nations and of course have government "partners" there.     

A similar or at least a closely related modus operandi  could be described for the major oil companies of the Fossil Fuels Complex  e.g. Exxon Mobil,  Chevron,  B.P,  Shell, Total, E.N.I., and in different ways the large state-owned companies such as Saudi Aramco,  Gazprom,  Petrochina,  Pemex, Petrobras and several others and their relationship to lesser oil companies and to oil industry contractors. (e.g. Halliburton and many others) 

At a higher order level the seven complexes also cooperate and collude with one another.  And when I say “collude” this does not mean there is always a so called “conspiracy” though in some instances there is.  Collusion (and also self-censorship and other related phenomena of collusion) and particularly when it has been perfected and established as an overall system- happens “naturally and seamlessly and automatically”.

For example,  the “petrodollar system” article listed under the Finance and Banking complex links above illustrates this for the Military Industrial Complex, the Finance and Banking Complex, and the Fossil Fuels Complex;  that is,  the fossil fuel complex “produces” oil (i.e. extracts the non-renewable resource called petroleum) in or with the petro-monarchy states of the "Middle East" which is then sold and traded in dollars (the Wall Street firms make outsized profits on the oil futures markets)  and then the petro-monarchies States purchase military hardware and systems from the military industrial complex (and are provided further military “protection” from the United States) so that in fact the three complexes work together in unison or in some respects as one single larger complex “recycling petrodollars” while also implementing the desired geopolitics and geo/regional policies to achieve the desired outcomes.  (though there are also many “unintended” consequences) (such as hundreds of thousands of people or more getting killed in various countries and entire countries and societies being wrecked) 

And so do some of the other complexes listed above similarly collude and cooperate as whole complexes with one another albeit in different groupings and combinations and for different though ultimately also related purposes.

Another way to view the overall functioning of these complexes is provided by the following two links:

i)  “The Resilience of the Status Quo”:  here

ii)  “Who Rules America?”  here

In fact the first link above shows the main elements of all the seven complexes on one single diagram and suggests that they work together as an overall “network” which as a result is also extremely resilient.   It is a very useful visual depiction.  

The second link instead provides a more conceptual article that places all the complexes into one single theoretical / analytical framework.  Both articles / links were written with the U.S. in mind but I believe they apply equally well with due adaptations to other Western (and Eastern) (e.g. Japan, Australia but also China) countries as well.

Fundamentally I believe the reasons why so little has been accomplished -which can be considered effective and of a scope and nature commensurate to the problem – to tackle Climate Change and the wide range of (extremely serious) environmental and social problems that derive from Limits to Growth on a finite planet,  are all traceable to one or more of these “power Complexes” and the ways they condition, shape and determine national and international public policies and also the corporate policies and agendas which can be implemented, and the ones which cannot be.  Or at least cannot be implemented for the time being;  and in this respect please also note the latest failure of the U.N. sponsored climate change talks just held in Warsaw and some of the more apparent and less apparent causes for this failure.

A particularly good and specific and detailed description of the “nuts and bolts” of how one of the complexes works is provided by T.C. Colin Campbell in his book “Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition” which I have mentioned above under the “dual” Agro-Industry & Food and the Pharmaceutical & Medical Complex.  The author has lived and experienced (as a serious and committed scientist) the various components of that particular complex from the inside out and from the outside in over the past 50 years while playing various professional and policy advisory roles.

In my opinion it is a book well worth reading in its entirety not only because it identifies a good path to improved personal individual health but also because it explains extremely well how ONE of the Complexes works.   Together with the illustrations provided for the other Complexes above it then becomes easy to understand how all of the complexes work at a more generic level.  Naturally just as for others who have exposed the other complexes plenty of propaganda has been done by those with vested interests against the book (Whole:  Rethinking the Science of Nutrition) and its author (T.C. Colin Campbell) as well as against its nutritional recommendations.  Similar propaganda has been done by the fossil fuel complex against renewable energies and their various proponents as well as against climate science and climate scientists.

The other six Complexes work in similar ways and are well-illustrated and described at the other links I have provided above.  The implications for climate change and for humanity’s inability thus far to come to grips with it -as well as with not coming to grips with the many other Limits to Growth problems- (peak resources both renewable and non-renewable, various types of environmental degradation, pollution, toxicity and etc.) seem clear to me.   Perhaps by reading some of the links above they also can become clearer and sharper and more focused to others reading this post; and if so I will have accomplished my purpose for writing it.

How to try to overcome practically the negative influences of the Complexes is however well beyond the scope of this post and unfortunately also beyond the scope of my own intellectual capacity more generally.   (though I have some ideas that I may try to articulate later) For those interested in what I think about all of that in more general terms right now,  please also see another recent post of mine on this same blog by the title “Has Humanity Missed its Appointment with History?”

In that post I explain why I believe humanity has probably indeed missed its appointment with what the famous French historian Fernand Braudel calls “long term history”.  And in short this is because humanity has not been able to develop effective world governance and a common cosmopolitan identity in time to be able to act in a concerted and effective manner to deal with problems of the Global Commons.  The problems arose probably at least two or three centuries before we were institutionally and mentally, or “identity-wise”,  ready to face them and handle them properly.   

Said another way, we should have started facing our institutional (both macro and micro) and common identity weaknesses and divisions earlier so that we now could be ready and on time for our “appointment with history”.  An appointment, moreover, which we ourselves “scheduled” by:  i) growing our population from 1 billion in 1800 to 7.1 billions today; ii) becoming dependent on and using staggering quantities of fossil fuels and producing extraordinary amounts of CO2 emissions; iii)  also augmenting both our overall GDP as well as our GDP per capita enormously since 1800 and iv) using staggering amounts of both renewable and non-renewable resources and generally degrading and polluting the planet’s biosphere and its land, water and air principal components.    This assault on the biosphere clearly could not go on “forever” and we would have to change our ways at some point.  So it would have been much better to prepare ourselves far better and far earlier in order to do so.

The Seven Complexes above instead explain why humanity is STILL missing its “appointment” with the more current “historical period” -for what Fernand Braudel calls “the history of periods” - and in this instance just the past 50 to 100 years.  A period during which the seven complexes have either arisen or extended or developed or consolidated themselves further worldwide,  thereby making it nearly impossible for humanity to implement what now would be only a partial and less complete and less thorough and also highly belated concerted and effective preventive or mitigating or remedial actions effort,  on climate change and Limits to Growth - related issues.  And the emergence, development and consolidation of the seven complexes in this latest “historical period” during the course of “long term history”  is also in keeping with, and has  occurred in tandem with, the growth and extension of the overall “globalized neoliberal free market capitalism” order,  which has its own history of political, economic, cultural and institutional development(s). 

The link to Fernand Braudel’s monumental “The History of Civilizations” is here

And the links to my own earlier posts both in Italian version and in English version about humanity’s missed appointment with (long term) history are here in Italian,  and the English version is in fact the previous post which was posted recently on this same blog.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The most boring climate video in history

I found it on "" with the caption "If this scares you as much as it scares me, share this far and wide." Scared? After 2 minutes, I was already asleep.

(do not misunderstand me, I appreciate the effort and the aims of this video, but we should be able to do something much better if we want to get the message through)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Has Humanity Missed its "Appointment with History"?

Guest post by Max Iacono

In this post, Iacono argues that we missed our "appointment with history" because we don't have an appropriate governance system able to act in view of the climate crisis.  (image source)

The well known Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci tried to “Interview History” back in 1976 during a particular period of history.  

Some say she “spoke truth to power” (of that particular period) and succeeded. Though speaking it and publicizing the replies she received, changed nothing.

But Fernand Braudel the famous French historian also known as The Prince in French “Annales” history circles said in his monumental book The History of Civilizations that there are three types of histories: 

1)  L’histoire evenementielle (the history of events)
2)  L’histoire des periodes (the history of periods)  and 
3)  L’histoire de la longue duree. (long term history)

And the difference between Fernand Braudel's History of Civilization and other histories written at that time i.e. the early 1960's (since then his multi-disciplinary approach also characterized by other significant differences has been more widely adopted) is described at the above link to his book. 

Forgetting for a moment the history of events (journalism plus) and the history of particular periods (e.g. the post world war II period of the second half of the twentieth century which was “interviewed” by Oriana Fallaci;  (and the list of world figures she actually interviewed is listed at the above link to her book) let’s look for a moment at “l’histoire de la longue duree” and go back (at the very least) to the Peace of Westphalia of 1648.

The world (meaning the European world of those times) had just come out of an interminable, bloody and highly destructive and draining  “30 year war”.   

One response to the end of that war was for the European powers to enshrine the notion of “the sovereign nation state” thinking that this might help to prevent future such wars.   Other things that have been enshrined in various ways though mostly by default over the past 350 years or so have been “international relations” based on “realpolitik”.   We owe this to Macchiavelli,  Metternich, Bismarck and many other thinkers. 

What do we have today?  196 “sovereign nation states” which are not at all able to deal effectively with the major threats that face “common humanity”.   

These are:

 i)     The continuing threat of nuclear war;  
 ii)    The very real threat of catastrophic and irreversible climate change;  and
iii)    The continuing irreversible degradation of the earth’s environment and the biosphere due to
        ignoring  the obvious Limits to Growth which exist on a finite planet.  (and everything which that then brings)   

These threats are very likely to lead to our collective demise.

How could humanity have been present at its appointment with history and what needed to be done between 1648 and the present with an accelerated sense of priority and urgency starting right after World War II?

Two obvious things are missing from world politics and international relations and international decision-making now,  that could have been developed (but were not) during the above “longue duree” sequence of successive “periods”.

The first is an effective global governance.   Meaning a global governance that is inclusive, legitimate, effective and efficient and with the right kind of architecture to deliver these four key variables.    

The current “Disunited Nations” of the world is not and cannot be such a type of global governance.  
What should have been developed over the past 350 years is a “United Peoples of the World” characterized by “good global governance” and its corresponding “architecture” in both a political sense and in a psychological sense.

The first would require a proper combination and synthesis of what are now called the global governmental or public sector,  the global civil society sector, and the global private sector so that the resulting “collective sector” would be able to act in a concerted manner to solve problems of the “global commons” in an effective and sustainable manner.

The second would require the development over time of what is now typically called “a cosmopolitan identity”.   

What this means is that the 7.1 billion humans now populating the earth (and they would have been far fewer now if the above two things had been accomplished in time and humanity had “showed up” at its appointment with history) would each have -above all other elements of identity-  a personal identity which would be firmly cosmopolitan and global.  

Current identities are instead based on other “variables” which regrettably tend to make it impossible to implement the necessary global governance that could address global commons issues and problems and also seize global commons opportunities. 

These other variables are those we see operating all the time and which divide “the peoples of the world” i.e. nationalities, ethnicities, tribes, races, religions, sects, political and economic ideologies,  and political and socio-economic and cultural differences.  (just to name a few of the major “elements of identity”;  there also are many others such as gender, age, sexual orientation, occupational category, language, dialect, regional and local origin) 
Over the past 350 years some of these currently existing differences could have been retained, some eliminated and others could have been modified or transformed or qualified or combined or merged or fused.    

All should have become subordinate to a single global cosmopolitan identity as humans.  Humans which moreover would recognize that we are only one living species here on earth which to survive needs to live in harmony with all the other living species which have evolved alongside of us over the past 3.5 billion years or so.

But we have MISSED this appointment with history.   So we have neither a single effective and legitimate global governance nor a common cosmopolitan identity.

We remain instead hopelessly divided politically, economically, socially, culturally, institutionally, psychologically and intellectually.

There are many ways and mechanisms and institutions which we have established to try to cope with such “diversity” and divisions and none are up to the task humanity is now being confronted with.

We have for instance set up the United Nations, “inter-governmental” processes and mechanisms of all types and for all types of purposes (the “COP” climate mechanism being just one of these),  international treaties,  international economic institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO and several other regional “development banks” and many others, and we also have of course our current 196 nation states and their state institutions,  and a rich and diverse global, national and local civil society,  and a rich and diverse global, national and local private sector.

What we sorely lack however is i) good global governance and ii) a common cosmopolitan psychological identity.  Naturally these two things would reinforce each other significantly if either one existed or had started to emerge seriously.

Personally I think that as a result of having “missed our appointment” with history we will NOT be able to solve the climate change problem and we will NOT be able to solve the many Limits to Growth problems which we face as a collective human society.    

What will happen to humanity and to planet earth’s biosphere?  I certainly do not know and I don’t think anybody else knows (or can know)  for sure either.  But one thing is for certain,  we would have been in far better shape if we had showed up much earlier at our appointment with history.   We can and should of course keep hoping and trying but at this very belated stage our task is immensely more difficult.  


(*)   With respect to “long term history” what has changed and what hasn’t changed over the past 350 years?   Here is a link to the “Thirty Years War” after which the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 was agreed and the principle of “sovereign nation-states” was established and enshrined.   And here is a series of photographs of various recent G-20 meetings showing all our current world leaders nicely dressed in their suits and ties (and there are "even a couple of women")  and with the beautiful large flags of their (and our) sovereign nation-states placed just behind them.  More or less the same states and flags– plus a few more recent ones – which were established with the Peace of Westphalia.   But if one looks at them carefully and a bit more in depth one can see and perhaps “read” within their minds -and behind their more “modern” external clothing-  to perceive or intuit their deeper mind-sets,  their attitudes, fundamental values, and ways of reasoning and of treating one another.  Have these mental or socio-cultural or ideological characteristics really changed all that much from those of the various kings and emperors of 350 years ago which one can see (or intuit) from the images, looks and mannerisms visible in the first article?  “Images speak”.

And YES, they (and all of us) have indeed (fortunately) changed somewhat and are now somewhat different, but clearly not enough to arrive in time at our Appointment with History.  The era of fossil fuels energy – first that of coal and right after it that of petroleum – began roughly 100 years after the peace of Westphalia.  And from 1800 to the present the human population of planet earth has increased by 700% -and that of animals for human consumption such as cows and pigs by similarly large amounts- and total world GDP as well as GDP per capita -moreover apportioned in extremely unequal and inequitable ways- have increased even more.  But there is still no effective “global governance” and “no common cosmopolitan / global identity” and instead we witness a terrible stewardship and management of “our” various “global commons goods and services”.   And so to conclude, here is one final article about some “Thirty Year Wars” of the current period,  which have been one of the many (disastrous) results.