Strategies of Communication on Climate Change

Friday, August 30, 2013

Earth's temperatures: to bet or not to bet?

 Viscount Monckton of Brenchely, has been challenged to a bet of $ 1000 by John Abraham on Monckton's own predictions of an incoming global cooling. Monckton has refused to pick up the challenge. (image: Christopher Monckton)

In 1980, Julian L. Simon and Paul Ehrlich entered in a famous bet on a mutually agreed-upon measure of resource scarcity. They chose a number of mineral commodities, with Simon betting on a price decrease and Ehrlich betting on an increase. Ten years afterwards, Simon won the bet.

Today, if you search the Web using Google, you'll find more than 250,000 pages dealing with the Simon-Erlich wager. It remains today one of the best known and most used examples put forward to discredit a vision that sees mineral resources as precious and scarce and recommends that they should be used with caution.

If you think about that, it is nearly incredible that the price trends of a few commodities over just a decade are considered so important for a complex and long-ranging question as the depletion of the Earth's mineral resources. By the way, if the bet had been for a later decade, Simon would have lost.

But these are the laws of communication: normally, it is not a question of relevance, it is a question of volume. Repeat something a sufficient number of times, and it will be perceived as true by the public. In this case, the message repeated over and over was that these pompous scientists are so silly to be always caught in the Chicken Little trap: always believing that we were to run out of mineral resources, and always being found wrong. So, the bet that Paul Ehrlich lost has done immense damage to an entire field of scientific research. It was, probably, a significant factor in the nearly complete disappearance of "world dynamics" studies in the 1980s; those which had started with "The Limits to Growth" in 1972.

Because of this story, I tend to believe that scientists working on climate change or resource depletion should never, never bet on anything. Any fluctuation in the wrong direction of temperatures or market prices can be picked up by the propaganda machine and be used against science and scientists. But even if trends do not fluctuate away from the expected direction, the problem is that the communication war is asymmetric. If a scientist bets against an amateur and wins, that's hardly news (dog bites man). But if the amateur wins, it is worldwide news (man bites dog).

So, I would say that John Abraham's bet against Christopher Monckton about Earth's temperatures is, at best, risky, probably counterproductive in any case. I agree that chances are largely in favor of Abrahams; Monckton himself seems to think the same, since he has refused the challenge. But climate is complex and always variable(*) and so why take this risk? Besides, as I said, if Abraham wins, (as it is very likely) nobody will take much notice. So, why give to Monckton an importance that he doesn't deserve?

(*) Abraham has been correctly cautious in mentioning that the bet would be rendered invalid in case of a "major volcanic eruption", but it is hard to define what we mean exactly a "major" volcanic eruption.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Evil walks the Earth

Religious people have this powerful concept, "evil", that many of us seem to have lost in our effort to see the world rationally, according to the old concept of "Enlightenment". And yet, I think that what's happening around us deserves to be described in this way. The wanton destruction of everything - human and non human - under a pervasive blanket of indifference can only be described as evil walking the Earth.

Here is a meditation by Richard Rohr - Franciscan Friar. He mentions brush fires not in the context of climate change, but the meaning is clear.

The Invisible Spiral of Violence

Meditation 22 of 52

If you cannot recognize evil on the level of what I call the world, then the flesh and the devil are inevitable consequences. They will soon be out of control, and everything is just trying to put out brush fires on already parched fields. The world or “the system” is the most hidden, the most disguised, and the most denied—but foundational—level of evil. It’s the way cultures, groups, institutions, and nations organize themselves to survive.
It is not “wrong” to survive, but for some reason group egocentricity is never seen as evil when you have only concentrated on individual egocentricity (“the flesh”). That is how our attention has been diverted from the whole spiral of violence. The “devil” then stands for all of the ways we legitimate, enforce, and justify our group egocentricity (most wars; idolization of wealth, power, and show; tyrannical governments; many penal systems; etc.), while not now calling it egocentricity, but necessity!
Once any social system exists, it has to maintain and assert itself at all cost. Things we do inside of that system are no longer seen as evil because “everyone is doing it.” That’s why North Koreans can march lockstep to a communist tyranny, and why American consumers can “shop till they drop” and make no moral connections whatsoever. You see now why most evil is hidden and denied, and why Jesus said, “Father forgive them, they don't know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). We don’t.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Extreme forest fire in Alaska: Firenado

by Alexander Ac

As previously reported on "The Frog" blog, large wildfires are on the long-term rise accross Canada, USA, and Russia. The fire season is now in full swing and currently firefighters in several US states are fighting forest fires with 40 of them being uncontained. The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) upped the national preparedness level on Tuesday to the highest level for the first time in 5 years.

A few days ago, a Youtube video showing a "Firenado" was posted by Douglas Burts, pilot of the aircraft; The starting image probably shows an uprooted tree thrown into the air. 

The Alaskan Division of Forestry posted on their FaceBook page following commentary:

"The Alaska Division of Forestry firefighter that captured the footage has never seen anything like it in his 20 years of firefighting. It is the kind of fire behavior you hear about but can't really believe. "A picture probably is worth a thousand words, but there are indeed times when a picture just doesn't do it justice. I've never seen anything like it until now." - Tim Whitesell. 

Thanks to Tim and the pilot Doug Burts (together serving as an Aerial Supervision Module) for sharing this footage."

We will se more and more of such extreme fire behavior as the "climate train is leaving the station".

For more information see also Robert Scribbler article, Huffington Post and Peter Sinclair.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Climate change: the hot truth

Immage da WMO, via "Effetto Cassandra". H/t "Mondi Fluttuanti"

The above is a very simple and effective image. In a single and easy to read graph, it completely debunks the legend that "global warming has stopped." Decadal averages remove the short term yearly noise and show the hot truth.

If there is any justice in the world, this image should go viral, but - as it always happens - it is the wrong meme that goes viral; the one that says that global warming has stopped.

Maybe the readers of this blog would try to give a "viral push" to this image? See if you can share it to your friends, to your social networks and the like. Let's see if we can move things a little bit....


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Science: we did everything wrong

(Image h/t Mike Haywood, highlights mine)

by Paula
from "Mythodrome"

Ordinary Person: Every night, my dog knows when my wife is coming home from work 10 minutes before she gets here, no matter what shift she works. Maybe my dog is psychic! How cool would that be?
Scientist: There can be no such thing as psychic dogs because the universe is a machine. It is either coincidence or you are lying.
OP: I’m not lying and it is not a coincidence. I see it every day!
Scientist: Your subjective experience is worthless because it cannot be measured in machine units.
OP: Oh okay, well screw you then.
Ordinary Person: I took this herbal medicine and it made me better.
Scientist: Your body is a chemical machine that requires specific chemicals in specific quantities. Studies prove that herbal medicines do not contain the chemicals necessary to make your body better. It was a placebo effect and therefore doesn’t count.
OP: Well regardless of what caused it to happen, the herbal medicine made me better. How does that not count?
Scientist: “Placebo effect” means your subjective experience is worthless because it cannot be measured in chemical units.
OP: Oh okay. Well screw you then.
Scientist: Global warming is a serious problem we need to address immediately.
Ordinary Person: I don’t see any global warming, in fact it’s been very mild this summer.
Scientist: The snows of Kilimanjaro are gone. The North Pole is a lake. You can see it with your own eyes!
OP: Why should what I see with my own eyes matter now when it doesn’t anywhere else? You said my subjective experience is worthless, so screw you.
Ever since I was a little kid I’ve loved science. I love microscopes and telescopes and stethoscopes and oscilloscopes and every kind of scope there is. I have never been able to understand why others aren’t as fascinated with the natural world as I am. I have not been able to understand why practically the whole of the United States has banded together against science and scientists not only with regards to global warming, but also in relation to just about everything science does. I had thought it was because science did not do a very good job of communicating with the general public. And this is true, technically; in reality, science is straight up insulting to people who don’t tow a machine-universe party line. In recent years, self-described militant, atheist scientists such as Richard Dawkins have exacerbated the problem by working to deliberately alienate anyone who does not share his (decidedly unfounded) faith in the machine universe (a.k.a., “materialism”).

Read the complete post at "mythodrome"

Friday, August 9, 2013

The greatest misallocation of resources in human history

Excerpt from Michael Klare's "How to fry a planet"

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), an inter-governmental research organization based in Paris, cumulative worldwide investment in new fossil-fuel extraction and processing will total an estimated $22.87 trillion between 2012 and 2035, while investment in renewables, hydropower, and nuclear energy will amount to only $7.32 trillion. In these years, investment in oil alone, at an estimated $10.32 trillion, is expected to exceed spending on wind, solar, geothermal, biofuels, hydro, nuclear, and every other form of renewable energy combined.

(see also a previous post on "The Frog")

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.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The "unreal reality" of jumping out: Part I

What could be done practically and comprehensively about reducing CO2 emissions, global warming, climate change, ocean acidification, and transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy – while also addressing Limits to Growth,  peak resources, the tangible realities and interactive earth system dynamics of “sources and sinks”, the various kinds of environmental degradation and destruction, and the overshooting of the carrying capacity of the planet?  In other words, how can the frog radically transform the pot that it is slowly starting to boil within?

And is suggesting how to do this further below “An Incredibly Unreal Reality,  a “Real Unreality”,  or just something “Surreal”? 

(a two part post - by Max Iacono)


My writing of this post was inspired by a number of ideas. The first was the reality (or realization) that there is really nowhere for the frog to jump out to.  Now and for the foreseeable future we are stuck here on Planet Earth.    This leaves the frog (us) few options.   We can either:  i) try to adapt to the ever hotter waters we find ourselves in and hope not to boil and somehow survive;  ii) we can do nothing and sooner or later will end up being cooked;  iii) we can hope and delude ourselves that in fact “there is no problem” (a synthesis of various denialist positions) or that technology or some other clever and highly creative solutions “will eventually emerge” and come to our rescue;  or iv) we can try to put out the fire which is heating the pot,  or otherwise deliberately try to transform the pot  and/or its “internal contents and external context”. 

But what are the “contents and context” of “the pot”?   They are nothing less than the interactive political, economic, social, and cultural systems (or paradigms) of present human society on planet earth and their various institutions and supporting ideologies.  Something perhaps “not that easy” to transform?  And so is it “unreal” or “surreal” to hope to do so? 

Other ideas that have inspired or conditioned my thinking about the contents of this post were as follows: The recurring notion of “An Incredibly Unreal Reality” which is in the process of unfolding (the title I first had thought of giving to the post) and which somehow reminded me of Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”:

“Being” in space and in time is an ephemeral and evanescent and arduous proposition and task in any age.   Kundera described aspects of it in an age and social context when communism of a certain type and its local sociology (in Prague) was alive but seemingly (at least to some) embarking on its ending.   Are we now in an age where (ubiquitous) capitalism of a certain type is also alive but seemingly (at least to some) coming to end ? Is history an eternal recurrence of events (Nietzsche) or does each person (and period of history) have only one life to live and that which occurs in life, (individual or collective) occurs only once and never again? 

Or are we instead perhaps in a brand new age more like Francis Fukuyama’s “End of History”

and its Reaganite-Thatcherite correlate “TINA”  (there is no alternative) to  economic liberalism; free markets, free trade, and capitalist globalization which are –presumably- the best and only ways for modern societies to now live and develop further?:

But in fact  the “history” of human society on earth could well come to an untimely end for biophysical reasons if the social (and economic and political and cultural) history of the planet stays on the same (TINA) course.

Or perhaps we need to adopt or take into consideration at least certain aspects of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s (the reasonably well known Italian film director and intellectual of a few decades ago)  highly critical (and iconoclastic in the broadest sense) thinking from his essays “Scritti Corsari” which he wrote in the mid 1970’s?   In those essays Pasolini saw certain political and sociological realities in Italy as being physical evidence of stories and myths presaging the end of the world and the irreversible and violent end of a secular history.  

Italian readers can read about this at the following link:

 and English speaking readers can instead read this one:

And I DO hope that the readers of this post will not to be too disappointed by my own meager “rationalistic ramblings” which now follow below which are not at all at the level of any of my philosophical sources of inspiration and “contextualization” above.  But I hope they will at least provoke some further thoughts on the issue of the “unreal reality of the frog jumping out” that I describe and perhaps take us all marginally closer to a “real reality” of  actually doing so.

Part I:  Humanity’s current predicament and what could be done

Readers also should note that a PART II to this post “Can current human society be transformed to improve its chances of longer-term survival, and how?” follows further below. 

…So basically in this two part post I will try to “jump out and ahead”  (leap-frog) one of the key founding assumptions of our “frog blog”.   And although it is NOT an “answer” to my other recent post “More Questions than Answers” which can be found here: does at least try to provide the beginnings of an answer.   (why ask questions if an answer is not going to at least be attempted?)

The objective or task of our frog-blog if I had understood its underlying premises or purposes correctly is that we (and other like-minded climate change and environmental activists) need to communicate much better and more effectively (to those yet to be persuaded or convinced) about climate change (about its scientific causes, practical effects and impacts, and the sensible human responses to these and the various respective ongoing dynamics and interactions)  in order to develop and arrive at a wider “public consensus” about the need to act,  and act meaningfully and promptly. 

Such a broad public consensus would then encourage and enable a more adequate overall “response” by humanity (by governments, the worldwide private sector, and worldwide civil society at various levels, all using a variety of policies, strategies and measures)  to start to solve the actual problem more seriously than has been done to date (through the implementation of various much more appropriate and effective policies, programs, or other kinds of measures and changes, (to laws, regulatory frameworks and all the like) all actually to be implemented by the most suitable appropriate actors, and all accomplished within the time frames required). 

“Required” to not go above some particular level of PPM’s of CO2 in the atmosphere and some level of increase of average earth temperature over pre-industrial levels.  Readers also should note that although Earth’s average temperature has thus far increased “only” by about 0.8 degrees,  regions such as the Arctic have already seen much higher average temperature increases.  For some of the possible runaway effects we may be facing please see the following two quite recent articles:

  and …

This average increase in temperature could be 1.5 degrees, or 2 degrees, or 4 degrees or even more depending on what planetary conditions the current cohort of humanity were willing to “live with” (or die with) and what sort of planet “we” (the current human cohort of 7 billion happy denizens) wish to leave to our posterity.   Also bearing in mind that although global warming and climate change due to CO2 emissions is a very BIG problem there also are other environmental problems which are nearly as serious stemming from Limits to Growth considerations.  Such as depletion of non-renewable and renewable resources, serious degradation and destruction of various facets of the biosphere and various kinds of micro and macro pollution (e.g. huge continent-sized swaths of floating garbage in the northwest Pacific Ocean)  and toxicity all deriving from already having gone well beyond the “carrying capacity of the planet”,  and being on track for going much further beyond it.

I tried to summarize all this by providing an overview of what seems to be happening,  in two earlier posts of mine by the titles: “Our Warming World:  Temperature Trends, Indicators:  Part of the future is already here, more is to come” and its post scriptum that accompanies it by the title:  “Post Scriptum to “Our Warming World:  A Broader Analytic Framework for Consideration” , which respectively can be found here:

And here:

 Without now going into the question of whether a wide popular or public world consensus is actually necessary or needed (or not) to begin to take the appropriate kinds of actions (many kinds of policies and measures often are implemented by policy makers and top decision makers without prior public consensus or consent) (note the many wars started and sustained mostly without public consent)  let us assume that such a public consensus were indeed necessary, and could be achieved,  and that we could thereafter finally get down to the actual business of wholeheartedly implementing the necessary changes and programs. What would these changes be, who would lead and participate in their implementation effort, and what end -states of the “worldwide transformation” process would be attempted?

I think it would be very useful to envision and consider not only various “end-scenarios” to whatever overall transformation process humanity would decide to embark upon (either before or after adequate “consensus” were achieved) but also how the respective end-states practically could be achieved and by whom.

Various such “end-states” have been either explicitly discussed or tacitly assumed in what I have read over the past few years:

1.        Human population might rise to about 9-10 billion people and we would continue to live in the current globalized market economy system (of criss-crossing complex supply and value chains and the whole lot that we are already quite familiar with in every economic,  social and political sector of the globalized system) but make changes to our energy systems and consumption patterns so that the future society presumably would be “sustainable”.  This is basically the business as usual (BAU) scenario with a bit of tinkering which I personally don’t think can work and eventually would lead to societal collapse.  (though precisely how and with what sequence of interactive calamities occurring first, second or third and etc.,  would remain to be seen)  (a partial collapse of the food system at some fairly early point is,  for instance,  “not beyond the pale”)

2.        We try to stabilize or gradually bring down human population (significantly) and we also accept a much lower world GDP and average GDP per capita and also redistribute wealth far better and more equitably.  Going to something of the order of 40-50% of current world GDP.   We try to reduce the amount of fossil fuels (in particular petroleum and coal) being used (after all we are right now using a  staggering 90 million barrels of oil every single day, so for how long can that go on?) and we also ramp up renewables but retain globalization and the globalized system of production and  consumption and the shipping of goods and services.  In other words everyone tightens their belt quite significantly, we try to become (far?) fewer over time,  and we also try to become far more efficient and waste a great deal less in every sector.

3.        We try to transition away from the current globalized system which we gradually have created and try to develop (or re-establish) new and much more “localized” and self-sufficient systems of production, distribution and consumption where many or most goods and services are produced locally by local communities and/or by individual nations, instead of somewhere else across the world.

4.        I won’t list or try to specify more such “end-states” to the world economic transformation that is needed (to jump out of,  or to transform, the now close-to- boiling, or at least  "rapidly heating",  frog-pot)  but clearly many other ones can be envisioned and worked towards either by borrowing elements from the three above and combining them in various ways and “phases”, or by spelling out entirely other ones.  

5.        Which end states (and “end” state is probably not a good term to use because the world would not “end” once such “end states” were achieved but would continue to evolve or develop though differently than  is happening at present) we select and try to work towards, depends in great measure on whether we wish to give priority to the present human cohort or to future human cohorts.   What kind of planet do we actually wish to leave to future generations?  Do we care if there will be any future generations or not?  Do we care or not if a collapse of human civilization occurs over the next 50 to 100 years?   Does it matter if the 7 billion people now alive die at the end of their natural lives or die sooner because of a big collapse?  Or a series of smaller ones?  Does it matter if the future planet will be livable or completely inhospitable to human and other forms of life and the current biosphere will be wrecked?  (and for a very long time to come)  All these questions require careful and (above all) truthful and honest analysis and collective answers so that we then can decide what to do and how to do it.  It seems to me that this is the sort of “consensus” we now urgently need to achieve rather than achieving only a consensus about the fact that we are indeed in BIG trouble or that climate change and limits to growth are real things requiring (prompt) action.  (though the latter of course may be  pre-requisites for the actions to come later)

So let me “leap frog” out ahead to a point in the future (hopefully not very far away) when humanity has managed to reach a strong consensus not only about the problem we face (about the science, the effects and etc.) but also about the new desired end-state of societal transformation, and therefore can begin to try to work towards it practically and seriously.

Naturally who specifically and how various global, national and local actors and stakeholders of various kinds (public, private, and civic) at various levels and in various places would start to work to achieve the desired end state (and using what kinds of policy instruments and reform programs) will very much depend on the end state selected as the goal.

Let me arbitrarily select one and then say something very general about what, who and how could go about achieving it. Other approaches and modalities would apply to other end states.

Let’s say that we decide to give priority to preserving the planet for future generations and want to stop or reverse economic growth, (to respect limits to growth) undo much of globalization and the globalized economy and begin to live in more modest ways locally (while retaining “modernity” and development)  and also with a much better re-distribution of the wealth created by the productive systems in order to also improve social equity and justice (which also are not doing particularly well at the moment) as well as “survivability and sustainability” and while also achieving a reasonable and widespread degree of prosperity. (parts of the industrial globalized economy could be retained but we mostly would produce and consume locally;  and this too of course would need to be studied carefully and decided and then carefully phased in step by step)

But what should be clear is that this (or any other similar such so called “end scenario”)  will NOT come about on its own based on “or evolving directly and seamlessly”  from the current BAU.   In fact it will be extremely difficult to achieve it without major changes, disruptions, instabilities and even collapse if we are not careful and quite proactive.  (and the same is true for almost any other scenario we might envisage if we do not try to organize and lead and manage the transition to it properly and proactively)  And there also (inevitably) will be fierce resistance from the current political system, the current political economic and social privileged classes and elites, and the vested political and economic interests on whose behalf political and economic systems now in fact mostly operate.  

To assume that such transitions will begin to occur almost automatically once a public understanding and consensus were to be achieved that we in fact face a very BIG problem is, I think, mistaken.   But let’s say instead that a consensus about the desired end state were indeed (somehow) achieved and we could then proceed to try to organize to work towards it.   Who and how?  Let me start to try to tackle this vast topic with what I think is an interesting anecdote: 

In a recent “The Guardian” article about world population and a related video i.e.  


 …both of which were posted to our blog list recently,  the well known health and population and statistics expert Dr. Hans Rosling made one particular point that I thought was good and found rather "amusing",  namely this one:  "That unit [at the World Bank] which assists countries, trains the staff, and helps them to compile [poverty] data,…. how many persons are working there? Four,  half-time. For the world.  It's a joke. They're very competent, they're very good. But it's not serious"  

And I might add that this statement happens to be true for a World Bank which has been saying for quite some time that its top priority is now world poverty and its reduction and that it follows Comprehensive Strategies for Poverty Reduction.  But how can poverty be tackled properly if world population and its distribution, characteristics and dynamics is not studied and understood accurately, specifically and in sufficient depth?

And in this respect it is also interesting to note that the World Bank has proceeded from an earlier period of promoting and implementing (together with the IMF and other international institutions such as the ADB, (Asian Development Bank)  the AfDB, (African Development Bank)  the IADB (Inter-American Development Bank) and others and with the various UN specialized agencies playing an adjunct role) the so-called “Washington Consensus”  -which in short is worldwide globalized neoliberal market capitalism, structural adjustment of national economies and widespread privatization, deregulation and liberalization of the key social, economic and infrastructure sectors of nations,  and a general shift from State to Market- …and then later moved into its current period of Poverty Reduction and a pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals. (and only presumably,  since in fact W.B. policies and lending programs have in many respects remained fairly similar to what they were during its earlier “Washington Consensus” period or regime or paradigm.)

Here are some of the things the World Bank has been doing,  or contemplating doing, very recently:

So (considering for a moment just the World Bank as a possible institutional actor to work towards the new agreed upon end-state) what the W.B. would need to do (once a new "non-Washington" political consensus for the new end-state took firm shape at the top of all key nations- and which regrettably I don't think is going to happen)  (since the OECD countries and the BRIC countries all would have to agree to it and support it not just in words but also in deeds i.e. the G-20) … would be for the W.B. to then re-orient and re-focus itself  to work first and foremost for Survivability and Sustainability (that is, no longer work for the Washington Consensus –but rather, gradually undo its results- and not work only for Poverty Reduction either,  and particularly if this is done only half seriously and instead begin to reform and restructure (after reforming itself internally)  the entire globalized world economy and that of every single nation-state from top to bottom and sector by sector to try to achieve overall “Survivability and Authentic Longer Term Sustainability”.  (a quite different overarching goal from anything it -or anyone else- had attempted before)

The World Bank probably has the basic initial know-how needed to begin to attempt to undertake this gargantuan task (the rest can be “learned by doing” and by bringing aboard more and more partners until “an avalanche” starts to develop) but I don't think it ever will actually do so because the right pre-requisite top level consensus and political leadership is not likely to emerge and materialize or come about.   At least not until things get FAR WORSE and by then it probably will be too late to get anything underway that could end up working.  

 In fact it is not that difficult to imagine that the worldwide transformation of present human society on planet earth which would be required to achieve the new end-state (as a rational collective human response to Limits to Growth and to Climate Change and also to “Peak Oil” and to peak other resources and whether non-renewable or renewable (e.g. uranium, or copper, or forests, or arable land or fish stocks) could be led and facilitated / implemented by a  "network" of the major Western-controlled so-called “development” banks (the WB, the ADB the Latin American Development Bank, the African Development Bank) acting in concert and together with the development and commercial banks of China and those of some other developing or recently “emerged” nations now also very active in Africa and Latin America........and also with the participation of mainstream large financial institutions (such as Deutsche Bank, Barclays, J.P. Morgan Chase,  B of A,  BNP Paribas,  UBS, and etc.) . Why?  Because the resource mobilization needs of the world transformation that is actually required would be immense.  

And assuming that the huge sums of finance capital needed were actually made available (for real, and sustainably over time) (the past record for amounts “pledged” by countries at assorted development conferences and then never delivered is not exactly stellar) … would the absorptive and implementation capacities of countries and of their state and non-state institutions and the plethora of actors (both national and sub-national and local) be sufficient and capable of achieving the needed restructurings and reforms in the window of time that remains?  And how would such a comprehensive program be organized, designed, led, phased, facilitated and implemented?   And as importantly how could the aforementioned current bastions of current neo-liberal market capitalism play a constructive role in achieving the desired new end-state of “Survivability and Sustainability” (which would be quite different from what they are used to doing) one could legitimately also ask?  By being completely reformed and re-oriented first once a strong political consensus emerged among the key nations of the world?   (or –more accurately- among the various interests that actually control them, and with the support and demand of the peoples of those nations and of world society more broadly?)
Together these financial and development institutions could at least in theory mobilize the finance capital and the external know-how that would be required to start to reform and restructure the 20 or 30 social and economic and infrastructure sectors of every nation on earth...

(away from globalization, supply chains and “economic growth forever” and towards more locally self-sufficient economies,  a far smaller world population and a transition to renewable energy and away from fossil fuels; and let us also not forget once again that the current world economy is consuming roughly 90 million barrels of oil every single day, so whether we are at or past peak oil or not -and we are- sooner or later we'll run out;  and then what?  the even worse coal?  but airplanes -just as a for instance- cannot run on coal, nor on electricity)

... and (these institutions) would be able to mobilize the 196 national public, private and civil society sectors of the world’s nations (i.e. both state and non-state actors) (at international, national and local levels) to implement the massive needed reforms.   The World Bank in particular is well accustomed to working in a range of nations and looking at and dealing with the “big picture” and with “comprehensive policy frameworks” (for all sectors)  both nationally, regionally and globally. Something which even the best environmental NGOs are simply NOT equipped to do and have little actual experience in doing.

BUT… the above could be done IF (and only if) the consensus and the political will at the top first materialized.  Will that ever happen?  Personally, unfortunately, I really do not think so.  Hence  my “humorous” title for this post:  “An Unreal Reality or a Real Unreality”.  And given that,  again unfortunately,  I also think that a great deal of the current piecemeal rest  (carbon taxes and credits here and there, and all the other half measures -often also contradictory- often being talked about and proposed) are even less credible.

But as I said, this is only a suggestive think piece and it definitely is not intended to be a prescription for what to do.   That would have to emerge from a more collective and far more thorough international multidisciplinary effort and consensus.   But let me continue my own personal train of thought just to try to develop these “unrealistic” notions and scenarios a bit further since they may at least shed some light on what probably at least “ought to happen" and also perhaps help develop a better sense of the actual scope of the challenge we face.

A great deal of international experience by the IFI’s (International Financial Institutions) exists in how to design and implement policy reforms and sector restructuring for the various economic and social and infrastructure i.e. the transport and water and power and etc.  sectors of developing countries’ economies.  This was developed and accumulated during the long Washington Consensus period/regime/ paradigm and also during the Poverty Reduction period,  but on a process level there still can be many lessons which also would be applicable to the next period/regime/paradigm.  Namely what I am calling  (though in fact the term was introduced by Tapio Kanninen in his book which I will refer to later on in Part II of this post)  the “Survivability”/Sustainability Period/Regime/Paradigm.   Please have a look at the four links below which are only a sample but provide a preliminary introduction to the kinds of reforms and reform processes for which internal capacity and know-how has been gradually developed and built-up within the IFI’s:

1)  The IMF, World Bank and Policy Reform:

2) Public Sector Reform:  What works and why:

3) Power Sector Reform: 

4) Renewable Energy:

 The above links deal only with: 1) the overall issue and processes and general contents of sector-level or economy-wide reforms;  2) specific experience with how to reform a few sectors.  (but moving the power sector from coal-fired power plants to solar energy on a significant scale in some key countries through a series of suitable sector-level projects,  certainly would be a big accomplishment)

But similar links and international experience on how to design and implement reforms also exist for all other economic, social, financial and also governmental /administrative / political infrastructure sectors (including also how to try to create improved national and local territorial governance through improved accountability, transparency, anti-corruption measures, improved public information, civil society participation,  and etc.) and namely for:

1)   The reform of the social infrastructure sectors i.e. the population sector, the health sector and the education sector.   (for instance how and through what programs or projects could world population gradually be managed down reasonably, equitably and democratically?  And how should primary, secondary and tertiary education systems be reformed to prepare the humans who will live in and be responsible and creative citizens of the future society?)  

2)   The reform of the economic infrastructure sectors of energy, power, transport and water;

3)   The reform and re-regulation of the financial infrastructure sectors i.e. banking and finance (these in particular need prompt and deep and effective reforms)

4)   The reform of the main so-called productive sectors of economies and each of their main sub-sectors and industries within the broad areas of:  a) agriculture;  b) industry and c) services  (there are at least twenty of these which are significant)

5)   The reform of the political and governance “sectors” i.e. public administration and civil service reform,  the improvement and streamlining of territorial governance (both centralized and decentralized) and the improvement of its key variables, (accountability, transparency, anti-corruption, valid electoral processes, democracy and etc.)  and also improving the relationship and partnerships and synergies between the private sector, the public sector and the civil society sector -i.e. “public-private-partnerships” that can be formed between state and non-state actors-  for better implementing these various reforms, changes and transformations nationally, regionally and locally.  (and also internationally and at the level of regions in the sense of continents e.g. Europe, as well)

The World Bank in particular has accumulated a wealth of knowledge and experience (and lessons of experience regarding both its successes and its many failures) in how to effect such policy and sector reforms over the past 30 years.   Its country and regional departments and its relatively more independent Operations Evaluation Department have built up a wealth of assessments and lessons of experience and of best practice and worst practice.

Regrettably, as already mentioned,  a great deal of this experience has been accumulated while implementing the Washington Consensus and the Poverty Reduction paradigm that followed it.  Both depend on continuing economic growth and globalization.   And both rely on economic models and theories based on classical economics or at best on aspects of the new  (though now rather old) “institutional economics” and of how this applies to developing countries in particular.   

But nonetheless a great deal of “process and how-to generic experience” also has been accumulated.   And this experience can be put to good use in the service of the “third period” in the World Bank Group’s history which would be the “Survivability and Authentic Sustainability” period of policy packages and whichever new (non – solely Washington) Consensus might be achieved at the level of the G-20 or the U.N. that could drive it forward politically.   And also sustain it once “the going got tough” which would be likely to occur very soon indeed,  at least from a political point of view.

At this point I ask readers to keep in mind (so as to not totally destroy my own probably already severely waning credibility) that:  i) I do not believe the World Bank Group alone could implement and manage the transition that is needed or that would be agreed upon.  ii) I also do not believe the New Consensus that I think is necessary is very likely to emerge before various far greater disasters occur, and if ever at all.   All I wish to say in this think piece (which as I already mentioned,  is not a prescription) is that a comprehensive transition away from a globalized and economic-growth- forever and fossil-fuel based world economy IS in fact perhaps possible and that a network of financial and development institutions could probably facilitate it and implement it together with national governments and private sectors and civil society actors using policy tools they already have at their disposal, though duly adapted to the new task.  What is clearly missing is the political will to act in the face of the strong opposition put forward by current (and very likely also future) political and economic vested interests. (and probably also by popular inertia)   Will more widespread popular consensus and conviction be able to overcome these kinds of obstacles?  Maybe, but time is rapidly running out.

And this concludes PART I of this post.   Part II will follow soon.  


Max Iacono