Quote of the Week
“If we still read philosophy, literature, history, poetry and theology we would not be surprised that greed, hedonism and hubris have easily defeated empathy and reason. But because we do not, because we spend hours each day getting little bursts of dopamine from electronic screens, we think we are unique in human existence. … The only existential question left is how we will choose to wait out the finale.” – Chris Hedges, writing on Truthdig.
And in his bleak article, Hedges quotes the philosopher John Gray: “Whatever they become, tyrannies begin as festivals of the depressed.”
While for a sobering reminder of how whole populations can be sucked into the maelstrom and drawn to destruction by the actions of a few ambitious men, please watch the 3-part BBC docudrama series The Rise of the Nazis, if you possibly can.
The BogPo’s only hopeful comment is that instead of hubristic militarism, the 21st-century version merely requires that we enslave ourselves as consumers to the corporate ethos until the order collapses in the face of global climate catastrophe.
Brexit – a family tragedy
If any more evidence is needed of the divisive, corrosive effects of Brexit, the subversion of democratic process by unelected “dei ex-machina” and the strong echoes, both of the English Civil War and the rise of the Nazis, it must surely be the tragic letter published in today’s Guardian from historian Paddy Docherty to his Tory MP and government whip brother, Leo.
Reminding him that their family were once Communist shipyard workers in Glasgow, he writes:
“How important is your own job when something as priceless as parliamentary democracy is under threat?
“I was once proud and impressed as you entered parliament – that was just two years ago. Now I am simply appalled that this government, of which you are sadly a part, has become the principal threat to the lives and liberties of the people. Please do the decent thing, and resign.”
This is unbearably sad. But it is probably a devastating rift that is being repeated across hundreds of breakfast tables and at fissiparous family celebrations the length and breadth of this divided land.
Your Uncle B. is perhaps fortunate to know no Leavers; at least, none who will openly admit to their private vice. And to have such a very tiny family – at least, those whose identities I actually know. When in working groups, such as my extended jazz family of musicians both amazingly proficient and amateurishly exuberant, there is an unstated vow of omerta.
Personally, having argued forcefully for years – since 2013, in fact, when an intention to hold a referendum was first announced, and The BogPo predicted just this outcome – that leaving the EU is a dangerous idea that plays into the hands of a few very selfish and greedy people, such a blindingly clear fact that a slender majority of the minority who could be bothered to vote seemingly failed (and continue now to stubbornly refuse) to appreciate – I fear I have become numbed to the inevitability of it all. As when your flight is delayed, the only recourse is to surrender to the process.
Thus Brexit can also create its rifts within the individual heart.
And that’s the worst part of it, that I am looking forward more to the arrival at around midday of my new guitar, a (ridiculously cheap Indonesian copy of the expensive instrument I can no longer afford) birthday present to myself; and am busying myself with thoughts of possibly replacing its low-end pickups and strings and tuning pegs and tremolo bridge with sturdier versions, putting lipstick on a pig, as Sarah Palin once said about something or other.
Although I like pigs, we used to breed them in the wholesome air of freedom and sell delicious sausages at market. I’m no stranger to slaughter, when it comes to the sticking point.
Let’s get away from it all
Fifty-four people, mostly Americans, have paid up to £194,390 each to spend 245 days on a cruise liner, circumnavigating the globe on what is being billed as something or other, cruise of a lifetime, luxury escape from Donald Trump, whatever.
It sounds like a recipe for another Poseidon adventure.
At the top of the range, you get your own 12-man boardroom, chef, kitchen and wine cellar. For the steerage passengers (only £66,950), eight restaurants have worked out 245 menus, one for each day. “There is more food than you can ever imagine.” promises Viking’s Head of Sales, lasciviously (many people can only imagine that much food, actually. Principally because they don’t get that much to eat.) There are of course other passengers, it’s just that they’re getting off at Los Angeles, where more get on.
“It won’t be something that is exclusive to millionaires,” says Alex Loizou, director of sales and marketing at Mundy Cruising. “It will be ordinary people.” Yeah, right. That’s what I’d be afraid of, actually. Smug retired couples with unfeasibly large pension-pots. Tragic lottery winners. Refugees from Downton Abbey.
Eat your heart out, Agatha Christie… we’re laying bets on who the murderer will be.
40 years ago, your Uncle B. spent two weeks on a guided cruise around the sites of classical antiquity in the eastern Mediterranean as the guest of the organizers, with the aim of producing a short piece for radio promoting their business.
It was quite a small boat with just the one restaurant serving a sadly imaginable quantity of food, and I honestly thought I would go mad with boredom. Apart from my wife, who was unwell most of the time (it later turned out to be hepatitis C), there was only one other passenger aged under about 60 onboard, a teenager, so with little else to do but traipse around ruins, I managed to run up the biggest bar bill of anyone.
They rejected my piece.
No, it can’t be!
As any fule ‘kno, a coincidence is just when you happen to notice two different things happening at the same time that appear to be related to one another, when they’re probably not. Most psychologists will tell you, there’s no such thing: it’s just that you’re in a particularly receptive frame of mind. (Actually, the Father of Modern Psychology, Dr Jung believed in them, so he gave them a scientific name: synchronicities.)
So, a few days ago I told you about The Lucky Jew – a somewhat dubious tourist souvenir a friend brought back for me from Poland three weeks ago – and how, the very next day, I won £30 on the lottery, something I’d never done before – I don’t usually do the lottery, it’s just an occasional whim when I’m feeling unloved.
This morning I opened a letter from the bank – something I don’t often do either – to find a deposit in my account that precisely to the pound matched the amount I’d had to remove two weeks ago to cover the cost of my annual pilgrimage to sing jazz in the Loire. So I was no worse off!
While in France last week, during the course of a conversation over breakfast one day, I recounted an apposite story of how I’d been shopping at the local supermarket a while back, and was surprised to hear quite a young man, a student, wandering by while humming a tune called “Fly Me to the Moon”, a 1960s Sinatra hit and now a tiresomely overdone jazz standard on courses and on bad karaoke nights.
Shopping at the same supermarket just an hour ago, a man wandered past, humming “Fly Me to the Moon”….
I talk to the trees (but no-one listens to me)
Okay, so the plan is to plant a trillion trees and save the world from overheating.
First, let’s establish that a trillion is a thousand billions, and a billion is a thousand millions, and a million is a thousand thousands, and a thousand is ten hundreds, and a hundred is ten tens, and ten is your fingers and thumbs – or your toes.
Imagine a football stadium holding fifty thousand people. See their eager faces? 20 stadiums is a million people. 200 thousand stadiums is a trillion people. Aren’t you sick of seeing their faces?
Put another way, a trillion is 1 followed by 12 noughts; each nought being the increasing power of x10.
It’s quite a lot of trees, too. Growing and distributing and planting out that many saplings – baby trees – is going to take energy, lots of it – human and otherwise. And where is your source stock of seeds and whips (live cuttings) for that many trees? How many nurseries, with how much space?
And who will pay them to do it?
Roughly 15 per cent of saplings survive transplantation, so we’ll need 6 trillion to start with. Who is going to grow 6 trillion saplings, and where?
Trees need water. They don’t like salt. Is there enough fresh water on the planet to keep a trillion trees alive to maturity, say at a gallon a day? Increasing to maybe ten gallons a day as they grow? Ten trillion gallons a day? (Don’t ask how many Olympic swimming pools is that… it’s 10,000,000,000,000 divided by 660,400, okay?)
And us? Does that leave enough fresh water to keep us alive too? And the other animals and plants? And all those industrial processes and agriculture – in Chile, where the soil is dry, it takes 100 US gallons of water to produce one avocado.
Yes, transpiration will put fresh water back into the amosphere. To add to the increased rainfall and flooding we’re already experiencing.
The trees will need to grow rapidly and well if they are going to suck all that carbon dioxide out of the air to make themselves bigger and more useful at removing carbon, which will take many years.
And when they die, they’re going to put it all back out again.
Right now, millions upon millions of trees are dying. Many in wildfires that are eating up areas of southern tropical, temperate and northern boreal forests the size of small countries every year.
Now, burning trees are putting up soot particles high in the atmosphere, reflecting sunlight back into space. Burning the forests rather than planting them may be the best way for now of countering the effect of warming from their and our carbon emissions.
On our walk yesterday, 31 August, I stood in full, blazing sunshine, felt its warmth, and thought no, this isn’t right, there’s not enough warmth. It ought to have been 2 or 3 degrees hotter. The sky looked blue, but it isn’t. The hemisphere is wreathed in a fine layer of smoke.
The “global dimming” (aka “aerosol masking”) effect of the sooty particles from 36 million burned acres of Siberian forest this year, more tens of millions of acres from Alaska and British Columbia, South America, Central Africa, Indonesia and now Australia again must be pretty substantial.
Millions of trees are also being cut down just to burn for “bio” energy and to make products – houses, sheds, shelf units, kebab skewers, paper. Many to clear land to grow cows for burgers and soybeans for soy sauce and tofu, and biogas and palm oil for just about anything.
Can we just stop cutting down trees, maybe? Can we stop eating cows and tofu with soy sauce and margarine, driving cars on ethanol? Can we stop trees from burning, in a warmer world?
Because otherwise we’ll be killing them as fast as we can grow them. Net neutrality can have two distinct meanings!
Trees have their limits to growth. Altitude imposes one such limit. You’ve heard of “the tree line”. Above it, trees do not grow quickly or fast enough to help with the climate problem. Land is not unlimited, there are places you can’t grow trees.
Will we be growing the right species of trees for their environment? In deserts and on salt flats? In tidal estuaries? On flood plains and hilltops? And will the tree planters not come up against vested agricultural and commercial interests and city growers in competition for the space? You can’t eat trees! You can’t drive a combine harvester in a forest.
Trees also have their limits when it comes to surviving extreme heat or cold. Will the world be cooling quickly enough to allow them to survive when half the year, in half the world the temperature is 40 degrees*? How well will they grow in Scotland, when the Gulf Stream fails, the “overturning circulation”, and all that Arctic meltwater is streaming south?
Doubtless there are good arguments for planting more trees strategically. On tropical coastlines, for instance, to try to defeat salination from rising sea levels, planting banyan is maybe a good idea. In cities and along roads. On eroded hillsides. And, of course, there are companies cutting down trees for industry that piously affect to replace the ones they cut down.
So we are planting trees – the Ethiopian government recently trumpeted that villagers had replanted 350 million (let’s see how many survive). We’d only need to duplicate that effort 3,000 times and…
Reforesting the world with unimaginable numbers of trees that have no other purpose than to breathe is a lovely dream, but it requires global management deploying vast resources, and who is going to provide that, when supposedly civilized, established democracies can no longer even manage ourselves?
*The story of a city already suffering intolerable heat and water stress is told at:
GW: Deep breath, everyone
The Amazon rainforest produces 20 per cent of the world’s oxygen. The UN should immediately invade Brazil and remove Bolsonaro from office to save the world!!!
Actually not, say the experts.
“…the world’s oxygen levels are quite stable and are not dependent on rain forests, which use up as much of the gas as they produce in the long run, according to Philip Fearnside, a professor at Brazil’s National Institute of Amazonian Research, quoted in Newsweek:
“Amazonia is not a big source of oxygen because trees respire, just like animals. Trees use up most of the oxygen that they produce through photosynthesis. … There is a net release of oxygen while the tree is growing and storing carbon in its wood, but when the tree dies the wood rots, removing the same amount of oxygen from the air to form carbon dioxide (CO2) from the carbon in the wood,” he said.
“Twenty per cent” is the total proportion of oxygen in the atmosphere, not what the rainforest produces.
More environmental news:
Checking on CO2, then, it’s incredibly difficult to give figures when the concentration measured at the Scripps observatory at 9,000 ft on Mauna Loa in Hawaii, the internationally recognised “official” monitoring station, varies not just from year to year and month to month, but from hour to hour across the day.
Despite the vast area of the planet’s forest cover that’s currently burning, and the increase this year in volcanic activity – and, of course, the ever-increasing output from industry, farming and transportation – the daily average load is currently 409.69 parts per million. The record for the year was set on 15 May when it was as high as 415.70 (Peaks were being detected over 417 ppm, while over parts of Siberia it’s been 1,020 ppm.) The previous record high daily average of 412.60 was set last year, on 14 May. It’s inexorably increasing.
“Pre-industrial” CO2, ie back in the C18th, was about 280 ppm.
France’s wine output is expected to fall 12% this year, after spring frosts followed by summer heatwaves took a heavy toll on vineyards across the country.
On 27 Aug. the temperature in my front garden in Boglington-on-Sea barely made it to 16C. On the other side of the country, in parts of Southeast England it reached 32C. I’m wondering if that 100% east-west vertical gradient might be some kind of record?
NASA and others made July the hottest month ever globally, although Europe only made 2nd hottest July owing to a big cold blob stuck over the northeast. France had its hottest ever July, while the UK broke several temperature records. June was Europe’s hottest ever June. The Met office reported, 10 of the UK’s hottest years have occurred since 2002. There were major temperature anomalies – up to 8C – in Antarctica, Greenland and eastern Siberia. (Severe-weather.eu).
North America has not missed having its wettest past 12 months ever (since 1894, anyway) in any month since May. Sluggish Hurricane Dorian will help keep that record up going into September.
Writing on Arctic News, 1 Sept., Prof. Andrew Glikson of Australian National University has the following good news:
For a climate sensitivity of 3±1.5°C per doubling of atmospheric CO₂, global warming has potentially reached between +2°C to +3°C above mean pre-industrial temperatures at a rate exceeding the fastest growth rate over the last 55 million years.
Global temperature, he writes, has been accelerating faster in the past 270 years than at any time in the planetary record. Even the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) when the planet warmed by 5-8 degrees took a thousand years. The 2 to 3C rise is being masked by aerosol dispersals (pollution).
Glikson’s case supports the idea that feedbacks make a nonsense of linear projections. He cites a 2002 paper by Berger and Loutre: “The climate system may take 50,000 years to assimilate the impacts of human activities during the early third millennium. In this case, an “irreversible greenhouse effect” could become the most likely future climate.”
A Munich Re Insurance graph shows a tripling of extreme global climatic and seismic events of all kinds since 1970. (Arctic News)
The Indonesian government is planning to move its capital to a purpose-built new city. Built on a bog and now sinking fast owing to sea-level rise, Jakarta is to be abandoned to the waves. Environmentalists have protested at the choice of a virgin forest site in Borneo (Kalimantan).
USA: Hurricane Dorian intensified Sunday to a monster 180-mph top-end Category 5 storm, gusting to 220 mph, as it approached the Bahamas – the strongest hurricane to hit the region in modern times. Moving at only 1 mph, it’s carrying up to 30-in. of rain and pushing a 20-foot storm surge on top of this month’s king tides. Reporters said hundreds of residents of lower-lying islands, including Grand Cay and Sweeting Cay, ignored mandatory evacuation orders. Early video images show houses half-submerged, their roofs ripped away. Over 13,000 properties are said to have been destroyed.
Floridans are hunkering down as Hurricane Dorian approaches the eastern US coastline. The NHC however expects the storm to turn northward instead of crossing the coast, sparing Mar-a-Lago, andto head up the coast past Georgia, slamming instead into the Carolinas. If it follows the same track as Matthew in 2016 it could still cause $billions in damage – and fatalities. Matthew killed 47 people.
According to an investigation by The Intercept, two Brazilian firms standing to make millions from the removal of the Amazon rainforest have been among the heavier donors to the re-election campaign funds of both Donald Trump and profoundly corrupt Senate leader, “Moscow Mitch” – should that now be “Manaus Mitch”? – McConnell. Both firms are owned largely or in part by Stephen Schwartzman, billionaire CEO of $300 bn US fund manager, Blackstone Corp.
Hang him. No, I’m serious. Unfathomably stupid and greedy “entrepreneurs” like him have forfeited any right to life. They need to be put on trial for ecocidal crimes and gaoled for life, or summarily executed. The future cannot afford their continued existence.
(If a corporation or a river can be declared to have legal rights as a person, as has been adjudicated, then why does the Future not have equivalent legal rights to exist unthreatened by special interests bent on adversely altering or preventing it from eventuating? Could this concept not be tried in court?)
Russia: Days of heavy rain and flooding have prompted authorities to declare an emergency in Russia‘s Far East. The declaration covers 15 municipalities including the city of Vladivostok which is among the worst affected. The Primorsky Krai administration said more than 150mm of rain has fallen in Vladivostok over the last few days (a normal month’s worth). (Floodlist)
Mauritania: At least 5 people have died in recent flooding in southern Mauritania according to media reports. News agency AMI said that dozens of homes were damaged or destroyed following storms and heavy rains that began around 25 Aug. Fatalities were reported in the capital, Sélibaby City. Media reported that 200mm of rain fell in the area. Roads, bridges and other infrastructure were also damaged. (Floodlist)
Uganda: landslides and flooding have affected several areas of Bulambuli district since 27 August. Local media reported that 5 people were missing, feared dead, after landslides buried houses and flooding from the River Kajere. “Above normal” rains are forecast through until the end of October. (Floodlist)
Kenya: 6 bodies have been recovered after a tour group was swept away by a flash flood in a Kenyan national park. The incident at Hell’s Gate National Park on Sunday involved five Kenyan nationals, a local tour guide and a “foreigner”, officials said. 1 tourist is still missing and a search and rescue operation is continuing. (BBC)
Morocco: At least 7 people died in flash floods in Morocco on 28 August, after heavy rain in the south of the country. A wave of water slammed into a crowd of spectators at a football match, as a building many had taken refuge on collapsed. More people are feared missing and search and rescue teams are working in the area to find survivors. (Floodlist)
Australia: Your Gran fears the media is going mad. A huge floating island of volcanic pumice in the Pacific has been hailed everywhere as a potential saviour of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef as corals and other microflora will cling to its underside and repopulate the dying reef.
Well, no, it won’t – not if the same conditions that are killing the reef – oceanic heatwaves and acidification – are going to persist. How could it?
Instead, “The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s outlook report, published every five years, finds coral reefs have declined to a ‘very poor’ condition and there is widespread habitat loss and degradation affecting fish, turtles and seabirds.”
As well as the warming, acidifying ocean, agricultural pollution, ecological imbalances, cyclones and illegal fishing are among reasons to doubt that anything can now save the reef, once listed as one of the 7 Wonders of the Natural World and now in its northern sector 2/3rds dead. The Authority’s almost pathetic optimism concludes that all is not lost, provided the world “tackles global warming” if the reef is to be saved. (Guardian Green Light, et al.) As if.
Ebola: The world’s forgotten Ebola epidemic, mainly in the DRC, has claimed its 2,000th victim. There have been 3,000 cases in total of the disease, which has an unusually high mortality rate of 67%. There’ve been a number of cases and fatalities in neighboring Uganda as the border is porous and villagers are refusing to take warnings seriously not to travel. Hostility toward medical teams and a refusal to believe the disease exists are given as reasons the outbreak is so far from controlled.
Trump Org. a grovelling apology
In The Pumpkin – Issue 96, we commented that US cable news network MSNBC and presenter Lawrence O’Donnell were reporting that signatures of Russian oligarchs may have been found in court papers among Trump loan applications to Deutsche Bank, the only remaining bank that would lend to him. The normally serious and reliable O’Donnell has since reported that he shouldn’t have let the cat out of the… no, sorry, he’s tweeted that it was inappropriate to quote his one anonymous source for that claim at this time without supporting testimony and he was wrong to do so. I expect the Southern District court has given him a walloping.
Trump’s dimmest little sprog, Eric, has threatened to sue everyone who repeats the story.
Sorry. No, really, Eric. Really, really sorry. I know you only told a golfing magazine you get all your money from Russia, but later, maybe, yeah?
But please, MSNBC, you can’t afford to give the Trumps these hostages to fortune. Calm down, okay?