CRISIS OF CONFIDENCE
Is it just me... or is the world falling apart?
Radio Ecoshock 080516
[opening clips of warnings and danger] Steady. One thing at a time! Steady! Uh Oh! Aieeee! Ahhhhhh!][LB_Food countries breaking down][L2_Self-Reinforcing Warming][Bloomberg MidMay Stiglitz worst yet to come]
[include twisters, Myanmar, and China quake] The suffering.
Worried? Need a hole to hide in?
All through Western history, the human herd has reached panic points. Civilization was expected to end. And sometimes it did.
Despite utter corruption and harsh militarism, and even in the face of mass immigration, Rome took two hundred years to go under. Half of it remained another thousand years at Byzantium.
In the Middle Ages, waves of popular religious fever swept through Europe. Tens of thousands of men, women and children walked away from their homes and families, ready for the End of the World. It is called Millenarianism - a psychological crisis of confidence.
In the 1970's, Italian doctor of computer science Roberto Vacca, and the Club of Rome, warned us about the limits of growth. Vacca's book was "The Coming Dar Age" - a kind of death by complexity, predicted for 1985, or 1995 at the latest. It didn't happen - partly because computers helped organize our complex lives. [link: http://www.robertovacca.com/inglese.html]
In April, New Scientist magazine dusted off the complexity argument, with a front page story "The Collapse of Civilization - It Is More Precarious Than We Realized"
This fear of utter breakdown is growing, past the Y2K fiasco, beyond 911. Top scientists, economists, and even world leaders tell us we have only a few years left - five at the most - to change the world, or lose it.
In this program, we'll take the bullet train through global defrosting, climate adaptation, rogue capitalism, economic crash, selling out, capital flight, and the food crisis.
You will hear samples from a conference call with world food expert Lester Brown, and clips from a tell-all speech by the radical Canadian nationalist Mel Hurtig. Top Harvard environmental teacher James Gustav Speth says environmentalism has utterly failed. An expert in the hidden economy, Loretta Napoleoni explains Rogue Capitalism. Bill McKibben says we have one last chance.
Strap yourself in. This is Radio Ecoshock. I'm Alex Smith.
[VR Moment of Catastrophe clip]
Colin Duncan is a Canadian environmental historian who agrees that the hour is late for dealing with climate change. The psychological and cultural limits may be bigger problems than new technical needs. Duncan has an unpublished paper titled: ""The Practical Equivalent of War?, or, Using Rapid Massive Climate Change to Ease the Great Transition Towards a New Sustainable Anthropocentrism." He was interviewed in early May by C.S. Soong, of Pacifica Radio, under the caption "Too Hot to Handle?"
According to Colin Duncan, we haven't begun to grasp the new reality of climate change.
Radio Ecoshock will run that full interview next week. But, to start with, I was surprised to hear Duncan raise the role of fugitive money, and irresponsible capitalists, in the coming wrenching rearrangement of our civilization. Most academics don't tread there, at least, until now. Here is a short bit of Duncan with C.S. Soong:
We have to build a new carbonless energy system. A new transportation system. Likely, we will have to build new ports, and even whole new cities, further inland. We cannot invest in endless but futile barriers against the storms and rising seas.
But will the money be there? Can governments control the direction of spending any more?
These are two different problems. First of all, America, the largest government economy in the world, and the standard for world currency, is bankrupt. The country owes at least 9 trillion dollars and borrow more daily. States, companies and individuals are slogging their way toward hopeless debt.
Despite assurances from the former Goldman Sachs head, now treasury secretary Paulson, we are not by any means past the economic crisis. We are just entering into it.
[clip from Bloomberg, Stiglitz, economy worse to come]
That is former Clinton advisor and Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz talking to Bloomberg, in mid-May, 2008. [http://www2.gsb.columbia.edu/faculty/jstiglitz/]
Governments tax according to production. That revenue will drop. There will be less to spend on anything, from schools to ocean dikes.
More importantly, the big boys who should be paying big taxes have abandoned their countries. They will not spend to save the planet. That is the second part of the problem: rogue capitalism and capital flight.
Let's start with capital flight. Look at the recent adventures of just one bank, UBS.
Most North Americans know little about this giant Swiss banking and investment complex. UBS AG is the second largest bank in Europe - at least it was. It is the product of a 1998 merger of the Union Bank of Switzerland with another giant, the Swiss Bank Corporation.
UBS fought hard to get entry into American banking and Wall Street trading. At one point, President Clinton hinted UBS would not be welcome - unless it paid into a multi-billion dollar Bronfman-controlled fund allegedly for the survivors of concentration camps. That whole questionable story appears in Norman G. Finkelstein's book "The Holocaust Industry."
Leo Kolber, a lieutenant of the Bronfman family, claimed that Edgar Bronfman Junior, the man who declared war on the Internet over music downloads, was the single largest contributor to the Bill Clinton campaign. Everyone looks dirty in this tale, starting with the way Swiss banks made profits from Nazi driven gold.
Anyway, UBS paid up, and came ashore in America. They bought Paine Webber, the well-known trading company, and plunged deeply into the sub-prime market, and derivatives based on American mortgages. The bank now admits it mistakenly failed to pawn off these risky debts to others. They believed their own economic voodoo.
UBS has written off at least 20 billion dollars in sub-prime related losses. Recently, the bank sold off more billions of risky investments to the Blackrock group, at a 25 percent discount.
Blackrock is owned 49.8 percent by Merrill Lynch. Blackrock was also hired to manage the sub-prime toxic materials left by Bear Stearns - all guaranteed by the American tax payer, of course. Blackrock will oversee countless foreclosures on American homes. Black indeed.
At the beginning of April, UBS announced an expected loss of 12 billion Swiss francs, about 12 billion dollars U.S., for just the first quarter of 2008. They will cut about 5,000 jobs.
At each step, UBS claims they are finished with losses - all behind them now.
But CNBC reports UBS has lost the confidence of some of it's wealthy clients. Some people are pulling money out of the bank, reportedly about $12 billion withdrawn just in the first three months of this year. Could UBS, the second largest bank in Europe, go under?
[UBS CNBC clip]
UBS has announced an 82 percent drop in net new money into its private banking division, in the first quarter. Their reputation is in tatters.
Once a major Swiss bank begins to fall, who else will go? How safe is your bank?
Of course, some big money is nervous because they have parked secret funds in Swiss banks, like UBS. Arms merchants, drug dealers, and dictators are all welcome to drop off gold and cash in Switzerland, no questions asked. It is part of the larger story of capital flight, which dominates the hidden economy of the world.
Even above-board executives and the super wealthy go to great lengths to avoid paying taxes. The taxes they might pay to alleviate poverty, to really address the coming swing to clean energy - is instead cheated from the people.
UBS has a long rap-sheet of charges and controversy.
In early May of this year, one of the top UBS bankers was detained by American authorities - investigating illegal movement of money off-shore, to avoid paying taxes. It is part of a long investigation by the American government, alleging UBS helps Americans avoid taxes.
The German government, and the British government, are investigating UBS for the same thing. The Financial Times reports, quote: "Tax experts say Switzerland, which is home to an estimated one-third of offshore funds worldwide, has become more willing to cooperate rather than be tarred as a haven for terrorists and drug smugglers.
“Switzerland is not as safe as it was. Dubai and Singapore are about the only places left who have made it abundantly clear that they are not going to divulge information.” end quote.
And suddenly, this begins to look like another example of Rogue Capitalism, as described by Loretta Napoleoni. A corporation operating with the darkest elements, against the interests of the public good. And this very lack of tax money, even under the give-away terms set by the Bush tax cuts, may help bankrupt the country, at it's time of greatest need.
Perhaps, UBS, and the whole scheme which it represents, will evaporate, over some week-end, like Bear Stearns?
[UBS CNBC clip]
Once a major Swiss bank begins to fall, who else will go? How safe is your bank?
When will capitalists be willing to share the burden of repairing the climate, and adapting for survival in the world they made?
Still on capital flight, let's look at Canada - a money generating powerhouse, compared to it's small population. One Canadian nationalist, publisher and author, Mel Hurtig, is speaking out in his new book "The Truth About Canada." I caught up with Mel Hurtig at his book launch, in Vancouver. Here is an excerpt from his speech: [Add speech to the Brown Bagger Menu, and main page]
[MH Capital Flight Canada]
Yes, Canadian billionaires love to invest overseas. A Vancouver Sun newspaper article for May 7th, 2008, helpfully buried in the back pages of the business section - gives us a chart of where money skimmed for workers and resources goes. 36 billion to Barbados, another 19 billion to the low tax haven of Ireland. Another 17 billion dollars off-shore to Bermuda, and almost 14 billion to the Bahamas. It's not like the rich are building productive factories there. They just want to get the money out of the country, away from the government of the people.
Hurting says Canada has developed into a kind of feudal society.
[MH Top 6 percent]
And where does there money go?
[Vancouver Sun stats on capital]
Anyway, the corporate elite are concentrating on selling out the whole country, to form a North American union.
[MH SPP Selling out Country]
Mel Heretic’s full speech is available now from Radio Ecoshock. I have opened up a whole new section of speeches recorded for the Tuesday Brown Bagger program on CFRO FM in Vancouver. Top speakers, one hour each, all free to download, without any advertising or bumpf. The address is ecoshock.net/brownbagger - or just look on the home page of Ecoshock.org. These speeches cover radical politics, aboriginal issues, peace and war, the environment, and much more. Take a look. The Brown Bagger series at ecoshock.org.
When it comes to secret meetings to form a North American Union, you have to go to right-wing conspiracists, like radio talk show host Alex Jones, to get the latest. The participants are sworn to secrecy - even though some represent the people. They are counseled by publicists how to avoid media questions. These are the businessmen and politicians who plan to sell out Canada, America and Mexico to get a new united playground they control - without any Democratic choice by the people. Nobody wants this. Government today is delivering what nobody wants - it's the agent of big corporations and billionaires. But you know that already.
[VR 2 Living in Cities Too Long]
In addition to capital flight - we have the new phenomenon of Rogue Capitalism. Loretta Napoleoni, who wrote respected books on terrorist financing, captures this phenomenon in her new book, "Rogue Economics, Capitalism's New Reality" [http://www.lorettanapoleoni.org/]
But investigative author and economist Napoleoni says this may not be so new. Civilizations go through this stage, from time to time, when governments cannot control the economy.
Who are we talking about? All the new routes to sudden wealth that dodge or out-flank the slow movement of national governments. Everything from the Russian sex slave trade, Internet gambling, and off-shore investing by nameless corporations. Even the derivatives market hosted by the biggest names of banking and Wall Street is wildly beyond any government control. It is a global surge of wealth that hardly anyone understands, a complete hidden economy perhaps larger than the old industrial world.
My point is, various pundits calls for a half billion dollars, or trillions of dollars, to pay for a new fossil free economy, something that works for all of the world's people. I'd love to see it - but it will take a revolution to make it happen. Right now, things are going in the opposite direction.
It is important we know where we stand. Wealth is betting against our survival. We are not investing in the changes required by the reality of nature. All of us live in a dream contrived by advertising and electronic amusement. Elections don't discuss the climate, or equality, or anything that matters. And we go along, shopping, driving, and living the rich life of denial.
We are insane. Our governments are insane. Chant after me:
[We are insane chorus]
Everybody knows it.
Even environmentalism in America is suffering a crisis of confidence.
Let's talk about one of America's iconic old-school environmentalists: James Gustave Speth. Speth is the dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He was a founder of both the World Resources Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council - and once administrated the United Nations Development Programme.
James G. Speth's new book is 'The Bridge at the Edge of the World, Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing From Crisis to Sustainability."
In it, the Dean of America's leadership college denounces both capitalism and environmentalism. He says after 40 years of trying to work within the system, it cannot be done. Capitalism can never co-exist with a habitable planet. A severe and difficult change must come, to save what is left of the climate, the oceans, and safe land.
Here is a taste of James Speth, from an interview done by Leonard Lopate on WNYC public radio, New York. Speth pictures a wrecked world to come.
[Speth wrecked world]
Capitalism is the machine that is destroying the natural world.
[Speth Juggernaut Capitalism]
This is Radio Ecoshock, and we are listening to James Speth, on the Leonard Lopate Show, April 23rd, 2008.
[Economy without GDP expansion]
Part of Speth's critique of mainstream American environmentalism - it is a white middle class movement that hopes to retain wealth, without tackling poverty.
[L6 Poverty and envism]
Is that fair? Should the environmentalists, already few and overworked, have fixed everything?
While he's at it, James Seth, the newly discovered rebel hangs himself, and all his co-environmentalists, as though the green movement is responsible for the ecological mess we are in. Never mind the countless hours, paid poorly or not paid at all, the struggle to be heard over the constant propaganda and ownership fetish led by Yale graduates, like George W. Bush.
[L1 Speth envism fails]
It is part of a wave of self-criticism within the environmental movement - or is it really? Or do the baby boomer really think the struggle to save the Earth will die with them?
Take the former Sierra Club wonder kid Adam Werbach. Please. Werbach has just re-appeared at the Commonwealth Club, trying his "Environmentalism Is Dead," the sequel speech, to a hip but aging California audience. His suit looked metallic, his eyes a bit manic.
Werbach went from foundation funding for the Apollo project, now dead, to a job greening Wal-Mart, with a huge salary. He wants to replace greens with his new idea: "Blue." The Blues will take baby steps toward a better lives for themselves. Werbach actually proposed that shoppers at Wal-Mart might park at the far end of the lot, to extend their walking experience. One baby step for humankind, I suppose.
Adam Werbach sold his quasi-green advertising company "Act Now" to Saatchi and Saatchi. Wal-Mart and the Saatchi's will save the world.... watch for the sale. Sorry shoppers, Adam Werbach has already sold out.
What a contrast between this masochism of the Republican-whipped old greens of America, and the young activist movement in various states, and especially in Europe. Greens there have been elected, help determine policy, are admitted to major meetings. Their calendar is full of actions, or resistance, even of a beleaguered hope.
If the American Greens won't hang themselves, the government will.
After a clear case of FBI entrapment, and no crime actually committed, activist Eric McDavid has been sentence to almost 20 years in prison. Just like Jeff Luers [check spelling] the young man who torched 3 empty SUV's in a car lot, to protest the wanton destruction of the atmosphere. Jeff's sentence was reduced by half on appeal. He will be out late next year. In this "green scare" - environmental protesters get sentences far longer than rapists or killers. Not to mention leading war criminals in the White House.
You can read all about the glamorous role of encouraging illegal environmental protest, by the beautiful "Anna", in Elle fashion magazine this month.
[link to photo of article at http://veganxjen.livejournal.com/4471.html] How fashionable to be a government spy!
Let that be a lesson to you kiddies. Accept the destruction of the Earth quietly. Don't act up.
[VR3 Marauding Apes]
I don't have time this week to cover the questions about climate models. Perhaps in another show. Let me just say, computer models will never capture the complexity of reality, of Nature. As the climate unwinds, with new records are set, and new twists appear, we are operating without directions, without a decent map.
The sea storm has already surged over Myanmar. We are totally unprepared for the future. And like Katrina, the government is there to only to block our instincts for survival.
[We are insane chorus]
(Manu Chao politics kills clip)
Did I mention the food system is breaking down? That millions will starve, this year, and every year, while you choose your flavor of ice cream?
While we pour millions of tons of food into SUV gas tanks?
It is so horrible, we have to laugh or cry. Let's start with British comedians John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman in the over-the-top Times Online audio feature called "The Bugle." This is from number 26. [link: www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/audio_video/podcasts/the_bugle/]
[Bugle26 on Biofuels]
[We are insane chorus]
Let's get a real handle on this food crisis with Lester Brown, founder of the Worldwatch Institute, and now with the Earth Policy Institute. [Put Lester's conference call on the front page, and on the "Food" menu]
Lester Brown has a great explanation of the problem, recorded from a conference call for the press in April. I have it for you on the Ecoshock website, right in the top stories area, and again on our "Food" page. Use our Audio on Demand menu at ecoshock.org. It's important information you need to hear.
Here are some clips from that conference call:
And Brown has some solutions. His web page is earth-policy.org. That's earth dash policy dot org.
Now we have a to-do list. The Americans are preparing to boot out their worst President in history. We'll see if the new President can overcome the farm lobby, to stop converting food into biofuels. Starving our species is a recipe for real collapse, of the first global civilization.
Then we need to re-tool our political and economic systems to survive climate change and make a sustainable culture. A minor job, don't you think?
Meanwhile, greenhouse gases are pouring into our atmosphere at a record rate. Not just carbon dioxide, now at 387 parts per million, and growing faster than two parts per million. But now the reappearance of methane, the climate killer of past ages. The seas, soil and forest can no longer keep up with human-induced releases.
In an article published in the Los Angeles Times, Sunday May 11th, 2008, activist environmentalist Bill McKibben's headline blares:
"Civilization's Last Chance. The Planet is Nearing a Tipping Point on Climate Change, and It Gets Much Worse, Fast."
McKibben says it is now dusk, on Planet Earth. If we cannot reset the atmosphere to 350 parts per million carbon dioxide, we will lose the stable climate that has hosted civilized humanity. This claims is based partly on the recent paper published in the journal Science, by NASA's top climatologist, James Hansen, and other scientists.
To keep a habitable planet, we must go DOWN from the current 387 parts per million, to 350, very, very soon. We will do that, Hansen says, quote, “if we wish to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed.”
McKibben reminds us, that the Indian scientist and economist Rajendra Pachauri, a leader of the IPCC process said: “If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.”
This is civilization's last chance.
[The comments left on the Common Dreams reprint of McKibben's call, are also powerful. Find them at http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2008/05/11/8875/ ]
It is time to park your car, tune off you engines. Start your community gardens, feed yourself, make your own power, build your own community. Demand change. Because, right now, the system is out of control.
Let's end with a quote from Leo Tolstoy, from his epic book "War and Peace" published in Russia, in 1869:
"With the enemy's approach to Moscow, the Muscovites' view of their situation did not grow more serious but on the contrary became even more frivolous, as always happens with people who see a great danger approaching.
At the approach of danger there are always two voices that speak with equal power in the human soul: one very reasonably tells a man to consider the nature of the danger and the means of escaping it; the other, still more reasonably, says that it is too depressing and painful to think of the danger, since it is not in man's power to foresee everything and avert the general course of events, and it is therefore better to disregard what is painful till it comes, and to think about what is pleasant."
Next week - we'll hear environmental historian Colin Duncan explain our real situation on climate. What we have to do, and why. The interview was done by the well-known broadcaster on Pacifica Radio, C.S. Soong, for his program "Against The Grain." C.S. has kindly permitted us to rebroadcast that show. Professor Duncan is easy to underestimate. He is a quiet spoken Canadian academic - who lays on bombshell after bombshell about urgent social change to save the planet - and to save ourselves psychologically. From this deadly crisis of confidence.
I'm Alex Smith. Join us next week for Radio Ecoshock.
Do you have audio tips? Write Alex Smith. The address is: radio at ecoshock.org. Find all the links mentioned in this radio show, in our program blog at: www.ecoshock.org/podcast.html.