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Copenhagen Summit

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Or at least that’s what seems to be going around in the mind of Condoleezza Rice, if this cable (Cable 1) from September 2008 is anything to go by. After successfully persuading countries like Brazil to let the American scientist Christopher Field run unopposed for an important position in a Working Group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), US diplomats began behind the scenes lobbying to block the appointment of an Iranian scientist as its co-chair, since that would be “potentially at odds with overall US policy towards Iran.” Though Mostafa Jafari is admittedly a “highly-qualified scientist”, he is also “a senior Iranian government employee”, and so “close collaboration and often travel to or extended residencies in each others’ countries” between Field and him simply wouldn’t do. Disgracefully, if true*, Pachauri “agreed to work on this issue.” In the event, an Argentinian candidate was appointed co-chair, while Jafari was relegated to a far more junior position.

That said, it’s not of course the case that the US is uniquely responsible for climate fiasco after fiasco. Obviously, these cables don’t paint the US in a good light, what with its underhanded tactics to force countries into signing up to the Copenhagen Accords (a grossly inadequate treaty because of its soft targets and lack of enforcement mechanisms). But thanks to China’s sabotage** in the closed-door negotiations in Copenhagen – even cajoling developed countries against setting their own targets, while manipulating them into taking the fall in public – this is what we got. And while I understand the position of poor countries like the Maldives or Bolivia that it’s nowhere near enough to prevent devastating AGW, or Addis Ababa’s complaints about the absence of formal US guarantees of financial aid in exchange for their support (Cable 2), nonetheless there is a logic to the US strong-arming poor countries into the Accords since this at least gets “the international community moving in the right direction.” (A bonus in that cable is seeing Ethiopians arguing, just like Russians, for restricting foreign funding of NGO’s on the grounds that it undermines indigenous civil society).

* It likely is true, as the author explicitly warns the reader to protect Pachauri’s name.

** This is also the root reason why the ongoing Cancun summit will fail, as everyone seems to recognize. China’s position remains unchanged, sacrificing the global climate for a little greater period of fast economic growth. The US won’t do anything given the political ascendancy of the Republican climate dinosaurs. While hammering out an effective climate policy between 180 growth-centered countries and a dozen major emitters is hard enough, without China and the US it is completely impossible.

Cable 1

Tuesday, 02 September 2008, 23:30
C O N F I D E N T I A L STATE 093970
SIPDIS
EO 12958 DECL: 09/02/2018
TAGS SENV, PREL, UNEP, WMO, KGHG, IR, ML, AR, MA, MO
SUBJECT: LIFELINES FOR IPCC WORKING GROUP ELECTION
Classified By: Classified by IO“>IO“>IO/DAS Gerald Anderson for reasons 1.4(b) and (d)

1. (U) This is an action message. Please see paragraph 3.

2. (C) Summary. Missions should be prepared to assist the U.S. Delegation to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its efforts to secure a positive outcome to elections for working group co-chair positions at the IPCC Plenary being held in Geneva, August 31-September 4. USDEL is working actively to prevent the election of an Iranian scientist to the developing-nation co-chairmanship of Working Group Two, a position which would pair him with a U.S. scientist running unopposed for developed-nation co-chair of the same group. The focus of USG efforts is to support an alternate candidacy for the position, although the full slate of active candidates and their potential for election will not be known until the later stages of the plenary sessions. Curricula vitae of some of the leading candidates are at paras 6-10. End Summary.

3. (C) Action Request. Missions should assign a Point-of-Contact for this issue and provide phone and e-mail information to the US Mission to the UN in Geneva. USUN should appoint its own POC and relay contact information for all POCs to USDEL IPCC. In the event that USDEL requires assistance in working with counterpart delegations (e.g., coming to a consensus on a single strong alternate candidate to support), USDEL may contact Mission POCs directly, or via US Mission Geneva, to ask that Missions apprise host governments of the situation, with a view to arranging for instructions from capitals. Missions should do everything possible to assist USDEL if they receive such a request. Until such a call is received, however, Missions should take no action on this issue; USDEL will be interacting directly with host-country expert delegations in Geneva, and premature contacts/demarches with host country government officials in capitals, even to preview the background of the situation, could be highly counter-productive. Point of Contact for USDEL is OES/EGC,s Donna Lee XXXXXXXXXXXX.

4. (C) Background. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (http://www.ipcc.ch) is a highly influential body established by the World Meteological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to assess scientific issues related to climate change. This year, the U.S. has nominated Stanford Professor Christopher Field to the developed-country chair of IPCC Working Group Two, which assesses the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change and the options for adaptation. His nomination is unopposed. Iran, however, has nominated Dr. Mostafa Jafari to be the developing-country co-chair of the same working group. Jafari is a highly-qualified scientist with research ties to the UK and Japan, but he is also a senior Iranian government employee who has represented Iran in international negotiations. Co-chair appointments are for a minimum of four years, and require close collaboration and often travel to or extended residencies in each others, countries. Having U.S. and Iranian co-chairs would be problematic and potentially at odds with overall U.S. policy towards Iran, and would significantly complicate the U.S. commitment to funding the Working Group Two secretariat. U.S. withdrawal of its nominee, however, would effectively give Iran a veto over future U.S. nominees in UN bodies. Moreover, having a U.S. co-chair at the IPCC significantly bolsters U.S. interests on climate change, a key foreign policy issue.

5. (C) Background continued. Prior to arrival in Geneva, USDEL contacted IPCC Chairman Dr. Rajendra Pachauri (please protect), who agreed to work on this issue to avoid the potential for disruption to one the organization’s three core working groups XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. Next, USDEL contacted the Austrian delegate serving as EU representative on the nominating committee that manages the election process, who showed an understanding of U.S. equities. USDEL contacted the Malian and Argentinean delegations, who have nominated highly-qualified co-chair candidates (see below), and the German delegation, who have been interested in advancing the Malian for co-chair of Working Group Three, for which Germany has nominated an unopposed candidate as developed-country co-chair. The Malians subsequently told USDEL that their candidate, Dr. Yauba Sokona, prefers Working Group Two to Working Group Three. Also prior to arrival in Geneva, USDEL contacted the UK and Netherlands delegations, both of which we have worked closely with in the past. Based on experience at prior IPCC plenaries, events related to the Working Group elections will likely unfold unpredictably and rapidly, necessitating a rapid and flexible USG response.

[AK: There follow lengthy biographies of Iranian candidate Mostafa Jafari, Malian candidate Youba Sokona, Argentinean candidate Vicente Ricardo Barros, Moroccan candidate Abdalah Mokssit and Maldivan candidate Amjad Abdulla. Jafari is not any less qualified than the rest in this group.]

RICE

Cable 2

Tuesday, 02 February 2010, 05:38
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 ADDIS ABABA 000163
SIPDIS
EO 12958 DECL: 02/01/2020
TAGS PREL, PGOV, KDEM, MOPS, ECON, KE, ET
SUBJECT: UNDER SECRETARY OTERO’S MEETING WITH ETHIOPIAN
PRIME MINISTER MELES ZENAWI – JANUARY 31, 2010
Classified By: Under Secretary Maria Otero for reasons 1.4 (B) and (D).

1. (SBU) January 31, 2010; 4:15 p.m.; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

2. (SBU) Participants:

U.S. Under Secretary Otero Assistant Secretary Carson NSC Senior Director for African Affairs Michelle Gavin PolOff Skye Justice (notetaker)

Ethiopia Prime Minister Meles Zenawi Special Assistant Gebretensae Gebremichael

[AK: Cut.]

4. (C) Meles said the GoE is not enthusiastic about Kenya’s Jubaland initiative, but is sharing intelligence with Kenya and hoping for success. In the event the initiative is not successful, the GoE has plans in place to limit the destabilizing impacts on Ethiopia. On climate change, Meles said the GoE fully supports the Copenhagen accord, but is disappointed with signs the U.S. may not support his proposed panel to monitor international financial contributions under the accord. Meles made no substantive comment on inquiries regarding the liberalization of banking and telecommunications in Ethiopia. End summary.

Foreign Funding of CSOs Antithetical to Democratization

5. (C) Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told U/S Otero the development of a strong democracy and civil society is the only way Ethiopia can ensure peace and unity among an ethnically and religiously divided population. He noted that the Government of Ethiopia’s (GoE) commitment to democracy is directly related to stability, adding that for Ethiopia, “democratization is a matter of survival.” Responding to U/S Otero’s concern that Ethiopia’s recently-enacted CSO law threatened the role of civil society, Meles said while the GoE welcomes foreign funding of charities, those Ethiopians who want to engage in political activity should organize and fund themselves. The leaders of CSOs that receive foreign funding are not accountable to their organizations, he said, but rather to the sources of their funding, turning the concept of democratic accountability on its head. Meles asserted that Ethiopians were not too poor to organize themselves and establish their own democratic traditions, recalling that within his lifetime illiterate peasants and poor students had overthrown an ancient imperial dynasty.

6. (C) Meles said his country’s inability to develop a strong democracy was not due to insufficient understanding of democratic principles, but rather because Ethiopians had not internalized those principles. Ethiopia should follow the example of the U.S. and European countries, he said, where democracy developed organically and citizens had a stake in its establishment. When people are committed to democracy and forced to make sacrifices for it, Meles said, “they won’t let any leader take it away from them.” But “when they are spoon-fed democracy, they will give it up when their source of funding and encouragement is removed.” Referencing his own struggle against the Derg regime, Meles said he and his compatriots received no foreign funding, but were willing to sacrifice and die for their cause, and Ethiopians today must take ownership of their democratic development, be willing to sacrifice for it, and defend their own rights.

7. (C) Meles drew a clear distinction between Ethiopians’ democratic and civil rights on the one hand, and the right of foreign entities to fund those rights on the other. There is no restriction on Ethiopians’ rights, he asserted, merely on foreign funding, adding that the U.S. has similar laws. U/S Otero countered that while the U.S. does not allow foreign funding of political campaigns, there is no restriction on foreign funding of NGOs. Ms. Gavin noted the examples of foreign support for the abolitionist movement in the U.S. and for the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa as positive examples of foreign engagement of civil society, and expressed that aside from the issue of foreign funding, the ability of local organizations to legally register, operate, and contribute to democratic discourse was of tantamount importance.

[AK: Cut.]

GoE Prepared to Move Forward from Copenhagen

13. (C) U/S Otero urged Meles to sign the Copenhagen accord on climate change and explained that it is a point of departure for further discussion and movement forward on the topic. She noted that while the agreement has its limitations, it has the international community moving in the right direction. Meles responded that the GoE supported the accord in Copenhagen and would support it at the AU Summit. However, he expressed his disappointment that despite President Obama’s personal assurance to him that finances committed in Copenhagen would be made available, he had received word from contacts at the UN that the U.S. was not supportive of Ethiopia’s proposal for a panel to monitor financial pledges regarding climate change. Ms. Gavin assured the Prime Minister that she would look into his concerns.

[AK: Cut.]

YATES

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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It is very likely that efforts to prevent CO2 levels from soaring to 450ppm – the level we need to stop at to have any hope of limiting temperature rise to 2C or less – will fail. This will lead to a series of climatic “tipping points”, as Gaia’s stabilizing systems fail to check runaway warming and the Earth veers into a new hothouse steady state in which the Arctic remains unfrozen year round and “zones of uninhabitability” – places where it becomes physiologically impossible for humans to survive during summer days – spread out from the equator. The basic argument is as follows:

  • The current atmosphere CO2 concentration (384ppm) correlates to the Pliocene 3mn years ago, when temperatures were 3C higher and the sea level was 25m higher. [No "hockey stick", no models even, involved; just paleoclimate].
  • This degree of warming is now inevitable; if all emissions were to stop today, as a rule of thumb, it would take around 30 years for half of that projected warming to occur as the Earth system moves towards the new equilibrium. [Consequences of heat diffusion / laws of thermodynamics].
  • Emissions aren’t stopping, but accelerating, and this will continue with the industrialization of China and India. [Economic growth as linchpin of the System].
  • Global dimming, which had hitherto partially shielded us from the rising temperatures, will start playing a much lesser role. The effects of CO2 are cumulative, soot and SO2 particulates are washed out of the atmosphere within months.
  • Beyond 2C of warming, the Earth will reach tipping points in which GW becomes self-sustaining. Such tipping points include the melting of the Arctic (reduces albedo), release of Siberian methane from melting permafrost, forests around the world turning from carbon sinks to carbon sources due to accelerated decomposition, the possible death of the Amazon rainforest, etc.
  • Though geoengineering may work, as you point out, there are also many arguments against it. It will probably be tried in the end, but only as a last-ditch throw of the dice that cannot be guaranteed to succeed.
  • Furthermore, innate human psychological features such as conservatism, denial, hedonism, and susceptibility to creeping normalcy and “landscape amnesia”, as well as the anarchic nature of the international system, means that the chances of any effective global action being taken in time is near zero.

The Copenhagen Summit, which failed to agree on anything substantial largely thanks to Chinese intransigence, is a good demonstration of the last point. The principle of state sovereignty is a prime value amongst the Chinese ruling elite, translating in practice into a zero-sum, mercantile view of global economic and political affairs, which will make compromise very difficult at a time when the country’s sights are set on breaking through into 21st century advanced industrialism (in which green technologies and geoengineering will probably play a major role). But it will not be able to achieve this breakthrough without its status as the “workshop of the world” (reliant on coal for most of its energy needs), which brings in the foreign currency needed to acquire the advanced technologies it needs to become a true superpower. Other factors to consider are 1) China’s need to maintain fast growth to soak up its growing, restless urban labor force, which requires the high economic growth that is driven by prodigious increases in fossil-fuel dependent energy usage, and 2) the risk of social and political instability if it really committed to firmer mitigation goals, with their implication of lesser growth rates.

And so on. Eventually, it will come to pass that the waning global industrial System, being increasingly overwhelmed by limits to growth, will embark on a “final gambit” in a search of a silver bullet to its energy-and-pollution predicament. Very soon geoengineering research will become a extremely important area – the process is already beginning – and within a few more decades, perhaps as soon as the 2030′s, actual physical construction will begin, probably by a coalition of countries like the US and China, etc.

For a variety of reasons, this is unlikely to work – one of my replies from a fascinating discussion on this topic at Sublime Oblivion Forums.

  1. The science is poorly understood, and despite the research I doubt this will change cardinally – the Earth is an extremely complex system. Solutions may need to be far more extensive, and hence costly, by an order of magnitude. Or alternatively we might overcompensate – “Oops we released too many sulphate particles, we have an Ice Age, sorry Russia & Canada!”
  2. Which brings me to another point – the potential for international conflict (i.e. your “unilateralism” point can be negative as easily as positive). Anything to do with blocking or diluting the Sun’s rays will have very big effect on regional climes, having the potential to cancel the El Nino system, stall the monsoons, induce desertification, drastically reduce photosynthetic potential, etc. It won’t matter if the aggrieved nations are small and weak, but if they are Great Powers they can lash out at the system. Weaponizing the climate becomes an accepted form of warfare (it kind of already is, but even more so).
  3. Another important thing is that climate change is only one part of emerging limits to growth (LtG). Linearly projecting from today, substantial geoengineering projects *might* be inexpensive enough to be implemented without significant cuts in security / military, other investments, or the consumption needed to keep people satiated. In a world facing many other pressures, key amongst them the declining EROEI of energy and an uncertain food outlook, diverting resources for geoengineering may prove to be a significant, if necessary, further strain on the entire system. Everywhere citizens will be growing tired of the ever heavier burden of the state, which will be further reinforced by their perceived arrogance in trying to take control over the weather like some kind of god.
  4. Furthermore, geoengineering can exacerbate some of the LtG stresses. If you follow thru on the releasing sulphate aerosols idea, this will reinforce global dimming and lead to reduced crop yields – a similar effect, ultimately, on food production that you would have had from the heat stress of global warming left unchecked. As I asked in The Dilemmas, would you prefer “Fire or darkness?”
  5. Finally, there’s the fact that all these solution are fragile and vulnerable to disruption. Aggrieved states who suffer from its effects. Even terrorists. For instance, one of the things I think may be done is to combine a solar sunshade with space-based solar power (which is in principle 3x as efficient as ground-based, if you exclude the costs of getting the material into space). Combining them will make a powerful synthesis that could kill two birds with one stone. However, such a huge structure, whose location is always known (“L1″), will be very vulnerable to damage and destruction from Earth for any nation with advanced rocket and/or laser capabilities.

From commentator Martin:

So in particular space mirrors are firmly in SF domain and will remain so, sulfur/sulfate particles might work and lower temperatures by fraction of centigrade as long as we are going to load to stratosphere every year as much as Mt Pinatubo eruption did.
That is because sulfur is quickly washed down on earth (effects of Mt. Pinatubo eruption didn’t last more than a year and a bit).
On the other hand, if we are going to lower temperature by even 1.5*C, then our annual global production of sulfur will not do (for linear drop of temperature you need exponentially growing sulfur load).
So really sulfur based adventure have no prospect of success.
Another approach was based on ocean fertilization with iron with hope that it will deliver a lot of CO2 gobbling algi.
However experiments have shown that it is not the case because algal bloom is swiftly followed by other organisms which are eating algi and so it quickly fizzles out.
Ideas like artificial trees are good, if one want some research funds to waste and live comfortably meantime but above that they are completely useless.

So we are left with about only one hopeful project – “cloud ships” and this may or may not work and if it does, some unexpected and undesirable problems may easily emerge.

It is not even worth to discuss geoengineering from an angle of unilateral action.
We can easily end up with one nation deliberately cooling climate and another one deliberately warming it up.
Outcome would be unpredictable and most likely very unpleasant.
Without a political agreement of major global powers geoengineering is a no go area.

Another perspective from T. Greer:

Both Anatoly (in points #1 and #4) and Martin point out that the science of geoengineering is rather shaky – it is not as if we have a laboratory to practice terraforming experiments with, right?

I do not dispute this point. Nor do I dispute that geoenginnering will have unforeseeable consequences. It is also true that there are very few technologically viable geoengineering options at this moment in time.

None of this detracts from my over all point, however. Humanity has a history of dealing with problems of today without thought of the problems of tomorrow. (An idea at the center of Mr. Tainter’s studies, to choose a work popular here.) There is no reason to expect this to change in the future. If one country is one the brink of an existential climate-inspire subsistence crisis, I doubt that they will slow down to consider the possible unforeseen consequences their actions may have — there simply will not be enough time for such.

Likewise, I do not think India is going to give a wit for how Russia will fare in an ice age.

The possibility of conflict is thus very high. If the Russians think that the Indians are about to trigger an ice age then they will doubtlessly do all they can to stop the Indians from moving forward. If this involves the utilization of military force, then it shall be utilized.

The really frightening scenario, however, is one in which many countries are attempting to manipulate the climate at the same time. We both have mentioned this in our respective posts, but I think it merits further discussion. Retaliatory climate degradation might be the future of warfare; it may very well prove to be one of the more dangerous threats to face humanity. If multiple actors are playing with the climate, the chances of any one of them messing up on a grand and irreversible scale skyrockets.

Yet even if the technology appears, costs become realistic, and the geoengineering works, the results may well be like a “dystopic world out of a science fiction story” (Ken Caldeira):

If we keep emitting greenhouse gases with the intent of offsetting the global warming with ever increasing loadings of particles in the stratosphere, we will be heading to a planet with extremely high greenhouse gases and a thick stratospheric haze that we would need to main more-or-less indefinitely. This seems to be a dystopic world out of a science fiction story. First, we can assume the oceans have been heavily acidified with shellfish and corals largely a thing of the past. We can assume that ecosystems will be greatly affected by the high CO2 / low sunlight conditions — similar to what Earth experienced hundreds of millions years ago. The sunlight would likely be very diffuse — maybe good for portrait photography, but with unknown consequences for ecosystems.

We know also that CO2 and sunlight affect Earth’s climate system in different ways. For the same amount of change in rainfall, CO2 affects temperature more than sunlight, so if we are to try to correct for changes in precipitation patterns, we will be left with some residual warming that would grow with time.

And what will this increasing loading of particles in the stratosphere do to the ozone layer and the other parts of Earth’s climate system that we depend on?

On top of all of these environmental considerations, there are socio-political considerations: We we have a cooperative world government deciding exactly how much geoengineering to deploy where? What if China were to go into decades of drought? Would they sit idly by as the Climate Intervention Bureau apparently ignores their plight? And what if political instability where to mean that for a few years, the intervention system were not maintained … all of that accumulated pent-up climate change would be unleashed upon the Earth … and perhaps make “The Day After” movie look less silly than it does.

Long-term risk reduction depends on greenhouse gas emissions reduction. Nevertheless, there is a chance that some of these options might be able to diminish short-term risk in the event of a climate crisis.

Caldeira does the sci-fi angle. I’ll do the fantasy angle, if I may.

[The heroine of the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson, in front of the despotic Lord Ruler's capital of Luthadel and one of the ashmounts that cool the world enough so as to allow human survival. Art by Mike King].

I recently read the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson, an original fantasy series in which all the major tropes of the genre are inverted – it is a world in which the Dark Lord has won, in which the heroine’s own altruism is a tragic flaw, and in which the final apocalypse leads to utopia.

In this world, Scadriel, the landscape is dominated by the ashmounts – volcanoes streaming a never-ending sea of ash across a brown, desolate landscape. The so-called Final Empire, presided over by the tyrannical Lord Ruler, dominates the world through a brutal political system of bureaucratic surveillance, military coercion, and feudalistic obligation. The peasant slaves are hard-pressed to eke out a subsistence existing, let alone provide the surplus to maintain the Empire with its extensive socio-political complexity; yet provide they do, under the brutal knout of their noble masters.

Yet one of its most fascinating features is that it may well be an allegory for our future artificial, controlled world, in which nature’s formerly free ecological services would have to be provided by human effort. Far from being a reflection of the Lord Ruler’s evil, the ashmounts are, in fact, intended to cool the Earth, so as to prevent it from burning up. One thousand years ago, the Lord Ruler had used a source of near boundless power, the “Well of Ascension” (the fossil fuels that enabled the rise of industrialism) to protect the world from another evil force, the Deepness (our Malthusian past) – mists that crept out in the daylight and killed the crops by depriving them of sunlight. But in using this power, he rashly moved the Earth closer to the Sun in order to burn off those mists (geoengineering); he overestimated the shift, and to prevent a fiery cataclysm, had to hurriedly create the ashmounts, and re-engineer human physiology to be able to withstand the ash (bioengineering).

From this perspective, the Lord Ruler’s conservative totalitarianism, with its Asiatic mode of production-type economic system, becomes explainable and even justifiable. To maintain the Lord Ruler’s Empire, which held evil forces at bay and created massive underground retreats and food stockpiles, there needed to be 1) extensive exploitation to squeeze our the necessary surplus from a barren land, 2) the suppression of dangerous liberalism and innovation (see past experience), and 3) there needed to be extensive legitimization of his rule (the benefits of Empire, the religion of the Steel Ministry, etc) as well as coercion (the koloss armies). Like Stalin, the Lord Ruler was a despotic Messiah, who leads his people like the God of the Old Testament.

It is not too difficult to think of futurist parallels for our own world. Like Faustus and his pet demon Mephistopheles, humanity is recklessly using its overabundance of energy to transform the world in all ways, depleting its fossil fuels (just as the Lord Ruler depleted the Well of Ascension and had to wait for it to recharge for a millennium), while the resultant pollution spells doom for many of the stabilizing mechanisms and ecological services that make the world a Goldilocks planet perfect for human habitation. (This pollution, btw, could be analogous to the force “Ruin”, the primal antithesis to the force of “Preservation”. that is unleashed when the heroine Vin lets out the power in the Well of Ascension, instead of taking it for herself like the Lord Ruler did a thousand years ago). The ashmounts could be ashboats, or “cloud boats”, to spray seawater into the atmosphere to increase cloud albedo, or fertilize the world’s oceans with iron filaments; they keep the planet cool enough for human survival, at the cost of a global dimming that depresses crop yields.

Few people understand the real necessity of the Lord Ruler’s system for human survival (“You know not what I do for mankind!”, – his dying words before being killed by the heroine), and so too the common people will curse the NWO / “world government”, with its armies of bureaucrats (obligators / Inquisitors) and transnational elites (nobles), for their resource-intensive, aesthetically-ugly geoengineering projects. (Speaking of which, it will have to be a world government of some sort to build the consensus for and concentrate the requisite resources for massive geoengineering projects). Due to popular antagonism, even more resources will have to be devoted to legitimization of the regime (propaganda about the renewable, innovative society, drawing energy from wind mills and protecting the Earth from the scorching Sun), and to coercion (no doubt involving an extensive surveillance and militarized police apparatus – much of the framework already happens to be in place, anyway, and who knows, perhaps even bioconstruct armies like the koloss to crush any rebellious provinces). Any rebels will not believe the legitimizing arguments of the NWO, seeing them as self-serving; just as Vin and her rebel comrades did not see the Lord Ruler as the indispensable God that his religion proclaimed Him to be.

Collapse is not an option, despite the massive costs accruing to maintaining this high level of complexity. Quite simply, once the extensive industrial infrastructure of the System / NWO is no longer maintained, the land will go to chaos and population dieoff will begin. This will be made worse by our unleashed forces of Ruin – global warming, which will jumpstart with earnest once the power of Preservation (the geoengineering installations) ground to a halt. Perhaps, just as in the last minutes of the Mistborn trilogy, the world will experience truly runaway warming, as civilization falls apart, the oceans begin to boil away, and the Earth turns into Venus. What then? In Mistborn, Ruin lost the atium supplies that were the fundamental source of its ruinous power; the real-life equivalent could be a cloud of self-replicating nanobots designed to cleanse the atmosphere of CO2, a cache of which was build under the NWO to release should the worse come to pass (breakdown of the geoengineering system that keeps the world habitable). But that would present its own problems, such as overshoot (clearing away so much of the CO2 that we revert to Snowball Earth). An even more apocalyptic possibility is that the nanobots mutate into a “grey goo” that spreads uncontrollably, devouring all organic matter until the surface of the Earth is entirely covered by a film of dead, grey dust, the red Sun gleaming balefully through the roiling sea of inverted ashen waves hiding the star-spangled heavens above.

Eventually, Ruin will win over Preservation in our solar system, and eventually the universe. Second Law of Thermodynamics and all that. All order has a tendency to degenerate into chaos, though some interesting patterns and complex patterns like human civilization can appear in between. If you consider our current civilization to have some kind of positive worth or value, then it follows that it is worthwhile trying to minimize its chances of coming to a sticky, premature end. The most effective way of doing that is to embark on the road to Green Communism.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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I would like to wish all Sublime Oblivion readers a very happy and successful New Year. One of my major motivations for writing is getting comments and feedback, so please continue – the more you inflate my ego, the more time I will feel compelled to spend on the blog. ;)

Year in Review: 2009

All in all, 2009 was rather less interesting that 2008, which saw three thresholds of portentous significance – the final peaking of global oil production, the discovery of the magnitude of the Arctic methane meltdown, and the collapse (and partial recovery, abetted by prodigious state credit infusions) of the global financial system. Simultaneously, Russia, China, and other rising powers have begun presenting a rising challenge to Western hegemony on an ever broader front. The key trends of 2009, whether leaders and pundits recognized it or not, were about managing the consequences and realities of 2008.

From the American viewpoint, 2009 was the year of Obama. He realized that the “cowboy diplomacy” pursued by Bush alienated key allies on perceived vital issues (Afghanistan, stimulus spending, etc), and sought to reinvigorate relations with its traditional allies and reach out to its enemies. Though publics tended to be enthusiastic, governments were not as moved; the European states continue stalling on commitments to Afghanistan, whereas Russia, China, and the Muslim world have decidedly spurned him on the basis that actions speak louder than words. They have a point. Obama has essentially continued post-2006 Bush policies based on a “realist” appraisal of American interests – prodigal military spending, “occupation” of the Middle East (as perceived by Muslims), support for Israel, resistance against Russian neo-imperial ambitions for the former Soviet space, engaging with China without reference to human rights, supporting sanctions against Iran while leaving “all options on the table”, etc. This creates a certain impression of schizophrenia to the administration’s actions – popular abroad but spurned by friend and foe; repudiating the Bush legacy but continuing it in practice; talking of reforming healthcare and closing Guantanamo, but stymied by discredited Republicans at home. It’s all a muddle.

So is the bind that the US is stuck in regarding Iran. Officially it supports gasoline sanctions, but they are unlikely to have much effect if Russia circumvents them (which it is likely to do given its continued geopolitical jockeying with the US) – and even if Russia acquiesces to the sanctions, enforcing the sanctions will be difficult. Israel is a loose cannon. It cannot allow the possibility of a radical Islamic regime acquiring a nuclear capability, and will do everything – including striking its nuclear installations – to prevent it. As a consequence, the US will be drawn in because of their fears that in the aftermath, the Iranian military will mine the Strait of Hormuz and interdict the Gulf oil shipping which carries 20% of world oil production. This may usher in a general Middle East war whose geopolitical, economic, and financial ramifications may veer wildly out of control, possibly culminating in the fall of Pax Americana itself. In both the US and Iran, domestic forces are driving the two countries to a confrontation. This is a geopolitical predicament that is becoming increasingly clear, with the US issuing greater threats and Iran intensifying its nuclear brinkmanship in the last few months of 2009.

Even as the US was focused on the Middle East, the Kremlin has been using the resultant “window of opportunity” to continue reasserting its influence over the former Soviet space – expanding the scope of the CSTO military alliance, strengthening ties with Ukraine’s Russia-friendly political forces, pressuring Uzbekistan with a new military base in Kyrgyzstan, and making a customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan. Though its economic crisis was deep, it did not have major negative internal effects either humanitarian or political, which put Russia in a yet stronger position relative to its Near Abroad. With the Kremlin’s simultaneous strengthening of internal control (e.g. over the oligarchs), Russia continued to return to its past-and-future as a Eurasian empire.

Driven by desperate credit infusions and fiscal spending, the US and Europe began to experience an anemic recovery in mid-2009, – but one that cannot be sustained, especially since the resource fueling it (yes, oil) has peaked, and will decline at an accelerating pace after 2010. The price of recovery is massive new debt, transferred from private to sovereign hands, and a widening of the same imbalances that caused the crisis in the first place. Yet a far worse example of eating the seed corn is the debacle of the Copenhagen summit, where the nations of the world failed to agree on emissions cuts to check runaway global warming. We need to limit the temperature rise to no more than 2C, because after that there are numerous tipping points that will make an accelerating Klimakatastrophe inevitable; this implies that at the minimum, global emissions should peak by 2015, and decline by 80% by 2050 over 1990 levels. The commitments made at Copenhagen are feeble, more so even than Kyoto – largely thanks to Chinese sabotage. (Well, at least we didn’t die of swine flu). In related news, the increasing habitability of Greenland has driven it to make further strides towards declaring formal independence from Denmark.

Riding roughshod over Ireland and the Czech Republic, the EU finally passed the Lisbon Treaty, which gives the large, pro-strong-Europe countries like Germany, France, and Italy far more voting power relative to Euroskeptic nations. Should the Franco-German bloc wish, it now has many of the tools to dominate Europe and present an economic and cultural challenge to US hegemony; whether they will manage to do so is very much open to question, given the rising pressures on European unity presented by trends such as: 1) the rising power of France relative to Germany and 2) the deep-grained economic predicaments of the Mediterranean Rim.D

The skylines lit up at dead of night, the air-conditioning systems cooling empty hotels in the desert, and artificial light in the middle of the day all have something both demented and admirable about them: the mindless luxury of a rich civilization, and yet of a civilization perhaps as scared to see the lights go out as was the hunter in his primitive night. – Baudrillard

There is perhaps no better metaphor for the spectacle of Dubai going bankrupt just as it completed the greatest monument to petro-fueled Gulf vanity, the 818-meter tall Burj Dubai.

Though the Gulf states have increased moves to band together in a customs union, and are slowly but surely transferring their alliance to China – the country likely destined to be the last hegemonic power of the industrial age.

Edit 1/5/09 – There is a better metaphor (or personification?), and best of all it was probably unwitting. From Facebook: Vilhelm Konnander has just (LOL) read today’s “The National” about Burj Dubai: “The tallest tower in the world, its feet anchored in the UAE and its crown floating in the clouds, was inaugurated in an eruption of fireworks last night.”

2010 Predictions

1) World economy continues an anemic recovery, though there are significant risks to the downside.

2) Obama’s honeymoon period is over, his approval ratings are on the downslide, and his major domestic and foreign policy initiatives have almost all failed. Republicans will carry the mid-term elections in 2010, but there is a strong mood of apathy and a sense that what is really needed is a new party, a new politics – though this will only start playing a great role in the post-Obama, or post-2012, era. Rising violence in Iraq (perhaps abetted by Iran, to demonstrate to the US the dangers of attacking it); a false quiet in Afghanistan, as the Taleban limit activity to conserve their strength while the US presence in Afghanistan is strong (they know the Americans will retreat the bulk of their forces soon enough anyway).

In the UK, Gordon Brown (New Labour) will almost certainly lose to James Cameron (Conservatives) in the mid-2010 elections.

3) Possible wars. Foremost looms the shadow of Iran and the bomb, of course. I doubt the US will attack in 2010, unless Israel forces its hand. It will first exhaust its options with sanctions, etc, which will almost certainly be ineffective. The Iranian IRGC-linked hardliners in power (figurehead – Ahmadinejad), under pressure from the Rafsanjani / Mousavi clerical clan, will not yield, and will remain defiant internationally to justify increasing their hold on internal power. There will be tension, but no war – especially since the US still needs to develop its Massive Ordnance Penetrator, the next-generation bunker-buster, to have a high level of confidence that a bombing raid on Iranian nuclear installations have truly done their job. (True, postponing the strike to 2011 or 2012 makes the world economy more vulnerable to disruption because oil prices will be higher then and oil supplies tighter, but then again I highly doubt the administration takes “peak oil” into consideration in its strategic planning). Likelihood: 25%; Severity: 6.

What is much more likely to happen is a new war between Israel and Hezbollah. Since 2006, Israel may have infiltrated Hezbollah, aided by internal splits within the organization, and has taken stock of lessons learned during the unsuccessful last war; it may now want to send a signal to Iran and preemptively incapacitate one of its most effective means for retaliating against Israel into the bargain. Israeli special forces are more than capable of producing a false flag, even if Hezbollah refrains from doing it for them. Furthermore, Hezbollah is causing Saudi Arabia trouble by sending fighters and weapons to the Shia insurgency in Yemen fighting the Saudis; SA would appreciate an Israeli crippling attack on Hezbollah, and may give concessions to Israel, such as allowing it to use its airspace in a strike against Iran (the US has said it will shoot down Israeli planes flying to Iran over Iraq). This further increases the incentives for Israel to pummel Hezbollah, this time round with a real, large-scale ground invasion. Likelihood: 50%; Severity: 3.

A new Russia-Georgia war remains a serious possibility, if Saakashvili uses his rapidly rebuilding military forces to make another megalomaniac lunge at reclaiming South Ossetia, or if Russia orchestrates a false flag to give itself the justification to roll in the tanks to Tbilisi and set up a puppet regime. In the latter case, the “new cold war” atmosphere of August 2008 will begin to appear to be distinctly jovial. Likelihood: 10%; Severity: 4.

Finally, we should note that a) Azerbaijan and Armenia have a bitter rivalry, cultural and geographic over the Armenian-populated and -occupied Azeri enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, b) though it lost a war to Armenia in the early 1990′s, Azerbaijan has been implementing a rapid military modernization since 2006 with the help of oil pipeline transit revenue from the BTC, and its military budget alone is now equivalent to Armenia’s entire state budget, c) Armenia and Turkey are slowly moving towards a reconciliation under Russian brokerage, which threatens Azerbaijan’s strategic position, and d) Armenian-Azeri talks over Nagorno-Karabakh have recently collapsed. The obstacle to war is that Turkey and the US, though friendly with Azerbaijan, are very unlikely to give it direct support; but Armenia is in the CSTO military alliance with Russia. An Azeri attack will almost certainly lead to a decisive Russian response, furthermore there is a large Russian military base in Gyumri, Armenia. Unlike Saakashvili, Aliyev is a rational leader, and for now Russian and Turkey have a mutual interest in keeping things contained. That said, the possibility of a new war cannot be fully discounted – especially if it is simultaneous with the chaos unleashed by a US-Israeli war with Iran and its proxies.

Expect instability, but not collapse, in Pakistan, Egypt, Mexico, some or all of the Baltic states. Despite the occasional rhetoric, there is very little chance of a new Korean war, a Venezuela-Colombia war, or an Israel-Syria war.

4) Given that Russia’s demography has continued improving even in 2009, a year of deep economic contraction and scare stories (false) of an abortion apocalypse, it is almost certain that it will continue improving further in 2010 and that the year will see the first year of positive population growth since 1994 (or 2009). Birth rate = 12.5-13.0 (reasons), Death rate = 13.5-14.0 (a reason), Net Migration = 1.5-2.0, all / 1000. Economic growth of around 3-5% of GDP sounds reasonable. Lots of privatizations and corruption investigations as part of the Surkov clan’s struggle against the siliviki and “their” state companies. Ukraine under Yanukovych will join Eurasec or the Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan customs union, but is yet unlikely to join the CSTO or give Russian 2nd language status.

5) Oil production in 2010 will be around the same as 2009 – increased demand will collide with geological depletion to keep output stable. Oil prices in H1 will remain at 70-90$, and will rise to 90-110$ in H2 on the basis that background geological depletion will be cancelled out by OPEC going back on its 2009 production cuts to fuel the ongoing global recovery. Of course, if there are serious confrontations with Iran, the oil price will veer right off the historical charts.

6) No major AGW-related physical events (except for a heatwave or two), given that solar irradiation remains at an unusually long trough – expect the fireworks by 2012-15. AGW skepticism will become more popular in the wake of Climategate. China and its proxies will prevent any more significant action being taken at the next UN climate change summit in Mexico, than was “achieved” in Copenhagen. By year-end the performance of the world’s top supercomputer will exceed 3 petaflops (repeat of 2009 prediction).

7) China’s growth will slow from around 8% in 2009, to perhaps 5% in 2010 as it cuts back on the loose credit in recognition of the problems this is going to create further down the line (this is already happening). Otherwise, expect China to continue keeping a low profile as the US insists on shooting itself in the foot.

What about the 2009 Predictions?

How did my previous set of 2009 predictions go?

1) Correct about the American H2 2009 stimulus-boosted recovery, though too pessimistic about its strength. That said, doesn’t change the fact it’s unsustainable, even in the medium-term.

2) Correct about the end of deflation, resumption of credit flows, and rebounding commodities.

3) I was completely, 100%, totally right on my oil price predictions.

However, an incipient global recovery in the second half will result in a rebound in oil prices from around 40-50$ per barrel in the first half, to 60-80$ in the second.

Not so much on food, admittedly.

4) Right on Germany’s and Japan’s steep GDP declines, not so much on China’s anemic growth – massive credit expansion and fiscal stimulus in the People’s Republic has resulted in the building of ever more unneeded capacity, resulting in a growth rate of around 8% instead of the predicted 2%. Correct on rising protectionism, and the economic collapses in the Baltics and Ukraine.

5) The “flight to safety” ended, and as predicted the US $ weakened relative to the Euro (1 Euro = 1.41$ on Jan 1st 2009, = 1.46$ on Jan 1st 2010, now with an upward rather than a downward trend). The pattern for the yen has been similar. The latest CBO figures suggest that the US budget deficit will be 9.9% of GDP for 2009, within my predicted band of 8-13%.

6) Very wrong on Russia’s GDP growth – instead of 1%, it will decline by around 7-9%. I misunderestimated the depth of its consumers’ and companies’ reliance on credit, and the extent of its credit crunch. Nonetheless, the core of what I predicted, such as the declining influence of the oligarchs and the lack of any significant fall in real wellbeing, has been correct. There have been no serious political challenges to Putvedev, as Russia’s ruling tandem retain extremely high approval ratings. And as predicted, the RTS has recovered to above 1000 (to around 1500 in fact).

7) Wrong that Yushenko and Saakashvili would not survive 2009 as political leaders. Well, Yushenko will almost certainly (95%+) be kicked out of the Presidency in the coming Ukrainian elections, probably in favor of Yanukovych. Saakashvili, with his deepening megalomania, has managed to hang on, despite spirited defiance from the opposition and an attempted military coup. If he survived 2009, most likely he will survive for a few years more.

8) My optimistic forecasts on Russia’s demography, which bucked the conventional “wisdom”, have been fully validated, and in the case of the death rate even substantially superseded.

In Russia, the birth rate will be between 11.5 and 12.5 / 1000, the death rate at 14.5 and 15.5 / 1000 and net migration will fall substantially to 0.5 / 1000. For comparison, the figures for the first ten months of 2008 were 12.1, 14.8 and 1.7 respectively.

According to Rosstat figures for Jan-Nov 2009, the birth rate was 12.4, the death rate was 14.1, and the net migration rate actually rose to 1.8 / 1000 during Jan-Oct.

9) No major new wars.

10) Slightly wrong on supercomputer performance, totally correct on oil production fall. Contrary to prediction, no major AGW physical “event”.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.