Monday, March 11, 2013

March 11 Week In Review

Week In Review
March 11 2013
by Bill Onasch

Bad News From Mauna–Worse From Washington
On the world’s biggest volcano, located on the island of Hawaii, an observatory has been monitoring carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere since 1956. From its isolation in the central Pacific Mauna Loa is the most prominent recorder of the baseline progression of this single biggest factor in global warming. News from there is never good; the most recent worse than usual. John Vidal writes in the Friday Guardian,

“The chances of the world holding temperature rises to 2C – the level of global warming considered ‘safe’ by scientists – appear to be fading fast with US scientists reporting the second-greatest annual rise in CO2 emissions in 2012. Carbon dioxide levels measured at Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii jumped by 2.67 parts per million (ppm) in 2012 to 395ppm, said Pieter Tans, who leads the greenhouse gas measurement team for the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The record was an increase of 2.93ppm in 1998....Tans told the Associated Press the major factor was an increase in fossil fuel use. ‘It's just a testament to human influence being dominant,’ he said. ‘The prospects of keeping climate change below that [two-degree goal] are fading away.’”

Another example of this fading away was the subject of a Reuters story that opened,

“Canadian glaciers that are the world's third biggest store of ice after Antarctica and Greenland seem headed for an irreversible melt that will push up sea levels, scientists said on Thursday. About 20 percent of the ice in glaciers, on islands such as Ellesmere or Devon off northern Canada, could vanish by the end of the 21st century in a melt that would add 3.5 cm (1.4 inch) to global sea levels, they said.
Governments are trying to understand every likely centimeter of sea level rise caused by global warming to plan how to protect cities from New York to Shanghai or low-lying coasts from Ghana to Bangladesh.”

A study reported in the New York Times finds today’s rising global temperatures are the warmest in 4,000 years and within decades are likely to surpass levels not seen since before the last Ice Age, which ended 12,000 years ago. Human civilization--thriving in this Holocene period since most of the big glaciers in Europe and North America receded--has been around for only about 8,000 years.

The Times article cites discussions with climate experts who reviewed the study,

“ The modern rise that has recreated the temperatures of 5,000 years ago is occurring at an exceedingly rapid clip on a geological time scale, appearing in graphs in the new paper as a sharp vertical spike. If the rise continues apace, early Holocene temperatures are likely to be surpassed within this century, Dr. Marcott said. Dr. Mann pointed out that the early Holocene temperature increase was almost certainly slow, giving plants and creatures time to adjust. But he said the modern spike would probably threaten the survival of many species, in addition to putting severe stresses on human civilization. ‘We and other living things can adapt to slower changes,’ Dr. Mann said. ‘It’s the unprecedented speed with which we’re changing the climate that is so worrisome.’”

This dismal conclusion is not new. It confirms what climate scientists have long warned. But even using the most conservative assumptions it demonstrates the crisis continues to advance much faster than previously thought. Irreversible damage already done to our biosphere means unwelcome changes in climate in many parts of the world are inevitable. If present trends continue unchecked it is doubtful that the slow pace of Darwin’s Natural Selection can help future human generations adjust in time to a far different planet.

In general, news coming out of Washington these days is almost universally bad for our side. Despite the President’s greenish remarks in his State of the Union speech, the climate change crisis is no exception.

It was revealed last week that large sections of the State Department report blessing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline were in fact written by a contractor hired by the company building it.

The President made two key appointments to posts vital to climate policy–the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy. Gina McCarthy, a life long civil servant, is expected to have a better relationship with polluters than her predecessor Lisa Jackson at the EPA. Ernest J. Moniz, a nuclear physicist at MIT who served as Deputy Energy Secretary in Clinton’s second term, takes over the DoE. He favors continuing to replace coal with ever more natural gas and–of course–nuclear power. Different flies–same natural fertilizer.

The ever popular BP made an announcement last week you might have missed. After long sporting a logo featuring the Sun on a green background, and running an advertising campaign proclaiming BP means Beyond Petroleum, this denationalized British giant is returning focus to its historic core business–oil. In explaining his outfit’s ditching of solar energy, CEO Bob Dudley said, “Not that solar energy isn’t a viable energy source, but we worked at it for 35 years, and we really never made money.”

As one blogger noted, “They have no good reason to do really well in solar energy, because if they did well they would put themselves out of business.” Well said.

That is the problem in a nutshell. While we will be given a few well publicized tokens of green jobs and alternative energy the world capitalist economy is irrevocably invested in fossil and nuclear fuels. As long as the class in charge of that economy rules society fundamental government policy will remain committed to the destruction, not salvation, of our endangered habitat called Earth.

The climate scientists don’t have the muscle to replace an Establishment who ignore and defy their warnings of grave danger. We do. It’s up to the working class–especially in the super-power–to independently organize our inherent power to fight for both class and climate justice.

Is It Morning In America Again?
The stock markets seem to think so. The Dow is at new rarified heights. The crisis days of a few years ago are forgotten. The dire threats of sequester ignored. The New York Stock Exchange itself is being sold for a tidy sum just as a few weeks ago the Kansas City Board of Trade was acquired by visionary investors.

The only thing out of character about this up-swing in the manic-depressive behavior of speculators is that it wasn’t even phased by what was billed as the most encouraging jobs report in four years. Usually forecasts of recovery make Wall Street nervous. A major factor in their recovery has been the “stimulus” zero interest policy of the Federal Reserve. Low interest rates not only make it easier for them to get loans; depressed returns for bonds drive more money in to “securities.” Either they are so giddy that they haven’t paid attention–or they have a more nuanced take on jobs than the headline writers.

The BLS February jobs report showed the official unemployment rate declining a tick to 7.7 percent. However, they say upfront this measure “has shown little movement, on net, since September 2012.”

On net is an important qualifier. The rate can go down for either of two reasons–the unemployed get jobs, or the unemployed give up on getting jobs. 236,000 new jobs were created last month. But about 170,000 on average each month are needed just to keep pace with young people entering the job market for the first time. That means a real growth of only about 66,000 jobs to draw down the huge pool of long term unemployed.

That pool dampens any recovery reaching the working class majority. Of the twelve million still officially counted as unemployed forty percent have been out of work for 27 weeks or more. There are an additional eight million working part-time not by choice but because that’s all they can find. There are 2.6 million listed as “marginally attached to the labor force”–a number unchanged over the past year. These are mainly folks who haven’t worked for a very long time and have given up regular job search even though they would like to work. Totaling these three measures show there are still at least 22.6 million who want a full-time job and can’t find one. Wall Street can relax.

The President has offered little to step up job growth. In fact, tens of thousands of US Postal Service jobs are being axed. But he is exploring new ways to make American companies more competitive, with access to additional markets. Howard Schneider writes in the Washington Post,

“President Obama is pursuing what are arguably the most aggressive trade talks in a generation, an unexpectedly broad initiative for a politician who has been critical of free-trade agreements. Taken together, the negotiations are global in ambition, encompassing Europe and potentially much of Asia and covering economic sectors that are particularly important to the United States. Even major economies not directly at the table — notably China, India and Brazil — are meant to be influenced by the outcome. If the effort pays off, it could boost some of America’s most competitive and important companies.”

Undoubtedly American-based Big Business can benefit from such deals as they have done with NAFTA and the China trade agreement. But such global accords have meant a net loss of millions of American jobs. The work offshored to contract employers for companies such as Apple, Walmart, and Nike are mostly brutal sweatshops and environmental disasters. They do little to improve the lot of workers in other lands either. It took a previous “friend of labor,” Bill Clinton, to kick off what became known as Globalization. Today’s chum in the White House puts that ball in play once more.

If you missed my farewell to Hugo Chávez you can read it here.

My office space in what real estate agents now like to call a “bonus room,” will soon be more cramped than ever. My new H-P computer is slowly winding its way via FedEx Ground from Ciudad Juárez, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, and is expected to arrive Wednesday. My nine-year old Dell is still running and will stay in place at least for awhile until I make sure I’ve got everything transferable from XP to Windows 7 transferred. I have no doubt this will result in a short term decline in my productivity but it should be a needed long-term upgrade.

That’s all for this week.

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