Archive for the 'development' Category

decarbonisation of the economy

Some reasons for supporting an acceleration of the already established decarbonisation of the economy are that:

  • anthropogenic global warming is real, although we are not particularly clear about the urgency of the issue
  • the oceans absorb vast amounts of CO2 and a particular reason for concern is the biogeochemical effects of this

The environmental issues are real but subsidiary to the need for economic development, particularly in the developing world but also in the developed world.

Politically, the correct position is:

  1. full steam ahead with economic development which means more coal use now because coal is the cheapest energy producing fuel
  2. full steam ahead with R&D, with the goal of decarbonisation of the energy economy, ie. finding a cheap alternative to coal

John McCarthy has said that “He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense”. I think he meant science and maths as well as arithmetic.

In this article I present the Kaya identity which provides us with the basic maths required to understand carbon emissions.
Continue reading ‘decarbonisation of the economy’

thought for food

The next Monthly Argument is about a subject of universal interest: food

Date: February 10: “GM crops are good for us”
Time: 6:30pm for 7:00 pm start.
Venue: The Function Room, Dan O’Connell Hotel, 225 Canning Street (corner of Princes Street) Carlton

The “yes” case will be made by David Tribe (of GMO pundit)  and David McMullen, author of Bright Future

The “no” case will be made by Madeleine Love and Jessica Harrison (both from MADGE)

Go to the Monthly Argument site for more detail.

Hans Rosling’s fast forward history

You Tube version

Stunning video by Hans Rosling, the Director of the Gapminder Foundation which shows how much the wealth of the world has increased in the past 200 years.

brown – Europe
red – Asia
green – Middle East
blue – Africa
yellow – Americas

Most of the commentaries on the web praise this video to the skies. It deserves praise for its overall assessment of the progress of capitalism but there is also a tendency to fast forward through the bad times.

In 1810 the wealthiest countries were the UK and the Netherlands. The average life expectancy of every country was below 40.

Enter the industrial revolution and the wealth and life expectancy begins to dramatically improve for the countries which do industrialise. This is true although there is no mention of the appalling working conditions, the very long working hours, the child labour in the emerging factories of Britain and elsewhere. The birth pangs of capitalism  led to major upheavals in 1848, the shortening of the working day, the Factory Acts, etc.

As the wealth of countries increases then so does the gap between rich and poor countries. Rosling does mention this (at 2:35). It also needs to be emphasised that the scale he is using on the horizontal wealth axis is logarithmic, showing the per annum categories of $400 (roughly one dollar per day), $4000 ($10 per day) and $40,000 ($100 per day). If he had used a linear scale then the gap between rich and poor countries would be far more pronounced. The gap between the richest and poorest countries taken from  the closing and opening screens of this video is at least 100 times today compared with less than 10 times in 1810 (1)

He does mention the catastrophe of WW1 but then fast forwards through The Great Depression and WW2. It is far easier to fast forward through the bad times than live through them or explain them.

His focus is on post 1948, the boom years of capitalism.

By 1985 even in the poorest country, Mozambique on just $366 per year, the average lifespan was three years higher than Britain in 1810.

Wealth has increased but so has inequality. Rosling visually extracts Shanghai out of China towards the end, showing that it is similar in wealth to Italy. Then he extracts the poor inland province, Guizhou, and compares it to Pakistan. Finally, he shows how the even poorer rural part of Guizhou has a wealth index similar to Ghana, Africa. Certainly in this section there is no brushing over the real world problem of inequality in China.

He finishes on an optimistic note. The gap between the rest and the west is now closing. In the future it is possible that everyone can make it to the healthy and wealthy corner with more aid, trade, green technology and peace. Rosling slips into an optimistic version of political correctness in this parting message. This is far more welcome than the prevailing doom and gloom about the future but is still political correctness.

If we assess Rosling’s state of the world against the three criteria outlined in my earlier article, The Achilles Heel of Capitalism, then how does he go?

standard of living has increased dramatically – correct

inequality has increased too – covered well in places, but the logarithmic wealth scale distorts the huge and growing gap here

capitalism is an unstable system which can’t avoid economic crisis – Rosling fast forwards through the bad times

(1) The dynamics of the gap between rich and poor countries is further discussed in Bill Warren’s book, Imperialism Pioneer of Capitalism (1980)

Help buy a satellite to bring cheap Internet to places that don’t have it yet? $150K needed.

This organisation is raising $150K from people online to start buying a satellite so they can bring cheap and free Internet to the five billion people who don’t already have it. You can donate here, and find out more about the plans here.

small minds for a backward social system – time to think BIG!

Australians face a federal election in which the consensus among, and bi-partisan approach of, the principal parties is to aim to be small. We’re being told that inadequate infrastructure and public transport, along with a ‘water shortage’ (in the south east of our continent) and crowded shopping centres, are the product of too many people. As our population growth is predominantly fuelled by immigration, this means ‘too many immigrants’. It’s a familiar cry, usually originating on the overt far Right but for the past couple of decades reinforced by a pseudo-left concern about the carrying capacity of Australia.

It doesn’t seem to dawn on the opponents of immigration and population growth that trains might be over-crowded because there aren’t enough trains or that infrastructure is under pressure because governments are too incompetent and lacking vision to provide them. As for water, our north is drenching and a body of water the size of western Europe is gradually making its way south. In Victoria, the Mitchell River floods every seven years or so, causing millions of dollars in damage to towns and crops, yet it must not be dammed under any conditions. It is in a national park, after all. Who cares that such a dam would greatly alleviate Melbourne’s water crisis.

Not surprisingly, the State and Federal government leaders prefer to blame ‘too many people’ rather than themselves.

Of course, they are not racist. ALL immigrants are too blame.

The Greens are usually referred to in the mainstream media as a left-wing party that is more compassionate. Yet they too argue for less immigration and, in case readers are not aware, they support the deportation of all asylum seekers who are found not to be genuine refugees, just like the two principal parties.

(I have been wrong on this in the past, arguing for mandatory detention. In reassessing my position, largely through people at this site, I realize now that if you don’t think outside the box, you’re likely to be imprisoned within it). (An original quote by me – not bad, eh?)

The glorious objective to which Australians are meant to unite behind and aspire to is….. be small. Yep. Small. A vast continent, with vast natural resources, a mere 22 million people. Think small. Be small. The idea of 38 million by 2050 has scared the bejeezus out of the reactionaries.

What this confirms to me is that capitalism, for all the talk about its affirmation of free enterprise and its supposed commitment to development and material progress, is one social system that has way outlived any usefulness.

In a nation with vast resources, we still have homelessness and poverty, including Indigenous people who in remote areas live in appalling conditions. We have pensioners who die in summer from heat exhaustion and in winter from the cold. (I’m all for the Australian Medical Association which, to the horror of the Nature Worshippers, proposed that governments subsidize air-conditioners for pensioners during the summer months).

We brag of one of the highest rates of home ownership in the world, yet one third of the ‘home owners’ virtually work for the banks to pay off unfair mortages and interest rates – 90,000 are under threat of losing their homes – while another third simply can’t even put a depopsit on a house.

Oh for a left-wing party, or candidate, to point out that this only makes sense under capitalism, that the vast natural resources of this continent can feed and clothe many more people than a meagre 38 million. Let’s aim for a BIG Australia, one that sees itself firmly as part of inter-connected humanity, building bridges rather than closing borders. Stimulus package anyone? How about a bridge from Indonesia to Australia – a good way to defeat the evil people smugglers. How about some government investment at Broome and then let the people’s creativity loose. This just won’t happen under capitalism any time soon.

A left-wing party/candidate would at least raise the perspective that says the problem is that private ownership of means of production, and the ways in which production is organised under that system, is the main obstacle to thinking bigger than we ever have before.

You want free enterprise? Support social ownership of social wealth and support the reorganisation of production along democratic lines so that alienation is reduced.

The culture of a society reflects its social system in general terms. Recognition of this fact is an important step toward changing things. It takes conscious effort to see it, and to work at an alternative. Leftists generally are not submersed into the dominant outlook and that is why, for one thing, they are optimistic as individuals. This strikes those who are unable to think outside the box, to escape the weight of the reactionary hegemony, as weird.

Time to think BIG. To move beyond pre-History. To reach for those stars.

We really ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Oh Give me Land, Lots of Land …..


Bigger version of map here

I was struck by an announcement from the World Bank about a book called Awakening Africa’s Sleeping Giant: Prospects for Commercial Agriculture in the Guinea Savannah Zone and Beyond that they have co-authored with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization

They are basically saying that if Sub-Saharan Africa can do in the vast Guinea Savannah zone what Brazil has done in the Cerrado and Thailand in its Northeast Region, it can vastly increase agricultural production.

Shown in yellow on the map, it is comparable in size to the EU, or half of Australia, Canada or the 48  States. Currently only about 10 per cent is used to grow crops. (source)

Agriculture has to expand dramatically if they are to become a net exporter of agricultural products while managing with a population  that is expected to increase from 800 million to 1.5 billion before stabilizing later this century.

To me that looks like the need for a fivefold increase in output.  There would have to be at least a two-fold increase in per capita food consumption if the people of the region are to chow down much like everyone else.  Then they have to reverse their current position as a net importer.

Political and economic conditions will dictate the pace of this and other development in the continent. We can expect the greens and “NGOs” to run interference.

There is no free pdf version of the book. This is typical of the World Bank and UN agencies.