None of the world’s top industries would be profitable if they paid for the natural capital they useDecember 19th, 2015
- With truths like this laying about on the ground around us, is it any wonder some of us get discouraged about our prospects.
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The notion of “externalities” has become familiar in environmental circles. It refers to costs imposed by businesses that are not paid for by those businesses. For instance, industrial processes can put pollutants in the air that increase public health costs, but the public, not the polluting businesses, picks up the tab. In this way, businesses privatize profits and publicize costs.
While the notion is incredibly useful, especially in folding ecological concerns into economics, I’ve always had my reservations about it. Environmentalists these days love speaking in the language of economics — it makes them sound Serious — but I worry that wrapping this notion in a bloodless technical term tends to have a narcotizing effect. It brings to mind incrementalism: boost a few taxes here, tighten a regulation there, and the industrial juggernaut can keep right on chugging. However, if we take the idea seriously, not just as an accounting phenomenon but as a deep description of current human practices, its implications are positively revolutionary.
To see what I mean, check out a recent report [PDF] done by environmental consultancy Trucost on behalf of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) program sponsored by United Nations Environmental Program. TEEB asked Trucost to tally up the total “unpriced natural capital” consumed by the world’s top industrial sectors. (“Natural capital” refers to ecological materials and services like, say, clean water or a stable atmosphere; “unpriced” means that businesses don’t pay to consume them.)
It’s a huge task; obviously, doing it required a specific methodology that built in a series of assumptions. (Plenty of details in the report.) But it serves as an important signpost pointing the way to the truth about externalities.
Here’s how those costs break down:
The majority of unpriced natural capital costs are from greenhouse gas emissions (38%), followed by water use (25%), land use (24%), air pollution (7%), land and water pollution (5%), and waste (1%).
So how much is that costing us? Trucost’s headline results are fairly stunning.
First, the total unpriced natural capital consumed by the more than 1,000 “global primary production and primary processing region-sectors” amounts to $7.3 trillion a year — 13 percent of 2009 global GDP.
(A “region-sector” is a particular industry in a particular region — say, wheat farming in East Asia.)
Second, surprising no one, coal is the enemy of the human race. Trucost compiled rankings, both of the top environmental impacts and of the top industrial culprits.
Here are the top five biggest environmental impacts and the region-sectors responsible for them:
The biggest single environmental cost? Greenhouse gases from coal burning in China. The fifth biggest? Greenhouse gases from coal burning in North America. (This also shows what an unholy nightmare deforestation in South America is.)
Now, here are the top five industrial sectors ranked by total ecological damages imposed:
It’s coal again! This time North American coal is up at number three.
Trucost’s third big finding is the coup de grace. Of the top 20 region-sectors ranked by environmental impacts, none would be profitable if environmental costs were fully integrated. Ponder that for a moment: None of the world’s top industrial sectors would be profitable if they were paying their full freight. Zero.
That amounts to an global industrial system built on sleight of hand. As Paul Hawken likes to put it, we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it GDP.
This gets back to what I was saying at the top. The notion of “externalities” is so technical, such an economist’s term. Got a few unfortunate side effects, so just move some numbers from Column A to Column B, right?
But the UNEP report makes clear that what’s going on today is more than a few accounting oversights here and there. The distance between today’s industrial systems and truly sustainable industrial systems — systems that do not spend down stored natural capital but instead integrate into current energy and material flows — is not one of degree, but one of kind. What’s needed is not just better accounting but a new global industrial system, a new way of providing for human wellbeing, and fast. That means a revolution.
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- Back on May 8th, 2015, while we were in Montreal, Canada, I wrote a piece on ISIS (here). In it, I confessed I was mystified by many things about ISIS. Such as where did it come from, how did it get so powerful, how did it have so much money and why did the west’s response to it seem so muted.
- In the last day, I’ve read two articles have significantly enlightened me.
- The first is entitled, “You can’t understand ISIS if you don’t know the history of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia” and which was penned by Alastair Crooke writing in The World Post
- The second is entitled, “Why ISIS fights” by Martin Chulov writing for the Guardian in the U.K.
- I highly recommend that you read them. They are a bit long and dense with history and information but will be well worth your effort. If you can only read one, then I recommend the first.
- I am going to cut-to-the-chase, as they say, and tell you what I’ve gotten from reading them. If you don’t like spoilers, then go read the articles now before you continue. This will be a good thing to do because then you will be able to see if you come to the same conclusions as I have.
- The central thread that comes out of these articles is the long-standing and pervasive influence of Wahhabism (Wiki article on this here) in the Middle East and most especially in the Arabian Peninsula.
- Wahhabism is considered to be a branch of Sunni Islam and it is a very conservative form of that faith which traces it roots to the 18th century and a man named, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab.
- The fortunes of this branch of Islam and those of the Saud family, have waxed and waned in Arabia for nearly 150 years since al-Wahhab first began preaching.
- It is key to note that Wahhabism is the variety of Islam that is practiced in Saudi Arabia today and that the Saud family became, and has been for many years, the Saudi Royal Family.
- ISIS today is a reinvigorated version of Wahhabism. A version that has reinvented itself to be true to its original tenants.
- Pure Wahhabism is a very conservative faith and its ISIS practitioners strongly feel that the version of Wahhabism practiced now in Saudi Arabia has lost its way due to the influence of oil, the west and the Saud family itself. They also feel that anything other than pure Wahhabism is simply wrong and such people only deserve killing.
- And many very wealthy Saudis have sympathy for these fundamentalist Wahhabian views and herein lies the source of the vast wealth that underlies ISIS.
- It gets worse.
- Saudi Arabia, where these donors live, is a major ally of the United States in it struggle against other disruptive forces in the Middle East. Struggles against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, for example and against the growing threat and influence of Iran.
- So, for the U.S. and the west to go to war aggressively against ISIS is tantamount to confronting the most conservative elements in Saudi society and could unravel or seriously weaken the U.S.’s alliance with Saudi Arabia.
- So, there we are. If the U.S. and/or the other western powers seriously try to crush ISIS, other parts of the house of cards we’ve built in the Middle East, beginning with our alliance with Saudi Arabia, may well crumble and who knows where that will lead?
- As just one factor, Saudi Arabia controls a serious percentage of the world’s oil.
- And the Saudis have been well-armed (by the west, of course).
- But, given ISIS’s monomaniacal focus to push unrelentingly for an Islam (their version of Islam) that dominates the world, a confrontation with them is going to be a hard confrontation to avoid. Witness what just happened with the ISIS terrorist attacks in Paris in which 129 people died.
- But at least I understand now where they’ve gotten their enormous supply of money and why the west has been slow off the mark to crush them.
- But this problem is not going to go away.
– research thanks to Colette M., Piers L. and Kierin M.
For years, Americans dismissed dire water shortages as a problem of the Global South. Now the crisis is coming home
he United Nations reports that we have 15 years to avert a full-blown water crisis and that, by 2030, demand for water will outstrip supply by 40 percent. Five hundred renowned scientists brought together by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that our collective abuse of water has caused the earth to enter a “new geologic age,” a “planetary transformation” akin to the retreat of the glaciers more than 11,000 years ago. Already, they reported, a majority of the world’s population lives within a 30-mile radius of water sources that are badly stressed or running out. T
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“We seldom realize it, but we are living in something very similar to the Garden of Eden referred to in the Bible. An environment we are perfectly adapted to. An environment which is both extremely rare and extremely precious in the endless vacuum and hard radiation of space. And an environment which, like the Biblical Garden of Eden, once forfeited, will never be returned to us again as it was.
Our world is filled with plants and animals born of three and a half billion years of evolution and woven into incomprehensibly beautiful and complex patterns of interdependency. The elephants, the glaciers, the rain forests and the reefs with their long beaches of white sand. The annual migrations and the nests built with such care, the new cubs at play in their first year, the green mountains covered with ancient and dark conifers and the frogs that sing life’s song of longing to us from the ponds of our springs and summers.
It is a palette of life, this world – our birthplace. It is filled with millions of overlaid evolutionary brush stokes. And, in this small place, safe from the pitiless and vast nothingness beyond our sky, a vibrant and magical complexity has been building and feeding into itself for eons – self-replicating – driven and warmed by the bounty of the sun’s glow and spilling forth ever more beautiful forms keen of eye and glorious of leaf – a small and fragile garden in a universe of desert.
Sit outside on a warm day with a soft breeze blowing and the leaves singing. Before you, a small child, or a puppy or a kitten playing in the grass feeling the joy of life welling new and ask yourself what it is all worth – this natural world of ours.
If you have the freedom and ease to be able to do these things and feel what I’m talking about, then you are still among the lucky ones in this world. Many, even as the sun blesses our thoughts, cry for water and for food. Cry from disease and cold, from fouled water and repressive governments and brutality. The world is becoming a narrow and hard place. A world of haves and have nots, of wealth and poverty, of lives of beautiful indulgences and of grinding misery.
Some would say there have always been rich and poor and there’s always been disease and misery. Yes, but in recent centuries, things were getting better. Despots were giving way to governments for their people, Health care and sanitation were reaching further each year into the lives of the marginalized. Education was more freely available. Mankind was on a steady ascension towards the light of a fair and equitable world.
But, all of this, the summer sun, the joy of nature’s bounty and the steady rise towards social enlightenment are all now sliding towards an unimaginable edge beyond which they will simply be memories of what once was and what once could have been.
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– I penned all of that back in August of 2006. And things have been sliding slowly and inexorably towards the edge in our world ever since.
-Yesterday, I talked with a brilliant fellow here in Vancouver, B.C., for several hours about all of this.
– He told me that he is more ‘hopeful’ than I am and I was curious what he meant.
– What he meant was, yes, there’s going to be a major reset of the natural world and millions will die and most species existent will perish. But, that’s change and change always comes. Humankind will survive, even if we are driven down into the stone-ages. And we will ascend again using the rubble from our last rise to fuel our need for materials. Yes, the children of those future times will never know a world like ours but they will be born into their world and it will seem natural to them.
– That was his optimism and hope – only that we will survive.
– I understood and agreed with a lot of his logic.
– But I cannot help but feel such a deep grief that it doesn’t need to be this way. There’s is, really, only the fact that we have little capacity to see the havoc we are causing and less capacity to do anything about it that causes all of this.
– There is nothing inevitable about about the changes we are unleashing on the biosphere because of our activities and that’s the source of my personal grief.
– A friend forwarded me the article, below, and it fits this moment in time so very well.
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The Great Grief:
How to cope with losing our world
by Per Espen Stoknes
To cope with losing our world requires us to descend through the anger into mourning & sadness, not bypass them to jump onto the optimism bandwagon or escape into indifference.
Climate scientists overwhelmingly say that we will face unprecedented warming in the coming decades. Those same scientists, just like you or I, struggle with the emotions that are evoked by these facts and dire projections. My children—who are now 12 and 16—may live in a world warmer than at any time in the previous 3 million years, and may face challenges that we are only just beginning to contemplate, and in many ways may be deprived of the rich, diverse world we grew up in. How do we relate to – and live – with this sad knowledge?
Across different populations, psychological researchers have documented a long list of mental health consequences of climate change: trauma, shock, stress, anxiety, depression, complicated grief, strains on social relationships, substance abuse, sense of hopelessness, fatalism, resignation, loss of autonomy and sense of control, as well as a loss of personal and occupational identity.
This more-than-personal sadness is what I call the “Great Grief”—a feeling that rises in us as if from the Earth itself. Perhaps bears and dolphins, clear-cut forests, fouled rivers, and the acidifying, plastic-laden oceans bear grief inside them, too, just as we do. Every piece of climate news increasingly comes with a sense of dread: is it too late to turn around? The notion that our individual grief and emotional loss can actually be a reaction to the decline of our air, water, and ecology rarely appears in conversation or the media. It may crop up as fears about what kind of world our sons or daughters will face. But where do we bring it? Some bring it privately to a therapist. It is as if this topic is not supposed to be publicly discussed.
This Great Grief recently re-surfaced for me upon reading news about the corals on the brink of death due to warming oceans as well as overfishing of Patagonian toothfish in plastic laden oceans. Is this a surging wave of grief arriving from the deep seas, from the ruthlessness and sadness of the ongoing destruction? Or is it just a personal whim? As a psychologist I’ve learned not to scoff at such reactions, or movements in the soul, but to honor them.
A growing body of research has brought evidence from focus groups and interviews with people affected by droughts, floods, and coastal erosion. When elicited, participants express deep distress over losses that climate disruptions are bringing. It is also aggravated by what they perceive as inadequate and fragmented local, national and global responses. In a study by researcher Susanne Moser on coastal communities, one typical participant reports: “And it really sets in, the reality of what we’re trying to hold back here. And it does seem almost futile, with all the government agencies that get in the way, the sheer cost of doing something like that – it seems hopeless. And that’s kind of depressing, because I love this area.” In another study by sociologist Kari Norgaard, one participant living by a river exclaims: “It’s like, you want to be a proud person and if you draw your identity from the river and when the river is degraded, that reflects on you.” Another informant experiencing extended drought explained to professor Glenn Albrecht’s team that even if “you’ve got a pool there – but you don’t really want to go outside, it’s really yucky outside, you don’t want to go out.”
A recent climate survey by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication had this startling statistic: “Most Americans (74%) say they only ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ discuss global warming with family and friends, a number that has grown substantially since 2008 (60%).” Emphasis mine.
These quotes and statistics underscore the reality that many prefer to avoid or not dwell in—this Mordor-esque land of eco-anxiety, anger, despair, and depression. One of denial’s essential life-enhancing functions is to keep us more comfortable by blotting out this inner, wintry darkness.
The climate survey, however, also has this encouraging finding: “Americans are nine times more likely to lean toward the view that it is people’s responsibility to care for the Earth and its resources (62%) than toward the belief that it is our right to use the Earth and its resources for our own benefit (7%).”
So, what if instead of continuing to avoid this hurt and grief and despair, or only blaming them—the corporations, politicians, agrobusinesses, loggers, or corrupt bureaucrats—for it, we could try to lean into, and accept such feelings. We could acknowledge them for what they are rather than dismissing them as wrong, as a personal weakness or somebody else’s fault. It seems, somehow, important to persist and get in touch with the despair itself, as it arises from the degradation of the natural world. As a culture we may uncover some truths hinted at by feelings we tend to discredit as depressive. These truths include that they accurately reflect the state of ecology in our world. More than half of all animals gone in the last forty years, according to the Living Planet Index. Most ecosystems are being degraded or used unsustainably, according to the Millennium Assessment Report. We’re living inside a mass extinction event, say many biologists, but without hardly consciously noticing.
In order to respond adequately, we may need to mourn these losses. Insufficient mourning keeps us numb or stuck in anger at them, which only feeds the cultural polarization. But for this to happen, the presence of supportive voices and models are needed. It is far harder to get acceptance of our difficulty and despair, and to mourn without someone else’s explicit affirmation and empathy.
Contact with the pain of the world, however, does not only bring grief but can also open the heart to reach out to all things still living. It holds the potential to break open the psychic numbing. Maybe there is also community to be found among like-hearted people, among those who also can admit they’ve been touched by this “Great Grief,” feeling the Earth’s sorrow, each in their own way. Not just individual mourning is needed, but a shared process that leads onwards to public re-engagement in cultural solutions. Working out our own answers as honestly as we can, as individuals and as communities, is rapidly becoming a requirement for psychological health.
To cope with losing our world requires us to descend through the anger into mourning and sadness, not speedily bypass them to jump onto the optimism bandwagon or escape into indifference. And with this deepening, an extended caring and gratitude may open us to what is still here, and finally, to acting accordingly.
? Per Espen Stoknes is a psychologist, economist & entrepreneur. He has cofounded clean-energy companies, and spearheads the BI Norwegian Business School’s executive program on green growth. The above excerpt was adapted from his latest book What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming (Chelsea Green 2015). Publ. here 15.5.2015
– research thanks to Kathy G.
– thanks for the conversation to Jim L.
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The “dark web” is a part of the world wide web that requires special software to access. Once inside, web sites and other services can be accessed through a browser in much the same way as the normal web.
However, some sites are effectively “hidden”, in that they have not been indexed by a search engine and can only be accessed if you know the address of the site. Special markets also operate within the dark web called, “darknet markets”, which mainly sell illegal products like drugs and firearms, paid for in the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.
There is even a crowdfunded “Assassination Market”, where users can pay towards having someone assassinated.
Because of the the dark web’s almost total anonymity, it has been the place of choice for groups wanting to stay hidden online from governments and law enforcement agencies. On the one hand, there have been whistleblowers using the dark web to communicate with journalists, but more frequently it has been used by paedophile groups, terrorists and criminals to keep their dealings secret.
There are a number of ways to access the dark web, including the use of Tor, Freenet and I2P. Of these, the most popular is Tor (originally called The Onion Router), partly because it is one of the easiest software packages to use. Tor downloads as a bundle of software that includes a version of Firefox configured specifically to use Tor.
Tor provides secrecy and anonymity by passing messages through a network of connected Tor relays, which are specially configured computers. As the message hops from one node to another, it is encrypted in a way that each relay only knows about the machine that sent the message and the machine it is being sent to.
Rather than conventional web addresses, Tor uses “onion” addresses, which further obsure the content. There are even special versions of search engines like Bing and Duck Duck Go that will return onion addresses for Tor services.
It is a mistake to think that Tor is entirely anonymous. If a web site is accessed, it can still potentially find out information about whoever is accessing the site because of information that is shared, such as usernames and email addresses. Those wanting to stay completely anonymous have to use special anonymity services to hide their identity in these cases.
Services on the dark web would not have been as popular without a means of paying for them. This is something that Bitcoin has made possible. A recent study by Carnegie Mellon researchers Kyle Soska and Nicolas Christin has calculated that drug sales on the dark net total US$100 million a year. Most, if not all, was paid for in Bitcoin.
Bitcoin is made even more difficult to track on the dark web through the use of “mixing services” like Bitcoin Laundry, which enables Bitcoin transactions to be effectively hidden completely.
How ‘dark’ is the dark web?
The developers of Tor and organisations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF argue that the principal users of Tor are activists and people simply concerned with maintaining their privacy. Certainly, Tor has been used in the past for journalists to talk to whistleblowers and activists, including Edward Snowden).
However, even a cursory glance at the Hidden Wiki – the main index of dark websites – reveals that the majority of sites listed are concerned with illegal activities. Some of these sites are scams, and so it is not clear how easy it is to buy guns, fake passports and hire hackers from the services listed. But there are likely sites on the dark web where these things are entirely possible.
Although the dark web makes law enforcement agencies’ jobs much more difficult, they have had a great deal of success in bringing down sites and arresting their users and the people behind them. The most famous of these was the arrest of Ross Ulbricht, the person behind the most well known of the drug markets, Silk Road.
More recently, the FBI’s arrest of two users of a child abuse site on the dark web highlighted that they are now able to use a range of techniques to unmask Tor users’ real internet addresses.
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Intelligence agencies’ secretive techniques for spying on mobile phones are seldom made public.
But a UK security firm has shown the BBC how one tool, sold around the world to spooks, actually works.
It allows spies to take secret pictures with a phone’s camera and record conversations with the microphone, without the phone owner knowing.
Hacking Team’s software was recently stolen from the company by hackers and published on the web.
Almost any data on a phone, tablet or PC can be accessed by the tool and it is fascinating how much it can do.
When Joe Greenwood, of cybersecurity firm 4Armed, saw that source code for the program had been dumped online by hackers, he couldn’t resist experimenting with it.
Although he had to fiddle with the code to make it work, it only took a day before he had it up and running.
The software consists of the surveillance console, which displays data retrieved from a hacked device, and malware planted on the target device itself.
4Armed was careful to note that using it to spy on someone without their consent would be against the law.
After testing the software on his own PC, Mr Greenwood soon realised the scope of its capabilities.
“You can download files, record microphones, webcam images, websites visited, see what programs are running, intercept Skype calls,” he told the BBC.
The software even has some in-built features to track Bitcoin payments, which can be difficult to associate with individuals without additional data about when and how transactions were performed.
In a live demonstration of the system, Mr Greenwood showed how an infected phone could be made to record audio from the microphone, even when the device was locked, and use the phone’s camera without its owner knowing.
“We can actually take photos without them realising.
“So the camera in the background is running, taking photos every number of seconds,” explained Mr Greenwood.
It was also possible to listen in on phone calls, access the list of contacts stored on the device and track what websites the phone user was visiting.
Both Mr Greenwood and 4Armed’s technical director, Marc Wickenden, said they were surprised by the sleekness of the interface.
Both point out, though, that customers could be paying upwards of £1m for the software and would expect it to be user-friendly, especially if it was intended for use by law enforcers on the beat.
For the tracked user, though, there are very few ways of finding out that they are being watched.
One red flag, according to Mr Greenwood, is a sudden spike in network data usage, indicating that information is being sent somewhere in the background. Experienced spies, however, would be careful to minimise this in order to remain incognito.
At present, spy software like this is only likely to be secretly deployed on the phones and computers of people who are key targets for an intelligence agency.
The version of the spyware distributed online is now likely to be more easily detected by anti-virus programs because companies analysing the source code are in the process of updating their systems to recognise it.
Security expert Graham Cluley said it should be as easy to detect as malware.
“The danger will be that malicious hackers could take that code and augment it or change it so it no longer looks like Hacking Team’s versions, which might avoid detection,” he added.
The best course of action, said Mr Cluley, is to keep operating systems and software as up to date as possible.
In a statement, a spokesman for Hacking Team said it advised its customers not to use the software once the breach was discovered.
“As soon as the event was discovered, Hacking Team immediately advised all clients to discontinue the use of that version of the software, and the company provided a patch to assure that client surveillance data and other information stored on client systems was secure.
“From the beginning Hacking Team has assumed that the code that has been released is compromised,” he said.
The spokesman added that the software would be operated by clients of Hacking Team, not Hacking Team itself, and therefore no sensitive data relating to ongoing investigations had been compromised in the breach.
“Of course, there are many who would use for their own purposes the information released by the criminals who attacked Hacking Team.
“This was apparently not a concern of the attackers who recklessly published the material for all online.
“Compiling the software would take considerable technical skill, so not just anyone could do that, but that is not to say it is impossible,” he said.
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