perception

Epiconomics 101: Our Fiscal Genome

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Published on Peak Surfer on May 8, 2016

PeakSurfer

Discuss this article at the Economics Table inside the Diner

 
"Vital public services like health care, education, transportation and communication should be free."

 

In the May 2d New Yorker, Siddhartha Mukherjee wrote an ode to his mother and aunt, identical twins, taking the opportunity to dig into the roles of nature and nurture in shaping our lives, Going a step farther, he brought in one of our favorite topics here, epigenetics, or the ability of the same DNA strand to issue different instructions depending on external stimuli.

Last year, in our discussion of quantum entanglement, we observed how little of what we call our own bodies is actually our own DNA. More than 95 percent belongs to our unique, personal, coevolving microbiome that not only helps us breathe, digest, and heal illness, but influences our patterns of thought and intentions.

Mukherjee chronicled the gross result of this conspiracy, describing how two brothers, separated by geographic and economic continents, might be brought to tears by the same Chopin nocturne, as if responding to some subtle, common chord struck by their genomes, or perhaps by their epigenomes, and how two sisters — separated long before the development of language — had invented the same word to describe the way they scrunched up their noses: “squidging.”

Mukherjee overlooked the closely entangled microbial web of alien presences, but we’d observe that although these twins may have placed distance and culture between themselves, they had been together long enough to have nearly identical microbiomes from gestation, birth and infancy.

Nucleosome crystal structure at 2.8 angstrom resolution showing a disk-like shape. DNA helices at edge, histones and free proteins in center. The worm-like structures are RNA messengers. reasonandscience.heavenforum.org

Mukherjee writes:

It is a testament to the unsettling beauty of the genome that it can make the real world stick. Hindu philosophers have long described the experience of “being” as a web—jaal. Genes form the threads of the web; the detritus that adheres to it transforms every web into a singular being. An organism’s individuality, then, is suspended between genome and epigenome. We call the miracle of this suspension “fate.” We call our responses to it “choice.” We call one such unique variant of one such organism a “self.”

In his visits with various scientists Mukherjee probed the complex connections of the histones that occupy the empty spaces within the double helix and seem to possess a mysterious power to trigger or silence gene expressions. What he seems to overlook is the role of non-human microbiological agents in making these sorts of choices for their hosts. Indeed, his description of a histone begs comparison to other life forms:

In 1996, Allis and his research group deepened this theory with a seminal discovery. “We became interested in the process of histone modification,” he said. “What is the signal that changes the structure of the histone so that DNA can be packed into such radically different states? We finally found a protein that makes a specific chemical change in the histone, possibly forcing the DNA coil to open. And when we studied the properties of this protein it became quite clear that it was also changing the activity of genes.” The coils of DNA seemed to open and close in response to histone modifications—inhaling, exhaling, inhaling, like life.

***

These protein systems, overlaying information on the genome, interacted with one another, reinforcing or attenuating their signals. Together, they generated the bewildering intricacy necessary for a cell to build a constellation of other cells out of the same genes, and for the cells to add “memories” to their genomes and transmit these memories to their progeny.

While we were pondering these things, bicycling through a Spring rainstorm one morning, we tuned our mobile cyberamphibian prosthesis to Michael Hudson’s interview on Extraenvironmentalist #91. Hudson described how debt deflation is imposing austerity on the U.S. and European economies, siphoning wealth and income to the financial center while impoverishing the periphery. Its the theme of his latest book, Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy.

Crossing two hot wires in our rain soaked brain, the comparison between economic theory and genetics wafted a blue smoke that trailed out from under our bike helmet.

The system itself — the DNA code — is monetary policy, trade rules, labor, capital assets and other components of what we call “the economy.” The histones are the central banks and the FED that set the policies epigenetically by turning switches on or off. The wild cards are those alien protein agents that seem to bring about changes in the histones. A century ago those might have included J. D. Rockefeller and J. P. Morgan. Then came Henry Wallace and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Today they would include Jaime Dimon (Morgan Chase), Lloyd Blankfein (Goldman Sachs), Christine Lagarde (IMF), and Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud.

It is pretty clear from most indicators that since at least 2008, and likely much earlier, our economic DNA has been instructed to express a cancer. As Gail Tyerberg observes:

Both energy and debt have characteristics that are close to “magic” with respect to the growth of the economy. Economic growth can only take place when growing debt (or a very close substitute, such as company stock) is available to enable the use of energy products.

Back in the era of cheap energy less debt was required. In our era of expensive energy, gigantic and growing debt is required. But you can only build debt on itself up to the point where confidence in repayment by those who are owed the money falters. After that, watch out. No debt, no energy. No energy, no economy.

Greg Mannarino of Traders Choice says:

Let’s just look at the stock market… there’s no possible way at this time that these multiples can be justified with regard to what’s occurring here with the price action of the overall market… meanwhile, the market continues to rise. … Nothing is real. I can’t stress this enough… and we’re going to continue to see more fakery… and manipulation and twisting of this entire system… We now exist in an environment where the financial system as a whole has been flipped upside down just to make it function… and that’s very scary. … We’ve never seen anything like this in the history of the world… The Federal Reserve has never been in a situation like this… we are completely in uncharted territory where the world’s central banks have gone negative interest rates… it’s all an illusion to keep the stock market booming.

… Every single asset now… I don’t care what asset… you want to look at currency, debt, housing, metals, the stock market… pick an asset… there’s no price discovery mechanism behind it whatsoever… it’s all fake… it’s all being distorted. … The system is built upon on one premise and that is confidence that it will work… if that confidence is rattled the whole thing will implode… our policy makers are well aware of this… there is collusion between central banks and their respective governments… and it will not stop until it implodes… and what I mean by implode is, correct to fair value.”

It’s created a population boom… a population boom has risen in tandem with the debt. It’s incredible. So, when the debt bubble bursts we’re going to get a correction in population. It’s a mathematical certainty. Millions upon millions of people are going to die on a world-wide scale when the debt bubble bursts. And I’m saying when not if… … When resources become more and more scarce we’re going to see countries at war with each other. People will be scrambling… in a worst case scenario… doing everything that they can to survive… to provide for their family and for themselves. There’s no way out of it.”

Jason Heppenstall, who lives in Cornwall, England, writes in the 22billionenergyslaves blog:

Aside from the police and the shops closing, public toilets are closed virtually all of the time, and the Post Office too is soon to close down, having been privatised and now asset stripped. The council is being forced to raise its taxation rates by 4% this year to cover the shortfall caused by spiraling costs and diminished funding from central government. Clinics and charities are being squeezed out of existence and the local council tried (and failed) to privatise the town’s midsummer festival.

My wife works in the care sector. The stories I get to hear will make you never want to be dependent on the state in your old age. If you can’t rely on your kids to look after you in your dotage it might be wise to keep a bottle of whisky and a revolver in your bottom drawer. Or maybe you'd rather die of thirst lying in your own mess because the 19-year-old unqualified carer who works for minimum wage is too busy checking Facebook on her phone to hear you pressing the emergency button by the bed.

Former US Budget Czar David Stockman wrote this week:

Owing to the recency bias that dominates mainstream news and commentary, the massive expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet depicted above goes unnoted and unremarked, as if it were always part of the financial landscape. In fact, however, it is something radically new under the sun; it’s the footprint of a monetary fraud breathtaking in its magnitude.

***

In essence, during the last 15 years the Fed has gifted the US economy with a $4 trillion free lunch. Uncle Sam bought $4 trillion worth of weapons, highways, government salaries and contractual services but did not pay for them by extracting an equal amount of financing from taxes or tapping the private savings pool, and thereby “crowding out” other investments.
 

This is not Al Gore. It is Elon Musk, a beneficiary of govt largess

Instead, Uncle Sam “bridge financed” these expenditures on real goods and services by issuing US treasury bonds on a interim basis to clear his checking account. But these expenses were then permanently funded by fiat credits conjured from thin air by the Fed when it did the “takeout” financing. Central bank purchase of government bonds in this manner is otherwise and cosmetically known as “quantitative easing” (QE), but it’s fraud all the same.

In essence, Uncle Sam has gotten $4 trillion of “something for nothing” during the last 16 years, while the Washington politicians and policy apparatchiks were happy to pretend that the “independent” Fed was doing god’s work of catalyzing, coaxing and stimulating more jobs and growth out of the US economy.

What the Fed was actually doing was falsifying and inflating the price of financial assets. As Michael Hudson points out, the prime error is placing the financial sector in the same column as honest labor or capital contributions. Finance is actually a drain on those things. It is a withdrawal from productivity, not a contributor to GDP.

Stockman agrees:

But financial engineering does not add to GDP or increase primary spending; it results in the re-pricing of existing financial assets. That is, it gooses stock prices higher, makes executive stock options more valuable and confers endless windfalls on the fast money speculators who work the financial casinos.

Last month, Mario Draghi, the European Central Bank president, became the first central banker to take seriously the idea of helicopter money – the direct distribution of newly created money from the central bank to eurozone residents.
 

Germany’s leaders have reacted furiously and are now subjecting Draghi to nationalistic personal attacks. Less visibly, Italy has also led a quiet rebellion against the pre-Keynesian economics of the German government and the European commission. In EU councils and again at this month’s IMF meeting in Washington, DC, Pier Carlo Padoan, Italy’s finance minister, presented the case for fiscal stimulus more strongly and coherently than any other EU leader. More important, Padoan has started to implement fiscal stimulus by cutting taxes and maintaining public spending plans, in defiance of German and EU commission demands to tighten his budget. As a result, consumer and business confidence in Italy have rebounded to the highest level in 15 years, credit conditions have improved, and Italy is the only G7 country expected by the IMF to grow faster in 2016 than 2015 (albeit still at an inadequate 1% rate).

The Automatic Earth

With England jumping ship and Germany saying nicht to every reform proposal, the EU is headed for a disaster but Italy seems to be able to still think outside the box. To us this suggests the potential for alien-led histone modification in the DNA of modern finance.

Heppenstall says:

The irony of being called anti-European is that I am ardently pro-European. I’ve lived in four different EU countries, travelled all over and am married to an Italian Dane. Europe, to me, is the most diverse place in the world and has an amazing spread of history and culture. My ideal life would involve spending several months each year travelling around Europe in a camper van and getting to know it in an even more intimate manner. The EU is not Europe; it’s an abstract concept masking a faceless undemocratic organisation that funnels wealth from one place to another and keeps its modesty intact behind a fig leaf of supposed liberalism.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We could still have a Europe united around some core values other than money and power and capitalism. How about a Europe focused on an emerging eco-consciousness? Or what about remaking it as a loose cooperative of bioregions? Or perhaps, at the very least, we could all agree on a shared constitution founded on liberty, equality and fraternity. Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has suggested something along those lines, setting up a pan-European umbrella group called DiEM25 that aims to shake things up ‘gently, compassionately but firmly.’ Perhaps there could be more debate about what kind of Europe would be better suited to weathering the coming financial, ecological and energy shocks without causing so much collateral damage to both itself and other nations.

Until that happens we’ll just have to stand back and watch the fireworks. Big institutions like the EU are like skyscrapers; they don’t come crashing down to the ground without taking out plenty of other nearby buildings and the EU is like the leaning tower of Pisa on steroids.  Big things are an artifact of the age of oil – the future is necessarily smaller and more local. The best course of action is to stop arguing over whether it is best to be stood on top of the creaking tower it or beside it, and simply get the hell out of the way before it goes over. 

Draghi’s Italy, it should be recalled, was the country whose Supreme Court last month ruled that Roman Ostriakov, a young homeless man who had bought a bag of breadsticks from a supermarket but had slipped a wurstel – a small sausage – and cheese into his pocket, had acted out of an immediate need by stealing a minimal amount of food, and therefore had not committed a crime. Carlo Rienzi, president of Codacons, an environmental and consumer rights group, told Il Mesaggero, “In recent years the economic crisis has increased dramatically the number of citizens, especially the elderly, forced to steal in supermarkets to be able to make ends meet.” La Stampa said that, for supreme court judges, the right to survive still trumped property rights, a fact that would be considered “blasphemy in America.”

Michael Hudson

Hudson is another epigenetic secret agent. He advocates a debt jubilee similar to what Truman pushed on Europe after World War II, creating the “German Economic Miracle.” In Hudson’s view, the quickest route to reform would be shifting from taxing honest labor to taxing unearned income and capital gains; from burdening the shrinking middle class to shrinking the rentier class. Vital public services like health care, education, transportation and communication should be free.

Ellen Brown, who has been beating the drum for public banks from her Web of Debt page and books, notes that the Bank of North Dakota, the nation’s only state-owned depository bank, was more profitable last year than J.P. Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, and that was after the fracked gas bubble burst. She urges local governments everywhere to bypass the Fed and the vulture banking system and create their own public banks.

Ellen Brown

North Dakota has led the way in demonstrating how a state can jump-start a flagging economy by keeping its revenues in its own state-owned bank, using them to generate credit for the state and its citizens, bypassing the tourniquet on the free flow of credit imposed by private out-of-state banks. California and other states could do the same. They could create jobs, restore home ownership, rebuild infrastructure and generally stimulate their economies, while generating hefty dividends for the state, without increasing debt levels or risking public funds – and without costing taxpayers a dime.

The ability of these foreign antagonists to infect the global economy with a new narrative is a relatively recent phenomenon. The false narrative embedded by Bretton Woods and the Chicago School are not that thoroughly ensconced that they can’t be evicted. There is no reason why the inane policies of economic astrologers could not be quickly reversed by protein protagonists with simple but compelling histological reforms, such as basing the future on a bioeconomy that sequesters carbon and runs on sunlight.

Next week: Epiconomics 102: The Sunlight Economy 

Here Comes the Sun

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Published on Peak Surfer on December 13, 2015

PeakSurfer

Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner

"The COP agreed that the era of fossil energy is over. That is no longer in question. It will end by 2050, if not sooner. The question is how, and the Paris Agreement leaves that to fairy dust."

  At 7:27 pm Paris time (ECT), the President of the COP, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, gavelled the Paris Agreement home. The crowd stood, applauded and whooped. The text is here: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/l09.pdf

Success, it seemed to us, came because of the unions. They were not dockworkers or ironmongers. They were unions of countries with brands that read like corporate logos: AOSIS, ALBA, G77 Plus, High Ambition, the Like-Minded in favor of Kyoto Annexes, stealth-OPEC. No single effort could broker a deal unless it got the big unions on board. In the end ALBA and stealth-OPEC were too small to matter. The Like-Minded splintered in favor of the Ambitious. AOSIS and G77, the Climate Vulnerable Forum, and High Ambition ruled.

In their 2 minute closer, Philippines noted it was the first time that the concept of Climate Justice appears in a legally binding document. In time, they hinted, the United States and other overdeveloped countries will be made to pay reparations to those who will lose all or substantial parts of their counties, including all that high-priced real estate in Rio, Capetown, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Consumerist Empires built on fossil energy may have an unusually large credit card statement coming at the end of the billing cycle.

Pluses and minuses in the new agreement: the 1.5C target is in, thanks to the efforts of UNFCCC head Christina Figueres to give a voice to civil society in these corridors. Five-year 'stocktakes' (Websters Dictionary please take note) — reassessment of progress and commitments — are in. Full phase-out of fossil energy by 2050 is not, but that door is not entirely closed and may be reopened at Marrakech next year.

"Each Party’s successive nationally determined contribution will represent a progression beyond the Party’s then current nationally determined contribution and reflect its highest possible ambition, reflecting its common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances."

What the text mandates, which is actually significant, is to "achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty."

Decarbonization by 2050 is no longer just a t-shirt. Now it's international law.

Bill McKibben said:

“Every government seems now to recognize that the fossil fuel era must end and soon. But the power of the fossil fuel industry is reflected in the text, which drags out the transition so far that endless climate damage will be done. Since pace is the crucial question now, activists must redouble our efforts to weaken that industry. This didn’t save the planet but it may have saved the chance of saving the planet.”

350.org Executive director, May Boeve said:

“This marks the end of the era of fossil fuels. There is no way to meet the targets laid out in this agreement without keeping coal, oil and gas in the ground. The text should send a clear signal to fossil fuel investors: divest now.

The final text still has some serious gaps. We’re very concerned about the exclusion of the rights of indigenous peoples, the lack of finance for loss and damage, and that while the text recognizes the importance of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees C, the current commitments from countries still add up to well over 3 degrees of warming. These are red lines we cannot cross. After Paris, we’ll be redoubling our efforts to deliver the real solutions that science and justice demand.”

The thinktank E3G said,  “The transition to a low carbon economy is now unstoppable, ensuring the end of the fossil fuel age.”

Carbon Tracker said: “Fossil fuel companies will need to accept that they are an ex-growth stocks and must urgently re-assess their business plans accordingly.”

The Guardian called it "a victory for climate science and ultimate defeat for fossil fuels."

One piece of statescraft managed by Obama and Kerry was to neatly skirt what killed Kyoto: the 60 Neanderthals in the US Senate put there by the coal kings Koch Brothers. The New York Times spotted the play and reported:

Some elements of the accord would be voluntary, while others would be legally binding. That hybrid structure was specifically intended to ensure the support of the United States: An accord that would have required legally binding targets for emissions reductions would be legally interpreted as a new treaty, and would be required to go before the Senate for ratification.

Such a proposal would be dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Senate, where many lawmakers question the established science of climate change, and where even more hope to thwart President Obama’s climate change agenda.
 

***

The accord uses the language of an existing treaty, the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to put forth legally binding language requiring countries to verify their emissions, and to periodically put forth new, tougher domestic plans over time.

In just updating regulations enacted under an already ratified treaty, the Paris Agreement bypasses the need for new Senate ratification.

Inside Le Bourget, after the obligatory high fives and selfies, delegates crafted sound bytes for the press and kept the lights on and microphones active past midnight. Outside, 10,000 activists took to the streets to pull a "red line," representing 1.5 degrees, to the Arc de Triomphe.

French President Francois Hollande, who has a gift for hyperbole, said "History is made by those who commit, not those who calculate. Today you committed. You did not calculate." Although not in the way he meant it, this is ironically a first-rate assessment of the Agreement.

There is a quality of awareness among all the delegates to the Paris climate talks that, after 20 years of these discussions, is passing strange. We would not call it a deer-in-the-headlights look, because it is not even quite there yet. Those jockeying for the best outcome for their own economies and constituencies are still quite oblivious to the science of what is transpiring and the seriousness of the threat. They have their noses down in the trough and do not hear the butcher at the barn door.

This should not be surprising. Nowhere in the fossil record is there anything quite like what is transforming the world of humans today. Our physical brains are virtually the same as they were 30,000 years ago, when we were standing upright in the savannah, alert to proximate, not distant, threats and quickly obtained, not slowly exploited, resources.

We make ourselves ignorant in at least three ways: not knowing the basic science of climate change, not knowing what to do about it once we 
become aware of the problem, and being barraged with wrong information about both of those and being unable to distinguish fact from fiction.

We might think that a lamb raised in New Zealand and eaten in London would create more greenhouse gases than one being locally grown, but in the way the world works today, the opposite is true. We might think that going vegan is more climate responsible than raising farmed animals, but because of how pastured animals stock soils with carbon, the opposite can be true. We might think, as climate scientist James Hansen does, that low prices for gas cause more fossil fuels to be burned, but the opposite is true, because low prices keep whole provinces of production from being tapped.

When disciplined and deliberate attempts 
by profit-driven vested interests in the production of 
greenhouse gases cast doubt on science and corrupt politics and the media, grasping these nuances becomes even more difficult.

We are a lucky species in that our optimism is more-or-less hard-wired. People tend to be overly optimistic 
about their chances of having a happy marriage or avoiding illness. Young people are easily lured to join the military, become combat photographers, or engage in extreme-risk sports because they are unrealistically optimistic they can avoid harm. 
Humans are also overly optimistic about environmental risks. Our confirmation bias helps us keep up this optimism even when confronted with scientific truths to the contrary.

The principal outcome is less about the how than about the whether. The COP agreed that the era of fossil energy is over. That is no longer in question. It will end by 2050, if not sooner. The question is how, and the Paris Agreement leaves that to fairy dust.

The Guardian reports:

Throughout the week, campaigners have said the deal had to send a clear signal to global industry that the era of fossil fuels was ending. Scientists have seen the moment as career defining.

Carbon Tracker said:

“New energy technologies have become hugely cost-competitive in recent years and the effect of the momentum created in Paris will only accelerate that trend. The need for financial markets to fund the clean energy transition creates opportunity for growth on a scale not seen since the industrial revolution.”

What will replace fossil energy? The basket of renewables described by Jeremy Leggett in Winning the Carbon War? There is a slight problem there, and one wonders how long it will take for that to catch up to the delegates. Perhaps by the first stocktake, but maybe longer.

The problem, as often described on this site and elaborated in our book, the Post-Petroleum Survival Guide (2006), is net energy, or return on energy investment (EROEI), first elaborated by systems ecologist Howard T. Odum. These days the leading scientists in that field are calling it "biophysical economics."

To put it as simply as possible, the source of almost all our energy is the sun. When the EROEI of a resource is less than or equal to one, that energy source becomes a net "energy sink", and can no longer be used as a source of energy, but depending on the system might be useful for energy storage (for example a battery, or the tidal storage in Scotland). A fuel or energy must have an EROEI ratio of at least 3:1 to be considered viable as a prominent fuel or energy source. This chart shows typical values for various technologies.
 

Right now most of what powers the world comes from the top half of that chart. The Paris agreement suggests that most of what we need by 2050 must be selected from portions of the bottom half of the chart — the so-called "clean" energies." Quoth the prophet, Wikipedia:

Thomas Homer-Dixon argues that a falling EROEI in the Later Roman Empire was one of the reasons for the collapse of the Western Empire in the fifth century CE. In "The Upside of Down" he suggests that EROEI analysis provides a basis for the analysis of the rise and fall of civilizations. Looking at the maximum extent of the Roman Empire, (60 million) and its technological base the agrarian base of Rome was about 1:12 per hectare for wheat and 1:27 for alfalfa (giving a 1:2.7 production for oxen). One can then use this to calculate the population of the Roman Empire required at its height, on the basis of about 2,500–3,000 calories per day per person. It comes out roughly equal to the area of food production at its height. But ecological damage (deforestation, soil fertility loss particularly in southern Spain, southern Italy, Sicily and especially north Africa) saw a collapse in the system beginning in the 2nd century, as EROEI began to fall. It bottomed in 1084 when Rome's population, which had peaked under Trajan at 1.5 million, was only 15,000. Evidence also fits the cycle of Mayan and Cambodian collapse too. Joseph Tainter suggests that diminishing returns of the EROEI is a chief cause of the collapse of complex societies, this has been suggested as caused by peak wood in early societies. Falling EROEI due to depletion of high quality fossil fuel resources also poses a difficult challenge for industrial economies.

When we hear pleas from underdeveloping countries for greater financial assistance to allow them to adapt — meaning building out renewable energy and migrating coastal cities inland — we have to ask ourselves if they really comprehend what they will need to adapt to, and whether any amount of money will ever be enough. The status quo ante – the way things worked before — is gone, and so is the modo omnia futura. One hundred billion dollars per year is not enough to save human beings as a species but asking for more won't help, either. What might help is committing to degrowth, depopulation, and scaling back our human footprint to something closer to what we had coming out of the last Ice Age, before we started building monumental cities, mining metal, and inventing writing. We don't need to abandon writing, but lets get real — those megacities may be unsalvageable on a solar budget.

Dr. Guy McPherson writes:

Astrophysicists have long believed Earth was near the center of the habitable zone for humans. Recent research published in the 10 March 2013 issue of Astrophysical Journal indicates Earth is on the inner edge of the habitable zone, and lies within 1% of inhabitability (1.5 million km, or 5 times the distance from Earth to Earth’s moon). A minor change in Earth’s atmosphere removes human habitat. Unfortunately, we’ve invoked major changes.

This discussion seems strangely absent, despite the pushback against Saudi Arabia and India after they succeeded in excluding the substantive recommendations of the Structured Expert Dialogue from the COP. They were not allowed to dump the provisions on transparency and uniform accounting, although it was not for lack of effort.

Instead, we keep hearing reference to an outdated and unfortunate IPCC number — the bent straw everyone is grasping for — that to have a 50-50 chance of limiting warming to 2°C (itself untenably overheated), cumulative emissions to end of century and beyond must be limited to 1 trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide in total, starting 5 years ago. In that past five years we burned through one tenth – 100 Gt. Most predict that with added growth (a big assumption) we’ll have burned through 75% of this "budget" by 2030 and we’ll bust the budget around 2036. If we cut back, we might have until 2060.

Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace said, "We have a 1.5C wall to climb but the ladder is not tall enough." But he acknowledged, “As a result of what we have secured here we will win… for us Paris was always a stop on an ongoing journey… I believe we are now in with a serious chance to succeed.”

Glen Peters, scientist at CICERO, said 1.5C effectively requires a fossil fuel phase-out by 2030. He later clarified that was without negative emissions or the immediate introduction of a global carbon price, which are some of the assumptions in 1.5C models. His personal view was chances of achieving 1.5C were “extremely slim.”

Will voluntary pledges, revisited every five years starting in 2023 be enough to cut emissions and hold to the budget? It is the wrong question. That budget does not exist. Closer scrutiny of embedded systemic feedbacks reveal we'd blown though any possible atmospheric buffer zone by the 1970s and have just been piling on carbon up there every since.

The Atlantic today reports:

Recent science has indicated that warming to two degrees, still the stated international red line, might be catastrophic, creating mega-hurricanes and possibly halting the temperate jet stream which waters American and European farmland.

From that perspective, 1.5 degrees is an encouraging, ambitious goal. But it’s also a promise that costs negotiators nothing while indicating great moral seriousness.

Because here’s the thing: The math still doesn’t work. 2015 is the hottest year on measure. Because of the delay between when carbon enters the atmosphere and when it traps heat, we are nearly locked into nearly 1.5 degrees of warming already. Many thought the world would abandon the two degree target at Paris due to its impracticality.

Once we apply honestly science-based Earth system sensitivity at equilibrium, excluding none of the feedbacks and forcings that we know of, we discover we passed the 2°C target in 1978. To hold at 2 degrees we would need to bring CO2 concentration down to 334 ppm, not increase it to 450 as the Paris Agreement contemplates. To hold at 1.5°C we would need to vacuum the atmosphere even lower, to a level last seen some time before mid-20th century.

Outside of elite scientists such as those we've mentioned this past week — Anderson, Schellnhuber, Rockstrom, Hansen, Wasdell, and Goreau — few in Le Bourget seem to grasp some simple arithmetic. And so we are treated to the spectacle of fossil producers like India, Russia, Saudi Arabia and many of the underdeveloping countries demanding more time to fill up the available atmospheric space, when in reality there is none and hasn't been for quite some time.

Some say the UN is hamstrung by multilateral consensus, but voting would be no better. After the COP meeting in Durban, the UNFCCC adopted a traditional South African negotiating format to speed up decision-making and bring opposing countries together. The Guardian's John Vidal explains:

Zulu and Xhosa communities use “indabas” to give everyone equal opportunity to voice their opinions in order to work toward consensus.

They were first used in UN climate talks in Durban in 2011 when, with the talks deadlocked and the summit just minutes from collapse, the South African presidency asked the main countries to form a standing circle in the middle of hundreds of delegates and to talk directly to each other.

Instead of repeating stated positions, diplomats were encouraged to talk personally and quietly about their “red lines” and to propose solutions to each other.

By including everyone and allowing often hostile countries to speak in earshot of observers, it achieved a remarkable breakthrough within 30 minutes.

In Paris the indaba format was used by France to narrow differences between countries behind closed doors. It is said to have rapidly slimmed down a ballooning text with hundreds of potential points of disagreements.

By Wednesday with agreement still far away, French prime minister Laurent Fabius further refined the indaba by splitting groups into two.

“It is a very effective way to streamline negotiations and bridge differences. It has the advantage of being participatory yet fair”, said one West African diplomat. “It should be used much more when no way through a problem can be found.”

What may need to happen next year in Marrakech is that the COP host an indaba with experts both in the climate sciences and in biophysical economics.

What may hold out the best hope lies buried 20 pages in, at Article 4:

In order to achieve the long-term temperature goal set out in Article 2, Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.

Article 5:

1. Parties should take action to conserve and enhance, as appropriate, sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases as referred to in Article 4, paragraph 1(d), of the Convention, including forests.

2. Parties are encouraged to take action to implement and support, including through results-based payments, the existing framework as set out in related guidance and decisions already agreed under the Convention for: policy approaches and positive incentives for activities relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries; and alternative policy approaches, such as joint mitigation and adaptation approaches for the integral and sustainable management of forests, while reaffirming the importance of incentivizing, as appropriate, non-carbon benefits associated with such approaches.

It is not yet clear whether integrated food and fuel sequenced permaculturally designed forests, composed of mixed aged, mixed species robust ecologies and maximum carbon sequestration though biomass-to-biochar energy and agriculture systems will be scaled fast enough, but these two articles could be the spark they need to spur investment.

As the clock ticked on towards end of day, the leader of the High Ambition group, Tony de Blum, introduced to the plenary an 18-year-old girl from Majuro who spoke of water gradually rising on three sides of her home.

"The coconut leaf I wear in my hair and hold up in my hand is from my home in the Marshall Islands. I wear them today in hope of keeping them for my children and my grandchildren — a symbol, these simple strands of coconut leaves that I wear. … Keep these leaves and give them to your children, and tell them a story — of how you helped my islands and the whole world today. This agreement is for those of us whose identity, whose culture, whose ancestors, whose whole being, is bound to their lands. I have only spoken about myself and my islands but the same story will play out everywhere in the world."

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