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It's not just oil pollution, over-fishing, fertilizer run-off, plastic or exotic species invasions: Science report says climate change is permanently damaging oceans

July 7th, 2010 No comments

I’ve addressed the poor health of the world’s oceans quite recently, in response to a flip comment  by Lew Rockwell about how the “ecosystem” is likely to “survive and thrive” regardless of environmental and/or political debacles. Further reports of an increasingly serious situation continue to appear.

Further to the information I provided there, I’d like to draw readers’s attention to a recent report in Science and to a recent article in The Economist:

1. Science, June 18, 2010

Here’s the blurb (emphasis added)

The Impact of Climate Change on the World’s Marine Ecosystems

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg1,* and John F. Bruno1,2

 

Marine ecosystems are centrally important to the biology of the planet, yet a comprehensive understanding of how anthropogenic climate change is affecting them has been poorly developed. Recent studies indicate that rapidly rising greenhouse gas concentrations are driving ocean systems toward conditions not seen for millions of years, with an associated risk of fundamental and irreversible ecological transformation. The impacts of anthropogenic climate change so far include decreased ocean productivity, altered food web dynamics, reduced abundance of habitat-forming species, shifting species distributions, and a greater incidence of disease. Although there is considerable uncertainty about the spatial and temporal details, climate change is clearly and fundamentally altering ocean ecosystems. Further change will continue to create enormous challenges and costs for societies worldwide, particularly those in developing countries.

 

1 Ocean and Coasts Program, Global Change Institute, University of Queensland, St. Lucia, QLD 4072, Australia.
2 Department of Marine Sciences, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA.

* To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: [email protected]

McClatchy has good coverage (Les Blumenthal, Julky 4, 2010)(emphasis added)

 

A sobering new report warns that the oceans face a “fundamental and irreversible ecological transformation” not seen in millions of years as greenhouse gases and climate change already have affected temperature, acidity, sea and oxygen levels, the food chain and possibly major currents that could alter global weather.

The report, in Science magazine, brings together dozens of studies that collectively paint a dismal picture of deteriorating ocean health.

“This is further evidence we are well on our way to the next great extinction event,” said Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, the director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland in Australia and a co-author of the report.

John Bruno, an associate professor of marine sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the report’s other co-author, isn’t quite as alarmist, but he’s equally concerned.

“We are becoming increasingly certain that the world’s marine ecosystems are reaching tipping points,” Bruno said, adding, “We really have no power or model to foresee” the impact.

The oceans, which cover 71 percent of the Earth’s surface, have played a dominant role in regulating the planet’s climate. However, even as the understanding of what’s happening to terrestrial ecosystems as a result of climate change has grown, studies of marine ecosystems have lagged, the report says. The oceans are acting as a heat sink for rising temperatures and have absorbed about one-third of the carbon dioxide produced by human activities.

Among other things, the report notes:

     

  • The average temperature of the upper level of the oceans has increased more than 1 degree Fahrenheit over the past 100 years, and global ocean surface temperatures in January were the second warmest ever recorded for that month.
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  • Though the increase in acidity is slight, it represents a “major departure” from the geochemical conditions that have existed in the oceans for hundred of thousands if not millions of years.
  •  

  • Nutrient-poor “ocean deserts” in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans grew by 15 percent, or roughly 2.5 million square miles, from 1998 to 2006.
  •  

  • Oxygen concentrations have been dropping off the Northwest U.S. coast and the coast of southern Africa, where dead zones are appearing regularly. There is paleontological evidence that declining oxygen levels in the oceans played a major role in at least four or five mass extinctions.
  •  

  • Since the early 1980s, the production of phytoplankton, a crucial creature at the lower end of the food chain, has declined 6 percent, with 70 percent of the decline found in the northern parts of the oceans. Scientists also have found that phytoplankton are becoming smaller.

Volcanic activity and large meteorite strikes in the past have “resulted in hostile conditions that have increased extinction rates and driven ecosystem collapse,” the report says. “There is now overwhelming evidence human activities are driving rapid changes on a scale similar to these past events.

Many of these changes are already occurring within the world’s oceans with serious consequences likely over the coming years.”

One of the consequences could be a disruption of major ocean currents, particularly those flowing north and south, circulating warm water from the equator to polar regions and cold water from the poles back to the equator. Higher temperatures in polar regions and a decrease in the salinity of surface water due to melting ice sheets could interrupt such circulation, the report says.

The change in currents could further affect such climate phenomena as the El Nino-Southern Oscillation, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the North Atlantic Oscillation. Scientists just now are starting to understand how these phenomena affect global weather patterns.

“Although our comprehension of how this variability will change over the coming decades remains uncertain, the steady increase in heat content in the ocean and atmosphere are likely to have profound influences on the strength, direction and behavior of the world’s major current systems,” the report says.

Kelp forests such as those off the Northwest U.S. coast, along with corals, sea grasses, mangroves and salt marsh grasses, are threatened by the changes the oceans are undergoing, the report says. All of them provide habitat for thousands of species.

The polar bear isn’t the only polar mammal that faces an escalating risk of extinction, the report says; penguin and seal populations also are declining.

“It’s a lot worse than the public thinks,” said Nate Mantua, an associate research professor at the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group.

Mantua, who’s read the report, said it was clear what was causing the oceans’ problems: greenhouse gases. “It is not a mystery,” he said.

There’s growing concern about low-oxygen or no-oxygen zones appearing more and more regularly off the Northwest coast, Mantua said. Scientists are studying the California Current along the West Coast to determine whether it could be affected, he added.

Richard Feely, a senior scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, said the report in Science seemed so direct because one of the authors was Australian.

“Australians come at you full-bore and lay it on the line,” Feely said.

Even so, he said, the condition of the oceans is indeed deteriorating.

The combination of these impacts are tending to show they are additive,” he said. “They combine to make things worse.”

Asked what the oceans will be like in 50 years if trends aren’t reversed, Bruno, the UNC professor, said that all the problems would have accelerated and there’d be new ones. For instance, he said tens of thousands of species found only in the Pacific might migrate across the top of North America as the sea ice melts and enter the Atlantic, where they’ve never been.

Bruno said a 50-year time frame to consider changes in the ocean was way too short, however.

“I am a lot more worried about 200 to 300 years out,” he said

 

 

What strikes me the most about the recent science coming out on this topic, is the degree to which we are modifying fundamental physical and biological processes by warming the oceans. The warming doesn’t just kill sensitive species, it modifies everything from enzyme kinetics, to plant photosynthesis and animal metabolism, to the developmental rate and dispersal of larval (baby) fish to changing the ways food webs and ecosystems function. And the big surprise, at least to me, is how quickly this is all happening. We are actually witnessing these changes before we predict or model them. This isn’t theoretical; this is a huge, real-world problem. Moreover, we, not just our children, will be paying the price if we don’t get a handle on this problem very soon.

 

 

 

 

 
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Some comments (2006) to Chris Mooney about anti-Malthusian Ron Bailey on doomsayers, extinctions and DDT

January 6th, 2015 No comments
Here are some comments that I sent to Chris C. Mooney in response to his June 2, 2006 blogpost, “Some Ron Bailey Writings.”

Chris, in addition to the comments I’ve already given, let me note the following:

1. On Club of Rome and the Malthusian issue generally, the doomsayers were right to perceive problems that are still with us, but they failed to understand how market supply and demand work to call forth new supplies and technologies. Now we use sand [glass fiber] instead of copper for our telecommunications. They were very wrong on commodity prices, but what were the consequences? We adapted, so it can hardly be said to be one of the “worst” abuses of science (in any case the projections were not an abuse of science, but mistaken modelling).

In the big picture, Club of Rome was exactly right about a point on which we are still struggling – like any other species, humanity is a part of its environment and we must be concerned about our impact on the environment. Without the proper feedback mechanisms – which are provided now soleyl by disease, war and properly functioning markets – we will expand up to the Earth’s carrying capacity, overshoot and crash, as we have from time to time in the past, as Jared Diamond points out (but Diamond doesn’t understand environmental problems as market-failure problems either).

Are all the feedback mechanisms working properly worldwide? There is still lots of misery and starvation in the third world, and where markets don’t work we have internecine slaughter like in Rwanda and constant instability in Haiti. Global ecosystems and environmental services are still at severe risk, and regional resources like Asian and South American tropical forests, tropical reefs and oceanic fisheries, and wild species everrywhere, precisely for reasons that Ron Bailey understands well – because markets do not work well where property rights – private or communal – are not clearly defined or not effectively enforced.

On this, I recommend that you take a look at Ron’s piece last year on the problems and solutions for New England fisheries: How to Save New England’s Fishing Villages – If only the fishers will allow it. The solution? Creation of private rights that allow a market to function; here, “Individual transferable quotas” (ITQs) that are exactly the same as taken for SO2 trading in California under the Clean Air Act and the GHG emissions permits now trading under Kyoto. These tragedy of the commons issues persist globally and must be addressed, unless we wish to see ineffectively owned resources destroyed.

It’s also worth pointing out that the Malthusians have been wrong only becuase our technological ingenuity has enabled us to wrest more and more from nature. Nature may be getting a break in the West, but it’s due not only to fossil fuels (and a AGW cost that is not being paid) but also because we’re sourcing more and more from the developing world – the oceans are being strip-mined, the Amazon being converted to soybeans and the Asian tropics to palm plantations, and the second/third worlds are definitely converting forests to food. Environmental services are not costed into the moder economy.

I also recommend you look at the Business Rountable’s policy paper on how to help the developing world improve their economies and prepare for climate change – in particular recommendations 2 (kleptocracy – “public” resources are not protected but exploited to line the pockets of elites) and 5 (lack of effective propertty rights) specifically point out that these institutional failures lie at the core of the third world’s problems.

http://www.businessroundtable.org/pdf/20040616000ClosingtheTechnologyGap.pdf

2. I think there is more recent information about one in seven of all bird species being threatened. Whatever the rate is, it is huge, and just like fisheries, it’s entirely due to the lack of effective property rights. The bright spots are where landowners have figured out that they can get a good income from using and protecting wild resources. We’re still fighting about whales, even though we have obvious solutions such as ITQs being applied to other fisheries in NZ and AK.

Ron can argue with you about the numbers of species, but he really can’t disagree that the loss of this genetic information is a disgrace many worse than the burning of the library of Alexandria, and certainly is a result of failed markets that should be fixed.

Since libertarians like Ron and others on the right actually know all about the problems of market failure, where is the big effort being made to fix these problems?

3. On DDT, I imagine you know that Tim Lambert at Deltoid already has all of the answers handy.

4. This isn’t one of your questions, but I think it is fair to note that the failures of the left relating to science have really been failures to understand the institutional reasons for problems and so failures to propose the right solutions. Those on the left who have been saying that we need to change human nature or abandon capitalism have been saying so because they simply don’t know otherwise how to “fix” capitalism’s flaws.

But as I imagine you know, the misuse of science the right, on the other hand, has been entirely intentional, cynical and venal, and designed to allow favored interests (rent-seekers) to continue to pay cheap for dear public resources (including using the atmosphere as a GHG dump), for the financial and partisan benefit of those running the government. See John Baden, a grandfather of libertarian, free-market environmentalism for his take on the corrupt Republicans: http://www.free-eco.org/articleDisplay.php?id=488.

Good luck!

Regards,

Tom

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I’m not focussed on abolishing the state as an objective because . . . it’s turtles all the way down anyway

October 30th, 2014 No comments

I’m not focussed on abolishing the state as an objective because:

(1) it is a distraction from other ways to recreate/revitalize community and “Zomia”;

(2) I see it as impractical in any event — while splitting up states and decentralizing are real options, any stateless/ungoverned areas that may arise are soon claimed by states; and

(3) I’m afraid it’s turtles all the way down anyway, in terms of brigands, great bands of brigands, and roving corporate bandits:

http://tokyotom.freecapitalists.org/?s=pirates
http://tokyotom.freecapitalists.org/?s=avatar
http://tokyotom.freecapitalists.org/?s=fishing
http://www.government.se/content/1/c6/12/11/81/d99cc30a.pdf

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Interesting new research shows that THE key to disaster recovery is the strength of the local community ('social capital'), NOT Government action

June 12th, 2011 No comments

Daniel P. Aldrich is an up-and-coming political scientist who got interested in disaster recovery when New Orleans was hit by Hurricane Katrina a few months after he had moved there with his family.

He has also spent quite a bit of time living and studying in Japan; I ran across him recently in connection with my reading and blogging on post-earthquake, post-tsunami and post-Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster Japan; he’s mentioned prominently in the NYT article excerpted in my preceding post.

According to his bio at Purdue University, Aldrich:

received his Ph.D. and M.A. in political science from Harvard University, an M.A. from the University of California at Berkeley, and his B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Daniel has focused on the ways in which state agencies interact with contentious civil society over the siting of controversial facilities such as nuclear power plants, airports, and dams. His current research investigates how neighborhoods and communities recover from disasters. He has published a number of peer-reviewed articles along with research for general audiences. His research has been funded by grants from the Abe Foundation, IIE Fulbright Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Reischauer Institute at Harvard University, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, and Harvard’s Center for European Studies. He has been a visiting scholar at the Japanese Ministry of Finance, the Institute for Social Science at Tokyo University, Harvard University, the Tata Institute for Social Science in Mumbai, the Institut d’etudes politiques de Paris (Sciences Po), and the East West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. He has spent more than three years conducting fieldwork in Japan, India and France.

His research and writing on disasters and resilience is very interesting and speaks to the importance of strong communities of the type that governments and their corprate agents frequently do their best to seek to erode. Here is his own description and set of links to that work:

Externalities of Strong Social Capital: Post Tsunami Recovery in Southeast Asia forthcoming in Journal of Civil Society

 

Much research has implied that social capital functions as an unqualified “public good,” enhancing governance, economic performance, and quality of life (Coleman 1988; Cohen and Arato 1992; Putnam 1993; Cohen and Rogers 1995). Scholars of disaster (Nakagawa and Shaw 2004; Adger et al. 2005; Dynes 2005; Tatsuki 2008) have extended this concept to posit that social capital provides nonexcludable benefits to whole communities after major crises. Using qualitative methods to analyze data from villages in Tamil Nadu, India following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, this paper demonstrates that high levels of social capital simultaneously provided strong benefits and equally strong negative externalities, especially to those already on the periphery of society. In these villages, high levels of social capital reduced barriers to collective action for members of the uur panchayats (hamlet councils) and parish councils, speeding up their recovery and connecting them to aid organizations, but at the same time reinforced obstacles to recovery for women, Dalits, migrants, and Muslims. These localized findings have important implications for academic studies of social capital and policy formation for future disasters and recovery schemes.

Social Science Perspectives on Disasters in Perspectives on Politics

In this extended review, I discuss three recent books on disaster: Governing after Crisis: The Politics of Investigation, Accountability, and Learning edited by Arjen Boin, Allan McConnell, and Paul ‘T Hart, Learning from Catastrophes: Strategies for Reaction and Response , edited by Howard Kunreuther and Micheel Useem, and The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters by Charles Perrow. All three books invoke the market and state as core forces at work in mitigation and disaster recovery, overlooking the critical role of social capital.

Separate and Unequal: Post-Tsunami Aid Distribution in Southern India published in Social Science Quarterly

Objective. Disasters are a regular occurrence throughout the world. Whether all eligible victims of a catastrophe receive similar amounts of aid from governments and donors following a crisis remains an open question. Methods. I use data on 62 similarly damaged inland fishing villages in five districts of southeastern India following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami to measure the causal influence of caste, location, wealth, and bridging social capital on the receipt of aid. Using two-limit tobit and negative binomial models, I investigate the factors that influence the time spent in refugee camps, receipt of an initial aid packet, and receipt of 4,000 rupees. Results. Caste, family status, and wealth proved to be powerful predictors of beneficiaries and nonbeneficiaries during the aid process. Conclusion. While many scholars and practitioners envision aid distribution as primarily a technocratic process, this research shows that discrimination and financial resources strongly affect the flow of disaster aid.

The Power of People: Social Capital’s Role in Recovery from the 1995 Kobe Earthquake forthcoming in Natural Hazards

Despite the regularity of disasters, social science has only begun to generate replicable knowledge about the factors which facilitate post-crisis recovery. Building on the broad variation in recovery rates within disaster-affected cities, I investigate the ability of Kobe’s nine wards to repopulate after the 1995 Kobe earthquake in Japan. This article uses case studies of neighborhoods in Kobe alongside new time-series, cross-sectional data set to test five variables thought to influence recovery along with the relatively untested factor of social capital. Controlling for damage, population density, economic conditions, inequality and other variables thought important in past research, social capital proves to be the strongest and most robust predictor of population recovery after catastrophe. This has important implications both for public policies focused on reconstruction and for social science more generally.

Fixing Recovery: Social Capital in Post-Crisis Resilience in The Journal of Homeland Security June 2010

Disasters remain among the most critical events which impact residents and their neighborhoods; they have killed far more individuals than high salience issues such as terrorism. Unfortunately, disaster recovery programs run by the United States and foreign governments have not been updated to reflect a new understanding of the essential nature of social capital and networks. I call for a re-orientation of disaster preparedness and recovery programs at all levels away from the standard fixes focused on physical infrastructure towards ones targeting social infrastructure. The reservoirs of social capital and the trust (or lack thereof) between citizens in disaster-affected communities can help us understand why some neighborhoods in cities like Kobe, Japan, Tamil Nadu, India, and New Orleans, Louisiana displayed resilience while others stagnated. Social capital – the engine for recovery – can be deepened both through local initiatives and interventions from foreign agencies.

Aldrich Presentation on 25 March 2010 BUILDING RESILIENCE conference

Despite the clear and present danger from disasters, social scientists have yet to provide strong, quantitative evidence about which factors influence the pace of recovery. Using data from four megadisasters over the 20th and 21st century – the 1923 Tokyo earthquake, the 1995 Kobe earthquake, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and the 2005 Hurricane Katrina – Aldrich argues that social infrastructure is the critical factor in recovery.

The Crucial Role of Civil Society in Disaster Recovery and Japan’s Preparedness for Emergencies in Japan aktuell 3/28

This article is concerned with the empirical puzzle of why certain neighborhoods and localities recover more quickly than others following disasters. It illuminates four mainstream theories of rehabilitation and resilience, and then investigates a neglected factor, namely the role of social networks and civil society. Initial analyses underscore the important role of trust and connectivity among local residents in the process of rebuilding. After examining the role of civil society in Japan’s preparedness for emergencies, the article concludes with some policy recommendations for governments and nongovernmental actors involved in disaster relief.

This paper, entitled the The Need for Comparative Research, was prepared for a conference at the Jamsetji Tata Centre for Disaster Management in February 2008, and sets out some initial ideas which have motivated this project.

Some of Aldrich’s newspaper articles are linked here.

I expect I’ll be commenting further on his work.

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Japan's nuclear power subsidies to rural areas a case study in sick dynamics: how governments eviscerate local economies and addict them to what destroys them

June 12th, 2011 No comments

We can see the same phenomenon in extractive economies wherever governments own the resources, but locals own the risks – as in the Gulf of Mexico/BP (as I noted in a number of posts) accident, Nigeria, Ecuador/Texaco, etc.

We can also see this more generally with crony, corporation-based capitalism.

Japan’s version is more complicated and seductive: the locals get paid off – at the expense of electric power ratepayers who are subject to a government-supported monopoly – in a way that encourages them to abandon their own livelihoods and further dependent on handouts.

Below are excerpts from a May 31  article at the New York Times:  In Japan, a Culture That Promotes Nuclear Dependency

Excerpts:

When the Shimane nuclear plant was first proposed here more than 40 years ago, this rural port town put up such fierce resistance that the plant’s would-be operator, Chugoku Electric, almost scrapped the project. Angry fishermen vowed to defend areas where they had fished and harvested seaweed for generations.

Two decades later, when Chugoku Electric was considering whether to expand the plant with a third reactor, Kashima once again swung into action: this time, to rally in favor. Prodded by the local fishing cooperative, the town assembly voted 15 to 2 to make a public appeal for construction of the $4 billion reactor. …

As Kashima’s story suggests, Tokyo has been able to essentially buy the support, or at least the silent acquiescence, of communities by showering them with generous subsidies, payouts and jobs. In 2009 alone, Tokyo gave $1.15 billion for public works projects to communities that have electric plants, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Experts say the majority of that money goes to communities near nuclear plants.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg, experts say, as the communities also receive a host of subsidies, property and income tax revenues, compensation to individuals and even “anonymous” donations to local treasuries that are widely believed to come from plant operators. …

In a process that critics have likened to drug addiction, the flow of easy money and higher-paying jobs quickly replaces the communities’ original economic basis, usually farming or fishing.

Nor did planners offer alternatives to public works projects like nuclear plants. Keeping the spending spigots open became the only way to maintain newly elevated living standards.

… Towns become enmeshed in the same circle — which includes politicians, bureaucrats, judges and nuclear industry executives — that has relentlessly promoted the expansion of nuclear power over safety concerns. …

“This structure of dependency makes it impossible for communities to speak out against the plants or nuclear power,” said Shuji Shimizu, a professor of public finance at Fukushima University.  …

Much of this flow of cash was the product of the Three Power Source Development Laws, a sophisticated system of government subsidies created in 1974 by Kakuei Tanaka, the powerful prime minister who shaped Japan’s nuclear power landscape and used big public works projects to build postwar Japan’s most formidable political machine.

The law required all Japanese power consumers to pay, as part of their utility bills, a tax that was funneled to communities with nuclear plants. …

Political experts say the subsidies encourage not only acceptance of a plant but also, over time, its expansion. That is because subsidies are designed to peak soon after a plant or reactor becomes operational, and then decline.

“In many cases, what you’ll see is that a town that was depopulating and had very little tax base gets a tremendous insurge of money,” said Daniel P. Aldrich, a political scientist at Purdue University who has studied the laws.

As the subsidies continue to decline over the lifetime of a reactor, communities come under pressure to accept the construction of new ones, Mr. Aldrich said. “The local community gets used to the spending they got for the first reactor — and the second, third, fourth, and fifth reactors help them keep up,” he added.

Critics point to the case of Futaba, the town that includes Fukushima Daiichi’s No. 5 and No. 6 reactors, which began operating in 1978 and 1979, respectively.

According to Professor Shimizu of Fukushima University, Fukushima Daiichi and the nearby Fukushima Daini plants directly or indirectly employed some 11,000 people in communities that include Futaba — or about one person in every two households. Since 1974, communities in Fukushima Prefecture have received about $3.3 billion in subsidies for its electrical plants, most of it for the two nuclear power facilities, Mr. Shimizu said.

Despite these huge subsidies, most given in the 1970s, Futaba recently began to experience budget problems. As they did in Kashima, the subsidies dwindled along with other revenues related to the nuclear plant, including property taxes. By 2007, Futaba was one of the most fiscally troubled towns in Japan and nearly went bankrupt. Town officials blamed the upkeep costs of the public facilities built in the early days of flush subsidies and poor management stemming from the belief that the subsidies would remain generous.

Eisaku Sato, who served as the governor of Fukushima Prefecture from 1988 to 2006 and became a critic of the nuclear industry, said that 30 years after its first reactor started operating, the town of Futaba could no longer pay its mayor’s salary.

“With a nuclear reactor, in one generation, or about 30 years, it’s possible that you’ll become a community that won’t be able to survive,” Mr. Sato said.

Futaba’s solution to its fiscal crisis was to ask the government and Tokyo Electric, Fukushima Daiichi’s operator, to build two new reactors, which would have eventually increased the number of reactors at Fukushima Daiichi to eight. The request immediately earned Futaba new subsidies.

“Putting aside whether ‘drugs’ is the right expression,” Mr. Sato said, “if you take them one time, you’ll definitely want to take them again.”

Eiji Nakamura, the failed candidate for mayor of Kashima, said the town came to rely on the constant flow of subsidies for political as well as economic reasons. He said the prefectural and town leaders used the jobs and money from public works to secure the support of key voting blocs like the construction industry and the fishing cooperative, to which about a third of the town’s working population belongs.

“They call it a nuclear power plant, but it should actually be called a political power plant,” Mr. Nakamura joked.

 

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Are ‘enviros’ evil,or trying to protect property + reassert control over behemoths? New Zealand Navy + Petrobras vs. Maori fishermen

April 27th, 2011 No comments

A quick show of hands:

  • How many of you think that the recent protests by New Zealand “greens” and Maori fishermen against Government-licensed oil exploration activities by PetroBras is evidence of a blind envirofascist hatred of mankind?
  • How many of you cheer on the “capitalist” exploration and development of government-owned resources by big and state-entanged corporations, over the quaint claims to “fishing rights” by locals?
  • How many of you think that PetroBras and its shareholders are the real victims of these protests?
  • How many think it’s a sign of how government “ownership” of public resources leads to zero-sum politicization of decisions, and of decisions that are tilted toward activities that provide revenues to government, while shifting risks to local communities and individuals?
  • Does anybody see any parallels with BP and the Gulf?  With the crony capitalism supporting Tokyo Electric, the operator of the Fukushima nuclear plants?

I posted a few tweets on this topic, which I copy below in chronological order:

 TokyoTom

NZ Navy intervention in oil protest “disgusting” – Maori MPs |     
 TokyoTom 

Maori Sovereignty? “Maori feel the pollution risk to the water+fish stocks is too great”   
 TokyoTom 

Maori skipper detained by Navy warship for defending ancestral fishing waters from Oil Drilling  
 TokyoTom 

Maori fisherman: “We are defending tribal waters+our rights from reckless Govt policies”   
 TokyoTom 

“opening up natl parks+our coastline to transnationl corps shows contempt+will face fierce+sustained local resistance”
 TokyoTom 

Petrobras protest+Maritime Rules  |clear frm+ tht Gov ‘ownership’ leads to poor risk mgt+theft frm communities
 TokyoTom 

“Gov has awakened some sort of taniwha.We’re all virgins at doing this.We never fight”   
 TokyoTom 

“April 11: NZ Navy ships+Air Force planes begin monitoring the protest along with police”   
 TokyoTom 

“after the licence was given-in what way is that consultation? It isn’t, not even close”    
 TokyoTom 

Te Karere Ipurangi » Blog Archive » Oil surveys damage sea creatures organs – ECO    
 TokyoTom 

MP says it is a disgrace…wrong for NZ citizen to be threatened by Defense for opposing a deal btwn gov+foreign oil co
 TokyoTom 

NZ Gov happy w discretion to act unilaterally 2increase Gov revenues+to ignore locals  
 TokyoTom 

In NZ as in ,locals trying to exercise community crtl treated as ‘terrorists’    
 TokyoTom 

Rikirangi Gage to  “We are defending tribal waters+our rights frm reckless Gov policies”  
 TokyoTom 

AUDIO:Rikirangi Gage of te Whānau-ā-Apanui vessel radios captain of  oil survey ship  

Avatar

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Ayn Rand Center promises to have fun with man-hating enviros for Earth Day, so for fun I sent them a note

April 13th, 2011 No comments

A little birdy Tweet by the Ayn Rand Center for Corporate Individual Rights told me that the ARCs Voices for Rent-Seekers Reason blog is “Gearing up for Earth Day”, so of course I had to go take a look.

Here’s some of what I found:

As Earth Day (April 22) approaches, the Ayn Rand Center wants to help you understand the destructive campaign environmentalists have pursued for decades against energy production.

… [It is] clear that environmentalists are not so concerned about carbon emissions—they fight against every form of practical, cheap energy regardless of whether it emits CO2 (like fossil fuels) or not (like nuclear and hydro).

As ARC fellow Dr. Keith Lockitch explains …

 

the basic moral premise at the root of environmentalism is the premise that nature is something to be left alone—to be preserved untouched by human activity.

… This moral animus against human “intrusion” upon nature creates a basic conflict between the goals of the environmentalist movement and the needs of human life.

 

The blog post ends with a promise that (emphasis added)

on Earth Day, which is on Friday, April 22, we will be hosting a live Q&A session from our headquarters in Irvine, CA, where resident fellows Keith Lockitch and Alex Epstein will answer any questions you have about Earth Day, environmentalism, the recent nuclear scare in Japan, and related issues.

Besides some inaugural encounters at Mises Daily and the Mises Blog with Objectivist Dr. George Reisman,  readers might like to note that I previously commented on some of Keith Lockitch’s work relating to aid and development.

It certainly should not surprise my regular readers for me to note that I find the gist of the ARC post to be largely irrelevant, and productive only in the sense of offering a self-deceptive defense of a profoundly corrupted and statist ‘free market’.  Citizens of all stripes have every right to want to fight with others over:

  • how valuable government-owned resources (public lands, lakes and waters and marine resources) will be used or protected (as no private transactions to otherwise express preferences are possible);
  • levels of air, land and water pollution that governments will license companies to emit (rather than enforcing rights to prevent trespassing by others to person and property);
  • what energy sources that ‘the government-licensed and -regulated companies we call ‘pubilc utiities’ will invest in (at guaranteed rates) and what conservation measures they will embark on (as preferences can not be expressed via free transactions in competitive markets) – including nuclear power; and
  • what risks to the public at large (and what political activities) we wiill allow those massive and politically powerful risk-shifting and commons-privatizing machines we call corporations.

While I strive for an optimism that self-described principled libertarians will aim for a constructive engagement with people who are understandly dissatisfied with a system profoundly skewed by government, sometime my cynicism gets the better of me.

I already regret the following note that I sent via the comment form to the ARC bloggers, but hey, who knows?

Sadly, it looks like far from a ‘principled’ examination of the very negative roles that government plays in the destruction of resources and the other environmental and human rights issues that concern environmentalists, ARC wants to attack motives.

Examine the role of govenment owership of resources in destruction of the Gulf of Mexico, in overfishing and in fostering political battles for control of use of ‘public lands’? Doesn’t seem ARC is interested.

Examine the role of government in licensing polluting coal plants, stripping govt-owned lands for coal, owning TVA and others which have large fly-ash pollution, and licensing mountain-top remval practices that destroy the rivers shared by others? Will ARC sympathize and point to government refusal to protect private property (thus leading to political battles over regulations), or simply bash enviros?

Will ARC examine the negative role of government in granting monopolies to utility companies, thereby leading to wasteful pricing and lack of choice -as well as costly crony capitalism in the case of nuclear power, which gets rate guarantees and liability waivers?

Will ARC examine the role played by government in creating corporations in the first place, in a form that embeds moral hazard and exacerbates ‘agency problems’, by legislatively telling shareholders they have no liability for the damages the legal fiction they own might cause to others? Will  ARC even notice how abuses arising from the corporate form have given rise to the modern, corrupt regulatory state?

I’m on pins and needles, just waiting to see how principled and productive ARC is going to be!

By the way, I had some comments for Keith a couple of years ago: Not #Climate Change Welfare, But Capitalism and Free Markets? A few thoughts: TT’s Lost in Tokyo http://bit.ly/h60o8O #tcot #p2

I AM hoping for productive comments that address the role of government (and of the commons-destroying corporations they’ve created) rather than the motives of those nasty ‘capitalism’-hating enviros.

Sincerely,

TT

http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/default.aspx
http://twitter.com/Tokyo_Tom
https://www.google.com/profiles/TokyoTomSr

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”
Richard Feynman

Categories: Gearing up for Earth Day Tags:

See how mercilessly Japan has been physically shaken by the quakes

March 30th, 2011 No comments

This link plays a visualization of the size, location and depth of the quakes that we have been feeling in Japan.

Since March 11. the day of The Big One, we’ve had a phenomenal 850 quakes (as of March 30, Japan time), virtually all of 4.5 magnitude and greater (roughly half between 4.5 and 5.0, and half 5.0 and LARGER)!

http://www.japanquakemap.com/

The parameters can be adjusted so you can speed up or it slow down, and adjust the period of time and the magnitude of earthquakes shown:

You can zoom into the map with your cursor; the greatest tsunami hit all of the Tohoku coast, with horrific damage from monstrous tsunamis (three waves) funnelled into the narrow bays containing old fishing towns and once rich with abalone, scallop and seaweed farms. University researchers have discovered that in one port the incoming waves were as high as 30 meters or 97 FEET high!  (That’s up to the middle of the top floor of a 10-story building.) http://www3.nhk.or.jp/daily/english/30_03.html.

The damaged TEPCO nuclear reactors are along the Fukushima coast south of Sendai and north of Mito – and the physical damage and difficulties there are of course compounded by the ongoing quakes.

The link at the top of the page takes you to a “Daily Energy Release chart”, which show that the number of quakes has tailed off – though we are still getting around 15 quakes a day – with the strongest daily quake being about 6.0.

It is feared that 30,000 people lost their lives in these towns, which have been almost completely destroyed.

An official “sonification” of the first two days of quakes is below:

[View:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PJxUPvz9Oo:550:0]

 

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Mises The Enviro on BP (and ConocoPhillips)

August 19th, 2010 No comments

I just ran across an old post quoting Mises, and some of it seemed quite relevant to my posts on BP (including my post yesterday regading a statement by the CEO of ConocoPhillips that they would not drill in the Gulf of Mexico if Congress eliminated statutory liaibility limits for pollution), particularly with regard to ownership by government, lack of ownership  by BP, and the absence of any rights in favor of fishermen or other non-petroleum resource users.

Here’s the quote (emphasis added):

Property rights as they are circumscribed by laws and protected by courts and the police, are the outgrowth of an age-long evolution.The legal concepts of property do not fully take account of the social function of private property. There are certain inadequacies and incongruities which are reflected in the determination of the market phenomena.

Carried through consistently, the right of property would entitle the proprietor to claim all the advantages which the good’s employment may generate on the one hand and would burden him with all the disadvantages resulting from its employment on the other hand. Then the proprietor alone would be fully responsible for the outcome. In dealing with his property he would take into account all the expected results of his action, those considered favorable as well as those considered unfavorable. But if some of the consequences of his action are outside of the sphere of the benefits he is entitled to reap and of the drawbacks that are put to his debit, he will not bother in his planning about all the effects of his action. He will disregard those benefits which do not increase his own satisfaction and those costs which do not burden him. His conduct will deviate from the line which it would have followed if the laws were better adjusted to the economic objectives of private ownership. He will embark upon certain projects only because the laws release him from responsibility for some of the costs incurred. He will abstain from other projects merely because the laws prevent him from harvesting all the advantages derivable.

The laws concerning liability and indemnification for damages caused were and still are in some respects deficient. By and large the principle is accepted that everybody is liable to damages which his actions have inflicted upon other people. But there were loopholes left which the legislators were slow to fill. In some cases this tardiness was intentional because the imperfections agreed with the plans of the authorities. When in the past in many countries the owners of factories and railroads were not held liable for the damages which the conduct of their enterprises inflicted on the property and health of neighbors, patrons, employees, and other people through smoke, soot, noise, water pollution, and accidents caused by defective or inappropriate equipment, the idea was that one should not undermine the progress of industrialization and the development of transportation facilities. The same doctrines which prompted and still are prompting many governments to encourage investment in factories and railroads through subsidies, tax exemption, tariffs, and cheap credit were at work in the emergence of a legal state of affairs in which the liability of such enterprises was either formally or practically abated.”

Whether the proprietor’s relief from responsibility for some of the disadvantages resulting from his conduct of affairs is the outcome of a deliberate policy on the part of governments and legislators or whether it is an unintentional effect of the traditional working of laws, it is at any rate a datum which the actors must take into account. They are faced with the problem of external costs. Then some people choose certain modes of want-satisfaction merely on account of the fact that a part of the costs incurred are debited not to them but to other people.

The extreme instance is provided by the case of no-man’s property referred to above. If land is not owned by anybody, although legal formalism may call it public property, it is utilized without any regard to the disadvantages resulting. Those who are in a position to appropriate to themselves the returns–lumber and game of the forests, fish of the water areas, and mineral deposits of the subsoil–do not bother about the later effects of their mode of exploitation. For them the erosion of the soil, the depletion of the exhaustible resources and other impairments of the future utilization are external costs not entering into their calculation of input and output. They cut down the trees without any regard for fresh shoots or reforestation. In hunting and fishing they do not shrink from methods preventing the repopulation of the hunting and fishing grounds. In the early days of human civilization, when soil of a quality not inferior to that of the utilized pieces was still abundant, people did not find any fault with such predatory methods. When their effects appeared in a decrease in the net returns, the ploughman abandoned his farm and moved to another place. It was only when a country was more densely settled and unoccupied first class land was no longer available for appropriation, that people began to consider such predatory methods wasteful. At that time they consolidated the institution of private property in land. They started with arable land and then, step by step, included pastures, forests, and fisheries. The newly settled colonial countries overseas, especially the vast spaces of the United States, whose marvelous agricultural potentialities were almost untouched when the first colonists from Europe arrived, passed through the same stages. Until the last decades of the nineteenth century there was always a geographic zone open to newcomers–the frontier. Neither the existence of the frontier nor its passing was peculiar to America. What characterizes American conditions is the fact that at the time the frontier disappeared ideological and institutional factors impeded the adjustment of the methods of land utilization to the change in the data. …

It is true that where a considerable part of the costs incurred are external costs from the point of view of the acting individuals or firms, the economic calculation established by them is manifestly defective and their results deceptive. But this is not the outcome of alleged deficiencies inherent in the system of private ownership of the means of production. It is on the contrary a consequence of loopholes left in this system. It could be removed by a reform of the laws concerning liability for damages inflicted and by rescinding the institutional barriers preventing the full operation of private ownership.

http://mises.org/humanaction/chap23sec6.asp

 

 

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In a shocking moment of honesty, ConocoPhillips CEO says offshore oil isn’t economical without government gifts of limited liability

August 18th, 2010 No comments

I have a number of blog posts up discussing the BP oil well blow-out and the limited liaibility corporate structures and additional oil drilling liability caps that heighten moral hazard in offshore oil drilling.

I have just run across a post by another blogger, who refers to comments made by ConocoPhillip’s CEO and noted in the Financial Times, which strongly reinforces my view (emphasis in original):

The true shocker here is how heavily offshore oil development depends on anti-market protection from liability in order to be profitable. At least, that’s what ConocoPhillips CEO Jim Mulva unwittingly declared the other day. In an article entitled, “Unlimited liability for Gulf oil spills would kill development,” the Financial Times reports [in an article titled, “Unlimited liability for Gulf spills would kill development”]:

Jim Mulva, ConocoPhillips’ chief executive, says that the unlimited liability some are proposing in Congress to punish operators for further spills in the Gulf of Mexico is inappropriate. That would raise the question of how many of the smaller companies operating in the Gulf could afford to get back out there to work following the lifting of the moratorium and even whether the risk reward equation would favor going out into the waters again for the biggest of companies. He said to analysts:

We will not develop the resources if we have that situation.

It may have sounded like a threat, but it is also a realistic assessment of the situation.It is true that an increasing number of companies have been looking to the Gulf for prospects, given that it has been a good source of oil and natural gas over the years and new technology has made it even more so. But they will not risk their entire futures to get at the resources.

Mulva’s intent, of course, was to argue against imposing unlimited liability for oil spills. But assuming his statement was more than bluster, his implicit admission is that the risks of oil spills are so great that in a free market, the costs of paying for spill damages would outweigh the benefits of developing the resources.

Of course, the situation in the Gulf is hardly a free market, and neither oil companies nor Congressional Republicans have any interest in creating one (corporate welfare is good for the shareholders). Liability for damages from oil spills is capped at $75 million, which means that oil companies do not have to account for the full costs of oil production in their resource planning. It’s an implicit subsidy (or more accurately, a bailout): no matter how bad the damages to the tourism industry, the fishing industry, and the intrinsic value of the coastal ecology, oil companies will only ever have to pay $75 million to compensate them. Either the taxpayer picks up the tab, or the non-oil industries are just left with losses, while Big Oil gets bailed out.

In other words, when Jim Mulva or coastal congressmen say, “lifting the liability cap will hurt production and kill jobs,” what they’re actually saying is, “offshore production only occurs because of market-distorting protections that insulate companies from the consequences of their decisions and lead to overproduction of a resource.” Would making oil companies responsible for damages they cause reduce oil production and oil jobs? Probably. But jobs and money are not reasons to subsidize irresponsibility. There’s no constitutional right to drill for oil: if paying for the full cost of oil spills would make offshore drilling unprofitable, then offshore drilling probably shouldn’t be happening, and it’s not the government’s job to make it profitable.

And let’s not forget that for every offshore driller who’s hard at work, there’s also a fisherman whose fishing grounds are ruined by oil, and a hotel worker whose rooms are empty of tourists. If oil companies are insulated from liability, it means that drilling is necessarily happening in an economically inefficient manner, which likely means that the jobs destroyed by oil are greater than the jobs created by it.

If companies have rights just like people, then they also have responsibilities. Personal responsibility is not just for individuals.

The blogger is largely correct, though he misses the roles of the government (1) in denying property rights – and an ability to control their own lives – to fishermen, and (2) in further encouraging irresponsibility by the grant of limited liaibility to corporation shareholders.

More from the FT:

There are other offshore prospects, in places ranging from Ghana to Brazil to the Black Sea. And while it has long been easiser to work in the Gulf of Mexico than in most other parts of the world, the tightening of rules and enforcement will certainly require not only newer technology but more work.

The companies accept this is needed, and say they are prepared to accept it in the Gulf. Indeed, it may be something they end up having to deal with around the world.

But they will not agree to bet the company on a prospect in the Gulf.

 

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