Category Archives: EARTH WATCH

Backing into World War III

By Robert Kagan – Think of two significant trend lines in the world today. One is the increasing ambition and activism of the two great revisionist powers, Russia and China.

The other is the declining confidence, capacity, and will of the democratic world, and especially of the United States, to maintain the dominant position it has held in the international system since 1945. As those two lines move closer, as the declining will and capacity of the United States and its allies to maintain the present world order meet the increasing desire and capacity of the revisionist powers to change it, we will reach the moment at which the existing order collapses and the world descends into a phase of brutal anarchy, as it has three times in the past two centuries.

The cost of that descent, in lives and treasure, in lost freedoms and lost hope, will be staggering. History shows that world orders do collapse, however, and when they do it is often unexpected, rapid, and violent.

The late 18th century was the high point of the Enlightenment in Europe, before the continent fell suddenly into the abyss of the Napoleonic Wars. In the first decade of the 20th century, the world’s smartest minds predicted an end to great-power conflict as revolutions in communication and transportation knit economies and people closer together. The most devastating war in history came four years later. The apparent calm of the postwar 1920s became the crisis-ridden 1930s and then another world war.

Where exactly we are in this classic scenario today, how close the trend lines are to that intersection point is, as always, impossible to know. Are we three years away from a global crisis, or 15?

That we are somewhere on that path, however, is unmistakable.

And while it is too soon to know what effect Donald Trump’s presidency will have on these trends, early signs suggest that the new administration is more likely to hasten us toward crisis than slow or reverse these trends.

It will be more than a shame if Americans were to destroy what they created—and not because it was no longer possible to sustain but simply because they chose to stop trying. more> https://goo.gl/cGZ3En

How to play mathematics

BOOK REVIEW

The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace, Author: Margaret Wertheim.
Physics on the Fringe, Author: Margaret Wertheim.
African Fractals: Modern Computing and Indigenous Design, Author: Ron Eglash.

(glasbergen.com)By Margaret Wertheim – The world is full of mundane, meek, unconscious things materially embodying fiendishly complex pieces of mathematics. How can we make sense of this? I’d like to propose that sea slugs and electrons, and many other modest natural systems, are engaged in what we might call the performance of mathematics.

Rather than thinking about maths, they are doing it.

In the fibers of their beings and the ongoing continuity of their growth and existence they enact mathematical relationships and become mathematicians-by-practice. By looking at nature this way, we are led into a consideration of mathematics itself not through the lens of its representational power but instead as a kind of transaction.

Rather than being a remote abstraction, mathematics can be conceived of as something more like music or dancing; an activity that takes place not so much in the writing down as in the playing out.

Since at least the time of Pythagoras and Plato, there’s been a great deal of discussion in Western philosophy about how we can understand the fact that many physical systems have mathematical representations: the segmented arrangements in sunflowers, pine cones and pineapples (Fibonacci numbers); the curve of nautilus shells, elephant tusks and rams horns (logarithmic spiral); music (harmonic ratios and Fourier transforms); atoms, stars and galaxies, which all now have powerful mathematical descriptors; even the cosmos as a whole, now represented by the equations of general relativity.

The physicist Eugene Wigner has termed this startling fact ‘the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics’.

Why does the real world actualize maths at all? And so much of it?

Even arcane parts of mathematics, such as abstract algebras and obscure bits of topology often turn out to be manifest somewhere in nature. more> https://goo.gl/ifKV2Z

The US has been downgraded to a “flawed democracy,” but not just because of Trump

By Eshe Nelson – The US has been “teetering on the brink of becoming a flawed democracy” for years, the report says. Regardless of the result of the 2016 presidential election, the US was due a downgrade.

Trust has been declining in the US for decades, leaving the country’s institutions battling a “legitimacy crisis” and struggling to sustain representative democracy in its current form, the report says.

The decline began in the late 1960s with the Vietnam war, civil rights movement, assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, and the Watergate scandal. Over the past decade, it got worse following wars in the Middle East, a financial crisis, and persistent gridlock in Washington. And along came Trump:

By tapping a deep strain of political disaffection with the functioning of democracy, Mr Trump became a beneficiary of the low esteem in which US voters hold their government, elected representatives and political parties, but he was not responsible for a problem that has had a long gestation.

In total, democracy, as measured by the EIU, declined in 72 countries and increased in 38 countries last year. more> https://goo.gl/4DCag4

Seven Trump foreign policy assumptions

By Daniel L. Byman – Let’s consider some of the assumptions Trump and his team appear to bring to the table as they enter office. Some are about how the world works, while others concern the best way to design and implement U.S. foreign policy.

  • Assumption #1: Calling it “Radical Islam” Makes a Difference
  • Assumption #2: Foreign Public Opinion Doesn’t Matter
  • Assumption #3: Allies are Overrated
  • Assumption #4: Russia Is America’s Natural Partner
  • Assumption #5: Israel Can Do What it Wants
  • Assumption #6: The Rough Stuff Works
  • Assumption #7: Tough Policymakers Make for Tough Policy

In short: Trump’s foreign policy assumptions fly in the face of many traditional U.S. policy approaches and the preferences of powerful bureaucracies. We should expect international realities and bureaucratic obstacles to obstruct, or at least water down, some initiatives, while those that get through might not just fail but may leave the United States worse off for pursuing them.

As a candidate, Trump excelled at destroying truisms about how politics works; over the coming years, we will find out if this holds true for foreign policy as well. more> https://goo.gl/PVWnOe

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Is a peace deal possible if Israelis and Palestinians simply don’t trust each other?

By Joel Braunold and Sarah Yerkes – Secretary of State John Kerry said:

In the end, I believe the negotiations did not fail because the gaps were too wide, but because the level of trust was too low. Both sides were concerned that any concessions would not be reciprocated and would come at too great a political cost. And the deep public skepticism only made it more difficult for them to be able to take risks.

That line is important for multiple reasons. First, it underscores that the belief gap between the Israeli and Palestinian leadership today is so wide that even if they agree completely on all of the final status issues—borders, Jerusalem, refugees, security arrangements—they are incapable of making a deal.

The leaders on both sides will never take the necessary risks for an agreement without overwhelming public support. That is, while public trust and support may not be a sufficient condition for a just and lasting peace, it is a necessary one. more> https://goo.gl/bJNfc7

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Donald Trump’s Global Agenda: What Have You Got to Lose?

By Stewart M. Patrick – Taken at face value, Trump’s ambitions portend a rupture with more than seven decades of U.S. global engagement dating from the end of World War II—as well as a break with older American values.

They signal a new U.S. global role that is more insular, transactional, and narrowly interest-driven. Gone is any mention of U.S. global leadership, the promotion of universal values, or the defense of a “free world.”

The pursuit of world order will be replaced by the art of the deal.

At this stage of the presidential transition, it is impossible to know whether Trump will actually govern as he campaigned. Perhaps his campaign pronouncements were just red meat tossed to his populist, isolationist base and should not be taken literally as a guide to policy.

Perhaps. But for now, let’s assume that he meant what he said … more> https://goo.gl/HOO1Dz

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The Global Economy Remains Unbalanced


By Otaviano Canuto – Discussions around large current account imbalances among systemically relevant economies as a threat to the stability of the global economy faded out in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.

More recently, some signs of a possible resurgence of rising imbalances have brought back attention to the issue. We argue here that, while not a threat to global financial stability, the resurgence of these imbalances reveals a sub-par performance of the global economy in terms of foregone product and employment.

The “era of global imbalances” up to the GFC (global financial crisis) had two distinctive-yet-combined processes at its core:

On the one hand, credit-driven, asset bubble-led growth in the U.S., along with wealth effects, intensified the existing trend of domestic absorption (particularly consumption) growing faster than GDP. This resulted in falling personal saving rates and increasing current account deficits (Canuto, 2009; 2010).

On the other hand, the accelerated structural transformation and rapid growth in China, led to high and rising savings and investments and producing ever larger current account surpluses (Canuto, 2013a). more> https://goo.gl/QcdbMq

The fatal expense of American imperialism

BOOK REVIEW

The Age of Sustainable Development, Author: Jeffrey D. Sachs.

By Jeffrey D. Sachs – This tradition of US-led regime change has been part and parcel of US foreign policy in other parts of the world, including Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. Wars of regime change are costly to the United States, and often devastating to the countries involved.

It is nearly a truism that US wars of regime change have rarely served America’s security needs. Even when the wars succeed in overthrowing a government, as in the case of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and Moammar Khadafy in Libya, the result is rarely a stable government, and is more often a civil war.

A “successful” regime change often lights a long fuse leading to a future explosion, such as the 1953 overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected government and installation of the autocratic Shah of Iran, which was followed by the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

These wars destabilized and impoverished the countries involved rather than settling the politics in America’s favor. The wars of regime change were, with few exceptions, a litany of foreign policy failure. They were also extraordinarily costly for the United States itself.

Alas, the blinders and arrogance of American imperial thinking prevented the United States from settling down to a new era of peace. As the Cold War was ending, the United States was beginning a new era of wars, this time in the Middle East. The United States would sweep away the Soviet-backed regimes in the Middle East and establish unrivaled US political dominance. Or at least that was the plan. more> https://goo.gl/tLrvil

Deep time’s uncanny future is full of ghostly human traces

By David Farrier – The Anthropocene, or era of the human, denotes how industrial civilisation has changed the Earth in ways that are comparable with deep-time processes.

The planet’s carbon and nitrogen cycles, ocean chemistry and biodiversity – each one the product of millions of years of slow evolution – have been radically and permanently disrupted by human activity.

The development of agriculture 10,000 years ago, and the Industrial Revolution in the middle of the 19th century, have both been proposed as start dates for the Anthropocene.

But a consensus has gathered around the Great Acceleration – the sudden and dramatic jump in consumption that began around 1950, followed by a huge rise in global population, an explosion in the use of plastics, and the collapse of agricultural diversity.

There is also something disturbingly banal about the Anthropocene.

Arguably, it’s in the encounter with everyday objects, surfaces and textures that we get the best sense of its scope and scale. Some 60 billion chickens are killed for human consumption each year; in the future, fossilised chicken bones will be present on every continent as a testimony to the intrusion of human desires in the geological record.

Plastics, which began being mass-produced in the middle of the 20th century, give us back the world as the West has been taught to see it – pliable, immediately available, and smoothed to our advantage. Yet almost every piece of plastic ever made remains in existence in some form, and their chemical traces are increasingly present in our bodies.

Humans created 5 billion gigabytes of digital information in 2003; in 2013 it took only 10 minutes to produce the same amount of data. more> https://goo.gl/q9dRCD

Updates from GE

GE Reports [VIDEO] – In December 2015, 195 countries gathered in Paris for the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (known as COP 21 after the 21st Conference of the Parties) and collectively agreed to reduce global emissions in an effort to combat climate change. This agreement is referred to as the Paris Agreement.

GE Reports Perspectives talked to James Cameron, global climate policy expert, Partner in SYSTEMIQ, and GE Ecomagination advisory board member, on how the process works, why it matters to business and what people should know about the next climate talks held in Morocco in November.

  • How does the UN Climate Change Conference process work, and why does it matter?
  • What’s happened since the Paris Agreement was signed last year at the COP 21 meetings?
  • How will businesses be affected by the Paris Agreement at the global and local level? How will it impact industries such as energy?
  • The 2016 UN Climate Change Conference (COP 22) will be held Nov. 7 to 18 in Morocco. What will happen at those meetings, and what should businesses know about it?

more> https://goo.gl/E9X2CX