Arquivo da categoria: economia

Serão necessários entre 250 e 500 bilhões de dólares anuais para combater a mudança climática (ONU Brasil)

08/12/2014 – 03h31

por Redação da ONU Brasil

clima Serão necessários entre 250 e 500 bilhões de dólares anuais para combater a mudança climática

Novo relatório do Programa das Nações Unidas para o Meio Ambiente (PNUMA) afirma que os fundos necessários para combater a mudança climática até 2050 devem ser duas ou três vezes superiores àqueles anunciados anteriormente.

Apesar dos esforços de adaptação às mudanças climáticas globais já atingirem 26 bilhões de dólares – no período entre 2012 e 2013 – um novo relatório do Programa das Nações Unidas para o Meio Ambiente (PNUMA) prevê que o financiamento não será suficiente a partir de 2020, a menos que sejam feitas novas contribuições até lá. As informações fazem parte do documento, intitulado “A lacuna da adaptaçâo“, lançado em Lima (Peru) durante a COP-20.

custo dessas medidas nos países em desenvolvimento deve ser duas ou três vezes maior do que as previsões anteriores que previam a necessidade de 70 a 100 bilhões de dólares por ano até 2050. Estima-se agora que serão necessários de 250 a 500 bilhões de dólares por ano nesse período, mesmo que as emissões de gases estufa sejam reduzidas o suficiente para manter o aumento da temperatura global em menos de 2°C.

As principais áreas que precisam ser desenvolvidas para fortalecer a adaptação global são o financiamento, a tecnologia e o conhecimento, de acordo com o relatório. Para preencher essas lacunas, é essencial expandir as ações de corte de emissões poluentes na atmosfera, para prevenir que os custos de adaptação e de proteção às comunidades sejam ainda maiores.

“Os impactos das mudanças globais já estão começando a ser contabilizados nos orçamentos das autoridades nacionais e locais”, disse o diretor executivo do PNUMA, Achim Steiner, enfatizando a importância de lidar com as implicações das mudanças climáticas nos países menos desenvolvidos.

* Publicado originalmente no site ONU Brasil.

(ONU Brasil)

Anúncios

>A felicidade como imperativo contemporâneo

>
Aula inaugural ”Seja positivo!: jornalismo de auto ajuda e a gestão do capital psicológico em tempos neoliberais”, ministrada no dia 23 de março pelo Prof. Dr. João Freire Filho (UFRJ), no Programa de Pós-graduação em Comunicação da Escola Superior de Propaganda e Marketing.

>Classe média vai pautar eleições, afirmam analistas (OESP)

>
Para especialistas, questão levantada por FHC em artigo sobre como fisgar emergentes será determinante no futuro dos políticos

OESP, 16 de abril de 2011
Por Gabriel Manzano

A “nova classe média”, trazida ao centro do debate político pelo ex-presidente Fernando Henrique Cardoso, na semana passada, e namorada pelo PT, que vê na presidente Dilma Rousseff a figura talhada para conquistá-la, chegou para mudar o cenário eleitoral do País, admitem analistas, marqueteiros e estudiosos.

O tema apareceu no artigo O Papel da Oposição, divulgado por FHC, e reforçou a condição desse grupo como objeto de desejo do mundo político. É um vasto universo de 29 milhões de pessoas – pobres que, nos últimos seis anos, subiram da classe D para a C e carregam consigo novos comportamentos e expectativas. Analistas, líderes partidários, comunicólogos e marqueteiros já se esforçam para entender como reagirá, no futuro, esse segmento que, ao subir na vida, fez da classe média o maior grupo social do País, com 94 milhões de pessoas (51% da população).

“Não se trata de gente sem nada, que aceite qualquer coisa. É gente que trabalhou duro, subiu, sabe o que quer, tem mais informação e se torna mais exigente”, resume Marcia Cavallari, diretora executiva do Ibope. “Isso merece um discurso novo e FHC acertou ao mandar a oposição ir atrás dela”, disse.

Não por acaso, o economista Marcelo Néri, da Fundação Getúlio Vargas – primeiro a detectar esse fenômeno, num estudo de 2010 – considera essa iniciativa de Fernando Henrique “a segunda ideia mais inteligente da oposição em anos, depois do plano de estabilização dos anos 1994-2002”. Esse brasileiro, diz ele, “quer sonhar, e não apenas diminuir seus pesadelos”.

O impacto desse cenário já se faz sentir no mundo político, que ainda procura entender a enorme votação da candidata Marina Silva (PV) nas eleições presidenciais de 2010. “Mas é perda de tempo tentar adivinhar se é um grupo de esquerda ou de direita”, observa Antonio Prado, sócio-diretor da Análise, Pesquisa e Planejamento de Mercado (APPM), em São Paulo.

Oportunidades. Grande parte desses emergentes, afirma Prado, “são cidadãos que tomaram iniciativas, buscaram créditos, tornaram-se microempresários”. Seus filhos estão entrando na universidade via ProUni. “Como trabalhadores, não querem um Estado que os tutele, mas que lhes dê oportunidades para crescer.” E como cidadãos, continua o analista, eles esperam “que haja ordem na sociedade, para nenhum malandro lhes passar a perna” – afinal, esforçaram-se demais para chegar aonde chegaram. Dos políticos, esse eleitor espera “coerência e dedicação ao bem comum”.

Para quem imagina que isso tudo tem um certo jeito de direita, Prado avisa que “esse brasileiro já foi pobre e percebeu que uma tarefa prioritária do Estado é atacar as desigualdades”. Ou seja, a nova classe é a favor dos programas sociais.

A vendedora Solange Ferreira Luz, moradora da periferia de São Paulo, é um exemplo típico desse novo eleitor mais informado e mais exigente. “Minha maior preocupação é a escola de meus dois filhos”, diz ela. Tanto que juntou dinheiro para comprar um computador e prefere que eles estudem em escolas técnicas estaduais, que lhe parecem melhores que as municipais.

Para esse eleitor, perde peso o discurso sobre “a elite de 500 anos” ou o neoliberalismo. O que lhe interessa mais, lembra Marcia Cavallari, “é que há empregos e ele não tem preparo para se candidatar a muitos deles. Então, a qualidade do ensino se torna um fator decisivo para sua vida, para ele aprender e subir. E ele quer que seus filhos cheguem à universidade e tenham uma vida melhor que a sua. Isso torna inevitável, em próximas eleições, o debate qualificado sobre o nível da educação no Brasil.”

Pode-se estender essa nova percepção a outros setores. “Para esses emergentes sociais, é tudo novidade. Ele já faz viagens de avião – e os aeroportos estão como estão. O filho na universidade saberá avaliar melhor o nível da educação”, compara Renato Meirelles, diretor do instituto Datapopular, que faz estudos sobre o mercado popular no Brasil. Ele menciona, a propósito, pesquisas segundo as quais 68% dos filhos, na classe C, estudaram mais que os pais. Na classe A, esse percentual é de apenas 10%.

Ralé e batalhadores. Os limites desse cenário, no entanto, não podem ser ignorados. Primeiro, porque os “novos” se juntam a uma enorme classe média e podem, é claro, assimilar seus projetos e valores no dia a dia. Esse termo, nova classe média, “designa setores que ampliaram sua capacidade de consumo”, adverte Leôncio Martins Rodrigues, “mas não define especialmente um novo segmento social”.

O sociólogo Jessé Souza até se recusa a admitir que exista uma nova classe média: existem o que ele chama de “batalhadores”, uma multidão que tanto poderá ser “cooptada pelo discurso e pela prática individualista”, como “assumir um papel protagonista e ajudar a ‘ralé’ – as massas desassistidas”. O próprio Fernando Henrique afirma também que uma classe implica um estilo de vida, valores, e prefere falar de “novas categorias sociais”.

Marcelo Néri destaca, também, que “nem política nem economicamente há nada conquistado nesse público – nem pelo PT nem pelas oposições”. Além disso, “todos podem perder com a inflação, se ela voltar, e também com o desemprego”.

>Risco de falta de água em 55% dos municípios (O Globo, JC)

>
JC e-mail 4222, de 22 de Março de 2011.

Segundo estudo da Agência Nacional das Águas (ANA), País precisa investir R$ 22,2 bilhões em captação e coleta até 2015.

Um dos países com a maior quantidade de água do mundo – dono da maior bacia hidrográfica do planeta -, o Brasil pode enfrentar problemas de abastecimento, segundo diagnóstico inédito da Agência Nacional das Águas (ANA) no Atlas Brasil, documento divulgado hoje (22). Trata-se de mais um gargalo ao desenvolvimento econômico que vai se formando sem fazer estardalhaço.

Se o País não investir R$ 22,2 bilhões nos sistemas de captação e coleta de água até 2015, pode faltar água em 55% dos municípios, ou 3.059 do total. O Rio está entre os grandes centros metropolitanos mais afetados se nada for feito.

Especialistas da ANA garantem que a ameaça pode prejudicar os investimentos para a organização da Copa em 2014 e para os Jogos Olímpicos em 2016.

– A indústria aduz água diretamente do rio. Hotéis e serviços em geral precisam de água da torneira, assim como empresas de menor porte pelas companhias de saneamento – disse um integrante do governo.

Cidades em risco são 73% da demanda de água do País

A abundância de água no País – o Brasil detém, hoje, 12% da água doce do planeta – acaba por mascarar uma situação grave que vai se desenhando para o futuro próximo.

Segundo o estudo, os municípios que correm o risco de desabastecimento até 2015 representam nada menos que 73% da demanda de água do País inteiro. Desse universo, 84% das chamadas sedes urbanas precisam de investimentos para adequar seus sistemas produtores e 16% apresentam déficits decorrentes dos mananciais utilizados.

O estudo da ANA confirma as disparidades nacional e mostra que, embora o País tenha água, é preciso levá-la a todos. Segundo dados do IBGE, o abastecimento não chega a 21,5% das casas brasileiras ou 12,4 milhões de residências.

– O País tem água, os mananciais estão identificados. Só 16% não dão conta do recado. É preciso explorar as potencialidades do País e reduzir as deficiências – disse uma fonte da ANA.

O Norte e o Nordeste são as regiões com as maiores necessidades de recursos em sistemas produtores de água (mais de 59% das cidades). O relatório da ANA destaca a precariedade dos pequenos sistemas de abastecimento do Norte – onde há uma população menor, mas infraestrutura hídrica deficiente -, a escassez hídrica da porção semiárida e a baixa disponibilidade de água das bacias hidrográficas litorâneas do Nordeste.

Na região Sudeste, os maiores problemas estão relacionados à forte concentração urbana e à complexidade dos sistemas produtores de abastecimento. Isso acaba provocando disputas pelas mesmas fontes hídricas. A capacidade total dos sistemas produtores instalados e em operação no País é de cerca de 587m3/s. O valor está bem próximo das demandas máximas atuais (em torno de 543m3/s), o que significa que grande parte das unidades já está no limite da capacidade operacional.

Para 2025, a demanda está prevista em 630m3/s. O Atlas Brasil indica que o Sudeste
detém 51% da capacidade instalada de produção de água do País. Em seguida, vem Nordeste (21%), Sul (15%), Norte (7%) e Centro-Oeste (6%).

A maior parcela dos investimentos (R$ 16,5 bilhões ou 74% do montante) deve ser destinada a 2.076 municípios de Sudeste e Nordeste, em função do maior número de aglomerados urbanos e da existência da região semiárida. Os estados de São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Bahia e Pernambuco, juntos, reúnem aproximadamente 51% dos investimentos previstos no Atlas em apenas 730 cidades.

Nos grandes centros urbanos, a necessidade de buscar mananciais cada vez mais distantes e os investimentos em obras de regularização evidenciam a pressão sobre os recursos hídricos locais, como é o caso de São Paulo, Curitiba, Goiânia, Distrito Federal e Fortaleza.

A diminuição gradativa do aproveitamento de águas subterrâneas também é responsável por grandes investimentos em novos mananciais, principalmente em capitais do Nordeste e do Norte.
(O Globo)

>The Moral Underground: How Ordinary Americans Subvert an Unfair Economy

>The following is an excerpt from The Moral Underground: How Ordinary Americans Subvert an Unfair Economy, by Lisa Dodson (Copyright © 2009 by Lisa Dodson). Published by The New Press. Reprinted here with permission.

Roots of Disobedience

On the surface, the people I met who practiced economic disobedience would seem quite diverse. They included middle-aged, white Bea, managing that big-box store in rural New England and thinking that after years of hard work, you should be able to buy a prom dress for your daughter. They included Ned, white and in his thirties, the chain grocery store manager who thought working families should have enough to eat. And also Ray, in his fifties and the son of immigrants, a community-center director for a small city, who doesn’t ask for a “pedigree” before signing people up for desperately needed services. They included Aida, a Latina in her thirties, the director of a child care center, who misplaced paperwork so that children wouldn’t lose child care and parents wouldn’t lose jobs. And they included urban teacher Lenora, in her twenties and African American, who broke school rules all the time to help out a student in her class.

These and dozens of other disobedient people identified themselves as all over the nation’s social map. They were younger and older; from the West, Midwest, and East; they were Latino, black, and white; religious and not; and ranged from barely middle-income to quite wealthy. And they did not—for the most part—use words like “resistance” or “civil disobedience.” Yet they took action based on a belief in their responsibility for what was happening to people around them.

The most common explanation given for breaking institutional rules was an identification with the plight of others. As Dr. Leticia put it, “There was something… that haunted me… maybe reminded me of me.” It was particularly common for women to talk about putting themselves in other mothers’ shoes and reflect on what it would be like to have to leave their children all alone. But this was also said by numerous men who described their feelings of protectiveness and concern for children. What would it be like to be unable to keep their children safe or fed? Employers, doctors, job supervisors, executives, teachers, small business owners, and others—over and above their work identity—reflected that as a parent, you know that you put your children before anything, before regulations or laws. Protecting children from harm trumps everything else.

Intriguingly, this idea was also shared by childless people who expressed a sense of responsibility for children’s vulnerability that reached beyond genetic ties. They included childless Cora, who allowed children into the workplace, tried to get them homework help, and wrote up fantasy work schedules each week—all against the rules of the large franchise she ran—to help mothers take care of their kids. Hospital VP Linda treated people working for her like fictive kin and, from that angle, treated breaking rules as morally obligatory, worth risking her job to do.

These moral choices reflect the idea that concern about the well-being of other people is hardwired into humanity. Steven Pinker, an evolutionary neurobiologist, describes “moral instincts” as shared human senses that include an aversion to harming others and also a universal belief in basic fairness. Deborah Stone, a political science ethicist, examines how altruism is an essential, if invisible, part of daily life found in families, in community life, and at work.

Sarah Hardy, an evolutionary anthropologist focusing on maternal care, argues that the survival of offspring in human evolution required “extra” parents—she calls them “alloparents”—who provided protection, care, and resources not only to blood-kin young but to others too, who were treated as kin. And the sociologist Patricia Hill Collins examines how “othermothers” are critical to family survival where families are struggling, particularly in African American, ethnic minority, and low-income families that do not have the income that middle-income families rely on.

The idea of collective responsibility for all children comes up in many different strands of human study. But it was also foundational to moral tensions that helped shape the nation when business interests and the well-being of people were at odds. Time and again market interests were argued—by those most profiting from them—as necessarily outweighing the good of the “little people,” even little children. The nineteenth-century debate about child labor reflects this tension precisely. As mill owners, who profited greatly from hiring small, nimble hands and paying small wages, put it back in the nineteenth century: “We all think that mills should run not over eleven hours a day and avoid, if possible, taking children under twelve but deem legislation on the subject bad policy; let the employer and employee settle these things, this is a free country after all.”

Freedom, of course, was an unregulated market that could use workers as desired, including children. But a growing awareness of child labor was disturbing, and not only to parents and labor rights advocates. Middle-class people took up the cause of working-class families even though their own children would never be subjected to such conditions. As Charles J. Bonaparte, presiding officer of the National Child Labor Committee, put it in a speech in 1905, “All right minded fathers and mothers want their own children to have every advantage in life, and all right minded men and women broaden out this feeling to take in all children.”

These child labor activists challenged all adults of the society— not just biological parents—to consider preventing harm to children a social responsibility. Bolstered by the unflinching photographs by Lewis W. Hine, the public face of ruthless business practices came home. One of Hine’s photos, captioned “Leo, 48 inches high, 8 years old, picks up bobbins at 15 cents a day,” shows a worn-out little boy looking you straight in the eye—it is hard to ignore him. Looking back now, it is startling to recall that it took decades to end child labor. Yet the power of the business lobby was as formidable then as it is today. Business interests, with strong allies in Congress, argued that “market freedom” justified the use of children in the mills, in much the same way that plantation owners justified the need for slavery. It is the essential position of the marketeer; these are economic negotiations, not moral debates. Yet I found that the taproot of child advocacy, though not now part of a social movement, nonetheless is widespread. The most common grounds on which middle-income people claimed the moral right to break the rules or the law was in relation to children’s need for care and protection.

‘As a Parent… I Just Couldn’t Live with Myself If I…’

Mary Jane, a retail sales manager in Denver, told me a story about a mother—Jenna—who called in sick when she had no sick days left. The fast-moving retail store that Mary Jane managed really needed “all hands on deck,” but Mary Jane was also surprised that Jenna would call in, because she was sure Jenna wasn’t really ill, and she was “really responsible.” She called Jenna back and wheedled her into telling her the full story.

On her way to work, Jenna had dropped her baby off at day care without diapers because “she just didn’t have the money to buy them.” The head of the day care center said she couldn’t take the baby because it was the third time Jenna had done this, and that meant that the staff had to use other children’s diapers— other families’ resources—and it wasn’t fair. Jenna had begged them to take the baby, explaining that when she got her paycheck, she would “buy a bag for everyone else.” But the child care staff felt they had been as flexible as they could—they had to “draw the line somewhere.” Mary Jane told me that she was angry and in a way ashamed: “I know what Pampers cost and I know what Jenna makes, and… as it is she ’s got to be cutting back [on everything else] just to buy them.” Mary Jane bought a bag of Pampers and drove over to the day care center, so that day’s problem was solved. And really, Mary Jane told me, you can hardly blame the child care staff, because they can’t really “steal from Paul to pay Peter”; that would be unfair.

But Mary Jane found that the incident stuck in her mind. She imagined what it must have felt like for Jenna to be holding her child, all stressed out, and begging the child care worker to take her, without having diapers or clothing or any of the things a proper mother has when dropping off her baby. Could the child sense what was going on? And then Jenna having to leave, no doubt feeling humiliated, and then calling in to work and telling a lie because telling the truth was too embarrassing.

Mary Jane said she “just hated to think about it,” though really she knew that it was such a small incident in comparison to what goes on in many families that don’t have the money to care for their children. But it was that moment that shifted something for Mary Jane. She said she realized “this is [about] more than… just one kid.” She began to buy various items that helped out the mothers who worked for her, but that seemed so small. So she began to divert some of the available resources from the store, various “goods” that could get overstocked. She found ways to share the company’s wealth because the wages the company paid did not.

Mary Jane said, “As a mother, I just couldn’t act like this was okay. I felt like I had to do something.” And finally, “something” for just one mother, just one time, wasn’t enough for Mary Jane.

Others too used their identity as a mother or the idea of kinship to assert their moral ground. When Cora in Boston—who put kids before scrod—called the women who worked for her “family,” so, by extension, were their children. She was establishing a changed backdrop, pushing the norms of American business where human harm is irrelevant. She sketched out a landscape of relationship. In this terrain you get to act according to different principles because we all understand that kin ties are precious, and they come with obligations. By moving her employees into kinship space, Cora staked out the right to treat them in humane ways, and that included acting as though their children mattered.

This was precisely what Bea—who laid away prom dresses— meant when she said, “It gets messy quickly.” Bea was talking about the mess of human relationships from which one ought— according to business professionalism—to remain clean, or in any case anesthetized. That didn’t work for her. She said, “I can’t keep my distance.” Yet Bea had come to terms with her own conscience, and those terms started with treating the people she worked with as though they have value.

Margaret, who ran her own business in Wisconsin, agreed. She told me that the day when she looked into the face of a young mother who was carrying two sick children to work in freezing weather to get her small paycheck so that she could buy them some food and medicine, things changed for her. She opened the door to thinking about how—“there but for fortune”—those could have been her grandchildren. And even though they weren’t, didn’t they still need her understanding and help? And there ’s Dr. Smith at the city health center, who routinely cared for mothers, fathers, and children who didn’t have proper identification for health insurance or “correct” citizenship. He told me, “I’ve got kids and grandkids… give me a break.”

Being a parent—or as good as one—opened a door for many people, and the opening turned out to be wide enough for more than just their own children. For some people, the meaning of as a parent turned out to be as a brother or sister and a son or daughter too. Because increasingly, the problems that people bring with them have to do with other fragile kin. A manager in a hotel chain spoke of her sister’s bipolar disorder and how she often had to take time off unexpectedly to deal with her sister’s emergencies. et—in turn—she was supposed to fire service staff “who don’t even get the paid days [she does]” when they had family crises. She worked around those rules and had even found ways to “extend” the health benefits that managers got so that they reached a few down below, because it just didn’t seem fair to her.

More and more frequently it was aging kin who were mentioned as a key care issue among middle-aged people, who are juggling parents’ needs with work and often still supporting growing children. I heard the rhetorical question “How do they do it when I am beside myself with being pulled in every direction?” “How do they do it on twenty-five, thirty, or thirty-five thousand a year [double what we call the poverty line]?” Middle-class, middle-aged people shook their heads at the thought.

Colin, a midlevel manager in a food packing company, said, “My dad has Alzheimer’s and I’ve had a hell of a year trying to handle it… so I’m gonna fire these guys who have family problems… and make less than a third of what I make? He [Colin’s boss] can give me all the shit he wants… but that [writing people up or docking pay] ain’t happening. And what he don’t know don’t hurt him.”

‘There’s No Rules When a Woman Is Being Abused’

During a focus group discussion in the Midwest, Angela told a story about being beaten by her then-husband. She “was typical… trying to hide it” and feeling deep shame. As a top broker in a large real estate company, she felt that she should be strong enough to end the marriage. Instead, she would wear long sleeves and turtlenecks to cover marks of abuse. But the head of her office, “a family man,” took her out to lunch and told her that he knew what was going on—everyone did. And if she was ready to make the break, they were ready to transfer her to another office, in another state. She wouldn’t lose her stature in the company; in fact, they would provide her with an economic bridge until she found her footing in the new location. Angela said that she thought this man and the support that came with him “saved [her] life.”

Eventually Angela left real estate work. She became a top manager in a service industry where she supervised others, some of whom were far down the economic ladder. But Angela had incorporated an ethic about people ’s safety and the issue of intervening in abuse and had extended it to include everyone, particularly women who were “a lot more vulnerable than [she] was,” because lower-wage workers have no safety nets of savings, no flexibility in their schedules, and in many cases very few if any paid days off, and “everyone just ignores it.” Angela reflected that she “didn’t even have kids to worry about” and had “more options” and still couldn’t make the break until “someone reached out and helped.”

So in Angela’s department it was known that you get help, off the books or on; she wouldn’t ignore domestic violence. “If any woman comes to me and says she ’s being beaten… I am going to do whatever it takes, she said. “There ’s no rules when a woman is being abused.” Angela didn’t use the word “sisterhood,” but she certainly described it. And then Angela found that she had even extended the call to stop abuse to employees’ children too. “A mom came and told me that her son was being bullied up at school. told her, ‘Go, do what you have to. … Stay in touch with me but just go do what you have to do.’”

Angela, well educated and wealthy, remembered facing the despair of being unable to protect herself despite her advantages. Getting real help—not words or commiseration, but concrete help—made the difference. And from there, as happened to so many of these people who decide to act, her perspective fanned out to include a wider range of vulnerable people with whom she identified. “We’ve got to take care of each other,” Angela said, and if your company or institution or government doesn’t, well, you do it yourself.

Neighbors Talk About Town Lines

Once in a while I heard about collective acts in discussions about local conditions and the treatment of others—in one case even immigrant neighbors. Americans have long been unsettled in their views about hardworking—and often economically desperate—immigrants who reside in local communities or make use of public institutions. This ambivalence is not surprising; ours is a capricious history when it comes to immigration. We have welcomed immigrants as the nation’s future and also called them a scourge; we have enjoyed their cheap hard labor while challenging their children’s access to public schools; we have opened doors leading to immigrants’ offspring becoming major social and political figures and then erected walls to bar others from entering.

We are deep in the latter national temperament right now, yet throughout this research I met all sorts of people who found this a troubling attitude. While everyone said that there have to be laws, they also said “we are a nation of immigrants.” We were all foreigners at one time or another. Other than the American Indian people, as a teacher in New York pointed out to me, “you ask about families, almost everyone will tell you” about another land that their people once came from and how that matters to them. “Kids love to tell their family’s cultural history.” So, are only the old immigration histories to be valued and the new ones to be eradicated? And how, then, do we mark the divide?

In some places this becomes a town line. In a modest town in the United States that sits on the border between the American Southwest and Mexico, several hundred children mill around their bus stop waiting to go to school every day. Many cross the border line to get on the bus. They live in Mexico but are American because the only hospital in the area is on the U.S. side of the border. So both Mexicans and Americans go to the local hospital to give birth, and later these children attend school together on the U.S. side of the border. They grow up together.

When there’s a fire in the small town on the Mexican side of the border the American fire trucks race over the crossing to put it out, because the Mexican town doesn’t have a fire station close by. When a person is injured in the Mexican town, an ambulance speeds over to bring him to the only available hospital, on the U.S. side of the line. It’s what those people do—put out fires that burn up homes or deliver people who are injured to the care that they need. And it’s what the teachers do at the local schools—they educate children, in this case children of two nations. The route to the schoolyard differs for the two sets of kids, but they come with the same need to learn.

At one time, several years ago, an effort was afoot to bar the children from the southern side of the border from crossing over and coming to the school. It was argued that “we” shouldn’t pay for their education, even though for decades children who had been educated at the school had grown into adults who worked in the United States as well as Mexico. They provide labor, taxes, family life. Some, no doubt, join fire departments and work in hospitals and in schools. They replenish the well from which they have drawn. But in keeping with a time when children’s needs and injured people’s lives were being measured by cost and market gain, a campaign emerged to cut off half a community. It didn’t work.

Lots of the Americans objected—they had grown up with this tradition of neighborliness that crossed borders. And some— enough, it seems—were repelled by the notion that south-of-the-border children would be kicked out of the school. The Americans had grown up with the parents of these kids, some Anglos, some people of Mexican descent, and many a mix of both; this was a place that had been tested. And it turned out that local humanity trumped lines on a map. Recently I visited this town, and despite the “conservative” times and the rain of anti-immigrant rhetoric, people seemed to be going about their daily business: kids from either side of the line were being educated, ambulances and fire trucks still responded to basic human need.

I visited another smallish American town in rural Maine. The people in that northern county weren’t dealing with borderlines, but they were also talking about neighbors and the market erosion of common fairness. It was the summer of 2008, when oil prices were nearly $150 a barrel. I was listening in on town talk at a weekly farmers’ market and heard an impromptu discussion. Among a throng of local shoppers a few had started talking about oil prices and how neighborhood families and particularly elderly people in the county were likely to freeze in the coming winter. “Just freeze to death,” I heard said in an agitated voice.

Just then a middle-aged woman, who had been talking to friends, suddenly turned around to face other shoppers and asked, “What’s happening to us? Why doesn’t the government do something?” A local farmer, sorting vegetables nearby, responded immediately, “The government is the same as the oil companies. There’s no difference. We can’t wait for them to do anything.” A young mom holding a baby as she stood in line said, “So what do we do?” There was no single response, but they were looking at each other to find it.

A Common America

There are many strands of identity in America, and that plurality came out full force in my research for this book. But with that variation also came commonality. It was common for people to seek ways to make moral sense of their choices about what’s fair and what ’s not. They would dig into their most deeply held values to explain their decisions. It was not enough to just come to the conclusion “Well, I felt this was wrong so I broke the rule or the law.” That seemed reckless or lawless, and most of the disobedient considered themselves very ethical people. But, as the previous chapters explored, when everyday institutions and ordinary rules harm people right in front of you, that provokes a kind of soul searching, looking for what some called their “roots” or their “true self.”

Over the years I’ve heard people say, “As the daughter of immigrants…,” or “As a black man…,” or “As someone whose dad always worked with his hands…,” or “As a single mom who once needed public assistance. …” I heard “As a Latino mother…,” “As a gay man…,” “As a Christian…,” “As a survivor of domestic violence… ,” “As the daughter of a guy who committed suicide [after his family farm was bankrupted]…” Of course these prologues established a personal biography, but they did more than that. When I heard someone open with “As a black mother…,” I heard a murmur of history, voices from generations who taught that the survival of tomorrow’s children matters more than rules or laws.

When I heard someone say, “As an immigrant’s son…,” I could almost see the previous generations of “aliens,” scarves on heads and hats in hand, that the speaker lined up to explain his way of looking at legality and borders. When I heard, “As a woman who’s been abused…” I knew that the account would be personal but also about power and the understanding that sometimes those who hold it won’t protect you. Most people start with the personal, but some of them move on. They use their story to establish links with others and then, with that stronger connected identity, have the courage to face bigger questions about our society.

There have been many stands against unfairness in American history, and they were named by these ordinary people who chose to act upon injustices in their midst. And that’s when they started to sound alike; while personal roots, claims, and family histories were used to explain a turn to disobedience, the accounts began to echo each other, blend together, and become a common America.

Lisa Dodson is a professor of sociology at Boston College and the author of “The Moral Underground: How Ordinary Americans Subvert an Unfair Economy” (lisa.dodson.1@bc.edu). She lives in Auburndale, Mass.

© 2011 The New Press All rights reserved.

View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/150126

>Mudança Climática e conflito social estão associados? (JC)

>
JC e-mail 4202, de 17 de Fevereiro de 2011

Artigo do ambientalista Sérgio Abranches, do Ecopolítica para o Plural em site

Eventos climáticos extremos podem ter tido efeito importante nos levantes populares no Oriente Médio e Norte da África? A mudança climática já está afetando as relações sociais?

A questão pode parecer uma dessas vias forçadas para alertar sobre a mudança climática. Mas não é. É uma preocupação relevante e essa conexão já vem sendo estudada por cientistas das mais diversas áreas, climatologistas, ecologistas, sociólogos, economistas. A pergunta é mais complexa do que ela aparenta à primeira vista. Ela indaga sobre duas relações nada triviais: entre eventos climáticos extremos e mudança climática e entre anomalias climáticas e conflito social.

Os cientistas resistem sempre a atribuir à emergência de eventos climáticos extremos específicos à mudança climática. Argumentam, com razão, que não há base científica para associar um evento em particular ao fenômeno global e de longo prazo da mudança climática. Mas o climatologista Kevin Trenberth, diretor da Seção de Análise Climática do Centro Nacional para Pesquisa Atmosférica, nos Estados Unidos, defendeu recentemente uma visão diferente desse problema, conhecido na ciência climática como “o problema da atribuição”. Em entrevista exclusiva ao editor do blog Climate Progress, o físico Joseph Romm, Trenberth disse que:

Os cientistas sempre começam com a afirmação de que não se pode atribuir um evento isolado à mudança climática. Mas ela tem uma influência sistemática sobre todos esses eventos climáticos atuais, segundo ele, por causa do fato de que há mais vapor d’água circulando na atmosfera do que se tinha, digamos, trinta anos atrás. É uma quantidade extra de 4% de vapor d’água. Ele aumenta a força das tempestades, dá mais umidade para essas tempestades e é ruim que o público não veja isto como uma manifestação da mudança climática. A perspectiva é que esse tipo de coisa só aumentará e piorará no futuro.

A quantidade de gases estufa na atmosfera, segundo a maioria dos cientistas, já tem um efeito de aceleração do aquecimento da Terra. Portanto, a mudança climática decorrente deve ser vista como um processo em curso com tendência de agravamento ao longo do tempo. Ou seja, é de longo prazo, mas as coisas não acontecem todas no futuro de uma vez só. Vão acontecendo progressivamente, com aumento de frequência e intensidade.

E qual a relação com os fatos no Oriente Médio e na África do Norte?

Tivemos um período atípico de grande quantidade de eventos climáticos extremos em 2010 e no início deste ano. Secas, enchentes, ondas de calor e frio, tempestades intensas, nevascas, queimadas. Esses eventos afetaram negativamente a produção agrícola mundial em todas as partes do mundo: os casos mais exemplares foram no Casaquistão, na Rússia, no Canadá, na Austrália, nos Estados Unidos, na China e no Brasil. O resultado foi uma forte alta dos preços internacionais das commodities agrícolas e inflação de preços de alimentos. Uma inflação climática.

O blog Climate Progress organizou uma série de referências de cientistas e da imprensa a essas relações. Entre elas, estudo dos economistas Rabah Arezki, do FMI, e Markus Brückner, da Universidade de Adelaide na Austrália. Eles estudaram o efeito de variações nos preços internacionais de alimentos sobre as instituições democráticas e conflitos internos em mais de 120 países, entre 1970 e 2007. Essa análise mostra que existe uma clara relação para os países de baixa renda: observa-se a deterioração das instituições democráticas e o aumento da incidência de conflitos de rua, demonstrações anti-governo, e movimentos de massa.

Por que nos países de baixa renda? Nos países de renda alta essa relação não é significativa. Porque quanto menor a renda do país, maior a participação dos alimentos no orçamento doméstico e, portanto, maior a sensibilidade da população a elevações fortes do preço da comida.

Estudos históricos mostram que há relação entre mudança climática e colapso social. Quebras de safra e consequente elevação dos preços de comida são causas frequentes de levantes populares e revoluções na história da sociedade moderna e contemporânea. A história do próprio Egito registra casos históricos de conflitos associados ao preço dos grãos (infelizmente não tenho cópia digital deste artigo). Na Índia, também foram muitos os episódios. O mais notável talvez tenha sido a “revolta dos grãos” de 1918, provocada por desabastecimento e elevação de preços dos grãos resultante de monções com chuvas excepcionalmente fracas.

Em vários desses episódios históricos a relação era direta: a elevação dos preços dos alimentos causava a revolta. No caso atual, as causas são outras. Para entender o que se passa no Egito, por exemplo, é preciso distinguir entre o que causa o descontentamento profundo e o que detona a revolta. O que causou o descontentamento foi a própria tirania. Um governo autocrático, um ditador no poder por 30 anos, uma administração corrupta. Repressão, censura, prisões arbitrárias, tortura. No plano social, muita pobreza, imensa desigualdade de renda e de riqueza, falta de perspectiva de mobilidade social para os jovens. Nos últimos anos houve várias manifestações de protesto, todas duramente reprimidas, mas nenhuma do porte da revolta de massas que começou no dia 25.

O que detona o levante das massas? Uma conjuntura, isto é, uma convergência de fatores, antes dissociados, que se encontram e formam “a gota d’água”, provocam a virada, o tipping point, que levam um protesto como outros inúmeros se transformar em explosão de descontentamento geral, em revolta incontrolável e espontânea da massa.

No Egito houve fatores econômicos, políticos e aceleradores importantes que criaram essa conjuntura. O econômico foi a elevação dos preços dos alimentos, que atingiu duramente as famílias mais pobres. A subida dos preços do petróleo, moradia e educação, bateu no orçamento da classe média. Esse choque de preços ocorreu em uma economia debilitada, na qual o desemprego de jovens é muito alto. O desemprego agrava uma situação de baixa mobilidade social, anulando as perspectivas de futuro dos jovens. Em alguns casos, jovens com qualificação sofrem descenso social, sendo forçados a trabalhar em setores de baixa qualificação. O desespero dos jovens se transmite facilmente para os pais e famílias.

O fator político foi a notícia de que o filho de Hosni Mubarak, Gamal Mubarak, seria seu sucessor, provavelmente já como candidato nas eleições de cartas marcadas previstas para setembro. A possibilidade de uma dinastia Mubarak provocou enorme rejeição, em um país de passado dinástico.

O quadro sócio-econômico no Egito não é muito diferente do que se observa nos outros países. Na Tunísia, no Sudão, mesmo na Arábia Saudita, há tirania, muita pobreza, desigualdade de renda e riqueza, desemprego de jovens e elevação de preços de alimentos. Ouvi recentemente entrevista de um dos príncipes sauditas, na CNN, falando que a situação em seu país é diferente, mas que há, realmente, insatisfação com o aumento de preços dos alimentos e da moradia. O governo aumentou os salários para que pudessem absorver o custo adicional. A evidência mostra que subsídios e aumentos salariais para compensar os efeitos da inflação alimentar têm efeito temporário e acabam por realimentar os preços.

No Egito, o aumento dos preços dos alimentos foi muito forte, como se vê no gráfico em – http://www.ecopolitica.com.br/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Inflation-in-Egypt.jpg

Os preços dos alimentos subiram 40% e os de moradia e educação, mais de 10%. Os pobres são sensíveis à inflação nos alimentos e na moradia. A classe média à inflação na educação, na moradia e nos combustíveis.

O que acelerou a revolta e permitiu que se transformasse em um movimento de massa, muito rapidamente? As mídias e redes sociais e o efeito-demonstração do levante na Tunísia, que se propagou por essas vias digitais. É evidente que as mídias e redes sociais não fazem revoluções. Elas são uma revolução na forma como nos comunicamos e trocamos informação. Nisso têm sido revolucionárias. Mas, na sociologia dos conflitos sociais seu papel é de acelerador e transmissor, permitindo, por exemplo, o contágio inicial, que depois passa a se dar por contato físico, nas ruas e nas praças, e na propagação de eventos que acabam tendo o efeito de aumentar a propensão à ação.

Além disso, podem ter o efeito de prolongar o contágio. A sociologia já decifrou como terminam os processos por contágio, como os arrastões, por exemplo: quando não há mais pessoas a contagiar e a cadeia se quebra. As redes e mídias sociais – no caso do Egito principalmente o SMS – trazem mais pessoas para o movimento e realimentam o contágio.

Não é por acaso que essas revoltas ocupam as ruas e praças das cidades. O meio urbano é muito mais propício ao contágio das massas. O crescimento da população com acesso à telefonia celular dá o principal instrumento de contágio. Veja os gráficos para o Egito (http://www.ecopolitica.com.br/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Egypt-Mobile-subs.jpg) e a Tunísia (http://www.ecopolitica.com.br/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Tunisia-Mobile-subs.jpg).

Mas a internet teve importante papel de manter o mundo informado sobre o que se passava no Egito, provavelmente evitando um banho de sangue, e na comunicação entre os egípcios. E por isso o governo fechou o acesso à Web.

Nada é simples nesse processo. Estamos falando da convergência de processos complexos no sistema climático, no sistema social e na sociedade global. Essa convergência só aumentará nos próximos anos e décadas. Viveremos mais turbulência climática e social, no meio de uma revolução científica e tecnológica sem precedentes.

Para ouvir o comentário do autor na rádio CBN acesse http://www.ecopolitica.com.br/2011/02/02/mudanca-climatica-e-conflito-social-estao-associados

>Água do rio São Francisco será a mais cara do país (FSP)

>
SOFIA FERNANDES
DE BRASÍLIA
22/11/2010  08h14

Da torneira do nordestino atendido pela transposição do rio São Francisco vai pingar a água mais cara do país.

O Conselho Gestor do Projeto de Integração do São Francisco avalia cobrar dos Estados atendidos pela obra R$ 0,13 por mil litros de água.

O dinheiro será recolhido pela Agnes, estatal em gestação na Casa Civil. A empresa vai gerenciar as operações da transposição do rio e a distribuição da água para as previstas 12 milhões de pessoas beneficiadas.

O preço médio cobrado em outras bacias hidrográficas pelo uso da água é de R$ 0,01 a R$ 0,02 por mil litros. A Sabesp, por exemplo, paga R$ 0,015 ao comitê gestor da bacia do rio Piracicaba, fonte de metade da água consumida na cidade de São Paulo.

COMPLEXIDADE

O valor mais elevado, afirma o governo, se deve à complexidade do projeto de transposição e ainda porque a Agnes será a responsável pela captação e pelo bombeamento da água.

No entanto, os quatro Estados envolvidos (Pernambuco, Paraíba, Rio Grande do Norte e Ceará) terão de investir em obras internas para dar capilaridade à rede de água e ainda precisarão pagar uma taxa fixa à Agnes, provavelmente mensal.

Em construção, os canais para a transposição do rio São Francisco têm 25 metros de largura, 5 metros de profundidade e 622 quilômetros de extensão, somando os dois eixos.

O porte das obras e os obstáculos naturais, como a Serra da Borborema, que vai de Alagoas ao Rio Grande do Norte, explicaria o alto custo de transportar a água no semiárido nordestino. Para isso, serão necessários potentes mecanismos de bombeamento.

Editoria de Arte/Folhapress

O governo não diz se haverá mecanismo para amortizar o custo do consumidor final nos quatros Estados.

Em teoria, as obras do São Francisco têm um foco prioritário, que são os pequenos agricultores das terras secas do sertão e do agreste nordestinos.

O Ministério da Integração, responsável pelo empreendimento, afirma que o assunto está em fase de análise e de debates com os Estados receptores.

Para que o projeto seja viável, é possível que os Estados promovam subsídios cruzados, aumentando as tarifas de grandes centros urbanos que não receberão as águas da transposição do Velho Chico, como Recife.

A Agnes terá de apresentar um relatório de custos, explicando os motivos para o elevado preço da água.

Essa tarifa deverá cobrir os gastos do sistema de transposição em funcionamento, nem mais nem menos.

“Temos de avaliar a planilha de custos da agência para saber se o preço está certo. A tarifa deve cobrir os custos de manutenção e operação do sistema”, diz Patrick Thomás, gerente de cobrança pelo uso da água da Ana (Agência Nacional de Águas).

Um dos maiores críticos do projeto, o pesquisador João Suassuna, da Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, acha difícil que o agricultor das áreas atendidas pela transposição consiga pagar essa conta.

“Os colonos do Vale do São Francisco hoje já estão com dificuldades para pagar por uma água a R$ 0,02. Imagine com esse preço”, afirma o Suassuna.

Mas o pesquisador vê outro problema. O porte das obras e o volume de água deixam patente que o propósito da transposição não é matar a sede e a fome de quem vive na seca.

A mira, afirma, está no agronegócio para exportação, a criação de camarão e o abastecimento de indústrias.

Estados fazem lobby por sede da nova estatal

DE BRASÍLIA

A transposição do rio São Francisco, uma das vedetes do PAC (Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento), suscitou a criação de uma nova estatal, a Agnes (Águas Integradas do Nordeste Setentrional).

O governo estuda a criação da empresa há um ano, o que deve ocorrer por meio de projeto de lei ou medida provisória. Ainda não há data para o envio do texto ao Congresso.

No entanto, a corrida para sediar a estatal já esquenta entre os Estados.

A Paraíba faz lobby forte para que Campina Grande receba a empresa, que terá sua receita abastecida com o dinheiro pago pelo uso da água, com as tarifas fixas pagas pelos Estados e provavelmente com recursos da União.

O secretário de Meio Ambiente, Recursos Hídricos e Ciência e Tecnologia do Estado, Francisco Sarmento, diz que a cidade fica exatamente no centro das obras, simbolismo que a credencia a ser sede.

Outro motivo: a Paraíba não é sede de nenhuma grande empresa do governo. Pernambuco já tem a Sudene, em Recife, e o Ceará já conta com o Banco do Nordeste, com sede em Fortaleza.

“É um argumento suplementar”, diz Sarmento.

>Pessimismo global atinge a Conferência do Clima (JC)

>
JC e-mail 4142, de 23 de Novembro de 2010

COP-16 começa no próximo dia 29, em Cancún, México

Um ano após a grande frustração que foi a Convenção das Nações Unidas sobre Mudanças Climáticas em Copenhague (COP-15), a nova edição da convenção, em Cancún (COP-16), começa no próximo dia 29 sem expectativas de grandes resultados

Prova disso é que são esperados apenas entre 20 e 30 chefes de estado no México, contra 118 que estiveram presentes em Copenhague. O presidente Lula, uma das grandes estrelas do último encontro, já confirmou sua ida, mas a delegação brasileira encolheu de 900 pessoas, no ano passado, para 250 este ano.

Não se espera o fechamento de um grande acordo vinculante com metas significativas de redução de emissão de CO2 para o segundo período de compromisso do Protocolo de Kyoto, que vence em 2012, e é uma obrigação dos países desenvolvidos que assinaram o documento. Tampouco deverá haver resultados importantes na área de financiamento, outro ponto-chave da negociação.

Este é mais um compromisso firmado pelos países desenvolvidos: prover recursos financeiros para que países em desenvolvimento possam prevenir os efeitos das mudanças climáticas (mitigação) e se adaptar àqueles que já podem ser sentidos nos países mais vulneráveis, como pequenas ilhas do pacífico e nações africanas.

– Você chega a Cancún sem aquela comoção com que se chegou em Copenhague e com as mesmas dificuldades. As expectativas agora são mais modestas – avalia o embaixador Luiz Figueiredo, negociador-chefe do Brasil na Convenção do Clima da ONU.

O Brasil tem ganhado um papel protagonista na convenção e vai levar para Cancún dois trunfos na bagagem: a apresentação do último balanço sobre o desmatamento da Amazônia e a explicação dos planos setoriais que vêm sendo elaborados para que o país cumpra as metas voluntárias de redução de emissões.

Sobre a Amazônia, deve ser anunciado um novo recorde histórico, no qual “somente” cerca de 5 mil km2 teriam sido destruídos entre 2009 e 2010. Já sobre as emissões, o governo brasileiro vai mostrar como pretende reduzir de 36% a 39% de suas emissões, com relação ao que o país calculou que vai emitir em 2020. Na prática, significaria emitir 1,7 giga toneladas de CO2 daqui a dez anos, quando o esperado era a emissão de 2,7 giga toneladas de CO2.

– Lula terá um papel muito destacado em Cancún. Com a proposta ambiciosa que apresentou em Copenhague, ele foi o chefe de Estado que mais chamou a atenção – diz o secretário-executivo do Fórum Brasilieiro de Mudanças Climáticas, Luiz Pinguelli Rosa.

O principal plano brasileiro é reduzir a derrubada da Amazônia em 80% até 2020 e do Cerrado em 40%. As duas medidas, se alcançadas, evitarão a emissão de 668 milhões de toneladas de CO2. O desmatamento responde por 61% das emissões brasileiras.

A agricultura, dona de 22% das emissões, também sofrerá alterações. Uma das ações previstas é a recuperação de 15 milhões de hectares de pastagens degradadas, de um total de 60 milhões que o país possui, e a implementação de um programa de agricultura de baixo carbono. Com isso seriam cortadas pelo menos 183 milhões de toneladas de CO2.

No setor energético, que gera 15% de nossas emissões, o governo prepara um pacote para aumentar o uso de biocombustíveis, reduzindo entre 48 e 60 milhões de toneladas de CO2. E na siderurgia, setor ainda bastante dependente de carvão produzido com madeira de desmatamento, a ideia é justamente substituí-lo por carvão vegetal de florestas plantadas. A ação pode gerar o corte de entre 8 e 10 toneladas de CO2. As carvoarias emitem 31% do total registrado no setor energético.

Além desses cinco setores, o governo vai incluir outras sete áreas para as quais também serão criados planos setoriais. A principal delas é o transporte. Listado dentro da seção “energia”, o transporte rodoviário responde por 38% dessas emissões.

– O transporte será uma área decisiva para o Brasil no futuro, pois passará a contribuir cada vez mais para o nível de emissões, principalmente por conta da ineficiência do transporte de carga. O Brasil tem, há 15 anos, o pior desempenho do mundo em transporte de cargas – aponta Eduardo Viola, professor de Relações Internacionais da UnB.

Ele critica também o transporte público brasileiro que receberia incentivos para o aumento no número de carros nas ruas, quando deveria ocorrer justamente o contrário. Ele sugere que o país monte um programa para penalizar o uso de carros (como taxas para quem roda nos centros das grandes cidades), o que geraria pressão para estimular investimentos em transporte público de alta capacidade para passageiros, como trens e metrôs. No caso do transporte de suprimentos, a saída, segundo o professor, é ampliar a rede ferroviária e hidroviária.

O pacote que o Brasil apresentará vai esbarrar com a dura realidade que vigora nas negociações climáticas. Com relação às metas de redução dos países desenvolvidos, até agora apenas 15 nações manifestaram suas intenções, a maioria condicionando números mais ambiciosos a um acordo global, o que ainda não aconteceu.

Por enquanto, o que se tem é uma redução que varia de 16% a 18% com relação às emissões de 1990. Isso seria insuficiente para evitar um aumento da temperatura da Terra de mais de 2 graus Celsius, conforme concordaram os 140 países que assinaram o Acordo de Copenhague – documento fechado na COP-15, mas que não tem validade jurídica. Ou seja: é um texto de intenções.

A questão do financiamento também está em aberto. Na última reunião, os países concordaram com a criação de um Fundo de Início Rápido (Fast Track Fund), que proveria US$ 30 bilhões em três anos para que os países mais necessitados pudessem começar a agir contra o aquecimento global.

A fonte de recursos já foi identificada, mas esbarra em um problema: alguns dizem que o dinheiro de que se fala não é novo e configuraria um desvio de finalidade de recursos já comprometidos em outras áreas da cooperação internacional, como saúde e educação. O resultado é que, até agora, nenhum projeto foi contemplado com tal verba.

Um outro mecanismo acordado, mas que também não saiu do papel é o Fundo Verde Climático, para o qual seriam doados US$ 100 bilhões anuais até 2020. Esse dinheiro poderia ajudar países a criar mecanismos de eficiência energética, instalar aterros sanitários e manter florestas preservadas.

As regras são as mesmas: países ricos pagariam e países em desenvolvimento, como Brasil e África do Sul, implantariam localmente tais iniciativas. Como o aporte de dinheiro é alto, há divergências sobre de onde sairia. Dificilmente essa questão será solucionada em Cancún. Mas a ONG ambientalista WWF acredita que será possível avançar na estruturação do fundo, como o conselho que definirá prioridades a serem seguidas e os fiadores do sistema.

– Seria uma grande forma de reconstruir a confiança e demonstrar que os países industrializados estão tratando a mudança do clima com seriedade – pondera Mark Lutes, coordenador de políticas financeiras da Iniciativa Climática Global da WWF.

Para tentar solucionar o impasse sobre a fonte de recursos que abastecerá o Fundo Verde, o Grupo de Alto Nível em Financiamento de Mudanças Climáticas da ONU (AGF) elaborou um estudo apontando algumas alternativas, como a taxação de viagens internacionais no setor aéreo e de navegação, o que geraria potencialmente US$ 10 bilhões anuais. O setor, embora represente apenas 2% das emissões globais, é o que vem aumentando mais rapidamente sua fatia.

Apesar do clima de pessimismo que cerca o início da COP-16, em algumas áreas há chances reais de se chegar a algum acordo positivo. O anfitrião da convenção, o presidente mexicano Felipe Calderón, deposita todas as suas fichas na criação do REDD (Redução de Emissões por Desmatamento e Degradação). Iniciativas nessa área são consideradas ações de mitigação e, portanto, podem ser contempladas com recursos do Fundo Verde e do Fast Track Fund.

– Provavelmente o avanço mais importante que se fará em Cancún será em REDD, sobre as emissões florestais reguladas. Por isso me sinto otimista sobre este lado da equação – disse Calderón durante sua participação na última reunião do G-20, na Coreia do Sul.

O mecanismo, que inicialmente previa somente ações de combate ao desmatamento, ganhou um sobrenome: plus. Isso significou a inclusão de ações de conservação (como a criação de parques e reservas naturais) e técnicas de manejo florestal (nas quais madeira pode ser explorada de forma seletiva e ao longo de várias décadas para permitir a reposição das árvores cortadas). Segundo a pesquisadora do Instituto Alberto Luiz Coimbra de Pós-graduação e Pesquisa de Engenharia (Coppe) da UFRJ, Thelma Krug, as duas primeiras fases do REDD deverão ser implementadas ainda em Cancún.

A primeira fase diz respeito à preparação dos países ricos em floresta – como Brasil, Indonésia, Congo e Papua Nova Guiné – para monitorar o desmatamento. Nesta etapa, serão elaborados planos nacionais para reduzir o desflorestamento e montada uma rede para acompanhar os resultados. A capacitação de pessoal para trabalhar nessas atividades também é fundamental

A segunda fase prevê a implementação de projetos pilotos e o pagamento de serviços florestais. Em ambos os casos o Brasil dificilmente receberia recursos estrangeiros. Isso porque o país já possui um Plano Nacional para a Prevenção e Controle do Desmatamento da Amazônia e monitora por satélite a destruição do bioma há duas décadas.

– Acho que o Brasil não vai ver a cor desse dinheiro. Vai ser difícil convencer doadores a colocar recursos num país que já está conseguindo reduzir significativamente o desmatamento sozinho – pondera Thelma, uma das negociadoras brasileiras na convenção.

Por outro lado, os brasileiros têm muito a contribuir com os países mais atrasados. O governo assinou um acordo com a Organização das Nações Unidas para Agricultura e Alimentação (FAO) para transmitir tecnologia. Doadores pagarão para que técnicos de outros países venham aprender com os profissionais do Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (Inpe) as ferramentas de monitoramento em tempo real. A primeira turma, de africanos, virá no início do próximo ano.

Além disso, há chances de ser criado um comitê para coordenar as ações de adaptação, aquelas voltadas para minimizar as consequências da mudança do clima. Um Fundo de Adaptação já está em vigor, com recursos do Mecanismo de Desenvolvimento Limpo (MDL) – pelo qual os países desenvolvidos podem cumprir suas metas de redução de emissões bancando, em nações pobres, projetos que resultem em menos emissões.

Dois temas, entretanto, deverão aquecer os debates da COP-16: o primeiro é o fortalecimento do Protocolo de Kyoto, documento assinado em 1997, e que prevê a fixação, por parte dos países ricos, de cortes mensuráveis de emissões. Caso não sejam definidas metas para um segundo período do protocolo, a partir de 2013, ele pode se tornar ineficaz. Isso vai ser um problema porque a União Europeia, por exemplo, fez leis com base no protocolo.

Assim como em Copenhague, o X da questão continua sendo os Estados Unidos, que são os maiores poluidores do planeta, mas não assinaram Kyoto. Uma lei estipulando o corte de 17% das emissões americanas até 2020 com relação às de 2005 está empacada no Congresso com poucas chances de ser aprovada. A Europa também começou a recuar quanto à adoção de metas significativas de corte de emissões. Segundo negociadores brasileiros, os europeus vêm fazendo o jogo dos americanos para esticar até 2012 o impasse sobre metas.

O segundo problema são as ações de mitigação a serem adotadas pelos países em desenvolvimento, as chamadas Namas (Ações de Mitigação Nacionalmente Adequadas). Embora os emergentes não sejam obrigados a se comprometer com metas, foi estabelecido na convenção que adotarão medidas voluntárias.

O embaraço, nesse caso, se dá no acompanhamento dessas ações. A maioria dos países só aceita o monitoramento internacional das ações financiadas por dinheiro estrangeiro. A China é a principal opositora à possibilidade de outros países interferirem em medidas que estão sendo adotadas em seu território.

(Catarina Alencastro, O Globo, 23/11/2010)

>Economia de baixo carbono trará riscos, diz economista (JC)

>
JC e-mail 4142, de 23 de Novembro de 2010

Sergio Besserman falou a executivos em SP

O aquecimento global, na visão do economista Sergio Besserman, desenha um amplo horizonte de oportunidades de negócios – o problema está no outro lado da moeda. “Estamos falando de altíssimo risco”, disse na segunda-feira (22/11) a uma plateia de executivos de grandes empresas, em São Paulo. “Sofrerão os mais pobres, infelizmente, e os empresários”, prosseguiu. “Empresas vão nascer e morrer aos borbotões. Terão que se reinventar.”

Segundo ele, a transição para uma economia de baixo carbono “virá, é inevitável, só não se sabe quando.” É nesse caminho de incerteza que terão que ser feitas as apostas de negócios, continuou, durante palestra no seminário Mudanças Climáticas – O Papel das Empresas. “Estamos falando de mudar os paradigmas de consumo, da mais acelerada transformação tecnológica de toda a história da Humanidade, de mudar todas as estruturas da civilização calcada em combustíveis fósseis. Não será uma transição suave.” O desafio, disse, é o de reordenar o mundo.

Branca Americano, secretária nacional de Mudanças Climáticas do Ministério do Meio Ambiente falou sobre a próxima rodada de negociações do acordo climático, em Cancún, no México, a partir da segunda-feira. “Ficou claro que todo mundo tem medo deste monstro chamado acordo legalmente vinculante”, disse. “Os Estados Unidos não entram nele, a China também não. O jeito, então, será fazer avanços graduais.”

Branca lembrou que a conferência de Copenhague terminou com um “acordo fraco que criou um vácuo nas negociações.” A estratégia para Cancún, a CoP-16, é tentar acordar um pacote de decisões. Fala-se em adaptação, tecnologia, financiamento e Redd+, o mecanismo para redução de emissões de desmatamento e degradação.

Trata-se do primeiro passo para dar valor às florestas. É possível que seja aprovado o primeiro estágio para projetos do gênero. Para isto, países com florestas começariam a realizar inventários florestais, a conhecer suas florestas e seus estoques de carbono, a fazer monitoramento por satélite – um contexto já dominado pelo Brasil. “O carbono das florestas é um bem tangível. Tem que haver um reconhecimento sobre este valor”, diz.

Branca lançou a ideia de um “selo Brasil” para produtos de baixo carbono feitos em uma economia à base de energia renovável e limpa. Os empresários pareceram gostar da sugestão. “A marca Brasil pode ser interessante para todos”, disse Sergio Leão, diretor de sustentabilidade da Odebrecht.

(Daniela Chiaretti, Valor Econômico, 23/11/2010)

>Planeta passa longe de meta do clima (JC)

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JC e-mail 4142, de 23 de Novembro de 2010

Mesmo que todos os países cortem muito suas emissões de CO2, a Terra ainda aquecerá mais que 2ºC, diz ONU

Se tudo der certo e todos os países fizerem o máximo para conter emissões de carbono nos próximos anos, o mundo ainda estará longe de cumprir a meta de limitar o aquecimento global a 2ºC.

O quão longe acaba de ser calculado por um grupo internacional de cientistas: 5 bilhões de toneladas de gás carbônico estarão “sobrando” na atmosfera em 2020.

Ou seja, para cumprir o que se comprometeram a fazer na conferência do clima de Copenhague e evitar um possível aquecimento descontrolado da Terra, os países não apenas teriam de endurecer suas metas de corte de emissão como ainda precisariam desligar todo o sistema de transporte do globo.

O recado foi dado hoje pelo Pnuma (Programa das Nações Unidas para o Meio Ambiente), num relatório intitulado “The Emissions Gap” (“A Lacuna das Emissões”).

O documento será entregue em Helsinque à chefe da Convenção do Clima da ONU, Cristiana Figueres.

Seus autores passaram seis meses avaliando 223 cenários de emissões de CO2 construídos a partir das metas voluntárias de corte de carbono propostas por vários países no Acordo de Copenhague, o pífio documento que resultou da conferência.

O resumo da ópera é que, se a humanidade quiser ter 66% de chance de manter o aquecimento global abaixo de 2ºC no fim deste século, o nível global de emissões em 2020 terá de ser de 44 bilhões de toneladas de CO2 equivalente- ou seja, a soma de todos os gases-estufa “convertidos” no potencial de aquecimento do CO2.

Se nada for feito, as emissões podem chegar a 56 bilhões de toneladas em 2020. “Isso elimina a chance dos 2ºC, e pode nos colocar no caminho de 5ºC de aquecimento em 2100”, disse à Folha Suzana Kahn Ribeiro, pesquisadora da Coppe-UFRJ, uma das autoras do relatório.

A implementação estrita do acordo também não resolve: as emissões globais cairiam para 52 bilhões de toneladas, ainda uma China de distância da meta de 2ºC.

Por “implementação estrita” os pesquisadores querem dizer duas coisas. Primeiro, as nações estão contando duas vezes emissões cortadas na área florestal. Se um país pobre planta florestas para vender créditos de carbono a um país rico, a dedução deveria estar apenas na conta do país rico. Mas costuma estar na de ambos.

“Na própria lei brasileira do clima está escrito que as reduções de emissão podem ser obtidas por MDL [venda de créditos de carbono para nações ricas]”, diz Ribeiro.
Outro ponto espinhoso é a venda de créditos em excesso por países como a Rússia, cujas emissões já são menores que as metas de Kyoto. O país ficou com créditos sobrando.

Conta só fecha com sequestro de carbono

Para chegar mais perto do almejado teto de 2ºC no aquecimento global, os países terão de adotar o que o relatório chama de “cumprimento estrito de metas condicionais”.

Ou seja, das reduções que alguns países dizem que farão se outros fizerem- a UE, por exemplo, se compromete a passar de 20% para 30% de corte em relação a 1990 se os EUA também avançarem nas suas metas.

O “gap”, neste caso, seria de “apenas” 5 bilhões de toneladas.

Segundo Suzana Kahn Ribeiro, a única forma de fechar o buraco é aumentar não só a ambição, como também as chamadas “emissões negativas”, ou seja, o sequestro maciço de carbono para compensar emissões industriais e também de energia.

Ela vê nisso uma oportunidade para o Brasil, no setor de plásticos verdes (produzidos a partir de biomassa), por exemplo.

Apesar da mensagem desalentadora, a ONU deverá usar o documento para enxergar a metade cheia do copo: afinal, o cumprimento estrito dos compromissos deixaria o planeta com 60% do caminho andado para evitar o aquecimento exagerado.

(Claudio Ângelo, Folha de SP, 23/11/2010)

>The Economy Is Not Coming Back

>
by Gilles d’Aymery

Part I: A Short History of the Maelstrom

(Swans – September 20, 2010) Another mid-term election is looming in the United States. Next November, the electorate will choose the political team that in the midst of a recession and widely-held fears about the future will carry the day. One side will win. It matters not though, because neither of the two contesting political parties is willing to face reality: The U.S. is not in a so-called great recession. It is in a latent depression. What has stopped it from becoming a full-fledged depression has been the willingness of the elites, both under the Bush II and Obama administrations, to resort to age-old Keynesian policies to stem the hemorrhage — soup kitchen lines have so far been substituted by government checks in the mail. Some argue that governments’ actions have not been enough to stem the recessionary times. Others claim that too much has been done, and time has come to cut spending and taxes in order to let the economy run to its natural ever-growing self. Again, it matters not, whatever position is taken. Do or don’t, the economy is not coming back, and it should not. The Republican plan to cut spending (an age-old endeavor) will only bring more pain and social devastation. The Democratic plan to pump up the economy through deficit spending will only delay the actuality that the bind we all are in is a Catch-22. The economy that we have been used to in the past half-century is simply not going to come back. This three-part analysis will attempt to show the historical making of the dire and deepening crisis we all face, then try to demonstrate why the past paradigm won’t and shouldn’t come back, and end with a few suggestions that hopefully will lead to a future that is not predicated on the dead end the few want the many to embrace.

To fully grasp the extent of the current crisis one needs to take a short and much abridged walk through history. Human relationships have long been a story of antagonisms among the haves and the have-nots. In the feudalism era sharecroppers and peasants were peons of landowners and the divine royalties. The rise of the entrepreneurial class with the advent of the Industrial Revolution and capitalism led to a (often violent) change in leadership. The bourgeoisie overthrew the old order and the working masses migrated from the land to the mines and the factories and the shipyards, etc. Working conditions were execrable and the exploitation of the laborers was so prevalent (1) that they benefited the happy few and led to la belle époque, the Gilded Age, for the moneyed class whose rate of profits was very high and to labor demands for more equitable sharing of the created wealth and humane working conditions — demands that were met with recurring violent and bloody repressions. The class struggles, which can be defined in layman’s terms as profits for the few vs. the well being of the many (and private property vs. collective ownership), became the order of the era, increasingly influenced by political economists and philosophers. (2) The 1917 Russian Revolution threatened the moneyed class more than ever even though their hold on power with its resulting excesses in the accumulation of wealth could not be tamed until the Great Depression hit. In its wake, reformists like FDR and socialist parties in Europe cut their feathers substantially. Progressive taxation on income, estate, and capital was put in place; salaries among the wealthiest and the average workers trimmed from a ratio of about 400:1 to 30:1; social programs instituted… It must be remembered that workers’ rights, unions, public education, health care, Social Security, public services, women’s rights, civil rights, secular regimes, etc., are all a legacy of the left, which shed so much blood and tears to achieve these gains (even though the record ought to be tempered by the same left’s avocation of the “civilizing mission” in far away lands — i.e., colonialism). Nonetheless, the moneyed class became so worried about the loss of their privileges and the spread of socialist ideas that they, in Europe and in the U.S., supported Mussolini’s Fascism and Hitler’s National Socialism until well into World War Two when Hitler, instead of focusing on their interests — the destruction of the Soviet Union and communist expansion in Europe — launched an attack on their own countries and interests.

In 1945, Europe lay in ruins, its infrastructure and industries devastated, its people impoverished, lacking food and services (like electricity and water). Communist parties, particularly in France and Italy, gained strong traction and the influence of the Soviet Union loomed large. Threatened by the advance of leftist ideas, the powers-that-be chose to join them half way. Western elites devised a reconstruction plan based on Keynesian-Fordism — state control and planning of the economy to varying degrees, mass post-Taylorism production, progressive taxation, collective bargaining through strong unions, and the transfer of gains in productivity to the salaried work force in the form of higher wages, which greased the wheel of demand for industrial production. The USA was an intimate participant in that process through the European Recovery Program (the Marshall Plan) passed by Congress in 1947, which was motivated by three objectives: First, to create new markets for American products (the U.S. was producing 55% of worldwide manufactured products in 1945 and feared a potential domestic recession could happen if new markets were not developed). Second, to neutralize and work against the growing influence of the Soviet Union and the Communist parties in Western Europe. Third, an altruistic desire to alleviate the dire conditions Europeans faced…which could lead to social unrest and bring on political developments that its second objective aimed to prevent (American idealism has always been mated with a heavy dose of pragmatic self-interest).

That political-economic plan was apt enough to generate what has been known, with some exaggeration as facts show, (3) by Jean Fourastié’s famous saying: les trente glorieuses (the “thirty glorious years”). By the late 1960s, Keynesian-Fordism was running out of steam and in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis stagflation became the order of the day. In the atmosphere of malaise that took over the Western world, long-time opponents of Keynesian-Fordism found ready followers. Free-market evangelists like the classical liberals Friedrich Hayek, the author of The Road to Serfdom (Routledge, 1944), Milton Friedman of the Chicago School of Economics, the Randian Ludwig von Mises, and others (Karl Popper comes to mind) (4) became the intellectual force behind post-Fordist globalization (5) as they advocated their ideology — low taxes, small government with minimal interference in the economy, little regulations if any, no redistributive policies that could lead to any kind of entitlements, individualism, free will, etc. By the early 1970s Keynesian-Fordism had by and large been nailed into the dustbin of history. In 1979, Margaret Thatcher became the British prime minister, and in 1981, Ronald Reagan the president of the United States.

Frédéric Lordon, a French economist and research director at the National Center of Scientific Research (CNRS) has called this historical reactionary watershed the reconquista of the moneyed class. (6) It must be noted that during that period — approximately 1965-1975 — the national corporations that were answering to and constrained by their respective governments turned into transnational entities (what was then called multinationals). Their allegiance was increasingly answering to the interests of their shareholders and no longer to the political whim or the demands of their workers. Coupled with the internationalization of the financial services, the moneyed class, les possédants (“those who possess”) as Lordon calls them, were now in a position to blackmail the political class — besides, concurrently, bribing it through campaign contributions. “If you do not lower our taxes we can move our headquarters to another country,” threatened the managerial class, adding, “if you do not allow working flexibility and deregulate industry, we’ll relocalize in more favorable climates.” Finally, they concluded in a crescendo, “you politicians have to get rid or substantially lower social services, those dreaded entitlements.”

Bought politicians and heedless governments relented. The age of detaxation and deregulation had begun in earnest. Taxes were smashed; (7) regulations were lessened; working flexibility — a neutral expression to mean the contraction of wages and hiring/firing at will — was instituted, and trade unions weakened. As Lordon reminds us, the goal was to starve the beast but the beast (the workers) was not willing to starve and kept fighting heartedly for the rights gained over a century of blood and tears. The result: public debt. What taxes did not finance any longer was substituted by national debt. Wealth was being transferred from the whole to the few though a simple mechanism — financial gains for the few, debt for the many.

How could the masses get on board with this scheme? It had little to do with the so-called unsophisticated and uneducated masses (the Mises/Rand paradigm) — though disinformation has been a part of the tragedy. Of late, a few mainstream economists and commentators (e.g., Robert Reich, Paul Krugman, Michael Hudson, Bob Herbert, et al.) have documented that wages have been remaining flat for about forty years (8) while, writes Reich, “In the late 1970s, the richest 1 percent of American families took in about 9 percent of the nation’s total income; by 2007, the top 1 percent took in 23.5 percent of total income.” (9) The facts are slowly seeping out. Yet, they appear to have not reached the consciousness of the overwhelming majority of the people. Why? Of course, there have been relentless PR campaigns vaunting trickle-down economics, the rising tide lifting all boats, the influence of the Laffer curve on the partisans of supply-side economists, and all other shibboleth lines, for example “freedom” and “greed is good.” But objective socioeconomic conditions have been in play, which served to hide reality from reaching consciousness.

What happened can be seen in how the American elites handled the reconquista. Let’s take a look at it in the United States. First, as Reich states, “women streamed into the paid work force. By the late 1990s, more than 60 percent of mothers with young children worked outside the home (in 1966, only 24 percent did).” Second, people started to work longer hours. However, these two factors were not enough to keep households ahead, and the elites were fully aware that a discontented populace tends to translate into social unrest. So, a devilishly smart scheme was devised, based on credit and real estate.

After a long decline that began in the mid 1960s the rate of profits bottomed out in the early 1980s before ascending again (see note #3), a result of stagnating wages and therefore wealth transfer to the rich. Yet, the economy was in recession with high inflation and unemployment (the latter reaching 10.8% in December 1982). The inflation was eventually tamed through the drastic policies enacted by the Fed under the chairmanship of Paul Volcker, which benefited creditors; further tax cuts were passed (1984 and ’87), which benefited the wealthy; and access to credit was vastly expanded, which permitted the vast majority of households to keep afloat — for a while. Credit cards multiplied like enzymes (10) as did consumer credits. Everything could be purchased on credit (vehicles, home appliances, students’ fees, etc.). Private debts skyrocketed. Still, it was not enough to keep the economy growing. Policies to help the value of real estate rising indefinitely and home ownership enlarged were deliberately put in place by both Republican and Democrat administrations. These policies can be traced back to the New Deal, but were widely expanded from the 1970s onward. Home ownership as part of economic security and the realization of the American Dream became the major engine of the economy. It was achieved through a mix of fiscal and monetary policies (11) and access to easy credit guaranteed and securitized by Government Sponsored Enterprises — the best known being Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — and governmental agencies such as the Federal Housing Administration, which is a part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and others (e.g. Ginnie Mae). These policies became increasingly financially “sophisticated” under the stewardship of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. (12) The end result has been exceptional, that is, out of the ordinary: The value of real estate in the USA has risen spectacularly for four decades (except for a short and slight downturn in the early 1990s) with returns on investment superior to those of financial services (13) — until the proverbial feces hit the fan in a combination of a series of perfect storms.

Let’s recapitulate this short history with a graphical helping hand.

Forty years of socioeconomic trends in the U.S. (14)

This graphic, developed in-house and certainly imperfect (for instance, it does not take into account the war economy that has been so dominant since WWII), brings together the various socioeconomic developments that have taken place in the U.S. and have led to the perfect multiple storms and the resulting wreckage to the world that will remain with us for years — if not decades. The olive line at the bottom illustrates how wages, after steadily rising in the wake of WWII, have remained flat. The green line shows how taxes have abruptly been reduced for the benefit of the wealthy, which, in turn, have raised public debt (the pink line) as conflicting interests could not allow the slashing of social services and thus forced the moneyed class and its political companions (often the same crowd) to delay — not forsake — “starving of the beast,” which they have relentlessly tried to accomplish for decades. (15) For the majority — at least 80% of the American people — the loss in wages was compensated by cheap credit and plastic debt (the red line), and since it was not enough to keep up with the Joneses and the PR, the very last recourse was to gamble on the rise of value in real estate (the blue line). Equity loans were taken out in abandon; mortgages refinanced not just once, but twice or more, in the belief that the value of property would keep rising forever. Much of the raised funds were spent on consumer products, vacations in exotic places, instant gratification, etc. A few borrowers attended to their children’s needs — the college tuitions that are bringing graduates to become debt peons even before they have entered productive life. Reich noted that “from 2002 to 2007, American households extracted $2.3 trillion from their homes.” Money was of no concern. It grew on trees. One president advocated going to Disneyland and driving to the mall and to shop. A vice president asserted that deficits didn’t matter. Any dissenter or skeptical observer was tagged un-American, thus ignored. Life was good, asserted the masters of the universe. People heard and wanted to believe the message and acted accordingly.

Sometime in 2005 cracks began to appear on Main Street. Households had maxed out their credit lines. The great wealth creation, it turned out, had been borrowed. The financial sector began to notice an increase in consumer defaults in 2006, which started to put a squeeze on their balance sheets. The burgeoning crisis moved to Wall Street. The meltdown took off in earnest with the Bear Sterns collapse in March 2008 and the FDIC seizure of IndyMac in July 2008. By the fourth quarter of that same year, Lehman Brothers was no more, AIG had to be rescued, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac taken over by the government, and the financial sector had to be bailed out through the Troubled Asset Relief Program and huge interventions by the Fed. By then the crisis had spread to the entire world. Economic activity came to a screeching halt and business embarked on an abrupt deleveraging of its work force, thus compounding the damage done to the economy. The latent depression was in full force. It carries on to this very day.

The consequence can be seen, for anyone who is not blindly following a dismal ideology, that for decades le beau monde has peddled over the voices of reason — and still does to this very day — arguing that laissez-faire would bring heaven to earth. The result is here for all to see. Many will ask for more of the same in the name of sheer ignorance and emotional convictions based on an ideology they do not master, to the benefit of a class to which they do not belong — not even considering the ecological bind that will bring us all to the realization that a paradigm change is not only required but needed if the survival of all species is a desired and chosen outcome.

Notes
1.  For an example among many, see the 1850 internal regulations of a company located in Chaumont, France.  (back)
2.  To cite but a few: Saint-Simon, Fourier, Proudhon, Owen, Engels, Marx, Lenin, Luxemburg, etc.  (back)
3.  The model began to fall apart in the early 1960s when the rate of profit flattened before taking a plunge until the early 1980s — a fact that is largely ignored by mainstream economists. For more on this topic, see “The causes of the post-war economic boom,” International Review,October 29, 2008. The rate of profit and the dynamic of capital accumulation in capitalism are best understood and explained by people who are rooted in the Marxist tradition and knowledgeable enough to make sense of them — a tradition and knowledge this author regrettably does not possess.  (back)
4.  George Soros’s hero, Karl Popper, was one of the founders in 1947 of the Mont Pelerin Society, a society that advocates classical liberalism. Other founders included Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and George Stigler.  (back)
5.  For a more extended review of this topic, please see “Flexible Relations and Post-Fordist Globalization,” by Taimur Rahman, chowk.com, April 23, 2003.  (back)
6.  “La dette publique, ou la reconquista des possédants,” by Frédéric Lordon, Blog of Le Monde Diplomatique, May 26, 2010. For readers who can read French, this is the clearest exposé of events that have taken place in the past 40 years, which have decimated the masses for the benefits of the few. Lordon is to my knowledge the only economist that has been able to undertake a serious contextual analysis with an impressive sense of humor. Highly recommended.  (back)
7.  The trend toward lower taxes began earlier in the U.S. under the Kennedy administration. In 1963, Kennedy proposed a plan to lower income taxes across the board. The plan was passed in 1964 by the Johnson administration. All marginal tax rates were cut, the top one from 91% to 77%., then 70% in 1965, 50% in 1982, 38.5% in 1987, 28% in 1988, up to 31% in 1991, 39.6% in 1993, and 35% in 2003. See U.S. Federal Individual Income Tax Rates History, 1913-2010 at the Web site of the Tax Foundation.  (back)
8.  They actually have contracted. The latest Census data shows that “the median household income fell 0.7% to $49,777 in 2009, down 4.2% since 2007, when the recession started.”  (back)
9.  “How to End the Great Recession,” by Robert Reich, The New York Times, September 2, 2010.  (back)
10.  “Between 1989 and 2006, the nation’s total credit card charges increased from about $69 billion a year to more than $1.8 trillion.” Seecreditcards.com for broad statistics on credit cards.  (back)
11.  With inflation kept in check due to downward pressures on wages and the growing import of ever-cheaper consumer products, the Fed has been able to keep the federal funds rate low, slashing it even more in times of recession (e.g., 1975, 1982, 1989, 2001, 2007) — see Fed Ratesand the actions taken by the Federal Open Market Committee.

Fiscal policies include the full deduction of interests paid on mortgages, and an entire panoply of tax credits that are offered to home buyers in various circumstances (first-time buyers, etc.).  (back)

12.  See “Bill Clinton’s drive to increase homeownership went way too far,” by Peter Coy, Business Week, February 27, 2008, and the remarks on homeownership by George W. Bush at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, June 18, 2002 (i.e., in the midst of a recession).  (back)
13.  For a very detailed analysis of the crisis in the U.S., I highly recommend the work of Onubre Einz published at criseusa.blog.lemonde.fr on the Web site of Le Monde. Regarding real estate policies, consumerism, private and public debts, and wages, please refer to “Faut-il dégrader la dette souveraine des USA ou des Trois Krash financiers?“, March 21, 2010. Einz’s research and analysis are quite comprehensive and comprehensible, even for people who have no economic background. His work would certainly deserve to be translated in English.  (back)
14.  This graph, developed by the author, is only an approximate representation of five trends that have taken place in the USA in the last 40 years. It is statistically researched but not statistically formulated — and the author does not profess to be a graphic designer! It is an aperçu of an historical period.  (back)
15.  Note that public debt began to explode under the Reagan administration and has grown even further after the public bailout of private financial interests (TARP). Note too that the debt grew commensurably with the tax cuts showered upon the wealthy, those people who needed those “breaks” the least.  (back)

Part II: The Reasons it Won’t

(Swans – October 18, 2010) The thinking in some quarters where so-called “experts” abound is that the road to recovery and the creation of much needed jobs ought to be driven by demand. Consumption spending, goes that thinking, will lead businesses to invest in productive assets, banks to lend again, and bring the unemployed masses back into the workforce. Since the private sector is unable or unwilling to do its part, it is then up to the government to pick up the tab and stimulate the economy. As an economic mini-commentator has put it, “[G]overnment spending must increase to make up for the slack in demand and reduce unemployment. That means larger budget deficits until households have patched their balance sheets and can spend again at pre-crisis levels.” (1) This is a perfectly reasonable Keynesian methodology that has worked in times past. However, it misses the fact that the economic crisis is the result of both over-production — a tremendous overhang of productive assets — and over-consumption fueled by cheap credit and ballooned household debt, compounded by the shenanigans of the financial sector (2) orchestrated at the highest levels of political power by “brilliant” men. (3) It also misses the point that this crisis is the “mother of all crises.” It has hit production, consumption, public and private debts, ecological disasters, all in the midst of a financial system that remains in shambles, as Raghuram Rajan clearly explains in an October 12, 2010, Der Spiegel interview. (4)

In the wake of these tsunamis, the Federal Reserve (Fed) and the US Treasury went to work and injected trillions of dollars in the financial sector through monetary and fiscal policies and in Main Street through an economic stimulus. Although some economists argue that the Obama stimulus package ($850 billion-plus) has been insufficient as it did not match the output gap — that it was, in the words of Larry Summers, only a tool to avoid “catastrophic failure” (real, deep, 1930s-like Depression), a sort of “insurance package” — these policies have served their purpose. Deep depression has so far been forestalled and unemployment kept in check, albeit at a hidden increasing rate. But recovery has not taken place. Why? And why won’t it?
As stated in Part I, the U.S. is in a latent depression. No public stimulus or austerity measures can overlook or change the actualities. The system is in a bind.

First of all, the country is crippled by a staggering amount of household debt. According to the Fed, household debt amounted to almost $14 trillion in the second quarter of 2010, only $200 billion less than a year ago. Credit card liabilities declined to $832 billion from $915 billion for the same period, largely the result of bank write-offs (known as charge-offs).Defaulters, of course, lose their credit rating and won’t be able to borrow in the future, except at usurious rates. (Some homeowners stopped paying their mortgage in order to pay their revolving debts.) (5) Total student loan debt is a mere $830 billion. (“The cost of a college education has risen, in real dollars, by 250 to 300 percent over the past three decades,” according to Christopher Shea of The Boston Globe.) (6)

Secondly, these debts have been compounded by the residential real estate crash — the mother of all bubbles — in which some $8 trillion in equity have vanished. Median house prices have dropped between 20 and 30 percent (and even more in some states like Florida and California). Over six million households have already lost their homes to foreclosure. Another 4.2 million are in or near foreclosure. At the peak of the market in 2006, 69 percent of Americans “owned” (through their lenders) a home. It is now down to 65 percent, and notwithstanding the recent foreclosure moratorium there may be over 3 million other homes lost in the next couple of years. Which means that there is a huge oversupply of houses on the market. Note that this situation has a direct impact on job creation since people, unable to sell their homes without bearing a substantial loss, can hardly relocate (even if they could get a job elsewhere). In other words, the work force has lost its mobility due to the real estate freeze. Add to this dire state of affairs the soaring commercial vacancies (and defaults) that has also led to a huge oversupply of office buildings and stores, and it then becomes quite understandable that the construction sector, the major engine of the US economy, is going to remain in the doldrums for years to come. (7)

So, the U.S. is confronted with both an overhang of debt and an oversupply of depreciated or idle assets (which includes not only construction, but many other sectors, especially in transportation).

Thirdly, the country is also confronted with the Baby-Boom Generation that will begin retiring next year. According to Wikipedia, “The United States Census Bureau considers a baby boomer to be someone born during the demographic birth boom between 1946 and 1964.” That’s about seventy-six million people or close to 25 percent of the population. Over 4 million will be retiring every year until 2030. The boomer generation is also known as the spending generation. Boomers have kept the consuming pedal to the floor for the past 40 years, and, but for a minority, are utterly unprepared for retirement, many depending on their home equity (and Social Security) to make ends meet, and seeing that equity melt like an Alpine glacier. The few that managed to save see those savings being quickly eroded by the monetary policies enacted by the Fed (near-zero interest rates, rampant inflation that most probably will increase in the future due to, again, deliberate Fed actions). Older people do naturally spend less — except in health care — but older people who have lost a big chunk of their assets (both in equity and in cash) have to become by necessity a thrifty lot. Their spending is not coming back and there are no new spenders to replace them.

Fourthly, any increase in consumption spending directly leads to a rise in the US trade deficit, which for 2010 may reach $500 billion. (8) While about 47 percent of US importations are what is called “related party trading” — that is, US-funded companies that have moved their manufacturing facilities to low-wage countries and repatriated their vast profits for the benefit of their shareholders — imports have only a marginally positive effect on domestic employment (a few high-end engineering and some low-paid retail jobs), (9) except for dock workers and transportation. Simply put, foreign trade is not going to boost the economy. Manufacturing, or “reindustrialization” — that fetish of politicians and unions — won’t do the trick either, because as Jagdish Bhagwati, a professor of economics and law at Columbia University, has shown, “There is no proof that economic health depends on manufacturing.” The issue is nonetheless moot, for the manufacturing jobs that have been “relocalized” over the years will not come back anytime soon. Why would anyone want to pay, say, $1,000 for an iPod made in America with a tiny profit margin for Apple, when one can get the same device made in China for a fraction of the price (and a huge profit margin for Apple)? A manufacturing facility would be built in the U.S. and workers hired, but the device would no longer be affordable — a self-defeating proposition that would lead inevitably to layoffs and plant closing. One cannot escape the logic and the contradictions of the system — call it capitalistic or not.

One could throw into the mix the continued contraction of wages, which certainly won’t help consumers increase their spending, and the massive upsurge in government anti-poverty programs, (10) but enough depressing news for today!

To recap: Evident over-production and over-supplies worldwide, a crippling US-led debt burden, trade imbalances that may well turn into proactive protectionist policies (i.e., trade wars), an entire generation drifting toward graveyards (not just in the U.S.), unable to spend any longer, manufacturing dreams that cannot be realized as people are willing to work pennies on the dollar to desperately dig their way out of poverty, and a dearth of intellectual knowledge are not going to bring the economy back to what it should not have been in the first place.

However, since the USA is a gambling nation par excellence (and history), it appears that the elites are going to do a double-down bet.

Ben Bernanke, a so-called “expert” on the Great Depression and head of the Fed, who has been wrong every step of the way, (11) intends to further monetize the federal debt through a second round of quantitative easing. He may also recommend a more direct injection of liquidity targeted to consumers through a suspension of the payroll tax. Meanwhile, in an effort to help American exports (and weaken the exports of European competitors and emerging countries), he keeps weakening the dollar — an action that is creating new distortions in the global economy as Raghuram Rajan explains in theDer Spiegel interview, and could turn into an ugly global currency war and lead to a world of beggar-thy-neighbour policy.(12) (The US Congress, quick to blame China for America’s ills, is calling for the imposition of tariffs on Chinese products.)
As made plain above, American consumers who have kept the world economy growing through their irresponsible credit binge are not going to “spend again at pre-crisis levels” for a long time, if ever. They simply cannot afford the game anymore. No one can, and no one should. There are externalities that are much larger than daily life. Pre-crisis spending should be dwarfed in light of the ecological disasters humanity faces.

Notes

1. “Red Flags for the Economy”, by Mike Whitney, CounterPunch, July 6, 2010. (back)

2. The theoretical analysis by John Bellamy Foster on how money got disconnected from productive endeavors, and how the financial sector ended accounting for 40 percent of profits in the U.S. explains in great details this point. See, “The Financialization of Accumulation,” Monthly Review, October 2010. (back)

3. One sterling example is Larry Summers, who oversaw the repeal of Glass-Steagall, successfully helped engineer the deregulation of financial markets, blocked all attempts to regulate derivatives, etc. In 1999, Summers was a member of the triumvirate with Robert Rubin and Alan Greenspan known as the “Committee that Saved the World” — neoliberal ideologues that have consistently been proven wrong and are directly responsible for the long-term socio-economic crisis that will carry on for many years. See Professor Bill Mitchell (University of Newcastle, NSW Australia) December 2009 blog entry “Being shamed and disgraced is not enough” for a pertinent analysis of their exploits. Mitchell cites Ayn Rand saying in 1959, “I am opposed to all forms of control. I am for an absolute laissez fair free unregulated economy. Let me put it briefly I am for the separation of state and economics.” (back)

4. Raghuram Rajan, currently an economics professor at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, used to be Economic Counsellor and Director of the IMF’s Research Department Financial Markets, Financial Fragility, and Central Banking (September 2003 – January 2007). On August 27, 2005, Rajan delivered a speech at A Symposium Sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, entitled, “The Greenspan Era: Lessons for the Future.” In that speech, which at this writing remains posted on the IMF Web site, Rajan warned in very diplomatic terms of the looming dangers of “a catastrophic financial crisis” and called for what he modestly called “Prudential supervision” of the financial sector. According to Charles Ferguson, the director and producer of the recently released documentary Inside Job, “When Rajan finished speaking, Summers rose up from the audience and attacked him, calling him a ‘Luddite,’ dismissing his concerns, and warning that increased regulation would reduce the productivity of the financial sector. (Ben Bernanke, Tim Geithner, and Alan Greenspan were also in the audience.)” — see “Larry Summers and the Subversion of Economics,” in The Chronicle Review,October 3, 2010. (back)

5. See “Bank Losses Lead to Drop in Credit Card Debt,” by Christine Hauser, The New York Times, September 24, 2010.http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/25/business/25credit.html (back)

6. Christopher Shea: “The End of Tenure?” The New York Times Book Review, September 5, 2010, p.27. (back)

7. One could make the case that a means t o resolve the housing crisis would be to actually bulldoze all vacant homes and building development. It would create jobs in the short term for hordes of demolition crews and then, once the swamp is sanitized, construction workers would start building again — the good old creative destruction paradigm. Problem is that the banks would go the way of the Dodo and the Masters of the Universe tends to shy away from their own demise. (back)

8. As an example: This household had to rebuild a rotten deck from scratch: The pressure-treated wood and plywood came from Canada. The stainless steel screws (2,400 of them!) were made in Thailand. Only the composite boards (Trex) were made in the U.S. We also bought a LCD/DVD TV combo (a Toshiba 19″), which was made in Thailand. A small adjustable gate to keep the dogs on the deck was made in China, and four pair of socks were made in South Korea. One would think that a clay “Superstone” covered baker (to bake bread) by “Sassafras” — a small business located in Chicago — would have come from either Italy or France, but one would be wrong. It was made in Taiwan. We also had to put in place a new leach field for our recurring clogged septic tank. Here, at least, our hardship benefited the US economy, as the needed rocks and labor originated locally, though the pipes and the contractor’s backhoe may well have been manufactured abroad. (back)

9. For further exploration on the topic of trade (and manufacturing), see Bill Mitchell’s blog entry “What you consume or what you produce?”in which he refers to a 2009 UC Irvine study that examined the pros and cons of manufacturing Apple’s iPods in China, and found that “the iPod supports nearly twice as many jobs offshore as in the U.S., yet wages paid in the U.S. are over twice as much as those paid overseas.” (back)

10. Excerpted from “Record number in government anti-poverty programs,” by Richard Wolf, USA TODAY, August 31, 2010: More than 50 million Americans are on Medicaid, up 17 percent since December 2007. More than 40 million people get food stamps, up almost 50 percent in the same period. More than 4.4 million people are on welfare, an 18 percent increase. Close to 10 million receive unemployment insurance. Unemployment insurance trust funds in 30 states are insolvent. (back)

11. To grasp Bernanke’s real “expertise,” one has to only read the comments he made in 2005 and 2006:

July 1, 2005: Bernanke: “We’ve never had a decline in house prices on a nationwide basis. So, what I think what is more likely is that house prices will slow, maybe stabilize, might slow consumption spending a bit. I don’t think it’s going to drive the economy too far from its full employment path, though.” (We did have an actual decline in house prices in the early 1990s.)

February 15, 2006: Bernanke: “Housing markets are cooling a bit. Our expectation is that the decline in activity or the slowing in activity will be moderate, that house prices will probably continue to rise.” (The housing market was beginning to implode at the very time Bernanke made this statement…) (back)
12. Brazil’s finance minister Guido Mantega recently said, “We’re in the midst of an international currency war, a general weakening of currency. This threatens us because it takes away our competitiveness.” See “Currencies clash in new age of beggar-my-neighbour,” by Martin Wolf, The Financial Times, September 28, 2010. (Free registration required.) (back)

Part III: The Reasons it Shouldn’t

“This meeting is part of the world’s efforts to address a very simple fact — we are destroying life on Earth.”

—Achim Steiner, head of the U.N. Environment Program, Nagoya, Japan, October 18, 2010

“We are nearing a tipping point, or the point of no return for biodiversity loss. Unless proactive steps are taken for biodiversity, there is a risk that we will surpass that point in the next 10 years.”

—Ryu Matsumoto, Japanese Environment Minister, Nagoya, Japan, October 18, 2010 (1)

(Swans – November 15, 2010) The first part of this long essay presented an abridged history of the road to the current deep socioeconomic crisis that some observers had predicted, even though no one could pinpoint the exact timing of the implosion. The second part submitted that there are objective factors that explain why the economy is not going “to come back” any time soon. But, more importantly, profound and intensifying environmental and ecological crises militate in favor of not having the economy revert to the shape and form it had. Some of these crises are the object of this third part. In short, to return to business as usual will lead to collective suicide, which Mother Nature will trigger in the not so distant future.

According to the WWF (2) 2010 Living Planet Report, “human demand outstrips nature’s supply.” “In 2007,” the report states, “humanity’s Footprint exceeded the Earth’s biocapacity by 50%.” The Global Footprint Network (GFN) has calculated that on August 21, 2010, the world reached Earth Overshoot Day — that is, “the day of the year in which human demand on the biosphere exceeds what it can regenerate.” As GFN president Mathis Wackernagel stated: “If you spent your entire annual income in nine months, you would probably be extremely concerned. The situation is no less dire when it comes to our ecological budget. Climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation, water and food shortages are all clear signs: We can no longer finance our consumption on credit. Nature is foreclosing.” Though these environmental organizations are promoting policies that are essentially based on demographic and increasingly economic Malthusianism — independent researcher Michael Barker has written in-depth analyses, particularly in regard to the WWF, in these pages (3) — they do acknowledge the gravity of the situation. As the WWF report states, “An overshoot of 50% means it would take 1.5 years for the Earth to regenerate the renewable resources that people used in 2007 and absorb CO2 waste. … CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are far more than ecosystems can absorb.” In other words, the world, or to be more precise, some parts of the world, over-produces and over-consumes natural resources that are being depleted at an exponential rate. That’s the main reason for not having US (and other rich nations’) households “spend again at pre-crisis levels.” (4) The socioeconomic paradigm built on capital accumulation, perpetual material growth, and financial profits for the infinitesimal few must be not just overhauled but buried, and replaced by an equitable new arrangement that takes into account all natural ecosystems.

Fossil fuels

Fossil fuels have been feeding the materialistic economic paradigm, whether under capitalism or socialism, since the early 1800s. Their use increased moderately between 1850 and 1950, thereafter shooting up like a rocket. (5)

According to the US Energy Information Administration, “in 2007 primary sources of energy consisted of petroleum 36.0%, coal 27.4%, natural gas 23.0%, amounting to an 86.4% share for fossil fuels in primary energy consumption in the world.” Today, worldwide transportation depends on oil for 90 percent of its needs. There is not one sector of the economy that is independent of fossil fuels. From 1990 to 2008 the global consumption of fossil fuels has increased as follows: oil: 25 percent, with a stabilization since the beginning of the economic crisis; coal: 48 percent; and natural gas: 54 percent. (6)

With these few facts in mind, where does the world stand in regard to fossil fuels?

Petroleum

Since the beginning of the current latent depression, as oil consumption has flattened or slightly decreased, the topic of peak oil has by and large disappeared in the mainstream media. Were it not for the Blogosphere (7) that keeps bringing facts of oil depletion to the fore, one would believe that everything is fine and dandy — and, anyway, the alarmists are deemed radicals (right or left) and as such are discounted. However, what to make of Charles Maxwell, a senior energy analyst at Weeden & Co. — certainly not a “radical” — who has written and talked extensively about The Gathering Storm? (8)

Or what about Robert Hirsch? Swans readers may recall Hirsch’s 2005 report “Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, and Risk Management” that was highlighted on January 29, 2007, in the dossier, “Energy Resources And Our Future,” by Admiral Hyman G. Rickover. In that report, Hirsch, an oilman par excellence, showed the dire challenges the world faces and how to possibly mitigate them. What happened to that report is best explained by Hirsch himself, which he did in a potent interview (in English) with the French Le Monde on September 16, 2010 (the report was shelved by both the Bush and Obama administrations).

Still, Hirsch remains adamant. In The Impending World Energy Mess, co-authored with Roger Bezdek and Robert Wendling (Apogee Prime, October 2010), Hirsch makes the case that oil production is on the decline; that no quick fixes are available; and that societal priorities will have to change drastically.

The research done by the British Chatham House, the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil & Energy Security, the German military analysis, and other US military reports, like the “2010 Joint Operating Environment” (pdf) shows that oil-consuming countries are bracing themselves for the decline of oil and the risks of conflicts it will engender. But for a few scientists supported and financed by energy conglomerates and pro-growth lobbies, the scientific community has by and large reached the conclusion that the decline of oil was not reversible — a conclusion reached as early as 1998 by the Paris-based International Energy Agency though this crucial information was left out of its annual World Energy Outlook report under pressure from powerful players. (9) Keep in mind that peak oil does not mean the end of oil, as some doomsayers claim. It denotes the end of cheap oil on the one hand and on the other the physical (and economic) inability to find new reserves proportionately to the oil being consumed.

Peak oil deniers and advocates of abiogenic oil need to ponder why oil companies take so many risks to hunt for oil deep in the seas for poor and marginal results in oil supplies, all the while causing recurring ecological disasters, or engage in such environmentally-destructive projects as the Canadian oil sands — one of the worst ecological projects in the entire world that is bound to destroy the boreal forest in an area the size of Florida, devour hundreds of million cubic meters of fresh water and 600 million cubic feet of natural gas every day, and dramatically increase the emissions of carbon dioxide while yielding a relatively low energy return on investment (EROI), or energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) — that is, the amount of energy needed to produce energy. (10) In other words, the world is using more and more energy to produce less and less of it at an ever faster-growing financial and environmental cost.

But since a picture is worth a thousand words, readers may want to look at the superb photographic work of Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky, which is exhibited on the Web site of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. (11) Paul Roth, the curator of the exhibition, wrote in the catalog:

…..Edward Burtynsky shows the man-made world—the human ecosystem—that has risen up around the production, use, and dwindling availability of our paramount energy source. The mechanics and industry of extraction and refinement; the development, products, and activities associated with transportation and motor culture; and the wreckage, obsolescence, and human cost that lies at the End of Oil. These photographs are about man, and what he has made of the earth. (12)
In 1980 the worldwide production of petroleum (in thousand barrels per day) was 63,963.116. It went up to 66,217.937 in 1990, and reached 85,477.530 in 2008. (13)

Natural gas

Natural gas is generally seen as both abundant and less polluting than oil and coal, which is factually correct. However, what the proponents of natural gas do not mention is the huge environmental consequences of its extraction, especially when using hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, that take up huge amounts of water and chemicals and contaminate ground water. Fracking, as a June 2010 Vanity Fair report indicated, has become a “colossal mess.” The real environmental costs of extracting natural gas are widely underestimated or ignored by the proponents of using this fuel as a “bridge to the future.” (14)

Whatever T. Boone Pickens’s proselytizing and the lobbying of vested interests to expand the use of this “clean fuel,” we face, in the words of Professor Francis Shor, “a toxic cancer,” which will lead to “an unprecedented assault on the environment that may very well doom future generations of residents of the United States to a slow, but sure, toxic death.” (15)

In 1980 the worldwide production of natural gas (in billion cubic feet) was 53,375. It went up to 73,788 in 1990, and reached 109,789 in 2008.

Coal

According to Greenpeace (16) “coal is the largest driver of global warming pollution on the planet and a primary driver of toxic air pollutants like mercury and nitrogen oxide. But coal combustion also results in millions of tons of solid waste in the form of coal ash and scrubber sludge.” Whether through Mountaintop removal mining or traditional in situ extraction, the environmental impact on humans and natural ecosystems is ominous. China, the largest producer and consumer of coal for the country’s generation of electricity by a factor of 3:1 in relation to the USA (the second largest), is a case in point. (17)

A September 15, 2010, report (18) by Greenpeace, “The True Cost of Coal,” notes:

China depends on coal for more than 70 pct of its energy needs.

For the last 8 years China has added new coal plants once a week in average. It has 1,400 coal plants.

The combustion of 4 tons of coal produces 1 ton of ashes. China produces 375 million tons of ashes a year, 2.5 times more than in 2002.
Greenpeace estimates that only 30 percent of these ashes are recycled. Environmental accidents similar to the 2008 Kingston Fossil Fuel Plant spill in Tennessee (19) are prone to increasingly happen.

Coal, in a nutshell, is the most polluting fuel (air, water, soil, and animal species) that ought to be phased out as quickly as possible. Instead, production and consumption are increasing exponentially.

In 1980 the worldwide production of coal (in thousand short tons) was 4,181,850. It went up to 5,346,680 in 1990, and reached 7,271,749 in 2008.

What these fossil fuels have in common is their significant production/consumption growth over time, which brings to mind the Exponential Expiration Time that Dr. Albert A. Bartlett, an emeritus professor of physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder, popularized in his famous 1978 presentation, “Arithmetic, Population, and Energy” — a presentation he has revised and augmented over the years. Bartlett has often bemoaned human “inability to understand the exponential function” and the general ignorance of the “doubling time.” — “The growth in any doubling time is greater than the total of all the preceding growth!” (20)

Missing from his paper, however, is another trait that these fossil fuels share.

Emissions of carbon dioxide

According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), China passed the U.S. to become the largest emitter of carbon dioxide in 2007. In 2008 (the year of reference for this article), China emitted 6,533.544 million metric tons of CO2 and the U.S. 5,832.819. However, these numbers are distorted, as they do not reflect the amount of CO2 the U.S. has “exported” toward China and other emerging economies through the relocalization of parts of its manufacturing sector (which this research has been unable to estimate). Neither are these figures taking into account the respective emissions per capita. In this latter case, the U.S. emits almost 4 times (3.92 to be precise) as much as China. (21) Still, these two countries emitted 40.7 percent of worldwide CO2 emissions in 2008.

More ominous is the worldwide growth of CO2 emissions in the past three decades. In 1980 (the farthest back the EIA statistics go), total emissions were 18,488.253 million metric tons. A decade later, in 1990, they were 21,677.327. By 2000, they had reached 23.876.592; and by 2008, 30,377.313. To put this growth in perspective, suffice it to note that in a mere 28 years the emissions of carbon dioxide have increased by a sheer 64.31 percent!

Climate change and global warming

According to an October 28, 2010, report by the French Sciences Academy, “Climate Change” (PDF, in French), (22) “the concentration of CO2 has been increasing continually since the middle of the 19th century, due principally to industrial activities, going from 280 parts per million around 1870 to 388 ppm in 2009. (Climatologists show that the safe upper limit is 350 ppm.) The rate of growth measured since 1970 is about 500 times higher than the slow growth observed in the last 5,000 years. … The origin of this growth is for more than half due to the burning of fossil fuels, and the rest is due to deforestation and in a small part the production of cement.” (p. 4) Sea levels, the report states, have risen 0.7 mm per year between 1870 and 1930, and began rising faster ever after, reaching a current 3.4 mm per year. Land glaciers and sea ice sheet, from Greenland to Antarctica, are all melting and receding rapidly. (23)

Correlated with the rise of carbon dioxide is the increasing acidification of the oceans that has taken place in the past 30 years or so. The depletion of oxygen in the seas is creating ever-larger ocean dead zones. More troubling yet, starting in 1950 phytoplankton, the very basis of the food chain, has declined by 40 percent, which will affect “everything up the food chain, including humans.”

Surely, the “merchants of doubt,” like Fred Singer, William Nierenberg, Fred Seitz, and Patrick Michaels, who are backed by some of the biggest polluters on the planet, will keep questioning and dismissing the science as they used to do for the ozone hole, acid rain, and even the dangers of smoking. Cordula Meyer calls them “The Traveling Salesmen of Climate Skepticism” in “Science as the Enemy” (Der Spiegel, October 8, 2010) (24) For these people more research must be done and no action is warranted — a message that is compliantly passed on in the MSM. (With a twinkle of irony, even rambunctious muckrakers join those professional skeptics!) (25) Like peak oil deniers, climate change Homo ignoramus are a species that are hard, if not impossible, to break, although one would wish they’d become extinct sooner rather than later. At the very least, one would hope that in the economic realm of this piece, they would acknowledge human-made destruction of the oceans, like plastic garbage and the depletion of fisheries.

Accumulation of plastic in the oceans

Last July, the Sea Education Association (SEA) of Woods Hole, Massachusetts, reported having found a huge plastic garbage patch, possibly the size of Texas, in the North Atlantic gyre that rivals the northern Pacific “superhighway of trash” that Charles Moore discovered in 1997. Another one has been found in the Indian Ocean, and according to SEA chief scientist Giora Proskurowski, the south Pacific and south Atlantic are affected as well. Scientists estimate that 200 species are put at risk by this plastic garbage and no one knows how long it will take to have humans affected through the food chain. But effects are there to be seen.

Here again, a picture is worth a thousand words. Chris Jordan, the Seattle-based photographer, has documented extensively in his “Message from the Gyre” the damages that our throwaway consumerist culture inflicts on the animal lives. In light of Jordan’s photographic documentation, no additional word is needed to depict the insanity of the current socioeconomic system.

The destruction of fisheries

If the scallops may become a past palate-endearing delight in relatively short order due to the acidification of the oceans, the heavily subsidized fishing industry is working against the clock to literally exterminate all fish stocks around the globe. As late as the nineteen nineties, fisheries were considered limitless. Meantime the stocks of halibut, cod, sole, yellowtail flounder, and hake have been utterly depleted. The bluefin tuna is getting closer and closer to extinction due to overfishing and “The Black Market in Bluefin.” In a fascinating, and must-read August 2, 2010, New Yorker essay, “The Scales Fall,” Elizabeth Kolbert tells how cods were once believed to be inexhaustible (they have essentially disappeared). Kolbert notes:

In 1964, the annual global catch totaled around fifty million tons; a U.S. Interior Department report from that year predicted that it could be “increased at least tenfold without endangering aquatic stocks.” Three years later, the department revised its estimate; the catch could be increased not by a factor of ten but by a factor of forty, to two billion tons a year.
“Peak fish,” Kolbert writes, took place in the late 1980s when “the total world catch topped out at around eighty-five million tons, which is to say, roughly 1.9 billion tons short of the Interior Department’s most lunatic estimate.” She adds: “For the past two decades, the global catch has been steadily declining. It is estimated that the total take is dropping by around five hundred thousand tons a year.”

Daniel Pauly, a professor at the Fisheries Centre of the University of British Columbia, warns that we are “[sliding] toward a marine dystopia.” He notes that “[I]n the past 50 years, we have reduced the populations of large commercial fish, such as bluefin tuna, cod, and other favorites, by a staggering 90 percent.” Pauly insists that the world is witnessing an “aquacalypse.” (26) He states that “[F]ish are in dire peril, and, if they are, then so are we”; and concludes that “governments [must free themselves] from their allegiance to the fishing-industrial complex.”

In guise of a conclusion

There is a direct relation between our neoliberal socioeconomic system based on capital accumulation and over-production and the destruction of the earth’s ecosystems. So the statement Mike Whitney made on July 6, 2010, (“Government spending must increase to make up for the slack in demand and reduce unemployment. That means larger budget deficits until households have patched their balance sheets and can spend again at pre-crisis levels.”) appears to be poorly thought out or particularly irresponsible in light of the damages the policy he advocates would inflict on the environment. From peak oil to peak fish, from CO2 emissions to the extinction of species, from global warming to climate change, all indicators point in the same direction. The pursuit of limitless growth as currently designed is nothing less than a suicidal pact that Mother Nature will in the not so distant future trigger.

It must be noted that the partisans of new-Keynesian demand stimulation through government spending — people like Dean Baker, Michael Hudson, Paul Krugman, et al. — rarely, if ever, take into consideration in their research and advocacy the natural world and the ecological consequences of the neoliberal order. Is it because they all reason from within, and are active supporters of that paradigm?

But again, the socioeconomic paradigm built on capital accumulation, perpetual material growth, and financial profits for the infinitesimal few must be not just overhauled but buried, and replaced by an equitable new arrangement that takes into account all natural ecosystems. Humanity needs to build a new socio-ecological paradigm. Such a transformation can only be attained through revolutionary thinking and processes.

Notes

1. Both statements were made at the opening session of the Tenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan.

According to Der Spiegel, “20 percent of the planet’s 380,000 plant species are in danger of becoming extinct, primarily due to habitat destruction. […] Of 5,490 species of mammals, 1,130 are threatened and 70 percent of the world’s fish population is in danger from over-fishing.”

In a nutshell, Mother Earth is facing a mass extinction of natural species and habitats due to human activities that overwhelmingly originated in the materially rich Northern Hemisphere, which has been scarifying the biosphere ever since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. (back)

2. The WWF, which was formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund, was created in 1961 in Gland, Switzerland. It is one of the largest environmental NGOs with over “1,300 conservation projects around the world.” It promotes free-market corporate environmentalism and advocates neoliberal solutions to mitigate the many ecological crises that the world faces — what Michael Barker calls “eco-imperialism.” (back)

3. See Barker’s research on these organizations (and more), particularly “The Philanthropic Roots Of Corporate Environmentalism,” Swans Commentary, November 3, 2008. (back)

4. See Part II of “The Economy Is Not Coming Back,” Swans Commentary, October 18, 2010. (back)

5. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Global_Carbon_Emissions.svg (back)

6. See a picture on Der Spiegel to visualize the increase of fossil fuels consumption in only 18 years. (back)

7. E.g., the Energy Bulletin, The Oil Drum, Hubbert Peak of oil Production, etc. (back)

8. See his recent interview with Wally Forbes, of Forbes magazine (not a particularly leftist publication!), “Bracing For Peak Oil Production By Decade’s End.” Says Maxwell:

“The use of petroleum in the world is now up to about 30 billion barrels per year. The rate at which we have found new supplies of petroleum over the last 10 years has fallen to an average of only about 10 billion barrels per year.

“We’re obviously in an unsustainable situation. We are now using up a greater number of barrels that we have found in the recent past and that we have reserved in the ground. We are now beginning to use it up relatively quickly — with scary consequences for the future.” (back)

9. See “How the global oil watchdog failed its mission,” by Lionel Badal, Oil Man (a Blog from Le Monde), May 18, 2010. See also “Peak oil alarm revealed by secret official talks,” by Terry Macalister and Lionel Badal, The Observer, August 22, 2010. (back)

10. In the 1930s one barrel of oil yielded 100 barrels; that is, the EROI was 100:1. By the 1970s the EROI was down to 30:1. Today, it is closer to 11/18:1 (in the U.S.) and 20:1 worldwide. See the March 2010 report by the Oil Drum. In comparison, the Canadian oil sands’ EROI is about 5.2:1 (see http://www.theoildrum.com/node/3839). Worse, US ethanol based on corn yields an EROI of about 1.25:1 (one unit of energy consumed to produce 1.25 unit of energy — and the calculation does not even take into account the economic and environmental costs of the Gulf of Mexico dead zone generated by fertilizer run-off from corn-producing Midwest agribusiness through the Mississippi River, or the dramatic rise in the price of food stuff, which has so negatively impacted US neighbors in Mexico. (back)

11. Some of the pictures have also been published on the Web site of Foreign Policy. (One needs to log on to the site because the article and the pictures have been archived.) (back)

12. Oil, the catalog for the exhibition, was published by Steidl/Corcoran in 2009. Excerpts can be seen on the Web site of Edward Burtynsky where this excerpt was found.
See http://edwardburtynsky.com/Oil_Book_Gallery/

Furthermore, a 2006 documentary, Manufactured Landscapes, featured the work of Burtynsky. To learn more about this documentary and view more pictures, see http://pingmag.jp/2007/04/12/manufactured-landscapes/. (back)

13. Except where indicated all the figures used in this piece come from the US Energy Information Administration, International Energy Statistics — a very comprehensive set of worldwide statistics by country and geographical zones regarding production and consumption of fossil fuels, electricity, renewables, emission of carbon dioxide, and other key indicators.

Here are some 2008 stats worth keeping in mind:

(CO2 emissions are for year 2008; primary energy consumption is for year 2007.)

Total CO2 emissions for 2008: 30,377.313 (Million Metric Tons)

CO2 Emissions from the Consumption of Petroleum (Million Metric Tons)

USA: 2,435.952
All Europe: 2,193.769
Japan: 572.862
Russia: 373.394
All Africa: 455.341
China: 1,000.439
India: 384.390

C02 Emissions from the Consumption and Flaring of Natural Gas (Million Metric Tons)

USA: 1,271.699
All Europe: 1,119.080
Japan: 200.124
Russia: 908.287
All Africa: 261.741
China: 151.117
India: 84.943

CO2 Emissions from the Consumption of Coal (Million Metric Tons)

USA: 2,125.168
All Europe: 1,344.736
Japan: 441.203
Russia: 447.701
All Africa: 391.251
China: 5,381.998
India: 1,025.549

Total Primary Energy Consumption (Quadrillion Btu)

USA: 101.554
All Europe: 85.002
Japan: 22.473
Russia: 28.355
All Africa: 14.546
China: 73.219
India: 17.255

(For comparison: In 2000, the U.S. consumed 98.5 Quads: See “United States’ Gargantuan Energy Appetite,” by Gilles d’Aymery, Swans Dossier, October 21, 2002.) (back)
14. See the [T. Boone] PickensPlan. (back)

15. See “Frick-Fracking Away, Or Frackicide,” by Francis Shor, Swans Commentary, November 15, 2010. (back)

16. See “Coal ash is a global problem,” Greenpeace, September 15, 2010. (back)

17. While Greenpeace focuses its attention on China and in so doing may inadvertently (or willingly) add to the fashionable China-bashing that is currently taking place in Western political circles and media, it should not be forgotten that on a per capita basis, the U.S. consumes 3,460.5 thousand short tons versus 2,469.14 in China (2009) — and even the per capita consumption should be carefully examined since high and low consumptions are very dependent on social classes. (back)

18. “The True Cost of Coal – An Investigation into Coal Ash in China.” The full report in PDF format can be downloaded from
http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/Global/usa/planet3/publications/gwe/2010/coal-ash2010-ENG-RPT.pdf (back)

19. “On December 22, 2008, in the US state of Tennessee, the retaining wall of a five-hectare ash pond collapsed, spilling 500 million gallons (2 million cubic meters) of coal ash. The spill destroyed houses, polluted the earth, rivers, and air, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. According to the Tennessee Valley Authority, owner of the Kingston Fossil Fuel Plant, the ash covered more than 160 hectares of roads and lands, affecting an area greater than the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.” The True Cost of Coal, p.5. (back)

20. While his presentation is most valuable and worth pondering, it has a major weakness: Professor Bartlett falls into the ideological trap of demographic Malthusian catastrophe — like so many Western ethnocentric scholars and others (politicians, pundits, etc.) do time and again. The ecological conundrum is not related or correlated to population growth — there is plenty of food, water, and land for the world to take in more people. It has to do with the ratio of production/consumption per capita. Evidently, the world cannot emulate the US model of “growth” — see the ecological footprint of national populations worldwide (The U.S. has an average ecological footprint of 8 global hectares per capita compared to 2 for China) — but the U.S. could and should develop a different model that would put needs before profits and embark on an entire retooling of its productive forces. China cannot be blamed for following a path to development that mimics that of the U.S. and other so-called wealthy nations (“so-called” because they are all essentially bankrupt). As said with some humor as early as 1996, get rid of the hypocrisy whereby the U.S. and other “advanced” nations want to keep their way of life all the while denying other nations to follow the same destructive path to “wealth” and China, as well as most countries in the world, will respond positively. (back)

21. While quite a telling indicator, CO2 emissions per capita is also a skewed indicator because it does not differentiate among energy users. For instance, the US armed forces’ emissions; or wealthy Americans (e.g., Bill Gates) with very large estates and constant traveling with private jets; or owners of suburban McMansions driving around in their gas-guzzler SUVs; or, again, more modest households. Still here are a few examples of per capita emissions of CO2 in million metric tons for 2008: USA: 19.2 — Russia: 12.3 — Germany: 10 — Japan: 9.5 — UK: 9.4 — France: 6.5 — China: 4.9 — India: 1.3 — All of Africa: 1.1.

This tends to demonstrate the erroneous advocacy of demographic Malthusians. Compare the emissions of CO2 by the African continent (967.8 million inhabitants in 2008) to India’s (1,140.6 million) and the U.S. (304 million). Once again, it’s not the number of people that drives the dire ecological and economic challenges the world must confront. It’s the ratio of production/consumption per capita. (back)

22. A summary of the report is available in a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation (also in French). (back)

23. “The Arctic is sending us perhaps the clearest message that climate change is occurring much more rapidly than scientists previously thought. In the summer of 2007, sea ice was roughly 39% below the summer average for 1979-2000, a loss of area equal to nearly five United Kingdoms.” See 350.org. (back)

24. As Meyer writes, “[T]he professional skeptics tend to use inconsistent arguments. Sometimes they say that there is no global warming. At other times, they point out that while global warming does exist, it is not the result of human activity. Some climate change deniers even concede that man could do something about the problem, but that it isn’t really much of a problem. There is only one common theme to all of their prognoses: Do nothing. Wait. We need more research.” (back)

25. For instance, Alexander Cockburn, the publisher and co-editor of the center-right-leaning libertarian newsletter and Web site CounterPunch, contends that the science is flawed and the results doctored by a bevy of scientists that are lining their pockets with ever-increasing grants from the government and private foundations. (back)

26. See “Aquacalypse Now: The End of Fish,” in The New Republic, September 28, 2009. (back)

© Gilles d’Aymery 2010. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Gilles d’Aymery on Swans — with bio. He is Swans’ publisher and co-editor.

>Navajos Hope to Shift From Coal to Wind and Sun (N.Y. Times)

>
October 25, 2010
By MIREYA NAVARRO

BLUE GAP, Ariz. — For decades, coal has been an economic lifeline for the Navajos, even as mining and power plant emissions dulled the blue skies and sullied the waters of their sprawling reservation.

But today there are stirrings of rebellion. Seeking to reverse years of environmental degradation and return to their traditional values, many Navajos are calling for a future built instead on solar farms, ecotourism and microbusinesses.

“At some point we have to wean ourselves,” Earl Tulley, a Navajo housing official, said of coal as he sat on the dirt floor of his family’s hogan, a traditional circular dwelling.

Mr. Tulley, who is running for vice president of the Navajo Nation in the Nov. 2 election, represents a growing movement among Navajos that embraces environmental healing and greater reliance on the sun and wind, abundant resources on a 17 million-acre reservation spanning Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

“We need to look at the bigger picture of sustainable development,” said Mr. Tulley, the first environmentalist to run on a Navajo presidential ticket.

With nearly 300,000 members, the Navajo Nation is the country’s largest tribe, according to Census Bureau estimates, and it has the biggest reservation. Coal mines and coal-fired power plants on the reservation and on lands shared with the Hopi provide about 1,500 jobs and more than a third of the tribe’s annual operating budget, the largest source of revenue after government grants and taxes.

At the grass-roots level, the internal movement advocating a retreat from coal is both a reaction to the environmental damage and the health consequences of mining — water loss and contamination, smog and soot pollution — and a reconsideration of centuries-old tenets.

In Navajo culture, some spiritual guides say, digging up the earth to retrieve resources like coal and uranium (which the reservation also produced until health issues led to a ban in 2005) is tantamount to cutting skin and represents a betrayal of a duty to protect the land.

“As medicine people, we don’t extract resources,” said Anthony Lee Sr., president of the Diné Hataalii Association, a group of about 100 healers known as medicine men and women.

But the shift is also prompted by economic realities. Tribal leaders say the Navajo Nation’s income from coal has dwindled 15 percent to 20 percent in recent years as federal and state pollution regulations have imposed costly restrictions and lessened the demand for mining.

Two coal mines on the reservation have shut down in the last five years. One of them, the Black Mesa mine, ceased operations because the owners of the power plant it fed in Laughlin, Nev., chose to close the plant in 2005 rather than spend $1.2 billion on retrofitting it to meet pollution controls required by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Early this month, the E.P.A. signaled that it would require an Arizona utility to install $717 million in emission controls at another site on the reservation, the Four Corners Power Plant in New Mexico, describing it as the highest emitter of nitrous oxide of any power plant in the nation. It is also weighing costly new rules for the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona.

And states that rely on Navajo coal, like California, are increasingly imposing greenhouse gas emissions standards and requiring renewable energy purchases, banning or restricting the use of coal for electricity.

So even as they seek higher royalties and new markets for their vast coal reserves, tribal officials say they are working to draft the tribe’s first comprehensive energy policy and are gradually turning to casinos, renewable energy projects and other sources for income.

This year the tribal government approved a wind farm to be built west of Flagstaff, Ariz., to power up to 20,000 homes in the region. Last year, the tribal legislative council also created a Navajo Green Economy Commission to promote environmentally friendly jobs and businesses.

“We need to create our own businesses and control our destiny,” said Ben Shelly, the Navajo Nation vice president, who is now running for president against Lynda Lovejoy, a state senator in New Mexico and Mr. Tulley’s running mate.

That message is gaining traction among Navajos who have reaped few benefits from coal or who feel that their health has suffered because of it.

Curtis Yazzie, 43, for example, lives in northeastern Arizona without running water or electricity in a log cabin just a stone’s throw from the Kayenta mine.

Tribal officials, who say some families live so remotely that it would cost too much to run power lines to their homes, have begun bringing hybrid solar and wind power to some of the estimated 18,000 homes on the reservation without electricity. But Mr. Yazzie says that air and water pollution, not electricity, are his first concerns.

“Quite a few of my relatives have made a good living working for the coal mine, but a lot of them are beginning to have health problems,” he said. “I don’t know how it’s going to affect me.”

One of those relatives is Daniel Benally, 73, who says he lives with shortness of breath after working for the Black Mesa mine in the same area for 35 years as a heavy equipment operator. Coal provided for his family, including 15 children from two marriages, but he said he now believed that the job was not worth the health and environmental problems.

“There’s no equity between benefit and damage,” he said in Navajo through a translator.

About 600 mine, pipeline and power plant jobs were affected when the Mohave Generating Station in Nevada and Peabody’s Black Mesa mine shut down.

But that also meant that Peabody stopped drawing water from the local aquifer for the coal slurry carried by an underground pipeline to the power plant — a victory for Navajo and national environmental groups active in the area, like the Sierra Club.

Studies have shown serious declines in the water levels of the Navajo aquifer after decades of massive pumping for coal slurry operations. And the E.P.A. has singled out the Four Corners Power Plant and the Navajo Generating Station as two of the largest air polluters in the country, affecting visibility in 27 of the area’s “most pristine and precious natural areas,” including the Grand Canyon.

The regional E.P.A. director, Jared Blumenfeld, said the plants were the nation’s No. 1 and No. 4 emitters of nitrogen oxides, which form fine particulates resulting in cases of asthma attacks, bronchitis, heart attacks and premature deaths.

Environmentalists are now advocating for a more diversified Navajo economy and trying to push power plants to invest in wind and solar projects.

“It’s a new day for the Navajo people,” said Lori Goodman, an official with Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, a group founded 22 years ago by Mr. Tulley. “We can’t be trashing the land anymore.”

Both presidential candidates in the Navajo election have made the pursuit of cleaner energy a campaign theme, but significant hurdles remain, including that Indian tribes, as sovereign entities, are not eligible for tax credits that help finance renewable energy projects elsewhere.

And replacing coal revenue would not be easy. The mining jobs that remain, which pay union wages, are still precious on a reservation where unemployment is estimated at 50 percent to 60 percent.

“Mining on Black Mesa,” Peabody officials said in a statement, “has generated $12 billion in direct and implied economic benefits over the past 40 years, created thousands of jobs, sent thousands of students to college and restored lands to a condition that is as much as 20 times more productive than native range.”

They added, “Renewables won’t come close to matching the scale of these benefits.”

But many Navajos see the waning of coal as inevitable and are already looking ahead. Some residents and communities are joining together or pairing with outside companies to pursue small-scale renewable energy projects on their own.

Wahleah Johns, a member of the new Navajo Green Economy Commission, is studying the feasibility of a small solar project on reclaimed mining lands with two associates. In the meantime, she uses solar panels as a consciousness-raising tool.

“How can we utilize reclamation lands?” she said to Mr. Yazzie during a recent visit as they held their young daughters in his living room. “Maybe we can use them for solar panels to generate electricity for Los Angeles, to transform something that’s been devastating for our land and water into something that can generate revenue for your family, for your kids.”
Mr. Yazzie, who lives with his wife, three children and two brothers, said he liked the idea. “Once Peabody takes all the coal out, it’ll be gone,” he said. “Solar would be long-term. Solar and wind, we don’t have a problem with. It’s pretty windy out here.”

>Dilema entre preservação e desenvolvimento é constante na história brasileira (FAPESP)

>Humanidades | Ecologia
Entre o homem e a natureza

Carlos Haag
Edição Impressa 176 – Outobro 2010

Queimada: problemas desde a colônia. © ALBERTO CÉSAR ARAÚJO/Agência Estado.

O projeto do novo Código Florestal, aprovado em agosto pela comissão especial da Câmara dos Deputados, deverá ser votado no Congresso após as eleições, sob críticas de cientistas e ambientalistas, para os quais a sua homologação causará impactos graves na biodiversidade e nos serviços ecossistêmicos em razão das reduções significativas nas áreas de preservação permanentes (APP) e da anistia a desmatamentos feitos até 2008. A polêmica ambiental mais recente tem raízes antigas: o dilema entre preservação da natureza e desenvolvimento econômico é tema de discussões no país desde os tempos da colônia. Um pouco posterior é a dificuldade de se fazer uma parceria entre Estado e sociedade para uma solução equilibrada. “No Brasil há um padrão histórico: as preocupações com o meio ambiente, em geral, resultaram da atuação de grupos de cientistas, intelectuais e funcionários públicos que, por meio de suas inserções no Executivo, procuraram influenciar as decisões dos governantes em favor da valorização da natureza”, explica o historiador José Luiz de Andrade Franco, da Universidade de Brasília, autor de Proteção à natureza e identidade nacional no Brasil (Fiocruz). “Por isso, o andamento das políticas de proteção à natureza sempre dependeu mais de ligações com governos e apenas secundariamente do eco que as pessoas preocupadas com as questões ambientais alcançam na sociedade”, avalia.

Foi assim com o Código Florestal original, criado em 1934 por Getúlio Vargas, fruto de articulações de um grupo de pesquisadores do Museu Nacional do Rio de Janeiro (MNRJ), que, usando a sua influência junto a círculos do poder, defendeu a intervenção de um Estado forte para garantir, por meio de leis, o equilíbrio entre progresso e patrimônio natural. A legislação, que colocava limites ao direito de propriedade em nome da conservação, protegendo áreas florestais, foi revista em 1965 durante a ditadura militar. Pela primeira vez o código será revisto em uma sociedade democrática e aberta ao debate com a opinião pública. Colheremos melhores frutos do que no passado? “Os protetores da natureza dos anos 1920-1940, que geraram a legislação, eram a favor de um Estado forte, mas tinham propostas de transformação social e ambiental bastante renovadoras. Os conservacionistas dos anos 1960-1980 não estavam na vanguarda do questionamento político do regime militar, mas tinham preocupações com a natureza ainda muito distantes do itinerário político das esquerdas”, lembra Franco. “Hoje os ambientalistas mais preocupados com as questões sociais têm uma postura bastante antropocêntrica, deixando, muitas vezes, as questões urgentíssimas da biodiversidade na sombra.” Segundo o pesquisador, sociedade e Estado, no Brasil, ainda são hegemonicamente desenvolvimentistas. “O sucesso a médio e longo prazo do ambientalismo está na sua capacidade de reverter essa disposição de promover o crescimento econômico a qualquer custo.” Para o pesquisador, não é de estranhar que esses protetores da natureza do passado tenham sido quase esquecidos na corrente forte do desenvolvimentismo que prevaleceu no país da década de 1940 em diante. “Surpreende, sim, que eles tenham sido esquecidos pelos ambientalistas brasileiros, ‘científicos’ e ‘sociais’, que, a partir dos anos 1980, emergiram como atores relevantes na ciência, no ativismo, na mídia e nos movimentos sociais.”

Franco chama esses protetores de “a segunda geração de conservacionistas” brasileiros, intelectuais que, entre os anos 1920 e 1940, cobraram do Executivo a manutenção de um vínculo orgânico entre natureza e sociedade, porque, afirmavam, defender a natureza era uma forma de construir a nossa nacionalidade. Eram, na sua maioria, cientistas do MNRJ: Alberto José Sampaio (1881-1946), Armando Magalhães Correa (1889-1944), Cândido de Mello Leitão (1886-1948) e Carlos Frederico Hoehne (1882-1959). A tendência desses círculos intelectuais, como característico na história ambiental nacional, foi integrar-se ao Estado para reclamar das autoridades um comportamento mais racional dos agentes econômicos privados. “Havia entre eles a convicção de sua responsabilidade na construção da identidade nacional e na organização das instituições do Estado”, observa Franco. A série de códigos ambientais decretados pelo governo Vargas, somada à criação dos primeiros parques nacionais, indica o relativo sucesso alcançado por eles. “Eles acreditavam que a intervenção autoritária de Vargas iria resolver os conflitos e a competição injusta. A partir disso, pensavam, um novo homem se ligaria à natureza e aos outros homens”, analisa a historiadora Regina Horta Duarte, da Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, autora do artigo “Pássaros e cientistas no Brasil”. Para colocar em prática suas teorias eles criaram sociedades públicas para proteção da natureza: Sociedade dos Amigos das Árvores, Sociedade dos Amigos do Museu Nacional, Sociedade dos Amigos da Flora Brasílica, entre outras.

A iniciativa mais ambiciosa dessas organizações foi a Primeira Conferência Brasileira de Proteção à Natureza, realizada em 1934, com o apoio do regime varguista, que acabara de criar o Código Florestal, o Código de Caça e Pesca e a Lei sobre Expedições Científicas. A Constituição de 1934 também incluía um artigo sobre o papel dos governos federal e estaduais na proteção das “belezas naturais”. O ciclo de palestras foi aberto com a leitura de “Natureza”, do poeta alemão Goethe. “Uma evidência da importância dada pelos participantes à percepção estética do mundo natural. Por essa visão, a natureza deveria ser admirada, cuidada e transformada num jardim”, conta Franco. “Essa influência romântica, porém, nunca descartou a possibilidade do uso econômico da natureza e a necessidade de renovar fontes esgotadas sempre era lembrada. Além de ser um ‘jardim’, o mundo natural era percebido como indústria. Daí as várias propostas da criação de ‘berçários de árvores’, que eram, ao mesmo tempo, jardins e áreas de produção de madeira em larga escala.” Os organizadores da conferência estavam atualizados sobre a ação dos protetores da natureza de outros países. Conheciam a fundo a experiência americana e o debate entre os preservacionistas de John Muir, que defendiam a contemplação estética da natureza, e os conservacionistas liderados por Guif­ford Pinchot, que acreditavam na exploração racional de recursos naturais. As duas correntes ganharam seu espaço na Presidência de Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909), o que resultou no crescimento do Parque Yosemite e na criação de várias reservas e mais cinco novos parques nacionais.

Mas o que dividia os americanos era consenso no Brasil e não havia ingenuidade no grupo, apesar da combinação que faziam de romantismo, ciência e nacionalismo. “Naquele momento, os conceitos de proteção, conservação e preservação eram intercambiáveis. Para os cientistas, a natureza deveria ser protegida, tanto como conjunto de recursos produtivos a ser explorado racionalmente pelas gerações futuras, quanto como diversidade biológica, objeto de ciência e contemplação estética.” Argumentos utilitários coexistiam em harmonia com estéticos, e tudo era parte de um projeto maior da união entre natureza e nacionalidade. “As metáforas que eles usaram para representar a sociedade brasileira convergiam com as imagens do ideário político varguista”, nota Franco. “Essa forma de proteger a natureza estava em sintonia com o projeto de Estado corporativista de Vargas e essa convergência ajudou a elevar o status institucional adquirido por um número de propostas relacionadas à proteção ambiental e ao controle público e privado dos recursos naturais”, analisa o pesquisador. “Antes da revolução de 1930, a descentralização política fortaleceu o controle das elites regionais, incentivando a exploração extrema de recursos naturais. A destruição das florestas era agravada pelas ferrovias que, na definição de Euclides da Cunha, eram ‘fazedoras de desertos’”, observa o historiador José Augusto Pádua, da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro e autor de Um sopro de destruição: pensamento político e crítica ambiental no Brasil escravista (Zahar).

Em 1915, o jurista e filósofo Alberto Torres (1865-1917) alertou para a situação: “Os brasileiros são, todos, estrangeiros em sua terra, a qual não aprendem a explorar sem destruir”. “Ele foi o primeiro brasileiro a usar o termo conservação como se empregava nos EUA, incluindo-o na sua proposta de uma nova Constituição. Suas ideias iram influenciar os cientistas do MNRJ”, observa Franco. Apesar do prestígio de intelectuais como Torres, as ações políticas concretas foram nulas. “Mesmo com o apoio do presidente Epitácio Pessoa, que confessava o seu incômodo pelo fato de o Brasil ser o único país de grandes florestas sem um Código Florestal, a legislação continuou omissa”, lembra Pádua. É possível, então, imaginar o impacto da ação dos protetores da natureza quando, poucos anos depois do código e poucos meses antes da nova Constituição de 1937, que elevou os bens naturais à categoria de patrimônio público, foi decretada a criação do Parque Nacional de Itatiaia. A ditadura estado-novista iria criar, até 1939, mais outros dois parques: o da Serra dos Órgãos, no Rio, e o do Iguaçu, no Paraná.

“Mas nos anos seguintes a ação governamental para a preservação mostraria seus limites claros, com orçamentos ínfimos para órgãos florestais, precariedade da fiscalização e ausência de uma participação efetiva da sociedade civil. A fundação de parques nacionais não privilegiou ecossistemas de grande biodiversidade, mas áreas próximas a centros urbanos, como Itatiaia ou serra dos Órgãos, ou estratégicas, como Iguaçu”, nota Regina Horta. “A preservação patrimonial era realmente importante nos projetos do governo Vargas. Mas, além de seu simbolismo cultural e político, a natureza, para além dos parques, era principalmente vista como fonte de riquezas exploráveis para o desenvolvimento econômico, e os projetos industrializantes ganharam o comprometimento do Estado Novo.”

“A ideologia do crescimento a qualquer custo sempre retirou a importância dos temas ambientais. Só hoje temos uma situação potencialmente nova, em que a união entre um Estado poderoso e uma esfera pública mais dinâmica pode criar uma verdadeira política de gestão sustentável da natureza”, nota Pádua. Segundo o pesquisador, há uma continuidade dos problemas ambientais desde a colônia, como queimadas, desflorestamento e degradação dos solos e das águas, mas, ao mesmo tempo, houve muita reflexão sobre essas questões, desde o século XVIII. Basta lembrar que em 1876 o engenheiro e líder abolicionista André Rebouças já pedia a criação de parques nacionais, pois “a geração atual não pode fazer melhor doação às gerações vindouras do que reservar intactas, livres do ferro e do fogo, as belas ilhas do Araguaia e do Paraná”. Para Rebouças, a razão do descaso com a natureza era a escravidão, hipótese também defendida pelo abolicionista Joaquim Nabuco, para quem era preciso o uso econômico racional da natureza brasileira. “Eles procuraram estabelecer uma relação causal entre escravismo e práticas predatórias. A combinação entre a abundância de trabalho cativo, barato, e uma fronteira aberta para a ocupação de novas terras teria estimulado uma ação extensiva e descuidada na produção rural, baseada no avanço das queimadas, deixando terras degradadas e abandonadas”, explica Pádua. Para esses intelectuais, a devastação ambiental não era o “preço do progresso”, mas o “preço do atraso”, resultado da permanência de práticas rudimentares de exploração da terra.

Devastação: preço do atraso, e não do progresso. © Agência Estado.

Nisso ambos eram herdeiros da preocupação ambiental iluminista de José Bonifácio, um fisiocrata egresso da Universidade de Coimbra, a primeira instituição, já no século XVIII, a formar intelectuais que refutavam a exploração descuidada dos recursos naturais da colônia. “Destruir matos virgens, nos quais a natureza ofertou com mão pródiga as mais preciosas madeiras do mundo, e sem causa, como se tem praticado no Brasil, é extravagância insofrível, crime horrendo e grande insulto. Que defesa produziremos no tribunal da Razão quando os nossos netos nos acusarem de fatos tão culposos?”, escreveu o futuro Patriarca da Independência em 1819. “É preciso lembrar a riqueza do debate intelectual sobre temas ecológicos no país; e em alguns momentos, como no século XIX, ele foi um dos mais intensos do mundo, apesar da pobreza dos resultados. O que ‘relativiza’ o papel dos EUA e da Europa na gênese da preocupação ambiental moderna”, explica Pádua. A análise da história ambiental transforma a contribuição dos intelectuais dos séculos XIX e meados do XX em algo surpreendentemente atual. “Eles não eram ambientalistas no sentido moderno, mas in­cluíam os temas da destruição do mundo natural no debate sobre o futuro do país como um todo, relacionando-os com traços estruturais da sociedade, como, por exemplo, o escravismo. Guardadas as diferenças de contexto, é disso que precisamos hoje: incluir a dimensão ambiental no centro do debate sobre o futuro do Brasil e da humanidade.” O Código Florestal do século XXI agradece as lições do passado.

>Cidades brasileiras são apontadas como umas das mais desiguais do mundo (Agência Brasil)

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De acordo com o coordenador da pesquisa, Eduardo López Moreno, a desigualdade entre ricos e pobres pode provocar uma série de problemas sociais, como a criminalidade.

Por João Carlos , Agência Brasil
21 de março de 2010, às 09h54min

As cidades de Goiânia, Fortaleza e Belo Horizonte figuram entre aquelas com maior desigualdade de renda do mundo. Segundo dados divulgados sexta (19) pela ONU-Habitat, a Agência das Nações Unidas para Habitação, esses municípios brasileiros só ficam atrás das cidades sul-africanas, e de Lagos, na Nigéria.

Segundo a ONU, as três cidades brasileiras apresentaram um índice de Gini (que mede a desigualdade) igual ou superior a 0,61, em uma escala de zero a 1,00, em que os números mais altos mostram maior desigualdade. As nove cidades sul-africanas pesquisadas apresentaram índices entre de 0,67 e 0,75. Já Lagos tem índice de 0,64.

Os dados constam no estudo “Estado das Cidades do Mundo”, da ONU. De acordo com o coordenador da pesquisa, Eduardo López Moreno, a desigualdade entre ricos e pobres pode provocar uma série de problemas sociais, como a criminalidade.

“Existe um vínculo muito direto entre as cidades mais desiguais do mundo e um certo nível de criminalidade. Ou seja, a cidade mais desigual vai gerar, mais facilmente, certos distúrbios sociais. E o problema é que as autoridades locais, provinciais e federais vão usar recursos que deveriam ser utilizados para investimentos, para conter esses fenômenos sociais”, disse Moreno.

Brasília também é destacada na pesquisa com um alto índice (0,60). Já na comparação entre países, o Brasil é classificado como um país de “desigualdade muito alta”, com um índice Gini médio de 0,58. Dentro de uma pesquisa com países da África, Ásia, América Latina e Leste Europeu, o Brasil só fica atrás de África do Sul (0,76), Zâmbia (0,66), Namíbia (0,63), Zimbábwe (0,60) e Colômbia (0,59).

O estudo também cita as diferenças de oportunidades entre moradores de favelas e aqueles que residem em outras áreas dentro das cidades brasileiras. De acordo com a ONU, a chance de uma pessoa ter desnutrição em uma favela brasileira é 2,5 vezes maior do que no resto da cidade, enquanto que a diferença média no mundo é de duas vezes.

>"O humor é uma conquista" (Diário do Nordeste)

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ENTREVISTA – MARCIO ACSERALD (1/8/2010)
Coordenador do Laboratório de Estudos do Humor e do Riso (Labgraça) e professor da Universidade de Fortaleza (Unifor)

Marcio Acselrad: “Tem muita gente que não tem o que comer e nem por isso vai ser mais infeliz, considero perigoso associar bem-estar a bens de consumo.” FOTO: KELLY FREITAS

Com um pé atrás. É dessa forma que o pesquisador Marcio Acselrad recebe a pesquisa que coloca o Brasil como o 12º mais feliz do mundo. Uma das críticas é quanto à associação entre felicidade e consumo. Ainda considera compatível rir e pensar

Podemos começar conversando sobre o resultado da pesquisa divulgada pela revista Forbes na qual o Brasil é considerado o 12º país mais feliz do mundo numa lista de 155 países. A que podemos atribuir esse grau razoável de felicidade ?

É muito comum, praticamente imediato na sociedade na qual se vive, associar felicidade a bem-estar material, conquistas de bens de consumo e serviços. O primeiro passo é quebrar essa linha de continuidade sobretudo entre consumo e felicidade. Acho que é uma característica típica do nosso tempo. Se voltarmos um pouco atrás, podemos perceber que, no passado, felicidade já esteve associada a inúmeras outras conquistas que não fossem bens materiais ou de consumo e produtos com tecnologia, cada vez mais, elaborada.

E como seria?

Houve filósofos na Antiguidade, inclusive, que faziam associação justamente ao contrário, à frugalidade e não necessidade de bens materiais. A pessoa seria mais feliz quanto mais soubesse viver com aquilo que se tem e não com o que não se tem. Nesse sentido, a sociedade de consumo faz exatamente o contrário. Não é uma máquina de produção de felicidade, mas uma máquina de produção de insatisfação, ela precisa muito mais da infelicidade constante para poder se alimentar. Levando tudo isso em consideração, não acho tão contraditório assim um país como o Brasil, apesar de todas as mazelas e de todas as dificuldades no campo material, consiga produzir seres muito felizes, isso é louvável.

Como o Brasil poderia tirar proveito dessa sua característica bastante particular, o otimismo, de acreditar sempre?

Por mais interessante que seja esse tipo de pesquisa, é preciso tomar muito cuidado. Da mesma forma que é muito difícil definir o que é felicidade. Tenho muita dificuldade com esses estereótipos. Quem é o brasileiro? São milhões de pessoas com características muito diferentes entre si. Ou mesmo o cearense que tem a fama de ser um humorista nato, é preciso levar em consideração outros fatores. Nem todo cearense é humorista e nem todo brasileiro é engraçado. Tem muito brasileiro melancólico, deprimido como existe em outras partes do mundo, mas acho que essa ideia de alegria, felicidade é algo a ser sempre conquistado e trabalhado individualmente. Outro perigo bastante ligado à sociedade de consumo, é que a alegria ou a felicidade no nosso mundo contemporâneo, meio enlouquecido, deixa de ser uma espécie de conquista e passa a ser uma espécie de obrigação. A pessoa tem que ser feliz, tem que estar alegre, disposto, e a vida não é assim, na realidade.

Felicidade e humor estão relacionados?

O humor é uma conquista. Tentar estar bem com o mundo, com você, com o trabalho e a função que exerce, sabendo que não adianta se esforçar a ser feliz porque todo mundo é. Na verdade, no fundo, no fundo, essa obrigação de felicidade tem a ver com produtividade e isso não é saudável. Porque a pessoa ser feliz é diferente de estar feliz porque assim produz mais, consome mais e alimenta a máquina, o que é contraditório. Isso não é felicidade propriamente dita. É uma felicidade imposta pelo sistema que, literalmente, não está preocupado com a felicidade das pessoas.

O que torna um povo feliz e como pode ser medido esse índice de felicidade? Ele varia de acordo com o nível sociocultural?

De forma nenhuma. Tem muito rico deprimido e muito pobre rindo à toa. Tem muita gente que não tem o que comer e nem por isso vai ser mais infeliz. Acho essa relação extremamente perigosa, associar bem-estar a bens de consumo, na realidade, é produção de falsa necessidade. Você não precisa exercer a sua felicidade através do cartão de crédito num shopping, a pessoa pode olhar para os produtos e perceber que não precisa de nada disso para ser feliz.

Como o povo brasileiro trabalha essa questão da razão e paixão? Seria essa a diferença ?

O humor tem uma relação, de uma certa maneira, com a racionalidade. No caso de uma piada, se você não entende não consegue achar graça dela. No geral, a maior parte do campo do humor está muito mais ligado a sentimentos, sensações. Costumo colocar o humor dentro de uma categoria estética junto com a arte. Ou seja, está mais ligado à sensibilidade do que à racionalidade. Nesse sentido, o que o meu laboratório propõe fazer é uma espécie de paradoxo, de contradição, que significa, estudar, tentar dar uma racionalidade no sentido de compreender os princípios que regem o humor, o riso, a comédia. Não é algo impossível de fazer, é até meio engraçado, tentar dar racionalidade para algo que é da ordem do emocional. Em princípio, uma racionalidade exagerada seria incompatível com o humor.

Para que serve o humor?

Serve para derrubar as pessoas e as instituições dos seus pedestais e mostrar que, no fundo, é todo mundo humano, mortal e que vai acabar na sepultura.

A partir desse contexto, o Brasil poderia produzir um pensamento e parar de apenas reproduzir e adaptar conceitos?

Acho que sim. Inaugurar, não, ele já existe, um pensamento mais leve, bem humorado. Uma boa referência sobre isso, não vem do Brasil, mas de um alemão: Nietzsche, o princípio máximo da racionalidade ocidental. Foi ele quem, no século XIX, disse que o mundo precisava de um pensamento leve, de uma ciência leve, de uma ciência que saiba rir e dançar. A influência ao longo dos séculos XX e XXI é inequívoca. Muita gente percebe a importância desse riso crítico, dessa associação entre o criticismo e o riso.

O senhor acha que a política faz bom uso deste traço ou tira proveito dessa situação?

Acho que são dois pontos diferentes. Um é a apropriação que os políticos ou a política fazem do humor que, no geral, tomando cuidado com generalizações, é inegável que é um uso forçado. O político usa do humor para ganhar votos e angariar popularidade. O outro sentido, este me interessa mais, é o uso do humor como crítica da estrutura política. O papel do humor é tirar os políticos do seu pedestal e mostrar que são humanos, erram e falam besteira como qualquer outra pessoa, trazendo um pouco de humanidade para a política, mas nem sempre isso é bem visto. Alguns políticos, ou devido ao próprio bom humor ou esperteza e prática política, conseguem fazer aliança com esse tipo de humor. É isso o que a gente ver o Lula fazendo a toda hora. E, quando acontece, a piada perde a graça quando há a conivência com o objeto do escárnio.

O fato de ser de terceiro mundo, colonizado, faz com que esse traço alegre ou otimista do brasileiro não seja bem aproveitado, podendo ser visto como algo menor, pejorativo, típico de um povo que não pensa?

Também acho muito difícil fazer essa relação porque existem muitos países que são colonizados e que não têm esse bom humor em relação ao fato de ser colonizado que lutam pela sua independência. O Brasil tem uma história muito particular, nunca precisou lutar pela sua independência que veio de cima para baixo. Mas acho muito curioso, no caso do Brasil, e que é muito propício ao exercício do humor, o fato da miscigenação, fazendo com que não tenha s muito identidade ou uma cara. Então ele é português, índio; mas é também japonês, árabe. Essa mistura é muito propícia porque coloca o Brasil na condição de não-lugar, que é muito bom como terreno para o surgimento do humor, um certo bom humor, mas isso não é garantia, mas costuma funcionar. Já que você não tem identidade, não tem uma cara muito própria e, além disso, é colonizado, pobre, o que a gente faz? Vamos fazer graça disso.

Mas não se corre o risco de rir da própria cara?

Esse é um risco muito salutar o rir de si. É um momento raro que considero como de esclarecimento. Rir de si mesmo já é começar a perceber que as coisas não são tão definitivas assim, tão sérias e que podem mudar. Quando se consegue rir, principalmente, da própria desgraça já começa a relativizar um pouco essa desgraça. Tanto que se diz, um dia a gente ainda vai rir de tudo isso no futuro. Isso significa que, quando a gente tomar distância do que está acontecendo no momento e refletir sobre a realidade, vai poder perceber que tudo não era tão ruim assim e fazer humor, rir. Pego o que é ruim e pelo riso consegue ver que não era tão ruim assim. É um jogo de criança.

Neste sentido, o riso não aliena as pessoas?

O riso serve para pensar. Não se trata de se alienar do mundo, muito pelo contrário, penso o humor como ferramenta de conhecimento do mundo e de autoconhecimento.

Então, humor e pensar são compatíveis?

São totalmente compatíveis, sendo necessária essa articulação. Rir é tão bom e pensar é também algo muito bom. Pensar é também uma coisa boa, não precisa ser chato, impenetrável. Pode ser alegre.

A felicidade é uma utopia ou é compatível com a sociedade contemporânea?

Utopia é sempre algo que não está aqui, mas em outro lugar. A ideia da utopia é de que não tenho agora, mas posso vir a ter no futuro, como por exemplo, a sociedade ideal, pode vir a ser alcançada. Aqui, temos um exemplo oposto, o humor não tem nada a ver com a utopia, pode ser atingido em qualquer momento, se estiver disponível a graça para a graça. É igual à beleza, ninguém sabe onde ela está, pode olhar para uma obra de arte num momento e achar feia, e, noutra, achar bela, por causa da abertura para aquela situação.

Essa “felicidade” do povo brasileiro pode estar associada às melhores condições de vida e políticas públicas?

Acho essas conquistas fundamentais e importantes, como se ter maior poder aquisitivo. Afinal, vivemos numa sociedade de consumo, é isso o que se tem para ser oferecido. Acho perigoso é fazer essa associação direta entre felicidade e consumir. Essa ideia de que a pessoa só é feliz se consumir. É uma associação fascista, não é uma permissão, é como se fosse uma obrigação. Você pode consumir porque tem melhor poder aquisitivo, para mim, isso não é felicidade.

Quem é Márcio Acselrad

Márcio Acselrad é graduado em Psicologia, mestre em Comunicação e doutor em Comunicação e Cultura pela Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro. Atualmente é professor titular da Universidade de Fortaleza (Unifor) e professor horista da Faculdade 7 de Setembro. Suas pesquisas são desenvolvidas na área de Comunicação, com ênfase em Teoria da Comunicação e em Estética. Atua como pesquisador, sendo Coordenador do Labgraça e como curador e mediador do Cineclube Unifor. Márcio também é apresentador e mediador do programa de televisão Cineclube Unifor, exibido pela TV Unifor e pela TV Cultura do Ceará.

IRACEMA SALES
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>Forecasting Uncertainty

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New research from Maxim Ulrich shows that inflation uncertainty impacts bond prices and yields more dramatically than GDP uncertainty.

Columbia Business School – Ideas at work
June 18, 2010

Treasury bonds are typically viewed as among the safest investments, providing lower returns than the stock market but avoiding high degrees of risk and volatility. But no investor can escape uncertainty altogether, and bond investors use GDP and inflation forecasts as rough barometers for term structure, or bond prices and yields.

Dozens of forecasters provide quarterly estimates of how much inflation and GDP are likely to change in the short term, providing bond investors a means to gauge future yields. But when forecasts vary significantly, investors are left to determine which of these conflicting stories represents the best estimate. All forecasts can’t be correct, and few are ever spot-on, so what’s a savvy investor to do?

“Some argue that investors should simply take the average of forecasts to get at the best projection of GDP and inflation,” Professor Maxim Ulrich says. But some forecasts are very close to each other, suggesting low uncertainty, while in other quarters the forecasts diverge widely, suggesting high uncertainty. An average taken in a quarter with a great deal of variance in forecasts is likely to be less reliable than one taken in a quarter with low variance.

Nor do GDP and inflation estimates fluctuate at the same time or rate, so there is no clear means to determine how each measure exerts influence on term structure. Research has typically focused on the impact of GDP uncertainty, rather than inflation uncertainty. Ulrich attributes this focus to the greater variance in GDP forecasts than inflation forecasts. “That variance suggests that there is greater uncertainty about GDP than about inflation,” he says, “and that it should be easier for investors to predict how inflation will move than how GDP will move.”

Ulrich modeled the term structure for U.S. government bonds, taking into account the many estimates for GDP and inflation that investors are confronted with. Using the Survey of Professional Forecasters, published quarterly by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, Ulrich observed the variance among all forecasts as a measure of general uncertainty. By comparing this modeled GDP and inflation, Ulrich was able to distinguish GDP uncertainty from inflation uncertainty and show how each affects real and nominal bond prices and rates. He concluded that while GDP forecasts may vary more from quarter to quarter, uncertainty about inflation has a greater long-term impact on term structure.

“The quarterly forecasts for inflation don’t vary a lot, but over the long term, the misspecifications will have a greater effect on yields,” Ulrich explains. He found that investors demand a bigger premium for long-run inflation uncertainty than for long-run GDP uncertainty.

The model also provides a simple method investors can use when consulting the forecasts. “The Survey of Professional Forecasters provides our best empirical proxy for determining the amount of uncertainty bond investors face,” Ulrich says. “Investors can look at all key forecasts of GDP and inflation each quarter and, using a simple calculation, observe the magnitude of uncertainty.”

Maxim Ulrich is assistant professor of finance and economics at Columbia Business School.

>O Nordeste e as mudanças climáticas (FAPESP)

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Especiais

Por Fabio Reynol, de Natal (RN)
27/7/2010

Agência FAPESP – O primeiro quadrimestre de 2010 foi o mais quente já registrado, de acordo com dados de satélite da National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), dos Estados Unidos.

No Brasil, a situação não foi diferente. Entre 1980 e 2005, as temperaturas máximas medidas no Estado de Pernambuco, por exemplo, subiram 3ºC. Modelos climáticos apontam que, nesse ritmo, o número de dias ininterruptos de estiagem irá aumentar e envolver uma faixa que vai do norte do Nordeste do país até o Amapá, na região Amazônica.

Os dados foram apresentados pelo pesquisador Paulo Nobre, do Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (Inpe), durante a 62ª Reunião da Sociedade Brasileira para o Progresso da Ciência (SBPC) que começou no domingo (25) e vai até a sexta-feira (30), em Natal, no campus da Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN).

Além da expansão da seca, o pesquisador frisou que o Nordeste deverá sofrer também com as alterações nos oceanos, cujos níveis vêm subindo devido ao aumento da temperatura do planeta. Isso ocorre não somente pelo derretimento das geleiras, mas também devido à expansão natural da água quando aquecida.

Cidades que possuem relevos mais baixos, como Recife (PE), sentirão mais o aumento do nível dos oceanos. E Nobre alerta que a capital pernambucana já está sofrendo as alterações no clima. “Com o aumento do volume de chuva, Recife tem inundado com mais facilidade, pois não possui uma rede de drenagem pluvial adequada para um volume maior”, disse.

Um dos grandes obstáculos ao desenvolvimento da região Nordeste seria a constante associação entre seca e pobreza. A pobreza, segundo o pesquisador, vem de atividades não apropriadas ao clima local e que vêm sendo praticadas ao longo dos anos na região. Plantações de milho e feijão e outras culturas praticadas no Nordeste não são bem-sucedidas por não serem adequadas à caatinga, segundo Nobre.

“A agricultura de subsistência é difícil hoje e ficará inviável em breve. Para que o sertanejo prospere, teremos que mudar sua atividade econômica”, disse.

O cientista citou um estudo feito na Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais e na Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (Fiocruz), que indicou que o desemprego no Nordeste tenderá a aumentar caso as atividades econômicas praticadas no interior continuem.

Nobre sugere a instalação de usinas de energia solar como alternativa. “A Europa está investindo US$ 495 bilhões em produção de energia captada de raios solares a partir do deserto do Saara, no norte da África. O mercado de energia solar tem o Brasil como um de seus potenciais produtores devido à sua localização geográfica e clima, e o Nordeste é a região mais adequada a receber essas usinas”, indicou.

“Ficar sem chuva durante longos períodos é motivo de comemoração para um produtor de energia solar”, disse Nobre, que ressaltou a importância dessa fonte energética na mitigação do aquecimento, pois, além de não liberar carbono, ainda economiza custos de transmissão por ser produzida localmente.

Mais eventos extremos

O potencial do Nordeste para a geração de energia eólica também foi destacado pelo pesquisador do Inpe. Devido aos ventos alísios que sopram do oceano Atlântico, o Nordeste tem em seu litoral um constante fluxo de vento que poderia alimentar uma vasta rede de turbinas.

Além da economia, Nobre chamou a atenção para as atividades que visam a mitigar os efeitos das mudanças climáticas, que seriam importantes também para o Nordeste. “Os efeitos dessas mudanças são locais e cada lugar as sofre de um modo diferente”, disse.

Um dos efeitos dessas alterações é o aumento dos eventos extremos como tempestades, furacões e tsunamis. Em Pernambuco, as chuvas de volume superior a 100 milímetros em um período de 24 horas aumentaram em quantidade nos últimos anos.

“Isso é terrível, pois as culturas agrícolas precisam de uma precipitação regular. Uma chuva intensa e rápida leva os nutrientes da terra, não alimenta os aquíferos e ainda provoca assoreamento dos rios, reduzindo ainda mais a capacidade de armazenamento dos açudes”, disse.

Nobre propõe que os governos dos Estados do Nordeste poderiam empregar ex-agricultores sertanejos em projetos de reflorestamento da caatinga com espécies nativas. A reconstrução dessa vegetação e das matas ciliares ajudaria a proteger o ecossistema das alterações climáticas e ainda contribuiria para mitigá-las.

O cientista defendeu também o acesso à educação de qualidade a toda a população, uma vez que a porção mais afetada é aquela que menos tem acesso a recursos financeiros e educacionais.

A implantação de uma indústria de fruticultura para exportação é outra sugestão de Nobre para preparar o Nordeste para as mudanças no clima e que poderia fortalecer a sua economia.

“A relação seca-pobreza é um ciclo vicioso de escravidão e que precisa ser rompido. Isso se manterá enquanto nossas crianças não souberem ler, não aprenderem inglês ou não conseguirem programar um celular, por exemplo”, disse.

>An unconventional way to combat petty corruption (The Economist)

>
Fighting corruption in India
A zero contribution
An unconventional way to combat petty corruption

Jan 28th 2010 | From The Economist print edition
5th Pillar

A ZERO-SUM game is one in which the gains of one player are exactly balanced by the losses of another. In India a local non-governmental organisation has invented a new sort of zero sum which, it hopes, will leave everyone better off: the zero-rupee note.

What on earth is the point of that? The note is not legal tender. It is simply a piece of paper the colour of a 50-rupee note with a picture of Gandhi on it and a value of nothing. Its aim is to shame corrupt officials into not demanding bribes.

The idea was dreamt up by an expatriate Indian physics professor from the University of Maryland who, travelling back home, found himself harassed by endless extortion demands. He gave the notes to the importuning officials as a polite way of saying no. Vijay Anand, president of an NGO called 5th Pillar, thought it might work on a larger scale. He had 25,000 zero-rupee notes printed and publicised to mobilise opposition to corruption. They caught on: his charity has distributed 1m since 2007.

One official in Tamil Nadu was so stunned to receive the note that he handed back all the bribes he had solicited for providing electricity to a village. Another stood up, offered tea to the old lady from whom he was trying to extort money and approved a loan so her granddaughter could go to college.

Mr Anand thinks the notes work because corrupt officials so rarely encounter resistance that they get scared when they do. And ordinary people are more willing to protest, since the notes have an organisation behind them and they do not feel on their own. Simple ideas like this don’t always work. When India’s government put online the names of officials facing trial for corruption, the list became a convenient guide for whom to bribe. But, says Fumiko Nagano of the World Bank, transforming social norms is the key to fighting petty corruption and the notes help that process. They are valueless, but not worthless.

>Pesquisa revela crescimento de 50% das classes de renda mais elevada no Brasil

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11/02/2010 – 10h02
Pesquisa revela crescimento de 50% das classes de renda mais elevada no Brasil

Por Isabela Vieira, da Agência Brasil

Rio de Janeiro – Nos últimos seis anos, as classes de renda mais elevada cresceram cerca de 50% no país. Segundo pesquisa divulgada nesta quarta-feira (10) pela Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV), as classes A e B, com renda mensal acima de R$ 4.807, representam hoje 15,63% da população contra 10,66% em 2003.

Coordenado pelo economista Marcelo Neri, o estudo revela, por outro lado, diminuição das classes mais baixas. A classe E, com renda de até R$ 804, passou de 29,95% para 17,42% e a classe D, com renda até R$ 1.115, diminuiu de 16,41% para 13,37%.

A classe C, que concentra grande parte da população (53%) e tem renda entre R$ 1.115 e R$ 4.807, também voltou a crescer, passando de 42,99%, em 2003, para 53,38%, em dezembro passado.

A pesquisa A Pequena Grande Década: Crise Cenários e a Nova Classe Média incorpora as mudanças provocadas pela crise em financeira em 2009, que fez oscilar as composições de todas as classes. No entanto, mostra que, ao longo do ano, elas se recuperaram e retomaram o patamar de 2008.

Neri explicou que as perdas ocorreram em janeiro do ano passado, quando a crise chegou ao país. Nos três meses anteriores, no auge do problema, as classes mais prejudicadas foram a A e a B. No período 2008-2009, 14,38% desses indivíduos caíram da classe. “O Brasil teve resiliência [capacidade de recuperação] à crise. Não de avançar, mas de não retroceder”, disse Neri.

De acordo com o estudo, as periferias, alimentadas pelo mercado interno e menos dependentes das oscilações do mercado financeiro, ajudaram a tirar o Brasil da crise.

>EUA: Um sexto das famílias passaram fome em 2008

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Por Jim Lobe, da IPS – Revista Envolverde
17/11/2009 – 11h11

Washington, 17/22/2009 – Um em cada seis lares norte-americanos passou fome em algum momento do ano passado, segundo o Departamento de Agricultura. Trata-se da maior incidência da fome desde que teve início o estudo da segurança alimentar nos Estados Unidos, em 1995. No total, 14,6% dos lares, que equivalem a cerca de 49 milhões de pessoas, “tiveram ocasionalmente problemas para levar à mesa comida suficiente durante o ano”, afirma o informe Segurança Alimentar das Famílias nos Estados Unidos, 2008, divulgado ontem.

Isto representa um notável aumento em relação à quantidade de população que passou as mesmas penúrias em 2007, 11,1% dos lares, ou 36,2 milhões de pessoas. E seguramente este ano a proporção será maior, devido aos persistentes efeitos da crise econômica que começou a se manifestar há 14 meses. Do grupo de 17 milhões de famílias que passaram fome – ou “insegurança alimentar”, segundo o informe – um terço suportaram uma “segurança muito baixa’, o que significa que a quantidade de alimento disponível para pelo menos alguns membros dessas famílias diminuiu e seus níveis normais de alimentação foram alterados.

Esses lares sofreram tais dificuldades pelo menos vários dias durante sete ou oito meses do ano. Os outros dois terços puderam conseguir comida suficiente para evitar alterações substanciais por meio de diferentes estratégias, com dieta menos variada, programas governamentais de ajuda alimentar e nutricional ou restaurantes públicos e despensas comunitárias. A quantidade de famílias nas quais as crianças, tanto quanto os adultos, sofreram “segurança alimentar muito baixa” aumentou notavelmente de 323 mil em 2007 para 506 mil no ano passado.

O presidente Barack Obama qualificou de “inquietantes” as revelações do informe, em declaração divulgada desde a China, última etapa de sua viagem pela Ásia. “Esta tendência é dolorosamente evidente em muitas comunidades de nosso país onde os vales de alimentação se multiplicam e as prateleiras das despensas se esvaziam”, disse Obama. “É especialmente complicado haver mais de 500 mil famílias com pelo menos uma criança que passou fome muitas vezes ao longo de um ano. A capacidade de nossos filhos de crescer, aprender e conseguir suas potencialidades, e, portanto, de nossa competitividade futura como nação, depende do acesso a comida saudável”, acrescentou.

Dos 49 milhões de pessoas que passaram fome pelo menos uma vez em 2008, 16,7 milhões eram crianças, segundo o informe, 4,2 milhões a mais do que em 2007 e o registro mais alto desde 1995. “Estes dados não são uma surpresa. O que deveria nos comover é que quase uma em cada quatro crianças de nosso país vive à beira da fome”, afirmou David Beckmann, presidente da Pão para o Mundo, organização nacional que também realiza programas em países pobres.

Feeding America (Alimentando os Estados Unidos), a maior organização de ajuda alimentar do país, disse que as estatísticas coincidem com sua própria experiência em comunidades nas quais dirige cerca de 200 bancos de alimentos que atendem a mais de 25 milhões de pessoas pro ano. “É trágico tanta gente nesta nação da abundãncia não ter acesso à quantidade necessária de comida nutritiva”, disse Vicki Escarra, presidente e diretora-executiva da Feeding America. “E é de se destacar que esses números refletem o estado de nossa nação um ano atrás”, acrescentou. A economia continuou se debilitando e “é muito provável que haja muito mais gente lutando contra fome”, afirmou.

Os serviços prestados pela organização – despensas comunitárias, restaurantes e centros de emergência alimentar – registraram aumento de 50% na demanda por ajuda desde o ano passado. A taxa oficial de desemprego passou de 10% no mês passado, pela primeira vez desde o começo da década de 80, enquanto o ex-secretário do Trabalho, Robert Reich, estima a cifra “não oficial”, que inclui os desempregados que já não tentam conseguir trabalho e os subempregados, em 20%. A pesquisa de recessões anteriores indica que as pessoas que caem na pobreza em períodos de crise não se recuperam. “Muitos podem estar precisando de nossos serviços agora ou precisarão no futuro”, disse Escarra.

A insegurança alimentar, segundo o informe, se relaciona estreitamente com as famílias com renda igual ou menor do que a linha de pobreza (US$ 22.050 anuais para uma família de quatro pessoas) com um só progenitor, afro-descendentes e latino-americanos. O informe determina que a fome é mais comum em grandes cidades e zonas rurais do que nos subúrbios e prevalece mais no sudeste do país. O atual governo aumentou significativamente o financiamento para os cupões de alimento, ajuda alimentar de emergência e restaurantes escolares. Em sua declaração, Obama disse que espera aumentar esses itens para o próximo ano.

“As coisas poderiam estar muito piores se não tivéssemos amplos programas de assistência”, disse o secretário da Agricultura, Tom Vilsack. “Esta é uma grande ocasião para expor este problema”, acrescentou. Beckmann concorda: “A recessão agravou o problema da fome e o tornou mais visível. A consciência do público e o compromisso do governo me dão esperanças”, disse. “Para acabar com fome, nossos governantes devem fortalecer os programas de nutrição e fornecer empregos seguros que permitam aos pais fugir do ciclo da pobreza e alimentar suas famílias no futuro”, concluiu. (IPS/Envolverde)

>Biophysical economics

>
New School of Thought Brings Energy to ‘the Dismal Science’

October 23, 2009
By NATHANIAL GRONEWOLD of Greenwire

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The financial crisis and subsequent global recession have led to much soul-searching among economists, the vast majority of whom never saw it coming. But were their assumptions and models wrong only because of minor errors or because today’s dominant economic thinking violates the laws of physics?

A small but growing group of academics believe the latter is true, and they are out to prove it. These thinkers say that the neoclassical mantra of constant economic growth is ignoring the world’s diminishing supply of energy at humanity’s peril, failing to take account of the principle of net energy return on investment. They hope that a set of theories they call “biophysical economics” will improve upon neoclassical theory, or even replace it altogether.

But even this nascent field finds itself divided, as evidenced by the vigorous and candid back-and-forth debate last week over where to go next. One camp says its models prove the world is headed toward a dramatic economic collapse as energy scarcity takes hold, while another camp believes there is still time to turn the ship around. Still, all biophysical economists see only very bleak prospects for the future of modern civilization, putting a whole new spin on the phrase “the dismal science.”

Last week, about 50 scholars in economics, ecology, engineering and other fields met at the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry for their second annual conference on biophysical economics. The new field shares features with ecological economics, a much more established discipline with conferences boasting hundreds of attendees, but the relatively smaller number of practitioners of biophysical economics believe theirs is a much more fundamental and truer form of economic reasoning.

“Real economics is the study of how people transform nature to meet their needs,” said Charles Hall, professor of systems ecology at SUNY-ESF and organizer of both gatherings in Syracuse. “Neoclassical economics is inconsistent with the laws of thermodynamics.”

Like Hall, many biophysical economic thinkers are trained in ecology and evolutionary biology, fields that do well at breaking down the natural world into a few fundamental laws and rules, just like physicists do. Though not all proponents of the new energy-centric academic study have been formally trained in economics, scholars coming in from other fields, especially ecology, say their skills allow them to see the global economy in a way that mainstream economists ignore.

Central to their argument is an understanding that the survival of all living creatures is limited by the concept of energy return on investment (EROI): that any living thing or living societies can survive only so long as they are capable of getting more net energy from any activity than they expend during the performance of that activity.

For instance, if a squirrel burns energy eating nuts, those nuts had better give the squirrel more energy back then it expended, or the squirrel will inevitably die. It is a rule that lies at the core of studying animal and plant behavior, and human society should be looked at no differently, as even technologically complex societies are still governed by EROI.

“The basic issue is very fundamental: Why should economics be a social science, because it’s about stuff?” Hall said.

‘Peak oil’ embraced

The modern biophysical economics movement may be relatively young, but the ideas at its roots are not.

In 1926, Frederick Soddy, a chemist who was awarded the Nobel Prize just a few weeks before, published “Wealth, Virtual Wealth and Debt,” one of the first books to argue that energy should lie at the heart of economics and not supply-demand curves.

Soddy also criticized traditional monetary policy theories for seemingly ignoring the fact that “real wealth” is derived from using energy to transform physical objects, and that these physical objects are inescapably subject to the laws of entropy, or inevitable decline and disintegration.

The sharpest difference between biophysical economics and the more widely held “Chicago School” approach is that biophysical economists readily accept the peak oil hypothesis: that society is fast approaching the point where global oil production will peak and then steadily decline.

The United States is held as the prime example. Though the United States is still the world’s third-largest producer of oil, its oil production stopped growing more than a decade ago and has flatlined or steadily fallen ever since. Other once-robust oil-producing countries have experienced similar production curves.

But the more important indicator, biophysical economists say, is the fact that the U.S. oil industry’s energy return on investment has been steadily sliding since the beginning of the century.

Through analyzing historical production data, experts say the petroleum sector’s EROI in this country was about 100-to-1 in 1930, meaning one had to burn approximately 1 barrel of oil’s worth of energy to get 100 barrels out of the ground. By the 1990s, it is thought, that number slid to less than 36-to-1, and further down to 19-to-1 by 2006.

“If you go from using a 20-to-1 energy return fuel down to a 3-to-1 fuel, economic collapse is guaranteed,” as nothing is left for other economic activity, said Nate Hagens, editor of the popular peak oil blog “The Oil Drum.”

“The main problem with neoclassical economics is that it treats energy as the same as any other commodity input into the production function,” Hagens said. “They parse it into dollar terms and treat it the same as they would mittens or earmuffs or eggs … but without energy, you can’t have any of that other stuff.”

Nor is conservation or energy efficiency the answer. In his presentation, Henshaw noted that the International Energy Agency’s own data show that energy use is doubling every 37 years or so, while energy productivity takes about 56 years to double.

In fact, the small world of biophysical economists seems to agree that energy and resource conservation is pointless in the economic system as it is now construed, contrary to what one might expect. Such efforts are noteworthy as it buys the world a bit more time, but the destination is inevitably the same — a gallon of gasoline not burned by an American will be burned by someone else anyway.

Other peaks?

Though not as closely studied, biophysical economists theorize that the peak oil phenomenon holds true for all non-renewable resources, especially energy commodities. Proponents of the field say they are moving closer to understanding “peak gas” and “peak coal.” Consumption of many of the world’s most valuable minerals could likewise see those resources nearing exhaustion, as well, they say.

And no amount of technology can fix the problem. Hagens points out that oil extraction has evolved by leaps and bounds since the early 1900s, and yet companies must expend much more energy to get less and less oil than they did back then.

“It isn’t that there’s no technology,” Hall said. “The question is, technology is in a race with depletion, and that’s a whole different concept. And we think that we can show empirically that depletion is winning, because the energy return on investment keeps dropping for gas and oil.”

The most pessimistic of the biophysical economics camp sees the oil-fueled world economy grinding to a halt soon, possibly within 10 years. They are all working to get the message out, but not all of them believe their peers in other professions will listen.

“Of course I’m trying to send a message,” said Joseph Tainter, chairman of Utah State University’s Department of Environment and Society. “I just don’t expect there’s anyone out there to receive it.”

Copyright 2009 E&E Publishing. All Rights Reserved.

>I know I know nothing; but at least I know that

>
Willem Buiter – FT’s Maverecon Blog

September 10, 2009 3:00pm

Science with very few (if any) data

Doing statistical analysis on a sample of size 1 is either a very frustrating or a very liberating exercise. The academic discipline known as history falls into that category. Most applied social science, including applied economics, does too. Applied economists use means fair and foul to try to escape from the reality that economics is not a discipline where controlled experiments are possible. The situation that an economically relevant problem can be studied by means of a control group and a treatment group that are identical as regards all but one external or exogenous driver, whose influence can as a result be isolated, identified and measured, does not arise in practice.

Time series analysis (which establishes associations or correlations between measurable variables over time), cross section analysis (which studies associations or correlations between between variables observed during a common time period but differing by some other criterion (say location, individual or family identity or whatnot)), and panel data analysis, which combines time-series and cross-section data and methodology, all struggle (mostly in vain) with the problem that the economic analyst cannot control for all relevant influences on the behaviour of the phenomenon he is investigating, GDP growth or unemployment, say. The reason for this is first and foremost that the investigating economist doesn’t have a clue as to what should be on an exhaustive list of possible relevant drivers of GDP growth or unemployment. Second, many of the key variables he is aware of may not be measurable or only be measurable with serious errors. Expectations are an example. Finally, the long list of possible explanatory variables that are omitted from consideration are extremely unlikely to be statistically independent of the errors or residuals from a statistical or econometric analysis/estimation that uses just a truncated set of explanatory variables. The result: biased and inconsistent estimates of parameters and other features of the relationship between the explanandum and the explanans.

Economists have made a growth industry of seeking out or concocting quasi-natural experiments that might look like controlled experiments in the natural sciences. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner contains a sampling of this kind of work.

I have not read a single one of these quasi-natural experiment studies where one could not easily come up with a long list of potentially relevant omitted explanatory variables. Such ‘unobserved heterogeneity’ means that other things were definitely not equal, and the attribution of cause and effect is bound to be flawed. In addition, the determined chase for yet another quasi-controlled or natural experiment has led many economists to look under the lamppost for their missing knowledge, not because that is where they lost it, but because that’s where the light is. A flood of cute but irrelevant studies of issues of no conceivable economic significance has been undertaken simply because a cute but irrelevant natural experiment had been conducted.

Experimental economics was the last refuge of the empirically desperate. It mostly involves paying a bunch of undergraduates (or, if you have a very small budget, graduates) to play a variety of simple games with monetary and occasionally non-monetary pay-offs for the participants. The actions of the players in these highly artificial settings – artificial if only because the players are aware they are the guineau pigs in some academic experiment – are meant to cast light on the behaviour of people in real-word situations subject to similar constraints and facing similar incentives. Halfway between proper experimental or laboratory economics and natural experiments are ‘constructed experiments’ (aka randomised experiments) in which a (team of) economists conducts an experiment in a real-world setting and uses randomised evaluation methods to make inferences and test hypotheses. Typically, the guinea pigs in such randomised experiments are a selection of Indian villagers or other poor population groups – a little research grant goes a long way in a very poor environment. Again, the intentions are good, but the ceteris paribus assumption – that all other material influences on behaviour have either been controlled for or don’t distort the results of the study because they are independent of the unexplained component of behaviour in the constructed experiment – is (a) untestable and (b) generally implausible.

Of course, economics and the other social sciences are not alone in being bereft of meaningful controlled experiments. Two of the jewels in the ‘hard’ or natural science crown, cosmology and the theory of evolution, provide generous companionship for the social science waifs. Scientists at CERN may be able (wittingly or unwittingly) to create little bangs and mini black holes a few miles below ground in Switzerland and France, but this does not amount to a test of the big bang theory. They have no more than one dodgy observation on that. Evolutionary biologists may be able to observe evolution at work in real time ‘in the small’, that is, in microorganisms, butterflies etc. but they don’t have replications of the 4.5 billion year history of the earth, through a collection of parallel universes each of which differs from the others in one observable and measurable aspect only. This does not mean that anything goes. Finding fossils that can confidently be dated to be around 150 million years old makes rather a hash of strict young earth creationist accounts that date the creation of the universe to somewhere between 5,700 and 10,000 years ago. Other propositions, like intelligent design, cannot be proven or disproved and are therefore not scientific in nature.

So what is the poor economist to do when confronted with the need to make predictions or counterfactual analyses? Fundamentally, you pray and you punt.

How do we evaluate the reliability or quality of such forecasts and analyses? Ex-post, by matching them up against outcomes, in the case of forecasts. This is not straighforward – very few economists make completely unconditional forecasts, but it is in principle feasible. In the case of a counterfactual analysis where the counterfactual policy action or event did not take place – who knows? A necessary test of the acceptability of a counterfactual argument is its logical coherence – its internal consistency. That probably gets rid of about 90 percent of what is released into the public domain, but still leaves us with a lot of counterfactual propositions (and forecasts that can not yet be tested against outcomes).

For the counterfactual proposition and the forecasts beyond today that survive the test of logical coherence, all we have is the one data point of history to lend some plausiblity.

What will be the likely shape of the recovery in the overdeveloped world?

What does history teach us about the likely shape of the recovery in the overdeveloped world following the bottoming out of global GDP? Is the financial collapse phase of the Great Depression a good guide? Probably not, because the banking sector and the financial system of the late 1920s and early 1930s were so different from those that went down the chute starting August 2007. A financial sector that is one layer deep, with banks funding themselves mainly from household deposits and investing mainly in loans to the non-financial business sector, is a very different animal from the multi-layered financial sector in the second half of the first decade of the 21st century.

The modern banking system is part of a multi-layered financial sector. It funds itself to a large degree in financial wholesale markets and has on the asset side of its balance sheet many financial instruments issued by other banks and by non-bank financial institutions, including off-balance sheets vehicles of the banks. Rapid deleveraging of a 1930s-style single-layer financial system is bound to be massively disruptive for the real economy. Rapid deleveraging of a modern multi-layered financial system needs not be massively disruptive for the real economy, although it will be if it is done in an uncoordinated, voluntary manner. Since most liabilities (assets) of banks are assets (liabilities) of other banks and non-bank financial institutions, an intelligent, coordinated netting or write-down of intra-financial sector assets and liabilities is technically possible without significant impact on the exposure (on both sides of the balance sheet) of the financial system as a whole to the non-financial sectors.

There are many legal and political obstacles to such a de-layering of financial intermediation – it amounts to the temporary imposition of a form of central planning on the key banks and their financial sector counterparties, but it could be done if the political will were there.

This important difference between the situation of the 1930s and that facing us today makes one more optimistic about the pace of the recovery to come. Against that, much of the tentative insight I have gained about the financial crisis has not come from the lessons of the 1930s but from emerging markets crises since the 1970s. Except for the important qualifier that the US dollar is a global reserve currency, and that the US government (and private sector) has most of its domestic and external liabilities denominated in US dollars, the pathologies of financial boom, bubble and bust in the US, the UK, Iceland, Ireland and Spain (and many of the Central and East European emerging market economies) track those of classical emerging market crises in South America, Asia and CEE in the 1990s, rather well.

The emerging market analogy makes one less optimistic about a robust recovery, as typically, emerging markets whose financial sector was destroyed by a serious financial crisis took many years to recover their pre-crisis growth rates and often never recovered their pre-crisis GDP paths.

But cleary, there are many differences in economic structure, policy regimes and external environment between the overdeveloped world of today and either the industrialised world of the 1930s or the emerging markets of the 1980s and 1990s. For starters, we are now aware of what happened in the 1930s and in the emerging markets (the arrow of history flies only in one direction). Another key difference is that today’s emerging markets and developing countries, whose domestic financial sectors have not been destroyed by the financial crisis, add up to 50 percent of global GDP. Even if China itself cannot be a global locomotive (not even the little engine that could), a sufficient number of emerging markets jointly could lead the global economy out of recession. Controlling for all the things that make ceteris non paribus is a hopeless task. But just because it is hopeless does not mean that we can avoid it. Decisions have to be taken and choices have to be made on the basis of the best available information and analysis, even if the best is pretty crummy. It is, however, key that if it is indeed the case that the best is no good, we admit to this and don’t pretend otherwise. False certainty can be deadly.

Earlier this week, Joseph Stiglitz, told Bloomberg that the U.S. economy faces a significant chance of contracting again after emerging from the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

“There’s a significant chance of a W, but I don’t think it’s inevitable,” … . The economy “could just bounce along the bottom.” Sure, but how does he know it whether it will be a V, a W, a rotated and reflected L, a W or double dip, a triple jump or a quadruple bypass? With a sample of at most size one to underpin one’s forecast, the quality of the argument/analysis that produces and supports the forecast is essential. The forecast itself is indeed likely to be much less important than the reasoning behind it. If the conclusion is open-ended, the story better be good.

>Forecasting: Relationship of trust is permanently damaged

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By Chris Giles – Financial Times – October 5 2009

No one, not even the most gloomy economic forecaster, predicted the global economy’s sudden collapse a year ago. Those that said the crisis would get nasty can feel vindicated, but even they did not foresee the global crisis of confidence that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

Arguably, they could not, says Bart van Ark, chief economist of the Conference Board, the global business organisation. “What you cannot forecast is a shock,” he says.

But in a less precise sense, the crisis of the past year has been the most predicted shock in history. For years, economists and officials have warned that many aspects of the world’s economic system were unsustainable.

“Even if nobody could be sure exactly when the timebomb was going to explode, it was at least useful to know we were sitting on one,” says Andrew Smith, chief economist of accountancy firm KPMG.

Most thought a crisis would arise from a loss of confidence in the dollar, resulting from the huge and prolonged US trade deficit. Instead, something similar arose after it was found that the capital flows to the US had been frittered away by banks lending money to unsuitable sub-prime borrowers and keeping those debts in their off-balance-sheet vehicles.

But though the risk of an economic crisis was regularly highlighted, it was impossible to incorporate into economic models and was therefore put to one side – filed in the “interesting and scary, but not very likely” box. That meant economic forecasts have had a terrible recent record.

Just over a year ago, in summer 2008, the International Monetary Fund thought the prospects for both 2008 and 2009 had improved and were forecasting world economic growth of 3.9 per cent in 2009 – far from a recession. The forecast was a reflection of the prevailing consensus and fears of global inflation.

Then Lehman filed for bankruptcy and economists began a painful process of recognising the likelihood of recession in the advanced world, the spread of the pain to the entire global economy and that the economic crisis was even deeper than had been thought.

By November, the IMF had almost halved its 2009 forecast to 2.2 per cent. And by April this year the Fund was talking about a “slump”, with world output sliding in 2009 by 1.4 per cent, the first drop since the second world war.

By spring 2009, the consensus of private forecasters expected the worst economic performance in the world economy since the Great Depression and little recovery in 2010.

The ever-changing outlook has raised many questions for those making policy. And yet economists have never been so uncertain about the future. It depends crucially on the financial system and its interaction with confidence and trust among people around the world.

Willem Buiter, professor of European political economy at the London School of Economics, argues that it is a fallacy to think economic models, particularly those based on history, can hope to understand the fundamental relationships in a large and complex economy. “So what is the poor economist to do when confronted with the need to make predictions or counterfactual analyses? Fundamentally, you pray and you punt,” he says.

Economists and policymakers are doing just that, alongside telling everyone that their forecasts are dependent on specific events and highly uncertain. Users of forecasts now know they cannot simply take them on trust.

In future there is also likely to be a greater tendency for economists to use their own judgment rather than the outcome of many equations run through a large computer, says Mr van Ark. “Don’t just rely on your model,” he says, “and you want to combine the short-term outlook with a longer term perspective”.

Modesty among economists is also something that will be needed in future, a soft skill that comes with difficulty to many.

But with signs that the global economy is recovering and will grow next year, the world is already hanging on forecasters’ words, however unwise that might be.

Economists will still be stuck with the problem that the unpredictable will happen. And when it does, the vast majority will have much egg on their faces.

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Há paralelos muito interessantes entre o que a economia está vivendo agora, e o cotidiano da meteorologia. Ambos vivem de prognósticos sobre o futuro.

Economistas, que nos Estados Unidos gostam de atuar na área de psicologia (e vice-versa – mas psicólogos, até onde eu sei, não fazem prognósticos públicos), agora sentem na pele os dilemas e pressões só sentidas por meteorologistas.

E, com relação ao uso da experiência e do bom senso como complemento (ou no lugar de) modelos matemáticos – vide parágrafos finais do texto acima -, quando um meteorologista faz isso, é criticado por todos os lados (vide livro de Gary Alan Fine, Authors of the Storm).