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Fri May 15, 2015 at 03:15 PM PDT

Bureaucracies out of control

by Cassiodorus

It's long after Herbert Marcuse warned us of technocracy in his classic (1964) One-Dimensional Man.  You know, that part (page 32 if you want to look it up) in which Marcuse says "the capitalist bosses and owners are losing their identity as responsible agents; they are assuming the function of bureaucrats in a corporate machine" and so on.   So let's just roll this stuff out, m'kay?

The US Military Uncontained: Chaos Spread, Casualties Inflicted, Missions Unaccomplished
This great summary appeared in yesterday's TruthOut and today's Naked Capitalism.  I'm sure it's been true for quite some time now that the US military has existed for the most part to keep its own gravy train going, but it's nice to see it summarized so well here:
Once upon a time, the US military was more or less tied to continental defense and limited by strong rivals in its hegemonic designs. No longer. Today, it has uncontained ambitions across the globe and even as it continually stumbles in achieving them, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, or elsewhere, its growth is assured, as our leaders trip over one another in continuing to shower it with staggering sums of money and unconditional love.
Oh, and here's a cute one from last October:
Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change.
The people we elect aren’t the ones calling the shots, says Tufts University’s Michael Glennon
Here's the key passage:
Though it’s a bedrock American principle that citizens can steer their own government by electing new officials, Glennon suggests that in practice, much of our government no longer works that way. In a new book, “National Security and Double Government,” he catalogs the ways that the defense and national security apparatus is effectively self-governing, with virtually no accountability, transparency, or checks and balances of any kind. He uses the term “double government”: There’s the one we elect, and then there’s the one behind it, steering huge swaths of policy almost unchecked. Elected officials end up serving as mere cover for the real decisions made by the bureaucracy.
Both of these are reminiscent of another, slightly-less-recent study:
Study: US is an oligarchy, not a democracy
The study's conclusion:
Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organisations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America's claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.
So who's got power?  Rich people.  Bureaucrats.  The military.  David Graeber complains about the bureaucrats in one of his "Baffler" jeremiads.

What are they doing with it?  They're maintaining their own power.  They're creating even more bureaucracy -- "Lambert Strether" has a fun time discussing the unaccountable ISDS courts which we'll see once the TPP is passed. Otherwise, they're being screw-ups.

Wise leadership would have set America, and the world-society as a whole, on a different course -- towards the utopia of human rights, or toward a less severe dieoff, as opposed to the continued maintenance of the society of money.  But that's not what oligarchies are about -- oligarchies are about keeping groups of people in power, and making sure the rest of us continue to work for them.

I suppose there's always resistance.  Here's a small-scale example.

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Yeah, I know, maybe if I'm very lucky this will generate another Rox/ Sux piefight, just like this diary has generated one today about Hillary Clinton.  I think of those piefights as opportunities -- they give you all an opportunity to share where you really stand, rather than being able to put on leftistface while using "omigod Republicans" as a backup debating strategy.

I suppose that we will be reading the leftistface/ omigod Republicans shuffle until 2036, when we can expect famine, drought, and climate-change adjusted heat waves to ravage 93% America while great methane fireballs emerge from the floors of our dead oceans and explode into flames.  And even then nobody will be able to figure out where the "liberal Democrats" stand on Presidents who support oil interests.  At any rate, here is this diary's main course, a statement day-before-yesterday by Bill McKibben:

Obama’s Catastrophic Climate-Change Denial
McKibben's complaint is as follows:
THE Obama administration’s decision to give Shell Oil the go-ahead to drill in the Arctic shows why we may never win the fight against climate change. Even in this most extreme circumstance, no one seems able to stand up to the power of the fossil fuel industry. No one ever says no.
Now, of course, if you look at the White House page on global warming, you can see that President Obama accepts the scientific consensus on global warming, and that he claims to have some sort of plan.  So what's McKibben's beef?  Here's the critical paragraph in which McKibben outlines his position.  Like me, McKibben thinks we need to keep the grease in the ground:
But you can’t deal with climate on the demand side alone. If we keep digging up more coal, gas and oil, it will get burned, if not here, then somewhere else. This is precisely the conclusion that a study in the journal Nature reached in January: If we’re to have any chance of meeting even Mr. Obama’s weak goal of holding temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, we have to leave most carbon underground. That paper, in particular, showed that the coal reserves in the Powder River basin in the West and the oil in Canada’s tar sands had to be left largely untouched, and that there was no climate-friendly scenario in which any oil or gas could be drilled in the Arctic.
On the one hand, Obama makes deals with China; on the other hand, he allows Shell to drill in the Arctic.  How does McKibben reconcile the contradiction in Obama?
This is not climate denial of the Republican sort, where people simply pretend the science isn’t real. This is climate denial of the status quo sort, where people accept the science, and indeed make long speeches about the immorality of passing on a ruined world to our children. They just deny the meaning of the science, which is that we must keep carbon in the ground.
What liberals really like is a President they can call a "leftist."  Actually forcing the government to do something, however, is another issue for them.  We might say "hurray" when someone posts a global warming diary with lots of pretty videos on -- and we might even claim that we've "put pressure" upon our politicians to do something effective.  But as long as our backup position is "omigod Republicans," it's all hat and no cattle.

Here's how you pressure politicians within an authoritarian system like ours:

1) Form a voting bloc
2) Threaten to withhold your votes from your favorite politicians if they fail to carry out your agenda
3) Withhold votes from those who fail to carry out your agenda

Think we can do it if the planet is at stake?  Clinton takes gobs of money from oil interests.  What's your position?


Summary: Yesterday we read the "OPOL report," which argued we have a "bullshit political system."  Today, with reference to a piece by Raul Ilargi Meijer in today's Naked Capitalism, I'm going to suggest that a bullshit political system is appropriate to a bullshit world economy.  Everything might look nice on the surface, but this is so because the managers of that surface are kept very busy polishing it and making it look clean and shiny and, well, unreal.  If you look hard enough, however, you can see the scary reality (symbolized by Ilargi's necrophiliac title) underneath.

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Property is theft. -- Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
Power concedes nothing without a demand.  It never did and it never will.  -- Frederick Douglass
So what white America told black America was: "Two hundred fifty years of slavery, ninety years of Jim Crow, maybe a few civil rights acts in the Sixties, and you're on your own! Enjoy discrimination and predatory policing!" I'm sure it was applied with the same banal foolishness with which white America applies corporal punishment to its children.

Does this sound like a fair deal to you?  And everyone's worried about a few broken windows?  

Back in June of last year we read a call for reparations from Ta-Nehisi Coates.  Let's be clear about what this is about: it's a call for reparation payments, to be issued to African-Americans, as restitution for slavery, Jim Crow, and institutional racism continued to the present day.  Coates' piece is great.  He updates the story of generation-after-generation white plunder and Black desperation from the era of slavery to the present day, in which, as Glen Ford put it:

Black America has plummeted to such economic depths... that there is no possibility of ever reaching economic parity with whites absent a social revolution, the beginnings of which we may be witnessing in the growing mobilization against brutal police enforcement of the oppressive social order.
Thus Baltimore, as Ferguson, as Florence and Normandie, and as Watts.
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OK, so first the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  Nobody is allowed to see it, but it's going to pass.  The White House is working with Republicans on this one.

One of the things TPP will probably be able to do is that it will in all likelihood create an "Investor-State Dispute Settlement" mechanism, wherein state restrictions on business can be formulated as curbs on "investor rights," thus allowing for a sort of absolutist capitalism in which the unaccountable ISDS courts, staffed by corporate representatives, can continually rewrite the rules so as to create ever-expanding definitions of "investor rights."  Public Citizen:

There are no new safeguards that limit ISDS tribunals’ discretion to create ever-expanding interpretations of governments’ obligations to foreign investors and order compensation on that basis.The leaked text reveals the same “safeguard” terms that have been included in U.S. pacts since the 2005 Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). CAFTA tribunals have simply ignored the “safeguard” provisions that the leaked text replicates for the TPP, and have continued to rule against governments based on concocted obligations to which governments never agreed. The leaked text also abandons a safeguard proposed in the 2012 leaked TPP investment text, which excluded public interest regulations from indirect expropriation claims, stating, “non-discriminatory regulatory actions … that are designed and applied to achieve legitimate public welfare objectives, such as the protection of public health, safety and the environment do not constitute indirect expropriation.” Today’s leaked text eviscerates that clause by adding a fatal loophole that has been found in past U.S. pacts.
The trade deals will basically rewrite zoning and land-use law.  The TPP and other such deals will guarantee profits for multinational corporations.

Okay, so that's the TPP, and probably also the TTIP and a number of other deals.  (Meanwhile, the White House claims that Hillary Clinton is on board with all this.  There's nothing like good insurance.)  What does this have to do about abrupt climate change?

The sort of global governance which will be necessary to mitigate abrupt climate change is being reinforced, here -- but the rules are being written to give everyone global governance in the form of ironclad corporate hegemony, locking in profits for those who expect them, rather than in any form conducive to the medium-term future survival of planetary civilization.  

It's hard to imagine any of the signatories to these details being able to do anything about climate change besides buying a few solar panels and hoping for the best.  You know, without catching some adverse rulings from the ISDS courts.  It's definitely hard to imagine any sort of "keep the grease in the ground" strategy with the TPP and the TTIP in place.  Is that okay with everyone here?  

And once our system of global governance starts guaranteeing corporate profits, how far of a leap is it for them to guarantee profits for fossil fuel interests?


From the Huffington Post's Zach Carter:

Hillary Clinton Calls For 'Toppling' The 1 Percent
Hillary Clinton believes that strengthening the middle class and alleviating income inequality will require "toppling" the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, according to a New York Times profile published on Tuesday.
Okay, I've read the HuffPo piece, I've read the New York Times link, and I've read Matt Taibbi's analysis, which seems to me to be thorough.

So here is my take.  I'm not going to get into what this whole "topple the 1%" pitch says about Hillary Clinton here.  What's important about Clinton's call for "toppling," rather, is what it says about her mass public audience.  Clinton's mass public audience must really need a "leftist."  My link explains in full what I mean by a "leftist" here -- a "leftist" caters symbolically to "left-wing" demand, of course, but it's really up to an audience to define who is or isn't a "leftist."  For some very, very important reason, Clinton can't sell corporate conservatism to the mass public as the superior alternative to antipublic conservatism, and so she responds to that reason by presenting "leftism."

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Dear Political Elites Elected Representatives,

This is my most heartfelt email.  Please consider it as if the fate of your souls were in the balance.

I know that you receive campaign donations from billionaires and "funding organizations" who consider you a much better investment than, say, actual productive capital, and that your fictions of a robust economic recovery are mighty.  I know that you'll respond to all of my concerns with small-time government programs which benefit people who make great photo-ops, and with glorious platitudes bearing little relation to actual policy.  And I know that I'm going to vote for you anyway, rather than be accused of disloyalty by those whose rallying cry for the past four decades was and is "omigod the other party!"

So why am I pleading before you today?  It's not really about any actual piece of legislation, because of course I'm not rich enough to influence policy.  And I know that your followers like to portray you as being vastly different than your buddies with that other, more sinister, (alphabet letter) next to their names.  Rather, I'm pleading before you today because my buddies need to see that I've maintained the appearance of "pressuring" you.  

You know of course that if I were actually to pressure you (without the scare-quotes), I'd threaten to withhold my vote for you unless and until you enacted my agenda.  But I have no such intentions because "omigod the other party."  Thus my unswerving party loyalty.  BUT REMEMBER THAT I REALLY ONLY LIKE THE COOL PEOPLE Y'KNOW.  You can be one of those people if you say some nice populist things now and then.

I am writing you today to remind you of the urgent necessity, impending with great immediacy now for over four decades, of a less evil politics than the one promised by that Party Whose Name Dare Not Be Enunciated Here.  We need to be sure that if anyone really asks penetrating questions about what "lesser evil" politics means, we can throw up a facade or two.  

This is especially important as regards the issue of abrupt climate change, where we must redouble our efforts to pretend continue to imagine that alternative energy will save capitalism and that restraining wealthier consumers a bit while letting the fossil fuel interests do what they want will solve the problem in its entirety.  We can't allow the climate deniers to have the upper hand on this issue (and we can't let them hog all the oil money, either)!

Got it?  Now go out there and do policy like you were the reincarnation of FDR or Lincoln or Gandhi or Nelson Mandela or someone like that.



In a recent piece posted to the Grist website, David Roberts tells us that "there's an emerging right-wing divide on climate change."

Now I suppose that by "right wing" Roberts means Republicans, because of course all of the Important People want to give the Democrats some space to claim that they are not conservatives.  

Even so, I wanted more evidence from Roberts that this was in fact a "divide."  I felt reinforced in my belief that Republicans have no solid opinions on climate change, but rather that they have a knee-jerk reaction to anything like climate change that would threaten their precious capitalist system (as Naomi Klein points out at the beginning of her book This Changes Everything).  What appears to be most prominently the case is that prominent Republicans are backtracking on claims that climate climate change isn't happening, or that it isn't caused by human beings.  They're starting to waffle on denial claims.  This appears most prominently in the Dana Milbank piece which Roberts cites.  Here's Dana Milbank:

But on Christmas Eve, Justin Haskins, a blogger and editor at Heartland, penned an article for the conservative journal Human Events declaring: “The real debate is not whether man is, in some way, contributing to climate change; it’s true that the science is settled on that point in favor of the alarmists.”
There's also the issue of ALEC threatening to sue people who argue that it's a denier organization, which I suppose is a landmark too.

At any rate, the new status quo after the forthcoming "conservative" (i.e. Republican) shift in position is laid out best in Roberts' conclusion:

Conservatives don’t need to deny that the healthcare system sucks to fight all healthcare solutions; they don’t need to deny that the immigration system sucks to fight all immigration solutions. Why should they need to deny climate change to fight all climate solutions?

They don’t. Denialism has just become an unnecessary distraction, one that’s hurting them culturally. They are better off just opposing any bill or regulation that comes up on the usual grounds: big government, overreach, economic misery, blackouts, blah blah. That kind of thing has worked for decades and there’s no reason it couldn’t work against climate solutions too.

So here is my question, for Roberts and others: where are these "climate solutions" that the "conservatives" (read: Republicans) are so interested in opposing?  By "climate solutions" here I don't mean symbolic stuff that is meant to improve the resumes of legislators without doing anything about the problem.  Those are career solutions, not climate solutions.  The important thing about non-solutions is that they create lots of glorious tempests in lots of pricey teapots while things get worse.  Let's argue forever about cap-and-trade systems which won't solve the problem, y'know.  Or maybe we can improve fuel efficiency standards without recognizing Jevons' Paradox, or we can set up climate change information centers which recommend more insufficient stuff, or something like that.

Let's start with the fundamental principle any and every "climate solution" must have: keeping the grease in the ground.  If it isn't extracted, it won't be burned.  So here's how it could work, in the most reformist, meat-axe way I can spell it out:

1) Every nation on Earth, as cemented by treaty, nationalizes its oil and coal and tar-sands reserves.

2) Every nation on Earth, as cemented by treaty, phases out its oil and coal and tar-sands production.

3) Everyone receives free solar panels or windmills or other non-fossil-fuel energy devices.  (This will also be cemented by treaty.)

If the Republicans don't like this solution, well, I'm sure they can put up their usual bluster about socialism and the free market being God and all that.  The thing is that, since very few people are really proposing it, the Republicans need not expend any energy opposing it.  So in reality the Republicans need not cling to climate change denial, not because real solutions involve some degree of that "socialism" which said Republicans so hate, but because real-solution denial is the status quo nearly everywhere.


Thu Apr 02, 2015 at 03:00 PM PDT

The critique of relationships

by Cassiodorus

Relationships and nature

Much recent literature labels this time in which we live as the "Anthropocene Era" -- the term refers to a specific era of natural history in which human beings institute drastic changes upon life on Earth -- in other words, the present time.  The term "anthropocene" literally means "the era of humans."

The ecosystemic meltdown currently taking place on planet Earth, the ecological disaster we currently face, is defined through the "Anthropocene Era" term as the result of "human activity," without any reference to the human social relationships which stand as the most proximate causes of this meltdown.  In short, what we're being told is that human beings are ecological monsters pure and simple.  The Wikipedia entry on the Anthropocene offers a simple definition:

The Anthropocene is a proposed geologic chronological term for an epoch that begins when human activities have had a significant global impact on the Earth's ecosystems.
A number of questions are begged by this definition.  The most obvious one is that of what counts as a "significant global impact."  From the Wikipedia entry again:
The Anthropocene has no precise start date, but based on atmospheric evidence may be considered to start with the Industrial Revolution (late eighteenth century).[4][7] Other scientists link the new term to earlier events, such as the rise of agriculture and the Neolithic Revolution (around 12,000 years BP).
But we can of course dig even further.  The human race has been on this planet for around 200,000 years.  What is so special about this portion (and indeed we are talking about a small portion indeed, maybe 6% of the total timespan) of human existence on the planet that it is characterized by such pronounced ecosystemic impact?  Well, clearly, human organization was at one point characterized by the development of agriculture, and then at later points by sophisticated technologies, from metalworking to electrical systems to air and space travel.  Perhaps, then, we might speak of a "technocene," an era of geological history in which technologically-empowered humans changed the planet.  Insofar as our relationship to the planet was massively altered by technological dissemination, we can say that we have changed the ecosystems of the planet.  It isn't just us, then -- it's our technology.  But the fact that we have technology doesn't mean we're obliged to use it destructively.  Our relationships, to the planet and to each other, are at fault.

An approach that gets us closer to the human relationship problem is suggested in an article highlighted in Jacobin online magazine this week: "The Anthropocene Myth."  Its subtitle is: "Blaming all of humanity for climate change lets capitalism off the hook."  Author Andreas Malm does not regard humans as ecological monsters: rather, for him "capital, not humanity as such" is the ecological monster in the house.  It isn't just us, then, it's capital, that changes our ecosystems, and for that we can speak of a "capitalocene."

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Mon Mar 30, 2015 at 02:04 PM PDT

Feudalism might be a good idea...

by Cassiodorus

...if we lived in the 6th century.  Do we live in the 6th century still?

Well, the residents of what Robert Frank called "Richistan" might like to style themselves as the new nobility, but "flexible" wage labor in the 3rd world's labor camps is clearly more profitable than scooping up the surplus produced by peasants reduced to serfdom, and having the government print up money so you can claim a profit has definite advantages over hiring knights so you can try to increase the size of your duchy at the cost of your neighbor's land holdings.  And why bother with the divine right of kings when you can count on a public trained to vote for the lesser of two evils and worked over by propaganda in every election run-up?  (Romney version) (Obama version)

So no, nobody really wants feudalism anymore.  Every once in awhile, though, you see the word "feudalism" bandied about as if had an application in the politics of the 21st century.  One thing the Internet did was to free up the great plethora of history-free analysis, the vast numbers of "thinkers" who imagine that politics and economics are like flavors at the Baskin-Robbins ice cream store -- choose from the 31 flavors of historical example, mix and match.  It's amusing stuff -- but it's all noise and no signal.

It's easier, I suppose, to borrow from the past than it is to imagine the future, especially when you live in a world in which (to quote Slavoj Zizek) "It’s easy to imagine the end of the world — an asteroid destroying all of life, and so on — but we cannot imagine the end of capitalism."  What we need, however, is real thinking about the future.


The future will be most like --

22%8 votes
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| 36 votes | Vote | Results

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Wed Mar 25, 2015 at 04:00 PM PDT

Climate change psychology

by Cassiodorus

The starting point of this piece is a short commentary in the online Toronto newspaper The Globe and Mail, suggesting that "To confront climate change, we must turn fear into empathy."  Now, Peter Martin is an astrophysicist, and so his piece is not so much a commentary on climate change science (yeah, I know, Freeman Dyson -- this is better stuff) as it is a commentary on what a scientist sees in the climate change situation.  It's also important that Martin comes from Canada.  Canada is a pivotal country in the fight to mitigate climate change, as Canada is the site of vast reserves of oil and tar sands which must at some point be allowed to remain in the ground if a proactive solution to the climate change crisis is to be attempted.

Martin's piece has a literary tenor and meanders a bit, but what I thought was valuable about it was that it suggests a psychology of abrupt climate change.  His conclusion is an exhortation to develop more proactive attitudes toward climate change:

This silent spring we should pause to cry for our beloved planet but not let future generations become the inheritors of our fear. It is time to reject the scourge of irrationality, resist the opiates that so distract us, and redirect the power of persuasion that has produced so cynically such a socially pre-Copernican century of self. Alongside evidenced-based policymaking we must “give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space” and so close the empathy gap.
Martin's idea, then, is that there is something wrong with the way the public is internalizing news about climate change.  The title given to Martin's short rant oversimplifies the matter, though -- as Martin himself recognizes, it's not just about fear.  Here, briefly, I will suggest some other possible psychologies of abrupt climate change, besides fear.  For the most part these psychologies are not proactive -- they will not tell us where to go.

Overconfidence -- Martin mentions this one.

On the one hand is hubris: there are no limits to human innovation, discovery, and development. But even then, do we rely on crises and emergencies with unjustifiable deaths to punctuate the process? Should we wait to pull the ripcord when only one metre off the ground, vainly hoping that “geo-engineering” will save the planet?
The voice of overconfidence tells us that everyone will buy a Tesla, you see (well, all of the Important People in the economy of the 7%), and they will all run on solar power, and then the problem will go away by itself.  

Helplessness -- there is no solution, we are all doomed.  No need to bother even with fear -- enjoy life while it lasts.

Willful ignorance -- climate change will go away like the rest of that fluff they show on the news.

Apathy -- it's not my problem and the experts know more than I do, so why ask me?  This psychology was delineated with expert grace in Nina Eliasoph's ethnographic study Avoiding Politics, and although Eliasoph didn't study popular attitudes toward climate change, her study makes a lot of connections to environmental politics.

Cynicism -- nobody really wants to deal with climate change; they just want to look good.

False hope -- we can solve the problem, and it's really easy.  Or: we are doing enough already (omigod California AB 32!) or we just need to be doing a little bit more and that's it.

So there are some other psychologies with which one may contend -- each individual can mix and match, or reject them all together.  My own analysis is below the noodle.

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On Thursday of last week, Mark Lynas responded to The Guardian's decision to publish excerpts of Naomi Klein's "This Changes Everything" in a response-piece titled "We must reclaim the climate change debate from the political extremes."  

Many readers of Lynas' piece will see an immediate appeal in his argument.  Lynas starts off by defining himself as a moderate, thus his subtitle: "Alarmists and deniers need to climb out of their parallel trenches, engage with the developing world and work together to end the crisis."  On the one extreme you have deniers such as James Inhofe, and on the other extreme you have anticapitalists such as Naomi Klein, and Lynas wishes to position himself in the middle:

Climate change is real, caused almost entirely by humans, and presents a potentially existential threat to human civilisation. Solving climate change does not mean rolling back capitalism, suspending the free market or stopping economic growth.
One reader of this argument concludes that it rests upon a fallacy -- the blogger Dave Cohen, author of "Decline of the Empire,"  argues that "Lynas starts off with a common fallacy, more formally called the argument to moderation (Latin, argumentum ad temperantiam)."  Just because one is a self-defined "moderate" does not mean that one is correct.  Moreover, if one wishes to discover the truth, one starts by examining arguments in their own substance, rather than merely characterizing them as implying some sort of appealing or repellent image.

From this conclusion, we would be correct to examine Lynas' arguments to see if they hold water, rather than focusing upon his attempt to grant himself an image as a climate change moderate.  A few words on Lynas himself, however, should suffice to define whose argument this is.  Most pertinently, sometime in the late zeros Mark Lynas holed himself up in a library and read all of the pertinent research on climate change.  The book he produced, Six Degrees, not only built on his previous ethnography of climate change, High Tide, but provided us readers with the most convincing dramatizations of planet Earth as transformed by climate change yet produced.  I reviewed Six Degrees here at back in 2007.  

In 2011, Lynas put out a book titled "The God Species," outlining his solution to the climate change problem (which assumes further capitalist growth and relies upon carbon capture, nuclear power, and genetic engineering).  Last year, Lynas issued "Nuclear 2.0," a defense of nuclear power in light of climate change.

Lynas' most recent argument will, then, be examined below the fold.

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