Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The 'C' Word

No, the other one:
The Egyptian defence minister, General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, has given warning that the unrest sweeping the country could lead to the collapse of the state. 
Failure to resolve the situation "could lead to grave repercussions if the political forces do not act" to tackle it, Sissi said on Tuesday, in comments posted on his Facebook page. "The continuing conflict between political forces and their differences concerning the management of the country could lead to a collapse of the state and threaten future generations," he said.

His comments were excerpted from a speech he gave to students at a military academy.

Sissi, who is also the head of Egypt's military, further said that the political, economical, social and security problems facing Egypt constitute "a threat to the country's security and stability". His comments will be seen as a warning to Egypt's political class, which has done little to end the unrest. Sissi's remarks come after five days of nationwide unrest that left 52 people dead, hundreds wounded, and major cities paralysed.
Egypt army chief warns of 'state collapse' (Al Jazeera)
Reactor 4 may not have been the only thing that exploded that day. Fewer than six years elapsed between the meltdown at Chernobyl and the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union—six years marked by suspicion of government, dissatisfaction with public safety, and demands for greater transparency. Could Chernobyl have caused the first, most fundamental crack in the Soviet state and led to its collapse?

That might sound like an audacious proposal, but it’s been advanced by none other than the man who oversaw the dismantling of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev. He states flatly that the Chernobyl explosion was “perhaps the real cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union.”  According to Gorbachev, the Chernobyl explosion was a “turning point” that “opened the possibility of much greater freedom of expression, to the point that the system as we knew it could no longer continue.” Gorbachev introduced his policy of glasnost, or “openness” of ideas and expression, not long before the Chernobyl explosion. It was his remedy for widespread censorship and government secrecy. To Gorbachev, Chernobyl proved the wisdom and necessity of glasnost. The explosion and attendant tumult, he claims, “made absolutely clear how important it was to continue the policy of glasnost.”

Gorbachev’s laudable dedication to glasnost may have set the state on a path toward destruction. Sovietologists “don’t like monocausal explanations” of the fall of the USSR, said Michael David-Fox, a professor of Russian and Soviet history at Georgetown University. Still, “there’s a case to be made” that Chernobyl occurred early enough in Gorbachev’s first phase of glasnost to hasten the process and eventually drive the state into the ground.
Did Chernobyl Cause the Soviet Union To Explode? (Slate)

Virtually every past civilization has eventually undergone collapse, a loss of socio-political-economic complexity usually accompanied by a dramatic decline in population size. Some, such as those of Egypt and China, have recovered from collapses at various stages; others, such as that of Easter Island or the Classic Maya, were apparently permanent. All those previous collapses were local or regional; elsewhere, other societies and civilizations persisted unaffected. Sometimes, as in the Tigris and Euphrates valleys, new civilizations rose in succession. In many, if not most, cases, overexploitation of the environment was one proximate or an ultimate cause.

But today, for the first time, humanity's global civilization—the worldwide, increasingly interconnected, highly technological society in which we all are to one degree or another, embedded—is threatened with collapse by an array of environmental problems. Humankind finds itself engaged in what Prince Charles described as ‘an act of suicide on a grand scale’, facing what the UK's Chief Scientific Advisor John Beddington called a ‘perfect storm’ of environmental problems. The most serious of these problems show signs of rapidly escalating severity, especially climate disruption. But other elements could potentially also contribute to a collapse: an accelerating extinction of animal and plant populations and species, which could lead to a loss of ecosystem services essential for human survival; land degradation and land-use change; a pole-to-pole spread of toxic compounds; ocean acidification and eutrophication (dead zones); worsening of some aspects of the epidemiological environment (factors that make human populations susceptible to infectious diseases); depletion of increasingly scarce resources, including especially groundwater, which is being overexploited in many key agricultural areas; and resource wars. These are not separate problems; rather they interact in two gigantic complex adaptive systems: the biosphere system and the human socio-economic system. The negative manifestations of these interactions are often referred to as ‘the human predicament’, and determining how to prevent it from generating a global collapse is perhaps the foremost challenge confronting humanity.
Can a collapse of global civilization be avoided? Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich, Proceedings of the Royal Society

And even reasoned experts are starting to sound like doomers:
Britain's most senior medical adviser has warned MPs that the rise in drug-resistant diseases could trigger a national emergency comparable to a catastrophic terrorist attack, pandemic flu or major coastal flooding.

Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer, said the threat from infections that are resistant to frontline antibiotics was so serious that the issue should be added to the government's national risk register of civil emergencies.

She described what she called an "apocalyptic scenario" where people going for simple operations in 20 years' time die of routine infections "because we have run out of antibiotics".
Antibiotic-resistant diseases pose 'apocalyptic' threat, top expert says (Guardian)
Lord Stern, author of the government-commissioned review on climate change that became the reference work for politicians and green campaigners, now says he underestimated the risks, and should have been more "blunt" about the threat posed to the economy by rising temperatures.

In an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Stern, who is now a crossbench peer, said: "Looking back, I underestimated the risks. The planet and the atmosphere seem to be absorbing less carbon than we expected, and emissions are rising pretty strongly. Some of the effects are coming through more quickly than we thought then."

The Stern review, published in 2006, pointed to a 75% chance that global temperatures would rise by between two and three degrees above the long-term average; he now believes we are "on track for something like four ". Had he known the way the situation would evolve, he says, "I think I would have been a bit more blunt. I would have been much more strong about the risks of a four- or five-degree rise."

He said some countries, including China, had now started to grasp the seriousness of the risks, but governments should now act forcefully to shift their economies towards less energy-intensive, more environmentally sustainable technologies.

"This is potentially so dangerous that we have to act strongly. Do we want to play Russian roulette with two bullets or one? These risks for many people are existential."
Nicholas Stern: 'I got it wrong on climate change – it's far, far worse' (Guardian)
The red light is blinking, folks.

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