Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on February 16, 2015
“We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first.”
– Charles Mackay
In Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds published in 1841, Charles Mackay identified a common thread of individual and collective idiocy running through past fads such as alchemy, witchhunts, prophecies, fortune-telling, magnetizers, phrenology, poisoning, the admiration of thieves, the imputation of mystic powers to relics, haunted houses, crusades – and financial bubbles.
Ostensibly Mackay wrote his book with a 19th-century sense of confidence that such superstitions had been consigned to the ashheap of history by intelligence, experience and the habits of mind honed by the enlightenment. He observed that men think in herds and go mad in herds, and “only recover their senses slowly one by one.” For the most part, he has been proven right. Intelligent people typically do not invest faith in obvious superstitions like alchemy, ghosts, fortune-telling, witchcraft or crusades. Unless you count those little adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. (And Iraq again, as President BHO makes the Klown Kar Kongress an offer they will have trouble refusing.)
Today we sophisticates look down our collective noses at the bubble blowers of the past, and view those of the Mississippi Company, South Sea Company and the Tulip mania as aberrations of simpler less sophisticated folk. Today, resistant to superstition, we cling to the rabbit’s foot of denial for man’s responsibility for climate change, and take the knee toward the totem that central banks can relieve an unpayable global debt with more debt.
Mackay writes of a Parisian hunchback who supposedly profited by renting out his hump as a writing desk during the height of the Mississippi Company mania. Lean up against my hump and consider the latest evidences of our surrender to the embrace of comfortable superstitions.
Climate change is no hypothetical to the residents of São Paulo, Brazil, currently in the grips of an historic 80 year drought.
The reason for the drought is complicated: a mix of climate change, Amazonian deforestation, water mismanagement and Pereira’s theory that the massive expansion of cities like Sao Paulo with very little green spaces left has created a kind of heat island which sucks up moisture. That, Pereira says, actually diverts water from the surrounding countryside where the reservoirs are. He says he fears a future where there will be riots over water.
The Cantaeira reservoir system provides half Sao Paulo’s drinking water. It’s now down to only 6 percent of capacity.
Other regions are also affected, and soaring food prices leave many struggling to adapt. Many report having no water every day from 12 midday to 8 a.m. Last year, Brazil famously hosted the World Cup, an effort that displaced other priorities, deferring action on what is now an environmental disaster.
According to one report, Brazilians have already begun to create strategies to deal with shortages.
Brazilians are hoarding water in their apartments, drilling homemade wells and taking other emergency measures to prepare for forced rationing that appears likely and could leave taps dry for up to five days a week because of a drought.
After January rains disappointed, and incentives to cut consumption fell short, São Paulo officials warned their next step could be to shut off customers’ water supply for as many as five days a week – a measure that would likely last until the next rainy season starts in October, if not longer.
Some form of water rationing is almost certainly in the cards for over 40 million people destined to be affected by the water shortages. But not to worry–wealthy Brazilians are installing large storage tanks into their apartment buildings or houses to spare them the worst hardships of rationing.
Consider for a moment the specter of millions of climate refugees moving in search of water. Then consider the likely outcomes when some of the world’s great rivers, nourished by glacier melt for thousands of years, suddenly run dry.
The recently released study “Planetary Boundaries: Guiding Human Development on a Changing Planet,” quickly garnered a certain amount of online notoriety. Prepared by eighteen scientists from various universities, it soberly announced that human civilization had crossed four of nine environmental boundaries. It introduces the concept of the “planetary boundary” (PB), a framework that provides a science-based analysis of the risk that humans pose to a liveable earth:
The relatively stable, 11,700-year-long Holocene epoch is the only state of the Earth System (ES) that we know for certain can support contemporary human societies. There is increasing evidence that human activities are affecting ES functioning to a degree that threatens the resilience of the ES—its ability to persist in a Holocene-like state in the face of increasing human pressures and shocks. The PB framework is based on critical processes that regulate ES functioning. By combining improved scientific understanding of ES functioning with the precautionary principle, the PB framework identifies levels of anthropogenic perturbations below which the risk of destabilization of the ES is likely to remain low—a “safe operating space” for global societal development.
Those planetary boundaries are no surprise to readers of this blog: climate change, stratospheric ozone depletion, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss, biogeochemical flows, land-system change, and freshwater use. Cue the bleating from the denialists. As well-intentioned as this report is, it is likely to reside in the same drawer, ignored, where similar reports reside. Find an excellent essay on this theme here.
And in a related story, the Pentagon understands what’s coming in terms of climate change even if our elected lawmakers do not. As residents of Norfolk, Contrary and I live at Ground Zero for sealevel rise and land subsidence. I have lived in the same home for 32 years. After 24 years of flood free living, the last eight have seen three instances when flood waters came to my front step.
Those who talk most about climate change — scientists, politicians, environmental activists — tend to frame the discussion in economic and moral terms. But last month, in a dramatic turn, President Obama talked about climate change in an explicitly military context: “The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security,” he said in his State of the Union address. “We should act like it.”
On one level, this is just shrewd politics, a way of talking about climate change to people who don’t care about extinction rates among reptiles or food prices in eastern Africa. But it’s also a way of boxing in all the deniers in Congress who have blocked climate action — many of whom, it turns out, are big supporters of the military.
The Pentagon is examining its 704 coastal installations and sites in a big study to try to figure out which bases are most at risk. Eventually some tough decisions will have to be made about which ones to close, relocate or protect. Even speculating about the number of possible closures is too hot a topic for anyone in the Pentagon to touch right now.
Just as there are climate-change hot spots, there are also climate-denial hot spots — and Virginia is one of them. The Republican-dominated Virginia General Assembly has been hostile to discussion of climate change — one legislator called sea-level rise “a left-wing term.” Instead, the politically acceptable phrase in Virginia is “recurrent flooding.”
Right up there with “legitimate rape” as part of the incantation du jour.
Forever Blowing Bubbles…
One of Collapse’s Greatest Hits is the imminent unwinding of the Ponzi scheme of debt foisted upon the peoples of the world by central bankers. We saw a harbinger in 2007-8, with bank bailouts proffered by Congress over the heads of an insufficiently grateful populace, then later with quantitative easing (QE); and in the euro zone, loan restructurings offered to countries not named Germany at the gunpoint of austerity. But somehow, planes, trains, and automobiles keep moving, the shelves are restocked, and the paychecks cashed. And we keep whistling in the dark because we all share a stake in the superstition that business-as-usual can go on forever; and nobody, but nobody wants to address the fact that there is not enough collateral on this planet or the next to pay off global debt.
What do we really know? We know that oil prices have begun to ramp up after a steep dive, not unknown in the history of oil prices. We know that since our entire business model is based on cheap energy, a fall in its price is likely to have a deflationary effect. Many who write about a coming economic collapse love to talk about the collapse of the U.S. dollar, yet the dollar is strengthening relative to other currencies.
Michael Snyder is one of those who scores these games at home and he says:
Someday the U.S. dollar will essentially be toilet paper. But that is not in our immediate future. What is in our immediate future is a “flight to safety” that will push the surging U.S. dollar even higher.
This is what we witnessed in 2008, and this is happening once again right now.
Just look at the chart that I have posted below. You can see the the U.S. dollar moved upward dramatically relative to other currencies starting in mid-2008. And toward the end of the chart you can see that the U.S. dollar is now experiencing a similar spike…
At the moment, almost every major currency in the world is falling relative to the U.S. dollar.
For example, this next chart shows what the euro is doing relative to the dollar. As you can see, the euro is in the midst of a stunning decline…
Instead of focusing on the U.S. dollar, those that are looking for a harbinger of the coming financial crisis should be watching the euro. As I discussed yesterday, analysts are telling us that if Greece leaves the eurozone the EUR/USD could fall all the way down to 0.90. If that happens, the chart above will soon resemble a waterfall.
Will leave it for you to work out what a rising US dollar means for those growing economies all over the world that have borrowed enormous piles of very cheap U.S. dollars, and who now face the prospect of repaying those debts and interest with much more expensive dollars, when their own currencies are crashing.
Over the last year we have seen numerous eradicated diseases come surging back in the United States. From Whooping Cough and the current Measles outbreak, to mystery diseases like EV-D68, which is causing paralysis in young children, The United States seems to be a ticking time bomb of disease.
Warning: author seems to be all to willing to blame these outbreaks on immigrants.
The redoubtable Charles High Smith addresses this week’s central theme:
We are living in an era where a single statement of truth will drive a pin into the global bubble of phantom assets and debts, and the lies spewed to justify those bubbles.
How many nations are blessed with political and financial leaders who routinely state the unvarnished truth in public?
Only two come immediately to mind: Greece and Bhutan.
A “Healthcare Town Hall” set up by the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity (AFP) group, in Kalispell, Montana, turned raucous on Thursday night. Americans for Prosperity has been crisscrossing the state of Montana, in an attempt to pressure moderate Republican lawmakers into signing a pledge to block Medicaid expansion. On Thursday, they brought their traveling road show to Kalispell. However, the residents of the small Northwestern Montana town were unpersuaded…
Developers Confluence Partners want to make a 420-acre attraction out of the east rim, with a plan to put in an Imax theater, retail shops, hotels, an RV park, and a 1.6-mile-long gondola tram that would take riders from the rim of the canyon down 3,500 feet to the valley floor in about 10 minutes. Intentions for the valley floor include construction of a terraced “riverwalk” and a food pavilion.
Native American groups are banding together to battle this absurdity.
The Saker on the agreement between France and Germany and Russia regarding Ukraine.
The video was just released of an elderly grandfather being slammed to the ground so hard by an Alabama police officer that it severed his vertebra and paralyzed the man. As you will see in the video, the police then attempt to force the man to walk and believe he’s resisting arrest when his legs won’t work – not knowing that they broke his neck.
According to AL.com, Chief Larry Muncey told a small press conference in Madison that he also recommended that Parker be fired for his use of force against a man who committed no crime, did not speak English and could not understand the commands.
There are no words.
Chauvinist in any context, Corbin’s remarks occurred during a legislative dinner this week to discuss domestic violence legislation. Sources present at the meeting told FITS that Corbin directed his comments at fellow GOP state senator Katrina Shealy, the sole woman in the 46-member chamber.
“I see it only took me two years to get you wearing shoes,” Corbin told Shealy, who won election in 2012. Corbin, the site explains, is said to have previously cracked that women should be “at home baking cookies” or “barefoot and pregnant,” not serving in the state legislature.
Contrary brought this particular rabbit turd to my attention. One might well speculate why he’s so hostile towards women….
Contrary offered this wordless comment:
Good enough for me. And illustrates why the people in South Carolina, home office of American sedition, can’t have nice things. And a reminder of what the madness of crowds can wreak.
Surly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, articles and spittle-flecked invective on this site, and quit barking and got off the porch long enough to be active in the Occupy movement. He shares a home in Southeastern Virginia with his new bride Contrary in a triumph of hope over experience, and is grateful that he is not yet taking a dirt nap.