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I was talking with a friend the other day about the pending end of the world as we know it.  She made a most insightful suggestion to me: instead of looking at our situation as a window that is about to close on us (which is indeed how many people do see things), her thought was that we might benefit from thinking of it more like a “looking glass”, a-la Alice in Wonderland.  Her suggestion really clicked with me and a cascade of brain synapses closed in new patterns that I had never experienced before.  A new kind of light went on in my head, as it were.

That’s what new paradigms do, or are supposed to, at least.  They are supposed to enable us to look at the same old big jumble of often-times confusing data, facts, and figures in a completely new and different way.  This can then increase the size of our available “solution space”, as it is sometimes called, so that we can discover new approaches that we weren’t able to see before.

And never before have we more needed to increase our solution space; we are, indeed, about to step through the looking glass.  Our species has gone through crisis points that threatened our very survival, our near-extinction following the Toba eruption the most extreme so far.  What we are facing now is not so far removed from that.  Equipped with our very clever hominid brains, we have extracted the enormous energy of millions of years of solar energy stored in the form of non-renewable fossil fuels and built a planetary-scale industrial civilization that now has its own geological era named after it: the Anthropocene.

That we have done great harm to the planet’s biosphere upon which all of life depends is obvious and indisputable; what is less appreciated are the good and admirable things that we have achieved in our fossil-fueled activities; and what is rarely acknowledged, if ever, is that we painfully beat each up over the head for not having sooner recognized our mistakes and taken proactive measures to correct them.  I think the point bears repeating that, evolutionarily speaking, we jumped out of the trees and walked on to the African savannah only yesterday.  That we have not yet solved all of the world’s problems that we have created through our innate cleverness should really come as no surprise, and we would all do well to stop berating each other over our situation.

If we are to turn our perils into opportunities what we need to do now is to rediscover our innate capacity to cooperate: how best to recognize it, how best to describe it, and how best to foster it.  Cooperation is in our nature; it is what enabled us to survive in the face of vastly physically superior predators.  While competition has its place and time in our socioeconomic systems, such periods are the exception, and not the rule.  It is only the excess energy provided by cheap fossil fuels that has created the mistaken illusion of the inverse.

Thus we must all become New Economists if we are to make this transition back to our natural state.  The stakes are too high and the scope of work too daunting to be left to a select few academics to inform us what to do and how to do it.  This transition is going to require all of our collective efforts if we are to make it through to the other side of the looking glass whole and in one piece.  This is most assuredly not an academic exercise.  

And make no mistake as to the opportunity: the invitation has been made; the opening beckons.  It is truly now up to us, at the grassroots level, to build new economic paradigms and structures within our communities.  If we do not avail ourselves of this opening we will have only ourselves to blame - - and only our descendants to look back on our inaction and curse our names forever for not having even made the attempt.  Assuming they will exist at all.

In this diary I’m first going to tell you about what I think are two very important economic initiatives that are just now getting underway that you need to know about.  After that I’d like to recommend what I think we should all be doing as New Economists right now with a small exercise; then I will bring up another very important topic I haven’t discussed before: “that vision thing”.

So let’s stand before the looking glass before we step through and see if we can’t make out what’s closest on the other side that looks good and workable, shall we?  Please, join me below the fold.

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Well, the time has come to propose the new economic paradigm that I’ve been alluding to for a while now.  First, though, huge thanks to everyone who has been commenting and giving awesome feedback!  The level of interest and very thoughtful suggestions tell me that there is a genuine desire and opportunity in this idea to construct a new economic paradigm.  I think we might really be onto something here together, and I’m very excited about what the future might hold for this undertaking.  So thank you, thank you, thank you all, once again!

I would like to begin by briefly discussing two of those suggestions as a means to make a mental transition, of sorts, from our original laundry list and three paradigm requirements to the paradigm itself.  The first of these suggestions concerned the glaring absence of human population growth (and concomitant with that, women’s issues) as an item on our laundry list.  As I (hopefully sufficiently ashamedly) replied then, population growth is a “third rail” issue for me, as it is for many other progressive activists.  Avoidance of this issue demonstrates quite clearly how difficult and complicated some of these problems are to address.  The very personal decisions we all make on a daily basis, from what we eat and wear and drive to whom and how we make love, all have impacts on the planet’s biosphere and the quality of life for future generations.  

Now, if we go back to our original laundry list to add Population Growth to it, we can see that I sorted the items in an order that ranges from simple problems at the bottom to knotty problems at the top.  [A note: referring to our previous diary, by simple, we do not mean first-order.  All of the problems we are addressing here are higher-order.   By simple we mean simple relative to the really hard higher-order problems. To the old paradigm all the problems we are addressing are hard and knotty.]  Population Growth belongs at the top of the scale at knotty problems, with Consumption Ethic right below it.  What must our paradigm do to help us solve such knotty problems?  To answer this we need to return to the first two of our paradigm requirements.  These are, again:

      Understanding:  first and foremost, a new paradigm provides new insights to existing problems that the current paradigm does not or cannot provide;

      Vision:  next, a new paradigm provides new investigative approaches that lead in novel directions inconceivable within the existing paradigm;

I would posit that Population Growth and the Consumption Ethic fall into the latter category.  Just gaining a better understanding of these problems is not going to solve them; their complex nature and sources require an approach with deeper insights and radically new approaches.   Now, the above paradigm descriptions are quite general and so not very helpful when we start looking at individual problems.  So let’s get more specific on what we want our new paradigm to do.  Any and every new paradigm should provide the following three specific items:

       A General Principle.  This is just the basic idea behind the paradigm, with an easily understood simple concept.  An example from physics is the general principle of Relativity.

       A Conceptual Framework.  This is a set of functional rules, or operating system.  An example from physics is the various quantum states that particles can exist in.

       A Radical New Feature.  This is a singular insight that totally transforms the way we look at a fundamental aspect of the reality of the system.  An example from physics is wave-particle duality.

Knotty problems can’t be solved by just understanding them better with a new conceptual framework, although certain aspects of them might be after the issue is addressed in the main.  To incentivize people from consuming too much stuff, for example, is going to require addressing the issue at a deeper cultural psychological level, not just measuring and providing feedback regarding impact via True Cost Accounting and similar metrics.

Some problems aren’t quite as difficult, however.  An example of this is the second comment I received that pointed out a deficiency in the laundry list item, Limits to Growth.   The commenter correctly observed that some types of growth are desirable and should be encouraged, especially when looking at alternative measures of wealth and progress.  What I should have been clearer on is that we need to better define the various meanings of growth.  One of the tasks ahead of us when we begin this national discussion on the issue of economic growth (a discussion we will be having eventually, I am certain), is to develop a system to describe and characterize the different types of growth so that we can enact better growth/steady-state economic policies.  This undertaking can be readily accomplished with a conceptual framework alone; no radical new feature is necessary for this relatively simple task.

Okay, I think we’re ready to move on.  In the remainder of this diary I will first give some historical background to the new economic paradigm, and then describe and unpack its essentials through the story of how I discovered it.

And so, we begin, below the fold, where I said in my last diary I would be taking us: the boreal forests of Siberia.  So zip up your parkas and lace up your mukluks, Kossacks, we’re heading off into the wilderness in search of a new economic paradigm!

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Hello again and thanks to everyone who participated in our last conversation about building a New Economic Paradigm! The level of interest and insightful suggestions and dialogue that resulted gave me hope that we might yet be able to turn this ship around! I'm hoping that the enthusiasm and conversations continue, and who knows, we might possibly find ourselves in a place where we might be able to make that crucial difference.  As a number of you said, we have to try.

In today'€™s installment I'd like to explore what I see as some preliminary groundwork it might be helpful to lay on our building site before we can begin construction.  So please grab your shovels rakes and join us below the fold!

(previous diary here: http://www.dailykos.com/... )

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Those of you Kossacks who might have had occasion to read any of my comments over the last year know that I frequently speak of the need for a new economic paradigm.  The release of the latest IPCC report and the news of the certain collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet make that need all the more pressing.  Human civilization has now reached a crisis point where the choices we make in the very near future will irrevocably determine the fate of countless generations of all forms of life on this planet, including our own descendants.

An unsettling number of observers and analysts have looked at our situation and become convinced that collapse is now unavoidable; they see absolutely no likelihood for the type of system-wide transformation that is needed at this point.  I can’t say that I blame them, frankly.  Things really do look pretty bleak and hopeless.

I cannot and will not share that sentiment, however; I am by nature an optimistic person and believe that a fundamental shift in society’s trajectory is still possible.  

I recently submitted an abstract for a paper I am writing on this subject to the journal ephemera, which was accepted for inclusion in an upcoming special issue on Organizing for the Post-Growth Economy.  This and my next four diaries are an adapted version of the presentation I was invited to give at last week’s related Post-Growth Conference at the Copenhagen Business School but which I was unable to attend.  And so, I shall present my thoughts on this subject to you, my fellow Kossacks.  I hope you enjoy them.  Below the fold, then, shall we?

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The world is extraordinarily complex, and biologically speaking we are all nothing more than a bunch of extremely clever monkeys in suits.  From an evolutionary perspective we climbed down out of the trees on the African savannah only yesterday, and our brains are hard-wired for three primary functions: 1) to find stuff to eat; 2) to do everything possible to keep from getting eaten; 3) to do even more of what might be possible to make more of ourselves. That's it. Unfortunately these same exceptional brains have enabled us to create a world that is beyond our brains' effective comprehension.  

So I think we really need to lighten up on ourselves when we criticize our species' seeming inability to collectively act on the many obvious complex and interconnected global dilemmas we have created for ourselves.  Consider the following study done on our brains (abstract only, a nice physorg summary here):

Psychol Sci. 2005 Jan;16(1):70-6.

How many variables can humans process?
Halford GS1, Baker R, McCredden JE, Bain JD.

Abstract

The conceptual complexity of problems was manipulated to probe the limits of human information processing capacity. Participants were asked to interpret graphically displayed statistical interactions. In such problems, all independent variables need to be considered together, so that decomposition into smaller subtasks is constrained, and thus the order of the interaction directly determines conceptual complexity. As the order of the interaction increases, the number of variables increases. Results showed a significant decline in accuracy and speed of solution from three-way to four-way interactions. Furthermore, performance on a five-way interaction was at chance level. These findings suggest that a structure defined on four variables is at the limit of human processing capacity.

I think this is a fundamental issue we all need to recognize: Three Variables, that's all our limited brains can reasonably handle.  

I think this is why that, even in the face of all the overwhelming evidence, we find ourselves unable to act decisively on all the big and important issues of our time.

I also think this is why we tend towards two-party political systems.

And why Young-Earth Creationism exists.

And why neoclassical economics is imploding.

Just something to keep in mind as we all (hopefully) move forward together on this complicated journey of global transition.

Let's please be gentle with and go easy on each other whenever we can.

And dance and stretch together whenever we can, in both our bodies and minds.

Especially our minds.

Discuss

Some of my friends consider me a jack of all trades. I'm not, but I can do a lot -- except drywall. I'€™d tried and botched it in the past and just never figured it out. Thus I had my reservations a couple of Saturdays ago when I found myself at a fellow timebank member'€™s home with a pail of spackle and a spatula in my hand. I'd signed on for this group project when it was supposed to be just post-drywall painting, but the last-minute change in project scope meant it was finally time to learn how to spackle.

Isaac (the homeowner) brushed aside my warning and offer of bailing, and after showing me the proper technique (it'€™s not all that hard, it turns out, it'€™s mostly about applying the right amount of correctly-timed pressure), I set to work applying the grey goo, filling in the gaps between the drywall panels and then smoothing out all the imperfections along the seams.  The finished product looked mostly OK.  Not perfect, but passable.  Which I later found out was just right, as a key tenet of the professional'€™s philosophy is, "€œdrywall is the art of illusion, not perfection".

I think there'€™s a loose metaphor in there for the multiple dilemmas industrial civilization is currently facing. For those of us not otherwise preoccupied in the next room playing video games, how to best go about keeping up this old house we all live in is a matter of great and urgent concern. Most of the time it seems like our national leaders and policymakers spend all their time and energy with their pails and spatulas, spackling up all the cracks, fissures, and holes in our socioenviroeconomic structures.  Some of us who know that the wall underneath is structurally unsound want to approach the problem by pulling down the drywall and rebuilding the existing wall; others of us want to tear down the wall entirely and start again from scratch.  Then there'€™s another group of us who have already started building a new wall beside the old one.  I'm in that group.

Welcome to the New Economy.  Please join me below the seam - - no spackle permitted. ;)

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Yesterday James Wells issued a call for folks to "declare independence from what is harmful, yet somehow accepted in our world."  His own contribution had to do with wasteful consumption; I commented that his topic was fortuitous in that I had had a mini-epiphany of sorts on that subject just the previous night, and he suggested that I write a diary about it.  And so, here is my own modest contribution to that theme on this independence Day.

A few weeks back I made mention of an initiative that I am helping to get started here in the Lansing area that will hopefully create a Mondragon-type worker-owned and -managed cooperative business enterprise (something I said that I would write a diary about and haven't yet got around to but will in the near future).  As this project has gotten underway I have had the very fortunate opportunity to begin collaborating with a couple of young folks who have launched the Mid-Michigan Time Bank.  Christian and Edge remind me of myself when I was their age.  Full of piss and vinegar, these two recent MSU grads have eschewed a free ride through Graduate School and employment in Corporate America to instead forge a path that includes going door-to-door to recruit people into the MMTB.  They are also working to start an eco-village outside of town with a group of like-minded friends.  Their enthusiasm and optimism for creating a future that they might want to raise children in someday is inspiring; I wish that all Americans shared such commitment.

Anyway, the other night I was contemplating the sale of my 1996 Sonoma pickup truck to help with some financial difficulties I'm having, when suddenly it occurs to me: why not donate the damn thing to the MMTB?  I only use it occasionally for hauling manure and very large items, anyway.  Instead of having it sit virtually unused in my backyard gathering leaves and mouse nests, the MMTB members could be using it to help them in their projects in all sorts of ways, especially when Chris and Edge and their friends get their eco-village off the ground.  It will still be available for my own use when needed, and the donation will be a nice deposit in my time bank account that I can draw on in the future.  Yes, I need the money right now, but I'll find another source for that somehow.  This is a much better idea.  I like it.  A lot.

So this gets me to thinking about all the other stuff in my home and garage and shop that is just lying around unused and gathering dust.  That router: I bought that many years ago for one project and have used it only a few times since then.  There has got to be someone who would love to use it on a project for a fellow member.  Same with my SawZall: three or four projects in all of fifteen years.  The list goes on.  All this stuff that I conspicuously consumed long ago could right now be in the hands of people like Chris and Edge who have hardly any stuff at all and could be using to build that better sustainable world we all so want to see happen.

That's what Collaborative Consumption is all about:

Collaborative consumption is a class of economic arrangements in which participants share access to products or services, rather than having individual ownership. Often this model is enabled by technology and peer communities
.......
The concept has been championed by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers in their 2010 book What's Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption. In June 2010, ABC Television's Big Ideas programme included a segment showing Botsman's speech at the TEDx Sydney conference in 2010, describing collaborative consumption as "a new socio-economic 'big idea' promising a revolution in the way we consume". In 2011 Botsman described it as a social revolution that allows people to “create value out of shared and open resources in ways that balance personal self-interest with the good of the larger community.” At TEDGlobal2012 Botsman articulated that the concept of trust, across multiple platforms, would constitute the currency of a new collaborative economy, asserting that “reputation capital creates a massive positive disruption in who has power, influence and trust."

In 2010, collaborative consumption was named one of TIME Magazine's 10 ideas that will change the world. The financial crisis of 2007–2010 and subsequent housing bubbles have prompted consumers to reconnect through peer-to-peer marketplaces that are turning underutilized assets and resources into new jobs, income streams and community networks. Napster pioneered peer-to-peer file sharing and subsequent platforms have emerged to facilitate the sharing of content, cars, bikes, tools and random household appliances. A growing generational shift has begun where consumers are less compelled to own, but place more value on access.

In the twenty years I worked as an Environmental Engineer at General Motors I accumulated a fair amount of stuff.  And although I'd like to think that as a fervent environmentalist I made positive contributions to our planet working inside the system, in all honesty I really can't say for sure right now that if I were to sit down and do a full accounting of all the costs and benefits of my actions during that time that I would come out favorably in the karmic scales of environmental justice.  If not, at the very least my current decision to begin putting these tools into the hands of people who need them most and are helping to build a more just and sustainable future might in some small way help redeem my past conspicuous consumption.

And so, on this Independence Day, I encourage you to take a look around at all the stuff you own and don't use very often and ask yourself the same questions I did.  Then go find your local time bank and get involved.  If there isn't a local time bank, think about starting one in your area.  A sustainable and prosperous future is not going to come about on its own or with lofty-sounding goals written on a blog post.  It's going to happen one router and SawzAll and pickup truck at a time.  As Barack Obama put it:

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.
Happy Independence Day, everyone!
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This announcement has totally ruined my morning:

An End to Eight years of The Oil Drum

Posted by Rembrandt on July 3, 2013 - 5:47am

Dear Readers of The Oil Drum,

A few weeks ago the ISEOF board (The Institute for Energy and Our Future that facilitates The Oil Drum), Euan, Super G, JoulesBurn, and Myself, met to discuss the future of The Oil Drum. A discussion we have had several times in the last year, due to scarcity of new content caused by a dwindling number of contributors. Despite our best efforts to fill this gap we have not been able to significantly improve the flow of high quality articles.

Because of this and the high expense of running the site, the board has unanimously decided that the best course of action is to convert the site to a static archive of previously published material as of 31st July 2013. We will continue to post articles up to this date. Afterwards any articles will be held as a public archive into the foreseeable future, so that others can continue to learn from the breadth and depth of knowledge published by our many authors, over the 8+ history of this remarkable volunteer effort.

We sincerely thank everyone who has been part of the TOD community - authors, staff and especially commenter's and readers - for contributing to the success of the site. It is unusual for a site which is based primarily on volunteer effort to continue this long.

For those of you who have made it a point to say abreast of current events related to Peak Oil, Energy Economics, and Climate Change, I'm sure this news will strike you with as much sadness as it does me.  Over the last eight years, TOD has been the place to go to on these issues, not only for the high-quality articles and news items, but especially for the extraordinary comments.  Regular commentors included a number of industry insiders with many years of first-hand experience in the oil fields.  The extensive comments they posted as they were on their way back from the latest shale play in Texas or depleting oil well in Saudi Arabia provided technical information and perspectives that one could get nowhere else.  A whole other group of commentors would regularly discuss practical implementation of all manner of alternative energy technologies, from residential geothermal heat pumps to centralized thermal solar energy installations to space solar power satellites to personal stories and anecdotes about powering down.  The discussions of the dynamics of societal collapse were always interesting and lively, too.

Quite frankly, I don't know where I'm going to go now to find the news that TOD aggregated.  Every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday morning at 10:00 a.m. The Drumbeat would post a roundup of articles gleaned from sites and sources around the world.  It was an unmatched information resource that I came to rely upon for all the latest breaking news from places and people I never even knew existed.

What really saddens me personally is that, much like my life here at DK, I have been an avid reader of TOD since the beginning, and only recently came to the decision that after all these years of absorbing and processing the vast amount of information they provided, I just recently decided that I had accumulated sufficient knowledge to enable me to finally make useful contributions as a commenting member and start adding my own voice to the mix.

I still have that chance in the next few weeks before they close up shop, but sadly it now will be only to say hello and thank you and goodbye.

Farewell and adieu, Oil Drum.  You will be sorely missed.

Discuss

Time for a quick chuckle.

I love it when Answers in Genesis publishes a new paper in their research journal. It's such an erudite vehicle for demonstrating the high-quality academic research that constitutes the finest of the field of Creation Science. And it's a journal. With a sciencey-looking masthead and citations and stuff. And it's free!

Answers Research Journal

Cutting-edge creation research. Free
. Answers Research Journal (ARJ) is a professional, peer-reviewed technical journal for the publication of interdisciplinary scientific and other relevant research from the perspective of the recent Creation and the global Flood within a biblical framework.
So, what is their latest bit of cutting-edge scientific research? Let's have a look-see, shall we?
Answers Research Journal 6 (2013): 211-229.
Astronomical Distance Determination Methods and the Light Travel Time Problem

by Danny R. Faulkner, AiG–U.S.
June 12, 2013

Abstract

Some recent creationists have attempted to address the light travel time problem indirectly with an implied appeal to a small universe. If the universe is no more than a few thousand light years in size, then the light travel time is eliminated almost by definition. Here I survey the methods used for establishing astronomical distances. The only direct method of measuring stellar distances generally results in reliably measured distances of less than a thousand light years. However, that limit likely soon will exceed 6000 light years. Indirect methods already produce distances that are thousands, millions, and even billions of light years. The indirect distance determination methods ultimately are tied to direct determinations of distance, and they are reasonably consistent with one another. Furthermore the indirect methods are supported by well-understood physics. It is extremely unlikely that these methods are so wrong that the light travel time problem can be answered with a small universe.

Introduction

The recent creation model is that the earth and the rest of the universe were created supernaturally in six normal days a few thousand years ago and that the Flood in Noah’s time was global and universal. This is contrary to what is held by most scientists, who believe that the earth and universe are billions of years old. The size of the universe is a challenge for the recent creation model.

Indeed it is, Danny, indeed it is.

What follows is actually a fairly decent summary of the various methods of how astronomical distances are determined, but nothing that couldn't be found on Wikipedia and written up by a college sophomore for an Astronomy 102 paper. So, I shall head straight to the Earth-shattering conclusion.

Conclusion

In my survey of astronomical distance determination methods I have shown that we can have confidence that the universe really is as large as astronomers claim. To explain the light travel time problem by appealing to a universe much reduced in size is not tenable. Therefore, the light travel time problem is real, and it requires a real solution. Fortunately, we have a number of solutions already in the creation literature, but further proposals are welcome.

So... the many scientists that have been calculating astronomical distances for lo these many years have been right all along. The Universe is not just 12,000 light years across. That would be a small Universe. No, the Universe is big. Really really big. But of course it can't be really really old because The Bible says so, so that causes some major headaches for us Creation Scientists. But we've made up some whacky ideas to explain those problems away and have had them reviewed by our scientific peers and we've published them in this here science journal so they must be really really good ideas. And by the way, if any of you Creationist readers happen to come up with any new whacky ideas of your own that can help us explain these problems away, please send them our way. Maybe you, too, can become a published Creation Science Researcher! After you sign our Statement of Faith first, of course.  No Creation Scientist is allowed to publish the results of any of their cutting-edge research unless they do.

I love you, AiG, I really do. Please keep 'em comin'.

Discuss

Well, I wanted this my first diary to contain my own thoughts and ideas, enhanced by availing myself of DK's most gracious New Diarist's support group.  But alas, this item just popped up on my feed and I thought it worthy of just forwarding on immediately with no commentary or assistance.  My apologies in advance if I screw anything up.

Every now and then some US Intelligence Analysis Agency issues a report affirming our greatest fears and predictions about Global Climate Change and Peak Everything.  With each succeeding one they seem to be increasingly blunt about the future.  This most recent report is no exception.  From Natural News courtesy The Oil Drum:

Security warning over potential national resource scarcity issued by U.S. intelligence

Monday, May 27, 2013 by: J. D. Heyes

(NaturalNews) Climate change coupled with a dwindling supply of natural resources is likely to trigger major conflicts in the near future, U.S. intelligence agencies are warning.

"Demand for food, water, and energy will grow by approximately 35, 40 and 50 per cent respectively, owing to an increase in the global population and the consumption patterns of an expanding middle class," says a new report released by the Office of National Director of Intelligence titled, Global Trends 2030, which was made available online at the agency's website. "Climate change will worsen the outlook for the availability of these critical resources."

The new major report, which was prepared by the National Intelligence Council, forecasts security trends over the next 10-20 years, and how they will shape international relations. Officials noted in particular that climate change has the potential to ignite regional instabilities and stoke international tensions; the ODNI report is the latest in a series of studies by national security entities around the world that predict climate change will tighten competition for available food, water and natural resources.

You can read the rest here (thanks, nomandates!)

I wish I had something insightful or encouraging to add to this.  Hell, I'd even go for something remotely useful or just not discouraging at this point.  But it's just not in me today.  My apologies.

Maybe next diary.

Discuss
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