• All governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out.

  • I.F. Stone

maandag 18 december 2017

An American Beach Story

An American Beach Story: When Property Rights Clash with the Rising Sea

The American ethos of individualism is clashing with efforts to protect coastal communities against sea level rise, often to the homeowners’ detriment.
This story was co-published with The Weather Channel
Sixty years ago, Don Hourihan and his father laid the bricks for a rustic home on the Humarock peninsula in southern Massachusetts. Today, engineers warn that a storm could one day burst through this narrow sandbar that separates the Atlantic Ocean and the South River tidal marsh, right next to his house.
"I love it here," Hourihan said. At age 77, he speaks through a tracheostomy collar he's worn since a surgery removed cancer several years ago. "Everything I see, I think of my father."
Hourihan's home is one of 90 on a particularly narrow stretch of Humarock where winter storms wash cobble from the beach every year, routinely blocking the only road in and out. Houses get damaged. Evacuations come with the bigger storms.
This year, the town of Scituate, which includes Humarock, proposed building a $9.6 millionartificial dune and raised road to protect the homes.
Yet some residents are prepared to block the project. The town is asking them to sign easements that would cede property rights along the privately owned beach and allow public access. Whatever concerns they have about protecting their homes are being overridden by fear of permanently relinquishing control of their property.
Don Hourihan has battled storm damage for years but worries about losing his property rights if a beach nourishment project is approved. Credit: Weather ChannelDon Hourihan has battled storm damage for years but worries about losing his property rights if
Don Hourihan has battled storm damage at his property on the Humarock Peninsula for years. Credit: Steven Edson/Weather Channel
"You don't want to give up the rights to your property and find out the bottom falls out, and you're stuck with nothing," Hourihan said, concerned that the town won't guarantee that it will maintain the project in coming years.
Rising sea levels driven by climate change are forcing communities like Humarock to confront a troubling future. The global water line has risen by about 8 inches on average since 1900, and it's expected to rise about that much or more by 2050.
As public officials at all levels of government try to protect the nation's coasts from rising seas, they're confronting an American ethos that champions individualism over central planning. The federal government has no master plan for adapting to sea level rise. States often leave critical decisions about coastal infrastructure to local governments. And many people would prefer to protect their own property.
Landowners have tried to block the build-up of beaches and dunes in Florida, North Carolina, New Jersey and other states, fearing a loss in value or control over their property.
Map of Scituate and Humarock Penninsula
In many cases, including one that reached the United States Supreme Court, they've eventually been overruled by elected officials or the courts. In Massachusetts, however, where some coastal deeds are based on vague language written centuries ago and where citizens enjoy a powerful role in local government, resistant property owners have had more success.
In Humarock, Hourihan and others are skeptical the town will maintain the project, and they say state regulations make it difficult to build their own defenses.
"We wanted a guarantee it would be maintained," Hourihan said. "We didn't want to have a small Mickey Mouse job and have them forget it, and we gave up our property."
Scituate officials said if only a handful of owners reject the easements, the Humarock project could fall through. John Ramsey, the engineer hired to design the artificial dune and road, has worked all along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Wherever beach projects hit private property, he said, "it is a total mess."

'A Terrible Way to Manage the Coast'

Coastal towns face a sobering reality: They've been losing land for a century, and they'll lose even more in the decades ahead. To fight this encroachment, states, towns and the federal government have spent billions of dollars bolstering dunes and beaches with sand pumped from the seafloor or imported from inland mines—more than $3.1 billion from 2007-2016, according to data compiled by Western Carolina University.
Click for interactive map
Beach building is one of the more effective, environmentally friendly measures against coastal erosion, according to geologists and engineers. But some beachfront homeowners have resisted, particularly when they've been obliged to sign easements that open their property to public access.
Before Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey in 2012, the Army Corps of Engineers was trying to construct 82 miles of protective dunes along the Jersey Shore. When the storm hit, houses behind the 47 miles of dunes that had been completed fared much better than the rest. Yet even after the storm killed dozens of people and caused tens of billions of dollars in damage in New Jersey, many property owners resisted the effort to complete the dunes. Some chafed at the prospect of gazing off their porch at a wall of sand instead waves and whitecaps. Never mind that the wall would help protect them from the next storm surge.
"We are not going through that again," Gov. Chris Christie told reluctant homeowners in 2013, "so that you could sit on the first floor, rather than the second floor, and see the ocean."
Towns published holdouts' names to shame them. Some residents reportedly stuffed dog feces in mailboxes of resisting homeowners.
After Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012, new dunes were constructed to protect homes on Rockaway Beach in New York. Credit: Ramin Talaie/Getty Images
After Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012, new sand dunes were built up to protect oceanside homes in parts of New York and New Jersey. Credit: Ramin Talaie/Getty Images
The storm highlighted the drawbacks of scattershot coastal protection. On Long Beach Island, houses that were towards the edges of the protective dunes suffered damage as a result of the nearby gaps.
"Managing the coast parcel by parcel is a terrible way to manage the coast," said Robert Young, who runs the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University.
The Christie administration and some towns used eminent domain against hold-out properties. Some of those legal battles continued to drag into this year.
"It's an issue that seems to crop up across the country," Young said, "but it's also an issue that property owners seem to be losing pretty uniformly."
Scituate is replacing a seawall to protect Oceanside Drive, which is also vulnerable to erosion and rising seas. Credit: Nicholas Kusnetz/InsideClimate News
The town of Scituate is replacing a seawall to protect Oceanside Drive, which is also vulnerable to erosion and rising seas. Credit: Nicholas Kusnetz/InsideClimate News
Most states have broad authority to seize land through eminent domain. Whether or not they'll use it and risk provoking voters' ire is another matter.
In Massachusetts, the answer was no in several cases. When the town of Sandwich wanted to use sand from a dredging project to nourish a stretch of beach, a group of homeowners refused to sign easements. The town moved the project down the coast to a public beach. The property owners sued, claiming the town was breaching its duty by placing the sand elsewhere. A state judge dismissed their claims.
Marshfield, another town just south of Scituate, has stretches of privately owned beach. Jack Sullivan, a citizen member of the town's coastal advisory committee, said the town has elected not to attempt some projects because of the uncertainty of securing easements.
"I don't think anyone has a silver bullet to this," said Bruce Carlisle, director of the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management, which provides grants and technical support to local governments. "These are private property issues, and they're not to be taken lightly."

Holding Back the Sea

Just inside Hourihan's front door, a wood-framed wind meter hangs on the wall. On a brisk November day, the dial was hovering at a steady 20 miles per hour. Above it, a matching barometer was holding high despite a storm offshore. "I'm a weather watcher," he said.
Behind the house, waves were crashing at the foot of a concrete seawall he installed in the 1970s. The wind blew sea foam past the house and onto the road. And beyond the road was a pile of cobblestones Hourihan said had been pushed into the marsh by town crews after previous storms.
When a storm comes through, the ocean pushes over the low dune, carrying the cobble beach onto Central Avenue, the peninsula's single north-south conduit. The marsh rises, too, flooding the road from the other side. The area was once connected to Scituate, but a gale opened an inlet between here and the town in 1898. Engineers say a new breach could open, right next to Hourihan's house.
There's little beach left at high tide by Don Hourihan's house in Humarock, where waves washed up to a concrete seawall he built with his neighbors in the 1970s. Credit: Nicholas Kusnetz/InsideClimate News
There's little beach left at high tide by Don Hourihan's house in Humarock, where waves washed up to a concrete seawall he built with his neighbors in the 1970s. Credit: Nicholas Kusnetz/InsideClimate News
Hourihan is surrounded by everything he loves: fishing in the ocean and hunting in the marsh. But the hassle and threat that storms present pushed him to list his home for sale earlier this year. He's in poor health, and he worries about leaving his wife, Betty, to live here alone.
Massachusetts measures damage from coastal storms by counting up repetitive loss claims to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. There were 41 such claims from 2010 through 2015 in Humarock and the surrounding marsh, totaling about $1.5 million.
"Every time we have a significant storm, we have significant over-wash and flooding," said Brad Washburn, the town's planning director. The town then has to spend thousands of dollars to plow the road. "It's costly to the homeowners. It's costly to the town."
Maura Curren and other town officials rely on state and federal grants for beach nourishment projects. Credit: Weather ChannelMaura Curren and other town officials have to rely on state and federal grants for beach nourishment projects. Credit: St
Maura Curren and other town officials rely on state and federal grants for beach nourishment projects. Credit: Steven Edson/Weather Channel
Last year, Scituate received a state grant to assess its coastal risks. North Humarock, where Hourihan lives, was given the second-highest priority. The report, written by Ramsey's firm, also identified 14 other vulnerable areas. Protecting them all—by building dunes, seawalls and other infrastructure and, in some cases, by buying out properties—would cost more than $500 million over 50 years. Doing nothing would be even more expensive.
"Do we have those finances? No," said Maura Curran, a member of the town Board of Selectmen, adding that Scituate needs grants to complete any major project, including the Humarock proposal. "It's a difficult thing to work through, because you go through all these steps, you spend a lot of money planning and designing and figuring out what the solution is, and then you're at the mercy of the state or federal government to help fund fixing this. It's not the best approach."
The state has sent Humarock more than $300,000 to design the project, which would feature a nearly mile-long cobble dune in North Humarock. The town also wants to raise Central Avenue, most of which lies below the 10-year flood level, the type of flood expected once a decade.
"It's trying to prolong the longevity of North Humarock," Ramsey said of the project. "Nothing is forever."

Right of Self-Defense?

Humarock residents seem to agree that they need some form of protection from the sea. And yet only one of a handful of owners whom InsideClimate News spoke with is ready to sign an easement that would allow the town's proposal to proceed.
They're concerned the town won't guarantee it will rebuild the dune in coming years. They worry the raised road would act like a dam, trapping water by the homes. Above all, they fear that other people would swarm their beaches and leave trash behind.
Aside from a short stretch of public beach, Humarock's shoreline is private. The easements would allow public access wherever sand and cobble are deposited.
Humarock Beach. Credit: Weather Channel
The seaside community on Humarock Peninsula and its private beaches are frequently buffeted by storms. Credit: Steven Edson/Weather Channel
"They want me to give up my right to my property so they can nourish the beach? It's not going to happen, not until they change a few things," said Bob O'Neill, who rebuilt his house on pilings after the "Perfect Storm" of 1991 swept the entire structure into the marsh.
O'Neill and other residents would like easements to be temporary, or to allow people to walk the beach but not to lay down towels and spend an afternoon. Better still, they want to protect their homes themselves.
"I'm not looking for any handout," he said. "I'd do it myself."
O'Neill has hired an engineer to seek a permit to place boulders, called riprap, in front of his home. Such hardened shoreline protections are rarely allowed by town and state officials, and then only after extensive and expensive environmental reviews. These structures can end up worsening erosion for neighboring properties.
"I don't have a problem if anyone wants to protect themselves," said Curran, the town selectwoman. "But it has to be in accordance with a larger plan."
Some beachfront owners in Humarock have placed boulders to protect their homes from storms and erosion. Such hardened structures can worsen the problem for unprotected neighboring properties, however, and local environmental regulations discourage the pra
Some beachfront owners in Humarock have placed boulders to protect their homes from storms and erosion, but such hardened structures can worsen the problem for unprotected neighboring properties. Credit: Nicholas Kusnetz/InsideClimate News
Curran holds out hope that after the town presents a fully engineered proposal early next year, more residents will be convinced of the benefits. If not, the town may move on to the next vulnerable area. "We've got a lot to do."
Without some form of protection, Humarock faces a grim future.
"Because everything is storm driven here, it's not a 'how long'," said Ramsey, the engineer. The worst-case scenario is a nor'easter creating another inlet, destroying whatever is in the way and turning part of Humarock into an island. A new breach could also damage the marsh, magnifying the risk for many more homes and businesses. "When it happens, it's just going to happen."
When it does, it would likely cut just about where Hourihan's cottage stands. He won't be here to see it, though. He's accepted an offer to buy the house and hopes to be out this month.
"It breaks my heart," he said.
Next year, a new owner will have to make the call on whether it's worth allowing public beach access in exchange for a project that may keep a breach at bay.
Top photo: Homes along Humarock Peninsula's rocky beach are at risk from storms and sea level rise. Credit: Steven Edson/Weather Channel

Climate change hits Winter Olympic

AP Exclusive: Climate change hits Winter Olympic preparation


SAAS-FEE, Switzerland (AP) — The athletes’ half-hour commute in the Swiss Alps — up two gondolas, then through a tunnel in the world’s highest underground train to a glacier at 11,000 feet — served up daily grim reminders that global warming is threatening their line of work.
After exiting the train, they squelched through a field of grayish mud to reach shrinking snowfields scarred by new crevasses. Occasionally, they heard the sharp roars of glacial ice breaking off in monster chunks, then echoing across the peaks where they trained jumps, tricks and turns for the Pyeongchang Olympics. Most days, they basked in brilliant, snow-melting sunshine that bathed the whole scene in deceptive beauty.

Another subtle but telltale indicator of climate change’s disruptive impact on winter sports: Many athletes — here 5,000 miles away from the Rockies and 3,500 miles from the Green Mountains of New England — had the letters “USA” emblazoned on their jackets. Americans once had little need to swap continents to guarantee offseason access to snow. But warming is forcing athletes to hunt farther from home for wintry conditions, particularly just months away from an Olympics.
“Without the snow and the cold in the places in the States where it’s normally cold, we have to travel over here and find a place on a glacier to get a couple of jumps off,” said Jon Lillis, world champion in aerials skiing. “Something that terrifies every winter athlete daily is the fact that the conditions are not as good as they used to be. You see videos of people skiing on glaciers back in the ’80s and ’70s, and half of that glacier doesn’t even exist anymore .”

WATCH: Sights, sounds of the Saas-Fee glacier.
Last year, the aerials team stopped water training at its headquarters in Park City, Utah, in mid-October, then sat and waited a month for snow that came late to the mountain that hosted the Winter Games 15 years ago. The World Cup season began in China, and the Americans were forced to travel there not having set foot on snow in months. The results, not surprisingly, were dismal: not a single podium and only one finish in the top 5.
Lesson learned: This season, they uprooted to glaciers at Saas-Fee, Switzerland, and Ruka, Finland, for autumn training needed to be competitive at February’s Winter Games in South Korea.
The hunt for offseason training spots like these is increasingly a scramble, and not just for the Americans. The hellishly named “Lucifer” heat wave that baked Europe in July and August wreaked havoc on teams’ schedules. Canadian skicross racers had to cancel plans to train on Italy’s Stelvio glacier that turned a sickly gray, rerouting to Mount Hood, Oregon, instead. Canadians endured issues elsewhere, scrubbing a planned summer training trip to Argentina because of hostile weather and extreme winds.

Jon Lillis: “Conditions are not as good as they used to be.”
France’s moguls team cut short a July training camp on its home glacier in Tignes after a crevasse opened under the course, which this year had just one jump instead of the usual two because of a shortage of snow, said team member Ben Cavet.
“It’s crazy, you know? I always thought global warming was like your granddad going, ’Oh, I used to go and ski here 20 or 30 years ago and there was more snow,’” Cavet said in an interview. “But now we really are talking eight years. I can see a huge difference. Up on the glacier, now there’s this huge cliff, you know like a big rock, that you couldn’t even see before.”
“It is worrying, very worrying,” he added. “What scares me about global warming is that you can see that the world is suffering in some of the most beautiful places on Earth.”

WATCH: Moguls skier Ben Cavet in action.

Other glaciers suffered, too:
— Austria’s Moelltaler Glacier closed from Aug. 15-Sept. 7 because of what its operators said were “water gutters in the ice” and other safety concerns.
— The Stubai Glacier, also in Austria, is deteriorating. U.S. coach Mike Jankowski, who brought some of the snowboarders and freeskiers there after the Saas-Fee trip, said there are concerns that some of the big buildings, drilled into the permafrost on the glacier, might not be stable for much longer.
— Italy’s Stelvio, billed as the Alps’ largest summer skiing area, shut for 21 days in August , a sobering first since the opening of its lifts in the 1950s. Italian athletes who still came to train were hauled up on snow-cats.
“Partly it was because of the heat,” said Umberto Capitani, in charge of the ski area. “But it’s also been three years that we’ve had very little snowfall.”
— The Horstman Glacier in Whistler, Canada, near the 2010 Olympic Alpine venue, has deteriorated so badly that a renowned recreational snowboard camp was canceled , and other activities curtailed.
“There used to be like nine lanes for different camps there, and now it’s five or six,” said U.S. moguls skier Troy Murphy. “We still go there. It’s still pretty good. But the amount it’s shrunk, the snow is so much lower.”
— Glaciers of the French Alps lost an average of 25 percent of their surface area between 2003 and 2015, and the rate of shrinkage nearly tripled, according to a study being readied for publication early next year.

AT A GLANCE: How and where teams were impacted this year. 
French researcher Antoine Rabatel said it is “highly probable” that the same trends will show up at glaciers elsewhere in Europe, as winters get shorter and summers hotter.
Winter sports training, he said, is “going to become harder and harder.”
The quest for reliable spots is becoming more competitive, and securing training locales is increasingly using up coaches’ time and budgets.
“I need to be progressive and search out new spots,” said Jankowski, who has had to add more reliable European venues to a global travel schedule that already includes trips to New Zealand and other locations in the Southern Hemisphere.
In October, skiing and snowboard athletes from the U.S. and dozens of other nations lined up before dawn, doing warmup exercises in the dark as they waited, to squeeze aboard the first gondola up to Saas-Fee’s glacier. It also is in retreat , no longer reaching down to above the no-cars-allowed resort town, as it did in the 1930s.
Environmentally minded athletes are wrestling with the moral dilemma of contributing to atmospheric pollution with their widening search for snow.
“We take planes to go overseas. We take cars every day to go training,” said French snowboard-cross racer Pierre Vaultier, gold medalist at the 2014 Sochi Games. “We are not examples about how to decrease global warming.”
U.S. gold-medal snowboarder Jamie Anderson said it’s easy to get “sucked into the system, whether you want to or not.”
“It’s hard to get out until you consciously make the decision,” Anderson said. “With how passionate I am about snowboarding, it’s hard to make that shift.”

The US aerials team preparing the snow for morning training on the Saas-Fee glacier.
Well aware of the impact snow sports are having on the environment, Burton Snowboards recently announced a series of changes aimed at diminishing its environmental footprint.
The growing frequency of warm winters has, indeed, hurt the financial health of the industry, including ski resorts that form the backbone of the recreational side of the sport. A study commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the athletes’ group Protect Our Winters found that skier visits in New Hampshire were 17 percent lower and ski resort revenue was $54 million less in the “low-snow” winters of 2001-02 and 2006-07, as compared with higher snowfall winters of 2007-08 and 2008-09. The differences between low- and high-snow seasons in Colorado were 8 percent in visits and $154 million in revenue.
The increased frequency of warm-weather race disruptions on the pro circuits also is causing alarm. Mild temperatures and lack of snow in Germany, Croatia and Michigan hit the 2015-16 season with multiple cancellations and venue changes. Last season began with events in Colorado and Alberta scrubbed because of lack of snow. This season’s early Alpine event in Beaver Creek, Colorado, was run on almost all man-made snow that turned glassy in the warming sunshine.
Biathlon venues such as Ruhpolding in Germany and Ostersund, Sweden, commonly now make thousands of cubic yards of snow at the end of winter and store it through summer beneath tarps and wood chips for early-season races the next winter.
“We used to have relatively reliable conditions at all biathlon venues around the world,” said Max Cobb, the president of U.S. Biathlon. “You can’t count on it anymore.”

WATCH: No snow? No problem. In France, top biathletes compete in summer, too.
Temperatures in the 40s and 50s greeted freestyle skiers and snowboarders at their world championships in Spain last March, creating mushy conditions like those that took some of the shine off the 2014 Sochi Games and the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
“It’s a scary thing right now for winter sports. There’s fewer and fewer places and all the glaciers are melting,” U.S. aerials coach Matt Saunders said in Saas-Fee. “It’s definitely getting harder and harder to get on snow early, for sure. We are having to travel further and further.”
Scientists warn that worse is to come for winter sports, and that more warming will render proven Olympic venues unsuitable , even with greater use of artificial snow-making. Much has been said about the scarcity of snow in Beijing and surrounding areas, which will host the 2022 Winter Games, though officials have frequently brushed off the problem and promised to make enough artificial snow.
Park City is in the mix for the 2026 and 2030 Olympics. The irony is not lost on Olympians who live there but had to travel the globe to train for Pyeongchang.
“In my career, a lot of times, it’s been really easy to chalk things up to it being a bad winter,” said U.S. aerialist Mac Bohonnon. “But (warming is) undeniable. And the more I’ve traveled, the more I’ve seen that it’s a pretty common theme wherever you go.”
AP Sports Writers Andrew Dampf in Rome and Eric Willemsen in Vienna contributed.

Miko Peled

The liberal progressive ‘Resistance’ are lying to you

Google, HuffPo, Greenpeace & the liberal progressive ‘Resistance’ are lying to you

By Nafeez Ahmed
Published by INSURGE INTELLIGENCE, a participatory investigative journalism platform for Open Inquiry and coordinated action in service of people and planet. Become an owner of the media revolution.
I’ve been investigating power my entire career.
I’ve reported for VICE, The Guardian, The Independent, and numerous other publications — including my own crowdfunded investigative journalism platform INSURGE — on the systems that enable rapacious power.
I’ve studied how these systems work to compound and consolidate a framework of human activity that is gradually destroying planetary life support systems.
And after over a decade and a half of this work, I’ve moved into an effort to build real alternatives to the status quo, like PRESSCOIN, a new cryptocurrency infrastructure for independent journalism and positive action.
Yet as I’m building these projects, I’ve come to a core realization, something that is perhaps familiar to some of us, but the reality of which is so deep-rooted and insidious, that I’m only seeing it, truly seeing it, right now.
And that realization is this: that the biggest opposition to the transformational change we need on the planet comes not from among the sources of power I traditionally investigate; not simply from the incumbency; not from the ‘Deep State’, ‘Big Oil’, ‘Financial Elites’, or other extractive industries; but from those amongst us who shout the clarion call for Change, who carry the banners of Resistance, who proudly wear the badges of Progress.

Earlier in November, I got a press release about a new project launched by liberal media exemplar Huffington Post, in partnership with MIT’s Presencing Institute, on “transforming capitalism”. The project announced that HuffPo would provide a radical journalism hub exploring ways to redesign the economy, looking into concepts like “circular economy” and other issues, while doing “online to offline” movement building to facilitate real action in relation to these solutions.
It sounded super-exciting.
But as I read on, I experienced a sinking feeling.
The new HuffPo-MIT project is headed up by Dr Otto Scharmer, senior lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and co-founder of MIT’s Presencing Institute. Dr. Scharmer is a management guru who has written extensively on theories and practice relating to organisational change and leadership.
And despite some positives, Dr. Scharmer’s grasp of the issues is confused, to say the least.

Sanitizing neoliberal deregulatory insanity

Scharmer rightly recognizes that there is a fundamental lack of joined up thinking in the approach to the multiple crises facing the planet. He calls for a more integrated response, and sets out his diagnosis of the problem in the destruction wrought by early phases of capitalism.
He commendably acknowledges the entrenched limits of conventional economic thinking, with its dependence on “a very small number of economic theorists and frameworks.”
He asks pointedly, “… despite the millions of words devoted to [the economic crisis] by ‘experts’ on talk shows and in publications, what do we really know about its root causes?”
This all sounds compelling, until his ‘solution’: a shift to what he calls ‘Capitalism 3.0’, which he defines magically as “a shift of awareness that extends the natural self-interest of the players to the entire ecosystem.”
Amazingly, Dr. Scharmer doesn’t really offer a definition of capitalism that has anything remotely to do with economics, finance, relations of production or anything.
Capitalism, he says, has already been ‘evolving’ — and improving — from being solely ego-centric and growth oriented, resulting in massive social and environmental costs, toward a more stakeholder-oriented system.
Scharmer conceives of this ‘evolution’ as being “based on a different state of awareness among its players” — consciousness evolution, he believes, is driving capitalism’s evolution.
Today’s capitalism, Capitalism 2.0, he writes — seemingly with a straight face — is “more regulated” than before. It has wondrous new social security systems, labour unions, environmental standards, much of which are supported by the activities of hundreds of thousands of NGOs. As such, he declares that “the main focus of capitalism 2.0 is on redistribution in order to sustain society as a whole.”
This, supposedly, is the defining nature of the current age of capitalism.
In one fell swoop, Scharmer manages to obscure what is really going on.
It’s widely recognized that the defining feature of today’s extreme form of neoliberal capitalism is all about imposing grand-scale financial market deregulation, designed to shift power over economic policy from the public to the private sector, from the government to an unaccountable financial elite. This is the same ideology which has exponentially accelerated the debt and financial volatility we now see in the global economy.
And it is precisely this rampaging expansion of unregulated neoliberal globalization, which has led to the steady dismantlement of state-led regulatory apparatuses established between the 1940s and 70s. That, in turn, has generated an army of largely impotent NGOs campaigning desperately, usually on deaf ears, to restrain this increasingly predatory financial system.
Those civil society movements, then, emerged not as a benevolent outpouring of the existing capitalist system — representing an expansion of its overall consciousness — but out of conflict with the prevailing system: struggle betweenthose who monopolize access to resources, and those dispossessed from that access.
This was not some sort of teleological process of ‘consciousness’ evolution.
And yet, Scharmer himself concedes that the friendlier ‘capitalism 2.0’ “does not appear to be working to mitigate the current global externalities”. Within his logic, the actual reasons for this appear unfathomable.
That is why, under Scharmer’s ‘capitalism 2.0’, global inequalities have widened, and the number of people living under $5 a day — a more realistic poverty line than the World Bank’s $1.90 — has dramatically increased. Today, 4.3 billion people, nearly two-thirds of the world’s population, live on less than $5 a day.
That is why, what is actually happening is that state-failures, extremist nationalism, Islamist terrorism and other phenomena are being driven by a convergence of economic and ecological crises, which are intensifying within a broken economic model that is hell-bent on accelerating extraction at any human, social or environmental cost.

Work on your ego, and the corporate world will obediently follow

Perusing Scharmer’s work, it becomes painfully clear that he is ill-equipped to engage with the interconnected complexity of this systemic crisis.
Scharmer’s basic limitation is his starting point: organizational change theory. He remarks that it is standard practice for leadership teams in global companies to do ‘inner change work’ to help shift an individual’s awareness “from an ego-system to an extended stakeholder situation or, in some cases, to the larger ecosystem”.
Neoclassical economists, he says, do not acknowledge how changes in “human awareness and consciousness” can “influence human behaviour”. And so he concludes that “the biggest blind spot in economic theory today [is] consciousness — that is, the structure of human awareness and attention that a community of actors develops when they go on a journey of transformational change.”
So what’s the solution? Don’t worry about the economics: let’s have Scharmer and his crack team lead the employees of all the giant corporates currently extracting from the planet at break-neck pace, and have them go through mind-expanding “journeys of transformational change” — this will change their behaviour, and the behaviour of their companies, and transform capitalism into a juggernaut of collective, orgasmic altruism.
This, basically, is what’s going on at the MIT Presencing Institute.
Can we get real here, please? The stark truth is that Scharmer is casting a net of beauty on a far more mundane process of corporate cultural institutional conditioning: improving the productivity of workers.
It doesn’t really matter what company employees think they are experiencing. For the most part, their “transformational change” is designed to condition the individual to “embrace the larger forces of change” that constitute the narrow profit-maximizing imperatives of the company itself. The end result is not a transformation of how these companies operate in the world, but instead, the cultural conditioning of employees into the belief that submerging themselves in the corporate values and vision of their employers is, indeed, part of a ‘transformative’ process.

Inside the wondrous ‘ego-to-eco’ transformation of Google

A quick glance at some of the corporations that Scharmer has run leadership and innovation programs for illustrates the problem: firms like Alibaba, Daimler, Fujitsu, Google, and PriceWaterhouse. Yet these companies do not exhibit meaningful processes of transformational change — in fact, we see the opposite.
Let’s take Google, one of Otto Scharmer’s transformational change clients.
What has Scharmer’s innovation and leadership program done to transform Google’s structural entanglement with the US military-industrial complex? What has it done, for that matter, to transform anything meaningfully at Google?
We might refer to Google’s oft-stated declarations of reducing its carbon footprint to zero while transitioning to 100% renewable energy by 2018.
Yet according to Lux Research, Google uses an obsolete tool to calculate its data center emissions from purchasing electricity from the power grid. Consequently, in four out of seven data centers, Google underestimates its dependence on coal by 30 percent or more.
And then there is Google’s primary technique for reducing its footprint to zero: buying carbon offsets — that is, investing in outsider green energy projects, allowing Google to claim the equivalent in ‘emissions reductions’ on its own books. Although their actual real-world emissions have not reduced at all.
While Google has been trumpeting its zero carbon trajectory — receiving accolades from Greenpeace along the way — its gross carbon emissions have actually increased.
Over the last half decade alone, Google’s gross carbon emissions have more than doubled.
In 2011, Google recorded its gross CO2 emissions at 1,677,423 metric tons.
In 2012, the company reported a 9% drop in its gross emissions to 1.5 metric tons. Yet even here, the drop was achieved not by a real material drop in emissions, but by factoring in deductions from Google’s power purchase agreements (PPA). So the real gross emissions figure for that year, calculated in the same way the 2011 figures were calculated, was 2,024,444 metric tons.
By 2016, Google’s gross carbon emissions had grown to 2.9 million metric tons according to the company’s 2017 progress report.
The net result?
Google’s actual carbon footprint is growing exponentially. Yet environmental certifications, such as that produced by Greenpeace, are being used to sanitize and legitimize this growth.
Google now claims that “because of our renewable energy and carbon offset programs, our net operational carbon emissions were zero. Because of our emissions-reduction efforts, our carbon intensity has steadily decreased even as our company has grown and our energy use has correspondingly increased.”
All this is true, but it is ultimately a clever carbon accounting trick that allows Google’s real-world carbon emissions to continue accelerating. Which is why, despite all this self-congratulatory nonsense about the ‘greening’ of the internet, our current global emissions trajectory is so bad it could end up heading to an uninhabitable 8C planet by end of century.
It is no surprise, then, that Google is simultaneously funding climate deniers. Google hosted a fundraiser for notorious climate-denying Senator James Inhofe; donated $50,000 for a fundraising dinner for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, an ultra-conservative outfit that attempts to sue climate scientists for fraud; and is a member of the US Chamber of Commerce, which consistently lobbies to block action on climate change and promotes fossil fuels.
But it’s all okay, because Google got an ‘A’ certification from Greenpeace.
In other words, such sustainability metrics might be good for business; but for the planet, they are meaningless.
Their application isn’t slowing the pace of fossil fuel extraction — they are accelerating extraction under the cover of saving the climate.

Stenographic liberal ‘journalism’

And thus, with the help of misleading number crunching, an exponentially increasing carbon footprint is misreported as a decreasing carbon footprint.
Unfortunately, you won’t find any dissecting of Google’s grand claims from the mainstream liberal press. Instead, Huffington Post — Otto Scharmer’s media partner of choice to ‘transform capitalism’ — bravely reported Google’s acclaimed clean carbon footprint trajectory without any investigation of the facts.
Thus, HuffPo — along with a host of liberal media outlets like The Guardianwhose stenographic reporting conveniently erases the reality of Google’s increasing carbon emissions — obfuscates the real systemic causes of the Crisis of Civilization.

Stultifying liberal ‘philanthropy’

The main funders for the HuffPo-MIT project are a Geneva-based foundation, Partners for a New Economy, and an Atlanta-based foundation, the Kendeda Fund.
Both foundations are important players on the spectrum of liberal philanthropy. They are part of a whole network of such foundations.
In March 2017, for instance, I’d been invited to Boston by the director of Partners for a New Economy to do a keynote speech on the future of philanthropy for the Biodiversity Funders Group (formerly, the Consultative Group on Biological Diversity).
This is the premier forum of philanthropic foundations focused on environmental issues, comprising 67 organisations including the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and many others.
What’s clear is that these philanthropic foundations have no real idea what’s actually wrong with the existing system, and therefore no clue as to what they should be funding. So they end up funding self-soothing, self-serving ideological nonsense that merely distracts from real solutions.

Layer upon layer of self-soothing delusion

And so we come full circle.
This is the interlocking network of liberal progressive do-gooding that is continuing to escalate the destruction of the planet.
All these years I’d been exposing and investigating the system of extraction in its various manifestations — mass surveillance, covert operations, military invasions, fossil fuel extraction, rampant debt-acceleration.
And yet I have begun to see that the real enemy, the real forces preventing us from actually responding to this system meaningfully, was something entirely different. The real enemy to transformation is among the harbingers of change themselves.
The real enemy is amongst ourselves.
In this liberal progressive world of philanthropists, foundations, trusts, charities, NGOs, platforms, outlets and beyond, a great deal of activity, though dressed up in the language of ‘change’, is not authentic. This language conveniently disguises the fact that actors in this space are still playing the extraction game. They appropriate the discourse of ‘systemic transformation’, and use it to sanitize and legitimize the very system of extraction that they are professing to transform. And they believe that their way is the only way.
Layer upon layer of self-soothing delusion serves to mask and intensify what are in fact behaviors that support extraction. They appear benign, and there are all sorts of rationalizations, excuses and explanations for their behavior: ideological indoctrination, structural constraints, social conditioning, psychological ailments, or simple incompetence.
But it doesn’t matter. Because the current configuration of liberal progressive myopia constitutes the most dangerous obstacle to saving people and planet that currently exists. It is standing in the way of real alternatives, real solutions. It is co-opting the emergence of genuine possibilities, ideas, movements and ventures with transformative potential, and absorbing them within the framework of accelerated extraction.
The central insight here is that liberal progressive discourse, right now, is precisely the ideology by which the system of extraction is accelerating and consolidating. By positioning themselves as transformers of the system, the liberal progressive mirage is in fact legitimizing and extending the system through the language of ‘change’.
The resistance is not failing. The resistance is sowing the confusion by which the extraction juggernaut intensifies. Welcome to the McResistance.

I’m not saying that we don’t need to look into ourselves and our consciousness. But what’s clear is that until we first let go of the delusions we’re clinging to, the ideological polarization that allows us to feel comfortable in a form of fake resistance that amounts merely to conforming to the pressures of business-as-usual, we will fail to address the real structures — and that is exactly what the system of extraction expects. That is exactly the function that the liberal progressive delusion is dutifully fulfilling. It’s time to break out of that delusion, without compromise.

Dr. Nafeez Ahmed is an award-winning investigative journalist and complex systems social scientist. He is co-founding CEO of PressCoin and its flagship publication, INSURGE intelligence, leveraging blockchain, crypto-currency innovations and an Open Inquiry investigative format to replace the maladaptive information ecosystem driving chaos and confusion on the planet, with a coherent public intelligence system. He is also ‘System Shift’ columnist at VICE’s Motherboard, a columnist at Middle East Eye, and previously reported on the geopolitics of the environment at The Guardian’s Earth Insight blog. His latest book, Failing States, Collapsing Systems: BioPhysical Triggers of Political Violence(Springer, 2017) is a scientific study of how climate, energy, food and economic crises are driving state failures around the world.