Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Lincoln and the Dialectics of Emancipation

Thomas Riggins
(from the Archives)

I ran across an interesting quote from Frederick Douglass the other day in The Week (2-13-09) regarding Abraham Lincoln. Douglass said. “From a genuine abolition point of view, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent. But measuring him by the sentiment of his country--- a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult--- he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined.”

Here it looks like Lincoln represents a unity of opposites in his own person. Lets place Lincoln in his time. With regard to slavery we can postulate three possible positions. The defense of slavery is one position. The absolute negation of slavery-- “the genuine abolition point of view” is the counter position to the first. And a third position which combines elements of the two previous positions. This third position would incorporate the view that slavery should be gradually eliminated but not abruptly ended all at once and everywhere.

From the point of view of the progressive development of mankind the first position was, in Lincoln’s day, reactionary and untenable. Its historical manifestation was the Confederacy. The “genuine abolition point of view” was the philosophically and morally correct position. Its historical manifestation was the radical abolition movement-- which was a small minority movement relative to total non slave population in the U.S.

Was the third position represented by the Emancipation Proclamation-- freeing some slaves but not all the slaves? Is this what seemed dull and tardy from the point of view of Absolute Truth (to use an Hegelian expression) but was zealous and radical from the point of view of existing reality?

When Douglass uses the expression “the sentiment of his country” what can he mean except that the consciousness of the American (white) people at the time was thoroughly imbrued with racism. To this consciousness Lincoln’s actions seemed radical and zealous.

This consciousness “was bound” to be consulted. Does this mean it was not possible for Lincoln to have been more “radical” than he in fact was-- i.e., that the Emancipation Proclamation was in fact the Truth of the other two propositions? Was the proclamation the best you could get in the “real world?”

A further question is if the Emancipation Proclamation would have been possible at all without the radical abolition movement? Was the historical role of the “genuine abolition movement” not to actually come to power but to make it possible for the American consciousness to accept the actions of Lincoln?

If that is so, are there any lessons for today about the role of Marxism and its relation to the consciousness of the American people to be learned from Frederick Douglass’s remarks about Abraham Lincoln?

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Part 1
Reviewed by Thomas Riggins

This is an important book which explains the science behind climate change. Tim Flannery is an Australian scientist and climate authority and I intend to present what science thinks are the facts behind the changing climate of the earth and what we have to do. I will be giving a Marxist spin to some of these facts as I think it is the capitalist economic system fostering large scale industrial pollution and the emission of green house gasses that is the problem not "man" as the title suggests.

Flannery tells us that the best scientific evidence indicates that by 2050 we must reduce CO2 emissions by 70%. So we must keep that in mind in any policy discussions and suggestions that people or governments put forth. We must only support programs that aim at this level of reduction.

For purposes of explanation, NOT as a scientific fact, Flannery refers to the GAIA hypothesis which treats the Earth as a living interconnected entity. This is very poetic but Marxist dialectics accomplishes the same function of treating the earth as a unity in difference wherein each and every part influences each and every other part to a greater or lesser degree.

Flannery mentions something called Earth's ALBEDO. This word comes from Latin for "whiteness. The Albedo is the ability to reflect the Sun's heat back into space and away from the Earth (clouds, snow, etc.). We should note that 1/3 of all the heat reaching the Earth from the Sun is redirected back out into space.

We are also told that if we don't control global warming we could destroy our civilization and even our species. If we did that we would kill off so many other life forms along with us that "the repair job to Earth's biodiversity would take tens of millions of years." Only ideologically driven Ayn Rand type capitalists would trade off tens of millions of years and our species itself to pump a few more barrels of oil or open more coal power plants. Remember we only have to 2050 to get rid of 70% of the CO2 emissions!

Just as there a great ocean of H2O covering most of the Earth there is a great "aerial ocean" surrounding the planet: it this ocean in which we live.Generally called the atmosphere it is made up of four layers. We live in the bottom layer called the troposphere which has 80% the gases of the atmosphere. We live the first 1/3 of it which has 50% of all the gases. The 1/3 we live in is the only place where we can breathe. Flannery informs us that it is warmer at the bottom "its temperature gradient is upside down." Another fact is that the air in it north of the equator rarely mixes with the air south of the equator. Hence polluted air in the more developed north doesn't go south.

The second layer starts about seven miles up and is called the stratosphere.Going up to thirty miles we meet the mesosphere. Last, at fifty miles up comes the thermosphere which after another forty or so miles peters out into space.

The atmosphere is basically made up of three elements that we breathe: argon (.9%), oxygen (20.9%), nitrogen (78%). There are also trace gases, less than .05%.

Flannery says we have only recently recognized that the atmosphere engages in "telekinesis." What he means is that atmospheric changes can "manifest themselves simultaneously in distant regions."

Now, the subject of this book are the greenhouse gases, part of the collection of trace gases, but they all "share the ability to block long wavelengths of energy"-- the HEAT ENERGY coming from the sun. By "block" Flannery means "trap"-- they trap it in the atmosphere. It is instructive he says, to make some comparisons. The temperature of Venus at the surface is 891 degrees F and its atmosphere is 98% CO2 (a major greenhouse gas). If CO2 became 1% of Our atmosphere, the surface temperature of Earth would rise to 212 degrees F. I think you all know what that means folks.

Part 2

CO2 is not itself the only cause of global warming. Rather, Flannery says, its ability to "trigger" the production of water vapor is far more important. It creates a "feed back loop": CO2 warms the air thus producing more H2O vapor which warms the air even more, then CO2 warms this new air, etc. H2O vapor also makes up the clouds which play a dual role. Thin high flying clouds reflect heat energy back into space, low flying thick ones trap it and warm the atmosphere. The CO2 generated by fossil fuels is responsible for 80% of global warming as a result of these processes. One of reasons it is so dangerous is its longevity in the atmosphere. Flannery points out that 56% of the CO2 generated in the last couple of hundred years is still in the atmosphere.

Where does most of it come from? We are told it's from all the billions of motors we have made that run of fossil fuel. "Most dangerous of all are the power plants that use coal to generate electricity." It looks like every new coal fueled power plant is another nail in the coffin of our planet. The next most dangerous greenhouse gas is methane: CH4. This mostly comes from natural gas.

Nature has its own ways of removing carbon gases from the air-- unless we overload the system (which is what our profit driven capitalist system is doing ). The forests and the oceans have been thought to be the biggest carbon "sinks" but recent research has shown that only the oceans really count-- from 1800-1994 they stored 48% of the carbon put out by our system "while life on land has actually contributed carbon to the atmosphere." Please recall Ronald Reagan's astute observation that trees are also polluters!

Now we need a little history. Genetic analysis shows that about 100,000 years ago there were only about 2000 breeding members of out species on Earth. A very small population. Now there are six billion of us (not all of us breeding). About 10,000 years ago some of us took up agriculture and the industrial civilization of today is the result. There are still pockets of humans, in the Amazon for example, with cultures untouched by developments of industrial civilization (but not for long).

All humans lived as hunter gathers until the agricultural revolution. There is no evidence that we are any smarter today than then, or that present day hunter gathers are any less smarter than their city dwelling cousins. So what were we doing for 90,000 years until agriculture came along. Why didn't we become agricultural much sooner?

Scientists have been taking ice cores from the poles and from glaciers around the world. These reveal that violent climate changes and alternating ice ages and warm periods were taking place on off throughout the period of our early gestation. These periods show major CO2 fluctuations also occurring and being responsible for climate changes. But these CO2 fluxes were of natural origin. What is going on today is caused by our industrial system.

The last great ice age, of many, lasted from 35,000 to 20,000 years ago. Around 20,000 years ago another natural flux towards global warning began which led, by 10,000 years ago to the climate we have today. Between 20,000 and 10,000 years ago the Earth warmed up by 9 degrees F. This was a little under an increase of 2 degrees F per 1000 years.

But with our coal power plants and other fossil fuels we are slated to heat the Earth between 2 to 8 degrees F in this century alone. This will be an unmitigated disaster for life on Earth. It will lead to the greatest extinction event (it has already begun) since the end of the Age of the Dinosaurs 65 million years ago. [Since birds are dinosaurs they are not technically extinct.]

The long warming period that began 20,000 years ago was marked by a zig zag back and forth between alterations of hot and cold climates which finally stabilized about 8000 years ago in what scientists call "the long summer" [i.e., the climate since the agricultural revolution]. So what were humans doing up until then? Well, with the coming of the long summer we slowly left our caves and huts, populations increased, agriculture led to the founding of early civilizations.... and here we are.

Part 3

For the last 8000 years the Earth's climate has been stable and Flannery says this period of time has been the most crucial in the long history of our species. It allowed us to develop agriculture and create the industrial civilization we now have. Agriculture is older than the "long summer" but it was "during this period that we acquired most of our major crops and domestic animals...."

A few hundred years ago, after the inventions of Newcomen and Watt (Newcommen engine and improved steam engine) coal was in great demand as a cheap fuel. Flannery points out that Edison, in 1882, opened the first electric light power station in New York City and it was powered by coal. Steam engines are no loner in vogue and today coal is more or less confined to the production of electric power (there is some use of it in home heating but oil is more likely here).

Oil is a major source of energy production these days, but by 1995 it began to look like we might run out of it. Cheap oil [under $40 a barrel] was becoming a thing of the past and while we were finding new oil at about the rate of 9.6 billion barrels a year we were using about 24 billion barrels.

Flannery reports that scientists estimate it takes 100 tons of ancient plant life to yield one gallon of gas. You can imagine the vast sizes of the prehistoric forests of the Carboniferous period [286-380 million years ago] which now rest under our feet in great pools of oil. Oil is ultimately nothing more than fossil sunlight, Flannery says. How much sunlight did it take to grow 100 tons plant life in the Carboniferous period. It can be calculated. Flannery gives the figures for 1997. All the oil we consumed that year took 422 years of plant life to supply. In one year we consumed what it took 422 years "of blazing light from a Carboniferous sun" to produce.

Some of our resources are renewable and some are not. The oil in the ground is not renewable. As far as renewable resources are concerned, we are already using them up at a rate of 20% more "than the planet can sustainably provide." Flannery reminds us that in 1961 there where 3 billion of us on the planet and now we number 6 billion and growing. By 1986 we were using each year 100% of what the earth could reproduce for us in a sustainable manner. In that year we "reached Earth's carrying capacity." Every year since "we have been running the environmental equivalent of a budget deficit, which is sustained only by plundering our capital base."

Look at it this way. Our economy is tanking. Well so is the Earth. President Obama might get us out of the financial crisis-- but the crisis we are putting the Earth through, by maintaining capitalism, may finish us off. The oceans are more and more polluted, the coral reefs are dying, the fisheries are on the verge of collapse, the rain forests are being cut down, the Arctic is melting, and the Japanese still want to hunt whales.

If we don't get rid of capitalism, capitalism will get rid of us. The capitalist countries, despite all the talk about doing something, have no intention of taking meaningful action. This is all due to CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Hey hey, ho, ho, oil and coal have got to go! [And natural gas too.]

There have been two important years in the last thirty that stand out as having heralded major changes due to greenhouse gases. One is 1976. Before that date the tropical Pacific often had a surface temperature that often dipped below 66.5 degrees F. Since then the temperature rarely gets below 77 degrees F. This changes wind currents in the atmosphere and the distribution of rain. One of the biggest such disturbances happened in 1998 which dried out much of Southeast Asia which lost around 25 million acres to fire (50% was of old rain forest). Flannery says 2 million additional acres were lost on Borneo alone. The climate of the world has never been the same since.

However, climate change is slower in tropical and temperate zones. It takes longer to reveal itself. At the poles, however, Flannery reveals, "climate change is occurring now at TWICE the rate seen anywhere else." This is why, by the way, we all have been reading about the plight of polar bears and penguins and have seen on TV the glaciers falling apart and crashing into the ocean. All this drama is on its way here too. Its just a matter of time. Its already hinted at by the increase in the amount and intensity of the fires on

Part 4

The most dramatic first results of global warming are to be seen at the poles. More specifically at the edges of the Arctic and Antarctic regions were most life is found. In southern Alaska, Flannery reports that since the 1970s the winters have become 4 to 5 degrees F warmer. This can result in more than the dramatic pictures of retreating glaciers that we see.

There is small insect named "the spruce bark beetle." The temperature increase has allowed more of its eggs to hatch and its grubs to mature and they are spreading and have now "killed some 40 million trees in southern Alaska, more than any other insect in North America's recorded history."

The Arctic proper is already treeless as it is a vast tundra. On this vast tundra lives DICROSTONYX HUDSONIUS. A tough little rodent better known as the lemming. It makes a meager living, but the tundra is its home. The tundra is also the nesting place of hundreds of millions of migrating birds.

Flannery says the ARCTIC CLIMATE IMPACT ASSESSMENT (2004, published jointly by the countries bordering the region) reports the higher temperatures are likely to result in a loss of 50% of bird nesting areas due to the destruction of the tundra by the invasion of forests that can now spread to the region. As for the lemming: "the species will be extinct before the end of this century."

The lives of the Inuit (Alaska, Canada, Greenland) and of the Saami people of Finland [Laplanders] will also be affected. They depend on caribou (reindeer) as part of their domestic economy. As the temperature rises it appears that "the Arctic will no longer be a suitable habitat for caribou."

We already know the polar bear is facing extinction. But so are the many other species that depend on the bear. The bear kills a seal for food but leaves a mess behind. That mess feeds the arctic fox, several species of gull and the raven, among others. Bears are not getting enough food to build up their fat supplies for hibernation. This is because less sea ice means less opportunity to find and catch a seal. Nevertheless they hibernate and simply die instead of waking up. The loss of the polar bear "may mark the beginning of the collapse of the entire Arctic ecosystem." And what is true for the polar bear is also true for the walrus and the narwhal.

After the poles, other areas of the world that show damage from greenhouse gases are ocean reefs. The reefs are actually getting a double whammy-- climate change and ocean pollution. Flannery quotes Alfred Russel Wallace (1857) on the coral reef he saw while sailing into Ambon Habour, Indonesia. He saw one of the most beautiful sights he had ever seen-- a great coral reef covered with life: a forest of animals: "It was a sight to gaze at for hours, and no description can do justice to its surpassing beauty and interest."

Flannery went there in the 1990s but saw no beautiful forest of animals or beautiful corals. "Instead , the opaque water stank and was thick with effluent and garbage. As I neared the town , it got worse, until I was greeted with rafts of feces, plastic bags, and the intestines of butchered goats." So much for the wonders of nature.

Climate change is raising the temperature of the oceans. Coral is sensitive to warmer H2O and after a few months, if the temperature does not go down, the coral dies and we have a "bleached" reef-- a big dead spot. Prior to the 1930s bleaching was little known, and was so up to the 1970s when it began to be more noticeable. After 1998 a global coral dying was "triggered."

Lets just look at the Great Barrier Reef as example. In 1998 42% of it bleached. It recovered a bit but 18% was dead for good. In 2002 60% of the reef was affected by bleaching. A study the next year showed on 50% of the reef living coral had been reduced to 10%. A big loss!. The reef is being killed by "spiraling CO2 emissions."

Flannery points out that per capita Australia emits more CO2 than any other country. The government says it wants to save the reef-- one of the greatest natural wonders of the world. However, in 2004 its new energy policy "enshrined coal at the center of the nation's energy generation system." [Coal powered plants are the global enemy of life on Earth].

Note this was in 2004. Meanwhile back in 2002 global scientists had warned in the magazine Science that "projected increases in CO2 and temperatures over the next fifty years exceed the conditions under which coral reefs have flourished over the past half-million years." So we are posed to wipe out in 50 years what it took nature 500,000 years to produce. Hello! Meanwhile we will see zillions of ads on TV from American coal companies about "clean coal" and how we can become energy independent with coal fired power plants. The coal industry is just like the cigarette industry. They know they are killing us but will testify that their product is harmless, etc. All capitalists act this way.

Part 5

The golden toad was a beautiful small toad that lived in Costa Rica until the end of 1980s. It is now extinct, and Flannery calls it the "first documented victim of global warming." It was our gas guzzling cars and coal fired power plants that wiped out the delicate climate of its environment "as surely as if we had flattened its forest with bulldozers."

The golden toad was the first, but not the last. Enter RHEOBATRACHUS SILUS, the gastric brooding frog, formerly a native of Australia. This frog was first found in 1973. It was very unusual. The scientist who found opened its mouth to see a little tiny frog sitting inside. What was R. silus up to?

It had evolved to swallow its eggs which hatched into tadpoles in a special chamber of its stomach (where digestion would not take place) and when a tadpole turned into a little frog up it came into momma's mouth to be released into the world. Six years later there was no more R. silus. Although it too was killed by global warming the cause was not documented until after the cause of the golden toad had been.

There is a world wide die off of frogs, toads and other amphibians going on at this time. Many, if not most, are killed by a fungus SAPROLGENIA FERAX. But the reason this fungus is killing them is that climate change has weakened the amphibian embryo by allowing more ultra violet light to reach the Earth, and the rise in Earth's temperature is spreading the fungus and allowing it to attack more and more victims. Also the ponds that many tadpoles live in are drying up before they can turn into frogs and toads.

Some extra info. SCIENCE DAILY (online) for 1-21-2009 reports another major threat to frogs. The headline reads "Frogs Are Being Eaten To Extinction, Experts Say." Despite the fact that amphibians are "the most threatened animal group" hundreds of millions of frogs are being hunted to extinction for their legs. Frog legs are on menus throughout the world-- including school lunch menus in Europe. The crash in frog populations is similar to that of the marine fisheries. Bon appetit!

Some of the most serious consequences of global warming can be seen in the redistribution of rain fall patterns. As the Earth warms there is more rain at higher latitudes in winter, Flannery reports. This will, and has, produced more serious avalanches and flooding. Just watch the evening news!

But just as serious, in fact more serious, is that rainfall will also diminish in other areas where it has been plentiful. A new drier climate has been created in the Sahel region of Africa-- "an enormous swathe " of land from the Atlantic coast to Sudan. For the last 40 years the monsoon rains have failed to appear in this region, due to climate change caused by the European and American (and now Indian and Chinese) use of hydrocarbons for energy.

We have destroyed the rain and the consequence has been a rash of famines that have killed hundreds of thousands. All those starving Ethiopians we have seen on TV ever since the 1980s are starving because of our capitalist economic activity driven by coal and oil. Besides warming, "global dimming" is going on. The dust particles we pump into the air blocks sunlight from reaching the oceans and their cooling affects the rain fall and monsoons that are needed in the Sahel. The "moral implications" of this, Flannery says, "seems to have gone all but unnoticed in the world's news media." There is a direct causal link between our use of coal and other hydocarbons and the mass famines in Africa.

The tragic events in Dafur can also be explained by the West's causing of so much climate change. The camel herding nomads have been driven into the agricultural areas of Dafur seeking food and water for their animals and themselves due to climate change. Conflict broke out between them and the farmers in the agricultural areas. The two groups are classified as Arabs and Africans but, except for herding or farming, the groups are "culturally and physically indistinguishable" according to Flannery.

There are all sorts of political complications but "we see the west focusing on religion and politics as the problem, rather than the well-documented and evident environmental catastrophe that is its ultimate cause." We had better focus on the real causes because, "So big is the Sahelian climate shift that it could influence the climate of the entire planet."

If you remember, we live at the bottom of the troposphere which extends upwards about seven miles to meet the stratosphere-- the boundary region is called the tropopause. Flannery reports that in 2003 scientists discovered that the tropopause has risen by several hundred meters. This is important because this "is where much of our weather is generated." Greenhouse gasses trapped there heat up the whole planet causing more and more powerful hurricanes and other extreme weather phenomena.

These are some of the effects of this warming worth mentioning:
1. More flooding: 7 million people were flooded out yearly in the 1960s, but now the yearly figure is about 150 million.
2. More extreme heat waves. 26,000 people died from the heat in Europe in 2003 from July to September.
3. In 2004 the temperature in Egypt hit 126.8 degrees F. One of highest "ever recorded."
4. All the continents are right now in the process of shrinking. "This is because, courtesy of heat and melting ice, the oceans are expanding."

Part 6

Lets look at just some of the problems we create by burning coal, according to the scientific evidence in Flannery's book.

There are wee bits of dust and particulate matter that drifts in the atmosphere. They are called aerosols. Coal burning plants in the U.S. now pump so many aerosols into the atmosphere that they kill about 60,000 people per year in this country alone (increased mortality thru lung diseases). Lung cancer rates are higher around areas with coal burning plants.

Aerosols also influence "global dimming." This is a phenomenon whereby
less sunlight can reach the earth. Soot aerosols, along with jet trails, reflect sunlight back into space cooling the earth. But we are putting so much CO2 into the air that the heat being trapped is greater than the heat being reflected into space. Therefore the earth is warming up. The only thing that can prevent an ecological disaster is to start removing CO2 from the air (which we have not figured out how to do in any meaningful way).

If we stopped putting CO2 into the air today the CO2 already there will continue to heat the earth for decades. So, we are facing a big problem.

Here are some interesting statements from Flannery. It seems that if all new greenhouse gasses were immediately stopped from entering the air, the ones already in the air would continue to heat up the planet until 2050 or so. Then the atmosphere would stabilize at a new higher annual temperature. But we are no way near halting our polluting ways! In fact, we should note that "half the energy" we have burned since the beginning of the industrial revolution has been burned in just the last 20 years. So our polluting is becoming more intense.

Here is what we have to do to stabilize the climate around 2100-- we would need to reduce CO2 by 70% of the 1990 level by 2050. Then we would have CO2 at 450 parts per million. Flannery thinks it more realistic to aim at 550 parts per million with climate stabilization "centuries from now." The earth would end up around 5.4 degrees F [or 3 C] hotter by 2100 than it is now.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change says we must prevent "dangerous" climate change. So what constitutes dangerous climate change? It seems the consensus is about 2 degrees C-- anything over that may lead to disaster. So 2C is the most we can stand for, and if we get to work NOW we may still get 3C by 2100, the outlook is not so hot (no pun intended).

"Earth's average temperature," Flannery writes, "is around 59 degrees F, and whether we allow it to rise by a single degree or 5 degrees F will decide the fate of hundreds of thousands of species, and most probably billions of people."

Besides oceans, rain forests and coral reefs, the world's mountains are also experiencing rapid change. You can forget the snows of Kilimanjaro and the glaciers of New Guinea. The CO2 already in the atmosphere has doomed them and they will be gone in just a few decades.

As the earth warms the mountain habitat changes and animals who were lower down on the mountain move to the top while the topmost species go extinct. We are now in the process of losing mountain gorillas, panda bears and many plant species.

Flannery says some species benefit from global warming. The Anopheles mosquito is spreading and the malaria parasites it spreads will soon be infecting "tens of thousands of people without any resistance to the disease."

Obama's stimulus bill, whatever else it does, may be a boon for malaria parasites. It contains one billion dollars for the coal industry to help develop "clean coal" [there is no such animal] which fosters the illusion that we can survive without closing down the coal industry itself.

We can't save everything, but scientists think if we start taking strong action now we will ONLY lose one third of all existing species on earth. If we don't take action, then by 2100 we will have doomed 60% of existing species to extinction. Is burning coal and other fossil fuels really worth it?

Don't think calculations have not been made. Economists working for the UN in conjunction with the World Meteorological Association have done calculations that concluded it was too expensive to really halt climate change. The rich nations will be able to deal with it. The billions of poor in the Third World will be the ones to suffer but, the economists calculated that the life of a poor person was "worth only a fifteenth of that of a rich person." It is just not cost effective, according to them, to try and save the poor. At this point I wish Flannery would refer to Marxism, but alas he seems not to be a Marxist.

Part 7 [Conclusion]

One of the biggest problems facing the Obama administration is that of global warming and what to do about it. The Bush administration rejected the only international agreement to try and remedy the problem (the Kyoto agreement) and a new international agreement must be reached. Kyoto is not, as it stands, adequate to do the job that must be done. Flannery writes, "If we are to stabilize our climate, Kyoto's target [a CO2 emissions cut of 5.2%] needs to be strengthened twelve times over: Cuts of 70 percent by 2050 are required to keep atmospheric CO2 at double the pre industrial level."

In order to save the planet, as we know it, environmentalists will have to fight powerful international cartels that profit from the use of fossil fuels. The energy lobby in the U.S. worked full time with the Bush Administration to lie about, and distort the scientific. evidence of, global warming

These forces, and the politicians that front for them, have known for 30 years that their activities were killing the planet but the profits they were making were more important to them than the future existence life on Earth!

Flannery points out that ever since 1977 when the New York Times ran a story ["Scientists Fear Heavy Use of Coal May Bring Adverse Shift in Climate"] there has been a battle plan in effect to suppress as much as possible the scientific evidence of global warming.

The eight years of the Bush administration was a kind of culmination of these antiscientific doings. The Bushites suppressed or actually changed the wording and conclusions of scientific reports from NASA, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency [read Destruction Agency under Bush], and the National Academy of Sciences, among others. Even lobbyists for the energy companies were amazed by the zeal of the Bushites to further their interests at the expense of the planet, one of whom remarked that it may be a long time before the energy sector has another President Bush "or Atilla the Hun."

You know something is wrong when your allies think of you as Atilla the Hun. The truth is that Bush, and the Republicans generally spent their time in office (with the connivance of conservative Democrats) in acting in ways detrimental to 99% of the people of the earth and to enrich the upper 1%. But that 1% will suffer too if the atmosphere gives out.

So, what is to be done? We have to hurry, and Flannery sees the two great problems as 1) how to decarbonize the transportation system, and 2) how to decarbonize the electricity grid. We should concentrate our efforts first on the electricity grid (to get rid of coal) and then tackle the transportation system to get rid of oil and gas. It may seem that we will never get rid of these three fuels but we must or we will literally be committing suicide. Our civilization is analogous to those people who smoke three packs a day-- they know what is going to happen to their lungs and would be simply insane not to quit.

Flannery discusses several ways the power grid can be weaned from carbon. We can produce power by nuclear, hydrothermal, hydrogen, wind, solar (and also tidal action) methods and thus eliminate the need for coal, oil and natural gas. The risks of nuclear power make it the least desirable. I don't think we should be playing with it-- we don't know what to do with radioactive waste and when I read that the EPA plans to monitor waste dumps for 10,000 years, and will makes rule changes after that period to cover the dumps for 1,000,000 years I think: Let's get real!The EPA is not going to be around for 10,000 years!

One thing Flannery points out is that wind and solar energy can be produced locally and even by individuals and their families thus making for a decentralized system. If we go for nuclear or hydrogen power cells then "the big power corporations" will likely be in charge and survive. I think they should, if they survive, be placed under state control and treated as public utilities which should not be privately held for profit making.

After dealing with the power grid, Flannery turns his attention to the transportation system. We will naturally have to develop alternatives to carbon based fuel-- and ethanol is not the answer. It is not cost effective, takes up too much land, and damages the food supply by taking food crops out of production in order to grow the crops to make ethanol. Rather we will have have to use electric calls, hybrids, mincats [CAT stands for compressed air technology], hydrogen based fuel cells, and other non polluting methods to apply to transportation, as well as beef up out systems of public transportation.

One thing we can be sure of is that time is running out. I think anyone interested in the problems of climate change and global warming should read Flannery's book. It was written before the global collapse of monopoly capitalism and how this crash will affect out ability to save the planet remains to be seen.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Engels on Early Christianity PART THREE

Thomas Riggins
Part Three
"Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number IS Six hundred threescore AND six."-- Revelation 13:18

In the last part of his essay Engels explains that the purpose of the Book of Revelations (by John of Patmos) was to communicate its religious vision to the seven churches of Asia Minor and to the larger sect of Jewish Christians that they represented.

At this time, circa 69 AD, the entire Mediterranean world much of the of Near East and Western Europe were under the control of the Roman Empire. This was a multicultural empire made of hundreds of tribes, groups, cities and peoples. Within the empire was a vast underclass of workers, freedmen, slaves and peasants whose exploited labor was lived off of by a ruling class of landed aristocrats and merchants. In 69 AD the empire was in essence a military dictatorship controlled by the army and led by the Emperor (from the Latin word for "general"-- imperator).

At this time there were peoples but no nations in our sense of the word. "Nations became possible," Engels says, "only through the downfall of Roman world domination." The effects of which are still being felt in the Middle East and parts of Europe, especially eastern Europe.

For the exploited masses of the Empire it was basically impossible to resist the military power of Rome. There were uprisings and slave revolts but they were always put down by the legions. This was the background for what became a great revolutionary movement of the poor and the exploited, a movement that became Christianity. The purpose of the movement was to escape from persecution, enslavement and exploitation. A solution was offered. "But" Engels remarks, "not in this world."

Another feature of the work is that it is a symbolical representation of contemporary first century politics and John thinks that Jesus's second coming is near at hand. Jesus tells John, "Behold, I come quickly" three times (22:7, 22:12, 22:20). His failure to show up by now doesn't seem to pose a problem for Christians.

As far as the later Christian religion of love is concerned, Engels reports that you won't find it in Revelation, at least as it regards the enemies of the Christians. There is no cheek turning going on here: it's all fire and brimstone for the foes of Jesus. Engels says "undiluted revenge is preached." God is even going to completely blot out Rome from the face of the earth. He changed his mind evidently as it is still a popular tourist destination and the pope has even set up shop there.

As was pointed out earlier the God of John is Yahweh, there is no Trinity, it is He, not Christ, who will judge mankind and they wil bel judged according to their works (no justification by faith here, sorry Luther), no doctrine of original sin, no baptism, and no Eucharist or Mass. Almost everyone of these later developments came from Roman and Greek, as well as Egyptian
mystery religions. Zoroastrian elements from the Zend - Avesta are also present. These are the idea of Satan and the Devil as an evil force opposed to Yahweh, a great battle at the end of time between good and evil, [the final conflict] and the idea of a second coming. All these ideas were picked up by the Jews during their contact with the Persians before their return after the Babylonian captivity and transmitted to the early Christians.

Once we realize all this we can also see why Islam was able to rise to the status of a world religion as well. Those areas of the world that were not the home land of Greco-Roman paganism were open to Islam which spread in areas of Semitic settlement and where Christianity had been imposed by force, so could Islam be.

We will give Engels the last word, the Book of Revelation "shows without any dilution what Judaism, strongly influenced by Alexandria, contributed to Christianity. All that comes later is Western , Greco-Roman addition."

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Engels on Early Christianity PART TWO


Part Two

Engels views on early Christianity were formed from his reading of what he considered "the only scientific basis" for such study, namely the new critical works by German scholars of religion.

First were the works of the TUBINGEN SCHOOL, including David Strauss ("The Life of Jesus"). This school has shown that 1) the Gospels are late writings based on now lost original sources from the time of Jesus and his followers; 2) only four of Paul's letters are by him; 3) all miracles must be left out of account if you want a scientific view; 4) all contradictory presentations of the same events must also be rejected. This school then wants to preserve what it can of the history of early Christianity. By the way, this is essentially what Thomas Jefferson tried to do when he made his own version of the New Testament.

A second school was based on the writings of BRUNO BAUER. What Bauer did was to show that Christianity would have remained a Jewish sect if it had not, in the years after the death of its founder, mutated by contact with Greco-Roman paganism, into a new religion capable of becoming a world wide force. Bauer showed that Christianity, as we know it, did not come into the Roman world from the outside ("from Judea") but that it was "that world's own product." Christianity owes as much to Zeus as to Yahweh.

Engels maintains that THE BOOK OF REVELATIONS is the only book in the New Testament that can be properly dated by means of its internal evidence. It can be dated to around 67-68 AD since the famous number 666, as the mark of the beast or the Antichrist, represents the name of the Emperor Nero according to the rules of numerology. Nero was overthrown in 68. This book, Engels says, is the best source of the views of the early Christians since it is much earlier than any of the Gospels, and may actually have been the work the apostle John (which the Gospel and letters bearing his name were not).

In this book we will not find any of the views that characterize official Christianity as we have it from the time of the Emperor Constantine to the present day. It is purely a Jewish phenomenon in REVELATIONS. There is no TRINITY as GOD has SEVEN SPIRITS (so the HOLY GHOST is impossible Engels remarks). JESUS CHRIST is not GOD but his SON, he is not even equal in status to his father. Nevertheless he has pretty high status, his followers are called his "slaves" by John. Jesus is "an emanation of God, existing from all eternity but subordinate to God" just as the seven spirits are. MOSES is more or less "on an equal footing" with Jesus in the eyes of God. There is no mention of the later belief in ORIGINAL SIN. John still thought of himself as a Jew, there is no idea at this time of "Christianity" as a new religion.

In this period there were many end of times revelations in circulation both in the Semitic and in the Greco-Roman world. They all proclaimed that God was (or the Gods were) pissed off at humanity and had to be appeased by sacrifices. John's revelation was UNIQUE because it proclaimed "by one great voluntary sacrifice of a mediator the sins of all times and all men were atoned for once and for all-- in respect of the faithful."

Since all peoples and races could be saved this is what, according to Engels, "enabled Christianity to develop into a universal religion." [Just as the concept of the workers of the world uniting to break their chains and build a world wide communist future makes Marxism-Leninism a universal philosophy.]

In Heaven before the throne of God are 144,000 Jews (12,000 from each tribe). In the second rank of the saved are the non Jewish converts to John's sect. Engels points out that neither the "dogma nor the morals" of later Christianity are to be found in this earliest of Christian expressions. Some Muslims would presumedly not like this Heaven, not only are there no virgins in it, there are no women whatsoever. In fact, the 144,000 Jews have never been "defiled" by contact with women! This is a men's only club.

Engels says that the book shows a spirit of "struggle", of having to fight against the entire world and a willingness to do so. He says the Christians of today lack that spirit but that it survives in the working class movement. We must remember he was writing this in 1894.

There were other sects of Christianity springing up at this time too. John's sect eventually died out and the Christianity that won out was an amalgam of different groups who finally came together around the Council of Nicaea (325 AD). Those who did not sign on were themselves persecuted out of existence by the new Christian state.

We can see the analogy to the early sects of socialists and communists, says Engels. We can also see what happened after the Russian Revolution (Leninists, Stalinists, Trotskyists, Bukharinites, Maoists, etc., etc.). Here in the US today we have the CPUSA, the SWP, Worker's World, Revolutionary CP, Socialist Party, Sparticists, and etc., etc.).

Engels thought that sectarianism was a thing of the past in the Socialist movement because the movement had matured and outgrown it. This, we now know, was a temporary state of affairs at the end of the 19th Century with the consolidation of the German SPD. The wide spread sectarianism of today suggests the worker's movement is still in its infancy.

Engels says this sectarianism is due to the confusion and backwardness of the thinking of the masses and the preponderate role that leaders play due to this backwardness. The Russian masses of 1917 and the Chinese of 1949 were a far different base than the German working class of the 1890s.

"This confusion," Engels writes,"is to be seen in the formation of numerous sects which fight against each other with at least the same zeal as against the common external enemy [China vs USSR, Stalin and Trotsky, Stalin and Tito, Vietnam vs China border war, Albania vs China and USSR. ad nauseam]. So it was with early Christianity, so it was in the beginning of the socialist movement [and still is, peace Engels!], no matter how much that worried the well-meaning worthies who preached unity where no unity was possible."

Finally, for those fans of the 60s sexual revolution, Engels says that many of the sects of early Christianity took the opposite view of John and actually promoted sexual freedom and free love as part of the new dispensation. They lost out. Engels says this sexual liberation was also found in the early socialist movement. He would not, I think, have approved of the excessive prudery of the Soviets.

Stay tuned for part 3.