Monthly Archives: March 2019

Climate Change, Infrastructure, and the Emerging World

Hiroshima

*Hiroshima – in 1945 (picture above), compared to current (pictured below)

An enormous problem exists in towns across North America that doesn’t get much airplay.  It’s not sexy and rarely captures headlines, but if you walk outside your home, you’re bound to see facets of it everywhere: I’m talking about the infrastructure deficit.

Over the past 50 years (roughly) successive governments have vastly under-invested in domestic infrastructure.  These are your pot-holed roads, rusty water pipes, decaying dams, bridges, sewer systems, power lines, subways, and storm-water management.  It’s an enormous problem; think trillions of dollars in scale.

It’s almost as if society forgot these things were important; that’s how neglected the system has become.  I urge you to get acquainted with what’s going on here, as the infrastructure issue dwarfs all others when it comes to government inaction and irresponsibility over the past 50 years.

How bad is it?  Well, reports vary, and the issue itself is so large and complex that accurately estimating the problem results in a massive potential for error.  The Trump administration has recently asked congress for 1.5 trillion USD over 10 years to combat the issue.  However, the US Civil Engineers Association have pegged the shortfall as near 4.5 trillion by 2025.  In Canada the issue has been estimated by the Canadian Business Association to be around 1 trillion.  A good rule of thumb for infrastructure is 1 dollar invested = 3 dollars of GDP created, so there’s a multiplier at work here as well.

In a literal and conceptual sense, a ‘new world’ will need to be created to deal with this problem.  What is this likely to mean for our future with the onset of catastrophic climate change?

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It turns out that we’ve done this many times before in history.

In June 1945 both Europe and Japan were in ruins.  The strategic bombing campaigns of WW2 had devastated all forms of civil infrastructure.  On the battlefield, the allies had realized they didn’t have a competitive advantage. In fact, they lost battle after battle.  As a result, the allies adopted a philosophy of preventing their enemies’ ‘ability to wage war’, rather than confronting their military.  This meant destroying fundamental capacities by any means necessary.

The targets were bridges, dams, electrical generating systems, industry of all types, residential neighborhoods, roads, railways, you name it.  It was death and destruction from the air and the targets were most often civilians and civil infrastructure.  This was not the heroic warfare of days gone by.

In the aftermath the entire foundation of society had to be rebuilt.  It was a unique period, as there was the ability and choice to create entirely new systems of living.  This was Joseph Schumpeter’s ‘creative destruction’ on a massive scale.

When Japan and Germany rebuilt their economies, it was with the newest and most modern of patterns of infrastructure.  When everything was wiped away, the renewal pattern was vastly more impactful and pronounced.

What resulted was an economic miracle in the 60’s and 70’s that saw growth rates and advancement that outstripped all competitors. Eventually leading to a situation where it looked like a complete economic and technological takeover was inevitable.  To this day Japan and Germany have civil infrastructure that is the envy of their OECD cohort and fundamentally more advanced economies because of it.

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There are some interesting parallels with the situation we face today.  The latest UN reports are predicting that the destruction wrought by climate change upon infrastructure could eventually dwarf that seen in WW2.  Admittedly, the current mode of infrastructure decline is not as overt.  It presents itself as decay and neglect on an enormous scale, but not outright destruction.  Nevertheless, the conditions are being created that will require an extensive period of renewal, the likes of which has not been seen in two generations.

The task facing humanity in responding to climate change will no doubt require an infrastructure revolution.  Coastal flooding is going to impact our largest population centers.  We will need to rebuild our energy systems to become more efficient and less wasteful in terms of the production of greenhouse gases.  New modes of living will have to be created to address the multitude of problems posed by adaptation and mitigation of climate change.

In some sense it is a case of serendipity that we are on the verge of needing to replace vast components of our infrastructure at the very time when climate change requires it.  We are likely to benefit immensely from this process, both as a society and economy.  If we can understand that appropriate infrastructure development is key to the entire process of climate change adaptation, we will better understand our next steps.

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In the political sphere society is going to need to come to terms with what is happening to our climate, as well as our infrastructure, and that it isn’t going to be business as usual.  Incremental budget changes and small-scale annual capital planning are going to become a thing of the past.  Populations will need to become comfortable with massive infrastructure bills in every calendar year, and likewise be prepared to support governments with the political backbone to enact such changes.  Think on the scale of double-digit percentage points of GDP per year invested solely in climate change adaptation and mitigation infrastructure.

This a monumental change to the way government operates now.  It will require structural adjustments to spending, taxation and investment on a scale that has not been performed since WW2.  Governments will need to become more goal-oriented in their design; voting populations will likewise need to understand and support these goals.  Once we begin to see characteristics of this change in our politics and government, we will already be headed in a far more positive direction.

In the end, successful adaptation to climate change may boil down to our ability to employ appropriate infrastructure re-development techniques.  In both a literal and conceptual sense, we need to create the new world.

Humanity has already proven itself to be incredibly resourceful and adaptable when required to be.  We’ve done this before, the process is simple.  We need to stay focused on our intended result, take a deep breath, take our tools out of our toolbox, and employ them with ALL of the creativity and drive we possess.

-Noel Muller

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Why the US Military is humanity’s best hope for averting catastrophic climate change…

USMilitary

Beginning in 2014 the US Department of Defense began actively raising the alarm on the security risks posed by climate change.  They were very blunt in their language of ‘immediate risks’, ‘risk multipliers’, ‘catastrophic’, ‘irreversible’.  They get it, they’ve clearly been listening to the scientists.

In every year since, they have updated their urgent forecasts often going against the prevailing will in Washington. Of course, they will continue to do this so long as the threat exists, no matter what the political climate. After all, it’s the first job of the military to know what threats exist, and to have a plan to meet those threats.

The US military is the world’s preeminent goal-oriented organization and it has ‘action capacity’ that vastly exceeds any individual actor on the world scene today.

I take a lot of solace in the reality that the world’s largest organization readily understands the threat posed by climate change and is actively moving to meet that threat.  You should too; have a look at the budget diagram above.

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The amazing thing about militaries in general, and particularly the US military, is the extent to which they are goal-oriented.  The entire military structure from top to bottom is designed to be flexible, adaptable and actionable towards whatever threats may exist.

They have battle plans for literally everything.  It’s not an understatement to say that the Pentagon has a battle plan for every square inch of the Earth, and for whatever scenarios might possibly develop.  They know what adversaries they may face, the strength of those adversaries, and strategies to meet any emerging conditions.  They’ve spent immense resources to know and to be able to act with knowledge.

If anyone knows what’s ahead in the fight against climate change, the military knows.  It’s their job.

In terms of resources, the US military is much more than simply guns and ammunition.  They have logistical capacities that make them able to act in almost any capacity anywhere on earth.  These capacities include humanitarian action, civil infrastructure development, industrial development, and technological development, alongside regular military operations.

In a crisis scenario, the US military possesses the ability to ramp up and perform tasks that defy contemporary human understanding.  Don’t underestimate them, you likely don’t know what they are truly capable of (unless you have the security clearance).  Governments, in combination with militaries, can create vast industries almost overnight if the situation requires it, and adapt the employment of millions of people to enact their aims if they see fit.

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I understand the views of critics of US military power.  It is an organization founded in realism, and they make no excuses for the impacts of their actions over the years.   There have been plenty of issues with the enactment of US military power over the years that can’t simply be swept under the rug.

However, it’s important to know: the hegemonic might of the US military, to this day, cannot be confronted head on by any other force.  Claims of a decline, or power shift to other nations, are overstated, to put it mildly.  If they chose to stand in the way of progress against climate change, no power on Earth would be able to remove them from that stance.

Admittedly, it’s still in the early stages of adaptation by the US Military towards meeting this emerging threat.  However, with the official recognition that climate change is among the greatest global security risks, we may now have a fighting chance.  Before this acceptance, to put it bluntly, we didn’t have any hope whatsoever.

The fight against climate change promises to be monumental in scale.  Against such odds, we will need our greatest allies, and indeed the US Military may be humanity’s greatest ally of them all.

 

-Noel Muller

Goal Oriented Political Economy

Saturn 5

The concept of an economy being ‘goal oriented’ is not novel.  However, the academic practice of exploring the inner workings of economies through this lens is, to my knowledge, a new endeavor.  We do it, but we don’t explain it as such.

Plenty has been written on the subject, but it has been glancing blows rather than a direct hit.  It is obvious that goal orientation is everywhere in the economy, and to a large extent drives the world we live in.  This contrasts with the ‘naturally ordered’ views of the market, and a self-determinant economic system.  The truth is, it is always human aims that drive the outcome of human endeavors, whether at a micro or macro level.

Consider the following:

  • Nearly every person who is an economic driver is a deeply motivated and goal driven individual.
  • Nearly every organization is driven by a well laid out strategic plan that guides the co-operation of its contributors.
  • At the very highest level, it is economic policy and regulation enacted by governments that creates the very environment in which businesses can function.
  • Governments themselves are created and dissolved around political aims, and the collective societal aims of the population.

We live in a world that has been deeply organized around explicit and expressed goals.  By understanding what the goals are, and the methods of enactment, we will better understand what to do in that environment.

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Academic inquiry into the economic sphere has recently been focused on a false dichotomy between market and centrally planned systems.  The reality is that all modern economies blend these approaches to manage their economic sphere.  Additionally, there are ebbs and flows in the requirement of goal orientation based upon the emerging environment of threats and opportunities.

There are many instances in which even the most ‘laissez-faire’ market economies require a planned approach to certain areas of endeavor.  By shedding our ideological restrictions, we can have a better look at these instances and understand why.

I’ve mentioned WW2 as a very interesting example of the goal orientation of modern economies.  It is by no means unique, but it bears a closer look through this lens.

A short history re-cap: at the very highest level of understanding, we can look at the rise of the NAZI regime as a fundamentally goal driven organization.  This forced neighboring societies, both market and centrally planned systems, to adopt goal-oriented approaches to combat the NAZI threat.  The resulting ‘total war’ scenario which developed pitted multiple goal-oriented systems against each other.

Ultimately the systems that could muster the most effective strategy and bring the most resources and best technology behind their goals won.  In this situation, we see that market and centrally planned economies of the world adapted goal-oriented strategies almost overnight.  They were forced to do that by their situation, it wasn’t a choice.

The NAZI strategy was to will their victory through the most complete realization of a goal-oriented society that they could muster.  They sought to overwhelm their adversaries, whom they regarded as soft and unorganized, through sheer force of will and co-operation around their common goals.  They gambled that their enemies would not match them in this, because it was obvious that the vast resources available to the US, UK and USSR would come to bear if they did.

In the case of WW2, it was extremely foolish to think that other societies would not fight back against the NAZI threat with everything they had.  After all, they were promised annihilation and slavery should they lose.

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Admittedly, the WW2 example is an extreme version of the concepts I wish to convey.

Perhaps closer to our contemporary experience is the example of the ‘space race’ between the USA and USSR between 1955-1975.

What we know as the ‘space race’ was a mutual response and goal orientation around the development and adoption of space technologies.  The subtext was that space technology=military technology, and that by falling behind in the ‘space race’, either society would fail to contain the others’ dominance.

I mention the ‘space race’ as an interesting example because it allowed both societies, through methods of goal orientation, to divert immense sums of resources towards developing advanced technologies.  Such a vast diversion of resources would not have been possible under normal circumstances, with solely the profit motive of business at play.

The result of this focus was incredible technical advancement that continues to impact the economy and society to this day.  So many of the technologies that define the post-modern age were created during this intense competition.  It is fair to say that the application of ‘space race’ technologies created advancements unique to the USSR and USA that no other countries have since been able to re-create.

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Throughout this work, perhaps hidden from view, I am postulating that a self-preservation mechanism exists within communities that requires a goal oriented response to any emerging situation.  This ought to be a comforting conclusion to the anxious among us.

In this philosophy a danger exists when we fail to understand emerging threats, or underestimate the resources required to move towards meeting those threats.

At the start of the 21st century, society is confronted with many emerging threats to our existence, the most critical of which may be climate change.

By knowing how societies have dealt with such changes in the past, and where they have failed to do so, we can begin to understand what needs to be done in our present situation.

It is incumbent upon leaders to stay vigilant and carry their communities through troubled times.  And most importantly, to correctly identify and meet emerging threats by employing goal-orientation whenever necessary.

I hope you will continue to join me in this work.

-Noel Muller