Five trillion is a red line. Cross it and the environment crashes.

Summary: Here are three stories about environmental destruction, all featuring “five trillion” as the horrific number. Scary stories. Are they accurate?

To understand a trillion, look at it in cash

What is a trillion dollars?

(1) Five trillion tons of ice has melted!

5 Trillion Tons of Ice Lost Since 2002” by climate propagandist Phil Plait at Slate.

“…land ice loss is perhaps most important as a political trigger; the sheer amount of land ice being lost every year is immediate, here, now. And the numbers are staggering … From 2002 to mid-November 2014 — less than 13 years — the combined land ice loss from Antarctica and Greenland is more than 5 trillion tons. Five. Trillion. Tons. That’s beyond staggering; that’s almost incomprehensible. It’s a volume of about 5,700 cubic kilometers, a cube of ice nearly 18 kilometers — more than 11 miles — on a side.”

This is vintage propaganda, giving big numbers with no context. Much as the Right does with the Federal deficit (which if converted into pennies could build a bridge to Mars!).

The total mass of Earth’s ice is roughly 33 thousand trillion metric tons (per table 2 of 2013 USGS; other estimates differ). Five trillion metric tons over 13 years is 0.112% per year.  At that rate the Earth’s ice will melt in 6,600 86,000 years. What level of technology will we have in a thousand years? Children in the year 3,000 will probably consider conflate burning oil and cow dung, both things done by primitive people in the dark ages.

Also, estimates of Antarctica’s ice loss differ widely. A December 2015 NASA study found that Antarctica gained ice mass from 1992-2008 (see the press release).

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What are the big questions that 2014 might answer?

Summary:  December brings forth a crop of retrospective analysis about the past year and confident forecasts about the next. The FM website has posted almost daily doses of the former, and I lack the confidence to do the latter. Instead let’s ask about questions. What issues might dominate 2014, and influence the years beyond? Finding the right questions can help us open our minds to the unexpected, and perhaps even prepare for it. Post your questions in the comments.

Question Mark #1

“Uncertainty … is painful, but must be endured if we wish to live without the support of comforting fairy tales.”
— From the introduction to A History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell (1945)


  1. Effects of the taper?
  2. Results from Abenomics?
  3. The War on Terror?
  4. The global warming campaign?
  5. For More Information

(1)  The taper

What effect will normalizing monetary policy (slowing QE3 being the first step) have on the economy? Will it slow the economy? Will it depress asset prices? Will it boost interest rates, perhaps ruinously? If it ends badly, will it decrease public confidence in the Federal Reserve, perhaps in economists?

Also, how strong are the deflationary forces at work? Inflation has fallen during QE3, despite credit and GDP growth, with little change in the value of the US dollar. That’s an anomaly (much of my forecasting success comes from attention to anomalies ignored by the consensus). What happens to inflation as QE3 ends? Do we get the widely predicted inflationary hangover, or lapse into deflation?

Click here to see posts about the taper.

(2)  Abenomics

There were to be three arrows:

  • double the money supply in two years,
  • boost the fiscal stimulus (borrow and spend even more),
  • structural reform.

So far the government has fired the first two arrows, but not the third and most important one. The arrows were to produce:

  • increased real wages,
  • increased inflation (specifically, core inflation; not just increased cost of imports) with flattish interest rates,
  • increased volume of exports (using the lower value of the Yen to gain market share, not just increase profits),
  • a more efficient Japan (from the combination of faster growth, more investment, and reform).

The results to date are zero out of four. Wages are falling; real wages are falling even faster. Import prices are rising, but not other prices. Export volumes are not up strongly (+4.4% YoY in October). Reforms so far remain only talk.

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Question time on the FM website. Post your questions and answers!

Summary: It’s time again for question time — “ask the mineshaft”. In the comments post your questions about geopolitics. And post your answers to other people’s questions.  This is a community exercise, from the German “Gemeinschaft” (see Wikipedia).


  1. How do open source projects & businesses fare in the Boydian world of competition, rate of change, etc?
  2. Why was the consulate in Benghazi attacked?
  3. What’s the status of peak oil?
  4. Will the Israel-Gaza situation escalate?
  5. If one could “rally” the American people to address any one issue in the US, which would be the most pressing?
  6. What can Nietzsche tell us about America?
  7. Why did cell phones go dead after Hurricane Sandy?
  8. More about a solar flare’s effect on the US power grid.
  9. Brilliant question: E puribus unum was our unofficial motto until Congress adopted In God we trust in 1956. Does this show a shift of our attitudes towards both the rest of the world, and ourselves?
  10. ______


Updates to past posts, and an open thread to post comments and questions about gepolitics

Summary: Today we have updates to past posts, interesting recent news about important themes.  Also, please use this as an open thread to comment and ask questions about geopolitics.

By Drew Friedman, New York Observer, 21 August 2012


  1. More news of the robot revolution
  2. The rumor-mongers were wrong (again) about US carriers attacking Iran
  3. Ayn Rand back in the news!
  4. The rumors were wrong. Prince Bandar is alive!

All of these stories are about observation, learning, and adapting. Things we used to do so well, but appear to have forgotten.

(1)  More news of the robot revolution

During the past two years the FM website has run many posts about the robot revolution, the next wave of automation in manufacturing and especially services. Better vision, mechanical skills, sensors, ability to interact with humans, and what sci-fi author James Blish called “semi-intelligence” = another structural shift in unemployment.

Slowly it comes into view of the general public: “Skilled Work, Without the Worker“, New York Times, 18 August 2012 — Excerpt:

This is the future. A new wave of robots, far more adept than those now commonly used by automakers and other heavy manufacturers, are replacing workers around the world in both manufacturing and distribution. Factories like the one here in the Netherlands are a striking counterpoint to those used by Apple and other consumer electronics giants, which employ hundreds of thousands of low-skilled workers.

… The falling costs and growing sophistication of robots have touched off a renewed debate among economists and technologists over how quickly jobs will be lost. This year, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, made the case for a rapid transformation. “The pace and scale of this encroachment into human skills is relatively recent and has profound economic implications,” they wrote in their book, “Race Against the Machine.”

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Wisdom in the raw: best of the comments from the FM website

Summary: Intense bare-knuckle discussions of important topics brings out the occasional burst of raw wisdom. Here we harvest those from the comments section of the FM website. Please post in the comments your favorites and your reactions.

By Walt Kelly, for the first Earth Day in 1971


  1. Introduction
  2. Pogo: one of America’s greatest philosophers explains the challenge for our time
  3. How to reply to scientists that disagree with you about climate change
  4. Why do conservatives call Obama “Fearless Leader”?
  5. One of the best attacks on Obama
  6. The key to the reform of America
  7. Some best of thread winners
  8. See the future of comments on the FM website!

(1) Introduction

The FM website has 23 thousand comments, and they show its evolution. We started with the goal of presenting information and analysis about technical aspects of geopolitics: our wars, 4GW, history, military theory, and economics.  We believed that this would help people better understand the world, and the comment section would provide readers an opportunity to discuss things on the edge of the known — the borders of our data, theory — and differing values. We were naive.

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Recommendations for your weekend reading pleasure – and an open comment thread.

Summary:   Today we have a potpourri of articles — insights, information, and folly — for your weekend reading pleasure (with the two best below the fold).  Yes, this went up a day early. The comment box is open.  Ask questions and express your views.  Please be polite and brief.

(1)  Everybody loves real estate!  See the fascinating tables and graphs in the 2012 Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey.  Australia looks like a bubble ready to pop.  Out-migration has produced very inexpensive housing in some US cities.  Too bad they have little (or no) job growth.  An Florida urban housing affordability still has not returned to levels of 2000.

(2)  Propaganda deconstructed:  “Tax Foundation – up to its usual nonsense“, Linda Beale, Angry Bear, 6 May 2012 — Marketing the bogus “tax freedom day”

(3)  An important insight from research, to remember every day:  “Don’t Like the Message? Maybe It’s the Messenger“, Justin Fox, Harvard Business Review, 4 May 2012

(4)  This is what the approach of peak oil look like:  “Marginal oil production costs are heading towards $100/barrel“, Financial Times, 2 May 2012 — A steady rise in exploration and development costs.

(5)  This deserves to be at the top of your reading list: a revised edition of John Boyd’s Patterns of Conflict. An introduction is here. Download the PDF here.

(6)  An interesting report about an important subject “A Dozen Economic Facts About Innovation“, Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney, Brookings Institute, August 2011

(7)  The ominous opening sentences to Limits to Growth – the thirty-year update by Donella Meadows, Jorgen, and Dennis Meadows:

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Some important articles. Mirrors in which we can see America.

Summary:  Every society has rationality tokens.  Some have many; some few.  In some they are held by people who become leaders of their society; in some they’re held by outcasts.  As a nation evolves, its rationality tokens pass into new hands.  Here we look at America, seeking to find their new holders.

A model American

The disk was made of an undistinguished alloy of common metals, a gray monotone. It looked like a Boston subway token, save for two words inlaid in silver. The words “Rationality Token” flashed against the dull metal background.

{Nathan explained …} “Years ago, a friend of mine noticed an odd thing about meetings with groups of bureaucrats.  Only one bureaucrat in the room would have something rational and intelligent to say about the question under discussion; the rest would answer either with a magician’s verbal handwaving, with statements that were internally inconsistent, or with statements that had no apparent connection to the topic.

“Oddly, for each question, a different bureaucrat gave the rational response. It seemed as though a law of nature prevented more than one bureaucrat from being rational at a time. And you could never predict which bureaucrat could answer a particular question rationally.  My friend developed a theory:  a roomful of bureaucrats shares a single rationality token. Only the one holding the token can act intelligently. The bureaucrats pass the token around secretly during the meeting.”

— from Marc Stiegler’s David’s Sling (1988) — free e-book  here

The bad news

We can easily ignore the rapid decay of the American polity, as it will affect most people only when too late for reform.  The media make this easier by distracting us with accounts of political class’ gibbering and capering, while in the shadows our leaders erase away our civil liberties.  The news media do this because we prefer not to know.  We cover our eyes to avoid seeing what we have become.

The good news

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