We Need to Electrify As Much Transportation As We Can – Heinberg

We Need to Electrify As Much Transportation As We Can

by Richard Heinberg

Transcript:

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

Folks are lining up to reserve electric car automaker Tesla’s Model 3. It’s considered to be one of the first electric cars for the mass market at an expected price tag of 35 thousand dollars. Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, will be unveiling the vehicle on Thursday evening, so we can’t show you what it will actually look like. But in this segment we wanted to get beyond the consumerism and ask, will this be a game changer for the automobile industry in America and the environment?

Now joining us to help us answer that question is Richard Heinberg. He’s a senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute. Thanks so much for joining us, Richard.

RICHARD HEINBERG: It’s a pleasure, Jessica.

DESVARIEUX: So, Richard, why has it taken so long for an affordable electric car to sort of come to the market? I’m reminded of the 2006 documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” which really highlights how we essentially went from having electric cars on California roads in the ’90s to then, eventually, shredding and destroying those very same vehicles years later. So my question to you, Richard, is, who killed the electric car?

HEINBERG: Well, the bosses at the Detroit automakers decided back in the 1990s that there wouldn’t be a mass market for the electric car because of the short range of the vehicles. They thought consumers wouldn’t buy a car if it didn’t have a two to three hundred mile range, and the batteries at that time were not capable of delivering that kind of range. So even though they built some prototypes and sent them out to drivers, they never produced a mass market car.

Today, battery technology has improved enough so that it is possible to produce an electric car for the masses with at least a 200-mile range, and that’s what’s anticipated for the Tesla Model 3.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. there are some folks that are saying that this isn’t as big of a game changer as people are making it out to be, because essentially you’re getting power to charge your electric vehicle from fossil fuel sources like coal. Do you agree with that?

HEINBERG: Not entirely. First of all, the energy mix is different in different parts of the country. Some parts of the country, electricity is mostly coming from coal. In other parts of the country the mix is more oriented toward natural gas, hydro and renewables. So, first of all, it depends on where you’re getting your electricity from.

And second, you know, if you look out at the energy transition that we’re just beginning right now, away from fossil fuels toward renewables, it’s clear that one of the main strategies that we’ll have to pursue during this energy transition is electrification. Right now only about 20 percent of the final energy that we use in the United States is in the form of electricity. The rest is in the form of liquid fuels for transportation, energy for high heat industrial processes and so on.

We have to electrify as much of that energy usage as we can, because most of our renewable sources of energy produce electricity. That’s true of solar and wind, geothermal and hydro power. So we need to electrify as much transportation as we can.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. You have some automakers, you know, really touting this as a bright future, that we’re going to see more and more electric cars hit the market. I want to ask you about the role of cheap oil. Do you think that threatens he growth of the electric car industry?

HEINBERG: Well, probably not over the long run. We’re headed toward electric cars one way or the other, I think. However, over the short run it definitely takes some wind out of the sails, because from the consumer’s standpoint the biggest draw for an electric car is that over the lifetime of ownership the operating costs are much lower, so if you have cheap gas that changes that differential a bit, so that there’s not as much of an advantage.

DESVARIEUX: Okay, let’s talk about the future. What would a truly green transportation system look like, and are there some states or countries that are really laying out a road map to get us there?

HEINBERG: Well, a truly green transportation system probably wouldn’t rely on electric cars that much because it wouldn’t be relying on cars that much. Cars are an inherently inefficient mode of transportation. I mean, think about it. Most cars just have a driver and maybe one passenger, and meanwhile you’re dragging around two tons of metal, glass and plastic in order to get those one or two people where they want to go.

Much more efficient modes of transportation are light rail, any kind of public transportation, actually. So what we really need is to build up more rail transport and get people walking and bicycling as much as possible.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. Richard Heinberg, thank you so much for joining us.

HEINBERG: It’s been a pleasure. Thanks, Jessica.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Electric car teaser image via shutterstock. Reproduced at Resilience.org with permission.


Content on this site is subject to our fair use notice.

Resilience is a program of Post Carbon Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the world transition away from fossil fuels and build sustainable, resilient communities.


Source URL: http://www.resilience.org/stories/2016-04-04/we-need-to-electrify-as-much-transportation-as-we-can

Duality in Climate Science

Duality in Climate Science
Published by Kevin Anderson blog on 2015-10-15
Original article: http://kevinanderson.info/blog/duality-in-climate-science/ by Kevin Anderson

 

The value of science is undermined when we adopt questionable assumptions and fine-tune our analysis to conform to dominant political and economic sensibilities. The pervasive inclusion of speculative negative emission technologies to deliver politically palatable 2°C mitigation is but one such example. Society needs scientists to make transparent and reasoned assumptions, however uncomfortable the subsequent conclusions may be for the politics of the day.

June’s UNFCCC Bonn Conference reiterated the headline ‘conclusions’ of November’s IPCC Synthesis Report, which itself was heralded as delivering clear messages to policy makers. As the Financial Times1 noted, meeting the 2°C dangerous limitwould “only cause an annual 0.06 percentage point cut in … economic growth”, a small cost that would, according to the UK’s Guardian, rise by less than 50% even if emissions reductions were delayed to 20302. In similar optimistic vein, The US Associated Press3 and Hindustan Times4 reported that maintaining “the temperature rise below a level that many consider dangerous” may require emissions from fossil fuels “to drop to zero”, but not before “the end of this century”. The Sydney Morning Herald5 concluded that staying below 2°C would require “a fairly strong level of action on greenhouse gas emissionswith, ChinaDaily6 reporting that in delivering the requisite action the solutions are many and allow for continued economic and human development.”

Based on such reports it is easy to be left with the impression that the shift away from fossil fuels needs to be much more an evolutionary transition than an immediate revolution in how we use and produce energy. Moreover, it could be suggested that delaying action until 2030 would give more time for considered reflection of the options, yet still only have a very marginal impact on economic growth (i.e. less than a 0.1 percentage point cut) – not a bad exchange perhaps?

In stark contrast, this commentary concludes that the carbon budgets needed for a reasonable probability of avoiding the 2°C characterisation of dangerous climate change demand profound and immediate changes to the consumption and production of energy. The IPCC’s own 1,000 GtCO2 carbon budget for a “likely” chance of 2°C, requires global reductions in emissions from energy of at least 10% p.a. by 2025, with complete cessation of all carbon dioxide emissions from the energy system by 2050.

Diluting the message
Whilst the endeavours of the IPCC, since its inception in 1988, are to be welcomed, I have grave reservations as to how the implications of their analysis are being reported. This is not solely the failure of incisive journalism, but is also the outcome of repeated and questionable commentary from some experts engaged in the IPCC process. Even the press release7 for the IPCC’s Synthesis report provided an optimistic spin, with the then IPCC chair stating thatTo keep a good chance of staying below 2ºC, and at manageable costs, our emissions should drop by 40 to 70 percent globally between 2010 and 2050, falling to zero or below by 2100[emphasis added]. Moreover, the Co-Chair of the IPCC’s section on reducing emissions made the all-important comment that mitigation costs would be so low that global economic growth would not be strongly affected– echoing the conclusion of the recent and influential report from The New Climate Economy8.

But does the IPCC’s own analysis support the upbeat rhetoric of evolution as opposed to the more challenging and fundamental language of revolution?

Certainly such evolutionary conclusions are forthcoming from many highly complex integrated assessment models (IAMs) – whereby an understanding of prices, markets and human behaviour is brought together with the physics of climate change to generate ‘policy-relevant’ and cost-optimised emission scenarios. These typically offer highly optimistic futures through a combination of very early peaks in global emissions and a belief that negative emission technologies will prove practically and economically viable in removing CO2 from the atmosphere (hence the reference to or belowzero emissions in Pachauri’s earlier statement).

‘Geo-engineering’ as systemic bias
The analysis within this Commentary makes no allowance for carbon budgets being increased through the adoption of ‘geo-engineering’ technologies, specifically those delivering so-called negative emissions. Such technologies are ubiquitous in 2°C scenarios9,10, despite their remaining at little more than the conceptual stage of development. However, whilst speculative negative emissions are de rigueur, similarly imprecise Earth system processes (but with the potential to reduce the available budgets) are seldom included in quantitative scenarios. The relative importance of negative emissions and Earth-system processes for the size of the available carbon budget varies across the spectrum of temperatures being considered. Yet until both can be adequately and robustly quantified their widespread inclusion within quantitative emissions pathways should be avoided. A small suite of 2°C scenarios may, of course, assume the successful uptake of negative emissions (or further positive feedbacks), but such scenarios should be in the minority and not dominate the outputs from across the IAM community.

As it stands, the expedient and ubiquitous use of speculative negative emissions to expand the available 2°C carbon budgets, implies a deeply entrenched and systemic bias in favour of delivering politically palatable rather than scientifically balanced emission scenarios. Nowhere is this more evident than in the IPCC’s scenario database11. Of the 113 scenarios with a “likely” chance (66% or better) of 2°C (with 3 removed due to incomplete data), 107 (95%) assume the successful and large-scale uptake of negative emission technologies. The remaining 6 scenarios all adopt a global emissions peak of around 2010. Extending the probability to a 50% chance of 2°C paints a similar picture. Of the additional 287 scenarios, 237 (83%) include negative emissions, with all the remaining scenarios assuming the successful implementation of a stringent and global mitigation regime in 2010.

In plain language, the complete set of 400 IPCC scenarios for a 50% or better chance of 2°C assume either an ability to travel back in time or the successful and large-scale uptake of speculative negative emission technologies. A significant proportion of the scenarios are dependent on both ‘time travel and geo-engineering’.

An arithmetic sense check
With IAM outputs typically clustering around evolutionary rather than revolutionary rates of change, there is clearly merit in undertaking some basic arithmetic to sense-check the model outputs, the consequent framing of policies, and the timeframes for delivering deep cuts in emissions. Building on the concept of carbon budgets12-14 the following steps summarise a sequence of reasoning and transparent assumptions that suggest a profoundly different challenge to that dominating the current discourse on climate change.

1) From the Copenhagen Accord12 in 2009 to the New York Climate Summit in 2014 political leaders have repeatedly reaffirmed their commitment to take the necessary action, informed by science15,16to “hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius”15.

2) The IPCC’s Synthesis Report reiterates their previous conclusion that Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond17.

3) The Report proposes a headline carbon budget of 1,000 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (1000 GtCO2) for the period 2011 to 2100 and for a 66% chance, or better, of remaining below a 2°C rise18.

4) Energy-only CO2 between 2011and 2014 inclusive has totalled around 140GtCO2.

5) To apportion the remaining 860 billion tonnes between the principal sources of CO2 emissions, i.e. energy, deforestation, and cement (process only), it is necessary to understand their relevant contexts. In a world genuinely committed to not exceeding the 2°C budget, it is reasonable to assume there exists a concerted effort to reduce emissions across all three emission sources.

6) Against this backdrop, deforestation and land use change emissions for 2011-2100 are based on RCP4.519, the IPCC’s most ambitious deforestation pathway to exclude net-negative land use emissions. The total deforestation budget is therefore taken as ~60GtCO2.

7) Turning to cement, whilst energy-related emissions are included here in total energy CO2, the substantial process emissions are not and so need to be considered separately. Industrialisation throughout poorer nations and the construction of low-carbon infrastructures within industrialised nations will continue to drive rapid growth in the process emissions from cement production (current ~7% p.a.20). An aggressive uptake of lower-carbon alternatives (including CCS) and more prudent use of cement could reduce some of this early growth,21,22 but in the longer term, such emissions will need to be eliminated. Provisional and highly optimistic analysis building on recent process emission trends,20,23 suggests such emissions could be constrained to around 150 GtCO2 from 2011 to their eradication later in the century.

8) Consequently, the remaining budget for energy-only emissions, for the period 2015 to 2100 and for a “likely” chance of staying below 2°C, is ~650 GtCO2.

9) The political and physical inertia of the existing system will likely see emissions continue to rise until ~2020. Assuming there is an unparalleled agreement at Paris and energy-only emissions of CO2 reach a 2020 peak of ~37 GtCO2, a little under 180 GtCO2 will have been emitted between the start of 2015 and 2020, leaving a post 2020 budget of ~470 GtCO2.

10) This would demand a dramatic reversal of current trends in energy consumption and emissions growth. Global mitigation rates would need to rapidly ratchet up to around 10% p.a. by 2025 and continue at such a rate to the virtual elimination of CO2 from the energy system by 2050.

Unpalatable repercussions
Applying simple arithmetic to the headline data within the IPCC’s Synthesis Report raises fundamental questions as to the realism of both the content and the tone of much of the reporting that followed its publication. Moreover, the failure of the scientific community to vociferously counter the portrayal of the findings as challenging but incremental suggests vested interests and the economic hegemony may be preventing scientific openness and freedom of expression.

The carbon budgets aligned with international commitments to stay below the 2°C characterization of dangerous climate change demand profound and immediate changes to how energy is both used and produced. The IPCC’s headline budget of 1,000 GtCO2, even with highly optimistic assumptions on curtailing deforestation and cement emissions, requires global reductions in energy-CO2 of at least 10% p.a. from 2025, transitioning rapidly to zero emissions by 2050. The severity of such cuts would likely exclude carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a dominant post-2050 technology. Only if the life cycle carbon emissions of CCS could be reduced by an order of magnitude from those postulated for an efficiently operating gas-CCS plant (typically around 80g CO2 per kWh24), could fossil fuels play any significant role post-2050.

Delivering on such a 2°C emission pathway cannot be reconciled with the repeated and high-level claims that in transitioning to a low-carbon energy

system “global economic growth would not be strongly affected7. Certainly it would be inappropriate to sacrifice improvements in the welfare of the global poor, including those within wealthier nations, for the sake of reducing carbon emissions. But this only puts greater pressure still on the relatively small proportion of the globe’s population with higher emissions. The strains that such 2°C mitigation puts on the framing of our lifestyles cannot be massaged away through incremental escapism. With a growing economy of 3% p.a. the reduction in carbon intensity of global GDP would need to be nearer 13% p.a.; higher still for wealthier industrialised nations, and higher yet again for those individuals with well above average carbon footprints (whether in industrial or industrialising nations).

Conclusions
The IPCC’s synthesis report and the scientific framing of the mitigation challenge in terms of carbon budgets was an important step forward. Despite this, there remains an almost global-scale cognitive dissonance with regards to acknowledging the quantitative implications of the analysis, including by many of those contributing to its development. We simply are not prepared to accept the revolutionary implications of our own findings, and even when we do we are reluctant to voice such thoughts openly. Instead, my long-standing engagement with many scientific colleagues, leaves me in no doubt that whilst they work diligently, often against a backdrop of organised scepticism, many are ultimately choosing to censor their own research.

Explicit and quantitative carbon budgets provide a firm foundation on which policy makers and civil society can build a genuinely low-carbon society. But the job of scientists remains pivotal. It is incumbent on our community to be vigilant in guiding the policy process within the climate goals established by civil society; to draw attention to inconsistencies, misunderstandings and deliberate abuse of the scientific research. It is not our job to be politically expedient with our analysis or to curry favour with our funders. Whether our conclusions are liked or not is irrelevant. As we massage the assumptions of our analysis to fit within today’s political and economic hegemony, so we do society a grave disservice – one for which the repercussions will be irreversible.

References

1. Clark, P. Financial Times (2 November 2014). http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/26d0edc6-628e-11e4-9838-00144feabdc0.html – axzz3KxE5mP6Q

2. Carrington, D. The Guardian (2 November 2014). http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/nov/02/rapid-carbon-emission-cuts-severe-impactclimate-change-ipcc-report

3. UN climate panel says emissions need to drop to zero this century to keep warming in check (Associated Press, 2 November 2014). http://www.foxnews.com/world/2014/11/02/un-climate-panel-says-emissions-need-to-drop-to-zero-thiscentury-to-keep/

4. Hindustan Times. UN climate report offers stark warnings. Copenhagen. (Taken from Associated Press, 3 November 2014). http://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/un-climate-report-offers-stark-warnings-hope/article1-1281867.aspx

5. Miller, N. The Sydney Morning Herald (4 November 2014). http://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/ipcc-report-little-time-left-to-act-on-climate-change-20141103-11g2er.html.

6. Jing, F. ChinaDaily: Europe (3 November 2014). http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/2014-11/03/content_18854403.htm

7. Concluding instalment of the Fifth Assessment Report. (IPCC Press Release) (2 November 2014).

8. Better Growth Better Climate synthesis report. (The New Climate Economy2014). http://newclimateeconomy.report.

9. Fuss, S. et al. Betting on negative emissions. Nature. 4. 850-853 (2014)

10. UNEP 2014. The Emissions Gap Report 2014. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Nairobi

11. IPCC AR5 Working Group III. (2014) Mitigation of Climate Change (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).

12. Anderson, K. et al. From long-term targets to cumulative emission pathways; reframing the climate policy debate. Energy Policy 36. 3714–3722. (2008)

13. Anderson, K. & Bows, A. Beyond dangerous climate change. Phil. Trans. Royal Soc. A 369, 20–44 (2011). doi:10.1098/rsta.2010.0290

14. Frame, D. et al. Cumulative emissions and climate policy. Nature Geosci. 7, 692–693 (2014).

15. Report of the Conference of the Parties; fifteenth session; Copenhagen, 7 to 19 December 2009.

16. President Barroso. The L’Aquila summit; European Commission, MEMO/09/332; 10/07/2009 http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-09-332_en.htm

17. IPCC AR5 Synthesis Report (2014); Topic 2.1. p56 and SPM 2.1. p.8.

18. IPCC AR5 Synthesis Report (2014); Table 2.2. p.64

19. RCP online database. IIASA, (2015). http://www.iiasa.ac.at/web/home/research/researchPrograms/TransitionstoNewTechnologies/RCP.en.html

20. Andrew. R. Global Carbon Project (http://www.globalcarbonproject.org) Private communication (Nov. 2014)

21. International Energy Agency (IEA). Cement Technology Road Map. (2009). https://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/Cement.pdf

22. International Energy Agency (IEA). Energy Technology Perspectives. (2014)

23. West. K. International Energy Agency. Cement Road Map (2009) and Energy Technology Perspective (2014). Private communication (Feb.2015)

24. Hammond, G. et al. The energy and environmental implications of UK more electric transition pathways. Energy Policy 52 ,103–116 (2013).dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2012.08.071

Acknowledgements:

  • Cicero (Oslo): Glen Peters and Robbie Andrew for guidance, respectively, with the IPCC scenario database and global cement emissions
  • IEA (Paris): Kira West information related to IEA cement scenarios
  • Tyndall Centre (University of Manchester): Maria Sharmina and Jaise Kuriakose on deforestation emissions; Alice Bows-Larkin and John Broderick on carbon budgets.

Content on this site is subject to our fair use notice.

Resilience is a program of Post Carbon Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the world transition away from fossil fuels and build sustainable, resilient communities.


Source URL: http://www.resilience.org/stories/2015-10-15/duality-in-climate-science

 

 

 

 

ENVISION TUCSON SUSTAINABLE FESTIVAL


Join us at this year’s 5th annual Envision Tucson Sustainable Festival, October 18, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the YWCA, 525 Bonita Avenue. The Festival will showcase the many features of sustainable living in Tucson and our desert Southwest.

We’re very excited about the great variety of activities and exhibits at this year’s event. Over 40 exhibitors, demonstrators, and vendors will be sure to provide something for everyone.

A few of the highlights of this event:
** The Festival is the starting point for PAG Solar Partnership’s neighborhood Solar Tour.
**The Tucson Electric Vehicle Association will display a wide variety of electric vehicles
** The Southern Arizona Green Chamber of Commerce will present this year’s Climate Leadership Challenge recognition awards.
** In recognition of National Co-op Month, the ‘Co-op Cluster’ will showcase local co-ops that use this sustainable business model.
** The Festival is the kick-off event for 10West, a weeklong celebration of innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship.

Throughout the day, local and native foods will be featured in food preparation demonstrations. Examples of solar cooking will demonstrate an exciting way to be sustainable. Visionary speakers will be looking at how we can attain the sustainable future we need and want. The Annual Green School Recognition will again honor a local school that promotes ecological education, school gardening, and related activities. This year, that award goes to Davis Bilingual Magnet School. And we’ll dedicate Phase 2 of the Festival-installed vegetable garden at the YWCA.

Admission and parking are free, or come by bike and Living Streets Alliance will provide a Bike Valet service for those who come by bike.

Come to the Festival! Explore what’s going on now in our community, get more involved, learn new skills, and share your own vision of a sustainable community.

For more information: www.envisiontucsonsustainable.org and like us on Facebook at Envision Tucson Sustainable, or contact Paula Schlusberg .

The University of Arizona now offers a new online degree program, B.S. in Sustainable Built Environments

The University of Arizona is pleased to offer an extraordinary degree opportunity for students interested in entering the new green economy. The Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Built Environments is a solutions-based, interdisciplinary undergraduate degree that educates students in the comprehensive understanding of environmental design, planning, and management challenges. Graduates are prepared for challenges to be met in a rapidly developing world with global issues of an unprecedented nature. Students in the Sustainable Buildings Emphasis Area gain insight on the theories and techniques behind analyzing building efficiency. They will study topics such as: net-zero energy design, energy conservation, passive solar and natural ventilation, and climate response. Graduates will be able to analyze existing and planned structures for energy efficiency and create plans to make them more efficient.

Apply online now for Fall 2015 at UAOnline — See also: Sustainable Built Environments

Response to assertions made about energy’s costs, systems

Response to assertions made about energy’s costs, systems

By Carmine Tilghman

Special to the Arizona Daily Star, January 29, 2015

 

Evidence of Tucson Electric Power’s commitment to renewable energy isn’t hard to find.

Visit the Solar Zone at the University of Arizona Tech Park, where solar projects built from competing technologies cover 165 acres and produce a combined 23 megawatts of energy for TEP. Drive northwest to Avra Valley, where two giant solar arrays produce a combined 60 MW for TEP. Or head south to Green Valley, where a new 35-MW solar array serving TEP customers came online in December.

 

You could also simply visit your local government office, since TEP provides both the city of Tucson and Pima County with energy from local solar arrays through our Bright Tucson Community Solar Program.

 

These and other resources provide TEP with nearly 330 MW of total renewable generating capacity, enough to meet the annual electric needs of more than 71,000 homes. We’re also unveiling a pair of innovative projects this year that represent new ways to partner with our customers to achieve our community’s renewable energy objectives.

 

Next month, we’ll unveil the largest solar power system based on a U.S. military installation, a nearly 18-MW array at Fort Huachuca. Later this year, we’ll install solar arrays on up to 600 local homes through the new TEP residential solar program.

 

Like all of our solar power projects, these two new efforts are designed to expand our resources without imposing undue costs on our customers.

 

While we all look forward to the day when all of our power can come from the sun, TEP must ensure that electric service remains affordable, reliable and safe as we transition to newer, more sustainable resources.

 

We must also abide by economic realities and proven facts, including the higher cost and lower reliability of solar power.

 

Such concerns do not burden everyone who takes an interest in energy issues. Last week, a Terry Finefrock (“Economic development: Start with a Tucson microgrid,” Jan. 23) offered a series of misleading assertions about energy costs and issues.

 

I’d like to provide some clarity on a few key points.

 

* The energy costs and related assertions were inaccurate, in part because the author cited the projected cost of new facilities rather than actual costs. TEP’s existing coal resources produced power at about 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour in 2014 — not 12.5 cents, as the author claimed.

* Cost comparisons of renewable and conventional resources must account for the fact that renewables operate intermittently, requiring the ongoing support of other utility resources. When those additional costs are considered — as they must be — renewable power is shown to be far more expensive than other resources.

* Energy-storage systems are not yet capable or cost-effective enough to provide an alternative to the constant support and backup capabilities of a utility’s local electric grid.

 

In urging local governments to develop their own solar power and energy storage resources, the author seeks to subject taxpayers to steep capital expenses as well as significantly higher energy costs.

 

Because private solar power systems often reduce customers’ bills below the cost TEP incurs to serve them, these unpaid costs must be recovered through higher rates borne largely by customers without solar power systems.

 

If local governments sought to secure all of their power through third-party renewable resources, as Finefrock suggests, they would remain dependent on TEP’s local grid while shifting the cost of paying for it to other local residents — the very people whose interests they seek to serve.

 

No responsible public servant would advocate such a position, and neither would we.

 

I’m proud of TEP’s efforts to provide affordable solar energy solutions for our community.

 

We will continue to work with local leaders under the oversight of the Arizona Corporation Commission to provide innovative, cost-effective programs that serve our customers’ evolving energy needs.

 

Carmine Tilghman is senior director of wholesale, fuels and renewable energy for Tucson Electric Power. Contact him at ctilghman@tep.com

 

 

 

An Energy Partnership / Climate Solution for Tucson?

 


OOOOOOOOOO

(Note Special LOCATION, DATE, & TIME)
February 18th     
6:30pm to 8:30pm
University of Arizona, Center for English as a Second Language (CESL), Room 103

OOOOOOOOOO

OOOOOOOOO

Do you know that the production of electricity in Tucson accounts for over 60% of Tucson’s climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions?

Imagine the City of Tucson joined in a “clean energy partnership” with Tucson Electric Power and Southwest Gas, sharing a goal to reduce greenhouse gases in our region 80% by 2050 and “do our part” to stem the worst effects of global warming. Imagine the local jobs created in the solar industry, energy storage and clean mobility, energy efficiency, building retrofits and appro-priate design.

Imagine the partnership is made up of high-level representatives of TEP and SWG as well as from the Mayor’s office and City Council – with the Board be made up of decision-makers from their respective organizations.

Just such a partnership has already begun in Minnesota between the City of Minneapolis, Xcel Energy (their electricity provider) and CenterPoint Energy (their natural gas supplier).

Sustainable Tucson and other Co-sponsors are bringing John Farrell, policy director at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and one of the participants in this first-in-the-nation partnership, to tell the story about how this came to be and what the future holds for Minneapolis.

Join us the evening of Feb.18th to learn about this important turn in City/Utility relationships and to show support for climate solutions here in Tucson.  In preparation, watch John make the economic case for solar energy in Tucson:

http://ilsr.org/utilities-solar-expensive/

Help bring John to Tucson.

Contributions to Sustainable Tucson are tax deductible and can be made through our fiscal sponsor, NEST Inc., a 501c3 nonprofit, and by using the Donate Now button on the left of this page.

If you are more of a time volunteer, we are looking for partners to table at outreach events like the Peace Fair, and participate in our annual Envision Tucson Sustainable festival. For helpful opportunities to create a more Sustainable Tucson contact: Paula Schlusberg at paulasch@mindspring.com

Doors open at 6:30. Program starts at 7:00.

Co-sponsors to date:

Local First Arizona

Tucson Pima Metropolitan Energy Commission

City of Tucson Ward 3 Councilmember Karin Uhlich

Southern Arizona Green Chamber of Commerce

University of Arizona Office of Sustainability

University of Arizona Students for Sustainability

Sierra Club

Mrs. Green’s World

Physicians for Social Responsibility

Progressive Democrats of America

Center for Biological Diversity

Southern Arizona Green for All

Citizens Climate Lobby – Tucson Chapter

 

Click on the link below and print the following image as a flyer. PLEASE distribute this link and flyer widely:

http://www.sustainabletucson.org/2015/02/february-18th-st-meeting-flyer/

OOOOOO

For parking, see the  UA parking map at this link: https://parking.arizona.edu/pdf/maps/campus.pdf


 

Economic development: Start with a Tucson metropolitan microgrid

Economic development: Start with a Tucson metropolitan microgrid

By Terry Finefrock Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

January 23, 2015

There is great potential that electricity costs could be reduced, increases avoided, system reliability improved and recurring economic benefits provided by establishing utility-scale photovoltaic solar electric facilities within and adjacent to the Tucson distribution grid.

By using rapidly developing energy storage equipment on feeder circuits we can manage fluctuations in demand or supply, essentially creating a metropolitan microgrid.

Why is this move to multiple solar facilities dispersed around the area so important?

The cost of electricity has a great impact on our economy and all residents, businesses, ratepayers and taxpayers, especially those with little or no discretionary income. Energy, like water, is not a discretionary expenditure.

Conventional fossil-fueled generation of electricity via coal or natural gas simply costs more than solar electric generation technology. Here are just two examples why: “Freight” costs for transmission infrastructure account for about 10 percent of an electric bill; another 3 percent pays for the energy lost during transmission requiring incremental generation costs and surcharges.

Additionally, there are environmental costs. Coal combustion emits carbon and natural gas mining emits methane. Both emissions trap heat in the atmosphere, result in higher average temperatures, greater energy consumption and costs, and less local precipitation.

Methane is cleaner than coal but traps 26 times more heat than coal/carbon.

Generation of electricity via steam and turbines loses to evaporation billions of gallons of potable water each year.

That water, so precious now, will be even more so in the future. As David Modeer, general manager of the Central Arizona Project, has stated, the cost to develop alternative water sources is 10 to 50 times more than the cost of current sources. Not only will future water bills rise, but so will the cost of food crops.

I believe we should not continue to incur the operational expenses of obsolete technology such as coal-fired plants or attempt to upgrade and prolong their life for a short period of time.

Instead, I’m advocating that ratepayer revenues should be invested in new technology that avoids these expenses.

By accelerating the reduction and displacement of conventional generation with solar and energy storage, we minimize those costs and allow continued harvesting of prior investments until those assets are fully depreciated.

According to the Arizona Corporation Commission, Tucson Electric Power’s 2014 cost to generate electricity via pulverized coal is 12.5 cents/kWh; the least costly generation technology is 8.8 cent/kwh; rapid-response generation, used to balance supply and demand, ranges from 26 to 29 cents/kWh.

Local utility-scale solar photovoltaic facilities can be established at less than 5 cents/kWh, and incur no fuel, emissions, water or transmission-related costs. Pima County recently contracted solar facilities at a much smaller scale for 5.7 cents/kWh.

Considering conservatively projected annual increases in utility costs, satisfying their electricity requirements via self-generation could reduce the county’s operational costs by $663 million over 30 years. Since the city of Tucson uses about twice as much energy as the county, the combined savings would total about $2 billion over that time period. (That would fill a lot of potholes or pension funds).

Federal energy-program funding for a metro microgrid could be acquired; local governments could provide zero-cost leases of public land in exchange for fixed energy prices.

In addition to electricity cost reductions, the demand for the equipment would help our economic development organizations to entice higher-wage manufacturers and solar-system providers to locate here and supply the Western U.S. and Mexico who are implementing a renewable energy mandate. The resulting population growth would increase property values, local and export trade and the various tax revenues required for community improvements.

If you believe a private-public partnership to implement some form of these concepts has merit, contact your Tucson City Council (government.tucsonaz.gov/city-government) and Pima County Board of Supervisors (webcms.pima.gov/government/board_of_supervisors), and ask that they establish a project team to work with TEP, the Arizona Corporation Commission, Residential Utility Consumer Office, and our Arizona congresspersons to make this happen.

Terry Finefrock, a Tucson resident since 1956 and a graduate of the University of Arizona and the Eller Graduate School of Management, is a former high-technology manufacturing operations and supply chain director. He has provided testimony and comment to the Arizona Corporation Commission. Contact him at tlfinefrock@comcast.net

 

Climate: The Crisis and the Movement

Climate: The Crisis and the Movement

by Naomi Klein & Allen White

Wherein lie the roots of the climate crisis? Allen White, Senior Fellow at the Tellus Institute, talks with writer and activist Naomi Klein, author of the new book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, about how our economic system has driven us to the point of crisis and how we can build a movement to confront the root causes of contemporary planetary perils.

A major theme of your new book is that resistance to the economic transformation required to confront climate change is the paramount challenge facing both the planet and the activist community. Why is that?

According to the analysis of the Carbon Tracker Initiative, between now and 2050, we need to leave at least two-thirds of proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground in order to keep global warming below the widely accepted threshold of two degrees Celsius. If this occurs, owners of these reserves will have to sacrifice trillions of dollars in profits. The fossil fuel companies and their investors, who are counting on these profits, have a huge vested interest in blocking meaningful climate action and, as we have seen so far, the power to do so.

The attraction of profit in the short-term overwhelms longer-term considerations, even for the most “enlightened” of businesspeople. Look at Michael Bloomberg for example. He is often seen as among the most enlightened billionaires on climate change. He introduced climate policies when he was mayor of New York City, he has talked openly about the risks to business associated with climate change, and he backed the Risky Business report that outlined the huge economic impacts of inaction on climate change. But then, as an individual investor, Bloomberg invests substantial money in fossil fuels. Indeed, the investment firm created to manage his wealth specializes in oil and gas.

Is this dynamic unique to the issue of climate change?

We can see this economic roadblock in past social movements as well. In the struggles for women’s liberation, for lesbian and gay liberation, and for racial equality, the biggest wins were on the legal, electoral, and cultural fronts: improved representation in culture and the media, equal rights to vote, and equality under the law. Each of these movements also had a dimension focused on economic transformation, but what you see is a pattern of winning on the legal side, on the electoral side, and on the cultural side, but losing on the economic side because it presents the biggest threat to the status quo.

This pattern goes back to reparations for slavery—the great broken promise of abolition. As Martin Luther King, Jr., said many years later, the civil rights won so far were the rights that came cheaply. It is cheaper to desegregate a lunch counter than it is to bring good schools and good jobs to impoverished neighborhoods. We can see this dynamic in the women’s movement as well. The battles for wages for housework and for counting domestic work as part of the economy are the ones we tend to lose. In the United States, even maternity leave is a struggle. What these all have in common is a diminished bottom line for the economically powerful.

This pattern became clear to me when I traveled to South Africa while writing The Shock Doctrine. One chapter in the book explores the economic losses in the aftermath of the end of apartheid. I saw this as an example of the shock doctrine—the shock of liberation—because it created a major disruption for people’s lives and marked a moment for a small group of South Africans to consolidate wealth. The economic side of the liberation project, which was to nationalize the mines and banks in order to have the resources to invest massively in improving conditions in the townships, was essentially abandoned by the African National Congress once it took power. It is a tragic story because economic inequality is deeper in the post-apartheid era than it was before, despite the enormous gains in democracy and equality under the law.

In discussing these economic roadblocks in your book, you identify neoliberal economics and an extractivist mindset as the root causes of the crisis. How do you define these?

If we are talking about root causes, I would certainly point to extractivism, a violent relationship to the planet based on dominance. It is a mentality that says we can take and keep taking without limit and never give back, one that inevitably obstructs natural cycles of renewal.

The spread of this mindset goes back to the era of European imperialism, with its sacrifice zones of resource extraction that fed the powerful centers of commerce. And it was taken to a completely new, hegemonic level with the rise of coal and the Industrial Revolution. Our drive to mine and drill and now to frack, creating ever more sacrifice zones and disposable communities along the way, certainly goes much deeper and farther back than the neoliberal form of capitalism we have now.

I wouldn’t say that free-market ideology is a root cause of the crisis, but it has played an absolutely crucial role in bringing us to the edge of the climate cliff. With global warming, we have seen an epic and tragic case of bad timing: the moment when the crisis was dropped in our laps was precisely the moment when the neoliberal project had declared victory, that there was no alternative to its program of deregulation, privatization, and slashing the public sector. Politics was now exclusively about unleashing the power of unfettered markets and unrestricted private wealth, and the very notion of collective action to further the public good had fallen completely out of favor. It is the single biggest reason we have seen such little progress on climate, because the obvious solutions—cracking down on corporations, planning our economies—are seen as impossible by the political class.

We frequently hear terms like “sustainable capitalism, “green capitalism,” “breakthrough capitalism,” and “Gaia capitalism.” Are these worthy alternatives to capitalism as we know it or decorations on a fundamentally flawed system?

People put forward these dreams periodically, and some can make sense on paper. But, once again, the entrenched interests and hyper-profitability of the current system block any possibility of the necessary economic transformation. Whenever I encounter these concepts, I always wonder how their proponents plan to get from our current system to these supposedly enlightened systems with their “triple bottom line,” their correct price signals, and their valuing of nature. What is the theory of change? We have been hearing about ways to transform capitalism from the inside for a long time, yet the ecological degradation and economic inequality produced by capitalism have only gotten more brutal.

I can certainly imagine an economic system in which markets are not at war with life on Earth. But whether that should rightly be called capitalism is another question entirely. Many people seem to be deeply invested in preserving the capitalism brand. We are stuck in this dichotomy that if it’s not capitalism, then it must be state socialism. But it could be something else entirely: a system that starts with the fundamental imperative to protect and renew life on earth, whether that is the right of all people to have enough for a good life or the right of natural systems to regenerate and not be depleted out of existence.

At the UN Climate Summit in September, I spent a day in the Private Sector Forum. The UN was very proud of the record number of CEOs present at the meeting. These business leaders waxed on and on about how they were going to be the ones to solve the climate crisis. They blamed governments for not doing anything, fully impervious to the fact that have been part of a successful counter-revolution—some of them spearheading it—to render our governments as weak as they are. The dissonance was astounding.

In my breakout session, our question was “What is the one thing governments can do to fight climate change, and what is the one thing that corporations can do?” I raised the question of whether or not governments could regulate corporations to require environmentally sustainable behavior. And the response was “Well, that’s not possible anymore. We’ve tried regulation, and it doesn’t work.” I also suggested that it was important to reduce the power of corporate money in politics. If the problem is that governments are weak, here is a way to help them get stronger. That, too, was dismissed as entirely out of hand.

You argue that we need bottom-up change. What would such a dispersed, distributed movement look like, and how likely is it to emerge?

The challenge we face is how to organize out of the rubble of neoliberalism. How do we organize without the institutional supports that our predecessors had? Many of us don’t have jobs to unionize. We have contracts, we are hyper mobile, and we are very hard to organize. The paradox of new technology is that we are easier to find than ever before but much harder to organize in a sustained way.

We see flash movements again and again, ones that burn brightly and quickly burn out. I have been a part of some of these, including the so-called anti-globalization movement and, in a more peripheral way, the Occupy movement. And I think we all understand now that sustaining a movement without a fixed address is a big challenge.

The NGO model—hopping from campaign to campaign and focusing on providing “deliverables” for funders—has also been a corrosive factor to building sustained movements. In the United States, on the right, you have funders who take ideas seriously and very consciously funded an ideological counter-revolution. Liberal donors like George Soros and the Rockefellers are often treated as the antithesis of right-wing donors like the Koch brothers. However, these donors and their foundations tend to be allergic to funding big ideas and structural change, let alone anything that consciously identifies as the left, in favor of time-limited, issue-specific campaigns. There are exceptions, but few and far between. So we have campaigns and issue-based groups, punctuated by brief periods of inter-movement convergence.

If the current model of movement-building is broken, what is needed to replace it?

Coalitions needed to build a broad-based social movement are not going to be funded in the way that the left in the United States is currently funded. Historically, there have been important relationships between trade unions and social movements, a relationship we need to revive. That means overcoming the tired dichotomy that pits jobs against the environment and, instead, bringing whole communities together to map what a real justice-based climate transition would look like—and then fighting for it. Such efforts need to go beyond mere lip service for green jobs and really hash out a vision and program for the next economy. Will public transit be free? How many jobs will it create? Where will the money come from?

We also need to revitalize membership-based organizations and create new ones, and we need to democratize our movements so that there is a system of accountability in place. Right now, after the People’s Climate March in New York, there is nothing to prevent a slick green NGO from attempting to harness all that power in the streets, meeting behind closed doors with politicians, and saying, “Well, what this movement wants is fee and dividend.” Is it? Did anyone ask? The march was about more than just climate action—it was about climate justice. One of the most noteworthy aspects of the march was its racial and economic diversity. And a lot of what was driving that was the hope of climate action representing a real investment in some deeply neglected communities and the possibility of jobs and infrastructure. If you give all the money back from a carbon tax, you no longer have any left to invest in these neglected frontline communities.

You are particularly critical of the large environmental organizations. Why?

Not all of them, and I also work with many of them. I am on the board of 350.org. I have addressed the staff of Greenpeace International. Amazing Sierra Club staff members are featured in our upcoming documentary film. I have huge respect for Friends of the Earth and Food and Water Watch. But I do point out that the environmental movement is not a social movement like the civil rights movement and the labor movement, which relied on large numbers to offset their shortcomings in political and economic power. The roots of conservationism in the US are very elite; one of the primary catalysts was the desire among the affluent to protect wilderness spaces for recreational purposes. This is still reflected in the approach some of the richest green groups take to coalition-building: their first coalition targets are usually big business—so-called “partners”—and even the military.

It is important to understand that these elite coalitions can and do come at the expense of other coalitions, ones that are not sought. The climate movement’s most natural allies—the people who have the most to lose from inaction because they are on the front lines of fossil fuel extraction and combustion—are too often never invited, or invited in ways that are perfunctory or seem disingenuous. There is a long and bitter history between the environmental justice movement and some of these big green groups, and these battles are being fought again and again. Real progress is being made in parts of the movement, which we saw during September’s People’s Climate March. But we also have to recognize that parts of the environmental movement do not stand in opposition to the status quo; on the contrary they are deeply invested within it. That means there are real limits to the scale of change they will support, even when science demands it.

What is needed to shift advocacy from specific issues and mainstream strategies to acting and thinking more systemically and structurally?

We will not win any of this unless we engage in a deep battle of worldviews. Progressives have lost so much ground over the past forty years. Particularly within the climate movement, so much effort has gone into positioning climate action as unthreatening and compatible with the free market worldview.

That is why I think it cannot be just a call for climate action—it has to be a call for climate justice. We need to be clear about the values and principles that underpin our demands. We need a polluter-pays framework so that those most responsible bear the cost. At the same time, those who have been most victimized by our current toxic economy have to be first in line to benefit from the next economy. That is not only just, but also strategic—since the people with the most to gain will fight hardest.

We need to work on elevating those parts of ourselves that value quality-of-life rather than economic enrichment. Green groups, unfortunately and perhaps unknowingly, reinforce the neoliberal view that we are first and foremost consumers by focusing their efforts on telling people what to buy and where to shop. We need to emphasize the parts of ourselves that love nature, our families, and our communities, and we need to rediscover our identities as active community members and engaged workers, not just consumers.

Are your critiques and solutions equally applicable to the Global North and Global South?

We have a collective global climate crisis and will need a collective global response. What brought me to this issue was having the concept of climate debt explained to me by Bolivia’s trade negotiator. If we are to take climate change seriously, we would have to tackle North-South inequality, including transfers of technology and wealth to heal the festering wounds of political and economic colonialism.

Anybody who has been to a UN climate conference knows that this is the issue over which the talks repeatedly break down. The Global North has been emitting carbon for over two hundred years more, and the impacts are being felt overwhelmingly in the Global South. Absent acceptance of this reality, stalemate will continue.

Latin America offers a glimpse of a path forward. The discourse around anti-extractivism and the rights of nature emerged from indigenous-inspired movements in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Brazil. Pitched battles are ongoing between traditional development-oriented leftist governments and massive social movements disillusioned with decades of neoliberal policies.

On the other side of the Pacific, China’s relentless drive for economic growth, spurred by trade globalization and low-cost labor, has taken a devastating environmental toll on both cities and the countryside. Here, we are afraid to talk about growth because it is seen as untouchable. Everybody is pro-growth. But in Beijing, people are choking on growth. The government is now reducing growth projections and committing to cap its coal use as the environmental costs of unbridled economic expansion become increasingly evident and severe.

We have to build stronger alliances globally so that we can strengthen those forces that have another vision, a non-extractivist vision, of the good society. We need to see the response to climate change as not just an issue, but as a frame that permeates the struggle for all forms of social justice.

Your new book cites the “Great Transition” scenario as a plausible and desirable alternative future that would address the ills of free market capitalism. What is the role of such a vision in mobilizing change?

I cite the Great Transition research in the context of a discussion of capitalism’s growth imperative and the fact that the only breaks from the mindless growth juggernaut have been economic crises. Avoiding those extremes requires that we very carefully plan the economy, something I have started calling a “deliberate economy.” People need to know that moving away from our obsession with GDP growth does not have to mean deprivation and suffering; on the contrary, the “managed degrowth” model means putting our well-being, health, and leisure time back at the center of our economic lives and aspirations. The idea of a Great Transition, along with much other inspiring work coming out of the New Economy movement, expresses that optimism beautifully.

More broadly, there is a desperate need for the different coalitions of the left to get far more engaged with climate change, because this crisis really forces us to decide what kind of societies we want and puts us on a firm, science-based deadline. And that makes it a unique and powerful opportunity.

The world’s social movements need to work together under a common banner to fight climate change. And we certainly need smart frameworks for thinking and talking about the diverse set of solutions that we know can tackle the crisis—from invoking the polluter-pays principle to divert fossil fuel profits into the green transition, to building decentralized, community-owned solar and wind systems, to reining in financial speculation—and making sense of the world that they are already helping us build. Again, I don’t think it is going to be capitalism. But this also isn’t about devising and imposing some kind of one-size-fits-all economic system on the globe, so the emphasis on the creative power of the “transition” itself is especially important.

 

Source URL: http://www.resilience.org/stories/2014-12-19/climate-the-crisis-and-the-movement

 

Resilience is a program of Post Carbon Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the world transition away from fossil fuels and build sustainable, resilient communities. Content on this site is subject to our fair use notice. Original article: http://greattransition.org/publication/climate-the-crisis-and-the-movement . Published by The Great Transition on 12-19-14.


What climate change asks of us

 

What climate change asks of us: moral obligation, mobilization and crisis communication

by Margaret Klein

“Humans contain a great capacity to help each other, to dutifully respond to the needs of others, and to improve the world around us… When it is clear there is an emergency, and we have a vital role in responding to it, we respond vigorously. The time for all of us to act, together, is now”  theclimatepsychologist.com

Climate change is a crisis, and crises alter morality. Climate change is on track to cause the extinction of half the species on earth and, through a combination of droughts, famines, displaced people, and failed states and pandemics, the collapse of civilization within this century. If this horrific destructive force is to be abated, it will be due to the efforts of people who are currently alive. The future of humanity falls to us. This is an unprecedented moral responsibility, and we are by and large failing to meet it.

Indeed, most of us act as though we are not morally obligated to fight climate change, and those who do recognize their obligation are largely confused about how to meet it.

Crises alter morality; they alter what is demanded of us if we want to be considered good, honorable people. For example—having a picnic in the park is morally neutral. But if, during your picnic, you witness a group of children drowning and you continue eating and chatting, passively ignoring the crisis, you have become monstrous. A stark, historical example of crisis morality is the Holocaust—history judges those who remained passive during that fateful time. Simply being a private citizen (a “Good German”) is not considered honorable or morally acceptable in retrospect. Passivity, in a time of crisis, is complicity. It is a moral failure. Crises demand that we actively engage; that we rise to the challenge; that we do our best.

What is the nature of our moral obligation to fight climate change?

Our first moral obligation is to assess how we can most effectively help. While climate change is more frequently being recognized as a moral issue—the question, “How can a person most effectively engage in fighting climate change?” is rarely seriously considered or discussed.  In times of crises, we can easily become overwhelmed with fear and act impetuously to discharge those feelings to “do something.” We may default to popular or well-known activism tactics, such as writing letters to our congress people or protesting fossil-fuel infrastructure projects without rigorously assessing if this is the best use of our time and talents.

“Our civilization, planet, and each of us individually are in an acute crisis, but we are so mired in individual and collective denial and distortion that we fail to see it clearly.”

The question of “how can I best help” is particularly difficult for people to contemplate because climate change requires collective emergency action, and we live in a very individualistic culture.  It can be difficult for an individual to imagine themselves as helping to create a social and political movement; helping the group make a shift in perspective and action. Instead of viewing themselves as possibly influencing the group, many people focus entirely on themselves, attempting to reduce their personal carbon footprint. This offers a sense of control and moral achievement, but it is illusory; it does not contribute (at least not with maximal efficacy) to creating the collective response necessary.

We need to mobilize, together.  Climate change is a crisis, and it requires a crisis response. A wide variety of scientists, scholars, and activists agree: the only response that can save civilization is an all-out, whole-society mobilization.[i] World War II provides an example of how the United States accomplished this in the past. We converted our industry from consumer-based to mission-based in a matter of months; oriented national and university research toward the mission, and mobilized the American citizenry toward the war effort in a wide variety of ways. Major demographic shifts were made to facilitate the mission, which was regarded as America’s sine qua non; for example, 10% of Americans moved to work in a “war job,” women worked in factories for the first time, and racial integration took steps forward. Likewise, we must give the climate effort everything we have, for if we lose, we may lose everything.

Where we are.  While the need for a whole society and economy mobilization to fight climate change is broadly understood by experts, we are not close to achieving it as a society. Climate change ranks at the bottom of issues that citizens are concerned about.[ii]  The climate crisis is rarely discussed in social or professional situations. This climate silence is mirrored in the media and political realm: for example, climate change wasn’t even mentioned in the 2012 presidential debates. When climate change is discussed, it is either discussed as a “controversy” or a “problem” rather than the existential emergency that it actually is. Our civilization, planet, and each of us individually are in an acute crisis, but we are so mired in individual and collective denial and distortion that we fail to see it clearly. The house is on fire, but we are still asleep, and our opportunity for being able to save ourselves is quickly going up in smoke.

Understanding the gap: The role of pluralistic ignorance. How can this be? How are we missing the crisis that will determine the future of our civilization and species? Dr. Robert Calidini, social psychologist and author of Influence, describes the phenomena of “pluralistic ignorance,” which offers tremendous insight into this question—and into how we can beat the trance of denial and passivity.

In the following passage, Dr. Calidini is not discussing climate change, but rather, the phenomena of emergencies (heart attacks, physical assaults, etc.) that are sometimes witnessed—and ignored— by dozens of people, especially in urban settings. These tragic instances are often ascribed to “apathy”—the hardening of city dwellers’ hearts toward each other. But scientific research shows something very different. Research shows that if one person witnesses an emergency, they will help in nearly 100% of instances. It is only in crowds—and in situations of uncertainty—that we have the capacity, even the tendency, to ignore an emergency.

Very often an emergency is not obviously an emergency.  Is the man lying in the alley a heart-attack victim or a drunk sleeping one off? Are the sharp sounds from the street gunshots or truck backfires? Is the commotion next door an assault requiring the police or an especially loud marital spat where intervention would be inappropriate and unwelcome? What is going on?

In times of such uncertainty, the natural tendency is to look around at the actions of others for clues. We can learn, from the way the other witnesses are reacting, whether the event is or is not an emergency. What is easy to forget, though, is that everybody else observing the event is likely to be looking for social evidence, too.

And because we all prefer to appear poised and unflustered among others, we are likely to search for that evidence placidly, with brief, camouflaged glances at those around us. Therefore everyone is likely to see everyone else looking unruffled and failing to act. As a result, and by the principle of social proof, the event will be roundly interpreted as a nonemergency.

This, according to [social psychology researchers] Latané and Darley, is the state of pluralistic ignorance “in which each person decides that since nobody is concerned, nothing is wrong. Meanwhile, the danger may be mounting to the point where a single individual, uninfluenced by the seeming calm of others, would react.”

These paragraphs vividly illustrate how denial of the climate crisis is cocreated through the effect of pluralistic ignorance. We look around us and see people living their lives as normal. Our friends, coworkers, and family members are all going about their days as they always have. They are planning for the future. They are calm. They are not discussing climate change. So surely there is no emergency. Surely civilization is not in danger. Calm down, we tell ourselves, I must be the only one who is afraid.

This situation creates an intense amount of social pressure to act calm and not appear hysterical or “crazy.” We all want to fit in, to be well liked and to be considered “normal.” As of today, that means remaining silent on the effects of climate change, or responding with minimization, cynicism, or humor. It is taboo to discuss it as the crisis it is, a crisis that threatens all of us, and that we each have a moral obligation to respond to.

Of course, this pluralistic ignorance of the climate emergency is reinforced and bolstered through misinformation campaigns funded by fossil-fuel companies and the hostility of the few. “Better not bring up the climate crisis,” we tell ourselves, “It’s a controversial topic. Someone might really lose their temper.” However, the responsibility for pluralistic ignorance is widely shared. The vast majority of us—including those of us who believe in climate science and are terrified by climate change—are still, unwittingly, contributing to pluralistic ignorance.

How can we meet our moral obligation, and effectively fight climate change?

Certainty dispels pluralistic ignorance.  Fortunately, the research on pluralistic ignorance and crisis response provides excellent guidance for how to overcome this trance of collective denial. The research shows that humans are actually strongly motivated to act in a crisis—as long as they are sure that there is a crisis and that they have a role in solving it. As Dr. Calidini describes,

Groups of bystanders fail to help because the bystanders are unsure rather thanunkind. They don’t help because they are unsure of whether an emergency actually exists and whether they are responsible for taking action. When they are sure of their responsibilities for intervening in a clear emergency, people are exceedingly responsive!

Dr. Calidini provides a vivid example of how to apply this knowledge to a personal emergency—if you begin experiencing the symptoms of a stroke in a public place. As you start to feel ill, you slump against a tree, but no one approaches you to help. If people are worried about you, they look around, see everyone else acting calm, and decide that there is no emergency and no need to intervene. People are taking cues from each other to deny and ignore your crisis. How can you call forth the emergency intervention you need?

Stare, speak, and point directly at one person and no one else: “You, sir, in the blue jacket, I need help. Call an ambulance.” With that one utterance you should dispel all the uncertainties that might prevent or delay help. With that one statement you will have put the man in the blue jacket in the role of “rescuer.” He should now understand that emergency aid is needed; he should understand that he, not someone else, is responsible for providing the aid; and, finally, he should understand exactly how to provide it. All the scientific evidence indicates that the result should be quick, effective assistance.

Humans contain a great capacity to help each other, to dutifully respond to the needs of others, and to improve the world around us. We also have a need to feel good about ourselves, and that includes fulfilling our moral obligations. When it is clear there is an emergency, and we have a vital role in responding to it, we respond vigorously.

Climate change is a crisis, and it is your responsibility. Effectively intervening in pluralistic ignorance should be considered the primary goal of the climate movement. Climate change is a crisis that demands a massive collective response. This truth will become crystal clear if we overcome the forces of denial and pluralistic ignorance.

To call forth an emergency response from people, we have to put them in the role of rescuer.  We must make clear that (1) an emergency is unfolding and (2) YOU have a critical role in responding to it.

Breaking from standard climate communications.

The environmental movement has not yet made either of these points clear. Indeed, the dominant school of thought in climate communications that says we must underplay the severity of the climate crisis to avoid “turning people off,” and we must emphasize individual reduction of emissions in order to provide people a sense of efficacy.[iii]

“Our moral obligation to fight climate change is tobuild a collective solution, notto purify ourselves as individual consumers.”

Avoiding or finessing the frightening truths of climate change is not only ethically dubious, it is also bound for failure. If we want people to respond appropriately to the climate crisis, we have to level with them, and if we want to claim the moral high ground, we cannot distort the truth just because it’s easier.

A major reason that climate communications have been so milquetoast is that they have lacked a large-scale social movement and political strategy that individuals can be a meaningful part of. Instead, individuals have been addressed as “consumers” who should strive to minimize their individual carbon footprint or environmental impact. This approach is nonsocial and nonpolitical and casts individuals as perpetrators who should attempt to reduce the amount of harm they are causing, rather than rescuers who can make a meaningful contribution to a collective solution.

This point deserves emphasis, as it is so often misunderstood in our intensely individualistic culture. Our moral obligation to fight climate change is to build a collective solutionnot to purify ourselves as individual consumers. This common response to the climate crisis can even be counterproductive in several ways: (1) it keeps the burden of responding to climate change on the individual, implicitly rejecting the idea of a collective response; (2) it perpetuates the message that there is no crisis by demanding only slight modifications to “business as usual”; and  (3) it is often perceived as “holier than thou,” which can create the perception of barriers to entry to the movement. For example, a person might be deeply concerned about the climate crisis but feel they lack “standing” to voice their feelings because they eat meat or fly to Europe.

We must create an atmosphere in which active engagement in the climate crisis is considered a fundamental part of living a moral life. To accomplish this, we have to give people opportunities to be a meaningful part of the solution; we have to give them the opportunity to be rescuers.

The Pledge to Mobilize: A tool that creates rescuers.

I have worked for the past 18 months with The Climate Mobilizationa growing network of teammates, allies, and consultants to develop a tool intended to help individuals intervene in collective denial and pluralistic ignorance and call forth the all-out emergency response needed to protect civilization and the natural world.

The Pledge to Mobilize is a one-page document that any person can sign. The Pledge is several things at once— it is a public acknowledgment that the climate crisis threatens civilization, an endorsement of a World War II–scale mobilization that brings the United States to carbon neutrality by 2025 (by far the most ambitious emissions reduction goal proposed), and a set of personal commitments to help enact this mobilization. When someone signs, they pledge to (1) vote for candidates who have publicly endorsed the Climate Mobilization platform over those who have not; (2) only donate time and money to candidates who have endorsed the mobilization platform, and (3) mobilize their “skills, resources, and networks to spread the truth of climate change, and the hope of this movement, to others.”

The Pledge provides a bridge between individual and collective action—the actions that Pledgers agree to are all social and political in nature: things that one person can do to influence the group. Most important is personal commitment: #3— to spread the truth of climate change, and the Pledge itself. This is a strategy to reverse pluralistic ignorance and social pressure, which is supported by psychological research.[iv]  People who take the Pledge start conversations with their friends and family about the climate crisis that include realistic solutions. This means that talking about climate change doesn’t mean just bearing bad news—but also showing the way forward—helping to channel the panic and despair that climate truth can evoke.

Since we started spreading the Pledge to Mobilize two-and-a-half months ago, we have seen many positive indicators of the Pledge’s ability to fight pluralistic ignorance and put individuals in the role of rescuers. Many (though not all) people who take the Pledge to Mobilize have continued to deepen their involvement from there, speaking more about climate change, reaching out to friends, family, and even strangers to discuss the topic. Mobilizers have educated themselves more deeply about climate change, fundraised for The Climate Mobilization, and taken on a variety of organizing and administrative tasks. Some have even gone as far as to rearrange or reduce their work schedules to have more time available to contribute. These are individuals who have left the fog of pluralistic ignorance, accepted the certainty that there is a crisis and that they have a moral obligation to act as a rescuer. Now they are attempting to spread that certainty to others. [v]

Conclusion: Don’t wait for Pearl Harbor

On December 7, 1941, the United States experienced a sudden, collective exit from pluralistic ignorance. Before Pearl Harbor, the country was mired in the denial of isolationism. “The war doesn’t concern us,” we told ourselves. “Lets stay out of it.” With one devastating surprise attack, that pluralistic ignorance transformed into a culture of mobilization, in which every citizen had a role to play in supporting the war effort—every American became a rescuer—a critical part of a shared mission.

Many scientists and scholars who recognize the need for a World War II–scale climate mobilization believe that some catastrophic event—a super-storm, a drought, or an economic collapse, will similarly jolt us out of our collective climate denial.  There is reason to doubt this, however, given how much more complicated climate change is than a surprise attack. Further, we have a moral obligation to achieve this collective awakening as soon as possible.

Talking about the climate crisis candidly and our moral obligation to stand against it— whether using the Pledge to Mobilize, or not—helps prepare people to see the crisis. Conversations that seem unsuccessful may alter how the person processes climate-related disasters in the future, or make them more likely to seek out or absorb information about the crisis.

Give it a try. Talk with five people about the climate crisis this week. Talk about how afraid you are, and how you feel it is a moral obligation to spread the fact that we are in a crisis. Consider taking the Pledge to Mobilize—it will provide you with a tool to help you intervene in pluralistic ignorance, as well as a community of individuals who are committed to this approach.  It takes courage to face climate change honestly, and discussing it with other people puts you at risk of rejection and hostility. But morality demands we do what is right, not what is easy. We must rise to the challenge of our time, together.

 

[i] Selected advocates of a WWII scale climate mobilization: Lester Brown, 2004David Spratt and Phillip Sutton, 2008; James Hansen, 2008Mark Deluchi and Mark Jacobsen, 2008Paul Gilding, 2011Joeseph Romm, 2012Michael Hoexter, 2013; Mark Bittman, 2014.

[ii] Rifkin, 2014. “Climate Change Not a Top Worry in US.” Gallup Politics.

[iii] For example, “Connecting on Climate” created by Columbia University and EcoAmerica which is widely considered an authoritative applied synthesis of the psychological work on climate. This 30-page document does not contain the words “crisis,” “emergency” or “collapse.” It encourages communicators to emphasize the benefits of solutions, rather than the severity of the problem. It also emphasizes behavior changes that individuals can make in their own homes and lives, rather than explicitly political solutions.

[iv] As psychologists Roser-Renouf, Maibach, Leiserowitz & Zhao (2014) put it “Building opinion leadership on the issue – e.g., by encouraging those who are concerned about the issue to discuss it with their friends and family, and eventually with other more socially distal people – may be one of the most effective methods of building public engagement and political activism.”

[v] For a fuller description of The Climate Mobilization’s strategy, read our strategy document,Rising to the Challenge of Our Time, Together.

Source URL: http://www.resilience.org/stories/2014-12-21/what-climate-change-asks-of-us-moral-obligation-mobilization-and-crisis-communication

Resilience is a program of Post Carbon Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the world transition away from fossil fuels and build sustainable, resilient communities. Content on this site is subject to our fair use notice.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Original article: http://theclimatepsychologist.com/?p=784  Published by The Climate Psychologist 12-21-14.


The Oil Price Crash of 2014

 

The Oil Price Crash of 2014 

by Richard Heinberg

Oil prices have fallen by half since late June. This is a significant development for the oil industry and for the global economy, though no one knows exactly how either the industry or the economy will respond in the long run. Since it’s almost the end of the year, perhaps this is a good time to stop and ask: (1) Why is this happening? (2) Who wins and who loses over the short term?, and (3) What will be the impacts on oil production in 2015?

Read more The Oil Price Crash of 2014

What climate activists should learn from the Monterey Shale downgrade

What climate activists should learn from the Monterey Shale downgrade

by Kurt Cobb

Published by Resource Insights on 2014-06-01

Original article: http://resourceinsights.blogspot.com/2014/06/what-climate-activists-should-learn.html

 

There is an important hidden lesson for climate activists in the vast downgrade of recoverable oil resources now thought to be available from California’s Monterey Shale. Almost all climate activists have rejected any talk that the world’s oil, natural gas and even coal supplies are nearing plateaus and possibly peaks in their production. That’s because they fear that such talk will make the public and policymakers believe that climate change will be less of a problem as a result or no problem at all.

 

Any yet, for obvious reasons climate activists rejoiced when the Monterey downgrade was announced. But this only served to highlight the fact that climate activists have lost control of the public narrative on energy and can only steal it back by including constraints on fossil fuel supply as part of their story.

 

In fact, climate activists have been content to accept fossil fuel industry claims–the two parties agree on little else–that we have vast resources of economically recoverable fossil fuels, the rate of production of which will continue to grow for decades–unless, of course, climate activists stop this trend. This stance makes for an heroic narrative, but misses what is actually happening in the minds of the public and policymakers, minds which must be won over in order to address climate change effectively.

 

Let me explain.

 

The hype surrounding the now vastly downgraded treasure trove of oil once thought to be recoverable from California’s Monterey Shale acted as a siren song on a state long devoted to energy innovation and a gradual transition away from fossil fuels. After all, California is the only state that has a climate change policy that will force businesses, localities and households to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions drastically and thus reduce their fossil fuel use drastically.

 

Sirens, mythological beings who are part woman and part bird, are said to send sailors to their demise through irresistible singing that lures them to crash on rocks they would normally attempt to avoid. It turns out that the thought of large amounts of readily available hydrocarbons under California has had a similar effect on the state’s sustainability-minded population.

 

Of course, large deposits of readily available oil would have spelled large amounts of money, both as income to individual Californians and as tax revenues to various California governments. And, such oil deposits would have also spelled large contributions to California politicians in whose hands the fate of drilling and production regulations lie.

 

But the siren song of oil in California ended abruptly when the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) announced that, based on new information, the Monterey Shale actually contained 96 percent less recoverable oil than previously thought. Climate and anti-fracking activists were overjoyed. This vast resource in all likelihood will not be heavily exploited, and most of the oil in it left unburned. (Yes, the oil is still down there. The EIA just doesn’t think anyone will be able to recover it profitably using known technology.)

 

Since the 2008 spike in oil prices, the oil industry had been looking for a way to convince the public and policymakers not to abandon fossil fuels in favor of renewable, sustainable alternatives. When the so-called “revolution” in hydraulic fracking provided a temporary bump in U.S. oil and natural gas production, the industry found its message. With rising production America would now become a new oil and gas superpower, ending its fossil fuel imports and even exporting some of its largesse to the rest of the world. (This claim is proving to be a wild exaggeration, but that doesn’t keep it from being effective.)

 

The other purpose of this narrative–which has been heavily touted in the media–is to change the conversation from climate change to rising fossil fuel supplies and the benefits that such supplies will bestow on America and ultimately the world.

 

So far, the oil industry’s strategy has worked famously. The media and the public are abuzz with the message of renewed American strength and prosperity resulting from fracked oil and natural gas. Yes, there are stories about the environmental and health hazards of this process. But, the vast majority of Americans remain far away from and therefore unaffected by these hazards.

 

As long as the news is about the success of fracking and even about its hazards, the public will fixate on the question of how to obtain the country’s supposed newfound abundance safely rather than on the unfolding horror of climate change.

 

But, there are, in fact, two justifiable reasons for us to move away from burning fossil fuels: climate change and supply constraints. We need to transition to other energy sources because fossil fuels are accelerating climate change AND because we simply do not know when these fuels will decline in their production rates. Current evidence suggests that the risks of such a decline are mounting.

 

Unless climate activists embrace this dual message, they will be ceding the argument to the fossil fuel industry. With its huge financial resources the industry will continue largely unopposed to spout the abundance narrative which experience now tells us trumps discussion of climate change.

 

Read for yourself any glowing account of America’s new oil and gas abundance and you will ALMOST NEVER see any mention of climate change.

 

But, the Monterey Shale downgrade is not an isolated incident. It’s part of a pattern of downgrades that are making expectations about the trajectory of oil and natural gas production in the United States more realistic.

 

Moreover, world prices for oil when measured using the average daily price have hovered at or near record levels for the past three years despite the shale boom in America. Worldwide oil supplies have barely grown since 2005, even as China, India and the rest of Asia have increased their demand. (That demand has been in large part accommodated by declines in U.S. and European oil use resulting from sluggish economies and changes in driving habits due to declining incomes.)

 

U.S. natural gas production has been stagnant since the beginning of 2012 even as prices have more than doubled. The shale gas miracle is gradually unravelling and we may even be headed for a natural gas supply crisis in the United States.

 

The evidence is compelling that the risks to fossil fuel supplies are rising and that the world’s and the nation’s reliance on them is a dangerous dependency. That combined with the national security implications suggests that the United States (which remains a huge importer of oil) and all other energy importing nations are far better off moving toward energy supplies that are entirely homegrown and can be relied upon indefinitely.

 

This is a forceful argument when combined with concerns about climate change. And it is a necessary addition to the arsenal of climate change activists if they expect to refocus America and the world on the imperative of addressing climate change effectively.

The great imaginary California oil boom: Over before it started

The great imaginary California oil boom: Over before it started

by Kurt Cobb, originally published by Resource Insights  | May 25, 2014

 

It turns out that the oil industry has been pulling our collective leg.

 

The pending 96 percent reduction in estimated deep shale oil resources in California revealed last week in the Los Angeles Times calls into question the oil industry’s premise of a decades-long revival in U.S. oil production and the already implausible predictions of American energy independence. The reduction also appears to bolster the view of long-time skeptics that the U.S. shale oil boom–now centered in North Dakota and Texas–will likely be short-lived, petering out by the end of this decade. (I’ve been expressing my skepticism in writing about resource claims made for both shale gas and oil since 2008.)

 

California has been abuzz for the past couple of years about the prospect of vast new oil wealth supposedly ready for the taking in the Monterey Shale thousands of feet below the state. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) had previously estimated that 15.4 billion barrels were technically recoverable, basing the number on a report from a contractor who relied heavily on oil industry presentations rather than independent data.

 

The California economy was supposed to benefit from 2.8 million new jobs by 2020. The state was also supposed to gain $220 billion in additional income and $24 billion in additional tax revenues in that year alone, according to a study from the University of Southern California that relied heavily on industry funding.

 

But that was before the revelation by the Times that the EIA will reduce its estimate of technically recoverable oil in California’s Monterey Shale by 96 percent–almost a complete wipeout–after taking a close look at actual data for wells drilled there already. The agency now believes that only about 600 million barrels are recoverable using existing technology. The 600 million barrels still sound like a lot, but those barrels would last the United States all of 40 days at the current rate of consumption.

 

Americans had been counting on the seemingly oil-rich Monterey Shale for more than 60 percent of a supposed newfound bounty of domestic oil locked up in deep shale deposits. But it turns out that the Monterey is rich with oil in the same way that seawater is rich in dissolved gold. In both cases the resource is there, but no one can figure out how get it out at a profit. The EIA previously estimated that resources of so-called tight oil, the proper name for oil from deep shale deposits, could reach 23.9 billion barrels for the United States as a whole. Overnight that number shrank to 9.1 billion.

 

The firm hired to do the original estimates, INTEK Inc., was saying as recently as December that it planned to raise its estimate for the Monterey to 17 billion barrels, presumably based on representations made to it by the industry.

 

The firm assumed, apparently without any justification, that the Monterey Shale would be just as productive as other shale deposits such as the Bakken in North Dakota and the Eagle Ford in Texas.

 

But the geology of the Monterey is riddled with folds and far more complex than other U.S. shale deposits, something that wouldn’t have been too hard to find out from existing geological studies and well logs.

 

We cannot be sure whether those who wrote the wildly overoptimistic INTEK report were eager to encourage drilling and investment in the Monterey, something the oil industry certainly favored. But the colossal miss suggests the possibility that INTEK and its analysts have grown too close to the industry and are serving it rather than the EIA which commissioned the report.

 

It’s no surprise that those who work in the oil industry are perennially optimistic. This high-risk business isn’t for the timid. And that optimism is necessary if the industry is going to raise the capital it needs from investors. But it should be obvious that relying on the oil industry for objective information that will form the basis for public policy is a mistake. Independent sources and objective data are important cross-checks on the industry’s understandable but often misleading enthusiasm.

 

The other explanation for the Monterey miss is that the analysts at INTEK are simply colossally inept. Note that INTEK was also responsible for the overall U.S. assessment of 23.9 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil lodged in deep shale formations. The California miss alone reduced estimated U.S. resources to 9.1 billion barrels, a cut which by itself calls into question the entire premise of renewed American oil abundance. But, the gargantuan misreading of the Monterey Shale’s resources also suggests that the firm’s estimates for other areas of the country need review as well.

 

A February 2013 comprehensive report on U.S. tight oil and natural gas from deep shales released by the Post Carbon Institute presaged the Monterey disappointment by pointing out how little oil had been extracted per well using advanced techniques in the Monterey Shale. A follow-on report issued in December focused exclusively on the Monterey and concluded that the INTEK/EIA estimate was vastly overblown. Not surprisingly, neither of these independent reports received any oil industry funding.

 

It is well to remember that the above numbers are all just estimates, and that they are for so-called technically recoverable resources. The estimates tell us little about how much oil from the Monterey or elsewhere might actually be economically recoverable, that is, profitably extracted. For that reason, the oil that is ultimately extracted from the Monterey and other deep shale deposits will likely be less than any estimate of technically recoverable resources. That means that even the 600 million barrel estimate for the Monterey may turn out to be too optimistic.

 

The industry counters that improved technology could change what seems unobtainable now into accessible oil. But, it cites no specific developments that are not already in use and therefore reflected in current estimates of what we can hope to extract. And the idea that we should base our public policy on innovations that no one has thought of yet seems more than a little unwise.

 

Moreover, while technology can improve, the laws of physics don’t. The industry is already moving from the so-called “sweet spots” in shale deposits to those that are more difficult to exploit. That process will continue until the laws of physics and economics team up to make drilling unprofitable, and that will be the end of the shale boom in the rest of the country.

 

________________________________________________________

 

P.S. In a previous piece I asked, “Will anyone who is currently predicting U.S. energy independence be punished if the story turns out to be wrong?” My answer was probably not. Now, we will find out if that turns out to be the case. My guess is that the oil industry will redouble its efforts to convince the public and policymakers to continue to believe something which cannot be supported by the evidence.

 

P.P.S. Tupper Hull, spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association, told the San Francisco Chronicle the following in response to the Monterey Shale revision: “People forget that the boom taking place in Texas and particularly North Dakota did not happen overnight. There were decades of operators trying to understand the technology and the geology.” He seems unable to recognize that in the decades that it may take to figure out how to unlock the Monterey Shale, California and the world will be working hard to create an advanced energy infrastructure that will make the Monterey irrelevant. Technology isn’t standing still in renewable energy either.

Not Up the Creek…Yet/ ST in Tucson Weekly

http://www.tucsonweekly.com/tucson/not-up-the-creekyet/Content?oid=4135802

 

Not Up the Creek…Yet

As Arizona faces potential water shortages, experts on divided on the solutions, though many remain optimistic.

by

Karl Flessa will tell you that it’s not that hard to collect seashells. All it takes is a bucket.

But the average beachcomber isn’t bringing the specimens back to a lab to study population densities, reconstruct the salinity levels of the ecosystem and figure out how long ago the creatures that inhabited the shells were alive.

Flessa, the founding director of the University of Arizona’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, has focused on the Colorado River delta since 1992. During his first trip there two decades ago, he found beaches made up almost entirely of mollusk shells—a result of the dry delta, which hadn’t seen water from the river in years.

“The puzzle was that we couldn’t find very many live individuals of the species that made those shells, and it was at that point we realized the environment had changed,” he said. “What we were looking at … was the remains of the former living community. That was a record of what the delta used to look like before upstream dams and diversions used up most of the water before it got to the gulf.”

Though Tucson sits some 200 miles from the Colorado River delta, Southern Arizona’s use of the river’s water contributes to the drying of the region, and many question how long Arizona communities can rely on the state’s share of it.

Recent reports from the Arizona Department of Water Resources predict a supply gap of roughly 1 million acre-feet by 2060—enough water for a million five-person families—thanks to population growth and climate change. But as the discussions about the water supply in Arizona continue, opinions vary among lawmakers, scientists and environmentalists on the next logical step.

Assessing the situation

In early April, 400 water experts from around the country packed a ballroom at the UA’s Student Union. The conference, hosted by the university’s Water Resources Research Center, served as a daylong think tank to address the supply gap that the state first announced in 2011. The gathering included representatives from water users’ associations, the Arizona Department of Water Resources, Native American tribes and the Central Arizona Project.

Although speakers tossed in the occasional water joke, the attendees were serious about coming up with solutions. In an adjacent room, dozens of posters displayed various data that included crop patterns, water’s effect on forest restoration and the anticipated water needs of Arizona’s tribes.

Nathan Bracken, assistant director and general counsel for the Western States Water Council, sat on a panel that discussed the problems of water overuse and the benefits of reuse. Though the Southwest remains at the forefront of a possible water shortage, he said the region’s problem is not unique.

“The Midwestern states that we represent have water-supply issues, too, but they have relatively more water, so it’s not as acute there,” Bracken said. “But even states like Kansas are looking very intently at this, and Oklahoma, too. Oklahoma is a very water-rich state compared to other Western states, but they have a goal now to make sure to use no more water in 2060 than they are now.”

Kathleen Ferris, executive director of the nonprofit Arizona Municipal Water Users Association, attended the conference to advocate for Arizona towns such as the municipalities surrounding Phoenix. Municipal water use accounts for 50 percent of water use across the state, and Ferris said that providing clean and safe water requires years of preparation.

Conservation techniques have become more widely adopted over the past 30 years, she said, noting that the city of Phoenix’s per-capita-per-day water use declined 32 percent between 1980 and 2010.

“We have done a remarkable job at reducing water use,” Ferris said, speaking of residents in the 10 municipalities that her association serves. “We’re using far less water than we used to use for the kind of population that we’re serving. And the same is true in Tucson.”

Tom Davis, who was representing the state’s agricultural community at the conference, said farmers are among the most cognizant of the state’s water supplies. Keeping the Colorado River flowing through Yuma, he said, is important to the region’s agricultural stability.

“The thing about Yuma is that we have senior rights; we’re the first diverters of the Arizona Colorado River water,” he said. “In fact, our right is that we can divert whatever we need, consumptive use-wise, to produce our crop. So our farmers are able to farm year-round and they’re able to farm a variety of crops.”

Weighing the options

In an interview in the weeks after the conference, Sharon Megdal, director of the UA’s Water Resources Research Center, said population growth is at the heart of the supply-gap issue. While noting that population projections can fluctuate, she didn’t downplay the significance of projected gap.

“A million acre-feet is a lot of water,” she said. “But is that the right number, or is that symbolic of the fact that if communities in the state wish to grow and develop in the ways they’re anticipating now, there’s going to be a need to figure out how to meet the water needs?”

While many avenues are being explored—including conservation, reuse and augmenting the existing supply—Megdal said that efforts to conserve water have been on the state’s radar for years. She pointed to the Groundwater Management Act, signed in 1980, which outlines conservation goals for groundwater users throughout the state.

But conservation is not enough, she said.

“Conservation, demand management, using less, is certainly within the legal purview of the state of Arizona,” she said. “What got said at the conference … is that conservation alone will not close the gap. Fifty years from now, whether there will be something really, really different about the way people bathe themselves or wash their clothes, I can’t tell you, but I certainly believe there’s more room for conservation.”

Much of the current focus is on augmentation of water supplies, mostly through desalination, which comes in two forms: the separation of minerals from brackish groundwater already stored in Arizona aquifers and the removal of salt from ocean water, which would require a plant somewhere along Mexico’s Gulf of California.

A desalination plant in Mexico would require a trade agreement with that country, said Mitch Basefsky, the Central Arizona Project’s spokesman for Pima and Pinal counties. Theoretically, Basefsky said, CAP would pay for the operation of the plant, Mexico would use the water that it produces, and that same amount of Colorado River water that currently goes to Mexico would remain in Nevada’s Lake Mead to be used in Arizona.

But desalination also comes with its own problems. Because it is an energy-intensive method, the cost of water would grow exponentially. The cost of desalinating an acre-foot of water, Basefsky said, runs from $1,000 to $1,200. The CAP, he noted, currently sells the same amount of water to Tucson for around $160.

The technology is “getting better, but it’s still very expensive,” Basefsky said. “There are a lot of studies that have to be done in terms of environmental issues that come with desalination, the energy issues that come with desalination, how you dispose of the waste product.”

Still, desalination remains at the center of many water discussions, even at the state capital. Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin recently sponsored a bill, later vetoed, that would have allocated $30 million to augmentation efforts.

But desalination alone isn’t enough, Tobin acknowledged.

“The cost of desal is huge, but any money we can put towards giving Arizona more options when it comes to water management is a step in the right direction,” Tobin said in an email. “But desal is only one part of a long-range solution. The state has to look at all options to protect, increase and conserve our water supply.”

When discussing water supply augmentation in general, the focus usually returns to proper planning. Without asking the right questions first, Megdal said, moving forward will be difficult.

“Some of these solutions do require a significant amount of advanced planning; they’ll require significant investments of dollars,” she said. “Obviously these decision can’t be made without public input, and them being acceptable to a majority of the public. There’s a lot of work to be done and I think there’s going to be a spectrum of time frames over which these solutions will be developed.”

The road less traveled

The patio leading into Tres English’s office just south of East Broadway Boulevard is home to a 4-by-16-foot aquaponics bed. A homemade contraption of mostly wood, metal and PVC pipe, the bed is used for growing tomatoes with rainwater from last December that English has kept in two 450-gallon cisterns. The pipes carry the water through one filtration system and into a small pond underneath the bed, where the waste from 18 koi fish is then carried through another filter and onto the plants as a source of hydration and fertilizer.

One cistern is already empty. English won’t make it through the summer on the remaining rainwater, but he’s satisfied with coming this far without using a drop from the city.

A core member of Sustainable Tucson and director of the Tucson Feeding Program, English doesn’t mince his words when discussing Tucson’s water policy.

“All of our water is wasted,” English said. “One hundred percent of it.”

During his research to find ways of creating a renewable food supply in Tucson, English analyzed data on rainwater provided by the Pima Association of Governments and the Tucson Active Management Area. His findings include how much water goes into decorative landscaping efforts, how much is collected and used to recharge the area’s aquifers, and how much is lost to evaporation.

English concluded that of the roughly 235,000 acre-feet of water that Tucson receives in annual rainfall, 92,000 acre-feet are spent on landscaping, 4,000 acre-feet are collected and used to recharge area aquifers, and 139,000 acre-feet are left to evaporate.

The core of the issue, English said, is how policymakers determine how water is allocated.

“What we haven’t done, ever, is set priorities for water uses,” he said. “What we have is priorities for water users. So whatever agriculture uses water on, they’re allowed to do that; whatever the mines want to use it for, they’re allowed to do that. There’s some restrictions on water quality issues, the farms are required to be more efficient, but there are no priorities for water uses.”

English said that, in theory, Tucson gets enough harvestable rainfall to produce all of the area’s food. But choosing to prioritize water use for things such as food production, as opposed to landscaping, is the challenge, he said.

English said that determining water needs by estimating population growth is the wrong approach because lawmakers equate a growing population with a growing economy.

“Their perspective is that we will have an ever-growing population, an ever-growing water need and therefore we need an ever-growing water supply,” he said. “But what I say to everyone on the subject is that it’s not up to us to decide. We don’t control the factors that control how many people live here.”

English also denounced the idea of desalination as a viable method of augmentation, citing the lack of funding available and the international treaty issues that would come with a plant in Mexico. He said a move toward desalination would result in the state learning “the hard way” that pinning the economy’s success on population growth is a mistake.

English isn’t alone in his frustration at the lack of effort to expand rainwater harvesting. Sustainable Tucson Director Bob Cook said he is also displeased with the city’s approach, and that rainwater harvesting has been treated by the local media as a hobby for those interested in living sustainably.

A former chairman of the Tucson-Pima Metropolitan Energy Commission, Cook argues that lawmakers and researchers have fallen short in providing a serious comparison of rainwater harvesting with other water conservation measures.

Although the city of Tucson provides incentives of up to $2,000 for city-approved residential rainwater-harvesting systems, Cook said that adopting the method for the commercial and industrial sectors hasn’t been considered.

“We need an apples-to-apples comparison of all alternatives so we can make a rational choice,” he said.

Still, rainwater harvesting has caught the eye of some local water experts. Megdal points to her center’s Conserve to Enhance initiative, a program that partners with local businesses to encourage water conservation. The program currently includes local businesses such as the Epic Cafe and even national chains such as Panda Express.

Wider consideration of sustainable water practices, Cook said, likely won’t come until there are hard numbers available for the cost of desalination and other methods.

“I think, first, people are going to have to see what the price tag for these other things is going to be,” he said. “When the numbers come in, we really need to scrutinize those numbers. What are they including? What are they not including for both desalinization and the others?”

Moving forward

Though views on how Southern Arizona should approach a potential water shortage differ, most experts agree that something needs to be done. For some, that means more water sources; for others it means fewer swimming pools.

As far as English is concerned, conservation is only effective when combined with good policies.

With current conservation efforts, “You’re talking about shifting who uses water,” he said. “It’s not like if we conserve more, we’re going to use less. What’s going to happen at that point is the people who conserve more will give it up to other users, and we’ll end up using the same amount.”

For scientists such as Flessa of the UA’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, a multifaceted approach seems the most logical.

“When you really get down to it, I think everybody realizes that there’s not one single solution to this problem,” Flessa said. “It’s going to have to be a combination of solutions. No one thing is going to do the trick. There’s going to have to be some increase in water conservation; there’s going to have to be some increase of water recycling. Desalinization may be part of the picture, (along with) greater water efficiencies on farms as well as in homes.”

Megdal said that a proactive attitude toward eliminating the water-supply gap is popular among researchers. The struggle lately, she said, is that many everyday users aren’t making an effort to learn more about the problem.

What’s needed most at this point, Megdal said, is public involvement.

“I’d like people to get excited rather than alarmed, because I don’t think people should have a sense of impending doom,” she said. “What is really needed is for the general citizen, the public, to become engaged, to become interested in these water issues … because decisions will have to be made.”

Will the real International Energy Agency please stand up?

Will the real International Energy Agency please stand up?

Published by Resource Insights on 2013-11-16
Original article: http://resourceinsights.blogspot.com/2013/11/will-real-international-energy-agency.html by Kurt Cobb

It was as if the International Energy Agency were appearing on the old American television game show To Tell the Truth last week as it offered a third contradictory forecast in the space of a year.

You may recall that on To Tell the Truth the host would begin by reading a statement from a person with an unusual story or profession. Then, a celebrity panel would question three contestants who claimed to be that person. Afterwards, the panelists would vote on whom they believed was the real person. Finally, the host would say, “Will the real [name of person] please stand up?” (Some episodes are still available here on YouTube.)

The difference is that the contestants on To Tell the Truth would try to tell similar, plausible stories so as to stump the panel. In the non-game-show world of energy forecasting, the IEA–a consortium of 28 countries, all net oil importers except for Canada and Norway–plays all three contestants and does not even attempt to be consistent. So, it’s possible that the agency is just a collective mental case with multiple personality disorder.

However, one has to allow for the fact that the IEA is not just one person or one voice. Still, if the agency were a single person, what it has released over the last year as official pronouncements would likely have a psychiatrist reaching for the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition).

Last November in its 2012 World Energy Outlook (WEO), the agency noted rising U.S. oil production and even predicted that the United States would become energy self-sufficient by 2035 (a doubtful call, in my view). It also noted that growing oil demand in the Asia has more than outweighed declines in European and U.S. consumption, keeping upward pressure on prices. It said that growth in Iraq’s oil exports was not a sure thing. While the 2012 WEO is really a rather optimistic document on supply, it did not paint an especially rosy picture, indicating that obtaining the supplies of oil necessary to meet projected demand was not a foregone conclusion.

Then, only six months later came the agency’s so-called Medium-Term Oil Market Report which read like an ad for the North American oil and gas industry. The agency touted a “supply shock” in oil from American tight oil fields unleashed by a new kind of hydraulic fracturing–a shock that would send “ripples throughout the world.” Unlike six months earlier, worldwide supply was supposed to take flight on the wings of fracking.

This enthusiasm didn’t last long. In its latest report, the just-issued 2013 World Energy Outlook, the agency sounded like a group of Gloomy Guses noting that “Brent crude oil has averaged $110 per barrel in real terms since 2011, a sustained period of high oil prices that is without parallel in oil market history.”

The report goes on to say, “The capacity of technologies to unlock new types of resources, such as light tight oil (LTO) and ultra-deepwater fields, and to improve recovery rates in existing fields is pushing up estimates of the amount of oil that remains to be produced. But this does not mean that the world is on the cusp of a new era of oil abundance.” The most recent forecast calls for rising oil prices in real terms through 2035. This is in part because the agency expects that “no country replicates the level of success with LTO” that we are seeing in the United States today.

What’s really happening here? Is the IEA getting better at seeing the future? Not really. What’s happening is that the IEA is being asked to do something which it cannot possibly do: accurately predict oil supplies 22 years into the future. So, given this impossible task, the agency responds by following current trends (and industry hype) and then extrapolating them.

Now that the IEA has had a chance to re-examine the industry’s claims in light of more experience with tight oil development, it is backing off its previous assessment in its Medium-Term Oil Market Report from May. Fatih Birol, chief economist for the IEA, told the Financial Times that he would now characterize rising oil production in the United States as “a surge, rather than a revolution.” He expects OPEC to become dominant once again in oil markets early in the next decade. The Financial Times characterized the report as predicting an oil supply crunch.

But, will the IEA have a change of heart once again? It might, depending on what it hears from industry sources and what it chooses to believe. But, the takeaway from the last year of IEA projections is not that the agency is suffering some sort of breakdown, but that it has been given an impossible task that in the volatile world of oil supplies has it casting about for a coherent story. In short, it is trying to tell the truth without knowing the truth for the simple reason that in this case the truth cannot known. That has made it a poor contestant in its own real-life episode of To Tell the Truth stretched out over the past year.

It is a fool’s errand to try to predict the future of world energy supplies. But, it is even more foolish to base our public policy, business and personal decisions on such predictions.

P. S. There is a minor acknowledgement that such forecasts are exercises in futility in a disclaimer at the end of the 2013 World Energy Outlook summary. The disclaimer reads: “The IEA makes no representation or warranty, express or implied, in respect of the publication’s contents (including its completeness or accuracy) and shall not be responsible for any use of, or reliance on, the publication.” This is standard boilerplate, I know. But, it is not the kind of language that inspires confidence.

 

Editor: the thumbnail image, of course, is the logo from The Oil Drum website, whose work lives on.


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Loss and Damage @Warsaw: Climate change Conference of Parties 19

Loss and Damage @Warsaw

Published by Daily Kos on 2013-11-15
Original article: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/11/15/1255756/-Loss-and-Damage-Warsaw by Deborah Phelan

The issue of ‘loss and damage’, which at long last mainstreamed at last year’s COP18, is vying for center stage in Warsaw as COP19 participants wrestle with the problems of effectively addressing and financing the irreparable impacts of climate change, those impacts already beyond the options of mitigation or adaptation.

The World Wildlife Fund pounced yesterday on the urgent need for an international mechanism to address this problem with the publication of Tackling The Climate Reality: A Framework For Establishing An International Mechanism To Address Loss And Damage At COP19.

The report was co-authored by WWF, ActionAid and CARE.
© WWF, ActionAide and CARE
“The experience of the Philippines with Super Typhoon Haiyan is surely evidence that we are in the throes of an impending crisis,” said Sven Harmeling, climate change advocacy coordinator at CARE International. “Thousands of people died and still suffer, despite the Philippines investing a lot in disaster preparedness and adaptation. The lack of serious attention to both mitigation and adaptation is pushing the world into the third era of climate governance, where the two pillars of adaptation and mitigation are no longer sufficient to respond to the challenge of climate change.”
From the report’s Executive Summary:

Climate change loss and damage is resulting from insufficient mitigation efforts. If emissions continue to be pumped into the atmosphere at current levels, the long-held goal of keeping average global temperature rises to below 2°C will be exceeded. In fact, the world is currently on a pathway towards an altogether much warmer world; average global temperature rises of well over 4°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century are looking increasingly likely with a business-as-usual approach to mitigation.

Climate change loss and damage is also resulting from insufficient support for adaptation. In fact, increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events are already providing ample evidence of how adaptation limits are being breached, overwhelming the ability of countries, people and ecosystems to cope with damage which, in turn, undermines people’s adaptive capacity and eats away at their resilience.

Announcing “a new era” of climate change, where rapidly rising sea waters, desertification, the acidification of the oceans and glacial melt overwhelm the world’s most vulnerable communities, the report implies a shift in focus to climate justice: poverty, lack of infrastructure and vulnerability of geographic locale cripple inadequately funded adaptation and mitigation policies and elevate the severity of the problems. The authors suggest an over reliance on flawed adaptation schemes will result in severe devastation to lives and livelihoods, ecosystems, and food and fisheries in many countries.

The proposed international mechanism would provide global oversight and coordination of actions related to loss and damage and “enhance cooperation, oversight and coordination of action and linkages with regional and global institutions.” Operationally, the mechanism would be a part of the UNFCCC’s current loss and damage program while creating a new Standing Body on Loss and Damage, also under UNFCCC auspices.

Additional functions would include:

•Knowledge development and exchange.
•Support for the implementation of a wide range of approaches identified to address loss and damage.
•Facilitate and catalyse the development of innovative financial measures, including measures for rehabilitation of damage, compensation for loss, and reparations for non-economic impacts.

ActionAid International Coordinator Harjeet Singh says developing nations must accept their “moral duty and legal obligation” to fast track support for the most climate vulnerable nations.

“We need to establish the international mechanism here in Warsaw to deal with the unprecedented challenges we are facing,” he said. “The mechanism is not just about providing finance to recover from climate change impacts that cannot be adapted to. It is also about generating knowledge and finding new ways to deal with non-economic losses such as loss of biodiversity, indigenous knowledge, human mobility, cultural heritage, ancestral burial sites and so on.”

With loss and damage front and center this week after the unparalleled devastation from Typhoon Haiyan (read The Brisbane Times article Typhoon Haiyan and a year of weird weather), all 48 Least Developed Countries (LDCs) yesterday engineered a strategic intervention by jointly presenting the UNFCCC Secretariat with their National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs).
True to the course, lead negotiators from industrialized nations are expected to shy away from any “formalised mechanism” to address loss and damage, focusing instead on attracting investors to navigate their way towards profit via long-term clean tech development through contributions towards $100bn annual Green Fund commitments.
The application of this ‘antiquated’ and seemingly unsustainable model of development was evidenced yesterday at the US Center where USAID hosted the panel “Concept to Reality: Mobilizing Private Investment for Clean Energy in Africa.”
In a case study detailing a six year project to bring a 5MW biomass grid online in South Africa, CTI PFAN advisor Michale Feldner (Inspire South Africa) painting a disturbing picture of huge financial costs (primarily legal fees), delays in permit applications, difficulties in luring and holding onto investors, and the dismal ratio between project identification and actual funding and development.
Wake up, Warsaw. We don’t have six years to waste.
Speaking at this year’s Social Good Summit, Al Gore  suggested that without a ‘sea change’ in political and social consciousness, “Civilization might not survive the next 100 years.”
So, Get Real, Warsaw. Maybe it truly is now or never.

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Three things you shouldn’t miss this week: Energy Crunch: the global picture

Energy Crunch: the global picture

Published by New Economics Foundation on 2013-11-15
Original article: http://www.neweconomics.org/blog/entry/energy-round-up-the-global-picture by Energy Crunch staff

Three things you shouldn’t miss this week

  1. The dwindling emissions budget if we are to limit global warming to no more than 2°C.

    Graphic: International Energy Agency World Energy Outlook 2013
  2. Article: Shale’s Effect on Oil Supply Is Not Expected to Last –  According to a report released Tuesday by the International Energy Agency, production of such oil in the United States and worldwide will provide only a temporary respite from reliance on the Middle East.
  3. Commentary: Want an energy revolution? Think beyond the big six –  When you own a stake in the energy you use, you use less of it. Solar Schools, part of the 10:10 carbon reduction project, has been a striking example of this.
Everything is changing on energy, and yet everything remains the same. This is the message from the latest World Energy Outlook by the International Energy Agency. The report shows shifting global demand and supply patterns, but the overall picture remains one of rising carbon emissions, fossil fuel domination and tight oil markets.
Emissions from the energy sector will increase 20% by 2035 based on current policies, putting the world on target for 3.6 degree warming. The urgency of the issue surely couldn’t be more obvious as climate negotiators meet in Warsaw. Typhoon Haiyan can’t be directly linked to climate change, but increasingly powerful storms are one likely predicted effect, and the UN expects 2013 to be the 7th warmest year on record.
Fossil fuels still provide 82% of world energy according to the report – the same as 25 years ago. The agency predicts this will have fallen to 76% by 2035, but 76% of a much larger pie. This dominance of fossil fuels is supported by record subsidies of $544 billion in 2012. A new report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) shows that fossil fuel subsidies aren’t just a developing world phenomenon. It estimates that OECD countries spend up to $90 billion in fossil fuel support measures, often via tax cuts or exemptions, and calls for G20 governments to phase out all subsidies by 2020 – or 2015 for wealthier nations – while protecting vulnerable groups from the impacts.
Not much has changed in the UK energy debate over the past couple of weeks either, but the focus is renewable rather than fossil fuel subsidies, as the government and the Big Six slug it out over ‘green taxes’. It looks increasingly likely that funding for the Energy Company Obligation (ECO), under which energy companies carry out domestic efficiency measures, will move from bills to general taxation as the utilities want. How much relief that would provide, and for how long, is another question entirely.

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Who knew that Seoul was a leader in the sharing economy?

Who knew that Seoul was a leader in the sharing economy?
by Richard Heinberg
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Published by Post Carbon Institute on 2013-11-12
Original article: http://www.postcarbon.org/blog-post/1949822-who-knew-that-seoul-was-a
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Did you know that Seoul, South Korea is one of the world’s key sites for post-growth economic re-development? No? Neither did I, until I saw for myself.
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I was pleased to be invited to give the keynote address at a conference titled “Reshaping the Way We Live,” put on by the Seoul Youth Hub, held November 7-8. I had no idea what to expect, and was rather surprised when the event turned out to be one of the most enjoyable and eye-opening in recent memory.
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First, some background on South Korea. The nation has an export-based industrial economy that has expanded rapidly in recent decades; however, its rate of growth has begun to slow and the youth unemployment rate is now north of 22 percent. Korean politics has also taken a worrisome turn: many citizens dispute the legitimacy of the most recent presidential election, which brought to power Park Geun-hye, the daughter of former dictator Park Chung-hee.
Meanwhile Korea’s energy situation could hardly be bleaker: the nation imports essentially all its oil, natural gas, and coal (Korea was once self-sufficient in coal, but production has declined dramatically). It gets some electricity from hydropower, but there is little room for expansion. The country’s 23 nuclear power plants are subject to increasing controversy since the 2011 Fukushima catastrophe in nearby Japan, as many Koreans fear they are now eating radioactive fish.
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The Seoul Youth Hub evidently sees crisis as opportunity. Why else would they ask the author of The End of Growth to address a conference of 18-to-40 year-olds? I came to their attention through a protracted Internet search, but it helped that three of my books have been translated into Korean. Evidently the organizers weren’t shy about conveying a sobering message.
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Lunch with the Youth Hub conference organizers.
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Though I hadn’t visited their country previously, I knew that Koreans have a reputation for being friendly and generous. If my experience is any gauge, the reputation is well deserved. The organizers put me up at a traditional Hanok Korean guesthouse (no chairs or television, just mats on the floor of a beautifully constructed, floor-heated, meticulously scrubbed little pavilion). Nearly all food provided during my stay was also traditional, and included a Buddhist temple meal with multiple courses of artistically crafted vegetarian morsels. Suffice it to say that I felt well taken care of and had a splendid time.
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Now to the conference itself. Except for the opening keynote and a final wrap-up, the sessions were workshops led by eight collaborative groups (including ones from Hong Kong and Japan), each of which is a youth-led organization engaged in social innovation. You can find a list of participating groups at the conference website. The subjects explored ranged from cheese-making to innovations in democratic decision-making; in effect, it amounted to a multi-track laboratory for young people to explore adaptive responses to economic contraction.
Surprisingly, the event was free to the participants. The City of Seoul footed the bill, thanks to Mayor Park Won-soon (more about him in a moment).
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The Seoul Youth Hub is a project of the Seoul Metropolitan Government, and its mandate is to help young people “design a future society” by providing a place where they can share and resolve their problems, experiment with a sharing economy, and “discuss specific policies regarding various agendas such as work-labor, housing, life safety net, business creation, youth politics,” and more. The Hub is also intended as a model and a networking center for similar projects throughout Asia. I highly recommend watching this short video.
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The venue for the conference was the Youth Hub’s headquarters, which features movable walls, furniture made of recycled building materials, open and shared office spaces, informal dormitory nooks, a café, and learning co-laboratories. Altogether, there was far more going on here than I could take in during the two days of the conference, much less describe in a couple of paragraphs.
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On the evening of the first day of the conference I met Mayor Park at his offices in City Hall, a twisty new steel-and-glass structure whose ground floor is devoted to citizen-led social innovation projects.
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Copies of The End of Growth were on the Mayor’s meeting room table. Using an interpreter, we got right to it: he had clearly read the book and asked intelligent questions about it. What would I recommend that he and the City of Seoul do to prepare for the end of economic growth? It was a stunning question, given the circumstances, and he appeared eager to consider whatever suggestions I might offer. I started rattling off a laundry list of ideas—supporting farmers’ markets, community gardens, and other staples of a local food system; discouraging cars while encouraging bicycling and public transport; raising energy building standards to the Passive House level; staging more cultural events to increase the happiness quotient among citizens. When I finished, he recited examples of how he and the City have already begun doing nearly every one of these things. He was saying, in effect, “Check, check, check. Come on, what else have you got? Please tell me, and I’ll see if we can do it!” I suggested he find a way for the City to help bring Transition to Seoul (there are currently two official Transition Initiatives in Japan, none in Korea). He promised to do just that.
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Mayor Park Won-soon
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Whoa, I thought. Who is this guy? I looked up his Wikipedia listing later that night. Before becoming Mayor in 2011, Park Won-soon had a 30-year career as a human rights and social justice activist and spent four months in prison for some of these activities. In recent years he developed a chain of nonprofit “Beautiful Stores,” which collect donations of used items, repair them if needed, and sell them to raise money for the social enterprise movement. There are now over a hundred of these stores throughout Korea.
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Inside a Beautiful Store
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Hard to believe this man is the elected leader of the largest city proper in the world, with a population of over 10 million.
The organizers of the Youth Hub conference think the world of Mayor Park, and I can understand why. I’ve seen a lot of hopeful post-growth initiatives in a lot of places—usually citizen-led and modest in scale; never have I seen such visionary, intelligent leadership at the municipal government level within so large a city.
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This is a country with a hard future ahead. Challenges with energy, the economy, and the environment are lining up (not to mention ever-present tensions with North Korea). Yet if efforts led by Mayor Park and the Seoul Youth Hub manage to flourish, things may go much better than they otherwise would. Perhaps other cities can begin to find inspiration here.
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For a helpful overview of the food sovereignty movement in South Korea, see this article from Foreign Policy in Focus.
Richard Heinberg in front of a Youth Hub garden of Korean cabbage (key ingredient of Kim-Chee)

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When Wealth Disappears: International Banker

When Wealth Disappears

By STEPHEN D. KING

Published October 6, 2013,  New York Times

 

LONDON — AS bad as things in Washington are — the federal government shutdown since Tuesday, the slim but real potential for a debt default, a political system that seems increasingly ungovernable — they are going to get much worse, for the United States and other advanced economies, in the years ahead.

 

From the end of World War II to the brief interlude of prosperity after the cold war, politicians could console themselves with the thought that rapid economic growth would eventually rescue them from short-term fiscal transgressions. The miracle of rising living standards encouraged rich countries increasingly to live beyond their means, happy in the belief that healthy returns on their real estate and investment portfolios would let them pay off debts, educate their children and pay for their medical care and retirement. This was, it seemed, the postwar generations’ collective destiny.

 

But the numbers no longer add up. Even before the Great Recession, rich countries were seeing their tax revenues weaken, social expenditures rise, government debts accumulate and creditors fret thanks to lower economic growth rates.

 

We are reaching end times for Western affluence. Between 2000 and 2007, ahead of the Great Recession, the United States economy grew at a meager average of about 2.4 percent a year — a full percentage point below the 3.4 percent average of the 1980s and 1990s. From 2007 to 2012, annual growth amounted to just 0.8 percent. In Europe, as is well known, the situation is even worse. Both sides of the North Atlantic have already succumbed to a Japan-style “lost decade.”

 

Surely this is only an extended cyclical dip, some policy makers say. Champions of stimulus assert that another huge round of public spending or monetary easing — maybe even a commitment to higher inflation and government borrowing — will jump-start the engine. Proponents of austerity argue that only indiscriminate deficit reduction, accompanied by reforming entitlement programs and slashing regulations, will unleash the “animal spirits” necessary for a private-sector renaissance.

 

Both sides are wrong. It’s now abundantly clear that forecasters have been too optimistic, boldly projecting rates of growth that have failed to transpire.

 

The White House and Congress, unable to reach agreement in the face of a fiscal black hole, have turned over the economic repair job to the Federal Reserve, which has bought trillions of dollars in securities to keep interest rates low. That has propped up the stock market but left many working Americans no better off. Growth remains lackluster.

 

The end of the golden age cannot be explained by some technological reversal. From iPad apps to shale gas, technology continues to advance. The underlying reason for the stagnation is that a half-century of remarkable one-off developments in the industrialized world will not be repeated.

 

First was the unleashing of global trade, after a period of protectionism and isolationism between the world wars, enabling manufacturing to take off across Western Europe, North America and East Asia. A boom that great is unlikely to be repeated in advanced economies.

 

Second, financial innovations that first appeared in the 1920s, notably consumer credit, spread in the postwar decades. Post-crisis, the pace of such borrowing is muted, and likely to stay that way.

 

Third, social safety nets became widespread, reducing the need for households to save for unforeseen emergencies. Those nets are fraying now, meaning that consumers will have to save more for ever longer periods of retirement.

 

Fourth, reduced discrimination flooded the labor market with the pent-up human capital of women. Women now make up a majority of the American labor force; that proportion can rise only a little bit more, if at all.

 

Finally, the quality of education improved: in 1950, only 15 percent of American men and 4 percent of American women between ages 20 and 24 were enrolled in college. The proportions for both sexes are now over 30 percent, but with graduates no longer guaranteed substantial wage increases, the costs of education may come to outweigh the benefits.

 

These five factors induced, if not complacency, an assumption that economies could expand forever.

 

Adam Smith discerned this back in 1776 in his “Wealth of Nations”: “It is in the progressive state, while the society is advancing to the further acquisition, rather than when it has acquired its full complement of riches, that the condition of the labouring poor, of the great body of the people, seems to be the happiest and the most comfortable. It is hard in the stationary, and miserable in the declining state.”

 

The decades before the French Revolution saw an extraordinary increase in living standards (alongside a huge increase in government debt). But in the late 1780s, bad weather led to failed harvests and much higher food prices. Rising expectations could no longer be met. We all know what happened next.

 

When the money runs out, a rising state, which Smith described as “cheerful,” gives way to a declining, “melancholy” one: promises can no longer be met, mistrust spreads and markets malfunction. Today, that’s particularly true for societies where income inequality is high and where the current generation has, in effect, borrowed from future ones.

 

In the face of stagnation, reform is essential. The euro zone is unlikely to survive without the creation of a legitimate fiscal and banking union to match the growing political union. But even if that happens, Southern Europe’s sky-high debts will be largely indigestible. Will Angela Merkel’s Germany accept a one-off debt restructuring that would impose losses on Northern European creditors and taxpayers but preserve the euro zone? The alternatives — disorderly defaults, higher inflation, a breakup of the common currency, the dismantling of the postwar political project — seem worse.

 

In the United States, which ostensibly has the right institutions (if not the political will) to deal with its economic problems, a potentially explosive fiscal situation could be resolved through scurrilous means, but only by threatening global financial and economic instability. Interest rates can be held lower than the inflation rate, as the Fed has done. Or the government could devalue the dollar, thereby hitting Asian and Arab creditors. Such “default by stealth,” however, might threaten a crisis of confidence in the dollar, wiping away the purchasing-power benefits Americans get from the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.

 

Not knowing who, ultimately, will lose as a consequence of our past excesses helps explain America’s current strife. This is not an argument for immediate and painful austerity, which isn’t working in Europe. It is, instead, a plea for economic honesty, to recognize that promises made during good times can no longer be easily kept.

 

That means a higher retirement age, more immigration to increase the working-age population, less borrowing from abroad, less reliance on monetary policy that creates unsustainable financial bubbles, a new social compact that doesn’t cannibalize the young to feed the boomers, a tougher stance toward banks, a further opening of world trade and, over the medium term, a commitment to sustained deficit reduction.

 

In his “Future of an Illusion,” Sigmund Freud argued that the faithful clung to God’s existence in the absence of evidence because the alternative — an empty void — was so much worse. Modern beliefs about economic prospects are not so different. Policy makers simply pray for a strong recovery. They opt for the illusion because the reality is too bleak to bear. But as the current fiscal crisis demonstrates, facing the pain will not be easy. And the waking up from our collective illusions has barely begun.

 

Stephen D. King, chief economist at HSBC Bank, is the author of “When the Money Runs Out: The End of Western Affluence.”

 

A Radical Approach to the Climate Crisis

A Radical Approach to the Climate Crisis

by Christian Parenti, July 19, 2013

Several strands of green thinking maintain that capitalism is incapable of a sustainable relationship with non-human nature because, as an economic system, capitalism has a growth imperative while the earth is finite. One finds versions of this argument in the literature of eco-socialism, deep ecology, eco-anarchism, and even among many mainstream greens who, though typically declining to actually name the economic system, are fixated on the dangers of “growth.”

All this may be true. Capitalism, a system in which privately owned firms must continuously out-produce and out-sell their competitors, may be incapable of accommodating itself to the limits of the natural world. However, that is not the same question as whether capitalism can solve the more immediate climate crisis.

Because of its magnitude, the climate crisis can appear as the sum total of all environmental problems—deforestation, over-fishing, freshwater depletion, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, chemical contamination. But halting greenhouse gas emissions is a much more specific problem, the most pressing subset of the larger apocalyptic panorama.

And the very bad news is, time has run out. As I write this, news arrives of an ice-free arctic summer by 2050. Scientists once assumed that would not happen for hundreds of years.

Dealing with climate change by first achieving radical social transformation—be it a socialist or anarchist or deep-ecological/neo-primitive revolution, or a nostalgia-based localistaconversion back to a mythical small-town capitalism—would be a very long and drawn-out, maybe even multigenerational, struggle. It would be marked by years of mass education and organizing of a scale and intensity not seen in most core capitalist states since the 1960s or even the 1930s.

Nor is there any guarantee that the new system would not also degrade the soil, lay waste to the forests, despoil bodies of water, and find itself still addicted to coal and oil. Look at the history of “actually existing socialism” before its collapse in 1991. To put it mildly, the economy was not at peace with nature. Or consider the vexing complexities facing the left social democracies of Latin America. Bolivia, and Ecuador, states run by socialists who are beholden to very powerful, autonomous grassroots movements, are still very dependent on petroleum revenue.

A more radical approach to the crisis of climate change begins not with a long-term vision of an alternate society but with an honest engagement with the very compressed timeframe that current climate science implies. In the age of climate change, these are the real parameters of politics.

Hard Facts

The scientific consensus, expressed in peer-reviewed and professionally vetted and published scientific literature, runs as follows: For the last 650,000 years atmospheric levels of CO2—the primary heat-trapping gas—have hovered at around 280 parts per million (ppm). At no point in the preindustrial era did CO2 concentrations go above 300 ppm. By 1959, they had reached 316 ppm and are now over 400 ppm. And the rate of emissions is accelerating.Since 2000, the world has pumped almost 100 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere—about a quarter of all CO2 emissions since 1750. At current rates, CO2 levels will double by mid-century.

Climate scientists believe that any increase in average global temperatures beyond 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels will lead to dangerous climate change, causing large-scale desertification, crop failure, inundation of coastal cities, mass migration to higher and cooler ground, widespread extinctions of flora and fauna, proliferating disease, and possible social collapse. Furthermore, scientists now understand that the earth’s climate system has not evolved in a smooth linear fashion. Paleoclimatology has uncovered evidence of sudden shifts in the earth’s climate regimes. Ice ages have stopped and started not in a matter of centuries, but decades. Sea levels (which are actually uneven across the globe) have risen and fallen more rapidly than was once believed.

 

Throughout the climate system, there exist dangerous positive-feedback loops and tipping points. A positive-feedback loop is a dynamic in which effects compound, accelerate, or amplify the original cause. Tipping points in the climate system reflect the fact that causes can build up while effects lag. Then, when the effects kick in, they do so all at once, causing the relatively sudden shift from one climate regime to another.

 

Thus, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says rich countries like the United States must cut emissions 25 percent to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020—only seven years away—and thereafter make precipitous cuts to 90 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. This would require global targets of 10 percent reductions in emissions per annum, starting now. Those sorts of emissions reductions have only occurred during economic depressions. Russia’s near total economic collapse in the early 1990s saw a 37 percent decrease in CO2 emissions from 1990 to 1995, under conditions that nobody wants to experience.

 

The political implications of all this are mind-bending. As daunting as it may sound, it means that it is this society and these institutions that must cut emissions. That means, in the short-term, realistic climate politics are reformist politics, even if they are conceived of as part of a longer-term anti-capitalist project of totally economic re-organization.

 

Dreaming the Rational

Of course, successful reformism often involves radical means and revolutionary demands. What other sort of political pressure would force the transnational ruling classes to see the scientific truth of the situation? But let us assume for a second that political elites faced enough pressure to force them to act. What would be the rational first steps to stave off climate chaos?

 

The watchwords of the climate discussion are mitigation and adaptation—that is, we must mitigate the causes of climate change while adapting to its effects. Mitigation means drastically cutting our production of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, such as methane and chlorofluorocarbons, that prevent the sun’s heat from radiating back out to space.

 

Mitigation means moving toward clean energy sources, such as wind, solar, geothermal, and tidal kinetic power. It means closing coal-fired power plants, weaning our economy off fossil fuels, building a smart electrical grid, and making massive investments in carbon-capture and -sequestration technologies. (That last bit of techno-intervention would have to be used not as a justification to keep burning coal, as is its current function, but to strip out atmospheric CO2 rapidly and get back to 350 ppm and away from the dangerous tipping points.)

 

Adaptation, on the other hand, means preparing to live with the effects of climatic changes, some of which are already underway and some of which are inevitable. Adaptation is both a technical and a political challenge.

 

Technical adaptation means transforming our relationship to non-human nature as nature transforms. Examples include building seawalls around vulnerable coastal cities, giving land back to mangroves and everglades so they can act to break tidal surges during giant storms, opening wildlife migration corridors so species can move away from the equator as the climate warms, and developing sustainable forms of agriculture that can function on an industrial scale even as weather patterns gyrate wildly.

 

Political adaptation, on the other hand, means transforming social relations: devising new ways to contain, avoid, and deescalate the violence that climate change is fueling and will continue to fuel. That will require progressive economic redistribution and more sustainable forms of development. It will also require a new diplomacy of peace building.

 

Unfortunately, another type of political adaptation is already under way—that of the armed lifeboat. This adaptation responds to climate change by arming, excluding, forgetting, repressing, policing, and killing. The question then becomes how to conceive of adaptation and mitigation as a project of radical reform—reforms that achieve qualitative change in the balance of power between the classes.

 

The core problem in the international effort to cut emissions is fundamentally the intransigence of the United States: it failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and has played an obstructionist role at subsequent negotiations. Domestically, progress has been just as frustratingly slow. We have no carbon tax, nor any program of robust investment in clean technology. Even the minimal production tax credit for clean energy generated by solar, wind, and hydro power has not been locked in as a long-term commitment. This creates uncertainty about prices, and, as a result, private investment in clean tech is stalling.

 

China, on the other hand, though now the world’s second-largest economy and largest greenhouse gas polluter, is moving ahead with a fast-growing clean-tech industry—that is to say, with mitigation. The Chinese wind sector has grown steadily since 2001. “According to new statistics from the China Electricity Council,” reported American Progress senior fellow Joseph Romm, “China’s wind power production actually increased more than coal power production for the first time ever in 2012.” This growth is the result, in part, of robust government support: China has invested $200.8 billion in stimulus funding for clean tech. Estimates of U.S. stimulus funding for clean technology range from $50 to $80 billion.

 

The European Union is also moving forward to create a €1 trillion regional supergrid. Germany and Portugal in particular are moving aggressively to expand their already quite large clean-tech sectors. Action in the core industrial economies is essential because only they have the infrastructure that can propel the clean-tech revolution and transform the world economy.

 

A De Facto Carbon Tax

Environmental economists tend to agree that the single most important thing the United States could do to accelerate the shift to clean energy would be to impose a carbon tax. Despite our political sclerosis and fossil fuel fundamentalism, the means to do that already exist.

 

First and foremost, there is the Environmental Protection Agency, which could achieve significant and immediate emissions reductions using nothing more than existing laws and current technologies. According to Kassie Siegel at the Center for Biological Diversity, “The Clean Air Act can achieve everything we need: a 40 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions over 1990 levels by 2020.”

 

Rather boring in tone and dense with legalistic detail, the ongoing fight over EPA rulemaking is probably the most important environmental battle in a generation. Since 2007, thanks to the pressure and lawsuits of green activists, the EPA has had enormous—but under-utilized—power. That was the year when the Supreme Court ruled, in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, that the agency should determine whether greenhouse gases threaten human health. In December 2010, the EPA published a science-based “endangerment finding,” which found that CO2 and five other greenhouse gases are, in fact, dangerous to human life because they cause global warming.

 

Once the EPA issues an endangerment finding, it is legally bound to promulgate regulations to address the problem. The first of these post–Massachusetts v. EPA “tailoring rules” were for “mobile sources.” Between 2011 and 2012, regulations for cars and for trucks went into effect. Then the EPA set strict limits for new power plants in 2012. But other major sources of greenhouse gas pollution—like existing electric power plants (which pump out roughly 40 percent of the nation’s total GHG emissions), oil refineries, cement plants, steel mills, and shipping—have yet to be properly regulated pursuant to Massachusetts v. EPA.

 

If the EPA were to use the Clean Air Act—and do so “with extreme prejudice”—it could impose a de facto carbon tax. Industries would still be free to burn dirty fossil fuels, but they would have to use very expensive, and in some cases nonexistent, new technology to meet emission standards. Or they would have to pay very steep and mounting fines for their emissions. Such penalties could reach thousands of dollars per day, per violation. Thus, a de facto carbon tax. Then cheap fossil fuel energy would become expensive, driving investment toward carbon-neutral forms of clean energy like wind and solar. For extra measure we could end fossil fuel subsidies. Before long, it would be more profitable to invest in clean energy sources than dangerous and filthy ones.

 

Big Green Buy and U.S. “Shadow Socialism”

According to clean-tech experts, innovation is now less important than rapid, large-scale implementation. In other words, developing a clean-energy economy is not about new gadgets but about new policies. Most of the energy technologies we need already exist. You know what they are: wind farms, concentrated solar power plants, geothermal and tidal power, all feeding an efficient smart grid that, in turn, powers electric vehicles and radically more energy-efficient buildings.

 

But leading clean technologies remain slightly more expensive than the old dirty-tech alternatives. This “price gap” is holding back the mass application of clean technology. The simple fact is that capitalist economies will not switch to clean energy until it is cheaper than fossil fuel. The fastest way to close the price gap is to build large clean-tech markets that allow for economies of scale. But what is the fastest way to build those markets? More research grants? More tax credits? More clumsy pilot programs?

 

No. The fastest, simplest way to do it is to reorient government procurement away from fossil fuel energy and toward clean energy and technology—to use the government’s vast spending power to create a market for green energy. Elsewhere, I have called this the Big Green Buy. Consider this: federal, state, and local government constitute more than 38 percent of our GDP. In more concrete terms, Uncle Sam owns or leases more than 430,000 buildings (mostly large office buildings) and 650,000 vehicles. (Add state and local government activity, and all those numbers grow by about a third again.) The federal government is the world’s largest consumer of energy and vehicles, and the nation’s largest greenhouse gas emitter.

 

Government procurement is one of the hidden tools of American capitalism’s “shadow socialism.” By shadow socialism I refer to the massively important but often overlooked role of government planning, investment, subsidy, procurement, and ownership in the economic development of American capitalism. A detailed account of that history is offered in Michael Lind’s book Land of Promise. From railroads, to telecommunications, and aviation and all the attendant sub-industries of these sectors, government has provided the capital and conditions for fledging industries to grow large. For example, government didn’t just fund the invention of the microprocessor; it was also the first major consumer of the device. Throughout the 1950s, more than half of IBM’s revenue came from government contracts. Along with money, these contracts provided a guaranteed market and stability for IBM and its suppliers, and thus attracted private investment—all of which helped create the modern computer industry.

 

Now consider the scale of the problem: our asphalt transportation arteries are clogged with 250 million gasoline-powered vehicles sucking down an annual $200 to $300 billion worth of fuel from more than 121,000 filling stations. Add to that the cost of heating and cooling buildings, jet travel, shipping, powering industry, and the energy-gobbling servers and mainframes that are the Internet, and the U.S. energy economy reaches a spectacular annual tab of 1.2 trillion dollars.

 

A redirection of government purchasing would create massive markets for clean power, electric vehicles, and efficient buildings, as well as for more sustainably produced furniture, paper, cleaning supplies, uniforms, food, and services. If government bought green, it would drive down marketplace prices sufficiently that the momentum toward green tech would become self-reinforcing and spread to the private sector.

 

Executive Order 13514, which Obama signed in 2009, directed all federal agencies to increase energy efficiency; measure, report, and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions from direct and indirect activities; conserve and protect water resources through efficiency, reuse, and storm water management; eliminate waste, recycle, and prevent pollution; leverage agency acquisitions to foster markets for sustainable technologies and environmentally preferable materials, products, and services; design, construct, maintain, and operate high performance sustainable buildings in sustainable locations.

 

The executive order also stipulates that federal agencies immediately start purchasing 95 percent through green-certified programs and achieve a 28 percent greenhouse gas reduction by 2020. But it has not been robustly implemented.

 

Government has tremendous latitude to leverage green procurement because it requires no new taxes, programs, or spending, nor is it hostage to the holy grail of sixty votes in the Senate. It is simply a matter of changing how the government buys its energy, vehicles, and services. Yes, in many cases clean tech costs more up front, but in most cases, savings arrive soon afterward. And government—because of its size—is a market mover that can leverage money-saving deals if it wishes to.

 

Protest and the “Relative Autonomy” of the State

Why would the capitalist state move to euthanize the fossil fuel industry, that most powerful fraction of the capitalist class? Or put another way, how can the state regain some of its “relative autonomy” from capital? History indicates that massive, crisis-producing protest is one of the most common reasons a modern state will act against the interests of specific entrenched elites and for the “general interest” of society. When the crisis of protest is bad enough, entrenched elites are forced to take a loss as the state imposes ameliorative action for the greater good of society.

 

Clearly, we need to build a well-organized, broadly supported, yet tactically and strategically radical movement to demand proper climate policy. For such a movement to be effective it must use myriad tactics, from lawsuits and lobbying to direct action such as tree-sits, road blockades, and occupations aimed at the infrastructure of the fossil fuel industry. Only by disrupting the working of the political and economic system as a whole can we forge a consensus that ending the fossil fuel sector is essential. (The work of Francis Fox Piven and Richard Cloward is, in my opinion, still among the best in tracing the dynamic of this process of rebellion and reform.)

 

At question, then, is not just the state’s capacity to evolve, but the capacity of the American people to organize and mobilize on a massive scale. Far be it from me to say exactly how such movements could or should be built, other than the way they always have been: by trial and error and with good leadership. Movement building is a mass and organic process.

 

The Rebellion of Nature

Along with protest, a more organic source of crisis is already underway and may also help scare political elites into confronting big carbon. Climate change is a “rebellion of nature,” by which I mean the disruption caused by ecological breakdown. The history of environmental regulation in the West is, in many ways, the story of protest and advocacy combining with the rebellion of nature at the local (urban) scale. Together, they have forced rudimentary regulation in the name of health and sanitation.

 

By the 1830s, America’s industrial cities had become perfect incubators of epidemic disease, particularly cholera and yellow fever. Like climate change today, these diseases hit the poor hardest, but they also sickened and killed the wealthy. Class privilege offered some protection, but it was not a guarantee of safety. And so it was that middle-class “goo-goos” and “mugwumps” began a series of reforms that contained and eventually defeated the urban epidemics.

 

First, garbage-eating hogs were banned from city streets, then public sanitation programs of refuse collection began, sewers were built, safe public water provided, and housing codes were developed and enforced. Eventually, the epidemics of cholera stopped. Soon other infectious diseases, such as pulmonary tuberculosis, typhus, and typhoid, were largely eliminated. At the scale of the urban, capitalist society solved an environmental crisis through planning and public investment.

 

Climate change is a problem of an entirely different order of magnitude, but these past solutions to smaller environmental crises offer lessons. Ultimately, solving the climate crisis—like the nineteenth-century victory over urban squalor and epidemic contagions—will require a re-legitimation of the state’s role in the economy.

 

The modern story of local air pollution offers another example of the “rebellion of nature.” As Jim McNeil outlines in Something New Under The Sun, smog inundations in industrial cities of the United States and Europe used to kill many people. In 1879–1880 smog killed 3,000 Londoners, and in Glasgow a 1909 inversion—where cold air filled with smoke from burning coal was trapped near the ground—killed 1,063. As late as 1952, a pattern of cold and still air killed 4,000 people in London, according to McNeil, and even more according to others. By 1956, the Britons had passed a clean air act that drove coal out of the major cities. In the United States there was a similar process. In 1953, smog in New York killed between 170 and 260 people, and as late as 1966 a smog inversion killed 169 New Yorkers. All of this helped generate pressure for the Clean Air Act of 1970.

 

Today, a similar process is underway in China. Local air quality is so bad that it is forcing changes to Chinese energy policy. A major World Bank study has estimated that “the combined health and non-health cost of outdoor air and water pollution for China’s economy comes to around $US 100 billion a year (or about 5.8% of the country’s GDP).” People across China are protesting pollution. Foreign executives are turning down positions in Beijing because of the toxic atmospheric stew that western visitors have taken to calling “airpocalypse.” The film director Chen Kaige, who won the Palme d’Or for his 1993 filmFarewell My Concubine, told the world he couldn’t think or make films because of the Chinese capital’s appallingly bad air.

 

These local pressures are a large part of what is driving Chinese investment in renewable energy. Last year China added more energy capacity from wind than from the coal sector.

 

Capitalism vs. Nature?

Some of the first thinkers to note a conflict between capitalism and non-human nature were Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. They came to their ecology through examining the local problem of relations between town and country—expressed simultaneously as urban pollution and rural soil depletion. In exploring this question they relied on the pioneering work of soil chemist Justus von Liebig. And from this small-scale problem, they developed the idea of capitalism creating a rift in the metabolism of natural processes.

 

Here is how Marx explained the dilemma:

 

Capitalist production collects the population together in great centers, and causes the urban population to achieve an ever-growing preponderance. This has two results. On the one hand it concentrates the historical motive force of society; on the other hand, it disturbs the metabolic interaction between man and the earth, i.e., it prevents the return to the soil of its constituent elements consumed by man in the form of food and clothing; hence it hinders the operation of the eternal natural condition for the lasting fertility of the soil….All progress in capitalist agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the worker, but of robbing the soil.

 

And as with “soil robbing,” so too concentrations of atmospheric CO2: the natural systems are out of sync; their elements are being rearranged and redistributed, ending up as garbage and pollution.

 

It may well be true that capitalism is incapable of accommodating itself to the limits of the natural world. But that is not the same question as whether or not capitalism can solve the climate crisis. Climate mitigation and adaptation are merely an effort to buy time to address the other larger set of problems that is the whole ecological crisis.

 

This is both a pessimistic and an optimistic view. Although capitalism has not overcome the fundamental conflict between its infinite growth potential and the finite parameters of the planet’s pollution sinks, it has, in the past, addressed specific environmental crises.

 

Anyone who thinks the existing economic system must be totally transformed before we can deal with the impending climate crisis is delusional or in willful denial of the very clear findings of climate science. If the climate system unravels, all bets are off. The many progressive visions born of the Enlightenment will be swallowed and forgotten by the rising seas or smashed to pieces by the wrathful storms of climate chaos.

 

Resilience.org is a program of Post Carbon Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the world transition away from fossil fuels and build sustainable, resilient communities.

Source URL: http://www.resilience.org/stories/2013-07-19/a-radical-approach-to-the-climate-crisis

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2013 edition of Dissent Magazine and is reproduced at Resilience.org with the permission of the author.

Original article: http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/a-radical-approach-to-the-climate-crisis by Christian Parenti

Content on this site is subject to our fair use notice.

 

 

Arctic Methane Release Due To Climate Change Could Cost Global Economy $60 Trillion, Study Reports

Arctic Methane Release Due To Climate Change Could Cost Global Economy $60 Trillion, Study Reports

By Nina Chestney

LONDON, July 24 (Reuters) – A release of methane in the Arctic could speed the melting of sea ice and climate change with a cost to the global economy of up to $60 trillion over coming decades, according to a paper published in the journal Nature.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge and Erasmus University in the Netherlands used economic modelling to calculate the consequences of a release of a 50-gigatonne reservoir of methane from thawing permafrost under the East Siberian Sea.

They examined a scenario in which there is a release of methane over a decade as global temperatures rise at their current pace.

They also looked at lower and slower releases, yet all produced “steep” economic costs stemming from physical changes to the Arctic.

“The global impact of a warming Arctic is an economic time-bomb,” said Gail Whiteman, an author of the report and professor of sustainability, management and climate change at the Rotterdam School of Management, part of Erasmus University.

“In the absence of climate-change mitigation measures, the model calculates that it would increase mean global climate impacts by $60 trillion,” said Chris Hope, a reader in policy modelling at the Cambridge Judge Business School, part of the University of Cambridge.

That approaches the value of the global economy, which was around $70 trillion last year.

The costs could be even greater if other factors such as ocean acidification were included, the study said, or reduced to some $37 trillion if action is taken to lower emissions.

As much as 80 percent of the costs would likely be borne by developing countries experiencing more extreme weather, flooding, droughts and poorer health as the Arctic melt affects the global climate, the paper said.

Methane is a greenhouse gas usually trapped as methane hydrate in sediment beneath the seabed. As temperatures rise, the hydrate breaks down and methane is released from the seabed, mostly dissolving into the seawater.

But if trapped methane were to break the sea surface and escape into the atmosphere, it could “speed up sea-ice retreat, reduce the reflection of solar energy and accelerate the melting of the Greenland ice sheet,” the study said.

It said that could bring forward the date at which the global mean temperature rise exceeds 2 degrees Celsius by between 15 and 35 years – to 2035 if no action is taken to curb emissions and to 2040 if enough action is taken to have a 50 percent chance of keeping the rise below 2 degrees.

Scientists have said the rise in global average temperatures this century needs to stay below 2 degrees Celsius to prevent devastating climate effects such as crop failure and melting glaciers.

However, the International Energy Agency warned last month that the world is on course for a rise of 3.6 to 5.3 degrees Celsius citing record high global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions last year.

The Arctic has oil and gas reserves which Lloyd’s of London has estimated could draw investment of up to $100 billion within a decade. Environmentalists warn Arctic drilling is too risky and could have devastating consequences for the region. (Editing by Jason Neely)

Link to article:   http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/24/arctic-methane-climate-change_n_3643917.html

Our Coming Food Crisis by Gary Paul Nabhan

Our Coming Food Crisis

By Gary Paul Nabhan,  Published by the New York Times: July 21, 2013

 

TUCSON, Ariz. — THIS summer the tiny town of Furnace Creek, Calif., may once again grace the nation’s front pages. Situated in Death Valley, it last made news in 1913, when it set the record for the world’s hottest recorded temperature, at 134 degrees. With the heat wave currently blanketing the Western states, and given that the mercury there has already reached 130 degrees, the news media is awash in speculation that Furnace Creek could soon break its own mark.

 

Such speculation, though, misses the real concern posed by the heat wave, which covers an area larger than New England. The problem isn’t spiking temperatures, but a new reality in which long stretches of triple-digit days are common — threatening not only the lives of the millions of people who live there, but also a cornerstone of the American food supply.

 

People living outside the region seldom recognize its immense contribution to American agriculture: roughly 40 percent of the net farm income for the country normally comes from the 17 Western states; cattle and sheep production make up a significant part of that, as do salad greens, dry beans, onions, melons, hops, barley, wheat and citrus fruits. The current heat wave will undeniably diminish both the quality and quantity of these foods.

 

The most vulnerable crops are those that were already in flower and fruit when temperatures surged, from apricots and barley to wheat and zucchini. Idaho farmers have documented how their potato yields have been knocked back because their heat-stressed plants are not developing their normal number of tubers. Across much of the region, temperatures on the surface of food and forage crops hit 105 degrees, at least 10 degrees higher than the threshold for most temperate-zone crops.

 

What’s more, when food and forage crops, as well as livestock, have had to endure temperatures 10 to 20 degrees higher than the long-term averages, they require far more water than usual. The Western drought, which has persisted for the last few years, has already diminished both surface water and groundwater supplies and increased energy costs, because of all the water that has to be pumped in from elsewhere.

 

If these costs are passed on to consumers, we can again expect food prices, especially for beef and lamb, to rise, just as they did in 2012, the hottest year in American history. So extensive was last year’s drought that more than 1,500 counties — about half of all the counties in the country — were declared national drought disaster areas, and 90 percent of those were hit by heat waves as well.

 

The answer so far has been to help affected farmers with payouts from crop insurance plans. But while we can all sympathize with affected farmers, such assistance is merely a temporary response to a long-term problem.

 

Fortunately, there are dozens of time-tested strategies that our best farmers and ranchers have begun to use. The problem is that several agribusiness advocacy organizations have done their best to block any federal effort to promote them, including leaving them out of the current farm bill, or of climate change legislation at all.

 

One strategy would be to promote the use of locally produced compost to increase the moisture-holding capacity of fields, orchards and vineyards. In addition to locking carbon in the soil, composting buffers crop roots from heat and drought while increasing forage and food-crop yields. By simply increasing organic matter in their fields from 1 percent to 5 percent, farmers can increase water storage in the root zones from 33 pounds per cubic meter to 195 pounds.

 

And we have a great source of compostable waste: cities. Since much of the green waste in this country is now simply generating methane emissions from landfills, cities should be mandated to transition to green-waste sorting and composting, which could then be distributed to nearby farms.

 

Second, we need to reduce the bureaucratic hurdles to using small- and medium-scale rainwater harvesting and gray water (that is, waste water excluding toilet water) on private lands, rather than funneling all runoff to huge, costly and vulnerable reservoirs behind downstream dams. Both urban and rural food production can be greatly enhanced through proven techniques of harvesting rain and biologically filtering gray water for irrigation. However, many state and local laws restrict what farmers can do with such water.

 

Moreover, the farm bill should include funds from the Strikeforce Initiative of the Department of Agriculture to help farmers transition to forms of perennial agriculture — initially focusing on edible tree crops and perennial grass pastures — rather than providing more subsidies to biofuel production from annual crops. Perennial crops not only keep 7.5 to 9.4 times more carbon in the soil than annual crops, but their production also reduces the amount of fossil fuels needed to till the soil every year.

 

We also need to address the looming seed crisis. Because of recent episodes of drought, fire and floods, we are facing the largest shortfall in the availability of native grass, forage legume, tree and shrub seeds in American history. Yet current budget-cutting proposals threaten to significantly reduce the number of federal plant material centers, which promote conservation best practices.

 

If our rangelands, forests and farms are to recover from the devastating heat, drought and wildfires of the last three years, they need to be seeded with appropriate native forage and ground-cover species to heal from the wounds of climatic catastrophes. To that end, the farm bill should direct more money to the underfinanced seed collection and distribution programs.

 

Finally, the National Plant Germplasm System, the Department of Agriculture’s national reserve of crop seeds, should be charged with evaluating hundreds of thousands of seed collections for drought and heat tolerance, as well as other climatic adaptations — and given the financing to do so. Thousands of heirloom vegetables and heritage grains already in federal and state collections could be rapidly screened and then used by farmers for a fraction of what it costs a biotech firm to develop, patent and market a single “climate-friendly” crop.

 

Investing in climate-change adaptation will be far more cost-effective than doling out $11.6 billion in crop insurance payments, as the government did last year, for farmers hit with diminished yields or all-out crop failures.

 

Unfortunately, some agribusiness organizations fear that if they admit that accelerating climate change is already affecting farmers, it will shackle them with more regulations. But those organizations are hardly serving their member farmers and ranchers if they keep them at risk of further suffering from heat extremes and extended drought.

 

And no one can reasonably argue that the current system offers farmers any long-term protection. Last year some farmers made more from insurance payments than from selling their products, meaning we are dangerously close to subsidizing farmers for not adapting to changing climate conditions.

 

It’s now up to our political and business leaders to get their heads out of the hot sand and do something tangible to implement climate change policy and practices before farmers, ranchers and consumers are further affected. Climate adaptation is the game every food producer and eater must now play. A little investment coming too late will not help us adapt in time to this new reality.

 

Gary Paul Nabhan is a research scientist at the Southwest Center at the University of Arizona and the author of “Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land: Lessons From Desert Farmers in Adapting to Climate Uncertainty.”

 

Link to original article:  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/22/opinion/our-coming-food-crisis.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

 

Climate Smart Southwest: Ready or Hot? – National climate change conference in Tucson – Sep 20-21

Free lecture Friday evening at the TEP Unisource Building, 88 East Broadway, Tucson AZ

Saturday conference at the Tucson Convention Center (details below)

Tucson will be hosting a climate change conference focused on public health and climate adaptation in September, sponsored by Physicians for Social Responsibility and 35 other local and national organizations. The following guest article by Susan Waites has more details.

Climate Smart Southwest: Ready or Hot?

article by Susan Waites

We have all been hearing lots about climate change. Have you ever wondered if climate change will affect us here in the Southwest? Have you ever wondered if climate change will affect you and members of your family personally? Here’s an opportunity to find out. You can attend this conference focused on public health and climate adaptation coming up Friday and Saturday September 20th and 21st. The conference is being sponsored by the Physicians for Social Responsibility and 35 other local and national organizations.

To kick off this community event there will be a free talk by Eric Klinenberg, Professor of Sociology at New York University and the author of the bestselling book Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, about the July 1995 week-long triple-digit heat wave that took over 700 lives. Dr. Klinenberg will give his talk Friday September 20 from 7 to 8pm at the TEP Unisource Building Conference Room, 88 E. Broadway in Tucson. While this event is free and open to the public, you are asked to RSVP as space is limited. You can do so by going to the conference website www.psr.org/azclimate

On Saturday September 21 the conference itself will take place from 7:30am to 5:30pm at the Tucson Convention Center. The cost is just $35 ($15 for current students) which includes a free buffet lunch and free on-site parking at the TCC. The morning of the conference will be dedicated to hearing nationally and internationally known speakers present information about climate change and emerging health problems, food security, mental health, and about how we can educate our children, build neighborhood resilience, and address cross cultural issues as we adapt to climate change. In the afternoon conference attendees will have the opportunity to participate in workshops to prepare and respond to the challenges posed by climate change. To register for Saturday’s events go to www.psr.org/azclimate

The Climate Smart Southwest Conference will be a unique opportunity to learn how climate change will affect you and your family. Best of all, you’ll learn what you can do be prepared and help yourself and your loved ones meet the challenges we will face with a changing climate. For more information, go to www.psr.org/azclimate. If you need more information, please contact Dr. Barbara Warren at bwarre01(at)gmail.com

The One Thing You Need to Know about the President’s Plan to Address Climate Change

The One Thing You Need to Know about the President’s Plan to Address Climate Change

by Kurt Cobb,    June 30, 2013

 

The one thing you need to know about President Obama’s plan to address climate change is that the most it will accomplish is slowing very slightly the pace at which the world is currently hurtling toward catastrophic climate change. Having said this, his plan is nonetheless a brave and even historic move in a country whose political campaigns and public discourse have been utterly poisoned by the science-free propaganda of the fossil fuel industry.

 

I would be more enthusiastic about the president’s baby steps if the devastating droughts and floods and swiftly melting ice in the polar regions and mountain glaciers weren’t telling us that drastic action is necessary right now. Nature doesn’t really care about the timetables of politicians or about what is politically feasible. Nature doesn’t negotiate, and it doesn’t compromise. The laws of physics and chemistry cannot be repealed or altered by the Obama administration, the United States Congress or any other body. And, these physical laws are deaf to complaints about the negative economic consequences of addressing climate change–consequences that will be far worse if we do nothing about climate change.

 

But let me return to the goal announced by the president and put his plan into perspective. Using existing executive powers–mostly through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which the Supreme Court affirmed in 2007 has the power to regulate greenhouse gases–the Obama Administration will endeavor to reduce the RATE of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States to 17 percent below the RATE in 2005 and do this by 2020. It’s a relatively easy target because half the reduction has already taken place. In recent years electric utilities have been changing from coal to cheaper and cleaner-burning natural gas to fuel their plants, and drivers, stung by unemployment and high gasoline prices, have reduced their driving.

 

I’ve put the word “RATE” in all capitals above because this one word gets to the heart of the matter. The plan does NOT propose to reduce the absolute concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the major greenhouse gas which recently topped 400 parts per million (ppm). Instead, that concentration would continue to rise–even though it is increasingly evident that we must now reduce that concentration (some say to below 350 ppm) in order to avoid the worst.

 

The proposed decline in the rate of U.S. emissions would only reduce the overall rate of world emissions by just 1.6 percent based on 2011 emissions figures (using carbon dioxide as a proxy for all greenhouse gas emissions). Of course, other countries will have to do their part if we are to succeed as a species in addressing climate change. But it is worth noting that while the United States is home to just 4.5 percent of the world’s population, it currently produces 16.8 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. (The 2011 emissions were 5.49 billion tons for the United States and 32.58 billion tons for the world.)

 

I often refer to climate change as a rate problem. By this I mean that the rate at which we are dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere exceeds the rate at which the planet can remove them. Because the rate of emissions has consistently exceeded the rate of absorption by the Earth since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the absolute concentration of greenhouse gases has steadily risen. (The oceans, the forests, and the weathering of rocks are responsible for almost all of the carbon absorbed from the atmosphere. Were it not for these, the atmospheric concentration of carbon would be about twice what it is today, and we would long ago have have passed into a planetary emergency.)

 

Now, logic tells us that the only way we are ever going to get the absolute concentration down is to make it so that the rate of emissions falls below the rate of absorption by the Earth. And, that would require a drastic cut in the rate of emissions by more than 50 percent. But if we are to avert catastrophe, we must go much further so that the concentration can be brought down before a permanent new climate regime gets established. In other words, human survival depends on avoiding the tipping point in climate change that would render any human action ineffectual.

 

(Keep in mind that time is of the essence because climate change lags by 25 to 50 years the emissions that cause that change. We are only now experiencing climate change caused by greenhouse gases emissions between the early 1960s and the late 1980s. Even if all emissions ceased today, we would be in for another generation or two of warming.)

 

The oft-used phrase “tipping point” in this case refers to self-reinforcing loops in Earth processes that once started cannot be stopped by human action. Perhaps the most troubling example is the release of carbon dioxide and methane in the Arctic from the permafrost. The permafrost is now melting at an alarming rate and releasing greenhouse gases from the decay of dead plants formerly immune to such decay because they were frozen. The amount of carbon contained in the permafrost is nothing short of stupendous, twice as much as is currently in the atmosphere. The methane portion of any release is at least 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide in warming the planet .

 

Once this vicious cycle gets going, it will be unstoppable as warming temperatures melt more permafrost which then releases more greenhouse gases which then increase the temperature which means further melting and so on until the globe reaches a new stable climate that is much, much hotter than our current one.

 

But this isn’t the only self-reinforcing loop that imperils us. Another is the declining albedo or reflectivity of the Earth at the poles as snow and ice disappear more frequently from larger and larger land and water surfaces as a result of rising temperatures. Snow and ice have high reflectivity and return much of the Sun’s light to outer space. But land and water absorb much more of the light and turn it into heat which then melts adjacent snow and ice which creates ever larger areas of heat-absorbing open ocean and exposed land surface.

 

It’s no wonder then that many scientists are calling for an 80 to 90 percent reduction in the rate of emissions by 2050. It’s not simply about slowing warming. It’s about stopping and possibly reversing it so as to stay away from climate destabilizing tipping points.

 

I haven’t even touched on a subject which seems almost taboo, even among policymakers who are eager to tackle greenhouse gas emissions from utilities, factories, homes and vehicles. Meat production is so energy intensive that it is estimated to contribute about 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions each year. Telling people to reduce their meat intake, however, could prove to be even more unpopular than telling them to drive less or to lower their thermostats in winter.

 

And, deforestation–primarily in the world’s rainforests–contributes nearly as much as meat production each year to climate change, about 15 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions. Felled forests cease to absorb carbon dioxide and instead emit it as the waste wood and other dead biomass left behind decays.

 

The application of nitrogen fertilizers, essential to the so-called green revolution around the world, releases copious amounts of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas. Today’s large human population would not have been possible without nitrogen fertilizers which played a leading role in raising crop yields. It is thus going to be difficult to reduce nitrogen fertilizer use.

 

Then, there are several industrial gases. These compounds are extremely long-lived in the atmosphere–one lasting up to 50,000 years–and they are very potent, three of them exceeding the warming potential of carbon dioxide by more than 10,000 times. Some have been banned. Others are still in use. While their small concentrations in the atmosphere means that their contribution to climate change remains small, they are nevertheless worth addressing.

 

So, any credible climate change response must also address these other sources of emissions as well. The president’s plan does touch on deforestation, but only briefly. The word “meat,” however, does not appear anywhere in the report. In fairness, the president of the United States does not control world forests, nor can he change American farm policy–let alone American eating habits–single-handedly. While hydrofluorocarbons–used to replace now banned ozone-layer killing chlorofluorocarbons as refrigerants–are mentioned, nitrous oxide, a major greenhouse gas, is omitted. Yes, agricultural practices are mentioned, but use of nitrogen is THE major agricultural practice alongside meat production that generates climate warming gases.

 

The public needs to understand that the sources of greenhouse gas emissions are far more varied than most realize. And, the public also needs to understand that declines in the rate of emissions–unless very steep–are likely to be too little, too late. That’s because it is the absolute concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that largely determines the climate. And, this concentration needs to start falling soon if we are to make certain that we avoid a climate catastrophe.

 

To read this story with original links, go to:

http://www.resilience.org/stories/2013-06-30/the-one-thing-you-need-to-know-about-the-president-s-plan-to-address-climate-change

March Against Monsanto worldwide – and in Tucson at Reid Park – May 25

Free movie at Murphy-Wilmot Public Library, 530 N Wilmot Road Tucson, AZ

March begins May 25 at 12 noon at Reid Park, 900 Randolph Way, Tucson AZ

 
May 19 Sunday 1:30 pm – free documentary movie showing and discussion of “The World According to Monsanto” at the Murphy-Wilmot Public Library, 530 N Wilmot Road Tucson, AZ. Also see the complete movie free online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=6VEZYQF9WlE

May 25 Saturday 12 noonMarch Against Monsanto – meet 11:30 am at the Reid Park Festival Area. March followed by speakers, entertainment, and refreshments. More info at the GMO-Free Tucson website www.gmofreetucson.org

 

March Against Monsanto

To the Sustainable Tucson Community, Farmers, Ranchers, & Community Organizations:

Please support and participate in an unprecedented worldwide March Against Monsanto and Family Friendly GMO Awareness Festival & Rally that’s taking place on Saturday, May 25th. Hundreds of Tucsonans will be marching in Reid Park at 12 Noon to raise awareness and consciousness for taking back our food supply and be part of this turning point and historic global event.

Join the grass roots community in helping to create our own safe, nutritious, sustainable Non-GMO food system free of dangerous pesticides, chemicals, GMOs and other toxins. GMOs are NOT sustainable!

As an educational event before the march, there will be a Free documentary movie showing and discussion of “The World According to Monsanto” at the Murphy-Wilmot Public Library 530 N. Wilmot Road Tucson, AZ 85711 on Sunday, May 19th at 1:30 pm.

Tucson March Against Monsanto organizers will be at the Sustainable Tucson general meeting on Monday the 13th to answer any questions about the GMO Awareness Festival and Rally and how any individuals or organizations can get involved and participate in this fabulous opportunity and historical community event.

Please support this unprecedented worldwide May 25th event by posting it on your websites, newsletters, blogs, FB pages, and inviting friends and family. Also, we welcome any other support or services you feel may help with this community-wide awareness opportunity.

www.march-against-monsanto.com

www.facebook.com/MarchAgainstMonstanto/events (sic)

www.gmofreetucson.org

Building Sustainable Cities – New York Times Conference April 25

See the online video archive of the entire conference at nytenergyfortomorrow.com

ENERGY FOR TOMORROW – BUILDING SUSTAINABLE CITIES

A NEW YORK TIMES CONFERENCE
IN COLLABORATION WITH RICHARD ATTIAS AND ASSOCIATES

APRIL 25, 2013
THE TIMESCENTER, NEW YORK CITY

 
THE CONCEPT

According to U.N. data, the worldwide urban population over the next 40 years will increase by 3.1 billion people. Where will the water come from for these people to drink and use? The fuel to heat and cool their homes? The fresh fruit and vegetables for them to eat? The modes of transportation to move them from home to workplace and back? And how can we build buildings, develop infrastructure and diversify transport in ways that limit the waste and pollutants that could make these urban areas unpleasant and unhealthy places to live? These are the issues The New York Times will tackle in its second annual Energy for Tomorrow Conference: Building Sustainable Cities.

In America and in other countries around the world, there is an enormous amount of innovation going on to make our cities more eco-friendly and sustainable. There are fleets of natural gas-fueled trucks and hybrid taxis. LEED-certified buildings are being constructed. Cutting-edge technology is helping cities cut down on energy and resource use. Summers bring urban and rooftop farming. And this innovation is occurring at both a micro and macro level.

THE FORMAT AND AUDIENCE

The New York Times will bring together some 400 thought leaders, public policy makers, government urbanists and C-suite level executives from energy, technology, automotive and construction industries among others, to debate and discuss the wide range of issues that must be addressed if we can create an urban environment that can meet the needs of its citizens and, thanks to innovation, run cleanly and efficiently. The conference will be invitation-only.

There will be a fee of $795 to attend the one-day conference, but The Times will make some grants available for N.G.O.s, entrepreneurs and start-ups to attend at a discount. The format will mix head-to-head debates, panel discussions, keynote addresses, case studies and audience brainstorming sessions.

 
APRIL 24 EVENING
(THE EVE OF THE CONFERENCE)

7 – 9p.m.
SCREENING OF THE DOCUMENTARY “TRASHED”

The documentary feature film “Trashed” highlights solutions to the pressing environmental problems facing us all. Academy Award-winning actor Jeremy Irons has teamed up with British filmmaker Candida Brady to record the devastating effect that pollution has had on some of the world’s most beautiful destinations. The screening will be followed by a conversation with Irons.

Confirmed speakers:
Jeremy Irons, actor and executive producer, “Trashed”
in conversation with David Carr, media and culture columnist, The New York Times

 
APRIL 25 AGENDA

Throughout the day, we will be conducting networking and discussion sessions (via smartphones and BlackBerries) to gather, as well as to submit questions to the panel

7 a.m.
REGISTRATION AND BREAKFAST

7:45 – 8:45 a.m.
BREAKFAST DISCUSSION
SMART VEHICLES ARE HERE: CAN GOVERNMENT KEEP PACE?

The pressures are building for safer and smarter vehicles on our roads, raising questions about the national, state and local policies that will emerge. Several states are already early adopters of legislation to enable the use of autonomous vehicles. But every law is different, no national policies exist and innovations are unfolding rapidly. With the evolution of connected vehicles, intelligent roadways, and cloud-based technologies (first maps, soon much more), there will be a host of choices for consumers and governments.

Moderated by Gordon Feller, director of urban innovations, Cisco Systems; founder, Meeting of the Minds

Confirmed Panelists:
Anthony Levandowski, manager, Google autonomous vehicle project
Alex Padilla, state senator, California
Jim Pisz, corporate manager, North American business strategy, Toyota Motor Sales Inc.
Dan Smith, senior associate administrator for vehicle safety, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Bryant Walker Smith, fellow, Center for Automotive Research, Stanford University

9 – 9:30 a.m.
OPENING ADDRESS

Michael Bloomberg, mayor of the City of New York and chair of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group

Introduced by Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher, The New York Times

9:30 – 10:15 a.m.
THE MAYORS’ PANEL
HOW DO WE REINVENT OUR CITIES FOR THE THIRD INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION?

The city of 2025 could be crisis-ridden if the world doesn’t create more sustainable models of urban development. Research says that our cities will continue to expand and increase in population, while their populations will bring rising consumption and emissions. Alongside these huge challenges, there are also opportunities for businesses: electric vehicles, new low-carbon means of cooling, and energy efficient buildings. We ask a group of mayors to outline an urban planning strategy for 2025.

Moderated by Bill Keller, Op-Ed columnist, The New York Times

Confirmed panelists:
Jaime Lerner, former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil
Stephanie Miner, mayor of Syracuse
Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia
Greg Stanton, mayor of Phoenix

10:15 – 10:40 a.m.
COFFEE BREAK

10:40 – 11 a.m.
COLUMNIST CONVERSATION

Jeremy Irons, actor and executive producer, “Trashed”
in conversation with Andrew Revkin, Op-Ed columnist and author, Dot Earth blog, The New York Times

*Please note, there is a screening of “Trashed” on the eve of the conference. Seats are limited and the
screening will be open to the public. Confirmed conference participants will get priority.

11 – 11:30 a.m.
PLENARY: THINK NATIONAL, BUT POWER LOCAL

A sustainable city will use a high proportion of renewable energy, but there is a catch-22: sites that generate renewable electricity – wind farms, solar farms and tidal generators – tend to be far away from urban centers. How can we create grids that get renewable energy from the places it is made to the hundreds of millions who will use it? Meanwhile, how can we increase and incentivize localized power generation and supply? Options include district heating and cooling, and buildings producing their own power through solar powered roofs or single wind turbines, and then sharing that power through a smart grid.

Moderated by Thomas L. Friedman, Op-Ed columnist, The New York Times

Confirmed panelists:
Sabine Froning, C.E.O., Euroheat and Power
Patricia Hoffman, assistant secretary, Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, U.S.
Kevin Burke, chairman, president and C.E.O., Consolidated Edison Inc.

11:30 a.m. – 12 p.m.
COLUMNIST CONVERSATION

Shaun Donovan, United States secretary of housing and urban development
in conversation with Thomas L. Friedman, Op-Ed columnist, The New York Times

12 – 12:40 p.m.
GAMECHANGERS: THE ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION

Cutting-edge technology is helping cities cut down on energy and resource use and this innovation is occurring at both a micro and macro level. Can we innovate quickly enough?

Moderated by Joe Nocera, Op-Ed columnist, The New York Times

Confirmed panelists:
Stephen Kennedy Smith, president, Em-Link LLC
Judi Greenwald, vice president for technology and innovation, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
Adam Grosser, group head and partner, Silver Lake Kraftwerk
Neil Suslak, founder and managing partner, Braemar Energy
Steven E. Koonin, director of the Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP)

12:40 – 2:05 p.m.
LUNCH AND BRAINSTORMING, URBAN FOOD SUPPLY

Lunch will take place in the Hall downstairs; during lunch we will host a brainstorming discussion featuring expert panelists on the Urban Food Supply.

Moderated by Mark Bittman, Op-Ed columnist, The New York Times

Discussion leaders:
Will Allen, founder and C.E.O., Growing Power
Dave Wann, president, Sustainable Futures Society
Dan Barber, chef and co-owner, Blue Hill at Stone Barns and director of program, President’s Council on
Fitness, Sports and Nutrition

2:05 – 2:40 p.m.
DISCUSSION: GREEN BUILDINGS AND URBAN DESIGN

Sustainable cities need energy-efficient buildings and the current symbol of urban architecture – the glass and metal skyscraper – scores badly in this regard. What kinds of building should be the centerpieces of new sustainable cities? Are current green building codes leading us in the right direction? Nearly half of the world’s new megacities will be in China and India: how can their leaders ensure that the millions of new structures in these cities use energy sparingly and follow sustainable urban planning?

Moderated by Michael Kimmelman, architecture critic, The New York Times

Confirmed panelists:
David Fisk, co-director of the BP Urban Energy Systems Project and Laing O’Rourke Professor in Systems Engineering and Innovation, Imperial College London
Hal Harvey, C.E.O., Energy Innovation: Policy and Technology LLC
Katrin Klingenberg, Passivehouse Institute, USA
Jonathan Rose, founder and president, Jonathan Rose Companies
Martha Schwartz, professor in practice of landscape architecture, Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and co-founder, Working Group for Sustainable Cities, Harvard University

2:40 – 3:15 p.m.
DISCUSSION: TRANSPORT AND TRAFFIC

An effective and energy-efficient transport network is the skeleton of a sustainable city, allowing residents to move from home to work with a minimum of congestion, pollution or emissions. The solutions are different for old cities and new cities, and for rich cities and poor cities. But the traditional model of urban expansion followed by new roads has created a vicious spiral where new roads beget more cars, which beget the need for more roads. New, more sustainable ideas for city transportation not only reduce emissions, but also improve quality of life.

Moderated by Joe Nocera, Op-Ed columnist, The New York Times

Confirmed panelists:
Walter Hook, C.E.O., Institute for Transportation and Development Policy
Peder Jensen, head of programme, governance and networks, European Environment Agency
Anna Nagurney, director, Virtual Center for Supernetworks, Isenberg School of Management, University of Massachusetts
Naveen Lamba, intelligent transportation lead, IBM
Janette Sadik-Khan, NYC transportation commissioner

3:15 – 3:30 p.m.
COLUMNIST CONVERSATION
PLANET-WARMING EMISSIONS: IS DISASTER INEVITABLE?

Klaus Jacob, adjunct professor, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University
in conversation with Joe Nocera, Op-Ed columnist, The New York Times

3:30 – 4:15 p.m.
NETWORKING DISCUSSION:
Participants will be split into two concurrent sessions to brainstorm two issues on the sustainable agenda. Led by a member of The Times team, and with an expert panel to comment and shape the discussions, participants will brainstorm ideas together. The results of the brainstorming – including suggested actions – will be released after the event.

DISCUSSION 1: TRANSPORT

Ingvar Sejr Hansen, head of city planning, City of Copenhagen
Ari Kahn, policy adviser for electric vehicles, New York City Mayor’s Office of Long-term Planning and Sustainability
Bruce Schaller, deputy commissioner for traffic and planning, New York City Department of Transportation
Greg Stanton, mayor of Phoenix

DISCUSSION 2: GREEN SPACES

Kai-Uwe Bergmann, partner, Bjarke Ingels Group
Steven Caputo Jr., deputy director, New York City Mayor’s Office of Long-term Planning and Sustainability
Susan Donoghue, senior adviser and assistant commissioner for strategic initiatives, New York City Parks
Deborah Marton, senior vice president of programs, New York Restoration Project

4:15 – 4:35 p.m.
COFFEE BREAK

4:35 – 4:55 p.m.
COLUMNIST CONVERSATION

Carol Browner, senior counselor, Albright Stonebridge Group, and former energy czar
in conversation with Bill Keller, Op-Ed columnist, The New York Times

4:55 – 5:45 p.m.
CLOSING PLENARY
DEALBOOK: INVESTING IN THE CITY OF TOMORROW

The challenge is to reinvent and retool the cities and urban life in a guise that is more sustainable – and to do it fast. Some of the best minds in the developed and developing worlds are trying to address this global issue. Architects, urban planners and engineers are drawing up plans. Business consultants are looking for new business opportunities as these sustainable cities evolve. The World Bank is trying to figure out how to finance their growth. How can we finance the creation of the city of tomorrow?

Moderated by Andrew Ross Sorkin, columnist/editor, DealBook, The New York Times

Confirmed panelists:
Alicia Glen, managing director, Urban Investment Group, Goldman Sachs
Richard Kauffman, chairman of energy and finance, Office of the Governor, State of New York
William McDonough, chairman, McDonough Advisors

5:45 p.m. CLOSING AND RECEPTION

 
See the online video archive of the entire conference at nytenergyfortomorrow.com

Move to Amend – Corporations Are Not People – May 10

May 2 planning meeting at Unitarian Church, 22nd between Swan and Craycroft

May 10 demonstration at Miracle Mile freeway entrance

 

Move to Amend – Corporations Are Not People

JOIN US IN A NATIONWIDE ACTION ON MAY 10TH (details below) urging Americans to take the next step in passing a CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT which declares that corporations are not persons, and money is not speech.

The disastrous “Citizens United” ruling was just the death knell in the 127-year-long corporate takeover of our government, and must be overturned, to return control of our government to the people.

Until we do that, we will not be able to achieve any of the changes necessary for stopping the slide of the middle class into poverty, creating jobs instead of soaring unemployment, holding Wall Street, Big Banks, and other financial entities accountable for their crimes against Americans, social justice, freedom from war waged for corporate profit, preventing reckless plundering and poisoning of natural resources, and saving our environment. Currently, we can’t even pass legislation for background checks on gun purchases.

Twelve states have already formally requested a Constitutional Amendment to overturn “Citizens United”

We need 22 more to make it happen.

May 10th is the date of the action, and we need volunteers now to help in planning and preparation, and to help in executing it on the 10th IN LARGE ENOUGH NUMBERS THAT THE MEDIA CANNOT IGNORE IT.

COME TO OUR MEETING at 7:00 PM WED MAY 2ND AT THE UNITARIAN CHURCH ON 22ND BETWEEN SWAN AND CRAYCROFT, TO HELP US IN OUR PLAN TO GET THE WORD OUT TO ALL AMERICANS ON MAY 10TH !

The plan is to have a very large group of real “persons” holding a 45-foot long banner on the walkway over the freeway at the Miracle Mile freeway entrance from 7:00 AM until 9:00 AM facing incoming rush hour traffic, and from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM facing outgoing rush hour traffic on Fri. May 10th.

www.MoveToAmend.org

Cooking the Books: The True Climate Impact of Keystone XL


Click to view/download a pdf of the full report

Cooking the Books: The True Climate Impact of Keystone XL

April 16, 2013

A new report out today from environmental groups shows that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would, if approved, be responsible for at least 181 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) each year, comparable to the tailpipe emissions from more than 37.7 million cars or 51 coal-fired power plants.

In documenting the emissions associated with the controversial pipeline project, the report makes real the scale of climate impact and the further hurdles the project would create for the battle against climate change, putting the State Department’s “business as usual” scenarios into doubt.

The major findings of “Cooking the Books: How The State Department Analysis Ignores the True Climate Impact of the Keystone XL Pipeline” are:

– The 181 million metric tons of (CO2e) from Keystone XL is equivalent to the tailpipe emissions from more than 37.7 million cars. This is more cars than are currently registered on the entire West Coast (California, Washington, and Oregon), plus Florida, Michigan, and New York – combined.

– Between 2015 and 2050, the pipeline alone would result in emissions of 6.34 billion metric tons of CO2e. This amount is greater than the 2011 total annual carbon dioxide emissions of the United States.

– The International Energy Agency has said that two-thirds of known fossil fuel reserves must remain undeveloped if we are to avoid a 2 degree C temperature rise. Constructing the Keystone XL pipeline and developing the tar sands make that goal far more difficult, if not impossible, to reach.

“When evaluating this project, the State Department should apply a simple test: Does its completion bring the U.S. closer to meeting its climate goals? The answer is clearly no, and therefore the project must be denied,” said Steve Kretzmann, Executive Director of Oil Change International.

In its 2012 World Energy Outlook, the IEA is very clear about the impact of climate policy on U.S. oil demand. If meaningful climate policy is pursued, U.S. oil demand would necessarily be cut 50 percent by 2035 and 70 percent by 2050 based on a 2012 baseline.

“Alberta’s premier was just in Washington, DC noting how essential the pipeline is to meeting increased production of the dirtiest oil on the planet. The numbers in this report make it clear that we can’t afford to help Big Oil meet that goal,” said Elizabeth Shope of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

U.S. demand for oil has declined since 2005 by 2.25 million barrels per day – or the equivalent of almost three Keystone XL pipelines.

“Any objective analysis of the impact of building Keystone shows that it would be a climate catastrophe,” said Ross Hammond, senior campaigner for Friends of the Earth. “Instead, the State Department seems ready to buy into the pipeline propaganda of an army of lobbyists who are trading on their ties to Secretary Kerry and President Obama to taint the decision. The president must act in the national interest, not the interests of Big Oil, and reject the Keystone XL pipeline.”

“Today’s report clearly demonstrates that we can’t protect future generations from the worst impacts of global warming while allowing ourselves to become hooked on even dirtier sources of fuel,” said Daniel Gatti, Get Off Oil Program Director for Environment America. “We need President Obama and Secretary Kerry to say no to tar sands, and no to the Keystone XL pipeline.”

“If he’s to keep his promise to confront climate change to protect America’s wildlife and communities, President Obama should say no to the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline,” said Jim Murphy, senior counsel at the National Wildlife Federation. “Our leaders can’t have it both ways – if they’re truly committed to protecting America’s wildlife and communities from climate change, they need to say no to Keystone XL and massive amounts of climate-disrupting carbon pollution it would deliver.”

The report was researched and written by Oil Change International with input and review by the Natural Resources Defense Council, 350.org, Environment America, National Wildlife Federation, Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace.

Original article by David Turnbull – http://priceofoil.org/2013/04/16/cooking-the-books-the-true-climate-impact-of-keystone-xl/

Submit a comment to the State Department regarding the Keystone XL pipeline here.

Arctic Methane: Why The Sea Ice Matters

Arctic Methane: Why The Sea Ice Matters:

An interview with four top climate scientists: Peter Wadhams, Director, Polar Ocean Physics Group, Cambridge University: Natalia Shakhova, International Arctic Research Centre; David Wasdell, Director, Apollo-Gaia; James Hansen, NASA, Goddard Institute.

By Nick Breeze, Envisionation, Communicating Climate Change

If there is one short video you need to share with others unconvinced that the challenge of climate change is the number one urgent challenge that humanity faces — this is surely near the very top of the list.

 

Click here to watch the 20-minute video.

 

 

The End of Growth: David Suzuki & Jeff Rubin

The End of Growth: Rubin & Suzuki

From Ideas with Paul Kennedy

Economist Jeff Rubin and biologist David Suzuki might seem an unlikely pairing. But they’ve been touring Canada together, talking about the natural limits to growth from their very different perspectives. We listen in as they try to convince a Calgary audience that we’ve already exceeded the capacity of the planet.

Click here to listen to Jeff Rubin and David Suzuki.

 

Originally published by CBC Radio on 2013-03-15; article: http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/episodes/2013/03/13/the-end-of-growth/ by Jeff Rubin , David Suzuki

Re-published on Resilience (http://www.resilience.org)

 

 

Michael Shuman – Keynote Address on Local Investment

Bob Russell, Co-Director of the Neahtawanta Research and Education Center (nrec.org) organized a special economic development workshop with co-sponsorship of the Chamber of Commerce on local business investment. Champion and leading innovator of re-localization, Michael Shuman, gave the keynote presentation in Traverse City Michigan, October 2, 2012 at the Hagery Center, Northwestern Michigan College.

Click here to watch the video.      (1 hour, 15 minutes)

Phoenix in the Climate Crosshairs

Phoenix in the Climate Crosshairs

by William deBuys

 

If cities were stocks, you’d want to short Phoenix.

Of course, it’s an easy city to pick on. The nation’s 13th largest metropolitan area (nudging out Detroit) crams 4.3 million people into a low bowl in a hot desert, where horrific heat waves and windstorms visit it regularly. It snuggles next to the nation’s largest nuclear plant and, having exhausted local sources, it depends on an improbable infrastructure to suck water from the distant (and dwindling) Colorado River.

In Phoenix, you don’t ask: What could go wrong? You ask: What couldn’t?

And that’s the point, really. Phoenix’s multiple vulnerabilities, which are plenty daunting taken one by one, have the capacity to magnify one another, like compounding illnesses. In this regard, it’s a quintessentially modern city, a pyramid of complexities requiring large energy inputs to keep the whole apparatus humming. The urban disasters of our time — New Orleans hit by Katrina, New York City swamped by Sandy — may arise from single storms, but the damage they do is the result of a chain reaction of failures — grids going down, levees failing, back-up systems not backing up. As you might expect, academics have come up with a name for such breakdowns: infrastructure failure interdependencies. You wouldn’t want to use it in a poem, but it does catch an emerging theme of our time.

Phoenix’s pyramid of complexities looks shakier than most because it stands squarely in the crosshairs of climate change. The area, like much of the rest of the American Southwest, is already hot and dry; it’s getting ever hotter and drier, and is increasingly battered by powerful storms. Sandy and Katrina previewed how coastal cities can expect to fare as seas rise and storms strengthen. Phoenix pulls back the curtain on the future of inland empires. If you want a taste of the brutal new climate to come, the place to look is where that climate is already harsh, and growing more so — the aptly named Valley of the Sun.

In Phoenix, it’s the convergence of heat, drought, and violent winds, interacting and amplifying each other that you worry about. Generally speaking, in contemporary society, nothing that matters happens for just one reason, and in Phoenix there are all too many “reasons” primed to collaborate and produce big problems, with climate change foremost among them, juicing up the heat, the drought, and the wind to ever greater extremes, like so many sluggers on steroids. Notably, each of these nemeses, in its own way, has the potential to undermine the sine qua non of modern urban life, the electrical grid, which in Phoenix merits special attention.

If, in summer, the grid there fails on a large scale and for a significant period of time, the fallout will make the consequences of Superstorm Sandy look mild. Sure, people will hunt madly for power outlets to charge their cellphones and struggle to keep their milk fresh, but communications and food refrigeration will not top their list of priorities. Phoenix is an air-conditioned city. If the power goes out, people fry.

In the summer of 2003, a heat wave swept Europe and killed 70,000 people. The temperature in London touched 100 degrees Fahrenheit for the first time since records had been kept, and in portions of France the mercury climbed as high as 104°F. Those temperatures, however, are child’s play in Phoenix, where readings commonly exceed 100°F for more than 100 days a year. In 2011, the city set a new record for days over 110°F: there were 33 of them, more than a month of spectacularly superheated days ushering in a new era.

In Flight From the Sun

It goes without saying that Phoenix’s desert setting is hot by nature, but we’ve made it hotter. The city is a masonry world, with asphalt and concrete everywhere. The hard, heavy materials of its buildings and roads absorb heat efficiently and give it back more slowly than the naked land. In a sense, the whole city is really a thermal battery, soaking up energy by day and releasing it at night. The result is an “urban heat island,” which, in turn, prevents the cool of the desert night from providing much relief.

Sixty years ago, when Phoenix was just embarking on its career of manic growth, nighttime lows never crept above 90°F. Today such temperatures are a commonplace, and the vigil has begun for the first night that doesn’t dip below 100°F. Studies indicate that Phoenix’s urban-heat-island effect may boost nighttime temperatures by as much as 10°F. It’s as though the city has doubled down on climate change, finding a way to magnify its most unwanted effects even before it hits the rest of us full blast.

Predictably, the poor suffer most from the heat.  They live in the hottest neighborhoods with the least greenery to mitigate the heat-island effect, and they possess the least resources for combatting high temperatures.  For most Phoenicians, however, none of this is more than an inconvenience as long as the AC keeps humming and the utility bill gets paid. When the heat intensifies, they learn to scurry from building to car and into the next building, essentially holding their breaths. In those cars, the second thing they touch after the ignition is the fan control for the AC. The steering wheel comes later.

In the blazing brilliance of July and August, you venture out undefended to walk or run only in the half-light of dawn or dusk. The idea for residents of the Valley of the Sun is to learn to dodge the heat, not challenge it.

Heat, however, is a tricky adversary. It stresses everything, including electrical equipment. Transformers, when they get too hot, can fail. Likewise, thermoelectric generating stations, whether fired by coal, gas, or neutrons, become less efficient as the mercury soars.  And the great hydroelectric dams of the Colorado River, including Glen Canyon, which serves greater Phoenix, won’t be able to supply the “peaking power” they do now if the reservoirs behind them are fatally shrunken by drought, as multiple studies forecast they will be. Much of this can be mitigated with upgraded equipment, smart grid technologies, and redundant systems.  But then along comes the haboob.

A haboob is a dust/sand/windstorm, usually caused by the collapse of a thunderstorm cell. The plunging air hits the ground and roils outward, picking up debris across the open desert. As the Arabic name suggests, such storms are native to arid regions, but — although Phoenix is no stranger to storm-driven dust — the term haboob has only lately entered the local lexicon. It seems to have been imported to describe a new class of storms, spectacular in their vehemence, which bring visibility to zero and life to a standstill. They sandblast cars, close the airport, and occasionally cause the lights — and AC — to go out. Not to worry, say the two major utilities serving the Phoenix metroplex, Arizona Public Service and the Salt River Project. And the outages have indeed been brief.  So far.

Before Katrina hit, the Army Corps of Engineers was similarly reassuring to the people of New Orleans. And until Superstorm Sandy landed, almost no one worried about storm surges filling the subway tunnels of New York.

Every system, like every city, has its vulnerabilities. Climate change, in almost every instance, will worsen them. The beefed-up, juiced-up, greenhouse-gassed, overheated weather of the future will give us haboobs of a sort we can’t yet imagine, packed with ever greater amounts of energy. In all likelihood, the emergence of such storms as a feature of Phoenix life results from an overheating environment, abetted by the loose sand and dust of abandoned farmland (which dried up when water was diverted to the city’s growing subdivisions).

Water, Water, Everywhere (But Not for Long)

In dystopic portraits of Phoenix’s unsustainable future, water — or rather the lack of it — is usually painted as the agent of collapse. Indeed, the metropolitan area, a jumble of jurisdictions that includes Scottsdale, Glendale, Tempe, Mesa, Sun City, Chandler, and 15 other municipalities, long ago made full use of such local rivers as the Salt, Verde, and Gila. Next, people sank wells and mined enough groundwater to lower the water table by 400 feet.

Sometimes the land sank, too.  Near some wells it subsided by 10 feet or more. All along, everyone knew that the furious extraction of groundwater couldn’t last, so they fixed their hopes on a new bonanza called the Central Arizona Project (CAP), a river-sized, open-air canal supported by an elaborate array of pumps, siphons, and tunnels that would bring Colorado River water across the breadth of Arizona to Phoenix and Tucson.

The CAP came on line in the early 1990s and today is the engine of Arizona’s growth. Unfortunately, in order to win authorization and funding to build it, state officials had to make a bargain with the devil, which in this case turned out to be California. Arizona’s delegation in the House of Representatives was tiny, California’s was huge, and its representatives jealously protected their longstanding stranglehold on the Colorado River. The concession California forced on Arizona was simple: it had to agree that its CAP water rights would take second place to California’s claims.

This means one thing: once the inevitable day comes when there isn’t enough water to go around, the CAP will absorb the shortage down to the last drop before California even begins to turn off its faucets.

A raw deal for Arizona? You bet, but not exactly the end of the line. Arizona has other “more senior” rights to the Colorado, and when the CAP begins to run dry, you may be sure that the masters of the CAP will pay whatever is necessary to lease those older rights and keep the 330-mile canal flowing. Among their targets will be water rights belonging to Indian tribes at the western edge of the state along the lower reaches of the river. The cost of buying tribal water will drive the rates consumers pay for water in Phoenix sky-high, but they’ll pay it because they’ll have to.

Longer term, the Colorado River poses issues that no amount of tribal water can resolve. Beset by climate change, overuse, and drought, the river and its reservoirs, according to various researchers, may decline to the point that water fails to pass Hoover Dam. In that case, the CAP would dry up, but so would the Colorado Aqueduct which serves greater Los Angeles and San Diego, as well as the All-American Canal, on which the factory farms of California’s Imperial and Coachella valleys depend. Irrigators and municipalities downstream in Mexico would also go dry. If nothing changes in the current order of things, it is expected that the possibility of such a debacle could loom in little more than a decade.

The preferred solution to this crisis among the water mavens of the lower Colorado is augmentation, which means importing more water into the Colorado system to boost native supplies. A recently discussed grandiose scheme to bail out the Colorado’s users with a pipeline from the Mississippi River failed to pass the straight-face test and was shot down by then-Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

Meanwhile, the obvious expedient of cutting back on water consumption finds little support in thirsty California, which will watch the CAP go dry before it gets serious about meaningful system-wide conservation.

Burning Uplands

Phoenicians who want to escape water worries, heat waves, and haboobs have traditionally sought refuge in the cool green forests of Arizona’s uplands, or at least they did until recently. In 2002, the Rodeo-Chediski fire consumed 469,000 acres of pine and mixed conifer on the Mogollon Rim, not far from Phoenix. It was an ecological holocaust that no one expected to see surpassed. Only nine years later, in 2011, the Wallow fire picked up the torch, so to speak, and burned across the Rim all the way to the New Mexico border and beyond, topping out at 538,000 charred acres.

Now, nobody thinks such fires are one-off flukes. Diligent modeling of forest response to rising temperatures and increased moisture stress suggests, in fact, that these two fires were harbingers of worse to come. By mid-century, according to a paper by an A-team of Southwestern forest ecologists, the “normal” stress on trees will equal that of the worst megadroughts in the region’s distant paleo-history, when most of the trees in the area simply died.

Compared to Phoenix’s other heat and water woes, the demise of Arizona’s forests may seem like a side issue, whose effects would be noticeable mainly in the siltation of reservoirs and the destabilization of the watersheds on which the city depends. But it could well prove a regional disaster.  Consider, then, heat, drought, windstorms, and fire as the four horsemen of Phoenix’s Apocalypse. As it happens, though, this potential apocalypse has a fifth horseman as well.

Rebecca Solnit has written eloquently of the way a sudden catastrophe — an earthquake, hurricane, or tornado — can dissolve social divisions and cause a community to cohere, bringing out the best in its citizenry. Drought and heat waves are different. You don’t know that they have taken hold until you are already in them, and you never know when they will end. The unpleasantness eats away at you.  It corrodes your state of mind. You have lots of time to meditate on the deficiencies of your neighbors, which loom larger the longer the crisis goes on.

Drought divides people, and Phoenix is already a divided place — notoriously so, thanks to the brutal antics of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. In Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City, Andrew Ross offers a dismal portrait of contemporary Phoenix — of a city threatened by its particular brand of local politics and economic domination, shaped by more than the usual quotient of prejudice, greed, class insularity, and devotion to raw power.

It is a truism that communities that do not pull together fail to surmount their challenges. Phoenix’s are as daunting as any faced by an American city in the new age of climate change, but its winner-take-all politics (out of which has come Arizona’s flagrantly repressive anti-immigration law), combined with the fragmentation of the metro-area into nearly two dozen competing jurisdictions, essentially guarantee that, when the worst of times hit, common action and shared sacrifice will remain as insubstantial as a desert mirage. When one day the U-Haul vans all point away from town and the people of the Valley of the Sun clog the interstates heading for greener, wetter pastures, more than the brutal heat of a new climate paradigm will be driving them away. The breakdown of cooperation and connectedness will spur them along, too.

One day, some of them may look back and think of the real estate crash of 2007-2008 and the recession that followed with fond nostalgia. The city’s economy was in the tank, growth had stalled, and for a while business-as-usual had nothing usual about it. But there was a rare kind of potential. That recession might have been the last best chance for Phoenix and other go-go Sunbelt cities to reassess their lamentably unsustainable habits and re-organize themselves, politically and economically, to get ready for life on the front burner of climate change. Land use, transportation, water policies, building codes, growth management — you name it — might all have experienced a healthy overhaul. It was a chance no one took. Instead, one or several decades from now, people will bet on a surer thing: they’ll take the road out of town.

 

William deBuys, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of seven books, most recently A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest. He has long been involved in environmental affairs in the Southwest, including service as founding chairman of the Valles Caldera Trust, which administers the 87,000-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.

Copyright 2013 William deBuys

Original article published by TomDispatch on 2013-03-15
http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175661/tomgram%3A_william_debuys%2C_exodus_from_phoenix/


Republished on Resilience.org 3/17/2013

Content on this site is subject to our fair use notice.

Resilience is a program of Post Carbon Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the world transition away from fossil fuels and build sustainable, resilient communities.


Source URL: http://www.resilience.org/stories/2013-03-15/phoenix-in-the-climate-crosshairs

The surprising conclusion to an important new book

The surprising conclusion to an important new book

by Herman Daly

Book Review: The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and the Economic Dissolution of the West (Towards a New Economics for a Full World), by Paul Craig Roberts

About the author: Dr. Roberts was educated at Georgia Tech, University of Virginia, UC Berkeley, and Oxford University. He was Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury in the Reagan Administration, associate editor and columnist for the Wall Street Journal, Senior Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and holder of the William E. Simon Chair in Political Economy at Georgetown University. His honors include the US Treasury’s Meritorious Service Award, and France’s Legion of Honor.

As evident from this description, Paul Craig Roberts writes from a very solid establishment background in academic political economy, financial journalism, and high public office. His radical critique of today’s economics and public policy will no doubt be surprising to some, but it is based on impressive knowledge and experience, as well as irresistibly convincing honesty. He did not inherit his present understanding of political economy, but developed it through study and experience, with openness to the persuasive power of facts, and willingness to question economic dogmas of both the right and the left.

The book is of special interest to ecological economists, not only for the explicit and insightful support his reasoning gives us, but also for the larger financial and political context in which he places steady-state economics. Although written mainly from a US perspective, the book includes a very clear and informative explanation of the European crisis.

Perhaps the best way to whet the prospective reader’s appetite is to reproduce the brief conclusions with which the book ends, and to testify that the rest of the book solidly supports these conclusions by clear reasoning from relevant facts.

“This book demonstrates that empty-world economic theory has failed on its own terms and that its application by policymakers has resulted in the failure of capitalism itself. Pursuing absolute advantage in cheap labor abroad, First World corporations have wrecked the prospects for First World labor, especially in the US, while concentrating income and wealth in a few hands. Financial deregulation has resulted in lost private pensions and homelessness. The cost to the US Treasury of gratuitous wars and bank bailouts threatens the social safety net, Social Security and Medicare. Western democracy and civil liberties are endangered by authoritarian responses to protests against the austerity that is being imposed on citizens in order to fund the wars and financial bailouts. Third World countries have had their economic development blocked by Western economic theories that do not reflect reality.

All of this is bad enough. But when we leave the empty-world economics and enter the economics of a full world, where nature’s capital (natural resources) and ability to absorb wastes are being exhausted, we find ourselves in a worse situation. Even if countries are able to produce empty-world economic growth, economists cannot tell if the value of the increase in GDP is greater than its cost, because the cost of nature’s capital is not included in the computation. What does it mean to say that the world GDP has increased four percent when the cost of nature’s resources are not in the calculation?

Economist Herman Daly put it well when he wrote that the elites who make the decisions “have figured out how to keep the benefits for themselves while ‘sharing’ the cost with the poor, the future, and other species (Ecological Economics, vol. 72, p. 8).

Empty-world economics with its emphasis on spurring economic growth by the accumulation of man-made capital has run its course. Full-world economics is steady-state economics, and it is past time for economists to get to work on a new economics for a full world.”
Original article: http://steadystate.org/surprising-conclusion-to-important-new-book/ by Herman Daly  published by CASSE on 2013-03-12. Re-published on Resilience (http://www.resilience.org)

The World According To The Automatic Earth: A 2013 Primer Guide

For the past five years, Nicole (Stoneleigh) Foss and Raul Ilargi Meijer have been providing the world with keen analyses of critical sustainability subjects: finance and economics;  energy; scale, society, and trust; and preparation. The Automatic Earth’s 2013 Primer is an excellent summary of their work including dozens of links to cutting-edge articles and clear writing.

Click here for article.

 

The “Stay Informed” section of Sustainable Tucson’s homepage recommends that periodic visits to our two favorite News and Views websites: Resilience.org and AutomaticEarth.com, provide the best “two-stop” coverage of sustainability subjects on the Internet.

 

Edgar Cahn, TimeBanks USA – How President Obama Can Beat The Odds And Make Good On His Commitments

How President Obama Can Beat The Odds And Make Good On His Commitments

from Edgar S. Cahn, CEO TimeBanks USA,
Distinguished Professor of Law, UDC David A. Clarke School of Law

In his Inaugural Address, President Obama made some commitments that seem to defy fiscal reality:

  “A little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anyone else.”

  “We reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.”

  “We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit.”

The problem: there are not enough funds, public, private, philanthropic to pay the cost, at market prices, for all the educational services and all the health care services needed to make good on those promises.

For a quarter century, the TimeBanking community has been demonstrating how to make the impossible possible.  There is vast untapped capacity in community.  We have proven that:

  • Healthy seniors and their families can provide reliable, informal care that reduces medical costs.

  • Fifth graders can tutor third graders who otherwise fail to attain essential reading levels.

  • Teenagers can tutor elementary school children using evidence-based cross-age peer tutoring.

How could this get paid for?  How can we record, recognize and reward labor from a work force that is not recognized or valued by the GDP?  For decades, the TimeBank community in the United States and thirty four other countries has been learning how to do it, teaching us all that every one of us has something special to give.

The function of a medium of exchange is to put supply and demand, capacity and need together.  What money does not value, TimeBanking does.  TimeBanking provides a tax-exempt, local medium of exchange that uses Time as a currency.  One hour helping another (regardless of mainstream market value) equal one Time Credit.  TimeBanking has proven capable of harnessing vast untapped capacity that the market does not value to address vast unmet needs.

Ask the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation which just made a major award to Neighborhood Health Centers of Lehigh Valley to utilize its TimeBank program as a resource to help build a super utilizer intervention program to reduce health care costs.  For ten years, home visits by Lehigh Valley TimeBank members functioning as health coaches and providing informal support have helped folks with chronic problems stay healthy and at home.

Ask Mayor Bloomberg’s Department for the Aging which has established TimeBank programs for seniors in all five boroughs to provide the kind of informal support needed to promote health and prevent unnecessary utilization of the emergency room care by elders.

Ask the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (with a 3,000 member TimeBank) that reports that 79% of TimeBank members felt that their membership gives them support they need to be able to stay in their homes and community as they get older and 100% reported they have benefited from becoming a TimeBank member.

Ask the National Education Association or do a Google search to see if Cross-Age Peer Tutoring rates the status of an evidence-based instructional and remedial strategy.

Ask the Washington State Office of Public Instruction for its authoritative manual on Cross-Age Peer Tutoring.

Ask the National Science Foundation why it granted nearly $1million dollars to Pennsylvania State University Center for Human-Computer Interaction to develop mobile apps for TimeBanking so every Smartphone user can be a time banker.

It’s time America discovered its vast hidden wealth: people not in the work force – seniors, teenagers, children, the disabled – whose energy and capacity has been tapped by TimeBanking for over a quarter century to strengthen fragile families, rebuild community, enhance health, promote trust, restore hope.

President Obama, if you want to do the impossible, it’s time to bet on each other and on our collective capacity.  TimeBanking supplies a medium of exchange that translates “Created Equal” into a currency that embodies that equality.  If we take it to scale, we can make good on delivering those “inalienable rights” to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness promised to every one of us by the Founding Fathers.

Also see TimeBanks USA and Tucson Time Traders

Worldwide GLOBE at Night 2013 Campaign

Worldwide GLOBE at Night 2013 Campaign

What would it be like without stars at night? What is it we lose? Starry night skies have given us poetry, art, music and the wonder to explore. A bright night sky (aka light pollution) affects energy consumption, health and wildlife too. Spend a few minutes to help scientists by measuring the brightness of your night sky. Join the GLOBE at Night citizen-science campaign. The first campaign starts January 3 and runs through January 12.

GLOBE at Night is a worldwide, hands-on science and education program to encourage citizen-scientists worldwide to record the brightness of their night sky. During five select sets of dates in 2013, children and adults match the appearance of a constellation (Orion or Leo in the northern hemisphere, and Orion and Crux in the southern hemisphere) with seven star charts of progressively fainter stars. Participants then submit their choice of star chart at www.globeatnight.org/webapp with their date, time and location. This can be done by computer (after the measurement) or by smart phone or pad (during the measurement). From these data an interactive map of all worldwide observations is created.

There are 5 GLOBE at Night campaigns in 2013: January 3 – 12, January 31 – February 9, March 3 – 12, March 31 – April 9, and April 29 – May 8.

Over the past 7 years of 10-day campaigns, people in 115 countries have contributed over 83,000 measurements, making GLOBE at Night the most successful, light pollution citizen-science campaign to date. The GLOBE at Night website is easy to use, comprehensive, and holds an abundance of background information. Guides, activities, one-page flyers and postcards advertising the campaign are available at www.globeatnight.org/pdf. Through GLOBE at Night, students, teachers, parents and community members are amassing a data set from which they can explore the nature of light pollution locally and across the globe.

Listen to a fun skit on GLOBE at Night in a 7-minute audio podcast at http://365daysofastronomy.org/2012/12/17/december-17th-the-dark-skies-crusader-retires-globe-at-night-returns/

Visit us on the Web: www.globeatnight.org
Find us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/GLOBEatNight
Follow us on Twitter: twitter.com/GLOBEatNight
Subscribe to our mailing list for updates: globeatnight-list-on(at)noao.edu
Contact us: globeatnight(at)noao.edu

The Beginning of the World

The Beginning of the World

By  John Michael Greer,

The Archdruid Report ,

December 27, 2012

 

Last Friday was, as I’m sure most of my readers noticed, an ordinary day. Here in the north central Appalachians, it was chilly but not unseasonably so, with high gray clouds overhead and a lively wind setting the dead leaves aswirl; wrens and sparrows hopped here and there in my garden, poking among the recently turned soil of the beds. No cataclysmic earth changes, alien landings, returning messiahs, or vast leaps of consciousness disturbed their foraging. They neither knew nor cared that one of the great apocalyptic delusions of modern times was reaching its inevitable end around them.

 

The inimitable Dr. Rita Louise, on whose radio talk show I spent a couple of hours on Friday, may have summed it up best when she wished her listeners a happy Mayan Fools Day.  Not that the ancient Mayans themselves were fools, far from it, but then they had precisely nothing to do with the competing fantasies of doom and universal enlightenment that spent the last decade and more buzzing like flies around last Friday’s date.

 

It’s worth taking a look back over the genesis of the 2012 hysteria, if only because we’re certain to see plenty of reruns in the years ahead. In the first half of the 20th century, as archeologists learned to read dates in the Mayan Long Count calendar, it became clear that one of the major cycles of the old Mayan timekeeping system would roll over on that day.  By the 1970s, that detail found its way into alternative culture in the United States, setting off the first tentative speculations about a 2012 apocalypse, notably drug guru Terence McKenna’s quirky “Timewave Zero” theory.

 

It was the late New Age promoter Jose Arguelles, though, who launched the 2012 fad on its way with his 1984 book The Mayan Factor and a series of sequels, proclaiming that the rollover of the Mayan calendar in 2012 marked the imminent transformation of human consciousness that the New Age movement was predicting so enthusiastically back then.  The exactness of the date made an intriguing contrast with the vagueness of Arguelles’ predictions about it, and this contrast left ample room for other authors in the same field to jump on the bandwagon and redefine the prophecy to fit whatever their own eschatological preferences happened to be.  This they promptly did.

 

Early on, 2012 faced plenty of competition from alternative dates for the great transformation.  The year 2000 had been a great favorite for a century, and became 2012’s most important rival, but it came and went without bringing anything more interesting than another round of sordid business as usual.  Thereafter, 2012 reigned supreme, and became the center of a frenzy of anticipation that was at least as much about marketing as anything else.  I can testify from my own experience that for a while there, late in the last decade, if you wanted to write a book about anything even vaguely tangential to New Age subjects and couldn’t give it a 2012 spin, many publishers simply weren’t interested.

 

So the predictions piled up.  The fact that no two of them predicted the same thing did nothing to weaken the mass appeal of the date.  Neither did the fact, which became increasingly clear as the last months of 2012 approached, that a great many people who talked endlessly about the wonderful or terrible things that were about to happen weren’t acting as though they believed a word of it.  That was by and large as true of the New Age writers and pundits who fed the hysteria as it was of their readers and audiences; I long ago lost track of the number of 2012 prophets who, aside from scheduling a holiday trip to the Yucatan or some other fashionable spot for the big day, acted in all respects as though they expected the world to keep going in its current manner straight into 2013 and beyond.

 

That came as a surprise to me.  Regular readers may recall my earlier speculation that 2012 would see scenes reminiscent of the “Great Disappointment” of 1844, with crowds of true believers standing on hilltops waiting for their first glimpse of alien spacecraft descending from heaven or what have you. Instead, in the last months of this year, some of the writers and pundits most deeply involved in the 2012 hysteria started claiming that, well, actually, December 21st wasn’t going to be the day everything changed; it would, ahem, usher in a period of transition of undefined length during which everything would sooner or later get around to changing.  The closer last Friday came, the more evasive the predictions became, and Mayan Fools Day and its aftermath were notable for the near-total silence that spread across the apocalyptic end of the blogosphere. Say what you will about Harold Camping, at least he had the courage to go on the air after his May prophecy flopped and admit that he must have gotten his math wrong somewhere.

 

Now of course Camping went on at once to propose a new date for the Rapture, which flopped with equal inevitability a few months later.  It’s a foregone conclusion that some of the 2012 prophets will do the same thing shortly, if only to kick the apocalypse marketing machine back into gear.  It’s entirely possible that they’ll succeed in setting off a new frenzy for some other date, because the social forces that make apocalyptic fantasies so tempting to believe just now have not lost any of their potency.

 

The most important of those forces, as I’ve argued in previous posts, is the widening mismatch between the fantasy of entitlement that has metastasized through contemporary American society, on the one hand, and the ending of an age of fossil-fueled imperial extravagance on the other. As the United States goes bankrupt trying to maintain its global empire, and industrial civilization as a whole slides down the far side of a dizzying range of depletion curves, it’s becoming harder by the day for Americans to make believe that the old saws of upward mobility and an ever brighter future have any relevance to their own lives—and yet those beliefs are central to the psychology, the self-image, and the worldview of most Americans.  The resulting cognitive dissonance is hard to bear, and apocalyptic fantasies offer a convenient way out.  They promise that the world will change, so that the believers don’t have to.

 

That same frantic desire to ignore the arrival of inescapable change pervades today’s cultural scene, even in those subcultures that insist most loudly that change is what they want.  In recent months, to cite only one example, nearly every person who’s mentioned to me the claim that climate change could make the Earth uninhabitable has gone on to ask, often in so many words, “So why should I consume less now?”  The overt logic here is usually that individual action can’t possibly be enough.  Whether or not that’s true is anyone’s guess, but cutting your own carbon footprint actually does something, which is more than can be said for sitting around enjoying a standard industrial world lifestyle while waiting for that imaginary Kum Ba Ya moment when everyone else in the world will embrace limits not even the most ardent climate change activists are willing to accept themselves.

 

Another example? Consider the rhetoric of elite privilege that clusters around the otherwise inoffensive label “1%.”  That rhetoric plays plenty of roles in today’s society, but one of them pops up reliably any time I talk about using less.  Why, people ask me in angry tones, should they give up their cars when the absurdly rich are enjoying gigantic luxury yachts?  Now of course we could have a conversation about the total contribution to global warming of cars owned by people who aren’t rich, compared to that of the fairly small number of top-end luxury yachts that usually figure in such arguments, but there’s another point that needs to be raised. None of the people who make this argument to me have any control over whether rich people have luxury yachts. All of them have a great deal of control over whether and how often they themselves use cars. Blaming the global ecological crisis on the very rich thus functions, in practice, as one more way to evade the necessity of unwelcome change.

 

Along these same lines, dear reader, as you surf the peak oil and climate change blogosphere and read the various opinions on display there, I’d encourage you to ask yourself what those opinions amount to in actual practice.  A remarkably large fraction of them, straight across the political landscape from furthest left to furthest right and including all stops in between, add up to demands that somebody else, somewhere else, do something. Since the people making such demands rarely do anything to pressure, or even to encourage, those other people elsewhere to do whatever it is they’re supposed to do, it’s not exactly hard to do the math and recognize that here again, these opinions amount to so many ways of insisting that the people holding them don’t have to give up the extravagant and unsustainable lifestyles most people in the industrial world think of as normal and justifiable.

 

There’s another way to make the same point, which is that most of what you’ll see being proposed in the peak oil and climate change blogosphere has been proposed over and over and over again already, without the least impact on our predicament. From the protest marches and the petitions, through the latest round of grand plans for energy futures destined to sit on the shelves cheek by jowl with the last round, right up to this week’s flurry of buoyantly optimistic blog posts lauding any technofix you care to name from cold fusion and algal biodiesel to shale gas and drill-baby-drill:  been there, done that, used the T-shirt to wipe another dozen endangered species off the face of the planet, and we’re still stuck in the same place.  The one thing next to nobody wants to talk about is the one thing that distinguished the largely successful environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s from the largely futile environmental movement since that time, which is that activists in the earlier movement were willing to start the ball rolling by making the necessary changes in their own lives first.

 

The difficulty, of course, is that making these changes is precisely what many of today’s green activists are desperately trying to avoid. That’s understandable, since transitioning to a lifestyle that’s actually sustainable involves giving up many of the comforts, perks, and privileges central to the psychology and identity of people in modern industrial societies.  In today’s world of accelerating downward mobility, especially, the thought of taking any action that might result in being mistaken for the poor is something most Americans in particular can’t bear to contemplate—even when those same Americans recognize on some level that sooner or later, like it or not, they’re going to end up poor anyway.

 

Those of my readers who would like to see this last bit of irony focused to incandescence need only get some comfortably middle class eco-liberal to start waxing lyrical about life in the sustainable world of the future, when we’ll all have to get by on a small fraction of our current resource base.  This is rarely difficult; I field such comments quite often, sketching out a rose-colored contrast between today’s comfortable but unsatisfying lifestyles and the more meaningful and fulfilling existence that will be ours in a future of honest hard work in harmony with nature.  Wait until your target is in full spate, and then point out that he could embrace that more meaningful and fulfilling lifestyle right now by the simple expedient of discarding the comforts and privileges that stand in the way.  You’ll get to watch backpedaling on a heroic scale, accompanied by a flurry of excuses meant to justify your target’s continued dependence on the very comforts and privileges he was belittling a few moments before.

 

What makes the irony perfect is that, by and large, the people whom you’ll hear criticizing the modern lifestyles they themselves aren’t willing to renounce aren’t just mouthing verbal noises. They realize, many of them, that the lifestyles that industrial societies provide even to their more privileged inmates are barren of meaning and value, that the pursuit and consumption of an endless series of increasingly shoddy manufactured products is a very poor substitute for a life well lived, and that stepping outside the narrowing walls of a world defined by the perks of the consumer economy is the first step toward a more meaningful existence.  They know this; what they lack, by and large, is the courage to act on that knowledge, and so they wander the beach like J. Alfred Prufrock in Eliot’s poem, letting the very last inch or so of the waves splash over their feet—the bottoms of their trousers rolled up carefully, to be sure, to keep them from getting wet—when they know that a running leap into the green and foaming water is the one thing that can save them. Thus it’s not surprising that their daydreams cluster around imaginary tidal waves that will come rolling in from the deep ocean to sweep them away and make the whole question moot.

 

This is why it’s as certain as anything can be that within a year or so at most, a good many of the people who spent the last decade or so talking endlessly about last Friday will have some other date lined up for the end of the world, and will talk about it just as incessantly.  It’s that or face up to the fact that the only way to live up to the ideals they think they espouse is to walk straight toward the thing they most fear, which is the loss of the perks and privileges and comforts that define their identity—an identity many of them hate, but still can’t imagine doing without.

 

Meanwhile, of course, the economy, the infrastructure, and the resource flows that make those perks and privileges and comforts possible are coming apart around them.  There’s a great deal of wry amusement to be gained from watching one imaginary cataclysm after another seize the imagination of the peak oil scene or society as a whole, while the thing people think they’re talking about—the collapse of industrial civilization—has been unfolding all around them for several years now, in exactly the way that real collapses of real civilizations happen in the real world.

 

Look around you, dear reader, as the economy stumbles through another round of contraction papered over with increasingly desperate fiscal gimmicks, the political system of your country moves ever deeper into dysfunction, jobs and livelihoods go away forever, whatever social safety net you’re used to having comes apart, towns and neighborhoods devastated by natural disasters are abandoned rather than being rebuilt, and the basic services that once defined a modern society stop being available to a larger and larger fraction of the people of the industrial world.  This is what collapse looks like. This is what people in the crumbling Roman Empire and all those other extinct civilizations saw when they looked out the window.  To those in the middle of the process, as I’ve discussed in previous posts, it seems slow, but future generations with the benefit of hindsight will shake their heads in wonder at how fast industrial civilization went to pieces.

 

I commented in a post at the start of this year that the then-current round of fast-collapse predictions—the same predictions, mind you, that had been retailed at the start of the year before, the year before that, and so on—were not only wrong, as of course they turned out to be, but missed the collapse that was already under way. The same point holds good for the identical predictions that will no doubt be retailed over the next few weeks, insisting that this is the year when the stock market will plunge to zero, the dollar and/or the Euro will lose all their value, the economy will seize up completely and leave the grocery shelves bare, and so on endlessly; or, for that matter, that this is the year when cold fusion or algal biodiesel or some other vaporware technology will save us, or the climate change Kum Ba Ya moment I mentioned earlier will get around to happening, or what have you.

 

It’s as safe as a bet can be that none of these things will happen in 2013, either.  Here again, though, the prophecies in question are not so much wrong as irrelevant.  If you’re on a sinking ocean liner and the water’s rising fast belowdecks, it’s not exactly useful to get into heated debates with your fellow passengers about whether the ship is most likely to be vaporized by aliens or eaten by Godzilla.  In the same way, it’s a bit late to speculate about how industrial civilization will collapse, or how to prevent it from collapsing, when the collapse is already well under way.  What matters at that stage in the game is getting some sense of how the process will unfold, not in some abstract sense but in the uncomfortably specific sense of where you are, with what you have, in the days and weeks and months and years immediately ahead of you; that, and then deciding what you are going to do about it.

 

With that in mind, dear reader, I’d like to ask you to do something right now, before going on to the paragraph after this one.  If you’re in the temperate or subarctic regions of the northern hemisphere, and you’re someplace where you can adjust the temperature, get up and go turn the thermostat down three degrees; if that makes the place too chilly for your tastes, take another moment or two to put on a sweater.  If you’re in a different place or a different situation, do something else simple to decrease the amount of energy you’re using at this moment.  Go ahead, do it now; I’ll wait for you here.

 

Have you done it?  If so, you’ve just accomplished something that all the apocalyptic fantasies, internet debates, and protest marches of the last two decades haven’t:  you’ve decreased, by however little, the amount of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere. That sweater, or rather the act of putting it on instead of turning up the heat, has also made you just a little less dependent on fossil fuels. In both cases, to be sure, the change you’ve made is very small, but a small change is better than no change at all—and a small change that can be repeated, expanded, and turned into a stepping stone on the way to  bigger changes, is infinitely better than any amount of grand plans and words and handwaving that never quite manage to accomplish anything in the real world.

 

Turning down your thermostat, it’s been said repeatedly, isn’t going to save the world.  That’s quite true, though it’s equally true that the actions that have been pursued by climate change and peak oil activists to date don’t look particularly likely to save the world, either, and let’s not even talk about what wasn’t accomplished by all the wasted breath over last Friday’s nonevent.  That being the case, taking even the smallest practical steps in your own life and then proceeding from there will take you a good deal further than waiting for the mass movements that never happen, the new technologies that never pan out, or for that matter the next deus ex machina some canny marketer happens to pin onto another arbitrary date in the future, as a launching pad for the next round of apocalyptic hysteria.

 

Meanwhile, a world is ending.  The promoters of the 2012 industry got that right, though they missed just about everything else; the process has been under way for some years now, and it won’t reach its conclusion in our lifetimes, but what we may as well call the modern world is coming to an end around us.  The ancient Mayans knew, however, that the end of one world is always the beginning of another, and it’s an interesting detail of all the old Mesoamerican cosmological myths that the replacement for the old world doesn’t just pop into being.  Somebody has to take action to make the world begin.

 

It’s a valid point, and one that can be applied to our present situation, when so many people are sitting around waiting for the end and so few seem to be willing to kickstart the beginning in the only way that matters—that is, by making actual changes in their own lives.  The deindustrial world of the future is poised to begin, but someone has to begin it.  Shall we?

 

Original article: http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-beginning-of-world.html

Content on this site is subject to our fair use notice.

Energy Bulletin is a program of Post Carbon Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the world transition away from fossil fuels and build sustainable, resilient communities.

Source URL: http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2012-12-26/the-beginning-of-the-world

Links:

[1] http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-beginning-of-world.html

[2] http://irnfiles.com/audio/JustEnergyRadio_JohnMichaelGreer.mp3

[3] http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2012/01/waiting-for-great-pumpkin.html

 

Review: The Resilience Imperative: Cooperative Transitions to a Steady State Economy

Review: The Resilience Imperative: Cooperative Transitions to a Steady State Economy

by Jon Walker

 

What I love most about this book is the feeling you get that there is hope: solutions to environmental, social and financial crises do exist, they have been tried and tested all over the planet and all we have to do is get on with it.

 

The book is remarkable from several points of view. The extent and the depth of knowledge on which the arguments are based is truly impressive: it provides a history of money and corporations and co-operatives and land trusts from all over planet – emphasising the initiatives which have worked and survived and those which have been crushed by authoritative regimes.

 

Much of this needs to be common knowledge, for example, many successful banks which charged low-cost fees rather than interest were simply rendered illegal by their governments; booming cooperative movements were destroyed in Italy in 1921 (8,000 coops), in Germany in 1933 (4.5 million members) and Russia in 1918 (26,000 coops).

 

As the history unfolds it becomes clear that many of the kinds of institutions I had assumed were just out-performed by the corporations and banks were never given a chance. In reality, those in power just got rid of them. But there are many survivors – like the JAK bank in Sweden (which doesn’t charge interest) and the Cooperative Group in the UK – both of which continue to flourish.

 

The conclusions derived from this and several other innovations in the book are unavoidable: interest free banking does work and slashes the costs of borrowing, community land trusts are growing and enable far cheaper housing than freehold land schemes, cooperatives continue to grow and employ more people than all the multi-nationals put together. There are better co-operative economy ways to do almost everything: we don’t have to destroy our eco-systems and economics can be re-designed to benefit everyone.

 

The book is packed with inspiration – on local food, energy, housing, farming and, weaving all of this together, a better way of dealing with money. Perhaps the most impressive achievement is the way that the authors manage to hold all these elements together and demonstrate that resilience requires changes in all aspects of our lives. They show we need to change basic attitudes to almost everything, and to create a new set of values where well-being and eco-system health are more important than a set of numbers in your digital bank account. And, as the title suggests, a policy change away from economic growth as the primary objective to a resilient, sustainable way of living is fundamental.

 

The answers are everywhere. We can build houses which require almost no heating, we can feed ourselves with predominantly local foods, we can use the sun and wind and tides to generate energy, we can create communities which live in balance with their environment. The big questions still remain unanswered, however. Can we turn away from the current paradigm and begin to put all these ideas into practice for everyone, rather than see them working just in isolated pockets of resilience?

 

The authors argue their case at several levels but, for me, a constant thread is the need to reform the money-system; this stands out as a pre-requisite for broad-based change. As long as the majority of humanity is trapped into massive debt repayment, the possibilities for change will remain muted.

 

The solutions emerge clearly. We need access to debt-free money, we need access to commonly-held land, we need cooperative businesses which are designed for the benefit of the people who work or use them, we need regional solutions. And we need everyone to play their part in the transformation: a resilient society will only emerge from the efforts of resilient individuals and families. Functioning participatory democracy is needed at all levels from the work-place to the community to local government right up to the global. The authors are clear that international organisations like the farmers federation, La Via Campesina, are of crucial importance in building global alternatives to the current economic systems controlled by corporations and unelected bodies like the WTO.

 

So what if we all decided to live like this? The authors lead us gently through the consequences for the (very average) Hartwick family. For several of the proven innovations they provide us detailed calculations that they bring down to the household level to show the achievable dollar and cent savings. For example, the combined savings for an average household like the Hartwick’s in Canada over 25 years would be $363,000 if fee based financing, community land trust and basic energy conservation measures were applied. For the Hartwicks, a middle class family on average income, this translates into 12,095 hours of work at their wage level; imagine, this saving of almost 500 working hours per year. If one then adds back in the increased cost of paying a fair price for organic food over that time period, one would be better off to the tune of $286,969 plus have time left over to raise some food. Less debt means less pressure to grow, thus one could help save the planet and also save significant cash.

 

In many ways the books feels like a (nonviolent) call-to-arms: everything is collapsing around us, solutions exist and have been shown to work, and as governments seem completely incapable of doing anything, it really is down to the rest of us to stand up and be counted. So get this book and read it slowly – there is a huge amount to inwardly digest – and then decide what you’re going to do.

 

To misquote a previous work proposing radical change: all we have to lose are our economic chains and the threat of catastrophic climate collapse.

 

Jon Walker has worked in the UK co-operative sector since the 1970s, setting up and co-managing shops, warehouses, small-scale manufacturing coops, and most recently a community owned green grocer. He is also a member of the local Transition Town which is working to establish a local food economy, and finding ways to make with the local housing stock more energy efficient. He also lectures and publishes on the application of systems theory to co-operative organisational issues: his current book written with Angela Espinosa “A complexity approach to sustainability” examines the application of the Viable Systems model to the creation of a sustainable world from the individual to the global.

 

Published by Resilience.org on November 26, 2012

Published on Energy Bulletin (http://www.energybulletin.net)

 

Content on this site is subject to our fair use notice.

 

Energy Bulletin is a program of Post Carbon Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the world transition away from fossil fuels and build sustainable, resilient communities.

 

Source URL: http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2012-11-26/review-the-resilience-imperative-cooperative-transitions-to-a-steady-state-economy

 

Links:

[1] http://www.resilience.org/stories/2012-11-26/review-the-resilience-imperative-cooperative-transitions-to-a-steady-state-economy

 

World Energy Report 2012

World Energy Report 2012

by Michael Klare

 

Rarely does the release of a data-driven report on energy trends trigger front-page headlines around the world.  That, however, is exactly what happened on November 12th when the prestigious Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) released this year’s edition of its World Energy Outlook.  In the process, just about everyone missed its real news, which should have set off alarm bells across the planet.

 

Claiming that advances in drilling technology were producing an upsurge in North American energy output, World Energy Outlook predicted that the United States would overtake Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the planet’s leading oil producer by 2020.  “North America is at the forefront of a sweeping transformation in oil and gas production that will affect all regions of the world,” declared IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven in a widely quoted statement.

 

In the U.S., the prediction of imminent supremacy in the oil-output sweepstakes was generally greeted with unabashed jubilation.  “This is a remarkable change,” said John Larson of IHS, a corporate research firm.  “It’s truly transformative.  It’s fundamentally changing the energy outlook for this country.”  Not only will this result in a diminished reliance on imported oil, he indicated, but also generate vast numbers of new jobs.  “This is about jobs.  You know, it’s about blue-collar jobs.  These are good jobs.”

 

The editors of the Wall Street Journal were no less ecstatic.  In an editorial with the eye-catching headline “Saudi America,” they lauded U.S. energy companies for bringing about a technological revolution, largely based on the utilization of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to extract oil and gas from shale rock.  That, they claimed, was what made a new mega-energy boom possible.  “This is a real energy revolution,” the Journal noted, “even if it’s far from the renewable energy dreamland of so many government subsidies and mandates.”

 

Other commentaries were similarly focused on the U.S. outpacing Saudi Arabia and Russia, even if some questioned whether the benefits would be as great as advertised or obtainable at an acceptable cost to the environment.

 

While agreeing that the expected spurt in U.S. production is mostly “good news,” Michael A. Levi of the Council on Foreign Relations warned that gas prices will not drop significantly because oil is a global commodity and those prices are largely set by international market forces.  “[T]he U.S. may be slightly more protected, but it doesn’t give you the energy independence some people claim,” he told the New York Times.

 

Some observers focused on whether increased output and job creation could possibly outweigh the harm that the exploitation of extreme energy resources like fracked oil or Canadian tar sands was sure to do to the environment. Daniel J. Weiss of the Center for American Progress, for example, warned of a growing threat to America’s water supply from poorly regulated fracking operations.  “In addition, oil companies want to open up areas off the northern coast of Alaska in the Arctic Ocean, where they are not prepared to address a major oil blowout or spill like we had in the Gulf of Mexico.”

 

Such a focus certainly offered a timely reminder of how important oil remains to the American economy (and political culture), but it stole attention away from other aspects of the World Energy Report that were, in some cases, downright scary.  Its portrait of our global energy future should have dampened enthusiasm everywhere, focusing as it did on an uncertain future energy supply, excessive reliance on fossil fuels, inadequate investment in renewables, and an increasingly hot, erratic, and dangerous climate.  Here are some of the most worrisome takeaways from the report.

 

Shrinking World Oil Supply

 

Given the hullabaloo about rising energy production in the U.S., you would think that the IEA report was loaded with good news about the world’s future oil supply.  No such luck.  In fact, on a close reading anyone who has the slightest familiarity with world oil dynamics should shudder, as its overall emphasis is on decline and uncertainty.

 

Take U.S. oil production surpassing Saudi Arabia’s and Russia’s.  Sounds great, doesn’t it?  Here’s the catch: previous editions of the IEA report and the International Energy Outlook, its equivalent from the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE), rested their claims about a growing future global oil supply on the assumption that those two countries would far surpass U.S. output.  Yet the U.S. will pull ahead of them in the 2020s only because, the IEA now asserts, their output is going to fall, not rise as previously assumed.

 

This is one hidden surprise in the report that’s gone unnoticed.  According to the DoE’s 2011 projections, Saudi production was expected to rise to 13.9 million barrels per day in 2025, and Russian output to 12.2 million barrels, jointly providing much of the world’s added petroleum supply; the United States, in this calculation, would reach the 11.7 million barrel mark.

 

The IEA’s latest revision of those figures suggests that U.S. production will indeed rise, as expected, to about 11 million barrels per day in 2025, but that Saudi output will unexpectedly fall to about 10.6 million barrels and Russian to 9.7 million barrels.  The U.S., that is, will essentially become number one by default.  At best, then, the global oil supply is not going to grow appreciably — despite the IEA’s projection of a significant upswing in international demand.

 

But wait, suggests the IEA, there’s still one wild card hope out there: Iraq.  Yes, Iraq.  In the belief that the Iraqis will somehow overcome their sectarian differences, attain a high level of internal stability, establish a legal framework for oil production, and secure the necessary investment and technical support, the IEA predicts that its output will jump from 3.4 million barrels per day this year to 8 million barrels in 2035, adding an extra 4.6 million barrels to the global supply.  In fact, claims the IEA, this gain would represent half the total increase in world oil production over the next 25 years.  Certainly, stranger things have happened, but for the obvious reasons, it remains an implausible scenario.

 

Add all this together — declining output from Russia and Saudi Arabia, continuing strife in Iraq, uncertain results elsewhere — and you get insufficient oil in the 2020s and 2030s to meet anticipated world demand.  From a global warming perspective that may be good news, but economically, without a massive increase in investment in alternate energy sources, the outlook is grim.  You don’t know what bad times are until you don’t have enough energy to run the machinery of civilization.  As suggested by the IEA, “Much is riding on Iraq’s success… Without this supply growth from Iraq, oil markets would be set for difficult times.”

 

Continuing Reliance on Fossil Fuels

 

For all the talk of the need to increase reliance on renewable sources of energy, fossil fuels — coal, oil, and natural gas — will continue to provide most of the additional energy supplies needed to satisfy soaring world demand.  “Taking all new developments and policies into account,” the IEA reported, “the world is still failing to put the global energy system onto a more sustainable path.”  In fact, recent developments seem to favor greater fossil-fuel reliance.

 

In the United States, for instance, the increased extraction of oil and gas from shale formations has largely silenced calls for government investment in renewable technology.  In its editorial on the IEA report, for example, the Wall Street Journal ridiculed such investment.  It had, the Journal’s writers suggested, now become unnecessary due to the Saudi Arabian-style oil and gas boom to come.  “Historians will one day marvel that so much political and financial capital was invested in a [failed] green-energy revolution at the very moment a fossil fuel revolution was aborning,” they declared.

 

One aspect of this energy “revolution” deserves special attention. The growing availability of cheap natural gas, thanks to hydro-fracking, has already reduced the use of coal as a fuel for electrical power plants in the United States.  This would seem to be an obvious environmental plus, since gas produces less climate-altering carbon dioxide than does coal.  Unfortunately, coal output and its use haven’t diminished: American producers have simply increased their coal exports to Asia and Europe.  In fact, U.S. coal exports are expected to reach as high as 133 million tons in 2012, overtaking an export record set in 1981.

 

Despite its deleterious effects on the environment, coal remains popular in countries seeking to increase their electricity output and promote economic development.  Shockingly, according to the IEA, it supplied nearly half of the increase in global energy consumption over the last decade, growing faster than renewables.  And the agency predicts that coal will continue its rise in the decades ahead.  The world’s top coal consumer, China, will burn ever more of it until 2020, when demand is finally expected to level off.  India’s usage will rise without cessation, with that country overtaking the U.S. as the number two consumer around 2025.

 

In many regions, notes the IEA report, the continued dominance of fossil fuels is sustained by government policies.  In the developing world, countries commonly subsidize energy consumption, selling transportation, cooking, and heating fuels at below-market rates.  In this way, they hope to buffer their populations from rising commodity costs, and so protect their regimes from popular unrest.  Cutting back on such subsidies can prove dangerous, as in Jordan where a recent government decision to raise fuel prices led to widespread riots and calls for the monarchy’s abolition.  In 2011, such subsidies amounted to $523 billion globally, says the IEA, up almost 30% from 2010 and six times greater than subsidies for renewable energy.

 

No Hope for Averting Catastrophic Climate Change

 

Of all the findings in the 2012 edition of the World Energy Outlook, the one that merits the greatest international attention is the one that received the least.  Even if governments take vigorous steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the report concluded, the continuing increase in fossil fuel consumption will result in “a long-term average global temperature increase of 3.6 degrees C.”

 

This should stop everyone in their tracks.  Most scientists believe that an increase of 2 degrees Celsius is about all the planet can accommodate without unimaginably catastrophic consequences: sea-level increases that will wipe out many coastal cities, persistent droughts that will destroy farmland on which hundreds of millions of people depend for their survival, the collapse of vital ecosystems, and far more.  An increase of 3.6 degrees C essentially suggests the end of human civilization as we know it.

 

To put this in context, human activity has already warmed the planet by about 0.8 degrees C — enough to produce severe droughts around the world, trigger or intensify intense storms like Hurricane Sandy, and drastically reduce the Arctic ice cap.  “Given those impacts,” writes noted environmental author and activist Bill McKibben, “many scientists have come to think that two degrees is far too lenient a target.”  Among those cited by McKibben is Kerry Emanuel of MIT, a leading authority on hurricanes. “Any number much above one degree involves a gamble,” Emanuel writes, “and the odds become less and less favorable as the temperature goes up.” Thomas Lovejoy, once the World Bank’s chief biodiversity adviser, puts it this way: “If we’re seeing what we’re seeing today at 0.8 degrees Celsius, two degrees is simply too much.”

 

At this point, it’s hard even to imagine what a planet that’s 3.6 degrees C hotter would be like, though some climate-change scholars and prophets — like former Vice President Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth — have tried.  In all likelihood, the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets would melt entirely, raising sea levels by several dozen feet and completely inundating coastal cities like New York and Shanghai.  Large parts of Africa, Central Asia, the Middle East, and the American Southwest would be rendered uninhabitable thanks to lack of water and desertification, while wildfires of a sort that we can’t imagine today would consume the parched forests of the temperate latitudes.

 

In a report that leads with the “good news” of impending U.S. oil supremacy, to calmly suggest that the world is headed for that 3.6 degree C mark is like placing a thermonuclear bomb in a gaudily-wrapped Christmas present.  In fact, the “good news” is really the bad news: the energy industry’s ability to boost production of oil, coal, and natural gas in North America is feeding a global surge in demand for these commodities, ensuring ever higher levels of carbon emissions.  As long as these trends persist — and the IEA report provides no evidence that they will be reversed in the coming years — we are all in a race to see who gets to the Apocalypse first.

 

Michael Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, a TomDispatch regular, and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left (Metropolitan Books).  A documentary movie based on his book Blood and Oil can be previewed and ordered at www.bloodandoilmovie.com.

Published by TomDispatch on November 28, 2012

Republished on Energy Bulletin (http://www.energybulletin.net)

Copyright 2012 Michael T. Klare

Content on this site is subject to our fair use notice.

 

Energy Bulletin is a program of Post Carbon Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the world transition away from fossil fuels and build sustainable, resilient communities.

 

Source URL: http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2012-11-28/world-energy-report-2012

 

Links:

[1] http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175621/tomgram%3A_michael_klare%2C_a_thermonuclear_energy_bomb_in_christmas_wrappings/

[2] http://www.iea.org

[3] http://www.iea.org/newsroomandevents/pressreleases/2012/november/name,33015,en.html

[4] http://m.npr.org/news/Business/163565485

[5] http://www.ihs.com

[6] http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323894704578114591174453074.html

[7] http://www.cfr.org/experts/energy-climate-oil-security/michael-a-levi/b11890%20

[8] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/13/business/energy-environment/report-sees-us-as-top-oil-producer-in-5-years.html

[9] http://www.americanprogress.org/about/staff/weiss-daniel-j/bio

[10] http://www.amazon.com/dp/0805091262/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20

[11] http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/ieo

[12] http://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/name,33339,en.html

[13] https://www.iea.org/newsroomandevents/pressreleases/2012/october/name,32060,en.html

[14] http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=8490

[15] http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=8070

[16] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/why-775-billion-in-fossil-fuel-subsidies-are-hardto-scrap/2012/06/18/gJQABaQUlV_blog.html

[17] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/14/world/middleeast/jordan-faces-protests-after-gas-price-proposal.html

[18] http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719

[19] http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175435/tomgram%3A_bill_mckibben,_jailed_over_big_oil%27s_attempt_to_wreck_the_planet/

[20] http://eaps4.mit.edu/faculty/Emanuel

[21] http://esp.gmu.edu/people/facultybios/lovejoy.html

[22] http://www.amazon.com/dp/1594865671/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20

[23] http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/greenland-glacier-loses-large-mass-of-ice/2012/07/17/gJQAf5CQsW_story.html

[24] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/11/science/earth/global-warming-makes-heat-waves-more-likely-study-finds.html

[25] http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175573/william_debuys_the_west_in_flames

[26] http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175579/michael_klare_the_hunger_wars_in_our_future

[27] http://www.bloodandoilmovie.com

[28] http://www.facebook.com/pages/Michael-Klare/316344375093469

[29] http://www.facebook.com/tomdispatch

[30] http://www.amazon.com/The-Changing-Face-Empire-Cyberwarfare/dp/1608463109/

 

Stop Keystone XL tar sands pipeline – 350.org & TUCAN – Nov 18 & 19

Sunday 1 pm MST (3 pm EST) – online live stream from Washington DC

Monday 12 noon at TEP corporate headquarters, 88 E Broadway Blvd, downtown Tucson AZ

Action Alert – SUNDAY onlineMONDAY in downtown Tucson

Nov 18 Sunday 1 pm MST, live online from Washington DC

350.org is gathering outside the White House and they ask everyone to sign up online. Here is the link: 350.org/en/stop-keystone-xl. And from there you can live stream to watch the event.

Nov 19 Monday 12 noon in downtown Tucson

Young activists blockading the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in East Texas are doing a mass action. They have asked for support rallies, and the Tucson Climate Action Network and 350Tucson are sponsoring a solidarity action at 12 noon in front of the TEP corporate HQ, downtown at 88 E. Broadway Blvd.

This will be a relatively brief demonstration (scheduled for 12:00 to 12:30 pm) and no civil disobedience is planned. However, it will be an important show of strength and solidarity, and a great opportunity to connect with others who are ready to seize the momentum of this crucial moment and raise our voices to STOP the pipeline and bring on a serious and effective approach to climate change in the U.S.

Please come stand in solidarity. Bring your signs and banners. We will speak on behalf of both national actions as well as connecting the dots between TEP as a coal-burning utility, and tar sands, and global warming, and extreme climate events.

Tar Sands Blockade is on Facebook too: facebook.com/TarSandsBlockade?fref=ts

RECENT MAINSTREAM MEDIA

The mainstream media is showing a flurry of unaccustomed attention in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and Obama’s re-election, and new World Energy Outlook report from the IEA—check out David Remnick on why Obama MUST address the nation on climate change NOW

newyorker.com/talk/comment/2012/11/19/121119taco_talk_remnick

and this report on the U.S. military’s latest warnings:

nytimes.com/2012/11/10/science/earth/climate-change-report-outlines-perils-for-us-military.html

Even our Arizona Daily Star is starting to catch on:

azstarnet.com/news/opinion/were-obama-and-romney-derelict-in-not-stressing-climate-change/article_8b3c9710-1122-5594-a2ae-ed8dc740b0e4.html and

azstarnet.com/news/science/global-warming-talk-heats-up-renewing-idea-of-a-carbon/article_fa6862f3-2e08-5ed3-ba2e-390908816e29.html

Hope to see you Monday! Stay tuned for ideas for actions you can take, both on your own and by joining with us as we go forward — because THERE IS NO PLANET B.

Tucson Climate Action Network – tucan.news(at)gmail.com

UK Tyndall Centre Interview: Rapid and deep emissions reductions may not be easy, but 4°C to 6°C will be much worse

 by Rob Hopkins

Published by Transition Culture on Fri, 11/02/2012  and republished by EnergyBulletin.Net  on Sat, 11/3/2012

Kevin Anderson is the Deputy Director of the UK Tyndall Centre and is an expert on greenhouse-gas emissions trajectories. He will be giving the annual Cabot Institute lecture, ‘Real Clothes for the Emperor’ on 6th November in Bristol, which has already sold out. I was hoping to be able to go and report on it for you here, but no longer can, so instead, I spoke to Kevin last week, by Skype. I am very grateful for his time, and for a powerful, honest and thought-provoking interview.

 

Could you share with us your analysis of where you think we find ourselves in terms of climate change and what’s our current trajectory if we carry on as we are?

 

In terms of the language around climate change, I get the impression that there’s still a widely held view that we can probably hold to avoiding dangerous climate change characterised by this almost magical 2°C rise in global mean surface temperature. This is the target that we have established in Copenhagen and then re-iterated in Cancun and to which most nations of the world have now signed up to; I think the rhetoric that we should not exceed this 2°C rise is still there.

 

It’s not just about our emissions now. If you look at the emissions we’ve already put out into the atmosphere since the start of this century, and you look at what’s likely to be emitted over the next few years, then I think it tells a very different story. It’s hard to imagine that, unless we have a radical sea-change in attitudes towards emissions, we will avoid heading towards a 6°C rise by the end of this century.

 

Can we for definite, in your opinion, say that this year’s extreme weather can be linked to climate change?

 

Certainly not. I think it’s fair to say that it’s unlikely we will ever be able to robustly link any particular single event to climate change. Now that’s not to say we can’t get a greater level of attribution, where we can start to say the things that we are seeing are what we would expect to see with a warming climate. We are struggling to find any other reasons for them and therefore it does seem a high probability that these events are caused, if not exacerbated by, the rise in CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gases and hence the increase in temperature. But I think it’s unlikely that we’d ever be able to say that any single event is a ‘climate change event’.

 

But would you say that if we were still at 280 parts per million it would be much less likely that we would have had a summer like this?

 

Yes, I think that would be a fair comment. It would be much less likely. Before this summer, the probability of having this summer’s weather would have been less if we had not seen significant rises in greenhouse gases and their cumulative impact in the atmosphere. We are starting now to see events that it’s difficult to explain in terms of normal probabilities. We get extreme weather events, we always have had such events; extremes do occur. But if extremes start to occur regularly they’re no longer extremes, and what you’re then seeing is not a weather extreme, you’re seeing change in the climate. But it’s hard to say that any particular event in a range of events is a consequence of climate change, and not just an extreme weather event.

 

Sometimes people talk about this idea of ‘a new normal’, that the basic conditions around us have changed. In terms of what’s happening in terms of the climate, how would you characterise the ‘new normal’ that we’re in given the rise we’ve had in emissions so far?

 

I think it would probably be a very short normal, I don’t think this is the normal at all. It’s the normal for today, but I think the rate of increase of emissions, and there is no sign at all of that rate significantly coming down, would suggest that we’ll be reaching a new normal, and then another new normal, and then another new normal. I’m one of the people that concludes that we’re likely to experience significant climate change impacts over the next 1,2,3 decades and obviously beyond that point. At the moment, unless we change our emissions pathways and trajectory, the normal will be changing regularly.

 

You have already argued and you’ll be arguing in Bristol on November 6th that responding adequately to climate change and economic growth are no longer compatible. Could you flesh that case out a little bit for us?

 

Now I’m going to talk specifically about the Annex 1, the wealthy parts of the world, the OECD countries, broadly, the countries that are fairly well industrialised. In those parts of the world, the rate of reduction in emissions that would be necessary for us to even stay within an outside chance of avoiding dangerous climate change, characterised by the 2°C rise that we’re all internationally committed to, would be in the order of around 10% per annum.

 

Though a very approximate guide, it’s far removed from the 1, 2 or 3% that most energy scenarios or emissions scenarios consider. It is well beyond anything we’ve been able to countenance, well beyond virtually anything so far that we’ve analysed. What we know is that in the short term, because we need to start this now, we cannot deliver reduction by switching to a low carbon energy supply, we simply cannot get the supply in place quickly enough.

 

Therefore, in the short to medium term the only major change that we can make is in consuming less. Now that would be fine, we could become more efficient in what we consume by probably 2 – 3% per annum reduction. But bear in mind, if our economy was say growing at 2% per annum, and we were trying to get a 3% per annum reduction in our emissions, that’s a 5% improvement in the efficiency of what we’re doing each year, year on year.

 

Our analysis for 2°C suggests we need a 10% absolute reduction per annum, and there is no analysis out there that suggests that is in any way compatible with economic growth. If you consider the Stern Report, Stern was quite clear that there was no evidence that any more than a 1% per annum reduction in emissions had ever been associated with anything other than “economic recession or upheaval”, I think was the exact quote.

 

So we have no historical precedents for anything greater than 1% per annum reduction in emissions. We’re saying we need nearer 10% per annum, and this is something we need to be doing today. And therefore, we can draw a very clear conclusion from this, that in the short to medium term, the way for the Annex 1, the wealthy parts of the world to meet their obligations to 2°C, is to cut back very significantly on consumption. And that would therefore mean in the short to medium term a reduction in our economic activity i.e. we could not have economic growth.

 

Now we might have a steady-state economy, but my overall sense is that the maths probably point to us having to consume less each year for the next few years, maybe a decade or so.

 

Has that ever happened before? As I understand it, when the Soviet Union collapsed it was 9% cut and that was just for 1 year. What would 10% a year look like?

 

My understanding with the collapse of the Eastern Bloc countries was that the drop was about 5% per year for up to about 10 years. So what we saw there was a relatively prolonged, completely unplanned, and as it turned out very chaotic and uneven reduction in emissions, and even then only delivered about a half to a quarter of, the rate of reduction, what we would need for 2°C.

 

So as their economy collapsed, their emissions dropped by about 5% per annum for about 10 years. We would be needing at least 10% per annum if not considerably higher and for longer than a 10 year period. For the Soviet Union, the economic collapse, though a pretty terrible time for many people, still did not achieve the rate of reductions that we would need to be seeing here.

 

Of course our view is that to deliver on 2°C , we should plan the economic contraction. It need not necessarily have the devastating impact that it very clearly had, and very inequitable impact, in Russia in particular.

 

Given that the current administration or indeed any administration that would be elected in this country would never be able to run on a platform of shrinking the economy by 10% every year, what are the implications? How do the need to do that and democracy sit alongside each other?

 

Firstly I don’t say we have to reduce our level of consumption by 10% per annum in terms of material goods. I’m not saying our economy has to reduce by 10% per annum. The emissions have to come down at 10% per annum, but we should be able to get some efficiency improvements as well. So the economy would not have to come down as fast as the rate of emissions coming down. It’s very important to make that distinction, and of course the more low-hanging fruit that we can find, and I think there’s a lot more out there than we’ve discovered previously- the less the material contraction of the economy would need to be. From some of our provisional work we have identified some very significant improvements in the efficiency of how we do what we do; some technical, some behavioural.

 

I don’t think it’s necessarily as dire as you’re painting from an economic perspective. Nevertheless we are talking here at best a steady-state economy. The analysis that I and colleagues in the Tyndall Centre have undertaken would suggest there probably has to be a reduction in our consumption and an economic contraction.

 

How would we sell that? Well, we’ve sold it at the moment. It’s very clear in the UK and many parts of Europe that what we’re seeing is at best stagnation, if not an economic reduction in our level of consumption. So we have actually got that at the moment. We’re not all finding this utterly dire .. not that it’s been evenly spread, I think it’s been unfairly spread. I think equity should be one of our main considerations here. We have to bear in mind that even if we have an economic contraction that wouldn’t necessarily mean that for many people they would have to consume less.

 

I take the very clear view on this that the distributional effects would very likely mean that many people in the UK for instance would not see a reduction in their levels of consumption or their levels of wellbeing, but others of us in the UK, like myself, would certainly have to see reduction in levels of consumption. Probably not a reduction in levels of wellbeing but certainly in levels of consumption. So I think distributional impacts might mean that it could be much more attractive, or less unattractive, to policy makers than at first sight it would seem.

 

Particularly given that we face a lot of issues now with unemployment, welfare reductions etc., issues that disproportionately affect people in the middle-lower income band; it is these people that could actually benefit from a transition to a much more efficient and lower carbon economy.

 

The implications will obviously have to be thought through, but any government that embraced a more sophisticated analysis of climate change would likely recognise the economic situation that we have got ourselves into anyway with our current model. Put those two together and there are real opportunities now for a significant transition in how we do what we do; a transition away from the dogmatic economic growth model and towards a steady-state low carbon alternative.

 

What do you see as the role, certainly in terms of the Transition approach, as very much about what a bottom-up, community-led response to that looks like, what’s your sense of the role that communities can play in making that happen?

 

I take the view that the community approach, the bottom-up approach, is absolutely pivotal to resolving some of the challenges and issues that we find ourselves facing now. So I think communities are really important here. They’re important in a number of ways.

 

You might make an argument that the actions of any individual, of any household, of any local community, in and of themselves are relatively insignificant, I all too often hear this. The point is less about the emissions of an individual, though still important, but more about the example it sets. It gives other people the opportunity to see that you can do something differently.

 

If communities, and even if it’s only one or two communities are starting to do things significantly differently, that means we have an example of what we can do. If those examples are successful they can spread. Once they spread, policy makers can start to see those examples at work and can start to set a top-down agenda that can coincide with the bottom-up agenda. We can actually point policy makers to where it’s working and make arguments for implementing policies that would facilitate those sorts of changes.

 

If we are going to get out of the hole we’ve got ourselves into there’s real scope for some partnership between bottom-up-individuals, through to communities etc. – and top-down, trying to facilitate initiatives as they emerge. It’s the kind of partnership we need if we are going to see real substantive change. And if we see that in the UK, that helps within the EU and can signal a wider, global transition. I think we all have a responsibility to try and bring these changes about in our own lives and our immediate environments, and actually this could be significant. What we do ourselves is absolutely central to bringing about substantive change.

 

What do you see as being the role of scientists in all this? Should they only focus on definitely proven science or move more towards how James Hansen is taking more of an activist stance. How do you see that balance between science and activism?

 

This is quite a difficult question. My view here is that as scientists we have to behave as scientists. Now we are human beings, and so science will never be the perfect, objective, neutral profession that the textbooks might try to describe it as. Nevertheless I think it is really important in our science to remain neutral and objective, as much as we ever can. Science is not about black and white, there is a huge amount of uncertainty in a lot of science, there’s a huge amount of probabilities and clearly climate change has a lot of this wrapped up in it. But I think it is absolutely pivotal that as scientists we behave as scientists.

 

Now as individuals, as citizens – we may be scientists but we are also citizens – I see nothing wrong with standing up and saying I think my and other people’s science raises concerns for society and so I have to chosen to act on that analysis. There is a duality here. An individual can, as a scientist, produce their work neutrally, and then they can use that work to inform how they act as a citizen.

 

If Hansen and others want to chain themselves to bulldozers building new runways, that is their choice as a citizen, I don’t disagree with that. What I would disagree with is that if anyone starts to misuse science to support other sets of views. Because people like Hansen’s analysis looks to be more extreme, people then assume that he is pushing the boundaries of the science. I think the scientists that are pushing the boundaries are those that are deliberately, and I know many of these people, holding to a line that is politically palatable, because that is what politicians, what their pay masters, what society wants to hear.

 

Actually I think Hansen and some of those scientists who are prepared to stand up and make quite strong statements from their science are the ones that are being more neutral and objective; far too many of the scientists who are working on climate change, are towing, in my view, a political line. It looks like it’s neutral because it doesn’t sound extreme, it fits within the orthodoxy. But that is not the way we should be doing science. Whether it fits within the orthodoxy or not we should be objective, robust, direct and honest about science.

 

You spend a lot of your time surrounded by all the papers and research and stuff that’s coming out, all the models that get worse and worse. How do you personally cope with that, and what do you do in your own life that’s motivated by what you encounter in your professional life?

 

I have to say it gets increasingly difficult, it has affected my personal life quite considerably over the last few years and is getting worse. I find it very hard to engage with the science and then not link that to what we as individuals, what society, what policy makers are doing, or evidently not doing. It has been really challenging for me with some work colleagues, less so in the immediate group that I’m involved with here in Manchester, but certainly wider colleagues who I work with on climate change who, it seems to me, have no regard for what their research tells them.

 

For many, but with significant exceptions, their work seems to be little more than something that pays the mortgage. I find that quite difficult. I take the view that it is incumbent on us as scientists and citizens that we should be changing what we’re doing in our own lives, and I think that people would take much more note of the analysis that we do if we decided to live broadly in accordance with our science. In my view, far too few scientists who work on climate change actually do that.

 

But also I find it increasingly difficult not to challenge friends and family, who often appear to have complete disregard for the impacts of their action. I’ve got to the point now where I think that when we’re profligately emitting, we’re knowingly damaging the lives and the prospects of some of the poorest people in our communities, both in the UK, but more significantly globally. Yet we obscenely carry on doing this. We’re happy to put a few pence into a collection pot in the middle of town to help people living in poorer parts of the world but we don’t seem to be prepared to make substantive changes to how we’re living our lives- even when we recognise the impact our emissions are having.

 

And yet science is pretty clear on this, that vulnerable people in the poorer parts of the world will suffer dire repercussions of what we are doing now and what we’ve already done. I find that almost reprehensible that scientists are able to completely ignore such a very clear message; we know that the people on the coastal strips of Bangladesh will suffer very significantly from our behaviour as will many other people, poor people around the world. And we really do not collectively as a society and even often as individuals demonstrate any meaningful care or compassion.

 

I’ve cut back on many of the activities I previously pursued. Many of my friendships linked to activities; as a keen rock climber, I used to travel away for breaks by plane. This has all had to change quite considerably. I have close friends from when I used to work in the oil industry, friends who think climate change is a serious issue but are not prepared to make any changes to their lifestyles. It has raised some serious challenges for me in maintaining personal relationships.

 

I don’t want to pretend that it’s easy. I do not think that the future, for those of us that are in the very fortunate position of living in the West, is full of win-win opportunities. People who have done well, very well out of our western system, and live very carbon profligate lifestyles are going to face difficult challenges, and we should not pretend otherwise.

 

Until we actually embrace alternative means of finding value in our lives, I think that transition from where we are today, high-carbon, high-energy lifestyles, to ultimately lower-carbon lifestyles is going to be both difficult and unpopular. But ultimately, I do not see an alternative. Rapid and deep emissions reductions may not be easy- but 4°C to 6°C will be much worse.

 

Do you see any possibility that that might come from and be led by government?

 

No, I don’t think it will be led by government. I don’t think it will be led by anyone. I think it will be an emergent outcome of a society that cares, of which government is part and citizens and individuals are part as well. I have never particularly liked the idea of great people, of wonderful leadership, I much more believe in an emergent system, the properties and values that are embedded within a system.

 

Now we might see that, manifested sometimes in a leader, but it actually is an outcome of that society moving in a particular direction. So that’s why, to me, I’m not looking for some great person to come on their white charger and take this forward. I’m looking for all of us to engage, and out of that will emerge a new way of thinking of the world.

 

Given the economic challenges, crisis, whatever we want to call it, that we are seeing at the moment, this is a real opportunity for change. An opportunity we need to grasp. We need to think differently, think positively, but recognise in my view that it will not be easy. We can institute these changes ourselves both bottom-up and top-down. It is this kind of leadership we need, leadership from all of us.

 

Do you think from a climate change perspective actually a deepening and a worsening recession is the best thing that could happen to us?

 

At the moment I just see it as blaming everyone else. Inequity is going up, not down. Recessions are not good times– we clearly are not all in it together. Many of us have not made any changes to the restaurants that we go to, the hotels that we go to, the holidays that we take, and yet the other side is we are completely stripping back welfare, and we’re not investing in green infrastructure. We’re constantly putting money, a third of a trillion into the banks, not into a new grid network or a new set of renewable technologies or retro-fitting houses. So we have the prospect of doing things differently, offered us by the recession but we’re letting those opportunities go, on a day to day basis we’re throwing these opportunities away. It could be a much more positive drive toward a low carbon and resilient society than it’s turning out to be.

 

Bill McKibben argues that we need to get back to 350 parts per million. Is that possible?

 

Well it is in the very long term. But within the sort of time frame that we’re talking about at the moment, unless the geo-engineering routes work and I think we have to be very cautious about sucking the CO2 out of the air when we can’t even turn the lights off when we leave a room at the moment! I find this quite bizarre, but it is not to say we shouldn’t spend some money now on research into negative emission technologies.

 

I think it highly unlikely that we’ll get back to 350 within quite a lot of generations. That’s not to say we shouldn’t have it as a goal, but what I think we should be looking to do is to stabilise the concentration as quickly as possible at the levels they are today. They’ll be higher tomorrow and higher the day after that. What we need to do immediately is to stop that rate of growth and then get the CO2 out of the atmosphere as quickly as we can.

 

I don’t know whether we’ll be able to suck the stuff out. At the moment it’s a long way away. It’s a Dr Strangelove future. That’s not to say it may not have some purchase in the long-term but at the moment we’re digging out shale gas and tar sands and lots of coal. We’re going to be digging under the Arctic. We don’t need to concern ourselves too much with geo-engineering for the future, we just need to stop getting fossil fuels out of the ground today.

 

You talked about the need to cut emissions by 10% a year and how difficult that’s going to be and how it’s not going to be an easy thing and it’ll affect every aspect of what people do, particularly the people who are used to having it better. Can you describe a bit what you think it’ll look like when we get there? What’s your vision of what things would be like if we actually do this successfully, if we’re able to muster the will and the collective spirit and we actually manage to pull it off? Can you describe what it might be like when we get there?

 

This is quite hard… what will the future look like? It’s difficult for us as scientists and engineers not to impose our other personal ways of seeing the world. There are particular changes that I would like to see the world achieve that are not related to carbon or climate change, not to embody those in my view of the future is not easy.

 

I’m 50 years old now. I had a very good life in the 1970s and a pretty good life in the 1980s. I don’t think my quality of life has significantly improved since the 1970s and 80s, and yet my emissions and the emissions per capita have really gone up very significantly.

 

So we have lived good quality, relatively lower-carbon lives than we are today, not very long ago. Now a lot of that was because we consumed less. We still lived fairly high-consumption lifestyles, and I think if we allied the technical expertise that we have now that could really improve the technologies that we actually use to deliver lifestyles that are very good – we’re not talking about going a long way back to times when people were very impoverished.

 

We had good medical treatment, we had good schools, good transport networks. So I think we can ally both our current technical skills and abilities, with a recognition that we consumed considerably less than we consume today but had a not noticeably different lifestyles – going back to the 50s, 40s or the 30s would be very different, but I don’t think that’s true for the 70s and 80s.

 

Such a transition would certainly be challenging, with some significant equity and distributional impacts, and with a shift in emphasis from a strongly individual and consumption based society to one that embraces more collaboration. I acknowledge this would be more attractive to me, but I recognise that some people would not see such change in a positive light. Nevertheless, I think it’s hard to imagine ourselves getting out of the hole we’re in without a greater degree of collective effort.

 

I don’t think we should be looking to go back to the point where we can’t travel, and where we’re living austere lives. With a greater degree of equity, scarce energy resources can be balanced with high-welfare lives.

 

It’s a future about sufficiency more than it is about greed and wants, whether it’ll be radically different from where we are today will depend on how fast we respond now, but I don’t think it necessarily has to be. We will have lots of opportunities to behave differently, adopt lower consumption habits, and ally that with significant changes in the types and the efficiency of the technologies that are already available. All this could steer us in a resilient low-carbon direction.

 

Do you think the tradeable energy quotas that David Fleming came up with would be a useful tool for that?

 

Myself and my colleague Richard Starkey at the time did quite a lot of work on that, in fact we knew David quite well. Yes, I think it’s certainly one very serious route to consider and indeed David Miliband was quite keen on it at the time, DEFRA eventually dismissed it as “an economic instrument beyond its time”, so it was for the future. Well maybe the future’s here now and we should re-consider using it. It adds a very good equity dimension that demands greater changes from those of us that emit more than others. Coincidently, it is this fairness aspect that could drive innovation and the early adopters more than taxes and other economic instruments whereby high-emitters may be able to buy themselves out of change.

 

I think there’s some significant merit in it as an approach. Setting it up will not be easy. But we have to remember – people say it’s like rationing, well we’re all rationed by what’s called our salary, our income. So we’re all familiar with rations. We are all the time juggling our rations of resources because of what we can and cannot afford. This is just one more of them.

 

I’m not sure it’s quite as difficult as some people suggest to imagine to have to ration, particularly if it only relates to our household energy consumption, electricity, gas and so forth and our vehicle consumption. I think as you start to extend it beyond that it becomes more problematic but I think applied to households and transport it could be a useful tool in catalysing widespread and more equitable engagement and more effectively driving innovation and deployment than would standard economic instruments.

 

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Original article: http://transitionculture.org/2012/11/02/an-interview-with-kevin-anderson-rapid-and-deep-emissions-reductions-may-not-be-easy-but-4c-to-6c-will-be-much-worse/

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Eco-Health Relationship Browser – EPA Sustainable and Healthy Communities

Eco-Health Relationship Browser
EPA Sustainable and Healthy Communities (SHC) Research News Flash
September 25, 2012

The EPA Sustainable and Healthy Communities Research Program is pleased to announce the launch of the Eco-Health Relationship Browser, an easy-to-use new online tool from the SHC program.

The Eco-Health Relationship Browser illustrates the linkages between human health and ecosystem services—benefits supplied by nature. This interactive tool provides information about our nation’s ecosystems, the services they provide, and how those services, or their degradation and loss, may affect people and communities.

Ecosystems, such as wetlands and forests, provide a wide variety of goods and services, many of which we use every day. However, some of these services, such as air filtration, are not obvious and it therefore may be hard to understand the impact they have on our daily lives.

Scientific studies have documented the many tangible and intangible services and health benefits that are provided by our surrounding ecosystems. This tool is designed so that users can easily explore the services ecosystems provide and how those services affect human health and well-being. It is important to note that the studies summarized in this tool are by no means an exhaustive list. However, the inclusion of over 300 peer-reviewed papers makes this browser an exceptional compendium of current science on this topic.

If you have questions or comments please contact Laura Jackson at jackson.laura(at)epa.gov

This service is provided to you at no charge by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Welcome to the EPA Sustainable and Healthy Communities (SHC) research program News Flash. SHC is developing data, tools and approaches to help communities make decisions that better protect human health and community well being. This News Flash will provide subscribers periodic updates about SHC science, products or information. You were added to this mailing list because you are involved or have expressed an interest in sustainable communities work, ecosystem services research, or related topics.

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270 minutes of silence – Presidential debates avoiding Climate change – 350.org

Date: Mon, 22 Oct 2012 22:32:25 +0000
From: Jamie Henn – 350.org <organizers(at)350.org>
Subject: 270 minutes of silence.

Dear Friends,

Not one word.

After 270 minutes of Presidential and Vice Presidential debates, no one has mentioned climate change or global warming. If the candidates don’t speak up tonight, this will be the first time since 1988 that climate change hasn’t been discussed in a Presidential debate.

Our social media team has whipped up a hard-hitting graphic that you can use to help drive the discussion in the lead up to the debate tonight. The more noise we make online, the more likely it is that the candidates or moderator will make a last minute decision to mention climate and, just as important, that the pundits covering the event will talk about climate change.

Can you raise the volume by sharing this on your social networks?


 

The silence is unacceptable, after the country broke 17,000 heat records this summer, drought smothered half of the nation’s corn crop, and millions of acres of the American west went up in smoke. Right now, just miles away from the site of tonight’s debate, parts of Miami are underwater due to an unusually high tide — a problem that will only worsen if sea levels continue to rise.

The warning signs can’t be ignored, but our politicians have gone silent. The reason couldn’t be more obvious the fossil fuel industry has spent over $150 million dollars on this election already, with more on the way. This September alone, ExxonMobil PAC and Koch Industries PAC spent a whopping $200,000 and $354,500 apiece to influence the election.

This afternoon, we’re working with our allies to make a last minute push to put climate back on the agenda.

Your action online will be joined with action on the ground, as well: our friends from Forecast the Facts, Friends of the Earth and the Energy Action Coalition have been working to break the climate silence in the debates, and there will be a rally at the debate in Florida to call for an end to the silence today.

Thanks for making your voice heard,

Jamie

350.org is building a global movement to solve the climate crisis. Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for email alerts. You can help power our work by getting involved locally, sharing your story, and donating here.

Challenges in Vertical Farming – all-day workshop & live webcast – Sep 26

live webcast from University of Maryland Conference Center

 

Workshop on the “Challenges in Vertical Farming

September 26, 2012
The Marriott Inn & Conference Center, University of Maryland University College
3501 University Blvd, East Hyattsville, Maryland 20783 USA

http://challengesinverticalfarming.org

We are pleased to announce an NSF funded workshop on the “Challenges in Vertical Farming”, which will be held on September 26, 2012 at the University of Maryland Conference Center.

We have assembled a group of experts from around the world to address various aspects – horticulture, lighting, irrigation, automation, architecture, economics, business development and outreach related to Vertical Farming as a form of Urban Agriculture, who will provide their expertise within a full day of presentations and discussions. Attendance may be in person or through live Webcast. More information including the list of speakers and registration for attendance (select ‘in person’, or via ‘live webcast’) are available at http://challengesinverticalfarming.org

The goal of the workshop is to capture the state of the art in agriculture in controlled environments, to define a research agenda for the future and to establish a working group at the nexus of Agriculture, Engineering, Economics and Architecture with focus on Urban Agriculture. The output of the workshop will be a report that could serve as the basis of research agenda by agencies such as the NSF, USDA and USAID.

Please feel free to forward this notice to those interested in participating in the workshop.

The Workshop organizers are led by Sanjiv Singh of Carnegie Mellon University, and include:

DICKSON DESPOMMIER (COLUMBIA) GENE GIACOMELLI (UNIV OF ARIZONA) MARC VAN IERSEL (UNIV OF GEORGIA) JOEY NORIKANE (FRAUNHOFER) GEORGE KANTOR (CARNEGIE MELLON) NIKOLAUS CORRELL (UNIV OF COLORADO) and MICHAEL HOADLEY (FEWZION)

Here is some motivation for these efforts:

By the year 2050, we expect human population to increase to 9 billion and to be further concentrated in urban centers. An estimated billion hectares of new land will be needed to grow enough food to feed the earth. At present, however, over 80% of the land suitable for raising crops is already in use. Further, if trends in climate change persist, the amount of land available for farming will decrease. Since crops consume 87% of all water used globally, an increase in water usage is not possible. Finally, while the need is for 50% higher yield by the year 2050 to maintain the status quo, we expect agricultural productivity to decline significantly across the world, especially in densely populated areas. There is an urgent need for high-yield agriculture that decreases the use of water and carbon based inputs per unit of product, while simultaneously reducing vulnerability of crops to natural environmental conditions. Vertical Farming (using controlled environments for urban agriculture) will reduce transportation energy required from the distant outdoor farms. Recent implementations have shown high yields in the production of vegetables in controlled environments. Water usage has been significantly reduced compared to traditional outdoor farming, and crops are shielded from adverse climate, and, from pests and diseases. In addition, Vertical Farming has the potential to provide fresher and healthier produce to the local consumer.

Since no one community or technology holds the magic key, the opportunity for is to collectively enumerate and prioritize the challenges that must be addressed to bring high yield, resource efficient agriculture to fruition. The greatest contribution from this workshop could be a roadmap for governmental agencies and researchers to follow as they weigh their priorities in the coming years. Obviously the needs will vary depending on the locale addressed– we expect that the needs for developing countries will be different than those that are less resource constrained. The goal of our workshop is to capture the state of the art in agriculture in controlled environments, to define a research agenda for the future and to establish a working group at the nexus of Agriculture, Engineering, Economics and Architecture. The output of the workshop will be a report that could serve as the basis of research agenda by agencies such as the NSF, USDA and USAID.

http://challengesinverticalfarming.org

Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math – by Bill McKibben in Rolling Stone

Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math

Three simple numbers that add up to global catastrophe – and that make clear who the real enemy is

by Bill McKibben (350.org)

This story is from the August 2nd, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.
http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719

If the pictures of those towering wildfires in Colorado haven’t convinced you, or the size of your AC bill this summer, here are some hard numbers about climate change: June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10^99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe.

Meteorologists reported that this spring was the warmest ever recorded for our nation – in fact, it crushed the old record by so much that it represented the “largest temperature departure from average of any season on record.” The same week, Saudi authorities reported that it had rained in Mecca despite a temperature of 109 degrees, the hottest downpour in the planet’s history.

Not that our leaders seemed to notice. Last month the world’s nations, meeting in Rio for the 20th-anniversary reprise of a massive 1992 environmental summit, accomplished nothing. Unlike George H.W. Bush, who flew in for the first conclave, Barack Obama didn’t even attend. It was “a ghost of the glad, confident meeting 20 years ago,” the British journalist George Monbiot wrote; no one paid it much attention, footsteps echoing through the halls “once thronged by multitudes.” Since I wrote one of the first books for a general audience about global warming way back in 1989, and since I’ve spent the intervening decades working ineffectively to slow that warming, I can say with some confidence that we’re losing the fight, badly and quickly – losing it because, most of all, we remain in denial about the peril that human civilization is in.

When we think about global warming at all, the arguments tend to be ideological, theological and economic. But to grasp the seriousness of our predicament, you just need to do a little math. For the past year, an easy and powerful bit of arithmetical analysis first published by financial analysts in the U.K. has been making the rounds of environmental conferences and journals, but it hasn’t yet broken through to the larger public. This analysis upends most of the conventional political thinking about climate change. And it allows us to understand our precarious – our almost-but-not-quite-finally hopeless – position with three simple numbers.

The First Number: 2° Celsius

If the movie had ended in Hollywood fashion, the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009 would have marked the culmination of the global fight to slow a changing climate. The world’s nations had gathered in the December gloom of the Danish capital for what a leading climate economist, Sir Nicholas Stern of Britain, called the “most important gathering since the Second World War, given what is at stake.” As Danish energy minister Connie Hedegaard, who presided over the conference, declared at the time: “This is our chance. If we miss it, it could take years before we get a new and better one. If ever.”

In the event, of course, we missed it. Copenhagen failed spectacularly. Neither China nor the United States, which between them are responsible for 40 percent of global carbon emissions, was prepared to offer dramatic concessions, and so the conference drifted aimlessly for two weeks until world leaders jetted in for the final day. Amid considerable chaos, President Obama took the lead in drafting a face-saving “Copenhagen Accord” that fooled very few. Its purely voluntary agreements committed no one to anything, and even if countries signaled their intentions to cut carbon emissions, there was no enforcement mechanism. “Copenhagen is a crime scene tonight,” an angry Greenpeace official declared, “with the guilty men and women fleeing to the airport.” Headline writers were equally brutal: COPENHAGEN: THE MUNICH OF OUR TIMES? asked one.

The accord did contain one important number, however. In Paragraph 1, it formally recognized “the scientific view that the increase in global temperature should be below two degrees Celsius.” And in the very next paragraph, it declared that “we agree that deep cuts in global emissions are required… so as to hold the increase in global temperature below two degrees Celsius.” By insisting on two degrees – about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit – the accord ratified positions taken earlier in 2009 by the G8, and the so-called Major Economies Forum. It was as conventional as conventional wisdom gets. The number first gained prominence, in fact, at a 1995 climate conference chaired by Angela Merkel, then the German minister of the environment and now the center-right chancellor of the nation.

Some context: So far, we’ve raised the average temperature of the planet just under 0.8 degrees Celsius, and that has caused far more damage than most scientists expected. (A third of summer sea ice in the Arctic is gone, the oceans are 30 percent more acidic, and since warm air holds more water vapor than cold, the atmosphere over the oceans is a shocking five percent wetter, loading the dice for devastating floods.) Given those impacts, in fact, many scientists have come to think that two degrees is far too lenient a target. “Any number much above one degree involves a gamble,” writes Kerry Emanuel of MIT, a leading authority on hurricanes, “and the odds become less and less favorable as the temperature goes up.” Thomas Lovejoy, once the World Bank’s chief biodiversity adviser, puts it like this: “If we’re seeing what we’re seeing today at 0.8 degrees Celsius, two degrees is simply too much.” NASA scientist James Hansen, the planet’s most prominent climatologist, is even blunter: “The target that has been talked about in international negotiations for two degrees of warming is actually a prescription for long-term disaster.” At the Copenhagen summit, a spokesman for small island nations warned that many would not survive a two-degree rise: “Some countries will flat-out disappear.” When delegates from developing nations were warned that two degrees would represent a “suicide pact” for drought-stricken Africa, many of them started chanting, “One degree, one Africa.”

Despite such well-founded misgivings, political realism bested scientific data, and the world settled on the two-degree target – indeed, it’s fair to say that it’s the only thing about climate change the world has settled on. All told, 167 countries responsible for more than 87 percent of the world’s carbon emissions have signed on to the Copenhagen Accord, endorsing the two-degree target. Only a few dozen countries have rejected it, including Kuwait, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Even the United Arab Emirates, which makes most of its money exporting oil and gas, signed on. The official position of planet Earth at the moment is that we can’t raise the temperature more than two degrees Celsius – it’s become the bottomest of bottom lines. Two degrees.

The Second Number: 565 Gigatons

Scientists estimate that humans can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by midcentury and still have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees. (“Reasonable,” in this case, means four chances in five, or somewhat worse odds than playing Russian roulette with a six-shooter.)

This idea of a global “carbon budget” emerged about a decade ago, as scientists began to calculate how much oil, coal and gas could still safely be burned. Since we’ve increased the Earth’s temperature by 0.8 degrees so far, we’re currently less than halfway to the target. But, in fact, computer models calculate that even if we stopped increasing CO2 now, the temperature would likely still rise another 0.8 degrees, as previously released carbon continues to overheat the atmosphere. That means we’re already three-quarters of the way to the two-degree target.

How good are these numbers? No one is insisting that they’re exact, but few dispute that they’re generally right. The 565-gigaton figure was derived from one of the most sophisticated computer-simulation models that have been built by climate scientists around the world over the past few decades. And the number is being further confirmed by the latest climate-simulation models currently being finalized in advance of the next report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “Looking at them as they come in, they hardly differ at all,” says Tom Wigley, an Australian climatologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “There’s maybe 40 models in the data set now, compared with 20 before. But so far the numbers are pretty much the same. We’re just fine-tuning things. I don’t think much has changed over the last decade.” William Collins, a senior climate scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, agrees. “I think the results of this round of simulations will be quite similar,” he says. “We’re not getting any free lunch from additional understanding of the climate system.”

We’re not getting any free lunch from the world’s economies, either. With only a single year’s lull in 2009 at the height of the financial crisis, we’ve continued to pour record amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, year after year. In late May, the International Energy Agency published its latest figures – CO2 emissions last year rose to 31.6 gigatons, up 3.2 percent from the year before. America had a warm winter and converted more coal-fired power plants to natural gas, so its emissions fell slightly; China kept booming, so its carbon output (which recently surpassed the U.S.) rose 9.3 percent; the Japanese shut down their fleet of nukes post-Fukushima, so their emissions edged up 2.4 percent. “There have been efforts to use more renewable energy and improve energy efficiency,” said Corinne Le Quéré, who runs England’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. “But what this shows is that so far the effects have been marginal.” In fact, study after study predicts that carbon emissions will keep growing by roughly three percent a year – and at that rate, we’ll blow through our 565-gigaton allowance in 16 years, around the time today’s preschoolers will be graduating from high school. “The new data provide further evidence that the door to a two-degree trajectory is about to close,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s chief economist. In fact, he continued, “When I look at this data, the trend is perfectly in line with a temperature increase of about six degrees.” That’s almost 11 degrees Fahrenheit, which would create a planet straight out of science fiction.

So, new data in hand, everyone at the Rio conference renewed their ritual calls for serious international action to move us back to a two-degree trajectory. The charade will continue in November, when the next Conference of the Parties (COP) of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change convenes in Qatar. This will be COP 18 – COP 1 was held in Berlin in 1995, and since then the process has accomplished essentially nothing. Even scientists, who are notoriously reluctant to speak out, are slowly overcoming their natural preference to simply provide data. “The message has been consistent for close to 30 years now,” Collins says with a wry laugh, “and we have the instrumentation and the computer power required to present the evidence in detail. If we choose to continue on our present course of action, it should be done with a full evaluation of the evidence the scientific community has presented.” He pauses, suddenly conscious of being on the record. “I should say, a fuller evaluation of the evidence.”

So far, though, such calls have had little effect. We’re in the same position we’ve been in for a quarter-century: scientific warning followed by political inaction. Among scientists speaking off the record, disgusted candor is the rule. One senior scientist told me, “You know those new cigarette packs, where governments make them put a picture of someone with a hole in their throats? Gas pumps should have something like that.”

The Third Number: 2,795 Gigatons

This number is the scariest of all – one that, for the first time, meshes the political and scientific dimensions of our dilemma. It was highlighted last summer by the Carbon Tracker Initiative, a team of London financial analysts and environmentalists who published a report in an effort to educate investors about the possible risks that climate change poses to their stock portfolios. The number describes the amount of carbon already contained in the proven coal and oil and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies, and the countries (think Venezuela or Kuwait) that act like fossil-fuel companies. In short, it’s the fossil fuel we’re currently planning to burn. And the key point is that this new number – 2,795 – is higher than 565. Five times higher.

The Carbon Tracker Initiative – led by James Leaton, an environmentalist who served as an adviser at the accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers – combed through proprietary databases to figure out how much oil, gas and coal the world’s major energy companies hold in reserve. The numbers aren’t perfect – they don’t fully reflect the recent surge in unconventional energy sources like shale gas, and they don’t accurately reflect coal reserves, which are subject to less stringent reporting requirements than oil and gas. But for the biggest companies, the figures are quite exact: If you burned everything in the inventories of Russia’s Lukoil and America’s ExxonMobil, for instance, which lead the list of oil and gas companies, each would release more than 40 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Which is exactly why this new number, 2,795 gigatons, is such a big deal. Think of two degrees Celsius as the legal drinking limit – equivalent to the 0.08 blood-alcohol level below which you might get away with driving home. The 565 gigatons is how many drinks you could have and still stay below that limit – the six beers, say, you might consume in an evening. And the 2,795 gigatons? That’s the three 12-packs the fossil-fuel industry has on the table, already opened and ready to pour.

We have five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to burn. We’d have to keep 80 percent of those reserves locked away underground to avoid that fate. Before we knew those numbers, our fate had been likely. Now, barring some massive intervention, it seems certain.

Yes, this coal and gas and oil is still technically in the soil. But it’s already economically aboveground – it’s figured into share prices, companies are borrowing money against it, nations are basing their budgets on the presumed returns from their patrimony. It explains why the big fossil-fuel companies have fought so hard to prevent the regulation of carbon dioxide – those reserves are their primary asset, the holding that gives their companies their value. It’s why they’ve worked so hard these past years to figure out how to unlock the oil in Canada’s tar sands, or how to drill miles beneath the sea, or how to frack the Appalachians.

If you told Exxon or Lukoil that, in order to avoid wrecking the climate, they couldn’t pump out their reserves, the value of their companies would plummet. John Fullerton, a former managing director at JP Morgan who now runs the Capital Institute, calculates that at today’s market value, those 2,795 gigatons of carbon emissions are worth about $27 trillion. Which is to say, if you paid attention to the scientists and kept 80 percent of it underground, you’d be writing off $20 trillion in assets. The numbers aren’t exact, of course, but that carbon bubble makes the housing bubble look small by comparison. It won’t necessarily burst – we might well burn all that carbon, in which case investors will do fine. But if we do, the planet will crater. You can have a healthy fossil-fuel balance sheet, or a relatively healthy planet – but now that we know the numbers, it looks like you can’t have both. Do the math: 2,795 is five times 565. That’s how the story ends.

So far, as I said at the start, environmental efforts to tackle global warming have failed. The planet’s emissions of carbon dioxide continue to soar, especially as developing countries emulate (and supplant) the industries of the West. Even in rich countries, small reductions in emissions offer no sign of the real break with the status quo we’d need to upend the iron logic of these three numbers. Germany is one of the only big countries that has actually tried hard to change its energy mix; on one sunny Saturday in late May, that northern-latitude nation generated nearly half its power from solar panels within its borders. That’s a small miracle – and it demonstrates that we have the technology to solve our problems. But we lack the will. So far, Germany’s the exception; the rule is ever more carbon.

This record of failure means we know a lot about what strategies don’t work. Green groups, for instance, have spent a lot of time trying to change individual lifestyles: the iconic twisty light bulb has been installed by the millions, but so have a new generation of energy-sucking flatscreen TVs. Most of us are fundamentally ambivalent about going green: We like cheap flights to warm places, and we’re certainly not going to give them up if everyone else is still taking them. Since all of us are in some way the beneficiaries of cheap fossil fuel, tackling climate change has been like trying to build a movement against yourself – it’s as if the gay-rights movement had to be constructed entirely from evangelical preachers, or the abolition movement from slaveholders.

People perceive – correctly – that their individual actions will not make a decisive difference in the atmospheric concentration of CO2; by 2010, a poll found that “while recycling is widespread in America and 73 percent of those polled are paying bills online in order to save paper,” only four percent had reduced their utility use and only three percent had purchased hybrid cars. Given a hundred years, you could conceivably change lifestyles enough to matter – but time is precisely what we lack.

A more efficient method, of course, would be to work through the political system, and environmentalists have tried that, too, with the same limited success. They’ve patiently lobbied leaders, trying to convince them of our peril and assuming that politicians would heed the warnings. Sometimes it has seemed to work. Barack Obama, for instance, campaigned more aggressively about climate change than any president before him – the night he won the nomination, he told supporters that his election would mark the moment “the rise of the oceans began to slow and the planet began to heal.” And he has achieved one significant change: a steady increase in the fuel efficiency mandated for automobiles. It’s the kind of measure, adopted a quarter-century ago, that would have helped enormously. But in light of the numbers I’ve just described, it’s obviously a very small start indeed.

At this point, effective action would require actually keeping most of the carbon the fossil-fuel industry wants to burn safely in the soil, not just changing slightly the speed at which it’s burned. And there the president, apparently haunted by the still-echoing cry of “Drill, baby, drill,” has gone out of his way to frack and mine. His secretary of interior, for instance, opened up a huge swath of the Powder River Basin in Wyoming for coal extraction: The total basin contains some 67.5 gigatons worth of carbon (or more than 10 percent of the available atmospheric space). He’s doing the same thing with Arctic and offshore drilling; in fact, as he explained on the stump in March, “You have my word that we will keep drilling everywhere we can… That’s a commitment that I make.” The next day, in a yard full of oil pipe in Cushing, Oklahoma, the president promised to work on wind and solar energy but, at the same time, to speed up fossil-fuel development: “Producing more oil and gas here at home has been, and will continue to be, a critical part of an all-of-the-above energy strategy.” That is, he’s committed to finding even more stock to add to the 2,795-gigaton inventory of unburned carbon.

Sometimes the irony is almost Borat-scale obvious: In early June, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled on a Norwegian research trawler to see firsthand the growing damage from climate change. “Many of the predictions about warming in the Arctic are being surpassed by the actual data,” she said, describing the sight as “sobering.” But the discussions she traveled to Scandinavia to have with other foreign ministers were mostly about how to make sure Western nations get their share of the estimated $9 trillion in oil (that’s more than 90 billion barrels, or 37 gigatons of carbon) that will become accessible as the Arctic ice melts. Last month, the Obama administration indicated that it would give Shell permission to start drilling in sections of the Arctic.

Almost every government with deposits of hydrocarbons straddles the same divide. Canada, for instance, is a liberal democracy renowned for its internationalism – no wonder, then, that it signed on to the Kyoto treaty, promising to cut its carbon emissions substantially by 2012. But the rising price of oil suddenly made the tar sands of Alberta economically attractive – and since, as NASA climatologist James Hansen pointed out in May, they contain as much as 240 gigatons of carbon (or almost half of the available space if we take the 565 limit seriously), that meant Canada’s commitment to Kyoto was nonsense. In December, the Canadian government withdrew from the treaty before it faced fines for failing to meet its commitments.

The same kind of hypocrisy applies across the ideological board: In his speech to the Copenhagen conference, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez quoted Rosa Luxemburg, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and “Christ the Redeemer,” insisting that “climate change is undoubtedly the most devastating environmental problem of this century.” But the next spring, in the Simon Bolivar Hall of the state-run oil company, he signed an agreement with a consortium of international players to develop the vast Orinoco tar sands as “the most significant engine for a comprehensive development of the entire territory and Venezuelan population.” The Orinoco deposits are larger than Alberta’s – taken together, they’d fill up the whole available atmospheric space.

So: the paths we have tried to tackle global warming have so far produced only gradual, halting shifts. A rapid, transformative change would require building a movement, and movements require enemies. As John F. Kennedy put it, “The civil rights movement should thank God for Bull Connor. He’s helped it as much as Abraham Lincoln.” And enemies are what climate change has lacked.

But what all these climate numbers make painfully, usefully clear is that the planet does indeed have an enemy – one far more committed to action than governments or individuals. Given this hard math, we need to view the fossil-fuel industry in a new light. It has become a rogue industry, reckless like no other force on Earth. It is Public Enemy Number One to the survival of our planetary civilization. “Lots of companies do rotten things in the course of their business – pay terrible wages, make people work in sweatshops – and we pressure them to change those practices,” says veteran anti-corporate leader Naomi Klein, who is at work on a book about the climate crisis. “But these numbers make clear that with the fossil-fuel industry, wrecking the planet is their business model. It’s what they do.”

According to the Carbon Tracker report, if Exxon burns its current reserves, it would use up more than seven percent of the available atmospheric space between us and the risk of two degrees. BP is just behind, followed by the Russian firm Gazprom, then Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Shell, each of which would fill between three and four percent. Taken together, just these six firms, of the 200 listed in the Carbon Tracker report, would use up more than a quarter of the remaining two-degree budget. Severstal, the Russian mining giant, leads the list of coal companies, followed by firms like BHP Billiton and Peabody. The numbers are simply staggering – this industry, and this industry alone, holds the power to change the physics and chemistry of our planet, and they’re planning to use it.

They’re clearly cognizant of global warming – they employ some of the world’s best scientists, after all, and they’re bidding on all those oil leases made possible by the staggering melt of Arctic ice. And yet they relentlessly search for more hydrocarbons – in early March, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson told Wall Street analysts that the company plans to spend $37 billion a year through 2016 (about $100 million a day) searching for yet more oil and gas.

There’s not a more reckless man on the planet than Tillerson. Late last month, on the same day the Colorado fires reached their height, he told a New York audience that global warming is real, but dismissed it as an “engineering problem” that has “engineering solutions.” Such as? “Changes to weather patterns that move crop-production areas around – we’ll adapt to that.” This in a week when Kentucky farmers were reporting that corn kernels were “aborting” in record heat, threatening a spike in global food prices. “The fear factor that people want to throw out there to say, ‘We just have to stop this,’ I do not accept,” Tillerson said. Of course not – if he did accept it, he’d have to keep his reserves in the ground. Which would cost him money. It’s not an engineering problem, in other words – it’s a greed problem.

You could argue that this is simply in the nature of these companies – that having found a profitable vein, they’re compelled to keep mining it, more like efficient automatons than people with free will. But as the Supreme Court has made clear, they are people of a sort. In fact, thanks to the size of its bankroll, the fossil-fuel industry has far more free will than the rest of us. These companies don’t simply exist in a world whose hungers they fulfill – they help create the boundaries of that world.

Left to our own devices, citizens might decide to regulate carbon and stop short of the brink; according to a recent poll, nearly two-thirds of Americans would back an international agreement that cut carbon emissions 90 percent by 2050. But we aren’t left to our own devices. The Koch brothers, for instance, have a combined wealth of $50 billion, meaning they trail only Bill Gates on the list of richest Americans. They’ve made most of their money in hydrocarbons, they know any system to regulate carbon would cut those profits, and they reportedly plan to lavish as much as $200 million on this year’s elections. In 2009, for the first time, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce surpassed both the Republican and Democratic National Committees on political spending; the following year, more than 90 percent of the Chamber’s cash went to GOP candidates, many of whom deny the existence of global warming. Not long ago, the Chamber even filed a brief with the EPA urging the agency not to regulate carbon – should the world’s scientists turn out to be right and the planet heats up, the Chamber advised, “populations can acclimatize to warmer climates via a range of behavioral, physiological and technological adaptations.” As radical goes, demanding that we change our physiology seems right up there.

Environmentalists, understandably, have been loath to make the fossil-fuel industry their enemy, respecting its political power and hoping instead to convince these giants that they should turn away from coal, oil and gas and transform themselves more broadly into “energy companies.” Sometimes that strategy appeared to be working – emphasis on appeared. Around the turn of the century, for instance, BP made a brief attempt to restyle itself as “Beyond Petroleum,” adapting a logo that looked like the sun and sticking solar panels on some of its gas stations. But its investments in alternative energy were never more than a tiny fraction of its budget for hydrocarbon exploration, and after a few years, many of those were wound down as new CEOs insisted on returning to the company’s “core business.” In December, BP finally closed its solar division. Shell shut down its solar and wind efforts in 2009. The five biggest oil companies have made more than $1 trillion in profits since the millennium – there’s simply too much money to be made on oil and gas and coal to go chasing after zephyrs and sunbeams.

Much of that profit stems from a single historical accident: Alone among businesses, the fossil-fuel industry is allowed to dump its main waste, carbon dioxide, for free. Nobody else gets that break – if you own a restaurant, you have to pay someone to cart away your trash, since piling it in the street would breed rats. But the fossil-fuel industry is different, and for sound historical reasons: Until a quarter-century ago, almost no one knew that CO2 was dangerous. But now that we understand that carbon is heating the planet and acidifying the oceans, its price becomes the central issue.

If you put a price on carbon, through a direct tax or other methods, it would enlist markets in the fight against global warming. Once Exxon has to pay for the damage its carbon is doing to the atmosphere, the price of its products would rise. Consumers would get a strong signal to use less fossil fuel – every time they stopped at the pump, they’d be reminded that you don’t need a semimilitary vehicle to go to the grocery store. The economic playing field would now be a level one for nonpolluting energy sources. And you could do it all without bankrupting citizens – a so-called “fee-and-dividend” scheme would put a hefty tax on coal and gas and oil, then simply divide up the proceeds, sending everyone in the country a check each month for their share of the added costs of carbon. By switching to cleaner energy sources, most people would actually come out ahead.

There’s only one problem: Putting a price on carbon would reduce the profitability of the fossil-fuel industry. After all, the answer to the question “How high should the price of carbon be?” is “High enough to keep those carbon reserves that would take us past two degrees safely in the ground.” The higher the price on carbon, the more of those reserves would be worthless. The fight, in the end, is about whether the industry will succeed in its fight to keep its special pollution break alive past the point of climate catastrophe, or whether, in the economists’ parlance, we’ll make them internalize those externalities.

It’s not clear, of course, that the power of the fossil-fuel industry can be broken. The U.K. analysts who wrote the Carbon Tracker report and drew attention to these numbers had a relatively modest goal – they simply wanted to remind investors that climate change poses a very real risk to the stock prices of energy companies. Say something so big finally happens (a giant hurricane swamps Manhattan, a megadrought wipes out Midwest agriculture) that even the political power of the industry is inadequate to restrain legislators, who manage to regulate carbon. Suddenly those Chevron reserves would be a lot less valuable, and the stock would tank. Given that risk, the Carbon Tracker report warned investors to lessen their exposure, hedge it with some big plays in alternative energy.

“The regular process of economic evolution is that businesses are left with stranded assets all the time,” says Nick Robins, who runs HSBC’s Climate Change Centre. “Think of film cameras, or typewriters. The question is not whether this will happen. It will. Pension systems have been hit by the dot-com and credit crunch. They’ll be hit by this.” Still, it hasn’t been easy to convince investors, who have shared in the oil industry’s record profits. “The reason you get bubbles,” sighs Leaton, “is that everyone thinks they’re the best analyst – that they’ll go to the edge of the cliff and then jump back when everyone else goes over.”

So pure self-interest probably won’t spark a transformative challenge to fossil fuel. But moral outrage just might – and that’s the real meaning of this new math. It could, plausibly, give rise to a real movement.

Once, in recent corporate history, anger forced an industry to make basic changes. That was the campaign in the 1980s demanding divestment from companies doing business in South Africa. It rose first on college campuses and then spread to municipal and state governments; 155 campuses eventually divested, and by the end of the decade, more than 80 cities, 25 states and 19 counties had taken some form of binding economic action against companies connected to the apartheid regime. “The end of apartheid stands as one of the crowning accomplishments of the past century,” as Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it, “but we would not have succeeded without the help of international pressure,” especially from “the divestment movement of the 1980s.”

The fossil-fuel industry is obviously a tougher opponent, and even if you could force the hand of particular companies, you’d still have to figure out a strategy for dealing with all the sovereign nations that, in effect, act as fossil-fuel companies. But the link for college students is even more obvious in this case. If their college’s endowment portfolio has fossil-fuel stock, then their educations are being subsidized by investments that guarantee they won’t have much of a planet on which to make use of their degree. (The same logic applies to the world’s largest investors, pension funds, which are also theoretically interested in the future – that’s when their members will “enjoy their retirement.”) “Given the severity of the climate crisis, a comparable demand that our institutions dump stock from companies that are destroying the planet would not only be appropriate but effective,” says Bob Massie, a former anti-apartheid activist who helped found the Investor Network on Climate Risk. “The message is simple: We have had enough. We must sever the ties with those who profit from climate change – now.”

Movements rarely have predictable outcomes. But any campaign that weakens the fossil-fuel industry’s political standing clearly increases the chances of retiring its special breaks. Consider President Obama’s signal achievement in the climate fight, the large increase he won in mileage requirements for cars. Scientists, environmentalists and engineers had advocated such policies for decades, but until Detroit came under severe financial pressure, it was politically powerful enough to fend them off. If people come to understand the cold, mathematical truth – that the fossil-fuel industry is systematically undermining the planet’s physical systems – it might weaken it enough to matter politically. Exxon and their ilk might drop their opposition to a fee-and-dividend solution; they might even decide to become true energy companies, this time for real.

Even if such a campaign is possible, however, we may have waited too long to start it. To make a real difference – to keep us under a temperature increase of two degrees – you’d need to change carbon pricing in Washington, and then use that victory to leverage similar shifts around the world. At this point, what happens in the U.S. is most important for how it will influence China and India, where emissions are growing fastest. (In early June, researchers concluded that China has probably under-reported its emissions by up to 20 percent.) The three numbers I’ve described are daunting – they may define an essentially impossible future. But at least they provide intellectual clarity about the greatest challenge humans have ever faced. We know how much we can burn, and we know who’s planning to burn more. Climate change operates on a geological scale and time frame, but it’s not an impersonal force of nature; the more carefully you do the math, the more thoroughly you realize that this is, at bottom, a moral issue; we have met the enemy and they is Shell.

Meanwhile the tide of numbers continues. The week after the Rio conference limped to its conclusion, Arctic sea ice hit the lowest level ever recorded for that date. Last month, on a single weekend, Tropical Storm Debby dumped more than 20 inches of rain on Florida – the earliest the season’s fourth-named cyclone has ever arrived. At the same time, the largest fire in New Mexico history burned on, and the most destructive fire in Colorado’s annals claimed 346 homes in Colorado Springs – breaking a record set the week before in Fort Collins. This month, scientists issued a new study concluding that global warming has dramatically increased the likelihood of severe heat and drought – days after a heat wave across the Plains and Midwest broke records that had stood since the Dust Bowl, threatening this year’s harvest. You want a big number? In the course of this month, a quadrillion kernels of corn need to pollinate across the grain belt, something they can’t do if temperatures remain off the charts. Just like us, our crops are adapted to the Holocene, the 11,000-year period of climatic stability we’re now leaving… in the dust.

This story is from the August 2nd, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.
http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719

Also see http://350.org

What do we do about climate change?

What do we do about climate change?

by Brian Davey

After Copenhagen it was by no means obvious that simply calling upon governments to act would achieve very much. Yet the situation is urgent – so what do we do? The aim of this chapter is to look at options for getting from where we are now to adequate climate mitigation. It starts by looking at all the obstacles to getting things done – but this is not so that we get discouraged and give up. It is so that we are realistic and can find our way around the obstacles.

 

A recent book by the Financial Times columnist and academic, John Kay, points out that the most successful ways of achieving policy, business or other goals in human affairs is not to approach our goals directly but indirectly. It is the oblique approach that often achieves most[1].

 

There is a very good case for approaching climate mitigation obliquely particularly as the task is huge and complex, because much of what needs to happen is unclear – and because the resistances to getting action put in place by vested interests are very powerful. At the same time there are powerful pressures to get something done about a growing crisis in the energy system and millions of people are having to adjust their lives to this energy and economic crisis. So how can an indirect response to the climate crisis be put in place as part of a general programme for the wider crisis? How can we enlist the active involvement of millions of people and win them over for adequate climate policies – for example those who have become involved in the Occupy movement that has sprung up the world over?

 

If it is not as easy as it is supposed to be to make the democratic process work for us perhaps this is because we have pinned our thinking too much to the head-on direct route. People are struggling to cope with lots of problems – how about ideas about how to help them and deal with the climate crisis too?

 

Most of us know the head-on direct route very well. It is the route of political common sense. We are supposed to put credible policy ideas into letters and articles for newspapers and in the letters that we write to our MPs. Having convinced our MPs what is supposed to happen is that our ideas are passed on to ministers and examined by officials. If enough members of the public want something the policy will eventually be enacted. What we are supposed to do is to lobby the politicians and officials with credible ideas. That is the theory and most of us know in our hearts that it doesn’t work – even if we do not acknowledge it yet in our heads and in what we do and say.

As if!

As is very clear the chances of getting adequate climate change mitigation in the current growth economy are very slim. The UK government’s former advisers, the Sustainable Development Commission, have published studies that say so. For example, “Prosperity without Growth” written by Professor Tim Jackson, showed how a growing economy could not possibly achieve the carbon emissions reductions required even to reach an inadequate 450ppm CO2 target by 2050. To achieve an average year on year reduction of emissions of 4.9% with 0.7% population growth and 1.4% income growth would require technological change to reduce emissions per unit of economic output at 7% per annum. That is ten times the current rate.[2]

 

Nevertheless the policy makers and business are locked into a commitment to growth. Growth is a central idea in what John Jopling and Roy Madron term “the elite consensus” in their book Gaian Democracy. [3] Those people who argue for non growth economics are ignored by policy makers, business and most journalists. The Sustainable Development Commission and Tim Jackson told the government that growth and sustainability were not compatible – and this probably helped to seal the fate of the SDC – it was abolished by the coalition government as one of the victims of the cuts.

 

If you follow the route of political common sense and lobby for ideas outside the elite consensus – ie the growth consensus – you get ignored. Although everyone says that they like thinking that is “outside the box”, they do not mean thinking outside the growing economy box.

 

Now there are systemic reasons for this addiction to growth. There are reasons as to why it is considered more important than dealing with climate change. For one thing growth has come to be seen as “the” answer for all political problems. Writer Clive Hamilton describes this as fetishistic:

 

“Growth alone will save the poor. If inequality causes concern, a rising tide lifts all boats. Growth will solve unemployment. If we want better schools and hospitals then economic growth will provide. And if the environment is in decline then higher growth will generate the means to fix it. Whatever the social problem, the answer is always more growth” [4]

 

Over and above the fetishist mind set of the policy establishment there are deeper, structural reasons for their collective fixation. These reasons arise out of the nature of the money and financial system. The argument here is not new – green economists have called attention to this problem for decades and it is explored in the other chapters of this book at length.

 

Debt based money and growth

Since we all depend on the smooth functioning of the money and financial system, and since we all use it in our everyday life, the money system should be regarded as a commons resource. It should be managed in the interests of everyone. However, the financial system has been effectively privatised because almost all money comes into existence as bank deposits when banks lend money to their customers. The banks create the money that they lend and money is backed, not by gold as it used to be a long time ago, but by debt – by promises to repay loans to bankers with interest.

 

The important point here is that, while the banks create the money that they lend, they do not simultaneously create the money that their customers also need in order to pay the interest on their bank borrowings. The economy has to keep on growing in order for there to be a basis to motivate new lending. Without new lending, and hence new debt being created, there is no source for the next round of additional money needed to pay the interest on the previous debt.

 

This kind of economy does not have a reverse gear. Because of its debt based money arrangements the economy must keep growing or the banks get into trouble. If the economy does not grow then it needs something else to grow instead – like asset value bubbles, mainly in the real estate markets, so that banks have a basis to keep on inflating their lending.

 

If the banks stop lending and people repay their debts the money supply and liquidity starts to dry up, people get into trouble repaying debts and the banks get into problems too. Remember – since almost all money is backed by debt, then in those times when the main dynamic in the economy is that debts are being repaid the money in circulation starts to fall and demand starts to shrink. Horror of horrors the process becomes a vicious deflationary cycle. The economy goes into a downward spiral. Confidence in the banks begins to wobble and people want to take the money out of the machines in the wall.

 

This explains at a deeper structural level why growth is the taken for granted and self evident goal that few politicians, economists or journalists dare question. It enables us to understand the toxic group-think of the political economic elite – I write ‘toxic’ because, as argued earlier, it is impossible to reduce carbon emissions sufficiently if the economy does keep on growing…. which means, conversely that, at least when growth does stall, so too do carbon emissions….

 

…it also gives us an important topic for dialogue with the movement for deep change that has suddenly emerged in tents in cities all over the world, a movement focused on seeking to challenge a crisis of injustice whose roots are the banking system.

 

Policy making as an in club… of addicts

So problem number one is that, if you argue the case for policies that would cut emissions adequately, you will be arguing for the ultimate heresy, no-growth economics, and you will get ignored by the growth junkies – at the same time however we have something important to say to the movement in the street.

 

That’s not all either. Most kinds of addicts share their lifestyle with others – it is so hard to give up their addiction not only because of a brain-chemical dependency but because it means giving up on a social network. That’s partly why groups like Alcoholics Anonymous work so well – AA gives another social network based on staying off the drink.

 

Money and energy junkies are not that different. Inside the addiction circle of very important people it is difficult to get a look-in for other ideas anyway. Policy is largely formulated by officials in a dialogue with vested interests or ‘stakeholders’. Some lobbyists are much more influential than others. These are the ones well connected to people who own newspapers or other mass media and the journalists working for them. To a large extent public relation companies set the agenda. People of influence have been to the same public schools as the politicians, meet regularly in the same clubs, set up their own think tanks, set up foundations to fund pet causes and operate both behind-the-scenes – or in front of the cameras – all in a way that people without money and time are unable to do. It is in this way that the 1% consolidate their position in the corridors of power.

 

Regulatory Capture

This helps explain what is called “regulatory capture”. The officials working for ministries and public departments which are supposed to regulate private interests instead develop a cosy relationship with those same interests. It seems quite natural for people in a particular economic sector, who have some knowledge of it, to apply for jobs in the regulatory agencies. Likewise people in government, and in the regulatory agencies, regularly take jobs in the very same sectors which they previously had a role in regulating. It is true in the banking sector, which, as an increasing number of people are aware, has taken over and neutralised state regulation. It is also, to a very large degree, true in the energy sector.

 

Nobody likes to maintain stressful confrontational relationships with others over long periods. It is more congenial when relationships between regulators and regulated are cosy. Then poachers and gamekeepers can switch roles from time to time too. People outside the comfortable clubs, who are losing out, may try to rock the boat to get a problem dealt with – but will often need considerable resources and endurance to maintain pressure to get anything done, particularly if it involves bad vibes.

 

If they have that endurance, the resources and a good case, outsiders like critical NGOs may, in some cases, be an embarrassment – so they may then be co-opted. Concessions may be made and the critics are allowed to join the club and become instead a force for inertia. Their radical rhetoric gives the appearance that the democratic and consultative system is working.

 

In the relationship between governments and commercial interests there are few businesses more powerful than the fossil energy companies and the industries closely connected to them – e.g pharmaceuticals. Wherever one looks in the world fossil energy companies and states exist in a symbiotic relationship. Political economic power goes with the deployment of technologies, infrastructures and armaments that use huge quantities of fossil energy. The companies that deliver that energy are therefore of strategic importance and are tightly bound into governments. It is not exaggerating too much to say that either energy companies own the state or, in some cases, are owned by the state. A revolving door relationship exists at the highest level between the personnel of the energy companies and those of governments. What’s more, support for democracy takes second place when it comes to securing fossil energy – one has only to point to the cosy relationship between western governments and the autocrats in oil producing countries like Saudi Arabia. Perhaps only the banks have more influence than the energy corporations.

 

It is against this huge inertia that climate policy in general, and cap and share in particular, have to be developed. The capacity of the political system and vested interests to fundamentally reform themselves is very limited.

 

On first impressions, given this context, the situation appears to be pretty hopeless. It is certainly an illusion to imagine that a clearly articulated argument about the survival of life on Earth, and social justice, is enough to make a difference in the policy arena as thus described. Even brilliantly expressed arguments can be ignored and they are ignored. One can even define power as ‘the ability to ignore’. The higher up the political hierarchy one goes the better at ignoring other ideas and agendas the post holders become. Indeed they have to ignore others because the number of issues that they have to deal with becomes too great. Power holders choose their agendas for focus and ignore the rest. In this regard the whole purpose of seeking power is to pursue one’s own agenda choices.

 

The source of change lies outside the mainstream

However, this is to misunderstand the sources of change, which lie outside the mainstream. The physicist Max Planck described how change occurs in science – and his words also give us a clue as to how it might possibly change in society and in the economy too:

 

“An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way rapidly winning over and converting its opponents: it rarely happens that Saul becomes Paul. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out and that the growing generation is familiarised with the idea from the beginning” [5]

 

The alternatives to the present log jam have to be constructed outside the political and economic mainstream. Preparations are needed for a rapid transfer over to a new system that is running in embryo when things begin to breakdown, when an older generation flounder and prove quite unable to understand what is going on and quite incapable of coping.

 

How that might happen has been explored in various writings by different authors and activists who have looked for concept systems that put their local and limited activities in a broader context. The slogan “Think global and act local” is now well known and much recent thought has gone into working out, more exactly, what the phrase, “think global” actually means and how it touches on local practice. In cities all over the world an active movement for change is seeking for how this be done – refusing to prematurely focus on demands, because there is a realisation that this is a complex task and if you are going a long way you need to travel slowly.

 

Big Ideas and Grand Narratives – for inspirational intrinsic motivations

We are entering a period of great economic and social turmoil and millions of people are showing clearly that they are yearning for a clear way forward out of the chaos. This will be a time when people will be looking for big picture explanations as to what is happening and big picture credible ideas as to the way out. Policies and ideas for climate change mitigation must become an integral part of these big picture narratives. It is important that our ideas are there otherwise the mass movements will be in danger of over-simplifying, thinking that if only we get rid of the bankers then all our problems will be solved.

 

New arrangements and new thinking about the management of commons is part of the big picture for a future transformation. People are much more prepared to do “their bit” when they feel that what they are doing is part of a larger whole. This gives greater meaning to lives which would otherwise be small because lived in the pursuit of trivial purposes.

 

In times of turmoil people struggle to understand the bigger picture and embrace new purposes which provide a focus for new intrinsic motivations. As they struggle to understand, to orientate themselves, and to find a way forward that makes sense, they discover causes for themselves in the sense explained by Arnold Bennett. (“A cause may be inconvenient, but it’s magnificent. It’s like champagne or high heels, and one must be prepared to suffer for it”).

 

This should be compared to the approach of mainstream economics to climate change which proposes that we be nudged towards climate mitigation by changes in prices. It suggests that we need to be “incentivised” – and that we will make money or save money by doing climate mitigation – an approach that relies on extrinsic motivations.

 

In complete contrast to solving the climate crisis through cash based incentives we need a “Big Idea” which will provide a focus for intrinsic motivations – creating a movement of people working to protect and share common resources. That “Big Idea” is a programme for commons management arising out of a convergence of thinking from different places and requiring new structures and processes based on collaborative networks.

 

It is beginning to happen. In the years and months before the camps of tents people and movements who have seen their role as protecting common natural resources (the oceans, the atmosphere, fresh water resources) are coming together in a dialogue with those who have realised that they are creating and seeking to defend an “information commons”. In the internet, resources like linux, wikipedia and other design processes are effectively creating resources for free in peer to peer work relationships – which corporations try to recapture and enclose to privatise the value created by others for themselves.

 

“The commons” is therefore a key “big idea” for a policy and ideological platform. Cap and share, as well as our other climate policy approaches, needs to be clearly contextualised as an approach that fits best with the management of the earth’s atmosphere and climate as a common resource, co-managed and shared by all for the benefit of all, including future generations.

 

It should be acknowledged here that there is a point of view that big idea explanations which a signpost the future, ‘grand narratives’ as they are called, are unwanted and dangerous. The fear is that signposting “inevitable and necessary futures” for billions of people to march towards would bring new tyrannies into being. This implies that if we develop global policies like cap and share to deal with global problems then inevitably we need global bureaucratic hierarchies with immense power. The worry is that these bureaucracies will, in turn, morph into new top down regimes. Such tyrannies will have great power because, in the face of the big picture which underpins them ideologically, the grandeur and importance of the end – preventing runaway climate change and ecological collapse – would justify any means.

 

But the point here is that cap and share does not require a big bureaucracy. It is appealing because of its very simplicity.

 

It is certainly true that a great deal would need to be done to adjust to, and cope with, a rapidly tightening cap. A lot of things will have to be done at the level of households, communities, and in each locality. In each case there will be a need for a unique and location-specific transformation of energy technologies, buildings, production systems, as well as cultivational landscapes and transport configurations.

 

The Great Transition

Another way of thinking about the tasks at hand is to use the ideas of the “Great Transition”. [6] The authors and activists who are developing this overarching framework describe the economy and society as existing in three zones or spheres: a cultural landscape, the dominant economic and political regime and a realm of niche alternatives.

The “cultural landscape” consists of the common motivations of the people in a society and the narratives that the people use to understand the way the world works and their place in it – this is dominant culture of that society.

 

The culture is embedded and embodied in a second sphere – the economic and political “regimes”. These are the powerful institutions that take decisions and allocate resources that have already been described as tightly integrated together. Most of the effort of NGOs and civil society organisations is currently focused on trying to influence these regimes. But as we have seen, these efforts are often too weak and are frequently ignored – or where they do have an impact they tend to be co-opted and then neutralised.

 

Nevertheless a third zone does exist as a potential source of change. It is not currently very large but it can be found as a place of niche experiments, of small scale developmental projects. In the theory of the “Great Transition” these niche experiments are described as “seed projects”. They are run on motivations and narratives which do not fit into the cultural mainstream. If you talk to people in Transition Initiatives, in community gardens, or urban farms, or community energy projects you will typically find that they share a similar story about how the future is likely to look, or how they would like it to look. You will find too that they are much more committed to helping vulnerable people and not in it primarily to make money for themselves. [7]

 

“Seed projects” like this are embodied and embedded in different motivations and narratives and represent an alternative culture. It is by these projects developing further, networking together, becoming stronger that they might start to look more credible as the embryonic basis of new regime, a new economy that is more appropriate to the troubled times.

 

Since climate change is a system problem, rooted in the use of fossil energy to power a “consume more – bigger – faster” economy, an economy that is getting more unequal all the time, it follows that a lot more than a single policy will be required to get to deal with it. A system change is needed – but how does one achieve system change? It is one thing to explain how the current system works, it is quite another to explain how a transition is to be made from this system to another one that is non destructive. Agreeing what the transition will look like, and then making it happen, in a collective social process is the task at hand. And it is a very challenging task. Nor are we likely to find many mainstream businesses lending a hand as they have an inbuilt growth imperative. This is a task for people – not people playing roles in institutions.

 

Variants of the Great Transition

The commons and the Great Transition are just two of a growing number of ‘bigger picture’ approaches to what we have to do. There are many different people around the world attempting to envisage what a new system would be like and how it might emerge as the further development of current projects and practices. Despite superficial differences of approach the different eco-social “visions of the future” have a lot in common. These different approaches are mostly compatible and can converge with one another.

 

For example, from Germany there are ideas being developed about how to develop a “solidarity economy” – which is forseen as emerging from the development and networking of co-operatives, social and community enterprises focused on ecological and energy goals, community energy companies, community gardens, community supported agriculture and the like.[8]

 

Then there are the ideas of the Transition Movement, originated in the UK and Ireland and now globally spread – a town and city based mixture of practical projects and reskilling activities which bring communities together around a positive vision of energy descent.[9]

 

There are ideas too developed by the Decroissance (Degrowth) Movement in France and the Post Wachstum (Post Growth) Movement in Germany, as well as the “Steady State Economy” thinkers in the UK and USA. [10] [11] [12] Under these ‘umbrellas’ thinkers and practitioners of alternative economics have come together. They seek to counterpose different lifestyles, economic arrangements and the projects associated with them to the growth fetishism in the economic and cultural mainstream. Major conferences on the theme of post growth economics have occurred in Barcelona, Paris and Berlin over the last few years. The conference in Berlin in May 2011 was attended by 2,500 people, many of them young. This is an up and coming generation who will make the future. When we write about the reduction of carbon emissions up to 2050 we are talking about the bulk of their working lives. What they think and the ideas they share will be the future “Zeitgeist”.

 

As is obvious these movements are best visualised as overlapping networks of smaller groups, either of campaigners and/or of project activities – whose ideas are mostly either very similar, or at least mutually compatible and non competitive.

 

Thus what seems to be emerging is not an “alternative system” like “socialism” and/or “communism” was envisaged to be – a centralised, pre-conceived system created and driven through top down hierarchical relationships and established through a violent seizure of state power. Rather this is a gradual ‘bottom upwards’ process of local level projects and groups that are networking and cross fertilising in a variety of local, national and international forums. Nor is this an internationalisation that is merely between the rich countries. There has been participation by groups and communities from countries of the south in these discussions which have been more than formal and tokenistic. For example, the ideas of ‘Buen Vivir’ from indigenous communities in Bolivia and Ecuador, pre-colonial ideas of a good life with harmony between peoples and with nature, have been important in shaping the understanding how to motivate and guide a good life beyond growth.[13]

 

In his book Sacred Unrest Paul Hawken suggests that there are perhaps a half million organisations around the world focused on local economic development, environmental and social justice, and the rights of indigenous people.[14] The characteristics of all these organisations are their huge diversity. Yet they can evolve together in a coherent way. As Elinor Ostrom has argued, it will require a poly centric and multi level approach if the variety of each group, appropriate to the place it operates, is to be recognised and continued and yet, at the same time, the very different groups are to operate together coherently. [15] What is required here is not a top-down bureaucracy which would be incapable of coping with the variety. We need, instead, a network of active groups in which each node has a high level of autonomy and in which overall coherence is created by mutually adaptive arrangements, activated horizontally only as and when needed. Such mutual adaptation between autonomous nodes of activity would be organised to minimise conflicts, maximise synergy, to create and share information about evolving operating environments and to share and create joint value systems to facilitate the common sense of purpose. The ideas here parallel those of the late Stafford Beer and his Viable Systems Model, with its approach to networked management and nested organisations. [16]

 

This kind of networked coming together is the best hope for the world. It is out of this coming together that we can see how climate action and policy can be shaped in the future. In the meta systems that then emerge to link local level responses we will find ourselves creating a new operating environment in which firstly local government and then national governments will find themselves operating – having a powerful influence on their policy making process. The only sustainable and resilient world economy, an economy which is not climate destructive, is based on a re-localisation of economies. So it is through the networking of local initiatives to grow a greater power that a coherent response to climate change can be developed.[17]

 

It is processes like these which make it credible to believe that in the future a Climate Trust of the type envisaged by John Jopling in his chapter will emerge (see chapter 5).

This, in turn, might then provide a different kind of future as the carbon intensive regime of the old men looks less and less credible and has more and more trouble sustaining itself.

 

Generation change and Zeitgeist

There are good reasons to believe that we are entering a period in which the economy developed and managed by baby boomers on the brink of retirement will find sustaining itself very difficult. Much has been written about the impending peak of world oil production and a peak in world gas production to soon follow. Many argue that we are already at the oil peak and, in fact, on a plateau, so that the decline is soon to come. What is less well known is that this is occurring at a time of generation change in the oil and gas industry itself.

 

Almost exactly at the time predicted by the IEA for an energy crunch, there is a retirement peak in the oil and gas industry – and this is an international phenomenon. At the time of writing roughly half of the overall professional workforce in production and exploration are aged between 40 and 50 while barely 15% are in their early 20s to mid 30s. According to Booz Allen Research about 33% of those employed in the industry will retire by 2012. It is against this background that we should assess the oil and gas industries’ ability to rise to the technological challenges like that of successfully and safely tapping ultra deep water oil. [18] [19]

 

A similar phenomena can be found in the nuclear industry. There have been serious problems, delays and major cost overruns in the attempts to build a nuclear reactor in Finland. An article in Der Spiegel drew attention to no less than 3,000 construction faults at Olkiluoto. In large part this is because the expertise is not there and this problem is due to get worse. 40% of the personnel in US nuclear plants are due to retire soon and the industry will have to recruit 26,000 over the next decade even if it does not build a single new reactor. In 2008 however US universities turned out 841 graduates. The situation in Germany is even more alarming where between 1998 and 2002 only two students graduated in nuclear engineering prompting Areva to fund a training facility in Karlsruhe.[20]

 

At the same time any young person with an ability to read who is interested in technology and engineering and who is starting their careers are bound to have noticed that “green jobs” are being touted as much more recession proof and also that employment in “green jobs” – or in “cleantech” – are growing fast – albeit starting from a very low point. The idea that these jobs are more in tune with the future is a plausible one because, while the fossil fuel and nuclear sectors are running down with their engineers and their personnel are retiring, over the very same period “clean energy” employment is growing rapidly. This is especially the case in countries like Germany and China but it is even the case in the USA where employment in this sector grew by 9.1% per annum between 1998 and 2007. [21]

 

The point is that employment changes in terms of training and new job entry at one pole and retirement at the other pole are lagging indicators of a trend that is occurring now anyway. The twin process can be seen as a powerful reinforcing feedback in a transition that is and will occur consisting of an acceleration of the decline of traditional carbon based energy sectors and creating an upward dynamic in those replacing them.

 

A contested and confusing transition

Notwithstanding, caution is needed. The employment and generational transition is not occurring, and will not occur, without conflicts and considerable contestation. There is obviously a battle opening up around what the future energy system will be like – gas, nuclear or renewables. These are alternatives and it is not easy for governments to have a mixture.

 

The crisis at the nuclear reactor at Fukushima after the earthquake and the Tsunami, a crisis which will clearly not go away and which will run for months and months, perhaps year after year, has been a serious blow to the nuclear sector. It has had its greatest effect in Germany where the country appears to have decided to stake its future much more on renewable energy. At the time of writing Germany is looking at how it will upgrade and change its grid to make this possible – perhaps by adapting and upgrading the electric power lines of the railways, thus minimising the nimby backlash. [22]

 

Simultaneously the oil and gas industry are contesting moves towards a future based on renewable energy. They want political backing for the further development of fossil fuels and, in particular, supporting for so called “unconventional gas” – by technologies which drill into and shatter shale rock formations to release the gas trapped in them.

 

In the USA shale gas development has become hugely controversial. There are environmental and health effects from the toxic materials that have been used and released into surrounding rocks, water, the atmosphere and soils. In the UK shale gas has been associated with an earthquake near Blackpool. Shale gas is controversial too because the fracking production process, as well as pumping gas from production source to its place of combustion, has been found to entail significant leakage. The natural gas thus leaked, mainly methane, is itself a powerful source of global warming. These facts are undermining the claim that natural gas a source of relatively climate friendly energy. Fracking has been banned in France – but it looks as if it will go ahead in the UK.[23] [24] [25]

 

The change in energy system is thus contested and its outcome unclear. Nevertheless the fall in oil production after peak is likely to be fast and we are witnessing processes that will progressively change the conditions in which all governments operate. If governments fail to recognise what is going on at this point in time it is because they are still operating under the influence of old men and old financial institutions. The new networks of groups that were described earlier are not strong enough to impose their ideas and will on the state. Will this change soon?

 

The political system – waking up a bit late to impending chaos

What we have been witnessing are the thrashing agonies of a dying energy system that is using its traditional links and grip on the political system to try to maintain its influence. This influence is, however, beginning to wane. The death agony is well covered up by PR and spin but it is a death agony without doubt.

 

The political establishment and vested interests have been very resistant to change. As a result we are entering a period of crisis with a woefully unprepared political system. Crises like this are periods of danger but they are also periods of opportunity – because it becomes clear to thinking people that things cannot go on in the same way. It is the preparation for such a generalised crisis that we must now apply ourselves to.

 

As is generally recognised, the full force of the climate crisis lies some way in the future. However, if not enough is done in the next few years then, by the time the terrifyingly destructive impacts are felt it will be too late to do anything meaningful. The effects will keep on rolling relentlessly for centuries. Nevertheless, here and now, the energy and economic system is about to enter a period of convulsion anyway. Cap and share and our climate policies thus need to be made fit for purpose as part of a package that millions of people identify with as being necessary to deal with the structural problems, not in the future but now.

 

An immediate future of great uncertainty

There are arguments that what we can still do will not be enough when measured against the huge necessities for change required for substantive climate mitigation. This is the argument of Clive Hamilton in his widely praised the book Requiem for a Species. However Hamilton assumes that the recession unleashed by the credit crisis which has stabilised global emissions is merely a temporary problem.

 

This is very unlikely to be the case. As argued it is very probable that we are now in a period of economic instability because of peak oil and peak debt which will continue. Although emissions bounced backed strikingly in 2010 after the recession, one must wonder how long the “recovery” will continue.

 

In important respects, the instability will not help. Worse case scenarios suggest that the interaction between declining oil supplies and the fragile financial system could cause huge dislocations and these, in turn, could undermine the basis for large scale engineering solutions to energy shortages and the carbon crisis. Under these worse case scenarios the deflationary collapse of the economic system, which at the time of writing seems very likely, would lead to a disintegration of the very fabric of complex economic organisation needed to deliver the components for a renewable based rebuild of the energy infrastructure.

 

Nevertheless one can turn the pessimistic argument on its head. In the face of floundering economic, industrial and ecological policy in the next few years the best thing to help would be to unify and mobilise all of society behind a major investment programme for energy and agricultural transformation – before it is too late. When societies are in chaos, malevolent elites pick a fight with neighbouring countries and an external enemy creates internal cohesion. An elite that finally realises it must fight to prevent a breakdown of the energy system instead of an external enemy might be able to pull things round.

 

Alternatively this idea of a global fight to renew the energy and the cultivation systems, particularly in a way that stresses commons can provide a large part of the unifying vision for the movements of the streets, offering work and justice at the same time. Once underway, the accumulation of renewable energy equipment and its infrastructure would create its own self feeding dynamic, delivering more energy than it costs to build up. In that kind of future context there is some kind of vision of hope against mass destitution which a collapsing finance sector is bringing down on our heads.

 

There do seem to be huge opportunities for renewable energy systems – in particular offshore wind energy around the UK and concentrated solar power in southern countries and deserts. There are also opportunities for considerable reductions in energy consumption. There are arguments that, for example, the energy return on energy invested in offshore wind are considerable and the scale of the engineering challenge is no greater than the previous construction of an offshore oil infrastructure.[26]

 

The open question – Chaos or Grand Transition?

It will be challenging. In some parts of the political system a few officials and politicians are just beginning to get a belated understanding of this. Although there is a great reluctance to transform the energy economy in face of climate change there is the first dawning of a recognition that the energy economy will have to be transformed because of peak oil. The code words for ‘peak oil’ in business and government are ‘energy security’. Some parts of the business establishment too have finally acknowledged the message of peak oil and are looking at what will be done about it. Although the peak oil and climate imperatives are not identical they do overlap.

 

With this growing awareness the danger is that politicians and business will take the wrong decisions. The peaking of conventional oil could worsen climate change by driving an increased use of more carbon intensive substitutes and biomass. In order to keep global temperatures within 2°C or preindustrial levels, cumulative CO2 emissions must be kept well below the amount per would be produced from burning the remaining proven economically recoverable fossil fuel reserves.

 

Nevertheless, there is an increasing recognition that if the energy system must be transformed it makes more sense to deal with climate change and peak oil at the same time. Some can see already that it is a dead-end to try to use the remaining fossil fuels and that it makes more sense to go directly over to renewables.

 

An example is the Centre for Alternative Technology’s second edition of Zero Carbon Britain – Zero Carbon Britain 2030 – in which cap and share is described as one of a number of possible policies in the framework that will be needed to drive decarbonisation. [27] Another example of cap and share in a general package of policies from our own ranks is the Holyrood 350 Programme for Scotland. [28]

 

Another example of a policy which connects action on energy security (peak oil) with action on climate change is a Lloyds/Chatham house report on sustainable energy security. This argues that:

 

“Energy security is now inseparable from the transition to a low carbon economy and business plans should prepare for this new reality. Security of supply and emissions reductions objectives should be addressed equally as prioritising one over the other will increase the risk of stranded investments or requirements for expensive retrofitting.” [29]

 

In summary we can expect to see energy transformation being pushed up the political agenda. In the best scenarios we would expect to see a search for new and more effective, policy mechanisms for carbon reduction occuring too. This is because, while it is becoming blindingly obvious that these are absolutely core issues, the global political establishment has clearly shunted itself into a dead end in trying to do something about these issues.

 

The Copenhagen Debacle

In this regard there is a most extraordinary situation opening up. For all the reasons explained at the beginning of this chapter the global political and economic elite have totally failed to provide anything at all credible in the way of a response to the climate crisis and energy crisis. The collapse of the UNFCCC process at Copenhagen and the collapse of Obama’s efforts to introduce climate legislation in the USA can be seen as a stalemate between an old energy order and political system and a new one that is not yet powerful enough to emerge and make its dynamic the dominating one. The energy system of the old men and old money is still too powerful. But, as we have seen most of these old men will have gone in a very few years – and the carbon energy that they supply, and which is their power basis will be in precipitate decline.

 

We are, in short, moving towards a situation where policies like cap and share and a carbon maintenance fund to prevent loss of soil carbon need to be argued for as part of packages of transformation in order to avert a generalised collapse caused by the wooden headedness of fixated old men. The support for the new developments will largely have to be found outside the political mainstream in the emerging new movements that were mentioned earlier in this chapter.

 

Through the projects and networks of these movements only so much can be done in energy efficiency and carbon reduction at the household community and local level if there is not some wider framework to “lock in” what is achieved. Without an adequate framework the improvements that are made would be immediately lost because of “rebound effects” of the type explored by Nick Bardsley in his chapter. Also, the energy and carbon saved in one place would be squandered by irresponsible people and companies in another place. These community-based activities will inevitably be driven by a stronger prioritisation for social justice issues and the share in cap and share will be more attractive and influential here.

 

The key idea here, to return to the idea of indirectness, is that climate policies need to be not just head on attempts to tackle climate change but ideas for society – for reconstructing energy systems, for maintaining macro economic activity and employment (if not growth), for expressing new ideas of social justice and also for making clear how we are going to look after each other. Let us now turn to these points.

 

The macro economics of climate policy and the politics of rent at the limits to growth

Given the wider picture we should not forget that cap and share can be promoted not only for driving decarbonisation but because of its effect on purchasing power as energy prices rise. Cap and share has more to offer than as a driver of climate mitigation alone. After peak oil each new impetus to economic recovery is likely to lead to a spike in oil prices that will, in turn, crash the world economy. This volatility will not help long run structural changes and nor give the security needed to encourage productive investment in new energy systems.

 

As fossil energy prices soar upwards many non-marginal energy producers will, for example, still be supplying from fields with low production costs. During the price spikes they will be raking in money way above their production costs and there will be a transfer of what economists call “scarcity rents” to these producers. (Rent is here the large amount of money made when there are high prices because of high demand and scarcity even though some producers are still able to pump oil and gas relatively cheaply). These “rents” will be taken from the pockets of everyone else. Rent transfers like this unbalance the economy, lead to unrest and bring on the next crash.

 

Beyond the “limits to growth” there is still room for money junkies to get rich if we let our unjust system continue – not because of their inventiveness, or their enterprise, or what they produce, but because they succeed in cornering the ownership of the scarce resources that everyone needs – energy, the atmosphere, fresh water, land, food commodities… and then are able to charge a high price, enriching themselves while the poor are driven into destitution. This threatens to be a 21st-century “politics of rent” and we have to find answers to it.

 

From this point of view, arrangements like cap and share have a wider relevance. It is necessary to manage the Earth’s atmosphere as a global commons for which we are all equally responsible, in a way that ensures that, when there are benefits to be had, we all get them – also ensuring that particular groups are not unfairly burdened. The energy transformation should be arranged in such a way as to ensure that the mass of the global population get a share from the sale of permits. This will balance purchasing power, moderate the contractionary process and part-provide some of the capital resources needed to help people transform their homes and gardens. At the same time it can help provide the incentives and stability for large investments, like offshore wind, where there are the resources, the capacity and will for these to be developed.

 

Similar principles need to be applied, adapted to context, across other natural and human commons – including in the monetary system regarded as a Commons. Earlier we explained that the debt based money system is a major part of the problem. It has no reverse gear and is implicated in the growth fixation of mainstream politics. That’s because the money commons has been privatised in the interests of the moneylenders and a major part of the overhaul that is needed is to transform the money system too – to manage it in the interests of everyone.

 

Commons resources should be managed in the interests of all – including future generations who should inherit them intact and healthy – the oceans, fresh water supplies, land rent and the like. That means not only policies but appropriate institutional architectures. These are major agenda items but it seems unlikely that top down policies from governments will emerge until a lot of bottom upwards improvisation from grass roots movements of the type described earlier has been tried and been found to be practical and workable. [30]

 

Conclusion

 

To sum up, the existing economic and political system has proved incapable up to now of embracing anything like an adequate level of climate mitigation. It can be argued plausibly that it is already too late to prevent runaway climate change. It is certainly touch and go. There is nothing inevitable about the future. Nevertheless it is clear that we are entering a period of economic, social and political turmoil brought about by peak oil, peak debt and the decomposition of a political system that millions of people now regard as corrupt and not to be trusted. There is increasing recognition even in parts of the business elite that major changes in the transformation of the energy system are going to be needed and that it does not make sense to deal separately with peak oil and climate change. In this context the relevance of policy ideas like cap and share to these other problems must be made clear and such policies firmly located in packages for transformation.

 

What is still not a clear is how far governments are capable of contributing to the new future. There is an argument that states are being increasingly hollowed out and incapable of real social and ecological leadership. It has been argued, for example by Naomi Klein, that states are led by parties functioning as brands, backed by PR machines, intent on organising society to whatever the financiers want. It is certainly this view that makes most sense of the utter failure of the state to control the financial markets and the financial sector. [31]

 

Of course, we want government support for what we are doing if they will give it – but meanwhile if there is indifference and hostility from governments then we must get on and set up the organisations that we need. We can do that by setting up organisations where we are and then networking them together. When we do this we do it in the hope that there will be a supportive government buy-in later, when pressured by our movements with their different commons based ideologies and their practical community relevance on the ground. If we cannot get governments to do the job we must move to set up the organisations that we need and then struggle to win them the power to do the job directly. At the current time governments will not go against the elite consensus – but in the profound turmoil ahead we should not underestimate the extent to which power relationships will change if we are well organised, with clear ideas that attract a mass following.

 

In this context it makes sense to evolve a package of economic energy and climate policies to address the different crises together – financial, energy, climate, cultivational. Such packages of policies which seek to reconfigure the world we live in have already begun to appear – like “Zero Carbon Britain 2030” and the programme of “Holyrood 350” in Scotland. These programmes will be immeasurably strengthened by being based in new forms of networked commons organisations operating with charters of rights and responsibilities that they win from the existing political system.

 

To fully complete the reconfiguration of our economy and society we need to connect with the emerging movements with new ideas that captures rights to defend the commons and new ways of managing them which do not rely on yet another top-heavy bureaucracy.

 

Original article: http://www.sharingforsurvival.org/index.php/what-do-we-do-about-climate-change-brian-davey/

 

 

 

Endnotes

 

1. John Kay, Obliquity, Profile Books, 2010.

2. Tim Jackson, Prosperity without Growth?, Sustainable Development Commission, 2009

3. Roy Madron and John Jopling, Gaian Democracies, Schumacher Briefings/Green Books, 2003

4. Clive Hamilton, Requiem for a Species, Earthscan, 2010, p33.

5. Max Planck, The Philosophy Of Physics, W. W. Norton & Co. 1963

6. http://www.smart-csos.org/

7. See for example, Nadia Johanisova, Living in the Cracks, Feasta/Green Books, 2005

8. http://www.solidarische-oekonomie.de

9. www.transitionnetwork.org

10. www.decroissance.org

11. www.jenseits-des-wachstums.de

12. http://steadystate.org

13. Thomas Fatheuer, Buen Vivir, Hsg. Heinrich Boell Stiftung, Band 17, 2011

14. Paul Hawken, Blessed Unrest, Penguin Books, 2007

15. Elinor Ostrom, A Multiscale Approach to Coping with Climate Change and other collective action problems, http://www.thesolutionsjournal.com/node/565

16. Stafford Beer, Think before you Think, Wavestone Press, 2009, pp134-157. See also Jon Walker’s article at http://www.esrad.org.uk/resources/vsmg_3/screen.php?page=preface

17. Richard Douthwaite, Short Circuit: Strengthening Local Economies in an Unstable World, online edition, June 2003 downloadable at http://www.feasta.org/2003/06/16/short-circuit/

18. Jodie Humphries, Oil and gas workforce – a shortage in skilled labour, Jodie Humphries August 2010 at http://www.ngoilgasmena.com/article/oil-and-gas-workforce-a-shortage-in-skilled-labour/

19. www.cres.ch/Documents/SKILLS%20SHORTAGE%20PART%20I%20pdf.pdf

20. http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,655409-2,00.html

21. http://www.enn.com/top_stories/article/40051

22. “Germany explores using Train Lines as a Power Grid” http://www.spiegel.de/international/ germany/0,1518,758698,00.html

23. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/9255520.stm

24. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/04/us/04gas.html?_r=2&hp

25. Robert W Howard, Renee Santoro, Antony Ingraffea, “Methane and the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations. A letter.” Climatic Change, Accepted March 2011

26. http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/blogs/greeninc/Howarth2011.pdf

27. The Offshore Valuation Group, A Valuation of the UK’s offshore renewable energy resource,

published by the Public Interest Resource Centre, 2010

28. www.zerocarbonbritain.com

29. http://holyrood350.org

30. Lloyds/Chatham House Report “White Paper. Sustainable energy security. Strategic risks and opportunities for business” www.chathamhouse.org.uk/files/16720_0610_froggatt_lahn.pdf

31. www.boell.de/economysocial/economy/economy-commons-10451.html

32. http://www.alternet.org/media/145218/naomi_klein:_how_corporate_branding_took_over_the_white_ house?page=entire

 

 

Links:

[1] http://www.sharingforsurvival.org/index.php/what-do-we-do-about-climate-change-brian-davey/

[2] http://www.sharingforsurvival.org/index.php/contents/

[3] http://www.smart-csos.org/

[4] http://www.solidarische-oekonomie.de

[5] http://www.transitionnetwork.org/

[6] http://www.decroissance.org/

[7] http://www.jenseits-des-wachstums.de/

[8] http://steadystate.org/

[9] http://www.thesolutionsjournal.com/node/565

[10] http://www.esrad.org.uk/resources/vsmg_3/screen.php?page=preface

[11] http://www.feasta.org/2003/06/16/short-circuit/

[12] http://www.ngoilgasmena.com/article/oil-and-gas-workforce-a-shortage-in-skilled-labour/

[13] http://www.cres.ch/Documents/SKILLS%20SHORTAGE%20PART%20I%20pdf.pdf

[14] http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,655409-2,00.html

[15] http://www.enn.com/top_stories/article/40051

[16] http://www.spiegel.de/international/ germany/0,1518,758698,00.html

[17] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/9255520.stm

[18] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/04/us/04gas.html?_r=2&amp;hp

[19] http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/blogs/greeninc/Howarth2011.pdf

[20] http://www.zerocarbonbritain.com/

[21] http://holyrood350.org/

[22] http://www.chathamhouse.org.uk/files/16720_0610_froggatt_lahn.pdf

[23] http://www.boell.de/economysocial/economy/economy-commons-10451.html

[24] http://www.alternet.org/media/145218/naomi_klein:_how_corporate_branding_took_over_the_white_%20house?page=entire

NYT Publishes Private Industry Documents: “Shale Gas Called a Ponzi Scheme”

Documents: Industry Privately Skeptical of Shale Gas

Over the past six months, The New York Times reviewed thousands of pages of documents related to shale gas, including hundreds of industry e-mails, internal agency documents and reports by analysts. A selection of these documents is included here; names and identifying information have been redacted to protect the confidentiality of sources, many of whom were not authorized by their employers to communicate with The Times.

Go to the New York Times website to view documents here.

The 99% Spring – Non-violent Direct Action Trainings – Tucson April 14 & 15

Three training events & locations in Tucson
 
see below for details & links

 

The 99% Spring – Non-violent Direct Action Trainings

We’re at a crossroads as a country. In recent years, millions have lost their jobs, homes have been foreclosed, and an unconscionable number of children live in poverty. We have to stand up to the people who caused of all this and confront the rampant greed and deliberate manipulation of our democracy and our economy by a tiny minority in the 1%.

Inspired by Occupy Wall Street and the fight for workers in Madison, Wisconsin, the 99% will rise up this spring. In the span of just one week, from April 9-15, 100,000 people will be trained to tell the story of what happened to our economy, learn the history of non-violent direct action, and use that knowledge to take action on our own campaigns to win change.

We’ll gather for trainings in homes, community centers, places of worship, campuses, and public spaces nationwide to learn how to join together in the work of reclaiming our country through sustained non-violent action.

Will you rise with us and join a 99% Spring action training?

Find events within 50 miles of ZIP code 85701

 

Sunday, 15 Apr 2012, 1:30 PM

“Spring Training” for the 99%
Joel Valdez Main Library – Lower Meeting Room
Tucson, AZ 85701

Hosted by Tucson MoveOn Council, Julie Jennings Patterson, Robert Phillips, Ann Yellott, Marty Diamond

 

Saturday, 14 Apr 2012, 9:00 AM

99% Spring Action Training
Armory Park Center
Tucson, AZ 85701

Hosted by melissa donovan, Ethan Beasley, Sherry Mann

 

Saturday, 14 Apr 2012, 10:00 AM

The Power of Nonviolent Direct Action
near Alvernon & Speedway in Tucson
Tucson, AZ 85716

Directions: We are using the north conference room at Our Family Services, 3830 E. Bellevue St.(one block north of Speedway and a few buildings west of Alvernon). Parking is easy and there will be signs showing where to enter the training room.

Hosted by Ann Yellott, Robert Phillips, Melinda Parris, Joan Zatorski, Christopher Puca MD

 

The following organizations have called for a 99% Spring: Jobs With Justice, United Auto Workers,National Peoples Action, National Domestic Workers Alliance, MoveOn.org, New Organizing Institute, Movement Strategy Center, The Other 98%, Service Employees International Union, AFL-CIO, Rebuild the Dream, Color of Change, UNITE-HERE, Greenpeace, Institute for Policy Studies, PICO National Network, New Bottom Line, Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, SNCC Legacy Project, United Steel Workers, Working Families Party, Communications Workers of America, United States Student Association, Rainforest Action Network, American Federation of Teachers, Leadership Center for the Common Good, UNITY, National Guestworker Alliance, 350.org, The Ruckus Society, Citizen Engagement Lab, smartMeme Strategy & Training Project, Right to the City Alliance, Pushback Network, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, Progressive Democrats of America, Change to Win, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, Campaign for America’s Future, Public Campaign Action Fund, Fuse Washington, Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment, Citizen Action of New York, Engage, United Electrical Workers Union, National Day Laborers Organizing Network, Alliance for a Just Society, The Partnership for Working Families, United Students Against Sweatshops, Presente.org, Get Equal, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Corporate Accountability International, American Federation of Government Employees, Training for Change, People Organized for Westside Renewal (POWER), Student Labor Action Project, Colorado Progressive Coalition, Green for All, DC Jobs with Justice, Midwest Academy, The Coffee Party, International Forum on Globalization, UFCW International Union, Sunflower Community Action, Illinois People’s Action, Lakeview Action Coalition, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, International Brotherhood of the Teamsters, Resource Generation, Highlander Research and Education Center, TakeAction Minnesota, Energy Action Coalition, Earthhome.us.

MoveOn.org Civic Action is hosting the online event registration process but is not responsible for the content or programming of the trainings or for the planning or organization of any specific actions. The 99% Spring is a collaborative effort between many organizations to train over 100,000 Americans in the basics of nonviolent direct action — not an electoral campaign.

http://civic.moveon.org/event/events/index.html?action_id=268&rc=99350

Engaging a New Generation with the Transition Movement

Engaging a New Generation with the Transition Movement

One of the best things about the Transition movement is our ability to learn from each other’s efforts. When we take time to document our challenges, successes, or discoveries, we create opportunities for others to learn from them. Similarly, we benefit when we can adapt the techniques that others have pioneered or when we can avoid the pitfalls that others have revealed. I hope you will join others across the U.S. in contributing to this work by taking this survey and sharing it with other organizers.

How Transition Initiatives Engage with Young People
http://survey.alienrg.com/index.php?sid=69567

I am also happy to share with you the encouragement that Transition US generously offered this week in its e-newsletter: “We’re so excited about this project, that we want to ask TI organizers to help Evan by checking out the survey and contributing their experiences and perspective.”

In order to bring together insights from Transition initiatives across the country about engaging a new generation with the Transition movement, I need your help. I will provide you with the findings of this survey as soon as they are available, but their value depends directly upon your participation and that of other Transition organizers like you. Whether you have ideas and aspirations to share or specific experiences to relate, your participation is vital. Please take a few minutes to take the survey and share this request with the other organizers of your initiative.

Thank you for your commitment to the essential work of Transition.

Regards,

Evan Frisch
efrisch(at)gmail.com

Ten Good Things About a (Not So) Bad Year

Ten Good Things About a (Not So) Bad Year
Medea Benjamin, CommonDreams

I had the privilege of starting out the year witnessing, firsthand, the unfolding of the Egyptian revolution in Tahrir Square. I saw people who had been muzzled their entire lives, especially women, suddenly discovering their collective voice. Singing, chanting, demanding, creating. And that became the hallmark of the entire year–people the world over becoming empowered and emboldened simply by watching each other. Courage, we learned in 2011, is contagious!

1. The Arab Spring protests were so astounding that even Time magazine recognized “The Protester” as Person of the Year

Sparked by Tunisian vendor Mohamed Bouazizi’sself-immolation to cry out against police corruption in December 2010, the protests swept across the Middle East and North Africa—including Egypt,Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, Algeria, Iraq, and Jordan. So far, uprisings have toppled Tunesian President Ben Ali, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi–with more shake-ups sure to come. And women have been on the front lines of these protests, highlighted recently by the incredibly brave, unprecedented demo of 10,000 Egyptian women protesting military abuse.

2. Wisconsin caught the Spring Fever, with Madison becoming home to some 100,000 protesters opposing Governor Walker’s threat to destroy collective bargaining and blame the state’s economic woes on public workers. …

3. On September 17 Occupy Wall Street was born in the heart of Manhattan’s Financial District. Protesters railed against the banksters and corporate thieves responsible for the economic collapse.

The movement against the greed of the richest 1% spread to over 1,400 cities in the United States and globally, with newly minted activists embracing–with gusto–people’s assemblies, consensus decision-making, the people’s mic, and upsparkles. Speaking in the name of the 99%, the occupiers changed the national debate from deficits to inequality and corporate abuse. Even after facing heightened police brutality, tent city evictions, and extreme winter weather, protesters are undeterred and continue to create bold actions–from port shut-downs to moving money out of big banks. As Occupy Wall Street said, “You can’t evict an idea whose time has come.” Stay tuned for lots more occupation news in 2012.

4. After 8 long years, U.S. troops were finally withdrawn from Iraq. …

5. The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize was presented to three terrific women: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia; Leymah Gbowee, the Liberian peace activist; and Yemeni pro-democracy campaigner Tawakkol Karman.

6. The bloated Pentagon budget is no longer immune from budget cuts. The failure of the super-committee means the Pentagon budget could be cut by a total of $1 trillion over the next decade — which would amount to a 23 percent reduction in the defense budget. The hawks are trying to stop the cuts, but most people are more interested in rebuilding America than fattening the Pentagon. That’s why the U.S. Conference of Mayors, for the first time since the Vietnam war, passed a resolution calling for the end to the hostilities and instead investing at home to create jobs, rebuild infrastructure and develop sustainable energy. 2011 pried open the Pentagon’s lock box. Let’s make the cuts in 2012!

7. Elizabeth Warren is running for Senate and Rep. Barbara Lee continues to inspire. …

8. Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi is running for Parliament!

9. Opposition to Keystone pipeline inspired thousands of new activists, together with a rockin’ coalition of environment groups across the U.S. and Canada.

They brought the issue of the climate-killing pipeline right to President Obama’s door, with over 1,200 arrested in front of the White House. The administration heard them and ordered a new review of the project, but the Republican global warming deniers are trying to force Obama’s hand. Whatever way this struggle ends, it has educated millions about the tar sands threat and trained a new generation of environmentalists in more effective, direct action tactics that will surely result in future “wins” for the planet.

10. Following the tragic meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, the growing appetite for nuclear energy has been reversed.

(27 December 2011)

Related: 2011’s Big Wins – Brought to You by Women.

Energy Bulletin is a program of Post Carbon Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the world transition away from fossil fuels and build sustainable, resilient communities. Content on this site is subject to our fair use notice.

The 12 most hopeful trends to build on in 2012

The 12 most hopeful trends to build on in 2012
Published by YES! Magazine on Sat, 12/31/2011
Original article: http://www.yesmagazine.org/blogs/sarah-van-gelder/12-most-hopeful-trends-to-build-on-in-2012

by Sarah van Gelder

Who would have thought that some young people camped out in lower Manhattan with cardboard signs, a few sharpies, some donated pizza, and a bunch of smart phones could change so much?

The viral spread of the Occupy Movement took everyone by surprise. Last summer, politicians and the media were fixated on the debt ceiling, and everyone seemed to forget that we were in the midst of an economic meltdown—everyone except the 99 percent who were experiencing it.

Today, people ranging from Ben Bernake, chair of the Federal Reserve, to filmmaker Michael Moore are expressing sympathy for the Occupy Movement and concern for those losing homes, retirement savings, access to health care, and hope of ever finding a job.

This uprising is the biggest reason for hope in 2012. The following are 12 ways the Occupy Movement and other major trends of 2011 offer a foundation for a transformative 2012.
 

1. Americans rediscover their political self-respect. In 2011, members of the 99 percent began camping out in New York’s Zuccotti Park, launching a movement that quickly spread across the country. Students at U.C. Davis sat nonviolently through a pepper spray assault, Oaklanders shut down the city with a general strike, and Clevelanders saved a family from eviction. Occupiers opened their encampments to all and fed all who showed up, including many homeless people. Thousands moved their accounts from corporate banks to community banks and credit unions, and people everywhere created their own media with smart phones and laptops. The Occupy Movement built on the Arab Spring, occupations in Europe, and on the uprising, early in 2011, in Wisconsin, where people occupied the state capitol in an attempt to block major cuts in public workers’ rights and compensation. Police crackdowns couldn’t crush the surge of political self-respect experienced by millions of Americans.

After the winter weather subsides, look for the blossoming of an American Spring.


2. Economic myths get debunked. Americans now understand that hard work and playing by the rules don’t mean you’ll get ahead. They know that Wall Street financiers are not working for their interests. Global capitalism is not lifting all boats. As this mythology crumbled, the reality became inescapable: The United States is not broke. The 1 percent have rigged the system to capture a larger and larger share of the world’s wealth and power, while the middle class and poor face unemployment, soaring student debt burdens, homelessness, exclusion from the medical system, and the disappearance of retirement savings. Austerity budgets just sharpen the pain, as the safety net frays and public benefits, from schools to safe bridges, fail. The European debt crisis is front and center today, but other crises will likely follow. Just as the legitimacy of apartheid began to fall apart long before the system actually fell, today, the legitimacy of corporate power and Wall Street dominance is disintegrating.

The new-found clarity about the damage that results from a system dominated by Wall Street will further energize calls for regulation and the rule of law, and fuel the search for economic alternatives


3. Divisions among people are coming down. Middle-class college students camped out alongside homeless occupiers. People of color and white people created new ways to work together. Unions joined with occupiers. In some places, Tea Partiers and occupiers discovered common purposes. Nationwide, anti-immigrant rhetoric backfired.

Tremendous energy is released when isolated people discover one another; look for more unexpected alliances.


4. Alternatives are blossoming. As it becomes clear that neither corporate CEOs nor national political leaders have solutions to today’s deep crises, thousands of grassroots-led innovations are taking hold. Community land trusts, farmers markets, local currencies and time banking, micro-energy installations, shared cars and bicycles, cooperatively owned businesses are among the innovations that give people the means to live well on less and build community. And the Occupy Movement, which is often called “leaderless,” is actually full of emerging leaders who are building the skills and connections to shake things up for decades to come.

This widespread leadership, coupled with the growing repertoire of grassroots innovations, sets the stage for a renaissance of creative rebuilding.


5. Popular pressure halted the Keystone KL Pipeline — for the moment. Thousands of people stood up to efforts by some of the world’s most powerful energy companies and convinced the Obama administration to postpone approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would have sped the extraction and export of dirty tar sands oil. James Hansen says, “If the tar sands are thrown into the mix, it is essentially game over” for the planet. Just a year ago, few had heard of this project, much less considered risking arrest to stop it, as thousands did outside the White House in 2011.

With Congress forcing him to act within 60 days, President Obama will be under enormous pressure from both Big Oil and pipeline opponents. It will be among the key tests of his presidency.


6. Climate responses move forward despite federal inaction. Throughout the United States, state and local governments are taking action where the federal government has failed. California’s new climate cap-and-trade law will take effect in 2012. College students are pressing campus administrators to quit using coal-fired sources of electricity. Elsewhere, Europe is limiting climate pollution from air travel, Australia has enacted a national carbon tax, and there is a global initiative underway to recognize the rights of Mother Nature. Climate talks in Durban, South African, arrived at a conclusion that, while far short of what is needed, at least keeps the process alive.

Despite corporate-funded climate change deniers, most people know climate change is real and dangerous; expect to see many more protests, legislation, and new businesses focused on reducing carbon emissions in 2012.


7. There’s a new focus on cleaning up elections. The Supreme Court’s “Citizens United decision,” which lifted limits on corporate campaign contributions, is opposed by a large majority of Americans. This year saw a growing national movement to get money out of politics; cities from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles are passing resolutions calling for an end to corporate personhood. Constitutional amendments have been introduced. And efforts are in the works to push back against voter suppression policies that especially discourage voting among people of color, low-income people, and students, all of whom tend to vote Democratic.

Watch for increased questioning of the legal basis of corporations, which “we the people” created, but which now facilitate lawlessness and increasing concentrations of wealth and power.


8. Local government is taking action. City and state governments are moving forward, even as Washington, D.C., remains gridlocked, even as budgets are stretched thin. Towns in Pennsylvania, New York, and elsewhere are seeking to prohibit “fracking” to extract natural gas, and while they’re at it, declaring that corporations do not have the constitutional rights of people. Cities are banning plastic bags, linking up local food systems, encouraging bicycling and walking, cleaning up brown fields, and turning garbage and wasted energy into opportunity. In part because of the housing market disaster, people are less able to pick up and move.

Look for increased rootedness, whether voluntary or not, along with increased focus on local efforts to build community solutions.


9. Dams are coming down. Two dams that block passage of salmon up the Elwha River into the pristine Olympic National Park in Washington state are coming down. After decades of campaigning by Native tribes and environmentalists, the removal of the dams began in 2011.

The assumption that progress is built on “taming” and controlling nature is giving way to an understanding that human and ecological well-being are linked.


10. The United States ended the combat mission in Iraq. U.S. troops are home from Iraq at last. What remains is a U.S. embassy compound the size of the Vatican City, along with thousands of private contractors. Iraq and the region remain unstable.

Given the terrible cost in lives and treasure for what most Americans see as an unjustified war, look to greater skepticism of future U.S. invasions.


11. Breakthrough for single-payer health care. The state of Vermont took action to respond to the continuing health care crises, adopting, but not yet funding, a single-payer health care system similar to Canada’s.

As soaring costs of health insurance drain the coffers of businesses and governments, other states may join Vermont at the forefront of efforts to establish a public health insurance system like Canada’s.


12. Gay couples can get married. In 2011, New York state and the Suquamish Tribe in Washington state (home of the author of this piece) adopted gay marriage laws. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta won a raffle allowing her to be the first to kiss her partner upon return from 80 days at sea, the first such public display of gay affection since Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was expunged. The video and photos went viral.

2011 may be the year when opposition to gay marriage lost its power as a rallying cry for social conservatives. The tide has turned, and gay people will likely continue to win the same rights as straight people to marry.


With so much in play, 2012 will be an interesting year, even setting aside questions about “end times” and Mayan calendars. As the worldviews and institutions based on the dominance of the 1 percent are challenged, as the global economy frays, and as we run headlong into climate change and other ecological limits, one era is giving way to another. There are too many variable to predict what direction things will take. But our best hopes can be found in the rise of broad grassroots leadership, through the Occupy Movement, the Wisconsin uprising, the climate justice movement, and others, along with local, but interlinked, efforts to build local solution everywhere. These efforts make it possible that 2012 will be a year of transformation and rebuilding — this time, with the well-being of all life front and center.


Sarah van Gelder wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful idea with practical actions. Sarah is YES! Magazine’s co-founder and executive editor, and editor of the new book: “This Changes Everything: Occupy Wall Street and the 99% Movement.”

YES! Magazine encourages you to make free use of this article by taking these easy steps. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License

Energy Bulletin is a program of Post Carbon Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the world transition away from fossil fuels and build sustainable, resilient communities. Content on this site is subject to our fair use notice.


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