Archive for the ‘Business’ Category
Day three of recognising the passing of 400 ppm atmospheric CO2.
In nearly four years of writing for Learning from Dogs, I can’t recall devoting three days of posts to a single subject. To put that into context, today’s post is number 1,683 since the first one was published on July 15th, 2009; not all of them from the brain of yours truly by any means you understand!
Today, I’m going to feature a recent essay written by George Monbiot finishing up three days of ‘reporting’ on the deeply disturbing, but fully anticipated, news that the planet’s atmosphere has reached a concentration of 400 ppm CO2.
Last Monday, I published What legacy do we wish to leave for others?
Then yesterday, a post under the title of 400 ppm, as the BBC reported it. I closed with a reference to a remark made by Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London; the remark being “A greater sense of urgency was needed.“
I wrote that those wishy-washy words were pathetic. That we needed the sort of words that George Monbiot penned a few days ago in the Guardian newspaper. There it was entitled “Climate milestone is a moment of symbolic significance on road of idiocy“.
But I think the title that Mr. Monbiot chose to use on his own blog was far more apt: Via Dolorosa. (Note that I haven’t formally requested permission to republish the essay but trust that the following is acceptable to both Mr. Monbiot and the Guardian newspaper.)
Here’s how it opened:
May 10, 2013
Corruption and short-termism are pushing us along the path of sorrows.
By George Monbiot, published on the Guardian’s website, 10th May 2013
The records go back 800,000 years: that’s the age of the oldest fossil air bubbles extracted from Dome C, an ice-bound summit in the high Antarctic. And throughout that time there has been nothing like this. At no point in the pre-industrial record have concentrations of carbon dioxide in the air risen above 300 parts per million. 400 is a figure that belongs to a different era.
The difference between 399 and 400ppm is small, in terms of its impacts on the world’s living systems. But this is a moment of symbolic significance, a station on the Via Dolorosa of environmental destruction. It is symbolic of our collective failure to put the long term prospects of the natural world and the people it supports above immediate self-interest.
The symbolic significance of the planet’s atmospheric concentrations of CO2 passing 400ppm is that, I hope, with all the hope that my heart can summon up, it will bring us back from the brink. Then one ponders about this possibility as Monbiot’s next paragraph unfolds:
The only way forward now is back: to retrace our steps along this road and to seek to return atmospheric concentrations to around 350 parts per million, as the 350.org campaign demands. That requires, above all, that we leave the majority of the fossil fuels which have already been identified in the ground. There is not a government or an energy company which has yet agreed to do so.
“not a government or an energy company … has yet agreed to do so.”
I’m going to repeat that again, with emboldening; “not a government or an energy company … has yet agreed to do so.“
In fact, one could reasonable argue that having any hope for a turning back is utterly naive. Look what the essay goes on to say:
Just before the 400-mark was reached, Shell announced that it will go ahead with its plans to drill deeper than any offshore oil operation has gone before: almost three kilometres below the Gulf of Mexico.
A few hours later, Oxford University opened a new laboratory in its department of earth sciences. The lab is funded by Shell. Oxford says that the partnership “is designed to support more effective development of natural resources to meet fast-growing global demand for energy.” Which translates as finding and extracting even more fossil fuel.
The European Emissions Trading Scheme, which was supposed to have capped our consumption, is now, for practical purposes, dead. International climate talks have stalled; governments such as ours now seem quietly to be unpicking their domestic commitments. Practical measures to prevent the growth of global emissions are, by comparison to the scale of the challenge, almost non-existent.
As an example of the scale of the hypocrisy in which we are all immersed, last week’s The Economist magazine carried a full-age advertisement from Chevron on page 5 under the banner of ‘Protecting The Planet Is Everyone’s Job – We agree‘ and going on to explain:
We go to extraordinary lengths to protect the integrity of the places where we operate. Places all over the world, like Australia’s Barrow Island. It’s home to hundreds of native species of wildlife, including wallabies, ospreys, and perenties.
We’ve been producing energy on the island for more than 40 years, and it remains a Class A Nature Reserve.
Didn’t take me two moments to find this image:
To my mind this advertisement completely misses the point; deliberately or otherwise. Chevron and all other oil producing companies in the world are endangering the future of the entire planet by continuing to ‘produce energy’, aka oil. Period. Full stop.
Or to put it in the words of George Monbiot’s essay:
The problem is simply stated: the power of the fossil fuel companies is too great. Among those who seek and obtain high office are people characterised by a complete absence of empathy or scruples, who will take money or instructions from any corporation or billionaire who offers them, and then defend those interests against the current and future prospects of humanity. This new mark reflects a profound failure of politics, worldwide, in which democracy has quietly been supplanted by plutocracy. Without a widespread reform of campaign finance, lobbying and influence-peddling and the systematic corruption they promote, our chances of preventing climate breakdown are close to zero.
Thus the final sentence in GM’s essay carries a deep sadness.
So here we stand at a waystation along the road of idiocy, apparently determined only to complete our journey.
Why are we not seeing, hearing and reading words of a similar weight and power from just about every ‘opinion maker’ in the world?
Why not? Why not?
Awareness is the only way to go.
Two days ago, I published a post under the title of Reflections on pain and peace. The pain aspect was as a result of a shocking photograph of a rhino that had been slaughtered for its horn.
Subsequent to that piece coming out there has been more information that I wanted to cover.
I had an email from Avaaz that needed circulating:
Thanks for joining the campaign to protect the world’s rhinos. To win this campaign, we urgently need to build a massive outcry — every voice who joins us makes a difference!
Help spread the word by sending the email below to friends and family, and post this link on your Facebook wall.
Thanks again for your help,
The Avaaz team
The rhino is being hunted into extinction and could disappear forever unless we act now. Shocking new statistics show 440 rhinos were brutally killed last year in South Africa alone — a massive increase on five years ago when just 13 had their horns hacked off. European nations could lead the world to a new plan to save these amazing creatures but they need to hear from us first!
Fueling this devastation is a huge spike in demand for rhino horns, used for bogus cancer cures, hangover remedies and good luck charms in China and Vietnam. Protests from South Africa have so far been ignored by the authorities, but Europe has the power to change this by calling for a ban on all rhino trade — from anywhere, to anywhere — when countries meet at the next crucial international wildlife trade summit in July.
The situation is so dire that the threat has even spread into British zoos who are on red-alert for rhino killing gangs! Let’s raise a giant outcry and urge Europe to push for new protections to save rhinos from extinction. When we reach 100,000 signers, our call will be delivered in Brussels, the decision-making heart of Europe, with a crash of cardboard rhinos. Every 50,000 signatures will add a rhino to the crash — bringing the size of our movement right to the door of EU delegates as they decide their position. Sign the petition below then forward this email widely:
So far this year one rhino has been killed every day in South Africa, home to at least 80% of the world’s remaining wild rhinos. Horns now have a street value of over $65,000 a kilo — more expensive than gold or platinum. The South African Environment Minister has pledged to take action by putting 150 extra wardens and even an electric fence along the Mozambique border to try and stem the attacks — but the scale of the threat is so severe that global action is required.
Unless we act today we may lose this magnificent and ancient animal species permanently. Some Chinese are loudly lobbying for the trade in horn to be relaxed, but banning the trade in all rhinos will silence them. With the EU’s leadership, we can bring these international gangsters to justice, put the poachers in prison, and push for public awareness programmes in key Asian countries — and end this horn horror show for good.
In the next few weeks, the EU will be setting its agenda for the next big global meeting in just a few months — our best chance of turning the tide against the slaughter. We know that rhinos will be on their agenda, but only our pressure can ensure they challenge the problem at its source. Let’s build a giant outcry and deliver it in a spectacular fashion — sign now and together we can stop the slaughter across Africa:
In 2010, Avaaz’s actions helped to stop the elephant ivory trade from exploding. In 2012, we can do the same for the rhino. When we speak out together, we can change the world — last year was the worst year ever for the rhino, but this can be the year when we win.
Iain, Sam, Maria Paz, Emma, Ricken and the whole Avaaz team
Few Rhinos Survive Outside Protected Areas (WWF)
South Africa record for rhino poaching deaths (BBC)
‘Cure for cancer’ rumour killed off Vietnam’s rhinos (The Guardian)
British Zoos on Alert as Rhino Poaching Hits the UK (International Business Times)
Then as a reminder that sitting on our hands and doing nothing must be resisted, Chris sent me this link to a recent item in the British Telegraph newspaper, from which I include these portions:
Last rhinos in Mozambique killed by poachers
The last known rhinoceroses in Mozambique have been wiped out by poachers apparently working in cahoots with the game rangers responsible for protecting them, it has emerged
7:46PM BST 30 Apr 2013
The 15 threatened animals were shot dead for their horns last month in the Mozambican part of Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, which also covers South Africa and Zimbabwe.
They were thought to be the last of an estimated 300 that roamed through the special conservation area when it was established as “the world’s greatest animal kingdom” in a treaty signed by the three countries’ then presidents in 2002.
Aislinn Laing finishes off her report, by writing:
Dr Jo Shaw, from the World Wide Fund for Nature, said the rhinoceroses had probably crossed into Mozambique from Kruger.
Whereas killing a rhino in South Africa can attract stricter punishments than killing a person, in Mozambique offenders generally escape with a fine if they are prosecuted at all.
“Rhinos being killed in Kruger are mostly by Mozambican poachers who then move the horns out through their airports and seaports,” she said. “With huge governance and corruption issues in Mozambique, it’s a huge challenge.”
Boy, do we have so much to learn from dogs!
Yesterday and Monday saw a team from Caveman Heating in Grants Pass installing a new heating and air-conditioning system in the house. That resulted in me not turning my computer on until 6pm. So apologies for lacking the creative spirit.
Will just leave you with a picture of Pharaoh, Hazel and Dhalia helping a couple of the crew eat their lunch yesterday!
Can’t close without saying that the entire Caveman team were just wonderful with all the dogs, who will surely miss the innumerable strokes and head rubs.
A less than reverent view of the Euro.
This was sent to me by Richard Maugham from England. Richard and I go back the thick end of 40 years or more. He and I met when I was a salesman for IBM UK (Office Products Division) and Richard was a salesman for Olivetti UK. Thus we were selling competitive products!
But that didn’t stop us from becoming great friends and remaining so ever since. Indeed, Richard and Julie are out to see us in Oregon in just over 3 weeks time.
One of the bonds between Richard and me is a love for silliness and quirky humour. Hence Richard sending me the following that, in turn, had been sent to him.
For those that are not familiar with the Blackadder comedy series on the BBC, more background provided later on. Anyway, this is what I received from Richard.
The Euro according to Blackadder
Baldrick: ”What I want to know, Sir, is before there was a Euro there were lots of different types of money that different people used. And now there’s only one type of money that the foreign people use. And what I want to know is, how did we get from one state of affairs to the other state of affairs?”
Blackadder: ”Baldrick. Do you mean, how did the Euro start?”
Baldrick: ”Yes Sir”.
Blackadder: ”Well, you see Baldrick, back in the 1980s there were many different countries all running their own finances and using different types of money. On one side you had the major economies of France, Belgium, Holland and Germany, and on the other, the weaker nations of Spain, Greece, Ireland, Italy and Portugal. They got together and decided that it would be much easier for everyone if they could all use the same money, have one Central Bank, and belong to one large club where everyone would be happy. This meant that there could never be a situation whereby financial meltdown would lead to social unrest, wars and crises”.
Baldrick: ”But, Sir, isn’t this a sort of a crisis?”
Blackadder: ”That’s right Baldrick. You see, there was only one slight flaw with the plan”.
Baldrick: ”What was that then, Sir?”
Blackadder: “It was bollocks”.
More about the Blackadder series can be read here, from which I republish:
Blackadder is the name that encompassed four series of a BBC 1 period British sitcom, along with several one-off instalments. All television programme episodes starred Rowan Atkinson as anti-hero Edmund Blackadder and Tony Robinson as Blackadder’s dogsbody, Baldrick. Each series was set in a different historical period with the two protagonists accompanied by different characters, though several reappear in one series or another, for example Melchett and Lord Flashheart.
The first series titled The Black Adder was written by Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson, while subsequent episodes were written by Curtis and Ben Elton. The shows were produced by John Lloyd. In 2000 the fourth series, Blackadder Goes Forth, ranked at 16 in the “100 Greatest British Television Programmes”, a list created by the British Film Institute. Also in the 2004 TV poll to find “Britain’s Best Sitcom”, Blackadder was voted the second-best British sitcom of all time, topped by Only Fools and Horses. It was also ranked as the 20th-best TV show of all time by Empire magazine.
Although each series is set in a different era, all follow the “misfortunes” of Edmund Blackadder (played by Atkinson), who in each is a member of a British family dynasty present at many significant periods and places in British history. It is implied in each series that the Blackadder character is a descendant of the previous one, although it is never mentioned how any of the Blackadders manage to father children.
There are many videos on YouTube of Blackadder sketches and it was a hard choosing what to include in today’s post.
See what you make of this:
Captain Blackadder is court-martialled for killing a pigeon and George provides counsel for the defence.
The Resilience Imperative and Civil Disobedience
I have long been a subscriber to CASSE, The Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy. As Casse’s home page sets out, “Perpetual economic growth is neither possible nor desirable. Growth, especially in wealthy nations, is already causing more problems than it solves. Recession isn’t sustainable or healthy either. The positive, sustainable alternative is a steady state economy.” Do take a minute to see the sense and power of this fundamentally and obvious position by reading a little more here.
But as the title of today’s post sets out, all the ideas and actions and commitments come to naught if the outcomes aren’t delivered. This recent essay by Michael Lewis on the CASSE website explores the issue of outcomes and I am very grateful for being granted permission to republish it here on Learning from Dogs.
The Resilience Imperative and Civil Disobedience
by Michael Lewis
As I was making a speech in Alberta, Canada, to a business audience, mainly from the finance and energy industries, a fully engaged participant in the front row caught my eye. He was the first to approach me after the question period and the first to get my autograph on The Resilience Imperative: Cooperative Transitions to a Steady-State Economy, the book that I co-authored with Pat Conaty.
During my talk, I had argued that economic growth and a casino-like financial system were taking us to the edge of a deadly precipice. I made the case that societies urgently need to navigate the turn to a steady-state economy, based on local and regional trade. I also offered suggestions on how we might accomplish this. The thesis has a bit of an edge to it, especially in a business crowd accustomed to globalization and growth, so I was anxious to learn more about the front-row enthusiast.
He turned out to be a warm, charming, and open senior manager at Cenovus Energy, a large player in the Athabasca Tar Sands. The corporation seems to be respected in Alberta and Saskatchewan because of its health and safety, community, and environmental initiatives. He rapidly brought the discussion to the issue of “social license,” a condition he acknowledged was a big problem for the tar sands operators. But his view, after many years around boardroom tables, is that the industry is becoming more transparent and responsible, and its performance is improving.
I believe this to be true; certainly Cenovus has been doing a lot of things right. However, I argued that he was missing the point; social license in this industry could only be understood in a global context, and it is not going to be forthcoming for two simple reasons: (1) economic growth produces carbon and (2) carbon is going to kill a lot of us and thousands of other creatures.
If the oil and gas sector wants to explore the potential for broadening its social license, it would have to stand shoulder to shoulder with scientists, governments, businesses, and civil society and argue for a stiff tax on carbon. Only by taking such responsibility can Cenovus and its fellow corporations expand their social license. At the same time they would be helping to set the stage for the transition to a steady-state economy.
“Nothing less would do,” I proclaimed.
“Well you know, Mike,” he replied, “I have not seen much evidence of such a move afoot.”
Why am I not surprised? “I know,” I said. “Shareholder interests are framed by the ideology of growth and profit maximization, and even when these interests are complemented by an ethic of corporate social responsibility, the ideology does not exactly encourage this vital and necessary conversation.”
A few days later I attended the launch conference of the New Economics Institute at Bard College in Upstate New York. It was a remarkable convergence of practitioners, researchers, and activists engaged in debates about economics, analysis of mindboggling challenges (both local and planetary in scale), and exploration of hopeful transformational pathways.
Bill McKibben delivered a Friday evening keynote speech to a packed audience. His laser focus on greenhouse gas emissions was at once absorbing, terrifying, and hopeful, precisely the kind of dynamic that is motivating more and more people to step up to the front lines of civil disobedience, including many scientists and even a few economists. Mark Jaccard, a well-known energy economist in Vancouver, is hardly considered to be a radical, but he joined the front-line battle as part of a 350.org action. He was arrested in May of this year [Ed: 2012] for blocking a coal train headed north to Vancouver’s coal port.
McKibben and Jaccard are picking up on the analysis of James Hansen et al. that oil and gas are a problem, but we do not have enough of it left to take us over 450 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Coal is the real threat. Unless we phase out coal completely by 2050, we will blast beyond this concentration, and that’s an event that many climate scientists believe will trigger catastrophic consequences. What are we to do?
McKibben and Jaccard are showing us part of the answer. But to make real progress, we need to pay much more attention to Herman Daly, the outstanding chronicler of our economic and ecological lunacy. He concluded one recent essay with this strident statement befitting of our circumstances:
Even though the benefits of further growth are now less than the costs, our decision-making elites have figured out how to keep the dwindling extra benefits for themselves, while “sharing” the exploding extra costs with the poor, the future, and other species. The elite-owned media, the corporate-funded think tanks, the kept economists of high academia, and the World Bank — not to mention Gold Sacks and Wall Street — all sing hymns to growth in perfect unison, and bamboozle average citizens.
Dr. Daly has clarified and expanded the arguments for a steady-state economy that go back to John Stuart Mill, John Ruskin, Frederick Soddy, Kenneth Boulding, and Ghandi. In the same essay referenced above, Daly also noted that in spite of all the evidence of the growing crisis, “our economists, bankers, and politicians still have unrealistic expectations about growth. Like the losing gambler they try to get even by betting double or nothing on more growth.”
Well then, perhaps we need to follow the leads of McKibben, Jaccard, and Hansen, and go get arrested. Perhaps we need to breathe deeply and act courageously to make hope more concrete and despair less convincing. Perhaps those of us in the 50 to 90-year-old set need to commit to civil disobedience to honor our children, grandchildren and our hopes for their survival. The time has arrived for all of us, but especially the post-war “growth generation” to break out of our too-comfortable zones. Stopping carbon emissions is a pre-condition, but nothing will change unless we are prepared to put ourselves on the line.
Of course, this is not enough. We have many questions to answer. How are we going to meet basic needs for energy, food, and shelter? How are we going to finance the economic transition? How do we restructure property rights to overcome the pervasive me-first culture? How do we achieve more local and democratic ownership of the means of production? How do we share jobs and income in a transition that will require less stuff and thus less making of stuff?
These are the questions we concentrate on in The Resilience Imperative. Pat Conaty and I put 42 months of serious forehead pressing into the book, and the early results are gratifying. People as divergent as John Fullerton, former managing director of JP Morgan whose focus is now on resilience and transition (good-bye Wall Street), and Robin Murray from the London School of Economics have endorsed it — they believe we have presented hopeful ideas for getting the transition going.
After presenting numerous positive examples of how people are changing the economy today, we end the book on this note:
The tasks of transition are many. The challenges are daunting. The outcomes are uncertain. Our courage remains untested. But we are a resilient species. We are not alone; there is “blessed unrest” all about. If we but open our eyes, we will SEE change is possible. If we act in ways that recognize we are interdependent, we will continue to innovate co-operative transitions to a steady-state economy.
There is one key question we need to ask ourselves. What stories will we be able to tell our loved ones about what we did to advance the Great Transition?
One sentence really jumped out at me from Michael’s essay and it was this one, “Perhaps we need to breathe deeply and act courageously to make hope more concrete and despair less convincing.” Reminds me of the quotation ascribed to Napoleon Bonaparte:
Courage isn’t having the strength to go on, it is going on when you don’t have strength.
It is all about outcomes.
Food miles: Another tragic aspect of modern life.
Last week I had to travel from Merlin in Southern Oregon up to Portland, a round-trip distance of 480 miles. The vast majority of the journey was along Highway I5, most of which is a 2-lane highway, significantly harder driving than a 3 or more laned highway.
It was the first time I had driven North along I5 since Jean and I moved to Merlin last October. What staggered me were the huge number of trucks on the highway, many of them food trucks from California and beyond. Also noticed at regular intervals were very large industrial buildings that were described as food distribution centres.
Another connection to today’s reflections is that I am about 50 pages into Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. The book is the account of Barbara’s family spending a year deliberately eating home-grown and local food. The book’s subtitle is ‘A Year of Food Life‘ and, inevitably, the book has a website here.
So the book and the journey to Portland got me thinking about food miles and the huge transport distances of so much of what we eat today.
Jean and I were incredibly lucky when we bought this property last year to discover that it had a mature vegetable garden surrounded by a deer-proof fence, as the following photograph partially shows.
So even before considering the food miles we are saving from ‘grow-your-own’, we were enthusiastically planting a whole variety of vegetables. Here’s a rhubarb plant that went in last Saturday.
Anyway, I’m rather meandering along – anyone still awake!
The whole point of this long introduction is to highlight a fabulous film that we have watched over the weekend. Called Edible City: Grow The Revolution we came across it on Top Documentary Films, great source of films by the way if you don’t know it.
Luckily it is on YouTube as well.
Here’s the full film:
It’s an inspiring account of what it means for a community to take control of their food, ergo a strong recommendation to watch it in full.
If you want a taste of the film (pardon the pun!), here are two trailers.
plus much more information from the film’s website.
So why don’t you join the millions of people already buying from their local Farmers’ Market. For the USA you can find your nearest market using this website and for the United Kingdom try the Local Foods website.
Not only will it give you access to much healthier food, it is a very practical way of reducing our use of energy.
… but change is also the one constant in life.
For every one of us there is no escaping change. It’s always been been that way; always will be.
Today, however, there’s an additional unsettling element. I’m speaking of the growing realisation that humanity could be facing the perfect storm. The ultimate storm of runaway climate change and the collapse of our global economy.
Therefore, when one comes across the wind of common-sense it needs to be promoted. My reason for promoting the opening speech by Jennifer Granholm at the TED2013 conference.
Because if we are to find a way of avoiding this storm, we have to do it through innovative ways of thinking and behaving. Each and every one of us deciding to work for a better future. (And see my P.S.)
Back in the days of dogs living as coherent packs, one of the key roles of the alpha dog was to decide a change of territory. Then she, because the alpha dog was always a female, would lead the pack to a better place.
So we should learn from our ancient furry friends and take personal responsibility to find a ‘better’ place for ourselves and all our loved ones.
Ultimately, a message of hope.
Today’s title came from a recent chat ‘across the garden fence’ with our neighbours, Dordie and Bill. At their request we had walked our two horses over to the fence-line between our two properties so Dordie and Bill could meet and fondle them. The warm afternoon sunshine was beautiful and while the horses munched the newly-found grass, we grown-ups talked about this and that and generally tried to put the world to rights!
We talked about the strangeness of present times. Not just in the USA but across the world. Bill thought 2013 would be the year of separation. I queried what he meant by that.
Bill replied, “I sense that by the end of the year, the vast majority of people will have decided if climate change is or is not a significant issue.” There would be few who remained neither unconcerned nor undecided.
That resonated with me and neatly put the framework to today’s post. Stay with me while I journey to the destination that this year will be the year of hope.
Laugh now — or the planet gets it.
You know how some people make lemonade out of lemons? At Grist, we’re making lemonade out of looming climate apocalypse.
It’s more fun than it sounds, trust us!
Grist has been dishing out environmental news and commentary with a wry twist since 1999 — which, to be frank, was way before most people cared about such things. Now that green is in every headline and on every store shelf (bamboo hair gel, anyone?), Grist is the one site you can count on to help you make sense of it all.
The weekly Grist digest that arrived in my in-box that same day as when we were chatting with Dordie and Bill included a number of key stories.
Here’s one that smacked me in the eye.
The 32 most alarming charts from the government’s climate change report
By Philip Bump
Just reading about the government’s massive new report outlining what climate change has in store for the U.S. is sobering. In brief: temperature spikes, drought, flooding, less snow, less permafrost. But if you really want to freak out, you should check out the graphs, charts, and maps.
Now I’m not going to republish all 32 charts but will include just these two, because the message is clear.
It’s possible that sea levels could only rise eight inches. It is also possible that they could rise over six-and-a-half feet.
Sea-level rise will affect different areas to different degrees — but note the map at lower right. On the Georgia coast, “hundred year” floods could happen annually.
OK, that first chart takes a while to absorb the full implications. The second one doesn’t!
The full range of charts is chilling. While they refer to the USA, the messages apply to the whole world.
Then in that same Grist weekly summary was this story.
If you aren’t alarmed about climate, you aren’t paying attention
There was recently another one of those (numbingly familiar) internet tizzies wherein someone trolls environmentalists for being “alarmist” and environmentalists get mad and the troll says “why are you being so defensive?” and everybody clicks, clicks, clicks.
I have no desire to dance that dismal do-si-do again. But it is worth noting that I find the notion of “alarmism” in regard to climate change almost surreal. I barely know what to make of it. So in the name of getting our bearings, let’s review a few things we know.
We know we’ve raised global average temperatures around 0.8 degrees C so far. We know that 2 degrees C is where most scientists predict catastrophic and irreversible impacts. And we know that we are currently on a trajectory that will push temperatures up 4 degrees or more by the end of the century.
David then works his way through those ‘things we know’ in a powerful manner. Do read the full article, please! This is his conclusion:
All this will add up to “large-scale displacement of populations and have adverse consequences for human security and economic and trade systems.” Given the uncertainties and long-tail risks involved, “there is no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible.” There’s a small but non-trivial chance of advanced civilization breaking down entirely.
Now ponder the fact that some scenarios show us going up to 6degrees by the end of the century, a level of devastation we have not studied and barely know how to conceive. Ponder the fact that somewhere along the line, though we don’t know exactly where, enough self-reinforcing feedback loops will be running to make climate change unstoppable and irreversible for centuries to come. That would mean handing our grandchildren and their grandchildren not only a burned, chaotic, denuded world, but a world that is inexorably more inhospitable with every passing decade.
Take all that in, sit with it for a while, and then tell me what it could mean to be an “alarmist” in this context. What level of alarm is adequate?
So am I stark staring mad for having hope in my mind? Stay with me for just a little longer. Then form your own judgment.
Recall the post that I published on Tuesday hitting out at the British newspaper The Daily Mail. Towards the end of that post, in discussing the recently released American National Climate Assessment, I wrote this:
That’s why this report is to be encouraged, nay embraced. Of all the nations in the world, the one that should be setting the lead is the United States of America. As the banner on that globalchange.gov website proclaims: Thirteen Agencies, One Vision: Empower the Nation with Global Change Science
So go and read the report. For your sake and all our sakes.
Because the more informed you and I are, the better the chances of real political leadership taking place in this fine nation.
Now with that in mind let’s go to the final Grist article.
A new grand strategy for the U.S., built around sustainability
Let’s just accept it: America’s current political and economic systems are incapable of responding adequately to climate change. As things stand, reducing carbon emissions — or more broadly, shifting to sustainability — is a kind of add-on, a second-tier consideration, bolted onto systems and institutions that were built for other purposes.
A little later, David writes:
So what would a new U.S. grand strategy built around sustainability look like? That’s the question tackled by “A New U.S. Grand Strategy,” a piece in Foreign Policy by Patrick Doherty, director of the Smart Strategy Initiative at the New America Foundation.
It’s a hugely ambitious and wide-ranging piece, far too much to even summarize adequately here. Bookmark it. Instapaper it. Pinterest it to your iCloud, or whatever kids do these days. But let’s take a quick look.
Doherty identifies four central challenges facing the U.S.:
- Economic inclusion: People are swarming out of poverty around the world (especially in China). Over the next 20 years, the global middle class will welcome around 3 billion new members. That’s going to put intense stress on natural, economic, and political systems that are already showing signs of strain.
- Ecosystem depletion: Pretty sure Grist readers are familiar with this one.
- Contained depression: Rather than a recession, the U.S. faces a “constrained depression,” with the full effects of low aggregate demand and high debt being masked by policy. No amount of fiscal or economic stimulus will revive a system that has exhausted itself.
- Resilience deficit: Our industrial supply lines and value chains are efficient, but lack redundancy; they are brittle. Our infrastructure is old and crumbling, $2.2 trillion in the hole, and that’s just for the aging Cold War stuff, never mind building water, power, and transportation systems suited to an era of climate disruption.
“These four challenges,” Doherty says, “are the four horsemen of the coming decades.” And they are inter-dependent. They must be solved together. It’s a rough situation.
With these in mind, Doherty proposes a new grand strategic concept: “The United States must lead the global transition to sustainability.“
What a vision for the United States of America. That this Nation will be the most wonderful example of how man can learn, adapt and change. David Roberts concludes:
Here are Doherty’s main suggestions for how to realign the U.S. economic engine:
- Walkable communities: More and more Americans want to live in dense, walkable areas; get rid of regulations that hamper them and start building them.
- Regenerative agriculture: Farmers can produce “up to three times the profits per acre and 30 percent higher yields during drought” with agricultural techniques that also clean water and restore soils. America must “adopt modern methods that will bring more land into cultivation, keep families on the land, and build regional food systems that keep more money circulating in local economies.”
- Resource productivity: “Energy and resource intensity per person will have to drop dramatically.” That imperative can drive “innovation in material sciences, engineering, advanced manufacturing, and energy production, distribution, and consumption.”
- Excess liquidity: Channel all the corporate cash that’s sitting around in funds into long-term investments in America by taxing waste and creating regional growth strategies.
- Stranded hydrocarbon assets: Figure out how to devalue the immense amount of carbon that’s still sitting underneath the ground without unduly traumatizing the economy.
Obviously the devil is in the details on this stuff, but at a broad level, this is about as eloquent and forward-thinking as it gets. I love the idea of using sustainability in a muscular way, to revive regional economies and nurture the middle class. I recommend reading the whole thing.
I, too, recommend reading “A New U.S. Grand Strategy - Why walkable communities, sustainable economics, and multilateral diplomacy are the future of American power.” (NB: You will have to register with Foreign Policy before access to the report is possible, but it’s free.)
So, the wall-to-wall stream of information that is shouting out how quickly the planet is changing is the fuel that is going to feed the fires of hope.
Let me leave you with the most beautiful words of an ancient philosopher – Aristotle.