Posts Tagged ‘Keystone Pipeline’
It’s really terribly easy – we just have to leave the oil in the ground!
The current issue of The Economist has an article on page 43, under The Americas section, headed Cheap at the price.
It’s a review of the biggest oil auction this year.
A single bid for a vast field shows the weakness of Brazil’s state-led approach to developing its oil reserves
SIX years after discovering giant offshore“pré-sal” oil deposits, so called because they lie beneath a thick layer of salt under the ocean bed, Brazil has finally auctioned the rights to develop some of its deeply buried wealth. On October 21st the Libra field, off Rio de Janeiro’s coast (see map), was sold to a consortium led by Petrobras, Brazil’s state-controlled oil firm, and including France’s Total, Anglo-Dutch Shell and China’s state-owned CNOOC and CNPC. Libra’s estimated 8 billion-12 billion barrels of recoverable oil make it the biggest oil prospect in the world to be auctioned this year. Once it reaches peak production, sometime in the next decade, it should increase Brazil’s output from 2.1m to about 3.5m barrels per day.
The article was critical of the way Brazil managed the auction resulting in just one consortium bidding, against the expectation there would be strong competition for the oil from possibly 40 companies despite the huge costs in extracting it from over 6,000 metres (nearly 20,000 feet) below sea-level. The article didn’t even hint at the madness of even thinking it should be extracted but I guess that’s The Economist for you.
So with that in mind, let me turn to a recent essay from TomDispatch by world-renown climate-change activist Bill McKibben. As regular readers will be aware Tom Engelhardt of the TomDispatch blog has given blanket permission for TD essays to be republished here on Learning from Dogs.
Tomgram: Bill McKibben, Can Obama Ever Stand Up to the Oil Industry?
Recently, “good” news about energy has been gushing out of North America, where a cheering crowd of pundits, energy experts, and government officials has been plugging the U.S. as the “Saudi Arabia” of the twenty-first century. You know, all that fracking and those luscious deposits of oil shale and gas shale just waiting to be pounded into shape to fill global gas tanks for an energy-rich future. And then, of course, just to the north there are those fabulous Canadian tar sands deposits whose extraction is reportedly turning parts of Alberta into an environmental desert. And that isn’t all.
From the melting Arctic, where the Russians and others are staking out energy claims, to the southernmost tip of South America, the dream of new energy wealth is being pursued with a fervor and avidity that is hard to take in. In distant Patagonia, an Argentinean government not previously known for its friendliness to foreign investment has just buddied up with Chevron to drill “around the clock in pursuit of a vast shale oil reservoir that might be the world’s next great oil field.” Huzzah and olé!
And can you even blame the Argentinean president for her choice? After all, who wants to be the country left out of the global rush for new energy wealth? Who wants to consider the common good of the planet, when your country’s finances may be at stake? (As with the Keystone XL pipeline protest movement here, so in Argentina, there actually are environmentalists and others who are thinking of the common good, but they’re up against the state, the police, and Chevron — no small thing.) All of this would, of course, be a wondrous story — a planet filled with energy reserves beyond anyone’s wildest dreams — were it not for the fact that such fossil fuel wealth, such good news, is also the nightmarish bad news of our lives, of perhaps the lifetime of humanity.
There is an obvious disconnect between what is widely known about climate change and the recent rush to extract “tough energy” from difficult environments; between the fires — and potential “mega-fire” — burning wildly across parts of overheated Australia and its newly elected government run by a conservative prime minister, essentially a climate denier, intent on getting rid of that country’s carbon tax. There is a disconnect between hailing the U.S. as the new Saudi Arabia and the recent report of the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warning that fossil fuel reserves must be kept in the ground — or else. There is a disconnect between what our president says about climate change and the basic energy policies of his administration. There is a disconnect between what the burning of fossil fuels will do to our environment and the urge of just about every country on this planet to exploit whatever energy reserves are potentially available to it, no matter how “dirty,” no matter how environmentally destructive to extract.
Somewhere in that disconnect, the remarkable Bill McKibben, whose new book, Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist, is at the top of my personal reading list, has burrowed in and helped to create a global climate change movement. In this country, it’s significantly focused on the Keystone XL pipeline slated, if built, to bring tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast. For the last several years at TomDispatch, McKibben has kept us abreast of the most recent developments in that movement. Here is his latest report from the tar sands front. Tom
X-Ray of a Flagging Presidency
Will Obama Block the Keystone Pipeline or Just Keep Bending?
By Bill McKibben
As the battle over the Keystone XL pipeline has worn on — and it’s now well over two years old — it’s illuminated the Obama presidency like no other issue. It offers the president not just a choice of policies, but a choice of friends, worldviews, styles. It’s become an X-ray for a flagging presidency. The stakes are sky-high, and not just for Obama. I’m writing these words from Pittsburgh, amid 7,000 enthusiastic and committed young people gathering to fight global warming, and my guess is that his choice will do much to determine how they see politics in this country.
Let us stipulate at the start that whether or not to build the pipeline is a decision with profound physical consequences. If he approves its construction, far more of the dirtiest oil on Earth will flow out of the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, and reach the U.S. Gulf Coast. Not just right away or for a brief period, but far into the future, since the Keystone XL guarantees a steady flow of profits to oil barons who have their hearts set on tripling production in the far north.
The history of oil spills and accidents offers a virtual guarantee that some of that oil will surely make its way into the fields and aquifers of the Great Plains as those tar sands flow south. The greater and more daunting assurance is this, however: everything that reaches the refineries on the Gulf Coast will, sooner or later, spill into the atmosphere in the form of carbon, driving climate change to new heights.
In June, President Obama said that the building of the full pipeline — on which he alone has the ultimate thumbs up or thumbs down — would be approved only if “it doesn’t significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” By that standard, it’s as close to a no-brainer as you can get.
These days, however, as no one will be surprised to hear, brainless things happen in Washington more often than not, and there’s the usual parade of the usual suspects demanding that Keystone get built. In mid-October, a coalition that included Exxon, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Royal Dutch Shell, not to mention the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Business Roundtable, sent Obama a letter demanding that he approve Keystone in order to “maintain investor confidence,” a phrase almost guaranteed to accompany bad ideas. A report last week showed that the Koch brothers stood to earn as much as $100 billion in profits if the pipeline gets built (which would come in handy in helping fund their endless assault on unions, poor people, and democracy).
But don’t think it’s just Republican bigwigs and oil execs rushing to lend the pipeline a hand. Transcanada, the pipeline’s prospective builder, is at work as well, and Obama’s former communications director Anita Dunn is now on the Transcanada dime, producing TV ads in support of the pipeline. It’s a classic example of the kind of influence peddling that knows no partisan bounds. As the activists at Credo put it: “It’s a betrayal of the commitments that so many of us worked so hard for, and that Dunn herself played a huge role in shaping as top strategist on the 2008 campaign and communications director in the White House.”
Credo’s Elijah Zarlin, who worked with Dunn back in 2008, wrote that attack on her. He was the guy who wrote all those emails that got so many of us coughing up money and volunteering time during Obama’s first run for the presidency, and he perfectly exemplifies those of us on the other side of this divide — the ones who actually believed Dunn in 2008, the ones who thought Obama was going to try to be a different kind of president.
On energy there’s been precious little sign of that. Yes, the Environmental Protection Agency has put in place some new power plant regulations, and cars are getting better mileage. But the president has also boasted again and again about his “all of the above” energy policy for “increasing domestic oil production and reducing our dependence on foreign oil.” It has, in fact, worked so well that the United States will overtake Russia this year as the biggest combined oil and natural gas producer on the planet and is expected to pass Saudi Arabia as the number one oil producer by 2017.
His administration has okayed oil drilling in the dangerous waters of the Arctic and has emerged as the biggest backer of fracking. Even though he boasts about marginal U.S. cuts in carbon emissions, his green light to fracking means that he’s probably given more of a boost to releases of methane – another dangerous greenhouse gas — than any man in history. And it’s not just the environment. At this point, given what we know about everything from drone warfare to NSA surveillance, the dream of a progressive Obama has, like so many dreams, faded away.
The president has a handy excuse, of course: a truly terrible Congress. And too often — with the noble exception of those who have been fighting for gay rights and immigration reform — he’s had little challenge from progressives. But in the case of Keystone, neither of those caveats apply: he gets to make the decision all by himself with no need to ask John Boehner for a thing, and people across the country have made a sustained din about it. Americans have sent record numbers of emails to senators and a record number of comments to the State Department officials who oversee a “review” of the pipeline’s environmental feasibility; more have gone to jail over this issue than any in decades. Yet month after month, there’s no presidential decision.
There are days, in fact, when it’s hard to muster much fire for the fight (though whenever I find my enthusiasm flagging, I think of the indigenous communities that have to live amid the Mordor that is now northern Alberta). The president, after all, has already allowed the construction of the southern half of the Keystone pipeline, letting Transcanada take land across Texas and Oklahoma for its project, and setting up the beleaguered communities of Port Arthur, Texas, for yet more fumes from refineries.
Stopping the northern half of that pipeline from being built certainly won’t halt global warming by itself. It will, however, slow the expansion of the extraction of tar sands, though the Koch brothers et al. are busy trying to find other pipeline routes and rail lines that would get the dirtiest of dirty energy out of Canada and into the U.S. via destinations from Michigan to Maine. These pipelines and rail corridors will need to be fought as well — indeed the fights are underway, though sometimes obscured by the focus on Keystone. And there are equally crucial battles over coal and gas from the Appalachians to the Pacific coast. You can argue that the president’s people have successfully diverted attention from their other environmental sins by keeping this argument alive long past the moment at which it should have been settled and a decision should have been made.
At this point, in fact, only the thought of those 900,000 extra barrels a day of especially nasty oil coming out of the ground and, via that pipeline, into refineries still makes the fight worthwhile. Oh, and the possibility that, in deciding to block Keystone, the president would finally signal a shift in policy that matters, finally acknowledge that we have to keep most of the carbon that’s still in the ground in that ground if we want our children and grandchildren to live on a planet worth inhabiting.
If the president were to become the first world leader to block a big energy project on the grounds of its effects on climate, it might help dramatically reset the international negotiations that he allowed to go aground at Copenhagen in 2009 — the biggest foreign policy failure of his first term.
But that cascade of “ifs” depends on Obama showing that he can actually stand up to the oil industry. To an increasingly disillusioned environmental movement, Keystone looks like a last chance.
Bill McKibben is Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, founder of the global climate campaign 350.org, a TomDispatch regular, and the author of a new book, Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. 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 Bill McKibben
President Obama turned 52-years-old on August 4th this year. Michelle, his wife, will be 50-years-old next January, 17th. Their children, Malia and Sasha, are aged 15 and 12 respectively.
Thus this family of four are all sufficiently young to be alive when the consequences of burning all this oil will be very painfully obvious, when all the power and money in the world will come to naught.
So it strikes me that young Malia and Sasha should be shown where Planet Earth’s master circuit-breaker is located. Would be such a shame to leave the lights on when there’s no-one at home.
Can’t believe a year has gone so quickly!
Last year, on this day, I published the transcript of the Declaration of Independence before Congress on July 4, 1776. Part of one of the comments, left by Patrice Ayme, was this:
That the trust is gone is actually a good thing. We cannot trust a system where a few lead hundreds of millions, if not billions. Even if they come from the People, and especially if they come from the People. Because the less power where they come from, the greedier they are, and thus, the more eager to be bought.
Two thousand years ago, any grouping of a few thousands Germans got enraged when someone would proclaim himself a king. Now people venerate those who think they can do all the thinking in place of billions.
Hence we are facing the reality of a vastly incomplete revolution: Athens, at her apex, had direct democracy (OK, no women, no slaves…). We don’t.
Perhaps, what has changed most in the last year is the realisation, the growing realisation, as to where real power lies.
This highly subjective conclusion comes to me as a result of reading, very recently, two essays.
In the wake of renewed interest in the Keystone Pipeline project and the likelihood that Obama will eagerly approve it unless we stop him, there’s a lot of interest in what actually flows through those pipes.
To answer that question, we need to look at:
All of which produces a great bottom line. Click any of those links to jump to that section.
The primary source, though not the only source, of this information is a great article and slideshow at the Scientific American website. Feel free to click and read as we walk through this material.
It is a thorough and very disturbing explanation of what Keystone XL is truly about; please don’t hesitate to read it in full.
It includes this video:
However, I will republish the closing paragraphs:
SO WHAT FLOWS THROUGH THE PIPES?
If you thought that diluted bitumen, as produced by the upgrading plants, is now capable of flowing through a pipeline to the cash registers in Texas (or wherever), you’d be wrong. Even in diluted form, bitumen doesn’t flow. To make it flow, it has to be heated — often to 150°–160°F — and then forced through the pipelines under high pressure.
So what flows through the pipeline? Keeping those cash registers in mind, you now have all the pieces. Tar sand pipelines contain:
A carbon-rich colloidal suspension …
Made up of lighter-than-water, easily-evaporated toxic liquids (like diesel) …
And heavier-than-water solids (the tar or bitumen itself) that sink to the bottom of rivers and below the mud in fields …
Which has been heated hot enough to burn your hand — or accelerate the external corrosion of the pipeline itself, including pinhole breaks …
Which has been forced to move under high pressure …
And which contains poisons and toxins like sulphur, arsenic, nickel, lead and mercury …
All so megalomaniacal carbon billionaires can make even more money.
That’s what flows through the pipelines. Or to put it more simply:
What flows through the pipes is the unmonetized assets of the try-and-stop-me CEO class, which if it spills, will poison everything it touches for decades or centuries, and if it gets into the air, will turn most of our grandchildren — the ones that survive — into hunter-gatherers.
Bill McKibben counts those unmonetized assets (proven reserves) at $27 trillion dollars. Add in reserves that are likely but not proven, plus the ones in the melting Arctic that are yet to be found, and you’re talking real money. The billionaire class won’t walk away from that in a hurry.
And that, kids, is Science Talk for today. We learned a little about a lot, didn’t we — everything from colloidal suspensions and bitumen “froth,” to billionaire psychopathology and cash registers in Texas. To those of you who got to this end of the post, my thanks!
So hold in mind the reference to the billionaire class as I cross the ‘pond’ to the old country for the second essay.
Recently, George Monbiot published an essay under the title of Robber Barons.
It opened, thus:
Why do we ignore the most blatant transfer of money from the poor to the rich?
It’s the silence that puzzles me. Last week, the Chancellor stood up in parliament to announce that benefits for the very poor would be cut yet again. On the same day, in Luxembourg, our government battled to maintain benefits for the very rich. It won. As a result, some of the richest people in Britain will each continue to receive millions of pounds in income support from taxpayers.
There has been not a whimper of protest. The Guardian hasn’t mentioned it. UK Uncut is silent. So – at the other end of the spectrum – is the UK Independence Party.
I’m talking about the most blatant transfer of money from the poor to the rich that has occurred in the era of universal suffrage. Farm subsidies. The main subsidy – the single farm payment – is doled out by the hectare. The more you own or rent, the more money you receive.
Later on mentioning:
The minister responsible for cutting income support for the poor, Iain Duncan Smith, lives on an estate owned by his wife’s family. Over the past ten years, it has received €1.5m in income support from taxpayers.
How much more obvious do these double standards have to be before we begin to notice?
Then Mr. Monbiot examines some of the cultural aspects such as how “A high proportion of the books aimed at very young children are about farm animals.” then closes with this thought.
Whatever the reason may be, it’s time we overcame these inhibitions and confronted this unembarrassed robbery of the poor by the rich. The current structure of farm subsidies epitomises the British government’s defining project: capitalism for the poor, socialism for the rich.
So examples from both sides of The Atlantic that reveal deeply disturbing issues. However …….
I celebrate America this day. I celebrate the power of the common man to achieve justice and fairness for the peoples of all nations. I celebrate the Constitution of the United States of America.
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The full copy of an email received yesterday from 350.org
Breaking news about a good friend
Big news has just emerged: Dr. James Hansen, the planet’s premier climate scientist, announced his retirement as head of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies, where he began his career in 1967.
If 350.org has a patron saint, it’s Jim. It was his 2008 paper that gave us our name, identifying 350 parts per million CO2 as the safe upper limit for carbon in the atmosphere.
But as much as for his science, we respect him for his courage. He’s always been willing to speak the truth bluntly, from the day in 1988 when he told Congress that the time had come “to stop waffling so much and say the planet was warming,” to all he’s done to bring attention to damaging projects like Keystone XL — even to the point of risking arrest to do so. I have no doubt he’ll go on doing science, and speaking plainly — indeed, he told the New York Times that one reason he’s leaving the federal payroll is so he can take on the government more directly.
But this is a big moment, and we need to mark it. Here’s what I hope you’ll do: honor Jim’s lifetime of work by making a public comment to the State Department about Keystone XL and tell them to reject the pipeline. In this case, speaking out is simple — click the link below to go to the page to submit from. There’s a list of ten arguments to choose from – you can mix and match or put it in your own words and just speak from the heart.
Sending a message to the State Department might not seem like much, but I think it’s actually quite fitting tribute.
One reason we’re fighting the pipeline is because Jim Hansen did the math to show that if we combusted the tar sands on top of all else we burn, it would be “game over for the climate.” So far that message hasn’t gotten through: the State Department hired a bunch of compromised oil industry analysts to ‘review’ KXL, and unsurprisingly they decided it would have ‘minimal’ environmental impact. We need to get them to take reality seriously, and change that assessment.
Maybe — just maybe — with a truly overwhelming flood of comments, we can break through. Together with our friends across the movement, we’re aiming for an ambitious target of 1 million comments to the State Department to stop the pipeline.
Beginning this comment push is all the more timely after the disasterous tar sands pipeline spill in Arkansas, where thousands of gallons of toxic oil ran freely through the streets of a suburban community.
Jim Hansen has been to jail twice to try and block KXL. When I saw him in handcuffs, I cringed. I don’t mind going myself, but it seems crazy that we have to send our best climate scientist off in handcuffs; in a sane world he’d never have to leave the lab. And in a sane world we’d just be toasting his retirement from NASA with well-deserved champagne.
But it’s a crazy world, heating fast, and so we need to mark this historic day in a way that really counts. Please do take a couple minutes to submit a comment on the Keystone XL Pipeline.
So many thanks,
P.S. This article about Jim’s work in the New York Times is supurb — please take a moment to read and share: nytimes.com/2013/04/02/science/james-e-hansen-retiring-from-nasa-to-fight-global-warming.html
P.S. please submit your comment re the Keystone XL Pipeline; for all our sakes. This is the acknowledgement you will receive from 350.org.
Thanks for submitting your comment. We’ve set the ambitious goal of 1,000,000 comments to the State Department because our best defense against the big money behind this project is overwhelming numbers — in short, people power.
Submitting a comment is just the first step — to hit that big goal, we each need to get our friends, family and maybe a few new people to join us. The next step is to share this with your social networks. You can click below to easily share with Facebook and Twitter:
Also, emails to friends is a great way to encourage people to share as well — just include this link when you reach out:act.350.org/letter/a_million_strong_against_keystone/
No doubt we’ll talk again soon about all this — there’s still a ways to go.
A guest post from Tom Engelhardt.
As regular followers of this blog know, Tom Engelhardt of Tom Dispatch fame has very kindly given permission for essays on Tom Dispatch to be republished on Learning from Dogs. I try to be circumspect about which essays I do republish.
I’m away from my desk for the next two days which seemed like a great reason to republish this reflection from Tom on the Keystone XL protest event held in Washington D.C last February 17th.
Tomgram: Engelhardt, Climate Change as History’s Deal-Breaker
Where Is Everybody?
Why It’s So Tough to Get Your Head Around Climate Change
By Tom Engelhardt
Two Sundays ago, I traveled to the nation’s capital to attend what was billed as “the largest climate rally in history” and I haven’t been able to get the experience — or a question that haunted me — out of my mind. Where was everybody?
First, though, the obvious weather irony: climate change didn’t exactly come out in support of that rally. In the midst of the warmest years and some of the warmest winters on record, the demonstration, which focused on stopping the Keystone XL Pipeline — it will bring tar-sands oil, some of the “dirtiest,” carbon-richest energy available from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S. Gulf Coast — was the coldest I’ve ever attended. I thought I’d lose a few fingers and toes while listening to the hour-plus of speakers, including Senator Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island, who were theoretically warming the crowd up for its march around the (other) White House.
And I also experienced a moment of deep disappointment. When I arrived early at the spot in front of the Washington Monument on the National Mall where we were to assemble, my heart sank. It looked like only a few thousand protestors were gathering for what had been billed as a monster event. I had taken it for granted that I would be adding one small, aging body (and voice) to a vast crowd at a propitious moment to pressure Barack Obama to become the climate-change president he hasn’t been. After all, he has a decision to make that’s his alone: whether or not to allow that pipeline to be built. Nixing it would help keep a potentially significant contributor to climate change, those Albertan tar sands, in the ground. In other words, I hoped to play my tiny part in preserving a half-decent future for this planet, my children, and my new grandson.
Sixty environmental and other organizations were backing the demonstration, including the Sierra Club with its hundreds of thousands of members. Given what was potentially at stake, it never crossed my mind that the turnout wouldn’t be substantial. In fact, on that frigid day, lots of demonstrators did turn up. Evidently, they knew the dirty little secret of such events: that much talk would precede a modest amount of walking and inventive slogan shouting. So they arrived — poured in actually — late, and in real numbers.
In the end, the organizers estimated attendance at somewhere in the 35,000-50,000 range. Media reports varied between the usual “thousands,” generically used to describe (or, if you’re in a conspiratorial frame of mind, minimize) any demonstration, and tens of thousands. I have no way of estimating myself, but certainly the crowd was, in the end, sizeable, as well as young, enthusiastic, and loud. It made itself heard passing the White House. Not that President Obama was there to hear anything. He was then on a golf course in the Florida warmth teeing up with “a pair of Texans who are key oil, gas, and pipeline players.” That seemed to catch another kind of climate-change reality of our moment and strongly hinted at the strength of the forces any such movement is up against. In the meantime, Keystone builder TransCanada was ominously completing the already green-lighted first half of the Texas-Oklahoma leg of its prospective future pipeline.
In the end, I felt genuine satisfaction at having been there, but given what was at stake, givenFrankenstorm Sandy, the devastating Midwestern drought and record southwestern fires of 2012, the Snowmageddon winter storm that had recently dropped 40 inches of the white stuff on Hamden, Connecticut, the blistering spring and summer of 2012, the fast-melting Arctic sea ice, and the fact that last year broke all heat records for the continental United States, given the build-up of billion-dollar weather disasters in recent years, and the growing emphasis on “extreme weather” events on the national TV news, shouldn’t hundreds of thousands have been there? After all, I’ve been inantiwar demonstrations in which at least that many marched and in 1982, I found myself in my hometown in a crowd of a million demonstrating against the possibility of a world-ending nuclear war. Is climate change a less important issue?
“There Is No Planet B”
While protesting that Sunday, I noted one slogan on a number of hand-made signs that struck me as the most pointed (and poignant) of the march: “There is no planet B.” It seemed to sum up what was potentially at stake: a planet to live reasonably comfortably on. You really can’t get much more basic than that, which is why hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, should have been out in the streets demanding that our leaders begin to attend to climate change before it’s quite literally too late.
After all, to my mind, climate change, global warming, extreme weather — call it what you will — is the obvious deal-breaker in human, if not planetary, history. Everything but nuclear catastrophe pales by comparison, no matter the disaster: 9/11, 70,000 dead in Syria, failed wars, the grimmest of dictatorships, movements of hope that don’t deliver — all of that’s familiar history. Those are the sorts of situations where you can try again, differently, or future generations can and maybe do far better. All of it involves human beings who need to be dealt with or human structures that need to be changed. While any of them may be the definition of “the worst of times,” they are also thedefinition of hope.
Nature and the weather are another matter (even if it’s humanity that, by burning of fossil fuels atincreasingly staggering rates, has created its own Frankenstein’s monster out of the natural world). Climate change is clearly something new in our experience. Even in its relatively early but visibly intensifying stages, it threatens to be the singular event in human history, because unlike every other disaster we can imagine (except a full-scale nuclear war or, as has happened in the planet’s past, a large meteorite or asteroid impact), it alone will alter the basis for life on this planet.
Raise the planet’s temperature by three to six degrees Celsius, as various well-respected scientific types and groups are now suggesting might happen by century’s end (and possibly throw in some more heat thanks to the melting of the permafrost in the north), and if you live in a city on a coastline, you’d better watch out. And that only begins to suggest the problems humanity will face.
The world, at best, will be a distinctly poorer, less comfortable place for us (and from there the scenarios only get uglier).
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m no scientist. I doubt I’d even be considered scientifically literate (though I try). But the scientific consensus on the subject of climate change seems striking enough to me, and what’s happening around us is no less striking as a confirmation that our world is changing — and remarkably quickly at that. Whether you read about melting glaciers, the melting Greenland ice shield, melting Arctic waters, melting permafrost, acidifying oceans, intensifying storms, greater desertification, wilder wild fires, or so many other allied subjects, doesn’t it always seem that the rates of bad news are on the rise and the word “record” is usually lurking somewhere in the vicinity?
So I continue to wonder, given our situation on this planet, given our future and that of our children and grandchildren, where is everybody?
Can You Organize Against the Apocalypse?
Don’t for a second think that I have some magic answer to that question. Still, as it’s been on my mind, here’s an attempt to lay out at least some of the possible factors, micro to macro, that might have limited the size of that crowd two Sundays ago and perhaps might tend to limit the size of any climate-change crowd, as well as the mobilizing possibilities that lie in the disaster awaiting us.
Outreach: Yes, there were at least 60 groups involved, but how much outreach was there really? Many people I know hadn’t heard a thing about the event. And while climate change has been on the human agenda for a while now, a real movement to deal with what’s happening to us is in its absolute infancy. There is so much outreach and so much education that still needs to be done.
The slowness of movements: It’s easy to forget how long it can take for movements of change to grow, for their messages to cohere, penetrate, and begin to make sense or seem meaningful to large numbers of people in terms of their everyday lives. Despite its obvious long-term destructive power, for many reasons (see below) climate change might prove a particularly difficult issue to link to our everyday lives in ways that mobilize rather than demobilize us. On a similarly difficult issue, the nuclear movement, it took literally decades to grow to that million-person march, and even early anti-Vietnam War protests were smaller than the recent Keystone demo.
Politics: Attitudes toward climate change have largely polarized along left-right lines, so that the issue seems politically ghettoized at the moment (though there was a time when Republicans of some stature were concerned about the subject). To my mind, it’s part of the insanity of our moment that the preservation of our planet as we have known it, which should be the great conservative issue of our era, is now pure poison on the right. Even American paleo-conservatives, who are willing to make common cause on American war policy with left anti-imperial types, won’t touch it with a 10-foot pole. When this begins to change, you’ll know something of significance is happening.
Enemies: Here’s a factor it’s easy to ignore, but no one should. Giant energy companies and energy-connected right-wing billionaires have for years now been funneling staggering amounts of money into a network of right-wing think tanks and websites dedicated to creating doubts about climate change and promoting climate denial. In the latest revelation about the well-financed climate-denial movement, the British Guardian reports that between 2002 and 2010, $120 million dollars was shuttled, “using a secretive funding route,” into “more than 100 groups casting doubt about the science behind climate change.” It all came from conservative billionaires (and not just the Koch brothers) who were guaranteed total anonymity. And it “helped build a vast network of think tanks and activist groups working to a single purpose: to redefine climate change from neutral scientific fact to a highly polarizing ‘wedge issue’ for hardcore conservatives.” The funders of this “movement” and their minions should, of course, be disqualified on the spot. They are almost all identified with and profit from the very fossil fuels that climate-change scientists say are heating up the planet. But they — and a few outlier scientific types they’ve scrounged up — provide the “balance,” the “two sides,” that the mainstream media adores. And they play upon the arcane nature of Science itself to intimidate the rest of us.
Science: When you have a bad boss, or your country is ruled by a dictator, or your bank cheats you, it’s within your everyday experience. You have some body of personal knowledge to draw on to understand the situation. You are personally offended. But Science? For most of us, the very word is intimidating. It means what we didn’t understand in school and gave up understanding long ago. To grasp climate change means teaching yourself Science with no professors in sight. Filling the knowledge bank you don’t have on your own. It’s daunting. Oh yes, the Ice-Albedo feedback loop. Sure thing. If the boss, the bank, the dictator takes your home, you get it. If Superstorm Sandy turns your home into rubble, what you get is an argument. What you need is an education to know just what role “climate change” might have played in making that storm worse, or whether it played any role at all. Similarly, you need an education to grasp the dangers of those tar sands from Canada. It can be overwhelming. Doubts are continually raised (see “enemies”), the natural variability of the weather makes climate change easier to dismiss, and sometimes, when Science takes the lead, it’s easier just to duck.
Nature: Science is bad enough; now, throw in Nature. How many of us still live on farms? How many of us still live in “the wilderness”? Isn’t Nature what we catch on the Discovery Channel? Isn’t it what we pay a lot of money to drop in on briefly and ogle while on vacation? In our everyday lives, most of us are, in some way, no longer a part of this natural world of “ours” — not at least until drought strikes your region, or that “record wildfire” approaches your community, or that bear/coyote/skunk/puma stumbles into your (urban or suburban) neck of the woods. Connecting with Nature, no less imagining the changing natural state of a planet going haywire (along with the likelihood of mass, climate-changed induced extinctions) is again not exactly an easy thing to do; it’s not what comes “naturally” to us.
Blame: Any movement needs a target. But this isn’t the Arab Spring. Climate change is not Hosni Mubarak. This isn’t the Occupy moment. Climate change is not simply “Wall Street” or the 1%. It’s not simply the Obama administration, a polarized Congress filled with energy-company-supported climate ignorers and deniers, or the Chinese leadership that’s exploiting coal for all its worth, or the Canadian government that abandoned the Kyoto treaty and supports that tar-sands pipeline, or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has put its money where its mouth is in American electoral politics when it comes to climate change. Yes, the giant energy companies, which are making historic profits off our burning planet, couldn’t be worse news or more culpable. The oil billionaires are a disaster, and so on. Still, targets are almost too plentiful and confusing. There are indeed villains, but so many of them! And what, after all, about the rest of us who lend a hand in burning fossil fuels as if there were no tomorrow? What about our consumer way of life to which all of us are, to one degree or another, addicted, and which has been a model for the rest of the world. Who then is the enemy? What exactly is to be done? In other words, there is anamorphousness to who’s aiding and abetting climate change that can make the targeting on which any movement thrives difficult.
The future: In the environmental movement, there is some serious discussion about why it’s so hard for climate change to gain traction among the public (and in the media). It’s sometimes said that the culprit is our brains, which weren’t set up, in an evolutionary sense, to deal with a problem that won’t deliver its full whammy for perhaps close to a century or more. Actually, I wonder about this. I would argue, based on the historical record, that our brains are well enough equipped to face distant futures and their problems. In fact, I think it’s a reasonable proposition that if you can’t imagine the future, if you can’t imagine building something not just for yourself but for your children or the children of others and of future generations, then you probably can’t build a movement at all. All movements, even those intent on preserving the past, are in some sense future-oriented.
The apocalypse: Here’s the thing, though. It’s difficult to organize for or even against a future that you can’t imagine yourself and those children and future generations in. The thought of world-ending events may simply close down our operative imaginations. The end of the world may be popular in fiction, but in everyday life, I suspect, the apocalypse is the version of the future that it’s hardest to mobilize around. If the prospect is that it’s already hopeless, that the suffering is going to be largely down the line, that we’re all going down anyway, and the planet will simply be destroyed, well, why bother? Why not focus on what matters to you now and forget the rest? This is wheredenial, the almost involuntary turning away from unpalatable futures that seem beyond our power or ability to alter, comes into play. If the future is essentially over before it begins, then better to ignore it and go about your still palatable enough daily life.
Putting Your Money on Climate Change
Add all these factors (and others I’ve probably ignored) together and perhaps it’s a miracle that so many people turned out in Washington two weekends ago. As we’ve already learned in this nuclear age of ours, it’s quite possible for a grid of exterminationism, a sense of hopelessness about the distant future, to descend upon us almost unnoticed. That grid in no way stops you from thinking about your own life in the present, or even about the immediate future, about, say, getting married, having a child, making a living, but it’s crippling when it comes to mobilizing for a different future.
I’ve always believed that some of the vaunted organizing power and energy of the famed Sixties came from the fact that, in 1963, the superpowers achieved an agreement on the testing of nuclear weapons that sent them underground and more or less out of consciousness. The last end-of-the-world films of that era appeared in 1964, just as bomb-shelter and civil defense programs were heading for the graveyard. By 1969, the National Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy had even eliminated “nuclear” from its own name. Without necessarily being aware of it, many (especially among the young), I suspect, felt their energies liberated from a paralyzing sense of doom. You no longer had to think about scenarios in which the two Cold War superpowers would destroy the planet. It made almost anything seem possible. For a brief period before the Reagan presidency raised such fears again, you could look to the future with a sense of hope, which was exhilarating.
Can there be any doubt that, to steal a phrase from that era, the personal is indeed political? On the other hand, the apocalypse, particularly an apocalypse that features Science and Nature in its starring roles, seems anything but personal or stoppable — unless you’re a farmer and a pipeline filled with a particularly nasty version of oil runs right through your nearest aquifer. The real issue here is how to make climate change personal in a way that doesn’t simply cause us to shut down.
One of the cleverer approaches to climate change has been that of Bill McKibben, the man who organized 350.org. In a determined fashion, he’s been breaking the overwhelming nature of climate change down into some of its component parts that can be grasped, focused on, and organized around. Stopping the Keystone XL pipeline and encouraging students to lobby to make their schools divest from big fossil fuel companies are examples of his approach.
More generally, climate change is, in fact, becoming more personal by the year. In the “extreme weather,” which so regularly leads the TV news, its effects are coming closer to us all. Increasing numbers of us know, in our hearts, that it’s the real deal. And no, it doesn’t have to be the apocalypse either. The planet itself, of course, will survive and, given a few hundred thousand or even a few million years, will recover and once again be a thriving place of some unknown sort. As for humanity, we’re a clever enough species. Sooner or later, we will undoubtedly figure out how to survive as well, but the questions are: How many of us? On what terms? In what kind of degraded state? And what can we do soon to mitigate climate change’s worst future effects?
Perhaps a modern, post-religious version of seventeenth-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal’s famous bet is what’s needed. He argued that it was in the interest of those who remained in doubt about God to place a wager on His existence. As he pointed out, with such a bet, if you win, you win everything; if you lose, you lose nothing.
Something somewhat analogous might be said of climate change. Perhaps it’s time to put your wager on the reality of climate change, on its paramount importance to us and our children and our children’s children, and to bet as well that your efforts (and those of others) will in the end make enough of a difference. Then, if you win, humanity wins everything; if you lose, well, there will be hell to pay.
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.
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 Tom Engelhardt
Going back to basics.
Many will know the origins of this blog; a chance comment by Jon Lavin back in England in early 2007 that dogs were integrous, (a score of 210 as defined by Dr David Hawkins).
Way back in 2009, I wrote this:
“There is nothing to fear except the persistent refusal to find out the truth, the persistent refusal to analyse the causes of happenings.” Dorothy Thompson.
When I started Learning from Dogs I was initially rather vague but knew that the Blog should reflect the growing need for greater integrity and mindfulness in our planetary civilisation. Here are some early musings,
Show that integrity delivers better results … integrity doesn’t require force … networking power of a group … demonstrate the power of intention … cut through the power of propaganda and media distortion …
Promulgate the idea that integrity is the glue that holds a just society together … urgent need as society under huge pressures …. want a decent world for my grandchildren … for all our grandchildren …. feels like the 11th hour….
But as the initial, rather hesitant, start to the Blog settled into a reliable, daily posting, and as the minuscule number of readers steadily grew to the present level of many hundreds each day, the clarity of the purpose of Learning from Dogs also improved.
Because, while it may sound a tad grandiose and pompous, if society doesn’t eschew the games, half-truths and selfish attitudes of the last, say, 30 years or more, then civilisation, as we know it, could be under threat.
Or, possibly, it’s more accurate to say that our civilisation is under threat and the time left to change our ways, to embrace those qualities of integrity, truth and consciousness for the very planet we all live on, is running out.
“Time left to change our ways is running out.“
So what’s rattled my cage, so to speak, that prompted today’s reflection? I’ll tell you! (You knew I was going to anyway, didn’t you!)
I’m drafting these thoughts around noon Pacific Standard Time on Sunday, 17th. At the same time, tens of thousands of ordinary good folk (40,000 plus at the latest estimate) are gathering by the Washington Monument ready to march past the White House demanding that President Obama block the Keystone XL pipeline and move forward toward climate action.
Do I trust the US Government to take this action? On balance, no! That hurts me terribly to write that. I really want to trust and believe what the President of my new home country says.
Here’s a snippet of what the President did say in his State of the Union speech on February 12th.
Now, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods, all are now more frequent and more intense.
We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science and act before it’s too late.
A frank admission that the climate is changing in dramatic ways; the overwhelming judgment of science – fantastic!
The evidence that burning carbon-based fuels (coal, oil, gas) is the primary cause of today’s high CO2 levels is overwhelming. As a recent BBC radio programme reveals (being featured tomorrow) huge climate changes going back millions of years are a natural part of Earth’s history. However, as one of the scientists explains at the end of that radio programme, the present CO2 level, 395.55 ppm as of January, is now way above the safe, stable limit for the majority of life species on the planet.
But say you are reading this and are not yet convinced?
Let me borrow an old pilot’s saying from the world of aviation: If there’s any doubt, there’s no doubt!
That embracing, cautious attitude is part of the reason why commercial air transport is among the most safest forms of transport. If you had the slightest doubt about the safety of a flight, you wouldn’t board the aircraft.
If you had the slightest doubt about the future for civilisation on this planet likewise you would do something! Remember, that dry word civilisation means family, children, grandchildren, friends and loved ones. The last thing you would do is to carry on as before!
Which is where my lack of trust of leaders comes from!
Back to that State of the Union speech. Just 210 words after the spoken words “act before it’s too late” (I counted them!) Pres. Obama says, “That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.“
Here’s the relevant section:
I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.
Now, four years ago, other countries dominated the clean-energy market and the jobs that came with it. And we’ve begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let’s generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year. Let’s drive down costs even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.
Now, in the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that. That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.
We don’t require any more oil to be used. We are already using a staggering amount of it. Let me refer you to an essay on Nature Bats Last called Math. The scary kind, not the fuzzy kind. Prof. McPherson wrote:
I performed a little rudimentary math last week. A little because even a little pushes my limit for math, these days. And rudimentary for the same reason. The outcome was staggering: We’re using oil at the rate of 5,500 cubic feet per second (cfs).
“5,500 cubic feet per second” Don’t know about you but I have some trouble in visualising that flow rate. Try this from later in the essay:
Here’s another shot of perspective: We burn a cubic mile of crude oil every year. The Empire State Building, the world’s ninth-tallest building, towers above New York at 1,250 feet. The world’s tallest building, Taipei 101, is 1,667 feet from ground to tip.
Put those buildings together, end to end, and you have one side of a cube. Do it again, and you have the second side. Once more, but this time straight up, and you have one big cube. Filling that cube with oil takes nearly 200 billion gallons … which is about one-sixth the size of the cube of oil we’re burning every year.
Burning a cubic mile every year! Yes, Mr. President, more oil permits is a wonderful way of taking action before it’s too late!
So let’s see what transpires? Let’s see if integrity is given the highest political focus. As in “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.” Because if there’s ever been a time when all of us, from every spectrum of society need honesty about what we are doing to the planet, it’s now!
As the tag on the home page of this blog says, “Dogs are integrous animals. We have much to learn from them.“
Powerful words from President Obama; now we the people must act.
I’m taking the liberty of reproducing in full the item that was published by Bill McKibben of 350.org yesterday. As I wrote on the 17th this year has to be the year that we make a difference, a call to every man, woman and child on the planet. This is a snippet from that post.
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.
So to the call issued by 350.org.
Here’s what President Obama said about climate change during his address today:
With words like that, it’s easy to let ourselves dream that something major might be about to happen to fix the biggest problem the world has ever faced.
But we know that even if the President is sincere in every syllable, he’s going to need lots of backup to help him get his point across in a city dominated by fossil fuel interests. And, given the record of the last four years, we know that too often rhetoric has yielded little in the way of results.
That’s why we need you — very badly — to take a trip to our nation’s capital on Feb. 17th. We’ll gather on the National Mall, in what is shaping up to be be the largest environmental rally in many years.
Click here to join us in DC: act.350.org/signup/presidentsday
Together we’ll send the message loud and clear: ‘If you’re serious about protecting future generations from climate change, stop the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. If you can do that, Mr. President, we can all work together to help build a climate legacy that will be a credit to your critical eight years in office.’
Look — numbers count. If 20,000 of us show up on February 17th, it will be noticed. We need you in that number. The President may have given us an opening, but it’s up to us to go through it, and we need to do it together.
Thanks for all you’ve done to bring us this far, friends. Let’s keep it up — this is our chance.
Even if you are unable to be there in person on the 17th., do what you can to circulate this just as far and wide as possible.
On the 23rd March, I wrote a piece entitled The most important alarm ever heard. It opened as follows:
The most important alarm ever heard.
The heading says it all.
In fact the heading was taken from an email that came in from Bill McKibben’s 350.org yesterday. But before reproducing that email in full, let me take you back to the 6th January this year when I published a piece simply called Keystone XL pipeline. This is how that Post opened up,
Yesterday, I had published a lecture given in Melbourne by Britain’s eminent Astronomer Royal, Lord Martin Rees. Lord Rees concluded his lecture with the call for us to take better care of our own planet. He, like many others, recognises the unique place in history that we occupy. For the first time a single species is capable of exerting profound changes on the Earth’s natural and physical environments.
Over and over again, scientists are reporting the rise in climate temperature of Planet Earth and the implications thereof if we do not wakeup soon to changing our ways. The Keystone pipeline is a huge potential mistake!
Not easy to focus on a single sentence from Lord Rees but this one’s pretty direct, “For the first time a single species is capable of exerting profound changes on the Earth’s natural and physical environments.”
Now have a read of the article on 350orbust.com called Things Happen, But It’s Time To Connect The Dots. I’ve taken the liberty of republishing it in full. But first the video:
Things Happen, But It’s Time To Connect The Dots
APRIL 16, 2012
Thailand has the worst flooding in its history, only a month after Central America has the worst flood in its history, a month after Vermont has the worst flooding in its history in the same year that the Mississippi river has the worst flooding in its history. And Queensland in Australia has its worst floods only a few months after Pakistan floods so badly that 20 million people are forced from their homes – it’s connected, folks.
Across the planet now we see ever more flood, ever more drought, ever more storms. People are dying, communities are being wrecked — the impacts we’re already witnessing from climate change are unlike anything we have seen before.
But because the globe is so big, it’s hard for most people to see that it’s all connected. That’s why, on May 5, we will Connect the Dots.
In places from drought-stricken Mongolia to flood-stricken Thailand, from fire-ravaged Australia to Himalayan communities threatened by glacial melt, we will hold rallies reminding everyone what has happened in our neighborhoods. And at each of those rallies, from Kenya to Canada, from Vietnam to Vermont, someone will be holding a…dot. A huge black dot on a white banner, a “dot” of people holding hands, encircling a field where crops have dried up, a dot made of fabric and the picture taken from above — you get the idea. We’ll share those images the world around, to put a human face on climate change–we’ll hold up a mirror to the planet and force people to come face to face with the ravages of climate change.
Anyone and everyone can participate in this day. Many of us do not live in Texas, the Philippines, or Ethiopia — places deeply affected by climate impacts. For those communities, there are countless ways to stand in solidarity with those on the front-lines of the climate crisis: some people will giving presentations in their communities about how to connect the dots. Others will do projects to demonstrate what sorts of climate impacts we can expect if the crisis is left unchecked. And still others of us will express our indignation to local media and politicians for failing to connect the dots in their coverage of “natural disasters.”
However you choose to participate, your voice is needed in this fight — and you can sign up here: www.climatedots.org
These will be beautiful events, we’re sure. But they will also have an edge. It’s important for all of us whose lives are being damaged to know that it’s right that we get a little angry at those forces causing this problem. The fossil fuel industry is at fault, and we have to make that clear. Our crew at 350.org will work hard to connect all these dots — literally — and weave them together to create a potent call to action, and we will channel that call directly to the people who need to hear it most.
May 5 is coming soon; we need to work rapidly. Because climate change is bearing down on us, and we simply can’t wait. The world needs to understand what’s happening, and you’re the people who can tell them.
Please join us–we need you to send the most important alarm humanity has ever heard:www.climatedots.org
Bill McKibben for the whole team at ClimateDots.org