This is the reality, folks, for us all.

A very sombre read from George Monbiot.

I read this essay first thing in the morning last Wednesday while still in bed. It struck me with a whole range of feelings and emotions; not positive ones I should add. Then I read it aloud to Jeannie with the feeling that this speaks of what it is, what it’s going to be, and how little time we have to make the sorts of gigantic changes that we all need.

Sorry to be down-in-the-dumps about the following; published with George Monbiot’s kind permission.

ooOOoo

Hopeless Realism

No effective means of stopping climate breakdown is deemed “politically realistic”. So we must change political realities.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 14th November 2018.

It was a moment of the kind that changes lives. At a press conference held by Extinction Rebellion last week, two of us journalists pressed the activists on whether their aims were realistic. They have called, for example, for carbon emissions in the UK to be reduced to net zero by 2025. Wouldn’t it be better, we asked, to pursue some intermediate aims?

A young woman called Lizia Woolf stepped forward. She hadn’t spoken before, and I hadn’t really noticed her, but the passion, grief and fury of her response was utterly compelling. “What is it that you are asking me as a 20-year-old to face and to accept about my future and my life? … this is an emergency – we are facing extinction. When you ask questions like that, what is it you want me to feel?”. We had no answer.

Softer aims might be politically realistic, but they are physically unrealistic. Only shifts commensurate with the scale of our existential crises have any prospect of averting them. Hopeless realism, tinkering at the edges of the problem, got us into this mess. It will not get us out.

Public figures talk and act as if environmental change will be linear and gradual. But the Earth’s systems are highly complex, and complex systems do not respond to pressure in linear ways. When these systems interact (because the world’s atmosphere, oceans, land surface and lifeforms do not sit placidly within the boxes that make study more convenient) their reactions to change become highly unpredictable. Small perturbations can ramify wildly. Tipping points are likely to remain invisible until we have passed them. We could see changes of state so abrupt and profound that no continuity can be safely assumed.

Only one of the many life support systems on which we depend – soils, aquifers, rainfall, ice, the pattern of winds and currents, pollinators, biological abundance and diversity – need fail for everything to slide. For example, when Arctic sea ice melts beyond a certain point, the positive feedbacks this triggers (such as darker water absorbing more heat, melting permafrost releasing methane, shifts in the polar vortex) could render runaway climate breakdown unstoppable. When the Younger Dryas period ended 11,600 years ago, Greenland ice cores reveal temperatures rising 10°C within a decade.

I don’t believe that such a collapse is yet inevitable, or that a commensurate response is either technically or economically impossible. When the US joined the Second World War in 1941, it replaced a civilian economy with a military economy within months. As Jack Doyle records in his book Taken for a Ride, “In one year, General Motors developed, tooled, and completely built from scratch 1000 Avenger and 1000 Wildcat aircraft … Barely a year after Pontiac received a Navy contract to build antishipping missiles, the company began delivering the completed product to carrier squadrons around the world.” And this was before advanced information technology made everything faster.

The problem is political. A fascinating analysis by the social science professor Kevin Mackay contends that oligarchy has been a more fundamental cause of the collapse of civilisations than social complexity or energy demand. Oligarchic control, he argues, thwarts rational decision-making, because the short-term interests of the elite are radically different to the long-term interests of society. This explains why past civilizations have collapsed “despite possessing the cultural and technological know-how needed to resolve their crises.” Economic elites, that benefit from social dysfunction, block the necessary solutions.

The oligarchic control of wealth, politics, media and public discourse explains the comprehensive institutional failure now pushing us towards disaster. Think of Trump and his cabinet of multi-millionaires, the influence of the Koch brothers, the Murdoch empire and its massive contribution to climate science denial, the oil and motor companies whose lobbying prevents a faster shift to new technologies.

It is not just governments that have failed to respond, though they have failed spectacularly. Public sector broadcasters have deliberately and systematically shut down environmental coverage, while allowing the opaquely-funded lobbyists that masquerade as thinktanksto shape public discourse and deny what we face. Academics, afraid to upset their funders and colleagues, have bitten their lips. Even the bodies that claim to be addressing our predicament remain locked within destructive frameworks.

For example, last Wednesday I attended a meeting about environmental breakdown at the Institute for Public Policy Research. Many of the people in the room seemed to understand that continued economic growth is incompatible with sustaining the Earth’s systems. As the author Jason Hickel points out, a decoupling of rising GDP from global resource use has not happened and will not happen. While 50 billion tonnes of resources used per year is roughly the limit the Earth’s systems can tolerate, the world is already consuming 70 billion tonnes. Business as usual, at current rates of economic growth, will ensure that this rises to 180 billion tonnes by 2050. Maximum resource efficiency, coupled with massive carbon taxes and some pretty optimistic assumptions, would reduce this to 95 billion tonnes: still way beyond environmental limits. A study taking account of the rebound effect (efficiency leads to further resource use) raises the estimate to 132 billion tonnes. Green growth, as members of the Institute appear to accept, is physically impossible.

On the same day, the same Institute announced a major new economics prize for “ambitious proposals to achieve a step-change improvement in the growth rate.” It wants ideas that will enable economic growth rates in the UK at least to double. The announcement was accompanied by the usual blah about sustainability, but none of the judges of the prize has a discernible record of environmental interest.

Those to whom we look for solutions trundle on as if nothing has changed. They continue to behave as if the accumulating evidence has no purchase on their minds. Decades of institutional failure ensures that only “unrealistic” proposals – the repurposing of economic life, with immediate effect – now have a realistic chance of stopping the planetary death spiral. And only those who stand outside the failed institutions can lead this effort.

Two tasks need to be performed simultaneously: throwing ourselves at the possibility of averting collapse, as Extinction Rebellion is doing, slight though this possibility may appear. And preparing ourselves for the likely failure of these efforts, terrifying as this prospect is. Both tasks require a complete revision of our relationship with the living planet. Because we cannot save ourselves without contesting oligarchic control, the fight for democracy and justice and the fight against environmental breakdown are one and the same. Do not allow those who have caused this crisis to define the limits of political action. Do not allow those whose magical thinking got us into this mess to tell us what can and cannot be done.

www.monbiot.com

ooOOoo

I have a son and daughter who live in England. My daughter and her husband have a seven-year-old boy, my grandson, and I hope that I live long enough to have some decent conversations with him.  Now whether or not those conversations will turn to his future and what fears he has only time will tell.

But that doesn’t stop me from worrying, worrying big time, just what world we are leaving for him and the thousands of others of his age as they grow up. I truly fear that it is going to be a very different planet than the one we have at present.

I hope with all my heart that I am wrong!

27 thoughts on “This is the reality, folks, for us all.

      1. G and I actually made a conscious decision not to have kids because of this, and the fact that there are just too many humans with no other place to go.

  1. Thanks Paul, for sharing the Guardian article. I was imagining that many young people who are educated and aware of climate science, feel angry. Speak to power is not only important but necessary for us all.

    When mass animal extinctions and loss of species habitate were detected around the globe, scientists began to track and predict the unimaginable loss of most animals on earth. The latest number is 60% of all animals on earth or now extinct.

    Changing our minds is often harder than changing other things about ourselves. Yet we need to find a way to change a large percentage of peoples’ minds about climate change and climate action. Thank you for doing your part.

  2. All I was doing was republishing an article by Mr. Monbiot. Yet at the same time I was aware of something stirring inside of me. It’s still fermenting!

    Part of me thinks it is too late; part of me thinks we must do something. I don’t know.

    What I do know is that I will return to this topic. After all, dogs wouldn’t have got us into this mess! (Partly silly of me to write that last part but you get me drift.)

    1. Oh so true, Bela. These are very hard times for even those partially with their eyes open. Yet not knowing, or rather as we find it too many being ‘blind’, is far worse. The next ten years or so will set the stage for the future!

  3. I had already read Monbiot’s article, and I follow the extinction rebellion on Twitter, spreading their message. But inside, I probably think that it is now ‘rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.’

    Most scientists involved with evolutionary biology, climate study, impact study and all the related fields associated with the studt reasons for global warming trends are all privately saying that the latest IPCC report (while drastic enough giving a 10 to 12 year window to get down to zero % CO2 emissions), is not even close to the reality of what is charging at us like a runaway freight train. Even if we had those targets in place now, today… That freight train will not slow down quickly.
    The feedback loops in the climate systems have gone into full state of play (something predicted a decade ago) and there is no way to halt them.

    I’m afraid Paul, that it is now a matter (and insurance companies are already doing this) at looking at just how bad it will be, and what measures to put in place. Not to mitigate, but to cope. There will be casualties and they are already measured and noted (possibly casually accepted).

    The Extinction Rebellion is just the first eyelid opening movement that will be only the mild, peaceful marker group of a tide of unrest that is coming.

    I have fought (sort of on the sidelines in blogs and social media) for the last few years, for people to wake up. I tried with my own family and friends. They all smile indulgently, pat me on the head (figuratively) and complain behind my back at my negativity.

    People don’t really want to know. They really want to stay in their own little bubble of false security. Unfortunately, these are the same people who get wiped out in floods, wildfires, and disasters that are unfolding with alarming frequency each year.

    The wild feedback loops will produce extremes of scorching and freezing weather, of torrential rain and withering droughts.

    We are in for a very bumpy ride and life will never be the same again.

    1. It is interesting to note that we are seeing a hint of the huge human migrations that will occur, already. It is no surprise at the moment, not just in places for like the US, Britain, and Australia, but in Asian countries like Myanmar, Thailand, Taiwan, that borders are tightening, migrants are being expelled and not allowed re-entry. This is only a forerunner of the armed conflicts that are coming to keep people away from overpopulating ‘safe zones.’
      It is an ominous sign. And everyday, I see more of them. 😞

      1. I can do no more than to agree with every word that you have written, Colette. The vast majority of the major countries are populated by those that think this is an inconvenience but that it will get sorted. The truth is far from that and closer towards the scenarios you write about.

      2. I agree with you Colette.. Will there be any ‘Safe zones’ in the future.. and totally agree Colette when you said
        ” People don’t really want to know. They really want to stay in their own little bubble of false security. Unfortunately, these are the same people who get wiped out in floods, wildfires, and disasters that are unfolding with alarming frequency each year.”.. So true..
        Hope you are well, ❤

      3. Hi Sue…
        Yes, I am well. Though life has taken on some challenges. I think all this stuff going on is affecting us more than we think. My choice to go Vegan has changed my own social structure to the point that I don’t know if I can continue without radical life changes. So for that reason, my own blog has gone into a stasis. But, I am healthy and focused on how I should conduct myself in a manner that is conducive to a kinder future and leave behind an imperfect past or present. If that makes sense?

      4. Good to hear from you Colette and being Healthy is the main thing.. Lots of Balancing is underway right now with the fluctuation of energies,
        You have to do what feels right for yourself. Sending thoughts your way 🙂

  4. I follow George’s News letter, and I find myself nodding along to many of his discussions in his articles Paul when they arrive in my mail box.. This was no exception
    and agree totally, The governments are NOT doing Anything realistic about our Planets Future.. So totally agreed with his paragraph here

    “It is not just governments that have failed to respond, though they have failed spectacularly. Public sector broadcasters have deliberately and systematically shut down environmental coverage, while allowing the opaquely-funded lobbyists that masquerade as thinktanksto shape public discourse and deny what we face. Academics, afraid to upset their funders and colleagues, have bitten their lips. Even the bodies that claim to be addressing our predicament remain locked within destructive frameworks.”

    He is Spot on with his thoughts.

    1. I suspect, Sue, that all of the people who read my blog feel the same way. But that doesn’t really change a thing. This is far too big an issue for an individual to make a difference. Where are the governmental changes?

      1. The thing is Paul if the Governments were really Honest with us over the environment, we would all have to buckle up and sort ourselves out.. Because we are in for one hell of a bumpy ride in the not to distant future..
        I could get on my soap box, but its way past time for any of that…
        I can only do my own bit towards the environment, recycling, trying to eliminate plastic as much as is possible given that everything is wrapped in it.. To litter picking, to growing our own food..
        In my heart of hearts I know no government gives a monkey. We elect them and their policies go out the window and they often all leave office much richer in their pockets.. And most have their places booked in some deep underground city thinking they will outlive the destruction..
        The words of Mother Shipton’s poem comes to mind over and over. 😀
        You may be interested in reading some of them. https://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/esp_shipton01.htm
        Sending Well wishes to you and Jean.. Much love to you both 😀

  5. It is going to take a very special leader to make any impact on our demise. To start with, they will be preaching bad news and very high costs to resolve … which is not likely to get much voting support. Secondly, they must plan way ahead of their term of office (and be active … not just [passing the buck to successive governments), which is not likely to happen in our current political climate. Thirdly, any country that actively puts nationalism high on the agenda is, by default, short changing the younger generations in that nationalistic endeavours will replace more important subjects in the education system. Our students should now be learning the basics of government operations in the context of world affairs, and the relationships between government expenditures, personal taxes and standards of living relative to other countries. They should also be learning the benefits of mutual cooperation and sharing on a world scale, but none of the above will happen until we can shake off the “I’m all right Jack …. screw you” mentality. Hypocrisy is alive and well. Very sad. Perhaps we will have to wait for a catastrophic event to happen before “the lights go on”?

    1. Dear Colin, thank you for that sombre assessment of our situation. I am afraid I agree with you. The shame is that by and large governments know what has to be done. Or rather the people do who vote in the governments. But it’s in the hands of those governing us. I think we have reached the stage where party politics should be put aside and a unified approach adopted. Or something similar.

      But I won’t hold my breath.

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