Tag: environment

The Denial of Science: A review.

A review of the recently published book by Martin Lack.

denial of science

In many ways it would be terribly easy to find fault with this book. If it had been written as a book, been through the edits that a new book requires, then published, those faults would be a significant criticism.

But it was not written as a book! It was originally written as an academic text.  As Martin explains in the Preface:

This book is based on research originally undertaken – and a dissertation written – as part of my MA in Environmental Politics from Keele University in Staffordshire (in 2010-2011).

Then in the following paragraph goes on to say:

Academics generally disapprove of the publication of academic research via non-academic, non-peer-reviewed routes.  However, I am trying to reach more than just an academic audience.

Three sentences later:

However, this book retains many of the features of a piece of academic research, …. (All quotes from page viii of the preface)

To a person unaccustomed to reading academic research, as is this reader, the structural and presentational differences between a ‘normal’ non-fiction book and a dissertation are significant.  That needs to be borne in mind as you turn to page one.

OK, now that I have got that off my chest, on to the substance of the review.

Turning to the outside back cover, one sees Martin clearly explaining that the book is not about climate science, rather an analysis of why some people dispute “the reality, reliability and reasonableness of this science.”

That alone justifies the work that Martin put into his research and dissertation and his subsequent decision to adapt his findings into a book.

The pace and scale of the changes that are being visited on Planet Earth is truly frightening.  The number of feedback loops that we are locked into now don’t even bear thinking about.  Just take the continuing and accelerating loss of the Arctic ice-cap and extrapolate that for a couple of decades (touched on in my recent post More new tomorrows and see footnote.)

We are not talking of subtle changes over many generations. We are talking about irreversible and irrevocably massive changes to our environment within the lifetimes of just about every living person on this planet.  (I’m 70 next year and while I have no idea how many years I have left, I rate it as at least 50:50 that before I take my last breath, the coming destruction of biosphere will be blindingly obvious to me, Jean and 99.9% of the world’s population.)

Makes me want to shout out ……

There is not much time left to leave a sustainable world for future generations.  Come on politicians and power-brokers; start acting as though you truly understand the urgency of the situation!

Ah, that feels much better!

Back to the book!

Martin examines 5 categories that display denial behaviours, to a greater or lesser extent.  These categories are: Organisations; Scientists, Economists, Journalists and Politicians. Oh, and a 6th catch-all category: Others.

Each section dealing with a category is structured in the same way: Preliminary Research; Key Findings and Summary.  Tables are used extensively to allow easy review of the findings.

Again, what needs to be hammered out is that this format is very unlike a typical non-fiction book.  Because it’s fundamentally an academic dissertation!  But, so what!

What is important is for the widest possible audience to understand the breadth and extent of the denial going on.  Denial that is, literally, playing with the future of humanity on this planet; the only home we have.

Let me reinforce that last sentence by picking up on what Martin writes on his closing page (p.76):

Furthermore, there is strong circumstantial evidence to suggest that this scepticism is being fuelled by those with a vested interest in the continuance of “business as usual” by seeking to downplay, deny or dismiss the scientific consensus on the extent of ACD.

Martin Lack’s book may be unconventional in many ways.  But as a tool to show how those who deny the science of climate change deny the right of future millions to live in a sustainable manner, it is most powerful.  It is a valuable reference book that should be in every library and every secondary school across the globe!

The Denial of Science is published by AuthorHouse 02/23/2013

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Footnotes:

  1. To add weight to the points made in this review, do look in on tomorrow’s post.
  2. I have no commercial links to Martin Lack; indeed, I purchased the copy of the book that I used for this review.

This year of separation.

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!

Paul with Dancer; Jean with Grace.
Paul with Dancer; Jean with Grace.

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.

I am one of many who subscribe to the online magazine Grist.  They describe themselves, thus:

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-range

—-

7-sea-rises

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

By David Roberts

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

By David Roberts

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.

Hope is a waking dream.

The dirt beneath our feet.

A film about dirt that opens eyes!

dirt-splsh

I have mentioned the website of the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia before.  It’s a fabulous resource for many aspects of moving towards a more sustainable lifestyle, and not just for Australians.

A few days ago, their regular posting included a link to this:

Dirt: The Movie

DIRT! The Movie — directed and produced by Bill Benenson and Gene Rosow — takes you inside the wonders of the soil. It tells the story of Earth’s most valuable and underappreciated source of fertility — from its miraculous beginning to its crippling degradation. The opening scenes of the film dive into the wonderment of the soil. Made from the same elements as the stars, plants and animals, and us, “dirt is very much alive.” Though, in modern industrial pursuits and clamor for both profit and natural resources, our human connection to and respect for soil has been disrupted. “Drought, climate change, even war are all directly related to the way we are treating dirt.”

DIRT! the Movie — narrated by Jaime Lee Curtis — brings to life the environmental, economic, social and political impact that the soil has. It shares the stories of experts from all over the world who study and are able to harness the beauty and power of a respectful and mutually beneficial relationship with soil.

DIRT! the Movie is simply a movie about dirt. The real change lies in our notion of what dirt is. The movie teaches us: “When humans arrived 2 million years ago, everything changed for dirt. And from that moment on, the fate of dirt and humans has been intimately linked.” But more than the film and the lessons that it teaches, DIRT the Movie is a call to action.

Here’s the trailer to the film.

And here’s the movie’s website.

The link to the film on the PRI Australia’s website is here: Dirt: The Movie.

So plan on sitting down somewhere and enjoying a full-length film about dirt.  It will hold you spellbound.

To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul.  Alfred Austin

The simpler life

Part Two of The Sufficiency Economy.

I do hope that you read Part One of The Sufficiency Economy published yesterday on Learning from Dogs.  There Dr. Alexander of the Simplicity Institute set out the obvious, well obvious if one reflects for even a few moments, as this small extract demonstrates:

…. precisely what consumer capitalism lacks – a purpose, a reason for existence. It is a means without an end, like a tool without a task. What makes this state of affairs all the more challenging is that the era of growth economics appears to be coming to a close, due to various financial, ecological, and energy constraints, and this is leaving growth-based economies without the very capacity for growth which defined them historically.

Before moving to part two, the global predicament, more about the Simplicity Institute, an organisation of which I had been unaware prior to a few days ago.  The Institute’s opening web page reads thus:

Given that the essential factor in our global predicament is overconsumption, the most obvious principle for a sustainable society is that those who are over-consuming must move to far more materially ‘simple’ lifestyles. This does not mean deprivation or hardship. It means focusing on what is sufficient to live well. Most of our basic needs can be met in quite simple and low-impact ways, while maintaining a high quality of life.

The Simplicity Institute seeks to facilitate the rapid transition away from growth-based, consumer societies toward sustainable and more rewarding societies based on material sufficiency. We seek to understand what a society would look like if it were based on this ‘simpler’ way of living and how we might get there.

We are also developing networks of active collaboration between existing participants in the Simplicity Movement, in the hope of providing educational tools and resources to help mainstream the idea that ‘simpler lifestyles’ provide a high quality alternative to consumer capitalist society.

I would also encourage you to read about Their Mission and their Publications, one of which is the subject of this week’s postings. Finally, do offer your own experiences by completing their Simple Living Survey.

So on to Part Two where Dr. Alexander examines the global predicament facing all of us.

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THE SUFFICIENCY ECONOMY
ENVISIONING A PROSPEROUS WAY DOWN
Samuel Alexander
Simplicity Institute Report 12s, 2012

Dr Samuel Alexander is co-director of the Simplicity Institute and a lecturer with the Office for Environmental Programs, University of Melbourne.

2. The Global Predicament

If a path to the better there be, it begins with a full look at the worst. –Thomas Hardy

Below I outline various social, ecological, economic, and energy-related problems, which together provide the background against which the sufficiency economy should be understood. Most people, including many environmentalists, seem to believe that Western-style lifestyles, and the growth economies that support them, can be sustained and even globalised, provided the world transitions to systems of renewable energy and produces commodities more cleanly and efficiently. This assumption is reflected especially clearly in international political discourse on environmental issues (e.g. UNDP, 2007/8), which consistently pushes the message that we can decouple economic growth from ecological impact, or even that we need more economic growth in order to fund environmental protection initiatives or otherwise save the planet (Beckerman, 2002). The following review casts considerable doubt on the possibility of any technological ‘fix’ to existing problems. Each of the problems, on their own, provides ground for radically rethinking the nature of existing economic structures and goals. When considered together, I believe the case for fundamental change is compelling.

2.1. Ecological Overshoot and the Limits of Technology

The ecological footprint of the global economy now exceeds the sustainable carrying capacity of the planet by 50%, and overall things continue to get worse (Global Footprint Network, 2012). Old growth forests continue to be cut down at alarming rates; fresh water is getting scarcer; fish stocks and biodiversity more generally continue to decline; top-soil continues to erode; the climate continues to change and become less stable; and overall the pollution and wastes from human economic activity continue to degrade the ecosystems upon which all life depends (see generally, Brown, 2011). While this is hardly news, the full implications of our predicament are typically grossly under-estimated. The mainstream view on how to achieve sustainability is to exploit science and technology in order to produce more cleanly and efficiently, thereby decoupling economic activity from its destructive environmental impacts. But despite decades of extraordinary technological advance, the overall impacts of economic activity continue to increase (Jackson, 2009: Ch 4). To be sure, human beings are getting better at producing commodities more cleanly and efficiently, but we are also producing more commodities, and it turns out that those production increases outweigh the efficiency gains in production, leading to an overall increase in the impacts of economic activity, not a decrease. Efficiency without sufficiency is lost. We must always remember that technology is a two-edged sword, in the sense that it provides us with tools both to protect and destroy the natural environment, and human beings are exploiting both forms enthusiastically, especially the latter. Technology might give us solar panels and electric cars, for example, but it also gives us the ability to cut down rainforests easily, empty the oceans, and drill for oil in thousands of feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico.

Granted, technology never ceases to amaze, but the very awe it evokes seduces many into faithfully investing it with limitless powers. When we actually do the math, however, the impossibility of a technological fix to environmental problems becomes perfectly clear. If the developed nations were to grow their economies at a modest 2% over coming decades and by 2050 the poorest nations had caught up – which more or less seems to be the goal of ‘development’ – then by that stage the global economy, which is already in ecological overshoot, would be almost 15 times larger than it is today (Jackson, 2009: 81). This means, for example, that if we are to meet the moderate emissions targets of the IPCC (2007) then the carbon intensity of global economic output must be 130 times lower than it is today, requiring 11% reductions every year. Even with the unprecedented technological advances of recent decades, the efficiency improvements over the period 1990-2007 were merely 0.7% per year (Jackson, 2009: 79). These hard numbers ought to shatter the faith of techno-optimists. They show that it is delusional to think that technology alone is going to be able to solve the ecological crises we face, because the extent of absolute decoupling required is simply too great (Trainer, 2012a). Humanity must exploit appropriate technologies at every opportunity, of course, but first and foremost what is needed is a new mode of economy, one that recognises and accepts that growth-based, energy-intensive consumer societies are grossly unsustainable and certainly not universalisable.

2.2. Poverty amidst Plenty

The fact that the global economy is already in ecological overshoot is even more challenging when we bear in mind that in the poorest parts of the world today great multitudes are living lives oppressed by extreme poverty (World Bank, 2009). The global challenge, therefore, in terms of humanitarian justice and ecological sustainability, can be stated as follows: The human community must find a way to raise the material standards of living of the world’s poorest people – who surely have a right to develop their economic capacities in some form – while at the same time reducing humanity’s overall ecological footprint (Meadows et al, 2004: p. xv). What is clear is that the current ‘trickle down’ approach to poverty alleviation is neither working nor ecologically sustainable, as evidenced by a report from the New Economics Foundation (Woodard and Simms, 2006). This study shows that between 1990 and 2001, for every $100 of growth in the world’s average income per capita, merely $0.60 contributed to reducing poverty below the ‘$1 per day’ line. This means that to achieve $1 of poverty reduction at that ratio, an extra $166 of global production and consumption is required. Not only do these figures expose global growth as an extremely inefficient means of reducing poverty, it also implies that the amount of growth needed to alleviate poverty would be, without question, environmentally unsupportable. Accordingly, we must find a new path to poverty alleviation beyond the conventional ‘development’ agenda, one based on equitable distribution and new structures, not limitless growth.

2.3. Overpopulation

What exacerbates the ecological and humanitarian crises outlined above is the fact that, according to the United Nations, global human population is expected to exceed nine billion by mid-century and reach ten billion toward the end of the century (UNDSEA, 2011). Obviously, this will intensify greatly the already intense competition over access to the world’s limited natural resources and it will put even more pressure on Earth’s fragile ecosystems. It is of the utmost importance that population stabilises as soon as possible and is significantly reduced in some equitable manner. But we have known about the ‘population bomb’ for many decades and still it continues to explode, albeit at a slowing pace. We need either new strategies here or much greater commitment to existing strategies (and probably both). But even if humanity somehow managed to stabilise population at once and thereby avoid the expected increases, the global economy would nevertheless remain in gross ecological overshoot. The primary task, therefore – given we have the population we have – must be to reduce the ecological impact of our economic activity, partly by exploiting all appropriate technologies, and partly by stabilising and reducing population over time, but mainly by reimagining ‘the good life’ beyond consumer culture and learning how to step more lightly on the planet (Alexander, 2011a; 2009). This means giving up the destructive dream of ‘consumer affluence.’ The developed nations certainly cannot lecture the developing nations about how expanding populations are putting immense strain on Earth’s ecosystems while at the same time indulging in ever-higher levels of consumption. Accordingly, if the developed nations are serious about reducing global impact on the environment, as they claim they are, then before looking overseas they must first show the world that they are prepared to step more lightly themselves. Overpopulation is too easily used as a scapegoat to deflect attention away from the more fundamental problem of overconsumption.

2.4. The Fantasy of Limitless Economic Growth

Despite the fact that the global economy is already in dangerous ecological overshoot, every nation on the planet still aims to grow its economy, without apparent limit. Economic development of some form is still obviously required in the poorest parts of the world, as noted, simply in order to provide for basic needs. But if the poorest nations are to have any ‘ecological room’ to do so – especially when population growth is taken into account – it follows by force of logic that the overdeveloped rich nations should not continue growing their own economies. Indeed, sustainability demands that the richest nations initiate a process of planned economic contraction, or ‘degrowth’ (Alexander, 2012a), with the aim of eventually arriving at some ‘steady-state’ economy within ecological limits. This confronting logic has proven easy enough for the rich nations to ignore, but it is impossible to escape. Not only must the growth paradigm inevitably collide with biophysical reality, it is in fact in the process of doing so (Meadows et al, 2004).

Needless to say, however, there are no signs that the richest nations are prepared to give up the pursuit of growth, certainly not for reasons of global equity or ecological conservation. The great obstacle that lies in the way of a macroeconomics ‘beyond growth’ is the dominant ideology of growth economics that quite explicitly treats growth in GDP as the best measure of national progress and politico-economic competency (Purdey, 2010). In fact, the growth paradigm is so deeply entrenched in mainstream political discourse in the developed nations (and increasingly elsewhere) that it is hard to imagine any of the major political parties, whether on the Left or the Right, daring to pursue or even seriously contemplate a post-growth alternative. This arguably gives rise to an acute and disturbing contradiction: We must give up the pursuit of growth, but cannot.

Empire thus marches on.

2.5. Expensive Oil and other Energy Issues

Even if the world never chooses to question the growth paradigm – which seems the most likely scenario – the peaking of crude oil suggests that the era of global growth is coming to an end nevertheless (Heinberg, 2011; Rubin, 2012). While there is still debate about the exact timing of peak oil, it is now widely accepted that crude oil production, if it has not already peaked, will peak sometime in the foreseeable future, and then, after a corrugated plateau, enter terminal decline. Since oil demand is expected to keep on rising, however, the reduction of oil supply will inevitably lead to sharply increasing oil prices (Hirsch et al, 2010). This dynamic is already well underway, with the price of oil multiplying several times during the last decade or so. There are of course vast reserves of non-conventional oil still available in the tar sands of Canada and Venezuela, and in the shale oil deposits in the United States and elsewhere, but these non-conventional reserves have a far lower energy return on investment (Murphy and Hall, 2011), making them much more expensive and slower to produce. Accordingly, the issue is not that human beings will ever run out of oil; the issue is that we have already run out of cheap oil.

This is hugely significant because oil is not just another commodity – it is the lifeblood of industrial civilisation. This is evidenced by the fact that the world currently consumes around 90 million barrels every day (IEA, 2010a). When the costs of oil increase significantly, this adds extra costs to transport, mechanised labour, plastics, and industrial food production, among many other things, and this pricing dynamic sucks discretionary expenditure and investment away from the rest of the economy, causing debt defaults, economic stagnation, recessions, or even longer-term depressions. That seems to be what we are seeing around the world today, with the risk of worse things to come (Tverberg, 2012a).

Moreover, as Ted Trainer (2012b) and others have argued, renewable energy, even if it were embraced whole-heartedly and on a global scale, would never be able to sustain the expansion of complex, energy-intensive consumer societies, especially with the global population growing. If this diagnosis is basically correct, it provides further grounds for thinking that the growth paradigm has no future. I hasten to add that this is not an argument against renewable energy. The climate science is very clear that we must abandon fossil fuels as far as possible and as soon as possible (e.g. Hansen et al, 2008). But the limitations of renewable energy do suggest that we cannot respond to climate change by embracing renewables and have a growth-based economy.

Furthermore, nuclear energy’s potential to provide the energy required to maintain growth economies is fiercely debated. What is beyond debate, however, is that nuclear energy also has a long list of limitations, time lags, dangers, and huge financial costs, and ever since Fukushima the prospects of a nuclear renaissance have looked very slim indeed. At best nuclear energy would only assist in decarbonising the economy to some extent, but it would not solve the myriad other ecological and social problems inherent to the growth paradigm, and could well exacerbate some of them. Accordingly, nuclear provides no escape from the limits to growth. What is needed is a transition to renewable energy systems, but this implies a civilisation with much lower social complexity, and with very different structures and non-affluent lifestyles. We cannot run an industrial civilisation on renewables, and an industrial civilisation powered by nuclear (if that is even feasible) remains unsustainable due its underlying growth imperative.

Whether the transition beyond growth occurs voluntarily or is imposed by force of biophysical limits remains to be seen. It scarcely needs remarking that a planned, voluntary transition would be the desired path (see Alexander, 2012b).

2.6. Economic Instability

Closely linked to the rising price of oil, but with some independent issues too, is the economic instability that has been plaguing the world economy in recent years. In the prosperous decades after World War II, developed nations especially became accustomed to consistently high levels of economic growth, and this gave them and their governments and inhabitants a false confidence that they could borrow vast amounts of money and rely on future growth to pay those debts back. In other words, the enormous national and private debts that have been taken on in recent decades were based on the assumption that future growth would be similar to growth in recent decades. But because there is such a close relationship between energy and economic growth, expensive oil is suffocating the debt-ridden global economy, just as it is trying to recover. Without systemic change or some debt ‘jubilee,’ the trillions of dollars of outstanding debt essentially ‘locks’ the world into continued growth. But as Michael Hudson (2012) states, ‘debts that can’t be repaid, won’t be,’ and the consequences of widespread debt defaults will not be good news.

Unfortunately, mainstream economists, including those in government, seem oblivious to the close relationship between energy, debt, and economy, and this means they are unable to see that expensive oil is one of the primary underlying causes of today’s economic instability. Consequently, they craft their intended solutions (e.g. stimulus packages, quantitative easing, low interest rates to encourage borrowing, etc) based on flawed, growth-based thinking, not recognising that the new economics of energy (Alexander, 2012c) means that the growth model, which assumes cheap energy inputs, is now dangerously out-dated. When growth-based economies do not grow, household, firms, and nations struggle to repay their debts, and quickly things begin to unravel in undesirable ways.

2.7 Consumer Malaise

Finally, what makes the problems outlined above all the more troubling is the fact that high consumption lifestyles, so often held up as the peak of human development, are in many cases engendering an unexpected discontent or malaise among those who live them (Lane, 2000; Pickett and Wilkinson, 2010). There is in fact a mounting body of sociological and psychological evidence (Kasser, 2002; Alexander, 2012d) indicating that lives orientated around achieving high levels of consumption often result in such things as time poverty, stress, physical and mental illness, wasteful status competition, loss of community, disconnection from nature, unhappiness, and even a sense of meaninglessness or alienation in life – to say nothing of the ecological impacts associated with consumer lifestyles.

This evidence, however, troubling though it is, arguably provides something of a silver lining to the admittedly grim situation outlined above (Jackson, 2005; Brown and Kasser, 2005). If high consumption lifestyles are not even a trustworthy path to personal well being, this raises the tantalising possibility that members of the global consumer class could live more fulfilling and meaningful lives by reducing their consumption, perhaps in exchange for more time, while at the same time reducing their ecological footprint, reducing their dependence on oil, and leaving more resources for those in greater need. Indeed, when considering the problems outlined above – especially when considering them together and their interrelatedness – it would seem that any effective response to our global predicament depends to a large extent on those overconsuming moving to far more materially ‘simple’ ways of life, with far lower energy requirements. This implies not merely huge lifestyle changes, but fundamental systemic change. Understandably, perhaps, this is not a message many people seem to want to hear, but I contend that the strength of the line of reasoning makes embracing some form of ‘sufficiency economy’ the most coherent response to the global predicament.

(The full set of references will be included in the concluding Part Five to be published on Friday.)

Part Three – Embracing Life After Growth (Before it Embraces Us) will be published on Learning from Dogs tomorrow.

It’s not rocket science!

A graph that more or less says it all.

I am indebted to Peter Sinclair for his permission to reproduce the graph below.  It was embedded in his post on Climate Crocks on the 20th September, a post he not unreasonably called The Planetary Emergency.

As Peter wrote,

As you can see from the graphic above, the actual observations of arctic sea ice melt are far outstripping the climate model predictions of just a few years ago, that the denial-sphere continues to call “alarmist”. Apparently, not alarming enough.

Read the rest of Peter’s post here.

The point of publishing this on Learning from Dogs is simply as an introduction to a post coming out tomorrow called Hear no evil; or is that hear no climate change?, the purpose of which is to ask a very simple question of the two gentlemen wishing to reside in the White House as President of the USA for another four years.  All revealed tomorrow!

YOU are responsible

An intriguing guest post from Schalk Cloete.

Introduction

Schalk is the author of the Blog One in a Billion which describes itself as ‘A DIY guide to saving our world while building a happy, healthy and wealthy life.‘  The Billion in the title refers to ‘the billion wealthiest world citizens, are creating serious global problems through our unsustainable consumption habits.’

As the Blog’s About page explains,

My name is Schalk Cloete, a South African research scientist currently living and working in Norway. Officially, my research is centered around the mathematical modelling of fluidized bed reactors; something which makes nice pictures, but which is not exactly the most brilliant blog material. I will therefore not bore you with further details about the kinetic theory of granular flows.

Nope, the material I write about here; building a happy, healthy, wealthy and sustainable life within our affluent modern society, should be much more interesting. I use the word “building” quite a lot because that is exactly what needs to be done. One literally needs to build the environment within which one functions from day to day with the same level of diligence and attention to detail one would use to build a house.

Anyway, with no further ado, let me go to Schalk’s guest post.

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YOU are responsible

Not so long ago, Paul left a very thought-provoking comment on my blog: the One in a Billion project, and suggested that my response to that comment was worth publishing as a guest post on Learning from Dogs. Needless to say, I gratefully accepted this generous offer!  Before we go any further though, I’d just like briefly to describe my blog so that the comment can be seen in perspective.

The principle objective of my blog is to advocate personal lifestyle change as a lasting solution to the pressing sustainability problems we are facing today.

The rationale behind this overall theme is threefold:

  1. Our current systems are fundamentally guaranteed to collapse (more about this here)
  2. A personal lifestyle change is the one and only sustainable solution to this impending crisis (further detail can be found here)
  3. Such personal lifestyle changes towards sustainable living are the one and only road to lasting health, wealth and happiness.

So, on that backdrop, here was Paul’s comment:

Any successful attempt at reversing and correcting the perilous journey humanity is on has to focus on the nature of change, how humans change, why the change required in this case is psychologically complex, and how the reward feedback process has to work. In my opinion these are the core issues to be tackled.

And my response:

Change is driven by a complex set of internal and external triggers that influence our consciousness every second of every day. If these triggers collectively indicate to a person (based on his or her unique subjective interpretations and subconscious filters) that some alternative is more attractive or that the current reality is unacceptable, motivation for change is granted. The exact nature of the change that this project requests is a change in day-to-day lifestyle choices which stems from shaping a person’s interpretation and filtering of the various internal and external triggers to accurately represent the reality that a lifestyle aimed at sustainable happiness is infinitely more attractive than one focused on consumerism.

This project tries to motivate people to take action by strongly emphasizing on the immediate personal benefits of making these lifestyle changes, the ease with which these changes can be made (and made permanent), the short and long term hazards of not making these changes and the moral obligation we have to the poor and to future generations to make these changes.

The change is psychologically complex because the entire environment we live in today just begs us to consume at ever increasing rates. This is the reason why this project repeatedly emphasizes on the construction of micro-environments to protect against this toxic macro-environment and make the correct actions natural and automatic. On a higher level, change is psychologically complex because we now have to abandon a system that has raised our standard of living tremendously while we still had abundant cheap fossil fuels and a limitless planet. Our most powerful weapon has turned into our greatest threat and it should come as no surprise that we seem totally unable to handle that.

The reward-feedback process in the One in a Billion initiative is actually quite interesting. As stated before, a lot of emphasis is placed on the immediate rewards of making certain lifestyle choices, but the thing that makes it really interesting is the holistic and complementary nature of this plan. Because it covers such a broad spectrum of areas, one quickly finds that gains in one area start to enhance gains in other areas. From personal experience, this truly is an extremely exciting journey and even becomes addictive, thereby all but guaranteeing further lifestyle changes. As soon as this spiral is started, the mind becomes a lot more open to the wealth of information on sustainability out there and this understanding then stimulates further action. In the end, you end up with a completely self-sustaining upwards spiral towards happy, healthy, wealthy and sustainable living.

In closing, the change that is needed within the developed world today can basically be summarized as follows: hundreds of millions of people must be reconditioned away from a debilitating and self-destructive culture of consumerism and entitlement towards a healthy and fulfilling culture of contribution and personal responsibility. It is my sincere hope that the One in a Billion project can contribute to this change and help overcome the great challenges discussed above.

This really is a dream of mine which I have recently described in more detail under my Dream heading for anyone who might be interested. Please spend a minute or two to think about this philosophy and whether you might consider developing a similar dream of your own.

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Trust me, Schalk’s blog is full of very interesting propositions.  Yet another sign that opinions are changing across this great interconnected world.

From feeling to doing!

Each of us must understand there is no choice – we have to change. So let’s do it!

This timely video from The Evergreen State College conference, another contribution from David Roberts, was brought to my attention by a recent post on Christine’s excellent blog, 350 or bust.

It so perfectly carries on from yesterday’s Learning from Dogs post, You have to feel it.

So please, promise yourself to watch this video now!  It’s just 15 minutes of very plain speaking by David.  Watch it not just for yourself but for the children and the children’s children across this beautiful world.

David Roberts is staff writer at Grist.org. In “Climate Change is Simple” he describes the causes and effects of climate change in blunt, plain terms.

On April 16, 2012, speakers and attendees gathered at TEDxTheEvergreenStateCollege: Hello Climate Change to reflect on the ability — and responsibility — of formal and informal education to inspire and empower action in this era of climate change.

Watch, be inspired and be empowered as a person that is taking personal responsibility for doing!

As dear old Albert said, (as in Albert Einstein) “You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.”

You have to feel it!

Fascinating insight into our complex relationship with complex ideas!

There’s a powerful saying in the world of writing: If you can’t feel it you can’t write it!

But our feelings are so, so much a part of what it is to be human.  That’s why I spent some time exploring how our resistance to change is so wrapped up in the emotions that change brings about in an article back on the 2nd August: Changing the person: Me.

So a post on the grist online magazine not so long ago really caught my eye.  It was called Why climate change doesn’t spark moral outrage, and how it could, and was written by David Roberts.  I would dearly love to have sought David’s permission to republish it in full; it’s so relevant to understanding how we humans have to approach turning back from our present course of making the Earth’s biosphere uninhabitable for we humans.

But in a couple of days time, I have a Post coming out that is republished with David’s written permission called Cutting CO2 emissions – who leads the world! It felt greedy to ask David for another full republication.  So I’m going to dip into this one, hopefully to the point where you will go across to grist and read it for yourself.

David opens up as follows:

Perhaps the single biggest barrier to action on climate change is the fact that it doesn’t hit us in the gut. We can identify it as a great moral wrong, through a chain of evidence and reasoning, but we do not instinctively feel it as one. It does not trigger our primal moral intuitions or generate spontaneous outrage, anger, and passion. It’s got no emotional heat. (Ironic!)

David’s article then goes on to refer to a recent paper published on the Nature.com website called Climate change and moral judgement by Ezra M. Markowitz & Azim F. Shariff.  The abstract sets out that:

Converging evidence from the behavioural and brain sciences suggests that the human moral judgement system is not well equipped to identify climate change — a complex, large-scale and unintentionally caused phenomenon — as an important moral imperative. As climate change fails to generate strong moral intuitions, it does not motivate an urgent need for action in the way that other moral imperatives do. We review six reasons why climate change poses significant challenges to our moral judgement system and describe six strategies that communicators might use to confront these challenges. Enhancing moral intuitions about climate change may motivate greater support for ameliorative actions and policies.

M’mmm – not sure how that leaves me.  (Which is my way of saying that I don’t really understand that!)  Luckily David goes on to say that the authors “go on to identify six reasons why, “unlike financial fraud or terrorist attacks, climate change does not register, emotionally, as a wrong that demands to be righted.” and refers to an interesting table in the research paper.

Now go to the article on grist to better understand how those challenges are explained.

Then later on in the research paper, there is a second table, as below:

Again, these strategies are expanded upon in David’s article.  What I will do is to copy his final few paragraphs:

6. Highlight positive social norms: This is, to me, the Big Kahuna. As I was reading about all the psychological barriers to climate action, I kept thinking, “one thing can overcome all these: peer pressure!” If people see others that they view as peers or leaders doing something, they will tend to do it too, and retrofit reasons for it after the fact. This is the essence of humans as social creatures.

The recommendation is twofold, though: not just to “highlight pro-environmental, prosocial injunctive norms such as prohibitions against being wasteful,” but also to “be careful not to inadvertently highlight negative, but existent, descriptive norms, which can actually encourage individuals to follow suit in the wrong direction.”

In other words, you want to emphasize that climate hawkery is good, socially desirable, admirable, and that all the cool kids are doing it. You don’t want to give people the impression that “everyone’s doing it” if it is bad. Even if you state clearly that it’s bad, the fact that others are doing it is, in and of itself, a powerful incentive to do it too. It’s the herd instinct. This is good reason not to whine on and on about how everyone drives too much or everyone wastes electricity. The subtext is, “it’s the social norm.”

—-

Aaaanyway, this is a lot of food for thought. But it’s the kind of stuff — not about science but about people — that far too many climate hawks ignore or disregard. Climate change is not only the economic and ecological crisis of our time, it’s also a moral crisis. What we are doing to our descendants is a moral crime. Finding ways to help people get that, feel it in their guts the way they would if someone threatened their own families, is a precondition for serious, sustained action.

Let me repeat David’s closing words, “Climate change is not only the economic and ecological crisis of our time, it’s also a moral crisis. What we are doing to our descendants is a moral crime.

OK, so how strongly do you feel that?  Great, so you do feel it – even feel it deep inside you.

Now that you do, let’s all get stuck into making a difference.  It is all about doing.  As someone of huge stature, and a wonderful person of action no less, said;

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough, we must do. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

We must do!  Start your own ‘doing’, don’t wait upon others, actively look for ideas (there are a few here) and together we can make a positive difference.

Well done, David – great article.

More on the ‘Act’ stuff!

The business of acting to make a difference.

The future depends on what we do in the present. – Mahatma Gandhi

Yesterday, I republished a long essay from Bill McKibben under my title of Stop, read, reflect and Act!    Bill’s essay was called Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math and terrifying the numbers are!

If you didn’t read it yesterday, I encourage you to do so as soon as you can.  Why?  Because the process of change cannot start until we truly want to change; a total emotional commitment.  And the formation of those emotions, that realisation, requires a new understanding of the world around us, who we are and who we want to be.  An outcome that is all part of being better informed, which is why the McKibben essay is so profoundly important.

Tomorrow, I want to explore that process of personal change.

But before then, let me go back and repeat some words in Bill’s essay that really jumped off the page and hit me between the eyes.

Writing of Germany, Bill said, “… on one sunny Saturday in late May, that northern-latitude nation generated nearly half its power from solar panels within its borders. That’s a small miracle – and it demonstrates that we have the technology to solve our problems. But we lack the will.

We lack the will!!

Then in the next paragraph, Bill went on to write,

This record of failure means we know a lot about what strategies don’t work. Green groups, for instance, have spent a lot of time trying to change individual lifestyles: the iconic twisty light bulb has been installed by the millions, but so have a new generation of energy-sucking flatscreen TVs. Most of us are fundamentally ambivalent about going green: We like cheap flights to warm places, and we’re certainly not going to give them up if everyone else is still taking them. Since all of us are in some way the beneficiaries of cheap fossil fuel, tackling climate change has been like trying to build a movement against yourself – it’s as if the gay-rights movement had to be constructed entirely from evangelical preachers, or the abolition movement from slaveholders.

This is what hit me between the eyes, “the iconic twisty light bulb has been installed by the millions, but so have a new generation of energy-sucking flatscreen TVs.”  That describes me to perfection.  OK, we have installed solar panels as well but I admit to a significant degree of ambivalence! ” tackling climate change has been like trying to build a movement against yourself

Let me remind you of Bill’s next paragraph,

People perceive – correctly – that their individual actions will not make a decisive difference in the atmospheric concentration of CO2; by 2010, a poll found that “while recycling is widespread in America and 73 percent of those polled are paying bills online in order to save paper,” only four percent had reduced their utility use and only three percent had purchased hybrid cars. Given a hundred years, you could conceivably change lifestyles enough to matter – but time is precisely what we lack.

So it comes down to change; change in a timely manner, to boot!

Let’s hold that until tomorrow and I will leave you with this: Put your future in good hands – your own.

Unintended consequences

That law of unintended consequences strikes again.

With thanks to Rich S. for including me on his circulation of this,

ALERT!!!

Look what happens when we cut down too many trees.

Global warming is one thing, but look at what might happen if we continue to clear our forests!

We have to stop cutting down trees! This is getting serious!