A Voice for Earth

Environmental and social justice and my personal experiences in the area.


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Another Warning Sails on By

In three years time, avoiding a temperature rise of two degrees Celsius will be impracticable, unless we reach peak carbon emissions by then. That is the finding of the Carbon Tracker in London, the Climate Action Tracker consortium, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut in a joint report.

What it boils down to is that we have a carbon budget. Depending on the varying ways this budget is calculated and subtracting past emissions, our remaining carbon credit falls somewhere in the range of 150-1050 gigatonnes of total emissions. This is the maximum we can emit if we are to have any serious hope of achieving the Paris Agreement’s aspirational goal of keeping warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, or even below 2 degrees.

At the current rate of emissions of 41 gigatonnes annually, that would mean that at the lower end of that scale that we would cross the threshold in four years, so let’s hope somewhere in the middle or upper end of the range is closer to reality. Otherwise, we’ll have to deploy large-scale carbon capture technology and drop carbon emissions to zero right now, which would likely crash the economy, god forbid, when we’re on course to crash all of civilization.

So they’re presuming a 600-800 gigatonne carbon credit. Peaking emissions now would give us 25 years to get them down to zero, which, let’s face it, isn’t happening and won’t in the near-term, but we must do it by 2020 to have a reasonable chance to accomplish decarbonisation of the economy in time. If we do it by then, we should achieve zero emissions before 2040 with a 600 gigatonne credit. However, with an 800 gigatonne credit, we can push this out to 2050 but with a greater risk of crossing the two-degree threshold. Waiting till 2025 to peak emissions or even keeping them level until then will put that goal out of reach for all intents and purposes.

So here we are, pretty much being told it’s crunch time for climate action, but there doesn’t seem to be any corresponding increase in urgency. Things are being left to mosey along at a woefully insufficient pace. Let “market forces” drive change they said, the economy will fix the problem they said.

Yes, the capitalistic, growth at all costs, money-hooked machine is going to resolve a crisis that ultimately requires that it rejects itself. Corporations do not want to do anything that’s going to affect profitability. Competitiveness is what is inclining many companies to favour renewables and electric transport, as they know where things are going long-term, but they won’t jump the gun from their perspective if it risks them losing money.

Ideally, governments would regulate corporations and national bodies, forcing them by means of legislation to change how they operate. However, governments are nearly more scared of regulations these days than the corporations themselves. They don’t want to be seen as impeding businesses that bring jobs and wealth into their respective countries by whatever trickle-down argument they want to use.

We can pretty much be assured that in most countries that this will continue. A few like the Scandinavian nations are committed to more appropriate targets for complete decarbonisation, but even their plans would fall short if the actual carbon budget is less than the 600 gigatonnes we’ve allowed ourselves.

I imagine at this point that even 2 degrees is the aspirational goal, and 1.5 is already out of reach without actions so drastic that it would make the US mobilisation for WW2 pale by comparison. On our current course, we could be threatened with up to 3 degrees Celsius of warming at least. There are some estimates that say that we’ve grossly underestimated climate sensitivity and warming of up to 7 degrees Celsius is possible by 2100.

It’s hard to fathom what that much warming could do but assuming even the lower value of 3 degrees, we can be assured of massive upheaval, perhaps civilization-toppling effects. We could see the collapse of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, raising sea levels tens of feet. We could see desertification in the equatorial regions, the complete annihilation of the rainforests, and the loss of major breadbaskets. We could assume that all this along with major natural disasters would lead to mass migration and inevitable conflict over reduced space and resources.

Even if we “only” warm the world by that much, we can’t be positive that it would end there because of all the feedbacks in the Earth’s systems.

So, again, here we are, poised to unleash disaster on a scale no human has witnessed since the rise of civilization, if ever. We could potentially set back our development centuries, if not right back to the Stone Age. Hell, if the higher climate sensitivities to GHGs are correct, we could be galloping towards our own extinction like so many lemmings charging towards a cliff edge.

I really hope that we can avoid that world. I hope that what momentum there seems to be from Paris and the drive for renewables and zero emissions transport really will continue on the up and up. I hope that our leaders can start to see beyond short-term economic gain and begin assuring a safe future for our children and all the generations to come. I hope, I hope, I hope!

It really does feel like instead of putting it out, we’re playing with the fire that is catching. I feel as though we’re all living on a prayer with this carbon credit shot in the dark. We’re hoping the credit is higher, and we are depending on probabilities of achieving that below two degrees goal. However, the reality is that we could see a sudden upshot in warming any year now. 2016 proved that, having crushed the two previous warmest years, 2014 and 2015. If that happens, we’ll be forced into drastic action one way or another, and it still might not be enough.

I still believe we can do better, that we still have a chance to do so, to leave the world better than the generations before us have and how we have it now. However, the margins are tightening and time is slipping away from us. Just because we don’t know exactly how tightly we are bound doesn’t mean we should assume the most optimistic scenario, that we still have plenty of time. We should assume the worst and act accordingly. It seems to me to be the only responsible thing to do.

Image Source: List of Polluted Earth Wallpapers (allwidewallpapers.com)

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions.

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Evacuate Earth? Hold your Horses Hawking

Lately, there’s been a lot of talk from the likes of Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking that we must become a “multi-planetary species” in order to protect ourselves from the risk of total annihilation upon our one little home. Being interested in space myself, I can understand their reasoning. So let’s examine the logic behind investing our resources into putting humanity firmly beyond the Earth for good.

The solar system and the wider galaxy are not the most secure places for a living world hurtling through the void. Within our own planetary system, the big risk factors are asteroids and comets, the former being a giant chunk of rock and/or iron, and the latter being mostly water ice. Certainly, many have impacted the Earth, leading most famously to the extinction of the dinosaurs. An asteroid capable of causing an extinction level event would most likely be detected long before impact, and a coordinated international effort could launch a mission to deflect it. Comets, however, are often not visible until they pass the orbit of Jupiter and given the velocity at which they travel, that would give us probably less than six months warning. There’s currently no method conceived of for deflecting a comet.

So that’s suitably terrifying, but the galaxy has far more nasties to offer up. A close pass by another star could disrupt the Oort Cloud, sending countless comets into the inner solar system to relentlessly bombard the Earth. A nearby star could go supernova, bathing our fragile biosphere in ionizing radiation. A rogue neutron star or black hole could cut right through the heart of our system, slowly strangling the life out of our world with their immense gravity before finally tearing it asunder.

Hell, the Earth itself could kill us.

During the Permian Mass Extinction, also known as the Great Dying, over 90% percent of all life was lost. It was initiated by massive volcanic activity in the Siberian Traps that was of such a scale that it released enough greenhouse gases to raise the Earth’s temperature by five degrees Celsius. After a series of volcanic winters and periods of rapid warming, the dust finally settled allowing the released GHGs to properly cook the Earth. This warmth in turn destabilized methane hydrates at the bottom of the ocean, which is a greenhouse gas up to 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide. This raised temperatures a further five degrees. The ocean ecology collapsed, and Earth’s waters became one giant acidified dead zone. The land became inhospitable, searingly hot and bone dry. Even oxygen levels dropped, suffocating some of the fauna.

The ironic thing is that there’s an experiment being carried out right now to replicate the conditions of the end Permian extinction. It is entitled “Global Industrial-Scale Fossil Fuel Combustion to Generate Electricity and Fuel Transport for Human Civilization”. You should look it up some time!

One would think after all that that we’re screwed. One or more of these events is bound to transpire at some point, but that’s the thing, some point could mean tomorrow or ten million years from now. Granted, we can already be pretty damn certain that we’re killing ourselves, but that is a choice, one we are moving painfully slowly away from, but I have hope that self-preservation will slam the accelerator one of these days.

However, putting the pedal to the metal on preserving our living planet and all the life it supports will require massive investment and focus globally. Climate change and general degradation of the Earth’s systems have already progressed far further than they ever should have been allowed for the sake of economic growth and greed. We need a massive overhaul of not just how we produce energy but of our economy and societal values. We need to put the living systems that support our civilization before the profit motive.

What we cannot, for the moment, factor into this equation is an elitist escape plan. We cannot invest in building a lunar base, or founding a Martian metropolis of a million souls, or trying to develop viable ways to travel to the outer reaches of our solar system and to the stars beyond. Not right now at any rate. I imagine Stephen Hawking would wholly disagree. He believes we are at our most vulnerable right now as a species because we possess the means to destroy ourselves and the Earth, but we lack the means to escape it.

But what do we think we’re escaping to? The Moon? Mars? The gas giants? We’re certainly not getting any further with current technology, so forget about some “potentially Earth-like planet” that the Kepler telescope has spied in the depths of the universe. There ain’t no warp drive or wormhole to get you there just yet.

The fact is that if Earth faced an imminent and dire external threat and was surely doomed then very few of us would be escaping. It would probably be the privileged who could afford it like the escape tunnels of the kings of old, and they wouldn’t be taking refuge in some celestial idyll. They would be in cold, sterile, self-contained bases, shielding them from the inhospitable environment they are condemned to see out the rest of their miserable lives in, as they attempt to perpetuate some semblance of the human species.

Even if we could get to the nearest potentially habitable planet, Proxima Centauri B, what then? What if it has its own diverse ecology, probably something incompatible with our own? Are we honestly going to carry with us the thinking that drove us from our home and bend another living world to our will for the sake of our own survival? What right have we to do that? Are we to become the antagonists of such alien invasion movies as Independence Day and War of the Worlds, harvesting the resources of another world because we have so thoroughly ransacked our own?

Really, for people who dream of evacuating Earth to save us from ourselves and the grave threats of the universe, it is more to make the vision of spacefaring humanity become a reality rather than any practical reason. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the allure. I grew up watching Star Trek and Stargate and any sci-fi I could get my hands on, and the idea of zooming off into the void, seeing what’s out there, finding new life, all that is exquisitely compelling.

Yet, I think it’s unlikely that we will reach those heights of technological achievement in time to make any difference to our survival, not on the business-as-usual path we are currently sprinting down. It’s likely that in this century and the next that we’re going to experience some society-stopping shocks. Water scarcity, food insecurity, conflict, natural disasters, all beyond our capability to adequately respond, and then complete breakdown as civilization slips away into the fires of a second Great Dying. Even if we survive the Armageddon we instigate, all else will be lost.

No one who survives such a calamity will remember Elon Musk or Stephen Hawking or the dream of humanity amongst the stars. All they’ll know is a grim reality of anything beyond bare survival being a luxury.

But as I said before, we have a choice in that.

We can be the fools who ran their only home into the ground with the slight possibility that some will seek shelter on the nearest dead rock, or we can be the visionaries who see the value of Earth and take whatever steps are necessary to preserve it for future generations, so that they may seek out greater knowledge and higher things.

My wife told me a story once of a couple who’d been together over fifty years. They were asked how they did it for so long, did they not ever fight? They said that of course they do but in their day, when something was broken you fixed it, you didn’t just replace it. We are breaking our world, our only home in all the universe, and that fact isn’t going to change in time to save us, no matter how much we dream.

Yes, sure, a rock could fall out of the sky and smite us, or a black hole could swallow us whole, but those events are beyond our control. What we can control are our own actions on this Earth. So let’s work on the issues here and make our planet the haven of humanity and all Earthlings that it should be rather than chucking it on the trash pile in the vain hope that another Earth will come our way.

 

Image Source: Random Ramblings of Celeena Cree from National Geographic documentary “Evacuate Earth”

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions.

 

 


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Three Documentaries That Shaped My 2015

When it comes to activism and doing my part to help the environment and curb my footprint on the Earth, I think 2015 marked the point at which posting articles to social media to raise awareness wasn’t enough anymore. Anyone sitting at home at a computer can do that and make no mistake, I continue to do that because although sometimes it can feel like you’re shouting in an echo chamber, preaching to the choir, it’s worth it to reach even a few people who’ve never considered these issues before and perhaps change their outlook a little.

Yet, increasingly, I’ve felt the need to take real action myself, to consider what I do on daily basis that I could tweak or stop to make my impact less. There are a number of things that influenced me onto this course in 2015, but perhaps none more than documentaries on the subject of how our activities are damaging the environment and risking our futures and those of the generations to come.

That way I’ve come to see it is that it doesn’t have to be this way. There’s so much potential for innovation and remediation of harm already done but between painfully slow, gridlocked politics and incessant corporate lobbying, they are not being implemented fast enough. So perhaps leadership on the issues facing us is not to be found with government or Big Business, it is within ourselves. It lies with us. Every person, everywhere, has the power to create some kind of positive change that taken together could shift the balance towards clean energy, better agricultural practices, protection of habitats and biodiversity, preserving air and water quality, and leaving a world with possibilities other than mere survival for our descendants.

In that spirit, I’ve laid out, in my opinion, the three best and most important documentaries of 2015, and how they influenced me to makes changes in my life currently and also in my plans for the future.

 

Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret

Cowspiracy came out back in April. I knew the basic premise beforehand from the trailer and reading up on it prior to watching it. Simply put, animal agriculture, more than any other human activity, is devastating our planet. Nothing contributes more to climate change, ocean acidification, deforestation, water depletion, species extinction, and ocean dead zones.

It’s one thing to hear that, it’s another to see it in images, in undeniable science and numbers. Feeding animals to feed us is remarkably inefficient, consuming fossil fuels, water, and arable land at an unsustainable rate, and the return on calories and nutrition is far less than if we actually ate the plants used to feed livestock.

This changed my whole outlook on issues of the environment, especially climate change. Everyone was so focused on fossil fuel burning and, of course, it is an important contributor to climate change, but it is merely a feed-in to the emissions total for animal agriculture, which by some estimates is responsible for over 50% of all emissions. On top of this, we have emissions of methane and CO2 coming directly from animals and destruction of carbon sinks to create more pastureland such as the deforestation of the Amazon.

What got to me even more was the fact that major environmental groups were largely ignoring the issues in favour of combating relatively softer targets like fracking or the tar sands, which are climate disasters in their own right, but tackling them seems to be a lot easier to swallow. As I said in a blog post I wrote after initially watching Cowspiracy, I think these groups underestimate the willingness of their members to combat these issues, but I can’t speak to whether or not they have other motivations to ignore this one in particular.

I think this documentary inspired my biggest personal change, the choice to become vegan. I’ve wavered about it before, having initially come across the subject in relation to the health benefits of a wholefood plant-based diet portrayed in Forks Over Knives. However, concern for my own personal well-being was only enough to get me to reduce my meat intake and cut eggs and dairy. However, having seen how much my dietary choices were flying in the face of my environmental concern, I made the choice to go fully vegan late last year.

The decrease in my carbon footprint, my water footprint, my use of arable land, grain, my contribution to deforestation, the tainting of our oceans with excess nutrients from animal waste, the lessening of animal suffering. Even if my contribution is small, that’s the point. A lot of people making this one decision could make a massive difference to the state of our planet.

I think it was one of the most influential documentaries of 2015, and I cannot wait to see what Kip Andersen, it’s creator, has in store with his follow-up documentary, What the Health, coming this year.

 

This Changes Everything

This Changes Everything was influential to me for one main reason, it verbalizes an idea that almost all people, especially in the West, have, but that we never really think about. It is the concept of Earth as machine and man its wielder. It is the idea that the Earth is an animal whose spirit must be broken and tamed, that we must and can become its masters. Everything it has to offer, all it can provide for us, can be exploited without limit and without consequence.

It is this plot that we have been following since the beginning of the industrial revolution, when fossil fuels allowed us to detach ourselves from the rhythms of nature. It was this supposed decoupling that gave us the notion that we humans are somehow apart from the rest of the biosphere, that our choices and actions could be carried out irrespective of Mother Nature and that any negative impacts would only affect the environment, not us, as if we live somewhere other than the environment.

We have crowned ourselves kings of the mountain and so have perpetuated an economic model based upon the concept of infinite growth on a finite planet. The only problem is that nature has caught up with us in the form of climate change, probably the biggest environmental problem to come back and bite us on the ass.

This documentary tells it how it is. Our consumerist culture, our free-for-all capitalistic system, has overshot the Earth’s ability to sustain it, and we are now in ecological debt that we sink into deeper every single year. We have a mammoth task on our hands if we want to change that. We not only have to turn our ship around, but we have to completely overhaul it so it sails causing the smallest wake possible.

The fossil fuel era is coming to a close. We can all see that, even those who are heavily invested in keeping it alive as long as possible. Climate change does change everything, but whether that change runs its course quickly or not, whether fossil fuels croak quickly or peter out with painful slowness is, once again, up to us.

In most cases, our governments have done a poor job at standing up to the fossil fuel industry and have even promoted it with the Obama administration’s support for fracking, and the Canadian government’s overwhelming support for the Alberta tar sands. At the moment, Big Energy is rowing our boat through their political oarsmen. Only we can wrest the oars back by making better energy choices.

I currently do not have my own home, and I drive a ’97 1.3 litre engine Toyata Starlet. I hope that once I get on my feet, and my energy and transport choices are in my own hands that I can afford to use renewable energy sources and purchase an electric car. For now, all I can do is not be wasteful with energy where I live, turning off lights and appliances not in use, minimising their use also, air-drying clothes, not leaving heating or the boiler going for longer than absolutely needed, walking if I can, and trying to consume as little as possible in terms of unnecessary purchases, or choosing digital media where possible rather than physical copies. In time, I hope to be free of fossil fuels completely and the consequences of their use.

 

Racing Extinction

As much as the other two documentaries had a great impact on me, I think Racing Extinction touches a more personal note. I think it’s because it’s one of the first I shared with my new wife and because of the impact it had on her. She’d told me before that the state of world makes her angry and when I asked her why, she said she believes the people of the world have both the intelligence and the technology available to fix what we have broken. However, from her point of view it didn’t seem like anyone could be bothered to do it, and this had left her feeling hopeless. I have to admit I often shared those feelings even if I did my best to stay positive.

However, as dire as the message of this documentary is, that we risk losing 50% of all species in the next hundred years, that we risk compromising the habitability of our world, that we are poised to cause a sixth mass extinction of life on Earth, that we have become the meteor with the power to change everything for the worse on our planet, and it comes down to our own inability to change with anything like the urgency needed to avert catastrophe, it still gave both of us hope. Why? Because despite all the negatives portrayed in this documentary, it was moving for both of us to see so many who do care and who are working to save our world.

Having watched it, my wife said she found it moving, and it had taken her from a state of pessimism about our world to one of cautious optimism, and it encouraged her to watch the documentaries above, including Cowspiracy which she laughed at every time she heard the name because it sounded silly but has now actually become her favourite.

If it showed me anything, it is that other people do care, a lot of them, and they are willing to take bold actions to force change if they have to. It is knowing you are not alone when it comes to wanting to protect the only home we have, to protect something that was billions of years in the making and is irreplaceable.

Together, we can make better choices about the food we eat, the cars we drive, the sources of our energy, how we dispose of our waste, and taking care of what industries we may be supporting. We can all be doomsayers, we can all resign ourselves to defeat and extinction and the collapse of society as we know it, perhaps even our own demise, that’s easy, but I don’t choose that. My favourite quote from the documentary was that it’s “better to light one candle than to curse the darkness”. I truly believe in that statement, and I know there are others who do, too. We are in a race against extinction and time, but we still have enough time on our side to change the course, and that is what I want to be a part of.

So, here’s to 2016, and making better choices for our planet and ourselves.

 

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions, and no offence is intended to anyone.

 


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If We Burn, You Burn with Us

Last weekend, people rejoiced over the signing of the Paris climate agreement, the first time since Kyoto that something has been accomplished in the fight against climate change. There was much pomp and celebration by the negotiators and political leaders, and the mainstream media generally put a positive spin on the agreement, and there was definitely some cause for all this.

Paris marks the first time that nations around the world recognized the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, if possible, is far more desirable than capping it at 2 degrees, which had been the mantra of climate negotiations prior. This was a matter of simple justice for small island nations and vulnerable coastal regions, as warming of 2 degrees is seen by them as a death sentence.

Other positives about the agreement include funding to help developing nations potentially leapfrog fossil fuels straight to a clean energy economy or, at least, expedite their transition between the two. The involvement of major nations like the US and China, major developing countries like India and Brazil, and major oil producers like Saudi Arabia, was also quite a refreshing state of affairs from the usual discord and haggling that has marred previous COPs.

Indeed, there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic. The treaty does have some promise, but promise is the key word here, for our leaders really haven’t made us anything other than promises, and not commitments. There are no enforcement mechanisms written into the treaty, everything contained within it is voluntary, except perhaps agreed further conferences and tracking each nations’ progress towards its climate mitigation goals. Goals, mind you, that are self-imposed and also, voluntary.

I’ve heard it said that COP 2015 is an excellent treaty, had it been agreed in 1995. Our political leaders have always lagged behind the times when combating the climate crisis, so perhaps any success, no matter how meagre, seems like something ground-breaking and worthy of applause and commendation.

I know it seems like I’m completely trashing what was achieved in Paris, and I kind of am to be honest. I’m not trying to be overly pessimistic, but we still need to be realistic here. Climate change demands a monumental collaborative effort across all nations, across all levels of society. Paris, in this regard, is like needing to jump clear over a raging river when you’re being chased by a lion and instead, jumping to a stepping stone about a foot from the river bank.

In essence, it’s a good starting point, had it been enacted twenty years ago and at that time had been mandatory. Well, it’s not the 90s any more when climate change might have been easier to take in hand, and nothing legally compels our leaders to adhere to the agreement, so what does that leave us with? Probably not exactly at square one still but definitely not at square two.

So, let’s assess where the treaty takes us relative to where we actually need to be. First off, the climate pledges that the majority of nations made in the run-up to COP21. As I mentioned already, they are voluntary pledges to lower emissions through various means with no national or international legal obligations to undertake them. However, that isn’t the worst part. Taken together, the collective climate pledges will not hold warming anywhere near 1.5 degrees, they won’t even keep us under 2 degrees. Current estimates given our emission cut commitments as they stand place us on track for around 2.7 degrees Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels.

As Tim Gore, head of food and climate policy at Oxfam put it, “While this round of pledges is a step in the right direction, they only take us from a 4 C catastrophe to a 3 C disaster .”

Next up, funding to aid developing nations to transition to clean energy and adapt to climate change already locked in. The money will come from developed nations and larger developing nations with the capacity to contribute such as China which has pledged $3 billion dollars. In total, the established floor for the so-called Green Climate Fund is $100 billion annually. I don’t pretend to know much about the value of such a contribution in economic terms, but it seems to me a pittance to help every developing nation in the world to kick fossil fuels in favour of clean energy whilst simultaneously dealing with climate-related stresses and natural disasters.

So far, the text of the agreement is unclear as to the role or the trajectory of the fund from 2020 onwards when the Paris agreement comes into effect. So, even though, the sum promised is a floor, not a ceiling, there is nothing to say how much nations will, in future, contribute or if the fund will be kept alive long-term.

Next, it is interesting to consider what the agreement doesn’t mention rather than what it does. For one, the words coal and oil do not appear anywhere in the document. There is no commitment or even a suggestion that the majority of known fossil fuel reserves should be kept in the ground, as the science demands, let alone putting an end to further exploration for new reserves.

There is no mention of agriculture, responsible for at least a third of all emissions, nor is there any mention of the emissions caused by international flights and shipping.

There is no hint of reparations to developing nations for the damage that has been caused and will be caused by climate change. In fact, the US played a key role in weakening the agreement in this regard, having categorically refused to include any mention of compensation in the final draft of the agreement. Their negotiators even wanted wording in the document to insure Western nations against any liability for future climate damages to developing nations, but that got kicked out of the final draft. They, of course, promised in return that they would sign up to the 1.5 degree goal, so long as it wasn’t binding and they didn’t have to pull their weight with lowering emissions, which they could ask for because they had the power to bring the talks to a screeching halt.

And the final stop on this train-wreck, what the treaty includes that hasn’t been part of an international agreement before. Forest offsets are the sustainable management of forest ecosystems in order to capture our carbon emissions. However, it’s not really known how effective this is because it’s hard to tally how much carbon any given forest absorbs exactly. More to the point, these offsets give countries an out for not actually reducing their emissions, so the pollution still occurs, and the offsets may not necessarily be countering all of it.

Moreover, anyone who has read Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything knows that these projects are often plagued by mismanagement and the displacement of indigenous peoples who more often than not know more about the sustainable management of their lands than the foreign companies who take them over and exclude them from places they have lived in for perhaps millennia.

The fact is that carbon offsets, carbon trading, and other market mechanisms for tackling climate change often fall flat and do little to solve the problem compared to actual intervention in the economy and tangible climate action. It was these so-called solutions to climate that led to the failure of Kyoto, as it took a decade to get them up and going and then they were marred by mismanagement and fraud.

So, if you look on the very bright side, yes, the agreement gave us a 1.5 degree target, yes, all the nations of the Earth are involved, yes, we’re getting money to developing nations to combat climate, but where are the tools to achieve all this? They’re not in the Paris document. In order to achieve even the target of 1.5 degrees Celsius would require a WWII-scale mobilization, starting right now. We would need to entirely de-carbonize our economies worldwide by 2030 and invest massively in carbon capture technology to draw down carbon dioxide that we have already emitted out of the atmosphere.

Why is such an undertaking necessary? Because the threat is that huge, far worse than that of Nazi Germany or any other human enemy from history. We need to stop thinking of climate change as simply an environmental problem. The fact is that we are at war, a war with time and with ourselves. We can’t let the jubilation that surrounded the “successful” Paris climate talks to trick us into complacency. The root of the threat we face is Big Energy, Big Agriculture, and Big Transport. They all need a massive overhaul if we are to have any hope of stemming the rise in temperatures and averting future disasters.

However, corporations with vested interests were heavily involved with the talks, and their lobbyists no doubt sunk their teeth into many a negotiator. My belief now is that the solutions to the climate crisis are no longer to be found in the political process. Governments can no longer act in an effective or timely manner because they are tied down by too much red tape and are strung up on too many corporate strings.

It is now the turn of the people to make the transition, to make the leap to a fossil-free future. We can do this by making personal to changes to our energy usage, what we eat, how we get around, and by acting together as communities to build better from the ground up, from local, to regional, to national. I’m not saying that state governments are totally obsolete. They still have the power to effect change and, unfortunately, to get in peoples’ way or worse, add to the problem. After all, not long after the COP, the UK decided to expand fracking, and New Zealand handed out new oil leases.

Only a loud, convincing voice, a massive people’s movement can topple them off their high seats of apathy and lethargy. The Paris agreement is one more example of our leaders treating an existential threat as a remote and manageable problem. Climate change is happening now. It is on our TVs, it’s in our communities and for some unfortunate people in my own country and the UK this Christmas, it is in their homes. We can no longer abide by governments throwing a bone at the problem when it demands we give it everything we’ve got.

Ultimately, people power will overwhelm this complacency, I believe, I hope, but our chances of achieving the lofty goals of COP21 would be much greater if politicians engaged with the problem with the seriousness it deserves. I’ll end with a message to world leaders, a quote by one of my favourite fictional characters, Katniss Everdeen, fire is catching and if we burn, you burn with us.

Links:

Good Reasons to Cheer the Paris Climate Deal

World’s climate pledges not yet enough to avoid dangerous warming – UN

Green Climate Fund seeks clear role in post-2020 climate aid

Trading Carbon: How Paris Set Us Up for Failure

Seven Wrinkles in the Paris Climate Deal

The Paris Climate Talks and the 1.5C Target: Wartime-Scale Mobilization is Our Only Option Left

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions, and no offence is intended to anyone.

 


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Purveyors of Bullshit

After watching the documentary, Merchants of Doubt, you really have to question humanity, our modern-day values, and what we’ve become as a society. I don’t say that lightly, and it’s not to say that other documentaries I’ve seen haven’t had as great or an even greater impact on me, but it is the particular subject matter of this one in particular that really gnaws at your insides. It is the thought that businesses and individuals have knowingly placed people’s lives at risk for the sake of profit.

To be clear, the general premise of the documentary, that Big Business sells us lies so that we keep buying their product, is a well-known fact. Everyone’s heard of the lengths that the tobacco industry went to in order to defend their deadly product. Everyone with even passing knowledge of the environment knows what a climate denier is, and that it is generally the fossil fuel industry that promotes such views through complicit individuals and front groups. Yet it is realising the depths of their deception that really galls you.

We are being conned everyday by companies who care for nothing but their bottom-line, and that’s not the worst part. The worst part is that we often can’t do anything to address their deceit, at least not easily or quickly. These corporations make sure that they have their tendrils in all the right corners of government and the larger bureaucracy in order to subvert the regulatory process and streamline their route to profits. It also helps when independent research comes out against them to have government back-up.

The fact that those we elected are often a party to the dissemination and cover-up of corporate lies is an affront in itself and a can of worms I won’t get into here. I think it is telling enough that recently, Charles Koch was on the record as saying that he expects “something in return” on his political investments. That he and his brother, David, expect to spend nearly a billion dollars on the 2016 US presidential race makes you wonder what demands they could possibly make for that sum, and it is more than a little disturbing given their hard right-wing agenda.

Back to the documentary itself, based on the book of the same title by Naomi Oreskes, this game that businesses are playing has been ongoing for decades and probably became common practice after the tobacco industry started engaging in these tactics in the mid-20th century. Through their own research, it was discovered that smoking causes cancer (the late ‘50s), it contributes to heart disease (the 60s), and not long after that they confirmed that nicotine is addictive. So, having discovered that they were selling a lethal product which was highly addictive, what did they do?

They hired a PR firm to make their problem go away.

If that wasn’t bad enough, later in the 70s a link was drawn between cigarettes and rampant building fires. Instead of admitting the problem and investing money and research into designing a less incendiary product, the industry redirected the fault for the problem towards the furniture makers. It wasn’t that cigarettes cause fires, it’s just that furniture was too damn flammable. By infiltrating fire-fighting unions and getting them behind the idea, the furniture industry responded by stuffing their products with chemical fire retardants, thereby bringing more toxicity into people’s lives.

So to sum up, through acts of misdirection and confusing the public by muddying the science, the tobacco industry was successful for a long time in keeping the heat of its product and its profits. The same is happening now with climate change.

At this very moment, Exxon Mobil is under investigation for covering up evidence of climate change that its own scientists discovered would be a consequence of fossil fuel burning. Moreover, they stand accused of attempting to do exactly what the tobacco industry did; trying to create doubt the problem even exists.

They’ve done this by funding front groups to spread denialist propaganda, talking points that spread through the media like wildfire, or attempting to intervene in legislation for these problems through organisations like ALEC.

So, as much as I found this documentary informative, it made my blood boil. Again, I’m left wondering what have we become? Has greed and the money game come to dominate our collective psyche so much that we’re willing to put our own existence at risk? After all, money and the economy are just human constructs. They have no real physical value or meaning, only those that we give them.

Yes in order to perpetuate a free-for-all capitalistic society, built on rampant consumerism and the unsustainable extraction and consumption of the planet’s resources, we will make an existential threat into a minor trouble to be dealt with by future generations, or we’ll just make it into a none-thing, not something that is happening at all.

At least that’s what the fossil fuel industry have done with support from elements of government and other industries that profit from a delay in action on climate change.

People and companies responsible need to be held accountable. It needs to be made clear that misinformation that they have helped disseminate is an insidious attempt to protect their bottom line over the lives and livelihoods of people.

We cannot afford any further delays in action on the climate crisis if we have any hope of preserving our civilization and a recognisable, liveable world.

The message that I take from this documentary is that there are nasty, self-centred people out there out who are on a mission to delay any response to climate change for their own selfish ends, and to hell with what happens to the rest of us or the wider environment. However, there are also people out there who will speak the truth, and repeat it, and shout above the interference and the bald-faced lies.

We live in a time much like when people fought against slavery, for women’s rights, for labour rights, against apartheid. This is, as John Kerry put it, “the fight of our time”. Well, all we have built, all the hard-won rights and liberties are infringed upon by climate change to the extent that if we allow it to progress far enough, none of it will matter. Anything beyond survival will be a luxury.

Just like in all those social battles, there are people on the other side who want to maintain the status quo and will do so by nefarious means if they must. Climate change is either going to be the greatest challenge we collectively rise to and will put us on a path to an even better world, or it will be the challenge that overcomes us and decimates all we have achieved in the past few centuries, maybe even threatening our survival as a species.

Right now, the choice is in our hands. Do we stand up to those who would oppress the truth and us through their conniving deceptions, or will we stand by, say nothing, and watch the house burn down around us, long after the fossil fuel industry started it having pillaged the contents?

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions, and no offence is intended to anyone.


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Do We Want to Sink?

“…so you dwell on this terrible future, you resign yourselves to it and for one reason, because that future doesn’t ask anything of you today…”

Governor Nix, Tomorrowland

It’s been a long hiatus for me in terms of blogging, but now that my wedding and honeymoon have passed, I have wanted to get back into it, and there are a number of things I want to review, movies and documentaries that I’ve seen in the last few months. I saw Tomorrowland when it was out in cinemas during the summer but on my flight home after my honeymoon, it was available to watch, and I thought I should refresh my memory before offering my thoughts on it.

Tomorrowland is essentially a concept of a place without limits on science and creativity all directed to build a better world. It is a story about what might be possible if the greatest minds could innovate and build without the limitations of bureaucracy, of financial greed, and superstition. It’s ultimately about the potential of humanity and hope for the future, that we can make it all we can imagine and beyond. It’s quite an alluring ideal. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the philosophy behind the Venus Project in that society works for the benefit of all humankind rather than for a select few.

Whilst the movie was largely about wonder and peril and adventure with a not too small element of fun, there was one moment in it that, for me at least, was truly impactful and very relevant to the current state of world affairs and that was, once again, a speech by the principal antagonist of the movie, Governor David Nix. I have embedded a link to it at the top of this post, and I think it’s something everyone should watch. It’s surprising, given the overall tone of the movie, how meaningful it is and how much it touches on the state of mind of the majority of people when confronted with the many crises that beset us and the potential of our eventual demise.

I want to start with the end of his speech, his accusation that as a society, we want to sink, to fail, that we are happy to run headlong into disaster. I disagree. The overall premise of the movie is that the majority of people have given up, but quitting in the face of adversity isn’t the same as relishing it. I think, if asked, anyone would say they want a better world, a better life, to live on a planet not ravaged by crime, war, climate change, and pollution. They would want a peaceful world with a clean, stable environment where they are free to live the life of their choosing without fear of repression or impending disaster, a world where society takes cares of everyone equally and is not set up to favour a select elite. The problem is that most people probably and understandably think that these basic desires are beyond our collective reach, a utopian fantasy that could never actually happen.

The part of his speech that I most agree with is the line that I have quoted above. For, to have that idealistic, though in my view, completely reasonable future, we would have to work for it, fight for it even. That is asking a lot of people in this day and age. Our lives have become so regimented, so consumed with getting from A to B, with work, with chores, and then managing to squeeze in time for our loved ones and ourselves before we have to go to sleep and repeat the whole cycle again the next day. So where in that schedule do we find time to contribute to the betterment of society, to take part in community building and improving amenities, to clean up our local environment, to write to officials, to join a protest? The answer is that most of us don’t.

There’s also risk involved in challenging the status quo. In my opinion, rather than moving towards that utopic future we so desire, we are teetering on the brink of utter dystopia. Between regressive laws and ordinances, the curtailing of democratic freedoms and rights, and the rising brutality of police forces meant to protect and serve us but instead serve government and corporate interests, it’s fair to say you are sometimes seriously sticking your neck out by challenging the system. In the face of the limits on our time and the undue consequences that we tempt by acting, it’s not hard to see why people might be resigned, why they might give up. I. myself, feel this way often enough. It’s the powerlessness of seeing the wrong in the world but simultaneously feeling too small to do anything about it.

Yet is it good enough, given all that we may face in the future, to quit on the basis that to do anything else would be very personally burdensome? Maybe that’s a harsh way of putting it, but that’s essentially what it boils down to, the going will be hard, so we just stop going. As David Nix says, we have resigned ourselves to this terrible future because it asks nothing of us today. It will happen simply, inevitably, if we just continue on in blissful half-ignorance and gradually, as it draws nearer, as it begins to transpire all around us ,we can convince ourselves of the comforting notion that there was nothing we could have done anyway.

But that is a lie, a heinous one, meant to assuage our guilt, as we transfer responsibility for managing calamity and tragedy to our children and grandchildren.

Self-deceit and apathy, along with the fact that we really may be desensitized to disaster as we see it everywhere, in movies, in books, in games, and increasingly, in reality but usually at a distance, it is all these things that at least partly explain our inaction on some of the most pressing crises of our times. Climate change tops the list as it will effect everyone and everything in some shape or form. Besides the changing weather patterns punctuated by extremes and disasters, it will precipitate other crises like mass migrations, wars, famines, increased crime, disease outbreaks, and the breakdown of ecosystems and the Earth’s natural processes. Yet given this Pandora’s Box of nightmarish consequences, most of us are not motivated to challenge Big Energy and elements of government who support them, most of us aren’t picketing our officials and the responsible industries demanding that they enact policies to avert this impending catastrophe. A lot of us don’t even care or really believe it will happen. That is a problem because massive public demand would be required to usher in that change.

Changing everything will require everyone.

So, how do we get from a small group of committed individuals to everyone mobilised and demanding change, demanding justice and progress? I don’t have the whole answer to that. The journey from “that’s not my problem” to caring deeply about an issue is not standard for everyone, nor is it just an acute shift. However, I think what we can all agree on that is common to most people is hopelessness. We don’t believe that better does or can exist. We need to drop that anchor that is holding us in place, preventing us from moving forward. David Nix puts it best when he says, “In every moment, there’s the possibility of a better future…”, and that is the truth. Everyday, every hour, every second, there’s the opportunity for each of us to take small actions that taken together have the power to create real change. This lack of belief is not just in what’s possible in general but also in ourselves. We underestimate our ability to innovate, to reason, to create.

Perhaps a world reaching the dizzying heights of progress depicted in Tomorrowland is not something we could just conjure up tomorrow, but who’s to say what we could achieve if we are not limited by those in power and by ourselves. For the moment, why is better infrastructure, public transport, healthcare, a clean energy economy, a safe and healthy environment, an end to hunger, poverty, and the injustices that lead to crime and conflict too much to ask for? All these things are possible. They just require us to believe, to not give up, or, as the main protagonist in Tomorrowland, Casey Newton, puts it, to feed the right wolf.

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions, and no offence is intended to anyone.


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Obama’s State of the Union, Reason to Be Hopeful about Climate Change?

(Image Source: Daily Kos)

The UK Met Office, NASA, NOAA, the Japanese Meteorological Agency, all have reported 2014 as officially the hottest year on record since 1880. 14 of the 15 hottest years on record have all occurred since the beginning of this century. The one year in the 20th century that still makes the top ten list is 1998, a year when a super El Nino hugely bumped up global temperatures and now that year is fourth behind 2005 and 2010, which were both weak El Nino years, and now 2014, a year in which we had no El Nino at all. That last fact alone should be alerting us as to where we’re headed, a hotter, more extreme world less hospitable to the human species.

The UK Met Office has even predicted the possibility of 2015 being warmer again than last year, dependent on whether El Nino develops or not. This back-to-back record warm years occurrence has happened before, most recently as it happens in 1997 and 1998 when El Nino supercharged the climate system, bringing much higher average temperatures right across the globe. After that, temperature increases, on land especially, slowed, which created the denialist argument that climate change had somehow stopped, coining the label, “The Pause”. It has since been determined that warming did indeed continue, just mostly in the deep oceans and in the polar regions were monitoring has less coverage. However, the denier community has yet to stop beating that dead horse.

However, a better analogue for the potential 2014/15 back-to-back warmest years scenario are the years 1980 and 1981 where both years were record warm without El Nino developing. These two years were the beginning of nearly two decades of intense warming, so is it possible that the current record warmth is a signal that the hiatus in warming is ending, and we are about to enter another intense warming phase? No one can say for certain. It’s possible the slowdown will continue for years more, or it may end in the coming year or two in drastic fashion.

One thing is certain, though. It will end.

Whether it be this year or in ten years, climate change will get back in to high gear at some point in the future. With carbon dioxide levels passing 400ppm and with other greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide also rising, there is no way to avoid further heating of our climate system, especially given the insufficient action we’ve taken thus far to curb it. Indeed, we are beyond any halting or reversal of this process. The carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere will continue to warm the Earth for centuries to come. This throws into doubt whether we can even hold warming this century below the much touted two-degree Celsius threshold.

So, do we just pack it in and call it day? Of course not! However, the actions we’ve taken so far must be just the tip of the iceberg compared to what we do from here on out.

President Obama gave a rousing State of the Union address to Congress that could even be described as somewhat combative against an institution that has attempted to thwart his every move since he was first elected to the Oval Office. Specifically in the part where he discusses climate change, he poked fun at the Tea Partiers’ constant use of the “I’m not a scientist” cop-out when challenged on their stance on the matter. He also stated rather defiantly that “I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts…”. He also alluded to the deal he struck with China, saying that now that the world’s two largest economies have come to an agreement on lowering emissions that it has encouraged other countries to step up.

That may well be the case, and such efforts are to be applauded, but the world needs more from the US, China, and other major polluters than words. As the president stated in his address, we need to act forcefully if the damage inflicted by climate change is to be kept within tolerable bounds. So far, what we have done could less be described as forceful and more a gentle nudge in the right direction. In order to have just a fifty percent chance, one in two, of keeping warming below two degrees Celsius, we would need to peak emissions globally by 2020 and from there on out, decrease them by 9-10% a year. Are we going to peak emissions in five years? Unlikely. Are we going to thereafter lower them by a tenth every year? Even less probable.

So our odds of staying below the two degree threshold are probably going to be significantly less than fifty percent, but is that reason to resign ourselves to hopelessness?

I, for one, don’t think so.

Even under the current paradigm, we have the chance to do right by the planet and future generations. Maybe our political systems are too slow to act and too hampered by lobbying interests, but I believe that real change is going to come from us, not government. The US government, as a whole, has already proven it’s intransigence when faced with facts.The Republican Party especially has done everything from outright denial that the problem exists, denying humans cause it, to claiming it not to be within their purview to comment or act upon. President Obama imploded that last tactic by letting Congress know there are plenty of experts out there they can listen to in order to inform their decision-making.

Despite this, hours after the State of the Union, the Senate put forth a highly unpopular bill to block protections of new parks or historical sites after the president applauding his administration’s role in protecting more public lands than any before him. They voted 98-1 that climate change is not a hoax but subsequently refused to acknowledge humanity’s role in causing it. Then, the new environmental chair of the Senate, Senator James Inhofe, took to the floor to regurgitate a long list of much debunked climate denier talking points. In the US administration at least, it’s fair to say that climate realists are in the minority. Therefore, it’s up to us.

It’s nice that Obama supports climate action, and that he is willing to use his executive powers to forward his agenda. Still, the kind of action required of us would need every part of the US government co-operating and every country in the world doing the same. We’re not there yet on a governmental level. So while loud voices within government calling for action such as President Obama, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Sheldon Whitehouse is all well and good, it’s hard to take heart in it if their outcries are falling on deaf ears.

Individual action is what is needed, people everywhere demanding movement on the issue, demanding change.

This is possible. We change our own habits and make different choices to limit our carbon footprint, that is action. We speak out on social media, blogs, and other public forums, that is action. We march, we protest, we disobey (peacefully, of course), that is definitely action. Government action is slow partly because politicians require motivation in order to make hard decisions. Thousands upon thousands of people marching the streets can be that motivation, but sometimes even that is ignored. Therefore, our voices must be present everywhere. We must shout loud enough and long enough that we cannot be dismissed and if we are willing to make changes in our own lives and how we live, that sends a clear message to politicians and corporations that we are willing to step up, and now it’s their turn.

Links:

2014: Hottest Year in Recorded Human History

Two Degrees: Will we avoid dangerous climate change?

Even if emissions stop, carbon dioxide could warm Earth for centuries

Senate Votes 98-1 that ‘Climate Change Is Real And Not A Hoax’

New Senate Environmental Chair Gets His Gavel, Goes On A Rant Arguing Climate Science Is A Hoax

What would ‘wartime mobilization’ to fight climate change look like?

Report: Global Economies Must Decrease CO2 Emissions By 5 Times Current Levels

Hours After State Of The Union, Senate Targets National Parks

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions, and no offence is intended to anyone.