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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Dumbass Trump Blustering as Earth Burns

When Trump was elected last year, it seemed surreal, like a ridiculous practical joke played by the American electorate and the electoral college on the rest of the world. As the disbelief dispersed afterwards, I think myself and many others wondered how could this be and what could this mean. Seven months on and despite his behavior on the campaign trail, it’s still hard to believe so much madness transpired in that amount of time. It’s like he’s had two terms already (by God, I wish that were the case).

I’ve been so bombarded with the constant awfulness coming out of his administration, and the now Republican dominated House and Senate, that it’s an effort not to grow numb to it all. Everything environmentally and socially responsible seems to be going out the window. Trump’s presidency is like shit-show the musical comes to crazy-town and now he’s taken his tour of insanity international with comically disastrous consequences. If only he weren’t the president of the United States, the greatest military power on Earth, the second greatest carbon polluter, and greatest cumulative carbon polluter, well, then I’d be able to laugh.

I could account for my lack of blogging with things happening in my own personal life but really, it’s been this nutty parade of unmitigated crap, falsehoods, and travesties that has put me off. It’s enough to read about it, let alone write about it, and so here’s to the journalists that keep on reporting on the the corruption and challenging the nonsensical. Still, I can’t let what happened this weekend pass without comment.

Trump exited the Paris Climate Agreement just 18 months after the vast majority of countries in the world negotiated it. He has joined a rather small club of nations who have not ratified it. Syria did not do so for obvious reasons, the country is war-torn and unable to make any such commitments. Nicaragua did not sign because they regard the treaty as not being strong enough.

That I have to give them.

The Paris Climate Agreement would have been a step in the right direction in the 80s or 90s and while it still technically is, it’s woefully insufficient in the face of the scale of the problem. At this stage, we need rapid decarbonisation and equally speedy deployment of renewable energy. Our transport and agricultural practices would also have to radically change, and we would need to also consider investing far more in carbon capture technology to make it viable. I’ve often heard that we need to react globally on the scale the US did in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor and joining WWII. Some people don’t care for the analogy, but what are we if not at war? The only difference is our enemies are not other nations but time, the forces of nature, and ourselves.

Paris only calls for nations to make modest reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases, targets which they can set for themselves, and those self-determined goals are not legally binding. Therefore, Nicaragua’s leaders are right. The treaty is weak, entirely dependent on the goodwill of its participants, but at least it had the support of almost all nations on Earth including the largest carbon emitters, or at least it did until Trump stuck to his inane campaign promise (and in my opinion, stuck it to Europe who failed to adequately fawn all over him on his clusterfuck overseas trip).

I could go on for several essays on how Paris is only the very beginning of what we need to tackle climate change, and how we need to make the bulk of the big changes necessary in the next two decades.  However, this is me venting and raging against the orange buffoon who now sits in the Oval Office, so I’m going to stay on topic.

Trump is moronic. He completely lacks understanding of what the climate accord is or does. He doesn’t even properly realize that he can’t just immediately pull the US out of it. At the earliest, nations can pull out with a year’s notice after it goes into effect, meaning that the earliest he could do this legitimately would be the day after the next presidential election.

Of course, he can do what he has been doing already, and this is the reason that Paris is so shamefully weak, and that is to keep the voluntary commitments but not implement them and even backtrack to whatever extent he wants on environmental and energy policy. Realistically speaking, him reneging on the Paris Agreement was more of a symbolic middle finger to the world, letting everyone know that he really means it when he says America first.

It is ironic that his primary motivation, at least officially, for pulling out was to bolster the US economy and protect jobs. He seems to be, either willfully or not, oblivious to the fact that the clean energy sector is producing more jobs than fossil fuels, especially coal which is in decline. Solar alone in 2016 created 17 times more jobs in the US than the rate of the overall economy. Wind power also employs far more people than coal, and renewables are on the up and up.

He also campaigned on ending what he perceives to be the US’s losing streak to China. Yet China has plowed funding into renewables and is seeing job growth in the sector, and the investment is forecast to create 13 million jobs by 2020. His policies and leaving the Paris Agreement will ultimately only make the US less competitive in a rapidly growing sector while giving China, India, and other nations an edge. His policies will, at best, stagnate the fossil fuel industry rather than accelerate its decline, which is what Obama’s policies would have done. Yet, given how dire our situation has become, we cannot afford even a stagnant fossil fuel industry. Emissions have to start coming down rapidly from here on out.

This is what drives me insane. In his arrogance, his bluster, and his stupidity, Donald Trump has thrown the US paddle overboard, folded his arms, and now sits there sullenly, while the rest of us desperately try to get our boat towards a horizon we need to reach, for behind us is the precipice of a waterfall, and we will not all survive the descent, if any of us.

The only thing that gives me solace is that as powerful as his office is, he cannot flip a switch and undo all the progress that has already been made, nor can he put the brakes on the inevitable changes in the energy sector. Renewables are still the future, as is climate action, if not in certain segments of American society and industry then it is so globally. It’s heartening that Trump faces massive backlash to his decision from around the world, that he faces dissension from within his own borders.

The US Climate Alliance, which started with three states, California, Washington, and New York, now includes Oregon, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island with more possibly to follow. They plan to continue to adhere to the Paris Climate Agreement, and they represent a massive chunk of US GDP and carbon emissions, meaning their continued efforts will have a significant impact on the US economy with them favoring the domestic clean energy and electric transport industries over fossil fuel energy and transport.

Though this may be enough for some to have cause for optimism, it’s still wholly inadequate. At the moment, we are allowing the free market and economics to be the sole drivers of investment in renewables and other technologies we need to face this crisis. Governments need to have a more hands-on approach and stop throwing out soft legislation and meager subsidies and instead focus policy on getting these technologies mainstream and dominant over fossil fuels as soon as is feasible. Doing less at this point is just irresponsible if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change and have a livable planet for future generations.

It is unfortunate that the current US president is a bull in a china shop who has surrounded himself with snakes in the grass. However, unlike Kyoto or other international agreements, we cannot let this administration dictate policy worldwide, nor can we allow its stubborn non-involvement to be an excuse to scale back action elsewhere.

Though Paris still leaves a lot to be desired, it’s all we’ve got so far, and the vast majority of the world seems to be sticking with it. What needs to happen now is that we continue to rapidly build on the successes of the agreement, to exceed our targets and exceed the next ones, and hope this eventually leads to stronger, more binding treaties that will ensure decarbonisation of the global economy happens, regardless of the current actions of the US federal government.

What we can also hope for, and what US citizens can work towards, is a political shift in 2018 and 2020 to boot Trump and representatives who are in the pockets of the fossil fuel industry, so that further action is not impeded and maybe it’ll be possible to get binding international climate treaties past the houses of Congress. If not, then we can still count on the autonomy of individual states. If enough of them are taking action, it’s going to be hard for those that are supporting fossil fuels and suppressing renewables to remain competitive nationally or globally.

In conclusion, trump sucks, but his suckiness is not a cause for falling into despair. He is one foolish man whose own arrogance and selfishness will be his undoing anyway. It can’t be long until at least some of his base realize he’s screwing them over, too. We can all live in hope that he’ll be only a one-term wonder. So as he bumbles on, we need to take our eyes away from Washington in hope of leadership and start being the leaders ourselves. Our governments, our mayors, our local councils, you and I need to demand change and make changes that will put further pressure on corporations and recalcitrant politicians to get in line on climate action.

So the world is still nearing the flames, but Donald Trump’s little hands can’t push us all the way in. Only we can do that by collective inaction or half-measures. Let’s hope we have the courage to pull back from the brink.

 

Image Source: The Daily Banter

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.