Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

Book Review: This Changes Everything

this-changes-nothing-xlg-2Naomi Klein’s latest book, This Changes Everything, is based on the premise that capitalism is the cause of the climate crisis, and to avert catastrophe, capitalism must go. The proposed solution is a mass movement that will win with arguments that undermine the capitalist system by making it morally unacceptable.

This premise has many flaws. It fails to acknowledge the roots of capitalism and climate change, seeing them as independent issues that can be transformed without taking action to address the underlying causes. Climate change cannot be avoided by building more infrastructure and reforming the economy, as is suggested in the book. The climate crisis is merely a symptom of a deeper crisis, and superficial solutions that act on the symptoms will only make the situation worse. Human-induced climate change started thousands of years ago with the advent of land clearing and agriculture, long before capitalism came into being. The root cause—a culture that values domination of people and land, and the social and physical structures created by this culture—needs to be addressed for any action on capitalism or climate to be effective.

I’ve long been baffled by the climate movement. When 200 species a day are being made extinct, oceans and rivers being drained of fish and all life, unpolluted drinking water being largely a thing of the past, and nutritious food being almost inaccessible, is climate really where we should focus our attention? It seems a distraction, a ‘look, what’s that in the sky?’ from those that seek to profit from taking away everything that sustains life on the only planet we have. By directing our thoughts, discussions and actions towards gases in the upper atmosphere and hotly debated theories, rather than immediate needs for basic survival of all living beings, those in power are leading us astray from forming a resistance movement that could ensure the continuation of life on Earth.

This book is a tangle of contradictions. An attempt to unravel the contradictions and understand the thinking behind these arguments is what drew me in to reading it, but in the end I was left confused, with a jumble of mismatched ideas, vague goals, and proposals to continue with the same disjointed tactics that have never worked in the past.

This Changes Everything advocates for socialism, then explores why socialism won’t stop fossil fuel extraction. It is against capitalism, yet insists ‘there is plenty of room to make a profit in a zero-carbon economy’. Renewable energy is promoted as an alternative, yet the objections of people whose land and livelihoods are destroyed by these developments is acknowledged and respected. The book promotes the rights of indigenous people to live on their land in traditional ways, and at the same time claims they need jobs and development. It sees the extraction and burning of fossil fuels as the main cause of the climate crisis, yet recommends solutions that require more of the same. It supports economic development while opposing economic growth. It says that ‘compromised, palatable-to-conservative solutions don’t work’ yet is selling exactly that.

One chapter is devoted to promoting divestment from fossil fuel companies, even though this is openly acknowledged to have no economic effect. Apparently it will ‘bankrupt their reputation’ rather than actually bankrupt them. This strategy is unlikely to work, as corporations spend millions on PR campaigns, and control the media, so anyone outside this system will struggle to have any real effect on their reputations. And corporations are powered by money, not morals, so moral campaigns on their own can’t shut down a company. And if they did, this targeting of specific companies, rather than the entire economic system, will only create space for others to take their place.

Another chapter explains why ‘green billionaires’ won’t save us, which seems unnecessary in a book arguing for dismantling capitalism—of course more capitalism won’t help. Strangely, Klein is disappointed that Virgin CEO Richard Branson, despite investing many millions of dollars to invent or discover a ‘miracle fuel’ to power his ever-expanding airline, did not achieve this impossible goal. What difference would it make if he had been successful? Whatever this fuel might be, it would still need to be extracted from somewhere, and burned. Unless money really can buy a genuine religious miracle, and even then, the airline industry requires massive amounts of land, mining and manufacturing, and a globalised economy. If fuel costs were not a limitation, these industrial processes would expand more quickly, destroying everyone and everything in their path. A miracle fuel still leaves us with a culture of travelling the world at jet speed, rather than a localised culture of dialogue and relationship with nature. This is the disconnected thinking that comes from engaging with climate as an isolated issue.

The book concludes with a call for a nonviolent mass movement, and ‘trillions [of dollars] to pay for zero-carbon, disaster-ready societal transformations.’ The requested transformations are a transition to renewable energy, and building more infrastructure. These won’t stop capitalism or climate change, and would make the situation worse. A mass movement would require a mass of people who both share these goals and believe that a mass movement is the way to reach them. Given the compromised and conflicted goals, and the corporate influence on the climate movement recently, this is unlikely to happen.

Mass movements using only moral arguments have never changed systems of power in the past. The global Occupy movement is a recent example. While a great deal was achieved, the capitalist system is still with us, and it will take more than peaceful demonstrations to take it down. The infrastructure of capitalism needs to be physically dismantled, using a diversity of tactics, and the culture of domination that legitimises extraction and exploitation must be confronted, and replaced with land-based cultures that value relationship with all living beings.

Originally posted at Deep Green Resistance News Service

Image from http://theartofannihilation.com/this-changes-nothing-why-the-peoples-climate-march-guarantees-climate-catastrophe-2/

What’s wrong with renewable energy?

burning wind turbine

Ten things environmentalists need to know about renewable energy:

1.    Solar panels and wind turbines aren’t made out of nothing. They are made out of metals, plastics, chemicals. These products have been mined out of the ground, transported, processed, manufactured. Each stage leaves behind a trail of devastation: habitat destruction, water contamination, colonization, toxic waste, slave labour, greenhouse gas emissions, wars, and corporate profits. Renewables can never replace fossil fuel infrastructure, as they are entirely dependent on it for their existence.

2.    The majority of electricity that is generated by renewables is used in manufacturing, mining, and other industries that are destroying the planet. Even if the generation of electricity were harmless, the consumption certainly isn’t. Every electrical device, in the process of production, leaves behind the same trail of devastation. Living communities—forests, rivers, oceans—become dead commodities.

3.    The aim of converting from conventional power generation to renewables is to maintain the very system that is killing the living world, killing us all, at a rate of 200 species per day. Taking carbon emissions out of the equation doesn’t make it sustainable. This system needs to not be sustained, but stopped.

4.    Humans, and all living beings, get our energy from plants and animals. Only the industrial system needs electricity to survive, and food and habitat for everyone are being sacrificed to feed it. Farmland and forests are being taken over, not just by the infrastructure itself, but by the mines, processing and waste dumping that it entails. Ensuring energy security for industry requires undermining energy security for living beings (that’s us).

5.    Wind turbines and solar panels generate little, if any, net energy (energy returned on energy invested). The amount of energy used in the mining, manufacturing, research and development, transport, installation, maintenance and disposal of these technologies is almost as much—or in some cases more than—they ever produce. Renewables have been described as a laundering scheme: dirty energy goes in, clean energy comes out. (Although this is really beside the point, as no matter how much energy they generate, it doesn’t justify the destruction of the living world.)

6.    Renewable energy subsidies take taxpayer money and give it directly to corporations. Investing in renewables is highly profitable. General Electric, BP, Samsung, and Mitsubishi all profit from renewables, and invest these profits in their other business activities. When environmentalists accept the word of corporations on what is good for the environment, something has gone seriously wrong.

7.    More renewables doesn’t mean less conventional power, or less carbon emissions. It just means more power is being generated overall. Very few coal and gas plants have been taken off line as a result of renewables.

8.    Only 20% of energy used globally is in the form of electricity. The rest is oil and gas. Even if all the world’s electricity could be produced without carbon emissions (which it can’t), it would only reduce total emissions by 20%. And even that would have little impact, as the amount of energy being used globally is increasing exponentially.

9.    Solar panels and wind turbines last around 20-30 years, then need to be disposed of and replaced. The production process, of extracting, polluting, and exploiting, is not something that happens once, but is continuous and expanding.

10.    The emissions reductions that renewables intend to achieve could be easily accomplished by improving the efficiency of existing coal plants, at a much lower cost. This shows that the whole renewables industry is nothing but an exercise in profiteering with no benefits for anyone other than the investors.

Edit 27 June: Further Reading

http://theenergycollective.com/gail-tverberg/330446/ten-reasons-intermittent-renewables-wind-and-solar-pv-are-problem

http://thebulletin.org/myth-renewable-energy

http://docs.wind-watch.org/ProblemWithWind.pdf

Zehner, Ozzie, Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism http://www.greenillusions.org/

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-1350811/In-China-true-cost-Britains-clean-green-wind-power-experiment-Pollution-disastrous-scale.html#ixzz32e4D227e

Making rapid progress toward a crash

By the end of the century, the planet we live on will likely be uninhabitable by humans, mammals, and nearly all living things.  And yet nothing has been done to avert this disaster.  How is it that I never knew about this before?  Why is no-one talking about this?  This claim comes from the UK government chief scientist.  It was published in a prominent newspaper.  Is it just too much for people to comprehend, so we collectively ignore it?  Are our delusions so large that we cannot accept that we require a living planet?  Does this information just not fit in the conversations we have about the way we live?

I feel like I’m in a speeding car.  It’s only metres away from hitting a brick wall.  The driver has his foot full on the accelerator.  Maybe he doesn’t see the wall, or maybe he doesn’t want to see it.  Acceleration is the whole of his identity.  His identity is more important to him than his life.  In his world, speeding is all there is. In his world, speeding is what everyone wants, what everyone needs.  Solid walls that will destroy him, his car, and his passengers, cannot be seen.  The millions of living beings he’s running down with the car, they too cannot be seen.  Economic growth at all costs.

Next to him, the shotgun passenger is suggesting easing off the acceleration.  He sees the wall, but doesn’t understand the effect of hitting it at speed.  He can’t grasp that it’s a solid object.  He’s not suggesting slowing, or stopping, but continuing at a steady speed.  In his world, the wall might disappear into the distance, maybe it can be driven away with some new technology, or if we think about it differently.  Sustainability.  Steady state economy.

Behind him, another passenger sees the wall.  He knows we can’t continue at this speed.  He suggests slowing.  Degrowth.  Transition.  Energy descent.

I’m sitting behind the driver.  I can see that the only way to survive the crash is to stop as soon as possible.  A gentle deceleration will be too little, too late.  And even if it were a good idea, it would require convincing the driver, who refuses to hear.  Voices from the back seat are a threat to his identity.  I suggest we passengers kill him, and slam on the brakes. He’s clearly not going to stop the car himself, as he values his identity more than his life.  Resistance.

The other two are shocked.  You can’t stop the car, they say.  That would stop our progress.  How can you not want progress?  And you can’t kill him, they say.  He’ll lose control of the car.  And how dare you not be grateful to him for driving us all this way?

He’s driving us into a wall, I say.  He’s already out of control.  How can I be grateful? 

You can’t kill him, they say.  That would be violent.  You don’t want to be violent.

He’s killing all of us, and everyone in his path, I say.  If I kill him, I’m stopping the violence.  They don’t want to hear.  They don’t want to stop. 

I lean forward.  I put my hands around the driver’s throat.  I kill him.  I slam on the brakes.  The car jolts.  The brakes scream.  The windscreen shatters.

The crash is inevitable.  Some may survive.

 

 Image

Image credit  Top choice from an image search for “economic crash”.  There are a disturbing number of books with titles like “how you can profit from an economic crash”.

Climate change – some questions worth debating

The reason the climate debate isn’t getting anywhere is that it’s that the questions being debated don’t help us to understand and take effective action.

Here’s a few questions worth debating.

What are the underlying beliefs and values that lead us to engage in activities that cause climate change?

How can we change these values?

Is climate change worth debating at all?  Are there larger, more important and urgent issues that face our communities, that we need to focus on?  Is the climate change debate a distraction from what’s really going on around us?

Will reducing carbon emissions have any real effect on the earth’s climate, or does this strategy purely serve the purposes of political campaigning?

What are the benefits of a changing climate, to all life?

Is science a useful tool to try to understand climate change, or are there other ways to look at this issue, that would give us a different perspective? 

Is science being a bully, discrediting other views on the topic?

Should we allow politics and science to dictate how we understand and respond to climate change?

Who funds scientific research into climate change?  What are their interests?

Climate change is merely a symptom of the underlying disease of civilization.  Wouldn’t we do better to address the cause of the disease?  To treat only the symptoms will make the underlying condition worse.

If we accept the belief that carbon emissions from industry are causing climate change, then wouldn’t the obvious action be to stop all emissions immediately?  Any amount of emissions only accelerate the change in climate.  To allow this to continue, and merely reduce the amount of emissions, seems of so little value as to not be worth the effort.

Who benefits from the climate debate?

Who benefits from the renewables industry?  Is it people and Earth, or corporations and governments?

How does the manufacture and use of so-called renewables impact on human and natural communities?  I’m thinking of human health, pollution, inequality, pollution, water, forests, quality of life, biodiversity, extinctions, oppression, land degradation, justice, autonomy and all the other tangible and intangible effects that I’m not aware of.

Is generating electricity so that humans can live in comfort more important than the forests, rivers, farmland, and natural communities that are destroyed to make renewable energy in the name of mitigating climate change?

In the whole life-cycle of these technologies (solar, wind, geothermal), are they releasing more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere that the technologies they are intended to replace?  Life cycle includes research and development, extraction of materials from the Earth (oil, metals, water, and more), manufacture, transport, marketing, installation, maintenance, disposal. 

Can renewables ever truly replace conventional energy sources, or will they always be dependendent on the existing energy infrastructure?

Isn’t CO2 in the atmosphere good for plants?  Shouldn’t we just grow more plants to change atmospheric carbon levels, rather than reducing emissions?  Letting weeds grow and forests live seems like a lot less effort.

The Gaia hypothesis says that the Earth is a self-regulating organism.  By this logic climate change is a fever, a strategy to heal itself by making Earth inhospitable to the disease agent.  In this story the disease agent is most likely industrial civilization.  Would an appropriate response be to help the Earth to rid itself of this disease?

The manufacturing of solar panels releases a chemical called nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) into the atmosphere, which has 17 000 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.  Is shutting down the manufacture of solar cells on the agenda of climate change activists?

How many logical fallacies have I committed in asking these questions?

I don’t claim to have answers to any of these, and I’m sure many of them merely expose my ignorance of the issues.  I’m posing them because I find the climate change debate extremely boring, and since it doesn’t look like going away or moving forward (or moving anywhere), throwing a few questions into the melee is all I can offer.

 

Food Security: Mission Impossible

This article is a work-in-progress, still being researched and developed.  Feedback is welcome.  Feel free to leave a comment.

To achieve food security for everyone on the planet is an impossible goal, and any efforts in this direction will have the opposite effect, making the situation worse.

A lesson in population dynamics, Ecology 101.  The population of any species will increase as the food available to it increases.  As the food available decreases, the population decreases.  This means that a proportion of individuals in this population experiences a lack of food, and starve to death.

In terms of the current situation of human population and food availability: the more we try to provide enough food for everyone – the more food we make available – the more the population grows, and the more food is required to feed everyone.  Food security is a paradox.  Starvation is inevitable.

I recently read Nothing to Envy, by Barbara Demick.  It is a true story of living in famine conditions in North Korea in the 1990s.  It includes accounts of people experiencing starvation, and seeing people around them starve to death.

A kindergarten teacher sees her students arrive each day in a weaker state than the last, until they can’t lift their heads from the table.  After a few weeks they stop coming altogether.  She can’t bring herself to ask their parents what has happened.  She knows that they have died.  Her family has access to food through the black market, but to share with her students would be her own death.

A family spends a whole day to get to the countryside where there are pear orchards they might be able to raid, as there is no food available in the city.  So many people have come before them that they find only one pear, partly rotten.  They take it home and divide the edible part between them.

A woman sells what she can on the black market to buy food for her family.  It is not enough for them all, and over the course of a few months she sees her husband, her mother-in-law and her son die in the house.

Between 1994 and 1998, up to 3.5 million died of starvation in North Korea.

During the 1930s Depression, five thousand people died of starvation in Melbourne, Australia.  There are a lot more of us now, and the situation we are facing is a lot larger than an economic downturn.  We’re also a lot less prepared to deal with it.

A few of the issues facing the world food system:

  • Collapse of aquifers.  Once underground water has been extracted to the point that an aquifer is empty, it collapses and can never be restored.  A large percentage of global agriculture is currently dependent on harvesting water from aquifers at a faster rate than can be replenished.
  • Peak oil.
  • Peak nutrients.
  • Land availability.  Land grabs by corporations and governments, meaning farmland is not available to small-scale farmers.
  • Land degradation.  Soil loss and erosion.  Land is becoming less viable for farming.
  • Climate change.
  • Climate chaos: extreme weather events causing crop losses.
  • Decreased pest resistance in crops that are grown in industrial monocultures.
  • Collapse of honeybee populations.  Honeybees are essential to pollinate almost all food plants.
  • Corporate control of food production and distribution systems.
  • Large-scale, centralised food system vulnerable to shocks and interruptions.
  • Loss of diversity of food plants and animals.
  • Loss of skills in food production, preserving and preparation.
  • No new farmers.  Existing farmers are aging, and very few of the next generation are taking up farming as a career.
  • Urban sprawl taking over valuable farmland.
  • Exponential population growth, requiring an ever-increasing amount of food to be produced to feed everyone -> more land to be given over to farmland -> loss of wilderness areas -> climate change, species loss and loss of soil fertility -> existing farmland becomes less viable.
  • Waste.  Around half of all food produced is wasted.
  • Lack of awareness of these issues in the general population.

Any one of these issues on its own can cause a food crisis.  All of them together, and all of them becoming increasingly present, seem unlikely to be understood and overcome in time to prevent a global famine on a massive scale.

I’ve listed 18 separate issues here, all are interconnected.  Most current approaches to these issues address them separately, and actions taken often have disastrous effects elsewhere, leading us further along the path of collapse.

Conclusion:  Enjoy the food you have.  It won’t last long.

Thoughts on being hopeful, positive and in denial:

Any actions taken can only have a tiny impact, given the scale of the situation.

The most general definition of food security is “there is enough for everyone to eat.”  The term food insecurity is occasionally mentioned, but I’ve never heard any acknowledgement that this means “there is not enough for everyone to eat, so some people starve.”

I feel that we are better placed to address these issues if we understand and accept what we are facing.

This article brings together the ideas presented in two books that I am partway through reading: The Coming Famine by Julian Cribb, and If They Give You Lined Paper, Write Sideways, by Daniel Quinn.  And another one that I finished reading, called Nothing to Envy, by Barbara Demick.