Monday, October 8, 2018

Can We Turn This Corner?

September is always a busy month for me, and typically I don't get the luxury of reading the news significantly, but this time was different. It's been a car crash that I just can't stop looking at. When the Charter was first developed in Canada, largely a spin off of the UN's Declaration of Human Rights, it seemed like we turned a corner with respect to human rights. It seemed like we were on a linear progression that would, bit by bit, get better and better. For sure there would be times it would slip back and have to be propped up again, keeping the quest for free speech at the expense of individual rights at bay, but I didn't expect it to be dismissed. And then, next door, we came to the harsh conclusion that they believed a woman's depiction of sexual assault, but they Just. Don't. Care.


Conservatives are winning elections everywhere, but not the normal types of fiscal conservatives that just want to lower taxes so we can benefit from a bit more cash in our pockets, but hateful, discriminatory radical right wingnuts who hang out with white nationalists or want to ban religious symbols for public servants or so much worse, like Brazil's Bolsonaro whose solution to poverty is to allow police to indiscriminately murder suspected criminals.

A B.C. teacher was called to the carpet to justify a civics survey (likely abridged from The Political Compass, which I also use) because the survey associated the right wing end of the spectrum with racism. The school board has assured the parent that the worksheet won't be used again because, of course, racism comes in all kind of boxes. But that's true of everything that we look at to deduce where we are on the political spectrum. Is it just a stereotype that the far right have a prejudicial agenda, or is that a legitimate claim? At least one set of studies suggests there's a correlation between conservative values and discriminating attitudes. Isn't it becoming clear from recent events that voting conservative is more likely to result in more overtly discriminatory policies on the books, or did I just imagine that? And, are we not allowed to make this connection in a classroom? Of course not all conservatives are prejudiced, but if MPs and MPPs continue to follow the party line, and their leader is racist, then that reflects on the entire party.

BUT none of that seems to matter nearly as much as climate change. Well, actually, it all really, really matters because, as I've said over and over here, we have to commit to a path of profound and intentional compassion if we're going to make it through the next few decades without slaughtering each other. It also matters because that same side of the political spectrum also generally wants to ignore climate change. Again, that's not to say everyone on the right thinks we should keep burning coal instead of investing in solar, wind, and tidal power, but, in general, that's the attitude of the parties in question. Ontario ministries are banned from using the term 'climate change,' Québec is looking at fewer environmental oversights, and Bolsonaro plans to withdraw from the Paris accord. And, according to one reporter, Trump has entered "stage 5 climate denial" - the "it's too late" stage.

Another IPCC report is out that suggests we really ought to do something about all this. We've got 12 years to cut our emissions by half if we want to have any hope of slowing this down. Here's the report, and here's an explanation on the scope and process of the report. The next one comes out in 2021. And here's a history of climate change science since 1824.

ETA: Naomi Klein expressed the gist of this long-winded post in a brief tweet:

A New York Times climate reporter says the IPCC report,
"paints a far more dire picture of the immediate consequences of climate change than previously thought and says that avoiding the damage requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that has 'no documented historic precedent.' . . . The report . . . describes a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs. Previous work had focused on estimating the damage if average temperatures were to rise by [2℃] . . . The new report, however, shows that many of those effects will come much sooner, at the [1.5℃] mark. . . . the report says that heavy taxes or prices on carbon dioxide emissions . . . would be required. But such a move would be almost politically impossible in the United States, the world's largest economy and second-largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China. . . . President Trump, who has mocked the science of human-caused climate change, has vowed to increase the burning of coal and said he intends to withdraw from the Paris agreement."
"The report makes it clear: There is no way to mitigate climate change without getting rid of coal." But the World Coal Association plan to "continue to see a role for coal in the foreseeable future."

This raises the question about the ethics and feasibility of corporations self-regulating themselves out of business - specifically including these 100 companies. We're not at a place in our embracing of ethics to actually stop harmful actions that come with huge personal rewards. Which airline or factory farm is going to willingly close their doors? Trump's statement say, specifically: "We reiterate that the United States intends to withdraw from the Paris agreement at the earliest opportunity absent the identification of terms that are better for the American people." But what's better for the American people is what's better for us all: the ability to continue to survive into the future. Preventing warming will also help reduce migration into the states. His focus is too short term. Obviously.

The BBC says,
"Scientists might want to write in capital letters, 'ACT NOW, IDIOTS,' but they need to say that with facts and numbers . . . And they have. . . . The report says there must be rapid and significant changes in four big global systems: energy, land use, cities, industry. But it adds that the world cannot meet its target without changes by individuals, urging people to: buy less meat, milk, cheese and butter and more locally sourced seasonal food - and throw less of it away .  . . use videoconferencing instead of business travel . . . insulate homes, demand low carbon in every consumer product. . . . You might say you don't have control over land use, but you do have control over what you eat and that determines land use. . . . the report's 'pathways' for keeping a lid on temperatures all mean that hard decisions cannot be delayed. . . . Ultimately, politicians will face a difficult choice: persuade their voters that the revolutionary change outlined in the report is urgently needed or ignore it and say the scientists have got it wrong. . . . If the nations of the world don't act soon, they will have to rely even more on unproven technologies to take carbon out of the air - an expensive and uncertain road."
According to Nature, here are those numbers:
"Limiting global warming to 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels would be a herculean task, involving rapid, dramatic changes in the way that government, industries and societies function. . . . The world would have to curb its carbon emissions by at least 49% of 2017 levels by 2030 and then achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. . . . Scientists have 'high confidence' that 1.5℃ of warming would result in more severe heat waves on land. . . . Temperatures on extreme hot days in mid-latitudes could increase by 3℃ [5.4℉]. . . . Two degrees of warming could destroy around 13% of the world's land ecosystems, increasing the risk of extinction for many insects, plants and animals. Holding warming to 1.5℃ would reduce that risk by half. . . . Without aggressive action, the world could become an almost impossible place to live for most people . . . As we go toward the end of the century, we have to get this right."
At the current rate, if we don't make any changes, we could expect to reach the 1.5℃ mark in about a dozen years at the earliest, which is actually a few years longer than originally estimated, so there's that silver lining.
"Many scientists have argued that meeting even the 2℃ goal is virtually impossible. But the IPCC report sidestepped questions of feasibility and focused instead of determining what government, businesses and individuals would need to do to meet the 1.5℃ goal. These include ramping up installation of low-carbon energy systems such as wind and solar . . . and expanding forests to increase their capacity to pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. . . . Other proposed options involve changing lifestyles: eating less meat, riding bicycles, and flying less."
Greenpeace executives commented,
"The world is on fire. In order to avoid more of these tragic fires, severe storms and loss of life, the world must halve global emissions in the next decade. This is a huge challenge, but is is doable and the costs of not following the right path are a matter of life and death to millions around the world, particularly the vulnerable. . . . What matters now is that we decide to try and that we make it our absolute priority. . . . Those who say it's unrealistic are actually telling us to give up on people, to give up on species . . . We do not give up on human ingenuity, courage or hope against political apathy and corporate greed. We will never give up on us."
In the New York Times, "Why Half a Degree of Global Warming is a Big Deal" graphs some of the differences between a 1.5 and 2℃ change, like ten times the chance of no sea ice in the Arctic, over a third of the world's population affected by extreme heat, and coral reefs mostly disappearing.

The Guardian tries to take a more positive spin, that we can limit warming to 1.5 C with political will. Figueres says, "Most striking to me, therefore, is the fact that the determinants of whether we head for 2C or for 1.5C are mainly political; they are not technical or economic." We've been saying this for a long time now, "We have the technology, we just have to put it in place," and it's still true, but it just feels so incredibly unlikely given the current sway in voting. I'm not sure it matters that "the price of large-scale solar and wind energy has fallen" when the elites have put all their money in oil. However, perhaps my pessimism is a result of location, since, "China, India and the EU appear to be ahead of their Paris targets."

Except, George Monbiot, on the other side of the pond, is also not entirely convinced of a rosy future.
"We can now leave fossil fuels in the ground and thwart climate breakdown. . . . So how come oil production, for the first time in history, is about to hit 100m barrels a day? . . . How is it that in Germany, whose energy transition was supposed to be a model for the world, protesters are being beaten up by police as they try to defend the 12,000-year-old Hambacher forest from an opencast min extracting lignite - the dirtiest form of coal? Why have investments in Canadian tar sands - the dirtiest source of oil - doubled in a year? The answer is, growth. . . . It doesn't matter how many good things we do: preventing climate breakdown means ceasing to do bad things. Given that economic growth, in nations that are already rich enough to meet the needs of all, requires an increase in pointless consumption, it is hard so see how it can ever be decoupled from the assault on the living planet. . . . Clean growth is as much of an oxymoron as clean coal. But making this obvious statement in public life is treated as political suicide."
He concedes that New Zealand is starting to make the change away from a growth model, and warns that we all play a part in this,
"No politician can act without support. If we want political parties to address these issues, we too must start addressing them. We cannot rely on the media to do it for us. . . . A crucial factor in the remarkable shift in attitudes towards LGBT people was the determination of activists to break the silence. They overcame social embarrassment to broach issues that other people found uncomfortable. We need . . . to do the same for climate breakdown. . . . Let's create the political space in which well-intentioned parties can act. Let us talk a better world into being."
Well, we can only try.


The Mound of Sound said...

We've painted ourselves into a corner, Marie. We've been doing that, at first inadvertently, since the mid-70s and recklessly since at least the 90s. As we close out the second decade of this new millennia, we face a predicament largely of our own choice in the making. And now, for our dereliction, the price we pay to do anything, something meaningful for future generations has grown massively.

The emergency prescription - cut emissions 45% in just twelve years - sounds simple enough. We can do it, we're told. We might be able to do it if only we had the willingness and courage to pay the price and bear the sacrifices but we're as cowardly as we are self-interested.

I will believe that we have a hope, even a slim chance, of achieving the 1.5C target when Trudeau abandons that pipeline and shuts down the Tar Sands. Neither is going to happen.

Two weeks ago OPEC issued a report that foresees a bright future for all fossil fuels, including thermal coal, for decades to come. Last year the International Energy Agency's "World Energy Outlook, 2017" predicted a 30% growth in fossil fuels by 2040.

Twelve years. It's the blink of an eye in matters governmental. A 45% decrease in GHG emissions. A truly Herculean chore but there is no Hercules, only milquetoasts like our own prime minister.

For well more than a decade I've been watching these jarring reports, one on the heels of another, take the same course. They're news for a day or two and then it's straight down the Memory Hole.

They'll be lightfooted enough when the next climate summit opens this December in Katowice, Poland. They'll do a lively dance as they skirt the real issues, smothering us in empty assurances and promising great things that they have no intention of fulfilling.

Marie Snyder said...

Yup, just the smallest glimmer of hope peeking out, keeping me from giving up entirely.