Friday, August 30, 2019

Why We Won't Sufficate

...even if the entire rainforest burns down:

Hank Green explains it here in just four minutes:

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Mann's Madhouse Effect

Michael Mann recently tweeted this:

It's dumb luck that I chanced to do just that!  (Thoughts on Wallace-Wells here.)

This book a comprehensive exploration of the issues mixed with clear examples and Tom Toles's cartoons. It could easily be used as a climate change primer in a high school or middle school, and it comes with an index and lots of useful endnotes too!

Mann clarifies the problem of which, by now, we're all painful aware:
"This is the madhouse of the climate debate. We have followed Alice through the looking glass. White roses here are painted red, and words suddenly mean something different from what they used to mean. The very language of science itself, of 'skepticism' and 'evidence,' is used in a way opposite of how science really employs it.  Not everyone wants the facts to be known. We have run squarely into what Upton Sinclair famously warned us about: 'It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it'" (xi).

Monday, August 26, 2019

Nathaniel Rich's Losing Earth

This is a quick read outlining the history of the efforts to do something to slow down fossil fuel use. Everything we know now about climate change, pretty much, we knew with great certainty forty years ago, in 1979. "The climate scientist James Hansen has called a 2-degree warming 'a prescription for long-term disaster. Long-term disaster is now the best-case scenario. A 3-degree warming, on the other hand, is a prescription for short-term disaster" (4). 5 degrees will bring the fall of human civilization. "The Red Cross estimates that already more refugees flee environmental crises than violent conflict" (4). We had a great chance to fix it all between 1979 and 1989, but we didn't take it.


"The common explanation today concerns the depredations of the fossil fuel industry, which in recent decades has committed to playing the role of villain which comic-book bravado" (6). But the fossil fuel industry was actually on board for a time. There are a whole lot of names and dates to keep straight below (I bolded the important ones), and the book, curiously, has NO index or footnotes! Rich wrote it as a compelling story, but I digest it better chronologically:

On Maintaining Firm Categories: Do Labels Matter?

This link about people on the spectrum came to my FB feed as "Sponsored Content," so I'm wary at the get go, but they present this argument to be addressed: "Autism is a neurological difference in processing, and simply having a collection of traits or quirks without this difference in processing does not make someone autistic." They argue that "there does need to be some clarity, to get away from the ‘We’re all a little bit autistic aren’t we…’ phrase."

My position: But, why?

And, right before that came one of ContraPoint's latest video in which Natalie's characters argue about who counts as trans with a gender dysphoria anti-trender argument countered by a more fluid gender performativity stance.

I'm going to mesh the issues together here because of some similar arguments. I lean towards 'why does it matter?'. Whether someone's got dysphoria or is trending, it takes minimal energy to use whatever pronouns they asked to be used (while, of course, forgiving the forgetful who mean well). What's the harm in letting people try on the other gender or non-gender to see if it fits better? What's the benefit of doing brain scans on people to get some illusion of certainty about how people feel instead of just trusting how they say they feel? Similarly, who is harmed when people acknowledge their struggles with adhering to behavioural norms by latching on to a recognizable diagnosis? With ASD or ADHD or any other checkbox of symptoms that we've rolling into together under a label, why is it important to delineate who is in and who must stay out via an often expensive and sometimes questionable process? When one of my kids was diagnosed (incorrectly, I believe), the very reputable psychometrist badgered me to find that one thing they're obsessed with when one didn't immediately come to mind. Curious.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Plague of Climate Change

I just finished Camus's compelling read, The Plague. It's a parable provoked by the Nazi Occupation, but also about general occupation, oppression, and isolation. It's about resistance to incomprehensible evil and what it looks like to be a good person. But, it's striking how well what much of he says fits with climate change, so I'm going to summarize it here by exchanging the words "the plague" with "climate change," "scientist" for "doctor," and "temperature" for "death-rate." I'm also changing "man" to "person" just to equity it up a bit. Consider "pestilence" as "troubles," but I'll leave that as is. Let's see how this goes and if there are lessons to be learned!

The gist: The story follows a doctor, Bernard Rieux, who's an atheist and our narrator. His wife was sent away to recover from an illness before the plague hit. He misses her (a bit), but spends 20 hours a day helping the town. We meet all his varied associates and patients as a walled-off town copes with the sudden spreading of disease that seems as if it will never end. This is an extremely abridged version of a book 272 pages long (Stuart Gilbert translation). Some important characters, all remarkably benevolent seen from Camus's perspective, include a criminal who benefits from the chaos caused by the troubles, a priest trying to guide the masses, and a lover who's desperate to find a way to travel to see his girlfriend despite the new laws forbidding it. There's also a writer unable to find any words and a dear friend that are integral to the story but less vital to this bastardization of it:

Friday, August 23, 2019

Hannah Arendt's On Violence

Unfortunately, this is really timely.

Arendt wrote this short book in 1970, but there's nothing in it that needs to be updated today. Absolutely nothing significant has changed; it's just more. She was responding to the violence of WWII, Vietnam, the student riots in Paris, and, most specifically, the People's Park protests in Berkeley, where she was teaching at the time as students attempted "transforming an empty university-owned lot into a 'People's Park'." Sheldon Wolin and John Schaar wrote about how the event unleashed an unnecessarily strong police backlash:
"A rock was thrown from a roof-top and, without warning, police fired into a group on the roof of an adjacent building. Two persons were struck in the face by the police fire, another was blinded, probably permanently, and a fourth, twenty-five-year-old James Rector, later died. Before the day was over, at least thirty others were wounded by police gunfire, and many more by clubs. . . . Tear gas enfolded the main part of the campus and drifted into many of its buildings, as well as into the surrounding city. Nearby streets were littered with broken glass and rubble. At least six buckshot slugs entered the main library and three 38 calibre bullets lodged in the wall of a reference room in the same building. Before the day ended, more than ninety people had been injured by police guns and clubs."
That was on May 15, 1969, known as "Bloody Thursday." The Kent State shootings in Ohio were almost exactly one year later. Arendt tries to make sense of it all through a look at the changing view of violence in society.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

We Don't Need a Scientist; We Need a Priest

PhilosophyTube is one of my favourite channels for in-depth analysis of issues in a philosophical and comedic yet profoundly heartfelt manner. Today Ollie tackled "Climate Grief" by working through the stages of grief. It's curious how similar it is to my previous post: "Seven Shades of Green."

In brief:

1. Despair (Non-Green and Light Green) - We run an increased risk of anxiety and depression when we hear there's nothing being done about climate change. We can't get our heads around climate change because of the "Non-Identity Problem." In a nutshell, climate change is a bad thing for future people, many of whom don't exist yet. Timothy Morton says climate change is an example of a hyperobject: it's real, but we can't see the whole thing at one - like five blind men describing an elephant, or like grief. It's like asking where the university is while being shown around each building. It's hard to grasp something so all encompassing. We're in the mess we're in due to thinking of the environment as separate from ourselves. Instead we have to think of climate change as an object we're inside of.

2. Denial (Shiny Green) - This is the tech fix. We expected to have all our problems solved by technology by now, or at least be on our way to Mars. Moore's Law, the idea that tech doubles in capacity at half the price every two years, isn't a law at all. It's a myth that help tech companies profit. The reality is that there is no solution to climate change that doesn't also include solving labour rights issues. The solution must turn over the entire capitalist system because it's colonialism and profit motives that got us here in the first place.

3. Bargaining (Emerald Green) - Ollie does a great job of summarizing the Standing Rock event. In January 2018, the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) route was going to be close to Bismarck, so it was rerouted to avoid it due to concerns with 200 leaks in the previous six years. Instead they decided to send it through unceded indigenous land. This led to a huge occupied protest. At Standing Rock, protesters tried a new way of sustainable living where everyone got free shelter and food with minimal impact to the land. It was an attempt to create a brand new world. Obama said we need to wait a bit to figure it all out, but the military, which was hired by the oil company, responded with violence - chemical weapons and dog attacks.

The military, gun control, overfishing, and climate change, is all one big problem. Indigenous authors have talked about this already. Nick Estes says that indigenous peoples are already living in a post-apocalyptic world. We have different attitudes to the land that has to be addressed: Abrahamic tribes mark sacred land that was involved in a specific event, like Mecca. But indigenous groups see land as sacred because "there's a piece of me in that land and a piece of that land in me." The land and people are enmeshed, and they're already living this philosophy. Extinction Rebellion has been cagey about linking climate change and police brutality, but the indigenous at Standing Rock are clear that the police enforced a set of values that aligned themselves with the oil company. They didn't wait for Obama to figure it all out.

4. Acceptance (Muted Deep Green, Deep Green, and Dark Green) - The idea of climate despair speaks to the notion that there's nothing we can do anymore. The apocalypse is coming. Jem Bendell's Deep Adaptation starts with the assumption that society is going to collapse. The controversy around this idea is whether or not it helps the cause to spread despair. Ollie appreciates that it allows us to experience grief over what's happening in the world - that leaders at Exxon, BP, and the North Dakota government should face justice, but won't.

We need to acknowledge the tragedy of the way things are right now, acknowledge that things suck. One advantage of facing grief is that once we recognize that everything is part and parcel of one big problem, then we have a lot more allies to work with. Another benefit is that confronting the possibility of the world ending, as we know it, offers us a chance to ask what were the good bits. We need to dwell in gratitude for what we've had as we take our leave from it.

But "apocalypse" doesn't mean end of the world. It means, literally, a revealing of knowledge. Can we learn from this before it's too late?

Friday, August 16, 2019

Seven Shades of Green

I'm trying to sort out all the solutions to the current and ongoing climate catastrophe. This is all getting very complicated, and I'm not sure I completely have my head around who's who and which organization is promoting what, so this is just a partially completed overview of current ideology around climate change. I've listed the shades from the least immediately painful solutions (possibly ineffective in the long run) to the most dramatic solutions (and possibly, but not necessarily, the most effective - certainly the most impactful, though).

(but not commie-red)

The Cons's Joe Oliver thinks climate change will be good for Canada, and Trudeau wants to expand oil extraction to fund clean energy projects.

Concerns: Ya.... nope. This is not remotely green.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The 1619 Project

From the opening:
"The 1619 Project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are."
I don't love the navigation layout wherein stories interrupt other stories so you have to remember to go back to read that:

And, when I click on "Read More," nothing happens! And then you have to find the beginning of it all again to read other essays, which takes ages to load on my old mac. Why not one title page with links appearing at the very beginning of it all and again at the end of each article? It's probably just me, so anyway...

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Giant Hamster Wheel of Political Rhetoric

I really believe that the arts are vital in times of strife, and that's particularly true with witty orators and writers. They are the court jesters who get away with more than the rest of us can, and they're necessary to any rebellion. So I appreciate how Anthony Jeselnik discusses politics at the end of this conversation with Colin Quinn (at 53:53 min.):

He talks about deciding not to use a prepared joke about a shooting in the wake of a recent shooting:
"I don't want anyone to think I'm on that side. . . . even though I like playing with that side. . . . People go, 'You joke about the things we're all thinking but can't say.' No, I'm not. . . . I do not pander to that crowd. . . . I'm not more careful, I'm just more conscious about what I represent. . . . I want people to be scared of me, but I also want to be able to do good and be the kind of villain that other villains don't want to fuck with."

I think that's the kind of attitude we need, not just in comedy, but in politics. I think of all the Dems running, really only Bernie has that no bullshit stance. He spoke to Joe Rogan recently about the soundbite non-debate method used in the primaries, gun control, medicare, climate change, etc.:

Friday, August 9, 2019

IPCC - On Land Use

The most recent IPCC special report is on "desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems". The video at Lorne's post does a nice summary, and Climate and Capitalism has a thorough run-down, but Mound's has more flavour to it. GlobalEcoGuy has some good graphs as well as commentary: "Imagine that: Electricity generation and land us and agriculture are basically equal in terms of their global impact on climate change, yet addressing emissions from electricity gets far more attention and funding."

But although it suggests we have to reduce meat consumption and production, in the Guardian, George Monbiot critiqued the report as irresponsibly understating "the true carbon cost of our meat and dairy habits." The problem is in how the report calculates the land use. They've added up the impact of tractors and fertilizer and so on, but a study in Nature, instead, compares the land used for cattle to land that could be forested to show a much more dire result: "One kilo of beef protein has a carbon opportunity cost of 1,250kg: that, incredibly, is roughly equal to driving a new car for a year, or to one passenger flying from London to New York and back."
"If our grazing land was allowed to revert to natural ecosystems, and the land currently used to grow feed for livestock was used for grains, beans, fruit, nuts and vegetables for humans, this switch would allow the UK to absorb an astonishing quantity of carbon. This would be equivalent, altogether, the paper estimates, to absorbing nine years of our total current emissions. And farming in this country could then feed everyone, without the need for imports."
That actually sounds hopeful, except I'm losing faith in anybody actually sacrificing anything in their lives, particularly steak.

BUT, in other land-related news, in Australia, the government bought up an entire suburb and returned the land to little penguins that lived there. This is the ultimate in rewilding. The population of penguins has almost tripled since. Imagine if we were required to keep a certain percentage of our land 'wild' and completely uncommodifiable!

Planet of the Humans Coming Film Release

ETA: Here's my actual film review after sitting through it all!

Jeff Gibbs, a close associate of Michael Moore, has directed a new doc about the problems with green solutions to climate change. The doc isn't out yet, but the promotional material suggests it will reveal how solar panels and electric cars are making the situation worse. So NOW what do we do??

There's still cutting back on (or eliminating) beef in our diets. George Monbiot says we need to eat what uses the least land resources possible, and beef uses the most. It doesn't appear that the new film debunks that one.

Based on articles about the film, they take down Bill McKibben for supporting biomass and other environmental groups for getting in bed with corporations. They use as a deterrent to renewables the fact that the Koch brothers are making money off them. But they would be idiots not to invest in all sides of energy, so that's not remotely a good argument. A tie to a corporation isn't necessarily a problem for the earth.

CounterPunch reports (it's really weirdly written) that they say,
"Forget all you have heard about how “Renewable Energy” is our salvation. It is all a myth that is very lucrative for some. Feel-good stuff like electric cars, etc."
They report that all renewable energy sources use fossil fuels in their production: "none of these could exist without fossil fuels". I don't think that's a surprise for anyone. The idea of using solar panels was never to eliminate all fossil fuel use, but to dramatically decrease its use. I'm not sure if they present information that suggests using solar panels is just as bad as burning coal for energy, but the sound bites are making that implication. I've been praising renewables all these years for having less impact from cradle to grave, not zero impact. I look forward to seeing the film (and scrutinizing their sources) to see if I need to change paths.

Non-Fiction Film offers a clearer look at what the film suggests,
The ultimate problem is that there are too many people consuming too much. . . . Gibbs sees climate change as symptomatic of a larger problem - overpopulation and consumption of Earth's resources. . . . putative solutions to our global environmental dilemma, such as switching to renewable sources of energy, building more wind farms and electric cars, offer false hope. . . . the development of "alternative energy" sources like wind, solar and biomass has not, in fact, led to a reduction in consumption of fossil fuels. "Building out an electric car and solar and wind infrastructure and the biomass, biofuel infrastructure, is going to run us off the cliff faster," Gibbs declares. "Because it's an additional round of mining and destruction that does not replace the one [fossil fuels] that's already destroying the planet!" . . . "Environmental groups have been collaborating on the lie of growth by helping us pretend that there will be 'green growth.' As if you can have wealth or stuff that doesn't destroy the planet. News flash: that's an impossibility of physics and biology," the director tells me. "There is nothing you will ever have in your life that's not an extraction from the planet earth. And so we've all lost touch with that."

To avoid the potential extinction of the human species, Gibbs believes nothing short of a radical reordering of perspective is needed. "There are too many people consuming too much for a finite planet to support. Infinite economic growth is suicide," he remarks. "We must take back the environmental movement from the corporate interests that have taken it over and we must convene and begin to plan how we're going to humanely, lovingly, sustainably re-vision how we live." . . . "Why don't we provide family planning to everyone in the world? That's not even on the environmental agenda," he states. "Why aren't we sharing our resources here with those people that don't have enough so they don't have to chop down a tree to live?... We need to change the laws in this country and the world so that corporations are not allowed to be addicted to infinite growth. We run the planet, there's no reason they should be allowed to do whatever they want." . . . if you were really worried about climate change you'd be demanding that we have an interstate bus system and an interstate rail system that would plummet our carbon footprint, not more individual electric cars."
I completely agree with population reduction and with the end of growth. We need to buy less and expect individual transportation to be a thing of the past, for sure. And I'm not sure if we will ever do that. GHGs rise every year despite all we try to do to slow it down.

There's a poignant bit at Doom for DummiesGail Zawacki writes,
"There is a man who lives on the other side of my village (it is said) who one day, setting out for errands, inadvertently ran over his child as he backed out of the driveway. Ever since I heard this tragic tale, I have thought I can imagine the moment that, thunderstruck with horror and frozen in disbelief, he gazed upon that little mangled body. I think I know the ferocious dread that overcame him when first he realized that the car of which he was so proudly enamored - that quintessential symbol of success, the pinnacle of modern technology and shiny avatar of individual freedom - was the very same mighty instrument of folly that had literally crushed the one thing most important to him - his progeny, his future. 
I suffer his tumultuous and inconsolable grief because that is how I greet every new day since abruptly I came to understand that the splendid, intricate, exquisitely entwined tapestry of life is unraveling."
This bit from Atwood's Oryx and Crake also fits nicely:
 “As a species we’re doomed by hope, then?” By hope? Well, yes. Hope drives us to invent new fixes for old messes, which in turn create ever more dangerous messes. Hope elects the politician with the biggest empty promise; and as any stockbroker or lottery seller knows, most of us will take a slim hope over prudent and predictable frugality. Hope, like greed, fuels the engine of capitalism."

h/t Gail

ETA: Here's my actual film review after sitting through it all.