Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Remember Climate Change?

We have a strong survival instinct that has us focus on immediate dangers at the expense of potential long term dangers. So we've been immersed in trying to solve Covid19 issues and BLM issues to stop people from dying right in front of us, and I've been rambling on about masks and policing. But, looming in the background still on the same disastrous trajectory, climate change needs our immediate attention.

Australian climate scientist, Will Steffen, says that it could take 30 years to get to net zero emissions, and we'll trigger feedback loops well before then. Nine of the 15 global trigger elements have already been activated. In this thorough Voice of Action article, Steffen explains,
“Given the momentum in both the Earth and human systems, and the growing difference between the ‘reaction time’ needed to steer humanity towards a more sustainable future, and the ‘intervention time’ left to avert a range of catastrophes in both the physical climate system (e.g., melting of Arctic sea ice) and the biosphere (e.g., loss of the Great Barrier Reef), we are already deep into the trajectory towards collapse. That is, the intervention time we have left has, in many cases, shrunk to levels that are shorter than the time it would take to transition to a more sustainable system."
There is "now scientific support for declaring a state of planetary emergency."

I'm dubious we'll act fast enough, though. We knew by the end of March that masks actually stop the spread of Covid19, but it's only in mid-July, that my city council is planning to discuss and vote on whether or not to make them mandatory. Toronto just voted in favour of mandatory masks in public yesterday. In Ontario, Quebec, and most of the U.S., we are not known for taking quick action that will clearly save lives. We like to wait until ... what?? What the f*ck are we waiting for?? I went to sign my kid up for driver's training today, and there were four people in a tiny office, other parents signing up their kids, with nobody masked, so I told them from the doorway that I'll take my business elsewhere.

If we can't get people to wear masks in public places, then I have little hope that we'll get them to ditch their cars and bar fridges or turn off the A/C or stop buying every little thing they think they need or convince the government to re-regulate corporations despite the cash flow from lobbyists. Grown adults are pitching fits in public places when asked to do something as minor as cover their face when indoors. We are truly too stupid to live.

We might be able to stay under two degrees with urgent action. If we can't, then it's predicted by Hans Schellnhuber, that about seven billion of us will die from flooding, drought, famine, and unbearable heat. "There will be a rich minority of people who survive with modern lifestyles, no doubt, but it will be a turbulent, conflict-ridden world." To keep emissions below that magical two degree point means cutting current emissions IN HALF.

Some scientists blame the neoliberal economic system that turned us into mass consumerists with a "religion built not around eternal life but around eternal growth. It is becoming abundantly clear that this system is incompatible with a well-functioning Earth System at the planetary level." Over a decade ago, Tim Jackson published Prosperity without Growth to show that endless growth doesn't improve our well-being. It would have been really handy if we had paid attention! Now we're hitting the wall that follows the quest for endless growth on a finite planet. We'll know before this decade is over if we're on the road to ruin and have closed the door to any chance at saving ourselves.

The scientists say signs of imminent collapse will show up as,
"overall deterioration in many features of life, with regional collapses occurring here and there . . . decades of ongoing crises . . . explosions of civil unrest increasingly as things continue to deteriorate. . . .  As economies deteriorate and as inequalities deepen, more people get disenfranchised, incentivising resistance and sadly sometimes making people look for scapegoats to blame. . . . The future will be post-growth / post capitalist / post-industrial in some form. . . . Our challenge is to try to constitute the future through planning and community action, not have the future constitute us."
And now funding is drying up for this type of research, particularly in articles that attack the capitalist paradigm (like Graham Turner's work).

It's never too late to act sensibly, though. And, as Chris Hedges says, instead of holding out hope, we really just need to, individually, make sure we're doing the right thing at ever turn, which includes fighting to provoke governments to craft sustainable policies through "acts of human solidarity." Steffan says, "fundamental changes are required, all the way down to core values - what do we really value in life?" Turner's practical solutions include a rewrite of the Corporations Act so companies aren't compelled to make profits for shareholders, and then establishing 100% renewable energy, doubling efficiencies in every sector, halving the work week and household consumption, and halving the birth rate.

I know that last point on population shuts down the conversation for some environmentalists who think we can still have unfettered population growth. I support reproductive freedoms, but not at the expense of our children's very survival. That just doesn't make sense. Turner fears that we won't do anything until we see our own children suffering in front of our eyes, which is far too late. I'm terrified that he's right.

All of these solutions will reduce some freedoms we currently enjoy. So, do we want to live fast and die young? Or are we ready to grow up and face some necessary restrictions in order to eke out a few more generations? Turner says, "If we all manage to live a simpler and arguably more fulfilling life then it would be possible still with some technological advances to have a sustainable future."

This virus might shake up the system enough that we can change the rules in a way that focuses on people, not profits. We're also learning, in a very concrete way, that we don't see the effect of our actions today until two weeks' time, which is a vital lesson to learn. With the climate, the lag time is even longer, so reports that our current lockdown are having no effect might be misrepresenting the true effect of staying home. Maybe this virus will be the kickstart we need to fix the system.


ETA: Another article suggesting we can improve things for ourselves if we get our asses in gear!
"The current trajectory we are on is both utterly devastating, and utterly avoidable. . . . If we change our energy, consumption and production systems, to focus on sufficiency and decent living standards, we can both reduce our demand for energy while decarbonising our supply. If we change our diets to become plant-based, we can stop deforestation and remove a major source of methane and nitrous oxides, two potent greenhouse gases, as well as providing healthy and nutritious food to all. There is no historical evidence that we need fossil fuels to thrive, and looking into the future, we need to eliminate them to survive. . . . The main obstacles to our maintaining a planet on which the human species can thrive have names . . . : scientific positivism (the overcautious nature of current scientific communication) and market fundamentalism (the belief in markets-above-all enshrined in neoclassical economics and neoliberal policy). . . . This means that to avoid disaster, we must confront capitalism. . . . It takes the determination to become as revolutionary as we can. Comfort and security are the past, if you ever had them. Many people never did."


The Disaffected Lib said...

Happy Canada Day, Marie. For the better part of two decades I've tried to puzzle out this thing we call climate change. It is indeed a global crisis but that is also its Achilles Heel. While every human, every form of life for that matter, is affected there is no global experience, no uniformity in how and when that will be experienced.

The affluent countries of the temperate zones will have a far different experience than the people of the emerging economies and the Third World. Take one example, precipitation. A hotter atmosphere holds more water vapour, the most potent greenhouse gas. That leads to severe storm events of increasing frequency, intensity and duration. Atmospheric rivers (out here we call then the 'pineapple express') come out of the tropics and today bring torrential inundation to places such as the UK. As a rule, already wet areas will become wetter still. Traditionally dry zones will become dryer yet. It is easier to build infrastructure to handle inundations (the affluent regions) than to rectify droughts that could persist for decades, generations (the impoverished and vulnerable regions). Where drought is being fought it usually takes the form of multiple dams on major rivers such as the Nile and the Mekong, measures that serve the upstream countries but can beggar the downstream neighbours. Egypt is already threatening its upstream neighbours with military force. Wait until Pakistan, India and China get into it over the Himalayan headwaters. All three of them have impressive arsenals of nuclear weapons.

There is no magic wand of universal application. One of the most convincing arguments against geo-engineering is that the solutions can bring local benefits but usually to the detriment of other regions more distant.

You quote Johnny Schellnhuber, former head of the Potsdam Institute, and chief climate advisor to both Angela Merkel and Pope Francis (an interesting relationship given that Schellnhuber is an atheist). I was lucky enough to get in on an online course presented by the Potsdam people, sponsored by the World Bank, a number of years ago. Shellnhuber is an amazing guy. I was not entirely surprised when the media ignored his comments at the 2015 climate summit in Paris where there was so much enthusiasm for an agreement to limit AGW from 2 degrees Celsius to just 1.5 C. Schellnhuber said it could be done but it would require the prompt "induced implosion" of the fossil energy economy. He said petro-state governments would have to shut down the wells and the mines and the pits and throw all their strength into a rapid transition to alternative clean energy. How's that working out for us? Here, our Parliament passes a proclamation of a climate crisis state of emergency and then, before 24 hours has passed, greenlights a massive expansion of a bitumen pipeline.

It is said we would have to go on something akin to a global Marshall Plan footing to achieve the necessary transition but I've seen no interest in that anywhere. What Schellnhuber was advocating at the Paris summit five years ago was what he thought might, just might, enable humanity to have a soft crash-landing.

Marie Snyder said...

Hi Mound. I hope you're well through all this mess!!

Absolutely it will be different for each region. Here, it's just a matter of time before the U.S. starts moving north. It's a very interesting time to be alive!

The Disaffected Lib said...

On a more cheery note, Forbes (among others) is reporting that Tesla has ousted Toyota to become the most valuable auto maker on the planet. Now that is impressive!