Climate Change

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Rishi Sunak’s Stealth Subsidy for Fossil Fuel Firms is ‘Disastrous’ says UK’s Former Climate Chief

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 27/05/2022 - 11:13pm in

Sir David King told Adam Bienkov that the stealth tax cut would damage the fight for 'a manageable future for humanity'

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The Government has slipped out a "disastrous" new subsidy for oil and gas companies under the cover of its windfall tax announcement, its former Special Representative on Climate Change Sir David King has told Byline Times.

Boris Johnson's administration last year committed to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels as part of its hosting of the COP26 UN climate change conference.

However, Rishi Sunak’s windfall tax announcement on Thursday contained a little-reported get-out clause for oil and gas companies – offering them millions of pounds in tax cuts if they actually increase their extraction of fossil fuels in the UK.

The offer, which will give the companies 91p in tax breaks for every £1 they invest in extracting fossil fuels, will undermine the fight for a "manageable future for humanity", Sir David told this newspaper.

Professor Sir David King – who also served as the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, as well as the UK’s permanent Special Representative for Climate Change between 2013 and 2017 – said that the announcement betrayed the UK's former commitments.

“In contrast with the UK’s commitment over many years, confirmed in Glasgow last year, the Chancellor is now announcing a further subsidy to the oil and gas industry to extract more oil and gas from the North Sea”, he said. “This decision reverses the ambition to turn the oil and gas companies to renewable energy and is disastrous for the necessary transition towards a manageable future for humanity."

Sir David King described Sunak's new subsidy as "just about the most absurd announcement".

"This is converse to our commitment to lead the world in getting to net zero emissions," he told Byline Times. "We got a whole bunch of other countries to make a big commitment in Glasgow [on reducing dependency on fossil fuels] and now we are completely backing off from that. I'm beside myself because we are really in a last chance saloon when it comes to climate change."

The measure was contained within the Government's announcement of a new windfall tax on oil and gas companies. The Treasury will impose a temporary levy on the record profits of the companies, which will go towards a one-off rebate for taxpayers.

However, under the scheme, oil and gas companies will be able to claw-back their tax contributions by increasing their extraction of fossil fuels from the North Sea and elsewhere in the UK.

Sir David King said Boris Johnson's administration appeared to have backed away from the UK's former leading position on tackling climate change.

"I really am now feeling very, very worried", he said. "This Government has been playing a leadership position on climate change, a real leadership position, since about 2000 and what we're now doing is apparently reneging on all of that."

His comments come as Byline Times reports that a recent UN report warned that the world faces "total societal collapse" if it fails to turn around the shift in global temperatures.

According to the report "it is evident that in the absence of ambitious policy and near global adoption and successful implementation, the world continually tends towards the global collapse scenario".

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UN Warns of ‘Total Societal Collapse’ Due to Breaching of Planetary Boundaries

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 27/05/2022 - 1:58am in

A landmark report by the United Nations concludes that ‘global collapse’ is becoming more likely. But was it watered-down before being published?

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When the United Nations published its 2022 'Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction' (GAR2022) in May, the world’s attention was on its grim verdict that the world was experiencing an accelerating trend of natural disasters and economic crises. But not a single media outlet picked up the biggest issue: the increasing probability of civilisational collapse.

Buried in the report, which was endorsed by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, is the finding that escalating synergies between disasters, economic vulnerabilities and ecosystem failures are escalating the risk of a "global collapse" scenario.

This stark conclusion appears to be the first time that the UN has issued a flagship global report finding that existing global policies are accelerating toward the collapse of human civilisation. Yet somehow this urgent warning has remained unreported until now.

The report does not suggest that this outcome is inevitable or specify how close to this possibility we are. But it does confirm that, without radical change, that’s where the world is heading.

Planetary Boundaries

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the Sendai Framework are a set of social, economic, legal, political and institutional measures to reduce “disaster risk and losses” – both involve targets to 2030 which the world is in danger of failing to meet.

That failure, however, is directly linked to the rate at which human activities are interfering with natural systems, in particular, ‘planetary boundaries’.

The planetary boundaries framework was developed by the Stockholm Resilience Centre in 2009 to provide what it calls a “science-based analysis of the risk that human perturbations will destabilise the Earth system at the planetary scale”. This framework identifies a range of nine key ecosystems which, if pushed passed a certain threshold, will dramatically reduce the “safe operating space” for human habitation.

The report notes that at least four of the nine planetary boundaries now seem to be operating outside the safe operating space.

While land system change and climate change are in a zone of “uncertainty with increasing risk” of overstepping the safe operating space, the report says, biochemical flows and ‘novel entities’ (“new engineered chemicals, materials or organisms and natural elements mobilised by human activity such as heavy metals”) have “far exceeded" that space.

However, the situation is likely to be worse than acknowledged in the UN's report.

Byline Times revealed last summer that, according to Professor Will Steffen of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, two more planetary boundaries – ocean acidification and freshwater use – would probably by then also be “transgressed”, meaning that we are breaching six out of nine planetary boundaries. If we continue to cross boundaries at this rate, it is possible that we cross almost all of them before 2030.

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Don’t Look Up

According to the UN 's report, “the human material and ecological footprint is accelerating the rate of change. A potential impact when systemic risks become cascading disasters is that systems are at risk of collapse”.

Yet, although the risk of systemic collapse is discussed at different points in the report, the “global collapse” scenario did not receive extensive elaboration. Instead, the report makes reference to a separate ‘contributing paper’ published by the UN’s Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

That paper, 'Pandemics, Climate Extremes, Tipping Points and the Global Catastrophic Risk – How these Impact Global Targets', offers an in-depth scenario analysis of global collapse risks based on how human activities are transgressing planetary boundaries.

The paper is authored by Thomas Cernev, a researcher at the University of Cambridge’s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk. It finds that the continuation of 'business as usual' and a failure to invoke drastic policy changes means that human civilisation is moving inexorably toward collapse.

“From the scenario analysis... it is evident that in the absence of ambitious policy and near global adoption and successful implementation, the world continually tends towards the global collapse scenario,” it says.

Four Pathways – Three Lead to Collapse

Thomas Cernev’s paper identifies four potential pathways ahead. Yet only one of them, "stable Earth", involves the achievement of global targets under the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and Sendai Framework. All the others are heading toward collapse.

“In all of these scenarios except for 'stable earth', the achievement of global targets and accompanying frameworks is negatively impacted," the report states. "Furthermore, in the absence of change, scenarios 'Earth under uncertainty' and 'Earth under threat' tend towards that of 'global collapse'.”

The paper explains that, by adopting a systems analysis, it is possible to see how “the crossing of one planetary boundary systematically results in the crossing of others”. They are crucial to providing a ‘safe operating space’ for human societies to develop within a stable earth system, “with the passing of these boundaries subsequently, and most likely resulting in societal destabilisation and potential GCR events”.

Global Catastrophic Risk (GCR) events are defined as those leading to more than 10 million fatalities or greater than $10 trillion in damages.

The paper’s worst-case global collapse scenario is described as the result of multiple planetary boundaries being breached, increasing the likelihood of GCR events that set in motion a sequence of economic and political breakdowns, which further drive ecological collapse processes.

In this scenario, “total societal collapse is a possibility”, the paper warns.

“This scenario presents a world where planetary boundaries have been extensively crossed, and if GCR events have not already occurred or are in the process of occurring, then their likelihood of doing so in the future is extreme," the paper says. "In this scenario, global targets have most likely not been achieved, and the resulting collapse of society in this scenario means that the future achievement of any global targets is unlikely, and total societal collapse is a possibility. Disaster risk reduction has not been successful and disasters are common, with disaster events as well as GCR events such as pandemics increasing.”

It goes on to suggest that, in such a scenario, without policy changes designed to mitigate risks and make the global system more resilient and adaptable, "the crossing of planetary boundaries is likely to exacerbate GCR risk, with large and complex environmental feedback loops leading to further environmental and social collapse" and that "depending on the extent of the crossing of the planetary boundaries and the severity of any GCR events that may have occurred, policy interventions that are not drastic are unlikely to improve society and a reactive policy approach will need to be taken".

That scenario leads to extremely limited international cooperation, in turn creating a higher risk of global or environmental conflict as the environment degrades, “with potential forced migrations of people from uninhabitable areas that in turn has the potential to heighten GCR by making events such as a pandemic or nuclear war more likely”.

While the global collapse scenario represents the worst-case, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that we can see signs of it emerging today. Of greater concern is that the two other scenarios explored by the paper still tend toward this worst-case scenario.

In the earth under threat scenario, “planetary boundaries have been crossed past a safe limit, or there is a large degree of uncertainty as to humanity’s position relative to the boundaries with strong suspicion and evidence of some if not all having been crossed”. We appear to be either very close to reaching this point, or have already reached it.

The UN paper adds: “Whilst GCR is low and GCR events are unlikely to occur, the complex feedback loops that operate between the planetary boundaries are likely to increase the likelihood of GCR events occurring in the near future.”

The paper argues that political and global instability will be exacerbated by “a quickly degrading environment” which could further “drive conflict and hinder future progress towards achieving global targets. In this scenario, the world is on a path towards a global collapse scenario, where GCR events are occurring unless considerable preventive and reactive policy interventions that are ambitious are globally adopted and successfully undertaken”.

Even in the Earth under uncertainty scenario, where “planetary boundaries have not been extensively crossed, or there is a high level of uncertainty as to humanity’s position relative to the boundary”, we would still be in a position where “GCR risk is high, with the likelihood of a GCR event being extreme or a GCR event having already occurred or in the process of occurring”.

Avoiding Collapse

Despite the potential to achieve some global targets and international cooperation, the paper concludes that only further ambitious policy changes can “ensure that development targets are achieved and the world is not pushed towards a Global Collapse scenario”.

The paper states: “The scenario analysis undertaken illustrates a dangerous tendency for the world to tend towards the Global Collapse scenario,”

Although “reactive” policies are necessary to mitigate existing risks, the paper calls for a focus on “preventive” policies to build greater system resilience and to avoid further crossing planetary boundaries.

In particular, it calls for “the creation of a planetary boundaries goal” in the next version of the SDGs adopted after 2030, along with “the incorporation of GCR into the targets”.

A Diluted Narrative?

As I had found in 2017 as a researcher at Anglia Ruskin University’s Global Sustainability Institute, the process of global societal collapse is likely to accelerate as a self-reinforcing feedback loop between human system destabilisation (HSD) and earth system disruption (ESD).

In this feedback loop, earth system disruptions – in this case, triggered by breaching of planetary boundaries – destabilise social, political and economic institutions. This, in turn, inhibits successful policy responses to ESD, leaving the planet vulnerable to further ESD outbreaks.

The result is a feedback effect in which HSD and ESD occur in an amplifying cycle with the potential to culminate in a dramatic loss of complexity in the human system – what might be defined as a collapse.

The UN Global Assessment Report, and its contributing paper by Thomas Cernev, offer scenarios that are consistent with this process – but it is not clear whether any of these scenarios have actually begun, only that currently the world is tending dangerously toward them.

No precise timescales are identified in the documents and neither the UN nor Cernev have responded to requests for comment from Byline Times.

But there are reasons to suspect that a collapse process has already started, even if it is still possible to rein in.

A senior advisor to the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction and contributor to the Global Assessment Report who spoke to Byline Times on condition of anonymity, claims that the GAR2022 was watered-down before public release.

The source said that the world had “passed a point of no return" and "I don’t feel that this is being properly represented in UN or media as of now”.

“The GAR2022 is an eviscerated skeleton of what was included in earlier drafts,” they claimed.

The UN GAR2022 is a landmark document. It is the first time that the United Nations has clearly underscored the impending risk of “total societal collapse” if the human system continues to cross the planetary boundaries critical to maintaining a safe operating space for the earth system.

Yet, despite this urgent warning, not only has it fallen on deaf ears, the UN itself appears to have diluted its own findings. Like the fictional film Don't Look Up, we are more concerned with celebrity gossip and political scandals, seemingly unable – or unwilling – to confront the most important challenge that now faces us as a species.

Either way, these UN documents show that recognising the risk of collapse is not about doom-mongering, but about understanding risks so we can make better choices and avoid worst-case outcomes. As the report acknowledges, there is still much that can be done. But the time for action is not after 2030. It’s now.

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Erika Meitner: “Thumbs-Up for the Mothership”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/05/2022 - 10:00pm in

In Episode 1 of Multi-Verse, poet Erika Meitner reads and discusses her poem “Thumbs-Up for the Mothership” in conversation with host Evangeline Riddiford Graham, touching on themes of climate change, migration, and Whitman vs Dickinson....

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High-education voters desert the Liberals

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 22/05/2022 - 4:33pm in

Labor’s May 2022 federal election win seems to confirm the approach taken by US political analyst David Shor.

I don’t normally feel any great need to forecast the Clear And Obvious Future Of Australian Politics, especially the day after federal elections.

But this election can be seen as making a case for a particular thread of political thinking: the thinking championed by US political analyst David Shor. And I want to explore that a little.

I’ve written about Shor before on Troppo. Here are two key tenets of his thinking:

  1. Education explains more of the electoral movement happening now than does income or class.
  2. Parties that keep attention on their most popular ideas will do better than those that talk about their least popular ideas.

I think these notions tell us something about Labor’s win.

The data

Just before I jump in, note that:

  • I don’t have much time to analyse figures yet.
  • Nor do I have all the data, anyway.
  • And I’m no expert in election data analysis either.
  • But in the finest journalistic tradition, I’m also too impatient to wait until we have better data, or leave the analysis to better-trained people.

So I’ve taken Sunday morning’s AEC data and mushed it hastily together with some education data from Twitter user @EthanOfHouseK, who maintains the very good Armarium Interreta polling website. (Ethan’s data takes 2016 Census data on education and maps it to the 2022 electoral boundaries.)

It’s important to note that the resulting ranking is not some sort of scientific proof. It’s suggestive. On particular, it’s potentially subject to one of the four great statistical fallacies, the ecological fallacy. This is the fallacy where you take inferences about a group and use them to make inferences about the nature of individual group members, and it can mislead you badly. The ecological fallacy is hard to explain simply, but a useful try at it in an electoral context is here.

With that warning, my first rough try at extracting some suggestions from the election results.

Education matters

In the US, David Shor has spent some time pushing the idea that education is becoming an important axis of politics. That idea has been paid a little attention here, but I don’t have the statistics background to apply it to Australia’s 2022 election results.

So here’s the crude thing I can do – bring you a list of Australian federal electorates with the highest number of postgraduate degree-holders. I chose this as the best proxy for education; if you sort the list a different way, by lowest level of non-degree holders, it looks not that different.

The summary version of that list: Australia’s highest-education seats have pretty much deserted the Liberal Party. These seats have moved to parties that want action of some sort against global warming, and to improve electoral integrity.

Today just one of the top 20 highest-education seats remains in Liberal Party hands: outgoing Communications Minister Paul Fletcher’s seat of Bradfield, just north of Sydney Harbour. Bradfield also happens to have the country’s highest median household incomes.

Below are the first 16 seats you get by postgrad numbers, with a little commentary on each:

  1. Canberra – The most postgrad-heavy seat has no official AEC swing yet, but the Liberal vote collapsed by around 8 percentage points, and they are running third behind the Greens for the first time. Labor will win. Side note: the ACT’s Liberal senator looks likely to lose his seat to an independent, conservationist (and former Wallabies captain) David Pocock. [AEC. ABC News.]
  2. North Sydney –  The second most postgrad-rich seat currently has the 6th biggest swing. Teal independent Kylea Tink has claimed victory. [AEC. ABC News.]
  3.  Bradfield – No official AEC swing yet. Paul Fletcher (pictured below) will become the sole remaining Liberal member in the 20 federal seats with the highest number of people holding postgraduate degrees. But Fletcher will enjoy a much-reduced margin, courtesy of a Teal independent who pushed the Labor candidate into third place. [AEC. ABC News.]

    Paul Fletcher

    The 1 in 20: Paul Fletcher will become the sole remaining Liberal member in the 20 federal seats with the highest number of people holding postgraduate degrees.

  4. Kooyong [AEC. ABC News.] – Currently 3rd biggest official swing. You’ve heard about this already; Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has lost his seat to Teal independent Monique Ryan. Labor and the Greens got 12 per cent of the vote between them. [AEC. ABC News.]
  5. Melbourne – Greens leader Adam Bandt’s seat; he got a small swing to him.  [AEC. ABC News.]
  6. Higgins – Used to be Peter Costello’s seat, and contains the upper-crust suburbs of Toorak, South Yarra and Armadale. But after a swing of around 6 per cent away from the sitting Liberal MP, Greens preferences will put a Labor MP in. [AEC. ABC News.]
  7. Grayndler – Albanese’s compact inner west seat stays an easy ALP win. [AEC. ABC News.]
  8. Macnamara – The seat around St Kilda, where the ALP candidate should win easily and the Liberals are running 3rd for the first time. The Greens got a big swing. [AEC. ABC News.]
  9. Ryan – The Greens should win this western Brisbane seat because the Liberal vote collapsed by around 11 per cent and the Greens gained 11 per cent. [AEC. ABC News.]
  10. Wentworth – Still counting, but currently the biggest swing in the country, replacing the Liberals’ Dave Sharma with independent Allegra Spender, granddaughter of two famous former Liberals  [AEC. ABC News.]
  11. Sydney – An easy win for former Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek, but notably the Liberals may run third for the first time, behind the Greens. [AEC. ABC News.]
  12. Bennelong – The ALP got a decent swing and may well beat the Liberals in John Howard’s old seat. [AEC. ABC News.]
  13. Curtin – Currently 8th biggest swing. Teal independent Kate Chaney, another scion of a Liberal family, should beat the sitting Liberal here. [AEC. ABC News.]
  14. Warringah – Easy hold for Teal independent Zali Steggall, who has a job for as long as she wants it. [AEC. ABC News.]
  15. Fenner – Labor’s Andrew Leigh, a brilliant former professor of economics and the ultimate postgrad candidate, got a decent swing to him, the Greens candidate got a smaller swing, and the Liberal candidate lost a bunch of votes. [AEC. ABC News.]
  16. Goldstein – 4th biggest swing. Teal independent and former ABC journalist Zoe Daniel beat the Liberals’ Tim Wilson here. [AEC. ABC News.]

(Note that the really relevant AEC data here would probably be seats sorted by swing away from the Liberal/LNP National candidate. But I don’t know how to produce that list yet.)

Now remember that the analysis above is somewhat removed from decent statistical thinking. It could be that this ranking is no more relevant than, say, the ranking of seats where people own the most smartwatches. Education is strongly correlated with all sorts of things, including income, your Apple Store bill, physical fitness and the likelihood that you’ve listened to Schoenberg on Spotify. We’ll need a lot more analysis before we can say with real confidence that there’s more than association going on here. It’s difficult even to untangle the association between income and voting from the association between income and education.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that this list suggests a story about the 2022 election. And it’s largely David Shor’s story. The seats with the most highly-educated people had very big swings. Sure, this story says, the ALP may be struggling to hold on to some traditional “working-class” seats just like the US Democrats. But it’s holding on to enough of those seats to keep it alive, and winning enough high-education (and often high-income) votes in these seats to deliver overall victory. And the ALP is winning these high-education votes because it represents a bundle of beliefs that large numbers of high-education voters agree with.

This would also help us to understand why the 2022 election is an inner-city story, with all bar one of the Coalition’s losses coming in inner-city electorates. The inner cities are where the highly-educated have been settling, at least until COVID struck.

One final note: for those who are interested, the general influence-of-education story is also Thomas Piketty’s story. He co-wrote a 2021 paper called Brahmin Left versus Merchant Right: Changing Political Cleavages in 21 Western Democracies, 1948-2020. That paper argues that “electoral behaviors have become increasingly clustered by education group”, and that we’ve seen a rising divergence between education and income as predictors of voting behaviour. My summary of the effect on voting: “class” matters less and less; “sociocultural issues” matter more and more.

Talking about popular issues matters

During the campaign, the left in particular produced a lot of commentary on how Labor didn’t really take official stands on too many issues. (My own view is that this aspect of a party’s presentation is a little overrated anyway; parties’ performance in government often bears little resemblance to their official policy stances, and they are better off keeping as much policy freedom as they can.)

But Labor did have some positive things to say, and they were mostly on what we might call “caring issues”: aged care, health care, child care. Action in these areas seems popular; they’re among the ideas Shor would probably argue Labor should campaign on.

And that plan worked: Australian Labor will win office federally for just the fourth time since World War II. No small achievement.

The Liberals, meanwhile, did the opposite. They kept defending their climate policy, while failing to take sufficient notice of the clear polling data showing that a big gap had opened up between them and the electorate. They also defended, half-heartedly, their failure to legislate for a federal Independent Anti-Corruption Commission (ICAC). Both Labor and the Teal independents drove well-organised and well-supplied tank columns right through those gaps in the line.

What’s going on with global warming?

That brings us to climate change. The Teals’ wins focuses attention on the reality that public opinion has moved here since the Coalition used it to defeat Labor in 2013. (See the 2021 Lowy Institute poll below,) Indeed, it makes you wonder whether the ALP could have killed off the Teals’ insurrection and won power in its own right by reviving one of their own previous carbon pricing schemes from the 2009-2013 era. I genuinely don’t know.

Lowy Institute 2021 climate poll results

It may be that global warming is moving up along the opinion curve towards overwhelming acceptance, the way gay marriage did a few years ago.

But the electoral calculus may also be more complicated than that. The Teal independents had global warming as their signature issue. But through the campaign, they managed to avoid saying very much about what they actually believed should be done. They certainly didn’t get much pressure to commit to a particular carbon pricing model, or even to a suite of less efficient anti-warming measures. In a sense, they did what Labor couldn’t do: get elected on a vaguely pro-climate platform without much talk about the price we will pay for acting against global warming.

In case you’re wondering, I absolutely support paying that price. But I have some sympathy for Labor’s position: it has been punished by both the voters and the Greens at different points for being very specific about what it would do, and actually doing it. Voters do this a lot; we like the idea, but then vote against the reality when somebody blames it for everything not being perfect.

This election, Labor elected to do just what the Teal independents did: say as little as possible about potentially painful global warming policies. But for Labor, “as little as possible” almost necessarily involved ruling out carbon pricing. Having implemented it under Rudd and Gillard, Labor had to disown it now. Knowing the 2022 result, I’m still not sure they should have done any differently if they wanted to win government.

The future

How does all this play out over the next three years and beyond? I have no real idea.

But it does seem to me that Labor may have more freedom to act on global warming, as Liberal opposition to anti-warming policies almost inevitably weakens a bit.

And here the Liberals must worry about a nasty wedge. As they explore easing off their less-change position, they will face some angry opposition. Barnaby Joyce has already hit the media since the loss to declare that the Nationals “did their job”. And he’s sort of right: they held their 16 seats and may pick up one or two. In fact, Barnaby is also sort of right to try attacking Labor as smarty-pants city folk. Increasingly, they are that, in just the way he means it. The problem for the Coalition is that the Liberals would like some smarty-pants city folk to vote Liberal. The Teal independents have sped up those folk’s migration away from the Liberals. Once seats go independent, they’re typically hard to win back.

And of course the Liberals must also worry about Rupert Murdoch’s divisions of massed commentators.

The very policy which Barnaby and the Murdoch commentators desperately wants to keep is becoming poisonous in urban Liberal electorates. Without change, the Teals may thrive and Coalition election wins may grow tougher still. At worst, the Liberals could be forced into the politics of cultural alienation that Donald Trump has forced on the US Republicans. And such politics seems unlikely to succeed here.

How is the LNP supposed to win back seats without changing climate policy?

Mind you, politics is always throwing up facts which ruin these neat scenarios. Remember how I said I didn’t have any real idea how this all plays out? I meant it.

One more (un-Shorist) thing

One other lesson strikes me as important in this election. It’s this: Teal independents have overnight become more successful in the lower house than the Greens.

If you’re a Green, that’s a little embarrassing. Both groups profess to have the same signature issue: climate. But the Greens have spent decades winning a single lower-house seat, before winning maybe three more at the 2022 vote. The Teal independents have won maybe five at their first try.

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the Greens have been weighed down by a number of far-left policies for which they cannot win acceptance from enough centrist voters. Like the Liberals, the Greens turn out to have a vulnerability that previously went unexploited: their pro-climate policies are very attractive, but the rest of their package looks much less inviting. The Greens themselves may prove vulnerable to the Teal insurrection next time around.

For those who remember him, I sometimes think of the Teals as the return of Don Chipp. Time will tell if that’s right, but Chipp’s political creation, the centrist and pro-environment Australian Democrats, thrived – until it took a turn towards Greens-type economic and social policies.

This isn’t a Shorist point. Indeed, it’s kind of anti-Shorist, a reminder that you can talk as much or as little as you like about things, but your position on the political spectrum still matters. In this sense, the Greens as well as the Liberals have something to think about after this election.

Note: Updated and reworded on 23 and 24 May 2022.

Disaster Capitalism in Ukraine

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 20/05/2022 - 6:45pm in

A number of dominant agricultural commodity traders are set to make big money thanks to Russia’s invasion, reports Dimitris Dimitriadis

While 44 million people are “marching towards starvation” and Ukrainian food exports – enough to feed 400 million people in 2021 – are prevented from leaving the country, an industry of grain traders and middlemen is making a lot of money.

The invasion of Ukraine, which has conspired with Coronavirus and climate change, has created a perfect storm for global food insecurity. It has been a boon for agricultural commodity traders – an industry dominated by a quartet of companies commonly referred to as ABCD: Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Bunge, Cargill, and Louis Dreyfus. 

The ability of the sector to capitalise on the global crisis has led experts to question the ethics of so-called 'disaster capitalism'.

The gains made by at least two of the agri-giants are sizeable. Share prices for Bunge and ADM have soared by an average increase of 11% since the outbreak of the conflict, easily outstripping the FTSE 100 which has risen by less than 3% over the same period. This is consistent with a longer-term share price increase of more than 50% in the last three years, as demand for foodstuffs exploded in response to pandemic-inflicted lockdowns. 

The ABCD, which control anywhere between 75% and 90% of the agricultural trade market, have been well positioned to profit from Ukraine’s export standstill and accelerating food inflation that global bodies say threaten famines in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries. 

Following the invasion of Ukraine, the world’s sixth-largest wheat exporter, food commodity prices soared to record high levels, with the FAO Food Price Index reporting a 13% jump in March. But the worst may be yet to come, as the UN warns that food and feed inflation could climb to 22% this year – that is, if the conflict continues to prevent Ukraine’s exports from being released into global markets.

This will impact not only nations with a strong wheat import dependence on Ukraine – like Tunisia, Egypt and Lebanon – but also many countries in sub-Saharan Africa that are already plagued by conflict, climate change and acute hunger crises. 

But amid every disaster, lurks opportunity.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the overall market capitalisation – a total value of a company’s shares and a proxy for investor confidence – for agricultural commodity traders has risen by 10%. This puts it firmly among the winners’ club alongside the fertiliser industry, which has seen an overall increase of 27% – an uptick that is bested only by the coal, offshore oil drilling and alternative fuels sectors, according to market data.  

It is also little wonder that, as oil and gas prices have surged following the invasion. Oil giant Saudi Aramco just reported an 82% jump in profits – recording the highest net earnings since its listing in 2019. 

Bunge, meanwhile, the world’s largest oilseed processor and a grain and fertiliser trader, recently reported higher-than-expected quarterly earnings of $4.26 per share (up from $3.13 in the same period last year), after the conflict in Ukraine sent food commodity prices soaring.    

Its competitor, another supply chain middleman, ADM, also posted earnings of $1.90 per share, beating expectations of $1.41, adding that its profits for 2022 would confidently top last year’s – at $2.9 billion.    

Meanwhile, Louis Dreyfus reported a jump in profit for 2021 – which reached $697 million, up 82.5% from the previous year – on the back of recovering global demand for staple crops, but said the Ukraine conflict could have a “material impact” on its operations locally.  

Cargill, America’s largest privately held business, last year announced a net income of $5 billion, the largest profit in its 156-year history. While its earnings in the last few months of 2022 are not known, the company – which is controlled by a dynasty of billionaires – has not pulled out from Russia, where it has done business for nearly half a century. It also continues to serve the other side of the conflict: Ukraine.  

The ‘Gatekeepers’

This is emblematic of a market that has no “national loyalties” or “flags”, according to Dr Fadhel Kaboub, Associate Economics Professor at Denison University, adding that these traders do not tend to shy away from conflict zones. 

Instead, he says, their scale and resources allows them to incur the cost of doing business in wartime and operate at the grey periphery of sanctions. Food and medicines are not included in global restrictions.

Cagrill says on its website that “food is a basic human right” and that it does everything it can to “nourish the world”, adding that the region [Ukraine-Russia] “plays a significant role in our global food system”. 

Proponents of the agricultural trade industry claim that profits alone do not necessarily indicate wrongdoing or malfeasance. They add that the sector in fact helps restore stability in the food markets by using its scale and access to information to match demand with supply – in this case, shipping food and other commodities where they are most needed.   

But Kaboub says that the ABCD traders are “gatekeepers” of a world order that continues to prevent the Global South from developing its own food sovereignty, while giving big producing countries and traders immense influence and leverage over prices. 

“In a world where you have countries independently controlling their own food security, those companies wouldn’t have that much power,” he says.

“The ABCD traders are not just covering the cost of doing business, they’re taking advantage of a real crisis to surcharge.”

Some critics go even further and allege that agricultural traders not only capitalise on disruption but also often promote it through “predatory” practices that can accentuate market volatility. 

Kaboub pointed to a long and dark history of Wall Street speculators that in some cases have helped create food crises only to be allowed by the authorities to walk away with a “slap on the wrist” or a hefty fine. 

Meanwhile, the UN World Food Programme has urged that, unless the Black Sea ports of Odesa are allowed to operate and export food produced in Ukraine, the global hunger crisis could spiral out of control. 

As many as an additional 47 million people could face acute hunger if the conflict continues, the body says. That’s on top of the 276 million people who already found themselves in this dire situation at the start of 2022. 

The risk of famine has been compounded by droughts across the Horn of Africa, with countries like Ethiopia and Somalia – which heavily rely on wheat from the Black Sea – seeing the cost of a food basket rising by 66% and 36% respectively in April, according to the UN

There are only modest grounds for optimism. While using its Black Sea ports is out of the question – at least for the time being – Ukraine is assessing whether it can export its food supply via neighbouring countries like Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.

However, transporting the wheat is proving a Herculean operation: Ukraine’s railway system is not (fully) compatible with that of its EU neighbours – meaning that trains are probably a non-starter. The fall-back is using trucks but that is bound to be much slower and more arduous. 

Until then, the hope is that other countries will increase their wheat exports and ease the shortages. But India, the world’s second-largest wheat producer, has been hit with an unexpected and prolonged heatwave , which is threatening the bulk of its crops in the north. 

“Experts don’t see prices coming down in the next six months and it could be potentially a much worse situation beyond then,” says Kaboub. 

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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How San Francisco Cracked the Urban Composting Code

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 20/05/2022 - 6:00pm in

California’s environmental achievements are something to behold. The state ranks first in the U.S. for growth in solar power generation and battery storage. It’s the national leader in cumulative electric vehicle sales and public EV charging stations. And it’s one of a growing number of states that aim to run entirely on carbon-free energy in the coming decades – a goal it briefly met, for about 15 minutes, on April 30.

Now, California is once again setting the pace on a critically important (if somewhat less glamorous) climate imperative: urban composting.

compostA composting exhibit in San Francisco. Credit: Aaron Anderer / Flickr

On January 1, a law went into effect making it mandatory for every city and county in California to provide residents a means to separate and recycle their organic waste. The impacts could be enormous – according to climate experts, composting is one of the simplest low-tech measures humans can take to reverse climate change. Allowing food waste to decompose in landfills creates methane, a greenhouse gas dozens of times more potent than carbon dioxide. And landfills are the third-largest source of methane in the U.S. Composting has other benefits as well, from sequestering carbon and helping farmers create drought-resistant crops to creating long-term revenue streams for city governments.  

Yet few big American cities have successful city-wide composting programs, particularly on the East Coast. How does a city fully integrate composting into its sanitation stream? Perhaps nowhere offers as clear a path forward as San Francisco, the first big U.S. city to offer composting to all of its residents. Twenty-six years later, its system remains the gold standard.

Building a system scrap by scrap

In 1990, when curbside recycling was still new to many communities, San Francisco was already recycling over 25 percent of its trash. Nevertheless, the city’s Department of the Environment was concerned about all the garbage still being sent to faraway landfills, so it authorized a “waste characterization” study in 1996 in which engineers looked at exactly what was being sent to the dump. What they found was shocking: 33 percent of it was organic material that could have been composted.

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“It was a combination of food scraps, sticks and leaves,” says Robert Reed, public relations manager at Recology, a resource recovery company that partners with the city. “We have 5,000 restaurants here, so we’re generating a lot of food scraps.”

All those scraps add up to a heap of emissions, plus the associated costs of disposal. “When you put materials in a landfill, you eventually fill that landfill and you have to build another landfill. And now you have to ship to greater distances,” says Reed.

So, at the city’s request, Recology, which has collected San Francisco’s refuse since 1921, launched a compost pilot program. It started at the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market and on residential routes in the Richmond District. Soon after, it expanded to include some large convention hotels. By 2000, it had gone citywide. 

Nine years later, when cities like Seattle were just beginning their voluntary residential composting programs, San Francisco made composting and recycling mandatory for all residents and businesses. 

compostComposting in San Francisco. Credit: Hayes Valley Farm

Mandatory participation scaled things up dramatically. Recology began offering free composting pails, bin labels, signs, multilingual trainings and toolkits for commercial buildings. It also meant occasional fines from the city for non-compliance. All of it was part of the city’s ambitious plan to be “Zero Waste” by 2020.

Today, San Francisco’s pioneering program is world renowned. Over 135 countries have sent delegations to study the city’s compost and recycling systems first hand. The city collects more than 500 tons of compostable materials from its ubiquitous green bins every day, according to Reed, helping to divert some 80 percent of the city’s waste from landfills. All these organic scraps are turned into high-quality compost in just 60 days at a Blossom Valley Organics facility east of the city, and then sold to local farms, vineyards and orchards.

compostThe curbside composting and recycling bins used in San Francisco. Credit: Recology

The revenue from these sales helps offset the cost of the program. “If something goes into the landfill, there’s no sale!” laughs Reed. The system also creates jobs. According to a study by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, composting sustains four times the number of jobs as landfill or incineration disposal operations. In Maryland, a 2013 study found that composting operations provided more total jobs than the state’s three trash incinerators combined. 

And of course, all that compost enriches the region’s soil with nutrients, minerals and microbes, helping farmers grow healthy crops with fewer commercial fertilizers. Compost also acts as a natural sponge – Pennsylvania’s Rodale Institute found that farms can grow up to 40 percent more food in times of drought when they use compost and follow other organic practices. In the West, where drought is common, this is a boon to both commercial farmers and backyard gardeners. Compost can even mitigate the threat of wildfire by retaining moisture from rain and irrigation. 

All of which begs the question: With the many obvious benefits and few apparent downsides, why, 26 years after San Francisco started composting, haven’t other major cities like New York, Boston, or Chicago followed suit?

New York’s composting conundrum

Not long ago, New York City briefly had its own in-home composting program. In 2015, then New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio introduced a Zero Waste initiative similar to San Francisco’s. Composting was its cornerstone. Pandemic-related budget cuts forced the city to suspend the service in May 2020. But even before that, the program was anemic, only diverting 43,000 tons of food scraps in 2017 – just five percent of the city’s total food waste. 

compostA New York City curbside composting bin in 2017 before the program was discontinued. Credit: Wikipedia

Theories abound as to what went wrong. One big one has to do with a lack of public outreach. Even the chairman of the city council’s sanitation committee admitted that no one in his own building knew how the system worked. “In my building, we received the brown bins, and some fliers,” he told the New York Times. “I guarantee I’m the only person in my building who knows how to use them.” 

Simply convincing residents to change their long-standing garbage habits was another hurdle. Former NYC Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia told the Times, “The biggest challenge is asking New Yorkers to do something different.” She related a story about how, when the department was handing out brown bins one man didn’t want one. “But we were handing out compost at the same time, and he definitely wanted the compost. We said, ‘We really need your banana peels in order to make this in the future.’” The man took one of the bins, illustrating the importance of education and outreach.

New York re-launched its composting program in August 2021 in neighborhoods where interest was most concentrated, according to Vincent Gragnani, press secretary at the city’s Department of Sanitation. Soon, there will be 100 bins at schools across the city that can be accessed with a smartphone app or a key card. “Within the next two years, every public school in the city will be separating their organic waste for collection,” Gragnani told RTBC. New Sanitation Commissioner Jessica S. Tisch is in the process of reviewing what has and has not worked with the city’s program in the past, but is not ready to share this publicly.

Can California strike ‘black gold’?

Now, inspired by San Francisco’s trailblazing composting success, California is set to enact statewide composting for all. (Only a small handful of states mandate statewide composting). The goal of the law is to reduce the landfilling of compostable materials by 75 percent by 2025, thereby reducing methane emissions on a massive scale. CalRecycle, the department that oversees the state’s recycling and waste reduction programs, estimates about half of the state’s communities had food and yard waste collection programs at the start of 2022.

compost“We all have the same goal: to send as little as possible to the landfill,” says Reed. Credit: Sacramento State

There are several things the remaining cities and counties around California can do to emulate San Francisco’s success. One is to stay on message. In 2000, when Recology made green bins available to every resident in San Francisco, the response was mixed. “Some people said, ‘Come and take it back.’ Other people embraced it right away,” recalls Reed. “We were doing a lot of outreach and education in promoting the program and why we think it’s important for people to participate.” 

For instance, San Franciscans speak over 100 different languages, so Recology opted to put photographs on the green bins (in addition to a few words in English, Spanish, and Chinese), showing what can and can’t be composted. The company also produces a customer newsletter that comes with its bills, filled with articles about the benefits of composting and recycling. In addition, Reed, a former reporter, worked closely with journalists to get stories published early on about restaurants embracing composting and vineyards relying on compost from the city. 

 But according to Reed, the key to composting success is getting kids on board. “The best way to get adults to compost is to get composting programs running in schools,” he says. Recology donates compost to school gardens, which makes a big impression on children. “Those kids go home and say, ‘Why don’t we compost at home?’ The very next day the dad has a pail on the kitchen counter, and they’re rolling.” 

Prior to the pandemic, classrooms would visit the Recology Environmental Learning Center and even take tours of the composting and recycling plants. During Covid, Recology’s programming for students has shifted online. The company leads virtual field trips via Zoom and has produced educational videos and games about composting and recycling for kids from pre-K to high school. There’s even a “Better at the Bin” coloring book.

Finally, Reed says regular and frequent communication with the city is key to the composting program’s success. Every week, Recology staff members meet with a team from the Department of the Environment. “We all have the same goal: to send as little as possible to the landfill,” Reed says. At these meetings, they compare the tonnage that the city is sending to compost versus sending to the landfill, brainstorm ways of getting more residents to compost, and discuss messaging. 

One conundrum recently tackled in these meetings was how to encourage more participation in apartment buildings, which have lower rates of composting and recycling, and where 65 percent of San Franciscans live. Their solution: recruit volunteers at these buildings to distribute Recology’s monthly newsletter, as well as encourage composting in neighborly ways, like with composting contests or quizzes. “These are very creative people!” says Reed. “They keep composting part of the conversation.” There are now advocates in 100 buildings around the city.  

One of these is Madeleine Trembley, who lives at the Gateway Complex in the city’s Financial District. A year ago, Trembley, who refers to compost reverently as Black Gold, started a newsletter for her 1,255-unit building called Trash Talk. “The newsletter immediately got a lot of peoples’ attention,” Trembley says. “It was educational, practical. We give tips that people can implement easily, understand easily.” As a result of her newsletter and the topics it covered, more young residents have gotten involved in the Board — and one of them is even making video tutorials about composting to share with residents. “It just makes no sense to create more methane gas to stow it away in the landfill. And I think a lot of people realize that.” 

The post How San Francisco Cracked the Urban Composting Code appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

The Left in These Elections (Updated).

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 20/05/2022 - 3:48am in

[A]
Well, as far as the politicians are concerned the die was cast. Election day is tomorrow.

As regular readers may be aware, I don’t have much faith in the much vaunted “liberal democracy”. Still and all, that’s what we have. So, it’s up to us, the people to make the best decision possible given what’s available. We better not screw it.

So what’s available to readers of a Left-wing persuasion who are also concerned with climate change? In a way, the choice is simple.
This is what the ruling COALition offers:

Australia’s Long-Term Emissions Reduction
Plan: Modelling and Analysis, page 11
And that’s leaving aside inflation, industrial relations, wages, rorts galore (including the multi-billion dollar JobKeeper for those who did not need it), foreign policy, housing, human rights, Scotty from Marketing’s vaccination blunders … It’s a no-brainer: these psychopathic swindlers must go.

So, we are left with the Australian Labor Party, The Australian Greens, The Socialist Alliance, and the Victorian Socialists.

Labor and the Greens have presented the more elaborate climate change plans: these are Labor’s policies and these are the Greens’. The Greens, as well, are becoming much more sympathetic to workers. Readers may know how I – and, much more relevantly, the scientists – evaluate their policies and rank them in terms of voting preferences.

As an advance to readers, this is where Left parties have presented candidates to the Senate by state/territory:


To learn what’s on offer where you live, you need to go to the Australian Electoral Commission website. If you don’t know your electorate, go to this page. To learn where to vote on election day, go to this page. This page tells you what are the parties/candidates in your electorate, both for the Senate (above) and the House of Representatives.

Remember: in Australia we have preferential voting. If you are not familiar with it, this short ABC’s BTN video (endorsed by the Parliamentary Education Office) shows the basics (to be precise, for Upper House election):

 This SBS explainer is more detailed.

Party militants will offer you how-to-vote sheets. You may, but do not have to, follow their instructions. The same applies here with my own recommendations: I will give first preference to smaller socialist parties (in my case, the Socialist Alliance), second preference to the Greens, third to Labor.

Last preference goes to the Liberal Party.

----------

Many of the SS4C climate kids are too young and so, they can’t vote, but we oldies can. And we can do that with them in mind.

They assessed the parties and several independents’ climate change policies and gave them grades. Here’s the general election scorecard:


And here you find the scorecards for North Sydney, Curtin, Kooyong, Boothby, and Mackellar.

Image Credits:
[A] “Four coloured 6 sided dice arranged in an aesthetic way. All six possible sides are visible”. Source: WikiMedia. Author: Diacritica. File licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Nobody endorses me or the use I make of this file.

Steering Away from a Car-Centric Society

by Mai Nguyen

Two lanes of car traffic in a city street.

Our car-centric society is in a jam. (CC BY 2.0, Oran Viriyincy)

Learning to drive scared me as a teenager. There was something terrifying about controlling a two-ton hunk of metal, and my drivers’ education teacher didn’t help by showing a graphic slideshow of injuries we could expect from a brutal car accident. This didn’t bother me much once I moved to the city; with buses, the metro, and bike or scooter shares, there are plenty of other ways to get around. However, you’ll be hard-pressed to find these same options outside the city.

Cars are ubiquitous in the USA, with 286.9 million registered vehicles on the streets in 2020. That’s almost 300 million gas tanks to fill. The EPA reported that the transportation sector accounted for 29 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. Now, coming out (we hope) of the COVID pandemic, we’re seeing more traffic again with attendant emissions.

Some people are eagerly replacing their gas-powered cars with new, “green” electric vehicles. The intentions are a good sign, but we can’t “get sustainable” simply by exchanging some of the energy we consume.

How Bad Are Cars?

Cars are massive machines that require heaps of resources, from building the vehicles to fueling them for the road. The average vehicle requires 900kg of steel and 39 different plastics and polymers. A single tire requires about seven gallons of oil for its production. The aluminum content per vehicle is also steadily increasing, projected to reach 505 lbs in 2025.

Manufacturing is also immensely energy-intensive and complex. Stages of car manufacturing include extracting ores, transporting raw materials and components from around the world, and assembling the vehicle. Though each of these steps emit plenty of CO2, it can be difficult to put an exact figure on car-production emissions. Carbon footprint researcher Mike Berners-Lee breaks it down in How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything, finding that the carbon footprint of manufacturing a car ranges from 6–35 metric tons.

And the environmental cost doesn’t stop there. It’s no secret that fuel consumption contributes to air pollution, but a 2018 study found that, globally, passenger road travel accounted for 45.1 percent of global CO2 emissions, or nearly six times as much as passenger air travel (8.1 percent). Americans used a grand total of 123 billion gallons of motor gasoline in 2020, corresponding with 56 percent of transportation sector emissions.

It’s Electric!

The ubiquity of gas-guzzling personal vehicles can’t be a part of a sustainable future. For some, the solution seems obvious: electrify vehicles to remove the problems that come from gas-power. Tesla kicked off its precedent-setting electric vehicle (EV) line in 2008, and today car companies like General Motors and Honda are edging into the competition. (Ironically, GM could’ve led the EV revolution as early as the 90s with their wildly popular EV1 if they hadn’t killed the model for profiting less than their gas-guzzling counterparts.)

Image of a fancy electric vehicle parked in a spot that reads "Electric Vehicles Only."

Are EVs driving us to a sustainable future, or are they another guise for green growth? (CC BY 2.0, marcoverch)

EV innovations do, in fact, look promising. Though not exactly carbon-neutral, EVs emit significantly less emissions than gas-powered cars, and they can handle just as much daily travel. EVs don’t run on empty, though. Depending on how your local power is generated, charging EVs can produce carbon emissions, and a worldwide shift to EVs would only exacerbate the global power demand. While it is generally accepted that emissions over the lifetime of an EV may be lower than a gas-powered car, the construction of EVs emits substantially more than the construction of traditional internal combustion vehicles. Specifically, a 2017 study found that the manufacturing of parts and assembly of EVs resulted in approximately 37 percent more emissions per vehicle than that of combustion vehicles.

Even though EV sales are picking up fast, we can’t bank on them and other “green” alternatives to solve limits to growth without a plan to fully transition away from fossil fuels and reduce consumption. Take the trendy plant-based alternatives filling shelves at grocery stores, for instance. Despite its massive carbon footprint, the U.S. meat market still dominates its plant-based competitors by almost $160 billion, and we’re simply “gifted” with more choices when we shop. The development of eBooks was similarly predicted to overhaul the publishing industry, but print books still outsell eBooks four-to-one.

Even if we all switched to EVs, we’d be exploiting yet another fuel source: lithium, the rechargeable battery’s key material. In 2021, global extraction of lithium was about 100,000 metric tons, about a 20 percent jump from 2020 levels. A worldwide switch to EVs would entail a 500-fold expansion of EV-battery manufacturing capacity. With the new mining boom, lithium and precious metal mining will simply replace (some) oil extraction.

The environment around South American deposits would be hit especially hard, bringing perils like wind drift of toxic chemical residue from the mines. This not only endangers the ecosystems along the Andes mountains—where the continent’s largest deposit is located—but threatens the livelihoods of farmers.

Chasing Us off the Streets

The problem with cars extends beyond their immediate environmental impact. We must examine why we find it so difficult to rid ourselves of them. Today’s suburban sprawl and congested highways didn’t come as a result of innovation for the masses; it’s more like the aftermath of an auto-industry takeover. Roads were once public spaces made for the people. Pedestrians freely crossed roadways without designated walkways and children played in the open space, while streetcars and railways catered to commuters and travelers.

Robert S. Kretshmar, Executive Secretary of AAA's Massachusetts Division; Commissioner Thomas F. Carty, Boston Traffic Department; and Mayor John F. Collins celebrate jaywalking legislation by Boston City Archives

Robert S. Kretshmar (Executive Secretary of AAA’s Massachusetts Division), Commissioner Thomas F. Carty (Boston Traffic Department), and Mayor John F. Collins celebrate jaywalking legislation. (CC BY 2.0, Boston City Archives)

It all changed with the mass production of cars in the 1910s. Over the next two decades the public was outraged at the rise of car-related fatalities, most of which involved children. A battle for the roads ensued between the masses and the auto industry. Unfortunately for the masses, car companies held sway.

A 1923 Cincinnati ordinance was proposed to limit auto speeds to 25 mph, but car companies killed the proposal—despite the 42,000 petitioners backing the plan—with a racist ad campaign mocking the city and rousing car owners. Other methods to overpower pedestrians included a slew of anti-pedestrian laws, indoctrinating children to stay out of the streets, and shaming jaywalkers.

The campaign for cars cuffed another rival, too: urban railways. Public transit has always been a key connector between low-income communities and thriving cities. It remains a major aspect of social mobility. But in the 1920s, car drivers were allowed over streetcar tracks, disrupting routes and making it nearly impossible for efficient streetcar operations. This drove transit passengers to purchase personal vehicles, further crowding the roads.

GM and other auto and fossil fuel companies bought up railways spanning 46 transit networks, only to dismantle them immediately. And while this isn’t the only reason why trolleys have fallen from grace in the USA, trolley companies were convicted of monopoly in 1949.

With the road cleared of obstacles, the auto industry set out to sell more cars. With the help of designer Norman Bel Geddes, GM debuted Futurama, a diorama portraying a car-centric future dreamed up by the company, at the New York World’s Fair in 1939 and introduced millions of visitors to something closely resembling today’s America. GM proposed a future centered around the convenience of the personal vehicle, complete with a massive interstate freeway system, suburban sprawl, and the extinction of public transportation.

The masses were sold on a car-centric America, and in 1956 President Eisenhower, with the help of Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson (who also happened to be GM’s president), leveled entire city neighborhoods to make room for highways. Minorities and low-income families comprised an overwhelming cohort of these communities, and they’ve been hit hardest by the environmental effects of “urban renewal” and the widened divide from their wealthy suburban counterparts.

Our Future Without a Map

Transportation in a car-centric society is far from sustainable or equitable. Gas-powered cars have a history of ravaging communities, and the growth of EVs won’t take us the distance. But we still need to get around, so what can we do?

Auto and fossil fuel industries fought hard in the past for political influence, but we can still take back our future. We are not fated to bumper-to-bumper traffic for the rest of our lives, and we can recenter our cities and towns around the people.

Image of several bikers riding through carless streets, with three women standing nearby a store as they pass.

In a steady state economy, communities are walkable, bikeable, and personable. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, UrbanGrammar)

One thing we can do is improve public transit. Access to public transportation is the key to an equitable future, but the system is in constant danger of underfunding. U.S. rail systems are far behind places like Japan, where trains are so convenient that car ownership is on the decline. Japan’s car ownership hit a low of 0.96 vehicles per household this year, while U.S. numbers have been creeping past three per household.

Fortunately, U.S. cities like Los Angeles and Indianapolis are upgrading their public transportation. Los Angeles has spent five years and $80 million on infrastructural changes to put the first electric metro bus line on the road. Meanwhile, Indianapolis is being transformed by the expansive Red Line electric bus system. These cities have shown us that commuters will jump at the chance to use public transit over personal vehicles.

Not only do our communities need access to better public transportation, but we need to foster pedestrian and cyclist lifestyles. Since 2016, Barcelona saw a 25 percent drop in pollution around the Sant Antoni market after experimenting with “superblocks,” nine-block grids of cyclist and pedestrian-first zones. Children there have room to play now, and walking and biking has increased.

In the Horta neighborhood superblock, 60 percent of survey respondents said they had become more comfortable walking on the streets and that accessibility had improved. People within the Poblenou superblock reported that the reduction in noise pollution resulted in more tranquility, improved sleep, increased social interaction, and overall improved mental wellbeing. One study estimated that widespread execution of superblocks could prevent almost 700 deaths annually.

Taking the roads back from auto and fossil fuel industries will be difficult. We‘ll have to re-envision the world around us; a world without the destructive congestion of cars. Our spaces need to be just that, our spaces, instead of streets and parking lots, dealerships, gas stations, auto parts stores, and repair shops. These profound structural and sociological changes will occur not by incentivizing the “greener” electric alternative, but by disincentivizing car culture altogether.

Widely-adopted free public transportation would be a huge step in connecting communities and promoting social mobility. We need to demand of our governments sustainable transportation for the people; that is, the expansion of our electric public transportation webs. Cars should be increasingly marginalized.

A carless society is one that is walkable, bikeable, and accessible for people with disabilities. Urban planners should prioritize the safety and mobility of the people, not cater to the automotive and oil industries. They should help us achieve a kinder, carless culture.

Mai Nguyen, editorial intern for Spring 2022 at CASSE.Mai Nguyen is the spring 2022 editorial intern at CASSE, and a junior at George Washington University.

The post Steering Away from a Car-Centric Society appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Is Labor’s Climate Change Plan Guided by Science?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 16/05/2022 - 3:31am in

Just as I was finishing the previous post, federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese fronted a presser from Fitzroy Island (Friday 13th). In a major break with what we had observed during this campaign, he announced a number of measures supposedly meant to deal with climate change, plus a $220 million program to save endangered native species.

The main announcement, however, was a “Reef 2050 Plan” to save the Great Barrier Reef, by means of improving water quality and eradicating crown-of-thorns starfish.

That’s all good and well. As things are, the Great Barrier Reef is already in serious danger.

90%+ of reefs surveyed affected by coral bleaching in 2022. Source.

However, Labor’s adoption of Minister for Environment Sussan Ley’s habit of lobbying before UNESCO to keep the GBR heritage status, in spite of scientific considerations is troublesome. Sorry, Albo, no amount of lobbying will fix what we see in that map.


But wait, there’s more. Albanese also went to great lengths to emphasise that his Powering Australia plan not only was guided by science, but also marked the outer limit of Labor’s ambitions on climate change (Penny Wong, in her debate with Marise Payne at the National Press Club the same day pretty much repeated that).

Believe it or not, he isn’t
an Aussie politician. [A]

On Sunday, David Speers asked him:

On climate change. You said you would listen to the science. If the scientists tell you, you need to go further than your 2030 target of 43%. Will you?

Albanese: “What we haven’t done is come up with a figure and work out how to get there. What we’ve come up with is good policy, supporting renewables, using the safeguard mechanism established by Tony Abbott, supporting incentives to electric vehicles by reducing taxes, working with industry.” blah-blah-blah.

All that may be true. But it neither answers Speers’ question nor makes Labor’s plan sufficient.

The same day Speers asked Josh Fraudenberg:

Let’s turn to another area where the Prime Minister refuses to change and that is on the 2030 climate target. The Government is ticking with Tony Abbott’s 26-28% by 2030 emissions target. Every state and territory has a more ambitious target, the business community, every comparable country … why won’t you change the 2030 target?

Fraudenberg: “Well, we have a target, it’s called net zero by 2050”. blah-blah-blah.

Either that is a verbal version of the cups and ball trick or Aussie pollies suffer from a cognitive deficiency rendering then incapable of understanding simple, English language questions. You be the judge.
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 For the record: it is true that Labor’s plan is much better than the COALition’s non-existing plan.

But it’s false that Labor is following the science.

The Paris Agreement of 2015 – of which Australia is a signatory – was to make efforts to limit average global temperature increases to well below 2ºC, preferably no more than 1.5ºC. But Labor’s plan is consistent with an increase just shy of 2ºC (see my previous post).

The irony was, no doubt, lost to Albanese who went to Fitzroy Island to announce he was going to save the GBR. Instead, he is signing its death sentence. It is true that water quality and crown-of-thorns starfish are threats to the GBR, but the biggest threat is warming.
 According to the State of the Environment Report 2020 (Queensland Government):

Warming of 2 degrees Celsius would result in a completely new climate regime under which many ecosystems would undergo irreversible change. The extent to which the climate will change in coming decades depends on current and future greenhouse gas emissions.

Two groups of species and habitats are particularly affected:
Extract from State of the Environment
Report 2020 infographic. Source
And the thing is that the QLD Government is slightly more upbeat than the IPCC “Global Warming of 1.5 ºC” report:

[M]ultiple lines of evidence indicate that the majority (70–90%) of warm water (tropical) coral reefs that exist today will disappear even if global warming is constrained to 1.5°C (very high confidence).

It was with that in mind that at COP26 the IPCC required average global intermediate GHG emissions reductions of 50% to make it moderately likely that global warming lies within the 1.5ºC to 2ºC range. Labor’s GHG emissions reductions targets are 43%.
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 If the rest of the planet adopted Labor’s 2030 targets, we can kiss goodbye to 1.5ºC and to the Great Barrier Reef. But that’s not all. The new normal will look a lot like those headlines I presented last time. That’s not an alarmist prediction, quite to the contrary.

On top of that, as far as I know, most of the rest of the planet are doing even less than that.

That’s not, however, an argument for Australia and the other rich countries to not do more. Rather is an argument to double down in our efforts, for one, to try to make up for the effort other countries, particularly poor ones, are not making; for another to be in a position to demand they do more.

It’s in part a matter of leading by example, but there’s more than moral authority involved: rich countries have plenty means to exercise political, economic, and diplomatic influence. It may be a long shot, but it’s what we have.

What’s certain is that if Australia and other modern, wealthy countries, having the means they have, refuse to make the effort (or, if attempting, they fail) the rest of the world will not do the heavy lifting for us.

If you want to call that “climate justice”, go ahead. I call that enlightened self-interest or even survival.
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 Among the COALition, Labor and the Greens, only the Greens are ambitious enough. The teal independents are more ambitious than Labor, but I really don’t know how trustworthy they are.

At any event, if Labor wins – as it looks increasingly likely – they’ll have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into more decisive action on climate change.

Image Credits:
[A] “Johnny Fox performing at Maryland Renaissance Festival”. Source: WikiMedia. Author: Jarekt. File licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Nobody endorses me or the use I make of this file.

Climate Change: Who Promises What?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 14/05/2022 - 4:14am in


In this election campaign the COALition has set the debating agenda. And they have done their best to bury climate change.

Permanently on the defensive, the Australian Labor Party has done little to change that. An attempt by Labor’s Penny Wong (considering climate change implications to Australia and our Pacific neighbours’ national securities) was rather embarrassing (not because she wasn’t right on her criticism to the COALitiion, but because after her criticism an eventual Labor government had little more to offer). You really should see “Postcards from the frontlines of climate change”, by the ABC’s Asia Pacific Newsroom.

This may have been a blessing in disguise. Scientists have more relevant things to say.
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 Climate Analytics assessed the global warming impact of the 2030 GHG emissions reductions targets of the COALition, Labor, the so-called teal independents (the Zali Steggall Bill), and the Australian Greens (that analysis did not – I repeat, did not – explicitly address their credibility).

This is how they ranked them, from higher to lower resulting temperature (see infographic above):

  • Coalition (26-28%) consistent with at least 3°C, bordering on 4°C.
  • Labor (43%) consistent with 2°C warming.
  • Teal independents (60%) and Greens (74%) are both consistent with Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit. The Greens, however, add a safety margin (represented by their lower position in the scale).

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The ABC’s Nick Kilvert and Emma Machan asked four leading Australian climate scientists and IPCC contributors to evaluate the climate change policies (not just their 2030 GHG emissions reduction targets) of the COALition, Labor, and Greens (they, alas, left out the teal independents).

Their verdict? (1 being highest preference)
 
The four scientists elaborated on their assessments. Have a look.
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These headlines remained largely unnoticed, as we discussed the all-important “productivity”:

(source, see also)

(source, see also)

(source, see also)

When an unusual second La Niña in a row was announced last November, it was expected to be relatively mild. It was also expected to last until January or at most, February. It’s already mid-May and it’s still raining:

(source, accessed today at 19:57 AEST)

(source)
That’s how that weather looks at ground level. This year, some towns have already been flooded twice …

The long La Niña doesn’t bode well for the Americas either (particularly North America): they are going into summer.

(source, see also)
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Although most of them are still too young to vote, the climate kids of SS4C Australia are mobilising for these elections. They are planning a number of actions. But they need our support.

If you can, chip in (donations are 100% tax deductible).

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