Climate Change

As climate change melts the Arctic, all oil companies see are new chances for profit

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 20/11/2019 - 7:59pm in

Donald Trump
is moving to sell off leases over 1.6 million acres of the Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, opening the area up to oil and gas exploration for
the first time.

Fossil fuel giants will stop at nothing to get their
hands on new oil and gas reserves in the most pristine parts of the world.

They even see climate change as an opportunity to
access fossil fuel reserves that were previously unreachable.

The Arctic environment is already
rapidly changing, with the region heating twice as fast as the rest of the
planet. Half of the ice coverage on the Bering Sea between Alaska and Russia
disappeared during a two-week period in February 2018. For the last 30 years,
Arctic ice levels have been declining at a rate of 10 per cent per decade.

Oil and gas companies are rushing
to exploit the area. The melting ice is opening up new trade routes and energy
supplies north of the Arctic circle.

It is estimated that fossil fuels extracted from the
Arctic could add up to five million additional metric tonnes of carbon dioxide
into the atmosphere each year—equivalent to another million cars on the road.

These include hard to reach oil fields in Siberia, and
a new proposed supply route from Russia to Europe. The Northern Sea Route along
the Arctic coastline sits along an important economic area for Russia, already
accounting for between 10 per cent and 30 per cent of its GDP. Control over
Arctic oil and gas shipping routes could create a 21st century Suez Canal
geo-political battle.

Increased ship movements will further damage the area.
The International Maritime Organisation is considering a ban on the burning of
heavy fuel in Arctic waters, in an attempt to quell environmental degradation
from oil and gas shipping routes including increasing amounts of black carbon,
ice pollution and oil spills.

Scramble
for the Arctic

A
struggle is emerging over drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic, with Russia,
China and the US leading the charge, staking claim at the new opportunities for
resource extraction.

The Arctic contains up to 90 billion barrels of oil
and 47 trillion cubic metres of gas. This equates to 13 per cent of the world’s
undiscovered oil and 30 per cent of undiscovered gas. Russia owns 58 per cent
of Arctic resources while only 18 per cent is owned by the US.

US Energy Secretary Rick Perry has called for “free
nations” to resist attempts from those “that seek to dominate the Arctic from
the outside”—a reference to the growing influence of Russia and China, the
self-described “near arctic” power, in the region.

The US has ambitions to become the world’s leading
Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) exporter—projected to be producing 100 million
tonnes by 2024, fuelled by expected growth in demand in Asia. But the US faces
higher extraction and transportation costs to get fossil fuels to markets in
Asia and in Europe.

Since 2017, global fossil fuel giant BP has been
lobbying the Trump Administration to re-open the Arctic for oil and gas
exploration, with BP and Exxon-Mobil committing $20 million in May this year to
develop LNG in Alaska.

Trump’s plan to open up the Arctic National Wildlife
Refuge threatens habitat for threatened polar bear species and porcupine
caribou.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has accused the
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) of underestimating the impacts of the proposed
oil leases on the climate. Contrary to popular scientific consensus, the BLM
suggested in their environmental impact statement for the project that global
warming is cyclical, rather than human induced.

China also has a stake in the game, publishing a white
paper in 2018 outlining its interests in the Arctic. To support an economy
dependent on gas imports for use in manufacturing, China is desperate to secure
and control new oil and gas supplies.

Russia too is aiming to expand its influence in the
gas and energy market through companies such as Total SA and Novatek PJSC.

In June 2019, Russian and Chinese companies commenced
a joint venture to manage a fleet of ice-breaker tankers to move Arctic LNG to
markets in Europe and Asia.

Fossil fuel companies using climate change as an
opportunity to open new sources of profits is an obscene example of the logic
of capitalism and the scramble for profits.

They will keep pumping out new sources of carbon emissions
even as the world goes to pieces underneath them—unless we stop them.

It’s time to demand
that people and the planet come before profit and to put a stop to the
extraction of oil and gas in the Arctic—and everywhere else.

By
Ruby Wawn

The post As climate change melts the Arctic, all oil companies see are new chances for profit appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Jacob Gitman on Climate Change and the Need for Renewable Energy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 20/11/2019 - 8:22am in

Many people are unaware or unwilling to accept the fact that climate change is making an irreversible impact on planet Earth. According to NASA, the global temperature has risen by 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880. It may seem like negligible temperature rise, but it has caused changes in weather patterns and caused ocean levels to…

The post Jacob Gitman on Climate Change and the Need for Renewable Energy appeared first on Peak Oil.

Italy to make climate change study compulsory in schools

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 19/11/2019 - 9:11am in

Reuters: Italy will become the first nation to require all schoolchildren to study climate change and sustainable development. Education Minister Lorenzo Fioramonti of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement: “The entire ministry is being changed to make sustainability and climate the center of the education model. All state schools would dedicate 33 hours per year or almost […]

As it Happened.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 18/11/2019 - 3:03am in


The still above is part of a short video (1 minute and 10 seconds) produced by an ABC News crew last Tuesday November 12. I reckon in its brevity it captures and describes with eloquence the situation Australia and the world is going through right now.

I will ask readers to watch the video, but before that, study that image carefully.

The camera operator focuses on the man wearing the hat, at the centre: that man was giving a press conference.

The improvised placards behind him, however, are visible. They were put there, one supposes, by those attending the conference. One reads “Where R U ScoMo?”;(a little note on this below); another displays the question “Why Are Our Rainforests Burning?” (rain-forests and cloudy forests, precisely because of that, are humid and normally should not burn). The third one shows the predicate (i.e. “Needs to Act Now”) of a sentence, whose subject (presumably “Australia”) is not shown in the image.

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Overseas readers may need a little background here (local readers can skip this and go straight to the video).

That man is Anthony Albanese, MP. The Australian Labor Party -- of which Albanese is federal leader -- has the second largest fraction in the Australian Parliament, after the combined Liberal/Nationals fraction. It is, therefore, the main opposition party. It is also a centre-left party.

The Liberal and National parties, as a coalition, are in government; both have liberal (in the classical liberal, not the American, sense of the word) and conservative wings. The current Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison (the “ScoMo” in the placard), MP, is also the federal Liberal Party of Australia leader. He is closer to the conservative wing of the Coalition.

That was him in 2017:

Albanese was visiting the township of Nimbin (population less than 2,000), in northeast NSW, during the first week of bushfires. The fires, I believe, didn’t reach Nimbin proper; but its surroundings weren’t spared. (During bushfires, emergency authorities often urge those living in isolated areas to seek refuge in towns.)

Tasmania, SA and WA have already been affected, but fires there were quickly put out. It is in NSW and QLD where they are currently more intense. To put this differently, so far only the Northern Territory and Victoria have not been affected. As I write (Sunday 17) and referring to NSW alone:

  1. The death toll has reached 4 confirmed deaths (I have no details of other 2).
  2. Nearly 500 structures (ranging from sheds to homes) have been destroyed.
  3. Over 1.5 millions hectares have been devastated.
  4. At least one suburb of Sydney (South Turramurra) was affected. The fire outbreak was swiftly controlled before it could reach nearby homes.

This is only spring, most of Eastern Australia is in drought and the Bureau of Meteorology forecasts no substantial rains in the incoming months.

----------
This is where readers can find the video, plus a brief story by ABC News reporters Jessica Kidd and Selby Stewart. I prepared a partial transcript (at the end), should readers find Albanese’s pronunciation difficult. It includes the journalist’s question and Albanese’s answer until the moment a local woman cuts him short.

I have my own opinion about the whole episode, but it’s the readers’ opinion that matters here. So, you be judge.

TRANSCRIPT:

Journalist: “The Greens’ Adam Bandt has said that the Government is putting lives at risk when they’ve done everything in their power to make the risk of these bushfires worse. Do you agree?”

Anthony Albanese: “Look, I’m not interested in trying to politicise at all. Lives are still at risk, properties are at risk. There’s a time for huh debate about issues, including climate change. I believe in climate change; it is real. We know that bushfires are coming earlier. We know they’re more intense. That is what it was predicted and that we see that happening. But I don’t think it’s the time to engage in party politics …”

Local woman: “It’s not party politics. It’s our reality”.

It’s not balanced budgets that will save us. It’s the power of the public purse and our human values.

Person at a demonstration holding a placard with slogan "What lessens one of us lessens all of us"Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

Charles Dickens began his novel ‘Hard Times’ thus:

“NOW, what I want is, Facts. […]. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. [….] Stick to Facts, sir!”

Whilst one might dispute Dicken’s character Gradgrind with his miserable vision of human existence, facts can be very useful. They can trace the human misery caused by 9 years of austerity and the last forty years of a pernicious market-oriented ideology which has led to vast disparities in wealth distribution and caused huge damage to society by encouraging the pursuit of self-interest.  And yet it has to be said as the election campaign gears up, that in terms of monetary reality, of facts there seem to be very few to be had.

As political and economic commentators, not to mention politicians on all sides, emphasise daily their claims that the government finances are like a household budget, the public has largely remained stuck in the quagmire which is presented as monetary reality and distrustful of a political system which has failed them.

Looking at newspaper front pages this week you could be forgiven for thinking that we are headed for bankruptcy if Labour were to win the election or that their spending plans would cost UK households £43,000 each. A ‘reckless spendathon’ is in the offing according to a government spokesperson in a recent BBC television interview.

Aside from such narratives being a fallacy, they are designed to put the frighteners on people who are already suffering financial hardship caused by years of austerity and ideologically driven government policies. Those with a political agenda shore up those false beliefs that borrowing too much will lead to government insolvency. They cynically and callously terrify people that they will be asked to pay for those spending programmes when they will not. This is an establishment that is running scared that their reign of power is coming to an end. The means justify the ends!

It cannot be denied that if we are to escape the worst effects of a coming global downturn, an incoming government of whatever variety will need to implement adequate spending programmes and increasingly fiscal policy is becoming the ‘mot du jour’. However, the message is reinforced daily by all sides of the political spectrum that there are still financial limits to that spending.

Last week Ed Davey, deputy leader of the LibDems said of Labour and the Tories spending plans that they are ‘writing promises on cheques that will bounce’. The very same party that joined in with Tory austerity during the Coalition and voted for public spending cuts and welfare reforms.

In the same week, the Greens promised welcome public investment of £1trillion over 10 years to fight climate change, the money for which it said would come from ‘borrowing’ and ‘tax’ changes.

Then the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a ‘give with one hand take back with another’ message promised to increase borrowing to fund billions of pounds to pay for new infrastructure but then announced three new fiscal rules to ‘control borrowing, to control debt and to control debt interest’.

Stuck in household budget la-la land he said without a hint of jest:

‘like anyone who budgets whether it’s a household, or small business or large business, I know that we must keep track of what we are spending and what we bring in…. We can’t run an overdraft forever on day to day spending, so I can confirm that our first rule will be to have a balanced current budget. What we spend cannot exceed what we bring in.

Never mind that you can build as many hospitals as you like as part of an infrastructure spending programme but if you make up foolish rules about day to day spending those hospitals will remain empty of nurses and doctors and other health professionals to staff them.  And let’s not forget the bailing out of the banks or successive wars funded without a taxpayer in sight.

The same tired old tropes abound about taking advantage of ‘historically low borrowing rates’ and ‘living within our means’ remain the context for Conservative spending plans and figure in one way or another in the language narrative of other parties too.

In a similar vein this week, the shadow chancellor reinforced that same story when he tweeted:

‘The Tories can’t invest in the public services we need because unlike Labour they won’t raise taxes on the super-rich and take on the international tax dodgers’.

The implication being here that he will bring back the magic money tree from the Cayman Islands to pay for our public and social infrastructure.

Even the Leader of the Opposition has suggested that if they don’t tax the very rich, then Labour won’t be able to pay for public services.

As Professor Bill Mitchell commented in a blog in response:

‘The British government does not need to tax the rich to pay for first-class public services. It can do that at any time it can muster the real resources to accomplish that aspiration. It issues its own currency.

It might want to tax the rich because they have too much power but that is quite separate from justifying such an action because the government needs their ‘money’.

Although without doubt the proposals on the progressive left to tackle social inequality, rebuild public infrastructure and address climate change are laudable and indeed vital, it is to be regretted that the arguments for public spending programmes are being reduced to household budget frameworks of monetary affordability, where the money will come from and economic credibility. We have become fixated by the single idea that the country’s economic ‘health’ hangs on whether or not we run a deficit.

GIMMS will say it again. In reality, the only analysis that really counts when deciding which way to vote in any election is not a judgement based on a government’s financial record or whether it balanced the public accounts but what its economic record was.

We as citizens should be examining where the money was spent and who benefited. Did that spending ensure that its citizens were in secure employment and fairly paid, had decent housing and sufficient food in their bellies? Did it create a healthy and more equitable economy in which wealth was more fairly distributed? Did it ensure that the vital public and social infrastructure such as the NHS, social care, education and local government were adequately funded to serve the public purpose and not fill the coffers of private profit? Or was that public money sucked up by the private sector in a big free for all in which the state serves the interests of the corporations rather than the interests of its citizens?

And what about government policies on health, education, welfare spending and the environment? Did they create stable lives by improving the material, financial, physical and mental health of citizens? Did they ensure adequate investment to ensure that the nation can be as productive as possible through good education and training both for present and future generations? And finally, the environment – what actions did they take to address the climate crisis?

In other words, we should be examining what the real economic outcomes were.

After nine years of telling the public that there was no alternative to austerity and cuts to public spending because the coffers were bare, it’s amazing what the prospect of an election can do to turn the spending taps on. And yet the smoke and mirrors, lies and deception about how government spends just carries on relentlessly.

But now it’s all OK (for the moment) the Conservatives have found the magic money tree, cutting the deficit has apparently given them some savings and the fiscal ‘headroom’ to spend. For those that know, this narrative is a fairy tale of epic proportions. For those that don’t, it should be enough to arouse a cynical response by a public which has been at the sharp end of those tax and spend myths which have formed the basis for its policies.

Indeed, only this week the following headlines should serve as the wakeup call for the public about Conservative economic credibility.

‘UK suffers biggest fall in jobs in four years’

‘UK avoids recession but annual growth slowest in almost a decade.’

‘Wage growth slows’

We can blame it in part on the uncertainty caused by Brexit, but the reality is that behind the faceless employment figures published by the Office of National Statistics are the lives of real people who have been affected by the government’s policies and spending decisions over the last 9 years.

To put it in basic economic terms, when a government spends it creates income for the private sector which is then spent into the economy. When it imposes spending cuts it is removing money from people’s pockets leaving them with only three options: Use their savings if they have any, take out credit or go without.

All spending, whether from government or the private sector, equals income for someone. What happens when you take that away? That’s people who lost their jobs in the public sector as local government, the NHS and schools were forced to pare down their budgets as a consequence of public spending cuts. That’s people constrained by public sector pay caps and pay cuts. That’s people who ended up working two or three jobs on low pay to keep a roof over their head and food on the table. That’s people working in precarious employment in the zero-hours or gig economy with no guaranteed decent income or sick or holiday pay. That’s people affected by the reforms to welfare and the introduction of Universal Credit, from those who are unemployed left with insufficient financial resources to make ends meet and those in work but not earning enough to keep their heads above the water to those left struggling to cope because of chronic sickness or terminal illness.

In seeking the nirvana of balanced budgets by cutting spending the Conservative government has not created a healthy economy it has done the very opposite. The statistics are the proof.  Without adequate spending, the economy suffers, and people pay the price.

And yet as political parties present their spending plans and worry about how they will demonstrate their economic credibility the elephant in the room is crashing about trying to make itself noticed. On one note it is pathetic to see the Conservative party take issue with the opposition’s spending plans calling them reckless and unaffordable whilst promoting its own as being fiscally responsible. On another, in their rush to spend, neither party seems to have considered the real resource factor and how that will be managed.

The IFS for all its neoliberal sins ‘gets’ the elephant in the room and recognises that whoever wins on December 12th their spending plans will be dependent on whether they have the right resources at their disposal to deliver.

After 9 years of insufficient spending into the economy to prepare for the future, will there be sufficient people with the right skills to meet the government’s needs? Whether that’s engineers and construction workers to design and build the proposed infrastructure or homegrown nurses and doctors already trained up to service the planned spending on the NHS? Or in these days of climate crisis we might also be talking about the resources needed to deliver the Green New Deal and ensure a just transition not just for those in the rich west but those in the global south whose countries have already been plundered of raw materials and impoverished so that we can maintain our standard of living.

For progressive parties like Labour and the Green Party who wish to deliver a left-wing agenda what they have to do is decide their key priorities, consider the availability of resources and how they could be freed up to deliver a future government’s objectives efficiently and effectively. A case in point this week is Labour’s plan for free broadband which has much to recommend it in terms of bringing communities together in an inclusive and connected society. Journalists and others predictably have asked the question where will the money come from? They have missed the point entirely and should be asking instead how many workers would we need to deliver it?

Ultimately, all sovereign currency-issuing governments don’t need to match their plans to tax revenue or determine whether the markets can lend them the money. The role of government in this respect is not to balance the budget but to balance the economy.

The public needs to understand that it isn’t the government’s ability to tax the rich but its power to run a deficit which determines the health of an economy. As the sovereign currency issuer, the UK government has the power of the public purse to fund the public works necessary to tackle social and wealth inequalities, deal with the current global economic uncertainty, and fund the Green New Deal, should it choose to do so.

However, at home, our public and social infrastructure is in a shocking state of decay caused by 9 years of cuts to public spending and lack of planning. Reversing that decline is not something that just promising to spend can solve in the short term.  There are important issues to consider for the long term which may not fit the short-termism of the political five-year framework and many politicians who have become used to serving other interests.  That is the scale of the challenges we face.

When all is said and done even though the Labour party persists with the household budget myths John McDonnell has it right in terms of what is required not just to reverse the social injustices heaped upon global populations because of pernicious ‘free’ market ideology or the threat to the human species at our own hand. As he said not only must the scale of investment match the scale of the crises we face both in ecological and social terms, but also if we don’t make these investments our future generations will never forgive us.

Let’s leave the final words to Professor Bill Mitchell who wrote a while back:

“My ideological disposition tells me that the pursuit of human values is the only sustainable way of organising and running a world. The neoliberal era has severely undermined that pursuit.

That’s what we must change and urgently if we want half a chance to save ourselves and our children’s children from disaster.

 

Note: GIMMS has a very good resource section on our website which takes you through how money works. From FAQS to resources sheets and external websites, videos and academic papers for those who want to take it further. For an introduction to how money really works follow the link here.

 

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The post It’s not balanced budgets that will save us. It’s the power of the public purse and our human values. appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

Have Peter Khalil and Anne Aly the Attention Span of a Goldfish?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 16/11/2019 - 5:29am in

What should pro-gun lobbyists say when a mass shooting takes place and the public demanded gun control laws?

Lars Dalseide, National Rifle Association of America (NRA) media liaison, taught his far-right One Nation visitors from Australia a tried and tested tactic applied successfully in the US in those situations:

Lars Dalseide: “ ‘How dare you stand on the graves of those children to put forward your political agenda?’ Just shame them to the whole idea.”

Steve Dickson, at the time One Nation QLD party leader: “I love that.”

Lars Dalseide: “It’s like, ‘If you, if your policy, isn’t good enough to stand on itself, how dare you use their deaths to push that forward?!’”

James Ashby, One Nation media advisor: “That’s very good, very strong.”


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It doesn’t take an exceptional memory to remember that advice, at least in its general lines. It was featured in Al Jazeera’s “How to Sell a Massacre”, which ABC Four Corners broadcast in Australia last March: less than 10 months ago.

Dalseide’s wisdom is easy to understand: in order to silence calls for gun control, cynically pretend a respect one doesn’t feel for the victims and demand a sensitivity one is incapable of for the feelings of their families. Ashby and Dickson understood that just fine. It’s simple.

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I doubt John Barilaro (Deputy NSW Premier) finished high school, but I still suspect he may be able to read and write (kinda) and he adopted Dalseide’s spin, which doesn’t require education. Moreover, talking points staffers regularly prepare for parliamentarians are easy to follow.

“ ‘For any bloody greenie or lefty out there who wants to talk about climate change … when communities in the next 48 hours might lose more lives,’ he said on ABC radio. ‘If this is the time people want to talk about climate change, they are a bloody disgrace.’”

Last week pretty much every COALition polly speaking to the media did as Barilaro. A real life version of the human centipede, the COALition did what its fictional counterpart does: the shit that comes from number one’s ass goes straight into number two’s mouth, to emerge a little later from number two’s ass and into number three’s mouth and so on. From the top dogs of both genders (Australia’s Morrison and NSW’s Gladys Berejiklian), down to some mediocrity named Trevor Evans, passing through the likes of Barilaro and McCormack, the same spin repeated unimaginatively: this is not the time to speak of climate change; think of the victims.

At best they will add “thoughts this, prayers that”.

It’s plain to see what’s going on here. So, it’s no surprise high-ranking former emergency services commanders have asked for climate change to be discussed. Academic experts have made the same point.

But the thing is that common people have noticed as well. I’ve heard non-political radio breakfast show presenters noticing that. More importantly, locals affected by the fires have made dramatic appeals to link climate change and bushfires (Carol Sparks, Claire Pontin and Dominic King, Aaron Crowe and Fiona Lee). They don’t seem to find that inappropriate or insensitive.

Anyone with an attention span longer than that of a goldfish can see that. (Incidentally, the NSW COALition government has adopted more direct and forceful measures to gag public servants on climate change).

And yet, even that little level of perceptiveness seems too much to ask from Labor. Instead, from Albanese and Penny Wong, down to Victoria’s Peter Khalil a couple of days ago, Labor have reinforced, as human-centipede like as the COALition, the same ridiculous mantra “you are insensitive if you talk about climate change and bushfires”. In Dalseide’s words: “How dare you stand on the graves of those children to put forward your political agenda?”

The latest I’ve seen regurgitating that load of crap is WA’s Anne Aly (Labor) while “debating” Andrew Bragg (COALition). To the same claptrap she added her own personal contribution: a little hippy bashing (the same “hippies” that supported her), in an all-too-apparent attempt of making herself look Very Serious. Like Dalseide said: “Just shame them to the whole idea”.

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Whatever the public image Albanese may find expedient to project (“Anthony Albanese rips Joel Fitzgibbon over climate change as Labor rifts widen”), the truth is that Fitzgibbon prevailed (“Labor frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon wants his party to adopt the Coalition’s climate policies”)

And a further truth is that Fitzgibbon is merely Angus Taylor’s puppet. Barely days after the May elections Taylor was already setting Labor’s climate change policy. And Labor is following his command down to cynically parroting the COALition’s talking points, coming straight out of the NRA playbook.

Do they really expect to fool anyone with that?

What is clear to me, though, is that we can expect nothing from Labor.

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Whether you like it or not, only the Extinction Rebellion crowd, the Climate Kids, the Socialist Alliance, and the Greens have managed to maintain a coherent stance on climate change. Justice imposes to add independent MP Zalli Steggall to that list.

That may not be enough to change anything, but that’s what we have. Deal with it.

Book Review: Falter by Bill McKibben

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/11/2019 - 2:58am in

By Herman Daly

Thanks to Bill McKibben, not just for his new book but for 30 years of honest, eloquent, and insightful environmental writing and activism.

Thomas Merton Center dinner honoring Bill McKibben, 11/4/2013

Thomas Merton Center dinner honoring Bill McKibben. (Image CC BY 2.0, Credit: Mark Dixon)

He begins Falter by pointing out that the human game we’ve been playing has no rules and no end, but it does come with two logical imperatives. The first is to keep it going, and the second is to keep it human.”

What McKibben calls “the game” that we must keep going and keep human is similar to what C. S. Lewis called the “Tao” in his 1944 classic, The Abolition of Man. The Tao refers to the common morality informed by natural law and spiritual insight—the given yet evolving conscience and wisdom of mankind. The Tao also develops and evolves out of its own past. It is our best understanding of objective value. We cannot logically depart from it in any fundamental way—it transcends both subjectivism and naturalism.

In McKibben’s version, the “human game” has to continue and remain human. It is the second part that gets close to Lewis’ idea, who wrote long before the age of genetic engineering with CRISPR technology. Lewis’ “Conditioners,” social engineers in effect, were only educators and psychologists. Lewis granted them the complete power to mold their subjects, the same power that seems to be possessed by the modern genetic Conditioners of today, so his argument remains relevant, indeed becomes more so.

CS Lewis

CS Lewis (Public Domain)

Lewis’ argument is simple: the Conditioners want to create in their subjects a new artificial Tao, a “better” one. They have the power to do so. They may appeal to the traditional Tao for guidance on how to make the artificial Tao better. But then they are still servants of the Tao and not creators of a new Tao. In other words, they are developing the Tao, not replacing it. To replace the Tao, they must step outside of it to find the criteria for how to remake it. But in stepping outside, they step into an ethical void. “I should” or “I ought” comes from the historical Tao and disappears with its absence. What remains to motivate the Conditioners is “I want.”

The personal desires of the Conditioners, uninstructed by the Tao from which they have emancipated themselves, become the motives directing the “I can” of these all-powerful Conditioners. What appeared to be the collective power of mankind over the Tao has turned out to be the arbitrary power of some over many. The future subjects are no longer men but creatures of the Conditioners’ wants, whims, desires, and fantasies. Hence the title, Abolition of Man.

Lewis is not arguing against knowledge or technology. For each step in controlling nature, it may (or may not) be that the benefits outweigh the costs. He is insisting, however, that the last step of treating the Tao as another part of nature to be remade according to human desire is fundamentally different, like dividing by zero instead of by a smaller and smaller number. At this last step, the process does not continue—it blows up in your face.

McKibben’s argument is similar in form but different in its terms. The Tao is “the human game” that must continue and remain human. The continuation of the game is threatened by the fact that we are destroying the physical board (or sphere) on which the game is played. Much of McKibben’s writing and activism has been motivated by saving the biophysical board necessary to keep playing the game, specifically, saving a climate conducive to life. What is new in this book is the emphasis on keeping the game human or “within the Tao” in Lewis’ terms.

McKibben declares, “I am not great with eschatology; I don’t know the final destination. While I don’t know how to change the ‘system,’ the urgent nature of the climate crisis doesn’t let us simply put off action. The biophysics doesn’t allow it.”

One understands his reluctance to “go eschatological” and to stick with the biophysical. Yet McKibben is already neck deep in eschatology, and necessarily so, by emphasizing early on the apocalyptic consequences of the climate crisis. Some technocrats go on to argue that since our civilization is unsustainable anyway, we are justified in taking extreme technical risks to save it, like a dying cancer patient volunteering for any experimental treatment. But where things really get specific is in his reflections on the full-blown and frank eschatology of the Silicon Valley billionaire self-creationists.

As McKibben reports, a number of these folks are planning to live forever, not in the New Jerusalem or in a Platonic spirit world but here on the unredeemed earth. Either survive whole or freeze your severed head until the Singularity (Second Coming?) when science will resurrect you, or at least your consciousness, by uploading it into silicon memory chips. Where, oh Death, is now thy sting? What these Silicon Valley self-creationists ridicule as naive religious belief, a remnant of the old Tao, they recreate as a new technological religion, an eternal digital heaven on earth (or maybe Mars) populated not by mortal men, but by—what? Marxists had something similar (but much less extreme) in mind with their eschatology of the new socialist man and classless society.

McKibben is politely dismissive of the eschatology of these “self-rapturing” techies, noting their extreme individualism (stemming from their common hero, Ayn Rand) that leads them to appropriate a kind of heaven on earth for themselves. McKibben also reminds us that these are the richest people in the world, and what they believe is influential. Modern theologians have prematurely “closed the office of eschatology.” Now it has been reopened, under new management. G.K. Chesterton famously said that when people stop believing in God, the problem is not that they then believe nothing, but that they are likely to believe anything. Could be.

Cryonics Institute

Cryogenics: Abolition of Tao? (Image CC BY-SA 4.0, Credit: Dan)

Keeping the present creation going as long as possible is an ethical judgment in favor of longevity, not a logical imperative. Nothing in logic prevents extinction or death; indeed, evolution requires it for individuals and species. Whether the end is entropic heat death or new creation is the eschatological question—a question of reasoned hope rather than demonstrated knowledge.

We tend to dismiss eschatology on the grounds that the sun will last for some billions of years and thoughts about the final end will distract our attention from the immediate crisis. Fair enough, but the scientific materialism underlying Salvation-by-Singularity has given us the power to destroy creation without providing—indeed by undercutting—any reason to keep it going other than chanting the colorless abstract noun “sustainability.” Meanwhile, the Silicon Valley eschatologists are working out their personal salvation independently. They probably already have started marketing it to those who can afford it.

McKibben has explained that the climate threat is so pressing and so intermingled with current economic arrangements, that it provides the best possible lever for making profound change in other aspects of the economy…” I suspect that a serious effort to solve the climate crisis—or the biodiversity crisis, or water crisis, or political crisis for that matter—will soon lead to the recognition of their underlying common cause, namely the continuous growth of the human economy and its consequent displacement and degradation of the rest of our world.

Nevertheless, most discussions of climate change usually fail to make the connection to growth. The focus is on how to accommodate growth within the structure of complex climate models and their predictions. The main accommodation is to advocate a switch from nonrenewable to renewable energy resources but without recognizing that renewables effectively become nonrenewable, once growth leads to exploitation levels beyond sustainable yield.

Maybe, after repeated failures, a steady state economy will begin to seem like a reasonable policy to save whatever is left for however long it can last. That falls far short of a real eschatological vision, but it is better than the cryogenic rapture of the Singularity preached by the technical Gnostics. McKibben does not pursue his initial critique of Silicon Valley eschatology, and one cannot blame him because the topic is daunting. But the eschatological question of ultimate purpose and final end keeps breaking through into policy discussions, however unwelcome to present attitudes. In Falter, McKibben at least identifies this usually repressed issue.

Falter
by Bill McKibben
Henry Holt and Co., 2019
$28.00

 

Herman DalyHerman Daly is an emeritus professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Affairs and a member of the CASSE executive board. He is co-founder and associate editor of the journal Ecological Economics, and he was a senior economist with the World Bank from 1988 to 1994. His interests in economic development, population, resources, and environment have resulted in more than 100 articles in professional journals and anthologies, as well as numerous books.

 

The post Book Review: <em>Falter</em> by Bill McKibben appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


The Fixer: An Insurance Giant Embraces ‘Housing First’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/11/2019 - 2:17am in

Welcome back to The Fixer, our weekly briefing of solutions reported elsewhere. This week: one of the biggest companies in America gets on board with “housing first.” Plus, Indigenous communities in the Amazon adopt sustainable farming techniques, and small towns in Minnesota take a hyper-local approach to fighting climate change.

Housing the homeless and making a profit

Recently, we reported on governments embracing “housing first,” a strategy for getting a roof over people’s heads before tackling other issues they struggle with. Now, Bloomberg Businessweek reports that UnitedHealth, America’s largest health insurer, is embracing housing first as a way to increase its profit margins.

This is a big deal. UnitedHealth, a private company, covers six million Medicaid patients, a small percentage of whom are homeless and require frequent, costly hospital visits. For instance, in Camden, New Jersey, just one percent of its Medicaid members incur 30 percent of the group’s health care costs. These high-cost patients are why the company’s Medicaid division has been missing its profit targets. So UnitedHealth decided to get some of those people into stable housing, where they can better care for their health—and save the company money.

Through the program, UnitedHealth is paying for housing in Phoenix, Milwaukee and Las Vegas for homeless Medicaid members whose medical bills exceed $50,000 per year. Since these people were given housing, some of them have seen their medical bills drop by 80 percent. It’s not just the patients who are healthier—so is UnitedHealth’s bottom line: the company’s Medicaid division is back on track to meet its profit targets next year. This is why the insurer has decided to expand the program to 30 markets in 2020. 

The sheer size of UnitedHealth makes the potential for expansion enormous. The company covers 43 million patients and has the sixth-highest revenues of any corporation in the country. Even better, its experiment is proving that housing first can be used to generate private sector profits. In other words, doing the right thing can be good business.

Read more at Bloomberg Businessweek.

Growth that saves the canopy

While logging by big corporations grabs most of the headlines, the Peruvian Amazon’s biggest deforestation threat comes from subsistence farming. The slash-and-burn techniques used by smallholder farmers to let the sunlight reach their crops are the primary reason Peru lost nearly 350,000 acres of rainforest last year.

To fix this, an organization called Cool Earth helps Indigenous farmers develop practices that require less clear-cutting. For instance: “People in remote areas have an obsession with growing yuca,” says Aurora Lume, a member of Cool Earth’s field team. But yuca crops need to be drenched in sun. So Cool Earth brings in technicians to teach farmers to grow coffee instead, which thrives under the shady forest canopy. 

Farmers participating in a Cool Earth project in the Peruvian Amazon. Credit: Cool Earth

Cool Earth doesn’t strong arm farmers into changing their harvests. Instead, it shows them satellite imagery of how much forest their agricultural methods have destroyed. “The people were taken aback by what they saw,” another Cool Earth officer told the Guardian. These satellite maps are then used to plan new, more sustainable crop plantings. “You can’t be too heavy handed, but people have to understand that if they continue to clear at the present rate, in 15-20 years, they will have no forest. Mapping is helping villages to plan how they use land.”

So far, it’s working. In the areas where Cool Earth has engaged with farmers, deforestation has fallen by half. The Peruvian government has gotten on board as well, launching the National Forest Conservation Program, which pays communities that implement sustainable farming systems. “It’s a tried-and-tested strategy in South America,” says Tony Juniper, a Cool Earth ambassador. “It has worked in Brazil, Colombia and Peru. If you look at maps of the forest in those countries, you will see that the areas under Indigenous control are best protected.”

Read more at the Guardian. 

Climate action without debate

There’s a stereotype that rural Americans don’t care about the environment, but the farming community of Morris, Minnesota has found a way to disprove it. In 2014, the town held a three-day “rural climate dialogue” attended by 300 residents. Rather than debate or lecture about the science of climate change, the event “mixed facts and testimonies [from residents] with their personal beliefs, experiences, and emotions,” according to Grist. The dialogues have since become a regular event, in which residents share their own perspectives, while identifying opportunities to reduce carbon emissions and create a more sustainable community.

Sticking to sensible, local solutions keeps the dialogues from becoming polarizing. “You don’t have to sit in a meeting room and argue about whether there’s climate change that’s happening,” said Morris city manager Blaine Hill. “We don’t focus on the words ‘climate’ or ‘environment’ because it’s not necessary, and sometimes it gets in the way of what we’re actually trying to do.”

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The approach has worked. This year, Morris replaced its 450-watt street lights with LED bulbs, installed electric vehicle charging stations and erected solar arrays around town. And a survey conducted with the University of Minnesota concluded that participants left the dialogues with a deeper understanding of climate change.

The “Morris Model” has since been replicated in other towns in Minnesota—in one case, a statewide Morris-style dialogue was held among multiple far-flung farming communities. In each case, empathy and openness are emphasized over debate or pedagogy. “We are a small, rural town and we’re able to do things here that are going to be renewable and sustainable for the future,” Hill said. “If we can do it, then anyone can do it.”

Read more at Grist.

The post The Fixer: An Insurance Giant Embraces ‘Housing First’ appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

If Medicare-for-All Were a War, No One Would Ask: How Do We Pay It?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 11/11/2019 - 6:52pm in

Whenever someone wants to start a war, nobody ever asks how we are going to pay for it. But when there is a proposal to help people with basic human needs, suddenly the budget becomes a top consideration.

Is Earth Reaching a Tipping Point?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 11/11/2019 - 2:35pm in

The Arctic isn’t a major concern to most Australians. I hope overseas readers won’t judge us too harshly for that: the Arctic is a long way away and we have plenty causes of concern closer to home:

NSW bushfires as seen from space, last Friday. (source)
Other than sporadic pieces -- like this one from ABC -- Australian media devoted little attention to recent events in northern latitudes. A partial exception was SBS, the public broadcaster catering for ethnic communities. They did cover last northern summer’s European heatwave and its subsequent extension to the Arctic.

(source)
Nevertheless, last June, images like that –- sleds in Greenland “sailing” through a shallow inland sea where an ice field was expected -– did make the rounds in local media.

That’s more than one can say about the giant Siberian wildfires. I could find no coverage of that in Australian media. When they started in July, according to NASA, those fires covered 23,958 km², but the total area devastated could have been one order of magnitude larger; its smoke made its way across the Pacific, to reach the US and Canada towards the end of that month.

(source)
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ABC released some more in-depth coverage recently. Late last month its US bureau chief, Zoe Daniel, presented “At the Edge of the Earth” (see also).

Daniel travelled to Kaktovik, Alaska, a Native American village on the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, on the shores of the Arctic Ocean.

Although the program touched on how the proposed exploitation of natural gas reserves threatens wildlife, its main focus was on the threat to local lifestyle, to the distress of some residents but with the surprising support of others. The romanticised view of traditional cultures as custodians of the environment seems hopelessly simplistic when contrasted with some characters Daniel encountered.

Valuable as that insight is, Daniel’s report missed a fundamental point, as readers will see.

Over a week ago the ABC’s “Planet America”, with its weekly news coverage of American politics, also gave the Arctic some thought. That program’s unorthodox and innovative approach to news, in my opinion very appropriate, can best be explained -- I reckon -- by considering the qualifications of its two presenters: John Barron is the conventional expert one has grown accustomed to find in that kind of journalism; Chas Licciardello, on the other hand, is a comedian.

They mentioned the shorter sea lanes a summer ice-free Arctic Ocean would afford to global trade, how Russians are deploying a fleet of icebreakers, and that the Arctic Ocean is home to 30% of the world reserves of natural gas.

All that interesting and humorously presented, to be sure, but like Daniel’s own report, still missing a vital point.

It’s ironic that Scott Snowden’s early reporting (“Greenland’s Massive Ice Melt Wasn't Supposed To Happen Until 2070”, Aug. 2019), without fully grasping at the deeper and potentially fatal scientific implications of that melting, came closer to understand them. I find it ironic because Snowden writes for Forbes, the well-known American business magazine.

In late October, the ABC’s Ben Deacon came closer still to those implications, but focused on sea levels. Deacon writes that “Greenland this September weighed almost a third of a trillion tonnes less than it did the previous month”. The difference was due to ice melting because of the unusually high temperatures. Deacon was quoting Dr Paul Tregoning, from the Australian National University, researcher responsible for that finding.

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As Barron and Licciardello noted, there are huge reservoirs of natural gas in the Arctic. Natural gas, however, is not a single substance, but a mix of gases and its main component by far is methane (CH4). Methane, over a 100 year horizon, is estimated to be 27 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, meaning that one kilogram of CH4 traps as much heath as 27 kg of CO2.

On Earth, the ultimate source of methane is the continuous and gradual anaerobic decomposition of organic matter. Those reservoirs exist because some mechanism stops gas from leaking into the atmosphere.

In conventional situations, natural gas reservoirs -- associated with oil reservoirs -- are in essence a bubble trapped by a stable and impermeable layer of material (rock and limestone in the figure below).

(source)
The mechanism, in those situations, is that layer.

Incidentally, as joint production of oil and gas is generally economically unviable, when oil extraction is the main activity, unwanted releases of gas occur. Those gas flares are just burnt. (Imagine now you are a moth, flying at night). The satellite image below, off the coast of Nigeria,  illustrates (a global picture is given here).

(source)
So, oil not only produces CO2 directly -- when the refined oil products are burnt -- but also indirectly, during extraction. Environmentally damaging as that is, the alternative is possibly worse: the direct release of methane into the atmosphere. (Sometimes, however, methane is released intentionally.)

Natural gas is found in other geological formations, though. Now the mechanism trapping the gas underground is some kind of porous structure, filled with gas. Its extraction involves more elaborate and costlier techniques (like fracking). With increasing demand, its exploration becomes economically viable. Because of that it was considered unconventional.

Methane hidrates is another mechanism trapping methane in the Arctic: frozen water lattices containing tiny molecular bubbles of methane, that is kept from migrating to the atmosphere by an upper permafrost layer.

And this is what those reports neglected to note: it’s not only Greenland and Iceland ice that is melting. It’s Siberian, Canadian, and Alaskan permafrost. From dry land and undersea.

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I also send my thoughts and prayers.

Dear God,

Give that evil, ignorant, irresponsible, mentally retarded, deranged, demagogic, hypocritical charlatan Michael McCormack the reward he deserves. I’d humbly suggest African swine fever.

Scratch that. Make it “all the Ministers in the Morrison Ministry, Morrison included”.

PS,

And give shameless Adani ass-kisser Annastacia Palaszczuk lung cancer and/or emphysema.

Amen.

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