Climate Change

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How to roast the planet with good intentions: The Climate Equity Act

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 21/02/2020 - 2:00am in

I have suggested (here and here) that idealism is leading progressives astray.  Unfortunately, climate policy offers many examples. Consider the Climate Equity Act of 2019.  The CEA was, I believe, the first concrete piece of legislation proposed as part of the Green New Deal.  Unfortunately, it illustrates several of the problems with progressive idealism.  The […]

Flooding: Private Eye Cover Shows How Nothing Has Changed Under Tories

Here’s a piece of de ja vue, courtesy of Private Eye’s issue for 10th-23rd January 2014. It shows former Prime Minister, David Cameron, surveying one of the areas then hit by disastrous flooding. Dodgy Dave has to bear some responsibility for the disastrous, as it was his government that cut funding for the flood defences.

Well, it’s six years later, we’ve got a Tory government that’s promising to increase funding to the public infrastructure, and Tweezer declared that ‘austerity was over’. But there has been no increase in public spending, or at least, none I’ve been aware of. And the country’s now hit by disastrous floods.

Which shows that almost nothing has changed.

Except one thing:

David Cameron at least visited some of the areas that had been hit, like the Somerset Levels, and pledged more funding – funding that should never have been cut anyway.

Boris Johnson, however, is nowhere to be seen. He’s retreated to Chevening, a 115 room mansion in Kent. He’s probably hiding from having to answer awkward questions about why he thought it would be a good idea to hire Andrew Sabisky, a racist, misogynist eugenics nut. Or if he holds the same vile views.

It also shows his own, cynical attitude to public welfare. Johnson hasn’t called any emergency meetings. He did before he was elected, but that was when he needed people’s votes. Now he has them, and is in No. 10, although obviously not physically, he just doesn’t care. But he has sent his deputy official spokesman – not his official spokesman, mind – to reassure us that he is receiving briefing updates and that the flooding is terrible for people affected.

How very reassuring!

Mike in his article points out that one reason Johnson may be dodging this issue is because it raises awkward questions about climate change and global warming. But Donald Trump and the Republic Party don’t believe in it, and are passing laws to gut their Environmental Protection Agency and prevent anyone in it from publishing any research showing that it exists. Because the Republicans and Trump are also heavily funded by the fossil fuel lobby, particularly the Koch brothers. And so they pretend that it doesn’t exist.

But Johnson needs Trump’s trade deal, which will do precious little for the country except hand over British industries and utilities, including a privatised NHS, to the Americans. But it will make Johnson and the Tories backing it rich, so Johnson wants to dodge the issue as well.

Meaning that as Britain starts sinking into the sea and primordial ooze, Johnson is holed up in his mansion hoping that it will all go away.

While Britain sinks, Boris Johnson hides

 

Editorial: Morrison still pushing coal and gas despite climate disaster

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 18/02/2020 - 2:08pm in

Scott Morrison has seized on the
coronavirus as a welcome distraction from the bushfire crisis and the calls for
action on climate change.

Morrison no doubt hoped that this would
re-establish him as a strong leader able to “keep us safe”.

But closing the border to anyone
travelling from China, except Australian citizens or permanent residents, has
only further fed racism. Using the detention centre on Christmas Island to
quarantine Australian citizens was simply a stunt to appear tough on borders.

Morrison may have adjusted his language
over climate change, and stored his lump of coal out of sight. But despite the
unprecedented horror summer of bushfire destruction and extreme heat, he
continues his push to expand fossil fuel use.

Instead of accepting the urgency of
stepping up emissions reduction, Morrison declared that “mitigation and
adaptation” to the threat of fires through hazard reduction, building dams and
disaster planning was “climate action”. But this is just dealing with the
symptoms, not the fundamental cause.

Instead of expanding renewables he wants more use of gas, announcing a deal bribing NSW to increase supply.

He declared there is “no credible energy
transition plan” for Australia without increased use of gas as a “transition
fuel”. Yet gas is still a fossil fuel that produces carbon emissions. Morrison
backed this up with the straight out lie that alternatives would not be,
“commercially scalable and available for at least a decade”.

Yet South Australia’s Tesla battery
system, the biggest in the world, has been so successful it is set to expand in
capacity by 50 per cent.

Power company AGL is building another one
of similar size in Queensland next to a new solar power plant, and another four
large battery systems in NSW. All of them will store energy from renewable
sources like wind and solar to dispatch power when needed.

Despite the official change of rhetoric,
climate denial inside the Coalition is just as active as ever.

The Nationals celebrated the announcement
of a $4 million feasibility study into building a new coal-fired power station
in Collinsville in Queensland, with Barnaby Joyce predicting it would find in
its favour.

New Resources Minister and Nationals MP
Keith Pitt declared he would spearhead a push to expand coal, gas and uranium
mining with the aim to “add billions of dollars to the Australian economy”.

Barnaby’s push to return to the
leadership of the Nationals may have failed. But he isn’t about to let up on
his regular rants against renewable energy, demanding more action to support
coal.

Public investment

Morrison hopes to deflect the growing
desire for action on climate change and to pretend that his government is doing
what it can. He can’t be allowed to get away with this.

Most people now want climate action. But there is huge confusion about what kind of action is needed. Focus group research for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald in late January found that, despite growing concern, people, “were not able to identify what specifically should be done”.

Labor’s inability to put forward any
climate policy is not helping. Deputy leader Richard Marles would not even give
an opinion on whether he supported new coal-fired power stations, washing his
hands by saying it was “a matter for the market”.

But relying on the market will get us
nowhere. Even allowing existing coal power stations to keep running until they
need replacement will means decades more pollution. New Greens leader Adam
Bandt’s push for a Green New Deal has helped open a discussion about how
climate action can lead to better jobs and services.

But the only way to transition to 100 per
cent renewables in ten years is through a government-funded plan of mass
investment in publicly-owned energy.

This is just the start of the transition
needed across public transport, manufacturing and land use. And it is only
government action that can secure guaranteed alternative jobs for workers as
this happens.

The last year has seen the emergence of
an exciting new climate movement. Nationwide days of protest in response to the
fires this year have seen thousands march again.

Winning the kind of action we need
requires a mass movement able to challenge capitalism and the fossil fuel
companies blocking action. The power to do this comes from workers’ strike
action.

Morrison’s attack on the unions through
the Ensuring Integrity Bill, which Jacqui Lambie has indicated she could
support when it returns to the Senate, will strengthen the laws against
effective strike action further. That’s why climate activists and unionists
everywhere should back the union stopwork in Sydney on 1 May for workers’
rights and climate action.

School Strike for Climate has also
announced the next major Climate Strike for 15 May.

Students,
workers and unionists everywhere need to go all out to build a month of Mayhem
for climate action.

The post Editorial: Morrison still pushing coal and gas despite climate disaster appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Morrison backs NSW fossil fuel expansion as the planet burns

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 18/02/2020 - 2:07pm in

Scott
Morrison and the NSW Liberals have agreed to ramp up fossil fuel use through a
fresh expansion of gas and coal production.

The
deal requires the NSW government to boost gas supply as well as secure an
increase in coal for the Mt Piper power station near Lithgow.

The now privatised power
plant was forced to reduce output last year due to a coal shortage. The NSW
government is working to help bail it out, with more public money going to
subsidise coal.

The
amount of new gas planned, 70 petajoules a year, is precisely the same amount
that Santos will produce if its coal seam gas development at Narrabri in
northwest NSW goes ahead.

Morrison has tried to present gas as climate friendly, claiming it as an “important transition fuel” to reduce emissions. But gas is still a fossil fuel that releases at least 60 per cent of the emissions of coal.

Gas import terminals use gas that is liquefied for transport on a ship and then regasified. This energy-intensive process, along with transporting, means that gas emissions are close to that of coal.

Even the official energy
regulators don’t believe the use of gas for power generation needs to increase.
The Australian Energy Market Operator’s projections show that we can
dramatically expand renewable energy without this.

The NSW government’s
decision on final approvals for the Narrabri gas project is expected within
months.

Gamilaraay people and
local communities have been campaigning against the development for years,
alongside farmers organised through a Lock the Gate campaign. Santos plans up
to 850 gas wells across the area, drilling through areas of the Great Artesian
Basin to get at gas deposits underneath. This could see toxic chemicals
contaminate water used for drinking and irrigation. It would also mean land
clearing in the Pilliga State Forest, the largest remaining temperate woodland
in eastern Australia with important spiritual significance for the Gamilaraay.

“Santos has failed to get
support from regional communities here for their dangerous gasfield and so the
Commonwealth Government has opted instead to flat-out bribe the New South Wales
government,” Margaret Fleck, whose farm is not far from the gasfield, told the
media.

There is also another
option to meet the quota—building a new gas terminal at Port Kembla to import
gas for domestic use. This is on a list of energy projects Scott Morrison want
to underwrite with government funds and this deal requires the NSW government
to support them.

The
list includes an upgrade for the coal power station at Vales Point near Lake
Macquarie. According to The Guardian, its owners have been told $11
million in funding will go ahead.

In
exchange the federal government will hand over $2 billion to NSW, half of it
for unspecified “emissions reductions initiatives”. Some of this may fund
renewable energy projects, such as a proposed renewable energy zone in the
state’s west. But this will also consolidate privatisation of the electricity
sector, with projects to be delivered by energy corporations. And Morrison has
suggested some of it could go to “coal innovation” to reduce emissions from
coal.

The rest of the money will
help fund new interconnectors to boost the power transmission grid, including a
new link between Queensland and NSW. This should indirectly help renewable
energy projects.

But
Morrison’s plan is simply a bribe to force an expansion in coal and gas use. We
need an end to all government subsidies for fossil fuels, not further handouts
for the industry. Government spending and public ownership is badly needed to
drive a rapid transition to 100 per cent renewable energy. We need to build a
climate movement that can fight to make this happen.

By
James Supple

The post Morrison backs NSW fossil fuel expansion as the planet burns appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Zali Steggall’s climate bill is a step backwards

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 18/02/2020 - 2:06pm in

Independent MP Zali Steggall has presented her new
climate bill as a way to break the deadlock on climate action. But it avoids
the key question of what policies we need to cut emissions—and so will get us
nowhere.

It would simply set up a Climate Change Commission to
draw up five-year plans on how to reduce emissions, focused on a target of zero
emissions by 2050. But labelling the plans “independent” is just a sleight of
hand. There is no way of avoiding the debate about what mechanisms are best to
reduce emissions. If the Commission proposed a carbon price, another carbon
tax, it would only generate the same opposition about higher power prices that
the Liberals used to undermine support for climate action under Tony Abbott.

The fact that the Bill has attracted support from not
just business figures like Atlassian’s Mike Cannon-Brookes but even the
Business Council of Australia, which represents the country’s 100 biggest
corporations including oil and gas company Woodside and mining giant Rio Tinto,
should set off alarm bells. They see it as a way to argue for climate policies
that won’t hurt corporate profits.

We need the kind of action that will
impose costs on business—large-scale government investment in jobs and
renewable energy, paid for by taxing corporations and the rich. Steggall’s Bill
would only set back climate action.

The post Zali Steggall’s climate bill is a step backwards appeared first on Solidarity Online.

How Germany phased out coal—without sacking workers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 18/02/2020 - 2:05pm in

While Australia plans to open new coal
mines, Germany is in the process of closing down its mining sector.

The last of the black coal mines in the
historic industrial centre of the Ruhr Valley was decommissioned in 2018,
although other coal mines remain. In the face of catastrophic climate change
and an urgent need to transition away from coal-fired power, Germany is an
example of how a just transition could work in practice.

At the height of industrial coal mining,
Germany was producing 150 million tonnes of black coal and employed 607,000
miners in the fossil fuel industries. In 1957, the coal, iron and steel
industries provided 70 per cent of the jobs in the Ruhr region.

The industry’s decline began because
mining coal underground in deeper and deeper shafts became more expensive than
importing it from elsewhere. By the 1980s the industry was already in sharp
decline, and required large government subsidies to continue operating.

The government began investing heavily in
re-training for new industries such as engineering, business and technology.
Since 1961, there have been six new universities, 15 technical colleges and 60
research facilities built in the Ruhr.

Together with funding for the
environmental clean-up of old mines, this meant the same number of jobs were
created in new service industries as were lost in coal and steel between 1957
and 2000.

By 2007, coal industries accounted for
less than 2 per cent of total employment. That year an agreement was struck to
close coal mining in the region altogether, although coal-fired power stations
and manufacturing continue.

Staggered mine closures aimed to ensure
not a single worker was sacked. A just transition package provided early
retirement schemes as well as training and on-the-job certification to move
into other industries. Unions have ensured that former miners are entering
high-wage, high-skill industries and secured substantial pay outs for people
leaving the workforce altogether. However the process of closure took 11 years,
allowing 10,600 workers to transfer to work at other coal mines during gradual
closures.

The German transition has been pro-active
and long term, allowing for new jobs and investment to fill the hole left by
the coal industry. By contrast the Hazelwood coal power station and mine in
Victoria closed with just five months’ notice.

Germany has sought to reinvent itself as
a leader in new energy production, focusing on environmental technologies and
renewable energy as well as playing on the existing strengths, skills and
industry of the Ruhr region. Two of the world’s leading wind turbine
manufacturers, for instance, are companies in the Ruhr that formerly produced
coal mining equipment.

This all required large-scale public
investment, to the tune of 14 billion euros in grants to stimulate the local
economy, with a further 26 billion euros for research and development
programmes. These funds are being used to build new infrastructure projects
such as road and rail, as well as sports and recreational facilities, and
investment in leisure and cultural industries including eco-tourism.

Complete phase out

Germany continues to use significant
amounts of coal, which produced 29 per cent of its energy last year. Much of it
is cheap and heavily polluting brown coal.

But in January 2019, the German
government announced it would also be shutting down all remaining coal power
stations along with remaining brown coal mines by 2038.

However, the transition is not without
fault. It would allow the burning of coal to continue for another two decades.
This is too slow compared to what is needed to meet Paris Agreement targets to
keep global warming below 2 degrees. Germany looks unlikely to reach its 2030
target of 55 per cent emissions reduction until 2046, according to a McKinsey
study.

And it is currently constructing a brand
new coal power station, Datteln 4, the only one being built in Western Europe.

Its plan also relies mainly on private
investment in new industries, with companies being encouraged to invest through
tax cuts and regulatory exemptions. We need to fight for 100 per cent
publicly-owned renewable energy to ensure that investment reflects what is
needed to maintain energy production, and not what is profitable for the
capitalists.

While the German transition is not
perfect, it shows how a properly funded and planned transition away from fossil
fuels can ensure secure, well-paid union jobs are at the heart of new
industries.

The Morrison government is desperately
trying to keep coal power stations running, committing millions of dollars in
subsidies. Australia should take a leaf out of Germany’s book and ensure that
public investment is spent on new infrastructure projects and public renewable
energy to ensure that every coal worker has a good, union job to transition
into.

By Ruby Wawn

The post How Germany phased out coal—without sacking workers appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Uni staff plan for month of Climate Strikes in May

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 18/02/2020 - 2:04pm in

Two
major strikes in May will see unions and students out in force for climate
action. Last year School Strike for Climate brought 350,000 to the streets on
20 September.

Their next Climate Strike has been called for 15 May.
And on 1 May, trade unions in Sydney will stop work to rally for workers’
rights and climate action.

University workers in Sydney from five campuses met in
early February to plan for the mobilisations.

The meeting attracted 40 staff from Sydney University,
UTS, UNSW, Western Sydney University and Macquarie and centred on building
staff contingents to the Climate Crisis National Day of Action on 22 February.
It also strongly backed a resolution to mobilise widely for the 1 May strike
rally and for the Climate Strike on 15 May.

Kurt Iveson, Sydney branch president of the National
Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), explained why the union had strongly backed
the Climate Strikes in 2019 and argued that the union has to become a vehicle
for staff climate activism. He pointed to examples of past political strikes
such as the Builders Labourers Federation’s Green Bans and railway strikes
against uranium mining in the 1970s.

Others drew out lessons from mobilising on campus last
year. University Vice-Chancellors (VCs) were pressured to concede that no one
attending the strikes would be penalised. But in many departments staff had to
fight even to use paid leave or their lunch break to attend. To shut down whole
departments we will have to fight the VC and local administrators tooth and
nail.

Several workers mentioned the importance of linking
industrial issues to the climate action mobilisations. A number of people have
joined the NTEU through the climate strikes as a result of the
union’s role in leading calls for investment in publicly-owned renewables and a
just transition for workers. So climate mobilisation can strengthen the fight
over casualisation and management restructures. But to get a real strike over
climate action, we will also need to build up people’s confidence to strike
over industrial issues, and to win those industrial fights.

Iveson raised that white-collar unions like the NTEU
need to build credibility with blue collar unions, whose members face the loss
of jobs in fossil fuel industries, in order to win stronger union support for
climate action.

Others responded by saying the best way to build
credibility with unions like the CFMEU and the MUA was to hit the streets with
them shoulder-to-shoulder for the 1 May strike rally. Last year thousands of
workers marched off construction sites, factories and wharves against the
Morrison government’s anti-union laws. This year the 1 May stopwork rally
includes demands for climate action, alongside workers’ rights and social
justice. 

Mass
mobilisation

Mass
mobilisation will be crucial to winning jobs, public investment in renewables
and the emissions reduction required to avoid future climate disasters.

At the 20 September Climate Strike in Sydney teachers,
public servants, nurses, electricians, construction workers, wharfies, land
regeneration workers and many more came as part of around 20 different
contingents. University staff and students organised a 5000-strong contingent
to march into the Domain.

Hutchison workers at Port Botany, as well as NUW
members at Fenner Dunlop and farmworkers from Melbourne, all on strike over
workplace issues, attended the rallies. We will need larger contingents and
many more workplaces out on strike for climate justice in future.

The 22 February day of action has been endorsed by the
United Workers Union, the Maritime Union and the Nurses union nationally—as
well as Unions NSW and Unions ACT.

Working class support for the climate movement is
vital. Workers are the only force in society with the power to win the
movement’s demands—through strike action that stops the gears of the economy
turning.

That’s why Morrison always talks of job losses and
higher electricity prices to try to undermine support for climate action. The
truth is that Morrison doesn’t care about job losses or workers’ rights—but the
climate movement should.

It’s crucial that we build the
largest possible walk-offs for the Climate Strike on 15 May. But it’s also
vital that the movement seriously mobilises for the 1 May strike rally, and
stands in solidarity with workers who are defying the law to fight for workers’
rights.

As the Liberals attack militant unions like the CFMEU
through their union-busting Ensuring Integrity Bill, climate activists and
unionists everywhere need to back their fight.

The climate movement will only succeed if it nails the
real culprits—the big polluting companies and the politicians who back them. We
need to tax the rich to deliver publicly-owned renewables—and to shut down the workplaces
and the streets to win it.  

By Miro Sandev

The post Uni staff plan for month of Climate Strikes in May appeared first on Solidarity Online.

A Green New Deal requires a frontal challenge to capitalism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 18/02/2020 - 1:28pm in

Naomi Klein’s new book taps into a growing sentiment
around the need for large-scale social transformation in response to the
climate crisis, which is coalescing around the call for a Green New Deal.

Democrats like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria
Ocasio-Cortez have helped popularise it, and new Australian Greens leader Adam
Bandt has also made it a focus. 

According to Klein, the Green New Deal would involve
government investment to create millions of new jobs in renewable energy,
health, education, care work, construction, transport, land management and
other industries.

It would also involve providing a job guarantee, and
increasing welfare payments and free education and healthcare, as a way of
tackling growing inequality. 

The focus on positive demands for jobs and increased
living standards, not just blocking fossil fuels developments, is an important
step forward for the environmental movement and should be encouraged.

Winning
a Green New Deal

The
key question is how can we win these kinds of policies and what power must be
mobilised?

While Klein talks about the
importance of social movements, the framework of the Green New Deal revolves
around electing progressive politicians to legislate it—she mentions Democrats
Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as people with a track record of standing
up to the vested interests.

Klein explicitly looks to US President Franklin Delano
Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930’s, which included expansion of public
investment in housing, infrastructure, education, health and social security as
well as job guarantees.

While American capitalists disliked some parts of the
New Deal, overall they were enthusiastic supporters of it as a way of saving
capitalism from itself.

The US in the 1930s was in the grips of the Great
Depression: capitalists had stopped investing, production was contracting and
up to a third of the working age population was unemployed. Government
investment on a mass scale could generate new demand to help private
investment.

The New Deal was also attractive to capitalists
because it included policies that co-opted the leadership of the unions into
doing deals with bosses quickly, instead of organising protracted strikes that
hurt profits. It made it harder for union branches to go on strike legally if
they did not have the support of their national leadership, who were usually
more conservative.

Vested
interests

Another of the big differences between FDR’s New Deal
and Klein’s version is that Klein’s would include the phasing out of the fossil
fuel industries, which are still very profitable. This will be vigorously
opposed by the capitalists. 

Klein understands that the bosses will have to be
fought in order to deliver even a slice of the Green New Deal, but she
underestimates the ferocity of the bosses’ response.

They are willing to unleash vicious police brutality
on movements like the Yellow Vests and general strikes in France. These
movements by comparison are calling for quite moderate demands. The repression
against a militant Green New Deal movement, backed by strikes, would be much
worse.

Klein’s book articulates the need for system change in
order to address the climate crisis and is right in saying we need to,
“confront the economic order and replace it with something that is rooted in
both human and planetary security”.

But when she discusses what this economic order is,
she references “deregulated capitalism” as the main obstacle to a just
transition. This suggests a more regulated capitalism could tolerate the huge
cuts into profits that are required to avert climate disaster.

But the truth is no form of legal regulation can alter
the relations of production in capitalism which are the ultimate cause of
climate change.

Climate change is caused by a system is addicted to
fossil fuels which, as Marx said, “robs both the soil and the worker”.

Capitalism will need to be smashed, not “saved from
itself”. 

In order to build the workers’ power that can
ultimately do this, any Green New Deal movement needs to be deeply embedded in
the already existing struggles workers are waging, like the recent teachers’
strikes.

And it cannot pin its hopes on presidential hopefuls
like Bernie Sanders. It must call on 
workers to take matters into their own hands—to go on strike and force
the government to build public renewables and transition the economy away from
fossil fuels, regardless of who sits in the White House.

By
Miro Sandev

On Fire, The
Burning Case for a Green New Deal

By Naomi
Klein, Allen Lane, $29.99

The post A Green New Deal requires a frontal challenge to capitalism appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Why capitalism can’t act on the climate crisis

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 18/02/2020 - 1:08pm in

The competitive drive structured into capitalism prevents the rich and powerful from acting on the climate crisis, argues Feiyi Zhang

This summer will be remembered for
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s holiday in Hawaii whilst Australia burned red with
apocalyptic skies and charred black forests. It is an image of our political
leaders completely apathetic and indifferent whilst we are overtaken by climate
horror.

But the forces standing against climate action are
much bigger than just Scott Morrison, or even the Liberals and the major
parties. It is an entire capitalist system embedded from head to toe in fossil
fuels.

The climate crisis is so undeniable that even
Conservative leaders like UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson are backflipping to
declare that they accept the reality of climate change.

After previously scoffing that, “there is plenty of
snow in our winters these days” he is now opportunistically arguing, “The
evidence is overwhelming, and this phenomenon of global warming is taking its
toll on the most vulnerable populations around the planet.”

NASA’s Operation Icebridge recently discovered that a
cavity in the Thwaites ridge in the “Doomsday” glacier in Antarctica is melting
much faster than expected. If the glacier melts it would send sea levels
surging by 60cm and submerge major coastal cities.

It’s often said that everyone will be affected by
climate change. Workers and the poor will be worst hit—as those least able to
afford to move from disaster ravaged areas. But corporations and governments
will also be dramatically affected.

Global investment firms like BlackRock are
increasingly concerned about the “sustainability-related risks” that climate
change poses to investments.

They have enormous sums to lose. Global not-for-profit
Carbon Disclosure Project asked firms to calculate how they thought climate
change would impact them financially. After analysing submissions from 215 of
the world’s 500 biggest corporations, they found that they faced $1 trillion in
losses within the coming decades, with a majority of those losses in the next
five years or so.

Previous calculations published in the journal Nature
estimated losses to the financial sector of between $1.7 trillion and $24.2
trillion.

But even given the scale of the climate crisis and the
green rhetoric from some of them, governments and the rich and powerful are
neither able, nor willing, to act to solve the disaster.

Instead they have sought to fiddle with market-based schemes
or use accounting tricks to say they are divesting from polluting industries
whilst emissions keep rising.

Capitalism
and fossil fuels

Capitalism,
the economic system we live under, has a relentless logic of its own that
forces companies and governments to operate according to its dictates.

Capitalism is not a rational system based on ensuring
environmental sustainability or meeting human needs.

One third of global food production is wasted,
according to a study for the UN food agency, whilst one in seven people do not
have enough to eat. People die because of lack of access to medicines because
pharmaceutical companies control patents.

Capitalism has produced destruction on a massive scale
in the past—the two world wars killed over 100 million people and shattered
whole economies. It has also taken us to the brink of nuclear annihilation
during the Cold War.

Karl Marx spent decades trying to understand the
system and explain its dynamics, culminating in his masterwork, Capital.

Marx argued that capitalism is based on the
exploitation of workers and competition for profit.

At its heart is competition between rival
companies—both within every country and across the globe. To survive,
corporations need to not only guarantee their profits but remain competitive
against other corporations, which are constantly looking to decrease costs and
undercut their competitors.

One important way to do this is developing and
installing new technology that is more efficient or requires fewer workers.
Companies need to continually expand their profits to ensure they can stay at
the technological cutting edge and prevent rivals taking them over.

Fossil fuels play a special role in capitalism—they
became structured into the system’s DNA as it developed.

Coal was a central part of creating the first centres
of capitalist industry in Britain. Coal power allowed factories to move away
from traditional sources of energy next to water sources. Coal and steam
engines allowed capitalism to become mobile and create cities.

The use of oil alongside the invention of combustion
engines and aeroplanes transformed transport and war machines. As corporations
grew and consolidated by the 1930s more than half of the biggest companies were
based in fossil fuels. They are central not just to energy production but to
industries from manufacturing to clothing, transport and agricultural
fertilisers.

As ecologist Ian Angus wrote, “Fossil fuels are not an
overlay that can be peeled away from capitalism, leaving the system intact.
They are embedded in every aspect of the system.”

Reducing carbon pollution would mean huge costs to
install new production methods in a whole range of industries—something
companies are anxious to avoid.

A government in one country could force them to do so,
but if their rivals in another nation don’t have the same requirements then
they can produce their goods more cheaply, sell them on the global market at a
lower price and drive others out of business.

This leaves each individual corporation and government
paralysed when it comes to addressing climate change.

They can see the threat it poses to profits and their
own national economy in the long term. But each company has to remain
profitable in the here and now—or it faces going bust. And their power, their
military might and billions of dollars are at stake.

This is why governments across the globe have been
unable to agree on the coordinated international action on climate change that
is needed. This is why the UN climate convention talks, which began back in 1992,
have produced 25 years of failure.

Countries like the US, Saudi Arabia and Australia
which are more carbon intensive have acted to sabotage global action because
they know it would impose higher costs on their own economies than on their
rivals.

At the last summit in December, Australia
disgracefully argued to use an accounting trick of carrying over carbon credits
from the previous Kyoto Protocol period to count towards its 2030 carbon
emissions target.

As long as digging up and selling
fossil fuels remains profitable, regardless of the extent of the environmental
disaster or social crisis it causes, corporations and governments will still
invest in carbon, oil or gas.

Even if one company or investor divests from fossil
fuel production, another will pick up its mines and oil rigs and keep them
running if they can make a profit.

To act on climate change would require a massive
writing down of trillions of dollars in current and future investment in fossil
fuels—on a scale that has never been seen before under capitalism.

It is estimated that 33 financial institutions have
provided an estimated total of $1.9tn to future investments in the fossil fuel
sector just between 2016 and 2018. The rich and powerful will fight to defend
this wealth with all the means at their disposal.

Greenwashing and false solutions

The
scale of the climate crisis means that some people think that governments and
corporations will eventually have to act or are already beginning the
transition to renewable energy.

Although we already have the technologies to
transition to 100 per cent renewables within a decade, the wealth invested in
fossil fuels and the competitive nature of the system has prevented renewable
power being built on the scale needed.

The new wave of green technologies in renewable energy
and electric vehicles are still marginal to capitalism compared to the use of
fossil fuels—and, if it’s left to the capitalist market, they are not going to
replace them in the timescale needed.

A projection in September by the US government Energy
Information Administration found global coal use would remain steady until 2040
and then increase.

While renewable energy use is expected to grow, it
would simply meet the huge increase in electricity demand over the coming
decades.

Instead, as the climate crisis heightens, so does
“greenwashing” by corporations and governments to sell the idea that there is
action being taken on climate change whilst business continues as usual.

Norway is one country that is celebrated for
decarbonising its economy. Last year Norway’s enormous sovereign wealth fund
announced that it would divest from fossil fuel investments. But, in fact, it
would still own shares in major oil companies like BP and Shell because they
have renewable energy divisions—despite the fact these are a tiny part of their
operations.

The country also “decreases” its emissions by buying
offset permits from other countries. With emissions projected to decrease by
only 12 per cent by 2030 under current policies, Norway would only meet its 40
per cent target through forest sinks or offsets.

We need to fight for system change; for solutions that
break from the logic of the profit system by demanding government investment in
publicly-owned renewable energy.

To win this will require a massive fight against the
power of the fossil fuel industry and the political establishment—and the logic
of the system itself.

Ultimately, we need to fight for a socialist society
based on democratic planning, to ensure a sustainable society that is capable
of making the emergency transition needed to tackle the climate crisis and
organise an economy to meet human needs.

The post Why capitalism can’t act on the climate crisis appeared first on Solidarity Online.

The Planet-Saving Potential of Whale Poop

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 18/02/2020 - 3:32am in

The late, great comic Robin Williams once opined that there is nothing quite as boring as whale shit. Dull or not, this unsung substance may be key to solving our climate crisis. Researchers believe rebuilding populations of great whales could significantly increase the vast amount of atmospheric carbon absorbed by tiny marine algae called phytoplankton, which rely on nutrients from the leviathans’ fecal plumes. 

Though scientists have long known about phytoplankton’s importance to climate stability, the counterintuitive connection between whales and the climate has failed to gain mainstream traction — until now. A chance encounter on the high seas between marine researchers and an IMF economist has produced an unorthodox calculation that’s attracting the interest of investors: $2 million per whale.

whaleChami, an economist at the International Monetary Fund, calculated great whales provide over $1 trillion in economic value, in large part due to their role in fighting climate change. Credit: James Lee / Flickr

Dr. Ralph Chami is not an expert on marine mammals. An assistant director at the International Monetary Fund, his day job focuses mainly on working with fragile states in Africa and the Middle East. But in 2018, he tagged along on a scientific survey of blue whales off the coast of Baja, Mexico with Michael Fishbach of the Great Whale Conservancy and other researchers from around the world.

Long days on the water were followed by evenings of shoptalk over beers and dinner, during which Chami was introduced to jargon like “whale carbon” and the “whale pump” — phrases that describe how these marine mammals help remove huge amounts of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. 

whales environment infographicCourtesy: IMF

The largest animal that has ever lived, blue whales can grow up to 100 feet long and weigh over 180 tons. An entire African elephant could fit inside the mouth of these giants. Like all living things, whales accumulate carbon in their bodies as they grow, and because they typically sink when they die, they take all that carbon with them to their watery graves. Upon its demise, the average whale can carry the equivalent of 1,500 trees worth of carbon to the bottom of the ocean and out of atmospheric circulation for centuries. 

It is while they’re alive, however, that whales play a more active role in fighting climate change. Feasting on shrimp-like krill at depth, they release fecal plumes rich in nitrogen and iron when they surface to breathe. In delivering these deep ocean nutrients to the sunlit surface, they encourage the growth of phytoplankton, the microscopic algae that are truly the lungs of the planet. This process is called the whale pump

Courtesy: IMF

Phytoplankton capture about 40 percent of the world’s carbon emissions and produce half of all atmospheric oxygen — the equivalent of four Amazon rainforests. Every second breath you take is provided by these tiny marine plants. They are also the primary food supply of krill, so whales are helping to feed their own food supply by providing the nutrients that nourish them. Scientists believe this is why whales do their bathroom business within phytoplankton blooms, helping to maximize the biological benefit to themselves. 

What is a whale worth?

Aboard the research vessel, Chami knew he wasn’t much help to his crewmates in their studies of whale behavior. As an economist, his expertise lies in linking monetary values to real-world outcomes. It was during the voyage, however, that he had an epiphany: He realized how economics could help solve the problem of turning an esoteric concept like the whale pump into tangible action to fight climate change. 

“Maybe I can help you guys,” Chami told the scientists. “The problem is that the language you speak is not the language the money guys speak.” Back in his office, he started assigning dollar values to the benefits whales provide the planet.  

What he discovered would make any investor buy stock in whales. An average whale in its lifetime will store the equivalent of 32 tons of carbon dioxide in its body. Factoring in enhanced carbon capture by phytoplankton from fecal fertilizing, as well as improving local fish stocks and ecotourism, Chami calculated that great whales are worth at least $2 million each. Multiplied by all the filter-feeding whales on the planet, that means these marine giants provide over $1 trillion in economic value around the world. 

chamiRalph Chami and Michael Fishbach of the Great Whale Conservancy. Photo courtesy Ralph Chami.

In December, he published his findings in an IMF publication, sparking renewed interest in whale conservation that is now reaching an influential audience in the finance world. Chami and Fishbach recently returned from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. After finishing their presentation to a room filled with global bankers and investors, “We were mobbed,” he says.

Based on the response his research has received, Chami believes the financial world could play an important role in contributing to whale conservation. Now that Chami and his collaborators have put hard numbers on the ecosystem services provided by these marine giants, economists could craft market-based pricing mechanisms so that whales could, in effect, fund their own recovery efforts. 

Saving the whales so they can save us

Many whale populations are now bouncing back from the edge of extinction. While this is a conservation success story, much more could be done to speed their recovery. Some species like the blue whale are still at only three percent of their historic numbers.  

The causes of whale mortality are well known, but addressing them requires changes that will cost countries and companies money. For instance, in spite of an international whaling moratorium signed in 1987, Japan, Norway and Iceland still kill over 1,000 whales per year in commercial or “scientific” hunting (a dubious designation.) However, Chami has revealed that a live whale is worth over 20 times more than a “harvested” one, which has a market value of only about $80,000.

A far larger number are killed by ship strikes, entanglement with fishing gear, marine noise and plastic pollution. Solving these problems will mean shifting commercial shipping routes and slowing vessel speeds in places where whales are likely to be present. Improved fishing gear and better local enforcement will reduce the number of whales caught in floating ropes and nets. Fishbach also flags the need to ban single-use plastics accumulating in the ocean. “These animals can’t swim around in a garbage dump and survive.” 

whaleChami has revealed that a live whale is worth over 20 times more than a “harvested” one, which has a market value of only about $80,000. Credit: Humberto Braojos

All of which is to say, strategies for boosting whale populations will cut into various entities’ profit margins, which is why it’s important to monetize the value of individual whales. Take ship strikes, for example. Altering busy shipping lanes to avoid seasonal whale migrations has been shown to work in places like Boston Harbor, where slight changes made to navigation routes in 2007 decreased whale and ship encounters by over 65 percent. Such changes aren’t free, but the figures provided by Chami and the co-authors of his study put these trade-offs in perspective. For instance, Maersk is the largest container shipping company in the world, operating 786 vessels that travel to 116 countries. As large as this operation is, operating revenue for Maersk in 2018 was $39 billion — less than four percent of the $1 trillion in climate value provided by the world’s remaining great whales.

Clearly the costs incurred to save whales are worth it from an overall monetary perspective. But who will reimburse companies like Maersk so they’ll change their behavior?

Chami believes framing whale conservation around economic benefits will enlist powerful organizations like the World Bank, the IMF and United Nations to help coordinate recovery efforts or manage a global whale fund. Governments around the world collected $44 billion in carbon pricing in 2018 so, in theory, there is ample money available to direct it where it is most needed. Small island nations like East Timor and the Dominican Republic have globally important populations of whales passing through their waters and could benefit from outside funds to speed their resurgence. Increased whale populations would likewise build ecotourism and the productivity of local fisheries in countries with weaker economies.

Accelerating the recovery of great whales could be considered a “no-tech” type of geoengineering to scale up removing existing CO2 from the atmosphere. It is estimated that increasing phytoplankton populations by only one percent would be the equivalent of adding another two billion mature trees to the planet. 

Saving the whales for their own sake is important enough. We are just beginning to recognize that they are also saving us. Putting a price on their services could be a positive way to increase the abundance of these magnificent creatures — and their planet-saving poo.

The post The Planet-Saving Potential of Whale Poop appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

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