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New tech makes eco-mining a reality for Rare Earths

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 31/03/2022 - 5:15pm in

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Environment

University of South Australia Media Release They’re the driving force behind electric vehicles and crucial to the manufacture of many high-tech products, but while rare earth elements are highly valued across many sectors, they’re extremely hazardous to extract, posing significant issues for the environment. Now, new research from the University of South Australia could transform…

The post New tech makes eco-mining a reality for Rare Earths appeared first on The AIM Network.

Accounting for Environmental Change: the Corporate Accountability Network issues a new draft Financial Reporting Standard that says its time to account for net-zero

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 31/03/2022 - 5:00pm in

The Corporate Accountability Network is launching a new report today, which includes a draft Financial Reporting Standard for Accounting for Environmental Change. This embraces the ideas previously described in sustainable cost accounting.

The draft standard and supporting paper is here. The introductory note is as follows, with the references being available within the report.

It is now widely acknowledged that there is a climate crisis (G20 2021, UN PRI 2021).

Accounting initiatives have been made in response to this crisis, including those from the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) (TCFD 2017) and the International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation (IFRS) linked International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB 2021), both of which seek to provide data on the scale of this crisis. The EU is taking a slightly broader approach (EFRAG 2021a) in its accounting response. In addition, wider recognition of the need for enhanced sustainability reporting has also emerged indirectly through the UK government’s Brydon review’s recommendation for new resilience statements (Brydon 2019).

This paper will argue that these proposals are useful steps forward but are fundamentally limited in scope, meaning that they fail to deliver the accounting reforms required in response to the environmental crisis. There are three reasons for this.

First, none of the above proposals require properly integrated reporting (Flower 2015, Dumay et al 2016). Integrated reporting would require that the accounting consequences of environmental change would be reflected on the balance sheet of a reporting entity. This is not envisaged by any currently proposed climate accounting standard. That is because none of the currently proposed standards break down the silos between sustainability reporting and financial reporting (Unerman et al, 2018).

The IFRS Foundation’s ISSB will instead likely steer the TCFD towards ‘front end’ rather than ‘back end’ financial reporting[1]. In addition, the IFRS’s implicit endorsement of the Australian Accounting Standards Board (AASB 2019) approach requires no change to general purpose financial statements whereas this paper argues that this is precisely the change that is required. The same is also true of the IFRS’s own statement on this issue (Anderson 2019).

First, this unwillingness to integrate climate and financial reporting means that the latter will misrepresent the risk inherent in many public interest entities (PIEs) arising from climate change. Serious investment errors are likely to result as a consequence, whilst essential climate change responses may also be deferred, which is a risk that society cannot afford to take.

Second, these proposals avoid any suggestion that changes be made in those who are considered to be the primary users of what the IFRS calls general purpose financial statements, which definition currently excludes most in society (IFRS 2018, para 1.2) by focusing solely on the needs of shareholders and other suppliers of capital to a company. Nor is any such change likely to result from the UK government review of audit (BEIS 2021). As a result, only a small sub-section of the potential users of accounting data remain the focus of this proposed reporting on climate change (Young 2006), which means that the proposed climate reporting now on offer does not meet public need, by design.

Third, whilst the proposals might create a new emphasis within financial reporting, effectively delivering a form of natural capital reporting (Wackernagel et al 1999), the result is that an artificial asset (carbon emissions as defined by regulation) is promoted as another financialised asset for disclosure purposes (Perry and Nolke 2006). We argue that this form of accounting does not meet user needs, even by the IFRS Foundation’s definition of decision usefulness.

This paper presents an alternative model of climate reporting by arguing that accounting for environmental change is not an addition to existing financial reporting or a mere variant to it, but fundamentally changes the focus and purpose of financial statements. This change can be achieved through adoption of a new Financial Reporting Standard on Accounting for Environmental Change, a draft of which with explanatory notes is attached to the paper. The resulting changes to the conceptual framework of accounting are the focus of this explanatory paper.

At its core the proposed Financial Reporting Standard makes a straightforward demand. Rather than require a reporting entity to disclose its emissions and its progress in reducing them, which is the focus of most existing climate change accounting proposals, the draft Financial Reporting Standard requires the reporting entity to estimate the cost of eliminating those emissions in order to align its activities with the goal of achieving a 1.50 Celsius global temperature change (IGCC 2021). This cost, plus the cost of any new investment required to achieve this goal if the reporting entity is to continue to be considered a going concern, must be provided on the balance sheet of the reporting entity, with that liability being matched by what is deemed to be a realised reserve that reduces the capacity of the reporting entity to pay dividends until the goal of sustainability is achieved.

This paper notes that these changes are possible, but that delivering them will require changes in the IFRS conceptual framework for accounting (IFRS 2018). These changes primarily relate to a reappraisal as to who the users of accounts are, with a range of stakeholders being suggested in place of the existing focus that is solely upon shareholders and other suppliers of capital, and a reappraisal of what form of capital has priority when it comes to accounting, with environmental capital taking priority over financial capital.

We argue that accounting for these provisions for the cost of adapting to environmental change on an ongoing basis will provide users of financial statements with the data they need to monitor the reporting entity’s success in becoming net-zero compliant. In the process we turn issues relating to environmental change into hard accounting data capable of being recorded within the audited books and records of any PIE. As a result the Board of any such PIE will have to focus its attention on this issue since it has direct impact on its financial reporting.

Notes:

[1] The ‘front end’ of financial reporting is largely narrative-based data. The ‘back end’ comprises the financial statements drawn from the general ledger of the reporting entity.

 

“Glenleigh” c.1927. Curious

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 31/03/2022 - 8:17am in

“Glenleigh” c.1927. Curious Spanish Mission style apartment building. Summer Hill.

Internal EPA Report Describes "Incredibly Toxic Work Environment" in New Chemicals Division

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 31/03/2022 - 2:46am in

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Environment

An internal workplace survey commissioned by the EPA reveals a work environment that agency scientists and other staff describe as “hostile,” “oppressive,” “toxic,” “extremely toxic,” and “incredibly toxic.” After whistleblowers from the Environmental Protection Agency’s New Chemicals Division publicly accused several colleagues and supervisors of altering chemical assessments to make chemicals seem safer, the agency hired consultants to ask employees about their experiences of working in the division, which assesses the safety of chemicals being introduced to the market. A resulting report, completed in January and released in response to a public records request in March, reveals a workforce consumed by internal disputes and torn between the agency’s environmental mission and intense pressure from chemical companies to quickly approve their products on tight deadlines.

For some of the 29 staff members who responded to the survey, those intertwined stressors appear to have turned work into a form of agony. “When I joined the [New Chemicals Division in the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics], my expectation was very high because I was standing in the core sector to protect the American public and environment,” one agency employee wrote. “But now I am failing all my excitement for the EPA, my duties, environmental justice for the public, and even as a human being. I am so exhausted and worn out due to the harsh environment.”

“Staff has been told to leave the room when they expressed a scientific opinion which was contrary to management.”

One respondent offered a description of meetings with companies at which risk assessors don’t speak “since they are too afraid.” Another noted that “staff has been told to leave the room when they expressed a scientific opinion which was contrary to management.” And others said that they faced retaliation for raising scientific concerns with their superiors. One staff member reported becoming physically ill in response to the stress in the new chemicals division. In an interview about the workplace, another staff member mentioned that “People are made to cry regularly.”

Although the report was redacted to protect the names of individuals, it nevertheless conveyed a pointed mistrust and fear of particular staff members. “On the conference calls with companies, the Risk Assessors are afraid to talk when [redacted] is there,” one person noted in a one-on-one interview, going on to say that “[redacted] is very hostile and makes false complaints about the Risk Assessors.” Another said, “People are fearful of [redacted].” Even the agency’s effort to solicit the employees’ thoughts and feelings on their work culture, which was done as part of a larger effort to address scientific integrity problems at the agency, didn’t escape fears of retaliation from co-workers. “There was very little participation in one of the listening sessions because [redacted] buddy was logged on to spy,” one staff member noted.

Despite the clear tensions, the responses also show that many employees have retained their enthusiasm for the agency’s mission, which includes protecting public health and the environment from toxic chemicals. “I know that the work I do protects myself and others to ensure that my family, my community, and the greater world can have access to clean safe water, air, and land to thrive on,” one worker wrote. “This brings me immense joy to serve them in this way.”

“Most staff believe that they are not protecting the public and decisions favor industry instead.”

Others lamented the gulf between the agency’s mission and the reality of their jobs. “If I take a moment and step back to look at what the work I am doing might accomplish, I take pride in it,” wrote one staff member quoted in the report. “Yet, this becomes very hard to recognize in the day-to-day. While I can draft an inspiring/impressive blurb about my work, the daily tasks and pace of work can quickly make the highlight reel of my work feel like a complete distortion of the truth.”

Several respondents blamed chemical companies for souring the environment within the agency and suggested that “New managers need to be brought in for OPPT without ties to the industry.” Asked “what makes you feel good about your work and workplace?” one staff member answered, “Not much. OPPT is chaos. Most staff believe that they are not protecting the public and decisions favor industry instead.”

Survey Underscores Whistleblower Allegations

Indeed, many of the responses in the report underscore allegations made by the whistleblowers, who, since July, have been providing The Intercept, the EPA Inspector General, and members of Congress with detailed evidence that some managers and high-level officials within the division of new chemicals have interfered with dozens of assessments. Together the information they have shared — including screenshots of emails, internal reports, and draft chemical assessments — have outlined a pattern of industry influence in the division, in which risk assessors were pressured to minimize or omit the potential harms of chemicals. In several cases, the documents show, managers changed and deleted the risk assessors’ findings when they refused to do it themselves.

While five Ph.D. scientists who worked in the division of new chemicals have supplied the bulk of that evidence, the newly released survey, which the EPA refers to as a “climate assessment,” provides a broader look into the experience of workers in the division. In addition to getting 29 responses to its written questionnaire, the Federal Consulting Group also conducted 13 listening sessions and 10 individual interviews as part of its assessment. (Because some employees may have participated in interviews as well as surveys and listening groups, the total number of participants is unclear.)

The new report, which contains more extensive notes on the listening sessions and interviews as well as direct quotes from the surveys, lays out a range of frustrations felt by workers and reveals a throughline of distrust that appears to divide the staff working on new chemicals. At least one respondent seemed to blame the whistleblowers for the dysfunctional environment. “We are unable to get anything done because we are acutely aware that our meetings are more than likely being recorded without our knowledge and consent,” the person wrote, possibly referring to an audio recording (made by a consultant) of a meeting in which high-priority “hair-on-fire” cases were discussed. Others described being pressured by higher-level staff members to change their scientific findings. Asked “what is impeding your ability to get work done,” one staff member wrote, “Management that micromanages and interferes with staff risk assessments. Assessments were put through multiple rounds of review with the sole purpose of eroding risk finding.” Another responded that “Managers from the Branch Chief level up to the [assistant administrator] level force technical experts to do unethical or illegal things and block scientific information from being released if it says something they don’t like.”

In its depiction of scientists who feel mistrustful of their superiors and unable to properly do their jobs, the new report parallels the findings of a 2020 survey by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. In that survey, which was conducted well before the whistleblowers came forward with their allegations, only 41 percent of 181 staff members of the agency’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics, which contains the New Chemicals Division, agreed with the statement that “I can disclose a suspected violation of any law, rule or regulation without fear of reprisal.” And a mere 18 percent of respondents to the 2020 survey agreed with the statement that “My organization’s senior leaders maintain high standards of honesty and integrity.”

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER, which has been representing the whistleblowers and submitted the Freedom of Information Act Request for the internal report, said that the newly released document vindicated the group’s clients. “It supports everything they’ve been saying about morale, bullying, and catering to industry,” said Kyla Bennett, director of science policy at PEER. Bennett also criticized the EPA for not voluntarily making the report public: “The fact that EPA did not give this information to the employees is disheartening.”

In an emailed response to questions from The Intercept, the EPA emphasized its intention to resolve the issues roiling the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention: “OCSPP is committed to ensuring the highest level of scientific integrity across the office and takes seriously all allegations of violations of scientific integrity. Additionally, OCSPP is committed to fostering a healthy work environment that promotes respect between all levels of staff, supports work-life balance, provides for an open exchange of differing scientific and policy views, and achieves our mission of protecting human health and the environment.”

Overworked and Under-Resourced

The pressures on the scientists who assess chemicals appears to be intensified by a lack of resources. In October, EPA Assistant Administrator Michal Freedhoff told members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that the EPA has less than 50 percent of the resources necessary to implement the new chemicals program as Congress had intended. The EPA also blamed its failure to publicly post the risk reports for 1,240 chemicals on a lack of resources. The internal report paints a grim picture of the experience of trying to perform complex scientific evaluations on new chemicals without enough staff or resources.

“We have a handful of human health assessors responsible for all of the new chemicals cases, which means each one might have over a hundred cases they need to keep track of at a given time,” one employee wrote. “That’s too much work and quality can suffer as a result.” Asked what are the most critical things that need to be addressed to improve the organization, one staff member responded “about 4 times as many people as we currently have.”

Part of the problem seems to stem from the increased demands on assessors due to the 2016 update of the Toxic Substance Control Act, also known as the Lautenberg Act. “We are woefully understaffed given the 2016 mandate,” is how one respondent described the crush of work. “Lautenberg requires us to make a risk assessment finding for all cases (400-500 a year) whereas before 2016 we would only need to do so for ~20% of the cases received.”

If funded, the 2023 budget for the EPA, which President Joe Biden released this week, would address some of the problem. The president requested $11.881 billion for the agency, which includes $124 million for “efforts to deliver on the promises made to the American people by the bipartisan Lautenberg Act.” That money would pay for 449 full-time employees and “support EPA-initiated chemical risk evaluations and protective regulations in accordance with statutory timelines,” according to a statement from EPA Administrator Michael Regan.

 Samuel Corum/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Michael Regan, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, speaks during an event at the EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 20, 2021.

Photo: Samuel Corum/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The EPA has already begun to address some of the issues that were raised in the climate assessment, which began in October. That month, after The Intercept published four articles detailing the whistleblowers’ allegations, the EPA announced it was taking several steps to improve scientific integrity in both the New Chemicals Division and the Office of Pesticide Programs, which has also faced criticism of industry influence. The agency created two internal science policy advisory councils, one of which will focus on the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics. The EPA also said it planned to review scientific and science policy issues related to new chemical submissions and improve decision-making and record-keeping practices related to review and management of new chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act. The agency announced it would be improving its standard operating procedures, or SOPs.

It’s hard to imagine these basic documents, which are meant to provide clear, written instructions on how to perform routine activities, causing unrest. Yet according to one EPA employee who was quoted in the climate assessment, even writing SOPs has proven a source of painful contention about how to deal with industry involvement. “We can’t write SOPs because we might forget a reference that the American Chemistry Council might have wanted to be included and if they ask for us to include a reference that we didn’t at the start then the whole thing has to be thrown out and we have to perform a sacrifice to redeem ourselves in the eyes of some unknown god,” wrote the employee. The American Chemistry Council is a trade group that represents many chemical companies.

In January, the EPA released a memo about the climate assessment, in which it summarized the findings in the survey and acknowledged that the employees had expressed fear, anger, frustration, and disappointment about working in the New Chemicals Division. In the memo, Freedhoff also reiterated her commitment to “taking the appropriate actions to address any inappropriate behaviors in the workplace” in certain circumstances, including in response to recommendations from the inspector general. Freedhoff also reaffirmed her commitment to taking actions in response to substantiated cases of harassment, scientific integrity violations, and recommendations from the inspector general in a February interview with The Intercept.

In its statement to The Intercept, the EPA once again underscored Freedhoff’s commitment to resolving the problems within the New Chemicals Division, which is part of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “Dr. Freedhoff is focused on fostering a collaborative workplace environment that enables OCSPP staff to better work together to protect human health and the environment and return to long-standing practices and procedures that may have been disregarded by the previous Administration,” the statement read.

The EPA also noted some recent changes the agency has made to support scientific integrity and strengthen the new chemicals program. Among the new efforts are a program to streamline the review of new chemicals; a partnership with the Office of Research and Development to modernize the review process; and the appointment of Stan Barone as the new science policy adviser in the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.

For some, the changes are already too late. Throughout the report, survey respondents and interviewees mention former colleagues who have left the unpleasant work circumstances to take other jobs. “People leave due to the bad upper management, feeling happy that they no longer have to deal with terrible management and then convincing others to leave,” one worker wrote. Another tied the departures to the division’s scientific integrity problems, writing, “The staff knows that their only recourse, when confronted with unethical or illegal actions by management, is to leave.”

Others were clear that they hoped to follow their co-workers out the door. Asked “what is your greatest hope going forward?” one employee responded, “That I find a new job as soon as possible.” Another wrote: “Willing to take a lateral or move to a different agency to escape this broken organization.”

Yet still others seemed committed to finding a way to keep doing science at the agency, affirming their allegiance to their work at the New Chemicals Division, if not its current workplace cultures. “I want to have a safe working place without being bullied, discriminated against,” one scientist wrote. Another agreed, expressing the desire to continue doing the work but with one big caveat: “That I no longer have to fear that management interference could result in a decision or assessment that I worked on/contributed to harming human health and the environment.”

The post Internal EPA Report Describes “Incredibly Toxic Work Environment” in New Chemicals Division appeared first on The Intercept.

Arctic Greening Won’t Save the Climate – Here’s Why

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 31/03/2022 - 2:28am in

Why arctic greening is yet another feel-good idea that does not pan out in practice.

Weak Oil: The Looming Collapse of Putin’s Petro Dictatorship

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 31/03/2022 - 1:28am in

The Kremlin needs a permanent state of hybrid warfare in Europe to stop a global energy system transformation that will unravel Russia’s oligarchic fossil fuel economy

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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not a symbol of strength, but a prelude to its demise as the entire global geopolitical order is reshaped in the context of a wholesale transformation of the energy system that will complete within the next two decades.

In his weekend speech in Warsaw, President Joe Biden promised to help “Europe end its dependence on Russian fossil fuels” – including moving “as quickly as possible to clean, renewable energy”. He added:

“… the days of any nation being subject to the whims of a tyrant for its energy needs are over. They must end.”

But Biden perhaps did not anticipate how correct he might actually be: because the war in Ukraine is Putin’s trump card, a last-ditch effort to forestall the unwinding of the age of fossil fuels using military power. As such, I conclude, Putin’s strategy was never about winning a quick, decisive victory in Ukraine. Rather, he wanted to prepare the ground to be capable of creating a state of permanent instability in Europe that he can deploy as a lever to keep oil prices high in a bid to make Russia’s last oil frontier in Siberia economically feasible. This ploy has now been tested in Ukraine - and may be deployed again when deemed necessary as Russia's fossil fuel economy dips further into crisis in coming years.

Facts on the ground have already complicated this strategy: what happens next hinges on whether Putin recognises that his war will accelerate the very economic obsolescence he wanted to forestall.

The implication is stark: the total disruption of fossil fuel industries over the coming decades represents economic Armageddon for Russia.

Russia is the world’s largest oil and gas exporter in the world. Despite Putin’s hopes, his war on Ukraine will irreversibly damage this position, and accelerate the collapse of the primary export trades on which Russia’s economy is most dependent. Russia’s actions have already prompted its largest clients in Europe to rethink their dependence on Russian fossil fuels in a way they have never done before. Germany, the biggest consumer of Russian gas, has brought forward its renewable energy targets and is actively seeking alternative sources of fossil fuels.

But this is just part of a much larger picture. We stand in the dawn of a wider process of transformation in the global energy system that is unfolding far quicker than conventional analysts believed possible. If we fail to understand this transformation, we will continue to be caught off guard as it manifests in further episodes of geopolitical destabilisation.

The Industrial Oligarchy

Russia’s geopolitical and military power is bound up with its position today as, arguably, the world’s pre-eminent industrial fossil fuel power. Its geopolitical ascent has been a direct outcome of Vladimir Putin’s efforts to centralise state control over the country’s most productive enterprises, run by an incestuous clique of oligarchs.

Putin’s strategy has been highly successful. It has resulted in Russia becoming the world’s number one exporter of oil, gas and wheat, the latter produced through intensive fossil fuel-based industrial agriculture. Russia is also a major exporter of many other key industrial products and raw materials and has built up massive cash reserves from this global export business.

So Russia’s internal oligarchic autocracy and military structures are fundamentally premised on its extraction-based economy, which depends on the global consumption of Russia’s fossil fuel commodities. Russian power, then, is an integral part of a capitalist world system in which the vast majority of countries in every major region of the world are dependent on fossil fuels.

But this system – both on the global scale and within Russia – is in decline. At the heart of this decline is a transformation of the global energy system playing out through two interlinked processes: the increasingly uneconomical dynamics of the global fossil fuel system premised on increasingly expensive methods of extracting scarce resources; and the accelerating deployment of an emerging clean energy system premised on increasingly cheap and improving renewable energy technologies.

Warnings: Weak Oil

Eight years ago, Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor Tony Seba released his book, Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation: How Silicon Valley Will Make Oil, Nuclear, Natural Gas, Coal, Electric Utilities and Conventional Cars Obsolete by 2030. Seba’s book projected that solar, wind, batteries (SWB) and electric vehicles (EVs) were on track to become so cheap and efficient they would rapidly displace incumbent fossil fuel energy and internal combustion engine vehicles by around 2030.

Clean Disruption’s cost curves for these technologies pointed to 2020 as the ‘rupture point’ for both the energy and transportation disruptions – the point at which the disruptive technologies become increasingly and irreversibly cheaper than the incumbents.

Two years later, Seba was among a group of experts invited by the CNA’s Military Advisory Board in Arlington, Virginia – an elite group of retired three- and four-star military officers from the US Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps – to advise on energy and national security. CNA is a renowned think-tank that runs research for a range of US military and government agencies.

At the meeting, Seba warned that due to the acceleration of the clean energy disruption, US military leaders would need to consider the probability of Russian aggression during the 2020s. As incumbent energy industries become increasingly obsolete through this decade, so too would the centralised military and geopolitical architectures they depend on. Peak oil demand would leave a powerful petro-state like Russia – with its history of military adventurism – few options but to resort to aggression to maximise extraction opportunities.

At the CNA sessions in 2016, Seba first met technology investor James Arbib. Together, they would go on to found the technology forecasting think-tank RethinkX, where I work today. RethinkX’s first report was about the transport disruption driven by EVs and eventually autonomous EVs – and it correctly predicted the decline in oil demand resulting in a collapse of oil prices to $20 a barrel due to the impact of multiple disruptions including smartphones, EVs, batteries and expanding SWB.

The oil price collapse played the key role in pushing Russia into a deepening recession. But this was just the beginning. In January 2022, oil and gas-related taxes and export tariffs accounted for 45% of Russia’s federal budget according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), and the energy sector contributes some 25% of the country’s GDP.

The implication is stark: the total disruption of fossil fuel industries over the coming decades represents economic Armageddon for Russia.

Around the time of Seba’s warning to US military leaders, I had also expected an escalation of conflict involving Europe, Russia and Ukraine linked to energy issues, and warned as much in my scientific monograph published in 2017, Failing States, Collapsing Systems: BioPhysical Triggers of Political Violence (Springer Energy Briefs).

My analysis was based on a different lens. While Seba had focused on the impact of exponentially improving technologies, I was focusing on the economic decline of incumbent industries.

“Geopolitical turmoil that has unfolded in Ukraine, provides a compelling indication that such HSD [human system destabilisation] processes are rapidly moving from the periphery of the global system into the core,” I wrote.

My diagnosis was based on examining the transition of Europe from a continent of major oil and gas producers, into a net importer that had become increasingly dependent on Russian exports, as well as other countries.

“Within Europe, resource depletion has meant that the European Union as a whole has become increasingly dependent on energy imports from Russia, the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. Yet exports from these regions will become tighter as major oil producers approach production limits.”

Although the Euro-Atlantic core, “traditionally representing the most powerful sections of the world system” has mostly “insulated itself from global crisis convergence impacts by diversifying energy supply sources”, this was about to change. As the “total energetic and economic quality of global hydrocarbon resource production is declining”, I wrote, over “the next decade, the Euro-Atlantic core will be forced to contend with this reality.”

The Protracted Collapse of the Oil Age

One concept that can help us understand this broader decline is ‘Energy Return on Investment’ (EROI), a ratio that attempts to measure how much energy we put in, to get a certain amount of energy out. The more energy needed to extract energy, the less surplus ‘net energy’ we have left to support goods and services in the economy outside the energy system. When I surveyed the scientific literature in Failing States, Collapsing Systems, I found a remarkable consensus: that surplus is running increasingly thin. 

In the early 1900s, the EROI of fossil fuels was as high as 100:1: a single unit of energy could extract hundred-fold times more. But as we’ve had to extract fossil fuels using increasingly expensive techniques in more remote locations to access more difficult-to-reach unconventional oil and gas, we need to use more energy – while getting less energy out. Between 1960 and 1980, the world average value EROI for fossil fuels declined by more than half, from about 35:1 to 15:1. More recent data puts the current EROI of fossil fuels value between 6:1 and 3:1, depending on which assumptions are used.

According to University of Surrey economist and former UK Government advisor, Professor Tim Jackson, along with his co-author Dr Andrew Jackson, this unmistakable decline in the EROI of oil, gas and coal has acted as a background ‘brake’ on the rate of economic growth for the world’s advanced industrial economies, which has been slowing down since the 1970s.

These trends came to a head as we crossed into the new millennium. By 2005, we were seeing oil price hikes which intensified through to 2008. They played the major role in triggering the debt defaults that precipitated the global financial crash. Those price hikes happened because the world had reached a turning point – global, cheap conventional oil production had plateaued, and the industry then had to shift increasingly toward more difficult-to-extract unconventional energy sources.

Oil isn’t running out. We have more than enough to fry the planet several times over. But its resource quality is declining. We now need more energy than ever before to keep extracting energy.

This predicament will continue deteriorating over the next decade. Last year, a team of French scientists who work for the government-backed National Institute for Research in Digital Science and Technology found that the world is already using a tenth of the energy produced globally to keep producing oil. By 2024 – in just two years – this will increase to a quarter, a predicament verging on being economically unsustainable. By 2050, fully half of the energy extracted from global oil reserves will need to be put back into new extraction to keep producing oil: equivalent to total collapse.

These trends, then, are symptomatic of the defining nature of fossil fuel industries: self-cannibalistic extraction which generates diminishing returns.

Russia’s energy decline

This global trend of fossil fuel demand is also playing out in Russia. In recent years, several studies – including internal Russian government studies – have anticipated that Russia’s domestic oil production would soon peak and decline due to internal economic and geological challenges.

In 2013, HSBC forecasted that Russia would hit peak oil between 2018 and 2019, experiencing a brief plateau before declining by 30 per cent from 2020 to 2025. Fitch Ratings came to pretty much the same conclusion, noting that only further exploration in remote locations in Siberia over many years might make-up for this decline – a task that would require oil prices above $100 to become economically feasible.

The Russian government was well-aware of the challenge. Also that year, Vladimir A. Kashirtsev, deputy director of the Russian state-controlled Trofimuk Institute of Petroleum Geology and Geophysics (part of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences), predicted that Russian conventional oil production would hit its peak around 2036, following which it would need to shift to more expensive heavy oil and bitumen reserves in eastern Siberia.

Despite the variations between these predictions, they correctly identified the broad direction of travel: a future of diminishing returns and escalating costs.

They also converged on a single, unavoidable verdict: Russia’s ambition to keep its fossil fuel economy alive by expanding the production of difficult-to-extract unconventional resources would only be economically feasible with much higher oil prices.

By 2014, the shift in global oil production away from conventional to unconventional resources fuelled a rapid expansion of US shale production leading to a sudden supply boom. OPEC producers responded by keeping their own output high to retain market share. The result was a temporary global oil glut.

Global GDP growth was already on an intensifying downwards trajectory as the world had entered a new era of difficult oil. Neither the oil industry nor the world’s top financial institutions, understood the dynamics of what was going on (and still don’t). Every year from 2010 to 2019, the IMF kept predicting a robust GDP rebound. Each time, they were completely wrong, and growth was lower than expected – and with it demand for oil. But many oil production projects that were coming online that decade had been approved before the 2008 financial crash, when demand was stronger. The mismatch meant that the world was producing far more oil than the economy wanted.

The war has provided Putin with the boon of triple-digit oil prices, enriching Russian energy firms and bolstering Russian state cash reserves.

After 2008, the world had flipped into a new era where the decline in fossil fuel resource quality had passed a crucial tipping point. This had helped push the global economy into a new age of economic contraction and slow growth. With demand plummeting to unexpected levels, oil projects planned in the heyday of pre-2008 economic growth, combined with geopolitical competition between oil producers, produced a supply glut that further crushed oil prices.

But that was just the beginning. After 2020, as Tony Seba had forecast, Russia would face the next oil demand crisis from the impact of the SWB and EV disruptions. Solar, wind and batteries had already become the cheapest form of electricity in most regions of the world well before this point, and are still getting cheaper as they continue to scale. By 2021, EVs had reached cost parity – and in some cases were cheaper – than fossil-fuelled vehicles, sparking the beginnings of an exponential lift-off in sales. Bloomberg anticipated that EV sales “could displace oil demand of 2 million barrels a day as early as 2023. That would create a glut of oil equivalent to what triggered the 2014 oil crisis.”

As we entered the 2020s, in other words, Russia would face a perfect energy storm: the prospect of evaporating demand due to the accelerating SWB and EV disruptions, alongside a crisis of declining domestic fossil fuel resource quality.

The pandemic

Meanwhile, the pattern of declining global oil prices sparked in 2014 continued to intensify through to 2020 – the year of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic accelerated the oil price collapse as global lockdowns crushed demand even further. The result, for the first time in history, was negative oil prices. Covid thus compounded the impact of technology disruptions that were already helping to drive down fossil fuel demand. And it offered Russia a glimpse of what could be in store in coming years.

The negative oil prices, however, created the conditions for a supply shock as negative oil prices forced drilling and new investment to shut down. The prolonged well closures in some cases caused damage to existing reserves, making it more expensive to restart drilling once lockdowns began to lift. With producers no longer producing because they couldn’t afford to amidst the demand collapse, creating a spate of bankruptcies across the oil industry worldwide, the oil price collapse led to global scarcity when demand began to lift again. By 2021, oil prices were rushing back up as re-opening economies demanded more resources which were slower and more expensive to extract in the context of a fossil fuel industry debilitated by the pandemic.

The sudden oil price spikes were a boon to the Russian economy. They reinforced the sense that the key to Russia’s fortunes was making sure the price is right.

This is why Putin’s war was at first seemingly welcomed by many of the world’s autocratic petro-states.

Meanwhile, though, Russia’s own Energy Ministry was seeing the writing on the wall, warning in April 2021 that Russian oil production might never recover to pre-Covid levels. Although Russian oil production was expected to continue growing over the next decade, the government’s most probable scenario was that production would fail to reach 2019 levels of 11.3 million barrels a day (mbd). Instead, it would hit a lower peak of 11.1 mbd by 2029, before entering a process of terminal decline that would accelerate from 2035 onwards.

This forecast is broadly consistent with the earlier analysis of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. It confirmed that Russia is being forced toward more expensive unconventional resources. But those resources are definitively unrecoverable in a climate of lower oil prices due to declining oil demand, driven by slow growth and accelerating disruptions of the energy and transport sectors.

Yet over the next two decades, the combination of technology disruptions and geological challenges reveal that Russia’s fossil fuel economy is on track to shrink and evaporate. Its military and oligarchic political structures which depend on this economy are therefore also on track for an irrevocable decline.

With its energy export-dependent economy facing an irreversible and intensifying contraction that would undermine the existing oligarchic status quo, the bedrock of everything Putin has attempted to build is bound to unravel.

Putin’s last stand

Enter the war in Ukraine. It has offered a geopolitical mechanism to lift oil prices to triple-digit levels, consolidating Russia’s ability to maximise oil revenues despite the prospect of decline. This suggests that conventional analysts have fundamentally misread Putin’s goals in Ukraine. Putin had no intention of launching a short war in Ukraine that would end quickly with total occupation and control of the country.

This is reflected in what US military affairs analyst William Arkin describes as Putin's apparent restraint in not deploying Russia’s full aerial bombing capabilities. Despite extensive civilian casualties and destruction of civilian infrastructure, Arkin’s US military sources believe that Russian forces are deliberately withholding the full extent of their firepower, calibrating the levels of violence to “keep destruction and pressure at a very careful, just-bad-enough level to keep some advantage.”

This is consistent with the conclusion that Putin doesn’t want a decisive military victory in Ukraine, but instead is using it as leverage to reshape the regional geopolitical order by creating a state of permanent hybrid war in Europe, a boiling pot of instability. His strategic goal is to foster new conditions that provide Russia with a Ukrainian footprint by which to extend its regional influence through a combination of both overt military means and information campaigns over the longer term.

The idea is to create new facts on the ground in Ukraine - and potentially beyond - that will provide Russia with the ability to perpetuate sufficient instability at will, so that it can, when necessary, prop up prices of its key commodities, especially oil and gas, and derail access to critical minerals for the clean energy transformation for which both Russia and Ukraine are major suppliers.

In other words, we would be remiss to assume that these consequences were not already contemplated by Putin's war strategists well in advance. The war in Ukraine, seen through this lens, is Putin’s last stand – a desperate effort using his only remaining tool, the Russian army, to shore up the remaining vestiges of declining Russian imperial power against the inexorable forces of global energy transformation.

The war has provided Putin with the boon of triple-digit oil prices, enriching Russian energy firms and bolstering Russian state cash reserves. It has inflated prices for critical materials for the clean energy transformation where Russia and Ukraine play a major supply role, such as nickel, copper, aluminium, palladium, neon and krypton. It has extended Russian military operations into a territory long-sought by Putin as part of a bid to consolidate influence over former Soviet states.

Putin's actions show that with the wrong choices – clinging to a dying past – we might abort this better future before it can come to fruition, plunging the world into a new dark age.

But contrary to Putin’s fantasies, the ongoing transformation of the global energy system is not a process that can be bludgeoned into oblivion, confused by disinformation warfare or distracted by sleight-of-hand negotiations. It is being driven by fundamental economic factors. The diminishing returns and escalating costs of fossil fuel extraction are being outcompeted by exponentially declining costs and improving performance of energy and transport technologies. The EROI of renewable energy plants is already higher than that of fossil fuels, and continually increasing. In comparison, the hyper-expensive exploitation of remote fossil fuel resources in Siberia is economically unsustainable, even amidst triple-digit oil prices, simply because such expensive, low-quality energy cannot compete.

Although price spikes for critical minerals are immediately increasing Russian coffers and creating bottlenecks in EV manufacturing, they are already prompting industry and investors to seek new mining and manufacturing opportunities independent of Russian supplies. The upshot is that the global supply chain, too, is being transformed.

If Putin’s hope was to restore Russia’s glory as a world power, his war in Ukraine has achieved exactly the opposite: it is accelerating Russia’s loss of its most important markets for energy and minerals in Europe and beyond, amplifying the systemic processes already well underway that will culminate in the utter evisceration of Russia’s fossil fuel economy over the next decades.

Only if Putin can be convinced that the coming collapse of Russia's fossil fuel empire is now accelerating because of his actions is there hope of ending this war drive.

Of course, the war in Ukraine hits home how this coming collapse will not be a pretty sight. Putin may see the grinding down of Ukraine as a jumping-off point to use conflict as a lever to keep the fossil fuel system alive for as long as possible on the back of perpetually high prices. If the Ukraine conflict fails to serve this purpose, the creation of further conflicts in other former Soviet states with important oil industry links may well remain an option in coming years. And even if Putin backs down today, the inevitable escalation of the Russian economic crisis as these processes unfold could spur further outbreaks of regional militarism.

As such, the war in Ukraine offers a taste of things to come, not merely in Europe. The same processes impacting Russia will affect the world’s other major fossil fuel producers. The next two decades will be a period of unprecedented geopolitical turmoil as a global order framed around the centralised control of fossil fuel resources unwinds at an accelerating pace. This is why Putin’s war was at first seemingly welcomed by many of the world’s autocratic petro-states.

How to Stop Putin

But geopolitical turmoil is not the whole, or even the most central part of, the story. It is peripheral to a deeper reality: the global energy system is in a process of rapid transformation toward new, decentralised forms of renewable electricity that could allow us to transcend the conflicts and corruption of the industrial era.

We could create a future where brutal military repression and oligarchic concentrations of power are obsolete. And the fastest route to doing so more than any other mechanism to stop Putin’s war in Ukraine and beyond, is by accelerating the transformation of the global energy system and its supply chains.

Putin's actions show that with the wrong choices – clinging to a dying past – we might abort this better future before it can come to fruition, plunging the world into a new dark age.

But what if we make the right choices? The emerging system will allow us to cleanly power our societies at a fraction of the costs of the incumbent system of extraction. It will pave the way for sustainable prosperity that no longer requires volatile supplies of dirty fuels centrally controlled by far-flung dictatorships.

Combined with unfolding transformations of our transport and food systems, we could usher in what Seba and Arbib call an ‘Age of Freedom’: one in which an advanced, high-quality lifestyle including clean energy consumption, transport needs, nutritional value, housing and education could be accessible to anyone for as little as $250 a month by 2030, based on the deployment of key, decentralised technologies that are scaling today.

This, of course, is a future where there is no need for Russian oil and gas, no need for a corrupt, centralised oligarchy, no need for an apparatus of repression that sends its citizens to fight futile wars to fulfil archaic fantasies about ‘great power’: this is a future in which neither the world nor even Russians themselves, have any need for Putin’s fossil fuel oligarchy.

This is a future that Putin fears the most – and which may well have played a role in the flawed calculus that inspired him to invade Ukraine. But we mustn’t forget: his fear is shared by many in Western corridors of power, who secretly and sometimes openly marvel at the wonders of oligarchic control.

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Under the Sea, a Hidden Climate Variable: Thawing Permafrost

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 30/03/2022 - 9:00pm in

Carefully mapping the changing topology of the Arctic Ocean floor, scientists are racing to study submarine permafrost.

The Green New Deal can offer a more secure future

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 29/03/2022 - 5:25pm in

My Green New Deal and Finance for the Future colleague Colin Hines had this post on the Green Alliance blog this week. It is shared here with his permission:

The appalling events in the Ukraine, coupled with the recent chilling report from the IPCC suggesting the world is on the verge of being too late to cope with the climate and nature crisis, makes it crystal clear that our security, in its broadest sense, is threatened. At the same time, the spiralling cost of living crisis, the rapid erosion of social provision for our basic needs and the lack of secure, adequately paid jobs to tackle all these issues is becoming ever more apparent.

The unavoidable interplay between weaning ourselves off gas and oil, whether Russian or otherwise,  and the need to tackle the climate crisis, has prompted politicians like UK business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng MP, to push for more renewable energy generation and energy efficiency to cut dependence on fossil fuels

What is now becoming increasingly apparent is that there will be massive political pressure for a solution to the cost of living crisis, as well as its damaging interaction with cuts to health, housing, education provision and other public services. If these crises in turn lead to a loss of consumer confidence that creates a recession, all these issues will be compounded.

There are ways to fund change at huge scale
Tackling these myriad threats to people’s sense of security will require massive upfront expenditure. Luckily, the way the systemic shocks of the 2008 banking crisis and Covid were mitigated shows a way forward. On those occasions, the government, via the Bank of England, created new money on a vast scale using quantitative easing (QE): £895 billion was created between 2009 and 2021. What is needed now is a new massive ‘security QE’ programme to tackle our social, environmental and defence shortfalls.

That, however, is not the only potential source of new funding to tackle the crises we face. Another huge source could be savings. The Office for National Statistics recently estimated that there are £1,933 billion of net savings in the UK, in addition to pension wealth of £6,445 billion.  Together these represent 55 per cent of the UK’s total wealth, including property ownership. Richard Murphy and I showed last year how this could be leveraged to raise the tens of billions of pounds needed to make all the UK’s 30 million buildings energy efficient, and how that could be organised to create jobs in every constituency. And the potential for further social purposes for these savings clearly exists.

The steps being taken to cripple the Russian economy can provide another source of funds. Building on the new determination to sanction oligarchs, shell companies, tax havens and their facilitators, the lessons learnt could be adapted to identify major new sources of additional taxes. These could be used to help fund the social infrastructure and jobs required for a secure green economy.

This combination of funding sources is what I have referred to before as a QuEST: Quantitative Easing, Savings and Taxation, a concept developed with Richard Murphy, in consultation with other members of the Green New Deal group.

Clearly the war in Ukraine requires a response involving changes on a scale not seen since the aftermath of World War II. Such epoch making shifts in policy, underpinned by funding as described, could result in the achievement of crucial national and regional security goals. These would encompass adequate defence, tackling the climate and cost of living crises, and a massive increase in the provision of basic social needs. This could be organised to provide secure, adequately paid jobs and predominantly local business opportunities.

The nuclear threat must be removed
But even these tectonic political and social shifts need to be augmented by tackling the nuclear threat to humanity and the planet, rarely discussed until the events of this conflict bought them to global attention. The present nuclear status quo rests on a mixture of danger and delusion. Danger because today’s de facto maintenance of minimum nuclear armed deterrence means keeping these weapons forever, with the certainty they will eventually be used either deliberately or in error.

What the Ukraine war has shown is that the rationality required at the heart of the aptly named concept of MAD (mutually assured destruction) does not hold with a leader like Vladimir Putin. His threat to use nuclear weapons has moved us from an era of nuclear deterrence to one of nuclear appeasement, as seen by the west’s inability to adequately support the people of the Ukraine.

The other delusion lies in the idea that nation states can be persuaded and policed effectively so they do not use the knowledge of running nuclear power into the development of nuclear weapons. India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea, and now potentially Iran, show the colossal folly of such an approach.

Two steps are required to counter this. One involves the reduction, then eventual elimination of nuclear weapons, in a way that, at the same time, gives nuclear nations the confidence to do so. Jonathon Schell in his book The Abolition explains how to achieve this by what he terms ‘weaponless deterrence’. He proposes allowing nuclear states to keep the infrastructure to remake nuclear weapons should there be any verified threat of a new nation obtaining nuclear weapons. This approach could underpin global pressure to halt any aspiring nuclear nation, since such weapons are in the process of being negotiated away.

The second step would be a parallel programme to eliminate the twin threats from nuclear power of nuclear proliferation and possible widespread radioactive pollution, induced by the destruction of nuclear power stations during a war. Once seen as fanciful, the events in Ukraine saw the world wake up to headlines such as ‘Nuclear catastrophe ’narrowly’ averted’. To help fund this transition, money at present earmarked for nuclear energy programmes should be diverted to help finance a comprehensive and predominantly decentralised, low carbon energy system, mostly employing renewables and energy efficiency.

‘Close to Useless in Every Way’: The Government is Pursuing Economic and Climate Disaster

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 28/03/2022 - 10:26pm in

Thomas Perrett reviews Rishi Sunak’s Spring Statement and how it affects the UK’s climate change commitments

The Chancellor has cut fuel duty by 5p per litre, a policy which he described in his Spring Statement as “the biggest cut to all fuel duty rates ever”. A centrepiece in his address – which Rishi Sunak referred to as a “principled approach to cutting taxes” – the fuel duty cut is a response to rising oil prices caused partly by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Chancellor’s decision is intended to alleviate the cost of living crisis, as soaring energy prices and rising inflation threaten to significantly reduce living standards.

Figures from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) paint a gloomy picture. The Government spending forecaster has stated that, when adjusted for inflation, disposable household incomes are set to fall by 2.2% this year – the biggest drop in a financial year since records began in 1956.

Yet, the fuel duty cut has drawn widespread criticism from environmental campaigners and prominent opposition politicians, who have argued that the measure is not only insufficient to address the scale of the cost of living crisis, but is illustrative of the Government’s failure to commit to its net zero pledges.

Indeed, Douglas Parr, policy director at Greenpeace UK, told the Independent: “A fuel duty cut gives more money back to the driver of an expensive gas-guzzling SUV than the average punter.”

Moreover, the measure incentivises motorists to continue using petrol and diesel vehicles. Following the Government’s decision to slash electric car subsidies by 40% at the end of last year, electric vehicles remain firmly out of the average consumer’s reach. This may cause an upsurge in air pollution, before the proposed ban on the sale of new petrol cars takes effect in 2030.

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‘This Year is Set to be Disastrous’

Rishi Sunak’s Spring Statement reflects the Government’s hostility towards the sweeping, structural reforms required to meet its legal climate obligations. Back in April, the Government enshrined into law a target to cut emissions by 78% compared to 1990 levels by 2035.

Taxing major oil and gas firms such as Shell and BP – which have made £40 billion worth of profits in the last year alone – is a far more popular, substantive policy than slashing fuel duty. Fuel taxes have, in real terms, been cut since 2011 through successive price freezes, which have led to an estimated 5% increase in emissions.

Labour’s Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves has accused Sunak of “making the cost of living crisis worse, not better” through the fuel tax cut, arguing that the Chancellor “could have introduced a windfall tax on oil and gas companies” and “set out a proper plan to support businesses and create jobs”.

Recent polling by Savanta ComRes has shown not only that 76% of 2,203 surveyed voters support a windfall tax on North Sea oil firms, but that the Chancellor is out of step with his own base, with 81% of Conservative voters also backing such a tax.

James Meadway, director of the Progressive Economy Forum think tank, told Byline Times that the fuel duty cut is as “close to useless in every way”, arguing that it would “disproportionately benefit richer motorists, but not for very long, as they have pushed prices back to what they were about a week ago, at a cost of £5 billion”.

Meadway also argued that the Spring Statement could create a political backlash among voters likely to be hit harder by rising inflation and energy bills, arguing that “for anyone switching to the Tories in 2019, the party has just revealed itself to live up to the stereotype: arrogant, callous, ignorant of how most people live their lives”.

“The scale of the cost of living crisis hasn’t really sunk in yet, but this year is set to be disastrous – particularly for those on lower incomes,” he added.

According to the New Economics Foundation, only 7% of the savings accrued from the fuel duty cut will go to the bottom fifth of British society, while 33% will go to the top fifth. 

The Government has also refused to commit to substantive measures which, in addition to addressing the climate crisis, would reduce energy dependence on Russia – such as accelerating the development of renewable energy sources and low carbon home insulation.

The think tank E3G has found that improving energy efficiency measures within homes could reduce Russian gas imports by 80%, a measure which if combined with the rapid deployment of renewable technologies, could render Russian energy supplies obsolete as early as 2022. The fuel tax cut, by contrast, only ensures further dependence on Russia, which supplies an estimated 13% of UK diesel.

‘From Dictator to Dictator’

The Spring Statement is the latest in a series of Government proposals that have sought to minimise energy imports from Russia by seeking to boost domestic and foreign fossil fuel supply.

The Government’s energy strategy has directly contravened the warnings of prestigious global watchdog the International Energy Agency, which concluded in a May 2019 report that “there are no new oil and gas fields approved for development in our pathway” and that, in order to achieve decarbonisation by 2050, “no new coal mines or mine extensions” could be approved.

In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Prime Minister promised Scottish Conservatives in Aberdeen that his Government would make “sensible use of this country’s own natural hydrocarbon resources”, arguing that divesting from fossil fuel energy sources in the North Sea would risk “exposing the UK to continued blackmail from Vladimir Putin”.

Yet, prominent domestic oil firms have been directly linked to Russia in recent years; BP recently abandoned its stakes in Russian oil giant Rosneft, which comprised approximately 50% of the company’s oil and gas reserves, in a decision which could cost the firm $25 billion.

Johnson has been criticised for not only attempting to expand domestic fossil fuel energy, but for “going cap in hand from dictator to dictator”, in the words of Labour Leader Keir Starmer, referencing Johnson’s attempts to persuade the Saudi Arabian regime to boost energy production to Britain and the West.

Additionally, following a two-year moratorium on fracking, ministers have reportedly considered re-opening two sites in Lancashire belonging to petrochemical giant Cuadrilla.

The Government has largely avoided taking the necessary steps to implement an environmental strategy that invests in domestic energy sources, according to Meadway.

“The big wins for the UK in moving towards meeting its climate obligations are in rapidly expanding onshore wind generation, and insulating every home in the country properly,” he told Byline Times.

Indeed, the cost of solar PV modules has declined by 99.6% since 1976. Both solar and wind power are far more cost-effective than natural gas, and can be deployed at scale far more efficiently.

Rishi Sunak’s fuel duty cut is a meagre policy that will do little to address the cost of living crisis, while threatening to significantly weaken the Government’s strategy for decarbonising the economy. With an inflation crisis around the corner, and the energy price cap set to rise later in the year, the Government’s policies may soon result in an economic and electoral backlash. 

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Book Review: Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene edited by Matthew Schneider-Mayerson

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 28/03/2022 - 9:57pm in

In Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene: Environmental Perspectives on Life in Singapore, editor Matthew Schneider-Mayerson weaves together a spirited anthology that looks at the broad web of life between and amongst human and non-human species in the island state with new eyes. The collection offers thought-provoking imaginaries and opens up an avenue of youthful hope for anyone concerned about the looming climate catastrophe, writes Alexandria Z.W. Chong.

This book review is published by the LSE Southeast Asia blog and LSE Review of Books blog as part of a collaborative series focusing on timely and important social science books from and about Southeast Asia.

Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene: Environmental Perspectives on Life in Singapore. Matthew Schneider-Mayerson (ed.). Ethos Books. 2021. 

Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene book coverThe Anthropocene is a powerful concept. By challenging the conventional ontological boundaries of society, culture and nature, it unleashes the power of storytelling and presents a pedagogical opportunity to ‘decentre the human as the sole learning subject and explore the possibilities of interspecies learning’ (Affrica Taylor and Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw 2015, 507). In other words, the Anthropocene concept transforms our discursive inheritance and the long-term research agenda is therefore ‘how it can be used to guide attitudes, choices, policies and actions that influence the future’ (Xuemei Bai et al 2016, 351).

The twelve essays in Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene, written by scholars born between 1993 and 1998, deploy the analytical strength of the Anthropocene concept to eloquently reframe Singapore’s development story and how it is tied to the workings of the global economy, while demanding the reader to broaden their thinking of what possible futures for the island state might look like.

The book opens with Neo Xiaoyun’s title essay. Through a rich analysis of Singapore’s food heritage, habitat loss as well as the ethical issues arising from overconsuming certain crab species, Neo reflects upon the messy socio-cultural and environmental entanglements that define all biological life on the island state. In ‘To Build a City-State and Erode History’, Sarah Novak superimposes Singapore’s permanent territorial transformation on the Southeast Asia region (specifically Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam), and asks if there is an end in sight to the destructive practices of sand-mining. And in ‘Dumpster Diving in Semakau’, Fu Xiyao traces the intergenerational grief and nostalgia Orang Laut communities experienced when they were forcibly displaced in 1994 for the construction of Semakau ― Singapore’s first offshore landfill. Fu’s essay not only chronicles the epistemological violence of indigenous displacement and erasure, but it also brings to light how contemporary Singapore, an island state in the Malay Archipelago, is shockingly disconnected from the sea.

Yogesh Tulsi’s ‘An Oily Mirror’ turns to the golden age of Malay Cinema (between 1947 and 1972), to examine Singapore’s outsized role in global petro-capitalism. In particular, Tulsi posits how the orang minyak, a monster often depicted as being covered in some dark, oily substance, represented fears of a fossil-fuelled modernity. But as petro-capitalism became a ubiquitous part of the post-World War II zeitgeist globally, the orang minyak disappeared from the public consciousness. Tulsi’s essay wonderfully complements Aidan Mock’s ‘Singapore on Fire’, which traces how five decades of national policy have fostered the petrochemical industry in Singapore, and the immense urgency for climate activists to build compelling movements against it. Lastly, in ‘Another Garden City is Possible’, Bertrand Seah interrogates the state’s hegemonic narratives of green growth, nature and conservation, and puts forth the case for a just ecological transition.

Bowl of chilli crab

Image Credit: ‘More Chilli Crab’ by megawatts86 licensed under CC BY SA 2.0

By deeply reflecting on the complicity of contemporary Singapore lifestyles, and demanding the reader recognise the ethical responsibilities that the Anthropocene concept signifies, these essays evoke anger, pain, frustration, disappointment and even despair. At the same time, they are unabashedly united by the ethos of activism as well as the empathic motivation to explore new ways of seeing, thinking, writing, sensing, feeling and acting. However, as rich as the conceptual framing and analyses are in Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene, the book would have at times benefitted from establishing greater clarity between the usual sociological categories (notably race, class, gender, sexual identity, migration status and religious affiliation) and paying more attention to the complex realities of multispecies entanglements.

For instance, it slips into an idealisation of Orang Laut communities and their way of life as being in perfect harmony with nature. This stereotype, known as the ‘ecologically noble savage’ (Kent Redford 1991), not only at times misrepresents indigenous belief, knowledge and practices; it also maintains the colonialist stereotype of indigenous people as environmentalists par excellence by Western-centric environmental standards (Hames Raymond 2007). In turn, this analytical idealisation is symptomatic of the book’s rather uncritical deployment of ‘the Anthropocene’, as quoted below, which might frustrate some readers familiar with the debates surrounding the concept:

‘It’s a term that originated in the early 2000s in stratigraphy [… and] has proven useful in acknowledg­ing and announcing that we’re now inhabiting a different planet than the one our grandparents were born into. This novelty is marked above all by climate change, but also by the other global socio-ecological processes and phenomena that receive less attention but are similarly catastrophic, such as deforestation, ocean acidification, extinction, factory farming and plastic pollution’ (10-11).

Literature about the Anthropocene is valuable for its ability to engage us ― to make us understand our impact on the Earth; to make us aware of environmental injustices and the uncertain future we face as an ongoing species; to make us augment our awareness of the connections that make up the intricate web of life (Alexa Weik von Mossner 2016). Reflecting on the power of storytelling, Jan Kunnas (2017) argues that we are now at a tipping point where both the ‘good Anthropocene’ and ‘bad Anthropocene’ are possible; it all depends on whether direct actions to stay within planetary boundaries are taken. In the ‘good Anthropocene’ narrative (the mainstream Anthropocene narrative), humans are active creators of their surroundings and a force of good that ‘transcends and defeats the structural obstacles, sufferings, and moral lapses that seem to threaten it’ (Clive Hamilton 2015). Kunnas further argues that the ‘good Anthropocene’ narrative ideologically drives the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (143). Yet, no one has resolved the central dilemma of the sustainable development approach: how to help the world’s poorest people out of poverty and into a decent standard of living without increasing anthropogenic ecological damage? Leslie Sklair (2019, 305) forcefully writes that the central task in the Anthropocene is to instead establish ‘universal norms for ecologically sound quality of life’ rather than continuing with a developmental approach that is driven by the rhetoric of ‘good’ growth.

It’s not a final word on the subject, but an invitation to conversation, critical thought and, above all, action. Because action — immediate and transformational — is what is now needed to preserve Singapore’s very existence as a nation and global city. (15)

Schneider-Mayerson reminds the reader in his introduction to Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene that the book’s aim is to ‘make space’ for climate action in Singapore (and beyond). Despite its lack of rigorous theoretical engagement with the Anthropocene concept, the book inspires much-needed discussions about the choices, contradictions, contestations and costs that go far beyond its empirical focus. As it seeks to reorient the dominant values, priorities and politics shaped by global petro-capitalism and present radical possibilities seen through the eyes of young scholars or ‘the climate generation’ who are rarely represented in the Singaporean public discourse, the book will particularly interest scholars and students in the fields of environmental humanities, urban studies and media and cultural studies. The highly accessible writing style will also find the book a broader readership.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, the Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre or of the London School of Economics and Political Science. 

 

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