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Where Social Justice and Environmental Activists Won’t Go

The Good Men Project

February 7, 2016

by Michael Sliwa

 

 

Social and environmental justice are connected and fighting for those requires being against civilization.

 

When I first began writing and speaking about white privilege and systemic white supremacy, I had a group of fellow activists which I shared a common vision with. Today I’ve attempted to go further down my own personal rabbit hole in search of the roots of our societal injustices while some of my predecessors and contemporaries have become critical of such a journey.

Over the years I have tried to make more connections for folks and myself in my writing and presentations. I’ve come to a place where even many of the most steadfast social justice activists won’t go. They have and continue to speak truth to power concerning our institutions and larger systems but when it comes to looking at the foundation of those institutions and systems many fall silent.

Civilization is rarely on the table when social justice is discussed. That’s not to say there aren’t those talking about the connections between justice and civilization but they are few and very far between. When I began to connect civilization to social justice I lost some folks completely. This could be due to the fact that I may not have presented the material clear enough or well enough, but over the years something tells me there’s more to it. I began to challenge our living arrangement and that for some is not up for negotiation.

 

 

When I say civilization I mean the importation of our goods and services. I mean a division of labor to do so. I mean a hierarchy that requires oppression, violence, killing, environmental degradation and progress to be maintained. I mean the global industrial economy which requires infinite growth on a finite planet to be maintained which of course is impossible.

What I see from many social justice activists is a perspective that views the world through a strictly reform based lens. They want to improve the system. Improving the current state of affairs makes sense. Folks need justice today. What must be considered is a pursuit for the root of our social inequalities and travesties. To pursue the root is radical by definition and therein lies the rub.

Reformists aren’t radicals. They often demonize radicals. They tend to focus on pursuing reform solely within our institutions and systems. Institutions and systems that are the foundations of a hierarchy that requires oppression, violence, killing, and environmental degradation to be maintained. There’s nothing wrong with fighting for change within the status quo but if that’s all we’re doing then we are clearly not trying to find the root of our societal and environmental issues.

 

 

Civilization and in particular, industrial civilization is that root. After all civilization today requires massive hierarchal institutions and systems and they are the pillars of police brutality, incarceration rates, preferential hiring, housing inequities, and an endless list of other discriminatory practices. Some will point to capitalism as the culprit but capitalism and yes even socialism are the children of civilization.

Now one might argue that all of this infrastructure that supports our lives exists because of civilization, to which I agree. There in lies the predicament. If we call for the dismantling of the very infrastructure that promotes and perpetuates massive oppression then we also should sever the head of all we know about living in the world. Being dependent upon civilization is keeping billions of us alive and it’s killing and oppressing people at the same time. What it’s also doing is devouring the very diversity that creates all diversity, biodiversity. This point further cements our predicament.

As activists and as a civilization we are stuck. We want solutions within a framework that is killing the life support systems which provide for our own existence. We want justice in a framework that requires injustice. We want our cake and eat it to. The trouble is the cake is poisonous. It tastes great going down because we see gains in the fight for justice but it also reinforces a system and perpetuates injustice by reforming it instead of dismantling it. We never consider dismantling it because we are fully dependent upon it. We never consider dismantling it because we believe this is the only way to live. Our dependency upon it has taught us that we can solve the unsolvable. Like I said, we are in fact stuck.

 

 

The question of solutions for a predicament has been going on for all of our civilized existence. Predicaments of course have no solutions so civilization is our predicament. How then to proceed? There are plenty of options but they all end badly for not only civilization but for all of humanity. There is no way to maintain an ever growing global economy on a finite planet and therefore there is no way to save 7 plus billion people. Our massive hierarchies have put us into population overshoot. We add almost 238,000 people per day (births minus deaths) and the strain is felt well beyond our own species. Our growing economy grows our population which has given us irreversible climate change. Again our options are plentiful but the outcomes remain painfully the same.

Activists are used to long and slow struggles for justice. What they’re not used to are predicaments. I could go into the variety of choices to address our situation like revolution, abandonment, or even the ill fated reforms but I can only think of one option that goes Beyond Civilization as author Daniel Quinn’s book title so eloquently states. This option goes beyond us and more importantly beyond our species. It cuts to the heart of the matter.

You see we can still fight for justice in our daily lives but at the end of the day instead of limiting our scope to only our societal struggles, maybe we can move towards the exit of such inherent civilized privilege by considering our connections to everything that supports our own existence. In other words, speak truth to power but realize we must let go of all we have become reliant upon in order for it to make any difference in our collective planetary community. Being anti-racist means being anti-civilization. Being a feminist means being anti-civilization. Being a proponent of immigrant rights means being anti-civilization. Social and environmental justice are connected and fighting for those requires being against civilization.

If we can leave any legacy maybe it can be an answer to philosopher Alan Watts question, how do we leave the world alone? We can do this by becoming part of the world again but that’s a place most will not go. The trouble is nature doesn’t negotiate so our living arrangement options aren’t really options at all but a predicament we all must face.

Justice awaits.

 

 

 

[Mike Sliwa is a husband and homesteader. He taught high school for 12 years and left his career for a simpler existence. Currently he and his wife are living off grid, perfecting their durable living skills in rural New Mexico. Mike speaks about a wide variety issues concerning simple living, white privilege, abrupt climate change, Near Term Human Extinction, and other consequences of the civilized industrial global economy. He’s also a co-host for the radio program, Nature Bats Last on the Progressive Radio Network (Prn.fm) and co-founder of the social justice speaking agency truality.org.]

 

Terrible Economics, Ecosystems and Banking [TEEB]

Social Ecological Economics

2011

by Clive Spash

TEEB 1

Why do conservation biologists, ecologists and other natural scientists working on environmental problems feel the need to copy, or rather parody, a narrow economic discourse? At opposite ends of Europe (Austria and Norway) I have this year listened to prominent spokespersons from such disciplines making use of supposed economic values calculated for everything from wetlands to bees. Despite the problems (see Spash and Vatn 2006), values are being transferred as needed across time and space. The recommendation is for more monetary valuation and improving the techniques of environmental cost-benefit analysis amongst which stated preference methods (e.g. contingent valuation) have become predominant. When challenged the typical response is: ‘I don’t pretend to understand the details. Yes there may be problems and everyone knows contingent valuation is nonsense, but these numbers get attention.’ Well do they and if so from whom and to what end?

For those who may have failed to notice, 2010 was declared biodiversity year by the United Nations. One attempt to gain relevance for the loss of biodiversity and ecosystems degradation as an international public policy problem followed the above approach. I refer to the project supported, by the United Nation’s Environment Programme, entitled The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), which produced its final synthesis report at the end of last year subtitled: Mainstreaming the Economics of Nature. Indeed the aim was to follow the global cost-benefit method of the, claimed to be successful, Stern Review on climate change (despite no noticeable impact of that report on greenhouse gas control). TEEB differs from Stern in conducting no new work but, rather, actually is a review (which Stern was not). While the project has covered much ground through a variety of reports the synthesis report is the key summary in which those driving the project show their true colours. The synthesis report is packed with monetary numbers transferred out of context and stated as if objective facts. The document is, of course, almost purely a rhetorical exercise (as was the Stern Review, see Spash 2007). The stance of those natural scientists employing the same approach, and supporting this and similar initiatives, is both rhetorical and pragmatic. Getting international reports produced and government officials to listen then seems worthwhile regardless of the means. This is New Environmental Pragmatism in action (Spash 2009).

The great success, of switching away from an ecologically driven discourse involving plural values to a monistic pseudo-economic one, is then that big business and financially squeezed governments appear to be listening. For example, the UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Caroline Spelman, has made the following endorsement of TEEB, being used in the publishers publicity blurb: ‘We need to understand the true cost of losing what nature gives us for free, and integrate this into our decision making across government, business and society. At the national and international level TEEB for Policy Makers helps us think about how this can be done.’ In October 2010, the United Nations Finance Initiative (UNFI) published a briefing entitled Demystifying Materiality: Hardwiring Biodiversity and Ecosystems into Finance. This is an initiative supported by organisations such as Rio Tinto, Industrial Development Corporation, JP Morgan Chase & Co., Uni Credit Group, Credit Suisse, Citigroup, Barclays, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, and many others.

That the numbers are crude and lack theoretical foundation is actually almost irrelevant. Once in print they can be used and cited, for whatever ends seem suitable, as has been done with numbers on the value of the world’s ecosystems and all remaining wild nature. In any case the real aim is not to demonstrate that Nature has value. Indeed, the big message here is that demonstrating value in money terms is not enough. No. Values need to be ‘captured’. How, you might ask? Easy, through new institutional arrangements or, in other words, market-like institutions.

Traditionally the main financial and banking concerns around the topics of ecosystems and biodiversity have been damage to a corporation’s reputation when it gets caught polluting or destroying the environment, although only if this is reflected in the share price. Potential impacts on a development project’s finances (e.g. due to delays trying to meet regulations) have also been something to note. However, reports like TEEB, and the associated UNFI briefing, point in a different direction. They indicate that there is much for the finance and banking sectors to consider besides taking care of the risks and potential liabilities.

Financial institutions can seize opportunities related to biodiversity and ecosystems services in different ways: early movers can bolster their organisation’s reputation and create value for marketing practices; building capacity in-house can be beneficial in terms of advisory services for corporate clients; advising clients how to integrate biodiversity and ecosystems services in supply-chain management can lead to cost reductions for clients; and last but not least, financial
institutions that understand the new and expanding environmental markets can profit through offering brokerage services, registries, or specialised funds. Nothing like a financial crisis to get the high flyers of the banking world into innovation mode.

If you thought great ideas like tradable permits might be limited to carbon markets then think again. Innovative marketing devices like wetland banking, biodiversity banking and endangered species credits are now ready, available and being implemented. The USA endangered species credit system is a biodiversity cap-and-trade system producing ‘endangered species credits’, which can be used to offset a company’s negative impacts on threatened species and habitats. Bio-banking has been pioneered in Australia, where in 2006 a pilot project in New South Wales allowed developers to buy ‘biodiversity credits’ to offset negative impacts on biodiversity. These credits can be created by ‘enhancing’ other land (e.g. areas previously degraded by development). Then back to the USA for wetland banking, where companies or individuals undertaking development or agricultural expansion are allowed to degrade or destroy wetland ecosystems by making payments called environmental credits. As the TEEB synthesis report notes, there is big money in these schemes with the market for wetland credits in the USA estimated at $1.1 to $1.8 billion. No more worrying about absolute protection or annoying regulations – just opportunities to trade and create new financial instruments to capture those wild values roaming too freely for their own good.

Developers with enough ready cash will be unfettered (as if they were not already: see Veuthey and Gerber, 2011). Is this the success ecologists and conservation biologist pushing monetary values having been trying to achieve? This is not about protection or conservation this is about banking, finance and investment returns. This is about removing regulation and restrictions. Increasing possibilities for trading financial instruments has little apparent relevance for the drivers of ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss (e.g. human population increase, war, corruption and greed, colonialism). Changing the international banking and financial institutions to redirect development away from environmental destruction would seem to require a little more than making wild claims for the monetary value of bees. Dropping the discourse of plural values, and those discourses which empowered ecologists and conservationists in the first place, is at best misguided. Not just species are threatened but social and environmental responsibility itself.

One thing these issues raise is the over reliance on collective action and the need for alternatives. Individual action, for example, is often undermined by the argument that any one person can contribute so little that doing anything is pointless. Last year in this journal Hourdequin (2010) made an eloquent attack on the logic of such a position within the context of climate change. This issue sees her defending that stance in reply to a commentary. As climate change has shown, misguided strategies are unfortunately not limited to ecosystems and biodiversity. In this issue Gardiner (2011) discusses geoengineering the climate. Such options arise due to the failure of governments and international organisations to take serious mitigation measures to prevent human induced climate change. How does the Royal Society suggest addressing this institutional and political failure? By using science and technology as if there were no issues of power politics. The many-faceted ethical aspects of the approach are carefully surveyed by Gardiner.

We then return to conservation biologists, who come in for criticism from Joye and De Block (2011). While noting the influence of Wilson’s writing on the concepts of biodiversity and biophilia they critically analyse the latter. This brings into question the faith shown in the evolutionary explanation for human relationships to life-forms and the assumptions surrounding biophilia and biophobia. Further food for thought in terms of how conservation biologists perceive human motivation.

The theme of human motivation continues with Ojala and Lidskog (2011) presenting a study raising a range of interesting issues about human intervention in natural systems and the value conflicts which people feel. The life-form here (mosquitoes) is perceived as largely negative and this supports an eradication programme in central Sweden using aerial chemical applications. Reading the mixed motives and justifications seems to rather strongly contrast with an evolutionary biophobic explanation, and so lends credence to part of the argument by Joye and De Block. Short-termism, anthropocentrism, systems control and narrow species preferences seem to dominate in the Swedish case study.

A different type of value conflict concerns the endangered Moabi tree. Here we observe the spread of markets, power of developers and international trade. The conservation of Moabi is certainly not served by the extension of the commodity frontier outlined in this study. Nor would the further extension of property titles, wood trade, and monetary exchange values via TEEB or UNFI mechanisms help. Indeed the intervention of the World Bank appears as an extension of the trade problems driving exploitation. Solutions require addressing the fundamental power relationships embedded in a colonial past. Veuthey and Gerber (2011) use a feminist ecological economics perspective to explore the value pluralism and conflicts. This reveals the commoditisation of Moabi as a tool of power through which environmental valuation is imposed, claims made on the resources of the politically weak, and socio-environmental impacts on the poor are traded-off against financial returns for the rich.

The issue closes with an appeal to the concept of mercy for Nature and its inclusion as an environmental virtue to be added to virtues like love, care, respect, humility, and wonder for Nature. Being merciful then demands a different behaviour than might be legally permissible or institutionally sanctioned. Mercy does not seem to be compatible with treating another less harshly for primarily egoistic reasons, e.g. as a means of avoiding trouble or lining one’s pockets. So
don’t expect to find mercy amongst orthodox economists’ or financiers’ reasons for avoiding ecosystems destruction and biodiversity loss. As Ferkany (2011) notes, environmental ethicists have seemingly tried every avenue of appeal to inspire their fellow human beings to forbear in the wanton destruction of Nature. To these he adds the prospect of a charge of mercilessness.

A new report then seems to be required. Something to explain the current merciless economics of scientists and society (MESS). Although, exploring the MESS is unlikely to be of much interest to empowered neoliberal politicians or the banking sector.

Part IIa Mainstream Economists Shutout Reality:

[Clive Spash is an economist who writes, researches and teaches on public policy with an emphasis on economic and environmental interactions. My main interests are interdisciplinary research on human behaviour, environmental values and the transformation of the world political economy to a more socially and environmentally just system.]
References
Ferkany, M. 2011. ‘Mercy as an environmental virtue’. Environmental Values 20(2): 265–283.
Gardiner, S. M. 2011. ‘Some early ethics of geoengineering the climate: a commentary on the values of the Royal Society Report’. Environmental Values 20(2): 163–188.
Hourdequin, M. (2010). ‘Climate, collective action and indivudal ethical obligations.’ Environmental Values 19: 443-464.
Joye, Y. and A. de Block. 2011. ‘“Nature and I are Two”: a critical examination of the biophilia hypothesis’. Environmental Values 20(2): 189–215.
Ojala, M. and R. Lidskog. 2011. ‘What lies beneath the surface? A case study of citizens’ moral reasoning with regard to biodiversity’. Environmental Values 20(2): 217–237.
Spash, C. L. (2007). ‘The economics of climate change impacts à la Stern: Novel and nuanced or rhetorically restricted?’ Ecological Economics 63(4): 706-713.
Spash, C. L. (2009). ‘The new environmental pragmatists, pluralism and sustainability.’ Environmental Values 18(3): 253-256.
Spash, C. L. and A. Vatn (2006). ‘Transferring environmental value estimates: Issues and alternatives.’ Ecological Economics 60(2): 379-388.
Veuthey, S. and J-F. Gerber. 2011. ‘Valuation contests over the commoditisation of the moabi tree in South-Eastern Cameroon’. Environmental Values 20(2): 239–264.

350.org: Selling a Lie

Seemorerocks

by Kevin Hester

March 9, 2015

I shouldn’t really be surprised that the Guardian, which has hitherto been one of the better sources of information on climate change has adopted the stance it has in the editorial by retiring editor Alan Rusbridge.

After all this is the newspaper that, almost above all others has acted as a liberal attack dog for the neocons in its crusade against Russian and Vladimir Putin.

The article started out saying all the things that one might expect from a mainstream source on climate change and then Rusbridge brought in Bill McKibben and 350.org.

In particular this:

565 gigatons: “Scientists estimate that humans can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by mid-century and still have some reasonable hope of staying below 2C,” is how McKibben crisply puts it. Few dispute that this idea of a global “carbon budget” is broadly right.

The Guardian has become the vehicle for a Big Lie that in the face of all the science it has produced over the years to say otherwise. We are told by McKibben in one breathe that not only is 2C a workable goal but that we still have ‘wiggle room’ and can continue to emit CO2 into the atmosphere just so long as we don’t put too much – and we start to divest from investment in fossil fuels.

Guy McPherson was recently asked if he had read McKibben’s work and he quipped that he has no time for fiction.

Quite.

The biggest danger these days comes not from the reptilian climate change deniers of the Republican Party. Indeed, the biggest danger comes from the liberal flank, from McPherson calls abrupt climate change denial.

As we have come to know 350.org is receiving funding from corporate America and even talks about “our friends in Wall Street”. The line comes down from the top: from McKibben, and his “friends in Wall Street” tell McKibben what the acceptable message is.

The aim is to obfuscate and take the discussion away from the realities that show that climate change is NOW and that, with a growing number of positive self-reinforcing feedbacks (including the growing release into the atmosphere of a gas, methane, that is a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2. the train has long left the station.

We musn’t know that 2C (which already threatens our ability to practise agriculture and feed ourselves) is already baked into the cake with CO2 remaining in the atmosphere for a thousand years and a lead time between emissions and the effects of warming being felt.

We musn’t know how close the Arctic is to melting; about the melting permafrost and the release of methane and the real-time connections will increasingly extreme and unpredictable weather.

That might get people to really question closely about how all this came about and that would take people back to Wall Street and the Infinite Growth Paradigm that is not at all challenged by the mainstream environmental movement.

Instead the corporates would like the masses to put their energy into signing petitions, appealing to President Barack Obama, changing their light bulbs, driving a Prius and divesting from investment in the fossil fuel industry.

Above all we should donate our money and build the 350.org movement.

Anything but being radical – getting to the root of the matter.

350.org and the liberal, white. middle class, male Americans that stand behind the likes of Global Warming Fact of the Day (from which the author, Guy McPherson, Paul Beckwith and other friends have been ejected) play their role in reinforcing the comforting idea that real climate change is somewhere off in the future and we must believe the conservative science ‘consensus’ rather than those who have, through actual observations shown that the computer models are sorely lacking in their ability to explain the reality of abrupt climate change.

The article, which I wrote in 2013 [link] expresses not even the half of the sordid reality of the betrayal by the liberals, and by McKibben and his organisation.

I would recommend a careful reading of the articles by Cory Morningstar that express the full, sordid reality behind 350.org…..

For the full story read these two articles by Cory Morningstar

Cowspiracy: The Film that the World’s Most Powerful NGOs Don’t Want You To See

 

“When Cowspiracy was being made none of the major conservation or environmental groups would cooperate or support the position that the meat industry is the major contributor to climate change, to the wastage of water, to the pollution of groundwater and to the destruction of bio-diversity in the oceans.” – Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd

 

COWSPIRACY: “The Sustainability Secret (http://cowspiracy.com) is a groundbreaking feature-length environmental documentary following an intrepid filmmaker as he uncovers the most destructive industry facing the planet today, and investigates why the world’s leading environmental organizations are too afraid to talk about it.”

 

EcoWatch

October 10, 2014

by Ward Pallotta

Cowspiracy Exposes the Truth About Animal Agriculture

A recent documentary, Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, asks why most leading environmental organizations are ignoring a leading cause of environmental damage.

In 90 minutes, co-producers Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn argue that our institutional and individual attention to selected environmental issues will not make a collective difference unless we also confront the realities of animal agriculture. Animal agriculture’s environmental effects are so pervasive that apparent progress elsewhere cannot counter its destructive and growing impact.

The film suggests why protection for expanded areas of the ocean will not protect oceans or ocean animals. Growing food organically, even on a commercial scale, will not protect the land. Keeping lumber operations out of the Amazon will not save the rainforest.

Making homes more water efficient and taking short showers will not make more water available. Driving electric cars will not solve the carbon emissions problem. Installing LED lights and converting to renewable energy will not stop global warming.

Here is some of the data gathered by the producers and woven into this powerful film.

Animal agriculture uses 55 percent of the water in the U.S. American homes use five percent. One thousand gallons of water are needed to produce 1 gallon of milk. Two thousand five hundred gallons of water are needed to make one pound of beef. Growing water shortages make animal agriculture unsustainable.

Livestock uses 30 percent of the Earth’s total land mass, including nearly 50 percent of the U.S. mainland. The growing demand for animal farmland is responsible for 80 percent of Amazon rainforest destruction. (Palm oil production is second). With 160-million acres cleared or degraded annually for the animal industry, 40 percent of the rainforest will be destroyed in 20 years, affecting species survival and carbon sequestration.

Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. All forms of land, air and ocean transportation total 13 percent. Transportation industry air pollution is overshadowed by animal agriculture air pollution.

Seventy billion animals are raised annually worldwide. Everyday 144 million animals are killed for food. U.S. farm animals produce 7 million pounds of excrement every minute. Our lakes, oceans and psyches cannot sustain animal agriculture.

Too many environmental groups are dodging this issue, but the cattle industry is steaming. One cattle association blogger reminds its members that it also takes a lot of water to make a T-shirt or produce a car.

Seventy-five percent of Americans consider themselves environmentalists. Only 5 percent of Americans are vegetarian or vegan, however their percentage has quintupled in five years.

The average American consumes 209 pounds of meat each year. Everyday, a person that eats a plant-based diet saves 1,100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 sq. ft. of forested land, the equivalent of 20 lbs. of CO2 and one animal’s life.

This issue is an environmental advocate’s dream come true. It requires no political action money, no corporate boardroom decisions, no re-negotiated food policy, no tax incentives. When we eat meat, dairy and eggs, we feed this growing catastrophe. Change will happen as quickly as we convince each other to change what we eat. While producing his film, Kip Andersen became a vegan.

Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret was self-funded by the producers and crowdfunded via Indiegogo. The marketing efforts for the film depends on community organizations to sponsor the film, promote ticket sales through their networks and fill a local theater. They bear no cost, only effort, and it is working. Cowspiracy showings are accelerating all over the country—during the last two weeks in October, the film will be seen in 35 locations.

Click here for a list of upcoming events or to host a screening.

 

[Ward Pallotta is retired from social justice, nonprofit fundraising in Cleveland, Ohio. He and his life partner, Ann Urick, are members of VegSarasota and Transition Sarasota in Sarasota, Florida, and are advocates for safe and healthy food. Nine years ago they realized they were eating dangerously and switched to a plant-based diet.]

 

The Four Degrees [Book Review: Don’t Even Think about It & This Changes Everything]

  • Don’t Even Think about It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change by George Marshall
    Bloomsbury, 272 pp, £20.00, October 2014, ISBN 978 1 62040 133 0

 

  • This Changes Everything: Capitalism v. The Climate by Naomi Klein
    Allen Lane, 576 pp, £20.00, September 2014, ISBN 978 1 84614 505 6

 

american-way-standard-of-living-benjamin-yeager

It was at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro that governments first agreed to do something about climate change. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, agreed at the summit, committed the wealthiest nations to reducing their emissions of carbon dioxide and other ‘greenhouse gases’. But the treaty wasn’t binding, so nothing changed and emissions continued to rise in line with the economic growth to which the wealthiest nations were also committed.

The UN tried again in 1997. Nearly two hundred countries signed up to the Kyoto Protocol, which contained legally binding targets for emissions reductions. But the world’s biggest emitter, the US, never ratified the protocol, and the fastest growing developing countries, including China, Brazil and India, had no targets imposed on them. Many of the Kyoto signatory nations did manage reductions, but they accounted for only a third of global emissions – which, as before, kept rising. In 2009, the much vaunted climate summit in Copenhagen, which was intended to agree binding global targets to come into effect from 2012, collapsed in disarray, sabotaged by the US and China. Then, in 2012, in Doha, everyone agreed it was time to start negotiating another agreement, to be in place by 2020, nearly three decades after they all first agreed to act. Today, carbon dioxide emissions are at record levels and rising, and no one appears to be willing or able to control them.

Given everything we know about climate change, why are we still ignoring it? George Marshall’s intriguing book, Don’t Even Think about It, offers many answers, but the likely consequences of twenty years of top-level lies, dithering and obfuscation are left until the last chapter. This was probably a smart decision, because the news is all bad. ‘Scientists,’ Marshall writes, ‘who are, as a group, extremely wary of exaggeration, nonetheless keep using the same word: catastrophe.’ Their fear is that it’s increasingly likely that the Earth’s climate will warm by at least 4°C. Two degrees of warming, which the world’s leaders have accepted as the supposedly safe ‘upper limit’, is bad enough. But according to one of the world’s most influential climate scientists, John Schellnhuber, ‘the difference between two and four degrees is human civilisation.’ Thanks to the global paralysis since 1992, the ‘window of opportunity’ for reducing emissions fast enough to avoid this scenario is starting to look more like a crack in the plaster.

Four degrees of warming, Marshall tells us, is likely to bring heatwaves of magnitudes never experienced before, and temperatures not seen on Earth in the last five million years. Forty per cent of plant and animal species would be at risk of extinction, a third of Asian rainforests would be under threat and most of the Amazon would be at high risk of burning down. Crop yields would collapse, possibly by a third in Africa. US production of corn, soy beans and cotton would fall by up to 82 per cent. Four degrees guarantees the total melting of the Greenland ice sheet and probably the Western Antarctic ice sheet, which would raise sea levels by more than thirty feet. Two-thirds of the world’s major cities would end up underwater. And we aren’t looking at a multigenerational timescale: we may see a four-degree rise over the next sixty years. ‘The science around four degrees keeps moving,’ Marshall notes, ‘usually in the direction of greater pessimism.’

What explains the gulf between what we know about these potential terrors and what we are (not) doing to stop them? We can answer that question only by looking at climate change differently, Marshall suggests, ‘not as a media battle of science versus vested interests or truth versus fiction, but as the ultimate challenge to our ability to make sense of the world around us’. We have failed to act on climate change not because we don’t know enough about it, or because we don’t know how to prevent it: we have failed to act on it because at one level we don’t want to act on it. And we don’t want to act on it because we don’t want to believe it’s really happening.

Most discussions of climate change start from the curious assumption that if we can just give people the information they need, they will demand action, and then the politicians will have to take action, and then we can begin tackling the problem. This is almost completely the wrong way round. ‘Everyone, experts and non-experts alike,’ Marshall writes, ‘converts climate change into stories that embody their own values, assumptions and prejudices.’ Even our experience of the weather fits this pattern:

When asked about recent weather in their own area, people who are already disposed to believe in climate change will tend to say it’s been warmer. People who are unconvinced about climate change will say it’s been colder. Farmers in Illinois … emphasised or played down extreme events depending on whether or not they accepted climate change.

The real problem comes when we start trying to cram climate change into our pre-existing ideological boxes. In the US in particular, climate change has become a central weapon in a culture war between left and right. ‘Attitudes on climate change … have become a social cue like gun control: a shorthand for figuring out who is in our group and cares about us,’ Marshall writes. Dan Kahan, a professor of psychology at Yale Law School, told him that it isn’t information but ‘cultural coding’ that forms the basis of our worldview. Thus, if you’re a supporter of the Tea Party (your in-group), then anything an environmentalist (your out-group) tells you is going to be self-evidently wrong, regardless of its factual content – and vice versa.

Research carried out in Norway, and Marshall’s own work in Texas, demonstrates that even when people have lived through unprecedented wildfires and snowmelt they maintain an ‘invisible forcefield of silence’ when the subject of climate change is raised. Climate scientists themselves, asked by Marshall about their long-haul flights, come up with some dubious rationalisations. A story is told about a dinner party at which the guests – retired professionals – chatted about their expensive holidays to far-flung locations. Exasperated, one guest dropped the subject of climate change onto the well-ordered table. ‘The room went very quiet. Then someone decided to break the silence. “My word,” she said, “what a lovely spinach tart.”’

What will destroy this web of denial, displacement and paralysis? Enter Naomi Klein, whose latest book, This Changes Everything, aspires to ‘upend the debate’ about climate change by linking it squarely to the latest crisis of capitalism. It’s a long work, filled with original research, but it doesn’t fulfil this promise. Rather the opposite: it threatens to entrench the cultural polarisation which Marshall identifies as a main obstacle to action. Klein lays out her stall early on. Her own climate denial (she once treasured her frequent flyer’s card) began to fall away when she met Bolivia’s ambassador to the World Trade Organisation, Angélica Navarro Llanos, in 2009. Llanos told her that Bolivia, the poorest country in Latin America and one dependent on glaciers for its water, saw climate change both as a threat and an opportunity. ‘We need a Marshall Plan for the Earth,’ Llanos told the UN climate conference. ‘This plan must mobilise financing and technology transfer on scales never seen before. It must get technology onto the ground in every country to ensure we reduce emissions while raising people’s quality of life. We have only a decade.’ After speaking to Llanos, Klein writes, ‘I found that I no longer feared immersing myself in the scientific reality of the climate threat.’ The reason seems clear enough: Klein had figured out how to fit climate change into her ideological box. The framing message of her book is that preventing climate change is a ‘progressive’ cause, firmly aligned with the left. More than this, it is an opportunity for the left to succeed where it has previously failed. ‘It could be the best argument progressives have ever had,’ she says, providing an opportunity to complete the ‘unfinished business of liberation’ on a global scale.

Klein made her name exposing what she calls the ‘corporate liberation project’: she showed how, over the last forty years, private corporations freed from public oversight have created a global economy in their own interests and image. As in her previous books, Klein does a fine job here of exposing the way private capital has not only bound the hands of governments but sucked in organisations that should know better. It’s bad enough that groups campaigning against climate change should take money from fossil fuel interests, but it turns out that Nature Conservancy, one of the world’s leading conservation organisations, owns and operates an oil well – in one of its own wildlife reserves. What can explain this? Klein suggests that too many ‘Big Green’ groups have swallowed a narrative written by corporations: that the current model of deregulated capitalism is the only game in town. Challenging this story, she says, is the first step towards showing it up for the self-serving fiction it is.

Though expert at exposing corporate wrongs, Klein is less good at suggesting how to right them. Her excitement at the prospect of blockades and barricades makes her proposals for change seem less mould-breaking than old-fashioned, as if this world-spanning predicament could be tackled with the same protest tools as the Vietnam War. The world, she says, is facing a new conflict. ‘The actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe – and would benefit the vast majority – are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process, and most of our major media outlets.’

The solution to this, and the only way to get that Marshall Plan up and running, will be familiar to Klein fans: ‘mass movements of regular people’ to force the powerful to change. If this is a war, we need a war economy: one that will rein in the corporations and allow governments to assert more control over the necessary and rapid creation of a low-carbon economy. This will mean swift and decisive action on land reform, agro-ecology and the creation of mass transit systems, coupled with huge global rollouts of renewable energy projects. It will mean no nuclear power, geo-engineering, genetic modification or fossil fuel extraction. It will mean more power for the poor and less for billionaires. It will mean respect for indigenous rights and a huge transfer of wealth and technology from north to south. All on a global scale, and within a decade – or two at most.

This is an American liberal wishlist, and a fantastical one. ‘Climate change can be a People’s Shock, a blow from below,’ Klein writes. ‘It can disperse power into the hands of the many rather than consolidating it in the hands of the few.’ An economy based on ‘extractivism’ must be opposed by a movement which Klein calls Blockadia – a shifting, roving network of activists opposing fossil fuel extraction in places like the tar sands of Canada, the Amazon and the Niger Delta. These movements exist already, and they should be supported. But Klein’s attempt to bundle them all up into one world-changing popular uprising isn’t persuasive. She has spent the last 15 years suggesting that just such a movement, using the tactics she promotes here (blockades, mass action at global summits, taking to the streets etc), is the only way to put paid to neoliberalism. That neoliberalism still doesn’t see itself as under threat hasn’t made her feel the need to reconsider her approach. As Klein acknowledges, serious action on climate change will require those of us who live in the rich world to take a hefty cut in our levels of material privilege, and many of the world’s poorer countries to surrender their aspiration to our lifestyles. Which party leader is brave enough to try and sell that?

Even Blockadia can get complicated in ways Klein seems unwilling to acknowledge. For every mass movement opposing an oil pipeline there is another opposing a giant windfarm or solar array. Huge renewable projects of the kind Klein demands are, after all, another form of ‘extractivism’: they extract energy from the wind, sun or waves, and in order to do so they industrialise enormous areas of land or water. Are movements which oppose such projects part of Blockadia, or are they its enemies? And how can the grassroots democracy and recognition of indigenous land rights which Klein favours be reconciled with the urgent, top-down Marshall Plan she says is needed to prevent catastrophe? Contradictions like this, which thread themselves through the book, are the result of trying to make a complicated problem simple. This is clearly a tactical decision: Klein is trying to build a movement, and movements need clear messages and clear enemies. But while it might make sense from a tactical point of view, strategically it looks like a big error. Early on in her book, Klein attends a meeting of climate change deniers from the Heartland Institute, a think tank funded by the fossil fuel industry which specialises in anti-green zealotry. Most of the fervently pro-market delegates believe that climate change ‘has little to do with the state of the environment and much to do with shackling capitalism and transforming the American way of life in the interests of global wealth redistribution’. This is the reason they deny the science: they think climate change is a socialist plot.

The problem for Klein is that, in her case at least, the Heartlanders are right. She does want to transform the American way of life in the interests of global wealth distribution, and she is very open about using climate change as a reason to do that. Her book proves the Tea Party right, and that isn’t going to do climate change scientists any favours, as Marshall points out:

The missing truth, deliberately avoided in these enemy narratives, is that in high-carbon societies, everyone contributes to the emissions that cause the problem and everyone has a strong reason to ignore the problem or to write their own alibi … If our founding narratives are based around enemies, there is no reason to suppose that, as climate impacts build in intensity, new and far more vicious enemy narratives will not readily replace them, drawing on religious, generational, political, class and nationalistic divides … History has shown us too many times that enemy narratives soften us up for the violence, scapegoating or genocide that follows.

Climate change isn’t something that a small group of baddies has foisted on us, and the minute it becomes an issue identified with one political persuasion, action to prevent it becomes less likely. In the end, we are all implicated, which is one reason we refuse to look at it directly. This is a less palatable message than one which sees a brutal 1 per cent screwing the planet and a noble 99 per cent opposing them, but it is closer to reality.

The struggle over climate change isn’t a war: it’s what Marshall, drawing on social policy research, calls a ‘wicked’, as opposed to a ‘tame’ problem. Tame problems have ‘defined causes, objectives and outputs’. Wicked problems, on the other hand, are ‘incomplete, contradictory and constantly changing’. Neither the causes nor the solutions are clear, and the situation is always shifting. They aren’t simple or morally clear, and this means that solutions, if there are any, will be in the same category. What, in the end, can be done about this wicked problem? Climate change is really a lesson in limits: the limits of the atmosphere’s ability to absorb our waste, the limited ability of our economics and politics to deal with what’s coming, the limits of our control over nature and ourselves. Both Klein and Marshall agree that the simplest way to proceed might be to impose a cap on fossil fuel extraction itself, rather than on the resulting emissions – something which, incredibly, has never been discussed at any of those global gatherings. But how to make that happen? Klein does a good job of exposing the corporate armlock which prevents the idea being discussed, but her rallying cry – ‘only mass social movements can save us now’ – can sound like another form of denial. Marshall suggests we change the narrative: instead of seeing climate change as a war, we could see it as a quest, which would give people of all persuasions a chance to take part in solving the problem. Doing anything useful about climate change requires everyone to lever themselves out of their comfort zones.

It is clear now that stopping climate change is impossible: what is still worth fighting for is some control over how bad it will get. Neither Klein nor Marshall can convincingly tell us how we should get from where we are to where we need to be in the time available; but then, neither can anyone else. Reading these books back to back, I’m inclined to side with Daniel Kahneman, whom Marshall spoke to in a noisily oblivious New York café. Kahneman won a Nobel Prize for his work on the psychology of human decision-making, which may be why he’s so gloomy. ‘This is not what you might want to hear,’ he says, but ‘no amount of psychological awareness will overcome people’s reluctance to lower their standard of living. So that’s my bottom line: there is not much hope. I’m thoroughly pessimistic. I’m sorry.’

[Book Review] Can Climate Change Cure Capitalism?

The New York Review

Dec 4, 2014

by Elizabeth Kolbert

Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein illustration by James Ferguson

Excerpt:

What would it take to radically reduce global carbon emissions and to do so in a way that would alleviate inequality and poverty? Back in 1998, which is to say more than a decade before Klein became interested in climate change, a group of Swiss scientists decided to tackle precisely this question. The plan they came up with became known as the 2,000-Watt Society.

The idea behind the plan is that everyone on the planet is entitled to generate (more or less) the same emissions, meaning everyone should use (more or less) the same amount of energy. Most of us don’t think about our energy consumption—to the extent we think about it at all—in terms of watts or watt-hours. All you really need to know to understand the plan is that, if you’re American, you currently live in a 12,000-watt society; if you’re Dutch, you live in an 8,000-watt society; if you’re Swiss, you live in a 5,000-watt society; and if you’re Bangladeshi you live in a 300-watt society. Thus, for Americans, living on 2,000 watts would mean cutting consumption by more than four fifths; for Bangladeshis it would mean increasing it almost by a factor of seven.

To investigate what a 2,000-watt lifestyle might look like, the authors of the plan came up with a set of six fictional Swiss families. Even those who lived in super energy-efficient houses, had sold their cars, and flew very rarely turned out to be consuming more than 2,000 watts per person. Only “Alice,” a resident of a retirement home who had no TV or personal computer and occasionally took the train to visit her children, met the target.

The need to reduce carbon emissions is, ostensibly, what This Changes Everything is all about. Yet apart from applauding the solar installations of the Northern Cheyenne, Klein avoids looking at all closely at what this would entail. She vaguely tells us that we’ll have to consume less, but not how much less, or what we’ll have to give up. At various points, she calls for a carbon tax. This is certainly a good idea, and one that’s advocated by many economists, but it hardly seems to challenge the basic logic of capitalism. Near the start of the book, Klein floats the “managed degrowth” concept, which might also be called economic contraction, but once again, how this might play out she leaves unexplored. Even more confoundingly, by end of the book she seems to have rejected the idea. “Shrinking humanity’s impact or ‘footprint,’” she writes, is “simply not an option today.”

In place of “degrowth” she offers “regeneration,” a concept so cheerfully fuzzy I won’t even attempt to explain it. Regeneration, Klein writes, “is active: we become full participants in the process of maximizing life’s creativity.”

To draw on Klein paraphrasing Al Gore, here’s my inconvenient truth: when you tell people what it would actually take to radically reduce carbon emissions, they turn away. They don’t want to give up air travel or air conditioning or HDTV or trips to the mall or the family car or the myriad other things that go along with consuming 5,000 or 8,000 or 12,000 watts. All the major environmental groups know this, which is why they maintain, contrary to the requirements of a 2,000-watt society, that climate change can be tackled with minimal disruption to “the American way of life.” And Klein, you have to assume, knows it too. The irony of her book is that she ends up exactly where the “warmists” do, telling a fable she hopes will do some good.

Read the full review: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/dec/04/can-climate-change-cure-capitalism

 

[Elizabeth Kolbert is a staff writer for The New Yorker. ?Her new book, The Sixth Extinction, was published earlier this year. (December 2014) ]

 

Arundhati Roy Debunks the Gandhi Myth

Video Published on Oct 21, 2014

“On The Laura Flanders Show: Author/activist Arundhati Roy on the Annihilation of Caste, B.R. Ambedkar and the Western myth of Mahatma Gandhi.”

The Failure Of The Left

Media Lens

by David Edwards, Editor

July 8, 2014

climate-change-couture-catherine-young

Image: From the series titled Climate Change Couture: Haute Fashion for a Hotter Planet.

In Arthur Koestler’s novel Darkness At Noon, N.S. Rubashov, founding father of ‘the revolution’, stands convicted of treason against tyrannical leader ‘No. 1’. But Rubashov knows that his real guilt lies elsewhere:

‘Why had not the Public Prosecutor asked him: “Defendant Rubashov, what about the infinite?” He would not have been able to answer – and there lay the real source of his guilt… Could there be a greater?’

What about uncertainty, what about the Unknown? How could Rubashov be sure that the tyranny his party had imposed on the people would truly deliver them to some socialist utopia?

‘What had he said to them? “I bow my knees before the country, before the masses, before the whole people…” And what then? What happened to these masses, to this people? For forty years it had been driven through the desert, with threats and promises, with imaginary terrors and imaginary rewards. But where was the Promised Land?

‘Did there really exist any such goal for this wandering mankind? That was a question to which he would have liked an answer before it was too late. Moses had not been allowed to enter the land of promise either. But he had been allowed to see it, from the top of the mountain, spread at his feet. Thus, it was easy to die, with the visible certainty of one’s goal before one’s eyes. He, Nicolas Salmanovitch Rubashov, had not been taken to the top of a mountain; and wherever his eye looked, he saw nothing but desert and the darkness of night.’

Leftists and environmentalists have also not been allowed to enter the land of promise, or to see it from the mountain top.

Instead, we see the looming tsunami of climate catastrophe blotting out the sun, obscuring hopes of a decent future. We witness the astonishing spectacle of global society failing to respond to a threat so severe that scientists warn that even a few more decades of business-as-usual could result in human extinction. We absorb the crushing defeat since 1988 – the year the United Nations set up its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – of our inability to overcome corporate resistance to mounting, now mountainous, evidence of approaching disaster.

After decades of intense effort, which many of us felt sure would culminate in a steadily saner society prioritising people over profit, we also can see ‘nothing but desert and the darkness of night’.

 

The Elusive Turning Point

The 1980s explosion of public interest in green issues had writers like Edward Goldsmith and Fritjof Capra heralding ‘The Great U-Turn‘,’The Turning Point‘ that would transform society into a rational, sustainable, ‘solar’ economy.

How naïve and deterministic these predictions seem now with the green movement long overwhelmed by a corporate backlash that has supersize people driving supersize cars through an eruption of global consumption, with ‘green concern’ reduced to a niche marketing strategy targeting privileged elites.

Three decades later, the whole world flies the whole world for any reason it can conceive: a weekend shopping trip to New York, a day trip to Rome, a school trip to LA, a ‘holiday of a lifetime’ this year and every year. The world’s famous sights are now rammed in tourist gridlock.

In other words, the noisy, optimistic greens of the 1980s and 1990s should be suffering a mass nervous breakdown about now. So, also, should the left, which woke late to the crisis of climate change. In an interview, the Canadian Dimensions website asked Noam Chomsky:

‘In a lot of your writing ecological concerns seem to have come to the fore only fairly recently or at least didn’t figure as prominently in your earlier writings on foreign policy.’

Chomsky replied:

‘Well, the severity of the problem wasn’t really recognized until the 1970s and then increasingly in the 1980s.’

True enough, but in books like Deterring Democracy (1992), Year 501 (1993), and World Orders, Old And New (1994), Chomsky devoted just one or two paragraphs to climate change at a time when green commentators were trying to amplify the urgent alarm raised in the US Congress by NASA climate scientist James Hansen in 1988. Chomsky’s book Powers and Prospects (1996) contains no mention of the issue at all. By contrast, Chomsky concentrated heavily on issues like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – hardly insignificant, but trivial by comparison.

Unlike Chomsky, who in 2013 published Nuclear War And Environmental Catastrophe with Laray Polk (Seven Stories Press), many high-profile writers on the left continue to have little or nothing to say about climate change. Why?

Leftists are typically rooted in the 17th century Western Enlightenment conviction that humanity should use reason, notably the scientific method, to radically transform both society and the natural world to the benefit of mankind. Leftists have been reluctant to perceive a fundamental problem with high-tech industrial ‘progress’ per se, focusing instead on the need to share the fruits more equably.

Greens argue that the ‘conquest of nature’ (both human and environmental) delivers pyrrhic victories because human reason is simply not equal to the task. The complexity and unknown (and perhaps unknowable) nature of the human and natural systems involved means that in ‘improving’ one aspect of life, we very often create entirely unforeseen and perhaps unmanageable chaos elsewhere.

The left just did not want to hear the bad news that there might be a deep problem with the scientific-industrial project, with the whole idea that the world can be endlessly ‘improved’. While corporate elites put themselves first and leftists prioritised humanity, greens argued that we should respect the needs of the ecosystem as a whole.

Despite the failure to address climate change, there are few signs of soul-searching in left-green circles. For example, anyone wondering what happened to Jonathan Porritt – an inspirational spokesman for green revolution in the 1980s – need look no further than his recent comment on Twitter:

‘Big bash yesterday celebrating 3 years of @Unilever’s USLP [Unilever Sustainable Living Plan]. CEO Paul Polman in great form: much achieved but so much to do.’

Has much been achieved in the 25 years since James Hansen and other scientists raised the alarm? In 2009, Hansen estimated the percentage of required action implemented to address the climate crisis at precisely ‘0%’. (Email, Hansen to Media Lens, June 18, 2009) Since then, carbon emissions, consumption and temperatures have continued to soar.

And this is hardly the only failure we’ve faced in recent times. Consider the ‘convergence’ of ‘mainstream’ politics – Blair’s 1997 corporate coup d’état that removed any semblance of ‘mainstream’ left opposition in the UK, so that we are free only to choose from a selection of representatives of corporate rather than popular power.

Or consider the entrenchment of Orwellian ‘Perpetual War’ – the state-corporate determination to bomb someone, somewhere, every couple of years for reasons that have everything to do with realpolitik and nothing to do with reason or righteousness, or ‘the responsibility to protect‘. Despite self-evident crimes resulting in mass death on a scale that almost defies imagination, the left has failed to resist the warmongering tide in Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Sierra Leone, Yemen, Pakistan, Syria and Iraq (again).

As recently as August 2013, even after the deceptions of Iraq and Libya, both corporate and non-corporate dissidents were lending credence to US propaganda blaming Syrian president Assad for chemical weapons attacks in Damascus. Leading weapons expert, Professor Ted Postol of MIT commented on these claims:

‘To me, the fact that people are not focused on how the [Obama] administration lied is very disturbing and shows how far the community of journalists and the community of so-called security experts has strayed from their responsibility… I am concerned about the collapse of traditional journalism and the future of the country.’

Given the above, the left-green movement might be expected to share Rubashov’s crisis of conscience and confidence – many have deceived themselves that they know, with absolute certainty, how to make the world a better place. But do they? Are they right?

The confidence, in fact arrogance, of many ‘progressives’ has been so overweening that they have simply dismissed thousands of years of insight into these problems from non-Western sources whose understanding of human psychology and, by implication, social change far exceeds almost anything found in the West (an issue to which I’ll return in a later Cogitation).

 

Is Anyone At The Wheel?

The failure to respond to climate catastrophe has to raise urgent questions for anyone trying to address human and animal suffering. Even to compare this failure with political and media enthusiasm for ‘action’ in response to the absurd, credibly dismissed, and in fact completely non-existent threat from Iraq’s WMD in 2002-2003 is astonishing.

We assume our society is able to act rationally, but is it in fact only able to respond to threats (real or imagined) that serve vested interests? Has our political system evolved to respond in ways that increase short-term profit, but not to threats that could be averted by harming profit? Perhaps no actual agency exists with sufficient power to counter this deadly bias. Perhaps no-one rational, in fact, is at the wheel.

One also cannot help wondering about the hidden ideological obstacles to the idea that human beings could face extinction in the next 50 or 100 years.

What we call ‘progress’ is strongly imbued with a sense of ‘manifest destiny’. The rapid empowerment of science and technology naturally gives the impression that they are leading somewhere better, not worse. As environmental writer Paul Kingsnorth comments:

‘A society that takes progress as its religion does not look kindly on despair. If you are expected to believe everything will keep getting better, it can be difficult to admit to believing otherwise.’

Especially when billions of advertising dollars – all in the business of promising a better life – have a vested interested in denial. It surely seems inconceivable to many in awe of the high-tech revolution that an iPad could emerge shortly before we are erased from the face of the earth. It is a story that makes no sense. Even committed atheists may have a subtle faith in the idea that the human journey cannot be merely absurd – that we could not develop, flourish and suddenly vanish. Surely science and technology will save the day – surely the great adventure of ‘progress’ will not collapse from glittering ‘peak’ to catastrophe. Science has long given us a sense that we have ‘conquered’ and ‘escaped’ nature. It is humbling, humiliating, to even imagine that we might yet be annihilated by nature.

Science fiction writers and film-makers have saturated society with the idea that our manifestly unsustainable way of life is part of an almost pre-ordained journey to an ever more high-tech lifestyle. A glamorous future among the stars, however fraught with alien menace, seems to have been mapped out for us. Although humankind has remained stubbornly stuck at the Moon for 40 years, there seems little doubt about what the future will bring. But will it? Is it possible that this idea of human development is fundamentally misguided? Should we be more focused on moving in rather than out? (Our society is by now so divorced from spiritual awareness that the question may appear meaningless.) What if the reality of our situation on this planet makes a complete nonsense of the science fictional vision of ‘progress’?

Similarly, is it really possible for the many believers in a theistic God to accept the possibility of near-term human extinction? Can they conceive that we were created by a divine being only to be wiped out by a giant fart of industrial gas? What kind of deity would play such games? Theists precisely reject the idea of a random, meaningless universe. But what could be more nihilistic than industrial ‘progress’ culminating in self-extinction? What does it mean for the promise of ‘the second coming’, for the teaching of the prophets down the ages, and so on?

 

Drawing Water From The Corporate Well

Writing in the Guardian, George Monbiot asks a good, related question:

‘We appear to possess an almost limitless ability to sit back and watch as political life is seized by plutocrats; as the biosphere is trashed… How did we acquire this superhuman passivity?’

Instead of organising to change the world, Monbiot perceives a superficial society lost in a ‘national conversation – in public and in private – that revolves around the three Rs: renovation, recipes and resorts?’

This certainly describes the typical fare served up by the newspaper that pays Monbiot to embed his left-green concerns alongside its soul-bleaching, advertiser-friendly pap. Monbiot’s Rousseauvian conclusion:

‘Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chainstores.’

And indeed, flip a page in any number of chainstores and you will find Monbiot’s earnest, kindly face smiling out at you.

In truth, corporate dissidents like Monbiot have played a crucial role in persuading intelligent, caring, potentially progressive readers to continue drawing water from the corporate well. Journalist Owen Jones, also of the Guardian, tells Media Lens (to paraphrase): ‘You are irrelevant, reaching no-one. I am reaching a mass audience.’

But reaching a mass audience with what?

The filtered content of corporate news and commentary, saturated with corporate advertising of every stripe, makes a mockery of these rare glimpses of dissent.

Imagine the impact of reading an article on climate change by a Monbiot or a Jones and then turning the page to an American Airlines advert for reduced-fare flights to New York. Or imagine turning to the front cover of a colour supplement that reads:

‘Time is running out… Ski resorts are melting… Paradise islands are vanishing… So what are you waiting for? 30 places you need to visit while you still can – A 64-page Travel Special.’

This concussive car crash of reality and illusion – of calls for action to address a grave crisis alongside calls to quit worrying and embrace the consumerism that has precisely created the crisis – delivers a transcendent message that the crisis isn’t that serious, things aren’t that bad.

The collision delivers the crippling lesson that the truth of looming catastrophe is only one of several versions of reality on offer – we can choose. We can even pick ‘n’ mix. We can enjoy a moral workout while commuting to our corporate office, feel enraged about the climate, Iraq, dolphins. Then we can turn to the business section, or think about buying a new car, or choose the next trip abroad. Later, we can watch a David Attenborough documentary about the wonders of the natural world without giving much of a damn about the fact that these wonders are being obliterated.

Corporate dissidents are a rational, compassionate, reassuring presence persuading us that compartmentalised moral concern is part of a healthy, balanced corporate media diet and lifestyle. As discussed, like Owen Jones, Monbiot’s earnest portrait in the Guardian peers out from a crowd of corporate adverts, entertainments, perspectives. We look at his concerned face in this context and see a guy like us, living as we live and work. Are we better-informed, more impassioned, more radical than he is? Surely not. So if he lives this way – if he is willing to be employed by the very corporate system against which he is ostensibly rebelling, the system that is killing us – why shouldn’t we?

There is no question that corporate media teach ‘mainstream’ propaganda values. The Guardian, for example, taught us to see Blair as a great moral force; it taught us to see the ‘Iraq threat’ as something more than a cynical fraud. More recently, it has been teaching us to swallow the West’s claimed ‘responsibility to protect’ in Libya and Syria, and even (without so much as blinking an eye) in Iraq, a country in desperate need of protection from the West.

But crucially, the Guardian and other media also teach us dissent, even as they teach us to crave the luxury products and lifestyles they sell. And so their most devastating lesson of all is that this cognitive dissonance can be embraced, accepted, left unresolved, year after year. We are trained to live with absurdity, to embrace it as ‘normal’. We have been numbed to the insanity of the way we live and think. And in the face of approaching apocalypse, we are numb, and dumb, and unmoved.

In the early 1990s, Phil Lesly, author of a handbook on public relations and communications, revealed a key secret of corporate control:

‘People generally do not favour action on a non-alarming situation when arguments seem to be balanced on both sides and there is a clear doubt… There is no need for a clear-cut “victory”… Nurturing public doubts by demonstrating that this is not a clear-cut situation in support of the opponents usually is all that is necessary.’ (Lesly, ‘Coping with Opposition Groups,’ Public Relations Review 18, 1992, p.331)

Corporate media reports and commentary ‘nurturing public doubts’ overwhelm occasional dissenting pieces. Adverts also loudly sell a corporate version of invincible ‘Normality’ (with no balancing perspectives allowed or even imagined). All insist we are facing ‘a non-alarming situation’.

Corporate dissidents deliver their strongest, most impassioned arguments. Corporate media gratefully receive these arguments, position them among their low-cost flight and sofa deals, and in effect say to readers:

‘See, even this has a place here, fits here, is compatible here.’

So while corporate dissidents have indeed reached a mass audience through the ‘quality’ press, they have drawn that mass audience into a corporate killing zone.

Isn’t it obvious that everything hosted by corporate media is diminished and degraded? As the American philosopher Thoreau observed:

‘I have learned that trade curses everything it handles; and though you trade in messages from heaven, the whole curse of trade attaches to the business.’ (Thoreau, Walden)

Left-green groups have achieved so little, in part because they have embraced corporate dissent and corporate dissent truly is cursed by the trade handling its messages from heaven. Consequently, these movements have been cursed, crushed, neutralised, neutered, made nonsensical by cooperating with a media system that is the sworn enemy of everything they are trying to achieve – deep change to the status quo.

The unwritten quid pro quo of media inclusion is such that these groups have refused even to comment on the structural bias of a corporate media system reporting on a world dominated by corporations. Why? Because, as they tell us, ‘We have to work with the media’. Attentive readers will catch occasional swipes at ‘the media’, at the tabloids, at everyone’s favourite punch bag, the BBC. But the de facto ban on discussing the oxymoron that is a corporate ‘free press’ strongly supports the illusion that no such contradiction exists. If even the boldest, most honest dissidents are not alerting readers to the problem, then those readers are being hung out on a hundred propaganda lines to dry.

The fatalistic impression given is that no-one and nothing can really escape the grip of corporate ‘normality’, of corporate control. Cooperation helps sell this ‘normality’ as Higher Truth – we all prioritise comfort, luxury, earning more, consuming more, travelling more.

It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that every system of unaccountable power benefits from employing a handful of individuals admired for their honesty about everything except that which threatens their unaccountable employer.

We might well dismiss all of the above as speculative and inconclusive, but for the fact that the argument is given immense, urgent weight by the catastrophic failure of the left on climate change.

And yet, to reiterate, even now corporate dissidents are not engaging in this kind of soul-searching – they cannot because corporate journalists may not discuss the problem of a corporate ‘free press’ in the corporate press.

The New Environmentalism Will Lead Us To Disaster

So-called ecopragmatists say we can have a “good Anthropocene.” They’re dead wrong. – See more at: http://clivehamilton.com/the-new-environmentalism-will-lead-us-to-disaster/#sthash.DjMkpxDB.8wyQNEia.dpuf
So-called ecopragmatists say we can have a “good Anthropocene.” They’re dead wrong. – See more at: http://clivehamilton.com/the-new-environmentalism-will-lead-us-to-disaster/#sthash.DjMkpxDB.8wyQNEia.dpuf
So-called ecopragmatists say we can have a “good Anthropocene.” They’re dead wrong. – See more at: http://clivehamilton.com/the-new-environmentalism-will-lead-us-to-disaster/#sthash.DjMkpxDB.8wyQNEia.dpuf

So-called ecopragmatists say we can have a “good Anthropocene.” They’re dead wrong.

Scientific AmericanJune 19, 2014

by Clive Hamilton

LoveYourMonsters

 

Fourteen years ago, when a frustrated Paul Crutzen blurted out the word “Anthropocene” at a scientific meeting in Mexico, the famous atmospheric chemist was expressing his despair at the scale of human damage to Earth. So profound has been the influence of humans, Nobelist Crutzen and his colleagues later wrote, that the planet has entered a new geologic epoch defined by a single, troubling fact: The “human imprint on the global environment has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces of nature in its impact on the functioning of the Earth system.”

The science behind Crutzen’s claim is extensive and robust, and it centers on the profound and irreversible changes brought by global warming. Yet almost as soon as the idea of the Anthropocene took hold, people began revising its meaning and distorting its implications. A new breed of ecopragmatists welcomed the epoch as an opportunity. They have gathered around the Breakthrough Institute, a “neogreen” think tank founded by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, the authors of a controversial 2004 paper, “The Death of Environmentalism.” They do not deny global warming; instead they skate over the top of it, insisting that whatever limits and tipping points the Earth system might throw up, human technology and ingenuity will transcend them.

As carbon dioxide concentrations pass 400 ppm for the first time in a million years, and scientists warn of a U.S. baking in furnacelike summers by the 2070s, Shellenberger and Nordhaus wrote that by the end of the century “nearly all of us will be prosperous enough to live healthy, free and creative lives.” The answer, they say, is not to change course but to more tightly “embrace human power, technology and the larger process of modernization.”

The argument absolves us all of the need to change our ways, which is music to the ears of political conservatives. The Anthropocene is system-compatible.

This technoutopian vision depends on a belief that, with the advent of the new geologic epoch, nothing essential has changed. This reimagined Anthropocene rests on a seamless transition from the fact that humans have always modified their environments to a defense of a postmodern “cyber nature” under human supervision, as if there is no qualitative difference between fire-stick farming and spraying sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere to regulate Earth’s temperature.

For this reason, respected palaeoclimatologist William Ruddiman’s hypothesis that the Anthropocene began some 8,000 years ago with the onset of farming and forest clearing has immediate appeal to ecopragmatists. It seems to give scientific grounding to the desire to defend the status quo against the evidence that the culprit is technoindustrialism’s aggressive fossil fuel–driven expansionism, which began at the end of the 18th century.

The early-Anthropocene hypothesis effectively dissolves the distinction between the Holocene, which started some 11,700 years ago and encompasses the beginning of agriculture, and the Anthropocene, enabling ecopragmatists to argue that there is nothing inherently preferable about a Holocene Earth—a moral claim that permits the conscious creation of a different kind of planet. Hence, their attraction to geoengineering schemes aimed at regulating solar radiation or changing the chemical composition of the oceans. In the words of the most vocal ecopragmatist, the environmental scientist Erle Ellis, “We will be proud of the planet we create.” Ellis speaks of “the good Anthropocene,” a golden era in which we relinquish nostalgic attachments to a nature untouched by humans and embrace the new epoch as “ripe with human-directed opportunity.”

But the idea of a good Anthropocene is based on a fundamental misreading of science. It arises from a failure to make the cognitive leap from ecological thinking—the science of the relationship between organisms and their local environments—to Earth system thinking, the science of the whole Earth as a complex system beyond the sum of its parts. The early Anthropocene hypothesis goes against strong evidence, provided by Crutzen, Will Steffen and other researchers, that only with the beginning of the industrial revolution can we detect a human influence on the functioning of the Earth system as a whole.

The revolutionary meaning of Earth-system science is lost on the ecopragmatists. In reality, the arrival of the new epoch represents not merely the further spread of human influence across the globe but a fundamental shift in the relationship between humans and the Earth system—one in which human activity now accelerates, decelerates and distorts the great cycles that make the planet a dynamic entity. The radical distinctiveness of the Anthropocene lies in the fact that humans have become a novel “force of nature,” one that is shaping the geologic evolution of the planet. So far-reaching is the impact of modern humans that esteemed palaeoclimatologist Wally Broecker has suggested that we have not entered a new geologic epoch, a relatively minor event on the geologic time scale, but a new era—the Anthropozoic—on a par in Earth history with the development of multicellular life.

Some climate science deniers believe only God can change the climate; ecopragmatists, by contrast, see humans as “the god species.” Here is what the god species and this kind of thinking are certain to give us: an atmosphere with 500 ppm of CO2 (probably closer to 700 ppm) and a climate that is hot, sticky and chaotic. It will indeed take omnipotence to fix the problem without calamity. For those who prefer orthodox climate science, such unbounded optimism is dangerous, wishful thinking.

 

 

Fourteen years ago, when a frustrated Paul Crutzen blurted out the word “Anthropocene” at a scientific meeting in Mexico, the famous atmospheric chemist was expressing his despair at the scale of human damage to the Earth. So profound has been the influence of humans, Nobelist Crutzen and his colleagues later wrote, that the Earth has entered a new geological epoch defined by a single, troubling fact: the “human imprint on the global environment has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces of Nature in its impact on the functioning of the Earth system.”

The science behind Crutzen’s claim is extensive and robust, and it centers on the profound and irreversible changes brought by global warming. Yet almost as soon as the idea of the Anthropocene took hold, people began revising its meaning and distorting its implications. A new breed of ecopragmatists welcomed the new epoch as an opportunity. They gathered around the Breakthrough Institute, a “neogreen” think tank founded by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, the authors of a controversial 2004 paper, “The Death of Environmentalism.” They do not deny global warming; instead they skate over the top of it, insisting that whatever limits and tipping points the Earth system might throw up, human technology and ingenuity will transcend them.

As carbon dioxide concentrations pass 400 ppm for the first time in a million years, and scientists warn of a United States baking in furnace-like summers by the 2070s, Shellenberger and Nordhaus write that by the end of the century “nearly all of us will be prosperous enough to live healthy, free, and creative lives.” The answer, they say, is not to change course but to more tightly “embrace human power, technology, and the larger process of modernization.”

The argument absolves us all of the need to change our ways, which is music to the ears of political conservatives. The Anthropocene is system-compatible.

The techno-utopian vision depends on a belief that, with the advent of the new geological epoch, nothing essential has changed. This reimagined Anthropocene rests on a seamless transition from the fact that humans have always modified their environments to a defense of a postmodern “cyber nature” under human supervision, as if there is no qualitative difference between fire-stick farming and spraying sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere to regulate Earth’s temperature.

For this reason respected palaeoclimatologist William Ruddiman’s hypothesis that the Anthropocene began some 8,000 years ago with the onset of farming and forest clearing has immediate appeal to ecopragmatists. It seems to give scientific grounding to the desire to defend the status quo against the evidence that the culprit is techno-industrialism’s aggressive fossil fuel-driven expansionism, which began at the end of the 18th century.

The early-Anthropocene hypothesis effectively dissolves the distinction between the Holocene, which started some 11,700 years ago and encompasses the beginning of agriculture, and the Anthropocene, enabling ecopragmatists to argue that there is nothing inherently preferable about a Holocene Earth—a moral claim that permits the conscious creation of a different kind of planet. Hence their attraction to geoengineering schemes aimed at regulating solar radiation or changing the chemical composition of the oceans. In the words of the most vocal eco-pragmatist, the environmental scientist Erle Ellis, “We will be proud of the planet we create.” Ellis speaks of “the good Anthropocene,” a golden era in which we relinquish nostalgic attachments to a nature untouched by humans and embrace the new epoch as “ripe with human-directed opportunity.”

But the idea of a good Anthropocene is based on a fundamental misreading of science. It arises from a failure to make the cognitive leap from ecological thinking—the science of the relationship between organisms and their local environments—to Earth system thinking, the science of the whole Earth as a complex system beyond the sum of its parts. The early Anthropocene hypothesis goes against strong evidence, provided by Crutzen, Will Steffen and other researchers, that only with the beginning of the industrial revolution can we detect a human influence on the functioning of the Earth system as a whole.

The revolutionary meaning of Earth-system science is lost on the ecopragmatists. In reality, the arrival of the new epoch represents not merely the further spread of human influence across the globe but a fundamental shift in the relationship between humans and the Earth system—one in which human activity now accelerates, decelerates and distorts the great cycles that make the planet a dynamic entity. The radical distinctiveness of the Anthropocene lies in the fact that humans have become a novel “force of nature”, one that is shaping the geological evolution of the planet. So far-reaching is the impact of modern humans that esteemed palaeoclimatologist Wally Broecker has suggested that we have not entered a new geological epoch, a relatively minor event on the geologic time scale, but a new era—the Anthropozoic—on a par in Earth history with the development of multicellular life.

Some climate science deniers believe only God can change the climate; ecopragmatists, by contrast, see humans as “the god species.” Here is what the god species and this kind of thinking are certain to give us: an atmosphere with 500 ppm of CO2 (probably closer to 700 ppm) and a climate that is hot, sticky and chaotic. It will indeed take omnipotence to fix the problem without calamity. For those who prefer orthodox climate science, such unbounded optimism is dangerous, wishful thinking.

– See more at: http://clivehamilton.com/the-new-environmentalism-will-lead-us-to-disaster/#sthash.StefDE6H.dpuf

So-called ecopragmatists say we can have a “good Anthropocene.” They’re dead wrong.

Clive Hamilton

Published in Scientific American, 19 June 2014

Fourteen years ago, when a frustrated Paul Crutzen blurted out the word “Anthropocene” at a scientific meeting in Mexico, the famous atmospheric chemist was expressing his despair at the scale of human damage to the Earth. So profound has been the influence of humans, Nobelist Crutzen and his colleagues later wrote, that the Earth has entered a new geological epoch defined by a single, troubling fact: the “human imprint on the global environment has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces of Nature in its impact on the functioning of the Earth system.”

The science behind Crutzen’s claim is extensive and robust, and it centers on the profound and irreversible changes brought by global warming. Yet almost as soon as the idea of the Anthropocene took hold, people began revising its meaning and distorting its implications. A new breed of ecopragmatists welcomed the new epoch as an opportunity. They gathered around the Breakthrough Institute, a “neogreen” think tank founded by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, the authors of a controversial 2004 paper, “The Death of Environmentalism.” They do not deny global warming; instead they skate over the top of it, insisting that whatever limits and tipping points the Earth system might throw up, human technology and ingenuity will transcend them.

As carbon dioxide concentrations pass 400 ppm for the first time in a million years, and scientists warn of a United States baking in furnace-like summers by the 2070s, Shellenberger and Nordhaus write that by the end of the century “nearly all of us will be prosperous enough to live healthy, free, and creative lives.” The answer, they say, is not to change course but to more tightly “embrace human power, technology, and the larger process of modernization.”

The argument absolves us all of the need to change our ways, which is music to the ears of political conservatives. The Anthropocene is system-compatible.

The techno-utopian vision depends on a belief that, with the advent of the new geological epoch, nothing essential has changed. This reimagined Anthropocene rests on a seamless transition from the fact that humans have always modified their environments to a defense of a postmodern “cyber nature” under human supervision, as if there is no qualitative difference between fire-stick farming and spraying sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere to regulate Earth’s temperature.

For this reason respected palaeoclimatologist William Ruddiman’s hypothesis that the Anthropocene began some 8,000 years ago with the onset of farming and forest clearing has immediate appeal to ecopragmatists. It seems to give scientific grounding to the desire to defend the status quo against the evidence that the culprit is techno-industrialism’s aggressive fossil fuel-driven expansionism, which began at the end of the 18th century.

The early-Anthropocene hypothesis effectively dissolves the distinction between the Holocene, which started some 11,700 years ago and encompasses the beginning of agriculture, and the Anthropocene, enabling ecopragmatists to argue that there is nothing inherently preferable about a Holocene Earth—a moral claim that permits the conscious creation of a different kind of planet. Hence their attraction to geoengineering schemes aimed at regulating solar radiation or changing the chemical composition of the oceans. In the words of the most vocal eco-pragmatist, the environmental scientist Erle Ellis, “We will be proud of the planet we create.” Ellis speaks of “the good Anthropocene,” a golden era in which we relinquish nostalgic attachments to a nature untouched by humans and embrace the new epoch as “ripe with human-directed opportunity.”

But the idea of a good Anthropocene is based on a fundamental misreading of science. It arises from a failure to make the cognitive leap from ecological thinking—the science of the relationship between organisms and their local environments—to Earth system thinking, the science of the whole Earth as a complex system beyond the sum of its parts. The early Anthropocene hypothesis goes against strong evidence, provided by Crutzen, Will Steffen and other researchers, that only with the beginning of the industrial revolution can we detect a human influence on the functioning of the Earth system as a whole.

The revolutionary meaning of Earth-system science is lost on the ecopragmatists. In reality, the arrival of the new epoch represents not merely the further spread of human influence across the globe but a fundamental shift in the relationship between humans and the Earth system—one in which human activity now accelerates, decelerates and distorts the great cycles that make the planet a dynamic entity. The radical distinctiveness of the Anthropocene lies in the fact that humans have become a novel “force of nature”, one that is shaping the geological evolution of the planet. So far-reaching is the impact of modern humans that esteemed palaeoclimatologist Wally Broecker has suggested that we have not entered a new geological epoch, a relatively minor event on the geologic time scale, but a new era—the Anthropozoic—on a par in Earth history with the development of multicellular life.

Some climate science deniers believe only God can change the climate; ecopragmatists, by contrast, see humans as “the god species.” Here is what the god species and this kind of thinking are certain to give us: an atmosphere with 500 ppm of CO2 (probably closer to 700 ppm) and a climate that is hot, sticky and chaotic. It will indeed take omnipotence to fix the problem without calamity. For those who prefer orthodox climate science, such unbounded optimism is dangerous, wishful thinking.

 

Clive Hamilton is professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University in Canberra. He is the author of Earthmasters: The Dawn of the Age of Climate Engineering (Yale University Press, 2013).

– See more at: http://clivehamilton.com/the-new-environmentalism-will-lead-us-to-disaster/#sthash.StefDE6H.dpuf

So-called ecopragmatists say we can have a “good Anthropocene.” They’re dead wrong.

Clive Hamilton

Published in Scientific American, 19 June 2014

Fourteen years ago, when a frustrated Paul Crutzen blurted out the word “Anthropocene” at a scientific meeting in Mexico, the famous atmospheric chemist was expressing his despair at the scale of human damage to the Earth. So profound has been the influence of humans, Nobelist Crutzen and his colleagues later wrote, that the Earth has entered a new geological epoch defined by a single, troubling fact: the “human imprint on the global environment has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces of Nature in its impact on the functioning of the Earth system.”

The science behind Crutzen’s claim is extensive and robust, and it centers on the profound and irreversible changes brought by global warming. Yet almost as soon as the idea of the Anthropocene took hold, people began revising its meaning and distorting its implications. A new breed of ecopragmatists welcomed the new epoch as an opportunity. They gathered around the Breakthrough Institute, a “neogreen” think tank founded by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, the authors of a controversial 2004 paper, “The Death of Environmentalism.” They do not deny global warming; instead they skate over the top of it, insisting that whatever limits and tipping points the Earth system might throw up, human technology and ingenuity will transcend them.

As carbon dioxide concentrations pass 400 ppm for the first time in a million years, and scientists warn of a United States baking in furnace-like summers by the 2070s, Shellenberger and Nordhaus write that by the end of the century “nearly all of us will be prosperous enough to live healthy, free, and creative lives.” The answer, they say, is not to change course but to more tightly “embrace human power, technology, and the larger process of modernization.”

The argument absolves us all of the need to change our ways, which is music to the ears of political conservatives. The Anthropocene is system-compatible.

The techno-utopian vision depends on a belief that, with the advent of the new geological epoch, nothing essential has changed. This reimagined Anthropocene rests on a seamless transition from the fact that humans have always modified their environments to a defense of a postmodern “cyber nature” under human supervision, as if there is no qualitative difference between fire-stick farming and spraying sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere to regulate Earth’s temperature.

For this reason respected palaeoclimatologist William Ruddiman’s hypothesis that the Anthropocene began some 8,000 years ago with the onset of farming and forest clearing has immediate appeal to ecopragmatists. It seems to give scientific grounding to the desire to defend the status quo against the evidence that the culprit is techno-industrialism’s aggressive fossil fuel-driven expansionism, which began at the end of the 18th century.

The early-Anthropocene hypothesis effectively dissolves the distinction between the Holocene, which started some 11,700 years ago and encompasses the beginning of agriculture, and the Anthropocene, enabling ecopragmatists to argue that there is nothing inherently preferable about a Holocene Earth—a moral claim that permits the conscious creation of a different kind of planet. Hence their attraction to geoengineering schemes aimed at regulating solar radiation or changing the chemical composition of the oceans. In the words of the most vocal eco-pragmatist, the environmental scientist Erle Ellis, “We will be proud of the planet we create.” Ellis speaks of “the good Anthropocene,” a golden era in which we relinquish nostalgic attachments to a nature untouched by humans and embrace the new epoch as “ripe with human-directed opportunity.”

But the idea of a good Anthropocene is based on a fundamental misreading of science. It arises from a failure to make the cognitive leap from ecological thinking—the science of the relationship between organisms and their local environments—to Earth system thinking, the science of the whole Earth as a complex system beyond the sum of its parts. The early Anthropocene hypothesis goes against strong evidence, provided by Crutzen, Will Steffen and other researchers, that only with the beginning of the industrial revolution can we detect a human influence on the functioning of the Earth system as a whole.

The revolutionary meaning of Earth-system science is lost on the ecopragmatists. In reality, the arrival of the new epoch represents not merely the further spread of human influence across the globe but a fundamental shift in the relationship between humans and the Earth system—one in which human activity now accelerates, decelerates and distorts the great cycles that make the planet a dynamic entity. The radical distinctiveness of the Anthropocene lies in the fact that humans have become a novel “force of nature”, one that is shaping the geological evolution of the planet. So far-reaching is the impact of modern humans that esteemed palaeoclimatologist Wally Broecker has suggested that we have not entered a new geological epoch, a relatively minor event on the geologic time scale, but a new era—the Anthropozoic—on a par in Earth history with the development of multicellular life.

Some climate science deniers believe only God can change the climate; ecopragmatists, by contrast, see humans as “the god species.” Here is what the god species and this kind of thinking are certain to give us: an atmosphere with 500 ppm of CO2 (probably closer to 700 ppm) and a climate that is hot, sticky and chaotic. It will indeed take omnipotence to fix the problem without calamity. For those who prefer orthodox climate science, such unbounded optimism is dangerous, wishful thinking.

 

Clive Hamilton is professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University in Canberra. He is the author of Earthmasters: The Dawn of the Age of Climate Engineering (Yale University Press, 2013).

– See more at: http://clivehamilton.com/the-new-environmentalism-will-lead-us-to-disaster/#sthash.StefDE6H.dpuf

The Climate Movement Needs to Stop ‘Winning’

Counterpunch

November 24, 2013

by Maya Lemon

As a child my favorite chore was hand-pumping water from the thirty-foot well on our family homestead. The pump was shiny black and the water ice-cold. Then my father was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer linked to chemicals used in oil and gas production. It’s been nine years since I drank that water.

I am from an impacted community in East Texas, home to oil and gas industry, on the southern route of the Keystone XL (KXL) tar sands pipeline. My involvement in the climate movement is motivated by the reality my community faces.

Nacogdoches, Texas lies along the southern path of KXL and cannot escape tar sands. From Cushing, Oklahoma down to Beaumont, Texas pipe is buried in the ground and scheduled to go online by the end of the year. We are waiting for the shoe to drop, for tar sands oil to flow through the pipe, for the bend of welded metal to respond to the heat and corrosion of bitumen. We are waiting for an event over which we have little control, despite its potentially disastrous impact on our lives.

Within this experience lies the insight I have to offer the climate movement. My experience is limited by the fact I am a young, white woman from an unconditionally supportive family. Incomplete as it is, however, my perspective is the best thing I can offer. And so, I ask that the climate movement stops talking about “winning.”

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