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Do Philanthropists Actually Love the Planet?

Books & Ideas | La Vie des Idées


December 11, 2018

by Edouard Morena

 

“Philanthropic foundations are now publicly acknowledged and celebrated as essential actors in the climate struggle. But for what results? As Edouard Morena shows, these foundations actually perpetuate the dominant economic order—an order that many hold accountable for the deepening climate crisis.”

 

Dossier: Who Will Save the Planet? Capitalism, climate change and philanthropy – A collaboration between the US magazine Public Books and La Vie des idées/Books&Ideas.

 

Beyond the calls for urgent action and pledges to commit more resources to the fight against climate change, a noteworthy feature of the first One Planet Summit, held in Paris on December 12, 2017, was the importance given to philanthropists and philanthropic foundations. Far from simply occupying a secondary or supporting role there, foundations were publicly acknowledged and celebrated as essential actors in the climate struggle alongside governments (especially cities and local governments), businesses, investors, and civil society organizations. Bloomberg Philanthropies funded and orchestrated the event.

On the morning of the summit, President Macron hosted a meeting at the Élysée Palace with a group of leading philanthropists, including Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates, and Richard Branson, where he insisted on philanthropy’s unique role as catalyst of climate action. He also called upon the group

“to convene a task force to target and expand philanthropy’s role in the accelerated delivery of the ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement, including through the development of partnerships with governments and public finance agencies.”

The group of 15 or so individuals that attended the Élysée meeting were representative of a small group of well-endowed private foundations that dominate the climate philanthropy landscape. [1] In 2012, according to one report, the combined spending of the OakHewlettPackardSea ChangeRockefeller, and Energy foundations made up approximately 70 percent of the estimated 350 to 450 million philanthropic dollars allocated annually to climate mitigation. These “big players” share common characteristics. In line with the liberal tradition, they view themselves as neutral agents acting in the general interest and present climate change as a “solvable problem” requiring pragmatic, nonideological, bipartisan, and scientifically grounded solutions.

Yet upon closer scrutiny, their funding priorities and approaches to philanthropy reflect a distinctive and ideologically charged worldview, one premised on a belief that the market knows best and that individual self-interest is the best rationale for saving the climate. For most of these large climate funders, environmental protection and a liberal economic order are not only compatible but mutually reinforcing. Behind their altruistic, pragmatist veneer lies a genuine desire to solve the climate crisis while simultaneously perpetuating the dominant economic order, an order that many observers hold responsible for the deepening climate crisis.

Continuity and Change

Philanthropy has a long history of involvement in the climate debate. In the 1980s, established liberal foundations such as the Rockefeller, Ford, and Alton Jones foundations and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund funded scientific research on “global environmental change” and helped to establish the global processes and multilateral institutions that continue to underpin the international climate regime: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Guided by the belief that, given the right multilateral institutions, along with adequate resources and information, a global and mutually beneficial solution could be reached, they supported the formation of a “global civil society” space through funding to NGOs and think tanks (e.g., World Resources InstituteClimate Action Network), support for research and communications, and the convening of international symposiums.

Over the course of the late 1990s and early 2000s, various contextual factors led some of the leading climate funders to abandon the climate debate, others to reassess and adapt their strategies of engagement. These factors included the US federal government’s reluctance to commit to ambitious mitigation targets, conservative-backed climate denialism’s effective scaremongering tactics and attacks against climate science, and growing reservations about the UNFCCC’s ability to actually deliver an ambitious and legally binding agreement in the post-Kyoto context.

This period also coincided with the arrival of a new brand of philanthropists and foundations that would go on to reshape the climate funding landscape. While retaining core liberal principles and values, they promoted a distinctive theory of change when it comes to philanthropic giving in the climate field.

A number of these newcomers were products of the technology and financial boom of the period. This was the case of the Schmidt Family Foundation, launched in 2006 by the CEO of Google, and the Gordon and Betty Moore foundation, launched in 2000 by the cofounder of Intel. Other newcomers include the Sea Change Foundation and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, both of whose founders made their fortunes in finance. For these new foundations, a number of which were based in the San Francisco Bay Area, philanthropic engagement in the climate debate represented a means of distinguishing and legitimizing themselves in the public sphere and within US elite liberal circles. These circles were traditionally dominated by East Coast elites whose fortunes originated in the industrial boom of the early 20th century and whose names were often associated with older, well-established liberal foundations like Ford and Rockefeller.

This new brand of “philanthrocapitalists” or “venture philanthropists” mobilize “their business acumen, ambition, and ‘strategic’ mindset” to solve the climate challenge. [2] foundations also set up the International Policies and Politics Initiative, in 2013, to “highlight opportunities for philanthropic collaboration, joint strategy development, resource pooling, and grant-making alignments in the arena of international policies and politics of climate change” [3] and create the conditions for a global climate agreement in Paris.

Through their joint efforts, the most active climate funders sought to create an environment conducive to a societal shift toward a low-carbon economy. From the outset, investors and businesses—and not states—were viewed as the key stakeholders in this process.

Priority was given to policies, initiatives, and projects that sent positive signals to the markets and created incentives for financial and business actors to invest in the green economy. Efforts were also deployed in the field of research and development, to support the large-scale deployment of new, clean technologies and industrial processes. A few months ago, major climate funders such as the Hewlett and MacArthur foundations have decided, for instance, to support research on and the deployment of controversial carbon capture and storage technologies.

A Veneer of Respectability

Despite their comparatively limited resources—climate philanthropy represents less than 0.1 percent of total climate finance—foundations’ combined efforts over the past 30 years have had a significant impact on the international climate debate. As I have argued elsewhere [4] they played an active and influential role in the lead-up to the Paris COP.

As the ECF wrote shortly after the Paris Conference, “although we should be careful not to overstate our role, it is important to recognize that the climate philanthropy community’s activities prior to and at the COP helped to lay the basis for the outcome.” [5] As the 2017 One Planet Summit illustrates, world leaders and other key players in the international climate debate also recognize the central importance of philanthropic foundations.

Has their influential role contributed to curbing climate change? According to the UN, the years from 2015 to 2018 have been the four hottest on record. While climate philanthropy cannot be blamed for rising temperatures, its efforts to curb climate change must be critically scrutinized. We must hold it accountable for its role in developing and promoting the voluntary, market-based, and bottom-up approach that presently dominates the international climate agenda and that has clearly not delivered the required results. As Marc Gunther wrote in a recent op-ed, “if philanthropy is to be judged by its outcomes—and how else should it be judged?—climate philanthropy has failed.”

How then can we explain the fact that, isolated voices such as Gunther’s notwithstanding, relatively few people have raised questions about climate philanthropy’s role and responsibility in the ongoing—and deepening—climate crisis? I believe that three main reasons can be advanced to explain this.

The first reason relates to the fact that many prominent climate NGOs and networks—Climate Action NetworkFriends of the Earth350.org—partially or entirely rely on philanthropic money to function. The limited available resources, especially for organizations active at the international level, and particular nature of the climate philanthropy landscape—dominated by a handful of well-endowed and closely aligned foundations—means that climate funders have a strong influence on the civil society space.

In Europe, for instance, the ECF—which channels and redistributes funds from a number of prominent climate funders—acts as an unavoidable access point for anyone wishing to seriously engage in the climate debate. From a prospective grantee perspective, “the ability to shop at one source—rather than making the same pitch three or more times,” as Mark Dowie observed about the US-based Energy Foundation, can be advantageous. [6]However, by channeling a large proportion of available climate funds, there is also a risk of concentrating power in a single organization and, hence, toward a single approach—to the detriment of groups that offer alternative visions or wish to pursue alternative strategies. The ECF and other large climate funders become de facto reference points and, given their domineering position, difficult ones to openly challenge.

The second reason relates to businesses’ and governments’—especially in high-emitting countries—reluctance to take decisive action on climate change. With the blessing of many governments and international organizations, foundations increasingly appear the only ones capable of breaking the “climate deadlock.” From a criticizable weakness, their lack of accountability and legitimacy becomes a unique and commendable asset.

This idea is promoted by funders themselves. As George Polk, the former chairman of the executive committee of ECFpoints out,

“One advantage foundations have in the policy arena is being shielded both from the political cycles that interrupt policy continuity and coherence and from the market barriers that get in the way of readily available solutions like energy efficiency upgrades in buildings. This means that foundations can often build bridges over tricky waters that governments and firms hesitate to cross.”

The third reason relates to liberal foundations’ broader function in US and global politics. As Inderjeet Parmar has convincingly argued in Foundations of the American Century, liberal foundations have traditionally played an influential role in transforming America from an “isolationist” nation into a global superpower, and in promoting and anchoring liberal ideals both domestically and internationally. [7] The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, by undermining the Party-led UNFCCCprocess, has further strengthened their position in this regard and, by extension, within the climate debate. Trump’s isolationist stance has prompted liberal philanthropists and foundations, as the Bloomberg example illustrates, to step up their efforts in a climate debate that historically forms a symbolic battleground in the war opposing liberals and conservatives.

Climate funders act not only as defenders of the climate but also as guardians of the liberal order, a US-inspired liberal order that is currently being challenged by Trump and other hard-line conservatives across the globe.

Our House Is Burning

It is in this increasingly unstable US and global political context, and in the face of a worsening climate crisis, that philanthropic foundations are increasingly looked to and celebrated as “climate champions.” As we have shown, the consensus surrounding climate philanthropy masks a longstanding, active, and ideologically motivated involvement in the climate debate. Such a consensus also downplays foundations’ errors and responsibilities. To paraphrase former French president Jacques Chirac in 2002, our house is indeed burning down, only now we stare, uncritically, at philanthropists.

Further reading

Mark Dowie, American Foundations : An Investigative HistoryMITPress, 2001 
Marc Abélès, Les Nouveaux Riches : Un Ethnologue dans la Sylicon Valley, Odile Jacob, 2002

List of Philanthropic Foundations

The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation
ClimateWorks 
The Energy Foundation
The Ford Foundation
The William & Flora Hewlett Foundation
The W. Alton Jones Foundation
The David & Lucile Packard Foundation
The Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation
The Oak Foundation
Rockfeller Brothers Fund
The Rockfeller Foundation
The Schmidt Family Foundation
The Sea Change Foundation

 

[Edouard Morena is Lecturer in French politics and history at the University of London Institute in Paris (ULIP). Over the past six years, he has been researching non-state actors’ involvement in international environmental and development processes – and in particular the role of philanthropic foundations. He is the author of The Price of Climate Action: Philanthropic Foundations in the International Climate Debate (Palgrave, 2016) and co-editor (with Stefan Aykut and Jean Foyer) of Globalising the Climate: COP21 and the Climatization of Global Debates (Routledge, 2017).]

No Soil & Water Before 100% Renewable Energy

January 24, 2016

 

Many say we can have 100% renewable energy by 2050. This is factually incorrect.

We can have 100% renewable electricity production by 2050.

But electricity production is only 18% of total world energy demand.

82% of total world energy demand is NOT electricity production.

The other 82% of the world’s energy is used to extract minerals to make roads, cement, bricks, glass, steel and grow food so we can eat and sleep. Solar panels and wind turbines will not be making cement or steel anytime soon. Why? Do you really want to know? Here we go.

TWED = Total World Energy Demand

18% of TWED is electrical grid generation.

82% of TWED is not electrical grid generation.

In 20 years, solar & wind energy is up from 1% to 3% of TWED.

Solar & wind power are projected to provide 6% of TWED by 2030.

When you hear stories about solar & wind generating
50% of all humanity’s electrical power by 2050,
that’s really only 9% of TWED because
100% of electrical production is 18% of TWED.

But, it takes 10X as much solar & wind energy to close 1 fossil fuel power plant simply because they don’t produce energy all the time.

Reference Link: http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v2/n6/full/nclimate1451.html?WT.ec_id=NCLIMATE-201206

Reference Link:
https://citizenactionmonitor.wordpress.com/2015/12/27/renewable-energy-hope-or-hype/

That means it will take 10 X 18% of TWED to close all fossil power plants with intermittent power.

Research says it will take 4 X 82% of TWED for a 100% renewable energy transition. But then again, whoever trusts research?

10 X 18% + 4 X 82% = 100% Renewable TWED.

CONCLUSION:

We require 10X the fossil electrical grid energy we use now just to solve 18% of the emissions problem with solar & wind power. This also means that even if we use 100% efficient Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) for all the world’s electricity generation, we would still only prevent 18% of our emissions. 100% efficient CCS is very unlikely. Switching to electric vehicles would only double electrical demand while most of our roads are made out of distilled oil sludge.

These figures do not include massive electrical storage and grid infrastructure solar & wind require. Such infrastructure is hundreds of millions of tons of materials taking decades to construct, demanding even more energy and many trillions of dollars. With that kind of money in the offing, you can see why some wax over-enthused.

Solar & wind systems last 30 years meaning we will always have to replace them all over the world again 50% sooner than fossil power plants.

Solar and wind power are an energy trap.

It takes 1 ton of coal to make 6-12 solar panels.

Business As Usual = BAU

In 15 years 40% of humanity will be short of water with BAU.

In 15 years 20% of humanity will be severely short of water.

Right now, 1 billion people walk a mile every day for water.

In 60 years humanity will not have enough soil to grow food says Scientific American. They call it, “The End of Human Agriculture.” Humanity’s soil is eroding and degrading away at 24 million acres per year.  And, when they say 60 years they don’t mean everything is wonderful until the last day of the 59th year. We will feel the heat of those words in much less than 30 years. Soil loss rates will only increase with severe droughts, storms and low-land floods. Here’s what BAU really looks like.

50% of humanity’s soil will be gone in 30 years.

50% of humanity will lack water in 30 years.

50% of humanity will go hungry in 30 years.

A 100% TWED transition takes 50 years minimum. It is a vastly more difficult and complex goal than you are told.

Reference Link:
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/feb/12/four-billion-people-face-severe-water-scarcity-new-research-finds

Reference Link:
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/only-60-years-of-farming-left-if-soil-degradation-continues/

We are losing earth’s soil and fresh water faster than we can effect 100% renewable TWED.

In 25 years civilization will end says Lloyds of London and the British Foreign Office.

In my opinion, in 30 years we won’t have enough fossil fuel for a 100% renewable TWED transition.

This is the most important fact I’ve learned:

Renewable Energy is Unsustainable
without massive energy demand destruction

Humanity will destroy its soil and water faster than we can switch to renewable energy with BAU. We cannot sustain economic growth with renewable energy. Without massive political-economic change, civilization will collapse with 100% certainty. But, don’t worry, I like to fix things.

Animal Agriculture = AA

Humans + Livestock = 97% of the weight of all land vertebrate biomass

Humans + Livestock = 80% of the cause of all land-air extinctions

Humans + Livestock = 50% of the use of all land surface area

Humans + Livestock = 40% consumption of all land plant growth *
* Net Primary Production.

50% of the soy grown in South America is shipped over to China to feed their pigs. Rainforests and deep-rooted scrub are cleared to grow animals & feed so that their required fresh water is in reality a sky river exported in boats to China and Europe leaving little moisture in the air to reach São Paulo. Since rainforest roots are so thick they don’t require very much, or even good, soil;  this leaves rainforest soil so poor and thin that it degrades and erodes faster when exposed to the elements.

The Himalayan mountains are heating 2X faster than the planet and many fear that China will run out of water in 15 years by 2030.

50% of China’s rivers have vanished since 1980.

60% of China’s groundwater is too poisoned to touch.

50% of China’s cropland is too poisoned to safely grow food.

Animal Agriculture will destroy our soil and water long before we can effect 100% intermittent TWED transition with BAU.

BAU means 7 billion people will not stop eating meat and wasting food without major $$$ incentive. Meaning a steadily rising carbon tax on meat. Just saying that can get you killed in some places.

Without using James Hansen’s 100% private tax dividends to carbon tax meat consumption out of the market earth will die. 100% private tax dividends means 100% for you, 0% for government.

100% for you,
    0% for gov.

The funny thing is that meat and fire saved our ancestors from extinction and now meat and fire will cause mass extinction of all the life we love on earth. Survival is not an optional menu item as is eating meat. We have to act now, not 5 years from now, or forever be not remembered as the least greatest generation because there’ll be no one left to remember us.

Michael Mann says we will lock-in a 2 degree temperature rise in 3 years for 2036 with BAU. Ocean fish will be gone in less than 25 years simply because of the BAU of meat consumption. The BAU of fishing kills everything in its path producing lots of waste kill. We are stealing all the Antarctic Ocean’s krill just to sell as a health supplement. You can learn a lot about fishing by watching “Cowspiracy” on Netflix.

We cannot let governments get control of carbon markets like how Sanders, Klein and McKibben want government to get 40% of your carbon tax dividend money. Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben are funded by the Rockefellers. Klein’s latest video about herself was funded by the oil-invested Ford Foundation. This is 100% in direct opposition to James Hansen’s tax dividend plan and immoral. Hansen said that governments should get 0% of that money, not 40%.  I strongly believe your carbon dividends should be in a new open-source world e-currency directly deposited to your phone to be phased in over 10 years. But, I’m kinda simple that way.

Google: Rockefellers fund Bill McKibben. Believe me, the Rockefellers don’t fund 350.org out of the kindness of their hearts. To learn why they would do such a thing, you can watch the educational video at the bottom of this page.

Reference Link:
Rockefellers behind ‘scruffy little outfit’

Reference Link:
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2014/12/04/can-climate-change-cure-capitalism/

James Hansen repeated at COP21 that his 100% private carbon tax dividends would unite Democrats and Republicans because government would be 100% excluded. Socialists like Sanders, Klein and McKibben want government to control 40% of that money. They are divisive and Republicans will never accept their revolutionary rhetoric. We don’t have time for this endless fighting. Forget the Socialist vs. Capitalist mentality. We barely even have time to unite, and nothing unites like money. Environmentalism in the 21st century is about a revolving door of money and power for elite socialists and capitalists. Let’s give everyone a chance to put some skin in the game.

Reference Link: http://grist.org/climate-energy/sanders-and-boxer-introduce-fee-and-dividend-climate-bill-greens-tickled-pink/

What humans & livestock have done so far:

We are eating up our home.

99% of Rhinos gone since 1914.

97% of Tigers gone since 1914.

90% of Lions gone since 1993.

90% of Sea Turtles gone since 1980.

90% of Monarch Butterflies gone since 1995.

90% of Big Ocean Fish gone since 1950.

80% of Antarctic Krill gone since 1975.

80% of Western Gorillas gone since 1955.

60% of Forest Elephants gone since 1970.

50% of Great Barrier Reef gone since 1985.

40% of Giraffes gone since 2000.

30% of Marine Birds gone since 1995.

70% of Marine Birds gone since 1950.

28% of Land Animals gone since 1970.

28% of All Marine Animals gone since 1970.

97% – Humans & Livestock are 97% of land-air vertebrate biomass.

10,000 years ago we were 0.01% of land-air vertebrate biomass.

Humans and livestock caused 80% of land-air vertebrate species extinctions and occupy half the land on earth. Do you think the new 2-child policy in China favours growth over sustainability? The Zika virus could be a covert 1% population control measure for all I know. Could the 1% be immune? I don’t know, but I know this…

1 million humans, net, added to earth every 4½ days.

http://www.vox.com/2016/1/30/10872878/world-population-map

Spot The Solar Fig Leaf That Will Cover China’s Environmental Degradation

Learn why the Rockefellers fund Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein.

You may well wonder how I know all this, and I would like to tell you that when my dog Loki licks my face during a hangover I can hear his mind talking to space angels, but the reality is that I’m an old man who cuts grass in a trailer park in Canada and there’s not too much else to think about, so take it from me, you can search any statement, but just don’t get bogged down so you can’t see the forest for the trees.

Here is a more detailed post I wrote early 2015. https://www.reddit.com/r/collapse/comments/311m7d/collapse_data_cheat_sheet/

Here’s a bunch of stuff I wrote on the collapse sub-reddit where I sooner or later provide a lot of supporting links for my arguments.
https://www.reddit.com/user/BeezleyBillyBub/

Reference Link: Wadhams slays the Q&A @ 1:15:30 !!!

https://youtu.be/O854kS0-AYw

 Ode to a Matrix Clone

https://youtu.be/1UYaP8uv0SE

Conjuring Clean Energy: Exposing Green Assumptions in Media and Academia

 

“Productivism or growthism is the belief that measurable economic productivity and growth are the purpose of human organization (e.g., work), and that ‘more production is necessarily good'”.

 

February 13, 2015

 

Excerpts from the research paper “Conjuring Clean Energy: Exposing Green Assumptions in Media and Academia” by by Ozzie Zehner

 

Excerpt from “How productivism infiltrates media“:

Some media outlets will directly reprint special interest group “content” under their own masthead. The Detroit Free Press has directly published materials prepared by a branding firm called “Issue Media Group,” which is dedicated to “creating new narratives” that promote growth and investment (Issue Media Group, 2014). Alternet, Salon.com and   Alternet, Salon.com and Truthout have published material written by “Global Possibilities,” a special interest group funded in part by the oil company BP and a group of automotive and energy industrialists represented through The Energy Foundation (Global Possibilities, 2013).Truthout have published material written by “Global Possibilities,” a special interest group funded in part by the oil company BP and a group of automotive and energy industrialists represented through The Energy Foundation (Global Possibilities, 2013). The special interest group “Inside Climate News,” funded in part through The Energy Foundation, the Rockefellers and other productivist interests, claims to publish through numerous media brands including the Associated Press, Bloomberg, Business Week, The Weather Channel, The Guardian and the McClatchy Group, a conglomerate of 30 daily newspapers across the USA (Inside Climate News, 2014). Special interest groups commission their articles from within a sphere of private, typically business, interest. Readers and viewers have a difficult time distinguishing between such sponsored content and traditional independent journalism Figure 9.

Rebranding Productivism 2

Excerpt from “Conclusion: crisis of the productivist ethos during contraction“:

Set against the backdrop of a clear blue sky, alternative energy technologies shimmer with hope for a cleaner, better future. Alternative energy technologies appear to be generating a small, yet enticing, impact on our energy system, making it easier for us to envision solar-powered transporters flying around gleaming spires of the future metropolis. Understandably, we like that. These visions are certainly more pleasant than imagining food shortages, land decimation, economic disintegration and conflict, which we might otherwise associate with fossil fuel scarcity. The immediate problem, it seems, is not that we will run out of fossil fuel sources any time soon, but that the places we tap for these resources – tar sands, deep sea beds and wildlife preserves – will constitute a much dirtier, more risky and far more expensive portfolio of fossil fuel choices in the future. Certainly alternative energy technologies seem an alluring solution to this challenge. And while this is a pristine and alluring vision, might it also be a deadly distraction?

Debord (1970, p. 14) wrote that “the society which rests on modern industry is not accidentally or superficially spectacular, it is fundamentally spectaclist.” Perhaps he could have spoken similarly about modern energy or modern environmentalism. Debord’s spectacle is a divine deity around which duty-bound citizens gravitate to chant objectives without reflecting upon fundamental goals.   Debord’s spectacle is a divine deity around which duty-bound citizens gravitate to chant objectives without reflecting upon fundamental goals. It’s all too easy for us to miss the limitations of alternative energy, Debord might say, as we drop to our knees at the foot of the clean energy spectacle, gasping in rapture.It’s all too easy for us to miss the limitations of alternative energy, Debord might say, as we drop to our knees at the foot of the clean energy spectacle, gasping in rapture. This oracle delivers a ready-made creed of ideals and objectives that are convenient to recite and that bear the authority of science. These handy notions of clean energy reflexively work into environmental discourse. And as we have seen here, productivist environmentalists enroll media to tattoo wind, solar and biofuels into the subcutaneous flesh of the environmental movement. In fact, these novelties come to define what it means to be an environmentalist. And environmentalist’s aren’t the only ones lining up for ink.

Every news article, congressional committee hearing, textbook entry and bumper sticker creates an occasion for the visibility of solar cells, wind power and other productivist technologies. Numerous actors draw upon these moments of visibility to articulate paths these technologies ought to follow. First, diverse groups draw upon flexible clean-energy definitions to attract support. Then they roughly sculpt energy options into more appealing promises – not through experimentation, but by planning, rehearsing and staging media demonstrations. Next, lobbyists, foundations and PR teams transfer the promises into compelling stories, legislative frameworks and eventually necessities for engineers to pursue. What happens to our analyses of “innovation” if we frame “innovators” as skilled, or perhaps unwitting, “conjurers” of an illusion of abundance?

A consequence of alternative energy visibility-making appears to be the necessary invisibility of other options. There’s only so much room on the stage. Energy reduction strategies, degrowth, economic contraction and other decline pathways remind people of their reliance on finite resources, or their own vulnerability to the imminent contraction. In ominous times, might individuals invest their enthusiasm into alternative energy narratives, thereby allowing themselves to cognitively avoid existential threats and circumvent otherwise undesirable reckonings?

Perhaps we have forged magnificent energy spectacles only to cast ourselves as climatic superheroes within the late stages of an illusion of abundance. If so, then these spectacles have come to protect us from questions about our own culpability in ecosystem decline. Green technologies bypass worries of raw material scarcity, as they exist in our minds apart from fossil fuel and extractive industry. They ease our anxieties about increasing levels of CO2 so long as we faithfully believe that they are carbon-free undertakings. But most centrally, alternative energy spectacles protect us from considering our own growth, in consumption and population, which could not otherwise come to a peaceful end within the logic of the current expansionist milieu.

 

Download the paper: https://www.academia.edu/9599130/Conjuring_Clean_Energy_Exposing_Green_Assumptions_in_Media_and_Academia

 

[Ozzie Zehner is a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley STSC and author of Green Illusions (GreenIllusions.org).  He has written for academic and mainstream publications including Christian Science Monitor, The American Scholar, The Hill, UTNE, Truthout, ARTE, IEEE Spectrum, Women’s Studies Quarterly, and other publications. He regularly guest lectures at universities and serves as a reviewer for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Ozzie is also a founding collaborator for a research and media nonprofit that will launch in San Francisco in 2015. ]

Energy Crisis and Social Crisis: The So-called “Energy Transition”

March 13 2014

by Miquel Amoro?s

Energy crisis and social crisis – Miquel Amoro?s

An essay calling attention to the crucial importance of energy resources and technologies in modern society and the looming energy crisis that the author predicts will be the opportunity for real social renewal based on libertarian and ecological principles.

Energy Crisis and Social Crisis – Miquel Amorós

Every sector of the economy depends on it: energy of one kind or another. Energy makes the world go round and the power that rules the world is linked to the way energy is produced and consumed. The capitalist regime did not really gain momentum until the steam engine and the energy produced by the combustion of coal could be harnessed to industry. The initial dependence on coal was the cause of the vast size and appalling filth of the first industrial factories and cities; as the basis of the productive process, this dependence was responsible for the centralization of the entire system and the intensive exploitation of labor power. The internal combustion engine and the turbine put an end to the rule of coal, but not to the basic characteristics of society that had been created by it. Although the generalized use of electricity and gasoline made production more flexible and extended the range of consumption, facilitating the decentralization of factory production and the unlimited geographical expansion of the cities, social development continued to proceed within the framework that had been established by “carboniferous” capitalism: not only was the model of concentrated and hierarchical power maintained, but it was further reinforced by the new technologies. The refinement of machine production only reduced the role of the workers in the productive process, intensified exploitation and stabilized the class order. The new technologies consolidated class society and reinforced the foundations of domination.

Petroleum and electricity allowed productive activities to be relocated far from primary energy sources, that is, they capitalized the world. The extreme separation between the production and consumption of energy made transport the main strategic factor and at the same time the weak link of the system. Any serious disruption in the energy supply would cause all of society to collapse very quickly. Capitalism cannot exist without an extremely robust privatized distribution network to connect energy sources, which are under the control of financial enterprises or state-based mafias, with their consumer hostages. The expropriation of energy resources is a most instructive characteristic of social inequality: the proletarian from this perspective is the person who does not have unrestricted access to free energy. This explains why the ruling class strives to maintain the private ownership of energy resources and thus to keep the population in the most complete dependence. By fighting against the socialization of energy resources, locally controlled power generation and distribution networks and consumption, the ruling class is simply defending its social status.

Without cheap, inexhaustible and easily accessible energy, industrial society cannot continue to grow. The ruling class became aware of this “energy reality” when oil prices spiked after the creation of OPEC in 1973. The response was two-pronged: on the one hand, massive investments in nuclear power; on the other, the arms race of the great powers that was required by geopolitics, that is, the art of controlling of the world’s main oil and gas fields. The militarization of the world became indispensable for the system’s survival. This was a deliberate choice: it was the only way that power and servitude could be maintained.

During the 1970s and 1980s the market economy was subjected to an intensive restructuring process. The new type of capitalism, based on major technological breakthroughs and the deregulation of the labor and financial markets, displayed the special characteristic, unlike previous types, of not being susceptible to self-management. Although the spectacular development of the forces of order and the methods of population control render the prospect of victorious popular revolts quite improbable, even if such a thing were to occur, these new developments make it likely that the new society would inherit the worst kind of situation. The expropriation of the means of production would not accomplish anything, since the system cannot be socialized, because those who would have to implement such a program would be compelled to reproduce all its features and all its defects. They would be forced to reproduce the social relations that such a system necessarily entails. Authoritarianism, bureaucracy, waste, techno-party-ocracy, division of labor, and the dependence and artificiality of a lifestyle based on the private automobile would remain intact if only the developmentalist tendencies and the form of property are changed, without changing the very nature of the system. The latter must be completely dismantled and reconstructed on new foundations. This will be the main goal of future revolutions.

In a context like the current one, so favorable for control and militarization, the state has become more necessary than ever, since absolute obedience to the ruling interests is no longer an option—it has become compulsory. The limited supplies of energy resources, entering into conflict with the unlimited demand unleashed by an expanding economy, resulted in an “energy crisis”, understood by those in power in terms of “security”. From that point on, any protest on this terrain would be interpreted as a serious threat and therefore it would be quickly suppressed. Energy security became the condition sine qua non of the globalized economy, and as a result, planning with regard to this question would not be subjected to any kind of debate. During the 1990s the world energy market became the pillar of globalization. Guaranteeing a sufficient energy supply, regardless of the social cost this might entail, defined the “sustainability” of the capitalist economy.

The developmentalist solution of the energy crisis was, first: the creation of international energy markets, which led to the expansion of supply and transport infrastructures; second, an across-the-board increase in the prices of fuel and electricity; and third, a whole package of policies: continuation of the nuclear power program, subsidies for industrial renewables, bio-fuel plantations, and the exploitation of shale gas. The destructive impact on the territory and the concomitant repercussions on people’s lives are the most important results of this crisis. A free life in a balanced geographical space will require not just a libertarian communist model of production, but an energy model based on the same principles.

The new sociological concept of “energy poverty”, coined during the 1990s, reflects the situation of a growing part of the population that cannot pay its utility bills despite the overproduction of electricity. This is due primarily to the constantly increasing price of electricity, an outcome of the peculiarities of the “liberalization” of the markets inaugurated in 1995, the subsidies for renewables and the costs of the “transition to competitiveness”, all of which encouraged speculation and indebtedness, leading to prices per kilowatt-hour far in excess of any reasonable level. We must not, however, overlook the fact that the peak of oil and gas production is a constantly looming threat that pushes prices ever higher, even without taking into account the price gouging of the utility corporations. What is taking place is not merely a simple problem of oligopolies that are illegally fixing outrageous prices by making the consumers pay for their reconversion costs; it is also a problem of the increasing scarcity of fossil fuels, a circumstance that these same oligopolies are exploiting to their advantage. However, in order to exorcise the horrifying specter of an economy without enough electricity, or, which amounts to the same thing, an economy with electricity that is too expensive, because there is not enough oil or gas, the world’s leaders have conceived of a new strategy, that is, the “energy transition”.

This energy transition does not consist in a return to the nationalization of the energy sector, but rather, on the one hand, in financial incentives for investments in nuclear power plants utilizing a pseudo-renewable pretext, and, on the other hand, in the resort to the extractive technology of hydrofracking. The only kind of nationalization that is being contemplated is that of the costs incurred by the construction of nuclear power plants and new energy infrastructure. This is a kind of partial eco-capitalism, vigorously supported by the green parties, who put their faith in industrial renewables, and even more so by international institutions, whose goal is to reduce the share of fossil fuels in world energy consumption, or at least to control their prices, while maintaining high rates of economic growth. The key to this conception appears to be the free market in energy, energy savings, efficiency plans, energy deposits that have yet to be discovered, and expected technological innovations, all of which are very speculative and uncertain. The alleged effectiveness of fracking has helped to hold down prices during a favorable economic conjuncture characterized by declining demand. The profitability of energy resources, however, is undergoing an even more precipitous decline. Just to get an idea of how much it is falling, we can refer to the Rate of Return for Energy, the RRE—the relation between the quantity of energy obtained on average and the energy used in the extraction process—for conventional oil the RRE is currently 20 to 1 (in 1930 it was 100 to 1), and for non-conventional oil or gas it is only 1.5 to 1. In comparison, the RRE of traditional agriculture, without machinery, was 10 to 1. Since the RRE will continue to decline as the exploitation of new deposits proceeds, the energy crisis will continue to get worse and prices will continue to rise even in a stagnant economy, resulting in “energy” poverty and exclusion for increasing percentages of the population, until the time arrives when this crisis converges with other crises and becomes a social crisis.

The energy question is therefore an element of the greatest importance in the anti-developmentalist critique, since a reconstruction of society without either Market or State must herald a decentralized and efficient production of renewable energy, preferably of communally owned resources, if we do not want separate power to re-emerge in association with fuel sources. Above all, however, because this society will arise from a struggle over energy that will not take long to arrive.

Miquel Amorós

Notes for presentations delivered on January 12, 2014 at the C.S.O. La Gatera, in Tavernes de Valldigna, and on January 24, 2014 at the Hegoetxea de Irala (Bilbao).

Translated in March 2014 from Spanish text provided by the author.

Working for Warren: Corporate Greens

 

buffet

Intercontinental Cry

June 4, 2013

By Jay Taber

 

In Keystone XL: The Art of NGO Discourse–Part II, Cory Morningstar examines the political theatre of the non-profit industrial complex around the transport of oil, and how corporate greens — financed by oligarchs like Rockefeller, Gates and Buffett — are effectively destroying any meaningful activism in the US. At a time when half the total energy produced in the US is wasted due to inefficiencies, protesting pipelines only to have oil shipped by rail is arguably a meaningless activity. But as Morningstar explains, it is funded.

 

[Jay Taber is an associate scholar of the Center for World Indigenous Studies, an author, and a contributing editor of Fourth World Journal. Since 1994, he has served as the administrative director of Public Good Project.]

 

Power Shift Away From Green Illusions

Cover-Green-Illusions

“The modern environmental movement has rolled over to become an outlet for loggers, energy firms and car companies to plug into. It is now primarily a social media platform for consumerism, growth and energy production – an institutionalized philanderer of green illusions. If you need evidence, just go to any climate rally and you’ll see a strip mall of stands for green products, green jobs and green energy. These will do nothing to solve the crisis we face, which is not an energy crisis but rather a crisis of consumption.”

Truthout

April 8, 2013

Interview by Steve Horn

Every day, the news about climate change and the harms that are sure to accompany it gets worse and worse. To many environmentalists, the answer is simple: power shift. That is, shift from fossil fuels to clean, green, renewable, alternative energy. Well-meaning concerned citizens and activists have jumped on the bandwagon.

EnviroActivists Continue to Push 350.org for Meaningful Campaigns

From: Lorna Salzman <lsalzman1@verizon.net>

Date: July 17, 2010 5:35:52 PM EDT

To: phil@350.org

Subject: we don’t know where 350.org stands on energy

Dear Phil at 350.org:

If you look at my Open Letter to Bill McKibben in the May 3rd issue of The Nation, you will see my concerns about 350.org and its leadership.

How can you or Bill purport to build a citizen’s grassroots movement of any kind unless you actually TAKE POSITIONS ON PROPOSED LEGISLATION? Or unless you come up with alternatives? Or unless you tell citizens what you want them to do?

You haven’t done any of this. You just repeat over and over the need for tough serious legislation to get us back down to 350 ppm. But you don’t tell congress what you want them to do to accomplish this. You don’t tell citizens what needs to be done, or NOT done.

350.org’s intentions aren’t clear at all. You lead the horse to water and then there isn’t any water there.

I don’t understand where McKibben is coming from or what he expects to accomplish. All his statements are vague, unfocused, general, at a time when we need a strong clear statement. It isn’t clear whether you actually support the legislation in congress, oppose it, or have an alternative.

Why haven’t you prepared your own energy legislation? If you had done this a couple of years ago, you would have had plenty of time to rally the public around it, to tell them to what to do, to provide an alternative voice and platform for the public and the media.

Today it is too late to do this. If you want to regain any credibility, the best thing you could do would be to support Rising Tide and ClimateSOS and come out fighting in opposition to this phony legislation that will actually make it HARDER to get anywhere near 350.org. But you probably know this already, or should know it.

So why don’t you get off the dime and slug it out with the phonies in Congress? Show some muscle? Show some principle? Show that you know what is going on in DC and that it won’t work? How can you NOT come out and oppose ANY legislation that does not contain specific policies and actions that you know will make a difference?

A carbon tax? Shutting down coal plants…which Jim Hansen says must be our first order of business? Ending all fossil fuel subsidies and tax breaks? A bill with mandatory energy efficiency standards and measures? Surely you know these must be done.

Yet Bill just mumbles that old cliche about “putting a price on carbon”. Is that all he can say? Hey, there IS a price on carbon already. It’s about $3 a ton….and we need a price of $100 a ton or more. Even the existing proposal for cap and trade puts a top limit on the price of carbon.And you have nothing to say about this? WHY?

I dont’ get it. What do you have to lose? Your job? No. Your reputation? That can only improve. What is the paralysis that has gripped McKibben and 350.org? You tell us there is a crisis but your response is commensurate with a cup of spilled milk. Flab and gab.

I don’t agree with Romm on cap and trade but he will wipe the floor with McKibben in the debate. And rightly so. We have all been conned. 350.org is nothing more than a virtual blog. A failure.

Sincerely,
Lorna Salzman

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