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Planet of the Humans Backlash

Journal of People, Peasants and Workers

May 11, 2020

By Yves Engler

 

Planet of the Humans

The backlash may be more revealing than the film itself, but both inform us where we are at in the fight against climate change and ecological collapse. The environmental establishment’s frenzied attacks against Planet of the Humans says a lot about its commitment to big money and technological solutions.

A number of prominent individuals tried to ban the film by Jeff Gibbs and Michael Moore. Others berated the filmmakers for being white, male and overweight. Many thought leaders have declared they won’t watch it.

Despite the hullabaloo, the central points in the film aren’t particularly controversial. Corporate-industrial society is driving human civilization/humanity towards the ecological abyss and environmental groups have largely made peace with capitalism. As such, they tout (profitable) techno fixes that are sometimes more ecologically damaging than fossil fuels (such as biomass or ethanol) or require incredible amounts of resources/space if pursued on a mass scale (such as solar and wind). It also notes the number of human beings on the planet has grown more than sevenfold over the past 200 years.

It should not be controversial to note that the corporate consumption juggernaut is destroying our ability to survive on this planet. From agroindustry razing animal habitat to plastic manufacturers’ waste killing sea life to the auto industrial complex’s greenhouse gases, the examples of corporations wreaking ecological havoc are manifold. Every year since 1969 humanity’s resource consumption has exceeded earth’s capacity to regenerate those resources by an ever-greater volume.

It is a statement of fact that environmental groups have deep ties to the corporate set. Almost all the major environmental groups receive significant cash from the mega-rich or their foundations. Many of them partner directly with large corporations. Additionally, their outreach strategies often rely on corporate media and other business-mediated spheres. It beggars belief that these dependencies don’t shape their policy positions.

A number of the film’s points on ‘renewable’ energy are also entirely uncontroversial. It’s insane to label ripping down forests for energy as “green”. Or turning cropland into fuel for private automobiles. The film’s depiction of the minerals/resource/space required for solar and wind power deserves a far better response than “the data is out of date”.

The green establishment’s hyperventilating over the film suggests an unhealthy fixation/link to specific ‘renewable’ industries. But there are downsides to almost everything.

Extremely low GHG emitting electricity is not particularly complicated. In Québec, where I live, electricity is largely carbon free (and run by a publicly owned enterprise with an overwhelmingly unionized workforce, to boot). But, Hydro-Québec’s dams destroy ecosystems and require taking vast land from politically marginalized (indigenous) people. Likewise, nuclear power (also publicly owned and unionized) provides most of France’s electricity. But, that form of energy also has significant downsides.

In the US in 2019 63% of electricity came from fossil fuels, 20% from nuclear and 17% from ‘renewables’. But, even if one could flip the proportion of fossil fuels to ‘renewables’ around overnight there’s another statistic that is equally important. Since 1950 US electricity consumption has grown 13-fold and it continues to increase. That’s before putting barely any of the country’s 285 million registered private automobiles onto the grid. Electricity consumption is growing at a fast clip in China, India and elsewhere.

Oil is another source of energy that is growing rapidly. Up from 60 million barrels a day in 1980 and 86 million in 2010, 100 million barrels of oil were consumed daily in 2019. That number is projected to reach 140 million by 2040.

On one point I agree entirely with critics of the film. It’s unfair to (even indirectly) equate Bill McKibben with Al Gore. Representing the progressive end of the environmental establishment, McKibben has engaged in and stoked climate activism. Gore was Vice President when the US led the destruction of the former Yugoslavia, bombed Sudan and sanctioned Iraq.

Still, it’s ridiculous for McKibben and others to dismiss the film’s criticism of his decade-long promotion of biomass and refusal to come clean on 350.org’s donors as divisive. “I truly hope that Michael Moore does not succeed at dividing the climate movement. Too many have fought too long to build it”, he tweeted with a link to his response in Rolling Stone titled “‘A Bomb in the Center of the Climate Movement’: Michael Moore Damages Our Most Important Goal.” Echoing this theme, Naomi Klein came to her 350.org comrade’s defence tweeting, “it is truly demoralising how much damage this film has done at a moment when many are ready for deep change.” Democracy NowCommon Dreams, the Guardian and other media picked up her remark.

If it is divisive to criticize McKibben’s positions, then the same must be said of his own criticisms aimed at those demanding the Pentagon be highlighted in decarbonization efforts. In a June New York Review of Books column titled “The Pentagon’s Outsized Part in the Climate Fight” McKibben pours cold water on those who have asked him about the importance of “shrinking the size of the US military” (the world’s largest single institutional emitter of fossil fuels) in the fight for a sustainable planet. In fact, his piece suggests the Pentagon is well-positioned to combat the climate crisis since right wingers are more likely to listen to their climate warnings and the institution has massive research capacities to develop green technologies. McKibben seems to be saying the green movement should (could) co-opt the greatest purveyor of violence and destruction in the history of humanity! (In the Wrong Kind of Green blog Luke Orsborne offers a cogent breakdown of McKibben’s militarism.)

McKibben’s repeated advocacy of the private electric car could also be considered divisive. In Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? McKibben calls for “millions and millions of electric cars and buses” (alongside “building a hell of lot of factories to turn out thousands of acres of solar panels, and wind turbines the length of football fields.”) Does anyone believe the planet can sustain a transportation/urban planning system with most of the world’s 7.8 billion people owning 3,000-pound vehicles?

When an electric car is powered from a grid that is 63% fossil fuels the GHG it contributes per kilometer of travel is generally slightly less than an internal combustion engine. But the production and destruction phases for electric vehicles tend to be more energy intensive and they still require the extraction and development of significant amounts of resources. Additionally, the private car underpins a land, energy and resource intensive big box retail/suburban economy. (For details see my co-authored Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism on the Road to Economic, Social and Ecological Decay.)

Moreover, as Death by Car recently pointed out, “electric vehicles are haloware — a product that exists to distract attention from continuing SUV and pickup sales. If this thesis is correct, then it is a huge mistake for progressive forces to express enthusiasm” for electric vehicles. Of the 86 million new passenger and light commercial vehicles sold globally in 2018 about 1.2 million of them were powered by battery-only electric engines while 37 million were pickups and SUVs. In other words, for every new battery-electric car there were 30 new SUVs/pickups sold. Alongside growing buzz about electric vehicles, the number of SUVs increased from 35 million to 200 million between 2010 and 2018.

McKibben and associates’ ability to frame the film as divisive rests on the stark power imbalance between the ‘green’ capitalist and degrowth outlooks. While there are few profits in the consume-less worldview, McKibben is situated at the progressive end of a network of organizations, commentators and media outlets empowered by hundreds of billions of dollars of ‘green’ capitalism. This milieu has counterposed solar, wind and biomass to the hyper fossil fuel emitting coal, natural gas and oil industries. But, they aren’t keen on discussing the limitations of their preferred energies and the fundamentally unsustainable nature of limitless energy (or other) consumption. And they certainly don’t want any spotlight placed on environmental groups ties to the mega-rich and an unsustainable model.

Fragments of wind turbine blades await burial at the Casper Regional Landfill in Wyoming. Photographer: Benjamin Rasmussen

But, in reality it’s not the criticism that bothers. Wrong Kind of GreenDeath by CarCounterpunch and various other small leftist websites and initiatives have long documented McKibben and associates’ concessions to the dominant order. Often more harshly than in the film. What is unique about Planet of the Humans is that these criticisms have been put forward by leftists with some power (Michael Moore’s name and the funds for a full-length documentary, most obviously.) In other words, the backlash is not a response to the facts or argument, per se, but the ‘mainstreaming’ of the critique.

The environmental establishment’s ability to generate hundreds of hit pieces against Planet of the Humans suggests the movement/outlook has amassed substantial power. But, it’s not always clear to what ends. Most indicators of sustainability are trending in the wrong direction at the same time as top environmental figures have risen to the summits of power. Québec’s most prominent environmentalist, Steven Guilbeault, recently became a cabinet minister in the Liberal government while the former head of World Wildlife Fund Canada, Gerald Butts, was Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff. These individuals happily participate in a government that oversaw a 15 million tonne increase in Canada’s GHG emissions in 2018 and then decided to purchase a massive tar sands pipeline.

The incredible popularity of Planet of the Humans — seven million views on YouTube — suggests many are worried about the ecological calamity humanity is facing. Many also sense that the solutions environmental groups are putting forward don’t add up.

The lesson to be learned from the film and the frenzied attacks against it is that questioning the system — be that capitalism or the mainstream environmental movement — won’t make you friends in high places.

 

[Yves Engler is the author of 10 books, including A Propaganda System: How Canada’s Government, Corporations, Media and Academia Sell War and ExploitationRead other articles by Yves.]

Clinton to McKibben to Steyer to Podesta: Comments on Planet of the Humans by Michael Swifte

May 20, 2020

by Michael Swifte, Wrong Kind of Green Collective

 

 

“I think that the mainstream climate movement needs to collapse. It needs to end. And that the very comfortable organizers within that mainstream climate movement working in those NGO jobs – they need to fail. I think they need to be brought down. I think they need to have a little bit of hardship and a bit of suffering, and they need to create space for those historically oppressed groups.” [1]

 

— Tim DeChristopher, Transformation without Apocalypse – Episode #6 [SOURCE]

 

To understand the “damage” Bill McKibben claims the Planet of the Humans documentary has done to the climate justice movement you have to look at where 350 dot org began.

A fifty million dollar beginning

Bill McKibben has been in a dance with philanthropo-capitalists for more than a decade. He may not have been paid to be the face of 350 dot org but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t ‘corporate’ money around.

There was corporate and philanthropic money from the start. Bill Clinton announced 50 million from a “range of corporate and non-profit partners” for 1Sky at the 2007 Clinton Global Initiative. Bill McKibben was on the board of 1Sky in 2009 before it was merged with 350 dot org.

Watch this video and ask yourself how anyone could claim to be a leader of a ‘grassroots’ organisation or say that 350 dot org was ever a “rag-tag bunch of kids”. Watch the video.

 

Cory Morningstar has been tracking, analysing and cataloguing this stuff for 10 years, and by “this stuff” I mean the global capture of climate justice activism through #networkedhegemony at the behest of the non profit industrial complex #NPIC. Cory follows the money, analyses the networks, and interrogates the messaging.

#NewPower networks connect 350 dot org to a vast web of similarly funded campaigns and critically deliver opportunities to shape the Democratic party agenda. 350’s global expansion was built on replicating the organisations, institutions and campaigns that positioned it in the US and Canada.

Here are some links providing deep background on the #NewPower constructs and networks that empower the ‘climate cartel’.

‘Rockefellers’ 1Sky Unveils the New 350.org | More $ – More Delusion’

http://www.theartofannihilation.com/rockefellers-1sky-unveils-the-new-350-org-more-more-delusion/

‘SumOfUs are Corporate Whores | Some Of Us Are Not’

http://www.theartofannihilation.com/sumofus-are-corporate-whores-some-of-us-are-not/

Jessica Bailey at Rockefeller Brothers Fund actually used the word ‘merger’ to describe the union of the 2 campaign organizations incubated by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

“Bill McKibben, who has been a 1Sky board member and will chair the new 350.org board, once referred to 1Sky as the U.S. Embassy for 350.org and 350.org as 1Sky’s foreign legion.[] Matching 350.org’s talent for mass mobilization and online action with 1Sky’s advocacy and field campaign experience is tremendously exciting. Mergers are tough, and I applaud the leaders in both organizations for recognizing they’d be stronger together.“ [SOURCE]

Comments on Planet of the Humans

Planet of the Humans is a worthy documentary for it’s revelations about “green energy” and the failures of the climate justice movement. It is a testament to Jeff Gibbs’ extensive documentation and long commitment to environmental issues. I was pleased that it included the Climate Challenge segment with Karyn Strickler pitching a question from Cory Morningstar to Bill McKibben, and I was glad the film makers told the truth about Ivanpah and Robert F Kennedy Jr’s ties to fossil fuel giants.

Planet of the Humans is mostly about North America, and while it opens up a range of departure points for discussion of planetary issues, it’s a documentary about North American humans and westerners more generally, not the 100s of millions of blameless people who struggle to put food on the table. I found the discussion of the ‘population issue’ concerning given how little time had been given to putting global consumer markets into perspective, but documentary making is about access, and Jeff Gibbs has gained access to the world of “green energy” in North America. Michael Moore brings access of a different but equally vital kind, if you want to make a splash with a documentary.

Departure points are vital if we’re to make the most of what Planet of the Humans has highlighted as key issues. If the climate justice movement has failed and the environmental movement has been captured by billionaires, what else have they messed up? What are the other billionaire philanthropists doing to capture the efforts of environmental campaigners? What new diabolical schemes are planned to keep business as usual going?

People who feel inspired or moved by Planet of the Humans should look into biomass burning in Europe and the future plans for burying CO2 produced from burning biomass under the North Sea. American and European philanthropies have invested staggering amounts of money into organisations like the European Climate Foundation which is part of a global empire of similar organisations. The IPCC mitigation pathways are replete with the term BECCS (bio-energy with carbon capture and storage).

I watched Planet of the Humans after watching the Earth Day livestream discussion with Michael Moore, Jeff Gibbs and Ozzie Zehner. I hope that Michael Moore’s endorsement of Bernie Sanders and his plea that we put environmentalism into the hands of young people like the Sunrise Movement which was incubated by the Sierra Club is not the position of all three film makers. We can’t take Michael Moore’s words as a call to action so we are going to have to make our own calls to action.

Watch the full video of Karyn Strickler interviewing Bill McKibben on Climate Challenge here:

 

Departure point: John Podesta and a parallel climate campaign

In 2007 a plan was launched by 6 foundations. This plan #DesigntoWin produced the ClimateWorks Foundation, headed by John Podesta, which has spearheaded the incubation and funding of re-granting NGOs globally. ClimateWorks is perhaps the world’s largest recipient of  climate philanthropy having received more than 1.3 billion USD since it’s inception in 2008.

John Podesta has a long relationship with the Clintons, both as politicians and philanthropists. In the various roles he has played – always as a Democrat – his focus has been on the future of energy and how to message a position on climate change for the party and for the global philanthropo-capitalist agendas.

Have a read of the Wikileaks ‘Podesta Emails’ that refer to Bill McKibben and/or Tom Steyer. Check out the ‘climate tick tocks’ for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, the updates from philanthropist-billionaires like Tom Steyer and Henry Sandler, or Chris Lehane’s ‘big idea’ briefing that became the ‘Clean Power Plan’ (more business as usual). [SOURCE]

Podesta is always engaged with philanthropists. The Sandler Foundation helped establish the Center for American Progress which Podesta heads up. It helped fund the Australian climate justice regranting NGO the Sunrise Project and the US Beyond Coal campaign. Tom Steyer, a former Wall St banker, hedge fund manager and friend of Nancy Pelosi befriended Podesta who welcomed him into his Center for American Progress. Podesta encouraged Steyer to start his NextGen Climate Action Committee. It is likely that Steyer’s dubious defection from the ranks of billionaire fossil fuel investors and hedge fund managers was orchestrated under the advice of Chris Lehane. Steyer’s defection would see him join with McKibben and 350 at high profile events, and according to the Podesta emails they were in regular contact.

350/McKibben have been a foil for Democrat positioning on climate. The non profit industrial complex needed a global climate justice brand, and it needed to nestle it in a web of networks all connected by funded talking points and touchstone pieces in Rolling Stone and Grist. Granting and regranting NGOs pass over talking points in their transactions with grant recipients. Billionaires on every continent get to play the game.

Important background on the Design to Win plan here:

http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2019/09/11/the-manufacturing-of-greta-thunberg-for-consent-volume-ii-act-i-a-design-to-win-a-multi-billion-dollar-investment/

Background on the largely ignored mitigation plans of big oil & gas here:

http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2019/10/19/perfect-distractions-and-fantastical-mitigation-plans/

Departure point: The Steyer-Taylor Center and financing for CCS

Tom Steyer and his wife Kat Taylor fund the Steyer Taylor Center at Stanford. The center was headed from it’s founding in 2011 until September 2018 by Dan Reicher who has spoken in favour of financing to support carbon capture and storage on numerous occasions.

Dan Reicher is a Clinton administration energy wonk who spent some of the Obama years at Google. He’s the Founding Executive Director of the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy & Finance, but is now at the Stanford Woods Institute. Reicher explains how the future is all laid out for enhanced oil recovery with CO2 in this 2016 video. His slides include the prexisting CO2 pipeline maps for enhanced oil recovery.

 

A quote from the video:

“Carbon capture and sequestration is a key climate change strategy. You ask the IPCC, you ask the International Energy Agency.”

Reicher argues that with the CO2 pipeline infrastructure that is already in place and the right financial instruments “Full scale cost effective CCS” is deliverable.

Here is Reicher discussing private activity bonds and CCS. In the past he has spoken about the usefulness of master limited partnerships. Both of these financial instruments have been included in bipartisan bills currently before congress.

“It’s less about how to make it work technically these days but more about how to make it work financially,” [SOURCE]

Here is a quote from Reicher speaking at the Exxon funded Global Climate and Energy Project – Research Symposium in 2015.

“We really need to be using CCS for coal, natural gas, and a whole host of industrial carbon sources. But the costs are too high,” [SOURCE]

The Steyer-Taylor Center has partnered with the Exxon incubated and funded Global Climate and Energy Project which was ended in August 2019.  Exxon are a founding member of the Strategic Energy Alliance along with Bank of America who support the – Sustainable Finance Initiative along with the Steyer-Taylor Center. [SOURCE]

Departure point: The Green New Deal and the failing phase out

Dan Lashof is the director of the World Resources Institute and the current COO of Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate America and Nextgen Policy Center. In January Lashof co-wrote an opinion piece for the Houston Chronicle with Occidental Petroleum – Low Carbon Ventures president Richard Jackson. Oxy’s air capture plans support their enhanced oil recovery efforts and net zero targets through negative emissions from their planned air capture for CO2 enhanced oil recovery project. [SOURCE]

There’s a lot of interest in Oxy’s direct air capture plans which are supported by Carbon Engineering who have a long list of investors including Bill Gates, Murray Edwards, Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, LLC, Chevron Technology Ventures and BHP. [SOURCE]

The World Resources Institute provided 2 of the 3 Data for Progress researchers that developed the #netzero language that made it into the Green New Deal resolution. After the resolution came and went it has become clear that any sort of commitment to a fossil fuel phase out had been abandoned.

Important background on the ties between the World Resources Institute and Data for Progress here:

http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2019/02/13/the-manufacturing-of-greta-thunberg-for-consent-the-new-green-deal-is-the-trojan-horse-for-the-financialization-of-nature/

The Green New Deal has taken some of the pressure from McKibben/350. The Clean Power Plan was business as usual, but a little bit cleaner. The GND allows Democrats to appear to be taking a harder line on climate,  but it’s a vehicle that has little legislative substance.

The Green New Deal must be failing to deliver a fossil fuel phase out if the director of the WRI, a so called ‘environmental advocate’, can share a by-line with a big oil executive to spruik a project that is the opposite of phasing out fossil fuels and seemingly nobody cares.

Here’s a quote from Dan Lashof regarding Oxy’s air capture for CO2 enhanced oil recovery project that clearly shows he’s not working for a fossil fuel phase out.

“On the other hand, to the extent that you’re expanding the total energy resources base and extending the fossil-fuel era, obviously that doesn’t solve the climate problem.” [SOURCE]

Data for Progress, New Green Deal Research Director and World Resources Institute US, Manager for Climate Action and Data, Greg Carlock referred to a WRI working paper on direct air capture in a recent blog post for WRI. The paper refers to Oxy’s DAC for CO2 EOR project as an example of where investments are increasing.

“Some companies interested in combining enhanced oil recovery with direct air capture are increasing investments. For example, Occidental Petroleum is partnering with Carbon Engineering to build potentially several direct air capture plants.” [SOURCE]

Departure point: Drax, BECCS and the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative

  1. On April 21, 2020, while the global oil market was in free fall, it was reported that a formal agreement had been signed confirming that Drax would be part of a consortium that included Equinor and Phillips 66 to develop “the world’s first net zero carbon industrial cluster” in Humber, UK. [SOURCE]

 

  1. Equinor are a member of the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative who are funding the Teesside CCS cluster. [SOURCE]

 

  1. Drax have been trialling BECCS (bio-energy with CCS) in the UK. [SOURCE]

 

  1. The lions share of the biomass burned by the Drax Group is from North America. [SOURCE]

 

  1. BECCS is in 3 of the 4 pathways offered by the IPCC working group on mitigation. [SOURCE]

Departure point: European Climate Foundation and industrial CCS clusters

Laurence Tubiana is a former French ambassador to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and CEO of the European Climate Foundation.

 

“The phase when abatement of emissions from industry was considered impossible is over. Industry leaders are looking at totally disruptive technologies and visions.” [SOURCE]

I could try and explain how the ECF is positioned to shape the ‘climate solutions’ on offer, but Cory Morningstar has already done it perfectly:

“As “the core of the ClimateWorks system in Europe“, the ECF constitutes an integral part of the regional global network created by the San Francisco-based ClimateWorks. ClimateWorks works to oversee and shape climate-related policy work worldwide. Launched in 2008 – the same year as ClimateWorks) – the ECF is a regranting foundation like its US counterpart.” [Background on the European Climate Foundation]

3 key points about European Climate Foundation

  1. The European Climate Foundation commissioned Element Energy to prepare 2 reports. One report is on carbon capture utilisation and storage for gas, coal, oil and biomass, and the other is on liquid fuels (hydrogen) which will largely come from processing North Sea gas and sequestering the CO2 in geological storage or from electrolysis using electricity largely supplied from the grid that is ostensibly renewable.
  2. Element Energy prepared reports for the developers of Teesside CCS industrial cluster and for the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative which are funding the Teesside CCS cluster as part of their UN endorsed Kickstarter Initiative investments.
  3. It is clear that the European Climate Foundation which is part of the ClimateWorks empire under the Design to Win plan, are 100% in support of further entrenching fossil fuel extraction and use as part of their #NetZero

5 studies relating to BECCS and industrial clusters in Europe

2018: Study funded by the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative

‘Policy Mechanisms to support the large-scale deployment of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)’

“Element Energy and Vivid Economics have assessed policy mechanisms that could accelerate the deployment of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) to the scale required to meet climate change targets. The report begins by considering why, despite the central role that CCS plays in many deep decarbonisation trajectories, CCS has failed to build momentum. Having identified the problems, the work lays out policy and market mechanisms that could stimulate investment across the stages of deployment, acknowledges regional circumstances, and suggests principles that could help governments and firms to collaborate. Note that in this report CCS includes CCUS (carbon capture, utilisation and storage) in those cases where storage is permanent.'” [SOURCE]

2018: Study funded by the European Climate Foundation

‘Low-carbon cars in Europe: A socio-economic assessment’

“Hydrogen production for the transport sector is expected to be dominated by water electrolysers, steam methane reforming (SMR) and by-product from industrial processes (for example chloralkali plants). These sources form the basis of the production mix in this study. Other potential sources include waste or biomass gasification, or SMR with carbon capture and storage. These additional routes could potentially provide low cost, low carbon hydrogen, but are not yet technically or economically proven and have not been included in the cost assumptions below.” [SOURCE]

2017: Study funded by the European Climate Foundation and Industrial Innovation for Competitiveness (i24c)

‘Deployment of an industrial Carbon Capture and Storage cluster in Europe: A funding pathway’

“The 2020s will be a make-or-break decade for so many aspects of the low carbon transition. CCS in industrial plants needs to be part of the picture. Getting the financing right is clearly an essential first step. But we also need to establish the right frameworks for shared liability between operators and tackle some of the concerns the public and some policymakers still harbour over industrial CCS. This report shows the way for at least one of the hurdles related to CCS. I hope you enjoy reading it.” [SOURCE]

2011: Study funded by the One North East Regional Development Agency and the North East Process Industries Cluster.

‘Tees Valley CCS Network’

“An Element Energy study has looked at the logistics of implementing a shared CCS pipeline network in the Tees Valley to connect major CO2 emitters in one of the UK’s largest industrial clusters. By Harsh Pershad, Element Energy”[SOURCE]

2019: Study prepared for European Climate Foundation in collaboration with the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, Climate-KIC, the Energy Transitions Commission, RE:Source,and SITRA.

‘Industrial Transformation 2050: Pathways to Net-Zero Emissions from EU Heavy Industry’

“BIOMASS WILL BE REQUIRED PRIMARILY FOR FEEDSTOCK Achieving net zero emissions for the economy as a whole will lead to multiple competing claims on scarce biomass re-sources. The use of biomass for fuel or feedstock can compete with alternative uses for land like food or feed production, conservation for maintained biodiversity, or as a ‘sink’ for CO2 emissions. Furthermore, once the biomass has been extracted, there are multiple competing uses, from simple combustion for heat or electricity generation (the largest use today) to the production of transportation fuels, or use with CCS for ‘negative emissions’ to offset remaining emissions in other sectors.” [SOURCE]

2017: Research paper prepared for Chatham House by independent policy analyst Duncan Brack

‘Woody Biomass for Power and Heat: Impacts on the Global Climate’

“Biomass is classified as a source of renewable energy in national policy frameworks, benefiting from financial and regulatory support on the grounds that, like other renewables, it is a carbon-neutral energy source. It is not carbon-neutral at the point of combustion, however; if biomass is burnt in the presence of oxygen, it produces carbon dioxide. The argument is increasingly made that its use can have negative impacts on the global climate. This classification as carbon-neutral derives from either or both of two assumptions. First, that biomass emissions are part of a natural cycle in which forest growth absorbs the carbon emitted by burning wood for energy. Second, that biomass emissions are accounted for in the land-use sector, and not in the energy sector, under international rules for greenhouse gas emissions.”

 

“Many of the models used to predict the impacts of biomass use assume that mill and forest residues are the main feedstock used for energy, and biomass pellet and energy companies tend to claim the same, though they often group ‘low-grade wood’ with ‘forest residues’, although their impact on the climate is not the same. Evidence suggests, however, that various types of roundwood are generally the main source of feedstock for large industrial pellet facilities. Forest residues are often unsuitable for use because of their high ash, dirt and alkali salt content.” [SOURCE]

 

End notes:

[1] Verbatim: “I think that the, the mainstream climate movement, needs to, needs to collapse. It needs to end. Um, and, and that the very comfortable organizers within that mainstream climate movement, ah, working in those NGO jobs, um, they, they need to fail. Um, I think they need to be brought down. I think they, they need to, ah, have a little bit of hardship and a bit of suffering, and they need to create space for, ah, for those historically oppressed groups.” Tim DeChristopher, Transformation without Apocalypse – Episode #6

 

[Michael Swifte is an Australian activist and a member of the Wrong Kind of Green critical thinking collective.]

Green Capital and Environmental “Leaders” Won’t Save Us

Undisciplined Environments

May 20, 2020

By Alexander Dunlap

 

People are outraged! Jeffery Gibbs’s new documentary, Planet of the Humans – co-produced by Michael Moore and Ozzie Zehner – has shocked and awed “progressive” critics, fuelling a steady stream of outcry. “It is truly demoralizing how much damage this film has done at a moment when many are ready for deep change,” exclaims Naomi Klein on Twitter.

Much of the concern voiced is correct, yet it detracts away from two fundamental messages: “renewable energy” is dependent on extreme mineral and hydrocarbon extraction, and mainstream environmentalism has “sold out.” This, in many ways, is old news for political ecologists, especially those involved in environmental conflicts concerning wind powerhydroelectric dams and mineral extraction development, yet the pandemonium generated by this film deserves some clarification.

Important Criticisms: Caveat

The documentary has some foundational flaws. It underestimates the efficiency and capacity of wind and solar technologies. The data is old and the range of people interviewed limited. More damaging, however, is their discussion of population. Yes, population is an issue, and voluntary initiatives to control it are adopted by some environmentalists (for instance, degrowth advocates). Yet, modes of consumption and production will always be the determining factors for how populations will articulate catastrophic ecological and climatic impacts.

The problem with the “overpopulation” narrative is that it condemns all of humanity for the present socio-ecological situation. Even if, later in the documentary, corporations, financial consultants and their “environmental movement” collaborators become the main focus of critique, the directors largely neglect class, race, and gender as issues related to environmental degradation.

At the same time, the film forgets the socio-ecological values of different groups. It overwrites the variegated agency of (a “pluriverse” of) people, positioning Indigenous land defenders at war with extraction in the background, and not acknowledging in any way their different socio-ecological practices and relationships. The lack of clarity surrounding these issues, or the missing explicit support for environmental struggles against green capitalism and extraction is damaging, ultimately taking away from issues that deserve popular acknowledgment in the film.

Film segment title page reviewing the extraction necessary for so-called renewables (Screenshot: 36’55”). Source: youtube.com

 

So-called Renewable Energy

The outraged critics need to realize that the distinction between fossil fuels and so-called renewable energy is exaggerated. Every aspect of so-called renewable energy requires hydrocarbons and hydrocarbon-based facilities for equipment construction and operation; mining; processing, manufacturing, transportation and the security personnel to enforce land control for these projects. Hence, I proposed the term “fossil fuel+” as a replacement for the inaccurate concept of “renewable energy.”

Ethnographic research investigating natural resource extraction for fossil fuel+ systems remain insightful in this regard. Modelling studies, however, have exposed the seriousness of resource extraction and waste for fossil fuel+ systems. Drawing on a World Bank report, Jason Hickel estimates that making 2050 renewable energy targets will require mining “34 million metric tons of copper, 40 million tons of lead, 50 million tons of zinc, 162 million tons of aluminium, and no less than 4.8 billion tons of iron.”

This also includes increases in other minerals essential to solar, wind and battery technologies over the same period:  35-70% neodymium, 38-105% in silver, 920% in indium, 2,700% increases in lithium and is compounded with further increases (70%) with the promotion of electric vehicles.

Moreover, Benjamin Sovacool and colleagues calculate a single 3.1 MW wind turbine creates “772 to 1807 tons of landfill waste, 40 to 85 tons of waste sent for incineration and about 7.3 tons of e-waste per unit.” This does not even account for mineral processing, component manufacturing, transportation or provisions for security personnel to facilitate security operations of “renewable energy” extraction sites or development sites. Remember: “It takes 500,000 gallons of water to produce a single ton of lithium.”

Critics of the film declare to speak in the name of science. Yet this is a question of research design and methodology. Fossil fuel+ projects are frequently justified by carbon accounting and modelling practices imbued with capitalist ideologies and technological utopianism, which – more to the point – are separated from the political contexts, neglect various forms of pollution (e.g., industrial wastes), local struggles and violence emanating from “green” and corresponding mining projects that animate fossil fuel+ development.

Corporate Environmentalism

Land defenders are well aware of corporate co-optation of environmental struggles. Jeff Gibbs and colleagues are correct to highlight these connections as this problem has only intensified. Submedia.tv released a documentary nearly 10 years ago demonstrating at length the problem of environmental NGOs co-opting struggles and marginalizing land defenders. This segment, moreover, documented the connection between large environmental NGOs, such as Greenpeace and Sierra Club, and their staff going to work in mineral extraction and timber industries. Does anyone remember how, in 2014, Greenpeace lost £3 million in currency speculation? The proclaimed mission and actions of environmental NGOs frequently do not add up.

The “NGOization” of struggle has emerged as a body of literature. Meanwhile, Cory Morningstar’s updated the connection of green capitalists, “climate youth leaders” and the new (corporate) environmental movement, charting trends and issues many ignore or fail to understand. Planet of the Humans documents a small piece of this compared to Morningstar’s work, focusing primarily on Al Gore, Bill Mckibben and their financial managers and partners.

While Al Gore is no surprise, some film reviewers suggest Bill McKibben’s exposé was startling, if not personally offensive. “I have never taken a penny from green energy companies or mutual funds or anyone else with a role in these fights, ” explains Mckibben in a Rolling Stone interview, “I’ve never been paid by environmental groups either, not even 350.org, which I founded and which I’ve given all I have to give.”

The film presents some damaging evidence. For instance, it shows McKibben sitting on a panel at the “Investors and Environmentalists Sustainable Proposal,” discussing a “40-50 trillion ‘green energy fund’” with The World Resource Institutes’ David Blood, who “spent 18 years at Goldman Sachs including serving as CEO of Goldman Sachs Asset Management.” Moreover, 350.org’s collaboration with the “Green Century Funds” makes a clear connection to how manufactured or self-styled “environmental leaders” (see 1:15:14) are clearly in bed with green capitalism and efforts to financialize nature.

The No Deal for Nature Campaign is particularly relevant in this regard. The exposé of corporate environmentalism and collaborative efforts to financialize nature holds. The film highlights the timeless issues of “leaders,” but also how single-issue campaigning – built on carbon accounting and narrowing its focus to “fossil fuels” – disables itself from holistic assessments and offers itself to the construction of a “green” or “climate” economy their movement leaders are invested in promoting.

 

David Blood (co-founder of Generation Investment with Al Gore) and 350.org’s Bill McKibben: featured keynotes for divestment partner, Ceres.

 

Conclusion

The film deserves both hostility and love. Hostility for carelessly discussing population issues, homogenizing different people – a socio-ecological-cultural flattening – and lacking, even in passing, respect for those fighting the mines, energy factories and politicians small and large, formal and informal. The film would have benefited from a more refined scope and tighter narrative, with a greater diversity of participants, from Indigenous groups struggling against fossil fuel+ projects, to political ecologists and environmental anthropologists.

Yet the film also deserves love, as it highlights a neglected and sensitive issue for many: how the (mainstream) “environmental movement” has been corporatized, how its actions are not working, and how “renewable energy”/fossil fuel+ systems are not ecologically sustainable. The film is correct to publicize these issues, even if most popular media outlets are having a less than intelligent conversation about the contested issues within the film. Instead of writing the film off as “demoralizing“, it should resituate one’s hopes and realities concerning environmental struggle.

Concern has also been voiced about the film “dividing” the environmental movement. But the movement is already divided, to the extent that environmental “leaders” are divided from their “flock”, and “light” green (capitalist) movements try to extinguish or recuperate “dark” green radical critique and action. Autonomous, horizontal and leaderless resistance akin to the multiplicity of land struggles taking place across the world, should be what climate activists gain inspiration from – not McKibben or Gore. Earth First!, for instance, – not without its critiques – represents an alternative mass-organizational model, discarding leaders and dedicated to organizing discussion space and direct action.

Those shocked by Planet of the Humans’ revelations concerning “renewable energy” and environmental movement “leaders” are either unfamiliar with the boundless treachery of capitalist society or have yet to commit themselves to fighting the capture, domestication and exploitation of human and nonhuman resources near and far.

[Alexander Dunlap holds a PhD in Social Anthropology from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands. His PhD thesis examined the socio-ecological impact of wind energy development on Indigenous people in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region of Oaxaca, Mexico. Alexander’s work has critically examined police-military transformations, market-based conservation, wind energy development and extractive projects more generally with coal mining in Germany and copper mining in Peru. Current research investigates the formation of transnational-super grids and the connections between conventional and renewable extraction industries.]

Featured image: Planet of the Humans poster. Source: planetofthehumans.com.

 

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