Category Archives: Environment

The Wet-Bulb Peril Has Arrived… Way Too Early

The human body has limits. If “temperature plus humidity” is high enough, even a healthy person seated in the shade with plentiful water to drink will suffer severely or likely die. It’s the Wet-Bulb Temperature (WBT) effect.

There is an upper limit to human capacity to adapt to excessive global heat when combined with excessive levels of humidity. That limit is expressed as Wet-Bulb Temperature. A threshold is reached when the air temperature climbs above 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) and the humidity is above 90 percent. Higher temperatures require less humidity, so when the air temperature is 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the wet-bulb survivability threshold is reached when humidity hits 85 percent. People will not survive beyond this threshold, which new research shows trending across the globe much earlier than previously predicted.

Previous climate models predicted widespread wet-bulb thresholds to hit late this century, maybe in the final quarter. However, sadly, global heating is not waiting around for the last quarter of this century.  The wet-bulb peril is already far ahead of schedule.1

Furthermore, society has already experienced early-stage warnings of the dire consequences of WBT that occurred more than a decade ago when thousands of people died in Europe (yr-2003 with 70,000 dead2 and in Russia (yr-2010 with 10,860 dead3 as Wet-Bulb Temperature in-excess of 28°C took down tens of thousands of lives. Alas, 80,860 Europeans and Russians perished from too much heat plus too much humidity, a deathly concoction formulated by global heat, which was goosed up by excessive atmospheric fossil fuel greenhouse gases.

Currently, the aforementioned Raymond study has moved the needle of expectations from the late 21st century back to the present day. This is bad news and surely indicative of out-of-control excessive levels of atmospheric CO2. Evidence that humanity is accelerating the wet-bulb peril.

Of course, the paramount risk is that extreme heat waves that previously happened once every 25 years will now become annual events with temperatures close to or above the wet-bulb threshold for several weeks each year, in turn leading to mass famine and mass migrations.

The Raymond study found extreme humid-heat conditions beyond prolonged human physiological tolerance occurring for 1-to-2 hours duration concentrated in South Asia, the coastal Middle East, and coastal south of North America. Of major concern, as stated in the study: “Steep and statistically significant upward trends in extreme TW frequency (exceedances of 27°, 29°, 31°, and 33°C) and magnitude are present across weather stations globally.”

For example, wet-bulb temperatures measured over and near the Persian Gulf were at or above what is considered survivable if humans were exposed to them for even just a few hours. Additionally, as for the Middle East, the Raymond study found reliable observational evidence that such readings have occurred in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Thus, not only does the study identify current wet-bulb issues in South Asia, the coastal Middle East, and along portions of southern North America, the global trend is “steep and significant.” This is cause for alarm indicative of powerful adverse climate change/global heat threatening the entire planet. As stated in the study, the global trend is “steep and significantly upward.” That’s bad news, period.

Furthermore, according to the Raymond study:

(1) our findings thus underscore the serious challenge posed by humid heat that is more intense than previously reported and increasingly severe… (2) Our findings indicate that reported occurrences of extreme TW have increased rapidly at weather stations and in reanalysis data over the last four decades and that parts of the subtropics are very close to the 35°C survivability limit, which has likely already been reached over both sea and land… (3) Our survey of the climate record from station data reveals many global TW exceedances of 31° and 33°C and two stations that have already reported multiple daily maximum TW values above 35°C. These conditions, nearing or beyond prolonged human physiological tolerance are concentrated in South Asia, the coastal Middle East, and coastal south of North America….

According to scientists, in order to stem the onset of universal deathly Web-Bulb Temperatures CO2 emissions must be sharply reduced quickly.

Yet, CO2 emissions are accelerating in the face of the Paris 2015 climate agreement calling for mitigation by the nations of the world. The facts are glaringly clear that mitigation is not working.

As for example: Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii CO2 readings: May 7, 2020 416.41 versus 414.24 May 7, 2019 versus 369.55 in yr-2000. CO2 readings are on a relentless pathway, up and away, higher year by year, never lower and forebodingly accelerating; e.g., annual CO2 levels have increased 60% this century from 1.50 ppm/yr-2000 to 2.40 ppm currently.

Global heat plays directly into the hands of the wet-bulb temperature effect. Over time, the new trend will severely restrict and in time prohibit usage of large parcels of land currently occupied for living space and for agriculture.

Similar to tipping points in the climate system that are close to being triggered much sooner than scientists predicted, and several that are already triggered, like cascading permafrost in Siberia, the sudden advance of Wet-Bulb Temperature thresholds are one more authoritative warning to the world that something is fatally wrong.

Postscript:

Previous studies projected that this would happen several decades from now, but this shows it’s happening right now.
— Colin Raymond, lead scientist WBT study- NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

  1. Colin Raymond, et al, “The Emergence of Heat and Humidity Too Severe for Human Tolerance”, Science Advances, Vol. 6, no. 19, May 8, 2020.
  2. Nature, May 17, 2010.
  3. Epidemiology, May 25, 2014.

Planet of the Humans Backlash

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< /a> 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 Now, Common 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.

But, in reality it’s not the criticism that bothers. Wrong Kind of Green, Death by Car, Counterpunch 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.

Monkey Planet: Moore Misses the Message of the Book

The chief causes of the environmental destruction that faces us today are not biological, or the product of individual human choice. They are social and historical, rooted in the productive relations, technological imperatives, and historically conditioned demographic trends that characterize the dominant social system. Hence, what is ignored or downplayed in most proposals to remedy the environmental crisis is the most critical challenge of all: the need to transform the major social bases of environmental degradation, and not simply to tinker with its minor technical bases. As long as prevailing social relations remain unquestioned, those who are concerned about what is happening are left with few visible avenues for environmental action other than purely personal commitments to recycling and green shopping, socially untenable choices between jobs and the environment, or broad appeals to corporations, political policy-makers, and the scientific establishment–the very interests most responsible for the current ecological mess.
― John Bellamy Foster,  The Vulnerable Planet: A Short Economic History of the Environment, 1994

I am getting plethora of greenie weenies or others imploring me to watch the the Michael Moore executive produced Planet of the Humans. “You have to watch it. We are screwed. Oh my god. I never knew all this stuff about 350.org.”  It was directed, filmed (partly), edited and written by Jeff Gibbs.

In so many ways, it is a derivative flick, a “coming to Jesus” moment (several hiccups) by Gibbs. This is not good film making (the music is dull, and in some parts, downright spacey) and not good writing. But, on the heels of Trump, Obama, the green porn movement, the fake New Green Deal by AOC, Sanders and other sheepdogs (not the true ecosocialist New Green Deal – by a long shot), and the Spring Break Congress, and the totality of perversions that embody the political/K-Street/Military/AI/Finance-Investor Class (sic), anything goes, I suppose, to go after the money factories that fuel the so-called American environmental movement.

As a caveat, while I am criticizing the film’s blind-blind spots — nothing about civil society movements in Africa, in India, in Canada, in Latin America, barely a blink to one of the world’s most cogent female Indian scientists/activitists — it should not be banned as one of the leaders of the so-called journalist/writer environmental movement, Naomi Klein, has called for that. From the Soros Democracy Now:

A group of climate scientists and environmentalists, including filmmaker Josh Fox and professor Michael Mann, are calling for a new movie, executive produced by Michael Moore, to be taken offline, claiming it is “dangerous, misleading and destructive.” The film, “Planet of the Humans,” describes renewable energies like wind and solar as useless and accuses the environmental movement of selling out to corporate America. Michael Moore and the film’s director, Jeff Gibbs, have described the documentary as a “full-frontal assault on our sacred cows.”

The online film website Films for Action briefly took down the documentary, claiming it was “full of misinformation,” but later added it back to its site with a lengthy note.

The author and activist Naomi Klein recently tweeted, “It is truly demoralizing how much damage this film has done at a moment when many are ready for deep change. There are important critiques of an environmentalism that refuses to reckon with unlimited consumption + growth. But this film ain’t it.”

[Louis Proyect’s look at the two new green deals from AOC/Sanders versus that from Howie Hawkins and Ecosocialists, the original socialist-Marxist fight for land, food, soil, air, sea, cultures, people, animals. Proyect also writes a blog, The Unrepentant Marxist and also administers the Marxmail discussion list.]

Reading decent stuff on the various social-indigenous-cultural-ecological heroes, and reading good poetry, philosophy, fiction, well, a million times more impacting for some of us than a thousand documentaries, most of which are in the can, out the window, in the news, on the talk shows, at the film festivals, and, then, a thousand more documentaries in the making.

Social change (the good kind, not the Inconvenient Truth or Waiting for Superman kind) will not happen on Netflix, in the cyber world of YouTube, or managed by wannabe filmmakers.

I am also having a bit of acid reflux digesting this flick, The Planet of the Humans, in a time of SARS-COV-2 lock-down (that’s a prison term, folks) and a time of compliant humanity sticking to the mainstream science view of coronavirus.

Pay for success finance deals will be well served by the global vaccine market that is being advanced through Gates’s outfit GAVI. Vaccine doses are readily quantifiable, and the economic costs of many illnesses are straightforward to calculate. With a few strategic grants awarded to prestigious universities and think tanks, I anticipate suitable equations framing out a healthy ROI (return on investment) will be devised to meet global market demands shortly.

Hello everyone. Welcome to “Many Waves, One Ocean Cross Movement Summit.” I’m Alison McDowell, a mom and independent researcher in Philadelphia who blogs at wrenchinthegears.com. I started my activism around public education, first fighting standardized testing, then ed-tech, and eventually realized the push by global finance to turn everything into data for the purpose of digital surveillance and profit meant I had to expand my work beyond schools and start digging into the global poverty management complex.

I organize with the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, an independent anti-poverty group that is led by the poor and does not take corporate or foundation money. We’ll be marching on the Democratic National Convention on July 13 to take back the 67 cents of every government dollar spent on war and occupation. We are demanding it be used care for the poor here at home. Check us out and consider joining us in the streets of Milwaukee!

People have been led to believe the purpose of these goals is to address poverty and avert climate catastrophe. As a mother who lives in a city of deep poverty and who works at a public garden, I believe those are admirable goals. It is imperative that we address wealth inequality and begin to heal our planet.

But as a mother who has been researching innovative finance, emerging technologies, and racialized power, I also know there is more to the story than is being told in the media. And so today I will outline how powerful interests are using the Sustainable Development Goals to mask their plans to remake the world as a digital panopticon. What follows is a story of social entrepreneurship, greed, and technological authoritarianism. Its foundations are built on our nation’s history of racial capitalism, eugenics, and the rise of technocracy.
Vaccines, Blockchain and Bio-capitalism

A little hard to stomach this new flick, Planet of the Humans, as I am out of work on two of my gig jobs, and the other job is about getting cash assistance to households where I am best face to face with them, but alas, this hysteria, this complete breakdown of common sense and urgency for just decent masks and gloves (free, of course), has caused the healthy to be lock-downed. Police state? You betcha. Surfers are getting tickets for surfing on our beaches.

Daily, the human toll of this lock-down stupidity in Oregon is real. Yet, like compliant children, the greenie types, the so-called environmental movement types, and the pro-science-is-our-savior liberal types will not stand for any challenge to their narrative – we must lock-down until 2022, according to Harvard scientists. So, the democratic governor, Kate Brown, implores us to lock-down, threatens us with tickets, and, oh, 84,000 new unemployment claims in the state, and I am not getting through that bureaucracy, too stupid to not-fail!  No dole for me and thousands of others.

Deaths by the millions in the coming months with this lock-down — globally. Not from the novel most-probably weaponized or at least messed-with bat virus, but from poverty, starvation, and lack of medical care for all the other illnesses and diseases and ailments hitting humankind.

In poor countries? The toll is never on the forefront of the greenie weenies’ minds. Covid-19 and our disappearing civil liberties and privacy rights

Nor is the toll on Gibbs’ mind in this flimsy flick.

But back to reality:

We have some Guatemalans up here on the Oregon Coast. Workers. Families. Some are not literate in English or Spanish. No more hotel cleaning gigs, dishwasher gigs, working in the forest collecting salal gigs.

These families are afraid to go to the food banks (big, gangly and some mean-looking white folks there collecting and handing out food) and afraid of any social services agencies. You know, deportation, put in lock-down in containment dog kennels a la ICE. Now that’s a fun prospect for a bioweaponized or laboratory-induced  novel coronavirus.

Some of them have been yelled at by our fine upstanding white original illegal aliens: “Chinks … you brought this corona over to us. What are you still doing here?”

These are Guatemalans!

The Wrong Sort of Green is also the wrong sort of agriculture, and the wrong kind of medicine, wrong kind of education, wrong kind of law, wrong kind of computing, wrong kind of carceral state, wrong kind of, well, you get the picture. It’s all wrong because of capitalism. Yet, this movie goes right to us, the rest of the world included, as a cancer. As over-consuming, over-populating, over-reaching, you know, the Population Bomb language of “sterilize the masses” folk.

Bad, bad, bad. Crackpot, crackpot, crackpot.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. Or dangerous, dangerous, dangerous.

These are nice words for this superficial, sound-bite, dumb-downing thing of a movie.

On the 50th earth day anniversary we get to view it. It might get some stuff right – the fake green-renewable movement, but it gets the major stuff wrong: Capitalism has run amok, not the other way around. The hordes have not run amok against the good of capitalism, but have been colonized, co-opted, delegitimized, stolen from, used as a large populace of Guinea pigs for the economic syphilis that is Capitalism.

And the underlying message is population control. They great white hope of Michael Moore and I guess Jeff Gibbs is really the underpinning of the flick – and no credence is given to the millions upon millions of people fighting this bastardization of humanity, of life, called Western Capitalism. There are literally hundreds upon hundreds of groups that Gibbs could have put front and center who are local, indigenous, part of the peasant movement, others, who are real forest protectors and water protectors and life protectors.

Making fun of the alternative energy folk is like shooting fish in a barrel. And, the underlying message, the grace note here, is that because all humans and cultures are alike (NOT) we as one species (debatable) are a cancer, all in it for me-myself-and-I. Just way too many of us.

Just the way this flick opens up says it all. The documentary poses the stupid question: How much time do you think the human race has? You know, man-woman-child person on the street quippy takes.

Gibbs is at a solar festival (in the beginning, and then at the end of this flick) and makes fun of the band not getting the solar energy power when the clouds open and rain shuts down this system and they have to go back to the electrical grid.

Jump to Obama and Van Jones and Al Gore. To the white race, Richard Branson. Then 60 Minutes is clipped in. Have we been here before with this sort of documentary making? Come on, do I have to list the other hundreds of documentaries that follow this script?

Then onto Michael Bloomberg. Sierra Club. Bill 350.org McKibben. Segue to “making fun” of the Chevy Volt, electric cars, wind turbines, biomass, etc.

All of this has been exposed years ago (2001), a la Cory Morningstar (2018):

Throughout history, greed has proven to be lethal. Greed and justice cannot co-exist.

The premise that “greed can save us” is void of all ethics. It stems from either desperation or denial, or perhaps both combined.

Perhaps McKibben’s 350.org/1Sky partner – Climate Solutions (who McKibben praised/promoted in a recent article) – will soon see their wish list of “sustainable aviation,” biofuels and carbon offsets morph into a global reality. 350.org/1Sky partner Climate Solutions was a key player in the creation of 1Sky – an incubator project of the Rockefellers, who are pushing/funding REDD (the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation program) and many other false solutions that ensure power and monetary wealth remain exactly where it is – in the hands of the few.

Of course, James Hansen’s magic wand (which Hansen himself sometimes refers to) will be most imperative for such false solutions to succeed in cooling the planet and stopping the eradication of most life on Earth.

Do we reject biofuels, carbon offsets, the greenwash and delusional concepts like “sustainable aviation”? Or do we reject these false solutions only when promoted directly by industry and government? If we do reject false solutions outright, why do those who claim to seek climate justice turn a blind eye when our “friends” and “partners” support these false solutions that we must fight against?
Why I Refuse To Promote Bill McKibben

Wouldn’t it be nice to see the warriors in this Gibbs’ frame: How many indigenous people have been murdered in the past 20 minutes? Land defenders. The people of the earth who are less than 7 percent of the population but are in 80 percent of the jungles and rain-forests and mangroves, deltas, islands.

So, this fellow, Gibbs, in 2020 when this documentary was released, came to the conclusion recently that the green energy revolution isn’t going to work? Really? This has been posited for more than 20 years easily.

Twenty-five minutes into this sad sack of a movie and its whites, man, mostly males (one female anthropologist), and it’s just more declaiming the green energy folk – and no one ever in the ecosocialist movement saw solar panels and wind turbines and ethanol as green or efficient or, hmm, localized and social just. But you think an ecosocialist is interviewed? Nope!

After 30 minutes in, no great people who have studied, looked at and been on the front lines of the biggest elephant in the room: “It is easier to see a world without people than without capitalism.”

Fredric Jameson’s famous quote, “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism,”  should have been posited at the top of the documentary.

Do you believe there can be a better world, localized, scaled down, tied to human rights and indigenous wisdom than a world without consumerism, capitalism?

Or, better yet, the questions –

What is parasitic capitalism? What is predatory capitalism? What is disaster capitalism? What is casino capitalism?

Then, sure, another question:

What is the cost to humanity, to those billions in the world not part of the Western White Tradition of Neoliberalism-Neoconservativism-Colonialism-Slavery, that the military industrial complex unleashes to the world?

Nah. This is just a gotcha sort of film  – at least it is as I am concurrently listening and watching it while also writing this critique. Okay,  42 minutes in, and one lone voice thus far, Richard Heinberg, who I interviewed 14 years ago on my radio show in Spokane, is briefly interviewed. Sound bite. His book, Peak Everything is pretty self-explanatory. He doesn’t tap into the civil society, to peasant and agrarian movements. He just tells us later on he goes to bed frightened, scared.

Whew. Peak Humanity psychosis!

That slogan captures about how Western thinking can imagine a world without humans before they can fathom any world without capitalism.  And, to be fair, the masters of the universe hope for more AI, more ways to make humanity useless, more ways to kill work, kill human learning and sharing. A world without the majority of the people AND WITH surveillance and AI-Crypto Capitalism. There you go!

What is “capitalist realism? The almost global sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it. Most of the billionaire class, most of the millionaire class, most of the people who believe in capitalism, capitalism lite, capitalism with a green smile, they are prepared for their world without people – Bill Gates and his cronies, setting the globe with his vision of massive sterilization and massive, err, vaccinations.

At minute 46, Planet of the Humans has given us more white guys and one white female anthropologist saying there is “not enough for the world,” for those billions outside this white great white way.

Looking at the numbers – and they are terrified, in Gibbs’ rendition, that the world is at 7.4 billion people, and it took hundreds of thousands of years for Homo sapiens to hit 750 million – this is the movement. Computer modeling, projections, Dystopia, but never-ever a clear-eyed look at the reason for malnourishment and disease and suffering – the few haves and the lots of haves not.  An honest look at this would really get to the cutting-edge thinkers here – just the bloody neo-tribal writer, Daniel Quinn, looks at leaver and giver society in his books featuring an ESP-abled gorilla named Ishmael.

I’m already into the flick less than an hour, and Gibbs is seeking mental health help. Climate change trauma, analysis paralysis, something. He brings in another great voice of psychology, some social psychology professor, at Skidmore College. Gibbs sets it up – The republican side believes there is an endless supply of fossil fuels, and OUR side believes the world will be saved with solar panels. Why is that?

This is it, man, them – the GOP and industrialists and Trump and Tea Party and Neo-Nazis – and us – the other side, wanting green energy and technology to get us off fossil fuel and climate change. Bingo. This is such a silly adventure in one man’s sad fear of himself – Jeff Gibbs (where’s millionaire, Hillary-adoring, the Russians are Coming, Holly-dirt Michael Moore, man, when we need a really foolish guy for a heck of a lot of laughs?). Professor Sheldon Solomon believes that people are just biotic life. That is the key to these guy’s thought process saying we as a species (all of us) have a disbelief in mortality, that this can’t be, so we just keep on with our suicidal behavior.

Jameson’s quote is often used to show how capitalism has limited the horizons of our imagination.

We don’t think of civilization as indestructible, but we do seem to think of the free market as indestructible. This, it is sometimes said, is the result of neoliberalism: as both traditionally left-wing and traditionally right-wing parties in Western countries developed a consensus that markets were the only way forward (“there is no alternative”), more and more people came to hold narrower and narrower views of the possibilities for human society. Being on the right meant “believing in free markets and some kind of nationalism or social conservatism” while being liberal meant “believing in free markets but being progressive on issues of race, gender, and sexual orientation.” Questions like “how do we develop a feasible alternative to capitalism?” were off the table; the only reasonable question about political intervention in the economy became: “should we regulate markets a little bit, or not at all?

– “The left should embrace both pragmatism and utopianism“, Nathan J. Robinson

It’s as if this Jeff Gibbs just came out from a deep hole – I have been teaching this shit for more than two decades; showing students this embedded energy truth, this lifetime/life-cycle analysis of products, this green washing PR job, this green porn marketing bait and switch. Poverty pimping, man, and Green is the New Black. It’s still pimping and prostitution at a very high price.

You give the capitalists, the military industrial complex purveyors, the multimillionaires like that piece of political dung Al Gore the microphone, and then you give the billionaire class, the BlackRock class, the IMF, the forced vaccination and eugenics masters the microphone, or Clinton, Hollywood, and the Massive Messed up Mainstream Media any benefit of the doubt, and here we are.

All those white male/ white female people featured on this Planet of the Humans in the end are talking about population control, and, shoot, that says it all, now does it not?

Now, finally, a real person, a real human, Vandana Shiva, comes onto Gibbs’ stage 1:09 hours into the flick – where she gets to give a micro dose of a rejecting biomass and biofuels, emphasizing how the biggest crisis of our times is shifting our minds to give power to illusions – green capitalism – replacing fossil fuels to this so-called renewable biomass energy production, which is green capitalism, which is green pornography. She gets about 20 seconds of air time. That’s it!

“Her honesty was refreshing.” That’s it for Gibb’s commentary on Shiva, caught on camera at some Earth Day event. This is Vandana Shiva, academic, scientist, humanist and leader in fighting for billions of people subjected to the GMO lies. A warrior against toxins. If that isn’t patriarchy and patronizing and, well, malarkey, the white man doing the white people’s film song and dance, then I do not know what is.

I’ll quote Shiva here:

The “green economy” agenda being pushed in the run-up to Rio+20, or the Earth Summit, to be held in June, could well become the blueprint for the biggest resource grab in history, with corporations appropriating the planet’s green wealth and biodiversity. These corporations will take our green wealth to make “green oil” for biofuels, energy, plastics, chemicals — everything that the petrochemical era based on fossil fuels gave us. Movements worldwide have started to say no to the “green economy” of the “one per cent”, because an ecological adjustment is possible and it is taking place. This adjustment involves seeing ourselves as part of the fragile ecological web, not outside and above it, and immune from the consequences of our actions.

Ecological adjustment also implies that we see ourselves as members of the earth’s community, sharing its resources equitably with all species and within the human community. Ecological adjustment requires an end to resource grab and privatisation of our land, biodiversity, seeds, water and atmosphere. It requires the recovery of the commons and the creation of “earth democracy”.

The dominant economic model based on resource monopolies and oligarchy is in conflict not just with ecological limits of the planet but also with the basic principles of democracy. The adjustment being dictated by the oligarchy will further strangle democracy and people’s freedom of choice. Sunil Bharti Mittal, one of India’s industry captains, recently said that “politics is hurting the economy and the country”. His observation reflects the mindset of the oligarchy, that democracy can be done away with.   Green Greed – Seeds of Injustice, By Vandana Shiva

So, Gibbs goes back to gotcha land – exposing the hypocrisy and duplicity of Richard Branson, the Al Gores, then Michael Bloomberg. No thanks. Not worth my time. More flashy nothing. We know Greta T. and Bill M. and Naomi  K. are all false gods, the wrong kind of green.

Cory Morningstar, Wrong Kind of Green, is a warrior for social justice, ecological justice, for a sane look at how these greenies continue to cite “it’s a global overpopulation problem” causing climate change and ecosystems collapses.  She just posted the Planet of the Humans on her website. However, this is her caveat –

WKOG caveat: Industrial civilization is destroying all life on Earth. Human destruction of biodiversity is not created equally: “Yet tribal peoples are the best conservationists and guardians of the natural world, and 80% of our planet’s biodiversity is found in tribal territories.” [Further reading: The best conservationists made our environment and can save it, Stephen Corry  ] Human population is often identified as a problem because it strains the world’s resources and pollutes. [1] The first and most efficient way to address over consumption is to reduce consumption in the North is to a) redistribute the resources, (all arable land, etc.) to the Global South, to sustain those in the Global South, and b) phase out the production of all superfluous consumer products that harm life and biodiversity. [Further reading: Too Many Africans?, July 11, 2019   An analysis of population growth that accounts for the vast differences in consumption across class and region is critical in examining the worldwide environmental crisis

Let’s look at that class divide:

The top 8.5 per cent of the people own over 83 per cent of global wealth, whereas the share of the bottom 70 per cent is barely 3 per cent. The top of the pyramid is even steeper – the net worth of the top 200 wealthiest individual (at $2.7 trillion)69 is the same as that of the bottom 3.2 billion people or half the population of the whole world! Significantly these wealthiest individuals of the world were able to increase their wealth in spite of the financial crisis. According to a recent Oxfam report, in spite of a global reduction of wealth the top 100 billionaires have been able to increase their wealth by 240 billion dollars in 2012.70 These super rich, incidentally, also include individuals who have been lobbying for reduction and control of third world population and funding major programmes towards it. The state policies and the policies of international bodies seem to be aligned with the interests of the rich and powerful. These Ultra High Net worth (UHNW) also wield immense political power.

Read Cory’s work, Whitney Webb’s work, Wrench in the gears, Caitlin Johnstone —

Best yet, listen to Vandana Shiva again. This is the stuff that matters now, not a cataloging of the bad green movement, the shilling of wind farms and solar arrays and biofuels. All of this, like fossil fuels and wars and everything else that is externalized because of capitalism, all of this is subsidized by our capital, our taxes, our lives, our labor. That sports stadium? Simple thing, man. Chavez Canyon, a great working community in LA, was destroyed because the New York Dodgers moved to LA. Chavez Canyon was a place where Mexicans lived, creating their own community, their own social capital, their own roads and support systems. But the city gave the Dodgers the key to the city, gave them everything. The payoff? It’s all about the game, man. Low wage jobs, parking lots, traffic, and obscene profits to pajama-clad players and their masters – the owners and managers and collective investors.

Take it up a notch or two – the Mississippi is polluted and toxified because of industrial farming. The delta in Louisiana is polluted, and that plume of toxins goes out hundreds of miles into the Gulf of Mexico. The shrimp are polluted, all the life is polluted. Those Iowa corn syrup farmers and soy feed tenders, well, think of the warnings – “If pregnant (or wanting to be) don’t drink the well water. Don’t live on a farm. Stay away from the crop dusters. Be prepared to bury your family members who stay as they drop lie flies from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, diabetes, heart anomalies, cancers and more. The gift that keeps on giving – pesticides, fertilizers, fumigants, vast piles and huge ponds and polluted rivers of blood, entrails, crap from industrial animal feeding, growing, butchering operations.

The multiple crises of climate insecurity, energy insecurity, and food insecurity create an imperative and an opportunity to transcend the limits of the mechanistic-industrial-capitalist paradigm that has been systematically shrinking our potential even as it peddles progress.

The paths out from this crisis are not being blazed in the boardrooms of the global corporations who dominate our world today and are largely responsible for crimes against nature and humanity. Industrialization of food and agriculture has put the human species on a slippery slope of self-destruction and self-annihilation. The movement for biodiverse, ecological, and local food systems simultaneously addresses the crises of climate, energy, and food. Above all, it brings people back into agriculture and reclaims food as nourishment and the most basic source of energy. New ways of thinking and acting, of being and doing, are evolving from the creative alternatives being employed in small communities, on farms, and in cities.

It is this renewable energy of ecology and sharing, of solidarity and compassion, that we need to generate and multiply to counter the destructive energy of greed that is creating scarcity at every level – scarcity of work, scarcity of happiness, scarcity of security, scarcity of freedom, and even scarcity of the future.

Climate chaos, brutal economic inequality, and social disintegration are jointly pushing human communities to the brink. We can either let the processes of destruction, disintegration, and extermination continue unchallenged, or we can unleash our creative energies to make systemic change and reclaim our future as a species, as part of the earth family. We can either keep sleepwalking to extinction or wake up to the potential of the planet and ourselves.  —Vandana Shiva 

We’ve been here before with Naomi Klein, with Al Gore, with DiCaprio, with Ted Danson, Daryl Hannah, the rest of the goofballs. Gibbs is not really doing much new here, really – The Wrong Kind of Green has been extrapolated and parsed for decades, and for him to waste this opportunity to go for the actual jugular of the cause – capitalism, western dominance in banking, structural adjustments, austerity, structural violence, economic hits, more – delegitimizes his whole thesis.

But there are also other social forces engaged in the process of resistance to the capitalist onslaught on the environment: for instance, the indigenous communities. This is another very important contribution of this book: to show that indigenous communities—direct victims of the capitalist plunder, a global assault on their livelihoods—have become the vanguard of the ecosocialist movement. In their actions, such as the Standing Rock resistance to the XXL Pipeline, and in their reflections—such as their Declaration at the World Social Forum of Belem in 2009—“they express, more completely than any other group, the common survival interest of humanity.” Of course, the urban population of modern cities cannot live like the indigenous, but they have much to learn from them.

Ecological struggles offer a unifying theme around which various oppressed constituencies could come together. And there are signs of hope in the United States, in the vast upsurge of resistance against a particularly toxic racist, misogynist and anti-ecological power elite, and in the growing interest, among young people and African Americans, in socialism. But a political revolutionary force, able to unify all constituencies and movements against the system is still lacking. Review by Michael Löwy, “From Marx to Ecosocialism” in the book Red-Green Revolution: The Politics and Technology of Ecosocialism by Victor Wallis

Alas, the best way to end the pain, to stop the rabid raccoon, I suppose, is to euthanize it. So much is wrong with Gibbs’ take on this eco-challenge. He is late out of the gate when looking at the life-cycle analysis of solar, wind and biomass. He is coming out of a deep long sleep? The documentary is not compelling. The executive producer, Michael Moore, is highly problematic. He is a capitalist, a millionaire, part of  celebrity culture, and he is part of the problem not the solution.

It all rides on the back of the minister, Thomas Malthus, in his 1798 essay on population.

Famine seems to be the last, the most dreadful resource of nature. The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world.

For Gibbs and the others he decries in the greenie weenie controlled opposition movement, they see the enemy is us, the people, or those with lesser pedigrees and more melanin. Why not just go after capitalism, and the inverted totalitarianism of Corpocracy? What about those corporations, that sticky class exploitation, how industry is set forth, and what about war? Gibbs blames all the people.

Oh, well, so many will tell me, “Paul, why don’t you write, film, edit, produce your own goddamned movie”? Sure enough, uh? I normally would not go to a movie like this, or get it from the Internet. I was only prompted by the number of emails from friends and acquaintances who just had to tell me to see this Anti-Earth Day flick. I didn’t learn anything from it substantive-wise, but I am wondering what the bearing witness for newbies to this green washing/green pornography will do with all this information about how bad solar and wind are. How bad the green groups are. How big the billions are that fund the controlled opposition and the narrative. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you? We all are colonized? We all live in the matrix? We are all co-opted by capital?

In the end the movie is more than benign. It fools us, the viewer, into a false solution, false narrative, and false causation. But my time is up, and totally bored with the concept behind this movie and how it now is generating this hoary call for, what, to watch the bloody movie? The real heroes are dying in their jungles and forests. From coffee to copper, from bananas to bitumen, from rubber to rhinos, the rapacious Western World is eating future generations from the inside out.

People just want their forty acres and a mule. Their cooperative farms. Their water and their soil. They want a few light bulbs. They want their great grandchildren’s lives back. They are done with the great white hope, the saviors, the industrialists and the investors (sic).

Outbreak zones meanwhile are no longer even organized under traditional polities. Unequal ecological exchange—redirecting the worst damage from industrial agriculture to the Global South—has moved out of solely stripping localities of resources by state-led imperialism and into new complexes across scale and commodity. Agribusiness is reconfiguring their extractivist operations into spatially discontinuous networks across territories of differing scales. A series of multinational-based “Soybean Republics,” for instance, now range across Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil. The new geography is embodied by changes in company management structure, capitalization, subcontracting, supply chain substitutions, leasing, and transnational land pooling. In straddling national borders, these “commodity countries,” flexibly embedded across ecologies and political borders, are producing new epidemiologies along the way.

For instance, despite a general shift in population from commoditized rural areas to urban slums that continues today across the globe, the rural-urban divide driving much of the discussion around disease emergence misses rural-destined labor and the rapid growth of rural towns into periurban desakotas (city villages) or zwischenstadt (in-between cities). Mike Davis and others have identified how these newly urbanizing landscapes act as both local markets and regional hubs for global agricultural commodities passing through.36 Some such regions have even gone “post-agricultural.”37 As a result, forest disease dynamics, the pathogens’ primeval sources, are no longer constrained to the hinterlands alone. Their associated epidemiologies have themselves turned relational, felt across time and space. A SARS can suddenly find itself spilling over into humans in the big city only a few days out of its bat cave.

COVID-19 and Circuits of Capital by Rob Wallace, Alex Liebman, Luis Fernando Chaves and Rodrick Wallace

 

Emerging from one of the most generative collaborations in the ecosocialist tradition, this collection of essays by John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark represents a critical step forward in theoretical development and recovery, with immediate relevance to contemporary political movements and debates. Foster and Clark beautifully reveal the power of historical materialism to lay bare the connection between ecological degradation, speciesism, and social domination, and therefore the necessity of a struggle that does not artificially isolate in theory and practice what is joined in reality. This is a book for serious activists seeking to understand the world in order to change all of it that needs changing, so that every living being on earth may not only survive, but finally, be free.

Hannah Holleman, author of Dust Bowls of Empire: Imperialism, Environmental Politics, and the Injustice of “Green” Capitalism

Long recognized as leading theorists of ecomarxism, Bellamy Foster and Clark here extend their “metabolic rift” paradigm to an impressive range of issues, including gender, food, British eco-imperialism in Ireland, “alienated speciesism,” the theory of value, and the meaning of work. The result is a powerful case that capitalism is inextricably bound up with the robbery of nature and constitutes the paramount obstacle to life on Earth as we know it.

Nancy Fraser, New School for Social Research; author, Fortunes of Feminism: From State-Managed Capitalism to Neoliberal Crisis

Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle (1963) concerns  a group of astronauts, including journalist Ulysse Merou, and their voyage to a planet in the star system of Betelgeuse (the year is 2500). They land to discover a world where intelligent apes are the Master Race and humans are savages: caged in zoos, used in laboratory experiments and hunted for sport. The story of Ulysse’s capture and his subsequent struggle to survive, and then the climax as he returns to Earth and a horrific final discovery is gripping and fantastic. Yet the novel is also a subtle parable on science, evolution, and the relationship between man and animals. Again, the master race theme is part of Boulle’s own background in the secret service fighting against the Axis powers in WW II as part of the Free French. He wrote the more famous book, The Bridge on the River Kwai (1952). This flick, Planet of the Humans, is antithetical to that altogether (master race indeed), and in some sense, the lack of people of color speaking about a better way to get through this climate-capitalism chaos is sort of reflective of Gibbs’ own blind-spot to stick to the white technologists and the white people in the green capital movement.

The Biomass Fiasco

Stop cutting down trees for biomass… STOP WOODY BIOMASS!

That should be a bumper sticker on every vehicle in America and around the world as easy-to-read bumper stickers are more effective than many forms of advertising. And, just for starters, maybe plaster that new biomass bumper sticker over the old one that reads: “My child is an honor student at….” Oh! Please!

According to LSA – University of Colorado/Boulder, wood accounts for 79% of biomass production and accounts for 3.2% of energy production. Wood dominates the worldwide biomass industry.

For perspective purposes, a paid lobbyist on behalf of trees could rightfully claim: (1) Trees cool and moisten our air and fill it with oxygen. (2) They calm the winds and shade the land from sunlight. (3) They shelter countless species, anchor the soil, and slow the movement of water. (4) They provide food, fuel, medicines, and building materials for human activity. (5) They also help balance Earth’s carbon budget. Name another organism with credentials like that!

Meanwhile, the worldwide woody biomass industry consumes forests, gobbling up trees by the minute. But, it’s a wayward ruse to classify woody biomass as “carbon neutral.” It is not carbon neutral. It’s a carbon emitter, the antithesis of clean renewable energy.

A 1,000-kilowatt-hour wood-pellet power plant, enough to power 1,000 homes, emits a total of 1,275 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated. That’s according to Dr. Puneet Dwivedi, a research professor at the University of Georgia. By way of comparison, a 1,000-kilowatt-hour coal plant emits 1,048 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour. The net result is that coal produces 227 grams less CO2 than the biomass plant. Hmm.1

Meantime, a study at ETH Zurich suggests that a massive expansion of the world’s forests by 1/3 could be the most effective way to tackle climate change. That’s the opposite of cutting forests for biomass purposes. Let the trees stay in place and suck up CO2.2

According to the study, the influx of 1/3 more trees would buy humanity time by adding 20 years to meet climate targets.  By keeping that many additional trees rather than felling, it effectively “locks-up 205 gigatonnes of CO2.” It’s significant as humanity emits 37 gigatonnes per year. Additionally, the “scale up of the world’s forests by one-third” helps meet IPCC guidelines to hold temp rises to 1.5°C pre-industrial, assuming temperatures are not already overshooting, an issue of some contention. Which depends a lot upon which baseline is used.

The trade-off between “saving/enlarging forests” rather than “burning trees” is consequential for several reasons, including, the U.S. Energy Information Agency estimates that for each 1% added to current U.S. electricity production from forest biomass an additional 18% increase in U.S. forest harvest is required. At that rate, by the time woody biomass is a meaningful slice of electricity production, the nation’s forests would be leveled.

How long does it take forests to regrow?

Furthermore, is it really possible to regrow a natural efficient forest ecosystem once it has been denuded of key organic life? No.

A Columbia University study argues for leaving trees alone: “Is Biomass Really Renewable?” State of the Planet, Earth Institute/Columbia University, Updated October 19, 2016, to wit: “Cutting or clearing forests for energy, either to burn trees or to plant energy crops, releases carbon into the atmosphere that would have been sequestered had the trees remained untouched, and the regrowing and thus recapture of carbon can take decades or even a century. Moreover, carbon is emitted in the biomass combustion process, resulting in a net increase of CO2.”

Additionally, according to the Columbia study: “Most of the new biomass electricity generating plants being proposed in the U.S. will burn wood. Plants in the Southeast U.S. are churning out wood pellets to meet Europe’s increasing need for wood. Last year, wood pellet exports from the Southeast increased 70 percent; the Southern U.S. is now the largest exporter of wood pellets in the world. Since there isn’t enough logging residue to meet the increased demand for biomass, many fear that more standing trees will be chopped and more forests clear-cut.”

The overriding issue is that woody biomass negatively impacts climate change, the health of people, and the overall environment. Yet, the market is growing by leaps and bounds in Europe and the U.S. Go figure!

According to Earth Institute, woody biomass power plants actually produce more “global warming CO2” than fossil fuel plants; i.e., 65% more CO2 per megawatt hour than modern coal plants and 285% more CO2 than natural gas combined cycle plants (which use both a gas and steam turbine together). This analysis confirms the conclusion of several similar university-level studies that woody biomass is inefficient and thus a sensible rationale for outright banning of woody biomass.

Furthermore, according to Earth Institute, burning wood biomass emits as much, if not more, air pollution than burning fossil fuels – particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, lead, mercury, and other hazardous air pollutants – which can cause cancer or reproductive effects.

The “air pollution emitted by biomass facilities,” which the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association have called “a danger to public health,” produces respiratory illnesses, heart disease, cancer, and developmental delays in children.” (Earth Institute)

Nevertheless, in 2009 the EU committed to 20% renewable energy by 2020, including biomass (heavily sourced by forests, especially from Canada and the U.S.) as a renewable-energy, which it categorized as “carbon neutral.” This was done to meet obligations under the Paris climate agreement of 2015. Several other countries followed with commitments to “subsidize” biomass development.

As a result, today 50% of EU renewable energy is based upon biomass, and it is on the rise. Expect a command performance of massive growth by biomass in upcoming years.

For example, in the UK, the Drax Group converted 4 of 6 coal-generating units to biomass, powering 12% of UK electricity for 4 million households. The Drax biomass plant has an enormous appetite for wood; e.g., in less than two hours an entire freight train of wooden pellets goes up in smoke, spewing out smoke signals that spell “O Canada” and “Say, can you see… By the dawn’s early light.”

According to Drax’s PR department, their operation has slashed CO2 by over 80% since 2012, claiming to be “the largest decarbonization project in Europe.”3

Ahem! When scientists analyzed Drax’s claims, they do not hold up. Not even close!

When wood pellets burn, Drax assumes the released carbon is “recaptured instantly by new growth.” That is a fairy tale.

According to John Sherman, an expert on Complex Systems Analysis at MIT:  The carbon debt payback time for forests in the eastern US, where Drax’s wood pellets originated, compared to burning coal, under the best-case scenario, when all harvested land regrows as a forest, the wood pellet “payback time” is 44 to 104 years. Whoa!

Alas, not only is the carbon payback nearly a lifetime when using wood, but according to Sherman: “Because the combustion and processing efficiencies for wood are less than coal, the immediate impact of substituting wood for coal is an increase in atmospheric CO2 relative to coal. This means that every megawatt-hour of electricity generated from wood produces more CO2 than if the power station had remained coal-fired.”

Study after study after study finds that burning coal instead of woody biomass reduces the impact of CO2 atmospheric emissions. Coal is the winner, but problematically coal has already been cast into no-man’s land as a horrific polluter. Therefore, this scenario is a massive complexity as countries have committed to using trees to meet carbon neutral status, but the end results are diametrical to their stated intentions.

Therefore, a preeminent question arises: Why continue using woody biomass if it emits more CO2 per kilowatt-hour than coal?

Alas, not only is it insane to burn trees, but burning “forest residues” rather than whole trees also produces a net emissions impact of 55%-79% greater than direct emissions after 10 years. This is based upon analysis by Mary Booth, an ecosystem ecologist and a director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity, Pelham, Massachusetts.

According to scientist Bill Moomaw, co-author of the Nobel Peace Prize-Winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report and co-author of four additional IPCC reports and widely recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on “carbon sinks”: “If we let some of our forests grow, we could remove an additional 10 to 20 percent of what we emit every year. Instead, we’re paying subsidies to have people cut them down, burning them in place of coal, and counting it as zero carbon.”4)

Dr. Moomaw led a group of 800 scientists that petitioned the EU parliament (January 2018) to “end its support for biomass.”

In June 2018, the EU Commission voted to keep biomass listed as a renewable energy, joined in their position by the support of the U.S. and Britain.

Under the influence of U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, the 2018 fiscal spending bill, as directed by Congress, instructed federal agencies to pass policies that “reflect the carbon-neutrality of biomass.” Among the many benefits mentioned by Congress, three seem almost Orwellian. Oops, scratch that. They are Orwellian, to wit: “To promote environmental stewardship by improving soil and water quality, reducing wildfire risk, and helping ensure our forests continue to remove carbon from the atmosphere.”

Congress’s emphasis on biomass that fells trees “ensuring that our forests continue to remove carbon from the atmosphere.” Really?

What about reams upon reams of scientific analyses that conclude it is a huge mistake to fell forests for biomass?

In the final analysis, the sorrowful impact of woody biomass can be summed up by two short sentences: (1) Wood-pellet power plants emit more CO2 into the atmosphere than coal-powered plants. (2) If forests are left alone an additional 10% to 20% of human-generated CO2 emissions are absorbed by the forests every year. Ipso facto, nature does the dirty work all by itself… for free!

  1. “A Burning Question:  Throw Wood on the Fire for 21st-Century Electricity?” CNBC, September 15, 2017.
  2. “Billions of Extra Trees May Give Us 20 Years to Tackle Climate Change”, NewScientist, July 4, 2019.
  3. “Biomass Energy: Green or Dirty?” Environment & Energy – Feature Article, January 8, 2020.
  4. “Europe’s Renewable Energy Policy is Built on Burning American Trees”, Vox, March 4, 2019 — this article was endorsed by the Pulitzer Center

Harvard’s Fossil Fuels Formula: Engagement before Withdrawal

“Know the true value of time; snatch, seize, and enjoy every moment of it,” urged the Earl of Chesterfield in a letter of advice to his son penned in 1749.  “No idleness, no laziness, no procrastination: never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.”  This has not tended to be the view of university governors the world over, notably in the field of ethical investments.  The elite heavy weights have shown their flabbiness in the area, dragging in their approach to matters of environment and the climate.  Money is just that; where it goes, in terms of investment, is of little moral consequence, lacking smell and ethical baggage.  Industry is there to be, and here, the word is essential, engaged.

Harvard University, one of the wealthiest teaching and research institutions on the planet with an endowment of $41 billion, is something of a specialist in this.  In 2013, the university’s President Drew Gilpin Faust adopted the position of “engagement over withdrawal” on the subject of fossil fuel divestments.  At the time, Faust considered any full divestment measure as unwarranted and unwise: the endowment fund was to be seen in purely self-beneficial terms, “a resource, not an instrument to impel social or political change.”

Playing the fiddle of an amoral politician, Faust attempted different measures of dismissiveness and reassurance: climate change did pose “a serious threat to our future – and increasingly our present”, and the university would be incorporating “environmental, social and governance” into its investments, thereby aligning with “investors’ fiduciary duties”.  Such an approach guaranteed an indefinite series of postponements on the matter.

By April 2017, the Harvard Management Company, the entity responsible for managing the finances of the corporation, felt that some move was required.  Colin Butterfield, heading the natural resources section at the HMC, accepted that climate change was a “huge problem” and that a “pause” in fossil fuel investments would take place.  Slyly, Butterfield shifted the focus, distinguishing between direct and indirect investments in the industry.  “What I can tell you is, from my area, I could honestly say that I doubt – I can’t say never, because never say never – but I doubt that we would ever make a direct investment with fossil fuels.”

In 2019, Harvard’s new broom, Lawrence Bacow still preferred “engaging with industry”.  In a surprise appearance at a forum hosted by Divest Harvard and the Harvard Political Union in April that year, he gave a model lesson on intellectual skiving: Teach, research and convince, and the industry itself will change.  Till that was done, the fossil fuel matter could be postponed.  “We need to engage with those whose behaviour we need to change.  We need to engage with industry.  We do that through scholarship; we do that through our teaching.”

Donning his weighty business hat, Bacow played the role of cold realist, warning against any policy coitus interruptus.  Divesting from fossil fuels was not the same as tobacco, where a full-scale enterprise of withdrawal through the university from research to labs could be implemented.  “The day after, if we were to divest, we’re going to turn on the lights.  We would still be dependent on fossil fuels.”

It has been a long, acrimonious battle.  The Harvard President and Fellows have tended to swat the claims away, regarding them as callow and unrealistic.  The students, in turn, have sought to have their case taken seriously, engaging in their own little bit of climate change lawfare.  In 2014, a lawsuit was lodged in Suffolk County Superior Court in Massachusetts, featuring an 11-page complaint and 167 pages of supporting exhibits asking the court to force divestment on the students’ behalf.  The measure failed at first instance and on appeal, though campaign managed, along the way, to gather support from the Animal Legal Defense Fund, climate change scientist James Hansen and the Cambridge City Council.

The central problem in such climate change litigation remains one of conviction.  Courts refuse to cast a distant eye upon the future, expecting evidence to be as immediate, clear and incontestable as possible.  The argument by the students was precisely one of current action to prevent environmental dystopia, a case for future, potentially imperiled generations.  Instead, the students failed to show they had legal standing to challenge fossil fuel investments for their negative impacts on academic freedom and education at Harvard.  Their interests were “widely shared” with thousands of their peers at Harvard; their connection with the subject matter was not sufficiently “specific” or “personal”; and their allegations on financial mismanagement were too speculative to be accepted.

Both the Massachusetts Appellate Court and the lower court also came to the same conclusion on rejecting the merits of a new civil wrong on the “intentional investment in abnormally dangerous activities”.  The students had, in the higher court’s assessment, “brought their advocacy, fervent and articulate and admirable as it is, to a forum that cannot grant the relief they seek.”

The Bacow formula of engagement has been tinkered with, if ever so slightly.  As a tentative nod to the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day, and in response to a resolution adopted by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in February, the endowment was instructed to develop an approach to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from its investment portfolio by 2050.  Full Postponement Bacow had now transitioned to Partial Postponement Bacow.  “Harvard’s endowment should be a leader in shaping pathways to a sustainable future,” he wrote to members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “With this in mind, the corporation has directed the Harvard Management Company (HMC) to set itself on a path to decarbonize the overall endowment portfolio.”

In doing so, few toes will be tread upon in this new approach, as it “considers the investment portfolio as a whole, rather than simply targeting the suppliers and producers of fossil fuels.”  Possible partners, he warned, would not be demonised, as they had “committed to transitioning to carbon neutrality and to funding research on alternative fuels and on strategies to decarbonize the economy.”

The reaction from Divest Harvard showed an expected mixture of “I told you so” satisfaction tinged with regret.  “Until today, the administration has claimed that the endowment should not be used for political purposes.”  Finally, due to the pressure of student, faculty and alumni, Harvard had “acknowledged its duty to mitigate the emissions its endowment has been fuelling for decades.”  Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard was less complimentary: the university had taken “a step in the right direction”, but the plan was “insufficient”, making fossil fuel companies “cooperative partners”.

Former college president James L. Powell assessed the nature of managing an endowment sternly in a recent letter to the New York Times.  “The fundamental principle of endowment management is that future student generations should benefit to the same extent as the current generation.  By investing in the very companies whose products cause dangerous global warming, Harvard violates that principle and bets that it can profit from the success of those companies.” Such betting is set to continue – at least till 2050.

Welcome to the Era of the Great Disillusionment

This is a column I have been mulling over for a while but, for reasons that will be instantly obvious, I have been hesitant to write. It is about 5G, vaccines, 9/11, aliens and lizard overlords. Or more accurately, it isn’t.

Let me preface my argument by making clear I do not intend to express any view about the truth or falsity of any of these debates – not even the one about reptile rulers. My refusal to publicly take a view should not be interpreted as my implicit endorsement of any of these viewpoints because, after all, only a crazy tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy theorist sympathiser would refuse to make their views known on such matters.

Equally, my lumping together of all these disparate issues does not necessarily mean I see them as alike. Rather, they are presented in mainstream thinking as similarly proof of an unhinged, delusional, conspiracy-oriented mindset. I am working within a category that has been selected for me.

Truth and falsehood are not what this column is about. To consider these topics solely on the basis of whether they are true or false would distract from the critical thinking I wish to engage in here – especially since critical thinking is so widely discouraged in our societies. I want this column to deny a safe space to anyone emotionally invested in either side of these debates. (Doubtless, that will not deter those who would prefer to make mischief and misrepresent my argument. That is a hazard that comes with the territory.)

I am focusing on this set of issues now because some of them have been playing out increasingly loudly on social media as we cope with the isolation of lockdowns. People trapped at home have more time to explore the internet, and that means more opportunities to find often obscure information that may or may not be true. These kinds of debates are shaping our discursive landscape, and have profound political implications. It is these matters, not questions of truth, I want to examine in this column.

Social media and 5G

Let’s take 5G as an example. I am not a scientist, and I have done no research on 5G. Which is a very good reason why no one should be interested in what I have to say about the science or the safety of 5G. But like many people active on social media, I have been made aware – often with little choice on my part – of online debates about 5G and science.

Like TV presenter Eamonn Holmes, I have inevitably gained an impression of that debate. To a casual viewer, the debate looks (and we are discussing here appearances only) something like this:

a) State scientific advisers, as well as scientists whose jobs or research are financed by the mobile phone industry, are very certain that there are no dangers associated with 5G.

b) A few scientists (real ones, not evangelical pastors pretending to be former Vodafone executives) have warned that there has not been independent research on the health effects of 5G, that the technology has been rushed through for commercial reasons, and that the possible dangers posed long term to our health from constant exposure have not been properly assessed.

c) Other scientists in this specialist field, possibly the majority, are keeping their peace.

Business our new god

That impression might not be true. It may be that that is just the way social media has made the debate look. It is possible that on the contrary:

  • the research has been vigorously carried out, even if it does not appear to have been widely reported in the mainstream media,
  • mobile phone and other communication industries have not financed what research there is in an attempt to obtain results helpful to their commercial interests,
  • the aggressively competitive mobile phone industry has been prepared to sit back and wait several years for all safety issues to be resolved, unconcerned about the effects on their profits of such delays,
  • the industry has avoided using its money and lobbyists to buy influence in the corridors of power and advance a political agenda based on its commercial interests rather than on the science,
  • and individual governments, keen not to be left behind on a global battlefield in which they compete for economic, military and intelligence advantage, have collectively waited to see whether 5G is safe rather than try to undercut each other and gain an edge over allies and enemies alike.

All of that is possible. But anyone who has been observing our societies for the past few decades – where business has become our new god, and where corporate money seems to dominate our political systems more than the politicians we elect – would have at least reasonable grounds to worry that corners may have been cut, that political pressure may have been exerted, and that some scientists (who are presumably human like the rest of us) may have been prepared to prioritise their careers and incomes over the most rigorous science.

Looney-tunes conspiracism

Again, I am not a scientist. Even if the research has not been carried out properly and the phone industry has lobbied sympathetic politicians to advance its commercial interests, it is still possible that, despite all that, 5G is entirely safe. But as I said at the start, I am not here to express a view about the science of 5G.

I am discussing instead why it is not unreasonable or entirely irrational for a debate about the safety of 5G to have gone viral on social media while being ignored by corporate media; why a very mainstream TV presenter like Eamonn Holmes might suggest – to huge criticism – a need to address growing public concerns about 5G; why such concerns might quickly morph into fears of a connection between 5G and the current global pandemic; and why frightened people might decide to take things into their own hands by burning down 5G masts.

Explaining this chain of events is not the same as justifying any of the links in that chain. But equally, dismissing all of it as simply looney-tunes conspiracism is not entirely reasonable or rational either.

The issue here is not really about 5G, it’s about whether our major institutions still hold public trust. Those who dismiss all concerns about 5G have a very high level of trust in the state and its institutions. Those who worry about 5G – a growing section of western populations , it seems – have very little trust in our institutions and increasingly in our scientists too. And the people responsible for that erosion of trust are our governments – and, if we are brutally honest, the scientists as well.

Information overload

Debates like the 5G one have not emerged in a vacuum. They come at a moment of unprecedented information dissemination that derives from a decade of rapid growth in social media. We are the first societies to have access to data and information that was once the preserve of monarchs, state officials and advisers, and in more recent times a few select journalists.

Now rogue academics, rogue journalists, rogue former officials – anyone, in fact – can go online and discover a myriad of things that until recently no one outside a small establishment circle was ever supposed to understand. If you know where to look, you can even find some of this stuff on Wikipedia (see, for example, Operation Timber Sycamore).

The effect of this information overload has been to disorientate the great majority of us who lack the time, the knowledge and the analytical skills to sift through it all and make sense of the world around us. It is hard to discriminate when there is so much information – good and bad alike – to digest.

Nonetheless, we have got a sense from these online debates,  reinforced by events in the non-virtual world, that our politicians do not always tell the truth, that money – rather than the public interest – sometimes wins out in decision-making processes, and that our elites may be little better equipped than us – aside from their expensive educations – to run our societies.

Two decades of lies

There has been a handful of staging posts over the past two decades to our current era of the Great Disillusionment. They include:

  • the lack of transparency in the US government’s investigation into the events surrounding 9/11 (obscured by a parallel online controversy about what took place that day);
  • the documented lies told about the reasons for launching a disastrous and illegal war of aggression against Iraq in 2003 that unleashed regional chaos, waves of destabilising migration into Europe and new, exceptionally brutal forms of political Islam;
  • the astronomical bailouts after the 2008 crash of bankers whose criminal activities nearly bankrupted the global economy (but who were never held to account) and instituted more than a decade of austerity measures that had to be paid for by the public;
  • the refusal by western governments and global institutions to take any leadership on tackling climate change, as not only the science but the weather itself has made the urgency of that emergency clear, because it would mean taking on their corporate sponsors;
  • and now the criminal failures of our governments to prepare for, and respond properly to, the Covid-19 pandemic, despite many years of warnings.

Anyone who still takes what our governments say at face value … well, I have several bridges to sell you.

Experts failed us

But it is not just governments to blame. The failings of experts, administrators and the professional class have been all too visible to the public as well. Those officials who have enjoyed easy access to prominent platforms in the state-corporate media have obediently repeated what state and corporate interests wanted us to hear, often only for that information to be exposed later as incomplete, misleading or downright fabricated.

In the run-up to the 2003 attack on Iraq, too many political scientists, journalists and weapons experts kept their heads down, keen to preserve their careers and status, rather than speak up in support of those rare experts like Scott Ritter and the late David Kelly who dared to sound the alarm that we were not being told the whole truth.

In 2008, only a handful of economists was prepared to break with corporate orthodoxy and question whether throwing money at bankers exposed as financial criminals was wise, or to demand that these bankers be prosecuted. The economists did not argue the case that there must be a price for the banks to pay, such as a public stake in the banks that were bailed out, in return for forcing taxpayers to massively invest in these discredited businesses. And the economists did not propose overhauling our financial systems to make sure there was no repetition of the economic crash. Instead, they kept their heads down as well, in the hope that their large salaries continued and that they would not lose their esteemed positions in think-tanks and universities.

We know that climate scientists were quietly warning back in the 1950s of the dangers of runaway global warming, and that in the 1980s scientists working for the fossil-fuel companies predicted very precisely how and when the catastrophe would unfold – right about now. It is wonderful that today the vast majority of these scientists are publicly agreed on the dangers, even if they are still trapped in a dangerous caution by the conservatism of scientific procedure. But they forfeited public trust by leaving it so very, very late to speak up.

And recently we have learnt, for example, that a series of Conservative governments in the UK recklessly ran down the supplies of hospital protective gear, even though they had more than a decade of warnings of a coming pandemic. The question is why did no scientific advisers or health officials blow the whistle earlier. Now it is too late to save the lives of many thousands, including dozens of medical staff, who have fallen victim so far to the virus in the UK.

Lesser of two evils

Worse still, in the Anglosphere of the US and the UK, we have ended up with political systems that offer a choice between one party that supports a brutal, unrestrained version of neoliberalism and another party that supports a marginally less brutal, slightly mitigated version of neoliberalism. (And we have recently discovered in the UK that, after the grassroots membership of one of those twinned parties managed to choose a leader in Jeremy Corbyn who rejected this orthodoxy, his own party machine conspired to throw the election rather than let him near power.) As we are warned at each election, in case we decide that elections are in fact futile, we enjoy a choice – between the lesser of two evils.

Those who ignore or instinctively defend these glaring failings of the modern corporate system are really in no position to sit smugly in judgment on those who wish to question the safety of 5G, or vaccines, or the truth of 9/11, or the reality of a climate catastrophe, or even of the presence of lizard overlords.

Because through their reflexive dismissal of doubt, of all critical thinking on anything that has not been pre-approved by our governments and by the state-corporate media, they have helped to disfigure the only yardsticks we have for measuring truth or falsehood. They have forced on us a terrible choice: to blindly follow those who have repeatedly demonstrated they are not worthy of being followed, or to trust nothing at all, to doubt everything. Neither position is one a healthy, balanced individual would want to adopt. But that is where we are today.

Big Brother regimes

It is therefore hardly surprising that those who have been so discredited by the current explosion of information – the politicians, the corporations and the professional class – are wondering how to fix things in the way most likely to maintain their power and authority.

They face two, possibly complementary options.

One is to allow the information overload to continue, or even escalate. There is an argument to be made that the more possible truths we are presented with, the more powerless we feel and the more willing we are to defer to those most vocal in claiming authority. Confused and hopeless, we will look to father figures, to the strongmen of old, to those who have cultivated an aura of decisiveness and fearlessness, to those who look like down-to-earth mavericks and rebels.

This approach will throw up more Donald Trumps, Boris Johnsons and Jair Bolsonaros. And these men, while charming us with their supposed lack of orthodoxy, will still, of course, be exceptionally accommodating to the most powerful corporate interests – the military-industrial complex – that really run the show.

The other option, which has already been road-tested under the rubric of “fake news”, will be to treat us the public like irresponsible children, who need a firm, guiding hand. The technocrats and professionals will try to re-establish their authority as though the last two decades never occurred, as though we never saw through their hypocrisy and lies.

They will cite “conspiracy theories” – even the true ones – as proof that it is time to impose new curbs on internet freedoms, on the right to speak and to think. They will argue that the social media experiment has run its course and proved itself a menace – because we, the public, are a menace. They are already flying trial balloons for this new Big Brother world, under cover of tackling the health threats posed by the Covid-19 epidemic.

We should not be surprised that the “thought-leaders” for shutting down the cacophony of the internet are those whose failures have been most exposed by our new freedoms to explore the dark recesses of the recent historical record. They have included Tony Blair, the British prime minister who lied western publics into the disastrous and illegal war on Iraq in 2003, and Jack Goldsmith, rewarded as a Harvard law professor for his role – since whitewashed – in helping the Bush administration legalise torture and step up warrantless surveillance programmes.

Need for a new media

The only alternative to a future in which we are ruled by Big Brother technocrats like Tony Blair, or by chummy authoritarians who brook no dissent, or a mix of the two, will require a complete overhaul of our societies’ approach to information. We will need fewer curbs on free speech, not more.

The real test of our societies – and the only hope of surviving the coming emergencies, economic and environmental – will be finding a way to hold our leaders truly to account. Not based on whether they are secretly lizards, but on what they are doing to save our planet from our all-too-human, self-destructive instinct for acquisition and our craving for guarantees of security in an uncertain world.

That, in turn, will require a transformation of our relationship to information and debate. We will need a new model of independent, pluralistic, responsive, questioning media that is accountable to the public, not to billionaires and corporations. Precisely the kind of media we do not have now. We will need media we can trust to represent the full range of credible, intelligent, informed debate, not the narrow Overton window through which we get a highly partisan, distorted view of the world that serves the 1 percent – an elite so richly rewarded by the current system that they are prepared to ignore the fact that they and we are hurtling towards the abyss.

With that kind of media in place – one that truly holds politicians to account and celebrates scientists for their contributions to collective knowledge, not their usefulness to corporate enrichment – we would not need to worry about the safety of our communications systems or medicines, we would not need to doubt the truth of events in the news or wonder whether we have lizards for rulers, because in that kind of world no one would rule over us. They would serve the public for the common good.

Sounds like a fantastical, improbable system of government? It has a name: democracy. Maybe it is time for us finally to give it a go.

Canada should Treat Climate Change With Same Urgency as COVID-19

While governments’ responses to the Covid-19 pandemic proves significant resources can be marshalled quickly in a crisis, there is little evidence official Canada sees global warming as a comparable emergency.

Even though Justin Trudeau’s Liberals say they take climate change seriously, Canadian greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are actually increasing. According to the inventory report the government filed with the United Nations last week, Canada’s emissions grew to more than 729 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and its equivalents in 2018. This represents a 15 million tonne increase over 2017.

Incredibly, the editors at the Globe and Mail decided this information deserved a 75-word brief in the bottom corner of page 15. While Canada’s paper of record buried the story, it deserved front-page attention. The situation is dire. Temperatures are increasing steadily and so too the frequency/intensity of “natural” disasters. In 2019 there were 15 natural disasters linked to climate change that caused more than a billion dollars in damage. Seven of them destroyed more than $10 billion. Hundreds of thousands have already died as a result of anthropocentric climate disturbances and the numbers will grow exponentially.

At the 2015 Paris climate negotiation the Trudeau government committed Canada to reducing GHG emissions 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 (a major step backwards from Canada’s commitment under the Kyoto Protocol and 2009 Copenhagen Accord). But, this target is unlikely to be achieved. In December Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, said Canada was expected to emit 603 million tonnes of GHG in 2030, far above the 511 million tonnes agreed to in Paris (to meet the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Canada would need to reduce its GHG emissions to 381 million tonnes by 2030).

A November Nature Communications study seeking to reconcile the 2015 Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global temperature increases to 1.5-to-2 C concluded that if the rest of the world flouted its commitments in a similar way to Canada temperatures would increase between 3 C and 4 C by the end of the century. A Climate Transparency report card release that month found that Canada’s plan to meet its GHG targets was among the worst (along with Australia and South Korea) in the G20. The November study found that the emissions intensity of Canada’s buildings, transportation and agriculture were all above the G20 average and that Canadians produced nearly three times more GHG per capita than the G20 average.

Expansion of the tar sands guarantees that Canada will flout its international commitments to reduce GHG emissions. According to the Parkland Institute, “bitumen production grew 376% from 2000 through 2018” and is projected to grow by another 1.41 million barrels per day by 2040. To expand extraction of heavy carbon emitting Alberta oil, the Liberals are spending $9 billion on the Trans Mountain pipeline and related infrastructure. Last week the government announced $1.7 billion to clean up orphan wells in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. While energy workers should be offered work cleaning up environmental devastation, the initiative is, in effect, a subsidy to a historically profitable industry that should be covering the costs.

This was not the first time the Liberals broke their pre-election promise to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. Ottawa continues to offer billions of dollars (as much as $46 billion, according to one IMF working paper) a year in assistance to oil, gas and other fossil fuel firms. While Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s 2015 mandate letter from the PM said he should “work with the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to fulfil our G20 commitment and phase out subsidies for the fossil fuel industry over the medium-term”, there was no mention of this objective in either Morneau’s or Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson’s 2019 mandate letters.

Despite claiming to take the climate crisis seriously, the Trudeau government has failed to put the country on track to meet even dangerously insufficient targets for reducing GHG emissions. This is largely because of the oil industry’s power. The profits from oil and natural gas flow to their producers and distributers, as well as the banks that finance them, and other investors whose portfolios include these stocks. These are the people who, under the current economic system, mostly determine government policy.

Will the Coronavirus Change the World?

The prophecies are here and it is a foregone conclusion: the post-coronavirus world will look fundamentally different from anything that we have seen or experienced, at least since the end of World War II.

Even before the ‘curve flattened’ in many countries that have experienced high death tolls — let alone economic devastation — as a result of the unhindered spread of the COVID-19 disease, thinkers and philosophers began speculating, from the comfort of their own quarantines, about the many scenarios that await us.

The devastation inflicted by the coronavirus is likely to be as consequential as “the fall of the Berlin Wall or the collapse of the Lehman Brothers,” wrote Foreign Policy magazine in a widely read analysis, entitled ‘How the World Will Look After the Coronavirus Pandemic’.

While major newspapers and news media outlets jumped on the bandwagon of trying to construct the various post-coronavirus possibilities, Foreign Policy sought the views of twelve thinkers, each providing their own reading of the future.

Stephen M. Walt concluded that “COVID-19 will create a world that is less open, less prosperous, and less free”.

Robin Niblett wrote that it is “highly unlikely… that the world will return to the idea of mutually beneficial globalization that defined the early 21st century”.

‘Mutually beneficial’ is a phrase deserving of a completely different essay, as it is a claim that can easily be contested by many small and poor countries.

Be that as it may, globalization was a focal point of discussion among many of the twelve thinkers, although a major point of contention was whether globalization will remain in place in its current form, whether it will be redefined or discarded altogether.

Kishore Mahbubani wrote that, “the COVID-19 pandemic will not fundamentally alter global economic directions. It will only accelerate a change that had already begun: a move away from US-centric globalization to a more China-centric globalization”.

And so on…

While political economists focused on COVID-19’s impact on major economic trends, globalization and the resultant shift of political power, environmentalists emphasized the fact that the quarantine, which has affected the vast majority of the world’s population, raises hopes that it might not be too late for Planet Earth after all.

Numerous articles, citing scientific research and accompanied by photo galleries that illustrate the blue skies over Delhi and the clean waters of Venice, all underline the point that the upcoming ‘change’ will prove most consequential for the environment.

With prophecies afoot, even discredited philosophers such as Slavoj Zizek, tried to stage a comeback, offering their own predictions of ‘ideological viruses’, including “the virus of thinking about an alternate society, a society beyond nation-state, a society that actualizes itself in the forms of global solidarity and cooperation”.

In his article, published in the German newspaper Die Welt, Zizek proposes what he describes as a ‘paradox’: while COVID-19 constitutes a ‘blow to capitalism’ it “will also compel us to re-invent communism based on trust in the people and in science”.

Ironically, only a few years ago, Zizek, who is often referred to as a ‘celebrity philosopher’, advocated an ethnocentric discourse targeting refugees, immigrants and Muslims.

“I never liked this humanitarian approach that if you really talk with them (meaning war refugees who sought safety in Europe) you discover we are all the same people,” Zizek said in his book Refugees, Terror and other Troubles with the Neighbors. “No, we are not — we have fundamental differences.”

In an article discussing Zizek’s book, published in Quartz, Annalisa Merelli wrote, “Following the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015, Zizek warned that liberals need to let go of the taboos that prevent open discussion of the problems that come from admitting people of different cultures to Europe, and in particular the denial of any public safety danger caused by refugees.”

This supposedly ‘Marxist philosopher’ went even further, borrowing from Christian theology in explaining that “the Christian motto ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ is not as simple as it appears,” criticizing the alleged ‘prohibition’ by some leftist circles of “any critique of Islam”.

“It is a simple fact that most of the refugees come from a culture that is incompatible with Western European notions of human rights,” Zizek wrote, conveniently omitting that it is Western imperialism, colonialism and wars of economic dominance that have been the main triggers of Middle Eastern crises for at least a century.

It would be safe to assume that Zizek’s unorthodox ‘reinvention of communism’ excludes millions of refugees who are paying the price, not for the ills of ‘the global economy’ – as he conveniently proposes – but for war-driven Western hegemony and neo-colonialism.

Our seemingly-disproportionate emphasis on Zizek’s unsettling ideas is only meant to illustrate that ‘celebrity philosophy’ is not only useless in this context, but also a distraction from a truly urgent discussion on the mechanics of equitable change in society, a process currently hindered by war, racism, xenophobia, and populist-centric far-right ideologies.

In truth, it is far easier to predict the future of globalization or air-pollution when analysts are confronted with straight-forward indicators – technological advancement, exports, currency valuation, and air quality.

But speaking of the reinvention of society, with little credibility to boot, is the equivalence of intellectual guesswork, especially when the so-called intellectual is almost entirely detached from the trials of everyday society.

The problem with most analyses of the various ‘futures’ that lie ahead is that very few of these predictions are predicated on an honest examination of the problems that have plagued our past and afflicted our present.

But how are we to chart a better understanding and a suitable response to the future and its many challenges if we do not truly and honestly confront and dissect the problems that have taken us to this dismal point of global crisis?

We concur. The future will bring about change. It ought to. It must. Because the status quo is simply unsustainable. Because the wars in Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Afghanistan; the Israeli occupation of Palestine; the dehumanization and economic strangulation of Africa and South America, and so on, must not be allowed to become an everyday occurrence.

But for that better, more equitable future to arrive, our understanding of it must be situated within a historically valid, ideologically defensible, and humane view of our troubled world, of ourselves and of others — and not within the detached and callous view of mainstream Western economists or celebrity philosophers.

It is indeed strange how Zizek and his like can still embrace an ethnocentric view of Europe and Christianity while still being viewed as ‘communist’. What strange breed of communism is this ideology that does not acknowledge the centrality and history of global class struggles?

If we are to place the Marxist class struggle within broader and more global terms, it is befitting and tenable then to assume that Western powers have historically represented the ‘ruling classes’, while the colonized and historically oppressed Southern hemisphere makes up the ‘subordinate classes’.

It is this dynamic of oppression, usurpation and enslavement that fueled the ‘engine of history’ — the Marxist notion that history is propelled by internal contradictions within the system of material production.

It would be simply naive to assume that an outbreak of a pandemic can automatically and inexorably, in itself, propel and produce change, and that such a romanticized ‘change’ will intuitively favor the ‘subordinate classes’, whether within local societal structures or at a global level.

There is no denial that the current crisis — whether economic or within the healthcare system — is fundamentally a structural crisis that can be traced to the numerous fault-lines within the capitalist system, which is enduring what Italian anti-fascist intellectual and politician Antonio Gramsci refers to as ‘interregnum’.

In his Prison Notebooks, Gramsci wrote: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum, a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

The ‘variety of morbid symptoms’ were expressed in the last two decades in the gradual decay, if not decimation, of the very global system that was constructed ever so diligently by capitalist Western forces, which shaped the world to pursue their own interests for nearly a century.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s was meant to usher in a whole new world – uncontested, militaristic to the core and unapologetically capitalist. Little of that has actualized, however. The first US-led Iraq military adventure (1990-91), the parallel ‘new world order’ and subsequent ‘new Middle East’, and so on, ultimately, amounted to naught.

Frustrated by its inability to translate its military and technological superiority to sustainable dominance on the ground, the US and its Western allies fell apart at a much faster rate than ever expected. Barack Obama’s administration’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ — accompanied by military retreat from the oil-rich Middle East — was only the beginning of an inevitable course of decline that no US administration, however belligerent and irrational, can possibly stop.

Largely helpless before relentless crises facing the once-triumphant capitalist order, dominant Western institutions, the likes of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU), grew useless and dysfunctional. No prophecies are required here to assume that the post-coronavirus world will further undermine the very idea behind the EU. Interestingly, although not surprisingly, the ‘European community,’ at the time of Europe’s greatest crisis since World War II, turned out to be a farce, since it was China and Cuba that extended a helping hand to Italy and Spain, not Germany, France or the Netherlands.

It is rather ironic that the very forces that championed economic globalization — and derided reluctant countries that refused to join in — are the same as those that are now advocating some form of sovereignism, isolationism, and nationalism.

This is precisely the ‘interregnum’ that Gramsci has talked about. It should not be taken for granted, however, that this political vacuum can be filled through wishful thinking alone, for real, lasting and sustainable change can only be the outcome of a mindful process, one that keeps in mind the nature of future conflicts and our ideological and moral position in response to these conflicts.

Celebrity philosophers certainly do not represent, nor do they earn the right to speak on behalf of the ‘subordinate classes’ — neither locally nor globally. What is needed, instead, is a counter ‘cultural hegemony’, championed by the true representatives of oppressed societies (minorities united by mutual solidarity, oppressed nations, and so on), who must be aware of the historical opportunity and challenges that lie ahead.

A distinct symptom of ‘interregnum’ is the palpable detachment exhibited by the masses towards traditional ideologies —  a process which has begun much earlier than the outbreak of the coronavirus.

“If the ruling class has lost its consensus, i.e., is no longer ‘leading’ but only ‘dominant,’ exercising coercive force alone, this means precisely that the great masses have become detached from their traditional ideologies, and no longer believe what they used to believe previously”, Gramsci wrote.

Admittedly, there is a problem with true democratic representation all over the world, due to the rise of military dictatorships (as in the case of Egypt), and far-right populism (as in the case of the US, various Western countries, India and so forth).

Bearing all of that in mind, simply counting on ‘trust in the people and in science’ — as disconcertingly prescribed by Zizek — will neither ‘re-invent communism’, restore democracy or redistribute wealth fairly and equitably among all classes. And, needless to say, it will not bring the Israeli occupation to an end or humanely end the global refugee crisis.

In fact, the opposite is true. Under the cover of trying to control the spread of the coronavirus, several governments have carried out authoritarian measures that merely aim at strengthening their grip on power, as was the case in Hungary and Israel.

Not that Hungary and Israel have been governed according to high democratic standards prior to the spread of the coronavirus. The collective panic that resulted from the high death-toll of a barely understood disease, however, served as the needed collective ‘shock’ — see Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine — required by authoritarian regimes to seize the moment and to further erode any semblance of democracy in their own societies.

Following each and every global crisis, analysts, military strategists and philosophers take on whatever available platform to prophesize seismic changes and speak of paradigm shifts. Some even go as far as declaring the ‘end of history’, ‘clashes of civilizations’, or, as in the case of Zizek, a new form of communism.

French critic and journalist, Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr (born November 1808), has once written that “the more things change, the more they continue to be the same thing”.

Indeed, without a people-propelled form of change, the status quo seems to constantly reinvent itself, restoring its dominance, cultural hegemony and undemocratic claim to power.

Undeniably, the global crisis invited by the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic embodies within it the opportunity of fundamental change (towards greater equality or greater authoritarianism), or no change at all.

It is us, the people, and our true authentic voices — the ‘organic intellectuals’, not the celebrity philosophers — who have the right and the moral legitimacy to rise up to reclaim our democracy and redefine a new discourse on a global, not ethnocentric, form of justice.

It is either that we exercise this option, or the current ‘interregnum’ will fizzle out into yet another missed opportunity.

There’s Another Even Deadlier Pandemic Right Now: it’s called Stupidity

While many countries grapple with the health, social and economic costs of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s another, much more serious disease infesting our world that goes largely un-noticed and usually un-treated.

Tragic and traumatic as COVID-19 undoubtedly is for the individuals affected by it, when seeking answers about how, why, and how fast it happened, most of us are missing the point.

COVID-19 is a graphic illustration – delivered to us in an unpleasant biological form – that the real cause of our current pandemic and inability to respond to similar, entirely predictable crises is our collective ignorance and stupidity.

It’s a stupidity and arrogance that allows us to believe that we can continue to over-populate our world and live way beyond our means by continually plundering our environment and devouring non-renewable resources.

It’s a stupidity that thinks that the cruelty and unhygienic practices of modern factory farming and ‘wet’ markets are acceptable methods of feeding ourselves – and our subsequent amazement when diseases flourish and cross over to the human population as a result.

It’s a stupidity that means our politicians and bureaucrats decide what protective equipment should be worn by our doctors and nurses based not on what will best protect medical workers from COVID-19, but what will best protect the careers of our politicians when it is revealed that medical protective equipment is in chronically short supply.

It’s a stupidity and recklessness that allows politicians to call for retired health workers to volunteer on the medical front line when their age, the lack of protective equipment and the way that COVID-19 attacks the elderly hardest means that those retired returnees are at potentially heightened risk of morbidity and mortality – further adding to the strain on an already overloaded and deliberately underfunded public health system.

It’s a stupidity that leads to thousands of people defying social distancing rules and lockdowns, holding drunken ‘end of the world’ parties, coughing and spitting on police and medical workers, or burning mobile phone towers because of deranged 5G conspiracy theories.

It’s a stupidity where many millions of Americans can elect – and presumably even believe – a President who claimed in January 2020 that COVID-19 was ‘all under control’ in the USA, and who has now asked in April 2020 whether injecting disinfectant in people to create ‘almost a cleaning’ might help in treating COVID-19.

Such is the scale of this stupidity that it has moved from an individual to an institutional level, and now permeates nearly every aspect of our lives on a daily basis.

If we are stupid enough to support politicians and economic systems that deliberately run down our health systems to the point of collapse in ‘normal’ times, why should we be surprised that when a pandemic does arrive, we are pathetically unable to cope with it?

How is it possible that countries with the largest economies in the world can’t even organise enough face masks and aprons to safeguard their nurses and doctors in the frontline?

Why have we allowed food manufacturers and retailers to build food supply chains that are so fragile and inadequate that the slightest hint of panic-buying leaves supermarket shelves empty or diminished for weeks or months?

Why have we allowed ourselves to become so detached from reality and addicted to all sorts of superficial, nonsensical distractions that the act of being temporarily confined to our homes for a few weeks induces widespread fear, panic and mental breakdowns?

COVID-19 is bad, but stupidity is a far more pervasive and virulent disease that has been spreading virtually unchecked for a very long time now.

In today’s world, where billions of people get their news and information through social media, the spread of stupidity and misinformation has never been so rapid, so efficient, and so damaging.

An increasing proportion of the population who have lost the ability to think logically about anything have their prejudices, bigotry and ignorance instantly reinforced and encouraged by like-minded dimwits around the world at the press of a button.

In this they are actively aided and abetted by media proprietors, business leaders and politicians, who know that the more ignorant and foolish a population is, the easier it is to manipulate and extort money and power from them.

Our cost of living is so ridiculously high that the people that lose their jobs instantly enter financial hardship, while those who have been forced to provide slave labour in the modern ‘gig economy’ are left almost totally unsupported by financial aid packages.

They are thrown to the wolves by politicians and an economic system that claims not to be able to do without them, but doesn’t want to acknowledge their existence when times are suddenly tough.

For those people who live in countries where there is no social security system whatever, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to be infinitely worse.

The death or serious illness of a wage earner often condemns a whole family to starvation, because wages are so low that daily life is a relentless struggle to survive as it is without the added complications of COVID-19.

It is the selfishness of rich nations that forces them into this impossible position – an inevitable consequence of a world where just 1% own more than 50% of the world’s wealth – and are projected to own more than 66% by 2030.

Little wonder that our world is in the state that it currently is – but who do we ultimately have to blame for this stratospheric level of stupidity?

The answer, unfortunately, is no-one but ourselves.

Just look at the desperation of so many of us to unwind the lockdowns so that we can return to our ‘normal’, unsustainable, selfish and destructive lifestyles.

We can’t wait to get rid of those temporarily un-polluted blue skies and traffic-free highways in order to rush back to the rampant capitalism and the rat race we’ve convinced ourselves is the only possible way to live.

We are desperate to be able to spend our lives drinking and partying and being stupid again as if there was never a pandemic – and there never will be again in the future.

COVID-19 is bad enough, but mass stupidity is the most dangerous pandemic we’ve ever faced.

Unfortunately, all the signs are that it is likely to remain with us long after the trauma of COVID-19 has receded into history.

The Moralistic Mauvaise Foi of “Planet of the Humans”

Yes, the overall message of the film can hardly be faulted.  The anthropocentric world-view — which for millennia has justified human “dominion” over, and exploitation of, all other life-forms — has been disastrously hubristic.  But the Deep Ecology paradigm, initially developed by Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess, has articulated this viewpoint for several decades (and in a far more coherent and constructive manner).  Even convicted serial killer Ted Kaczynski, in his Social-Darwinist-tainted Industrial Society and Its Future (1995), presented some valid points along these lines.  And for several decades, almost all major eco-groups, from Greenpeace to Friends of the Earth, have consistently campaigned for dramatically reduced consumption — not only of “energy” but of material goods in general.

A Manichean (“good” vs. evil”) moralism is adopted by narrator Jeff Gibbs (and is certainly nothing new for Michael Moore, his friend and executive producer).  Yes, terribly shortsighted compromises by certain enviro-orgs — most conspicuously the Sierra Club’s acceptance of massive sums from natural-gas and timber interests! — are important to know.  But to implicitly smear all enviro-orgs (“guilt-by-association”) is little better than an “eco-McCarthyism.”  What is Gibbs’ motive here?  To claim that all enviro-NGOs have “sold out” to Big Business?  Inevitably, along predictable Mephistophelian lines, fossil-fuel corporations will dangle huge sums in front of such groups, promising in the bargain to “green” some of their destructive activities (in reality, to “green-wash” them).  But the vast majority of such NGOs have avoided these lures.  One merely has to read their annual reports and 990 tax statements, all made available.  In addition, respected philanthropy watchdogs such as Charity Watch and Charity Navigator provide financial evaluations of effectiveness and transparency.

Director Gibbs, like his pal Moore, continues to use the very questionable tactic of on-camera encounters at informal settings, wherein the hapless respondents inevitably appear awkward, uninformed, even evasive.  I consider this mean-spirited (“bad faith”): given the egregious omnipresence of video-recorders of all types (even in phones), how many of us, when confronted at any given moment, will be articulate and convincingly honest?  Despite Al Gore’s reprehensible and opportunistic political positions over his career, Earth in the Balance (1992) and An Inconvenient Truth  (2006) surely raised public awareness and understanding about the threat of global warming?  And one cannot justifiably conclude, as Gibbs insinuates, that Gore’s main purpose in making the documentary was to promote capital-investment in the “renewable”-energy companies he may be financially connected with.  To claim, as Gibbs does, that all major enviro-groups have been “taken over by capitalism” is silly, if not mendacious.  The world-economy, quite obviously, is capitalist; the relevant question is whether such groups in general receive funding from the very industries they claim to be fighting against.  The answer is: no.  For that matter, the producer Michael Moore is himself a 1% “capitalist.”  Last I read, his net worth was around $50 million!  Is he donating most of it to Doctors Without Borders or Oxfam (refugees, famine, cholera in Yemen) — and/or to Greenpeace et al??  Brazen hypocrisy should not be exhibited by outspoken critics of hypocrisy.

Yes, Bill McKibben does not “present well” on camera: in the clips presented, McKibben appears awkward, even evasive.  But, despite the film’s insinuation of secret corporate backers, the 350.org website does list the names of its foundation donors.  (One may indeed question, as I do, the organization’s single-minded focus on CO-2 — which ignores methane, 85X more potent as a greenhouse gas.)  A dozen years ago, McKibben did appear incredibly foolish when he enthusiastically advocated “bio-mass” burning (“renewable!”), but he soon repudiated this whole notion as “a bad idea.”  But Gibbs and Moore employ their very questionable technique of browsing through abundantly available, and often outdated, video-materials — to find conspicuously embarrassing and even “suspect” moments.  Gibbs, of course, doesn’t bother to set up serious interviews, in which Gore, McKibben, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and the others would be allowed to respond (not necessarily forthrightly, of course).

How does the major thrust of the movie, that “clean” energy is a pipe-dream, stand up to serious analysis?  First, the fact that certain concert emcees falsely claimed that the events were “100% solar-powered” means nothing — so what?  Foolish hyperbole?  Of course.  Throughout the movie, Gibbs, the purist, remains fixated on “either/or.”  Either an energy-source is entirely “off-the-grid” or, it’s still dependent on fossil fuels.  Many critics of the film have noted that Gibbs didn’t bother to present the current efficiency of solar-and-wind energy technologies, which have indeed been infused with a lot of R & D investment in recent years.  In sun-drenched sub-tropical regions, off-the-grid solar panels, with adequate hydrogen storage batteries, may soon be feasible.  But Gibbs is perplexed that the hydrogen itself comes from fossil fuels.  So what?  On balance, wouldn’t such off-the-grid solar still be a huge energy-saving advantage — compared with the vast network of “natural” gas pipelines?  Gibbs, who certainly makes the GM executive he encounters look foolish, dismisses the electric Chevy Volt as hopelessly misguided — it requires charging from the mainstream power-grid (fossil-fuel based)!  Again, so what?  Isn’t the vehicle still possibly preferable to a gas-guzzling SUV (or even a Prius)?

The points about the fallacies of “bio-fuels” are valid but have been widely known for over 10 years.  This exemplifies perhaps the major shortcoming of the movie: sketchy and often-outdated information, with a conspicuous absence of any current scientific testimony on the issues. On the other hand, the film does a good job in revealing the fraud of “bio-mass” as a “renewable” energy-source.  Timber companies, responding to the reduced demand for paper, re-marketed wood as a “natural, renewable” alternate-energy source.  Vast, rapid-growth “tree plantations” are now scattered through much of the U.S. South.