Category Archives: Environment

Veneration Of Power Leading To Climate Catastrophe

In a recent media alert, we presented a few rules that journalists must follow if they are to be regarded as a safe pair of hands by editors and corporate media owners. One of these rules is that ‘we’ in the West are assumed to be ‘the good guys’. This seriously damaging narrative, flying in the face of historical evidence and endlessly crushing state policies, ensures that the public is kept ignorant and pacified. The consequences have been deadly for millions of the West’s victims around the world, and now mean climate catastrophe that could end human civilisation.

First, take the recent devout coverage following the death of George Herbert Walker Bush, US President from 1989-1993, and Vice-President under Ronald Reagan from 1981-1989. When a (former) Western leader dies, the raw propaganda is often at its most fawning and servile. On Bush’s death, ‘mainstream’ media outlets broadcast and published eulogies and fanciful words of praise, divorced from reality. For example, BBC News channelled former President Barack Obama:

George HW Bush’s life is a testament to the notion that public service is a noble, joyous calling. And he did tremendous good along the journey.

The Clintons – like the Bush dynasty, part of the US ruling class – added their own gushing propaganda tribute:

Few Americans have been – or will ever be – able to match President Bush’s record of service to the United States and the joy he took every day from it.

Referring to the massive US attack following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in the 1990-1991 Gulf War, ‘impartial’ BBC News launched into full-blown Orwellian newspeak:

The subsequent battle proved to be a triumph for American military expertise and a major boost for the nation’s morale.

Likewise, the Guardian‘s obituary described Bush Senior’s devastation of Iraq as ‘triumphant’; ‘the president did not put a foot wrong’; ‘his most impressive achievement’; ‘Bush’s masterly management of the first Iraq war’; and so on, in an elite-friendly script that was essentially a press release from the very centre of US power.

The cruel reality of Bush’s ‘most impressive achievement’, as we noted in a 2002 media alert, was that Iraq’s entire civilian infrastructure was targeted and largely destroyed under the rain of bombs. All of Iraq’s eleven major electrical power plants, as well as 119 substations, were destroyed. 90 per cent of electricity generation was out of service within hours; within days, all power generation in the country had ceased. Eight multi-purpose dams were repeatedly hit and destroyed, wrecking flood control, municipal and industrial water storage, irrigation and hydroelectric power. Four of Iraq’s seven major water pumping stations were destroyed. According to Eric Hoskins, a Canadian doctor and coordinator of a Harvard study team on Iraq, the allied bombardment:

effectively terminated everything vital to human survival in Iraq – electricity, water, sewage systems, agriculture, industry and health care.1

Under the 88,500 tons of bombs – the equivalent of seven Hiroshimas – that followed the launch of the air campaign on January 17, 1991, and the ground attack that followed, 150,000 Iraqi troops and 50,000 civilians were killed. The Guardian‘s glowing obituary omitted all of these brutal facts. The Observer, the Guardian‘s Sunday sister paper, sang from the same hymn sheet, describing the former head of the CIA and US president as:

an American patriot with a deep sense of duty.

The guff piece was written by serial propagandist Simon Tisdall who has variously been a foreign leader writer, foreign editor and US editor for the Guardian. Tisdall waxed that:

Bush set great store by civility in public life. As Republican candidate in 1988 he called for a “kinder, gentler nation”. He was, quintessentially, a decent man, with a taste for the lifestyle of an English country gentleman.

Bush’s ‘most admirable quality’, opined the Guardian man, was ‘his deep sense of public duty and service.’ That word ‘service’ again, repeated over and over like a mantra. But who was really being served by Bush’s violence?

The Guardian devoted a section of its website to Bush Sr, featuring headlines such as:

A different command”. How Bush’s war shaped his work for peace’

a man of the highest character’

The “dear dad” dedicated to faith, family and country’

Steady hand during collapse of communism’

“Dear Bill.” Clinton heralds letter from Bush as source of lasting friendship

When Official Enemies portray their Glorious Leaders in this way, western commentators routinely sneer with derision. Al Abunimah, editor of Electronic Intifada, highlighted the above litany of nonsense in a single tweet, and rightly scorned the Guardian as ‘a bastion of regime propaganda and sycophancy to powerful elites.’

Meanwhile, BBC News, like the rest of the corporate media, virtually canonised Bush as a saintly agent of Western benevolence. Even his ‘service dog’ Sully paid a ‘touching last tribute‘, sleeping beside the late President’s casket. We were to understand that Sully was heart-broken after long years spent devotedly serving his ‘master’. In fact, he had been assigned to assist Bush in the summer of 2018, just a few months ago.

By glaring contrast, a Morning Star editorial gave an honest assessment of Bush Sr’s contribution to the world, summed up as:

A lifetime in the service of imperialism.

Nathan Robinson, editor of Current Affairs, listed numerous appalling crimes and abuses of human rights carried out by Bush, almost entirely buried by sycophantic journalists on his death, and concluded:

Coverage of George H.W. Bush’s death proves that Noam Chomsky’s media theory is completely true.

‘Mainstream’ media professionals do not know, or do not care, what Bush actually did in his life. Perhaps they also assume that the public do not know or care either. Obedient journalists have simply buried the destruction and mass death wreaked on Iraq in the Gulf War. In his Bush obituary, Nick Bryant, the New York-based BBC News correspondent, brushed all this away and stuck to the standard deception of ‘mistakes were made’ in Iraq. By ‘mistakes’, Bryant meant that the US encouraged the Kurds and Shia-dominated south to revolt against Saddam Hussein, but then failed to offer sufficient backing. Under BBC ‘journalism’, Bush’s ‘mistakes’ do not include mass killing and destruction. That is simply unthinkable.

The truth is that the corporate media, the BBC very much included, do not care about the deadly effect of mass sanctions and infrastructure destruction on Iraq through the 1990s, up to the 2003 Iraq War. Unicef, the United Nations Children’s Fund, reported that 4,000 more children under five were dying every month in Iraq than would have died before Western sanctions were imposed. A total of half a million children under five died, amongst a total death toll of over one million Iraqis. There is clearly no need or desire for western corporate media to dwell on Bush Sr’s role in such horrors.

Nor do corporate journalists care about his service to death, torture, secret assassinations, and propping up of dictators in his role as head of the CIA. They do not care that, as Vice-President, Bush refused to apologise for the shooting down of Iran Air flight 655 over the Persian Gulf by the US warship Vincennes on July 3, 1988. All 290 people on board the plane were killed, including 66 children. Instead, he said callously:

I will never apologize for the United States — I don’t care what the facts are. … I’m not an apologize-for America kind of guy.

Clearly, most corporate journalists do not care that Bush shares responsibility for the multiple bloodbaths that soaked Latin America in the 1980s. They do not care that Bush was, as historian Greg Grandin notes, an ‘icon’ of ‘brutal US oppression in the Third World’. They do not care that Bush invaded Panama in 1989, in the biggest deployment of US force since the Vietnam War, ostensibly to capture former US ally Manuel Noriega on charges of drug trafficking. US planes heavily bombed populated areas, resulting in the estimated deaths of 3,000 Panamanians. Grandin says that the ‘lasting impact of the Panama invasion’ is the US wars that followed in subsequent decades. On Bush’s death, the corporate media did their job of whitewashing his blood-soaked legacy; just as they covered for his crimes when he was in power.

‘Climate Catastrophe Now Inevitable’

All this matters because the media’s veneration of Bush, and western leaders generally, is a glaring symptom of a deep truth about the corporate media: their primary function is to project a severely distorted view of world events, one that embodies state and corporate priorities rooted in power and short-term profit at any cost.

The public is perennially starved of rational facts about the real state of the planet, and the greed-driven policies that hold sway over electorates and even over global ecosystems. The appalling consequence is that we are now certainly headed for climate catastrophe. Even a few within the corporate media have started to admit as much. Science writer Robin McKie noted in the Guardian that:

Climate catastrophe is now looking inevitable.

McKie added that the US has produced around one third of the carbon dioxide responsible for global warming:

Yet it has essentially done nothing to check its annual rises in output. Lobbying by the fossil fuel industry has proved highly effective at blocking political change – a point most recently demonstrated by groups such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Heartland Institute, which helped persuade President Trump to pull out of the Paris agreement, thus dashing the planet’s last hope of ecological salvation.

He cited environmentalist Bill McKibben:

The coalition [fossil fuel lobby] used its power to slow us down precisely at the moment when we needed to speed up. As a result, the particular politics of one country for one half-century will have changed the geological history of the Earth.

Global carbon emissions reached a new high in 2018. In other words, nothing of real significance has been achieved in thirty years of supposedly trying to cut emissions – other than making the problem very much worse – and we now only have a decade to completely turn things around. The blocking effects by powerful industry lobbies and corporate-captured political ‘leaders’, hugely underreported by the corporate media, are a disaster for the human race. Stefan Rahmstorf, a senior scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, highlighted a new analysis of carbon emissions by the Carbon Research Project and said:

See how easily we could have solved the climate crisis if we had started in 2000! Only 4% reduction per year. Now we need 18% per year. You can thank climate deniers, lobby groups and cowardly politicians for this delay.

Kevin Anderson of the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Research concurred:

Spot on by [Rahmstorf]. The academic community also take some responsibility for all too often remaining quiet about completely irresponsible decisions. Just listen to the roar of complicit silence over the UK’s shale gas plans, the new oil platform, airport & road expansion.

Renowned climate scientist Michael Mann declared:

We’ve got a LOT of work to do folks. After flat-lining for 3 years, CO2 emissions have now ticked up two years straight. This is no time for climate change denying/delaying politicians. We must vote them out & elect in their place politicians who will LEAD on climate.

He added:

It is no longer enough for politicians to just say the right things about climate change. They must demonstrate a commitment to meaningful actions & specific policies aimed at rapid reductions in carbon emissions. We are now officially starting to run out of time…

Julia Steinberger, Associate Professor of Ecological Economics at the University of Leeds, put the scale of the challenge succinctly:

If people had ANY idea of the harm and loss that is coming our way with #ClimateBreakdown, they would stop driving, flying, eating meat, overheating and overconsuming pretty much instantly, and work tirelessly to build new low carbon societies.

Instead, powerful industry lobbies are working tirelessly to block the radical action that is required.

A new Met Office study shows that the UK summer heatwave this year was made thirty times more likely by the human impact on climate. Met Office scientist Peter Stott issued a deadly warning:

Humanity just won’t be able to cope with the world we are heading for.

Last year, Arctic News editor Sam Carana pointed out the dangers of methane, a highly potent global warming gas:

As the temperature of the Arctic Ocean keeps rising, it seems inevitable that more and more methane will rise from its seafloor and enter the atmosphere, at first strongly warming up the atmosphere over the Arctic Ocean itself – thus causing further methane eruptions – and eventually warming up the atmosphere across the globe.

A giant ‘burp’ of methane gas could happen suddenly and increase global temperatures rapidly. If this sounds like a scare story, Harold Wanless, Professor of Geology and a specialist in sea level rise at the University of Miami, puts it in perspective:

Scientists tend to be pretty conservative. We don’t like to scare people, and we don’t like to step out of our little predictable boxes. But I suspect the situation is going to spin out of hand pretty quickly. If you look at the history of warming periods, things can move pretty fast, and when that happens that’s when you get extinction events.

I would not discount the possibility that it could happen in the next ten years.

In summary, scientists are calling for immediate large cuts in carbon emissions. Given the normally conservative pronouncements by overly cautious experts, such warnings should stop us all in our tracks. Climate scientists are virtually screaming at those running our political and economic systems to make drastic changes now.

However, at the start of a new UN climate conference in Poland, the follow-up to the 2015 Paris summit, a BBC News article observed starkly:

The gap between what countries say they are doing and what needs to be done has never been wider.

In other words, the dangers of rapid and cataclysmic global warming are now so glaring that some degree of urgency is being communicated occasionally, very occasionally, from within the corporate media. It would hurt establishment media credibility too much in the eyes of the public were that otherwise.

Safe ‘national treasure’ David Attenborough has become more outspoken of late. He addressed the UN conference:

We’re facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years. Climate change. If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.

He told the BBC:

All over the world there are people who are suffering as a consequence [of climate change] whose voices have not been heard.

Last week, the Daily Mirror went as far as putting Attenborough’s warning on its front page:

Time Is Running Out To Save Planet

But the daily diet of ‘news’ pumped out by the major news media is still a massive distraction from the huge widespread changes in society, politics and the economy that are needed immediately. Why is the climate crisis not a vital component, perhaps even the primary component, of news reporting on the economy, business, commerce, politics, and Parliament? Why is it usually restricted to science and environment ‘stories’? For instance, how often does the BBC’s business editor, Simon Jack, address the climate crisis in his reports? Never, if our occasional sampling is indicative. Nor does he ever respond to our polite challenges to do so. The same applied to the recently departed BBC economics editor, Kamal Ahmed. This is a gross dereliction of duty by the BBC to the public who pays for it.

Are we supposed to obsess over slight changes in interest rates, currency exchange rates, the FTSE 100 index, and the size of the UK economy, even while the planet’s natural resources are plundered, ecosystems collapse, and the mass loss of species accelerates? Why are these much latter, more crucial numbers and facts about the state of the planet not routinely cited in corporate media reporting on the state of business and the economy? Perhaps we are supposed to regard the number of rivets on the Titanic a reliable measure of the ship’s robustness, even as it plummets beneath the waves.

Just consider the US news media reporting on the appalling forest wildfires in California last month. Although scientists have stated clearly that climate change is a significant factor in these catastrophic wildfires, national US television networks made the link with climate in less than four per cent of their reports on the calamity. We are not aware of any similar study of UK television coverage. But it was certainly apparent that BBC News at Ten made very little mention of the links between global warming and the Californian wildfires, just as climate was glaringly absent from its coverage of this summer’s drought in the UK.

It is true that the burgeoning grassroots movement Extinction Rebellion, and the remarkable 15-year-old Swedish climate campaigner Greta Thunberg, are not entirely absent from news coverage. But, given the stakes, their activism and their urgent messages to society as a whole would be making headlines every day in a sane media system. Extinction Rebellion are calling for peaceful mass civil disobedience to demand:

an immediate reversal of climate-toxic policies, net-zero emissions by 2025 and the establishment of a citizen’s assembly to oversee the radical changes necessary to halt global warming.

During one recent climate protest that blocked five major bridges in central London, one protester said:

We have tried marching, and lobbying, and signing petitions. Nothing has brought about the change that is needed.

Extinction Rebellion issued a stark warning:

Our aims may be ambitious. But we are striving for nothing less than the fate of our planet.

The inspiring clip that goes along with these words depicts suffragettes, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and many others pushing for positive changes in the world. Thunberg has explained in very simple and powerful terms how and why she became so motivated to do something about climate change. It happened in school at the age of nine:

They [teachers] were always talking about how we should turn off lights, save water, not throw out food. I asked why and they explained about climate change. And I thought this was very strange. If humans could really change the climate, everyone would be talking about it and people wouldn’t be talking about anything else. But this wasn’t happening.

Now, at 15, her commitment to go on school strike to devote herself to climate activism is an inspiration to many around the world, including the Extinction Rebellion movement. She has a succinct riposte to those who accuse her of neglecting her education:

Some say I should be in school. But why should any young person be made to study for a future when no one is doing enough to save that future? What is the point of learning facts when the most important facts given by the finest scientists are ignored by our politicians?

The time has passed for the public to rely on political leaders taking the right steps to tackle the climate crisis. As Thunberg said in her speech to the UN climate conference:

So we have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future. They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again. We have come here to let them know that change is coming whether they like it or not.

As ever, it is up to each one of us to ensure that this change happens.

  1. Quoted Mark Curtis, The Ambiguities of Power, Zed Books, 1995.

A Historic Opportunity To Transform Trade When We Stop NAFTA II

Donald Trump was right when he said that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has been a disaster for the United States and promised to renegotiate it when he became president. However, the renegotiated NAFTA-2 is worse than the original NAFTA and should be rejected.

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On December 1, NAFTA-2 was signed by President Trump, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nietos. This started the process of approval by the legislatures of each country.

Our movement for trade that puts people and planet first now has two synergistic opportunities: We can stop NAFTA II and replace corporate trade with a new model that raises working conditions and protects the environment.

Join our No More Rigged Corporate Trade campaign and take action now.

No NAFTA -2 from Popular Resistance

Stopping NAFTA-2

When NAFTA became law on January 1, 1994, it began a new era of trade – written by and for transnational corporations at the expense of people and planet. President George H.W. Bush failed twice to pass NAFTA. During Bush’s re-election campaign, independent Ross Perot described NAFTA as the “giant sucking sound” that would undermine the US economy.

President Clinton was able to get it through Congress. The Los Angeles Times described that vote as “a painfully divided House of Representatives” voting a 234-200 for NAFTA. A majority of Democrats 156-102 opposed NAFTA. During the debate, protesters were ejected when they showered fake $50 bills that said “trading pork for poison” from the visitors gallery.

In the 2016 election, President Trump showed he understood what the United States experienced — NAFTA was bad for the people undermining manufacturing and agriculture. People want it repealed. Unlike Hillary Clinton, Trump had his finger on the pulse of the population.

NAFTA-2 is another trade agreement designed for corporate profit. Trump trade fails to provide enforceable protections for workers or the environment. In this time of climate crisis, it does not mention climate change. It fails to protect the food supply and will result in increased cost of medicines.

Citizen’s Trade Campaign writes, there are positive labor standards “but only if currently absent enforcement mechanisms are added.” As the Labor Advisory Committee states: “Unenforced rules are not worth the paper they are written on.”

The Sierra Club reports NAFTA-2 takes a significant step backward from environmental protections included in the last four trade deals by failing to reinforce a standard set of seven Multilateral Environmental Agreements that protect everything from wetlands to sea turtles.

NAFTA-2 allows intensely-polluting oil and gas corporations involved in offshore drilling, fracking, oil and gas pipelines, refineries, or other polluting activities to challenge environmental protections in rigged corporate trade tribunals. Trump Trade preserves a NAFTA rule that prevents the US government from determining whether gas exports to Mexico are in the public interest. This creates an automatic gas export guarantee, which will increase fracking, expand cross-border gas pipelines, and increase dependency on Mexican climate-polluting gas.

Food and Water Watch summarizes:

The energy provisions will encourage more pipelines and exports of natural gas and oil that would further expand fracking in the United States and Mexico. The text also provides new avenues for polluters to challenge and try and roll back proposed environmental safeguards, cementing Trump’s pro-polluter agenda in the trade deal.

NAFTA-2 undermines food safety and health by making it more difficult to regulate and inspect foods. It limits inspections and allows food that fails to meet US safety standards to be imported. NAFTA-2 serves Monsanto and other giant agro-chemical corporations by allowing unregulated GMOs, rolling back Mexico’s regulation of GMOs, and letting chemical giants like Monsanto and Dow keep data on the risks of their pesticides secret for 10 years. NAFTA-2 is designed for agribusiness, not family farmers and consumers.

NAFTA-2 increases the cost of pharmaceutical drugs through intellectual property protections that go “significantly beyond” NAFTA. Trump’s NAFTA-2 gives pharmaceutical companies a minimum 10 years of market exclusivity for biologic drugs and protects US-based drug companies from generic competition, driving up the price of medicine at home and abroad.

All the ingredients that led to a mass movement of movements that stopped the Trans-Pacific Partnership  exist to stop NAFTA-2. Citizens Trade Campaign sent a letter signed by 1,043 organizations to Congress outlining civil society’s shared criteria for a NAFTA replacement. The requirements outlined in this letter have not been met.

Just as it became impossible across the political spectrum to support the TPP, we can make it impossible to support NAFTA-2. Democrats are signaling NAFTA-2 is not going to pass in its present form. After Robert Lighthizer met with Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi last week, she described NAFTA-2 as “just a list without real enforcement of the labor and environmental protections,” that would be unlikely to pass in its present form. We can stop NAFTA-2.

No Ne NAFTA protest, Fair Deal or No Deal from Green Watch

Defeat of NAFTA-2 Creates the Opportunity to Transform Trade

The defeat of NAFTA-2 will show that corporate trade will no longer be approved by Congress.  Trade must be transformed to uplift workers, reduce inequality, confront climate change and improve the quality of our food and healthcare. The defeat NAFTA-2 opens the space to make transforming trade a major issue in the 2020 presidential campaigns.

President Trump has signaled that he will withdraw from NAFTA to pressure Congress to ratify NAFTA-2. Trump’s threat to withdraw from NAFTA should not be feared but embraced. It will create an opportunity for trade transformation.

A smart presidential campaign will use the defeat of NAFTA-2 as an opportunity to begin a new era of trade transformed for the public good, serving the many, not the few. Politicians running for president in 2020 can put forward a vision of trade that the people will support.

Already, Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA) has taken initial steps in this direction. In a speech to American University, Warren said she opposed Trump’s NAFTA-2 agreement, challenged the bipartisan embrace of “free” trade, and called for starting “our defense of democracy by fixing” corporate trade. In discussing trade she said, “Wow. Did Washington get that one wrong.”  She described trade as delivering “one punch in the gut after another to workers…” She urged, “We need a new approach to trade, and it should begin with a simple principle: our policies should not prioritize corporate profits over American paychecks.” This is a start, if she adds the environment, climate change, healthcare, food safety, sovereignty and Internet freedom, she will put forward a vision of smart trade that will bring millions to support her.

Warren is not alone, Senator Sherrod Brown (OH), who easily won re-election in Ohio and is considering a presidential run, has been a longtime advocate for trade that lifts up workers and challenged agreements that failed to do so. Brown sent a letter to the president eight days after the 2016 election urging Trump to keep his trade promises. Brown voted against NAFTA in one of his first acts as a member of Congress in 1993 and wrote a book entitled “Myths of Free Trade: Why American Trade Policy Has Failed.”

Transforming trade, by rejecting corporate trade, creates an opportunity for candidates to turn a negative issue into a positive one. The movement needs to demand candidates put forward a new vision for 21st century trade.

Source Bilaterals.org

A Vision for Trade for People and Planet

We must put forward the vision for trade we want to see as part of the campaign to stop NAFTA-2. Trade in the 21st entury needs to confront multiple crisis issues made worse by trade designed for corporate wealth. Transformed trade needs to focus on the public interest.

Pubic interest includes shrinking inequality within the United States and between nations. It means workers having a livable wage, encouraging worker-ownership of businesses so they grow their wealth not just their incomes. Trade should strengthen the rights of workers to organize, create unions and adhere to International Labor Organization standards.

Trade should aid in preventing transnational corporations and wealthy individuals from avoiding taxes. Trade should end tax havens and require transparency, end banking abroad or locating corporate charters offshore to ensure wealthy individuals and corporations pay their taxes. Countries can negotiate a global tax collected to solve global problems like poverty, homelessness, lack of healthcare and environmental degradation.

There are numerous environmental crises that trade needs to address. Three reports, the dire October 2018 IPCC report, warning we have 12 years to transform the energy economy to prevent climate catastrophe, the November 23, 2018 4th National Climate Assessment, which warned of the serious impacts of the climate crisis and the Global Carbon Project which reported carbon emissions are at record highs, show climate change must be central to trade policies.

International trade needs to be re-formulated to protect the labor, human rights, economy, environment and domestic industry of partner and recipient nations so local industry and agriculture has the advantage over foreign corporate domination. Trade needs to guarantee people their right to public ownership and control of their own resources. Trade agreements must protect the rights of nations to establish stricter standards for health, safety, human rights and environmental protections.

Take action now to stop NAFTA-2.

The Deathly Insect Dilemma

Insect abundance is plummeting with wild abandon, worldwide! Species evolve and go extinct as part of nature’s normal course over thousands and millions of years, but the current rate of devastation is off the charts and downright scary.

Moreover, there is no quick and easy explanation for this sudden emergence of massive loss around the globe. Yet, something is dreadfully horribly wrong. Beyond doubt, it is not normal for 50%-to-90% of a species to drop dead, but that is happening right now from Germany to Australia to Puerto Rico’s tropical rainforest.

Scientists are rattled. The world is largely unaware of the implications because it is all so new. It goes without saying that the risk of loss of insects spells loss of ecosystems necessary for very important stuff, like food production.

Farmland birds that depend upon a diet of insects in Europe have disappeared by >50% in just three decades.  French farmland partridge flocks have crashed by 80%. Nightingale abundance is down by almost 80%. Turtledoves are down nearly 80%.

In Denmark (1) owls, (2) Eurasian hobbies, and (3) Bee-eaters, which subsist on large insects like beetles and dragonflies, have abruptly disappeared. Poof, gone!

Krefeld Entomological Society (est. 1905) in Germany trapped insect samples in 63 nature preserves in Europe representing nearly 17,000 sampling days (equivalent to 46.5 years). Krefeld consistently found massive declines in every kind of habitat they sampled. Up to 80% wipeouts.

As for one example, Krefeld data for hoverflies, a pollinator often mistaken for a bee, registered 17,291 hoverflies from 143 species trapped in a reserve in 1989. Twenty-five years later at the same location, 2,737 individuals from 104 species or down 84%.1

A shortage of insect pollinators in the Maoxian Valley in China has forced farmers to hire human workers at $19 per worker/per day to replace bees. Each worker pollinates 5-to-10 apple trees by hand per day.

Jack Hasenpusch of Australian Insect Farms, which collects swarms of insects, says:

“I’ve been wondering for the last few years why some of the insects have been dropping off … This year has really taken the cake with the lack of insects, it’s left me dumbfounded, I can’t figure out what’s going on.”2

According to entomologist Dr. Cameron Webb / University of Sydney, researchers around the world widely acknowledge the problem of insect decline but are at a loss to explain the causes.

Functional Extinctions

Today’s Sixth Extinction is so prevalent that scientists prefer to designate species loss as “functional extinctions,” which means functionally extinct animals and plants are still present but no longer prevalent enough to affect an ecosystem. Not only, seed dispersal and predation and pollination and other ecological functions are also lost.

“More than three-quarters of the world’s food crops rely at least in part on pollination by insects and other animals.”3

But, already some insect populations have dropped by as much as 90%, e.g.,  (1) the Monarch butterfly in North America and (2) the great yellow bumblebee in Europe.

One of the biggest drivers of decline is loss of wild flowers. Here’s the problem: Low-intensity farming of small fields lined with weeds and flowers (think: “American Gothic” by Grant Wood circa 1930) have been overrun by vast industrial crop monocultures with fields stretching to the distant horizon with not a weed or a flower in sight, which paradoxically serves as evidence that the overused maxim “the good ole days” shows true grit.

Additionally, herbicides like glyphosate (Roundup) allow industrial farming to grow perfect monocultures of crops, as everything else is wiped out. But, where does the glyphosate ultimately go? Breakfast, anyone?

The world is rapidly filling up to its brim with insecticides that are toxic to pollinators. For example, neonicotinoids (agricultural insecticides) are meant to kill specific insect pests but invariably get into plant tissue and nectar and pollen and kills insects carte blanche, across the board. Thus, ironically, farmland ecosystems are poisoned by industrial farming practices.

Neonicotinoids are a divisive issue worldwide: “The European Union today expanded a controversial ban of neonicotinoid pesticides, based on the threat they pose to pollinators. The decision pleased environmental groups and was greeted with trepidation by farming associations, which fear economic harm.”4

As of August 2018, the EPA has scheduled “planned completion” of a “Review of Neonicotinoid Pesticides” for sometime in 2019. A coalition of food safety and environmental groups delivered 219,210 public comments to EPA earlier in the year, urging the agency ban neonicotinoid pesticides, which they view as a leading cause of pollinator decline. Additionally, more than 4.4 million Avaaz members have called for a ban on neonics (Avaaz, est. 2007, is one of the world’s largest most powerful online activist networks).

“People from around the country have made it clear: The EPA must act now to save our pollinators. No matter what Scott Pruitt’s industry friends say, this is a problem we can’t ignore. The health of our food system depends on it,” said U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).5

“Neonics are 5,000 to 10,000 times more toxic than DDT,” according to Jean-Marc Bonmatinof of The National Centre for Scientific Research in France.”6

Rachel Carson (Silent Spring, 1962) would be horrified. As far back as the ’60s she warned about indiscriminate use of pesticides and accused the chemical industry of disinformation, and she scolded public officials for accepting the chemical industry’s claims; ultimately, her efforts led to a nationwide ban on DDT and inspiration for creation of the EPA. (The ban on DDT saved America’s national bird since 1782, the bald eagle.)

Similar to concerns about use of synthetic pesticides, sensitivity of insects to global warming has only recently been exposed in new studies published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showing alarming losses of insects in pristine tropical rainforests over a multi-decade study that has rocked the science world.

Over that same 40-year time period, the average high temperature in the rainforest increased by 4 degrees Fahrenheit. Which negatively impacts insects because after a certain thermal threshold insects will no longer lay eggs, and their internal chemistry breaks down.

“Without insects and other land-based arthropods, EO Wilson, the renowned Harvard entomologist, and inventor of sociobiology, estimates that humanity would last all of a few months.”6

Well then, the number of insects still out there qualifies as one of the most puzzling questions of the 21st century.

Postscript:

Our planet is now in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals — the sixth wave of extinctions in the past half-billion years. We’re currently experiencing the worst spate of species die-offs since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Although extinction is a natural phenomenon, it occurs at a natural “background” rate of about one to five species per year. Scientists estimate we’re now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate, with literally dozens going extinct every day.

— The Extinction Crisis, Center for Biological Diversity

Whew!

  1. Gretchen Vogel, “Where Have All The Insects Gone?” Science Magazine, May 10, 2017.
  2. Mark Rigby, “Insect Population Decline Leaves Australian Scientists Scratching For Solutions”, ABC Far North, February 23, 2018.
  3. Pollinators Vital to Our Food Supply Under Threat, FAO/UN).
  4. “European Union Expands Ban of Three Neonicotinoid Pesticides, Science Magazine”, April 27, 2018.
  5. Environment America, News Release, “219,210 Americans Call on EPA to Ban Bee-Killing Pesticides”, April 21, 2018.
  6. Ibid.

Journey into Obsolescence: The Adani Carmichael Project

The Carmichael mine being pursued in the Galilee Basin in Central Queensland is a dinosaur before its creation.  On paper, it is hefty – to be some five times the size of Sydney harbour, the largest in Australia and one of the largest on the planet.  Six open cut and five underground mines covering some 30 kilometres are proposed, a gargantuan epic.  The coal itself would be transported through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and World Heritage Area, and would feature a rail line subsidised by the money of Australian taxpayers.

Even before the initial steps are taken, its realisation is doomed to obsolescent indulgence and environmental wearing.  It has been endorsed by a bribed political class best represented by Liberal senator Matt Canavan, who sees Adani through tinted glasses as a “little Aussie batter”; it is run by an unelected plutocratic one.  This venture has seen Australian politicians, protoplasmic and spineless, do deals with a company run by a billionaire in a way that sneers at democracy and mocks the common citizenry.

The Adani group, run by its persistent Chairman Gautam Adani, has worked out what political figures want to hear and how far it can go, even in the face of mounting opposition.  His closeness to the halls of power has been noted: influential be he who has the ear of the Indian Prime Minister, Nahendra Modi.

How divisive the Carmichael project is between Australia’s morally flexible politicians and a growing body of disaffected citizenry can be gathered from the open letter to the Adani Group from some 90 notable Australians that was submitted in the first part of last year.  The list was impressively eclectic: authors such as Richard Flanagan and Tim Winton; investment banker Mark Burrows; and former Australian test cricket captains Ian and Greg Chappell.  (“The thought,” Ian Chappell ruefully, “that this could affect the relationship, hopefully that’ll get through.”)

The text of the note was simple enough.  “We are writing to respectfully ask you to abandon the Adani Group’s proposal in Queensland’s Galilee Basin… Pollution from burning coal was the single biggest driver of global warming, threatening life in Australia, India and all over the world.”

That same year, the British medical journal The Lancet deemed the Adani mine project a “public health disaster” though Australian authorities remain indifferent to recommendations that independent health assessments be conducted on the impact of the mine.

In very tangible ways, air pollution arising from the burning of coal is a global killer.  Australia’s menacing own contribution to this casualty list comes in at around three thousand a year; in India, the list, according to a 2013 study by the Mumbai-based Conservation Action Trust, is an eye-popping 115,000. “I didn’t expect the mortality figures per year,” remarked Debi Goenka, executive trustee of the Conservation Action Trust, “to be so high.”

The trends in energy generation and resources are against fossil fuels, and even the banks have heeded this, refusing to supply a credit line to the company.  But Adani knows a gullible audience when he sees one.  Like a sadhu aware of a westerner’s amenability to mysticism, the chairman and his worthies say the right things, and encourage the appropriate response from the ruling classes they are wooing.  The company feeds them the fodder and rose water they wish to hear, and massages them into appreciative stances. The campaign by the Indian company has been so comprehensive as to include decision makers from every level of government that might be connected with the mine.

Adani, not to be deterred by delays of some six years, has suggested that it will pursue a different model, though this remains vague.  Extravagance is being reined in, supposedly trimmed and slimmed: targets will be cut by three-quarters, and the company has now promised to finance the project itself.  “We will now,” claimed Adani Mining CEO Lucas Dow this week, “be developing a smaller open-cut mine comparable to many other Queensland coal mines and will ramp up production over time.”

Nothing this company says should ever be taken at face value.  Exaggeration and myth making is central to its platform.  Slyly, the company’s Australian operation is also given a deceptive wrapping; a visit to the company’s website will see information on Adani’s efforts to “become the leading supplier of renewable energy in Australia.”

Dow has become a missionary of sorts, repeatedly telling Queenslanders that the project can only mean jobs, and more jobs.  Astrological projections more in league with tarot card reading are used.  Last November, Dow, in a media statement, was brimming with optimism over those “indirect jobs” that would be created in Rockhampton, Townsville, Mackay and the Isaac region.  “Economic modelling, such as that used by the Queensland Resources Council in its annual resources industry economic impact report, show that each direct job in the industry in Queensland supports another four and a half jobs in related industries and businesses, therefore we can expect to see more than 7,000 jobs created by the initial ramp up of the Carmichael project.”

Not merely does the Carmichael mine smack of a crude obsolescence before the first lumps of coal are mined; it is bound to take a wrecking ball to any emissions reduction strategy Australia might intend pursuing.  (Matters are already half-hearted as they are in Canberra, poisoned by a fractious energy lobby and ill-gotten gains stakeholders.)  Professor Andrew Stock of the Climate Council has explained that once coal begins being burned, Australia’s “total emissions” are set to double, nothing less than an act of “environmental vandalism”.  Work on the mine will also contribute to such despoliation: the clearing of 20,200 hectares of land will add to the climate chance quotient; the Great Artesian Basin’s groundwater system will also be affected.

Another graphic projection is also being suggested.  For the duration of its projected 60 year lifespan, as epidemiologist Fiona Stanley reminds us, Adani’s venture will produce as much carbon as all of Australia’s current coal fired power stations combined.  All this, even as the Indian state promises to phase out thermal coal imports, rendering the Adani coal project a white, if vandalising, elephant.  The only difference now is that the elephant proposed is somewhat smaller in scale and size.

Come the (Green) Revolution, Please!

The Green Party of England and Wales is extraordinary. Whilst I’ve no idea whether it’s very different to other Green Parties around the world, it is totally different to any other large political organisation in Britain. Full disclosure: I’m a member of the Greens, so obviously I have some partisan interest. Nevertheless, I think I can prove beyond reasonable doubt that it is extraordinary.

Arguably the single most important extraordinary feature about it, compared with other large political parties in Britain, is that it has a written set of guiding principles, together with a multitude of written policies that it claims it would implement in the event of a Green government coming to power. This body of work, titled “Policies for a Sustainable Society” (PSS), is wholly controlled by the membership, and cannot be altered on the whim of its leaders. This alone sets the party aside from the Labour Party, for example, which has the biggest membership in the country, but no equivalent of the Greens’ PSS.

I couldn’t believe this when I was briefly a member of Labour – the fact that it has no written core principles. All it has is whatever the last election manifesto was. The shallowness of this situation is obvious: Labour “principles” are determined by a handful of people just prior to an election, and are wholly dependent on those few people. That’s why its leaders often refer to it as a “broad church”, suggesting that no matter what your political beliefs are, Labour will welcome you with open arms. It’s also why two people as ideologically far apart as Tony Blair and Jeremy Corbyn, for example, can somehow lead the same party – and preside over the preparation of two totally different election manifestos, and hence two totally different, and opposing sets of principles.

So the mere existence of the Greens’ PSS, making the party fairly impervious to the weaknesses and fallibility of leaders, is truly exceptional. It creates a party where written verifiable ideology trumps vague and vulnerable personality cults. But that’s just the start. The actual contents of the PSS are nothing short of breathtaking.

I recently completed a short summary of the PSS. It’s about twenty thousand words long, and I reckon it has only about 10% of the detail. I did it because the PSS is such a large piece of work that I’m sure most GP members probably haven’t read it, and therefore possibly don’t understand the full extent of the beauty of their own party. And “beauty” is the right word for it, because what it describes is a world that’s so completely different to the one we know, and so infinitely better, that it is indeed a beautiful creation. Far from being something of an ordeal to pore over a detailed political ideology, I found myself savouring what I was doing, frequently smiling, feeling uplifted, and thinking this is exactly the sort of world I want to live in.

The PSS opens with two short sections that in my summary I’ve called the “key facts”. The very first words state that:

The Green Party isn’t just another political party. Green politics is a new and radical kind of politics.

Ten Core Principles follow, summarising the Greens’ commitment to rescuing our dying planet, pacifism, economic justice for all, and constitutional reform based on direct democracy.

Next comes a slightly longer section about the Greens’ Philosophical Basis, which obviously supports their Core Principles, but with a little more detail, such as:

A system based on inequality and exploitation is threatening the future of the planet on which we depend, and encouraging reckless and environmentally damaging consumerism. A world based on cooperation and democracy would prioritise the many, not the few, and would not risk the planet’s future with environmental destruction and unsustainable consumption.

It’s interesting to note that the slogan the Labour Party used so successfully in last year’s elections, “For the many, not the few”, is remarkably similar to what the Greens have been saying for many years.

Those ten Core Principles, and the couple of dozen points in the Philosophical Basis, run like a golden thread linking every one of the hundreds of sections that comprise the full PSS.

Constitutional Reform

Arguably the most significant section of the Greens’ policies are those around constitutional reform, because what the Greens propose is not just a change of actors performing the same play on the same stage – which is the only purpose of most general elections – but a major reformation of the way politics works in Britain. Take, for example, two of the opening principles in the section on Public Administration and Government:

Britain still has many of the elements of its feudal past, including some remnants of the royal prerogative. We believe that the basic principle of Government should be the reverse of this, that is that power flows upwards from the people, and from their most local levels of Government to the higher levels…

All decision-making and action throughout all levels of government, including international government, shall be governed by the principle of subsidiarity: namely that nothing should be done centrally if it can be done equally well, or better, locally…

The highest form of democracy is direct participation.

To help achieve this the Greens further propose:

The basis for a decentralised society and the establishment of a Bill of Rights must be laid out in a clear and accessible written constitution.

This is no trivial point for a country that has never had a written constitution, and a country which, although no longer the global power it once was, is still a significant player on the world stage. But the Greens are not proposing just any old constitution that just perpetuates the ancient and very corrupt status quo:

A written constitution will describe a new system of government based on direct democracy and Green values…

Elections will be decided by proportional representation…

The City of London Corporation to be abolished, together with its institutions and all the special rights and privileges it has, to be replaced by administration similar to the rest of London…

Monarchy shall cease to be an office of government, and hereditary peers will not have hereditary rights to sit in Parliament…

The Church of England shall be disestablished and will have no role in the government of the UK…

Those few words propose unbelievably seismic changes for Britain. If they were carried out Britain would cease to be controlled by the corrupt and tyrannical elites that have not only oppressed British people for centuries, but also hundreds of millions of people around the world. For the first time in its history Britain would become a real democracy. But that’s just the start.

The Greens do not yet have, in my view, very strong policies regarding public information services, and this issue would have to be addressed in any written constitution. Good and trustworthy information is absolutely essential to the proper functioning of direct democracy; and it should be the responsibility of, firstly, the education system, and secondly, a state public information service to ensure good information is provided.

Green Britain

The Greens are, first and foremost, about protecting and improving the environment, and rescuing and restoring to full health our planet’s fragile and rapidly dying ecosystems. This principle underpins, explains and justifies every one of the hundreds of policies that comprise the PSS. In other words, there isn’t a separate section about “The Environment”; the whole thing is about the environment and the planet’s non-humans, and the way human beings could and should interact with them. Take, for example, the section on Animal Rights:

The prevailing assumption that animals can be used for any purpose that benefits humankind is not acceptable in a Green society…

To eliminate the wholesale exploitation of other species, foster understanding of our inter-relationship in the web of life and protect and promote natural habitat…

Other sections are designed with the environment at heart. Take the section on Transport, for example, which includes:

The Green Party believes that some of the greatest damage to local communities and the environment has been done by the transfer of freight carriage from water and rail to road and air, and the increasing size of road vehicles used. The Green Party’s aim will be to reverse this trend by:

(a)  Reducing the need for freight movement by the implementation of policies to alter the current culture of over consumption.

(b)  Promoting the provision of products from local sources;

(c)  Using financial incentives to bring large-scale freight carriage back onto water and rail.

(d)  Local or regional authorities planning freight movement within their areas on the principle of small-scale delivery vehicles servicing from rail and waterside depots.

(e)  Establish facilities for inter-modal freight movement, such as rail depots and waterside wharves.

Or Housing…

Building regulations to be changed to reflect the needs of a green society and green economy. Local authorities to have the means to properly police the regulations…

Or Education…

All schools to provide environmental education through academic and practical work. Schools to practice high standards of environmental welfare…

Or Industry…

The development of a sustainable zero carbon industrial infrastructure as a basis for a sustainable zero carbon society. This will free the UK economy from a reliance on endless growth in the production of commodities and financial transactions…

The Green Economy

One of the most important (and longest) sections in the PSS is The Economy. Unsurprisingly, the health of the environment assumes primary importance:

To conserve natural planetary resources and to maintain the integrity of natural life-sustaining cycles; to regenerate areas made waste and take steps to avoid further ecological disaster; to reduce demand for energy and raw materials; to favour low energy non-polluting processes based on renewable resources…

British Greens are sometimes referred to as watermelons – green on the outside, and red in the middle. A quick glance through The Economy section soon explains why:

To devolve economic power to the lowest appropriate level, thereby rendering participants in the economy at all levels less vulnerable to the damaging effects of economic decisions made elsewhere and over which they have no control…

To liberate and empower all sections of society to meet their needs as far as possible from their own resources through activities which are socially enhancing; to encourage all to contribute to society according to their abilities, recognising as they do so, responsibility for themselves, for others, for future generations and for the planet…

Appropriate national public expenditure will be necessary for the regeneration of the supply side of the economy to achieve the green objectives. Extensive investment is required to repair the damaged natural environment; to restore infrastructure; and to develop re-skilling and retraining in socially and environmentally-friendly production and services…

As for the big and very obvious question: where would all the money come from? The Greens have some fine answers. Obviously, given the scandalous tax evasion by the super-rich that’s been going on for centuries, there is need for considerable tax reform, and Green taxation policies do propose doing that. However, of far greater importance is a total overhaul of monetary policy, and that section in the PSS is several times larger than the section on taxation. For example:

The existing banking system has failed and is no longer fit for purpose. The Green Party believes that the power to create money must be removed from private banks. The supply of our national currency must be fully restored to democratic and public control so that it can be issued free of debt and directed to environmentally and socially beneficial areas such as renewable energy, social housing, or support for community businesses…

Of course, you have to allow for slight inaccuracies – like in the above wording, “our national currency must be fully restored to democratic and public control” – which obviously wrongly suggests that at some time in the past our currency once had democratic and public control. But such small slips aside, this is a proposal that’s every bit as seismic to the British economy as scrapping the monarchy, hereditary peers in the House of Lords, and political power of the Church of England is to the so-called English constitution.

There are a few other economic policies which at first glance might seem quite trivial, but which are, in fact, highly significant, such as:

The Green Party would replace conventional [economic] indicators with those that measure progress towards sustainability, equity and devolution…

This is, once again, revolutionary stuff. The global economic system is based entirely on a system of measurements designed by, and for, the super-rich. It’s interested only in profits for the super-rich. The costs of those profits in terms of human misery, animal suffering, and environmental catastrophe, are entirely irrelevant. Changing the way economies are measured to not only take those factors into account but to prioritise them above the profits of the super-rich is Earth-shaking stuff.

The Bigger Picture

There’s only so much a country can do by itself. Sooner or later it has to co-operate with others in order to achieve mutually desirable results. Even if the Green Party managed to turn Britain into the greenest, happiest, and most self-sufficient country in the world it would be pretty ineffective if the rest of the planet continued along its man-made road to disaster. So the Greens are also committed internationalists, striving to help other countries make the essential changes they’re also going to need in the very near future.

To this end the PSS spells out its policies in its International section, and in the section on Peace and Defence. Unsurprisingly, some of these policies are nothing less than revolutionary:

The Green vision also involves a fundamental restructuring of the global economy to reverse the unsustainable trend of globalisation (i.e. ever increasing trade between ever distant nations with the primary goal of maximising profit) and a democratisation of the systems of global governance…

The United Nations should be reformed and democratised. The current national basis for membership should be extended to include regional (sub-national) representation and all representatives should be democratically selected. The WTO, International Monetary Fund, World Bank and similar bodies should also be reformed, democratised, or replaced…

To support the establishment and maintenance of ecologically sustainable and democratic communities throughout the world, and progress towards a world in which all people are equal in both their economic potential and their political rights…

The nature of conflict in the twenty-first century is highly complex, involving state and non-state participants at every level. Much international conflict today arises directly or indirectly from the abuse of power by rich Northern nations…

The United Kingdom has not been under significant threat of armed invasion since 1941 and such an event is unlikely to occur in the foreseeable future…

“Defence” is the protection of homeland against attack and does not justify pre-emptive strikes against nations and organisations. Military intervention for peacekeeping or conflict prevention cannot be justified unilaterally. It is irrational and immoral [and often illegal] to continue activities that exacerbate threats to international and local security…

The defence budget needs to be adequate to ensure security, but no more so…

The Green Party is committed to pursuing immediate and unconditional nuclear disarmament…

Green defence policy will be consistent with international law and the UN Charter.

The (vegan) buttering of parsnips

There’s an old saying that goes “fine words butter no parsnips”. This makes the vital point that there’s a world of difference between words and deeds. The history of politics is nothing if not a very long and depressing saga of false hopes and broken promises. It’s one thing for the Green Party to have all these wonderful world-changing ideas, making them reality is something else entirely.

To me, the answer is very simple. Write a draft constitution based almost entirely on the Greens’ PSS, and from then on, in every single election campaign, promise to pass that constitution into law within the first six months of a Green government coming to power. (Failure to do so would constitute a breach of promise to the electorate and require the Greens to quit office.) Ensure that the constitution is the supreme law which supersedes all other laws and renders invalid any conflicting law. Build into the constitution the sovereignty of the people, so that only the people can change the constitution – not some new and reactionary future government. Concern that such an action would be undemocratic is groundless: if the Greens openly campaigned for constitutional change and won a general election on the basis of that campaign, it would obviously be the democratic choice of the people to implement it.

I do not see any realistic alternative to this method. If the Greens were to try to introduce their policies piecemeal and individually they would either be quickly defeated by their rich and powerful opponents; or the partial changes would not be able to function alongside existing systems, and hence render them apparent failures; or they would simply run out of time. We are living through the sixth mass extinction of species – unique amongst previous extinctions in that this one was entirely man-made and was largely preventable. We are long past the point of “doing something before it’s too late”. Too late came and went some years ago; we’re now in the business of crisis control and damage limitation. The time is not very far away when no matter what we do it will be in vain. Like Easter Island, our fragile planet is rapidly becoming uninhabitable, solely because of human beings.

As an anarchist I’m not much of a fan of political parties. But what should an anarchist do if a political party comes along which promotes anarchist values? I’ve waded through almost every one of the Green Party’s hundreds of policies. There are some that I’m pretty indifferent to – like Citizen’s Income, for example – but not a single one that I strongly disagree with. Individual anarchists are not going to change the world for the better, but the Green Party just might.

Tampa Bay Rebellion

If the constant hurricanes and wildfires didn’t get your attention, the scientific bombshell should have.  In October the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report, Global Warming of 1.5 °C.  The panel is a UN body of thousands of scientists that analyses all the latest scientific papers to draw conclusions.  They found that in order to have a decent chance of avoiding the runaway climate change found above 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, we must aim to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 45% by 2030 (based on 2010 levels), and then reach zero emissions by the middle of this century.

These numbers, and the scale of challenge they represent, horrified many people.  But I haven’t seen much reporting on what it means for specific countries. The United States emits higher levels of greenhouse gases per person than most nations, so the cuts must necessarily be even deeper.  I invite more statistical minds to improve on them, but according to my rough calculations based on population size and global emissions share (neither of which has changed drastically since 2010), in order to do its fair part the United States must cut emissions by around 85% in the next twelve years.

The IPCC’s recommendations are buttressed by calls for a global 20% cut in material consumption levels, dropping coal use by around two thirds, oil in half, and natural gas by a third, all by 2030.  Again, all of these targets will need to be higher in wealthy, high consumption countries.  Look at the figures and ask yourself if the IPCC, scientists with an inclination to say nothing they can’t prove, are appealing for anything other than the bare minimum of what they think might be necessary.  We need to aim higher than these goals to have a chance of at least meeting them.

It is on the basis of all this that on October 31st, over one thousand people in the United Kingdom launched a giant campaign of non-violent direct action in Parliament Square.  Under the name Extinction Rebellion, they are demanding that the government declare a state of emergency over climate breakdown, enact legally binding “wartime mobilisation” policies to get the country to net zero emissions by 2025, and for the building of citizen’s assemblies to oversee the transition.  Roadblocks and actions have continued throughout November with the involvement of thousands more.  The May government is accused, among other infractions, of overriding democracy by ramming through unpopular fracking and airport expansion measures.

An International Declaration of Rebellion invites people of other nations to join them leading up to a coordinated action day on April 19th.  The same week as the Parliament Square event, thousands of people in western Germany protested and blocked a coal train to try and stop the further expansion of a lignite mine into a 12,000-year-old forest.  On December 2nd there will be a launch event for Extinction Rebellion US in Washington D.C.  Groups are preparing under the banner in Canada, Sweden, New Zealand and many other countries and cities.  The call for international rebellion is building on fertile ground.

There are numerous reasons why you may not have heard about these protests, the most obvious being the drama of the midterm elections.  We should care about who is put in office. The Trump administration’s assault on the environment is representative of an increasingly desperate fossil fuel industry.  But when it comes to climate change, we haven’t the luxury of obsessing over it, as the click-dependent media that helped to put him in power would have us do. If our movements are strong, worthy politicians will seek to follow them.  Largely independent of Trump, plans are in the dirty pipeline to expand two major sources of greenhouse gases in Tampa Bay, and they have so far been met with almost no opposition. Nothing makes the people destroying our environment happier than silence.

Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach is the only coal burning plant located around Tampa Bay, and is one of the largest in the state.  Operator Tampa Electric (TECO) sent out a customer letter in May of this year detailing their hopes for modernisation.  The plan is to retire one antiquated coal-and-gas-fired unit and convert another to a modern natural gas unit (two primarily coal-fired units would remain in use).  It sounds like progress. This conversion, however, is gambling on the long-term continuation of the American fracking boom and all of its associated problems (fracked wells now provide two thirds of U.S. natural gas production).  The Trump government has spent the last two years trying to remove rules that oblige oil and gas companies to at least try to plug methane leaks, rather than letting it vent into the atmosphere, and those attempts can be expected to continue.  Because methane is some 86 times more potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide, fracked gas is arguably just as bad for the climate as coal, if not worse.  This proposal is not progress at all.

If we believe fracking is unsuitable for Florida, it’s hard to see why we should financially support it happening in other places.  Tampa Electric says the project, if implemented, will cost $1 billion, take ten years to finish, and should be expected to last thirty-five or forty.  These numbers should set alarm bells off in the heads of all climate activists considering the small window of time we have left.  Are we going to let them expend all this money and effort to make a one-time conversion that will make no discernable difference to electricity emissions?

The company has made much of its investments in solar, including one project at Big Bend itself, which they brag is the biggest in Tampa Bay.  The array produces 23 megawatts (MW) of electricity, or approximately 1.35% of the amount currently produced at the fossil power station.  Other projects are expected to bring their total solar to 600 MW, or 7% of their total generation, by 2023.  But sunny Florida ranks a sad 8th in total solar generation nationwide, with California producing over ten times our capacity and powering 17% of their grid.  TECO has the means to expand these solar plans rapidly rather than give a money stream to the fracking industry, and that’s where the majority of the $1 billion budget should be going (aside from the decommissioning costs of the coal units).

This investment is even worse when you consider that natural gas, whether fracked or not, is now in direct competition with renewables to replace coal, and TECO’s current funding of solar amounts to a mere $50 million.  In the decade leading up to 2016 their profits almost doubled to $250 million.  CEO Nancy Tower earned $1.5 million last year, while CEO of parent company Emera, Robert Bennett, earned almost $2.2 million.  All that matters in judging a proposal in terms of climate change is whether it lines up with the goals of the IPCC report, not whatever positive framing a company might use to present it to the public.  Construction is expected to begin in June 2019.

When it comes to the various failures of the big green NGOs in this country, nothing stands out like their disregarding of the climate change impacts of aviation.  Going on a flight is the most damaging climate choice that an individual can make. A fully-booked return trip from London to New York produces around 1.2 tonnes of CO2 per person (with the average American carbon footprint being about 19 tonnes a year).  Planes use vast amounts of kerosene over vast distances, with a global warming effect that is, according to the IPCC, around 2.7 times higher than the carbon emissions they produce (due partially to the height at which planes operate).  While aviation currently accounts for about 5% of global warming, it is also the fastest growing sector, at a time when other industries are at the very least under pressure to shrink their emissions.  The 20,000 planes in the air today are projected, under a business as usual scenario, to number 50,000 by as soon as 2040.  The EU predicts that if this exception continues to be made for aviation its share of global CO2 output could be 22% by 2050.

The ballooning of the sector hugely outstrips all slight improvements in fuel efficiency, as most of the significant gains on this front have already been made.  Alternative fuels (like hydrogen) and tech designs (like solar planes) remain little more than public relations stunts  Even if such routes were feasible, planes are expensive, so airlines keep them in service for decades, and are not likely to retire them early and build new ones without massive political pressure.  Until a pathetic voluntary offset deal was struck in 2016, aviation was routinely ignored by national and international climate treaties because governments didn’t want to admit a simple fact: the only way to get a large cut in airline emissions is a large cut in the number of flights.  Despite American driving habits, flying already makes up 12% of all transport emissions nationally (it’s not clear how, or if, this number includes international flights).

With this information in mind, it’s possible that what is slated to happen at Tampa International Airport is even worse than what is happening at Big Bend  The publicly owned airport has already spent a billion dollars on part one of a three phase plan, and intends to spend another billion.  It involves turning the airport into what some have called a “mini-city“, complete with offices, retailers, hotels, restaurants, and a giant car rental centre, with phase two expected to begin in late 2019.  More alarmingly, the final phase of the project is designed to expand capacity from the 19.6 million passengers of 2017, to accommodate 34 million in the coming years as demand grows.  This is classic expansionist spin: by building the extra gates and capacity, the airport is helping to stoke the increase in demand.

“It’s critical that we keep this airport up to date and support this kind of growth for the next twenty to thirty years,” Hillsborough County Aviation Authority chair Robert Watkins said in February.  I’m sure it will seem like a wonderful investment when Tampa is hit by a seventeen foot storm surge that puts the runways underwater.  In a world where oil consumption must be cut in half within twelve years, is it logical or fair to allow an airport to almost double its emissions?  Or should all that effort perhaps go into alternative modes of travel? If you’re currently objecting that our economy is highly dependent on flights from tourists, seasonal visitors and retirees, you are correct, and should be very angry at business people and politicians who for decades have argued that this is a sustainable model.  Luckily, CEO Joe Lopano (projected compensation for this year: $625,000, one of the highest paid airport CEOs in the country) has another plan, which is to have Tampa International achieve carbon neutral status.  There’s just one problem: it only includes emissions from planes when they’re within the perimeter of the friggin’ airport.

Given the almost complete lack of dissenting voices against these projects from either the press or local environmentalists (with the quiet exception of Sierra Club), direct action that causes disruption and draws attention is the only tactic that is going to drag them into public consciousness in anything like the speed that is necessary.  These actions would be demanding and potentially dangerous. Last summer five workers were burned to death at Big Bend whilst trying to clean underneath an active boiler.  Airports are terrifying places to contemplate breaking the law.  But climate activists managed interventions against runway expansions at Heathrow Airport and other UK airports in the years immediately following the attacks on the London Underground, and the introduction of the “liquids as bombs” terrorism approach that annoys fliers to this day.  The U.S., with its paranoid and highly armed security apparatus, offers more challenges. But like all the others, we must overcome or subvert them.

The Extinction Rebellion protests are aimed primarily at political targets in capital cities.  Aside from the issue of geographic barriers that we face from way down here, actions against actual emission points are still important, and can supplement and build momentum for the general idea of the non-violent uprising (and we can, of course, find worthy structural targets closer to home should we so choose).  If we don’t oppose these plans that go full throttle in the wrong direction, and oppose them hard, they will make a mockery of any commitments our region makes — in the present or future — to 100% renewable energy. Climate change work that focuses on what we build at the expense of what we close down is missing the fundamental point.

Individuals can only choose honestly for themselves, but we must be brutally honest about what is a reason for holding back and what is an excuse.  As a childless, partially youthful white male, I have certain advantages when it comes to confrontational protest. But I’m also a green card holder in an age where even green card holders and American citizens are not safe from deportation, and it seems as if almost anything can happen.  I’m still more afraid of climate change than I am of the government. The chances are good that you also have room to maneuver in assisting with such actions.  As ever, we need supporters, such as legal experts, child care givers, drivers, writers, medics and mental health experts, cooks, artists and funders.  That means we need you.

This is a call to all the good people who support local businesses, care about plastic and straw pollution, voted to ban offshore oil drilling and expand transit spending in Hillsborough, decry the red tide and go on climate change demonstrations  Now or never is the time for commitment and sacrifice. In my article on the Rise Up Climate march in St. Petersburg in September, I raised questions about whether it was worth our finite efforts to force a transition in a part of the world that is incredibly vulnerable to already locked-in climate change.  I still think that is an important discussion. But whether we remain here or not, there is now no doubt that we have a responsibility to suffocate major sources of greenhouse gas emissions on our doorsteps. If we fail to see any developments on this front, if the community appears to have insufficient will to survive, it will only become worthy of abandonment in another sense.  Tampa Bay is heading for extinction. The architects of that extinction are banking on our indifference. Are you ready to rebel?

• The Extinction Rebellion Tampa Bay planning page can be found here. The first meeting will be in the next few weeks.

Capitalism, Empire, and the Infernal Gloom Machine

Depression is built into this machine and the evidence is plastered on the morose faces of people caught in the clutches of its business as usual activities. Depression is found in the insurmountable debts we owe for spending a lifetime of preparation and labor to serve the machine. In addition to debt, the machine awards us for our servitude with trinkets, gadgets, doodads and gizmos that provide a moment of hollow amusement and then sit on shelves in garages and decay. They represent the planned obsolescence of the human heart. The sacrifice paid for our fetish with materialism is the actual quality of our lives.

The gloom machine tells us the quality of our lives is defined by the machine in the driveway, and the machine that flushes away our excrement, and the machine that chills the tortured slaughtered animal flesh for later consumption, and the machine that flashes pornographic images and supplies numbers detailing how much we are liked by our so called friends. But to us humans it seems that quality of life is more appropriately measured in the amount of disposable time we have to pursue that which we want, and the quality of the community around us, and living without being chronically stressed with threats of being displaced from the land upon which we live for not working hard enough for the machine.

Depression is waking up at 6 in the morning in darkness to sit in traffic for an hour to arrive at a job that we don’t want to be at, only to serve the machinations of people with nothing but greed in their overstuffed bellies. And we go to these jobs so that we can pay rents that are unaffordable, and to service debt we’ll never escape, and we go home in darkness to our lonely lives in places where community is absent with a view of an equally lonely tree or a man-made retention pond which is an upgrade over the view of staring directly at your neighbor’s domicile. Depression is the realization there is no vacation on the horizon, no respite, just more of the same. Depression is knowing that such a life is better than many others have it.

Depression is recognizing the cynics were right about this society, that Cohen spoke truth when he sullenly moaned:

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

Depression is watching art die. The surrealist, the bohemian, the rock ’n roll, and the anti-authoritarian soul has lain down and pledged fealty to the dollar. For money, they’re now all willing to become ready made predictable cubes to be packaged and sold in plastic wrap placed in cleverly designed boxes which deliver to the depressed public what they want, more of something that’s pretty on the outside and vacant within. We are left with monthly subscriptions of more tales of self aggrandizement for the throngs of temporarily embarrassed millionaires.

Depression is watching the worst of us rise to legitimacy and awarded iniquitous riches for it. The popular is depressive, musical hack Cardi B sings about her money money money and she is loved. Jordan Peterson sells cheap self help stolen from better written material decades ago amalgamated with misogyny and dictates of hierarchal subjugation and becomes wildly popular. Trump purveys hatred of people of color and a love of authoritarianism and the depressive people, oh do they eat it up. This is sickness, depressive sickness.

Depression is acceptance of the violent now. The grossly unhappy men with their armaments spread their gloom and horror across the planet and claim righteousness for doing so. Depression is watching society applaud murderous hearts for their crimes who don badges and camouflage and have holidays to celebrate their violent history, while villains are made of those who simply don’t want to stand up for songs of oppression. Thank you for your service to the machine.

Depression is watching notions of resistance and revolution take form in slightly altered subservience. The great reformation desired now is for a “green new deal” that doesn’t come close to mitigating the impending culling of humanity from soon to be ecological catastrophes. Their plans offer only more endless work at the behest of the gloom machine while promising healthcare that will never happen, less debt it will also never deliver, and affordable housing that still won’t solve homelessness. They don’t want to break the machine, just tweak it, and they lack the ability to do that even. Never have I borne witness to such eager slaves and such depressive aspirations. The people seem to adore their cubicle lives, their environmental destruction, their corporations, their debts, their corrupt leaders, their prisons, their banks, and their taxes.

They want to continue to be put to work under the thumb of the status quo western civilization authoritarian mind and this is all the depressed mentally dominated masses can think of as a possible improvement. Instead of wanting to taste real liberty and be actual equals, their dreams are limited to being better treated servants. The gloom machine chugs along fueled with dimwitted ideas sold by boxed-in thinkers without any possibility of escaping the darkness, rather simply offering a more cushy seat for viewing the end of everything.

The machine bellows out demanding more, more, you owe me more, and somehow those wearing red, white, and blue agree and celebrate the demands of the machine. These debts we owe are servitude. The numbers held in digital machines are immoral which demand one must wake up to a dreary existence to do more of what is killing our souls along with the flora and fauna around us.

Depression is the downtrodden plebs who celebrate their corrupt democracy, which is in reality a thinly veiled oligarchy that should be obvious to all. They prop up a system of voting that allows the election of the presidency, a position that shouldn’t exist in the first place in an egalitarian society, to be awarded to candidates who don’t capture the most votes. What little democracy there is in a representative system is lost in totality when the winner of elections need not win the majority of votes. The gloom machine is straight up tyranny.

A non-depressed society would reject being served faux democracy. They’d reject a system absent of reason or compassion and disdain would be for ideas of continuing to support such a destructive way of being. But instead, within the gloom machine shame is reserved for those who don’t want to take part in the busted system, and it venerates those who cast votes for imperialist conquerers and planet destroyers, and those voters are lauded as doing their civic duty for taking part in open public corruption.

Depression is the insincere know it all crowd who are incapable of honest debate and have rarely endeavored to open a book of substance or engage in critical thought, but they know trivialities which they mistake as facts and wisdom. They know arrogance well and emanate it with aplomb. They know how to believe all they see in the corporatized media, but thinking without boundaries or limitations is beyond their capacity. This is not even depression, this is tragedy.

Depression is watching the trees be plowed down for more tract housing, a portion of which will sit empty for years because no one can afford to move there, and even if they could it’s a heinous boring life that awaits which is only significantly better compared to being homeless. Depression is knowing this is the reason why we are rapidly destroying our habitable environment and commencing a 6th mass extinction event which is now accelerating.

Depression is to know there is nothing we can do to stop the country we live in from mercilessly killing innocent people all over the world for no reason other than more economic expansion and our sadistic ideas of exceptionalism that entail spreading pain and hardship so a few elites can have more of what they already have more than enough of.

Depression is the powerlessness to change anything of significance. There is no other way they say other than the desolate gloom machine, they say this is how it must be. And so we remain here waiting for the horror that is soon to approach us all as the gloom descends in ever quickening waves.

A zombified indoctrinated populace can see no other way than capitalism and beating each other over the heads to satiate egos in needless competition that is unnecessary for survival and deleterious to the common good. Capitalism is the primary tool of empire, and a word that should be synonymous with depression. It’s the accumulation of resources in an effort to gain more power in man-made markets to leverage that power over other people and get them to do what the person with the most power desires. Capitalism’s depressing ideology is defined by the lecherous desire for more for the sake of it so the winner can pound their simian chest in victorious celebration of the devastation they’ve created.

Capitalism is inherently unsustainable due the way it allows power to coalesce via the leveraging abilities given to money to buy land, the means of production, elections, and advertising. It allows the whims of the few to overrun the needs of the many where those with the worst intentions aspire to gain more than others because they will attempt to fill the void in their hearts with self importance expressed via power over others. This is why it cannot be used.

If there is no central currency or advantage to collecting huge amounts of resources then the motivation to hoard would evaporate, as those resources would simply rot or become a burden to maintain. There’s no fun in that kind of hoarding. The “fun” comes to the simpleton power seeker when they acquire power to make others do what they want and thus gain the ephemeral validation they so desperately seek.

If one runs the math on players competing for money at different rates of gain over a certain amount of time, there will be a doubling effect which becomes exponential. And this effect will accelerate as it plunders along due to gains in leverage which allows for ever greater amounts of money to be made at faster rates. Eventually it always ends the way a game of monopoly ends, someone has all the power and everyone else is subservient to that entity/person.

These dour thoughts manifest from the recognition of the stranglehold empire has over our lives. The depression is the result of the myriad of expectations I can’t let go of that wants to see a kinder more egalitarian and sustainable world emerge while knowing how unlikely it is. Our collective depression is rooted in the foundations of social hierarchy and its economic tools of control, and understanding what a perfect trap it is, and so it goes, and everyone doesn’t know, but they feel it, though.

Homelessness, Corporate Welfare and Priorities

The homelessness issue has been a source of controversy at the local, state and national levels for some time now. There has been some limited progress, but this problem has certainly not been resolved humanely. Sometimes lost in the debate about this issue is that the homeless are fellow human beings, including families with children, and most of them really don’t want to be without homes.

Many of these people were and are hard working people who suffered some event, whether it was due to the predatory financial crisis ten years ago, a health crisis, a loss of a good-paying job, an accident, a severe weather-related event, the opioid crisis or other drug addiction, etc. A disproportionately large number are military veterans who suffer from PTSD or other injuries that prevent them from maintaining employment. Many of us could also become homeless if we were faced with something that disrupted our income source.

Despite the valiant efforts of lots of smart and compassionate people, the conditions faced by the homeless in the U.S. are, in general, a disgrace. I had the good fortune to have lived in Western Europe for two years in the 1980s and saw very few homeless people there. Most of these nations had good safety net programs that were a right. Unlike the U.S., self-described as the world’s greatest nation, these Western European nations valued and provided human rights including, for example, the rights to health care, housing and food, rights that don’t exist here.

Much of the lack of progress regarding homelessness in the U.S. is due to a shortage of public funds to deal adequately with the issue. Unfortunately, we accept this shortage instead of questioning why it exists.

An examination of the US budget reveals that over 60% of the discretionary spending goes to funding the military, including expensive weapons that help fuel an arms race. Other nations without an empire spend far less on their militaries. For example, our military budget is greater than the combined total of the seven nations with the next largest military budgets. Note that much of this money does not go for our national security but, instead, is corporate welfare. The military, including our naval fleets and air force as well as the over 800 military bases around the world, is used, among other things, to protect overseas investments of banks and other transnational corporations. More corporate welfare goes to the weapons manufacturers for weapons that often don’t work, are grossly over budget, and/or are unnecessary.

Our political leaders have also greatly increased homelessness in Gaza, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, areas or countries we have attacked or where we supported our allies’ attacks.  Shamefully, we almost never consider these people.

One might ask how we have arrived at this situation where our nation doesn’t value human rights of our people or of the others. Instead U.S. leaders sacrifice our rights to the protection of a banking and corporate empire that enriches the already wealthy at the expense of the rest of us and the environment.

A partial answer to the above question is that we have a political system influenced/controlled by money. Our lightly-regulated capitalist system allows the accumulation of vast amounts of money that translate into political power. Laws are then created to further rig the system to benefit the wealthy. Our economic system allows no room for compassion for the other, a system in which looking out for number one and excessive greed rule the day. This neo-liberal economic system stands in stark contrast to the professed teachings of most religions including Christianity.

Unless we change our political and economic systems, we won’t have a government of, by and for the people. Instead we will continue to have a budget that protects and expands the wealth of those in power instead of protecting our true human rights (including the right to shelter) and the right to a clean, safe and sustainable environment. Therefore we require a fundamental change in the U.S. political/economic system. Otherwise, continuing on our current path is likely to result in either a nuclear conflict or worsening climate chaos, both of which threaten human survival.

Governments’ Failures On Climate Spur New Actions

We are currently traveling in the United Kingdom, following our participation in the No US NATO Bases conference in Dublin, Ireland and delivery of a letter to the International Criminal Court in The Hague calling for a full investigation of Israel’s war crimes. We spent the past few days meeting with activists and visiting some friends and family.

A major concern in the UK is Brexit. Everyone is talking about it. There is great fear that if Brexit goes through, it will harm the UK. Repeatedly, people told us they feared violence by Brexiters if there was another vote and the Remainers won. News reports indicate there are plans for the UK military to be on the streets if chaos breaks out over Brexit. Today, the EU’s Council agreed with Prime Minister May’s proposed Brexit agreement, but now it appears that the agreement is unlikely to pass the UK Parliament.

We also heard quite a bit about the National Health System which has been under attack by privatizers for years. Due to cuts and changes, they are already starting to experience some of the problems that are rampant in the US such as denials of care. People are seeing some of the worst aspects of the US healthcare crisis exported to the UK and do not want to see further starvation and privatization of their system.

On a positive note, the public transportation system in the UK is excellent and used heavily and there are cooperatives of all sorts. The cooperative movement has a long and strong history in the UK, starting prior to 1800 and really taking off when the Rochdale Principles were created in 1844.

Kevin J. Frost // ShutterStock

Action on climate change

There is a lot of enthusiasm for the new climate change effort in the UK, the Extinction Rebellion. Launched on October 31, the Extinction Rebellion calls for mass nonviolent, disruptive actions targeting the government for its failure to take appropriate action to address the climate crisis. On November 17, there were actions across the UK. Thousands of protesters shut down five major bridges in London.

There were also solidarity actions in other countries. 50,000 people marched in Montreal, Quebec to tell their government it needs to take stronger action. March organizers said that the lack of discussion of climate change in the elections is one element that is galvanizing people to take action.

Organizers in the UK hope the campaign goes worldwide. We interviewed Marijn Van de Geer who works with the Extinction Rebellion in London on Clearing the FOG. Van de Geer explained that while there is resistance to many fossil fuel projects in the UK, the Extinction Rebellion provides a way for the many campaigns to unite against a common target, the government, and still engage in their individual activities.

People opposed to the Potomac Pipeline and the Rockwool factory it would supply with gas gather to deliver petitions to the National Park Service./Photo courtesy of CCAN

Impossible to avoid the reality of climate change

There are strong campaigns in the US trying to stop fossil fuel projects. Activists with Rainforest Action Network are bird dogging JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon because of his bank’s investment in fossil fuel projects. This week, they disrupted his speech at Axios and delivered a copy of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  (IPCC) report to him.

Pipeline protests continue. Activists working to stop the Atlantic Coast Pipeline had another success this week. The US Army Corps of Engineers has suspended permits that would allow the pipeline to cross bodies of water. Activists in West Virginia and Maryland are pressuring the National Park Service to deny permits for TransCanada to build a pipeline under the Potomac River in a fragile area. And Enbridge Line 3 opponents have vowed to continue their resistance.

On Friday, Volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment was released by the Trump administration. Mandated by Congress and authored by officials from thirteen federal agencies, the report, though conservative, admits that climate change is happening rapidly, that human activity contributes to it, that the impacts are significant and that more needs to be done.

Of course, these are the same findings of the Third National Climate Assessment released in 2014, yet the United States government has not taken appropriate action to address the crisis and climate change was absent as a major topic in the most recent election. Perhaps it is time to organize an Extinction Rebellion in the United States.

The Democrats are already positioning themselves to give the appearance of doing something about the climate crisis. The newly-elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes has stated her intention to introduce a “Green New Deal,” an idea championed by the Green Party for over a decade. Will Morrow raises valid concerns that the Democratic Party Green New Deal will be more fluff than substance.

Mark Dixon/flickr/cc

Solving the climate crisis goes deeper than shifting to renewable energy

We don’t have time for the usual partial solutions offered by Democrats. The climate crisis is intimately related to racism, colonialism, capitalism, militarism and imperialism. It can’t be solved in isolation. It will take an organized movement of movements to mitigate and adapt to climate change in a way that causes the least harm.

In “Confronting Carbon Capitalists,” the Seattle IWW explain that privileged liberals are coming to understand what colonized people have known for a long time, that capitalism is at the root of climate change. They write, “labor and ecological exploitation has remained vast and systemic… and the story is always the same: colonize a population, use violence to break them from their land and means of subsistence, extract fossil capital, then move on and leave the decimated landscape to the locals.” They call for solidarity with the Indigenous and colonized people.

Manuel Garcia, Jr., writes that US imperialism will prevent the US from adequately tackling climate change. He explains, “American political power is based on fossil fuels, and the US military is the engine that consumes those fuels to produce that power.” In order to address climate change, there will have to be a massive shift in political ideology and power.

There are opportunities to move toward making the necessary changes. In California, the energy corporation PG&E has been found responsible for three major fires, including the most recent one in which 85 people died and hundreds are still missing. As a result, PG&E is on the verge of bankruptcy. This provides an opportunity for the state to make PG&E a public entity. Johanna Bozuwa describes what that would look like and how it would enable the state to act more quickly to move to renewable energy.

New economic models are also being developed. Through the Learning/Action Lab for Community Wealth Building, Native communities are creating new institutions that are centered in decolonization. Read more about a Lakota community’s efforts.

As with all of our efforts at transformational change, we need to connect our struggles, share a common set of principles and work together strategically to effect change. It is a process of both resistance to harmful policies and practices and creation of positive alternatives based on our values that will lead to success. There is something for everyone to do.

Carbon Capture: Does it Work?

Harken! Good news (maybe) “encouraging news” is a better description, as Negative Emissions Technology (“NET”) starts coming into focus. Conceptually, carbon removal or direct air capture removes CO2 from the atmosphere, which would be great for suppressing climate change.

In that regard, Elizabeth Kolbert recently interviewed (Yale Environment 360) Stephen Pacala (Princeton professor) chairman of the US scientific panel studying carbon removal under the auspices of the National Academies. Which means the project has top-notch clearances, in fact, blue chip.

Of course, the big question about direct carbon capture is whether it can fix a very big problem created by humans burning fossil fuels like crazed Madhatters portending an ecological disaster in-waiting because of excessive levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, possibly leading to human extinction way ahead of schedule, too early, or looked at another way, extinction occurring well ahead of scientists’ models. But really, honestly and truly who in his/her right mind “models” human extinction?

Negative Emission Technology -NET- that removes carbon dioxide (“CO2”) from the atmosphere would be a dream come true, assuming it happens fast enough to prevent already-collapsing ecosystems from further total collapse; e.g., permafrost throughout the Northern Hemisphere, especially in the East Siberian Arctic Sea, ESAS, where subsea permafrost covers massive quantities of methane (CH4) in extraordinarily shallow waters. It’s the world’s largest reservoir, and CH4 is the most potent of the greenhouse gases. Problem: The subsea permafrost protective cap is rapidly thinning because of global warming. Already a Russian/American research team has witnessed alarmingly large columns of methane escaping into the atmosphere in the ESAS.

Therefore, the crucial question of the 21st century:  Does technology for carbon removal ultimately measure up to the task at hand, meaning, long-term survival of Homo sapiens?

Answer: Yes~er~no, maybe, depending. After all, it’s not a straight line from concept to actual carbon removal. For example, the infrastructure for effective capture and sequester of carbon is overwhelmingly huge.

According to Wallace Broecker of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, in order to capture “current annual CO2 emissions” requires 100,000,000 trailers or carbon removal modules, or using his words: “…one-hundred million units.” He did not specify the size of the “units.”1

One hundred million units, assuming each one is the length of a semi-truck, end-to-end would circumnavigate Earth 44xs and cost trillions of dollars.

Hello… anybody still out there?

Yes, 44xs around Earth. And, if Direct Carbon Removal sounds too good to be true in the first instance… well, yes, maybe as it requires worldwide cooperation and lots of money and land and massive infrastructure almost as much as the fossil fuel industrial complex. Imagine that for size!

And 44xs around the planet is only for current emissions. What about all of the GHGs already up there?

Elizabeth Kolbert’s interview of Dr. Stephen Pacala revealed a couple of important considerations, for example:

  • “Our panel thinks direct air capture could be brought into the marketplace in a heavy way within 10 years’ time.” (Pacala)
  • “Now, in the [2017] tax bill, an entirely Republican bill, they retained subsidies on wind and solar that are 1.9 and 2.3 cents per kilowatt hour, and they retained a $7,500 tax credit (drops to $3,750 in 2019) on buying an electric car. Then, last February, a bipartisan act created a $50-per-ton tax credit for carbon capture and storage. That means that the Republican Congress passed subsidies for the entire enchilada. I think it’s very interesting to contemplate why it is that on the one hand we have this political rhetoric, and on the other hand we have this subsidizing of the alternatives.” (Pacala)

According to Pacala, the reason more work is not being done on negative emissions today has everything to do with “the price of carbon, which is inadequate” meaning, in Pacala’s mindset, the best formula for NET success is similar to the success behind solar and wind; meaning, government subsidies until operating costs and production costs fall enough for capitalism’s longstanding shopworn paradigm of mass manufacturing.

According to Pacala:

In the last 15 years, wind and solar went from extremely expensive green luxury items maintained by subsidy to the cheapest forms of energy ever. That happened because government subsidized wind and solar, made a market for it that companies competed over, and they relentlessly drove the cost down. It’s a remarkable achievement – that conservatives should relish – of market success, but through government subsidy.

Effectively, Pacala calls for the free market to handle the impending crisis, and similar to success with solar and wind energy, after a period of government subsidizing, the free market takes over, expanding the market via profitable transactions. All of which brings to mind a question: Who is willing to subsidize, and when? Hello… anybody still out there?

Thus, the very market forces of neoliberalism or gonzo capitalism, which caused the problem to begin with, should now be induced to fix it. Milton “Free Market” Friedman would be proud. How ironic if capitalism profits by removal of carbon that it created in the first instance.

For certain, NET can’t come soon enough. (P.S. It’s not ready for the big time, not yet.) According to knowledgeable sources fossil fuels account for 80% of energy today, which is about the same as 75 years ago, meaning progress has been negligible even with 195 countries agreeing to the Paris climate accord way back in 2015.

In point of fact, the entire world has been alerted to climate change for decades now. Still, no real progress as both renewables and fossil fuels each grow along side one another. Thereby, exposing the vulnerable underbelly of the Paris ‘15 climate accord where countries voluntarily agreed to reduce their emissions. Yes, voluntary.

On October 30 and 31, 2018, the “Negative Emissions Conference: Integrating Industry, Technology and Society for Carbon Drawdown” was held at the Shine Dome, Canberra, focusing on the need to explore and develop a new suite of approaches to address climate change via removal of greenhouse gases.

Here’s a key message from that Conference:

Even rapid decarbonization through emissions reduction will not be sufficient to stabilize climate at the global temperature thresholds of the Paris Agreement. To limit warming at 2 degrees or less requires NETs to draw down past and future emissions and store this carbon in land, ocean, and geological reservoirs…..

However, there is already evidence galore of ecosystems starting to collapse well ahead of reaching the infamous 2C, which is a faux guardrail if only because it creates false comfort for public consumption, meaning people figure if it took a couple hundred years to get to +0.80C above baseline, then we’ve got at least a hundred years to go before 2C becomes relevant. Wrong- A lot of serious, maybe irreparable, ecosystem damage will occur on the way to 2C, and it is happening faster, faster, and faster, making a couple of hundred years ago look very ancient.

Recent studies have highlighted that current NETs, despite their potential, are as yet, not sufficiently mature to be implemented at scale. Key questions exist around the efficacy and scalability of proposed NETs.2

In conclusion, key questions surrounding the efficacy and scalability of “proposed NETs” are likely enough to push back funding by private or sovereign sources, bringing into question how, when, and if any source is willing to commit to billions, and more likely trillions of dollars to capture and sequester carbon?

There is no known response to that question in the public domain.

But, what is known is not encouraging, meaning, world leadership on climate change is, at best, splintered and lackadaisical. Here’s proof: According to the World Bank, fossil fuel energy as a percentage of total energy in 1988 was 79%, the year Dr. James Hansen warned the U.S. Senate, and the world via New York Times’ headlines, that human-caused greenhouse gases had been detected. Today fossil fuels are still approximately 80%. No movement!

And, according to British Petroleum’s 2018 Statistical Review of World Energy: Global oil consumption growth for last year averaged 1.8%, or 1.7 million barrels per day (b/d), above its 10-year average of 1.2% for the third consecutive year. China (500,000 b/d) and the US (190,000 b/d) were the single largest contributors to growth. Fossil fuels retain a hefty leadership position.

After three decades of ongoing brilliant glaring public exposure of a festering problem that could lead to major climate upheaval accompanied by massive starvation and untold deaths, here are the results of how the world has reacted, according to Carl Edward Rasmussen, University of Cambridge, as of September 14, 2018:

What does the data tell us? It shows that all is not well in the state of the atmosphere! In order to prevent further warming, the carbon dioxide levels must not grow any further. On the growth curve, this corresponds to the curve having to settle down to zero ppm/yr. There is absolutely no hint in the data that this is happening. On the contrary, the rate of growth is itself growing, having now reached about 2.3 ppm/y the highest growth rate ever seen in modern times. This is not just a “business as usual” scenario, it is worse than that; we’re actually moving backwards, becoming more and more unsustainable with every year. This shows unequivocally that the efforts undertaken so-far to limit greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are woefully inadequate.

It’s been 30 years since Dr. James Hansen testified to the Senate, making NYT headlines the next morning:3

The earth has been warmer in the first five months of this year than in any comparable period since measurements began 130 years ago, and the higher temperatures can now be attributed to a long-expected global warming trend linked to pollution, a space agency scientist reported today.

Postscript:

After spending three or four years interacting with the Bush administration, I realized they were not taking any actions to deal with climate change. So, I decided to give one talk, and then it snowballed into another talk and eventually to even protesting and getting arrested.

— James Hansen- Earth Institute, Columbia University.

  1. Interview of Climatologist Wallace Broecker: “The Deniers Are Going To Go Apeshit. They’re Going to Have a Riot,” YouTube, November 4, 2018.
  2. Ibid.
  3. “Global Warming Has Begun, Expert Tells Senate,” The New York Times, June 24, 1988