Friday, February 8, 2019

Why Climate Change is a justice issue, not (simply) an environmental issue


Scripps Institution of Oceanography
https://scripps.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve/
Note: I expect this post to be a work in progress and I would much appreciate hearing any thoughts you have on the subject, pro or con or whatever. Last update: Feb 26, 2019.

I’m inviting you to consider the Keeling Curve, the record of atmospheric CO2 increasing year after year since 1958 and the most well-known evidence for the case of human-induced global warming. The graphic above shows the 1958-now Keeling CO2 numbers from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii tacked onto ice core CO2 measurements going back to 1700.

The scientific consensus is that the year-on-year CO2 increases since the beginning of the industrial revolution in the late 1700s primarily result from combustion of fossil fuels, and that since CO2 is a greenhouse gas, as a consequence we have global warming, aka climate change.

That “combustion of fossil fuels,” releases or expends the energy stored in the carbon fossils. So if we could substitute another form of energy that didn’t release CO2, we wouldn’t have the global harming effect, right? A good argument for switching to solar and wind energies.

But wait a minute, step back a little in looking at the Keeling Curve and ask what else it looks like evidence for, apart from the greenhouse gas thing. Then it becomes obvious that what Keeling most basically demonstrates is that our global “civilization” requires expending more and more energy, year after year. That is what, since our energy source has been fossil fuels, has produced the more and more atmospheric CO2. Shouldn’t we ask why that is happening and what the consequences might be? Regardless of what the energy source might be?

The obvious reason for all that combustion (or other energy use) is that it serves the purpose of consumption.  That’s how we make our living, how we get food, clothing, housing, transportation, smart phones, lottery tickets, all that stuff. But year on year increases, along with an increasing yearly rate of increase (note the curvature of the Curve)? Why does this happen?

I submit that the root cause is built in to the foundations of our national economy and the global economy (and culture).  Denying that there are any limits to growth, the “Market,” under our current  financial/banking/monetary regime, demands perpetual growth – on a finite planet. Or else!

And it is clear from other evidence that this economic system systematically funnels to the top 1% or even 0.1% an excessive proportion of whatever economic returns result from this year on year economic growth.  It creates artificial and unjust inequality. Look at this graphic, showing that U.S. worker wages kept pace with their increasing productivity up until the early 1970s. Since then, however, worker productivity – the wealth their labor produces – has gone up and up, but wages (in inflation-adjusted dollars) have stayed flat. U.S. workers are getting less and less of their deserved fair share of the wealth they produce.

A more up to date summary of the situation, from Oxfam: “Billionaire fortunes increased by 12% last year -- or $2.5 billion a day -- while the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity saw their wealth decline by 11%... The number of billionaires has nearly doubled since the financial crisis, with a new billionaire created every two days between 2017 and 2018, yet wealthy individuals and corporations are paying lower rates of tax than they have in decades, thanks in part to the new tax law championed by President Trump.”


That’s why climate change is at bottom a justice issue. The usual framing of talk about climate justice points out how the poor are more likely to be harmed by the effects of climate change. Of course, they are always the first- and worst-harmed in any kind of downturn or disaster. But let’s first ask, Why are they so poor?

So. My conclusion is that Climate Change activist efforts aimed at getting renewable energies adopted – such as the Green New Deal with carbon tax and dividend – are appropriate, would help lessen the effects of Climate Change, and may well work as a first step in achieving the complete transition to a sustainable steady-state economy. But we must realize that market solutions are just that, leaving the Market to do what it wants to do, in too many cases exactly what we are trying to stop. I think major efforts should be directed toward more fundamental changes in our economic/political system. I like the US Green Party stated goal: “Convert the energy industry and banking into public utilities so we have the democratic power and financing to carry through a rapid energy transition.”
(I have to add, however, that I see the rest of the Green Party platform as way too much Utopian Socialist.)

Mike Ensler, Director of the Auburn University Office of Sustainability, has just put out an essay titled “The Sustainability Movement Is a Social Justice Movement,” drawing on Paul Hawken’s book, Blessed Unrest.  I especially like this quote from the book:

There is no question that the environmental movement is critical to our survival.  Our house is literally burning, and it is only logical that environmentalists expect the social justice movement to get on the environmental bus.  But it is the other way around; the only way we are going to put out the fire is to get on the social justice bus and heal our wounds, because in the end there is only one bus.”

Further notes:

1. The insanity of our current economic system is nowhere more evident than is shown in how it treats oil. One barrel of oil contains the energy equivalent of at least five years of full-time human labor – at just minimum wage (not that $7.25/hr is actually a just wage) being worth around $15,000. But the Market treats that ought-to-be-precious barrel of oil as just another commodity, selling at a ridiculously low $40 to $140 dollars per. See Herman Daly’s recent piece, “Do Red and Green Mix?
https://greattransition.org/roundtable/ecosocialism-herman-daly

I don’t think Daly mentions oil explicitly, but explains clearly why an economic “good” of that type should not be left to the Market. Daly, a former top economist at the World Bank, is perhaps our foremost steady-state economy expert.

2. The Keeling Curve year on year increases in CO2 (plus increases in the rate of increase, last noted by the Scripps Institute at 2.6%) indicate we’re looking here at an exponential function, an exponential rate of growth in atmospheric CO2 and in combustion and consumption.

Bear with me here: Never mind the actual mathematics, the most important thing to know about exponential growth is the Rule of 72: Whatever kind of growth you are considering, if you divide 72 by the expected yearly rate of increase (the per cent number), you get a good-enough idea of how many years it will take for that whatever to double. For example: If you could find a 7% yield investment, you can by the Rule expect your investment to double in value in about 10 years.

Relevance to the climate change issue: Despite the at least half-good Paris Agreement, and pledges to the contrary, most governments in the world seem to be planning and hoping to maintain at least a “moderate” 3% economic growth rate. By the Rule of 72, that would mean a doubling of all that combustion (or other energy use) and consumption (all those smart-phones, cars, lottery tickets etc) in only 24 years. By 2043. Moreover, by 2043, we would have expended more total energy and consumed more of everything than was done in the entire history of humans before 2019.

I hear you saying, “Huh?”   Well, just take in what doubling looks like numerically:
1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1,024 . . . . 
and note not only that the numbers get rapidly much larger, but that at each doubling point that number is more than all the previous doublings added together.

Even if we manage the transition to renewable energies and avoid global warming, could that kind of exponential growth be desirable? Or even possible? Could solar and wind power keep up We humans are already appropriating for our own uses as much as 40% of Earth's total net primary productivity. That's all of the carbon being stored in all the world's plants through photosynthesis, minus the carbon "respired" back into the atmosphere. Basically, the base of the planetary food and energy chain. See: https://globalchange.mich.edu/globalchange1/current/lectures/kling/energyflow/energyflow.html.


3. About market solutions to the Climate Change problem, it seems relevant to me to see who supports these solutions. A quick google-search lists quite prominently among several environmental activist groups the following: Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Goldman Sachs, and the Ayn Rand Institute.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

At this time of year . . .


Fredonia, Alabama, Community House, December 2016


At this time of year . . . 


In this the darkest, coldest time, we are reminded, despite all the blood shed in the streets, in schools, even in places of worship here and across the world, of the possibility of better days, of peace and of love. What does it take?

Early humans, despite their relatively small size and really puny claws and teeth, apparently not only survived but began their domination of the planet in large part because they were smart enough to cooperate, both in defense against much larger and fiercer animals and in hunting and foraging. They learned, as Benjamin Franklin said to fellow American revolutionists in 1776, “Gentlemen, we must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

“Hangtogetherness” thus creates group solidarity and some accompanying level of peace, at least within the group; and perhaps of love, too, as people begin to really appreciate those others they are hanging with.

The importance of hangtogetherness for group survival and success seems to be why some version of the Golden Rule has been adopted by all the world’s major religions and cultures. The Islamic Golden Rule, in verse 4:36 of the Qu’ran, declares: “Do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbours who are near, neighbours who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer ye meet . . . for Allah loveth not the arrogant, the vainglorious.” The Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount prescribed a revolutionary expansion of the scope of the Rule: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor.'" (Leviticus 19:18) But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-44)

Robert Kennedy, speaking in 1966 to University students in South Africa opposing Apartheid, said “Let no man think that he fights this battle for others; he fights for himself, and so do we all. The Golden Rule is not sentimentality, but the deepest practical wisdom. For the teaching of our time is that cruelty is contagious, and its disease knows no bounds of race or nation.” Indeed, cruelty is contagious. And so is love. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

The take-home and take-to-heart message: Make friends, not enemies. Make peace, not war.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Golfing in the Apocalypse




Speaking of fire, Judy and I enjoyed our first woodstove fire of the season last night, setting up a card table to have supper in the living room in front of our beloved cast-iron Jotul heartwarmer.

And, speaking of appropriate technology, this from the YouTube video I stole the above photo from:


That video: "Ecology as Theology: Inspiring Science for Challenging Times"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1pAmGHrJZU&feature=youtu.be

It's Michael Dowd, who describes himself as a "recovering progressive, " now moving "from naive techno-optimism to sacred realism." His base website is: http://thegreatstory.org/ If you're interested, I would suggest going to thegreatstory.org and clicking on the What's NEW link, which offers a 27-minute youtube video of Dowd at a Michigan UU church, along with a 70-minute slide presentation.

So. On one hand we have the climate change deniers. Bad enough, but they seem to be fewer and fewer. Although, yes, too many of them (that one especially) occupy seats of power. On the other hand, we have too many "progressives" denying that the laws of thermodynamics and ecology trump (reverse English pun intended) technological fixes. Working feverishly to green the Titanic and maintain golfing-as-usual.

NOTE: I actually composed the above, with the reference to "last night," in late October. I had intended to add more commentary on the progressive, green/renewable and techno-opimistic sustainability movement. I didn't get around to that. And Fredonia Heritage Day and Armistice Day intervened. Today I think the best I can do is to send you to read a really persuasive article just published on the Resilience website, titled The Limits of Renewable Energy and the Case for Degrowth

BTW: Can anyone out there say whether the golfing in the apocalypse photo is for real or just a Photoshop fake? If so, pls let us know. 

As always I'm asking, your thoughts?  



Sunday, November 11, 2018

Armistice Day Remembered

Veterans honored at the Fredonia Heritage Day festival, November 3, 2018


I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice and the expression in vain. We had heard them, sometimes standing in the rain almost out of earshot, so that only the shouted words came through, and had read them on proclamations that were slapped up over other proclamations, now for a long time, and I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stock yards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it. There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity. Certain numbers were the same way and certain dates and these with the names of the places were all you could say and have them mean anything. Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates. – Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

"I hate war, as only a soldier who has lived it can, as only one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity. – General Dwight Eisenhower

Today, November 11, 2018, is my 83rd birthday. And the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, ending World War I. When I was a child November 11 was still celebrated as Armistice Day, so I never had to go to school on my birthday. Now the 11th is Veterans Day. Although still a holiday, it is very different from the original Armistice Day. Back then, that "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" was designated as “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated."

 After World War II, the U.S. Congress decided to rebrand November 11 as Veterans Day. Honoring the warrior then quickly morphed into honoring the military and  in effect glorifying war. You can't have a Veterans Day without veterans. Armistice Day represented the hope that we would have no more veterans.
  
I took the above photo, choosing not to hand my camera off and go join the lineup of veterans. I was wearing my Veterans for Peace hat, and Hemingway's words were ringing in my head. I had read that novel of World War I when I was in high school, and that passage especially stuck with me. Although it took me many years, along the way becoming a veteran myself, to try seriously to change my life accordingly. To become a "Veteran for Peace." (See veteransforpeace.org/take-action/armistice-day)