Monthly Archives: June 2012

We have missed the chance of preventing two degrees of global warming – Forever.

It is, perhaps, the greatest failure of collective leadership since the first world war. The Earth’s living systems are collapsing, and the leaders of some of the most powerful nations – the US, the UK, Germany, Russia – could not even be bothered to turn up and discuss it. Those who did attend the Earth summit last week solemnly agreed to keep stoking the destructive fires: sixteen times in their text they pledged to pursue “sustained growth”, the primary cause of the biosphere’s losses(1).

This is by George Monbiot of The Guardian.

The efforts of governments are concentrated not on defending the living Earth from destruction, but on defending the machine that is destroying it. Whenever consumer capitalism becomes snarled up by its own contradictions, governments scramble to mend the machine, to ensure – though it consumes the conditions that sustain our lives – that it runs faster than ever before.

The thought that it might be the wrong machine, pursuing the wrong task, cannot even be voiced in mainstream politics. The machine greatly enriches the economic elite, while insulating the political elite from the mass movements it might otherwise confront. We have our bread; now we are wandering, in spellbound reverie, among the circuses.

We have used our unprecedented freedoms, secured at such cost by our forebears, not to agitate for justice, for redistribution, for the defence of our common interests, but to pursue the dopamine hits triggered by the purchase of products we do not need. The world’s most inventive minds are deployed not to improve the lot of humankind but to devise ever more effective means of stimulation, to counteract the diminishing satisfactions of consumption. The mutual dependencies of consumer capitalism ensure that we all unwittingly conspire in the trashing of what may be the only living planet. The failure at Rio de Janeiro belongs to us all.

It marks, more or less, the end of the multilateral effort to protect the biosphere. The only successful global instrument – the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer – was agreed and implemented years before the first Earth Summit in 1992(2). It was one of the last fruits of a different political era, in which intervention in the market for the sake of the greater good was not considered anathema, even by the Thatcher and Reagan governments. Everything of value discussed since then has led to weak, unenforceable agreements, or to no agreements at all.

This is not to suggest that the global system and its increasingly pointless annual meetings will disappear or even change. The governments which allowed the Earth Summit and all such meetings to fail evince no sense of responsibility for this outcome, and appear untroubled by the thought that if a system hasn’t worked for 20 years there’s something wrong with the system. They walk away, aware that there are no political penalties; that the media is as absorbed in consumerist trivia as the rest of us; that, when future generations have to struggle with the mess they have left behind, their contribution will have been forgotton. (And then they lecture the rest of us on responsibility).

Nor is it to suggest that multilateralism should be abandoned. Agreements on biodiversity, the oceans and the trade in endangered species may achieve some marginal mitigation of the full-spectrum assault on the biosphere that the consumption machine has unleashed. But that’s about it.

The action – if action there is – will mostly be elsewhere. Those governments which retain an interest in planet Earth will have to work alone, or in agreement with likeminded nations. There will be no means of restraining free riders, no means of persuading voters that their actions will be matched by those of other countries.

That we have missed the chance of preventing two degrees of global warming now seems obvious. That most of the other planetary boundaries will be crossed, equally so. So what do we do now?

Some people will respond by giving up, or at least withdrawing from political action. Why, they will ask, should we bother, if the inevitable destination is the loss of so much of what we hold dear: the forests, the brooks, the wetlands, the coral reefs, the sea ice, the glaciers, the birdsong and the night chorus, the soft and steady climate which has treated us kindly for so long? It seems to me that there are at least three reasons.

The first is to draw out the losses over as long a period as possible, in order to allow our children and grandchildren to experience something of the wonder and delight in the natural world and of the peaceful, unharried lives with which we have been blessed. Is that not a worthy aim, even if there were no other?

The second is to preserve what we can in the hope that conditions might change. I do not believe that the planet-eating machine, maintained by an army of mechanics, oiled by constant injections of public money, will collapse before the living systems on which it feeds. But I might be wrong. Would it not be a terrible waste to allow the tiger, the rhinoceros, the bluefin tuna, the queen’s executioner beetle and the scabious cuckoo bee, the hotlips fungus and the fountain anenome(3) to disappear without a fight if this period of intense exploitation turns out to be a brief one?

The third is that, while we may possess no influence over decisions made elsewhere, there is plenty that can be done within our own borders. Rewilding – the mass restoration of ecosystems – offers the best hope we have of creating refuges for the natural world, which is why I’ve decided to spend much of the next few years promoting it here and abroad.

Giving up on global agreements or, more accurately, on the prospect that they will substantially alter our relationship with the natural world, is almost a relief. It means walking away from decades of anger and frustration. It means turning away from a place in which we have no agency to one in which we have, at least, a chance of being heard. But it also invokes a great sadness, as it means giving up on so much else.

Was it too much to have asked of the world’s governments, which performed such miracles in developing stealth bombers and drone warfare, global markets and trillion dollar bail-outs, that they might spend a tenth of the energy and resources they devoted to these projects on defending our living planet? It seems, sadly, that it was.

www.monbiot.com

References:

1. http://www.slideshare.net/uncsd2012/the-future-we-want-rio20-outcome-document

2. http://ozone.unep.org/pdfs/Montreal-Protocol2000.pdf

3. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/series/name-a-species

Interactive map of C02 emissions per capita

Fascinating, invaluable

Full interactive map may be found here.

The mendacity of Hope – George Monbiot

Worn down by hope. That’s the predicament of those who have sought to defend the earth’s living systems. Every time governments meet to discuss the environmental crisis, we are told that this is the “make or break summit”, upon which the future of the world depends. The talks might have failed before, but this time the light of reason will descend upon the world.

We know it’s rubbish, but we allow our hopes to be raised, only to witness 190 nations arguing through the night over the use of the subjunctive in paragraph 286. We know that at the end of this process the UN secretary-general, whose job obliges him to talk nonsense in an impressive number of languages, will explain that the unresolved issues (namely all of them) will be settled at next year’s summit. Yet still we hope for something better.

This week’s earth summit in Rio de Janeiro is a ghost of the glad, confident meeting 20 years ago. By now, the leaders who gathered in the same city in 1992 told us, the world’s environmental problems were to have been solved. But all they have generated is more meetings, which will continue until the delegates, surrounded by rising waters, have eaten the last rare dove, exquisitely presented with an olive leaf roulade. The biosphere, that world leaders promised to protect, is in a far worse state than it was 20 years ago(1). Is it not time to recognise that they have failed?

These summits have failed for the same reason that the banks have failed. Political systems which were supposed to represent everyone now return governments of millionaires, financed by and acting on behalf of billionaires. The past 20 years have been a billionaires’ banquet. At the behest of corporations and the ultra-rich, governments have removed the constraining decencies – the laws and regulations – which prevent one person from destroying another. To expect governments funded and appointed by this class to protect the biosphere and defend the poor is like expecting a lion to live on gazpacho.

You have only to see the way the United States has savaged the earth summit’s draft declaration to grasp the scale of this problem(2). The word “equitable”, the US insists, must be cleansed from the text. So must any mention of the right to food, water, health, the rule of law, gender equality and women’s empowerment. So must a clear target of preventing two degrees of global warming. So must a commitment to change “unsustainable consumption and production patterns” and to decouple economic growth from the use of natural resources.

Most significantly, the US delegation demands the removal of many of the foundations agreed by a Republican president in Rio in 1992. In particular, it has set out to purge all mention of the core principle of that earth summit: common but differentiated responsibilities(3). This means that while all countries should strive to protect the world’s resources, those with the most money and who have done the most damage should play a greater part.

This is the government, remember, not of George W Bush but of Barack Obama. The paranoid, petty, unilateralist sabotage of international agreements continues uninterrupted. To see Obama backtracking on the commitments made by Bush the elder 20 years ago is to see the extent to which a tiny group of plutocrats has asserted its grip on policy.

While the destructive impact of the US in Rio is greater than that of any other nation, this does not excuse our own failures. The UK government prepared for the earth summit by wrecking both our own climate change act(4,5) and the European energy efficiency directive(6). David Cameron will not be attending the earth summit. Nor will the energy and climate change secretary Ed Davey (which is probably a blessing, as he’s totally useless). Needless to say Cameron, with other absentees such as Obama and Merkel, are attending the G20 summit in Mexico, which takes place immediately before Rio. Another tenet of the 1992 summit – that economic and environmental issues should not be treated in isolation(7) – goes up in smoke.

The environmental crisis cannot be addressed by the emissaries of billionaires. It is the system that needs to be challenged, not the individual decisions it makes. The struggle to protect the biosphere is in this respect the same as the struggle for redistribution, for the protection of workers’ rights, for an enabling state, for equality before the law.

So this is the great question of our age: where is everyone? The monster social movements of the 19th century and first 80 years of the 20th have gone, and nothing has replaced them. Those of us who still contest unwarranted power find our footsteps echoing through cavernous halls once thronged by multitudes. When a few hundred people do make a stand – as the Occupy campers have done – the rest of the nation just waits for them to achieve the kind of change that requires the sustained work of millions.

Without mass movements, without the kind of confrontation required to revitalise democracy, everything of value is deleted from the political text. But we do not mobilise, perhaps because we are endlessly seduced by hope. Hope is the rope on which we hang.

Full article here.

30,000 drones to monitor US citizens

A recent Department of Defense report to Congress as well as a number of media investigations have exposed government plans to deploy tens of thousands of drones over the US mainland in the coming years.

An investigative report published over the weekend by the Christian Science Monitor cited the government’s own estimates that “as many as 30,000 drones could be part of intelligence gathering and law enforcement here in the United States within the next ten years.”

Since Obama signed the bill, hundreds of drones have already begun flying over the US to spy on and monitor the population. A recent ABC News investigative report entitled “UAVs: Will Our Civil Liberties Be Droned Out?” outlined the possibility of drones buzzing overhead becoming “a fact of daily life.”

ABC News reported: “Drones can carry facial recognition cameras, license plate scanners, thermal imaging cameras, open WiFi sniffers, and other sensors. And they can be armed.”

“Among the most eager to fly domestic drones are America’s police departments,” the report stated. “In Texas, a Montgomery county sheriff’s office recently said it would deploy a drone bought with money from a Department of Homeland Security grant and was contemplating arming the drone with non-lethal weapons like tear gas, rubber bullets or Taser-style rounds.”

The ABC News report identified “political protests” as one of the activities that can be monitored by drones.

Read whole article here.

Summary Climate News – Climate Code Red

Analyses of what we now know about the Arctic, Sea Ledvel Rise, temperature anomalies and so on.

Read here.

Approaching a state shift in the biosphere

The United Nations Environment Program issued a report showing that the world has made significant progress on only four of the 90 most important environmental objectives agreed on through the U.N. process. Gains have come in eliminating ozone-depleting substances, phasing out lead in gasoline, increasing access to water supplies and encouraging research into marine pollutants. In most other categories — including protecting plant and animal species, curbing marine pollution and conserving water supplies — humanity is falling short.

“If current trends continue, if current patterns of production and consumption of natural resources prevail and cannot be reversed and ‘decoupled,’ then governments will preside over unprecedented levels of damage and degradation,” UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said in a statement.
 
The journal Nature published a series of articles Wednesday on the precarious state of the planet, including a study that warns that the world could be approaching a tipping point at which human activities cause a “planetary-scale critical transition” to a different environment.

Read here in full.

 

Myth of Perpetual Growth is Killing Us All.

Everything you think you know about economics … is wrong. Dead wrong. And until economics acknowledge this, the discipline is on a self-destruct path.

Why? The science of economics is not science. Yes, it looks scientific with all the fancy math algorithms and computer models that economists use, but all that’s just window dressing to make the economist look scientific and rational.

They’re not. Their conclusions are pre-ordained, fabricated, based on their biases, personal ideologies and whatever their employer wants to prove to manipulate consumers, voters or investors to buy what they’re selling.

Because all economics is based on the absurd Myth of Perpetual Growth. Yes, all theories and business plans based on growth are mythological.

Economists are master illusionists who rely on a set of fictions, fantasies and forecasts that emanate from a core magical mantra of Perpetual Growth that goes untested year after year.

And yet it’s used to manipulate the public into a set of policies and decisions that are leading the American and the world economy down a path of unsustainable globalization and GDP growth assumptions that will self-destruct the planet.

Click here for another version of Schumacker’s “Small is Beautiful”.

Have we reached the tipping point?

Today is a pivotal point in human history. We are now living in the Anthropocene: humans are the main driver of planetary change. We’re pushing global temperatures, land and water use beyond anything our species has experienced before. We’re polluting the biosphere, acidifying the oceans, and reducing biodiversity. At the same time, our global population will grow from seven billion to nine billion by 2050, and all will need food, water and clean air.

As if to illustrate the point further, last month Arctic monitors showed the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has passed 400 parts per million (before the Industrial Age, carbon dioxide levels were 275 ppm). New data shows the rate of climate change could be even faster than thought.

Perhaps most worryingly of all, 22 scientists warned last week we are approaching a planetary tipping point, beyond which environmental changes will be rapid and unpredictable. Basing their alarming conclusion on studies of ecological markers from species extinction rates (currently 1,000 times the usual rate, and comparable to those experienced during the demise of the dinosaurs) to changes in land use (more than 40% of land is dominated by humans and we affect a further 40%), these scientists fear we will enter a new, unknown state, and one which threatens us all.

Click here for more.

Arctic greenhouse CO2 levels pass 400ppm

Monitoring stations across the Arctic this spring are measuring more than 400 parts per million of the heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere.  They’ve been recorded in Alaska, Greenland, Norway, Iceland and Mongolia.

Carbon dioxide is the chief greenhouse gas and stays in the atmosphere for 100 years. Some carbon dioxide is natural, mainly from decomposing dead plants and animals. Before the industrial age, levels were around 275 parts per million.

For more than 60 years, readings have been in the 300s, except in urban areas, where levels are skewed. The burning of fossil fuels, such as coal for electricity and oil for gasoline, has caused the overwhelming bulk of the man-made increase in carbon in the air.

“It’s an important threshold,” said the Carnegie Institution ecologist Chris Field, a scientist who helps lead the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “It is an indication that we’re in a different world.”

It’s been at least 800,000 years – probably more – since Earth saw carbon dioxide levels in the 400s.

Read article.

Fukushima in Peril

Its official! A building can be leaning and have bulging walls supporting a massive tank of liquid on the top floor, and still be secure from any earthquake! This means the world is safe!

The following is also well covered in this report.

The Wall Street Journal just reported that TEPCO doesn’t have a plan to deal with the collapse of Spent Fuel Pool 4 at the Fukushima nuclear reactor in Japan. Yet a host of scientists, nuclear experts and researchers, say we facing a situation right now that is so serious that it literally threatened our very existence, for the entire Northern Hemisphere is at risk of becoming largely uninhabitable if the building collapses.

According to U.S. Army General Albert Stubblebine of the Natural Solutions Foundation, the situation is extremely serious and poses a significant danger to our entire civilization. Since TEPCO and the Japanese government have refused the entombment option (as the Russians did with Chernobyl) the world is at the mercy of nature. A mistake here would cause the deaths of tens of millions of people across the globe. Read report here.

 When the highly radioactive Spent Fuel Rods are exposed to air, there will be massive explosions releasing many times the amount or radiation released thus far. Bizarrely, they are stored three stories above ground in open concrete storage pools. Whether through evaporation of the water in the pools, or due to the inevitable further collapse of the structure, there is a severe risk. United States public health authorities agree that tens of thousands of North Americans have already died from the Fukushima calamity. When the final cataclysm occurs, sooner rather than later, the whole Northern Hemisphere is at risk of becoming largely uninhabitable.

The Japanese ambassador Murata wrote to UN Secretary General: ‘It is no exaggeration to say that the fate of Japan and the whole world depends on No. 4 reactor’. Before the Committee, Ambassador Murata strongly stated that if the crippled building of reactor unit 4 (with 1,535 fuel rods in the spent fuel pool 100 feet (30 meters) above the ground) collapses, not only will it cause a shutdown of all six reactors but will also affect the common spent fuel pool containing 6,375 fuel rods, located some 50 meters from reactor 4. In both cases the radioactive rods are not protected by a containment vessel; dangerously, they are open to the air. This would certainly cause a global catastrophe like we have never before experienced. He stressed that the responsibility of Japan to the rest of the world is immeasurable. Such a catastrophe would affect us all for centuries. Ambassador Murata informed us that the total numbers of the spent fuel rods at the Fukushima Daiichi site excluding the rods in the pressure vessel is 11,421.”

And this is what Mr. Robert Alvarez, US reactor pools expert, had to say: “In recent times, more information about the spent fuel situation at the Fukushima-Dai-Ichi site has become known. It is my understanding that of the 1,532 spent fuel assemblies in reactor No. 304 assemblies are fresh and unirradiated. This then leaves 1,231 irradiated spent fuel rods in pool No. 4, which contain roughly 37 million curies (~1.4E+18 Becquerel) of long-lived radioactivity. The No. 4 pool is about 100 feet above ground, is structurally damaged and is exposed to the open elements. If an earthquake or other event were to cause this pool to drain this could result in a catastrophic radiological fire involving nearly 10 times the amount of Cs-137 released by the Chernobyl accident.

The infrastructure to safely remove this material was destroyed as it was at the other three reactors. Spent reactor fuel cannot be simply lifted into the air by a crane as if it were routine cargo. In order to prevent severe radiation exposures, fires and possible explosions, it must be transferred at all times in water and heavily shielded structures into dry casks.. As this has never been done before, the removal of the spent fuel from the pools at the damaged Fukushima-Dai-Ichi reactors will require a major and time-consuming re-construction effort and will be charting in unknown waters. Despite the enormous destruction cased at the Da–Ichi site, dry casks holding a smaller amount of spent fuel appear to be unscathed.

You may also read Dr. Michio Kaku who stated “People don’t realize that the Fukushima reactor is on a knife’s edge; it’s near the tipping point. A small earthquake, another pipe break, another explosion could tip it over and we could have a disaster much worse, many times worse than Chernobyl. It’s like a sleeping dragon.” Full text here.

He also said on the 28th that, “Radiation levels are 1,000 milliseverts/hour. This means that workers will come down with radiation sickness with only 15 minutes of exposure. Some workers will die after 6 hours of exposure. The meaning of all this is: if radiation levels continue to rise, and workers are forced to evacuate, the accident will be in free fall.” Dr. Kaku called for an immediate entombment of the plant after the disaster began.  Now it might be too late for that and will take too long to do it.

Also an independent report from Fairwinds.