Sunday, December 30, 2018


"Evolution dropped a dual-hemi into the drivetrain of a fecund nomad, injected Nitro and walked away."

JUST ABOUT 72 years ago my mother was taxied from our home on Aukai Street to the Kapiolani Gynecological Hospital so that doctors and nurses there could help bring me into the world. On New Year’s Day 1947, the ward was a pretty busy scene with 13 of us new islanders choosing that day to be born. Babies ready? … Boom! This is me in the upper left corner of Sunday’s Honolulu Advertiser, obviously not all that happy to be being photographed.

Honolulu Advertiser, January 5, 1947
The other big news that day was the weather. Hawaii had been pounded all week by a storm that drove 40-foot waves against the coast and sent tide waters sweeping 1000 yards inland. Maui Harbor was wrecked and parts of Hilo had to be evacuated. In Alaska, the 135-mph gale was the unprecedented third blast of that winter for Nome. On the mainland, a cold front invaded the South into Florida and extended clear all the way over to the valleys of California.

On page 7 of the Advertiser, John Wayne is shown boarding the first Hawaii Airlines passenger flight from Los Angeles to Hilo. A transpacific route to Kwajalein, Guam and Tokyo was being surveyed. In Washington, Republicans were flooding Congressional hoppers with anti-strike bills to keep unions from recovering their pre-war bargaining power. In other news, Bernard Baruch was resigning his chairmanship of the Atomic Energy Commission, having devised a plan to place peaceful atomic energy under international control. Under the Baruch plan, soon to be adopted by the United Nations, the world would disarm its nuclear arsenal and all nations would agree never to build any more. A strict inspection regime would guarantee the peaceful atom would be forever safely caged.

Having acquired 7 decades of hindsight, it is easy to look back at some of these pronouncements with grim humor.

Selection could have favored other quadrupeds with hands, such as raccoons or geckos, but the spinning wheel landed on apes. Evolution could have, and perhaps did, supply more powerful brain engines to marine mammals, but it dropped a dual-hemi into the drivetrain of a fecund nomad, injected Nitro and walked away.

That bicameral brain evaporated the track in a parsec but see that smoke coming from under the hood? We need to eject. Except someone forgot to put that feature in.

That’s the thing about our neurobiology. It has a problem with looking very far into the future. We could, but we avert our eyes. Instead we discount future against present. Nate Hagens, who has thought long about the larger evolutionary patterns, writes:
To change people’s minds about behavior you have to either make the case really scary, or the time-to-impact really short because of people’s evolved tendency to focus on the present (and cultures impact on causing discount rates to be even steeper). For most Americans, ‘the future’ is this weekend. Climate change is real (as are myriad other environmental externalities), but if people are losing jobs and have to worry about feeding their kids, concern about the natural world will take a back seat to more mundane realities.
Nature abhors a gradient. Life requires one. Possessing gradients, and throttling them to create islands of low entropy while global entropy rises, is the very essence of life. Those organisms that are most effective in accessing and degrading energy have had evolutionary advantage. This includes human societies. For us to voluntarily give up or reduce access to the highest quality fuels goes against our evolutionary grain for ‘more’ or ‘progress.’ Reducing consumption via top-down authority is possible (think Tokugawa Japan) but extremely unlikely. Our modern history is one of doing everything in our power to keep continued global access to high EROI fuels possible.
Declining energy productivity (lower aggregate EROI), instead of causing a belt-tightening in the 1970s, caused us to go to debt to continue high levels of consumption. That led to lower and lower debt productivity (less and less GDP per additional $ of debt), to the point that central banks had to take over the model. In the US, our economy, ex-government, stopped growing in 2005. China, Russia, Brazil, etc are following the exact same model (plummeting debt-to-productivity). So we added government debt to offset declining private growth. Once debt productivity goes below zero (as it is currently in the US and probably in many European countries), we are simply transmuting wealth into income–and the timeline of being able to continue that strategy becomes very short, irrespective of oil prices.
In recent weeks oil prices fell to their lowest since mid-2017 with London futures closing at $53.82 and New York at $45.59. The Peak Oil Review says:
Some observers are calling the situation a “bloodbath” for shale oil producers noting that at $45 a barrel or lower, nearly all the independent shale oil producers are losing a substantial amount on nearly every barrel they produce.

Exxon Mobil has become the biggest fracker in West Texas. TPOR reports:
The company says its shale wells can make double-digit returns with oil at just $35 a barrel. Nearly all of the companies concentrating on shale oil drilling seem to be losing money at $45 a barrel. While Exxon can hide any losses in shale oil among its massive production of conventional oil, it will be interesting to see if it will be so efficient that it will make money where others have failed. Exxon is coming late to shale oil, and many of the best locations have already been drilled. Moreover, Exxon is subject to the same problems of moving oil to markets and shortages of workers and other infrastructure in the region. Exxon’s CEO Darren Woods, however, expects strong growth through 2025 when he’s expecting to produce much as 800,000 b/d from the Permian and the Bakken Basins.
This contrasts with California’s recent announcement that it will be winding down oil production in that state owing to heightened awareness of climate change. It is losing entire towns to uncontrollable fires. That tends to get people’s attention.

The neurobiological discount rate for climate change may be working for Californians but apparently not for Texans. Nor does it seem to work for most USAnians when it comes to understanding national debt, GDP, Fed interest rates, or the hole being dug so deep into the balance sheet that Congress is cashing in National Parks to fund another continuing resolution.

California Governor Jerry Brown steps down next week at age 80 after four terms in office. Earlier this month he told the Seymour Tribune:
“The threat of nuclear annihilation and climate change on a permanent basis looms, and therefore it is time for new leaders to rise up and make the case and mobilize the people for what needs to be done. What needs to be done is unprecedented, and therein lies the dilemma.”
For me, at 72, near-term human extinction is a foregone conclusion. I will likely be out of here before the worst parts of that fate beset us. I just pity the children arriving this New Year to the maternity wing at Kapiolani.


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Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Fabrics of Society

"Yoga pants are destroying the Earth"

Reet Aus
We know to avoid plastics because they are made of non-renewable fossil fuels, they are not biodegradable, and they leach hormones and toxic chemicals. What many of us are unaware of is that plastics make up the fabric of our everyday life. Look down at your shoes, socks, and pants. Do you know what the fabric composition of your clothes is? Look at your rug, your couch, your bed, and the sheets on it. Do you know what they’re made out of? Chances are they’re plastic, or at least part plastic.

Synthetic clothing, including polyester, polyamide, nylon, and acrylic, is very cheap to make and very bad for you and other living things. Because of its low price tag, it is tempting to buy, and retailers and manufacturers may even make it hard for you to choose otherwise. They hide plastic microfibers in budget-friendly fabrics called ‘blends.’

Synthetic fabrics such as nylon and polyester shed thousands of microscopic fibers with each wash cycle. After scientists started showing how these fibers end up on your dinner plate after passing through little fish to bigger fish, newspapers ran articles with headlines such as “Yoga pants are destroying the Earth.” Seizing the moment, eco-conscious brands began selling a washing-machine pellet, claimed to catch “some” of the plastic sloughing off clothing (Patagonia calls theirs ‘Guppyfriend’). Stephen Buranyi, writing for The Guardian, lamented,
“It slips through our fingers and our water filters and sloshes into rivers and oceans like effluent from a sinister industrial factory. It is no longer embodied by a Big Mac container on the side of the road. It has come to seem more like a previously unnoticed chemical listed halfway down the small print on a hairspray bottle, ready to mutate fish or punch a hole in the ozone layer.”
One-third of fish caught in the North Atlantic are contaminated with microplastic. It is even found in benthic animals living thousands of meters below the sea surface. Eighty-three percent of drinking water samples from around the world are contaminated with plastic fibers. While not all of it, quite a lot of this contamination of fresh and saltwater comes when synthetic fiber-based clothing is worn and washed.

It won’t help you if you decide that rather than throw your clothes in the washing machine you will take them all to be dry cleaned. The most common dry cleaning solvent is PCE (perchloroethylene), As Camille Scheidt reveals, “there are no perks to perc.”
“Once the solvent vaporizes, it is easily inhaled. Because of this, both dry cleaning employees and customers are directly at risk of breathing in the chemical. The dangers of perc are not isolated to the dry cleaning facility. Perc can follow you home. The chemical remains in dry-cleaned clothing long after it leaves the cleaner and the levels of perc in the garment will accumulate with each cleaning process. But, as you just learned, the perc doesn’t just stay in your clothing, it off-gases. A study found that if you were to put four freshly dry-cleaned sweaters in your car and step into the grocery store for an hour on a warm day, you would return to a car that was well exceeding the safe limit of perc exposure….
“But perc pollution reaches much further than your home and car. The contaminant has been detected in groundwater and both public and private wells. It’s also found in soil. Perc can become airborne from soil and water, and once in the air can be inhaled. The effect of perc on our bodies is severe. Short-term exposure at low levels can cause inebriation, dizziness, and irritation in the eyes, nose, mouth, throat, and respiratory tract. Short-term exposure to perc at high levels can cause fluid buildup in lungs, difficulty speaking and walking, headaches, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, and irritation of skin and the respiratory system. If a person’s exposure to perc is at a high level, even for a short time, the chemical can cause unconsciousness and death.
“Prolonged exposure to perc can result in damage to the central nervous system, kidneys, and liver. It is recognized as a probable human carcinogen and linked to cases of cervical cancer, bladder cancer, esophageal cancer, kidney cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In 2007, it was estimated that 1 in 10 wells in California were contaminated with perc.”
Fashion, unlike many other aspects of the plastic problem, is something consumers can change both thoroughly and rapidly. Besides producing and buying fabrics that last longer and can be recycled, they can purchase clothing made from organically-produced materials that naturally biodegrade, such as cotton, silk, linen, and wool. They can wash only when the clothes, especially outerwear, absolutely require it. They also have to be aware, when they are buying, not to purchase blends. Many fabrics can be recycled, even acrylics, but if it requires the entire structure be disassembled, thread by thread, remanufacturers may shy away.

Petroplastic fabrics are something we can, and must, refuse. Surely we can replace these with safer, healthier bio-based and biodegradable natural analogs? Finland’s bioeconomy has expanded on the strength of its forests. New developments in the fabric industry there will extend the value chain of forest-biomass to cellulose-based non-woven textiles, estimated to reach 47.7 billion euros in 2020.
“Cellulose fibers can be utilized in all textiles that can replace cotton and viscose which both have sustainability issues related to their production. Government strategy in Finland aims to double the current bioeconomy turnover from 60 billion euros to 100 billion euros before 2025,” says Tuula Savola, Program Manager of Business Finland’s BioNets program.

On the horizon in the rest of the world are new fabrics that provide a better experience and range of qualities than synthetics and blends. These include sustainably-harvested cork fabric as an alternative to leather; fish skin; mushroom “skin” (the capskin from Phellinus ellipsoideus, native to subtropical forests); pellemela, sustainably sourced from discarded apple peels and core waste from juiced apples; Piñatex® from pineapple processing waste; Orange Fiber yarn and silks; TENCEL® from beech and eucalyptus; and UV, mold and mildew resistant, naturally antimicrobial, absorbent and durable hemp.

Confronting Plastic Culture

Plastic culture is another matter. At the end of 2018, the Club of Rome issued this warning:
“The prevailing mantra that all economic growth is good defies the reality of life on a finite planet with finite resources. There is an urgent need for new economic thinking and new indicators that value quality as well as quantity in our economic metrics.”
Since most of the qualities we seek in plastic products can be found in biodegradable bioplastics, all we need to do is to change the economic metrics — how value is assigned. In many ways that realignment dovetails neatly with what is required to arrest and reverse climate change. Here are portions of the roadmap proposed by the Club of Rome, which I have amended slightly to include plastics:
  • Introduce realistic pricing and taxation to reflect the actual cost of fossil fuel use and embedded carbon;
  • Introduce carbon (or non-green plastic) floor prices;
  • Tax embedded carbon (or non-green plastic) through targeted sales taxes;
  • Fund research, development, and innovation;
  • Converge carbon (and green plastic) markets and instruments into a worldwide structure;
  • Replace GDP growth as the primary objective for societal progress;
  • Adopt new indicators — such as the Genuine Progress Indicator — that accurately measure human development, welfare and wellbeing, rather than production growth;
  • Establish explicit funding and re-training programmes for displaced workers and communities;
  • Provide government assistance to enable older industries to diversify to lower carbon (and green plastic) production;
  • Reframe business models and roles for declining industries such as oil, gas, and coal;
  • Create an international convention, applying to nations and non-state actors alike, with legally enforceable rules and mechanisms for policing the global commons;
  • Support citizen action and litigation against countries and actors exceeding legal limits;
  • Require that market prices reflect the real costs of production, integrating social, environmental and ecosystem values into pricing;
  • Ensure greater materials efficiency and circularity by 2025;
  • Actively support efforts to restore degraded lands and water through methods such as open ocean plastics recovery and Ecosystem Regeneration Camps;
  • Recognize that the degree of social change needed to make a successful transformation to a sustainable future will extend throughout society, requiring fundamental shifts in behavior and rethinking of national and community support and care systems.
For more than a quarter-century, world leaders, scientists, and expert advisers have been meeting to try to do something about climate change and the other tragedies of the commons, first chronicled in the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth study in 1972. After all these conferences and meetings we have international treaties like the conventions on Biodiversity, Deforestation and Desertification, and The Paris Agreement on climate change. But what has not changed is the trajectory of the crisis or the common understanding of interconnection and reciprocity. Rather than preserving biodiversity and forests, we are well into a Sixth Great Extinction event, losing forest cover, and desertifying faster than ever before. Rather than moving towards carbon neutrality, greenhouse gases are still growing, and the rate of yearly emissions even accelerated from 2016 to 2018.

Our problem seems to be the inertia of bad decisions made in the past. But humans can and do change their patterns of living, and that can most readily be seen in the world of fashion.

A few years ago I was teaching a Permaculture Design Course in Estonia when one of my students asked if fashion had a role in permaculture. She was fashion designer Reet Aus. Most mass-production manufacturers send about 18% of pre-consumer textiles as scrap to landfill or incinerator. Her Ph.D. dissertation was “Trash to Trend: Using Upcycling in Fashion Design” which opened up new possibilities within the fashion industry. Since 2002, Aus has been upcycling — turning unwanted materials into new, mass-produced garments. Her Bangladeshi partners source floor cuttings from Tommy Hilfiger, Bershka, Calvin Klein and Zara to add into her latest designs.

Her collection, including a treasured shirt of mine, is entirely from post-production leftovers. She keeps proving that clever design can salvage mountains of wasted textiles and the labor and natural resources spent to produce them, usually inside the same factory. Each garment in her line will save on average 75% in water and 88% in energy. She also improves the working conditions of the shops she helps in Bangladesh.

“In my opinion, we should keep oil-based fabrics in the loop as long as possible,” she told me recently. “Clothing in this area not the biggest problem but we can just stop making fabric from oil. We have a lot of good alternatives from algae to cellulose.”

Aus has tapped into an element of human nature that has led to our present predicament but could also point to the way out. It is not science or technology that confounds us from rejoining Earth’s ecology; it is social behavior.

As can be seen in zebras or wildebeest crossing a river full of crocodiles, herding is a rational defense strategy. Bunching herds protect their majority from predators, although a few will be lost to the needs of the river dwellers. Millions of years ago, our ape ancestors adopted herd strategy over lone individualism and it has served us well. Our fads and fashions are not optional — they are hard-wired to our genetic code. When we choose to wear a necktie and blazer, or a pants suit with jewelry and heels, we are signaling membership in a particular band. The cars we drive, the places we live, the foods we eat — all signals of belonging to one specific tribe.

Tribal instincts towards personal sacrifice are ennobling, unifying, heroic. In his book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, Sebastian Junger writes:
“The human conscience evolved in the middle to late Pleistocene as the result of the hunting of large game. This required cooperative, band level sharing of meat. Because tribal foragers are highly mobile and can quickly shift between different communities, authority is almost impossible to impose on the unwilling. And even without that option, males who try to take control of the group or the food supply are often countered by coalitions of other males.
“This is clearly an ancient and adaptive behavior that tends to keep groups together and equitably cared for.”
Fashion is how we signal not merely tribal allegiance but the values we share. When we choose to go plastic-free, whether in our clothing or the packaging and transportation of the things we exchange, we signal membership in the next order of humans on Earth: Homo regenesis.

This essay is adapted from my new book due out next year, Protecting our Future: Plastics (Book Publishing Company, 2019). You encourage me to do more and then tell you about it. Help me get my blog posted every week. All Patreon donations and Blogger subscriptions are needed and welcomed. Those are how we make this happen. PowerUp! donors on Patreon get an autographed book off each first press run. Please help if you can.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Decapitalism by Yellow Vest

"And so this is the anger of the mass of people, saying we’re not going to be put off, we’re not going to play parliamentary games, we’re not even going to work with the regular parties."

A funny thing happened on the way to the UN climate conference in Katowice, Poland. They started rioting in Paris. At first the two events seemed unrelated. The Yellow Vest protests (Mouvement des Gilets Jaunes) were started by a petition and a Facebook event posting calling to protest a new fuel tax in Paris because, the protesters claimed, it was really just paying for tax cuts for the 1%. The protests snowballed into riots when President Emmanuel Macron said the goal of the administration’s economic reform program is to increase France’s competitiveness in the global economy, and that the fuel tax is intended to discourage fossil-fuel use. He later agreed to roll back the tax, but it was too late. The vests were out of the trunks.

Katowice is host, in the heart of Polish coal country, to the UN’s annual effort to fly 20,000 people to some city to make it look like something is being done about climate change. Eighty percent of the heat and power for the Polish conference was supplied by coal.

As the Yellow Vest riots grew larger and pulled in more of the French and Belgian population, delegates in Katowice started wondering if maybe events happening in the two places were connected. What if this is what it looks like when a government tries to curb greenhouse emissions by raising the price of fossil fuels?

15-year-old savant and minor star of this year’s COP Greta Thunberg explained in a press conference that raising fuel prices is a dumb move, if fighting climate change is what French President Macron was doing it for, because it hurts those on the bottom rungs of the ladder more, and people with money would be able to buy what they needed at any price. 

Gilets Jaunes is organized in a leaderless, horizontal, Occupy fashion. Informal leaders can emerge but only in the moment. The movement is not associated with a specific political party or trade union and is spread almost entirely by social media. Three weeks ago, President Macron did not give the protest much credence and dispatched riot police who were no match for 300,000 citizens in yellow vests. Protesters have now gone beyond the retraction of fuel taxes and demanded the reintroduction of the solidarity tax on wealth, a raise in the minimum wage, and the resignation of Macron. At this writing it looks like he could actually be forced to resign. Other world leaders are watching closely.
In a televised address Monday, Macron said he bore partial responsibility for what he said was an insufficient response to souring public sentiment.
“At first it was anger against tax and the prime minister responded by cancelling and removing all rises planned for the start of the new year. But this anger is deeper. I feel it is fair in many ways,” he said. “I may have given you the impression that I didn’t care, that I had other priorities. I know I may have upset some of you with my words.”
“Macron’s sweeteners are coming at a cost,” Berenberg Economists Kallum Pickering and Florian Hense said in a research note Tuesday. France’s debt-to-GDP will likely rise beyond 100 percent as a result of the concessions. EU rules limit spending deficits of member countries to 2% of GDP in any single year.
“They add up to 10 billion euros or slightly more, equivalent to 0.4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). On top of the already announced 4 billion to cancel the fuel tax hike, this could push the 2019 deficit from 2.8 percent to 3.4 percent of GDP unless offset by savings, which will be difficult to find.” 
At a press conference called by COP24 President Micha Kurtkya on December 10, Laurent Fabius, the president of the COP21 three years earlier in Paris (the one that delivered the landmark Paris Agreement), added fuel to the speculation that Parisians are rioting in response to “drastic measures” to keep to 2-degrees global warming rather than the 5 degrees now anticipated this century, as Macron had said.

“Now on the events that are taking place in France we have seen the comments of some people saying ‘Well you know there is a difficulty in France and it means that all that stuff about carbon pricing and more generally about fighting climate change is a figment of the imagination and is not necessary.’ No, I do not share at all this viewpoint.
“French events do not mean that the necessity of ecological and just transition must be abandoned. Not at all. I was a few minutes ago in a meeting about just transition with Nicolas Stern, a certain number of friends and specialists and we discussed just transition, and I reminded them that in the preamble of the Paris Agreement we have put a paragraph about just transition…. 
“At that time it was more in line with the shift in employment because obviously you come from a fossil fuel economy to a low carbon economy and new green growth, this new paradigm has a series of consequences on employment and you have both to prepare new jobs and to [compensate for] jobs which are destroyed. And unions in particular have insisted to us on this idea, which is a very fundamental idea, and it happens in all the countries and it happens in Poland too.
“But there is another element in the just transition, which is that the means you choose to fight against climate change must not bring unfairness, and unjust situations. It doesn’t mean that the transition is not necessary. It is necessary….
“Look what has been done in Denmark, Sweden and the UK. They have taken decisions about carbon pricing and it was worthwhile and it is going in the right direction. Obviously in France there are special characteristics due to the high level of taxes, due to this and that.”
The “this and that” was dissected by Democracy at Work professor Richard Wolff who, in a December 7 vlog chat, supplied a more nuanced take on the Yellow Vest movement. Wolff said it could be traced back to the stock market/real estate crisis of 2008, and the billion-dollar gifts government made to companies like Wells Fargo, Citibank and General Motors, most of it going into the pockets of senior management, who spent public tax money buying more mansions and yachts.
“The capitalist system hasn’t learned in its entire 300 year history how to prevent this kind of instability, how to prevent these crashes. Downturns of capitalism happen every 4 to 7 years. The only difference is that some of them are short and shallow and some of them are long and deep. But everything has been tried to prevent them and everything has failed, and that’s a condemnation of this system’s intrinsic instability.
“You know in my classes I reach across the podium when I teach this and I look at my students and I say to them, ‘If you lived with a roommate as unstable as capitalism, you would have moved out long ago….
“The governments who had spent a fortune to bailing out these companies announced to the mass of people in their society, we now have to have austerity. … Whoa! The richest people got the bailout and all the rest of us got austerity. And I think the mass of people in the world they understand they’ve been taken for a real big ride. They suffered a system that whacked them with a crash, then they watched the people who brought the crash get the big bailouts from the government and then they were told the same government that just delivered bailouts to the rich now have to deliver austerity to you. It is too much. They have been kicked one time too many.
“And I think what you are seeing is, first, people began to vote for socialists because the socialists said, we’ll fight against it. The socialists got elected, they didn’t do crap. They didn’t fight the austerity they administered it. You saw this in Greece with Syriza, you saw this in France with Hollande, so then they went the other way. So you on the left didn’t deliver, we are going to vote for the right. And they did that with Trump. And they did that with Brexit and Macron and the Italian government a few months ago. But guess what? The right wing is no better able to deal with this problem than the left wing….
“And so this is the anger of the mass of people, saying we’re not going to be put off, we’re not going to play parliamentary games, we’re not even going to work with the regular parties. We’re going to go into the street and we’re going to tell the people who run this society, ‘You either change or nothing is going to happen here — there is not going to be any truck in the road, there is not going to be any gas in your tank, it’s over Jackson,’ because in the end the people have the power. They always did, but they weren’t ready to make the fight. And as has happened now several times: the country that leads the way is the French…. The polling indicates that between 70 and 80 percent of the French people support these street actions.”
Seventy or more percent of the population of France may have favored cutting off the heads of the aristocracy at the end of the 18th Century, too, but that didn’t really solve the cyclical problem Wolff is referring to, and nor will it solve the climate problem.

The flaw in the capitalist ointment is its sine-qua-non need for growth. Most economists haven’t seemed to think through what a degrowth future will look like, as the reversal of climate change requires. As I wrote 15 years ago in The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook, some things can continue to grow exponentially, such as quality of life, music, literature, surfing and healthy food. Anything that eats up non-renewable resources, puts carbon into the atmosphere, or sets up class divisions, financial depressions and war is dead. If the only way to capitalize an enterprise is to insist on some higher than invested rate of return that has to come from money conjured into existence, that system is going to kill us all and needs to be put out to pasture. 
When the Paris Agreement speaks of just transition, let us hope a degrowth decapitalism is what those words will come to mean, even if the framers didn’t intend for it to mean that at the time. The real change, as Greta Thunberg told the first plenary session, comes from the bottom.
Some people say that I should be in school instead. Some people say that I should study to become a climate scientist so that I can ”solve the climate crisis”. But the climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions.
And why should I be studying for a future that soon may be no more, when no one is doing anything to save that future? And what is the point of learning facts when the most important facts clearly mean nothing to our society?
Today we use 100 million barrels of oil every single day. There are no politics to change that. There are no rules to keep that oil in the ground.

So we can’t save the world by playing by the rules. Because the rules have to be changed.
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. The people will rise to the challenge. And since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago.

You encourage me to do more and then tell you about it. Help me get my blog posted every week. All Patreon donations and Blogger subscriptions are needed and welcomed. Those are how we make this happen. Please help if you can.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Sound of a Second Shoe Dropping

"To avoid the worst of the predicted outcomes, global carbon emissions must be cut by half by 2030, to zero by 2050."

Montage by author of images from Bartek Sadowski, Bloomberg
Polish coal mining supplies 80% of the power to the UN climate summit. 

A comment on one of my Facebook posts helped me to realize it is possible that some readers, especially those born after the 1970s, aren’t familiar with the Club of Rome. The Club was the brainchild of Fiat industrialist and ex-WWII resistance fighter Aurelio Peccei, who was captured and tortured by the Nazis but survived. 
Aurelio Peccei
Because of his language skills, Peccei was asked to give a keynote speech in Spanish at an international meeting in 1965, which led to a series of invitations ending in the creation of the Club of Rome. His speech, about the seriousness of problems facing mankind and the necessity to act globally, deeply moved those who heard it or read it later. Peccei was asked to form the Club of Rome in order to develop a better pathway for humanity, applying advanced data analysis and regenerative design principles.

Tapping into the newfound ability to forecast world trends using early computers (primitive by today’s standards), the Club commissioned ecologist Donella Meadows, her engineer husband Dennis, and team of 15 others to undertake a first model, using software developed at MIT by Jay Forrester called World3. They presented their findings at international gatherings in Moscow and Rio de Janeiro in the summer of 1971 and in 1972 the Club produced a report called Limits to Growth that shocked the science, economics and public policy communities of that time. 
Limits projected that by about the second decade in the 21st century, human population would have exceeded Earth’s carrying capacity and would be “burning the furniture” to find energy, food and nonrenewable natural resources, while the exponentially growing volume of pollutants such as greenhouse gases and toxic chemicals would be heating the planet, fouling human habitat, decimating ocean life, felling ancient forests and forcing mass migrations.
Limits' "Standard Run" over red chart from Climate in Crisis (1990)
Two of the Limits scenarios forecast “overshoot and collapse” by the mid- to latter-part of the 21st century, while a third (the path not taken) resulted in a “stabilized world.” The leading economists of the day and all the media pundits scoffed, waved their hands wildly, and the Club, along with all the scientists who worked on the project became synonymous with tin-foil-hat eco-wingnuts. The current presidents of the United States and Brazil would no doubt be quick to tell you those Club of Rome studies have been discredited, if they even know about them.
Ugo Bardi recalls: “[By]the 1990s LTG had become everyone’s laughing stock… In short, Chicken Little with a computer.” 
In 1997, the Italian economist Giorgio Nebbia, observed that the negative reaction to Limits came from at least four sources: those who saw the book as a threat to their business or industry; economists who saw it as an encroachment on their profession; the Catholic church, which bridled at the suggestion that overpopulation was one of mankind’s major problems; and finally, the political left, which saw it as a scam by the elites designed to trick workers into believing that Marx and Engels were wrong.
But because the Club was then and continues to be right about the existential threats we are choosing to ignore, I sat up and took notice when I saw a new report this week entitled The Club of Rome Emergency Management Plan, issued in the first week of the annual UN climate summit, #COP24Katowice.

At the top of the first page, Potsdam climate scientist Prof. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber writes, “Climate change is now reaching an end-game scenario, where very soon humanity must choose between taking unprecedented action, or accepting that it has been left too late and bear the consequences.”
After that it doesn’t get any lighter. 
To avoid the worst of the predicted outcomes, global carbon emissions must be cut by half by 2030, to zero by 2050. This is an unprecedented task, requiring a reduction rate of at least 7% annually; no country has to date achieved more than 1.5%. The only possible response is emergency action that will transform human social, economic and financial systems.
As I have written here before, a 7% decline slope (which holds us below 2 degrees, to get to 1.5 degrees we would need to decline by 11%) translates into halving emissions every 10 years. So half by 2030, a quarter by 2040, and an eighth by 2050. Even that will not be enough to hold to the target. Steep emissions reductions need to be accompanied by rapid deployment of negative emissions technologies, which is the subject of a new book by Kathleen Draper and myself, out from Chelsea Green Publishers in February.

The Club of Rome, never one to care what the deniers might say, goes on:
As a result of inaction, climate change now represents an existential risk to humanity. That is, a risk posing permanent, massively negative consequences which can never be undone.
Decades of exponential growth in both population and consumption are now colliding with the limits of the Earth’s biosphere: the climate system is destabilizing; about half of the world’s tropical forests have already been cleared; in the last 150 years, half of its topsoil has been depleted; nearly 90% of fish stocks are either fully or overfished; and the sixth mass extinction event is well underway.
This situation is exacerbated by a global leadership that has abrogated its moral responsibility to provide security for the world’s people and the planet, even as the risks of irreversible climate change escalate.
The inability of our existing economic and financial systems to provide real quality of life and to ensure decent standards of living across the globe has also created social breaking points. The current neoclassical economic model was designed for an ‘empty’ world with a global population of around 2 billion people, when the bounty of natural resources seemed endless.
To stay well below the 2°C warming limit mentioned in the Paris Agreement, global emissions would have to peak no later than 2020.
Then a second shoe dropped mid-week in a report from the Global Carbon Project that The New York Times described under the headline, “Greenhouse Gas Emissions Accelerate Like a ‘Speeding Freight Train’ in 2018.”
That report, building on a peer-review study published December 5th in Earth System Science Data, said that a three-year plateau in global greenhouse gas emissions did not end in the start of the gradual glide slope Paris calls for and instead bent back up, pretty steeply. All the major polluters except the EU are polluting more in 2018 than ever before, India as much as 8% more than in 2017, and the raw survey data does not yet include so-called “fugitive emissions” (methane leaks) from fracking, flaring and gas pipelines which are only very poorly monitored, if at all.
With the price of natural gas in the Permian Basin falling to negative 25 cents last month, oil companies have been flaring it from tall smokestacks (the better to reach the upper atmosphere and have a warming effect quickly) rather than pay refineries to take it. Flaring as a price-control practice had largely ended 30 years ago in the United States, but has now been revived by the Republican administration, which of course does not believe in global warming.

Nadja Popovich/The NY Times from Global Carbon Project data.
With India determined to give all its citizens (coal-fired) electricity and China set to become the world’s largest car-maker and road-builder, prospects for a near-term decline in emissions are not great.
Last month the White House published findings by 13 federal agencies predicting that global warming could knock hundreds of billions of dollars off the size of the American economy by century’s end. In actual fact, climate events within the United States occurring at a 1°C temperature increase knocked $306 billion off the economy in 2017, double their 2016 cost, and the predicted expense for 2018 is even higher.
We are paying for this ineptitude, if not through the rising costs of insurance, then through higher taxes, or the ashes of houses, or combing through the wreckage after storm surges. 
The Club of Rome provides a laundry list of steps to be taken, and by now it is pretty familiar. One step they have been urging since 1972 does not usually make it into climate reports. They say we need to throw the bums out and elect people who can start to right this foundering ship. 
Humanity currently faces systemic collapse on many fronts, such as threats to the philosophical underpinnings of modern society’s democratic institutions and practices that include declining respect for human rights, the rule of law and the proper use of science, and very much needs more enlightened leadership.
It would seem unlikely that such enlightened leadership will be coming from the United States any time soon. We can only hope the leaders gathered this week in Katowice can step up their own game plan.

At a press conference on Saturday, the COP President said that now it is obvious that the difference between 1.5 degree and 2 degrees warmer will be utterly catastrophic, making it imperative that COP24 take the needed steps to hold to 1.5. For a review of where we are at the end of Week One, here is a press conference by Climate Action Network International:


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Sunday, December 2, 2018

Wildfires and Wildcats: California's Oil Ban

"California will be the first State to enact a leave-it-in-the-ground supply side strategy."

International Supply Side Bans (Erickson 2018)
At COP-23 in Bonn last December I had a front-row view to a shouting match between Governor Jerry Brown and Journalist Amy Goodman, who later aired the confrontation on Democracy Now!. Goodman started by saying she thought indigenous rights activists had a point in disrupting an address by Brown by chanting “keep it in the ground.” She mischaracterized something Brown said and led with that because it seemed to show that Brown was racist. He looked at her like she was nuts. Was she serious? Their discussion became heated as Brown tried to defend himself by asking deeper questions than Goodman was equipped to handle. Most viewers of Democracy Now! saw Goodman’s version, that Brown was prevaricating by refusing to walk back racist comments. Having watched in real time, I sided with Brown.

BROWN: “We have the toughest rules on oil. I don’t think we should shut down oil in California and then take it from Venezuela or take it from somewhere else where the rules are even worse. We have to stop the cars. We have to get them electric. We have to get public transportation. We need better land use. We have to solve the problem and I understand because we deal with protest all the time. But California, we are cutting our oil consumption, we are cutting our greenhouse gases, that is what we have to do. Not just a slogan or a march-around or talk-talk. I am talking about reality. And California has the strongest oil-reduction rules in America. We are the leader. So if someone says, ‘get rid of oil,’ oh, you mean ‘get rid of our cars?’ If you got rid of cars you’d have a revolution and there would be shooting in the streets.”
GOODMAN: “They were calling for a ban on fracking like New York and Maryland….”
BROWN: “They were calling for a ban on all oil production.”
GOODMAN: “But also fracking. What is your position on that?”
BROWN: “I don’t think it makes sense to import oil by train. I think its very dangerous. And people who say, ‘Hey, don’t take oil out of your ground, bring it by train or by boat,’ that is far more dangerous. The answer is stop using oil in buses and cars and trucks. You need a renewable vehicle grid. That is the answer and I think to say anything else is not intellectually honest and is not helpful.”
GOODMAN: “Are you considering a ban on fracking?”
BROWN: “We are considering a ban on oil over the next 25 years.”

The November 26, 2018 issue of Nature Climate Change reveals just how far Brown is prepared to go, and when he, or his successors, may get there. Hint: It won’t take 25 years. With the political winds at its back blowing stronger than a fire-nado, California has charted a course to arrest its oil production in just 11 years.

Limiting fossil fuel production as the next big step in climate policy” by Peter Erickson, Michael Lazarus & Georgia Piggot takes California as a case study to show how the state’s Climate 2030 Action Plan goes beyond an electric transportation grid (and lest we forget, the devastating recent Camp Fire may have been sparked by overloaded transmission lines) to the first State to enact a leave-it-in-the-ground supply side strategy. 

Brown was right when he told Goodman that California’s economy depended on oil. For most of the past century, Californians have used more total gasoline, diesel and jet fuel each year than any other US state — a distinction only recently eclipsed by Texas, in 2014. California was also the first- or second-largest US crude oil producer from 1940 to 1980, and now ranks fifth behind Permian Basin, Marcellus or Bakken states using short-lived enhanced recovery techniques. The state issues about 2,500 new oil well permits each year, slaking its thirst for 600 to 700 million barrels per year, with a resulting 300 to 350 annual megatons of CO2 emissions, steady for the past 25 years.

Available options to implement supply side reductions (Erickson 2018)

The challenge is not available supply, but social acceptance, as the NCC study reports:
Pushback from incumbents accompanies any significant social or economic transition, and is to be expected whether policymakers limit supply or enact more comprehensive demand-side policies. For example, California oil producers have put up strong resistance to both supply- and demand-side action, in both cases using many of the same arguments that pit a safe climate against jobs and economy.
Many of the same critiques, however, could apply to demand-side policy: the effectiveness of any individual demand-side policy may also be small compared to a country’s national emissions, and those policies can also be diminished by leakage, or subject to backlash.
If California could simply stop issuing new oil well permits, seemingly a straightforward and administratively feasible move that requires no action by the legislature, it would reduce 2030 oil production by about 70% and have a climate effect equal to all the other actions California is currently taking to reduce emissions, combined. It would also raise the world price, and that could have knock-on reduction effects that ripple outward.

Two months ago, when the Secretary of Interior informed California of its decision to open up national forests, parks and monuments to oil and gas exploration, Governor Brown wrote back: “open[ing] up new areas of the state to oil and gas production … is contrary to the course California has set to combat climate change and to meet its share of the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement.”

While the indigenous peoples’ climate activists who shut down Brown’s talk in Bonn were wrong to have done so, they may ultimately have prevailed in their argument. California has listened and is doing the right thing, as quickly as humanly possible.

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