Sunday, September 29, 2019

Ihere spam is Igbo for “I love you”

"Sitting there in the back, in plain sight, draped in his ceremonial Babar garb, squeezing into one of those 1950-molded-laminate chairs, was that elephant. "
Last week, in A Tyranny of Time, we spoke of flygskam, or “flight shaming,” the movement to voluntarily forego air travel for the sake of a habitable climate. On behalf of those of us who still reluctantly board non-biofueled air carriers, I look forward to the day when we hear this announcement in the departure lounge:
For those needing extra time to board, active duty service members, conscientious objectors and those with vasectomies, you are welcome to board now and thanks for your service.
Skipping the part about conscientious objectors being of equal or superior service to their nation as are service members, please notice that voluntary sterilization should also be a singular honor in these times.

This past week was Climate Action Week, held each year in connection with the convening of the UN General Assembly in New York with many of the world’s heads of state in attendance. After an opening day devoted to climate pleas, each of those heads or their surrogates trooped to the stage to deliver a 5 minute oration. While occasionally stirring, most of those were very predictable. Many took the opportunity to elevate their commitment to cope with climate change, and nearly all of the wealthier members raised their contribution to the Green Climate Fund.
Not once did anyone mention the elephant in the room.

Sitting there in the back, in plain sight, draped in his ceremonial Babar garb, squeezing into one of those 1950-molded-laminate chairs, was that elephant. He never took the podium and everyone simply ignored him.

If you want to call him by another name, it would be population. Of course, he was spoken of indirectly, many times, as is the custom when you have an elephant in the room. When Bangladesh spoke of how much effort it has made to raise levees to ward off killer monsoons and mudslides, it was really speaking of how much effort was required to spare 165 million people from the climate consequences created by 165 million people. I don’t want to pick on Bangladesh, because it has actually been bringing its birth-rate down over the past several decades, to presently 2.1 births per woman.

Two-point-one is generally considered replacement rate, but is it really? Thanks in no small measure to humanitarian aid (and we can as humans do no less), Bangladesh has increased life-expectancy to 72.5 years, which means that a girl born today can expect by the time she is 25 to have had her 2.1 children, and if one was a girl, by the time the mother turns 50 that girl will have produced her 2.1 children, and then by the time the original mother dies at 72.5, she may be fortunate enough to have lived with her great-granddaughter. In other words, one girl becomes a population of four in a single lifetime, and the same is of course true for fathers and sons.

Instead of singling out poor Bangladesh, which is at least attempting population control, let's turn to another country, Nigeria. Nigeria has only 20% more people than Bangladesh and twice as much land, much more of it arable, so it should be somewhat better off. And yet, Nigeria is expected to surpass the population of the United States by 2050, thirty years from now. Forty-three percent of the population is under age 14, meaning that generation is on the cusp of a baby boom. Fifty-three percent of the population are capable of bearing children now. The national fertility average is 5 births per woman. Life expectancy is 59.3 years (61.1 for women), meaning that if the average woman has her first child at 20 (as is the case), she will live to meet many of her 125 grandchildren — more if her life-expectancy can be increased over the next 60 years.

As Albert Bartlett said, “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our failure to understand the exponential function.”

When we consider what will be required to reverse climate change and return us to the comfortable Holocene during which complex mammals such as ourselves could evolve, we need to remember that for as long as we have been civilized, caloric supply and population have been a stable pair. Affluence begets more children and an easily accessible energy supply begets affluence. Population growth tracks perfectly our exploitation of firewood, peat, whale oil, coal, crude oil, gas and nuclear energy to increase the availability of food, water and shelter. It might be imagined that low-cost renewables could keep this going, but the net energy produced is the key factor. You have to life-cycle cost the manufacturing, maintenance, and replacement of various system components before you can be confident renewables will evenly replace the fossil era we’ve grown accustomed to.
We should recall that at one time the world did successfully run almost entirely on renewable energy. It was called the pre-industrial era, and global population was approximately 1 billion.

A 2019 study by the University of Leeds published in Nature Energy concluded that renewables and fossil sources are now approaching rough parity, at three-to-one energy out to energy in. It is expected that fossil efficiency may well decline further, even while renewable efficiency increases. We should recall that at the dawn of the industrial era, fossil fuels supplied 100:1 energy out to energy in, or roughly one old barrel used to produce oil yielded 100 new barrels to the economy. Now we are scraping the bottom of the well, trying to extract oil from shale.

At the same time, the production cost of renewables is declining, meaning their net energy efficiency will keep rising. The authors say, "Once the renewable infrastructure is built and dependency on fossil fuel decreases, the energy-return-on-investment for renewable sources should go up. This must be considered for future policy and energy infrastructure investments decisions, not only to meet climate change mitigation commitments but to ensure society continues to have access to the energy it needs."

While certainly better than three-to-one energy returned on energy invested, even 10:1 dreamt of by renewable energy developers is hardly the 100 to one at the start of the industrial revolution and still far short of the 30:1 ratio that prevailed for most of the past hundred years (global oil production was 20:1 as recently as 2009). The world is going to experience a decline in net energy availability. If we are at 3:1 for all fossil sources now,  that decline is already well underway.

How efficient must energy capture be in order for civilization to thrive? In a seminal paper in Energies a decade ago. Hall, Balogh, and Murphy concluded that the Kung bushmen of the Kalahari could sustain an EROI of 10:1 (10 Kcal returned for their own 1 Kcal invested) but were fragile in hard times and could not expand their numbers or build cities. Through extended analysis of world domestic production reliance on sustained energy inputs, the authors concluded that any economic system needs a minimum of 3:1 return on energy in order to sustain itself, but net available energy at this level “is only a bare minimum for civilization. It would allow only for energy to run transportation or related systems, but would leave little discretionary surplus for all the things we value about civilization: art, medicine, education and so on; i.e. things that use energy but do not contribute directly to getting more energy or other resources.” If the Kalahari bushmen are any indication, even 10:1 will not be good enough.

And therein lies the rub. If society fails to ensure it has access to the energy it requires, it can lose more than art, medicine, education and so on — it can no longer produce enough food, housing, clothing or water to supply its population and it undergoes a population crash. Rapid onset climate change exacerbates the challenge.

However, were population to be voluntarily reduced in an orderly fashion, such as by adoption of sub-replacement fertility, it becomes easier to supply food, housing, clothing or water with less energy, and climate change is also mitigated. Twenty-five countries are now at sub-zero growth, ranging from Italy (-0.04% per year) to Puerto Rico (-3.29%, in part because of Hurricane Maria). Germany would be in negative population territory based on birthrate but is at +0.48% because of Syrian refugees.

If the UN delegates were more interested in talking to the elephant, they could be imagining a decline slope for the next 30 years that parallels the decline in fossil fuels. Population neutrality by 2030 (8 billion), a decline to 1990 levels (5 billion) by mid-century and back to pre-industrial concentrations (1 billion) by end of century.

Then we might have a serious chance to reverse climate change, biodiversity loss, and plastic pollution of the ocean.  

Nations have a poor record of accomplishing these kinds of cultural changes. The push-back from their citizens is usually the limiting factor. Maybe what is needed is spermaskam, or ihere spam in Nigerian Igbo. Greta?
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.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Pretty cool, right?

"There's a magic machine that sucks carbon dioxide out of the air, costs very little, and builds itself."

Sunday, September 22, 2019

A Tyranny of Time

"“We will move to a low-carbon world because nature will force us, or because policy will guide us. If we wait until nature forces us, the cost will be astronomical.”  — Christiana Figueres"

In the Drawdown meeting, Exponential Roadmap’s Johan Falk told the audience,

The starting point in our narrative is we need to face the blind fact we are entering a climate crisis, we risk a hothouse earth future. We think it's very important to face reality as a starting point. When science says what is required to save the climate, can we say that in a simpler way than a lot of different IPCC curves and so on? Well, it's basically about we must halve emissions by 2030, in ten years cut it by two and every decade after that. Three halvings to approach close to net-zero by 2050. So that's an easy rule of thumb. And it's called the global carbon law. It was released about two, three years ago by a number of scientists, Potsdam Institute and so on. It's very much inspired by Moore's law, which you are familiar with.

There are so many conferences going on about climate change right now it is almost as though it were a new class of tourism. Sixteen-year-old Swedish school striker Greta Thunberg is in New York for the UN Secretary General’s annual high-level strategy meeting. Her crossing the Atlantic in a speed catamaran was less about having a smaller carbon footprint — it was likely larger than an economy seat on a 300-passenger commercial flight — than conferring upon her the personal moral authority to speak about lifestyle change. Her choice to sail to New York was in sync with the latest Swedish social movement of “flygskam” which translates as “flight shame.” Like global veganism, flygskam is adding adherents by about 10% per year. At that rate, it will halve commercial air travel by 2027.

Another A-team of negative emissions technologists just concluded a three-day meeting, “Achieving Net Zero,” at Oxford, England where they compared progress notes on so-called “fairy dust” solutions rapidly moving into full-scale implementation. Across the world, in the combine-crisscrossed cornfields of Western Pennsylvania, Project Drawdown brought together its own A-list to fashion battle plans for the next half-century of post-fossil cultural conflict.

For my part, after speaking at a meeting and tour organized by the International Biochar Initiative, I found myself briefing academic, cultural and political leaders in Finland and Estonia about the potential for a New Carbon Economy as an economic engine that would drive innovation across a broad spectrum of industries. Then I was back to living the drawdown walk and talk from my home garden at The Farm. Personal travel footprint: minus three tons, approximately. Even though I am withdrawing more than I emit by travel, I could watch at least some of the Drawdown and Oxford meetings without going there. I’ll be doing the same for the UN summit.

The Oxford meeting has been posted to YouTube as a string of clips. As is common for gatherings of academics these days, the meeting was broken into sessions of 4 or 5 short talks (10 minutes each) to provide a launch point for a moderated discussion between the participants, aiming for a balance between researchers, policymakers and practitioners. The same format was used in Pennsylvania. The web simulcast saves you, me and hundreds of others the climate footprint of a flight, rental car, and hotel. For the Oxford meeting, there was also the very reductionist reportage by Carbon Brief, although on July 4th they interviewed one of the keynote speakers, Amory Lovins, at greater length and that provides somewhat better context for his remarks in September.

There was neither webcam nor Carbon Brief at the Finland meeting September 3-6. You just had to be there. But unlike the other venues, in Finland, some very real solutions were being not merely discussed, but demonstrated. 

The quintessential importance of all this blather should be crystal clear to anyone who grasps the existential crisis humanity now faces. Amid all the sound and fury, elbowing for research grants, pimping of special interest agendas and wangling of political and financial schemes, comes a very clear appraisal of the tyranny of time. 

At 00:01 BST / 01:01 CEST on Sept 19, 2019, the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) released its latest report, Exponential Roadmap 1.5: Scaling 36 Solutions to Halve Emissions by 2030. This is the second report from the Exponential Roadmap group and eagerly awaited (for the philosophical foundations, see: J. Rockström et al., A roadmap for rapid decarbonization. Science 355.6331, 1269-1271; 2017). As a little sidebar on page 11 expresses the concept:

“We need Moonshot Thinking and exponential strategies inspired by Moore’s Law to reach the Paris Agreement’s ambitious goal. The carbon law trajectory, first proposed in 2017, is consistent with the UN agreement and the limited remaining carbon budget:
  • Emissions peak by 2020.           
  • Emissions fall about 50% by 2030, then a further 50% by 2040, and a further 50% by 2050.
  • Agriculture transforms from a carbon source to a carbon sink.
  • Solutions to store carbon, for example, reforestation, biochar or bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, are scaled up.
  • Remaining natural carbon sinks are protected and enhanced.”

I have been repeating similar carbon arithmetic since Paris in 2015 but SRC has simplified the trajectory to make it easier to swallow. If one takes the IPCC consensus position that in order to hold global warming to only 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial (locking in the currently unfolding climate chaos) nations must attain zero fossil emissions by 2050 at the latest (although many have already set more ambitious goals), that implies a decline slope of 11 to 14 percent, depending upon how soon it gets going (it has yet to begin). SRC says, let's make the math more basic and use 7 percent. If you understand the exponential function, you know that a 7% growth rate represents a doubling every ten years. Conversely, a 7% attrition rate equals a halving every ten years. That, in essence, is what the “Carbon Law” says: half by 2030; half again by 2040, and so on. To say this number reaches zero by 2050 is a bit disingenuous, but so be it. It is a good start. Assuming we actually get started.

Rather than decry the lack of ambition shown to date, the report lauds the progress that has been made. Renewable energy is already following Moore’s Law. It is on pace to eliminate fossil fuels from the energy sector by 2050. At the same time, the report identifies several sectors that will be more difficult to decarbonize, including aviation, shipping, long-distance transport, cement, and steel production. These account for about 27% of global CO2 emissions from all 10 fossil-fuel and industrial sources (~9.2 Gt CO2).

At GM plants UAW (United Auto Workers) members are out on strike now demanding a share of GM’s success. They are like coal miners or mill weavers, blissfully unaware of a historic shift in their workplace. The Exponential Roadmap calls for fossil-based light-duty vehicles to be banned starting in 2025, replaced mainly by bicycles. UAW would serve its members best by retraining them as UBW — United Bicycle Workers.

“Some major companies are taking substantial strides to tackle these hard-to-reach sectors. For example, truck company Scania has published a Roadmap to become net-zero by 2050. The world’s largest shipping company, Maersk, has committed to becoming 100% carbon neutral by 2050. And cement 50 company Dalmia aims to be carbon negative by 2040. In Sweden, the steel industry is planning to have the first commercial-scale zero-emissions steel plant, using hydrogen fuel, operational by the early 2030s. Since 2017, Oslo has required that municipal construction projects are fossil-free and a commissioned study showed that almost all construction site emissions could be eliminated in the city by 2025.”

Woody waste feedstock pile at Carbofex in Tampere Finland
I can confirm this was the type of scaling up I witnessed in Helsinki, now rapidly following the example of Stockholm and other Swedish cities by embedding biochar into the city’s hardscape. Finnish company Carbofex, which hosted the IBI study tour, is supplying both Sweden and Finland with fossil-free carbon for millennial drawdown, taking its biochar feedstocks entirely from commercial carbon wastes of photosynthetic origin.

The Exponential Roadmap notes that:

“More people and organizations are changing the language they use to describe climate change. Increasingly, phrases such as “climate and nature emergency”, “climate crisis”, “climate breakdown” or “global heating” are being used by the United Nations, the UK’s Met Office, the Guardian newspaper and others. The evidence now supports this change in language. Likewise, phrases such as “business as usual” or “current trends” should increasingly be viewed as problematic descriptions of future economic pathways because their blandness masks climate disruption.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gets this. It is why he asked Greta Thunberg to address the UN summit next week.  

Getting past emissions reductions, the Exponential Roadmap looks at nature-based solutions for negative emissions and latches onto biochar, although unfortunately limited only to agriculture. We sent review copies of BURN: Using Fire to Cool the Earth to Rockstrom and Figueres but there is yet to be any sign they have read or understood the implications of extending the biochar solution beyond agriculture. The difference is between 2 billion tons of annual CO2 removal and 50 billion tons of annual CO2 removal, so hopefully, they will get around to reading that soon.

Continuing from the remarks of Exponential Roadmap’s Johan Falk in the Drawdown conference:

“It's really important that we don't focus on decarbonization. We must focus on racing -- raising prosperity and the reason why we're doing this is actually to protect the biosphere, to bring better health, better and just economies. So I think in the narrative we need to shift from decarbonization to what we actually can achieve by halving emissions, this would be absolutely essential. Moving forward, our focus is very much on the first halving and why is that? Well, if you look at the carbon budget basically, if we delay action, we will consume the remaining budget very quickly and we will push the problem to our children. That's absolutely unacceptable. There the laser focus on the next ten years is essential. 2050 is is absolutely fine, but we need to make the actions in the next ten years. And the trajectory we're talking about on average is about 7% per year. So as a good rule of thumb for cities, for companies, for individuals, and for countries, as a baseline, you should at least deliver that. So that was a starting point for the exponential road map. The question was can we transform this carbon law to the different sectors. And basically, you know, to energy as we talked about in drawdown all the key sectors and our conclusion and the assumption is that well, that is basically achievable, the solutions to do the first halving by 2030 basically exists on a high level. All models are, of course, this is a hypothesis and the absolute mix of solutions, of course, will not look like this but it is a starting point. It's based on data from drawdown, of course, which is a great partner from our perspective but also data sources from the low energy demand scenario, the Lancet report, circular economy and so on.”

In the Oxford meeting’s final session, the hall was addressed by Barry Gardiner MP, UK shadow secretary of state for international trade and shadow minister for international climate change.

Gardiner warned that “one of the things that really worries me about COP26 (which will be hosted in Glasgow) is the complete lack of diplomatic preparation. The recent cuts to the number of government officials dedicated to climate have left “an appalling situation as the host of the COP.”
Gardiner said that just two days earlier, Claire Perry O’Neill MP – who will be COP26 President – told him that “I do not have an office; I do not have any officials, and I have no administrative back-up whatsoever.” “I don’t know when or if that’s going to be resolved,” continued Gardiner, “but if it’s not, the idea of us actually setting realistic targets for the outcomes that we want from COP26 are straight down the pan – and this government has to get to grips with it.”
Nor are they the only ones.

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, September 15, 2019

The Trickster's Tale

"Everyone has some wisdom, but no one has all of it."

 Come gather 'round my children and I will tell you the great story; the story that existed before all other stories came into the world.

There was once a time when the only stories that existed were in a locked box held by the Sky Demon, Winklevoss. A spider named Zuck, seeing that the world was a rather boring place without these stories, set about a plan to steal the box from Winkelvoss and release the stories to the world.

He rose into the sky on a silken thread that he spun, and asked Winklevoss if he could give the box to the people so that they could enjoy the stories and learn from their wisdom. Winklevoss was impressed that Zuck had even found a way to approach him, so even though he did not want to release the stories, he offered them to Zuck if he could complete what he thought was an impossible task. Winklevoss told Zuck that if he could bring four creatures to him, he would trade Zuck the stories for them. The creatures were the most fearsome in creation; Brexonini, a huge python, Donangelo, a proud leopard, the deadly Koch Hornets, and the invisible warlock MitchMcConnellnastia who was famous for his ruthlessness, avarice, and quick temper.

As Zuck left, declaring that he would do these tasks, Winklevoss laughed to himself thinking that each was impossible, and all four combined would be insurmountable.

Zuck himself wondered how he could do this, but he was determined. Soon he realized that in order to beat the best traits of the four creatures, he would have to use his best trait – his trickery. He devised plans to defeat each of the four beasts and quickly put them into motion.

First, he sat outside of Brexonini’s lair and pretended to argue with himself. First, he would say, “Is not!” and then follow it with “Is so!” Soon the python’s curiosity was aroused, and he asked Zuck what he was doing. Zuck had been waiting for this moment, had spun a vast spiderweb around the world, and had enlisted the help of his friends at Cambridge Analytics to predict the exact moment when the serpent would be most receptive to being tricked. Zuck told Brexonini that his friends the Koch Hornets had said the branch of the tree he was hanging from was longer than the snake, while he thought the snake was longer. Brexonini said that there was an easy way to sort it out. He would unravel and separate himself from the tree, stretch himself out next to the branch and see which was bigger. Zuck suggested that since it was difficult for the snake to stretch his curves to the full length of the branch, they should tie him to it to measure. Brexonini agreed, and this is how his vanity allowed Zuck to capture him. Try though he might, and although he shouted “No deal!” when he found himself ensnared, Brexonini could not exit from the branch.

Next was the loudmouthed Donangelo, with orange hair, whose vanity was legendary. Zuck observed that Donangelo’s vanity demanded he show he was superior to his rival, the lady hawk Hillarbama, so Zuck dug a deep pit in a place the Koch Hornets told him Hillarbama would be walking. The next morning, he found Hillarbama had fallen and become trapped in the hole. Offering to help, he spun a rope from his webs. I will throw you this rope, Zuck told Hillarbama, but you must first agree to tell fake news stories about Vladimir Putin and Julian Assange that have been carefully developed by the Koch Hornets to help you position to the right of Donangelo. After consulting with Cambridge Analytics, Hillarbama was happy to use this strategy to best Donangelo and to climb out of the pit. When Hillarbama began climbing, the sticky web became entangled in Hillarbama’s legs. Zuck spun a larger web to display to the world how “Crooked Hillarbama” had become trapped by her own lies. When Zuck showed Donangelo how he had used Hillarbama’s own strength to capture the hawk, Donangelo offered Zuck a position in government and a free round at his golf course. This is how Zuck used Donangelo’s pride to tame him and do his bidding.

For the Koch Hornets, Zuck cut a small hole in a gourd and made a plug for the hole. He then gathered water on a huge leaf. He poured half over his head, and half on the Republican Party, ruining it. When the Koch hornets angrily flew out to see what had happened to their party, Zuck exclaimed that the rains had come early, but that the hornets could hide in the gourd where the Tea Party was gathered and Donangelo had agreed to protect them. The first of the Kochs flew in, and then the other, along with everything that was left of the Tea Party and the Republican Party. This is how Zuck used hive-mind to trap the hornets and their minions in the gourd and then to use his servant Donangelo to destroy them all.

Finally, he had to trap the crafty fairy MitchMcConnellnastia. He knew this final task would be the most difficult, but he also knew of the creature's weakness for yam paste. Zuck crafted a gum baby, attached a web line to its head, and set a bowl of yam paste. Soon MitchMcConnellnastia came along and saw the yam paste. He could not resist and asked the gum baby for permission to have some. Zuck pulled the web, making the gum baby’s head nod.

MitchMcConnellnastia dug in, eating all the paste. When he was finished, he thanked the gum baby. Now, Zuck did not pull the web. MitchMcConnellnastia was annoyed, and thanked the gum baby again, who remained silent. This caused MitchMcConnellnastia to become angry, and slap the gum baby. His hand became entangled in the gum, so he attacked with her other arm, which also became entangled. As his rage grew, he attacked with his legs, until he was finally fully trapped. Zuck had used MitchMcConnellnastia's greed and anger against him.

Taking all these creatures to Winklevoss, the Sky Devil presented Zuck the box containing all the stories of the world.

Zuck was troubled. He had a box containing all the wisdom of the world, and every day Zuck would look in the box and learn some new and wondrous thing. He wanted to keep it safe, and for himself, even though Winklevoss had instructed him to share it. He began looking for a hiding place.
At the base of a tree lived the worm, Ntikuma, who was very curious, and when he saw Zuck skulking about, he decided to follow him.

Zuck looked far and wide for the perfect hiding place. Finally, he came upon a very tall tree and decided that he would tie the box to the top of it where nobody but he would know it was. Then he could choose which stories to tell to whom, and when. In this way, he could control the world. He fashioned a long rope of vines and began to climb the tree while holding the box.

No matter how he tried, though, the box made it impossible for him to climb very high. He kept falling, endangering the box each time. Finally, Ntikuma could not keep his silence. He revealed himself and said, “Zuck, why do you not use some of your vines to tie the box to your back. That way you can carry it up without it bumping your belly or requiring your grasp!”

Zuck did this and was able to quickly climb to the top. Then Ntikuma said to him, "Zuck, if you share the stories that Winklevoss gave you with the world freely, without using them to ensnare your enemies, they will make many more stories, which you will enjoy much more."

As Zuck sat there in the top of the tree, clutching his box, he realized that even with the box of wisdom it is best when it is shared. He threw the box from the top of the tree and when it struck the ground and shattered, the wisdom was dispersed in the water and the winds to anyone that wanted a little of it. This is why everyone has some wisdom, but nobody has all of it.

And ever since then, Zuck has remained in the top of that tree, spinning his web and catching his flies, and listening, and looking down, and enjoying the many more stories that people continuously come up with to entertain and enlighten. Zuck learned that by letting the people tell their own stories, and not be told the stories that come from a single box, the world is a much better place.

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, September 8, 2019

Nothing Again - Naomi Klein Renews Her Climate Prescription

"By now we should all be well aware by now of the havoc being caused by climate change."

In about 2 weeks, Simon and Schuster and Penguin Books drop Canadian author Naomi Klein’s latest contribution to the climate crisis into bookstalls in airports all over the English world. The title is On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal, although the cover just uses an emoji rather than spelling fire out for you. I sort of wish the interior would follow that same convention. We should all be well aware by now of the havoc being caused by climate change.

My co-author of Burn: Using Fire to Cool the Earth, Kathleen Draper, who is here with me in Finland touring state-of-the-art negative emissions facilities with more than 100 other professionals, and I have been kidding about how copying is the highest form of respect and how maybe people looking for Klein’’s book in the stores or on-line might just discover ours, too.

I doubt Klein’s book is as serious a search for real solutions as is ours, though I am happy to have that assumption disproved. Because this tour, and the biochar masterclass I am giving in Estonia right after, are consuming all my time right now, I’ve gone back to the archives and pulled up my October 5, 2014 review of Ms. Klein’s last book. That review has held up pretty well after 5 years, I would suggest.

Go ahead and get Klein's new book, as I will, but rather than wallowing in despair or foraging for false hope from half-measures, I would suggest readers take a look at the actual text of the Green New Deal. It really has no need for Canadian authors to champion it, just voters. The 2020 election will be its first referendum.

This Changes Nothing — Naomi Klein’s Climate Prescription

"A post-capitalist world would not be one of dense cities and jet travel, but it would have a chance of averting climate change if it could rediscover a balance with nature akin to that previous noncapitalist societies maintained for millennia primarily through gift economies and perennial agronomies."

We eagerly picked up a copy of Naomi Klein’s latest book, This Changes Everything — Capitalism and Climate Change, the day it was released because we were mesmerized by the word “capitalism.” Of course we were interested primarily in climate change, but we already have whole shelves of books devoted to that topic, going back more than 60 years. What we are looking for now are not retread problem statements, no matter how elegantly posed, but viable solutions to the urgent, existential dilemma. When someone mentions as a pivot point something as grand as capitalism, we are immediately drawn, because at last, we think, they are getting to the root of the matter.
“There is no way this can be done without fundamentally changing the American way of life, choking off economic development, and putting large segments of our economy out of business.”
- Thomas J. Donahue, President of the US Chamber of Commerce, on ambitious carbon reductions, quoted in This Changes Everything.
Klein’s book disappoints. She delves into capitalism only very superficially. She does not undertake the more arduous task that her title suggests — dissecting linkages between exponential-growth driven culture and macroclimate — and then illuminating a transition pathway to a better future, some style of money game antithetical to Monopoly.  
Make no mistake — understanding capitalism is key to understanding and reversing climate change. Klein provides neither the understanding of how that has happened nor any practical and promising way to post-modernize the process, such as by a smartphone linked to MazaCoin (trading at $0.000078 as of Sept. 10). For her, “capitalism” just seems to be synonymous with “corporatism” or “greed.” We might have still purchased the book if either of those words had been substituted in the title, but we would have held fewer expectations.
She refers to the books she reads to her child and creates a similar narrative here: good guys (First Nations women leaders, Ken Saro-Wiwa’s Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, Henry Red Cloud’s Solar Warriors, the Rainforest Action Network,, whose activities are “mesmerizing,” “heroic,” “determined;” while bad guys (Richard Branson, frackers, Fred Krupp, carbon traders, UN negotiators, Nature Conservancy) are “entrenched,” “sly,” or “rich and powerful.” There is even a cliffhanger finish — will our heroes transition to clean energy in time?
Missing are any grasp of civilization itself ascending the steps of the guillotine; the inextricable fossil energy embodied in industrial-scaled renewables; or the Ponzi tsunami in sovereign debt and its implication for globalized supply chains. The dumbing down process Al Gore described in The Assault on Reason seems to have struck the left with the same casual brutality as it lobotomized the right. 
What Naomi Klein dispenses best is harangue. Because she is a very gifted writer working with a large research budget, the book sits well on its shelf beside works of similarly gifted writers performing similar harangues. Her prescription is protest — “Blockadia” is the term she coins — and while that may indeed produce results sometimes, especially when resonating with cultural shifts reflected in contemporary music and prose, it may also be catastrophically naïve if the “ask” is too far a reach for mass acceptance, or if the advocates’ own lifestyles betray a secret lust for role reversal.

Jean Laherrere predicts a very rapid drop in energy after 2017
Martin Luther King's grasp of the use and limits of protest provides a modern example of successful "swerve" (in contemporary climate tactician lingo). As described in his famous Letter from A Birmingham Jail, there are a number of essential preconditions for moral protest. Although King does not make the attribution, his checklist is drawn from the voluminous lifetime writings of Mohandas K. Gandhi.

First, purify yourself.

For Gandhi and King, self-purification means, besides purging racial prejudice from your own heart, harboring no anger, while at the same time being prepared to suffer the anger of your opponent. For King, this meant the ability to forgive but not forget; to bounce back again and again, still holding love in your heart. For Gandhi it meant a willingness to take sides with your oppressor — "If anyone attempts to insult or assault your opponent, defend your opponent (non-violently) with your life." (“Some Rules of Satyagraha” Young India (Navajivan) 23 February 1930 (The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi vol. 48, p. 340).

Second, negotiate.

King and Gandhi always sought civil remedies through normal channels, and when these failed for illegal and unconscionable reasons, they could then proceed to a final tet-a-tet. They informed authorities in advance of their intentions to resist. They offered themselves for arrest. No protest could proceed before every possible avenue for redress had been followed but inexplicably blocked by the intransigence of authority. This tedious process provided the clear moral high ground in each confrontation.

Klein writes,

"'You have been negotiating all my life.' So said Canadian college student Anjali Appadurai, as she stared down at the assembled government negotiators at the 2011 United Nations climate conference in Durban, South Africa. She was not exaggerating. The world's governments have been negotiating for more than two decades; they began negotiating the year that Anjali, then twenty-one years old, was born. And yet as she pointed out in her memorable speech on the convention floor, delivered on behalf of all assembled young people: 'In that time you've failed to meet pledges, you've missed targets, and you've broken promises.'"

Does this gain sufficient moral high ground to justify laying down one's life to tasers, tanks and microbeams directed from aerial platforms? Not yet.

The UN climate treaty process (UNFCCC), informed by the slowly consensed scientific authority of the IPCC, is not being thwarted so much by covert action in the West Wing and 10 Downing Street or the corporate headquarters of Koch Industries as by the sluggish response of elected or inherited governments to the slow-dawning reality of the scope of this particular problem. As successive governments over 30 years come to grasp its dimensions and what that implies for the fate of business as usual, there is a kind of institutional learning that takes place -- the kind of progress by baby steps that was foreseen by Eleanor Roosevelt when the United Nations was founded. It may seem glacially slow to people from the generations of Klein and Appadurai, raised in the Twitterverse, but slow is not "no." 

Harvard Students at September Climate March in New York
In the tortoise-like process of the UNFCCC, the next major deadline is COP-21 in Paris, December 2015. The recent high level meeting in New York and this December's COP-20 in Lima are intended to set the stage for a treaty. That legally binding treaty should be seen as a Rubicon for the UN process. If it arrests emissions by firm and timely process, "alea iacta est" – the die is cast.  If the river is not crossed, or it does not go far enough fast enough, or the UN farms the crisis out to mercenary corporations, mass civil disobedience is fully justified.

Klein writes:

"By posing climate change as a battle between capitalism and the planet I am not saying anything we don't already know. The battle is already underway but right now capitalism is winning hands down. It wins every time the need for economic growth is used for the excuse for putting off climate action yet again, or for breaking emission reduction commitments already made.…

"Right now the triumph of market logic, with its ethos of domination and fierce competition, is paralyzing almost all serious efforts to respond to climate change…. For any of this to change, a worldview will need to arise to the fore that sees nature, other nations and our own neighbors not as adversaries, but rather as partners in a grand project of mutual reinvention.

"That is a big ask, but it gets bigger. Because of our endless delays, we also have to pull off this massive transformation without delay. The International Energy Agency warns that if we do not get our emissions under control by a rather terrifying 2017, our fossil fuel economy will 'lock in' extremely dangerous warming."

Giving your negotiating partner (in this case the UNFCCC) a deadline is something both King and Gandhi did. If the partner asked for an extension of time for reasonable cause that would be granted. Again and again. The process of negotiation is not complete until the last legal stone has been turned and the final responses are bereft of moral reason.

The third step in preparing successful protest is surrender. For King, this involved bearing Christian witness, as in the case of sending waves of children to face billy clubs, firehoses and attack dogs in order to fill Birmingham's jails to overcapacity.

For Gandhi, surrender meant to "never retaliate to assaults or punishment; but do not submit, out of fear of punishment or assault, to an order given in anger."

As a prisoner, Gandhi observed the same rules of self-discipline as in the outside world. He obeyed prison regulations except those contrary to his own self-respect. He fasted only when his own self-dignity demanded it. Once begun, he expected no respite from a fast. Each was a fast to the death.

Parenthetically, these same rules have been scrupulously followed by the victims of daily ritual of torture ordered by President Barack H. Obama in the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba. These striking prisoners, whose numbers are estimated at between 45 and 160 but whose actual numbers are unknown owing to the gag order issued by the Department of Defense and the refusal to allow in UN human rights inspectors, are innocent men. They were innocent when they were abducted from their homes and farm fields in 2002. They were even found innocent in 2009 by the Military Review Panels ordered by federal courts in 2006. And these were kangaroo courts designed to find them guilty. Their court review came partly in response to the 26-day hunger strike in 2005 that ended only when Navy medics joined in a sympathy strike and refused to provide medical assistance to the daily torture feedings. Only then did prison authorities agree to bring the camp into compliance with the Geneva Conventions, something we all still await.

Today's tortured Guantanamo strikers are waterboarded three times per day at the orders of President Obama. It is not as though he gets up in the morning and before he sees Malia and Sasha off to school he says to a military attaché, "Oh, go ahead and torture another 100 or so prisoners at Gitmo, and throw in some women and children prisoners at the black sites in Afghanistan too, just to let them know we mean business." Rather, as a Commander who could simply order their judicially-ordained release with a few words, he remains mute, kisses his daughters' foreheads, and then prepares daily remarks to, say, praise his outgoing Attorney General for his record on civil rights, or condemn some oil-rich Middle Eastern dictator as cruel and anti-democratic.

From whence does moral authority derive?

Every day since early February 2013, each of Obama's victims is given the option of ending their fast and avoiding being waterboarded yet again — more than 1700 times for some, so far — and each day they choose dignity over the orders of their oppressors. They choose to go under the hose rather than sacrifice their regard for what it means to be a human being.

If the Gitmo hunger strike experience tells us anything, it is that protest does not always succeed. Sometimes it only worsens the conditions being protested. As Malcolm Gladwell describes in David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, the Birmingham civil disobedience campaign was going badly for King until a wire photo of a firehosed teen being attacked by a police dog made front-page news. Suddenly, nationwide, public wrath was aroused.

The fourth rule for any protest is to have a goal. For Gandhi, it was Indian independence from British rule. For King, it was ending segregation. Both men, of course, wanted much more. These simple goals, while grand enough to be assumed unachievable by most observers at the outset of the protests, were nonetheless below the mark. Among his goals, King wanted to end the War in Vietnam, and wars generally. Gandhi wanted to end religious and ethnic intolerance. They got what they could, and that was quite enough for the time.

Naomi Klein also has large ambitions. Her vision of the future is bright — "the climate movement does not have the option of saying 'no' without also saying 'yes'" to the many forms of solar development. Already solar power in many of its emerging systems is cheaper and quicker for industrial use than fossil and nuclear options, but that finesses the larger point. Is the goal to save industrial civilization? Is the goal to save the religion of consumerism, of growth economics, and thus, capitalism?

The title of the book seems to suggest that capitalism is the problem. Her analysis, however, lacks the thoughtful deliberation of critics like Noam Chomsky, Steve Keen, Chris Hedges or David Korowicz. Capitalism to Klein is a foil; a target for her sharp political invective. To fight this evil scourge she urges us to storm the parapets, take the streets, stand up to the tanks. Capitalism is just her shorthand for evil greedy bastards.

She writes:

"This book is about those radical changes on the social side, as well as on the political, economic and cultural sides. What concerns me is less the mechanics of the transition — the shift from sole rider cars to mass transit, from sprawling exurbs to dense, walkable cities — than the powerful and ideological roadblocks that have so far prevented any of these long understood solutions from taking hold on anything close to the scale required."

That statement deserves some unpacking. Klein is not very concerned about transition modalities other than street protest. She gives short shrift to Transition Towns, Holistic Management or permaculture and makes no mention of ecovillages, complimentary currencies, gift economies or bioregionalism. She sees the connection between capitalism's profit imperative and the disequilibrium of exponential growth (long a standard of permaculture training) but has scant grasp of the carbon cycle civilizational embed since the dawn of agriculture, energy return on invested energy (EROIE), or the abbreviated future-discount factor as a function of human neurobiology. 

Granted, she pays token lip service to Holistic Management and soil carbon, but calls biochar “problematic at scale” and lumps much of regrarianism with geoengineering. She seriously needs to attend the Biodiversity for a Livable Climate conference in Massachusetts next month. 

Consider her failure to grasp the exponential function as applied to human population. After describing her own difficulties in trying to bear a child, she says simply, "Anyone who wants to have a child should be able to." Really? What about a second, or a fifth? Is this a right that humans had before we emerged from the Paleolithic or is it dependent on some modern scheme of ordered liberty, not to mention bioscience? 

Is it not a right that must first, perforce, be grounded in resource availability, on the penalty of starvation for the whole? Would she confer that right on every reindeer on St. Matthew Island, or are we just talking about women's' reproductive rights here?

Self-purification requires we examine our own needs and determine which of them is actually required and which is merely more comfortable. Faced with the discomfort of say, 140-degree summer months, and the discomfort of limiting family size to one-half child, as we described in our Post-Petroleum Survival Guide, which is preferable? For how long?

Klein's "mechanics of the transition" are mere Disney models of New Urbanism — dense, walkable cities presumed able to accommodate 12 billion or more people with ample power from renewable energy to carry packs of contented residents up and down 100 floors in air-conditioned elevators with happy, seasonal background music. Exactly how are those cities to be built and maintained after we dispense with profit motive, not to mention the fossil fuels to turn iron into steel and limestone into concrete?

Self-purification as a pre-protest ritual might reveal to Klein that the powerful and ideological roadblocks she attributes to a Goldman Sachs boardroom are affixed firmly within her own worldview. They are entrenched in the premises of cornucopian solar power advocates as deeply as in the Carlyle Group. If she is to exorcise the Kochs and Saudi princes from control of Earth's climate, she will have to first exorcise mechanistic utopian fantasies from her own thinking. Her admiration for indigenous peoples is good, but she needs to be reminded that their sustainability as peoples comes from their diverse cultures' awareness of natural limits and willingness to forego lifestyle choices that did not adhere to those limits.
A post-capitalist world would not be one of dense cities and jet travel, but it would have a chance of averting climate change if it could rediscover a balance with nature akin to that previous noncapitalist societies maintained for millennia primarily through gift economies and perennial agronomies.

In her new book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, Elizabeth Kolbert's epiphany, which comes to her in closing chapters, is that the only way we will ever stop the advent of the Anthropocene is to eliminate the anthros, ie: near term human extinction ("NTE"). She delivers this message with an appropriate sense of grief, but after 300 pages of hard evidence it is difficult to rebut her conclusion. We can really only fall back on unreasoning hope, no matter how fantastical, because the indictment is irrefutable.

Kolbert says that the reason we have the climate threat is not because of human follies and foibles but precisely because of our genius. Our undoing is borne of our strongest attributes — all those parts of ourselves we regard as venerable. It is our human ingenuity, creative spark, versatile skills, and power to project the future from past experience that is killing every other lifeform on the planet, and finally, with the unregistered loss of some tiny, unnoticed but critical link in the web of life that supports us, ourselves as well. As long as we, tool-making homo, remain, Earth's fate is sealed and the climate will continue in the general direction of Venus. Once we are gone, recovery may yet be possible for other life forms. Archaelogists may come to know us only as that mysterious, millimeter-thin layer of radioactive plastic in Earth's outer crust.

If this message is disturbing, there may be comfort to be found by turning back to a part of This Changes Everything. In lionizing First Nations, Naomi Klein reminds us that before the Colombian Encounter there were on Turtle Island a race of people who, by and large, had learned to live in harmony with the natural world, not as dominators but as members. Not to be too simplistic, there were also indigenous nations that over-exploited, behaved with cruelty and avarice, and caused extinctions of megafauna. Klein's heroes are the former, the stewards of nature's bounty, who built verdant soils and abundant forests and lived in peace. If there is any hope for us all, it lies there, in that model. Pray we can rediscover it in time.

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