How to Save the Planet and Ourselves

We must reduce carbon emissions by 40% in the next 12 years to have a 50% chance of avoiding catastrophe.

A banner is hung across a roadway while people participate in direct action with Extinction Rebellion on April 17, 2019 in New York City.
A banner is hung across a roadway while people participate in direct action with Extinction Rebellion on April 17, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

If you read only one book this year, it should be Roger Hallam’s “Common Sense for the 21st Century: Only Nonviolent Rebellion Can Now Stop Climate Breakdown and Social Collapse.”

Hallam’s lucid and concise book, which echoes Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” says what many of us now know to be true but do not say: If we do not replace the ruling elites soon we are finished as a species. It is a cogent, well-argued case for global rebellion—the only form of resistance that can save us from ecosystem collapse and human-induced genocide. It correctly analyzes the failure of environmentalist activists in groups such as to understand and confront global corporate power and thus make a meaningful impact as we barrel toward ecocide. “Common Sense for the 21st Century” is a survival manual for the human species.

“The corrupt system is going to kill us all unless we rise up,” Hallam, a co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, bluntly warns.

The activism, protests, lobbying, petitions, appeals to the United Nations and misguided trust in “liberal” politicians such as Barack Obama and Al Gore, along with the work of countless NGOs, have been accompanied by a 60% rise in global carbon dioxide emissions since 1990. The United Nations estimates this will be augmented by a 40% rise in CO2 emissions in the next 10 years. Hallam, who has long been a part of the environmental movement, says of his past activism: “I was wasting my time.”

We must reduce carbon emissions by 40% in the next 12 years to have a 50% chance of avoiding catastrophe, according to a report last year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). But the ruling elites, as expected, ignored the warning or mouthed empty platitudes. CO2 emissions increased by 1.6% in 2017 and by 2.7% in 2018. Carbon dioxide levels went up by 3.5 parts per million (ppm) last year, reaching 415 ppm. We are only a decade away, Hallam warns, from 450 ppm, the level equivalent to a 2-degree Celsius average temperature rise.

“Let’s be frank about what ‘catastrophe’ actually means in this context,” Hallam writes. “We are looking here at the slow and agonizing suffering and death of billions of people. A moral analysis might go like this: one recent scientific opinion stated that at 5°C above the pre-industrial mean temperature, we are looking at an ecological system capable of sustaining just one billion people. That means 6-7 billion people will have died within the next generation or two. Even if this figure is wrong by 90%, that means 600 million people face starvation and death in the next 40 years. This is 12 times worse than the death toll (civilians and soldiers) of World War Two and many times the death toll of every genocide known to history. It is 12 times worse than the horror of Nazism and Fascism in the 20th century. This is what our genocidal governments around the world are willingly allowing to happen. The word ‘genocide’ might seem out of context here. The word is often associated with ethnic cleansing or major atrocities like the Holocaust. However, the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition reads ‘the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group.’ ”

“It is time to grow up and see the world as it is,” Hallam writes. “There are some things which are undeniably real, there are some things we cannot change, and one of those is the laws of physics. Ice melts when the temperature rises. Crops die in a drought. Trees burn in forest fires. Because these things are real, we can also be certain about what the future holds. We are now heading into a period of extreme ecological collapse. Whether or not this leads to the extinction of the human species largely depends upon whether revolutionary changes happen within our societies in the next decade. This is not a matter of ideology, but of simple math and physics.” Hallam points out that most predictions by climate scientists have turned out to be wildly over-optimistic. “… Recent science shows permafrost melting 90 years earlier than forecast and Himalayan glaciers melting twice as fast as expected,” he writes. “Feedbacks and locked-in heating will take us over 2°C even before we factor in additional temperature rises from human-caused emissions over the next ten years.”

“In short, we are fucked—the only question is by how much and how soon?” Hallam continues, “Do we accept this fate? I suggest we do not. Many self-respecting people who can overcome the human failing to disbelieve what they don’t like, now accept what is obvious looking at the natural science. But they have yet to work through the political and social implications.”

Hallam understands that even with reformists in power—and the political mutations caused by neoliberalism have not favored the rise of reformers but instead right-wing demagogues including Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro who accelerate the ecocide—any change will be too incremental and too slow to save us from catastrophe.

Extinction Rebellion has the stated aim of bringing down the ruling elites. It organized last month’s coordinated series of demonstrations in 60 cities around the globe. Some 1,832 people were arrested in London alone. Additionally, more than 1,000 people were arrested during 11 days of civil disobedience in the streets of London in April. You can see interviews I did with Hallam herehere and here.

“This is not a matter of one’s political party preferences,” Hallam writes. “It is a matter of basic structural sociology. Institutions, like animal species, have limits to how fast they can change. To get rapid change they have to be replaced with new social systems of policy, practice and culture. It is a terrible and painful realization, but it is time to accept our reality.”

It is only by bringing tens of thousands of people onto the streets to disrupt and paralyze the functioning of the state and finance capitalism—in short, a rebellion—that we can save ourselves, he writes. He grasps the fact that the protests must be nonviolent and must focus on governments.

“After one or two weeks following this plan, historical records show that a regime is highly likely to collapse or is forced to enact major structural change,” he writes. “This is due to well-established dynamics of nonviolent political struggle. The authorities are presented with an impossible dilemma. On the one hand they can allow the daily occupation of city streets to continue. This will only encourage greater participation and undermine their authority. On the other hand, if they opt to repress the protestors, they risk a backfiring effect. This is where more people come onto the street in response to the sacrifices of those the authorities have taken off the street. In situations of intense political drama people forget their fear and decide to stand by those who are sacrificing themselves for the common good.”

“The only way out is for negotiations to happen,” he writes. “Only then will a structural opportunity open up for the emergency transformation of the economy that we need. Of course, this proposal is not certain to work but is substantially possible. What is certain, however, is that reformist campaigning and lobbying will totally fail as it has for decades. The structural change we now objectively need has to happen too fast for any conventional strategy.”

No rebellion succeeds, Hallam understands, unless it appeals to a segment within the ruling elite. Once there are divisions in the ruling class, paralysis ensues and ultimately larger and larger fragments of the elite defect to those who are rebelling or refuse to defend a discredited ruling class.

“Mass action cannot just be nonviolent in a physical sense but must also involve active respect towards the public and the opposition, regardless of their repressive responses,” Hallam notes.

He writes specifically of the police:

A proactive approach to the police is an effective way of enabling mass civil disobedience in the present context. This means meeting police as soon as they arrive on the scene and saying two things clearly: “This is a nonviolent peaceful action” and “We respect that you have to do your job here”. We have repeated evidence that this calms down police officers thus opening the way to subsequent civil interactions.

The Extinction Rebellion actions have consistently treated the police in a polite way when we are arrested and at the police stations, engaging in small talk and quite often in political discussions and other topics where activists might have affinity (inequality, unfair pay). If police initially stonewall activists, they can become more open by a willingness to engage with and listen to them.

This engagement can start before an action. Often a face-to-face meeting with police is effective as they are able to understand that the people they are dealing with are reasonable and communicative.

Rebellion will also require repeatedly breaking the law. This will mean time spent in jails and prisons.

“It would be beneficial to the Rebellion for people to be in prison before the major civil resistance event to create national publicity,” writes Hallam, who was jailed for six weeks this fall in London. “The best way of potentially doing this is for people to do repeated acts of peaceful civil disobedience and then read out statements as soon as they enter court, ignoring the judge and court staff. In a loud voice they might say ‘I am duty bound to inform this court that in bringing me here it is complicit in the “greatest crime of all” namely, the destruction of our planet and children due to the corrupt inaction of the governing regime whose will you have chosen to administer. I will not abide by this court’s rules and will now proceed to explain the existential threat facing all life, our families, communities and nation …’ and then start a long speech on the ecological crisis.

“This will likely result in the arrestee being in contempt of court and placed in remand or given a prison sentence. It will be a dilemma for the authorities (depending on the regime) as to how long the remand or sentence would be. If the period of imprisonment is short, then people will be out soon and can continue peaceful civil disobedience. If the sentence is long, it will create a national media drama which will feed into overall rebellion.”

Popular assemblies have to be formed to take power and oversee a dramatic and swift reduction in CO2 emissions.

The science is unequivocal. The temperature increase must be stabilized at between 1 degree C and 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, and CO2 levels must be stabilized at about 350 ppm. We have to find ways to largely eliminate human-created greenhouse gas emissions of all types within a decade, two at the most, and put in place programs to cool the earth, including planting trillions of trees to absorb CO2. One of the easiest and most significant ways an individual can directly reduce his or her environmental impact on the planet is to eat a diet free of animal products. The animal agriculture industry rivals the fossil fuel industry as one of the largest, multi-factorial causes of climate catastrophe.

The danger, Hallam points out, is that if we do not act soon we will trigger runaway climate feedbacks or tipping points at which no effort to curb emissions will succeed. Fossil fuels must be swiftly eliminated from the economy, including through a ban on all new investments in fossil fuel exploration and development. Coal-fired and gas-fired power stations must be shut down within a decade. This process will require a massive reduction in energy use that may have to include rationing.

Hallam is acutely aware that we may fail. It may be too late already, he admits. But not to resist is to be complicit in this act of genocide. Hallam understands global corporate power. He knows how to fight it. The rest is up to us. SOURCE

‘This is effectively adding another major pipeline’: How more oil will be exported from Alberta

As new export projects are delayed in Canada, companies find ways to send more oil through existing pipelines

Enbridge CEO Al Monaco says the company will soon be able to transport more oil on its pipeline system out of Alberta. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Export pipelines out of Western Canada are running at full capacity, but operators are now finding ways to squeeze even more oil through those pipes.

The additional pipeline space is desperately needed by oil companies as export constraints have contributed to lower prices and are the main reason the Alberta government continues to restrict how much oil can be produced in the province.

As new pipeline projects such TC Energy’s Keystone XL, Enbridge’s Line 3, and the federal government’s Trans Mountain Expansion face delays, the expanded capacity could provide significant relief for the industry.

Hundreds of pipes are stacked at a storage yard for the Trans Mountain expansion project, near Hope, B.C. The project is already several years behind schedule, although construction is slowly ramping up as tree clearing and other preparatory work is underway. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

The incremental expansion of pipeline capacity is known in the industry as “debottlenecking.”

One way to debottleneck a pipeline is to add more pumping stations to add more force to the pipeline. Companies can also find certain areas of the pipeline where flow is constricted and add a segment of parallel pipe in those locations.

In addition, companies can explore ways to improve scheduling and operating of terminals, similar to running a railyard system more efficiently, said Dennis McConaghy, a former senior executive at TransCanada.

Significant capacity

“This is effectively adding another major pipeline,” said Ian Gillies, the managing director of institutional research at GMP FirstEnergy, during a recent presentation.

In total, pipeline companies could add up to 575,000 barrels per day of capacity by the end of 2022, according to Gillies.

For comparison, the debottlenecking projects would represent more capacity than Enbridge’s formerly proposed Northern Gateway project (525,000 barrels per day) and almost as large as the Trans Mountain expansion (590,000 barrels per day).

“Not all of that has been sanctioned yet and none of it is certain, but we certainly think it will be attractive to producers,” said Gillies in an interview.

Pipeline companies are pursuing debottlenecking initiatives to ship more oil on existing pipes. These figures are compiled by GMP FirstEnergy based on information from company disclosures. (GMP FirstEnergy)

While some of the projects are a few years away, others are more immediate.

In the next two months, Calgary-based Enbridge said it will be able to ship an additional 100,000 barrels per day on its Mainline system out of Alberta. It’s the first step in the company’s plans to expand pipeline capacity and transport more oil.

“That extra 100,000 [barrels per day] comes from capacity recovery, and optimization of receipt and delivery windows, as well as the leveraging of Line 3 Canada,” said CEO Al Monaco during a recent conference call with analysts.

Construction of the Line 3 replacement project is complete in Canada, although construction is delayed south of the border. When proper approvals are obtained in Minnesota, the American leg of the project is expected to take between six and nine months to build.

During the first three months of next year, Enbridge also said it plans to add 50,000 barrels per day of space to its Express pipeline out of Alberta to the U.S.

The expansions “require minimal capital, are highly executable, and they generate great return,” said Monaco. “They are also good for customers as they provide much needed low-cost incremental capacity to the best markets.”

The additional space is welcome news for companies who have had to scale back production, transport more oil by rail and, in some cases, delay new projects.

“The pipeline companies have actually been doing a pretty good job of creating capacity in their pipelines,” said Husky Energy CEO Rob Peabody, in a recent conference call with analysts.

Husky Energy president and CEO Rob Peabody addresses the company’s annual general meeting in Calgary in April. He says pipeline companies have been doing a pretty good job of creating capacity. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Calgary-based Plains Midstream announced this summer it would expand its Rangeland system including its pipeline from Alberta to the U.S.

The current capacity of 20,000 barrels a day would be expanded to 100,000, subject to commitments from shippers and attaining permits and regulatory approvals.

“The expansions will be staged into service during the last half of 2019 with full capacity realized in 2021,” the company said in a statement in July. A spokesperson would not provide an update.

If rebuilt, Enbridge’s Line 3 will transport an additional 370,000 b/d of oil compared to current capacity. The Northern Gateway and Energy East projects are no longer being pursued.

The amount of extra pipeline volume proposed through debottlenecking shouldn’t be dismissed, said McConaghy, the former TransCanada executive.

“That’s a fairly impressive contribution if they can actually implement this and don’t encounter any unexpected regulatory hurdles,” he said. SOURCE


Canada Pension Plan investments rely on oil and gas companies overshooting climate targets, new report reveals

The investment board responsible for managing a staggering $400 billion in Canadian pensions contains directors of oil and gas companies and may be putting the financial future of public investments at risk in a carbon-constrained future

Photo: WORKSITE Ltd. / Unsplash

he Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) has more than $4 billion invested in the top 200 publicly traded oil, gas and coal companies, according to a newly released report.

The report by the Corporate Mapping Project and the B.C. office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives looks at whether the investment board considers global warming when investing Canadians’ pension money.

The answer is a resounding “no,” said University of Victoria School of Environmental Studies associate professor James Rowe, one of the report authors and a co-investigator with the Corporate Mapping Project.

“As one of the largest investors in the country, they have a significant role to play in facilitating the needed energy transition and our report shows, unfortunately, they are not fulfilling that role at the moment,” Rowe told The Narwhal.

In order to stay within the 1.5 degree increase in global average temperature — committed to by Canada and  194 other countries in the 2016 Paris Agreement — fossil fuel extraction must be severely limited. But companies with Canada Pension Plan investments have reserves that, if extracted, would send emissions soaring.

“To stay within 1.5 degrees, these companies can extract only 71 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, yet the companies the CPPIB is invested in have 281 billion tonnes in reserve, meaning they have almost four times the carbon reserves that can be sold and ultimately burned to stay within 1.5 degrees,” Rowe said.

Reserves are factored into company valuation, which means the board has invested billions of dollars in companies whose financial worth depends on overshooting their carbon budget, the report says.

Many of the investments are in coal companies — even though the Canadian government has acknowledged that phasing out coal is one of the most important steps in tackling climate change and meeting the Paris Agreement targets.

The Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board manages about $400 billion in investments, making it one of Canada’s largest investment pools.

Oil and gas companies face coming devaluation

Those looking forward to collecting their pension shouldworry about the risk of stranded assets as the world transitions to renewable energy and financial institutions worldwide divest themselves of fossil fuel investments, says the report, which notes the pension’s total investment in fossil fuel companies is considerably larger than the documented $4 billion. The exact amount cannot be estimated due to limited disclosure rules.

“Our worry is that Canadians, who rely on these funds for part of our retirement, are going to be affected by stranded asset risks,” Rowe said.

“Oil and gas companies are facing a significant devaluation in the coming years and so it makes sense to move out now rather than later, which is what we see other institutions doing, but the CPP has not,” he said.

The European Union recently passed a law requiring pension funds to factor climate risk in investment decisions and Norway and California have passed similar laws. The European Investment Bank, the largest multilateral lender in the world, has announced it will no longer be investing in fossil fuel projects after 2021.

Steph Glanzmann, one of the report’s authors and a recent University of British Columbia forestry graduate, said investments in the industry will no longer be profitable

as a new generation shifts away from fossil fuels.

“This is a moral and ecological failure and also a financial risk,” she said.

Investment board should disclose risk

The report recommends that the investment board carry out a portfolio-wide risk analysis and disclose the findings and that the fund should move towards fossil fuel divestment and reinvesting capital into renewable energy. It also calls on the Canadian government to require all public pension plans to fully disclose their fossil fuel holdings.

Many CPP investments are in the biggest companies working in the Alberta oil sands, which produces high-cost, carbon-intensive bitumen. The Alberta energy industry is working to convince investors that its oil and gas is produced sustainably as it scrambles to deal with an estimated $30 billion divested in the last three years, including Sweden’s central bank, which has said it will no longer invest in projects with large climate footprints.

The report found that most divestments are from countries that do not produce oil and gas and suggests that one reason Canada is slow to react could be because its oil and gas industry is so powerful.

“As we noted in the report, a number of board members of CPP are also board members of oil and gas companies and so the interests of fossil fuel companies are influencing the decision making at the CPP and that is dangerous for Canadian pensioners,” Rowe said.

Having these directors at the investment board table means the self-interest of companies contradicts the changes investors and governments need to make to address climate change, said Zoe Yunker, an author of the report and a research assistant with the Corporate Mapping Project.

“In Canada, the fossil fuel sector has been very successful at getting a seat at government decision-making tables, both provincially and federally and CPPIB board directors and staff are entangled with the oil and gas industry,” Yunker said.

The board’s mandate is to maximise long-term investment returns without undue risk, but the report looks at whether a failure to look at long-term climate change will mean heavy economic costs for future generations and whether it could make the organization vulnerable to a class action lawsuit brought on behalf of young Canadians.

A spokesperson with the investment board told The Narwhal via email, “CPPIB has an ongoing goal to be a leader in understanding the risks and opportunities presented by climate change. The energy transition is underway and as a long-term investor, we are mindful of these energy shifts and our portfolio reflects this.”

Notably, the organization recently made a $2.63 billion purchase of wind-farm operator Pattern Energy and a November board report says investments in renewable energy companies more than doubled to $3 billion up to June this year, up from $30 million in 2016.

CEO Mark Machin, in an interview with BNN Bloomberg earlier this month, said both renewable and traditional energy are appropriate for the fund’s portfolio.

“We will look at traditional oil and gas, whether it’s pipelines or other resources,” he told Bloomberg.

“As long as we can understand all the risks behind the investment, that the regulation may change, that preference may change, that geography may change. If we can understand those and can still be compensated sufficiently, then we’ll continue to make that investment.” SOURCE

How the humble chairlift could revolutionize renewable energy

JOSEPH EID / AFP via Getty Images

What do you see when you imagine a zero-carbon future? Electric buses zipping by? Rolling hills covered with solar panels? Offshore wind farms towering over the sea? If batteries are part of your vision, good thinking. But there’s a promising, if whimsical, piece of the renewable energy puzzle that might be missing from your mental picture: the world of gravity energy storage.

When the grid depends on clean but sporadic natural resources like wind and the sun, we’re going to need ways to capture any extra energy they produce so we can use it later. Lithium-ion batteries help solve that problem, but they have limitations. They degrade over time, and they aren’t suited to store energy for months-long periods, like a seasonal stretch of gray skies or motionless air.

Enter gravity energy storage. Generating electricity using gravity is hardly a new concept — think of your classic hydropower plant, which captures the energy of falling water via a turbine. But some hydropower systems don’t just produce energy. A “pumped-storage” hydroelectric plant draws excess energy from the grid and uses it to pump water back up into an elevated reservoir where it can fall again. When full, the upper reservoir is like a charged battery, ready to be deployed for weeks or months at a time, depending on how much water it holds.

The United States already uses pumped-storage hydropower. In fact, it currently accounts for 95 percent of our utility-scale energy storage. But it’s tough to add a new pumped-storage project to the grid — it requires building a dam and creating new reservoirs, which are expensive and politically unpopular. Two-thirds of existing pumped-storage hydropower plants were built in the 1970s and 1980s. Only one new plant has come online in the past fourteen years.

But who needs water when there are all kinds of things we can slide down a mountain or drop off a cliff? Really, you can use almost any material for gravity energy storage, as long as it’s heavy, cheap, and you can figure out how to transport it up and down a steep slope.


This incredible illustration depicts a system called “Mountain Gravity Energy Storage” that was proposed in the journal Energy last week. It involves a ski-lift-style cable that carries huge bins of sand up and down a mountain. The sand gets stored in an enormous vessel at the top, and when the grid needs extra energy, it’s sent down the mountain, pulled by the force of gravity, thereby powering an electric generator. Depending on the amount of sand, the height of the mountain, and the speed of the fall, the authors estimate that it can generate electricity for anywhere from five to 555 days.

As idiosyncratic as it may seem, this isn’t a new idea. Julian Hunt, the lead author of the study and a postdoc at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, said he was inspired by a similar project that Bill Gates invested in back in 2012. “I don’t think it actually worked out,” Hunt said. “So I was trying to find ways to make it viable and trying to estimate the cost of the project.”

The Bill Gates-funded venture was a company called Energy Cache, and the model was nearly identical. The company actually built a 50-kilowatt prototype back in 2012. It got as far as entering discussions with grid operators, but never had a chance to prove it could work at utility scale. Aaron Fyke, one of the founders of Energy Cache, told Grist they couldn’t find the money they needed to keep going.


But today, Fyke said, policies like 100 percent clean energy bills and energy storage mandates in several states have made the market for storage more attractive to investors. And while there’s no ski-lift charging facility in the world yet, there are several other unconventional ideas that are much closer to becoming a reality.

Engineers have patented systems that would utilize the slopes of defunct coal mines — of which there are hundreds of thousands around the world — to haul soil, coal dust, or other earth materials to higher and lower elevations. Several companies are developing alternatives that involve dropping a heavy cylindrical weight into a big hole in the ground. Near the southern tip of Nevada, a company called Advanced Rail Energy Storage is currently building a train to nowhere across 106 acres of public land that will transport heavy weights up and down a hill. It’s expected to be operational next year.


Then there’s Energy Vault, a Jenga-like tower made of concrete bricks, perpetually being assembled and destroyed by 400-foot tall puppeteering cranes. When energy is needed, the cranes select bricks to drop down to the ground. Fyke, who’s now an advisor for Energy Vault, said the system’s advantage is that it’s modular and can be placed anywhere — it doesn’t require a mountain slope or a pit in the ground. The company is planning to construct two full-scale models in Italy and India.

The potential of gravity energy storage is almost limitless. So next time you’re lost in thought, envisioning our green energy future, don’t forget to put some ski-lifts, ghost trains, and Jenga towers on the landscape, okay? SOURCE