Mike Nickerson: We must adapt to the limits of our planet.

Dramatic change is needed.

man wears blue crew-neck t-shirt holding toddler wears black hooded jacket near ocean under blue sky at daytime
We have long had the knowledge and ability to provide everyone with viable, satisfying lives far into the future.

Enmeshed as we are in a vast, expanding mechanical network, it is hard to imagine living in a culture where our lives are the core substance. Nevertheless, such a cultural shift offers an enduring and satisfying relationship with the Earth.

As a species, we have to shift from our long childhood growth phase to a stable adult form. In society’s late adolescence such cultural change may seem illusive. Step by step, however, the following can turn what is initially unimaginable into a clear possibility.

The first step is developing renewable energy. Wind, solar, hydro and other renewable energy development can be part of the end goal, while the process of putting them in place remains well within the familiar pattern of resource intensive development.

The second step is to focus on education and health care. These lead directly to increased capability and quality of life while using minimal amounts of material resources. Education is almost entirely knowledge and good will. Health-care is the same at the level of knowing how to lead our lives so as to maximize health. Experience shows, in country after country, that populations spontaneously stop growing when local economies are managed in a way that provides people with basic education, health care and old age security.

brown grass field under white cloudy sky

The third step is for human aspiration to focus on what we can do with life rather than on consuming material goods and expanding our use of energy.

The desire to grow is firmly rooted in our characters. Throughout our formative years and well beyond, growth is a preoccupation. To be able to crawl, to reach the water tap or to have our own way all require getting bigger. The residual urge to grow has been harnessed to stimulate the expansion of material consumption. The dilemma is that, while each of us wants to grow, collectively we have already grown to confront the limits of our planet. The solution has a well established precedent in each of our individual lives. For the most part, our physical growth comes to an end as we become adults. Physical growth is replaced by the development of our understanding, skills, relationships and appreciation of what life offers.

Voluntary simplicity is easier to promote when it is clear that it offers abundant opportunities for growth. Life-based pursuits, or the ‘3 L’s’ — Learning, Love and Laughter — as they are referred to for our sound bite world, offer boundless frontiers. The development of skills, scholarship, art, music, sport, dance, friendship, spiritual aspiration, parenting and service were the essence of human culture before the commercial era pressed acquisition to its current place of prominence. The saturation of landfill space, problems with pollution and painful experiences with finite natural resources bid us re-consider the emphasis we place on the pursuit of our human birthright.

In the same way that a developing embryo goes through the stages of evolution, civilization will likely follow the pattern of individual maturation. As a culture we are in late adolescence. We have grown big enough to accomplish anything which life requires of us. Now, as self-centeredness gives way to responsibility, our rapid physical growth can transmute into the growth of the remarkable qualities with which people are so abundantly endowed.

We could be appreciating life so deeply that we wouldn’t have time to impact the Earth at a dangerous level.

We have long had the knowledge and ability to provide everyone with viable, satisfying lives far into the future. It is not as sexy as solutions based on shiny industrial products, and it is unlikely to make a lot of money. Nevertheless it could save civilization.  MORE

Why It Is Too Late for the Green New Deal (As Presently Envisioned)

“We live in a strange world. Where we think we can buy or build our way out of a crisis that has been created by buying and building things.” Greta Thunberg

 

Image result for doomsday clockWe all owe a huge debt of gratitude to those who have articulated the Green New Deal (GND), especially Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Sunrise Movement. We needed something that focused attention on how serious climate change has become and the need for government action. The GND has shattered the neoliberal insistence upon incremental, market-oriented climate mitigation.

But, considering the emerging climate science and our diminished carbon budget after at least three decades of denial, and with carbon concentration in the atmosphere higher than it has been in 3 million years, it is too late to speed up the slow transition from fossil fuels to renewables with government facilitated renewable building; too late to build renewables under a Keynesian plan that employs all the workers in transition; too late for a transition that makes money and lets us keep living our present lifestyles.

The GND challenged neoliberalism with a “Big Government Plan” for climate mitigation, but as presently envisioned, these policy actions remain completely within a market transition where renewables will only replace fossil fuels by out-competing coal, oil and natural gas.

The GND could greatly speed up this slow transition, but it’s still a plan to let fossil fuels compete for far too long; it still doesn’t regulate production and distribution; it still envisions supplying 100 percent of today’s energy, plus projected growth. The GND is ultimately predicated upon a growing GDP in a business-as-usual scenario where there is enough created wealth to redistribute to marginalized populations.

If it had been implemented in the ‘90s, this carbon-price aided decarbonization, with renewables out-competing fossil fuels, could have worked and largely solved our problem. But now, there is no time and no carbon budget left for such a slow transition; no time for a tapering period or for a carbon price to work its market magic. As Sunrise Movement founder Varsini Prakash told the Guardian, “If there was a free market solution to the climate crisis, we would’ve seen it in the last 40 years.”

It is already possible that we are on the wrong side of a threshold to that cascade of tipping points leading to Hothouse Earth and the destruction of all we love and care about, including the extinction of most species. Fossil fuels are now a potentially lethal toxin already at too high a level in the atmosphere. Fossil fuels must now be kept in the ground. Governments must regulate a scheduled, rapid managed decline of all fossil fuel production based upon the best science and risk management expertise.

Instead of a climate mitigation plan that is shoehorned into the economic and political status quo, there is no time to taper-in mitigation to protect the economy: emissions must peak immediately and substantial emission reduction from the present high of more than 37 billion tons annually must happen immediately.

We don’t have until 2050 for a slow transition. We must cut emissions by half globally by 2030 — by 65 to 70 percent in wealthy countries like the U.S. and Canada. As climate activist Alex Steffen writes, our emission reduction curve has to bend so steeply that winning slowly becomes the same as losing. Thus, GND decarbonization is a plan to fail.

Noam Chomsky: ‘In a couple of generations, organized human society may not survive.’

Image result for Noam Chomsky: 'In a couple of generations, organized human society may not survive.'

Noam Chomsky: Take a standard story. There are reports on what’s happening. So, if you look at the New York Times today, for example, there’s a pretty good article on the new discoveries on the melting of the polar ice caps which happens to be, as usual, more drastic than the (earlier) estimates; that’s been typical for a long time. And it discusses the probable impact on sea level rise, albeit conservatively, given how dramatic it has obviously been. So, there are regular articles that appear — it’s not that global warming is ignored. On the other hand, if you look at a standard article on oil exploration, the New York Times can have a big front page article on how the U.S. is moving towards what they call energy independence, surpassing Saudi Arabia and Russia in fossil fuel production, opening up new areas, Wyoming, the Midwest, for fracking. They do a long article, maybe 1,000 words — I have one particular example in mind — it will mention environmental consequences, it may harm the local water resources for ranchers, but literally not a word on the effect on global warming. And that happens in article after article in every outlet — the Financial Times, the New York Times, all the major newspapers. So, it’s as if on the one hand, there’s a kind of a tunnel vision — the science reporters are occasionally saying look, ‘this is a catastrophe,’ but then the regular coverage simply disregards it, and says, ‘well, isn’t this wonderful, we won’t have to import oil, we’ll be more powerful,’ and so on.

Noam Chomsky: ‘In a couple of generations, organized human society may not survive. That has to be drilled into people’s heads constantly.’

So, they’re not making the connection?

It’s a kind of schizophrenia, and it runs right through society. Take the big banks, JP Morgan Chase, for example. They’re the biggest bank and CEO Jamie Diamond is an intelligent man. I’m sure he knows the basic facts about the dire threat of global warming, yet at the same time they’re pouring investments into fossil fuel extraction, because that’s the business model. They have to make a profit tomorrow. MORE

The False Choice Between Economic Growth and Combatting Climate Change

Last year, the U.S.’s carbon-dioxide emissions increased by an estimated 3.4 per cent, the second-largest gain in the past two decades.  Photograph by Fernando Moleres / Panos Pictures / Redux
In 1974, the economist William Nordhaus described the transition from a “cowboy economy” to a “spaceship economy.” In the former, he wrote, “we could afford to use our resources profligately,” and “the environment could be used as a sink without becoming fouled.” But, in the spaceship economy, “great attention must be paid to the sources of life and to the dumps where our refuse is piled.” He added, “Things which have traditionally been treated as free goods—air, water, quiet, natural beauty—must now be treated with the same care as other scarce goods.”
 “It’s absolutely the case that emissions and growth can be decoupled,” Marshall Burke, an assistant professor in Stanford University’s Department of Earth System Science, told me.
“But the switch to nuclear and renewables needs to happen more rapidly. “It takes policy. It won’t happen through markets alone.”
As a small but growing coalition of congressional Democrats, led by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have outlined as part of their Green New Deal, transforming the energy sector—and, really, the entire economy, in a just and more equitable way—will require some sort of carbon tax (preferably a “fee and dividend” approach, which distributes tax revenues as rebates directly to citizens), and also new regulations and huge investments. “We can decarbonize the electric sector at a fairly low cost….That’s where some of the cheapest emissions reductions are to be found. Extensive government subsidies could hasten the spread of renewables—specifically, solar, wind, and batteries—and offset any rise in emissions elsewhere….There are ways to reduce the use of fossil fuels in heating; utilities, for instance, can create incentive programs so that homeowners have a motivation to replace their boilers with electric heat pumps. MORE

Four provinces outperformed the rest, all while pricing carbon pollution

Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, and B.C. led in economic growth


Rooftop solar panels in Leduc, Alberta. Photo: David Dodge, Green Energy Futures

Beyond all the bluster, what does the evidence say about the relationship between economic performance and carbon pricing? As it turns out, we have a pretty good case study here in Canada.

In 2017, pricing carbon pollution became mainstream economic policy in Canada. Comprehensive carbon pricing systems are already in place in Canada’s four largest provinces, representing 86 per cent of the population. Ontario and Quebec have a cap-and-trade system linked to California, Alberta’s carbon levy increased from $20 per tonne to $30 per tonne on January 1, and British Columbia has a carbon tax at $30 per tonne (scheduled to increase to $35 per tonne in April).

The data soundly refute the misconception that a carbon price hurts economic competitiveness and growth.

In 2017, Canada led the G7 (a grouping of seven of the world’s largest advanced economies) in economic growth. It was our country’s best year for job gains since 2002. Unemployment is at a four-decade low. In short, it was a year of economic success for the country. MORE

David Attenborough tells Davos: ‘The Garden of Eden is no more’

Human activity has created a new era yet climate change can be stopped, says naturalist

Sir David Attenborough has warned that “the Garden of Eden is no more”, as he urged political and business leaders from around the world to make a renewed push to tackle climate change before the damage is irreparable.

Speaking at the start of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, the 92-year-old naturalist and broadcaster warned that human activity has taken the world into a new era, threatening to undermine civilisation.

Recently voted Britain’s most trustworthy celebrity , Attenborough said humans must use their expert problem-solving skills. “If people can truly understand what is at stake, I believe they will give permission for business and governments to get on with the practical solutions,” he told the WEF. Get it right, he argued, and humans can create a world with clean air and water, unlimited energy and sustainable fish stocks, but only if decisive action is taken now. MORE