Saturday, October 22, 2016

An Affliction of the Mind or Why We Can't Handle Climate Change

We're just too set in our ways to have any real hope of tackling the basket of looming existential challenges facing mankind and, for that matter, pretty much all life on Earth.

Forget everything else. Forget overpopulation, over-consumption of essential resources, terrorism and nuclear proliferation, forget everything except climate change. The thing is, if we can't respond effectively to climate change we don't have a snowball's chance in hell of resolving the others. As a global civilization, we're going down.

Which leads me to Andrew Simm's essay in The Guardian in which he explores the self-defeating process of using conventional thinking in response to the climate change dilemma.

The problem with ...scenarios that emerge in the mainstream, is the intellectual editing that occurs before they even begin. Most share two overwhelming, linked characteristics that strictly limit any subsequent room for manoeuvre. Firstly the demand for energy itself is seen as something innate, unchallengeable and unmanageable. It must be met, and the only question is how.

Secondly, the assumption remains that the principles and practices of the economic model that has dominated for the last 30 years will remain for at least the next 30 years. There is no sign yet of the ferocious challenge to neoliberal orthodoxy happening at the margins of economics shaping mainstream visions of our possible futures. The merest glance at the history of changing ideas suggests this is short-sighted.

There are reasons why we need to get a move on with tackling energy demand. Extreme weather events abound. Record flooding in North Carolina in the United States follows record flooding in Louisiana earlier in the year. While no individual event can be described a direct cause and effect relationship, increasingly heavy rainfall and flood events are consistent with climate models for a warming world.

...What sort of scenarios should we be looking at then? We can learn from the impoverished Brexit debate that was marred by binary choices cloaked in wilful misinformation. For the whole population to fully understand our options, and the choices and challenges embedded in them, we should be thinking as openly and broadly as possible. We can look at how far techno-fixes will get us, and at the maximum speed and scale of change that market mechanisms and the pricing of carbon are likely to deliver. In both, the different impacts on rich and poor need assessing.

But we should go further to assess the pros and cons of radical scenarios for changing how we live and work.

Rarely considered but important variables come from new economics, including the shorter working week, the share economy, shifts in corporate ownership and governance, and intelligent but deliberate measures for economic localisation. Compare these to the “stumble on”, or business as usual scenario, in which we give up control of our future to a permanently destabilised climate change, but also assess seriously the consequences of the argument for planned so-called “de-growth” of the economy.

At the height of the 2008 financial crisis, the UK government promised to “go beyond the conventional thinking” to put things right. It never did, but with the climate crisis there is no choice. Conventional thinking is off-course and contradictory.

Without a balanced, comparative assessment of strategies to align energy use and industry with inescapable climate action, we won’t be able to choose the best possible future.

Now, assuming that climate change became an imperative at least 20 years ago, look at how each of our governments, Conservative and Liberal, over that period approached this problem. A good place to start, perhaps, is to look at where Canadian government has come today. Today they're talking about some token carbon price that may or may not take effect in 2018. I think Simms could have been describing the Trudeau regime when he wrote, "Conventional thinking is off-course and contradictory." Yet that is where we are and, so long as our petro-pols on both sides of the aisle pack the House of Commons, that's where we're going to remain.

This is Canada where our environment minister proclaims she is "as much an economic minister as I am an environment minister." Dame Cathy doesn't even grasp the inherent conflict in that. It's as though she's the minister for tobacco production and the minister of health in some blended portfolio. She's oblivious to Canada's urgent need for a full time and powerful environment minister ready and able to go toe to toe with reluctant premiers and with her cabinet colleagues who are entrusted with economic matters whether that be trade, resources or foreign affairs. We're a petro-state, Cathy, and we can't get by with a part-time environment minister who folds at every scowl of some provincial tyro. Maybe that's why Trudeau singled her out for that portfolio. Maybe he wanted a reliable milquetoast. If so, he chose wisely.


Troy said...

Honestly, I can't see a clear path forward. We'll continue to muddle along as we are for the foreseeable future.

The actions needed to mitigate the worst is simply revolutionary in scale. I haven't heard any mainstream leader speaking of what's needed, at all.

By the time we're ready to act on what's needed to be done, we'll probably need to prepare for worst case scenarios. If we're ever prepared at all.

The Mound of Sound said...

What I don't understand, Troy, is how government got such feet of clay. The failure of neoliberalism, in its political and economic dynamics, has been evident for more than a decade. It was an experiment. It was tried. It failed. Instead of moving away from market fundamentalism, our leadership doubled down and, by that, allowed globalization to abandon its promise of more jobs and better wages and morph into a vehicle of ever poorer jobs, stagnant wages and the "trickle up" diversion of wealth to the richest of the rich, the oligarchs. Gradually in some countries (such as our own), faster in others (the U.S.), liberal democracy has atrophied giving way to illiberal democracy and oligarchy.

People still get to vote but increasingly their votes cannot overcome the political and regulatory capture of their institutions.

Those who now exert undue influence bordering on control of our political apparatus have a clear, vested interest in keeping this giant Ponzi scheme alive. Inequality serves their interests and they would see it grow. Actions, of the kind necessary to respond to the gravest challenges of the day such as climate change, are anathema to them because they would, of necessity, demand fundamental, even radical, change.

Talk of carbon pricing and limited tax increases on the rich are sops. There'll be no redress of our problems in such tepid measures.

Eventually more people will grow fearful, distrustful, and angry and, in their weakened and confused state, will be easy prey for the first charismatic to come around. That should be the lesson we take from the Trump fiasco. Somehow I doubt we will.

Anonymous said...


Those who now exert undue influence bordering on control of our political apparatus have a clear, vested interest in keeping this giant Ponzi scheme alive.

Somehow we have to make this unpleasant statement appealing to the masses!

FWIW; Ponzi does not show up on spell check!

A Western world in debt with 40 year mortgages and 7 year car loans, no payments for two years is too distracted to pay attention!!


The Mound of Sound said...

TrailBlazer, I fear you're right. As a society we've become too distracted and, through that, powerfully conditioned. I wish I didn't imagine that our government's (and other governments') inaction wasn't some sign of a tacit capitulation to an overwhelming challenge. How else to explain this apparent throwing in of the towel?

the salamander said...

.. a couple of points, which I hope are useful & timely to buttress your timely article..

- the recent comments by Trudeau's man Carr re 'we can't leave the wealth in the ground' and some related blather of using the profits from the fossil fuels today - to finance the future energy developments (presumably solar, wind etc) are bullshit. Aside from echoing Joe Oliver perfectly I wondered why he didn't just spit it out.. that 'we're going to despoil the environment now so we can afford to save it all later' - Also, presumably, they intend to pull off the Great Resurrection of Habitat Species Ecosystems Fresh Water & The Food Chain..

My other point is the recent Trudeau interview where upon being questioned re a complete West Coast Supertanker ban, he clung to a feeble deflection response about re-opening the Kitsilano Coast Guard station. I notice that Jess Housty from Bella Bella pointed out that approx 625 k of coastline seperates that Kits station from where #nathanEstewart currently rests upon a reef, barely showing its twin stacks & the skippers cockpit doors are open lets the surging waves through. If, as many have claimed 'why dilbit floats!' in regard to 'world class' spill response & cleanup whether in the Saskachewan River or the complexities of the BC marine coast.. then what the hell is happening that a leaking tug's diesel fuel which also floats, is now dispersing (what a term) at the whim of nature, tides, currents and the wind. Oh, the 'response' containment booms are being wiped out by relatively mild swells 1-3 meters.. but don't worry, there's some 'more seaworthy' booms coming soon..

And by the way.. as I have pointed out to many.. why in hell is the BC Legislature 'cancelled' until next year ? And has a single soul received an explanation for this from the brilliant Christy Clark? Or one of her spokeswankers?

This is the reality of the political and environmental posing & fairy tales being spewed by the most senior public servants in the land.. its stunning.. and truly dangerous.. and mainstream media should either get off their ass and report this (its called journalism) or just admit they are as vacant & MIA as the current political wastrels who must have connived their way to power & responsibility ..

The Mound of Sound said...

That's a lot to unpack, Sal. Why is Christie Clark governing by fiat. Because she can. The public seems either indifferent or hopelessly dispirited and, for that, much of the responsibility rests on the shoulders of the provincial NDP for their failure to engage the electorate. Adrian Dix caused lasting damage to the NDP brand in handing the last election to Clark literally without a fight. The new fellow, Horgan, is likeable enough but isn't making much of an impression. All of which leaves us in a one-party state.

Western (coastal) BC remains a powderkeg for the Dauphin. After spewing all the fanciful crap about "social licence" it's plain he hasn't got it. And he hasn't got the support of area First Nations either. Alberta will give him social licence for BC pipeline/supertanker initiatives and, for that matter, so will most of the rest of Canada but not where it matters.

What little faith I had in Trudeau & Co. went out the window when Dame Cathy's enviromin authorized Corexit as an oil spill dispersant. That stuff is the Thalidomide of the Sea. It doesn't disperse spills. It sinks the oil to the bottom. So here we have dilbit, which we know goes through a process of separation once spilled with the really toxic sludge sinking to the bottom and our national government in Ottawa approves an equally toxic "out of sight/out of mind" chemical to help it on its way.