Thursday, June 22, 2017

Prying Canada Free of the Death Grip of Neoliberalism While There's Still Time.

It's time for Ottawa to put the Canadian people ahead of the interests of corporations. In fact, that's the indispensable key to breaking the death grip of neoliberalism on our nation and our society.

Governments such as the current regime and the one it succeeded treat the economy as their priority. In every one of the mandate letters prime minister Trudeau issued to his cabinet, he stressed that the economy was their co-priority. That was a blatant dereliction of duty on the part of the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau.

The first responsibility of government is to safeguard the people and their future well-being. Not just their future prosperity, their well-being. That's where Trudeau has gone off course.

I've just finished a second reading of "Disaster Alley: Climate Change Conflict & Risk," by Ian Dunlop and David Spratt. Published by the NGO, Breakthrough, the paper is targeted at Australia's political leadership but much of their work could apply just as readily to Canada's political caste.

Disaster Alley pulls no punches. It emphasizes that we are on the brink of a truly existential catastrophe, one that our governments are unwilling to acknowledge and confront head on. The report runs to about 25 pages. You can find it in pdf. at the link above. In many cases you can simply substitute "Canada" for "Australia." Here are a few salient excerpts:

This report looks at climate change and conflict issues through the lens of sensible risk-management to draw new conclusions about the challenge we now face. 

• From tropical coral reefs to the polar ice sheets, global warming is already dangerous. The world is perilously close to, or passed, tipping points which will create major changes in global climate systems. 

• The world now faces existential climate-change risks which may result in “outright chaos” and an end to human civilisation as we know it. 

• These risks are either not understood or wilfully ignored across the public and private sectors, with very few exceptions. 

• Global warming will drive increasingly severe humanitarian crises, forced migration, political instability and conflict. The Asia–Pacific region, including Australia, is considered to be “Disaster Alley” where some of the worst impacts will be experienced. 

• Building more resilient communities in the most vulnerable nations by high-level financial commitments and development assistance can help protect peoples in climate hotspots and zones of potential instability and conflict. 

• Australia’s political, bureaucratic and corporate leaders are abrogating their fiduciary responsibilities to safeguard the people and their future well-being. They are ill-prepared for the real risks of climate change at home and in the region. 

• The Australian government must ensure Australian Defence Force and emergency services preparedness, mission and operational resilience, and capacity for humanitarian aid and disaster relief, across the full range of projected climate change scenarios. 

• It is essential to now strongly advocate a global climate emergency response, and to build a national leadership group outside conventional politics to design and implement emergency decarbonisation of the Australian economy. This would adopt all available safe solutions using sound, existential risk-management practices.

Climate change is an existential risk that could abruptly end human civilisation because of a catastrophic “failure of imagination” by global leaders to understand and act on the science and evidence before them.

The problem is widespread at the senior levels of government and global corporations. A 2016 report, Thinking the Unthinkable, based on interviews with top leaders around the world, found that: “A proliferation of ‘unthinkable’ events… has revealed a new fragility at the highest levels of corporate and public service leaderships. Their ability to spot, identify and handle unexpected, non-normative events is… perilously inadequate at critical moments… Remarkably, there remains a deep reluctance, or what might be called ‘executive myopia’, to see and contemplate even the possibility that ‘unthinkables’ might happen, let alone how to handle them.” (Gowing and Langdon 2016)

Such failures are manifested in two ways in climate policy. At the political, bureaucratic and business level in underplaying the high-end risks and in failing to recognise that the existential risk of climate change is totally different from other risk categories. And at the research level in underestimating the rate of climate change impact and costs, along with an under-emphasis on, and poor communication of, those high-end risks.

[T]he evidence is clear that climate change already poses an existential risk to global stability and to human civilisation that requires an emergency response. Temperature rises that are now in prospect could reduce the global human population by 80% or 90%. But this conversation is taboo, and the few who speak out are admonished as being overly alarmist. 

Prof. Kevin Anderson considers that “a 4°C future [relative to pre-industrial levels] is incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable” (Anderson 2011). He says: “If you have got a population of nine billion by 2050 and you hit 4°C, 5°C or 6°C, you might have half a billion people surviving” (Fyall 2009). 

Asked at a 2011 conference in Melbourne about the difference between a 2°C world and a 4°C world, Prof. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber replied in two words: “Human civilisation”.

Human civilisation faces unacceptably high chances of being brought undone by climate change’s existential risks yet, extraordinarily, this conversation is rarely heard. The Global Challenges Foundation (GCF) says that despite scientific evidence that risks associated with tipping points “increase disproportionately as temperature increases from 1°C to 2°C, and become high above 3°C”, political negotiations have consistently disregarded the high-end scenarios that could lead to abrupt or irreversible climate change. In its Global Catastrophic Risks 2017 report, it concludes that “the world is currently completely unprepared to envisage, and even less deal with, the consequences of catastrophic climate change”.

Working from "Best Case Scenario" Data. A Dollar Short and a Day Late.

The scientific community has generally underestimated the likely rate of climate change impacts and costs. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports are years out of date upon publication. Sir Nicholas Stern wrote of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report: “Essentially it reported on a body of literature that had systematically and grossly underestimated the risks [and costs] of unmanaged climate change” (Stern 2016).

Too often, mitigation and adaptation policy is based on least drama, consensus scientific projections that downplay what Prof. Ross Garnaut called the “bad possibilities”, that is, the lower-probability outcomes with higher impacts. In his 2011 climate science update for the Australian Government, Garnaut questioned whether climate research had a conservative “systematic bias” due to “scholarly reticence”. He pointed to a pattern, across diverse intellectual fields, of research predictions being “not too far away from the mainstream” expectations: and observed in the climate field that this “has been associated with understatement of the risks”. (Garnaut 2011)

A prudent risk-management approach for safeguarding people and protecting their ways of life means a tough and objective look at the real risks to which we are exposed, including climate and conflict risks, and especially those “fat tail” events whose consequences are damaging beyond quantification, and which human civilization, as we know it, would be lucky to survive. We must understand the potential of, and plan for, the worst that can happen and be relieved if it doesn’t. If we focus on “middle of the road” outcomes, and ignore the “high-end” possibilities, we will probably end up with catastrophic outcomes that could have been avoided.

It is not a question of whether we may suffer a failure of imagination. We already have.

Minding the Neighbours

“ We are seeing the steady erosion of the nation-state as the primary international security entity. Non-state actors, such as globalized financial institutions and corporations, and even internet-empowered individuals – or the causes they represent – are having increasing impacts on the political landscape. The world has also become more politically complex and economically and financially interdependent. We believe it is no longer adequate to think of the projected climate impacts to any one region of the world in isolation. Climate change impacts transcend international borders and geographic areas of responsibility.” (CNA 2014)

Sixty per cent of Vietnam’s urban areas are 1.5 metres or less above sea level. The Mekong Delta provides 40% of Vietnam’s agricultural production, and more than half of national rice production and agricultural exports. Yet the Delta is also very vulnerable to coastal inundation, with over half its area less than two metres above sea level.

The consequences of unabated climate change cannot be resolved by an emphasis on increasing militarisation, as demonstrated by the example of sea level rise. Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of climate-driven forced mass migrations: 

Perhaps the most worrisome problems associated with rising temperatures and sea levels are from large-scale migrations of people – both inside nations and across existing national borders… potentially involving hundreds of millions of people. The more severe scenarios suggest the prospect of perhaps billions of people over the medium or longer term being forced to relocate. The possibility of such a significant portion of humanity on the move, forced to relocate, poses an enormous challenge even if played out over the course of decades.” (Campbell et al. 2007)

Try Substituting "Canada" in place of "Australia"

Australian institutions are failing in their fiduciary responsibility to safeguard the people and their future well-being. Australia is also failing as a world citizen, by downplaying the profound global impacts of climate change and shirking its responsibility to act. 

Australia’s per capita greenhouse emissions are in the highest rank in the world, and its commitment to reduce emissions are rated as inadequate by leading analysts. For example, Climate Action Tracker says that “Australia’s current policies will fall well short of meeting” its Paris agreement target, that the Emissions Reduction Fund “does not set Australia on a path that would meet its targets” and “without accelerating climate action and additional policies, Australia will miss its 2030 target by a large margin” (CAT 2016).

The most dangerous aspect of fossil-fuel investments made today is that their impacts do not manifest themselves for decades to come. If we wait for catastrophe to happen – as we are doing – it will be too late to act. Time is the most important commodity. To avoid catastrophic outcomes requires emergency action to force the pace of change. 

To have a realistic chance of meeting the Paris aspiration of constraining the temperature increase “to well below 2°C, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C” means that no new fossil fuel projects – coal, oil or gas – can be built globally, and that existing operations have to be rapidly replaced. As well, carbon drawdown technologies to reduce the amount of atmospheric carbon – which do not currently exist at scale – need to be rapidly deployed.

Ditching Neoliberalism While There's Still Time.

Climate change is now a wicked problem. Very rapid cuts in emissions are required, but are considered unachievable within the prevailing economic orthodoxy.

The challenges we face are not amenable to a “politically realistic” response. Emergency action is essential when events threaten to overwhelm the capacity to respond; when failure is not an option; when action is time sensitive (delay leads to event escalation, to the point of passing climate system tipping points); and when the costs of inaction massively outweigh the costs of acting

An emergency response is not alarmism. It is a rational precautionary “due care and diligence” response to an existential risk crisis. 

Confronting What Really Imperils Us.

The scale of the challenge is reflected in a recent “carbon law” articulated by a group of leading scientists (Rockström et al. 2017). They demonstrated that for a 66% chance of holding warming to 2°C and a 50% chance of holding warming to 1.5°C (with overshoot), their “carbon law” requires: 

• Halving of global emissions every decade from 2020 to 2050; 

• Reducing carbon dioxide emissions from land use to zero by 2050; and 

• Establishing carbon drawdown capacity of 5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide per year by 2050.

Lead author Johan Rockström says: ”It’s way more than adding solar or wind… It’s rapid decarbonization, plus a revolution in food production, plus a sustainability revolution, plus a massive engineering scale-up [for carbon removal].” In other words, an emergency-scale effort. 

As noted on page 21, the world has passed some disturbing climate milestones at the current level of 1°C of warming, so the goal must be the restoration of a safe climate well under that figure, if multi-metre sea-level rises are not to occur. The “carbon law” does not describe a safe-climate path. Such a path would include: 

• A large scale transition to a safe-climate economy that delivers zero emissions and large-scale carbon drawdown as fast as humanly possible; 

• All known safe solutions implemented at maximum scale now; and 

• Critical research and development of solutions to close the gap between what is needed for effective protection and what is currently possible.

The first step forward is to stop believing the fantastic lies being spun by our political leaders who, with a straight face, tell us that the path to a green future for Canada rests on rapid and wholesale expansion of our fossil fuel extraction and export. That's complete rubbish even if it does come from the mouth of our photogenic prime minister.

Trudeau, like Harper before him, has succumbed to a "catastrophic failure of imagination" that places him in conflict with the mountain of evidence and science before him. In this he is abrogating his most fundamental responsibility to safeguard our people and our future well-being.



Anonymous said...

Prying loose of Neo Liberalism...
When you can't beat them, join them..


Anonymous said...

I heard earlier this week that it rained in Antarctica and that a giant iceberg the size of PEI is due to "calve off" soon. If that isn't pretty strong evidence that global warming is affecting the environment, then I don't know what is.

I believe that most or all politicians actually believe that global warming is happening and they know they should be doing something. I also think that they won't do anything (especially if they are going at it alone) because it will likely cause some short term economic pain. If that happens, they will lose their jobs come the next election.