Monday, January 28, 2019

First, We Throw Out the Monsters


It was hard not to be impressed when a 16-year old Swedish school girl, Greta Thunberg showed up to read the Riot Act to the delegates at, first, the Katowice climate summit and then at the World Economic Forum in Davos.  Her message is important and deserves our attention and that of our leaders because it cuts through the blather and gets straight to the point.
Our house is on fire. I am here to say, our house is on fire. 
According to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), we are less than 12 years away from not being able to undo our mistakes. In that time, unprecedented changes in all aspects of society need to have taken place, including a reduction of our CO2 emissions by at least 50%. 
And please note that those numbers do not include the aspect of equity, which is absolutely necessary to make the Paris agreement work on a global scale. Nor does it include tipping points or feedback loops like the extremely powerful methane gas released from the thawing Arctic permafrost
...Yes, we are failing, but there is still time to turn everything around. We can still fix this. We still have everything in our own hands. But unless we recognise the overall failures of our current systems, we most probably don’t stand a chance.
We are facing a disaster of unspoken sufferings for enormous amounts of people. And now is not the time for speaking politely or focusing on what we can or cannot say. Now is the time to speak clearly. 
Solving the climate crisis is the greatest and most complex challenge that Homo sapiens have ever faced. The main solution, however, is so simple that even a small child can understand it. We have to stop our emissions of greenhouse gases. 
Either we do that or we don’t.
...Some say we should not engage in activism. Instead we should leave everything to our politicians and just vote for a change instead. But what do we do when there is no political will? What do we do when the politics needed are nowhere in sight? 
Here in Davos – just like everywhere else – everyone is talking about money. It seems money and growth are our only main concerns. 
And since the climate crisis has never once been treated as a crisis, people are simply not aware of the full consequences on our everyday life. People are not aware that there is such a thing as a carbon budget, and just how incredibly small that remaining carbon budget is. That needs to change today. 
No other current challenge can match the importance of establishing a wide, public awareness and understanding of our rapidly disappearing carbon budget, that should and must become our new global currency and the very heart of our future and present economics.
...We must change almost everything in our current societies. The bigger your carbon footprint, the bigger your moral duty. The bigger your platform, the bigger your responsibility. 
Adults keep saying: “We owe it to the young people to give them hope.” But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.
From that commentary I wrote a couple of draft essays but they never led to the conclusion I needed. Then I responded to a post by Marie Snyder at A Puff of Absurdity where my thoughts seemed to flow a bit better:
Ms. Thunberg's powerful remarks inspired me to write a piece about what she was telling us about her generation and how they will depict us when it's their turn to write the history books. 
It quickly came to me that our leaders will be branded monsters. Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau, and their contemporaries in the developed world will go down as monsters of a scale previously unknown to human civilization. 
They have full knowledge of what is happening and the enormity of the looming threats. They know how the worst catastrophe can be avoided and they have the power to do that. However, what makes them worse than the monsters of the past is that they're not driven by madness or xenophobia or paranoia or any of the other base instincts that have fueled the outrages of the past. What drives them is greed, the quest for ever more and a short-termer's willingness to kick even mortal threats down the road. 
Emissions had a substantial uptick in 2018. There'll be another this year. OPEC and the International Energy Agency see a great future for fossil fuels, including coal, into the 2040s. We're projected to go from 100 million barrels of oil per day to 112 million barrels per day by 2050. Cuts to coal consumption in the developed world will be eclipsed by the rise of coal in the developing world. We're supposed to be completely decarbonized by 2050 but we stand to be even worse than we've ever been in the past. 
We've known for more than thirty years of this existential threat and the gravity and pace of it has become increasingly well revealed with each passing year since James Hansen testified before Congress in 1988. And yet our leaders have done nothing to rein in the growth of cheap, fossil energy. Even today Canada's government of the self-proclaimed environmentalist, Trudeau, is determined to push through another massive pipeline to my coast in order to flood world markets with the most toxic, highest-carbon ersatz petroleum on the planet. 
What is that if not monstrous?
It was not always this way. The intellectual father of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke, was a strong believer in conservation, protection of the environment, leaving the world a better place for the following generation. He wrote:
All persons possessing any portion of power ought to be strongly and awfully impressed with an idea that they act in trust. of the first and most leading principles on which the commonwealth and the laws are consecrated, is lest the temporary possessors and life-renters in it, unmindful of what they have received from their ancestors, or of what is due to their posterity, should act as if they were the entire masters; that they should not think it among their rights to cut off the entail, or commit waste on the inheritance, by destroying at their pleasure the whole original fabric of their society; hazarding to leave to those who come after them a ruin instead of an habitation—and teaching these successors as little to respect their contrivances, as they had themselves respected the institutions of their forefathers. By this unprincipled facility of changing the state as often, and as much, and in as many ways, as there are floating fancies or fashions, the whole chain and continuity of the commonwealth would be broken. No one generation could link with the other. Men would become little better than the flies of a summer.
Burke wrote that in the 18th century. In the early 20th century, Theodore Roosevelt delivered this passage in his  "Square Deal" speech:
I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us. I ask nothing of the nation except that it so behave as each farmer here behaves with reference to his own children. That farmer is a poor creature who skins the land and leaves it worthless to his children. The farmer is a good farmer who, having enabled the land to support himself and to provide for the education of his children, leaves it to them a little better than he found it himself. I believe the same thing of a nation.
The monsters of our day have no time for these ideas.  They are happy to "skin the land and leave it worthless" for future generations.

What passes for governance today is a betrayal of the future. You may have noticed that we wage wars today that transform into quagmires, permawar, war without end. These are not wars intended to achieve some resolution. They are not wars fought to achieve victory. They are wars of punishment, wars for which inconclusive but monstrously murderous results are pre-ordained. They are wars that end not in victory but exhaustion, boredom and obscene indifference.

We have adopted a similar myopia in our approach to governance. We're not in this to win, not in the long run, not for future generations.  We don't have that sort of leadership today and we, at least most of us, are either oblivious to it or, worse, fine with it.  We will go on and on and on until going on is no longer tenable. Then it's chaos. Most of us at least sense that this cannot end well but we would rather not dwell on it.

We are beset by monsters. They are the titans of industry, the pillars of finance and the charlatans we elect to high office. Collectively they pursue an agenda, entirely unlike our own, and their agenda leads to ruin, perhaps even a mass extinction event.

We know the science. It is massive and compelling and brutally clear. We know what must be done and we know what must not be allowed to transpire. We have the warnings. We are surrounded by the early-onset impacts. Yet we look away and instead put our shoulder into enabling the extraction and export of thermal coal, natural gas and the most toxic, highest-carbon ersatz petroleum of them all, bitumen.

Trump runs around searching for a fictitious 'national emergency' but what should trouble us all is not an emotionally unhinged president but that so few of his contemporaries are willing to see the true national - and global - emergency that is already overtaking us.


John B. said...

I always stumble back on thinking about the guy who isn’t sure of how he’s going to pay for next month’s rent or next week’s groceries. That guy lives in every corner of the world. I’ve been that guy and I know that I could soon be him again if I don’t catch a share of the turnover work scheduled to take place at an out-of-town refinery in May. I won’t even have a stab at that unless the locals decide to take travellers before they go to their retirees list. I look and can deport a decade or more younger, so I can get away with the fraud if nobody there knows me. I guess I should have learned to do something else but I didn’t, and I’m sure that nobody’s going to feed me for expressing these or any other of the thoughts that might occur to me.

Back in the ‘60’s, I was convinced that humanity’s collective wisdom would prevail. And then I got my time in and hit the snooze button. It appears as though, sooner than we’d hoped, the Next Big One isn’t going to be one that figured in our plans.

I’m in the monster gang too, but I didn’t know what I’d become when I joined it.

The Mound of Sound said...

John, you didn't orchestrate this. That was done by a narrow group of folks many pay grades above our own.

What we've learned is that economic activity doesn't collapse with the switch to alternate energy, quite the opposite.

Why do you imagine our governments are still shelling out billions each year in subsidies and freebies to the fossil energy giants? Why do governments have no interest in doing what must be done if future generations are to have a fighting chance?

Fossil energy has us over a barrel. With some $28 trillion of proven reserves subscribed on the stock markets and bourses of the world, politicians are now too cowardly to do the one thing that can make a difference, what Hans Joachim Schellnhuber aptly described at the 2015 Paris climate summit as the "induced implosion" of the fossil fuel industry.

We now favour the global economy over everything, even the survival of our own species and civilization. Didn't Bruce Springsteen write a song about that sort of predicament?

Trailblazer said...

What we've learned is that economic activity doesn't collapse with the switch to alternate energy, quite the opposite.

Yet; I forever hear.
Those ,rice burners will never catch on.
But they did.
It took about 15 years but it happened.
Like it or not change takes time.
BUT; we must be aware not to go backwards as world politics seem driven to do so.


The Mound of Sound said...

Change does take time, TB, but bursting that Carbon Bubble, when it occurs, is expected to be quite rapid and wipe out most of that subscribed wealth. I'm guessing no one wants to wear that so they'll just kick it down the road, pro forma.

the salamander said...

.. fascinating article, Mound.. I have trashed many a response.. they usually went off somewhere somewhere and rhen I was mjst swimmkng to get out of it. If in doubt, I copy and paste it, email or text it to myself. Right now I'm in focus on the Jason Kenney residency scandal. We don't even know if he was an eligible candidate in Alberta ! Its stunning, astonishing. The Canadian taxpayers paid him, paid his gold plated pension & helped pay off his pricy condo in walking distance of Parliament ! A Monster ? Of course ! Clinging to his wet dream of power & willing to rip us all off and mislead us. He's just a lesser light monster.. but the damage he can do is stunning. He's super glib, Has polished his grift to the highest degree.. as nave they all, except Trump, who can barely talk.. and uh, ah Trudeau who ah can jam ah aj so many ah's and ih's into a sentance, that its shocking. He needs speech therapy, seriously.. and an environmental stumblebum.. that you need no lecture on. The monsters need to be removed from their protective shells.. ie the protective shells stripped away. Then there's Scheer who I'll leave for now.. such a typical Conservative gsrbage gasbag & grinning smilely fool & tool

The Mound of Sound said...

One of the points I was trying to make, Sal, is that these modern Conservatives are adrift from the principles of conservatism. Today the Conservative/Liberal dynamic sits well to the right of what would have been considered conservative by previous generations. It's more hyper-capitalist neoliberal and that has pervaded both ruling parties. This wanton abandonment of the public interest in support of narrow, private interests is a contagion of both parties, something that we must find a means to purge while there's still time.

Anonymous said...

And the neoliberals and wealthy right wing of the USA just love Bolsonaro, the new head honcho right wing dud/strongman running Brazil. Social regression in six months, whadda guy! He wants to exploit the Amazon rainforest even further than it has already been ruined. Of course he does, what could be better than unrestrained growth when righteous people know from the voices in their head that exploiting nature is God's way? Too bad about the peons forced into a hard day's work just to eat! The wealthy must have their share - which is everything.

And by the way, the Lima Group thinks that a left-wing strongman is baaad, so Maduro who is hoarding Venezuela's oil for a Bolivarian revolution of the people has been turfed out by politicians from other countries, employing the most egregious of well-paid-for made-up lies. He apparently doesn't understand that his country's oil belongs to the worldwide wealthy. Can't have that, now can we? My God, he might turn out to be a Castro, thinking for himself and his country instead of following the US line! Shudders all around in neoliberal land. So, some nonentity has been recognized as the new president - now the US can resume toilet paper shipments, Similac, and other processed food to feed the starving millions caused by sanctions, export restrictios and the US/Saudi engineered oil price crash, which almost took out Alberta too four years ago. Never mentioned in newscasts - spoils the narrative that the Western cavalry is riding in to save the serfs after trashing the place. We can pretend we're saints! Guaido, if he ever gains effective control of Venezuela, and backed by JT and all the "democracies" spouting nonsense repeated by the talking head servants of corporate media, will certainly lop off a few heads and get those peons back in neoliberal line. And then the oil pumping can really begin! Yessir, untramelled growth! Just like the good Lord intended.

Hey, Russia "interfered" in US elections, but the West just disenfranchised Venezuela with its righteous attitude. No interference there, eh? Sickening two-faced pigs slurping at the trough with a straight face.


The Mound of Sound said...

That got wildly off topic, BM.