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Monbiot: The planet is now so vandalised that only total energy renewal can save us

George Monbiot, Guardian
It may be too late. But without radical action, we will be the generation that saved the banks and let the biosphere collapse

… The costs of a total energy replacement and conservation plan would be astronomical, the speed improbable. But the governments of the rich nations have already deployed a scheme like this for another purpose. A survey by the broadcasting network CNBC suggests that the US federal government has now spent $4.2 trillion in response to the financial crisis, more than the total spending on the second world war when adjusted for inflation. Do we want to be remembered as the generation that saved the banks and let the biosphere collapse?

This approach is challenged by the American thinker Sharon Astyk. In an interesting new essay, she points out that replacing the world’s energy infrastructure involves “an enormous front-load of fossil fuels”, which are required to manufacture wind turbines, electric cars, new grid connections, insulation and all the rest. This could push us past the climate tipping point. Instead, she proposes, we must ask people “to make short term, radical sacrifices”, cutting our energy consumption by 50%, with little technological assistance, in five years.

There are two problems: the first is that all previous attempts show that relying on voluntary abstinence does not work. The second is that a 10% annual cut in energy consumption while the infrastructure remains mostly unchanged means a 10% annual cut in total consumption: a deeper depression than the modern world has ever experienced. No political system – even an absolute monarchy – could survive an economic collapse on this scale.

She is right about the risks of a technological green new deal, but these are risks we have to take. Astyk’s proposals travel far into the realm of wishful thinking. Even the technological new deal I favour inhabits the distant margins of possibility.

Can we do it? Search me. Reviewing the new evidence, I have to admit that we might have left it too late. But there is another question I can answer more easily. Can we afford not to try? No, we can’t.
(25 November 2008)
EB contributor Sharon Astyk makes it into the pages of UK’s Guardian. -BA

Forest protection plan could displace millions, say campaigners

Alok Jha, Guardian
Livelihoods of 60m indigenous people at risk from plans to tackle climate change by protecting forests, says Friends of the Earth

International proposals to protect forests to tackle climate change could displace millions of indigenous people and fail to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, according to environmentalists.

Friends of the Earth International (FoE) will argue in a report to be published on Thursday, that plans to slow the decline of forests, which would see rich countries pay for the protection of forests in tropical regions, are open to abuse by corrupt politicians or illegal logging companies.

Forests store a significant amount of carbon and cutting them down is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions — currently this accounts for around 20% of the world’s total.

Deforestation also threatens biodiversity and puts the livelihoods of more than 60 million indigenous people who are dependent upon forests at risk.

Working out a way to protect forests will be one of the key issues discussed next week in the United Nations climate change summit in Poznan, Poland, which marks the start of global negotiations to replace for the Kyoto protocol after 2012.
(24 November 2008)

Schwarzenegger’s bid to save the rainforest

Duncan Clark, The Guardian
Though it didn’t seems to make an enormous splash in the press, the deal reached this week between three US states, Indonesia and Brazil seems like a fairly big deal in terms of rainforest protection.

The agreement was brokered at the climate summit convened by California’s ecosavvy governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Along with fellow governors from Illinois and Wisconsin, Schwarzenegger signed an agreement that could see carbon credits earned from forest protection in Indonesia or Brazil incorporated into US emissions trading schemes.

Partly, this is significant simply because there haven’t been very many large-scale international efforts to protect the world’s dwindling rainforests – despite the huge climate change impact of tropical deforestation. The Brits and Norway have launched a big project in the Congo basin, but there are few other examples. (One looked promising last year when Guyana offered to hand over the protection of its forests to the British government, but that has so far come to nothing.)

Mainly, though, this deal is significant because it’s the first time – or at least the first I’m aware of – that carbon credits earned by protecting existing forests could be incorporated into large-scale emissions trading schemes. It means, in the simplest possible terms, that Indonesian or Brazilian forestry schemes will be able to get funded by American companies who want to produce carbon dioxide…
(21 November 2008)

Tell Barack Obama the Truth – The Whole Truth
(about climate change) – PDF
Professor James Hansen, NASA’s chief climate scientist (blog)
… The President-elect himself needs to be well-informed about the climate problem and its relation to energy needs and economic policies. He cannot rely on political systems to bring him solutions – the political systems provide too many opportunities for special interests. Here is a message I think should be delivered to Barack Obama. This is a first draft. Criticisms would be much appreciated

…Some people say we must learn to live with these effects, because it is an almost godgiven fact that we must burn all fossil fuels. But now we understand, from the history of the Earth, that there would be two monstrous consequences of releasing the CO2 from all of the oil, gas and coal, consequences of an enormity that cannot be accepted.

One effect would be extermination of a large fraction of the species on the planet. The other is initiation of ice sheet disintegration and sea level rise, out of humanity’s control, eventually eliminating coastal cities and historical sites, creating havoc, hundreds of millions of refugees, and impoverishing nations.

Species extermination and ice sheet disintegration are both ‘non-linear’ problems with ‘tipping points’. If the process proceeds too far, amplifying feedbacks push the system dynamics to proceed without further human forcing. For example, species are interdependent – if a sufficient number are eliminated, ecosystems collapse. In the physical climate system, amplifying feedbacks include increased absorption of sunlight as sea and land ice areas are reduced and release of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, as permafrost melts.

The Earth’s history reveals examples of such non-linear collapses. Eventually, over tens and hundreds of thousands of years, new species develop, and ice sheets return. But we will leave a devastated impoverished planet for all generations of humanity that we can imagine, if we are so foolish as to allow the climate tipping points to be passed.

Urgency. Recent evidence reveals a situation more urgent than had been expected, even by those who were most attuned. The evidence is based on improving knowledge of Earth’s history – how the climate responded to past changes of atmospheric composition – and on observations of how the Earth is responding now to human-made atmospheric changes.

The conclusion – at first startling, but in retrospect obvious – is that the human-made increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), from the pre-industrial 280 parts per million (ppm) to today’s 385 ppm, has already raised the CO2 amount into the dangerous range. It will be necessary to take actions that return CO2 to a level of at most 350 ppm, but probably less, if we are to avert disastrous pressures on fellow species and large sea level rise.
(21 November 2008)
Dr. Hansen’s homepage at Columbia University.