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“Modern Times” Really Akin To The “Dark Ages”

Sherwood Ross, Countercurrents
Humans may believe we live in enlightened times but future historians, (if there are any) will look back at our era as “dirty, crowded, superstitious, dangerous, and primitive” as the Dark Ages, ecologist Carl Safina, president of Blue Ocean Institute, says.

To avert imminent catastrophe, he calls for replacing “the no-accounting, throwaway, boomeranging, soot-powered economy with a clean, renewable, no-waste, recycling economy.”

“In accounting terms,” he points out in an article published in the May-June Utne Reader, “we’re running a deficit, eating into our principal, running down and liquidating our natural capital assets. Something’s getting ready to break.”

Safina—a marine conservationist and recipient of Pew, MacArthur, and Guggenheim fellowships—says, “I hope humanity survives” yet warns that “Since 1970 populations of fishes, amphibians, mammals, reptiles, and birds have declined about 30 percent worldwide.” He notes, “Species are going extinct about a thousand times faster than the geologically ‘recent’ average; the last extinction wave this severe snuffed the dinosaurs.”

Humans are devouring 40 percent of the life that Earth’s land produces and “take a similar proportion of what the coastal seas produce. For one midsized creature that collectively weighs just half a percent of the animal mass on Earth, that is a staggering proportion. It redefines ‘dominion.’ We dominate.”
(24 April 2011)
I think the article by Carl Safina at Utne Reader is Hope at Low Tide (An ecologist walking on the beach wonders, worries, and dreams of a better future).

Suggested by EB contributor Bill Henderson. -BA

Q&A: Hunter Lovins

Martin C. Pedersen, Metropolis Magazine
For our 30th anniversary issue, I interviewed three pioneers in the green building movement: Bill McDonough, USGBC President and CEO Rick Fedrizzi, and Hunter Lovins. It turns out all three of them share a common approach to environmentalism. They engage with business, rather than confront it. I’d call it second (or maybe third) wave activism. And no one has been at it longer than Lovins, who in 1982 co-founded (with Amory Lovins, her ex-husband) the Rocky Mountain Institute. Today Lovins serves as executive director of Natural Capitalist Solutions, a non-profit dedicated to helping businesses, governments and civic organizations embrace sustainability. She is co-author (with Boyd Cohen) of a new book, Climate Capitalism: Capitalism in the Age of Climate Change. The following is an edited transcript from her insightful conversation.

Martin C. Pedersen: You say the “three-Ls” used by the environmental movement—legislation, litigation, and lobbying—aren’t working. What does work, you argue, is engaging with business. But we’re nowhere near a tipping point for industry and climate change action. In fact the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is dead set against any kind of carbon legislation—

Hunter Lovins: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is not the voice of industry. It is a self-appointed, right-wing organization that is trying to force policy that is manifestly uneconomic and will tip the country back into financial collapse. We now have pretty good evidence that the financial collapse was driven in large part by the way we’ve been doing business. Prior to 2008, we were borrowing $2-billion a day, largely from the Chinese and the sovereign wealth funds of the Middle East, to buy imported oil from the sovereign oil funds of the Middle East, in competition with the Chinese. Oil hit record heights, a hundred-fifty a barrel, a few months before the economy went into collapse. If we fail to deal with this fundamental un-sustainability, we will lurch from collapse to collapse to collapse. The most interesting of the Wiki Leaks revelations were that the Saudis had been cooking their books on oil.

MCP: And they have more or less oil than they’re reporting?

HL: Considerably less! Now this should not come as a surprise. I suppose it does, because we’d like to believe that oil is infinite. And indeed the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and folks at the International Energy Agency have been saying this for years. But of late the IEA has stopped saying it. You may have noticed—maybe not, I don’t think it was reported in this country, I read it in the Financial Times—that a couple of IEA employees whistle-blew, accusing the organization of cooking its books. There is actually a lot less oil than anybody thought. The British government said: “We base our national projections on IEA numbers, where did those numbers come from?” The IEA’s chief economist replied, “Well, they’re assumptions.” So the British government commissioned an industry task force, chaired by the managing director of Royal Dutch Shell, which called for an immediate transition to green transport. Another report came out last year saying that within three to four years we can expect real constraints on the supply of conventional oil, i.e. Peak Oil. So, again, I submit that what the Chamber of Commerce is saying is precisely the opposite of what is in businesses interest.

… MCP: … why doesn’t business at large believe it?

HL: Right now nothing about sustainability is on anybody’s balance sheet. It only shows up as a cost. Somewhere the accounting is wrong. Oystein Dahle, a retired vice president of Esso for Norway, once said, “Communism failed because it wouldn’t allow the markets to tell the economic truth. Capitalism may fail because it doesn’t allow the market to tell the ecological truth.” We’re not counting the real costs and benefits. So what we’re trying to do is make the business case for sustainability. Sure, it’s the right thing to do. And in the end, as Ray pointed out, “What’s the business case for ending life on earth?” But in the short run, investors want to know that if you’re spending corporate dollars for a sound reason. We’re working hard with companies to enable them to demonstrate that to even the beadiest-eyed Wall Street analyst.
(27 April 2011)

This heaving planet

Sir David Attenborough, New Statesman
Half a century ago, the WWF was formed to help save endangered animals. Today, it’s human beings who are increasingly at risk, through overpopulation and food scarcity. Can we bring our birth rate under control and avert potential catastrophe?

… Make a list of all the other environmental problems that now afflict us and our poor battered planet – the increase of greenhouse gases and consequential global warming, the acidification of the oceans and the collapse of fish stocks, the loss of rainforest, the spread of deserts, the shortage of arable land, the increase in violent weather, the growth of mega-cities, famine, migration patterns. The list goes on and on. But they all share one underlying cause. Every one of these global problems, social as well as environmental, becomes more difficult – and ultimately impossible – to solve with ever more peopl
(27 April 2011)

Arguments for constrained capitalism in Asia

Madeleine Bunting, Guardian
Writer and thinktank founder Chandran Nair says billions of Chinese and Indians may aspire to an American standard of living, but it will be a catastrophe if these aspirations are met

Chandran Nair is a softspoken man with a radical message. Listening to his hard-hitting analysis, it’s not easy to know whether we are hearing a brave pioneer or a voice crying in the wilderness. His call to arms is clear: a western model of development has dominated the world for the last 60 years, but it will be disastrous if it is allowed to continue unreformed in Asia. Consumption-led economic growth is the orthodoxy that runs the global system. Billions of Chinese and Indians may aspire to an American standard of living, but it will be a catastrophe if such aspirations are ever fulfilled.

Across Asia there is now unprecedented pressure on environmental resources such as water, fish, forestry and air quality. Nair’s conclusion is blunt: Asia must develop a new model of capitalism – he calls it constrained capitalism – which limits the use of natural resources and inhibits the behaviour of consumers.

“It’s a matter of numbers,” Nair said on a visit to London to speak at the Royal Society of Arts. “What Europe and America does about restricting its impact on the environment is pretty irrelevant. The future will be determined by what happens in Asia. Three billion Asians want what you and I have, but there is not enough to go round. By 2050, there will be 5 billion Asians,” says Nair, who grew up in Malaysia and now lives in Hong Kong.

“If Asia continues like the west, the game is over; as people in Asia get richer, they eat further up the food chain. If 500 million Chinese want to eat just one seafood meal a week, it will empty all the seas of Asia. If Asians ate as much chicken as Americans, by 2050 that would amount to 120 billion birds a year instead of today’s 16 billion. To aspire to the western model in Asia is a deadly lie.
(21 April 2011)

Activists occupy oil rig in fight to prevent Arctic drilling

John Vidal, Guardian
Environmental groups fear oil industry is not prepared for potentially catastrophic impact of oil spills in the Arctic

The fight to stop the global oil industry exploring the pristine deep waters of the Arctic has been dubbed the new cold war, and early on Friday it escalated as environmental activists from 12 countries occupied the world’s second largest rig on its way from Turkey to Greenland to drill among the icebergs.

The protesters found the 52,000-tonne semi-submersible platform Leiv Eiriksson at around midnight, steaming due west at a stately six knots in the sea of Marmara, heading for the Dardanelle straits and the open Mediterranean. It took four more hours for Greenpeace to bring in its inflatables and a further 50 minutes in the choppy moonlit sea to intercept it.

Even from three miles away, the Chinese-built mobile rig, which specialises in drilling in extreme environments, looks huge. From 100ft away in the pale dawn light it is a 15-storey industrial castle, bristling with cranes, derricks, gangways, chains, spars, girders, pipes, helipads and radar.
(22 April 2011)