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Climate, politics & money - Apr 19

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The Great Unmentionable

George Monbiot, Monbiot.com
Every society has topics it does not discuss. These are the issues which challenge its comfortable assumptions. They are the ones that remind us of mortality, which threaten the continuity we anticipate, which expose our various beliefs as irreconcilable.

Among them are the facts which sink the cosy assertion, that (in David Cameron’s words) “there need not be a tension between green and growth.”

At a reception in London recently I met an extremely rich woman, who lives, as most people with similar levels of wealth do, in an almost comically unsustainable fashion: jetting between various homes and resorts in one long turbo-charged holiday. When I told her what I did, she responded, “oh I agree, the environment is so important. I’m crazy about recycling.” But the real problem, she explained, was “people breeding too much”.

I agreed that population is an element of the problem, but argued that consumption is rising much faster and – unlike the growth in the number of people – is showing no signs of levelling off. She found this notion deeply offensive: I mean the notion that human population growth is slowing. When I told her that birth rates are dropping almost everywhere, and that the world is undergoing a slow demographic transition, she disagreed violently: she has seen, on her endless travels, how many children “all those people have”...
(12 April 2013)


Why can't we quit fossil fuels?

Duncan Clark, The Guardian
We have far more oil, coal and gas than we can safely burn. For all the millions of words written about climate change, the challenge really comes down to this: fuel is enormously useful, massively valuable and hugely important geopolitically, but tackling global warming means leaving most of it in the ground – by choice. Although we often hear more about green technology, consumption levels or population growth, leaving fuel in the ground is the crux of the issue. After all, the climate doesn't know or care how much renewable or nuclear energy we've got, how efficient our cars and homes are, how many people there are, or even how we run the economy. It only cares how much globe-warming pollution we emit – and that may be curiously immune to the measures we usually assume will help.

There are three facts that tell you all you really need to know about climate science and politics. One: for all the uncertainty about the detail, every science academy in the world accepts the mainstream view of man-made global warming. Two: virtually every government, recognising the profound danger of tampering with the climate that allowed human society to thrive, has agreed the world must limit the global temperature increase to 2C – a level which isn't by any means "safe" but may be enough to avoid the worst impacts. Three: the amount of warming we will experience goes up roughly in proportion to the total amount of carbon that global society emits – cumulatively.

Here is the rub. Even if we gave up on all the obscure and unconventional fossil fuel resources that companies are spending billions trying to access and just burned the "proven" oil, coal and gas reserves – the ones that are already economically viable – we would emit almost 3tn tonnes of carbon dioxide. No one can say exactly how much warming that would cause, but it is overwhelmingly likely that we would shoot well past 2C and towards 3C or even 4C of warming...

This article is based on the book The Burning Question by Mike Berners-Lee and Duncan Clark, which is published on 20 April
(17 April 2013)


The Fossil Fuel Resistance

Bill McKibben, Rolling Stone
It got so hot in Australia in January that the weather service had to add two new colors to its charts. A few weeks later, at the other end of the planet, new data from the CryoSat-2 satellite showed 80 percent of Arctic sea ice has disappeared. We're not breaking records anymore; we're breaking the planet. In 50 years, no one will care about the fiscal cliff or the Euro crisis. They'll just ask, "So the Arctic melted, and then what did you do?"

Here's the good news: We'll at least be able to say we fought.

After decades of scant organized response to climate change, a powerful movement is quickly emerging around the country and around the world, building on the work of scattered front-line organizers who've been fighting the fossil-fuel industry for decades. It has no great charismatic leader and no central organization; it battles on a thousand fronts. But taken together, it's now big enough to matter, and it's growing fast...
(11 April 2013)


Jeremy Grantham, environmental philanthropist: 'We're trying to buy time for the world to wake up'

Leo Hickman, The Guardian
One icy morning in February, a train pulled into Washington DC. It was loaded with environmentalists planning to handcuff themselves to the gates of the White House, in protest at the building of a 3,500km oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Amid the hundreds of placard-carrying protesters stood a somewhat incongruous figure in a suit – Jeremy Grantham, a 74-year-old fund manager. "What we are trying to do is buy time," he told reporters. "Buy time for the world to wake up."

Grantham – who occupies a legendary place in the world of finance for predicting all the major stock market bubbles of recent decades (and doing very well in the process) – had decided, after 15 years of low-key environmental philanthropy, to, as he puts it, "walk the walk".

"I was committed to getting arrested," says Grantham, a tall, slight man, as he looks out across the City from his London office on the 15th floor of a glass-and-steel tower next to the Bank of England. He speaks machine gun-quickly in a soft, mid-Atlantic accent. "But the day before [the protest] my wife checked with the lawyer, who said, 'Don't do that!'" It turned out that being arrested would give him serious problems when it came to travelling. "I've had a green card since completing my MBA at Harvard in 1964."...
(12 April 2013)


Clean energy progress too slow to limit global warming - report

Nina Chestney, Reuters
The development of low-carbon energy is progressing too slowly to limit global warming, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Wednesday.
With power generation still dominated by coal and governments failing to increase investment in clean energy, top climate scientists have said that the target of keeping the global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius this century is slipping out of reach.

"The drive to clean up the world's energy system has stalled," said Maria van der Hoeven, the IEA's executive director, at the launch of the agency's report on clean energy progress.

"Despite much talk by world leaders, and a boom in renewable energy over the past decade, the average unit of energy produced today is basically as dirty as it was 20 years ago."...
(17 April 2013)


Meet an Orion Book Award Finalist: Flight Behavior

Barbara Kingsolver, Orion Magazine
If a function of fiction is to describe truths that elude other forms of communication, how can a novel say something true about one of the most difficult truths of our time—that Earth’s climate is changing? Barbara Kingsolver’s newest book, Flight Behavior, about an Appalachian woman who discovers something new and dazzlingly wrong in the woods near her home, offers one compelling answer. Here’s Barbara on whether and how novelists can address humanity’s most demanding, confusing, and far-reaching crisis.

***

In the world where I live and work and look my family in the eye every day, I can’t see anything more important in our periphery than climate change. Honestly, nothing. The work deadline, the college decision, the ever-fascinating broken heart—I’m sorry, but you can’t name the item on your agenda that holds a candle to the physics and cultural reckoning of a pending global disaster. And yet the subject goes untouched by literature. For that matter, it’s rarely touched even by political discourse...
(4 April 2013)
Link to an NPR book review of Flight Behaviour

Change the politics - caro2francq/flickr

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