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Doom Boom
Ben McGrath, New Yorker
In this issue, Ben McGrath writes about predictions of economic and social collapse. Here he talks about the history of doomsaying, the future of the American Dream, and how the pessimism of his subjects affected him.
(26 January 2009)
Pleasant interview about McGrath’s article, The Dystopians, appearing in the Jan 26 issue of the New Yorker. James Howard Kunstler and Black Swans are some of the subjects discussed. -BA

Club of Rome: Crisis gives us an opportunity to rethink strategies

Karen Remo-Listana, Business24 (United Arab Emirates)
The Club of Rome – a think tank of scientists, economists, business leaders, civil servants and politicians from the five continents – attracted considerable public attention with its 1972 report titled “The Limits to Growth”. The study challenged one of the then core assumptions of economic theory – that the Earth was infinite and would always provide the resources needed for human prosperity.

The book, which sold 30 million copies in 37 languages, stated that if consumption patterns and population growth continued at the same high rates of the time, the Earth would reach its limits within a century. And this is what is happening now, says Martin Lees, Secretary-General of the Club of Rome. In an exclusive interview with Emirates Business, he said the world had continued to grow exponentially as if the planet would sustain economic growth forever.

“Once the world recovers from the financial crisis we imagine that the global economy will double in size in a couple of decades,” he said. “This would mean an additional two billion people or more will join the world’s middle class, implying changes in consumption practices and lifestyle. This is simply not feasible.”
(21 January 2009)

Bill McKibben Interview

Diane Silver, The Progressive
… Q: How did we get into this mess [climate change]?

McKibben: Fossil fuel is very seductive stuff. [John Maynard] Keynes once said that, as far as he could tell, the average standard of living from the beginning of human history to the middle of the eighteenth century had perhaps doubled. Not much had changed, and then we found coal and gas and oil and everything changed. Now we’re reaping the result of that, both ecologically and socially.

In the United States, cheap fossil fuel has eroded communities. We’re the first people with no real practical need for each other. Everything comes from a great distance through anonymous and invisible transactions. We’ve taken that to be a virtue, but it’s as much a curse. Americans are not very satisfied with their lives, and the loss of community is part of that.

Q: You wrote about those problems in your book Deep Economy.

McKibben: That was an essay about my hope for the emergence of a more localized economy. Now, it’s happened, or begun to happen, with amazing speed. We’re flying less and driving less. The only houses holding most of their value during this economic downturn are in the city or along the transit lines or in the walkable suburbs. All of a sudden, the fifty-year American dream of building a bigger house away from people is turning into a nightmare. SUVs have gone from being objects of desire to expensive planters.

… Q: When I interview climate scientists, they often tell me to turn off my recorder and then confess that they have little hope that we will find the political will to stop global warming. Do you agree?

McKibben: They’re absolutely right. That’s why we’re trying to build the political will. There’s no shortcut around it.

Without a movement pressing for change, there’s little hope. We’ve got to work the political system to make this happen fast. The physics and chemistry are daunting. The resources on the other side are very large.

Q: Do people elsewhere respond differently than Americans do when you talk about this?

McKibben: Where people aren’t as deeply reliant on fossil fuel as in the United States, it’s far easier for them to imagine change on this scale. When you go to Europe, they’re much more ready. They use half the amount of energy per capita that we use. They can imagine using less than that. They see the benefits. They’re ready to go.

… Q: What does life in a post-fossil fuel world look like?

McKibben: I think it will look different depending on where you are. The economy will be much more localized. Many commodities, food, energy, entertainment will be much more likely to come from your neighbors or from people in your region than at present. I don’t think food will be traveling 2,000 miles. I think it will be traveling 20 miles. In a post-fossil fuel economy, energy will be coming from solar panels on your neighbor’s roof and your roof.

Not only will that provide good, clean power, but it will do that without your having to send your daughter or son off to the Persian Gulf to defend a 10,000-mile-long straw through which we suck hydrocarbons. We won’t have to blow the tops off any more mountains to mine coal. The most important parts of our standard of living, good food and good friends, will be strengthened by a more energy efficient economy. I look forward to its advent.

Q: What is the one, most important thing each of us can do to stop global warming?

McKibben: Get involved politically. Often when I’m on TV, they’ll ask what are the three most important things for people to do. I know they want me to say that people should change their light bulbs. I say the number one thing is to organize politically; number two, do some political organizing; number three, get together with your neighbors and organize; and then if you have energy left over from all of that, change the light bulb.
(January 2009 issue)

Climate equity is in

Equitywatch, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) (India)
A good way to know the issues that are important in the climate conference is to look at the ‘side event’ list – the workshops, conference and releases that governments and non-governmental groups organise at the side of the conference. This year, two issues dominate – REDD – the mechanism to pay for the world’s forests and what developing country should do to reduce their emissions. So, different northern think-tanks are working feverishly to propose how developing countries can reduce their emissions, get rewarded and be happy (see reports in mitigation section).

But with these two ‘predictable’ issues, there is a third issue that has made it through the cracks – how will the world share the carbon budget, which we all know is very limited by now. So, this year, unlike any CoP in the past, there are groups and proposals on equity – different ways to slice up the earth’s future. The politics are clear. The world is now moving towards accepting a 2 degree target, which means that it will need to limit emissions to 450 ppm co2e. With the world already close to 430 ppm of co2e, clearly there is little left to go around. So, the issue of sharing the resources, the budget and the burden becomes critical.

Chinese proposal for equity

Today, in what is clearly a first and perhaps a game-changer, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences presented its version of the carbon budget for equity and sustainability. Interestingly, the academy says, that while there have been a variety of proposals with different interpretations of equity principle for burden sharing and emission entitlement, there is an “imbalance”. Only three of the 43 odd proposals for equity, come from researchers of the South.

The Chinese proposal is built on two concepts – to provide for basic needs, and says there is no space in the world for luxurious and wasteful emissions and to provide for geophysical needs of the world. That is, if the emissions are more than the geophysical limits, then the world has to reduce its needs to adjust to what the world can withstand. It accepts that the world has to reduce emissions by 50% by 2050, which is then the global carbon budget, which needs to be shared between every individual in the world.

The budget is then allocated to every individual for basic needs.
(8 December 2008)
About the Centre for Science and Environment :
The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) is a public interest research and advocacy organisation based in New Delhi. CSE researches into, lobbies for and communicates the urgency of development that is both sustainable and equitable. The scenario today demands using knowledge to bring about change. In other words, working India’s democracy. This is what we aim to do.