“I think something has happened that can open a new radical space….
I don’t know what comes next. I just know that the people are going to continue to resist, and it’s a great moment to be alive.”
Rev. Sekou on Today’s Civil Rights Leaders: “I Take My Orders From 23-Year-Old Queer Women” http://www.yesmagazine.org/peace-justice/black-lives-matter-s-favorite-minister-reverend-sekou-young-queer
Introduction by John Foran
This isn’t about the U.S. elections, bad as they were for the planet. With this whole text already written, I sat down to write this introduction the morning after them. I woke up surprisingly calm and refreshed, especially given how queasy my stomach felt all night as I went through emotions of shock, then grief, and into numbness. That evening, as the results assaulted our senses, to deal with a mounting sense of horror, I kept it together with a running commentary of texts with a like-hearted friend.
Our conversation wasn’t always about the election; it was – and is – really about the larger questions before us, now, like “Can we go on?”
Earth News is a compilation of the biggest stories I could find over the recent past, in this case between late August and early November. Attentive readers will recall that a special issue on Standing Rock, which remains in the news, took precedence in mid-September. Below you will find the other news that is worthy of recounting, and of recalling, as we now move forward into the unknown. Readers may want to go straight to the parts that interest them most.
This edition of Earth News may seem slightly quaint, compiled as it was entirely before the dawn of the Age of Trump. Or maybe, it will reveal some of the bedrock issues underlying the parlous state of the planet, which were never going to change because of a U.S. election, however self-important Americans like to think themselves. The U.S. has never shown real leadership on climate change, though Trump will now make Obama look like a visionary, tragically heroic figure. In the fate of the planet, all this is ephemera. As always, time will tell.
We still have to find our heroes elsewhere, many of whom, like the young woman pictured above, are unknown to us by name. She joined with other athletes at this summer’s Olympic Games in Brazil who had a lot more than sports on their minds. Like Colin Kaepernick’s stand with Black Lives Matter against police violence and the systemic racism of America’s institutions, athletes in Rio used their global entertainment platform to promote climate justice. Since you might have missed it in the mainstream media, here’s a glimpse of that uplifting story from our friends at Climate Nexus:
Several athletes participating in the Rio Olympics are encouraging countries to take urgent climate action in a new campaign. Brazilian surfers, footballers and water polo players as well as athletes from some of the most vulnerable countries such as the Marshall Islands, Afghanistan and South Sudan have been speaking up for the campaign: “1.5C: The record we must not break.”
For a deeper dive (get it?), see the piece at Climate Home, where the second picture below appears.
Credit for photo: Source
Marna Werneck is a Brazilian Olympic surfer: Credit for photo: Source
Agreeing to agree: Treaties, treaties everywhere as we lock in 1.5 degrees
For a chilling and devastating appraisal of the implications of the U.N. climate negotiations, see The Sky’s Limit: Why the Paris Climate Goals Require a Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production, a report authored in September and released by Oil Change International in collaboration with a set of civil society partners. At the end of a superbly concise analysis, it comes to a single, crystalline conclusion: “No new fossil fuel extraction or transportation infrastructure should be built worldwide.”
Instead, we should allow for the gradual decline of existing operations, over the coming decades, and invest strongly in clean energy to make up the difference. We have seen that there is no economic or technical barrier to making this transition over this time frame: the only requirement is political will.
To minimize the costs of the transition, governments should conduct robust planning for economic and energy diversification. The principles of just transition should be applied, to ensure workers and communities benefit from the shift to a clean energy economy, rather than be harmed by it.
The conclusions in this report will take some by surprise, and cause alarm with others. They imply serious alterations to the global economy, will be resisted by some of the most profitable companies ever known, and will necessitate bold and decisive action by governments on a scale not seen thus far.
But the conclusions are also remarkably straightforward at their core. To keep from burning more fossil fuels than our atmosphere can withstand, we must stop digging them out of the ground. With this report, we put forward recommendations on how to go about doing just that in a sufficient, equitable, economically efficient, and just fashion.
Just before COP 22 opened in November in Marrakesh, the Paris Agreement reached the threshold of signatories to go into effect well ahead of schedule (many speculate that the U.S. was quick to do so in case Trump won the election).
This good news was quickly followed by two more global agreements that were hailed by some as big steps forward – on aviation and on HFCs, the greenhouse gas found in just about every air conditioners. But when we look a little more closely … well that glass is half full again (or is it only one-quarter? A few sips?).
Here’s the aviation story, with some very faint applause (maybe one hand clapping, somewhere):
191 nations agree: Airplanes will finally have to cut their gassy contributions to climate change
The first major international deal to curb aircraft emissions was ratified by the aviation arm of the U.N. on Thursday [October 6]. Is this great news? Depends on how optimistic you are.
“This dangerous shell game does little more than help airlines hide their rapidly growing threat to our climate,” said Vera Pardee of the Center for Biological Diversity, which has sued the U.S. government over aviation emissions. “The world needs less polluting planes, not a dubious offset scheme that just passes off the industry’s exploding carbon debt to someone else.”
The main objections to the agreement: It says that airlines won’t need to start cutting their emissions until 2021 (and even then it’s voluntary; mandatory reductions don’t start until 2028). And it allows airlines to buy carbon offsets from other industries, so that they can keep on pumping greenhouse gases into the jet stream as long as they’re willing to pay for the privilege.
The optimistic counterpoint: Since international flights are exempt from the Paris climate agreement, this is a serious improvement over nothing. “The agreement is not perfect,” said Nathaniel Keohane of Environmental Defense Fund. “But it does provide a vital basis for moving forward.”
Academic and other readers interested in really reducing emissions from air travel should know about the nearly carbon-free academic conference “The World in 2050: Imagining and Creating Just Climate Futures,” currently on in cyberspace here, which I introduced in the pages of Resilience here.
Then there is the “Kigali Agreement” to wind down the use of HFCs. Certainly it’s a good idea, but it’s not a game-changer, and it raises some inconvenient questions about justice and the trajectory of our deeply flawed models of “development,” as Nagraj Adve writes in Ecologise:
Source: The agreement limits the future use of chemical refrigerants used in ACs, fridges and cars
There is a broader issue here that relates to our development trajectory. It’s a reflection of our partial, skewed approach to tackling global warming: that we seek to minimise refrigerants and coolants but not the gadgets that need them in the first place, whose greenhouse gas emissions through their making and operating are vastly greater.…
A mindset that focuses on HFCs but has nothing to say about the massive electricity demanded by AC use is not one that will help us in tackling global warming. There have been opinions lamenting what this agreement may imply for future potential users of personal ACs in India, because substituting HFCs may make ACs more expensive. In a country where, going by official figures, over 300 million people – including 25 million in urban areas – have no access to any electricity at all, and perhaps another 300 million do for only a few hours each day, it isn’t clear that our chief concern ought to be that more people will not use ACs at home.
There’s also the issue of carbon emissions embodied in the manufacturing of these consumer goods, which again are much greater than emissions from HFCs….
To say nothing of everything else that goes into making the car. And we are concerned about the HFCs from its AC unit alone?
Focusing on technology while ignoring its trajectory is a grave, wilfully blinkered omission. To be sure, the deal in Kigali is welcome for climate reasons; but, for those very reasons, it is worrying that burning fossil fuels is still so firmly part of the world’s future energy basket. BP’s study of future energy trends worldwide published last year says, “Fossil fuels [will] remain the dominant form of [primary] energy in 2035, with a share of 81%.” The Paris Agreement, as it currently stands, will take us to at least 3º C of warming, way beyond dangerous levels. In climate terms, the Kigali agreement is a small, half-step forward.
Unless we are less easily satisfied, unless we are able to push a lot harder, our development trajectory – increasingly unequal and unsustainable, both in India and around the world – will at the same time be pushing us two large steps back, taking the planet to levels of warming not experienced ever before in human history.
All of this creates some much needed momentum going into COP 22 in Morocco, which began on November 7, but which tellingly received very little advance press, either in the media or in climate movement circles. For up to the minute accounts of COP 22, go to the websites of the publications ECO, Third World Network, and Earth Negotiations Bulletin.
So, “Are We Doing Enough?” asks Climate News Network.Here’s their short answer:
The promises made by the G20 group of the world’s leading economies to meet the goals reached in last December’s Paris agreement on emissions reduction are nowhere near adequate, according to new analysis by a global consortium.
In a comprehensive assessment, they identify the G20 climate challenge: It needs by 2030 to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases by six times more than it has pledged so far.
The analysts’ report is released in Beijing ahead of the G20 summit in the Chinese city of Hangzhou on Sept. 4 and 5. Source: Xinhua
News of the Anthropocene: “It’s official! (well, almost)”
By the way, July Was Earth’s Hottest Month in Recorded History, bringing us the most sweltering summer nights in humanly recorded temperature history, until August and September set new records, that is. We are now permanently past 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere and past 1 degree Celsius of warming since the pre-industrial revolution benchline.
But at least the scientists of the Working Group on the Anthropocene (AWG) recommended to the 35th International Geological Congress in South Africa at the end of August that it decide that we have, indeed, entered a new geological age, as Deirdre Fulton reports.
“We have had an incredible impact on the environment of our planet,” says Colin Waters, principal geologist at the British Geological Survey. (Photo: Kevin Gill/flickr/cc)
The Anthropocene Epoch has begun, according to a group of experts assembled at the International Geological Congress in Cape Town, South Africa this week.
After seven years of deliberation, members of an international working group voted unanimously on Monday to acknowledge that the Anthropocene–a geologic time interval so-dubbed by chemists Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer in 2000–is real.
The epoch is thought to have begun in the 1950s, when human activity, namely rapid industrialization and nuclear activity, set global systems on a different trajectory. And there’s evidence in the geographic record. Indeed, scientists say that nuclear bomb testing, industrial agriculture, human-caused global warming, and the proliferation of plastic across the globe have so profoundly altered the planet that it is time to declare the 11,700-year Holocene over.
Changes to the Earth system that characterize the potential Anthropocene Epoch include marked acceleration to rates of erosion and sedimentation; large-scale chemical perturbations to the cycles of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and other elements; the inception of significant change to global climate and sea level; and biotic changes such as unprecedented levels of species invasions across the Earth. Many of these changes are geologically long-lasting, and some are effectively irreversible.
For a cogent ecosocialist view on these developments, see Roger Annis’s article “Welcome to The Anthropocene, are Environmentalists Equipped to Respond?”
The War of the Fossils: Some good energy news
On a Sunday in August, Lorraine Chow of EcoWatch tells us, “After analyzing data from WeatherEnergy, the environmental group WWF Scotland announced that wind turbines generated more than 100 percent of the total amount of electricity used in the country on Aug. 7.”
Gale-force winds helped provide a record 106% of Scotland’s electricity needs on August. 7. Flickr
And on the sunny side, “Clean energy growth was especially high in China, which was responsible for about 40 percent of all new clean energy capacity. Get this: In China in 2015, two wind turbines were installed every hour,” reports Katie Herzog.
Assessing the state of the energy wars, Climate Nexus offers this story…
Renewables Overtake Coal as World’s Largest Source of Electricity Capacity
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), total clean power capacity increased by 153 gigawatts, overtaking coal for the first time.
“We are witnessing a transformation of global power markets led by renewables and, as is the case with other fields, the center of gravity for renewable growth is moving to emerging markets,” Dr. Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, said.
The agency also raised its five-year forecast for renewable energy by 13 percent and now expects renewables to be 42 percent of global energy capacity by 2021.
Perhaps they didn’t read the Shell report mentioned above…
Undaunted, our fossil fuel Brontosaurus, Shell, “has started pumping from the world’s deepest underwater oil field.”What could go wrong? “The Stones field, 200 miles south of New Orleans and 1.8 miles beneath the water surface, is far deeper than the field tapped by the Deepwater Horizon rig, which exploded in 2010, killing 11 workers and spilling about 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.”
And if that news isn’t sobering enough, Will Yeats points out that this year, on “Earth Overshoot Day: We’ve used up Nature’s Resources Budget for the Year Earlier than Ever Before"
As you read this, humankind has used up nature’s budget for the year.
Today, 8 August, is Earth Overshoot Day, which marks the point our annual demand on nature’s resources exceeds what the Earth can regenerate in that year.
For example, we emit more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than our oceans and forests can absorb, and we deplete fisheries and harvest forests more quickly than they can reproduce and regrow.
And this year, the day has come earlier than it has ever done before.
As population and consumption have increased, almost every year since 1971 has seen the day fall earlier in the year.
Fifteen years ago the day fell in late September. Last year, it fell on August 13.
Here’s 350.org on its strategy going into the U.S. election. As he has been so many times in the past, 350 cofounder Bill McKibben was right on the money with this late summer e-mail. Only this time, with Donald Trump’s election day surprise for Hillary Clinton and the hapless Democrats, it’s cold comfort as the world gets warmer…
Thanks for signing our pledge to organize during this tumultuous election cycle. I’m grateful to be part of this movement where we can build a vision for justice that defeats climate denial and hate.
This week, Donald Trump announced an energy policy that would resurrect the Keystone XL pipeline, abandon the Paris Climate Agreement, and build a wave of new coal plant and mines. Our task is both to ensure that he doesn’t become President – and to hold the Democrats to their climate promises.
Here’s an updated timeline of what we’ll be doing together between now and November 8:
* August: the 350 Action team will be rolling out tools and trainings to equip you with what you’ll need to call out and ask hard questions to candidates in your community.
* September: We’ll let you know about opportunities to birddog candidates in your area – especially vulnerable GOP senators who’ve been supporting Donald Trump. In crucial Presidential swing states – New Hampshire, Iowa, Illinois, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada – we’ll help organize on-the-ground efforts to reach out to voters and build our power.
* October: We’ll be working hard to get out the vote for candidates up and down the ballot who support climate action. In swing states and beyond, we’ll double down on movement-led voter outreach. From house parties to phone banks, this is our opportunity to show the power of the climate movement and get our voters to the polls.
* November: The work continues. Everyone hits the polls November 8, and if we do our jobs right, we’ll get right to work holding the next President accountable to serious climate action – no honeymoon, no foot-dragging.
I have just one more thing to add: I won’t just be voting against Donald Trump in November. I’ll be voting for the platform that the climate movement has shaped through our hard work, and I’ll be ready to demand the next President keep fossil fuels in the ground starting on day one.
Miles for the 350 Action team/ Miles Goodrich – 350 Action [email protected]
By the way, in those six hours of presidential and vice presidential debates, courtesy of Grist, here’s how many questions were to do with climate change [I better send all U.S. politicians a free subscription to News of the World!:
To see the video (sadly, there’s not much to hear) click here.
Books: Two great books on the Anthropocene reviewed by each’s author!
“I can’t recall another book that positions the present global crisis in Earth’s deep history so well, in a form that can be readily understood by non-specialists. Every ecosocialist should read it.”
Jeremy Davies, The Birth of the Anthropocene (University of California Press, 2016), 234 pages.
Reviewed by Ian Angus
The next time someone asks why I wrote a book about the Anthropocene, I hope to say something like this.
“This book …[is] as much about the terminal crisis of the Holocene as it is about the birth pangs of the Anthropocene, or rather, I emphasize that those two things are one and the same. The Holocene matters because it is the only geological epoch so far in which there have been symphony orchestras and hypodermic needles, moon landings and gender equality laws, patisseries, microbreweries, and universal suffrage – or, to put it plainly, the agricultural civilizations that eventually made all of those things possible. With its demise, the civilized rights and pleasures previously confined to the Holocene will have to negotiate radically changed ecological conditions if they are to endure, let alone if they are to be extended more generously to more people. That is the political problem of the Anthropocene.”(5)
That’s just one of many passages in The Birth of the Anthropocene that caused me to think, “I wish I had written that!”
To read the full review, go here.
And now Jeremy David returns the favor.
Ian Angus, Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System (New York: Monthly Review Press),
Facing the Anthropocene hits nails on their heads over and over again. It should transform the relationship between leftist ecological thought and Earth System science.
It’s easy to praise it here, because Angus’s analysis is in many ways very similar to my own in The Birth of the Anthropocene. There are some differences too, and it’s good to have a chance to clarify my own stance by contrasting it with his. But the connections are so substantial that I’m going to spend at least couple of posts on working through the powerful contribution that Facing the Anthropocene makes….
Let’s give the final word to the poets and philosophers.
Now something else is going on too, which is the great unraveling under the pressure of the destruction caused by the industrial growth society. And the awesome thing about the moment that you and I share is that we don’t know which is going to win out.
How is the story going to end? And that seems almost orchestrated to bring forth from us the biggest moral strength, courage, and creativity. I feel because when things are this unstable, a person’s determination, how they choose to invest their energy and their heart and mind can have much more effect on the larger picture than we’re accustomed to think. So I find it a very exciting time to be alive, if somewhat wearing emotionally.
Joanna Macy – A Wild Love for the World
“I think there’s a kind of desperate hope built into poetry now that one really wants, hopelessly, to save the world. One is trying to say everything that can be said for the things that one loves while there’s still time.”
– WS Merwin