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LQD: Camara revisited

by DeAnander Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 03:21:16 PM EST

When you warn people about the dangers of climate change, they call you a saint. When you explain what needs to be done to stop it, they call you a communist. Let me show you why.

Thus, Monbiot in a recent article

There is now a broad scientific consensus that we need to prevent temperatures from rising by more than 2C above their pre-industrial level. Beyond that point, the Greenland ice sheet could go into irreversible meltdown, some ecosystems collapse, billions suffer from water stress, and droughts start to threaten global food supplies.


In the new summary published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), you will find a table that links different cuts to likely temperatures. It suggests that to prevent global warming from eventually exceeding 2C, by 2050 the world will need to cut its emissions to roughly 15% of the volume in 2000.

I looked up the global figures for carbon dioxide production in 2000 and divided it by the current population. This gives a baseline figure of 3.58 tonnes of CO2 per person. An 85% cut means that (if the population remains constant) the global output per head should be reduced to 0.537 tonnes by 2050. The UK currently produces 9.6 tonnes per head and the US 23.6 tonnes. Reducing these figures to 0.537 means a 94.4% cut in the UK and a 97.7% cut in the US. But the world population will rise in the same period. If we assume a population of 9 billion, the cuts rise to 95.9% in the UK and 98.3% in the US.

The IPCC figures might also be out of date. In a footnote beneath the table, the panel admits that "emission reductions...might be underestimated due to missing carbon cycle feedbacks". What this means is that the impact of the biosphere's response to global warming has not been fully considered. As seawater warms, for example, it releases carbon dioxide. As soil bacteria heat up, they respire more, generating more CO2. As temperatures rise, tropical forests die back, releasing the carbon they contain. These are examples of positive feedbacks. A recent paper (all the references are on my website) estimates that feedbacks account for about 18% of global warming. They are likely to intensify.

A paper in Geophysical Research Letters finds that even with a 90% global cut by 2050, the 2C threshold "is eventually broken". To stabilise temperatures at 1.5C above the pre-industrial level requires a global cut of 100%. The diplomats who started talks in Bali yesterday should be discussing the complete decarbonisation of the global economy.

It is not impossible. In a previous article I showed how by switching the whole economy over to the use of electricity and by deploying the latest thinking on regional supergrids, grid balancing and energy storage, you could run almost the entire energy system on renewable power. The major exception is flying (don't expect to see battery-powered jetliners), which suggests that we should be closing rather than opening runways.

This could account for around 90% of the necessary cut. Total decarbonisation demands that we go further.

The nub of the issue is that the climate problem is a common or commensalist one:  we all live here.  Solutions to it must accordingly be global and commensalist and involve thinking beyond the "eternal yankee" model of "smart for one" which has, inevitably, turned out to be so insanely "dumb for all".

Thus, all workable solutions to the problem will be incompatible with the hegemonic ideology of neoliberalism and hyperindividualism, and will be branded as "communist" ... or a variety of other defensive meme-grenades such as "impractical," "hippie," "Luddite," "romantic," "sissy," etc -- all of them suggesting that it's the height of sturdy common sense to destroy our own food and water supply for the sake of a shiny new iPod -- surely no more precious birthright was ever traded away for a more pathetically trivial mess of pottage.

Al Gore gets to be a saint because he tells people about the danger.  But anyone who tells them the magnitude of the actions required to avert it will be tarred and feathered (figuratively at least) and run out of town by the EstablishedMen.

What is to be done?

Monbiot makes specific proposals and insists that it is not yet time to despair.

The Kyoto protocol, whose replacement the Bali meeting will discuss, has failed. Since it was signed, there has been an acceleration in global emissions: the rate of CO2 production exceeds the IPCC's worst case and is now growing faster than at any time since the beginning of the industrial revolution. It's not just the Chinese. A paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (the US institute's journal), finds that "no region is decarbonising its energy supply". Even the age-old trend of declining energy intensity as economies mature has gone into reverse. In the UK there is a stupefying gulf between the government's climate policy and the facts it is creating on the ground. How will we achieve even a 60% cut if we build new coal plants, new roads and a third runway at Heathrow?

Underlying the immediate problem is a much greater one. In a lecture to the Royal Academy of Engineering in May, Professor Rod Smith of Imperial College explained that a growth rate of 3% means economic activity doubles in 23 years. At 10% it takes just seven years. This we knew. But Smith takes it further. With a series of equations he shows that "each successive doubling period consumes as much resource as all the previous doubling periods combined". In other words, if our economy grows at 3% between now and 2040, we will consume in that period economic resources equivalent to all those we have consumed since humans first stood on two legs. Then, between 2040 and 2063, we must double our total consumption again. Reading that paper I realised for the first time what we are up against.

But I am not advocating despair. We must confront a challenge that is as great and as pressing as the rise of the Axis powers. Had we thrown up our hands then, as many people are tempted to do today, you would be reading this paper in German. Though the war often seemed impossible to win, when the political will was mobilised strange and implausible things began to happen. The US economy was spun round on a dime in 1942 as civilian manufacturing was switched to military production. The state took on greater powers than it had exercised before. Impossible policies suddenly became achievable.

The real issues in Bali are not technical or economic. The crisis we face demands a profound philosophical discussion, a reappraisal of who we are and what progress means. Debating these matters makes us neither saints nor communists; it shows only that we have understood the science.

Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell -- Edward Abbey.

Cancer cells are cells which insist on their riotous individualism and resource accumulation at the expense of the cooperative community of cells around them.  The end result of their open-ended growth binge and defiance of resource limits is the death of the organism.  How much more plainly do we have to be told that the cult of infinite growth and limitless individual selfishness is a suicide cult?

Monbiot aside, it is hard to resist despair.

BTW, Helder Camara, who coined the resonant phrase to which Monbiot alludes in graf 1, was a leading light of liberation theology in S America and a close friend of Illich.

Are you in despair?
. Yes 27%
. Sometimes 33%
. No -- we can turn this thing around 38%

Votes: 18
Results | Other Polls
thanks , de.

actually, seeing it spelled out so clearly serves wonderfully to focus the mind, and led me to vote for the third, delusionally optimistic scenario.

does anyone here really doubt following his advice for 99% carbon shutdown to be true?

are we all really open to making it work?

under the daily deluge of insanity, are enough of us keeping a tiny window of faith-in-what-presently-looks-impossible?

if so, we are not alone....far from it.

folks smarter and more on the ball are working their tushes off to make what we dream happen, and to warn all the rest of us carbon-eers what is ahead, both in terms of the kind of changes to expect were we smarter than yeast and a more visionary than a tumour.

...and what to expect if we continue to hew to the species suicide plan we're presently on.

i try to put myself in the minds of those gathered around cheney during the secret energy conference at the beginning of gwb's presidency.

what were their conclusions, after a cold hard look at the stakes and possible outcomes?

lose it all gracefully and be recognised for public heroes and rescuers of humanity, or make the midnight heist of the drugstore that will flood their veins with one last rush of soma, while the rest of us achieve terminal auto-ignition!

kooking in our motor-karmas!

they think they have jails enough, plastic hearts enough, monkey-gland extracts enough, viagra enough, food and water and oxygen enough, vatican dispensations enough, to squat in their bunkers counting their digital gold, while the starving howl outside the perimeter fortifications, manned by coked up mercenaries, the last believing as long as they have food and firepower they have made the right choice...

then i think of all the eyes-wide-open crowd who have known this confrontation was inevitable since they shot the kennedys and king, and how we have found it impossible to take seriously the idea that the kind of political unity and will to change will come from the top down.

what were we to do?, then and now?

each of us made a traumatised choice to try and resist the lies, to speak truth when it wouldn't get us killed, and some even if it did...

to plan and reason as if these monsters weren't consuming the biosphere we live on, to try and love it all notwithstanding, because anything less turned us into them, and robbed us of the ability to live with ourselves and look our children in the eye.

too much cynicism leads to apathy and depression, so we looked for what brought us up, made us forget the madness, or tried to transform it into an existential letting go, a dionysian reply to the sterile, vapid dystopia-in-the-making the destroyers shared.

those that didn't kill outright or soon, are floating like lucky jetsam on a toxic sea, and darned if we didn't want to have the last laugh one day, so we bob and wait...

in case there come a tipping point, and what we have learned could come in useful, mostly about living in a cognitively dissonant reality, to find consonance by allowing ourselves to resonate with the few others through history who  have pulled the wool away.

operating on the assumption that this brittle farce we now see unwinding will never bring us the naive middle class shangri la our parents post war wanted for us....

peace and prosperity, steady job, good bennies, safe neighbourhoods, lotsa eddication, wine at meals, dusky help to do the shit work while we chattered...

the public is less stupid than cheney-crew would wish and is waking up faster than they can spin, but no spell lasts for ever, and mother nature has lost patience with our folly.

we see the reckoning arriving, for many it is already here, it is coming for us too, and while the clock counts down the last numbers, we trim our wicks here, because ultimately a funny last line may be the best thing we can hope for as we exit this vale of tears....

or somehow we cut the carbon by 99%! hahahahahahahaha!

we all hold cards in the greatest gamble humans ever have known.

and the only thing stopping us winning is our own ignorance!

...of how to do better....

it's not luck or chance, it's power our ancestors gave away gullibly, and evil men grown fat on evil, while most slept in sloth and sin.

christ, this place is great to vent...

off to pay for the panels....quixote would be proud of me...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 08:23:31 AM EST
Growth is driven by the mathematics of compound interest on a deficit-based money supply.

Change that, and you change everything by removing the principal obstacle to "contraction and convergence".

The reason I am optimistic that the change may be made is that:

(a) the current system is breaking down as we speak;

(b) there is an "emergent" alternative.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 09:55:00 AM EST
So there would be no growth in your ideal economy?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 10:06:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No 'growth' of what?

'Growth' of trees? Sure, why not? They tend to grow if just left to themselves, and mostly bring no harm.
'Growth' of communities? I'm all for it! (I think? What does that mean??)
Cultural 'growth'? What does that look like?
Highly unspecified 'growth' of the 'economy'? Um, what is that for, again?

by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 10:14:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Any growth, apparently. I believe trees depend on compound interest or money creation or usury to grow. I'm unclear on the details.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 10:17:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Trees do not "depend on compound interest or money creation or usury to grow", silly bunny. I don't know where to go to find a link, but let me assure you that the trees are going to do alright in many regions, whether or not we, and our economic systems, exist.

You seem to be the resident anti-socialism member, yes? Might be interesting to read how you intend to solve the present and future environmental/economic problems on the basis of market response and individual behavior, if that's your cause. Maybe you have, and I've missed it - let me know, please.

melo - brilliant piece, as usual. Take heart, put them panels up, prepare the garden, organize.

paul spencer

by paul spencer (paulgspencer@gmail.com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 06:14:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You seem to be the resident anti-socialism member, yes?

Yup, that's me: warrior for the free-markets, fighting a crusade against socialism. Famous for it around these parts.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 06:24:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe he has "anti-social" mixed up with "anti-socialism?"


"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 06:29:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That would explain it, I suppose. I mean, we're talking about a man who thinks I'm a rabbit, apparently.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 06:44:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But I'm still curious about your 'ideology'. I'm extrapolating from articles and comments by you, and I may be off by 180 degrees for all that I actually know.

Is it fair to say that you challenge statements and viewpoints, a la NNadir or ormondotvos? If so, good work.

paul spencer

by paul spencer (paulgspencer@gmail.com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 07:48:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Plenty of growth: but in Value, not claims over Value created by banks out of fresh air.

And that Value comes in many forms: not least Happiness.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 07:20:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The outlook for single-celled organisms is GOOD!  

The Fates are kind.
by Gaianne on Fri Dec 7th, 2007 at 02:51:38 AM EST

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