Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

In defense of tree-huggers

by Cyrille Fri Apr 18th, 2014 at 10:02:00 AM EST

Paul Krugman has recently published a blogpost and a chronicle talking about the evolution of the economics of fighting climate change. In it he states that people of both the left and the right are guilty of fallacies -to be fair he also says that the fallacies of the right are much more serious and damaging.

But we have come to expect that. So let's see what are the fallacies of the left:

"there are some people on the left who keep insisting that economic growth is incompatible with reduced emissions, and that therefore we have to turn our backs on growth." is from the blog post.

Strictly understood, and in a theoretical economics framework, this is of course a fallacy, as you could have plummeting emission intensity (ie, emission per unit of GDP).

Now, let's look at what it means in practice, and when you are not just in an economics framework:

First, while a huge drop in intensity, to the extent that total emissions are reduced while still growing can be considered as a possibility, it is not something that has ever happened. Yes, intensity has fallen (most of the time) with economic development. But total emissions have not -indeed, that's a major reason why intensity has become such a popular measure. Worse, some of the drop in intensity has been due to outsourcing the dirty stuff (at the cost of higher total emissions, since transportation is not neutral and developing countries have worse technology). Take that away and even much of the intensity reduction goes away. Ecologists are not as interested in theoretical debates as in practical results, and thus have some reasons to believe that growth is not a great eco idea.

Second, in order to avoid catastrophic consequences (if that is still possible, which it may not be absent an active reduction of existing CO2 and other gases), it's not just "reducing emissions" that's needed. It's pretty much stopping them altogether. So they would have even stronger reasons to reckon that a theoretical possibility that has failed to ever even reduce total emissions could eliminate them entirely in time.

Third, and this is where the frameworks could create an issue, we'd need to define "growth". Probably in the eyes of an economist it means GDP. But that is an imperfect indicator. Let's have a very extreme experiment: in period 1, a society produces a single good, A. In period 2, it produces a single good, B. When was GDP higher? As far as I understand, it is impossible to answer the question. GDP growth is somewhat (it has terrible other flaws, but let's not go into those this time) meaningful between two relatively close periods -although even then, statisticians need to work wonders to account for changes in composition. When a new product appears, its price relative to older goods will have to be used to evaluate its contribution (which means that, in my silly thought experiment, the answer would depend on relative prices in period 1.5, which in turn would probably depend on whether product B was launched massively or a scarce product). But if the society is completely overhauled (I don't mean producing lots of extra goods, but completely different ones), it ceases to have much meaning.

And there's the rub. Whichever way you look at it, we are going to have to consume far less in goods. Yes, we may get more services, but I don't see how we could consume the same quantity of goods, and I've really looked at it.

You see, it's not (at least in the mind of the ecologist) just carbon emissions. It's carbon and other gases, and water and rare earths and metals and arable lands (and...) scarcity. And societal equity (people on the left assume that consumptions inequalities will be reduced, as there is little reason why the West should be so much richer than the rest of the world for all eternity).

And whichever way you look at it, I have not seen any way that the same quantities of goods could be consumed (by an increasing population) while meeting all those constraints. Not with existing technologies -although the drop in the price of solar is great news, solar panels are not carbon neutral over the full life-cycle, their production and disposal create other problems, and of course, they take space. Yes, they are a good improvement. But they do not solve everything.

And that's almost the easiest: energy. A comparatively easy to change component of goods production. But we're also running out of inputs, and we have problems cleaning.
Take air conditioning: it leaks massively potent and unbelievably long-lived greenhouse gases.
Take cars -not only do they require a lot of metals (and mines are hardly a clean activity), they need a lot of electronic equipment these days, which calls for rare earth. Oh, and while we're on transportation, don't expect solar-powered planes ever. Not for commercial flights anyway.

Once the goods are discarded, things don't improve. Waste management is a major problem as it is. Now, in your mind, try multiplying Chinese consumption by 3 (and Indian by 10) -they'd still be consuming less than us. But you'd be under severe stress.

So, it might be that GDP (certainly nominal GDP, which is what matters for financial stability, but maybe even real GDP) can keep growing while we bring emissions down to zero, while reducing inequalities and stop running out of inputs while cleaning our countries. But that's an artifact of the metric. What ecologists mean is that we'll have to adjust to a completely different lifestyle in order to achieve that.

And I've got news for you: it would not be half bad.

Think about it. As it is, we need a lot of marketing wizardry to convince us to buy lots of things that we have no use for, otherwise our economies end up in depression, all the while being under a lot of stress at work and finding it very hard to maintain a decent work-life balance. We could, instead, consume time -time to think, to relax, to laugh, to interact with people that we would no longer so easily see as antagonists.

I can imagine zero-emissions society with rather little that I would miss from the change, except for one thing: I happen to have friends in very distant parts of the world. I already try to avoid flying more than once a year for peronal reasons, yet I guess that even that will (at least temporarily -we may one day manage to take CO2 from the air and turn it into fuel on an industrial scale, for example, and with nuclear fusion we might have enough energy to do it enough to maintain quite a lot of air transport) need to shrink. And I will miss them, even though I'll keep in touch thanks to modern networks. But the consumption society? No, I don't think I would miss it at all.

So, unless someone comes up with a detailed description of the contrary, it does seem that environmental constraints will require in practice a reduction in consumption, certainly of physical goods. As far as I understand, this is what ecologically minded people mean when they say that we will have to forget about growth -certainly to forget about growth as the main target (and that is a point I made in a Krugman conference, where I asked if the right goal should not be jobs rather than growth, with a full employment stagnation being more desirable in developed countries than a jobless recovery). It may be a fallacy in a theoretical economics world, maybe ecologists should phrase it differently, but I do not see it as fallacious per se. And in any case, we in the developed world have long gone past the point where growth ceased to be a desirable target, even without environmental constraints. With a reasonable sharing of what we have already, we would all be better off with more time than more goods. So let us not worry too much about what impact on growth environmentally friendly policies would have.

Cross-posted on my blog Anachronicles

IPCC Report Highlights Need for Rapid Shift to Renewable Energy

Not only do we need to make a rapid shift to renewable energy simply to provide a liveable world for our children, our grandchildren and, for the younger amongst us, the latter years of our lives, but, except for the perceived interests of the fossil fuel industry, this could also make the economy boom over the next several decades. Investing 5-10% of annual GDP in crash programs to create a low emissions energy infrastructure to maximize efficiency of resource utilization would be like putting the world on a war footing. This is just a no brainer, except for vested interests. Unfortunately, those interests have a death grip on the existing policy making systems in too much of the world. At the very least we would be helping the ecosystem while putting people back to work.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Apr 18th, 2014 at 02:18:52 PM EST

That's been, pretty much, what I've been telling everyone since the crisis started. Actually, it's even more a no-brainer than you suggest, because at the beginning of the crisis, it would have been particularly helpful to the very people who were hit particularly hard by the crisis, ie people from the building sector.

Their skills would have been immediately useful in making existing buildings far more efficient. At essentially zero cost. We have wasted 7 years and counting at a time when every passing month is a stab to both our present and future.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Fri Apr 18th, 2014 at 04:13:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am more optimistic than you are on the future of commercial air travel. Jet fuel is basically 10-carbon alkanes. A big enough offshore wind farm would be able to brute-force a CO2 and seawater to methanol conversion, and organic chemistry should get you the rest of the way.

From that point, which you can reach with off-the-shelf technology, improvements are basically a question of cost. Sustainable air travel using only off-the-shelf technology will not be cheap, but it performs a service of a nature that means it won't need to be.

Now, what would probably need to happen is a closure of most airports and concentration of the network into very large hubs, serving everything in a thousand-km radius, with rail links taking over the role of short-stop feeder. There is no technological reason that Europe needs two hundred airports if air travel is transcontinental-only. Ten should more than suffice.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Apr 18th, 2014 at 11:53:39 PM EST
I can see how it could work. But we would first need to have so much spare clean energy that we can afford to use some like that. And we are some way from being 100% zero emissions, with time running out.

So I would imagine that, before we can use our renewables to make fuel, there is a period when air travel really has to shrink massively. It uses a LOT of energy.
Although maybe it's more realistic to imagine that, since air travel would tend to be something the rich demand, it will stay strong even at the cost of a major catastrophe. But I was putting myself in the scenario of a clean society in the near future, which kind of eliminates such considerations.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Sat Apr 19th, 2014 at 01:33:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think air travel would be anywhere near the top of the list of low-hanging fruit in a balls-to-the-wall "carbon neutral or bust" program.

Electricity provision is the obvious first target. Then heating and industrial processes, both of which can be electrified. Then inland transportation, which can be electrified and moved to more efficient modes.

Even were we to mobilize a non-trivial fraction of the gross planetary product in the service of such a program, this low-hanging fruit would still suffice to keep the program busy for at least a decade.

How the world would look after ten years of total mobilization against unsustainable business practices is difficult to predict. But one thing it won't be is averse to, or inexperienced with, industrial megaprojects as a solution to scarcity problems.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Apr 19th, 2014 at 03:54:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Simply making coach cost what first class costs today, with other rates following proportionately, would start making large inroads on air travel, then double that cost and tax back the cost of subsidies...

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Apr 19th, 2014 at 10:00:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Such would, perhaps, be a reasonable course of action in areas with reasonable non-car alternatives to air transport.

However, it would also more or less end the current era of globalization for the middling masses.  This may be a good thing, in the long run, but it would also seriously mess up a lot of people's lives.

For example, I'm an expat in Japan.  Visiting home would be more or less impossible with air fare in the $7000 to $8000 range for a single trip.  Not on my salary, at any rate.

Sure, passenger liners may well revive in response, but given how awful marine diesel is, that's probably not a good idea, and anyway, most people can't afford to take a month off work for travel any more than they can afford a $6000 air ticket.

by Zwackus on Sun Apr 20th, 2014 at 02:07:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sure, passenger liners may well revive in response, but given how awful marine diesel is, that's probably not a good idea, and anyway, most people can't afford to take a month off work for travel any more than they can afford a $6000 air ticket.

A passenger-converted fast freighter makes the Tokyo-LA round trip in 26 ocean days (most non-passenger freighters would probably slow-steam, so making it more like a month each way). A dedicated liner optimized for self-loading freight can probably shave four or five days off that.

That's... doable, if not necessarily optimal. And if you hold your holidays on Midway, you can cut the transit time roughly in half.

Definitely becomes easier if you have a position that lets you telecommute for a few weeks, though.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Apr 20th, 2014 at 06:44:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Worth noting as well that once you're competing with 26 ocean days instead of 12 hours flight time, then there are flying options that are more energy efficient and become viable - because they are too slow compared to jets, but quicker than fast freighters on the ocean.
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Tue Apr 22nd, 2014 at 10:18:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't deny that the social consequences of severe price rationing of air travel will be dire. But I strongly suspect that such a development is baked into the cake within the next decade simply due to the rising cost of fuel. The government supported flag carriers will likely be the last airlines to be seriously affected and downsized.

For those who have the time and for time insensitive goods high tech sail/solar powered transport may become a factor. The average speed of the trade winds should increase.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Apr 20th, 2014 at 08:28:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Perhaps this could help with the cost of air travel, if it pans out. Or perhaps it is another source of claims of engines that run on water. The linked piece is clearly of the nature of a promotional press release. More here but also here. A fly for every ointment.  

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Apr 21st, 2014 at 11:34:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.
by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Apr 21st, 2014 at 12:04:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The fly in the ointment was hiding behind link #3.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Apr 21st, 2014 at 08:50:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Besides, the rich have their own private planes and there will be plenty of pilots and mechanics to fly and maintain them, at least in the short and medium run.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Apr 19th, 2014 at 10:19:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'll beg to differ. It's actually very "low-hanging", as it could be almost removed very quickly. Yes, that would not be at equal level of satisfaction, but it's possible pretty much instantly.

What you describe are major priorities. They are not, though, low-hanging fruits. Full decarbonisation of electricity production is a massive task, and one that will actually create a lot of emissions, which would thus have to be gained back (as would emissions from peaker plants).
But that'd only be the start, as to de-carbonise other activities, electricity production would have to double.

And of course, there are other GHG than CO2.

The point is not just to "keep the program busy for at least a decade". It's to have started reducing CO2 concentrations before the end of the next one. Not emissions. Concentrations.

I don't see how that would be achieved without making sacrifices in terms of availability of air travel (OK, not total disappearance, but enough that visiting my friends once in a decade would be problematic -yes, we are talking Australia, New Zealand, Laos...) during the transition period.
The alternative is to let some catastrophes happen. I believe it is the more likely scenario. We would have needed to start a massive program earlier.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Sat Apr 19th, 2014 at 05:45:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If the franchise were limited to engineers, you'd be right. But under the universal franchise, shutting down cheap airflight is going to cost more political capital than shutting down coal power.

(I'm assuming that the only real challenge here is the politics - the technology we have pretty well in hand. Also, I'm shooting more for "survival of industrial civilization," and less for "keeping all our coastal cities," nevermind "avoiding serious catastrophes.")

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Apr 19th, 2014 at 06:55:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A significant part of the problem with air travel is not just the CO2, CO, various hydrocarbons and particulates emitted, but where they are emitted - the upper atmosphere.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Apr 19th, 2014 at 08:48:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If we have time, and want to get rid of air travel, how about boats? Ok, not optimal for going from Europe to Australia, but east coast US to west coast Europe should not be prohibitively long time if we are traveling to meet people.

Not optimal for business meetings, but there increasing prices until options like phones and video-chats are used more could decrease the number of trips.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sat Apr 19th, 2014 at 11:48:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My impression is that prices for flying are already at a point where video conferencing is used for pretty much everything it can be used for. There really are some things you can only do with physical co-location.

Where price increases on flying (and better rail connections) can help is in the intracontinental segment. For capital-to-capital, sleeper rail already beats plane + 1 travel day + 1 hotel night, in terms of both cost and comfort. The problem is that the rail connections into the hinterland are so bad that you end up spending a whole travel day anyway. And then you're suddenly looking at a head-to-head plane vs. sleeper rail comparison, and that's not so hot cost-wise.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Apr 19th, 2014 at 05:18:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
New York Times Magazine has a feature on a guy named Paul Kingsnorth who used to be a very motivated tree-hugger, but of late has taken a turn towards ambivalent resignation and acceptance that the game is over, and we have lost it:

"Everything had gotten worse," Kingsnorth said. "You look at every trend that environmentalists like me have been trying to stop for 50 years, and every single thing had gotten worse. And I thought: I can't do this anymore. I can't sit here saying: `Yes, comrades, we must act! We only need one more push, and we'll save the world!' I don't believe it. I don't believe it! So what do I do?" <...>

"I had a lot of friends who were writing about climate change and doing a lot of good work on it," he told me during a break from his festival duties. "I was just listening and looking at the facts and thinking: Wow, we are really screwed here. We are not going to stop this from happening." <...>

Hine compared coming to terms with the scope of ecological loss to coming to terms with a terminal illness. <...>

"Whenever I hear the word `hope' these days, I reach for my whiskey bottle," [Kingsnorth] told an interviewer in 2012. "It seems to me to be such a futile thing. What does it mean? What are we hoping for? And why are we reduced to something so desperate? Surely we only hope when we are powerless?" <...>

For Kingsnorth, the notion that technology will stave off the most catastrophic effects of global warming is not just wrong, it's repellent -- a distortion of the proper relationship between humans and the natural world and evidence that in the throes of crisis, many environmentalists have abandoned the principle that "nature has some intrinsic, inherent value beyond the instrumental." If we lose sight of that ideal in the name of saving civilization, he argues, if we allow ourselves to erect wind farms on every mountain and solar arrays in every desert, we will be accepting a Faustian bargain.

It's the End of the World as We Know It . . . and He Feels Fine

and yet...

Yet Kingsnorth has never intended to retreat altogether. For the past three years, he has spent a good portion of his time trying to stop a large supermarket from being built in Ulverston, in northern England. "Why do I do this," he wrote to me in an email, anticipating my questions, "when I know that in a national context another supermarket will make no difference at all, and when I know that I can't stop the trend caused by the destruction of the local economy, and when I know we probably won't win anyway?" He does it, he said, because his sense of what is valuable and good recoils at all that supermarket chains represent. "I'm increasingly attracted by the idea that there can be at least small pockets where life and character and beauty and meaning continue. If I could help protect one of those from destruction, maybe that would be enough. Maybe it would be more than most people do." <...>

... he insists that he isn't opposed to political action, mass or otherwise, and that his indignations about environmental decline and industrial capitalism are, if anything, stronger than ever. ...

Point n'est besoin d'espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer. - Charles le Téméraire
by marco on Sat Apr 19th, 2014 at 11:15:14 PM EST
It's an interesting portrait. And it's true that "the ecological movement" in a broad sense is getting on for half a century old, for precious little result. Partly because we thought we were the spearhead when we were only a splinter (no, people will not willingly go for hitch-hiking and washing their hand-knitted woollies with bar soap; no, cavorting around dressed up as corn cobs does not strike people as an imaginative denunciation of GM crops; no, non-violent activism is not an unstoppable force, however much you quote Gandhi), and partly, more importantly, globalising corporate capitalism has become increasingly massively powerful over the same half-century, and is continuing to prove that it will pay no heed whatsoever to any environmental warning signs.

So you're left with the feeling that it will come down to the wire. A number of factors (inner contradictions, reliance on bubblicious finance, environmental constraints) may bring g.c.c. to its knees. More of a cataclysm than a crisis, probably (really) WWIII, and hugely costly to humanity. There might have been a more intelligent way, but humanity is collectively stupid.

This may sound complacent coming from someone who may not have to face the mess, but I do live with younger generations and care about what happens to them. So no popcorn.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Apr 20th, 2014 at 02:56:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I was going to draft a diary about this article, and various responses, including that from a friend of his, Naomi Klein. So very glad it's made its appearance here, Danke, Marco.

A dear friend of mine (Mike Roselle, who started Earth!First, and is leading the charge against MTR) said, "Understandable, but we don't stop bailing until the ship sinks." Of course, he also believes the major environmental groups are at best hugging the wrong tree.

If i didn't have dear young friends, and dear friends with chillens and grandchillens, i probably would sit around playing music, taking visionary excursions, and chuckling at the evil blindness at the heart of "civilization."

But i won't, even though i see the total environmental condition as far too far over the border to save.

"no, non-violent activism is not an unstoppable force, however much you quote Gandhi"

let's discuss whether there are viable alternatives then, or did i misunderstand you?

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Mon Apr 21st, 2014 at 09:14:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
non-violent activism is not an unstoppable force

Subsumed into that was the idea (that I share), almost a sine qua non in environmental circles, that violence is improductive and doomed to failure. So I was not hinting that violence was the only thing left. I was making a comment on what I see as the overestimation of the strength of non-violent activism. People chaining themselves to trees or railway lines only slow the pace of application of anti-environmental policies. And, much as I admire the Arctic oil-platform invaders, the oil started flowing last week.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Apr 22nd, 2014 at 02:22:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
He is still on the healthy side of the spectrum. Look at this guy (6 parts):

Because he encountered conspiracy early in his life, his views tend to go in the direction of conspiracy theory. Also very hysterical and near-term apocalyptic. This is the feature documentary about him from a few years ago:

I appreciate his humour but living in that mental place clearly didn't do much good for him. He committed suicide a week ago.

Schengen is toast!

by epochepoque on Sun Apr 20th, 2014 at 07:05:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I saw several of his pieces a few years ago and had them bookmarked on now dead computers. I found his willingness to speak the truth as he saw it, based on his own personal experiences with the behavior of hierarchical organizations refreshing and I think much of what he predicted will come to pass, though perhaps on a different time scale. In the words of a song:

"Doctor, my eyes
Tell me what is wrong
Was I unwise to leave them open for so long"

In Michael Ruppert's case wherein lies wisdom? The world is, amongst other things, a factory of insanity.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Apr 21st, 2014 at 12:50:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Everything You Need to Know to Rebuild Civilization from Scratch

Point n'est besoin d'espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer. - Charles le Téméraire
by marco on Tue Apr 22nd, 2014 at 11:49:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Climate change got you down this Earth Day? Time for a badger mask | Grist

for its Earth Day story, the Times chose, in something of a punk move, to profile another generator of an unexpectedly viral idea -- Paul Kingsnorth.

Kingsnorth is a British environmentalist and anti-globalization activist who, back in 2009, very publicly lost faith in both struggles. Climate change was not something that could be stopped, he decided. "Sustainability" wasn't something that was attainable, given the current human population and fondness for things like heat, light, and food. The future did not look good. "Decline, depletion, chaos and hardship" were in store for the lot of us, and the sooner we realized it, the better.

Many people who come to such conclusions start hoarding a lot of canned goods; Kingsnorth's response to impending collapse was to found a lavish hardcover literary journal. The journal was called Dark Mountain, as is the group of uncertain size that has organized around it, which Kingsnorth described as "a network of writers, artists and thinkers who have stopped believing the stories our civilization tells itself." Together, he wrote "we are able to say it loud and clear: we are not going to `save the planet'."

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Apr 21st, 2014 at 03:01:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Power generation and transportation are two critical areas, no doubt.  Another are in which mass scale concerted action is really necessary is in eco-remediation, particularly of waterways and coastlines.

1 - Reducing the toxin flow, by eliminating agricultural and industrial toxin releases into rivers, lakes, and oceans.  This would require a rather massive re-organizaiton of the agricultural technological and labor system, and a level of industrial supervision that's more or less unprecedented.  A lot needs to be done about topsoil erosion as well - and beyond that, the active organic generation of soil in an accumulative manner, for stable long-term agricultural productivity.

2 - Creating the ecological infrastructure to deal with existing pollution and continuing runoff in a productive way, via wetland filters, active bio-remediation (like the canal cleaner gmoke posted about a while ago), and other eco-oriented runoff management.

3 - Managing coastline development, nutrient outflow, and littoral zones so as to maximize the health (and marine-food productive ability) of the coasts.

4 - End the use of the ocean as a garbage dump, and move towards the active removal of already-present garbage and pollutants from the ocean.  This is such a massive project that it's hard to imagine any but the most massive worldwide efforts having any impact, but it's something to think about.

Even if we give up on the existence of any true wildlife, and accept that every ecosystem is going to be a domesticated and managed affair, it's still going to take a ton of work to make even such a minimal state of affairs possible.  The way things are going now, the eco-death of global coastal zones looks possible, if not likely.

by Zwackus on Sun Apr 20th, 2014 at 02:21:17 AM EST
Great diary, Cyrille, thanks for writing it.

The chief block to positive outcomes right now is the betrayal of our western governments with regard to their chief purported responsibility, to keep a country safe and raise the quality of life for its citizens.

Human imagination is limitless, if positive actions to slow down climate change were incentivised by governments we would have democracy working as intended. Instead we have corporate capture of environmental agencies and tax breaks for the fossil fuel companies, with very few sops in other directions.

Eco-cidal companies like Shell and BP run roughshod over regulations, control the media after disasters, and receive slaps on the wrist for their crimes.

The brains at the heart of corpo-capitalism know no other fealty than profit. For all their vaunted intelligence, they are the ones piloting humanity off a cliff, chortling over their so-called victory over the 'market'.

Loath as I am to admit it, people are our own worst enemies. Sheer force of habit is slowing down positive change. Breaking habits is hard. Capitalism has a hypnotic force over peoples' imaginations due to its internal logic of 'work hard and profit', which seems axiomatic on its face.

Where the cognitive dissonance comes is when you apply external logic to capitalism, at which point it becomes swiftly apparent that the Grand Bargain it offers is fundamentally Faustian.

The Omo people will lose their traditional lands to Corpo-Ag, but they will be able to enjoy electric toenail-clippers and $1 screwdrivers in return for their sacrifice, (sold to them as 'economic growth' and 'progress').

So the changes we need can only come from a giant spell-breaking. Art can serve this purpose. A little more romanticisation of Nature wouldn't hurt, IMO either. Seeing our habitat through strictly utilitarian
frames surely isn't helping much.

The most direct approach would be to transform democracy from within, throwing out old-paradigm pols and allowing fresh, uncorrupted intelligence into the system.

Not much evidence of that around, though the M5* has given me hope that it could be possible.

'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 Sun Apr 20th, 2014 at 05:02:07 AM EST
I think the political problem is that you can't jettison the word "growth" even though what people want from it is not what economists (and others) define it to be.

Largely, what we all want is life to get better.
In human terms, in individuals terms, the word "growth" is part of that.

The question is: can we have better lives, less pointless suffering, less inequality distress, etc. and "save the planet"?

I'd say that's more possible than "save the planet and keep GDP growing."

But in ordinary discussion, better lives is what people mean around the word growth...

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Tue Apr 22nd, 2014 at 10:25:27 AM EST
I think the political problem is that you can't jettison the word "growth" even though what people want from it is not what economists (and others) define it to be.

Largely, what we all want is life to get better.
In human terms, in individuals terms, the word "growth" is part of that.

So, what people mean when they say "growth" is "welfare", but "welfare" (which was part of the well-respected "welfare economics" decades ago) is now a term of abuse...


A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Apr 22nd, 2014 at 10:28:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem is that one needs quite a lot of sophisticated cultural baggage to get past the basic idea that "more stuff = better life". Even in our wealthy societies where that is manifestly not the case for a majority of people. The young will save us : those who have grown up with scarcity of work and money but have the cultural baggage to put it into perspective, are often philosophically attuned to the idea of having a rich life which is poor in material stuff.

But with respect to places where people are doing subsistence agriculture without access to labour-saving devices, "more stuff = better life" is manifestly true. And where periurban dwellers don't have access to safe water and basic sanitation, same again.

So I have a lot of sympathy for the idea that to achieve an ecological transition, a society has to be mature and ready. As with the demographic transition, Sweden is at the forefront. That means there's hope for the rest of us.

As with the demographic transition, China will probably short-circuit the process by the application of brute force. That will give an alternative model, philosophically less attractive.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Wed Apr 23rd, 2014 at 03:42:33 AM EST
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