Monday, November 30, 2009

A Sleight Of Hand

The lack of commitment to deal with the various aspects of the ecological challenges that civilization is facing is difficult to accept by those who believe that we are wise specie. But what if we are not? Could it be that we are much more interested in computing the number of angels that can dance on the top of a pin while the barbarians are at the gate? So much suggests that we have no interest in saving ourselves if that implies taking steps that demand change and sacrifice. I guess that in a weird kind of way we are in essence using a strange Cost-Benefit analysis that concludes that the cost of sustainability outweighs the benefits derived from it.
An excellent example to demonstrate the above can be seen in the calculations used to offset carbon footprints. The logic behind these calculations is simply astounding, astoundingly bad. Here is a brief explanation of how this is supposed to work. Large global corporations in the United States could buy vast areas of the tropical forest in Brazil for a relatively small some of money. Once the purchase is completed these international firms will send a group of consultants to number , measure and catalogue the trees in that “preserve” This would enable the owners of the forest, say GM, to estimate the volume of carbon that has been sequestered within the biomass of each of the trees. Some of the common estimates assign often 100 Kg of carbon to each tree. That is 1/10 of a ton and so if a ton of carbon on the exchanges is trading for say $20.00 then that typical tree has a value of $2.00. Furthermore we can assume that each acre has 400 trees and that the area of the preserve is 100,000 acres. The quick calculations show then that this preserve has trees whose value is $80 million of sequestered carbon. So why did GM buy this forest? Because GM is now in a position to claim a carbon credit worth 40,000 tons of carbon. GM can use this credit to offset part of its footprint or it can elect to sell this credit on an open market.
Did you follow the clever sleight of hand? The magic wand of the market created a certain sum of carbon and sold the right to a polluter. We convince our selves that we are polluting less when we are polluting more. Its sheer madness.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Copenhagen : One more time ...

As the world's biggest companies and their friends in
government continue to fight a transition to more just
and sustainable ways of living, climate change
threatens to turn our world upside down with water
shortages, crop failures, sea level rise and ecosystem
collapse. A million species face extinction by the end
of the century, and the people who have contributed
least to the problem will continue to be the hardest
hit. What can be done at this critical juncture, with
our future at stake?

Throughout history, social change has come about when
regular people get fed up with business as usual, get
organized, and take to the streets. If we leave
climate solutions up to politicians and corporations,
then we will lose - not just a political battle, but
the life-support systems of the planet. Time is
running out to avert the worst impacts of climate
change: the time to act is now.

A broad coalition of organizations working for social,
ecological, racial and economic justice has come
together under the banner of the Mobilization for
Climate Justice. Join us as we organize mass action on
climate change on November 30, 2009! November 30 (N30)
is significant both because it immediately precedes the
upcoming UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen and is the
ten-year anniversary of the protests that shut down of
the World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle,
demonstrating the incredible power of collective

Every indication is that any agreement that emerges
from Copenhagen will be nothing more than business as
usual-sacrificing real emissions reductions in favor of
market-based approaches that enhance corporate profits
while delaying a transition away from fossil fuels. The
current approach to climate change in the UN, and in
the US Congress, is based on the creation of a new
market in carbon emissions. Carbon trading (aka "cap
and trade") and carbon offsets do not address the root
causes of global warming, nor do they reduce emissions.
They are designed by and for corporations, and are a
dangerous distraction that should be abandoned.

We urgently need to implement real solutions like
ending excessive consumption, keeping fossil fuels in
the ground, re-localizing production and consumption,
and drastically reducing greenhouse emissions. We must
also protect the rights of workers, displaced peoples,
and others affected by the transition.

In recent months, people of the world have taken
valiant action for climate solutions. On Oct. 24th,
people in 181 countries staged over 5,200 actions
calling for global action on climate change. And on
November 4, African delegates walked out of pre-
Copenhagen negotiations in Barcelona - demanding that
rich countries commit to deeper and faster emissions
cuts - while European activists used civil disobedience
to disrupt the talks.

And now, we're asking you to join us in taking the next
step - a global day of action for climate justice on
Monday, November 30, 2009. Take the day off, get
together with friends, and take a stand for real, just
and effective solutions to the climate crisis!


Several actions are already being planned for November
30 - and many more will be coming soon - so if there's
an action happening in your city or region, we urge you
to join it! See the MCJ site for a map of N30 actions
across the country and across the world.

If there isn't an action being organized in your town,
organize one! If you're already involved in a campaign
against a company that's contributing to climate
injustice, organize an action on against them November
30. You can submit actions by clicking HERE.

If you're organizing an action from scratch, we'd
suggest you go after one of the following companies:
Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley,
Chevron, BP, or American Electric Power. We picked
these six companies because they're all, through their
investments, lobbying, and day to day business, going
out of their way to obstruct real solutions to the
climate crisis.

Wind Energy:
Wind energy is very promising, so is thermal energy, PV, wave ... The only thing that is wrong is that we are not investing enough in any of them. Did you know that if all the declared wind turbines in the world for next year were to be built in China then that would meet only 40% of the expected increase in the demand for electricity on mainland China. This means that China would still need to build in one year the equivalent of 50 coal powered plants each delivering 1000 MW. That is exactly responsible ie it?

Some are blaming Christianity for the recent economic meltdown. The argument is as follows: An increasing number of the "prosperity gospel" school are advancing the argument that success in this life is also to be taken as a sign that God loves us. This leads people to borrow, overconsume and to take risks. Overleveraging and too much risk did not contribute only to the economic meltdown but have played a major role is ecological degradation. So maybe Lynn White was right after all?

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Lower Levels of Consumption

The following is an edited version of an article from The Oil Drum:

Over the past 150 years, the relentless combination of exponentially-increasing population and exponentially-increasing per-capita consumption has significantly depleted a wide-range of resources necessary for the continuation of our modern Industrial Civilization. These include both non-renewable resources and theoretically-renewable resources that are being abused to such an extent that they are becoming essentially non-renewable on useful timescales.

Pick any of these key resources and the annual extraction rate data will likely show an exponential increase from the mid-1800’s to the present. Ask scientists about the resource and they will tell you the bad news: the annual extraction rate curve is near, at, or past the point of collapse. Ask conventional economists or politicians and they will tell you the good news: “Everything’s going to be OK; the market will take care of it; It always has.” So who do we believe?

The Easy Stuff’s Gone

As modern Industrial Civilization built momentum, the easiest resources, the “lowest hanging fruit,” were logically picked first. While the ease of extraction and high quality of these resources gave us a great confidence as a civilization, ever-increasing consumption rates actually became ingrained as a necessity for the continuation of our industrial economies. As this consumptive frenzy gained momentum, however,as the easiest stuff was skimmed off every year, the resources that remained were of increasingly lower quality.

What remains now are resources that are much more expensive, of much lower quality, and much more difficult to extract. These are the low-purity metal ores thousands of feet underground; heavy crude oil and gas laced with toxins that must be coaxed with great effort from beneath thousands of feet of ocean, rock, and salt; sparse schools of lower-quality fish requiring monstrous nets and huge ships for their economical extraction; and the nutrient-depleted, thinned-out top-soil requiring significant inputs to obtain reasonable yields.

The Difficult Stuff’s Too Difficult

What remains is so increasingly difficult to access that it would require actual extra-terrestrial energy inputs for their complete extraction. Here’s the dark irony of our resource predicament: The low-quality, difficult half of the resources that remain require an infrastructure for their extraction that can only exist in the presence of the high-quality, easy half of the resources -- the ones that no longer exist. In other words, a relatively large percentage of the low-quality, difficult resources that remain will likely never be extracted. The age of cheap, easy, high-quality resources to power the current version of Industrial Civilization is over, and the age of expensive, difficult, low-quality resources to power a future version of Industrial Civilization will simply never occur. Our beloved Industrial Civilization, this pinnacle of human ingenuity, this shining beacon of light in an otherwise backward Universe, (this destructive monster killing the biosphere) is just about out of fuel. It’s time to get out and start walking.

So what does all this “bad” news mean for our everyday lives? The short answer is that we can expect a rather drastic involuntary reduction in resource use in the not-too-distant future, gradually worsening, and extending into the distant future. This coming resource supply-reduction may well proceed in a stair-step fashion -- unexpected drop, period of stability, unexpected drop, period of stability…etc, giving repeated temporary illusions of “the bottom.” The steady erosion of the resource pipeline will not only utterly cripple our growth-requiring Industrial economy, it will send ripple effects through every facet of our formerly-industrial lives, changing them almost beyond belief.
This decline will be involuntary, it will not be preventable by any combination of political, social, or technological solutions. It will simply occur, and we must simply respond to it.

How we respond, of course, will make a great deal of difference as to whether our predicament becomes disastrous or just very difficult. Moral guidance will be greatly needed throughout. Many important facets of our lives need not decline in the upcoming future – indeed, they may even increase: personal connections with our families, communities, and the natural world; block parties and potlucks; tag-football and pickup-basketball; joking around and shooting the breeze; love in our hearts, etc. In other words, it’s quite possible we just may find a lot more important and fulfilling things than we’re losing. Much is still up to us.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Copenhagen, One more Time

The peace Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu sent a letter to the EU parliament in which he berated them for not acting to slow down climate change. Mr. Tutu said in his letter " The rich world is historically responsible for the emissions causing climate change and they have a moral obligation to provide the means for the countries on the front line to survive and prosper."

Mr. Tutu was in effect urging the countries of the North to overcome their differences and to live up to their moral responsibility by agreeing; during the Barcelona negotiations; to find a way out of the current impasse before Copenhagen . The developing countries have made it clear that they expect financial transfers from the developed countries of around $148 billion a year by 2020 if they are to do their part of reducing their expected carbon footprint.

But since climate change is a global issue then it does require a global solution. Again it seems obvious that we cannot have a global solution if the largest, well second largest , emitter is not ready to participate in the game. Copenhagen is exactly one month away and the US climate change bill is still languishing in the Senate sub-committee. Senator Boxer , the chair of the Environmental Committee, remains hopeful that a bill will leave her committee before Copenhagen. That is not assured because a number of the Republican senators promise not to attend the committee mark up sessions. If they do not attend then no bill can be presented to the senate at large. Even if a bill is to emerge some very powerful Democratic senators such as Max Baucus promise to hold up the measure in his powerful Finance Committee by delaying funding for the measure. What is even worse are the proposed targets. Kyoto which was initially agreed to by the US was to cut carbon emissions by 5 % from the 1990 level by 2012. The US is estimated to have released around 5 Billion tons of carbon in 1990 and thus the implicit target by 2012 would have been 4.75 billion tons.The new bill is aiming for a 20% reduction from the 2005 levels by 2020. Since the 2005 emissions are estimated to be 6 billion tons then the 20% reduction will take the US back to 4.8 billion tons by 2020. That is irresponsible behviour besides being a cruel joke on the aspirations of those that take these existential matters seriously. The US is targeting to potentially reach by 2020 a level of carbon emissions that it was supposed to have hit by 2012 and yet they want the world to call such measures responsible action. Go figure.

Mr. Yao de Bar, the UN Climate Change Secretariat said it best when he stated the need to "Step back from self interest and let common interest prevail" Nothing else will work.