28 September 2014

Hey, Look! We've Done This Before! Our Greatest Human Venture Ever ... Innovating to Zero Carbon

Today, all I want to do is share this movie with you. It was just created by someone I love and respect deeply for his passionate commitment to safeguarding the future. And it says Look! We've done this before! 

We (and especially the United States of America) have spent billions to tackle huge issues, employed thousands, and succeeded. So why do we think that retrofitting the world's energy systems can't be done? Look! We've done this before. Sure, sometimes out of conceit and hubris. Sometimes for what seemed in hindsight like evil purposes. And sometimes for the good of humanity. But we have taken on mammoth challenges in the past and triumphed.

Way back during Selfish &%$#@! Week, I wrote: "People who are working to slow global warming and to mitigate the climate change emergency are people who know that any 'costs' involved in doing this will be miniscule compared to what it will cost if we don't stave off climate catastrophe."

But it's more than that. Making the leap to the Golden Era of Perpetual Energy is going to be a colossal benefit to the global economy -- the biggest ever! We have to stop seeing and describing this transformation as a cost. Every time a coal-fired power generation plant is built, it's seen as an economic benefit because it provides employment. Every time a new gas or oil well is dug, it's considered an economic benefit because jobs are created. When an oil tanker spills its oily guts all over a coastline, it's seen as an economic benefit because it creates employment.

So as you're watching this short movie, try to get a sense of how many people were employed in the Apollo Program, the Manhattan Project and the Marshall Plan. And then think to yourself, "Hey, look! We've done this before!"

21 September 2014

The Largest Action Ever on Climate Change is Calling for No Action at All

Used with permission

Ah, the bliss of ignorance. Oh, but that I were able to get excited about the People's Climate March, "the largest climate march in history," today. But I just can't, not when the march is actually calling for nothing more than, well, for people to march.  

I don't like being cynical, but there's far too much evidence this time that the whole thing is about good P.R., not about safeguarding the future or convincing governments to take urgent action on climate change (or especially outlining what that urgent action could be). 

Keep in mind that back in June of of this year, Climate Action Network (CAN) International, representing 900 organizations in 100 countries, many or most of them in the more vulnerable regions, released the best-ever climate emergency response position statement: a limit of 1.5ºC or less, not the deadly 2ºC "target"; greenhouse gas emissions declining by next year, 2015; and a rapid transition to 100% clean, renewable energy  in other words, achieving a zero-carbon economy  by 2050 or sooner. 

But no one in the Global North is promoting the CAN International position statement. Why is that? Indeed, it almost seems as though this march was designed to divert our attention from CAN's demands of our governments — demands that could actually make a difference.

To wit:
"Perfect Timing World leaders will be gathered in NYC for a landmark U.N. climate meeting — just the right moment for big public pressure."
Oh really? No, world leaders are meeting on Tuesday, so they won't be "gathered in NYC" on Sunday, like a bunch of conventioneers showing up early for a bit of debauchery before a conference. Timing-wise, Monday's Flood Wall Street march might have a bit more impact.
"Massive Scale We'll peacefully flood the streets in historic numbers, both in New York City and in solidarity events around the world."
Um, I thought George Dubya Bush taught us that peacefully marching in the streets is worth nothing and accomplishes nothing. Millions of us held candlelight vigils begging him not to illegally invade Iraq, but he laughed and snubbed his nose at us and went in anyway, making life hell for millions of Iraqis as well as American and British soldiers. Oh, and just to make sure we understand what the organizers mean by "peacefully": "NOTE: This march route was set after several months of negotiating with the New York Police Department...."
"Unprecedented Collaboration - Over 1,500 (!) businesses, unions, faith groups, schools, social justice groups, environmental groups and more, all working together.... We want to make sure the People's Climate March tells the story of today's climate movement in all its parts — so we're trying something new, and arranging the contingents of the march in a way that helps us thread our many messages together."
I've been told they're paying young people from as far away as Toronto to attend to create that collaboration. And I notice they're keeping the LGBTQ community as far away from the kids and families as they can, without insulting the Indigenous peoples and those impacted by Hurricane Sandy who are at the head of the parade, er, march. 

I mean, come on! Why wouldn't we want scientists to walk with political people, and musicians to walk with beekeepers? Is there to be no cross-pollinization at this march? And if you're an ordinary businessperson (not part of a Clean and Green Business), you're hooped, because there's nowhere that you belong. (Unless you're a Woman ... they come after the Domestic Workers, who are up there at the front with the Indigenous peoples.)
Centered on Justice - Committed to principles of environmental justice and equality — representing the communities that are being hit the hardest by climate change.
If we're going to talk about those hardest hit, where are the anti-poverty groups? And the representatives from whole nations in Africa and the Pacific that are losing their ability to grow food? ("International" is at the back of the line, where they'll stay, I suppose.) Who is representing the millions of other-than-human species who are dying out or having to shift latitudes to survive? (Animals, nature, species are not on the list.) 

And not to be unkind or insensitive, but is there something about the living and working conditions of domestic workers in the United States that I'm not aware of? Are nannies in Philadelphia being impacted by climate change more than other Philadephians, for example?
"With our future on the line and the whole world watching, we'll take a stand to bend the course of history. We'll take to the streets to demand the world we know is within our reach: a world with an economy that works for people and the planet; a world safe from the ravages of climate change; a world with good jobs, clean air and water, and healthy communities."
Here is how a cynic would parse that one:

With our future (oh, your future? not the future of all humanity and most life on the planet?) on the line (that's an overly calm way to say we're heading for global climate catastrophe) and the whole world watching (ah, there it is, that's what this is all about — a perverse, collective narcissism), we'll take a stand (kinda funny when they're supposed to be marching) to bend the course of history (did I already mention narcissism?). We'll take to the streets (the streets the New York Police Department can contain nicely) to demand the world we know is within our reach (a rather ungrammatically awkward tall order): a world with an economy that works for people and the planet blah blah blah.... (Do these organizers not realize that we've been asking for all this for decades, possibly centuries? Do they not understand how international climate change negotiations work?)

Well, at least I'm not the only cynic about this People's Climate March.

Arun Gupta writes in Counterpunch: "I've never been to a protest march that advertised in the New York City subway. That spent $220,000 on posters inviting Wall Street bankers to join a march to save the planet, according to one source. That claims you can change world history in an afternoon after walking the dog and eating brunch." What does he find most troubling? "Having worked on Madison Avenue for nearly a decade, I can smell a P.R. and marketing campaign a mile away. That's what the People's Climate March looks to be."

Cory Morningstar says: "The People's Climate March and supporting discourse is about protecting capitalism, not protecting the world's most vulnerable people from climate change. [It] is a mobilization campaign created by Avaaz and 350.org, with 350.org at the forefront. The oligarchs do not bankroll such a mobilization (via millions of dollars funnelled through foundations) without reason."

Anne Petermann, writing for Daily Kos, agrees that there is no call for action: "So, what are the demands of the march? There are none. That's right. The march will simply bring together an estimated 200,000 people to march through the streets of New York and then… There will be no rally, no speakers, and no strong political demands. Just people showing up with the overarching message that the world's leaders should take action on climate change. Why no solid demands?"

Quincy Saul writes in Truthout: "No Target: The march is a U-turn through Times Square, beginning at a monument to genocide (Columbus Circle) and ending ... in the middle of nowhere. Here in New York City where the ruling class of the whole world has made their diverse headquarters, the march will target none of them. The march will not even go near the United Nations, its ostensible symbolic target. No Demands: Again, to attract the largest number of people, the march has rallied around the lowest common denominator — in this case, nothing. Not only are there no demands, but there is in fact no content at all to the politics of the march ...."

But I'm sure that if it doesn't rain too hard and nobody's dog gets stepped on, it will be a nice event.

14 September 2014

The Saddest of Déjà Vus, All Over Again

Remember Libya? Yeah, it wasn't that long ago. But the war drums didn't stop beating in the Middle East.

And now the American president, Barack Obama, has unleashed the dogs of war -- on Syria

I am feeling so, so sad for Syria and its people. It's Iraq and Libya all over again (and reminding me of a song lyric: "Thank you for our freedom, could you leave now please?") 

But I'm also feeling outraged that Obama would so blatantly and unabashedly announce this new "war" a week before the huge climate change events in New York City. It's like a giant Eff U to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who called the September 23 Climate Summit, and anyone else who gives a damn about the climate crisis.

Obama never had any intention of doing anything about climate change. He was always a coal man, allowed to become president by his Big Money backers. 

So true to form, after stalling for a couple of years (during which some of us naively thought he was showing restraint for the right reasons), he picks now to announce a new war. 

If there was a shred of respect left in me for this man, it has shrivelled up in my province's drought and blown across the dried up agricultural lands of Syria.

07 September 2014

"Yesterday I Couldn't Say 'Scientific Illiterate' ... Today I Are One"

My father, born in the 1920s, was raised in a desperately poor family and had to drop out of school in grade 8 to take a $7 per week job. A few years later, he moved up to sales and started making a better living. He used to recount the day that a few other salesmen confronted him in a diner. "Jack," they said, "if you're going to make it in the world of sales, you need to shine your shoes and start talking better."

From then on, he shined his shoes regularly and (before I was born) read a dictionary every day to improve his vocabulary. He read newspapers and watched and listened to the news. He was well read and quite smart -- if a little too opinionated (now you know where I get it from).

So perhaps it's understandable that my dad wasn't a big fan of school. Sure, we had to do our homework and graduate from high school, but beyond that, he didn't hold the education system in high regard. He was a "self-made man." 

"Yesterday I couldn't spell teechur and today I are one," he used to tease. So you can imagine the ribbing that began when I actually became a teacher. It ended, however, when I spoke up and challenged him (at his favourite pub, in front of all his drinking buddies, after he'd started pontificating about how overpaid and underworked teachers are) to spend two weeks in my class with me -- and still believe that I wasn't earning my salary. He never took me up on that challenge, but he sure shut up about it, at least when I was around.

But I'm at the point now where I'm starting to feel furious at the (North American) education system. I cannot believe the scientific illiterates we're turning out ... the graduates who can't think logically, or critically, or even creatively. It's like they can't think at all. And then there are the bullies (probably sociopaths by now) who make it all the way through school still not able to find it in their hearts to think about others in the world. (And the apathetics ... let's not even go there.)

Yes, I'm talking about climate change deniers -- again. Apparently they haven't gone away. Or read up. Or crawled back into their heartless holes. Why aren't they embarrassed? (I guess they don't know what they don't know -- and don't care.) How can they be so illogical? (I suppose the social media echo chamber makes it more than possible to believe unreasoned, unjustifiable, groundless, unfounded, incorrect, erroneous, invalid, spurious, faulty, flawed, fallacious and unscientific drivel because it's repeated over and over again.)

Where is their shame? How can they close their eyes and their hearts to all the people around the world who are already being impacted by climate crises? (Maybe we threw the baby out with the bath water when we turned away from religion. Or maybe it's the fault of Faux TV-style media outlets, which have been tasked with creating a whole populace that doesn't give a flying leap about others.)

In the interests of taking back scientific literacy, truth and compassion, here are some of the latest egregious examples of the BS flying around the internet ether.

Randall S poses: "What is Carbon? Black soot? It's carbon dioxide, a colourless, odourless gas necessary for life on earth and beneficial to plants at levels 4X current levels. In fact, you could say we are in the midst of a global atmospheric CARBON DIOXIDE DEFICIT." (Sure, Randall, we're pumping out 90 million tons of CO2 every day, but we're in a carbon dioxide deficit. That makes a lot of sense. And yes, black soot is carbon, too, and happens to be the second worst cause of global warming.)

Paul c-o's shares a quote from "Geologist Leighton Steward": "There is not a single professor of chemistry that I have come across that can give one single example of carbon dioxide being a pollutant." (Oh, I'm sure geologist Steward hangs out with all sorts of chemistry professors. And oh, let's just check out Steward's credentials, shall we? He's the spokesman for the denial front group Plants Need CO2 (as though those concerned about climate change ever said that plants don't need CO2), and is affiliated with oil and gas companies (he's a retired energy industry executive and is still sitting on fossil fuel energy boards). But I'm sure that hasn't coloured his understanding of global warming at all.) 

(BTW, the definition of pollution is: "the presence in or introduction into the environment of a substance or thing that has harmful or poisonous effects." When too much CO2 is introduced into the atmosphere or the oceans, harmful effects arise. Ergo, we have turned CO2 into a pollutant.)

bluecougareyes is feeling all smart with his contribution to the discussion (and look, so nicely laid out): 

"Warming and cooling come and go over 100's of Millions of year.


Earth’s temperature is always changing.


CO2 levels will change with or without human contributions.


There is no one “right” temperature.


(I should have guessed that scientific illiterates might be historically illiterate, as well. Are you listening up, teachers? The reason we have over 7 billion human beings on this planet is that the stable climate -- the "one 'right' temperature" -- of the last 10,000 years or so allowed agriculture to proliferate. We've become a species dependent on agriculture and agriculture depends on a stable climate ... something we've said goodbye to. Hello, heat waves, droughts and floods. Hello, crop failures, higher food prices, conflicts and revolts, and famines.)

I could go on and on (but it's a beautiful day here). Practically everywhere one goes on the internet, the comments sections are filled with diatribes and misfacts and downright made-up stuff from scientifically illiterate armchair pundits. I'm starting to think that it's not the doom and gloom of our climate reality that's getting me down these days (there's actually some good news on that front), but the free-for-all democratization* of commentary, even for those who don't know what the hell they're talking about. Forgive them, Climate, for they know not what they don't know.

Teachers, any chance we could teach some climate science and thinking skills in school this year?

p.s. If you'd like to hear about the science of climate change from actual climate scientists, have a look at 97 Hours of Consensus.

* Democratization of the Comments section just when the United States has been officially designated an oligarchy. Kind of ironic, eh? But that's for another post.