Strategies for the new climate war

April 6, 2021

Review of The New Climate War: the fight to take back our planet, by Michael E. Mann (London: Scribe Publications, 2021). By Simon Pirani

Fossil fuel companies, right-wing plutocrats and oil-funded governments “can no longer insist, with a straight face, that nothing is happening”, Michael Mann writes. Outright denial of the physical evidence of climate change is no longer credible.

So they have shifted to a softer form of denialism while keeping the oil flowing and fossil fuels burning, engaging in a multipronged offensive based on deception, distraction and delay. This is the new climate war, and the planet is losing (page 3).

The enemy’s weapons in this new war, Mann argues, include greenwash, illusory technofixes such as capturing carbon from the air, and deflecting attention on to individual behaviour instead of what companies do.

The Climate Action Tracker thermometer

Mann, a climatologist at the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute at Penn State University in the US, was in the old climate war, too. He was lead author of a 1999 article featuring the now-famous “hockey stick” graph, showing that temperatures ramped sharply upwards in the late 20th century, out of the range of the previous 1000 years.

In 2001, after the graph appeared in the Third Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate science deniers orchestrated a public hate campaign against its authors, and others who worked with them.

Read the rest of this entry »

There’s still time to stop the climate-trashing Silvertown Tunnel

March 24, 2021

As the UK prepares to host international climate negotiations in November, London’s local authority is pressing ahead with a £2 billion-plus climate-trashing tunnel project that is incompatible with decarbonisation.

The Greater London Authority’s Silvertown Tunnel, together with the government’s £27 billion motorway upgrade scheme, makes a mockery of the UK’s claim to be “leading the way” on tackling climate change.

The tunnel project also shows that climate hypocrisy is bipartisan: it’s the biggest spending decision this decade by Labour’s most powerful elected official, London mayor Sadiq Khan. Labour,

Anti-tunnel demonstrators in Greenwich, September 2019

like the Tories, talks “green” – while piling up the most frightful problems for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The tunnel is deeply unpopular locally. The long list of opponents includes four local Labour MPs, four Labour-controlled local councils, eight Constituency Labour parties and 20 Labour branches, the Greens and Liberal Democrats in London, dozens of community, trade union and environmental organisations, groups of doctors and teachers, and a long list of researchers of climate science, air pollution and transport policy.

The tunnel, a terrible idea long before Covid-19, looks even worse now: long-term transport projections are being rewritten and Transport for London desperately needs financial and Read the rest of this entry »


Global heating, droughts and storms fuel violence against women

March 1, 2021

By ORTHALIA KUNENE, a South African writer and grass roots activist in her community

The fight against climate change is not only a struggle to keep our planet liveable. For many women, rising temperatures can be a direct cause of violence.

Understanding connections between heat and violence is increasingly important as we witness the warming of our planet, and anticipate more intense and longer-lasting heatwaves.

In most parts of South Africa, temperatures already often exceed 40°C.

While violence in South Africa has often been attributed to its unique historical, social and

Photo by Extinction Rebellion, Nelson Mandela Bay

economic characteristics, the potential contribution of physical environmental factors, such as heat, has largely been ignored.

But a study using data from all 1158 police wards in South Africa documented higher levels of violence, including homicides, during periods of high temperature.

In Tshwane, Gauteng Province, a study assessed five years of temperature and crime data – and found that the number of violent crime incidents was about 50% higher on high-temperature days, compared with low-temperature days and with random days selected from the dataset after the warmest and coldest days had been extracted.

Another study in the same area noted seasonal patterns in crime, with violence most frequent in the summer months.

Francina Nkosi, national coordinator for Women Affected by Mining United in Action (WAMUA), says: “Around the world, climate change-induced crises have been shown to worsen violence Read the rest of this entry »


Electric cars are no panacea. The government’s focus on them is a sham

February 23, 2021

By SIMON PIRANI

The UK government has put electric cars at the centre of its disastrous climate strategy, which doesn’t even aim for half the needed greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

The focus on electric cars – which goes together with a gigantic £27 billion road-building programme – is opposed by researchers of climate science, transport policy, engineering and urban planning. Their advice has in practice been ignored.

The Labour leadership is happy with the electric cars narrative, leaving researchers and campaigners outside parliament to point out that electrification, without an immediate, giant

The numbers need to go down

shift towards public transport, cycling and walking – and away from individually-owned cars – will never come close to decarbonising transport at any meaningful pace.

In the run-up to the international climate talks in Glasgow in November, it is vital that the government’s cynical PR strategy is unmasked.

Support for electric cars was a highlight of the government’s ten-point plan for a “green industrial revolution”, announced in November. Sales of new petrol and diesel cars will be banned from 2030 – that is, after the most vital decade for action on climate has already passed.

The plan includes a promise of about £2.8 billion to subsidise manufacture of, and infrastructure for, electric cars – just over one-tenth of the cost of the £27 billion national road-building Read the rest of this entry »


China: Xi Jinping’s coal stokes the climate fire

January 15, 2021

China’s national and provincial post-Covid recovery packages will put three times as much cash into fossil fuel projects as into renewable energy.

China is “focusing its recovery on high-carbon energy and infrastructure, as it did after

One of China’s vanity projects: a puffer fish statue in Jiangsu province, which provoked social media outrage when it was unveiled

the 2008-09 global financial crisis”, says Carbon Brief, who analysed the spending plans. Dozens of new coal-fired power stations and climate-trashing coal-to-chemicals plants are among the key items.

The plans make a mockery of Chinese premier Xi Jinping’s claim to the United Nations in September to be aiming for “carbon neutrality before 2060”.

This chasm between words and actions makes Xi a “climate arsonist” still more dangerous than Donald Trump, Richard Smith, a US-based China researcher, writes in a recent article. Smith fears that Xi is “abandoning the transition to renewables”.

In a book published last year, China’s Engine of Environmental Collapse, Smith argues that China’s combination of bureaucratic dictatorship and capitalism has exacerbated Read the rest of this entry »


China and the “left”: what planet are these people on?

January 15, 2021

As China’s ruling elite connives with European and American politicians to promote false climate “solutions” via the international talks, its defenders on the “left” claim it is aiming for an “ecological civilisation”.

A common approach is to foreground geopolitics: to present the trade war between the USA and China as part of the battle between capitalism and “socialism” and to sideline the class struggle in China.

The Chinese elite’s role in driving forward unsustainable capitalist expansion, so obscured and downplayed by its defenders on the “left”, is analysed by Richard Smith in his book China’s Engine of Environmental Collapse, which I discussed in a linked post, that you could read first.

In this post I contrast Smith’s approach to that of John Bellamy Foster, a writer on “ecological Marxism” and editor of Monthly Review, and comment on a review of Smith’s book by Andrew Burgin, a UK-based socialist activist. It’s in the form of five questions.

 

  1. Does the Chinese elite’s support for renewable electricity generation show that it is leading the way to an “ecological civilisation”?

The Chinese coal-fired boom of the last 20 years has made a substantial contribution to the climate and ecological emergency – and yet prominent “ecosocialists”, without Read the rest of this entry »


Carbon dioxide removal sucks. There are better ways to tackle global warming

November 13, 2020

Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) systems, touted as techno-fixes for global warming, usually put more greenhouse gases into the air than they take out, a study published last month has confirmed.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS), which grabs carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by coal- or gas-fired power stations, and then uses it for enhanced oil recovery (EOR), emits between 1.4 and 4.7 tonnes of the gas for each tonne removed, the article shows.

Direct air capture (DAC), which sucks CO2 from the atmosphere, emits 1.4-3.5 tonnes for

Biological carbon removal: a forest in Turkey. Photo: Fagus/ wikimedia

each tonne it recovers, mostly from fossil fuels used to power the handful of existing projects.

If DAC was instead powered by renewable electricity – as its supporters claim it should be – it would wolf down other natural resources.

And things get worse at large scale.

To capture 1 gigatonne of CO2 (1 GtCO2, just one-fortieth of current global CO2 emissions) would need nearly twice the amount of wind and solar electricity now produced globally. The equipment would need a land area bigger than the island of Sri Lanka and a vast network of pipelines and underground storage facilities. (See endnote 1.)

Claims made that CCS could be “green” – by generating the energy from biofuels, and/or storing the carbon instead of using it for oil production – do not stand up to scrutiny either, the article shows.

The paper – “Assessing Carbon Capture: public policy, science and societal need”, by Read the rest of this entry »


Hydrogen for homes is a terrible idea. We should fight it

October 30, 2020

A plan to pipe hydrogen, instead of natural gas, to millions of UK households is being pushed hard by the fossil fuel industry. It sounds “green” – but could wreck efforts to make homes truly zero carbon, using insulation and electric heat pumps.

Oil and gas companies support switching the gas grid to hydrogen, as a survival option in case of decarbonisation, as hydrogen is usually fabricated from gas.

But the hydrogen strategy cuts across the approach recommended for years by housing

The gas grid: better to replace it with heat pumps. Photo by Ran-Allen / Creative Commons

policy wonks and architects: to use insulation to slash the amount of heat needed, and install electric pumps (which work like fridges in reverse).

Leeds Trades Union Council (TUC) last month launched a campaign in favour of retrofitting homes with high-quality insulation and heat pumps.

It’s an issue many people can unite around – those fighting for better housing and tenants’ rights, campaigners against fuel poverty, trades unionists fighting building industry cuts, and all of us who want to tackle climate change.

And there’s a choice to be made we cannot avoid.

If the gas grid is switched to hydrogen, that will block for good the electrification-and insulation approach, that heats homes better, more cheaply, with technology that we know works, and is truly zero-carbon. We cannot have it both ways.

We will be locked into extra dependency on fossil fuels, instead of speeding the shift away from them.

That gas-to-hydrogen switch is being planned in north-east England by Northern Gas Networks (NGN): its H21 project would convert 3.7 million homes and businesses by Read the rest of this entry »


India climate crisis: this is about capitalism and inequality

October 6, 2020

Global warming is upsetting the monsoon, making droughts more likely, and changing the lives of hundreds of millions of Indians, writes NAGRAJ ADVE, in a guest post based on his pamphlet, Global Warming in the Indian Context.  

The average sea level rise worldwide over 2016-2020 was nearly half a centimetre per year, says the United in Science 2020 report, published last month by the World Meteorological

Photo: Fridays for Future Guwahati

Organisation (WMO), Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other scientific institutions.

The rate of sea level rise is now significantly higher than the 20th century average, largely due to the loss of ice from the great ice sheets on Antarctica and Greenland, besides warmer ocean waters expanding.

Reading the United in Science 2020 report made me think about sea level rise in terms of centimetres rather than millimetres – for the first time in the 15 years that I have been engaging with the climate crisis.

The impact of rising waters in the Indian sub-continent is one of the many issues covered in a new edition of my pamphlet, Global Warming in the Indian Context, published today by People & Nature.  I have updated the pamphlet – which was first published on People & Nature in June 2016 – to highlight many things about the climate crisis that have changed since then.

But the first thing to emphasise is that the social context in which climate change hits people in India is very different from that in the UK or mainland Europe.

■ In India, 650 million people rely on agriculture or related occupations; the average landholding per household is merely 2.5 acres, and half the area is under key crops such as rice and wheat;

■ Millions of small and marginal farmers have no access to irrigation, are entirely dependent on the rain, and hence more vulnerable to climatic changes; and

■ In the world’s most disastrous Covid-induced lockdown, 120 million people have lost their jobs or livelihoods – and there is no sign of economic recovery in sight.

Extreme climatic events have been getting more intense and frequent in India (and worldwide) in recent years – particularly extreme rainfall events. These result in floods, loss Read the rest of this entry »


South Africa: ‘climate change intensifies gender-based violence’

September 1, 2020

This guest post is by ORTHALIA KUNENE, a South African writer and grass-roots activist in her community with Extinction Rebellion (XR) South Africa. It is based on a talk she gave at a zoom session last month, organised by Extinction Rebellion Greenwich (UK).

Global warming isn’t simply going to destroy our communities – it is also going to be a serious intensifier of violence against women and girls.

I am a feminist, an African feminist to be exact. African feminism acknowledges Africa’s historical colonial realities. Hence, our battle is twofold: to dismantle patriarchal capitalism and to dismantle neoliberalism.

I grew up in an environment that normalised the oppression of women, and I only realised later in life that I, like so many black women in my country, fell into the demographic that

A climate policy protest in South Africa

unfortunately suffers the most – because the reality is that global capitalism has placed women, especially black women, at the bottom of the economic system.

Climate change is a direct product of the patriarchal capitalist economic model, which is built on the destruction and exploitation of human and natural resources. The oppression of women through control of women’s bodies, minds, and labour is part and parcel of this system.

As Africa still bears the horrifying scars of gender-based violence, alongside Covid-19, climate change has placed African women in the eye of the storm. Gender-based violence Read the rest of this entry »


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