Let’s face it. Melting ice has passed point of no return

November 23, 2015

Leaders of many of the world’s states gather in Paris next month for climate talks, having promised in advance that any agreement will fall well short of the 2 degrees target for avoiding dangerous global warming.

An army of politicians, PR people and diplomats are working to create the impression that, nevertheless, something positive is being done. This balloon of

thwaites glacier

The Thwaites glacier in West Antarctica. Photo from NASA web site

hype needs to be popped. The precondition for serious action is honesty about the scale, and difficulty, of the problem, and acknowledgement of how far away we are from a solution.

Rising sea levels is a key part of the problem, and recent research on it – that I attempt to summarise and discuss in this article – helps explain the scale of the problem.  The bottom line is this: while governments’ promises lag further and further behind targets for climate action set out by the Read the rest of this entry »

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How neo-liberalism used the “limits to growth”

November 18, 2015

In this interview, SARA HOLIDAY NELSON, a PhD researcher at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, USA, who is studying the politics of environmentalism in the 1970s, discusses first-world-centred and Malthusian approaches and some responses to them

Gabriel Levy. Let’s start with your critique of the “Limits to Growth” arguments.[1] And first – addressing ourselves e.g. to people demonstrating about the lack of action on climate change at the Paris talks – a very basic question: you are not saying, are you, that there are no natural limits, or that they are not important?

Sara Holiday Nelson. Yes, that’s correct. First, it’s not that material limits don’t exist, or are not significant, but what they mean at any given moment is a complicated socially- and politically-determined process. The question of what those limits are, and how they might be shifted – not transcended by some techno futurism, but how a different mode of social organisation or economic production might have different limits – suggests that speaking of ecological limits only makes sense if these are considered relative to any particular kind of social organisation. For instance, the idea of “peak oil” – which itself is a dubious proposition, given the recent transformation of shale and other porous

The Ecuador indigenous people’s uprising, August 2015. Photo from IC Magazine. first published on Expresate Morona Santiago

The Ecuador indigenous people’s uprising, August 2015. Photo from IC Magazine. first published on Expresate Morona Santiago

rocks into “oil” resources through new fracking and drilling technologies) – is only a “limit” to an economic system that depends on cheaply-available fossil fuels. I am therefore against an absolute notion of limits, such as for instance a neo-Malthusian view that equates the scarcity of certain resources with a fundamental limit to human life on Earth. This approach still allows us, I think, to talk about a notion of relative limits at any given historical moment.

Second, I think that the way that the limits discourse has been mobilised in the past has not been politically productive. My view is consistent, I think, with the Read the rest of this entry »


The Anthropocene? It’s just inhuman

April 1, 2015

Human activity has changed the earth so drastically that we are in a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, says a bunch of scientists. No, it’s “capital, not humanity as such” that’s responsible, writes socialist activist and environmental researcher Andreas Malm in Jacobin magazine.

Malm argues that it’s “the reliance by capitalists on the extraction and use of fossil energy” that is “driving us toward disaster” – and that this is downplayed by the Anthropocene concept.

Malm hits at three targets. First, he defends social movements that take up climate issues from attack by Mark Lynas, whose book The God Species popularised the Anthropocene idea. Second, he takes on scientists who suggest

The use of ammonia-based fertilisers has caused the biggest upset to the nitrogen cycle in 2.5 billion years. Photo from the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand

The use of ammonia-based fertilisers has caused the biggest upset to the nitrogen cycle in 2.5 billion years. Photo from the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand

that human damage to the environment is a function of human productive activity in general. And third, he argues against climate science, politics and discourse that are framed as “species-thinking, humanity-bashing, undifferentiated collective self-flagellation” – “ideological pirouettes that only serve to conceal the driver”.

In my view, Lynas richly deserves the polemical kicking he gets from Malm. Lynas’s rant against the left-wing journalist Naomi Klein, who argues that averting climate change is inextricably linked with the fight for social justice, is both unfounded and idiotic. Unfounded, because Lynas denounces Klein’s realistic-but-optimistic book This Changes Everything for reflecting a “miserabilist and dystopian worldview”, which it Read the rest of this entry »


The Paris climate talks and the failure of states

February 25, 2015

The officials in charge of the United Nations climate talks say that no deal will be done in Paris in December to avoid dangerous global warming.

After preparatory negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland, this month, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), confirmed that the target set previously, of limiting warming to 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels, would be missed.

Figueres had already said, in December, after a round of talks in Lima, Peru, that “the sum total of efforts [in Paris]

March in Defence of Mother Earth at the climate talks in Lima, Peru, in December. Source: http://cumbrepuebloscop20.org/

March in Defence of Mother Earth at the climate talks in Lima, Peru, in December. Source: http://cumbrepuebloscop20.org/

will not be able to put us on the path for two degrees. […] We are not going to get there with the Paris agreement … We will get there over time.” This month she reiterated that the Paris talks would only “set the pathway for an orderly planned transition over time to a low-carbon society”.

The EU climate commissioner, Miguel Arias Canete, claimed that “you can not say it is a failure” if, collectively, the world’s governments abandoned the 2 degrees target, as long as there is “an ongoing process”.

Diplomats at Geneva put together an 86-page document for political leaders to haggle over in December. (It’s downloadable here.) But it’s already clear that:

■ The approach adopted in Kyoto in 1997 – to require countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions by particular amounts, within specified timeframes under international law – has been abandoned. Instead, negotiators are reported to be saying, the

Read the rest of this entry »


Deeper, costlier and dirtier

June 20, 2014

Humanity’s problem is not that it will use up all the coal, oil and gas. That could not happen for hundreds of years. But, already, the easy-to-get-at resources are running out. Oil and gas companies are going further, drilling deeper, and using more and more complex technologies to eke out resources, than ever before.

And long before these fuels are exhausted, the world’s economies will have burned the

Puckland Woods in Kent, seen as a possible site for coalbed methane exploration. Photo by John Flynn and Stuart Gooda, keepshepherdswellwell.org

Puckland Woods in Kent, seen as a possible site for coalbed methane exploration. Photo by John Flynn and Stuart Gooda, keepshepherdswellwell.org

amount that – according to climate scientists – can be used without potentially triggering uncontrollable global warming.

These are some of the conclusions of a report published yesterday by Corporate Watch, To The Ends Of The Earth. It explains the drivers behind the “unconventional fuels” boom, what those fuels are, and why there is a groundswell of opposition to them by communities and environmentalists.

The report questions the idea of “peak oil”, i.e. that oil production would reach a maximum, and then decline, causing “the imminent collapse of modern civilization”.

The stock of conventional oil and gas reserves – that is, those that it is economically feasible to produce, using conventional drilling techniques – may indeed be peaking, it argues. But rather than this causing “global economic and social collapse”, it is driving the oil producers to access new resources that were previously considered too expensive, or too difficult to make use of.

“As oil and gas reserves begin to run low, energy prices rise, and this, along with enormous power held by fossil fuel companies, means that new, more extreme methods of production Read the rest of this entry »


Climate scientists go for ‘human tipping point’

May 15, 2014

A group of scientists headed by pioneer global warming researcher James Hansen is challenging the consensus view that humanity can avoid serious danger by holding the average temperature rise to two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

Warming should be limited to one degree centigrade to avoid “disastrous” consequences, Hansen and his colleagues write in an open-access paper published in December last year.[1]

Hansen et al also venture beyond the physical sciences to discuss the potential impact of global warming on human society and what should be done about it. They appeal to the Read the rest of this entry »


Radical GHG emissions policies need radical social movements to back them

December 11, 2013

Policies to counter global warming effectively “will only advance if accompanied by radical social movements”, socialist writer and activist Naomi Klein has told the Radical [greenhouse gas] Emissions Reduction conference in London. “Transformative policies […] must be backed by transformative politics.”

Advocates of radical action have to face the fact that pro-market ideology is dominant in mainstream political fora and that “we are the marginal ones”, Klein said yesterday, on a web link from Toronto, Canada.

“It’s not that our ideas [about cutting greenhouse gas emissions] are not popular. But they are not powerful, not dominant. They are not winning.” The movement needs to “turn the popular into the Read the rest of this entry »


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