Amazing work from Sane Energy Project. Thank you for all your work mapping natural gas infrastructure across NY state.
Wen Stephenson / The Nation
“If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle.”
—Frederick Douglass, 1857
Fuck Earth Day.
No, really. Fuck Earth Day. Not the first one, forty-four years ago, the one of sepia-hued nostalgia, but everything the day has since come to be: the darkest, cruelest, most brutally self-satirizing spectacle of the year.
Fuck it. Let it end here.
End the dishonesty, the deception. Stop lying to yourselves, and to your children. Stop pretending that the crisis can be “solved,” that the planet can be “saved,” that business more-or-less as usual—what progressives and environmentalists have been doing for forty-odd years and more—is morally or intellectually tenable. Let go of the pretense that “environmentalism” as we know it—virtuous green consumerism, affluent low-carbon localism, head-in-the-sand conservationism, feel-good greenwashed capitalism—comes anywhere near the radical response our situation requires.
So, yeah, I’ve had it with Earth Day—and the culture of progressive green denial it represents.
* * *
But why Frederick Douglass? Why bring him into this? And who am I to invoke him—a man who was born a slave and who freed himself from slavery, who knew something about struggle, whose words were among the most radical ever spoken on American soil? Who the hell am I? I’ve never suffered racial or any other kind of oppression. I’ve never had to fight for any fundamental rights. I’m not even a radical, really. (Nor am I an “environmentalist”—and never have been.) All I want is a livable world, and the possibility of social justice. So who am I to quote Frederick Douglass?
Let me tell you who I am: I’m a human being. I’m the father of two young children, a 14-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter, who face a deeply uncertain future on this planet. I’m a husband, a son, a brother—and a citizen. And, yes, I’m a journalist, and I’m an activist. And like more and more of us who are fighting for climate justice, I am engaged in a struggle—a struggle—for the fate of humanity and of life on Earth. Not a polite debate around the dinner table, or in a classroom, or an editorial meeting—or an Earth Day picnic. I’m talking about a struggle. A struggle for justice on a global scale. A struggle for human dignity and human rights for my fellow human beings, beginning with the poorest and most vulnerable, far and near. A struggle for my own children’s future—but not only my children, all of our children, everywhere. A life-and-death struggle for the survival of all that I love. Because that is what the climate fight and the fight for climate justice is. That’s what it is.
Because, I’m sorry, this is not a test. This is really happening. The Arctic and the glaciers are melting. The great forests are dying and burning. The oceans are rising and acidifying. The storms, the floods—the droughts and heat waves—are intensifying. The breadbaskets are parched and drying. And all of it faster and sooner than scientists predicted. The window in which to act is closing before our eyes.
Any discussion of the situation must begin by acknowledging the science and the sheer lateness of the hour—that the chance for any smooth, gradual transition has passed, that without radical change the kind of livable and just future we all want is simply inconceivable. The international community has, of course, committed to keeping the global temperature from rising more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 F) above the preindustrial average—the level, we’re told, at which “catastrophic” warming can still be avoided (we’ve already raised it almost one degree, with still more “baked in” within coming decades). But there’s good reason to believe that a rise of two degrees will lead to catastrophic consequences. And of course, what’s “catastrophic” depends on where you live, and how poor you are, and more often than not the color of your skin. If you’re one of the billions of people who live in the poorest and most vulnerable places—from Bangladesh to Louisiana—even 1 degree can mean catastrophe.
But the world’s climate scientists and leading energy experts are telling us that unless the major economies drastically and immediately change course—leaving all but a small fraction of fossil fuel reserves in the ground over the next four decades—we are headed for a temperature rise of four or five or even six degrees C within this century. The World Bank has warned that four degrees “must be avoided.” But we’re not avoiding it. Global emissions are still rising each year. We’re plunging headlong toward the worst-case scenarios—critical global food and water shortages, rapid sea-level rise, social upheaval—and beyond.
The question is not whether we’re going to “stop” global warming, or “solve” the climate crisis; it is whether humanity will act quickly and decisively enough now to save civilization itself—in any form worth saving. Whether any kind of stable, humane and just future—any kind of just society—is still possible.
We know that if the governments of the world actually wanted to address this situation in a serious way, they could. Indeed, a select few, such as Germany, have begun to do so. It can be done—and at relatively low cost. And yet the fossil-fuel industry, and those who do its bidding, have been engaged in a successful decades-long effort to sow confusion, doubt and opposition—and to obstruct any serious policies that might slow the warming, or their profits, and buy us time.
As I’ve said elsewhere, let’s be clear about what this means: at this late date, given what we know and have known for decades, to willfully obstruct any serious response to global warming is to knowingly allow entire countries and cultures to disappear. It is to rob the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet of their land, their homes, their livelihoods, even their lives and their children’s lives—and their children’s children’s lives. For money. For political power.
These are crimes. They are crimes against the Earth, and they are crimes against humanity.
What, are you shocked? The same industry, the same people committing these crimes—while we subsidize them for their trouble—have been getting away with murder along the fence lines and front lines for generations.
What is the proper response to this? How should I respond?
The cooler heads have not prevailed. It’s been a quarter-century since the alarm was sounded. The cooler heads have failed.
You want sweet, cool-headed reason?
How about this? Masses of people—most of them young, a generation with little or nothing to lose—physically, nonviolently disrupting the fossil-fuel industry and the institutions that support it and abet it. Getting in the way of business as usual. Forcing the issue. Finally acting as though we accept what the science is telling us.
Um, isn’t that a bit extreme? you ask.
Really? You want extreme? Business as usual is extreme. Just ask a climate scientist. The building is burning. The innocents—the poor, the oppressed, the children, your own children—are inside. And the American petro state is spraying fuel, not water, on the flames. That’s more than extreme. It’s homicidal. It’s psychopathic. It’s fucking insane.
* * *
Coming to grips with the climate crisis is hard. A friend of mine says it’s like walking around with a knife in your chest. I couldn’t agree more.
So I ask again, in the face of this situation, how does one respond? Many of us, rather than retreat into various forms of denial and fatalism, have reached the conclusion that something more than “environmentalism” is called for, and that a new kind of movement is the only option. That the only thing, at this late hour, offering any chance of averting an unthinkable future—and of getting through the crisis that’s already upon us—is the kind of radical social and political movement that has altered the course of history in the past. A movement far less like contemporary environmentalism and far more like the radical human rights, social justice and liberation struggles of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Does that sound hopelessly naïve to you? Trust me, I get it. I know. I know how it sounds.
And yet here I am. Because I also know that abolishing slavery sounded hopeless and naïve in 1857, when Frederick Douglass spoke of struggle.
What I’m talking about is not a fight to “solve the climate crisis.” That’s not possible anymore. But neither is it simply a fight for human survival—because there are oppressive and dystopian forms of survival, not to mention narcissistic ones, that aren’t worth fighting for.
What I’m talking about is both a fight for survival and a fight for justice—for even the possibility of justice. It’s a fight that transcends environmentalism. It requires something of us beyond the usual politics and proposals, the usual pieties. It requires the kind of commitment you find in radical movements—the kind of struggles, from abolition to women’s, labor and civil rights, that have made possible what was previously unimaginable.
Because our global crisis—not merely environmental but moral and spiritual—is fundamental: it strikes to the root of who we are. It’s a radical situation, requiring a radical response. Not merely radical in the sense of ideology, but a kind of radical necessity. It requires us to find out who we really are—and, nonviolently, in the steps of Gandhi and King and many others, to act. In some cases, to lay everything—everything—on the line.
And it requires us to be honest, with one another and with ourselves, about the situation we face. We’ll never have a movement radical enough, or humane enough, until we are.
That is, until Earth Day is buried—and a day of reckoning begins.
Guy McPherson speaks with Mike Nowak and Keri Lydersen on his East coast tour. Make sure to come to hear Guy talk here in NYC 4/16 at 8pm, sponsored by DGR NY!
The northern hemisphere summer has just peaked and though the torrid heat is now ebbing, it is evident the climate crisis is far more severe than most scientists had anticipated. The latest report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – a notoriously conservative research agency – will be debated in Stockholm next month, but no one can deny its projections: “widespread melting of land ice, extreme heat waves, difficulty growing food and massive changes in plant and animal life, probably including a wave of extinctions.”
Even worse is coming, for a giant Arctic Ocean “belch” of 50 billion tonnes of methane is inexorably escaping from seabed permafrost, according to scientists writing in the journal Nature. North Pole ice is now, at maximum summer heat, only 40 per cent as thick as it was just 40 years ago, a crisis only partially represented in the vivid image of a temporary “lake” that submerged the pole area last month.
The damage that will unfold after the burp, according to leading researchers from Cambridge and Erasmus Universities, could cost $60 trillion, about a year’s world economic output. Global warming will speed up by 15-35 years as a result.
With these revelations, it is impossible to mask the self-destructive greed of fossil-fuel firms and their carbon-addicted customers. The ruling crew in the United States, Russia and Canada will enthusiastically let oil companies exploit the soon-to-be ice-free Arctic summers with intensified drilling, joined by unprecedented bunker-fuel-burning in the newly opening shipping lanes.
New York’s “greenest” skyscraper is actually its biggest energy hog
When the Bank of America Tower opened in 2010, the press praised it as one of the world’s “most environmentally responsible high-rise office building[s].” It wasn’t just the waterless urinals, daylight dimming controls, and rainwater harvesting. And it wasn’t only the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification—the first ever for a skyscraper—and the $947,583 in incentives from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. It also had as a tenant the environmental movement’s biggest celebrity. The Bank of America Tower had Al Gore.
The former vice president wanted an office for his company, Generation Investment Management, that “represents the kind of innovation the firm is trying to advance,” his real-estate agent said at the time. The Bank of America Tower, a billion-dollar, 55-story crystal skyscraper on the northwest corner of Manhattan’s Bryant Park, seemed to fit the bill. It would be “the most sustainable in the country,” according to its developer Douglas Durst. At the Tower’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, Gore powwowed with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and praised the building as a model for fighting climate change. “I applaud the leadership of the mayor and all of those who helped make this possible,” he said.
Gore’s applause, however, was premature. According to data released by New York City last fall, the Bank of America Tower produces more greenhouse gases and uses more energy per square foot than any comparably sized office building in Manhattan. It uses more than twice as much energy per square foot as the 80-year-old Empire State Building. It also performs worse than the Goldman Sachs headquarters, maybe the most similar building in New York—and one with a lower LEED rating. It’s not just an embarrassment; it symbolizes a flaw at the heart of the effort to combat climate change.
Buildings contribute more to global warming than any other sector of the economy. In the United States, they consume more energy and produce more greenhouse gas emissions than every car, bus, jet, and train combined; and more, too, than every factory combined. When we’re not traveling between buildings, we’re inside them, and that requires energy for everything from construction to heating and cooling to running appliances.
The finding, which threatens the entire rationale of the onshore wind farm industry, will be made by Scottish government-funded researchers who devised the standard method used by developers to calculate “carbon payback time” for wind farms on peat soils.
Wind farms are typically built on upland sites, where peat soil is common. In Scotland alone, two thirds of all planned onshore wind development is on peatland. England and Wales also have large numbers of current or proposed peatland wind farms.
But peat is also a massive store of carbon, described as Europe’s equivalent of the tropical rainforest. Peat bogs contain and absorb carbon in the same way as trees and plants — but in much higher quantities.
British peatland stores at least 3.2 billion tons of carbon, making it by far the country’s most important carbon sink and among the most important in the world.
Wind farms, and the miles of new roads and tracks needed to service them, damage or destroy the peat and cause significant loss of carbon to the atmosphere, where it contributes to climate change.
Without full decarbonisation by 2030, our global emissions pathway guarantees a new era of catastrophic climate change.
The world is currently on course to exploit all its remaining fossil fuel resources, a prospect that would produce a “different, practically uninhabitable planet” by triggering a “low-end runaway greenhouse effect.” This is the conclusion of a new scientific paper by Prof James Hansen, the former head of NASA‘s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the world’s best known climate scientist.
The paper due to be published later this month by Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A (Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A) focuses less on modelling than on empirical data about correlations between temperature, sea level and CO2 going back up to 66 million years.
Given that efforts to exploit available fossil fuels continue to accelerate, the paper’s principal finding – that “conceivable levels of human-made climate forcing could yield the low-end runaway greenhouse effect” based on inducing “out-of-control amplifying feedbacks such as ice sheet disintegration and melting of methane hydrates” – is deeply worrying.
The paper projects that global average temperatures under such a scenario could eventually reach as high as between 16C and 25C over a number of centuries. Such temperatures “would eliminate grain production in almost all agricultural regions in the world”, “diminish the stratospheric ozone layer”, and “make much of the planet uninhabitable by humans.”
Hansen and his co-authors find that:
“Estimates of the carbon content of all fossil fuel reservoirs including unconventional fossil fuels such as tar sands, tar shale, and various gas reservoirs that can be tapped with developing technology imply that CO2 conceivably could reach a level as high as 16 times the 1950 atmospheric amount.”
They calculate that there is “more than enough available fossil fuels” to generate emissions capable of unleashing “amplifying feedbacks” that could trigger a “runaway” greenhouse effect “sustained for centuries.” Even if just a third of potentially available fossil fuel resources were exploited, calculations suggest, this scenario would still be guaranteed, meaning decisions we make this century will determine the fate of generations to come.
‘We don’t have a leader who is able to grasp [the issue] and say what is really needed. Instead we are trying to continue business as usual,’ said James Hansen in 2009.
“Governments are allowing and encouraging fossil fuel companies to go after every conceivable fuel”, said Hansen, “which is an obtuse policy that ignores the implications for young people, future generations and nature. We could make substantial parts of the Earth uninhabitable.”
The conclusions of Hansen’s latest paper are stark:
“Most remaining fossil fuel carbon is in coal and unconventional oil and gas. Thus, it seems, humanity stands at a fork in the road. As conventional oil and gas are depleted, will we move to carbon-free energy and efficiency – or to unconventional fossil fuels and coal?
… It seems implausible that humanity will not alter its energy course as consequences of burning all fossil fuels become clearer. Yet strong evidence about the dangers of human-made climate change have so far had little effect. Whether governments continue to be so foolhardy as to allow or encourage development of all fossil fuels may determine the fate of humanity.”
The new paper by James Hansen is just the latest confirming that we are on the verge of crossing a tipping point into catastrophic climate change. Other recent scientific studies show that the current global emissions trajectory could within three years guarantee a 2C rise in global temperatures, in turn triggering irreversible and dangerous amplifying feedbacks.
According to a scientific paper given at the Geological Society of London last month, climate records from Siberian caves show that temperatures of just 1.5C generate “a tipping point for continuous permafrost to start thawing”, according to lead author Prof Anton Vaks from Oxford University’s Department of Earth Sciences. Conventional climate models suggest that 1.5C is just 10-30 years away.
Permafrost thawing releases sub-ice undersea methane into the atmosphere – a greenhouse gas twenty times more potent that carbon dioxide. In June, NASA’s new five-year programme to study the Arctic carbon cycle, Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE), declared:
“If just one percent of the permafrost carbon released over a short time period is methane, it will have the same greenhouse impact as the 99 percent that is released as carbon dioxide.”
Another paper suggests that conventional climate modeling is too conservative due to not accounting for complex risks and feedbacks within and between ecosystems. The paper published in Nature last Wednesday finds that models used to justify the 2C target as a ‘safe’ limit focus only on temperature rise and fail to account for impacts on the wider climate system such as sea level rise, ocean acidification, and loss of carbon from soils. It concludes that the 2C target is insufficient to avoid dangerous climate change
The problem is that our current global emissions trajectory already commits us to a 2C rise anyway. Papers published by the Royal Society in 2011 showed that emissions pledges would still put the world on track for warming anywhere between 2.5C and 5C – and that a failure to deliver these pledges could see global temperatures rise by 7C by 2100. Amongst them, a Met Office study concluded that strong amplifying feedbacks – such as the oceans’ reduced ability to absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide leading to further warming – could see us reach 4C as early as 2060.
But as Hansen explained in a recent interview:
“Four degrees of warming would be enough to melt all the ice… you would have a tremendously chaotic situation as you moved away from our current climate towards another one. That’s a different planet. You wouldn’t recognise it… We are on the verge of creating climate chaos if we don’t begin to reduce emissions rapidly.”
After the last round of climate talks in Doha, a report by Climate Action Tracker concluded that the world is currently on path to see warming of 3C by 2040, triggering the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and Arctic permafrost.
This was corroborated last month by the International Energy Agency(IEA), which found that even with current climate policies in place, we are locked into a rise of between 2C and 5.3C. Two years ago, the IEA concluded that we had five years left to implement urgent energy reforms after which we would no longer be able to avoid dangerous climate change. We are now three years away from that point-of-no-return.
To make matters worse, the IEA’s analysis is based on conventional models which do not fully account for amplifying feedbacks such as methane releases from permafrost thawing. The IPCC’s forthcoming Fifth Assessment Report, like its predecessors, will specifically exclude the permafrost carbon feedback from its projections.
The implication is that policymakers are riding blind – we do not really know how close we are to a tipping point into catastrophe.
There is a solution. According to Hansen, we need to focus on a maximum target of 1C. “The goal of keeping warming close to 1C is to keep climate close to the Holocene range, thus avoiding any major amplifying feedbacks,” he said.
“The 1C goal requires rapid phase out of fossil fuel emissions, which would require a rising carbon fee. To continue to burn every fuel that can be found is the opposite approach – they are day and night.”
Such a rapid fossil fuel phaseout was proposed to the Parliamentary Environment Audit Committee early last year in the form of complete decarbonisation of power by 2030. Unfortunately, the UK bill to that effect was narrowly defeated in the House of Commons last month.
There is still hope – the bill is currently up for consideration by the House of Lords. If the bill eventually passes, Britain might still play a leading role in heralding the energy revolution that could help save the planet, while saving the nation up to £100 billion.
Dr Nafeez Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It among other books. Follow him on Twitter @nafeezahmed
– – – – – – – – – –
Originally posted by The Guardian here.
If you’ve been a sentient being for the last few months, you’ve probably been watching some of the most curious weather events happening throughout the world.
Of particular concern for many scientists has been the Arctic sea ices melt, which dropped to its lowest level on record last summer. In the first few months of this year, large cracks were witnessed in the sea ice, indicating a great possibility that it has entered a death spiral and will disappear completely in the summer months within the next two years.
The rapid melt (and eventual disappearance) of the ice is having drastic affects on the jet stream in the northern hemisphere, creating powerful storms and extreme weather events, largely outside the comprehension of many scientists.
Jeff Masters, meteorology director at the private service Weather Underground states: “I’ve been doing meteorology for 30 years and the jet stream the last three yeas has done stuff I’ve never seen. […] The fact that the jet stream is unusual could be an indicator of something. I’m not saying we know what it is.”
In no other industry today is it more obvious to see the culmination of affects of social, political, economic, and ecological instability than in the global production of food. As a defining characteristic of civilization itself, it is no wonder why scientists today are closely monitoring the industrial agricultural system and its ability (or lack thereof) to meet the demands of an expanding global population.
Amidst soil degradation, resource depletion, rising global temperatures, severe climate disruptions such as floods and droughts, ocean acidification, rapidly decreasing biodiversity, and the threat of irreversible climatic change, food production is perhaps more vulnerable today than ever in our history. Currently, as many as 2 billion people are estimated to be living in hunger – but that number is set to dramatically escalate, creating a reality in which massive starvation, on an inconceivable scale, is inevitable.
With these converging crises, we can readily see within agriculture and food production that our global industrial civilization is experiencing a decline in complexity that it cannot adequately remediate, thus increasing our vulnerability to collapse. Industrial agriculture has reached the point of declining marginal returns – there may be years of fluctuation in global food production but we are unlikely to ever reach peak levels again in the foreseeable future.
While often articulated that technological innovation could present near-term solutions, advocates of this thought tend to forget almost completely the various contributing factors to declining returns that cannot be resolved in such a manner. There is also much evidence, within agriculture’s own history, that a given technology that has the potential to increase yields and production (such as the advent of the plow or discovery of oil) tends to, over time, actually reduce that potential and significantly escalate the problem.
According to legend, Ernest Hemingway bet his 1920s-era colleagues he could write a complete story in just six words. Hemingway is said to have considered the resulting piece his best work: “For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn.”
Making no attempt to keep up with Hemingway, this article provides an overview of the dire climate-change situation in fewer than 300 words. Perhaps even Twitter users will find time for the entire essay.
Addition by subtraction
Until relatively recently, economic collapse was the only hope to prevent runaway greenhouse. Now that we’ve triggered ten self-reinforcing feedback loops, it’s too late to dodge the missile launched by industrial civilization.
Economic collapse is under way. I see no way to prevent its completion in time to safely decommission the world’s hundreds of nuclear power plants.
At least one decade is required to decommission a single nuclear facility. We need to
- Decommission the power plants very quickly.
- Develop and implement a plan for tons of radioactive waste.
- Reverse the irreversible climate-change feedback loops.
I’m not optimistic.
Resistance is fertile
Lest the reader conclude I’m promoting surrender, let me be clear: resistance is fertile, and it’s a moral imperative.
I do not desire near-term human extinction. But the evidence has overwhelmed me, while others are deep in denial or busily bargaining. Invoking the absence of authorities who agree with me, rather than the authoritative evidence I cite, many people conclude I’m surely mistaken. I’m hoping they’re correct.
I know few ways to explain we’re headed for near-term human extinction. There are more than seven billion responses to the increasingly dire information. I choose to dive into the abyss with eyes wide open, playing court jester along the way. Your mileage may vary.
–Guy McPherson, Transition Voice