Thursday 16 February 2017

Too Little, Too Late: Rachel Stewart On Climate Change.

The Rush To Destruction: Anthropogenic Global Warming signals a civilisation in terminal decline. A world owned and ruled by people who have given up on the future. Humanity finds itself in the hands of a pathologically dissociated global elite. Stupefied by greed and consumed with pride, the ultimate demonstration of the power they refuse to give up will be the irreversible collapse of the fossil-fuelled economic system they have committed so many crimes to preserve.
RACHEL STEWART’S COLUMN in yesterday morning’s (15/2/17) NZ Herald bears eloquent testimony to the global progressive community’s sense of helplessness. In it she berates herself for getting into a pointless altercation with a dirty-dairy farmer. Of what value are such small-scale exchanges, she demands, when the much larger and more important struggle against anthropogenic global warming is being lost all along the line?
“We need to wise up to the fact that continuing to compartmentalise our endless individual battles – pay equity, dirty dairying, transport, roading, autism funding, education, intersectional feminism, partisan politics – is a waste of precious energy.
“Don’t get me wrong. All are beyond important but, ultimately, unless we tackle climate change and right now, there’ll be no human rights or environment to actually fight for.”
There was one line in Rachel’s column that particularly resonated:
“[I]t’s time to stop getting caught up in the individual fights and realise that climate change is a mission that must be tackled on a World War II scale.”
Another way of expressing this is to treat global warming as the “moral equivalent of war”. This would require a level of personal and societal engagement proportionate to the existential threat which global warming poses to human civilisation.
The reason Rachel’s words resonated so strongly was that just over seven years ago I expressed remarkably similar thoughts in my own newspaper column ‘From the Left’.
On 9 December 2009 I wrote:
“If the battle against Climate Change does not become the moral equivalent of war for all the peoples of the Earth, then not only the battle, but the Earth itself, as a planet hospitable to human civilisation, will be lost.
“Our government – every government – must be willing to mobilise the population as it was mobilised during World War II. Our generation must plant its own ‘Victory Gardens’ and run its own ‘Salvage Programmes’. We must learn, as our parents and grandparents did, to ration scarce resources, pay special taxes, and buy as many ‘War Bonds’ as we can afford.”
I was moved to write these words seven years ago because the leaders of the world were gathering in Copenhagen for an international conference on combatting global warming. Even before that ill-fated conference collapsed in acrimony and confusion, I was doubtful as to whether any good would come of their going.
Seven years, and another fruitless international conference on global warming (this time in Paris) later, there is no doubt at all that no good has been done. The rate of global warming is already nudging the thresholds laid down in Paris.
As Rachel makes clear in her column, these failures are producing not only extreme consequences in the material world, but they are also generating extreme responses in the human psyche. Seven years ago people were asking “What can we do?” Seven years later, more and more of us are asking “What’s the point of doing anything?”
The sheer scale of the organised malice that has undermined every attempt to limit the damage of global warming is at once profoundly shocking and profoundly disempowering.
That global capitalism is fully conscious of the planetary harm it is causing, but resolved to go on inflicting that harm regardless, is a realisation so profoundly depressing that hitherto active citizens are robbed of all purpose and resolve.
It speaks of a civilisation in terminal decline. A world owned and ruled by people who have given up on the future. Humanity finds itself in the hands of a pathologically dissociated global elite. Stupefied by greed and consumed with pride, the ultimate demonstration of the power they refuse to give up will be the irreversible collapse of the fossil-fuelled economic system they have committed so many crimes to preserve.
The election of Trump, and the obvious incapacity of the American political system to defend itself against the madmen and women who have taken up residence in all three branches of the United States government, is merely the outward manifestation of global capitalism’s inner corruption.
Neoliberalism has immobilised humanity in the manner of those parasitic wasps whose offspring excrete a chemical which fatally overpowers their host’s self-protective reflexes. Aware that we are being destroyed, we are nevertheless incapable of resisting our destroyers effectively.
Rachel gets it: “Just about every bit of bad news is directly linked to climate change. Everything. Oh, and the greed of the few who are trying to extract even more before the inevitable breakdown.”
She has also, perhaps unintentionally, chosen the epitaph for the entire Anthropocene epoch.
Quoting the father of evolutionary theory, Charles Darwin, Rachel ends her column with his observation: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”
We have changed far too little, and left it far too late.
This essay is also posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 16 February 2017.


Nick J said...

I remember your column well Chris. I am a realist who calls it, aka a Cassandra. For some time my attitude has been that I cannot stop the machine until it breaks so lets hurry that up. So I got rid of my car. Walked to the shop. Tried cutting out processed packaged and long distance food. Consumed less. Nobody else in my circle really tries but some leading by example may go a little way. If enough of us did the little things the big things might follow. It seems a better approach to being a non practicing preacher. Cassandra may yet be proven wrong.

Shona said...

Awesome piece Chris. Accurate , terrifying and depressing!.

David Stone said...

Hi Chris

A good one; But humanity is no more capable of collectively addressing climate change in a meaningful way than it is of giving up war.

I go to work every day and burn diesel or chainsaw fuel all day. I am putting more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere all the time. but we need houses. There's no way back to using an M tooth crosscut saw, a bullock team and a pit saw mill consistent with economic survival, the trees would have to stay there. Good for the environment but no help to the homeless.
This is just a microcosm of our whole civilisation especially in relationship to the maintenance of city populations. To rearrange societies' physical structure so that we can carry on with a vaguely recognisable lifestyle , without continuing to burn oil is not going to happen in the time available . As a species we have the brains and the knowledge but not a shadow of the necessary will to co-operate.

(Cheers) D J S

David Stone said...

Me again

Given the role you ascribe to Trump in all this , you will doubtless be relieved when the CIA , the FBI and the Pentagon , and Wall St very soon destroy him and return everything to normal.

pat said...

I am sad to have to agree with DJS. We know what needs to be done to give us an outside chance of leaving an inhabitable world for our descendants but there is absolutely no capacity for the level of co-operation and selflessness required either within countries or between.

BlisteringAttack said...

The neoliberal economy keeps people in low pay jobs working long hours with no time to think or organise.

Cunning yet true.

Jack Scrivano said...

Our government – every government – must be willing to mobilise the population as it was mobilised during World War II.

Chris, today there are three times as many people in the world as there were in 1945. Do you want to be the politician to tell the five billion ‘new arrivals’ that they can’t have food and water, and a crack at a better life?

Jens Meder said...

The solution of the problem is in more capitalism per head and negative population growth.
That will enable us to learn and apply the knowledge to less polluting productivity and consumption as far as possible within reason, with no need for total depopulation of the Earth for the sake of "keeping it clean" ?

jh said...

Given the role you ascribe to Trump in all this , you will doubtless be relieved when the CIA , the FBI and the Pentagon , and Wall St very soon destroy him and return everything to normal.
The people may have woken up.
As Frank Salter said "people don't realise we won the cold war but lost the culture war"

Jamie said...

Time for a joke Trotter.

Question: How many hypocritie-climate-warming-liberal-virtue-signalling[puke]-activists in the world does it take to invent, market, and mass produce superior alt-energy technologies???

Answer: Wouldn't hold your breath....Because they're all too busy doing more important blowing hot air at farmers.


B'art Homme said...

I am worried the notion of global warming is being preferred to climate change... they are different. I really like the idea of victory gardens too... as these seem to be driven by an impending doom on the horizon... a sense that we must feed each other, our near neighbours and family first... be more self sufficient.. less oriented to the market, international sales/100% pure nonsense.

It is not a market we live in or for - it is a civilization, a humanity, an ecosystem a community of interlinked entities... trading tripe will hardly solve our plight.

David Stone said...

Yes Barry Thomas

Most international trade is bullshit; financially justifiable only because of exploitation and manipulation of currency exchange rates poverty, and the squandering of poor countries' resources under corrupt exploitive governments acting for the mega rich multinationals. Like ours.
Legitimate international trade should only apply where there resources surplus in one country and lacking in another. How far are we from making that kind of decision in a world of TPPA and accelerating globalisation.
We are heading in exactly the opposite direction of managing climate change at warp speed.

BTW on my above suggestion of replacing the Komatsu with a bullock team , can anyone calculate, given that a working bullock team must be hard fed, whether they would fart more methane per cube of timber extracted than the Komatsu farts CO2?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Joke. What qualifications do you need to critique climate scientists' conclusions? Absolutely none apparently.

Alan said...

Wasn’t it Konrad Lorenze who said ‘ The missing link between higher apes and civilized man has been found. It is us.’ I can understand Rachel’s utter despair.

H.G. Wells wrote The Time Machine in 1895 and in it saw a future where Tweenie people cavorted above ground happily and thoughtlessly, and were farmed by ghastly Morlocks who lived in the darkness below. Each had evolved from common human ancestors.

Well, the Morlocks rule, and those they rule are largely reduced to lost Tweenies. The trouble is that the Morlocks in power will destroy all of us.

Despair must give way to an utterly intolerant anger at the attitudes of the powerful to climate change, or it will be too late, if it isn’t already. We cannot let those we interact with spout nonsense without vigorous challenge. We cannot!

Alan Rhodes

Charles E said...

What nonsense. And defeatist, poisonous nonsense. Even fake news.

I've been involved in climate change matters for 20+ years now and I assure you that real progress is well underway, led firmly by capitalists as well as governments. Now is definitely not the time to despair. You merely play into the hands of the deniers who want to put up real walls to compliment the walls in their heads.
For example China is closing large numbers of coal plants and has huge clean energy projects underway and plans for loads more including nuclear. Same in the US & Europe.

China's emissions have likely peaked. In the US, individual states and big business have been doing a lot for years and the US carbon footprint has shrunk significantly since 1990 and is still going down. Same in the UK & Germany. Canada is now on track. Aussie is the laggard. India a worry but they have plans to build a new kind of nuclear to replace coal. The next big thing I hope is to reforest 25% of the planet. It will happen I bet.
Yes it is late in the day but not too late at all. The future, all of it, including climate is not determined. It is a fatal error to think it is. It’s actually a physiological mistake to think the future is predictable.

So your pessimism is based on ignorance and fear of the unknown. Like little children at times. But think what a poor example that is to the young at high school and college. No wonder some of them top themselves. I suggest you lot do so if you have lost all hope, because what use are you? Better just keep your doom burdened minds to yourselves.

The irony is of course that globalisation is vital to decarbonising the planet yet it's you lot plus Trump who want to go in the opposite direction. You're welcome to him. But I reckon you are a small minority of dinosaurs and will be swept away by the new generation soon. The Carbon Free generation who will be truly global will look back on you chicken lickens and say "what a bunch of silly old fossils, fossil fuelled fossils'.
Go out a buy an electric car now or shut up.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Of course Chas now your man Trump is in and reducing regulations and subsidising dirty energy it'll be up again in a trice.

Alan said...

Charles E delivers his case with the dismissive and patronising arrogance that superior certainty can create...Trumpism, in this case with better language command.

The scattergun approach of mixing facts with declarative opinion and leavening the whole with insults is a poor way of advancing a case. It's a great Trumpist technique, akin to throwing marbles all over the floor which makes negotiating a pathway to the distant door that much more difficult.

More so, Charles E, in the dark future of looming extinctions that human-propelled envirnmental and climate change is laying on us all.

Guerilla Surgeon is quite right in what he said.

Regretably your true 'chicken-lickens' are those blinded to reality by the angry greed that seems to taint most of the rich and 'successful'in the capitalist world model.

Alan Rhodes

Charles E said...

Trump is much more your man GS, looking at his number one policy. Or are you in favour of the TTPA and globalisation now?

And Alan, at least I have some facts and opinions. Why don't you try some, like what is a good estimate of net US emissions currently, and in China, and are they rising?
And is forest cover increasing or decreasing in the US & China? Elsewhere? If so by how much? How much reforestation is required to absorb 10% of current world emissions?
How many electric cars in the US and how many in NZ and Russia? How many are expected in 5 years time.
Get GS to google these for you.
When you have the answers you might cheer up a bit. Or would you rather not?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Well Charles, as I said, but you probably didn't bother to read it – having been held responsible by you for every tinpot left-wing dictator from Stalin downwards, I'm holding you directly responsible for Trump.I think sauce for the goose. And I don't think Alan needs to ask me to do anything much to be honest he seems to have caught on to your character quite well. You could perhaps ask yourself though as the damage being done? Is it irreversible?

Nick J said...

Charles, you have a fascinatingly simple concept of pessimism and defeatism. Likewise your optimism based upon received wisdom is totally unfounded.

So a little deconstruct: progress on climate change which you claim well underway is not born out by the numbers which are empiric and widely available. Anybody with half a brain can see that a political solution to these issues as demonstrated by Kyoto is a losing proposition in the face of an industrial economic system that can only operate with fossil fuels. Capitalism appears to be driving behavior in entirely the wrong direction so the market mechanism appears stuck in a mode that ill only make matters worse. The climate readings and stats make this blindingly obvious.

So to the simple concept of pessimism. Is it pessimistic to see reality as it actually is then to state the obvious? Or is your stance a case of being optimistic despite the unreality of that stance? Or perhaps is it willfully dangerous to be self delusional when faced with an unwelcome reality? How might Darwin have regarded this type of behavior? Seems to me to be self selected extinction. Enjoy our future Charles, you wont need the electric heater, there wont be a lot of electricity in most places anyway.

David Stone said...

Charles E

The tailing off in China is due mostly to the mad construction of empty cities grinding to a halt due to economic slowdown.
Tailing off rate of increase in US also due to economic slowdown, masked by effects of Q E poring money into the share market and derivatives distorting GDP figures. If there is ever a real recovery in the real economy emissions will go up with it.
Forest cover (replacing what?) can only serve a temporary sink. once the forest is mature it becomes carbon neutral rotting to release C O 2 as fast as it fixes it. Releasing methane as well which is 20x worse.
Electric cars are only better when the electricity they use is produced by wind, hydro, or Fukushima type generation. If it is produced by fossil fuel which most world wide is , and most increase here would be, then it is slightly worse than burning it in the vehicle by the losses in transmission . Perhaps offset by fuel distribution.

Charles E said...

Yes I'm an optimist NJ & DS, but a rational one I will argue. And the correct moral stance too I would maintain.

I certainly think we are probably near peak emissions and there probably will be a rapid increase in clean energy, predominantly solar and new safe nuclear.
Is it too late? Nobody knows because the future in unpredictable. Not just a little bit unpredictable, massively so. This applies both to climate and to human activity and fortunes. Most major change comes unpredicted by the majority, by the establishment and experts included.

The world has warmed some and we can see the effects of that, both negative and positive (fewer, but still relevant). The probability is for more but we really do not know how much or the rate.
So it can only be said there is a risk, and we should do a lot to lower that as it could be very damaging. My case is this is happening and will accelerate despite dinosaurs like Trump (& Putin btw).

Concerning the contribution forests are making and the potential for a lot more, this is mostly misunderstood by non-foresters. Reforestation has very significant potential to buy us time for the coming technological revolution to decarbonise most of the current economy and then lower atmospheric carbon over the next 50 to 100 years. A third of the extra carbon in the atmosphere can be attributed to deforestation. Yet there are huge areas of uncultivated scrubland on the planet that could be planted with species that will indefinitely provide construction wood (50% carbon when dry btw) or species which will not reach carbon equilibrium for 100s of years and thereby store billions of tonnes of carbon, all taken out of the air.

So I really do condemn the alarmists. They are as bad as the deniers, even worse. Both are damaging deniers, or distorters of reality. The alarmists are also thieves of hope from the young, which is criminal in my book.

Phil said...

Thank you, Charles E.

You have written good sense and maintained civility in the face of some scorn.

I'm not sure I can maintain your level of optimism (limited though it is) but I will try! You may have saved my life.


Nick J said...

Nice answers Charles E and Phil. I would prefer you carry on "optimistic". I dont however agree with your real world stock take but don't take that as "scorn". My preference when I talk about things like peak resources, energy depletion and global warming is to remain calm and optimistic.

There is a school of thought that goes along the lines that the current problems are not solvable, that they are a worse than a dilemna or conundrum because of their unsolvable nature. The school of thought is that those who cant see this scenario clearly will carry on doing the same things for the same result in a form cognative dissonance. Upon realizing that there are no techno cures, no more resources, no more of their perceived reality they suffer meltdown, and according to some like Orlov they die, quite literally.

The logical response of course is to throw out all precepts and deal with the reality presents itself. This will require you to be "optimistic". Good luck.

Anonymous said...

This is a tautology but it is also true. The features of whatever ends humanity will, necessarily, fit tightly to the vulnerabilities of our psychology. We are evolved to attend to threats of immediacy, and the more immediate,emotion inducing and visceral the better. This is why we have almost succesfully rid the planet of the most churning of diseases (polio, small pox) and why we make such succesful inroads, on an almost daily to the afflictions that strike us and our families, whether it be road safety, cancer treatments and so on. Climate change is totally different. It is distant,rather than immediate. It is virtually invisible as are its present consequences. It is complex. It is not visceral and it does not elicit negative emotions. Furthermore, dealing with climate change requires a particular type of behaviour that most humans are poor at: sacrificing some aspect of their present for the betterment of their future. This is even more problematic in this context as 'future' and 'betterment' actually refers to people who are not born yet. For all these reasons, and more, climate change is a perfect fit for the vulnerabilities of our psychology and for this reason it will likely be the end of us.

Anonymous said...


What strikes me as critical here is that the level of prioritisation in human affairs that this issue is receiving is hopelessly inadequate, if the scientists are to be believed. The reorganisation of society's structure needed to address it is so profound, and so massively disruptive, and so directly the reverse of what we are doing all the time; look at the motorway extensions everywhere, look at the accelerating concentration of population in Auckland that requires everyone to drive around half the day, for work , for schooling,etc. And all the city's needs have to be transported from all over the country and all over the world. This is planning that controls the lives of ordinary people who have to make their lives within the structure provided by governments, and government planners are at every level completely ignoring it. TPPAs and Globalisation, and wars to remove disapproved governments in far off countries eclipse climate change in the decision making processes of all our leaders all the time. The neoliberal settlement does not allow for the level of management required at all.
Until climate change becomes the principle consideration in every local body decision,every national government decision , and every international decision we are not dealing with it. Certainty of timing and extent of the effects is a luxury we are not going to have .
I"m playing the ball here not the man.

pat said...

@ Charles E 17:42

you may wish to acquaint yourself with some accurate data to base your 'rational' optimism may also wish to apply a net number to the carbon storage capacity of processed/transported timber.

"So I really do condemn the alarmists. They are as bad as the deniers, even worse. Both are damaging deniers, or distorters of reality. The alarmists are also thieves of hope from the young, which is criminal in my book."

As you condemn "alarmists" equally those realists condemn your ill informed optimism as primally dangerous that may not rob hope from the young but an actual existence.

Charles E said...

pat you are right that a balance is called for with optimism too, as with most things. But although we need to impress on the next generation that decarbonisation should become more urgent because the current generation has been slow to get it higher up the priority scale, we should not dampen their hope. Hope is a human trait that has got us incredible success against the odds. It is key we do not paint a picture of inevitable doom. That is always wrong, even if it turns out to be true, because the future is not fixed. Doom thinking can make doom more likely.

Anonymous you make good points and so I would maintain globalisation is exactly what we need to take on this challenge. So I would add clauses to something like a TPPA where companies and NGOs can sue governments for not reducing their net carbon emissions. I would also want to abolish the UN and replace it with a new truly powerful superior law body which could enforce human rights and environmental standards on the basis that we are one planet and one species, so the age of nationalism needs to end. A country like Saudi Arabia would be made illegal overnight on both human rights and environmental rights bases.
I predict the under 20 generation across the world would support this. Even in SA.