Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Getting Moody

From the NYTimes today: The credit rating agency known as Moodys (the one that didn't notice the housing bubble of the early 2000's) today says "governments must prepare for heatwaves, draught, flooding and coastal storm surges or face credit downgrades". They are under pressure to "address the underlying climate risks they face." Or else.

So you are a town on the Georgia coast and now you have to build a seawall that will withstand what? How "prepared" can you be for the climate in 2100? Especially if those same governments continue to prop up fossil fuel energy development. So the citizens (who hate taxes) will face higher taxes to build the absurd wall or face higher taxes because no one will insure their city. And face higher insurance rates no matter what they do.

How will they face the "underlying risk" of civilization collapse? How would I calculate that in terms of dollars and cents? As soon as Standard and Poor and Fitch (the other credit majors) start downgrading there is going to be some serious whining. Once the giant illusion of "preparedness" and "mitigation" and "addressing the underlying causes" starts to unravel, you will see a frantic exodus of rats jumping ship.

At the UN recently, Jeremy Corbyn of the British Labour Party said it is time to "factor the cost of environmental degradation into financial forecasting." That should be interesting.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Winning Back the Clueless Vote

In the winter issue of American Affairs, Nancy Fraser has a piece titled From Progressive Neoliberalism to Trump -and Beyond. In it she analyzes what she calls a "crisis of hegemony" as progressive neoliberalism, (think Reagan melting into Clinton) gives way to Trumps new America First populism.

Fraser argues that a new left-populism could win these voters back again with a truly progressive platform but one has to wonder about these voters who jump from Reagan to Clinton to Obama to Trump (and may have voted for Bush twice). If they are truly that clueless (and I believe they are), could they really be counted on to build a lasting, governing coalition? Won't they just sign on to the next dazzling grifter that promises them shiny toys? These are people who could never understand the article she wrote, or anything she has written. You would have to explain your platform through comic books. I think Fraser should face the difficult truth that American democracy if fatally broken and needs a total overhaul, not just realignment.

In the NY Times, Michelle Goldberg has a piece called No Wonder Young People Hate Capitalism. It is basically a thinly veiled warning that those in power are playing us too close, that if they don't wise up someone could lose their head. The case in point is of course the latest tax bill but if Goldberg were paying attention she might notice a few other areas where capitalism is failing, not just millenials, but the planet as a whole.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Everybody Has An Opinion

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication has been doing opinion surveys to gauge the public's awareness around global warming. Of course the media is a joke when it comes to informing the public and schools are a joke when it comes to education, but I also think the opinion poll reflects the failure of the climate movement to get a coherent message out. It also captures the nihilistic truth that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is the end of capitalism.

For instance, according to the latest survey, 39% think there is at least a 50% chance warming will cause human extinction. Think about that. Every morning four in ten people in the US get up and go about their daily activities believing the chances are Even Steven their progeny will be wiped out by the lifestyle they enjoy today. And yet only 22% say they are "very worried" about it. 63% say they are "somewhat worried". WTF is "somewhat worried"? I guess it means people are generally able to block it from their consciousness or that they have made their peace with the fact or psychosis keeps them from connecting the dots...

22% say humans are unwilling to change behavior, which is a pessimistic view of the species but also a naive understanding of how power works in society. You don't get to wake up one day and say "Forget the car, I'm going to walk to work!" but even if you made that your personal mission, it wouldn't save the planet. The behavior you have to change is your fear of struggle.

30% still believe the warming is due to something called "natural changes"(?), so that behavior has nothing to do with it. 32% believe it is an equal mix of human activities and "natural changes" and 19% were unsure if warming was actually happening. Many of these same people are "unsure" if Africa is a country or a continent and exactly what the difference would be.

My point is, the climate movement as such needs to get behind some simple, unequivocal messaging about the crisis, to coalesce around one narrative and not deviate. Each day that goes by with economic growth as a social good decreases our chance exponentially of digging out of the hole and saving something worthwhile.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Time for Action?

Once again the COP, this time (23) held in Bonn, came to a vague, wholly unsatisfying end. Nobody wants to help poor countries, nobody wants to stall economic growth in their own country, nobody wants to confront reality. Big surprise. Of course the NGO's all continue to show up in force demanding this and that, waving signs and texting back and forth. All part of the ritual.
And then yesterday a route for the Keystone XL through Nebraska was approved and, deja vu all over again, the Climate Movement is mobilizing for resistance. And they (McKibben et al..)have come up with a novel approach: mass civil disobedience. Who knew? The question now becomes what organizational structure will they use; a repeat of Standing Rock with lots of "supporters" and few arrests? Native American led with little discussion of capitalism? Guess we'll see.

As for my friend and comrade Leonard Higgins, his trial is beginning today up in Fort Benton Montana where the wind always blows. He is one of the valve turners and the judge denied him the use of a necessity defense so the question is really how harsh the sentence will be. Again, we'll see.

Every day that goes by without dramatic change in emissions makes the possibility of avoiding runaway "cascading effects" that much slimmer. Stock market at record highs. This action in Nebraska will define the outlines of what is possible. They better get it right.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Here Come the Technologists

After researching the Breakthrough folks and their nuclear ambitions (that I wrote about a few weeks ago) I am now seeing a new meme being propagated throughout the media around the necessity of embracing carbon capture and storage technologies as well. A fellow named Josh Reed, director of something called Third Way, advocates both: "Nuclear and carbon capture are critical to reducing co2 emissions" he writes. We wonder where he gets his funding?

In a little piece in the NYTimes just yesterday I read how: "Many experts agree that technologies like carbon capture for coal plants and nuclear power can play a critical role in reducing emissions" Not quite word for word but close.

In her New Yorker article "Going Negative" Elizabeth Kolbert (Sixth Extinction)runs through the dilemmas of CCS and BECC (bioenergy with carbon capture) and ends with the frightening conclusion that "carbon removal is vital without necessarily being viable". But economic growth is never questioned.

And today in the Economist an article states: "In any realistic scenario, emissions cannot be cut fast enough" so we need to deploy "negative emissions" technologies. The great majority of models used by the IPCC do involve "negative emissions" to reach a ( disastrous) goal of 2 degrees warming but this term encompasses everything from improved farming (shallow till) and forestry practices to actual scrubbers that pull CO2 from the air. There is already scrubbing done at the smokestack and most of this CO2 is sold to oil exploration companies to force more fossil fuels from the earth (which pays for the scrubbing) So that's insane bullshit on its face.

The scrubbers that would pull it from the atmosphere (direct air capture) so far only work at small scale and are energy intensive. Plus the storage/sequestration issue, pumping it far underground below shale formations, is still being researched. But what we should be paying attention to is this language around "realistic scenarios". What realistic means is anything that doesn't disrupt economic growth or put the capitalist system in a bad light. The modern way of tackling these problems is to only consider a technology that will also produce profit. In an unrealistic scenario we could decide our children's lives have value and drastically cut emissions and end economic growth. So much for Obama's "de-coupling".

Which is why the rate of emissions has just gone up again after plateauing for a few years. It is why the US pulled out of the Paris Accords and the rest of the world is stalling when it comes to setting verifiable targets. No profit. But once we "overshoot" the carbon budget you can expect investors to start backing nukes and these scrubbers, in a desperate attempt to "do good and do well". Or start breaking out the aerosols.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Waiting for Godot part 3

On a hike up the canyon yesterday my old friend asked me what was going on in the "climate movement". A good liberal who is "concerned", he depends on me to be his conduit to the latest activity, as a way to stay in touch with the collapse. All I could really tell him was that there are some trials going on for the "Valve Turners" and a trial in Oregon where Our Children's Trust is suing the US government. So activists can have "support" roles, sending money, advocating blah blah.

The other "activity" I mentioned was a group going from Missoula to Spokane on Wednesday to comment on some proposed rule change involving the Colstrip coal fire power plant. All of these approaches involve working through the regulatory, bureaucratic state and none are very inspiring. None are how you build a mass social movement for transformative system change. And what about "Blockadia", the Naomi Klein militant wing?

Very very quiet. There is another COP in Bonn Germany so we can assume there will be some puppets and loud young people making the familiar demands but the delegates know the reality by now. Post-Standing Rock, culturally sensitive people seem to be waiting for the indigenous people to lead. Which is not a plan or strategy really. There is some "activity" around stopping the Keystone XL (Lazarus, zombie?) which I have always thought was a good point to concentrate on but again the strategy is murky; court battles? resistance camp? wait for solar and wind "price" to come down?

I am going to ride over to Spokane and give my comments, probably something around the diminished stream flows and heightened water temperatures on the rivers I guide on. The "economic" argument. How much work (productivity) was lost, cost to economy, etc... the language that has "currency", that all seem to understand. But it is also problematic. Using the same market logic that caused the crisis to try to solve it only lends legitimacy to that logic.

If we get the power plant to shut down soon there is a possibility some momentum could be built, some shift in the narrative around "energy dependency" but that is still a long way from talking about growth or climate justice.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Beware the Breakthrough Institute

I just stumbled on a piece by a fellow at the Break. Inst. named Alex Tremblath. It is super- accelerationist, with a devotion to technology and libertarian "non-ideological" ideology that is actually pretty stunning. The author claims the politics of Left/ Right are outmoded, that now we can divide folks into two new camps; the "upwinging and downwinging", shorthand for optimist true believers and pessimist downers. These Breakthrough folks are the newest champions for growth, development and progress, all uncritically embraced as humanities great destiny.

let's give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they are not just corporate shills but that they just haven't heard of Faustus, that they got addicted to the kool-aid (easy enough to do)and truly believe "human ingenuity" in a competitive setting can solve any problem.

"...growth, technology and accelerated modernization can solve the twin problems of poverty and environmental devastation." In other words, when you have bet large and you are losing your shirt, the best policy is to double-down. Sure, 1 in 6 deaths are attributable to pollution, sure, the insect population is crashing, sure, we have entered the anthropocene, but don't be a "downswinger" a "collapse-porn addict" (Leigh Phillips) and lose faith in progress.

One of Breakthrough's biggest fans is Mr. Reason and Rationality himself, David Brooks of the NYTimes. In a recent column he said we need to keep the faith in "an innovative breakthrough that benefits society" and here I suspect they are talking about nuclear power and fracking for energy, robots and AI for labor and space exploration for a new place to live.

Of course historical amnesia is the key marker for our age, along with worship of the Wise and Powerful Market. Downswinging dommsdayers are being targeted as the enemy of the Enlightenment and Rationality, of hope and optimism by those whose only gaze is Forward. But the ecomodernists: Nordhaus, Shellenberger and crew, are just pigs with lipstick. Their so-called utopian courage is just an apology for maintaining the status quo of the profit system.