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.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017 Again. I know.

I have spilled considerable digital ink criticizing 350 and its "leader" Bill Mc Kibben and this is just one more shot...but it occurs to me they have utterly failed at mobilizing any kind of climate movement and we see no sign that they have in any way re-considered their ideological underpinnings nor strategy. Today's email message is a call to "send thousands of comments within hours of Pruitt's announcement" to "send a strong message". Yeah right. They absolutely don't get it. The EPA, Pruitt, Trump, none of them give a rat's ass about "comments". But having boxed themselves into the regulatory corner, 350 now finds itself impotent and useless. And slowly taking the whole climate movement down with it.

But it is hardly alone. Look at the anti-war movement, Black Lives Matter, Fight for 15, Occupy, Indivisible, the Bernie folks, etc.., all the "progressive campaigns" that Rebecca Solnit finds inspiring, and tell me where they are hiding. Because I can't see them. Like 350, they chose to fight on the terrain of capitalist "democracy" and they are all sending useless "comments" to those who mock them. They litigate in courts whose judges mock them. They write letters to editors, they click online petitions, and send donations. They field candidates for the Democratic Party. But they pose absolutely no threat to anyone in a position of real power, have no idea where power really abides and have no desire to take power themselves.

350 will defend itself by pointing to "all the great thinks being done on the local level". Well I'm looking out my window and I see nothing changing. Maybe a few more hybrid vehicles, maybe a solar panel or two. The failure in messaging strategy is illustrated by this latest email as well. It proclaims: "The Clean Power Plan would prevent up to 6,600 premature deaths and 150,000 asthma attacks."

In the first place, the Plan was just a rule put in place by an agency, not legislation, so we knew that what the agency giveth, the agency taketh away. In other words, the big "change" they thought they had won was just an illusion. In the second place, not to minimize the seriousness of asthma attacks, but we are facing an existential crisis here, civilization collapse, a terrifying future on a global scale. But if you signal to people it is only about asthma and "premature deaths" (whatever that means), you both confuse them and pacify them. You make those telling the truth sound hyperbolic and you make people think a Presidential Agency Rule can save the earth. Which is bullshit.

Saturday, October 7, 2017


There are volumes being written on the roots of Trumpism. This will just be a quick survey of what I have found valuable. Wendy Brown just published a speech she gave called: Apocalyptic populism in which she identifies Trump as an antidote for perceived white male castration. As a reaction to the discourse of privilege, these perceptions of persecution have attached themselves firmly to the sub-conscious of Joe Everyman left behind by de-industrialization, left feeling impotent by feminism, and left feeling racially embattled by rising numbers of black and brown people.

Annie Kelly has an article in the same periodical (Eurozine) looking at the rise of the so-called "alt-right". She too finds the challenge to white masculinity at the root of this phenomena and I think it is a large part of the cultural anxiety that animates the current populism seen throughout many of the western liberal democracies. Of course Muslim societies are going through their own radical reactions to modern feminism and challenges to cultural identity. I find both analyses compelling and would add here the notion of jouissance as described by Jodi Dean, that is, the obscene enjoyment many feel seeing a wrecking ball smashing up prohibitions and shouting the things no one would whisper.

And then we might add in the ties to a growing libertarianism which sees these same threats in economic terms, as threats to market "freedoms" and individual liberty by an ever-encroaching state. Into this mix I think we should further add Southern Anxiety, a particular resentment arising from the legacy of slave-holding, the Civil War and the modern civil rights movement.Here is where Pat Buchanan meets James Buchanan ( the Chicago School economist, not the idiot President) meets Dukes of Hazard. Southern culture on the skids and taking the whole planet with it.

All this begs the question: Is there a way the anti-capitalist left could tap into this resentment and re-direct it in a positive direction? How could feminism become less threatening to the wounded male ego? We know that the German leftist party Die Linke lost votes to the ethno-nationalist Right in the recent election, but is this a reversible trend? Could chauvinists be turned against their true oppressors, the very market forces they have been taught to worship?

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Pathological Proletariat

The American Worker believes he is a victim. All these immigrants flood his country, taking jobs, driving down wages, seducing women, polluting the race and bringing Sharia Law. But deeper, sublimated and repressed, lies the fear of contagion; fear that these strange people will bring with them the chaos which seems ( watching FOX News) to attach itself to their lives.

And even though the American Workers wages haven't kept up with inflation and he lives in a shithole trailer and his boss treats him like an insect, at least he doesn't live in one of those God-forsaken deserts he sees on TV, at least he hasn't had to put everything on his back and pack his whole family across some border or ocean in a rubber fucking boat.

But even deeper in his psyche is the horrible knowledge that he is complicit in that poor immigrant's plight, that the lifestyle he maintains, crappy as it is compared to the Big Bosses, comes at the expense of those poor bastards crossing the deserts and fleeing the droughts and militias and brutal sectarian violence of his homeland. "Sharia Law" is just the sad lie he tells himself as well as the Real symbol of the chaos he sees on "social media".

So he rallys around the idea of "economic nationalism" and "Making America First" and all the other bullshit they tell him to swallow, because international worker solidarity is not even a vague memory anymore, it's us versus them, and we'll just kill em all and let God sort em out. Keep a low profile, don't draw attention to yourself, hope the teacher doesn't call on you, collect a paycheck and drive back to the baking or flooded trailer house. Get up and do it again.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Bill Must Go

I should just call this blog : "What's Wrong With Mc Kibben" I spend so much time griping about his work, but here's the thing; somehow he got appointed leader/spokesperson of the most prominent climate change organization in the US of A and he is not cutting it. Now, I have no idea if he is given free reign to write whatever he wants or if the 350 board discusses and votes on it...but his/their incoherent theoretical underpinnings means the movement is spinning its wheels. Or worse, actually drifting backwards.

Now I have shown sympathy for "poor Bill" in the past but I am starting to think he may be a clever fossil fuel industry plant, the perfect tool with his goofy looks and mild demeanor. If not, he is simply a danger to us all. With his devotion to reformist policy, market solutions and the Great Promise of Green Capitalism, he is actually more effectively obstructionist than the worst Oklahoma oil whore, climate denier politician, including Trump. Because Bill is

In his latest piece calling for 100% renewables he shouts: "No more half measures." But in the paragraph preceding this radical demand, he says : "what the fight for $15 is to the battle against inequality, 100% renewables is to the struggle for the planets future." Exactly. A fucking half-measure at best! His next demand is even more militantly radical: let capitalism solve the problem in its own time and using its own impeccable logic. He writes:

"In the last few years, engineers have brought the price of renewables so low that, according to many experts, it would make economic sense to switch over even if fossil fuels weren’t wrecking the Earth. That’s why the appeal of 100% Renewable goes beyond the Left."

Cool.No struggle, no ideological antagonism, no right or left issue, just technocratic managers and engineers fixing the problem in the nick of time. Except of course they aren't. While we waited for the "price" of survival to make "economic sense" we have destroyed many lives, many more futures, and foreclosed many possibilities for any kind of real "just transition" for much of the developing world. But Bill is stoked the "price" is finally coming down, however slowly, through whatever magical mechanism. "According to many experts",that is.

So the fossil fuel companies will just realize they have been out-competed in the Sacred Market and concede gracefully, giving up their reserves and profits and power. Sure Bill. How long have you been spouting this line? Decades?

Next we learn that the falling price was because production of solar panels was out-sourced to Chinese sweatshops. "...and the price of panels began to plummet, a freefall that continues to this day." The miracle of the Market, almost in time to save the wealthiest parts of the world. Thank you Chinese labor.