Peak Oil – Are we there yet?

Jason Marks, the editor of the increasingly interesting Earth Island Journal, asked me to be the “minus” in Peak Oil – Are we there yet? — a debate on Peak Oil and Climate Change.  The “plus” side is argued by Aaron G. Lehmer-Chang of Bay Localize.  He definitely has a point, though, personally, I think I make the stronger argument, in a brief piece called Peak Oil as Wishful thinking.  Alas, my son doesn’t like it.  He particularly doesn’t like the phrase “shock troops of idiot neoliberalism.”

Sigh . . .

Worse than I thought

The Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report is a useful item.  In a world where income statistics are generally the best we can do, it leverages its customized Swiss-banker research machine to estimate the real stats, the ones about wealth itself.  Wealth as in ownership.  I say “estimate” because, well, the really rich don’t particularly like being studied.  Anyway, Global Wealth Report 2013 contains some stats I’ve been looking for.  Here’s they are, from page 10:

“Our estimates for mid-2013 indicate that once debts have been subtracted, an adult requires just USD 4,000 in assets to be in the wealthiest half of world citizens. However, a person needs at least USD 75,000 to be a member of the top 10% of global wealth holders, and USD 753,000 to belong to the top 1%. Taken together, the bottom half of the global population own less than 1% of total wealth. In sharp contrast, the richest 10% hold 86% of the world’s wealth, and the top 1% alone account for 46% of global assets.”

Here’s a picture that, among other things, shows you where there rich actually live:

How Science Is Telling Us All To Revolt

Another great piece from Naomi Klein, one she called “How Science Is Telling Us All To Revolt.”  Seems like the theme of her forthcoming book is becoming pretty clear. . .

Klein opens with Brad Werner’s legendary presentation at the last AGU meeting in San Francisco, and goes on from there.

There was one dynamic in the model, however, that offered some hope. Werner termed it “resistance” – movements of “people or groups of people” who “adopt a certain set of dynamics that does not fit within the capitalist culture”. According to the abstract for his presentation, this includes “environmental direct action, resistance taken from outside the dominant culture, as in protests, blockades and sabotage by indigenous peoples, workers, anarchists and other activist groups”.

Serious scientific gatherings don’t usually feature calls for mass political resistance, much less direct action and sabotage. But then again, Werner wasn’t exactly calling for those things. He was merely observing that mass uprisings of people – along the lines of the abolition movement, the civil rights movement or Occupy Wall Street – represent the likeliest source of “friction” to slow down an economic machine that is careening out of control. We know that past social movements have “had tremendous influence on . . . how the dominant culture evolved”, he pointed out. So it stands to reason that, “if we’re thinking about the future of the earth, and the future of our coupling to the environment, we have to include resistance as part of that dynamics”. And that, Werner argued, is not a matter of opinion, but “really a geophysics problem”.

Read me.

OECD Secretary General calls for rapid transition to global zero carbon economy

The OECD is of course a keystone institution of the wealthy world.  And yet its new report, Climate and carbon: Aligning prices and policies, and in particular this speech by Angel Gurria, its Secretary General, is excellent, concise, and surprisingly frank.

For example:

I’ve come here today to argue that whatever policy mix we cook up, it has to be one that leads to the complete elimination of emissions to the atmosphere from the combustion of fossil fuels in the second half of the century . . . We don’t need to get to zero tomorrow. Not even in 2050, although we should be a long way down the track by then. But sometime in the second half of the century we will need to arrive there.

How are we going to do so?  With a policy mix designed to price carbon, phase out coal, increase the ambition of the current pledges, get beyond policy wobbles on renewables, and phase-out fossil-fuel subsides.

Continue reading “OECD Secretary General calls for rapid transition to global zero carbon economy”

Equity as Strategy: It’s not four years after Copenhagen; it’s two years before Paris!

Among my many hats, I help to coordinate the Climate Action Network’s Equity Working Group. Two things to know here. One is that CAN is a network of over 850 Non-governmental Organization in more than 90 countries. The other is that it’s been toiling in the dry fields of climate diplomacy for a long, long time.

The Equity Working Group is also known as the Effort Sharing Working Group, a complication of language that’s perhaps a bit confusing to people unfamiliar with the dialect spoken inside the conference halls. Or maybe not. This is, after all, 2013, and the rules of the great inside / outside game that is international climate politics are pretty well known. In any case, there’s no background in this brief post (though if you want some, see The Climate Talks: Could an equity tipping point be on the horizon?).  What you have here is just a few quick pointers, before the 19th Conference of Parties opens in Warsaw.

At this point, there’s quite a bit of cynicism about the international climate talks. But note two subtleties. First, nothing else has worked either. Second, these are not the negotiations as we knew them before Copenhagen. In the conference halls as on the rest of the climate battlefield, the stakes are clearer, and the tensions higher. Moreover, some key pieces have been moved. Not that there’s been a breakthrough, not yet, but there are real forward-looking elements in the mix. The equity debate, in particular, has come a long way.

Continue reading “Equity as Strategy: It’s not four years after Copenhagen; it’s two years before Paris!”

"Dangerous Climate Change" is already here, and the scientists know it.

The IPCC’s new assessment report hasn’t even been released, but the denialist fog machine is already running hard.  If you’re tired of it — and, frankly, if you’re tired of the smoothly-leveled understatement that we usually get from the IPCC — take a look at Is Climate Change Already Dangerous?, a new report by David Spratt of Australia’s Climate Code Red.

I’ll not summarize this report; there’s no point because it’s already a summary, one which sticks extremely close to the original scientific literature.  But I will say that its focus is the Arctic, which as you may have noticed is getting a lot of nervous attention these days.  And this for the very good reason that it’s melting before our eyes!  Spratt’s paper is excellent on this subject – it lays out the basics of the situation and gives you the citations you need to drill deeper.  Assuming you’re up to it.  The message, after all, is that we’ve already crossed the thin red line into the days of “dangerous climate change.”

What’s happening here?  Here’s a nice overview from Professor Peter Wadhams, of Cambridge University and the Catlin Arctic Survey.  The author of a recent paper called Arctic ice cover, ice thickness and tipping points and a leading authority on the polar regions, Wadhams says:

“I have been predicting [the collapse of sea ice in summer months] for many years. The main cause is simply global warming: as the climate has warmed there has been less ice growth during the winter and more ice melt during the summer… in the end the summer melt overtook the winter growth such that the entire ice sheet melts or breaks up during the summer months. This collapse, I predicted would occur in 2015–16 at which time the summer Arctic (August to September) would become ice-free. The final collapse towards that state is now happening and will probably be completed by those dates. As the sea ice retreats in summer the ocean warms up (to +7ºC in 2011) and this warms the seabed too. The continental shelves of the Arctic are composed of offshore permafrost, frozen sediment left over from the last ice age. As the water warms, the permafrost melts and releases huge quantities of trapped methane, a very powerful greenhouse gas so this will give a big boost to global warming.” (Vidal, 2012)

Continue reading “"Dangerous Climate Change" is already here, and the scientists know it.”

After Denialism? Obviously not, but . . .

Back on April 1st, I published a long piece called Everybody Knows: Climate Denialism has peaked. Now what are we going to do?, which argued, among much else else, that denialism had peaked.  This is, to me, a more or less self-evident truth, but some of my friends seem to think it’s just wishful thinking. Which is too bad, because the “Now what are we going to do?” question really ought to be all we’re talking about.

In this line, Dave Roberts, over at Grist, just published Conservatives seek alternatives to climate denialism, come up short, and it’s a must read. As Leonard Cohen put it, “There’s a mighty judgement coming, but I might be wrong.”

News Flash: Money makes you selfish!

I know it’s hard to believe, but watch Exploring the Psychology of Wealth, ‘Pernicious’ Effects of Economic Inequality. It’s a brief report by the PBS Newshour’s Paul Solman, no raving leftie he, and it’s worth even waiting out the leading advert from . . . Goldman Sachs!

The research being reported here is by UC Berkeley psychologists Dacher Keltner and Paul Piff, and it’ll seem more than a bit familiar to anyone who’s read The Spirit Level.  That said, this is a tidy, amusing, and convincing take on the corrosion that is economic stratification.

The report begins with the fact that the drivers of luxury cars are “anywhere from three or four times” more likely to cut off pedestrians that people driving less expensive cars, and goes on to observe that rich people steal more candy in fake psychological tests, and are more likely to cheat in a game of chance, lie during negotiations, endorse unethical behavior, or steal at work.

Watch this spot, if only for the story of the rigged Monopoly game.  The one in which the “person assigned the role of rich person” gets to roll an extra time. . .

“we found consistently with people who were the rich players that they actually started to become, in their behavior, as if they were like rich people in real life. They were more likely to eat from a bowl of pretzels that we positioned off to the side. They ate with their mouths full, so they were a little ruder in their behavior to the other person.”

And just the opposite too:

“If I take someone who is rich and make them feel psychologically a little less well-off, they become way more generous, way more charitable, way more likely to offer help to another person.”

Maybe that’s the bright side?

Fractals of Climate Equity (or why intra-national inequality should be part of the debate on equity at the UNFCCC and elsewhere)

By Tim Gore (Oxfam International)

A year ago I presented the Climate Action Network’s (CAN’s) emerging position on equity in the 2015 deal at the UNFCCC workshop on “Equitable Access to Sustainable Development”. I said we believed that equity had hung like the sword of Damocles over the talks for too long, and that it was high time Parties took hold of that sword and used it to shape a fair and ambitious regime. At least some of them seem slowly to be doing so.

I wasn’t at the annual Bonn talks this year, but I hear the equity debate ripened, and the CAN position with it. At its heart, the CAN approach is one of principled pragmatism, that charts a middle ground between those who say there are no objective standards of equity – that ‘equity is in the eye of the beholder’ – and those who claim a single formula can and should determine each country’s commitments to climate action.

Instead CAN has called for an “equity corridor” to be built – a set of commonly understood principles and indicators that can establish the normative parameters of what can reasonably be expected of different countries, in order to inform (not determine) the political negotiations. In Bonn this year, this became a call for an ex ante “Equity Reference Framework” – and several champions, including Kenya, South Africa and the Gambia, and groups across civil society emerged to support it.

Continue reading “Fractals of Climate Equity (or why intra-national inequality should be part of the debate on equity at the UNFCCC and elsewhere)”

GDRs shows its head in Bloomberg piece from Bonn

A new piece by Alex Morales on features the rather unambiguous title of Climate Fix That’s Fair Assigns U.S. Three Times Chinese Effort. It begins with these paras:

“A fair climate fix would assign the U.S. almost three times the effort of cutting carbon dioxide output as China, which in 2006 became the biggest emitter, research by the Stockholm Environment Institute suggests.

The U.S., the biggest historical emitter, would have responsibility for 29.1 percent of the greenhouse gas cuts needed in 2020 to keep the planet on a pathway that avoids the worst effects of global warming, according to the institute’s calculations. That compares with 10.4 percent for China, 22.9 percent for the European Union and 1.2 percent for India.

The research aims to quantify how the principle of equity can guide emissions targets being devised at United Nations climate talks among more than 190 nations that aim to write by 2015 a new treaty to take hold from 2020. Two weeks of discussions began today in Bonn, Germany. Debate about fairness has frequently stalled the discussions as nations wrangle over who bears the greatest responsibility for tackling climate change.”

The piece is worth reading, for it’s a glimpse into the next round of the climate talks, which seems like they may finally face reality. Ethical reality as well as scientific reality.

The piece extensively quotes the Stockholm Environment Institute’s Sivan Kartha, and features numbers from the Greenhouse Development Rights framework. The real news, though, is that the “fair shares” discussion is no longer confined to a few activist networks and research institutes. There are rumblings of a larger effort, perhaps even a semi-official one.

What’s not clear in this piece is that we can easily afford to save our civilization. This has always been the case, though the politics are rather challenging, and people have balked at drawing conclusions.

The difference now is that everyone can now see the elephant in the room.