Unflinching Truth, Unwavering Hope

I just published, in the Earth Island Journal, a very brief review of “the two exemplary climate crisis books of the current moment.” They are, in case you were wondering, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, by David Wallace-Wells, the newbie, and Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? , by Bill McKibben, the elder. I also comment, in passing, on a few other recent climate books, which I find less exemplary.

Jason Hickel on the “New Optimists”

I don’t know who Jason Hickel is, but I’m in danger of becoming a fan of his. His recent piece, Progress and its Discontents, which was published in New Internationalist in early August, has made the danger acute. Just for starters, it’s an excellent, and data-heavy, critique of Stephen Pinker’s infuriating apologia for today extreme inequality. But it goes far beyond this to show how Pinker and his pal Bill Gates torture the poverty stats in order to support a “New Optimism” that obscures just how terrible the global inequality crisis really is.

Just one quote:

“Consider this rather strange paradox. The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) says that there are 815 million people in the world today who do not have access to enough calories to sustain even ‘minimal’ human activity; some 1.5 billion are food insecure and cannot get enough calories to sustain ‘normal’ human activity; malnutrition is suffered by 2.1 billion. And the FAO says that these numbers are rising. In other words, the $1.90 [poverty] line peddled by Gates and Pinker would have us believe that there are fewer poor people than hungry and malnourished people, and that the number of poor is decreasing even while the number of hungry is rising. “

I can’t recommend this piece too highly, and this despite the fact that it doesn’t have anything to say about the climate crisis.

Climate Code Red – a must read scenario

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The Australian analysts at Climate Code Red are absolutely indispensable, as has been obvious since the 2017 publication of What Lies Beneath. But I’d like to draw special attention to Existential climate-related security risk: A Scenario approach, which they recently published under their new name, “Breakthrough,” which is absolutely not to be confused with the US-based “Breakthrough Institute.”

Seriously, don’t miss this report. It’s mercifully short, and its reference scenario is all too likely. Which is not at all good news. And while you’re at the Breakthrough site, take a look as well at Climate Emergency: What is safe, the 1.5º target, and is the end nigh?, wherein Breakthrough’s David Spratt explains the 1.5C target to an Australian Extinction Rebellion group.

David Spratt on 1.5C

David Spratt, the Australian hawk behind Climate Code Red, and now the Australian Breakthrough Institute, is very good on the science. And on what he calls the “emergency mode.” Not that going into “emergency mode” answer all questions about what must be done, or how to do it. But set that aside for the moment. If what you want is a summary of the science in which there are no punches pulled, watch this presentation, which David gave to a Australian Extinction Rebellion crew in May of 2019

Saudi version of climate justice rejected by developing countries

The drama was high in Katowice when a rotten bloc of four countries (the Saudis, of course, and also the U.S., the Russians and the Kuwaitis) refused to welcome the IPCC report.  But it wasn’t the drama that made the fight an important one.  It was that the Saudi’s argument. . .

“Saudi Arabia’s lead negotiator Ayman Shasly said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report – released in October – ‘shows that [halting warming at 1.5C] is achievable, it’s doable, let’s all do it together, which is not fair. What is the equity in this? Where is history in this?’ ”

. . . has definitely passed its use by date.  Read more here.

Confronting Climate Change in a Deeply Unequal World

The folks at inequality.org recently released this nice brisk introduction to the climate inequality emergency.  It’s a nice intro to the subject, which I cite because it takes inequality and climate crisis as two crises that can no longer be successfully addressed in isolation from each other.   The strategy of the piece is to juxtapose the IPCC’s new special report on Global Warming of 1.5°C and Oxfam’s The Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index 2018. The first of these, in particular, is a milestone document which has deservedly gotten a lot of attention, though few have noted that the IPCC itself has a lot to say about the equity challenge.  See the discussion of this in After Paris: Inequality, Fair Shares, and the Climate Emergency, which was just published by the Civil Society Equity Review coalition.

“The Case for Climate Reparations”

Climate politics can be brutally difficult. You have to tell the truth, for one thing, but if that’s all you do, you lose. The real trick is telling the truth in a helpful manner, one that opens doors. So kudos to Jason Mark, the Editor-in-Chief of Sierra Magazine, who pulls this off nicely in The Case for Climate Reparations, the cover story of the current issue.

The subtitle, “It’s Time the Carbon Barons Paid the Costs for our Unnatural Disasters,” signals the secret of Mark’s success. He’s asking for something real, but he’s not asking for the world. This is the Transitional Justice way. Reparations are just one tool in the toolkit, one device among many. The real challenge is to face history, and to do so in a meaningful way that makes it possible to then move forward.

That said, reparations are a very special device, for they go beyond the recognition of past wrongs to demand paybacks for historical debts. In South Africa, after Apartheid, these are the debts owed by colonizers to their former subjects. Today, in the United States, on the reparations for slavery front, they are the living legacy of the Confederacy, and of “reconstruction” and its cruelties, and of “the new Jim Crow.” (For more on these themes, see The Case for Reparations, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.)

But, again, Mark is making a measured case. He’s not even naming the great challenge of “differentiated responsibilities” a phrase from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that, overplayed in decades of often bitter negotiations, has left the realists terrified of equity in any form. Quiet conveniently terrified, actually. He’s just talking about the fossil corporates, his “carbon barons,” and suggesting that it’s their time on the block, their time to face history.

The Sierra Club should be congratulated for this piece. I hope they don’t have to put up with too much carping for running it.  Because the truth is that, unlike the challenge of mitigation — which can to some degree be met with technology, and market mechanisms, and policy reforms — the challenges of adaptation and loss & damage are absolutely going to elude the devices of politics as usual. When the waters rise in earnest, and they will, when the deserts spread and intensify, and they will, the question of responsibility is going to hang heavy in the air.

In fact, it already does. And facing it in a helpful way is going to be hard. But, hey, we gotta start somewhere. Why not with the fact the Exxon lied?

Oil Change International on the IEA Scenarios

Oil Change International, the very model of an activist climate think tank, has released an excellent critique of the International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) climate scenarios.   It’s called Off Track: The IEA and Climate Change, and it’s well worth your time.  Also note that the principle author of the report, Greg Muttitt, has recorded a concise webinar version of the report which is archived here.

This is pretty technical stuff, but if given that the IEA’s New Policy Scenario is one of the most influential climate / energy projections in all the world, and given that it is massively inconsistent with the Paris temperature goals, it’s also pretty important.

Just one specific point.  The IEA not only has its New Policy Scenario, it also has its so-called Sustainable Development Scenario, and even this latter scenario is nowhere close to being consistent with the Paris temperature goals.  Moreover, the IEA’s conception of this more stringent scenario is nowhere close to being equitable.

This graphic, from the Oil Change report, makes this clear.  It shows that, in the IEA’s view, the bulk of the reductions that need to be made if we’re to increase ambition from the from the New Policy level to the Sustainable Development level, should be made in the developing countries.

If this is what passes for realism in the IEA, we’ve really got a problem.

Kevin Anderson Speaks

It’s two years now since Paris, and time for another dose of Kevin Anderson, straight-shooter extraordinaire.  You can get it by watching this talk, given at Anderson’s home base at  the University of Manchester.  The talk begins at time-code 11:00 and runs until about 42:20.   There’s a lot more to say, but Anderson fits a lot into those 31 minutes.  My only quibble is with his explanation of why the political elites behind the Paris Agreement were so eager to celebrate it, which I find to be painfully thin.   But the mainline of talk is great, as far as it goes, and that’s pretty far, actually.  Here’s a sample slide: