After Sandy, solidarity

Excellent point from Oxfam’s excellent Tim Gore, in a blog post called From superstorm Sandy to climate solidarity: How extreme weather can unlock climate action.  To wit, climate disruption creates opportunities for solidarity, and we had better seize them.

Here’s a bit more:

“This increased confidence in attributing climate change to specific impacts on people’s lives, and on the bottom lines of businesses and entire countries, means weather extremes like Sandy should now be treated as major opportunities to leverage political action on climate change. It’s an idea that has gained increasing attention in recent years, from Alex Evans to David Attenborough (and in Oxfam, Duncan Green’s been haranguing us about getting better at seizing “windows of opportunity” for years).

In the context in which an abrupt change of course is needed to address the climate crisis – one some have compared only to mobilisation for war – crisis moments can create unique windows of opportunity for non-linear political change. That is precisely what we need. They can catalyse clear shifts in the values and priorities of citizens, business and political leaders around the world. Climate disasters in the global North and South alike are reminders of the common threat we face, and of the need to act collectively and urgently to avert yet greater harm.”

Praful Bidwai’s “The Politics of Climate Change and the Global Crisis”

Praful Bidwai is a former Senior Editor at The Times of India and one of South Asia’s most widely published columnists.  He’s also the author of the recent book The Politics of Climate Change and the Global Crisis: Mortgaging Our Future. This book is notable in a number of ways, and not just because it contains a long and coherent chapter called “Alternative Visions: What would an Equitable Global Climate Deal Look Like?”

Bidwai is a rare analyst.  He writes as a man of the South, but at the same time he can be extremely critical of the South’s negotiating postures.  In fact, he devotes an entire chapter — “Rooted in Incoherence: Anomalies and Contradictions in India’s Climate Policy” — to an excoriation of India’s stance in the negotiations, which he judges to be incoherent, duplicitous, and short-sighted, and all of these by virtue of being rooted in an unjust model of development.  His essential claim here is not simply that India’s position is an undemocratic one that ultimately serves its elites, though this is a line he develops at length.  It is also that India’s position is based on unsound ethical claims that cannot possibly support a fair global accord.  That, in particular,

“the per capita norm does not capture, nor is it logically related to, the central concern highlighted by recent climate-related scientific findings: namely, the urgent need to prevent dangerous climate change.”

Continue reading “Praful Bidwai’s “The Politics of Climate Change and the Global Crisis””

Is Pablo Solon still a sign of the times?

Pablo Solon, formerly the Bolivian Ambassador to the United Nations, is not the sort of guy who goes along to get along. You may recall that he delivered a now famous, late night speech explaining why Bolivia chose to “stand alone” by not signing the Cancun climate agreement.  It was, frankly, an astonishing performance, and while I didn’t entirely agree with it, well let’s just say that it punctured a consensus that had gotten just a wee bit too cozy.

Walden Bello, the founder of Focus on the Global South, is similarly not known for timorous opinions.  Walden is plainspoken even by the standards of Asian civil society, and quick to speak of fundamental things — capitalism at the edge being one of them.  These day’s he’s also an elected representative in the Philippine  Congress, where, I’m guessing, reality is more clearly visible that it is in, say, the US Congress.

Together, Solon and Bello have just knocked out Why are climate negotiations locked in a stalemate?, a must read op-ed that ran in the Bangkok Post on September 4, just as the last round of the climate talks was nearing its conclusions.  And it’s not just interesting.  It’s surprising and instructive.  For example:

“The refusal of the North to curb high consumption and the intention of big emerging economies to reproduce the Northern consumption model lies at the root of the deadlock in the climate change negotiations. . .

In reality US and China both want a weaker climate agreement. The US because their influential politicians and corporations are not committed to deep real cuts. China’s leaders realise that the longer they can put off a legally binding agreement, the better for them. . .

The climate talks stalemate is not the result of a contradiction between the two biggest powers but of a common approach not to be obliged to change their policies of consumption, production, and gaining control of natural resources around the world. . .

The position of the delegations of the US and China and many other countries reflects more the concerns of their elites than of their people. . .

The elites of emerging economies are using the just demand of “historical responsibility” or “common but differentiated responsibility” in order to win time and have a weak binding agreement by 2020 that they will be part of. The deliberate prolonging of the stalemate means allowing business as usual. Given that this strategy has led to a dead end, it is imperative that in the UNFCCC negotiations civil society must regain its independent voice and articulate a position distinct from that of the Group of 77 and China.”

Do, please, note the word “just” that appears before the word “demand.”  This is not a rap on the UNFCCC’s equity principles.  It’s a cold-eyed view of the realpolitik of a situation in which the “big emerging economies” have “launched into high-speed, consumption-dependent, and greenhouse gases-intensive growth paths.”

The climate negotiations are getting interesting again, and not a moment too soon.   We are, all of us, in a very tight spot, and while this op-ed will strike some in the South as unhelpful, the key point, for me, is the insistence that “the elites,” and not “the North,” are the key obstacle to mobilization.  In any case, if anything is certain, it’s that “civil society” finding its “independent voice” is a very good idea.

Chris Hedges blows it — apocalyptic radicalism won't save us, nor should it

I hate to rant, but I’m going to anyway.

I collect “apocalyptica” and Chris Hedges’ Life is Sacred went right into the file.  It was the lines “The planet is dying. And we will die with it” that did it.

I’m only writing this because Hedges is good.  Sometimes he’s very good.  But this is not helpful, and not just because the planet is not dying.  It will recover, as I’m sure, in our less hyperbolic moments, we all know.*  It’s also because this kind of hyperbole is based on a fatal refusal of will, and an overarching pessimism that must be refused.

Here’s Hedges’ concluding paragraph:

“Politicians, including Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, serve the demented ends of corporations that will, until the final flicker of life, attempt to profit from our death spiral. Civil disobedience, including the recent decision by Greenpeace activists to chain themselves to a Gazprom supply vessel and obstruct a Russian oil rig, is the only meaningful form of resistance. Voting is useless. But while I support these heroic acts of resistance, I increasingly fear they may have little effect. This does not mean we should not resist. Resistance is a moral imperative. We cannot use the word “hope” if we do not fight back. But the corporations will employ deadly force to protect their drive to extract the last bit of profit from life. We can expect only mounting hostility from the corporate state. Its internal and external security apparatus, as the heedless exploitation and its fatal consequences become more apparent, will seek to silence and crush all dissidents. Corporations care nothing for democracy, the rule of law, human rights or the sanctity of life. They are determined to be the last predator standing. And then they too will be snuffed out. Unrestrained hubris always leads to self-immolation”

I wish I could remember the name of the fallacy here, the one in which an opinion becomes so large and monochromatic that it overwhelms proportion.   And in this case, even hope.

We can do better than this.

* The fate of our civilization, of course, is more uncertain.

After capitalism? A quick note from a climate hawk

Kudos to George Monbiot, who just wrote one of his good columns.  Really good, though I think the title may be wrong.  It’s called After Capitalism, and it makes the main point clearly and with animated brio.  To wit,

To answer the question of what the world will look like after capitalism, we first have to decide what we mean by capitalism. If it means a system that arises from lending money at interest, then there will be no “after capitalism”. . .  If on the other hand capitalism means something like the current dispensation, which allows a few people to seize much of the wealth generated by everyone, which blocks social mobility, which re-engineers the political system to serve the economic elite, then, yes, there’s a lot we can do about it.

For the past 200 years, men and women have fought stoicly for political democracy. Now we should fight for economic democracy. The natural wealth of the world, its land, its soils, its crops, minerals, water, forests, fish, is limited. The wealth arising from its use and multiplied through all the complex layers of the modern economy, is also limited, bounded ultimately, as the subprime mortgage crisis showed us, by the real value of assets in the physical world. Just as it was wrong for monarchs and aristocrats to concentrate so much political power in their hands, so it is wrong that billionaires and corporations should be permitted to seize so much of the common treasury of humankind: the wealth arising from the use of a finite planet.

We deserve a political and economic system that redistributes both wealth and the decisions about how it is used. Not communism, but an advanced form of social democracy. . .

This last point is critical, because “social democracy” is a variant of capitalism (which is the issue with the title).  “Economic democracy” is a more open-ended notion, and could go either way.  In any case, and at the risk of appearing ridiculous, let me say that there has to be a way forward that does not demand the entire overthrow of the capitalist system as a precondition of social-ecological renewal.  There simply has to be, because given the short time we now have to embrace transformational change – a time too short to evolve and deploy a whole new political economy – the alternative is that we would be doomed.

But we are not doomed.  We’re in danger, sure, but we’re still alive, and can still make our own histories, and it follows that we are not doomed.  Thus it cannot be that “capitalism,” per se, is the problem.  It must be this particular capitalism that’s at issue, and in particular its drive to concentrate both power and wealth within a self-serving and increasingly incompetent elite caste.  All of which, it seems, we are condemned to debate within the cramped and distorting confines of a strange and overarching metaphor, the one in which the problem is something called “growth.”

Which brings us to the “green growth” debate, though it will have to wait.

Todd Stern: Half Right, All Wrong

There was a bit a firestorm in the climate world a few weeks back.  It started after Todd Stern, the US special envoy for climate change made a speech that included the following comment:

“For many countries, the core assumption about how to address climate change is that you negotiate a treaty with binding emission targets stringent enough to meet a stipulated global goal – namely, holding the increase in global average temperature to less than 2° centigrade above pre-industrial levels – and that treaty in turn drives national action.  This is a kind of unified field theory of solving climate change – get the treaty right; the treaty dictates national action; and the problem gets solved.  This is entirely logical. It makes perfect sense on paper.  The trouble is it ignores the classic lesson that politics – including international politics – is the art of the possible.”

The firestorm?  Basically, Stern was attacked for turning his back on the 2C target.  See for example, Kate Sheppard in Mother Jones here, and Foreign Policy here, and all sorts of other public and list-bound communications, many of them from the South.  Even the EU was upset.

Stern then issued a clarification, which did in fact clarify.  The emphasis here is mine:

Continue reading “Todd Stern: Half Right, All Wrong”

Hansen's smoking gun

Remember when climate change was something our grandchildren were going to have to deal with?

That was then.  Today, we’re in a different world.  It’s impossible to say exactly when we made the transition, though the usual sense is that it occurred sometime between, say, 2010 – a catastrophic  year in which, for example, Pakistan (as in “nuclear-armed Pakistan”) suffered floods so epic and destructive that they actually pushed the population down the ladder of development — and, say, 2012, the year in which the dust-bowlification of the American heartland became a fact on the ground.

James Hansen uses a more scientific dating system.  In his new paper, Public Perception of Climate Change, written with Makiko Sato and Reto Ruedy and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science on August 6th, he proceeds by setting a formal baseline, which he does in terms of the three decades from 1951 to 1980.  These were the last of the old epoch.  Since then, we’ve no longer been in the Holocene, but rather have been busily drilling ourselves further and further into the Anthropocene.

Or, to use Hansen’s favorite metaphor, we’ve been busily loading the “climate dice.”  Back in the Holocene, two faces of the dice were (red) “hot,” two were (white) “average,” and two were (blue) “cold.”  Today,

“we find that actual summer-mean temperature anomalies over global land during the past decade averaged about 75% in the “hot category”, thus midway between four and five sides of the die were red.”

Continue reading “Hansen's smoking gun”

Rio+20 — a brief bottom line

I was considering writing a Rio+20 review, but what’s the point?  There are plenty of them on the net, and in any case, you’ve probably made your own judgements already.

Do note, when deciding who to believe, that despair is not our friend.  Not that “hope,” as we usually know it, is much better.  But the challenge before us is clearly to save ourselves, and as much of First Nature as we can, and in this regard, it’s helpful to know — if only as a matter of pacing — that humanity’s total footprint is about twice as large as it was back in 1992.

Speaking of pacing, the schedule to flesh out the Sustainable Development Goals proposal calls for action by 2015, which is the same year that the climate negotiators have penciled in for their next big breakthrough.   Lots of luck to everyone, ourselves included.

Meanwhile, and for the record, here is The People’s Sustainability Treaty on Equity, which I was pleased to work on.  And here’s a good site for the Peoples’ Sustainability Treaties as a group.


I picked my favorite “Rio was not a disaster” piece.  It’s by Chee Yoke Ling of the Third World Network, and it’s called Renewed Political Commitment Obtained.  I would have added “at least on paper” to the title, but this is not TWN’s point.  Which, to be clear, is that Rio was a successful defensive battle, and that — at least on the “Common but differentiated responsibilities front” — we have lived to fight another day.

In any case, before being too blue about Rio, keep in mind the state of the climate talks.  Until we have a breakthrough on that front, we can’t really expect transformative change on any other.  At least not at the inter-governmental level.

Best thing on post-Durban so far, IMHO

Can I pick out one article or commentary and say that it’s the “best piece” on Durban so far?

I nominate Looking Beyond Durban: Where to from Here? by Navroz K. Dubash, a policy activist at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.  It’s short, it’s diplomatic, it’s well-informed by what other commentators have argued, and most of all its forward looking.  It focuses, that is, on the real issue, which is “Reconceptualising Climate Equity” after Durban.

You should read the whole thing, but here’s the key bit:

“A re-formulated approach to climate equity should embrace an important distinction between responsibility for an action or culpability and responsibility to respond, or a duty (Rajamani 2011b). An approach that combines attention to industrialized countries’ historical responsibility for the problem with an embrace of the responsibility to explore low carbon development trajectories is both ethically defensible and strategically wise. Ironically, our own domestic national approach of actively exploring “co-benefits” – policies that promote development while also yielding climate gains – suggests that we do take climate science seriously and have embraced responsibility as duty. However, by focusing on articulating rigid principles, rather than building on our actual policies and actions, we weaken our own position. Is accepting a responsibility (understood as duty) to explore low carbon development pathways (as part of a larger package that keeps focus on industrialised country culpability) a slippery slope towards ever more onerous commitments? The answer depends, in part, on the domestic policy and regulatory framework that India establishes to implement its chosen approach of pursuing co-benefits. If this framework is robust, leads to domestic actions that actively explore low carbon options, and to tangible carbon gains, then India is well placed to defend itself against further demand

Development without Carbon: Climate and the Global Economy through the 21st Century

Elizabeth Stanton, an economist at the Stockholm Environment Institute who is active in the Economics for Equity and Environment (the E3 Network), has done a service in Development without Carbon.  It’s a crystal-clear paper that lays out a simple framework for thinking about equitable development within a constrained emissions space — like this planet.  It’s goal, particularly, is to show that traditional economic models are not up to the job, but that the job itself remains doable.

Continue reading “Development without Carbon: Climate and the Global Economy through the 21st Century”