Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

The Right and Climate Change

July 28, 2017

Not all people who identify with the mainstream right refuse to be persuaded by the evidence that climate change is real, or that its humanly generated, or that crisis may be coming. Not all climate scientists are left of centre for one, and I’ve met, and heard of plenty of people on the right who wish their party would do a little more. And, in the US, some Republicans have been getting angry about the way that established powers try to stop them from using cheaper renewable energy and so on. Admittedly you rarely see this news in the corporately owned and controlled media, but you can find it if you bother to search.

So the question might be “why is the right party elite so opposed to recognizing climate change, and why are the committed deniers so committed to ignoring the evidence, or saying things like ‘climate changes all the time’, as if this was something climate scientists were not aware of?”

Most obviously, we have a problem in that the build up to climate change is, in human terms slow – its taken at least 50 years (since the 1970s) to get to where we are now. However, when the system changes state it will probably do this in a fairly short period of time, after years of building up. That’s how complex systems behave.

So until it is too late, it is relatively easy to pretend that its all normal, and the continuing series of hottest years ever recorded, glaciers melting and so on, are not doing that much harm, or are just normal, or just freaky weather events. We also get used to things being different, so people can say “we were snowed out, and thus there is no climate change”, when thirty years ago they would have spent a lot more time being snowed out. We can also spend a lot more on artificial snow for ski resorts that don’t really have the falls they used to – but it looks the same.

There is another problem that arises, because specific predictions in a complex system are really difficult. Thus we can say the weather will probably become wilder, and significantly different, but we may not quite know in what way. So people get frustrated with some failed predictions (the general trend is more reasonably accurate, if more disturbing than expected) and assume all predictions are worthless. Especially if they are really defending something else….

Cynics could say that the US Republican Party, or the Australian Liberal Party’s resistance arises because some of their elite are so committed to the liberty of established wealth and power. Anything which might compromise that liberty, or give ordinary people a chance, must be repelled. Indeed we can see members of that elite cheer when corporations are given more freedom to stamp on ordinary people, exploit them, maim or injure them and so on. They cheer when corporations are given extra permission to freeload on others by polluting and poisoning the world. That was almost the first thing the Republicans did when they got a President. They gave corporations more liberty to hurt people. So that position is pretty basic. We have had close to 40 years of praising free markets and corporate power and business competence, and very little has improved, unless you were wealthy to begin with, or thought more corporate power was a good thing. The mainstream right are unashamedly neoliberal in their policies.

For these people, the problem is that it would seem that the fairly easy actions we could take to lessen the risk of rapid climate change and ecological crisis, might affect the profitability of some established powers in the sacred corporate sector. Personally, I might think they would primarily be affected if they were stupid – but that is the sort of thing you cannot say as the common sense is that business knows best.

Parties today require funding, and so funding is important, and those established people can spend lots of money (money is power) supporting political deniers, providing dubious research, arguments from principle, or casting doubt on whatever seems real. Their allies in the media can report as if climate change was undecided, or not a threat and so on. The media can more or less ignore it as a problem, as they generally do.

Members of the establishment probably reckon that if they keep getting wealthy at everyone else’s expense, then they will be able to survive easily enough; wealth remains power when its concentrated. So they don’t have to worry, so what if other people get hurt? They might have more to worry about personally if coal was discontinued for example. Hence we hear Exxon and members of the electricity generating industry have been aware of the evidence for global warming for decades, but did not allow it to get in the way of profit. And profit is the real god.

For this elite, affecting profit negatively is bad. Lots of people will support this position to be on side, or to make the others evil. Hence nothing will be done, until those who currently control mainstream right parties and their media propaganda decide that profit is not everything, and that it might be nice if normal Americans or Australians had a chance, for a change…

Self-preservation & Climate Change

July 26, 2017

Ideas of “self preservation” or “genetic preservation” (making sure your genes survive in your kids), have been around for a long time and seem popular in a culture of individualism, consumerism and neoliberalism, but they don’t seem to have helped us deal with climate change at all. Nothing. These ideas may even be obstacles to us doing anything constructive. After all, the mainstream right seems to regard these kinds of ideas as fundamental – you, and nobody else, are responsible for your own survival. If you stuff up, then its not in my interests to help you back up, unless I do so charitably.

Partly I think the problem with self-preservation arises because in a complex system (and ecological and social systems are usually complex) it’s not absolutely clear what actions are in one’s self interest or contribute to self-preservation. Does it help your self-preservation to boost coal consumption as that has helped with lots of things in the past, or is it in your interests, to abandon coal and head for an uncertain future? Sure if you are wealthy and you are making money out of despoiling the world then you might think you should continue that action, as your accumulating wealth is as likely to protect you and your offspring, as anything else is. But that doesn’t help solve the problem, it makes it worse.

That is also the case for most of our socially approved actions; they seem to be part of the problem. They seem to make things worse. So following self-preservation as your guide could well lead to unresolvable problems, problems in which you try and dump everyone else in it. That is why climate change is an existential problem. We don’t know how to exist in it. We don’t know yet how to imagine life in it.

On top of that, because climate change is complex and existentially challenging, it can seem like everything is too big. It is beyond us. Actions we can take are actions at a local scale. Who can change the weather? Nothing we do apparently makes any difference. So we don’t do anything. We magnify the opposition, and are rendered incapable. Furthermore, it seems obvious, that individualistic action is not enough. We can only preserve ourselves with others. We depend on others. This is hard if we are focused on self-preservation. These others might free-ride on us, and hold us back.

So, to me, it seems like there needs to be something beyond self preservation. That is why we I’m arguing that we might need generosity.

Generosity has been around for a long time, it is a basic human configuration, and has not (as far as I know) been a feature of our cultural response to climate change, while self-preservation and justice have been. With climate generosity, we act without calculation, without fear of losing. We act to inspire. We just give what we can give, beyond what we need to give. We work towards becoming the solution, without expectation or demands on others.

Climate Justice???

July 25, 2017

The idea of “Climate Justice” perturbs me. It seems self-destructive, or self- undermining.

‘Justice’ as it works, usually involves two kinds of processes:

1) Defining someone as evil and punishing them for it. This requires violence for enforcement, and creates resentment and self-righteousness. It encourages projection, shadow play, in Jungian terms. In this set up there is only good and evil, whereas in a complex ecological and social systems there is neither, there is mainly mutual implication.

2) Appeals to fairness. But it is never fair that we have to give up anything while others benefit… hence we do nothing. Piers Ackerman was arguing the other day that it is unfair for Australia to do something when we produce so little CO2 (even thought we produce massive amounts per head of population). This is a common anti-global warming tactic, which avoids responsibility.

Justice arguments are continually used by India and China to justify their massive expansion of coal. They are used by the Australian government to justify the Adani mine – shared prosperity for all, the war on poverty and so on. They are routinely used by people to argue that Australia can make no difference, so those people who request that we act are making unjust, or unfair, demands upon us, consequently we don’t have to act.

As a result of these problems or co-options, it might be better to avoid ‘justice’ altogether and phrase action in terms of “climate generosity”, attempting to come from humans ‘good’ side (and through modes of status acquisition through gifting) rather than our punitive side.

Climate Generosity requires that we do more than is necessary or just – we are generous, we act beyond what is required of us, without much hesitation. We are magnanimous, excessive.

Climate generosity does not have to involve allocations of guilt and blame and suggests that we are ‘in this together’ and ‘working together’, and thus acknowledges the systemic nature of the problem.

Generosity upsets the power relations based on old habits, while justice requires enforcers. Generosity combines both individual and social action, and appeals to the greater good of everyone, without demanding victory. It does not say ‘we won’t act until its fair’, it simply sets an example to be emulated or ignored. It gets on with the job, and cultivates a sense of responsibility.

If we only do what is just then we will not do anything much, we will only go to the boundaries of what is needed – we will be continually check to make sure others are not freeloading or acting unfairly. We will not act first.

However, if we replace justice by generosity, then we can go over those boundaries – “yes it might be cheaper and just to sell goal, but how about we help you build renewables? How about we cut back more of our emissions than would be our fair or just share? Why should we wait for others to act so that it is fair, lets be generous and act now!”

Why are experts less respected?

July 6, 2017

There seems to be some general argument that experts are now no longer valued because all opinions are held to be equal, and because of “the rise of popularism,” rage, or “anti-estabishmentism”. These positions both beg the question of whether these are separate conditions, whether anyone actually thinks that someone else’s opinion is as good as theirs and which ignore analysis of the question of the socio-psychological basis for these views.

It seems to me that people judge information by information they already hold, which is backed up by the groups they are in allegiance with. This is the socially reinforced aspect of what is known as “confirmation bias” (where a person seeks evidence and opinions which agrees with their existing opinions), or of “belief bias” (where people first of all accept a conclusion as correct and then are largely uncritical of the arguments leading to that conclusion, or engineer arguments for the conclusion.)

People who seem to be good members of groups that other people see themselves as allied with (ingroups) are always more persuasive than people who seem to be exemplary members of groups they are opposed to (outgroups). The more groups can be made to separate, and the more people can fear exile from their groups, then the more this group bias occurs. Communication and reasoning are more about group bonding than about the nature of the world. During our evolution, group bonding, cooperation with our ingroup and maintaining a good reputation, was probably far more important to human survival than anything else.

Since the end of communism, we have had experts in one group (largely privately sponsored) claiming that free markets will produce liberty and meaning, which they don’t; in practice they produce corporate domination, distribution of wealth away from most people, unemployment, inflation of the economy to the be all and end all of life, and a less useful and participatory State. These results produce massive discontent, and thus risks disturbing actions.

In self-defense, the elite of this group seem to have made a very determined attempt to use the above ‘facts’ about human communication to attack those experts who dispute the virtues of privatizing everything or who dispute the universal beneficial consequences of such policies: they do not belong to our group; they are politically biased; they are immoral unlike us; they are sick; they are engaged in socialist conspiracies to thwart human freedom; they are an elite with nothing in common with us; they are out of touch; they want to take your money, and so on.

The aim of the process seems to be to separate groups and stop members of each group from talking to each other, and to stop trust in experts, by upping the abuse levels (see the Murdoch media), suggesting that talking with these outgroup experts means you are not really one of us (RINOs) and by engaging in largely distractionary “culture wars” – although the culture wars help reinforce the idea that the other groups are immoral and not worth listening to on anything. If there are other social processes reinforcing the separation of social groups into physically separate enclaves or conversational groups, then this move is easier.

The more fantastical the propositions being defended, ie ‘free markets’ produce liberty, corporate power is always good, coal is great for ecological and public health, then the more this kind of process becomes the best way of winning arguments, and supporting established power – until it breaks down and violence becomes more necessary to enforce the order being defended.

This movement against ‘experts’ is not an anti-establishment movement, it is a movement which is tied to an establishment which contradicts known things about social and ecological dynamics in the support of its power, even if it eventually leads to break down of that establishment.

Attacks on experts are socially motivated and proposed solutions have to bear this in mind. Simply defending expertise or attacking the groups attacking the experts will not persuade them of the experts virtues, it will likely do the opposite.

Trump and “Energy Dominance”

July 4, 2017

It has just been dirty energy week in the US. If you look at Trump’s speech, then the priorities are clear.

First he attacks the media, and the democrats, and once the essential stuff is done away with, he is very specific.

“Energy dominance” means removing any restrictions on coal and gas. Approving pipelines, including one taking oil to Mexico under the wall. Ending the EPA, so poisoning the population is ok. Expanding nuclear energy. Financing overseas coal plants to support US coal exports. Opening public land (that presumably include national parks) to mining. There is an implication that dirty fuel exports will increase, and imports will decline.

There is a further statement which clarifies all this, should you need it.

“For too long, we’ve been held back by burdensome regulations on our energy industry. President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule.”

“We must take advantage of the estimated $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, especially those on federal lands that the American people own.”

“reviving America’s coal industry, which has been hurting for too long.”

There is also a sop to Republican Environmentalists “with responsible stewardship of the environment. Protecting clean air and clean water, conserving our natural habitats, and preserving our natural reserves and resources will remain a high priority.” But there is no evidence of this.

With this kind of government help, fossil fuel could survive and flourish. Certainly renewables could be set back. For Trump, and established business, Climate change is ignored and ignorable. Just a burden on profit.

Conscience, knowledge and Action

July 4, 2017

Stephen Hawking has been talking about Earth becoming like Venus: unliveable.

Generating conditions such as those on Venus, is probably unlikely – and its probably not useful to mention them, as it gives people an excuse not to believe anything about ecological crisis, or to cop out from action, claiming these are just tales of gloom and doom, nothing real.

I have also heard tales of gloom and doom my entire life. However, it is true that we only avoided nuclear war by the finest of margins. Both Russia and the US were about to make mistaken responses on several occasions, and it was only the reluctance of the people on the ground to launch that saved us. We have depended on individual people acting according to their conscience and understanding. They risked unapproved action. Avoiding catastrophe now, requires the same conscience and understanding and action.

It is a simple matter of logic that you cannot keep destroying, and demanding more from, the environment that you depend on for ever. It would seem that we are reaching the ends of what we can demand from the world in quite a few different systems, some of which get no media attention at all (peak phosphorus for example). The breaking of these systems will produce massive tumult and destruction.

If we continue as we are doing, conditions for any complex civilisation will get more and more precarious. Continuing is not a conservative policy, it is a destructive one.

It is not Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement that is the problem. It is Trump’s slackening of rules which allow corporations to poison people and the environment, together with his regulative hostility to renewables that is the problem.

Basically, action in the US has to be at the State level. It has to refuse more coal mines and coal based power stations and phase out those which exist. We have to stop fracking, and stop the leakage of gas through crappy pipelines. We have to encourage renewables. We have to make corporations responsible for the pollution and poison they produce. There are no economic externalities in a (more or less) closed system. Non of this will be easy and it may have deleterious consequences as we sort things out and change expectations.

It will involve a massive political conflict, but Trump just makes this explicit. Under Clinton it would have been obstruction in Congress, and the hope that things will be alright. Under Trump there is no Congressional obstruction to destruction, and people have to take back their own power and conscience. There is no alternative. It is up to you and your ability to cooperate with others.

On consensus: scientific and otherwise

July 4, 2017

It is always useful to point out that scientific consensus is an agreement amongst scientists in the field about what the evidence implies. So the consensus on climate change means that by far the great majority of climate scientists are persuaded by the evidence that climate change is real and that this real climate change is humanly caused. There is also a theoretical back drop which explains how and why this climate change is occurring, and there is no obvious contradiction or failings in the theory which is leading it to be challenged. Scientists may later modify their positions if the evidence changes. However, it is unlikely they will modify their position to the extent that they argue climate change is not happening, and is not going to produce massive disruption.

We might compare this with the consensus amongst right wing people that free markets are wonderful.

There is no empirical evidence for free market theory – indeed one school of free market theory says no evidence is needed. There is no agreement amongst economists or social theorists that free markets always work or deliver what is promised by their advocates. When applied the theory does not appear to deliver the results promised. It does appear to deliver what cynics say it is meant to deliver (that is more corporate power and more plutocracy). There is no empirical or theoretical consensus. There used to be no political consensus either, Conservatives were well aware that capitalism destroyed all values and traditional social institutions that got in the way of profit. Such real conservatives are no longer common.

Yet the right insist that free markets are the fundamental truth of governance, liberty and prosperity.

Usually the problems with free market theory and its lack of acceptance by independent economists or social theorists is explained away as “left wing bias”, or even “communism” or “conspiracy”. Sometimes it is explained away by saying free market theory is never applied, but in that case we cannot know it will result in goodness when it is applied in full purity. The point is that when it is applied, in the way that it is applied, we get political situations like the present one.

A change in speech away from consensus to persuaded by the evidence, is important because in right wing speak, consensus simply means that people gathered around a table and decided on a position, usually for political reasons as in “there was a consensus amongst Republicans that Obamacare was evil” or “the general consensus amongst evangelical Christians is that the Pope is the anti-Christ” or “the consensus amongst business people is that capitalism is good”. etc.

Persuaded by the evidence takes us back to arguing about the evidence. This is more productive if people are well intentioned, and don’t keep returning to evidence which has been refuted. However in our day, people are being encouraged not to be persuaded by evidence.

Individual vs Systemic change

June 30, 2017

The problem with promoting individual change to deal with large problems, is that it often operates without recognising that the individual is part of a set of systems and those systems make demands, or set up the parameters of action…

Thus the destructive action that one person may take, say using a leaf blower, driving a car several hundred metres to the shops, using new plastic bags or wrapping, planning a residential area that needs cars, may not make much difference in itself, but in their billions they do. One of our current problems is that if the ‘developing world’ emulates our way of life, then we are lost. The destructiveness is too great.

In our defense, we can easily use the examples of others’ behaviour to show we are not doing much harm. Using a new plastic bag is not as harmful as clear felling the amazon, or poisoning whole populations with waste from a single factory. Building one coal powered energy source is not as bad as building hundreds. Using a leaf blower is less harmful than building hundreds of coal power stations. It may even be less harmful than something else that is minorly harmful – such as driving a car to the shops. We can say we use a leaf blower because we have kept so many trees or because it is easier on our back or whatever. We can manage to feel proud that our destructive acts are less destructive than other possible acts.

And it is true that stopping by yourself will not change anything. But if millions of people stop, then it does change things. So, if you believe that something you are doing has the possibility of harm, then it might be your responsibility to a) stop that harm, as much as possible, b) be aware of the harm you do without making excuses, and c) exemplify the change and show others it is possible.

Humans learn through imitation of respected others. We have to exemplify the change we wish to see, and prevent exemplificatory capture by the powers that be. Donald Trump is perceived by more than us, and becomes an exemplar of behaviour and thus of what we can and should do. But despite this, we exemplify as well, and may well exemplify more relevantly to our audience, than the US President does.

By our behaviours, we make those behaviours normal, and it more likely that others will take them up and thus that the system changes. One of the problems with Revolutions is that individual behaviours do not change, and the new system becomes as harmful as the old. So changing behaviour is worthwhile.

The systems we are entangled in provide a degree of resistance, and this is what keep systems stable for periods of time. Learning to go against the system, helps us learn how the system reinforces its trajectory. For example we may learn that we are over busy without time to think and we do destructive acts simply to avoid more friction and consumption of our lives. We need freedom to live as well as to survive.

Changing even minor behavior can lead to calls for major changes as well.

Ultimately, what we do, and the systems’ responses to this, creates the future. There is no excuse for not doing what you think is right, but learn to recognise if it does not work. Failure is learning. Try something new.

Over time multiple changes in small parts of the system may reconfigure the system and so it was all worthwhile.

This also suggests that the solutions are found in the doing, and that we try and act small scale. Large scale may produce catastrophe – the point is we do not know. We can approach things with care, knowing that good intentions are not enough, they may even stop us perceiving what we need to know.

Small ways can lead to big things, although the small ways may need support. Even small acts can help. There can be ripple effects. Let’s not always get tied in the importance of big drama.

The systems may do the important work, not us.

How many people might die from climate change?

June 2, 2017

Sorry that is the sort of question which cannot be answered accurately.

Social systems, environmental systems and climate systems are complex systems which means they cannot be predicted in detail. All these systems will be interacting with different forms of landscape – such as low lying areas, loss of glaciers and water and so on. We need all of them to remain stable to make valid detailed predictions. All we can predict is the general trends, and these can be disrupted by rapid changes of state into new systems which may not be human friendly.

The trends are likely to be extreme. People will try and move from parts of the earth which become difficult to live in, because of temperature (heat stroke, heart failure, dehydration), lack of drinking water and sea level rise, and that will likely cause wars – in which people will die as well. The massive storms we have seen will cause deaths as well, as well as disrupt the balance and interconnection of social functioning which will produce more deaths. Destruction of agricultural stability will produce problems with food supply, which is likely to produce malnutrition, which makes people more vulnerable to the other effects. Tropical diseases will move into what have been temperate climates, as well as be carried by people movement. It is likely that those of us who live in temperate environments will have little resistance to these diseases. We may see some parts of the world which have previously been uninhabitable become open to human life and the great powers will compete over those areas, which is also likely to produce war and death.

We also keep polluting the oceans which will disrupt the climate and ecological systems. Many biologists think that ocean death is possible, this will mean we will lose most of our fish stocks, we may also lose oxygen supplies if the plankton die and we keep cutting down forests, although it is unlikely we will kill ourselves, this will also lessen resilience.

With pro-corporate policies which help corporations release chemicals pollution without much in the way of check we will also poison ourselves and the other creatures and plants we need to live. The results of these chemicals on bio-system evolution cannot be predicted at all…

Basically there are a whole heap of endangering ecological processes going on, of which climate change is only one. What the results of multiple chaotic disruptions will be is absolutely unpredictable. However, it can be predicted that normality is going and that many people will die as a result.

The Energy Crisis

March 19, 2017

This article developed from a comment on an article by Jessica Irvine in the Sydney Morning Herald “Energy crisis: The 9 questions you were too embarrassed to ask”.

Point 1: There may be no energy crisis but there is an ecological crisis – which is growing. It is vital to keep the ecological crisis in focus as other crises flow on from that.

Point 2: The worse the ecological crisis gets, the more the energy crisis mounts, and the more people will suffer or die as a result. The economy and food supply will be hurt as well.

Point 3: There is currently a problem with gas supply in Australia, but that results from gas companies deciding not to supply gas to local consumers, and from gas power stations failing in the heat (from the ecological crisis). We need to get out of the control of the gas companies.

Point 4: A point of agreement with the author. Coal is stupid, expensive and poisonous to people and the environment.

Point 5: One significant problem is that the Coalition parties (both in government and opposition) have become obsessed with defending fossil fuel companies, and have actively worked to prevent alternate energy supplies from increasing. Labor was not much better, but it was better.

Point 6: Prices will continue to increase in the market as it exists, as companies continue to manipulate that market to increase profit. That is what companies do. That is why the prices have increased after the Carbon tax was repealed. We have a situation in which various companies are profiteering from the destruction of both our environment and Australia’s energy systems. This, is the main story, so let’s not forget it.

Point 7: South Australia is going it alone because the Federal government has done little but attack them (mostly using false information) in order to defend fossil fuel companies, and has provided no help, or even moral support. Essentially more states will have to go it alone if we want a solution under this Federal Government.

Point 8: Battery storage is still in development and will get better. They are still cheaper than the alternatives. We might think about a contract in which batteries get replaced with newer models as time passes. But that would not be supporting fossil fuel companies, so there is little chance of that.

Point 9: The Coalition government is in the business of picking losers that won’t challenge fossil fuel companies. The new Snowy scheme will be overpriced, depend on water and snow we may not have, and be powered by coal if possible. It is a massive waste of money, as you might expect.