Sunday, November 23, 2014

This Changes Everything

"This Changes Everything", subtitled "Capitalism vs. The Climate", is the most recent book by Naomi Klein, Wikipedia article here. Ms. Klein is a Canadian author and social activist. Amazon says the book is 577 pages. I found it to be a fairly quick read. It has an Introduction, 3 Parts of 5, 3 and 5 chapters, and a Conclusion.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is a real eye-opener, particularly into the mindset of the conservatives and the 1%. It is a clarion call to action.

But be prepared: the first 2 Parts are very informative but also pretty depressing. Finally in Part 3, we do get some good news - but mixed with more bad news!

Early on, I thought that Ms. Klein was using inflammatory terms that would immediately incense the other side. But, as you read the book, you realize, the other side know exactly what they are doing, much more so than those wanting to protect the planet. If they won't listen to 97% of climate scientists, they are never going to read this book. So, getting the rest of us fired up is exactly the right thing to do.

The Introduction is titled "One Way or Another, Everything Changes". It opens with this quote:

Most projections of climate change presume that future changes — greenhouse gas emissions, temperature increases and effects such as sea level rise — will happen incrementally. A given amount of emission will lead to a given amount of temperature increase that will lead to a given amount of smooth incremental sea level rise. However, the geological record for the climate reflects instances where a relatively small change in one element of climate led to abrupt changes in the system as a whole. In other words, pushing global temperatures past certain thresholds could trigger abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes that have massively disruptive and large-scale impacts. At that point, even if we do not add any additional CO2 to the atmosphere, potentially unstoppable processes are set in motion. We can think of this as sudden climate brake and steering failure where the problem and its consequences are no longer something we can control.

—Report by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society, 2014
So climate change is likely not to happen gradually. Rather, we are likely to pass tipping points after which large changes may occur very rapidly.

[An example of this may be the findings this past May that major glaciers that are part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet appear to have become irrevocably destabilized.]

The Introduction reviews many instances of global warming, and traces the author's decision to move this problem to the top of her stack. She rightfully declares that we are in a crisis situation. But will it be handled like the financial crisis of 2008, with $B in bailout money? Not likely. Not unless we make the government treat it as a crisis.

Instead, we are getting business as usual, in the form of disaster capitalism - one of several terms new to me that we should all become familiar with.

As I discussed in my last book, The Shock Doctrine, over the past four decades corporate interests have systematically exploited these various forms of crisis to ram through policies that enrich a small elite — by lifting regulations, cutting social spending, and forcing large-scale privatizations of the public sphere. They have also been the excuse for extreme crackdowns on civil liberties and chilling human rights violations.

And there are plenty of signs that climate change will be no exception — that, rather than sparking solutions that have a real chance of preventing catastrophic warming and protecting us from inevitable disasters, the crisis will once again be seized upon to hand over yet more resources to the 1 percent.


Finding new ways to privatize the commons and profit from disaster is what our current system is built to do; left to its own devices, it is capable of nothing else.

She talks about the common sacrifices and changes that people made during WW2. Who knew victory gardens produced 42% of produce in 1943? Why aren't we doing these types of things to fight the climate crisis? Her answer:
we have not done the things that are necessary to lower emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have been struggling to find a way out of this crisis. We are stuck because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe — and would benefit the vast majority — are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process, and most of our major media outlets.
I had been beating myself up asking, how can climate change denialists keep denying so much data and scientific consensus? Here is the answer. They deny because they don't care if it is true or not - they care only about retaining their power. They figure that they have the game rigged just as they like it now (except for maybe some more tax cuts to justify more austerity), and, even if the East Coast is underwater, they'll still be doing just fine.

She draws an interesting contrast between 2 processes that occurred simultaneously starting in the 80s.

the climate process: struggling, sputtering, failing utterly to achieve its goals. And there will be the corporate globalization process, zooming from victory to victory: from that first free trade deal to the creation of the World Trade Organization to the mass privatization of the former Soviet economies to the transformation of large parts of Asia into sprawling free-trade zones
And the "free trade" deals are not really about free trade:
It was always about using these sweeping deals, as well as a range of other tools, to lock in a global policy framework that provided maximum freedom to multinational corporations to produce their goods as cheaply as possible and sell them with as few regulations as possible — while paying as little in taxes as possible.
When so many manufacturing jobs moved to China, the corporations didn't just get cheap labor without those pesky unions working for worker rights. They also got rid of that pesky EPA, leading the the currently unbreathable air in much of China. From the 90s to the 00s, global emissions growth increased from 1% to 3.4% per year.

So it's capitalism vs the planet, with so far capitalism "winning hands down". And how long do we have to turn this around?

As Fatih Birol, the IEA’s chief economist, bluntly put it: “The door to reach two degrees is about to close. In 2017 it will be closed forever.”
The introduction closes with Ms. Klein returning to personal anecdotes, in this case about the animals - moose, bats, starfish - that her young son may never get to see. Some people may find these personal stories off-putting, I liked them OK. Finally, we get the trumpet call, in pretty much its entirety, and the title of the book:
But what should we do with this fear that comes from living on a planet that is dying, made less alive every day? First, accept that it won’t go away. That it is a fully rational response to the unbearable reality that we are living in a dying world, a world that a great many of us are helping to kill, by doing things like making tea and driving to the grocery store and yes, okay, having kids.

Next, use it. Fear is a survival response. Fear makes us run, it makes us leap, it can make us act superhuman. But we need somewhere to run to. Without that, the fear is only paralyzing. So the real trick, the only hope, really, is to allow the terror of an unlivable future to be balanced and soothed by the prospect of building something much better than many of us have previously dared hope.

Yes, there will be things we will lose, luxuries some of us will have to give up, whole industries that will disappear. And it’s too late to stop climate change from coming; it is already here, and increasingly brutal disasters are headed our way no matter what we do. But it’s not too late to avert the worst, and there is still time to change ourselves so that we are far less brutal to one another when those disasters strike. And that, it seems to me, is worth a great deal.

Because the thing about a crisis this big, this all-encompassing, is that it changes everything. It changes what we can do, what we can hope for, what we can demand from ourselves and our leaders. It means there is a whole lot of stuff that we have been told is inevitable that simply cannot stand. And it means that a whole lot of stuff we have been told is impossible has to start happening right away.

Part One is titled "Bad Timing" - the bad timing is that just when we need strong planning and government, we have instead out-of-control free market capitalism and government close to being "small enough to drown in a bathtub".

Chapter 1 is titled "The Right Is Right", subtitled "The Revolutionary Power of Climate Change". The chapter starts out with highlights from the Heartland Institute's 6th International Conference on Climate Change, June 2011. This is worse and more depressing than you would expect, the denialism wacky, zany, and over-the-top. But it all gets propagated via talk-show appearances, tweets, and online comments. And it has had its effect: from 2007 to 2011 Americans went from 71% to 44% believing in climate change. [Note also, that font of denialism and misinformation, Fox News (Faux "News"), went live in 2006.]

Right-wing think tanks have been around for 40 years, originally founded when "U.S. business elites feared that public opinion was turning dangerously against capitalism and toward, if not socialism, then an aggressive Keynesianism". And their goals, which can lumped together as "deregulated capitalism", have been largely met. "It had all been going so well." But addressing the climate crisis changes all that.

And that is what is behind the abrupt rise in climate change denial among hardcore conservatives: they have come to understand that as soon as they admit that climate change is real, they will lose the central ideological battle of our time — whether we need to plan and manage our societies to reflect our goals and values, or whether that task can be left to the magic of the market.


And for many conservatives, particularly religious ones, the challenge goes deeper still, threatening not just faith in markets but core cultural narratives about what humans are doing here on earth. Are we masters, here to subdue and dominate, or are we one species among many, at the mercy of powers more complex and unpredictable than even our most powerful computers can model?

The chapter continues with example after example, quote after quote, of conservatives explaining why climate change must be denied at all costs. This insight alone is worth the price of the book. "They deny reality, in other words, because the implications of that reality are, quite simply, unthinkable."

I had guestimated that the fossil fuel industry and conservative think tanks were spending around $500M/year on denialism. I was low.

the denial-espousing think tanks and other advocacy groups making up what sociologist Robert Brulle calls the “climate change counter-movement” are collectively pulling in more than $900 million per year for their work on a variety of right-wing causes, most of it in the form of “dark money” — funds from conservative foundations that cannot be fully traced.
Even worse, Plan B for the denialists, should they indeed be wrong, is to make money off the crisis, secure in the fact that their wealth will protect them from harm. And it gets even more mean-spirited than that. Conservative blogger Jim Geraghty for example:
“Rather than our doom, climate change could be the centerpiece of ensuring a second consecutive American Century.”
The last section of this chapter is "The Battle of Worldviews". She admits (proudly) that she was drawn to the climate crisis "partly because I realized it could be a catalyst for forms of social and economic justice in which I already believed." I think she is right. Business as usual will give us the dystopic future of "The Hunger Games" or "Elysium". So no coddling the conservatives.

But where are those opposing the extractivist mindset?

Why isn’t climate change at the center of the progressive agenda, the burning basis for demanding a robust and reinvented commons, rather than an often forgotten footnote?


The short answer is that the deniers won, at least the first round. Not the battle over climate science — their influence in that arena is already waning. But the deniers, and the ideological movement from which they sprang, won the battle over which values would govern our societies.

Chapter 2 is titled "Hot Money", subtitled "How Free Market Fundamentalism Helped Overheat the Planet". This chapter talks about how free trade agreements are used to oppose green energy programs - usually because the green programs have provisions to favor local industry, which is a no-no - it is protectionism, forbidden by the free trade agreements.

To allow arcane trade law, which has been negotiated with scant public scrutiny, to have this kind of power over an issue so critical to humanity’s future is a special kind of madness. As Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz puts it, “Should you let a group of foolish lawyers, who put together something before they understood these issues, interfere with saving the planet?”
The chapter reviews how the move to globalized free trade and industrialized agriculture have worsened the climate crisis. Here's an interesting tidbit:
emissions from the transportation of goods across borders — all those container ships, whose traffic has increased by nearly 400 percent over the last twenty years — are not formally attributed to any nation-state and therefore no one country is responsible for reducing their polluting impact.
Nice, container ships pollute for free! And we get back to the results of corporations moving their manufacturing to China, sans EPA:
the rise in emissions from goods produced in developing countries but consumed in industrialized ones was six times greater than the emissions savings of industrialized countries.


exploited workers and an exploited planet are, it turns out, a package deal. A destabilized climate is the cost of deregulated, global capitalism, its unintended, yet unavoidable consequence.

Interesting, NAFTA (1992) was originally opposed by labor and environmental groups because "they knew it would drive down labor and environmental standards". But, the environmental groups folded. Which is bad enough, but, to keep those donations up, it keeps quiet about its global trade bed-partner.
Given this history, it should hardly come as a surprise that the mainstream environmental movement has been in no rush to draw attention to the disastrous climate impacts of the free trade era.
Our growth-oriented economy is and will remain a problem in trying to rein in emissions. How about maybe we work less?
If countries aimed for somewhere around three to four days a week, introduced gradually over a period of decades, he argues, it could offset much of the emissions growth projected through 2030 while improving quality of life.

Many degrowth and economic justice thinkers also call for the introduction of a basic annual income, a wage given to every person, regardless of income, as a recognition that the system cannot provide jobs for everyone and that it is counterproductive to force people to work in jobs that simply fuel consumption. As Alyssa Battistoni, an editor at the journal Jacobin, writes, “While making people work shitty jobs to ‘earn’ a living has always been spiteful, it’s now starting to seem suicidal.”

Chapter 3 is titled "Public And Paid For", subtitled "Overcoming the Ideological Blocks to the Next Economy". The chapter starts with the story of Hamburg, Germany voting to de-privatize their electric, gas, and heading grids.

“For people it’s self-evident that goods on which everybody is dependent should belong to the public,”


“Energy supply and environmental issues should not be left in the hands of private for-profit interests.”

This de-privatization of utilities by "hundreds of citys and towns" is part of what has enabled Germany's amazing drive towards renewable energy sources "(the country is aiming for 55–60 percent renewables by 2035)".

Meanwhile, here at home, we are told about Boulder CO making moves to take over its utility, and about other cities moving to renewable, but most utilities are still private companies doing business-as-usual.

the attitude of most private players has been, “we’re going to take the money that we make from selling fossil fuels, and use it to lobby as hard as we can against any change to the way that we do business.”
A little good news! Studies at Stanford, UC Davis, U of Melbourne, the NOAA, and the DOE find that we could be getting most or all of our energy from renewable sources by 2030 (or 2050). But the good news is of course tempered by bad news.
It’s absolutely not true that we need natural gas, coal or oil—we think it’s a myth,”


“The biggest obstacles are social and political—what you need is the will to do it.”

The efforts of the Occupy Sandy movement are discussed and lauded. (My daughter Erica took part :-) Are we learning anything from these increasing disasters?
During good times, it’s easy to deride “big government” and talk about the inevitability of cutbacks. But during disasters, most everyone loses their free market religion and wants to know that their government has their backs.


Over the course of the 1970s, there were 660 reported disasters around the world, including droughts, floods, extreme temperature events, wildfires, and storms. In the 2000s, there were 3,322 — a fivefold boost.


Yet these are the same three decades in which almost every government in the world has been steadily chipping away at the health and resilience of the public sphere.

We clearly need to reverse this trend, and shore up our crumbling infrastructure of all types. But where does the money come from? Another important concept: The Polluter Pays. In particular, the proposal is that big oil pays. There is precedent for this, with tobacco companies and oil spills.
These companies are rich, quite simply, because they have dumped the cost of cleaning up their mess onto regular people around the world.
Supporting the idea that big oil needs to pay is the fact that despite early forays into renewable energies, big oil has pretty much given up on renewables and is concentrating on what it knows best - oil and gas - even if they are getting to be harder and harder to extract.

Next target: as US DOD is largest consumer of oil in the world, "arms companies should pay their share."

You knew it would come to this:

Moreover, there is a simple, direct correlation between wealth and emissions — more money generally means more flying, driving, boating, and powering of multiple homes.


the roughly 500 million richest of us on the planet are responsible for about half of all global emissions.

She describes 6 different taxation schemes, including the Wall Street transaction tax and billionaire's tax, which together could raise $2T per year. Will people get behind such changes and sacrifices to save the planet? They will if they don't think they are having to do it all themselves, while the rich and the corporations receive "get-out-of-jail-free" cards.

Chapter 4 is titled (provocatively) "Planning And Banning", subtitled "Slapping the Invisible Hand, Building a Movement". Obama's handling of the 2009 crisis was a huge missed opportunity to build a coalition to create some real systemic change; instead we got bailouts of the existing system. [It is increasingly clear to me, particularly with Holder's refusal to bring criminal charges against any individuals involved in the financial crisis, that the Democratic Party has become a creature of Wall Street.]

There's a lot of discussion of the power of the current system and the oil companies, and how difficult it is to oppose them. She seems frustrated by Obama's not just coming out and stopping the Keystone-XL pipeline. I think that with the rope-a-dope Obama's been doing he has been effectively stopping it for 3 years. With our new Republican Senate having approved it, we'll see if Obama will finally have to veto the project.

Ha ha, good joke:

hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) combined with horizontal drilling, the technology that has finally allowed the fossil fuel industry to screw us sideways.
But a serious piece of research shows that fracking does more than exhaust and pollute groundwater supplies:
in April 2011, a new study by leading scientists at Cornell University ... found that methane emissions linked to fracked natural gas are at least 30 percent higher than the emissions linked to conventional gas.
And methane is 34x as bad a greenhouse gas as CO2, making fracked gas almost as dirty as coal. And for the 1st 10-15 years, it's 86x as bad as CO2! Yikes! [I'd like to see numbers and graphs on atmospheric methane concentration.]

The point with fracking for natural gas is that, as the more readily available forms of fossil fuels become exhausted, the industry must use more destructive forms of extraction, and often to obtain dirtier forms of the product. Examples include lignite coal in Germany, Czech Republic and Poland; tar sands like those in Alberta; and offshore oil drilling in ever deeper and icier waters.

We are blasting the bedrock of our continents, pumping our water with toxins, lopping off mountaintops, scraping off boreal forests, endangering the deep ocean, and scrambling to exploit the melting Arctic — all to get at the last drops and the final rocks. Yes, some very advanced technology is making this possible, but it’s not innovation, it’s madness.
Big oil is making huge investments in these more expensive extraction methods. Apparently an oil company that does not have a reserve-replacement ratio of at least 100% is in trouble. It's stock will take a beating - and, as most executives have stock options as a large component of their compensation package, they will do pretty much whatever it takes to claim new reserves. No matter how risky or dirty the reserve is, it is a matter of a fossil fuel company's survival to keep finding more.

How much more is there? $27T worth - which, unfortunately, is estimated to be ~5x what the earth can possibly bear.

Those numbers also tell us that the very thing we must do to avert catastrophe — stop digging — is the very thing these companies cannot contemplate without initiating their own demise. They tell us that getting serious about climate change, which means cutting our emissions radically, is simply not compatible with the continued existence of one of the most profitable industries in the world.
Can it be fixed? What about all the other issues facing the world?
Climate change pits what the planet needs to maintain stability against what our economic model needs to sustain itself. But since that economic model is failing the vast majority of the people on the planet on multiple fronts that might not be such a bad thing. Put another way, if there has ever been a moment to advance a plan to heal the planet that also heals our broken economies and our shattered communities, this is it.

Chapter 5 is titled "Beyond Extractivism", subtitled "Confronting the Climate Denier Within". The island of Naura, northeast of Australian is a textbook cautionary tale of the results of extractivism. The entire interior of the phosphate-rich island has been mined for fertilizer and will no longer support the population, who were supposed to move to Australia in exchange for trashing their island. The island became a money laundering haven, and now the rising ocean adds to the ecological disaster. It's latest attempt to recover has been a refugee center for Australia.

Every place where extractive industries ply their trade has a sacrifice zone. We know these here in KY as the streams filled by the rubble created by mountain top removal coal mining, and the mountains of coal ash created from burning the coal (which occasionally find their way into our waterways), along with other forms.

Extractivism is traced back to someone who I had thought of favorably as one of the fathers of modern science: Francis Bacon.

“For you have but to follow and as it were hound nature in her wanderings,” Bacon wrote in De Augmentis Scientiarum in 1623, “and you will be able, when you like, to lead and drive her afterwards to the same place again. . . . Neither ought a man to make scruple of entering and penetrating into these holes and corners, when the inquisition of truth is his sole object.”
The run-up to the Industrial Revolution strengthens this attitude:
clergyman and philosopher William Derham in his 1713 book Physico-Theology: “We can, if need be, ransack the whole globe, penetrate into the bowels of the earth, descend to the bottom of the deep, travel to the farthest regions of this world, to acquire wealth.”
The early days of the Industrial Revolution were marked by water power being replaced by the steam engine - you could place a steam engine anywhere as opposed to only on a river. Industries could move to the cities, with a more plentiful supply of workers. Man seemed to have become independent of nature.
Coal and oil, precisely because they were fossilized, seemed entirely possessable forms of energy. They did not behave independently — not like wind, or water, or, for that matter, workers.

But, ... the give-and-take, call-and-response that is the essence of all relationships in nature was not eliminated with fossil fuels, it was merely delayed, all the while gaining force and velocity. Now the cumulative effect of those centuries of burned carbon is in the process of unleashing the most ferocious natural tempers of all.

Part Two is titled "Magical Thinking" - anti-patterns that are not going to help us address the climate crisis.

Chapter 6 is titled "Fruits, Not Roots", subtitled "The Disastrous Merger of Big Business and Big Green". This chapter is really depressing as it details the corruption of many of the best known conservation and environmental NGOs.

In 1995, the Nature Conservancy had 2,303 acres on Galveston Bay in SE Texas donated to it by Mobil to save the Attwater's prairie chicken. What did they do? They drilled a gas well right in the middle of the bird's breeding grounds!!! And despite a lot of negative press in 2002 and 2003, they are still operating the well!!! And, the birds, they are a moot point now - the last of them disappeared in November 2012.

under the stewardship of what The New Yorker describes as “the biggest environmental nongovernmental organization in the world” — boasting over one million members and assets of roughly $6 billion and operating in thirty-five countries — an endangered species has been completely wiped out from one of its last remaining breeding grounds, on which the organization earned millions drilling for and pumping oil and gas.
The intertwining of some large green groups with big oil and industry begins with donations, but also has the green groups investing parts of their endowments with these companies, forming "strategic partnerships" - which I would guess are mostly PR opportunities for the companies - and placing corporate execs on their boards and panels.

The groups with dirty hands: The Nature Conservancy, Conservational International, the Conservation Fund, WWF, the World Resources Institute, the Environmental Defense Fund.

The groups with clean(er) hands: Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, Food & Water Watch.

The Sierra Club apparently took $M from a natural gas company between 2007 and 2010, but has since cut ties to the fossil fuel sector.

These cozy relationships have led the green groups to be open to the less-offensive, wishy-washy approaches to the climate crisis - carbon exchanges, natural gas as a solution, and "market-based" solutions. And this has led to the appearance of action mollifying the public, rather than the type of strong action that is needed being pushed.

Historically, the environmental movement flourished in the 60s and 70s, with dozens of federal environmental acts being passed. Then came 1980 and Reagan and it all started going south.

The greens could have joined coalitions of unions, civil rights groups, and pensioners who were also facing attacks on hard-won gains, forming a united front against the public sector cutbacks and deregulation that was hurting them all. And they could have kept aggressively using the courts to sue the bastards.
And while some green groups did this, the majority, and particularly the bigger ones, instead decided to keep their Washington insider status and work with industry. Their message became as diluted and lost as you would expect.
But between the Heartlanders who recognize that climate change is a profound threat to our economic and social systems and therefore deny its scientific reality, and those who claim climate change requires only minor tweaks to business-as-usual and therefore allow themselves to believe in its reality, it’s not clear who is more deluded.
2006 was the year Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" was released. But it did not start any mass movements to really address the issue. Was the big green groups' sellout complicit in this?
Indeed a growing number of communications specialists now argue that because the “solutions” to climate change proposed by many green groups in this period were so borderline frivolous, many people concluded that the groups must have been exaggerating the scale of the problem. After all, if climate change really was as dire as Al Gore argued it was in An Inconvenient Truth, wouldn’t the environmental movement be asking the public to do more than switch brands of cleaning liquid, occasionally walk to work, and send money? Wouldn’t they be trying to shut down the fossil fuel companies?
The sell-out green groups, after pushing (non-fracked) natural gas in the late 00s, are now trying to help establish that fracked natural gas is a safe and clean fuel. Watch the movie "Gasland" and see how you feel about that.

Another market-based scheme that is working not-at-all is the carbon credit exchange that the US insisted be a part of the 1997 Kyoto Protocols.

The prospect of getting paid real money based on projections of how much of an invisible substance is kept out of the air tends to be something of a scam magnet. And the carbon market has attracted a truly impressive array of grifters and hustlers ...
Gawd, indegenous peoples get thrown out of their own forests so that the forests can be clamed as carbon-offsets. What crap, but, hey, it's market-based! Ah, here's the chapter's title:
When the Big Green groups refer to offsets as the “low-hanging fruit” of climate action, they are in fact making a crude cost-benefit analysis that concludes that it’s easier to cordon off a forest inhabited by politically weak people in a poor country than to stop politically powerful corporate emitters in rich countries — that it’s easier to pick the fruit, in other words, than dig up the roots.
Here's a telling indictment of these sell-out Big Green groups:
“I hate the idea of the environmental movement fighting among itself instead of fighting the oil companies,” he said. “It’s just that these groups don’t seem to have any desire to take on the oil companies, and with some of them, I’m not sure they really are environmentalists at all.”

Chapter 7 is titled "No Messiahs", subtitled "The Green Billionaires Won't Save Us". This can be summed up pretty well by looking at Richard Branson, founder and CEO of Virgin Group: after a personal presentation by Al Gore, Branson was going to devote Virgin to Gaia Capitalism. In 2009 he launched the Carbon War Room. He is one of the founders of The B Team, which is supposed to be looking for alternatives to capitalism. He tells a good story. In 2006 he promised to invest $3B over the next decade to develop biofuel alternatives to oil and gas. A year later, he set up a $25M prize for anyone who could figure out how to remove 1B tons of carbon/year from the atmosphere.

7 years into the 10 year pledge, Virgin has contributed under $300M of the $3B promised. And no awards on the biofuel front as well. In fact, in November 2011, 11 "promising entries" were showcased - in Calgary, home city for the Alberta tar sands! And it gets worse - the challenge is now to turn CO2 into commercially viable products. And the killer app appears to be, injecting the CO2 into oil wells to produce more oil! Arrggghhhh!

Meanwhile, Virgin has added 160 planes to its fleet and had its greenhouse gas emissions increase by 40%. Despite being founded in 2007, Virgin America's planes come in 9th place in fuel efficiency of carriers in the US. Worst case:

Indeed it can be argued — and some do — that Branson’s planet-savior persona is an elaborate attempt to avoid the kind of tough regulatory action that was on the horizon in the U.K. and Europe precisely when he had his high-profile green conversion.


this pattern ... convinced Mike Childs of Friends of the Earth U.K. that Branson’s reinvention as a guilt-ridden planet wrecker volunteering to use his carbon profits to solve the climate crisis was little more than a cynical ploy.

Other billionaires expressing concern about global warming include Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Michael Bloomberg. But all of them are still invested in fossil fuel companies [as is pretty much anyone with a 401-K]. Gates in particular seems to be counting on some future miracle tech to bale us out - while the clock ticks down to 0.
There will, no doubt, be more billionaire saviors who make splashy entrances, with more schemes to rebrand capitalism. The trouble is, we simply don’t have another decade to lose pinning our hopes on these sideshows.

Chapter 8 is titled "Dimming The Sun", subtitled "The Solution to Pollution Is ... Pollution?". This chapter discusses geoengineering. When people talk to me about "the climate controversy", I mention that while there is no controversy about climate change, that it is settled science, there is indeed one controversial topic in the field. That topic is geoengineering: developing global-scale technologies to combat global warming while letting greenhouse gasses continue to build. Hmmm, per Wikipedia, the correct term is actually "climate engineering". I was somewhat surprised at the in-depth coverage Ms. Klein gives the topic.

She attended the 1st conference to discuss the governance of geoengineering research in March 2011. Geoengineering schemes include:

  • dumping iron in the oceans to promote algae growth to absorb CO2.
  • covering deserts with white sheets to reflect sunlight back into space.
  • CO2 sequestering machines, like Branson was sponsoring.
  • injecting particles into the upper atmosphere to reflect sunlight; Solar Radiation Management (SRM), the favorite.
  • space mirrors to deflect sunlight.
  • "cloud brigntening" - creating clouds by spraying seawater into the sky.
The controversy about geoengineering is basically, should we even vaguely consider such techniques, or is it insane to do so? Ms. Klein pretty strongly favors the latter argument. But support for geoengineering - as a last resort of course - seems to be growing - "Geoengineeering: The Horrifying Idea Whose Time Has Come?" was the title of a 2010 forum. She quotes our own Wendell Berry:
The ancients called this hubris; the great American philosopher, farmer and poet Wendell Berry calls it “arrogant ignorance,” adding, “We identify arrogant ignorance by its willingness to work on too big a scale, and thus to put too much at risk.”
Probably the most damning argument is similar to the one against the Star Wars missile defense system: how do you test it? You can run simulations, but you'll never really know if it works without complete deployment - "enlisting billions of people as guinea pigs - for years." And of course fossil fuel companies and their investors have been pushing geoengineering for the last 2 decades, so that can continue with their business-as-usual of creating pollution sources.

This chapter introduces agro-ecological methods as another carbon sequestration technique.

I was somewhat surprised when Ms. Klein ixnays the "Earth from space" image that has been popular, particularly among environmentalists, since Apollo astronauts first took the picture.

When we marvel at that blue marble in all its delicacy and frailty, and resolve to save the planet, we cast ourselves in a very specific role. That role is of a parent, the parent of the earth. But the opposite is the case. It is we humans who are fragile and vulnerable and the earth that is hearty and powerful, and holds us in its hands.
Ha, ha, she notes that many of the billionaires (Gates, Branson) looking for tech fixes such as geoengineering also "share a strong interest in a planetary exodus" - to Mars, say.
For it is surely a lot easier to accept the prospect of a recklessly high-risk Plan B when you have, in your other back pocket, a Plan C.

Part Three is titled "Starting Anyway" - finally, some good news, grassroots movements springing up everywhere trying to save their little piece of the planet!

Chapter 9 is titled "Blockadia", subtitled "The New Climate Warriors".

Blockadia is not a specific location on a map but rather a roving transnational conflict zone that is cropping up with increasing frequency and intensity wherever extractive projects are attempting to dig and drill, whether for open-pit mines, or gas fracking, or tar sands oil pipelines.

What unites these increasingly interconnected pockets of resistance is the sheer ambition of the mining and fossil fuel companies: the fact that in their quest for high-priced commodities and higher-risk “unconventional” fuels, they are pushing relentlessly into countless new territories, regardless of the impact on the local ecology (in particular, local water systems), as well as the fact that many of the industrial activities in question have neither been adequately tested nor regulated, yet have already shown themselves to be extraordinarily accident-prone.

Everyday people are seeing that Big Green and governments are failing them, so they are organizing spontaneously and locally. In Greece to stop a new open-pit gold and copper mine. In Romania to stop a shale gas exploration well. In New Brunswick to stop seismic testing preceding fracking. In England to stop fracking. In Inner Mongolia to stop coal mining. In Australia to stop coal mining. And, of course, in the US to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, and in British Columbia to similarly block the Northern Gateway pipeline.

Here's a pic of an old Romanian woman that went viral.

Greenpeace seems to be the main organized group taking part in Blockadia, with their well-publicized run-in with Russian oil exploration vessels in the Arctic.

Examined in more detail are the Ogoni Nigerians, who forced Shell out of their territory, which had been exploited by Shell for decades.

This chapter returns to sacrifice zones.

the people reaping the bulk of the benefits of extractivism pretend not to see the costs of that comfort so long as the sacrifice zones are kept safely out of view.

But in less than a decade of the extreme energy frenzy and the commodity boom, the extractive industries have broken that unspoken bargain. In very short order, the sacrifice zones have gotten a great deal larger, swallowing ever more territory and putting many people who thought they were safe at risk.

In the US, the number of oil tank cars in service increased by 41x from 2008 to 2013. So everyone living near a railroad line is potentially in a sacrifice zone if these cars derail. [I have noted over the years that no place I have lived or visited in the midwest is out of hearing distance of a railroad.]

Meanwhile, fracked wells are springing up everywhere. Per the Wall Street Journal, “more than 15 million Americans live within a mile of a well that has been drilled and fracked since 2000.” We all got a laugh out of the Exxon CEO who joined a lawsuit opposing fracking near his home in Texas.

Ithaca, NY organized to ban fracking. A compressor station in Minisink, NY led to organizing opposing fracking in the entire state. And attempts to begin fracking in the South of France led to a 2011 nationwide ban on fracking.

In North America, the Pacific Northwest - British Columbia, Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Idaho - has been very actively opposing the extractive industries. The "Cowboys and Indians" are working together to oppose pipelines and giant haulers on the roads. With coal use plummeting domestically (from 50% to 37% of energy generated between 2008 and 2012), producers are looking to export more coal to Asia. The Pacific Northwest is also blocking the construction of new terminals to ship the coal.

Richmond, CA has also stood up to Chevron attempts to expand its oil refinery there. [And in the 2014 elections, a heavily funded Chevron slate of candidates for mayor and city council were defeated by local candidates.] Northwestern Native Americans have also been instrumental in the fight. Inspirational words:

What we now know is that Keystone was always about much more than a pipeline. It was a new fighting spirit, and one that is contagious. One battle doesn’t rob from another but rather causes battles to multiply, with each act of courage, and each victory, inspiring others to strengthen their resolve.
Also galvanizing opposition to extractivism is the growing realization that the risk factor of extraction is going up and up, and that extractive companies will underestimate that risk, fail to plan for it, and rely on others to clean up their mess.
That is the widespread conviction that today’s extractive activities are significantly higher risk than their predecessors: tar sands oil is unquestionably more disruptive and damaging to local ecosystems than conventional crude. Many believe it to be more dangerous to transport, and once spilled harder to clean up. A similar risk escalation is present in the shift to fracked oil and gas; in the shift from shallow to deepwater drilling (as the BP disaster showed); and most dramatically, in the move from warm water to Arctic drilling. Communities in the path of unconventional energy projects are convinced they are being asked to risk a hell of a lot, and much of the time they are being offered very little in return for their sacrifice, whether lasting jobs or significant royalties.


many Blockadia activists cite the 2010 BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico as either their political awakening, or the moment they realized they absolutely had to win their various battles against extreme energy. ... What made the strongest impression on the horrified public was not the tar-coated tourist beaches in Florida or the oil-soaked pelicans in Louisiana. It was the harrowing combination of the oil giant’s complete lack of preparedness for a blowout at those depths, as it scrambled for failed fix after failed fix, and the cluelessness of the government regulators and responders.

There have been enough leaks, explosions, and other disasters that everyone realizes that, with every new well, pipeline, or mine, it's not a question of "if", it's a question of "when" there will be an accident - for which the action plan will be a mixture of boilerplate, wishful thinking, and dissembling.
in Blockadia, risk assessment has been abandoned on the barricaded roadside, replaced by a resurgence of the precautionary principle—which holds that when human health and the environment are significantly at risk, perfect scientific certainty is not required before taking action.


Blockadia is turning the tables, insisting that it is up to industry to prove that its methods are safe — and in the era of extreme energy that is something that simply cannot be done.

Chapter 10 is titled "Love Will Save This Place", subtitled "Democracy, Divestment, and the Wins So Far". The love in the title is the love that people have for their native land, the place they grew up. And "No safety pledge will assuage; no bribe will be big enough" to induce people to allow risky new extraction projects. In contrast

the culture of fossil fuel extraction is — by both necessity and design — one of extreme rootlessness. The workforce of big rig drivers, pipefitters, miners, and engineers is, on the whole, highly mobile, moving from one worksite to the next and very often living in the now notorious “man camps” — self-enclosed army-base-style mobile communities that serve every need from gyms to movie theaters (often with an underground economy in prostitution).
Protecting one's water supply seems to be the spark that ignites opposition to extractive industries in many places. Fracking is a double-whammy to water supplies: it is a water intensive process, and it usually pollutes the local watershed. The images in "Gasland" of people igniting their tapwater - if that would not spur you to action, I don't know that would.

More good news, in the section titled "Early Wins":

Alongside France, countries with moratoria [on fracking] include Bulgaria, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, and South Africa (though South Africa has since lifted the ban). Moratoria or bans are also in place in the states and provinces of Vermont, Quebec, as well as Newfoundland and Labrador (as of early 2014, New York’s contentious moratorium still held but it looked shaky).


And then there is the wave of global victories against coal. ... The Sierra Club’s hugely successful “Beyond Coal” campaign has, along with dozens of local partner organizations, succeeded in retiring 170 coal plants in the United States and prevented over 180 proposed plants since 2002.

The campaign to block coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest has similarly moved from strength to strength.

And while not winning outright, the fight against allowing tar sands export has delayed the development of this dirty energy, weakening their investment potential and giving alternative energy sources time to mature and grow as alternatives. Goldman Sachs pulled out of an investment position in a proposed coal export terminal in late 2013, even before China's recent announcement that it would cap coal usage by 2020.

Another positive trend has been the divestment movement, with students placing pressure on universities to divest their investments in fossil fuel stocks. Cities and religious institutions are also divesting. And this isn't just about maybe lowering the stock price.

it might even create the space for a serious discussion about whether these profits are so illegitimate that they deserve to be appropriated and reinvested in solutions to the climate crisis. Divestment is just the first stage of this delegitimization process, but it is already well under way.
Opposing this progress is the fossil fuel industry using various fair trade laws to challenge attempts to stop them business-as-usual.
as of 2013, a full sixty out of 169 pending cases at the World Bank’s dispute settlement tribunal had to do with the oil and gas or mining sectors, compared to a mere seven extraction cases throughout the entire 1980s and 1990s.
And people fighting extractive companies find that often it is hard to tell the government regulators from the fossil fuel employees. There is a revolving door between industry and the government, just like in the financial industries. The people fighting extractive industries are finding out that maybe they're not living in democracies, but rather corporatocracies.
As Venezuelan political scientist Edgardo Lander aptly puts it, “The total failure of climate negotiation serves to highlight the extent to which we now live in a post-democratic society. The interests of financial capital and the oil industry are much more important than the democratic will of people around the world. In the global neoliberal society profit is more important than life.”
But people aren't giving up. Instead they are working at lower levels: at the city level and below.

Chapter 11 is titled "You And What Army?", subtitled "Indegenous Rights and the Power of Keeping Our Word". This chapter talks about the leadership role that the First Nations - Canadian Native Americans - have taking in fighting the extractive industries. The First Nations got much better deals in Canada than did the indigenes in the US. For much of Western Canada, the treaties read that they have the right to their traditional use of the land in perpetuity - they did not agree to cede the land, but to share it. Court cases have also found that they are owned $T for resources extracted from this land. But, how to get the Canadian government to fully honor these rights? Hence the "You And What Army" title.

Indigenous rights — if aggressively backed by court challenges, direct action, and mass movements demanding that they be respected — may now represent the most powerful barriers protecting all of us from a future of climate chaos
These rights were recognized in 1999, and, in New Brunswick, created tensions between First Nation and non-First Nation residents - First Nation fishermen could ignore fishing seasons. The government got involved, on the side of the non-First Nation residents.

But, come 2013, the First Nation residents led the fight against fracking. And suddenly, everybody was on the same side, and everyone realized that the First Nations treaty rights were a powerful weapon against the fracking industry. They also played a big part in the fights against a coal terminal in Washington State and oil drilling in the Arctic.

But, indigenous communities are some of the poorest in their countries. Extractive industries come in offering huge piles of money, and with the government and the police at their backs.

That is a huge burden to bear and that these communities are bearing it with shockingly little support from the rest of us is an unspeakable social injustice.


Members of these communities know that the drilling will only make it harder to engage in subsistence activities — there are real concerns about the effects of oil development on the migration of whales, walruses, and caribou — and that’s without the inevitable spills. But precisely because the ecology is already so disrupted by climate change, there often seems no other option.

So how do we create other options? We Honor The Treaties. We keep the promises and do all we can to bring all human rights, including health care and educations, to the indigenous people holding the line for the rest of us.

Chapter 12 is titled "Sharing The Sky", subtitled "The Atmospheric Commons and the Power of Paying Our Debts". Residents of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana have been fighting against coal mining for years. In recent years, in addition to fighting via lawsuits, they are fighting by implementing solar power solutions in their housing. It is noted how much the use of renewable energy sources requires you to work with nature, rather than just plopping down a steam engine anywhere and firing it up. But plans for more solar and wind farms instead of coal mines get bogged down - reservations don't have much capital to work from.

Part of the job of the climate movement, then, is to make the moral case that the communities who have suffered most from unjust resource relationships should be first to be supported in their efforts to build the next, life-based economy now.
But there is economic pressure on many of us: family farmers unable to compete with agribusiness; factory workers whose jobs have been shipped overseas. The $$$ of extractive industries, which are booming in the US now, are substantial.
today’s climate movement does not have the luxury of simply saying no without simultaneously fighting for a series of transformative yeses — the building blocks of our next economy that can provide good clean jobs, as well as a social safety net that cushions the hardships for those inevitably suffering losses.
One way to move in this direction is to go beyond divestment and to actively reinvest in renewable solutions. In a dark-cloud-with-a-silver-lining way, climate-related disasters like Superstorm Sandy may increasingly give us opportunities to rebuild in a more green manner.
unlike the disaster capitalists who use crises to end-run around democracy, a People’s Recovery (as many from the Occupy movement called for post-Sandy) would require new democratic processes, including neighborhood assemblies, to decide how hard-hit communities should be rebuilt. The overriding principle must be to address the twin crises of inequality and climate change at the same time.
This chapter discusses at greater length the concept of "climate debt":
Developed countries, which represent less than 20 percent of the world’s population, have emitted almost 70 percent of all the greenhouse gas pollution that is now destabilizing the climate.
The planet can only tolerate so much greenhouse gasses, and the currently rich, developed countries got that way by leading the way in emissions.
195 countries, including the United States, ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, which enshrines the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.” That basically means that everyone is responsible for being part of the climate solution but the countries that have emitted more over the past century should be the first to cut and should also help finance poorer countries to switch to clean development models.
This leads us into concepts like reparations. [I can see no way the developed countries can ever be pressured into agreeing to reparations. Where is the stick with which to beat them? So the developing countries may insist on their right to grow their economies to pollute just as we did and are doing.]

Chapter 13 is titled "The Right To Regenerate", subtitled "Moving from Extraction to Renewal". Ms. Klein returns to the personal, using the story of her own fertility problems to illustrate a very important point that I had never seen before: that while we may be shocked by pictures of birds, otters, and other sea life covered in oil from a spill, the real damage is done to the infant and larval forms of all the life that comes into contact with the spill. These infant and larval forms are completely wiped out.

That’s what happened to the herring after the Exxon Valdez disaster. For three years after the spill, herring stocks were robust. But in the fourth, populations suddenly plummeted by roughly three quarters. The next year, there were so few, and they were so sick, that the herring fishery in Prince William Sound was closed. The math made sense: the herring that were in their egg and larval stages at the peak of the disaster would have been reaching maturity right about then.
Preliminary data suggests that the same thing may be happening in the Gulf in the aftermath of the BP disaster.

She points out too that in so many regulations on substances the quantities allowed are based on full-grown males. Impacts on fetuses and children for these quantities are way out of proportion. And indeed, there are now studies linking birth defects, low birth weight, and low Apgar scores to proximity to fracking sites.

Similarly, the evil twin of global warming, ocean acidification, also affects infant and larval forms disproportionately.

Richard Feely, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, explains that before the die-offs began, “What we knew at the time was that many organisms as adults are sensitive to acidification. What we did not know is that the larval stages of those organisms are much more sensitive.”
Together, this leads to the situation where populations die out "bottom-up" - from the youngest to the oldest.
Once this pattern is recognized, it seems obvious: of course the very young are much more vulnerable than adults; of course even the most subtle environmental changes will hurt them more; and of course fertility is one of the first functions to erode when animals are under stress.
Man, I hate the term "overburden" - the extractive industries' word for the trees, topsoil, dirt, stone, and anything else that stands between them and the oil or coal they are after. Piles of discarded overburden are a standard feature of sacrifice zones.

It's kind of out of context, but she does reference a well-known comic by our own Joel Pett, so I'll include it here.

Following medical advice, Ms. Klein was working less to lower her stress levels. And after visiting the Land Institute in Kansas where they are developing perennial grain crops - whose long roots give them more access to water and thus require much less irrigation - Ms. Klein did become pregnant with her son, yay!

The chapter continues drawing parallels between human reproduction and reproduction in the rest of nature, based on many concepts taken from indigenous peoples.

What is emerging, in fact, is a new kind of reproductive rights movement, one fighting not only for the reproductive rights of women, but for the reproductive rights of the planet as a whole — for the decapitated mountains, the drowned valleys, the clear-cut forests, the fracked water tables, the strip-mined hillsides, the poisoned rivers, the “cancer villages.” All of life has the right to renew, regenerate, and heal itself.


many people are remembering their own cultures’ stewardship traditions, however deeply buried, and recognizing humanity’s role as one of life promotion.

So how do we move forward in a manner that promotes life on our planet, rather than threatening it?
As communities move from simply resisting extractivism to constructing the world that must rise in its rubble, protecting the fertility cycle is at the heart of the most rapidly multiplying models, from permaculture to living buildings to rainwater harvesting.


And contrary to capitalism’s drift toward monopoly and duopoly in virtually every arena, these systems mimic nature’s genius for built-in redundancy by amplifying diversity wherever possible, from more seed varieties to more sources of energy and water. The goal becomes not to build a few gigantic green solutions, but to infinitely multiply smaller ones, and to use policies — like Germany’s feed-in tariff for renewable energy, for instance — that encourage multiplication rather than consolidation. The beauty of these models is that when they fail, they fail on a small and manageable scale

Phew, we've made it to The Conclusion, titled "The Leap Years", subtitled "Just Enough Time for Impossible". It opens talking about a meeting in December 2012, when UCSD professor Brad Werner gave a session titled "Is Earth F**ked?". After a detailed presentation of complex models of "earth-human systems", he gave a journalist the simple answer to the query: "More or less". But what could save the earth?

mass uprisings of people — along the lines of the abolition movement and the civil rights movement — represent the likeliest source of “friction” to slow down an economic machine that is careening out of control.


Put another way, only mass social movements can save us now.


So if there is any hope of reversing these trends, glimpses won’t cut it; we will need the climate revolution playing on repeat, all day every day, everywhere.

So do we have a shot? The abolition movement of the 19th century is the only thing in previous human history that is comparable.
Chris Hayes, in an award-winning 2014 essay titled “The New Abolitionism,” pointed out “the climate justice movement is demanding that an existing set of political and economic interests be forced to say goodbye to trillions of dollars of wealth” and concluded that “it is impossible to point to any precedent other than abolition.”
As had already been discussed tho, it is pointed out that after the slaves were freed, the reparations that were made were largely "reversed" - slave owners were compensated for their losses and slaves were given nothing.
the fact that our most heroic social justice movements won on the legal front but suffered big losses on the economic front is precisely why our world is as fundamentally unequal and unfair as it remains.
So again, do we have a shot?
There is just enough time, and we are swamped with green tech and green plans. And yet ... we are afraid — with good reason — that our political class is wholly incapable of seizing those tools and implementing those plans, since doing so involves unlearning the core tenets of the stifling free-market ideology that governed every stage of their rise to power.
So it will come down to the people, who are doing great things - even now dozens are being arrested blockading Burnaby Mountain against the Kinder Morgan pipeline.
we will need to start believing, once again, that humanity is not hopelessly selfish and greedy — the image ceaselessly sold to us by everything from reality shows to neoclassical economics.


Because in the hot and stormy future we have already made inevitable through our past emissions, an unshakable belief in the equal rights of all people and a capacity for deep compassion will be the only things standing between civilization and barbarism.

I definitely had an emotional reaction to this book - and judging from posts online, lots of people did. It definitely makes you realize that the climate crisis has to be the #1 priority of all of us. But where is the coverage? I have tweeted all the MSNBC shows asking for every day 1 minute on "Today in the Climate Crisis" - no response, no viral retweets.

I have been getting quotes on solar for my house, mostly to get a data point on capabilities. After finishing this book, I was like "I'm going to do it right now!". But I've calmed down some and will probably wait until next year - plus I need to replace my 2005 Prius with 165,000 miles on it. Solar is a bad investment in Kentucky. Even factoring in increases in price from the incredibly cheap $0.08/kWh we pay now (thanks dirty coal), it still takes 14 years to pay for itself. Still, I'm going to do it. The Prius wasn't really a good investment, but, it let me be a "prophet of Prius" as my wife used to say. So maybe I'll do the same for the solar. Plus, I can generate more power than I can use, so I can use that to bait the utility company via our city council, to try to make them have to buy my (and others) excess.

So what else to do? I've never been arrested. Being retired in theory gives me plenty of spare time for activism (in practice I've been having to do a lot of caregiving since I retired). But I really feel like it is up to the Millennials. They outnumber us Boomers.

My wife is a Sierra Club member. We attended their Action Weekend meeting last winter. So maybe becoming more activist is something we do together.

These next few years really feel like a crux point to me. Will we have an egalitarian, socialist, anarchist utopia or an oligarchic, extractivist, patriarchal dystopia? We're so close to the former, what with most of us are walking around with supercomputers having access to all the knowledge of mankind in our pockets. But the old lizards are going to fight to keep everything they've got - because, that's what they do. We'll see, I guess. But again, let's see what the Millennials can do.

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