Saturday, June 23, 2012

Interregnum

"The mass of mankind is ruled not by its intermittent moral sensations, still less by self-interest, but by the needs of the moment. It seems fated to wreck the balance of life on Earth — and thereby to be the agent of its own destruction. What could be more hopeless than placing the Earth in the charge of this exceptionally destructive species? It is not of becoming the planet's wise stewards that Earth-lovers dream, but of a time when humans have ceased to matter."

~ John Gray, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals


No wonder it's been a week since I could bring myself to write something for Wit's End.  At best it is risible when the cheeriest news I can find to report upon is the recent emergence of a spectacularly well-written and absorbing new doomer website, (from whence I stole the irresistibly and eternally charming time-stop above...and who doesn't want to stop time?) named Collapse of Industrial Civilization.  As might be inferred, if that is the best of the news, then the rest of this post can consist only of pure unadulterated shit.  One comment I chanced upon this week phrased it with precise acumen, "If you shit in your nest long enough, pretty soon you'll be nesting in your shit".  That about sums it all up...but never content to let things rest, and for the purpose of agonizingly complete edification, I insist on documenting ever more corroboration that our collective nest is hopelessly, irretrievably fouled.  Read on if you must.
Before returning home from Seattle, I made a quick visit to Port Townsend to pay my respects to master boat-builder Captain Leif Knutsen, and admire his organic gardens and solar panels.  I was sort of still unrecovered from shock at the dying trees on the West Coast when I returned to the sizzling cauldron that is New Jersey - where the woods alongside the melting streets (literally - the liquefied tar makes tires spin on the ascent of hills!) are blemished with so many carcasses of frizzled trees it's ineffably sad....although the next picture is not from New Jersey, it's the view from the ferry trip back across Puget Sound, where a setting sun hit from a low horizon.  But even within this green expanse, there is the hint that, simmering just beneath a casual inspection, the identical fate lurks.
The next view is of the shadowed opposite shore, where the tops of the tallest trees are in silhouette.  Do we see how the oldest succumb to cumulative exposure to tropospheric ozone pollution?
It feels to me very much that the world has gone even more mad than usual.  I think it's related to the conference in Rio, and all the associated scientific research and essays that have been released in conjunction with the proceedings.  It's painfully obvious by any measure that rather than improve upon the circumstances that inspired the original meeting - climate change, habitat destruction, pollution, overpopulation, species extinction, resource overshoot, and grotesque violations of indigenous peoples' rights - we have merely proceeded to provoke a more imminent self-annihilation.  I lost track of new terminology, it's as though it's so awful every author feels compelled to invent a new word for ecocide.  Thanatocide?   The realists are either locked in vacillations between panic and despair, or mired in grim resignation...while the deniers are doubling down in hysterical refutations of fact.  Meanwhile the four horsemen assemble, ready for their long-prophesied arrival.

Earlier I noted that Mark Lynus, author of the cogently unsentimental Six Degrees had gone emeritus after he published those starkly unforgiving forecasts - not unlike others such as James Lovelock who have recanted...except usually they're old enough for pure panicked senility to be an excuse.  If Malthusian prognosticators don't scare themselves into backtracking, they are often easily dismissed, especially when their more hasty predictions are proven wrong by technological advances.  But they were only wrong in timing.  It's irrefutable that a species as avaricious and shortsighted as ours is going to consume everything until there's nothing left.  That doesn't stop even educated people from going to absurd lengths to convince themselves it isn't so, and fantasize that perhaps another planet or two will provide a convenient retreat now that we have rendered our Earth fetid.

Take for instance this goofy story about a theory receiving new attention - that the statues of Easter Island were rocked by ropes to "walk" them rather than being transported to their final destination prone, atop logs.  It quickly became apparent reading the comments that what might seem to be an obscure dispute among archaeologists was fundamentally animated by the question of whether humans have it in our DNA to exist sustainably, as might be revealed by the destruction of every last tree.  The discussion following Jared Diamond's critique at the Mark Lynas blog instantly veered from engineering techniques into a thinly-veiled frantic dispute over free markets, unpriced externalities, the comparative fragility of our linked current societies as opposed to a single isolated island, and the parallels and lessons - or not - for modern global implications.  It's a very funny, inadvertently revealing exchange.

Oh wait, isn't this blog supposed to be about ozone killing trees?  Surely we don't need yet another perspective on overshoot, peak oil, climate change, or economic injustice!  On the flight home, I had to transfer at Denver.  During the descent, I was aghast at the immensity of the plumes of smoke, and the inferno of flames that was their source on the ground.  The fire made a line of screaming red of such shrieking intensity I will never forget it.  As usual, every analysis of the unprecedented increase in both frequency and duration of wildfires blames, if not government burn policies, then drought and/or bark beetles from climate change - like this one titled "How Climate Change is Fueling Western Wildfires".
That's all to be expected, but there are fires breaking out in many other places, including the eastern regions of Russia which are burning even worse than the record-breaking fires during their heat wave of 2010 - and nobody has yet bothered to infer that vegetation, even in areas not in drought, has turned into tinder because it is dying from air pollution.  Not to mention that bark beetles don't kill healthy trees in fact, they don't kill the pines at all, a fungus they carry finishes them off.  It's no coincidence that trees of all species have lost immunity to fungus and a slew of other pathogens - because they are weakened from repairing ozone damage.  To name just a few of the best-known and most widespread declines, consider aspen in the Rocky Mountains, kauri in New Zealand, and oaks in California.  Aspen in particular are of interest since 1. they live in the same region as the pines supposedly dying from bark beetles, and 2. an even worse issue with aspen is that in addition to mature specimens dying off, they are not regenerating either.  Why not is most interesting:

"Aspen grow in "clones," or groups of genetically identical trunks. Some clones are thousands of years old, although individual trees live 150 years at most. One especially large stand in Utah, known as "Pando" after the Latin for "I spread," was recently confirmed by geneticists to cover 108 acres. It is variously said to be the world's heaviest, largest or oldest organism. Disturbances such as wildfires or disease usually prompt clones to send up a slew of fresh sprouts, but new growth is rare in SAD-affected stands."

Do we remember that the first symptom from repairing ozone damage is that root systems are no longer robust?  But find one forester or other expert who will even raise such questions.  Does this even matter?  I'm not sure.
It's annoying, nonetheless.  And what's with this action - "law enforcement" officers roughed up and then arrested a photographer for covering a wildfire in Nevada!?   It's no surprise that as evidence of the empire's decline proliferates, the powers that be will more ruthlessly prevent its dissemination.  Mustn't startle the herd!  This is why New York City quietly settles lawsuits over injuries from falling trees, and it's also why the police cracked down so hard arresting Occupiers, most often to intimidate protestors in calculated violation of their First Amendment rights.   And that's why I refused to accept the prosecutor's ACD offer and will be going to trial next Friday (and besides I've got a great lawyer).
Yesterday I happened to be walking underneath a maple tree, when a branch hit me on the head.  It was a very small, brittle, leafless twig really, and didn't hurt much, but there was no sound to warn of the impact so it startled me.  I've often wondered if it's possible to get out of the way of a falling tree or branch, or if they tumble so quickly there's no time if you are unlucky enough to be in the trajectory.  Last week, three boys playing cricket in England were crushed together.

It's plain to see from the second of these photographs in the Daily Mail that the tree had no roots attached - and as was just mentioned, all Ozonists and Ozonistas know a shriveled root system is the very first result of exposure to pollution, well before visible symptoms appear on foliage.

Here is a hockey stick graph to join all the others.  In this instance the precipitous curve indicates the incidents of power outages over a period of almost twenty years.  Granted, some of them are due to increased flooding or higher winds from climate change -  and perhaps more people - but I would venture to guess that a majority of the increase is due to more falling trees and branches, just because they are weakened.  It's a staggering surge.

I do have a post focused exclusively on trees in the drafts, with some interesting links to science but I'm so weary of taking pictures of trees dying in our depauperated world I don't have any at the moment.  That will be easy to remedy in the coming days.  It's impossible to exaggerate how my heart agonizes when I watch helplessly as my once verdant home plummets into a dead zone - and now that it's full-blown summer there's no lingering possibility that leaves are just laggard in emerging to full normal size - in fact, some are already turning fall color, I see.  But that can wait for next time.  Instead I have pictures from the Seattle Summer Solstice festival.  It might be my own gloomy fancy but for such an ostensibly happy gathering the crowds of people seemed subdued.  Do they sense what I know?  Or maybe that's a typical Seattle restraint.
An annual event, the parade and fair held last Saturday is characterized by exotic and elaborate floats and costumes, many of which depict ostentatiously politically correct, "progressive" themes.
A raucous ceremonial barge celebrating gay marriage was closely followed by pollinators (bees, bats, and butterflies among others), while others paid tribute to everything from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to hula hoops and snow cones...plus a dragon made of 10,000 water bottles was escorted by strange apparitions festooned in plastic bags, while others were pure whimsy such as a Phoenix rising, classic fairy tale and Star Wars characters.
Seattle works hard to exemplify humanity's best intentions - the entire city is gluten free, and plastic bags will be banned starting the first  of July - unlike New Jersey where you can scarcely find an argument about the environment one way or the other.  The topic is generally ignored in polite company.  It has become my conviction from many indications on the web though, that in retrospect, we will eventually all realize that this moment in time is the interregnum in which we are poised for irreversible collapse on multiple fronts...that just beyond the horizon, catastrophes are converging in a maelstrom most people cannot see, perhaps because they do not wish to know.
For me it feels like that exact eternity of terrified suspense when the roller coaster is cresting at the peak, suspended for an incalculable measure that is simultaneously brief and endless, when the clackety reverberations of the climb still echo, and a plunge at breathtakingly fast speed, towards uncontrollable, unimaginable oblivion is unavoidable.  Or at least that's how I tend to see it, but perhaps I'm mesmerized in my own perpetual dream state, waiting for the last shimmering light snowflake crystal to land ever so softly and precipitate the avalanche.  Perhaps it can be described as the very split second, not yet named as far as I know, when a luscious ripe peach turns - when mold gains a foothold, before acids flourish and destroy the juicy, sugared flesh.
A tragically illustrative timeline developed by Al Jazeera, which matches the incremental rise in levels of CO2 to the succession of failed international climate change conferences, is almost enough to lend credence to the theory that we coulda, maybe, done something to pull back from the abyss right up until the fateful Bush decision to withdraw from Kyoto - but this essay titled simply, "We're Done" from Guy McPherson swiftly dispels such sentimental wishful thinking.  The entire post plus comments constitute a revelation and so I recommend reading all of it, but here's a sample:
"As I pointed out in this space a few years ago, I concluded in 2002 that we had set into motion climate-change processes likely to cause our own extinction by 2030. I mourned for months, to the bewilderment of the three people who noticed. And then, shortly thereafter, I was elated to learn about a hail-Mary pass that just might allow our persistence for a few more generations: Peak oil and its economic consequences might bring the industrial economy to an overdue close, just in time. Like Pandora with her vessel, I retained hope."
 
"No more. Stick a fork in us. We’re done, broiled beyond hope wishful thinking. It seems we’ve experienced a lethal combination of too much cheap oil and too little wisdom. Yet again, I’ve begun mourning. It’s no easier the second time." 
"As always, I’m open to alternative views — in fact, I’m begging for them, considering the gravity of this particular situation — but the supporting evidence will have to be extraordinary."
  
A prophetic essay from the late lamented Joe Bageant linked to at Collapse observes much the same, only with his signature dastardly verve - and like Guy McPherson's essay, it assumes the reader is highly cognizant already:
"That common womb of American consciousness is dying. Slowly or rapidly, depending on how you assess the global ecocide and peak everything, it is dying. There will be resuscitations along the way, more massive infusions of money, fear and the rawest sort of fantasy fed to a mood and commodity drugged public. Still, its condition is terminal, because the hyperdrive consumer culture it was built to sustain, is itself unsustainable. Its appetite ate the world. In fact, so voracious is its appetite that even if our "consumer economy," (legalized feudal theft) sees a recovery, and resumes the level of growth required just to keep capitalism alive, it will die just that much faster. It is not in capitalism's DNA to care about the death of the earth."
 
It was 2010 and already he wrote:
"The system has just begun its crash, and already we are seeing an armed infantilized nation wail, hurl blame and do horrific things, the worst of which we do to one another (excluding sending predator drones after Middle Eastern school kids). Surveillance, witch hunts, destruction of civil liberties, and the government inching toward star chamber trials for those who do not display correct traits. Citizens embracing totalitarianism as stability in the face of the ultimate instability -- the death of the planet."
 
But don't let that stop you from reading the whole prognosis, because he has some sweet advice for finding the now in the mundane, which is more or less all that will remain when the circus stops.  Surely it makes no sense to squander what time remains in perpetual grief!  The subtitle is:  TV and movies keep us in an entertained stupor, awed, mislead, and most importantly, distracted.
It's odd though that often the very movies calculated to distract us, do so by making obliquely surreptitious or even explicit reference to the mounting threats from advanced civilization, and hover tantalizingly around the question of our relationship to limits in the natural world.  I'm thinking not only of the countless obvious disaster and dystopic productions like The Day After TomorrowThe Road or Avatar - but of the ravages of coal mining depicted in The Hunger Games... although its role as the root of impoverishment and fascist control seemed largely lost on audiences and critics.  I just saw Snow White and the Huntsman, which is in general quite forgettable with the notable exception of the elaborately malevolent scenery of the Dark Forest, particularly as it contrasts with the rich tapestry of color and motion in the Enchanted Forest, an astounding juxtaposition barely hinted at on opposing sides of this photo:
Surely it was no accident that the evil Queen in her dénouement wound up soaked in what looked for all the world to be shiny black, oily petroleum...while the innocent Snow White was blessed by all the wild creatures, including a magnificent, magical silver stag?
photo credits
These overarching themes that are emerging with increasing frequency in popular fiction and film reveal that even for people - the vast majority of whom live in cities or suburbs - who rarely confront anything close to unadulterated nature, or are submerged in electronic devices, a subliminal, visceral recognition has detected that our ceaseless attempts to vanquish nature have resulted in a profound conflict that will decide the fate of our species, and many others.  Here is a rendition of the Enchanted Forest that doesn't nearly approach the subtlety and lushness of the theater experience:
Perhaps the closest to salvation we can get is to have more faith in the laws of evolution - and the conviction that even the end of life on earth, if it comes to that (and we won't be around to know) doesn't mean it won't spring up elsewhere, or already exists, in time scales of billions of years and a universe brimming with stars.  Perhaps we should just get over ourselves and stop the agonizing.
It seems a pity though and hey meanwhile, WHERE'S THE OUTRAGE??  Consider that environmental activists, those who defend forests, rivers and land, are being routinely murdered, according to this article, and at an accelerating rate - up to one per week.  For all the understandable fulminating of climate scientists who are targets of lawsuits, envelopes of baby powder mimicking anthrax, FOI demands for data, and insulting emails, it's worthy of note that not one of them has been killed or even close to physically attacked, whereas environmental activists are dead by the hundreds.  Let's not forget the imprisonment, illegal spying, harassment and bombing around mountaintop removal and logging protests in the US.  Doesn't the fact that environmentalists pose enough of a threat to our corporate overlords to incite lethal acts of repression reveal something about the priorities of scientists?  Are they really attempting to preserve a habitable climate, or are they more concerned about preserving tenure, prestige and perks?
In the Guardian UK, John Vidal compares his experience at the first Earth Summit to Rio+20:
Helicopters thundered up and down the chic Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. Tanks guarded the bridges and tunnels. The favelas were in lockdown, schools closed and supermarkets stood empty. Unexpectedly, George H W Bush, the 41st US president, flush with success at the collapse of communism, had arrived in Rio de Janeiro for the 1992 Earth summit.
 
The graffiti I saw on Rio's streets read "Yanqui go home", but the world had seen nothing like this before: after years of planning, 109 heads of state, 172 countries, 2,500 official delegates, and about 45,000 environmentalists, indigenous peoples, peasants and industrialists came together for the UN's epic conference on environment and development.
 
The Dalai Lama meditated with Shirley MacLaine on the beach at dawn, Jane Fonda and Pelé turned up, as did Fidel Castro, train robber Ronnie Biggs, and an obscure US senator called Al Gore. 
On a wave of concern about the state of the world, presidents, prime ministers and even two kings signed up to a legally binding convention on biodiversity, a climate-change agreement that led to the Kyoto protocol, a 6,000-page blueprint for action, a six-page philosophical paper linking poverty to environmental degradation, initiatives for forests, and new principles to guide world development.
 
The milestone summit set the global green agenda for 20 years and took only a few days for leaders to negotiate. Nowadays, when it takes 15 years to arrive at nowhere in climate negotiations, it seems extraordinary.
 
Twenty years on Rio is bursting again and on maximum security alert for the follow-up conference, billed as the biggest UN event ever organised. This time, 15,000 soldiers and police are guarding about 130 heads of state and government, as well as ministers and diplomats from 180 countries and at least 50,000 others. 
But Rio+20 is full of absences. François Hollande will be there for France, but Obama, Cameron, Merkel and most other G20 leaders are snubbing it.
 
In 1992, Britain sent to Rio the newly elected prime minister, John Major, his environment secretary, Michael Howard, and two other ministers. This time its delegation includes businesses and is led by the deputy PM, Nick Clegg, with just one other minister. The UK's Department for International Development is represented only by officials.
 
The excuse is that the summit is overshadowed by the deepening global financial crisis. The real reason may be that the days of hope and idealism are over. Rich countries have little new to offer, and China, Brazil, India and other rapidly emerging economies are now in the development driving seat. 
Instead of the ambitious, legally binding conventions on offer in 1992, countries have only been asked to lay the foundations for the next 20 years.
 
The UN wants Rio to endorse a UN "green economy roadmap" with environmental goals, targets and deadlines. Developing countries, led by Colombia, prefer new "sustainable development goals" to better protect the environment, guarantee food and power to the poorest, and alleviate poverty. 
But with negotiations now effectively over there is still no political consensus; the poor are mistrustful of the rich, and groups like Oxfam fear that new goals could get mixed up with the existing millennium development goals.
 
Getting any agreement at all has proved hard. UN chiefs and the Brazilians are upbeat but squabbling governments have fought bitterly over the lead that the rich should give and the money the poor should receive to help them out of destitution. 
Just as in 1992, when Bush declared that "the American way of life is not negotiable" and reduced the aid package to developing countries to a paltry £6bn, so in 2012 US negotiators, backed by the EU and the G20, have told developing countries to accept the "new global reality", and have refused to give way.
 
But no one in Rio doubts that the talks are even more urgent than in 1992. The director of UNEP, Achim Steiner, has warned that pollution is killing millions of people a year, that ecosystem decline is increasing, that climate change is speeding up, and soil and ocean degradation is worsening. 
 
Steiner said: "If [the] trends continue … governments will preside over unprecedented levels of damage and degradation. Earth systems are being pushed towards their biophysical limits." 
Dame Barbara Stocking, Oxfam's director, said: "This is urgent. As the people with the least struggle to survive, the consumption habits of the richest are stripping the Earth of its resources. The situation is dire. We cannot go on living beyond the Earth's boundaries. The people suffering are the poorest. These are issues that will affect us all for ever."
 
But in the absence of government action, any ambition and optimism is expected to come from the parallel "People's Summit", the myriad non-governmental groups and many business meetings that have already started.
 
According to Marina Sylva, former Brazilian environment minister and presidential candidate, Flamingo park in the centre of Rio, where thousands of peasants and social movements are now camping and meeting, should become "the Tahrir square" of NGOs, the dispossessed, the indigenous communities, and human rights, ecological and other social justice activists, all wanting more radical change to the world's economic systems to protect the Earth.
 
For them, the world leaders in the Rio centro meeting halls only offer green capitalism, nature for sale and more of the same inequality. 
Sylva said: "They cannot lower expectations in the face of a crisis worsening every day. I hope that Rio+20 will become the Tahrir square of the global environmental crisis and that public opinion will be able to tell leaders that they cannot brush off the science."
 
Excerpt: George H W Bush speech given at Rio 1992  "Let's face it, there has been some criticism of the United States. But I must tell you, we come to Rio proud of what we have accomplished and committed to extending the record on American leadership on the environment. In the US we have the world's tightest air quality standards on cars and factories, the most advanced laws for protecting lands and waters, the most open processes for public participation.
 
"Now for a simple truth: America's record on environmental protection is second to none. So I did not come here to apologise. We come to press on with deliberate purpose and forceful action. Such action will demonstrate our continuing commitment to leadership and to international co-operation on the environment."
 
"There are those who say it takes state control to protect the environment. Well, let them go to eastern Europe, where the poisoned bodies of children now pay for the sins of fallen dictators, and only the new breeze of freedom is allowing for clean-up.  Today we realise that growth is the engine of change and a friend of the environment. Today an unprecedented era of peace, freedom and stability makes concerted action on the environment possible as never before."
 
Excerpt: Fidel Castro 1992 Rio speech  "An important biological species – humankind – is at risk of disappearing due to the rapid and progressive elimination of its natural habitat. We are becoming aware of this problem when it is almost too late to prevent it. It must be said that consumer societies are chiefly responsible for this appalling environmental destruction."
  
"With only 20% of the world's population they consume two-thirds of all metals and three-fourths of the energy produced worldwide. They have poisoned the seas and the rivers. They have polluted the air. They have weakened and perforated the ozone layer. They have saturated the atmosphere with gases, altering climatic conditions with the catastrophic effects we are already beginning to suffer."
 
"The forests are disappearing. The deserts are expanding. Billions of tons of fertile soil are washed every year into the sea. Numerous species are becoming extinct. Population pressures and poverty lead to desperate efforts to survive, even at the expense of nature."Unequal trade, protectionism and the foreign debt assault the ecological balance and promote the destruction of the environment. If we want to save humanity from this self-destruction, wealth and available technologies must be distributed better throughout the planet. Less luxury and less waste in a few countries would mean less poverty and hunger in much of the world."
MediaLens references a column by George Monbiot, The Mendacity of Hope, which is highly deserving of a separate visit...but following is their article  Game Over for the Climate?
Whatever happened to the green movement? It’s been 50 years since the publication of Rachel Carson’s classic Silent Spring, a powerful book about the environmental devastation wreaked by chemical pesticides. Since then we’ve had the rise and fall - or at least the compromised assimilation - of green groups such as Friends of  the Earth, Greenpeace and Forum For the Future.
 
Last week, the Independent marked the half-century with a well-meaning but frankly insipid ‘landmark series’ titled "The Green Movement at 50".  But there’s a glaring hole in such coverage; and, indeed, in the ‘green movement’ itself: the insidious role of the corporate media, a key component of corporate globalisation, in driving humanity and ecosystems towards the brink of destruction.
   
The acclaimed biologist and conservationist Edward O. Wilson puts the scale of the crisis bluntly: 
‘We’re destroying the rest of life in one century. We’ll be down to half the species of plants and animals by the end of the century if we keep at this rate.’
And yet ‘very few people are paying attention’ to this disaster. Wilson, who is 82, directed his warning to the young in particular:
 
‘Why aren’t you young people out protesting the mess that’s being made of the planet? Why are you not repeating what was done in the ‘60s? Why aren’t you in the streets? And what in the world has happened to the green movement that used to be on our minds and accompanied by outrage and high hopes? What went wrong?’
 
The trouble is that most of what the public hears about politics, including environmental issues, comes from the corporate media. This is a disaster for genuine democracy. As discussed in a recent alert,  the media industry is made up of large profit-seeking corporations whose main task is to sell audiences to wealthy advertisers – also corporations, of course - on whom the media depend for a huge slice of their revenues. It’s blindingly obvious that the corporate media is literally not in the business of alerting humanity to the real risk of climate catastrophe and what needs to be done to avert it.  *snip*
 
Always Stuck On Square One  And yet even liberal media outlets repeatedly present as fact that there has been government ‘failure’ to respond to climate change. They do very little to report that big business, acting through and outside government, and the corporate media itself, has been fighting tooth and nail to prevent the required radical action.
 
Indeed, media debate on how best to respond to environmental crisis has barely moved in a generation. For years, the public has been assailed by the same anodyne editorials urging ‘the need for all of us to act now’.
 
Meanwhile, for obvious reasons, corporate media organisations are silent about the inherently biocidal logic of corporate capitalism. They are silent about the reality that politics in the US and UK is largely ‘a two-party dictatorship in thraldom to giant corporations,’ as Ralph Nader has observed (interview with Paul Jay, The Real News Network, November 4, 2008). They are silent about the role of the mass media, especially advertising, in normalising the unthinkable of unrestrained consumption. The corporate media, including its liberal media wing, is a vital cog of the rampant global capitalism that threatens our very existence. *snip*
 
With humanity heading for the climate abyss, it’s time for the green movement and those on the left to wake up to the reality that the Guardian, and the rest of the liberal-corporate media, is not in favour of the kind of radical change that is desperately needed. 
The Sound Of A Door Closing Forever  Despite an endless series of escalating alarms from Mother Nature indicating the urgency of the climate crisis, no serious action is being undertaken to avert catastrophe. Whenever the corporate media bothers to report the latest sign of climate threat, it usually does so in passing and without proper analysis of the likely consequences, and what can and should be done.  And then the issue is simply dropped and forgotten.
 
For example, the head of the International Energy Agency recently warned that the chance of limiting the rise in global temperatures this century to 2 degrees Celsius (2°C) above pre-industrial levels is reducing rapidly. 
‘What I see now with existing investments for [power] plants under construction...we are seeing the door for a 2 degree Celsius target about to be closed and closed forever,’ Fatih Birol, the IEA's chief economist, told a Reuters’ Global Energy & Environment Summit.
 
‘This door is getting slimmer and slimmer in terms of physical and economic possibility,’ he warned.
According to the IEA, around 80 per cent of the total energy-related carbon emissions permissible by 2035 to limit warming to 2°C have already been taken up by existing power plants, buildings and factories.
 
The 2°C limit was agreed in 2010 at the UN climate summit in Cancún, Mexico. Why 2°C? The Reuters report explains:
‘Scientists say that crossing the threshold risks an unstable climate in which weather extremes are common...’
Tragically, the current trend in greenhouse gas emissions means that rising carbon dioxide emissions may well produce a 2°C rise as early as 2050 and a 2.8°C rise by 2080.
 
If there is ever any ‘mainstream’ discussion of ‘climate risk’, it is usually couched in terms of this ‘safe limit’ of  2°C warming. This was a major theme of the most recent UN climate summit in Durban in December 2011.
 
For example, Louise Gray, environment correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, wrote that:
‘UN scientists have stated that emissions need to peak and start coming down before 2020 to stand a chance of keeping temperature rise within the “safe zone” of 2C.’
Lord Julian Hunt, former head of the UK Met Office, pointed out the best current estimate for global temperature rise by 2100 is 3.5°C and said that the ‘international consensus’ is that it ‘should be limited to 2C’.
 
And a Guardian editorial declared:
‘The race to keep the rise in global temperatures below 2C is still winnable if there is a big change in the pace,’ although conceding that ‘a 3-4 C rise looks the most likely outcome.’
 
Few voices disagree with this framing of the climate debate and what the ‘safe’ target should be. But Chris Shaw, a social sciences researcher at the University of Sussex, is one exception. Shaw has been investigating how international climate change policy is being driven by the ideological notion of a single global dangerous limit of 2°C warming. In reality, however, such a precise limit cannot be supported by the complexities of climate science.  *snip*
 
Shaw’s analysis shows how the ‘two degree dangerous limit’ framework of debate and policy-making has constructed climate change ‘as a problem solvable within existing value systems and patterns of social activity.’ In other words, corporate globalisation is not up for challenge. He stresses that even if we had a perfect forecast of future climate change and our vulnerability to it, 'deciding what counts as dangerous is still a value choice because what is considered to be an acceptable risk will vary between individuals and cultures.' The 2°C-limit ideology ‘elevates the idea of a single dangerous limit to the status of fact, and in so doing marginalises egalitarian and ecological perspectives’.
 
This propaganda process of marginalising sane alternatives has been no accident. As Shaw rightly observes:
'Since the Second World War, the prevailing consensus has been that all problems can be solved through the expert application of industrial technologies, rather than real changes in how we live our lives or, more fundamentally, in human consciousness. The two degree limit perpetuates this approach by diverting attention away from questions about the political and social order.'
 
Shaw concludes:
'What should be a political debate about how we want to live becomes reduced to a series of expert calculations about "how much CO2 can we continue emitting before we warm the world by two degrees?" or "what will be the effect on GDP of reducing emissions by 20 per cent?" Consequently, we are invited to see the world as a kind of planetary machine that requires engineering management and maintenance by experts.' (Email, June 18, 2012)
 
Climate activist and independent journalist Cory Morningstar observes that the first suggestion to use 2°C as a critical temperature limit for climate policy was not even made by a climate scientist.
 
Rather it was put forward by the well-known neoclassical economist, W.D. Nordhaus: 
‘Nordhaus has been one of the most influential economists involved in climate change models and construction of emissions scenarios for well over 30 years, having developed one of the earliest economic models to evaluate climate change policy. He has steadfastly opposed the drastic reductions in greenhouse gases emissions necessary for averting global catastrophe, “arguing instead for a slow process of emissions reduction, on the grounds that it would be more economically justifiable.”’
 
Morningstar, initiator of the grassroots group Canadians for Action on Climate Change, has carefully traced the cynical machinations of corporate ‘environmentalism’. She highlights the little-known fact that, rather than a 2°C target, the original ‘safe limit’ was given as just 1ºC by the United Nations Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases in 1990. But an unholy alliance of corporate interests resulted in it being buried and replaced by the higher target.
 
She adds:
‘As a consequence of such interference by many powerful players who sought to ensure the economic and political power structure would not be threatened, adaptation surfaced as the primary goal in international climate science and policy, effectively replacing the goals of prevention and mitigation from the 1980s.’
 
Morningstar warns of making false friends in the struggle to avert the climate chaos ahead:
‘The mainstream environmental movement no longer inspires nor leads society to an enlightened existence – it simply bows down to the status quo.’
Too many of these mainstream groups have, she says, essentially ‘teamed up’ with the very same corporations that need to be challenged; the same corporations who:
‘greenwash summits and caused such social injustice and environmental degradation in the first place and continue to lobby and bully to maintain the status quo of corporate dominance today.’ 
Chris Shaw points out that powerful policy actors, notably the European Union, have imposed the simple metric of the two degree limit which ‘is then parroted uncritically by the media and NGOs. The danger is that the concept communicates a fallacious sense of certainty.’ (Email, May 24, 2012)
 
He sums up:
‘The argument reduces to this - defining what counts as dangerous is a value choice, not an expert calculation. The neoliberal globalization agenda cannot accommodate almost seven billion different opinions [i.e. the global population] about how much warming should be risked in the name of continued economic growth.’
And so the ideology that best fits within the neoliberal agenda of corporate globalisation – in other words, a single warming limit - is the framework that prevails. Shaw says that 'a new way of talking and thinking about climate change is long overdue' and intends to set out options for this at his blog.
 
Contraction And Convergence  In a rare exception in the corporate media, an article by the Independent’s science editor Steve Connor at least allowed James Hansen a few short paragraphs to spell out the dangers of the 2ºC threshold - if not the economic-growth ideology that lies behind it - and what is really required instead:
‘The target of 2C... is a prescription for long-term disaster ...we are beginning to see signs of slow [climate] feedbacks beginning to come into play.
‘Ice sheets are beginning to lose mass and methane hydrates are to some degree beginning to bubble out of melting permafrost.’
 
Along with other scientists and climate campaigners, Hansen believes the focus should be on limiting the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – now at around 390 parts per million (ppm) and rising annually by 2 ppm. Hansen says it should be no higher than 350 ppm to stop catastrophic events such as the melting of ice sheets, dangerous sea level rises and the huge release of methane from beneath the permafrost. This will require drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and even ‘biosequestration’, for example through reforestation, to soak up some of the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere. 
But even 350 ppm may well be too high, as Hansen himself acknowledges.  There may need to be an upper limit of 300 ppm. Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, head of the prestigious Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, goes further stating:
‘Our survival would very much depend on how well we were able to draw down carbon dioxide to 280 ppm.’ 
This would mean giving up fossil fuels completely; a move which would be fiercely and relentlessly opposed by vested interests.  *snip*
 
The Megalomaniacal Megamachine  The mainstream environment movement, with its career campaigners and high-level hobnobbing with power, has largely failed the public. Tony Juniper, former director of Friends of the Earth (FoE), speaks grandly of the ‘two parallel discourses’ of planetary boundaries and economic growth ‘going in polar opposite directions’. That is all too obvious, and has been well-known for decades. He then claims that ‘the profoundest failure of all is our underlying disconnect from the Earth.’ 
Juniper explains:
‘We work to take on these environmental challenges without having any kind of profound connection with nature. We've lost it talking in a mechanistic, policy-oriented way. 
‘We've tried to make it all about numbers, parts per million, complicated policy instruments, and as a result, we've lost something that's essential. Most people couldn't tell you the names of country flowers by the side of the road, the birds that are singing. It's a disconnect in our world view – a failure in our philosophy.’ *snip*
 
Do leading environmentalists really have nothing more astute, inspiring and hard-hitting to say about a global industrial system of destructive capitalism which is consuming the planet? As one of the characters in Edward Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang observes in the battle against the corporate assault on nature:
‘We're not dealing with human beings. We're up against the megamachine. 
Feeling ‘a profound connection with nature’ is vital for one’s well-being. But it will not get us very far if we do not also recognise and then dismantle the destructive financial practices of global ‘investors’, institutions of state-corporate power - with the media a key element - and the warmongering 'adventures' that are crushing people and planet.
In the week of the Rio 2012 Earth summit, 20 years on from the original jamboree in 1992, George Monbiot writes in the Guardian: 
‘So this is the great question of our age: where is everyone? The monster social movements of the 19th century and first 80 years of the 20th have gone, and nothing has replaced them. Those of us who still contest unwarranted power find our footsteps echoing through cavernous halls once thronged by multitudes. When a few hundred people do make a stand – as the Occupy campers have done – the rest of the nation just waits for them to achieve the kind of change that requires the sustained work of millions.
 
‘Without mass movements, without the kind of confrontation required to revitalise democracy, everything of value is deleted from the political text. But we do not mobilise, perhaps because we are endlessly seduced by hope. Hope is the rope from which we all hang.’ 
Stirring words. But Jonathan Cook, an independent journalist who used to work for the Guardian, notes sagely that:
‘There are no mass protest movements today because “we are endlessly seduced by hope".  And who, I wonder, does most to promote such hope? How unfortunate that he ran out of space when he did - otherwise he might have been able to answer that very question for us.’ (Email, June 18, 2012)
 
In other words, Guardian columnist Monbiot misses out the crucial role of the corporate media, not least his own newspaper, in endlessly seducing us all by hope. 
Cook adds:
'I was a little surprised by this level of chutzpah from Monbiot. In truth, who or what does he think could be capable of generating such hope and be so practised in the art of seduction? It's clearly not the politicians: they were around decades ago, when there were serious protest movements. But a wall-to-wall "professional" (ie corporate) media is of much more recent origin. In fact, the rise of such media appears to track very closely the increase in our soma-induced state.' 
For years, the corporate media has selected and promoted high-profile green spokespeople - like the Green Party's Jonathan Porritt and Sara Parkin, Greenpeace's Lord Peter Melchett and Stephen Tindale, FoE's Charles Secrett and Tony Juniper, author Mark Lynas and Monbiot himself - who have then come to limit and dominate the environment debate within ‘respectable’ bounds.
 
In the 1980s, big business openly declared war on the green movement which it perceived as a genuine threat to power and profit. By a process of carefully limited corporate media 'inclusion', the honesty, vitality and truth of environmentalism have been corralled, contained, trivialised and stifled. Today, even as environmental problems have lurched from bad to worse, the green movement has virtually ceased to exist. The lessons are obvious. Corporate media 'inclusion' of dissent hands influence and control to the very forces seeking to disempower dissent. No-one should be surprised by the results.
 
One last link - a call to civil disobedience  by Climate-Siren.  I have little reason to expect it will produce an uprising sufficient to make any sort of difference in our plight.  But I like the name, and endorse their efforts!  Rage, Rage etc.  And Love:


And then there's always the merciful possibility that the human blight on the planet will be eradicated quickly...without the horror of zombie cannibal attacks!  For the links in this post and others, to articles, photographs, research and videos, I want to say thank you to my cherished correspondents and commenters who bring them to my attention.  I couldn't possibly keep up with the volume of information on my own.

5 comments:

  1. michele/montrealJune 23, 2012 at 7:17 PM

    3-4 weeks ago, they (the city) came to cut half a dozen big trees that were dead and about to fall. 2-3 days ago, they (the city) came to pull out the stumps and cover the ground with new grass. so now, there is no trace. no funeral, no grief, no trace. "they" will be able to do this as long as the trees are dying one by one, which will very soon become impossible.

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  2. Primary Eco-terrorists.

    http://www.plata.com.mx/mplata/articulos/images/THE%20MATRIX%20OF%20POWER%20-%20HSP.pdf

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  3. Lately, I'm done mourning, staying Sober longer, not needing the addictive distractions of civilization just to feel alive, and enjoying the last bit of nature before it, or we humans, or both, are gone forever. I sometimes feel like Cypher, wishing I had never taken the red pill. Serious, the hologram is great, and all my friends are still in it, deep, and enjoying it. Biophilia is such a sweet sorrow. The Trees! I wonder if the trees feel the betrayal. The Noose tightens.

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  4. Thank you for weaving those links together. I had not realized I was a biophiliac.

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  5. Thanks to you for all the research, articles, photographs, links and videos; you keep us so well informed!

    Best of luck with your trial. Your bravery is astounding.

    ReplyDelete

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