Saturday, March 9, 2013

Earth Poisoning Diary (month 2)

Australians have just survived their Angry Summer. The Australian Climate Commission acknowledges that all weather, including extreme weather events, occur in a climate system that is warmer and moister than it was in 1960; they use the analogy of a climate on steroids (or other performance enhancers). Until recently, the standard position on extreme weather was that no individual event could be attributed to climate change. That position started to alter in the scientific literature a couple of years ago. PubIic consciousness may be changing, both awakening to the dangers of Earth poisoning and understanding more fully the threat to global society from our addiction to 19th century energy technologies. The damage to human health is also slowly being better appreciated. Thanks to SBS news for mentioning this.

Part of this awakening process is the backlash against the use of public savings, such as pension funds and the Australian "Future Fund" to invest in Earth poisons. A more modest example is the divestment by the Australian National University (ANU) of its shares in Metgasco, a company which extracts coal seam gas. Metgasco shares have since fallen so low that the company has been removed from the All Ordinaries Index. It makes no more long-term sense to invest in Earth poisons that for an individual to swallow arsenic every day. Perhaps recognising this, the mayor of Los Angeles has repeated an earlier promise to free his city of coal-powered electricity by 2025.
As Tom Swann, an ANU environment representative said: "Fossil fuels are a bad investment — environmentally damaging and financially irresponsible. This year we've decided that it's really important to broaden the focus to fossil fuels in general. The same thing that happened with Metgasco is going to happen with all fossil fuel investments around the world in the coming decade and we think it's really important the ANU shows some moral leadership on this and gets ahead of the curve."
Many people in mainstream media are understandably fearful of its demise (due to the rise of the internet and social media), and their consequent loss of employment. However, too much of the media is in thrall to those who profit from Earth poison. They are also frequently guilty of non-systemic thinking. Here are three examples. 

(a) Recent misrepresentation of IPCC chief Rajendra Pachauri's position on whether global temperature increase has abated by the leading Australian media promoter of earth poisoning. 
(b) Persistent failure of Australian (and probably global) media to ask politicians about links between extreme weather events, climate change and earth poisoning.
(c) The almost universal failure to link population growth and limits to growth to conflict, as recently explained by Brian McGavin for counties including Egypt, Haiti, Pakistan and Yemen. To this could easily be added Bangladesh. This failure is also common in academia, especially among social scientists. Prof John Urry is a rare and welcome exception.

The New York Times journalist Andy Revkin commented on a report by Matthew Nisbet on the activist Bill McKibben. What I didn't like in Nisbet’s essay (repeated uncritically by Revkin) was his likening of anthropogenic climate change to an insoluble problem. This is true in the sense that human modification of the climate lasting for several thousand years is now inevitable. But Nisbet and Revkin  seem to suggest that a limiting of global temperature increase to 2 or even 3 degrees is now impossible, and furthermore that it doesn't really matter — as if this is now a philosophical problem. This misses the pointof McKibben's 350 campaign. I agree that 350 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide is a rallying call, beyond reach; but what about 500 ppm? (We are very close to 400 ppm). Neither Nisbet nor Revkin appears to understand the concept of Earth system thresholds, let alone Earth system eco-social thresholds, such as the risk of global conflict in response to scarcity. Revkin's "neutrality" on this, given his influence and prominence attempts to undermine the arguments of McKibben and numerous scientists is deeply regrettable.

Lastly, on the ABC programme, “Inside Business”, there was much talk of how the finds of new fossil fuel energy in the US are reviving the economy and how this revolution will spread to Australia. But US energy prices are not low compared to 20 years ago. And they are likely to soon rise again, according to a new report from the Post Carbon Institute. Also, the only environmental issue  discussed was water. Earth poisoning by unburnable carbon, as recently publicised by McKibben in Rolling Stone — was entirely ignored. For a publicly funded organisation, this analysis is not much better that in a corporation controlled by fossil fuel purveyors.