It is depressingly apparent that powerful forces in the global economy are set to carry on with the exploration for and use of fossil fuels as a primary source of energy for decades to come. Oxfam has produced a report identifying the confluence of fossil fuel companies, governments and investors which givers momentum to the disastrous course along which we are being impelled.
Food, Fossil Fuels and Filthy Finance pulls no punches. It points to the evidence from the Tyndall Centre that, in the absence of an unprecedented change in the global use of fossil fuels, we are heading for a global temperature rise of 4 to 6 degrees by century’s end.
Warming at this rate would leave hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest people at risk of severe hunger and drought by 2060. Even 2 degrees is going to have widespread human impacts and cause serious setbacks to development. The ‘hunger costs’ of fossil fuels are set to be the most savage impacts of climate change for millions globally. Farmers in many African countries are likely to see decreases in yield decade by decade, in spite of adaptation measures. The report details much more by way of cascading adverse impacts on populations least equipped to cope with them. It also points to severe economic and business risks in store for the developed countries as climate change begins to bite in their regions.
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Anyone who follows the science of climate change knows that we are heading for environmental and social turmoil along our current path. In his new novel MiSTORY author Philip Temple imaginatively pictures what that turmoil might mean decades on from now.
New Zealand is in a political mess. Conflict abroad and conflict within. A long-lasting state of emergency, the suspension of elections, a sinister security force exercising surveillance and seeking out the resistance force which has emerged since the SoGreens were banished from political life, decayed infrastructure but an impressive range of digital electronics available to the controlling authorities. All the ingredients for what the chief protagonist, John 21, gradually recognises is “a kind of casual police state, if there can be such a thing, a police state kiwistyle”.
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Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate places the battle against climate change firmly in the context of the struggle for social justice. Fighting climate change means reordering the ways our economies are structured. The pillars of the reigning economic paradigm – privatisation, deregulation and lower taxation paid for by cuts to public spending cannot serve us for this purpose. Public spending, on the scale of a Marshall Plan for the earth, and robust public institutions are required.
Klein is no friend to neo-liberal capitalism quite apart from the climate issue, but she considers climate change adds existential urgency to her political and economic concerns. The Heartland Institute, whose sixth international conference she attended, is right, she suggests, to see climate change as a threat to the ideology they exist to defend. Her report of that conference, incidentally, is a fascinating account of the twisted logic which is common discourse in such gatherings. Continue reading “This Changes Everything”
Dale Jamieson is a philosopher long acquainted with the work of climate scientists. His recently published book was begun 25 years ago, “an avocation that became an obsession”. He used to joke when asked why the book wasn’t appearing that he was waiting to see how the story ended. Then it dawned on him after the failed 2009 Copenhagen conference that there was no ending, and certainly not a happy one. The continuing journey is largely a matter of salvaging what we can from the wreckage. The book’s title sets the stark picture: Reason in a Dark Time. Why the Struggle Against Climate Change Failed – and What it Means for Our Future.
Not surprisingly with such a title the book is not a call to action but rather an invitation to understand our failure and to think about what we might learn from it and how best live in the changed world we are creating.
Jamieson proposes a variety of reasons for our failure. Scientific ignorance is one. He recalls British scientist and novelist C.P. Snow’s famous “two cultures” claim in 1956 that the British political and cultural elite, educated in the humanities, was quite ignorant and even contemptuous of science. The “two cultures” are alive and well in the United States today, including among the political elites. In particular the weight of peer-reviewed science is often not grasped. Jamieson presents an illuminating explanation of the process of peer review which enables the incremental advance of solid science. It is scientific ignorance which has allowed climate change denial to find a foothold, aided by powerful corporations anxious to prevent or delay action which might affect their profitability.
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It has been clear for some years that climate change is affecting poorer populations sooner and more gravely than it is economically developed societies. There is little sign that the wealthy nations are much disturbed by this fact, and no sign that it has any braking effect on the inexorable drive to find and exploit fossil fuel reserves. But there are some who care and they can show a dogged persistence in demanding that we take notice of how drastically the climate change for which we are responsible is threatening the lives of people with few defences against it.
Hannah Reid, a researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London, has written a book Climate Change and Human Development which falls into that category of the doggedly persistent. She draws much of her material from a wide range of NGOs’ contact with affected communities and individuals. The book contains numerous short reports of what is happening to people in many parts of the globe, particularly Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Pacific Island states. It brings the reader close to the struggles of people like the tribal community elder in Pakistan who describes the disappearance of birds, the advent of mosquitos, the eroding flash floods and concludes: “Our options for survival are shrinking day by day”.
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