I signed off regular writing for Hot Topic some months ago. But failing eyesight doesn’t mean failing concern, and my anger at the way our government heedlessly pursues the expansion of fossil fuel exploration led me recently to reflect I could still see sufficiently to write letters to editors. Publication of a letter by the NZ Herald emboldened me to try something for the dialogue page. It wasn’t accepted, on the reasonable ground that they were about to publish an article by Jim Salinger which they described as along the same lines.
However I thought Hot Topic readers might be interested in my attempt to attack the government on moral grounds. I acknowledge that politics and morality make uneasy bedfellows, and that moral absolutism is hardly a suitable tool for political effectiveness. Nevertheless sometimes issues arise where shades of grey can legitimately be challenged by something closer to black and white, and that transition is certainly much earlier along the path of fossil fuel exploitation than our government (and many other governments) is currently inclined to allow.
The moral appeal is strongly made by many who write and speak on the climate issue. Al Gore sounds it regularly. Among the many books I have reviewed on Hot Topic I recall being struck by what William Calvin’s book Treating a Fever had to say on the question, as I summarised in the review:
“He also pins hope on religious leaders coming to see that climate change is a serious failure of stewardship and our present use of fossil fuel is a deeply immoral imposition on other people and unborn generations. Their arguments will trump the objections of the vested interests, just as they did when slavery was ended in the 19th century.”
Whether there’s any hope of an onslaught by religious leaders in church-going US, or for that matter in less religion-oriented NZ, is hardly yet clear, but the appeal to morality can be sounded just as well by those of no religion, and is worth making if we set any value on the finer human traits.
Here’s the piece I submitted to the Herald. Hot Topic readers will understand that it was written for a general public audience.
Continue reading “Morality, government and fossil fools (Bryan’s back!)”
Why do we continue with business as usual when we know that it is leading us to disastrous climate change? According to the authors of The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth it is because our capitalist economic system is driven by forces which cannot stand back and weigh the consequences of their drive. The blind accumulation of private wealth at the expense of the environment has enormous momentum which the system is not geared to control.
The authors, John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark and Richard York are all sociology professors. They write from the broadly Marxist standpoint exemplified by the Monthly Review magazine of which Foster is the current editor. As might be expected, their attack on capitalism is not limited to its environmental devastation but also takes in its exploitation of human labour for private profit. One of the interests of the book, for me with only a superficial acquaintance with Marx’s thought, was its explanation of the unity which Marx saw in nature and society and which western Marxism failed to sustain. The authors point, for example, to Marx’s interest in soil science and awareness of the nutrient depletion accompanying a more industrialised agriculture. Nature as well as human society needed to be protected from the capitalist juggernaut.
Continue reading “The Ecological Rift”
The Guardian, with the exception of the foolishness of its analysis of the climategate emails, is one of the world media’s bright spots when it comes to recognising and communicating the realities of climate change. It carried grim news yesterday. Environment correspondent Fiona Harvey reported International Energy Agency (IEA) unpublished estimates that greenhouse gas emissions increased by a record amount last year, to the highest carbon output in history.
“Last year, a record 30.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide poured into the atmosphere, mainly from burning fossil fuel – a rise of 1.6Gt on 2009, according to estimates from the IEA regarded as the gold standard for emissions data.”
Continue reading “Grim news on emissions”
Richard Alley’s splendid abilities as a communicator are well displayed in his new book Earth: The Operators’ Manual. Written as a companion book for a forthcoming PBS documentary he hosts, it provides a lively review of the science of climate change and of the renewable energy sources now able to be employed. The general reader who wants to understand why human activities are causing climate change and why it matters, and is prepared to put a little effort into the quest, will find the book an engaging explanation.
Continue reading “Earth: The Operators’ Manual”
I appreciated the candidness with which economist Ross Garnaut introduced and concluded his recently released update on the science of climate change, one of a series of updates to his 2008 Review which have been commissioned by the Australian government.Â In the introduction he explains how he began his original Review with no strong views and no more than a common knowledge of climate change science. He read a fair bit of climate science in the course of preparing the Review, including paying due attention to sceptics with genuine scientific credentials, and his investigations led him to the premise for his Review that â€œon a balance of probabilitiesâ€ the central conclusions of the mainstream science were correct.
Since then he has moved in his thinking to regard it as highly probable that most of the global warming since the mid-20th century is human-caused. Further, he declares that he would now be tempted to say that those who think that temperatures and damage from a specified level of emissions over time will be larger than is suggested by the mainstream science are much more likely to be proven correct than those who think the opposite.
Continue reading “Garnaut: no reticence on risk”