Shapes of things (2012 and all that)

‘Tis the silly season, time for journalists with little real news to report to reflect on the year past and make predictions for the year to come. I don’t normally play that game because there are too many interesting things to write about on the climate beat, but this year I’m going to make an exception. Glenn “Climate Show” Williams persuaded me to have a chat with him on his summer Radio Live show — and yes, we did cover the last year, and the prospects for 2012. The audio’s available to stream for the next week from the Radio Live site (select Dec 28th, then the 1-15pm segment — my bit starts after about 5 minutes). You may regard this post as an expanded version of my comments there (and a bit of recap on the last Climate Show of the year).

So: 2011 was the year of extremes, beyond any shadow of doubt. Wherever you looked around the world, there were record-breaking floods, heatwaves and hugely damaging extreme weather events. The USA alone had 14 separate extreme weather events with billion dollar plus damage bills (NOAA puts it at 12 with 2 more to finalise, the World Meteorological Organisation plumps for 14). The year broke no records for global average temperature — 2011 will probably end up as the 10th or 11th warmest year in the long term record — but it will be the warmest ever La Niña year. Here’s a WMO graph to illustrate the point:

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Politics of Climate Justice

I warm to any writer who identifies the solution to climate change in the simple terms employed by Patrick Bond in his recent book Politics of Climate Justice: Paralysis Above, Movement Below: leave fossil fuels in the soil, halt deforestation, transform our economies so that renewable energy, public transport and low-carbon systems replace those currently threatening the planet. Short and simple to articulate, he comments, but apparently impossible to implement.

Bond writes from Africa, where he is a professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He carries a deep sense of the damage that climate change is causing and will cause to African societies, and calls for justice not only in the mitigation of further climate change but also in substantial transfers of wealth to enable poor countries to cope with the adaptation and mitigation measures demanded of them. He sees this as the payment of an ecological debt.

Carbon trading he regards as a charade that will do nothing to reduce global warming. It has been accepted as the primary capitalist management technique but offsetting emissions is not the same as cutting them, and to date there is little sign that the wealthy countries are achieving emissions cuts by emissions trading. Shifting, stalling and stealing are the words he uses to describe such trading, as capitalism frantically seeks new ways to address its crises and avoid threats to its over-accumulated capital.

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Primary gifting period comes but once a year

It will, with luck, be a quiet Christmas chez Hot Topic. A small family gathering instead of the usual table groaning with relatives, but I will shortly have my hands deep inside a turkey, and we will all be reminded that my mother makes the best mince pies in the world. Then it will be time for the cook (for it is me) to retire to the hammock in the shade of the birch tree with a book and a glass of wine and fall asleep. A very merry primary gifting period to all of Hot Topic’s readers and contributors. Normal service will be resumed when my liver has recovered and the mince pies are all gone.

Below the fold: B B King!

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Doublethink: doubleplus ungood

What do New Zealand government members really think about the chasm between their claims on the one hand to be addressing climate change and their insistence on the other that we must take every opportunity to expand our fossil fuel mining industry? I listened to a recent Radio New Zealand interview with Tim Groser, the Minister responsible for international climate change negotiations, in which he discussed the outcome of the Durban conference. He sounded committed to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. He was respectful of the science. He affirmed that the progress so far made was inadequate, but thought it possible that Durban might turn out to have been a critical turning point by getting all the big emitting countries on the mitigation bus. He sometimes sounded the “real world” theme, but not to the extent of suggesting that the whole process was doomed to failure. He was positive about renewable energy potential. One might disagree with some of his perspectives, but there was no suggestion that he was not serious about the need for the world to move to low-carbon economies.

Yet back in New Zealand Groser is a Minister in a government which is planning to increase the exploration and exploitation of fossil fuels, claiming that they offer immense financial benefits that we would be foolish to forego. These fuels will release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere either in the countries to which they are exported or here. When pressed on the issue the excuses offered include that emissions in other countries are the responsibility of the users of the fuels, not the suppliers, that within New Zealand our Emissions Trading Scheme will somehow result in the satisfactory offsetting of the harm done by the emissions, and that if we don’t mine fossil fuels others will and we will suffer an unfair economic disadvantage.

I find it impossible to mentally inhabit these two worlds simultaneously. A world in which we are working sincerely to a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and a world in which we are vigorously pursuing the extraction of every last bit of fossil fuel we can locate. Am I lacking mental agility?  Or is there doublethink going on in government?

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What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism

A couple of months ago when the publishers sent me a review copy I’d requested of The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth they enclosed another shorter book in case I might like to review it as well. I thought from the title it was possibly too similar to The Ecological Rift to warrant a further review. And it is similar in its broad thesis. But it’s also short and punchy, and encouraged by Naomi Klein’s recommendation of it as “relentlessly persuasive” and “indispensable” I read it through and decided to give it mention on its own account. The title is What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know about Capitalism. It’s written by Fred Magdoff, professor emeritus of plant and soil science at the University of Vermont, and John Bellamy Foster, one of the authors of The Ecological Rift.

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