Wednesday, November 14, 2007

We Have to Stop Making Greenhouse Gasses

First the cheery news - if you are interested, I'm going to be on KBOO Portland 90.7 talking to Andrew today about the problems of biofuels at 9am PST. If you want to read some of my prior writing about the subject, you can find it here: The interview will eventually be online here:

Now to the bad news (and you knew there had to be some, of course), Carbon Equity's sequel to The Big Melt is out, and its assessment of what needs to be done is shocking - unless you've been reading this blog and following the news regularly. I can't link you directly to it, since PDF files do nasty things to my computer, but again, I'll send you over to Rob Hopkins' site to check it out:

Again, this is mostly a reiteration of what we knew already - that nothing in the present plans created by the IPCC or any national government is adequate to what we're facing - we're not only lost in the Arizona desert, but we're still looking that the town road map for Akron, Ohio - we're not even on the right page. Nor do we have a lot of time to get it right.

And we have to get it right - the stakes are simply too high - no matter what the personal price to us now, it is inevitably going to be less serious than the price we will pay if we don't stop climate change. In fact, one of the great absolute truths is that it is always easier, cheaper and better to prevent a mess than clean it up afterwards - that fact is not any less true in the face of the knowledge that fixing the problem will be extraordinarily difficult for us.

The next part of the report will include solutions, and I have no doubt that it will be as wise and useful as the rest of the report. My own take on this is that there simply is no other option than mostly, to stop buying stuff, stop using stuff, stop burning fuel and change our society, radically. And that means mostly changing our society by making do with what we've got - by taking all the things we've invested so much energy in over the last decades, and extracting what benefit we can from them, and then going forward from there. Perhaps we'll sequester some carbon, I'm sure we'll do some renewables - but mostly, we're going to be taking the bits and pieces and fragments of what we have and putting the puzzle pieces together again to make a different picture.

And I'll admit, a particular thought experiment has been troubling my mind lately. I wonder sometimes, what the results would be in this country if we pulled the bandaid off rather rapidly, and managed to cut fossil fuel inputs dramatically, and rapidly, rather like Cuba in the special period.

Now don't mistake me, I have absolutely no doubt that I would hate the results - that it would involve panic, riots, catastrophe, hunger, disaster. The average Cuban lost 20lbs during the special period - I could afford it, my husband barely, my kids absolutely not. And yet, I wonder if it might not be that someone with the courage to do this may be our only choice - because so far, what we are doing is not doing it. We're so afraid of the suffering we might experience even in an easy transition that I sometimes wonder whether if we could just be forced into letting go of our fear, to jump in and go forward, we might not, in the end succeed.

These are just musings, of course, and I'm also grateful for my options, for my comforts. I don't want the magic fairy dust of fossil fuels to go away - they are far too convenient. And if I have trouble disciplining myself, I'm sure it is no surprise that others do too.

Ah well, just thinking.



Tracy Glomski said...

My connection is unable to find the server for this morning. In case anyone else is having that problem, here's the URL where the pdf for the November report, Target Practice, can be downloaded directly:

What the Cubans have accomplished is remarkable.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the link, Sharon.

We can't do what the Cubans have done - they had a totalitarian government to force them to it, and we don't quite, as of yet. They also live in a more or less homogeneously mild and moist climate where food can be grown year round. Much of the US does not. The Cubans are also more or less culturally homogeneous - we are a mix of hundreds of cultures. What all this means is that even attempting to do what the Cubans have done is many, many orders of magnitude more complex. And our culture simply won't put up with what it would take to do it - the overwhelmingly vast majority of people here don't even have Peak Oil on their radars, and even if it were, the overwhelmingly vast majority would simply choose not to believe it, or would choose to believe it won't happen in their lifetimes and will push to "party on." There will be a hundred different "expert" opinions floating around on this, and people will latch onto and choose to believe whichever one best suits their inclinations. This is what has been happening on overpopulation, pollution, and climate change all along.

Now multiply this out over all the countries of the world - some of which would have an easier time implementing a "Cuban-type solution" than we would, some of which would have as hard a time with it as we would, for whatever reasons. Then add convincing India and China that we (collective global "we") are NOT really just trying to stymie their newly burgeoning economies and selfishly prevent them from having all the toys we have had for decades and now take for granted. Even if you could get through to the people, many of whom have no access to outside information and also have little real education, the governments are the real issue - I mean, we are talking about countries that have heatedly pursued developing or buying nuclear weapons of mass destruction simply because the big developed nations had them and having them too supports their grandiose visions of themselves and their place in the world. I doubt that they will be any more rational when it comes to curbing those grandiose visions in the name of Climate Change than they have been in the name of Nuclear Winter.

The bottom line is, when it comes to "stopping all new greenhouse gasses" - it ain't happening. We won't even get close - actually, I expect that for the most part, things will go on as they are now, and greenhouse emissions will actually continue to rise - maybe a bit more slowly, but they will not be reversed. If I were a betting person, that's where I'd put my money. We're fighting short-sighted, greedy human nature, and entrenched consumption cultures. On a global scale.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't act, but it means that we should also focus quite a bit on making plans for surviving the changes. Because if these reports are right, changes are fast on the way.

Anonymous said...

By the way, I agree a Cuban type plan is definitely the way to go - I just don't expect to see it happening on anything near a global scale. But on a local scale - perhaps.

Let's face it - people are not logical nor are they rational. The majority make their decisions based on what they want to do or what they already believe and then pick up some "facts" later to justify it. That is really what we'd be fighting here. Human nature. Which is what got us to this point to begin with.

Anonymous said...

I live in the Pacific NW and went to 90.7 to listen to your interview at 9am PST. It's not there, instead they are reviewing movies.

Anonymous said...

to another anonymous [comment #2]
having them too supports their grandiose visions of themselves
What an example of an "American" notion - them little upstarts....
But try to see it from their "bombed to stone age Afganistan / Irag / Wherever"
Nukes are not a _simple_ prestige - its what keeps you from being invaded/bombed/occupied.
They are means of last resort, the last hope of keeping sovereignty. Even a "mad dictator" wouldn't just use them to spite the superpower - who wants to be nuked back.
Sorry about off-topic.

As far as Cuban thing - of course its a great achievement - but would you want to live like Cubans, or in Cuba ?
See! - thats why we are not going to have that here...
almost said "unfortunately"... but I think its more complicated then that.


Panidaho said...

"What an example of an "American" notion - them little upstarts....
But try to see it from their "bombed to stone age Afganistan / Irag / Wherever"
Nukes are not a _simple_ prestige - its what keeps you from being invaded/bombed/occupied. "

You obviously missed my "tongue in cheek" there. *We* in the US are the originators of the Grandiosity Club. No argument from me there! And in case you also missed this point, I think it's quite likely and quite reasonable for "upstart" countries to question our morals and motives when we ask them to reduce their fuel usage and greenhouse gas emissions. I mean, it's not like anyone really has any reason to believe anything we say anymore.

But even so, my point was that much of what these governments are telling their people and the world when publicly justifying massive nuclear weapons expenditures while so many in their countries are at barely at subsistence levels of living, have little to do with national defense. It's mostly about national prestige. National pride - you have them, so we want them, too, and we'll have them no matter what.

Anonymous said...

If what you are saying is that you just want the other wretched shoe to drop -- I'm with you.


jlpicard2 said...

I looks to me like we are on the path of Easter Island. Should we do what is necessary? Of course. Will we do it. No, barring full scale nuclear war or similar disaster.

Anonymous said...

Although it is generally easier to prevent the problem than clean it up - it seems from the replies today we must leave it to nature to fix. It won't be pretty but it will be an effective, low cost and ultimately sustainable - perfect for Capitalism and our pampered populations.

Please all learn to sow and reap, make and mend, prepare and offer food, give love and kindness, and importantly look after YOU AND YOURS. It's really always been part of life for our species, apart from our own "Special Period" 1930 to 2030...

Sharing the Road to back to Olduvai

Anonymous said...

I think Cuba's successful response to the Soviet Union's cutting all subsidies and triggering the "special period" cannot be replicated in the U.S.

Prior to 1990, Cuba had experienced some 30 years of centralization and socialism. Cubans were used to putting the interests of the community above their individual desires. Shortly after the crisis, Cuba pursued permaculture (taught to them by Australians) under the direction of their altruistic/authoritarian government.

Today Cuba is more independent than ever. Not controlled by the Spaniards, Americans or the Soviets who had always exploited them. Today Cuba grows 80% of its food organically and many people are involved in farming. Farmers are paid more than many other professionals. Farming has become a dignified profession, as it should be.

In the U.S., we have a corporatocracy: government and corporations work as one entity. The primary interest of the coporatocracy is making profits for the elites while neglecting policies that would benefit the common people. History shows that when an empire declines or is collapsing, it does not suddenly become altruistic and rational.

I wish the U.S. government and its people would pursue altruism; the reduction of greenhouse gases would be an example to the world. I see no significant sign of it. My most realistic hope is that individuals who see reality and understand history and our present reality will join other like-minded individuals and build lifeboats to attempt to save the remaining life on Earth.

We can try, even if we think that we might ultimately fail. The moral and right thing to do is to try. Oh, and let's have a good time trying to be paradigm shifters. I, for one, enjoy pursuing simplicity and I feel that when I simplify I am in solidarity with those who came before me as well as with those in our world who still live simply.

~Vegan/Leaving So. FL

nulinegvgv said...

"Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add but when there is nothing left to take away." -Antoine de St. Exupery

Now we get to move again towards perfection.

Anonymous said...

Cuba post 1989, Russia post 1989, Bulgaria post 1989, and North Korea post 1989; offer a whole spectrum of "special period" scenarios, with lots of variation on oil, agriculture, strategy and success. (And there are probably several other ex-COMECOM nations that could help illustrate the range too). Don't just look at Cuba, and say "We can't do that" look at the range and what worked and didn't.

Russia, made no serious top-down de-collective or organic reforms, and slipped into terrible kleptocracy. But the people bottom-up focused heavily on gardening plots of land, and were building on an established "black agriculture" tradition from even before the collapse. The 90s sucked but few starved.

Bulgaria didn't de-collectivize, and still has a problem with its aging tractor fleet - but moved heavily away from its old "cash crops" like roses, and to local needs (like vegetables and grains), and then later to west looking and south looking cash crops like tobacco and sunflower. (Also in Bulgaria there was a huge 40% economic contraction in 1990, but the banking collapse didn't hit until 1996.)

But North Korea should scare us.

We've got to have some degree of individual gardening, and shifting agriculture to local needs and vegetables. We may not be able to pull of Cuba's stunning urban organics transformation, and we don't have nearly Russia's black market agriculture for the sake of your family and friends tradition, but we need to at least pull off something like Bulgaria's shift in crops and re-localization, and the further we can go towards de-collectivization and organicness the better.
-Brian M

Anonymous said...

"The needs of the natural world are more important than those of the economic system." - Derrick Jensen

"In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, nations, and epochs it is the rule." - Friedrich Nietszche

Most people in the USA (and likely most of the industrialized world) won't be able to wrap their heads around the first quote because of the second one.
- Mike Lorenz

rubenanderson said...

I am always amazed when people talk about surviving the changes, adapting to climate change. The last time the earth was 3 degrees warmer, only two quadrapeds survived. It is seems quite possible we will cook this planet back to algae, and have to start all over again with evolution.

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