The short answer is no; the long answer requires an explanation of what form that revolution will take.

We all know we’re shafting the planet, and headlines every other week are making sure we don’t forget. As another Conference of the Parties (COP) conference kicks off this week - this time in Poland, this time called COP24 - we have been warned that decisive action in the next two years will be crucial.

The real problem is the solution; collectively we are still failing to meet our climate targets (by a lot) even after the heralded Paris Agreement and a global consensus on the dangers threatening us as a species. The issues need to be placed in the context of survival, because that’s what is causing this zero-sum game. The survival of our existing economic paradigm or the entire biosphere.

Recently, a total of 91 scientists from 40 countries compiled 6000 climate reports to paint a dire picture – we have far less time to prevent the worst of climate change than we originally thought.

A landmark report from the International Panel on Climate Change assessed the potential damage if the global temperature rises another 1.5 degrees. Here’s a hint; it’s not good.

The recommendations in the conclusion are explicit. If we do not drastically reduce our use of fossil fuels, we will exceed our limit by 2030. Rising above 1.5 degrees would mean the elimination of all coral reefs, massive water scarcity (especially in developing countries), the near eradication of natural insect and pollination cycles and sea level increases affecting over 10 million people. Acidity increases in the ocean would mean that marine fisheries would lose nearly 3m tonnes.

One of the most saddening conclusions of this report is that the dangers highlighted above would not be solved at 1.5 degrees. Even if we managed to keep to that target, it would only lessen the irreversible damage to our biosphere and still cause catastrophic weather events.

Here are some of the key proposals of the reports:

- To have 70% of all energy renewable by 2050
- Carbon pollution cut 45% by 2030
- Zero carbon emission by 2050
- Massive reforestation (to act as carbon sinks)
- Changing the priorities of transport to more a sustainable model

Currently, all 190 countries (under the Paris Agreement) who have agreed to cut emissions would mean a rise of more than 3 degrees. Multitudes of reports have proven that even if we cut all fossil fuel extraction now, the longevity of existing permits and foregone drilling consents mean we would still far exceed a sustainable global temperature. The reserve-ratio of oil companies as it stands represents nearly 3 gigaton of carbon, which blows our limit six times over without considering other polluting industries.

This doesn’t even mention the current effects on fragile ecosystems; a recent study exemplifies this by showing that the human population has extirpated nearly 83% of mammals. Honeybee species are severely threatened, with the consequences of losing their pollination a direct threat on a third of our food sources. Climate-related weather anomalies are on the rise and causing massive physical and economic damage.

We cannot continue to be aware of the risks which come as a cause of climate change and believe that changing our coffee cups, picking up litter on a Sunday or buying solar panels will subdue the wave of destruction that is approaching.

This battle is not one we can win individually, nor can we afford to be content with micronized solutions. While it is amazing and constructive that across the world people are beginning to commit to renewable energy, education programs and action on pollution reduction, we need to use some of this momentum to reframe the entire debate. While countries are adapting (with varying effect) to a fossil-free future, the evidence is pointing in one direction... That it may be too late.

The crux of the problem remains unaddressed: the minority of industries who continue to pollute the most and the political machinations used to protect them. Considering that just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of pollution, we need to change the framework of this discussion and fight the real cause.

There are many practical solutions which are put forward. A change of consumption is one method. Less meat, less agriculture, more forests. While this seems a feasible solution, it is simply too slow and too mired in development debate. Wealthy countries can afford to have this discussion given the options available due to our carbon-intensive industrial history, which blasted us ahead of the rest. Unfortunately, it’s not really up for discussion anywhere else.

The argument for production, strong economic growth and food resources was one of the causes of the election of Jair Bolsonaro, the President-elect of Brazil. Bolsonaro has no intention of preserving the Amazon rainforest, the world’s largest carbon sink equating to nearly a quarter of global emissions. It has been plundered and deforested for cattle and palm oil so much that the emissions it absorbs has dropped by nearly a third over the past decade. Bolsonaro’s intention is to continue to tear it down for development.

The idea of changing the world through purchases once again shifts the burden on us as individuals and consumers, misdirecting the blame. Given the urgency, an entire cultural shift requires a patience we can’t afford.

Consumption is not the immediate answer. Are institutions?

Under the guidance of supranational institutions, the Paris Agreement was the best the world could commit to. Highly politicised and heralded as a breakthrough, there is now evidence to prove critics correct – that it was lacklustre in ambition. And even with the Agreements goal of 2 degrees (1.5 being ‘ideal’) we have found ourselves set back by the biggest polluter, the US, pulling out of the Agreement and Bolsonaro promising the same.

It took decades to reach this agreement, and the conclusion was a target which is still dangerously low and the biggest polluters ultimately rejecting it.

The market itself is another option. There are 17 emission trading schemes (ETS) in four continents and 35 countries. These schemes have been effective, as proven by the European Union, which has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 20% since 1990 through direct and enforceable action. However there are also examples of massive policy failures and New Zealand is a prime example.

Dirty foreign credits were exchanged and the market distorted itself to center itself around the profit motive, as the market always does. Attempts to enforce or curb companies are fought with ferocity at the international level, in trade tribunals and environmental agreements. Often successfully.

The threat of disinvestment, scaring off ‘job creators’ or political ramifications are regularly employed as tactics behind closed doors. The EU has the benefit of the Rome Statute which enforces directives and targets. No other organisation has anything similar, and most attempts at global co-operation has failed. Primarily this is because of large, industrial countries secure economic advantage by playing politics. Developing countries who are dependent on the political good-will of other western nations cannot afford to dispute their decisions and follow suit.
 
The concept of “corporate consciousness” has constantly been exposed as a marketing ploy. While there are genuine sustainable companies, and many of the largest are making small efforts, the biggest polluters continue to do so without any regards for global stability. Instead, governments are required to use taxpayer money to subsidise electric vehicles, solar panels, and other transitional technology because of the intransigence of those responsible who should bear the social cost that is a requisite for their profit.

Corporates love to pretend they are sustainable, but the burden mostly falls on the taxpayer and government to shoulder the financial cost to clean up their mess. And yet those who continue to extract and pollute are often given ample subsidies, tax cuts and legal protections. But we can’t afford to get bogged down in the corporate/political symbiosis.

Journalist George Monbiot rightly pointed out that many purported changes by companies to become environmentally friendly are either outright deception or well-intentioned but ineffective. This is not an issue with us as individuals – it is to with those in power and the systemic damage certain industries are causing.

So if we accept that it is our imbedded, ‘extractionism’ method of production which is destroying the planet, we as individuals are not at fault and we’re running out of time, what do we do?

Hold those accountable responsible. Whatever form this takes.

Prosecution of the genuine polluters – the oil companies, agriculture giants, unsustainable logging companies and political enablers. There is precedent in local and international courts, but there would need to be serious political will. 

Pressure politicians. While some governments are moving in the right direction, no change has come about from a complacent public. Some of the biggest changes have come from a local campaign at a council level and climbed up the governance hierarchy.

Public demand for taxpayers' money to be used exclusively for green investment; ACC and the Super Fund are billion-dollar investment portfolios and could have a real impact. Some banks and universities have also done so due to public pressure.

Boycott. As individuals we cannot do much; as a collective we can do more. Polluting industries will respond. Awareness campaigns across the globe prove this.
Strike. Workers are the ones who produce; if there is no production there is no pollution. Strikes are an important part of workplace relations and bosses will get the message.

Shut it down. Hard to argue this wouldn’t make it clear that we want an immediate transition.

All of this must be done comprehensively.

We cannot continue extraction, production and materialism on the levels we are now. We cannot continue to live in isolation, or pretend that unrealised technology will save us. We must radically change the way we function, at the source. With direct action. And we have about ten years left to do so.   

Comments (4)

by barry on December 05, 2018
barry

After decades of arguing with people about Global Warming and the need to do something about it, I have come to realise that there is no answer short of technology that makes renewables cheaper than fossil fuels. At some stage we are going to have to overcome our addiction to growth, but that will take decades or centuries.

Technologies are slowly getting there, but given that some oil and coal costs almost nothing to extract, and transportation is self-powered it is a very hard target.  In the poorer countries there are fewer options and the needs for development mean that the most populous places are going to increase their energy needs regardless.

The goal of policy has to be deploying clean technologies in the richest parts of the world (even at a loss) until the scale and technological advances that result will reduce the price enough. The Montreal Protocol showed that the poorer countries will copy the richer even if they are not required to by treaty.

If, 30 years ago, we had taken all the fossil fuel subsidies and applied them to renewables in the OECD countries, then we would probably be there by now.  Alas there is no sign of that happening, even now when the direst prediictions of 30 years ago, are coming true.

In the meantime I continue with my policy of consuming 20% less than the average New Zealander.  Sadly my consumption has not had to change at all in the last 30 years.  I was expecting it would get less.

 

by Pat on December 05, 2018
Pat

Yes we will fail, and the most casual observation of the general public response (in the guilty OECD) to any attempt to modify our behaviours clearly demonstrates that those 100 companies have considerable company....we get the leadership we deserve.

by Charlie on December 06, 2018
Charlie

If global warming really was a thing, we would be seriously promoting contraception among population groups with high fertility rates.

But we're not. So I presume the whole thing is a political scam. The chief mouthpiece at the conference is Attenborough - you know the guy with the highest 'flyer miles' account and therefore the biggest carbon footprint.  ;-)

Stepping back in history is useful to gauge the reliability of these doomsday claims:

Thomas Malthus: Was wrong

Paul Ehrlich: Was wrong

The Club of Rome: Was wrong

Hubbert: Was wrong

So what's the betting these guys are wrong too?

 

 

 

 

 

by Dennis Frank on December 09, 2018
Dennis Frank

"We all know we’re shafting the planet" is the flawed premise Damon writes from.  He's using we to mean all humanity, it seems.  A considerable flaw, since all humanity has never shared knowledge of anything.

He asks "what do we do?  Hold those accountable responsible. Whatever form this takes."  I think he means hold accountable those responsible for global warming, just inadvertently got it round the wrong way.  The flawed assumption here is that relevant wrongdoers can be identified and their wrongs specified.  I'd like to believe that the hundred corporations causing 71% of the problem can be eliminated or transformed via this method, but reality suggests otherwise.  "Pressure politicians", Damon says.  That works as well as grabbing eels, doesn't it?

Charlie's point about linear extrapolation of trends as a reliable means of predicting the future is mostly valid, particularly in regard to complex systems.  Trump's scepticism is but the tip of the nationalist iceberg, defining contemporary nationalism as a reaction to globalism.  As long as the globalist elites persist in their top-down determinism via the UN, resistance will escalate.  Intelligent collective behaviour will not emerge in humanity as a whole as long as the systems of civilisation are controlled by competing nationalists & globalists who are both addicted to capitalism.

So voters will keep voting for the status quo, continuing to prove that democracy is as big a part of the problem as capitalism is.  The global system will not transitition away from the status quo until sufficient critical mass or crisis triggers the essential shift.  Those of us focused on the solution just have to remain staunch in being the change we anticipate, designing the transition so the shift minimises victims as much as possible when it comes, embedding resilience thinking in advance of it.

 

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