Tag Archives: climate change

Bleak, but not unexpected, news: capitalism is destroying the planet

greenland glacierBleak, but not unexpected, news today. According to a new report published in Nature, sea level rise over the last two decades has taken place at a significantly faster rate than previously reported. To be specific, the acceleration is 25% higher than so far assumed. Coasts from Florida to Bangladesh are threatened.

In a not-unrelated report, scientists also announced that 2014 was the hottest year ever recorded. The graphic to the right makes this point in quite stark terms.hottestyear2014

Finally, two studies by international teams of researchers have concluded that humans “are eating away at our own life support systems” at a rate not seen in the last 10,000 years. According to a summary article in The Guardian,

Of nine worldwide processes that underpin life on Earth, four have exceeded “safe” levels – human-driven climate change, loss of biosphere integrity, land system change and the high level of phosphorus and nitrogen flowing into the oceans due to fertiliser use.

Near the conclusion of the article, the articles’ lead author, Professor Will Steffen of the Australian National University and the Stockholm Resilience Centre, is quoted as saying,

“It’s clear the economic system is driving us towards an unsustainable future and people of my daughter’s generation will find it increasingly hard to survive. History has shown that civilisations have risen, stuck to their core values and then collapsed because they didn’t change. That’s where we are today.

A surprisingly direct indictment of capitalism, although the word is never directly mentioned by Steffen or by The Guardian.

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The Flood Next Time

Tacloban_Typhoon_Haiyan_2013-11-14A new report from the World Meteorological Organization itemizes the destruction currently being caused by climate change.

At the top of the destruction caused in recent decades is flooding.

As this chart below shows, the destructiveness caused by floods (indicated in blue) is increasing. Indeed, floods constitute 89% of reported disasters. And this is not just economic damage. Storms are responsible for 1.45 million of the 1.94m global disaster deaths.

An excellent article in the Guardian summarizes many of the key findings in the WMO report.


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Climate Wake Up Call from the Establishment

RiskyBusinessCaptureViaRiskyBusinessYouTubeThe political and economic establishment in the United States has finally woken up to the threats posed by climate change.

In a new report, appropriately entitled Risky Business, members of the business and policy-making establishment sound the alarm call about the potentially cataclysmic impact of climate change on the US economy.

Published by an economic modeling firm that normally works for the fossil fuel industry, Risky Business predicts starkly apocalyptic scenarios over the coming two centuries: more than a million homes and businesses along the nation’s coasts could flood repeatedly before ultimately being destroyed; agriculture will become impossible in Midwest, the nation’s grain belt; heat and humidity will become so intense that spending time outside will become impossible in much of the eastern half of the United States.

What does the group propose should be done about this dire situation? According to the summary article in the New York Times, many of the power brokers involved in the report are in favor of imposing a tax on carbon emissions.

A step in the right direction, but adequate to the horrifying scenarios depicted in the report? Not half likely! What we clearly need is a wholesale reorganization of the economy away from the cardinal principle of headlong, heedless growth. Not much about that in Risky Business.

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It’s Much Worse Than We Thought

sn-temperaturesA new report out in Nature reveals that the Earth is far more sensitive to greenhouse gases than scientists previously thought. The situation we find ourselves in, it turns out, is even more grave than we thought.

The report suggests that “because some climate models don’t accurately represent the formation of low-altitude clouds, Earth is likely to warm at the high end of the range estimated by 3 decades of research as carbon dioxide levels grow.”

Put in lay terms, what this means is that most of the estimates for global warming that have circulated in recent years have been far too conservative. The environmental crisis we face is actually far worse than we have been imagining, it turns out.

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The Politics of Climate Change

xin_15212061620171092619063Some good academic work has been coming out on the politics of climate change lately.  Here are a couple:

The latest special issue of the ACME, an online, open access journal of critical geography, is devoted to this topic, and features articles by Erik Swingedouw, Kelvin Mason, and David Featherstone, among others.

The Open Humanities Press, another open access project, has a series of books devoted to Critical Climate Change. Particularly interesting in this regard is Impasses of the Post-Global, which has contributions by a fantastic group of scholars working across a wide variety of genres.

Finally, the most recent issue of American Book Review, which I edited, has some great essays on Post-Apocalyptic Literature. Contributors include Jayna Brown, Brooks Landon, Rob Latham, Tavia Nyong’o, Lee Quinby, Sukhdev Sandhu, and myself.

(Un)happy reading!

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Amandla! For Eco-Socialism

Today the Democratic Left Front, a new formation in South African politics, organized a conference on Ecosocialism.

The conference began with a youth delegation arriving on the wings of rousing anti-apartheid choral singing:

There was some difficulty getting the conference going because the singers kept their kinetic chants wheeling round. Makes sense. To sit down and listen is to give up a kind of agency, often to speakers who are older, wealthier, and whiter than they. Sitting here at the beginning of this program, I wonder to what extent the organizers have erred in not including more space for these young people in the conference. But perhaps there will be opportunity for dialogue of some kind during Q&A.

Michelle Maynard of the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance began the day by talking about the links between human beings and all of the natural systems on the planet. She went on to contrast this with the reified view of the Earth promoted by the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution. Maynard then continued to talk about how this worldview underlies current attitudes towards the commodification of the planet.

Next up, Vishwas Satgar spoke about the need to have this conference in order to arm the comrades against neoliberalism. This kind of capitalism is about chaos, since it is driven by unstable financial speculation. What we’ve seen in past decades in global South and what we’re seeing now in heartlands of capitalism today is global instability of neoliberalism. But capitalism is not surrendering. The current financial crash doesn’t mean that capitalism is dead. In the end, the squeeze is on all of us. We have to pay the price of paying the debts of capitalism, just as nature gets squeezed. Other legs of systemic crisis: food crisis resulting from systemic control of food by capitalist corporations, leading to major hunger crises around world; resource peaks, including oil, and the scramble for what’s left, as two most populous countries of the world – China and India – scramble for more scarce resources; climate change, and resulting political chaos, leading us into increasingly dangerous period politically; securitization of political life.

What’s at the heart of all of this is inability of a civilization to reproduce itself. In this context, what are the ruling classes offering us?  What are they putting on the table? They’ve been talking about addressing the climate crisis through markets. Clean development mechanisms, green markets, Kyoto Protocol, etc. – all these solutions embed the market as center piece. These are all master concepts of green neoliberalism today. All of these solutions are still married to juggernaut of growth and industrialization. But we’re at the point where crisis is total. We can’t fix the crisis through piecemeal solutions such as decarbonization using markets. We need a total solution. Marketization is also about competitive strategies: taking crisis and turning it into an opportunity for more accumulation. We know that commodification creates enclosures. Green economy does not address the deeper systemic crisis.

In response to this civilizational crisis, we need resistance. We’ve been living through upswing of resistance over past two decades. Chiapas, Egypt, Occupy Wall Street. But this resistance has to go further. It has to be civilizational resistance. We also need to transnationalize alternatives. The dominant view is that we’re an irrational mob. But we have answers and alternatives, and we need to put them forward on transnational level. COP17 isn’t going to solve the problem. The battle is in particular national contexts. We need to take the battle forward on this level.

Jacklyn Cock, Professor at University of Witwatersrand, then spoke about how capitalism is responding to the current crisis. Capitalism is responding by saying that it doesn’t have to change. It can adapt through three key techniques: new technology, like carbon capture & storage and GMO crops, which have not been adequately tested; expanding markets, particularly through carbon trading; greenwashing.

Using time to make two key points. South African government policy is contradictory, and what links it all together is commitment to green capitalism. Government’s recent white paper which pretends to be a green paper. It is based on expanding markets and commodification. We know about this in South Africa because of the history of commodification of water.

Pablo Solon, former Bolivian ambassador to the United Nations, spoke next. He began be talking about the distinction between living for more and living better. Bolivian environmentalists have emphasized the latter, because natural resources are limited. This is why we helped create the Declaration of the Rights of Earth. We have been treating the Earth as if it has no rights, the way we used to treat slaves. Today there is an apartheid against Nature. Need to reject the approach towards the commodification of nature that characterizes contemporary global elites.

Answering some of the questions raised during the teach-in last night, Solon emphasized the absolute need to take power in order to reverse the trend towards commodification of the environment.

This session of the conference ended with a series of heartfelt questions from members of the audience about how climate change is going to effect their health and their livelihoods as rural people.

While putting together this report, I came across a couple of interesting sites:

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From the Frontlines: Indigenous People Fighting Climate Change

A recent study by the National Wildlife Federation concluded that Native Americans are the people in the U.S. most affected by climate change.  From Alaskan Native villages slipping into the sea to droughts on some reservations and floods in others, Native Americans are on the frontlines of climate chaos.  They are also leading the fight to challenge the political ecology that is causing climate change.

All too often, this struggle remains invisible to most people in the U.S. and around the world.  As Rob Nixon argues in his recently published book Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, contemporary media like to focus on spectacular, immediate violence such as the 9/11 attacks.  Since environmental damage seldom conforms to these spectacular expectations, the struggles of affected communities are often ignored by the dominant media. Given this media silence, we need to find new ways of raising the average person’s awareness about what is happening to indigenous peoples within our own borders and around the world.

This imperative makes the recent work of LifeMosaic particularly important. LifeMosaic is a Scottish-based non-profit which has launched an important new series of short films to help raise awareness and build knowledge about climate change and the struggles of indigenous peoples.

LifeMosaic officially launched the new series, Fever – A Video Guide to coincide with the Continental Encounter of the Peoples of Abya Yala for Water and Pachamama in Cuenca, Ecuador, 21-23rd June 2011.

Fever – A Video Guide, is made up of four short films which have been designed as a resource for Indigenous communities, to help share information about climate change as well as the struggles and the strategies that communities employ to defend their rights and determine their own futures. In the films we hear stories from communities in places as diverse as Ecuador, Nicaragua, the Philippines and Indonesia.

But the films aren’t just for Indigenous People. “[They’re] also for local facilitators,” says LifeMosaic, “to help strengthen the capacity of networks and organizations in their awareness-raising and advocacy work on climate change.” “[The films can also] be used to bring indigenous peoples voices to audiences such as government officials; to all those whose work relates to indigenous peoples, forests and climate change; and in schools, universities, film festivals and other public events,” LifeMosaic adds.

All four films are available in Spanish, English and Bahasa Indonesia. They can be freely viewed or downloaded by anyone. DVD copies may also be requested by visiting LifeMosaic’s website and clicking on “Request a DVD”.  A Community Facilitator Guide is also available: http://www.lifemosaic.net/pdf/Facilitators%20Guide%20English.pdf

Fever was awarded the 2010 award for Creativity and Contribution to the Indigenous Narrative by the Indigenous Peoples’ Latin American Network for Film and Communication at the Xth International Indigenous Film and Video Festival in Quito, Ecuador.

Overview of the films

The first film, Fever , explains the essential points of climate change and why it is so important to Indigenous Peoples. Watch/Download Fever (21 minutes).

The second film, Impacts, shows how large-scale industrial projects like plantations, coal mining and oil extraction impact indigenous peoples’ livelihoods and rights as well as contribute to global climate change. Watch/Download Impacts (20 minutes).

The third film, Organization, provides examples of organizational tools and strategies used by indigenous peoples to protect their cultures, territories and rights. Watch/Download Organization (23 minutes).

The fourth and final film, Resilience, examines indigenous peoples’ increasing resilience to climate change by strengthening their customary systems and developing new approaches for adaptation. Watch/Download Resilience (22 minutes)

All four films help to put the global struggle against climate change in context. Indigenous Peoples are shown to be the populations most heavily impacted by climate change today. But these communities are also the frontline of the global movement against climate change. The LifeMosaic films show how such communities are adopting cutting edge organizational forms such as participatory democracy and online social networking in order to fight back against the political economic forces driving climate chaos.

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