Global Civil Disobedience

Disobedience: the Courage to Break Free

By Kelly Nykes (2016)

Film Review

Disobedience is about the global movement (on six continents) to shut down the fossil fuel industry. The primary aim of the Break Free from Fossil Fuels movement is to end fossil fuel mining and shut down gas-fired power plants.

A major premise of the documentary is that the COP21 climate conference in December 2015 was a public relations stunt. Climate activists believe it accomplished virtually nothing towards preventing catastrophic climate change for two main reasons: 1) the national emissions targets agreed are purely voluntary and unenforceable and 2) despite agreeing to limit average global warming to 1.5 degrees C, the treaty’s carbon budget will result in 3.5 degrees warming.

President Lyndon Johnson was the first to warn the world, in 1965, of the link between heavy fossil fuel combustion, CO2 emissions and global warming. Ten years later, Exxon began planning for global warming by making their drilling rigs “climate proof.” In 1989, they switched tactics by co-founding the Climate Coalition and hiring a public relations firm (the same one that promoted the health benefits of smoking) to launch the climate denial movement.

Filmmakers include coverage from mass civil disobedience actions to shut down coal fired power plants in the Philippines and Turkey, tar sands production and export in Alberta and British Columbia and an open pit coal mine in Germany. Given that Germany is one of the world leaders in renewable energy production,* I was extremely surprised to learn they burn more lignite* *coal than any other country, including China and India.

The film also features footage from the Seattle blockade of a Shell Arctic oil exploration rig – which helped persuade Shell to abandon their plans to drill the Arctic for oil.

For the most part, these actions succeed by increasing the cost of doing business – especially now when low oil and gas prices are already denting profits.


*On  May 16 Germany got nearly all its power from renewable energy.

**Lignite is often referred to as brown or “dirty” coal due to the high level of particulate and heavy metal pollution it produces.

 

 

Climate Denial: Big Oil’s Multimillion Dollar Disinformation Campaign

The Climate Deception Dossiers

On July 9, 2015, the Union of Concerned Scientists released The Climate Deception Dossiers – collections of internal company and trade association documents revealing a three decade campaign by the world’s largest fossil fuel companies about the realities and risks of climate change. Some documents have been leaked to the public by industry whistleblowers. Others have come to light through lawsuits or Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests.

Each dossier provides an illuminating inside look at this coordinated campaign of deception, an effort underwritten by ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP, Shell, Peabody Energy, and other members of the fossil fuel industry.

Tactics employed by these companies include a million dollar contract supporting the work of climate contrarian aerospace engineer Wei-Hock “Willie” Soon:

gw-minigraphic-climate-deception-dossier-1-willie-soon-contracts

The fossil fuel industry also forged documents and letters and formed fake “astroturf” groups that purported to act on behalf of taxpayers rather than oil companies:

gw-minigraphic-climate-deception-dossier-4-ACCCE-forged-letters

As well as launching a sophisticated, multimillion dollar public relations campaign:

gw-minigraphic-climate-deception-dossier-5-ICE-memo

An Exxon whistleblower reveals his company first got interested in the greenhouse effect and global warming when it was seeking to develop the Natuna gas field off Indonesia. An Exxon memo raises concern about it becoming the “largest point source of CO2 in the world.”

In 1995, the same whistleblower (working for Mobil) co-authored a memo to to the Global Climate Coalition (GCC), a fossil fuel lobbying group. The memo, was distributed to other member companies and warned unequivocally that burning fossil fuels was causing global warming – that the relevant science “is well established and cannot be denied.”

gw-minigraphic-climate-deception-dossier-7-fossil-fuel-climate-science-primer

Many of the same companies – including BP, Chevron, Conoco, Exxon, Mobil, Phillips, and Shell – were members of the American Petroleum Institute (API) in 1998 when the trade group drafted a plan to secretly support “independent” researchers to publicly dispute established climate science:

gw-minigraphic-climate-deception-dossier-2-API-roadmap-memo

Link to full report: Climate Deception Dossiers

Washington Activists Seek Carbon Tax

CarbonWA-tax-swap

Carbon Washington (CarbonWA) is a citizens’ coalition seeking to enact a statewide carbon tax through a citizens’ initiative.* I-732 would incrementally institute a tax of on all fossil fuels consumed in Washington State. The revenue raised would be used to cut the state sales tax by 1%, to eliminate the Business and Occupations (B&O) tax on manufacturing and to fund the Working Families Rebate (a program the state legislature created in 2008 but never funded).

British Columbia’s Carbon Tax

I-732 is modeled after a carbon tax British Columbia (BC) introduced in 2008, which has received lavish praise from the (pro-corporate) Economist. Prior to its enactment, business warned the carbon tax would increase costs and slow the economy, while the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) warned it would hurt the poor. Both were wrong.

Because the funds raised by BC’s carbon tax are used to cut income taxes (for individuals and businesses), it has been as beneficial for the British Columbia economy as for the environment. In a way, this makes a lot of sense. Taxing people for working and adding wealth to the economy is one of the biggest drags on economic growth there is. It makes a lot more sense to tax activities you want to discourage, such as polluting the atmosphere.

BC also implemented their carbon tax incrementally. The new tax was initially set at C$10 ($10) per tonne of carbon-dioxide emissions, rising by increments of C$5 per year to C$30 in 2012. At present this translate into a 7 cent per litre tax (approximately 25 cents per gallon) on gasoline.

As predicted, the carbon tax has proved as beneficial  for the economy as the environment. Since 2008, per capita fuel consumption in British Columbia has dropped by 16%, which contrasts with an increase of 3% in the rest of Canada. The province now has the lowest income tax rate in Canada and one of the lowest corporate tax rates in North America. Meanwhile per capita GDP continues to outperform other provinces. BC also enjoys lower jobless rates. Thus it’s no wonder it remains extremely popular, supported by 64% of BC residents.

How I-732 Will Work

Under I-732, the state will collect a tax on all fossil fuels sold or used within Washington State. This will include fossil fuels sold or used for air travel, motor vehicles boats, and electrical generation. (19% of Washington’s electricity is renewable, generated by hydropower). The tax rate will start at 15 dollars per metric ton of carbon dioxide as of July 1, 2017, increasing to 25 dollars per metric ton as of July 1, 2018, with automatic increases thereafter by 3 ½ percent plus inflation.

This tax swap will take place over two years. B&O tax on manufacturers will be eliminated in full the first year. The state sales tax will be reduced by ½ percentage point per year over two years. The Working Families Rebate will phase in from 15% of the federal EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit) in the first year to 25% of the federal EITC in the second year and beyond.

Halving US Carbon Emissions

Carbon Washington executive committee member Yoram Bauman hopes Washington will serve as a model for other states. According to Bauman, CO2 emissions could be halved if all fifty states adopted similar a similar carbon tax.

More information at www.carbonwa.org


*I-732 is an initiative to legislature. If Carbon Washington collects enough signatures to qualify, the 2016 legislature has a choice of enacting it into law, enacting substitute legislation or placing it on the 2016 ballot.

Why We ALL Resist the Truth About Climate Change

requiem for a species

Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change

By Clive Hamilton

Allen and Unwin (2010)

Book Review

Most of Requiem for a Species is a detailed analysis of the sociological and psychological factors that lead all of us (including climate activists) to deny the grim reality of the massive climate disruption that faces us. Australian author Clive Hamilton begins by confronting readers with the most likely climate scenario over coming decades. I have always had difficulty getting my head around climate science and found these the most valuable chapters.

Predicting the Behavior of Politicians

For the last two decades politicians have been giving lip service to limiting global warming to a “safe” increase of 2 degrees centigrade. According to Hamilton, most climate scientists recognized this was no longer possible when the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference failed to agree on a treaty to replace the Kyoto Accord. Most climate models agree that the only way to limit global warming to 2 degrees Centigrade would require for global emissions to peak in 2015 (this year) and decrease by 20-40% by 2020. This translates into a 6-7% per year reduction in rich countries – it assumes that developing countries (including China, India and Brazil) will continue business as usual until 2030, before reducing their emission by 3% a year. Hamilton believes there’s no way developing countries will agree to sacrifice economic growth (and bringing their populations out of poverty) before then.

Already in 2010, Hamilton was predicting that rich countries wouldn’t start cutting their emissions by 6-7% annually in 2015. He reckons 3% per annum is the highest emissions reduction compatible with continued economic growth. Cuts above 5% would likely translate into unspeakable human misery, witness the immense human cost in Russia when the Soviet economy collapsed in 1989 (which caused a 5.6% reduction in carbon emissions).

He feels politicians are very unlikely to agree to start cutting in emissions in 2020, either. At present most OECD countries have committed to reducing carbon emissions by 60-80% by 2050. Such a distant target is worse than useless. If politicians fail to act before 2030-2040, most of the earth’s ice cover will have melted and will remain that way for thousands of years. If politicians continue business as usual (and do nothing), global temperatures will increase by 3.1 degrees C by 2100 and 5-6 degrees C by 2200.

Hamilton believes the best we can hope for is that both rich and developing countries will begin cutting emissions by 3% per year in 2030.* In the absolute best case scenario, this translates into an increased average global temperature of 2.6 degrees C by 2100 and 3.5 degrees C by 2200.

What 4 Degrees Warming Looks Like

Because Hamilton considers a 4 degree C increase a likely scenario, he provides a detailed description of what that looks like. With 4 degrees C of average global warming, there will be no Arctic sea ice in summer, and Greenland, the west continental shelf of Antarctica and the Himalayan glaciers will melt. If all the earth’s ice cover melts sea levels will rise by 70 meters.

More than a billion of Earth’s inhabitants will have no access to water, especially in the India, Pakistan and China which rely on the Himalayan glaciers for drinking water. Fifteen percent of current arable land will be unsuitable for cultivation due to drought (in India, Pakistan, China, Australia, southern Europe, the central and southern US, North Africa and the Amazon). In northern climates like Canada and Siberia, there will be a 20% increase in arable land.

It’s impossible for climate scientists to predict exactly how many people will die from starvation, dehydration and extreme weather events. Some predict a reduction in the global population to one billion or less. All we know for sure is the die-off will be most severe in poor developing countries.

The Climate Denial Industry.

There’s also an excellent chapter on the climate denial movement, which profiles climate scientists (most were also strong advocates of Reagan’s Strategic Defense initiative and nuclear power) who colluded with fossil fuel industry, right wing think tanks and the public relations firm APCO (which master minded the campaign to deny the health risks of tobacco) to create an extremely slick climate denial campaign. I found it especially intriguing to learn of the role of the Revolutionary Communist Party (who produced the 2007 documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle) and other far left groups in the climate denial movement.

There’s also an excellent chapter on the gungho technofixers who believe catastrophic climate change can be prevented through pie-in-the-sky technofixes, such as carbon capture, geoengineering and wide scale adoption of nuclear power. Hamilton explores each of these technologies in considerable detail. Each of them costs far more than improving energy efficiency and switching to renewable energy. All of these approaches would take at least ten to twenty years to implement. And as Hamilton points out, waiting another 20 years to begin cutting emissions will have catastrophic consequences.

Hamilton also makes the prediction that the global recession might temporarily reduce emissions before the economy rebounds again. He was correct:

• In 2009, global emissions fell by 1.2% after increasing by an average of 2.5% a year between 1990 and 2009.
• In 2010 global emissions increased by 5.9%
• In 2011 global emissions increased by 3.2%
• In 2012 global emissions increased by 1.4%
• In 2013 global emissions increased by 2.1%


*Hamilton was overly pessimistic here. In November, Obama and Xi Jinping made a bilateral agreement in which Obama committed the US to cutting its carbon emissions by 26-28% from 2005 levels by 2025. China committed to start cutting emissions in 2030 and make “best efforts” to peak emissions before 2030.

**The Revolutionary Communist Party was always regarded skeptically (as heavily infiltrated) by other progressive groups when I lived in Seattle. For a grassroots leftist group, they seemed to have virtually unlimited funds and repeatedly tried to instigate violence during peaceful protests. An RCP member was linked to the suspicious death of a one of my African American patients who exposed the DEA’s role in laundering cocaine profits in the professional race car circuit.

GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth

growthbusters

(This is the seventh of a series of posts about ending our debt based monetary system and reckless emphasis on perpetual economic growth. Dave Gardner makes the ecological case for ending our addiction to continuous economic growth.)

Growthbusters: Hooked on Growth

2011, Directed and produced by Dave Gardner

http://www.growthbusters.org/

Film Review

Growthbusters is the inspiring story of Dave Gardner’s efforts to challenge conservative Colorado Springs’ failed growth promotion policies. The film also takes a broader theoretical look at the overall failure of economic growth to solve the global economic crisis.

While Gardner is clearly an environmental crusader concerned about the link between unlimited growth on carbon emissions, resource scarcity and species extinction, he inserts a heavy dose of economic reality into the discussion. All of us involved with local government have heard the same insipid assertions about the urgent need to cut corporate tax and regulations to attract new industry and jobs, as well as the need to spend to spend billions of dollars on new infrastructure to accommodate the hoards of people we want to attract to our cities and towns.

In reality, the people and institutions who promote growth most heavily are the only ones who benefit from it – at the expense of everyone else. This includes real estate developers who derive profits from building more homes, office blocks and shopping center; the mining and fossil fuel companies that fuel this economic activity, as well as heating all the new homes and powering the new cars; and the banks who finance all this. In other words the super rich.

The Population Bomb

In addition to tackling the pro-growth agenda head on, Gardner also makes the important link between exploding population growth and environmental degradation. Paul Ehrlich, who appears briefly in the film, warned in his 1970 book The Population Bomb that mankind was rapidly outstripping the Earth’s natural resources. Dennis Meadows, who directed the 1973 Club of Rome project resulting in the book Limits to Growth, also appears. Based on advanced computer modeling, this controversial report warned forty years ago that population growth and resource scarcity would cause the global economy to falter at the beginning of the 21st century. Apparently, as Meadows reminds us, the 2008 global economic crisis was right on schedule.

As Gardner, Ehrlich, Meadows and other experts point out, humankind is living beyond our means, “liquidating” resources we should be should be saving for our children and grandchildren. If we were still growing all our food locally, as we were at the beginning of the 20th century, it would be obvious there is no longer enough land in cultivation to feed 7 billion people. However because of globalization, most of the industrialized world has no idea where their food comes from. While the one billion people who die of starvation or gradual malnutrition are virtually invisible.

Family Planning: the Best Way to Reduce Carbon Emissions

Gardner doesn’t advocate for mandatory population control like they have in China. However he argues strongly for major environmental groups like the Sierra Club to use their public profile to begin educating governments and communities about making informed decisions around family size.

There’s no way we can possibly change enough light bulbs or plant enough trees to compensate for all the babies born to our children and our children’s children. Population control is a critical ecological issue. The “official” environmental movement is letting us all down by refusing to take it up.

New Paths Forward

Gardner himself does his part. When he’s not running for city council or making movies, he’s out in the street distributing free Endangered Species Condoms on the street. The condoms come in choice of packaging featuring endangered panthers, polar bears and cute critters.

He also encourages people to join the Transition movement to help in strengthening their communities, re-localizing economic life and rebuilding skills that don’t depend on corporations and fossil fuels.

 

Open Source and Sustainability

open source

As strange as it may sound, switching to Open Source operating systems and software can save a lot more carbon emissions than changing your lightbulbs.

I myself have switched to Firefox (instead of Microsoft Explorer) and Open Office (instead of Microscoft Word) and plan to download Linux soon to replace Windows. As a community organizer for 30+ years, Microsoft has been the bane of my existence. Most of the activists I work with use MS Word (and before that MS Works) to create documents. Predictably Microsoft has come out with a new version of Word that is unreadable by older versions. Clearly this is a calculated maneuver to force customers to continually purchase new upgrades.

Opening Pesky Docx Files

This time, however, I followed the advice of a fellow Green Party member and downloaded Open Office, provided free by Sun Microsystems Open Source software. Thanks to the Open Source movement, every time Microsoft comes out with a new word processing program, Open Office offers upgrades to translate the new program to either Open Office or an older version of Word. Not only does it open those pesky docx files, but it creates spreadsheets and slideshows and allows you to save graphics as either PDF or JPG files. It probably does lots of other things I haven’t discovered yet.

The other great thing about Open Office is that, like other Open Source software, it runs faster than Microsoft programs, crashes less and is less much likely to have security problems. This is because Sun Microsystems makes Open Office code freely available for other programmers to improve and build on. Computers aren’t like soup. By involving more people in creating code, you make it far more likely someone will find all the bugs and security problems.

Download Open Office Free at https://www.openoffice.org/

New Zealand residents have their own Open Office site: http://www.openoffice.org.nz/

How Open Source Reduces Carbon Emissions

So, people ask me, how does this reduce carbon emissions? There are obviously small energy savings (related to DVD production, packaging, transportation, etc) when an individual downloads software instead of buying it off the shelf. However the big emissions savings occur when large companies that maintain vast amounts of data switch to Open Source. Recently the Bank of New Zealand vastly reduced their energy costs and carbon emissions by converting their front end systems to Open Source.

They save money and energy by  speeding up and simplifying their data processes with a single (Red Hat Linux) program, instead of relying on three or four programs for different functions.

Companies Going Open Source

In response to the global recession, the immense cost savings is leading many government agencies and Fortune 500 companies to switch to Open Source for part or all of their data processing. The best known are BART (Bay Area Transit System), Burlington Coats, CISCO, Conoco, the Mobil Travel Guide (Exxon’s consumer website), Royal Dutch Shell, Panasonic, Hilfiger, Toyota Motor Sales USA, US Army, US federal courts, the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security and the US Post Office.

Countries Going Open Source

Third world countries are also benefiting from Open Source cost savings. Brazil was the  first to mandate Open Soft systems for all their government offices.  In 2013, 16 third world countries (Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, India, Kenya, Guatemala, Botswana, Rwanda, Togo, Lesotho, Mali, Ghana, Namibia and Chad) saved over $100 million dollars by installing Open Soft software to track their health care workforce.

Open Source Design: Reclaiming the Commons

Engineers, architects and climate change activists in the Open Sustainability movement are expanding Open Source Design beyond its computer applications to ensure the rapid spread of ideas and technologies that reduce energy use and carbon emissions.

Examples include

    1. Open Source green architecture and renewable energy technologies
    2. The Creative Commons – a nonprofit California organization devoted to expanding the range of inventions and creative works available for others to share and build on.
    3. Singularity University – “a grand scheme to assemble, educate and inspire a cadre of leaders who strive to understand and facilitate the development of exponentially advancing technologies to address Humanity’s Grand Challenges.”
    4. Public Library of Science – a nonprofit open access scientific publishing project aimed at creating a library of open access journals, with the eventual goal of making all scientific medical research freely available to the public.
    5. Wikipedia – a free open source encyclopedia (which I discuss in my next post).

photo credit: guccio@文房具社 via photopin cc

Population and Sustainability: the Elephant in the Room

elephant

Population control is a taboo topic among in most sustainability circles. It shouldn’t be. According to a University of Oregon study, childbearing is the number one carbon intensive activity. Having just one has twenty times the impact of a lifetime of carbon frugality.

How Many People Can the Earth Support?

The human species lives on a finite planet with finite resources. Growing evidence suggests we have already exceeded the earth’s carrying capacity. WHO and World Hunger data reveal our current system of industrial agriculture only feeds 84% of the global population. At present nearly a billion people (out of 7 billion) die of starvation or malnutrition-related disease.

I used to believe that third world hunger stemmed purely from inequality and maldistribution of food resources. Now I’m not so sure. In the past five years, desertification, drought, extreme weather events, increasing fossil fuel prices*, water scarcity and topsoil depletion have caused global food production to level out and start to decline.

The Good News

The good news is that fertility rates are already dropping. According to the CIA (the official source of international fertility data), the current global fertility rate is 2.45 births per woman. This is down from 2.50 in 2011 and 2.90 in 2006.

Demographers attribute the drop in third world fertility rates to massive urbanization and the entry of women into the workforce. In the developed world, declining fertility rates seem more closely linked to worsening economic conditions. In Japan, which has in continuous recession for two decades, the fertility rate is 1.39 In Greece it’s 1.40, in Italy 1.41.

At a global fertility rate of 2.45, the world will reach  replacement rate (2.1 births per woman), between 2020 and 2030 and peak at 8.5 billion in 2030.

At present the planet only feeds 5.88 billion people. Could we feed 8.5 billion? Possibly. If they all give up meat and we dig up a few thousand parking lots and return them to food production.

Dropping Fertility Rates: A Capitalist’s Worst Nightmare

The bad news is the enormous pressure Wall Street exerts to keep birth rates high. Declining population growth threatens the robust economic growth our current economic system relies on.

Like a pyramid scheme, monopoly capitalism is based on the continual creation of new debt. Perpetual economic growth is essential to repay this ever increasing debt. Without it, the pyramid collapses.

The Pressure to Have Babies

At present the US and New Zealand are tied for the second highest fertility rate (at 2.06) in the industrialized word (France is highest at 2.08). The first two countries share two specific population drivers: a high rate of teen pregnancy and the bombardment of young women with constant pro-baby media messaging.

The US is number one in the developed world for teen pregnancy. New Zealand is number two. Although Kiwi teenagers have excellent access to reproductive services (including abortion) through our national health service, there’s no effort to provide effective sex education in our public schools.

Meanwhile, thanks to the capture of New Zealand popular culture by American mass media, Kiwi girls are bombarded with the same well-oiled messaging about the new feminine mystique: that without thin, perfect bodies, faces, hair, husbands and babies, they are utterly worthless as women.

In the US, teenage girls have abysmal access to both sex education and contraception. It’s tempting to blame this on the rise of the religious right. I think the issue deserves more scrutiny. A close look at the millionaires and billionaires who have facilitated the boom in right wing fundamentalism suggests they have cynical economic reasons for furthering policies that ensure robust US population growth.

We Need a Movement

Clearly activists who are genuine about curbing carbon emissions must give population control the same priority they give changing light bulbs, installing solar panels and reducing car trips. We’re not talking mandatory sterilization, abortion or eugenics – but voluntary steps people can take to curb their fertility.

So what does a population control movement look like? First it’s got lots of men in it. Access to affordable abortion and contraception is no longer a woman’s issue – it deeply affects all of us. Growthbusters guru Dave Gardner clearly does his part by handing out endangered species condoms in the street. 

Secondly it works to actively counteract Wall Street messaging that pressurizes women to have more babies. The sustainability movement is successfully counteracting messages to consume more and incur more debt. There’s no reason we can’t do the same with pro-baby messaging. There are numerous advantages to remaining childless. We need to promote them.  

Finally it actively campaigns to reduce teen pregnancy.There is absolutely no reason why the Christian right should have a monopoly on pregnancy counseling. Progressives and liberals need to start our own rape crisis and sex education clinics, comparable to the “birth right” counseling movement. If the schools won’t do it, we need to educate teenage girls about debt rape and where they can obtain free and low cost contraception and morning after pills.

During the sixties, activists concerned about oppression in the schools, medical system, and other pro-corporate entities started their own alternative schools, clinics, abortion centers and child care programs. It’s time we followed their example.

*Fossil fuels are essential for industrial agriculture. In addition to fueling farm machinery, the fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides used in factory farming also derive from fossil fuels.

 Originally published in Dissident Voice

 photo credit: David Blackwell