Can We Stop Climate Change Without Dismantling Capitalism?

The Cross of the Moment

By Jacob Freydont-Attie (2015)

Film Review

Can climate change be addressed without dismantling capitalism? The current track record of world leaders suggests not – especially with the election of the world’s most prominent climate denier to the US presidency.

The Cross of the Moment is a documentary exploring the climate change dilemma and various options for limiting global warming and mitigating the effects of catastrophic climate change. It’s produced in a panel discussion format, with the filmmaker posing specific questions to prominent astrophysicists, climate scientists, political economists and climate activists (including Bill McKibben, Gary Snyder, Derrick Jensen, Peter D. Ward, Jill Stein, Bill Patzert, and Guy McPherson). I’m not normally a big fan of talking heads, but the optimism conveyed by this film – in stark contrast to the usual alarmist arguments – definitely held my attention.

I was especially impressed with Bill McKibbon’s elegant explanation of why changing light bulbs and other market-based behavioral changes aren’t going to end global warming. The climate activist lays out an elegant argument why systemic structural changes is needed to wean humanity off of fossil fuels and why fossil fuel companies aren’t going to allow this without a major global movement to counter their power and greed.

The other panelists present a range of views on the specific structural/systemic changes that are necessary to prevent climate changes from wiping out our ability to produce food. Most seem to agree that fossil fuels could be totally phased out – and replaced by renewable energy – by 2050. They estimate this could be done for a total capital cost of $15 trillion (which according to the IMF is less than we currently spend annually to subsidize the fossil fuel industry*).

The film offers a number of viewpoints on how to bring this about. One economist favors a carbon tax; another would totally ban wasteful industries such as packaging (the third largest global industry after energy and food) and junk mail (which produces 51 millions tons CO2 annually in the US alone). Two activists express the view that the political corruption exerted by the fossil fuel industry couldn’t be overcome without dismantling capitalism altogether.


* According to the IMF, fossil fuel companies benefit from $5.3 trillion a year in subsidies.

 

Science Guy Bill Nye’s Global Meltdown

The Five Changes of Climate Grief

National Geographic (2015)

Film Review

The Five Changes of Climate Grief is a humorous documentary in which Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a psychiatrist and Bill Nye the Science Guy plays himself as the latter grapples with climate denial (not the kind Exxon pays for but the personal kind all of us experience).

The main premise of the film is that all of us experience some degree of grief in confronting the enormity of the climate crisis. Thus all of us must work through the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – as we collectively struggle to find a solution.

The video has some great footage of the ecological devastation caused by Canadian tar sands mining and processing , as well as beach front properties on the Florida coast that are already uninhabitable due to rising sea levels.

I was delighted to see the filmmakers expose carbon trading for the corrupt corporate-driven scam it is.  I was also pleasantly surprised to see that most states (including Oklahoma and Alaska) have plans in place to achieve 100% fossil-free energy production by 2050.

Parts of the documentary I objected to were the heavy promotion of electric vehicles (we can only produce sufficient renewable electricity for very wealthy people to own them) and the promotion of Guy McPherson as an expert in climate science. Recently McPherson, whose science background is in ecology, natural resources and evolutionary biology, has been making claims that catastrophic climate feedback loops will cause human extinction within the next six months.

Four States Investigating Exxon for Fraud Over Climate Denial

The following is a presentation by climate activist Bill McKibben about the global Break Free from Fossil Fuels movement. This is a global civil disobedience campaign directed at fossil fuel companies rather than government policy. Its aim is to pressure these companies to leave untapped coal, oil and gas reserves in the ground.

It’s a bad news/good news presentation. First McKibben gives us the bad news: despite all the hype, the outcome of the Paris climate change conference in 2015 was pure rhetoric. The treaty signed at the conference won’t lower carbon emissions sufficiently to prevent catastrophic climate change. See Global Civil Disobedience

However there is good news on two fronts: the speed at which many countries are transitioning to renewable energy and the remarkable success of the global Break Free campaign.

Among the successful actions McKibben describes: the 2015 Keystone civil disobedience at the White House that persuaded Obama to cancel the pipeline; the Australian campaign that blocked construction of the largest coal mine in the world; the Washington State campaign blocking construction of coal terminals in Longview and Cherry Point; the Seattle blockade of Shell’s Arctic drilling rig; and the global anti-fracking movement, which has led to a ban on fracking in New York, Quebec, Wales, Scotland and France.

The best part of the presentation concerns the recent Columbia School of Journalism expose revealing Exxon knew about climate change in 1977 and funded a massive public relations scam to convince the public it was a hoax. According to McKibben, the attorney generals of New York, California, Massachusetts and the Virgin Islands are investigating Exxon for fraud over their role in the climate denial movement.

Q&A’s start at 46:00.

The Billionaires at 740 Park Avenue

Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream

Directed by Alex Gibney (2012)

Film Review

Park Avenue is about the 31 billionaires who live in the luxury cooperative building at 740 Park Avenue. The building was originally commissioned by Jackie Kennedy’s grandfather James T Lee. He lived there with a consortium of Wall Street millionaires who engineered the 1929 stock market crash. Most of the present residents are hedge fund managers.

The documentary examines how 740 Park Avenue billionaires use their money and power to become even richer – funding election campaigns and lobbying for tax cuts and laws that reduce financial, environmental and health and safety regulation.

I’ve always found this level of geed quite puzzling. A psychologist featured in the film discusses his research into the sense of entitlement conferred by extreme wealth. An interview with the building’s doorman is even more revealing.

Among the billionaires profiled, two of the most powerful are Steve Schwarzman and David Koch. Schwarzman headed mergers and acquisitions at Lehman Brothers when they went bankrupt and is presently CEO of the Blackstone Group*. He (and his pal Senator Charles Schumer) were personally responsible for blocking the repeal of the “carried interest provision” in the federal tax code. This provision taxes the earned income of a hedge fund manager at the capital gains rate of 15%. Largely thanks to Schumer (who has raised the most Wall Street money of any Democratic candidate), Obama’s initiative to repeal this loophole failed, even with a Democratic majority in both houses.

David Koch, whose primary wealth is in oil and coal, has (with his brother Charles) donated to the campaigns of over half the members of the house and senate, as well as numerous right wing think tanks. The Koch brothers are also the big money behind the Tea Party, numerous right wing think tanks they have created and (along with Exxon) the climate denial movement.

The brothers are personally responsible for the recent anti-union legislation in Wisconsin and other Midwest states. They’re also the main sponsors of Paul Ryan’s rise to fame, as well as the Republican Party’s adoption of Ryan’s Path to Prosperity. The latter advocates for privatizing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, in addition to trillions in tax cuts that would virtually do away with all public services outside the military and police.


*An American multinational private equity, investment banking, alternative asset management and financial services corporation based in New York City.

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

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.