The Global Climate Treaty

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by Enrique Lescure

Introduction

And so we came to this day. A global climate treaty has finally been agreed upon by 195 participating countries. World leaders and many activists are celebrating these happy news – in a political year which have not contained much of these.

This treaty represents a morale booster for the western countries – France in particular – which have consistently failed to handle the Ukraine crisis, overthrow Bashar al-Assad in Syria or save the Schengen Area from an implosion caused by the refugee crisis. The climate treaty should be understood with regardsĀ  to the failure to manage other crises – if political leaders consistently are mishandling – or perceived as mishandling – crises, their prestige will suffer. If such failures erupt more and more frequently during several administrations, the public morale will decrease and thus the support amongst the masses for the legitimacy of the establishment will weaken.

This created an atmosphere which saw it as paramount that a new treaty would come in place, not only because that the environmental situation is getting more dire, but also because of the aforementioned crises and the needs for political leaders to come back from Paris with successes.

While 1,5 degrees indeed is an ambitious goal, especially as the treaty has arrived so late in the process since this issue became one of global importance.

The purpose of this article is to study the climate treaty in the context of antropogenic global climate change as well as our current socio-economic system, and to discuss some of the actions that can be done to reduce the impact of warming.

TL;DR

  • The greenhouse effect is not – as you probably know – something sinister brought by our tampering with the environment, but a part of a natural process.
  • For the last few million years, our climate has gravitated between warm periods and ice ages. The release of CO2 from fossile sources has shifted this balance towards a warmer climate, but the cycle is still existing.
  • The threats against human civilization are manyfold and serious, and require responses and sacrifices which currently are politically impossible to advocate.
  • The Paris Treaty consciously leaves a lot regarding implementation to be decided by the signatory powers.
  • Ultimately, we need to focus on more issues than emissions, one of the most pressing being the protection and expansion of the world’s woodlands.

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What is the Greenhouse Effect?

The climate of the Earth is regulated by many factors – the distribution of continents and oceans, tectonic activity, internal heating, the intensity of solar flares, the tilt of the Earth’s axis, the amount of vegetation and the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is the name for a process whereas heat from the Sun is trapped under the Earth’s atmosphere and serves to heat up the Earth. Without it, multi-cellullar life on Earth as we know it would be impossible, and the Earth would have frozen to an ice planet aking to Hoth in Star Wars.

The Greenhouse effect is not caused by humans, but something which has existed since time immemorial. It allows heat from the Sun to warm up the surface of the Earth. Neither is it unique for the Earth, both the other rocky planet’s in the Sun’s Goldilock zone have greenhouse effects, though the greenhouse effect is very weak in Mars and extremely strong in Venus.

The greenhouse effect has also varied under different aeon’s and geological periods during our planet’s turbulent history. During the Silurian era, prior to the Cambrian explosion, the Earth was for thousands of millennia covered by ice. When the Dinosaurs roamed the Earth, the planet was so warm that there were no permanent polar ice caps, and the climate was fairly stable with few fluctuations.

In contrast, the Eocene and Paleocene eras have been dynamic and unstable in regards to the planet’s average temperature. During only the last two dozens of million years, multiple ice ages have seen sheets expand over the hemispheres, the Mediterranean have evaporated several times, leaving a salt desert between Europe and Africa, and the sea levels have shifted hundreds of metres, often within just years.

The Flood myths described in numerous holy texts may have a foundation in reality as several events during the stone age led to the rise of sea levels and (probably) massive floods.

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Ice Age World Map by Fenn-O-maniC (Deviantart)

The human civilization, established in the river valleys of the Nile, of the Euphrates and Tigris, of the Ganges, Indus and the Yangtze, and developed into today’s global civilization, was starting to form following the end of the last global Ice Age.

From the latter half of the 13th century, the warm period reached its peak, and then the planet’s cycle started to move towards an ice age again. From the 1860’s and onward until today, this trend towards a colder climate first stalled and then reversed – today proven to be caused by human intervention due to the burning of coal and oil.

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Effects of antropogenic climate change

By altering the amount of carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere, we are strengthening the effects of the greenhouse effect and therefore increasing the Earth’s average temperature gradually, though at a higher speed than previously done.

This will not mean that we won’t have cold winters any more, or that temperatures in some regions cannot actually can become colder over time, but it means that we are shifting and altering the Earth’s climate cycle towards on-average warmer temperatures.

Such a climate alteration will have effects on crop harvests, monsoon rain patterns, sea currents, vegetation and species, and also on the Greenlandic Ice Sheet – the last large remnant from the recent Ice Age. If it partially or completely collapses, which can happen within a few centuries, it will affect the sea levels of the Earth globally, drowning coastal areas, amongst which are some of the most populated regions on Earth.

Another single factor that can create havoc for human civilization globally, is the end of the Himalayan glaciers. They supply the great rivers of India and China with water, and if they melt there could be a permanent shift of these regions towards a drier climate, which would increase the cost of living. The Middle East could become more dry, as well as the United States.

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Since Civilization first was established, most of humanity has lived in an east-west band stretching from East Asia to Western Europe. The 21st and 22nd centuries may correspondingly see China, India and the Mediterranean basin becoming more desert-like, whereas other regions on the other hand can become more hospitable, for example Scandinavia, Northern Canada, Siberia and parts of the southern hemisphere.

Thus, a shift in the habitability of the Earth’s regions could lead to a mass migration of hundreds of millions to billions of people, which forever could alter the geographic distribution of the human race.

Climate change as a political issue

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Between the beginning phase of the Kyoto negotiations and the signing of the Paris Agreement in December 2015, two decades have passed by. During that time, more emissions have been added on, as the debt-based monetary system requires growth and the technologies available today which creates the fastest growth rates are based on non-renewable energies. Thence, while indeed the usage of green technologies have grown, they have not grown at the expense of fossil fuel-technologies, but rather their growth have been concurrent.

There are two problems with legislation aiming to curb climate change. The first one is the aforementioned fact that our leaders are bound to a growth paradigm, and the second is the fact that the Earth consists of 195 countries. Regarding some issues, like for example a failure to abide to the needs of economic globalization, sovereignty is seen mostly as a matter of inconvenience, while other issues, such as keeping up emission rates, are met with far more understanding than not wanting to partake in international trade agreements.

Ultimately, the absolute majority of the states on Earth, to not speak of businesses, are invested in a global socio-economic system based on fractional reserve banking, which means that in order to pay off ever increasing debts, we find ourselves in continuous need to create conditions so favourable as possible to exponential economic growth. This system is also seen as the best potential system we can have, and economic growth has also an ideological foundation. Most of the states on Earth are not nation-states but rather former colonial territories, composed of multi-ethnic, multi-religious communities. In such states, the main legitimising factor for governments that are both simultaneously weak and authoritarian, is economic growth. You may have to long for buying new shoes, but your son may buy himself a bike.

This means that climate agreements are meeting far more resistance from both business, lobbyist groups and governments keen to keep up economic growth, than for example free trade agreements. The Kyoto Protocol failed because the Bush Administration refused to ratify it. The Copenhagen Summit is widely considered a failure. The French government therefore decided on a strategy where the emphasis was put on the goal – that the temperature may not increase with more than 1,5 degrees Celsius (0,5 degrees under the 2 degrees Celsius seen as the threshold for global warming). All countries partaking under the Paris Agreement have bound themselves to find ways to reduce their emission rates, but the Agreement doesn’t specify how or with what means, and does not at all install any controls or punishments for participants violating the agreement.

On the other hand, if the agreement had contained more binding resolutions, specifications and relinquishment of controls, it would have been rejected by a significant number of countries.

So in short, the choice was between a broad-sweeping but shallow agreement, or no agreement at all. Most analysts hope that green energy and green technology can help making the shift towards sustainability while economic growth is preserved.

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The Elephant in the Room

While we have reasons to be hopeful due to the increase of the usage of solar panels, wind turbines and other forms of green energy, green energy is only a part of the puzzle. Most of the emissions today are within the meat industry and transport, and the growth of green energy has not contributed so much to the decline of the price of oil.

Rather, while the demand of oil has grown, the supply has grown even quicker due to the ascent of North American shale oil and the response of the Gulf States to dump the price of oil by increasing their supply. What we are seeing behind the curtains is an oil war initiated by Saudi Arabia and directed against both the USA and Russia. While this has hurt all oil-producing states, oil consumption overall is increasing.

What stands clear is that emissions may be reduced regionally, but globally they will still pose a threat. The kind of exponential economic growth intrinsically connected to the current system is – through the invisible hand of the market – seeking the paths of least resistance. Innovations and ambitions can alter this balance, but the balance in itself under the current paradigm is problematic.

Therefore, while supportive of green technologies and aims to curb emissions, I remain skeptical of the ability of achieving the objectives of 1,5 degrees without putting under question the ideological predominance of the current socio-economic system.

The current system is collapsing, or rather in its very design it is a system under constant collapse, threatened to be choked by the mountains of debts that it is pushing before itself. It can only survive by cannibalising the Earth, generating economic growth, but the more growth it generates, the more growth it has to generate. Thus, growth numbers tend to decline as demand shrinks and the economy grows, creating stagnation which means that new markets have to emerge in order to fuel the constant need to pay interest rates to the banks which simultaneously function as both the parasites and the creators of the system.

If we do not question the wisdom of this, we will continue to destroy the Earth. The problem is that arrangements like the Paris Agreement, the surprisingly – in relation to the scope of the challenges before us – toothless and impotent treaty, are not only unable to criticise the system which all participants have invested themselves in, but also to propose far-sweeping efficient measures to combat climate change.

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Actions that can be undertaken

Of course, for maximum efficiency, most of the transformation must necessarily occur at the grassroot level, though the creation of municipal solar panels, neighbourhood greenhouses, car pools, the upgrading and upcycling of means of transportation, increased consumption of locally produced goods and services, and increasing the autonomy and resilience of local communities overall. Education of both young and adults is also necessary.

However, we cannot move towards that and a globalized economy of the kind the proponents of free trade agreements like the TTP and the TTIP are dreaming of. One particular thing that definitely is conflicting between the kind of free trade agreements that are proposed today and long-term sustainability is transportation. If we want to reduce emissions, we need to install carbon pricing on goods and services, so the price starts to reflect the environmental cost. Goods that are produced far away would need an additional price tag. This is not the same as a punitive tariff as it will be imposed in relation to distance rather than national borders in themselves.

Massive investments need to occur in public transit systems (and in sea walls). We need to gradually shift ourselves away from Suburbia and create more concentrated urban habitats which also should have an ability to sustain at least a part of their own food production potential through vertical farming.

We need to massively reduce our dependency on meat, and then especially red meat, since it stands for a significant chunk of the emissions. This means that meat must become far more expensive, to pay for its share of the environmental damage which it causes.

More trees will have to be planted, at the expense of mono-cultures and grasslands. We should probably even build floating platforms on the seas and grow trees on them. All plants are breathing carbon dioxide and binding it before releasing it and returning it to the cycle when they die. Trees have the benefit that they can live for centuries, and therefore they can bind carbon for significantly longer amounts of time. The ideal would be if we could approach the number of trees which the Earth contained during the Stone Age, meaning that we would have to double the amount of trees to 6 billion.

These are but some of the actions that should be considered, and where governments on the local and national level could play a significant role (and should play it, especially regarding preparations for moving entire cities).

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Long term Geo-engineering

Ultimately, we have shifted the Earth’s climate development. What we need to do after we have stabilised it is to establish a long-term strategy to manage it, using carbon dioxide, oxygen, vegetation and technology to both monitor and gently steer the climate, both to prevent future disasters generated by us as well as managing the human civilization and the eco-systems through large-scale natural disasters such as meteorite impacts and super-volcano eruptions.

This would require some form of global administrative system, and signals that we are moving towards a Type-1 civilization if we manage to answer to the challenges of this century. Therefore, the public discourse should not focus on the coming five years, but the coming five decades at least.

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Review: This Changes Everything

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By Enrique Lescure

Introduction

Yesterday, I frequented a climate event in Umea, and had the privilege to watch This Changes Everything, of course streamed from a computer to a cinema screen. All those watching the improvised movie theatre left with sense of optimism and feel-good hope in their bellies.

All except one.

Sometimes, there can be a refreshment in bluntness. So, I would put forth my points in a very rash and frisky manner. I think ‘This Changes Everything’ is basically just stating what documentaries on the subject of Global Warming have been stating for the last twenty or so years.

Technically speaking, it is probably one of the best documentaries on the subject as of yet, filmed with HD cameras and tying together the issues of global warming with the de-facto disenfranchisement of local communities.

Still, I do believe that documentaries like these can do more harm than good, especially as Naomi Klein, one of the two producers and the author of the same book, have failed in defining the real problem with contemporary Capitalism.

Therefore, this entry, rather than being a whole review of the film, will focus on the issue of Naomi Klein’s background and how it can have influenced the film.

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Naomi Klein, a journalist and author from Canada, became well-known within the Alt-Globalization Movement of the 1990’s, as a critic of the type of economic globalization which went into a new phase during that decade.

In her breakthrough book, No Logo, she made an ardent work visualising how multinational corporations are exploiting the absence of worker’s rights in third world nations, and how logotypes have turned into mythical symbols within advertisement.

Naomi Klein is highly critical of the economic school of monetarism – most often referred to as “neo-liberalism” by its critics – and generally is positively inclined towards protest movements against austerity, natural resources exploitation and anti-war sentiments.

All this is highly evident in “This Changes Everything”, and if you have read Klein before watching the film, you can be able to predict everything in it. That is not where my critique against Klein lies.

Klein’s thesis and solution

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Klein’s thesis in ‘This Changes Everything‘ is that the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century created a culture where we view nature as a resource to be exploited and the Earth as a “machine” that we have the power over and can manipulate as we want. This is also the reason behind for example the addiction to growth.

According to Klein, growth addiction is an example of a political choice that is ideologically structured and follows the principles of Capitalism, which in itself flows from the Scientific Revolution. As a conflicting principle, Klein presents the aboriginal principle of ‘the Earth as a nurturing mother’ and the principles of democratic sovereignty (hailing back to the populistic practices of Gaius Gracchus).

While not directly mentioned, it is indicated that the Scientific Revolution and Capitalism are masculine principles, while Nature worship and Democracy are feminine principles. For example, most of the proponents for democratic activist movements interviewed in the film are female, while most proponents for the exploitative forces that are interviewed are males.

Klein’s solution to the current problem is that the free market has caused these problems, and the solution should be to increase government interventionism and regulate the market more. Since the governments (according to Klein) do not desire to follow such policies, activist movements would have to protest and stop mining projects and then move on towards advocating public investments in green technology – solar panels and windmills everywhere.

Essentially, the solution is that people should protest to roll back deregulation to the 1970’s, while deepening democracy.

Klein is essentially right, or rather moving in the right direction in her critique of the current system. But her solutions are essentially flawed and (I would claim) build on several misunderstandings and ignorance.

The flaws of Klein’s solutions

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Naomi Klein makes three basic misunderstandings about the reality of the system we are living in, either because she herself has not studied these issues or because she deliberately omits to tell certain things which are essential to know if we truly want to change the system.

The first misunderstanding lies in the nature of the environmental crisis.

Klein focuses very much on climate change, but climate change is only one of five serious environmental challenges that are causing the current mass extinction as I write these words. The oceanic crisis, the soil crisis, the freshwater crisis and the biodiversity crisis are as serious for the well-being of life on Earth. Green energy won’t solve these problems, and emphasising this issue will block out public understanding of the other issues. I believe it is essential to see antropogenic climate change as a part of a wider environmental crisis caused by the current system.

The second misunderstanding lies in Klein’s understanding of free markets contra government intervention.

It seems that Klein has a very binary view on the system, which can be understood as ‘government intervention good’, ‘markets bad’. What that fails to account for is that both governments and private businesses operate as economic actors with the goal of creating economic growth. Keynesian economics have nearly exactly the same goals as monetarist economics, namely the stabilization of the growth curve to ensure stability for investors and economic growth. Keynesians want to focus on low unemployment, while monetarists see inflation as the main threat to the well-being of an economy. To a large extent, deregulation has been caused as much by technological development as by political choices – in an evolutionary process within Capitalism itself.

The third, and most serious misunderstanding, is the idea that economic growth primarily is an ideological choice, and that by consuming smarter and changing the ruling ideology from Liberalism to Green Social Democracy, we will have started to save the Earth.

The core of this lies in that Klein omits to put focus on the nature of money within the framework of modern Capitalism. Ultimately, money today is Debt. Within the banking system, banks only need to keep a part of the money of their clients as deposits, and can loan out the rest – as illustrated by the image above. This means that from anĀ  original deposit of $1000, the bank can create an additional amount of money several times larger than the original $1000.

These loans from the bank have to be repaid with interest. Since both the loans and the interest is created from capital that doesn’t currently exist, this demands that the capital is created. And most of that capital is created from turning parts of the Earth into utilities for the market. This means that the current system both demands a constant growth rate and the continued transformation of the biosphere into linear production units to satisfy the demand for exponential growth as seen in these oil palm plantations in Sumatra.

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For a more comprehensive description, see this entry.

Summary

I hold no doubt that Naomi Klein truly believes that the current situation represents a mortal threat, but I suspect that she also is emotionally invested for other reasons in moving away from monetarism towards neo-keynesianism.

The problem is of course that neither of these two systems are able to solve the current ecological crisis.

Now it is possible to claim that different documentaries should focus on different issues, and that nobody can focus on everything, but by many small groups focusing on different issues, we will together solve the problem and making the world a better place.

The problem is of course that ‘This Changes Everything‘ is claiming to present the path-way to solve the entire problem of climate change, by connecting it to economic growth and questioning its ideological foundations. The thing is, economic growth is not an ideological choice, but a survival imperative for the current system.

Therefore, no matter if it is monetaristic neo-liberalism or green social democracy, the system demands the repayment of debt, and in order to repay the debt more resources would have to be transformed to utilities. If the shark doesn’t swim, it drowns.

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Omitting the ‘shark in the bath-tub’ is a disservice, since it doesn’t correctly informs activists about the true nature of the socio-economic system and keeps them preoccupied with trails of thought that only move around in circles.

I am truly impressed by the engagement of First Nations activists who protest against the tar sands in Canada. I also share Naomi Klein’s sentiments that the reason for our destruction does not lie in human nature. Yet, I think that any failure to mention the problems with fractional reserve banking is going to hurt all those people ultimately, since even if they achieve their political objectives, they won’t be able to change the system if they don’t understand it.