Why The "War" on Climate Change is Bipolar

 

One thing which has become more and more clear as time has moved forward is that the messaging on climate change is bipolar (contradictory; incongruent; hypocritical) in its assessment. More and more articles talk about how we need this and how we need that in order to "fight" climate change DESPITE the facts that climate change is caused by ecological overshoot and building more products (especially building materials) only increases ecological overshoot. Some articles discuss ideas which have already been proven by science to be impossible. Of course, people who deny reality will utilize optimism bias to attempt said impossible anyway. I could continue posting link after link to article after article regarding this same scenario, as there are hundreds of articles which contradict each other in what we need or what we must do or how much it will cost and on and on ad nauseum.

So, why is it that there remains this huge disconnect with society? Much of it has to do with people's ignorance over what ecological overshoot is and their obsession with climate change and/or the "fight" to reduce it. The focus on emissions has led to many ideas such as direct air capture (DAC) and carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) which utilize technology to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) but require loads of energy to be able to accomplish this task. Because it is using technology, it is unsustainable. These devices, like most all technological devices, cannot survive without the fossil fuel platform because the fossil fuel platform supports all the other infrastructural platforms (under the banner of industrial civilization) required for these devices to be built and maintained (see my post on infrastructure here). But because these devices require so much energy, it was discovered that industrial carbon capture actually produces more emissions than it captures. OOPS.  

It is this system of reductionist thinking (focusing on climate change instead of ecological overshoot, the cause of climate change) that has led a broad portion of society to focus on emissions. Emissions are caused by energy use - the more building, manufacturing, and transportation that takes place, the more energy use occurs. The more consumption that occurs, the more energy use occurs. The entire economy operates courtesy of energy use, so the more jobs there are, the more energy use occurs. So, building new infrastructure and creating new jobs is an excellent way to RAISE emissions, not lower them. This is because increasing energy use also increases ecological overshoot. Some people claim that in order to reduce emissions, we must invest in new technology and raise efficiency of the technology we use. Unfortunately, this actually produces MORE emissions through the process of Jevons Paradox (aka the "rebound effect"). In reality, there is only one way to reduce emissions - and that is to reduce energy use. LESS technology, not more, is the answer. Of course, nobody wants to hear that or think about it.

I've already mentioned COP-26 in this space along with what William Rees had to say about it, so I'll leave all the net zero, emissions offsets, carbon taxes, and the likes for another time. However, Rob Hopkins had a nice entry regarding COP-26 and the stages of grief. I found his postscript at the end refreshing - how many folks go through the stages of grief, reach acceptance, and then go back and forth through the stages subsequently; with a quote from Ecopsychologist Mary-Jayne Rust: 

"We are grieving a continuous loss, so we might revisit those stages and not in any order."


Indeed, I have found this to be true myself, and do occasionally catch myself in the bargaining phase reaching for the hopium. Many times I catch myself thinking that if we just did certain things or if society would simply accept limits or some other wishful thinking and then I come back down to the ground, realizing the lack of agency we have. 

This year has brought about what I think is a new awakening regarding the set of predicaments we face, although I still see a huge disconnect between actions that might help and useless activities that only continue the same destruction painted the color of green. Younger people are taking the situation very seriously, a good sign in my opinion. 

For anyone who hasn't read Jennifer Francis' latest article, please check it out. Young people have very valid concerns, as the graph below demonstrates:





  

This graph comes from this blog post by Steve Hampton. I chuckled about the mention of Direct Air Capture, considering the facts I posted above regarding how their emissions exceed their capture of emissions making them less than useless. Still, the real trouble isn't the overall change - it is the RATE of change. The rate of change is what supersedes the ability of species to adapt, causing those species to be extirpated. As humans, we like to think that we are somehow "above" nature or that we have the ability to adapt to climate change. Unfortunately, we actually are a PART of nature, not above it nor able to control it, AND we utterly depend upon all the other organisms which are also a part of nature for the ecosystem services they provide. As they are extirpated, each one can be seen as a Jenga block, destabilizing the entire tower as shown in this illustration by Ken Avidor:



The outcome of all of this is not pretty, unfortunately, as this BBC video highlights.

As the hype and PR work continue during the COP-26 meetings, it is demonstrating itself to be a huge trade show for all the latest "clean" and "green" and "renewable" industries as well as even regular industry raising money for developing nations, deforestation, and even fossil fuel companies for reducing methane emissions. Of course, since money is nothing more than a claim on future energy, throwing lots of money around doesn't actually solve anything; it condemns society to continue emitting more rather than less. Given the constant bargaining with regard to non-renewable "renewable" energy (in the form of wind turbines especially), deforestation is bound to continue. The one important item I DON'T see mentioned ANYWHERE is discussion of reducing ecological overshoot and the energetical throughput of society. Of course, this being the ONLY way to actually reduce emissions means that emissions will not be reduced, plain and simple. As far as methane goes; while reducing leaks is most definitely important, the largest leaks are forthcoming and something which society has little or no control over

Another prime example of this bipolar situation is in this single article. Most of the article discusses tipping points, what they are, and the implications and consequences of each. Then the article goes into pure hopium, quote: 

"But there is potential for positive change too.

Just like social momentum helped to spur rapid transitions—the ending of slavery, the dismantling apartheid in South Africa, or the push to legalize gay marriage in the US, for example—so it might be with climate change.

From electric vehicles and green investments, to a global youth movement led by Greta Thunberg, a crescendo of change has experts wondering whether the world is turning the corner on climate.
"


Electric vehicles, green investments, and a global youth movement all put together don't do much of anything to reduce ecological overshoot or the energetical throughput of society. In fact, it can be argued that as energy decline continues, even great efforts to reduce deforestation will be threatened once people no longer have easy access to fossil fuel inputs for heat and cooking - wood and charcoal will become very popular again and whatever is left of forests at that point will be decimated quickly. 

Perhaps a reminder of what we're up against with regard to energy and resource decline is in order to dispel the myths and fairy tales being thrown around at COP-26. Tim Watkins gives a truly excellent explanation of the scenario of precisely WHY all the talk of financing all sorts of new infrastructure when we don't actually have enough energy to continue supporting and maintaining the infrastructure we already have is pure insanity, quote:

"In terms of the economy as a whole, this spells disaster because an increasing proportion of the dwindling energy available to us must be used to secure future energy. This means that we no longer have the energy – and hence the resources – to operate THE TOTALITY of the globalized economy which we built on the back of the last spurt of fossil fuel production growth.

Translate that into the day-to-day experience of households and businesses – mediated and distorted to some extent by central bank policy and currency creation – and we find that an increasing proportion of income is having to be spent on essential items, while discretionary spending falls across the economy. Which is fine – for the moment at least – if you hold shares in an oil refinery, a gas power station or local food production. But heaven help you if you or your business is engaged in one of the much bigger discretionary sectors of the economy. Because if you thought the retail apocalypse of the last decade was a problem, you are going to be horrified by what comes next.
"

What we are about to enter is going to make the crash of 2008 look like a picnic. The first set of issues is being caused by a lack of energy amidst high demand. This has caused a chain reaction of events resulting in exploding fertilizer prices and shortages which will result in skyrocketing food prices next year; especially given the ongoing droughts, wildfires, flooding, and other extreme weather events leading to crop losses. One more explanatory article by Richard Heinberg lays out a chilly scenario, especially to those having trouble putting food on the table now. 

I see lots of hype and happy talk of all sorts of great things predicted to come this week so far at COP-26, but without the underlying framework necessary for these talking points to become reality, happy talk is all it is now, and all it ever will be. Live Now!

Comments

  1. I am teacher of Environmental Conflicts and the global crisis. What you write is in tune with what I teach. I just put this in my list of suggested readings for students in 3 schools. Thank you!.

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