How Capitalism is Killing the Earth

27 02 2015

The End of Capitalism

Whose economy is it really? [alex]

Special report: How our economy is killing the Earth

Originally published by New Scientist, 16 October 2008.

Growth is death

THE graphs climbing across these pages (see graph, right, or explore in more detail) are a stark reminder of the crisis facing our planet. Consumption of resources is rising rapidly, biodiversity is plummeting and just about every measure shows humans affecting Earth on a vast scale. Most of us accept the need for a more sustainable way to live, by reducing carbon emissions, developing renewable technology and increasing energy efficiency.

But are these efforts to save the planet doomed? A growing band of experts are looking at figures like these and arguing that personal carbon virtue and collective environmentalism are futile as long as our economic system is built on the assumption of growth. The science tells us that if we are serious…

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Peak fossil fuel won’t stop climate change – but it could help

26 02 2015

The Conversation

Peak fossil fuel means it’s unlikely the worst climate scenario will come to pass. Gary Ellem explains.

What happens to coal in China will play a big role in deciding which climate road we’re all on. Han Jun Zeng/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Fossil fuels are ultimately a finite resource – the definition of non-renewable energy. Burning of these fuels – coal, oil and gas – is the main driver of climate change. So could the peak of fossil fuels help mitigate warming?

The short answer is maybe … but perhaps not how you might think.

In a paper published this month in the journal Fuel, my colleagues and I suggest that limits to fossil fuel availability might take climate Armageddon off the table, although we will still need to keep some fossil fuels in the ground for the best chance of keeping warming below 2C.

But more importantly, the peak of Chinese coal use is changing the face of global alternative energy industry development, and is soon likely to impact on international positioning for a low-emissions future.

Now for the long answer.

Predicting climate change

Predicting future climate change is dogged by two fundamental uncertainties: the dosage of greenhouse gas that human civilisation will add to the atmosphere, and how Earth’s climate and feedback systems will respond to it.

In the absence of a crystal ball for the future of emissions, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has adopted a scenario-based approach which highlights four representative concentration pathways (or RCPs). These are named after how much extra heating they add to the earth (in watts per square metre).

The relationship between emissions, and temperature projections. IPCC
Click to enlarge

From these scenarios the IPCC has developed temperature scenarios. So the RCP2.6 scenario is expected to restrict climate change to below 2C, whereas RCP8.5 represents catastrophic climate change of around 4C by the end of this century, rising to perhaps 8C in the ensuing centuries.

Fossil fuels forecast

The key thing to note here is that the emissions scenarios are demand-focused scenarios that have been developed to reflect possibilities for potential fossil fuel consumption. They explore a range of scenarios that include increasing global population and living standards, as well as the possible impact of new alternative energy technologies and global emissions-reduction agreements.

Instead of examining demand scenarios for fossil fuels, our work has focused on supply constraints to future fossil fuel production. Our work is not a forecast of future fossil fuel production and consumption, but rather seeks to determine the upper bounds of the geological resource and how it might be brought to market using normal supply and demand interactions.

We developed three projections based on different estimates of these Ultimately Recoverable Resources (URR). URR is the proportion of total fossil fuel resources that can be viably extracted now, and in the future (this accounts for some resources that are technologically inaccessible now becoming extractable in the future). The low case used the most pessimistic literature resource availability estimates, whereas the high case used the most optimistic estimates.

We also included a “best guess” estimate by choosing country-level resource values that we considered most likely. We then compared the resulting emissions profiles for the three upper bounds to the published IPCC emissions scenarios, as shown in the figure below.

Our projections for fossil fuel supply (black) matched with emissions scenarios (colours). RCP8.5 is the worst, RCP2.6 the best. Gary Ellem
Click to enlarge

In comparison to the published emissions scenarios, we found that it was very unlikely that enough fossil fuels could be brought to market to deliver the RCP8.5 scenario and we would recommend that this be removed from the IPCC scenarios in future assessment reports.

Mining out the optimistic fossil fuel supply base could perhaps deliver the RCP6 scenario, however, our best guess limit to fossil fuel availability caps the upper limit of emissions exposure to the RCP4.5 scenario (roughly equivalent to a median estimate of 2C warming).

But even under the low resource availability scenario, it will be necessary to leave some fossil fuels untapped if we are to meet the conditions for the RCP2.6 scenario or lower (to have more than a 90% chance of avoiding 2C temperature rise).

To sum up, our supply side assessment suggests that even if the climate Armageddon of the RPC8.5 scenario were desirable, it is unlikely that enough new fossil fuel resources could be discovered in time and brought to market to deliver it. To be clear, there is still much to worry about with the RPC4.5 and RPC6 scenarios which are still possible at the limits of likely fossil fuel resources.

So a simple reflection on global fossil fuel limitation won’t save us … but nations don’t face peak fuels at the same time. A country-level analysis of peak fuels suggests the possibility of a very different future.

How China could shake the world

As part of our assessment we looked closely at the fossil fuel production projections for four countries including China, Canada, the United States and Australia. Of these, China is by far the most intriguing.

China has little in the way of oil and gas resources and so has established its remarkable industrial growth on exploiting its substantial coal resources. Our projections indicate that the rapid expansion in Chinese coal mining is rapidly depleting this resource, with Chinese peak coal imminent in the mid-2020s under even the high fossil fuel scenario, as seen in the projections below.

Various scenarios for China’s fossil fuel supply. Gary Ellem
Click to enlarge

China is well aware of this and is currently scrambling to cap coal consumption and develop alternative energy projects and industries. Its leaders understand that the alternative energy sector is really an advanced manufacturing sector, and have moved to position themselves strategically as the world leader in solar, wind, hydro, battery and nuclear technology construction and manufacturing.

As fossil fuels start to fail China as a path to economic and energy security, China will join other regions in a similar position, such as the European Union nations, which have largely depleted their fossil fuel reserves.

For these nations focused on alternative energy investment for energy and economic security, global action on climate change is strategically aligned with their industrial strength. We can therefore expect them to pressure for increasing global action as a method of improving their strategic global trading position. We may see the beginnings of this transition at this year’s international climate talks in Paris this year, but it will take a few more years for the Chinese shift to play out as they exploit the remainder of their coal resource and gain confidence in the ability of their alternative energy sector to scale.

The question then becomes “can the USA manufacturing sector afford to be out of these global alternative energy markets?”. Our guess is “no” and a global tipping point will have been reached in the alternative energy switch.

This is perhaps the most profound way that peak fuels may contribute to a low-emissions future.

Three Evils of Capitalism

24 02 2015

Reblogged from

(Read the essay, or watch the 14 minute video version here in this little box, or on its Youtube page, or full-screen.)

Poverty and war have tormented us for ages, but they won’t for much longer; soon we will be forced to choose between harmony and extinction. Any compromise between those two extremes is nearing an end, because information and ecocide are both growing toward tipping points. And the new vision we need for survival is uncomplicated but also unfamiliar, especially regarding economics.

When people blame the problems of the world on “unregulated capitalism” or “predatory capitalism,” they are implying that capitalism itself is a good and healthy thing. They are implying that we have merely strayed from its sound principles into corruption, a superficial problem that can be cleaned up through reform. But these reformists are mistaken. They have not seen the world as it is; they have not understood what the principles really are. The evils of inequality, externalities, and alienation are inherent in any market economy. To halt the torment and destruction, we’ll have to learn how to share. That didn’t work in some previous attempts, but that just means we’ll have to try doing it differently; the reasons for doing it are still valid. Forcing it on people won’t work, so a change in law won’t be enough; we need a change in culture.

The problem is not “unregulated capitalism.” Writing regulations more carefully will not save us. Satan’s army of lawyers can find him a loophole whenever he wants to escape one of his contracts. And our plutocracy simply disregards its contracts — just look at all of the US government’s violations of its own laws. Money erodes its way through regulations as surely as water finds a way downhill. Any separation between government and big business, between regulators and regulated, is illusory: They share a revolving door, and sometimes a bed. The only way to avoid rule by the wealthy class is to not have a wealthy class.

And fighting against one Monsanto or Halliburton at a time is futile. It’s like Hercules fighting the Hydra: Each time he cut off one head, two more grew in its place. We must look deeper, to what Monsanto’s poisons and Halliburton’s wars have in common.

When Neo awakened from The Matrix, physical reality changed for him, but that film was only a metaphor. When we awaken from the propaganda all around us, physical objects are not changed, but their significance is changed, and our history and expectations are vastly changed.

The old world is dying; we must move on to the new world being born. How will we make the great change? I don’t know the details of that. But it has already begun; you can see it in the peaceful demonstrators being beaten by police. Awareness and understanding are spreading, and our foremost tactic must be to spread them further. When enough people see what is really going on, we will unite, and we will find a way to change things, and the violence will end.

1st evil:   INEQUALITY (3:30 in video)

The data in Thomas Piketty’s recent book shows that increasing economic inequality is a normal trend in capitalism, not an aberration. The problem is deeper than debt-based currency or any other particular method of exploitation and theft. It is inherent in all market economies, even barter economies: Market transactions increase inequality, because they favor whichever participant is in the stronger bargaining position. The only way to not have a wealthy class is by not having a market — that is, by sharing.

Increasing inequality is simplified in the board game Monopoly, which always ends with all the players but one totally impoverished. That’s the outcome even if no one cheats, so the problem is in the principles, not in “corruption.”

The recent study by Gilens and Page shows quantitatively that the USA is a plutocracy, not a democracy. Just a few people now own our homes, workplaces, debts, government, mass communications media, everything. Privately owned workplaces are little dictatorships; that’s why we hate Mondays. Progress brings higher productivity, but its benefits are pocketed by the owners of the workplaces; for the rest of us, progress means layoffs, not leisure.

Psychopaths seek positions of power over others, and even people who are not already psychopaths become corrupted by power if they acquire it; strong evidence of that was given by the Stanford Prison Experiment. We see cruelty wherever the opportunity for it arises — in prison guards, police, soldiers, workplace managers, business tycoons, dictators, or even democratically elected politicians — though in that last case, they cover it up by conducting much of their work in secret and lying about the rest. All these bullies proclaim, and perhaps believe, that they are deserving and that their victims are not.

Clearly, we should reorganize our society so that there are no concentrations of power. That requires not only replacing markets with sharing, but also replacing authoritarian hierarchical government with peer-to-peer networking. This is why I’m an anarcho-commie, which means share and don’t hit, the first two things we all learned in kindergarten.

2nd evil:   EXTERNALITIES (6:17 in video)

Any market transaction is negotiated by a buyer and a seller, but it may affect other parties besides those two. Such effects are outside the considerations of the negotiations, and so they are called externalities. During the crash of 2008, Wall Street traders often reassured one another with the acronym “IBGYBG,” which stood for “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone.”

Externalities are more due to indifference than outright malice, and so you might think their effects would be random — sometimes harmful and sometimes beneficial — but it doesn’t work that way. The proverbial “bull in a china shop” is not motivated by malice, but he is never beneficial.

Market prices are far from true costs, because they leave out the externalities. Thus the market is not at all the “wise and efficient” allocator of resources claimed by its worshipers. Conventional textbooks gloss over this topic, as though it were something minor, but in fact externalities are enormous: War, poverty, and ecocide are inevitable consequences of any market economy. And by the way, the ecocide is a lot worse than most people realize; feedback loops are about to send us over a climate cliff.

A living whale is an awesome creature, but it has no monetary value. The parts of a recently killed whale are worth a million dollars in quick profit to someone who doesn’t care about the consequences elsewhere. That’s why the whales are disappearing. And that’s why the ecosystem is disappearing too, though it’s larger, more abstract, and harder to see.

You might think that the few people in power would get together and conspire to save the planet that they have seized for their own. But that’s not how they’re behaving.

For instance, a few years ago, the Arctic began melting rapidly. That’s one of the climate feedback loops, and it should have been a wakeup call to stop using fossil fuels before they kill everyone. But instead the plutocrats said, “oh goody, now it will be so much easier to extract fossil fuels from the Arctic!”

The market compels its biggest players to compete against each other in offering quick profits to investors, without regard to consequences. Any big players who find scruples will fall behind in the competition, and will be replaced. We need to overthrow not just the big players, but the entire system.

3rd evil:   ALIENATION   (9:06 in video)

The problem is not just in our rulers. It’s in all of us, in our culture, in the so-called “American dream“: You keep your stuff in your house, I keep my stuff in my house, and God help the guy who doesn’t have a house, because no one else can help him, in our present socioeconomic system. We get the illusion that my well being doesn’t depend on yours, and I don’t need to care about you, and in fact I can’t afford to care about you. We blame the less fortunate for their bad luck, because that’s easier than facing up to the fact that we might be next, that the system is unjust, and that we don’t know how to fix it. We may try to be kind, because that’s human nature, but that’s swimming upstream against the current of separateness.

How blind are we to our own culture? Compare it with physics. An apple’s mass, volume, and colour are objective and measurable traits, independent of any observer. The “owner” of the apple is merely a story that we agree upon, one that can be changed by whoever controls the courts. And yet it has become impossible for us to imagine an apple without an owner.

Our possessions separate us psychologically, and that in turn legitimizes our material separateness. Apathy and alienation seem inevitable and normal. We are forced to compete against each other for survival; friendships become commodities and strategic alliances. We’re distrustful, and our anxiety about lack of security is medically harmful. The wealthy are harmfully stressed too, by their desire to stay ahead, and by their lack of the things that money can’t buy. Lacking meaning, purpose, and direction in our lives, we turn to drugs and entertainments. We see ourselves alone and helpless, and few of us realize that everyone else is alone in much the same way.

No wonder random shootings have become commonplace in our shopping malls. The only thing that can make us safe is a change to a culture in which everyone cares about everyone else and no one gets left behind. But that kind of caring will require sharing. To shelter the homeless and to end the prevalence of sh*t jobs, we’ll have to restructure the entire economy, and we’ll have to change how we feel about one another.

We’ve been told — and some of us have believed it — that it’s human nature to be greedy, selfish, and lazy. We’ve been told that humans work only for private gain, and work well only in competition. We’ve been told that our culture and behaviour can’t change. But none of that is true.

The Fall from Grace was 10,000 years ago, with the invention of the word “mine,” and we’ve lived in its shadow ever since. But throughout the 200,000 years before that, we lived cooperatively, without rulers, sharing everything of importance, and that’s still our deeper nature, our genetic heritage. You can see the cooperation at any traffic merge.

“Half full” and “half empty” are optimistic and pessimistic observations of the same glass. But human nature is not just what we observe. It’s what we choose and aspire to be. Even if the reformists were right — that it is possible to make selfishness viable — why would anyone want to? Right now our culture encourages our worst behaviour; let’s replace it with a culture that brings out our better side.

I’m hoping for a miracle. That doesn’t necessarily involve supernatural intervention; Charles Eisenstein defined a “miracle” to be simply an event that most people believe impossible until it happens. The miracle I’m hoping for — and actually, I believe it is possible, even if a lot of people don’t — is that some good ideas will spread very quickly, and people everywhere will begin sharing and cooperating. That’s the only thing that might still save us from the rapidly accelerating ecocide. Can we shed our cynicism, and see with new eyes, and give each other the inspiration we need?


23 02 2015

Be prepared to be regaled by truly stunning photography, even when it’s ugly…..  A must watch film.  Anyone who enjoys their cushy lifestyle needs to know at what cost.  Share widely.

We are living in exceptional times. Scientists tell us that we have 10 years to change the way we live, avert the depletion of natural resources and the catastrophic evolution of the Earth’s climate.

The stakes are high for us and our children. Everyone should take part in the effort, and HOME has been conceived to take a message of mobilization out to every human being.

For this purpose, HOME needs to be free. A patron, the PPR Group, made this possible. EuropaCorp, the distributor, also pledged not to make any profit because Home is a non-profit film.

HOME has been made for you : share it! And act for the planet.

Yann Arthus-Bertrand

HOME official website

PPR is proud to support HOME

HOME is a carbon offset movie

More information about the Planet

Enjoy Life while you can…

23 02 2015


James Lovelock

‘Enjoy life while you can: in 20 years global warming will hit the fan’, or so says James Lovelock……  I’ve enjoyed Lovelock’s Gaia books for over 20 years now, and they were largely instrumental in reshaping the way I see most things these days.  His recent interview published in The Guardian written by  inspired me to compile this post.

88 year old Lovelock has been dispensing predictions like “It’s just too late for it [climate change]” and “Perhaps if we’d gone along routes like that in 1967, it might have helped. But we don’t have time. All these standard green things, like sustainable development, I think these are just words that mean nothing. I get an awful lot of people coming to me saying you can’t say that, because it gives us nothing to do. I say on the contrary, it gives us an immense amount to do. Just not the kinds of things you want to do.” from his laboratory in an old mill in Cornwall since I was knee high to a grasshopper; and the consistent accuracy of these predictions have earned him the reputation as Britain’s most respected independent scientists.

Working on his own since he was 40, he has invented a device that detected CFCs, thus enabling the growing hole in the ozone layer to be detected.  He also introduced the Gaia hypothesis, a theory that the Earth behaves like a self-regulating super-organism. Initially ridiculed by many scientists, that theory today pretty well forms the basis of most climate science, not least modelling…..

Lovelock is an odd mixture.  On the one hand, he ‘gets it’, but his insistence on developing nuclear power further has enraged many (including myself).  “You’re never going to get enough energy from wind to run a society such as ours,” he says. “Windmills! Oh no. No way of doing it. You can cover the whole country with the blasted things, millions of them. Waste of time.”  We agree on that…  however, when he goes on to say “I see it with everybody. People just want to go on doing what they’re doing. They want business as usual. They say, “there’s going to be a problem up ahead, but they don’t want to change anything.”  So why have nuclear energy unless you want business as usual continuing?  Why criticise people who champion wind energy for wanting BAU to continue, when he’s doing exactly the same thing but this time using nuclear power? To my way of thinking, this is fence sitting on his part.  From the Guardian..:

He dismisses eco ideas briskly, one by one. “Carbon offsetting? I wouldn’t dream of it. It’s just a joke. To pay money to plant trees, to think you’re offsetting the carbon? You’re probably making matters worse. You’re far better off giving to the charity Cool Earth, which gives the money to the native peoples to not take down their forests.”

Do he and his wife try to limit the number of flights they take? “No we don’t. Because we can’t.” And recycling, he adds, is “almost certainly a waste of time and energy”, while having a “green lifestyle” amounts to little more than “ostentatious grand gestures”. He distrusts the notion of ethical consumption. “Because always, in the end, it turns out to be a scam … or if it wasn’t one in the beginning, it becomes one.”

He can’t limit his flights?  Why NOT?  Then, reports that Lovelock was “a socialist as a young man, [but] he now favours market forces”.  The very market forces that got us into this mess…?  I think Lovelock is good at the science, but not economics.  He needs to meet Nicole Foss!

Lovelock fears we won’t invent the necessary technologies in time, and expects “about 80%” of the world’s population to be wiped out by 2100.  “Prophets have been foretelling Armageddon since time began”, he says. “But this is the real thing.”

Humanity is in a period exactly like 1938-9, he explains, when “we all knew something terrible was going to happen, but didn’t know what to do about it”. But once the second world war was under way, “everyone got excited, they loved the things they could do, it was one long holiday … so when I think of the impending crisis now, I think in those terms. A sense of purpose – that’s what people want.”  I can’t see too many people thinking WWII was “one long holiday”, but I hope he’s right about that sense of purpose…..

What would Lovelock do now,  asks……. He smiles and says: “Enjoy life while you can. Because if you’re lucky it’s going to be 20 years before it hits the fan.”

Warm Water Rising From the Depths: Much of Antarctica Now Under Threat of Melt

23 02 2015


Antarctica. A seemingly impregnable fortress of cold. Ice mountains rising 2,100 meters high. Circumpolar winds raging out from this mass of chill frost walling the warm air out. And a curtain of sea ice insulating the surface air and mainland ice sheets from an increasingly warm world. A world that is now on track to experience one of its hottest years on record.

Antarctica, the coldest place on Earth, may well seem impregnable to this warming. But like any other fortress, it has its vulnerable spots. In this case, a weak underbelly. For in study after study, we keep finding evidence that warm waters are rising up from the abyss surrounding the chill and frozen continent. And the impact and risk to Antarctica’s glacial ice mountains is significant and growing.

Rapid Break-up of Ice From Filchner Ronne Ice Shelf in Jan 2010

(Collapse of ice structure at the leading edge of the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf adjacent to a rapidly warming Weddell Sea…

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Living in the Belly of the Beast

22 02 2015

Yes…….  another video.  “Consumed”  Thanks to Chris Harries for pointing this one out.