Month: August 2015

The papal encyclical is the first work that has risen to the full challenge of climate change

When I was young the intellectual milieu was shaped by the need to come to terms with the unprecedented crimes and the general moral collapse that had taken place on European soil following the outbreak of great power conflict in August 1914 – Hitler and Stalin, the Holocaust and the Gulag, the concentration camps and genocide, the tens of millions of deaths that had occurred in two unprecedentedly barbarous wars. For me the most important book on the contemporary crisis of civilization was Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism, a complex study of racism, imperialism, anti-semitism and the regimes that had emerged in Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union. The book was important to me not only because of its formal arguments and its insights but because it was written in a tone that seemed, unlike any other work I had read, to have risen to the extremity of the crimes and the breakdown it was struggling to understand and to explain.
In our own age we are faced with a crisis of civilisation of equivalent depth but of an altogether different kind – the gradual but apparently inexorable human-caused destruction of the condition of the Earth in which human life has flourished over the past several thousand years, at whose centre is the phenomenon we call either global warming or climate change. During the past decade I have read scores of books and thousands of articles, many outstanding, examining from every conceivable angle and also trying to explain the wreckage we are knowingly inflicting on the Earth. It was however not until last week that I read a work whose tone and scope seemed to me, like Arendt’s Origins, fully adequate to its theme. That work was Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home – in my opinion one of the most important documents of our era.
There can be little doubt that the papal encyclical is the most consequential intervention in the discussion of climate change since Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth. But as an intervention it is of an interestingly different and more radical kind. The implication of Al Gore was that the crisis we were facing had arisen as a consequence of an unhappy but nevertheless innocent accident. The condition of the Earth was under threat because the unprecedented material prosperity of industrial civilisation had been based on the disastrous but unanticipated and unanticipatable consequence of its source of energy – the burning of fossil fuels. Knowing now what we do, all that was required to overcome the crisis, Gore argued, was to replace fossil fuels with renewables – solar, wind, hydro, geo-thermal. No doubt that transition would be anything but easy and to succeed would require great reserves of political skill and will. For Al Gore the climate crisis was however a mere hiccup in the course of history. Following the transition from fossil fuels to renewables, the fundamental human story – of expanding material prosperity through endless economic growth – would be able to be resumed with its bounty, universalised through the generosity of the developed world, spreading gradually to every corner of the Earth. For Al Gore humankind did face a crisis of the most serious kind. But for him nevertheless, the myth of unending material progress, a core American or indeed Western faith, was untouched. 
The papal encyclical is different. Like Al Gore, indeed like all rational people, Pope Francis accepts the consensual conclusions of the climate scientists: that through the burning of fossil fuels human action is causing the Earth to warm dangerously; that this warming has already inflicted great harm and is certain to inflict catastrophe in the future, especially on poorer peoples and on future generations; that it will poison the oceans, transform lands into desert, and lead to a tragic loss of bio-diversity; and that if the effects of global warming are to be mitigated there is no alternative to the speedy elimination of fossil fuels and the embrace of renewable sources of energy. According to the Pope, “this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and unprecedented destruction of eco-systems’.’ Indeed, because of its failure to abandon fossil fuels ‘’the post-industrial world may well be remembered as the most irresponsible in human history.’’ All this is deftly summarised in the encyclical. There is nothing about this account that is unusual or with which Al Gore would in any way disagree. Where Al Gore and Pope Francis part company is over the relation of the climate crisis to contemporary industrial civilisation.
For Gore the fundaments of this civilisation are unquestioned. For Pope Francis the climate crisis is only the most extreme expression of a destructive tendency that has become increasingly dominant through the course of industrialisation. Judaeo-Christian thought “demythologised” nature, breaking with an earlier worldview that regarded nature as “divine”. But as the industrial age advanced, by ceasing to regard the Earth, our common home, with the proper “awe and wonder”, humans have come to behave as “masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits to our immediate needs.” “Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the past two hundred years.” The vision of the encyclical is not straightforwardly anti-modernist, although I have no doubt that it will be mischaracterised in this way. The advances in the fields of medicine, engineering and communications are welcomed. “Who,” Francis exclaims at one point in the encyclical, “can deny the beauty of an aircraft or a skyscraper?” But for him, in the end, the treatment of the Earth as a resource to be mastered and exploited; the limitless appetite for consumption that has accelerated during the past 200 years of the industrial age and has culminated in our “throwaway culture”; and the most extreme consequence of the contemporary crisis of post-industrial society, the climate emergency – are inseparable phenomena, part of a general and profound civilisational malaise. “Doomsday predictions,” the encyclical claims, “can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth. The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophe.”
Why has this come to pass? The encyclical argues that we have become slaves both to what is called the “technological paradigm” and the theory of market fundamentalism. If the history of the twentieth century proves anything, it is the potential of technology to be deployed to anti-human purpose, as it was with the Nazis in the means of killing, as it is in the modern weapons of war. “Never has humanity had such power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will be used wisely.” Technology has become disconnected from “human responsibility, values and conscience”. Even a lifestyle partially resisting the regime of technology is now described mockingly as “counter-cultural”. Particularly devastating for the wellbeing of both society and the environment is the alliance of convenience that has been forged between technology and economic theory, which serves the interests of the wealthy. The neo-liberal belief in “the magic of the market” ought to have been finally discredited by the global financial crisis. Indeed the encyclical describes it as a theory that “today scarcely anyone dares to defend”. In reality, however, such a belief still dominates daily economic life in practice. “The economy accepts every advance in technology with a view to profit, without concern for its potentially negative impact on human beings.” Financiers and technologists are united in “the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit”. Talk of “sustainable development” is “usually a way of distracting attention and offering excuses”, absorbing “the language of ecology into the categories of finance and technocracy”. If technology has captured the economy, in turn the economy has captured politics. The encyclical’s description of contemporary political life in a standard Western democracy is painfully familiar.
“A politics concerned with immediate results, supported by consumerist sectors of the population, is driven to produce short-term economic growth. In response to electoral interests, governments are reluctant to upset the public with measures, which could affect the level of consumption or create risks for foreign investment. The myopia of power politics delays the inclusion of a far-sighted environmental agenda.”
As a result of all this, civilisation has been brought to the “crossroads”.
“Everything,” the encyclical declares more than once, “is related.” One meaning here is the connectedness of our relations with all other aspects of creation – with both other creatures and with the inanimate world of nature. “Each creature has its own purpose … Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God … We can feel the desertification of the soil almost as a physical ailment, and the extinction of a species as a painful disfigurement.” The connectedness between humans and nature is often captured in a language of great beauty. The meaning of the destruction of coral reefs is conveyed in these words. “Who turned the wonderworld of the seas into underwater cemeteries bereft of colour and life?” In a rather strange but compelling turn of phrase, the encyclical enjoins us to “dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it”.
But “everything is related” has another meaning. In the contemporary world there exist not “two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but … one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.” The most important connection between the twin social and environmental crises is expressed in these words. “A sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings.” The human family is disfigured by radical inequality. This inequality should arouse our “indignation”. It rarely does. The wealthy are barely in touch with the conditions of life of the poor. If the poor enter into their calculations at all, it is often as an “afterthought”. Conscience has been “numbed”. We are in danger of succumbing to a condition Francis calls “the globalisation of indifference”.
The two crises – of the environment and of society – are directly interconnected in multiple ways. It is the poorer nations who are already paying and will continue to pay the main price as the climate crisis deepens. One of the reasons for the environmental crisis is the obscene level of consumption concentrated in the wealthy nations and also among the wealthy classes in both the developed and the developing worlds. Some of the wealthy “have not the slightest idea of what to do with their possessions, vainly showing off their supposed superiority and leaving behind them so much waste which, if it were the case everywhere, would destroy the planet”. Corporations remorselessly pursuing profit do not take the wellbeing of the Earth into account. The encyclical enjoins wealthy nations to abandon the ambition of economic growth and assist poorer nations to pursue a growth that is called “healthy”. To make progress in the interconnected struggle against global warming and global inequality, the encyclical also talks of the need for a world political authority. It acknowledges that none of this of course will happen without what the encyclical calls a profound “cultural revolution”.
The contemporary social crisis is not restricted however to the problem of inequality. There are signs everywhere of spiritual malaise. Societies that are devoted above all else to the promotion of a mythology connecting consumption with wellbeing are perpetuating a cruel illusion. Consumption does not, cannot, bring meaning or even ordinary happiness. In the consumer society, the ills of isolation, depression and anxiety are growing, the ties of family and community are weakening, because of what the encyclical calls “the silent rupture of the bonds of integration and social cohesion”. The “consumerist vision of human beings” is rather a potent leveller of the riches offered by the variety of cultures – “their art and poetry, their interior life and spirituality” – one vital source of human nourishment. Compulsive consumerism creates only a counterfeit conception of freedom. The greed and self-centredness which is instilled by the consumer culture of instant gratification is also incompatible with the idea of “limits” and thus with the idea of the existence of a “common good”. Interestingly, the encyclical argues that it is not the old enemy of the Church, “doctrinal relativism”, but what it calls “practical relativism” that is now inflicting the greater social harm. We are encouraged by the market philosophy not to cooperate but to compete and “for one person to take advantage of another”. Societies are convinced to “allow the invisible forces of the market to regulate the economy, and consider their impact on society and nature as collateral damage”. Sensing imbalance in life, people are driven to a frenetic busy-ness. “In turn [this] leads them to ride rough-shod over everything about them.” The encyclical characterises the trajectory of contemporary culture with the neologism “rapidification”. As a result of all this, it argues, we have now reached a very strange place where, despite unprecedented material prosperity, “people no longer seem to believe in a happy future”.    
In the encyclical, the analysis of the condition of contemporary culture in turn provides the explanation for the most troubling puzzle of the modern era, our abject failure thus far to rise to the challenge of global warming, a failure that explains why the encyclical argues that our generation is likely to be seen as the most irresponsible in history. Climate change denialism is the obvious self-interest of the economically powerful forces of society who, in the words of the encyclical “mask the problems … and conceal the symptoms”. “Is it realistic to hope,” the encyclical inquires, “that those who are obsessed with maximising profits will stop to reflect on the environmental damage which they leave behind for future generations?” But there also exists something more common than outright climate change denialism, a climate change inertia which is fostered, according to the encyclical, by “a false or superficial ecology which bolsters complacency and cheerful recklessness”. The encyclical’s account of the psychological mechanism supporting climate change inertia is unusually shrewd and thus worth quoting at some length.
“As often occurs in periods of deep crisis which require bold decisions, we are tempted to think that what is happening is not entirely clear … Such evasiveness serves as a licence to carrying on with our present life-styles and models of production and consumption. This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen.”
Pope Francis is also shrewd about the climate change denialism and the climate change inertia found in the ranks of his fellow Catholics. “It must be said that some committed and prayerful Christians, with the excuse of realism and pragmatism, tend to ridicule expressions of concern for the environment. Others are passive; they choose not to change their habits and become inconsistent.” This passage might have been written with Cardinal Pell in mind. Come to think of it, perhaps it was.
Despite everything, however, it would involve a profound misreading of the encyclical to imagine that it was written without a belief that there are real and not merely confected grounds for hope. The encyclical is entirely unambiguous in the praise it offers the international environmental movement for its intelligence of judgment and its achievements. “Worldwide, the ecological movement has made significant advances … Thanks to their efforts, environmental questions have increasingly found a place on public agendas.” Even though the encyclical recognises how difficult it is for the younger generation who “have grown up in a milieu of extreme consumerism and affluence” to develop different habits, it knows that many are aware of what is happening to the common home of the human family and of the terrible betrayal by their parents’ generation. It argues that they possess “a new ecological sensitivity and generous spirit”. Yet the grounds for hope in the encyclical rest ultimately on a faith in certain enduring and unexpungable qualities of what can only be called the human spirit. We have been endowed with free will which means that human history reveals both “decadence and mutual destruction” but also “freedom, growth, salvation and love”. Humans can transcend “their mental and social conditioning”. They are “born for love”. “No system can completely suppress our openness to what is good, true and beautiful.” “All is not lost.” This thought weaves its way throughout the encyclical, lightening the darkness. On occasions it is expressed quite wonderfully. “An authentic humanity … seems to dwell in the midst of the technological culture, almost unnoticed, like a mist seeping gently beneath a closed door.” Pope Francis reminds us of the story from Genesis of the innocent and just man, Noah, who lived at a time when “the wickedness of man was great in the earth”. Through him, however, God “gave humanity the chance of a new beginning. All it takes is one good person to restore hope!”
As I am incapable of locating Laudato Si’ within the frame of Catholic thought, what I have tried to provide here is a political reading. So have others. Some right-wing critics have claimed that the encyclical reveals that the Pope is a secret Marxist. This seems to me preposterous. Marxism is a materialist philosophy if it is anything. The encyclical is an expression of religious thought throughout and, philosophically speaking, of idealism. If a concern for the poor, or the rejection of radical inequality, or suspicion about the self-interested behaviour of the mega-wealthy is to be regarded as Marxist, there exists a global army of Marxists far mightier than I have ever imagined it to be. Another critique links the encyclical with the kind of anti-modernism or “cultural pessimism” that was found on the far right of Europe especially during the interwar period. This is a more plausible critique but also I believe quite mistaken. At the heart of interwar cultural pessimism was an elitist contempt for “the masses” and a hatred of democracy. What is unusual in the encyclical is the marriage of a critique of contemporary post-industrial culture with the most profound and sincere democratic beliefs and instincts. In its rejection of the spirit of our technological-industrial-consumer society there are undoubtedly similarities between the encyclical and the sociological critique of modernity expressed most profoundly in the work of Zygmunt Bauman. Yet there is a religious and transcendental element found in the encyclical, which is entirely absent in Bauman. Of all major contemporary political thinkers of whom I am aware, the one who most closely resembles Francis is Vaclav Havel in whose great work, The Power of the Powerless, several major tendencies of the encyclical can be found – hostility to the technological-industrial-consumer society, profound democratic faith, and a notion of transcendence grounded in the idea of the human spirit. Havel’s masterwork was however written before the problem of climate change became apparent.
With mainstream climate change writers and activists, like Al Gore or Nicholas Stern, who believe that political will and technological ingenuity will provide democratic capitalist society with a benign exit from the climate crisis, Francis shares only acceptance of the conclusions of the climate scientists and an anxiety about the inertia of the international community’s response thus far. He shares more with the radical anti-capitalist green left, of whom presently the most important activist-writer is Naomi Klein, and in particular an understanding that only a transformative revolution can provide us with an exit from the impending climate tragedy. However while the revolution Klein looks for is political and economic, the end of what I call “really existing capitalism”, the revolution that Francis’s vision requires is cultural and spiritual. If I am not mistaken, the word capitalism is not to be found in the papal encyclical. There is however one major climate activist-writer, Bill McKibben, whose anti-technological and anti-industrial writings, as seen in The End of Nature or more recently in Oil and Honey, rather closely resembles Laudato Si’, in sensibility at least if not in formal argument. Immediately after reading the encyclical, McKibben wrote in the New York Review of Books.
“My own sense, after spending the day reading this remarkable document, was of great relief … This marks the first time that a person of great authority in our global culture has fully recognised the scale and depth of our crisis, and the consequent necessary rethinking of what it means to be fully human.”
This was my sentiment as well.

Press link for more: Robert Manne |



Robert Manne is Emeritus Professor and Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow at La Trobe University and has twice been voted Australia’s leading public intellectual. He is the author of Left, Right, Left: Political Essays, 1977–2005 and Making Trouble. 

Climate Change Disaster Reduction Planning. #Auspol 

Climate change is a clear and present danger, forcing countries to evolve their policies constantly to keep up, participants at the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction said today.
“It’s clear that climate change is going to have dramatic consequences for disaster risk reduction, particularly for poorer countries,” said Mr. Phil Evans, Government Services Director at the United Kingdom’s Met Office. 
The scale of the challenge makes it all the more important to seize the unique opportunity of 2015, given that this year sees three interlocking events: The World Conference, then a summit of global leaders on the Sustainable Development Goals in New York in September, and finally, in Paris in December, the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. 
All three events are part of international efforts to chart out future policy to cope with the changing climate and rein in impacts such as increasingly frequent and extreme super-storms or droughts. 
“In the context of disaster risk reduction and climate change, 2015 is a remarkable opportunity to address these issues,” said Evans. 
Bangladesh, one of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world, has won wide praise for its disaster risk reduction policies. The cyclones and floods of the past claimed tens of thousands of lives in the low-lying South Asian nation, but community-based early warning and evacuation plans have helped pull the toll down into the hundreds. 
The Bangladeshi government is doing even more to meet the challenge head on, said Mr. Shahid Ulla Mia, Additional Secretary at the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief. 
“Momentum on management of disaster and climate risk across all levels is on the rise in Bangladesh,” he said. 

2-2“These have translated into high political commitment, growing public investments, advancement of risk-informed development, formulation of institutional and legislative policy for disaster risk management, innovation, use of technological solutions, and finally, promotion of the ‘whole of government’ and ‘whole of society’ approach for managing risk.
“Disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation have moved from the periphery to the center of development planning. The agenda of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation is the top of the political agenda in Bangladesh.” The picture is similar in the Philippines, which is regularly battered by typhoons. 
“Investing in climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction is critical to maintain development gains,” said the Philippines’ Climate Change Commissioner Lucille Sering, underscoring that the need to tackle the issue had spurred a common approach by all branches of the country’s government. 

Press link for more: climate

Making connections on tar-sands pollution, racism, & sexism #Auspol

Melina Laboucan-Massimo was born in the wilds of northern Alberta, Canada, in a tiny town aptly named Peace River. She grew up in Little Buffalo, an even tinier town about 65 miles to the east, where most of her family still lives. A member of the Lubicon Cree, one of Canada’s First Nations, she was raised on the land like her parents and grandparents: hunting moose and drying the meat, using local plants as medicines, spending summers deep in the boreal forests and muskeg swamps and winters in a village with no running water.
Her community’s traditional lifestyle is under threat from oil development in the nearby Alberta tar sands, and that inspired Laboucan-Massimo to study environmental science at the University of Alberta at Edmonton and to become an activist. Today, the 34-year-old is one of the most unflappable leaders in the climate fight. As a climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Canada, she has traveled across Canada and the globe warning about the dangers of tar-sands development and testified before the U.S. Congress on Keystone XL. She’s also wrapping up a master’s degree at the University of Victoria on indigenous governance with a focus on renewable energy in First Nation communities.
But Laboucan-Massimo has another mission, one that she sees as fundamentally linked to all of the above: To make the world a safer, more equitable place for women. “The Earth is our Mother,” she says. “Violence against the Earth begets violence against women.”

Melina Laboucan-Massimo was born in the wilds of northern Alberta, Canada, in a tiny town aptly named Peace River. She grew up in Little Buffalo, an even tinier town about 65 miles to the east, where most of her family still lives. A member of the Lubicon Cree, one of Canada’s First Nations, she was raised on the land like her parents and grandparents: hunting moose and drying the meat, using local plants as medicines, spending summers deep in the boreal forests and muskeg swamps and winters in a village with no running water.
Her community’s traditional lifestyle is under threat from oil development in the nearby Alberta tar sands, and that inspired Laboucan-Massimo to study environmental science at the University of Alberta at Edmonton and to become an activist. Today, the 34-year-old is one of the most unflappable leaders in the climate fight. As a climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Canada, she has traveled across Canada and the globe warning about the dangers of tar-sands development and testified before the U.S. Congress on Keystone XL. She’s also wrapping up a master’s degree at the University of Victoria on indigenous governance with a focus on renewable energy in First Nation communities.
But Laboucan-Massimo has another mission, one that she sees as fundamentally linked to all of the above: To make the world a safer, more equitable place for women. “The Earth is our Mother,” she says. “Violence against the Earth begets violence against women.”

Although she’s believed this all her life, the truth hit home a few years ago. In July 2013, Laboucan-Massimo’s 25-year-old sister, Bella, fell 31 stories from the balcony of a high-rise in Toronto. The case was classified as a “suspicious death” and remains unsolved. The same year, Laboucan-Massimo also lost a female cousin to domestic violence. And while these losses have had a huge impact on her participation in Canada’s Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women campaign (#MMIW), that involvement is, she says, nothing new: From unconventional oil extraction to human rights abuses to community-run solar, all of this, for Laboucan-Massimo, is about justice ­– for women, for indigenous peoples, for the planet.
I caught up with Laboucan-Massimo to talk about what it’s like to see the impacts of tar-sands development firsthand, the connections between violence against women and violence against the Earth, and how, despite it all, she keeps the faith.
On seeing tar-sands devastation up close:
I remember going out in the wagon with my grandparents, seeing the beauty and the vastness of our territory. The beauty of the land was really imprinted on me from a young age.
But as I started getting older, it was really intense seeing the amount of industry that came in, flooding the area. How they started paving roads and making cutlines. Normally the muskeg is lush; we have underground water systems and aquifers. But seeing the land dry up, the forest fires. When there was a massive oil spill [near Little Buffalo] four years ago, people couldn’t breathe. Their eyes were burning, they were nauseous, they had headaches; they had to close down the school because the teachers were feeling so ill. There was no emergency response plan. The government didn’t inform the community; like, “Hey, you’re in one of the biggest oil spills in Alberta’s history.”
Seeing the immensity of the spill and how horrible it was, seeing how my family was being treated­ — it was just really alarming. Around the time of the spill, there were a hundred forest fires in Alberta, some burning out of control. It was really scary. If a forest fire got into the area where the oil spillway was, it could just erupt.
On the tar-sands campaign, then and now:
I was doing a master’s in environmental studies [in 2008] and all the research I was doing on the tar sands … There was such a feeling in the pit of my stomach: ‘Why don’t I know this information? Why doesn’t my family know this information?’ I realized I had to start campaigning on it fulltime. It is the biggest industrial development on the face of our planet. And it was like, ‘Really, nobody’s talking about this?’
I’ve been in this movement with many other people, both local and around the world. We’ve had to raise the alarm bell. We’ve had to go in and question shareholders and CEOs, we’ve had to do major protests outside these companies’ offices around the world, march in the streets, lobby politicians in other countries to divest. The Canadian government wasn’t listening — especially in Alberta. They were so foolhardy: ‘We’re going to be an energy superpower.’ Now they’ve had to eat their words because they put all their eggs in one basket.
People are watching [the tar-sands companies] and they know that there are human rights violations. They don’t have the social license they thought they did.
On growing up with Mother Earth and matriarchy:
My mom was a feminist, growing up in the 1960s, so that was always instilled in me, from my mom’s side. On my dad’s side, the Cree side, you could see the respect that women had in our community, the respect that my grandmother had. In indigenous communities, we’ve always had a special place for women. Many of these communities are matriarchal. Women have more decision-making power; our roles and positions within our communities were more respected. There was more balance between the genders. Colonization has impacted our communities in such a detrimental way. Government policies have imposed a kind of patriarchy.
On climate justice and gender justice:
The systems of patriarchy, capitalism, colonization, and imperialism are based on a system of power and dominance. When you have these types of systems governing the way a society lives, that’s how people are being treated on the ground. That’s how the Earth is being treated. Indigenous people have always known that. Our relationship with Mother Earth is an attempt to be reciprocal — the cycle of life, you know.
On violence against women in resource extraction communities:
There is definitely an increase in violence against women [in these areas]. These are transient workers — workers that don’t have a sense of community, that are coming to essentially reap the “benefits” of the land, to make $150,000 and then leave and go buy a house somewhere else. They’re working 12-hour shifts, seven days a week for three weeks at a time. A lot of people get addicted to substances because they’re trying to stay awake! It’s a place where there are all these drugs and alcohol. And there’s all this sex work that happens. Underage workers that shouldn’t be there. It definitely leads to a whole host of social problems for the community.
On developing viable alternatives to oil:
People in Alberta, to a certain extent, are economic hostages. Oil and gas is the only way to go: That’s how it’s been pitched to communities in the Alberta tar sands. That’s the way we create jobs, create an economy for our communities. But that’s a false paradigm. Germany has 400,000 jobs [in renewable energy industries.] We have to create the changes that we want to see.
We had a community meeting last year [in Little Buffalo] to talk about solar. A lot of people wanted to see it — they didn’t know what it would actually look like. Instead of talking about what the solutions are, [this project is] actually implementing them. The solar panels will power the health building, right by the school. We can’t just talk about it – we have to actually do it. What does energy sovereignty look like? We can’t just say no; we have to say, ‘What does yes look like?’
On making it as a long-term activist:
There are times you have to take a step back and rejuvenate. In the beginning, in my 20s — and even into my 30s — I definitely had burnout at least two times. You’re pushing your body at a rate that you can’t sustain. I think we’re pushing so hard because we want to see change happen in our lifetimes, but this is a long-term campaign. It’s not something you can work on for a year or two and expect something to change.
It’s about learning how to live a life that’s full of joy and full of love — figuring out a way to make that change without having to constantly sacrifice ourselves.

Press link for more: Sara Bernard |

The hungry dystopia of climate change #Auspol 

It’s the year 2026. A poor monsoon season in India leads to low wheat output, which is followed by a surprise thaw and refreeze that flattens crops in the Black Sea region, and a bad Chinese wheat harvest. Russia and some other producers impose export restrictions to conserve food. Next, drought strikes the U.S., and things suddenly aren’t looking good for soy and corn, either. Then, because nothing can possibly go right, the second monsoon season fails in India. Panic ensues and households in some countries start hoarding rice! Importers start bidding up for larger orders of grains! There are more export taxes and restrictions and the cost of food increases!
That’s the worst-case scenario laid out by a new report from a U.S.-U.K. task force on food security. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t include peace, sunshine, and an end to world hunger.
Thanks to climate change, farmers are now contending with more unexpected weather than usual in recent years. Farmers have always been subject to the whims of nature, but eaters in the developed world haven’t had to worry too much about their problems: For every crop failure there was someone else with a bumper harvest. That may be about to change.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates demand for food will increase 60 percent by 2050 as the human population grows. And if climate change escalates as predicted, the task force said global food shortages could become three times more likely within a few decades.
Grain production is concentrated to a few crops in a few countries. Extreme weather events in two or more of those places would “create a multiple bread basket failure,” the report said.
“Looking ahead, we can see that the world is changing, but we are not yet in a position to understand in detail what the weather will look like, and what the events will be that impact upon people’s lives the most,” write the authors of the report. But they still gave it a shot. After analyzing historical records, the team came up with a doomsday scenario, in which Murphy’s Law rules. The result is not pretty. The people hit hardest would be those living in poor countries that import grains. People living in remote areas of poorer countries might be shielded from the effects of a global food panic, said Marshall Burke, an assistant professor at Stanford’s Center on Food Security and the Environment, in an email. But he continued: “That said, the best evidence we have suggests that the majority of the poor — even the rural poor — spend more on food than they earn from selling it. And so if even some of the assumed food prices spikes reach rural areas, these are likely to have a net negative impact on welfare for rural households.”
Wealthy countries rely on these food systems, too. After all, U.S. exports supply more than 30 percent of the world’s rice, corn, and wheat. And even developed countries are subject to spikes in food cost. “In rich countries, where food is freely available, food price inflation was significant and the poorest suffered,” the report said in a section discussing the weather’s impacts on grain yields in the past. The result? “People trading down on food quality or quantity, and in the process spending significantly more.”
Food researchers have long cautioned that climate change will impact food availability and system stability. Burke said rising temperatures have already put pressure on crop yields in most of the tropics and many parts of the developed world, and that there is evidence we’re going to see more weather-related social problems with future climate change. The recent three-year Syrian drought, which displaced an estimated 1.5 million farmers, likely influenced the Syrian uprising in 2011. The task force also touched on the weather-influenced, multi-system failures that led to poor wheat yields in 2010 and possibly helped spark the Arab Spring.
Five years ago, erratic weather worldwide impacted the wheat harvest. In turn, Russia imposed export bans, pulling back the supply to its largest importers, including Egypt. Grain prices in the Arab world spiked alongside a rise in unemployment — just at the time when people needed bread as a cheap food source. (One Yemeni protester in particular became famous for plastic-wrapping loaves around his head to create a “bread helmet.”)
This may seem like a stretch — hitching a less sexy issue, like food security, to a more visible conflict, like the Arab Spring. But, as Burke said, “From a planning perspective — in anticipating and planning for the effects of plausible worst case weather scenarios — the likelihood of large increases in conflict cannot be ruled out.”
The task force outlined several preventive measures, including modeling to identify risks, improving how international markets function, investing in storage and domestic products, and adapting crops to withstand climate change. While bolstering self-sufficiency means less reliance on systems that could fail, there are myriad reasons why any single place can’t produce enough, or enough variety, on its own. When crops fail in one place, we need trade to deliver food from elsewhere. “Governments need to be convinced that open markets are in their interest, and incentives need to be put in place to align individual governments’ incentives with the more global good in the face of the next food crisis,” Burke said.
But even sketching out potential examples to analyze, like the one outlined by the task force, is helpful. “It’s a mode of thinking that academics in particular are not that accustomed to nor perhaps good at, mainly because the scenarios that this report looks at — tail events where a lot of things go wrong at once — are not things that show up very often in the historical record and so are hard to convincingly model,” Burke said. “Nevertheless, these possibilities are ones that the policy community needs to be ready for.”
So hide your loaves, hide your rice, and hang on. We may be in for a wild ride.

Press here for more: Lexi Pandell |

Ditch denial and join science detectives to fight earth’s climate cancer #Auspol

“What makes us human?” That’s the question Ajit Varki​, an eminent physician/scientist at the University of California, San Diego, has been asking for years. The answer he arrived at with zoologist Danny Brower is: “Our capacity for denial.” 

Though some animals show empathy when a group member dies, we are alone in understanding the inevitability of our own mortality. Denial is our defence. That habit of denial makes us risk takers who embrace dangers other species avoid. Denial allowed our ancestors to tackle mammoths with stone-tipped spears and sail fragile boats beyond the horizon.

Denial makes us inventive, brave and sometimes cruel. We deny the rights of others by categorising them as alien, less than human, or belonging to some lower, and amoral class. All that can be seen in parochial politics and the globalised business world of today. And, played on by creative spirits in advertising, denial drives consumer society. The planetary economy would collapse if we bought only what we need and are likely to value in the long term.

In my game (science), denial works both for and against. Denial allows us to go beyond the accepted wisdom (common sense) and ask questions that seem absurd or even dangerous. But denial can also be a problem: the rules of investigation (hypothesis, measurement, analytical rigor, and open publication of the results and conclusions after peer review) force us to stare nature in the face, to engage with “the thing itself”. When such findings are politically and socially inconvenient, removing the “mind filter” of denial can cause public anger and distress. 
My new book The Knowledge Wars is a “warts and all” account for people who are indifferent to, or even hate science. You don’t have to know any of the jargon, but it’s not hard to understand the process and to develop a few simple skills for checking out both the findings and the credentials of those who claim special expertise. 

Written from the aspect of an insider (in the medical sciences) and an outsider (in climate science), the text plays back and forth between those themes. One area may seem more “convenient” than the other, but both science cultures embrace the same values and work to the same rules. And, while some may be in denial about the statistical models that are basic to the predictions of climate scientists, they don’t complain when such approaches used by the same (or similar) people provide more accurate weather forecasts or identify new cancer genes.

Treading relatively lightly on the earth for all but the past few centuries, we’ve often got away with denying the underlying realities of nature. Some events could not be blocked out, like storms at sea and volcanic eruptions (Pompeii) but, until the 19th century pioneers taught us about infection and sanitation, disease kept the human head count at reasonable levels, increasing from about 300 million at the time of Christ to a billion when Napoleon met his Waterloo. War killed off more than a few of us, but disastrous conflicts and genocides did not prevent an almost seven-fold increase (1800-2015) in human numbers. At the same time, our enthusiasm for science and technology drove enormous advances in human wellbeing dependent on the massive extraction of non-renewable resources. So far we’ve compensated, but that fabric is fraying, and who asks about intergenerational equity as we deplete irreplaceable supplies?

Denial, scepticism, invented narrative, deliberate ignorance: none of this is “owned” by the right or left of the political spectrum. While we might focus on the powerful fossil fuel industries when talking about climate change denial, there’s also the power of shared belief that vehemently denies the possible value of GM approaches for making plants more nutritious, or forbids the discussion of modern nuclear technology for power generation. 

When it comes to nature, there are realities that no sane person will deny. A rapidly growing lump takes us straight to a cancer specialist and, unless we’re told that it’s too late for effective treatment, few will opt to “deny and die”. My personal view is that we have to apply the same values and urgency to the linked issues of greenhouse gas emissions and anthropogenic climate change, but that’s not my field of science so don’t take my word. 

It’s relatively easy to be a “science detective”. With minimal understanding and a few simple techniques, most of us can tell upright citizens from snake oil salesmen. As a researcher, my basic rule is to ignore the propagandists and focus on those who are actually doing the work. It’s absurd to argue that super-bright young people who, for relatively little financial return and even less security, are dedicated to probing the underlying realities of nature would ever buy into some sort of “conspiracy of the elders”. Scientists who take public money and lie (or give bad advice) can, and do, go to jail. Any good climate modeller can opt for wealth by taking a bank job, and that happens. But where is denial likely to sit when it comes to vested interests losing in a big way? 

Acting on a cumulative, long-term problem like climate change requires honest and consistent public policy. Politicians will not necessarily have the guts to embrace that unless voters take the trouble to be informed, to insist and to participate in the democratic process. It’s dangerous if most of us are scientifically illiterate. There’s no reason that should be true for any intelligent human being.


Professor Doherty is a Nobel Prize winner. His The Knowledge Wars is published this week (Melbourne University Publishing).

Press link for more:

The Battle is on! #Auspol #ClimateChange #CanningVotes 

The battle is on, on September 19 voters in my electorate of Canning in Western Australia have a chance to cast the first stone at the Abbott government.

 A loss for the Abbott government in Canning would certainly put an end to Abbott’s Prime Ministership. With an election due next year a swing of ten percent would surely push the Liberal party to a leadership spill.

Tony Abbott infamous for his words “Climate change is crap” has abolished Australia’s price on carbon pollution & attacked the renewable energy industry relentlessly since him came into power. As a result Australia’s carbon emissions have reversed and our now climbing. Despite the fact that seventy three percent of Australians support lifting the renewable energy target.


The science is settled the global temperature is now at a record level and set to soar past the two degree C level some politicians have deemed the safe limit to avoid a climate catastrophe.

Failing to curb our green house gas emissions will push a terrible burden on to our children and future generations.

Sea level rise will flood most of the Earth’s coastal cities over a billion people could be displaced in Asia

Food scarcity caused by severe drought will drive many countries into war Billions of people will face food shortages

Democracy is facing it’s greatest challenge can the will of the people over come the billions of dollars Fossil fuel companies donate to politicians?

My grandfather fought in France in 1940 & was evacuated from Dunkirk. My father was part of the D Day landings at Omaha Beach. I am a Vietnam veteran having served for over twenty five years in the Australian Navy, Airforce & Army. For generations we have battled for democracy but never has the stakes been higher than they are today. 

Will humans survive the sixth extinction event?

How Much Climate Change Will Cost You if We Fail to Act? #Auspol

Climate change could have a substantial impact on the world’s economy. If global leaders do nothing to combat its advance, the financial impact of climate change could be as much as $44 trillion, according to a new report released Tuesday by the U.S. financial firm Citigroup.

The report puts into perspective the potential financial impact of a scenario in which nothing is done to stave off the warming of the planet, something Citigroup researchers deemed “inaction.”
“[T]he central case we have in the report is that the costs in terms of lost (gross domestic product) GDP from not acting on climate change can be $44 trillion dollars by the time we get to 2060,” Citi’s Global Head of Alternative Energy and Cleantech Research, Jason Channell, told CNBC.

“What we’re trying to do is to take an objective view at the economics of this situation and actually look at what the costs of not acting are, if the scientists are right,” Channell said.
The report, titled Energy Darwinism II: Why a Low Carbon Future Doesn’t Have to Cost the Earth, examined two scenarios involving action on climate change—”inaction on climate change,” and a “different energy mix,” comprised by a mix of low carbon and renewable energy sources. According to the report, energy market spending over the next 25 years will be more than $200 trillion, a portion of which will need to be devoted to other forms of energy like solar power, as Renew Economy highlighted, in order to avoid the “inaction” scenario. This spending would also be necessary to avoid exceeding the “carbon budget,” a cap for cumulative CO2 emissions that, if exceeded, would set global temperatures on a path to warming more than two degrees centigrade—an amount widely considered to be a tipping point in the warming of the planet.
The report notes that both the “inaction” and “action” scenarios have similar cost projections over the next 25 years. However, while renewable energy spending in the early years would increase, the “action” scenario would result in a lower use of fossil fuels, lowering the total cost in later years, and offsetting the initial investment. And while low oil prices tend to drive down widespread desire to invest in renewables, Channell told CNBC that low prices could give more space for spending on other types of energy “without slowing the global economy.”


Press link for more: Alex Mierjeski |

Big Corporations Like Gap & eBay Are Mobilizing Against Climate Change #Auspol

They’re calling climate change “one of America’s greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century

This week, California legislators received a pair of letters signed by dozens of corporations in support of two bills that would require the state to further reduce its greenhouse gas emissions through 2050. In both letters, the firms say tackling climate change is “one of America’s greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century.” 
Some of these companies you’d expect to see among advocates for stronger environmental policy: Patagonia, the North Face and Ben and Jerry’s. But there are also companies less well known for climate advocacy: Gap and the candy company Mars Inc. signed both letters. eBay and the LA-based homebuilding company KB Home each signed a letter, too. 
One of the largest corporate supporters of both bills, Dignity Health, California’s largest not-for-profit hospital chain, also signed both letters. 
California has been at the forefront of climate change-related legislative action. In 2006, it passed the California Global Warming Solutions Act, which required the state by 2020 to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions back down to 1990 levels (about 15 percent below where it would have been if it had continued doing nothing).
With the state on track to reach that goal, these two new bills on deck in the state legislature are pushing for further reform. 
SB 350 calls for a 50 percent reduction in petroleum use, and a 50 percent increase in energy efficiency in existing buildings, as well as 50 percent of utility power to come from renewable energy by 2030. SB 32 would require the state to further slash greenhouse gas emissions — to 80 percent below 1990 levels — through 2050.
California could save $8 billion on health care costs related to respiratory illnesses like asthma if the state meets the goals for 2030 laid out in SB 350, according to Rachelle Reyes Wenger, the director of public policy and community advocacy at Dignity Health. 
“Healing requires an environment that lets people have a healthy lifestyle,” she told The Huffington Post. “Climate change threatens to undermine 50 years of advancement in population health.”
The science backs this up, particularly in California. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this year found that improved air quality in California over the last 20 years is correlated with a significant decrease in children living in Southern California who have asthma.
The oil industry, on the other hand, has mounted firm opposition to both bills — and there will certainly be upfront costs to changing the way that Californians get their energy. 
But it’s important to think about the cost of inaction as well, says Carol Lee Rawn, the director of the transportation program at the nonprofit advocacy group Ceres. “It’s good economic policy to be addressing this. When you set ambitious goals, that drives innovation and drives investment.” 
While cutting down on emissions is costly, California’s aggressive stance on curbing them is also bringing it business.
Proterra, a company that makes fully electric buses, is moving much of its corporate staff to California from South Carolina. Proterra CEO Ryan Popple told HuffPost that California’s 2006 law allowed alternative energy companies to flourish there.
“The advantages that incumbent industries have are just enormous. There is no industry larger and more entrenched than energy. I don’t think that California protects big monopolistic industries in the way other markets do,” he said. Because of that, new companies like his can compete. 
Already, after just a few years ,”the cost [of electric bus technology] is dropping so quickly that we’re already approaching a point where we are competing with natural gas technology,” he said.

Press link for more: Shane Ferro |

Serious climate action must challenge the system #Auspol

This week Canadian author Naomi Klein is visiting Australia to speak about why capitalism is incompatible with action on climate change.
Her book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate encourages everyone already involved in fighting for social justice and equality to see climate change as the “best chance we’ll ever get to build a better world”.
This vision is the antidote to the bleak picture painted by climate scientists and the knowledge that not just Australia, but the US and China have set targets that put the world on track for rises far above what the science says we can all survive.

Atmospheric Administration announced that July was the warmest month ever recorded and with a predicted El Nino, Australia is set to experience another hot summer.
Rising temperatures and chaotic weather are not the only outcomes of climate change. When this intersects with poverty, racism and unemployment, it is clear that the most vulnerable will be the worst off.
The good news is these issues can be tackled through the same measures we take to tackle climate change. It means transforming our economy and society from one where power is concentrated in the hands of the rich, into one where we enjoy a higher quality of life and greater equality thanks to the need to share resources.
It will mean investing in public infrastructure, such as transport, housing and health, and the creation of permanent, green jobs. It will mean greater democracy for communities to make decisions about issues that affect them; this includes Aboriginal communities having control over their land.
But it will not happen if we leave it up to politicians negotiating through international agreements.
The most effective action on climate change is the resistance to new fossil fuel projects. This action is being taken by communities who are fed up with government inaction and have waged militant campaigns to defend their towns from coal and gas mining.
Last year residents of Bentley, in northern NSW, blockaded a farm where Metgasco was intending to start drilling for unconventional gas. After months of an around-the-clock blockade, the government bowed to the pressure and suspended the licence.
A huge offshore gas project at James Price Point in the Kimberley was scrapped in 2013 due to public opposition. This year gas licences covering the NSW coastal region from Gosford to Illawarra have been repealed without any drilling going ahead.
These wins are hugely important because they show that we are not doomed to accept the political status quo. When politicians say it is not possible or reasonable to oppose fracking or coalmining, these campaigns show that people power can shift what is possible.
But although community campaigns can be successful, they are only a partial solution. A year later, Metgasco was successful in its court challenge and it still wants to drill for gas. This means residents will have to volunteer their time again to protect their community.
In the end, it is the system that has to change if we are going to have a safe climate.
After all, under the “free-market” rules of capitalism, Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer are allowed to build new coalmines without considering the consequences for everyone else.
A 2013 study estimated that if the known global fossil fuel reserves of coal, oil and gas were all burned, 2860 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide would be emitted to the atmosphere. This is more than two and a half times greater than the carbon budget allows.
It is clear that if we hope to stablise the climate at a safe temperature, then most of the world’s fossil fuels must stay in the ground. There is no other choice than to break the rules of capitalism.
Radical steps that used to be unheard of are now being discussed. Last week president of Kiribati Anote Tong wrote to world leaders asking them to support a global moratorium on new coalmines. His country is already being affected by rising sea levels.
This kind of radical action is possible. Research by Beyond Zero Emissions has found Australia could phase out coal and switch to 100% renewable energy within just 10 years.
Such an urgent shift has been done before. In 1991, the small socialist country of Cuba was suddenly cut off from half of its oil supply when the Soviet Union collapsed.
Facing devastation — including not being able to harvest food, run public transport, or manufacture goods — the government made a decision to switch to small-scale renewable energy, mass transport and an organic agriculture system. Within a decade it was no longer dependent on oil.
The majority of Australians are convinced that climate change is real and worth doing something about. Polling last month by the Climate Institute found 63% think the federal government should take climate change more seriously.
The biggest barrier to climate action comes not from ordinary people but from the most powerful people in the country. They are the ones who have the most to lose.
The goal of the climate movement should not just be to “raise awareness” about climate change, or convince people that action is necessary. Importantly, it should be about building a movement that can challenge capitalism.
There are no quick fixes. We cannot rely on geo-engineering, nuclear power or any other solely technological solutions. They are too expensive, dangerous and experimental to work.
Instead we need to build a large climate movement based on social justice. It needs to unite people from all backgrounds — trade unionists, Aboriginal activists, environmentalists and youth — and recognises the responsibility Australia has to countries that have not emitted much carbon in the past.
To help build this broad movement, global rallies are being organised over the weekend of November 28-29 to coincide with another round of UN climate negotiations in Paris.
Protests will be held around Australia on the same weekend.
Klein is also releasing a documentary based on her book in the lead up to the rallies. This will be shown via community screenings.

Press link for more: Mel Barnes |

U.S. Just Approved One of World’s Biggest Solar Power Plants #Auspol

The federal government on Monday green-lit a 485-megawatt solar plant that would generate enough carbon-free electricity to power 180,000 homes when it comes online in the Southern California desert.

During the Great Recession, that was nothing unusual about billions of dollars in federal stimulus money fueling big green dreams of carpeting the Mojave Desert with giant solar power plants on government-owned land, a cornerstone of the Obama administration’s efforts to fight climate change. That land, however, often turned out to be home to desert tortoises, blunt-nosed leopard lizards, and other endangered wildlife. Many of those projects went belly-up in part because of fierce opposition from environmental groups.

That prompted an effort by the federal government to be “smart from the start” about where it allowed big renewable energy plants to be built. So the Blythe Mesa Solar Project, which was approved Monday, will deploy tens of thousands of solar panels across 3,587 acres of already disturbed or fallow farmland where wheat, alfalfa, and citrus had been grown. No desert tortoises will be harmed.
That won Blythe the support of Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, and other big environmental groups that previously opposed other solar power plant projects.

“Due to the previously disturbed condition of nearly all the land proposed for the project, numerous environmental organizations supported the project because it conformed with our recommended criteria for siting large-scale projects in the California desert,” Jeff Aardahl, California representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said in an email.

The project’s developer, Renewable Resources Group, is a Los Angeles company that invests in green energy and agriculture. “We specialize in developing utility-scale solar…projects on previously disturbed private land,” Tom Eisenhauer, a spokesperson for the firm, said in an email.
Communities that find such gargantuan renewable energy projects in their midst also are getting smarter. Riverside County last year imposed a $150-per-acre annual fee on solar power plants and will collect nearly $500,000 a year from the Blythe project.
That the Blythe project is moving forward is also a sign that solar energy is becoming increasingly competitive with fossil fuels. Earlier huge solar power plants had only been commercially viable thanks to a 30 percent federal tax credit. That incentive is set to fall to 10 percent at the end of 2016, meaning the Renewable Resources Group likely thinks it can make money without the government largesse.
Hurdles remain. The company must still sign a long-term power purchase agreement with a utility that wants to buy the electricity generated by the project. If the California legislature passes a pending bill requiring the state to obtain half its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, there will likely be no shortage of buyers of solar energy.
“We don’t discuss PPA status, but we’re planning for commercial operation in the next few years—and we feel good about that,” said Eisenhauer.

Press link for more: Todd Woody |