Climate change victims need money to survive, not words. #auspol #qldpol #StopAdani

Climate change victims need money to survive, not words

Published on 20/03/2018, 10:35am

There is an opportunity in May to help people hit hardest by climate change; governments must take it.

Sakina Bibi has lost three homes in 8 years to coastal erosion (Pic: EnGIO)

By Harjeet Singh, Sven Harmeling and Julie-Anne Richards

Sakina Bibi has lost three mud houses to the sea in less than 8 years, at Mousuni island in the Indian Sundarbans.

The 65-year-old is not alone. Since Cyclone Aila hit the region in the year 2009, over 2,000 families have been displaced due to unpredictable coastal flooding destroying their homes and livelihoods.

As climate change causes sea level rise, more than 13 million people living in the low-lying Sundarbans – a Unesco World Heritage Site spread across Bangladesh and India – face an uncertain future.

In May, there will be an opportunity to help people like Sakina Bibi: the Suva expert dialogue on “loss and damage”, to take place during interim UN climate talks in Bonn.

Governments must make sure this is not just a talking shop and leads to new finance for those hit hardest by climate change.

A pre-meeting last week showed promise, but also signs of resistance from rich countries to meaningful action. So what would be a positive outcome?

New money

First and foremost, the dialogue should mobilise money. Rich countries must engage constructively with what finance and support vulnerable countries need, who will provide it and how it will be channeled.

To date, there has been an emphasis on providing insurance against climate risks, but the expectation is that vulnerable populations pay the premiums. This is very unfair, as those people did not cause climate change. Also, insurance does not cover “slow onset events” like sea level rise and glacier melt.

We want to see polluters pay for the damage they have caused. One way would be to equitably implement a “climate damages tax” on fossil fuel extraction, which could raise billions of dollars a year.

The provisional concept does not guarantee to put such innovative financial mechanisms at the heart of the expert dialogue, but they will at least be on the agenda.

Science focus

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is due to release a report later this year on 1.5C global warming, the toughest target in the Paris Agreement. It will detail what would be required to meet the target and the consequences of exceeding it.

This is an ideal opportunity to build up the evidence base around loss and damage. Sadly, some rich country representatives on the executive committee have blocked meaningful engagement with the IPCC, despite the science panel’s willingness to cooperate.

Julie-Anne Richards


At the #WIM #ExCom7 meeting. For the 2nd time reps from US, Australia, UK, Germany all trying to shut down discussions between the #IPCC and this @UNFCCC body tasked with dealing with #lossanddamage from #climatechange. Why? What are they so afraid of?

9:10 PM – Mar 14, 2018


At the Paris climate summit in 2015, governments commissioned a task force to “avert, minimise and address” climate-induced displacement, which according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre already affects an average of 21.5 million people each year.

Made up of specialists from climate negotiations and agencies like the International Organisation for Migration and UN Refugee Agency, the task force is holding a stakeholder consultation mid-May to develop policy recommendations. The process will complement the UN Global Compact on Migration, which concludes this year.

Policymakers must rise above politics and self-interest to protect the life and dignity of people forced to move by climate changes beyond their control.

Sakina Bibi and millions like her depend on it.

Harjeet Singh is the global climate change lead for Action Aid International, Sven Harmeling is global policy lead on climate change for Care International and Julie-Anne Richards is an independent consultant

Press link for more: Climate change news


Turnbull The #ClimateChange Denier #auspol #qldpol #StopAdani

Turnbull knows better than to deny fire weather link to climate change

Peter Hannam20 March 2018 — 4:19pm

Raising the issue of the role of climate change in extreme weather events is always a delicate matter for families battling grief over lost homes and emergency service teams managing the aftermath.

But that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t have a discussion about the issues. If not now, when?

Malcolm Turnbull visit burned out homes in Tathra on Monday.

Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Malcolm Turnbull echoed the comments of his deposed predecessor Tony Abbott when he visited Tathra, the NSW south coastal town hit with huge fires amid record-breaking March heat.

Abbott in 2013 declared in the wake of Blue Mountain bushfires that destroyed 200 homes that “these fires are certainly not a function of climate change, they’re a function of life in Australia”.

Unlike Abbott, though, Turnbull is not a denier of climate change, having taken personal efforts to school himself in the issue with scientists from the University of NSW well before becoming Prime Minister.

So, it’s surprising to hear Turnbull on TV on Monday, in rebuttal of Greens’ leader Richard Di Natale that climate change was behind Sunday’s fires, saying: “We have an environment which has extremes.

Bushfires are part of Australia, as indeed are droughts and floods.”

He preceded those comments, though, with a view that, if truly held, suggests the Prime Minister isn’t listening to his scientific advisors.

Fears of asbestos contamination restricted residents coming to see if their home was destroyed by fire to a bus tour of the NSW south coast town.

“[A]s you know very well, you can’t attribute any particular event, whether it’s a flood or fire or a drought … to climate change,” Turnbull said.

Labor leader Bill Shorten said on Tuesday there were legitimate questions to ask about the impact of climate change but opted to avoid inflaming the discussion just now.

“I understand there is a debate about climate in this county,” he said during a visit to Tathra. “On a day when 69 houses have gone, it is not a debate I will start.”

Actually, the science of attribution is advancing fast, and extreme heat – and with it, days of high fire risk – is among the clearer climate signals.

(Turnbull also denies climate change link to coral bleaching)

As Andrew King of Melbourne University and David Karoly – now head of the CSIRO’s climate centre – noted Australia is actually at the head of the pack when it comes to joining the dots between extreme weather and global warming.

To be clear, it’s not a case of saying Sunday’s fires near Bega (or south-west Victoria) were sparked by climate change.

Rather it’s a matter of probabilities.

“While we can’t say climate change caused an extreme event, we can estimate how much more or less likely the event has become due to human influences on the climate,” King and Karoly note.

Whether the Tathra fires are deemed large enough to examine for attribution (and the chance that Adelaide, Hobart, Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane should all hit 30 degrees so late in the season as they did on Saturday) will be up the scientists to decide.

But fire authorities across Australia know the bushfire season is getting longer. So, too, is the frequency, intensity and duration of heatwaves.

Add our fire-prone eucalyptus forests – with many species needing fire to regenerate – and it’s no wonder Australians have particular cause to fear climate change.

“Nature hurls her worst at us … always will and always has,” Turnbull said.

The worst, though, will in some cases get more extreme, and pretending otherwise is not leadership.

Peter Hannam is Environment Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald. He covers broad environmental issues ranging from climate change to renewable energy for Fairfax Media.

Press link for more: SMH.COM.AU

#ClimateChange 140 million #Climate #Refugees #StopAdani #auspol qldpol

Climate change soon to cause mass movement, World Bank warns

140m people in three regions expected to migrate before 2050 unless environment is improved

Fiona HarveyLast modified on Tue 20 Mar 2018 05.09 AEDT

Lalmonirhat in Bangladesh was flooded last year. It is one of the areas likely to be hard-hit by climate change, leading to high levels of migration. Photograph: Zakir Chowdhury/Barcroft Images

Climate change will result in a massive movement of people inside countries and across borders, creating “hotspots” where tens of millions pour into already crowded slums, according to the World Bank.

More than 140 million people in just three regions of the developing world are likely to migrate within their native countries between now and 2050, the first report on the subject has found.

The World Bank examined three regions, which between them account for 55% of the developing world’s population. In sub-Saharan Africa, 86 million are expected to be internally displaced over the period; in south Asia, about 40 million; and in Latin America, 17 million.

Such flows of people could cause enormous disruption, threatening governance and economic and social development, but the World Bank cautioned that it was still possible to stave off the worst effects.

“Climate change-driven migration will be a reality, but it does not need to be a crisis, provided we take action now and act boldly,” said John Roome, a senior director for climate change at the World Bank group.

He laid out three key actions governments should take: first, to accelerate their reductions of greenhouse gases; second, for national governments to incorporate climate change migration into their national development planning; and third, to invest in further data and analysis for use in planning development.

Within countries, the effects of climate change will create multiple “hotspots”: made up of the areas people move away from in large numbers, and the areas they move to.

“Local planners need to make sure the resources are made available, and to make sure it takes place in a comprehensive and coordinated manner,” said Roome.

Globally, many tens of millions more are expected to be similarly affected, creating huge problems for national and local governments. Nearly 3% of the population was judged likely to move owing to climate change in the areas studied – a proportion that might be repeated elsewhere.

Migration between countries has previously taken the spotlight, with its potential for cross-border conflicts, but internal migration may cause as much disruption, putting pressure on infrastructure, jobs, food and water resources.

The 140 million figure extrapolates from current trends, but could be reduced if changes are made. If economic development is made more inclusive, for instance through better education and infrastructure, internal migration across the three regions could drop to between 65 million and 105 million, according to the report. If strong action is taken on greenhouse gas emissions, as few as 30 million to 70 million may migrate.

Climate change is likely to most affect the poorest and most vulnerable, making agriculture difficult or even impossible across large swaths of the globe, threatening water resources and increasing the likelihood of floods, droughts and heatwaves in some areas. Sea level rises and violent storm surges are also likely to hit low-lying coastal areas, such as in Bangladesh.

Kristalina Georgieva, the chief executive of the World Bank, in her introduction to the report published on Monday, said: “There is growing recognition among researchers that more people will move within national borders to escape the effects of slow-onset climate change, such as droughts, crop failure and rising seas.

“The number of climate migrants could be reduced by tens of millions as a result of global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and with far-sighted development planning. There is an opportunity now to plan and act for emerging climate change threats.”

Press link for more: The Guardian

Want to Stop Climate Change? Take ‘Em to Court! #StopAdani #auspol #qldpol

Want to Stop Climate Change? Take ‘Em to Court!

A novel case highlights the profound unfairness of global warming.

More stories by Mark Buchanan19 March 2018, 10:00 pm AEST

A generational issue.

Photographer: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Climate change is profoundly unfair: By failing to address it, today’s leaders are imposing what could prove to be an unbearable burden on future generations.

But how can they be made to recognize the danger and act?

Using the U.S. legal system, a group of children has found a novel way to do so.

The 2015 Paris Agreement on reducing carbon emissions looked like a big step forward in addressing global warming.

But since then, the U.S. has pulled out, and many other governments have fallen short.

Total emissions will likely rise this year in the U.S., India, China and elsewhere.

Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions climb since LNP stopped the price on carbon.

Energy experts predict that we’ll go on using fossil fuels for decades, with atmospheric carbon dioxide levels more than doubling compared with pre-industrial times.

In 50 years or so, we should expect a rash of effects: falling productivity in fisheries and farming, rising sea levels, and drought-driven migrations fueling political instability.

It’s easy to see how this can be construed as a crime against children.

So three years ago a group of them, along with Our Children’s Trust and the youth-centered environmental group Earth Guardians, sued the U.S. government. They argued that its energy policies violated their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property, while also failing to protect essential public resources.

They have a plausible case: In earlier proceedings, the U.S. District Court in Oregon ruled that the due process clause of the Constitution guarantees citizens an “unenumerated fundamental right” to “a climate system capable of sustaining human life.”

The trial was supposed to begin last month. But in June, the government petitioned the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco for a so-called Writ of Mandamus, asking that the suit be dismissed because the process of discovery — the pre-trial gathering of evidence — would be too burdensome and threaten the separation of powers. It didn’t work: Three judges dismissed the petition, ruling that the issues the government raised “were better addressed through the ordinary course of litigation.”

Hence, a new trial date will be set. The stakes for the government could be high. The process of discovery alone promises to be embarrassing, as lawyers for the plaintiffs seek detailed information showing how long authorities have known about the risks of carbon emissions (probably more than 50 years). If the children win, the court could compel the U.S. to produce and act on a firm plan to decarbonize its energy system.

Granted, it’s probably fantasy to suppose such a ruling could survive the conservative Supreme Court, to which the government would almost certainly appeal. Yet the ultimate outcome may be less important than the mere fact that the case has come this far. The spectacle of a trial — or even arguments over whether the government can avoid a trial, and why it wants to — could inspire broader demands for real action, especially among younger people and those most vulnerable to global warming.

From civil rights to the environment, meaningful change requires persistent activism, growing public awareness and engagement. This case reflects a larger global trend, in which people are invoking existing law to protect the young. Such cases rest on the notion of intergenerational equity, the idea that the actions of one generation should not be allowed to deprive future generations of similar opportunities. A recent survey found that the constitutions of some 144 nations, accounting for nearly three-quarters of all carbon emissions, have protections against climate change.

The challenge is to get courts and governments to enforce the law. If it takes a child to make that happen, then so be it.

Press link for more:

India is most vulnerable to #ClimateChange #StopAdani #auspol #qldpol

India most vulnerable country to climate change: HSBC report

LONDON (REUTERS) – India is the most vulnerable country to climate change, followed by Pakistan, the Philippines and Bangladesh, a ranking by HSBC showed on Monday (March 19).

The bank assessed 67 developed, emerging and frontier markets on vulnerability to the physical impacts of climate change, sensitivity to extreme weather events, exposure to energy transition risks and ability to respond to climate change.

The 67 nations represent almost a third of the world’s nation states, 80 per cent of the global population and 94 per cent of global gross domestic product.

HSBC averaged the scores in each area for the countries in order to reach the overall ranking. Some countries were highly vulnerable in some areas but less so in others.

Of the four nations assessed by HSBC to be most vulnerable, India has said climate change could cut agricultural incomes, particularly unirrigated areas that would be hit hardest by rising temperatures and declines in rainfall.

Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines are susceptible to extreme weather events, such as storms and flooding.

Pakistan was ranked by HSBC among nations least well-equipped to respond to climate risks.

South and southeast Asian countries accounted for half of the 10 most vulnerable countries. Oman, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Mexico, Kenya and South Africa are also in this group.

The five countries least vulnerable to climate change risk are Finland, Sweden, Norway, Estonia and New Zealand.

In its last ranking in 2016, HSBC only assessed G20 countries for vulnerability to climate risk.

Press link for more: Straits Times

Fighting the mega-mine #auspol #qldpol #StopAdani

Fighting the mega-mine

Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson of Shoal Collective talk to Ken Peters-Dodd, a First Nations activist fighting against the construction of a mega-mine project threatening to devastate the environment.

Activists from Australia and beyond are joining forces to prevent what is set to be one of the world’s biggest ecological catastrophes.

The massive Carmichael coal mega-mine will devastate the Great Barrier Reef, contribute massively to global climate change, and further marginalise Australia’s First Nations people.

Adani, the controversial Indian corporation planning the mine, is set to extract 2.3 billion tonnes of coal over its planned 60 years of operation.

It is just one of nine mega-mines planned in Australia’s Galilee Basin that would produce 330 million tonnes of coal. According to Greenpeace, that much coal would fill a train long enough to wrap around the world one and a half times.

It will be exported by train from the Galilee Basin to Abbot Point port on the Great Barrier Reef.

More than one million cubic metres of sea floor would be dredged from the Reef in order to extend the port.

The Reef was seriously damaged by unprecedented levels of bleaching in 2016 and 2017 due to rising sea temperatures, and is at risk of further damage in 2018.

With hundreds more coal ships filling the waters, dredging, extra noise and light pollution, and the risk of coal spills, it is feared that the Adani mine will destroy the Reef completely.

This is just the latest massive mining project to threaten First Nations people’s connections to their lands in Australia.

Since the first days of colonisation, Aboriginal land has been exploited for the benefit of Europeans, and now the same thing is being done to increase  the profits of international corporations.

Like indigenous people the world over, First Nations Australians are fighting against their lands being seized for the benefit of global capitalism.

The Adani project is in financial trouble due to the massive campaign against it in Australia. Globally, 28 banks have now ruled out all or part of the Galilee Basin mining projects.

In December 2017, Adani’s application for a AUD$1bn state loan was blocked by the Queensland Premier. But many more companies are still involved, many of which are are based in London.

Some of the international companies involved include WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff, Jefferies, Investec, KY, Marsh, and Baker McKenzie. These companies could also bow to public pressure and withdraw their support from Adani.

Such withdrawals could prove fatal to the project.

In short, it is still possible to stop this project.

A coalition of First Nations activists and groups such as Frontline Action Against Coal and Stop Adani are determined to halt the project in its tracks.

Recently, activists have set up a protest camp near Bowen to oppose the project.

We travelled to Bowen on Australia’s east coast, close to the Abbot Point coal port, and joined both locals and international campaigners for Frontline Action on Coal’s week of action to stop Adani.

Roads were blocked and activists locked themselves to the railway tracks used to export coal.

We interviewed Ken Peters-Dodd, a First Nations elder of the Birriah people, whose traditional country will be affected by the project.

Adani plans to construct the railway line through Birriah land to export the coal to its port. Ken calls on international activists to join the fight against the Adani mine.

He told us: “I am from the Birriah people, of the Bowen river.

I am also from the Widi, the mountain and hill people of the hinterlands.

We are part of the Birri Gubba language group.”

What was the affect of colonisation on your country?

Colonisers came here in the late 1860s.

When they got here their main interest was mining and exploiting the resources on our land. They came with the English police force and began the cutting and logging of our timbers.

The wars and battles carried on for decades.

The massive majority of our people were totally annihiliated.

After that, people were forced to work in pastoralism and cattle.

There was a great roundup and my great grandparents were forcibly moved onto [Christian] missions way up in Cape York and Mission Beach, never to return to their country.

How will the Adani project impact on your people?

The Adani project will have an impact on the environment, our cultural heritage and our rights as caretakers and custodians of our country for generations to come.

The project will also have an impact on neighbouring groups.

It will impact the Juru people, whose country is on the coast where the coal will be loaded onto ships.

It will affect their reefs, wetlands and their rights to protect country.

Were First Nations people consulted by Adani?

There was a process where the company came in and set up a meeting. But it was designed to manipulate and divide people.

People didn’t get the right information [on which] to base their decision.

You had a minority of people only in it for financial gain – influencing the meetings in favour of the mining company.

Expert advice to inform this process was done internally by the company.

Our family was in the negotiations and walked out in disgust at how it was being manipulated.

It was already signed and delivered by the mining company and the company’s lawyers when we walked out.

The financial offerings were peanuts compared to what they would make off the country.

Many of the families never signed.

Can you tell us how you’ve been involved in the campaign against the project?

I’m fully supportive of the campaign against Adani as there’s no difference between Aboriginal and environmental activists standing for ecology, water and the reef.

We’ve gone out and pulled our lines together.

We went on to Abbot Point port with local group Reef Defenders and protested against the project.

With Juru elders we’ve made pledges [to oppose the project].

When we went to Adani’s office to deliver our pledges, they never sent the CEO down to collect them. Adani didn’t want to be seen as having anything to do with it. We’ve also been on campaign roadshows, saying that this project does not have the consent of Aboriginal people.

We had Juru elders, who were part of the negotiations with Adani, speaking about why they didn’t support the project.

We’re encouraging other First Nations peoples to join in and fight this. Our people since day one have been standing in protest, speaking out as custodians of this land.

For over two hundred years we have witnessed the destruction of country and it’s time that we as a people stand up to stop this happening.

It’s a turning point.

We ask all First Nations people to stand in alliance in this struggle.

Is the fight against the Adani project only a struggle for First Nations people?

No. Everyone should participate who has an interest in the impacts these projects will have.

We fully support people from around the world to get involved.

It’s not just a struggle for First Nations people but for everyone who has interests and rights in this country.

We want people to come together and support us on country, build a strong alliance and challenge the separation between First Nations people and the wider Australian people.

The Adani mine will have a massive impact on global climate change for generations to come.

Underground waters are going to be depleted, which will have impacts throughout the Great Dividing Range.

The government has no concern for the future generations, or for the people at all.

[Even if planning permission is legally approved], people can still resist the project and we will carry on our fight to protect our country, including protesting physically and peacefully.

It’s a critical point as it will affect other projects in Australia.

What do you say to those who think that the Adani project is vital for creating new jobs in Queensland?

That’s just a political argument made by people with a relationship with the mining industry, campaigning for their positions.

Everyday Australians know that they won’t get a job: the industry wants a transient community which has no physical connection to country. We need to plan for renewable energy.

Even the other mining industries will feel an impact from this project because the price of coal in the area will be driven down [because of oversupply].

We came together and protested against the Commonwealth Bank and temporarily closed down seven of their branches. [Commonwealth Bank, as well as the other big Australian banks, have now pledged not to finance Adani].

Do you want people internationally to resist the involvement of foreign banks?

Definitely. We send clear support for people globally to put pressure on international banks which may have an interest in funding this project. Go and campaign outside these banks and put pressure on them. We want that clear message to come from people internationally. We’d be prepared to go over and support people in this.

We call on people from all areas: social, political and environmental. We ask people from around the world to support us.

We need to pull together and plan for the future because this project will set a precedent which will diminish the future rights of all First Nations people.

Press link for more:

The Market Can’t Solve a Massacre or the #ClimateCrisis #StopAdani #auspol #qldpol #sapol #neoliberalism

By Patrick Blanchfield

The massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, one month ago today, left seventeen children and school staff dead.

It was the third highest-casualty mass shooting at an educational institution in American history (after Virginia Tech—32 dead—and Sandy Hook—27) and the ninth highest-casualty single-shooter mass shooting in modern American history.

Assembling such ranked lists, surveying body count subtotals, and tracking the fatalities balance sheet is nauseating, and it was perhaps in the spirit of that enterprise that South Dakota Senator Mike Rounds told NPR the day afterward: “You have to recognize, our most valuable assets are our kids.”

As a Republican with an “A” rating from the NRA, it would be entirely defensible to say Rounds’s words are belied by his deeds: He may say children are our greatest “assets,” but he certainly seems to value an NRA endorsement far more. But what’s striking about Rounds’ phrase isn’t its hypocrisy, but the way it captures a central truth about contemporary American politics.

Our political rhetoric, like our moral imagination, uses the vocabulary and logic of the market, of assets and investments, of incentives and innovation.

Your personal health is an asset, which you must safeguard through savvy navigation of insurance markets, shopping for doctors and medications, and close-reading complicated medical bills.

Immigrants, too, are assets, human resources whose financial contributions to their communities and potential for entrepreneurship become the pivot on which we hang appeals for empathy and support (This man being tragically deported by ICE is a successful small business owner!

This drowned child refugee could have been the next Steve Jobs!). And so on.

There is a word to describe this state of affairs, a word that describes both the way we’ve organized our current political and economic system, and the way we have let that system shape our social and emotional lives.

That word is neoliberalism.

What is neoliberalism?

The many competing definitions can be confusing and even misleading. And, since the history of neoliberalism has played out in many different countries, what the word denotes in one place is not necessarily the same in others. But we shouldn’t let nuance and complexity dissuade us from using the term, because neoliberalism is an incredibly powerful concept for understanding not just contemporary American life and politics in general, but our reactions to gun violence and school shootings specifically.

Neoliberalism is at once a subspecies of capitalism and a model of governance, a vision of what politics can and should be.

It sees political and social life almost exclusively through the lens of the free market, and asks us to consider ourselves and our fellow citizens primarily in terms of our economic activities: as consumers, as workers, as competitors, as human resources.

Under neoliberalism, in other words, the individual is less a human subject with rights that entail obligations from the government, but rather a variable in a broader calculus of efficiency, a site for maximizing revenue and minimizing expenditure.

Simply put, neoliberalism is about the withdrawal of government responsibility for political problems in favor of market-based “solutions” and individual “choices.”

In a very granular and insidious way, neoliberalism narrows the bounds of what counts as a “political” problem as such.

Dramatic political change becomes increasingly unthinkable, dismissed as unrealistic, impracticable, and naïve.

Transmuting hopes for radical transformation into market-based “innovation” as a primary driver of social change, neoliberal governance recedes into technocratic administration, busying itself with ever-more-arcane and bloodless policy tweaks intended merely to keep capital flowing smoothly and efficiently.

Meanwhile, as state responsibility for political problems evaporates, individuals are left to pick up the slack, obligated to perform vast amounts of compensatory emotional and material labor even as they grow ever more vulnerable, atomized, and overwhelmed.

Not coincidentally, neoliberalism has become our dominant system against the backdrop of decades of corporate deregulation, privatization, and the dismantling of social services, developments that it celebrates and champions.

The emotional and political landscape of American gun violence and school shootings specifically reads like an atlas of neoliberalism.

To be sure, our singular problem with gun murder—of which mass shootings are only a fractional percentile, one with no real analogue anywhere in any other nation in the world, neoliberal or otherwise—has deep roots in America’s unique history of ethnic cleansing, racial oppression, globalized militarism, entrenched inequality, and violent ideologies of masculinity; these forces shape how gun violence plays out in and determines which Americans must bear its traumas most. But how our society has chosen to frame and respond to the problem of mass shootings, and school shootings specifically, over the course of the past two decades illustrates neoliberalism’s corrosiveness.

Consider, first, the scope of mainstream reactions to mass shootings.

The problem of random massacres in public spaces is a properly political problem.

It strikes at the core of our basic ability to live together and interact safely with each other in the public sphere. And yet the primary themes in responses of our politicians from across the political spectrum have been disavowal, indifference, resignation, and opportunism.

Conservatives who are otherwise unabashed about endorsing heavy-handed and repressive responses to the evils of terrorism respond to gun massacres by waxing theological and proclaiming that evil cannot be “legislated.”

Liberals, meanwhile, have long operated from a position defined by a self-fulfilling preemptive concession to “reality” whereby entertaining the idea of an outright gun ban is taboo, foreclosed from the get-go.

Whatever one may think of a total gun ban as either a moral or a practical matter, the fact that it is a position currently espoused in public by precisely zero national-level politicians is significant.

The outcome of any political debate partially reflects a middle ground defined by the most extreme positions espoused by mainstream political actors.

American politics accommodates plenty of extreme positions, and the Republican party has been particularly successful in normalizing and leveraging the obstinacy of its most extreme politicians and constituents to consistently move policy and discourse rightwards.

Yet while voices calling for an elimination of the minimum wage or abortion bans are commonplace among conservatives, the signal absence of prominent Democrats stridently demanding a blanket gun ban—even as an ideal principle, deployed for purposes of bargaining—markedly predetermines the entire national conversation on guns.

The idea that the Democratic party is militantly dead-set on nationwide gun confiscation or the repeal of the Second Amendment is simultaneously laughable and a potent staple of paranoiac right-wing fantasies.

The reality is that many Democrats leap to pacify this fear as a token of their reasonableness. For decades now the horizon of political imaginability for gun control has thus been constricted from the outset, and the party has long condemned itself to measures that are so much triage and tinkering, to fundraising off the NRA rather than targeting the problem of money in politics or arms industry influence more broadly, and to publicity stunts and cynical legislative bids that are more about expanding the security state than about sustainably lowering gun deaths.

Even an assault weapons ban, despite its undeniable potential as a wedge issue, has long been seen by most Democrats as a nonstarter.

In the immediate wake of Parkland, the DCCC’s first instruction to Democrats was to avoid “politicizing” the massacre, steer clear of gun ban talk, and mirror the Republican language of “Thoughts and Prayers” themselves.

To be clear: Blame for America’s longstanding inertia on mass shootings cashes out differently for our two main parties.

Republicans playing hardball is not the same thing as Democrats playing catch-up. But the causes of this inertia, which have everything to do with the influence of market incentives—from corporate money to regulatory capture to political careerism—implicate each party, and have produced a state of affairs that is bigger than both of them.

For the sake of appearing “reasonable” and “realistic,” and for the sake of preserving their continued electability and “political capital” (a thoroughly neoliberal concept), our political elites reject responsibility for what could not more obviously be a political problem: mass murder in public spaces.

In consequence, a kind of fatalistic resignation has settled over most Americans—a common wisdom that, on guns, nothing can or will ever get done.

Very literally, Americans teach their children to understand the intrusion of rampaging killers with assault rifles as a random force of nature analogous to a fire or an earthquake.

But neoliberalism means that as government responsibility recedes, and as the bounds of what is politically imaginable constrict, other players step in to pick up the slack—and make a buck.

The social contract gets traded in for a profusion of End User Agreements, gig opportunities, and handshake deals with grifters and loan sharks.

The mushrooming market for security equipment in schools and on college campuses reached $2.68 billion in 2017 alone, and school districts around the country have steadily devoted increasing sums to security even as their overall budgets have dwindled.

These products look and sound like weapons and gear from America’s endless wars abroad: bulletproof whiteboards, School Shooter Kits (complete with tourniquets and trauma dressing), The Barracuda (a reinforced doorstop), The Raptor (a web-based “visitor management system,” the ad copy for which asks “Are you ready to take the next steps in protecting your school?”).

The market isn’t just for school administrators. Parents can buy their kids bulletproof backpacks and folders or invest in literal ballistic security blankets (available with free shipping from Walmart). This burgeoning cornucopia of products for protecting children does little to address the fact that not all schools and parents are equally capable of buying them, of course. But that’s neoliberalism for you: The choices and the opportunities to ameliorate societal problems exist, but only if you can afford them.

The withdrawal of political responsibility in favor of market solutions occurs without any correlative empowerment of the citizen as a consumer—in fact, as American inequality increases and social mobility drops, the end result is quite the opposite.

While the private sector flourishes, public institutions are hollowed out, and the people who depend on them are left in ever-more-precarious conditions.

It should not be surprising—although it is rarely observed—that the overwhelming majority of school shootings have thus far occurred in public, not private schools, even as our leaders pursue massive cuts to federal expenditures on public school safety (including funds used for post mass-shooting trauma counseling).

Meanwhile, advocates for the further hollowing out of the public sector seize on school massacres as an opportunity to argue for increased homeschooling.

The enrichment of the private sector is only one consequence of the neoliberal abdication of political responsibility for a political problem.

The other half of the picture is the burden that devolves from the government onto private individuals.

This burden demands labor and energy, but the costs are not just material.

They are emotional, too. Neoliberalism is not just a way of organizing political economy.

It imposes a regime of feelings and behaviors as well.

Neoliberalism doesn’t just pull the rug of basic social welfare out from under people’s feet—it makes them responsible for getting back on their feet, and blames them for landing on their ass in the first place.

And so in schools across the country, Americans make their children participate in Active Shooter drills.

These drills, which can involve children as young as kindergartners hiding in closets and toilet stalls, and can even include simulated shootings, are not just traumatic and of dubious value.

They are also an educational enterprise in their own right, a sort of pedagogical initiation into what is normal and to be expected.

Very literally, Americans teach their children to understand the intrusion of rampaging killers with assault rifles as a random force of nature analogous to a fire or an earthquake.

This seems designed to foster in children a consciousness that is at once hypervigilant and desperate, but also morbid and resigned—in other words, to mold them into perfectly docile citizen-consumers. And if children reject this position and try to take action, some educational authorities will attempt to discipline their resistance out of them, as in Texas, where one school district has threatened to penalize students who walk out in anti-gun violence actions, weaponizing the language of “choices” and “consequences” to literally quash “any type of protest or awareness.”

It’s not just children that the neoliberal system demands suffer the burden of responsibility for its failure to deal with school shootings.

Even as legislators crush teachers’ unions and ask educators to do ever-more labor—to act as test-prep coaches and job trainers, substitute parents and grief counselors—they also seriously contemplate giving them guns.

Many do this without ever really thinking too much about the emotional and cognitive onus that puts on them: not just to foster creativity and learning while safely controlling access to a firearm in overcrowded classrooms, but to be prepared, at any moment, to exercise lethal force against an assailant who may even be one of their own students.

Teachers, the people on the front lines of a broken system, are demanded, unremunerated or with the promise of meager “bonuses,” to reconcile its contradictions: to educate, but also to be constantly ready to kill. The on-the-face-of-it obscenity of this as a “solution” to anything falls out in favor of dithering over incentives and efficiency, to Trump promising that “Shootings will not happen again – a big & very inexpensive deterrent.”

Only two weeks after Parkland, both Democrat and Republican leadership decided to forgo any legislative debates over gun control and instead agreed to focus on a project with bipartisan appeal—deregulating banks.

Meanwhile, the massacres continue.

And so after each new bloodbath America’s leaders call on the general public to perform mass rituals of affective labor—moments of silence, sending thoughts and prayers, rituals that are excruciatingly draining, formulaic and tokenistic, and utterly useless.

When people reject these rituals as hollow, they are shamed, condemned for “politicizing” or “capitalizing” upon tragedy, a prospect anathema to the neoliberal status quo, which seeks to depoliticize everything. And, like Trump after Parkland, authorities blame victims and their communities for failing to prevent their own murder by not adequately performing as unpaid forensic profilers, social media surveillance professionals, and police informants. The blame is especially fierce when the shortcomings of the authorities and current laws have been exposed and humiliated, as in Parkland, where police responded to incidents involving the future shooter at his home no less than 39 times in seven years, and where multiple armed officers wasted precious minutes waiting outside the school as gunfire continued instead of going in. This apportionment of blame should not be surprising: Under neoliberalism, the system can never fail you, you can only fail it—and your suffering is the proof that you deserve it.

Perhaps the most twisted and tragic feature of the neoliberal script for how American society metabolizes mass shootings is a hollowing out of grief itself.

Americans have constructed an elaborate series of increasingly familiar rituals and performances for honoring the “sacrifice” of exemplary victims of senseless, entirely preventable butchery while doing precious little about it.

Yet this heartbroken, anguished praise of children and teachers who are martyred holding open doors or shielding other people from gunfire indexes how normal and inevitable the demand for these acts—the ultimate unpaid, supererogatory labor—has actually become in our system. If you pay attention, you’ll notice how the statements of school security professionals and the scripts for active shooter response trainings inevitably emphasize delaying or containing the shooter, slowing their progress, keeping them in one place. We expect unarmed people to rush killers carrying military-grade weapons, to improvise weapons and stage ambushes, to use their own bodies as barriers, to soak up bullets and force shooters to reload, to buy time and keep them localized until the authorities arrive. In the tight confines of a classroom or school hallway, facing high-powered rifles firing bullets designed to cause massive wounds, that can penetrate multiple bodies, and can turn flying fragments of shattered bone into devastating projectiles, the carnage this entails is beyond description—and yet we ask people to volunteer for it as part of our safety protocols. It is hard to imagine a more nutshell image of contemporary American neoliberalism than this: Demanding our citizens, training our children, to throw themselves like human sandbags against a problem that we decline to attempt to solve.

None of this has to be this way.

If the essence of neoliberalism lies in the denial of responsibility and the foreclosure of the political, the first step is to recognize this, to take responsibility, repoliticize the political, and demand radically better and more.

Corporations and the individual consumers cannot possibly fix our national problem of gun violence. But mobilized coalitions of politically conscious citizens can.

Nor can change come from our political elites, especially since, only two weeks after Parkland, both Democrat and Republican leadership decided to forgo any legislative debates over gun control and instead agreed to focus on a project with bipartisan appeal—deregulating banks.

In the wake of Parkland, the brave voices of student survivors have been a clarion call and beacon of hope. Once, our nation forced generations of school children to respond to the threat of thermonuclear war by hiding under desks in Duck and Cover drills. Those children grew up, leaving the existence of that threat—our world’s massive nuclear arsenals—unchanged, normalized away from regular consciousness.

It is frankly incredible and genuinely inspiring that today, a generation raised with Active Shooter drills has responded to trauma and horror not by disavowing or normalizing it, but by confronting it head-on. What these young people are demanding is properly political and legitimately radical: not just an opportunity not to be the next victims, but that there not be any next victims at all. Their testimony and demands should galvanize us into reflection, solidarity, and action.

America cannot and must not leave it to them to save us from neoliberalism, from gun violence, or from ourselves.

Press link for more: Splinter News

The “Adani Curse” #auspol #sapol #qldpol #BatmanVotes #StopAdani

THE “Adani curse” has hit Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with a poll finding most of his constituents want a review of the Queensland coal mine.

By Malcolm Farr

Malcolm is national political editor of

His 40 years in journalism include the past 22 years in Canberra.

He has also worked for newspapers in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Rome for The Australian, The Daily Mirror, the Brisbane Sun, The Daily Telegraph, and the International Daily News. Rides a motorbike without falling off…so far.

Adani has been a huge political problem for Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and now Mr Turnbull could be asked to explain himself.

Mr Turnbull has consistently attacked Mr Shorten with the claim he is supporting the mine when in Queensland but opposing it when in the Melbourne seat of Batman which goes to a by-election on Saturday.

It now has been revealed that two-thirds of voters in Mr Turnbull’s seat of Wentworth and 60 per cent in Brisbane want a review of the environmental approval given the project, according to a survey released today by the Australia Institute.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has said the Labor Party would back the Adani mine if it proved financially and environmentally viable. Picture: David Mariuz / AAPSource:AAP

The ReachTEL survey could indicate the Prime Minister will have a conflict with his own voters.

“Adani isn’t just a potent issue in Batman.

It’s an issue on the government and the Prime Minister’s plate, right now,” said Ebony Bennett, Deputy Director at The Australia Institute.

Ms Bennett said a majority of voters in the Liberal-held seats of Wentworth and Brisbane Aldo opposed using taxpayer’s money subsidising coal projects like Adani.

“Most agree that Australia must halt the expansion of coal mining and fast-track building renewables and storage to reduce the worsening impacts of climate change,” she said.

Last week the Prime Minister gave the project by the Indian company his personal backing.

“All of that permitting has been done. They are entitled to develop it in accordance with those permits,’’ he said.

“As to whether it is commercially or financially viable, that is a matter for the company. They have got to decide.”

But he accused Mr Shorten of being two-faced on the issue.

Alice Henderson, with her daughter Josie, opposes the Adani mine proposal and will itake the issue to the ballot box when she votes in Batman’s by-election on Saturday. Picture: Ian CurrieSource:Supplied

“So when Bill Shorten is in Queensland and says: ‘Oh, I am in favour of the mines’, and then goes down to Melbourne and says: ‘I am against it’, you can see what a risk that is to jobs, to investment to the economic future and security of Australia, because it is completely two-faced,” Mr Turnbull said.

Labor has argued it would back the mine if it proved financially and environmentally viable.

However, it has been wary of angering Queensland voters who see the project as a source of many jobs, and doesn’t want to clash with Batman voters deciding whether to vote Labor or Greens.

Last week Mr Shorten said he now opposed the mine and yesterday was backed by Opposition finance spokesman Jim Chalmers.

“It hasn’t passed all the environmental tests yet, that is just a statement of fact and you can try all you like to pretend this is something other than a factual realisation that it hasn’t yet passed all the environmental tests and it hasn’t passed all of the commercial tests,” Mr Chalmers told Sky News.

Protesters opposing the Adani mine held a rally on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra on February 5. Picture: Kym Smith Is the Adani coal mine dead?Source:News Corp Australia

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World scientists’ warning to humanity #auspol #sapol #StopAdani

World scientists’ warning to humanity

By Rex Weyler

Rex Weyler was a director of the original Greenpeace Foundation, the editor of the organisation’s first newsletter, and a co-founder of Greenpeace International in 1979.

Environmental activists and organisations typically try and stay positive, to give people hope that we can change.

Positive signs exist, going back to the historic whaling and toxic dumping bans of the 1980s.

The 1987 Montreal Protocol, reducing CFC gas emissions, led to a partial recovery of the ozone hole.

Birth rates have declined in some regions, and forests and freshwater have been restored in some regions.

The world’s nations have, at least, made promises to reduce carbon emissions, even if action has been slow.

A challenge we face as ecologists and environmentalists, however, is that when we step back from our victories and assess the big picture – the global pace of climate change, forest loss, biodiversity decline – we must admit: our achievements have not been enough.

Children playing near a coal plant in Central Java

25 years ago, in 1992, the Union of Concerned Scientists issued the “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” signed by 1,700 scientists, including most living Nobel laureates.

They presented disturbing data regarding freshwater, marine fisheries, climate, population, forests, soil, and biodiversity.

They warned that “a great change” was necessary to avoid “vast human misery.”

This year, on the 25th anniversary of that warning, the Alliance of World Scientists published a second warning – an evaluation of our collective progress.

With the exception of stabilising ozone depletion, they report that “humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse.”

A short history of warnings

Environmental awareness is not new.

Over 2,500 years ago, Chinese Taoists articulated the disconnect between human civilisation and ecological values.

Later Taoist Bao Jingyan warned that “fashionable society goes against the true nature of things… harming creatures to supply frivolous adornments.”

Modern warnings began in the 18th century, at the dawn of the industrial age, particularly from Thomas Malthus, who warned that an exponentially growing population on a finite planet would reach ecological limits.

Modern growth advocates have ridiculed Malthus for being wrong, but his logic and maths are impeccable.

He did not foresee the discovery of petroleum, which allowed economists to ignore Malthus for two centuries, aggravating the crisis that Malthus correctly identified.

Rachel Carson ignited the modern environmental movement in 1962 with Silent Spring, warning of eminent biodiversity collapse.

A decade later, in the early days of Greenpeace, the Club of Rome published The Limits To Growth, using data to describe what we could see with our eyes: declining forests and biodiversity, and resources, clashing head-on with growing human population and consumption demands.

Conventional economists mocked the idea of limits, but The Limits to Growth projections have proven accurate.

In 2009, in Nature journal, a group of scientists lead by Johan Rockström published Planetary Boundaries, warning humanity that essential ecological systems – biodiversity, climate, nutrient cycles, and others – had moved beyond ecological limits to critical tipping points.

Melting iceberg in the Southern Ocean

Three years later, 22 international scientists published a paper called ‘Approaching a State Shift in Earth’s Biosphere’ which warned that human growth had “the potential to transform Earth…  into a state unknown in human experience.” Canadian co-author, biologist Arne Mooers lamented, “humans have not done anything really important to stave off the worst. My colleagues… are terrified.”

In 2014 Michael Gerst, Paul Raskin, and Johan Rockström published ‘Contours of a Resilient Global Future’ in Sustainability 6, searching for viable future scenarios that considered both the natural limits to growth and realistic targets for human development. They warned that the challenge is “daunting” and that “marginal changes” are insufficient.

Last year, the UN International Resource Panel (IRP), published ‘Global Material Flows and Resource Productivity’ warning nations that global resources are limited, human consumption trends are unsustainable, and that resource depletion will have unpleasant impacts on human health, quality of life, and future development.

This year, the second “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity,” alerted us again that marginal changes appear insignificant and that we are surpassing “the limits of what the biosphere can tolerate without substantial and irreversible harm.”

The data speaks

The Alliance of World Scientists researchers tracked data over the last 25 years, since the 1992 warning. They cite some hopeful signs, such as the decline in ozone-depleting CFC gases, but report that, from a global perspective, our “changes in environmental policy, human behavior, and global inequities… are far from sufficient.”

Here’s what the data shows:

Ozone: CFC (chlorofluorocarbons) emissions are down by 68% since 1992, due to the 1987 UN Montreal Protocol. The ozone layer is expected to reach 1980 levels by mid-century. This is the good news.

Freshwater: Water resources per capita have declined by 26% since 1992. Today, about one billion people suffer from a lack of fresh, clean water, “nearly all due to the accelerated pace of human population growth” exacerbated by rising temperatures.

Fisheries: The global marine catch is down by 6.4% since 1992, despite advances in industrial fishing technology. Larger ships with bigger nets and better sonar cannot catch fish that are not there.

Ocean dead zones: Oxygen-depleted zones have increased by 75 %, caused by fertilizer runoff and fossil-fuel use. Acidification due to carbon emissions kills coral reefs that act as marine breeding grounds.

Forests: By area, forests have declined by 2.8% since 1992, but with a simultaneous decline in forest health, timber volume, and quality. Forest loss has been greatest where forests are converted to agricultural land. Forest decline feeds back through the ecosystem as reduced carbon sequestration, biodiversity, and freshwater.

Biodiversity: Vertebrate abundance has declined 28.9 %. Collectively, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals have declined by 58% between 1970 and 2012. This is harrowing.

CO2 emissions: Regardless of international promises, CO2 emissions have increased by 62% since 1960.

Temperature change: The global average surface temperature is increasing in parallel to CO2 emissions. The 10 warmest years in the 136-year record have occurred since 1998. Scientists warn that heating will likely cause a decline in the world’s major food crops, an increase in storm intensity, and a substantial sea level rise, inundating coastal cities.

Population: We’ve put 2 billion more humans on this planet since 1992 – that’s a 35 % increase. To feed ourselves, we’ve increased livestock by 20.5 %. Humans and livestock now comprise 98.5% of mammal biomass on Earth. The scientists stress that we need to find ways to stabilise or reverse human population growth. “Our large numbers,” they warn, “exert stresses on Earth that can overwhelm other efforts to realise a sustainable future”

Soil: The scientists report a lack of global data, but from national data we can see that soil productivity has declined around the world (by up to 50% in some regions), due to nutrient depletion, erosion, and desertification. The EU reports losing 970 million tonnes of topsoil annually to erosion. The US Department of Agriculture estimates 75 billion tons of soil lost annually worldwide, costing nations $400 billion (€340 billion) in lost crop yields.

The pending question

“We are jeopardising our future by not reining in our intense but geographically and demographically uneven material consumption,” the scientists warn, “and by not perceiving … population growth as a primary driver behind many ecological and societal threats.”

The Alliance of World Scientists report offers some hope, in the form of steps that we can take to begin a more serious transition to sustainability:

• Expand well-managed reserves – terrestrial, marine, freshwater, and aerial – to preserve biodiversity and ecosystem services.

• Restore native plant communities, particularly forests, and native fauna species, especially apex predators, to restore ecosystem integrity.

• End poaching, exploitation, and trade of threatened species.

• Reduce food waste and promote dietary shifts towards plant-based foods.

•  Increase outdoor nature education and appreciation for children and adults.

• Divest from destructive industries and invest in genuine sustainability. That means phasing out subsidies for fossil fuels, and adopting renewable energy sources on a large scale.

• Revise economic systems to reduce wealth inequality and account for the real costs that consumption patterns impose on our environment.

• Reduce the human birth-rate with gender-equal access to education and family-planning.

These proposed solutions are not new, but the emphasis on population is important, and often overlooked. Some environmentalists avoid discussing human population, since it raises concerns about human rights. We know that massive consumption by the wealthiest 15% of us is a fundamental cause of the ecological crisis. Meanwhile, the poorest individuals consume far less than their fair share of available resources.

Aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines

As an ecologist, I feel compelled to ask myself: if the last 50 years of environmental action, research, warnings, meetings, legislation, regulation, and public awareness has proven insufficient, despite our victories, then what else do we need to do?

That question, and an integrated, rigorous, serious answer, needs to be a central theme of the next decade of environmentalism.

Rex Weyler is an author, journalist and co-founder of Greenpeace International.

Resources and Links:

World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice; eight authors and 15,364 scientist signatories from 184 countries; BioScience, W.J. Ripple, et. al., 13 November 2017

List of 15,364 signatories from 184 Countries: Oregon State University

Alliance of World Scientists:  Oregon State University

Recovery of Ozone depletion after Montreal Protocol: B. Ewenfeldt, “Ozonlagret mår bättre”, Arbetarbladet 12 September, 2014.

Fertility rate reduction in some regions: UN

Accuracy of Limits to Growth Study: “Is Global Collapse Imminent? An Update to Limits to Growth with Historical Data,” Graham Turner, 2014): Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute

“Contours of a Resilient Global Future,” Michael Gerst, Paul Raskin, and Johan Rockström,  Sustainability 6, 2014.

Arithmetic, Population, and Energy: Albert Bartlett video lecture on exponential growth

William Rees, The Way Forward: Survival 2100, Solutions Journal, human overshoot and genuine solutions.

Johan Rockström, et. al., “Planetary Boundaries,” Nature, September 23, 2009.

Anthony D. Barnosky, et. al., “Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere,” Nature, June 7, 2012.

Press link for more: Greenpeace

We’re not building clean energy fast enough to avoid catastrophic #ClimateChange #StopAdani #auspol

At this rate, it’s going to take nearly 400 years to transform the energy system

Here are the real reasons we’re not building clean energy anywhere near fast enough.

James Temple

Fifteen years ago, Ken Caldeira, a senior scientist at the Carnegie Institution, calculated that the world would need to add about a nuclear power plant’s worth of clean-energy capacity every day between 2000 and 2050 to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Recently, he did a quick calculation to see how we’re doing.

Not well.

Instead of the roughly 1,100 megawatts of carbon-free energy per day likely needed to prevent temperatures from rising more than 2 ˚C, as the 2003 Science paper by Caldeira and his colleagues found, we are adding around 151 megawatts.

That’s only enough to power roughly 125,000 homes.

At that rate, substantially transforming the energy system would take, not the next three decades, but nearly the next four centuries.

In the meantime, temperatures would soar, melting ice caps, sinking cities, and unleashing devastating heat waves around the globe (see “The year climate change began to spin out of control”).

Caldeira stresses that other factors are likely to significantly shorten that time frame (in particular, electrifying heat production, which accounts for a more than half of global energy consumption, will significantly alter demand). But he says it’s clear we’re overhauling the energy system about an order of magnitude too slowly, underscoring a point that few truly appreciate: It’s not that we aren’t building clean energy fast enough to address the challenge of climate change.

It’s that—even after decades of warnings, policy debates, and clean-energy campaigns—the world has barely even begun to confront the problem.

The UN’s climate change body asserts that the world needs to cut as much as 70 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions by midcentury to have any chance of avoiding 2 ˚C of warming. But carbon pollution has continued to rise, ticking up 2 percent last year.

So what’s the holdup?

Beyond the vexing combination of economic, political, and technical challenges is the basic problem of overwhelming scale. There is a massive amount that needs to be built, which will suck up an immense quantity of manpower, money, and materials.

For starters, global energy consumption is likely to soar by around 30 percent in the next few decades as developing economies expand. (China alone needs to add the equivalent of the entire US power sector by 2040, according to the International Energy Agency.) To cut emissions fast enough and keep up with growth, the world will need to develop 10 to 30 terawatts of clean-energy capacity by 2050.

On the high end that would mean constructing the equivalent of around 30,000 nuclear power plants—or producing and installing 120 billion 250-watt solar panels.

Energy overhaul

There’s simply little financial incentive for the energy industry to build at that scale and speed while it has tens of trillions of dollars of sunk costs in the existing system.

“If you pay a billion dollars for a gigawatt of coal, you’re not going to be happy if you have to retire it in 10 years,” says Steven Davis, an associate professor in the Department of Earth System Science at the University of California, Irvine.

It’s somewhere between difficult and impossible to see how any of that will change until there are strong enough government policies or big enough technology breakthroughs to override the economics.

A quantum leap

In late February, I sat in Daniel Schrag’s office at the Harvard University Center for the Environment. His big yellow Chinook, Mickey, lay down next to my feet.

Schrag was one of President Barack Obama’s top climate advisors. As a geologist who has closely studied climate variability and warming periods in the ancient past, he has a special appreciation for how dramatically things can change.

Sitting next to me with his laptop, he opened a report he had recently coauthored assessing the risks of climate change.

It highlights the many technical strides that will be required to overhaul the energy system, including better carbon capture, biofuels, and storage.

The study also notes that the United States adds roughly 10 gigawatts of new energy generation capacity per year.

That includes all types, natural gas as well as solar and wind. But even at that rate, it would take more than 100 years to rebuild the existing electricity grid, to say nothing of the far larger one required in the decades to come.

“Is it possible to accelerate by a factor of 20?” he asks. “Yeah, but I don’t think people understand what that is, in terms of steel and glass and cement.”

Climate observers and commentators have used various historical parallels to illustrate the scale of the task, including the Manhattan Project and the moon mission. But for Schrag, the analogy that really speaks to the dimensions and urgency of the problem is World War II, when the United States nationalized parts of the steel, coal, and railroad industries.

The government forced automakers to halt car production in order to churn out airplanes, tanks, and jeeps.

The good news here is that if you direct an entire economy at a task, big things can happen fast. But how do you inspire a war mentality in peacetime, when the enemy is invisible and moving in slow motion?

“It’s a quantum leap from where we are today,” Schrag says.

The time delay

The fact that the really devastating consequences of climate change won’t come for decades complicates the issue in important ways. Even for people who care about the problem in the abstract, it doesn’t rate high among their immediate concerns.

As a consequence, they aren’t inclined to pay much, or change their lifestyle, to actually address it. In recent years, Americans were willing to increase their electricity bill by a median amount of only $5 a month even if that “solved,” not eased, global warming, down from $10 15 years earlier, according to a series of surveys by MIT and Harvard.

It’s conceivable that climate change will someday alter that mind-set as the mounting toll of wildfires, hurricanes, droughts, extinctions, and sea-level rise finally forces the world to grapple with the problem.

But that will be too late.

Carbon dioxide works on a time delay.

It takes about 10 years to achieve its full warming effect, and it stays in the atmosphere for thousands of years.

After we’ve tipped into the danger zone, eliminating carbon dioxide emissions doesn’t decrease the effects; it can only prevent them from getting worse.

Whatever level of climate change we allow to unfold is locked in for millennia, unless we develop technologies to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere on a massive scale (or try our luck with geoengineering).

This also means there’s likely to be a huge trade-off between what we would have to pay to fix the energy system and what it would cost to deal with the resulting disasters if we don’t. Various estimates find that cutting emissions will shrink the global economy by a few percentage points a year, but unmitigated warming could slash worldwide GDP more than 20 percent by the end of the century, if not far more.

In the money

Arguably the most crucial step to accelerate energy development is enacting strong government policies.

Many economists believe the most powerful tool would be a price on carbon, imposed through either a direct tax or a cap-and-trade program. As the price of producing energy from fossil fuels grows, this would create bigger incentives to replace those plants with clean energy (see “Surge of carbon pricing proposals coming in the new year”).

“If we’re going to make any progress on greenhouse gases, we’ll have to either pay the implicit or explicit costs of carbon,” says Severin Borenstein, an energy economist at the University of California, Berkeley.

But it has to be a big price, far higher than the $15 per ton it cost to acquire allowances in California’s cap-and-trade program late last year. Borenstein says a carbon fee approaching $40 a ton “just blows coal out of the market entirely and starts to put wind and solar very much into the money,” at least when you average costs across the lifetime of the plants.

Others think the price should be higher still. But it’s very hard to see how any tax even approaching that figure could pass in the United States, or many other nations, anytime soon.

The other major policy option would be caps that force utilities and companies to keep greenhouse emissions below a certain level, ideally one that decreases over time. This regulations-based approach is not considered as economically efficient as a carbon price, but it has the benefit of being much more politically palatable. American voters hate taxes but are perfectly comfortable with air pollution rules, says Stephen Ansolabehere, a professor of government at Harvard University.

Fundamental technical limitations will also increase the cost and complexity of shifting to clean energy. Our fastest-growing carbon-free sources, solar and wind farms, don’t supply power when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. So as they provide a larger portion of the grid’s electricity, we’ll also need long-range transmission lines that can balance out peaks and valleys across states, or massive amounts of very expensive energy storage, or both (see “Relying on renewables alone significantly inflates the cost of overhauling energy”).

The upshot is that we’re eventually going to need to either supplement wind and solar with many more nuclear reactors, fossil-fuel plants with carbon capture and other low-emissions sources, or pay far more to build out a much larger system of transmission, storage and renewable generation, says Jesse Jenkins, a researcher with the MIT Energy Initiative. In all cases, we’re still likely to need significant technical advances that drive down costs.

All of this, by the way, only addresses the challenge of overhauling the electricity sector, which currently represents less than 20 percent of total energy consumption. It will provide a far greater portion as we electrify things like vehicles and heating, which means we’ll eventually need to develop an electrical system several times larger than today’s.

But that still leaves the “really difficult parts of the global energy system” to deal with, says Davis of UC Irvine. That includes aviation, long-distance hauling, and the cement and steel industries, which produce carbon dioxide in the manufacturing process itself. To clean up these huge sectors of the economy, we’re going to need better carbon capture and storage tools, as well as cheaper biofuels or energy storage, he says.

These kinds of big technical achievements tend to require significant and sustained government support. But much like carbon taxes or emissions caps, a huge increase in federal research and development funding is highly unlikely in the current political climate.

Give up?

So should we just give up?

There is no magic bullet or obvious path here. All we can do is pull hard on the levers that seem to work best.

Environmental and clean-energy interest groups need to make climate change a higher priority, tying it to practical issues that citizens and politicians do care about, like clean air, security, and jobs. Investors or philanthropists need to be willing to make longer-term bets on early-stage energy technologies. Scientists and technologists need to focus their efforts on the most badly needed tools. And lawmakers need to push through policy changes to provide incentives, or mandates, for energy companies to change.

The hard reality, however, is that the world very likely won’t be able to accomplish what’s called for by midcentury. Schrag says that keeping temperature increases below 2 ˚C is already “a pipe dream,” adding that we’ll be lucky to prevent 4 ˚C of warming this century.

That means we’re likely to pay a very steep toll in lost lives, suffering, and environmental devastation (see “Hot and violent”).

But the imperative doesn’t end if warming tips past 2 ˚C. It only makes it more urgent to do everything we can to contain the looming threats, limit the damage, and shift to a sustainable system as fast as possible.

“If you miss 2050,” Schrag says, “you still have 2060, 2070, and 2080.”

Press link for more: Technology Review