Sunday, July 20, 2008

If we are Dead

When I get back to work tomorrow, (at the electric utility) I can imagine what folks will say about Al Gore's challenge to achieve 100 renewables in 10 years. "Impossible" will be the standard response. "Rates will double". But as I told folks this morning at brunch, "it really doesn't matter much if we lose 3% in the GNP if we are dead".

And those of us in the electric utility business need to be prepared for a major sea change in the political environment, an albedo flip.

Here's an oldie from last summer that captures the essence of it:

We have all been programmed to believe that there are only two economic systems.

One, is the evil, freedom hating system of Marx that believes that the rule of capital in the society is tantamount to plutocracy and therefore a recipe for inequity and injustice. (We are now being reprogrammed to fear the evil, freedom hating religious mullahs)

The other is the dog eat dog world of capitalism mediated by governments and institutions. As we watch the big dogs attack an attack on one of their prime profit centers, the outrageous barbaric system of medical care that rules the world's largest economy, it is important to remember that in truth, a blend of capitalism and cooperation is clearly in everyone's best interest.

With a slightly reformed view of our world, we can see the possibility of other systems and hybrids of our current system which might well allow for more freedom, more justice, and less control of our world by those whose pursuit of capital overpowers our own pursuits of peace and tranquility.

To meet the challenges that lay ahead, we will need to craft a new economic system of cooperation that creates a new breed of institution. These new institutions will be based on democratic principles. Many of them will be small, like your food coop today, but others may grow and thrive to the point that they become powerful multinational cooperations.

And what are these challenges?

Here is part of a new George Monbiot post in the Guardian.

"Reading a scientific paper on the train this weekend, I found, to my amazement, that my hands were shaking. This has never happened to me before, but nor have I ever read anything like it. Published by a team led by James Hansen at NASA, it suggests that the grim reports issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change could be absurdly optimistic.

The IPCC predicts that sea levels could rise by as much as 59 centimeters this century. Hansen's paper argues that the slow melting of ice sheets the panel expects doesn't fit the data.

The geological record suggests that ice at the poles does not melt in a gradual and linear fashion, but flips suddenly from one state to another. When temperatures increased to 2-3 degrees Celsius above today's level 3.5 million years ago, sea levels rose not by 59 cm but by 25 meters.

The ice responded immediately to changes in temperature.

We now have a pretty good idea of why ice sheets collapse. The buttresses that prevent them from sliding into the sea break up; meltwater trickles down to their base, causing them suddenly to slip; and pools of water form on the surface, making the ice darker so that it absorbs more heat. These processes are already taking place in Greenland and West Antarctica.

Rather than taking thousands of years to melt, as the IPCC predicts, Hansen and his team find it "implausible" that the expected warming before 2100 "would permit a West Antarctic ice sheet of present size to survive even for a century."

As well as drowning most of the world's centers of population, a sudden disintegration could lead to much higher rises in global temperature, because less ice means less heat reflected back into space.

The new paper suggests that the temperature could therefore be twice as sensitive to rising greenhouse gases than the IPCC assumes. "Civilization developed," Hansen writes, "during a period of unusual climate stability, the Holocene, now almost 12,000 years in duration.

That period is about to end.

I looked up from the paper, almost expecting to see crowds stampeding through the streets. I saw people chatting outside a riverside pub. The other passengers on the train snoozed over their newspapers or played on their mobile phones. Unaware of the causes of our good fortune, blissfully detached from their likely termination, we drift into catastrophe. Or we are led there."

Or, we are trapped in our own institutional and mental prisons.

Monbiot goes on to say:

"If Hansen is correct, to avert the meltdown that brings the Holocene to an end, we require a response on this scale: a sort of political "albedo flip."

But it must be more than just a political albedo flip.

We must re-examine everything, especially our little mantras.

"Letting the market work" really means stealing from our children.

"National Security" means global insecurity.

"A strong National defense" is a blank check for the M.I.C.

"Full Employment" means total subjugation.

"Secure Borders" might someday turn into your own prison wall.

The mind forms that were victorious in the war of the two systems must be synthesized into a new vision for humanity. Humanity can meet the challenges of climate change and resource depletion, but only if we throw away these ancient forms:

Our technologies of fire, our democracies of separation,
our economics of capital, our worship of organized violence.

If we do not flip our own albedo,

the earth's albedo will do it for us."


folks need to understand that we are not facing a choice

between a 3% decline in GNP and the GNP status quo.

We are facing a choice, a crossroads,

between being alive,

and being dead.

"There is no cure for birth or death save to enjoy the interval."—George Santayana


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I cannot help to think that only a few of us are much different from the most common animals. Humans will reproduce and waste until the environment kicks us back to the end of the line. There is a broken switch in the human mind that few seem to want to set right. We have not understanding of the attachment we have to our desires.

Unlike Moinbot, I am at peace with humanity collapsing. I do my best to help change minds and I live in an deeply ecological way most would find unbearable, but I am fine with the devastation that is beginning. The diversity of humans that we have had helped create the ecological variety that will be needed for the species to continue.

As far as political systems, I have seen that Anarchism is our one last hope.

2:34 PM  

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