Sunday, January 16, 2011

It is time to tell the climate story like it really is

Yesterday, I received a reference to two recent book, sort of capsule reviews written by Lorna Salzman. I want to re-print these today for the simple reason that there is nothing more important to be working on that the resolution of climate change.

Carl Safina's latest book, View from Lazy Point, is reviewed - actually, raved about - in this Sunday's NY Times Book Review. If you have not yet read anything of Carl's, shame on get this book. Carl heads the Blue Ocean Institute, among his long list of credits, and is a superlative writer. 
The other book is World on the Edge, by Lester Brown, head of the Earth Policy Institute. This book is the culmination of a long list of his books on the deterioration of the planet and what needs to be done. Let me warn you that this one is possibly the most apocalyptic, but were it not, it would be dishonest. Let me give you some short quotes. Then you should order a copy from EPI ( or download it from their web site free,  

Brown predicts "the perfect storm" of food emergencies and loss of fresh water supplies (which are linked), all stemming from the kind of severe climate events we are now experiencing regularly (heat wave in Russia, floods in Pakistan), compounded by overpopulation and loss of ecosystems and their services. We are already in overshoot mode and have been so since 1980, i.e. humanity's collective demands  have surpassed the earth's regenerative capacity. Brown says that today, global demands exceed sustainable yields by 50%; it would thus take 1.5 earths to maintain our current consumption.

Brown: "No previous civilization has survived the ongoing destruction of its natural supports. Nor will ours. Yet economists look at the future through a different lens...annual measured in the trillions. In the eyes of mainstream economists, the world has not only an illustrious economic past but also a promising future. Mainstream economists see the 2008=09 global economic recession and near-collapse of the international financial system as a bump in the road..before a return to growth as usual. Projections of economic growth..typically show the global economy expanding by roughly 3 % a year. At this rate the 2010 economy would easily double in size by 2035".

"But as the economy expanded some 20-fold over the last century, it has revealed a flaw- a flaw so serious that if it is not corrected it will spell the end of civilization as we know it"...The not telling us the truth...Modern economic thinking and policymaking have created an economy that is so out of sync with the ecosystem on which it depends that it is approaching collapse. How can we assume that the growth of an economic system that is shrinking the earth's forests, eroding its soils, depleting its aquifers, collapsing its fisheries, elevating its temperature, and melting its ice sheets can simply be projected into the long-term future? "

"If we continue with business as usual, civilization collapse is no longer a matter of whether but when. We now have an economy that is destroying its natural support systems, on that has put us on a decline and collapse path. We are dangerously close to the edge. Peter Goldmark, former Rockefeller Foundation president, puts it well: 'The death of our civilization is no longer a theory or an academic possibility; it is the road we're on'"

This book lays out the evidence. Apart from Brown and EPI, the rest of the environmental community is in denial mode, believing that wind turbines and solar power will rescue us. This book makes it quite clear that they will not. It says what needs to be done...and fast, including a CO2 reduction of 80% not by 2050, the date arbitrarily chosen by those who do not understand the emergency including our fearless leaders like NRDC, EDF and,  but by the year 2020. Nine years from now. 

It isn't just capitalism that will collapse. It is human civilization, and our history has shown how earlier civilizations collapsed from environmental causes (Sumer in Mesopotamia, Maya). We ignore Brown at our own peril. Have the courage to read this book.  

For those of you in denial about overpopulation, here is what Brown says about Pakistan, which lost thousands of people to floods last year and where the temperature in south central Pakistan reached 128 degrees F. in May, a record for Pakistan:

"The Indus River, the lifeline of Pakistan, and its tributaries were overflowing. Levees that had confined the river to a narrow channel so the fertile floodplains could be farmed had failed. Eventually the raging waters covered 1/5 of the country. ...Some 2 million homes were damaged or destroyed. More than 20 million people were affected by the flooding. Nearly 2,000 Pakistanis died. Some 6 million acres of crops were damaged or destroyed. Over a million livestock drowned. Roads and bridges were washed away."

"Pakistan's 185 million people are squeezed into an area 8% that of the United States. 90% of the forests in the Indus Basin are gone, leaving little to absorb the rainfall and reduce runoff. Beyond this, Pakistan has a livestock population of cattle, water buffalo, sheep and goats of 149 million, well above the 103 million grazing livestock in the United Stats. The result is a country stripped of vegetation. When it rains, rapid runoff erodes the soil, silting up reservoirs and reducing their capacity to store flood water. Twenty or more years ago, Pakistan chose to define security largely in military terms. When it should have been investing in reforestation, soil conservation, education, and family planning, it was shortchanging these activities to bolster its military capacity. In 1990, the military budget was 15 times that of education and a staggering 44 times that of health and family planning. As a result, Pakistan is now a poor, overpopulated, environmentally devastated nuclear power where 60%  of women cannot read and write".
Some might think of the climate issues as yet one more piece of evidence of the tree hugger tendency among Greens. Nothing could be further from the truth. Concern about the effects of climate change is evidence of the concern of Greens for social justice and the plight of millions. Read carefully the comments regarding last summer's flood in Pakistan. Then think about the more recent floods in Nashville, Columbia, Brazli (April and again now), Australia, Sri Lanka, Benin, Burkina Faso. Nature does not select according to the ability of land to cope.

We should be ashamed to have taken on the mantle of being Green, to have proclaimed our devotion to the issues of social justice and to have done so little.


Ross Levin said...

And here is why nothing (at least not on the global scale that's necessary to avert total disaster) is being done - "It isn't just capitalism that will collapse." Confronting the problem of climate change means confronting what caused it, industrial capitalism, and that is one of the big reasons there's such a resistance to seriously addressing the problem.

Tian said...

For some reason that old Eagles song with the line "learn to be still" comes to mind. Remember that part where the voice sings "Maybe you've forgotten heaven lying there at your feet." It reminds me that too many of us don't see the relationship between the world around us and the world discussed in the spiritual texts.

I'm not the one to explain that connection in such a way that people listen, but I do think riding a bicycle is a spiritual act, praying to mother earth. Since getting rid of my car I've noticed that the spot in the driveway where I used to park it is slowly losing that black slimy quality. The oil stain is healing. I can only pray that my not spewing CO2 is helping the atmosphere the same way.

Martin Zehr said...

Greens have failed to engage people in a construction project. The window has closed. The climate story is simply the context of activity we will all confront. The construction lies in establishing our priorities that are a reflection of our Mission as a Green Party. But, alas, we have no mission as a green party. Time for a collective gathering of the remnants and the newly interested to review objectives and goals for the future.

We confront the possibility of not only becoming irrelevant in California, but becoming a simple characterization of ourselves as "aging boomer environmentalists". From opening a new option into the political arena in the sixties, we have become a tragic-comic drama without any real role in decisions. Advocacy groups tie onto the political parties for their own organizational survival and funnel funds and volunteers to the duopoly parties in a way to squelch any real substantive change. In the meantime, we act as if there is some real world connection between our platform objectives and our work as an organization in electoral politics.

The construction project requires that we establish our priorities and that we demonstrate a single-minded focus on them. Concrete tasks need to be defined with time lines and clearly established goals and objectives. We stand backstage in the political drama and unless things change dramatically we will see our opportunities to become actors diminish.

Wes said...

When Greens talk of the demise of industrial capitalism, they never name the alternative and thus have no way to show how we get there. Even Nader didn't.

Unless we provide a vision of the future, no one will every follow our path.

Wes said...

You are right the we all have to take these steps, either actions or changes in how we relate to the world, but that is not sufficient to change an entire society. It is necessary, but not sufficient.

Wes said...

I agree on the lack of focus and vision... as you say... priorities. I also note that there are many motivators to action that have nothing to do with whether or not we maintain the party.

I would hope that we might start that definition task here.

Ross Levin said...

Even if we have clear priorities and alternatives, it still doesn't matter if we, like those advocacy groups, remain largely irrelevant. We need a combination of a solid platform (which I do think we have, even in terms of economics, and that's just "economic democracy") and solid, persistent action. One problem that seems to plague American Greens is that they give up much easier than their foreign counterparts - the UK Greens didn't get an MP until last year! And their districts are the size of many state rep districts in the US. So this takes a lot of work, no matter what our platform is, and the only way to be relevant is to make ourselves relevant through hard work.

What I like about the Green Party is that socialists, capitalists, and everything in between can coexist. I think that no matter what the system, Greens do or should recognize that what's important and what's consistent with their values is a democratic functioning of that system.