Compiled by Ross Thrasher
The recent publications sampled below are well worth reading in full. Most of them are available at your local public library.
John Gray, “The dangerous conceits of the green revolution”, The New Statesman (18-24 November 2022), pp. 28-31.
A worldwide conversion to renewable energy involves moving from a type of industrialism based on fossil fuels to one based on metals. Hundreds of millions of electric vehicles and countless wind farms and solar panels will be needed. Storing electricity requires batteries, which contain lithium, nickel, cobalt and other elements. Moving to renewables demands mining on a hitherto unimagined scale. Inevitably, there is already intensifying competition for scarce materials.
China … has achieved a near-monopoly in rare earth metals of the sorts that are used in the automotive, aerospace and defence industries.
Spiralling demand for raw materials is influencing plans for deep-sea mining, with potentially catastrophic consequences for the oceans. The melting Arctic ice cap faces its own hazards. Russia has been enlarging its military position there, and China is pushing for large-scale mining in the region. One of the Earth’s last redoubts is about to be pillaged and despoiled.
Greens are right in thinking [that the] environmental crisis necessitates a different kind of economic system. Windfall taxes on inordinately profitable oil companies are no more than justice demands. As the climate crisis worsens, energy infrastructures will be removed from the marketplace and commandeered by the state. An anticapitalist revolution, on the other hand, will do nothing to protect the environment or mankind.
The planet has no favourites among human regimes …. It does not care whether they are capitalist or socialist, liberal or authoritarian…. The societies that fare best will combine high levels of state capacity with technologies adopted on account of their efficacy, not ideology.
Whereas the global climate functions as a single system, there is no comparable coordination in the human species. Geopolitics and war may derail any programme of adjustment to the climate shift. In that case, the planet will impose the necessary retreat, and rewild itself, regardless of humankind.
David Wallace-Wells, “Post-Normal”, The New York Times Magazine (December 23,2022), pp.12-13.
Climate activists sometimes equate their cause to ‘saving the planet’, but decarbonization won’t be enough to rescue Earth’s biodiversity…. The [COP15] international biodiversity conference [which] just concluded in Montreal … received only a fraction of the press coverage lavished on the COP27 climate conference…. “Climate” has replaced “nature” as the primary locus of activist concern, pushing biodiversity somewhat farther from the policy center.
The primary threats [are] habitat destruction and overexploitation…. Vertebrate populations have declined on average by 69 per cent since just 1970…. As many as a million animal and plant species currently face the threat of extinction…. Taken together, humans and their food [i.e. livestock] represent 96 percent of all mammals on Earth.
The predominant mood in Montreal was lament: that a dozen years after some less ambitious biodiversity targets were set for 2020, none of them have been met.
Aviva Chomsky, Is Science Enough? Forty Critical Questions About Climate Justice, Beacon Press, 2022. 216 p.
Aviva Chomsky is a professor of history and Latin American studies at Salem State University in Massachusetts. She is the daughter of famed linguist/activist Noam Chomsky. This book is described as a primer on the socioeconomic and political changes needed to combat the global climate emergency while reducing inequality. Here are a few pithy excerpts from Is Science Enough?:
Industry (mining, agriculture, manufacturing, petrochemical production) produces seventy tons of waste for every ton of household waste. And most household waste is a result of decisions made by industries, like packaging policies and the proliferation of disposable products. But most of us have accepted the common sense idea actively promoted by industry that it’s our responsibility to solve the waste problem…. Consumers were thus primed to see individual behavior as the cause of environmental ills when fossil fuel companies jumped onto the bandwagon. Rather than driving particular forms of consumption, they claim, they are just responding to individuals’ needs and demands. Individuals should focus on their own “carbon footprint” rather than challenging the fossil-dependent system. (pp. 61-62)
The Green New Deal refers … to proposals that began circulating, primarily in the United States and Europe, in the late 2010s…. The [US] GND proposal broke new ground by establishing an ambitious, enforceable target and embedding climate goals in socioeconomic transformation that prioritized the rights of workers and marginalized communities…. The Green New Deal for Europe adopted the Paris agreement’s 1.5-degrees Celsius warming target … and called for economic and ecological reorganization away from a profit-and-growth economic system to one that prioritizes human needs and respects planetary boundaries. (pp.68-72)
If we look at the history of how racial inequality came to characterize our country [USA] and our planet, it becomes clear that the processes of colonialism, extraction and exploitation that created our racial order are the very same processes that created the climate crisis. These processes … put colonized and formerly colonized populations, that is, people of color, who have contributed the least in terms of global emissions, on the front lines of the heat, drought, rising seas and storms caused by climate change…. All of these [weather-related events] undermine livelihoods, especially of the rural poor in poor countries. Security analysts call climate change a “threat multiplier” because these stresses also contribute to armed conflict and mass migration. Rich countries provide the arms and barricade themselves against the migrants. (pp. 104, 106)
Degrowth economics argues [that] we should scale down our material economies to a level consistent with the planet’s finite resources and manage this degrowth in a way that prioritizes human needs and enables human flourishing. Degrowth critiques capitalism as a system that relies on increasing production, consumption and use of resources for the benefit of the few, at the expense of the many and the environment…. In the Third World, where peasant economies are still vital and have been a strong source of resistance to extractivist development projects, degrowth … concepts look to local traditions that value human relations with the natural world and promote economies based on reciprocity and human needs. (pp. 159, 169)
There are reasons for optimism. [We now know] just how fast carbon emissions would increase if nothing was done to change our global trajectory. We are also directly witnessing the impacts of climate change, and we know how close we are to tipping points that may accelerate the process catastrophically and irreversibly. We have also made progress in articulating concrete policy measures that would go far beyond the timid and unenforced international agreements that have thus far failed to make a dent in global emissions. The framework of the Green New Deal gives us some radical, concrete, aspirational yet achievable goals to fight for. A degrowth approach can liberate us to imagine a different, low-carbon, more just and better world. (p. 179)
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