Death by Hot Fizz
by Jo Abbess
11th March 2009
It started with a clink. As the ice cube hit the side of the soft drinks glass, I realised that what I was looking at was the Arctic Ocean in miniature.
The two biggie problems Up North are Global Meltdown and Acid Ocean – caused by excess Carbon Dioxide being soaked up by the Ocean from the Atmosphere.
Yes, the seas are becoming soda water. And the ice sheets and glaciers are dropping chunks of ice in it.
The ice melts, stops being white and reflective and starts being dark and absorbing. This pumps up the local temperatures, a Local Warming greater than Average Global Warming.
And the vinegary seas are dissolving the microscopic and not so-microscopic shells of critters at the bottom of the food chain, threatening the maintenance of global Oxygen levels, wiping out marine life, and something called an “Anoxic Event”, which could poison the air and cause mass land life extinction.
It’s death by hot fizz. And it’s all happening much faster than we thought.
This week’s science update conference in Copenhagen has been reviewing the problems in the Arctic region, together with other advances in scientific knowledge since the publication of “4AR”, the most recent IPCC Report :-
“Climate Change : Global Risks, Challenges and Decisions : 10 – 12 March 2009”
There has been a landslide of newspaper articles covering the conference, both in print and online, although the print copy is hardly ever on the front page :-
“Sea level could rise more than a metre by 2100, say experts”
“Chaos at the climate conference”
“Global temperatures ‘will rise 6C this century’ ”
The Editors on MediaLens commented on one of the stories :-
“Carbon emissions creating acidic oceans not seen since dinosaurs”
“The Guardian’s David Adam writes: “The conference is intended to […] shock politicians into taking action on carbon emissions.” But what kind of action? Sufficient to hurt big business and financial speculators and all those driving and selling the myth of economic ‘growth’? Of course not. The childlike naivety here – of the reporter? the scientific community? both? – makes grim reading. State priorities are driven by selfish strategic and corporate interests. The documentary record is very clear on this. The notion that science will drive government policy around by the required 180 degrees defies rationality.”
But the word “shock” is licence – second-guessing the intentions of the scientists taking part in the conference.
In the print copy of The Guardian was this article “Human CO2 emissions blamed for dangerously acidic seas”, in which David Adam wrote :-
“The conference is intended to update the science of global warming and move politicians into acting on carbon emissions.”
This conveys something different than an attempt to “shock”, and is probably closer to the wishes of the conference delegates.
My question is this : why do the Editors of the MediaLens ask if the the political action intended by the conference would be “sufficient to hurt big business and financial speculation” ? Why use such emotive terminology ? Should big business be treated like an enemy ? Is big business a creature with a mind and a will ?
Anthropomorphising corporate entities, imputing a company with a human mind, is about as fallible as the proposal in Richard Dawkin’s “The Selfish Gene” : genetic material cannot think, reason, intend or direct. And neither can complex corporate entities. They are, in effect, stupid in the fullest sense of the word : blind, dumb, deaf and immobile, lacking in the will to change.
Pointing the finger a corporate entities and laying blame really does you no good. People don’t listen. They can detect the dissonance. Companies don’t have human intentions, they’re not motivated by greed, disgust or dismissiveness. They are functionally organised complex units of economically enslaved humans, performing various profit-making roles.
There are humans within businesses, but companies are not human.
The film “The Corporation”, the link is made that shows that if the behaviour of private companies were the behaviour of an individual human being, that person would be labelled a psychopath.
There’s no denying it : when you do the analysis of corporate behaviour, it’s a collection of social bads. But there are real, nice, moral people working in companies, who go home to play with their kids and don’t hit their wives/husbands, who recycle and so on.
Instead of using an ideological lexicon that is violent and uses negative emotions, how can we point out the wrongs of corporate behaviour without targetting the people within it ?
CorporateWatch is clear about where they stand and quote on their website “The Earth is not dying, it is being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses.” (Utah Phillips).
By painting a future based on the current chaos, we might be able to show that corporates are limiting their own development by behaving wastefully and being toxic to the surrounding environment and society. But again, who would listen ?
We can’t change the whole system of Capitalist Economics overnight. We can’t convert enough people to our point of view, despite factual predictions based on scientific evidence.
The snowball of chaos rounds down the mountain. “Behind you !” we shout, screaming ourselves hoarse. But it’s a pantomime to our intended listeners. They can’t listen. They are locked within another paradigm of understanding.
That doesn’t make them psychopaths. It makes them stupid – unenlightened – in the dark.
Fortunately, individual people are not as stupid as the collective economic system. Individuals are refusing to borrow money. Banks are refusing to lend it. If we thought that inflicting “harm” was necessary, well, here’s the proof we don’t need to !
Any relatively intelligent person with a spreadsheet tool to help with the compound interest/growth formula can calculate the growing economic inequality between rich and poor, the strain on resources coming into the Economy, Mergers/Acquisitions/Bankruptcies, closures, foreclosures, bad debt and collapsing pyramid (or Ponzi) schemes.
Given that the world is finite, and so is the amount of real tradeable value. Given that there’s only so much Energy available at any one moment, and that workers make a profit for their employers.
Large companies should not be accused of “greed” or their employees of “self-interest”. No, they’re only doing their jobs. The way the corporates operate dictate the stupid behaviour. We don’t need to point out to them that Economic Chaos, just like Energy Chaos and Climate Chaos, is emerging rapidly. No intervention, protest, demonstration or book is required on our part.
It is true that the current “State priorities are driven by selfish strategic and corporate interests.” Big business is bound to influence Government, because the Government is outsourcing its social functions to private enterprise. They’re joined at the hip. Nobody should be surprised. The join is seamless. The Government, by way of demonstration, has a whole Department whose function is to promote Business.
It’s not news that Big Business has influence over Government. That’s the way it was designed to work. You can overlay the facts with an emotional value and call it “undue” influence if you think it helps you communicate this fact to others. But others will not understand you as they have another perspective on what Business means.
But there is something new. Businesses are increasingly strained – a general phenomenon – part of what is being called the “Downturn” an Americanisation by the BBC. This may actually serve to sever Big Business from Government. An example : how can there continue to be privatised State development if there are no private partners stepping forward ? Construction companies are in retreat, just as other sectors. That’s the reality.
And anyway, the Companies and Government are not uninformed, actually. They know about Climate Change. They know about the looming hike in Carbon prices (whether by markets or diktat). They know the Science. This week’s Copenhagen Climate Change science update conference is not something they will ignore.
However, there is a real and exigent problem : there is a faultline between Science and the policy which is formulated to address the Science.
It’s crazy for all the social groups and Science groups to keep urging the Government to act, if the actions that will be taken do not properly address the problems.
So far, the UK Government has merely regurgitated the United Nations and European Union decisions on policy. Even the Green New Deal, promulgated by Green politicians globally, is not a full solution implementation.
We can’t continue to let them believe that what’s been proposed so far matches the scale of the risks.
So, the people are not stupid, but the policies and business practices are. But, the actions of the campaigners and activists – are they any more clever ?
Throwing green custard at Peter Mandelson is not going to be a turning point in his prostitution to neoliberal thinking. He truly believes (or pretends to adhere to) the Free Market principles, not noting the irony. “Meritocracy” for some means increasing inequality for others. “Free Trade” for us means “wage slavery” for many around the world.
Simon Lewis comments in The Guardian that “as those who are not listened to have shown throughout history, targeted protests and civil disobedience can have a major impact.” But there is a problem. Just because civil disobedience and public protest have worked to secure justice in history, does not mean that it can work now, with such an overarching suite of complex issues.
There have been active State policies to discourage activism, protest and campaigning – marginalising and distorting the messages of the activists – lumping all activists together in the “untouchable” and “lunatic fringe” box. Public protest is anathema because it is a sign of heating sentiment – and all forms of violence must be quelled and prevented.
So, are we stupid ? Are we dismissed because our views, our messages, are way off-beam ? Aubrey Meyer knows something of not being listened to and having his messages warped. Contraction and Convergence, his development of the UNFCCC framework has been in the wilderness for years. He has been accused of all manner of things, most recently of promoting a policy leading to certain genocide by Nicholas Stern.
If people do not listen to us, does that mean that we are not considered sufficiently knowledgeable, expert or rational to be listened to ? How much do we need to prove ?
And, who is it that is supposed to listen ? And why ? What can they do when they have heard the message ? ExxonMobil has listened. They have definitely understood, but they still pump money into the Climate Deniers conferences organised in New York by the Heartland Institute.
What political framework are we trying to sell ? How difficult is the formula we have developed ? How easy is it to convert others to our “faith” ? As someone in first Century Palestine narrated, “some [seed] fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up…some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil…other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.”
I shouldn’t need to march in the streets to explain something to other people. And they probably have the cultural mental filters to misunderstand my message.
Last year I had an argument with a close relative. One of the outcomes of that was that I wrote myself a large note in capital letters “ONLY TALK TO THOSE WHO ARE LISTENING”, or as the previously mentioned narrator said in paraphrase “don’t cast your pearls before swine”.
For the Government and Business to be able to modify their patterns of engagement and behaviour successfully – change regulations, apply new laws – they need to show they are prepared to actively engage in constructive dialogue with those who know what they are talking about.
Otherwise, for all their listening, they’ll only come back with stupid non-solutions and unfeasible technologies. They need to be able to translate what they learn, and have already clued up on, into meaningful outcomes.
Currently the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has proved itself to be as useless as the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), the Department of Trade and Industry (DTi) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and all the other environmental agencies that came before it.
DECC has not been able to follow through their understanding and learning with appropriate responses.
I shouldn’t need to clamour in the streets, and neither should you. The Government should be actively seeking out the best advice – for – clearly – they’ve messed up so far.
I intend not to preach nor proselytise : as Isaiah noted of the Servant of the Lord : “He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth.”
I mean, what good does it do ?
Other people can (and will) rally in the streets, and they will find they’re hitting their own heads against brick walls or riot shields.
In the near future, people will have a choice of engagement or disengagement with the current Economy-Society.
Workers cooperatives, transition movements and low carbon communities will attempt to live apart from the paradigm as the standard Economy collapses. Many people may jump onto those life rafts.
There will be an uncalled-for uprising, but not about Science – but for the most basic of reasons – a circus for bread – frustration about reducing income and less purchasing power – those who are in Energy poverty.
People will attempt democracy and fail because they have not learned how to cooperate, despite all the working models available : from the Quakers (Religious Society of Friends), the Climate Camp, the Methodist Church, Unions, the Latin American social revolution and so on.
People will try to take production back into their own hands, low impact housing cooperatives, defying “normal” conventions on construction, planning and services.
The middle-class rich hippies will find the perfect Low Carbon lifestyle but exclude others from reaching it.
Until some sense, order and sanity is imposed (and it might come to that, although it will cause fear and loathing), we need to keep up the refrain in the public domain, directed at our legitimate (for now) authorities : your policy response is stupid.
Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and new Nuclear Power do not answer Climate Change, and they’ll be here too slowly, and suck all the funds away from other things that are cheaper and better and quicker.
Geoengineering could be very costly, and go badly wrong, and again, won’t be available for a while yet.
Not everyone in the world can own and run an electric car, especially since we don’t yet have the resources to stop burning Coal for all that juice.
Sea defences will turn out not to be enough. Water conservation will turn out not to be enough. So many things will not be sufficient, and cost too much. A simple cost benefit comparison can show how stupid measures can be.
Until the power is vested in those who are smart, there will be too much stupid going on.
This is the…Age of Stupid
Carbon emissions creating acidic oceans not seen since dinosaurs
Chemical change placing ‘unprecedented’ pressure on marine life and could cause widespread extinctions, warn scientists
David Adam, environment correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 10 March 2009 00.05 GMT
Human pollution is turning the seas into acid so quickly that the coming decades will recreate conditions not seen on Earth since the time of the dinosaurs, scientists will warn today.
The rapid acidification is caused by the massive amounts of carbon dioxide belched from chimneys and exhausts that dissolve in the ocean. The chemical change is placing “unprecedented” pressure on marine life such as shellfish and lobsters and could cause widespread extinctions, the experts say.
The study, by scientists at Bristol University, will be presented at a special three-day summit of climate scientists in Copenhagen, which opens today. The conference is intended to update the science of global warming and to shock politicians into taking action on carbon emissions.
Scientists on the streets
To get the climate change message across, environmental scientists need better arguments – and more public protests
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 10 March 2009 10.30 GMT
Scientists are taking an increasingly political stance towards action on climate change. In 2005, the science academies of the G8 countries, plus China, India and Brazil, collectively called for governments to place climate change at the top of the international agenda. By 2008 they were calling for a planned transition to a low-carbon economy. Similarly, this week’s international climate change conference in Copenhagen, at which I am speaking, is deliberately organised to try to influence the UN conference in December (also in Copenhagen), which will discuss placing global limits on carbon dioxide emissions. Indeed, the website calls the conference “science for politics”.
Yet these are potentially dangerous times for scientists who move into political arenas. There is a serious disconnect. On one side the years drift by and we deliver our ever-starker warnings. On the other, policy-makers, business leaders and wide sections of the public barely acknowledge the dangers we face, never-mind change their actions accordingly. This can lead to desperation: how do we get people to listen?
It is tempting to try and capture people’s attention with apocalyptic messages, with the media egging us on. But it’s a dangerous game. Prosaically, at this week’s conference every contrarian will be looking to seize on a seemingly crazy comment from a scientist to allow them to dismiss the whole conference as alarmist. Those of us concerned about climate change need to be more sophisticated in choosing how we communicate about the issue.
One example of a poor choice of facts to highlight is that the arctic sea-ice is melting and that this is bad news for polar bears. It doesn’t really affect many people directly, so remains an abstract concern. However, few seem to be aware that if we continue with business-as-usual, we will push air temperatures over much of the tropics so high that it becomes physiologically very uncomfortable for humans to live there. That is, without dramatic cuts in emissions, we will condemn those 2 billion people living in the tropics to a life of daily discomfort for generations to come.
Another example is that few realise that we are changing the basic rules of agriculture. For the last 8,000 years the game has been the same: judge the likely weather based on past experience, deploy your best technology, hedge your bets, work hard, and hope that you end the year with surplus food. Increasingly the past will be a poor guide to the future, with much-increased chances of major crop failures. This is extremely worrying when we have 6.7 billion people to feed, and the recent food crisis shows the rapidity with which social unrest unfolds across the globe when food becomes expensive.
Re-focusing attention on less abstract impacts of climate change – anyone who has been to the tropics will attest that adding 5 degrees C to those alreadly high temperatures would be very unpleasant – could shift debates fast. Moreover, scientists and others concerned about climate change will also need to challenge entrenched economic ideology that is a significant barrier to tackling climate change. For example, we must challenge why complex carbon markets that have failed at EU level, and within the Kyoto protocol, are set to be replicated globally in the post-Kyoto settlement planned to be agreed in December.
Furthermore, as those who are not listened to have shown throughout history, targeted protests and civil disobedience can have a major impact. A day spent on the street, rather than in my case being in the lab, office or rainforest field site, might be my most useful service to humanity in this pivotal year. It’s probably the same for the majority of us.
I know it is baffling to many that adding a few hundred parts per million to the volume of a colourless odourless gas in the atmosphere could well be our undoing. The contrarians will fill the comment boxes below this article. But is it any more fantastical than the idea that invisible things can cause us to move from being perfectly healthy one day to being dead a few days later?
Investments and actions based on the – still imperfect – scientific understanding of human physiology, diseases, their prevention and cures are probably the cause of the greatest increase in human welfare over the past two centuries. It might well be that investments and actions based on the scientific understanding of what I call the physiology of the planet are the key to human welfare in the 21st century.
The idea that bacteria cause disease took decades to move from controversial scientific hypothesis to an unquestioned fact that has radically changed our behaviour. The anti-progress voices were defeated then, and with progress in human welfare dependent upon accepting the results of the scientific method, they must be defeated again. In climate change terms we must move from residual scepticism to the implementation of solutions to energy needs without using fossil fuels at breakneck speed. A new strategic deployment of arguments, alongside precise protests to move society into a new direction, will be key ways of getting there.