Green Capitalism

Is it an oxymoron or just a plain dumb idea? I believe we can easily guess Rob Urie’s answer to this question:

The bottom line is one of commensurability. Economic production that produces toxic externalities like global warming, dead oceans, undrinkable water, unbreathable air, etc, depends on assigning little or no value to these. To make this very clear, Western economic ‘accounting’ places no value on these, on the most fundamental necessities of living beings, by design. As Oscar Wilde put it, a cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. This is in fact a summation of Western economics; circumscription of the ‘knowable’ world by what has had a price tag put on it. The externalized costs of capitalist production are real— more real than the stuff in stores that is only ‘cheap’ because the true costs were lobbed off on people who haven’t yet fought back. To Mr. Krugman’s argument, even if technological innovation did reduce carbon emissions the people who would reap the benefits are not the same people who will pay the consequences— more carbon emissions is more even if the rate of growth is reduced.

Global warming is but shorthand for the increasingly conspicuous fact that the quest for ‘stuff’ has turned the entire planet into a noxious garbage dump. This concern might rightly be considered effete if ‘we,’ broadly considered, could exist in the garbage that some of us have created. But as global warming suggests, we can’t. The time for gimmicks, ‘technology,’ was a half century ago. And unless you missed this, the West is still plenty rich— rich in approximate proportion to the social and environmental catastrophes that capitalism has wrought. The question today is who pays, not what the costs are.

Rain, rain, rain…

I don’t mind.

I never cared much for rain and snow. When young, precipitation interfered with my plans and they nearly always made my life more difficult. Today, however, I believe precipitation to be akin to manna from heaven. While I watch dust storms, massive wildfires, water shortages and desertification afflict so many around the world, I have learned to appreciate the easy availability of this increasingly scarce resource. Many are not as lucky.

Potable water — more value than crude oil.

We are DEVO

The New York Times reports:

Sitting in the headquarters of the Wyoming Liberty Group, Susan Gore, founder of the conservative think tank, said new national science standards for schools were a form of “coercion,” adding, “I don’t think government should have anything to do with education.”

Ms. Gore, a daughter of the founder of the company that makes Gore-Tex waterproof fabric, was speaking here weeks after the Republican-controlled Legislature made Wyoming, where coal and oil are king, the first state to reject the standards, which include lessons on human impact on global warming. The pushback came despite a unanimous vote by a group of Wyoming science educators urging acceptance. Wyoming was the first state to say no, but likely not the last. A House committee in Oklahoma last week voted to reject the standards, also in part because of concerns about how climate change would be taught.

It is noteworthy that Wyoming has the worst CO2 emissions per capita of the various states. This fact makes clear the shameless belligerence of the reactionaries. Fortunately, Wyoming is sparsely populated. But its low population density is not overly consoling since the United States as a whole emits 6.089 GtCO2 e/year (metric gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year).

But why must the reactions let the scientific consensus on this matter get in the way of their sense of entitlement and victimization?

Quote of the day

Renfrey Clarke wrote:

If the limits for adaptation to climate change of natural systems are crossed, ecosystems must soon collapse. If modern industrial capitalism were a person, he or she would be on suicide watch.

The system that has brought us quantum physics and reality television, modern medicine and the columns of Andrew Bolt is set on a course which, by all the best reckoning, points directly to its doing itself in.

If capitalism goes on — everything goes. Climate, coastlines, most living species, food supplies, the great bulk of humanity. And certainly, the preconditions for advanced civilisation, perhaps forever.

Moreover, we’re not just talking risk, in the sense of an off-chance. These are the most likely outcomes for capitalism’s current policies and performance in the area of climate change.

Having read Clarke’s article, one might conclude that the author merely made hyperbolic claims in order to serve a survivalist position. That assessment presumes that any prediction of a global ecological catastrophe — and a great extinction — overstates the case. Does it? I think not. Radical action is needed, but such action is rarely on the agenda. Rather, more of the same defines our age. This is why revolution today entails pulling hard on the emergency break (Walter Benjamin) while hoping against hope that we engaged the emergency break in time.


The anthropocene graphically depicted

Our leaders are reckless fools

Another day, and another conference in which the participants accomplish nothing meaningful:

The United Nations climate conference ambled toward a conclusion on Friday, with delegates saying that the meeting would produce no more than a modest set of measures toward a new international agreement two years from now. As usual, the biggest dispute was over money.

The talks, the 19th annual meeting of parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, opened nearly two weeks ago in the shadow of a devastating typhoon in the Philippines. The disaster added momentum to a proposal by poorer nations for the creation of a new mechanism to compensate developing countries for damage from climate-related disasters.

With the clock winding down and the talks likely to extend into Friday night, the so-called loss-and-damage proposal remained alive. But the wealthy countries that would presumably provide financing for the plan were offering a weaker alternative that would wrap it into an existing area of the climate treaty.

The dangerous and thus compelling problem we face is, of course, reducing greenhouse gas emissions around the world, not compensating some of the billions who will become victims of the growing climate chaos. But why would the 1% and their retainers work towards reducing global temperatures when going with the flow of history is much less taxing.

A bit more than 25 years has passed since James Hansen testified before Congress. What remains to be done? Everything?

Water shortage → food shortage

According to the New York Times:

Vast stretches of Texas farmland lying over the [High Plains Aquifer] no longer support irrigation. In west-central Kansas, up to a fifth of the irrigated farmland along a 100-mile swath of the aquifer has already gone dry. In many other places, there no longer is enough water to supply farmers’ peak needs during Kansas’ scorching summers.

And when the groundwater runs out, it is gone for good. Refilling the aquifer would require hundreds, if not thousands, of years of rains.

This is in many ways a slow-motion crisis — decades in the making, imminent for some, years or decades away for others, hitting one farm but leaving an adjacent one untouched. But across the rolling plains and tarmac-flat farmland near the Kansas-Colorado border, the effects of depletion are evident everywhere. Highway bridges span arid stream beds. Most of the creeks and rivers that once veined the land have dried up as 60 years of pumping have pulled groundwater levels down by scores and even hundreds of feet.

On some farms, big center-pivot irrigators — the spindly rigs that create the emerald circles of cropland familiar to anyone flying over the region — now are watering only a half-circle. On others, they sit idle altogether.

The emergence of factory farming after World War Two is the culprit in this disaster. Driven by profit-seeking investment, made sensible by blissful ignorance about our place in nature, farmers depleted the water table by using this finite resource without a concern for the limits set by this complex system. Droughts, perhaps reflecting the changes in the environment caused by the mechanisms driving global warming, only intensify this problem.

It appears we’ve reached another “Drill baby, drill” impasse, one that will resolve itself by destroying the economies which brought it into being.