Climate Change and agreeing with George Monbiot!

 I've just listened to a rather good introduction to some of the major issues of Climate Change from someone I normally have little time for, George Monbiot.  In this audio though he scores some points in terms of the dangerous distraction of peak oil panic and the economics of climate change.  He also lays out why fossil fuels have been so incredibly useful in the development of civilisation to date and why the COP strategy is no strategy at all when you look at the underlying science.

The talk is from the counter summit at COP15 Copenhagen and is part of a podcast from 'Against the Grain' one of about 15 podcasts I regularly listen to.  Some of these are online copies of mainstream radio eg BBC 4's 'From Our Own Correspondent', some are 'alternative radio' like Doug Henwood's 'Behind the News' and quite a few are online only like 'This Week in Tech' and 'Mac Break Weekly.'  My computer downloads new shows as they are uploaded and every time I plug the phone into the computer it copies over all the new shows and deletes the ones I've listened to.  I first really got into these when in Ontario when to get to my 'local' Common Cause meeting involved a five hour round trip cycle ride from Jordan to Hamilton.  They also got me through endless Greyhound journeys around North America and nowadays the 10km cycle to work and bus and train trips around Ireland.

Anyway you can also download these and play them on your computer, the show I've just listened to was Voices from the Klimaforum which was the audio from three of the talks.  The longest segment is the George Monbiot one in which he does a pretty good job of outlining some of the recent more worrying scientific publications that apparently suggest enough ocean warming may have already occurred to end the cycle where de carbonated water rose to the surface of the oceans and absorbed some CO2 before sinking again.  If this is correct it means that any CO2 released now will probably remain in the atmosphere until the year 3000 so the whole COP strategy of overshooting the level of CO2 that would result in a moderate (2C ) increase in temperature with the intention of then sinking back to that level is a non starter.

He claims to have calculated that this means that we can only use 60% of the known reserves of conventional oil as that if the equivalent of the amount of CO2 that would produce that 2C rise.  Which he points out means that there should be a stop put on any new fossil fuel exploration (no pointing in finding what we cannot safely use) and that obviously the unconventional sources like tar sand or coal to petrol processes are disastrous.  

I'm intending to look at the original articles he is basing these figures on as there is a journalistic habit of rewriting possibilities as headline making facts.  I'll also have a look to see what replies these articles received in the following issues of Nature.  But on the face of it these numbers are quite a sobering illustration of what a complete waste of time the whole COP process has been in effecting any meaningful change,  And the big issue with Climate Change is that we cannot afford to gamble that the worst case scenario's are incorrect.  We don't have a planet B to hand to fell to is they are right.

Obviously the bit I like from his talk was his pretty hard hitting criticism of peak oil panic as a distraction from the actual problem, the huge quantities of unconventional oil and other fossil fuels.  As I mentioned in a previous blog that was one of the concluding arguments I made in the article 'The politics and reality of the peak oil scare' back in March 2007 in response to the uncritical adoption of peak oil panic by sections of the anarchist movement.  I got quite a bit of flack for that article at the time but in any case  I never get the enthusiasm some anarchists have for 'the end if neigh' type arguments, that sort of desperation is far more likely to convince people to opt for authoritarian 'solutions' that libertarian ones.

The other thing I like about Monbiot's contribution is that he open by outlining how incredibly useful fossil fuels have been to people and how they made a protracted period of technological and economic growth possible.  One of the things that has consistently put me off the environmental movement is the tendency towards the equivalent of 'hair shirt socialism,' where the gains made possible by fossil fuels are unthinkingly dismissed.  This argument is expanded on by the two other speakers in the extracts on the show.  In the last segment Andre Pugsy of the UK Camp for Climate Action highlights the need to argue against green austerity and the tendency to blame everyone equally for the problem or indeed the idea that climate change is so urgent that issue of capitalism should be pushed to one side.

The middle segment is Tadzio Muller of the Turbulance Collective who points out that the economic crisis reduced emissions by 3-5% and that we need a movement that does not just try and re start capitalism.  He lists four points coming out from the radical end of the counter summit, these were

 - that fossil fuels need to stay in the ground
- move the world economy needs to move away from expert driven agriculture which is responsible for 17-40% of emissions
- that we need to decentralise and socialise energy system to boost renewables, this also rules out nuclear power which cannot be decentralised
- that we need recognise the need for reparations for the ecological debt to the global south

I've been reading up a bit on the radical left engagement with the climate change issue and while I think there are the beginnings of an alternative approach it still all feels a little bit cobbled together and unsatisfactory.  I'm off on a holiday in a few days, I think I might use that time to try and start putting some proper thoughts together on the issue.

For those who want to listen to the show you'll find it at


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