Still Talking

Yesterday was a good day, out on my bike, again in ice-cold air, although the winds were light. My shadow kept me company cycling alongside; I was pushing hard and getting a lot of pleasure from my ride.

Home and the girls needed some compost to fill the metal trough they had been given and wished to plant it up with bulbs, would I go to the shop? I had a better idea the horticultural society in St Andrews said for me to help myself to their heap of compost anytime I wish. I took the trailer up and filled two bags and returned with them, another job ticked off.

I

n the afternoon I decided to tackle the sides for the rocking horse, have you ever tried to get an 8X4 sheet of ply, down a narrow corridor and into an already overcrowded bedroom, not easy, chopped 3 feet off the sheet, that’s better.  I am always surprised by the time it takes to first sketch out, make a paper template, and then use it to mark out the design onto a board of ply. Even making the little bits and pieces such as glue blocs, all take time, putting it all together is the easy part, but then it’s all part of the fun.   

Some time back I read the book “Merchants of Doubt” and if there is anyone out there that still believes we live in a democracy they should read this book, (more so if you live in the US). It shows how a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming – why they had deep connections in politics and industry, and how they ran effective campaigns to mislead the public and deny well-established scientific knowledge over four decades. The same individuals who claim the science of global warming is “Not Settled” have also denied the truth about studies linking smoking to lung cancer, coal smoke to acid rain, and CFCs to the ozone hole. “Doubt is our product”, wrote one tobacco executive. These “experts” supplied it.

The facts have been piling up for decades. And yet for some reason, we have been unable to change course. The past half-century is littered with endless inaction by governments.

The first international climate summit was held in 1979.

James Hansen, the NASA climate scientist, gave his testimony to the US Congress in 1988, explaining how the combustion of fossil fuels was driving climate breakdown.

 The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted in 1992 to set non-binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

International climate summits – the UN Congress of Parties – has been held annually since 1995 to negotiate plans for emissions reductions.

The UN framework has been extended three times, with the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, the Copenhagen Accord in 2009, and the Paris Agreement in 2015.

And yet global CO2 emissions continue to rise year on year, while ecosystems unravel, at an alarming pace.

So what’s the problem? Some point to fossil fuel companies and the vice-like grip they have on our political systems. And there is a lot of truth in that. Then we have the ‘Brown Envelopes’ being passed around our politicians and bankrolling political parties. They will either deny the science outright or will obstruct meaningful action whenever possible. It is in part their vigorous lobbying that has made international climate treaties none legally binding.

Fossil fuel companies and the politicians they have bought, in the main, have much to answer for. However, this doesn’t explain the failure to act. There’s something, even more, sinter going on. Our addiction to fossil fuels and the antics of the fossil fuel industry is only a symptom. What’s ultimately the driver is the economic system that has come to dominate more or less the entire planet over the past few centuries: CAPITALISM. That is the real enemy. 

Don’t get your knickers in a twist just yet, for before we take sides it is important to have a clear understanding of how capitalism works.

We tend to associate capitalism with ‘trade’ and ‘markets’ all innocent enough. But trade and markets have been around for thousands of years, and long before capitalism came into someone’s wet dream. For the most part trade and markets are pretty benign. What sets capitalism apart from most other economic systems is that it’s organised around constant expansion, GROWTH, measured as Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This growth is for no other purpose than for its own sake. Every sector, every national economy must grow, endlessly with no end game.  

Think of nature, a living organism will grow to a point of maturity and then maintain a state of equilibrium. When growth fails to stop it is because of a coding error – think CANCER. Capitalism may sound very natural, so not to worry, but capitalism has a built is self destruct mechanism, and not at all-natural, it will, in time self destruct. 

Under capitalism, global GDP needs to keep growing by at least 2 to 3 per cent, year on year. Three per cent growth means doubling the size of the global economy every twenty-three years and doubling it again from its already doubled state. What’s the problem, you may ask? Well, the problem is that GDP is not a figure plucked from the air. GDP growth goes hand in glove with the global economy and this links it directly to energy and resource usage.

If science is to be believed we can not possibly roll out renewable energy fast enough to keep the temperature below 1.5 per cent or even 2 per cent – if growth is to be maintained, it’s just not possible.

There is another problem, if we ever did manage 100 per cent clean energy, yes it will help reduce CO2 into the atmosphere, but as we saw earlier, this is not the problem only the symptoms. To continue with growth, we will continue to extract, and at an ever-increasing rate, that is what capitalism demands. So all the technology in the world and all the clean energy in the world will not arrest – deforestation, overfishing, soil depletion, or mass extinction – clean energy will not stop the ecological disaster that befouls us.

However, the only reason world leaders continue with a capitalist economy that if growth stops – capitalism collapses. If capitalism collapses, we then end up in a recession, debts pile up, and people lose their jobs, their homes their healthcare, in essence, shattered lives and a shattered society. And that is why, no matter the colour of the political party, they all speak with one voice, capitalism is the only game in town, and the media will continue to assure you that all is well because the economy grow by X per cent last quarter, but as Greta Thunberg said, endless economic growth is a fairy tales.

It’s a paradox, capitalism is the cause of the collapse of our ecosystem (and our planet) but if we kill off capitalism we bring a different kind of collapse in on ourselves.

Certainly, technology will absolutely be essential in the battle to save the ecological devastation that will inevitably come to our planet, but it is no silver bullet or panacea.   

If cleaner energy is not the answer, if technology is not the answer, neither being able to stop us from pulling ever-greater swathes of nature into a circuit of extraction and production, where does that leave us?

Where we are now is at a point where we have overshot what science has told us in a safe boundary. And this is why Greta Thunberg’s words will come back again and again to haunt us.

“We are at the beginning of mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of endless economic growth. How dare you!”

In one line, she put the truth out there for all to see.

I am franticly looking for answers to our dilemma, and I may have found a few to share on my next blog. So pull your head out of the gas oven, and get your box of tissues handy, for I’m a sucker for happy endings.

Stay safe.

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