This is a series of reports from guest contributor Alex Carlin about his observations from the United Nation’s 24th annual climate “conference of the parties” (COP) in Poland from December 3 to 14. All opinions expressed are his own. Please bookmark this page and check it for regular dispatches from the field about what’s happening on the ground at these critical negotiations. –Editors
Summation: Climate Restoration and the Heart of Coal
Dec. 20, 2018 — What was accomplished at COP 24? The main official task was to create binding “rules” on how to implement the Paris Agreement (PA). The PA is famous for its getting the world to bring down CO2 emissions. But it also provided that the rich countries must give development money to the underdeveloped countries to help them leapfrog over the fossil fuel stage to kickstart their renewable energy systems. Plus, they agreed in the PA to pay for some portion of the damages wrought by Climate Ruin, the destruction in the poor countries that the rich countries are almost entirely the cause of. We waited to find out: will the rich countries pay up, or will they throw the poor countries under the bus?
Here are some opinions on what transpired:
In Katowice, the interests of rich people in rich countries dictated that, whatever the cost, it will be borne by the world’s poor, rather than those responsible — the world’s rich and rich countries — who have abandoned their moral and legal obligations yet again. –Antonio Zambrano Allende, Clean Energy Coordinator of the Citizen Movement Against Climate Change (MOCICC)
Worse still, rich countries are even trying to turn developing countries into donors, completely shifting the responsibility to those who have contributed the least to the climate crisis. It’s as if they came into my home, burnt it down, and are now asking me to pay. –Lidy Nacpil, Coordinator of the Asian People’s Movement on Debt and Development
The United States’ fingerprints are all over this outcome … the biggest polluter in history and the world’s current largest oil producer telling developing countries ‘you have the same responsibilities as we do’ while at the same time blocking progress on the necessary technology transfer and finance support. They have always said their way of life is not up for negotiation. They would rather trade away the right of the rest of the world to live. –Meena Raman, legal expert at Third World Network
The United States may be the official voice of Big Polluters at the climate talks but junior partners like Australia, Japan, and the EU have all been working hard to write a set of rules that do nothing to narrow their profit margins and everything to shift the burden to poor and vulnerable communities everywhere. The result is millions will be condemned to losing their homes, livelihoods, and even their lives. This is not only moral and political cowardice but a crime against people. The rulebook is the tail and the Paris Agreement is the dog. One should control the other. But in Katowice we have seen a cynical and coordinated attempt by developed countries, led by the United States, to have the tail wag the dog by using the rulebook to do what they couldn’t do in Paris — completely remove any recognition of their greater responsibilities. –Asad Rehman, Director of War on Want
We stand on the brink of catastrophe because corporate interests and fossil fuel money have infiltrated the climate talks to perpetuate the dirty energy system regardless of the cost for people and planet. The fact that Shell boasted this week of how it helped to write the Paris Agreement is only more evidence of this reality. We urgently need to fund real solutions, not waste time with dangerous distractions. But here we saw Brazil hold up the talks to allow speculators to profit off its forests through carbon credits. Carbon trading is a failed policy, and that Brazil is trying to manipulate it here is just another example of why. That Brazil is prepared to copy the Trump playbook and push ideas that are obviously contrary to real climate action at these talks bodes badly for future progress. –Sara Shaw, Co-Coordinator of Friends of the Earth International
At the bitter end of COP 24, as the rules negotiations dragged on into the night, I caught sight of a particularly forlorn, sleep-deprived but stoic delegate. It was Madam Madeleine Rose Diouf, the Chief of the Climate Division at the Ministry of the Environment for Senegal, taking a break, coming up for air. I had interviewed her last year at COP 23 in Germany. I asked her what was really going on, the inside scoop, in these negotiations. With an expression that evinced extreme sorrow for the Climate Victims, and a pained exasperation with the Climate Perpetrators, she told me, “they are too selfish.”
That’s the bad news. But the value of the COP process is far more than what goes on in official sessions. COP brings together amazing climate advocates from all over this planet, creating a unique forum for meeting face-to-face, for discussing and making the plans that will carry us to where we need to go, whether the officials like it or not.
Last year at COP 23 in Germany, I met the founder of a group of leading citizens that is calling for nothing less than the complete restoration of our good healthy climate. They have a plan to bring our atmosphere back to less than 300 parts per million of CO2 (because above 300 is ruinous) by 2050, and ways to preserve the Arctic ice. Their name is Healthy Climate Alliance (HCA).
This week I asked Peter Fiekowsky, their founder, “Peter, many people observing the COP process sense that it will never deliver what the scientists tell us it must deliver. Is this because of the way COP frames the issue? Please describe HCA’s proposal for a better way to frame it. And, the most important question is: How do you plan to get COP to actually do this reframing?”
PF: Not only is the COP process not delivering on what scientists say it must deliver, it’s not delivering on what we, as people, want it to deliver. And this explains why we’re not making sufficient progress on the climate. As people, that is, as humanity, we want to give our children and future generations the same climate we were given, what we had a hundred years ago. That is the climate our species evolved for. Anything warmer puts our civilization’s survival at significant or grave risk.
The COP process, as it stands today, is aiming to “substantially reduce the risks and effects of climate change.” This may be a noble goal, but it is ill-defined and it does not assure us that our planet will be livable for our grandchildren. In today’s world with horrible floods, droughts, and wildfires, and tens of millions of climate refugees already, and likely a billion by the end of the century, the best-case future proposed by the COP process is actually quite grim.
HCA is working to change the COP frame to include a specific and meaningful goal of climate restoration: restoring the climate to conditions for which our species and civilization evolved, which requires getting atmospheric CO2 back below 300 ppm, and restoring the Arctic ice, both by 2050. These specific goals are achievable, in large part because they are specific. Being specific means that projects can be selected, designed, and managed to achieve those outcomes.
We have two parallel approaches to getting COP to include the goal of climate restoration in their framing. First, we are inviting the communities most at risk, such as the small island developing nations, to ask the UN to add this goal. Second, we are promoting the three projects which can achieve those results: Sequestering carbon by converting it to carbonate rock, especially synthetic limestone, which is already being sold as a replacement for quarried limestone; sequestering carbon by restoring ocean photosynthesis and resulting fishery health; and lastly, Arctic ice restoration. Together, these three projects, which require minimal public financing, can get CO2 back below 300 ppm and restore the Arctic ice to prevent catastrophic melting of permafrost. When people see these solutions being implemented, they will see that climate restoration is a sensible goal.
Yes, why should we settle and shoot for the “least bad disaster,” which is a losing framework embodied in the current inadequate COP goal of “let’s try to stabilize at 1.5 to 2 degrees Centigrade warmer?” Clearly, once we have seen the ways to achieve it, it’s better to shoot for a complete climate restoration.
An example of a winning attitude, and a proposal to achieve a major chunk of climate restoration, comes from Robert Tulip, who worked for the Australian Agency for International Development for nearly thirty years, and is now promoting Iron Salt Aerosol (ISA). Robert’s ocean-based method to draw down greenhouse gases has been developed together with European scientists Franz Dietrich Oeste and Renaud de Richter. It shares a lot of concepts with Ocean Pasture Restoration (OPR), but rather than going out on boats and restoring trace levels of iron by distributing iron sulphate as a powder or a liquid, Robert’s method burns tiny particles of iron compounds into flues which propel the iron about one kilometer high. Then, after falling with the rain to the surface of the ocean, the iron restores the oceans’ robust photosynthesis, as in OPR, which removes CO2 from the air. But, during the time that it is higher up in the sky, the ISA reacts with sunlight to perform a supremely crucial task: it converts a significant amount of methane to carbon dioxide, cutting that CO2’s global warming potential by about 97%. How? Iron oxide reacts with naturally occurring hydrogen chloride, produced by sea salt. The resulting iron chloride releases a chlorine radical atom as a result of solar ultraviolet light in the day time, and then gets the chlorine atom back at night. That free chlorine breaks down methane and other greenhouse gases.
Robert says, “My interest in ISA builds upon ten years of analysis of large scale ocean-based algae production as a carbon removal method. I hope it will emerge as a practical low-cost climate change solution. I have not seen any criticism of ISA that makes any sense. The critiques I have seen appear more political than technical, since they raise hypothetical questions which could be resolved through field trials and computer modelling.”
Russ George is a man who has done more for Climate Restoration than anybody else that I have met — and I met him at a COP. By land, as he recently told me, “My treeplanting company that I founded in 1971 has planted more than 100 million trees. I have by my own hands, blood, sweat, and joy planted something like 1 million trees.” By sea, he developed John Martin’s pioneering theory of Ocean Pasture Restoration, and then went out in the field and performed it with great success. His holistic approach to ecology and climate is endlessly instructive, as is his website.
Fortunately, once we commit to fully restoring our climate, we will work out the best ways to do it. We will find the best ways to reduce emissions, the best ways to remove CO2 and methane, and the best ways to refreeze the Arctic. And, with things getting so serious, we also need the best ways to find comic relief: Is there anything funny about watching the skullduggery of the Polish Coal Industry as they try to prolong their existence? Well, if not comedy, sometimes the corporate drive to squeeze the last drop of profit from a dying industry can reach unimaginable peaks of surrealism and absurdly bad taste. Especially in the belly of the COP 24 complex, where many countries had installed their “pavilions,” supposedly in the spirit of world solidarity to put a final end to coal. The Polish Pavilion was proudly dominated by a grossly vulgar and incongruous exhibition: a celebration of their beloved coal, presented as a friendly fetish item in various boxes and bins. The height of their chutzpah was the Tiffany & Co. 5th Avenue-style glass display case modeling a pendant with its jewel: a fat chunk of coal, blithely carved into the shape of a heart.
Finally, rising from loathsomeness to a level of lowbrow tragicomedy, Trump sent his henchmen to extol the virtues of fossil fuels at a COP 24 event, where it was met with “guffaws of laughter.” To paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi: First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then you laugh at them, then you win.
Dec. 17, 2018 — Marx, Lenin, Shakespeare, Aristotle, the Bible, Plato, Freud, Noam Chomsky, Hegel, and Cicero. They were the top ten most cited authors in the Arts and Humanities Citation Index between 1980 and 1992. One of these ten was speaking, via video, to a COP 24 event today. Can you guess which one?
It was Shakespeare. Just kidding. You knew it was Noam Chomsky. And when Noam talks, people listen. Why? Because again and again, during his 90 years on this Earth, Noam has proven to be the very best at cutting through the confusion, zeroing in on the most important points, exposing the perpetrators of the pathologies, and prescribing the parameters of what we can do about it. And when he makes his case he backs it up with oceans of data and encyclopedic evidence.
Forget easy targets like Reagan and Trump. Chomsky will mercilessly, but accurately, show where John F. Kennedy and other haloed figures have gone rogue. He invoked Saint JFK to illustrate how our Climate Movement can grow into a force big enough to get the job done:
NC: “I can remember myself when Kennedy sharply escalated the war in 1961 and ’62. He sent the U.S. Air Force to start bombing South Vietnam. Authorized chemical warfare programs to destroy the crops and livestock. Began programs to drive ultimately millions of people into what amounted to concentration camps and urban slums. No protest, no comment. Barely reported. The few of us who were concerned were doing things literally like talking to a group of people in somebody’s living room. Maybe a church with half a dozen people or something like that. It built up. Many people got involved, others became organized, there were resistance groups. By 1967 there was a mass popular movement.”
I asked him, by email, about strategy and tactics for improving the COP process:
AC: “Shell Oil boasted that they wrote some key rules at Paris, and also here at COP 24. A lot of people say this “fox guarding the henhouse” corruption is a main reason why COP will never produce a plan to avoid Climate Ruin. But even if the “fox” fossil fuel industry was banned from the COP process, as the “fox” tobacco companies were banned from the WHO Tobacco Treaty negotiations, the governments (the “Parties” to COP) are so intertwined with the fossil fuel industry that, in practice, they act, with not enough exceptions, as one and the same, as “foxes.” So, what is your advice for making the COP process deliver a plan that does what science tells us we must do?”
NC: “Large-scale public activism and pressure. The only weapon the public has.”
In his COP 24 presentation, Professor Chomsky did an excellent job of finding just the right words to accurately describe a level of urgency that is now nearing infinity:
NC: “We are facing a very serious crisis. The most significant one that has arisen in human history. The decent existence of future generations is very much at stake, and we have the responsibility of determining whether they will have a liveable existence or not. It’s as serious as that.”
Chomsky also described a dilemma, where one horn is the natural desire to respond to an extreme urgency with extreme actions, which he says would be “justified.” He went on to explain the other horn:
NC: “The other horn of the dilemma is that we have to face the reality of the world. We have to find ways of reacting that are not only justified, but are also feasible and effective. So, for example, it would be entirely justified to send the most powerful person in the world, the president of the United States, to The Hague for trial for severe crimes against humanity, and many lesser figures as well. That would be justified. It’s not feasible, it’s not effective.”
So, what would be feasible and effective?
NC: “The effective approach is not simply to say, look, there is a dire emergency, you have to change everything you do. That’s not going to work. What has to be done is to approach people explaining that the situation is serious, is likely to be catastrophic unless we do something, and then go on to show, what in effect is true, that efforts to deal with it are within range, and will in fact make your life better. They’re not going to destroy your life, and we’d be much better off living in a green economy. You’d be much better off not spending three hours a day fighting traffic jams, if you had an efficient mass transportation system. You’d be better off if you didn’t have to take your kids to the doctor because they are suffering from asthma because they can’t breath the air. If we had potable water. Yes, things would be better if we had an environment in which the people could survive, and live decent lives, everyone would be better off. There are things that we can do, there are things that are being done. From talking to your neighbor, to installing LED lights, to political action, to demonstrating, to bringing the dire character of the existing circumstances to general understanding. All of these things are within range. There can be no delay in executing them. These are the most significant questions that the human species has ever faced. We have to face them now, we cannot wait.”
Noam several times repeated the need to be thoughtful, as we sublimate the tremendous anger and rage that we will certainly feel as we confront the many slings and arrows of outrageous opposition to restoring the climate. Referring to the actions of the Trump Administration, he said:
NC: “The underlying assumption [of the Trump policies] of course is that everyone in the world is as criminally insane as [the Trump Administration] is, and nobody’s going to do anything about it, putting poor Nero in the shadows, the one who fiddled while Rome burns. That’s the world that we face, and we have to understand it, deal with it, grit our teeth, approach the problems constructively, effectively, and in a way that is feasible.”
Warning against tactics that are too drastic because they might alienate people, Chomsky emphasized that big actions should nonetheless have a prominent place in our toolbox:
NC: “Major dramatic actions are very much in order. For instance, create a general strike, regular massive protest. All these things are important. But they have to be shaped and geared so that, instead of being offensive to people, they energize and mobilize them. That’s the way they have to be developed, organized, and run. Actions like Extinction Rebellion, the School Strike, the Earth Strike aiming for a General Strike. All of these things can be in parallel with efforts to introduce legislation to improve renewable energy, to cut back sharply on the use of fossil fuels, to end the insane expansion of fossil fuel exploration. All of that has to be done at the same time.”
Last month I wrote an article about the need to remove the existing one trillion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere, because it is a lethal overdose. Noam read the article, and replied, “Glad to see that you are emphasizing decarbonization — as you say, little discussed, and essential.”
Chomsky’s inspiring talk was organized by the ecological strategist Stuart Scott and his merry band of Jedi called ScientistsWarning.org. Their mission is the “protection and preservation of Life on Earth.” This is how they see it:
At some point we realize that humanity has strayed down a rabbit hole from which it cannot seem to emerge. This quagmire is the quasi-religious belief in the Church of Consumerism, with its clergy of advertising executives, bankers and economists, corporate CEOs, politicians, etc. We have evolved a defective ‘operating system’ that insists on infinite, accelerating economic growth despite the ecological costs — namely the destruction of Nature.
You can join their efforts to re-emerge from the rabbit hole by going to their website. They have some luminous board members, including Dr. William Rees, originator of the concept of ‘ecological footprint,’ and Dr. William (Bill) Ripple, lead author of the proclamation that gave them their name: World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity — Second Notice.
Some say it should be called “Final Notice.”
It is impossible to overstate Stuart’s contribution to COP 24. He went to Arizona to video Chomsky. Every weekday for two weeks at 3 p.m., at the large “Katowice Press Conference Room,” he staged a must-see event, bringing in the likes of Dr. Peter Wadhams, the premier professor on Arctic ice who combines impeccable academic work with that indispensable rarity: he makes innumerable field trips under and over the Arctic ice to measure it, and to let us know accurately how much ice is left, which corresponds to how much time you and I have left.
Other presentations included two intrepid members of the UK based Extinction Rebellion; Greta Thunberg, the 15-year-old sensational catalyst of the worldwide School Strikes; and Hugh Hunt, the brilliant climate engineer from Cambridge; to mention a few. And for the finale, Stuart unveiled our very own Yoda, Professor Noam Chomsky.
The Population Bomb and the Immigration Boom
Dec. 14, 2018 — Restoring a healthy climate will require massive changes across the entire spectrum of the human endeavor. Everything is on the table, and every person on this planet is involved. There are some big tasks: everybody changing from a meat-based diet to a plant-based diet, and finding a way to end the fossil fuel industry before they end us. Then there are some bigger tasks: bringing emissions down to near zero, removing one trillion tons of CO2 from the skies, and refreezing the Arctic ice. And don’t forget that we must improve our attitude — all these tasks are possible, and we are going to achieve all of them!
But what can each of us individually do to avoid emitting greenhouse gases? A recent study says, if you live in a developed country, the third most effective thing to do is to cancel that transatlantic flight, which spares the air about 1.6 tons of carbon. Second best is if you ditch your gas car, then you will spare us about 2.4 tons of carbon every year. And what is the very best thing you can do? For each child that you do not bring into this world, you will spare us 58.6 tons of carbon every year. Yes, almost 25 times more effective than losing the car. It’s huge because this statistic is properly figuring in the emissions that would have been generated by the progeny of each extra child.
Of course, the climate benefits from reduced births will take some decades to really kick in, while emissions reduction needs to start right now.
Nonetheless, let’s look to 2050, when what we do now about population will indeed be very significant, as the level of misery that we will face in 2050 due to Climate Ruin will be worse for every extra footprint, especially from feet wearing Gucci shoes.
Controlling the population growth of the ruling class can be extremely effective for greenhouse gas emissions reduction. According to Kevin Anderson, chair of energy and climate change at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester,
10 percent of the global population are responsible for 50 percent of global emissions, or 20 percent of the global population are responsible for 70 percent of all global emissions. This tells us that we need to be tailoring our policies towards that small group, rather than trying to squeeze the emissions out of the majority of the world’s population, who are hardly emitting anything at all. If you look at the typical American, they’re going to be emitting something like 30 to 35 tons, 30 to 35 tons for the average American, compared with 0.1-ish for the average Rwandan. So you’re seeing a massive difference between those two.
Even so, population multiplies every bad effect. But oddly enough, we rarely hear about the population bomb these days. In the 1960s it was the byword and the buzzword of the green movement. Back in the 1990s, President Clinton’s “Council on Sustainable Development” served up these amazing statistics, given to me here at COP 24 by Rob Harding, Outreach Director of ScientistsWarning.org, a “global constituency for united action comprised of individuals and organizations concerned about the future of humanity and life on Earth.”
Every year, almost 60 percent of all pregnancies and 40 percent of all births in the United States are either mistimed or unwanted. Some 30 million American women are estimated to be at risk for an unintended pregnancy. One third of these women do not use contraceptives, and the unhappy consequence is that half of all unintended pregnancies occur to these women…. More than 80 percent of the one million teen pregnancies every year are unintended.
So, it would seem, there is some low-hanging fruit in this crisis. Rob was indeed optimistic about our chances for bringing down these unwanted, unplanned, and unintended births. I asked him:
AC: “Well then, Rob, how do you suggest we lower the population?”
RH: “Education. Educating women and girls, family planning, talking about the benefits to people and planet. Demand that school curriculum includes this. And with education more generally, we should demand that schools teach ecocentrism versus anthropocentrism, that humans are but one of many species, as a foundational point of education. We must promote conscious consumption vs. conspicuous consumption, and voluntary simplicity, especially for over-consuming countries. The problem is that we are not having the conversation about population, it is suppressed.”
Rob is leading an international campaign seeking a new UN treaty on population. For me it’s like a déjà vu all over again, and I can’t really believe something so obviously crucial has been missing in action for so many years. Fortunately, it already has a lot of support.
Rob continued: “The subject of population has been neglected for decades. Societies around the world need to function within ecological limits. Global Footprint Network does country-specific research on biocapacity. They measure ecological footprints around the world, country-specific data. For the USA, the data suggests that, based on how the renewable resources, the natural capital, are leveraged, at the pace that it is generating, not taking into account the non-renewable resources: the sustainable population of the USA is about 145 million people. But today the population is already 330 million, and in 2060 it can rise to 400 million.”
Increases in population come from births and immigration. This brings us to the Immigration Boom. My gut tells me that there should be no border controls at all, in that I do not see where anybody has the right to draw a line on the ground and tell his fellow human, “you cannot cross that line.” But I do respect the point, made by Bernie Sanders and others, that the nation-state system can serve to keep worker’s wages from a plunging in a race to the bottom. That is, if there were no nations, the labor market might go into a free-fall where we could see wages dropping to 2 dollars per hour. So, we do need this conversation to proceed on these issues.
But assuming that we will continue to have borders, here is the climate action that we can do immediately: People living in a rich country have a much bigger carbon footprint than people in a less developed country. Therefore, to keep people in low-footprint countries, we should spend liberally on whatever it takes to improve the situation in the Global South so that people will not want or need to emigrate. Anyway, most of these would-be émigrés would love to stay in their homelands, if it were not for the fact that they are fleeing violence and repression, or that their economies have been shredded and need some wise green investment. Of course, these problems are to a great extent generating from the Global North. So, the Global North, by investing their ample capital on a Green New Deal for the Global South, and by not supporting repressive regimes, can slow down migration, while helping these countries develop clean energy to avoid Climate Ruin.
Rob told me that, regarding migration, the fact that the USA is today suited for a maximum of 145 million people means that “we must limit immigration well below today’s record numerical level. There are sensible limits to any finite land mass, every area has limits.” He also invoked “lifeboat” theory, that certain rich countries are like lifeboats for the planet, and we must not sink them with too many people jumping into them. While I respectfully disagree, Rob is making a very strong and valid point. The USA actually did in fact stabilize their population a few decades ago at about 250 million people. Liberal immigration policy, not births, is indeed the reason why they suffer the considerable stresses of an extra 100 million people. That is quite a lot more urban sprawl and myriad pressures that push the natural life support systems to the edge.
I do see his point of safeguarding a still relatively well-functioning society, a nation that is as important on this planet as it gets. My position does involve putting that nation at risk. But whereas a lifeboat becomes useless when it is overfilled and sinks, I do not see why an influx of people would totally sink a nation. And so, in my view, as almost all countries are overpopulated, I see us as being all in the same boat and so, we will all sink or swim together.
The Corporate-Government Nexus
Dec. 12, 2018 — In earlier blogs I have discussed the idea that the bottleneck causing the lack of ambition in the COP process is due to the meddling of the fossil fuel industries in the COP planning stages. I was able to get a deeper understanding of that dynamic when I attended a panel discussion with high-level officials from the UNEP, WTO, the Polish government, and the IMF on “The Roles of Fiscal Policy, Financial Markets, and Trade in Implementing the Paris Agreement.”
During the question and answer period I asked the panel, “When the UN World Health Organization was drafting their treaty to ban the tobacco companies from marketing cigarettes to children, they were stymied until they finally told the tobacco companies they must leave the negotiating room. Do you agree that COP should tell the same thing to the fossil fuel industries?”
Tomasz Chruszczow (surname pronounced like Soviet Premier Nikita “Khrushchev”) is the Special Envoy for Climate Change for the Polish Ministry of the Environment, and his business card says he is a High Level Climate Champion. He answered with the sparkle of a champion:
TC: “It is not correct to say that the businesses participate in the negotiations anyhow. Observers like many others, they are mostly quite interested in hearing what is the direction in which the world will be taken after the agreement will be adopted. Because this is a universal agreement it means that jurisdictions where they are active will have to adjust to what is agreed internationally. That’s the normal way of implementing international treaties that are legally binding.
Manufacturing, mining, food processing — industry as a whole has to change. But investments have to be shifted and investors are rational people. They will not invest in stranded assets, they will rather invest in the assets that will have a future. So, there is a lot of fear that these bad guys from oil companies are having big influences. They do have some influence, especially if the countries are oil-dependent and when they are part of the administration because the oil company is state-owned. We have a few examples of such countries, but does it mean that we should exclude those countries from the negotiations? Of course not. Everybody needs to be part of the solution. And that is the most important feature of this negotiation, that it has to offer some space for everybody. It’s not to make everybody comfortable. It is to make everybody able to operate and prepare their own transition plan. And even the countries that are most dependent on oil exports are very actively preparing their own transition plans. It will take more time. So they will be protesting against solutions that would make them change immediately. Because it simply won’t work for them. They cannot change from Monday to Tuesday, or even from 2018 to 2025. Maybe if ‘to 2035’ something will be possible.”
AC: “But nature doesn’t negotiate.”
TC: “Of course you are right, but we are not negotiating nature. We are negotiating here how to develop, and how to act globally, taking into account that some countries can do much more. Some countries are blessed with water hydropower like Brazil or Sweden, in general Northern countries. Other countries are still dependent on fossil fuels and they need time to change it. They need time to invest, they need money to invest.”
AC: “If this was 1968 this would make sense, but we have one trillion tons of CO2 in the atmosphere, right now today, and that’s enough to cook us.”
TC: “I can agree with you. But are we going to switch a country off?”
AC: “We have the technology.”
A few panelists jumped in to say that if we tried to make the big transition from fossil fuels to renewables on this very evening then the lights would go off and we would be unable to drive to our hotels. Before I could respectfully move them off their straw man argument, Tomasz gave us the bottom line:
TC: “The goal is carbon neutrality by 2050 mid-century, and that is the true challenge, and this is what we, I am sure, are able to collectively, globally achieve.”
Well, “carbon neutrality” means the polluter can continue emitting CO2 if they pay enough money on the carbon market, something I consider a “false solution.” If I hadn’t already used up my “question quota” I would have asked them about it.
To wrap up the event, the moderator, Eric Usher, the head of the UN Environment Program Finance Initiative, told us some interesting news.
EU: “Shell Oil last week announced, under investor pressure, that they would align with the Paris Agreement. By default, this means you are not going to be an oil company anymore. Of course, the question is ‘how quickly?’ Interestingly, the plan to align with Paris ties to executive compensation. So, basically, people will be incentivized, their pay check will be tied to how fast they align. These are important steps forward. Part of the challenge is that if Shell does not develop an oil field, will somebody else do it? This is where we need leadership from the industry to show it’s possible.”
The next day I followed up by interviewing one of the panelists, Mark Radka, the Chief of the Energy & Climate Branch of the Economy Division of the UN Environment Program.
MR: “The science is pretty clear, that we need to have deep emission reductions. The challenge is that all countries are not at the same level of how much they can cut immediately. It’s pretty clear that a lot of renewable energy technologies exist, and the financing would be available. So how can we develop a better consensus that we all need to be pulling in the same direction on deep emissions reductions?”
AC: “Where is the weak link in the chain?”
MR: “What came out last night at our panel discussion is that each country is at a different starting point. And you made a good point that nature doesn’t distinguish. That works a couple of ways. The science of climate change doesn’t respect national boundaries, but regarding the natural endowment of renewable energy not all countries are created equally. That’s a bit of a dilemma in a negotiation when it’s based on the UN system of nation states and numbers — the cards are not dealt out equally.”
AC: “Are you keeping your eye on the big picture, that, for avoiding Climate Ruin, the numbers will add up?”
MR: “Absolutely. We are pleased that our ‘Emissions GAP’ report is eagerly awaited. We are driven by the science. We point out that the gap between what countries are committed to and what the science tells us leaves us with a big and growing gap.”
AC: “How do you close the gap?”
MR: “I think what we need is a greater coming together of all the forces that are really going to be needed to pull it off. We all agree on the long-term goal. We will need to make a part of the solution parts of the incumbent energy industry that are convinced that they need to change. Eric Usher made the point yesterday that, when you say as a company that you are going to align with the Paris Agreement, that essentially means that you see a future where your business model has to be completely different.”
AC: “But Usher said that the big question is ‘after how much time?’ If they delay past what science is telling us is safe, what are the scenarios you envision for these fossil fuel companies? Do you discuss dismantling or nationalization?”
MR: “Dismantling and nationalization, no, and you can understand why we don’t. We talk about the physical scenarios for nations, getting new technology, at what pace and scale. We have meetings where we discuss what different parts contribute, so, how much could you gain by reversing deforestation, or doing reforestation, how much can you gain by improving agricultural production. We focus broadly on environmental issues, how to do farming that reduces water use, that reduces pesticide use, that reduces methane emissions from rice production.”
AC: “That’s great as long as you are taking care of business, and the overall framework is such that we avoid Climate Ruin. But that is precisely what people ‘outside’ sense is not happening, so they mobilize. And they talk about getting the fossil fuel companies out of the COP process. But, as Tomasz said, the tobacco treaty model of throwing out the corporations will not work because of the intertwining of corporation and government. The governments and the corporations are too much one and the same. And with COP, the parties are the governments. So who are you going to throw out?”
MR: “That tobacco treaty was an interesting point you raised yesterday.”
AC: “So, what do you and your colleagues think about the big picture?”
MR: “Everyone in my organization is worried about the future.”
AC: “What is the way to a livable future?”
MR: “The news on renewable energy prices, technology and availability. Look around the world, the fact that new renewables beat existing coal. We must really push them. We need more evidence to get the policy makers to be comfortable with taking the decision to really go for a renewable energy future.”
AC: “Do you talk about getting rid of subsidies for fossil fuel and giving it to renewables?”
MR: “Yes we talk about that. We call it ‘fossil fuel subsidy reform.'”
AC: “Can the market work, the invisible hand? At the end of the day, would the climate math add up?
MR: “It’s a good question. I would hope it adds up. I think what we need to do, where we come down on the ‘old versus new industry’ is: I’d rather that we identify those companies that do see that the future has to be different and are committed to making change, making change at a fast enough pace, and urging them along, making it easier for them to change rapidly.”
AC: “You mean, make it easier for Shell Oil to become a wind company?”
MR: “Yes, that sort of future.”
AC: “An energy company rather than an oil company.”
MR: “Yes, absolutely. Some of them I think are moving in that direction. What you need to do is separate those for whom it is a sincere desire, and it’s not an easy shift.”
AC: “But what would you do to the bad ones?”
MR: “Public pressure, government pressure, let the stock market and investors send signals.”
AC: “Create blockchain banks that have rules against financing companies that emit more than X amount of greenhouse gases?”
MR: “If you believe in market solutions that might be an interesting one. To see if the market, broadly, without intermediaries, would send the right kind of signals. Fair trade coffee on a large scale.”
With that, we finished our cappuccinos, courtesy of the French Pavilion, which was across from the booth where we were sitting courtesy of Serbia.
Redlining the Fossil Fuel Industry
Dec. 11, 2018 — As we pass the halfway mark of COP 24, I realize that, now more than ever, to avoid Climate Ruin we need to think outside the box. Science says that the fossil fuel industry needed to cease yesterday, since today’s greenhouse gas concentrations are already high enough to bring terror to our lives. Thinking inside the box, it seems inconceivable that they will cease anytime soon, despite the fact that they are well aware of the misery their business plan will bring us. So, how can we end their reign of terror?
Let’s do some brainstorming. Let’s give the Pentagon a new mission: defeat Climate Terror, namely the fossil fuel industry, whose emissions are far more likely to kill your family than some impoverished human on the other side of the planet. Let’s use that nearly trillion dollar military budget to defeat those dastardly companies that are terrifying us in their drive for profits at the expense of our well-being.
I arrived at another outside-the-box remedy for Climate Ruin when I visited the Russian Pavilion. Here I saw a refreshing sight — a presentation by Russians who, for a change, were not busy selling off their natural resources, but instead were evincing that intelligence that was so well manifested in their decades of dominance of the world of chess: they were extolling the virtues of “Industry 4.0,” the fourth industrial revolution, and the beauty of the blockchain.
Their leader is Alexey Shadrin. His companies are Evercity, DAO IPCI, and the Russian Carbon Fund. He told me that, “We see the potential to end the fossil fuel era by harnessing the power of technologies that are emerging in the minds of the genius young people around us right now. Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, and other technologies empower people across the globe by disrupting the monopoly of corporations. The real change will come from young and idealistic people equipped with the “Industry 4.0″ technology stack. Our aim is to help them do their job and succeed together.”
Luckily, I have a mentor who helps me unpack all these new and exciting developments, Angus Joseph, a member of the “ArtivistNetwork.” Angus is currently in Indonesia running a secondary COP node called the Jakarta JungleHouse, a ten-day school that is working towards building a parallel process and approach to the COP process. I met Angus at COP 20 in Lima, Peru, and at COP 23 last year in Bonn. He knows quite a lot about the beauty of blockchain.
Angus is exactly the genius that Alexey has in mind, perfect for the job of disrupting the monopoly of corporations. With an eye to ending the fossil fuel era, Angus told me his vision of the “Decentralized Blockchain Bank” or DBB. These banks are run by their users. In a world where the banks are DBBs, and if the majority of the DBB’s users are against investing in the fossil fuel industry, then it would quickly be the final curtain for that industry.
How soon could DBBs displace our current banks? There are many good reasons for the world’s population to take their money out of traditional banks and put it into DBBs. One reason, remittances, came to the fore when I was thinking about my Monthly Action for Climate (see blog #1). If one of the monthly actions is for everybody to give one euro to a village suffering from Climate Ruin, in today’s world of banking you would be faced with losing a huge chunk of that euro to bank fees or to Western Union. But, with the DBB system, the fee would be tiny. And this is a huge factor worldwide, because in many countries workers have a big problem trying to send remittances to their faraway families, as they face losing a very big percentage of their hard-earned money to money transfer fees. DBBs will be warmly welcomed by millions of these workers.
Another great feature of DBBs will be the “smart contract.” DBBs will invest and lend to projects that can gain a consensus from the “users,” that is, you and I and all those who use the bank. The criteria for this consensus can include, for example, that the project will not emit more than a certain amount of greenhouse gases. When we try such conditions with today’s banking system, there is a real concern that the project may violate the rules. With DBB smart contracts, funds are only released when there is full compliance to the rules.
With the blockchain there is a great feature of transparency. The users of the DBB can see and track, online, all transactions and all related events, such as greenhouse gas emissions, that have value, positive or negative. In underdeveloped countries especially, this problem of corporate shenanigans is a major issue, as they don’t place much trust in organizations and corporations, due to bad experiences. That problem is resolved by the transparency of the DBBs.
Overall, DBBs have the advantage of being “cryptographically secure,” meaning the blockchain preserves the data in a way that can not be hacked because it is distributed to all the users, as opposed to being mostly in a central location.
I asked one of the Russians presenting there, Sergei Lonshakov (Blockchain developer, Robonomics), about the DBBs. He told me with some glee that, “Banks on blockchain are just 100 lines of code — it is very simple!” Sergei also spotlighted an important point about trying to make immense changes in our world. He said that for this we need to “establish a new kind of social institution that is transparent and open to everybody, without an authority (such as corporate structure, or a CEO dictating things), and without problems of trust (such as not knowing if the data is accurate).” The blockchain brings this possibility to the table.
The point is that with blockchain, and its way of storing and distributing data, thereby distributing power to everybody, the business of banking can change from being just another business to becoming a social institution that creates a platform for solving problems such as Climate Ruin.
Their colleague Alisher Khassanov (Industrial engineer, Airalab) fleshed out this point. I mentioned how, in the current system, companies willy-nilly use the skies as their free dumping ground for greenhouse gases. Alisher explained how the blockchain will “measure the value of the trouble, show the price of emissions, show the product supply chain, track the carbon footprint, and make all steps of the supply chain transparent. Blockchain integrates financial data with technical data from sensors that collect energy consumption from smart meters, the pollution they make. It’s all connected with the blockchain, immutable information that is signed by digital signatures, documented and seen, so the real price of the pollution is clear.”
I said, “Yes, the problem has been that these companies are not forced to be responsible for the ‘externalities’ such as Climate Ruin. How can we change these ‘externalities’ to become ‘internalities?'”
He said, “This (capability of blockchain) is growing. In the future we will see (the externalities) in the price. It will be expected and demanded to ask companies to have this part there in their product’s price, to include this information about greenhouse gas pollution in the price.”
And whereas the old-style banks would immorally “redline” certain groups of people from being able to get a loan to buy a house, the new DBBs can morally redline the fossil fuel industry out from being able to get financing to conduct their society-destroying businesses.
Of course, the big question is how fast can we imagine DBBs actually replacing today’s banks. I have a certain optimism that it could happen in time to avoid Climate Ruin, because if it gets going on any level, then finally we will have a concrete thing to do to drive down emissions: we can demand that all assets be transferred to DBBs which have “rules” against greenhouse gas emissions. We can then call for general strikes with this concrete, effective, and feasible demand. This is certainly a lot less Quixotic than our current habit of demanding that fossil fuel companies stop doing what they are doing — since we know what their answer will always be.
Change Is Coming — Whether They Like It or Not
Dec. 10, 2018 — Saturday was the big March for Climate. More than two thousand people marched, danced, sang, chanted, and heard quick to-the-point speeches by impassioned activists from all over this planet. The speeches were delivered from a flatbed truck that would stop every so often along the march route.
One really fantastic speech was given by a 15-year-old Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, who has emerged as a wise and articulate star in the climate protest world due to her “School Strike for the Climate” that became an every Friday event, inspiring copycat strikes around the world. Here are some of the things she said, in a Swedish lilt that was plaintive, but suffused with a surprisingly savvy gravitas:
We have had 30 years of pep talking and selling positive ideas, and I’m sorry but it doesn’t work. Because if it did, then the emissions would have gone down by now, but they haven’t. And yes, we do need hope, of course we do, but the one thing we need more than hope is action (crowd cheers). Once we start to act, hope is everywhere. So, instead of looking for hope, look for action. Then, and only then, hope will come (cheers).
So, for 25 years countless people have stood in front of the UN Climate Conferences asking our nations’ leaders to stop the emissions. But clearly this has not worked, since the emissions just continue to rise. So I will not ask them anything. Instead, I will ask the media to start treating the crisis as a crisis (cheers). Instead, I will ask the people around the world to realize that our political leaders have failed us (crowd chanting “shame, shame, shame”) because we are facing an existential threat, and there is no time to continue down this road of madness.
Today we use 100 million barrels of oil every single day. There are no politics to change that. There are no rules to keep that oil in the ground. So we can no longer save the world by playing by the rules, because the rules have to be changed (cheers).
Everything needs to change, and it has to start today. So we have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future. They have ignored us in the past, and they will ignore us again. We have come here to let them know that change is coming whether they like it or not. The people will rise to the challenge, and since our leaders are all behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago.
Major media can’t resist stating the irony that coal is king in Poland, and especially in Katowice, and yet it is the site of a conference that logically should be dedicated to the prohibition of coal. In some way, Poland thereby gets a bad rap, and a bad rep, or at least a raised eyebrow since the Polish coal companies are knee deep in sponsorship here, with the potential for corrupting the process. So, Patryk Białasm, a Pole from the climate activist association “BoMiasto,” was pleased to tell me that, “In my opinion, the March for Climate in Katowice was a proof that, in the coal region, the grassroots climate movement is rising. The people of Silesia (the region of Poland where Katowice is located) are aware of climate and the planet. Their new energy was awakened because of COP 24. There is a green future for Silesia and Katowice.”
Wojciech Szymalski, from the Institute for Sustainable Development Foundation, and a co-organizer of the March, told me: “There were more than 2,000 people. There were groups from different parts of Poland which fight coal mines and power plants. There were people from all over the world which have the same problems. We cannot give up in the face of greedy corporations threatening us as a statistical number. And we do not!”
I asked Ewa Sufin-Jacquemart, from Fundacja Strefa Zieleni (Green Zone Foundation), and one of the main organizers, “Since my blog is about ‘how do we win, how do we solve the problem, how do we fix COP,’ and since so many speakers at the March say it is time for action, can you tell me, which actions exactly? Which actions, in Poland and globally, will actually achieve our goals?”
She told me,
First, we will support the Green party to make it grow in cities and regions, and to get it into the Polish Parliament and the European Parliament.
Second, we build coalitions, platforms of cooperation to have more influence and pressure. There is already a strong coalition against lignite (a very toxic form of coal) open pit mines; RT-ON (opposes the mines); Save the Rivers Coalition to stop the project of transforming rivers in waterways; Living Earth Coalition to change agriculture into agroecology, and defend traditional ecological farming, and change the EU Common Agriculture Policy, CAP; and the Let Them Live coalition to change hunting rules and defend wild animals. And we cooperate with the same platforms abroad to act together at the EU level, and at the global level.
New forms of activism are also born, based on peaceful civil disobedience, like Ende Gelande in Germany, Climate Camps in Germany and Czech Republic, and recently Extinction Rebellion in the UK which will spread to other countries. Online organizations support the movement, like Akcja Demokracja in Poland, strongly represented on the March, 350.org, Avaaz, Campac in Germany, and WeMove.eu acting on EU policy. Besides that, there are Urban Movements in cities, stronger and stronger each year, influencing how cities develop, for inhabitants and not big business, greener, with more parks, food cooperatives and local food production, with less cars and more public transportation, with more real participation in decision making about how cities look.
Finally, we change our way of living helped by organizations and networks like Zero Waste and Slow Food. We develop local currencies, socially and ecologically responsible. We grow food by ourselves and in cities, learning permaculture. We share cars and build the Common Goods economy. With many, many innovative initiatives born every day, ecovillages, ecological housing, renewable energies are developed by people. We will do the Great Transformation anyway!
I said, “These initiatives and strong platforms of cooperation are very good, but will they definitely cause oil companies to stop extracting oil? Will it stop coal mining? Or do we need additional tactics?”
We hope they will be enough. That’s why Climate Camps introduce direct action like physically blocking open pit mines, and there will be more and more actions like that. Extinction Rebellion is very inspiring for people, who are ready to be arrested for the civil disobedience to put pressure on politicians to change the system. Definitely it will change the system. If not, then wars, conflicts, and natural catastrophes will, but not necessarily in a good direction. Media have a great role to play, but they must be independent from big business, and it’s not the case for the majority of them.”
Click here to read the March’s entire “manifesto,” which begins, “We, citizens of Poland, of Europe and of the world, are aware of how important this moment is in the history of our planet. We are aware of how little time we have left to repair the damage that we and past generations have caused. We are aware of how much the future of our children and grandchildren depends on us — on what we do HERE and NOW — we appeal … Wake up politicians and bureaucrats!”
At the mid-point of the march, the organizers asked me to play my Climate Song, which is written from the point of view of a future world, about 2050, after we had done all the necessary things to manage the Climate Crisis, and we landed on our feet. The bridge has a chant, “Coal, Gas and Oil, We Left It In The Soil.” After I ended my song with a rousing barrage of high distortion loud power chords, this chant was picked up by Wojciech (see above). He was on the stage with a microphone leading the chant, and the crowd seemed to enjoy the power of imagining what it feels like to actually win.
Leave It In The Ground — But How?
Dec. 7, 2018 — The single most important thing we must do to avoid Climate Ruin is to “Leave It In The Ground,” to stop extracting fossil fuels. All other efforts to avoid a runaway climate breakdown will be overwhelmed by the effects of the continued extraction of fossil fuels. Why? Because humans have already added one trillion tons of CO2 into the skies, and that is a lethal overdose. This means that fossil fuel emissions must be immediately brought down to close to zero to have any chance of lessening the lethality of the trillion ton overdose. Even if we finally start the parallel task of carbon removal, that carbon drawdown will not be a silver bullet, it will only become effective if emissions reduction is swift and radical.
In a word, we are already — for all practical purposes of CO2 management — “overbudget.”
So, you would expect that the COP process after 24 years would be on the cusp of devising a way to prohibit the extraction of fossil fuels, right? Sadly, it is not even close. Fortunately, we know what the bottleneck is: the fox is guarding the henhouse. The fox is the fossil fuel industry, and the henhouse is COP.
Enter Sriram Madhusoodanan, Deputy Campaign Director with Corporate Accountability (CA), an organization with over 40 years of success throwing foxes out of henhouses. We agreed that one scenario where humanity avoids Climate Ruin would be along the lines of 1) a new rule prohibiting fossil fuel companies from participating in the COP process; 2) no longer crippled, COP devising a ban on fossil fuel extraction; and, 3) with the wind now at our backs, and nobody stabbing us in the back, the other necessary measures are agreed to.
For an object lesson on how to get this Ghostbusters trick done, I asked Sriram to explain how his group, CA, after beating Nestlé and GE, contributed to getting Big Tobacco out of the negotiations that led to the World Health Organization (WHO) treaty banning the hawking of cigarettes to kids.
He talked about, “the campaign to send Joe Camel packing,” referring to exposés of the ad campaigns aimed at children, with logos like Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man. The outrage over this led to “a moment to educate and engage massive numbers of people, these public campaigns were starting to shift the public mood. So through those campaigns that put direct pressure on the corporations around the set of demands, we began to see signs that there was a movement taking foot around tobacco control, because the tobacco companies felt forced to reduce their practices in the US, and went foreign. Then, there was a movement afoot towards worldwide regulation.”
This is a critical moment for climate activists to learn from, because at this point the WHO starts negotiating the FCTC, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, aka the Global Tobacco Treaty. And, as Sriram explained, “here, there was achieved a massive success, as the Treaty contained Article 5.3, which provides that the Tobacco Industry and any entities with vested interests that profit off the sale of tobacco cannot be involved in the talks, when policy about protecting health is being decided. It was critical to insure that those provisions were in the Treaty.”
This, of course, contains a great lesson for COP 24. Article 5.3 of the Tobacco Treaty contained a “conflict of interest policy.” COP 24 is the “Rulebook COP,” and Sriram told me that “there are groups that are working to advance a conflict of interest policy that protects the Paris Agreement from big polluters. There was just a demand for it by YOUNGO (the youth arm of COP), and civil society has been joining governments around the world in urging COP to adopt it. At the last COP intersessional in May there was a demand from governments around the world to make sure that a conflict of interest policy be included. And here at COP 24, this is a critical moment where it can be decided if it will happen or not.”
The oil, gas, and coal companies have apparently decided that they will plunder until there is no more fossil fuel to plunder, and the well-being of you, your friends, and your family is no reason to stop. In effect, they are challenging us to force them to stop doing their business, if we want a chance to survive the coming Climate Onslaught.
Sriram and I agreed that COP is the central and preeminent organ of planning for how we can achieve a liveable future. So, it’s great to know that the seeming hopelessness of COP is actually largely a result of an impediment that we can identify and remove. As a way to encourage the readers of this blog to help remove this impediment, to remove the big fossil fuel polluters from COP, I will list here a few websites that will help you do something about it:
- Corporate Accountability — Join the Global Campaign
- The People’s Demands for Climate Justice
- POLLUTING PARIS: How Big Polluters are undermining global climate policy
Dec. 6, 2018 — Finally, on the world stage, a group of people are taking Climate Ruin by the scruff of the neck, looking it straight in the eye, and saying, “Enough is enough, we are mad as hell and we aren’t going to take it anymore!” Their name is Extinction Rebellion, or XR.
This group’s fresh energy has taken London by storm with their masses of high-spirited citizens blocking bridges, and with their brilliant set of demands on the government: it must tell the truth and properly communicate to the public about the climate crisis; it must introduce legally binding policies to become carbon neutral by 2025; and it must create a “citizen’s assembly” to oversee this process of getting carbon neutral. Two XR members are at COP 24 now, and I interviewed both of them, Nils Agger, a Swede living in southeast England, and Liam Geary Baulch, an artist and organizer.
Nils has a sprightly smile that can’t be dampened by mere worldwide doom, and with considerable verve he explained some of the intricacies of how this movement will get their demands met. Their main tactic is disruption of traffic in the city, rising in scale, combined with public displays of sacrifice, that is, getting arrested in splashy settings. One spectacular recent day they managed to block five central London bridges, including the bridge to Westminster Palace.
I wondered if this could be shrugged off as an irritation, and not something that could exert the amount of leverage necessary for Parliament to agree to their demands. Nils pointed out that they are “managing to find a way to disrupt on an ongoing basis.”
After the day of blocking the bridges we trained several small affinity groups and they went out into five or six different locations in London, crucial congested points, and they did these short roadblocks. They would go out into the road for 10 or 15 minutes with a banner holding up traffic, then go off the road for a few minutes letting some traffic pass, then go out on the road again obstructing traffic. We managed to create significant traffic disruption across London, doing this in a few key points in the city. They can’t ignore this forever if we can keep shutting down a major city like London. Ongoing disruption, scaling it up, in combination with high-profile dramatic things like blocking the bridges, and events where people get arrested en masse in a public display of sacrifice. This combination is a key theory of change that we are working with.
I told Nils that many activists here at COP 24 think that governments are so far away from doing the right thing on climate that the only way to successfully pressure them would be something like a total refusal to do business with large corporations (see previous blog), until the demands are met. Nils has a different view. He thinks there are many members of parliament who would want to come out and support the goals of XR, if the public support was ramped up. And he thinks that an increasing and relentless level of disruptive civil disobedience, coupled with public displays of sacrifice, will ramp up that public support.
Extinction Rebellion’s five-bridge tour de force certainly ramped up my enthusiasm when I saw it splashed across the worldwide news media last month. It made me feel like the dam had burst, as masses of people were finally pouring out of their homes to make a spirited stand for climate restoration.
Next, I met up with Liam. He emphasized that what makes XR effective is that it really is a rebellion, in the sense that it is not a one-shot demonstration. “We are going to keep on doing this,” Liam said. “This excites people that they are not just going for a march, but they are going to keep coming back, keep taking actions, keep getting together in small groups to do this economic disruption.”
He says they are not doing anything new, but “the difference is that we are not only aiming at the left and the climate activists, but we are aiming this at everyone, as we are all risking food price hikes, famines, more wars, and human extinction.”
He described one of the tactics as “swarming.”
Small groups of people all across London, or whatever city you are in, [are] all doing the same thing, short road blocks. By having these roadblocks placed strategically around the city you create a gridlock scenario. And you’re not sitting there all day to get arrested, you’re sitting there for ten minutes, just enough for the traffic to back up, you leave the road, you lose the police, you go back 5 minutes later, you do it again. You can create massive economic disruption for that city.
I asked him, “So this disruption is what starts the peoples’ conversation about climate?”
He said, “Yes, the idea is to get people talking about it. That puts pressure on politicians. Politicians feel very scared about people power. It only takes a few people to write a letter to a Prime Minister for them to start realizing this is something they need to worry about.”
I continued asking for the fascinating inside scoop on the inner workings of modern rebellion, “How do you get to the point where the parliament agrees to your demands?”
He said, “We are already thinking ahead by having a political strategy group who are trying to think about these things. And we have a negotiating group getting ready to meet with the government as soon as they agree to meet with us. Those people are being trained.”
I asked, “So the leverage comes from the disruption?”
“Yes, and we’re going to keep changing the tactics. Everything is an experiment, everything is a learning … at the moment it’s disrupting traffic, who knows what it’s going to be in a month. They don’t know, we don’t necessarily know. That’s part of how this kind of organizing works, that the police can’t stop it because we don’t even know what’s happening.”
Then Liam talked about the negotiating stage. He wondered, “Will we just break down in tears and talk about our grandchildren, or talk about our own lives because we are risking our own lives? But we have advisors from different places that are helping us deal with that. It’s a learning process. We’ve only been going for six months. We’ve only started doing actions a month and a half ago.”
The key point is that we, as activists with a small budget and not that much manpower, we can’t come up with a solution to this. We actually need a new system to come up with a solution. So, what we are doing is pushing for that new system in different ways. At that point it’s up to the citizens’ assembly. It’s up to that new system to take over and solve this crisis. It’s up to everyone, it’s everyone’s concern, it’s not just our concern.
And as the Extinction Rebellion rocks England it can rock the entire world.
Dec. 5, 2018 — Amalen Sathananthar, an activist from Malaysia, is an avatar, an exemplar, of why participating in the COP conferences is worth the effort. While the delegations are busy hashing out how to implement the rules of the Paris Agreement, some of us are meeting each other and hashing out what we are going to do if the Paris Agreement will not prevent Climate Ruin. I sat down with Amalen and we went to the nitty gritty of our future prospects.
We agreed that in many ways governments and corporations set the agenda as it relates to climate, and they seem to have no intention to solve it, since their overriding agenda is power and short-term financial gain. We agreed that a third power, “people power,” would have to rise to the power level of the other two if we are to survive this problem. We also agreed that, at some point, exercising “people power” will require tactics along the lines of general strikes, civil disobedience, and not paying taxes. But how can we expect that people will risk their jobs, livelihoods, and jail time?
Amalen was able to articulate the missing ingredient in two words: “viable parallel.” He said that for a general strike to be successful it will probably need to last a long time.
To take power away from the corporate sector, people will have to be ready to grow their own food and get their electric power ‘off grid’ from devices like small solar cells. And for maximum pressure on the polluting industries, we must find a way to live without buying any of the products of the companies that are refusing to stop emitting greenhouse gases. We need a viable parallel economy.
Amalen summed up what we must do as “decentralisation.”
What is the alternative to this level of action? This is only the second day of the conference, but I am already hearing a common theme, uttered by speakers on panels and by folks chatting over coffee: everything we have tried for the last 30 years has essentially failed. Emissions have not come down. Governments and corporations are refusing to do what the scientists are telling them that they must do. We come to these COPs every year, we are busy as bees, things are agreed to, papers are signed, and yet nothing seems to change on the ground, as in greenhouse gas emissions, which are still cooking along at essentially the same rate.
Today, French President Macron backed down from raising diesel prices in response to a form of people power — violent rioting in the streets of France. But Amalen does not advocate violence. His method is NVDA, Non-Violent Direct Action, which he teaches to people here at COP 24 from the art space that he and his colleagues have established across the street from the giant flying-saucer-shaped COP conference hall, “Spodek” (which means saucer in Polish). A key tactic within NVDA is the general strike.
Amalen’s concept of a general strike involves a period of time where masses of people would live outside the current system until the pathological policies of governments and the devastating activities of corporations are terminated by non-violent pressures and tactics. Despite the hardships, he says this “viable parallel” existence would have great benefits. Amalen describes how this can be a great opportunity to make a “big improvement in the notion of what we consider to be development.” He says “development should not be measured in terms of finance and economics, but rather in terms of consciousness. Development should not be a process of dominating nature but rather it should be achieved by being symbiotic with nature.” That is, living outside the system can actually reap huge spiritual benefits by re-establishing a healthy relationship with nature.
In other words, if the governments and corporations remain firm in their commitment to destroying our society with their intransigence regarding Climate Ruin, we have no choice but to create a “viable parallel” economy and ride out the storm as best we can. And perhaps we can be even happier and healthier than we were previously, while, with NVDA, we force the changes we need to survive. Finally, we then put society and the economy back together on a new and better footing.
Today I witnessed Amalen and his comrades from around the world stage a demonstration inside Spodek, in a spot where all the delegates enter the conference. Their messages to the delegates were passionate and quite moving pleas for getting the most out of COP 24. One slogan was “End Corporate Interference In, And Capture Of, The Climate Talks,” since certain corporations relentlessly try to shoehorn their false solutions, such as natural gas and carbon offset schemes, into the negotiations that — surprise, surprise — would allow them to continue their businesses and so continue to destroy the climate.
Let’s Get It Done
Dec. 3, 2018 — COP 21 in Paris in 2015 was the breakthrough where virtually the entire planet agreed to work together to avoid Climate Ruin. COP 24 in Katowice, Poland, right now, is where the rubber hits the road, where Paris’ general plans will become specific work programs. But will this result in a roadmap leading from Point A, “The Road To Ruin,” to Point B, “A Lane to a Livable World?”
Three days before COP 24 started, the Conference of Youth (COY, associated with the UN) brought many young climate activists from all over the world to Katowice. I was asked to give a 90-minute presentation to about 45 of them. I could see that they were ready to rumble, so I set out to give them some tools, some ammunition, and some important facts that they didn’t already know to help them succeed at COP 24.
I started by telling them about Ocean Pasture Restoration (OPR). No doom and gloom, OPR is an approach to the climate problem that gives a person under 20 a chance to make it past 60. During the next two weeks at COP 24, they can now challenge the influential people they will meet by saying, “What about OPR? Do you know about its effectiveness? Can you help us to get it going before it’s too late?”
The second part of my talk was about my new idea for how to “get it going.” I call it MAC, the Monthly Action for Climate. It works like this:
Large masses of people will all do the same action at the same time, on the first day of each month, worldwide. The first actions will be very easy and very positive, like sending food or money to a village suffering climate-caused starvation. This demonstrates our collective will and establishes our ability to make a collective action.
From the beginning we will have our eyes on the prize: that future moment when we can start making big climate demands coupled with the kinds of actions that can force compliance to our demands. For example, we can demand laws that prohibit issuing insurance policies to companies that extract fossil fuels, making it impossible for them to do business. We could force that with a worldwide general strike. Of course, there are not enough people today willing to risk their jobs for this, so we will start with small and simple “good will” actions that build our reputation, hone our processes, and prove that once per month we can and will act.
However, as climate disasters multiply, people will get more frustrated with the slowness of governments to act. We are, after all, facing mass death and the destruction of organized society if we don’t speed up our restoration of the climate. As MAC’s monthly acts become more publicized, more folks will join MAC. The mass media will pick up on the drama of “Will they boycott Exxon this month?” or “Who will be this month’s victim of their wrath?” MAC voting will become a monthly horserace with large financial consequences, and therefore it can create big TV news ratings and great clickbait.
Eventually, MAC can become a power in parallel to the powers of governments and corporations — a “people power” agency to force the actions and changes that will be required for us to survive.
There is no limit to how many websites can be used for creating and engaging the lists of members. You just put your name (or a pseudonym for anonymity) on one of the lists and that’s it. Each monthly action is chosen by discussing and voting online. Anybody can add up the votes, as it’s all transparent. The first week of each month people submit ideas, or “candidates” for actions and demands. The second and third week these candidates are discussed and debated. The fourth week is primarily for voting.
I presented these ideas to the COY delegates. Then I played them my “positive future” climate song, which is written from the point of view of somebody in the year 2050, after humans somehow succeeded in actually making the moves and changes that are required to avoid Climate Ruin. The COY delegates were singing along, clapping beats, and banging on the tables, creating a surprisingly strong world-beat rhythm track. Later, many of them came up to me and told me they were “inspired” by the event.
All this added up to a potent kick-off for my involvement in COP 24. I will be blogging nearly every day for the next two weeks, sticking to this theme of how to actually GET THIS THING DONE.