The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Posts Tagged ‘environmentalism’

Fairy Tale Of Copenhagen

Posted by The Futility Monster on December 19, 2009 @ 10:54

No We Can't

Last night’s so-called deal at the climate change summit has, unsurprisingly, kicked cynics like me into action.

Because, yes… the hot air of the past two weeks seems to have been a phenomenal waste of time. At the end of it, we have a silly little piece of paper, with no legally-binding agreement, and mere platitudes about what we would like to do.

It’s very easy to say we are all committed to stopping climate change. I’m also committed to personally delivering peace in the Middle East.

Of course, neither of these are going to happen, unless I suddenly discover a hidden talent for Hebrew and Arabic.

Every time these crunch meetings come around, we get nothing more than words, most of which are merely an agreement to keep on talking. The agreement assures us that there will be more talks in 2010, and so the date before we get real action gets pushed further back.

That is another year wasted. Another year in which nobody does anything. Just like the concept of mutually assured destruction, arms races inevitably are all about who blinks first. We are witnessing the usual problem of collective action: everybody waits for everyone else to do act, the result being nobody acts at all.

Nobody wants to be the first country to say that they will unilaterally “disarm” themselves of carbon-producing industries. That is tantamount to economic suicide. Green growth will only occur if there is the demand for it, and that will only happen if everyone makes the switch together.

But the fact of the matter is that we find ourselves totally unable to wean ourselves off our addiction to fossil fuels and CO2 producing activities. We have all got lazy as we’ve got older. Convenience comes at a cost in CO2. Even if, by some miracle, the world’s nations did manage to agree drastic, legally binding cuts in CO2, it will take many more decades to change behaviour gradually – which is arguably the only method that will work.

We don’t have decades. We could pass laws tomorrow limiting car use to one hour per day. We could stop all flights. We could phase out all food imports coming from afar.

The problem with such overnight changes is that they’re totally unacceptable, both politically and practically. They will never be sold to the public. And yet, because we’ve left this all too late, and because change to bring emissions down is so slow, radical actions are all we’re going to be able to do if we’re to avert this disaster.

This is why the whole Copenhagen outcome is a fairy tale. There is no solution any more. If we were doing this 30 years ago, then maybe a glacial pace of change would be acceptable. But it isn’t.

But we have to do something. Chances are we are going to bequeath an environmental disaster to future generations, but if we manage to reduce it, even by a tiny fraction, that has to be some progress. They’ll still hate our guts, but maybe not quite so much. Still, we’ll be deep in the cold, cold ground by then.

It’s all a question, therefore, if we care enough about things that arguably don’t matter to us personally, and whether we’re prepared to take the hit now for people in the future, who don’t yet exist, and may never exist.

That’s a pretty abstract argument. But it’s half the problem why we’re making no progress on solving the climate change problem. It’s impossible to make this into something relevant and pressing on everyone’s individual lives in the here and now.

And frankly, I don’t think enough people care.

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Have The Climate Change Doom Merchants Blinked?

Posted by The Futility Monster on December 7, 2009 @ 11:57

Our old friend, the hockey stick. Al Gore will be pleased.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed a very distinct changing of the emphasis in the discussion on climate change lately.

Before I begin, though, a declaration of interest. I am one of those climate change doom merchants. I believe man is making a significant impact on the planet. In fact, I believe we’re already past the point of no return, and humanity is too complacent and set-in-their-ways to do anything about it now anyway.

But even I have been tested lately.

We have been told for some time that the science is unquestionable. I believe it mostly still is. I’m no scientist, but even I understand that science very rarely gives a definite answer. So the science is not and has never been unquestionable. There are no real scientists on this planet who would ever be blinkered enough to say that their work has proved the climate change thesis and all discussion is over.

That’s why we should not fall for the climate change deniers who constantly harp on about them being ostracised and victimised. That there is – somehow – this big conspiracy stopping them from getting over the truth that climate change doesn’t exist. That they are going to save you from nasty governments who just want to use it all as an excuse to tax you more or inspect your rubbish bin.

No. The science is a debate going on between people far more intelligent than me, and usually involving stuff that I haven’t a clue about.

Like most things, then, it’s a question of trust. Do you trust the UN panel, the IPCC, made up of the works of thousands of scientists, but with the involvements of governments and maybe other vested interests, who say that there is a 90% chance that humanity is responsible for climate change? Or do you go with the much smaller body of science which believes the complete opposite?

I’m getting the sense, however, that those of us on the IPCC’s side are beginning to squirm a little. We no longer talk in imminent dangers. We talk in probabilities. That we ought to act because even if we’re wrong, it is a gamble that we should not take with our stewardship of the planet.

But the real noticeable change is a sudden shift in emphasis.

We are talking less now about climate change but about the elephant in the room. At last.

We are getting to the heart of the actual issue that’s wrong with Western world humanity.

Sustainability.

I’ve written about this before, how we are avoiding the really important issues by focusing on minor ‘green’ things like recycling.

Because there is one fact that even the climate change sceptics cannot deny.

Fossil fuels are finite. Coal, oil and gas will not go on forever. And our society, utterly dependent on plastic, utterly fixated on production and endless consumption with perpetual growth, no matter the cost, is not sustainable.

This is what we should be talking about. It just so happens that tackling most of these will co-incidentally reduce our carbon emissions. A win-win, perhaps.

But this agenda needs the politicians to be even braver. Who dares stand up to Shell, Exxon Mobil, BP et al?

Oh well. At least the talk sounds good.

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Could 2010 Get Even Better?

Posted by The Futility Monster on December 1, 2009 @ 08:30

"And not a lot of people know that" said Mr Rudd

Psephologically speaking, I mean.

Apparently, yes.

The Australian Liberal Party – who aren’t very liberal – have just elected a new leader. A new fall guy, perhaps, but certainly someone who thinks he can take the fight to the governing Labor Party.

And the key issue?

What other than that thing that gets conservatives across the globe hot under the collar: climate change.

The issue of whether to back Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s plans for an emissions trading scheme has split the Liberal Party right down the middle. Previous leader Malcolm Turnbull had insisted his party supports the scheme, but the consequence of that is now plain for all to see. The final round of voting in the leadership election ended with Turnbull getting 41 votes, and new leader Tony Abbott getting a superb 42.

(Incidentally, it’s good to see the return of the smoke-filled room electing a party leader; clearly there wasn’t a vote of the membership, unless they really have just 83 members…)

So the Liberal Party is in complete turmoil. Meanwhile, the climate change legislation is popular, the government has excellent opinion poll ratings, Kevin Rudd is still the preferred Prime Minister and the Australian Constitution has a get out clause enabling a mega election – called a double dissolution – in which both Houses of the Australian Parliament are dissolved completely, rather than the usual whole lower House and half the upper House.

Is Rudd bold enough to take on the gamble? He has not been known for such an aggressive strategy in the past, but it would be foolish to rule out the threat of an early election as that is one way you keep both your party in line and place the opposition under further pressure.

There is also the unknown of whether the new Liberal leader will manage to unite his party and turn them into a credible electoral force. Rudd is very likely to wait until he gets the answer to that question before taking any decision.

However, if I was in Rudd’s position, I would ensure that the climate change legislation is once more put before the Senate and rejected, which then gives the government the double dissolution option. It also puts the incoming leader under tremendous pressure in the first few days of his new job. That will answer a lot of questions about him.

Then, consider the options in the New Year. Indeed, consider the option of not only making climate change the major issue, but opening up the possibility of much stronger legislation because – assuming electoral victory – he will no longer be forced to make concessions to an opposition controlled Senate.

Thus giving Australia a chance to position itself as the leader of the world in the fight against climate change.

Sure, that’s bound to piss off the sceptics and big business. But the world really cannot afford to continue this pretence of tackling the issue while doing absolutely nothing about it any longer.

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What’s So Special About Air Travel?

Posted by The Futility Monster on September 10, 2009 @ 06:32

Often heard on Ryanair: "Excuse me dear, but would you mind if you put the Lambrini away? It's putting me off my single malt."

Often heard on Ryanair: "Excuse me dear, but would you mind if you put the Lambrini away? It's putting me off my single malt."

If there was one piece of news I enjoyed a lot in the past 24 hours it was the report by the Climate Change Committee that making special exemptions for the air travel sector is going to mean the sacrifices required elsewhere are going to be even greater.

Does anyone seriously believe we can manage a 90% cut in carbon emissions by 2050? Even the 80% ambition is incredible, but the CCC have calculated that, if we are going to allow for continued growth in aviation – as we intend to – the requirements from other sectors will be much greater.

It’s not going to happen.

The problem to me is that aviation really isn’t pulling its weight. Emissions from the sector are enormous, and, in any case, are far more damaging to the environment because of the fact that they are placed directly into the sky.

But why does it get such special treatment anyway? Why should it be that Heathrow gets its third runway when all other sectors are being asked to be more environmentally friendly? Why does even the slightest hint of making the airline operators pay their fair share get media whore, and Ryanair boss, Michael O’ Leary out with his rent-a-quotes?

For an even more obvious demonstration, the Kyoto protocol allows countries to exclude aviation emissions. And that has even possibly been the plan too for any post-Kyoto settlement.

Is it because it’s politically difficult? After all, we’ve apparently become accustomed to our cheap flights. Cheap flights which bear no consequence to the damage done to the environment, but we’ll conveniently ignore that.

No… it would be too difficult to go on air and tell people that “the era of air travel is over”. One might even call it electoral suicide. After all, looked at from the perspective of social justice, it’s not fair that the rich have always had access to air travel, yet when the lower classes are finally able to afford cheap flights, the rich start getting all uppity and suddenly want to slam the cabin door when the Ibiza and Magaluf-bound start crashing the party.

It’s an appealing argument, but it is a false sanctuary. It leaves the issue unchallenged. Sadly, we really are going to have to tell the plebs that the costs must rise. They’ve had their fun, but – alas – we must answer to our higher responsibility to look after this planet.

Or maybe there are other reasons for ignoring aviation. Perhaps politicians just like it too much. Does money change hands? Or does the industry move in more mysterious ways? After all, no politician would want to give up their junkets to foreign lands for “fact-finding” purposes.

But the CCC have at least raised the issue and warned politicians that they are ignoring the elephant in the room.

It’s now a question of whether the rest of us care enough or are prepared to make the personal sacrifices that will be necessary to tackle the environmental challenge of the coming decades.

If we’re not, then don’t be surprised when our politicians don’t have the bottle to take us on.

That’s the way politics works, after all.

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Why Don’t Businesses Recycle?

Posted by The Futility Monster on September 2, 2009 @ 06:30

Woo! A fancy image that'll really get you excited about recycling!

Woo! A fancy image that'll really get you excited about recycling!

As promised/threatened, today I’m going to briefly return to the environment because of a subject I’ve had a little personal experience with.

Businesses are not very good at recycling. Why should this be, I wonder? Business are, after all, made up of individuals, most of whom probably recycle at home. There isn’t anything magical about business which should make those very same individuals suddenly forget that we’re supposed to recycle, is there?

Well… maybe there is. Yes – it’s our old friend capitalism.

More workplaces recycle than ever. But for those who don’t, and for those who could still do a lot more than merely the token gesture of paper recycling bins placed in various locations around offices, there is actually one important reason behind it.

Businesses generally have to pay for their rubbish collection. Some of them use private companies, because they generate a lot more waste than the average household and they can deal with the much greater quantity. This cost usually gets them a large skip-style bin that everything gets thrown into, no matter what. One place I’ve seen lately, a van repair centre, chucks all the normal waste, like paper, in with all the things related to their work.

Of course, one thing they do recycle is scrap metal. Because that’s worth money. There is an incentive for the bosses to encourage their staff to work in a way that separates out the valuable wheat from the expensive chaff.

They once asked if they could get some extra recycling bins put in, one for paper, one for plastics, one for cardboard. They were told by their rubbish collector that this would cost them money.

So they didn’t bother, and have no intention to. They’re happy to just keep on paying, because the cost of not-recycling is far lower than the costs, both financial and in added inconvenience to staff, for recycling.

That’s why businesses don’t bother. Unlike individuals and families, where environmentalism can appeal to conscience and appeals to consider our impact on future generations, businesses are purely motivated by that bottom line. We may hear a lot about “corporate responsibility” and other such stuff, but it is an extremely rare business that takes all that seriously. It’s mostly just an exercise in PR.

This is why the pace of change is so glacial. Discrepancies like this crop up all over the system. Why are some councils better at recycling than others? For the exact same reason: the more they take, the more it costs in terms of processing, inconvenience and, of course, how much they need to raise from council tax. Some appear to be prepared to take on this burden, and the rising cost of the landfill tax is encouraging the rest to think again.

Recycling has been a way of life for many years now. And yet, the motives that we’re all gently being inculcated into by the government are seriously undermined once we arrive in work.

Joined up government? Merely a pipe dream I’m afraid.

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Free Market Environmentalism Is Not The Answer

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 29, 2009 @ 09:25

The Privatisation of the Commons really was a Tragedy after all.

The Privatisation of the Commons really was a Tragedy after all.

Yesterday I wrote a post about the complete failure of the political class to be honest with the voting public about the nature of the environmental challenge ahead, and how it is going to radically change the way we live.

Today I’m going to continue on this theme by looking at why the politicians appear to be deceiving us.

The reasoning is slightly deeper than it would appear to the normal cynical observer. It’s not merely about electoral politics. It’s also about a fundmental, but misguided, faith in the free market.

There are many degrees of environmentalist. While most of us think that the greenies are all tree-hugging, not-washing, hemp-wearing (and smoking) Swampys, there are much smarter types, infesting corporate institutions, Whitehall and academia, and you’ll most often find them wearing a tailored suit.

They are the free market environmentalists (FME). They believe that, whatever the nature of the environmental problem, the market will always provide a solution. They are the bastion of capitalists hoping that they will never truly have to change their ways. Such FMEs provide the fig leaf that capitalism craves to continue. Because that is the nature of capitalism. It is neither inherently good or bad. It simply exists, and seeks ways to perpetuate that existence. It is a state of mind as much as it is a financial system.

A FME believes that concepts like emissions trading will enable the environmental cost to be turned into a financial figure, which then will be factored into the supply/demand equations that the market operates on. They believe that privatising the Amazon Rainforest, for example, would provide the necessary incentives for it to be truly managed and protected. They believe that there is no grave need to panic over running out of oil or gas, because the free market will adapt, innovation will prevail, and someone will come up with an solution that will supply alternatives. This will happen when it becomes more economical to use the alternative than buy, say, another barrel of oil.

Most mainstream politicians fall into this category for reasons of convenience. It is extremely easy to say that there is no real problem because we will rely on the genius of future generations to rescue us from the abyss. And we will also rely on future generations to sort out that huge amount of nuclear waste sitting in Sellafield, and all over the planet. Oh, and they can work out how on Earth the Earth is going to cope with all these people.

FME is not an answer. It is a corporate shill. It is a way to buy capitalism the time and credibility to distract us from appreciating the true nature of the problem, beyond the point past which it’s worth us doing anything about it.

Too much faith is placed in the market providing an answer; but capitalism has this wonderful way of making us blind to history. We see it now: one credit crunch, followed by one deep recession. But what lessons have been learned? What has actually changed to stop it from happening again?

Nothing. Nothing at all. How many more economic crises must we be put through to realise that the short termism of capitalism cannot be squared with the long-term reality that is the existence of this planet?

I guess you can conclude that I’m not an optimist about our future prospects…

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Greenwashing

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 28, 2009 @ 06:31

Taken from the One Planet Living website - note recycling isn't even mentioned, and is only part of the "Zero Waste" strategy...

Taken from the One Planet Living website - note recycling isn't even mentioned, and is only part of the "Zero Waste" strategy...

My recent experience has taught me that, as far as recycling goes, maybe we place undue prominence on it.

The problem with recycling is that by the time it’s done the product already exists. It may have been shipped halfway around the world before then, using intensive agriculture methods or drilled up from the sea bed. The manufacturing process that creates plastics, metals – or even the humble tin of paint –  is by far the biggest battle that needs to be won.

Recycling is actually a tiny part of the battle for greenness. And no, recycling actually has nothing to do with climate change either. There is this rather small and increasingly ignored fact that oil won’t last forever. Nor will gas. These are absolute, guaranteed facts, whether you think the planet really is warming up or the whole thing is a load of leftie scientists making science fit their agenda.

The green battle has to start much earlier in the chain. As the mantra goes, “reduce” and “reuse” don’t really see much attention. Sure, we hear all about buying local. But, at the same time, why is the modern age requiring us to reinvent the wheel? Did we not, even as little as 20 years ago, all get milk delivered from the local milk co-op by an electric milk float in glass bottles that were washed and reused? Didn’t all “fizzy pop” (for want of a better phrase) used to be available in glass bottles that you could take back the shop once you’d finished and get 10p deposit back?

“Make do and mend” was the old mantra. It really ought to have come back into fashion during this recession… but it’s clear that it hasn’t been deep enough to truly make us change the way we live. To usher in a new era of austerity that clearly permeated Britain – if not most of the world – during World War II and short after.

No. In a few years time we’ll all be back to buying white goods which last no more than a few years, or any other consumer electronics which are deliberately designed to fail after such a short while. After all, there’s no profit if your radio works for 30 years solid. There would be no innovation either.

This is the battle that needs to be won. Someone needs to be honest and say that we simply cannot go on like this. But who is going to be the bravest to say that, “sorry, you really can’t holiday abroad any more”. Or, “I’m afraid strawberries will no longer be available in midwinter”. Or, “No, I’m afraid private car use is no longer possible”. Why should we throw away our comfortable modern existence?

What would we really do if someone told us, for example, that short-life, refrigerated milk is to be banned? Isn’t it crazy that there is a whole industry that requires the huge amounts of energy moving the product around the country and kept at the right temperature throughout? This goes the same for any chilled food that can’t be frozen. Though for all I know the extra energy required to freeze things may actually cost just as much despite the longer-life benefits.

This is the problem with focusing on recycling.

It is a distraction which makes us feel like we’re all doing something positive, but the real issues remain unresolved. Recycling is uncontroversial, which is why politicians love it. They can be superficially green. Underneath it all, they must be intelligent enough to realise that they are fighting the wrong battle.

They just don’t have the guts to admit it.

Sadly – this is the price of democracy.

(For more on the subject, visit the One Planet Living website)

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