This is from a review (from 5 years ago) of Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything: Capitalism v. The Climate” in the New York Review of Books:
“To draw on Klein paraphrasing Al Gore, here’s my inconvenient truth: when you tell people what it would actually take to radically reduce carbon emissions, they turn away. They don’t want to give up air travel or air conditioning or HDTV or trips to the mall or the family car or the myriad other things that go along with consuming 5,000 or 8,000 or 12,000 watts. All the major environmental groups know this, which is why they maintain, contrary to the requirements of a 2,000watt society, that climate change can be tackled with minimal disruption to ‘the American way of life.’ And Klein, you have to assume, knows it too. The irony of her book is that she ends up exactly where the “warmists” do, telling a fable she hopes will do some good.”
According to a new U.S. Army report, Americans could face a horrifically grim future from climate change involving blackouts, disease, thirst, starvation and war. The study found that the US military itself might also collapse. This could all happen over the next two decades, the report notes.
The senior US government officials who wrote the report are from several key agencies including the Army, Defense Intelligence Agency, and NASA. The study called on the Pentagon to urgently prepare for the possibility that domestic power, water, and food systems might collapse due to the impacts of climate change as we near mid-century.
The report was commissioned by General Mark Milley, Trump’s new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, making him the highest-ranking military officer in the country (the report also puts him at odds with Trump, who does not take climate change seriously.)
SA: Very powerful. It such a shame that a young person has to plead for a future at the United Nations. This is what intergenerational injustice looks like.
“You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.”
SA: So much hope these days centers on the dream of replacing the fossil fuels that are killing life on this planet with solar panels and windmills so that we get to keep the way that we currently live basically the same. Fuck, no one wants that more than I do. But it cannot happen.
There are many, many reasons why it is an utter myth that “clean, renewable energy” is the pathway to our best future but I’ll lay out three prime ones here.
The first reason is the reality of renewable energy: it provides electricity. At this time, electricity only amounts to around 20% of all the energy we use. Even an enormous scaling up of electricity production and transforming much of the realities of modern life to function on electricity will not come close to replacing what fossil fuels do for us. The vast majority of our modern world is created or enhanced by fossil-fueled fire, from transportation, to manufacturing, to everyday materials. Electricity is not a substitute for so much of that. So a renewable world will be a fundamentally different one.
The second reason is that the fabrication of renewable generators involves socially and environmentally unjust mining of non-renewable resources. The mined material is then transported, fabricated and installed using fossil fuels. They are not only unjust, they are vastly dirty.
The third reason is a corollary of the second. Renewable energy technologies are not at present able to reproduce themselves using only the energy they generate. That is, neither solar panels nor windmills generate the energy needed to mine, transport, fabricate, install and maintain themselves. They are not self replicating
There are many more “clean, renewable energy” myths exposed is this fine piece by Don Fitz at Resilience.org. His summation after exposing those myths: “Every form of energy production has difficulties. ‘Clean, renewable energy’ is neither clean nor renewable. There can be good lives for all people if we abandon the goal of infinite energy growth. Our guiding principle needs to be that the only form of truly clean energy is less energy.”
While undoubtedly unpopular with Green New Deal folks, this is the reality we must be planning our living arrangements for: A future with extremely low energy, and that is bioregionally localized focused on a regenerative society of sufficiency.
SA: This commentary about the myths of a renewable economy, from Alf Hornberg, is powerful, and most likely very unwelcome to adherents of a Green New Deal. While undoubtedly their hearts are in the right place, the idea that somehow fixing what we’ve got to run on renewably generated electricity and interjecting more “justice” into the current system will allow us to keep all the mod-cons we enjoy is extremely misguided.
The crux of Hornberg’s argument: “Despite good intentions, it is not clear what Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion and the rest of the climate movement are demanding should be done. Like most of us, they want to stop the emissions of greenhouse gases, but seem to believe that such an energy transition is compatible with money, globalised markets, and modern civilization.” Spoiler alert: it is not.
And further: “Take the ultimate issue we are facing: whether our modern, global, and growing economy can be powered by renewable energy. Among most champions of sustainability, such as advocates of a Green New Deal, there is an unshakeable conviction that the problem of climate change can be solved by engineers.” Spoiler alert: it can’t be.
The final line of the piece lays out our fundamental challenge: “Climate change and the other horrors of the Anthropocene don’t just tell us to stop using fossil fuels – they tell us that globalisation itself is unsustainable.”
I agree with Rupert Read that at this time we are facing three possible outcomes to the crises we find ourselves in:
This civilisation could collapse utterly and terminally, as a result of climatic instability (leading for instance to catastrophic food shortages as a probable mechanism of collapse), or possibly sooner than that, through nuclear war, pandemic, or financial collapse leading to mass civil breakdown. Any of these are likely to be precipitated in part by ecological/climate instability, as Darfur and Syria were.
This civilisation (we) will manage to seed a future successor-civilisation(s), as this one collapses.
This civilisation will somehow manage to transform itself deliberately, radically and rapidly, in an unprecedented manner, in time to avert collapse.
The first two cannot be avoided or aided by Green New Deals. It is the last prospect to which Green New Deals are presumably addressed. The transformation Read alludes to must be to an extremely low energy, bioregionally localized, regenerative society of sufficiency. That means the end of the current era and will require an entirely different set of adaptations than are currently proposed by Green New Deals.
If we want to salvage a livable future, we must give up clinging to the thought that we can just “green” up our current arrangements and inject more “justice” into them. The current system is inherently unjust and cannot be “greened” by its very nature. Instead, we must strive to imagine what it means to live regeneratively, in small scale, local places, where social and environmental justice is intertwined within our everyday lives.
SA: Below is a hopeful piece about the economic possibilities of trying to suck excess carbon dioxide out of the air. It may work, but do we have the time? Is achieving this in 100 years worth continuing to emit CO2 today?
From David Roberts in Vox: “To give a sense of scale, that means by 2030 humanity needs to be compressing, transporting, and burying an amount of CO2, by volume, that is two to four times the amount of fluids that the global oil and gas industry deals with today.”