Category Archives: Governance

UK: Paris climate treaty has no domestic effect

The 2015 Paris climate treaty is the only global step to tame the crisis. Now London says it does not apply within the UK.

LONDON, 14 August, 2020 − The United Kingdom was one of the 195 countries which signed up to the 2015 Paris climate treaty, the global attempt to limit the climate crisis. More than that, it was one of the most energetic and enthusiastic backers of the Paris Agreement, the treaty’s formal title.

So you may be surprised to learn that the British government has just told a climate campaign group, Plan B, that the Paris Agreement does not apply to the domestic law of the UK, and is therefore irrelevant to government policy on how to rebuild the country’s economy after the chaos caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The announcement comes in an email (dated 7 August, but released only five days later) from the Treasury Solicitor, the head of the government’s legal department.

It is a reply to a letter sent by Plan B on 7 July to the prime minister, Boris Johnson, about official plans to meet the climate emergency, and specifically how the UK should restore the economy after the ravages of Covid.

Claim ‘too late’

In it Plan B undertook to start legal action against the government unless it provided a clear explanation of how its Covid recovery programme would support the UK’s target of a net zero carbon economy, and also agreed that all government programmes would be compatible with its policy commitments to the Paris Agreement temperature rise limit of 1.5 ̊C.

The group’s director, Tim Crosland, wrote: “Treating the climate emergency as a ‘competing priority’ to Covid recovery is a catastrophic error, which must be quickly corrected to avoid tragic consequences.”

The government has now replied to Plan B’s threatened legal action by defending its decision to ignore the Paris Agreement in its decision to  continue to support the present carbon-based economy, claiming there is no legal obligation on it to take the Agreement into account.

Its email says that Plan B’s claim for judicial review has been made too late, and “any claim filed now would be significantly out-of-time and should be refused permission to apply for judicial review on that basis alone.”

“If the Paris Agreement does not apply now, then when?”

On the UK’s 2015 undertaking to work to limit greenhouse gas emissions, the Treasury Solicitor writes: “The Paris Agreement is an unincorporated international treaty which, in the context of the English dualist legal system [one which treats international and domestic systems of law as separate and independent], has no direct effect in domestic law.”

Plan B undertook an earlier legal battle over expansion proposals for London’s Heathrow airport, where the government argued that the Paris Agreement was irrelevant. In February the Court of Appeal disagreed with that assessment, and the government’s plans were ruled unlawful.

On 4 March, Boris Johnson told Parliament that the government would ensure that it did abide by that judgment and take account of the Paris convention. Tim Crosland says: “It seems that does not apply to billions of pounds of public money being provided to companies such as RyanAir, Easyjet, Rolls-Royce and Nissan.

“Instead of addressing the evidence that its bailouts for polluters will lock us into a disastrous trajectory towards 4˚C warming, risking billions of human lives, the government is hiding behind legal arguments to claim that it isn’t legally required to take that into account.

Inbuilt discrimination

‘That is not just reckless. It is a fundamental breach of the social contract. It is the basic responsibility of the government to safeguard its people.

“Nor does the government show any concern for the discriminatory impact of its catastrophic trajectory, which will hit hardest the younger generation, racially marginalised communities, and the Global South. Its primary concern is appeasing its corporate sponsors

“This has to be stopped. We will now begin work on filing our claim with the court.”

Jerry Amokwandoh worked with the Rhodes Must Fall movement in Oxford. He said: “Unconditional bailouts that contribute to the biggest pandemic of them all prove that our lives do not matter, the lives of my family in Ghana do not matter and an inhabitable world doesn’t matter. If the Paris Agreement does not apply now, then when?” − Climate News Network

The 2015 Paris climate treaty is the only global step to tame the crisis. Now London says it does not apply within the UK.

LONDON, 14 August, 2020 − The United Kingdom was one of the 195 countries which signed up to the 2015 Paris climate treaty, the global attempt to limit the climate crisis. More than that, it was one of the most energetic and enthusiastic backers of the Paris Agreement, the treaty’s formal title.

So you may be surprised to learn that the British government has just told a climate campaign group, Plan B, that the Paris Agreement does not apply to the domestic law of the UK, and is therefore irrelevant to government policy on how to rebuild the country’s economy after the chaos caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The announcement comes in an email (dated 7 August, but released only five days later) from the Treasury Solicitor, the head of the government’s legal department.

It is a reply to a letter sent by Plan B on 7 July to the prime minister, Boris Johnson, about official plans to meet the climate emergency, and specifically how the UK should restore the economy after the ravages of Covid.

Claim ‘too late’

In it Plan B undertook to start legal action against the government unless it provided a clear explanation of how its Covid recovery programme would support the UK’s target of a net zero carbon economy, and also agreed that all government programmes would be compatible with its policy commitments to the Paris Agreement temperature rise limit of 1.5 ̊C.

The group’s director, Tim Crosland, wrote: “Treating the climate emergency as a ‘competing priority’ to Covid recovery is a catastrophic error, which must be quickly corrected to avoid tragic consequences.”

The government has now replied to Plan B’s threatened legal action by defending its decision to ignore the Paris Agreement in its decision to  continue to support the present carbon-based economy, claiming there is no legal obligation on it to take the Agreement into account.

Its email says that Plan B’s claim for judicial review has been made too late, and “any claim filed now would be significantly out-of-time and should be refused permission to apply for judicial review on that basis alone.”

“If the Paris Agreement does not apply now, then when?”

On the UK’s 2015 undertaking to work to limit greenhouse gas emissions, the Treasury Solicitor writes: “The Paris Agreement is an unincorporated international treaty which, in the context of the English dualist legal system [one which treats international and domestic systems of law as separate and independent], has no direct effect in domestic law.”

Plan B undertook an earlier legal battle over expansion proposals for London’s Heathrow airport, where the government argued that the Paris Agreement was irrelevant. In February the Court of Appeal disagreed with that assessment, and the government’s plans were ruled unlawful.

On 4 March, Boris Johnson told Parliament that the government would ensure that it did abide by that judgment and take account of the Paris convention. Tim Crosland says: “It seems that does not apply to billions of pounds of public money being provided to companies such as RyanAir, Easyjet, Rolls-Royce and Nissan.

“Instead of addressing the evidence that its bailouts for polluters will lock us into a disastrous trajectory towards 4˚C warming, risking billions of human lives, the government is hiding behind legal arguments to claim that it isn’t legally required to take that into account.

Inbuilt discrimination

‘That is not just reckless. It is a fundamental breach of the social contract. It is the basic responsibility of the government to safeguard its people.

“Nor does the government show any concern for the discriminatory impact of its catastrophic trajectory, which will hit hardest the younger generation, racially marginalised communities, and the Global South. Its primary concern is appeasing its corporate sponsors

“This has to be stopped. We will now begin work on filing our claim with the court.”

Jerry Amokwandoh worked with the Rhodes Must Fall movement in Oxford. He said: “Unconditional bailouts that contribute to the biggest pandemic of them all prove that our lives do not matter, the lives of my family in Ghana do not matter and an inhabitable world doesn’t matter. If the Paris Agreement does not apply now, then when?” − Climate News Network

Indian law restores once dried-up rivers to villagers

Indian villagers who brought dried-up rivers back to life then had to fight a legal battle to use their water.

LONDON, 7 August, 2020 – Drought and dried-up rivers can spell catastrophe for rural communities that rely on their crops for survival. But villagers in India have shown that both threats can be reversed and livelihoods restored – with the backing of the law.

Having succeeded in restoring their rivers’ flow, the villagers faced another battle with their local government and vested interests which wanted to take over the new water supply for their own use. So they went to court, formed their own “water parliament”, and wrested back control.

The story began back in 1985 in the parched lands of Rajasthan in north-west India, when villagers were suffering acutely because the rivers they relied on to water their crops were running dry. They resorted to building johads, traditional hand-dug earth dams, which capture water in the rainy season so that it can soak into the earth and be retained instead of flooding away uselessly.

Often called natural flood management, this approach mimics the natural process of rivers which become blocked by debris and trees – with the beneficial results seen in the complex ecosystems created by beavers, which build their own dams and thereby prevent flooding downstream while also storing water for the dry season.

The first dam was built at the original source of the Arvari river, which for the first 45 kilometres of its length had stopped flowing at all. It took 375 earth dams before the Arvari started to flow again, and 10 years before it became a perennial river once more.

“The unsustainable use of water in modern agriculture and the demands made on aquifers by conurbations is already at breaking point in many places around the globe”

Success was infectious. Altogether, over those 10 years, the residents of 1,000 villages built more than 8,600 johads and other structures to collect water for use in the dry seasons. Remarkably, five rivers – the Arvari, Ruparel, Sarsa, Bhagani and Jahajwali – began to flow again, their valleys turning green with crops.

The rivers gained in value again. So the government of Rajasthan, seeing an opportunity to make money, claimed ownership, even awarding fishing licences to contractors, who were stopped by furious local people.

Fortunately the courts sided with the protestors and handed control of the river to them after 72 villages formed what they called the Arvari River Parliament to administer the river and allot rights to water resources in a fair manner.

They were lucky: the Indian constitution allows local people to get financial and legal support in cases against perceived injustices. This meant they had access to justice which they could not otherwise have afforded. The system favours local democracy where it can be shown to work.

Over-exploitation

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change).

The story of the success of the earth dams is told by the RTA as part of its series publicising global examples of how projects and communities can combat the environmental destruction caused by the effects of climate heating.

The drying-up of water resources, combined with climate change, is one of the key problems of poor river management in many parts of the world. Climates vary markedly, but on rivers in Africa, Europe and the US vital water resources are also drying up, often through over-exploitation as well as drought.

The Alliance says: “The unsustainable use of water in modern agriculture and the demands made on aquifers by conurbations is already at breaking point in many places around the globe. Climate change is exacerbating this with higher temperatures in already dry places.”

Resisting usurpers

It cites a range of schemes used to tackle the problem, similar in essence to Rajasthan’s diversion of the wet season rains by the johads into underground aquifers rather than letting the water run to waste.

Its message is that solutions need to be low-tech, cheap and achievable by local people acting together democratically to decide what is best for the community. Often this involves resisting local government and big business in their attempts to exploit and profit from the scarce water   frequently the cause of the original damage to the river.

The Alliance says two lessons from Rajasthan translate to other locations and across cultures: first, the physical return of water in a controlled way to an arid environment is possible using low-tech, cheap, accessible solutions.

Second, it says, the guardianship of a natural resource can be achieved effectively by using a communal parliament where all interests are represented equally and fair decisions are taken. – Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Indian villagers who brought dried-up rivers back to life then had to fight a legal battle to use their water.

LONDON, 7 August, 2020 – Drought and dried-up rivers can spell catastrophe for rural communities that rely on their crops for survival. But villagers in India have shown that both threats can be reversed and livelihoods restored – with the backing of the law.

Having succeeded in restoring their rivers’ flow, the villagers faced another battle with their local government and vested interests which wanted to take over the new water supply for their own use. So they went to court, formed their own “water parliament”, and wrested back control.

The story began back in 1985 in the parched lands of Rajasthan in north-west India, when villagers were suffering acutely because the rivers they relied on to water their crops were running dry. They resorted to building johads, traditional hand-dug earth dams, which capture water in the rainy season so that it can soak into the earth and be retained instead of flooding away uselessly.

Often called natural flood management, this approach mimics the natural process of rivers which become blocked by debris and trees – with the beneficial results seen in the complex ecosystems created by beavers, which build their own dams and thereby prevent flooding downstream while also storing water for the dry season.

The first dam was built at the original source of the Arvari river, which for the first 45 kilometres of its length had stopped flowing at all. It took 375 earth dams before the Arvari started to flow again, and 10 years before it became a perennial river once more.

“The unsustainable use of water in modern agriculture and the demands made on aquifers by conurbations is already at breaking point in many places around the globe”

Success was infectious. Altogether, over those 10 years, the residents of 1,000 villages built more than 8,600 johads and other structures to collect water for use in the dry seasons. Remarkably, five rivers – the Arvari, Ruparel, Sarsa, Bhagani and Jahajwali – began to flow again, their valleys turning green with crops.

The rivers gained in value again. So the government of Rajasthan, seeing an opportunity to make money, claimed ownership, even awarding fishing licences to contractors, who were stopped by furious local people.

Fortunately the courts sided with the protestors and handed control of the river to them after 72 villages formed what they called the Arvari River Parliament to administer the river and allot rights to water resources in a fair manner.

They were lucky: the Indian constitution allows local people to get financial and legal support in cases against perceived injustices. This meant they had access to justice which they could not otherwise have afforded. The system favours local democracy where it can be shown to work.

Over-exploitation

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change).

The story of the success of the earth dams is told by the RTA as part of its series publicising global examples of how projects and communities can combat the environmental destruction caused by the effects of climate heating.

The drying-up of water resources, combined with climate change, is one of the key problems of poor river management in many parts of the world. Climates vary markedly, but on rivers in Africa, Europe and the US vital water resources are also drying up, often through over-exploitation as well as drought.

The Alliance says: “The unsustainable use of water in modern agriculture and the demands made on aquifers by conurbations is already at breaking point in many places around the globe. Climate change is exacerbating this with higher temperatures in already dry places.”

Resisting usurpers

It cites a range of schemes used to tackle the problem, similar in essence to Rajasthan’s diversion of the wet season rains by the johads into underground aquifers rather than letting the water run to waste.

Its message is that solutions need to be low-tech, cheap and achievable by local people acting together democratically to decide what is best for the community. Often this involves resisting local government and big business in their attempts to exploit and profit from the scarce water   frequently the cause of the original damage to the river.

The Alliance says two lessons from Rajasthan translate to other locations and across cultures: first, the physical return of water in a controlled way to an arid environment is possible using low-tech, cheap, accessible solutions.

Second, it says, the guardianship of a natural resource can be achieved effectively by using a communal parliament where all interests are represented equally and fair decisions are taken. – Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Ireland’s Supreme Court damns climate policies

The country’s highest judicial authority, Ireland’s Supreme Court, says the government’s climate policies are not up to the job.

DUBLIN, 4 August, 2020 – In what’s being seen as a landmark judgement, Ireland’s Supreme Court has ruled that the Dublin government’s policies on climate change are inadequate, and has called for more action and clarity on the issue.

A unanimous verdict by the seven-judge Supreme Court said the government’s policies on climate change were “excessively vague and aspirational” and lacked clear plans and goals.

The judgement in the case, brought by the group Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE), is likely to have considerable impact elsewhere in Europe, with the courts being used to bring pressure for more decisive action on climate change.

Clodagh Daly, a spokesperson for FIE, said the judgement was a “groundbreaking and a landmark verdict” for climate action in Ireland, and across the world.

“It (the judgement) means the Irish government can no longer make promises that it cannot fulfil”, said Daly.

Inadequate detail

She said the ruling made clear that the government could not talk about long-term commitments on climate change without showing how these could be achieved. There was “no legal basis for a lack of political will” on the issue, said Daly.

In its case FIE argued that the Dublin government’s National Mitigation Plan, spanning the years 2017 to 2022, had failed to properly set out plans on how climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions will be substantially reduced over the coming years.

The court found that the government had not met its obligations under a 2015 Irish law on climate action and had not provided adequate detail of how it intended to achieve a transition to a low-carbon economy by 2050.

The government, said the judges, was required to give “some realistic level of detail” about how it will meet its carbon reduction targets: the 2017 National Mitigation Plan “falls a long way” short of providing the sort of specifics required on the issue.

They singled out the agricultural sector as one area lacking clear guidance on lowering carbon emissions.

“It means the Irish government can no longer make promises that it cannot fulfil”

Ireland’s agricultural industry is a mainstay of the economy, but it is also one of the primary sources of carbon emissions, in large part due to methane produced by the country’s seven million-strong cattle herd. Despite its green image, Ireland is, on a per capita basis, one of the leading polluters in Europe.

Observers say the Supreme Court judgement is a clear sign that governments can be held legally accountable for their action – or lack of action – on climate change.

Following a general election and extended political negotiations, Ireland’s Green Party is, for the first time, part of a coalition government.

Eamon Ryan, the Green Party leader and minister for climate action in the new government, said the Supreme Court ruling would act as a guard rail, keeping policy and political attention focused on climate issues.

Micheál Martin, Ireland’s Taoiseach or prime minister, said his government was giving the ruling serious and considered examination. – Climate News Network

The country’s highest judicial authority, Ireland’s Supreme Court, says the government’s climate policies are not up to the job.

DUBLIN, 4 August, 2020 – In what’s being seen as a landmark judgement, Ireland’s Supreme Court has ruled that the Dublin government’s policies on climate change are inadequate, and has called for more action and clarity on the issue.

A unanimous verdict by the seven-judge Supreme Court said the government’s policies on climate change were “excessively vague and aspirational” and lacked clear plans and goals.

The judgement in the case, brought by the group Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE), is likely to have considerable impact elsewhere in Europe, with the courts being used to bring pressure for more decisive action on climate change.

Clodagh Daly, a spokesperson for FIE, said the judgement was a “groundbreaking and a landmark verdict” for climate action in Ireland, and across the world.

“It (the judgement) means the Irish government can no longer make promises that it cannot fulfil”, said Daly.

Inadequate detail

She said the ruling made clear that the government could not talk about long-term commitments on climate change without showing how these could be achieved. There was “no legal basis for a lack of political will” on the issue, said Daly.

In its case FIE argued that the Dublin government’s National Mitigation Plan, spanning the years 2017 to 2022, had failed to properly set out plans on how climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions will be substantially reduced over the coming years.

The court found that the government had not met its obligations under a 2015 Irish law on climate action and had not provided adequate detail of how it intended to achieve a transition to a low-carbon economy by 2050.

The government, said the judges, was required to give “some realistic level of detail” about how it will meet its carbon reduction targets: the 2017 National Mitigation Plan “falls a long way” short of providing the sort of specifics required on the issue.

They singled out the agricultural sector as one area lacking clear guidance on lowering carbon emissions.

“It means the Irish government can no longer make promises that it cannot fulfil”

Ireland’s agricultural industry is a mainstay of the economy, but it is also one of the primary sources of carbon emissions, in large part due to methane produced by the country’s seven million-strong cattle herd. Despite its green image, Ireland is, on a per capita basis, one of the leading polluters in Europe.

Observers say the Supreme Court judgement is a clear sign that governments can be held legally accountable for their action – or lack of action – on climate change.

Following a general election and extended political negotiations, Ireland’s Green Party is, for the first time, part of a coalition government.

Eamon Ryan, the Green Party leader and minister for climate action in the new government, said the Supreme Court ruling would act as a guard rail, keeping policy and political attention focused on climate issues.

Micheál Martin, Ireland’s Taoiseach or prime minister, said his government was giving the ruling serious and considered examination. – Climate News Network

Direct virus lessons we can learn as we go

Learning from pandemics is hard but vital. We need 1918’s virus lessons this time round to show us a better normal.

LONDON, 8 April, 2020 – What history knows as the 1918 ‘flu pandemic infected about a quarter of the world’s population at the time – around 500 million people – and left virus lessons for this generation, whether or not it’s learned them.

Thankfully, the 2020 coronavirus outbreak shows no sign yet of matching last century’s virulence. There are growing calls, though, for the world not just to get back to normal, but to turn this global horror into an opportunity to rebuild by finding a better normal to reclaim.

In late 2018 the Rapid Transition Alliance was launched with the intention of building a community to learn from moments of sudden change and to apply those lessons to the climate emergency.

Changes in the biosphere are happening faster than changes in human behaviour, so the question the Alliance asks is this: how do we match the speed and scale of social and economic change with the science – and what it is telling us to do?

It is now working with two other British organisations, the original Green New Deal group and Compass, the campaign that builds support for new ideas among social movements, decision-makers and political parties.

“Once people have seen what it is possible for a nation to do, and how fast it can do it, it is much harder for those in power to justify inaction, or wrong action”

In the first of several digital meetings the three have begun to sketch out a framework for how society can “learn as we go” from unprecedented events. They have identified five principles for a just recovery, which say in essence:

  • Health is the top priority, for all people, with no exceptions. That means resourcing health services everywhere and ensuring access for all.
  • Providing economic relief directly to the people is vital, particularly those marginalised in existing systems. Concentrate on people and workers and on short-term needs and long-term conditions.
  • Assistance directed at specific industries must be channelled to rescuing communities and workers, not shareholders or corporate executives, and never to corporations whose actions worsen the climate crisis.
  • The world needs to create resilience for future crises by creating millions of decent jobs that will help power a just transition for workers and communities to the zero-carbon future we need.
  • We must build solidarity and community across borders: do not empower authoritarians, do not use the crisis as an excuse to trample on human rights, civil liberties, and democracy.

An indication of the degree of international support for the five principles is available here.

Making things happen

The principles are already accepted by millions of people, but are no closer to reality, for all that. If they were, the climate crisis would be almost over. What can the three groups offer to make them happen?

The coordinator of the Rapid Transition Alliance is Andrew Simms, author of a summary of what the discussions have agreed so far. He told the Climate News Network: “Nobody can guarantee that things will turn out any certain way.

“But once people have seen what it is possible for a nation to do, and how fast it can do it, it is much harder for those in power to justify inaction, or wrong action.

“The current pandemic crisis is wreaking havoc on families, communities and whole economies. But it is also changing our ideas about what really matters to people and also what it is possible to do as a nation when faced with a great challenge.

“There is a new appreciation of key workers who provide the goods and services that a society really relies on – like health services and those in the food supply chain – but who typically lack recognition or are poorly paid.

Good-bye to inertia

“One of the greatest enemies in overcoming the climate emergency has been the sheer inertia of business-as-usual. Now there is a great sense of people taking stock of what is truly important.

“Vitally, when there is a fundamental threat to society, we have seen that financial resources can be mobilised. Fundamental change cannot happen without there being a consensus that it is both desirable and possible.

“The last few weeks have made visible underlying cracks in society, but also our ability to fix them. Once people have seen that, they are unlikely to settle for less.”

This first meeting spent some time talking practicalities, including how to protect wages and income. One example was the call by a member of Parliament for the introduction of a basic income scheme. Globally, the pandemic has prompted the United Nations to call for a worldwide ceasefire.

Overall, the summary says, greater consensus is emerging on how our economy and way of life relies on public not private interests, from health services to community aid groups, and that both local and national government have a vital enabling role on the need to improve the resilience of the economy at a national and local level.

Broadband before wheels

A radical reappraisal of transport came days after the meeting from the president of the UK’s Automobile Association (AA), Edmund King, who predicted a major shift in behaviour after the pandemic.

“People travelling up and down motorways just to hold meetings is inefficient, expensive and not good for the environment”, he said. “I think the use of road and rail and indeed bus will be reduced after this crisis.”

The AA, seen for years as a stalwart member of the roads lobby, said government funds for new transport infrastructure, including roads, might be better spent on improving broadband access to support home working.

The meeting agreed that the UK economy lacks a supportive town centre retail banking infrastructure with the capacity to administer a support scheme.

The build-up to the 2007-2008 financial crisis saw the evacuation of local banking services from the high street, and now the pandemic was making clear that the withering of local financial infrastructure in the UK must be reversed.

Universal and more mutual banking services are needed to build more resilient local economies, the three groups agreed. More progressive business models like social enterprises, which have direct community links, and the co-operative movement may help to provide answers. – Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Learning from pandemics is hard but vital. We need 1918’s virus lessons this time round to show us a better normal.

LONDON, 8 April, 2020 – What history knows as the 1918 ‘flu pandemic infected about a quarter of the world’s population at the time – around 500 million people – and left virus lessons for this generation, whether or not it’s learned them.

Thankfully, the 2020 coronavirus outbreak shows no sign yet of matching last century’s virulence. There are growing calls, though, for the world not just to get back to normal, but to turn this global horror into an opportunity to rebuild by finding a better normal to reclaim.

In late 2018 the Rapid Transition Alliance was launched with the intention of building a community to learn from moments of sudden change and to apply those lessons to the climate emergency.

Changes in the biosphere are happening faster than changes in human behaviour, so the question the Alliance asks is this: how do we match the speed and scale of social and economic change with the science – and what it is telling us to do?

It is now working with two other British organisations, the original Green New Deal group and Compass, the campaign that builds support for new ideas among social movements, decision-makers and political parties.

“Once people have seen what it is possible for a nation to do, and how fast it can do it, it is much harder for those in power to justify inaction, or wrong action”

In the first of several digital meetings the three have begun to sketch out a framework for how society can “learn as we go” from unprecedented events. They have identified five principles for a just recovery, which say in essence:

  • Health is the top priority, for all people, with no exceptions. That means resourcing health services everywhere and ensuring access for all.
  • Providing economic relief directly to the people is vital, particularly those marginalised in existing systems. Concentrate on people and workers and on short-term needs and long-term conditions.
  • Assistance directed at specific industries must be channelled to rescuing communities and workers, not shareholders or corporate executives, and never to corporations whose actions worsen the climate crisis.
  • The world needs to create resilience for future crises by creating millions of decent jobs that will help power a just transition for workers and communities to the zero-carbon future we need.
  • We must build solidarity and community across borders: do not empower authoritarians, do not use the crisis as an excuse to trample on human rights, civil liberties, and democracy.

An indication of the degree of international support for the five principles is available here.

Making things happen

The principles are already accepted by millions of people, but are no closer to reality, for all that. If they were, the climate crisis would be almost over. What can the three groups offer to make them happen?

The coordinator of the Rapid Transition Alliance is Andrew Simms, author of a summary of what the discussions have agreed so far. He told the Climate News Network: “Nobody can guarantee that things will turn out any certain way.

“But once people have seen what it is possible for a nation to do, and how fast it can do it, it is much harder for those in power to justify inaction, or wrong action.

“The current pandemic crisis is wreaking havoc on families, communities and whole economies. But it is also changing our ideas about what really matters to people and also what it is possible to do as a nation when faced with a great challenge.

“There is a new appreciation of key workers who provide the goods and services that a society really relies on – like health services and those in the food supply chain – but who typically lack recognition or are poorly paid.

Good-bye to inertia

“One of the greatest enemies in overcoming the climate emergency has been the sheer inertia of business-as-usual. Now there is a great sense of people taking stock of what is truly important.

“Vitally, when there is a fundamental threat to society, we have seen that financial resources can be mobilised. Fundamental change cannot happen without there being a consensus that it is both desirable and possible.

“The last few weeks have made visible underlying cracks in society, but also our ability to fix them. Once people have seen that, they are unlikely to settle for less.”

This first meeting spent some time talking practicalities, including how to protect wages and income. One example was the call by a member of Parliament for the introduction of a basic income scheme. Globally, the pandemic has prompted the United Nations to call for a worldwide ceasefire.

Overall, the summary says, greater consensus is emerging on how our economy and way of life relies on public not private interests, from health services to community aid groups, and that both local and national government have a vital enabling role on the need to improve the resilience of the economy at a national and local level.

Broadband before wheels

A radical reappraisal of transport came days after the meeting from the president of the UK’s Automobile Association (AA), Edmund King, who predicted a major shift in behaviour after the pandemic.

“People travelling up and down motorways just to hold meetings is inefficient, expensive and not good for the environment”, he said. “I think the use of road and rail and indeed bus will be reduced after this crisis.”

The AA, seen for years as a stalwart member of the roads lobby, said government funds for new transport infrastructure, including roads, might be better spent on improving broadband access to support home working.

The meeting agreed that the UK economy lacks a supportive town centre retail banking infrastructure with the capacity to administer a support scheme.

The build-up to the 2007-2008 financial crisis saw the evacuation of local banking services from the high street, and now the pandemic was making clear that the withering of local financial infrastructure in the UK must be reversed.

Universal and more mutual banking services are needed to build more resilient local economies, the three groups agreed. More progressive business models like social enterprises, which have direct community links, and the co-operative movement may help to provide answers. – Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Fast pandemic response could tackle climate crisis

Societies worldwide are changing overnight to meet the coronavirus threat. The climate crisis should match the rapid pandemic response.

LONDON, 26 March, 2020 – If you want to know how fast a modern society can change, go to most British town centres and see the pandemic response. They will be unrecognisable from what they were 10 days ago.

You’ll see far fewer pedestrians, now sheltering from coronavirus infection at home, far fewer vehicles, hardly an aircraft in the skies above. The familiar levels of urban noise have faded to a murmur. The usual air pollution is dropping fast, with reports of significant falls from not just the UK but China and northern Italy as well.

So we can change when we decide to, and a pandemic demands change that’s both radical and rapid. But pandemics are not unique in that respect: there’s something else on the world’s agenda that’s crying out for action to match what’s happening today.

Dieter Helm is professor of economic policy at New College, University of Oxford. He writes in the latest entry on his site: “The coronavirus crisis will come to an end even if coronavirus does not … What will not be forgotten by future historians is climate change and the destruction of the natural environment.” What can we learn from this crisis that will help us when it’s over?

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C”.

“Prevention and resilience are what we need, to mitigate not just viruses, but also the destruction of the wider natural environment”

It says pandemics show how good governments are at responding fast and effectively, and at changing economic priorities in the public interest. But one vital element is to ensure that people clearly understand the risks involved, as this can lead to much faster, co-ordinated responses to an emergency, explaining and justifying policy changes that otherwise might lack support.

People can change their daily habits very quickly. Where behaviour changes show that more sustainable behaviour is possible – such as avoiding unnecessary travel – many could be encouraged to adopt them as a new norm.

Reactions to COVID-19 in China have improved urban air quality, leading to emissions reductions in different industrial sectors ranging from 15% – 40%. If plummeting levels of air pollution gave people a lasting taste for cleaner air, the Alliance suggests, this might shift expectations and open up new possibilities for change.

We can very quickly change our expectations about how we travel, work and entertain ourselves in a pandemic, it believes, and how we learn to behave, so as to minimise transmission risks.

There have been previous successes in overcoming pandemics, although they happened in different eras, using different technologies and living with different customs and systems of belief, so we  cannot always learn directly from them.

One recent success has been the international effort to subdue HIV/AIDS. First identified in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1976, the disease has killed more than 32 million people, yet since 1995 death rates from it have dropped by 80%.

Not profit alone

The World Health Organisation estimates that there were around 37.9 million people living with HIV at the end of 2018, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2002, UNAIDS negotiated with five pharmaceutical companies to reduce anti-retroviral drug prices for developing countries – a key step in making combating the disease a greater priority than profit.

Between 2000 and 2018 new HIV infections fell by 37% and HIV-related deaths fell by 45%. Changes in attitude, the RTA argues, have been vital in achieving an effective response, including the action of a well-known early casualty, Rock Hudson, who left funds for research into the virus, and Princess Diana, who famously shook hands with an AIDS sufferer to show the condition was not contagious.

Between 2005 and 2012 annual global deaths from HIV/AIDS dropped from 2.2m to 1.6m, and dropped again by 2018 to 770,000.

The RTA argues that Inadequate action on climate heating is like knowing the cure to COVID-19 and yet failing to manufacture and distribute it and treat people affected by it.

Action trails promises

Some of the latest climate research points to a growing gap between the commitments on the climate emergency which nations have made, and the action which scientists say is needed, and the RTA says three lessons on rapid transition stand out from global pandemic responses:

  • A clear understanding of risk can lead to much faster, co-ordinated responses to an emergency
  • The rapid, physical mobilisation of resources can happen alongside behaviour change. People can change their daily habits very quickly and adapt to new social norms
  • Where adaptations and behaviour changes reveal possibilities for more sustainable behaviour – such as avoiding unnecessary travel – they should be encouraged to become the new norm, and part of the broader climate emergency response.

Professor Helm agrees that there are lessons to be learnt about the climate crisis from the world’s reaction to pandemics, but he doesn’t think they will all necessarily be welcome.

For a start, he says, “the virus has created an economic crisis, and people will be less willing to pay for saving future generations. There are more immediate pressing problems.”

Warning that history will remember climate change, biodiversity loss and our ravaging of the Earth, he concludes: “It remains to be seen whether this particular crisis leads to a broader and a more fundamental rethink. We have not paid enough to support the health service, preferring lower taxes.

“There is a broader lesson here too, and a really great legacy of this crisis would be that we learn it. Prevention and resilience are what we need, to mitigate not just viruses, but also the destruction of the wider natural environment.” − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Societies worldwide are changing overnight to meet the coronavirus threat. The climate crisis should match the rapid pandemic response.

LONDON, 26 March, 2020 – If you want to know how fast a modern society can change, go to most British town centres and see the pandemic response. They will be unrecognisable from what they were 10 days ago.

You’ll see far fewer pedestrians, now sheltering from coronavirus infection at home, far fewer vehicles, hardly an aircraft in the skies above. The familiar levels of urban noise have faded to a murmur. The usual air pollution is dropping fast, with reports of significant falls from not just the UK but China and northern Italy as well.

So we can change when we decide to, and a pandemic demands change that’s both radical and rapid. But pandemics are not unique in that respect: there’s something else on the world’s agenda that’s crying out for action to match what’s happening today.

Dieter Helm is professor of economic policy at New College, University of Oxford. He writes in the latest entry on his site: “The coronavirus crisis will come to an end even if coronavirus does not … What will not be forgotten by future historians is climate change and the destruction of the natural environment.” What can we learn from this crisis that will help us when it’s over?

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C”.

“Prevention and resilience are what we need, to mitigate not just viruses, but also the destruction of the wider natural environment”

It says pandemics show how good governments are at responding fast and effectively, and at changing economic priorities in the public interest. But one vital element is to ensure that people clearly understand the risks involved, as this can lead to much faster, co-ordinated responses to an emergency, explaining and justifying policy changes that otherwise might lack support.

People can change their daily habits very quickly. Where behaviour changes show that more sustainable behaviour is possible – such as avoiding unnecessary travel – many could be encouraged to adopt them as a new norm.

Reactions to COVID-19 in China have improved urban air quality, leading to emissions reductions in different industrial sectors ranging from 15% – 40%. If plummeting levels of air pollution gave people a lasting taste for cleaner air, the Alliance suggests, this might shift expectations and open up new possibilities for change.

We can very quickly change our expectations about how we travel, work and entertain ourselves in a pandemic, it believes, and how we learn to behave, so as to minimise transmission risks.

There have been previous successes in overcoming pandemics, although they happened in different eras, using different technologies and living with different customs and systems of belief, so we  cannot always learn directly from them.

One recent success has been the international effort to subdue HIV/AIDS. First identified in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1976, the disease has killed more than 32 million people, yet since 1995 death rates from it have dropped by 80%.

Not profit alone

The World Health Organisation estimates that there were around 37.9 million people living with HIV at the end of 2018, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2002, UNAIDS negotiated with five pharmaceutical companies to reduce anti-retroviral drug prices for developing countries – a key step in making combating the disease a greater priority than profit.

Between 2000 and 2018 new HIV infections fell by 37% and HIV-related deaths fell by 45%. Changes in attitude, the RTA argues, have been vital in achieving an effective response, including the action of a well-known early casualty, Rock Hudson, who left funds for research into the virus, and Princess Diana, who famously shook hands with an AIDS sufferer to show the condition was not contagious.

Between 2005 and 2012 annual global deaths from HIV/AIDS dropped from 2.2m to 1.6m, and dropped again by 2018 to 770,000.

The RTA argues that Inadequate action on climate heating is like knowing the cure to COVID-19 and yet failing to manufacture and distribute it and treat people affected by it.

Action trails promises

Some of the latest climate research points to a growing gap between the commitments on the climate emergency which nations have made, and the action which scientists say is needed, and the RTA says three lessons on rapid transition stand out from global pandemic responses:

  • A clear understanding of risk can lead to much faster, co-ordinated responses to an emergency
  • The rapid, physical mobilisation of resources can happen alongside behaviour change. People can change their daily habits very quickly and adapt to new social norms
  • Where adaptations and behaviour changes reveal possibilities for more sustainable behaviour – such as avoiding unnecessary travel – they should be encouraged to become the new norm, and part of the broader climate emergency response.

Professor Helm agrees that there are lessons to be learnt about the climate crisis from the world’s reaction to pandemics, but he doesn’t think they will all necessarily be welcome.

For a start, he says, “the virus has created an economic crisis, and people will be less willing to pay for saving future generations. There are more immediate pressing problems.”

Warning that history will remember climate change, biodiversity loss and our ravaging of the Earth, he concludes: “It remains to be seen whether this particular crisis leads to a broader and a more fundamental rethink. We have not paid enough to support the health service, preferring lower taxes.

“There is a broader lesson here too, and a really great legacy of this crisis would be that we learn it. Prevention and resilience are what we need, to mitigate not just viruses, but also the destruction of the wider natural environment.” − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Ex-general takes over Brazil’s Amazon protection

Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, is a former soldier. He’s now appointed an ex-military colleague to oversee Amazon protection, causing widespread dismay.

SÃO PAULO, 31 January, 2020 − Alarmed by warnings that his neglect of the need to protect the Amazon could lead to disinvestment and export bans, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has turned to his usual solution to problems: call in the army.

He has chosen his vice-president, retired general Hamilton Mourão, to head a new Amazon Council which will co-ordinate “the activities of all the ministries involved in the protection, defence and development and sustainable development of the Amazon”.

He has also decided to create a new environmental police force (in Portuguese) to protect the Amazon. The “Green Police” will recruit agents from local state forces.

The creation of the council is a belated attempt to undo the damage done in the first year of Bolsonaro’s government, when the environment ministry was entrusted to right-wing climate sceptic Ricardo Salles.

Salles, a São Paulo lawyer who had never set foot in the Amazon and faces charges of fraud dating from his term as environment secretary of the local state government, immediately set about dismantling the ministry’s capacity to monitor deforestation, enforce the law and fine offenders, replacing experienced, qualified staff with retired police officers, and blaming Greenpeace and other NGOs for environmental disasters.

“What finally persuaded Bolsonaro that he had to listen to the critics was pressure from Brazilian exporters and foreign investors”

As a result of his unfounded accusations of irregularities among recipients, Norway and Germany suspended their contributions to the billion dollar Amazon Fund, set up in 2000 to finance sustainable development projects and firefighting brigades.

Bolsonaro also gave the go-ahead to wildcat miners and landgrabbers to invade protected areas, with remarks that disparaged indigenous peoples and encouraged economic activities in the rainforest.

The effect of this policy was a huge surge in Amazon forest fires and a big increase in deforestation over the previous year. When confronted with the figures, Bolsonaro’s answer was to accuse the head of Brazil’s internationally respected monitoring agency, INPE, of lying and being in the pay of NGOs, forcing him to resign.

What finally persuaded Bolsonaro that he had to listen to the critics was pressure from Brazilian exporters and foreign investors.

Change of tune

With disinvestment in environmentally unsustainable areas growing, large investment fund managers warned that pressure from shareholders, increasingly worried about the climate crisis, would force them to pull out of Brazil unless the government changed its tune and began protecting the Amazon.

Brazil’s politically powerful agribusiness lobby spelt out the consequences for their grain and meat exports if the government continued to encourage deforestation, because consumers now demand sustainability.

But instead of sacking his environment minister or increasing funds to prevent deforestation and fires, Bolsonaro has appointed Hamilton Mourão, whose Amazon experience is five years as military commander in the region, to sort out the problem.

Scientists, environmentalists and NGOs with years of experience in the Amazon were not consulted before the surprise move. Even Mourão himself, when interviewed, was vague about what he is meant to do or how he will do it.

Ignoring local knowledge

The army’s involvement in the Amazon began in the 1960s when Brazil was at the beginning of a 21-year-long military dictatorship. The key word was development – highways, dams, cattle ranches – ignoring the indigenous and traditional people who already lived there. As a result, thousands were displaced and many died from diseases transmittted by outsiders.

The decision to resort to the military has caused dismay among environmentalists. Suely Araújo, former head of Ibama, the environmental enforcement agency, who resigned in protest (in Portuguese) at the minister’s and Bolsonaro’s comments, said: “The solution is not in militarising environmental policy… military support for operations in critical areas might be necessary, but it should be understood that environmental monitoring has to go way beyond troops on the ground.”

She pointed out that Ibama’s 2020 budget for monitoring work throughout Brazil has been slashed by 25% over the previous year.

The latest figures from INPE show an 85.3% increase in deforestation (in Portuguese) for the year ending in August 2019, compared with the year before. Fires for the same period were 30% higher. − Climate News Network

Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, is a former soldier. He’s now appointed an ex-military colleague to oversee Amazon protection, causing widespread dismay.

SÃO PAULO, 31 January, 2020 − Alarmed by warnings that his neglect of the need to protect the Amazon could lead to disinvestment and export bans, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has turned to his usual solution to problems: call in the army.

He has chosen his vice-president, retired general Hamilton Mourão, to head a new Amazon Council which will co-ordinate “the activities of all the ministries involved in the protection, defence and development and sustainable development of the Amazon”.

He has also decided to create a new environmental police force (in Portuguese) to protect the Amazon. The “Green Police” will recruit agents from local state forces.

The creation of the council is a belated attempt to undo the damage done in the first year of Bolsonaro’s government, when the environment ministry was entrusted to right-wing climate sceptic Ricardo Salles.

Salles, a São Paulo lawyer who had never set foot in the Amazon and faces charges of fraud dating from his term as environment secretary of the local state government, immediately set about dismantling the ministry’s capacity to monitor deforestation, enforce the law and fine offenders, replacing experienced, qualified staff with retired police officers, and blaming Greenpeace and other NGOs for environmental disasters.

“What finally persuaded Bolsonaro that he had to listen to the critics was pressure from Brazilian exporters and foreign investors”

As a result of his unfounded accusations of irregularities among recipients, Norway and Germany suspended their contributions to the billion dollar Amazon Fund, set up in 2000 to finance sustainable development projects and firefighting brigades.

Bolsonaro also gave the go-ahead to wildcat miners and landgrabbers to invade protected areas, with remarks that disparaged indigenous peoples and encouraged economic activities in the rainforest.

The effect of this policy was a huge surge in Amazon forest fires and a big increase in deforestation over the previous year. When confronted with the figures, Bolsonaro’s answer was to accuse the head of Brazil’s internationally respected monitoring agency, INPE, of lying and being in the pay of NGOs, forcing him to resign.

What finally persuaded Bolsonaro that he had to listen to the critics was pressure from Brazilian exporters and foreign investors.

Change of tune

With disinvestment in environmentally unsustainable areas growing, large investment fund managers warned that pressure from shareholders, increasingly worried about the climate crisis, would force them to pull out of Brazil unless the government changed its tune and began protecting the Amazon.

Brazil’s politically powerful agribusiness lobby spelt out the consequences for their grain and meat exports if the government continued to encourage deforestation, because consumers now demand sustainability.

But instead of sacking his environment minister or increasing funds to prevent deforestation and fires, Bolsonaro has appointed Hamilton Mourão, whose Amazon experience is five years as military commander in the region, to sort out the problem.

Scientists, environmentalists and NGOs with years of experience in the Amazon were not consulted before the surprise move. Even Mourão himself, when interviewed, was vague about what he is meant to do or how he will do it.

Ignoring local knowledge

The army’s involvement in the Amazon began in the 1960s when Brazil was at the beginning of a 21-year-long military dictatorship. The key word was development – highways, dams, cattle ranches – ignoring the indigenous and traditional people who already lived there. As a result, thousands were displaced and many died from diseases transmittted by outsiders.

The decision to resort to the military has caused dismay among environmentalists. Suely Araújo, former head of Ibama, the environmental enforcement agency, who resigned in protest (in Portuguese) at the minister’s and Bolsonaro’s comments, said: “The solution is not in militarising environmental policy… military support for operations in critical areas might be necessary, but it should be understood that environmental monitoring has to go way beyond troops on the ground.”

She pointed out that Ibama’s 2020 budget for monitoring work throughout Brazil has been slashed by 25% over the previous year.

The latest figures from INPE show an 85.3% increase in deforestation (in Portuguese) for the year ending in August 2019, compared with the year before. Fires for the same period were 30% higher. − Climate News Network

Iceland put people first to save melting economy

Faced in 2008 with a melting economy, Iceland acted fast to avoid total collapse. Icelanders’ own needs were its priority.

LONDON, 27 November, 2019 − What can you do if you’re a smallish island in the North Atlantic with a lot of snow and a melting economy? Quite a lot, it turns out, if you’re prepared to put local people’s needs first.

Iceland was hailed recently for erecting a memorial plaque to one of its most striking features, Okjökull, which shrank so drastically because of climate breakdown that it lost its status as a glacier. It was the first in Iceland to do so, and is now known, fittingly, by a diminutive, as Ok.

Barely 10 years ago, when the country was in the grip of a different crisis, the pace of its far from glacial response showed how quickly rapid changes of government policy can turn a crisis around.

Iceland was at the heart of the global financial crisis in late 2008 and was nearly destroyed by it; 97% of its banking sector collapsed in just three days. its three largest banks − Glitnir, Kaupthing and Landsbankinn − had accumulated a debt of $85 billion (£66bn), equivalent to 10 times the country’s national income (GDP), or 20 times the national budget.

These losses amounted to $330,000 for every man, woman and child on the island, whose stock market then collapsed, with huge numbers of businesses going bankrupt. Iceland approached the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for emergency aid − the first western country to do so since 1976 − and obtained a loan of $2.1bn (£1.4bn).

“It is possible that the Icelandic way of governing also played a part. Was their natural reflex to protect the many, rather than the few?”

So how did it manage to survive? First, it allowed a default on the $85bn in debt accumulated by the banks. A new national mood set in, creating lasting conditions for change and the desire for new economic approaches.

Other countries had largely let banks off the hook, but in 2015 Iceland’s Supreme Court upheld convictions against bankers at the heart of the crisis. Finance is now so sensitive that when the Prime Minister was caught up in revelations from the release of the so-called Panama Papers, he was forced from office.

The debts are now largely paid off, but most multinational businesses have left Iceland, for fear of the capital controls. A huge expansion in tourism has rescued the nation’s economy, though average wages are now much lower.

The government protected Icelanders’ bank deposits and forgave debts for a quarter of the population. As Bloomberg News reported in 2012, “Iceland’s approach to dealing with the meltdown has put the needs of its population ahead of the markets at every turn.”

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), a global initiative which aims to learn from rapid change to address urgent environmental problems, believes Iceland’s way of extricating itself quickly from the global crisis has lessons for other countries, some of which are still paying a heavy price for the events of 2008 and the way they reacted.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that individual countries cannot independently follow radically different economic policy and control capital flows, says the RTA, Iceland shows they can, and quickly;

Radical change can usher in a virtuous circle, by becoming a habit: once you’ve started, new opportunities may open up for yet more change;

And, perhaps most surprisingly of all, the Alliance says, it is possible to put people before the demands of financial markets and still run a successful economy. Citizen engagement and economic reform can go hand in hand.

Iceland’s economy had thrived on speculative finance but, after the meltdown, rather than making the public pay for the crisis, as the Nobel economist Paul Krugman points out, Iceland “let the banks go bust and actually expanded its social safety net”. Instead of placating financial markets, it introduced temporary controls on the movement of capital to give itself room to manoeuvre.

Following this, a “pots and pans” revolution kick-started a process that led to a new citizen-drafted constitution, which succeeded in engaging half the electorate.

The constitutional exercise proposed a new approach to the ownership of natural resources for the public good, which has had a lasting effect on the country’s choices: all its electricity and heat today comes from renewable sources, and transparency has become a central part of Icelandic public life.

The RTA thinks there were several key factors that enabled such rapid and fundamental change: the extent to which the economic system was irreparably damaged; the decision by the government to respond to the people’s demands and not to those of the banks; and the decision to punish those at fault and start anew.

It concludes: “It is possible that the Icelandic way of governing also played a part, because they have a longstanding history of deeply embedded democracy and a culture that discourages hierarchy. Was their natural reflex to protect the many, rather than the few?” − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Faced in 2008 with a melting economy, Iceland acted fast to avoid total collapse. Icelanders’ own needs were its priority.

LONDON, 27 November, 2019 − What can you do if you’re a smallish island in the North Atlantic with a lot of snow and a melting economy? Quite a lot, it turns out, if you’re prepared to put local people’s needs first.

Iceland was hailed recently for erecting a memorial plaque to one of its most striking features, Okjökull, which shrank so drastically because of climate breakdown that it lost its status as a glacier. It was the first in Iceland to do so, and is now known, fittingly, by a diminutive, as Ok.

Barely 10 years ago, when the country was in the grip of a different crisis, the pace of its far from glacial response showed how quickly rapid changes of government policy can turn a crisis around.

Iceland was at the heart of the global financial crisis in late 2008 and was nearly destroyed by it; 97% of its banking sector collapsed in just three days. its three largest banks − Glitnir, Kaupthing and Landsbankinn − had accumulated a debt of $85 billion (£66bn), equivalent to 10 times the country’s national income (GDP), or 20 times the national budget.

These losses amounted to $330,000 for every man, woman and child on the island, whose stock market then collapsed, with huge numbers of businesses going bankrupt. Iceland approached the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for emergency aid − the first western country to do so since 1976 − and obtained a loan of $2.1bn (£1.4bn).

“It is possible that the Icelandic way of governing also played a part. Was their natural reflex to protect the many, rather than the few?”

So how did it manage to survive? First, it allowed a default on the $85bn in debt accumulated by the banks. A new national mood set in, creating lasting conditions for change and the desire for new economic approaches.

Other countries had largely let banks off the hook, but in 2015 Iceland’s Supreme Court upheld convictions against bankers at the heart of the crisis. Finance is now so sensitive that when the Prime Minister was caught up in revelations from the release of the so-called Panama Papers, he was forced from office.

The debts are now largely paid off, but most multinational businesses have left Iceland, for fear of the capital controls. A huge expansion in tourism has rescued the nation’s economy, though average wages are now much lower.

The government protected Icelanders’ bank deposits and forgave debts for a quarter of the population. As Bloomberg News reported in 2012, “Iceland’s approach to dealing with the meltdown has put the needs of its population ahead of the markets at every turn.”

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), a global initiative which aims to learn from rapid change to address urgent environmental problems, believes Iceland’s way of extricating itself quickly from the global crisis has lessons for other countries, some of which are still paying a heavy price for the events of 2008 and the way they reacted.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that individual countries cannot independently follow radically different economic policy and control capital flows, says the RTA, Iceland shows they can, and quickly;

Radical change can usher in a virtuous circle, by becoming a habit: once you’ve started, new opportunities may open up for yet more change;

And, perhaps most surprisingly of all, the Alliance says, it is possible to put people before the demands of financial markets and still run a successful economy. Citizen engagement and economic reform can go hand in hand.

Iceland’s economy had thrived on speculative finance but, after the meltdown, rather than making the public pay for the crisis, as the Nobel economist Paul Krugman points out, Iceland “let the banks go bust and actually expanded its social safety net”. Instead of placating financial markets, it introduced temporary controls on the movement of capital to give itself room to manoeuvre.

Following this, a “pots and pans” revolution kick-started a process that led to a new citizen-drafted constitution, which succeeded in engaging half the electorate.

The constitutional exercise proposed a new approach to the ownership of natural resources for the public good, which has had a lasting effect on the country’s choices: all its electricity and heat today comes from renewable sources, and transparency has become a central part of Icelandic public life.

The RTA thinks there were several key factors that enabled such rapid and fundamental change: the extent to which the economic system was irreparably damaged; the decision by the government to respond to the people’s demands and not to those of the banks; and the decision to punish those at fault and start anew.

It concludes: “It is possible that the Icelandic way of governing also played a part, because they have a longstanding history of deeply embedded democracy and a culture that discourages hierarchy. Was their natural reflex to protect the many, rather than the few?” − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Bolsonaro’s legal bonfire fuels Amazon inferno

Brazil’s president has destroyed the protection enacted by his predecessors, leaving an Amazon inferno to torch the rainforest.

SÃO PAULO , 26 August, 2019 − The dry season in Brazil is only just beginning, but fires are raging throughout the rainforest, leaving an Amazon inferno, and heavy palls of sooty smoke engulfing towns and cities.

The images of huge patches of Earth’s largest tropical forest being reduced to charred ashes and blackened tree stumps have alarmed the world as the planet’s biggest carbon sink is transformed instead into a source of carbon emissions.

President Jair Bolsonaro, who has deliberately weakened public policies which were in place to protect the rainforest and punish illegal loggers and farmers, tried to blame NGOs and indigenous peoples for the fires.
His foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, decided it is all a leftwing plot to destroy Brazil.

The truth is less exotic. All the evidence points to the fires, many inside protected areas and national parks, being deliberately started by land grabbers, ranchers and farmers, to claim the land, once cleared of forest, as theirs.

“The Amazon is our common good”

Encouraged by the president’s openly pro-development, anti-environment agenda, they are so confident that they will not be punished that in one small Amazon town, Novo Progresso, the local paper published a call by local farmers for a “Day of Fire” with the declared aim of showing Bolsonaro they were ready to open up the land for agriculture.

The day chosen was 10 August. The following day INPE, the government’s institute for space research, which monitors the Amazon daily, recorded an explosion of fires, with over 200 in the immediate area, including some in the Jamanxim national forest and the Serra do Cachimbo nature reserve, both protected areas.

INPE recorded over 72,000 fires all over Brazil during the first seven months of this year. The INPE system of deforestation alerts in real time, Deter, showed an increase of 278% over the year before. From August 2018 to July 2019 it showed a total of 6,833 sq kms of cleared forest, up from 4,572 sq kms between August 2017 and July 2018.

When confronted with these statistics, instead of taking steps to halt the fires and the deforestation, Bolsonaro declared the numbers were “lies” and forced the director, Ricardo Galvão, a highly respected scientist, to resign.

Day becomes night

However, what caused the shockwaves that turned the fires into an international crisis was the huge black cloud of smog which descended on São Paulo, Brazil’s biggest metropolis, on Monday 19 August, turning day into night.

Scientists, with the aid of satellite images from Nasa, concluded that the cloud came from fires in Brazil’s mid-west and north, as well as from neighbouring Bolivia and Paraguay.

INPE researcher Saulo Ribeiro de Freitas, quoted by FAPESP, São Paulo’s scientific research institute, said that the mass of polluted air generated by the fires in these areas was pushed to a height of 5,000m by the winds blowing from east to west, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, until they hit the Andes mountains.

Then the air was blown south by the anti-cyclone system. de Freitas explained that “the convergence of this mass of polluted air coming from the north with a cold front coming from the south” produced “a river of soot which mingled with other pollutants in the atmosphere, like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, ozone, nitrous oxide and methane, to form a smog.”

For the first time, inhabitants of São Paulo were feeling the direct impact of the Amazon fires, over 2,000 miles away. Even so, it took the government several more days before it reacted, ordering Air Force planes into the air to spray water, and boosting local firefighting teams with units of the national guard.

Forest defences sabotaged

This belated action was triggered by the international repercussions, with the Amazon fires making their way onto the agenda of the G7 meeting in Biarritz, thanks to French president Emmanuel Macron, who said: “The Amazon is our common good.”

France has a physical stake in the Amazon region because of French Guiana, officially a regional department of France. Nine countries include a part of the Amazon basin in their territories.

It is not the first time that the G7 has put the Amazon and its role in global warming on its agenda. In 1991 it established a US$250 million Pilot Programme (PPG7) for the preservation of tropical forests in Brazil, which funded the demarcation of indigenous reserves and sustainable development projects.

More recently, Norway and Germany set up the Amazon Fund to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation through grants to local authorities and NGO projects. Due to interference by the environment minister, Ricardo Salles, who tried to discredit the NGO projects, Norway and Germany have suspended some of their funding, leaving local authorities without the money for firefighting activities.

Through its own actions, the Bolsonaro government has not only encouraged the assault on the Amazon rainforest, but deliberately sabotaged the public policies put in place by previous governments and other countries to defend it. − Climate News Network

Brazil’s president has destroyed the protection enacted by his predecessors, leaving an Amazon inferno to torch the rainforest.

SÃO PAULO , 26 August, 2019 − The dry season in Brazil is only just beginning, but fires are raging throughout the rainforest, leaving an Amazon inferno, and heavy palls of sooty smoke engulfing towns and cities.

The images of huge patches of Earth’s largest tropical forest being reduced to charred ashes and blackened tree stumps have alarmed the world as the planet’s biggest carbon sink is transformed instead into a source of carbon emissions.

President Jair Bolsonaro, who has deliberately weakened public policies which were in place to protect the rainforest and punish illegal loggers and farmers, tried to blame NGOs and indigenous peoples for the fires.
His foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, decided it is all a leftwing plot to destroy Brazil.

The truth is less exotic. All the evidence points to the fires, many inside protected areas and national parks, being deliberately started by land grabbers, ranchers and farmers, to claim the land, once cleared of forest, as theirs.

“The Amazon is our common good”

Encouraged by the president’s openly pro-development, anti-environment agenda, they are so confident that they will not be punished that in one small Amazon town, Novo Progresso, the local paper published a call by local farmers for a “Day of Fire” with the declared aim of showing Bolsonaro they were ready to open up the land for agriculture.

The day chosen was 10 August. The following day INPE, the government’s institute for space research, which monitors the Amazon daily, recorded an explosion of fires, with over 200 in the immediate area, including some in the Jamanxim national forest and the Serra do Cachimbo nature reserve, both protected areas.

INPE recorded over 72,000 fires all over Brazil during the first seven months of this year. The INPE system of deforestation alerts in real time, Deter, showed an increase of 278% over the year before. From August 2018 to July 2019 it showed a total of 6,833 sq kms of cleared forest, up from 4,572 sq kms between August 2017 and July 2018.

When confronted with these statistics, instead of taking steps to halt the fires and the deforestation, Bolsonaro declared the numbers were “lies” and forced the director, Ricardo Galvão, a highly respected scientist, to resign.

Day becomes night

However, what caused the shockwaves that turned the fires into an international crisis was the huge black cloud of smog which descended on São Paulo, Brazil’s biggest metropolis, on Monday 19 August, turning day into night.

Scientists, with the aid of satellite images from Nasa, concluded that the cloud came from fires in Brazil’s mid-west and north, as well as from neighbouring Bolivia and Paraguay.

INPE researcher Saulo Ribeiro de Freitas, quoted by FAPESP, São Paulo’s scientific research institute, said that the mass of polluted air generated by the fires in these areas was pushed to a height of 5,000m by the winds blowing from east to west, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, until they hit the Andes mountains.

Then the air was blown south by the anti-cyclone system. de Freitas explained that “the convergence of this mass of polluted air coming from the north with a cold front coming from the south” produced “a river of soot which mingled with other pollutants in the atmosphere, like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, ozone, nitrous oxide and methane, to form a smog.”

For the first time, inhabitants of São Paulo were feeling the direct impact of the Amazon fires, over 2,000 miles away. Even so, it took the government several more days before it reacted, ordering Air Force planes into the air to spray water, and boosting local firefighting teams with units of the national guard.

Forest defences sabotaged

This belated action was triggered by the international repercussions, with the Amazon fires making their way onto the agenda of the G7 meeting in Biarritz, thanks to French president Emmanuel Macron, who said: “The Amazon is our common good.”

France has a physical stake in the Amazon region because of French Guiana, officially a regional department of France. Nine countries include a part of the Amazon basin in their territories.

It is not the first time that the G7 has put the Amazon and its role in global warming on its agenda. In 1991 it established a US$250 million Pilot Programme (PPG7) for the preservation of tropical forests in Brazil, which funded the demarcation of indigenous reserves and sustainable development projects.

More recently, Norway and Germany set up the Amazon Fund to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation through grants to local authorities and NGO projects. Due to interference by the environment minister, Ricardo Salles, who tried to discredit the NGO projects, Norway and Germany have suspended some of their funding, leaving local authorities without the money for firefighting activities.

Through its own actions, the Bolsonaro government has not only encouraged the assault on the Amazon rainforest, but deliberately sabotaged the public policies put in place by previous governments and other countries to defend it. − Climate News Network

Politics tops science under Trump

If you don’t like the news, then suppress it − because politics tops science in the US today, researchers are finding.

LONDON, 20 August, 2019 − When the news is bad, punish the messenger, as in today’s United States it’s increasingly the case that politics tops science.

This, according to a top scientist formerly working at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), is what’s happening to government employees involved in climate change research under the administration of President Trump.

Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist who has worked for more than 20 years at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), recently resigned his post, saying department officials had not only questioned the results of a peer-reviewed research paper he was involved in on the adverse impact of climate change – they had also attempted to minimise its coverage in the media.

“You get the sense that things have changed, that this (the ARS) is not a place for you to be exploring things that don’t agree with someone’s political views”, Ziska tells the Politico website.

“That’s so sad – I can’t even begin to tell you how sad that is.”

Research ‘not sidelined’

The paper in question is a collaboration involving Ziska and other researchers at the ARS and various academic institutions in the US, Japan, China and Australia.

Published last year in the journal Science Advances, it analysed how increasing levels of climate-changing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere might affect various nutrients in rice, a crop on which hundreds of millions around the world depend.

The paper not only confirmed earlier research on rice losing proteins and minerals in a more carbon-rich environment; it found, for the first time, that levels of key vitamins in rice can also drop significantly as a result of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

A USDA spokesperson said the department’s failure to promote the paper was due to disagreement over the study’s claim that millions would be affected by falling nutritional levels in rice; the spokesperson said USDA’s actions had nothing to do with politics and denied that climate research was being sidelined under the Trump administration.

Trump has in the past dismissed climate change as a hoax and has announced that the US will withdraw from the landmark 2015 Paris agreement on meeting the challenges of a warming world.

“You get the sense that things have changed, that this is not a place for you to be exploring things that don’t agree with someone’s political views”

There have been persistent reports of administration officials resigning or being sacked for highlighting the dangers posed by climate change.

Ziska and others say a pattern is emerging in which policymakers identify “good science” as studies which agree with a certain political agenda; if the science doesn’t agree with the politics, then it’s flawed.

Ziska told Politico he’s concerned that the politicisation of science is a threat to the future of agriculture both in the US and overseas.

“You have farmers who are looking at climate and weather that they’ve not seen in their lifetimes. It’s not your father’s climate – it’s changing…this is a fundamental change across all aspects.

“To ignore it, to dismiss it and say, ‘Oh that’s political’ – I don’t have the words to describe that. It’s surreal. It’s like something out of a bad sci-fi movie.”

In June this year additional research into carbon dioxide’s impact on vitamin levels in rice published in the journal AGU100 confirmed the findings of the study Ziska and others were involved in. − Climate News Network

If you don’t like the news, then suppress it − because politics tops science in the US today, researchers are finding.

LONDON, 20 August, 2019 − When the news is bad, punish the messenger, as in today’s United States it’s increasingly the case that politics tops science.

This, according to a top scientist formerly working at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), is what’s happening to government employees involved in climate change research under the administration of President Trump.

Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist who has worked for more than 20 years at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), recently resigned his post, saying department officials had not only questioned the results of a peer-reviewed research paper he was involved in on the adverse impact of climate change – they had also attempted to minimise its coverage in the media.

“You get the sense that things have changed, that this (the ARS) is not a place for you to be exploring things that don’t agree with someone’s political views”, Ziska tells the Politico website.

“That’s so sad – I can’t even begin to tell you how sad that is.”

Research ‘not sidelined’

The paper in question is a collaboration involving Ziska and other researchers at the ARS and various academic institutions in the US, Japan, China and Australia.

Published last year in the journal Science Advances, it analysed how increasing levels of climate-changing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere might affect various nutrients in rice, a crop on which hundreds of millions around the world depend.

The paper not only confirmed earlier research on rice losing proteins and minerals in a more carbon-rich environment; it found, for the first time, that levels of key vitamins in rice can also drop significantly as a result of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

A USDA spokesperson said the department’s failure to promote the paper was due to disagreement over the study’s claim that millions would be affected by falling nutritional levels in rice; the spokesperson said USDA’s actions had nothing to do with politics and denied that climate research was being sidelined under the Trump administration.

Trump has in the past dismissed climate change as a hoax and has announced that the US will withdraw from the landmark 2015 Paris agreement on meeting the challenges of a warming world.

“You get the sense that things have changed, that this is not a place for you to be exploring things that don’t agree with someone’s political views”

There have been persistent reports of administration officials resigning or being sacked for highlighting the dangers posed by climate change.

Ziska and others say a pattern is emerging in which policymakers identify “good science” as studies which agree with a certain political agenda; if the science doesn’t agree with the politics, then it’s flawed.

Ziska told Politico he’s concerned that the politicisation of science is a threat to the future of agriculture both in the US and overseas.

“You have farmers who are looking at climate and weather that they’ve not seen in their lifetimes. It’s not your father’s climate – it’s changing…this is a fundamental change across all aspects.

“To ignore it, to dismiss it and say, ‘Oh that’s political’ – I don’t have the words to describe that. It’s surreal. It’s like something out of a bad sci-fi movie.”

In June this year additional research into carbon dioxide’s impact on vitamin levels in rice published in the journal AGU100 confirmed the findings of the study Ziska and others were involved in. − Climate News Network

Only a climate revolution can cool the world

An academic book on fossil fuel consumption reaches a startling conclusion: only a climate revolution can force governments to act to stop the planet overheating.

LONDON, 31 July, 2019 − Governments have completely failed to make progress in tackling the planetary emergency, and a climate revolution is the sole hope that they will do so.

This sounds like a sound bite from Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who is inspiring schoolchildren worldwide to go on strike, or a slogan from Extinction Rebellion, which has been disrupting city life in the UK and elsewhere to secure an urgent government response to the climate emergency.

Both campaigns might agree with the statement, but it is in fact from a scholarly book, Burning Up, A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption, a detailed study into the burning of fossil fuels since 1950.  It looks at fuel consumption in individual countries but also at the political forces that have driven and still drive the ever-growing inferno of fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas, across the world.

The book illustrates the reasons behind the rather frightening fact that since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, despite many promises and warnings, governments have failed to take decisive action on climate change and in fact have made it decidedly worse by continuing to subsidise fossil fuels more than renewables.

Simon Pirani, a senior research fellow at the UK’s Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, takes the reader through an exhaustive examination of fossil fuel consumption and the driving forces behind it.  One point he makes is that governments, particularly in the US, have contrived to kill off the use of buses and trains and instead promoted private cars.

 

And even if people wanted a choice, they don’t have the chance to make one, so we have to contribute to the increased use of fossil fuels if we want to lead a normal life. Producing many consumer goods and nearly all food depends on fossil fuels. Agriculture depends on oil-based fertiliser; and buying cars, washing machines and fridges leaves customers willy-nilly indirectly consuming fossil fuels.

Pirani is also scathing about the rich world’s reaction to the sort of crisis that is here already and will become more commonplace in a warming world.  He gives the example of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, when there was indifference from the government to the poor and disadvantaged who were most affected – an attitude mirrored across the world in subsequent disasters, especially in developing countries.

Climate change is already affecting swathes of Africa, causing crop failures and famine – again largely ignored by the rich world, which he identifies as the main cause of climate change, continues to cause it, but refuses to take responsibility for its consequences.

His third example is our attitude to refugees. He admits that most of the migrants converging now on Europe and the US are on the move because of wars or political oppression, but says that when millions are forced to migrate by climate change the pattern has already been set.

“There is little hope of world leaders taking the action required to keep the world temperature from increasing more than 2°C, let alone 1.5°C”

The attitude of governments in the rich world, increasingly in the EU but already in the US, is to build walls to keep them out rather than tackle the problem at source.

Altogether it is a fascinating and disturbing analysis of how the influence of the fossil fuel industry and its short-term financial advantage has come to outweigh the scientific evidence and the welfare of humanity in the minds of politicians. It certainly demonstrates why there is little hope of world leaders taking the action required to keep the world temperature from increasing more than 2°C, let alone 1.5°C.

However, Dr Pirani claims that ordinary people can have an impact on governments.  He points to the example of China where the government, fearful of the reaction of its people to the effects of air pollution on its children’s health, has taken decisive action to reduce the damage. India is currently going through the same process.

His book was written and with the publisher before the rise of Extinction Rebellion and the school strikes, but perhaps that is exactly the sort of citizen action he would advocate.

His conclusion is that unless ordinary people reject the continued dominance of the fossil fuel industry and force governments to act by continued acts of civil disobedience. there is no hope of keeping the world temperature below a dangerous level. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Burning Up. A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption, Simon Pirani, Pluto Press, London

An academic book on fossil fuel consumption reaches a startling conclusion: only a climate revolution can force governments to act to stop the planet overheating.

LONDON, 31 July, 2019 − Governments have completely failed to make progress in tackling the planetary emergency, and a climate revolution is the sole hope that they will do so.

This sounds like a sound bite from Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who is inspiring schoolchildren worldwide to go on strike, or a slogan from Extinction Rebellion, which has been disrupting city life in the UK and elsewhere to secure an urgent government response to the climate emergency.

Both campaigns might agree with the statement, but it is in fact from a scholarly book, Burning Up, A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption, a detailed study into the burning of fossil fuels since 1950.  It looks at fuel consumption in individual countries but also at the political forces that have driven and still drive the ever-growing inferno of fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas, across the world.

The book illustrates the reasons behind the rather frightening fact that since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, despite many promises and warnings, governments have failed to take decisive action on climate change and in fact have made it decidedly worse by continuing to subsidise fossil fuels more than renewables.

Simon Pirani, a senior research fellow at the UK’s Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, takes the reader through an exhaustive examination of fossil fuel consumption and the driving forces behind it.  One point he makes is that governments, particularly in the US, have contrived to kill off the use of buses and trains and instead promoted private cars.

 

And even if people wanted a choice, they don’t have the chance to make one, so we have to contribute to the increased use of fossil fuels if we want to lead a normal life. Producing many consumer goods and nearly all food depends on fossil fuels. Agriculture depends on oil-based fertiliser; and buying cars, washing machines and fridges leaves customers willy-nilly indirectly consuming fossil fuels.

Pirani is also scathing about the rich world’s reaction to the sort of crisis that is here already and will become more commonplace in a warming world.  He gives the example of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, when there was indifference from the government to the poor and disadvantaged who were most affected – an attitude mirrored across the world in subsequent disasters, especially in developing countries.

Climate change is already affecting swathes of Africa, causing crop failures and famine – again largely ignored by the rich world, which he identifies as the main cause of climate change, continues to cause it, but refuses to take responsibility for its consequences.

His third example is our attitude to refugees. He admits that most of the migrants converging now on Europe and the US are on the move because of wars or political oppression, but says that when millions are forced to migrate by climate change the pattern has already been set.

“There is little hope of world leaders taking the action required to keep the world temperature from increasing more than 2°C, let alone 1.5°C”

The attitude of governments in the rich world, increasingly in the EU but already in the US, is to build walls to keep them out rather than tackle the problem at source.

Altogether it is a fascinating and disturbing analysis of how the influence of the fossil fuel industry and its short-term financial advantage has come to outweigh the scientific evidence and the welfare of humanity in the minds of politicians. It certainly demonstrates why there is little hope of world leaders taking the action required to keep the world temperature from increasing more than 2°C, let alone 1.5°C.

However, Dr Pirani claims that ordinary people can have an impact on governments.  He points to the example of China where the government, fearful of the reaction of its people to the effects of air pollution on its children’s health, has taken decisive action to reduce the damage. India is currently going through the same process.

His book was written and with the publisher before the rise of Extinction Rebellion and the school strikes, but perhaps that is exactly the sort of citizen action he would advocate.

His conclusion is that unless ordinary people reject the continued dominance of the fossil fuel industry and force governments to act by continued acts of civil disobedience. there is no hope of keeping the world temperature below a dangerous level. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Burning Up. A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption, Simon Pirani, Pluto Press, London