Category Archives: Governance

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

Climate change blamed as Chennai runs dry

The monsoon’s failure and government mismanagement in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu are being blamed as Chennai runs dry.

CHENNAI, 1 July, 2019 − Some of the poorest people of India’s sixth largest city are having to spend half their weekly income on water as Chennai runs dry: its four reservoirs lie empty and the government’s relief tankers cannot keep up with demand from citizens.

Despite government claims that there is no water crisis, the taps are empty and many of Chennai’s nine million people are queuing from early morning, awaiting what water the tankers can deliver.

Monsoon rains have failed for the last two years, leaving the city enduring a heat wave with no water. The government is delivering 10 million litres daily by train from 200 kilometres away in a bid to provide enough water for the poor to survive. In the richer areas private water tankers are maintaining supplies, charging double the normal rate to fill a roof tank.

Businesses, particularly restaurants, have been forced to close, and children are not attending school because they are spending all day queuing for water for their families.

Although it is clear that climate change is affecting the monsoon’s pattern and it may be October before Chennai gets enough water to restore supplies to normal, government mismanagement is also being blamed.

Contrasting views

The city’s plight has been highlighted by Leonardo DiCaprio, the American actor and environmentalist, who is a UN climate change ambassador.

His message is in stark contrast to that from Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami. He told the media he uses only two pots of water every day, and that his government is taking good care of its citizens. This was after local media reported that his house in Chennai was receiving two truckloads of water a day.

A senior official in the Chennai metro water board said that efforts had been made since early June to ensure residents’ minimum water needs were met: “The government has initiated plans to bring water from nearby districts. Since the monsoon rains failed consecutively for the third year, we couldn’t store any water.”

He said sources in use now included water from stone quarries, two desalination plants in the city, a local lake and some borewells in the suburbs.

The government is trying to suppress demonstrations. When a voluntary organisation, Arappor Iyakkam, sought permission from the Chennai police commissioner for a protest about the water crisis, he refused, citing what he said was the need to protect law and order and the effect on peace and tranquillity at a time when the government was already striving to provide water. So the protestors approached the Madras high court for permission to go ahead.

“The government does not stop supplying water for multi-national companies when its own people are struggling to quench their thirst’’

According to Arappor Iyakkam’s co-ordinator, Jayaraman, the court said public awareness about the crisis was important, and granted permission. Iyakkam said: “Chennai and many parts of Tamil Nadu are facing an acute water crisis, and this has arisen due to continuous neglect of water bodies, and maladministration and corruption by the ruling governments.

“The present government has been in a denial mode, acknowledging the level of water shortage and its failure to work on solutions. Our campaign would emphasise the need for action on a war footing.”

Social activist Arul Doss argues that the government is losing its focus on seeking long-term solutions and is instead spending money on desalination plants. “The rich can afford to buy water for double the price. But the poor workers are now forced to spend half of their salary for water. What kind of development are we heading to?

“The government does not stop supplying water for multi-national companies when its own people are struggling to quench their thirst,’’ he said.

“Instead of spending money on recycling water and de-silting all the water bodies before the monsoon season, the government is working hard on opening new desalination plants in Chennai. It is hard to believe this is the same city that suffered flash floods in 2015.

Getting worse

“At least by now the government should have cleaned up water bodies and ensured grey water usage in high-rise apartments in the city,’’ Arul Doss told Climate News Network.

The plight of ordinary people is growing more extreme. A Chennai resident, K Meena, a student, has to fetch water. “We have to depend on the tanker supply, because the taps in our streets have dried up. Ours is a family of five. My parents and siblings take turns to collect water for bathing and cooking. I skipped classes and went late to college because I had to wait for the lorry,” said Meena.

Cab driver A Logeswaran uses the toilet facilities at petrol stations and sleeps in his car every other night to avoid using precious water supplies at home, which are kept for his wife and three-year-old child.

“Some of my neighbours sent their children and wives back to their native villages due to the water crisis. This is a very sad state for our city. Water is a basic need and I feel the government has failed completely,’’ he said in despair. − Climate News Network

The monsoon’s failure and government mismanagement in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu are being blamed as Chennai runs dry.

CHENNAI, 1 July, 2019 − Some of the poorest people of India’s sixth largest city are having to spend half their weekly income on water as Chennai runs dry: its four reservoirs lie empty and the government’s relief tankers cannot keep up with demand from citizens.

Despite government claims that there is no water crisis, the taps are empty and many of Chennai’s nine million people are queuing from early morning, awaiting what water the tankers can deliver.

Monsoon rains have failed for the last two years, leaving the city enduring a heat wave with no water. The government is delivering 10 million litres daily by train from 200 kilometres away in a bid to provide enough water for the poor to survive. In the richer areas private water tankers are maintaining supplies, charging double the normal rate to fill a roof tank.

Businesses, particularly restaurants, have been forced to close, and children are not attending school because they are spending all day queuing for water for their families.

Although it is clear that climate change is affecting the monsoon’s pattern and it may be October before Chennai gets enough water to restore supplies to normal, government mismanagement is also being blamed.

Contrasting views

The city’s plight has been highlighted by Leonardo DiCaprio, the American actor and environmentalist, who is a UN climate change ambassador.

His message is in stark contrast to that from Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami. He told the media he uses only two pots of water every day, and that his government is taking good care of its citizens. This was after local media reported that his house in Chennai was receiving two truckloads of water a day.

A senior official in the Chennai metro water board said that efforts had been made since early June to ensure residents’ minimum water needs were met: “The government has initiated plans to bring water from nearby districts. Since the monsoon rains failed consecutively for the third year, we couldn’t store any water.”

He said sources in use now included water from stone quarries, two desalination plants in the city, a local lake and some borewells in the suburbs.

The government is trying to suppress demonstrations. When a voluntary organisation, Arappor Iyakkam, sought permission from the Chennai police commissioner for a protest about the water crisis, he refused, citing what he said was the need to protect law and order and the effect on peace and tranquillity at a time when the government was already striving to provide water. So the protestors approached the Madras high court for permission to go ahead.

“The government does not stop supplying water for multi-national companies when its own people are struggling to quench their thirst’’

According to Arappor Iyakkam’s co-ordinator, Jayaraman, the court said public awareness about the crisis was important, and granted permission. Iyakkam said: “Chennai and many parts of Tamil Nadu are facing an acute water crisis, and this has arisen due to continuous neglect of water bodies, and maladministration and corruption by the ruling governments.

“The present government has been in a denial mode, acknowledging the level of water shortage and its failure to work on solutions. Our campaign would emphasise the need for action on a war footing.”

Social activist Arul Doss argues that the government is losing its focus on seeking long-term solutions and is instead spending money on desalination plants. “The rich can afford to buy water for double the price. But the poor workers are now forced to spend half of their salary for water. What kind of development are we heading to?

“The government does not stop supplying water for multi-national companies when its own people are struggling to quench their thirst,’’ he said.

“Instead of spending money on recycling water and de-silting all the water bodies before the monsoon season, the government is working hard on opening new desalination plants in Chennai. It is hard to believe this is the same city that suffered flash floods in 2015.

Getting worse

“At least by now the government should have cleaned up water bodies and ensured grey water usage in high-rise apartments in the city,’’ Arul Doss told Climate News Network.

The plight of ordinary people is growing more extreme. A Chennai resident, K Meena, a student, has to fetch water. “We have to depend on the tanker supply, because the taps in our streets have dried up. Ours is a family of five. My parents and siblings take turns to collect water for bathing and cooking. I skipped classes and went late to college because I had to wait for the lorry,” said Meena.

Cab driver A Logeswaran uses the toilet facilities at petrol stations and sleeps in his car every other night to avoid using precious water supplies at home, which are kept for his wife and three-year-old child.

“Some of my neighbours sent their children and wives back to their native villages due to the water crisis. This is a very sad state for our city. Water is a basic need and I feel the government has failed completely,’’ he said in despair. − Climate News Network