Monday, February 25, 2013

Crisis of Civilization.4 - Fun Facts about Climate Change

  • About 1400 gigatons of carbon is trapped as methane under the arctic permafrost. When the permafrost melts, kaboom (48-49)
  • We usually think of trees as carbon sinks, but with increasing warming and droughts, there is more tree mortality. Woods Hole Research Centre says that "the [Amazon] rainforest cannot sustain three consecutive years of drought without breaking down" (49). The Amazon rainforest contains 90 billion tons of carbon, enough in itself to increase the rate of global warming by 50% (50).
  • One MIT study published in the Journal of Climate projected that by 2100 the global average temperature will rise by over 5 degrees Celsius. Some say we'll hit more than a 3 degree jump by 2060 (51).
  • Many of these estimates are reasonable - conservative, even. It's important to look at how systems affect each other and warming breeds more warming.
From my friend Kat's Facebook page: “My Prime Minister regards the economy as our highest priority and forgets that economics and ecology are derived from the same Greek word, oikos, meaning household or domain. Ecology is the study of home, while economics is its management. Ecologists try to define the conditions and principles that enable a species to survive and flourish. Yet in elevating the economy above those principles, we seem to think we are immune to the laws of nature. We have to put the ‘eco’ back into economics.”
-David Suzuki

"The problem is that by accepting neoliberal capitalist markets as a given, carbon trading [which in practice is simply pushing the blame around, making money for financiers, and doing nothing (if not worse) for carbon emissions] overlooks the systemic origins of climate change" (55).

"Western government attitudes toward climate change [...] are premised on a remarkable self-deception: that we can continue with hydrocarbon exploitation, and the pursuit of economic growth, while simultaneously saving the climate" (56). Put another way, "[i]gnoring the instrumental role of the 'growth imperative' as a systemic pressure rooted in the structure of the global political economy guarantees the continuation of global warming" (59). As long as we keep thinking economic growth is the supreme goal in our lives, we will continue to strengthen and hasten the death sentence of life on earth.

"While offering no meaningful curtailment of our trajectory toward climate catastrophe, current policies [based on Kyoto and other environmental summits that are not binding and have focused on economic options] do provide a way of piling huge costs on the public, drastically increasing state revenues, and facilitating corporate profiteering - without actually solving the causes of the problem" (56). Indeed, many Western governments have all but resigned themselves to the probability that we can't stop the warming train and all we can do now is mitigate the impending disaster.

So, where's the silver lining? We could save ourselves by cutting our consumption and cutting emissions by a good 90%. We'd have to drastically transform "the system" of Western civilization as we know it, "starting with the extent to which vested financial interests are tied to the global hydrocarbon energy system: a hierarchical structure of geopolitical domination by core Northern states over a network of peripheral states in regions like the Middle East, Central Asia and West Africa containing the bulk of the world's strategic oil and gas reserves" (60).

Good luck to us. This concludes the chapter on Climate Catastrophe. Next time I start the chapter on Energy Scarcity.

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