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No Exit.

Written By: - Date published: 5:25 pm, April 30th, 2020 - 22 comments
Categories: capitalism, Environment, global warming, Revolution, vision - Tags: , ,

Reaction to Covid 19 has done more in a few weeks to blunt the drive behind climate change than anything the environmental movement has managed to do in over thirty years.

The only other time in recent decades I can think of that’s seen a dip in human emissions of CO2 like now, was for the duration of the 2008 financial debacle. The following years saw a huge rebound of emissions as production cranked back up, and we continued on our merry way kicking extinction levels of CO2 into the bio-sphere.

And so, on to Planet of the Humans, and below the video, some longer standing thoughts from myself as well as some shaped by the documentary.

If capitalism is the vehicle that has brought us to here, then green technology and green growth are obviously not the escape pods that some have touted them to be.

When we hear there is phenomenal growth in the solar panel and wind sectors, we rarely if ever hear the concomitant piece of news that all of the wind power and solar power being rolled out is being rolled out on top of existing fossil fuel and not in place of it.

When we’re told that efficiency of wind and solar generation is improving apace, we’re hardly encouraged to acknowledge the source materials used to produce solar panels or wind turbines – cement in the latter case (a huge source of global warming) and according to the embedded documentary, coal in the former.

Aside from solar and wind, comfort is also offered by the promised uptake of bio-fuels – as though carbon dioxide from wood and other biological sources is magically different to carbon dioxide from coal, oil and gas.

Then there’s the ardent nonsense around carbon, capture and storage – technology that only exists at the scale of the “lab experiment” and that can never translate beyond theory because there are some very basic logistics of reality that get in the way…

Here then, perhaps, is the bottom line.

All of the intergovernmental meetings and seminars, and much of the environmental movement and the Green Parties they have given rise to are, in spite of their rhetoric, about preserving a way of life rather than about preserving life.

You need look no further than the NZ Green Party for evidence of that. The following is a excerpt from a tweet put out by James Shaw just the other day –

We can get things going again, create jobs, AND decarbonise.

I mean, maybe there should be an award given for squeezing so many levels of bullshit and so many bags of magic fairy dust into so few words…

Back in the 1800s, British industry was initially powered by water, and then transitioned to coal fired steam power over some decades. That transition was us stepping off a cliff edge. And we’ve been barrelling towards an encounter with physics ever since. The depth of our near future travails depends entirely on us either choosing to abandon our energy hungry addiction to carbon producing sources of energy, or waiting until the reality of physics takes the choice away from us.

Either way, wind power won’t save us. Solar power won’t save us. Carbon capture and storage won’t save us. Your God won’t save us. Nothing but ourselves will save us.

So imagine if you will, that you are in a 4WD that’s stuck in some dry river bed. There’s no way to manoeuvre out and those bursting storm clouds tell you a flash flood in on its way. You could wind up the windows and just sit there listening to the radio, or you could make some decisions on what things to take with you and walk away. That’s essentially the situation we’re all facing. Capitalism is like the stranded vehicle that can’t carry us away from catastrophe. And we can either deny the situation we’re in and sit back to ‘listen to the radio’, or we can engage with ourselves at a personal and collective level and decide, not what things we take, but what principles or ideas we abandon, and what ones we carry with us as we leave this place.

From the road that snakes along the bays below my house, and in contrast to these past few weeks, I can hear the constant Doppler whoosh of passing engines and rubber on tarmac – cars being driven by people who might rather hunker on down with comfortable habits and thoughts, give into magical thinking or wilful ignorance, and tell themselves that everything will be okay. And in my mind, I know what extinction sounds like – it’s the incessant drone produced by people driving cars that create streams of pollution little different to the pyroclastic flows that preceded previous great extinction events in earth’s history.

The difference between that thought today and that same thought six months ago or four years ago, is that the people in those cars can’t honestly say they believe the line they’re fed that “nothing can be done”.

The response of governments to Covid 19 has shown us that capitalism can be put on life support and the sky doesn’t fall in. Now, by refusing to go back to how things were, we could effectively enforce a DO NOT RESUSCITATE order and take a step towards any number of possible futures.

22 comments on “No Exit. ”

  1. Ed 1

    Great thought-provoking post Bill. Thank you.

    Have started to watch 'Planet of the Humans'. Must finish it.

    • John irving 1.1

      Dont bother its climate denialist claptrap

      [Fixed errors in e-mail address]

      • Ed 1.1.1

        Would Mike Moore put his name to 'climate denialist claptrap.'?

        I doubt Bill would fall for it either.

  2. Maurice 2

    The sky IS about to fall … or rather the arse fall out of the Economy!

    Good luck taxing losses and falling property values … or even deflating wealth

    VERY tough times ahead

  3. Tabletennis 3

    Moore's doco is full with half-truths and half-truths are lies. .
    At 46 minutes in it says the core problem that there are just too many people on the planet and it rightly says that most of us consume too much energy. But it then swings back to the attack upon the likes of the USA’s Sierra Club and 350.org’s Bill McKibben, without analysing the really important issues associated with population. For example, it fails to even fleetingly discuss the huge difference in emissions associated with the world’s richest and poorest nations. Or that in many U$ states women are denied body autonomy. They also stopped funding family health clinics as well as in Africa.

    Really, Michael Moore? I watched you movie and I have some questions.
    https://heated.world/p/really-michael-moore?fbclid=IwAR3o4vYAkufmCmmtpOeC5o0Y4o5U6tl_snhVNmcLFduyFZKwGYCidoJPs7o

    Planet Of The Scapegoat – EVs, Green Energy in Michael Moore's Confused New Documentary

    • gsays 3.1

      Well that's 13 minutes I will not get back.

      Her reckons about biomass include the hope that the companies running them are planting more trees….

      There is an assertion in this criticism that Gibbs missed the point about net energy gain. At a greenie concert, despite implying that the energy used was renewable, go behind the scenes to a piddly solar array and the acknowledgement that they were using big silent diesel gennies for the power.

      How long does a 200 watt P.V. panel have to run to negate the energy embedded into it's manufacture and distribution?

      You can't melt quartz over a candle.

      The critic you have cited misses the point about the mining of minerals and the harm caused to nature. It isn't just for 'green' initiatives, it's for yr teles, laptops, phones…. and if we are aiming to bring everyone in the world along with us then we must fail, for the good of the planet.

  4. gsays 4

    The pretend and extend was strong in plenty of the green 'leadership' in the movie.

    The message that capitalism has successfully subsumed environmentalism was clearly demonstrated.

    Anton Oliver wrote an interesting piece a few years back, opposing windfarms. He opined the biggest justification for them was a bookkeeping/tax/balance sheet issue.

    I have often wondered what happens to the 10s of thousands cubic meteres in the bases of windfarms. All that embedded energy…..

  5. Drowsy M. Kram 5

    Bill, great analogy of clinging to (y)our 4WD, hoping the inevitable flood will 'wait' just a little while longer.

    So imagine if you will, that you are in a 4WD that’s stuck in some dry river bed. There’s no way to manoeuvre out and those bursting storm clouds tell you a flash flood in on its way."

    Most NZers thinking on the 'walk away' opportunity Covid-19 represents will put it in the 'too hard basket' – how to increase the likelihood that we are better placed to ‘pivot‘ (individually and/or collectively) when the next crisis calls? frown
    https://www.andyhinesight.com/category/after-capitalism/

  6. RedLogix 6

    I watched it again this evening and was even more disappointed. I have a degree in EE and spent all of my life working in technology fields, most of it heavy industry.

    In the interests of balance there is a lot Planet of the Humans gets right

    Greenwashing is a thing. Just because a person or organization has taken some steps to be environmentally-friendly, that’s not absolution or mean they’ve achieved sustainability. Sometimes they’re just greenwashing. In the film, a music festival claims to be environmentally friendly because they’re using a few solar panels. They mean to do well, but sustainability is a lot more complicated than just putting up a solar panel, and the film rightly points this out.

    It’s important to follow the money. Questioning how organizations are financed, including environmental groups, is important because it may reveal conflicts of interest or hidden agendas. If a fossil fuel company is funding an enviromental campaign, are they doing it because they’re genuinely trying to change their business model? Or is it just an act of greenwashing? And does an environmental organization compromise its principles when accepting money from corporations?

    Green energy alone isn’t going to save the planet. Serious climate researchers don’t believe that you can save the planet by only doing 1:1 substitutions, like trading in a gasoline car for an electric one. That’s not enough: we need to change how we live and how we build our economies. This can mean relatively easy fixes such as energy efficiency, or much more difficult ones, such as changing how we design our cities, use our land, and address economic injustices that lead to a few people with massive consumption while many more live on much less.

    Life cycle analysis is important. The film, in its very unscientific treatment of a scientific topic, doesn’t use the terms embodied energy or life cycle analysis, but those are concepts it tries (but fails) to communicate. Biomass fuels in particular, such as corn ethanol and wood waste, deserve close analysis because they involve confounding factors such as land use changes that make calculating life cycle emissions very tricky.

    But it is incumbent on a documentary of this nature to be scrupulously accurate, and this one is not. It makes a number of obvious mistakes, obvious not just to me, but to many others. These have been detailed in a number of places that take but seconds of searching to find.

    Starting point here.

    What is worse from my perspective is that I agree with the fundamental premise that renewables are not the silver bullet that will save humanity from climate change, but the argument it makes is so flawed and misdirected that the real argument is obscured.

    We found that the transition to renewables is going far too slowly to make much of a difference during the crucial next couple of decades, and would be gobsmackingly expensive if we were to try replacing all fossil fuel use with solar and wind. We also found, as the film underscores again and again, that the intermittency of sunshine and wind is a real problem—one that can only be solved with energy storage (batteries, pumped hydro, or compressed air, all of which are costly in money and energy terms); or with source redundancy (building way more generation capacity than you’re likely to need at any one time, and connecting far-flung generators on a super-grid); or demand management (which entails adapting our behavior to using energy only when it’s available).

    Ultimately renewables run into the basic physics problem, that no matter how you rearrange the deck chairs, you finish up sacrificing far too much land in any attempt to replace our current fossil fuel use, much less any future human development. They have their place (and both Australia and NZ are well placed to exploit them effectively), but at a global scale they do not come close to being the solution.

    Leaving aside ideological quibbles about capitalism, the core problem the OP does not address is this. There is only one thing that reliably reduces human birth rates … human development and progress. In every developed nation birth rates are now at or below replacement , a remarkable fact brought to the world by virtue of science, industrialisation and market driven economies.

    I shouldn’t have to make this point, but I will anyway. The course we are on is obviously catastrophic, but if the car is hurtling toward a solid wall of CO2 limits, insisting that the corrective action is to swerve wildly off the road down the cliff of energy extinction is an equally absurd response.

    • bill 6.1

      My only basic criticism of the film was its focus on population, because population isn't a factor in global warming given the time constraints that we have.

      In terms of human consumption, it's the 20% who consume 80% of energy that's the problem. But hey…

      From the reading I've done across the somewhat visceral responses to the film, I'm concluding that people really don't like the message and are trying to shoehorn that aversion into a critique.

      • RedLogix 6.1.1

        Well my argument comes down to this; we have been framing the climate change problem for decades as a limit on CO2. Absolutely no quibble or argument with this from me. And everyone here should know this by now so I won't dwell on this.

        But there was always the population constraint that we had to negotiate; and the paradoxical truth that the only ethical path to managing this, the only path that respects the basic human right to choose when and how many children we will have, is human development and prosperity.

        Or to put this by converse, the only places on earth where there is population growth, are the same places where poverty and government dysfunction are endemic. Therefore we have two constraints on us, both apparently in contradiction to each other; one relating to fossil fuel use, the other to human development. My argument is that we must optimise for human development as the essential, inescapable priority.

        This has a massive implication few people want to say out loud. As you rightly say that 20% of the people are currently using 80% of the energy … and we then extend the level of human development (necessary to control population) across the other other 80% …. then in very crude terms we need to be thinking in terms of needing another 4 -5 times more energy than we are currently using.

        This is brutally focuses our choices around energy. Fossil fuels have slammed into the CO2 limit; renewables while useful in some contexts, cannot scale to current demand much less this what is really needed. This leaves only one other option available to us, and there are no free lunches.

  7. infused 8

    just watched as i cant sleep. lot of lefties out for blood getting this banned glad to see it there.

    i was debating this here just the other day.

    again, population control is the only answer. stop kidding yourself

    • Andre 8.1

      Education and cultural shift about the benefits of fewer humans on the planet would be a very good thing.

      Population control, not so much. That's a bit whiffy of gratuitously brutal authoritarianism like China's one child policy at best, outright eugenics as the more likely outcome.

      • infused 8.1.1

        well you know what I mean… I don't mean actual population control as such. but it's a numbers game essentially.

    • RedLogix 8.2

      again, population control is the only answer. stop kidding yourself

      What Andre says, with moral bankruptcy added on.

      Besides it's also completely and utterly wrong on the facts. There is only one thing that reliably reduces human birth rates … human development and progress. In every developed nation birth rates are now at or below replacement , a remarkable fact brought to the world by virtue of science, industrialisation and market driven economies.

      • bill 8.2.1

        I said it above, but will repeat it because it bears repeating.

        Population is not a factor in terms of global warming. Consumption breakdowns follow more or less in line with wealth and, well – 20% of humanity consumes 80% of all energy.

        And all the birth control in the world being thrown at people in poor countries won't alter that basic fact.

        In terms of a post global warming world and the resources we have, use or exploit, then yes, population comes into the picture.

  8. Molly 9

    Good article by LaUra Schmidt, on Planet of the Humans on filmsforaction.org, that addresses both the plaudits and criticisms of the film.

    The contradictory nature of the comments here has prompted me to put it on my to-watch list. I never discount something because of flaws, and there may be enough truths in it to build on.

    Some thoughts from the article:

    "Because I spend each day thinking about what’s next for our species and how to help individuals find agency in this toxic culture, I wanted to add a few pieces of insight for further consideration. Despite its shortcomings, I see this Planet of the Humans as an invitation to look to the larger, systemic issues being presented.

    Let’s start by getting real about where we find ourselves:

    · The climate crisis is real and its effects are already being felt around the planet. These impacts will worsen, affecting different regions of the planet in a multitude of ways. We expect to see increased droughts, wildfires, flooding, vector-borne illnesses, food insecurity, and mass migrations by climate refugees.
    · The Western paradigms are based on exploitation of human labor and ecosystems. We are devouring landscapes, natural resources, and the planet’s species that are altering and tarnishing the renewable resources we depend on to support human life.
    · Racism and oppression are built into our cultural systems
    · Many, if not most of us, entrenched in the Western paradigms feel a deep lack of meaning and connection. Our isolation is driving unprecedented levels of depression and anxiety.
    · More pandemics are likely to occur in our lifetimes.
    · Disruptions will be our new normal.
    · Many of us live paycheck to paycheck and many more live without access to healthy food, clean water, and safe spaces to sleep or rest. This reality exists while billionaires also exist.

    These truths are nearly unbearable to take in and most of us cope by burying ourselves in denial, avoidance, or false optimism. Another grievous truth is that there is no more time to look away or avoid reality. We have to face these problems and process the accompanying feelings that arise. It is time to lean into our heavy feelings.

    Our culture, including the dominant environmental movement, has promoted the idea that we shouldn’t explore these painful feelings, they take too much time and energy from the momentum needed to get off fossil fuels as quickly as possible. The larger environmental movement is terrified that if we allow ourselves to plummet into the depths of hopelessness and despair there will not be enough optimism to propel us forward. Many of us feel that if we invite in our excruciating feelings, we will be stuck with them forever. This notion is not just wrong, it’s harmful. And it’s continuously perpetuated by our fast-paced, overly simplistic, and emotionally immature cultural norms. Through my research for my graduate degree and years of sitting with people in deep grief, I’ve come to see that any solutions, if they are to be meaningful, will come from those of us who have been courageous enough to take the time and energy to feel these scary and discomforting feelings. Through processing our griefs and facing reality, we open to new solutions that were previously unavailable to us. Additionally, if we do this processing in community, we open to the emergence of the moment and new perspectives that can only be birthed by a felt sense of urgency and an understanding of the severity of the predicament."

    • gsays 9.1

      Thanks for the link Molly.

      Folk seem to be looking for a reason to dismiss something that is fairly unpalatable, simply because of an inaccuracy or a metaphor flew over their head.

  9. Obtrectator 10

    "In every developed nation birth rates are now at or below replacement , a remarkable fact brought to the world by virtue of science, industrialisation and market driven economies."

    Why is it that so many of those countries seem to regard population decrease as something akin to a disaster (which it surely isn't), and offer all kinds of incentives to get the birth rate up again?

    • Andre 10.1

      It's a primordial lizard-brain impulse from when survival was a scrabble for resources, and the easiest way to grab more resource was to grab what your neighbours have. If your gang is bigger than your neighbour's gang, your chances of whupping them go up, and life is generally better.

      Sadly, even though access to sufficient resource is no longer a life-and-death problem for most people, that primitive urge to increase your power by increasing the size of your gang hasn't yet gone away.

    • RedLogix 10.2

      A good question. Andre again answers most of it, but I'd add on another layer.

      If the gang next door is also in population equilibrium with their resources and show no signs of wanting to 'whup' you, there is much less incentive to match them in this most primitive of arms races.

      This speaks to two themes; one is the urgency of extending human development universally. The sooner everyone is prosperous and their birth rates decline to replacement (which can happen remarkably fast) the better.

      The other theme overlays this; imagine if we extended our moral horizons to encompass the whole of humanity, winding back the emotional freight attached to the idea of 'the other gang'. Imagine if the whole of humanity was our gang; suddenly this most primitive of rivalries is muted.

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