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.