Arquivo da tag: Política

World on track to be 4C warmer by 2100 because of missed carbon targets (The Guardian)

Concerns about the short term costs and impacts of investment to address risks is paralysing action on climate changeJonathan Grant

Guardian Professional, Monday 8 September 2014 13.28 BSTHeavy rains in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Heavy rains in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The top 10 destinations for the UK’s foreign direct investment experienced almost $100bn worth of extreme weather losses in 2013. Photograph: Roberto Rosales/AP

Global ambitions to reduce emissions are becoming a bit like the resolutions we make to give something up at new year: the intention is sincere, but we don’t always deliver.For the sixth successive year of the PwC Low Carbon Economy Index, the global carbon target has been missed. And inadequate action today means that even steeper reductions are needed in the future. The target is based on projections of economic growth and the global carbon budget set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which gives a reasonable probability of limiting warming to 2C.

Globally, annual reductions need to be five times current levels, averaging 6.2% a year, every year from now to 2100, compared with 1.2% today. At the national level, Australia is at the top of our decarbonisation league of G20 nations, followed by the UK. Both countries had a strong increase in renewable generation, albeit from a low base, combined with slight a reduction in coal use. The US was nearer the bottom as coal use bounced back, retaking a share of the electricity mix from shale gas.

The world is currently on track to burn this century’s IPCC carbon budget within 20 years, and a pathway to 4C of global warming by 2100. For many of us, 2034 is within our working lifetime. It’s within the timeframe of decisions being made today, on long-term investments, on the location of factories and their supply chains. So businesses are making those decisions faced with uncertainty about climate policy and potential impacts of climate change.

It is clear that the gap between what governments are saying about climate change and what they are doing about it continues to widen. While they talk about two degrees at the climate negotiations, the current trend is for a 4C world.

There is little mention of these two degrees of separation in the negotiations, in policy documents, in business strategies or in board rooms. Operating in a changing climate is becoming a very real challenge for UK plc. Some of the biggest names in business are mapping the risks posed by a changing climate to their supply chain, stores, offices and people.

But while the findings question the reality of the 2C target in negotiations, consider two situations in the analysis that demonstrates the strong case for the negotiations’ role in focusing everyone on co-ordinated action on climate change.

First, our analysis shows that the top 10 destinations for the UK’s foreign direct investment in 2011 were exposed to almost $100bn worth of extreme weather losses in 2013. Multi-billion pound UK investments are wrapped up in transport, technology, retail, food and energy sectors, making this an issue on everyone’s doorstep.

Second, co-ordinated, ambitious action to tackle emissions growth should protect business in the long term. It could even be a boost to growth. It would avoid inevitable short-term decisions that may look attractive, such as shutting down a steel operation in a country with a high cost of carbon to move it to another with a lower cost, but merely relocate emissions. And take jobs with them.

The concern about short-term costs and impacts on investment is paralysing our ability to address the long-term climate risks. Perhaps competitiveness is the new climate scepticism. Businesses call for a level playing field on carbon pricing, when it should be seen in the wider context of labour and energy prices, the skills market and wider legislative environment.

There’s a danger when we talk in small numbers – whether they are one or two degrees, or the 6% now required in annual decarbonisation (every year for the next 66 years, by the way), that they sound manageable. The 6% figure is double the rate the UK achieved when we dashed for gas in the 1990s. A shale gas revolution might help, but would need to be accompanied by a revolution in carbon capture and storage and revolutions in renewables, in electric transport, in industrial processes and in our buildings.

The UK’s results are encouraging, even if they fall short of the overall target necessary. Leadership in low carbon for the UK is down in part to policies and investment, partly the structure of our economy, and partly traditional factors such as skills and education. But it’s notable that while the Low Carbon Economy Index shows that the UK’s carbon intensity is lower than many, it is still higher than in France, Argentina or Brazil. It’s a neat encapsulation of a view of the world through a low carbon economy lens, not just a GDP one. The UK’s competitiveness or attractiveness today needs investment to hold on to it for tomorrow.

Jonathan Grant is director, sustainability and climate change, PwC

World falls behind in efforts to tackle climate change: PwC (Reuters)

LONDON Sun Sep 7, 2014 6:24pm EDT

(Reuters) – The world’s major economies are falling further behind every year in terms of meeting the rate of carbon emission reductions needed to stop global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees this century, a report published on Monday showed.

The sixth annual Low Carbon Economy Index report from professional services firm PwC looked at the progress of major developed and emerging economies toward reducing their carbon intensity, or emissions per unit of gross domestic product.

“The gap between what we are achieving and what we need to do is growing wider every year,” PwC’s Jonathan Grant said. He said governments were increasingly detached from reality in addressing the 2 degree goal.

“Current pledges really put us on track for 3 degrees. This is a long way from what governments are talking about.”

Almost 200 countries agreed at United Nations climate talks to limit the rise in global temperatures to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times to limit heat waves, floods, storms and rising seas from climate change. Temperatures have already risen by about 0.85 degrees Celsius.

Carbon intensity will have to be cut by 6.2 percent a year to achieve that goal, the study said. That compares with an annual rate of 1.2 percent from 2012 to 2013.

Grant said that to achieve the 6.2 percent annual cut would ‎require changes of an even greater magnitude than those achieved by recent major shifts in energy production in some countries.

France’s shift to nuclear power in the 1980s delivered a 4 percent cut, Britain’s “dash for gas” in the 1990s resulted in a 3 percent cut and the United States shale gas boom in 2012 led to a 3.5 percent cut.


PwC said one glimmer of hope was that for the first time in six years emerging economies such as China, India and Mexico had cut their carbon intensity at a faster rate than industrialized countries such as the United States, Japan and the European Union.

As the manufacturing hubs of the world, the seven biggest emerging nations have emissions 1.5-times larger than those of the seven biggest developed economies and the decoupling of economic growth from carbon emissions in those nations is seen as vital.

Australia had the highest rate of decarbonization for the second year in a row, cutting its carbon intensity by 7.2 percent over 2013.

Coal producer Australia has one of the world’s highest rates of emissions per person but its efforts to rein in the heat-trapping discharges have shown signs of stalling since the government in July repealed a tax on emissions.

Britain, Italy and China each achieved a decarbonization rate of 4-5 percent, while five countries increased their carbon intensity: France, the United States, India, Germany and Brazil.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hopes to gather more than 100 world leaders in New York on September 23 to reinvigorate efforts to forge a global climate deal.

(Reporting by Ben Garside. Editing by Jane Merrman)


New York summit is last chance to get consensus on climate before 2015 talks (The Guardian)

UN is trying to convince countries to make new pledges before they meet in Paris to finalise a new deal on cutting emissions, reports

Paul Brown for Climate News Network, part of the Guardian Enviornment Network, Thursday 4 September 2014 14.48 BST

Ban Ki-moonUN secretary general Ban Ki-moon has invited world leaders to New York on 23 September for a climate summit. Photograph: David Rowland/AFP/Getty Images

It is widely acknowledged that the planet’s political leaders and its people are currently failing to take enough action to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Next year, at the United Nations climate change conference in Paris, representatives of all the world’s countries will be hoping to reach a new deal to cut greenhouse gases and prevent the planet overheating dangerously. So far, there are no signs that their leaders have the political will to do so.

To try to speed up the process, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, has invited world leaders to UN headquarters in New York on 23 September for a grandly-named Climate Summit 2014.

He said at the last climate conference, in Warsaw last year, that he is deeply concerned about the lack of progress in signing up to new legally-binding targets to cut emissions.

If the summit is a success, then it means a new international deal to replace the Kyoto protocol will be probable in late 2015 in Paris. But if world leaders will not accept new targets for cutting emissions, and timetables to achieve them, then many believe that political progress is impossible.

Ban Ki-moon’s frustration about lack of progress is because politicians know the danger we are in, yet do nothing. World leaders have already agreed that there is no longer any serious scientific argument about the fact that the Earth is heating up and if no action is taken will exceed the 2C danger threshold.

It is also clear, Ban Ki-moon says, that the technologies already exist for the world to turn its back on fossil fuels and cut emissions of greenhouse gases to a safe level.

What the major countries cannot agree on is how the burden of taking action should be shared among the world’s 196 nations.

Ban Ki-moon already has the backing of more than half the countries in the world for his plan. These are the most vulnerable to climate change, and most are already being seriously affected.

More than 100 countries meeting in Apia, Samoa, at the third UN conference on small island developing states, in their draft final statement, note with “grave concern” that world leaders’ pledges on the mitigation of greenhouse gases will not save them from catastrophic sea level rise, droughts, and forced migration. “We express profound alarm that emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise globally.”

Many of them have long advocated a maximum temperature rise of 1.5C to prevent disaster for the most vulnerable nations, such as the Marshall Islands and the Maldives.

The draft ministerial statement says: “Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time, and we express profound alarm that emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise globally.

“We are deeply concerned that all countries, particularly developing countries, are vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change and are already experiencing an increase in such impacts, including persistent drought and extreme weather events, sea level rise, coastal erosion and ocean acidification, further threatening food security and efforts to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development.”

Speaking from Apia, Shirley Laban, the convenor of the Pacific Islands Climate Action Network, an NGO, said: “Unless we cut emissions now, and limit global warming to less than 1.5C, Pacific communities will reap devastating consequences for generations to come. Because of pollution we are not responsible for, we are facing catastrophic threats to our way of life.”

She called on all leaders attending the UN climate summit in New York to “use this historic opportunity to inject momentum into the global climate negotiations, and work to secure an ambitious global agreement in 2015”.

This is a tall order for a one-day summit, but Ban Ki-moon is expecting a whole series of announcements by major nations of new targets to cut greenhouse gases, and timetables to reach them.

There are encouraging signs in that the two largest emitters – China and the US – have been in talks, and both agree that action is a must. Even the previously reluctant Republicans in America now accept that climate change is a danger.

It is not yet known how many heads of state will attend the summit in person, or how many will be prepared to make real pledges.

At the end of the summit, the secretary general has said, he will sum up the proceedings. It will be a moment when many small island states and millions of people around the world will be hoping for better news.

Racionamento de água ‘não é culpa de São Pedro’, diz ONU (OESP)

09/09/2014, 12h41

4.set.2014 – Represa Jaguari-Jacareí, na cidade de Joanópolis, no interior de São Paulo, teve o índice que mede o volume de água armazenado no Sistema Cantareira alcançando a marca de apenas 10,6% da capacidade total. Luis Moura/ Estadão Conteúdo

O racionamento de água em São Paulo não é culpa de São Pedro, mas, sim, das autoridades, da Companhia de Saneamento Básico do Estado de São Paulo (Sabesp) e da falta de investimentos. Quem faz o alerta é a relatora da Organização das Nações Unidas (ONU) para o direito à água, a portuguesa Catarina Albuquerque, que apresentou nesta terça-feira, 9, diante da entidade, um informe em que acusa o governo brasileiro de não estar cumprindo seu dever de garantir o acesso à água à totalidade da população.

Crise no abastecimento

“O culpado parece ser sempre São Pedro”, ironizou em declarações ao jornal O Estado de S. Paulo. “Concordo que a seca pode ser importante. Mas o racionamento de água precisa ser previsto e os investimentos necessários precisam ser feitos”, disse. “A responsabilidade é do Estado, que precisa garantir investimentos em momentos de abundância”, insistiu.

Segundo ela, o racionamento de fato pode ser necessário em algumas situações. “Mas apenas como última opção e depois que as demais opções tenham sido esgotadas”, alertou.

Reservatórios de água na Grande SP


Confira entre quais reservatórios se divide o abastecimento de água na Grande São Paulo

Raio-x dos sistemas

Para a relatora da ONU, não faz sentido a Sabesp ter suas ações comercializadas na Bolsa de Nova York e na Bolsa de Valores de São Paulo (Bovespa), enquanto a cidade convive com problemas. “Antes de repartir lucros, a empresa precisa investir para garantir que todos tenham acesso à água”, declarou.

“O número de pessoas vivendo sem acesso à água e saneamento às sombras de uma sociedade que se desenvolve rapidamente ainda é enorme”, declarou a relatora em seu discurso na ONU, nesta tarde em Genebra.

Segundo seu informe, um abastecimento de água regular e de qualidade ainda é uma realidade distante para 77 milhões de brasileiros, uma população equivalente a todos os habitantes da Alemanha.

21.ago.2014 – Escavadeira tenta retirar lixo do rio Tietê. Menos de um mês depois de finalizar uma operação que retirou mais de 18 toneladas de lixo de áreas do leito seco do rio Tietê, o município de Salto (a 101 km da capital paulista) começa a ver as áreas serem novamente tomadas por entulho. A maioria do material é de pedaços de madeira. Segundo o secretário de Meio Ambiente do município, João De Conti Neto, a sujeira está voltando pela correnteza. João De Conti Neto/Acervo Pessoal

A ONU ainda aponta que 60% da população – 114 milhões de pessoas – “não tem uma solução sanitária apropriada”. Os dados ainda revelam que 8 milhões de brasileiros ainda precisam fazer suas necessidades ao ar livre todos os dias.

O Estadão revelou em junho de 2013 que a representante das Nações Unidas teve sua primeira inspeção para realizar o levantamento vetada pelo governo. A visita estava programada para ocorrer em julho do ano passado. “O governo apenas explicou que, por motivos imprevistos, a missão não poderia mais ocorrer”, declarou à época Catarina de Albuquerque.

Internamente, a ONU considerou que o veto tinha uma relação direta com os protestos que, em 2013, marcaram as cidades brasileiras. A viagem só aconteceria em dezembro de 2013, o que impediria que o informe produzido fosse apresentado aos demais governos da ONU e à sociedade civil antes da Copa do Mundo.

Agora, o raio X reflete uma crise que vive o País no que se refere ao acesso a água e saneamento. “Milhões de pessoas continuam vivendo em ambientes insalubres, sem acesso à água e ao saneamento”, indicou o informe, apontando que o maior problema estaria nas favelas e nas zonas rurais.


O governo brasileiro indicou que o acesso à água e ao saneamento é “uma prioridade”, que a população mais pobre recebe uma atenção especial e que o governo tem “aumentado de forma significativa os investimentos em saneamento ao transferir recursos para Estados e municípios”.

“Houve um aumento nos orçamentos de fundos especiais para promover investimentos em infraestrutura de água e saneamento”, indicou a embaixadora do Brasil na ONU, Regina Dunlop.

“Temos um compromisso com a eliminação de desigualdades, dando prioridades para os mais vulneráveis”, insistiu a diplomata, indicando que as populações das favelas não são esquecidas.

Entre as medidas, a diplomata aponta investimentos de R$ 21,5 bilhões pelo governo em moradia, acesso à água, serviços de esgoto e revitalização urbana.

O governo também sugere que a relatora fizesse uma viagem mais ampla ao Brasil e alerta para a dimensão do território nacional.


Nudge: The gentle science of good governance (New Scientist)

25 June 2013

Magazine issue 2922

NOT long before David Cameron became UK prime minister, he famously prescribed some holiday reading for his colleagues: a book modestly entitled Nudge.

Cameron wasn’t the only world leader to find it compelling. US president Barack Obama soon appointed one of its authors, Cass Sunstein, a social scientist at the University of Chicago, to a powerful position in the White House. And thus the nudge bandwagon began rolling. It has been picking up speed ever since (see “Nudge power: Big government’s little pushes“).

So what’s the big idea? We don’t always do what’s best for ourselves, thanks to cognitive biases and errors that make us deviate from rational self-interest. The premise of Nudge is that subtly offsetting or exploiting these biases can help people to make better choices.

If you live in the US or UK, you’re likely to have been nudged towards a certain decision at some point. You probably didn’t notice. That’s deliberate: nudging is widely assumed to work best when people aren’t aware of it. But that stealth breeds suspicion: people recoil from the idea that they are being stealthily manipulated.

There are other grounds for suspicion. It sounds glib: a neat term for a slippery concept. You could argue that it is a way for governments to avoid taking decisive action. Or you might be concerned that it lets them push us towards a convenient choice, regardless of what we really want.

These don’t really hold up. Our distaste for being nudged is understandable, but is arguably just another cognitive bias, given that our behaviour is constantly being discreetly influenced by others. What’s more, interventions only qualify as nudges if they don’t create concrete incentives in any particular direction. So the choice ultimately remains a free one.

Nudging is a less blunt instrument than regulation or tax. It should supplement rather than supplant these, and nudgers must be held accountable. But broadly speaking, anyone who believes in evidence-based policy should try to overcome their distaste and welcome governance based on behavioural insights and controlled trials, rather than carrot-and-stick wishful thinking. Perhaps we just need a nudge in the right direction.

An inside look at U.S. think tank’s plans to undo environmental legislation (The Star)

The corporate-sponsored American Legislative Exchange Council works with lobbyists and legislators to derail climate change policies.

Occupy Phoenix protests the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization that brings together large corporations and U.S. lawmakers to draft anti-environmental policies.


Occupy Phoenix protests the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization that brings together large corporations and U.S. lawmakers to draft anti-environmental policies.


Scientists are exaggerating the climate change crisis.

There’s no need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions because the benefits of warmer temperatures outweigh the costs.

Over-the-top environmental regulations are linked to such problems as suicide and drug abuse.

These aren’t the ramblings of a right-wing conspiracy theorist, but the opinions expressed at a midsummer retreat for U.S. state legislators held by a powerful U.S. think tank and sponsored by corporations as varied as AT&T and TransCanada, the company behind the controversial Keystone XL pipeline proposal.

Internal documents from this summer’s Dallas meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, leaked to a watchdog group, reveal several sessions casting doubt on the scientific evidence of climate change. They also reveal sessions focused on crafting policies that reduce rules for fossil fuel companies and create obstacles for the development of alternative forms of energy.

The meeting, hosted in Dallas from July 30 to Aug. 1, involved a mix of lobbyists, U.S. legislators and climate change contrarians, and was sponsored by more than 50 large corporations, including several that do business in Alberta’s oilsands.

One workshop had the goal of teaching politicians “how to think and talk about climate and energy issues” and provided them with guidance for fighting environmental policies and regulations.

“Legislators are just there as foot soldiers, really,” said Chris Taylor, a Democratic state representative from Wisconsin and a member of ALEC.

Taylor, who said she belongs to the group in order to keep people informed about what it’s doing, said research groups appear to be writing policies presented at the meeting on behalf of corporations that are trying to get rid of obstacles to profit.

“Legislators aren’t coming up with these ideas,” she said.

An ALEC spokeswoman, Molly Fuhs, said in an email to the Star that all of its meetings are meant to bring together members “to discuss and debate model solutions to the issues facing the states,” using principles of limited government, free markets and federalism.

All of the model policies, which must first be introduced by a legislator member, are voted on and approved by a national board made up of 23 state legislators, she added.

“This is to ensure ALEC model policies are driven by, and are reflective of, state legislators’ ideas and the issues facing the states,” she wrote.

The group, founded in 1973, says it has about 2,000 elected Democratic and Republican state legislators in its membership. Its non-partisan status as an educational organization allows it to give U.S. tax receipts to its donors.

With nine separate committees made up of corporate representatives and politicians, the council says it can contribute to as many as 1,000 different policies or laws in a single year. And on average, about 20 per cent of these become laws or policies in areas such as international trade, the environment or health care, it says.

“For more than forty years, ALEC has helped lobbyists from some of the biggest polluters on the planet meet privately with U.S. lawmakers to discuss and model legislation,” said Nick Surgey, research director at U.S. watchdog Center for Media and Democracy.

“ALEC is a big reason the U.S. is so far behind in taking significant action to tackle climate change.”

A separate session on climate change at the ALEC retreat, presented by another educational charity, featured several proposals to discourage development of renewable energy, to stop new American rules to reduce pollution from coal power plants, as well as a “model resolution” in support of Keystone XL, which is seeking approval from the Obama administration.

According to a conference agenda, obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy, this presentation was given by Joseph Bast, president of the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based conservative think tank. Neither Bast, an author and publisher with an undergraduate degree in economics, nor the institute responded to requests for comment.

Slides from the presentation show that it also challenged established scientific evidence on climate change, while proposing to dismantle the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Other internal ALEC records released by the watchdog show that it previously asked its elected members to publicly speak out in support of Keystone XL, providing them with “information” to include in submissions for the U.S. State Department, which is reviewing the TransCanada project.

“They lobby,” Taylor, the Wisconsin Democrat, said of ALEC. “They come up with model policies. They send emails to legislators. They urge people to support model policies. They send thank-yous when the model policies pass. My goal in going is to make sure it’s not stealth, to make sure people know where these policies come from. And these policies come from big corporations through ALEC.”

The Harper government has also participated in an ALEC event, sending a Canadian diplomat, Canada’s consul general in Dallas, Paula Caldwell St-Onge, to a 2011 conference in New Orleans to promote the Keystone XL pipeline, the oilsands and other fossil fuels. Speaking notes from her presentation don’t mention climate change.

Fuhs, ALEC’s spokeswoman, confirmed that several multinational corporations were among those to sponsor the Dallas conference, including telecommunications giant AT&T, pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Bayer and energy companies such as Chevron, Devon, Exxon Mobil and TransCanada.

But she stopped responding to questions from the Star after being asked about the internal documents circulated at the meeting and obtained by the watchdog group.

Most of the companies contacted by the Star confirmed they had sponsored the event, explaining that this didn’t necessarily mean they endorsed all of ALEC’s proposed policies.

Alberta-based TransCanada, which sponsored an “Ice Cream Social” event at the ALEC meetings in each of the past two years, downplayed its role.

“I cannot honestly speak to whether or not someone who was a consultant for our company was at the event — because we are not their only client — but no one was directed to be at this event to present views on behalf of TransCanada,” said TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard. “I can’t be any clearer than that.”

Howard, who said the company’s contributions to ALEC weren’t considered to be charitable donations, said the sponsorship doesn’t mean TransCanada agrees with the organization’s policies.

“Reasonable people wouldn’t expect us to only go to or support things that are a perfect match for our own company’s views and values,” Howard said, noting TransCanada has a climate change policy that includes billions of dollars of investments in renewable energy.

“Sometimes you have to speak to people with different viewpoints to develop better public policy and decisions — that’s just common sense,” Howard said.

A spokesman for ExxonMobil told the Star the company didn’t want to comment about its sponsorship of ALEC, saying that it wasn’t a member of the organization. ALEC’s website lists representatives from 17 organizations on its “private enterprise advisory council” including ExxonMobil, AT&T, Pfizer, as well as Peabody Energy, the largest private-sector coal company in the world.

ALEC declined to explain the role of this “advisory council.”

A spokesman from Devon Energy, Tim Hartley, confirmed that it was “one of the many sponsors” of the Dallas meeting, explaining that the company “generally favours the principles of free markets and limited government that animate ALEC.” But he said he couldn’t discuss specific public policy issues.

“We interact with a variety of stakeholder groups in the course of our business, and we embrace our responsibility to participate in the free and open marketplace of ideas,” said Hartley.

Although she is often critical of ALEC, Taylor, who joined the organization as a legislative member a few years ago, said she doesn’t expect to be kicked out since it is trying to promote its bipartisan nature to preserve its charitable status.

She said energy was a major theme at the Dallas conference, driven by some large corporations, with one corporate representative from Peabody Energy urging the conference to help spark a “political tsunami” against new U.S. EPA regulations proposed to slash pollution from coal power plants.

Peabody Energy didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Surgey, from the Center for Media and Democracy, said one of his biggest concerns about ALEC is its secrecy.

“We have many of our state elected officials going on to these conferences, and yet we’re not allowed to know who they meet with,” said Surgey. “We just know that it’s a very large number of lobbyists from big multinational corporations but ALEC refuses to tell us who’s there.”

ALEC has also sponsored a pair of trips for U.S. politicians to the Alberta oilsands — described as an “oilsands academy” — arranging meetings for the politicians with representatives from TransCanada and Devon Energy, as well as one environmental group, the Pembina Institute, in October 2012.

TransCanada said it doesn’t organize or fund these types of visits, but it assists by freeing up staff to explain operations at facilities.

Sandi Walker, an Alberta government spokeswoman from the provincial department of international and intergovernmental relations, said it hosted 54 trips to the oilsands in 2012, including the fall visit co-ordinated by ALEC as part of ongoing efforts to inform legislators and officials about the industry with “fact-based information” to allow key decision-makers to make informed decisions about energy. Each trip typically cost about $3,000, she said.

She said an ALEC representative had contacted Alberta to set up the meeting, explaining that the province maintains relations with a variety of stakeholders and organizations in the U.S.

Walker said the province is committed to being a leader in greenhouse gas reduction technology by renewing its climate change strategy so that it can effectively reduce emissions at the source, noting it has already implemented a price on carbon emissions for industry.

While TransCanada’s pipeline proposal has popped up on the agenda at multiple ALEC events in recent years, Taylor said that the company’s latest “ice cream social” reminded her of what happened last year when it hosted a similar event.

The ice cream started melting, and in a crowd of skeptics, she joked that she thought this might be accepted as evidence of global warming.

Eunice Nodari, doutora em história ambiental:‘Não podemos controlar a chuva. Os desastres, sim’ (O Globo)

Professora gaúcha foi uma das palestrantes do encontro que reuniu, no mês passado, pesquisadores dos cinco países que compõem o Brics

<br />
Eunice Nodari atesta que erros ambientais do passado continuam a acontecer, aponta caminhos para mudança e fala sobre a história ambiental de diferentes países<br />
Foto: Fabio Seixo / Agência O Globo
Eunice Nodari atesta que erros ambientais do passado continuam a acontecer, aponta caminhos para mudança e fala sobre a história ambiental de diferentes países – Fabio Seixo / Agência O Globo

“Nasci em Sarandi, Rio Grande do Sul. Meu pai era pequeno comerciante e queria que eu fosse ‘alguém na vida’. Bom, consegui ser a primeira a ter curso superior na família… Nos anos 1980, me mudei para Santa Catarina. Tenho 60 anos, 3 filhos e 2 netos e sou casada com um professor de genética vegetal”

Conte algo que não sei.

A história ambiental no Brasil é um campo novo. Começou a ganhar força na década de 1990, com forte influência dos Estados Unidos. Com isso, em 2001, enveredei minha carreira para pesquisas nessa área. Iniciamos com projetos sobre a história do desmatamento das florestas do Sul do Brasil, e avançamos para outros temas prementes relacionados ao meio ambiente. Logo conseguimos criar uma linha de pesquisa em Migrações e História Ambiental, no Programa de Pós-Graduação da Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (UFSC). Foi um trabalho pioneiro que vem dando ótimos resultados e, ainda, é um estímulo para outras universidades.

Além da UFSC, quais são as grandes referências em história ambiental no Brasil?

O destaque deve ser dado ao Programa de Pós-Graduação em História Social da UFRJ, da UNB e a UFMG. Juntas, essas universidades têm 64 teses de doutorado. É importante ressaltar que os meus ex-orientandos, hoje doutores, já são professores de universidades em diferentes estados. Nelas, eles também estão criando os seus grupos desta disciplina, aumentando, assim, a rede.

A senhora foi palestrante do Simpósio Diálogo em História Ambiental: Brics. O que os países que integram o grupo têm em comum nas questões ambientais?

O Brics reuniu pesquisadores ambientais dos países que o compõem com o objetivo de discutir formas de serem realizadas pesquisas em conjunto. Foi um evento muito importante, inédito na área de história. Foram debatidas similaridades e diferenças. Sem dúvida, as enchentes são eventos recorrentes na maioria dos cinco países. No caso do Brasil, o Rio de Janeiro e Blumenau, por exemplo, sofrem com as cheias. Uma das deficiências observadas nas pesquisas realizadas por mim e por Lise Sedrez deixa claro que as políticas públicas investem muito pouco na prevenção dos problemas que surgem com os temporais anualmente. Uma coisa é certa: não podemos controlar a chuva, mas os desastres, sim.

E, neste caso, qual o papel do historiador ambiental?

É analisar como os desastres ambientais, que são os que têm a intervenção do homem, estão diretamente relacionados com as problemáticas sociais, econômicas, culturais e, mesmo, políticas, apontando os caminhos para evitar que esses processos se repitam.

Erros ambientais do passado ainda são frequentes?

Infelizmente, as lições herdadas do passado não estão sendo devidamente observadas, pois os mesmos erros continuam sendo praticados. Cometer infrações básicas, como não respeitar as áreas de matas ciliares, importantes para a contenção das cheias e a qualidade da água, significa falta de respeito não somente ao meio ambiente, mas também à vida humana e dos demais habitantes do planeta.

A violência ambiental é resultado da falta de legislação?

No meu entender, as violências socioambientais mais preocupantes são as silenciosas, aquelas que acontecem cotidianamente e que não são resolvidas. Por exemplo, a falta de saneamento básico para parte da população. Não podemos atribuir à falta de legislação o descontrole na degradação, pois a própria Constituição de 1988 inclui os direitos relacionados ao meio ambiente.


How the IPCC is sharpening its language on climate change (The Carbon Brief)

01 Sep 2014, 17:40

Simon Evans

Barometer | Shutterstock

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is sharpening the language of its latest draft synthesis report, seen by Carbon Brief.

Not only is the wording around how the climate is changing more decisive, the evidence the report references is stronger too, when compared to the  previous version published in 2007.

The synthesis report, due to be published on 2 November, will wrap up the IPCC’s fifth assessment (AR5) of climate change. It will summarise and draw together the information in IPCC reports on the science of climate change, its  impacts and the  ways it can be addressed.

We’ve compared a draft of the synthesis report with that published in 2007 to find out how they compare. Here are the key areas of change.

Irreversible impacts are being felt already

The AR5 draft synthesis begins with a decisive statement that human influence on the climate is “clear”, that recent emissions are the highest in history and that “widespread and consequential impacts” are already being felt.

This opening line shows how much has changed in the way the authors present their findings. In contrast, the 2007 report opened with a discussion of scientific progress and an extended paragraph on definitions.

There are also a couple of clear thematic changes in the 2014 draft. The first, repeated frequently throughout, is the idea that climate change impacts are already being felt.

For instance it says that the height of coastal floods has already increased and that climate-change-related risks from weather extremes such as heatwaves and heavy rain are “already moderate”.

These observations are crystallised in a long section on Article 2 of the UN’s climate change convention, which has been signed by every country of the world. Article 2 says that the objective of the convention is to avoid dangerous climate change.

The AR5 draft implies the world may already have failed in this task:

“Depending on value judgements and specific circumstances, currently observed impacts might already be considered dangerous for some communities.”

The second theme is a stronger emphasis on irreversible impacts compared to the 2007 version. The 2014 draft says:

“Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”

It says that a large fraction of warming will be irreversible for hundreds to thousands of years and that the Greenland ice sheet will be lost when warming reaches between one and four degrees above pre-industrial temperatures. Current warming since pre-industrial times is about 0.8 degrees celsius.

In effect the report has switched tense from future conditional (“could experience”) to present continuous (“are experiencing”).  For instance it says there are signs that some corals and Arctic ecosystems “are already experiencing irreversible regime shifts” because of warming.

Stronger evidence than before

As well as these thematic changes in the use of language, the AR5 synthesis comes to stronger conclusions in many other areas.

This is largely because the scientific evidence has solidified in the intervening seven years, the IPCC says.

We’ve drawn together a collection of side-by-side statements so you can see for yourself how the conclusions have changed. Some of the shifts in language are subtle – but they are significant all the same.

IPCC Table With Logo

Source: IPCC AR4 Synthesis Report, draft AR5 Synthesis Report

Climate alarmism or climate realism?

The authors of the latest synthesis report seem to have made an effort to boost the impact of their words. They’ve used clearer and more direct language along with what appears to be a stronger emphasis on the negative consequences of inaction.

The language around relying on adaptation to climate change has also shifted. It now more clearly emphasises the need for mitigation to cut emissions, if the worst impacts of warming are to be avoided.

Some are bound to read this as an unwelcome excursion into advocacy. But others will insist it is simply a case of better presenting the evidence that was already there, along with advances in scientific knowledge.

Government representatives have the chance to go over the draft AR5 synthesis report with a fine toothcomb when they meet during 27-31 October.

Will certain countries try to tone down the wording, as they have been accused of doing in the past? Or will the new, more incisive language make the final cut?

To find out, tune in on 2 November when the final synthesis report will be published.

Falta de água é culpa do governo de SP, afirma relatora da ONU (Folha de S.Paulo)



31/08/2014 02h15

Relatora das Nações Unidas para a questão da água, a portuguesa Catarina de Albuquerque, 44, afirma que a grave crise hídrica em São Paulo é de responsabilidade do governo do Estado. “E não sou a única a achar isso.”

Ela visitou o Brasil em dezembro de 2013, a convite do governo federal.

De volta ao país, ela falou com a Folha na semana passada em Campinas, após participar de um debate sobre a crise da água em São Paulo.

Eduardo Anizelli/Folhapress
Relatora das Nações Unidas para a questão da água, Catarina de Albuquerque
Relatora das Nações Unidas para a questão da água, Catarina de Albuquerque

A gestão Geraldo Alckmin (PSDB) nega que faltem investimentos e atribui a crise à falta de chuvas nos últimos meses, que classifica como “excepcional” e “inimaginável”.

A seguir, trechos da entrevista à Folha.


Folha – Que lições devemos tirar desta crise?
Catarina de Albuquerque - Temos de nos planejar em tempos de abundância para os tempos de escassez. E olhar para a água como um bem precioso e escasso, indispensável à sobrevivência humana.
Em Singapura, no Japão e na Suíça, a água do esgoto, tratada, é misturada à água comum. É de excelente qualidade. Temos de olhar o esgoto como recurso.

No caso de São Paulo, acha que faltou ao governo do Estado adotar medidas e fazer os investimentos necessários?
Acho que sim, e não sou a única. Já falei com vários especialistas aqui no Brasil que dizem exatamente isso. Admito que uma parte da gravidade poderia não ser previsível, mas a seca, em si, era. Tinha de ter combatido as perdas de água. É inconcebível que estejam quase em 40% [média do país].

A água deveria ser mais cara? Há modelos de cobrança mais adequados do que o atual?
A prioridade tem de ser as pessoas. Quem usa a água para outros fins tem mais poder que os mais pobres, que têm de ter esse direito garantido.

Em muitos países, a água é mais cara para a indústria, a agricultura e o turismo, por exemplo. Deveria haver também um aumento exponencial do preço em relação ao consumo, para garantir que quem consome mais pague muitíssimo mais.

Que exemplos poderiam inspirar os governos?
Os EUA multam quem lava o carro em tempos de seca; a Austrália diz aos agricultores que não há água para todos em situações de emergência; e no Japão há sistemas de canalização paralela para reutilizar a água.

Qual é a importância de grandes obras como a transposição do rio São Francisco ou o sistema Cantareira?
Por várias razões, há uma atração pelas megaobras nos investimentos feitos em água e esgoto, não só no Brasil. Mas elas, muitas vezes, não beneficiam as pessoas que mais precisam de ajuda. Para isso são necessárias intervenções de pequena escala, que são menos “sexy” de anunciar.

Os lucros da Sabesp hoje são distribuídos aos acionistas. Como a senhora avalia isso diante da crise hídrica?
A legislação brasileira determina que uma empresa pública distribua parte do lucro aos acionistas. Mas uma coisa é uma empresa pública que faz parafusos, outra é uma que fornece água, que é um direito humano. As regras deveriam ser diferentes.

O marco normativo dos direitos humanos determina que sejam investidos todos os recursos disponíveis na realização do direito.

No caso de a empresa pública prestar um serviço que equivale a um direito humano, deveria haver maior limitação na distribuição dos lucros aos acionistas.

Em São Paulo, pela perspectiva dos direitos humanos, os recursos deveriam estar sendo investidos para garantir a sustentabilidade do sistema e o acesso de todos a esse direito.

A partir do momento em que parte desses recursos são enviados a acionistas, não estamos cumprindo as normas dos direitos humanos e, potencialmente, estamos face a uma violação desse direito.

Seria o caso de se decretar estado de calamidade pública?
A obrigação é garantir água em quantidade suficiente e de qualidade a todos. Como se chega lá são os governantes que devem saber.

A senhora sobrevoou o sistema Cantareira e disse ter visto muitas piscinas no caminho. O que achou disso?
A situação é grave. Isso foi algo que me saltou à vista.

Quando aterrissei no Egito para uma missão, tendo ciência da falta de água que existe no país, vi nas zonas ricas do Cairo uma série de casas com piscinas e pessoas lavando carros. Quem tem dinheiro e poder não sente falta de água.

O que talvez seja um pouco diferente na situação de São Paulo é que, pela proporção que a crise tomou, ela poderá atingir pessoas que tradicionalmente não sofrem limitação no uso da água -e isso é interessante.

Que efeito isso pode ter?
Pode levar a uma mudança de mentalidade, a uma pressão por parte de formadores de opinião no Estado de São Paulo para que haja melhor planejamento e uma gestão sustentável da água.

Quando os únicos que sofrem com a falta de água são pobres, pessoas que não têm voz na sociedade, as coisas não mudam.

Quando as pessoas que são ameaçadas com a falta de água são as com poder, com dinheiro, com influência, aí as coisas podem mudar, porque eles começam a sentir na pele. Pode ser uma chance para melhorar a situação. As crises são oportunidades.

Cacique cobra rapidez (Isto É Dinheiro)


Por: Clayton Netz

Um relatório confidencial foi encaminhado ao governador de São Paulo, Geraldo Alckmin, ao prefeito da capital, Fernando Haddad, e à presidenta Dilma Rousseff. Elaborado pela Fundação Cacique Cobra Coral, traz notícias nada agradáveis sobre a previsão de chuvas para o próximo trimestre e para o ano de 2015. Fala de atraso no período chuvoso e precipitações irregulares no Centro-Sul. E cobra rapidez na assinatura de convênios que ajudariam a amenizar a situação, mas que estão parados em função do calendário eleitoral.

(Nota publicada na Edição 880 da Revista Dinheiro, com colaboração de: Carlos Eduardo Valim, Fabrício Bernardes e Vera Ondei)

Will Brazil elect Marina Silva as the world’s first Green president? (The Guardian)

Born into a poor, mixed-race Amazon family, Marina Silva is on the verge of a stunning election win after taking over her party

in São Paulo

The Observer, Saturday 30 August 2014 23.08 BST

Marina Silva

Marina Silva at her campaign HQ. As an environmentalist and a black woman from a poor Amazon family, she carries the hopes of more than one minority in Brazilian politics.  Photograph: Sebastião Moreira/EPA

It started with the national anthem and ended with a rap. In between came a poignant minute’s silence, politicised football chants and a call to action by the woman tipped to become the first Green national leader on the planet.

The unveiling in São Paulo of Brazilian presidential candidate Marina Silva’s platform for government on Friday was a sometimes bizarre mix oftradition and modernity, conservatism and radicalism, doubt and hope: but for many of those present, it highlighted the very real prospect of an environmentalist taking the reins of a major country.

In a dramatic election that has at times seemed scripted by a telenovelawriter, Silva has tripled her coalition’s poll ratings in the two weeks since she took over from her predecessor and running mate, Eduardo Campos, who was killed in a plane crash. Following a strong performance in the first TV debate between candidates, polls suggest she will come second in the first-round vote on 5 October and then beat the incumbent, Dilma Rousseff, in the runoff three weeks later.

This is a spectacular turnaround for a candidate who did not even have a party a year ago, when the electoral court ruled that she had failed to collect enough signatures to mount a campaign. It was also the latest in a series of remarkable steps for a mixed-race woman who grew up in a poor family in the Amazon, and went on to become her country’s most prominent advocate of sustainable development.

The distance Silva – known as Marina – has come from her remote forest home was evident at the launch of her programme for government in the affluent Pinheiros district of São Paulo. About 250 people – mostly from her Sustainability Network party and its allies in Campos’s Brazilian Socialist party (PSB) and other groups – gathered under the chandeliers of the swanky Rosa Rosarum venue, where waiters in white gloves served canapes, while they waited for their leader.

“Now is the time for Marina. We’re all very excited,” said Sigrid Andersen, a university professor and member of the Sustainability Network in Paraná state, before their candidate’s arrival. “I think she will turn the country towards sustainability in every sector. She tried to do that when she was environment minister, but didn’t have the strength. If she wins this election, she’ll have more power to push that agenda.”

The surge in the polls has been exhilarating for supporters. A month ago, as running mate to Campos, the PSB ticket struggled to hit double digits. Within a week of succeeding him, Silva more than doubled the support rate, pushing her into contention for second place and a runoff vote against Rousseff. On Friday, her ratings jumped again. A Datafolha poll showed Silva was now neck and neck with the president at 34% in the first round and would win comfortably with 50% of the vote if it went to a second round, compared with 40% for Rousseff.

Silva’s face stares out from the covers of magazines and the front pages of newspapers, under headlines such as “Marina Presidente?”, “How far can Marina go?”, “The Marina Effect”. One cartoonist depicted her as a Neo-type character from The Matrix who appears to be fighting the campaign in almost another dimension from her rivals.

When the candidate arrived, she stepped out from her van and immediately disappeared into a scrum of cameras and reporters. Local media have described the 56-year-old as frail and noted her low weight and height – details that are almost never mentioned for male candidates.

Women are hugely under-represented in Brazilian politics, but it is not because of her gender that Silva could break the mould. That has more to do with the colour of her skin and ideas.

Silva is a mix of Brazil‘s three main ethnic groups. Among her ancestors are native indians, Portuguese settlers and African slaves. While she is usually described as predominantly “indigenous”, friends say Silva categorises herself as “black” in the national census. In Brazil’s white-dominated political world, this is exceptional.

“It will be super-important for Brazil to have a black president, as it was in the US with Obama. It would signify a big advance for our country against discrimination,” said Alessandro Alvares, a member of the PSB and one of the few non-white faces in the room.

Silva’s political colours could prove still more controversial. For more than a decade, she has been known as the country’s most prominent Green campaigner, having first worked on sustainability at the grassroots with the Amazon activist Chico Mendes, who was later murdered. She later served as environment minister in Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s administration from 2003 to 2008, when she put in place effective measures to slow the deforestation of the Amazon. In her address to Friday’s meeting she stressed that Brazil could double its output of crops and meat without further clearing of the rainforest.

“If elected, Marina will be the greenest president in history, the first black president in Brazil and the first to be born in the Amazon,” said Altino Machado, a journalist based in Acre state, who first met Silva more than 30 years ago when they both attended a theatrical group. “She has proved her credentials as an environmentalist and protector of the Amazon. She also has a very strong ethical code and is totally free from any taint of corruption, which is extremely rare in politics in Brazil, where scandals happen all the time.”

Marina Silva at the launch of her election campaign programme on Friday.

Marina Silva at the launch of her election campaign programme on Friday. Photograph: Paulo Whitaker/Reuters

The clean, green image played well with university students, women and other young voters when Silva first ran for president in 2010. Although she was then with the Green party, which had only a tiny campaign machine, little funds and scant TV time, Silva came third with 20m votes – more than any green candidate has secured anywhere in the world before or since.

This time, she is aiming for a winning share of the electorate and has widened her message accordingly. She has also chosen a running mate – Beto Albuquerque, a congressman from the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul – who has close ties to agribusiness.

Listening to Silva speak as the leader of a mostly elite, mostly white, urban crowd in Latin America’s biggest city, it is remarkable to think of her very different origins in the Amazon. The would-be president grew up in the forest in a poor, illiterate family of rubber tappers. She survived malaria and hepatitis, worked as a housemaid and didn’t learn to read until she was 16. With the support of radical Catholic priests she became involved in social issues, entered university and became a student and union activist.

In her childhood, she once harboured ambitions to become a nun. Now she is a twice-married mother of four, but still comes across as serious and severe to the point almost of asceticism. Parts of her speech are stabbed out in a series of finger jabs. Mostly though, it is delivered with the intensive haste of a teacher who has to get through a lot of material in the last class of term. Or a woman on a mission. It is intense: despite the occasional joke and pause for applause, she lacks the easy bonhomie of former president Lula.

Crowd-pleasing has never been what Silva is about. Throughout her career, she has put her principles above the priorities of her political allies. This is one of the reasons why she is now effectively on her fourth party. It has also led to criticism that she is selfish, autocratic, a loner and too much of an idealist to get things done. A more generous interpretation is that she is an outsider who has never been able or willing to conform to the norms of the cosy world of Brasília.

That is clearly part of her appeal to an electorate that is tired of business as usual. Many of those who support her were among the protesters who joined the million-strong demonstrations of more than a dozen cities last year.

But, now in a coalition, Silva is making compromises. Her 250-page programme for government, which was launched on Friday, attempts to reconcile the very different outlooks of the Sustainability Network and the more pro-business PSB. The result is a something of a hodge-podge, with something for street protesters (10% of GDP to healthcare within four years), financial markets (greater autonomy for the central bank) and her core supporters.

On the environmental front, the programme calls for greater energy diversity, which will mean the promotion of wind and solar power; more ethanol production; the maintenance of hydrogeneration (which currently supplies more than three quarters of Brazil’s electricity); and the scaling back of thermal power and exploitation of mine oil deposits located in “sub-salt” strata deep under the Atlantic.

The change could be dramatic, but for the moment, it lacks specifics. In her 20-minute speech in São Paulo, Silva criticised the thinking behind the Belo Monte dam, which will be the biggest in Latin America once it is finished, but stopped short of saying either it or any of the other controversial hydropower projects in the Amazon would be halted.

Similarly, she was cautious about accepting the “Green champion” role that many conservationists around the world would like her to play if she became president.

“Sustainable development is a global trend that can be seen in China, India and elsewhere. If I win, of course I want to make Brazil a symbol of that trend. It won’t just be us, but we have enormous potential,” she said.

Gaudêncio Torquato, professor of political communication at the University of São Paulo, said Silva was showing more flexibility because otherwise she would never be able to govern. “The discourse of sustainability needs to incorporate the daily life of the country. The country would be ungovernable if a fundamentalist vision of politics were implemented.”

But many still see the would-be president as confrontational. Several senior members of the PSB resigned when she was selected as candidate. Business leaders, particularly in the powerful agricultural and energy sectors, see her as anti-development.

“The biggest criticism that agribusiness has in relation to her is her radicalism. She’s made environmental issues a dogma, a religion,” wrote Kátia Abreu, the acerbic head of the ruralisa lobby in Congress. “Throughout her life, she has always stood strongly for environmental activism and displayed strong hatred towards the agricultural sector. She cultivated this animosity in a purposeful way, treating us with aggression.”

Some fear Silva would be socially conservative as a result of her evangelical faith, and the opposition to abortion and gay marriage that comes with it.

But associates say she is not dogmatic on these issues. One of the loudest cheers of the launch meeting followed an affirmation of support for the rights of the lesbian and gay community.

Germano Marino, the president of the Acre Homosexual Association and a member of the ruling Workers’ party, told the Observer he would vote for Silva despite her evangelism.

“I think she is what society needs. Principally I believe she can open the dialogue for us to have more equal rights. Marina has never had a position against homosexuals,” said Marino, who worked with Silva for five years when she was a senator in Acre. “I’m going to vote for her because I believe in her and people have the right to choose their own religion.”

Victory is far from certain. With more than a month left before the election on 5 October, there is abundant time for another twist in the campaign. Voter sympathy following the death of Campos may wear off. Attacks from rivals will increase. And the other candidates should benefit from their superior financial backing and TV time.

But, for now at least, all the momentum is with Silva and her diverse group of supporters. As she heads towards the first-round vote on 5 October, she has generated support among environmentalists, financiers and street protesters; mixed feelings among gay voters and anti-market leftists; and outright hostility from many in the agribusiness and energy industries.

So what does Silva stand for? The traditional political labels of left and right do not quite fit, nor do the ethnic categories of black and white. Green is certainly an important part of the mix, though how diluted will probably not be clear until this unusually colourful campaign comes to an end.

A crise hídrica em São Paulo (Envolverde)

22/8/2014 – 04h28

por Heitor Scalambrini Costa*

represa cantareira 300x150 vale esta A crise hídrica em São Paulo

Contra fatos não há argumentos. O que acontece atualmente com relação ao desabastecimento de água em São Paulo se enquadra na retórica de que uma mentira repetida muitas vezes acaba virando verdade.

O governo paulista insiste em negar que se as obras necessárias tivessem sido realizadas poderia ser menos dramática a atual situação. E insiste ainda em responsabilizar São Pedro pelo caos evidente. A culpa não é da seca! A seca é parte do problema, pois desde sempre se soube que ela poderia vir.

Os gestores públicos também negam que existe racionamento, afirmando que o abastecimento de água está garantido até março de 2015, apesar de, na prática, o racionamento existir oficialmente em dezenas de municípios.

Em visita ao interior de São Paulo, no inicio de agosto [2014], pude constatar uma situação que ainda não tinha me dado conta. A gravidade da crise hídrica atinge não apenas a região metropolitana da capital, como a imprensa dá a entender ao enfatizar o colapso do sistema Cantareira, mas atinge todo o Estado mais rico da União.

Dos 645 municípios paulistas, a Sabesp (Companhia de Saneamento Básico de São Paulo) é responsável por fornecer água a 364, quem somam um total de 27,7 milhões de pessoas. Nos outros 281 municípios (não abastecidos pela Companhia), o abastecimento de água a 16 milhões de pessoas fica a cargo das próprias prefeituras ou de empresas por elas contratadas.

Se, por um lado, a companhia estadual de abastecimento nega haver adotado rodízio de água em qualquer um dos municípios atendidos por ela, inclusive na capital, tal afirmação é logo desmentida pelos usuários que relatam interrupções no abastecimento, principalmente à noite.

Nos municípios não atendidos pela Sabesp, medidas restritivas estão sendo tomadas por centenas de empresas e gestores locais devido à crise. Em Guarulhos, na grande São Paulo, o abastecimento de 1,3 milhões de moradores é atendido por um serviço municipal, o SAAE (Serviço Autônomo de Água e Esgoto), e seus moradores passam sem água um em cada dois dias.

Em 18 municípios, cerca de 2,1 milhões de pessoas estão submetidas ao racionamento oficial no estado de São Paulo, correspondendo a 5% da população total, segundo levantamento do jornal Folha de São Paulo (11/Ago). Além do racionamento, medidas de incentivo à economia de água têm sido adotadas, indo desde multas para reprimir o desperdício a campanhas com rifas de carro e TV para quem poupar e reduzir o consumo voluntariamente.

O que chama a atenção de todos, além da dimensão estadual da crise hídrica em São Paulo, é a insistência dos gestores em negar a existência do racionamento na área de atuação da Sabesp – mesmo contestados pelos moradores, que sofrem na prática com o rodízio provocado pela companhia, com cortes crescentes no fornecimento de água.

A contrapartida do poder é a ação responsável. E o governo paulista tem se mostrado irresponsável com o seu povo, além de incompetente e medíocre para resolver questões básicas para a sua população. É hora de assumir a gravidade da situação e dos erros cometidos, e, naturalmente, fazer as obras urgentes e necessárias para garantir o fornecimento seguro deste bem fundamental à vida.

Chega de hipocrisia, chega de culpar São Pedro que não pode se defender.

* Heitor Scalambrini Costa é professor Associado da Univ. Fed. de Pernambuco. Graduado em Física pela UNICAMP. Doutor em Energética na Univ. de Marselha/Comissariado de Energia Atômica-França.

** Publicado originalmente no site IHU On-Line.

The Climate Swerve (The New York Times)

CreditRobert Frank Hunter


AMERICANS appear to be undergoing a significant psychological shift in our relation to global warming. I call this shift a climate “swerve,” borrowing the term used recently by the Harvard humanities professor Stephen Greenblatt to describe a major historical change in consciousness that is neither predictable nor orderly.

The first thing to say about this swerve is that we are far from clear about just what it is and how it might work. But we can make some beginning observations which suggest, in Bob Dylan’s words, that “something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is.” Experience, economics and ethics are coalescing in new and important ways. Each can be examined as a continuation of my work comparing nuclear and climate threats.

The experiential part has to do with a drumbeat of climate-related disasters around the world, all actively reported by the news media: hurricanes and tornadoes, droughts and wildfires, extreme heat waves and equally extreme cold, rising sea levels and floods. Even when people have doubts about the causal relationship of global warming to these episodes, they cannot help being psychologically affected. Of great importance is the growing recognition that the danger encompasses the entire earth and its inhabitants. We are all vulnerable.

This sense of the climate threat is represented in public opinion polls and attitude studies. A recent Yale survey, for instance, concluded that “Americans’ certainty that the earth is warming has increased over the past three years,” and “those who think global warming is not happening have become substantially less sure of their position.”

Falsification and denial, while still all too extensive, have come to require more defensive psychic energy and political chicanery.

But polls don’t fully capture the complex collective process occurring.

The most important experiential change has to do with global warming and time. Responding to the climate threat — in contrast to the nuclear threat, whose immediate and grotesque destructiveness was recorded in Hiroshima and Nagasaki — has been inhibited by the difficulty of imagining catastrophic future events. But climate-related disasters and intense media images are hitting us now, and providing partial models for a devastating climate future.

At the same time, economic concerns about fossil fuels have raised the issue of value. There is a wonderfully evocative term, “stranded assets,” to characterize the oil, coal and gas reserves that are still in the ground. Trillions of dollars in assets could remain “stranded” there. If we are serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sustaining the human habitat, between 60 percent and 80 percent of those assets must remain in the ground, according to the Carbon Tracker Initiative, an organization that analyzes carbon investment risk. In contrast, renewable energy sources, which only recently have achieved the status of big business, are taking on increasing value, in terms of returns for investors, long-term energy savings and relative harmlessness to surrounding communities.

Pragmatic institutions like insurance companies and the American military have been confronting the consequences of climate change for some time. But now, a number of leading financial authorities are raising questions about the viability of the holdings of giant carbon-based fuel corporations. In a world fueled by oil and coal, it is a truly stunning event when investors are warned that the market may end up devaluing those assets. We are beginning to see a bandwagon effect in which the overall viability of fossil-fuel economics is being questioned.

Can we continue to value, and thereby make use of, the very materials most deeply implicated in what could be the demise of the human habitat? It is a bit like the old Jack Benny joke, in which an armed robber offers a choice, “Your money or your life!” And Benny responds, “I’m thinking it over.” We are beginning to “think over” such choices on a larger scale.

This takes us to the swerve-related significance of ethics. Our reflections on stranded assets reveal our deepest contradictions. Oil and coal company executives focus on the maximum use of their product in order to serve the interests of shareholders, rather than the humane, universal ethics we require to protect the earth. We may well speak of those shareholder-dominated principles as “stranded ethics,” which are better left buried but at present are all too active above ground.

Such ethical contradictions are by no means entirely new in historical experience. Consider the scientists, engineers and strategists in the United States and the Soviet Union who understood their duty as creating, and possibly using, nuclear weapons that could destroy much of the earth. Their conscience could be bound up with a frequently amorphous ethic of “national security.” Over the course of my work I have come to the realization that it is very difficult to endanger or kill large numbers of people except with a claim to virtue.

The climate swerve is mostly a matter of deepening awareness. When exploring the nuclear threat I distinguished between fragmentary awareness, consisting of images that come and go but remain tangential, and formed awareness, which is more structured, part of a narrative that can be the basis for individual and collective action.

In the 1980s there was a profound worldwide shift from fragmentary awareness to formed awareness in response to the potential for a nuclear holocaust. Millions of people were affected by that “nuclear swerve.” And even if it is diminished today, the nuclear swerve could well have helped prevent the use of nuclear weapons.

With both the nuclear and climate threats, the swerve in awareness has had a crucial ethical component. People came to feel that it was deeply wrong, perhaps evil, to engage in nuclear war, and are coming to an awareness that it is deeply wrong, perhaps evil, to destroy our habitat and create a legacy of suffering for our children and grandchildren.

Social movements in general are energized by this kind of ethical passion, which enables people to experience the more active knowledge associated with formed awareness. That was the case in the movement against nuclear weapons. Emotions related to individual conscience were pooled into a shared narrative by enormous numbers of people.

In earlier movements there needed to be an overall theme, even a phrase, that could rally people of highly divergent political and intellectual backgrounds. The idea of a “nuclear freeze” mobilized millions of people with the simple and clear demand that the United States and the Soviet Union freeze the testing, production and deployment of nuclear weapons.

Could the climate swerve come to include a “climate freeze,” defined by a transnational demand for cutting back on carbon emissions in steps that could be systematically outlined?

With or without such a rallying phrase, the climate swerve provides no guarantees of more reasonable collective behavior. But with human energies that are experiential, economic and ethical it could at least provide — and may already be providing — the psychological substrate for action on behalf of our vulnerable habitat and the human future.

Global Warming Deniers Are Growing More Desperate by the Day (Moyers & Co.)

August 6, 2014

Fox News aired a report by the Heartland Institute purporting to "debunk" a top climate change report while obscuring the background of the organization, which previously denied the science demonstrating the dangers of tobacco and secondhand smoke. (Image: Media Matters)

Fox News aired a report by the Heartland Institute purporting to “debunk” a top climate change report while obscuring the background of the organization, which previously denied the dangers of tobacco. (Image: Media Matters)

This post originally appeared at Desmogblog.

The Heartland Institute’s recent International Climate Change Conference in Las Vegas illustrates climate change deniers’ desperate confusion. AsBloomberg News noted, “Heartland’s strategy seemed to be to throw many theories at the wall and see what stuck.” A who’s who of fossil fuel industry supporters and anti-science shills variously argued that global warming is a myth; that it’s happening but natural — a result of the sun or “Pacific Decadal Oscillation”; that it’s happening but we shouldn’t worry about it; or that global cooling is the real problem.

The only common thread, Bloomberg reported, was the preponderance of attacks on and jokes about Al Gore: “It rarely took more than a minute or two before one punctuated the swirl of opaque and occasionally conflicting scientific theories.”

Personal attacks are common among deniers. Their lies are continually debunked, leaving them with no rational challenge to overwhelming scientific evidence that the world is warming and that humans are largely responsible. Comments under my columns about global warming include endless repetition of falsehoods like “there’s been no warming for 18 years,” “it’s the sun,” and references to “communist misanthropes,” “libtard warmers,” and worse…

Far worse. Katharine Hayhoe, director of Texas Tech’s Climate Science Center and an evangelical Christian, had her email inbox flooded with hate mail and threats after conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh denounced her, and right-wing blogger Mark Morano published her email address. “I got an email the other day so obscene I had to file a police report,” Hayhoe said in an interview on the Responding to Climate Change website. “They mentioned my child. It had all kinds of sexual perversions in it — it just makes your skin crawl.”

One email chastised her for taking “a man’s job” and called for her public execution, finishing with, “If you have a child, then women in the future will be even more leery of lying to get ahead, when they see your baby crying next to the basket next to the guillotine.”

Many attacks came from fellow Christians unable to accept that humans can affect “God’s creation.” That’s a belief held even by a few well-known scientists and others held up as climate experts, including Roy Spencer, David Legates and Canadian economist Ross McKitrick. They’ve signed the Cornwall Alliance’s Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming, which says, “We believe Earth and its ecosystems — created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence — are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory. Earth’s climate system is no exception.” This worldview predetermines their approach to the science.

Lest you think nasty, irrational comments are exclusively from fringe elements, remember the gathering place for most deniers, the Heartland Institute, has compared those who accept the evidence for human-caused climate change to terrorists. Similar language was used to describe the US Environmental Protection Agency in a full-page ad in USA Today and Politico from the Environmental Policy Alliance, a front group set up by the PR firm Berman and Company, which has attacked environmentalists, labor-rights advocates, health organizations — even Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Humane Society — on behalf of funders and clients including Monsanto, Wendy’s and tobacco giant Phillip Morris. The terrorism meme was later picked up by Pennsylvania Republican congressman Mike Kelly.

David Suzuki: The War on Climate Scientists


Fortunately, most people don’t buy irrational attempts to disavow science. A Forum Research poll found 81 percent of Canadians accept the reality of global warming, and 58 per cent agree it’s mostly human-caused. An Ipsos MORI poll found that, although the US has a higher number of climate change deniers than 20 countries surveyed, 54 per cent of Americans believe in human-caused climate change. (Research also shows climate change denial is most prevalent in English-speaking countries, especially in areas “served” by media outlets owned by Rupert Murdoch, who rejects climate science.)

It’s time to shift attention from those who sow doubt and confusion, either out of ignorance or misanthropic greed, to those who want to address a real, serious problem. The BBC has the right idea, instructing its reporters to improve accuracy by giving less air time to people with anti-science views, including climate change deniers.

Solutions exist, but every delay makes them more difficult and costly.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

The views expressed in this post are the author’s alone, and presented here to offer a variety of perspectives to our readers.

David Suzuki, co-Founder of the David Suzuki Foundation, is an award-winning scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster.

The Anthropocene: Too Serious for Post-Modern Games (Immanence Blog)

August 18, 2014 by Adrian J Ivakhiv

The following is a guest post by Clive Hamilton, professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University in Canberra, Australia. It continues the Immanence series “Debating the Anthropocene.” See herehere, and here for previous articles in the series. (And note that some lengthy comments have been added to the previous post by Jan Zalasiewicz, Kieran Suckling, and others.)


 The Anthropocene: Too Serious for Post-Modern Games

by Clive Hamilton

In his post “Against the Anthropocene”, Kieran Suckling makes two main arguments. The first is that the choice of “Anthropocene” as the name for the new epoch breaks with stratigraphic tradition; he feels uncomfortable with a change in tradition, not least because he suspects the break reflects a hidden political objective. The second is that similar names have been invented for the era of industrialism in the past, names that have gone out of fashion, and the Anthropocene will go the same way.

Many scientists and social scientists have entered the debate over the Anthropocene. Each of them seems to want to impose their own disciplinary framework on it. Thus one respondent to Kieran’s post wrote that it is “difficult to get a handle on the term ‘Anthropocene’ because it means very different things to different people”. This is true, but it is true because most people have not bothered to read the half dozen basic papers on the Anthropocene by those who have defined it, and therefore do not know what they are talking about.

The problem is that those who want to colonise and redefine the Anthropocene completely miss the central point being made by Earth system scientists like Paul Crutzen, Will Steffen and Jan Zalasiewicz. I have elsewhere explained why those who have not made the gestalt shift to Earth system thinking cannot help but get the Anthropocene wrong. The Earth system scientists are saying that something radically new has occurred on planet Earth, something that can be detected from the late 18th-century and which is due predominantly to a serious disruption to the global carbon cycle. This disruption has set the Earth system on a new, unpredictable and dangerous trajectory.

Ecologists who have not made the leap to Earth system thinking have been the worst offenders. But a few social scientists and humanities people have been joining the fray, bringing their constructivist baggage. Kieran, I fear, is one of them.

In response to Jan Zalasiewicz’s comment that Paul Crutzen came up with the term at the right time, Kieran misunderstands him, asking: “Why was the time right? Is there something about western psychology and history that made this time right?” So he treats the development of a body of scientific evidence as if it were merely an emanation of social and psychological conditions. It’s a reading that has all of the epistemological and political faults of the “social construction of science”, an approach that today is deployed most effectively by climate science deniers.

Kieran’s disquisition on the historical use of terms like “the age of man” compounds this mistake. It suggests that he has missed the fundamental point – thefundamental point – about the new epoch: that the functioning of the Earth systemhas changed, and that it changed at the end of the 18th century; or, if we want to be absolutely certain, in the decades after the Second World War. I sense that Jan Z’s gentle reminder was lost, so let me stress it. He wrote: “The Anthropocene is not about being able to detect human influence in stratigraphy, but reflects a change in the Earth system” (my emphasis). The core of the problem, I think, is that most participants in the debate do not actually understand what is meant by “the Earth system”.

So whatever historical interest it may have (and personally I find it fascinating), the fact that Cuvier, Buffon, de Chardin and several others have deployed terms like “the age of man” has no bearing whatsoever on the current debate, which is about a physical transformation, a rupture, that has actually occurred. Arguing that it’s all been said before – “I can show that your claim to have come up with something decisively new is historically inaccurate” – is a standard rhetorical strategy known as deflation. But it carries the same danger we were warned of as children when our parents read us the story of the boy who cried wolf. Whatever historical precedent, and whatever environmental alarm bell may have been rung in the past, the wolf has arrived.

Deflationary moves that characterise the Anthropocene as merely the latest attempt by anthropocentric westerners to impose an “age of man” frame on the world – that it is a fad that will wane as all the others have – betray an essential failure to grasp what the Earth scientists are telling us is now happening in the Earth system. When the IPCC tells us we are heading for a doubling or, more likely, a trebling of CO2concentrations it is not a fad. When the world’s scientific academies warn we are heading into a world of 4°C warming, changing the conditions of life on the planet, they are not saying it because it’s fashionable. And if the Anthropocene is another example of western linguistic imperialism, changing the name will not exempt the poor and vulnerable of the South from its devastating effects.

No, I’m sorry, this is serious now. After all the attacks on climate science and the well-funded, systematic campaign to discredit climate scientists, people of good will have an absolute obligation not to play around with the science. The constructivist games of the 80s and 90s are an intellectual luxury we can no longer afford.


Let me now comment on Kieran’s argument that the Anthropocene is wrongly named because it deviates from naming tradition. He writes that epochs are never named for the causes of change but for the changed composition of the species present in each epoch, era or period. When we examine the helpful lists he provides linking eras, periods and epochs to their characteristic biota, the word that appears uniformly is “appear”. Eukaryotes appear, reptiles appear, fish appear, mammals appear, and so on.

When he calls for consistency in naming, then, we should name the Anthropocene not after the cause of the new epoch (techno-industrial anthropos) but after the new forms of life that have appeared. The problem is that no new forms of life have yet appeared. It seems very likely they will, but it would be impractical to wait 100,000 years before we knew what to name the latest epoch. By then all of the members of the International Commission on Stratigraphy will be dead (they who already in my imagination are like the wizened judges of the Court of Chancery hearing Jarndyce v Jarndyce in Bleak House).

So we are stuck with an anomaly; why this should cause anxiety, except to those wedded to tradition, I do not know. We are practical people; if we cannot apply the old principle to naming a manifestly new and important geological epoch then we must choose a new principle.

Kieran’s solution to the problem is to name the epoch after the radical homogenization of the planet’s species (along with the extinction of many). He suggests the “Homogenocene”. But here he only smuggles in a new criterion, replacing the appearance of new species with a change in the distribution of existing ones. If we were to accept Kieran’s argument then, as Jan points out, why not name the epoch after the overwhelmingly dominant feature of homogenisation, the spread of humans across the globe. According to Vaclav Smil, humans and their domestic animals now account for a breath-taking 97 per cent of the biomass of all terrestrial vertebrates. On Kieran’s own criterion, we would name the new epoch … the Anthropocene.

Finally, it will help if I tell the story of the naming of the Anthropocene, for an innocent reader of Kieran’s piece may draw the conclusion that there was some kind of secret meeting at which a group of western scientists committed to an anthropocentric worldview conspired to promote their ideology by choosing a name that embodies it. Kieran asks: “What belief system(s) drive the shift … to a name based on the power of one species, a species that happens to be us?”

The answer is more prosaic and goes like this. In 2000 Paul Crutzen was at a scientific meeting in Mexico. As the discussion progressed he became increasingly frustrated at the use of the term “Holocene” which he felt no longer described the state of the Earth system, which he knew had been irreversibly disrupted and damaged by human activity. Unable to contain his irritation he intervened, declaring to the meeting: “It’s not the Holocene, it’s … it’s … it’s … the Anthropocene.”

That was it. He just blurted it out; and it stuck. Paul Crutzen is an atmospheric chemist. Given his training it is no surprise that as his brain struggled for the right word it would come with one that linked the state of the Earth to the activities of humans, anthropos. If there had been a savvy sociologist sitting at the table, she might have said: “Wait a minute Paul. It’s not humans in general who got us into this mess, but western industrial ones. So let’s call it the Capitalocene or the Technocene.”

Who knows, perhaps that intervention would have changed the course of history right then. But it didn’t happen, and we have the term we are now debating. Crutzen and his various co-authors would agree with the savvy sociologist that it has been techno-industrialism with its origins in Europe that brought on the new epoch. They have argued persistently that the Anthropocene began with the growth of industries powered by fossil energy towards the end of the 18th-century and accelerated with the hyper-consumerism of the post-war decades.

The real adversaries here are not Crutzen et al. but those scientists, mostly ecologists who do not ‘get’ Earth system science, who are making all sorts of erroneous and confusing claims about the Anthropocene’s origins lying in the distant past, thousands of years before European industrialisation. If anyone is trying to displace responsibility for the mess we are in then they are the culprits. It is they who want to blend the Anthropocene into the Holocene and thereby make theanthropos of the Anthropocene a neutral, blameless, meaningless cause, so that the radical transformation that we now see is the result merely of humans doing what humans do, which nothing can change. No wonder political conservatives are drawn to the early Anthropocene hypothesis.

How to Talk About Climate Change So People Will Listen (The Atlantic)


Environmentalists warn us that apocalypse awaits. Economists tell us that minimal fixes will get us through. Here’s how we can move beyond the impasse. 

Josh Cochran

Not long ago, my newspaper informed me that glaciers in the western Antarctic, undermined by the warmer seas of a hotter world, were collapsing, and their disappearance “now appears to be unstoppable.” The melting of these great ice sheets would make seas rise by at least four feet—ultimately, possibly 12—more than enough to flood cities from New York to Tokyo to Mumbai. Because I am interested in science, I read the two journal articles that had inspired the story. How much time do we have, I wondered, before catastrophe hits?

One study, in Geophysical Research Letters, provided no guidance; the authors concluded only that the disappearing glaciers would “significantly contribute to sea level rise in decades to centuries to come.” But the other, in Science, offered more-precise estimates: during the next century, the oceans will surge by as much as a quarter of a millimeter a year. By 2100, that is, the calamity in Antarctica will have driven up sea levels by almost an inch. The process would get a bit faster, the researchers emphasized, “within centuries.”

How is one supposed to respond to this kind of news? On the one hand, the transformation of the Antarctic seems like an unfathomable disaster. On the other hand, the disaster will never affect me or anyone I know; nor, very probably, will it trouble my grandchildren. How much consideration do I owe the people it will affect, my 40-times-great-grandchildren, who, many climate researchers believe, will still be confronted by rising temperatures and seas? Americans don’t even save for their own retirement! How can we worry about such distant, hypothetical beings?

In our ergonomic chairs and acoustical-panel cubicles, we sit cozy as kings atop 300 years of flaming carbon.

Worse, confronting climate change requires swearing off something that has been an extraordinary boon to humankind: cheap energy from fossil fuels. In the 3,600 years between 1800B.C. and 1800 A.D., the economic historian Gregory Clark has calculated, there was “no sign of any improvement in material conditions” in Europe and Asia. Then came the Industrial Revolution. Driven by the explosive energy of coal, oil, and natural gas, it inaugurated an unprecedented three-century wave of prosperity. Artificial lighting, air-conditioning, and automobiles, all powered by fossil fuels, swaddle us in our giddy modernity. In our ergonomic chairs and acoustical-panel cubicles, we sit cozy as kings atop 300 years of flaming carbon.

In the best of times, this problem—given its apocalyptic stakes, bewildering scale, and vast potential cost—would be difficult to resolve. But we are not in the best of times. We are in a time of legislative paralysis. In an important step, the Obama administration announced in June its decision to cut power-plant emissions 30 percent by 2030. Otherwise, this country has seen strikingly little political action on climate change, despite three decades of increasingly high-pitched chatter by scientists, activists, economists, pundits, and legislators.

The chatter itself, I would argue, has done its share to stall progress. Rhetorical overreach, moral miscalculation, shouting at cross-purposes: this toxic blend is particularly evident when activists, who want to scare Americans into taking action, come up against economists, with their cool calculations of acceptable costs. Eco-advocates insist that only the radical transformation of society—the old order demolished, foundation to roof—can fend off the worst consequences of climate change. Economists argue for adapting to the most-likely consequences; cheerleaders for industrial capitalism, they propose quite different, much milder policies, and are ready to let nature take a bigger hit in the short and long terms alike. Both envelop themselves in the mantle of Science, emitting a fug of charts and graphs. (Actually, every side in the debate, including the minority who deny that humans can affect the climate at all, claims the backing of Science.) Bewildered and battered by the back-and-forth, the citizenry sits, for the most part, on its hands. For all the hot air expended on the subject, we still don’t know how to talk about climate change.

As an issue, climate change was unlucky: when nonspecialists first became aware of it, in the 1990s, environmental attitudes had already become tribal political markers. As the Yale historian Paul Sabin makes clear in The Bet, it wasn’t always this way. The votes for the 1970 Clean Air Act, for example, were 374–1 in the House, 73–0 in the Senate. Sabin’s book takes off from a single event: a bet between the ecologist Paul R. Ehrlich and the economist Julian Simon a decade later. Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb (1968), which decried humankind’s rising numbers, was a foundational text in the environmental movement. Simon’s Ultimate Resource (1981) was its antimatter equivalent: a celebration of population growth, it awakened opposition to the same movement.

Activist led by Bill McKibben, the founder of, protest the building of the Keystone XL pipeline at the White House, February 2013. (AP)

Ehrlich was moderately liberal in his politics but unrestrained in his rhetoric. The second sentence of The Population Bomb promised that “hundreds of millions of people” would starve to death within two decades, no matter what “crash programs” the world launched to feed them. A year later, Ehrlich gave even odds that “England will not exist in the year 2000.” In 1974, he told Congress that “a billion or more people” could starve in the 1980s “at the latest.” When the predictions didn’t pan out, he attacked his critics as “incompetent” and “ignorant,” “morons” and “idiots.”

Simon, who died in 1998, argued that “human resourcefulness and enterprise” will extricate us from our ecological dilemma. Moderately conservative in his politics, he was exuberantly uninhibited in his scorn for eco-alarmists. Humankind faces no serious environmental problems, he asserted. “All long-run trends point in exactly the opposite direction from the projections of the doomsayers.” (All? Really?) “There is no convincing economic reason why these trends toward a better life should not continue indefinitely.” Relishing his role as a spoiler, he gave speeches while wearing red plastic devil horns. Unsurprisingly, he attracted disagreement, to which he responded with as much bluster as Ehrlich. Critics, motivated by “blatant intellectual dishonesty” and indifference to the poor, were “corrupt,” their ideas “ignorant and wrongheaded.”

In 1980, the two men wagered $1,000 on the prices of five metals 10 years hence. If the prices rose, as Ehrlich predicted, it would imply that these resources were growing scarcer, as Homo sapiens plundered the planet. If the prices fell, this would be a sign that markets and human cleverness had made the metals relatively less scarce: progress was continuing. Prices dropped. Ehrlich paid up, insisting disingenuously that he had been “schnookered.”

Schnookered, no; unlucky, yes. In 2010, three Holy Cross economists simulated the bet for every decade from 1900 to 2007. Ehrlich would have won 61 percent of the time. The results, Sabin says, do not prove that these resources have grown scarcer. Rather, metal prices crashed after the First World War and spent most of a century struggling back to their 1918 levels. Ecological issues were almost irrelevant.

The bet demonstrated little about the environment but much about environmental politics. The American landscape first became a source of widespread anxiety at the beginning of the 20th century. Initially, the fretting came from conservatives, both the rural hunters who established the licensing system that brought back white-tailed deer from near-extinction and the Ivy League patricians who created the national parks. So ineradicable was the conservative taint that decades later, the left still scoffed at ecological issues as right-wing distractions. At the University of Michigan, the radical Students for a Democratic Society protested the first Earth Day, in 1970, as elitist flimflam meant to divert public attention from class struggle and the Vietnam War; the left-wing journalist I. F. Stone called the nationwide marches a “snow job.” By the 1980s, businesses had realized that environmental issues had a price tag. Increasingly, they balked. Reflexively, the anticorporate left pivoted; Earth Day, erstwhile snow job, became an opportunity to denounce capitalist greed.

Climate change is a perfect issue for symbolic battle, because it is as yet mostly invisible.

The result, as the Emory historian Patrick Allitt demonstrates in A Climate of Crisis, was a political back-and-forth that became ever less productive. Time and again, Allitt writes, activists and corporate executives railed against each other. Out of this clash emerged regulatory syntheses: rules for air, water, toxins. Often enough, businesspeople then discovered that following the new rules was less expensive than they had claimed it would be; environmentalists meanwhile found out that the problems were less dire than they had claimed.


Throughout the 1980s, for instance, activists charged that acid rain from midwestern power-plant emissions was destroying thousands of East Coast lakes. Utilities insisted that anti-pollution equipment would be hugely expensive and make homeowners’ electric bills balloon. One American Electric Power representative predicted that acid-rain control could lead to the “destruction of the Midwest economy.” A 1990 amendment to the Clean Air Act, backed by both the Republican administration and the Democratic Congress, set up a cap-and-trade mechanism that reduced acid rain at a fraction of the predicted cost; electric bills were barely affected. Today, most scientists have concluded that the effects of acid rain were overstated to begin with—fewer lakes were hurt than had been thought, and acid rain was not the only cause.

Rather than learning from this and other examples that, as Allitt puts it, “America’s environmental problems, though very real, were manageable,” each side stored up bitterness, like batteries taking on charge. The process that had led, however disagreeably, to successful environmental action in the 1970s and ’80s brought on political stasis in the ’90s. Environmental issues became ways for politicians to signal their clan identity to supporters. As symbols, the issues couldn’t be compromised. Standing up for your side telegraphed your commitment to take back America—either from tyrannical liberal elitism or right-wing greed and fecklessness. Nothing got done.

As an issue, climate change is perfect for symbolic battle, because it is as yet mostly invisible. Carbon dioxide, its main cause, is not emitted in billowing black clouds, like other pollutants; nor is it caustic, smelly, or poisonous. A side effect of modernity, it has for now a tiny practical impact on most people’s lives. To be sure, I remember winters as being colder in my childhood, but I also remember my home then as a vast castle and my parents as godlike beings.

In concrete terms, Americans encounter climate change mainly in the form of three graphs, staples of environmental articles. The first shows that atmospheric carbon dioxide has been steadily increasing. Almost nobody disputes this. The second graph shows rising global temperatures. This measurement is trickier: carbon dioxide is spread uniformly in the air, but temperatures are affected by a host of factors (clouds, rain, wind, altitude, the reflectivity of the ground) that differ greatly from place to place. Here the data are more subject to disagreement. A few critics argue that for the past 17 years warming has mostly stopped. Still, most scientists believe that in the past century the Earth’s average temperature has gone up by about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Rising temperatures per se are not the primary concern. What matters most is their future influence on other things: agricultural productivity, sea levels, storm frequency, infectious disease. As the philosopher Dale Jamieson points out in the unfortunately titled Reason in a Dark Time, most of these effects cannot be determined by traditional scientific experiments—white-coats in laboratories can’t melt a spare Arctic ice cap to see what happens. (Climate change has no lab rats.) Instead, thousands of researchers refine ever bigger and more complex mathematical models. The third graph typically shows the consequences such models predict, ranging from worrisome (mainly) to catastrophic (possibly).

Such charts are meaningful to the climatologists who make them. But for the typical citizen they are a muddle, too abstract—too much like 10th-grade homework—to be convincing, let alone to motivate action. In the history of our species, has any human heart ever been profoundly stirred by a graph? Some other approach, proselytizers have recognized, is needed.

To stoke concern, eco-campaigners like Bill McKibben still resort, Ehrlich-style, to waving a skeleton at the reader. Thus the first sentence of McKibben’sOil and Honey, a memoir of his climate activism, describes 2011–12, the period covered by his book, as “a time when the planet began to come apart.” Already visible “in almost every corner of the earth,” climate “chaos” is inducing “an endless chain of disasters that will turn civilization into a never-ending emergency response drill.”

Bill McKibben says we must “start producing a nation of careful, small-scale farmers … who can adapt to the crazed new world with care and grace.”

The only solution to our ecological woes, McKibben argues, is to live simpler, more local, less resource-intensive existences—something he believes is already occurring. “After a long era of getting big and distant,” he writes, “our economy, and maybe our culture, has started to make a halting turn toward the small and local.” Not only will this shift let us avoid the worst consequences of climate change, it will have the happy side effect of turning a lot of unpleasant multinational corporations to ash. As we “subside into a workable, even beautiful, civilization,” we will lead better lives. No longer hypnotized by the buzz and pop of consumer culture, narcotized couch potatoes will be transformed into robust, active citizens: spiritually engaged, connected to communities, appreciative of Earth’s abundance.

For McKibben, the engagement is full throttle: The Oil half of his memoir is about founding, a group that seeks to create a mass movement against climate change. (The 350 refers to the theoretical maximum safe level, in parts per million, of atmospheric carbon dioxide, a level we have already surpassed.) The Honey half is about buying 70 acres near his Vermont home to support an off-the-grid beekeeper named Kirk Webster, who is living out McKibben’s organic dream in a handcrafted, solar-powered cabin in the woods. Webster, McKibben believes, is the future. We must, he says, “start producing a nation of careful, small-scale farmers such as Kirk Webster, who can adapt to the crazed new world with care and grace, and who don’t do much more damage in the process.”

Poppycock, the French philosopher Pascal Bruckner in effect replies in The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse. A best-selling, telegenic public intellectual (a species that hardly exists in this country), Bruckner is mainly going after what he calls “ecologism,” of which McKibbenites are exemplars. At base, he says, ecologism seeks not to save nature but to purify humankind through self-flagellating asceticism.

To Bruckner, ecologism is both ethnocentric and counterproductive. Ethnocentric because eco-denunciations of capitalism simply give new, green garb to the long-standing Euro-American fear of losing dominance over the developing world (whose recent growth derives, irksomely, from fossil fuels). Counterproductive because ecologism induces indifference, or even hostility to environmental issues. In the quest to force humanity into a puritanical straitjacket of rural simplicity, ecologism employs what should be neutral, fact-based descriptions of a real-world problem (too much carbon dioxide raises temperatures) as bludgeons to compel people to accept modes of existence they would otherwise reject. Intuiting moral blackmail underlying the apparently objective charts and graphs, Bruckner argues, people react with suspicion, skepticism, and sighing apathy—the opposite of the reaction McKibbenites hope to evoke.

The ranchers and farmers in Tony Horwitz’s Boom, a deft and sometimes sobering e-book, suggest Bruckner may be on to something. Horwitz, possibly best known for his study of Civil War reenactors, Confederates in the Attic, travels along the proposed path of the Keystone XL, a controversial pipeline intended to take oil from Alberta’s tar-sands complex to refineries in Steele City, Nebraska—and the project McKibben has used as the rallying cry for McKibben set off on his anti-Keystone crusade after the climatologist-provocateur James Hansen charged in 2011 that building the pipeline would be “game over” for the climate. If Keystone were built, Hansen later wrote, “civilization would be at risk.” Everyone Horwitz meets has heard this scenario. But nobody seems to have much appetite for giving up the perks of industrial civilization, Kirk Webster–style. “You want to go back to the Stone Age and use only wind, sun, and water?” one person asks. A truck driver in the tar-sands project tells Horwitz, “This industry is giving me a future, even if it’s a short one and we’re all about to toast together.” Given the scale of the forces involved, individual action seems futile. “It’s going to burn up anyhow at the end,” explains a Hutterite farmer, matter-of-factly. “The world will end in fire.”


Whereas McKibbenites see carbon dioxide as an emblem of a toxic way of life, economists like William Nordhaus of Yale tend to view it as simply a by-product of the good fortune brought by capitalism. Nordhaus, the president of the American Economic Association, has researched climate issues for four decades. His The Climate Casino has an even, unhurried tone; a classic Voice of Authority rumbles from the page. Our carbon-dioxide issues, he says, have a “simple answer,” one “firmly based in economic theory and history”:

The best approach is to use market mechanisms. And the single most important market mechanism that is missing today is a high price on CO2 emissions, or what is called “carbon prices” … The easiest way is simply to tax CO2 emissions: a “carbon tax” … The carbon price [from the tax] will be passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices.

Nordhaus provides graphs (!) showing how a gradually increasing tax—or, possibly, a market in emissions permits—would slowly and steadily ratchet down global carbon-dioxide output. The problem, as he admits, is that the projected reduction “assumes full participation.” Translated from econo-speak, “full participation” means that the Earth’s rich and populous nations must simultaneously apply the tax. Brazil, China, France, India, Russia, the United States—all must move in concert, globally cooperating.

To say that a global carbon tax is a simple answer is like arguing that the simple answer to death is repealing the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Alas, nothing like Nordhaus’s planetary carbon tax has ever been enacted. The sole precedent is the Montreal Protocol, the 1987 treaty banning substances that react with atmospheric ozone and reduce its ability to absorb the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation. Signed by every United Nations member and successfully updated 10 times, the protocol is a model of international eco-cooperation. But it involves outlawing chemicals in refrigerators and spray cans, not asking nations to revamp the base of their own prosperity. Nordhaus’s declaration that a global carbon tax is a simple answer is like arguing that the simple answer to death is repealing the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Does climate change, as Nordhaus claims, truly slip into the silk glove of standard economic thought? The dispute is at the center of Jamieson’s Reason in a Dark Time. Parsing logic with the care of a raccoon washing a shiny stone, Jamieson maintains that economists’ discussions of climate change are almost as problematic as those of environmentalists and politicians, though for different reasons.

Remember how I was complaining that all discussions of climate change devolve into homework? Here, sadly, is proof. To critique economists’ claims, Jamieson must drag the reader through the mucky assumptions underlying cost-benefit analysis, a standard economic tool. In the case of climate change, the costs of cutting carbon dioxide are high. What are the benefits? If the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rises only slightly above its current 400 parts per million, most climatologists believe, there is (roughly) a 90 percent chance that global temperatures will eventually rise between 3 and 8 degrees Fahrenheit, with the most likely jump being between 4 and 5 degrees. Nordhaus and most other economists conclude that humankind can slowly constrain this relatively modest rise in carbon without taking extraordinary, society-transforming measures, though neither decreasing the use of fossil fuels nor offsetting their emissions will be cheap or easy. But the same estimates show (again in rough terms) a 5 percent chance that letting carbon dioxide rise much above its current level would set off a domino-style reaction leading to global devastation. (No one pays much attention to the remaining 5 percent chance that the carbon rise would have very little effect on temperature.)

In our daily lives, we typically focus on the most likely result: I decide whether to jaywalk without considering the chance that I will trip in the street and get run over. But sometimes we focus on the extreme: I lock up my gun and hide the bullets in a separate place to minimize the chance that my kids will find and play with them. For climate change, should we focus on adapting to the mostprobable outcome or averting the most dangerous one? Cost-benefit analyses typically ignore the most-radical outcomes: they assume that society has agreed to accept the small but real risk of catastrophe—something environmentalists, to take one particularly vehement section of society, have by no means done.

On top of this, Jamieson argues, there is a second problem in the models economists use to discus climate change. Because the payoff from carbon-dioxide reduction will occur many decades from now, Nordhausian analysis suggests that we should do the bare minimum today, even if that means saddling our descendants with a warmer world. Doing the minimum is expensive enough already, economists say. Because people tomorrow will be richer than we are, as we are richer than our grandparents were, they will be better able to pay to clean up our emissions. Unfortunately, this is an ethically problematic stance. How can we weigh the interests of someone born in 2050 against those of someone born in 1950? In this kind of trade-off between generations, Jamieson argues, “there is no plausible value” for how much we owe the future.

Given their moral problems, he concludes, economic models are much less useful as guides than their proponents believe. For all their ostensible practicality—for all their attempts to skirt the paralysis-inducing specter of the apocalypse—economists, too, don’t have a good way to talk about climate change.

Years ago, a colleague and I spoke with the physicist Richard Feynman, later a national symbol of puckish wit and brash truth-telling. At the frontiers of science, he told us, hosts of unclear, mutually contradictory ideas are always swarming about. Researchers can never agree on how to proceed or even on what is important. In these circumstances, Feynman said, he always tried to figure out what would take him forward no matter which theory eventually turned out to be correct. In this agnostic spirit, let’s assume that rising carbon-dioxide levels will become a problem of some magnitude at some time and that we will want to do something practical about it. Is there something we should do, no matter what technical arcanae underlie the cost-benefit analyses, no matter when we guess the bad effects from climate change will kick in, no matter how we value future generations, no matter what we think of global capitalism? Indeed, is there some course of action that makes sense even if we think that climate change isn’t much of a problem at all?

As my high-school math teacher used to say, let’s do the numbers. Roughly three-quarters of the world’s carbon-dioxide emissions come from burning fossil fuels, and roughly three-quarters of that comes from just two sources: coal in its various forms, and oil in its various forms, including gasoline. Different studies produce slightly different estimates, but they all agree that coal is responsible for more carbon dioxide than oil is—about 25 percent more. That number is likely to increase, because coal consumption is growing much faster than oil consumption.

Geo-engineering involves tinkering with planetary systems we only partially understand. But planet-hacking does have an overarching advantage: it’s cheap.​

Although coal and oil are both fossil fuels, they are used differently. In this country, for example, the great majority of oil—about three-quarters—is consumed by individuals, as they heat their homes and drive their cars. Almost all U.S. coal (93 percent) is burned not in homes but by electric-power plants; the rest is mainly used by industry, notably for making cement and steel. Cutting oil use, in other words, requires huge numbers of people to change their houses and automobiles—the United States alone has 254 million vehicles on the road. Reducing U.S. coal emissions, by contrast, means regulating 557 big power plants and 227 steel and cement factories. (Surprisingly, many smaller coal plants exist, some at hospitals and schools, but their contributions are negligible.) I’ve been whacking poor old Nordhaus for his ideas about who should pay for climate change, but he does make this point, and precisely: “The most cost-effective way to reduce CO2 emissions is to reduce the use of coal first and most sharply.” Note, too, that this policy comes with a public-health bonus: reining in coal pollution could ultimately avoid as many as 6,600 premature deaths and 150,000 children’s asthma attacks per year in the United States alone.


Different nations have different arrangements, but almost everywhere the basic point holds true: a relatively small number of industrial coal plants—perhaps 7,000 worldwide—put out an amazingly large amount of carbon dioxide, more than 40 percent of the global total. And that figure is rising; last year, coal’s share of energy production hit a 44-year high, because Asian nations are building coal plants at a fantastic rate (and, possibly, because demand for coal-fired electricity will soar as electric cars become popular). No matter what your views about the impact and import of climate change, you are primarily talking about coal. To my mind, at least, retrofitting 7,000 industrial facilities, however mind-boggling, is less mind-boggling than, say, transforming the United States into “a nation of careful, small-scale farmers” or enacting a global carbon tax with “full participation.” It is, at least, imaginable.

The focus of the Obama administration on reducing coal emissions suggests that it has followed this logic. If the pattern of the late 20th century still held, industry would reply with exaggerated estimates of the cost, and compromises would be worked out. But because the environment has become a proxy for a tribal battle, an exercise in power politics will surely ensue. I’ve given McKibben grief for his apocalyptic rhetoric, but he’s exactly correct that without a push from a popular movement—without something like—meaningful attempts to cut back coal emissions are much less likely to yield results.

Regrettably, has fixated on the Keystone pipeline, which the Congressional Research Service has calculated would raise this nation’s annual output of greenhouse gases by 0.05 to 0.3 percent. (James Hansen, in arguing that the pipeline would be “game over” for the climate, erroneously assumed that all of the tar-sands oil could be burned rapidly, instead of dribbling out in relatively small portions year by year, over decades.) None of this is to say that exploiting tar sands is a good idea, especially given the apparent violation of native treaties in Canada. But a popular movement focused on symbolic goals will have little ability to win practical battles in Washington.

If politics fail, the only recourse, says David Keith, a Harvard professor of public policy and applied physics, will be a technical fix. And soon—by mid-century. Keith is talking about geo-engineering: fighting climate change with more climate change. A Case for Climate Engineering is a short book arguing that we should study spraying the stratosphere with tiny glittering droplets of sulfuric acid that bounce sunlight back into space, reducing the Earth’s temperature. Physically speaking, the notion is feasible. The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, in the Philippines, created huge amounts of airborne sulfuric acid—and lowered the Earth’s average temperature that year by about 1 degree.

Keith is candid about the drawbacks. Not only does geo-engineering involve tinkering with planetary systems we only partially understand, it can’t cancel out, even in theory, greenhouse problems like altered rainfall patterns and increased ocean acidity. The sulfur would soon fall to the Earth, a toxic rain of pollution that could kill thousands of people every year. The carbon dioxide that was already in the air would remain. To continue to slow warming, sulfur would have to be lofted anew every year. Still, Keith points out, without this relatively crude repair, unimpeded climate change could be yet more deadly.

Planet-hacking does have an overarching advantage: it’s cheap. “The cost of geoengineering the entire planet for a decade,” Keith writes, “could be less than the $6 billion the Italian government is spending on dikes and movable barriers to protect a single city, Venice, from climate change–related sea level rise.”

That advantage is also dangerous, he points out. A single country could geo-engineer the whole planet by itself. Or one country’s geo-engineering could set off conflicts with another country—a Chinese program to increase its monsoon might reduce India’s monsoon. “Both are nuclear weapons states,” Keith reminds us. According to Forbes, the world has 1,645 billionaires, several hundred of them in nations threatened by climate change. If their businesses or homes were at risk, any one of them could single-handedly pay for a course of geo-engineering. Is anyone certain none of these people would pull the trigger?

Few experts think that relying on geo-engineering would be a good idea. But no one knows how soon reality will trump ideology, and so we may finally have hit on a useful form of alarmism. One of the virtues of Keith’s succinct, scary book is to convince the reader that unless we find a way to talk about climate change, planes full of sulfuric acid will soon be on the runway.

Harvard historian: strategy of climate science denial groups ‘extremely successful’ (The Guardian)

Professor Naomi Oreskes says actions of climate denialists are laying the foundations for the government interventions they fear the most

Thursday 24 July 2014 23.12 BST

Naomi Oreskes, Harvard University Professor of the History of Science

Naomi Oreskes, Harvard University Professor of the History of Science. Photograph: Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Public Affairs & Communications

In 1965, US President Lyndon Johnson had a special message for the American Congress on conservation of the environment.

Worried about the “storm of modern change” threatening cherished landscapes, Johnson said: “This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through… a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.”

The same quote appears at the beginning of the 2010 book Merchants of Doubt: How A Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by science historians Erik Conway and Professor Naomi Oreskes.

Plainly the line – almost half a century old now – was picked to show just how long the impacts of fossil fuel burning have been known in the corridors of the highest powers.

The book explained the efforts since the 1960s of vested interests and ideologues to underplay the risks of pumping ever-increasing volumes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

One of the most startling revealing aspects of the book was how some of the same institutions and individuals who held out against a wave of scientific warnings about the health impacts of tobacco smoke became integral to efforts to block any meaningful policy response to greenhouse gas emissions.

Oreskes is a Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University and she has a new book out, again co-written with Conway.

The Collapse of Western Civilisation: A view from the future is written from the perspective of a historian living in the year 2393 and looking back at what went horribly wrong in the lead up to the “Great Collapse”.

Here’s my Q&A with Oreskes.

Q: Merchants of Doubt looked at the role of think tanks, vested interests and free market ideologies in attacking the science linking fossil fuel burning to climate change, smoking to cancer, pollution to acid rain and CFCs to the ozone hole. Four years later, has anything changed?

Not really. There are some new faces on the horizon, but recruiting “fresh voices” has been a tactic for a long time. So even the things that may look new are in fact old. The Heartland Institute has become more visible, and the George Marshall Institute a bit less, but the overall picture continues: these groups continue to dismiss or disparage the science, attack scientists, and sow doubt.

They continue to try to block action by confusing us about the facts. And the arguments, the tactics, and the overall strategy has remained the same. And, they’ve been extremely successful. CO2 has reached 400 ppm, meaningful action is still not in sight, and people who really understand the science—understand what is at stake—are getting very worried.

Q: How did you move from being a geologist working in Australia for the Western Mining Corporation to being a scholar of the history of science?

Oh this is a long story. I was always interested in broad questions about science. History of science gave me the opportunity to pursue those broad questions.

 VIDEO: Naomi Oreskes discusses the background to the 2010 Merchants of Doubt

Q: You were filmed for an ABC documentary that pitched a climate change “advocate” against a “sceptic”. You met Australian politician and climate science sceptic Nick Minchin – the key political kingmaker who engineered the leadership challenge that gave the now Prime Minister Tony Abbott the Liberal leadership. What were your impressions of Minchin?

Well, I think he is a basically nice guy who has fallen into a trap: the trap of imprecatory denial. He doesn’t like the implications of climate change for our political and economic system, so he denies its reality. But climate change will come back to bite us all. It is already starting to.

VIDEO: Naomi Oreskes meets former Australian politician and climate sceptic Nick Minchin. Clip from ABC documentary “I Can Change Your Mind About Climate” Produced by Smith&Nasht.

Q: So you worked in Australia as a geologist, toured here to promote Merchants of Doubt and had an academic role at the University of Western Australia, so you’ve seen a bit of how things have played out. How do you think Australia has been influenced by organised climate science denial?

Clearly. One sees all the same strategies and tactics being used there, plus a few additional ones (trotting out geologists to claim there are hidden underwater volcanoes that are responsible for the extra atmospheric CO2.) The Institute of Public Affairs in Australia has been very active trotting out skeptical and denialist claims with little or no basis in evidence. If you go to their web site, they link back to many of the very same groups whose activities we documented in Merchants of Doubt : the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, Competitive Enterprise institute, the Heritage Foundation.

It’s the same old, same old: defend the free market, deny the reality of market failure, block action that could actually address those failures. And of course, that is the point of the new book: by denying the reality of market failure, and blocking corrective action, these folks are actually undermining our economies, and laying the foundations for kinds of government interventions that will make them pine for the good old days of a carbon tax.

Q: Oh yes the new book – The Collapse of Western Civilisation: A view from the future. You’ve written it from the point of view of a historian writing about the “Period of the Penumbra (1988–2093) that led to the Great Collapse and Mass Migration (2073–2093)”. It doesn’t sound like there are too many laughs?

Not unless we are talking about black humour. Our editor, when he first approached us, said he found it funny in a Dr Strangelovian way. I took that as a huge compliment.

Q: Dr Strangelove – a character that apparently borrowed parts from the real life Edward Teller, the so-called “father” of the H-bomb. Your new book borrows much from real life events and modern science too doesn’t it (it’s a clunky segue, but I’m sticking with it)?

Yes of course. A good deal of the power of that film came from the fact that while it was farce, it was all too true in some ways—or at least, all too plausible. It was conceivable that the world would end not in deliberate, calculated aggression, but in stupidity, mistakes, and men and machines run amok.

Kubrick understood that. Fortunately, we escaped disaster in the Cold War, because enough people realized what was at stake. Erik and I have often discussed that, in this case—climate change—a lot of people, folks like Nick Minchin included—don’t seem to realize what is at stake.

They’ve dismissed the science. They’ve pooh-poohed the mounting evidence that disruptive climate change is already underway. They’ve assumed scientists were over-reacting, and that all environmentalists are watermelons. And that bodes poorly for our future. Because the longer we wait, the more plausible our “collapse” scenario, with its unhappy implications for western democracies, becomes.

Q: But what is it that you think drives the denial industry? How much of it is just pure self-interest? Is it fear of socialism – a kind of post-Cold War paranoia that you identified in Merchants of Doubt? Or is it ideological fervour like the kind you’ve witnessed amongst American Tea Baggers?

I think it’s a complicated mix. Certainly, there are some very cynical individuals and groups who are protecting their own self-interest, with little or no regard to the consequences for others.

There are also those who have bought into the watermelon argument—that environmentalists are green on the outside, red on the inside—and that climate change is just an excuse to bring in socialism by another name.

Then there are also many people who I think believe, or have persuaded themselves, that climate change is just another fad, exaggerated by scientists who just want more money for their research, or environmentalists who over-react to small threats or are unrealistic about where their bread is buttered.

Finally there is the power of rationalization—people whose bread really is buttered by the fossil fuel industry, or people who are heavily invested in the industry in one way or another, and just don’t want to accept that there is a fundamental problem.

Q: Is that a big issue – do you think? That the nuances of the science aren’t that widely understood and so it’s an easy job to confuse people about it?

Yes I think so. That’s one reason why these disinformation campaigns have been so successful. It’s always easy to find some aspect of the science that is uncertain, or confusing, and focus on that to the exclusion of the larger picture

Q: It sounds like an almost intractable situation. Is there something you think should have happened, that didn’t, that might have helped to combat that misinformation?

Well, it certainly would have helped if political leaders had not repeated that disinformation!

Q: What would you do about it?

What I am doing: writing and talking about it, so we can accurately diagnose the problem. You can’t solve a problem if you don’t know what it is.

Q: Researching denial and organised misinformation has been your thing for about a decade now. So what’s next?

A book about the solutions? How not to go down the road to collapse?

VIDEO: Naomi Oreskes in a 2014 TEDTalk explaining why people should trust science – just not for the reasons most people think.

Congressional rift over environment influences public (Science Daily)

Date: July 31, 2014

Source: Michigan State University

Summary: American citizens are increasingly divided over the issue of environmental protection and seem to be taking their cue primarily from Congress, finds new research. The gap between conservatives who oppose environmental protection and liberals who support it has risen drastically in the past 20 years, a trend seen among lawmakers, activists and — as the study indicates — the general public as well, said a sociologist.

American citizens are increasingly divided over the issue of environmental protection and seem to be taking their cue primarily from Congress, finds new research led by a Michigan State University scholar.

The gap between conservatives who oppose environmental protection and liberals who support it has risen drastically in the past 20 years, a trend seen among lawmakers, activists and — as the study indicates — the general public as well, said sociologist Aaron M. McCright.

The findings echo a June 12 Pew Research Center poll showing that, in general, Republicans and Democrats are more divided long ideological lines than at any point in the past two decades.

When it comes to the environment, McCright, reporting in the journal Social Science Research, said the “enormous degree” of polarization has serious implications.

“The situation does not bode well for our nation’s ability to deal effectively with the wide range of environmental problems — from local toxics to global climate change — we currently face,” said McCright, associate professor in MSU’s Lyman Briggs College and Department of Sociology.

McCright and colleagues examined an annual national survey from 1974 to 2012 that included a question on environmental spending. According to the survey, which included more than 47,000 total respondents, the divide over environmental protection among citizens who consider themselves conservatives and liberals started growing particularly wide in 1992.

That coincides with the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union. Following that historic event, McCright said, the conservative movement replaced the “Red Scare” with the “Green Scare” and became increasingly hostile toward environmental protection.

McCright said the trend has been amplified by the Tea Party pulling the Republican Party even further to the right.

In 1990, the study found, about 75 percent of self-identified Democrats and Republicans alike in the general public believed the United States spent too little on environmental protection. By 2012, a gulf had formed between party followers, with 68 percent of Democrats believing the country spent too little on the environment, contrasted with only 40 percent of Republicans.

The trend roughly follows the environmental-protection voting patterns of Congress.

“This political polarization,” McCright said, “is unlikely to reverse course without noticeable convergence in support of environmental protection among policymakers, with prominent conservatives becoming less anti-environmental in their public statements and voting records.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Aaron M. McCright, Chenyang Xiao, Riley E. Dunlap. Political Polarization on Support for Government Spending on Environmental Protection in the USA, 1974-2012. Social Science Research, 2014; DOI:10.1016/j.ssresearch.2014.06.008

Political attitudes derive from body and mind: ‘Negativity bias’ explains difference between liberals and conservatives (Science Daily)

Date: July 31, 2014

Source: University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Summary: Neither conscious decision-making or parental upbringing fully explain why some people lean left and others lean right, researchers say. A mix of deep-seated psychology and physiological responses are at the core of political differences.

Pictured are University of Nebraska-Lincoln political scientists Kevin Smith, left, and John Hibbing, right. Credit: University Communications, University of Nebraska-Lincoln/Craig Chandler

Do people make a rational choice to be liberal or conservative? Do their mothers raise them that way? Is it a matter of genetics?

Two political scientists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a colleague from Rice University say that neither conscious decision-making nor parental upbringing fully explain why some people lean left while others lean right.

A growing body of evidence shows that physiological responses and deep-seated psychology are at the core of political differences, the researchers say in the latest issue of the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

“Politics might not be in our souls, but it probably is in our DNA,” says the article written by political scientists John Hibbing and Kevin Smith of UNL and John Alford of Rice University.

“These natural tendencies to perceive the physical world in different ways may in turn be responsible for striking moments of political and ideological conflict throughout history,” Alford said.

Using eye-tracking equipment and skin conductance detectors, the three researchers have observed that conservatives tend to have more intense reactions to negative stimuli, such as photos of people eating worms, burning houses or maggot-infested wounds.

Combining their own results with similar findings from other researchers around the world, the team proposes that this so-called “negativity bias” may be a common factor that helps define the difference between conservatives, with their emphasis on stability and order, and liberals, with their emphasis on progress and innovation.

“Across research methods, samples and countries, conservatives have been found to be quicker to focus on the negative, to spend longer looking at the negative, and to be more distracted by the negative,” the researchers wrote.

The researchers caution that they make no value judgments about this finding. In fact, some studies show that conservatives, despite their quickness to detect threats, are happier overall than liberals. And all people, whether liberal, conservative or somewhere in between, tend to be more alert to the negative than to the positive — for good evolutionary reasons. The harm caused by negative events, such as infection, injury and death, often outweighs the benefits brought by positive events.

“We see the ‘negativity bias’ as a common finding that emerges from a large body of empirical studies done not just by us, but by many other research teams around the world,” Smith explained. “We make the case in this article that negativity bias clearly and consistently separates liberals from conservatives.”

The most notable feature about the negativity bias is not that it exists, but that it varies so much from person to person, the researchers said.

“Conservatives are fond of saying ‘liberals just don’t get it,’ and liberals are convinced that conservatives magnify threats,” Hibbing said. “Systematic evidence suggests both are correct.”

Many scientists appear to agree with the findings by Hibbing, Smith and Alford. More than 50 scientists contributed 26 peer commentary articles discussing the Behavioral and Brain Sciences article.

Only three or four of the articles seriously disputed the negativity bias hypothesis. The remainder accepted the general concept, while suggesting modifications such as better defining and conceptualizing a negativity bias; more deeply exploring its nature and origins; and more clearly defining liberalism and conservatism across history and culture.

Journal Reference:

  1. John R. Hibbing, Kevin B. Smith, John R. Alford. Differences in negativity bias underlie variations in political ideology. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 2014; 37 (03): 297 DOI: 10.1017/S0140525X13001192

Contrary to image, city politicians do adapt to voters (Science Daily)

Date: July 29, 2014

Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Summary: Political scientists have long wondered whether city governments in the U.S. are really responsive to their voters. Aren’t local governments simply mired in machine politics, or under the sway of local big-money interests? Does ideology matter? Now a uniquely comprehensive study has produced a pair of distinctive findings: first, that the policies of city governments do closely match the politics of their citizens, and second, that this occurs regardless of the exact form of government than a city has.

Political scientists have long wondered whether city governments in the U.S. are really responsive to their voters. Aren’t local governments simply mired in machine politics, or under the sway of local big-money interests? Does ideology matter?

Now a uniquely comprehensive study co-authored by an MIT political scientist has produced a pair of distinctive findings: first, that the policies of city governments do closely match the politics of their citizens, and second, that this occurs regardless of the exact form of government than a city has.

That means that urban governance is more flexible, adaptable, and representative than the popular image might suggest. It also indicates that the link between public opinion and policy outcomes in municipal government is independent of whether it is led by a mayor, a town council, or selectmen, or uses direct referendums as opposed to indirect representatives.

“Politics doesn’t look quite as different at the local level as people thought it did,” says Chris Warshaw, an assistant professor of political science at MIT, and an author of a new paper detailing the findings of the study.

The research is singularly broad, examining the policies of every U.S. city and town with a population of 20,000 or more. It breaks new ground by extensively examining, on the municipal front, what researchers have found to be true of federal and state governments: that the views of the people usually matter significantly in shaping political action.

Or, as the researchers say in their new paper on the subject, there is a “robust role for citizen policy preferences in determining municipal policy outcomes.”

All politics is not just local, but ideological

The paper, “Representation in Municipal Government,” appears in the latest issue of the American Political Science Review. It was written by Warshaw and Chris Tausanovitch, an assistant professor of political science at the University of California at Los Angeles.

The study links data from seven large-scale surveys, taken from 2000 through 2011, each of which asked 30,000 to 80,000 American voters their views on a wide range of policy questions. To further enhance the measurement of policy preferences among voters, the researchers also incorporated models that estimate preferences based on demographic and geographic information, and looked at other data, such as on presidential vote results in cities and towns.

The study examined 1,600 American municipalities. San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington ranked as the most liberal cities with 250,000 or more people, while Mesa, Ariz., Oklahoma City, and Virginia Beach, Va., were rated as the most conservative.

To see if voter preferences matched the policies that municipal governments enacted, Warshaw and Tausanovitch used a wide variety of data sources to rate the policy choices enacted by local governments, often involving spending and taxes. “The substantively consequential policies are the ones we look at,” Warshaw says.

The researchers also controlled for cities’ fiscal health, since well-off municipalities can afford to spend more on public projects and regulations than poorer towns and cities.

Even accounting for such factors, Warshaw and Tausanovitch found that liberal cities tend to both tax and spend more, while having “less regressive tax systems,” with a lower share of revenues from sales taxes. This strong correlation, they found, persists whatever the form of local government.

So while people like to say that “all politics is local,” Warshaw thinks we should amend that view. The notion that “idiosyncratic local political battles, about zoning, land, growth, and fixing potholes, is the core of city politics,” as he puts it, is not quite wrong; it’s just that the battles over such things also occur within the same ideological spectrum that applies to state and federal politics.

Room for more research

Warshaw notes that more research could be conducted on the causal mechanisms that make cities broadly responsive to public opinion. “My hope is this will inspire other people to go out and fill in those mechanisms,” he says.

Methodologically, he suggests, the variation in the structures of city governments, among other things, might allow scholars to further compare and contrast otherwise similar groups of municipalities.

“Given that we know the powers of cities vary a lot in different states, an obvious piece of variation to explore is that in states that give more discretion to cities, you [might] get different outcomes,” Warshaw says. “By utilizing that variation across the country, you can start to get into those questions.”

The rise of data and the death of politics (The Guardian)

Tech pioneers in the US are advocating a new data-based approach to governance – ‘algorithmic regulation’. But if technology provides the answers to society’s problems, what happens to governments?

The Observer, Sunday 20 July 2014

US president Barack Obama with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

Government by social network? US president Barack Obama with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

On 24 August 1965 Gloria Placente, a 34-year-old resident of Queens, New York, was driving to Orchard Beach in the Bronx. Clad in shorts and sunglasses, the housewife was looking forward to quiet time at the beach. But the moment she crossed the Willis Avenue bridge in her Chevrolet Corvair, Placente was surrounded by a dozen patrolmen. There were also 125 reporters, eager to witness the launch of New York police department’s Operation Corral – an acronym for Computer Oriented Retrieval of Auto Larcenists.

Fifteen months earlier, Placente had driven through a red light and neglected to answer the summons, an offence that Corral was going to punish with a heavy dose of techno-Kafkaesque. It worked as follows: a police car stationed at one end of the bridge radioed the licence plates of oncoming cars to a teletypist miles away, who fed them to a Univac 490 computer, an expensive $500,000 toy ($3.5m in today’s dollars) on loan from the Sperry Rand Corporation. The computer checked the numbers against a database of 110,000 cars that were either stolen or belonged to known offenders. In case of a match the teletypist would alert a second patrol car at the bridge’s other exit. It took, on average, just seven seconds.

Compared with the impressive police gear of today – automatic number plate recognition, CCTV cameras, GPS trackers – Operation Corral looks quaint. And the possibilities for control will only expand. European officials have considered requiring all cars entering the European market to feature a built-in mechanism that allows the police to stop vehicles remotely. Speaking earlier this year, Jim Farley, a senior Ford executive, acknowledged that “we know everyone who breaks the law, we know when you’re doing it. We have GPS in your car, so we know what you’re doing. By the way, we don’t supply that data to anyone.” That last bit didn’t sound very reassuring and Farley retracted his remarks.

As both cars and roads get “smart,” they promise nearly perfect, real-time law enforcement. Instead of waiting for drivers to break the law, authorities can simply prevent the crime. Thus, a 50-mile stretch of the A14 between Felixstowe and Rugby is to be equipped with numerous sensors that would monitor traffic by sending signals to and from mobile phones in moving vehicles. The telecoms watchdog Ofcom envisionsthat such smart roads connected to a centrally controlled traffic system could automatically impose variable speed limits to smooth the flow of traffic but also direct the cars “along diverted routes to avoid the congestion and even [manage] their speed”.

Other gadgets – from smartphones to smart glasses – promise even more security and safety. In April, Apple patented technology that deploys sensors inside the smartphone to analyse if the car is moving and if the person using the phone is driving; if both conditions are met, it simply blocks the phone’s texting feature. Intel and Ford are working on Project Mobil – a face recognition system that, should it fail to recognise the face of the driver, would not only prevent the car being started but also send the picture to the car’s owner (bad news for teenagers).

The car is emblematic of transformations in many other domains, from smart environments for “ambient assisted living” where carpets and walls detect that someone has fallen, to various masterplans for the smart city, where municipal services dispatch resources only to those areas that need them. Thanks to sensors and internet connectivity, the most banal everyday objects have acquired tremendous power to regulate behaviour. Even public toilets are ripe for sensor-based optimisation: the Safeguard Germ Alarm, a smart soap dispenser developed by Procter & Gamble and used in some public WCs in the Philippines, has sensors monitoring the doors of each stall. Once you leave the stall, the alarm starts ringing – and can only be stopped by a push of the soap-dispensing button.

In this context, Google’s latest plan to push its Android operating system on to smart watches, smart cars, smart thermostats and, one suspects, smart everything, looks rather ominous. In the near future, Google will be the middleman standing between you and your fridge, you and your car, you and your rubbish bin, allowing the National Security Agency to satisfy its data addiction in bulk and via a single window.

This “smartification” of everyday life follows a familiar pattern: there’s primary data – a list of what’s in your smart fridge and your bin – and metadata – a log of how often you open either of these things or when they communicate with one another. Both produce interesting insights: cue smart mattresses – one recent model promises to track respiration and heart rates and how much you move during the night – and smart utensils that provide nutritional advice.

In addition to making our lives more efficient, this smart world also presents us with an exciting political choice. If so much of our everyday behaviour is already captured, analysed and nudged, why stick with unempirical approaches to regulation? Why rely on laws when one has sensors and feedback mechanisms? If policy interventions are to be – to use the buzzwords of the day – “evidence-based” and “results-oriented,” technology is here to help.

This new type of governance has a name: algorithmic regulation. In as much as Silicon Valley has a political programme, this is it. Tim O’Reilly, an influential technology publisher, venture capitalist and ideas man (he is to blame for popularising the term “web 2.0″) has been its most enthusiastic promoter. In a recent essay that lays out his reasoning, O’Reilly makes an intriguing case for the virtues of algorithmic regulation – a case that deserves close scrutiny both for what it promises policymakers and the simplistic assumptions it makes about politics, democracy and power.

To see algorithmic regulation at work, look no further than the spam filter in your email. Instead of confining itself to a narrow definition of spam, the email filter has its users teach it. Even Google can’t write rules to cover all the ingenious innovations of professional spammers. What it can do, though, is teach the system what makes a good rule and spot when it’s time to find another rule for finding a good rule – and so on. An algorithm can do this, but it’s the constant real-time feedback from its users that allows the system to counter threats never envisioned by its designers. And it’s not just spam: your bank uses similar methods to spot credit-card fraud.

In his essay, O’Reilly draws broader philosophical lessons from such technologies, arguing that they work because they rely on “a deep understanding of the desired outcome” (spam is bad!) and periodically check if the algorithms are actually working as expected (are too many legitimate emails ending up marked as spam?).

O’Reilly presents such technologies as novel and unique – we are living through a digital revolution after all – but the principle behind “algorithmic regulation” would be familiar to the founders of cybernetics – a discipline that, even in its name (it means “the science of governance”) hints at its great regulatory ambitions. This principle, which allows the system to maintain its stability by constantly learning and adapting itself to the changing circumstances, is what the British psychiatrist Ross Ashby, one of the founding fathers of cybernetics, called “ultrastability”.

To illustrate it, Ashby designed the homeostat. This clever device consisted of four interconnected RAF bomb control units – mysterious looking black boxes with lots of knobs and switches – that were sensitive to voltage fluctuations. If one unit stopped working properly – say, because of an unexpected external disturbance – the other three would rewire and regroup themselves, compensating for its malfunction and keeping the system’s overall output stable.

Ashby’s homeostat achieved “ultrastability” by always monitoring its internal state and cleverly redeploying its spare resources.

Like the spam filter, it didn’t have to specify all the possible disturbances – only the conditions for how and when it must be updated and redesigned. This is no trivial departure from how the usual technical systems, with their rigid, if-then rules, operate: suddenly, there’s no need to develop procedures for governing every contingency, for – or so one hopes – algorithms and real-time, immediate feedback can do a better job than inflexible rules out of touch with reality.

Algorithmic regulation could certainly make the administration of existing laws more efficient. If it can fight credit-card fraud, why not tax fraud? Italian bureaucrats have experimented with the redditometro, or income meter, a tool for comparing people’s spending patterns – recorded thanks to an arcane Italian law – with their declared income, so that authorities know when you spend more than you earn. Spain has expressed interest in a similar tool.

Such systems, however, are toothless against the real culprits of tax evasion – the super-rich families who profit from various offshoring schemes or simply write outrageous tax exemptions into the law. Algorithmic regulation is perfect for enforcing the austerity agenda while leaving those responsible for the fiscal crisis off the hook. To understand whether such systems are working as expected, we need to modify O’Reilly’s question: for whom are they working? If it’s just the tax-evading plutocrats, the global financial institutions interested in balanced national budgets and the companies developing income-tracking software, then it’s hardly a democratic success.

With his belief that algorithmic regulation is based on “a deep understanding of the desired outcome”, O’Reilly cunningly disconnects the means of doing politics from its ends. But the how of politics is as important as the what of politics – in fact, the former often shapes the latter. Everybody agrees that education, health, and security are all “desired outcomes”, but how do we achieve them? In the past, when we faced the stark political choice of delivering them through the market or the state, the lines of the ideological debate were clear. Today, when the presumed choice is between the digital and the analog or between the dynamic feedback and the static law, that ideological clarity is gone – as if the very choice of how to achieve those “desired outcomes” was apolitical and didn’t force us to choose between different and often incompatible visions of communal living.

By assuming that the utopian world of infinite feedback loops is so efficient that it transcends politics, the proponents of algorithmic regulation fall into the same trap as the technocrats of the past. Yes, these systems are terrifyingly efficient – in the same way that Singapore is terrifyingly efficient (O’Reilly, unsurprisingly, praises Singapore for its embrace of algorithmic regulation). And while Singapore’s leaders might believe that they, too, have transcended politics, it doesn’t mean that their regime cannot be assessed outside the linguistic swamp of efficiency and innovation – by using political, not economic benchmarks.

As Silicon Valley keeps corrupting our language with its endless glorification of disruption and efficiency – concepts at odds with the vocabulary of democracy – our ability to question the “how” of politics is weakened. Silicon Valley’s default answer to the how of politics is what I call solutionism: problems are to be dealt with via apps, sensors, and feedback loops – all provided by startups. Earlier this year Google’s Eric Schmidt even promised that startups would provide the solution to the problem of economic inequality: the latter, it seems, can also be “disrupted”. And where the innovators and the disruptors lead, the bureaucrats follow.

The intelligence services embraced solutionism before other government agencies. Thus, they reduced the topic of terrorism from a subject that had some connection to history and foreign policy to an informational problem of identifying emerging terrorist threats via constant surveillance. They urged citizens to accept that instability is part of the game, that its root causes are neither traceable nor reparable, that the threat can only be pre-empted by out-innovating and out-surveilling the enemy with better communications.

Speaking in Athens last November, the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben discussed an epochal transformation in the idea of government, “whereby the traditional hierarchical relation between causes and effects is inverted, so that, instead of governing the causes – a difficult and expensive undertaking – governments simply try to govern the effects”.

Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman

Governments’ current favourite pyschologist, Daniel Kahneman. Photograph: Richard Saker for the Observer

For Agamben, this shift is emblematic of modernity. It also explains why the liberalisation of the economy can co-exist with the growing proliferation of control – by means of soap dispensers and remotely managed cars – into everyday life. “If government aims for the effects and not the causes, it will be obliged to extend and multiply control. Causes demand to be known, while effects can only be checked and controlled.” Algorithmic regulation is an enactment of this political programme in technological form.

The true politics of algorithmic regulation become visible once its logic is applied to the social nets of the welfare state. There are no calls to dismantle them, but citizens are nonetheless encouraged to take responsibility for their own health. Consider how Fred Wilson, an influential US venture capitalist, frames the subject. “Health… is the opposite side of healthcare,” he said at a conference in Paris last December. “It’s what keeps you out of the healthcare system in the first place.” Thus, we are invited to start using self-tracking apps and data-sharing platforms and monitor our vital indicators, symptoms and discrepancies on our own.

This goes nicely with recent policy proposals to save troubled public services by encouraging healthier lifestyles. Consider a 2013 report by Westminster council and the Local Government Information Unit, a thinktank, calling for the linking of housing and council benefits to claimants’ visits to the gym – with the help of smartcards. They might not be needed: many smartphones are already tracking how many steps we take every day (Google Now, the company’s virtual assistant, keeps score of such data automatically and periodically presents it to users, nudging them to walk more).

The numerous possibilities that tracking devices offer to health and insurance industries are not lost on O’Reilly. “You know the way that advertising turned out to be the native business model for the internet?” he wondered at a recent conference. “I think that insurance is going to be the native business model for the internet of things.” Things do seem to be heading that way: in June, Microsoft struck a deal with American Family Insurance, the eighth-largest home insurer in the US, in which both companies will fund startups that want to put sensors into smart homes and smart cars for the purposes of “proactive protection”.

An insurance company would gladly subsidise the costs of installing yet another sensor in your house – as long as it can automatically alert the fire department or make front porch lights flash in case your smoke detector goes off. For now, accepting such tracking systems is framed as an extra benefit that can save us some money. But when do we reach a point where not using them is seen as a deviation – or, worse, an act of concealment – that ought to be punished with higher premiums?

Or consider a May 2014 report from 2020health, another thinktank, proposing to extend tax rebates to Britons who give up smoking, stay slim or drink less. “We propose ‘payment by results’, a financial reward for people who become active partners in their health, whereby if you, for example, keep your blood sugar levels down, quit smoking, keep weight off, [or] take on more self-care, there will be a tax rebate or an end-of-year bonus,” they state. Smart gadgets are the natural allies of such schemes: they document the results and can even help achieve them – by constantly nagging us to do what’s expected.

The unstated assumption of most such reports is that the unhealthy are not only a burden to society but that they deserve to be punished (fiscally for now) for failing to be responsible. For what else could possibly explain their health problems but their personal failings? It’s certainly not the power of food companies or class-based differences or various political and economic injustices. One can wear a dozen powerful sensors, own a smart mattress and even do a close daily reading of one’s poop – as some self-tracking aficionados are wont to do – but those injustices would still be nowhere to be seen, for they are not the kind of stuff that can be measured with a sensor. The devil doesn’t wear data. Social injustices are much harder to track than the everyday lives of the individuals whose lives they affect.

In shifting the focus of regulation from reining in institutional and corporate malfeasance to perpetual electronic guidance of individuals, algorithmic regulation offers us a good-old technocratic utopia of politics without politics. Disagreement and conflict, under this model, are seen as unfortunate byproducts of the analog era – to be solved through data collection – and not as inevitable results of economic or ideological conflicts.

However, a politics without politics does not mean a politics without control or administration. As O’Reilly writes in his essay: “New technologies make it possible to reduce the amount of regulation while actually increasing the amount of oversight and production of desirable outcomes.” Thus, it’s a mistake to think that Silicon Valley wants to rid us of government institutions. Its dream state is not the small government of libertarians – a small state, after all, needs neither fancy gadgets nor massive servers to process the data – but the data-obsessed and data-obese state of behavioural economists.

The nudging state is enamoured of feedback technology, for its key founding principle is that while we behave irrationally, our irrationality can be corrected – if only the environment acts upon us, nudging us towards the right option. Unsurprisingly, one of the three lonely references at the end of O’Reilly’s essay is to a 2012 speech entitled “Regulation: Looking Backward, Looking Forward” by Cass Sunstein, the prominent American legal scholar who is the chief theorist of the nudging state.

And while the nudgers have already captured the state by making behavioural psychology the favourite idiom of government bureaucracy –Daniel Kahneman is in, Machiavelli is out – the algorithmic regulation lobby advances in more clandestine ways. They create innocuous non-profit organisations like Code for America which then co-opt the state – under the guise of encouraging talented hackers to tackle civic problems.

Airbnb's homepage.

Airbnb: part of the reputation-driven economy.

Such initiatives aim to reprogramme the state and make it feedback-friendly, crowding out other means of doing politics. For all those tracking apps, algorithms and sensors to work, databases need interoperability – which is what such pseudo-humanitarian organisations, with their ardent belief in open data, demand. And when the government is too slow to move at Silicon Valley’s speed, they simply move inside the government. Thus, Jennifer Pahlka, the founder of Code for America and a protege of O’Reilly, became the deputy chief technology officer of the US government – while pursuing a one-year “innovation fellowship” from the White House.

Cash-strapped governments welcome such colonisation by technologists – especially if it helps to identify and clean up datasets that can be profitably sold to companies who need such data for advertising purposes. Recent clashes over the sale of student and health data in the UK are just a precursor of battles to come: after all state assets have been privatised, data is the next target. For O’Reilly, open data is “a key enabler of the measurement revolution”.

This “measurement revolution” seeks to quantify the efficiency of various social programmes, as if the rationale behind the social nets that some of them provide was to achieve perfection of delivery. The actual rationale, of course, was to enable a fulfilling life by suppressing certain anxieties, so that citizens can pursue their life projects relatively undisturbed. This vision did spawn a vast bureaucratic apparatus and the critics of the welfare state from the left – most prominently Michel Foucault – were right to question its disciplining inclinations. Nonetheless, neither perfection nor efficiency were the “desired outcome” of this system. Thus, to compare the welfare state with the algorithmic state on those grounds is misleading.

But we can compare their respective visions for human fulfilment – and the role they assign to markets and the state. Silicon Valley’s offer is clear: thanks to ubiquitous feedback loops, we can all become entrepreneurs and take care of our own affairs! As Brian Chesky, the chief executive of Airbnb, told the Atlantic last year, “What happens when everybody is a brand? When everybody has a reputation? Every person can become an entrepreneur.”

Under this vision, we will all code (for America!) in the morning, driveUber cars in the afternoon, and rent out our kitchens as restaurants – courtesy of Airbnb – in the evening. As O’Reilly writes of Uber and similar companies, “these services ask every passenger to rate their driver (and drivers to rate their passenger). Drivers who provide poor service are eliminated. Reputation does a better job of ensuring a superb customer experience than any amount of government regulation.”

The state behind the “sharing economy” does not wither away; it might be needed to ensure that the reputation accumulated on Uber, Airbnb and other platforms of the “sharing economy” is fully liquid and transferable, creating a world where our every social interaction is recorded and assessed, erasing whatever differences exist between social domains. Someone, somewhere will eventually rate you as a passenger, a house guest, a student, a patient, a customer. Whether this ranking infrastructure will be decentralised, provided by a giant like Google or rest with the state is not yet clear but the overarching objective is: to make reputation into a feedback-friendly social net that could protect the truly responsible citizens from the vicissitudes of deregulation.

Admiring the reputation models of Uber and Airbnb, O’Reilly wants governments to be “adopting them where there are no demonstrable ill effects”. But what counts as an “ill effect” and how to demonstrate it is a key question that belongs to the how of politics that algorithmic regulation wants to suppress. It’s easy to demonstrate “ill effects” if the goal of regulation is efficiency but what if it is something else? Surely, there are some benefits – fewer visits to the psychoanalyst, perhaps – in not having your every social interaction ranked?

The imperative to evaluate and demonstrate “results” and “effects” already presupposes that the goal of policy is the optimisation of efficiency. However, as long as democracy is irreducible to a formula, its composite values will always lose this battle: they are much harder to quantify.

For Silicon Valley, though, the reputation-obsessed algorithmic state of the sharing economy is the new welfare state. If you are honest and hardworking, your online reputation would reflect this, producing a highly personalised social net. It is “ultrastable” in Ashby’s sense: while the welfare state assumes the existence of specific social evils it tries to fight, the algorithmic state makes no such assumptions. The future threats can remain fully unknowable and fully addressable – on the individual level.

Silicon Valley, of course, is not alone in touting such ultrastable individual solutions. Nassim Taleb, in his best-selling 2012 book Antifragile, makes a similar, if more philosophical, plea for maximising our individual resourcefulness and resilience: don’t get one job but many, don’t take on debt, count on your own expertise. It’s all about resilience, risk-taking and, as Taleb puts it, “having skin in the game”. As Julian Reid and Brad Evans write in their new book, Resilient Life: The Art of Living Dangerously, this growing cult of resilience masks a tacit acknowledgement that no collective project could even aspire to tame the proliferating threats to human existence – we can only hope to equip ourselves to tackle them individually. “When policy-makers engage in the discourse of resilience,” write Reid and Evans, “they do so in terms which aim explicitly at preventing humans from conceiving of danger as a phenomenon from which they might seek freedom and even, in contrast, as that to which they must now expose themselves.”

What, then, is the progressive alternative? “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” doesn’t work here: just because Silicon Valley is attacking the welfare state doesn’t mean that progressives should defend it to the very last bullet (or tweet). First, even leftist governments have limited space for fiscal manoeuvres, as the kind of discretionary spending required to modernise the welfare state would never be approved by the global financial markets. And it’s the ratings agencies and bond markets – not the voters – who are in charge today.

Second, the leftist critique of the welfare state has become only more relevant today when the exact borderlines between welfare and security are so blurry. When Google’s Android powers so much of our everyday life, the government’s temptation to govern us through remotely controlled cars and alarm-operated soap dispensers will be all too great. This will expand government’s hold over areas of life previously free from regulation.

With so much data, the government’s favourite argument in fighting terror – if only the citizens knew as much as we do, they too would impose all these legal exceptions – easily extends to other domains, from health to climate change. Consider a recent academic paper that used Google search data to study obesity patterns in the US, finding significant correlation between search keywords and body mass index levels. “Results suggest great promise of the idea of obesity monitoring through real-time Google Trends data”, note the authors, which would be “particularly attractive for government health institutions and private businesses such as insurance companies.”

If Google senses a flu epidemic somewhere, it’s hard to challenge its hunch – we simply lack the infrastructure to process so much data at this scale. Google can be proven wrong after the fact – as has recently been the case with its flu trends data, which was shown to overestimate the number of infections, possibly because of its failure to account for the intense media coverage of flu – but so is the case with most terrorist alerts. It’s the immediate, real-time nature of computer systems that makes them perfect allies of an infinitely expanding and pre-emption‑obsessed state.

Perhaps, the case of Gloria Placente and her failed trip to the beach was not just a historical oddity but an early omen of how real-time computing, combined with ubiquitous communication technologies, would transform the state. One of the few people to have heeded that omen was a little-known American advertising executive called Robert MacBride, who pushed the logic behind Operation Corral to its ultimate conclusions in his unjustly neglected 1967 book, The Automated State.

At the time, America was debating the merits of establishing a national data centre to aggregate various national statistics and make it available to government agencies. MacBride attacked his contemporaries’ inability to see how the state would exploit the metadata accrued as everything was being computerised. Instead of “a large scale, up-to-date Austro-Hungarian empire”, modern computer systems would produce “a bureaucracy of almost celestial capacity” that can “discern and define relationships in a manner which no human bureaucracy could ever hope to do”.

“Whether one bowls on a Sunday or visits a library instead is [of] no consequence since no one checks those things,” he wrote. Not so when computer systems can aggregate data from different domains and spot correlations. “Our individual behaviour in buying and selling an automobile, a house, or a security, in paying our debts and acquiring new ones, and in earning money and being paid, will be noted meticulously and studied exhaustively,” warned MacBride. Thus, a citizen will soon discover that “his choice of magazine subscriptions… can be found to indicate accurately the probability of his maintaining his property or his interest in the education of his children.” This sounds eerily similar to the recent case of a hapless father who found that his daughter was pregnant from a coupon that Target, a retailer, sent to their house. Target’s hunch was based on its analysis of products – for example, unscented lotion – usually bought by other pregnant women.

For MacBride the conclusion was obvious. “Political rights won’t be violated but will resemble those of a small stockholder in a giant enterprise,” he wrote. “The mark of sophistication and savoir-faire in this future will be the grace and flexibility with which one accepts one’s role and makes the most of what it offers.” In other words, since we are all entrepreneurs first – and citizens second, we might as well make the most of it.

What, then, is to be done? Technophobia is no solution. Progressives need technologies that would stick with the spirit, if not the institutional form, of the welfare state, preserving its commitment to creating ideal conditions for human flourishing. Even some ultrastability is welcome. Stability was a laudable goal of the welfare state before it had encountered a trap: in specifying the exact protections that the state was to offer against the excesses of capitalism, it could not easily deflect new, previously unspecified forms of exploitation.

How do we build welfarism that is both decentralised and ultrastable? A form of guaranteed basic income – whereby some welfare services are replaced by direct cash transfers to citizens – fits the two criteria.

Creating the right conditions for the emergence of political communities around causes and issues they deem relevant would be another good step. Full compliance with the principle of ultrastability dictates that such issues cannot be anticipated or dictated from above – by political parties or trade unions – and must be left unspecified.

What can be specified is the kind of communications infrastructure needed to abet this cause: it should be free to use, hard to track, and open to new, subversive uses. Silicon Valley’s existing infrastructure is great for fulfilling the needs of the state, not of self-organising citizens. It can, of course, be redeployed for activist causes – and it often is – but there’s no reason to accept the status quo as either ideal or inevitable.

Why, after all, appropriate what should belong to the people in the first place? While many of the creators of the internet bemoan how low their creature has fallen, their anger is misdirected. The fault is not with that amorphous entity but, first of all, with the absence of robust technology policy on the left – a policy that can counter the pro-innovation, pro-disruption, pro-privatisation agenda of Silicon Valley. In its absence, all these emerging political communities will operate with their wings clipped. Whether the next Occupy Wall Street would be able to occupy anything in a truly smart city remains to be seen: most likely, they would be out-censored and out-droned.

To his credit, MacBride understood all of this in 1967. “Given the resources of modern technology and planning techniques,” he warned, “it is really no great trick to transform even a country like ours into a smoothly running corporation where every detail of life is a mechanical function to be taken care of.” MacBride’s fear is O’Reilly’s master plan: the government, he writes, ought to be modelled on the “lean startup” approach of Silicon Valley, which is “using data to constantly revise and tune its approach to the market”. It’s this very approach that Facebook has recently deployed to maximise user engagement on the site: if showing users more happy stories does the trick, so be it.

Algorithmic regulation, whatever its immediate benefits, will give us a political regime where technology corporations and government bureaucrats call all the shots. The Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem, in a pointed critique of cybernetics published, as it happens, roughly at the same time as The Automated State, put it best: “Society cannot give up the burden of having to decide about its own fate by sacrificing this freedom for the sake of the cybernetic regulator.”

Vai ter água para todo mundo? (2000 e água)

21/7/2014 – 12h01

por 2000 e água

Em 2014, o Estado de São Paulo entrou na maior crise hídrica de sua história. Com sucessivos recordes negativos desde que foram iniciadas suas medições, o Sistema Cantareira, responsável por 45% do abastecimento de água da maior região metropolitana da federação, atingiu suas maiores baixas justamente no verão, época em que mais deveria chover.

O paradoxo climático serviu de justificativa para as autoridades, que lamentaram a falta de chuvas e buscaram soluções apressadas para evitar o tão impopular racionamento. O imediatismo, no entanto, foi sentido pela população. Alguns bairros da cidade já sofrem com frequentes cortes d’água e, apesar do resgate do chamado volume morto, que elevou o nível do Cantareira em 18,5 pontos percentuais em maio, especialistas consideram questão de tempo até que se consuma a última gota do sistema. Ao contrário do tempo seco – atípico para esta época do ano – a crise de abastecimento de água já estava há anos anunciada.

Quando projetado na década de 1960, o Sistema Cantareira previu o abastecimento de água à Grande São Paulo até os anos 2000. Na outorga de 2004, documento assinado pela Sabesp (Companhia de Saneamento do Estado) e pelo Consórcio PCJ (Consórcio das Bacias dos Rios Piracicaba, Capivari e Jundiaí), foi acordado que a companhia procuraria formas de reduzir sua dependência do sistema. Em outras palavras, o tempo seco apenas antecipou um problema que, cedo ou tarde, chegaria às torneiras e chuveiros dos paulistas.

Feito o retrospecto histórico, é necessário entender o complexo ciclo da água em uma região violentamente urbanizada. Não o ciclo natural, que todos aprendem nas escolas, mas o ciclo social, que envolve desigualdade, poluição, consumo, desperdício, grandes obras e desapropriações. O projeto 2000 e água, nome que faz referência ao colapso hídrico prenunciado para o novo milênio, propõe-se a contar a inquietante história de pessoas que vivem ou viveram a água em diferentes fases deste processo.

Acesse aqui a reportagem hipermídia “2000 e água”, sobre a crise hídrica de 2014 em São Paulo. O especial conta com vídeos, fotos, textos, entrevistas, infográficos e um mini-documentário. Confira!

(2000 e água)

The Coming Climate Crash (New York Times)

Carbon dioxide emissions like those from coal-fired power plants should be taxed to spur energy innovation. Credit Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

THERE is a time for weighing evidence and a time for acting. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout my work in finance, government and conservation, it is to act before problems become too big to manage.

For too many years, we failed to rein in the excesses building up in the nation’s financial markets. When the credit bubble burst in 2008, the damage was devastating. Millions suffered. Many still do.

We’re making the same mistake today with climate change. We’re staring down a climate bubble that poses enormous risks to both our environmentand economy. The warning signs are clear and growing more urgent as the risks go unchecked.

This is a crisis we can’t afford to ignore. I feel as if I’m watching as we fly in slow motion on a collision course toward a giant mountain. We can see the crash coming, and yet we’re sitting on our hands rather than altering course.

We need to act now, even though there is much disagreement, including from members of my own Republican Party, on how to address this issue while remaining economically competitive. They’re right to consider the economic implications. But we must not lose sight of the profound economic risks of doing nothing.

The solution can be a fundamentally conservative one that will empower the marketplace to find the most efficient response. We can do this by putting a price on emissions of carbon dioxide — a carbon tax. Few in the United States now pay to emit this potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere we all share. Putting a price on emissions will create incentives to develop new, cleaner energy technologies.

It’s true that the United States can’t solve this problem alone. But we’re not going to be able to persuade other big carbon polluters to take the urgent action that’s needed if we’re not doing everything we can do to slow our carbon emissions and mitigate our risks.

I was secretary of the Treasury when the credit bubble burst, so I think it’s fair to say that I know a little bit about risk, assessing outcomes and problem-solving. Looking back at the dark days of the financial crisis in 2008, it is easy to see the similarities between the financial crisis and the climate challenge we now face.

We are building up excesses (debt in 2008, greenhouse gas emissions that are trapping heat now). Our government policies are flawed (incentivizing us to borrow too much to finance homes then, and encouraging the overuse of carbon-based fuels now). Our experts (financial experts then, climate scientists now) try to understand what they see and to model possible futures. And the outsize risks have the potential to be tremendously damaging (to a globalized economy then, and the global climate now).

Back then, we narrowly avoided an economic catastrophe at the last minute by rescuing a collapsing financial system through government action. But climate change is a more intractable problem. The carbon dioxide we’re sending into the atmosphere remains there for centuries, heating up the planet.

That means the decisions we’re making today — to continue along a path that’s almost entirely carbon-dependent — are locking us in for long-term consequences that we will not be able to change but only adapt to, at enormous cost. To protect New York City from rising seas and storm surges is expected to cost at least $20 billion initially, and eventually far more. And that’s just one coastal city.

New York can reasonably predict those obvious risks. When I worry about risks, I worry about the biggest ones, particularly those that are difficult to predict — the ones I call small but deep holes. While odds are you will avoid them, if you do fall in one, it’s a long way down and nearly impossible to claw your way out.

Scientists have identified a number of these holes — potential thresholds that, once crossed, could cause sweeping, irreversible changes. They don’t know exactly when we would reach them. But they know we should do everything we can to avoid them.

Already, observations are catching up with years of scientific models, and the trends are not in our favor.

Fewer than 10 years ago, the best analysis projected that melting Arctic sea ice would mean nearly ice-free summers by the end of the 21st century. Now the ice is melting so rapidly that virtually ice-free Arctic summers could be here in the next decade or two. The lack of reflective ice will mean that more of the sun’s heat will be absorbed by the oceans, accelerating warming of both the oceans and the atmosphere, and ultimately raising sea levels.

Even worse, in May, two separate studies discovered that one of the biggest thresholds has already been reached. The West Antarctic ice sheet has begun to melt, a process that scientists estimate may take centuries but that could eventually raise sea levels by as much as 14 feet. Now that this process has begun, there is nothing we can do to undo the underlying dynamics, which scientists say are “baked in.” And 10 years from now, will other thresholds be crossed that scientists are only now contemplating?

It is true that there is uncertainty about the timing and magnitude of these risks and many others. But those who claim the science is unsettled or action is too costly are simply trying to ignore the problem. We must see the bigger picture.

The nature of a crisis is its unpredictability. And as we all witnessed during the financial crisis, a chain reaction of cascading failures ensued from one intertwined part of the system to the next. It’s easy to see a single part in motion. It’s not so easy to calculate the resulting domino effect. That sort of contagion nearly took down the global financial system.

With that experience indelibly affecting my perspective, viewing climate change in terms of risk assessment and risk management makes clear to me that taking a cautiously conservative stance — that is, waiting for more information before acting — is actually taking a very radical risk. We’ll never know enough to resolve all of the uncertainties. But we know enough to recognize that we must act now.

I’m a businessman, not a climatologist. But I’ve spent a considerable amount of time with climate scientists and economists who have devoted their careers to this issue. There is virtually no debate among them that the planet is warming and that the burning of fossil fuels is largely responsible.

Farseeing business leaders are already involved in this issue. It’s time for more to weigh in. To add reliable financial data to the science, I’ve joined with the former mayor of New York City, Michael R. Bloomberg, and the retired hedge fund manager Tom Steyer on an economic analysis of the costs of inaction across key regions and economic sectors. Our goal for the Risky Business project — starting with a new study that will be released this week — is to influence business and investor decision making worldwide.

We need to craft national policy that uses market forces to provide incentives for the technological advances required to address climate change. As I’ve said, we can do this by placing a tax on carbon dioxide emissions. Many respected economists, of all ideological persuasions, support this approach. We can debate the appropriate pricing and policy design and how to use the money generated. But a price on carbon would change the behavior of both individuals and businesses. At the same time, all fossil fuel — and renewable energy — subsidies should be phased out. Renewable energy can outcompete dirty fuels once pollution costs are accounted for.

Some members of my political party worry that pricing carbon is a “big government” intervention. In fact, it will reduce the role of government, which, on our present course, increasingly will be called on to help communities and regions affected by climate-related disasters like floods, drought-related crop failures and extreme weather like tornadoes, hurricanes and other violent storms. We’ll all be paying those costs. Not once, but many times over.

This is already happening, with taxpayer dollars rebuilding homes damaged by Hurricane Sandy and the deadly Oklahoma tornadoes. This is a proper role of government. But our failure to act on the underlying problem is deeply misguided, financially and logically.

In a future with more severe storms, deeper droughts, longer fire seasons and rising seas that imperil coastal cities, public funding to pay for adaptations and disaster relief will add significantly to our fiscal deficit and threaten our long-term economic security. So it is perverse that those who want limited government and rail against bailouts would put the economy at risk by ignoring climate change.

This is short-termism. There is a tendency, particularly in government and politics, to avoid focusing on difficult problems until they balloon into crisis. We would be fools to wait for that to happen to our climate.

When you run a company, you want to hand it off in better shape than you found it. In the same way, just as we shouldn’t leave our children or grandchildren with mountains of national debt and unsustainable entitlement programs, we shouldn’t leave them with the economic and environmental costs of climate change. Republicans must not shrink from this issue. Risk management is a conservative principle, as is preserving our natural environment for future generations. We are, after all, the party of Teddy Roosevelt.

THIS problem can’t be solved without strong leadership from the developing world. The key is cooperation between the United States and China — the two biggest economies, the two biggest emitters of carbon dioxide and the two biggest consumers of energy.

When it comes to developing new technologies, no country can innovate like America. And no country can test new technologies and roll them out at scale quicker than China.

The two nations must come together on climate. The Paulson Institute at the University of Chicago, a “think-and-do tank” I founded to help strengthen the economic and environmental relationship between these two countries, is focused on bridging this gap.

We already have a head start on the technologies we need. The costs of the policies necessary to make the transition to an economy powered by clean energy are real, but modest relative to the risks.

A tax on carbon emissions will unleash a wave of innovation to develop technologies, lower the costs of clean energy and create jobs as we and other nations develop new energy products and infrastructure. This would strengthen national security by reducing the world’s dependence on governments like Russia and Iran.

Climate change is the challenge of our time. Each of us must recognize that the risks are personal. We’ve seen and felt the costs of underestimating the financial bubble. Let’s not ignore the climate bubble.

The Turning Point: New Hope for the Climate (Rolling Stone)

It’s time to accelerate the shift toward a low-carbon future

JUNE 18, 2014

In the struggle to solve the climate crisis, a powerful, largely unnoticed shift is taking place. The forward journey for human civilization will be difficult and dangerous, but it is now clear that we will ultimately prevail. The only question is how quickly we can accelerate and complete the transition to a low-carbon civilization. There will be many times in the decades ahead when we will have to take care to guard against despair, lest it become another form of denial, paralyzing action. It is true that we have waited too long to avoid some serious damage to the planetary ecosystem – some of it, unfortunately, irreversible. Yet the truly catastrophic damages that have the potential for ending civilization as we know it can still – almost certainly – be avoided. Moreover, the pace of the changes already set in motion can still be moderated significantly.

Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math

There is surprising – even shocking – good news: Our ability to convert sunshine into usable energy has become much cheaper far more rapidly than anyone had predicted. The cost of electricity from photovoltaic, or PV, solar cells is now equal to or less than the cost of electricity from other sources powering electric grids in at least 79 countries. By 2020 – as the scale of deployments grows and the costs continue to decline – more than 80 percent of the world’s people will live in regions where solar will be competitive with electricity from other sources.

No matter what the large carbon polluters and their ideological allies say or do, in markets there is a huge difference between “more expensive than” and “cheaper than.” Not unlike the difference between 32 degrees and 33 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s not just a difference of a degree, it’s the difference between a market that’s frozen up and one that’s liquid. As a result, all over the world, the executives of companies selling electricity generated from the burning of carbon-based fuels (primarily from coal) are openly discussing their growing fears of a “utility death spiral.”

Germany, Europe’s industrial powerhouse, where renewable subsidies have been especially high, now generates 37 percent of its daily electricity from wind and solar; and analysts predict that number will rise to 50 percent by 2020. (Indeed, one day this year, renewables created 74 percent of the nation’s electricity!)

Scorched Earth: How Climate Change Is Spreading Drought Throughout the Globe

What’s more, Germany’s two largest coal-burning utilities have lost 56 percent of their value over the past four years, and the losses have continued into the first half of 2014. And it’s not just Germany. Last year, the top 20 utilities throughout Europe reported losing half of their value since 2008. According to the Swiss bank UBS, nine out of 10 European coal and gas plants are now losing money.

In the United States, where up to 49 percent of the new generating capacity came from renewables in 2012, 166 coal-fired electricity-generating plants have either closed or have announced they are closing in the past four and a half years. An additional 183 proposed new coal plants have been canceled since 2005.

To be sure, some of these closings have been due to the substitution of gas for coal, but the transition under way in both the American and global energy markets is far more significant than one fossil fuel replacing another. We are witnessing the beginning of a massive shift to a new energy-distribution model – from the “central station” utility-grid model that goes back to the 1880s to a “widely distributed” model with rooftop solar cells, on-site and grid battery storage, and microgrids.

The principal trade group representing U.S. electric utilities, the Edison Electric Institute, has identified distributed generation as the “largest near-term threat to the utility model.” Last May, Barclays downgraded the entirety of the U.S. electric sector, warning that “a confluence of declining cost trends in distributed solar­photovoltaic-power generation and residential­scale power storage is likely to disrupt the status quo” and make utility investments less attractive.

See the 10 Dumbest Things Said About Global Warming

This year, Citigroup reported that the widespread belief that natural gas – the supply of which has ballooned in the U.S. with the fracking of shale gas – will continue to be the chosen alternative to coal is mistaken, because it too will fall victim to the continuing decline in the cost of solar and wind electricity. Significantly, the cost of battery storage, long considered a barrier to the new electricity system, has also been declining steadily – even before the introduction of disruptive new battery technologies that are now in advanced development. Along with the impressive gains of clean-energy programs in the past decade, there have been similar improvements in our ability to do more with less. Since 1980, the U.S. has reduced total energy intensity by 49 percent.

It is worth remembering this key fact about the supply of the basic “fuel”: Enough raw energy reaches the Earth from the sun in one hour to equal all of the energy used by the entire world in a full year.

In poorer countries, where most of the world’s people live and most of the growth in energy use is occurring, photovoltaic electricity is not so much displacing carbon-based energy as leapfrogging it altogether. In his first days in office, the government of the newly elected prime minister of India, Narendra Modi (who has authored an e-book on global warming), announced a stunning plan to rely principally upon photovoltaic energy in providing electricity to 400 million Indians who currently do not have it. One of Modi’s supporters, S.L. Rao, the former utility regulator of India, added that the industry he once oversaw “has reached a stage where either we change the whole system quickly, or it will collapse.”

Nor is India an outlier. Neighboring Bangladesh is installing nearly two new rooftop PV systems every minute — making it the most rapidly growing market for PVs in the world. In West and East Africa, solar-electric cells are beginning what is widely predicted to be a period of explosive growth.

At the turn of the 21st century, some scoffed at projections that the world would be installing one gigawatt of new solar electricity per year by 2010. That goal was exceeded 17 times over; last year it was exceeded 39 times over; and this year the world is on pace to exceed that benchmark as much as 55 times over. In May, China announced that by 2017, it would have the capacity to generate 70 gigawatts of photovoltaic electricity. The state with by far the biggest amount of wind energy is Texas, not historically known for its progressive energy policies.

The cost of wind energy is also plummeting, having dropped 43 percent in the United States since 2009 – making it now cheaper than coal for new generating capacity. Though the downward cost curve is not quite as steep as that for solar, the projections in 2000 for annual worldwide wind deployments by the end of that decade were exceeded seven times over, and are now more than 10 times that figure. In the United States alone, nearly one-third of all new electricity-generating capacity in the past five years has come from wind, and installed wind capacity in the U.S. has increased more than fivefold since 2006.

For consumers, this good news may soon get even better. While the cost of carbon­based energy continues to increase, the cost of solar electricity has dropped by an average of 20 percent per year since 2010. Some energy economists, including those who produced an authoritative report this past spring for Bernstein Research, are now predicting energy-price deflation as soon as the next decade.

For those (including me) who are surprised at the speed with which this impending transition has been accelerating, there are precedents that help explain it. Remember the first mobile-telephone handsets? I do; as an inveterate “early adopter” of new technologies, I thought those first huge, clunky cellphones were fun to use and looked cool (they look silly now, of course). In 1980, a few years before I bought one of the early models, AT&T conducted a global market study and came to the conclusion that by the year 2000 there would be a market for 900,000 subscribers. They were not only wrong, they were way wrong: 109 million contracts were active in 2000. Barely a decade and a half later, there are 6.8 billion globally. 
These parallels have certainly caught the attention of the fossil-fuel industry and its investors: Eighteen months ago, the Edison Electric Institute described the floundering state of the once-proud landline-telephone companies as a grim predictor of what may soon be their fate.


The utilities are fighting back, of course, by using their wealth and the entrenched political power they have built up over the past century. In the United States, brothers Charles and David Koch, who run Koch Industries, the second-largest privately owned corporation in the U.S., have secretively donated at least $70 million to a number of opaque political organizations tasked with spreading disinformation about the climate crisis and intimidating political candidates who dare to support renewable energy or the pricing of carbon pollution.

A Call to Arms: An invitation to Demand Action on Climate Change

They regularly repeat shopworn complaints about the inadequate, intermittent and inconsistent subsidies that some governments have used in an effort to speed up the deployment of renewables, while ignoring the fact that global subsidies for carbon-based energy are 25 times larger than global subsidies for renewables.

One of the most effective of the groups financed by the Koch brothers and other carbon polluters is the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which grooms conservative state legislators throughout the country to act as their agents in introducing legislation written by utilities and carbon-fuel lobbyists in a desperate effort to slow, if not stop, the transition to renewable energy.

The Kochs claim to act on principles of low taxation and minimal regulation, but in their attempts to choke the development of alternative energy, they have induced the recipients of their generous campaign contributions to contradict these supposedly bedrock values, pushing legislative and regulatory measures in 34 states to discourage solar, or encourage carbon energy, or both. The most controversial of their initiatives is focused on persuading state legislatures and public-utility commissions to tax homeowners who install a PV solar cell on their roofs, and to manipulate the byzantine utility laws and regulations to penalize renewable energy in a variety of novel schemes.

The chief battleground in this war between the energy systems of the past and future is our electrical grid. For more than a century, the grid – along with the regulatory and legal framework governing it – has been dominated by electric utilities and their centralized, fossil-fuel-powered­ electricity-generation plants. But the rise of distributed alternate energy sources allows consumers to participate in the production of electricity through a policy called net metering. In 43 states, homeowners who install solar PV to systems on their rooftops are permitted to sell electricity back into the grid when they generate more than they need.

These policies have been crucial to the growth of solar power. But net metering represents an existential threat to the future of electric utilities, the so-called utility death spiral: As more consumers install solar panels on their roofs, utilities will have to raise prices on their remaining customers to recover the lost revenues. Those higher rates will, in turn, drive more consumers to leave the utility system, and so on.

But here is more good news: The Koch brothers are losing rather badly. In Kansas, their home state, a poll by North Star Opinion Research reported that 91 percent of registered voters support solar and wind. Three-quarters supported stronger policy encouragement of renewable energy, even if such policies raised their electricity bills.

In Georgia, the Atlanta Tea Party joined forces with the Sierra Club to form a new organization called – wait for it – the Green Tea Coalition, which promptly defeated a Koch-funded scheme to tax rooftop solar panels.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, after the state’s largest utility, an ALEC member, asked the public-utility commission for a tax of up to $150 per month for solar households, the opposition was fierce and well-organized. A compromise was worked out – those households would be charged just $5 per month – but Barry Goldwater Jr., the leader of a newly formed organization called TUSK (Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed), is fighting a new attempt to discourage rooftop solar in Arizona. Characteristically, the Koch brothers and their allies have been using secretive and deceptive funding in Arizona to run television advertisements attacking “greedy” owners of rooftop solar panels – but their effort has thus far backfired, as local journalists have exposed the funding scam.

Even though the Koch-funded forces recently scored a partial (and almost certainly temporary) victory in Ohio, where the legislature voted to put a hold on the state’s renewable-portfolio standard and study the issue for two years, it’s clear that the attack on solar energy is too little, too late. Last year, the Edison Electric Institute warned the utility industry that it had waited too long to respond to the sharp cost declines and growing popularity of solar: “At the point when utility investors become focused on these new risks and start to witness significant customer- and earnings-erosion trends, they will respond to these challenges. But, by then, it may be too late to repair the utility business model.”

The most seductive argument deployed by the Koch brothers and their allies is that those who use rooftop solar electricity and benefit from the net-metering policies are “free riders” – that is, they are allegedly not paying their share of the maintenance costs for the infrastructure of the old utility model, including the grid itself. This deceptive message, especially when coupled with campaign contributions, has persuaded some legislators to support the proposed new taxes on solar panels.

But the argument ignores two important realities facing the electric utilities: First, most of the excess solar electricity is supplied by owners of solar cells during peak-load hours of the day, when the grid’s capacity is most stressed – thereby alleviating the pressure to add expensive new coal- or gas-fired generating capacity. But here’s the rub: What saves money for their customers cuts into the growth of their profits and depresses their stock prices. As is often the case, the real conflict is between the public interest and the special interest.

The second reality ignored by the Koch brothers is the one they least like to discuss, the one they spend so much money trying to obfuscate with their hired “merchants of doubt.” You want to talk about the uncompensated use of infrastructure? What about sewage infrastructure for 98 million tons per day of gaseous, heat-trapping waste that is daily released into our skies, threatening the future of human civilization? Is it acceptable to use the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding our planet as an open sewer? Free of charge? Really?


This, after all, is the reason the climate crisis has become an existential threat to the future of human civilization. Last April, the average CO2 concentrations in the Earth’s atmosphere exceeded 400 parts-per-million on a sustained basis for the first time in at least 800,000 years and probably for the first time in at least 4.5 million years (a period that was considerably warmer than at present).

According to a cautious analysis by the influential climate scientist James Hansen, the accumulated man-made global-warming pollution already built up in the Earth’s atmosphere now traps as much extra heat energy every day as would be released by the explosion of 400,000 Hiroshima-class nuclear bombs. It’s a big planet, but that’s a lot of energy.

And it is that heat energy that is giving the Earth a fever. Denialists hate the “fever” metaphor, but as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) pointed out this year, “Just as a 1.4­degree-fever change would be seen as significant in a child’s body, a similar change in our Earth’s temperature is also a concern for human society.”

Thirteen of the 14 hottest years ever measured with instruments have occurred in this century. This is the 37th year in a row that has been hotter than the 20th-century average. April was the 350th month in a row hotter than the average in the preceding century. The past decade was by far the warmest decade ever measured.

Many scientists expect the coming year could break all of these records by a fair margin because of the extra boost from the anticipated El Niño now gathering in the waters of the eastern Pacific. (The effects of periodic El Niño events are likely to become stronger because of global warming, and this one is projected by many scientists to be stronger than average, perhaps on the scale of the epic El Niño of 1997 to 1998.)

The fast-growing number of extreme-weather events, connected to the climate crisis, has already had a powerful impact on public attitudes toward global warming. A clear majority of Americans now acknowledge thatman-made pollution is responsible. As the storms, floods, mudslides, droughts, fires and other catastrophes become ever more destructive, the arcane discussions over how much of their extra-destructive force should be attributed to global warming have become largely irrelevant. The public at large feels it viscerally now. As Bob Dylan sang, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

Besides, there is a simple difference between linear cause and effect and systemic cause and effect. As one of the world’s most-respected atmospheric scientists, Kevin Trenberth, has said, “The environment in which all storms form has changed owing to human activities.”

For example, when Supertyphoon Haiyan crossed the Pacific toward the Philippines last fall, the storm gained strength across seas that were 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than they used to be because of greenhouse­gas pollution. As a result, Haiyan went from being merely strong to being the most powerful and destructive ocean-based storm on record to make landfall. Four million people were displaced (more than twice as many as by the Indian Ocean tsunami of 10 years ago), and there are still more than 2 million Haiyan refugees desperately trying to rebuild their lives.

When Superstorm Sandy traversed the areas of the Atlantic Ocean windward of New York and New Jersey in 2012, the water temperature was nine degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal. The extra convection energy in those waters fed the storm and made the winds stronger than they would otherwise have been. Moreover, the sea level was higher than it used to be, elevated by the melting of ice in the frozen regions of the Earth and the expanded volume of warmer ocean waters.

Five years earlier, denialists accused me of demagogic exaggeration in an animated scene in my documentary An Inconvenient Truth that showed the waters of the Atlantic Ocean flooding into the 9/11 Ground Zero Memorial site. But in Sandy’s wake, the Atlantic did in fact flood Ground Zero – many years before scientists had expected that to occur.

Similarly, the inundation of Miami Beach by rising sea levels has now begun, and freshwater aquifers in low-lying areas from South Florida to the Nile Delta to Bangladesh to Indochina are being invaded by saltwater pushed upward by rising oceans. And of course, many low-lying islands – not least in the Bay of Bengal – are in danger of disappearing altogether. Where will the climate refugees go? Similarly, the continued melting of mountain glaciers and snowpacks is, according to the best scientists, already “affecting water supplies for as many as a billion people around the world.”

Just as the extreme-weather events we are now experiencing are exactly the kind that were predicted by scientists decades ago, the scientific community is now projecting far worse extreme-weather events in the years to come. Eighty percent of the warming in the past 150 years (since the burning of carbon-based fuels gained momentum) has occurred in the past few decades. And it is worth noting that the previous scientific projections consistently low-balled the extent of the global­warming consequences that later took place – for a variety of reasons rooted in the culture of science that favor conservative estimates of future effects.

In an effort to avoid these cultural biases, the AAAS noted this year that not only are the impacts of the climate crisis “very likely to become worse over the next 10 to 20 years and beyond,” but “there is a possibility that temperatures will rise much higher and impacts will be much worse than expected. Moreover, as global temperature rises, the risk increases that one or more important parts of the Earth’s climate system will experience changes that may be abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible, causing large damages and high costs.”

Just weeks after that report, there was shock and, for some, a temptation to despair when the startling news was released in May by scientists at both NASA and the University of Washington that the long-feared “collapse” of a portion of the West Antarctic ice sheet is not only under way but is also now “irreversible.” Even as some labored to understand what the word “collapse” implied about the suddenness with which this catastrophe will ultimately unfold, it was the word “irreversible” that had a deeper impact on the collective psyche.

Just as scientists 200 years ago could not comprehend the idea that species had once lived on Earth and had subsequently become extinct, and just as some people still find it hard to accept the fact that human beings have become a sufficiently powerful force of nature to reshape the ecological system of our planet, many – including some who had long since accepted the truth about global warming – had difficulty coming to grips with the stark new reality that one of the long-feared “tipping points” had been crossed. And that, as a result, no matter what we do, sea levels will rise by at least an additional three feet.

The uncertainty about how long the process will take (some of the best ice scientists warn that a rise of 10 feet in this century cannot be ruled out) did not change the irreversibility of the forces that we have set in motion. But as Eric Rignot, the lead author of the NASA study, pointed out in The Guardian, it’s still imperative that we take action: “Controlling climate warming may ultimately make a difference not only about how fast West Antarctic ice will melt to sea, but also whether other parts of Antarctica will take their turn.”

The news about the irreversible collapse in West Antarctica caused some to almost forget that only two months earlier, a similar startling announcement had been made about the Greenland ice sheet. Scientists found that the northeastern part of Greenland – long thought to be resistant to melting – has in fact been losing more than 10 billion tons of ice per year for the past decade, making 100 percent of Greenland unstable and likely, as with West Antarctica, to contribute to significantly more sea-level rise than scientists had previously thought.


The heating of the oceans not only melts the ice and makes hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons more intense, it also evaporates around 2 trillion gallons of additional water vapor into the skies above the U.S. The warmer air holds more of this water vapor and carries it over the landmasses, where it is funneled into land-based storms that are releasing record downpours all over the world.

For example, an “April shower” came to Pensacola, Florida, this spring, but it was a freak – another rainstorm on steroids: two feet of rain in 26 hours. It broke all the records in the region, but as usual, virtually no media outlets made the connection to global warming. Similar “once in a thousand years” storms have been occurring regularly in recent years all over the world, including in my hometown of Nashville in May 2010.

All-time record flooding swamped large portions of England this winter, submerging thousands of homes for more than six weeks. Massive downpours hit Serbia and Bosnia this spring, causing flooding of “biblical proportions” (a phrase now used so frequently in the Western world that it has become almost a cliché) and thousands of landslides. Torrential rains in Afghanistan in April triggered mudslides that killed thousands of people – almost as many, according to relief organizations, as all of the Afghans killed in the war there the previous year.

In March, persistent rains triggered an unusually large mudslide in Oso, Washington, killing more than 40 people. There are literally hundreds of other examples of extreme rainfall occurring in recent years in the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania.

In the planet’s drier regions, the same extra heat trapped in the atmosphere by man-made global-warming pollution has also been driving faster evaporation of soil moisture and causing record-breaking droughts. As of this writing, 100 percent of California is in “severe,” “extreme” or “exceptional” drought. Record fires are ravaging the desiccated landscape. Experts now project that an increase of one degree Celsius over pre-industrial temperatures will lead to as much as a 600-­percent increase in the median area burned by forest fires in some areas of the American West – including large portions of Colorado. The National Research Council has reported that fire season is two and a half months longer than it was 30 years ago, and in California, firefighters are saying that the season is now effectively year-round.

Drought has been intensifying in many other dry regions around the world this year: Brazil, Indonesia, central and northwest Africa and Madagascar, central and western Europe, the Middle East up to the Caspian Sea and north of the Black Sea, Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia, Western Australia and New Zealand.

Syria is one of the countries that has been in the bull’s-eye of climate change. From 2006 to 2010, a historic drought destroyed 60 percent of the country’s farms and 80 percent of its livestock – driving a million refugees from rural agricultural areas into cities already crowded with the million refugees who had taken shelter there from the Iraq War. As early as 2008, U.S. State Department cables quoted Syrian government officials warning that the social and economic impacts of the drought are “beyond our capacity as a country to deal with.” Though the hellish and ongoing civil war in Syria has multiple causes – including the perfidy of the Assad government and the brutality on all sides – their climate-related drought may have been the biggest underlying trigger for the horror.

The U.S. military has taken notice of the strategic dangers inherent in the climate crisis. Last March, a Pentagon advisory committee described the climate crisis as a “catalyst for conflict” that may well cause failures of governance and societal collapse. “In the past, the thinking was that climate change multiplied the significance of a situation,” said retired Air Force Gen. Charles F. Wald. “Now we’re saying it’s going to be a direct cause of instability.”

Pentagon spokesman Mark Wright told the press, “For DOD, this is a mission reality, not a political debate. The scientific forecast is for more Arctic ice melt, more sea-level rise, more intense storms, more flooding from storm surge and more drought.” And in yet another forecast difficult for congressional climate denialists to rebut, climate experts advising the military have also warned that the world’s largest naval base, in Norfolk, Virginia, is likely to be inundated by rising sea levels in the future.

And how did the Republican-dominated House of Representatives respond to these grim warnings? By passing legislation seeking to prohibit the Department of Defense from taking any action to prepare for the effects of climate disruption.

There are so many knock-on consequences of the climate crisis that listing them can be depressing – diseases spreading, crop yields declining, more heat waves affecting vulnerable and elderly populations, the disappearance of summer-ice cover in the Arctic Ocean, the potential extinction of up to half of all the living species, and so much more. And that in itself is a growing problem too, because when you add it all up, it’s no wonder that many feel a new inclination to despair.

So, clearly, we will just have to gird ourselves for the difficult challenges ahead. There is indeed, literally, light at the end of the tunnel, but there is a tunnel, and we are well into it.

In November 1936, Winston Churchill stood before the United Kingdom’s House of Commons and placed a period at the end of the misguided debate over the nature of the “gathering storm” on the other side of the English Channel: “Owing to past neglect, in the face of the plainest warnings, we have entered upon a period of danger. . . . The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedience of delays is coming to its close. In its place, we are entering a period of consequences. . . . We cannot avoid this period; we are in it now.”

Our civilization is confronting this existential challenge at a moment in our historical development when our dominant global ideology – democratic capitalism – has been failing us in important respects.

Democracy is accepted in theory by more people than ever before as the best form of political organization, but it has been “hacked” by large corporations (defined as “persons” by the Supreme Court) and special interests corrupting the political system with obscene amounts of money (defined as “speech” by the same court).

Capitalism, for its part, is accepted by more people than ever before as a superior form of economic organization, but is – in its current form – failing to measure and include the categories of “value” that are most relevant to the solutions we need in order to respond to this threatening crisis (clean air and water, safe food, a benign climate balance, public goods like education and a greener infrastructure, etc.).

Pressure for meaningful reform in democratic capitalism is beginning to build powerfully. The progressive introduction of Internet-based communication – social media, blogs, digital journalism – is laying the foundation for the renewal of individual participation in democracy, and the re-elevation of reason over wealth and power as the basis for collective decision­making. And the growing levels of inequality worldwide, combined with growing structural unemployment and more frequent market disruptions (like the Great Recession), are building support for reforms in capitalism.

Both waves of reform are still at an early stage, but once again, Churchill’s words inspire: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” And that is why it is all the more important to fully appreciate the incredible opportunity for salvation that is now within our grasp. As the satirical newspaper The Onion recently noted in one of its trademark headlines: “Scientists Politely Remind World That Clean Energy Technology Ready to Go Whenever.”

We have the policy tools that can dramatically accelerate the transition to clean energy that market forces will eventually produce at a slower pace. The most important has long since been identified: We have to put a price on carbon in our markets, and we need to eliminate the massive subsidies that fuel the profligate emissions of global-warming pollution.

We need to establish “green banks” that provide access to capital investment necessary to develop renewable energy, sustainable agriculture and forestry, an electrified transportation fleet, the retrofitting of buildings to reduce wasteful energy consumption, and the full integration of sustainability in the design and architecture of cities and towns. While the burning of fossil fuels is the largest cause of the climate crisis, deforestation and “factory farming” also play an important role. Financial and technological approaches to addressing these challenges are emerging, but we must continue to make progress in converting to sustainable forestry and agriculture.

In order to accomplish these policy shifts, we must not only put a price on carbon in markets, but also find a way to put a price on climate denial in our politics. We already know the reforms that are needed – and the political will to enact them is a renewable resource. Yet the necessary renewal can only come from an awakened citizenry empowered by a sense of urgency and emboldened with the courage to reject despair and become active. Most importantly, now is the time to support candidates who accept the reality of the climate crisis and are genuinely working hard to solve it – and to bluntly tell candidates who are not on board how much this issue matters to you. If you are willing to summon the resolve to communicate that blunt message forcefully – with dignity and absolute sincerity – you will be amazed at the political power an individual can still wield in America’s diminished democracy.

Something else is also new this summer. Three years ago, in these pages, I criticized the seeming diffidence of President Obama toward the great task of solving the climate crisis; this summer, it is abundantly evident that he has taken hold of the challenge with determination and seriousness of purpose.

He has empowered his Environmental Protection Agency to enforce limits on CO2 emissions for both new and, as of this June, existing sources of CO2. He has enforced bold new standards for the fuel economy of the U.S. transportation fleet. He has signaled that he is likely to reject the absurdly reckless Keystone XL-pipeline proposal for the transport of oil from carbon­intensive tar sands to be taken to market through the United States on its way to China, thus effectively limiting their exploitation. And he is even now preparing to impose new limits on the release of methane pollution.

All of these welcome steps forward have to be seen, of course, in the context of Obama’s continued advocacy of a so-called all-of-the-above energy policy – which is the prevailing code for aggressively pushing more drilling and fracking for oil and gas. And to put the good news in perspective, it is important to remember that U.S. emissions – after declining for five years during the slow recovery from the Great Recession – actually increased by 2.4 percent in 2013.


Nevertheless, the president is clearly changing his overall policy emphasis to make CO2 reductions a much higher priority now and has made a series of inspiring speeches about the challenges posed by climate change and the exciting opportunities available as we solve it. As a result, Obama will go to the United Nations this fall and to Paris at the end of 2015 with the credibility and moral authority that he lacked during the disastrous meeting in Copenhagen four and a half years ago.

The international treaty process has been so fraught with seemingly intractable disagreements that some parties have all but given up on the possibility of ever reaching a meaningful treaty.

Ultimately, there must be one if we are to succeed. And there are signs that a way forward may be opening up. In May, I attended a preparatory session in Abu Dhabi, UAE, organized by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to bolster commitments from governments, businesses and nongovernmental organizations ahead of this September’s U.N. Climate Summit. The two-day meeting was different from many of the others I have attended. There were welcome changes in rhetoric, and it was clear that the reality of the climate crisis is now weighing on almost every nation. Moreover, there were encouraging reports from around the world that many of the policy changes necessary to solve the crisis are being adopted piecemeal by a growing number of regional, state and city governments.

For these and other reasons, I believe there is a realistic hope that momentum toward a global agreement will continue to build in September and carry through to the Paris negotiations in late 2015.

The American poet Wallace Stevens once wrote, “After the final ‘no’ there comes a ‘yes’/And on that ‘yes’ the future world depends.” There were many no’s before the emergence of a global consensus to abolish chattel slavery, before the consensus that women must have the right to vote, before the fever of the nuclear­arms race was broken, before the quickening global recognition of gay and lesbian equality, and indeed before every forward advance toward social progress. Though a great many obstacles remain in the path of this essential agreement, I am among the growing number of people who are allowing themselves to become more optimistic than ever that a bold and comprehensive pact may well emerge from the Paris negotiations late next year, which many regard as the last chance to avoid civilizational catastrophe while there is still time.

It will be essential for the United States and other major historical emitters to commit to strong action. The U.S. is, finally, now beginning to shift its stance. And the European Union has announced its commitment to achieve a 40-percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030. Some individual European nations are acting even more aggressively, including Finland’s pledge to reduce emissions 80 percent by 2050.

It will also be crucial for the larger developing and emerging nations – particularly China and India – to play a strong leadership role. Fortunately, there are encouraging signs. China’s new president, Xi Jinping, has launched a pilot cap-and-trade system in two cities and five provinces as a model for a nationwide cap-and-trade program in the next few years. He has banned all new coal burning in several cities and required the reporting of CO2 emissions by all major industrial sources. China and the U.S. have jointly reached an important agreement to limit another potent source of global-warming pollution – the chemical compounds known as hydro-fluorocarbons, or HFCs. And the new prime minister of India, as noted earlier, has launched the world’s most ambitious plan to accelerate the transition to solar electricity.

Underlying this new breaking of logjams in international politics, there are momentous changes in the marketplace that are exercising enormous influence on the perceptions by political leaders of the new possibilities for historic breakthroughs. More and more, investors are diversifying their portfolios to include significant investments in renewables. In June, Warren Buffett announced he was ready to double Berkshire Hathaway’s existing $15 billion investment in wind and solar energy.

A growing number of large investors – including pension funds, university endowments (Stanford announced its decision in May), family offices and others – have announced decisions to divest themselves from carbon­intensive assets. Activist and “impact” investors are pushing for divestment from carbon­rich assets and new investments in renewable and sustainable assets.

Several large banks and asset managers around the world (full disclosure: Generation Investment Management, which I co-founded with David Blood and for which I serve as chairman, is in this group) have advised their clients of the danger that carbon assets will become “stranded.” A “stranded asset” is one whose price is vulnerable to a sudden decline when markets belatedly recognize the truth about their underlying value – just as the infamous “subprime mortgages” suddenly lost their value in 2007 to 2008 once investors came to grips with the fact that the borrowers had absolutely no ability to pay off their mortgages.

Shareholder activists and public campaigners have pressed carbon-dependent corporations to deal with these growing concerns. But the biggest ones are still behaving as if they are in denial. In May 2013, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson responded to those pointing out the need to stop using the Earth’s atmosphere as a sewer by asking, “What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?”

I don’t even know where to start in responding to that statement, but here is a clue: Pope Francis said in May, “If we destroy creation, creation will destroy us. Never forget this.”


Exxonmobil, Shell and many other holders of carbon-intensive assets have argued, in essence, that they simply do not believe that elected national leaders around the world will ever reach an agreement to put a price on carbon pollution.

But a prospective global treaty (however likely or unlikely you think that might be) is only one of several routes to overturning the fossil-fuel economy. Rapid technological advances in renewable energy are stranding carbon investments; grassroots movements are building opposition to the holding of such assets; and new legal restrictions on collateral flows of pollution – like particulate air pollution in China and mercury pollution in the U.S. – are further reducing the value of coal, tar sands, and oil and gas assets.

In its series of reports to energy investors this spring, Citigroup questioned the feasibility of new coal plants not only in Europe and North America, but in China as well. Although there is clearly a political struggle under way in China between regional governments closely linked to carbon-­energy generators, suppliers and users and the central government in Beijing – which is under growing pressure from citizens angry about pollution – the nation’s new leadership appears to be determined to engineer a transition toward renewable energy. Only time will tell how successful they will be.

The stock exchanges in Johannesburg and São Paulo have decided to require the full integration of sustainability from all listed companies. Standard & Poor’s announced this spring that some nations vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis may soon have their bonds downgraded because of the enhanced risk to holders of those assets.

A growing number of businesses around the world are implementing sustainability plans, as more and more consumers demand a more responsible approach from businesses they patronize. Significantly, many have been pleasantly surprised to find that adopting efficient, low-carbon approaches can lead to major cost savings.

And all the while, the surprising and relentless ongoing decline in the cost of renewable energy and efficiency improvements are driving the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Is there enough time? Yes. Damage has been done, and the period of consequences will continue for some time to come, but there is still time to avoid the catastrophes that most threaten our future. Each of the trends described above – in technology, business, economics and politics – represents a break from the past. Taken together, they add up to genuine and realistic hope that we are finally putting ourselves on a path to solve the climate crisis.

How long will it take? When Martin Luther King Jr. was asked that question during some of the bleakest hours of the U.S. civil rights revolution, he responded, “How long? Not long. Because no lie can live forever. . . . How long? Not long. Because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

And so it is today: How long? Not long.

This story is from the July 3rd-17th, 2014 issue of Rolling Stone.