resilience.org / Paul Hoggett, Rosemary Randall / 14 December 2016
Sustainable activism has what Gramsci called a ‘pessimism of the intellect’ which can avoid wishful thinking and face reality as squarely as possible. However it also retains an ‘optimism of the will’, an inner conviction that things can be different. By holding optimism and pessimism in tension, sustainable activism is better able to handle despair, and it has less need to resort to binary thinking as a way of engaging with reality. It can hold contradictions so that they don’t become either/or polarities and can work both in and against the system.
Whilst it believes there can be no personal change without political change it is equally insistent that there can be no political change without personal change. It insists optimistically that those who are not against us must be with us, and therefore carries a notion of ‘us’ which is inclusive and generous, one which offers the benefit of the doubt to the other.
Finally, sustainable activism holds that it is never too late. In the context of climate change it is able to face the truth that some irreversible processes of change are already occurring; that the two degrees limit in the increase in global temperatures agreed at the 2015 Paris climate conference may not be achieved; that bad outcomes are inevitable, and that some are already happening. Nevertheless it also insists that this makes our struggles all the more vital to reduce the scale and significance of these future outcomes, to fight for the ‘least-worst’ results we can achieve, and to ensure that the world of our grandchildren and their children is as habitable as possible.
The economist Raúl Ilargi Meijer wrote an interesting essay explaining why there is a Donald Trump in September. He credited Trump’s rise to “the most important global development in decades.”
That development, says Meijer, is “the end of global economic growth, which will lead inexorably to the end of centralization (including globalization). It will also mean the end of the existence of most, and especially the most powerful, international institutions.”
“In the same way it will be the end of — almost — all traditional political parties, which have ruled their countries for decades and are already today at or near record low support levels (if you’re not clear on what’s going on, look there, look at Europe!),” he wrote.
“This is not a matter of what anyone, or any group of people, might want or prefer, it’s a matter of ‘forces’ that are beyond our control, that are bigger and more far-reaching than our mere opinions, even though they may be man-made.”
The end of growth is tied inexorably to the deplorable quality of energy now being fracked and mined in North America. Bitumen and fracked oil just can’t support rich societies because these poor resources invite debt, environmental ruin and poor returns.
A lot has happened since Nicholas Stern, then a permanent secretary at the Treasury, produced his landmark review of the impact of climate change 10 years ago. His work was quickly recognised as the definitive account of the economic dangers posed to the planet by global warming.
Since then, global temperatures have risen to record levels. Arctic summer sea ice has continued to shrink, as have many major land-based ice sheets. Carbon dioxide is being pumped into the atmosphere in ever-increasing amounts. At the same time, low-lying coastal areas, such as south Florida and parts of Bangladesh, are experiencing more and more flooding as sea levels have risen. Scientists have begun to link extreme weather events to the planet’s changing climate, while animal and plant species are gradualling moving towards the poles. So, a decade on, is Stern plunged in despair over our prospects? Not quite. While the picture is certainly grim, the world’s top climate economist still believes there are grounds for modest optimism.
“We have been too slow in acting on climate change,” he told the Observer. “In particular, we have delayed the curbing of greenhouse gas emissions for far too long. When we published our review, emissions were equivalent to the pumping of 40-41bn tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere a year. Today there are around 50bn tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. At the same time, science is telling us that impacts of global warming – like ice sheet and glacier melting – are now happening much more quickly than we anticipated.”
The growth economy is historically relatively recent, and is now consuming 1.5 Earths and growing. Compound interest is sucking the lifeblood out of the real economy, from households to countries. Mike Lewis, co-author of The Resilience Imperative, tells the story of the successful JAK cooperative Bank in Sweden, which is based on saving on behalf of others and uses only simple interest. It’s one example from the book which illuminates “alternate pathways to move from a growth imperative to a resilience imperative… It presumes we will transition ourselves back to one Earth and find a different way of dealing with a number of ways we meet our basic needs — whether it’s with food, energy, shelter, land, or finance (an important part of the problem).”
Pacific Standard / Richard Heinberg / 10 August 2016
When oil was selling for $100 per barrel, many tight-oil projects in the U.S. were nevertheless only marginally profitable or were actually money losers; still, with interest rates at historic lows and plenty of investment capital sloshing around the financial industry, drillers had no trouble finding operating capital (David Hughes of Post Carbon Institute was one of the few analysts who questioned the durability of the “shale gale,” on the basis of meticulous well-by-well analysis). The result of cascading investment was a ferocious spate of drilling and fracking that drove levels of U.S. oil production sharply upward, overwhelming global markets. The amount of oil in storage ballooned. That’s the main reason prices collapsed in mid-2014 — along with Saudi Arabia’s insistence on continuing to pump crude at maximum rates in order to help drive the upstart American shale-oil producers out of business. The Saudi gambit mostly succeeded: Small- to medium-sized U.S. producers are now gasping for air, and, as their massive debts come due over the next few months, a wave of bankruptcies and buyouts seems fairly inevitable. Meanwhile, in the continental U.S., oil production has dropped by 800,000 barrels a day.
Indeed, the entire petroleum business is currently in deep trouble. Countries that rely on crude oil export revenues are facing enormous budget deficits, and in some cases are having trouble maintaining basic services to their people.
For much of the time during which developed nations experienced strong economic growth as a result of fossil fuel consumption, we were unaware of the associated climate costs. We can no longer use ignorance as an excuse. And yet the older generations, who experienced the greatest net benefit from carbon pollution, are now the least supportive of taking responsibility to pay for it. The longer we delay, the more devastating the consequences will be for the younger generations.
Similarly, today’s youth who are early in their career paths will face the harshest consequences of the Brexit vote that was dominated by older voters. As Jack Lennard put it:
This is a final middle-fingered salute to the young from the baby boomer generation. Not content with racking up insurmountable debt, not content with destroying any hopes of sustainable property prices or stable career paths, not content with enjoying the benefits of free education and generous pension schemes before burning down the ladder they climbed up, the baby boomers have given one last turd on the doorstep of the younger generation.
The Transition Towns movement aims toward veering away from excessive consumption – to deal with the conjoined problems of peak oil and climate change – but also in the belief that we may create an essentially more contented society, through building strong and resilient local communities. We will get to know our neighbours better, because we shall all need one another in the time to come.
The scientific evidence suggests that the world needs to achieve a full 80% absolute reduction in energy and material consumption even as we face additional population growth, up to 30% more people in the next few decades.
— William Rees, former Director of UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning