Monbiot’s ‘Heat’

Last night just before lights out I finished George Monbiot’s Heat: How We Can Stop The Planet Burning, his recent book about halting runaway carbon dioxide emissions before the world fries. This is a 2007 revision of the 2006 first publication, generously gifted to me by Ed Lynden-Bell, and it displays Monbiot’s habitual tenacity for referencing, with 50 pages of endnotes balancing 215 pages of content.
Heat is the climate change version of his Age of Consent; that book said, I’m calling for change in how we run the world, and I’m going to put my money where my mouth is and actually say how a new and fairer social system would function. It’s a compelling vision, full of ideas, mustering the thoughts of dozens of others and assembling them into a new way to order the world. His vision has its doubters, but as he himself said in that book’s final chapter, at least it is a vision, and it should give future conversations a place to begin.
In Heat, Monbiot takes the same approach with climate change. He puts his money where his mouth is and comes up with a way to reduce C02 output to safe levels without returning civilisation to the medieval era. Again, it is a densely-researched and compelling vision, calling on alternative technologies, changes in method, expectation adjustments, etc. He targets transport emissions, retail sector emissions, home energy use emissions, and considers the use of renewable energy sources and better-designed energy grids with admirable candour. He hits his targets in every area except air travel – flights, he concludes, can’t be rationalised and air travel will have to be massively cut.
It says that change is possible, that our situation is not irreversible; but also that change will need to be massive. Very few areas of our lives will be untouched by transformations necessary to keep our ecosystem going. It will take a great deal of effort, and crucially, a great deal of political or corporate leadership. And that, of course, is the trick; we have the means to save ourselves, but the decisionmakers are not primed to act.
My optimism is renewed from yesterday’s low point, but there’s a need for action. No Right Turn passes on a Guardian report saying that the need is urgent. But we end up in the same place we’ve been for years: I just some guy. What can I do?
Monbiot’s answer is to join a group like the Campaign Against Climate Change or People and Planet. My answer is similar: don’t underestimate the power you have if you engage. Here in NZ at least, the levers of government are all laid out ready for you to push. Letters you send and phone calls you make actually have an impact on local, regional and national government. To a lesser extent the same is true in other democracies.
So join an outfit or get a small group together and do something. (I’ve been supervising nearly 25 such small groups up at university who have been buzzing over the last month, changing their lifestyles and reaching out to affect others.) Change is possible, and it’s up to us.
[Hmm. Four climate change posts in a row. Guess it’s been on my mind this week…]

Ice Core Man

Yesterday I attended a talk by Lonnie Thompson, Ohia State University prof and paleoclimatologist. He was the guy in Inconvenient Truth (one of many Gore talked about as “my friend [name]” who was extracting ice cores to measure changes in climate over thousands of years – that famous moment in the movie with the long graph and the hydraulic lift was based on data from his work.
In amongst some fun stories about yak-based transport systems, the message was sobering. Thompson focused his talk on glacial retreat, explaining that glaciers are the “canaries in the coal mine” for climate change because they are so sensitive to all the indices of climate. Most of his talk was a series of before and after photos of glaciers, all around the world, thinning and retreating and turning into lakes. The image that sticks in my memory is a flower bulb kicked out of a melting glacier that was frozen 5200 years ago – so we know that that particular glacier has never retreated this far in that period. (Mention was also made of Otzi the iceman who also was frozen 5200 years ago – turns out there was an unprecedented cold snap around that time).
The overall message was both clear and familiar: global climate is changing, rapidly, as a result of human activity; we are heading for a tipping point after which change will drive itself and we’ll be helpless to pull it back; if we don’t achieve massive changes swiftly then we are in big, big trouble.
And this on the same day that the wind farm opponents celebrated keeping their pristine views of unblemished hillsides.
Like Stephen, I am not exactly bursting with optimism today.
Related: leader of NZ’s free-market party, ACT, declares himself a climate change sceptic


A report by Greater Wellington regional council recommends a five-year moratorium on wind farm development at Belmont Regional Park, five years after the council called the site a “world-class wind farm opportunity”… “With the increase in wind energy projects in New Zealand, issues of cumulative effects on the landscape and visual aspects are starting to arise,” said the report, written by the council’s manager of development and strategy.

The above is from this Dom Post article, which ran this as a front-page story and presents the ‘visual aspects’ as the main reason for the moratorium. Surely, surely we are past the point where ‘visual effects’ should be halting a project like this? How much closer to disaster do we have to skate before the scenic views of our hills, nice as they are, are put in proper perspective?
Aargh. The report is not available yet on the GW website. I look forward to reading it for myself.

Waste Minimisation Bill enters law

About two years ago, I tried out that small group action thing I’d been talking about. Three friends and I got together and decided we were going to do something – we chose to make a submission on the Waste Minimisation Bill that was then in committee.
In February 2007, we fronted up before select committee to speak to our submission. I wrote about the experience here.
Now, a year and a half later, the bill has passed into law. It has changed a bit from its earlier form, and you’d have to be a bit of an optimistic reader to find any evidence of our specific submission contributing to the changes, but I feel a kind of ownership nonetheless. This bill coming into law is an important step towards getting this country to sort out its relationship with waste and recycling.
The passing of the Waste bill has mostly gone without comment – largely due to the passing of the Emissions Trading Scheme the same day. The Greens put out a press release but that’s about it – you can read that here.
Anyway, its nice to be able to draw a line under that action. Key lessons:
(1) lawmaking takes a long time
(2) NZ’s system of government is genuinely open to participation from everyone – we have enormous power to influence things, if we only spare the time and energy and interest to use it.
Nice one.

BoJo: Big Meat Eater

Last week, London Mayor Boris Johnson’s Telegraph piece on eating meat received a prominent reprint in Wellington’s DomPost. It really is drivel.
Shorter BoJo: “Some UN chappie says I should forgo meat one day a week to cut carbon emissions. But the world is overpopulated! The end.”
The most unpleasant aspect of this is Johnson’s, no doubt sincerely ignorant, failure to understand that the people who are driving meat overconsumption (i.e. the developed West) are not the people who are driving overpopulation (i.e. not the developed West). Even on its own terms, this ridiculous argument amounts to a massive disavowal of responsibility: we’ll keep eating all the meat, thank you, but would you mind having many fewer kids over in your countries? The whole argument is Eton debating society rhetoric without a shred of value to it, except as yet another example of the debased understanding of reality held by the West’s elites. Still, silver linings: at least he accepts that anthropogenic climate change is real.
And, yet again: DomPost editorial – what on earth were you thinking?

Scientists of Gore, Stand Up!

Latane’s dynamic social impact theory + Moscovici’s work on minority influence + the internet = support for the NZ Climate Science Coalition.
They just published their rebuff to the Royal Society of NZ’s statement that climate change exists. My favourite bit:

…the [Royal Society] committee is unrepresentative: five members are from Wellington and two from Hamilton…

Because it just ain’t proper science unless Balclutha is at the table!
(NZCSC discussed much better at Hot Topic.)

Good and Mindfood

[Missed Malty Media again last night. Cal has the cold and needed tending. Expect to come down with it shortly.]
You know that a social change has hit when it gets represented in the extremely challenging mainstream magazine market. In the last few months, there have been two major magazine releases in NZ with a focus on sustainability/eco-living. (It’s yet another sign that the debate’s been won, for those keeping track.)
Mindfood is big and glossy, one part Vanity Fair and one part Cleo. Its an NZ/Aussie release by an NZ team, and has made a point of loading its cover with glamour shots of Hollywood celebs who get interviewed inside. It has an enviro-responsibility message scored through it, but expressed through all the expected dross of a squarebound glossy – fashion, beauty, wine, etc. It’s not quite “save the world through conspicuous consumption” but its not far off, either. The website is as good an indicator of its ethos as any – “environment” (including a tab for “global warming and climate change”) is just one site area, listed after health, food, travel and society. The first issue caught my attention for being the first of its kind, and for boasting an article about Ed Hillary written by Fearless Leader Helen Clark (or, more probably, her Beehive 9th floor staff). I didn’t buy it, though, because something about it seemed off to me. I think the environmental content sits uneasily in a magazine that is so traditional in every other way. The whole seems contradictory, as though sustainable living is something that can be seamlessly and simply integrated into our current consumerist lifestyle. That said, it’s mere existence is a step in the right direction. It’s $10 and available in every magazine shop in NZ.
Good: New Zealand’s guide to sustainable living is a quite different beast. It’s a new launch, the first issue is on sale now, and it pitches similar to NZ current affairs mag North & South. (It has NZ TV icon Robyn Malcolm on the cover doing the “I’m naked with an apple” bit, which is a bit odd because Eve shouldn’t have eaten the apple but here it’s pushed as “eat fresh and eat local”, so they clearly haven’t thought through their image too deeply.) Good was put together by Kiwi magazine entrepreneurs Martin Bell and Vincent Heeringa, who throw props at some of the key organisers of the Communicating Climate Change conference I went to a year ago. Good boasts it is NZs first carbon-neutral magazine, and features interviews and advice pieces about living sustainability. Unlike Mindfood, it is thoroughly dedicated to this subject and attacks it with energy and enthusiasm. The first issue takes pains to avoid seeming speechy or demanding, but it’s a tough line to walk – I’m not sure whether they’ll be able to keep Good as an approachable and friendly voice without running out of things to talk about. Still, the HB guys know magazines, so I expect they wouldn’t have launched if they weren’t confident about the content keeping up. I enjoyed Good, and unlike Mindfood it didn’t make me feel vaguely uneasy. Its not as available as Mindfood, but if you find it it’s $8 – or you can download the first (and maybe subsequent?) issues at the website, as well as read all the articles online. Definitely worth a look.

Deniers and Doctrine

Those who doubt the reality of anthropogenic climate change have rejected, en masse, the descriptive term “denier”, claiming that it insults them by comparing them to Holocaust deniers. (Cut and pasted example of this claim: “Global warming activists deliberately use the word “denier” to liken a sceptic to a Holocaust denier”.)
This is an audacious claim. I don’t think “global warming denier” has any significant relationship to “holocaust denier”. I think the only relationship that exists is the one that was put there by the climate change scepticism campaign (excoriated yesterday by James Hansen – see Hot Topic’s coverage). I think, to be honest, that the “stop comparing us to holocaust deniers” riposte was birthed in a coal-funded spin doctor’s lab somewhere in the United States. It’s an attempt to manipulate how we talk about this issue, and we’ve pretty much let them get away with it. Maybe we had to, maybe you just can’t win when the other side are whining away like that. Regardless, I think its nonsense. I think someone who does not recognise that the evidence for human-caused climate change is overwhelming, at this stage in the game, is in a state of denial. And someone in denial has earned the label, denier.
But that isn’t even what sparked this post. What incenses me is that I can’t call Ian Wishart a denier, not without being accused of intellectual high crimes, but Ian Wishart can strapline his foetid magazine with the accusatory phrase “climate change doctrine” and all those deniers out there, the same ones who pull out the holocaust line to show how unreasonable and vicious I am, nod and accept this as a fair description.
My only comfort, apart from having the support of the dictionary, is that this is the behaviour of a spitting, cornered cat. Among people who matter, the argument is over and has been for a long time. The deniers will be overridden and forgotten by people who can face the coming challenge. They will be forgotten like all the people in history whose fear of change prevented them from facing reality. They’ll be just another footnote.

A Pledge Worth Your Time

Avaaz are running another drive for signatures, this time seeking 250K names under a call to the Japanese PM (and to other G8 leaders) to respond effectively to climate change. The petition will get handed to Fukuyada next Weds, and they’re at nearly 80K names as I write this.
Avaaz have shown that they have the reach to get these petitions into the right hands – both media and political – so they actually have an impact on things. Unlike most stuff on the web, this isn’t a waste of effort. If you care about climate change, click through and sign up.

Act Party: Mostly Just Sad

The changeover of all Parliamentary offices so waste is sorted at peoples’ desks (into recyclable and non-recyclable) has met heavy resistance from, you guessed it, our party of personal responsibility, ACT New Zealand.

ACT office staff are in full revolt after being told by parliamentary bosses that they must take part because it is Government policy.
ACT leader Rodney Hide said it was an example of the “nanny state gone barking mad”…
In a show of defiance, some ACT staff have turned their recycling cubes into pen holders and are ignoring the instruction to sort their waste.

Full story, with dramatic photo of ACT leader Rodney Hide not recycling some paper
I guess in this case ACT figure that personal freedom trumps personal responsibility, right? Because that makes hella sense.
And they’re pushing the NZ political return of Roger Douglas to solve our economic ills, blithely ignoring that the man’s radical free market reforms in the 80s did incalculable damage to the country from which it’s only now starting to recover… See also Gordon Campbell’s excellent review of ‘Working With Lange’, Michael Bassett’s book on the Lange years that paints the Rogernome as a misunderstood genius held back by selfish fools… Michael Bassett is not much loved by me and this review just gives more confirmation that he’s vile and self-deluded, and we can apparently add ‘virulently misogynist’ to the list as well.
It’s all so very, very sad.