Down with collapse!

A few weeks back, George Monbiot and Paul Kingsnorth had an intriguing debate on the Guardian’s website about prospects for the imminent demise of western civilisation. Both are firmly convinced that the world is in Very Serious Trouble, what with climate change, oil depletion and what have you.  Both think we are probably All Doomed. Where they differ, though, is whether we should even try to mount a rescue attempt.

Monbiot is definitely the more upbeat of the two, in that – cheery chap that he is – he reckons that it’s on balance a good idea to avoid the total collapse of civilisation:

I’m sure we can agree that the immediate consequences of collapse would be hideous: the breakdown of the systems that keep most of us alive; mass starvation; war. These alone surely give us sufficient reason to fight on, however faint our chances appear. But even if we were somehow able to put this out of our minds, I believe that what is likely to come out on the other side will be worse than our current settlement … I am fighting to prevent both initial collapse and the repeated catastrophe that follows. However faint the hopes of engineering a soft landing – an ordered and structured downsizing of the global economy – might be, we must keep this possibility alive.

Pah, says Kingsnorth: our current economic system can’t be tamed without collapsing - “and who wants it tamed anyway?”  – so we must grow up and let go of the idea that our predicament can be fixed (whether through clean technology, through co-ordinated interntional action, or whatever).

The challenge is not how to shore up a crumbling empire with wave machines and global summits, but to start thinking about how we are going to live through its fall, and what we can learn from its collapse.

As you might expect, all of this is deeply exciting for other collapse gurus, some of whom just can’t resist adding their own two-pennyworth. Like the Archdruid, for instance, whose blog is reliably full of (always readable) musings on our imminent demise. Rather fabulously, he dismisses both Monbiot and Kingsnorth on the basis that both of them are unduly optimistic:

Both men are proclaiming the gospel of a better future; their disagreements are simply about what form that future will take and how we will get there. Both assume that we can have, and ought to have, a future that’s even shinier than the present …

We are not going to have a future better than the present: not in our lifetimes, and not in those of our grandchildren’s grandchildren. We collectively closed the door on that possibility decades ago, and none of the rapidly narrowing range of choices still open to us now offers any way of changing that. If this sounds like fatalism, it may be worth remembering that once a car goes skidding off a mountain road into empty air, it requires neither a crystal ball nor a faith in predestination to recognize that nothing anybody can do is going to prevent a terrific crash.

One can only imagine the sort of inverse euphoria induced by spending one’s days in this kind of competitive auction of doom with other collapse gurus – perhaps this is what it’s like to take ketamine. Either way, I wish to place on record a discordant note. Continue reading

The sound of pennies dropping

It’s long been a source of frustration to me that developing countries don’t come out and demand quantified emissions targets, based on an equal per capita entitlements, since this would at a stroke (a) create the space for agreeing a global emissions budget – a prerequisite for stabilising concentrations of greenhouse gases at any defined level, and (b) set up a massive new source of finance for development, as David and I noted in our paper for DFID (pdf) on international institutions for climate change.

All the more welcome, then, to see this observation in UNCTAD’s 2009 Trade and Development report (highlights; pdf):

An international carbon market in the form of a cap-and-trade system could be a source of income for many developing countries.

If designed in a manner that takes into account the responsibility of the industrialized countries for the existing GHG concentrations in the atmosphere, on the one hand, and the need for developing countries to contribute to global climate change mitigation, on the other, such a system might go a long way towards meeting their requirements for the financing of imports of the technology and equipment necessary for GHG abatement.

For example, if population size were to be given an important weight in the initial allocation of permits across countries, many developing countries would be able to sell their emission rights because they would be allotted considerably more permits than they need to cover domestically produced emissions.

P.S. UNCTAD forgot to mention one thing: said emissions budget is currently being used up awfully fast by developed and middle income countries – which puts a rather different slant on the oft-seen spectacle of developed countries saying reassuringly that of course low income countries needn’t think about targets before 2020.

Low income countries: beware of Greeks (and other Annex 1 Parties) bearing gifts…

Walthamstow overrun! [by sloppy journalism, that is]

You’d hope that the Security Editor of a national newspaper would be able to tell the difference between doctrinaire religious views and terrorism – but not so The Times’s Sean O’Neill, it seems, who has an amusing puff piece this morning on the Queen’s Road mosque in Walthamstow (a couple of hundred yards from where your intrepid blogger lives, flack jacket close at hand):

Long before the Walthamstow mosque came under Tablighi influence, it hosted “study circles” led by Bakri Mohammed’s followers. I attended one of those meetings as a reporter in August 1989 and heard young men decry the evils of drink, discos and “free intermingling of the sexes”.

Young Muslims unsure about drink, discos and free intermingling of the sexes? Hold the front page!! Someone get MI5 on the phone!! Code red!!! What else has he found?

Afzal Akram, the local councillor whose brief includes “community cohesion”, insisted that Queen’s Road mosque itself was not part of the problem. “It’s got nothing to do with the imams or the mosque — some of my friends and family pray there, I’ve been there myself,” he said. “None of the mosques here have been used to preach extremism. Individuals may have met at particular mosques and individuals may live within a stone’s throw of the mosque. But I wouldn’t put two and two together.” Mr Akram says that extremism locally is little more than youngsters “mouthing off” and “spouting conspiracy theories”. But the Government is spending £90,000 in the borough to teach “leadership” to young Muslims.

There it is! The proof for everyone except those that refuse to see it!! Ninety thousand pounds!!! If that doesn’t prove that Waltham Forest is right at the top of the government’s watch list, what does??!? And there’s more!!

That the airline bomb plot was based in Walthamstow has shocked residents of this northeast London suburb. The area prides itself on having a mixed and well-integrated community and, unlike in many areas of East London, there are no ghettos. But the plot has revealed that Islamist extremism is deeply rooted in elements of the large Muslim population.

“Elements”? What, all three of them?

Update: the Associated Press’s David Stringer has tweeted that I’m being a little unfair, and perhaps he’s right. But there’s a serious point at play: things are a little tense at the moment what with one thing and another, and that makes this a good moment for journalists to take great care to avoid inflaming things.

In that context, it’s especially important to be clear that doctrinaire religious views and terrorism are not the same thing (remember Tony Blair falling into this trap after 7/7?). Yes, there’s a serious debate to be had about what happens when competing universalist philosophies live cheek by jowl.  But it doesn’t seem that sensible or helpful to me to link that debate to what to do about a handful of nutters that even MI5, of all people, describe as religious novices:

Far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could actually be regarded as religious novices. Very few have been brought up in strongly religious households, and there is a higher than average proportion of converts. Some are involved in drug-taking, drinking alcohol and visiting prostitutes. There is evidence that a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation.

Getting all Melanie Phillips about things, on the other hand, mixes these two debates up, fans some people’s very deep-seated fears, and nudges us towards US-style town-hall culture wars – rather than the careful, evidence-based debate we need.

Momentum builds ahead of the Copenhagen climate deadline

There have been many blips along the road in the nineteen months since the Bali Roadmap was launched, but with less than a hundred days to go before D-day – and less than 20 negotiating days – the last few weeks have seen a steady crescendo on all sides of the negotiating table. Over the past week alone there have been three significant developments: (i) African countries agreed a common negotiating stand at Copenhagen; (ii) Japan announced its ambitious plan to cut emissions by 25% (from 1990 levels); (iii) the scene was set for a US-China bilateral deal on climate change.

1) Africa emerges as a unified and purposeful participant in the upcoming negotiations

Last week, ten African Heads of State and assorted ministers met in Addis Ababa to agree a common stand for Africa ahead of the Copenhagen conference. This meeting also decided that Africa would be represented by one delegation, to be headed by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia. I have already delved into the outcomes and significance of this meeting in my previous post.

2) The US and China to sign a bilateral deal on climate change?

A recent visit to Beijing by US Senator Maria Cantwell reportedly set the ground for a wide-ranging bilateral agreement between China and the US on climate change. This deal is to be sealed on the occasion of President Obama’s scheduled trip to China in November, a month ahead of the Copenhagen climate conference. Reuters reports that:

The United States and China are likely to sign a new bilateral agreement to combat climate change during President Barack Obama’s visit to Beijing in November, Washington senator Maria Cantwell said on Friday. Cantwell, who is in Beijing to discuss clean energy and intellectual property issues with Chinese officials, said a deal between the world’s two biggest CO2 polluters would also help build global confidence in the efforts to curb global warming.

This is extremely significant when you consider that the combined emissions of the US and China account for 40% of the global total. Such a deal could send a strong signal and boost confidence ahead of the Copenhagen Climate conference.

3) Japan announces ambitious plans to curb emissions

Japan’s PM-elect, Yukio Hatoyama, reaffirmed his party’s pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions by a quarter by 2020 from 1990 levels, amidst strong opposition from industry. This is a highly ambitious commitment: it would require Japan – which is already leading the world in terms of its efficiency in energy use – to reduce emissions by a third from current levels in just 11 years. Mr. Taro Aso had previously only committed to reducing emissions by 8% from 1990 levels.

As the world’s second largest economy and fifth largest emitter, Japan’s move would increase pressure on other main players ahead of the upcoming Copenhagen Climate Conference.

Africa’s stall at Copenhagen

A significant but little reported event occurred last Thursday. The Africa Partnership Forum held a Special Session on Climate Change on 3 September 2009 at the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The purpose of the event was to agree a common negotiating platform for Africa focused on Africa’s concerns and expectations in the run up to the Copenhagen Climate Change to be held in December 2009.

The meeting was attended by ten African Heads of State and assorted ministers, regional institutions such as UNECA, the New Economic Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) and the African Union. The Joint Statement is worth reading. It will be transmitted to the UN High Level event on 22 September, the G20 Summit at Pittsburgh and other processes.

This meeting laid out the key elements of Africa’s negotiating positions at Copenhagen. They are as follows:

Continue reading

Glenn Beck’s next targets

Former White House chief of staff John Podesta (now at the Center for American Progress) is far from happy about the ejection from the White House of Van Jones, Obama’s adviser on clean energy.  He had this to say about Jones’s persecutors:

Clearly, Van was the subject of a right-wing smear campaign shrouded in hypocrisy. Van’s chief tormentor Glenn Beck, who spent weeks engaged in vicious name-calling, retains his perch at Fox News after calling the president a racist who has “a deep-seated hatred for white people.” Van has set a standard that Beck would never impose upon himself.

Over on Glenn Beck’s twitter feed, the next targets are already being lined up:


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