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Deconstructing Electric Vehicles on the eve of Glasgow COP26

Deconstructing Electric Vehicles on the eve of Glasgow COP26

A lead human-interest story in the weekend Wheels section of a major Canadian newspaper is about a 2-car family’s transitioning from a hybrid to an EV as they “try to be more sustainable”. They upgrade their daily car every few years to seek “improvements in fuel efficiency, reliability and technology”. Electric vehicles (EVs) are feted by the automobile and ecojustice sectors as part of the “just transition” to a future “carbon-neutral”, happy, dignified quality of life. Another news item from the Wheels section was about the costs of home EV battery chargers costing about $2000; the chargers are plugged into electric outlets (electricity commonly supplied from fossil fuels or nuclear reactors), while the costs will be “quickly re-couped in government rebates” as public transportation subsidies continue their decline. So much for the climate emergency and for human justice, for morality and taking responsibility for mounting climate-caused human deaths and mass migration. Nothing in the newspaper about the indignation of ordinary, common people worldwide, especially among the young.

Since the 1988 Congressional definitive testimony of James Hansen and other climate scientists, there is no discourse about “Stop”: elimination of fossil fuel emissions quickly morphed into adaptation and mitigation which is now replaced by “transition”. EVs is a representative example of focusing on one small part, conveniently deleting the whole. The whole EV picture must include externalities, life cycle analysis, consideration of non-essential production, impacts of its production on basic human needs, the urgent timeline due to non-linear climate processes, regional climate and sociopolitical processes and who EVs actually serve, EV’s effects on carbon sinks, pertinent facts about human and climate history, loss and damage obligations and debt to people totally impacted and totally innocent regarding the climate emergency, alternatives, elucidating who is served in a “just transition”.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Four Layers of Reality — and Why We’re Only Allowed to Talk About One

The Four Layers of Reality — and Why We’re Only Allowed to Talk About One

No matter which mainstream media segment you’re currently watching, I can promise you it’s not getting to the heart of any issue. By definition they only participate in surface level analysis. For example, there are three or four levels of reality we should be discussing when we talk about any United States election. And by “discussing,” I mean “screaming about,” and by “screaming about,” I mean “freaking out about.” So, let’s freak out – shall we?

Quick tangent – I got made fun of as a kid for “freaking out” or “spazzing out” all the time, but when you think about it — when you really think about it — shouldn’t we all be freaking out? When you look around and so few people are enjoying their lives and so many people are struggling or oppressed, and there are new and bizarre illnesses and viruses to worry about, and all of our so-called leaders are goddamn corrupt morons — shouldn’t we all be spazzing out? If you look at our current reality, it’s all spazz-worthy.

Anyway, we have three or four levels of reality that we should be discussing all the time because they’re incredibly important. But, generally speaking, American politicians and media don’t talk about the deeper layers. In fact, they only talk about the surface layer (because they’re corporate tools).

So, using this past presidential election as an example: Layer one was — Who’s going to win? Biden or Trump? That’s the surface layer. It was fair to talk about it and fair to debate it. But if we stop at that and don’t dig deeper, we don’t actually know anything about reality

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The Path to a Livable Future Cannot be the Path We’re On

The Path to a Livable Future Cannot be the Path We’re On

Stan Cox has pulled off quite a feat with his latest book The Path to a Livable Future: A New Politics to Fight Climate Change, Racism, and the Next Pandemic. In a relaxed, inviting style, Cox sets unorthodox ideas in a persuasive human and environmental context.

Cox explains:

“The path to a livable future now involves not just reforming an unjust system, or budgeting a little more here and there to ‘underserved’ communities, but abolishing marginalization itself. By co-creating movements from all sectors of society, we organize in ways that are inclusive, open, democratic, and diverse. This is how we become unstoppable, and how we seed our present struggles with the dignified future we collectively envision.” [Italics added]

To be clear: Cox aims to promote radical action in the best sense, that is, by getting down to basics, to roots. Here is Cox:

In my previous book, The Green New Deal and Beyond, I focused tightly on the climate emergency and national public policies that will be necessary to end it. In this book, which zooms out to a wide-angle view of an entire society in rapid flux, I look to the movements now demanding the kind of transformation that’s necessary to get us all through the multiple, entangled emergencies that finally captured the nation’s attention in 2020.

Simply put, The Green New Deal and Beyond [April 22, 2020] is a ‘top-down’ approach grounded in national public policy, whereas The Path to a Livable Future is a ‘bottom-up’ approach grounded in grassroots movements collectively joined. The two books work in tandem to describe the essential ‘transformation’ Cox champions. However, that is just the beginning. Early on, Cox writes:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Climate Change Viewed From the Attic of the World

Climate Change Viewed From the Attic of the World

Photograph Source: NASA, Janderk Jan Derk – Public Domain

Thirteen thousand feet high on the far side of the Himalaya mountains, we have entered the past and the future at the same time. We are a medical expedition and also a pilgrimage, consisting of doctors, nurses, Buddhist clerics, supernumeraries like me, and a large staff of guides, muleteers, and camp tenders. We are bound for the isolated villages of Upper Dolpo, a remote region of northwestern Nepal, land of the snow leopard — both the actual animal and The Snow Leopard, Peter Matthiessen’s nonfiction classic. We are traveling the same trails Matthiessen walked in 1973.

As a medical mission, our purpose is to provide primary health care to people who rarely, if ever, see a clinician. As pilgrims, our purposes are as varied as our individual identities. Mine is to make peace with the anger and grief that have dogged me since finishing a pair of books, one on climate change, the other on extinction. They left me heartsick. My delight in the beauty of the world had been joined to sorrow at its destruction, and the two emotions were like cellmates who refused to get along. Their ceaseless argument soured the taste of life. I hoped that a long walk — about 150 miles in this case — might cure the resultant moral ache. (The story of that walk provides the backbone of my new book, The Trail to Kanjiroba: Rediscovering Earth in an Age of Loss.)

The trails we followed led us into the past in the sense that the high Himalayan world — Sanskrit’s “abode of snow” — is a relic of the Pleistocene, a land of glaciers, vast spaces, stony rubble, and frigid rivers…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Solar Energy on the Frontlines and Old-Fashioned Clotheslines

Solar Energy on the Frontlines and Old-Fashioned Clotheslines

Solar energy comes to Earthlings in many ways. Ancient Persians used passive solar architecture. East Africans about the same time funneled cool ocean wind through tunnels to cool themselves.

Now at long last, solar energy is outpacing new fossil fuel and nuclear facilities on price, environmental safety, and speed of installation.

One use of solar that has not received enough attention is drying clothes with clotheslines or clothes racks. Before global warming and our climate crisis became a public concern, some local governments banned backyard clotheslines as community eyesores. Fortunately, 20 states have passed “Right to Dry Laws” that allow people to use this simple low-tech and appropriate technology to reduce fuel consumption.

A big booster of hang-drying your laundry is environmentalist Joe Wachunas from Portland, Oregon. Twenty years ago, while traveling as an exchange student in Italy, he learned that only three percent of Italian households owned a dryer. Italians, he noticed, dried their clothes on clotheslines, high-rise balconies, or in open windows catching sun and cross breezes.

Wachunas has competed against dryers, taking only eight minutes longer to hang up a load of clothes than it takes to load a dryer, (not to mention a trip to and from a laundromat). Also, by line-drying, he estimates a savings of $600 a year per family, and your air-dried materials will last longer and shrink less.

As you might think, the great majority of people in the US use a clothes dryer. About 80 percent of Americans use dryers that gobble up more electricity in a household than other appliances (except for refrigerators). These folks will find moving to clean and green drying has many benefits.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Record-Breaking Failures of Nuclear Power

The Record-Breaking Failures of Nuclear Power

Photograph Source: Watts Bar Unit 2 nuclear power reactor – CC BY 2.0

The Tennessee Valley Authority could likely rightfully claim a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, but it’s not an achievement for which the federally-owned electric utility corporation would welcome notoriety.

After taking a whopping 42 years to build and finally bring on line its Watts Bar Unit 2 nuclear power reactor in Tennessee, TVA just broke its own record for longest nuclear plant construction time. However, this time, the company failed to deliver a completed nuclear plant.

Watts Bar 2 achieved criticality in May 2016, then promptly came off line due to a transformer fire three months later. It finally achieved full operational status on October 19, 2016, making it  the first United States reactor to enter commercial operation since 1996.

Now, almost five years later, TVA has announced it has abandoned its unfinished two-reactor Bellefonte nuclear plant in Alabama, a breathtaking 47 years after construction began.

TVA was apparently happy to get out of the nuclear construction business, because, as the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported, the company “did not see the need for such a large and expensive capacity generation source.” No kidding!

Ironically, this is precisely the argument used to advance renewables, in an energy environment that cannot and will no longer support inflexible, large, thermo-electric generators that are completely impractical under the coming smart grids as well as climate change-induced conditions.

Accordingly, TVA was more than happy to accept overtures from a purchaser for Bellefonte — the Haney real estate company— whose director, Frank Haney, gained his own notoriety by lavishing $1 million on former President Trump and courting Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, possibly, suggested media reports, to curry regulatory favors for his new nuclear toy.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Where Best to Ride Out the Climate Apocalypse? The Billionaires’ Bunker Fantasies Go Mainstream

Where Best to Ride Out the Climate Apocalypse? The Billionaires’ Bunker Fantasies Go Mainstream

Mill, Halsey, Oregon. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Having written about the media for several years now, I have become ever more sensitive to how we, as news consumers, are subject to ideology – the invisible, shifting sands of our belief system.

Those beliefs are not inbuilt, of course. How could they be? We are not born with pre-loaded software like a computer – even if our mental “hardware” may shape what kind of information we are capable of processing and how we process it.

And whatever we may imagine, our belief system is not really self-generated, dictated by life-experiences. It isn’t only real-world events that determine our values and views. Events and experiences are interpreted and given meaning by those beliefs and values. Which is why it is quite possible – common, in fact – for us to hold contradictory beliefs at the same time: like worrying about the threat posed to our children’s future from climate change, while supporting political systems committed to building more roads and runways.

Psychologists have a term for this phenomenon: cognitive dissonance.

Rather, our ideological landscape is socially constructed and largely imposed on us from outside. Ideology frames experiences for us, adding a hidden layer of interpretation that encourages us to make sense of the world in useful ways. The most liberating question one can ask, therefore, is: to whom is any particular ideology useful?

Framing the world

We inherit much of our ideology from parents and teachers. But ideology is not static. It is adaptive. Our assumptions, beliefs and values subtly change over time. And they change as the needs of the powerful change.

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Slamming China Won’t Save Fossil Capitalism From Itself

Slamming China Won’t Save Fossil Capitalism From Itself

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Only the mentally impaired now doubt the reality of climate change. Only the ideologically blind question that human burning of fossil fuels has caused it. In just a few weeks, we had once-in-millennium floods in Germany and Belgium, a once-in-a-millennium heat wave in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. Fires. Melting Arctic ice and permafrost. Mudslides in India. Floods in the New York City subway. Record floods in China, with a year’s worth of rain falling in a single day in Zhengzhou.

The planet is burning and the arsonists are in charge, as one environmentalist once observed. So in late June and early July, with extreme heat afflicting a quarter of the globe, it became clear that the time had come for the Biden government, and indeed every government, to end the burning of oil, gas and coal. Personally, I favor nationalizing the fossil fuel industry, that is, the wealth of the arsonists. Howsoever we phase it out, this termination needs to happen NOW. Or we as a species will likely not survive. What will come after homo sapiens? No doubt beings adapted to extreme heat, unlike us, with our lineage naturally selected during an ice age.

At the very least, it’s time to slash fossil fuel subsidies. As for the aforementioned nationalizing of oil, gas and coal corporations in order to eliminate their product, desirable as this may be, history, unluckily, is against it. In the past, the U.S. has launched wars and invaded countries that threatened to nationalize fossil fuel companies…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Greenwashing the Tokyo Olympic Games

Greenwashing the Tokyo Olympic Games

“The gap between rhetoric and reality is a persistent one when looking at the sustainability of commitments of Olympic Games hosts”.

– Martin Müller, European Urban and Regional Studies, 2015

The organisers of the Olympics have always been into appearances and grand theatre.  And the International Olympic Committee has always been keen in keeping them up, from the barely credible notion of political neutrality to the now popular goal of carbon neutrality.  In 2015, the IOC decided to fully hop on the sustainability bandwagon, though it claimed to have been “an important topic for the IOC for many years”.  Indeed, in the 1990s, the body echoed the sentiments of the UN’s sustainable development plan Agenda 21 by publishing Olympic Movement’s Agenda 21, though that report displays, rather prominently, the company logo of the oil behemoth Shell.  Sustainable development was, according to the then IOC chief Juan Antonio Samaranch, “totally in conformity with the goal of Olympism, which is to place everywhere sport at the service of the harmonious development of man.”

In its Olympic Agenda 2020, the IOC sets out recommendations for three “spheres of responsibility”.  The first: that the IOC adopt sustainability principles and include them “in its day-to-day operations.”  The second: that the organisation “take a proactive and leadership role on sustainability and ensure that it is included in all aspects of the planning and staging” of the games.  The third, as being the “leader of the Olympic Movement”, the IOC will engage and assist the movement’s “stakeholders in integrating sustainability within their own organisations and operations.”

As with other organisations of scale, problematic strategies such as carbon offsetting are embraced. Much is made of making sure that such “efforts” are communicated both internally “via workshops or by circulating infographics” and externally…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Defund the Canadian Military

Defund the Canadian Military

Progressives should be pushing to defund or abolish the Canadian military. But, first we need to stop bolstering its capacity to kill in US and NATO lead wars.

Wednesday the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute and Canadian Voice of Women for Peace released a public letter opposing Canada’s plan “to spend tens of billions of dollars on unnecessary, dangerous, climate destroying fighter jets.” Signatories include Canadian musicians Neil Young, Teagan and Sarah and Sarah Harmer as well as environmentalists David Suzuki and Naomi Klein. The No new fighter jets for Canada statement is also signed by authors Michael Ondaatje Yann Martel and Gabor Maté as well as sitting MPs, former MPs, city councillors, a Senator, MPP and former UN ambassador. Prominent international figures such as Roger Waters, Daryl Hannah and Noam Chomsky have also backed a call addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The jets are expected to cost about $19 billion but the full life cycle cost of the planes will be closer to $77 billion. These resources could fund clean drinking water on reserves, an exhaustive search of all unmarked graves at residential ‘schools’ and plenty of indigenous run cooperative housing. Or “$77 billion could turbocharge a just transition away from fossil fuels”, notes the letter.

While the letter highlights better ways to use the resources, it also points out that “purchasing new jets will entrench fossil-fuel militarism”. Fighter jets consume large amounts of heavy carbon emitting fuel and their high-altitude release point increases the climatic effect.

But, the primary reason to oppose fighter jets is their violent nature. “Canada’s current fleet of fighter jets has bombed Libya, Iraq, Serbia and Syria”, notes the letter. “Many innocent people were killed directly or as a result of the destruction of civilian infrastructure and those operations prolonged conflicts and/or contributed to refugee crises.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Climate Justice and Movement Building: An Interview with Brian Tokar

Climate Justice and Movement Building: An Interview with Brian Tokar

Photograph Source: Fibonacci Blue – CC BY 2.0

Adam Aron: What was your personal journey to focus on the ecological and climate crisis?

Brian Tokar: I was lucky enough to go to a high school in New York City that kids from all around the city can take a test to get into. It was very multicultural and it was a very political place. Then I went to university in Boston in the early 70s and became active in a variety of movements. Anti-war and anti-militarism were the main focuses and also anti-nuclear issues. US activism against nuclear power, really started here in New England and spread across the country.

The US government’s response to the Arab oil embargo was to say they were going to build hundreds of nuclear power plants and they were mostly in rural areas. And here in New England we saw an incredible alliance of people who had gone back to the land in the 1970s, with traditional rural dwellers and supporters from the cities. And it turned into a huge movement with some of the biggest civil disobedience actions in US history. It embraced the kind of decentralized organizing that, as a young person who was starting to read in social ecology, I increasingly saw as a big part of the solution – both in terms of confronting the issues at hand, but also in terms of the kind of social transformation that’s absolutely necessary. And at that time I started following energy issues very closely.

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Reindigenizing the Anthropocene

Reindigenizing the Anthropocene

This essay is a response to “Redefining the Anthropocene,” by Erik Molvar, which was published on Counterpunch on May 13, 2021. I recommend that it be read first.

First let me first stress that I am not calling out Molvar personally or even specifically here. As a staunch opponent of livestock grazing on public lands, I greatly value the work of the Western Watersheds Project, of which Molvar is the executive director, and I definitely encourage people to support the organization. As for my critique of his article, what I see as an omission his part is common in environmental circles and is by no means his alone. Also, as I attempt to illustrate a bigger picture, I depart from the context of his article, and it’s entirely possible that we are in accord once I do so, and that his omission was merely an oversight.

Secondly, I totally agree with Molvar that we must work to restore “natural, functioning ecosystems” on the planet, and that this work must include both the prevention of “artificially-caused extinctions” and the protection of “healthy ecosystems.” I also support the campaign he mentions that seeks to safeguard 30% of the planet by 2030 and 50% by 2050.

Where Molvar falls short, in my opinion, is in the view he presents of “humanity.” To illustrate what I mean, here are a few snippets:

* “I propose a new definition of the Anthropocene, as the age in which humanity has become not only recklessly out of balance with nature but also an overwhelming negative force of ecological destruction.”

* “By recognizing the Anthropocene as the period where humankind has gotten out of balance with nature…”

* “It’s our fault, as a species. All of it… That’s where humanity, with our monomania for economic growth and exploitation of natural resources, is right now as a species.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Lithium, Cobalt, and Rare Earths: the Post-Petroleum Resource Race

Lithium, Cobalt, and Rare Earths: the Post-Petroleum Resource Race

Thanks to its very name — renewable energy — we can picture a time in the not-too-distant future when our need for non-renewable fuels like oil, natural gas, and coal will vanish. Indeed, the Biden administration has announced a breakthrough target of 2035 for fully eliminating U.S. reliance on those non-renewable fuels for the generation of electricity. That would be accomplished by “deploying carbon-pollution-free electricity-generating resources,” primarily the everlasting power of the wind and sun.

With other nations moving in a similar direction, it’s tempting to conclude that the days when competition over finite supplies of energy was a recurring source of conflict will soon draw to a close. Unfortunately, think again: while the sun and wind are indeed infinitely renewable, the materials needed to convert those resources into electricity — minerals like cobalt, copper, lithium, nickel, and the rare-earth elements, or REEs — are anything but. Some of them, in fact, are far scarcer than petroleum, suggesting that global strife over vital resources may not, in fact, disappear in the Age of Renewables.

To appreciate this unexpected paradox, it’s necessary to explore how wind and solar power are converted into usable forms of electricity and propulsion. Solar power is largely collected by photovoltaic cells, often deployed in vast arrays, while the wind is harvested by giant turbines, typically deployed in extensive wind farms. To use electricity in transportation, cars and trucks must be equipped with advanced batteries capable of holding a charge over long distances. Each one of these devices usessubstantial amounts of copper for electrical transmission, as well as a variety of other non-renewable minerals. Those wind turbines, for instance, require manganese, molybdenum, nickel, zinc, and rare-earth elements for their electrical generators, while electric vehicles (EVs) need cobalt, graphite, lithium, manganese, and rare earths for their engines and batteries.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Crisis of the Natural World

The Crisis of the Natural World

Mountain Goat, North Cascades National Park. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

The natural world is in a state of crisis, and we are to blame. We are in the midst of the Sixth Extinction, the biggest loss of species in the history of humankind. So many species are facing total annihilation. Nearly one-third of freshwater species are facing extinction. So are 40 percent of amphibians84 percent of large mammals; a third of reef-building corals; and nearly one-third of oak trees. Rhinos and elephants are being gunned down at rates so alarming that they could be completely wiped out from the wild by 2034. There may be fewer than 10 vaquita—a kind of porpoise endemic to Mexico’s Gulf of California—due to illegal fishing nets, pesticides and irrigation. There are 130,000 plant species that could become extinct in our lifetimes. All told, about 28 percent of evaluated plant and animal species across the planet are now at risk of becoming extinct.

The rapid decline in species has occurred in recent years: 60 percent of the planet’s wildlife populations have been lost in just the last 50 years. Scientists warn that in the coming decades, if we don’t take action, more than 1 million species may vanish from the Earth forever.

Our fellow Earthlings are being overhunted, overfished and overharvested for our food, clothing and medicines. And the ones that we don’t kill are losing their homes as we destroy their natural habitats to make space for our farms and cities and to extract fuels, minerals, timber and other resources for human society. And the habitats that we don’t completely eradicate we pollute with a vast array of toxic elements, from pesticides and plastics to carbon dioxidefracking chemicals and invasive species

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Anti-Global Warming PR

Anti-Global Warming PR

Biomass plant along the Columbia River. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Propaganda may very well have been invented by the Catholic Church in the year 1622. Yet it was transported into modernity by a man known as Poison Ivy and, more importantly, by Edward Bernays, who once said, The significant revolution of modern times is not industrial or economic or political but the revolution which is taking place in the art of creating consent among the governed.

Just as the Catholic Church tried to prevent stepping into modernity by fighting the Reformation, Poison Ivy fought modernity by combatting those who disliked capital. He fought an ideological public relations battle for Rockefeller but also advised Adolf Hitler.

Not only after the unsavoury beginnings of public relations, the true mastermind of PR, Bernays, had even bigger goals. With his help, propaganda became the art of creating consent among the governed. German philosopher Adorno called this the process of mass deception. Decades later, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky named virtually the same thing:manufacturing consent.

A piece of gigantic machinery had been set in motion to create mass consent in support of corporate capitalism. Today a large section of capitalism’s public relations machinery is fighting a new battle – the battle to preserve the profits of mineral extracting corporations and fossil fuel giants. This, of course, means fighting the awareness that global warming is killing our planet. Anti-global-warming PR seeks to fight knowledge like this:

There is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which humankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels… There are some potentially catastrophic events that must be considered.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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