Understanding the consequences of which direction we take at the fork in the road requires a knowledge of the circumstances which brought about the birth of “Eco Modernism”, which has lobbied as an environmental organisation, and gained support, particularly in the corporate world (Gates, Apple, Branson, Musk) for a technological solution to climate change.
The Bush administration had refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, leaving (then) 35% of global emissions unregulated, emphasised by Dick Chaney’s famous comments, “the American way of life is non negotiable”.
In 2004, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, co-wrote a paper called “The Death of Environmentalism”, http://www.thebreakthrough.org/images/Death_of_Environmentalism.pdf
It stated the obvious that the environment movement had failed to secure political support for climate change. Whilst recognising the increasing environmental impact of growth, a school of thought emerged advocating “technological solutions” to ecological problems.
Nuclear energy for a secure baseload electricity supply, spreading Genetically Modified Organism’s to feed the expected billions added to world population.
Dow Agroscience “promotion” of 2 4D resistant seed.
Carbon Capture and Storage and Geoengineering to save climate problems include “negative emissions technology” which can “suck” carbon out of the atmosphere.
Stewart Brand was likewise an established “environmentalist”, and became a firm supporter of the Breakthrough Institute, now establishing the credentials for the Bio engineering of extinct species, in case there’s a particular one we want to save.
Mark Lynas too was a well respected environmental commentator who wrote a book called “6 degrees” and appeared in the film “The Age of Stupid” as a hard and fast environmentalist who now sees nuclear power as the only answer to energy questions.
Dr Clive Hamilton wrote a stinging response to the Breakthrough Institute’s recently released “Ecomodernist Manifesto” ~ http://thebreakthrough.org/index.php/voices/michael-shellenberger-and-ted-nordhaus/an
And this has led them to their most audacious declaration to date: the publication, last week, of what they are calling An Ecomodernist Manifesto, a self-consciously provocative attempt to make sense of what some scientists are calling “the Anthropocene,” or the Age of Humans. In the end, however, the manifesto’s faith in technological breakthroughs means it substitutes a kind of Californian positivity for the hard reality of climate politics. As a roadmap out of our ecological and social predicaments it leads us nowhere.
Only nuclear power can give us climate stabilization. But, the authors concede, the nuclear industry is flat on its face in most places, so we must wait for the next generation of nuclear fission (or even fusion!) plants, before which opposition will surely melt away. In the meantime, we will need to build more hydroelectric dams and construct “fossil fuel plants with carbon capture and storage” technology.
Here the ability to set aside science is on full display. The manifesto does not say how long we will need to wait for the next generation of nuclear plants, or how much of the global carbon budget will be used up while we cool our heels. Perhaps it might take 20 years for the first plants to be built, and 40 before they are making a large dent in global emissions. By then the planet will be, in Christine Lagard’s arresting phrase, “roasted, toasted, fried and grilled,” and there will be no way to rescue the situation.
Sad to say, this “Great Anthropocene” has won support from the business community where Christiana Figueres has been actively seeking support. The International Energy Agency is also a key player as advisor to ALL governments on energy policy. It has laid out a “roadmap” for the development of a global carbon capture and storage industry that is twice as large as the existing global oil industry. There will be no “zero carbon” FOR 50 YEARS or more.
All scenarios in the Unep report now require some degree of ‘negative CO2 emissions’ in the second half of the century, through technologies such as carbon capture and storage or, possibly, controversial, planetary wide engineering of the climate known as geoengineering. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/nov/19/co2-emissions-zero-by-2070-prevent-climate-disaster-un
So as we enter the Paris COP 21 it is with an IPCC “vision of business as usual”, displaying the worst possible arrogance that prevents us from admitting we have made a mistake, a BIG mistake. To save face, we must insist that our hubris will save us, so the Dolce Gabbana life can continue.
So this is the high road, the high emissions, “crisis what crisis” positivity that has brought us to this point and will lead us nowhere. Relying on totally untested (at scale) technology is the final abandonment of the “Precautionary Principle” replaced by “Blind Faith”.
So the low road is the alternative. It offers no glitz, is a very hard challenge for a very long time. Its a very different world based on living within planetary limits, a Steady State System after a Degrowth Transition. The demands of a 90% cut in carbon emissions are non negotiable. Starting Again.
Naomi Klein sets the scene very very well, and gives a mountain of research in her book to establish “Climate Justice” as the objective. The political palatability of the needed “redistribution of wealth”, globally, and restraints on the “extractivist economy” prevents serious wide discussion of the only effective solutions.
Of course, effective solutions means being able to finance the necessary transitions, and whilever tax havens remain open, financial transactions unregulated, and tax avoidance rampant, climate change will remain merely a distraction from the next IPhone roll out. Business as Usual.