Monday, October 30, 2006

climate of change

Well yes, it's been ages.

Essentially, as I said, it's been the aftermath of doing the Camp for Climate Action.

Effective grassroots activism always seems to be this tricky balance of sustaining and yet having frequent big pushes that leave you knackered for a while.

One activist I spoke to likened it to firework displays; we put all this preparation and effort into something that turns heads and makes people come and see what the noise and fuss is. And by the time they arrive, we're the human equivalent of a load of blown-up damp cardboard lying on the ground.

I prefer a more positive metaphor. I see it as being more like hammer blows. If you try pushing a nail into a wall with constant pressure, it won't go. But a series of quick hard twattings and it goes in.

Not that I've spent the last monthish guilt tripping meself about not writing or owt. It's actually really nice to log off the intravenous internet and do actual three dimensional stuff, and there's no need to write for the hell of it. If you've nothing to say then shut up. But now it's time get back on the horse, as opposed to living more like 'doing the Horse'.

I went to see George Monbiot talking about his new book Heat: How to Stop The Planet Burning the other week. He was, as ever, a superb speaker. No notes or script, talked for 40 minutes, getting you to really see and believe in the issues and angles he presents. So good was he, in fact, that I managed not to be overly starstruck at sitting in the same row as Thom Yorke.

I only have two real criticisms. One's his slightly rosy view of hydrogen as a heating fuel (derived from gas is not a long term winner as we'll hit Peak Gas in a couple of decades, derived from water is way too energy intensive to be viable). The other problem is with his choice of title. Enthusiastically telling people you've been reading Heat is open to misinterpretation and may lead to subsequent ostracisation.

The motivation for the book is fairly straightforward. The science on climate change is pretty clear. Once global temperatures increase past a certain point, there's nothing humans can do any more. When we hit about 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, nature takes over.

For example, warm up the western Siberian peat bog - a vast amount of dead but undecayed plant matter - and it will start to decompose and release its carbon. It's the equivalent of about 70 times the amount emitted by all humanity in a year. The Amazon will dry out, meaning trees will die. As they die, so they stop playing any part in creating more rain, encouraging further drying. Then all those dead trees burn, releasing staggering amounts of carbon.

So, once we hit a two degree rise, three becomes inevitable. At that point, four becomes inevitable, and so on. If we hit six degrees - quite possible within the lifetimes of babies being born today, the planet may become uninhabitable for anything like humans. It's happened before.

We're already 0.7 degrees in. So, what do we need to do to stop it hitting the two degree tipping point? A global 60% cut in emission in about 20 years. For the high emitters like us, that's a 90% cut.

How do we do that without freezing, starving and having utter social collapse? Monbiot's book shows, referenced to the hilt, how it might be done. He rubbishes many of the 'solutions', from biofuels to microgeneration, and makes it all seem really possible.

If we pull our finger out, now.

After his talk he said that it's become his single issue. He'd been talking to Mark Lynas who said yeah, it's like that; you are some kind of generally concerned social and environmental justice person, but then the urgency, severity and - most importantly - the still-present chance of being effective on climate change hits you and everything else is trivial by comparison.

I laughed knowingly, recognising not only my own focus but also happening to be stood next to Kate Evans, whose brilliant Funny Weather comic has been massively expanded and updated into a full size book that everyone should have a copy of.

Between Evans' and Monbiot's books, you've enough to make yourself into the climate change bore that the world needs you to be.

So, what of the Camp For Climate Action? It made a hell of a splash media-wise, and that was a bit of a funny thing. Ecological direct action understandably disconnected with mass media around the time of the Swampy nonsense, and the rise of things like Indymedia has enabled stories to be told directly, as opposed to working really hard on some journalist and going home to see the report is utterly unregonisable from what you actually said.

But on climate change, it has to engage with the mass media. The changes needed are too large and too swift to allow only smaller and slower methods. Despite the direct action from the camp aiming to shut down an enormous power station, there was a shocking lack of any tough questions. It's almost as if every journalist is going 'yeah, about fuckin time someone did something that actually squared up to the problem'.

It's like Rob Newman said

Many career environmentalists fear that an anti-capitalist position is what's alienating the mainstream from their irresistible arguments. But is it not more likely that people are stunned into inaction by the bizarre discrepancy between how extreme the crisis described and how insipid the solutions proposed?

There was no climate change denial from the media at all. It seems that it's just not an issue anymore (except in America; but over there they still have abortion, capital punishment and evolution as real issues). There's agreement that we need to curb emissions, the issue now is how.

Do we cap it and then trade our rationed allowances (so the rich buy the right to carry on doing as they please)?

Do we pull it out of the air and bury it in the ground (hoping that the theory actually works, and that there will never ever be a leak)?

The Camp For Climate Action threw the other option, the simplest and most secure - just don't burn the shit in the first place - on to the front pages.

Unfortunately, a lot of the more radical bits tended to be edited out, and reports of the camp were printed adjacent to reports of David Cameron's cuddly green tax plans.

If and when the growing climate direct action movement actually becomes effective and forces the media to report the radical perspective, we can be sure they'll do so in very disparaging terms. So much is trumpeted about the way the deniers are funded by the oil companies, yet little is said about the way the media are similarly bought off. The most radically environmental newspaper in the UK, The Independent, devotes about 5% of its space to car adverts. There's a thing you don't do to the hand that feeds.

So we'll be presented with tinkering as solutions - why not use BP's website to pay £20 to offset your driving emisisons? - as decoys that permit the emissions to continue.

We know what we really need to do. Offsets are a way of sticking your fingers in your ears and going lalala. Just changing your light bulbs won't do it, either.

As Monbiot said

If the biosphere is wrecked, it will not be done by those who couldn’t give a damn about it, as they now belong to a diminishing minority. It will be destroyed by nice, well-meaning, cosmopolitan people who accept the case for cutting emissions, but who won’t change by one iota the way they live.

What's needed can appear huge and daunting. But it's also so close; all we need to do is to get on with what is obviously and undeniably the way forward. The radical changes start in your own life, but that's not enough. Either we all get out of this or nobody does.

We have twenty, maybe thirty years tops to turn this around. We're the last people who can do anything about it.

Imagine yourself addressing an audience in a century's time and explaining yourself. Imagine being that audience and what you'd say.

It's time to confront those who know but act as if they don't. Coal power stations are being genocidal. Your friends and family using aircraft are committing an act of attempted genocide. It's time we stopped being polite about it.