Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Comforting fables

You can have it all
    -Nine inch nails

Take anything you want
    -Jimi Hendrix (Little Wing)


       I just read Elizabeth Kolbert's review of Naomi Klein's book :  see here:  Can Climate Change Change Capitalism?

       Kolbert is probably the ideal person to review the book, being a Pulitzer prize winning science reporter, who recently wrote a no holds barred book on our current extinction event , The Sixth Extinction.

      While she doesn't argue with Klein's statement of the problem, she gently chides her for some of her fuzzy thinking, and dreamy progressive solutions, calling them fables.    But what really caught my eye, was her her willingness to grab the bull by the horns.  What would it really  take to stop climate change?  How much do we need to give up?   More than most are willing to give, it seems.

"What would it take to radically reduce global carbon emissions and to do so in a way that would alleviate inequality and poverty? Back in 1998, which is to say more than a decade before Klein became interested in climate change, a group of Swiss scientists decided to tackle precisely this question. The plan they came up with became known as the 2,000-Watt Society.
The idea behind the plan is that everyone on the planet is entitled to generate (more or less) the same emissions, meaning everyone should use (more or less) the same amount of energy. Most of us don’t think about our energy consumption—to the extent we think about it at all—in terms of watts or watt-hours. All you really need to know to understand the plan is that, if you’re American, you currently live in a 12,000-watt society; if you’re Dutch, you live in an 8,000-watt society; if you’re Swiss, you live in a 5,000-watt society; and if you’re Bangladeshi you live in a 300-watt society. Thus, for Americans, living on 2,000 watts would mean cutting consumption by more than four fifths; for Bangladeshis it would mean increasing it almost by a factor of seven.
To investigate what a 2,000-watt lifestyle might look like, the authors of the plan came up with a set of six fictional Swiss families. Even those who lived in super energy-efficient houses, had sold their cars, and flew very rarely turned out to be consuming more than 2,000 watts per person. Only “Alice,” a resident of a retirement home who had no TV or personal computer and occasionally took the train to visit her children, met the target."
For a recent review of the 2000 Watt plan see   here

(*Strangely enough, the suggested size of the lifestyle change  is consistent with my back of the envelope calculation based on The Ecological Footprint analysis.  Using that approach,  in order for the rest of the planet to live like the average American,  it would take 4  more planets.   Thus, if the average American wished to live within a sustainable footprint, they would need to shrink their  impact by 3/4 .   Using  dollars as a proxy for impact, and knowing that the average american's income is $50,000, we can calculate the "sustainable income" to be  $12,000. )

       Kolbert sums up the problem for  climate change activists - most people want more, not less.  This puts activists in a tough position.  They can tell the truth, and get no followers, or they can tell fables.        

"To draw on Klein paraphrasing Al Gore, here’s my inconvenient truth: when you tell people what it would actually take to radically reduce carbon emissions, they turn away. They don’t want to give up air travel or air conditioning or HDTV or trips to the mall or the family car or the myriad other things that go along with consuming 5,000 or 8,000 or 12,000 watts. All the major environmental groups know this, which is why they maintain, contrary to the requirements of a 2,000-watt society, that climate change can be tackled with minimal disruption to “the American way of life.” And Klein, you have to assume, knows it too. The irony of her book is that she ends up exactly where the “warmists” do, telling a fable she hopes will do some good."

I stumbled across Kolbert's review on a web site I'd never heard of, called Wrong Kind of Green, which  deals with consumerism, capitalism, and the role of NGO's.   Their analysis of of Klien, 350.org, and the "Climate Parade" is somewhat harsh .  see :  This Changes Nothing

"What you are about to witness is the global mobilization of “consumers” to be ushered into the green economy, without SAYING it is the green economy. The climate parade in NYC, coinciding with the release of 350’s Naomi Klein’s new book, is the launching pad.
The kings and queens of hegemony have rolled the dice and placed their bets on Avaaz, 350.org and Naomi Klein (350.org board member) to usher in the illusory green economy under the guise of a so-called “new economy.” Their winning bet is that author Naomi Klein’s latest book will be the vehicle that ignites their new economy, and thus “changes everything.”
It is not by accident that foundation-financed “progressive” media and those within the non-profit industrial complex are heavily promoting Klein’s upcoming book release with multiple side events. It is not by accident that Avaaz’s latest petitiontitled The Global People’s Climate March has strategically modified the This Changes Everything book title to “Join to Change Everything” and “To change everything, it takes everyone.” Note the similar language employed by WWF: “Tochange everything, we need everyone.”
The tragedy is that Americans appear incapable of building a legitimate movement on a foundation of knowledge anddisciplined, resolute minimalism. There is no better example of this than the lifestyle of former left-wing guerrilla and current president of Uruguay, José Mujica. Rather, as a culture cultivated on greed and individualism, we swallow the illusion (lie) that the only way out of our suicidal economic system is through more consumption – with consumption this time around being branded with an ethical veneer. It’s as though consumption has devoured our psyche and we are unable to escape it. Like sadistic prisoners of our own doing, we have trapped ourselves in a cage as “consumers” (the term Purpose Inc. uses for citizens) and have chosen to throw away the key.

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