Blog and links

Here are some realist perspectives on climate change from around the world and suggestions for further reading. The theme is ‘why all we have been told about how to stop climate change won’t work‘.

RSPO: outsourcing environmental regulation to oil palm businesses and industry; January 15, 2021

Skewed definitions of sustainability are turning smallholders into villains. Consumers are unintentionally endangering sustainability and helping funnel power into already-powerful hands, by complying with, and thereby legitimising the false standards of sustainability set by big business.

A chicken can’t lay a duck egg: How Covid-19 can solve the climate crisis
Graeme Maxton & Bernice Maxton-Lee, October 2020

The global system of human development was not designed to be ecologically sustainable. It was specifically designed, and refined over more than 300 years, to do one thing: maximize short-term profits for a small, wealthy group of people. This is not a popular truth but it is (how do I put this…?) a true truth.

An externality of the system is that it creates climate change, just as eating too much sugar rots your teeth. It is impossible to stop climate change if the system remains focused on increasing short-term financial gains for a wealthy few, because the push for growth and profit is the source of climate change. In the same way, the system cannot be made fairer for the majority, because it is the source of the injustice.

As human rights activist Malcolm X put it during his fight against injustice and racism:

it’s impossible for a chicken to produce a duck egg –a chicken just doesn’t have within its system [what is needed] to produce a duck egg. It can’t do it. It can only produce according to what that particular system was constructed to produce.”

Our book, A Chicken Can’t Lay a Duck Egg: How Covid-19 can solve the climate crisis, part of the Resetting Our Future series, is out now.

A chicken can’t lay a duck egg

What stops change?
Graeme Maxton, July 2020

Why have societies failed to respond effectively to this existential crisis? There is plenty of  evidence to explain what is happening and there have been plenty of warnings about the urgency. There are countless books, documentaries, films and articles to explain what is going on. The visible human and economic consequences of climate change are also growing. And yet, despite investments in renewable energy, many international conferences and rising numbers of street demonstrations, the pace of warming continues to accelerate.

One reason societies have not done what is needed has been uncertainty about what exactly they should do. Contradictory policy recommendations, combined with doubts sown by climate deniers, have bred confusion. Another reason is a fear for the consequences of change. By nature, people do not embrace major social changes. When it comes to climate change, many worry – and rightly – that the changes needed to slow the pace of warming will lower living standards. Many have also chosen to ignore the warnings because climate change has not affected them personally. Others feel powerless. The challenge is simply too big to contemplate.

None of this adequately explains the weakness of humanity’s response, however. It is human nature to respond to danger, and societies have overcome fear of major change in the past, even when it has led to social chaos. If they had not there would not have been any revolutions.

Read an extract from Globaler Klimanotstand (Global Climate Emergency) here.

Can we get serious now?
Henrik Nordborg, May 2020

For over 30 years, politicians have successfully avoided any meaningful action to limit global warming. To accomplish this, they employed every trick in the book. One of the more successful ones was to shift the responsibility to scientists. This was a brilliant trap, which made scientists feel important and almost ensured inaction, as politicians could pretend to be waiting for the next scientific report when accused of inaction. The reports, written by large committees of scientists and keenly monitored by politicians with their fingers on the funding button, were carefully purged of any controversial content and presented in a language intended to make people fall asleep rather than to wake up.

Nordborg proposes a title for the next IPCC report: “Do We Really Need to Know That?”. The short answer is no. Our understanding of global warming has been good enough for at least 30 years and the main conclusions of the first IPCC report are the same as in the last one. We already knew all the science we needed to know in the 1970s. The leaders we have elected to politics, NGOs, and business have failed to act on that clear data for 40 years.

The real harm, Nordborg explains, was done by economists who tried to balance the cost of climate protection against the deleterious effects of climate change. Such a calculation is both meaningless and immoral.

Read the full post here.

It will get much darker before the dawn.
Paul Gilding, May 2020: Tasmania

In an article linking political paralysis over COVID-19, climate change, and other socio-political crises as symptoms of systemic crisis, Paul Gilding writes that COVID 19 is not a ‘black swan’ – a singular, unexpected event. Rather, it is the first in a series of ‘herd[s] of stampeding black elephants’ – multiple, predictable and economically catastrophic events. Events that everyone knows are coming but our political and business leaders have consciously chosen not to deal with. We can see them clearly; we know they are very dangerous and there is a large herd of them racing towards us, and yet, our leaders have chosen not to act.

A global pandemic with its devastating economic impacts used to be one of these predictable and catastrophic ‘black elephants’. Then it arrived – but we had chosen not to prepare. The others are now stampeding toward us: climate change, the collapse of the fossil fuel industry, social and economic inequality, ocean and eco-system collapse, famine, mass refugees, among many others. Many will cause amjor social instability, civil unrest, nationalism, debt and credit crises, protectionism, geopolitical realignment and military conflict – further magnifying the economic consequences.

So why do we – particularly business and political leaders who have both the knowledge and the power to act – get this so wrong?

Read the full article here.

Shouldn’t we get out of the way?

Anyone listening?
Bernice Maxton-Lee, November 2019; Thailand

I bumped into a friend in Bangkok airport this weekend. He was returning to Hong Kong, and he spoke of the dark sentiment growing there, the nihilism spreading from desperation and despair, as protesters against an economic and political system in which many feel no hope, no joy, no future, are berated for destroying public order and private property, decried as vandals, as they put their blood on the front line.

These people, young and old, are fighting for their lives, and their leaders are not listening.

The inability to listen is evident again and again, from Thailand to Hong Kong, from Britain to Australia, from the UN to the World Bank. An opinion piece in the Bangkok Post this weekend urged Thailand’s Prime Minister to enhance his listening skills, to become a better leader. It was good advice: the ability to listen is essential to empathy, and empathy to understanding, and both to effective, just, progressive governance.

But this skill is epidemically-lacking in global governance, and it is now a leading cause of terminal illness in global society.

Greta Thunberg’s style of climate activism has been dubbed ‘indulgent‘ by Australia’s Scott Morrison, whose political stunts include waving a lump of coal at parliament and goading members not to be afraid of it. Ms Thunberg has been called ‘irritating’ and an ‘annoying little brat’ by casual observers who are bored by the climate emergency. Doubtless Joan of Arc suffered similar ridicule as she fought for the existential cause of her age.

The political establishment in Britain, responding to growing climate protests, has increased restrictions on peoples’ rights to express their outrage at a system that is killing them.

From Chile to Hong Kong, citizens protesting against the injustice wrought by neoliberalism are assaulted by water cannon, tear gas, bullets (live and rubber), and the mockery of their media, their leaders, and their own people.

Listening is hard. It requires us to open our hearts, to care enough to hurt, to be humble, to admit we might be wrong, to be prepared to change, even if that feels like stepping into the unknown. At this late stage of our evolution, can we learn to listen?

What will it take to make our leaders listen?

Bad news: Blogs and petitions won’t stop climate change
Bernice Maxton-Lee, October 2019; Taiwan

For more than a decade I have been chasing a common pipe dream, along with countless other scratchy-jumper-wearing ‘uncooperative crusties‘ (@Boris Johnson). I thought resistance to properly effective climate change reduction policies must come from a dearth of information. The data needed to be clearer, more convincing, communicated more persuasively. Because surely if governments and coalitions of the powerful understood the scale of the problem, the inevitability and urgency, and the vast, indiscriminate suffering that would be unleashed on future generations, on the weak and vulnerable, on the poor and, ultimately, (yes even they) on the rich too, surely they would do everything humanly possible to change course. To know all that and NOT change, well, governments and coalitions of the powerful would have to be psychopathic, no?

Ah. It turns out that there lies the problem. It sounds improbable, I know. I am not much given to conspiracy stories. But more horrifying than any Stephen King scenario is the one we are living out, right here, right now. We are in a zombie-land run by power-crazed psychopaths who we can only wish were ignorant. Unfortunately, they are not. Neither are they stupid. They just care a lot more about power and money than they care about your children, India’s water supplies (actually it’s good if they run out – private companies can sell them water), Europe’s crumbling mountains, Germany’s dying forests [German] / [English], and Japan or Barbados being flattened by violent storms.

The real obstacle to policies that would stop catastrophic climate change and all the terrible suffering and pointless, awful waste of beauty, dignity, and life that entails, is greed for power and money. No amount of petitions or blogs (whoops – my bad) will change that.

So what will?

Download the intro to my new book here.

Petitions and blogs won’t stop climate change

A problem of perspective
Bernice Maxton-Lee, March 2019; Switzerland

Last year, Greenpeace interviewed my husband, who is an actual superhero (not because he wears his underpants on the outside of his trousers, but because he dedicates every day of his life to saving the planet from human folly). They (Greenpeace) came into our home, interviewed him on his book, his activism, and the background to his knowledge and then (here’s the really clever part) published an article criticising him for living in a nice home, with antiques, and for using coasters to protect his 300-year-old table.

That’s just weird.

Ancient tropical rainforests are burning down (releasing all that lovely stored carbon into the atmosphere), encouraged by giant multinational corporations and international development ideology (see the excerpts of my book), and Greenpeace is attacking one guy for respecting his table. Massive fossil fuel companies with more money than some medium-sized countries have been lying about the hydrocarbon-climate change link (in fact, actively denying the link) for decades. These eco-warriors cleverly denounce someone on their own team for recycling. Way to go. No wonder we can’t mount an opposition to the real causes of climate genocide (counting people, biodiversity, and future generations of both). We’re too busy wasting our energy undermining our own team, ignoring the glaringly obvious crimes against our future.

Find out what else big business has lied about here.

Spot the bigger climate crime

Renewables Are Not Enough
Kerryn Higgs, June 2019, Australia

“System Change, Not Climate Change”?

The biggest obstacles to success in limiting global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial (or, even more hopefully, 1.5°C) are the vested interests that oppose this endeavor. The problem is political, as democracies like ours [in Australia] fail to reject the propaganda dispensed by the beneficiaries of destruction. No real solution can be established while corporate capitalism remains the dominant economic system almost everywhere on earth. It’s a system that demands consumption for the sake of expansion rather than serving actual human needs; profit at all costs, even if that means destroying its basis; and the endless pursuit of economic growth.

Read the full post here.

The Climate Movement: What’s Next?
Bill McKibben, June 2019, United States

What Is the Climate Movement’s State of Play?

In 1989, when my book The End of Nature was published, it was the first book on global warming for a general audience. For the next fifteen [years], I worked mainly as a writer and speaker. That’s because I was analyzing the problem incorrectly. In my estimation, we were arguing about the science of climate change. Is it real? How bad is it? How bad will it become? Being a writer, and an academic, I thought the right response seemed clear: shed light on the issue through more books, more articles, and more symposia. [But] I began to realize that we weren’t engaged in an argument at all. We were in a fight, not a discourse. The scientific community [has already] reached a clear consensus. Like most fights, it was about power and money. [More information] was unlikely to move the needle.

Read the full post here.