Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Geoengineering: Striking targets or missing the point?

This is a response to Phil Sutton's latest paper, StrikingTargets,published by BreakThrough (in Melbourne, not the controversialist US think tank of the same name).

I take issue with the central proposition of the paper, that “Key climate/earth system parameters that need to be restored to safe levels are:
  • ocean heat content
  • global surface temperature
  • ocean acidity
  • sea level”
Geopiracy by ETC Group
How feasible is that list? Are there mechanisms that can reduce ocean heat, for example? Water has a high specific heat capacity, meaning it can absorb a lot of heat energy yet only gain temperature slowly. The reverse is true: it takes a relatively large amount of heat loss before it cools appreciably. (this is due to its molecular structure, the same reason CO2 can hold a relatively high amount of heat in the atmosphere).

The climate science that I've seen referred to over the years on this topic suggests that ocean temperature rise is basically irreversible on human lifetimes. If we stop adding greenhouse gases and stop adding heat to the atmosphere, it may gradually cool back to where it was, but over centuries. In the meantime, warmer oceans means warmer climate and there's not much can be done to change it. Warmer oceans and climate also drive sea level rise.

I haven't seen research on how fast ocean acidification may be reversed, but I suspect it's similar if not slower.

I'm very happy to hear of research which contradicts me on either of these points, of course. But in the meantime, there is only one crucial parameter that we know for sure we can control: the excess greenhouse gases being added to the atmosphere every day, month and year.

(You could add that we can also stop destroying the biodiversity that gives ecosystems some stability and/or adaptability in the face of climate change. Indeed, biodiversity loss is a close second to climate change on the scale of major ecological threats to human civilisation. We will have to work to reverse this, too.)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Markets, Economies and other imaginary friends

For years, I've been telling anyone who's willing to listen (and a few who probably weren't) that markets don't exist. Really, they don't. Not in the sense that many refer to them.

Richard Denniss has a fantastic piece in The Monthly debunking the mythology about “The Economy” that dominates contemporary politics like the arcane dogma of a medieval priesthood. He largely covers the points in this blog, but in a broader context. You should read the whole article, but in discussing the mystifications of economics, he says this:

Like the gods of cultures past, “the markets” can be angry. They can be vengeful. And they can punish non-believers. We must consult them cautiously. To simply inquire into the fall in the iron ore price, for instance, might spook them.
While markets are real, it is absurd to suggest that they have feelings, needs or demands. A market is a place where buyers and sellers of a product come together. It might be a physical place, like the fish markets, or a virtual place, like eBay or the stock market. But markets never have feelings.
Appeals to “let the market decide” are frequent in discussing technological innovations, such as renewable energy. Conservatives have often declared that governments have no business in “picking winners” when it comes to wind farms and solar – because it is the job of “the market” to choose. Of course that's their rhetoric for public consumption; in private they are backing the incumbent “winners”, fossil fuels. But it also illustrates their worship of the mystical market-gods quite well.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

What is the "revolutionary legacy" of the Black Panther Party?


This post has been rescued from the depths of my facebook account where I originally posted it in April 2013. 

What are the lessons of the Black Panther Party?

I just attended a great presentation by former Panther member, Billy X Jennings, who was brought to Australia by Socialist Alternative for their annual Marxism conference.

Billy explained a lot of things about the Panthers that match the impression I've got from reading a half dozen or more books by other former members. Not everyone though.

One audience member suggested that “I think I speak for most people here when I say it wasn't your community programs but your revolutionary legacy that inspires us”.

Billy responded that the “survival programs,” as the Panthers called their social programs, were their key legacy.

The naivety of the question, which totally missed so much of the talk (and the introduction by aboriginal Australian activist Gary Foley), astounded me (see below for a video of the talk).

Yet it is probably a common enough misconception. The idea that the Panthers started as a militant, gun-toting, bad-ass group of revolutionaries that degenerated into a community self-help group serving breakfast to schoolkids.

That is so far from the truth, however, that it is ludicrous.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Walking backwards for the future


I like a saying by Arundhati Roy, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

But sometimes it seems like seeing that better world of the future requires eyes in the back of your head. I am thinking of the idea that is apparently the normal way of seeing time in the Aymara language of the Andes: the future is behind us, the past in front.

We don't know the future, but we can see the past. We are weighed down by it, anchored to the tangible experiences that we know. And it could be a good thing: we need to understand where we come from, conserve our history and respect the elders that brought us here.

Well, in general. But at this point in human history, after 500 or so years of wrenching and accelerating global change, many of us have no clear past to see, even as we stumble backwards toward the edge of a cliff. How our parents, or grandparents, lived when they were growing up is almost lost in the fog of memory, already. And we laugh at them as they struggle to use a smartphone or SatNav, cursing “back in my day...”.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Time to kick the moneylenders out of the temple

Today a remarkably farsighted piece by the ABC's business editor is up at The Drum, It's not Greece being bailed out - it's the banks.

"The paupers of Greece are bailing out the Junkers of Europe" as one facebook commentator pithily summed it up.

And this mess of apparently unwise loans has sunk its creeping roots into Australia too, as the Treasury has bluntly pointed out

I'm not sure I'm so optimistic as Verrender on one point though. He says "this week could mark the beginning of the end of the great monetary experiment". Why this week? Why not the 2007 GFC?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Deep Green Zombies Want Your Brains


If you watch zombie movies, you'd probably know that common scene where a character (often a main character) mistakes a zombie for a friend/family/rescuer and stands calmly next to them – until, too late, the undead is chewing on their brains and the hapless victim becomes undead too.

That's the thing about zombies. Superficially at least, they resemble humans in most respects.

Like zombies resemble humans, the politics of the group “Deep Green Resistance” resemble those of a radical green/left group in many ways. But I get the distinct impression that to find yourself alongside them in the green/left movement would be akin to standing next to a zombie. The following is a review of their manifesto, the book Deep Green Resistance (McBay, Keith & Jensen, Seven Stories Press, 2011). 

Policy debate on sex workers' rights

Republished from Socialist Alliance members' discussion

The article by Lisa MacDonald, Pat Brewer & Pip Hinman asking “Is sex work just a job like any other?” asks an unhelpful question, and by a circuitous route reinforces some of the messages of the conservative backlash against sex workers' rights.

The article proclaims at the outset that “This contribution is not taking a moral stance on any sexual practices or on sex work”. It condemns the conservative social stigma placed on sex workers, and in fact (as far as I can tell) supports all the current policies of the Socialist Alliance, which supports sex workers' rights.

Moralism creeps into the article however, most clearly when it refers to “increasing commodification of sex and sexuality as the capitalist marketplace forces its way into the most intimate aspects of our lives” (emphasis added – BC). This is reflected in other statements such as that “No matter how well a sex worker believes they are “handling it” psychologically, in an unequal and misogynist social structure, choosing to be a sexual commodity will have an impact”. They talk of “the sense of loss of ownership of their bodies that sex workers experience in the course of receiving money for sexually gratifying another.”

But the article is confused. It states on the other hand that “Sexual relations that take place outside a framework of “love” or domestic companionship are no less valid than sex within relationships. There isn’t anything inherently “immoral” (across all societal forms) in the employment of an individual to provide sexual gratification for another. In an historical sense, any type of sexual relation contains potentially empowering, oppressive and morally neutral meanings, and any analysis of sex work has to ask historically contextual questions such as who becomes a sex worker and why, etc.” It also acknowledges that “Sex work – wherever it occurs – cannot be understood by generalising from some individuals’ personal experiences and views.”

Certainly, sex itself is one of the sacred hypocrisies of our society, and plays a part in the power dynamics of sexism and women's oppression. But if “generalising from some individuals' personal experiences” can't determine an understanding of sex or sex work, it cuts both ways: that should include generalisations like the article's sweeping statement about individuals' “sense of loss of ownership of their bodies”.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

France buries 100% renewables report ahead of climate talks

Previously published at Yes2Renewables and Green Left Weekly

The French government has joined the Australian government in ignoring its own reports that say a transition to 100% renewable energy is feasible and involves little extra cost.

Mediapart obtained a report from the French government’s environment and energy agency body ADEME that showed shifting to 100% renewable energy by 2050 is materially and technologically feasible. The report found it would cost relatively little more than the existing electricity supply, which is 75% nuclear.

Yet the government is holding a conference on the issue with the theme “40% of renewable electricity by 2050: is France ready?” A presentation on the case for 100% renewables was mysteriously removed from the agenda at the last minute.

The study obtained by Mediapart finds that President Francois Hollande’s target of reducing nuclear from 75% to 50% by 2050 would only be slightly cheaper for consumers than the 100% renewable scenario. This sinks claims by pro-nuclear advocates that their favourite tech is the cheapest.
Some people just don’t want to hear the good news. Does this sound familiar?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Tony Abbott aims for fracking boom

A new report on unconventional gas development from the federal Department of Industry and Science has been released.

Its stated aim is “to ensure the responsible development of coal seam, shale and tight gas resources for the benefit of Australians and position Australia to remain an energy superpower”.

In order to achieve this, the report notes at the outset that state governments, and Indigenous landowners will need to be dealt with – though the report uses prettier words.

Currently, the report notes, Tasmania, Victoria and NSW have moratoriums on various aspects of the unconventional gas extraction process. Further, large areas of remote Australia, especially in the NT, where industry is seeking to expand are on Aboriginal land.

The report includes goals such as “streamlining regulation across governments” and notes that “community engagement is the responsibility of industry, but the Australian Government can assist by providing information”, suggesting the federal government will fill a PR assistance role.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Gas industry seeks a lifeline as opposition mounts


Published in Green Left Weekly, March 6, 2015 
The onshore gas industry in south-east Australia is in trouble. Public opposition, low international oil prices and projected supply shortfalls have combined to cast doubt on the profitability of the industry.


Lock the Gate's Drew Hutton addresses community rally in Poowong, Victoria.
The international finance company Credit Suisse has indicated that the LNG (liquefied natural gas) export facilities at Gladstone in Queensland may fall short of meeting their export contracts in coming years, by up to 30%.

In January, Credit Suisse found that at the current, unexpectedly low international oil prices — which influence the price for LNG exports — and unfavourable currency exchange rates, major industry players like Santos and Origin Energy could see their share value plummet.

All this suggests that the industry is in significant financial trouble.