Category Archives: Climate Change

System Change

It is clear we need to stop burning fossil-fuels and switch to renewables, change from a wasteful, throw-away society to a pollution minimizing one, from a linear to a circular economy and from an extremely unequal world to a very much more equal one.

On this blog I have frequently talked with great enthusiasm about various renewable energy projects and technologies. They are very useful, but only if we can also rein-in total energy demand. Today Ember have just issued a damming report that shows global carbon emissions rising during the first half of 2021 despite a healthy increase in renewable energy generation. In the UK and globally the response to the pandemic has often used the slogan ‘Build Back Better’, but the reality is that we’ve been building back with the same or worse energy wasting projects, so although generation from renewables has increased, so too has electricity generation from coal. The main increase has been in China, and many politicians are keen to blame the Chinese, but this increase in emissions has been fuelled by the west’s insatiable demands for ever more Chinese made goods.

For decades we’ve been encouraged to recycle stuff and to make minor lifestyle changes that often only result in annual carbon reductions of a few grams, and those of us who care about such things have made efforts to live as ethically as we can. However it is all pretty pointless if the emissions of those millions of high emitters who simply do not care can carry on emitting. The American economic anthropologists Richard Wilk and Beatriz Barros have calculated the personal carbon emissions of many billionaires and found they each emitted over 1,000 tonnes, and some, such as Roman Abramovich emitted a staggering 33,859 tonnes. A report from Oxfam stated that the carbon emissions of the richest 1% are more than double of the emissions of the poorest half of humanity. To reduce emissions to avert climatic catastrophe we need everybody, every country and every industry to reduce emissions rapidly, and obviously the most important place to start is with the biggest emitters. That implies curtailing some industries from air travel to advertising, and limiting the rights and privileges of the most wealthy and wasteful people.

This week Extinction Rebellion are protesting again on the streets of London and many other cities. I support their actions and am with them in spirit, but not in person. Those who are on the streets protesting represent the many millions of people who cannot be with them, but support them in spirit.

Worldwide people are demanding system change in order to avert climate catastrophe. The Millichap Peace Fund have invited me to give a talk which will go out live via Zoom on 22nd September and be available online thereafter. I shall be asking the question ‘Is a better future possible?’ Given the scale of the many interrelated crises we face to even ask such a question can seem a travesty. In the talk I shall try and convey my vision of what system change might look like and how we might achieve it. This talk is a brief synopsis of a book I hope to have published by spring 2022. I’ll post more details about the talk and how to register to get the Zoom link nearer the time. There will be an opportunity to ask questions. More details on the talks and classes page.

A Bad Week for Big Oil

Climate activists campaign to get the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline stopped

A matrix of crises is simultaneously unfolding. Species are going extinct, atmospheric carbon levels are increasing, new diseases are emerging, and inequality is getting worse. In many ways things look bleak. All these crises call for a radical change of direction. That change may be happening. The signs of change are many, some are subtle and slow, but sometimes change can be sudden.

This week has been a terrible week for big oil, and a good week for climate activists. A Dutch court has ordered Royal Dutch Shell to cut emissions by 45% by 2030. Climate activists have also been influential as shareholders, with successful coups against the management of both Chevron and Exxon. All this unfolded only a week or so after the International Energy Agency released it’s ‘Net Zero by 2050’ report, which essentially advised against any new fossil fuel projects.

The French oil multinational Total is currently constructing the East African Crude Oil Pipeline, or EACOP, across Uganda and Tanzania. It will have devastating impacts on the local ecology and lock us into higher carbon emissions. Local activists are trying to stop it. Today Total is having their AGM. The news from IEA, Shell, Chevron and Exxon will no doubt be on their minds. EACOP is a project that should be cancelled.

Shell is planning to appeal the Dutch court’s decision, and no doubt the management of Exxon, Chevron, Total and the others will try and keep their business as usual model going, with a token bit of greener investment in renewables to try and keep the activists quiet. Most of the oil majors have been involved in decades of systematic lying, backing climate denialism when their own research revealed the huge climate impacts of their industries. In my view most of them have left it too late to change. Probably most will go bankrupt. They have such vast assets which this week’s developments are making look increasingly like worthless stranded assets.

I just want to say a huge thank-you to climate activists everywhere. There are many more battles ahead, but let’s pause long enough to celebrate this week’s victories.

Carbon Emissions: Billionaires & the BBC

Last summer I wrote a blog about the carbon emissions of billionaires. This week an interesting article was published in The Conversation where two economic anthropologists from Indiana University looked in more detail at the individual carbon footprints of twenty of the richest people on the planet. Their findings reveal that the individual carbon footprints varied from Michel Bloomberg’s 1,782 tons to the staggering annual emissions of Roman Abramovich at 31,199 tons. In my blog I’d estimated the carbon emissions of all, or nearly all, billionaires to be over 1,000 tons. I’d also implied that their average would be even higher than this, and some individuals would be almost unimaginably high emitters. This new data backs up my previous blog.

Global average carbon emissions are currently something around 5 tons per person. Many people have miniscule carbon emissions, of perhaps a few kilograms or even just a few grams. The vast majority of such people are small scale African or Asian subsistence farmers. Some people who are doing ecologically regenerative farming systems will have negative carbon footprints, meaning that the carbon they are sequestering in the soil is more than that they emit in other ways. I follow lots of African climate activists of Twitter and many of them are doing amazing projects setting up tree nurseries, clearing up plastic pollution, educating about ecology and setting up ecologically restorative farming systems.

Meanwhile BBC Radio 4 is broadcasting Bill Gates’ book ‘How to Avoid a Climate Disaster’. It is a pretty awful book, concentrating entirely on technological innovation and ignoring the vital aspects of social innovation and climate justice. Last week I reviewed Jason Hickel’s book which focuses on the absolute need to move to a post capitalist economy to combat the climate and ecological emergency. I could recommend dozens of other books, maybe hundreds, that are much better than Bill Gates’ one. So why are the BBC reading his one? Is it because he is a billionaire, and the BBC really has become a mouthpiece for the greedy global elite? As the figures published in The Conversation reveal Bill Gates’ personal carbon emissions are 7,408 tons. Rather than write a book his time might have been better spent looking at his own carbon footprint.

Last month I posted a blog about the people who have inspired me over the last year, and I named three young women activists from Africa who all are doing great work on climate, ecological and social justice: Patricia Kombo from Kenya, Kaossara Sani from Togo and Oladosu Adenike from the Lake Chad Region. I could have added many more names to this list. Africa is bursting with great climate activists. Why does the BBC focus on Bill Gates? Is it because he is a rich white man from America and not a poor black women from Africa?

There are many great books and ideas about how to adequately address the climate and ecological emergency. Most call for some pretty radical changes implying huge social, economic and political change as well as technological change. Why do none of them get coverage on the BBC? Is it because the BBC has become too deeply embedded in the present social, economic and political system that they cannot contemplate any challenge to this system, even when it is glaringly obvious that this needs to happen to avert climate, ecological and social breakdown?