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Will science go rogue against Donald Trump?

By John Steele - Socialist Worker, February 6, 2017

IN THE age of Trump, the person writing those words has much to teach us about the impending scientific struggles of our own time.

So spoke Salviati on day two of his debate with Sagredo and Simplicio in a hypothetical discussion imagined by the great scientist and astronomer Galileo Galilei, for his book Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems, published in 1632.

In the Dialogue, Galileo puts forward his heretical view that the Earth and other planets revolve around the sun in opposition to the Catholic Church-sanctioned Ptolemaic system in which everything in the universe revolves around the Earth.

Galileo hoped that by adopting a conversational style for his argument, it would allow him to continue his argument about the true nature of the universe and evade the attentions of the Inquisition, which enforced Church doctrine with the force of bans, imprisonment and execution.

However, Galileo's friend, Pope Urban VIII, who had personally authorized Galileo to write the Dialogue, didn't allow sentimentality to obstruct power. Galileo was convicted of heresy and spent the rest of his days under house arrest--the Dialogue was banned by the Inquisition, along with any other book Galileo had written or might write.

Typically portrayed as the quintessential clash between religion and science, Galileo's conflict with the Papacy was, in fact, just as rooted in material considerations of political power as it was with ideas about the nature of the solar system and our place within it.

Amid parallels to today's conflict between Donald Trump and the scientific community over funding, research, unimpeded freedom of speech and the kind of international collaboration required for effective scientific endeavor, neither situation exists solely in the realm of ideas.

Trump's "America First" puts the planet last

By Michael Ware - Socialist Worker, February 9, 2017

DONALD TRUMP'S executive orders for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and for building a border wall provoked the most visible and immediate responses of the early days of his presidency.

But his moves to restart construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines and the new administration's censorship of government workers and federally funded scientists regarding climate change were a shot across the bow of the environmental movement.

Upon taking office, Twittler and his henchmen directed federal agencies to cease public communication that wasn't vetted by the new administration, effectively putting a gag order on any talk about climate change or scientific research that contradicts the administration's taste for "alternative facts."

The Badlands National Park Twitter account defied the ban, issuing unspeakable truths like "The Pre-Industrial concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 280 parts per million (ppm). As of December 2016, 404.93ppm." The account has since been reigned in and the tweets deleted.

This week, the new administration scored a victory when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, bowing to an order from Trump, reversed its denial of an easement needed to complete a section of the Dakota Access Pipeline running under the Missouri River. The Army Corps not only abandoned plans to wait for an environment impact study, but rushed through approval so drilling could start in 24 hours--making it harder for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to take action in court.

Agriculture is part of the climate change solution

By Lois Ross - Rabble.Ca, January 24, 2017

Small farmers face pretty much the same issues no matter what part of the world they happen to till -- access to land, seed, financing and more.

I learned that lesson while rolling through the hills of northern Nicaragua, acting as an interpreter for a brigade of Canadian farmers hoping to transfer their skills to support local farmers. At that time mechanization for many small farmers in Nicaragua seemed to be the main impediment. But thinking back to the exchanges I translated, the lack of tractors, chemicals and artificial fertilizers presented challenges but also possibilities to explore.

How do you grow food in a world where resources are limited? For small farmers in developing regions, resources have always been limited. These Canadian and Nicaraguan farmers wanted to learn from each other, and the challenges each group faced related to producing food, farming methods, and taking care of the soil and their communities. The question was how best to do this in a global system based on profit and not on stewardship. At the end of the brigade's stay, it would be fair to say that the Canadians learned as much if not more than their Nicaraguan counterparts. Both realized that the problems facing agriculture were much larger than farmers themselves. Still, they persevered.

These progressive farmers knew that agriculture could be part of the solution -- for community, health, food security and much more.

Agriculture and climate change

Despite the attempts of certain farm groups, for many years agricultural practices in so-called developed nations have been environmentally destructive. We have been told that the industrial model of agriculture is necessary to ensure production and food security. It's an old story, one that has created a false reality. And the North has promoted that false reality. Aid programs targetting developing nations have long tried to transfer the industrialized model to smaller, poorer countries. Industrial agriculture has been supported as the only model that is successful. The costs have been huge.

The time has come to look at how agriculture might actually be a huge part of climate change mitigation.

Agriculture can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it is going to mean putting stewardship and food production ahead of profit and expansion. It is possible.

In the '70s and '80s we were told that organic farming was impossible, that crops would be lost to weeds, that a farmer would go bankrupt, that people would end up starving -- that organic farming was just not possible. Now huge corporations are trying to sell us organic food produced on the other side of the planet. Parts of the organic model have been conveniently skipped -- the part about local production for social, economic and environmental reasons. Essentially the agroecological principles of organic farming are removed when it becomes based on imported food and corporate farming. These are the same practices that increase greenhouse gas emissions as opposed to reducing them.

These days terms like carbon sequestration, biodynamic agriculture, Demeter farming, holistic management, regenerative agriculture, perennial polyculture, and permaculture are entering the ag lexicon -- phrases that are all related to practices consistent with agroecology that link agriculture and climate change.

Hopelessly devoted to fossil fuels

By Amy Leather - Socialist Review, January 2017

World leaders are failing on climate change. Theresa May’s Tory government has given the go ahead to a new nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point, backed the expansion of Heathrow airport and overturned the local decision in Lancashire to stop fracking. Meanwhile climate change denier Donald Trump is heading to the White House.

The last decade has seen a massive expansion of so-called “dirty energies” such as fracking, deep water drilling, and tar sand extraction. The pledges to reduce carbon emissions in the Paris Agreement, signed by 196 countries in December 2015, are only voluntary. Even if signatories kept to them we would still be on track for global warming far higher than is sustainable.

The scale of the crisis is widely recognized. Climate scientists and environmentalists such as Ian Angus have shown that we have entered a new geological era — the Anthropocene — in which the dominant influence on the environment is human activity. Unless urgent action is taken we face catastrophic climate change. The solution to global warming is quite simple — we need to stop burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas which release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and instead make a rapid switch to renewables.

So why won’t our rulers act? We need to look beyond the individual politicians. There are, of course, the climate change deniers, who must be challenged and stopped, but much of the ruling class does accept that climate change is a reality. The problem is they are guardians of a system with fossil fuels at its heart. Tackling the climate crisis would mean tackling the vested interests of the fossil fuel corporations — some of the most profitable companies in the world. To understand why capitalism and fossil fuels are so intertwined we need to go back to the time of the industrial revolution in Britain.

Andreas Malm, in his book Fossil Capital, outlines how in the early 1800s an energy transition took place in Britain. The first machines of the industrial revolution, the spinning and weaving machines of the cotton industry, were driven by water. In 1800 there were at least 1,000 water mills concentrated in Lancashire and Scotland. Even as late as the 1820s most mills in Manchester were still water-powered. Just ten years later steam generated by burning coal had overtaken water.

Crossing the Carbon Rubicon

By Andrew Simms - Red Pepper, January 6, 2017

What’s in a number? Quite a lot when the last time it prevailed in the sky above our heads was in the Pliocene period, between three and five million years ago, long before modern humans evolved. Last year, 2015, was the first since then that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the principal driver of man-made global warming, stayed above 400 parts per million (ppm). The higher it goes, the worse things get, and it is already a long way past the level considered necessary to stabilise our climate, 350ppm, the number taken for that reason by global climate campaign 350.org.

Nobody knows exactly where the line in the atmosphere lies beyond which the process of warming feeds off itself, inexorably moving beyond our ability to control climatic instability. It’s a game of chance and probability, and we are already playing climate roulette, in which current warming makes life difficult, and in some cases impossible, for many of the world’s most vulnerable people.

It does this in a range of ways, from the sheer impact of increasingly extreme weather events to effects on the price of food, forced displacement and movement of climate-borne diseases. A world of incipient warming is the enemy of everyone, but especially people with the least power, fewest assets, weakest support structures and inability to move. It is the enemy of every social ambition. Unless tackled, it spells out a great reversal of human progress. It is the one problem which, unless solved, unravels every other cause.

Our use of fossil fuel energy is the principal driver, if not the only one. The loss of natural habitats such as tropical and primary forests is another. A global climate agreement, the Paris Accord, has now entered into force. It has many flaws but includes a commitment to prevent warming of more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels, and an ambition to hold it to just 1.5 degrees. But add up all the current national commitments, and depending on whose modelling you look at, we’re either missing the two-degrees target by a little, or a lot. In either case only a small, or very small, fraction of the fossil fuels still left in the ground can be burned, even as major oil companies explore for new reserves.

Some argue that to dwell on this unambiguously dire situation leads only to paralysis. But unless we do take in the enormity of our predicament, it is unlikely that we will come up with responses that are remotely equal to the scale or immediacy of action required. As Thomas Hardy wrote, ‘If a way to the better there be, it exacts a full look at the worst.’

And that action, straightforwardly, is the rapid transition of energy-intensive societies. It requires the illumination of more convivial, low-consumption economies that will allow everyone to lead good lives while operating within planetary boundaries.

Trump, Putin and the Pipelines to Nowhere

By Alex Steffin - Medium, December 15, 2016

You can’t understand what Trump’s doing to America without understanding the “Carbon Bubble”

If you’re an American, you’re likely misinformed about the most dire crisis in our world.

American journalists, pundits and media executives have largely convinced themselves that climate change is not a serious political issue, because they think the polls tell them that. A majority of American voters regularly tell pollsters they don’t think climate change is a critically important election issue, so therefore the media decides it must not be an important political issue at all.

Unfortunately, that conventional wisdom blinds us to both to the actual bedrock reality of this era, and to — as I see it — the defining aim of the in-coming Trump administration: delaying climate action.

Trump has surrounded himself with more oil industry and oil industry connected people than any president in history (even George W. Bush). You can’t understand what’s going on with Trump unless you understand the oil industry… and you can’t understand the oil industry without understanding climate change.

Understanding Climate Change

In case you’re just joining us here on Earth, we’re making the planet hotter. The science is incontrovertible that by burning fossil fuels, we’re changing the planet’s climate. Because the consequences worsen dramatically as we emit more climate pollution and the planet gets hotter, every nation on Earth agreed last year in Paris to hold that temperature rise to two degrees Celsius (2ºC).

This means we must limit the total amount of CO2 and other greenhouse pollution we put into the sky: we have to meet a “carbon budget.” To meet that budget, we have to radically cut greenhouse gas emissions — burning way less oil, coal and gas — in the next two decades, and set the global economy on a steep path to zero emissions.

Again, the American media has failed to convey the magnitude of the costs of unchecked global warming. Those costs are profound already, today, as the Arctic heatwave, Syrian civil war, bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef, worsening storms, droughts, wildfires and freak weather events all show. Those costs will only grow, and they will grow more dire, more quickly as the planet heats.

At the same time, the innovations we need to create zero-carbon prosperity are already here. From plummeting costs for solar, wind, electric vehicles and green buildings to better approaches to urban planning, agriculture and forestry, we already have the tools we need to start building a much more prosperous world, producing hosts of new companies and millions of jobs. Indeed, a giant building boom is what successful climate action looks like.

Because we have no real choice but to act — and, in fact, climate action will make most people not only safer, but better off — big changes are coming, far sooner than most Americans understand.

But some people totally understand: the ones who stand to lose money from these changes.

Committing Geocide: Climate Change and Corporate Capture

By Susan George - Climate and Capitalism, November 23, 2016

Susan George is president of the board of the Trans National Institute, an international research and advocacy institute committed to building a just, democratic and sustainable world. She spoke at the Seminar of the International Center for the promotion of Human Rights [CIPDH] and Unesco titled “Interreligious and inter cultural dialogue: consciences and climate change”  in September in Buenos Aires.  Find the video here.

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The International Centre for the Promotion of Human Rights has given me the honour of closing this seminar and I’m extremely grateful to the CIPDH for including me in this important event. We could compare this seminar to one part of the long road on a kind of modern pilgrimage; one stage of a difficult but infinitely rewarding journey. We’ve shared part of this road towards what we all hope will be a stable, sustainable world, fit for human habitation.

We hope this pilgrimage will lead to the success of the COP22 in Marrakech and then continue well beyond, until we reach that far-off goal of halting, then reversing climate change.

We know that the earth and all the myriad forms of life living on its land and under its seas are unlikely to withstand an increase in temperatures beyond 2 degrees. We have already reached more than one degree above the historical average and have been dangerously slow to take this road. Now it is crucial that we continue.

It strikes me that all religions have their pilgrimages, whether to Mecca, Saint Jacques de Compostelle, the place in India of the Buddha’s Enlightenment, the holy Hindu cities of India or the sacred sites of Jerusalem. The people who set out on these pilgrimages of faith are usually seeking forgiveness or salvation, enlightenment, healing or perhaps the granting of a special wish.

Our common pilgrimage is of a different nature. We do not seek personal blessings but salvation and hope for all peoples and for our home, the earth. All are under tremendous threat. We have embarked on this journey because we recognise that humanity has never been in greater danger than at this moment.

I try not to speak of “saving the planet”. Whatever human beings may do, the planet will continue to rotate on its axis and to orbit the sun as it has done for some four and a half billion years. Planet earth, which we think of as “ours”, is not really “ours” at all. It could perfectly well continue, utterly changed, to move along its prescribed path without us. Indeed, one could easily argue, as the so-called “deep ecologists” do, that the planet would be far better off without us, since they stress that we humans are the most predatory, wasteful and destructive species ever to have lived on earth in those four and a half billion years.

I am not here to promote the deep ecology view. I am here rather to introduce and define what I see as a new phenomenon in the history of humankind. I call it Geocide. Geocide is the collective action of a single species among millions of other species which is changing planet Earth to the point that it can become unrecognisable and unfit for life. This species is committing geocide against all components of nature, whether microscopic organisms, plants, animals or against itself, homo sapiens, humankind.

Homo sapiens has only existed for roughly 200,000 years. The time we’ve spent one this planet compared to its total age is infinitesimally short, just the tiniest sliver of geological time. It amounts to a mere 0.00004 percent of earth’s existence. And although any given species of plant or animal–vertebrate or invertebrate– tends to last on average about ten million years, our species seems determined to cause its own extinction, along with the rest of creation, long before it allotted time.

The death of an entire species is, geologically speaking, a common occurrence. Some extinctions are spectacular—think of the dinosaurs—most are quiet disappearances that leave few traces. Several species will have disappeared forever between the time we arrived and the time we leave this seminar. Scientists tell us that the “background rate” of extinction is approximately a thousand times greater than average and some have begun to call our era the “sixth great extinction.” The previous one, the Permian extinction, occurred about 250 million years ago. Some 95 percent of all species then on earth were wiped out, probably because of volcanic activity and warming causing huge releases of methane from the oceans.

Species disappear massively because they cannot adapt fast enough to rapidly changing conditions. Some, humans included, can adapt to a broad set of environments and wide divergence of temperature, from Siberia or Greenland to Pakistan or the Sahel, but no species is infinitely adaptable and all have their limits.

Ours is the only species among millions that has been gifted with language, tool-making skills, and above all consciousness, the capacity for imagination, thought and spirituality. And yet, the end of our own existence seems beyond our collective comprehension: too terrible and too definitive to contemplate. Extinction can’t possibly happen to us—we humans are too technologically brilliant, we can find the solution to any problem, we are the lords of creation and we cannot fail, much less disappear.

No one except a few eccentrics now denies that humans are capable of committing genocide; we have witnessed horrible episodes of mass murder in our own lifetimes and, because we have recognised this horror, we are able to name it. All languages have been obliged to add this terrible word, genocide, to their vocabularies.

Are we even capable of imagining, much less recognising that we are also capable of committing geocide? In my mind, this term goes beyond “ecocide” which so far seems limited to specific environments or geographic locations such as the razing of a forest or the massive pollution of, say, the Gulf of Mexico. Geocide is alas more general: it is a massive assault against nature of which we are only a part, against all earthly life and against Creation as well as the complete denial of human rights; I submit that this ultimate act of destruction is underway and that we need a name for it. Without a name, we have no concept and without a concept we cannot combat it. This is why I searched for a new word.

‘Get A Life’: Clinton Bashed Anti-Fracking Activists During Private Labor Meeting

By Kevin Gosztola - Shadow Proof, October 15, 2016

At a private meeting with the Building Trades Council, Hillary Clinton bashed environmentalists who oppose natural gas fracking and insist the United States must keep all fossil fuels in the ground. She said these environmentalists need to “get a life.”

A transcript of a part of the meeting, which took place on September 9, 2015, was published by WikiLeaks. It was attached to an email from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s account, which he claims was hacked.

Clinton met with the Building Trades Council, which is part of North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU). She sought their endorsement, however, she wanted to be clear about what she was willing to support in the way of new pipeline construction. The labor organization is very pro-pipeline because its members work on pipelines.

“Bernie Sanders is getting lots of support from the most radical environmentalists because he’s out there every day bashing the Keystone pipeline,” Clinton stated. “And, you know, I’m not into it for that.”

“My view is I want to defend natural gas. I want to defend repairing and building the pipelines we need to fuel our economy. I want to defend fracking under the right circumstances,” Clinton added. She made it clear she was willing to defend new, modern energy sources.

Then, on environmentalists, Clinton shared, “I’m already at odds with the most organized and wildest. They come to my rallies and they yell at me and, you know, all the rest of it. They say, ‘Will you promise never to take any fossil fuels out of the earth ever again?’ No. I won’t promise that. Get a life, you know.”

The Sky’s Limit: Unpacking the Climate Math

By David Turnbull - Oil Change International, October 6, 2016

Four years ago, the concept of “unburnable carbon” hit the mainstream when Bill McKibben published “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” in Rolling Stone magazine, based off of work by the analysts at Carbon Tracker and before that Greenpeace. The research underlying that concept showed that the carbon embedded in proven fossil fuel reserves on the books of fossil fuel companies is many times greater than what climate scientists have determined the atmosphere can withstand in a safe climate scenario. This month, new analysis by Oil Change International updated that math, took it further, and is making waves.

In the new report, entitled “The Sky’s Limit: Why the Paris Climate Goals Require a Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production,” we’ve identified a stark reality when it comes to fossil fuel development and the climate: Existing fossil fuel production, if allowed to run its course, would take us beyond the globally agreed goals of limiting warming to well below 2?C and aiming towards 1.5?C.

For the first time ever, this study utilized data from industry databases (e.g. Rystad Energy UCube) to catalog the fossil fuels that exist in current mines and wells — those sites where investments have been made and development is already underway — and compared it to carbon budgets associated with a two-in-three chance of staying below 2?C, or even chances of limiting warming to 1.5?C, backed by data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Our research found that the carbon budgets will be exhausted with current development, and in fact some currently-operating fossil fuel projects will need to be retired early in order to have appropriately high chances of staying below even the 2?C limit. Further, to meet a 1.5?C goal, the existing oil and gas wells currently in production have enough fuels in them to fill the budget, even if coal were phased out tomorrow.

This analysis is already sending shockwaves through the climate movement and being echoed by influential thought leaders around the globe. More than a dozen organizations, ranging from smaller groups like the Health of Mother Earth Foundation in Nigeria to larger groups such as 350.org and Christian Aid, joined in to release the report. Climate scientists and energy analysts have expressed agreement with the findings since the release, and countless organizations and prominent individuals have joined the choir to spread the word about the report.

As George Monbiot writes in The Guardian, the report presents three scenarios for moving forward:

First: a gradual, managed decline of existing production and its replacement with renewable energy and low-carbon infrastructure, which offer great potential for employment. Second: allowing fossil fuel production to continue at current rates for a while longer, followed by a sudden and severe termination of the sector, with dire consequences for both jobs and economies. Third: continuing to produce fossil fuels as we do today, followed by climate breakdown.

The good news, as highlighted in our report, is that if the right investments of political will and financing are made, a just transition to renewable energy is definitely possible in the timeframe necessary. Renewable energy is expanding at ever-increasing rates, becoming cheaper by the day, and could be poised to follow the path to universality seen by recent technologies such as the personal computer and cell phone. The report lays out a number of studies that show renewable energy can absolutely fill in the energy gap as fossil fuels are phased out.

Many have already called the report “the math behind the Keep It In The Ground movement,” and, with any luck, just as unburnable carbon entered the public consciousness four years ago, the climate imperative of ending new fossil fuel development may do the same.

Capital Blight News #122

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, September 20, 2016

A supplement to Eco Unionist News:

Lead Stories:

The Man Behind the Curtain:

Green is the New Red:

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