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Rebecca Solnit

Disaster Environmentalism 1: Looking the Future in the Face

By Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, December 5, 2019

“Barring a miracle, [a global average temperature rise above pre-industrial levels of] 2 degrees C must inevitably be substantially breached.” Nothing that has happened since the 2015 Paris climate conference has “suggested any reason for doubting that judgement”.

Disaster Environmentalism 3: What to Do

By Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, December 5, 2019

The gap in disaster environmentalist thinking, the absence of any kind of sense of how society changes, or could be changed, explains its’ exponents political tactics, in my view.

Non-violent direct action (NVDA), which has become a hallmark of XR, is seen as a way of pushing the existing political system to change. For disaster environmentalism, it’s a last ditch attempt: if this fails, only collapse – whatever that means – awaits, and social renewal can only be achieved through “deep adaptation”.

This is underpinned by misunderstandings and half-thought-out ideas about how society changes, in my view.

The danger of co-optation

Read writes that XR wants and needs “to transform the whole existing system […] within years, not decades. Such transformation will mean that many economic interests get challenged, or indeed ended”. This “attempt to rapidly change the entire economic, social and political system” will be far more difficult than the task of previous movements; “the vested interests opposing us are vast, as are the ideologies that have to be overcome or transformed.” And what he describes as his “key point”:

Women and black people could be accommodated into the existing system; in this way the task of the Suffragettes and of the Civil Rights Movement, while hard, was doable. But what we want – need – is to transform the whole existing system, not merely to allow excluded people access to it.

This shows a breathtaking lack of understanding about how the political representatives of capitalism work to co-opt, subvert and control social movements.

To state the completely obvious, while the specific demands of the Suffragettes, for women’s right to vote, has been won, countless aspects of the repression of women have been reproduced by capitalism in new, more sophisticated forms. Women’s legal rights to abortion is currently under threat in a series of countries.

As for the Civil Rights Movement in the USA, the gains it won in terms of voting rights for black Americans have been under vicious attack from that time to this. Gerrymandering, ID requirements, laws depriving former prisoners of the vote, and more blatant measures are used across the USA to stop black people from voting. Rights are won in struggle, defended and extended in struggle, and can be lost in struggle.

Disaster Environmentalism 2: Roads to a Post-Growth Economy

By Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, December 5, 2019

The disaster environmentalists’ hopes for the future rest not only on “deep adaptation”, but on acceptance that we need to live in a “post growth world”. Rupert Read writes:

It is crucial that we resist growthism, the very widespread drive to keep the economy ‘growing’. For (perpetual) growthism is a perpetual obstacle to collective sanity, to facing the reality of [ecological and social] limits. […] And green growthism is merely a subset of growthism.[1] […]

Society can not afford more growth, Read argues; progress towards understanding this is “glacially slow”. And so:

It still seems, tragically, far more likely that growth will end because of collapse than because of informed decision.

Yes and no, in my view. “Economic growth”, as manifested by global capitalism, is completely unsustainable. “Green growth”, or “socialist growth”, are no substitutes. Our challenge to the economic system must open the way for a society based on human happiness and fulfilment, values completely at odds with – and distorted and defaced by – the rich-country consumerist ideology that helps to justify ever-expanding material production. But, unlike Read, I believe that the way “growth” ends is still to play for.

In my view (not new, from a socialist), all this means challenging capitalism, along with the state and political structures that protect its interests. On that, the disaster environmentalists are agnostic. They talk up the need for systemic change, but combine this with tame, almost naïve, claims about how to challenge the system.

The Response: Building Cllective Resilience in the Wake of Disasters (Shareable)

By various - Sharable, 2019

When disasters occur, the majority of news coverage teeters on the edge of “disaster porn” at best, emphasizing the sheer mass of destruction in the affected area while celebrating a few token “heroes.” At its worst, the media perpetuates harmful stereotypes, casting survivors as looters and justifying the extrajudicial murder of people of color by the police and mostly white vigilantes, like what occurred during Hurricane Katrina.

But in both scenarios, news reporting routinely underplays how local communities come together to recover from the immediate devastation and collectively rebuild the community, often on a new foundation of sustainability and justice. It’s a good thing that people collaborate instead of competing during a crisis because all signs point towards an increase in climate change-fueled disasters in the coming years.

This kind of collective response is worth celebrating, but there’s no better way to respond to disasters than to anticipate them happening and prepare before they strike. And there’s no better time than right now to build resilience together. While a little preparation today can save a lot of trouble tomorrow, it can also create immediate benefits like stronger community ties, increased civic capacity, and the joy that comes from accomplishing things together.

Read the report (PDF).

Is Greenhouse Warming a Good Pretext for Selling Driverless Cars?

By Stan Cox - Resilience, November 6, 2017

The automakers and IT giants are predicting that autonomous vehicles (AVs or “driverless cars”) will play a big role in reducing America’s currently extravagant emissions of greenhouse gases. In this claim (as in the assertion that flying cars will be more energy efficient than helicopters), climate mitigation is serving not as a goal but as a selling point for a lucrative new technology that society doesn’t need.

Most of the academic discussion of autonomous vehicles assumes the gradual introduction of both personal and shared electric AVs into the market. During that lengthy transition, AVs presumably will ply the streets and highways alongside human-driven electric and internal-combustion vehicles. How this is going to take us toward deep reductions in greenhouse emissions is not clear; the expectation appears to be that market forces and government incentives will somehow push the system toward fully autonomous, electrified transportation powered exclusively by renewable sources.

But the 100-percent renewable dream is a mirage, and AV cars will not bring it to life. That’s not due to any shortcomings of AVs; on the contrary, the technology’s failure to resolve the climate problem will be a result of the many attractive features that a successful AV-based system would offer—all of which will have the effect of increasing greenhouse emissions.

In a commentary on autonomous vehicles, Shelie Miller and Brent Heard of the University of Michigan wrote, “From an environmental point of view, the intrinsic technical attributes of AVs appear to be largely favorable.” However, they continued, it is “travel behavior patterns” that may have the greater influence, and that influence will be more negative.

The logic is simple: a better riding experience will encourage more riding. According to AV developers, the new vehicles will elevate the experience by offering more efficient operation and lower operating expense; improving safety; reducing driver stress and fewer road-rage incidents; freeing up hands, eyes, and attention for more useful tasks or more pleasant activities; reducing traffic congestion; putting an end to parking hassles; and offering greater mobility for young people, the elderly, and the disabled.

All of those benefits are already provided by public transportation. But most Americans’ goal is to be able to travel seamlessly door to door, and to do so without having to share space with  people they don’t know. Those desires, often sharpened by class bias, are a chief reason that most people who can afford to buy and operate a car (or can pay to be driven in a car) elect to stay off the train, bus, or subway.

Personal AVs offer to eliminate both the inconvenience of public transit and the hassles of driving, creating a system that appears at first glance to be the best of both worlds. As a result, incentives to travel even more miles per day will be intense. (Conversely, if Murphy’s Law remains in force and AVs don’t manage to deliver many of the promised personal benefits, miles traveled will not increase as much.)

Until AVs go into large-scale production, all projections of how America’s transportation systems will evolve are highly speculative. Nevertheless, a number of studies have attempted to model that evolution, their assumptions being based on what we know about how humans use transportation today.

The models show that under most scenarios, personal AVs will tend to increase the total vehicle miles traveled. When commuting time becomes less of a burden, people will be less inclined to live close to their workplaces. Suburban sprawl and attendant commuting distances are expected to increase. Parents will be able to send children off to school in their own car instead of having to drive a carpool or ask the kids to walk or ride the school bus. Commuters arriving at work be able to send their vehicles, empty, back out to the suburbs for cheaper or free parking, or to be plugged in. Cars could even be sent on solo errands, whether necessary or frivolous—maybe even to pick up a lunch box forgotten in one’s morning rush out the door.

Personal AVs would also make long-distance travel more appealing. One article speculates about “the use of AVs as mobile dwellings or luxury overnight sleeping compartments in lieu of higher density long-distance modes of travel.” In an AV world, use of all types of non-car public transportation is certain to decrease, and some fear that with reduced ridership, transit systems will go into a downward spiral—a disaster for those who can’t afford to buy or operate personal vehicles or ride-sharing services. Whether it’s in big cities or in regions with widely dispersed, smaller cities and limited public transportation (think Iowa or central Pennsylvania), per capita annual miles traveled will increase significantly once AVs are widely adopted.

The self-driving feature also comes at a high cost in energy efficiency. According to Bloomberg, the control systems for AVs “consume two to four kilowatts of electricity — the equivalent of having 50 to 100 laptops continuously running in the trunk.”

(The argument has been made that an increase in travel miles won’t matter if cars are powered by renewable electricity. But it will matter very much. Through much of the coming decades-long struggle to eliminate all fossil-fueled power generation, large portions of the national power supply will remain dirty. Meanwhile, every additional kilowatt-hour of wind or solar generation that goes to power a growing fleet of electric vehicles will be unavailable for traditional uses of electricity like lighting homes, refrigerating food, and reading online articles about self-driving cars. That will push even farther into the future the day when fossil-fueled electricity is eliminated. If we want ever to see that happy day, we will have to structure society in ways that will consume much less electricity, not more.)

The Wheel Turns, The Boat Rocks, The Sea Rises: Change In A Time Of Climate Change

By Rebecca Solnit - New Mint Press, September 18, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

When we argue for change, notably changing our ways in response to climate change, we’re arguing against people who claim we’re disrupting a stable system.

There have undoubtedly been stable periods in human history, but you and your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents never lived through one, and neither will any children or grandchildren you may have or come to have. Everything has been changing continuously, profoundly — from the role of women to the nature of agriculture. For the past couple of hundred years, change has been accelerating in both magnificent and nightmarish ways.

Yet when we argue for change, notably changing our ways in response to climate change, we’re arguing against people who claim we’re disrupting a stable system.  They insist that we’re rocking the boat unnecessarily.

I say: rock that boat. It’s a lifeboat; maybe the people in it will wake up and start rowing. Those who think they’re hanging onto a stable order are actually clinging to the wreckage of the old order, a ship already sinking, that we need to leave behind.

“If you want to know how potentially powerful you are, ask your enemies.”

As you probably know, the actual oceans are rising — almost eight inches since 1880, and that’s only going to accelerate. They’re also acidifying, because they’re absorbing significant amounts of the carbon we continue to pump into the atmosphere at record levels.  The ice that covers the polar seas is shrinking, while the ice shields that cover Antarctica and Greenland are melting. The water locked up in all the polar ice, as it’s unlocked by heat, is going to raise sea levels staggeringly, possibly by as much as 200 feet at some point in the future, how distant we do not know.  In the temperate latitudes, warming seas breed fiercer hurricanes.

The oceans are changing fast, and for the worse. Fish stocks are dying off, as are shellfish. In many acidified oceanic regions, their shells are actually dissolving or failing to form, which is one of the scariest, most nightmarish things I’ve ever heard. So don’t tell me that we’re rocking a stable boat on calm seas. The glorious 10,000-year period of stable climate in which humanity flourished and then exploded to overrun the Earth and all its ecosystems is over.

But responding to these current cataclysmic changes means taking on people who believe, or at least assert, that those of us who want to react and act are gratuitously disrupting a stable system that’s working fine. It isn’t stable. It is working fine — in the short term and the most limited sense — for oil companies and the people who profit from them and for some of us in the particularly cushy parts of the world who haven’t been impacted yet by weather events like, say, the recent torrential floods in Japan or southern Nevada and Arizona, or the monsoon versions of the same that have devastated parts of India and Pakistan, or the drought that has mummified my beloved California, or the wildfires of Australia.

The Fine Print I:

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