Can a free-trading, capitalist world cope with climate change?
The Challenge of Our Time
We’re continuing our “money machine” series on the cost of carbon capitalism. Gas gets cheaper, the weather gets warmer, and for our guests the environmental activists Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben, the choice is clear: change our ways, or reap the whirlwind.
In her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism versus the Climate, Klein is counting on change in the atmosphere as the contradictions intensify between the earth and the economy. After all, she says, no one insures the globe, though it’s too big to fail. No one bails out the vanishing woods and wildlife.
We’re wondering whether and how American capitalism will take to remaking, especially since it’s the geopolitical meek who inherit the earth’s problems. (Check out this Guardian infographic, which shows where historical carbon emissions and rapid development collide to endanger… underdeveloped non-emitters.)
Read our social-media recap of the show on Storify. (One of our goals in 2015 is to add collect thoughts and reactions to our broadcasts, and this is one medium we’ll be experimenting with.)
What has to happen: the Global Calculator
By Max Larkin.
American people on the left and right answered in common that they’d like the state to make changes to heal the climate. It’s unclear, though, whether and how us Westerners can reset their appetites and expectations to the problem, if push came to shove. (This was Elizabeth Kolbert’s big problem with This Changes Everything). Even in the age of Inhofe’s denialism, the citizenry knows that big change is called for. Still we patc together penny-ante fixes, scaled to what’s called ‘political will’.
What needs to happen? Where do we start? Enter the Global Calculator, a new online tool engineered by the UK Department of Energy & Climate Change and an international team of organizations. It looks like something that you might see on the deck of the Enterprise.
Get over the learning curve, and you can see the variables, all of them notionally up for debate, that could keep us shy of the famous 2º threshold until 2050 — or push us past it.
You can hack your way to your own personal program using the tool — maybe you believe we all really need air travel, but can handle nuclear energy and favor ‘cozy’ apartments.
But maybe the most interesting feature of the Calculator is the list of “example pathways” to safe emissions. These 2º pathways share a few premises: that world population will grow toward 10 billion by 2050, and that the global economy serving those 10 billion will triple in size.
But a few scenarios stand out:
In the ‘consumer reluctance’ scenario our worst fears are confirmed, and consumers turn out to be unwilling to shift away from carbon-intensive transit, cooking and power. The calculator proves that even if this were the case, we could stay shy of 2º — but it would take much more nuclear power and renewables on the grid, and a makeover of land use and food production.
On the other hand, if Klein is right to be optimistic and we’re waking up to a new kind of citizen activism, we can get to climate health with less nuclear power and little tweaks: eating more chicken and lamb and less lamb and beef, for example. (This news will be taken hard in certain corners of our office.)
Speaking of which, The Vegan Society has the problem sussed — cut the average citizen’s caloric intake to 2,100 per diem (and ditch almost all the meat) and you’re well on your way.
Finally, there’s the World Energy Council’s consumption-driven pathway. The WEC named this revolution in buying the as “Jazz” scenario, compared to a “Symphony” of government-led remaking of industry. They say one isn’t necessarily better than the other, but it does dramatize that what we do in our homes doesn’t “get us to 2º” nearly as easily as structural reforms and laws can.
What can we learn about our own carbon footprints from the Calculator? A few lessons:
1.) Protect the forests and you’ve done a lot.
2.) World governments can save us, but they can kill us, too, by deregulating, digging, and fueling militaries all across the globe.
3.) Tolerate the vegetarians in your life, no matter how preachy they may get, because:
4.) America’s chickens may come home to roost, but it’s beef that will kill us all.
Finally, take a listen to what amounts to Kurt Vonnegut’s literary last words, a kind of sigh over the ravaged planet. Our friend, the actor John Davin (veteran of our Chekhov readings), came by and did a wonderful job bringing the poem — never read by Vonnegut that we could find — to life.
Canadian activist and author of No Logo, The Shock Doctrine, and most recently This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate.
environmentalist co-founder of 350.org, journalist, and author of Eaarth: Making A Life on a Tough New Planet and Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist.
a cofounding president of Ceres, a "non-profit organization advocating for sustainability leadership", and director of its Investor Network on Climate Risk.
Coral Davenport, New York Times
Bill McKibben, Rolling Stone
Paul Mason, Channel 4
David Roberts, The Grist