Climate Change

Humanity’s slow-motion suicide

When I think about infinite growth on a finite planet, overpopulation, inequality, climate breakdown, and the ever-present risk of nuclear annihilation, I recall my science teacher son’s remark, “Earth will survive; humankind may not.

Certainty is growing for global catastrophes to cause more damage to human well-being, endangering — potentially destroying — modern civilization. But this third rock from the Sun will continue spinning after humans make it unliveable.

We are on that track right now and, using public funds to accelerate movement toward existential disaster, political and economic leaders resist material change. Some of that is inertia; some of that is conscious submission to influential supporters; all of it is mistaken.

Fossil Fuel Subsidies: A Closer Look at Tax Breaks and Societal Costs, Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), July 2019:

Some of these subsidies have been around for a century, and …in many cases, the circumstances relevant at the time subsidies were implemented no longer exist. Today, the domestic fossil fuel industries (namely, coal, oil and natural gas) are mature and generally highly profitable. Additionally, numerous clean and renewable alternatives exist, which have become increasingly price-competitive with traditional fossil fuels…

There are many kinds of costs associated with fossil fuel use in the form of greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution resulting from the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. These negative externalities have adverse environmental, climate, and public health impacts, and are estimated to have totaled $5.3 trillion globally in 2015 alone.

Subsidizing an industry with such large, negative impacts is difficult to justify…

But rather than being phased out, fossil fuel subsidies are actually increasing. The latest International Monetary Fund (IMF) report estimates 6.5 percent of global GDP ($5.2 trillion) was spent on fossil fuel subsidies (including negative externalities) in 2017, a half trillion dollar increase since 2015…

While the EESI paper focuses on the United States, the situation is similar in Canada. This pattern of awarding generous handouts developed when abundant fossil fuel energy was seen as vital to economic growth. Massive subsidies also reflect political influence of the industry, which volunteers no concern for negative externalities. Of course, the fossil fuel industry’s political sway ensures governments minimize initiatives in non-destructive energy sources.

Institutional and individual investors also encourage Canada’s witless approach to energy. Important beneficiaries are the largest players in Canada’s financial industry.

Canada has a relatively small economy compared to the USA. Yet five Canadian banks are massively invested in fossil fuels. RBC, TD, BMO, Scotiabank, and CIBC have more than half a trillion dollars in fossil fuel holdings, which is about 1/2 of the investments held by the top 5 banks in a country with 12x our financial strength.

Resistance to taking obvious climate actions is not unlike the resistance seen in recent time to COVID-19 measures. Echoing Donald Trump in 2020, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick suggested people should volunteer to die to save the economy.

Fossil fuel promoters are not asking for volunteers. Without asking, they are ready to sacrifice our descendants to maintain business today as usual.

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Categories: Climate Change, Economics

13 replies »

  1. Yes it pretty much looks like a generation or two left before mother nature cleans house. The part that is hard to understand is these people with hands on the levers of power have children. How do they figure their off spring will get off the Titanic and go where?

    The analogy I have used before is the couple driving in a car smoking with the windows rolled up and the kids are asleep in the backseat.

    The tech rabbit out of the hat to save us is not going to happen. The game is rigged against those people who want to effect a change and our current system of governance will block all attempts to allow change to happen.

    Game/set/match!

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  2. Have been working on both personal and public initiatives to direct local thoughts and efforts toward a less destructive future for the last twenty-five years. I’ve seen only the slightest glimmers of hope as, in thrall to general control of the narrative, people generally don’t realize that they ought to care, and that they might actually want to do something concrete about ensuring that there be a livable future for their children and grandchildren.

    It seems daunting to try to punch through the smokescreen of chamber of commerce thinking, and contemplating the sheer weight of finance, and of government ultimately controlled by finance does not make for sweet dreams.

    In the “last hope” category, I’m working through a recent discussion between Paul Hawken and Rich Roll on how to end the climate crisis in one generation. There is much grist for discussion and even some guidance on proceeding with interactions with the ignorance that is our social scaffold. It’s on YouTube.

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    • Here’s a link to the discussion Rich Roll had with Paul Hawken on “ending the climate crisis in one generation.”

      I must admit to instant skepticism when a commentator offers what appear to be too-easy solutions and is substantially focused on selling products to readers and listeners. Nevertheless, I will give Rich Roll a try. I’m a steady podcast listener and am regularly amazed at the high-quality content available. Mind you, one has to be careful to avoid the worthless, even harmful stuff.

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  3. Norm, I came across a terrific essay in the London Review of Books by Cape Town resident, Rosa Lyster. She opens with a confession to having “an aversion to being told the truth about a bad situation” before going on to describe the misery unfolding today in Mexico City. The city is sinking from a combination of rapacious consumption of groundwater and water pipes broken by the subsidence.

    “In ten years’ time, India will have half the water it needs, as will Zimbabwe, although in its case ten years is an optimistic timeframe, given the unwavering severity of the drought there. Forty per cent of Beijing’s water supply is currently too polluted to use, and Mexico City is draining its aquifers 50 per cent faster than they can be replenished.”

    Lyster concludes that the political will to respond to these crises does not exist. What a powerful combination, a public that doesn’t want to know and leaders who compulsively kick even existential threats down the road.

    I’m afraid we’re in a rather bad way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the tip. I intend to pay attention to Rosa Lyster’s work.

      Here’s a podcast from LRB where “Rosa Lyster talks to Thomas Jones about the global water crisis, from the severe droughts in her home city of Cape Town, to the sinking of Mexico City and the damming of the Nile, and the need for all countries to prepare for future shortages.”

      Hydrological Uncertainty

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  4. To address something as big and catastrophic as climate change, the human race would need to examine what’s driving it, in addition to how to stop it.

    To do that would be to then recognize that it’s global capitalism itself that’s the cause.

    To stop global warming would then mean we’d have to put an end to the global capitalist system that current causes all the endless consumption, which will eventually consume us all too. The more people realize this, the more a threat they themselves to said system.

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  5. Hi Norm;
    As the comments above, coupled with what you have posted , all seem to say, there is no liveable future for humans. My hope is the the “greed is good ‘ gang, who never know when to stop nor never have enough , will over play their hands and self-destruct like history records.

    Cheers and Merry Christmas; Erik

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Yes, the rock will survive us, but I am sad for all the innocent life forms that will likely go down with us. I guess they’re like the dinosaurs that were unlucky enough to be there when that asteroid arrived. Now Homo sapiens (better named Homo destructor) is a slow-mo asteroid.
    Apologies for the pessimism. I know a lot of people still claim to be hopeful. Maybe I should stop listening to and reading the bad news.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Andrew Nikiforuk (award-winning author, journalist & contributing editor for The Tyee) gave a presentation entitled ““Energy Dead-Ends: Green Lies, Climate Change and Chaotic Transitions” at UVIC on Nov 17, 2021 as part of their Southam Lecture series.

    His recorded presentation is well worth taking in (approx. 75 minutes), as it does an excellent job of addressing the complex, sobering subject matter in Norm’s “Humanity’s slow-motion suicide,” and more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtyY-_1fY-8

    After the introduction by Prof. Deborah Campbell (Dept. of Writing, at U of Victoria), Andrew’s presentation starts at about 6:30 in the video timeline.

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    • I watched this and found myself nodding my head regularly. I then posted a link to FB and Twitter and was met with comments about old hippies not being able to let go the past, and much of this from quite intelligent and normally reasonable people, It was disheartening.

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  8. We have been sent a massive warning by mother nature about global warming. To date, our politicians remain blind, deaf and, dumb to this warning.

    We are making one of the most livable cities in the world a dump, by politicians prostrating themselves to land speculators and land developers.

    It is worse south of the boarder where the wealthy elites are ensuring the dumbing down of education, and the bankrupting of the social order, by making sure fear rules the land. Fear and loathing has become the American politic and it is safe to say, the end of democracy in the United States will happen in 2025, as the next take over of the capitol will be successful.

    Canada dithers, fighting ghosts of the past and either cannot or will not face the environmental problems that are plaguing this land.

    The Liberals, Conservatives and the NDP have no plan except tax, tax, tax.

    The Greens immolated themselves on the pyre of middle east politics instead of tackling the real issues in Canada.

    We are now entering the new age of empires, where Russia and China have the upper hand, while the United States empire crumbles. In this game of international chess, the USA is at a great disadvantage because they have drunk so much of their own bathwater, they cannot tell facts from fiction, real history or Hollywood history.

    There is no magic bullet, no miracle weapon about global warming, rather it is getting back to basics, which our spoiled and self centered population do not want to deal with.

    Canadians have dodged the bullet with Covid, only the weak perished but the next pandemic, we might not be so lucky.

    Despite the mayhem of the floods and the great deluge, little life was lost, we may not be so fortunate next time.

    “Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.

    No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

    John Donne

    The climate bells are tolling, why cannot our politicians hear?

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  9. Education is partly to understand human mistakes of the past in hopes of not repeating them. After 80 odd years of learning and then trying not to repeat errors of my way and the ways of other humans I despair .
    Of course that is why there are folks who want us all ignorant.

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