Citizen Action Monitor

Choose your climate crisis solution – Green New deal or Business as Usual? Both will doom us

Some choice! — BAU promises a magical future, while GND’s energy goals are delusional.

No 2515 Posted by fw, September 1, 2019

Andrew Nikiforuk

“The stories we tell ourselves become the reality of our experience. Global elites are now offering ordinary people two salvation stories for our digital entertainment. Both delusional stories are being served on the Internet with bags of virtual popcorn. One is the so-called Green New Deal, and the other is Business As Usual, which comes in both liberal and autocratic formats. Both are actively competing for our attention. … The BAU refrain is simple: trust the status quo and its armies of technocrats, because they’ll make things great again. The BAU crowd maintains that nothing is really wrong with our failing global economic Ponzi schemes or the broken air conditioning unit that controls the climate. According to the BAU crowd, there is only one route to greatness: we must deregulate and reduce taxes for the rich in order to promote growth and jobs. … Proponents of the GND claim they have a plan to transform the globe’s massive fossil fuel infrastructure into 100-per-cent renewables over the next decade. In just 10 years, they say, we can pivot (a favourite word for elites these days) to a greener and saner world than the one based on a century of fossil fuel reliance. … We’ve begun to experience collapse in all spheres of life. Collapse can be both slow and rapid. It is a series of unending emergencies. Instead of responding or preparing, we’re cheering on a fight between fantasies.”Andrew Nikiforuk, The Tyee

Andrew Nikiforuk is a Canadian journalist who has won multiple National Magazine Awards. In 2010, he became the Tyee’s first writer in residence.

I found Andrew Nikiforuk’s article, reposted below, like an appetizer, leaving me hungry for more – more than just two choices in our fight for survival. Granted, he mentions, but only in passing, Nate Hagens’ thoughtsabout how to prepare for a 30-per-cent drop in energy consumption. But there are others engaged in this fight. Here are a few that come to mind. The UK’s Extinction Rebellion with its plan to use “citizens’ assemblies” to save the world. Then there’s Tim Jackson’s call for a post-growth economy. And let’s not overlook the “Diva of Doom”, Gail Zawacki, who finds solace in “… struggling for the capacity to endure the unbearable lightness of being, that great paradox of being human, to have the knowledge that we are hurtling towards the Endocene but can do nothing to slow the trajectory … to see our death looming and to realize it cannot be prevented. …to face the soul crushing tragedy of the horrendous truth that our fate is sealed.” Oh yes, the work of atmospheric physicist Tim Garrett comes to mind for his use of physics to explain what economists have failed to do: NO WAY OUT: Civilization caught in a double-bind between global collapse and CO2 levels of 1200 ppm.

This sentence from Nikiforuk’s article caught my attention: “People are lining up behind these simple narratives because the human brain can’t handle much complexity.” If aspects of the climate crisis are now beyond the comprehension of the voting public – and most politicians — then we are, indeed, in big trouble. Which is a good argument for test-driving citizens assemblies. (As an aside, to get an idea of the complexity of the nature of our human predicament, Prof. Hagens has recently uploaded to You Tube 34 videos he uses in his course).

Below is an abridged and edited repost of Andrew Nikiforuk’s article, with my added subheadings, text highlighting and reformatting his single sentences as paragraphs. To read the complete article on The Tyee’s website, click on the following linked title.

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The Green New Deal Battles Business as Usual. Both Will Doom Us by Andrew Nikiforuk, The Tyee, August 21, 2019

We’re clinging to fantasies while the world crumbles. And we like it that way.

‘The real unfolding drama — the collapse of a global civilization founded on a highly material culture created by cheap energy — is not a narrative we want to tell ourselves or our children.’

Choose your climate crisis solution – Green New deal or Business as Usual? – Both will doom us

The stories we tell ourselves become the reality of our experience. Global elites are now offering ordinary people two salvation stories for our digital entertainment. Both delusional stories are being served on the Internet with bags of virtual popcorn. One is the so-called Green New Deal, and the other is Business As Usual, which comes in both liberal and autocratic formats. Both are actively competing for our attention.

BAU offers an alluring and simplistic call to restore greatness and order

Let’s begin with BAU, which now boasts a variety of populist variations. At one level or another, we can all understand BAU’s alluring and simple call to restore greatness and order. Think of it as Vladimir Putin, Doug Ford, Jair Bolsonaro, Andrew Scheer and Donald Trump doing a rain dance to bring back lost worlds and spent energies. Or China’s Hong Kong establishment wondering what’s wrong with those young people in the streets. Or Emmanuel Macron asking what the hell got into those yellow vest people marginalized by globalization and carbon taxes.

Here’s BAU solution – First, deregulate and reduce taxes for the rich to promote growth and jobs

The BAU refrain is simple: trust the status quo and its armies of technocrats, because they’ll make things great again. The BAU crowd maintains that nothing is really wrong with our failing global economic Ponzi schemes or the broken air conditioning unit that controls the climate. According to the BAU crowd, there is only one route to greatness: we must deregulate and reduce taxes for the rich in order to promote growth and jobs.

Second, corporate media attack BAU critics and promote interests of the rich and powerful

The BAU program also encourages citizens to attack its critics, climate migrants, scientists or anybody else who questions the insanity of its approach. According to BAU proponents, ungrateful people are making it impossible to achieve its real greatness. That’s one popular denial narrative, and most of the media tends to parrot it. In a technological society, the media builds consent by serving the powerful.

Green New Deal advocates propose to transition from fossil fuels to 100% renewables in just 10 years

Next comes the Green New Deal. Fashioned after U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt’s economic new deal, the GND says that BAU stinks. Climate change poses an “existential threat” to civilization (as if biodiversity loss and exponential population growth don’t), and fossil fuels are the enemy. It proposes a Second World War-scale mobilization to fix the problem. Proponents of the GND claim they have a plan to transform the globe’s massive fossil fuel infrastructure into 100-per-cent renewables over the next decade. In just 10 years, they say, we can pivot (a favourite word for elites these days) to a greener and saner world than the one based on a century of fossil fuel reliance.

GND aims to drive carbon emissions down to zero, employ millions, and end poverty and racism

The GND movement says it will drive carbon emissions down toward zero with the goal of thwarting rising seas, maverick storms, heat waves and ocean acidification. In the process, the GND aims to employ lots of people, end poverty, and perhaps racism too.

Texas engineering prof’s global energy picture is at odds with GND’s version

To appreciate the ambitious scale of the GND, consider the real global energy picture as set out by Tad Patzek, a professor of petroleum and chemical engineering in Texas.

Patzek does the math and fossils outperform hydroelectric and nuclear, and a mix of renewables  

If we divide the days of the year up based on total energy use, he writes, fossil fuels — oil, coal and natural gas — powered the globe for 321 days in 2018. (Fossil fuels provide more than 80 cent of the energy we consume.) Dams and nuclear power kept the lights on for 15 days. Renewables or repeatables (solar panels and wind turbines need to be replaced every 50 years or so) only energized the globe for about 29 days. And most of that energy came from biomass or wood burning.

The GND wants to turn 29 days into 321 days of primary power — in a decade.

Moreover, on an annual worldwide basis, solar production can’t even match just the increase of total energy consumed. And electrical demand is outpacing increase in renewable production   

But here’s the thing. According to Patzek, annual increases in the total amount of energy consumed by the world has consistently been greater than electricity production by all solar photovoltaic arrays in the world. Electrical demand is rising faster than the increase in production from renewables, which explains why fossil fuels have supplied more than 80 per cent of primary global energy demand for decades with little or no change.

Some choice: BAU promises a magical future, while GND’s energy goals are delusional

So that’s the choice at your local political theatre. BAU promises a magical future, with some robots and drones thrown in. GND sets out energy goals that could only be possible in some sort of Marvel superhero movie.

If it’s true that people don’t have the brain power to handle the complexity of the collapse of civilization, then we’re in big trouble

People are lining up behind these simple narratives because the human brain can’t handle much complexity. And the real unfolding drama — the collapse of a global civilization founded on a highly material culture created by cheap energy — is not a narrative we want to tell ourselves or our children.

Prof Nate Hagens emphasizes that BAU and GND suffer from the same shortcoming – energy blindness

We are wired to deny reality the way warring spouses can steadfastly ignore the absence of love. Nate Hagens, a former Wall Street wolf and now an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota, gives lots of talks about things falling apart. He emphasizes that BAU and GND suffer from the same shortcomings. They are both energy blind. Neither BAU nor GND, for instance, understand that energy flows underpin economic flows. The more carbon-based energy we use, the more economic growth global civilization experiences. The less we use, the more our economies contract.

BAU acts as if costlier tarsands and fracked oils won’t result in a global economic contraction

BAU pretends that expensive fossil fuels like fracked oil or bitumen can replace cheap conventional stuff with no global economic contraction. They can’t.

GND crowd doesn’t seem to realize that renewables can’t match the energy quality of fossils 

GND pretends that renewables can provide the same quality of energy as fossil fuels with no global upheaval. They can’t.

We are caught in the grip of fossil carbon, tethered by our experiences, our life standards, our wages, our profits, our growth, the cheap stuff that we buy

Hagens, of course, offers a different narrative, one closer to the truth. He says the world is in the grip of energy-consuming amoeba, or what some critics used to call the technological-industrial complex. The omnivorous blob, a sort of “unthinking, mindless, energy-hungry superorganism,” is autonomous. We are no longer in charge or driving this crazy bus. It has swallowed us. Every fossil fuel user belongs to the amoeba. Because almost every good and service (and solar panel) starts with a fossil fuel fire, the amoeba can’t really think of a world where power is not consumed vigorously and mindlessly. And without fossil fuels, the amoeba would shrink and die. Almost every so-called environmental problem, from deforestation to nitrogen imbalances to vanishing fisheries, is largely a product of the metabolism of the energy-consuming amoeba.

Hagens believes we’ll have to “bend” our lifestyles to prepare for a coming 30% drop in energy consumption

Hagens thinks the world needs a non-partisan conversation about this reality, and about how to prepare for a 30-per-cent drop in energy consumption. He says civilization has three options: it can muddle on, bend or break. Muddling is what we are doing now. No one is talking about bending. That would require dramatic reductions in energy spending and a different way of living. Breaking is what Margaret Atwood writes about in her science fiction.

We are now encountering some of the same kind of forces that have traditionally been involved in the fall of civilizations” 

At the 2016 World Economic Forum, the historian Ian Morris patiently explained to some of the globe’s elites why civilizations collapse. The horsemen of apocalyptic collapse — or what the digital crowd might call barbaric disruptors — include uncontrollable migrations of people; novel plagues; failing states leading to much bloodletting; the collapse of trade routes leading to hunger; and climate change. “It’s hard not to feel that we are now encountering some of the same kind of forces that have traditionally been involved in the fall of civilizations,” Morris said.

Déjà vu?  – It took about 10 million years for animals and plants to recover from a climate crisis die-off created when methane changed the chemistry of the oceans and sky

But back to Hagen’s amoeba metaphor. It is probably more apt than he ever intended. Almost 250 million years ago, a microbe called Methanosarcina figured out a new way to capture energy in ocean sediment by eating organic carbon. It grew exponentially on the new fuel, like the British Empire did on coal or the American Empire did on oil. But there was an unintended problem. Methanosarcina farted methane, and that methane changed the chemistry of the oceans and the sky, resulting in a massive die-off of creatures. It took about 10 million years for animals and plants to recover from the climate crisis created by a Methanosarcina population boom.

Two competing strategies – both so very wrong

The absurdity of the two competing narratives should now be plain. The BAU crowd thinks we can grow the amoeba, and all will be great again. The GND thinks we can green the amoeba and right all that is wrong. Listening to these two camps trying to clobber each other while denying reality brings to mind a delightful line from an equally absurd scene in the film Dr. Strangelove. Gentlemen! You can’t fight in here! This is the war room!

Meanwhile, the collapse in all spheres of life has begun, and time is not on our side

We’ve begun to experience collapse in all spheres of life. Collapse can be both slow and rapid. It is a series of unending emergencies. Instead of responding or preparing, we’re cheering on a fight between fantasies.

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