Epistle to the Ecotopians by Ernest Callenbach

This document was found on the computer of Ecotopia author Ernest Callenbach (1929-2012) after his death. It was originally published on TomDispatch and I read it on Climate Progress. I found these words to be utterly moving, much like his other works, and could not resist re-posting it. Please share this piece (with proper citation and credit to the above) to your friends, family and others.

Ecotopia CoverTo all brothers and sisters who hold the dream in their hearts of a future world in which humans and all other beings live in harmony and mutual support — a world of sustainability, stability, and confidence. A world something like the one I described, so long ago, in Ecotopia and Ecotopia Emerging.

As I survey my life, which is coming near its end, I want to set down a few thoughts that might be useful to those coming after. It will soon be time for me to give back to Gaia the nutrients that I have used during a long, busy, and happy life. I am not bitter or resentful at the approaching end; I have been one of the extraordinarily lucky ones. So it behooves me here to gather together some thoughts and attitudes that may prove useful in the dark times we are facing: a century or more of exceedingly difficult times.

How will those who survive manage it? What can we teach our friends, our children, our communities? Although we may not be capable of changing history, how can we equip ourselves to survive it?

I contemplate these questions in the full consciousness of my own mortality. Being offered an actual number of likely months to live, even though the estimate is uncertain, mightily focuses the mind. On personal things, of course, on loved ones and even loved things, but also on the Big Picture.

But let us begin with last things first, for a change. The analysis will come later, for those who wish it.

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Climate Change v. Global Warming v. AGW

Q: Why was it called global warming for so long, if the weather everywhere isn’t actually warming? Why aren’t they using that term as much anymore?

A: It was called global warming because the average global temperature is rising due to an increasing amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. However, this as led to misunderstanding and the anti-climate-science media campaigns have shown us the value of a more accurate and easily understood meaning.

Q: Why do some people refer to it as Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW)?

A: This is a term used to create a devision between “global warming” that is occurring naturally, versus “global warming” that is the result of human society (AGW). While our planet’s climate changes on large swings, it happens slowly – in geological time frames. The climate today is changing much faster than the natural swing and can be directly related to human beings burning fossil fuels.

Q: Why “climate change” then?

A: This is a more accurate term now used to help make it clear in the midst of massive amounts of anti-science misinformation and media campaigns by polluters. Tehcnically, it would be even more accurate to call it Global Climate Disruption, as the increase in greenhouse gases throws every part of the ecosystem off balance – cause floods in some areas, droughts in others, increased severity and frequency of storms, causing some areas to cool (N. Europe and Northeast US) while others burn (Texas, Pakistan, Australia).

Q: Where is all this misunderstanding coming from?

A: Bil Oil and Coal dump unbelievable amounts of money into campaigns to make the public distrust the science (that’s right, science, the thing that is allow you to read this, drive your car, and in many cases be alive today – the basis for modern human existence). By undermining the public’s trust in climate science these companies can distort the facts so that we “debate” the existence of something that is considered “unequivocal” by credible scientists.

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Climate Awareness Shift?

Occasionally I have to fly for my day job. I’m not a huge fan of it – I can handle the actual act of flying, but I hate the whole experience, from the pre-boarding body search to the crammed-in-a-seat-built-for-someone-two-feet-shorter-than-me. Not to mention that it is the worst way to travel if you care about the climate. Alas, I still have to do it from time to time (though I am trying to phase it out all together).

I recently had to fly down to Davis, CA for a site visit on a project of mine in construction. While waiting to board my flight I talked with a gentleman from outside Tulsa, Oklahoma on his way home. He lamented on the horrible destruction of the tornados that recently hit the area. We talked briefly of the sporadic and crazy weather there and elsewhere. Then I said the two ominous words in any discussion with a stranger: “climate change.”

In all honesty, and to my own personal shame, I expected this man from the south to call me a lunatic or spout off some climate denier propaganda. But to his credit he nodded in agreement, as did another lady next to us who was listening in.

I went on to say that our atmospheric CO2 concentration is now at 394ppm and in order to maintain a planet in which life evolved and is accustomed too, the maximum safe level is 350ppm. Neither of my fellow travels appeared to be aware of this fact, there was shock on their face when I explained the numbers.

The women to my right speculated that we will evolve, but I felt compelled to correct her. All evidence is the the contrary. We’ve stamped out life on Earth quicker and with more vigor not seen since the extinction of the dinosaurs. There are absolutely no guarantees of our survival going forward.

Flooding in Pakistan, drought in Texas (and Pakistan), record tornados in Oklahoma and elsewhere the likes of which has never before been seen in record history. All pointing to the fact that climate change has arrived, it’s no longer “on it’s way.” Because of all of this (not to mention that it’s undeniable science, really) I feel more and more that the “debate,” for which I no longer bother engaging in with climate deniers, might finally be coming to an end soon. We all see the craziness now. We’ve entered into a new geologic era. Perhaps now our lifestyles can finally shift.

The gentlemen from Tulsa asked me if I worked in this area or if I was just interested in the subject. “Concerned, deeply,” I replied. “I have a young son, how could I not be concerned?” We all nodded in agreement. As Mark Hertsgaard says in his book Hot:Living Through The Next Fifty Years On Earth, taking action against climate change is now “part of a parent’s job description, no less vital than tending to your child’s diet, health or eduction.” The tides of awareness are changing. Are you coming along?

Are Nuclear Fears Unfounded?

Nuclear Power PlantsI have a great respect for George Monbiot. He is an amazing writer (I loved his book Heat), a fearless journalist and a strong-willed political activist. He an deeply committed environmentalist, and also (so it appears, see below) a supporter of nuclear power.

Recently he engaged in a debate over the nuclear debacle in Japan with staunch anti-nuclear activist Helen Caldicott. After hunting for scientific evidence to support the claims of the anti-nuclear movement in general. Seeing as how I’ve been musing on the Japan nuclear quagmire, I thought I would share his piece with you.

From his recent article, “Evidence Meltdown,”

“Failing to provide sources, refuting data with anecdote, cherry-picking studies, scorning the scientific consensus, invoking a cover-up to explain it: all this is horribly familiar. These are the habits of climate change deniers, against which the green movement has struggled valiantly, calling science to its aid. It is distressing to discover that when the facts don’t suit them, members of this movement resort to the follies they have denounced.

“We have a duty to base our judgements on the best available information. This is not just because we owe it to other people to represent the issues fairly, but also because we owe it to ourselves not to squander our lives on fairytales. A great wrong has been done by this movement. We must put it right.”

Clearly a energy policy that does not rely on greenhouse gas emitting, non-renewable technologies is necessary. There is potential for nuclear power to provide a stop-gap to get us between our current technology level to when we will have more efficient, cheaper solar, wind, geothermal and wave/tidal power or potentially other more advance energy sources (fusion, hydrogen, etc). I also know that we could utilize all of these without nuclear power now, but I’m not so sure about the political feasibly of it all. And I am not keen on relying on unknown future technologies to save us in the present.

On the flip side, here’s Brian Czech’s most recent post on The Daly News.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this subject.

Image Credit: Inhabitat

Carrying Capacity And Overshoot

There once was a time when I was a very active homebrewer, making upwards of 14 batches of beer a year. Things have slowed down on that front quite a bit since having our son (not to mention my increased activity blogging and working on post-growth projects). Nowadays I make mead, wine and the occasional beer. The mead and wine are much easier to make in terms of labor hours, but require much more patience.

I bring this up because recently I have been thinking about the magical thing that drives that hobby of mine: yeast. They are amazing little creatures, and some even consider them to be proof of a higher power (that old Ben Franklin quote “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”) More to the point, I’ve been thinking about how much we seem to have in common with yeast:

  • They consume feverishly, producing wastes that slowly build up in their environment.
  • They produce CO2 in amazing quantity.
  • Their population reaches in the billions, each one is bent on consuming over everything else.
  • Eventually their waste (in the case of yeast, alcohol) spreads so far and wide into their environment it turns an otherwise supporting system into a killing system – they die in their own waste, poisoned by it.

We’ve definitely started to edge into the last one, but we already have hit the first three. Our economy and society, most especially here in the United States, relies and exists solely to consume (and produce things to consume). We’ve released so much CO2 into the atmosphere that we’re altering our beautiful ecosystem’s ability to support life. Our consumption continues to rise, but so does our population – both adding to the problem.

The pity is that we can’t bottle up our waste and toast it over a good meal with friends, like we can with the “waste” yeast cells produce. Maybe instead, we can learn from their experience – if we consume too much, produce too much waste, we will have a massive drop in production capacity and population. We can choose a different path. We can choose to stabilize our consumption, work to remove the CO2 from our system and try to restore a lot of the ecosystem we’ve destroyed so far.

This month is all about the Global Population Speak-Out. I’ve signed up to write some posts, and the GrowthBusters have decided to write a few more on our Post Growth blog. Let’s start talking about population and consumption – they’re getting out of control and we’re starting to look like we have the collective intelligence of single-celled organisms, so let’s start acting like we’ve actually got the intelligence of an evolved, sentient spices, huh?

Endangered Species Condoms?

Next month is the Global Population Speak Out Month – a whole month focused on raising awareness of a large (and growing) issue – population growth. We live on a finite planet, with only so many resources. Yet our population (and consumption, as I mentioned earlier) continues to grow. We’re over-stretching our carrying capacity, and it isn’t good for our species or other life on Earth either. What can we do?

The project I have been working on recently is involved with the coming documentary Hooked On Growth, which will be releasing later this year. Here’s a great video on the subject of population growth… and contraceptives.

The Real Population Question

7 Billion People

This year will be a monumental one. 2011 is the year our spaceship Earth will have 7 billion people on board. A large majority of the developed countries’ populations are entering the elderly years, when they become less able to work and need more care. This means a lowered workforce all around and an increased need for a workforce to care for our elders. In the developing world, where a large majority of this population growth is occurring, there are more malnourished children, more uneducated mothers and more people living with inadequate shelter, food, health care, water, et cetera, et cetera.

I’ve written before about population. This is a dodgy issue surrounded by misconceptions, fear and contention. It is an easy topic to bring up if you are looking to start a heated argument, loose friends or out any Nazis in a group. However, the topic of population is an important one and it simply needs to be framed properly with the other root cause of “the problem” – consumption. The two go hand-in-hand and we like to avoid talking about either in respect to natural limits.

Jeremy, over at Make Wealth History, brought it up last month in a great post, “How many people can the Earth support?” and I want to echo his thoughts. I also want to make it clear to everyone that this debate must be had! We must have debate over these serious issues. We must be willing to potentially change our minds or, at the very least, be able to open them to solutions we might not have thought of ourselves or might not have be completely confident in their success. Either way we have to do something.

Next month is Global Population Speak Out Month, and I think we should all open up this topic for discussion. It is important for us to recognize that there is a limit to the number of people the world can support, as well as the amount of consumption that can be supported. The real question is what is the desired level of consumption that we want for everyone? We must be fair and grant enough room for all to equally share the Earth, so what is an appropriate stable population and consumption level? Our generation must answer these questions, so we should start by at least asking them.

Check out this infographic on the subject (my thanks to Grist for showing it to me) or this National Geographic video:

Points of Progress

This semi-regular report includes things happening in our world, policies, articles and practices in-line with the steady state economy or transitioning to it, that are worth some time to read about –  the good news, the promising results. They are all exciting things happening I just don’t have time to post about each in-depth.

Here are some cool things happening in the world:

Limits To Growth Compared To 30 Years of Reality

It’s a couple years old already, but I just found it and want to pass it on. A report published in June 2008 by CSIRO, an Australian science and researching body, compares the prophecies of the seminal Limits To Growth with the thirty years of data since its original publication. Turns out, the Meadows (et al) were not full of shit – we do live on a finite planet and will run out of resources quickly if we continue to follow growth instead of living within our means. In fact, as the CSIRO report points out, we’re on track for nature to force us to stop growing.

Read the whole report here (pdf).

California Maintains Climate Bill

While this mid-term election has been mixed (mostly bad news), the voters in California maintained their ground-breaking climate bill AB 32, defeating the oil-industry funded Proposition 23. There is a lot of speculation on why voters kept this bill in play, but I think the most realistic one is that they have seen the affects and like it! Californians have seen how a cap-and-trade bill can be good for their economy, promote a more sustainable society and protect the environment.

Let the Golden State help show us all there is still hope for progress in the battle against climate change.

Proposal To Extend Montreal Protocol Gaining Support

Along the same vein, this election has pretty much shown that action on climate by congress is no in the near future, if at all. There are lots of other things being done, by industry, by the administration, by community groups and transition towns. On an international level the climate talks, with the next meeting schedule for Cancun, are a political dead-end as well without action from the US Congress. Alas! There is some hope…

Another international treaty that combats pollution, the Montreal Protocol, has eliminated 97 per cent of the ozone-harming chemicals. From the sounds of it, the annual signatory meetings go smoothly and without much fuss. Better yet, there is a growing support to expand the Montreal Protocol to include HFCs, an ozone-harming and incredibly harmful greenhouse gas (1000 times worse than CO2).

The resolution has gained support from developed nations and includes a fast implementation to eliminate a type of greenhouse gas that could help push major climate destabilization off by years, even a decade, by eliminating up to 88 billion carbon-equivalent tons of greenhouse gasses. It’s not a complete climate agreement, but it’s something in the right direction.