Eric Holthaus is a meteorologist and he wanted to do something about global warming. He wrote a book and finished it November 2019.
Here is some advice he gives:
‘The key to writing a good book is to write a bad book and then fix it.’
I like that. The key to writing a book is firstly to finish it. Then to fix it. Holthaus managed that. He’s an optimist.
‘In 2035’, for example, he suggests, ‘global emissions finally started to sharply decline—down 50 percent from 2020 levels. Even though the temperature was still rising, we managed to avoid a 1.5-degree rise. We were in the middle of the great Drawdown, a period of rebirth that allowed us to scale back emissions through individualised and collective actions’.
What he imagines for 2050 is international cooperation in a caring and sharing global society in which reparations have been made from rich countries to poorer countries that have contributed less to global warming, but have suffered the worst effects. A third of Pakistan’s landmass, for example, being underwater would immediately by a coalition led largely by America. A Marshall Plan, which provided aid to Western Europe, but covered the world. This would be ratified by the Paris Agreement of 2050.
To paraphrase that old Coke ad, I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony
The second decade of the twenty-first century isn’t going as he envisaged.
“Many international bodies and national government are relying on carbon capture in the fossil fuel sector to get to net zero, and it simply won’t work,” Bruce Robertson, the author of the IEEFA report, said.
Despite being a technology still in development, carbon capture and storage has been put forward as a key element in the UK’s plans to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
A further challenge is finding suitable storage sites for carbon sequestration, where the gas will not merely be used to push out more oil. According to the report, trapped CO2 will need monitoring for centuries to ensure it does not leak into the atmosphere – raising the risk of liability being handed over to the public, years after private interests have extracted their profits from the enterprise.
The risk is that CCS technology will be used to extend the life of fossil fuel infrastructure long past the cut off point for maintaining atmospheric carbon at less than catastrophic levels, the report suggested.
Global public subsidies for fossil fuels almost doubled to $700bn in 2021, analysis has shown, representing a “roadblock” to tackling the climate crisis.
Despite the huge profits of fossil fuel companies, the subsidies soared as governments sought to shield citizens from surging energy prices as the global economy rebounded from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Most of the subsidies were used to reduce the price paid by consumers. This largely benefits wealthier households, as they use the most energy, rather than targeting those on low incomes. The subsidies are expected to rise even further in 2022 as Russia’s war in Ukraine has driven energy prices even higher.
“Fossil fuel subsidies are a roadblock to a more sustainable future, but the difficulty that governments face in removing them is underscored at times of high and volatile fuel prices,” said Fatih Birol, the director of the International Energy Agency, which produced the analysis with the OECD.
“A surge in investment in clean energy technologies and infrastructure is the only lasting solution to today’s global energy crisis and the best way to reduce the exposure of consumers to high fuel costs,” said Birol.
“Significant increases in fossil fuel subsidies encourage wasteful consumption, while not necessarily reaching low-income households,” said Mathias Cormann, the OECD secretary general. “We need to adopt measures which protect consumers [and] help keep us on track to carbon neutrality, as well as energy security and affordability.”
The analysis covers 51 key countries and represents 85% of the world’s total energy supply. Subsidies that kept fossil fuel prices artificially low more than tripled to $531bn in 2021, compared with 2020. Subsidies for oil and gas production reached a record level of $64bn. The IEA said in May 2021 that no new fossil fuel projects should be developed if the world is to meet its climate goals.
Richard Powers (2018) The Overstory which won The Man Booker Prize tackles many of the issues Holthaus addresses, but in fictional form. Holhaus imagines a future, a regeneration in which agriculture which takes up half the earth and uses eighty percent of water is abloom with trees.
The nine main characters in The Overstory come together to protect the environment and around their love of trees as a keystone to regeneration of the world they know and love. They are idealistic. They are conservatives, seeking to conserve what is good. They recognise that corporations not only make the laws that protect them, but they run rings around any attempts to curtail profits. Activism, and putting themselves in harm’s way, does nothing to slow progress. And progress, like oil companies rushing ahead to open new fields, before any legislation kicks in dwarves any putative environmental gains and creates black holes and deserts.
2030-2040: Radical Stewardship.
Holthaus uses a quote from Ursula Le Gun:
‘We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. But then so did the divine right of Kings. Any human power could be resisted and changed by human beings… The name of our beautiful reward isn’t profit. Its name is freedom.’
Holthaus suggests that all it needs is three-percent of the population to turn and act as a vanguard for others to follow.
Similarly, Mark Fisher is often quoted (but not by Holthaus), ‘It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.’
The Bible provides a handy template. Which horse of the apocalypse are you backing? The White Horse symbolises righteousness (so Wikipedia tells me). But hold your horses. White might not be white, but whitewash, or even greenwash. Civil War and Pestilence. The antichrist, moron’s moron, in the White House. A plague and wild beasts?
The Red Horse means war. Sword pointed up to heaven. Division of Empire. Water, water, everywhere, but none to drink. Who owns the land owns the people of the land. But who owns the rivers and tributaries that run through the holy waters?
The Black Horse brings a set of temperature scales and famine. The Black Horse is the only one that speaks. It says all that you see is mine. All that you don’t see is also mine. What refugee I don’t see and you don’t see on that we can agree?
The Pale Rider is death. He is not carrying a weapon. The mushroom cloud leaves death and dying in its wake. Eternal night. Lost illusions?
I’m backing the White Horse. It’s just getting into its stride. Denial. Doubt. Exceptionalism. Made Great Again.
Ideas versus Idealism? Eric Holthaus has some great ideas. I hope and pray he’s right. But he seems to forget the most important lesson history tells us, seismic shifts are written in blood. The Marshall Plan, for example, was conceived after hundreds of millions died. The second world war wasn’t just for the defence of what was right, but the defence of capitalism. Manufacturing boom and the military industrial complex were products of an arms race. Holthaus’s New Marshall Plan, American made and led, seems to be wishful thinking.