Climate Change: Greening The Economy? Monkeywrenching Collapse?
By Bill Henderson
25 February, 2010


There are more and more green stories on our business pages and if you search Google news for 'climate change' more and more of the stories are about green energy investment or business groups calling for a price on carbon. The greening of business has been a Mecca for those who toil in Big ENGOs because the past four decades have not only seen the emergence of global-scale problems like biodiversity loss and climate change but the neoliberal triumph of business (Reagan/Thatcher, globalization) as the prime actor and deliverer of our common future.

But consider the as yet publicly undigested emerging climate change science:

2C trajectories Schellnhuber.jpg (38452 bytes) Shellnhuber's graph describes the 100% by 2020 reduction needed by countries like the US and Canada with 20 tonne plus per capita annual emissions. The 100% emission reduction by 2020 is in order to have a 60-70% chance of staying below 2C, the presently agreed upon precautionary ceiling to protect against dangerous, uncontrollable, runaway warming.

This is not just his opinion but the product of several key papers on a global carbon budget published over the past couple of years: Meinshausen, Allen, the WGBU (Shellnhuber) paper, and the Anderson-Bows paper commenting upon what we've learned about carbon budgets.

If you have high per-capita emissions (plus 20 tonnes) and the global per-capita emission rate over the next century to stay below 450 ppm / 2 C is somewhere below 2 tonnes then you are using a decades worth of your 21st century budget each year of present emissions. Countries like the US, Canada and Australia will, at present emission rates, use up their whole carbon budget for the next century in just the next decade. Deep, immediate cuts are necessary.

The Bali target of 25% by 2020 is today regarded as a big stretch, laughable now in these post-Copenhagen, Climategate times, but the actual science, the reality, is that to have only a 70% chance of staying under 450 ppm / 2C the bottom line is 100% by 2020.

But the Arctic is melting and with the possibility of potent latent positive feedbacks in a climate history where even small forcings have whipsawed climate in our past, there is a substantive scientific case that getting below 350 ppm fast - not just staying below 450 ppm - has to be our new precautionary bottom line.

This is the Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and our Last Chance to Save Humanity but as Joe Romm so eloquently states our predicament:

1. Staying below 450 ppm is technologically doable, but would be the greatest achievement in the history of the human race, by far. It would require a global effort sustained for decades comparable to what the U.S. did for just the few years of World War II (the biggest obstacle is not technological, but political conservatives currently would never let progressives and moderates pursue such a strategy).

2. If 350 ppm is needed (and I’m not at all sure it is) then the deniers and delayers have won, since such a target is hopeless.

Just as merchants took power from clergy and feudal lords in evolving our modern world, today our world has been becoming hot flat and crowded and those concerned about our environment have become increasingly worshipers in the Church of Business. For many the only solution to enviro problems in a world where politics has been captured by business has been the greening of business.

But now in 2010 the high tide of globalism is beginning to wane as the end of cheap oil requires our world to grow smaller and more local. The neolib boat has hit a reef and a falling tide strands many boats.

And more importantly, climate change is now an emergency. Massive systemic change is needed and greening business is now so yesterday. Except amongst the true believers clinging to a pollyanna hope that we can solve our global-scale problems by greening Business-As-Usual (BAU), that very fortunate socio-economy we have grown up in, are patterned for success within, and without which our collective and personal dreams and security are traumatically endangered.

Climate change is an emergency if you read the science instead of staying in denial at Fox News. Action is needed immediately. "The mechanisms to address climate change can incite long-held fears by many people about government involvement in their lives" but action is still needed and greening the economy as climate change solution is obviously denial, a carbon addict lie we tell ourselves.

Monkeywrenching collapse is an alternative path but impractical and possibly the catalyst to a fascist reaction. If the neocons were still in power and given the scale of climate change danger and scientific bottom line, there would be plans to depopulate Asia.

Governance innovation: Sutton /Spratt's governmental emergency powers or Lester Brown's Plan B is the mechanism to address climate change that we need to implement quickly, but getting out of the green economy denial and the fear of government has to happen first and war or economic collapse maybe more likely.


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