Posts Tagged ‘climate collapse’

Eric Thayer for Reuters, from Thomas Fuller and Lance Booth, “California Hasn’t Seen Fires Like This: Pictures of a State in Flames.” The New York Times. November 10, 2018.    

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“the big growth industry right now is totalitarianism.

that’s not some intense rhetorical statement or political slogan, it’s a fact by the definition of the word.

the rise of ‘smart’ technology–cities that monitor the motions of their citizens, cars that report to insurance companies what you’re talking about, thermometers that keep an eye on where people are in the house and run that through a third-party database, and most of all google (alphabet now actually, google is just a subsidiary) which is contending for the richest company in the world–are based off expanding a practice of total universal data control and “realtime behavior modification”–usually through negative incentivization: if you talk about driving dangerously, your car tells the insurance company who increases your rates. this is the purpose behind ‘gamifying’ structures as well, to build a video-game-like reward/punishment system into capitalism where one’s behavior is constantly supported or opposed. functionally, tech bros are imposing a bad videogame morality system onto real life. or, not “are imposing” so much as “have imposed”, given how such a thing already defines how we interact with each other online. it is formalized, incentivized totalitarianism, to a degree that the totalitarian governments of the past couldn’t imagine (this totalitarianism is decentralized, abstracted to trends and aesthetics and the logic of capital).

they are trying to push total complacency as we move into the era of climate collapse. and it’s happening so fast, so efficiently, and so differently than people expected, no one knows how to respond.”

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Fairy tales and feedback loops
“Looks like snow is coming,” Toma declares solemnly, his face pressed up to the window and the white, thick air on the other side.

Ever since we left Alberta, his five-year-old mind has been struggling to understand the smoke that has marked his summer. Trying to make sense of my chronic cough and his raging skin rash. Struggling, most of all, with the soundtrack of worried chatter among the grown-ups in his life.

His response goes through phases: Nightmares wake him up at night. He writes songs with lyrics like, “Why is everything going wrong?” There’s a lot of inappropriate laughter.

At first, he was excited by the idea of wildfires, confusing them with campfires and angling for s’mores. Then his grandfather explained that the sun had turned into that weird, glowing dot because the forest itself was on fire. He was stricken.

“What about the animals?”
We have developed techniques for controlling worry. They begin with taking deep breaths, and we do it several times a day. But it occurs to me that breathing extra amounts of this particular air is probably not great, especially for small lungs already prone to infection.

Avi and I don’t talk to Toma about climate change, which may seem strange given that I write books about it and Avi directs films about it, and we both spend most of our waking hours focused on the need for a transformative response to the crisis. What we do talk about is pollution, though on a scale he can understand. Like plastic, and why we have to pick it up and use less of it because it makes the animals sick. Or we look at the exhaust coming out of cars and trucks, and talk about how you can get power from the sun and the wind and store it in batteries. A little kid can grasp concepts like these and know exactly what should happen (better than plenty of adults). But the idea that the entire planet has a fever that could get so high that much of life on earth could be lost in the convulsions — that seems to me too great a burden to ask small children to carry.

This summer marks the end of his protection. It isn’t a decision I’m proud of, or one I even remember making. He just heard too many adults obsessing over the strange sky, and the real reasons behind the fires, and he finally put it all together.

At a playground in the haze, I meet a young mother who offers advice on how to reassure worried kids. She tells hers that forest fires are a positive part of the cycle of ecosystem renewal — the burning makes way for new growth, which feeds the bears and deer.

I nod, feeling like a failed mom. But I also know that she’s lying. It’s true that fire is a natural part of the life cycle, but the fires currently blotting out the sun in the Pacific Northwest are the opposite, they’re part of a planetary death spiral. Many are so hot and intransigent that they are leaving scorched earth behind. The rivers of bright red fire retardant being sprayed from planes are seeping into waterways, posing a threat to fish. And just as my son fears, animals are losing their forested homes.

The biggest danger, however, is the carbon being released as the forests burn. Three weeks after the smoke descended on the coast, we learn that the total annual greenhouse gas emissions for the province of British Columbia had tripled as a result of the fires, and it’s still going up.

This dramatic increase of emissions is part of what climate scientists mean when they warn about feedback loops: burning carbon leads to warmer temperatures and long periods without rain, which leads to more fires, which release more carbon into the atmosphere, which leads to even warmer and drier conditions, and even more fires.

Another such lethal feedback loop is playing out with Greenland’s wildfires. Fires produce black soot (also known as “black carbon”), which settles on ice sheets, turning the ice gray or black. Darkened ice absorbs more heat than reflective white ice, which makes the ice melt faster, which leads to sea level rise and the release of huge amounts of methane, which causes more warming and more fires, which in turn create more blackened ice and more melting.

So, no, I’m not going to tell Toma that the fires are a happy part of the cycle of life. We settle for half-truths and fudging to make the nightmare subside. “The animals know how to escape from the fires. They run to rivers and streams and other forests.”

We talk about how we need to plant more trees for the animals to come home to. It helps, a little.

A wake up call — for some
One of the regions hit hardest by the fires is a place I have visited often, the territory of the Secwepemc people, which encompasses a huge swath of land in the Interior — much of it now on fire. The late Arthur Manuel, a former Secwepemc chief, was a dear friend and hosted me several times. So far in 2017, I have visited his territory twice: once to attend Manuel’s funeral and once for a meeting he had been organizing when heart failure took his life.

The gathering was in response to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to approve a $7.4-billion project that would nearly triple the capacity of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, which carries high-carbon tar sands oil from Alberta through British Columbia. The expanded network of pipes would pass through dozens of waterways on Secwepemc land, and is forcefully opposed by many traditional landholders. Arthur believed the struggle has the potential to turn into “Standing Rock North.”

When the fires began this summer, Manuel’s friends and family wasted no time making the argument that building more fossil fuel infrastructure as the world burns is both absurd and reckless. A statement was issued by the Secwepemc Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty opposing the pipeline expansion project and demanding that the existing, smaller pipeline be shut down immediately to reduce the risk of a catastrophic accident should fire and oil meet.

“We are in a critical state of emergency dealing with the impacts of climate change,” said Secwepemc teacher Dawn Morrison. “The health of our families and communities relies heavily on our ability to harvest wild salmon and access clean drinking water, both of which are at risk if the Kinder Morgan pipeline was ruptured or impacted by the fires.”

This is common sense: When oil and gas infrastructure finds itself in the bull’s-eye of the cumulative effects of burning so much fossil fuel (think of oil rigs battered by superstorms, or Houston underwater), we should all do what the Secwepmc did — treat the disaster as a wake-up call about the need to build a safer society, fast.

Whatever you do, don’t talk about oil
Our political and economic systems, however, are not built that way; indeed, they are built to actively override that kind of survival response. So Kinder Morgan doesn’t even bother answering the community’s concerns. What’s more, the company is gearing up to begin construction on the expansion this month, with the fires still raging.

Worse, in true shock doctrine form, some extractive industries are actively using the fiery state of emergency to get stuff done that was impossible during normal times. For instance, Taseko Mines has been fighting for years to build a highly contentious, open pit gold and copper mine in one of the parts of British Columbia hit hardest by the fires. Fierce opposition among the Tsilhqot’in First Nation has so far successfully fended off the toxic project, resulting in several key regulatory victories.

But this July, with several of the impacted Tsilhqot’in communities under evacuation order or holding their ground to fight the fires themselves, the outgoing British Columbia government — notorious as a “wild west” of political payola — did something extraordinary. In its last week in office after suffering a humiliating election defeat, the government handed Taseko a raft of permits to move ahead with exploration. “It defies compassion that while our people are fighting for our homes and lives, B.C. issues permits that will destroy more of our land beyond repair,” said Russell Myers Ross, a Tsilhqot’in chief. A representative of the outgoing government responded: “I appreciate this may come at a difficult time for you given the wildfire situation affecting some of your communities.”

Despite the stresses the fires have placed on their people, the Tsilhqot’in are fighting the move in court, and the company has already been forced to suspend its drilling plans in the face of legal troubles. There is also a new provincial government, created through an unprecedented agreementbetween the centre-left New Democratic Party and the Greens. In a rare piece of good climate news, it is actively challenging the legality of the Kinder Morgan pipeline project on several fronts.

Yet anyone holding out hope that the fires might jolt Trudeau into serious climate action has been gravely disappointed. Canada’s prime minister loves being photographed frolicking in British Columbia’s spectacular wilderness (preferably shirtless), and his wife Sophie Grégoire recently unleashed a hurricane of emojis by posting a picture of herself surfing off Vancouver island (it was during the fires and the sky looked hazy).

But for all his gushing about British Columbia’s forests and coastal waters, Trudeau is slamming his foot on the accelerator when it comes to pipelines and tar sands expansion. “No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there,” he told a cheering crowd of oil and gas executives in Houston last March. He hasn’t budged since. Never mind that Houston has since flooded and a third of his country is on fire. This month, one of his top ministers said of the Kinder Morgan pipeline approval: “Nothing that’s happened since then has changed our mind that this is a good decision.” Trudeau is on fossil fuel autopilot and nothing, it seems, will make him swerve.

Then there is U.S. President Donald Trump, whose climate crimes are too comprehensive and too layered to delineate here. It does seem worth mentioning, however, that he chose this summer of floods and fires to disband the federal advisory panel assessing the impacts of climate change on the U.S. and to greenlight Arctic drilling in the Beaufort Sea.

– Naomi Klein, “My Summer With the World in Flames.” The Tyee. September 22, 2017.

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