Consumption and climate

We could stop burning fossil fuels tomorrow and still find ourselves facing the mass-extinction of humans in our lifetimes. 

Every single day there is a new piece about the rate of climate change, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, the ongoing shift from high-carbon fossil-fuel based economies to economies based on ‘renewable’ energy. But the carbon-intensity of our energy production is but a part of the equation. Sure, it’s huge and temperature altering part which in and of itself is cause for concern – but dealing with carbon intensity alone will not prevent catastrophic climate change.

The elephant in the climate war room is consumption.

We’re decades behind where we need to be in regard to reversing carbon accumulating in our environment and atmosphere to prevent runaway climate change from taking hold. Never in human history has the air we breath, or the oceans on which our food chains depend, contained so much carbon.

We just officially passed the annual low-point for carbon in the atmosphere and for 2016 carbon intensity did not drop below 400ppm. Years ago leading climate scientists including James Hansen agreed 350ppm as the ‘upper limit’ of safe atmospheric carbon levels – we’ve blown past that and are on track for a world in which 450ppm is the new global norm.

Yes, fossil fuels are incompatible with a safe future.

But what else is incompatible with a safe future, and what else must we stop using and doing? If we look to the long-term it turns out there is a whole range of every-day activities and products which are incompatible with a safe future.

Take my breakfast as an example:

The bread I ate with breakfast comes from wheat produced on an industrial farming process that destroys soils and is entirely reliant on a finite supply of phosphate based fertilisers; just look to Nauru for an indication of the impact of Phosphorous mining has on communities and the environment.

The bacon came from an industry heavily reliant on antibiotics, steroids and the abuse of animals. Excessive use of antibiotic is increasingly leading to new anti-biotic resistant ‘superbugs’ – a global health nightmare waiting to happen.

The oil we cook with comes from mass produced olives (or sometimes canola), sourced from an intensive olive farm in Spain – where biodiversity has been hit hard by mass clearing and over-use of pesticides and other chemicals.

The water in my cup comes from a mix of desalinated ocean water and local underground aquifers because we’ve already depleted our dams. I could go so much further into the water use by all of the ingredients, their cleaning, sorting, processing and transport. The plastic they come wrapped in.

Unless we reduce consumption, we will eventually run out of clean water. 

And that’s without even mentioning the land clearing required for virtually all the ingredients – including those which came from my garden. How much forest, bush or wetland was cleared to grow that wheat, canola, olive, avocado, orange, garlic and onion? How much land was cleared for the roads to transport it? How much land was cleared to mine the stone and tar for those roads?

My breakfast was a really mundane choice of example, but it serves as a simple illustration of the depth of our problem. But lets look a bit deeper.

Imagine a future where the existing system continues, powered by renewables.

For simplicity, lets ignore any impact from global warming.

Each years 80 million new cars will be produced, relying on steel, aluminium, copper and increasingly on rare-earths and lithium to enable advanced electric systems. They require rubber for tyres, silicone for a variety of parts often including brakes, grease for bearing joints and a variety of other materials including glass. Nearly all of these materials come from somewhere.

Over 1.4 billion mobiles phones will continue to be produced each year, requiring land-clearing for ever more lithium and rare-earth materials.

We continue increasing the rate at which we consume Earth’s resources to feed, house and entertain a perpetually growing population. Land clearing and resource extraction continue at current rates. Biodiversity decreases.

Eventually we get to a point where the supply chains for one of those key building blocks of modern life breaks down.

A major power runs out of fertiliser. Another has a superbug outbreak. Some nations – like Australia – begin to run out of water.

What then? Does war break out?

Over the last 60 years we’ve seen the extinction of  50% of all known biodiversity on earth, even in the absence of the worst impacts of climate change. Even before the worst impacts of fossil fuel emissions are felt, we’re in the midst of a man-made mass extinction. We can not afford to stay on this path.

The only answer to our problems is a complete systemic change. We must move on not just from fossil fuels, but from social and economic systems based on ‘perpetual growth’ and a consumption model reliant on ever-increasing demolition of communities and the natural environment.

If we don’t change the model, we won’t save a thing.

2015: Day 1 of the New Climate Era

People Climate Mobilisation 2014 - photo by Zeb Parkes
From the People’s Climate Mobilisation, Sept 2014

Today is Day 1 of the New Climate Era – a whole new reality for humankind.

Welcome to the new climate era, where the earth is never again like it was for the rest of human existence; where our very existence depends on changing our economies and lifestyles to become compatible with the sensitive and finite nature of life on earth.

We’ve now reached the point of no return in regards to preventing catastrophic climate change.

We must act urgently and with a social determination not seen since the immediate period post World War II, when social progress came in leaps and bounds around the globe and nations received self determination.

That was a time where the all consuming power of kings, queens, empires and oligarchs was repeatedly challenged and defeated in the name of a necessary progress.

Now it’s our turn.

We must challenge and defeat the seemingly endless power of corporations and their ill-conceived economic doctrine of ‘endless growth’, if there is to be anything like our modern civilization left for future generations to inherit. Continue reading 2015: Day 1 of the New Climate Era

Real life has taken a grip

Sleepy Kelpie
Image Credit: Maggie Sharp -https://www.flickr.com/photos/maggiesharp/6773363654/

Real life stuff has taken a grip on my energy and time for writing lately.

A lot of things happening in the world right now, but I’m focused on work and organising for the Perth Climate Mobilisation at the moment.

That and trying to take a bit of time for self care, I’ve enjoyed playing some games but been a bit short on sleep lately.

Need to fix that issue. Also need to do some shopping.

In a more exciting turn of events, hopefully this weekend we will finally get bring home the puppy I found a few weeks ago!

Also, I just received more hours at work, so that idea about sleeping more…

Not likely.

Missed the deadline. #100daysofblogging #Day76

Technically it’s Day 77 of the blogging challenge already; but I haven’t slept so I’m still counting this as a #Day76 post.

Today has been a busy day!

Working in the garden, sorting out stuff around the house that I’d been putting off for way too long, and having an interesting meeting with an important bunch of local activists.

I also put my (amateur) photoshop skills to work today, piecing together the banner below for the People’s Climate Mobilisation here in Perth on September 21.

All in all a very productive day.

Click here to join the “People’s Climate Mobilisation – Perth” on Facebook.

People's Climate Mobilisation - Perth, September 21, 2014