Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Climate Crisis: Roosevelt Revisited

with 3 comments

Truthout – Andrew Simms BBC News

New and cautious calculations by the New Economics Foundation’s (NEF) climate change programme suggest that we may have as little as 100 months starting from August 2008 to avert uncontrollable global warming.

Nothing short of the rapid and wide-scale re-engineering of the economy will be sufficient. Radical change, though, is needed anyway because of the credit and energy crises; the latter driven significantly by the imminent peak and decline of global oil production.

No simple techno-fix exists that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions fast or far enough to solve the problem.

The answers are going to be economic, political and behavioural. Many countries, not just the UK, are going to need to learn the art of rapid transition.

Lessons From History

The Green New Deal group formed in the summer of 2007 against this background, but before the current full-blown economic crisis.

It took inspiration from President Roosevelt’s response to the 1929 Wall Street financial crash.

Roosevelt is still villified, of course, in right wing circles. But the crisis we face is actually bigger than the Wall Street Crash – and anyway the New Deal was actually directed at the 1931 banking crisis which was almost identical to the present credit crunch.

The New Deal was also about one country – and the present crisis affects the whole world. Quite apart from the difficulty of getting the corportations on side, there are still governments who do not believe that this crisis is their primary concern, and who have shown absolutely no interest in cutting back on their emissions, for fear of slowing their present rapid rates of economic growth.

Even so, we need a ray of hope somewhere, and maybe this idea will gather support. Something has to be done, and there is very little time left.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 22, 2008 at 7:44 am

3 Responses

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  1. Phew! One has to stop to catch one’s breath on that.

    James Hansen, one of the world’s most respected climate scientists, conducted recent research with NASA and determined that the historical evidence indicates the ice caps melted in earnest when atmospheric CO2 reached 450 parts per million. [Source / link to be provided when I locate it again.] Perhaps more relevantly, the ice reforms faster than the melt when the amount of CO2 is below 450 ppm.

    There is enough water in the Antarctic and Greenland ice caps to raise the oceans by approximately 80 metres. It will take decades of 450+ ppm to melt all the ice, but even two or three decades of 450+ will have a huge impact. Metres or tens of metres instead of fractions of metres. The impact on Greater Vancouver of a sea level rise of 3-4-5 metres would be extremely damaging and expensive to mitigate, but 10-20-30 metres would be unimaginable.

    We already know that historically atmospheric CO2 was stabilized at about 250 ppm for millennia until the 1800s. Then the Industrial Age came along. We are currently at 387 ppm with an annual increase of 3 ppm. There is also evidence (same source … TBA) that the RATE of increase is speeding up. At the current rate, we’ll reach 450 ppm in 21 years, but with any increase in the rate, we’ll arrive there sometime around 2025.

    That’s like pulling a thick down duvet over a feverish child on a hot day and tying it down.

    Hansen suggests that the international community must somehow agree to top out at 450 ppm within 25 years as an immediate target, then spend another 25 years reducing CO2 to 400, then another 25 aiming for 350 or less. The 450 target will likely be exceeded, but sometimes you gotta aim for the rings of Saturn to get moondust.

    The Green New Deal (or something like it) coupled with Hansen’s targets of 450-400-350 over 75 years may be the best framework to use. The issue of waiting for other countries to start is complete BS because it’s a purposeful delaying tactic on the same scale as the disingenuous censorship of Environment Canada scientists. I think there is huge merit instead in setting an example and inspiring other nations in the process.

    Severl books have been published over the last few years by Homer-Dixon, Shellenberg / Nordhaus, Turner, etc., calling for the same thing … some kind of plan to not just reduce emissions, but to research how to adapt and roll with the punches, and ultimately to build a better society. Other books have a more limiting POV, like Kunstler’s that focus on the crash, but not on the rebuilding. Most environmental groups are in the latter camp and are too busy hectoring (sometimes ranting) to have a message that inspires the mainstream.

    What I like about the article and the New Economics Foundation is that they address not just aiming for a low-carbon economy, but a “high well-being” economy too, and are willing to bring disparate groups like environmentalists, industry, agriculture, etc., together under common goals and objectives. There is no disjunction between economy and ecology with the NEF. I also like the idea of decentralized clean energy production in numerous forms, which literally puts power in the people’s hands.

    I also like this quote which stems from allowing the debt crunch to become so big and the failure of the traditional economic attitudes to assign value to “externalities” like the causes of climate change and peak oil:

    “Politician’s faith in market’s’ ability to manage themselves now looks childishly naive.”


    July 23, 2008 at 12:13 pm

  2. As promised, I’ve copied some source links below. The first one is written by Hansen himself. Take a deep breath folks …. this is very sobering stuff.

    Some quotes:

    “There is strong evidence that the Earth now is within 1 °C of its highest temperature in the past million years.” (This is based on oxygen isotopes for deep ocean fossil plankton in seabed sediments. The sea level was 15-35 metres higher then, depending what millenium one measures.)

    “In the past decade, [sea level] increased by 3 centimetres, about double the average rate during the preceding century. The rate of sea level rise over the 20th century was itself probably greater than the rate in the prior millennium, and this is due at least in part to human activity.”

    “There is enough information now, in my opinion, to make it a near certainty that business-as-usual scenarios will lead to disastrous multi-metre sea level rise on the century time scale.”

    There are too many potential “non-linear” events that could happen (e.g. sudden lurching or stopping of ice shelf collapse) to lead to an accurate prediction, but Hansen said even with a steady doubling of the current sea level increase every decade, we’ll have a 5 metre rise near the end of the century. That could very well prove to be extremely conservative given the mounting evidence.

    Here I go with the P-word again. Someone somewhere has to start planning what to do sometime. And it better not start too late. The region’s largest CBD is downtown Vancouver which will be inundated at least at the edges in 75-100 years. The CBD could move to Surrey (or Central Broadway). Just think, all those Coal Harbour yups living in Whalley. You can raise the dikes in Richmond to protect Stephen, but that will only go so far, probably around a 3 metre rise limit, before breaching and erupting salt water geysers change the paradigm especially during storm surges. Sustainable New Towns above 40 metres elevation may be an answer, as well as building up the Burrard Peninsula and doing outlandish things like placing whole neighbourhoods and organic farmer’s fields on gigantic ferro cement rafts.

    We need a local, regional, national and international public discussion of this issue like never before. What’s occurring now at the political level is like a field mouse dancing in the middle of a buffalo stampede.


    July 24, 2008 at 12:04 pm

  3. Correction: the downtown core could move to Surrey, Central Broadway or along 41st Ave on the crest of the Burrard Peninsula.


    July 24, 2008 at 12:23 pm

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