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Book Review: Civilization Critical by Darrin Qualman

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This book was not sent to me by a publisher, nor promoted by a PR firm. It was given to me, by a friend, who in turn had bought it – and three copies more – from his friend, the author, who used to be director of research for Canada’s National Farmer’s Union. Actually that in itself makes for a Good Story, but not one that I am going to get into now.

The book sets out in very readable form exactly how humanity has gotten itself into its current pickle. He is also pretty good at describing the sort of changes we are going to need to make, if we are to avoid imminent disaster – though this section is much shorter than the earlier history. So he is very good indeed on why we need to change, and probably says enough about what needs to be done. Sadly there is not much about exactly how we ought to do that. On present trends, we appear to be doomed by a combination of utter idiocy and selfishness on the part of most of the elite and a sense of helplessness for the rest of us.

You can read more about the book on the publisher’s web page but I will just use a short quote here

In this sweeping work, Qualman reinterprets and re-explains the problems we face today, and charts a clear, hopeful path into the future.

By page count, he uses 250 pages on stating the problem and around 10 on what to do. From the book:

We must make different choices [from business as usual].

We must transform our civilization and its systems of production and consumption.

It is not that I disagree with him. I think he is right. What I find frustrating is his assertion “Solutions surround us.” That may also be true but I do think that they need a bit more elaboration.

I do have to say this book is very well written. When I started reading it I found it necessary to share excerpts with my long suffering partner. A bit like how I cannot enjoy a visit to an art gallery without someone to nudge at the good bits. He has a very good turn of phrase. Whatever else I want you to take from this review is that reading this book was a pleasure, not a chore. I am glad I read it and learned a lot from it. What it did not give me, and maybe this is being unreasonable, is what am I supposed to do about it.

In an earlier article on this blog I made a similar response to Greta Thunberg, who suggests that we need to start building the cathedral even if we don’t know what it is going to look like, but actually we do know. We have known for at least twenty years – which is when this issue first came across my desk – and actually the fossil fuel industries knew that at least twenty years earlier, but decided to obfuscate just as the tobacco industry had done for so long.

In terms of my professional practice, the easiest solutions to identify are what did we do before the cars created all these problems. We seemed to be doing pretty well with electric trains and trams – supplemented by bicycles. Living in compact, complete communities. With an overwhelming need to access better technology for things like eliminating drafts, improving home comfort and cutting down on physical exertion to achieve anything at all. Compare, for instance, the physical labour of plastering a lath wall with installing drywall.

In the US the Green New Deal seems best bet for now. In Canada …

For us, here and now, we have some difficult choices. It may well be that we will indeed see a Green Wave in the upcoming federal election. It seems clear that Scheer is determined to keep on going as we are. He will definitely not be one of the people to read this book. What is critical is that the other parties – who like to see themselves as “progressive” but tend to fall back on “campaign from the left, govern on the right” (both Liberals and NDP are doing this now) – need to embrace change not as “nice to have” but essential to the continued existence of life on earth beyond the 21st century. The Green Party’s effort is pretty good – but perhaps Not Good Enough.

The sad truth – much more than inconvenient –  is that the greenhouse gas that has already been emitted way beyond anything seen when there has been life on earth is going to be around for a while. The tipping points are already whizzing past us just like deadlines. Even if we could stop dead and leave it in the ground from tomorrow that will not be nearly enough, and carbon capture and storage will always be promising. It has not delivered anything significant yet – nor will it, in time. And the current occupiers of the decision making seats are happy to announce yet further depletion of forests (boreal and old growth coastal rainforest) on which our future depends.

When the people we choose at the ballot boxes are so ready to abandon their undertakings in the name of “we are better than the alternative” I do not know how to advise you. Reading this book will only help convince you that we need to act more boldly and sooner. I am not sure how we are going to do that but it does not seem to me to really be advanced much by chucking milkshakes at them.    However much they deserve it.

Civilization Critical
Energy, Food, Nature, and the Future
By Darrin Qualman

Published by Fernwood Publishing 2019

ISBN: 9781773630861

April 2019

360 Pages

For sale worldwide

EPUB

ISBN: 9781773630878

May 2019

For sale worldwide

Kindle

ISBN: 9781773630885

May 2019

For sale worldwide

Written by Stephen Rees

May 21, 2019 at 7:49 pm

Petition against Woodfibre LNG

I just signed a petition – so of course they then send me an email asking for more help. The following comes from My Sea to Sky: it is their content and I have not checked any of these assertions: comments are closed and should be directed to them, not me.


 

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Howe Sound is under threat from Woodfibre LNG, which proposes to construct and operate a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility on the previous Woodfibre Pulp and Paper Mill site located approximately 7 km west-southwest of Squamish.

Why is this project a bad idea?

  • Woodfibre LNG is owned by Sukanto Tanoto, an Indonesian billionaire that has been found guilty of tax evasion and human rights violations.
  • LNG tanker traffic puts people that live in Howe Sound, Vancouver, and Victoria at risk, as international safety guidelines are not being followed.
  • Underwater noise and light pollution will affect salmon migration routes, herring, and marine mammals.
  • Increased local air pollution will affect human health in the lower mainland, particularly the elderly and kids with asthma.
  • LNG exports will increase fracking in northeast BC. Over 70% of B.C.’s natural gas is fracked. If Woodfibre LNG project goes ahead it will result in 24 new fracking wells every year.
  • Site C dam and the eDrive subsidy will increase your hydro bills so Woodfibre LNG can have cheap power.
  • Woodfibre LNG’s local and upstream greenhouse gas emissions are equivalent to adding 170,000 cars to the road.
  • Woodfibre LNG staff Byng Giraud and Marian Ngo have donated illegally to the BC Liberal party, while the project was undergoing its environmental assessment.

Help us stop Woodfibre LNG. Please sign the Howe Sound Declaration.

 

The My Sea to Sky team

Written by Stephen Rees

May 8, 2019 at 4:09 pm

Arguing with Ms Thunberg

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I just came across a quote from the highly intelligent, well informed climate campaigner. It was on Twitter

Yesterday, Thunberg repeated the phrase. “Avoiding climate breakdown will require cathedral thinking,” she said. “We must lay the foundation while we may not know exactly how to build the ceiling.”

You can see the whole thing on the New Yorker who are impressed by her rhetoric.

So I do not really want to get into an argument with her and on media like Twitter and Facebook these things can get out of hand quickly. But I am pretty sure that the guys who built cathedrals knew exactly how to build the ceiling even as they were working on the foundations. You may recall that I recently posted my pictures of the ceiling of Notre Dame.

Ceiling

If you have been in the crypt of any medieval cathedral you will note a similar form of construction. This is not my picture. It is by Michael Gabelmann who uses a Creative Commons license for his picture of the crypt of Pecs cathedral built in the 11th century.

Crypt

Abundant Transit on Twitter also wrote today

We have everything we need to solve the climate crisis. Only politics and culture stand in the way.

And that was in reply to Jennifer Keesmat

The fact that #Vancouver has made creating walkable communities a central big move of it’s #ClimateEmergency plan is both a clue + an inspiration to cities around the world. We don’t need gadgets. We don’t need to invent something new. We know exactly what to do.

And, by the way, the record breaking increase in transit ridership here was not due to making it free. Lots more people are using the system because it is convenient, reliable and less hassle than driving. It also looks to be better value for money than owning a car and then trying to find a parking spot for it. In fact we are becoming the victims of our own success as the biggest problem now is overcrowding.

But to return to the climate crisis, what we need to do is first stop subsidizing fossil fuel use. Renewables are already cheaper than coal – and most people who are serious about energy efficiency find that an easier way of saving money than almost any other alternative. We do have to get serious too about inequality. Our society is headed in the wrong direction not because most people are unaware of the need for change, but a few, exceedingly wealthy people, have been working hard to confuse the issue while making unconscionable profits and avoiding paying tax. Tackling that is actually more important than trying to persuade everyone else that they have to change their lifestyle. Although carbon tax has been remarkably effective at quite modest levels. And because we have done not nearly enough for the last thirty years (other than have fairly silly arguments when the science was unequivocal) we now must move faster. But no-one has to freeze in the dark. But bicycles, buses, protected lanes for both – and more passenger trains in North America will all work very well indeed because we know how to do that. We know how to build better places too. Batteries are getting better and cheaper: so are solar panels and wind turbines. We haven’t even started on geothermal – unlike Iceland. It really does look like we will see commercial electric aircraft and ferries here soon too. Everyone loves to point to cruise ships – but they are actually already using electric drives. We just need to change the way they generate the power. Not rocket science. And that is something else we really don’t need. Setting up home on another planet is not necessary – or even very practical.

POSTSCRIPT

Ms Thunberg posted to her Facebook page recently. I decided to cut and paste it here. I have no argument at all with her. You should read this

As the rumours, lies and constant leaving out of well established facts continue, please share this newly updated clarification about me and my school strike.
Please help me communicate this to the grown ups who lie about me and family so that I can focus on school instead:

Recently I’ve seen many rumors circulating about me and enormous amounts of hate. This is no surprise to me. I know that since most people are not aware of the full meaning of the climate crisis (which is understandable since it has never been treated as a crisis) a school strike for the climate would seem very strange to people in general.
So let me make some things clear about my school strike.

In may 2018 I was one of the winners in a writing competition about the environment held by Svenska Dagbladet, a Swedish newspaper. I got my article published and some people contacted me, among others was Bo Thorén from Fossil Free Dalsland. He had some kind of group with people, especially youth, who wanted to do something about the climate crisis.
I had a few phone meetings with other activists. The purpose was to come up with ideas of new projects that would bring attention to the climate crisis. Bo had a few ideas of things we could do. Everything from marches to a loose idea of some kind of a school strike (that school children would do something on the schoolyards or in the classrooms). That idea was inspired by the Parkland Students, who had refused to go to school after the school shootings.
I liked the idea of a school strike. So I developed that idea and tried to get the other young people to join me, but no one was really interested. They thought that a Swedish version of the Zero Hour march was going to have a bigger impact. So I went on planning the school strike all by myself and after that I didn’t participate in any more meetings.

When I told my parents about my plans they weren’t very fond of it. They did not support the idea of school striking and they said that if I were to do this I would have to do it completely by myself and with no support from them.
On the 20 of august I sat down outside the Swedish Parliament. I handed out fliers with a long list of facts about the climate crisis and explanations on why I was striking. The first thing I did was to post on Twitter and Instagram what I was doing and it soon went viral. Then journalists and newspapers started to come. A Swedish entrepreneur and business man active in the climate movement, Ingmar Rentzhog, was among the first to arrive. He spoke with me and took pictures that he posted on Facebook. That was the first time I had ever met or spoken with him. I had not communicated or encountered with him ever before.

Many people love to spread rumors saying that I have people ”behind me” or that I’m being ”paid” or ”used” to do what I’m doing. But there is no one ”behind” me except for myself. My parents were as far from climate activists as possible before I made them aware of the situation.
I am not part of any organization. I sometimes support and cooperate with several NGOs that work with the climate and environment. But I am absolutely independent and I only represent myself. And I do what I do completely for free, I have not received any money or any promise of future payments in any form at all. And nor has anyone linked to me or my family done so.
And of course it will stay this way. I have not met one single climate activist who is fighting for the climate for money. That idea is completely absurd.
Furthermore I only travel with permission from my school and my parents pay for tickets and accommodations.

My family has written a book together about our family and how me and my sister Beata have influenced my parents way of thinking and seeing the world, especially when it comes to the climate. And about our diagnoses.
That book was due to be released in May. But since there was a major disagreement with the book company, we ended up changing to a new publisher and so the book was released in august instead.
Before the book was released my parents made it clear that their possible profits from the book ”Scener ur hjärtat” will be going to 8 different charities working with environment, children with diagnoses and animal rights.

And yes, I write my own speeches. But since I know that what I say is going to reach many, many people I often ask for input. I also have a few scientists that I frequently ask for help on how to express certain complicated matters. I want everything to be absolutely correct so that I don’t spread incorrect facts, or things that can be misunderstood.

Some people mock me for my diagnosis. But Asperger is not a disease, it’s a gift. People also say that since I have Asperger I couldn’t possibly have put myself in this position. But that’s exactly why I did this. Because if I would have been ”normal” and social I would have organized myself in an organisation, or started an organisation by myself. But since I am not that good at socializing I did this instead. I was so frustrated that nothing was being done about the climate crisis and I felt like I had to do something, anything. And sometimes NOT doing things – like just sitting down outside the parliament – speaks much louder than doing things. Just like a whisper sometimes is louder than shouting.

Also there is one complaint that I ”sound and write like an adult”. And to that I can only say; don’t you think that a 16-year old can speak for herself? There’s also some people who say that I oversimplify things. For example when I say that “the climate crisis is a black and white issue”, ”we need to stop the emissions of greenhouse gases” and ”I want you to panic”. But that I only say because it’s true. Yes, the climate crisis is the most complex issue that we have ever faced and it’s going to take everything from our part to ”stop it”. But the solution is black and white; we need to stop the emissions of greenhouse gases.
Because either we limit the warming to 1,5 degrees C over pre industrial levels, or we don’t. Either we reach a tipping point where we start a chain reaction with events way beyond human control, or we don’t. Either we go on as a civilization, or we don’t. There are no gray areas when it comes to survival.
And when I say that I want you to panic I mean that we need to treat the crisis as a crisis. When your house is on fire you don’t sit down and talk about how nice you can rebuild it once you put out the fire. If your house is on fire you run outside and make sure that everyone is out while you call the fire department. That requires some level of panic.

There is one other argument that I can’t do anything about. And that is the fact that I’m ”just a child and we shouldn’t be listening to children.” But that is easily fixed – just start to listen to the rock solid science instead. Because if everyone listened to the scientists and the facts that I constantly refer to – then no one would have to listen to me or any of the other hundreds of thousands of school children on strike for the climate across the world. Then we could all go back to school.
I am just a messenger, and yet I get all this hate. I am not saying anything new, I am just saying what scientists have repeatedly said for decades. And I agree with you, I’m too young to do this. We children shouldn’t have to do this. But since almost no one is doing anything, and our very future is at risk, we feel like we have to continue.
And if you have any other concern or doubt about me, then you can listen to my TED talk ( https://www.ted.com/…/greta_thunberg_the_disarming_…/up-next ), in which I talk about how my interest for the climate and environment began.

And thank you everyone for your kind support! It brings me hope.
/Greta

Ps I was briefly a youth advisor for the board of the non profit foundation “We don’t have time”. It turns out they used my name as part of another branch of their organisation that is a start up business. They have admitted clearly that they did so without the knowledge of me or my family. I no longer have any connection to “We don’t have time”. Nor does anyone in my family. They have deeply apologised for what has happened and I have accepted their apology.

 

Written by Stephen Rees

April 26, 2019 at 4:33 pm

A Message from the Future

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You might recall that Guy Duancy wrote a book on the same theme. This is mainly aimed at the US readers who need to know about the Green New Deal. Everything under the line is simply cut and paste.


 

New York, NY – April 17, 2019 – “A Message from the Future with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” the 7-minute animated film presented by The Intercept and Naomi Klein, featuring art by award-winning illustrator Molly Crabapple (“Brothers of the Gun”), has amassed over 2 million views across all video platforms in 8 (eight) hours.

This hybrid of fact, fiction, and art is set at a time when the Green New Deal is a reality and human beings have come together to tackle the global climate crisis in a fair and equitable manner. In this alternative (but entirely possible) timeline, the 2020 presidential election jumpstarted the “Decade of the Green New Deal” and a flurry of legislation kicked off a series of social and ecological transformations to save the planet.

YouTube: https://interc.pt/GreenNewDeal

Twitter: https://t.co/PywCR0jPUl

The Intercept: https://interc.pt/NaomiKleinGND

“It is such a pleasure to collaborate with this team of artists and filmmakers, who are helping us imagine the beautiful, safe and inclusive future that so many tell us is impossible,” said Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “Before we can win a Green New Deal,” she added, “we need to be able to close our eyes and imagine it. We can be whatever we have the courage to see.”

A Message from the Future with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez” will also screen during Sunrise Movement’s “Road to the Green New Deal” tour, with eight major national stops and over 100 town halls across America. The tour begins Thursday, April 18, with a gathering at The Strand Theater in Boston, Massachusetts. For additional info on the Sunrise tour, visit their official site.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 17, 2019 at 5:43 pm

Drawdown

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The last post of the year is going to be positive. And it will not, like every other message in my inbox, include a plea for you to donate. There are 80 solutions presented here – all of which are based on existing technologies, and all of them have benefits beyond reducing ghg emissions. The cost is moderate and the return on investment significant, so the old arguments about favouring the environment over the economy are simply wrong headed. We ought to be doing these things even if there was no convincing evidence of human caused climate change – which, of course, is not and has not been the case for many years.

The other 20 are emerging technologies – but you don’t need to worry about those.

You can also see the whole list on the website

Electric Vehicles #26

Ships #32

Mass transit #37

Trucks #40

Airplanes #43

Also the good news is that if you go to the TED site linked to the video there is a transcript, and sources, and a reading list.

I am pretty pessimistic right now about the state of BC, Canada and Britain. Having watched this video I am less pessimistic about our collective ability to address the biggest problem facing human civilisation.

Happy New Year

Written by Stephen Rees

December 31, 2018 at 12:02 pm

Breaking with the Green Party

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At today’s meeting of Vancouver City Council, all three Green Party councillors voted with the NPA.

Vancouver city council has decided to oppose the additional school tax by the province on homes valued at least $3 million.

Council voted 7-3 to ask the B.C. NDP government to withdraw the tax that will take effect in 2019.

Casting the affirmative votes were Councillors Rebecca Bligh, Melissa De Genova, Sarah Kirby-Yung, and Colleen Hardwick of the Non-Partisan Association; and Adrianne Carr, Pete Fry, and Michael Wiebe of the Green Party of Vancouver.

This is the last straw for me. I will no longer send any money to the Vancouver Greens, nor will I count myself a supporter. I will allow my membership to lapse.

Provincially the Green Party is working with the NDP – and I, like many others, have had to concede that the working arrangement is clearly better than continuing to have a BC Liberal government. But that means not saying what needs to be said about LNG – which earns the province little in the way of revenue, and employs very few people, but depends on fracking which produces far more fugitive methane than the industry admits. Worse than that it also is built on the case of liquefying the gas using hydro power – which is supposed to cut its carbon footprint, but seems to ignore the damage that  building a large scale earth dam on dodgy foundations will do, and the abysmal track record of major hydro projects both environmentally and economically.

Moreover, I have had to put up with the Leader of the Green Party promoting Uber!

Enough.

Elizabeth May, federally, seems to be the best of a bad bunch but even she has been pushing for more oil refineries in Alberta.

We have a very short time to turn the world around in its present track – which has seen ghg increases this year. The IPCC and the US federal government have made it clear. We cannot go on like this.

Since the Green Party at local, provincial and federal levels seems not to understand that human caused climate change is our biggest problem, I can no longer call myself a Green Party member. We have to stop producing oil, gas and coal altogether, and we need to be working hard to replace those energy sources by renewables and by the reductions in consumption that will be possible if we embrace energy efficiency and well understood Transportation Demand Management techniques such as promoting transit expansion over highways!  It is actually easier now to do this as both solar and wind power are cheaper than fossils. We have plenty of capacity in our highway and urban road systems, as long as everybody understands they cannot drive a big SUV or pick up truck for each trip by one person over quite short distances. Cut the parking requirements, build walkable cities, spend money on LRT not freeways. This is not rocket science and we do not need any of Elon Musk’s crazy “innovations”. We know how to do this because we used to do this not so long ago. It is not about more tunnels or atmospheric railways – it is streetcars, buses and bicycles.

Next week the NDP is going to reveal its strategy for the Massey Tunnel “replacement”. If it isn’t a rail based additional tunnel then I will not be cheering for that either!

Written by Stephen Rees

December 12, 2018 at 8:28 pm

Why “Green Growth” Is an Illusion

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Power Lines

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Again, found in my in box but intriguing enough for me to go and find out something about the people who sent it to me

Changing the Conversation

Economists and finance professionals still promote free market fundamentalism, shrinking from drawing even obvious conclusions about the dangers of unfettered markets. Fiscal austerity and deficit reduction continue to be watchwords of both policymakers and theorists, even as global inequality increases exponentially and unemployment equals or exceeds levels of the Great Depression in many countries. Politics chokes reforms that could bring growth and relief to millions, while the many challenges of sustainable development and environmentally friendly innovation are brushed aside.

Neoclassical economics fails to address these challenges, but the resistance to change is substantial — both inside the discipline and in the world at large.

So that in itself recommended the article to me, but there are other things right now that need my attention. So I am going to simply cut and paste the text (with the links) from the email – and expect to get some reaction in the comments below.

I will say this. During my career there was initially a sort of consensus (known as “Butskellism“) about the need for public sector investment and social programs. That was overturned by the arrival of Thatcher – and a lot of people I found myself working for, who were genuinely convinced of the integrity of the intellectual underpinnings of neoclassical economic theory. I was at best skeptical, but over time became convinced that it was simply the same old reactionary attitudes of the privileged. Yes communism collapsed, but that does not mean that Marx was entirely wrong, and anyway Leninism – and later Stalinism and Maoism – were some distance away from Marxism. Not only that but I was sure Keynes was right since I had grown up during the period when people from my background were at last seeing some benefit from his policies. At least, once we had paid off the huge US dollar loan, which the rest of Europe had escaped due to the Marshall plan. What I also saw was the sheer greed of the people who always yacked on about the Dutch “problem” (of gas revenue being spent on social welfare programs) while they gleefully stuffed their own pockets with the profits from oil and gas drilling in the North Sea and the increasingly dodgy Private Finance Initiative.

In the wake of this fall’s IPCC report on the growing dangers of climate change—including to the economy—a new paper and supplementary analysis from the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) find that the conventional wisdom of the dynamics between climate change and the economy actually understates these dangers. It finds that, contrary to popular belief, we cannot have it both ways: We cannot have carbon emissions reduction while also maintaining current levels of economic growth. There is instead an inexorable tradeoff between economic growth and preventing climate catastrophe. The paper is from leading economists on climate change, Enno Schröder and Servaas Storm.

Among its highlights, based on original research and a new set of data regressions:

  • “Green growth” is an illusion: Contrary to optimistic claims by Barack Obama and a host of others, you can’t grow your way to a better climate; consumption growth necessarily drives increasing CO2 emissions. The research finds that outsourcing production to other countries may hide this relationship between economic growth and emissions, but it’s not possible to de-link the consumption that accompanies rising living standards with rising emissions.
  • To stabilize the climate, future economic growth must be well below the historical income growth rate of 1.93% (1971-2015)—even with unprecedented reductions in carbon and energy intensity. The hard truth is that, based on even optimistic assumptions concerning future reductions in energy and carbon intensities, future global growth will be compromised by such climate constraint.
  • The present fossil fuel-based socioeconomic system, which was built over two-and-a-half centuries, now must be comprehensively overhauled in just 30 years, and not in a few countries, but globally.
  • To avoid a climate catastrophe, a radically different strategy—a concerted policy shift to deep de-carbonization—is needed. That means a dramatic shift from current practices: a fundamental disruption of hydrocarbon energy, production, and transportation infrastructures, a massive upsetting of vested interests in fossil-fuel energy and industry, and large-scale public investment.

The supplementary analysis I mentioned is the full debate INET is hosting on the topic. It includes analysis by Gregor Semieniuk, Lance Taylor, and Armon Rezai that reinforces many of Schröder and Storm’s findings, as well as a comment from Michael Grubb, professor of energy and climate change at University College London, who offers a more optimistic view of growth during decarbonization, and subsequent response by the aforementioned scholars.

Like I said I hope that others will take a hard look at this, particularly since I am immediately concerned about issues like climate justice – fair and equitable climate action. Plus, of course, reversing the recent rapid growth of inequality.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 6, 2018 at 3:19 pm