Cleaning up

It was good to spend the morning down at the Jawbone Marine Sanctuary picking up rubbish – mostly plastic, glass, rope, string, shoes, etc. – of which, as I noted recently, there is no shortage. The event was organised by the Jawbone Marine Sanctuary Care Group as part of the Clean Up Australia Day program. I even found a lost little sailor, and a big pair of undies. I don’t think the undies belonged to the sailor.

Some Recent Watering Holes

croft-shutmouthscream-detail-2016

Brenda L. Croft, ‘shut/mouth/scream’ (detail), 2016. Source

 

I haven’t posted one of these for a while. Here are a number of pages I’ve appreciated visiting this past week or so:

And this:

Climate Change: More than an Environmental Issue

Sergey Ponomare, The New York Times

A guest post by Byron Smith

Why is climate change so often treated as ‘merely’ an environmental issue? Why are the true nature and scale of its implications for public health, water stress, food security, mass migration, global stability, conflict and ecological collapse so rarely spelled out in public? Whose interests are served by keeping this as an issue for tree huggers, bushwalkers and other nature lovers? And why do we keep getting told to recycle or change our lightbulbs when it only takes a few moments to realise that far, far more is needed?

Make no mistake: the scale of the climate crisis is so large as to threaten life as we know it. This includes placing into doubt the ongoing existence of global industrial society in its current form. Our climate-disrupting carbon pollution (mainly from burning coal, oil and gas) is the largest experiment we’ve ever conducted and though we might not yet know all the details, that the net outcome is likely to overwhelmingly, even catastrophically, negative is not in serious doubt. When you actually explore the fairly middle of the road likely impacts from continuing on a fossil-fuelled trajectory for a few more decades, it pretty quickly becomes apparent that we’re not just talking about things getting a little rougher at the margins. We’re looking at whole ecosystems (like the Great Barrier Reef) collapsing, agricultural production being smashed, trillions of dollars of infrastructure threatened, tens or hundreds of millions of people being displaced and all the consequent implications for global stability these imply.

To depart from such a trajectory onto a path where the societal damages might be merely substantial or staggering (rather than potentially fatal) requires the almost complete transformation of a number of the most powerful and profitable industries on the planet. This can be done, from a technological and economic point of view, and would even bring a whole range of co-benefits (such as avoiding most of the seven million annual deaths currently resulting from air pollution), but the losses in such a transition would be concentrated in many of the most powerful organisations on the planet. The losers would be all the companies (and shareholders) heavily reliant upon keeping dirty energy dirt cheap, but also those nations with the largest fossil fuel reserves.

Thus, for some time it has been in the interests of a lot of powerful people and organisations *not* to articulate clearly and repeatedly what is at stake. Most major corporations, corporate media and almost all governments know that outright denial is no longer tenable in the face of such an overwhelming consensus of data and experts. Yet many of these groups also recognise the hugely disruptive implications of directly acknowledging the scope of our predicament. Doing so would require huge changes to the status quo, the situation from which they currently benefit the most.

So, as a more or less deliberate way of keeping such explosive knowledge from affecting the population too drastically, the problem gets pegged as an ‘environmental’ issue. This stalling tactic ensures that it stays somewhere down the list of priorities; we’ll get to it at some point in the distant future and/or take a few symbolic greenwashing actions to create give an impression of being in control. While not directly embracing denial outright, this enables the proposal of various half and quarter measures that give the appearance of action without rocking the boat too much.

As an added bonus, the nature of climate science helps in this effort. Although the core of the science (enough to realise that serious action in required) can be well understood in a few minutes by anyone who completed primary school science, the details get incredibly complex. This provides countless opportunities for a deliberate misinformation campaign to throw plenty of dust into the air. Furthermore, the fact that the problem is cumulative and unfolds over decades helps to reduce the chance it was gain the same level of political urgency as a recession (or even the latest celebrity scandal).

But this isn’t just a story about nefarious entities keeping an innocent public in the dark. By and large, the public simply don’t want to know. Awakening to the scale of our predicament is deeply unsettling for most of us, and challenges basic cultural narratives by which we orient our lives (and for Christians, even some cherished theological assumptions). Since few of us like to have our identity upended, it suits most of us to keep the issue at arm’s length as well, embracing denial, or not looking too closely, or taking the word of political elites that their half-baked schemes will do the trick, or if a glimpse of the horror slips though then quickly putting it in the ‘too-hard-and-what-can-I-do-anyway’ basket.

Now there are in fact many experts, professional groups and advocacy groups who do articulate the climate issue through all its various implications, rather than treating it as ‘just’ an ‘environmental’ one. But they rarely get featured prominently or repeatedly in mainstream media. (By the way, this is one of the reasons why relying on corporate media to tell you which stories matter is a recipe for rarely/never hearing about stories that challenge the rule of the corporations.) And political leaders whose parties are funded and supported by fossil interests are unlikely to make more than superficial or very gradual changes. It is telling that in most political contexts, the parties that embrace actions more commensurate with the scale of the challenge are generally those that refuse support from corporations. Yet in Australia, this basically means the Greens, whose climate policies (while certainly not perfect) have been a couple of decades ahead of the majors. Ironically, however, this just reinforces for most people the idea that caring about climate is something basically reserved for ‘greenies’. Another win for the minimising ‘environmental’ framing.

Nonetheless, there are signs this may be gradually changing. For instance, President Obama has used the national security framework more than a couple of times (and has been relentlessly hounded by Republicans and corporate media pundits for doing so), as have a few other international leaders. But even then, the choice of framing remains primarily a vehicle for reinforcing the status quo (or a slightly modified form of it). For the US president to talk about national security functions first and foremost to imply not ‘let’s transform our dirty energy system and the dirty politics it helps engender’ so much as ‘let’s increase military/security spending some more’.

In this context, one of the most radical acts possible for an ordinary citizen is to open oneself to the full implications of climate science, to seek to understand why the status quo has failed to deal with this, to embrace the very uncomfortable emotional experiences this typically generates, and then to start thinking through what is actually necessary for a sane and just response (rather than merely what is deemed possible under assumptions acceptable to those currently in power).

And my hunch is that this is going to involve not just lots more clean energy while rapidly phasing out dirty energy, but also confronting the dirty politics that upholds the latter far past its use by date.

[Image: Sergey Ponomarev, The New York Times]

Hope is the strangest protest

Beach pollutionThe poet and novelist George Mackay Brown is well-known for his love of place, and for his laments about their destruction with the advent of stuff like concrete, plastic bottles, portable transistor radios, and what he describes as the ‘menace of cars’, indeed with all signs of industrialization.

In a piece penned for The Orcadian and published on 23 March 1972, he (again) recounts feelings of deep grief about the prevalence of contaminants – oil slicks and junk – that he finds on his sojourns along the coast of his beloved island home. But the piece concludes on a different note:

We must have faith that somewhere, deep down at the very roots and sources of life, there is an endless upsurge of health and renewal. (If there were not, the earth would have shriveled like a rotten apple millenniums since.) A hundred years ago the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, troubled by the pollution of industrial England, consoled himself with the certainty that ‘there lives the dearest freshness deep down things …’. We can only hope that that primal unsullied source will be strong enough to wash away the frightful poisons that men are pouring into the air and earth and oceans every hour of the day and night. So, nowadays, when I take an afternoon walk around the coast, I am not offended any more by the empty sauce bottles and syrup tins on the rocks below. They seem to be simply human friendly objects. The freshness of nature, that lives ‘deep down things’, passes over them, and they are gone.

Hope is the strangest – and the most unbelievable – protest.

[Image: source]

On the ‘worldly’ and the ‘earthly’

Earth - 4 April 2014

 

[Source: The Age, 4 April 2014]

 

Wendell Berry on loss and recovery

I remember feeling sad when I got to the final pages of Wendell Berry’s magnificent Jayber Crow; sad because I didn’t want the story to end, sad because I’d fallen in love with Berry’s prose and couldn’t imagine the next book I’d read to be anywhere near as exquisite, sad because I wanted to linger longer in Jayber’s barber shop in Port William, Kentucky, wherefrom I might look at the world – its history and its gnawing hopes – through Jayber’s truthful eyes and to see things familiar but as if for the first time.

And, while soaring from Austin to San Francisco, over landscape both infertile and august, I felt that sadness lift a couple of days ago when I returned to Berry’s Port William via his book A Place in Time: Twenty Stories of the Port William Membership. Two passages in particular struck me. Both, in their own way, concern the theme of loss and recovery:

‘Well, you get older and you begin to lose people, kinfolks and friends. Or it seems to start when you’re getting older. You wonder who was looking after such things when you were young. The people who died when I was young were about all old. Their deaths didn’t interrupt me much, even when I missed them. Then it got to be people younger than me and people my own age that were leaving this world, and then it was different. I began to feel it changing me. When people who mattered to me died I began to feel that something was required of me. Sometimes something would be required that I could do, and I did it. Sometimes when I didn’t know what was required, I still felt the requirement. Whatever I did never felt like enough. Something I knew was large and great would have happened. I would be aware of the great world that is always nearby, ever at hand, even within you, as the good book says. It’s something you would maybe just as soon not know about, but finally you learn about it because you have to’.

‘Our descendants may know such a time again when the petroleum all is burnt. How they will fare then will depend on the neighborly wisdom, the love for the place and its genius, and the skills that they may manage to revive between now and then’.

One could learn a hell of a lot by hanging around in Port William. Some day soon, I hope to return and …

Kim Fabricius on climate change

Bury head in sand

‘Young-earth creationism is an intellectual disaster, but anthropogenic climate-change* denial is, more, a moral disaster. It is not merely risible, it is repugnant; not just bad science but odious ideology. And world leaders for whom the penny has finally dropped – what do they do but loiter without intent, hands in pockets, counting their change? To wilful ignorance, economic self-interest, and political opportunism, add the global “bystander effect” – the more nations that witness other nations in even more distress than their own, the less likely any one nation will say “Enough is enough!” and act – well, one despairs even of damage limitation (like chemo with late-stage cancer). And you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows: extreme meteorological events, environmental devastation, human suffering will worsen; mass migrations and territorial conflict will ensue; only fundamentalists will rejoice – they’ll have a sodden field day with the book of Revelation. We say climate-change denial is an “opinion”; our grandchildren will ask us why we didn’t call it like it is – a sociopathology’. – Kim the doodle man.

* On the evidence for anthropogenic climate change, see the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report, released in 2007. A synthesis of the report can be accessed here. While it is no understatement to admit that I am considerably science-challenged, I found the report accessible, and deeply troubling. Heck, I reckon that even Tony Abbott and John Key could understand it, if they wanted to. The IPCC’s latest report is due out next week.

The dirty politics of oil

Oil drilling

News that the Texan oil and gas exploration company Anadarko Petroleum Corporation is to undertake a test drilling program in the Canterbury Basin just off the Otago Peninsula is causing stir here in Dunedin among a good number of residents deeply concerned about the significant environmental and economic risks that such drilling poses to the region. Shell too have plans to explore the Great South Basin for additional oil and gas reserves.

Such highly-charged ventures rarely display politics in its most attractive, reasoned, transparent and democratic guise. One example of this occurred just a few weeks ago (on 10 January) when the intelligent and responsible folk who make up the St Martin Island Community were ordered, by the Otago Regional Council, to take down a ‘No Drill’ sign (erected in late October 2013) because, according to the ORC, the community were in breach of resource consent which states that ‘no advertising signage shall be erected on the jetty’. Now it’s not at all clear to me, or to the SMIC, just how such a sign is an example of ‘advertising’. (It is difficult to imagine such an order being issued for a sign encouraging the All Blacks to thrash their opponents at a game at the ORC’s beloved stadium (once described, in what sounds like a joke, as ‘pivotal to Dunedin and Otago’s future’; similar rhetoric was being used to sell the drilling program: ‘A key to Dunedin’s future prosperity could lie buried beneath the seabed just 60km off the coast’, we are told), or a sign welcoming cash-carrying Chinese tourists to Dunedin, or a sign championing the importance of brushing one’s teeth without the use of rat poisons, for example. And yet a ‘No Drill’ sign appears to me to be of much the same order.)

At the most recent meeting of the SMIC Council, it was decided that an appeal of the ORC’s decision would be made to the Environment Court asking for a stay on the grounds that the ‘No Drill’ sign is not advertising but ‘a prudent safety message’. Such an appeal has since been lodged and we now await the court’s decision, hoping that common sense and the rule of law (these are not always at odds!) will prevail over all other interests. Certainly any democracy that seeks to legislate against legitimate (i.e., non-violent) forms of protest has failed tragically to understand its own virtue.

Saint Martin Island

October stations …

SAMSUNGReading:

Listening

Link love

Leunig love

Leunig-iPad-The Lost Art

Leunig - Words for mystery

[Source: The Age]

some thursday drop-offs

Drop-off-AreaIt’s been a while since I shared some link love. Let me remedy that:

The effect of the carbon tax on your sausage

While Aussies discuss the new carbon tax, Michael Leunig provides his own take:

The (two) Stories of (two) Gulfs: on logs and splinters

Copious media outlets this morning report that the U.S. Department of Justice recently filed a lawsuit against the oil giant BP and eight other companies over the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said the government is seeking compensation for restoring the Gulf Coast region. She says,

This is about getting a fair deal for the region that suffered enormous consequences from this disaster. And it’s also about securing the future of the Gulf Coast. Ensuring accountability strengthens our ongoing efforts to help Gulf Coast communities get their lives and livelihoods back on track. The government’s complaint seeks civil penalties against those responsible for the spill and will lay the foundation for securing what is needed to restore the Gulf’.

Anyone else see the irony here? If one was to write a book, perhaps an appropriate working title might be The (two) Stories of (two) Gulfs: on logs and splinters.

[Images from here, here, here and here]

 

Every time a butterfly farts …

UK transport charity Sustrans, as part of the Change Your World campaign, explains how chaos theory relates to farting butterflies, Madonna, your mum, the Queen’s undies and driving in July.

Of course, I’m only posting this so that I can feel as if I’m doing my bit for the environment without actually doing anything.