Thank you Catrina for this amazing transcript!
[00:05] I'm David Torcivia.
[00:07] I'm Daniel Forkner.
[00:08] And this is Ashes Ashes, a show about systemic issues, cracks and civilization, collapse the environment, and if we're unlucky the end of the world.
[0:19] But if we learn from all of this maybe we can stop that. The world might be broken but it doesn't have to be.
[00:31] Climate change is shaping the future of our civilization. Um, if action is not taken it will take the planet into an unprecedented climate future if we compare it to what has happened during all of human evolutionary history. So the scale of the changes that we are experiencing in the climate system is unprecedented, the scale of the changes that humans will have to implement in order to, uh, keep climate change under control is unprecedented, so it's a challenge for human civilization, and this report is therefore, a milestone in conveying that message to human society.
[01:13] That's right David, that was a member of the 48th session of the IPCC and first joint session of Working Groups I, II, and III, holding a press conference on the 8th of October in the Republic of Korea, announcing the release of a brand new IPCC report. The IPCC of course being the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and they offer their estimates of how we might get to a world of 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels of 1750. They offer a comparison of how the world might be different in a 1.5 degree scenario versus a 2 degree Celsius scenario, and they offer what they believe are strong recommendations of how we can avoid what is, honestly David, a catastrophe looming on the horizon.
[02:08] By now, it's certain that in the media you have seen the doom surrounding this report. And I've heard it from people that are not normally interested in climate change how scared they are about the things that this report predicts if drastic action is not taken. But here on Ashes Ashes, we are never content just to sit here and take things at face value. And so we have dug into this report, and as you might expect, we found that things might be worse than even what the media is screaming about.
[02:38] And perhaps they fall short in the recommendations of what we really need to do in order to truly avert this crisis. And this will be somewhat of a complex show, not necessarily complicated in the details we will discuss, but complex in the structure of this discussion. The subject, of course, is this IPCC report, and we will go over some of the details in that report, maybe summarize what they're trying to say, some of the implications we see for our environment, and then the bulk of the show will be focused on ways that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change fails to properly address this global crisis. And we'll use that IPCC failure to point out broader failures of our economy, and clues as to how we should go forward. Now, any discussion of climate change is honestly pretty dark, David. I mean, just thinking about it often leaves me with a bit of existential dread. But we hope to leave you, the listener, with a little bit of hope, and maybe some inspiration about a world we can envision, a future we should strive towards, in the face of this existential threat.
[03:46] So, let's get this boring stuff out of the way, and establish the baseline information that this report tries to get across. So, more or less, this sums down to the fact that humans have caused the world to warm between 0.8 degrees Celsius and 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels since 1750. Now, the rate of this warming is a direct result of human activity. And right now, that's about 0.2 degrees every ten years. So this means at current rates, we should expect a 1.5 C somewhere between 2030 and 2052, depending on our actions. Now, of course, any warming is bad in terms of the stress it places on not just human systems, but natural ones as well. A warmer planet means drought and unpredictable violent weather patterns. During hurricane season, it means more frequent and much larger typhoons and storms, and during summer, the frequencies and intensities of wildfires will increase, just as we're seeing now. It means extreme heat and mid-latitudes which will disrupt crops and human life. It means the disruption of important ecosystem services, like the ability for the ocean habitat to absorb that carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. It means dramatic sea level rise, which threatens that all the beautiful sandcastles we built along our coast. But you all already know this because you listen to this show.
[05:09] The IPCC report points out the obvious - that risks to human and natural systems increase with warming. A 2 degree Celsius increase is worse than 1.5 And pointing out these different scenarios is perhaps important for understanding the risks, and the way that these consequences scale at an exponential rate. For instance, at 1.5 degrees, we should expect the Arctic to experience an ice-free summer every 100 years. But, at 2 degrees, this would occur once every 10 years. And this is of course significant for many reasons, which we go over in our very first podcast episode, Thin Ice. And for coral reefs, 1.5 degree Celsius of warming means a further 70-90% destruction worldwide, whereas at 2 degree Celsius, we have a total and absolute collapse of coral reefs, pretty much everywhere.
[06:04] But there are also additional variables than just the global temperature itself. The rate at which we arrive at a higher temperature plays an important role. The faster the Earth warms, the more dramatic the impacts, even if we ultimately taper off at the same degree of warming. And in addition, because the impacts of warming are dramatic, they're often irreversible, meaning it's much better to slowly halt warming at that 1.5 degree level, or lower, than it would be to allow it to exceed it, and then try to bring it back down. For another illustration, sea level rise is already baked into our climate systems. There's no way we can stop the oceans rising at this point. But the rate at which the sea levels climbs will depend on the rate we allow warming to continue. From the report, "Sea levels will continue to rise well beyond 2100, and the magnitude and rate of this rise depends on future emission pathways. A slower rate of sea level rise enables greater opportunities for adaptation and the human and ecological systems of small islands, low lying coastal areas,and deltas." So even if we can halt warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, sea levels will continue to rise for centuries to come, in part because irreversible instabilities in the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are likely to be triggered for warming in the next few decades, which will catalyze unstoppable melting over thousands of years.
[07:34] The IPCC outlines a few different pathways by which our actions could lower the risk of the Earth warming to the 1.5 number. And it's important to emphasize the monumental nature of these pathways. In the second worst pathway, (the worst case scenario being our current path, which is doing nothing,) we reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2055, and this requires emissions to basically drop off a cliff, starting in just 2020. And further, that we significantly reduce all non-carbon dioxide radiative forcing after 2030, and this includes things like methane, nitrous oxide, the aerosols that planes emit, and other human-cost factors, like our land management and our agriculture choices. But even this pathway where we sacrifice so much still results in a warming range between 1 degree Celsius and 1.8 In the best case pathway, we reach net-zero carbon emissions 15 years early, so that's by 2040, and that results in a projected range of warming that halts somewhere between just under 1 C, or about current levels, but could still climb as high as 1.7 degrees Celsius. Think about this for a moment - the most dramatic shift in human civilization, our economy, our standard of living, in the history of all humankind still will only put us in an extreme future. This is how serious this story is, and we'll discuss this as the episode goes on. But we promise that as doom as this is already starting out, it isn't all, uh, negativity, and there is some hope here to be found.
[09:12] So, of course, the IPCC recommends ways we might achieve these pathways and hopefully, that best case scenario pathway. And they make it clear that the current situation is dire, and so our response must be immediate and dramatic. To avoid 1.5 degrees of warming, we need to cut carbon emissions by 45%. Not from our current levels, that's 45% less than what we produced in 2010. And according to the report, if we want to avoid overshoot of human civilization, we must begin this rapid reduction well before 2030. At the latest, by 2020, as you pointed out David. And by 2050, just 32 years from now, our emissions need to hit net-zero. So that means going from over 36 gigatons of CO2.
[10:01] Gigaton, of course, meaning billions.
[09:12] Whew, yeah, 36 billion tons of CO2 emitted this year, and we need to drop that to zero. Now, in order to achieve that, the IPCC makes several recommendations, like huge emission reductions in pretty much every single sector of the economy, they stress the importance of investing in new technologies, like renewable energy, solar, wind, hydro. We need changes in land management. We need to change the way we build our structures. We need to change the way we use land for agricultural or energy. And they also recommend several methods for directly capturing carbon from the air. Remember we can do that through natural systems, like afforestation. And in addition, in several pathways, the IPCC assumes that in order to avoid this catastrophe, we will need to employ certain technologies to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, through technologies like direct air carbon capture and storage, and bioenergy and carbon capture storage, which is something we will go over in a little bit.
[11:02] And as alarmist as we sound right now and throughout this show, we're not the only ones with this message.
[11:09] Can I just make the comment that, saying, 'Option X or Option Y' is not the way this report is framed. The word 'or' does not work in relation to the ambition of 1.5 degrees warming. The only linking word you can use is 'and'. There is a very clear message that in the pathways that we have assessed, that ALL options need to be exercised in order to achieve the kind of level of ambition of 1.5 degrees. The idea that you can leave anything out is not possible, so the key thing is - Option X AND Option Y AND Option Z. It is the only option we really have, uh, to achieve this kind of level of ambition.
[11:52] But of course there are problems with some of these recommendations. For one, many of the pathways projected make huge assumptions about our ability to employ technology that, frankly, has yet to be developed. For instance, when it comes to renewable energy, despite the fact that we source 80% of our energy from fossil fuels, the IPCC models the possibility that by 2050, up to 85% of our energy supply will come from renewables. As to the technology required to make that transition possible, the IPCC merely states that "While acknowledging the challenges and differences between the options and natural circumstances, the feasibility of solar energy, when energy and electricity storage technologies have substantially improved over the last few years. These improvements signal a potential system transition in electricity generation." In other words, we don't have the technology, but we've made progress so hopefully it will keep going that way, and eventually we'll have it, and it'll save us from all our problems.
[12:52] And this is kind of a foreshadowing of things to come and problems within this report, where - I mean that's a pretty dramatic shift. We use a vast majority of all our energy comes from fossil fuels, and they're basically saying that somehow by investing in technology that hasn't been proven yet, and hasn't been scaled, and would require a complete transformation of our electrical grids, which is something, David, we covered in Episode 13 'Lights Out' - the assumption is that this will just magically happen. And this is a bit discouraging, especially given that at this moment, every single national pledge committed to combating climate change falls short of even what the IPCC claims is necessary in this report, and these claims themselves likely fall short of what is actually necessary.
[11:52] Absolutely fall short. Which we'll get to - don't worry.
[13:42] Yeah, but let's take a step back real quick, David, because we've covered a lot of consequences of climate change in this show, but I think we should remind people of how this can impact the very sensitive ecological habitat and services that we rely on every day.
[13:57] Yeah, that's a great idea, because if we take out the ecological component of everything going on here - we're just saying 'Well, we don't want it to be slightly hotter or a little bit stormier,' which is understandable. But, we have to understand that the systems that are all around us, that we depend on for our very survival, are hugely dependent and responsive to even small fluctuations in temperature, and the natural systems of Earth can be thrown very quickly out of wack, and that unfortunately affects us, and could throw us off the Earth as well. So we mentioned earlier that 1.5 degrees Celsius number. That is the baseline that we're desperately trying to stay under. Well that figure, which is considered basically a best case scenario if we can hit it. That puts up to 90% of all coral reefs on Earth at risk. And if we surpass that number, and hit 2.0 degrees Celsius, which is something that is hugely likely, if not inevitable at this point, basically every coral reef currently on this planet is dead.
[14:55] But David, why do I care beyond the fact that they're colorful and I won't be able to scuba dive in the tropical islands that I vacation at?
[15:02] Well, Daniel, if you want to play the heartless Devil's Advocate, uh, fair enough. Coral reefs have a huge number of things that make them important to this Earth, and to each and every one of us. Now, they make up less than 1% of ocean habitats, but these are some of the most diverse habitats on the planet. And they provide a number of invaluable services to us humans. Now, warming threatens these coral reefs, most notably through their symbiotic relationship with algae. Corals get their color from the algae that lives in their cells. IT's a symbiotic relationship and the source of food for corals. But when the ocean warms around these coral habitats, the algae becomes damaged. And to prevent the accumulation of dead cells, the corals eject. This causes the corals to lose their color - it's that phrase you've heard so much, coral bleaching, but without this symbiotic relationship, corals lack their necessary nutrition, and are at greater risk of disease and ultimately, death.
[15:59] Yeah, and this symbiotic relationship is pretty sensitive. In 2005, half of all coral reefs in the Caribbean were lost after warm waters flowed into the area, at temperatures exceeding every single record for the previous 150 years in that area. Over 80% of the coral was bleached, and half were lost. The stress experienced by the coral in just that one event was greater than the past two decades combined. It was a huge bleaching event, and extremely catastrophic. It was totally unprecedented, and came about, seemingly, instantaneously. And that's the type of future we're looking at here, David. Not one in which we slowly adapt to a changing world, in which all systems are merely altered or held intact. We are looking at a future in which large, sweeping systems suddenly experience catastrophic failure as a result of the dramatic and unpredictable shifts caused by increased climate variability. But again, why do I care?
[16:59] Well, uh, I'm sure there are still many many people out there that hear this news about things like coral reefs, and just shrug their shoulders, like 'Well, I live in New York City, I go to the movies, I have a good job, what do I care about the coral reef? I mean it's sad that this beautiful place is lost, but that doesn't affect me.' So we want to highlight some of these important facts, real quick, just some of the irreplaceable values these coral reefs offer. We touched just briefly on the value of the biodiversity in the episode 'Irreplaceable'. Coral reefs support more diversity of species than any other ocean habitat. They are home to over 4000 fish species, hundreds of coral species themselves, and there's an estimated 1-8 million undiscovered species that are currently living among these coral reefs. And as you'd expect from such a diverse habitat, these reefs are crucial for food security. In many countries as many as 25% of the total fish catch is sourced from these reef habitats. Now we discuss this in Episode 42, 'No Catch' even in the 18th century, people recognized the value of coral reefs as nurseries for young fish. And we need all the help we can get. The IPCC reports that at 1.5 degree Celsius, fish catch worldwide will decline by 1.5 million tons, and that doubles to 3 million tons if we hit 2 degrees. So reefs are important to raising the fish we need, and that's not to mention the other tangible benefits that we derive from these reefs. Things like medicine. Reef animals and plants provide medicines which we rely on for research, and treatments, for diseases as wide-ranging as cancer, arthritis, bacterial infections, and even viruses.
[18:38] Yeah, and losing fish stocks is something that is actually pretty tangible. We should be able to visualize how that impact our lives, when our food security is threatened. Another great example of their value is kind of the ways they protect us that we don't really think about. We mention sea level rise, and right now there are nearly 500 million people around the globe that are actively being protected from some of the consequences of sea level rise due to the protection that they enjoy from reefs on their coast, which can absorb the shock from waves, prevent erosion on the coast, and help avoid property damage. So these types of habitats, there are so many services that we rely on for our survival, that we kind of take for granted, and we don't realize the value they provided us until we lose them, and then it's too late.
[19:28] But David, we touch on specific climate topics in episodes that we dedicate to them specifically. We have a number of episodes from everything from wildfires to this sea level rise, melting sea ice in the Arctic that we alluded to, air pollution, and we encourage you to check out specific episodes that we've done on the way this climate change impacts specific systems and regions of our world. One of our favorite episodes was 'Last Gasp' where we talked about unforeseen consequences of this climate change, particularly in the accumulation of CO2. Where we traditionally think of CO2 as this greenhouse gas, which is contributing the most to global warming, which is true, but often what we don't think about is how this directly affects our health. Where we evolved under a certain baseline of parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, but we now have to live with almost double that, and the implications that has for our cognition and our health goes pretty deep, and not many people are talking about that. But, so we do cover these in other episodes, so we don't want to go too deep in them. If there are any topics that you, our listeners, would like us to cover specifically, let us know. Leave a comment in the Reddit post for this episode, or send us an email.
[20:37] Yeah, like Daniel mentioned, we spent so much time exploring many of these climate environmental and other topics throughout this series. So, we're not going to waste any more time going through the background of everything right now; there is plenty of backlog- feel free to dig through it. So instead, let's turn our attention to this IPCC report, and specifically, the failures it has within. Probably, we can classify the failures of this report in two categories - what they left out, and what they erroneously assumed. Now what they left out is, well, significant. And we've gotten across the severity of the situation as already outlined by the IPCC, and we mentioned that no nation has even bothered to pledge to make the necessary steps to enable the pathways for a good-case scenario in the report. So it's bad already, and we already need dramatic change, but that brings us to the questions - what did they leave out, and how much worse is it actually? Ok, Daniel, and listeners at home, we have a bunch of links on our website of PDFs from this report, uh, you could check them out. But, I want everyone who is reading along to turn to Chapter 2 of full report, and uh, scroll down to Section 184.108.40.206.
[21.53] 2 point...?
[21.56] 2.2 point... oh my god, that is so many numbers.
[21:58] And specifically, page 2-17, down at line number 23, Daniel. And read that sentence.
[22:05] Uh, OK. Uh, 23 - 'The reduced complexity climate models employed in this assessment do not take into account permafrost or non-CO2 earth system feedbacks, although, the MAGICC Model has a permafrost module that can be enabled. Taking the current climate system and feedbacks' understanding together, there is a possibility that these models would underestimate the longer-term future temperature response to stringent emission pathways.' That's the end of the quote, David.
[22:36] OK, so everyone, this is the most important sentence in this entire report, and if you read the actual chapters, it's literally well over a thousand pages - I mean this is dense - but this sentence right here is important because it tells us one thing. And that's the fact that the report that's published, that went out to media, that everyone has been talking about, how we have twelve years left to save the world, and really it's eleven because that number is 2020, and 2018 is almost over. So we have elev-
[23:03] Hey, we still got, uh, a full month, David, come on now.
[23:06] Ok, we have eleven years and one month left to save the world. To really get our butts in gear.
[23:12] Don't take my Christmas away from me.
[23:13] But the problem is is that number was calculated by leaving out huge amounts of feedback systems. And they say that right here - and I love this language they use here. 'There is a possibility that these models would underestimate..." Of course there is a possibility it is going to underestimate this thing. You took out some of the largest feedback loops of global warming, because either the science wasn't there for modeling this because, uh, it was politically inconvenient to do that, because political pressures from the government and organizations that basically make up the IPCC, and demand that it has to meet certain ideas about what is acceptable or what isn't, or because and the scientific community have the tendency to just be conservative, uh, and not want to overestimate things, and be seen as alarmist.
[23:58] Well, real quick, David, I do want to get into the details of the severity of leaving things out like permafrost, but I think the concept of feedback loops is really important. I mean, it's really central to any discussion of climate systems and ecological systems, and you know, going back to our very first episode 'Thin Ice' I do remember you talked about the feedback systems in the Arctic, for example, where there is all there ice up there, and it helps to reflect much of the sunlight and help keep the Earth cool. But as the climate warms, and that warming happens 3-4x faster in the Arctic than anywhere else, that ice melts. Which means there is less of it to reflect back that sunlight. And then when it comes back, because it's newer ice it's not as reflective, so the Earth continues to warm, which melts more ice, which means less albedo, which means less reflecting the sun, which warms the Earth more. And so it creates this - that's the feedback! The more warming that occurs, there are a number of systems that then accelerate that warming, feeding back into themselves, and encouraging even more warming, and it kind of creates this runaway thing. And as for what we mean when we say, like, things like 'Sea level rise is already baked in.' Even if we could take out all of the CO2 we've put into the system-
[25:10] -Some of these feedback loops have been triggered and we can't get them back, because they just set off this runaway process.
[25:17] Exactly, Daniel, and these feedback loops are what really drive the runaway nature of climate change. I mean, our emissions increase every year, but it's these things that compound our contribution to this overall heat-and-carbon system that makes it so dangerous, and turns it into that famous hockey stick graph that Al Gore talked about all those years ago. And, one of the most important feedback loops, and one of the largest contributors to carbon dioxide and methane, the more potent of the greenhouse gases, is the melting of the permafrost in the Northern and Southern hemispheres of the world. This is predominantly a Northern hemisphere thing, and like Daniel mentioned, the Arctic is warming much faster than the rest of the world. And this is compounding the effect of this permafrost. So what permafrost is - and we do talk about this in other episodes - but it is a frozen soil, basically. In extreme latitudes, our north, our south, it is so cold year-round that this soil freezes and never thaws. It is permanently frosted, permanently frozen, permafrost. And what that means is that when organic matter decays in this soil, it freezes and that shuts down the rot. And that rot is what releases carbon dioxide or methane into the atmosphere. So what we have right now is basically a time capsule, and uh, quite literally, in places this is where you find frozen woolly mammoths and things, but it's a time capsule of frozen carbon. It's been locked up here for decades, centuries, thousands of years, eons, and prevented from escaping into our atmosphere. As our temperature on Earth warms, this permafrost, for the first time in tens of thousands of years, is starting to melt. And as it starts to melt, it wakes up all the little microbes that live inside this dirt. They come back alive, and they look around and they have all this delicious carbon matter that they want to eat, and consume and release back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane. And there is a lot of carbon locked up in these systems.
[27:21] Give me the numbers, David, so uh - according to the IPCC, we need to dramatically cut our emissions, we need to be at net zero by 2050.
[27:30] OK Daniel. And this is again on that same page we mentioned on the Carbon Report, for those following along, if you look at Line 14- you can read this, too. 'There is an estimated 5,600 gigatons of carbon locked up in these permafrost soils. Now in comparison, we don't have an up to date number on this, but in the past 260-270 or so years, humans have released 1,500 gigatons of carbon.
[27:58] So total, in aggregate, if you compound every single year that we have emitted things, 1,500 gigatons total. And, in this permafrost is 5,600-
[28:08] -gigatons. OK.
[28:09] Yes. So there's a lot of carbon there, but fortunately for us, not all that carbon is vulnerable.
[28:14] I would hope not.
[28:15] It's estimated that 5-15% of that permafrost soil is vulnerable, and ultimately, will melt because of the warming that we're doing right now. But that number, 5-15%, is still massive. Worst case scenario, we're talking over 800 gigatons of carbon released from this. That's equivalent of two decades of our current business-as-usual carbon emissions. And that's sort-of baked in at this point. If it's not going to be by 2100, it's going to be shortly after, that we're going to be emitting this stuff. And remember, what was that number, Daniel? We need to have net-zero carbon by 2040-2055, depending on which pathway we want to take.
[28:53] We've already got another 20 years of emissions locked in within these permafrosts that we know is going to be released soon. So that means that, let's see, what year is it? 2018, so 20 years from now, equivalently, 2038, so we have two years to get to zero net carbon if we want to hit that 'best case scenario'. That's not going to happen. Sorry to spoil it for you, and I said two years, but really it's one year and one month. Uh, the fact that the IPCC left out such an enormous component of the potential warming that we have here, and actually, the report that this number comes from was published in Nature in 2015 (we will link it on the website.) They mentioned specifically in the end of this report, that the IPCC models desperately need to include permafrost, and also methane. It doesn't account methane releases, either. So they know this is a problem. Three years ago they wrote about how this is a problem. And that here is the solution, and the IPCC has ignored it. And then talks about how they ignore it in this report.
[29:51] Yeah that's what is so ironic to me, they quote this paper from 2015, saying we're going to release 840 gigatons of CO2 and equivalents from this thawing permafrost, compared to 32 gigatons of total global emissions every year right now, or 36-
[30:08] Well this is not just, this is not just CO2 equivalents, it is just CO2. If you add the methane in terms of CO2 equivalence, that number can be almost 1200 CO2E.
[30:18] And the IPCC basically just says 'but we just won't include that'.
[30:21] Yeah, so I mean, I'm not sure if this is incompetence, if this is ignorant, if they didn't want to overestimate things, because the science including it in their model isn't there yet. And they mention earlier on in this same chapter, how it's - when they include permafrost or methane estimates, their models just get wacky, and way more warming happens. And they don't agree with each other, so they decide to just throw it out. But, uh, it seems, when you're making these things, these estimates, that say we have to do this by this year, or we're doomed, but you're ignoring a huge component of the warming, that is so unbelievably disingenuous and lying. It's basically like you walk into a doctor and doctor says 'You have stage 4 cancer, but we can fight this. We can try to fight it. I think you have four years left to live, and we'll fight this.' When really, the doctor is ignoring this big tumor you have sticking out the side of your face, it's like eating you. And he's like 'Oh that? That's nothing.' Even though when you include that tumor, you have three days left to live. That's what the IPCC has done to us in the ignoring of this thing. And this fact that it's just here in one or two paragraphs, buried under this paper, let's see, chapter two is what? A hundred pages long? And it's one of five or six chapters?
[31:33] The idea that you can leave anything out is not possible, so the key thing is - Option X AND Option Y AND Option Z. It is the only option we really have, uh, to achieve this kind of level of ambition.
[31:47] David, I think discussing why the IPCC chooses to frame this situation as dire as it is, but then, holding back some of the worst things to give us a little bit of hope. I mean, maybe there are some political reasons for that, and I think we should discuss that later on in this episode, but why don't we table the missing feedback loops for just a second? Because you mention that there are basically two categories in which the IPCC has failed us in this report. And one of them, of course, being leaving out important feedbacks, like permafrost, but also in the things they included, and what they assumed we can do to achieve these pathways.
[32:25] Yeah, I mean, I'm really getting into this, I'm super stuck on this point, uh, I think it's really important we spread this, but you're right - we lost sight of the bigger picture. So let's turn our attention to the things they assume that we can do, but well -
[32:40] One of the major flaws with the IPCC report is it still relies on unfeasible technologies to project our path towards limited warming. The so-called 'negative emission' and 'carbon capture' technologies. Specifically, the panel assumes that by 2030, so just 12 years, we will be using BECCS, or Bio-Energy and Carbon Capture and Sequestration, to remove between 0-1 gigatons of CO2 per year in 2030, between 0-8 by 2050, and somewhere between 0-16 gigatons by 2100.
[33:15] I actually agree with these ranges. I definitely think they will be pretty much 0 in several of those years.
(giggles from both)
[33:23] Exactly. So the inclusion of these technologies, it ultimately betrays a flawed acceptance, not only of how our economies work, which I want to get into, but quite possibly, and more damning, the dependence on a technology so obviously impossible is perhaps a sign that this panel is offering the governments of the world a plan that they can pretend to agree to to save face, but a plan that does not directly challenge their goals of short-term economic growth and extraction. Now we have discussed BECCS before in episode 21, 'Clima Ex Machina,' but let's briefly go over what this technology is for the listeners, David.
[34:02] Of course, Daniel. And so, at first, what is BECCS? So, Bio-Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage, Carbon Capture and Sequestration, depending on who you're talking to. And that's the idea that we can grow crops for fuel, ok? Cut them down, drive them to a power plant, burn the plant materials for bio-fuel, then when the CO2 is released from burning the plants, we capture that, and then we bury it in the ground. So, I mean, as much of a Rube Goldberg system for powering the world as that sounds, even on the surface level, when you dig into it deeper, look at the numbers and the scale- well it really starts looking questionable and there are a number of reasons why. I mean, for one, a forest is already sequestering carbon dioxide in the air through photosynthesis. To convert a forest, or a field, or whatever it is, to fuel, you have to cut it off. And that halts the sequestration. So to avoid this, BECCS only works if you're growing crops that otherwise wouldn't be grown. And at the scale needed to meet those projections, you need to employ additional land equal to the size of Australia. [35:03] Now this is absurd, because inappropriate land use is already one of the biggest drivers of climate change, mostly through this conversion of forests to agriculture land. This not only exacerbates that trend, while already threatening our shaky food security, it destroys that biodiversity that exists in these places before their turn to cash crops. It sucks up more than double the amount of the precious water we are already running out of. And another problem is the fact that to cut down these crops for bio-fuel, transport them to power plant, all these supply chain activities themselves require fuel. And it's estimated that for each ton of carbon dioxide that you ultimately bury in the ground, at the end of the day, you've emitted 1.1 tons of carbon in the process. So after all that, it's not even a negative emission technology, except int he most optimistic projects by the companies trying to sell us this technology, and that's not even beginning to touch on the costs and feasibility of the technology itself.
[36:03] You know what's interesting is that BECCS started out as a theoretical concept that could be potentially used in a small scale way for certain industries, specifically Switzerland's paper mills. Early adopters encouraged us to think of it as a last-ditch risk-management strategy, if the world simply could not come together to reduce emission output levels. It was never intended by the researchers who first studied it to be included in projections of how we could avoid global warming of this 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius. It's to this day an untested and speculative technology, that as you pointed out, David, is ultimately unsustainable anyway. And so, the inclusion of these types of technologies in the IPCC's projections is hugely problematic. Like I mentioned, it's essentially a get-out-of-jail-free-card, where governments, they get to sign treaties saying they will commit to reducing carbon emissions, they will cite the IPCC report, they'll say 'Hey we're investing X amount of billions of dollars into technology,' which ultimately allows them to maintain the status quo of their economies, but when you look at the fine print, it's only because they assume they'll be able to fuel their economies in the future using these type of magic negative-emission, unrealistic technologies.
[37:21] And of course, this story repeats with all the other technologies mentioned, DACS. This latest report and panel even brought up the topic of geo-engineering which we've explored in depth in that same 'Clima Ex Machina' episode, where we just don't know the risks of what we're doing, what we're getting into, and when we are looking seriously at spraying the world with aerosols or other geo-engineering technologies, we know that we've gone way too far, and that we should be looking at ourselves and the systems that created this problems to fix, instead of trying to rely on these magic-pill solutions once more.
[37:55] But let's pause for a second, David, because there are a couple of things from this IPCC report that actually, I found, a bit encouraging. And I don't want to completely demonize them. One thing that encouraged me, David, was that the report calls our attention to the values of local knowledge, and bottom-up approaches to some of these problems. Something that we have harped on, mostly on our agriculture shows, here's a quote from the report, 'Education, information, and community approaches, including those that are informed by indigenous knowledge and local knowledge, can accelerate the wide-scale behavior changes consistent with adapting to, and limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. Indigenous knowledge is critical for adaptation, underpinning adaptive capacity through the diversity of indigenous agro, ecological, and forest management systems, collective social memory, repository of accumulated experience, and social networks.' [38:55] And one of the things I think that is important about this is that it challenges this tropes in Western media and propaganda that supports imperialism by asserting that those in developing countries, or poor regions, they're backwards, they're primitive, they're incompetent. And that it's we, as educated Westerners who need to go over there and show them how to live, how to farm, how to be educated and speak English. But even the IPCC here is saying that the most valuable knowledge in adapting to our environment comes locally, comes from memories and experience that has been accumulated in communities. And that, it is important for us to place higher value on knowledge from local knowledge from this ground-up. The IPCC also lists some of the threats to this local knowledge, Quote-
[39:45] "Local knowledge is threatened by acculturation, dispossession of land rights and land grabbing, rapid environmental changes, colonization and social change, increase in vulnerability to climate change, which climate policy can exacerbate it based on limited understanding of indigenous world views."
[40:03] And so this is a hint at how our underlying economic structures are implicit in this climate catastrophe, and how seemingly unrelated things, like oppression, inequality, social issues, like the types we discuss on this show, they are directly tied to the structure of our economy and our society, which then informs us of why this runaway climate change is happening. And we'll elaborate this in just a second with a quote by Anna Tsing. And David, last week when we published our public presentation that we gave at a conference, The World Might be Broken, in that discussion with the audience, you mentioned to someone that our cultural emphasis on recycling is largely is a scam that was encouraged by corporations that wanted to shift the burden of responsibility away from themselves and onto individual consumers. You stressed the point that if we really want to solve these large global problems, we need change to the underlying rules by which large companies and governments are allowed to play by. [41:05] And again, this is kind of a point that the IPCC report makes, which perhaps I'm reaching to find a, a, redeeming quote from them, but here it is - "Besides climate change, economic and social conditions can constrain the capacity to adapt, unless resources and cooperation are available from public and private sector actors." So despite that the IPCC might ultimately fall short of making the necessary recommendations for change, I think it is at least true in their recognition that our ability to solve climate catastrophe will depend in large part on how the underlying systems of our society either give us the freedom to adapt, or constrain us. And this gets at the heart, David, of pretty much every episode that we do, and it's ultimately what we want you as the listener to come away with the understanding, that the problems of our world- inequality, global conflict, a warming planet - these problems are a direct result of the way we have structured these so-called 'rules of the game'. For instance, the structures that dictate how corporations are incentivized, following the banking crisis of 2008, many of you remember hearing demands for bankers to be thrown in jail. And while, I am in no way against that-
[42:19] Lock 'em up!
[42:20] Yeah. You know, I'm not against that, but we have to recognize if the economic system is flawed, simply recycling individuals through that system does not change anything. But unfortunately, as we'll see, although the IPCC acknowledges this concept to a degree, it doesn't really address the economic and political reality that we face today, and this is a huge failing from this panel. Rather than condemn our current economic structure, the IPCC actually suggests that we can, and should, continue to grow our economies in the process of tackling this climate disaster.
[42:54] Recently, we read one of the best descriptions of how our economy operates, from an anthropologist named Anna Tsing. She writes in her book, The Mushroom at the End of the World, 'While I refuse to reduce either economy or ecology to the other, there is one connection between economy and environment that seems important to introduce up front. The history of the human concentration of wealth through making both humans and non-humans into resources or investment. This history has inspired investors to view both people and things with alienation, that is the ability to stand alone, as if the entanglements of living did not matter. Through alienation, people and things become mobile assets; they can be removed from their life worlds in distance-defying transport to be exchanged with other assets from other life worlds, elsewhere. Alienation obviates living-space entanglement. The dream of alienation inspires landscape modification in which only one stand-alone asset matters; everything else becomes weeds or waste. Here, attending to living-space entanglements seems inefficient, and perhaps archaic. When its singular asset can no longer be produced, a place can be abandoned. The timber has been cut; the oil has run out; the plantation soil no longer supports crops. The search for assets resumes elsewhere. Thus, simplification for alienation produces ruin, spaces of abandonment for asset production. Global landscapes today are strewn with this kind of ruin.'
[44:29] And so this, David, is I think is where the IPCC Report fails the most. And while it does recognize the underlying structures are what determines our faith, it then fails to comment on the core nature of our economy's dependence on growth,and the way concentration of wealth and extraction itself is totally and completely incompatible with the sustainable future. The report by the IPCC relies on GDP as a way to measure losses that arise from climate disasters, like sea level rise, and it often refers to the risks that climate poses on economic growth. And the problem with this is that by making the assumption that economic growth is good, then that is how we should justify these efforts, so that we can protect that. We're ignoring the extent to which this economic growth itself is one of the main destructive forces responsible for the dire situation we now find ourselves in. [45:25] I mean, the panel even suggests, David, that meeting it's emission recommendations will require the mobilization of institutional investors and investment banks. The same banks that we quoted in episode 46, Pill of Sale, who advised pharmaceutical companies to avoid investing in cures for diseases that aren't profitable. You can hear that discussion at the 31 minute 21 second (31:21) mark of that episode. But this emphasis on finance and market-based solutions is a huge failure of the IPCC. Global finance lead by groups like the International Monetary Fund, those groups are aimed directly at policies of privatization and export economies, which are exactly the top-down, profit-driven approaches responsible for much of the global destruction, in which necessarily oppose the local knowledge approach emphasized by the panel elsewhere. David, we don't need innovation in finance, we need among many other things, the dismantling of these harmful financial institutions in the first place.
[46:30] You know, Daniel, and even the language this report uses, where they have to justify the way that we need to save the world, because of how many dollars it can save from the global GDP, or the economic impact of saving the coral reef - everything in this world, this natural world which we are all born into, and collectively create together, has been driven down into a dollar sign for somebody in some boardroom to say 'It's worth saving this person or this thing or this Earth, because I'm going to profit off that, because if I don't do this thing, then I'm going to end up losing more money than I would anyway.' And so much of the language of this report is couched in this assumption that things are only worth saving if it's profitable to do so, if the market can make it cheap enough that green energy can save the day, these assumptions are what got us in these problems in the first place. We don't need to justify the monetary value of the living world around us in order for it to be worth saving.
[47:28] When you stand in the edge of a field, and the sun is setting, and the wind is light and clean and warm, and you can hear the crickets behind you on the forest edge. And in front of you, the swallows are swarming, they flock across the sky. And the light perfectly touches all of this life in front of you. We don't need to pretend that we need a dollar sign to make this worth saving. Our natural world has implicit value. And because it cannot be assigned to some balance book in some global estimation of how much things are worth, and whether that dollar sign is worth paying the cost to save them, doesn't matter. We should be saving them because that is part of what it is to live on this Earth, because we are part of the systems as alienated from them as we may feel, as we walk through our loud cacophonous cities of concrete, separated from this natural world, it doesn't mean that we're not still a part of it, and that we long for it in our hearts. And ultimately, that's what these reports should be about. Because this is not just a conversation of what it takes to save civilization, or what it takes to save the global economy, but a conversation of what it is to save the Earth, all these living organisms that depend on the climate that we have decided is less important than the bottom line.
[48:55] And David, to comment real quickly on how you mention the report couches a lot of it's language in terms of market-based solutions and how this affects our economy, there is another insidious thing about these market-based solutions in that, in a lot of ways they are a paradox, these carbon taxes and these carbon offsets, for example, that try to price in the environmental damage of emitting carbon dioxide, is supposed to incentivize companies into increasing their efficiencies and lowering their output and their carbon footprint, but, again it's a paradox. Markets that profit on the destruction of the environment would necessarily disappear if that damage was suddenly priced into their activities. So, if such prices don't do that, then they're obviously not doing their job. But additionally, we allow our companies to exist as international entities, so these types of reforms are not going to do enough to close loopholes that companies can use to ignore hem. For instance, in episode 37, 'Logistics of Slavery,' we talked about how shipping companies skirt labor regulations by registering their ships under flags with loose regulations, like the Marshall Islands and Panama. So all this, David, begs the question, why has the IPCC overlooked the core economic structures that underpin this runaway destruction? Maybe there's a clue in that live press conference, in which a question was asked about kind of the true nature of the economy and our ability to adapt to these pathways that they recommend.
[50:22] It's a question, again, about feasibility. When you look at the number of countries that are extremely reliant on coal, for example, or other fossil fuels or the extent to which modern economies rest on fossil fuels. Genuinely, hand on heart, how feasible is this plan of yours?
[50:40] Well, this is not a plan, David, we are setting the evidence and the options that policymakers face. I mean, we can't decide on countries energy policies; we have, you know, 195 sovereign countries who make up the Paris agreement and her members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. So we can tell them, as we were invited, what would need to happen to put you on that pathway. But the question as to whether this will happen - I have to repeat, this is over to the governments when they meet in Poland later in the year and work on the evidence we have provided them with.
[51:21] This is such a cop out right here, and I think it really helps us understand a lot of the motivation in the way that this report is written, the sections that are left out, when the scientists throw up their arms and say 'Well you know, this is all - we're just going to tell you what things will happen and we'll offer possible scenarios, but ultimately in the end, we have no control. It's up to the politicians to make these things happen.' But the politicians turn to the scientists for the recommendations of what to say, 'This needs to be done.' And when the scientists limit the scope of their solutions, the things they think will be palatable to these governments, well that is part of the corruption and graph that occurs in this entire system that gets us to this point at all. We need to have dramatic solutions here to these reports because we, the media, and all of us who consume these things are also part of this conversation. We're not going to limit the control of our future, the Earth, and the ecosystems all around us to a corrupt bunch of old, rich people who are completely out of touch with the needs and wants and desires of the people that they claim to serve. In this IPCC report, themselves, they mention the need for bottom-up change in these indigenous populations and agriculture, in the way we approach the world but why is that not the same in the way that we approach these solutions from a political system? Bottom-up change is what we need and what enables us to make a difference, and I'm getting ahead of myself here, and we'll get to this in a moment, but it's just so frustrating to hear them put things down this way.
[52:43] Richard Heinberg, a senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute, offers an analysis of why the IPCC acts in this way. And I think it's worth quoting at length. 'Why all the conjuring and sleight of hand? Because policymakers have effectively asked scientists to do the impossible. No politician in a wealthy country wants to inform constituents that further economic growth is unachievable. And no international agency would deny hundreds of millions of poor people the hope of bettering their lives through economic growth in the developing world; that growth is built into the U.N.'s sustainable development goals, which are hardwired into the IPCC scenarios. [53:24] The essence of the problem is this: Growth currently comes from burning ever-growing quantities of fossil fuels in order to do economic work—from extracting resources to manufacturing products to delivering goods and services. Renewable energy sources can also do this work, but they have characteristics that are different from those of fossil fuels: They're intermittent and produce electricity directly, while most of our current energy is used in the forms of liquid or gaseous fuels. Therefore to entirely replace fossil fuels with renewables would require a nearly complete transformation in how we use energy, and an extensive redesign of systems for generating, storing, and distributing energy. Switching to new and relatively clean energy sources while trying to maintain growth of the overall economy would be a little like redesigning and reconfiguring an airplane while it's in flight.' [54:15] And I think that that really gets at the heart of the issue. Our economy is broken, fundamentally, to it's core. But the IPCC cannot or will not address this fact without attracting rage from it's government patrons. So instead, it's only recourse is to offer impossible paradoxes and temporary band-aids to cover up symptoms. Suggesting that we continue growing our economy while investing in green technology to curb warming, which again, it's kind of like encouraging the lumber industry to maintain steady profit growth while cutting down less trees. It doesn't make any sense. The two goals are diametrically opposed.
[54:52] I mean, let's look at the airline industry. The IPCC models our future based on whether we can reduce emissions, as well as these non-radiative forcing, which is basically just fancy scientific talk for everything else that is not directly carbon dioxide emissions. So, the airline industry. International transport, including aviation, takes up a significant portion of our global greenhouse gas emissions. And these are projected to rise precipitously over the coming decades. So there have been efforts to impose limits on the amount of carbon dioxide that these planes can emit. In fact, the CO2 is only a small part of the total contribution these planes make to global warming. Other factors, like water vapor, sulfur oxides, hydrocarbons and more, contribute 2-4 times greater impact than those CO2 emissions alone. And the impacts of these other forces depends highly on situational variables, like time of day, atmospheric conditions and location. If we were truly serious about addressing airline contributions to global warming, simply taxing these carbon dioxide emissions or designing more fuel-efficient planes is wildly falling short.
[55:57] We would need to dramatically decrease the demand for air travel, and then on top of that, restrict air space to certain times of the day and certain locations, and sometimes, shutting down entire routes for months at a time. According to a recent paper in Science, not only is aviation the most difficult sector in which decrease warming effects, the growing demand for aviation and other difficult-to-eliminate emissions, well, their magnitude 'could in the future be comparable with the level of total current emissions.' So it's not simply enough to offer symptom fixes for the easy problems, while allowing these underlying structures to persists, because doing so only offers token prizes like solar panels on our roofs, while elsewhere destructive industries grow to ever-larger, more epic proportions. Addressing this requires a fundamental change to the underlying economic rules, by which all industries operate. It should not cost $600 to fly across this country, or $300 when you get a deal. A flight from New York to San Francisco, if you involved just the basic carbon taxes that the IPCC themselves recommends, should start at $1000 one way, minimum. And that number, they recommend, very soon to put a $5500 tax per ton of carbon dioxide emitted. So that means that flight from New York to San Francisco should be over $5000, and that number climbs as time goes on, and our carbon contributions become more and more potent and need to be cut down ever-higher. By the end of the century, the IPCC says that carbon taxes could be as high as $27,000 per ton emitted. This destroys the airline industry, and if we were really serious about saving the world, stopping this climate change, well, we would ground all these planes today.
[57:55] And we wouldn't be able to do that through market-based solutions. It would require a total transformation of our economy. And this example involving the airline industry is such a great illustration of this, where that quote that you just took from the article in Science, David, that these hard-to-change industries will eventually grow to a size that will emit at the same levels that our total global emissions are at right now. That means that if we simply focus on band-aid solutions, like renewable technology, shoring up efficiencies in our supply chains, we're necessarily targeting the easiest areas for change, we're necessarily improving technology in places it is easiest to do that, while allowing these more-difficult-to-target industries to grow to a size that ultimately negates all that work that we're doing. So again, if we don't address this problem at the core root, the very structure and fabric of our society, we're not going anywhere. We're going backwards. But listener, you don't need to take our word for it. A couple months ago, a report was published which will inform the United Nations 2019 Global Sustainable Development Report and their chapter on the transformations of our global economy, and in this report they say that our economy, well, it's going to have to undergo major transformations to meet sustainability goals. [59:24] They cite that the key reasons we have destroyed the world around us, and are not ill-prepared for the consequences, is that we have built economies on flawed economic models, that both ignore ecology and assume that markets are best left alone. From the paper, 'The economic models which inform political decision making in rich countries almost completely disregards the energetic and material dimensions of the economy. Today's dominant economic theories, approaches, and models were developed during the era of energetic and material abundance, thus, the dominant economic theories, as well as policy-related economic modeling rely on the pre-supposition of continued energetic and material growth. The theories and models anticipate only incremental changes in the existing economic order, hence, they are inadequate in explaining the current turmoil. It can be safely said that no widely-applicable economic models have been developed specifically for the upcoming era.' [1:00:22] The report goes on to outline some of the fundamental problems of our current economic structure, which again, the IPCC largely ignores. For instance, the panel, as we've pointed out, encourages our economies to grow, while investing in renewable energy sources, as if we could continue to assume an infinite growth in energy consumption by simply replacing coal plants with solar panels on everyone's roofs, and again, expanding on why renewable technology won't necessarily save us, from this report, 'Eighty percent of the global net-primary energy supply comes from fossil fuels. Easily available fossil fuels have powered the industrialization of nations worldwide, but because renewables have a lower energy return on investment and different technical requirements, such as the need to build energy storage facilities, meeting current or growing levels of energy needed in the next few decades with low carbon solutions will be extremely difficult, if not impossible. Thus, there is considerable pressure to lower total energy use.' So in other words, to make a transformation to renewable energy, our energy demands first must fall, and that requires a commitment to a smaller economy.
[1:001:30] We've discussed the unsustainability of our current food system and episodes 16 and 26, 'What We Reap' and 'Barrier to Growth' and this report acknowledges how the marketization of food has put regional food security at risk. 'In developing countries, the regime of exporting a narrow selection of commodities and raw materials, and importing cheap, basic food items has not worked for local communities. A wide array of research shows that developing countries ought to focus on providing diverse nutrition for their own people, and thereby increase local livelihood opportunities and improve social material conditions in general. And all nations, rich and developing, will have to attain a high degree of food self-sufficiency with international food trade regaining it's position as a crucial component of food security, rather than serving as a commodity market.' But again, a world in which food imports and exports are not commodities, but components of a broader commitment to food security requires a fundamentally different economic structure. That ideal is not achievable under a profit-driven market first paradigm. It's just not. And incremental reform policy absolutely will not get us there. The report concludes that what we need going forward are economic models that recognize planetary boundaries, and which 'unique autonomous economies and societies engage in regulated, international trade for specific reasons, such as food security, rather than for the sake of free trade as a principle.'
[1:03:07] David, as we come to the tail end of this episode, I want to come back briefly to this concept that values indigenous and local knowledge. In a beautifully and poignant article by Wade Davis, we discusses our forgetfulness, as a society, to the ecological destruction all around us. Passenger pigeons used to be 40% of all bird populations in North America. They used to obscure the light of the sun. And in 1870, observers witnessed a single column of around 2 billion passenger pigeons that was a mile wide and 320 miles long. As early as 1871, the buffalo population outnumbered humans in North America, and standing on a bluff in the Dakotas, a person could see nothing but buffalo in every direction for 30 miles. But nine years later, the buffalo populations were largely gone, and today residents stand in the same regions, surrounded by nothing but corn, and feel nothing amiss. In Haiti, a single generation has witnessed the island go from 80% forest coverage to just less than 2%.
[1:04:22] Wade Davis writes 'From a distance, both in time and in space, we can perceive these terrible and poignant events for what they were - unmitigated ecological disasters that robbed us and the future of something unimaginably precious in order to satisfy the immediate mundane needs of the present. The luxury of hindsight, however, does little to cure the blindness with which we today overlook deeds of equal magnitude and folly. In three generations, a mere moment in the history of our species, we have throughout the world, contaminated the water, air, and soil, driven countless species to extinction, damned the rivers, poisoned the rain, and torn down the ancient forests.' And this loss of memory is something that is relatively modern in our culture, worldwide, something we should learn to overcome by looking towards indigenous people. Wade Davis continues, 'Most indigenous peoples cultivate fidelity to the deepest of memories. Myths, that both link the living to the ancestral past, and illuminate the way to the future. Take, for example, the indigenous people of Australia who thrived as guardians of their world for over 55,000 years. In all that time, the desire to improve upon the natural world, to tame the rhythm of the wild, never touched them. Indigenous people accepted life as it was, a cosmological hold, the unchanging creation of the first dawn, when the primordial ancestors sang the worlds into existence.'
[1:05:54] But then, of course, European settlers came, and what they saw of the Natives was not wisdom, but savagery. They exploited and murdered them, destroying that relationship that they had built with their environment over countless generations. But they were not savages, if anything, their scientific wisdom surpassed that of Western institutions. Back to the article- 'The manner by which the indigenous peoples of Australia imbued the natural world with the sense of a sacred is not contrary to science, but rather an acknowledgement of the complexity and wonder of ecological and biological systems that science illuminates. It suggests that our capacity to forget and adapt to successive degrees of environmental degradation is less a human trait than a consequence of culture.' So David, not only have we built an economic structure for ourselves, which destroys the environment upon which our lives depend, it warps our culture. It allows us to forget, it precludes knowledge and community. For too long, our culture has been instructed by an education system that exists to support the economy and Anna Tsing describes, one in which the Earth is atomized into separate things that we can then extract and deplete. And the extent to which we are taught to be stewards of the land is a small reaction to the much larger force of total destruction. And in this, we can learn once again, from the indigenous. Back to the article- 'Nomadic hunters and gatherers and borneo have no conscience sense of stewardship from mountain forests, that they lack the technical capacity to destroy.' What these cultures have done, however, is to forge through time and ritual, a traditional mystique of the Earth, that is based not only on deep attachment to the land, but also on far more subtle intuition. The idea that the land itself is breathed into being by human consciousness. They do not perceive mountains, rivers, and forests as being inanimate, as mere props on a stage upon which the human drama unfolds. For these societies, the land is alive - a dynamic force to be embraced and transformed by the human imagination, and sustained by memory.'
[1:08:06] We've lost so much. Those endless flocks of passenger pigeons, buffalo as far as you can see, ancient sea men used to be terrified that they would run aground on the huge masses of sea turtles that spread out in ocean ahead of them, so dense that they felt they could walk from one to the other, instead of sailing through them. Ships in the past were pushed back by schools of cod so large that even with the winds at their back, the force of the fish pushed their ships backwards. The world was filled with so much life, overflowing, teeming, and we've lost so much of. In the past, we talked about this gentle, slow erasing of what's been lost. Each new generation is born into a world that's just filled with less life. But we failed to realize how much has been lost, because each generation just knows the world as it stands, they see it decline as they go forward, they pass the information on to the ones that come. But the realization that we can longer stand on these places and look at a world exploding with the life of the natural is something that never strikes us. That's important in the context of this IPCC report. Because the world that we're trying to preserve, that we're trying to sacrifice our entire way of living, in order to protect, in order to get to less catastrophic scenario, just that 1.5C. That we'll need to radically change everything to achieve, is a world that is already broken, a world that is on it's way to dying. And that emphasizes how important it is that we achieve these goals. Because if we go to 2 degrees Celsius, all that coral is lost. The animals that live there, they're gone. If we pass that and go to 4 or 6 or 7 degrees Celsius, things we're very much on track for, especially when you throw in those feedback loops the report has so conveniently left out, that is a world-wide calamity.
[1:10:05] It's pretty dark, David, and I have to admit, when I initially read through this IPCC report, I felt kind of hopeless and discouraged. I mean, understandably. And the reason is because even under our most intense efforts, we're still facing a warmer and more environmentally-chaotic and destructive world. That's just the future we're going into. We can't avoid it. And even though there appears to be a way to level off the warming effects, it means that this future world, under a best case scenario, will involve more extreme and unpredictable weather patterns, harsher environments, less biodiversity, destruction and death. And I though to myself, 'Damn, the world is pretty terrible for so many people already.' We discussed topics of slavery, nationalism, surveillance, widespread inequality and suffering, and I thought to myself,' Surely if we've allowed all of this evil to occur in our stable environment, it will be so much worse as we enter a world with so much instability.' But then, I checked my own memory, David, and I realized that when we try to imagine the future, it's much easier to imagine incremental changes than it is to imagine dramatic transformations. It's so much easier to imagine loss than it is to imagine gaining something that we are unfamiliar with. In the same way that we forgot what it's like to live in North America with so many carrier pigeons, they block out the sun, we forget what life could be like if we were to restore the communities, livelihoods, relationships, and social stabilities that we have so thoroughly jettisoned from our current culture. [1:11:46] Yes, we face a world rife with harsh climate shifts, and yes, if we want to be sustainable it means giving up much of the luxury that we have taken for granted. It means less meat consumption, less travel, fewer gadgets, but if we all commit to a sustainable world, imagine all that we might gain. Sustainability means societies that are egalitarian. It means restoring communities in which every individual can experience dignity, regardless of their value to some extractive economic entity. It means encouraging local knowledge, generational knowledge, memory of our shared time and space. For those of you who live on the coasts of the Atlantic or West Africa, or in the Philippines and elsewhere, it means looking out at the mangrove forests that you and your community have helped cultivate, and feeling secure in the knowledge that while, yes, ocean surges and hurricanes threaten your world, there are natural systems in place working hard to shield you from the worst of it. It means that while no, it won't be possible for us to fly around the world every year for lavish vacations, we will be able to walk outside, visit our local market, and know that our food did not fly across the world either. And we can meet the people just outside our city, or town, or perhaps our neighbors, who harvested our food in a way that we can count on well into the future. And the IPCC, David, doesn't necessarily disagree with this, although perhaps their imagination is a bit limited.
[1:13:20] There are lots of reasons other than climate change for shifting diets. If we changed our diets to fulfill health recommendations, we would all live longer, we'd bounce around much more and have much nicer lives, and we would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. So let's look at the optimistic side of this - climate change mitigation is not necessarily abundant, in terms of climate change. It can bring other benefits as well, and I think we need to hold on to that factor.
[1:13:52] What limited imagination, Daniel. Bur really when it comes down to this, end of this report, and what the future holds, I think imagination is where we need to start. Think for a second, how big must the world have felt in the days when our world was limited to our communities and those around us? When stepping onto a boat meant sailing into the unknown. When traveling around the world was something that would take a lifetime to do. How big must the world have been when you stood in the middle of those plains and watched as a herd of buffalo spent hours crossing in font of you? Where the sea writhed with fish, jumping out, throwing themselves into your boat, because there is just so much life under those waves. And today, with all the power, knowledge, technology, of the sum of human history, of billions of lives lived and lost, our world has shrunk. It means we can reach out and touch people directly around the world, like Daniel and I hope to do right now. It means I can step into an airport, purchase a ticket, and travel halfway around the world in a matter of hours. We have such limitless, unbelievable power that's been created by our imagination, by daring to dream, to imagine what could be possible. But we've used that knowledge, that incredible creative spirit that is what defines humanity, to destroy the world that fostered it in the first place. We've taken these actions and chased whatever ideas we came up with without thinking what the consequences could be for everything around us.
[1:15:27] And so, we stand here now, staring at the end, maybe that's alarmist, but for so much of the world, so much of the living organisms that compose everything, that is the absolute truth. While humans might be able to survive in limited numbers of 4 or 7 degree Celsius World, so much of the life that encourages to reach these heights of imagination will not. And the fact that these researchers, these scientists, these governmental panels, and the politicians that drive all of this can sit there, and only suggest solutions that are limited in scope and imagination is a tragedy. And it is up to all of us instead to take this bottom-up approach and realize that the only way that we can stop this tragedy is by taking power into our own hands, and realizing that the solutions don't lie in a green energy market, in a carbon tax, in more of the same with some technology and hope thrown in, but in radical new transitions to a better world. To an economic system that isn't based on the exploitation of people, the environment, and the natural world. To a world that recognizes that we have impacts not just on ourselves, but on those around us, and the natural world itself, and realizing that because of this, we are responsible for making sure we are good stewards of all of this.
[1:16:53] The question we ask at the end of all these episodes, throughout the series has always been, 'What can we do?' But this report shows us that the time of asking 'What can we do?' is done. The luxury of asking, the privilege of being able to sit around and argue, to question, to research, to think and reach for answers, is over. Cause if we don't act right now, we are doomed. And the world around us is doomed as well. And so, the question no longer becomes 'What can we do?' but, 'This is what we are doing now.' And realizing that is up to each and every one of us. There is no waiting around for politicians to save us anymore, this is about taking the future into our own hands, taking it back into our hands instead of grafting it away to the people that got us in this problem in the first place. This is where radical change starts, with each of us, with the lives that we touch through the ways that we live our own. Through the ideas that we spread. And through the actions that we take. Whether they're radical or extreme in nature, or just making sure that those around you are comfortable and cared for. And that includes not just the people in our own lives, but the people we encounter and the world around us as well. And if we can hold these basic tenets as we go forward and deny the systems that encourage exploitation, then we might stand a chance of saving as much of the world as we can.
[1:18:22] I love what you said about imagination. Here's Anna Tsing one more time- 'Global landscapes today are strewn with this kind of ruin. Still, these places can be lively despite announcements of their death; abandoned asset fields sometimes yield new multispecies and multicultural life. In a global state of precarity, we don’t have choices other than looking for life in this ruin. Our first step is to bring back curiosity. Unencumbered by the simplifications of progress narratives, the knots and pulses of patchiness are there to explore.'
[1:19:06] It's a lot to think about and it's a lot to do, and we hope you will. Thank you for joining us through these first 50 episodes of Ashes Ashes. We can't believe it's been almost a year at this point, and I can't believe that somehow we've gotten these out every single week so far. Uh, we're actually going to take our first break. Don't worry, it's not going to be a long one - we're just going to take two weeks off for Thanksgiving and the following week, and then we'll be right back December 6th with a brand new episode, digging into the things that run our world, just like we have been. And we hope you will be there to join us. But until then, you can read more about all the topics we've talked about on our website. We've got PDFs of the IPCC report, as well as lots of additional links, reading and information. You can find all of that plus a transcript of this episode at AshesAshes.org.
[1:19:59] As always, a lot of time and research goes into making these episodes possible. We will never use ads to support this show, so if you, our listener, enjoy it, would like us to keep going, actually want us to come back from that break, you can support us by giving us reviews, recommending us to a friend, or hit that five star button on your favorite podcast app. We do have an email address - it is [email protected] and we encourage you to send us your thoughts - we do appreciate them.
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[1:20:35] Well, until December 6th-
[1:20:37] This is Ashes Ashes.
[1:20:38] Keep the imagination alive.