Climate/ecological breakdown

I’ve been thinking of starting a specific thread on this for some time. It has of course been touched on in many other places - discussions on extreme weather, electric vehicles, etc.
It’s partly the imminent COP 26 that has prompted me now - but more immediately it was comments in one of the electric vehicle threads on the environmental and human damage wrought by battery etc production. This goes to the heart of the issue for me: technological fixes are not in themselves the answer. The only realistic way forward is in fact radical change to both our lifestyles and our economies.

As a starting point for discussion, I propose this typically challenging article by George Monbiot:


As per usual from George it’s ultimately just another attack on the rich with the simple solution that by introducing a wealth tax and wealth distribution everyone gets their own little bit of wealth and space and the planet is saved.

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I think it is perfectly ok to attack the super rich with their gin palaces and their huge diesel engines.
I think that if we, ordinary folk, are being asked to keep the temperature of our houses lower and to eat less meat, then they should do exactly the same.
This crisis affects us all and the response should be from us all.
A tax on frequent fliers instead of air miles, extra taxes on second homes in areas where local young people are forced to move away because of the cost of housing is so inflated.
I would also ban bit coin mining using huge amounts of electricity for what purpose?
I don’t see this as political, I see it as common sense and necessary for us to save the world.

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I didn’t read it as ‘another attack on the rich’ - let alone ‘just’ another attack on the rich!
The point here is surely that approaching climate/ecological breakdown as if it’s just about the innocent-sounding ‘global warming’, and that even this aspect of the problem might be solved by technological fixes that preserve the current destructive lifestyles and economies of ‘developed’ countries, just isn’t going to crack it.

The discussion on electric vehicles illustrates this. Electric vehicles are marginally better than most alternatives within a climate framework - but much less so when you take in the whole picture of climate and ecological breakdown, because they are hardly less wasteful or exploitative of other resources, and of human lives and livelihoods and the natural environment. They can be part of the solution only when the other more important parts of the solution are also pursued (replacing a lot of car use with public transport, having fewer, smaller and more shared cars, fewer roads, towns a cities that facilitate walking and cycling, etc, etc (what Monbiot calls ‘private sufficiency and public luxury’).

I agree with you Geof, something radical has to be done.

Saw a documentary on TV last night made around 2009 called ‘The Age of Stupid’, hosted by actor Pete Postlethwaite.

Regarding what efforts were being made back then, about what we should be doing to stop global warming, he said……

“It’s like looking through binoculars observing people on a far-off beach running around in circles fixated on the small area of sand under their feet as a tsunami races towards the shore”.

My gut instinct tells me that it’s all too bloody late, but hope that someone can tell me this is not so!

Think I heard that - 20 leading nations cause more than 80% of global warming, and are able to provide 80% of the solution. But will they? I doubt it!

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This a global crisis and needs a global solution so unless the likes of China, Russia and India act along with the West nothing will be achieved.

Its one feckin big margin!
Found a way of recycling petrol of diesel from exhaust?
Its not just about CO2, plenty of other noxious carcinogen toxic filth comes from the tailpipe emissions. Yes batteries need to be made locally rather than shipped around the world, like all new processes that will improve.

If China’s not there, it’s just a good “we really care, honestly” soundbite opportunity for the other world leaders as any impact Western Europe can have on global pollution is the cube root of Sweet Fanny Adams without China acting immediately.

But that’s just an excuse for the rest of the world to do nothing. OK, so China’s not there - in what way should that stop other countries in the world from acting?

My heartbreak is that I believe there are HUGE opportunities for this to be something profoundly positive for humanity.
New skills / new science / new agriculture / new technology / new creativity just begging to be applied.
So long as all of this is seen as deprivation and “punishment” any progress will be grudging. Where are the inspirational leaders (in business and in politics) talking about all the good stuff?

A tiny glimmer of this is that we’ve suddenly seen round here barn, after barn after barn being fitted with solar panels - AT LAST! And one of the most successful installers comes from Russia.


Interesting points. Plus concreting more and more land is creating more and more run-off problems and flooding which used to be captured in water meadows.


I do agree Sue - I just pointed out in another thread that China is being used by individuals and western governments as an excuse for not taking meaningful action themselves.
China has higher emissions for a number of reasons not of its own doing:

  • China is far bigger than any other developed country - per capita it is far from the biggest contributor to climate/ecological breakdown;
  • You can’t base calculations on only domestic emissions anyway, because developed countries that source production elsewhere have simply exported their contributions - mainly to China! - and
  • The only fair way to allocate responsibility is on cumulative contributions - not to do so ignores the fact that early industrialisation and colonialism actually created much of the world-wide problem in the first place.

I also very much agree that the changes we must make to our lifestyles and economies can be profoundly positive - not least in curtailing the marketisation of all aspects of our lives - the meaningless accumulation of more and more useless stuff - and helping us focus on what’s really rewarding: the natural world, relationships, the richness of real life experience.


I get the per ‘capita’ argument but China overtook many western nations in that regard years ago so it’s vital they adopt omission cutting policies now which haven’t even reached their peak yet.

The West has a major role in getting China to where it is today. We closed alot of factories and had the products produced cheaper in China. Pressure those from the West to get their producers cleaner. But I don’t see the likes of Apple prepared to pay more to have their production cleaned up. David Attenborough said there is too much population growth and China is the only country to have limited it’s population growth. No I am not a China loving Commie but credit and blame where it’s due. Can you climate experts explain to me the difference between Zero Net Carbon and Carbon Neutral; As I see it one means I can buy Carbon Credits and continue to polute, the other that I can continue to polute but it’s ok if I plant a tree or do something “Green”.

Actually I’m not too worried about China for the reasons outlined in my earlier post. Its emissions per capita are about half those of the USA - and that’s without factoring in either the emissions ‘outsourced’ by other developed countries, or the historical emissions accumulation (especially from the UK). Fact is, to achieve a just transition, the average individual in the developed western world has to do a lot more than the average Chinese - but some of us don’t like the idea of radical change, and therefore would like somebody else to take responsibility.

But I also think China is in a much better position to change direction. Much of its industry is effectively state-controlled, and state policy is precisely to lift all of its people out of poverty - a programme which it has virtually completed - then focus on controlling negative social and environmental impacts - which we’re now seeing. An interesting comparison is the way China is now actually implementing precisely the kind of controls on its oversize internet corporations that western publics want, but which their governments seem incapable of providing.

So the evidence is China will outperform the west curtailing environmental damage just as comprehensively as it has outperformed it on economic growth etc over the last 30 years.

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China is going to build more and more coal fired power stations -

Geof’s not too worried though, should we be? :wink:


This is the argument (here from an African perspective) for ‘climate justice’:

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“Storage technologies are not advanced enough to make solar, wind and other intermittent energy sources”.

Whilst we are part of the problem countries, the above quote is bollix. Australia demonstrated this with a power outage that Tesla batteries prevented in less than a quarter of a second. So successful the power station didnt realise it had happened.

But the main point here is that western governments and their unthinking supporters - including much of the mainstream media - eg. the BBC - want to:

  1. Exclude the ‘climate justice’ perspective from the discussion - because it implies that wealthy people and countries have to do a lot more, because they have benefited from past emissions - they have got into the castle and now want to pull up the drawbridge;
  2. Keep talking about China etc as a way of taking the heat off their own inaction - sometimes even implying that it’s not worth doing anything unless everybody else in the world is also doing it.

These are among the many strategies adopted to avoid real change. Greta Thunberg has pointed out that all the talk and agreements about targets for the future is precisely a substitute for taking action now. But in my view the main diversionary strategy is actually the very focus on the climate as opposed to the wider breakdown of eco-systems. The reason? It’s possible to conceive of continued economic growth - so-called ‘green growth’ - around green energy, etc, but reversing consumerism itself - ‘degrowth’ - cannot be done within current ‘western’ economic systems. Without economic growth, for example, the private banking system collapses.


Interesting contribution to the discussion on COP 26 by James Lovelock, author of Gaia

I don’t know if it is too late for humanity to avert a climate catastrophe, but I am sure there is no chance if we continue to treat global heating and the destruction of nature as separate problems.

This is why I use the term ‘climate/ecological breakdown’ - and see the overwhelming focus on ‘climate change’ as attractive to those who really want to avoid meaningful action - as a way of NOT talking about the real problem.