Monday, October 13, 2008

Credit crunch: A good time to cause trouble

As the markets crash and the world goes to hell in a handcart, environmental protesters need to get active, not just hide under the sofa

Asian stock markets fell again. Photograph: Ahn Young-Joon/AP

Stock markets fall again. Photograph: Ahn Young-Joon/AP

Today, a bunch of women are going to attempt to remind the government about climate change - a subject which appears, frankly, to have slipped its mind lately. The Climate Rush is modelled on the "rush" on parliament 100 years ago by the Suffragettes.

On Friday a group of protesters targeted the Royal Bank of Scotland for its aggressive pro-fossil fuel investment policies. And by Saturday the organisers of the London Anarchist bookfair will be hoping that "capitalism will have already collapsed in a global financial meltdown! Hooray!"

Now, if you're an environmental activist what are you thinking at the moment? Are you thinking, ooh, those poor wee strongholds of the capitalist system have had a terrible week, I'll leave them alone and give them a chance to pull themselves together? I'm sure when they've had a nice cup of Oolong tea and a sitdown they'll get round to thinking about those melting ice caps again. Or are you thinking: Wahey! Get in! Pour sugar in their petrol tanks while they're still scratching their heads in the boardrooms!

Hopefully you're going to say the latter.

Take Climate Rush. In honour of the Suffragettes, the Climate Rush - organised by a woman-only collective which includes members of Plane Stupid - is planning to gather outside the Houses of Parliament, hear some speeches, and then … get up to something. What precisely is not clear.

Now, if this is a good bit of action, it will come at the perfect time to remind MPs of their environmental responsibilities. After all, the situation hasn't just lightened briefly to give us a break while we cope with financial meltdown - and the climate bill is due to go for its third reading in the House of Commons soon.

Sure, MPs are nervous and may stampede if goaded too far. But if they're panicked enough, hopefully they'll stampede in the right direction.
And what about targeting businesses like RBS who are already under tremendous strain? Even my stony heart was moved to pity when I saw the RBS share price: it's like looking at a cardiograph at the moment of the arrest, with a long steady history and then a sudden nauseatingly vertical plunge.

Once again, however, hearts must be hardened: there was never a better moment to apply pressure.

For two and half years now environmental groups including Platform and People & PLanet have been targeting RBS's self-applied moniker The Oil and Gas Bank: RBS have been involved in financing projects such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (a problematic project from the start), and are now (since their ill-fated takeover of ABN/Amro last year anyway) the financiers of Gazprom's stake in the disastrous Russian Sakhalin II project.

Although they're unlikely to divest from much of this stuff at the moment, any bank is going to be terrified of losing customers, and campaigns like this can really begin to eat in to the vital student market. In the 1980s Barclays finally pulled out of South Africa after a leaked memo revealed that the long-running boycott was cutting student sign-ups, which is the key to the future customer base of any bank: climate change is certainly a subject which will appeal to students as much as apartheid.

RBS just can't afford to lose the future when everything looks so dubious in the present, so at the very least if this pressure carries on they will have to do more than make soothing noises.

And as for the anarchist book fair this weekend? (A brilliant gig by the way - you always learn something new, even if it's only how to set up your own radical feminist tantric massage collective.) It's only fair enough really. As the anarchist house mag Schnews said this week: "Blimey, you spend 15 years struggling against global capitalism and then the bloody thing collapses of its own accord".

I imagine the mood will be cheerful.

A waste of time

We need a proper cost analysis of the time we are now required to spend recycling, compared with its benefits: is it worth it?

The government thinks that your time is worth nothing. At least, that's the implication of this written answer in the Commons last week.

The UKip MP, Dr Bob Spink, asked the environment secretary "what estimate he has made of the average time per year spent by a household in sorting and recycling rubbish." An important question of course, for that time spent sorting items to be recycled is obviously a cost of such recycling schemes. The answer came back from Jane Kennedy, minister of state in the department, "No such estimate has been made".

An answer that means that, quite simply, we do not know whether recycling is a good idea or not. For we don't in fact know whether it costs us more to do it than we save by doing it ... for those who have imposed it upon us have not considered one of the major costs associated with doing it.

Starting from the very beginning: your time has a value. This isn't restricted to your working hours either: the time you spend cuddling your inamorata, building a model railway or in contemplation of a pint of Old Wallop has a value to you. That is why you do these things, because you value them. If, by law, we are going to insist that you give up some of that time, to do something we tell you to do, we need to value the time you're being forced to give up. Quite what value we can put on it is a little fraught. It might be that £10 an hour, something like the average wage across the country, is the right number. It might be £5.73 an hour, for that is the minimum wage, the figure below which it is illegal for you to sell your time. But it is some cash amount per hour, for you yourself have already decided that you'd prefer the cuddling, modelling or contemplation rather than working that extra hour for such a sum.

We'd also like to know how many hours you are being asked to give up to aid in the recycling effort, thus the question asked above. I've received a similar response when asking the same department directly: they don't know because they've never bothered to consider the point. There's almost no academic research on this either, the amount of time it takes to prepare to recycle. The best I've been able to find is something from Seattle, showing that it takes a household 16 minutes per week for a simple programme and 45 minutes for one including food and garden waste. We have some 24 million households in the UK, so for a simple system we're asking everyone to give up 6 million hours a week or around 300 million a year. At minimum wage this is a £1.8bn minimum cost of such a system. At the longer estimate of hours for a more complex system and using the average wage, we have a cost of £9bn. These are the numbers we now need to plug into our cost benefit analysis of whether we should in fact be recycling.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not against all recycling: no one who has bought and sold scrap metal for a living would be so stupid as to say that none of it makes sense. But we do need distinguish between things it is sensible to recycle and things that it is not. Steel, aluminium, copper, yes, clearly so, these make profits even when all of the costs are included and profit is the market's way of working out whether you are in fact adding value in a process. There are also other factors that we might want to include on our benefits side, things that aren't taken account of in market pricing. Say, perhaps, the methane given off from landfills, even the aesthetics of landfills themselves. Fine, add away: then we can work out whether recycling a particular product in a particular way actually makes sense or not. We assign values to all of the costs and to all of the benefits, tot them up and if B is higher than C then it's a good idea. If C is higher than B then it's a bad one for it makes us poorer by doing it.

It's also true that wittering on about "saving resources" doesn't get around this point. For time itself is a resource, one with a value as above. Indeed, it's not a difficult argument to make that time is the only truly non-renewable resource that we have and thus one that we really don't want to waste.

Now I agree that there's a little of tilting at windmills to all of this. Our targets for recycling aren't actually something in the power of our own government to alter. They are fed to us from Brussels, for matters environmental are a sole competence of the European Union. Local councils will be fined if they don't meet the targets and there's an end to the matter.

However, a few more numbers. We were told in the Waste Not, Want Not report that waste disposal was costing us £1.6bn a year and that if we didn't do something this could rise to £3.2bn. We thus needed to recycle more and reduce this cost … but hang on; recycling more also imposes this huge cost of our time. So are we in fact saving resources at all by pushing out our plans to recycle ever more of our waste? Or are we in fact consuming more resources than we're saving?

Here at Cif there are enough environmental and green type authors whose knowledge and brains we can pick. I'm perfectly happy to agree that the numbers I've used for the valuation of our time are back-of-the envelope stuff: however, they're the only attempt so far that anyone has made at all for the UK, as above, even the government hasn't tried to calculate them. So the labour cost alone of a simple recycling scheme is some £1.8bn a year and of a more extensive one, of the type being rolled out, is perhaps £9bn a year. I would say that this is vastly more than any benefits that we receive from that process. It's greater than the resources saved, it's greater than any environmental benefit, greater than any reduction in transport or emissions, greater than any rational calculation of what we get back for what we're being forced to put in.

So how about it? Caroline Lucas, George Monbiot, Oliver Tickell, Mark Lynas, Tony Juniper – there are enough people around here who should be able to prove me wrong. How much time is required to recycle, how should that time be valued, what are the benefits (valued in money please, so that we can compare costs with benefits), whether those benefits are environmental or more direct and, finally, show us that the benefits are greater than the costs. Please do add in CO2 savings for example, using the Stern review's estimate of social cost.

And no, saying that we've a new state religion and that we should all be required to worship Gaia for an appropriate time each week won't cut it. Anyway, it should be easy to provide these numbers – even though the government clearly hasn't done a proper cost benefit analysis, surely those urging us all to recycle more will have done so – won't they?

Exotic climate study sees refugees in Antarctica

From: Reuters


OSLO (Reuters) - Refugees are moving to Antarctica by 2030, the Olympics are held only in cyberspace and central Australia has been abandoned as too dry, according to exotic scenarios for climate change on Monday.

British-based Forum for the Future, a charitable think-tank, and researchers from Hewlett-Packard Labs, said they wanted to stir debate about how to avert the worst effects of global warming by presenting a radical set of possible futures.

"Climate change will affect the economy at least as much as the 'credit crunch'," their 76-page report study said.

The scenarios range from a shift to greater energy efficiency, where desalination plants run on solar power help turn the Sahara green, to one where refugees are moving to Antarctica because of rising temperatures.

"We still have the chance to alter the future," Peter Madden, head of the Forum, told Reuters. "This is what the world could be like and some of these options are not very pleasant."

Madden said that most reports about climate change focused on scientific findings about carbon dioxide emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, without taking account of psychological or social responses.

"Historians of the future may look back on these as the 'climate change years'," he said. "They will either look back on our generation as heroes or view us with incomprehension and disgust -- as now we look back on those who allowed slavery."

He said the crystal ball survey did not seek to project what was most likely to happen, just some of the possibilities.


It gave the following five scenarios:

EFFICIENCY FIRST - Technological innovation will help solve climate change and spur strong growth and consumerism. The Sahara is green and the eastern seaboard of the United States, for instance, is "protected by eco-concrete wall that generate power from waves and tidal surges."

SERVICE TRANSFORMATION - Sky-high prices for emitting carbon dioxide have led to a shift to a service-based economy. People no longer own cars but use bicycles. "Central Australia and Oklahoma have been abandoned due to water shortages. Athletes stay at home in the world's first virtual Olympics, competing against each other in virtual space with billions of spectators."

REDEFINING PROGRESSS - A global depression from 2009-18 forces people into more modest lifestyles and focus on well-being and quality of life. In the United States, people "do 25 hours of work a week and up to 10 hours voluntary work."

ENVIRONMENTAL WAR ECONOMY - The world has failed to act on climate change, world trade has collapsed after oil prices break through $400 a barrel. Electrical appliances get automatically turned off when households exceed energy quotas. Refugees are moving to Antarctica, with the population set to reach 3.5 million people by 2040.

PROTECTIONIST WORLD - Globalization is in retreat after a poorly coordinated response to climate change. Morocco has been asked to join the European Union in exchange for exclusive access to solar energy supplies until 2050.

(Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Global warming grips Greenland, leaves lasting mark

From: Toledo Blade


ILULISSAT, GREENLAND — Beyond the howl of sled dogs echoing across this hilly coastal village is the thunderclap of ancient icebergs splitting apart, a deafening rumble you feel in your bones.

There's no mistaking its big, loud, and powerful boom, a sound that can work up to a crescendo like rolling thunder. Or be as sudden as a shotgun blast.

Lifelong Greenland resident Karen Jessen Tannajik said people who live in Ilulissat — an Inuit word for icebergs — notice more about what's been calved by the village's nearby Sermeq Kujalleq
glacier than sights and sounds.

'Right now, they're coming out so quick. There are not so many big ones, but many small ones,' she said with almost a spiritual reverence as she talked about the village's world-famous procession of icebergs.
'When I am tired, I can watch them and feel them and smell them,' she said, pausing for a big breath of air to help make her point. 'It seems like we get our power from them.'

Sermeq Kujalleq is the largest glacier in the northern hemisphere that flows out to sea. The icebergs it calves float along a fjord that was recognized as one of the wonders of the world when it was added to the 2004 World Heritage List by the United Nations, which cited its natural history, geology, and beauty.

Article Continues:

Global warming getting political cold shoulder in U.S. amid economic woes

From: metro


WASHINGTON - The global economic crisis has thrown a political chill over one of the main initiatives under consideration in the United States to combat global warming: the so-called cap-and-trade plan.

Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate, and both presidential candidates, continue to rank tackling global warming as a chief goal next year.

But the focus on stabilizing the economy probably will make it more difficult to pass a law to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. At the very least, it will push back when the reductions would have to start.

As one Republican senator put it, the green bubble has burst.

"Clearly it is somewhere down the totem pole given the economic realities we are facing," said Tom Williams, a spokesman for Duke Energy Corp., an electricity producer that has supported federal mandates on greenhouse gases.

Duke is a member of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, an association of businesses and non-profit groups that has lobbied Congress to act.

Just months ago, chances for legislation passing in the next Congress and becoming law looked promising. The presidential candidates support mandatory cuts and a Democratic majority is ready to act on the problem after years of the Bush administration resistance.

But the most popular remedy for slowing global warming, a mechanism know as cap-and-trade, could put further stress on a teetering economy.

Under such a system, the government would establish a market for carbon dioxide by giving or selling credits to companies with operations that emit greenhouse gases. The companies can then choose whether to invest in technologies to reduce emissions to meet targets or instead buy credits from other companies who have already met them.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Representative Rick Boucher (D-Va.), said that in light of the economic downturn, a bill that would give polluters permits free of charge would be preferable.

"The first way we can control program costs is by not charging industrial emitters," said Boucher, who released a first draft of a bill this past week with the chairman of the House energy and commerce committee, Representative John Dingell ( D-Mich.). Giving away right-to-pollute permits was one of the options.

Other Democrats, however, see a cap-and-trade bill - and the government revenues it would generate from selling permits - as an engine for economic growth. Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama supports auctioning off all permits, using the money to help fund alternative energy.


"Manufactured Landscapes" SEE THIS BRILLIANT MOVIE! You'll never have the same shopping experience again.