Climate Justice, Contraction and Convergence, and Eliminating GHG Emissions

Obama “You have my word that we will keep drilling everywhere we can” (March 22, 2012)

Nnimmo Bassey “Delaying real action until 2020 is a crime of global proportions….An increase in global temperatures of 4 degrees Celsius, permitted under this plan [Durban], is a death sentence for Africa, Small Island States, and the poor and vulnerable worldwide.”

There is a children’s story entitled “It Could Always be Worse.” In it, a peasant father complains to a rabbi about the misery of his very crowded and noisy house. Each day the rabbi advises the father to take yet another farm animal into the house and the peasant becomes ever more overwhelmed. Finally the rabbi suggests removing all these additional animals and the peasant is very grateful for the wise advice for he feels his house is no longer crowded. Perhaps charming, this is also a tale of wishful positive thinking, stupidity, manipulation – no one actually has to work at getting along with each other.

There are parallels in the past half century of history: the United Nations, reacting to the horror of the Second World War (“it couldn’t be worse”), committed to end all wars and shortly thereafter invaded Korea, killing at least three million civilians and destroying the country’s entire infrastructure. Two horrific atom bombs heralded the real possibility of human-caused human extinction, but then the nuclear-armed states assumed control of the United Nations and built tens of thousands of much more lethal nuclear weapons. By 1990, it was well-known that accelerating greenhouse gas emissions threatened human existence, but the powers-that-be orchestrated an enormous increase in emissions.

One difference from the parable of the rabbi is that for the new ministers of prosperity and death, all this additional military power and energy production “couldn’t be better.” The really appropriate children’s story is “Where the Wild Things Are” – in order to provide life’s basic necessities, namely food and shelter and human relatedness, monstrous behaviour has to stop.

Yet, when it comes to climate change, the predominant measures of adaptation, or of partial and gradual substitution of energy sources in limited sectors, does not mean “stop”.

Here are several propositions:

1. Stopping needs to start with the largest emitters, resulting in a substantial and immediate decrease in demand.

This step entails radically reducing and eliminating whole sectors whose emissions are exempt under Kyoto: the military, international aviation and international shipping.1 Steep reductions are required in industrial agriculture [2] and in the use of the most energy-intensive materials like cement and steel.

This would necessitate rigorous measurement of lifecycle emissions and the rationing of greenhouse gas emissions to the projects that are most essential for public health. The practice of substituting energy sources generally leaves out life cycle analysis and externalities. Overestimating the effectiveness of energy substitution derails identifying and eliminating the major emitters. For example, the energy cost of hybrid cars (considered a plausible adaptation and mitigation measure) should include the manufacturing process, the car’s material (mining, transportation of parts), the electronic components, and externalities. According to Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute, the addition of 12 million cars each year consumes, in new roads, highways, and parking lots, roughly 1 million hectares of land, enough to feed nine million people if it were cropland, and he adds that most highways are located on the best cropland. There is also the socioeconomic inequity of government rebates to the affluent purchaser vs. decreased funding for public transportation which then increases incentive to use private cars.

2. Contraction and Convergence of per capita greenhouuse emissions was first researched by Aubrey Meyer and then described by George Monbiot in Heat. Here are concise definitions of contraction and convergence from the website Global Commons Institute:

Contraction refers to the ‘full-term event’ in which the future global total of greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions from human sources is shrunk over time in a measured way to near zero-emissions within a specified time-frame….Calculating future emissions contraction, looking at concentrations and sink performance, is a non-random way of responding to the objective of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Convergence refers to the full international sharing of the emissions contraction-event, where the ‘emissions-entitlements’ for all countries result from them converging on the declining global per capita average of emissions arising under the contraction rate chosen. Converging at a rate to be agreed – the example shows 2030 – is a non-random way of responding to the principle of ‘equity’ in the UNFCCC, whilst still meeting its objective.

Negotiating the rate of convergence is ‘the main equity lever’3

Ian Angus and Simon Butler [4] explain a crucial point in calculating per capita emissions by looking at the case of Ira Rennert (p. 166-169): “Quantitative increases in income lead to qualitative changes in social power exercised not through consumption but through ownership and control of profit-making institutions.” Rennert owns 95% of the Renco Group which includes mining subsidiaries. “As a consumer he lives an excessively wasteful life. But as a chief executive officer (or CEO), he holds responsibility for toxic sites identified by Green Cross as one of the ten worst polluted places on earth. “As a CEO he has shortened the lives of tens of thousands of people and laid waste to entire ecosystems….As a capitalist, he has power over the way that other people live—and the way they die. That fundamental difference can’t be reduced to too many people consuming too much.”

Some considerations:

The military takes climate change seriously, and this is ominous. The military is the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter and for this reason alone it should be dismantled. In his article “NATO: The Military Enforcement Wing of the West’s 1%” [5], Rick Rozoff quotes from NATO chief Rasmussen’s article “Piracy, cyber-crime and climate change – bringing NATO and insurance together” and from NATO’s new guiding charter, the Strategic Concept. Fifteen of seventeen NATO issues have to do with climate change. The Pentagon Report (2003) on climate disaster proposes the development of “tuneable lethality” to deal with millions of displaced people. The US Department of Defence should plan “no-regret (military) strategies” for worst-case global warming events, to start “building a virtual wall around its national boundaries, restricting the movement of people into the country, developing technologies of political control, and preparing for increased threats from nuclear war.” (p. 68).6

It’s critical to look unflinchingly at the whole picture. Resources are available to make radical changes without endangering our biosphere or causing premature human death, and there are plenty of necessary jobs in the water, food, and shelter sectors worldwide if people are to survive. But rapid shifts are required in an increasingly precarious socio-political situation. Necessary reform of banks, the electoral system, laws, redistribution of wealth, labour protection and job creation, etc. will not in themselves reduce emissions unless bound by the contraction and convergence “acceptable risk” budget (p. 40, Meyer). The narrowing time frame requires real results: the B.C. carbon tax is regressive and coincides with the push for tar sands pipelines and expansion of coal mining in B.C. According to a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) report (June 24, 2008), “the richest 10% of Canadians create a bigger ecological footprint – a whopping 66% higher, than the average Canadian household”. Have the wealthy and powerful reduced emissions because of the carbon tax? There is much smoke and mirrors. A recent British report airbrushed emissions from outsourced manufacturing and transport and from British offshore investments (not to mention the Kyoto exempt emitters). Climate change’s most dangerous impact will be on food and water. The World Bank report on dams received much acclaim but no reactions when it was not adopted by the World Bank.7 Bill S-8 is supposed to provide safe drinking water in First Nations communities but there is no funding for adequate infrastructure, no regulations, no staff training — hot air and no water.8

“The technological fix is a mantra, too for [the] traditional power-money-knowledge nexus: a largely university-based scientific establishment… the group also has at its core leading environmental NGOs.” (p. 14, Levene and Cromwell). At its core the nexus is detached from the human victim side of this catastrophe. Climate change and its human impact is not an integrated piece of knowledge: here at the University of Toronto are large cement and steel building projects, monuments to the very corporate donors who treat human societies and their environments despicably – and the university library still does not carry James Hansen’s book Storms of My Grandchildren [there is a copy at St. Michael’s College library but not at the Gerstein Science library or the Earth Sciences Library—editor’s note]. Christian Aid warned that by 2050 as many as one billion people could be refugees because of water shortages and crop failures. The political writing on the wall is that billions of people are dispensable. “The only logical response has to be one not of incremental but of revolutionary change; revolutionary, that is, without precipitating nations, societies, and communities worldwide into unmitigated and ultimately suicidal violence against each other”(Cromwell and Levene p xi): a global commons based on the principle of equity in the basic resources essential for life.

1 According to Monbiot in 2005, a return flight from London to New York would cost all the allotted CO2 emissions for a year if per capita energy were rationed at levels of acceptable risk. P. 173. Heat. ^

2 On the land grab in Canada, see “LandRush” in Briarpatch Magazine. Feb 28, 2012
On the Canadian wheat board, see ^

3 ^

4 Ian Angus and Simon Butler (2011). Too Many people: population, immigration and the environmental crisis. ^

5 ^

6 Dave Webb. “Thinking the worst: The Pentagon Report.” In D. Cromwell and M. Levene (2007) Surviving Climate Change: the struggle to avert global catastrophe. ^

7 Eric Toussaint (2008). The World Bank: a critical picture. P 188-89. ^

8 Lloyd Dolha. “Water legislation fails to address lack of infrastructure, resources, training. March 2012. First Nations Drum. ^

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