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Gwynne Dyer

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Climate Denial: A New Strategy

What a surprise! The annual emissions report by the United Nations is now out, and greenhouse gas emissions are still going up thirty years after we first realised there was a problem with the climate. In fact, they have gone up 15% in the past ten years. So much for the promises of ‘early and deep cuts’ in emissions to avoid catastrophic heating.

Governments have been making these promises since the early 1990s, and they are never kept because the political pressures are far stronger from those who profit in the present – the fossil fuel industries and the automobile, shipping and aviation industries – than from those who are merely frightened for their childrens’ future.

The industries are well organised, have lots of money to spend, and focus tightly on stopping changes that threaten their business model. Private citizens are less organised, have far fewer resources, and have many competing demands on their attention. Inevitably, the industries succeed in sabotaging most attempts to cut emissions.

For a long time, the main strategy of the industries was denial. At first they denied outright that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions were changing the climate. Never mind the science: just listen to this other guy in a white coat who says that it isn’t happening.

That worked for a while, and the initial rapid response to the climate change threat lost speed through the later 90s. Flat denial became increasingly untenable in the early 21st century, however, and the emphasis of the deniers shifted to spreading doubt. The climate is always changing; lots of scientists don’t believe that the warming is caused by human activities; the jury is still out.

Those lies worked for another fifteen years, but gradually the real scientists realised that they had to organise too. There is now no government in the world (except the United States) that still goes along with the denialism. Every major international body has accepted the evidence that climate change is actually happening and that we are the cause.

Time for another change of strategy by the fossil fuel industries and their allies, then. If they can no longer hope to discredit the science or confuse the public about the evidence, maybe they can at least deflect and divert the pressure for effective action on climate change on to targets that do not directly threaten the sales of their products.

That’s where we are now, and it was Dr. Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Pennsylvania State University and director of the Earth System Science Center, who first spotted the new strategy of the fossil fuel industry’s shills.

“There is an attempt being made by them to deflect attention away from finding policy solutions for global warming towards promoting individual behaviour changes that affect people’s diets, travel choices and other personal behaviour,” he told The Observer newspaper early this month. “This is a deflection campaign, and a lot of well-meaning people have been taken in by it.”

What gives the deflectors credibility is that they seem to be on the side of the angels. They’re not denying that climate change is real; they just want you to use your bike more, eat less meat, and recycle your waste. What could be wrong with that?

Nothing, of course. You should be doing all those things: it’s a necessary part of the solution. But they want you to do that INSTEAD of campaigning (or at least voting) for action that directly targets fossil fuel use. If you feel that you’re already doing your bit in the climate emergency by changing your personal behaviour, then the pressure is off them.

They also encourage ‘doomism’: the notion that it’s too late in the game to do anything useful about climate change. “This leads people down a path of despair and hopelessness and finally inaction, which actually leads us to the same place as outright climate-change denialism,” said Mann.

It really is quite late in the game. We would have to cut global emissions by 7% a year (instead of increasing them by 1.5% annually) to avoid breaching the never-exceed limit of two degrees C higher average global temperature. That’s far beyond what we have ever done before, so there is considerable justification for pessimism.

However, pessimism is a luxury we cannot afford. We have to keep working away at the task, because every cut we make in emissions, however inadequate, gives us a little more time to deal with the rest of the problem.

The ‘deflect, divert, distract’ campaign is often hard to distinguish from genuine attempts to change people’s lifestyles in positive ways, and frankly there’s no point in trying. Just do what they’re advocating (bikes, meat, recycling, etc.) and remember to do the hard political and legal work of eliminating fossil fuel use too.

Simple to say, hard to do.
______________________________
To shorten to 700 words, omit paragraphs 13 and 14. (“It really…problem”)

Gwynne Dyer’s new book is ‘Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work)’.

Climate Denial: A New Strategy

What a surprise! The annual emissions report by the United Nations is now out, and greenhouse gas emissions are still going up thirty years after we first realised there was a problem with the climate. In fact, they have gone up 15% in the past ten years. So much for the promises of ‘early and deep cuts’ in emissions to avoid catastrophic heating.

Governments have been making these promises since the early 1990s, and they are never kept because the political pressures are far stronger from those who profit in the present – the fossil fuel industries and the automobile, shipping and aviation industries – than from those who are merely frightened for their childrens’ future.

The industries are well organised, have lots of money to spend, and focus tightly on stopping changes that threaten their business model. Private citizens are less organised, have far fewer resources, and have many competing demands on their attention. Inevitably, the industries succeed in sabotaging most attempts to cut emissions.

For a long time, the main strategy of the industries was denial. At first they denied outright that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions were changing the climate. Never mind the science: just listen to this other guy in a white coat who says that it isn’t happening.

That worked for a while, and the initial rapid response to the climate change threat lost speed through the later 90s. Flat denial became increasingly untenable in the early 21st century, however, and the emphasis of the deniers shifted to spreading doubt. The climate is always changing; lots of scientists don’t believe that the warming is caused by human activities; the jury is still out.

Those lies worked for another fifteen years, but gradually the real scientists realised that they had to organise too. There is now no government in the world (except the United States) that still goes along with the denialism. Every major international body has accepted the evidence that climate change is actually happening and that we are the cause.

Time for another change of strategy by the fossil fuel industries and their allies, then. If they can no longer hope to discredit the science or confuse the public about the evidence, maybe they can at least deflect and divert the pressure for effective action on climate change on to targets that do not directly threaten the sales of their products.

That’s where we are now, and it was Dr. Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Pennsylvania State University and director of the Earth System Science Center, who first spotted the new strategy of the fossil fuel industry’s shills.

“There is an attempt being made by them to deflect attention away from finding policy solutions for global warming towards promoting individual behaviour changes that affect people’s diets, travel choices and other personal behaviour,” he told The Observer newspaper early this month. “This is a deflection campaign, and a lot of well-meaning people have been taken in by it.”

What gives the deflectors credibility is that they seem to be on the side of the angels. They’re not denying that climate change is real; they just want you to use your bike more, eat less meat, and recycle your waste. What could be wrong with that?

Nothing, of course. You should be doing all those things: it’s a necessary part of the solution. But they want you to do that INSTEAD of campaigning (or at least voting) for action that directly targets fossil fuel use. If you feel that you’re already doing your bit in the climate emergency by changing your personal behaviour, then the pressure is off them.

They also encourage ‘doomism’: the notion that it’s too late in the game to do anything useful about climate change. “This leads people down a path of despair and hopelessness and finally inaction, which actually leads us to the same place as outright climate-change denialism,” said Mann.

It really is quite late in the game. We would have to cut global emissions by 7% a year (instead of increasing them by 1.5% annually) to avoid breaching the never-exceed limit of two degrees C higher average global temperature. That’s far beyond what we have ever done before, so there is considerable justification for pessimism.

However, pessimism is a luxury we cannot afford. We have to keep working away at the task, because every cut we make in emissions, however inadequate, gives us a little more time to deal with the rest of the problem.

The ‘deflect, divert, distract’ campaign is often hard to distinguish from genuine attempts to change people’s lifestyles in positive ways, and frankly there’s no point in trying. Just do what they’re advocating (bikes, meat, recycling, etc.) and remember to do the hard political and legal work of eliminating fossil fuel use too.

Simple to say, hard to do.
______________________________
To shorten to 700 words, omit paragraphs 13 and 14. (“It really…problem”)

Gwynne Dyer’s new book is ‘Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work)’.

Vegetarians, Carnivores and Technology

“Right now, growing cells as meat instead of animals is a very expensive process,” said Yaakov Nahmias, founder and chief scientist of Israel-based startup Future Meat Technologies. But it will get cheaper, and it probably will be needed.

Global population is heading for 10 billion by 2050. (Current world population: 7.7 billion.) Average global incomes will triple in the same period, enabling more people to eat meat-rich diets.

“We need a significant overhaul, changing the global food system on a scale not seen before,” says Professor Tim Lang of the University of London, one of the 37 scientific co-authors from sixteen different countries who wrote the a report by the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet and Health that launches in Jakarta on Friday. But we’ve heard it all before.

It takes seven kilos of grain to grow one kilo of beef. 70% of the world’s fresh water is used to irrigate crops. We have appropriated three-quarters of the world’s fertile land for food production, and we’ll need the rest by 2050. The world’s stocks of seafood will have collapsed by 2050. It’s all true, but we’re sick of being nagged.

And still they bang on. The EAT-Lancet Commission even has a diet that will save the planet. Cut your beef consumption by 90% (i.e. one steak a month). Eat more beans and pulses (three times more) and more nuts and seeds (four times more). Going vegetarian or vegan will help even more. That’s all true too – but I don’t think it’s going to happen.

Or at least, it’s not going to happen by everybody turning vegan, vegetarian, or just ‘flexitarian’. No doubt there will in due course be high taxes on meat and fish, and official propaganda campaigns to persuade people to change their eating habits, and some people will change.

Some people already have: the Vegan Society in Britain claims that the number of vegans in the country has quadrupled in the last four years. But not enough people will switch to a plant-based diet soon enough, or maybe ever. We need to bring the rest of the population along, and few things are more persistent than cultural dietary preferences. Like eating meat.

India is home to almost one-third for the world’s vegetarians, but the local variations are immense and deeply entrenched: 75% of people are vegetarians in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, but fewer than 2% are in the southern states of Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal.

The most enthusiastic meat-eaters are in the richer countries, and as other countries join their club (like China), they start eating more meat too. So clearly there would be a huge market for real meat that didn’t come from cattle, pigs, sheep and chickens, but tastes right, feels right in the mouth, and doesn’t trash the environment.

We’re not talking about the famous $325,000 hamburger patty made from beef cells immersed in a growth medium that was triumphantly cooked on television six years ago.

We’re talking about a proper steak with muscle and fat cells and the right shape, taste and texture – but not one produced by the familiar process that uses huge amounts of fertile land, releases large amounts of greenhouse gases, and involves slaughtering live animals. That is Yaakov Nahmias’s goal, and he’s pretty close now.

Future Meat Technologies produces its ‘cell-based meat’ in bioreactors, growing it on lattices that give it shape and texture, but we’re not talking about giant vats in a lab. He plans to give small units to existing farmers, who might still be rearing some beef cattle too for the luxury end of the market.

“With these two plays–a more efficient bioreactor and a distributed manufacturing model–we can essentially drop the cost down to about $5 a kilogram [$2.27 a pound],” said Nahmias. Meat giant Tyson Foods recently put $2.2 million of seed money into his company, and a dozen other start-ups are chasing the same goal: Memphis Meat, JUST, Finless Foods,
Meatable – a total of 30 labs around the world.

How big a threat is this ‘cell-based meat’ to the traditional cattle industry? Big enough that the US Cattlemen’s Association has petitioned the government to restrict the words ‘meat’ and ‘beef’ to products “derived directly from animals raised and slaughtered.” A tricky definition, since it would mean that wild deer are not made of meat, but the ranchers are clearly running scared.

Coming up behind cell-based meat there’s the even newer concept of ‘Solar Foods’: a Finnish company called just that is using electricity from solar panels to electrolyse water and produce hydrogen. The hydrogen is fed to bacteria, and the product is an edible food that is half carbohydrates, half fats and protein.

It is just as good as soya as an animal food, and it uses no land at all. No greenhouse gas emissions either, and the first factory producing it opens in two years’ time. Technology alone can’t save us, but it can certainly shift the odds in our favour.
______________________________________
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 8 and 14. (“India…Bengal”; and “How…scared”)
Gwynne Dyer’s new book is ‘Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work)’.

The End of the American Adventure in Space

15 July 2011

The End of the American Adventure in Space

by Gwynne Dyer

The Sun always shines in space, so it was no surprise when Sir Paul McCartney called the crew of Atlantis, the last Space Shuttle, on Friday and sang “Good Day Sunshine” to them. Later in the day President Barack Obama called and told the astronauts that their mission “ushers in an exciting new era to push the frontiers of space exploration and human spaceflight.” Pity it was all happy-face lies.

The last Shuttle mission actually ushers in an era when the only hope of getting into space for the few remaining American astronauts will be to hitch a ride on a Russian or Chinese rocket. Most of them will have to find jobs elsewhere. And however brightly the Sun shines, the day when the United States finally gives up on manned space flight is not a good day.

US rockets will still put satellites into orbit. The older ones were built by the military or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); the newer models will be built by private companies that claim they can boost cargo into space at a much cheaper price. But they won’t be able to put a human being in orbit for a very long time, if ever.

This is not to say that the US should have kept the Shuttles going indefinitely. They weren’t safe: two of the four original Shuttles were lost, with fourteen crew, in a total of only 135 trips. They were not cost-effective either: they each flew on average only once a year during their thirty years of service.

NASA had perfectly sensible plans to replace the Shuttles. In 2004, former president George W Bush approved an ambitious NASA plan to build a new generation of powerful rockets to deliver people and materials into near-Earth orbit more cheaply, but also to put a permanent manned base on the Moon by 2020.

NASA calculated that the “Constellation” programme would cost about $8 billion a year until 2020 (the US defence budget burns through that much every five days). Maybe the cost would have risen considerably over time, but that’s not such a big deal: creating big, new technology always takes longer and costs more.

When President Obama cancelled the “Constellation” project in 2010, he talked about doing things in a “smarter way,” and how private enterprise would develop “space taxis” that would put people into orbit more cheaply. In reality, however, he was ending federal government support for manned space flight – though he did promise to invest a little more than a billion dollars a year in those “clever” private companies.

That is not serious money: the US defence budget gets through that much every twelve hours. Lacking federal financial support, the clever companies will concentrate on doing things that make a profit. Putting people into space does not make a profit. Not in the short run, anyway, and the bean-counters are notoriously uninterested in the very long run.

The space entrepreneurs – Virgin Galactic, Northrop Grumman, Interorbital Services, XCOR, Orbital Sciences Corp. and all their rivals – make well-honed pitches about how NASA was a bloated bureaucracy, and how private enterprise will do the same jobs more cheaply and more safely. Which may be true for launching communications satellites and the like, but is certainly not true for manned space flight and deep space exploration.

When Christopher Columbus had this idea for a new way to reach Asia, he did not talk to some Spanish fishermen about scaling up their voyages (making a profit at each stage) until eventually they would cross the entire ocean. He went to the Spanish court and got state support for his venture. Almost all of the early European voyages of discovery had state backing, because the profits were not going to flow for quite a while.

The analogy is less than perfect, but it is relevant. Building a permanent space station, establishing a human base on the Moon, designing and funding the first voyage to Mars – such things are not going to be undertaken by clever companies operating out of old hangars at the Mojave Air and Space Port in the California desert. They haven’t the resources, and it makes no commercial sense.

Does it make sense at all? That depends on whether you share the vision of the human future that Arthur C. Clarke brought to his collaboration with Stanley Kubrick in the film “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Back in 1968, most people assumed that that was indeed the future. It is much behind schedule, but many people still think it should be the future: that human beings should escape the confines of this single planet and get out into the universe.

That enterprise has not been abandoned. The Russians, who were the first into space, have not given up on manned space flight despite their relative lack of resources. The Chinese are catching up fast, and the Indians plan to put their first person into orbit in 2015. Even the Japanese are not to be counted out. It’s just the Americans who are quitting.

_____________________________

To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 3 and 4. (“US rockets…service”)

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

The Shuttle “Atlantis” returns to Earth for the last time on 20 July (weather permitting).