“Responsibility for the better economy, the better life, belongs to us individually and to our communities… If we want to stop the impoverishment of land and people, we ourselves must be prepared to become poorer.”from a speech entitled Less Energy, More Life by Wendell Berry for a convention of Unitarians, 2013
At the end of October this year, a peer-reviewed scientific article appeared in Nature Climate Changeentitled “Assessing the size and uncertainty of remaining carbon budgets.” Remaining carbon budgets refers to the Paris UN Climate Change Conference’s aspirational target and declaration that humanity must not go past a 2 degree Celsius (2C) threshold and preferably stay much closer to a 1.5C limit above the world’s pre-industrial temperature if we are not to bring on a shambolic unravelling of society and possibly a tipping point to bring on other simultaneous crises, sometimes referred to as a polycrisis. The carbon budget is how much more carbon and other greenhouse gases we can emit globally without sending the planet’s climate into utter chaos. Declarations can be cheap.
The 2021 Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use stated a goal to halt and reverse global deforestation by 2030. The annual Forest Declaration Assessment looks into how well countries live up to their word, and in 2023 it published a rigorously researched, withering report showing that the deforestation of millions of hectares keeps us from achieving that goal; furthermore, 4.1 million hectares of especially vital tropical forests was decimated in 2022. “The world is failing forests with devastating consequences on a global scale,” WWF Global Forests Lead Fran Price said in a statement. “It is impossible to reverse nature loss, address the climate crisis, and develop sustainable economies without forests.”
As was strongly stressed last year in Montreal at the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15), little attention is given by governments and large corporations to embed the critical values that will slow and reverse biodiversity loss, and often money is invested in activities both consciously and inadvertently that in a benighted manner ransack our forests.
There are, however, governments that help finance the UN climate and biodiversity agendas through the Global Environment Facility (GEF). GEF held a global meeting in Vancouver in August this year on funding biodiversity projects and launched a new global biodiversity fund: “The new Global Biodiversity Framework Fund (GBFF) has been designed to mobilize and accelerate investment in the conservation and sustainability of wild species and ecosystems, whose health is under threat from wildfires, flooding, extreme weather, and human activity including urban sprawl.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said recently that we have only a 50% chance of avoiding exceeding a 1.5C global temperature rise by the middle of the next decade, but what I found terrifying was a graph showing that during several months in 2023 we lurched past 1.5C before lowering, even though the overall global average is currently 1.2C. Now scientists speak cautiously about returning to a 1.5C average global temperature; in other words, many scientists are baking hope into their future calculations to reset global temperatures downwards even as the world passes major carbon no-go levels. Is it really possible to return to 1.5C from, say, 1.9C? In theory, yes, but it would take enormous dedication on the part of the richest economies to do so, and at present such concrete pledges are not evident. Why give governments that way out when most will happily kick the can down the road and leave it to others to clean up our present ecological mess?
Speaking of hope, one might expect that in the 21st century a Nobel Prize in Economics would be awarded to a candidate who was fostering growing links between world economies and climate/biodiversity, but 2018 prizewinner William Nordhaus’s analysis of Gross Domestic Product and its connection to rising temperatures demonstrated that quite the opposite was the case. In an unflinching and damning exposé of Nordhaus’s damaging legacy on climate mitigation policies, we discover in the below Intercept article that this man and his associates, who appear to know nothing about science and seem to care not a jot for Nature, have had a detrimental impact on major scientific groups such as the IPCC by coming up with quantitative mathematical models that seemingly make it perfectly acceptable to allow for higher temperatures without having much of an impact on the economy. Talk about having your cake and eating it too! Since most of GDP, according to this “mathemagical sorcery”, takes place indoors, it doesn’t matter what happens outdoors. Are there agricultural concerns in a drought- or flood-plagued world? No worries, Nordhaus says, since food production amounts to only a few percentage points of GDP (compared to – my example – the armaments industry). Please read: When Idiot Savants Do Climate Economics.
E.F. Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful elegantly and succinctly hit the nail on the head: “It is inherent in the methodology of economics to ignore man’s dependence on the natural world … owing to its addiction to purely quantitative analysis and its timorous refusal to look into the real nature of things.”
In great contrast to Nordhaus’s oblivious anti-Nature stance was that of another Nobel laureate in Economics, Elinor Ostrom, who conducted “field studies on how people in small, local communities manage shared natural resources, such as pastures, fishing waters, and forests. She showed that when natural resources are jointly used by their users, in time, rules are established for how these are to be cared for and used in a way that is both economically and ecologically sustainable.”
It’s not surprising that people are overwhelmed by the barrage of disastrous events now announced each week, or even daily. The major damage to Acapulco hotels by Hurricane Otis, as well as the realization that Antarctica’s enormous size and cold is not going to inhibit the melting of its glaciers, would typically top the list of this week’s top five catastrophic events – but we won’t speak of genocidal wars.
Who wants to remember what took place this summer, or ponder the effects of the 2016 apocalyptic fire in Fort McMurray’s oil patch that consumed vast areas of forest, destroyed thousands of homes and traumatised the community? In his recently published book, Fire Weather: A True Story from a Hotter World, John Vaillant does just that. He describes how “alive” that mega blaze was. The methane bomb has also lost its newsworthiness in 2023, but it will come back soon enough.
The result, of course, as we creep closer to a Mad Max landscape, is for the top ten percent of the richest, “educated” people to double down on their fantasy-like exceptionalism to Nature’s laws, indulge their perceived entitlement to pollute, and jet off, with the conviction that before long there will be a complete ban on consuming anything but locally prepared tempeh burgers: some deniers will declare that the grave warnings are all nonsense and fly off to Mexico for a week or two.
On a more positive note, the diehard over-60-year-olds who showed up last week at a inaugural climate/biodiversity meeting will be thanked profusely by younger generations for taking a stand against consumption-encrusted and ecocide-oriented criminals. Their idea is to mobilize their brethren into a powerful community of people who will use their wealth and political power to lobby effectively for a brave new order that will stop the onslaught on Earth. Their strongly held conviction is that societal change and collectively organized citizens will not only give us a reprieve, but also nudge humanity in a more empathetic direction. Aînés dans l’action climat is the name of the group.