Re-engineering our societies to prosper on green alternatives is only option
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jan 4 2013 (IPS)
Around the world, 2012 was the year of extreme weather, when we unequivocally learned that the fossil fuel energy that powers our societies is destroying them. Accepting this reality is the biggest challenge of the brand new year.
Re-engineering our societies and lifestyles to prosper on green alternatives is the penultimate challenge of this decade.There is no more important task for all of us to engage in because climate change affects everything from food to water availability.
A number of scientific analyses have demonstrated we already have the technology to re-engineer our society to thrive on green alternative energy. The newest of these was published Wednesday in the prestigious journal Nature. It plainly states that politics is the real barrier, not technology nor cost. (It is far cheaper to act than not.)
Keeping global warming to less than two degrees C is mainly dependent on “when countries will begin to take serious action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”, according to the study “Probabilistic cost estimates for climate change mitigation”.
Climate change has already pushed global temperatures up 0.8 degrees C, with significant consequences. No climate scientist thinks two degrees C will be “safe”. Many countries, especially least-developed countries and small island states, want the global target to be less than 1.5C of heating. Even then large portions of the Arctic and Antarctic will continue to melt raising sea levels, albeit at a slower rate.
Delay in making the shift to non-fossil fuel energy sources will be very costly. Waiting until 2020 to curb global emissions will cost twice as much compared with peaking emissions by 2015, the Nature analysis shows.
“Our economy creates scarcity by being extraordinarily wasteful and destructive.”
Stephen Leahy interviews writer and environmentalist FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ
UXBRIDGE, Canada (IPS)
To meet the challenges of the 21st century, including climate change, feeding the world and eliminating poverty, we need to free ourselves from the “thought traps” that prevent us from seeing the world as it truly is and narrow our vision of how to respond.
“There is no way to deal with climate change or poverty without real democracy,” she says.
IPS climate and environment correspondent Stephen Leahy spoke with Lappé about her new book.
Q: What do you mean by the term “thought traps”?
A: We don’t see the world as it really is but through a filter or mental map. Research in neuroscience shows that we interpret the world based on our previous experiences and understanding of the world. In other words we see what we expect to see.
One of the dominant ideas in our society is about scarcity or lack. There isn’t enough resources or food or whatever for all of us. We then “see” or interpret everything from that filter or frame of reference.
Q: How does this widely-held idea of “scarcity” affect us?
A: Believing there isn’t enough makes us defensive and competitive with each other. We think we’d better get ours before someone else does. The majority of people I talk to insist with seven billion people on the planet scarcity is our reality now and into the future. They are blinkered by this scarcity mentality.
Q: But isn’t it true that we are running out of resources like water, energy, food and so on?
A: I discovered as a young student that the U.S. food production was extraordinarily wasteful and inefficient. Sixteen pounds of corn and soy fed to cattle to get one pound of meat. That pound of meat also requires as much as 12,000 gallons of water. Nearly half of all food harvested is never consumed.
This staggering waste is the rule, not the exception, and not just in food production. The U.S. energy sector wastes 55-87 percent of the energy generated – most of it in the form of waste heat at power plants. It’s not just the U.S. U.N. studies showed that 3,000 of the world’s biggest corporations caused two trillion dollars in damage to the global environment in 2008 alone.
Q: Why are we so destructive and wasteful?
A: It’s a result of the current market economy with its single focus on generating the quickest and highest return to a small minority of wealth-holders. Our economy creates scarcity by being extraordinarily wasteful and destructive. The term “free market economy” is completely wrong. What we have is a corporate-monopoly market economy of waste and destruction. We need to be more careful and more precise in our language.
Q: There is a growing call by environmentalists and some economists of the need to shift from a growth economy to a no-growth economy, but you say this is a thought trap?
A: Yes, it leads to a distracting debate about merits of growth versus no-growth. Growth sounds like a good thing so most people will resist the idea of no growth. Better to focus on creating a system that enhances health, happiness, ecological vitality and social power.
Q: In your book you also say everyone needs to focus on “living democracy”.
A: America has become what’s called a “plutonomy”, where the top one percent control more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. Inequality is now greater in the U.S. than in Pakistan or Egypt, according to the World Bank. The result is corporations and the very wealthy sway public decision making via political contributions and lobbying. There are now two dozen lobbyists for every member of Congress.
To counter this privately-held government we need to re-create a culture of mutual responsibility, transparency, citizen participation and public financing of elections. Democracy is not just voting once a year, it is a culture, a way of living.
The “mother of all issues” in most countries is removing the power of concentrated wealth from public-decision making and infusing citizens’ voices instead. The environmental crisis is in fact a crisis in democracy.
Q: There is a feeling amongst many environmentally-aware people that it is already too late and there is too much to be overcome.
A: Thinking it’s too late is another thought trap. It may be too late to avoid significant impacts that could have been avoided if action had been taken two decades ago. It is not too late for life. My book is filled with examples of people taking charge and turning things around.
What makes people think it’s too late is that they feel alone and powerless. People feel that way because of the thought traps, the false beliefs about scarcity and of human nature as greedy and selfish. Those beliefs and a privately-held government have led to feelings of powerlessness.
Q: This year is the 20th anniversary of the historic Earth Summit and major conference called Rio+20 will be held in June. What are your thoughts?
A: I participated in the Rio+10 conference and we’ve gone backwards in those 10 years. Rio+20 could be the opportunity to reverse course and align ourselves with nature to create the world we really want.
By Stephen Leahy Jan 25 (IPS) – Can Iraqi dreams for a better future be glimpsed in the publication Thursday of the first-ever field guide to the country’s 387 bird species?
“For Iraq, a nation that has lost so much of its wildlife in the last 20 years, this book opens the door for the growing conservation movement in this country,” said Ali Douabul of Nature Iraq, an Iraqi NGO focused on the protection and restoration of the environment.
Published in Arabic, the “Field Guide to the Birds of Iraq” is a fully illustrated guide based on three years of surveys by mainly Iraqi and Jordanian birders and biologists.