2012: The Year We Did Our Best to Abandon the Natural World

Picture: USDOD (PD)

George Monbiot writes in the Guardian:

It was the year of living dangerously. In 2012 governments turned their backs on the living planet, demonstrating that no chronic problem, however grave, will take priority over an immediate concern, however trivial. I believe there has been no worse year for the natural world in the past half-century.

Three weeks before the minimum occurred, the melting of the Arctic’s sea ice broke the previous record. Remnants of the global megafauna – such as rhinos and bluefin tuna – were shoved violently towards extinction. Novel tree diseases raged across continents. Bird and insect numbers continued to plummet, coral reefs retreated, marine life dwindled. And those charged with protecting us and the world in which we live pretended that none of it was happening.

Their indifference was distilled into a great collective shrug at the Earth Summit in June. The first summit, 20 years before, was supposed to have heralded a new age of environmental responsibility. During that time, thanks largely to the empowerment of corporations and the ultra-rich, the square root of nothing has been achieved. Far from mobilising to address this, in 2012 the leaders of some of the world’s most powerful governments – the US, the UK, Germany and Russia – didn’t even bother to turn up.

But they did send their representatives to sabotage it. The Obama administration even sought to reverse commitments made by George Bush Sr in 1992. The final declaration was a parody of inaction. While the 190 countries that signed it expressed “deep concern” about the world’s escalating crises, they agreed no new targets, dates or commitments, with one exception. Sixteen times they committed themselves to “sustained growth”, a term they used interchangeably with its polar opposite, “sustainability”.

The climate meeting in Doha at the end of the year produced a similar combination of inanity and contradiction. Governments have now begun to concede, without evincing any great concern, that they will miss their target of no more than 2C of global warming this century. Instead we’re on track for between four and six degrees. To prevent climate breakdown, coal burning should be in steep decline. Far from it: the International Energy Agency reports that global use of the most carbon-dense fossil fuel is climbing by about 200m tonnes a year. This helps to explain why global emissions are rising so fast.

Our leaders now treat climate change as a guilty secret. Even after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy and the record droughts and wildfires that savaged the US, the two main presidential contenders refused to mention the subject, except for one throwaway sentence each. Has an issue this big ever received as little attention in a presidential race?

Of course they didn’t talk about it because they’re part of the ubiquitous conspiracy to convince everyone it’s real.  Anyway, read more here.

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  • Haystack

    But are we doing enough?

  • http://twitter.com/polfilmblog Occupy Wear

    Unfortunately, Monbiot tells lies for the nuclear industry. And he was a bit of an imbecile on 9/11 as well.

    http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/04/01/the-un-would-never-lie-to-george-monbiot/

  • Anarchy Pony

    If you can’t commoditize it, you might as well just go set it on fire.

  • BuzzCoastin

    everyone talks about the weather
    but no one does anything about it

    where have I heard this before?

  • mickD

    climate change! makes me spit. last year it was a drought here, the year before, flooding on a record not seen in over a hundred years. http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamestaylor/2011/11/23/climategate-2-0-new-e-mails-rock-the-global-warming-debate/

    • Anarchy Pony

      “Climategate”, unlike climate change, is thoroughly debunked

  • alizardx

    The most dangerous myths about eco-destruction in progress?
    1. The belief among the wealthy that they can buy themselves and their descendants out of the consequences of the destruction of a biosphere they live in, too. And no, even a successful Mars colonization project doesn’t get them off the hook. There are certain problems associated to having critical spare parts that take several months to ship, and even with 3D printers, no small group can make EVERYTHING onsite. If Planet Earth collapses, the Martian colonists get to die, too.
    2. The belief among Futurists that the natural workings of the technocapitalist system will magically produce the greentech required to reduce carbon environmental load and mitigate the consequences of the crap already dumped and that will be dumped into the atmosphere, People who actually know how projects get from academic and commercial labs to becoming Real Things You Can Buy know that a press release means the people it discusses are hoping to get to the next grant renewal or round of VC funding, that the great majority of projects are either found to be unworkable or unfundable in this process, and in any case, vulture capitalist priorities are for short-term profit, not the good of humanity. So if greentech projects are competing against a dozen different versions of The Next Social Networking App Which Will Change Everyone’s Lives, guess what the VC herd is going to trample and what will actually get funded? Why this myth is being financed through the techno-capitalist funded Singularity / Transhuman movements is an … interesting question. For extra irony points, consider the Transhuman life-extension goal. What price longer life if food or spare parts (cyborg) are unavailable at ANY price due to eco-collapse related issues?

    These problems are not necessarily unsolvable, but their solution means that serious money is going to have to be thrown at them and the value of fossil fuel resource assets is going to have to be written down to close to zero. Meaning trust fund babies are going to have to catch a clue en masse that environmental problems will be solved or they die, too, and/or the power of the top 0.01% is going to have to be massively reduced so public-sector funding big enough to finance research, R&D, deployment to make the problems solvable becomes possible, and coal / oil ./ natural gas utility generation and fossil-fuel vehicles will have to be phased out of existence via law and regulation.

    All the really big problems, it seems, are political, not technological at their base. If the money is available, the research and R&D and deployment can be purchased. But the question of how the investments are made that are big enough to affect the whole of society are what politics is all about.

    Technology is the easy part, making it interface with society is hard.

    • kowalityjesus

      My psuedo-new-age opinion of the matter is that the outer pollution on the planet reflects people’s inner pollution. Waste and environmental exploitation are natural to humans and not necessarily destructive. However the scale at which they are occurring is indicative of the acute dearth of inner wealth that MANY human beings experience as a result of our concentration on the wrong personal values as a culture.

      There are a thousand people hacking away at the branches of evil, another thousand suffering from the fruit of evil, while one is striking at its root.

      • alizardx

        Very possibly right idea, but wrong people. It’s the “inner pollution” of the top 0.1% that best accounts for what you describe. Who makes the decisions that result in the products and services which are the Things You Can Buy? Who pays to stimulate the demand for Things You Can Buy? Though some of those are such utter crap that even consumers can avoid them, Win8 and the Win tablet products are examples. Who buys the politicians who have decided in our name that renewable energy and decent health care are not things society can afford?

        The “inner pollution” among the masses is simply a side effect; it’s the result of the social and economic consequences of the upward transfer of wealth and power that have been going on since the Reagan era, as survival stresses increase, people increasingly “look out for number one”.

        • kowalityjesus

          You have a pretty air-tight case, but to relegate blame to the most wealthy, that is a bit simplistic in my opinion. You provide some really good examples of terrible product and policy-makers who lost touch with reality and made people suffer for it, but I would mostly let the rich to their illusions, with the exception of stopping their lobbies and their subsidies.

          I am always disappointed in how attached the super-rich are to their wealth, how they constantly pursue investments that promise a profit as though they needed the additional money. Why not pursue an investment that will virtually guarantee a loss but will benefit people or the earth (instead of un-originally just giving the money away). Why can’t anybody with a billion dollars simply make a private Civilian Conservation Corps or a windfarm? Why would it have to be subsidized or funded by government? Its just a matter of social pressure poisoned by precedent and creativity stifled by comfort.

          • alizardx

            Of course it’s simplistic, I’m only going to devote a limited amount of time to any given comment, and what I say in public is generally a limited subset of what I really think for various reasons.

            In some cases, it’s because I’d rather not have the Feds know what I’m thinking. In the case of corporate mass-market Futurism, I’ve been comparatively gentle because the rank and file in the movement are generally very nice smart people who are dangerously naive when it comes to the political and economic present from which real futures grow. But they aren’t evil in intent (the superwealthy funders of this movement do NOT have good intentions) so I don’t bang on them as hard as the facts justify.

            The biggest issue with respect to superwealthy investment priority is that transition to renewables would render their fossil fuel related investments worthless. They really would rather let the world end (they think this will only happen to the “little people”) than take that writedown.

            The palette of choices available to us in an industrial civilization are in almost all cases the ones the wealthy make available to us. In most areas, you can’t choose to buy electricity from renewable sources, your choice is coal or DIY solar or wind turbines, and DIY is unaffordable for most people and impossible if you’re renting. Priuses are for the people who can afford them.

            As for why superwealthy don’t put their money into constructive and productive investments, it’s because their ROI on productive is lower than their ROI on destructive. In part, this is because of the perverse incentives they have bought from legislators and regulators.
            http://t.co/ILtPxKbK

            Simplest way to deal with the super-wealthy might be a hard cap on their net worth… limit it to $999,999,999.99 and tax or force them to give the money away above that level on the basis that larger levels of individual wealth are a threat to the society we live in.

          • kowalityjesus

            we are marked because of our intellect, I will say that. I want someone to do a piece on the origins of Disqus and who knows what who says. Thank you for continuing to be gentle with the comparatively naive, lol. Your outlaw billionaire is a great idea, but who will bell the cat, lolol.

          • alizardx

            Disqus is a VC-funded startup – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disqus . I don’t expect privacy in public discussions using it, but I don’t expect it anywhere else in Internet public space, either. Confidential discussions mean end-to-end encrypted, and if the NSA is interested in you, you’ve got trouble bigger than crypto can solve.

            Price of survival of technological civilization is finding a way to get the superwealthy under control so the resources they now control can be used for ensuring our survival instead of piling up in offshore bank accounts or invested in things that profit them but don’t address our problems. i predict the price won’t be paid until it’s way too late.

  • Ted Heistman

    Polar bears can swim.

    • Andrew

      Forever?

      • Ted Heistman

        Almost. They can swim 60 miles.

        • Andrew

          Phooey. That’s not even close.

          • Ted Heistman

            That’s while carrying a walrus.

  • http://twitter.com/praticuschaotic John Doe

    How are we outside of the natural world? How is what we do not considered natural? Are our conclusions not considered with the same eventuality? Not to say that we aren’t having an impact on the climate around us…but to say that it isn’t natural is absurd. Most of the people who hate on climate awareness are too stupid to be anything but absolutely natural.

  • Ted Heistman

    Control Freaks exist. Many of these types are in position of Power. The ultimate Control is to control the weather. Most human beings would see that desire as pathological. What’s wrong with relying on Mother nature?

    To “manufacture consent” for this enterprise of controlling the weather and by extension the climate as a whole-The case needs to be made that the weather/Climate has become defective. Its presented as hopelessly damaged beyond repair. We are in a crisis. We must take control of the Climate artificially or we are all doomed.

    The fact is its complete hubris. The climate can’t be controlled. This will just lead to further unintended consequences. I am not saying that pollution is Good. I am talking about how things are being set up, IMO.

    • alizardx

      We are already controlling the weather by dumping carbon by the gigaton into the atmosphere (among other things). The problem is that our control of the weather is using a method that guarantees the end of technological civilization if continued.

      The obvious answer, stop dumping carbon isn’t going to be tried until it’s way too late. I suspect that if technological civilization survives, it’ll be because the superwealthy finally figured out that dumping carbon will kill them as well as “the little people” … and by that time, geoengineering and mitigation / adaptation will be required as well as transition to renewables.

      I think it’s time to do serious geoengineering research … and figure out what coastal areas we can afford to lose and stop building there.

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