earth mother

Neoliberalism has put the blinders on public imagination, hindering our ability to envision, and thus build, a world free from fossil fuels. Fremstad and Paul

It’s the beginning of a new year and decade. 2020 beckons. Life is good, better than the human condition has ever been, but climate change is happening, is accelerating and has become an existential danger to everyone on the planet, to most species on the planet. Climate mitigation is beyond necessary and yet we’ve failed again with yet another decade’s precious time wasted.

There is (hopefully) still time for effective mitigation. We can imagine a successful transition and a much better, safer socio-economy for our continuing future evolution. But if we stay in myopic, denial-infested political and economic BAU and don’t treat climate as the emergency it has so surly become, if we don’t unblock so that effective mitigation becomes possible, if we just continue to waste time instead of providing leadership – our bright beginning 2020 vision will get relentlessly bleaker. Burning fossil fuels now produces a potentially fatal toxin and we must undergo treatment urgently or accept that climate change will be terminal.

Back in the 90s when climate mitigation planning began in earnest, decarbonization was conceived as renewable energy capacity expanding and out competing fossil fuels in existing markets, aided by carbon pricing or governmental incentives for renewables or both. Today this is just pretend mitigation wasting more precious time. There is not enough carbon budget left; investment in fossil fuel expansion continues largely unchecked; fossil fuel use is predicted to continue at present levels till at least 2040; and the only mitigation policies and instruments allowed such as carbon pricing must not effect all important GDP by even minor percentage points. Needed systemic change (other than market induced innovation) is not allowed. Few nations have reduced emissions even to the inadequate levels pledged in international agreements.

Three decades later fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise with a commensurate rise in temperature globally as well as rapidly acidifying oceans. Tipping points to runaway warming –  civilization if not humanity threatening  – are as close as wasting another decade without effective emission reduction.

As we begin 2020 we must have a vision of humanity’s future, an understanding of the climate dangers and how and why mitigation has failed.  To achieve effective mitigation we must escape myopia and denial with a clear eyed vision of what needs to happen. Climate change is now a serious threat to all of our futures. Listen to the children and catchup with the best climate science. Climate is an emergency now requiring urgent, deep systemic change to a global post-carbon socio-economy or we are all going to lose big, big time. Carbon lock-in, the Golden Straitjacket and the tragedy of the atmospheric commons must be recognized, addressed and conquered urgently so that effective mitigation becomes possible.

What is needed immediately is a switch of mitigation conception from the pretend, demand-side decarbonization orthodoxy to the addition of  presently heretical supply-side regulation. Our last hope is a regulated managed decline of fossil fuel production and use begun by those national producers wealthy and stable enough to lead. Emissions must be cut with both arms of the scissors.

Canada and/or Australia must lead. Both are important global producers and exporters who are experiencing rapid and threatening warming; both have socio-economies stable, wealthy and technologically proficient enough to make the transition to a post-carbon economy. The only successful way out of the commons problem is for one or more countries in this position to do the right thing and lead by winding down production.

The only way that either of these governments will be able to initiate a regulated managed decline is to form emergency wartime-style coalition governments .
Emergency government must be agreed to by present powerful actors. Business will have to lead (in their own self interest) by rolling back their capture of government and the Golden Straitjacket: their insistence upon smaller government and deregulation in the expansion of the global economy. Political actors on the right and left will have to agree on the need for bi-partisan co-operation, on the need for pragmatic emergency action instead of pursuit of ideological victory.

Reducing emissions by winding down fossil fuel production as fast as is possible without economic and political collapse will require strong governments but also fully functioning markets. Deep systemic change requires creative destruction with, crucially, continuing opportunity for growth in an economy stabilized as it was in Allied countries during World War 2. Proponents of both neolib orthodoxy and anti-capitalist revolution must bend to the realities of pragmatic mitigation, the rapid and deep real decarbonization now needed.

Emergency government is essential in disrupting carbon lock-in. Fossil fuels are phenomenal sources of energy. Over the past decade renewable capacity has grown exponentially but because of their great utility and wealth creation capacity fossil fuel use has still increased, has not been out competed. Like Mickey as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice we are trying but can’t stop the flow. Building renewable capacity isn’t the same thing as reducing GHG emissions.

But regulate a managed decline of fossil fuel production in fully functioning markets and the stage will be set for deep systemic change to a near future economy, safer and on a much solider footing for boundless human creativity. Get out of denial; roll back neoliberalism with a wartime-style emergency government; regulate the now deadly toxin; and construct (Green New Deal) a new post-carbon economy. (Finally, and hopefully in time.)

Bill Henderson is a climate activist



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