Thursday, June 18, 2015

Canticle of the Sun

Laudato Si (“Praise be to You, O my Lord!”)
St. Francis of Assisi - Anglican version

Yes, be praised in all your creatures
brother sun and sister moon
in the stars and in the wind,
air and fire and flowing water.

For our sister mother earth,
She who feeds us and sustains us;
For her fruits, her grass, her flowersfor the mountains and the oceans

Praise for those who spread forgiveness,
Those who share your peace with others,
Bearing trials and sickness bravely!
Even sister death won’t harm them.

For our life is but a song,
And the reason for our singing
Is to praise you for the music;
Join the dance of Your creation.

Praise to You, Father Most Holy,
Praise and thanks to You, Lord Jesus,
Praise to You, Most Holy Spirit

The encyclical released by the Vatican today (hosted on GCI's site) appears on the heels of a leaked draft of this position by the Church a few days ago. It's led to speculation that Francis’ remarks on it will not only say climate change is real and caused by humans, but will explain how that happens according to the vast majority of scientists. Which of course is a stunning change of direction for this institution, but it highlights the critical nature of the planetary crisis that we're heading into. The Church also embraces the idea that people of faith and people of science can complement one another.

Upon its release today, the New York Times has signaled it as a call for swift action on climate change from an increasingly popular world religious leader. The encyclical is seen as an unsubtle nudge for action, even as it provides support for leaders faced with tough choices in countries with large numbers of Catholics. It goes on to outline an analysis of key portions of its statements in an interactive online format.

The Vatican has done significant outreach with climate researchers and other governments in order to forge a strongly collaborative position and frame it within the broad parameters of Catholic theology. A very large tent, in other words, which creates a space within which the moral parameters of addressing climate change can be done by people all over the world.

Update 6/19/15: This encyclical will trigger a long over-due “global conversation of, how do we even define prosperity? Is it just accumulating more dollars or do we have to factor in being accountable for our impact on the planet and all people that live on it?”

Update 6/20/15:  Pope Francis attempted to start a global conversation yesterday with his new encyclical on the environment. Unlike most encyclicals, it was addressed not to Catholics, but to "every person living on this planet", and embraces science as part of its policy.

Update 6/30/15: Responses to the encyclical
Aubrey Meyer: Degrowth to avoid extreme damages
David Suzuki: Shift away from growth model
Herman Daly: New Theology of Creation is degrowth 

Update 7/13/15:  In one sense, Laudato si is a critique of 21st century capitalism and as a consequence also of the philosophical underpinnings of the industrial revolution.
After the encyclical, lessons for climate activism?

In thinking we were ensuring our survival, we created the conditions for our own destruction, as is now obvious in the actuality of climate change and of unsustainable production and consumption.

The ethical conundrum, from Don Brown (Oct. 3, 2015):
Ethics and Climate

And so, for 30 years, the opponents of climate change policies have succeeded in framing the climate debate in a way that ignores obvious ethical and moral problems,  Surprisingly both environmental organizations and the US press have failed to bring attention to the obvious moral problems with the arguments made by opponents of US climate change policies

Update 4/13/16:  "We have created a ‘throwaway’ culture which is now spreading.” Pope Francis 2013 Evangelii gaudium

Friday, June 12, 2015

Back to the Future

So what is drought? As discussed earlier, it's a condition where the population's requirements for water outrun the resources of a region or country. The MAHB covers this as well, noting that Taiwan is dealing with a severe water shortage, and we see this in devastating impacts in Kathmandu and Sao Paulo as well. It's a worldwide issue that we've seen coming for decades.

In California, the drought conditions are exacerbated by overuse of water from a formerly abundant system of water supply pipes and rivers from the Bay Delta and the Colorado River. It's a massive system of hydraulic engineering developed since well over 100 years ago to bring water into the drier areas of the state. This is a complex picture with no easy solutions and a lot of exhausted old ideas about how water is supplied and the way to keep the water supply system functioning without the environmental devastation that comes from the needs of nearly 40 million people, as well as the farming industry's demand of a significant portion of it. Devin Galloway, a scientist with the geological survey, sees devastation of a historic proportion returning to California. He says that even if farmers stopped pumping groundwater immediately, the damage already done to aquifers now drained to record-low levels will trigger sinking that will last for years, even decades.

A big part of the problem is the water contracts within this system, and as the chart above shows, the demand for water has now begun to outstrip the actual supply. Unfortunately the contracts held by the water suppliers in this system significantly exceed the actual supply of water, and are thus oversubscribed. But since these contracts are not adjusted, this "paper water" will continue to be sold to new water meters as development continues in the state. This slide is part of a presentation given by Bill Patzert, a climatologist with Caltech’s NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. He presented it at the beginning of this month, which is covered in an interview at LA Magazine. To quote him: "The biggest change is not a global warming-related increase in temperature. The biggest change stems from the extreme makeover we’ve done in California. In L.A., the average temperature has changed more than 5 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 150 years."

The public response to this drought has been a multiple-broadcast presentation by Governor Jerry Brown via television and internet media this last week, in a conversation at USC. He held forth about the need to deal with water resources intelligently. “The metaphor is spaceship Earth,” Brown said. “In a spaceship you reuse everything. Well, we’re in space and we have to find a way to reuse, and with enough science and enough funding we’ll get it done.”

So, our Governor Moonbeam is back, and in the driver's seat. Given his rhetoric, he's evidently aiming for COP 21 and a leadership position with the agreements he's forged with the western states, Canada, China and India. This should prove to be a very interesting year.

Update 7/14/15: Historical background of California’s water crisis; the “paper water” principle is similar to financial derivatives, as paper water can be traded without the need for any tangible collateral. Real estate speculators saw this as a true chimera, enabling them to build virtually anywhere, regardless of the presence of water.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Another World Environment Day

Today, World Environment Day (WED) is celebrated every year on 5 June to raise global awareness to take positive environmental action to protect nature and the planet Earth. It is run by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).It was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1972 on the day that United Nations Conference on the Human Environment began.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon makes very clear that “Humanity continues to consume far more natural resources than the planet can sustainably provide,” and invites the world's citizens to become agents of change to our capitalist system that's destroying the environment.

This is a strong counterpoint to the emerging thought in the Ecomodernist Manifesto sponsored by the Breakthrough Institute. It takes a position that rejects the idea “that human societies must harmonize with nature to avoid economic and ecological collapse,” and instead argues that what is needed is a reliance on technologies, from nuclear power to carbon capture and storage, that allow for a “decoupling [of] human development from environmental impacts.” A group of over fifteen researchers from the degrowth scholarship community has written a detailed refutation of the Ecomodernist Manifesto, which assumes that growth is a given, decouples growth from impacts, and it ignores the lessons of ecology and thermodynamics, which teach us that species (and societies) have natural limits to growth. Ecomodernism is condescending toward pre-industrial, agrarian, non-industrialized societies, and the Global South. It's basically a justification for greenwashing.

Another variant on this perspective is "Greening of Capitalism" by John A. Mathews of Macquarie University's Graduate School of Management in Sydney. The final chapter of this book brings together all the elements of the green that is emerging in the 21st century, where the firm itself can grow but the system as a whole remains within its ecological limits. But the assumption that the circular economy proposes here doesn't address the impact of growth on planetary resources, and, frankly, the continuing emissions created by all human activities driven by energy growth: even wind, solar, tide, geothermal and hydroelectric. A system re-designed to operate in this fashion doesn't reverse the damage that we've done fast enough to keep the planet from undergoing ecological disintegration.

The UN is quite evidently trying to steer a path for human civilization that avoids the worst of what's upon us and allows the human community to engineer a sustainable path to a smaller and regenerative civilization. This December's COP 21 agreement should prove to be a critical point on that path.