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The World's Most Radical Scientist and Other Topics

#1
A lengthy exchange of emails began with a post calling attention to an article characterizing Guy McPherson as "the world's most radical scientist." The discussion took off from there. I have brought it here to make it publicly accessible. You can join the discussion here on the forum by posting a reply.

On Sat, Jun 23, 2018 at 10:58 AM, Günther Rückl wrote:

The World’s Most Radical Scientist
Articles

http://fatcatinvest.com/worlds-most-radical-scientist/

http://fatcatinvest.com/worlds-most-radical-scientist-2/

Linear developments are the most unlikely scenario. I wonder that anyone would even consider linearity. A feedback loop results in non-linearity. It can only be compensated by a opposing feedback loop of equal impact. In our case there are multiple feedback loops; as a result an impressive if not shocking asymptotic heat build-up is not an impossibility. What is really upsetting is the impossibility to openly discuss models. Science without open exchange does not meet the operative principles of science. An example in the area of history and politics: It has become prohibitive to re-examine the Holocaust or criticize Israel. Bad times, my friends...

Gunther


On 06/23/2018 02:28 PM, Shanelle LeFage wrote:

I love Guy McPherson's work. I got to hang out with him and his partner Pauline in LA when he gave a presentation there, and it was great. I do believe humanity faces near-term human extinction. He also talks a lot about how civilization could collapse shortly after it experiences its first ice-free Arctic summer (which will probably happen before 2020).

Good stuff. Thanks for sending!


On Sun, Jun 24, 2018, 11:12 AM Dan Fischer wrote:

I didn't notice anything "radical" in McPherson's interview. I just saw total hopelessness and defeatism. It's telling that this appeared on a financial website called "Fat Cat Investor." For capitalists like them, hopelessness is an all-too convenient tool for dissuading people from participating in social struggle. I do think we should take the worst-case scenarios very seriously (even ones this fringe among scientists), but that's not an excuse to give up. What if he's wrong? What if there is still time to minimize catastrophe? McPherson's suggestions "We're all about to die" and "brace for impact!” seem like good excuses, but in my opinion they're extremely convenient for defenders of the status quo.


On 06/25/2018 03:44 AM, Shanelle LeFage wrote:

Dan and David,

If a doctor tells you that you have six months to live, would you roll over and die or would you live your life more fully knowing that you have a very limited amount of time left?

There is actually nothing wrong with living a hope-free life. People don't change anything because they keep hoping things will get better. Hope might work for you but it doesn't work for me, it doesn't work for Chris Hedges, it doesn't work for Derrick Jensen, and it doesn't work for many other people in the world. People who understand our climate predicament are going to have different ways of dealing with the information, and we need to accept that. I'm tired of hopists preaching to the world about the importance of holding on to hope. Worst-case predictions are the most accurate, the era of stable climate is over, and an increasing number of scientists, activists, and journalists are saying that we are completely fucked. And there is nothing wrong with saying that. There is actually nothing wrong with saying "we're fucked" or "we're doomed." In fact, Mayer Hillman recently said, "We're doomed. The outcome is death, and it’s the end of most life on the planet because we’re so dependent on the burning of fossil fuels. There are no means of reversing the process which is melting the polar ice caps. And very few appear to be prepared to say so.” And you guys didn't criticize him for saying so.

My own opinion is that people should do the right thing, not because they think they're going to save the world, but because it's the right thing to do. People can accept that they're fucked and also take right action. As a 25-year-old, I must say that I believe it's time for older generations to tell younger people that they could witness the extinction of humanity and instead of telling them to "save the world," let them decide how they would like to move forward. And if some people want to give up on humanity, that's OK.

As for Guy McPherson, I suggest you get more familiar with his work. One of you guys wrote that he's an ecologist, not a climatologist. So what? He has gathered information from scientists like Natalia Shakhova, Peter Wadhams, James Hansen, and others, and he supports what he says with evidence. I actually met and spoke with a climate scientist who worked with Natalia Shakhova and he told me that we're fucked. And there are many climate scientists who agree with him. Why do so many SCNCCers try to avoid this conversation?

Also, years ago Guy actually wrote about solutions. He's been interviewed by many, many journalists, including David Wallace-Wells for "The Uninhabitable Earth. " Also see this and this.

If you believe that taking action will prevent a mass extinction event that is already underway, that's fine. I believe human extinction is inevitable at this point, and that's also fine. It hasn't stopped me from doing what I believe is right and I have not given up on everything. But I get what you guys are saying — "if people think we're fucked then they won't do anything" — but that's not true.

"The yearning for positivism that pervades our corporate culture ignores human nature and human history. But to challenge it, to state the obvious fact that things are getting worse, and may soon get much worse, is to be tossed out of the circle of magical thinking that defines American and much of Western culture. The left is as infected with this mania for hope as the right. It is a mania that obscures reality even as global capitalism disintegrates and the ecosystem unravels, potentially dooming us all." — Chris Hedges


On 06/25/2018 09:17 AM, Dan Fischer wrote:

Shanelle,

We probably disagree on less than you think, and you seem to make many unfounded assumptions about my perspective. For instance, I never said "taking action will prevent a mass extinction event that is already underway." Of course we can't totally prevent something that already started! Nor am I unfamiliar with or unappreciative of the authors you mentioned, including McPherson. I will say, though, that if you wish to demonstrate the possibility of a hopeless yet truly radical politics, then the virulently anti-black bloc Chris Hedges and the transphobic Derrick Jensen are horrible examples. I am not of an "older generation" than you, and I was invited to join this listserv last year after It's Going Down published my article criticizing David Wallace-Wells's piece (which you cited) for not going far enough in emphasizing the dangers presently faced by human and nonhuman life. I think human extinction is a very real possibility; in fact I'm pretty surprised it hasn't happened already!

But if you look at what scientists are saying, there is no consensus that we are all irrevocably doomed. Far from it! What doctors are saying, to use your metaphor, is not "you have six months to live" but "you might only have six months to live and there are certain ways of living that might beat the disease!" It means, as you have previously proposed, drastically reducing or even abolishing the workweek. It means making our energy sources fully renewable in less than a decade. It means massive reforestation and going nearly vegan as a civilization. It means embracing the principles of Environmental Justice including the non-anthropocentric affirmation of "the sacredness of Mother Earth, ecological unity and the interdependence of all species, and the right to be free from ecological destruction." It means saying goodbye to capitalism and its #1 defender: the state. No doubt, if you strip past the greenwashing in most of the "solutions" discourse, then it's clear we need nothing short of a social revolution and a new way of life that cuts the Global North's consumption by 90 percent and values experiences the way we currently value things.

And all this, of course, requires taking actions that are scary and uncomfortable in a world where we've forgotten how to truly hope. I really believe that many of us are far more afraid of life than we are of death. Hierarchical, bureaucratic societies are inflicted with what Erich Fromm in 1963 called necrophilia, the love of death and the non-alive. That's why people turn on the TV and spend hours and hours watching scenes of slaughter and of sterility. And it's why people well-versed in the science and with no paycheck from an oil company still opt for self-delusion and put their faith in greenwashed solutions (like carbon taxes and clean fracking) that they know in their heart of hearts are designed to fail. In a world without hope, it's much scarier for people to hear "We still might have time so we need to fight" than it is to hear "We're doomed." The former is radical and it means we need to learn how to love life again and even fight for it. It means taking risks and leaving comfort zones. The latter is, in my experience, often or usually an excuse for giving up.

There might be some exceptions, such as yourself: people who believe in resistance despite believing we're totally fucked no matter what. But I was disturbed to hear you say "And if some people want to give up on humanity, that's OK." I'm truly sorry, but that sounds awfully necrophilic to me. And McPherson's own suggestion in the original post-- "brace for impact!" -- was hardly radical, hence it being published in Fat Cat Investor. While you were able to dig up some perfectly reasonable suggestions by McPherson for "agrarian anarchy" from 6 years ago, I have not seen or heard him make any such proposals in the multiple podcasts, articles, and interviews I've listened to or read by him in the past couple years. His overall message does seem to be "give up"; it did in the original post, at least. Also, as I indicated above, the hope-bashing Jensen and Hedges are not good examples of radicals. I might be more persuaded in the promise of hopeless radicalism if you elaborated more on what "right action" is and how it is defined; I currently do not see what makes resistance "right" if there is absolutely no hope in hell that it will make a difference.

So yes, I believe in the importance of hope. You said, "People don't change anything because they keep hoping things will get better." Of course not! But not all hope is passive. In 1973, Fromm proposed "active hope"--neither optimism nor pessimism--for revolution. This hope "is impatient and active, looking for every possibility of action within the realm of real possibilities." That's the kind of hope I think is important. It's easy to feel defeatist and hopeless, and I remember feeling that way back in 2011 when I heard about a protest being planned in New York. I figured I'd go check it out, though, and in fact I organized a carpool of about 15 to 20 people from my college. We all thought it would be just a fun way to spend a day or two. The protest was called "Occupy Wall Street" and for all its many faults it blew up and became a global phenomenon that changed much of our society's consciousness and discourse on social issues. A few years later, people our age and a bit younger even voted overwhelmingly for a politician calling for "socialism" and "revolution."

Below, I paste the conclusion of that article that I mentioned I wrote. As you'll see if you read the whole thing, there is plenty of gloom and doom in it, but I ended on a note of hope nonetheless. I do not think it was a particularly great article, and I only expected a couple people to ever read it. But before I knew it, it had been shared on Facebook about 1,000 times if you count the repostings from various other websites including SCNCC's. For some reason it caught on with a lot of people. And I found that hopeful.

Avoiding the mere possibility of global omnicide—the murder of everything—should be the top priority of all life-loving people, even if it means stepping out of comfort zones and experimenting with something as difficult and unwieldy as “revolution.” Mainstream politicians (of course deceptively) are using that word these days, a symptom of popular desire for transformative change...

There may still be time to stop the Earth’s executioners before they finish the deed, if today’s social struggles are willing to engage in what Edelman called “truly gigantic efforts.” At worst, the movements might go down fighting. At best, they might liberate the world. Less time at work, more time in the forests! Less private televisions, more bonfires! Less bombs, more picnics! Less roads, more wolves! Less billboards, more graffiti! Less cops, more libraries! Less Burger Kings, more neighborhood gardens!

Best,
Dan


On 06/25/2018 06:16 PM, Steve Ongerth wrote:

I second much of what Dan has to say here.

I also want to point out that I read a good deal of climate news and Guy McPherson’s positions are considered “fringe” by most of them (they don’t name him specifically, but almost *nobody*, even the most pessimistic scientists, think we’re doomed—at least not that much).

McPherson is probably Global Warming’s answer to Matt Savinar (i.e. “Peak Oil”).

-In Solidarity,

Steve Ongerth


On Tue, Jun 26, 2018 at 8:31 AM, Dan Fischer wrote:

Shanelle wrote: "Discussions about changing things at some point in the future (maybe 2040, maybe 2050, maybe 2060) just seem silly to me and the constant focus on the future is why nothing ever changes. I understand that we can't simply change everything overnight, but there's a much greater chance that things will change much more quickly if we start focusing on the now."

There's a reason why I never mentioned those far-off dates (2040, 2050, 2060) in my previous email but instead advocated social revolution that would rapidly implement needed changes starting now. I agree we shouldn't put off transformative changes to the distant future. The reformist route of advocating such-and-such percentage of CO2 cuts by 2030 or 2040 is not just "silly" but also totally inadequate for addressing eco-catastrophe.

That said, I seriously doubt that our movements can achieve deep social transformation without being at least somewhat future-oriented. If humanity definitely won't be here in a couple decades, why bother fixing society? I know a few committed activists who are able to inwardly resolve that dilemma. But in my past experience as an organizer it is impossible to sustainably motivate either myself or others without an inspiring long-term vision to build towards. The historian and former SNCC activist Staughton Lynd said in Wobblies and Zapatistas that social change happens when people are "long distance runners" as opposed to "sprinters." Change happens when movement participants over the long haul keep their "eyes on the prize" as a civil rights folk song said. It happens when people go relatively "slow but far" in the words of a snail painted on the side of a building I saw when I visited Mexico's Zapatistas.

After all, we do have to "change everything" and as Shanelle herself said "we can't simply change everything overnight." Thus, I'd argue that a radically transformative politics is impossible if we do not hold out hope for humanity's survival. Without such hope, there might not be grounds for any meaningful politics at all, as Hannah Arendt wrote in The Human Condition:

"If the world is to contain a public space, it cannot be erected for one generation and planned for the living only; it must transcend the life-span of mortal men. Without this transcendence into a [society's] potential earthly immortality, no politics, strictly speaking, no common world and no public realm, is possible."

I think it's telling that none of the hopeless "radicals" Shanelle mentioned are revolutionists. They don't think masses of people can transform everything . Hedges is not a revolutionist but rather a not-in-my-backyard pacifist who takes every opportunity to smear potentially revolutionary movements (such as antifa and Occupy's black bloc participants) in the United States. Jensen is not a revolutionist but rather a vanguardist primitivist who thinks a small group can affect transformation with help from a civilizational collapse. This collapse, aside from being genocidal, is far from certain to happen in the near-term. Jensen's Deep Green Reistance book predicted civilization would collapse in 2015, but three years after that date the collapse still hasn't happened. I had already read Jensen's essay "Beyond Hope" that Shanelle cited, since it is included in the book Endgame that I read about eight years ago. One problem with that essay is that it only examines the passive sort of hope: the hope that change will come from above. It ignores the active hope that Erich Fromm advocated and that I described in my previous email. Active hope entails hope that you and I can change things ourselves, rather than waiting for salvation from the government or corporations or from a civilizational collapse.

Steve wrote: "I also want to point out that I read a good deal of climate news and Guy McPherson’s positions are considered “fringe” by most of them (they don’t name him specifically, but almost *nobody*, even the most pessimistic scientists, think we’re doomed—at least not that much)."

Yes, exactly. If you look at what the vast majority of scientists are saying, then it's clear McPherson's views are extremely fringe. It is worthwhile to (critically of course) read mainstream responses of him at the links here and here. McPherson himself admits to "cherry picking information about climate change." It is very important to keep in mind the worst-case scenarios as a possibility. But it is irrational to view these particular predictions as certain or even as likely. After all, McPherson has gotten a lot wrong in the past, as Ted pointed out on another thread: "For the record, back in 2008, McPherson claimed that price of oil would be over $400 within 10 years (like NOW, in other words); this would lead to food and water shortages resulting in the end of civilization. Now, he is predicting near-term human extinction (within his rolling 10-year horizon for catastrophe)."

Compare this record to that of James Hansen whose predictions have been time and again proven right. Hansen argues there is still time to stabilize global warming below 1 degree C, although he does advocate very problematic technologies. Several recent high-profile studies show that it may still be possible to stabilize warming below 1.5 degrees without using geoengineering. Jacobson and Delucchi's (flawed) plans for 100% renewable energy also have very hopeful implications. These scientists could be wrong, of course! But we also shouldn't rule out the possibility that they might be right! If anything these studies probably understate the reasons for hope since they all assume capitalism's continuation. Stabilizing warming at ambitious levels would be more possible (and much less contingent on geoengineering) in a social revolutionary context: in a context of rapid degrowth, demilitarism, widespread rewilding, and so on.


On 6/26/2018 9:17 AM, Shanelle LeFage wrote:

Once again, Dan, I agree with you about Jensen and DGR. But just because I don't like him doesn't mean I have to dislike all of his writing. I like that essay.

As for Chris Hedges, I like him. He's not a fan of anarchism, but I still like him. I think he's done a lot of good, and I like his writing. Just because I don't agree with someone all the time, doesn't mean I have to dislike that person or that person's writing. And I'm not going to overlook all the good things he has done just because I don't agree with him 100% of the time.

Actually, many of my favorite journalists are socialists, not anarchists. This includes people like Chris Hedges and Abby Martin and Patrick Lawrence, all of whom want revolutionary change and probably none of them are big fans of anarchism.

I had actually sent out Guy's article about cherry picking last year, so I am already aware of that. I'm not going to debate whether he's right or wrong. But I like his work.

As for your remark about stabilizing global warming below 1°C, we're already beyond 1°C above pre-industrial levels and yes, James Hansen said we need negative emissions.

As for what you wrote about hope, I don't have a problem with it. But we need to understand that that's not going to work for everyone because everyone is different and has a different perspective.


On Tue, Jun 26, 2018 at 10:14 AM, Brad Hornick wrote:

Thanks to all of you for your input into this discussion - I enjoy reading everyone's perspectives on the subject. Just re-read John's article posted on our site here - thought it makes a lot of good points: Abrupt Climate Justice


On 06/26/2018 10:13 PM, Shanelle LeFage wrote:

Thanks for sharing, Brad.

I also want to quickly share two articles by David Spratt in response to the discussion about limiting warming.
Dan wrote: Hansen argues there is still time to stabilize global warming below 1 degree C, although he does advocate very problematic technologies. Several recent high-profile studies show that it may still be possible to stabilize warming below 1.5 degrees without using geoengineering.

John wrote: We already knew that time is short: Carbon Brief’s meticulous carbon budgets tell us that we have perhaps four years of current-level GHG emissions left before we pass 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming.

People can read the articles by David Spratt here:

Unraveling the myth of a "carbon budget" for 1.5C

Quantifying our Faustian bargain with fossil fuels

Dan also wrote:

Shanelle wrote: "Discussions about changing things at some point in the future (maybe 2040, maybe 2050, maybe 2060) just seem silly to me and the constant focus on the future is why nothing ever changes. I understand that we can't simply change everything overnight, but there's a much greater chance that things will change much more quickly if we start focusing on the now."

There's a reason why I never mentioned those far-off dates (2040, 2050, 2060) in my previous email but instead advocated social revolution that would rapidly implement needed changes starting now. I agree we shouldn't put off transformative changes to the distant future. The reformist route of advocating such-and-such percentage of CO2 cuts by 2030 or 2040 is not just "silly" but also totally inadequate for addressing eco-catastrophe.

I just want to say that I totally agree with Dan that we shouldn't put off transformative changes to the distant future.


On Wed, Jun 27, 2018 at 6:40 AM, Dan Fischer wrote:

At least one person wildly misinterpreted my emails, so I want to respond below.

Günther Rückl wrote (pressing reply instead of reply all):

Dan, for how long are you wiling to wait to do something to minimize catastrophe? Catastrophe will outrun every technological approach. If McPherson is correct we will enter the asymptotic part of the temperature curve very soon, in less than 10 years. To start tinkering then will not save us. I am certain the rich are already building environments that will allow them to survive a few more years. On the other hand you are correct; there is money to be made from doomsaying.

I'm accused of saying we should "wait to do something," perhaps by nearly a decade. What I actually said, repeatedly, was we need "social revolution that would rapidly implement needed changes starting now." I recognize that is not an overnight or simple solution, but it is the fastest method I know about for the enormous (and perhaps impossible) task of building a ecosocialist society. If someone on here knows of a faster method, then please let me know.

I hope I did not give anyone else the false impression that I believe we should wait nearly a decade to "start tinkering." For some insight into what an eco-Anarchist revolution could be like, I recommend Javier Sethness Castro's book Imperiled Life: Revolution Against Climate Catastrophe as well as Steven Best and Anthony Nocella's edited collection Igniting a Revolution: Voices in Defense of the Earth.

As Rosa Luxemburg said, "Act quickly! In world history, the revolution's hours count for months and its days for years." Revolution makes rapidly possible transformations that would otherwise take years or decades. That's why the Syrian Anarchist revolutionary and martyr Omar Aziz urged people to abandon "authority's time" and instead "live in revolutionary time." Following his recommendations, Syrians since 2011 built 395 autonomous self-governing councils that for a while kept society's bare bones implausibly running in the face of state colapse and genocidal attacks. While this rapid and dramatic social transformation--only possible in "revolutionary time"--was not necessarily ecologically-oriented, the parallel transformation in the majority-Kurdish region of Rojava or Northern Syria is explicitly ecologically oriented (largely inspired by Murray Bookchin's ideas) and has made incredible gains in against patriarchy and jihadism in just a few years. We should take a cue from these examples and, as Luxemburg urged, "Act quickly!"

Shanelle wrote "we're already beyond 1°C above pre-industrial levels and yes, James Hansen said we need negative emissions." Shanelle also wrote "I also want to quickly share two articles by David Spratt in response to the discussion about limiting warming."

As ecosocialists, we should oppose geoengineering methods such as BECCs and SRM and land grabs done in the name of reforestation. However, there are safe ways of potentially achieving negative emissions. The permaculturist (and Social Ecologist) Eric Toensmeier has written on how small farmers and communities can implement methods of "carbon farming" that can "sequester carbon in the soil and in aboveground biomass." Toensmeier reports that these methods can help "return our atmosphere to the 'magic number' of 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide." Hansen's paper says much of the needed negative emissions can come from "improved agricultural and forestry practices." Ecofys researchers advocate negative emissions through “afforestation, reforestation, and soil carbon sequestration."

Spratt's articles are excellent, and I have cited and linked to Spratt's work before, here and here. I agree there is no carbon budget left and that past emissions have already created an unacceptable risk of permanently surpassing the 1° and 1.5°, and 2°C levels. However, an unacceptable risk does not equate to full certainty. I have already linked in this thread to the predictions of multiple leading scientists and researchers--including Hansen--that there is still a chance of achieving these very ambitious stabilization targets. We should not budget extra time or carbon: Of course not!! But I also don't think we should give up on these crucial targets. Rather, I fully agree with Spratt (in the article you linked to): "Thus, achieving 1.5°C in the medium term means drawing down every ton of carbon dioxide emitted from now on." I do not share Spratt's quasi-endorsement of SRM.


On 06/27/2018 02:02 PM, David Klein wrote:

Thanks Dan and Shanelle for this interesting discussion. I'd make a comment about these observations from Dan:

As ecosocialists, we should oppose geoengineering methods such as BECCs and SRM and land grabs done in the name of reforestation. However, there are safe ways of potentially achieving negative emissions. The permaculturist (and Social Ecologist) Eric Toensmeier has written on how small farmers and communities can implement methods of "carbon farming" that can "sequester carbon in the soil and in aboveground biomass." Toensmeier reports that these methods can help "return our atmosphere to the 'magic number' of 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide." Hansen's paper says much of the needed negative emissions can come from "improved agricultural and forestry practices." Ecofys researchers advocate negative emissions through “afforestation, reforestation, and soil carbon sequestration."

Do any of these references (aside from Hansen) talk about maximum carbon sequestration capacity of the soils and above ground biomass? A lot of the glowingly optimistic articles I've seen along these lines focus on increasing rates of carbon absorption by the soils under various conditions, but they ignore this vital question. To their credit Hansen et al do deal with it in the paper you cited as follows:

"Smith (2016) estimates that soil carbon sequestration has potential to store 0.7 PgC yr−1. However, as with carbon storage in forest, there is a saturation effect. A commonly used 20-year saturation time (IPCC, 2006) would yield 14 PgC soil carbon storage, while an optimistic 50-year saturation time would yield 35 PgC. Use of biochar to improve soil fertility provides additional carbon storage of up to 0.7–1.8 PgC yr−1 (Woolf et al., 2010; Smith, 2016). Larger industrial-scale biochar carbon storage is conceivable, but belongs in the category of intensive negative emission technologies, discussed below, whose environmental impacts and costs require scrutiny. We conclude that 100 PgC is an appropriate ambitious estimate for potential carbon extraction via a concerted global-scale effort to improve agricultural and forestry practices with carbon drawdown as a prime objective."

For those not familiar with the units, 1 petrogram of carbon (PgC) is the same as 1 billion metric tons of carbon (a metric ton is about 2200 pounds, so 10% larger than 1 ton in US standard units). Hansen et al estimate a maximum practical carbon sequestration capacity of the world's soils and biomass of 100 billion metric tons.

How much carbon has humanity already emitted into the atmosphere from deforestation so far? According to the IPCC, the cumulative carbon emissions from 1750 to 2011 is 555 billion tons, of which 375 billion tons came from burning fossil fuels and 180 billion tons from deforestation and land use.

I don't think that humanity can do better than what nature accomplished over millions of years in terms of storing carbon in the soils. If you agree that means there is an absolute ceiling of 180 billion metric tons of carbon that the world's soils and bio mass can hold, but from a practical point of view, Hansen's number of 100 GtC is probably the best possible through intensive organic farming, biochar use, world-wide veganism, etc.

Unfortunately, 100 GtC is not enough to keep us below 1.5C even with zero GHG emissions, as Hansen et al observe and analyze. Ultimately the topic of carbon extraction and storage needs to be on the table for any post capitalist era, and possibly before.

David


On Sun, Jul 1, 2018 at 4:02 PM, Dan Fischer wrote:

I just returned from a short camping trip, so I have not fully caught up on this thread. For now, I want to respond to David's 27 July email which seemed to argue for geoengineering methods such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) to be "on the table." As I argued in earlier emails, sequestration from improved farming and forestry methods make the the 1C and 1.5C targets potentially achievable, without geoengineering.

David asked: "Do any of these references (aside from Hansen) talk about maximum carbon sequestration capacity of the soils and above ground biomass?

Yes, the estimates in these sources range from about 100 GtC to well above 200 GtC. As David pointed out, Hansen estimates a maximum sequestration capacity of 100 billion tons of carbon (GtC), which is equivalent to 367 billion tons of CO2. A recent study in Nature Climate Change titled "Alternative pathways to the 1.5° C target reduce the need for negative emission technologies" (PDF temporarily available here) says reforestation can capture at least 400 billion tons of CO2. That's somewhat higher than Hansen's estimate of 367 billion tons of CO2. More optimistically, Eric Toensmeier writes in The Carbon Farming Solution that soils and biomass can sequester at least 200 billion tons of carbon out of an estimated "maximum sequestration capacity of soils and biomass, estimated at 320 billion tons." (320 billion tons is the amount that's been emitted from land clearing since the dawn of agriculture. In contrast, your "absolute ceiling of 180 billion" refers only to land clearing's emissions since 1750). Toensmeier does clarify that sequestering 320 billion tons is virtually impossible because people need land to live on and farm on. But even the former figure of 200 GtC is equivalent to 734 billion tons of CO2, which is double Hansen's estimate.

Granted, to envision necessary levels of sequestration, I think we need to picture a world quite radically transformed into what Toensmeier called (in a seminar) an "edible paradise." It reminds me of a conversation I had with Common Ground co-founder scott crow a few years ago and he said, "What would an anarchist society look like?" I started answering by describing some direct democratic decision-making process and he interrupted me: "What would it look like?" He pointed to the private refrigerator in my kitchen and said "Would that be there?" That's the sort of thinking we need to engage in. We need visions: Roads and lawns ripped out and organic gardens planted instead. Parking lots and factories turned into small forests. Trees as ubiquitous as concrete used to be. Fresh fruit and vegetables to pick pretty much everywhere outdoors where you walk, bike, or ride in solar-powered carts and gondolas. Sorry to get all utopian but I think it's rather necessary since it's either that or face annihilation.

David also wrote: "Unfortunately, 100 GtC is not enough to keep us below 1.5C even with zero GHG emissions, as Hansen et al observe and analyze. Ultimately the topic of carbon extraction and storage needs to be on the table for any post capitalist era, and possibly before."

Actually, 100 GtC (not to mention the higher estimates cited above) might be sufficient when coupled with a much more rapid fossil fuel drawdown than Hansen considers. The most ambitious drawdown that Hansen considers is a 6 percent annual reduction of greenhouse gases. In Hansen's most ambitious scenario, there would still be fossil fuel use well past 2030, 2040, 2050, and 2060, as shown in Figure 10a on page 587. Ecosocialists should call for a much more rapid transition to an ecological society; I quoted in an earlier email Energy Justice Network saying 100% renewable energy can be achieved well before 2030. And in such a rapid transition, non-geoengineering methods of negative emissions might make the 1C and 1.5C targets still possible. Here are some reports that support this.

(1) A recently leaked draft IPCC report finds that for a 50% chance of achieving 1.5C there is a remaining carbon budget of 750 GtCO2, and for a 67% chance there's an budget of 550 GtCO2. While that leaves us very little time, it does not leave us with no time. The report explains that BECCS is not needed: "1.5°-consistent pathways can have different levels of carbon dioxide removal (CDR). Some limit global warming to 1.5°C without relying on bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS)."

(2) Toensmeier's book says that permaculture-inspired "carbon farming" methods can help bring atmospheric CO2 below 350 ppm without the need for geoengineering. 350 ppm is consistent with the 1C target according to Hansen. As an aside, I can point anyone in a private email to a free e-copy of Toensmeier's book, although I plan on purchasing a hard copy in order to support the author and I encourage others to do the same.

(3) The Nature Climate Change study finds that the need for geoengineering methods such as BECCS could be completely eliminated if a very ambitious set of strategies are used. They say, "To reduce BECCS use to zero in IMAGE, all options would have to be combined." Granted, the authors say this pathway is very unlikely, but that is largely because they do not consider what is possible outside of a capitalist framework. In a journalistic summary, David Roberts writes, "Overall, a radical energy transition would mean a net boost in global GDP (relative to the reference case) in every year through 2050." If an ecosocialist transformation eliminated the need for GDP growth, then a much faster carbon drawdown could occur and reduce the need for BECCS.

(4) Ecofys finds that "afforestation, reforestation, and soil carbon sequestration" make it "possible to stay within a carbon budget compatible with a maximum temperature increase of 1.5° C." Granted, the scenario in this study does include a minimal use of BECCs. But that's only because the authors also assume economic growth as a given and thus understate the potential pace of a rapid transition to 100% renewable energy. Their scenario allows global GDP to triple between 2014 and 2050. In an ecosocialist transition that did not require economic growth, the switch to all-renewables could be done faster.

David says "carbon extraction and storage needs to be on the table." By contrast, I think it is important for ecosocialists to oppose BECCS because its social and ecological risks are comparable to global warming, as the No to GE Trees campaign has pointed out for years. A recent Chicago Tribune article summarized that BECCS "would cause even bigger environmental problems, scientists say." It reported: "BECCS at such a scale would lead to millions of square miles of forest loss and large pressures on biodiversity, the study found. Meanwhile, the huge plantations would require tens of millions of tons of nitrogen fertilizer that would alter flow of this chemical around the Earth, and huge amounts of water — over a trillion tons of it each year."


On 07/02/2018 08:14 PM, David Klein wrote:

Dan,

On the optimism scale, I guess that I'm somewhere inbetween you and Shanelle. Shanelle anticipates a global temperature increase of 10C between 2021 and 2026, and the extinction of humanity within the next 8 years, whereas (as Iunderstand it) you think that we can limit the global temp increase to 1.5C or less through a sufficiently rapid decarbonization of the economy and massive drawdown of CO2 by the soils and land based biomass, with no need for additional artificial atmospheric extraction of CO2. I appreciate your clear explanations and your references, and though I hope you're right, I remain skeptical.

First a technical issue. Aiming for a threshold temperature increase like 1.5C is problematic and ambiguous because of differences between various assumptions, calculations, and differing global climate models, and even definitions: e.g. does this mean +1.5C by 2100 with a possible overshoot before then? After 2100? Or does it refer to the maximum carbon budget before reaching 1.5C with no regard to what happens after that? Etc. There is considerable controversy over the remaining carbon budget for 1.5C (including how to define it) with some studies indicating that we've already gone past it and therefore we are already committed to > 1.5C of warming, and other studies predicting another 15 years at current emission rates before reaching 1.5C, and still others with findings of just about everything inbetween.

For this reason, Hansen and other climate scientists prefer to aim for clearer targets like a maximum radiative forcing, or better yet, a maximum CO2 equivalent concentration in the atmosphere (taking other GHGs into account). This removes ambiguities inextricably bound with aiming for a maximum temperature increase. For the latter criterion, 350 ppm (or 350 parts per million) is the current maximum best estimate for a safe climate and that is why it is part of the name of 350.org. It should be noted, however, that 350 ppm could very well result in a slightly lower increase than 1.5C compared to pre-industrial values.

So that others less familiar with the units can make sense of some of the numbers, I'll mention (as you clearly already know) that there are two widely used ways to describe the quantity of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

One measure is the mass of carbon, C, in the atmosphere and the other is the mass of CO2 (carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere (or CO2-equivalents which includes other GHGs). The two numbers are related by a factor of 3.667, i.e., the total mass of CO2 is 3.667 times the total mass of C. This is because the two oxygen atoms, O2, attached to C in CO2 add that much weight. So Hansen et al's proposal that 100 GtC could be removed through aggressive afforestation, reforestation, and soil carbon sequestration is the same as saying 366.7 billion tons of CO2 can be removed that way (more-or-less).

The current CO2 concentration is about 406 ppm, or maybe higher. To go down to 350 ppm requires a draw down into the soils and surface biomas of 56 ppm. Each ppm (part per million) of CO2 represents 2.12 GtC, so we are talking about about 119 billion tons of carbon, or 3.667 x 119 = 436 billion tons of CO2.

This means that even if we went to zero GHG emissions worldwide right now, in order to get down to 350 ppm, plants and soils would have to absorb around 119 GtC, or 436 billion tons of CO2. You suggest (with the support of your references) that it is possible to draw down a whopping 180 GtC, the amount that humans caused to be released by the soils and biomass since 1750. And you suggest that even twice Hansen's estimate may be possible, with a draw down 200 GtC.

If this were even possible, how would the process of such a draw down of CO2 limit humanity's use of land for survival? The figure of 180 GtC is the amount that humans caused to be released by the soils and biomass since 1750, when there were only around 700 million people on the planet, less than 10% of the current world population. Do the authors you cite have in mind that over 90% the human population just vanishes? The situation is even more extreme with a draw down of 200 GtC (which I doubt is even physically possible). Perhaps an ideology consistent with this kind of "solution" might be Deep Green Resistance, with the vision of only a tiny fraction of humanity left to engage in hunter gatherer life styles, while not disturbing the soils or plant life of the planet very much.

So what about artificial CO2 extraction from the atmosphere, as Hansen et al conclude will be necessary? Contrary to what you wrote, I never mentioned BECCS and I don't support it for the reasons you mentioned. I'm not an expert on geoengineering research, but there may be other possibilities such as acclerated chemical weathering (with crushed gravel silicates like serpentine and olivine) or even BECCS but without the burning of plants. In other words repeatedly burying mature (unburnt) plants deep underground to remove CO2, and growing new ones rapidly to replace them, under the assumption (in a post capitalist world) of much lower energy consumption (so no need for burning).

Under the current dire circumstances, I don't think it is reasonable to exclude all forms of geoengineering under all circumstances, especially in a post capitalist (largely destroyed) world.

As another example, consider that the loss of aerosols concomitant with lower GHG emissions could increase global warming by 0.5C (as Shanelle and others have pointed out). Would it make sense to replace those aerosols with artificial ones through SRM in a scenario of rapid decrease of GHG emissins? No, never under any circumstances? While I completely agree and insist that under capitalism geoengineering would only make matters worse, I maintain that these topics should at least be on the table and considered for a post-capitalist (hopefully) ecosocialist society and possible means to help heal the planet.

David

P.S. The cumulative carbon emissions are the sum of the total CO2 emitted during a given period of time. Total cumulative emissions from 1870 to 2016 were 420±20 GtC (1539 GtCO2) from fossil fuels and industry, and 180±60 GtC (660 GtCO2) from land use change. The total of 600±65 GtC was partitioned among the atmosphere (245±5 GtC), ocean (145±20 GtC), and the land (190±45 GtC). Land-use change represents about 31% of cumulative emissions over 1870–2016, coal 32%, oil 25%, gas 10%, and others 3%.


On Tue, Jul 3, 2018 at 3:45 PM, Dan Fischer wrote:

Shanelle, David, Richard, and others,

In order to respect people's complaints about this listserv cluttering their inboxes, I combined three of my responses into one email and would be happy to continue our discussion privately off of the list. That said, I have felt this thread to be refreshing since it has addressed openly, clearly, and somewhat specifically people's worst-case fears, best-case hopes, revolutionary strategies, and motivations.

Some of this might be roughly written and incomplete, since I have tried to address a ton of topics in a very short amount of time and have to leave my computer right now. Anyway, I enjoyed reading this thread and collecting my thoughts in order to respond to the big ideas that have been brought up.

Shanelle,

You helpfully divided your "kind of long" response with headings, so I will respond using the same headings.

On Negative Emissions

You agree with me that grassroots carbon farming and reforestation are safe and should be pursued. You say these methods have "very limited potential" for sequestering carbon and you might be right. Yet I have shown serious and peer-reviewed studies that say these methods have enormous potential and might even bring humanity basically within reach of the 1.5C or even 1C targets. I am not certain that carbon farming would save humanity, but it sure seems like it might work, in tandem with other solutions, and that it is worth trying. At best, we might cool the planet. At worst, (and I realize this is much more grim) we'll grow fresh, local food that could make communities more self-reliant and resilient through a global collapse.

On the 2°C Target

I'm not totally sure why you included this heading, since I have never advocated the 2C target (and I am aware of its economic rather than scientific origins). Anyway, I agree we should seriously consider the worst-case scenarios. And we should do all we can both to try to prevent them and to try to adapt to them, although I'm not totally certain either is possible. The main thing I do not share with you is your relative certainty. I think the worst-case scenarios might happen but I don't know that they will happen or even that they're necessarily likely. You mention an estimate from Nature that there's only a 5% chance of people stabilizing warming below 2C. That study took economic growth as a given, and it did not consider ecosocialist degrowth scenarios. It says, "Policies to reduce GDP per capita seem unlikely" and thus its model "allows countries with high growth rates to continue growing fast in the short to medium term." I already knew that prospects for survival were bleak under a regime of economic growth (i.e. capitalism); that's why I'm an ecosocialist!

Autonomous Zones and Resistance in the Anthropocene

I appreciated and mostly agreed with your comments advocating autonomous zones. My extremely brief experiences in autonomous zones (including Occupy's Zuccotti Park and the Zapatistas' territories in Chiapas) have been life-changing. A recent study in Capital & Class found that the survival of autonomous zones (and more generally, the survival of strategies of what you have called exodus) can often be a determinant for the success or failure of entire revolutions such as Mexico 1910 and Russia 1917. Insofar as these zones are able to meet the needs of their residents, building autonomous zones can also be a critical method of engaging in what the Black Panthers called "survival pending revolution."

I'll add a caveat, though. It is a necessary tactic but not a sufficient strategy. On their own, autonomous zones won't take down ecocidal/omnicidal capitalism, and they often won't even survive state crackdown. The Occupy encampments were brutally crushed. The local councils and committees of the 2011 Syrian revolution have been targeted with barrel bombs. Rojava, probably one of today's most successful autonomous zones, has felt compelled to make agreements and tacit alliances with some of the most morally reprehensible world leaders (Putin, Assad, and Trump) who will almost certainly betray the Kurds as soon as the war on ISIS is over!

You quoted Graeber's Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology which advocates autonomous zones as part of a gradual process of social change. He rejects revolution as classically understood. Actually, within the Anarchist tradition, a number of thinkers have rightfully criticized his approach, pointing out that gradualism can often lead to even deadlier results than revolution does (and how much more true is this when one considers gradualism's inability to address global warming!): "Nazism came to power after the failure of the reformist, gradualist, policies of the German social democrats. Pinochet took power due to the reformist policies of Allende in Chile in the 70s — which irritated the rich and military but did not threaten to overturn them." Lately, even Graeber himself seems to have been coming to embrace rapid revolution: "Even many ostensible revolutionaries nowadays seem to have secretly abandoned the idea that a revolution is actually possible. Here I am using 'revolution' in its classical sense, let's say: the overthrow of an existing structure of power and the ruling class it supports by a popular uprising of some sort, and its replacement by new forms of bottom-up popular organization." To summarize, in my opinion we do need autonomous zones but we also need a lot more than just that. We also need strikes and general strikes, blockades, pickets, monkeywrenching, education, insurrections, community gardens, community solar and wind power, and much more. I am not attempting in this paragraph to present an adequate strategy but I just want to be clear that I am not in agreement with people like Peter Lamborn Wilson that autonomous zones are the single, central solution.

David,

I am glad to hear that I misunderstood you and that you do not support BECCS. I had gotten the impression that you did based on your approving citations of Hansen's pro-BECCS paper and your assertion that "carbon extraction and storage needs to be on the table." Still, you have clarified that you "don't think it is reasonable to exclude all forms of geoengineering." I follow the precautionary principle and thus would be willing to consider a geoengineering technique if (and only if) scientists one day prove it safe. As far as I know, the techniques you mentioned have not been proven safe but rather are considered very, very dangerous and even potentially worse than global warming itself! The ETC. Group's study Big Bad Fix summarizes, "All proposed geoengineering techniques have potentially negative environmental impacts."

Given how you said 100 GtC sequestration is "possible" without geoengineering, I do not think you addressed my argument that "100 GtC [...] might be sufficient when coupled with a [...] rapid fossil fuel drawdown."

  • The Nature Climate Change study relies on 109 GtC non-geoengineering sequestration to stabilize global warming below 1.5C, theoretically without BECCS. A more rapid fossil fuel phasedown could perhaps make at least 9 GtC sequestration unnecessary and bring the total within the range you consider possible.
  • Hansen's paper relies on 100 GtC non-geoengineering sequestration to stabilize global warming around 1C. Either a more rapid phasedown or an acceptance of the less ambitious 1.5C target could perhaps make unnecessary the BECCS he advocate.
  • The Ecofys scenario only relies on 89 GtC non-geoengineering sequestration to stabilize global warming below 1.5C. A more rapid phasedown could perhaps make unnecessary the minimal BECCS they advocate. (Note on calculation: They propose 4 GtCO2 annually until 2100. 4 GtCO2 times 82 years is 328 GtCO2. That divided by 3.67 is 89.)
You write, "The current CO2 concentration is about 406 ppm, or maybe higher. To go down to 350 ppm requires a draw down into the soils and surface biomas of 56 ppm. Each ppm (part per million) of CO2 represents 2.12 GtC, so we are talking about about 119 billion tons of carbon."

You make it sound like all the necessary drawdown of atmospheric CO2 would have to be done ourselves through additional sequestration. However, as I understand it, atmospheric carbon would decrease over time if humans simply stopped pumping more into the atmosphere. Hansen (2013) writes, "A pulse of CO2 injected into the air decays by half in about 25 years as CO2 is taken up by the ocean, biosphere and soil...Halting emissions in 2015 causes CO2 to decline to 350 ppm at century's end." This occurs even in the absence of his proposed 100 GtC from reforestation and improved agricultural practices.

You also write, "The figure of 180 GtC is the amount that humans caused to be released by the soils and biomass since 1750, when there were only around 700 million people on the planet, less than 10% of the current world population. Do the authors you cite have in mind that over 90% the human population just vanishes?"

So far, I hope to have shown that my argument for the 1C or 1.5C targets without geoengineering do not rely on estimates of sequestration higher than 100 GtC. However, I do not agree with you that aiming for >100 GtC sequestration is either unreasonable or that it implies a genocidal population reduction as you suggest!

Rather, as I said, these high levels of sequestration imply turning our towns and cities into permaculture paradises with carbon-sequestering organic gardens and farms basically everywhere. I'm not talking about non-intervention toward nonhuman nature or, to use your words, "not disturbing the soils or plant life very much." Rather, I'm talking about extensive cultivating of plants in ways that can cool the planet.

This massive sequestration also will require lots and lots of reforestation, but this does not mean we need land grabs. Rather, the global near-veganism I've advocated would free up enormous areas of land for reforestation. A recent Science study says if the world went vegan, the required land for farming would decrease by 76 percent! (Farming currently takes up 43% of the world's ice-free and desert-free land, and animal agriculture takes up 83% of that farmland.) Finally, as Steve has shared with me, a significant amount of sequestration can be done through ocean agriculture, which also does not infringe on people's lives or land needs.

Finally, since you have clarified your position, allow me to clarify mine. I do not think I am either an optimist or a pessimist. I have not said that safely reaching the 1C or 1.5C targets is definitely possible or even likely possible. I have only said that it might be possible, and I certainly think it is necessary to try. At worst, our efforts would still help at least minimize catastrophe.

Richard,

While I have appreciated your critiques of "green capitalism," I do not share your support for ecosocialist strategies based on state central planning. I tend to agree with with Joel Kovel (in Enemy of Nature) that state-based strategies suffer from "the state's original dilemma, that it stands over the whole of society, but is for society's ruling classes." When I saw Kovel speak at the SCNCC conference in New York a few years ago, he said that he had given up on hopes for an electoral ecosocialist strategy. He said he had learned the hard way (in 2000) that it didn't work. So far, I have found myself in agreement with him.

This is a huge topic that will not be resolved on this thread and unlike you I have not written prolifically on this topic. But I appreciate your willingness on this thread to offer a vision and strategy, and I wanted to share some doubts since I look forward to hearing your responses to them. You advocate that society "Nationalize/socialize fossil fuel industries and fossil-fuel dependent industries to phase them out." You consider this a transitional demand as we build a society that "Replace private ownership with public ownership of the means of production," which you clarify means primarily state control of big business.

While I am sure the state (at the moment I am picturing my own government in the USA) would be glad to receive the revenue from the fossil fuel industries, I do not think that it, even under enormous pressure or influence from the broad climate movement or even with DSA-backed Democrats in leadership, would be willing or necessarily capable of phasing out fossil fuels in a sustainable way. As I have separately claimed to you while citing James Scott's Seeing Like a State, the state (or any other centralized large institution) fundamentally acts in ways that might make sense "from above" but that are not primarily attuned to local ecological and social considerations. States see the "environment" from above and try to make it as "legible" and homogenous as possible...often with disastrous results.

As far as I know, Left and even self-proclaimed ecosocialist attempts at economic nationalization have not so far led to fossil fuels being phased out. The Left governments of Latin America's Pink Tide countries have not only continued to pursue oil-and-mining-centered extractivist economics but have repeatedly repressed their own citizens, especially indigenous peoples, in order to keep the extraction going! In Cuba, there has admittedly been a remarkable shift toward low-carbon forms of agriculture and transportation, but that only occurred only out of material necessity, once the country lost its Soviet oil shipments with the collapse of the USSR! If Cuba had oil, I cannot imagine that the government would refuse to mine it. By contrast, the stateless Zapatista communities, who "are often located near or directly over oil deposits," have decided not to extract the oil and have instead established ecological preservation areas, banned chemical pesticides, and taken sustained direct action--including a 16-month blockade from 1999 to 2000--to defend the land from encroachments by the mining and timber industries. (The Trotskyist writer Louis Proyect has criticized the Zapatistas for not taking state power in Mexico and exploiting the country's "abundant natural resources, including oil.")

Let's say though, hypothetically, that the state agreed to switch to 100% renewables. I do not think the state would implement this transition in a way that is ecologically or socially sustainable. Certainly, large corporations have not done so when they implement renewable energy from above. Consider: Solar power being used as a land grab in Morocco and the broader Sahara, and threatening tortoise habitat and indigenous burial sites in the Mojave Desert. Wind power grabbing land from Zapotec communities in Oaxaca, threatening lynx and migratory bird habitat in Maine, and scarring mountain landscapes and increasing flood risks in Vermont.

I realize that states can be somewhat more democratic than corporations, but as centralized institutions they are still not ultimately accountable to the people who live in a local ecosystem or bioregion and know its needs the best.

Best,

Dan


On Wed, Jul 4, 2018 at 11:40 AM, David Klein wrote:

Dan,

A few comments. You wrote,

"You make it sound like all the necessary drawdown of atmospheric CO2 would have to be done ourselves through additional sequestration. However, as I understand it, atmospheric carbon would decrease over time if humans simply stopped pumping more into the atmosphere. Hansen (2013) writes, "A pulse of CO2 injected into the air decays by half in about 25 years as CO2 is taken up by the ocean, biosphere and soil...Halting emissions in 2015 causes CO2 to decline to 350 ppm at century's end." This occurs even in the absence of his proposed 100 GtC from reforestation and improved agricultural practices."

The problem here is that you're double counting. Yes, from cummulative anthropogenic emissions, only about 40% to 45% of CO2 emissions remain in the atmosphere after a couple of decades or so (most of which stays there for thousands of years). Plants and soils have absorbed around 28% of CO2 emissions, and this is part of the draw down into plants and soils we've been talking about, so you can't conclude that this occurs "in the absense of the proposed 100 GtC" draw down. It's part of it.

The oceans take the rest (another 25-30%) which is what is causing ocean acidification, an ongoing disaster of comparable magnitude to global warming. As explained in Hansen et al's 2017 paper, "Growth of airborne CO2 is about half of fossil fuel CO2 emissions, the remaining portion of emissions being the net uptake by the ocean and biosphere."

Hansen et al go on to say in the 2013 article, "Delaying fossil fuel emission cuts until 2020 (with 2%/year emissions growth in 2012–2020) causes CO2 to remain above 350 ppm (with associated impacts on climate) until 2300." This is closer to our present situation than a cessation of emissions in 2015. As if this weren't bad enough, in the same section of the 2013 paper from which you drew your quote, the authors explain that a draw down of CO2 from the atmosphere causes the oceans to release more CO2 into the air, so pulling down 100 GtC, for example, only decreases the carbon content of the atmosphere by a lesser amount.

In the 2017 article by Hansen et al, they wrote, "Hansen et al. (2013a) suggested a goal of 100 PgC extraction in the 21st century, which would be almost as large as estimated net emissions from historic deforestation and land use (Ciais et al., 2013)." In other words, the net CO2 emission from historic deforestation and land use is about 100 billion tons of carbon. The other number I gave ( 180 GtC from the IPCC) did not take into account historical CO2 uptake from the land. The same paper sums up our situation (as of 2017) concisely as,

"CO2 extraction required to achieve 350 ppm CO2 in 2100 was ~ 100 PgC if 6 % yr^-1emission reductions began in 2013 (Hansen et al., 2013a). Required extraction is at least ~ 150 PgC in our updated scenarios, which incorporate growth of emissions in the past 4 years and assume that emissions will continue at approximately current levels until a global program of emission reductions begins in 4 years."

Putting 100 GtC back into the soil and plants seems to me to be an upper bound since that is about the *net* amount released on account of deforestion and land use (at least according to Hansen's IPCC source). I don't think we could do better than mother nature. And putting that much carbon back into the soils (let alone more than that) via turning our towns and cities into permaculture paradises with carbon-sequestering organic gardens and farms basically everywhere" woud be a form of geoengineering.

I'm not sure why you think that "a significant amount of sequestration can be done through ocean agriculture." Eating seafood releases carbon back into the atmosphere, just like eating anything does. At any rate, I do agree that restraining warming to less than 1.5C might be possible, and I agree we should strive to come as close to that as we can.

David


On Wed, Jul 4, 2018 at 12:19 PM, Richard Smith wrote:

Dan,

You’re right to be skeptical of “the centralized state.” As you note, we have plenty of bad examples of that both in our present world and in history. But I was not advocating giving all power to any centralized state. I argued, albeit too briefly and far from adequately, that inasmuch as we are "one people on one planet” if we don’t find ways to act like it fairly soon we’re doomed. We need rational planning at local, regional, global levels. Many things can be handled locally. Others require planning at a global level, so we need something like a world government for global environmental matters to rationally plan our gross resource consumption (forests, oil, minerals, fish, fresh water, etc.) and control pollution. We have the IPCC but it has no power to say to states, “no you may not emit more than X tons of CO2 this year.” It needs that power. We need planning authorities at local, regional, state, and planetary levels. I don’t see why they can’t be elected and subject to recall. I cited the study by Greg Palast and others about managing public utilities, a process which is, according to them highly democratic, workable, effective, and has been the mainstay of public utilities in the U.S. and Canada for decades. Offhand this looks like a feasible model that could be scaled up.

Without dismissing your important point, I would just say that I don’t think it’s entirely correct to speak of “the state” as a universally independent entity. States reflect the societies that create them. I don't want to be seem naive about this, and I understand the dangers of centralization and yet we need states because we can’t manage the planet just from localities. We need governments. We need truly democratic states to represent the popular will. Whether we can create these however, in the short time we have to do so, and in the context of what looks like a kind of slow-motion collapse of civilization all around us, is another matter.

Richard
 
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#2
Thanks Ted, for bringing the discussion into the "public domain". Although I am officially a member of "the list", I have refrained from joining this thread because I believe our SCNCC forum to be a much better vehicle for these types of discussions. After all the work that went into creating this website I am mystified that people refuse to use it. What up?

That said I agree with Richard that the global scale of the problem requires a commensurate collective response, something only a State provides. For many the word itself is anathema; instantly conjuring up a bureaucratic, totalitarian, Big Brother as an almost mystical inevitability. But let's look at the Zapatistas and their system of Good Government. We see nested councils staffed by rotating volunteers sending representatives to a central decision making body. They govern a territory. It is a state.

Which brings me to Graeber's concept of "urban zapatismo", or the model of autonomous collectivities somehow existing "within the shell of the old". For me, this was the Occupy Dream, which can only ever be realized as partial, as compromised, and loaded with all manner of contradictions (unless, like the Zapatistas, you are willing to take up arms and reclaim territory by force). Like Transition Town, it is a diversion from the real struggle, which is controlling the means of production. All the means. Every last mean. I'm not talking about Bernie's ( now DSA's) "political revolution" , not "radical reforms", I'm talking control.

As for .5 or 1 0r 1.5 or 2 degrees and whether it is locked in and whether the models are accurate....or whether we have hope or not....I can't see how any of that affects our task going forward. We need to replace this system with a better one as quickly as possible. Using any means necessary.
 
#3
Sorry for the delay. I want to respond to comments regarding Anarchism and the 1-1.5C target that folks made on the parallel discussions occurring on the email thread and on the forum. I'm posting this on the forum and linking to it on the email thread.

Regarding the first topic, I think that Richard, David J., and David K. all make the error of equating Anarchism with localism. Actually, most Anarchists strongly support coordination and confederation at the regional and global levels. Anarchism is fully compatible with Richard's call for "rational planning at local, regional, global levels" by elected and recallable delegates, and with David J.'s call for "a commensurate collective response" to global warming.

An Anarchist FAQ argues, "The idea that anarchism aims for small, self-sufficient, communes is a Leninist slander." I do not think that Richard and the Davids are intentionally repeating a slander. But if Anarchists were really just focused on the local level, then they wouldn't have joined such global networks as the the International Working Man's Association, the Industrial Workers of the World, and People's Global Action. Their central participation in the global justice movement and the climate justice movement should be further clues that creating local autonomous zones is not all they do.

David J. actually points to the possibility of stateless confederation by discussing the Zapatistas' "nested councils staffed by rotating volunteers sending representatives to a central decision making body." David J. says, "They govern a territory. It is a state." But it is not a state by most (or at least many) Anarchists' definitions. There is no "concentration [of political power] in the hands of a few." Even at the highest level of governance, delegates are part-time, unpaid, and serve for a maximum of three years. The popular participation at the local, municipal, and regional levels make it very difficult to even distinguish between who is governing and who is governed. It has some hierarchical elements, but it is much closer to a stateless confederation than it is to a state.

To address Richard and the Davids' concerns about global bottom-up planning, I want to second Black Rose Anarchist Federation's advocacy of "An Anti-State Ecological Transition": "We can imagine workers and communities coordinated across borders to shut down fossil-fuel industries." Rather than rely on states to shut down fossil fuel industries, people across borders can coordinate strikes, blockades, boycotts and more from below. Rather rely on states to build sustainable energy and food sources, people can build them directly through globally networked dual power institutions. I agree with David J that building dual power is not a sufficient strategy; there needs to be an active dismantling of capitalist power. In other words it's not enough to build "within the shell of the old," we need to also actively dismantle the "old" world before it suffocates the "new" one.

Regarding the second topic, I do think that these technical discussions of the 1C and 1.5C targets are important for organizing even though they should never be central. Emphasizing that ambitious targets might still be reachable is an important response to those who say "it's too late" (though it's not the only response). It is also important to consider both the best-case and worst-case scenarios and prepare ourselves accordingly.

Based on David's last sentence it seems that, overall, we are much more in agreement than in disagreement. We agree that the 1.5C target, if not lower, might be reachable and we should aim to get as close as possible without high-tech, top-down geoengineering.

In response to the second half of my previous email, David said I'm double counting and that Hansen's proposed 100 GtC of non-BECCS sequestration includes the ongoing sequestration from existing forests. However, from my reading, it seems that Hansen estimates that increased forest and soil carbon would add 100 GtC to the sequestration already performed by existing forests and soils. At least, that's how it sounded from Hansen (2017)'s summary:
"Hansen et al. (2013a) assumed that 100 PgC was about as much as could be achieved through relatively natural reforestation and afforestation (Canadell and Raupach, 2008) and improved agricultural practices that increase soil carbon (Smith, 2016)."​
If I am reading this right, then it is not intrinsically a problem that the 119 GtC total decrease necessary to get to 350 exceeds Hansen's estimate of 100 GtC possible from humans' added sequestration through improved agriculture and reforestation.

David said, "Hansen et al go on to say in the 2013 article, 'Delaying fossil fuel emission cuts until 2020 (with 2%/year emissions growth in 2012–2020) causes CO2 to remain above 350 ppm (with associated impacts on climate) until 2300.' This is closer to our present situation than a cessation of emissions in 2015."
Yes, that is closer to our present situation (business as usual). But closer to the situation I'm advocating (rapid ecosocialist transformation) is probably the following from Hansen (2013): "Delay of emissions until 2020 requires a reduction rate of 15%/year to achieve 350 ppm in 2100." In other words, a rapid emissions phaseout would make reaching 350 still possible. (Unfortunately, but not totally surprisingly, 350.org themselves seem to have given up on the 350 ppm goal they're named after. The website's "science" page has no discussion of the number's meaning and instead seems to more or less endorse a 2C goal.)

David said, "Putting 100 GtC back into the soil and plants seems to me to be an upper bound since that is about the *net* amount released on account of deforestion and land use (at least according to Hansen's IPCC source). I don't think we could do better than mother nature. "

Yet David previously shared the IPCC's estimate that deforestation and land use since 1750 has released 180 GtC, not 100 GtC. Also, I previously mentioned that deforestation and land use since the dawn of agriculture has released an estimated 320 GtC. So, I'm not advocating we "do better than mother nature." Rather, and less ambitiously, I'm only advocating that we try to reverse some of the damages society has done since pre-industrial capitalism.

David wrote, "And putting that much carbon back into the soils (let alone more than that) via turning our towns and cities into permaculture paradises with carbon-sequestering organic gardens and farms basically everywhere' would be a form of geoengineering."

As far as I can tell, the anti-geoengineering movement does not oppose carbon farming or mass reforestation when these methods are done from the bottom-up with the full participation of local impacted populations. In fact, many of the solutions I'm advocating here are identical to what the ETC Group calls "Safe, fair and ecologically sustainable solutions to the climate crisis" on page 10 of that Big Bad Fix report. I've seen carbon farming described as "a zero-risk strategy."
 
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