Episode 239. Rain, la Nina and Climate Change

This is The ChangeUnderground for the week ending 7th of December 2020.

I’m your host, Jon Moore

Decarbonise the Air, Recarbonise the Soil!

The need for action is becoming even more apparent every day.

In the last fortnight, during a wet La Nina event in Australia, we still copped the heat waves of desert air pumped down from the north west of the continent, across the red centre and into the major population centres of Sydney and Melbourne. Bushfires broke out, they we jumped on quickly. They usually are but after the 2019/2020 fires the reaction had a different feel to them.

The fires continue to run through the US west coast states. 

In the last couple of days the Great Barrier Reef spawned in its annual festival of reproduction. Given the bleaching events over the past decade, this reproduction, even with the “help” of humanity probably won’t be enough to save the reef as a living structure. In an interview I saw the deputy chair of the local farmer’s group again stated runoff of chemicals from sugar cane farms wasn’t to blame. The science is pretty clear, as is the economic waste for those cane farmers. When expensive inputs are ending up in the ocean, they aren’t doing what’s written on the tin. These chemicals have a profound weakening effect upon the ecosystem of the reef. Toss in the heatwaves of the past few years and the reef is unable to bounce back from the bleaching events caused by the warmer waters.

The Reef is simply one example of what global warming is doing. I think it’s time we stopped calling it the more benign climate change. The planet is warming. Local weather effects may relate to huge cold events but they are weather not climate. So a warming planet, a year of reflection, inflicted upon us through our own complacency in large part, and evidence of magical thinking across the world does not bode well for 2021.

It seems a vaccine/vaccines will be rolled out in 2021 but will we go back to business as usual? Business as usual wasn’t working for the earth systems we need to stay alive, in the long run. They weren’t working for much of the population of the world, either. Debt, work, sleep, repeat is no way to live, it’s a pretty shitty way to exist. I understand I’m talking from a privileged position in a developed nation and millions, nay, billions of people would be over the moon to live my life. And here lies the dilemma.

How do we improve the lives of billions of people living in poverty, war, famine and violence while not crippling the biosphere with CO2 and other GHGs?

I see a few prongs needed in this attack. Let’s start with the idea of the personal carbon footprint.

The companies responsible for spewing huge amounts of CO2 discovered this useful tool for shifting responsibility from themselves to the average punter. A bit like banning single use plastic, the effect is to cost shift. Let me explain. Single use plastic bags were given away free in supermarkets. Most were never single use. They became rag bags, bin liners and so on. Yet the damage plastic does is significant. Rather than solve the problem of plastic pollution, the problem of supermarkets paying for these single use bags was solved by selling more densely constructed plastic bags that customers paid for. The amount of plastic in the world is little affected by this change. The bottom line of the supermarkets has improved, however marginally and shareholder value trumps most things in commerce. The solution is to legislate for decomposable plant based plastics but that would cause damage to the shareholders of the oil companies.

In much the same way, the personal carbon footprint shifts the responsibility from the polluters to the punters. Attacking the root cause of the carbon footprint rather than measuring it at the per capita level, will bring much greater and faster change but the costs will be aggregated to the polluters. 

The individual responsibility notion is directly connected to the Abrahamic religions ideas of personal sin. To make your individual life a little less pleasant for the good of the planet is sold as a virtuous thing. Splitting refuse into the various recycling streams by the individual rather than regulating for a lack of waste at the upstream level of industrial production is another example of these virtuous acts done by the enlightened while having little or no effect on the supply chain and the amount of waste to begin with.

We need to take actions as individuals, I’ll concede that happily but maybe we need to change what we’ve been sold as the answer. Boycotting excessive waste producing products until our elected representatives change the baseline for the economy would be a good place to start. A 10% drop in revenue accompanied by an email from everyone not purchasing and explaining why would probably get more done in a month than a year of reusing plastic bags to carry our groceries home.

The other line of attack we can take is the one inspired by Bill Mollison. If 10% of us move from consumption to production, there will be enough for everyone. One household in ten turning their backyard, front yard and even road verge into places to grow veggies, plant fruit trees and run a few chooks or pairs of rabbits or a trio of ducks we can reduce the carbon footprint of our food by statistically appreciable amounts. Given the supply chain issues this year of the COVIDs has revealed, the benefits may be even greater than just halting the heating of the planet. The predictions I’ve read would suggest that pandemics look more likely as the average temperature increases and we continue to infiltrate the wilder areas of the world. There are, it is postulated, viruses out there untouched by people that will rip through the human population like a hot knife through butter. Cheery thought that.

To put all this into some sort of sensible plan. Attack the polluters through direct action focusing upon the one thing they are required by corporate law to defend, shareholder value. Be that through legislative means which seems unlikely or through boycotting, which is doable. While doing that, we start producing more of our food. This gives levers to pull against the polluters and a safety net in the event of another black swan pandemic or a natural disaster of some sort. We’ll probably start to feel a whole healthier too as we grow and actually cook our own food. Rediscovering the actual flavours of food when that food travels metres to our kitchens not thousands of kilometres.

And while we are growing our food in our no-dig gardens we will be: Decarbonising the air, recarbonising the soil!

Thank you all for listening and I’ll be back next week.



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