Archive for the month “April, 2015”

Three Leading Think-tanks Studying Global Crises

The Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University
The Future of Humanity Institute is a leading research centre looking at big-picture questions for human civilization. The last few centuries have seen tremendous change, and this century might transform the human condition in even more fundamental ways.  Using the tools of mathematics, philosophy, and science, we explore the risks and opportunities that will arise from technological change, weigh ethical dilemmas, and evaluate global priorities.  Our goal is to clarify the choices that will shape humanity’s long-term future.

Visit the Future of Humanity Institute website
Learn about FHIs Global Priorities Project
Read Aeon magazines excellent profile of FHI

Centre for Study of Existential Risk, Cambridge University
An existential risk is one that threatens the existence of our entire species.  The Cambridge Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) — a joint initiative between a philosopher, a scientist, and a software entrepreneur — was founded on the conviction that these risks require a great deal more scientific investigation than they presently receive.  CSER is a multidisciplinary research centre dedicated to the study and mitigation of risks that could lead to human extinction. It is led by astrophysicist Sir Martin Rees and its advisors include Stephen Hawking.

CSER LogoVisit the CSER website
Watch Earth in its final century? A TED talk by Sir Martin Rees, CSER head

Global Challenges Foundation
The Global Challenges Foundation works to raise awareness of the greatest threats facing humanity. In particular climate change, other environmental damage and political violence, and how these threats are linked to poverty and the rapid growth in global population. These problems appear insurmountable without an international body with decision-making mandate. The Foundation is therefore working to identify possible solutions and models as to how the United Nations can develop, and initiate new ideas on working global governance.

Visit the Global Challenges Foundation website
Read/download the GCF report: 12 Risks That Threaten Human Civilisation

News update

Alice In Shale Gas Wonderland
Julian Darley
It is hard to know where to begin regarding Ambrose Evans-Pritchards article entitled Energy crisis is postponed as new gas rescues the world. But since the speculative world he invokes has more to do with Alice In Wonderland than the hard reality of engineering and science, let us begin at the end.

Peak Oil, Ten or So Years On
Brian Kaller
This blog began seven years and almost a thousand posts ago, and I thought it a good time to take stock. Since the blog itself was inspired by the “peak oil” movement, and since it’s been ten years, by some measures, since the peak, I wanted to assess the state of that community as well.

Is the Age of Renewable Energy Already Upon Us?
Michael Klare
Future historians may look back on 2015 as the year that the renewable energy ascendancy began, the moment when the world started to move decisively away from its reliance on fossil fuels. Those fuels oil, natural gas, and coal will, of course, continue to dominate the energy landscape for years to come, adding billions of tons of heat-trapping carbon to the atmosphere. For the first time, however, it appears that a shift to renewable energy sources is gaining momentum. If sustained, it will have momentous implications for the world economy as profound as the shift from wood to coal or coal to oil in previous centuries.

Coal is dying all by itself
Coal, the No. 1 cause of climate change, is dying. Last year saw a record number of coal plant retirements in the United States, and a study last week from Duke University found that Even China, which produces and consumes more coal than the rest of the world put together, is expected to hit peak coal use within a decade, in order to meet its promise to President Barack Obama to reduce its carbon emissions starting in 2030.

One Of The Most Worrying Trends In Energy
Kurt Cobb
It should seem obvious that it takes energy to get energy. And, when it takes more energy to get the energy we want, this usually spells higher prices since the energy inputs used cost more. It shouldnt be surprising then, that as fossil fuels, which provide more than 80 percent of the power modern society uses, become more energy intensive to extract and refine, there is a growing drag on economic activity as more and more of the economys resources are devoted simply to getting the energy we want.

Putting the Real Story of Energy and the Economy Together
Gail Tverberg
What is the real story of energy and the economy? We hear two predominant energy stories. One is the story economists tell: The economy can grow forever; energy shortages will have no impact on the economy. Another version of the energy and the economy story is the view of many who believe in the “Peak Oil” theory. In my view, the real story of energy and the economy is much less favorable than either of these views. It is a story of oil limits that will make themselves known as financial limits, quite possibly in the near term—perhaps in as little time as a few months or years.

Chinese energy figures suggest much slower growth than advertised
Kurt Cobb
Last year China reported the slowest economic growth in 24 years, about 7.4 percent. But the true figure may actually be much lower, and the evidence is buried in electricity figures which show just 3.8 percent growth in electricity consumption.

Climate change: can the Seneca effect save us?
Ugo Bardi
The Seneca Cliff (or Seneca Collapse). The ancient Roman philosopher said The path of increase is slow, but the road to ruin is rapid. A Seneca Collapse of the worlds economy would surely reduce the chances of a climate disaster, but it would be a major disaster in itself and it might not even be enough.

Subsidies to industries that cause deforestation worth 100 times more than aid to prevent it
The Guardian UK
Brazil and Indonesia spent over 100 times more in subsidies to industries that cause deforestation than they received in international conservation aid to prevent it, according to a report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI). The two countries handed out over $40bn (£27bn) in subsidies to the palm oil, timber, soy, beef and biofuels sectors between 2009 and 2012 – 126 times more than the $346m they received to preserve their rainforests from the United Nations’ (UN) REDD+ scheme, mostly from Norway and Germany.

Badanavalu Satyagraha A Report

Vijay Kundaji, Bangalore Notes


Badanavalu is 10 kilometers from Nanjangud along the road to Chamarajnagar in Mysuru (Mysore) District of Karnataka.  In 1927, a Khadi and Gramodyog Center was established here by Dalit women and Gandhian activists, which later grew to enlist many hundred workers, producing close to 50,000 lbs of handspun cotton yarn by 1938.  Hearing about this center, and on the persuasion of his ardent follower, Tagadur Ramachandra Rao, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi visited the center in the years around 1927 (there is some confusion in the sources about whether his first visit to Badanavalu was in 1927 or 1932) thereby putting it on the map of Gandhian pilgrimage and Gandhiana.

The now dilapidated Khadi and Gramodyog center, located on the other side of the tracks from the tiny Narasambudhi station, came back to life in the days leading up to April 19, 2015 for the Badanavalu Satyagraha when several hundreds of sustainable living (susthira baduku) activists, practitioners and enthusiasts converged here to share, hear from others and express solidarity with the growing legions of people, of all persuasions, who have concerns about the unsustainable path of development that India (and indeed the world) is on. Read more…

Sustainable Lifestyles: Pathways and Choices for India and Germany

Harry Lehmann, Sudhir Chella Rajan
Co-authors: Sneha Annavarapu, Claudia Kabel, Christian Löwe, Astrid Matthey
(Indo-German Expert Group on Green and Inclusive Economy)

policy paper
Green Economy has been recognized by the Rio+20 Summit as “one of the important tools available for achieving sustainable development”. It is emphasized that Green Economy should “contribute to eradicating poverty as well as sustained economic growth, enhancing social inclusion, improving human welfare and creating opportunities for employment and decent work for all, while maintaining the healthy functioning of the Earth’s ecosystems”.

Such a transition towards a green and inclusive economy requires major efforts both on a national and international level, and cooperation and exchange of experiences is key to support the process. India and Germany are major players in this transition. Against this backdrop, an interdisciplinary working group of renowned experts from leading research institutions and political think tanks in India and Germany has been set up in November 2013 to enhance
collaborative learning, contribute to informed decision making in both countries and feed into the international debate on a Green and Inclusive Economy.

Five key topics are:
• Frameworks and challenges for a green and inclusive transformation
• Natural resources and decoupling growth from resource consumption
• Sustainable lifestyles
• Green and inclusive cities
• Transformation of the private sector

This policy paper was elaborated based on discussions in the context of the 3rd expert
group meeting on 12–14 November 2014 in Berlin.
The group is supported by the German Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation,
Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) and facilitated by the GIZ Environmental Policy
Programme in Berlin and the Indo-German Environment Partnership in Delhi.

Visit the website of the Indo-German Centre for Sustainability
Download the paper: Sustainable Lifestyles: Pathways and Choices for India and Germany

News update

Saudi Arabia’s Plan to Extend the Age of Oil
Peter Waldman,
Last Novemeber, Ali al-Naimi, Saudi Arabia’s petroleum minister and the world’s de facto energy czar, told his OPEC counterparts they should maintain output to protect market share from rising supplies of U.S. shale oil, which costs more to get out of the ground and thus becomes less viable as prices fall. Supply was only half the calculus, though. While the new Saudi stance was being trumpeted as a war on shale, Naimi’s not-so-invisible hand pushing prices lower also addressed an even deeper Saudi fear: flagging long-term demand.

OPEC Says US Oil Boom Will End This Year
OPEC says the demand for oil – its oil – will rise during 2015 because the cartel is winning its price war against US shale producers by driving them out of business. OPEC forecasts demand at an average of 29.27 million barrels per day in the first quarter 2015, a rise of 80,000 bpd from its previous prediction made in its March report. At the same time, it said, the cartel’s own total output will increase by only 680,000 barrels per day, less than the previous expectation of 850,000 barrels per day, due to lower US and other non-OPEC production.

Guardian Media Group to divest its £800m fund from fossil fuels
The Guardian UK
The Guardian Media Group (GMG) is to sell all the fossil fuel assets in its investment fund of over £800m, making it the largest yet known to pull out of coal, oil and gas companies. The decision was justified on both financial and ethical grounds, said Neil Berkett, GMG chair. Berkett said fossil fuel assets had performed relatively poorly in recent years and were threatened by future climate change action, while an ethical fund already held by GMG had been a “stellar” performer and renewable energy was growing strongly. (Also read: Harvard Students Expand Blockade Calling for School to Divest from Fossil Fuels)

Narendra Modi’s war on the environment
Rohini Mohan, Al Jazeera America
In under a year, the BJP government has begun to undo policies of fair land acquisition, undermine environmental protection and reverse the fight for tribal rights. The finance, environment and rural-development ministers, and Modi himself, have called these safeguards to protect people’s property, the environment and tribal rights “roadblocks” to economic growth. Rules that ensure business responsibility to people and the environment, in other words, are now largely being written off.

India may submit climate change plans in September; Javadekar assures pledges will be submitted in time
The Economic Times
India is likely to submit its plans to tackle climate change, including steps to curb the amount of carbon pollution, in September. Tuesday was the first informal deadline for countries that are able to do so to file their pledges to combat climate change. All countries have agreed to put forward their plans ahead of the crucial Paris meet in December.

PM Narendra Modi launches National Air Quality Index
The Economic Times
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today launched the National Air Quality Index (AQI) for monitoring the quality of air in major urban centres across the country on a real-time basis and enhancing public awareness for taking mitigative action. As part of the endeavour, the Union Environment Ministry proposes to extend the measurement of air quality to 22 state capitals and 44 other cities with a population exceeding one million.

Not In a Hurry to Change Green Laws, Says Environment Minister Praskash Javadekar
The Centre, which was keen on amending key green laws as early as second half of the budget session, will now reportedly adopt a slower and a more studied approach. This shift in pace, comes after opposition from various state governments at a two day conference of states environment and forest ministers. On agenda was to seek views from the state governments on various environment related issues, including the Subramaniam committee report.

Climate Crisis And Banking
Climate crisis is pushing financial institutions to take steps. Financial institutions with over US$ 2,100 billion in assets publish principles to guide future investments in clean energy and India’s fourth largest private bank fixes goal for investment in 5GW of renewable energy by 2019.

Making Another World Possible Will Require Radical Alternatives – Impressions from the World Social Forum
Ashish Kothari,
At the Tunis WSF there was some attempt made to host ‘convergence assemblies’ to bring people together, and a final session of open mingling and some common messages, which may be a step towards making it a more transformative process while retaining openness. There was considerable synergy between the movements demanding an end to corporate dominance and impunity, those fighting for climate justice, and women’s movement groups. The language of alternatives from various parts of the world also seemed to get significant traction in the convergence assemblies.

LibCom series on Capitalist agriculture

Part 4 Capitalist agriculture: class formation and the metabolic rift

Capitalist agriculture: class formation and the metabolic rift

In this fourth installment on our series on food and climate, we look at the dynamics of capitalist agriculture in terms of production, class formation, and the ‘metabolic rift’ in the nitrogen cycle.

Part 1 (Climate, class, and the Neolithic revolution) looked at the first emergence of agriculture at the end of the last ice age. Part 2 (Class struggles, climate change, and the origins of modern agriculture) looked at the early modern emergence of specifically capitalist agriculture though enclosures and colonialism in the Little Ice Age. Part 3 (The political economy of hunger) analysed the political economy of hunger.

Read part 4: Capitalist agriculture: class formation and the metabolic rift

The International Journal of the Commons (IJC)

International Journal of the Commons (cc) Content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
The International Journal of the Commons (IJC) is an initiative of the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC).

As an interdisciplinary peer-reviewed open-access journal, the IJC is dedicated to furthering the understanding of institutions for use and management of resources that are (or could be) enjoyed collectively. These resources may be part of the natural world (e.g. forests, climate systems, or the oceans) or they may emerge from social realities created by humans (e.g. the internet or (scientific) knowledge, for example of the sort that is published in open-access journals).

Using resources collectively is often believed to be problematic. In practice however, many cases can be found of common pool resources that are used in a sustainable way. The editors of the IJC welcome contributions from all scientific disciplines, from practitioners and policy makers. We hope that our interdisciplinary approach will contribute to creating a balanced and nuanced view of how common pool institutions actually emerge, develop and perform.

Visit the International Journal of the Commons website

News update

California Drought Tests History of Endless Growth
The New York Times
For more than a century, California has been the state where people flocked for a better life — 164,000 square miles of mountains, farmland and coastline, shimmering with ambition and dreams, money and beauty. It was the cutting-edge symbol of possibility: Hollywood, Silicon Valley, aerospace, agriculture and vineyards. But now a punishing drought is forcing a reconsideration of whether the aspiration of untrammeled growth that has for so long been this state’s driving engine has run against the limits of nature.

Global Energy Trends and Implications for India: The Need to Consume Less Oil
Tobias Engelmeier, The Energy Collective
Oil consumption will rise in India as the economy and the population grows. This is a major headache for the government, since India imports almost all of this fuel. Currently oil prices are fairly low, but if they rise again, they will drive inflation and open up a large trade deficit.

China’s Fuel Demand to Peak Sooner Than Oil Giants Expect
Bloomberg Business
China’s biggest oil refiner is signaling the nation is headed to its peak in diesel and gasoline consumption far sooner than most Western energy companies and analysts are forecasting. If correct, the projections by China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., or Sinopec, a state-controlled enterprise with public shareholders in Hong Kong, pose a big challenge to the world’s largest oil companies. They’re counting on demand from China and other developing countries to keep their businesses growing as energy consumption falls in more advanced economies.

How changing driving habits are changing the oil and gas industry
Omar Mouallem, Alberta Oil Magazine
For 100 years, the automotive and energy sectors were like two wheels on the same axle, continually spinning forward. Young North Americans are delaying getting their licenses, driving fewer kilometers and buying fewer cars. Given that transportation makes up two-thirds of refined petroleum consumption, the trend has some wondering if the biggest threat facing the oil industry is peak car, not peak oil.

How the climate change debate got hijacked by the wrong standard of proof
Kurt Cobb
The deniers in the fossil fuel industry and elsewhere are attempting by sleight-of-hand to get both the public and policymakers to abandon the preponderance of evidence standard used primarily in civil trialsand which is similar to evidence-based public policymakingin favor of another judicial standard designed for criminal trials, namely, beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Problem of Human Population
Javier, Peak Oil Barrel
Since the growth rate is declining naturally, if not intervene any new factor human population on Earth would peak slightly above the 10 billion people by 2062 according to the United Nations. This is the problem size. Political campaigns to reduce the growth of the human population are decreasing, not increasing. The question therefore is not to analyze whether the Earth is able to support 10 billion people, as it most likely can, but if it can do it indefinitely. (Note: Translated from Spanish by computer and contains grammatical errors.)

Eco-Socialism or Barbarism 11 Theses
Bruno Kern, Eco-Socialist Blog
(Message from Saral Sarkar, Eco-Socialist Blog: For those who do not have enough time to read the books and texts written by myself and Bruno Kern (of the Initiative Eco-Socialism) texts that thoroughly expound our fundamental argumentation and perspective for/on eco-socialism we now offer a very short text written by Bruno. In it, Bruno has summarized the essential points of our argumentation and perspective in 11 theses.)

Socialism, Capitalism and Anarchism in a collapsing world economy
Peter Goodchild, Survive Peak Oil
The irony is that the present world of global capitalism cannot be considered governed in any democratic sense. If we stretch the definition of democracy to equate it with legitimacy i.e., the sanction of the governed, the social contract then one could almost say that it is global capitalism that should be regarded as anarchism. The world is governed, but it has no government (an-archia) in any legitimate form.

Allan Savory: A Global Strategy for Addressing Global Climate Change

Editors note: Allan Savory is the recipient of the 2003 Australian International Banksia Award for the person or organization doing the most for the environment on a global scale. Below is  Executive Summary of his paper on combating Climate Change.

Executive Summary 

Simplistic and counter intuitive as it may be, the fate of civilization today hangs on two slender threads – the correct management of livestock and the rapid development of benign energy to sustain cities and mass transport. Excessive emissions of carbon and other gases from fossil fuels are not the only causes of global climate change, nor are they the greatest cause of climate change, as popularly espoused. Humans began to change climate in ancient times through their actions that began to disrupt complex living communities, diminishing biodiversity and replacing the role of large herbivores and predators in the worlds savannas with fire. Ancient practices, continued to this day, ensured land degradation (desertification) and increased atmospheric carbon dioxide and other gases from fires and soil breakdown. This process of environment destruction had destroyed many civilizations before coal and oil were discovered or widely used.

Essential as it is, stopping carbon emissions entirely will not alone solve the potential catastrophe facing humanity because a great part of what amounts to global environmental malfunction cannot be attributed to carbon emissions. If tomorrow we somehow achieved zero emissions from fossil fuels we still would not avert major catastrophe. Grassland and savanna burning would continue, desertification would continue to accelerate with soils increasingly unable to store either carbon or water and the climate would continue to change.

To avert disaster on a scale almost unimaginable a global strategy is required that addresses carbon emissions while effectively dealing with biodiversity loss and biomass burning to reverse desertification that is not caused by atmospheric carbon buildup.

Based on over fifty years of sustained work on the desertification aspect of global climate change, I suggest a strategy that offers hope in todays confusion and lack of any clear and workable strategy at any level local, governmental or international. This simple strategy may encourage others to improve on what I offer. The strategy suggested follows two distinct paths. A high technology (reductionist science) path to alternative sources of benign energy and a low technology (relationship science) path to removing harmful atmospheric gases, ending biomass burning and reversing desertification as major components of global climate change. As I will explain, ending most biomass burning and reversing desertification can only be achieved through shifting our world view concerning the management of large animals livestock and wildlife.

While proposing a safe strategy I also argue that measures encouraging high technology solution alone to current legacy load of atmospheric carbon entail risk when such risk is not required. The strategy suggested in this paper sees an essential and vital role for high technology in our search for alternative sources of energy. However the suggested strategy also recognizes the extreme dangers of relying on some technological solution to ongoing biomass burning and land degradation (desertification) and the safe storage of legacy carbon. Most of all much of the suggested strategy treats Earth as the complex Global Strategy for Addressing Climate Change 5 living system that it is and which requires working with rather than against natural functioning of our environment.

Download pdf: A Global Strategy for Addressing Global Climate Change 

Event: Badanavalu Satyagraha & National Convention for Sustainable Living

scene from the play Yantra Rakshasa Mardini (Slaying of the Machine ...
Scene from Yantra Rakshasa Mardini (Slaying of the Machine), a play recently held in Bangalore in support of  Badanavalu Satyagraha. Pic courtesy: The New Indian Express

Over the last year and a half, a Handloom Satyagraha has been underway in and around the state of Karnataka. It was conducted by the All India Federation of Handloom Organizations. In December 2013, thousands of handloom weavers from across Karnataka marched several hundred kilometers in a campaign entitled ‘Banashankari Yatre’. In January 2014, an indefinite fast was observed demanding strict implementation of the Handloom Reservation Act. In December 2014, a fast until death campaign was undertaken in order to protest against the manufacture of imitation handloom products through powerlooms.

The federation has now decided to broad base the Satyagraha and include all organizations working towards sustainability into this campaign. Sustainability in agriculture, environment, labour, gender, language, folklore, culture and education, along with Khadhi and handlooms, is our motto. Badanavalu Satyagraha has now become a joint campaign of all consumers and producers of a sustainable production range. It is a joint campaign of the city people and the village poor. Read more…

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