Earthgauge Radio January 24: Richard Heinberg on energy, climate change and the fragile world economy
This week on Earthgauge Radio, we launch a new series in which we will feature leading, influential thinkers who can provide some big picture context to the issues that we discuss on this program such as climate change, energy, economics, ethics, sustainability and development. We will kick off this ‘Big Picture, Big Thinkers’ series with a speech today by the influential author Richard Heinberg from the Bioneers Conference back in November 2012. Heinberg is a senior Fellow-in-Residence at Post Carbon Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building more resilient, sustainable, and equitable communities. He is perhaps best known as a leading educator on Peak Oil—the point at which we reach maximum global oil production—and the resulting impact it will have on our economic, food, and transportation systems.
Heinberg has spent his career thinking about critical issues including the current economic crisis, food and agriculture, community resilience, and global climate change. Now he’s contributed to a new book on the topic called Energy: Overdevelopment and the Delusion of Endless Growth. He is also the influential author of The End of Growth, Peak Everything and The Party’s Over, among other books. He is widely regarded as one of the world’s most effective communicators on our global energy future and the urgent need to transition away from fossil fuels.
Also on the program we have our usual update on local environmental events and campaigns from Ecology Ottawa.
Earthgauge Radio airs Thursday mornings from 7-8 AM on CKCU 93.1 in Ottawa. Podcasts on iTunes and earthgauge.ca. Stream live on www.ckcufm.com. Check out our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/EarthgaugeRadio where we post environmental news stories from around the world.
Rees and Mathis Wackernagel are responsible for coming up with the concept of the ecological footprint, which has revolutionized the way the world looks at sustainability. Basically, the ecological footprint tool is a comprehensive accounting system that measures human carrying capacity and helps assess the risks of overconsumption to planetary stability. In recognition of their work, last month Rees and Wackernagel were awarded the Blue Planet Prize, which is an award given by Japan’s Asahi Glass Foundation to recognize leaders who make a difference in safeguarding biodiversity.
Rees and Wackernagel join the environmental scientist Thomas Lovejoy as this year’s winners whose names are added to a veritable who’s who in the conservation world, with past winners that include Lester Brown, James Lovelock, David Brower, Paul Ehrlich, Theo Colborn, Gustave Speth, Amory Lovins, and James Hansen. A handful of organizations have also been recognized by the prize, including IUCN and Conservation International.
I spoke with Bill Rees last year and this week as part of our Earthgauge Radio summer schedule I am rebroadcasting the full interview in 2 parts. If you’re not familiar with Rees or his work, and even if you are, you’re going to want to check this out as it’s really fascinating and important stuff. The ecological footprint concept is not just about ecology and conservation, it is particularly relevant to our entire economic system and provides an excellent means of understanding why the global economy is so unsustainable.
We also have our usual segment from our friends at Deutsche Welle radio who bring us the latest in interntional eco-news.
Earthgauge Radio is broadcast every other Thursday morning at 7:00-8:00 AM on CKCU 93.1 FM in Ottawa.
On Earthgauge Radio this week, we take a look at the recently concluded Rio +20 Earth Summit and we discuss Ottawa’s Emerald Ash Borer beetle infestation, which is becoming a growing problem in regions across North America.
I have two interviews on today’s program:
- David Suzuki (courtesy of Democracy Now!) who gives us his take on the Rio +20 Summit
- Meg Sears, an Environmental Health advocate in Ottawa, and Sean Barker of the Eastern Ontario Arborists who discuss the threat posed by the Emerald Ash Borer beetle to Ottawa’s prolific ash tree population and what can be done about it
Earthgauge Radio is broadcast every other Thursday morning at 7:00-8:00 AM on CKCU 93.1 FM in Ottawa. Click the audio player above to hear the full show. Right click here to download today’s full show.
The so-called Rio +20 Earth Summit wrapped up last week in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This was of course a huge international United Nations summit that came on the 20th anniversary of the original Rio Earth Summit back in 1992. And how things have changed since then. 50,000 participants from governments, the private sector, NGOs and other groups came together last week to try to shape how we can reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection on an ever more crowded planet to get to the future we want. And this was in fact the slogan for the Summit: The Future We Want. However, expectations for the summit were quite low and many feel that Rio +20 accomplished very little. We take a closer look at what happened in Rio first up on today’s show.
Also on the program we discuss Ottawa’s Emerald Ash Borer beetle infestation with Meg Sears, who is an Environmental Health advocate and Sean Barker of the Eastern Ontario Arborists. They both joined me for a live interview to discuss the increasing problem of the Emerald Ash Borer. Basically, this is a beetle that is originally from northeastern Asia but has been causing havoc in North America since its arrival in 2002. The beetle has had a devastating impact in the decade since, spreading across 14 US states, southern Ontario, and now the Ottawa Valley and Eastern Townships, killing at least 10 million trees. It has now been unleashed in Ottawa so we’ll find out just what the city is doing about it and what needs to be done.
We also have our usual segment with Ecology Ottawa who update us on local environmental events and campaigns.
“A new study from the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research suggests that a transformation of the world’s economies or a limit to economic growth may be needed to curb the rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.”
This comes from a recent article about the fundamental incompatibility of an economic system based on endless growth and the problem of climate change. And therein lies the fundamental paradox of our times. Our modern, industrial, capitalist economy depends upon endless growth to function. We celebrate every uptick in the growth rate and fret when growth is “sluggish”. Yet as this study demonstrates, more growth leads to more greenhouse gas emissions and consequently an accelerated rate of climate change. So we can have one or the other, it seems, but not both. What will it be? More growth or less climate change?
“The researchers found that for each trillion in U.S. dollars that global GDP deviates from the trend, there is an accompanying deviation in CO2 levels of about half a part per million (ppm), reported LiveScience.
Noting that the study “more or less” echoes 1972′s “The Limits to Growth,” author and environmental activist Bill McKibben told HuffPost in an email, “We should change the meaning of ‘business-as-usual’ to focus on building more resilient, localized, community-focused economies, instead of the sprawling ones that for the last few decades have been awarding their bounty to the 1%.”
This article in Al Jazeera English provides a good overview of the looming economic problem of peak oil. Here is an excerpt:
“Even if demand remained steady, the world would have to find the equivalent of four Saudi Arabias to maintain production, and six Saudi Arabias if it is to keep up with the expected increase in demand between now and 2030.”
Of course, the elephant in the room here is coal. We may well run out of conventional oil in the next few decades but coal supplies, which when burned are much worse than oil in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, will last for centuries. If we burn all this coal, it is projected that the average global temperature would increase by an astonishing 15 degrees Celsius. If even 2 degrees of warming is considered by scientists to be dangerous, we can safely assume that 15 degrees of warming would be game over for humanity.
Incidentally, one of the analysts quoted in this Al Jazeera story, was interviewed on Earthgauge a few weeks ago for our Earthgauge Radio special on the Northern Gateway pipeline.
Earthgauge radio podcast February 23, 2012: rethinking money and wealth // plus an interview with NDP leadership candidate Nathan Cullen
I’ve often said that on Earthgauge radio we discuss topics that do not, at first glance, seem to be related to environmental issues. Well this is the case today. On Earthgauge radio this week, we’re talking money and politics. Click the audio player above to stream the podcast or right click here to download. I have two interviews for you on today’s podcast:
- Nathan Cullen, NDP leadership candidate
No, this is not our take on the growing interference of big money in the political system. Instead, we first take a look at the meaning of wealth in our society and how the concept of wealth been co-opted. Most of us now tend to associate wealth with money but, as Gwendolyn Hallsmith explains, being wealthy means so much more than this. We likely all know individuals who may be financially wealthy yet are unhappy, spiritually or emotionally poor. Likewise, how many people with limited financial means are thriving, active members of their communities, leading fulfilling lives they enjoy and making contributions to improve the lives of others. Are these people not wealthy?
Hallsmith argues that rethinking wealth is of critical importance in this age of environmental and economic uncertainty as we urgently need to think about how we can build the economic and environmental resilience of local communities. She is a Director in the Department of Planning and Community Development for the City of Montpelier, VT and is the co-author of a recent book called ‘Creating Wealth: Growing Local Economies with Local Currencies’.
What does this have to do with the environment? Well, a lot actually. As she tells me in our interview “if you’re interested in the environment, you ought to be interested in the monetary system.” We all know that building strong, sustainable local economies will be critical to increasing both economic and environmental sustainability in the future. Creating Wealth demonstrates how a healthy society can be attained through developing new systems of exchange. This can be done by adopting alternative local currencies to be used as complements to national currencies or by implementing creative initiatives such as time banks, and systems of barter and exchange. Hallsmith believes that these measures can empower cities and towns to build vibrant, healthy, sustainable local economies and in our interview she explains why she is so passionate about the potential transformative power of alternative currencies and why there is such a desperate need to improve our monetary system.
Now for the politics. I also have an interview today with federal NDP leadership candidate Nathan Cullen who spoke at the University of Ottawa last week. He was the environment critic for the NDP so I caught up with him and asked him some questions about the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline which, if constructed, would transport tar sands crude from northern Alberta through Cullen’s riding of Skeena-Bulkley Valley in northern B.C. He has some strong opinions about the pipeline as well as some provocative ideas about how opposition parties can team up to defeat the governing Conservatives in the next general election. His proposal has been generating a lot of controversy so I wanted to find out how it would work and why he feels defeating the government is such an imperative.
I also have some Canadian eco-news on the show and we have our usual segment with Kathy of Ecology Ottawa who updates us on local environmental events and campaigns. I have listed some of the upcoming events below or you can click here to see a complete list with full details.
Contact us at earthgaugeradio ‘at’ gmail.com. Please get in touch if you have story ideas, a comment on something you’ve heard or want to get involved or contribute to the show. You can also download our podcasts on iTunes. Just type “earthgauge” into the search bar and you’ll find us.
Upcoming local environmental events (courtesy of Ecology Ottawa)
- Sunday, February 26, 2012 from 1:00 to 2:00 pm the Kanata Environmental Network (KEN) will host a Sunday afternoon walk in the South March Highlands near Kizzel Pond with Martha Weber. RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Monday, February 27, 2012 there will be a City Council Meeting of the: Ottawa Forests and Greenspace Advisory Committee from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. City Hall in the Colonel By Room
- Tuesday, February 28, 2012 there will be a City Council Meeting of Planning Committee from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm at City Hall, Champlain Room.
Organizer: Caitlin Salter MacDonald, 613-580-2424, ext. 28136, Caitlin.Salter-MacDonald@ottawa.ca
- Tuesday February 28th there will be a meeting of the Transition Ottawa Peak Oil Discussion Group from 7 to 9 pm at the Montgomery Legion, 330 Kent Street. Come to this informational monthly discussion group meeting to discuss ideas and actions on how to survive the consequences of the inevitable decline in oil production and economic collapse. You can get the contact information to RSVP for this meeting form the ecologyottawa.ca website. Or email the moderator at email@example.com
- Just Food Ottawa is hosting a “Storage of Vegetables and Fruits Workshop” on the 28th from 7 to 9. at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre at 88 Main St. Space is limited, so contact Emily at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 613-699-6850 x12 to reserve your spot.
- Wednesday, February 29, 2012 City Council Meeting: Transit Commission from 9:30 to 11:30 am at City Hall, Andrew S. Haydon Hall
- Wednesday, February 29th Just Food and FarmStart, will be offering an “Exploring Your New Farm Dream Workshop”for people who are thinking about starting a commercial farm business. The course helps aspiring farmers learn what it would take to start and manage their own farm dream For more information and to register, please go to: www.farmstart.ca/explorer/ the workshop will take place from 6:00 to 9:00 pm at yet to be announced location.
- Wednesday Feb 29th and Wednesday march 7th Just voices, Ottawa’s only environmental and social-justice themed choir. Will hold their Weekly Environmental Choir Rehearsal from 7 to 9 at the Bronson Centre.
- Did you know It can take up to a year (or more) to get a Community Garden started? Now is the time to start planning for next year so come to the How to Start a Community Garden Workshop. On Thursday, March 1st, 2012 from 6 to 8pm at the carlington health centre located at 900 merivale road. You can reserve your spot by contacting Emily at email@example.com
- Seedy Saturday is being held on Saturday, March 3rd, 2012 from 10 am to 3 pm at the Ron Kolbus community centre located at 102 greenview avenue. Seedy Saturday is the foremost opportunity to buy, trade, ask about and learn about seeds adapted to the Ottawa area. For more information visit www.seeds.ca and click on “Events” to find out more.
- Wednesday, March 7th, 2012 City Council Meeting: Transportation Committee from 9:30 am to 11:30 am City Hall, Champlain Room
- Wednesday March 7th there will be a presentation as part of the Urban Parks are for People Dundonald Park Project from 7:00 to 10:00 pm at Montgomery Legion, 330 Kent Street. Gil Penalosa, an internationally sought-out speaker and advisor, will deliver one of his trademark lively presentations on making urban spaces healthier. The goal of this project is to educate and empower communities with the tools to transform parks and public spaces into vibrant and active destinations that promote social interaction, mental health and well being for all. .There will also be a series of focus groups and stakeholder meetings from March 7th to March 10th
It’s hard to believe that a study like this was even necessary. But that goes to show the extent to which climate change deniers have perverted climate science to make it appear as though there is a legitimate “debate” taking place among scientists about the reality of human-induced climate change.
In any case, this study from the University of California (Berkeley) confirms, yet again, that global warming is real and it takes specific aim at some of the charges that have been leveled by so-called “climate change skeptics” in their well-funded and relentless campaign to discredit climate science. What makes this particular study even more noteworthy is that it was funded by the right-wing billionaire oil barons and notorious climate change deniers, the Koch brothers, and it was carried out by a famous former skeptic Richard Muller who wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal that there are no longer any good reasons to be a skeptic of the basic fact that the world is warming.
In my experience, I have found that the arguments made by skeptics generally boil to one of three positions: that climate change is (a) a myth and the world is not warming; (b) real but not caused by humans; or (c) real and possibly or partially caused by humans but not to be overly concerned about (see just about everything written by Bjorn Lomborg for perhaps the most clever incarnation of this “what-me-worry” attitude).
While the Berkeley study does not consider points (b) and (c), it does conclude that the “new results agreed closely with the warming values published previously by other teams in the U.S. and the U.K….This confirms that these studies were done carefully and that potential biases identified by climate change skeptics did not seriously affect their conclusions.”
Well, surprise surprise. At least we can all agree on that point. Or can we? Elizabeth Muller, co-founder and Executive Director of Berkeley Earth, said she hopes the Berkeley Earth findings will help “cool the debate over global warming by addressing many of the valid concerns of the skeptics in a clear and rigorous way.”
I share Ms. Muller’s hopes that this will once and for all put an end to the fabricated “debate” over whether the world is in fact warming. But even if this issue is resolved, I fear that no amount of science will convince the true deniers that humans are responsible for the warming or that we should actually do anything serious about it. This issue is not, and never was, about science after all. If taken seriously, the quandary of climate change presents an affront to the way many people view the human project – as a continuing arc of moral, economic and scientific progress. Suddenly, we are forced to confront the idea that human society and our economic systems need to change – dramatically. For some, this represents a threat to their financial security (i.e. oil companies). For others, coming to terms with the very idea of human-caused climate change and all its subsequent implications may be simply too much to bear.
The National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) has just released a new report on the impacts of climate change in Canada. Entitled Paying the Price, the NRTEE concludes that climate change will cost Canadians about $5 billion a year by 2020. Costs will continue to climb steeply, to between $21 billion and $43 billion a year by the 2050s — depending on how much action is taken on reducing global greenhouse-gas emissions and how fast the economy and population grow, the analysis says.
Keep in mind that the NRTEE is not an environmental organization. It is a group of business leaders, academics and researchers chosen by the federal government to advise Ottawa on how to deal simultaneously with challenges in the economy and the environment.
What is astonishing about this analysis is not only the high anticipated costs or the Conservative government’s delusional response to the report, in which they still purport to be taking climate change seriously despite all evidence to the contrary. The NRTEE says the final costs will ultimately depend, at least partially, on how fast the economy grows. Yet maximizing economic growth is precisely the principal objective of every country in the world, no matter how wealthy, and Canada is no exception. Witness this article in today’s Globe and Mail, which celebrates even a minor uptick in economic growth. Herein lies the conundrum: politicians, economists and policy makers want growth at the highest rate possible. But according to the NRTEE, the more our economy grows, the worse – and more expensive – the impacts of climate change will be. Make sense?
For regular readers of Earthgauge, you will know that I have often written of the need to make use of alternative economic indicators besides the GDP (Gross Domestic Product). The GDP is merely a measure of the total economic activity in a country and ignores whether such activity is good or bad for society as a whole. For this reason, more oil spills, litigation and increased cancer rates actually cause the GDP to go up.
This would be no big deal if economists and the media at large didn’t take the GDP so seriously and use it as the principal indicator of whether the economy is faring well. We hear ad nauseum that things are good when GDP growth is going up. When GDP is flat or, heaven forbid, going down, we are told the economy is in a sorry state indeed. Two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth are, after all, the textbook definition of a recession.
The assumption is that people are suffering when the GDP is not growing and this may indeed be the case for some. But GDP growth does not necessarily indicate that we are any better off either. If we liquidate our forests, for example, the GDP would go up considerably at an obvious environmental and long-term cost. Rapid exploitation of the Alberta tar sands will also boost Canada’s GDP considerably without accounting for the environmental devastation taking place or the tar sands’ contribution to climate change.
There is a desperate need for additional economic indicators to give us a better picture of the true economic, social and environmental health of a nation. This is why I was very pleased to read this article in the Huffington Post today, which describes how the state of Maryland will start using the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) in addition to the GDP in assessing the economic health of the state. From the article:
Turning what “makes sense” in people’s life decisions into actual cents, GPI assigns a dollar value to things like housework, volunteering, and commute time, while subtracting from GPI the cost of crime, divorce, and water pollution. The goal of GPI is to look beyond bottom lines to take into account the many disparate economic, environmental and social elements that make up our lives and using that data as an indicator of social progress.
This is encouraging news indeed. We can only hope that Maryland’s adoption of the GPI is a measure that other jurisdictions will watch closely and soon follow.
Great article in the Globe this week. You have to give credit to Mr Sachs. If only more economists thought this way…
Here’s an excerpt:
The time has come to reconsider the basic sources of happiness in our economic life. The relentless pursuit of higher income is leading to unprecedented inequality and anxiety, rather than to greater happiness and life satisfaction. Economic progress is important and can greatly improve the quality of life, but only if it is pursued in line with other go