by José A. Tapia
What is to be done?
Part 3 Conclusion
For Stella B. & Dakota P.
With degrees in physics and mathematics, my father developed his professional life as a civil servant at the Spanish Instituto Nacional de Meteorología; first working in weather forecasting in the Spanish colonies in Africa, where I was born, then in Granada and Madrid, where I grew up. It was in Madrid, when I was a teenager, that my personal relationship with him went sour. He was a very conservative and religious person; I was becoming an irreligious rad. In the 1980s I got a job, moved out of the family home, and my relations with my father somewhat improved. We now could talk about non-political issues without quarrelling. In a conversation that probably occurred months before I moved from Madrid to Washington, D.C. for a job in 1989, I asked him whether he had read journalistic reports that the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere was causing global warming that eventually would be catastrophic. He replied that he had, and that he had no doubt that the science behind those reports and the dire forecasts were sound. Then I asked him what he thought should be done about it.
In my blurred memory of the conversation, it seems to me he answered, with some hesitation, something like, “Well, to start with, cars should be forbidden.” That answer puzzled me at the time, all the more because he had been always an enthusiast of cars. He died in 1990 and I forgot about our conversation about global warming until a couple of years ago when one day it suddenly came up from my memory.
Advertising, cars, airplanes, air-conditioning systems, meat, and disposables are typical elements of present-day capitalism with large carbon footprints; that is, they imply major CO2 emissions.
Automobiles are one of the best examples of the irrationality of the modern industrial system. By allowing relatively quick displacement of passengers to mid-distances, as well as easy transportation of goods, cars, buses, and trucks have contributed immensely to the mobility of people in commuting and recreational travel, and to the integration of the economic output of different regions in common markets. But motor vehicles are one of the major modern causes of ill-health. This is because, first, they reduce physical activity and thus favor excess body weight and many chronic diseases; second, they raise local atmospheric pollution that significantly increases the frequency and lethality of respiratory diseases, heart attacks, and cancer; third, car crashes kill many people, often at young ages, and cause many others to be injured and often permanently disabled. All these together make motor vehicles one of the major contributors to the total burden of disease, disability, and death. Though automobiles supposedly produce mobility, as soon as car ownership generalizes, traffic jams in cities and highways reduce the speed of transportation to levels that often can be reached by just walking.
Automobiles have major effects on how societies evolve spatially. In the United States, private cars stimulated the transformation of urban and rural areas into a suburbanized mix where cities became mostly the residence of the low-income working class, while the wealthy moved to less polluted and less congested areas in the suburbs. The construction of the interstate highway system was a huge subsidy to the automobile industry; once in place, the network of highways allowed cars, trucks, and buses to fill an increasing role in transportation. The effect was to make railroad transportation less important for cargo and almost marginal for passengers, who increasingly moved by car, bus, or airplane.
As the negative aspects of cars are quite obvious, an increasing though still relatively small number of social scientists acknowledge today that cars are a “good” that, like cigarettes, has too many negative aspects to be compatible with a healthy society and are therefore in fact a “bad” to be fought. Nevertheless, the hegemony of the automobile industry in our world is such that these views are today no more than odd academic ideas. Numbers demonstrate that is the case, as worldwide sales of new automobiles have risen steadily in recent years. Estimates are around 80 million new passenger cars sold in 2016; counting all motor vehicles, the figure goes well over 100 million units. The main market now is China, which accounts for about a quarter of the world market of motor vehicles, followed by the United States, which accounts for a fifth.
Air travel, another quickly rising source of CO2 emissions, became progressively an item of mass consumption in high-income countries in the second half of the 20th century. In 2016, 3.7 billion passengers, an all-time record, used air travel worldwide. The number of passengers flying, the number of cars sold, and the number of passenger-miles corresponding to these means of transport have increased exponentially in recent decades, decreasing only temporarily in 2009, during the Great Recession.
The “genius” Osama Bin Laden discovered the use of commercial airplanes as weapons of mass murder; these machines also have an enormous capacity to harm our environment, though the effect is difficult to notice without specific conceptual notions and measurement tools. As reported in Science, the jet fuel burned on a round-trip flight from New York to London implies that 1 square meter of Arctic sea ice disappears.
For consumers in high-income countries, low prices of electricity, natural gas, gasoline, and air flight are a blessing that allow us to be cheaply cool in summer, warm in winter, and happily vacationing in far-away places. Any consideration of environmental damage rarely enters our minds, and if so, it is put aside as queer. But CO2 emissions from the consumption of electricity and natural gas for heating or cooling, and from the use of automobile and aviation fuels are growing in every country—though, of course, they are much higher in high-income countries.
A commodity recently introduced, outdoor heaters, illustrates how the environmental damage implied by heating or cooling is generally overlooked. These heaters are extremely efficient wasters of energy, but they are increasingly frequent in open-space sidewalks where restaurants and bars expand their business. They are either electric or, more commonly, burn natural gas, which is a mix of methane and other hydrocarbons. Because of the emissions of methane involved in the extraction of natural gas, the CO2 produced in the gas combustion, and the irrelevance of the function these heaters accomplish, they are perhaps paradigmatic examples of merchandise that is highly harmful to the environment. But they are increasingly conspicuous without generating any rejection by the public.
In most of the world, meat was a luxury good in the 1900s, when it became a mass-consumption commodity in high-income countries, with the increase in the average level of affluence in those parts of the world. But producing meat has a much greater carbon footprint than producing an equivalent quantity of nutritional calories in vegetables. Perhaps in an incipient process resembling that of tobacco, the rejection of meat—increasingly acknowledged as a food with unhealthy properties—is becoming common among the affluent who are becoming vegetarians in troves. Still, the world production of meat has skyrocketed, and it is the source of millions of tons of CO2 and methane liberated to the atmosphere. The demand for meat is one of the major stimulants of deforestation, as rainforests are transformed into land to pasture animals, or to cultivate fodder. This aggravates global warming, as forests are natural CO2 sinks.
The planned obsolescence of articles, which is typical of for-profit production, reaches perfection with disposables that never saturate the market. Thus, it is not surprising that new varieties of them—plastic sticks to stir hot beverages and disposable bedsheets for college students are two recent varieties—are appearing all the time, often to become articles of mass consumption in few years. Why produce metal silverware, glass cups, or ceramic plates when plastic disposables generate a much more constant flow of revenue? Manufacturers of this kind of garbage—as these products are garbage as soon as they are produced, indeed many are discarded without being used even once—often greenwash them by stating that they are recyclable. This is often a lie, but even when they are, recycling them implies important problems related to the mounting quantities of garbage, with major costs for citizens and city governments. More importantly, recycling these things generates significant quantities of CO2 with new rounds of CO2 emissions produced in each recycling. Let’s imagine a metal spoon that can last in good conditions of use perhaps ten or twenty years, being used a thousand times. To substitute thousands of disposable plastic ones for that spoon will generate mountains of garbage or material for recycling, as well as CO2 emissions probably two or three orders of magnitude greater than those produced in the manufacturing of the metal spoon. This is equally applicable to the recycling of the tons of printed paper used up for advertising, an “industry” which—besides producing anxiety and craving to promote purchasing commodities—consumes huge amounts of energy for electric signs and the multiple other forms in which ads can be produced, distributed, and displayed.
An incipient movement to tax or forbid disposable “goods” has appeared. For instance recent news reports inform us about plans to tax disposable coffee cups in Britain, forbid plastic bottles of water in London, or make plastic goblets and plastic knives unavailable in France. Plastic-bag prohibitions have been passed in dozens of cities and countries. Not surprisingly, these prohibitions which make absolute sense with respect to avoiding the littering of our cities and fields and protecting (both short- and long-term) the climate and the environment (and the goats, as in Morocco) are permanently opposed by the business community. Of course, manufacturers of disposables have zero sympathy for the prohibition of their products, but merchants, shops, and supermarkets also strongly oppose restrictions on plastic bags, as sales go down when disposable bags are not available. Not to mention, the all-powerful fast-food industry is fully based on the use of disposables.
The much higher CO2 emissions per passenger-mile produced by automobile and airplane transportation compared with train travel, the generalized used of motor vehicles and airplanes associated with the scarce availability of public and railroad transportation, the decay of railroads, and the urban sprawl that cars encourage have been key contributors to the steady rise of CO2 emissions in the United States. Disposables increasingly present in daily life, humungous quantities of paper and electricity used up in advertising, and careless use of energy for lighting, cooling, and heating have been added causes of increasing CO2 emissions that make the United States one of the countries with the highest CO2 emissions per capita, at a level that is, for instance, three times higher than that of Italy. And despite pious statements by Barack Obama, gasoline sales in the US reached an all-time peak in 2016.
Of course, rising emissions are not only an American issue. The British climatologist Kevin Anderson has cited studies showing that 10% of the global population is responsible for about half of global greenhouse emissions. Most potential readers of this article as well as its author belong to this 10% and therefore, any successful reduction of emissions to avoid catastrophic global warming will require of us significant consumption restrictions to reduce our high carbon footprint. This is quite a different view from that of, say, Paul Krugman or President Obama, who claim that climate disaster can be prevented without major changes in our way of living. Krugman is convinced by “serious studies” that “we can achieve sharp reductions in emissions with only a small impact on the economy’s growth.” Even James Hansen presents his scheme of a carbon fee with full reimbursement as a method to reduce emissions without any major disturbance of the economy, maintaining GDP growth.
Now, it seems to me that if policies of any kind actually curtail emissions of greenhouse gases, it will be because to a large extent activities that produce large quantities of CO2 will be significantly reduced or suppressed, and that applies very concretely to airborne transportation, automobiles, energy use for heating and cooling, and production of meat, disposables, and other commodities. To my knowledge, no economist proposing cap-and-trade schemes has ever explained how reaching a significant reduction of CO2 emissions would be possible without significantly reducing the monetary value added of what is produced and sold. But in our system, reductions of the monetary value of what is produced and sold only occur when the economy is in disarray, in what is called a recession or a depression. Economists should have clarified this to the public; instead they have created the illusion that climate disaster can be prevented just by applying policies that will have little effect on consumers.
Considering all this, and wanting to do something more practical than marching in demonstrations demanding unspecified policies to prevent catastrophic warming, about one year ago I made the decision to reduce as much as possible my consumption of meat, and restrict my airplane traveling to one round-trip flight per year. I was, say, 60% successful in the former and 0% successful in the latter—as I write this in early December I have already flown several times during 2017, and will fly again before the end of the year. More generally, expectations are that air travel will continue growing worldwide. Manufacturers of gigantic airbuses and other commercial aircraft plan to sell over 2,000 new units per year in the near future. And very likely they will sell them, unless another world economic crisis intervenes. I doubt car sales are going to be restricted in any country during this decade or even the next one. No wonder that with quickly increasing worldwide sales of automobiles and airplanes in the past three years and an all-time record gasoline consumption in 2016, recent forecasts predict that both U. S. and global CO2 emissions will be rising again in 2017 and 2018, after a few years of plateau. All these are additional reasons for my pessimism about the possibility of avoiding climate catastrophes even before the end of the century.
Authors like Richard Heinberg, influenced by ecological economics and environmental thought maintain that the degree to which natural resources are already exploited makes impossible rates of growth of the world economy like those observed before the Great Recession. I disagree, as I think the depletion of natural resources has not yet reached levels that may be expected to have a short-term impact on economic activity. However, I see many reasons to expect major recessions of the global economy in the following decades, with one global recession coming before the end of the present decade. These recessions will probably be the only obstacles slowing down the mechanism taking us toward climate disaster. But they will likely be only temporary interruptions of the general trend of increasing CO2 emissions, which has been with us since the industrial revolution started.
Hansen and those who propose full nuclearization as a policy to prevent runaway global warming are probably a minority in the climate-change community, but their stance is very divisive, as they blame antinuclear activists for weakening the overall effort to achieve an energy transition that would allow the limitation of global warming to tolerable levels.
This is not the place to discuss in detail the pros and cons of nuclear energy. It seems to me, however, that this is a proper place to say that climate-change activists should try avoiding a fight over nuclear energy among those who otherwise strongly support putting in place effective policies to avoid catastrophic warming. Perhaps a kind of entente cordiale, i.e., an agreement to avoid getting bogged down in discussions on this issue, should be reached between the anti-nuclear and the pro-nuclear wings of the movement. It is true that nuclear power does not produce CO2 emissions, but it is also true that, unaccompanied by policies to prevent the burning of fossil fuels, nuclear plants by themselves have little value to prevent the rise of emissions. In 2013 emissions per capita in France, where 72% of electricity is produced by nuclear plants, were 5 metric tons per person, while in Sub-Saharan Africa they were just 0.8 metric tons. If the present population of Sub-Saharan Africa, approximately 1 billion, were to receive electricity with 72% produced, as in France, by nuclear plants while producing emissions per capita like those of France, the CO2 emissions of Sub-Saharan Africa would be similar in size to those of the U.S. today. It is easy to conclude that nuclear-based electrification à la française in Africa, without policies to avoid an increase in fossil fuel use, could lead to a rise in emissions per capita in many countries by a factor between 4 and 60.
If nuclear energy is a major divisive issue among climate-change activists, the controversy between supporters of cap-and-trade policies (European Union-style) and supporters of a carbon fee with full reimbursement à la Hansen (or any other type of taxation of fossil fuels) does not seem to me an important one. The evidence supporting the effectiveness of cap-and-trade schemes to curb CO2 emissions is so slim that you need to have very great faith in the potential virtues of that policy as to ignore how pitiful its results have been in practice. To my knowledge, only economists and politicians in the European Union (with a serious conflict of interest, as to acknowledge the failure of cap-and-trade would be to accept that they promoted and implemented a useless policy) support the cap-and-trade scheme. A further consideration here is that many in the climate-change community are not even aware of the controversies on these issues. For these reasons, probably the most constructive way for the future of the movement would be to promote knowledge of the proposals only when and where they trigger discussion or disagreement.
When the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997, worldwide annual emissions of CO2 were 24.6 billion tonnes. They were 36.3 billion in 2015, so that emissions rose about 50% while dozens of government meetings and negotiations about the issue were taking place. As Hansen has said, the countries where emissions have decreased are those in which deindustrialization is occurring. All this should convince any climate-change activist that little confidence can be put in international negotiations and in governments in general as agents in the fight to prevent catastrophic warming. Besides talking—when they have not been active supporters of climate-change denial—governments have done nothing effective to reduce CO2 emissions. Governments are under the control of the business community, whose interest lies in business as usual, which implies a steady rise of CO2 emissions.
It seems to me that the time for mass demonstrations demanding unspecified policies to prevent catastrophic warming has passed. To avoid demoralization, rather than unsuccessfully attempting to influence governments, climate-change activists should get directly involved in independent actions to curtail emissions. This could mean, for instance, actions of civil disobedience to stop the construction of pipelines, coal mining, fracking, or drilling for oil. The extremely harmful consequences of air travel should be popularized, and the construction of new airports should be opposed at all costs, while waterborne and train transportation should be encouraged as environmentally friendly. Private cars and the many ways in which governments subsidize the automobile industry and gas prices should be opposed at all levels, not only because of climate-change concerns, but also for health reasons. In cities, restrictions on private traffic, enhancement of public transportation, and expansions of pedestrian areas should be supported as much as possible. The goal would be a stage at which a city could be said to be car-free.
Activists should probably explore the possibility of starting boycotts of particular commodities of recent introduction, like outdoor heaters and, of course, all kinds of disposables. Creating consciousness of the environmental damage done by specific forms of consumption, as some scientific journals have been doing in recent years, is an important aspect of the fight to prevent catastrophic warming.
But it is of little use to criticize cars or airplanes when you are using them all the time.
Kevin Anderson, Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, who has not taken a plane since 2003, has emphasized the need of individual actions to limit our carbon footprint, though an effective reduction of global emissions sufficient to keep global warming inside non-catastrophic limits cannot be achieved through “widespread and altruistic individual action.” The value of such actions, says Anderson, would be as catalysts to bring attention to the issues. But in the end policies will be needed to push for an effective reduction of the social carbon footprint. And these policies will require reductions in consumption that will be perceived as a sacrifice for many in the population of the high-income countries. Otherwise, atmospheric CO2 will reach levels that will lead to catastrophic warming. In his blog on climate issues, Anderson wrote that it is those of us “who write and read ramblings such as this who are disproportionately both the problem and the solution to climate change. But such responsibility weighs heavy, it is much easier to point the finger of blame elsewhere.”
I agree with Anderson but, unfortunately, I am more pessimistic than him. Indeed, considering the experience of the past two decades and my own behavior, it seems to me unlikely that individual actions and purposeful activism for curtailing emissions can have a real impact. As I have explained in these articles, the progress toward climate catastrophe and our money economy are intrinsically linked. To prevent the former seems as difficult as to overcome the later. It must be tried, anyway; the alternative is just to wait sitting on our hands until catastrophe hits us in the face.
Business leaders and right-wing economists often talk about “job-killing regulations.” This is a demagogical phrase at odds with economic reality. Indeed, unemployment is mostly due to unexpected economic downturns, technological innovations—like disposables—making jobs redundant, and the deindustrialization of high-income countries by capital movement toward low-wage regions. Neither of these processes has anything to do with regulations. But what is true is that in our economy employees are constantly in fear of losing their jobs and technological progress is feared because it usually leads to the destruction of jobs rather than to an easing of the burden of work for all.
“The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for an instability in the accumulation and utilization of capital which leads to increasingly severe depressions,” in which millions become unemployed. This was the view of Albert Einstein, expressed in a famous essay in which he explained why he thought socialism was necessary. Einstein saw the “economic anarchy of capitalist society” as the real source of social ills. For him socialism was the only way to overcome the increasing alienation of human beings and the irrationality of the economic system. The reasons that Einstein gave seventy years ago to support socialism seem to me as good as they were in his time, but now there is a further reason, which is the fact that the irrationality of our profit-led economy has been proved to be destroying the habitability of the only Earth where humanity can live.
Regrettably, after the Soviet experience that ended in the 1990s and the recent decades of Chinese integration in world capitalist markets under the iron rule of the Chinese Communist Party, the term “socialism” is tinted for many people with the ugly tones of big-brother societies where individuals are deprived of civil rights, beliefs are imposed by an all-powerful State, and the police reigns uncontested. However, what originally was called socialism, and what Einstein defended, was not a big-brother social order, but a society in which what is produced and how it is produced would be decided not by a privileged class of owners of capital looking for short-term profits, but by the direct producers themselves and by society at large, considering short- and long-term social needs. No society like that has ever existed, but if there is something that we human beings are good at, it is to create new things. Certainly, for the large majority of humanity, an economy democratically managed by the community itself, societies without private cars, and transportation without airplanes are today just bizarre ideas. For most people, the promotion of these ideas is almost indicative of delusional thinking. That is a further reason for pessimism. But for a near future in which every human being must try to survive with the other eight, nine, or ten billion earthmates, a world economy that is not doomed to catastrophic global warming is incompatible with many forms of modern consumption, including private cars. In that sense, it seems to me my father was right, cars should be forbidden. Sadly, I think they will be with us until they are wiped from the surface of the earth by storms, hurricanes, and flooding, or until fossil fuel wells go dry, or until humanity goes back, after war or climate catastrophe, to some form of barbarism. Of course, I would like to be wrong in much of my reasoning here, so that a future for humanity different from calamitous disasters would be possible. If a powerful mass movement against fossil fuels developed, perhaps governments could be compelled to put in place policies to curb emissions. Or perhaps revolutions will occur, or extraterrestrial beings will come to give us a hand with our problems. The probability of these outcomes seems to me small, but not zero. We do not know what the exact future will be, but we must act on the basis of what we do know.
To convince those still incredulous about climate change of its reality, climate-change activists should logically take action to protect themselves from extreme weather events or other dangerous consequences of climate change. For climate-change reasons, in the United States Chicago is preferable to New York as a place to live, and if you live in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, or other states in flood-prone regions, you should pay attention to the elevation of your residence. As proven by events in recent years, to live in flood-prone areas or in areas with vegetation that can burn in wildfires are probably the two circumstances that raise in a more substantial way the probability of suffering directly the present consequences of global warming. Similarly, reliance on the “usually available” supply of electric power may pose major dangers for survival, as during what will be increasingly frequent heat waves, overuse of AC units will likely cause blackouts, putting those without other means to access, at least temporarily, cooler temperatures at risk of hyperthermia, dehydration, and death. The question of what to do if a heat wave comes and electric power is gone should be answered by all of us who believe that climate change is a reality. To have ready access to places like underground facilities that maintain cool temperatures without the use of electricity can represent the difference between life and death.
After so many words it may appear indefensible that I have only some tentative answers to propose to the question of what is to be done to prevent climate catastrophe. But, given my lack of confidence that what I propose can lead to the intended purpose, I can make only hesitant suggestions. Here they are:
- Reduce your carbon footprint by avoiding the use of airplanes, cars, disposables, and energy for heating and cooling as much as possible. Reduce your meat consumption and if possible become a vegetarian. This is not only to preach by example, but also for the sake of your physical and, probably, your mental health.
- If you are interested in policy or technological details, join others in discussing schemes to curb greenhouse emissions. If you are unclear about what a carbon footprint is, or the pros and cons of nuclear energy or cap-and-trade, read about these issues—there is plenty of information available—and discuss them with others. (Be aware that a lot of available “information” is actually misinformation supported by corporate interests.)
- Work for social change that allows people to put into action policies for our own benefit, in defiance of the paralyzing power of the powers that be. Discuss with others the characteristics of the social change we want.
- Since you have only one life, protect it and protect those around you as much as possible from the consequences of climate change that are already with us. Be prepared for weather extremes, particularly flooding, wildfires, and heat waves.
- Organize and participate with others in direct actions, including civil disobedience, to curb CO2 Oppose new construction of airports, highways, and pipelines. Support boat and railroad systems for long-distance transport, and public transportation and car-free areas for pedestrians and cyclists in urban areas. Support initiatives and boycotts against disposables and any irresponsible use of energy.
A number of climate-change activists, including James Hansen, Bill McKibben, and James Gustave Speth, have advocated or have been involved in acts of civil disobedience that go beyond legality and may lead to detention or jail. Howard Zinn once said that participating in illegal actions is much easier and involves much less personal risk when many do it at the same time. Most readers of this essay live in a country that exists only because many thousand subjects of the British empire acted illegally. To conclude, let us remember with Helen Keller that alone we can do very little, but together we can do very much.
Sources, References, Notes, and Further Reading
Katie Richards, "Study: Ad Industry Accounted for 19% of U.S. GDP in 2014", November 17, 2015, www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/study-ad-industry-contributed-nearly-20-percent-toward-us-gdp-2014-168164/ accessed November 2017. According to estimates by CarbonTrack the UK advertising industry produces annually 2 million tons of CO2, equivalent to emissions produced by heating 364,000 UK homes for a year, www.triplepundit.com/2010/12/carbontrack-measures-carbon-footprint-advertising-campaigns/
The unhealthy character of cars is discussed by Margaret J. Douglas et al. in “Are cars the new tobacco?”, Journal of Public Health, Vol. 33, No. 2, pp. 160–169, 2011. My paper “Reducing automobile traffic: an urgent policy for health promotion,” Pan American Journal of Public Health, Vol 3, No. 4, pp. 227-40 (iris.paho.org/xmlui/bitstream/handle/123456789/8982/3n4a3.pdf) was published in 1998, but apparently had not much influence.
For car sales worldwide, see for instance the websites of Statista (www.statista.com/statistics/200002/international-car-sales-since-1990/), Focus2Move (focus2move.com/world-car-market/), or the Australina Business Insider (www.businessinsider.com/2016-was-a-record-breaking-year-for-global-car-sales-and-it-was-almost-entirely-driven-by-china-2017-1). Electric vehicles do not solve traffic jams and indeed they are not zero emissions as fossil fuels need to be burnt at last to manufacture them, usually too to generate the electricity that powers them. At any rate, they represent presently less than 1% of global car sales, see reports by the International Energy Agency (www.iea.org/newsroom/news/2017/june/electric-vehicles-have-another-record-year-reaching-2-million-cars-in-2016.html) and Statista (https://www.statista.com/statistics/270603/worldwide-number-of-hybrid-and-electric-vehicles-since-2009/).
Deforestation by burning, conversion of forest into pasture land, etc. has converted tropical forests in net sources of CO2 as shown by A. Baccini et al. in “Tropical forests are a net carbon source based on aboveground measurement of gain and loss”, Science Vol. 358, No. 6360, pp. 230-4, 2017.
According to the website www.fi-aeroweb.com/General-Aviation.html, worldwide deliveries of airplanes were 2164 units in 2012, 2353 in 2013, 2454 in 2015, and 2331 in 2016.
That 10% of the global population is responsible for half of global CO2 emissions is an assertion by Kevin Anderson, kevinanderson.info/blog/a-succinct-account-of-my-view-on-individual-and-collective-action/.
Eric Morath, “Americans Drive to a New Record in Gasoline Consumption”, The Wall Street Journal, 7 Sept. 2016, blogs.wsj.com/economics/2016/09/07/americans-drive-to-a-new-record-in-gasoline-consumption/
For the harmful effects of specific forms of consumption on Arctic ice, see W. Cornwal, “Sea ice shrinks in step with carbon emissions,” Science, vol. 354, No. 6312, pp. 533-4, 2016, www.sciencemagazinedigital.org/sciencemagazine/04_november_2016_Main?pg=17#pg17; “The average U.S. family destroys a football field's worth of Arctic sea ice every 30 years”, Science Nov. 3, 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=SK2Od5gF8nc.
On taxes and prohibitions to curb the use of disposables see “New law will force French picnickers to pack heavier, CBS News, Sept 13, 2016, www.cbsnews.com/news/france-bans-plastic-plates-dishes-bags-environment-pollution-eu-law/; “Britain Considers a ‘Latte Levy’ to Cut the Use of Coffee Cups, by K. de Freytas-Tamuta, New York Times, 5 Jan 2018, 5, 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/01/05/world/europe/uk-coffee-cup-tax.html; “China bans free plastic shopping bags”, New York Times, Jan. 9, 2008, www.nytimes.com/2008/01/09/world/asia/09iht-plastic.1.9097939.html.
As reported by Lisa W. Foderaro (“With Sweeping Plastics Ban, New York Village Joins Environmental Vanguard,” Jan 29, 2015, www.nytimes.com/2015/01/30/nyregion/with-sweeping-plastics-ban-new-york-village-joins-environmental-vanguard.html) the Food Industry Alliance of New York State, a business association, filed a lawsuit against the town of Hastings-on-Hudson before a law forbidding plastic bags went into effect. The alliance’s president said its members worried that bans on plastic could hurt business. In New York City, the proposed ban on polystyrene is vigorously opposed by Dart Container Corporation, one of the largest makers of plastic foam products, and the American Chemistry Council, a trade group.
For the recent rise of CO2 emissions, see “CO2 Emissions Were Flat for Three Years: Now They’re Rising Again”, by Brad Plumer & Nadja Popovich, The New York Times, Nov. 13, 2017.
In The end of growth—Adapting to our new economic reality (New Society Publishers, 2011), Richard Heinberg explains why in his view economic growth at rates as before the Great Recessions is rather impossible.
Shares of nuclear power in total electricity production are from the Nuclear Energy Institute, www.nei.org/Knowledge-Center/Nuclear-Statistics/World-Statistics. CO2 emissions per capita are from the World Bank as reported in Google Explorer (www.google.com/publicdata/directory).
Global emissions at the time of Kyoto and presently are taken from the blog of Kevin Anderson, which is also the source for the citations in this section (kevinanderson.info/blog). See also worldwide annual emissions of CO2 in Trends in global CO2 emissions: 2016 Report, Table 2.7 (Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, The Hague, 2016, edgar.jrc.ec.europa.eu/news_docs/jrc-2016-trends-in-global-co2-emissions-2016-report-103425.pdf).
Albert Einstein published his essay on “Why socialism?” in the first issue of the magazine Monthly Review, in 1949. The essay has been reprinted in several books and is widely available online, for instance in monthlyreview.org/2009/05/01/why-socialism/.
- Anu Cramer, “A future on fire: Climate change and conservative forest management may mean bigger and more frequent wildfires”, Science Vol. 358, No. 6360, p. 178.
The ideas in this essay have many sources but one particularly important is the social science journal Mientras Tanto, for instance the editorial note titled “¿Cambio climático global o crisis socioecológica?” that was signed by A. R. A. (No. 104-105, pp. 5-10, 2007). Richard Heinberg has recently discussed very intelligently many issues that are threads here, see his “Are We Doomed? Let’s Have a Conversation”, www.postcarbon.org/are-we-doomed-lets-have-a-conversation/, and "Controversy Explodes over Renewable Energy", www.postcarbon.org/controversy-explodes-over-renewable-energy/. In “There’s No App for That: Technology and Morality in the Age of Climate Change, Overpopulation, and Biodiversity Loss", www.postcarbon.org/publications/theres-no-app-for-that/, Heinberg discusses many aspects of the ecological and social crisis of our time. An excellent survey of the various dimensions of the ecological crisis is the essay “What, Me Worry? Humans are blind to imminent environmental collapse”, by William Rees. Rees is a professor emeritus of human ecology and ecological economics at the University of British Columbia; his essay appeared recently in several websites (thetyee.ca/Opinion/2017/11/16/humans-blind-imminent-environmental-collapse/).
ContributorJosé A. Tapia
JOSÉ A. TAPIA is an Associate Professor of Politics at Drexel University, Philadelphia. His research has been published in Journal of Health Economics, the American Journal of Epidemiology, Social Science & Medicine, PNAS, and other journals.