New Rules for Our Climate Emergency 

An avalanche of climate bullshit is underway

As a species we are inherently altruistic and cooperative.

That was the conclusion from a series of revolutionary game theory experiments by Manfred Milinski, the Director of the Max Planck Institute Evolutionary Biology in Germany (There’s a recent documentary on this: The Altruism Revolution

However when Milinski used similar experiments to see if people would sacrifice a little to protect the climate and their own future, and was surprised to find only about half would do so.

"People do not act rationally, even to protect their own interest," he told me way back in 2008. 

Based on this, Milinski predicted that the Copenhagen climate talks to be held the next year would fail. Why? Free Riders. Countries like Canada and the US would say acting on climate was important but would make no firm commitments, effectively do nothing. Other countries would follow or also delay action until they saw others acting. 

What should have been an easy win-win became a lose-lose.

Some important lessons came from those experiments:

  • Cooperation by a large group with widely different backgrounds takes a lot practice: It took 21 years of meetings to get the Paris climate agreement

  • If no one is acting as if climate change is a serious problem, then how can it be one?

  • People need to truly understand how high the risks of climate are. Few people did in 2009. 

“People have to realise that the river of CO2 is rising fast and is putting them and their children in grave danger,” said Milinski in 2008 as part of a series I did on the psychological and behavioural changes needed to deal with climate change. 

Based on the overall conclusion of that series: 

New Rules for our Climate Emergency 

1. Reward climate-safe behaviour 

2. Punish climate transgressors 

3. Publicly praise those who are trying to protect the environment

A more controversial 4th Rule: Naming and shaming. For example to discourage the purchase of an SUV they could carry a sticker saying: “This car is highly inefficient; its emissions contribute to lung cancer and hazardous climate change.” I’m sure you could think of other possibilities.

I bring this up because it seems everyone is now saying they are working towards net zero carbon emissions — including all the big oil-producing companies and countries. Everyone’s on board it would seem. But recall Milinski’s research on free riders.

Reality check on where we are right now

Need-to-Know 1: We already have too much fossil-fuel burning infrastructure in place to stay below 2C according to the latest science

Need-to-Know 2: Companies continue to build more and countries are counting on increased production of coal, oil, and gas

Need-to-Know 3: Climate impacts are already hitting hard. Around the world more damaging downpours that wipe out farmers' crops and storms like hurricanes are stronger. Hotter temperatures are fuelling wildfires and causing crippling heat waves, where our kids can't play outside. Sea levels are rising, which will flood tens of millions of homes.

Need-to-Know 4: There’s an avalanche of climate bullshit roaring towards us: 

  • Tar sands executive was just named a “climate champion” for a UN climate conference, COP 26 in Glasgow; as was vice president from Royal Bank of Canada, the fifth largest funder of coal in the world 

  • Shell CEO: “You need our help on climate change” — meanwhile continuing to fund anti-climate lobbying

  • Ongoing lucrative pay and share options have created an incentive for oil company executives to resist climate action

  • Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues to say climate is an “existential threat” but invested in billions to build the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline

  • Offsets — Countries and Companies say they will offset their emissions by planting trees: Nestlé’s goal of offsetting 13m tonnes of CO2 a year would require 4.4m hectares of land a year. Need another planet at that rate

  • Countries continue to subsidize fossil fuels despite a decade of promising to eliminate these

Damian Carrington, the Guardian’s environmental editor has also noticed this avalanche of climate bullshitting and suggests a simple metric I’ll call Need-to-Know 5: If a government and corporate decision does not really cut carbon NOW then we are failing to treat the climate crisis like the emergency it is.

Here’s some of the language tricks and propaganda being used by those who want to delay meaningful action while claiming otherwise — also known as predatory delay:

  •  “We are all to blame for climate change.”

    — Both fossil fuel industry and governments use this while blocking or failing to provide us with actual alternatives. But sure, blame the victims

  • “We need responsible oil and gas development to create jobs and wealth to pay for the transition to a sustainable future.” 

    — Can’t solve a problem by making it worse. As we have seen with the pandemic, there is plenty of money when governments’ decide its necessary

  • “We can have a healthy environment and a healthy economy.” 

    —Sounds good right? Except a healthy environment is essential for human survival, it is not a nice-to-have bonus. 

  • Framing climate change as a risk somewhere in the far future when it is our reality today

  • Framing oil and gas industry as vital to the ‘national interest’ or fate of the nation when the industry’s primary purpose is to enrich shareholders regardless of their nationality.

  • Invoking the sanctity of the rule of law when people oppose further expansion of fossil fuel production and are labelled terrorists 

  • Framing environmentalism as a political ideology rather than a universal desire for self-preservation and to protect our one and only home.

There is growing acceptance we’re in a climate emergency but less awareness of the urgency. And even less understanding of sweeping changes that are needed. Even political and corporate leaders who truly understand the nature of our emergency are failing to act appropriately. I suspect they believe taking the required climate action to stay around 1.5C would lead to considerable public backlash. They’re probably right. However that backlash could be muted through smart, equitable transition planing and honest leadership

We have turned the corner on climate change. Governments and companies have started to set emission reduction targets for 2030. Those targets aren’t yet good enough, nor are we acting on those weak targets with the required speed. Emissions in 2021 are very likely to be close to the highest ever and that’s with much less air travel.

Meanwhile scientists and others increasingly warn we are facing a ghastly future sooner than later unless we make those sweeping changes.

We need to call out climate BS wherever we see it. And help others to see it too. Here’s an updated New Rules.

New Rules for our Climate Emergency 

1. Reward climate-safe behaviour

2. Punish climate transgressors 

3. Publicly praise those who are trying to protect the environment

4. Name and shame climate transgressors

5. If a decision to take action does not really cut carbon NOW then it’s Climate BS

Do share this where ever you can. (Here it is as a shareable pdf file)

New Rules for our Climate Emergency

Until next time, please stay strong and stay safe.

Stephen

Vaccinated? Great! Now Keep Your COVID SHIELD Up to Protect Others

St Patricks Day 2020 was the last time I was in a bar, restaurant or fast food place — 14 long months ago. I’ve had my first vaccine jab but I won’t be going inside to eat or have a pint until the second jab and infection rates are extremely low.

Two reasons why:

Need to Know 1: No vaccine is 100 percent effective.

Need to Know 2: Fully vaccinated people can infect others.

Let me break down what these facts mean:

  1. Being vaccinated only means your body can now prevent the virus from causing serious disease in you. It doesn’t prevent the virus from getting inside you to hang out and make more copies of itself. Yes, viruses are freeloading jerks.

  2. So even though you are fully vaccinated and have zero symptoms, you can still have loads* of coronavirus happily buzzing around inside and floating out of your mouth and nose every time you breathe.

  3. *Loads? Well, maybe not. There’s research showing vaccinated people have substantially less virus buzzing around. That’s great but not really good enough to put down our Covid Shields just yet.


Five COVID SHIELD Tips to Protect You and Your Family

1. Two masks better than one

2. Safe socializing and bubble/pod life

3. Keeping your distance - 6 feet may not be enough

4. Mask up outside around others

5. Let local case rates determine your activities.

(These are detailed in a previous NtK issue.)


Here’s the harsh reality at this stage of the pandemic: Because vaccines aren’t great at preventing the spread of the virus, we have to keep our Covid Shields up until most people are vaccinated. We don’t yet know if “most” means 60 percent or 75 percent or 95 percent. It all depends on what it takes to get infection rates close to zero.

Need to Know 3: We have to keep our Covid Shields up until most people are vaccinated

About 60 percent of Israel is currently fully vaccinated and infections have plummeted despite much of the country re-opening. They gone from more than 1000 new cases a day to less than a 100 per day. That’s encouraging but the pandemic is far from over Israelis health officials say. They plan on vaccinating children next and are on guard for new variants that the vaccines aren’t as affective on. Israel has temporarily barred its citizens from travelling to India and six other countries, citing high COVID-19 infection rates.

The UK is aiming to have 75 percent of the population be fully vaccinated in order to nearly eliminate transmission of the virus. They hope to accomplish this by September.

Consider that a benchmark your country should be aiming for. This is based on the evidence we currently have, and no doubt there will be surprises still to come. Let’s just hope none are too nasty.

Need to Know 4: Covid is still an entirely new disease. We do not know everything about it and may take years to fully understand what it’s doing to us and how to learn to live with it. 

Need to Know 5: Some governments do not put public health first. As the editor-in-chief of the respected science journal Nature recently said about the pandemic:

“When governments failed to listen to the science you can plainly see the results.”

Meanwhile….

Need to Know 6: Even if you are vaccinated act as though you haven't been. Keep your Covid Shield up.


Does “Don’t get Covid!” still need to be said?

The Covid variants are putting healthy people of all ages into hospital. Some never leave. Even those with minor symptoms can suffer serious, long term health impacts. Millions already have Long Covid with symptoms lasting months which may well become years. Experts say long after the pandemic is over, people will still be suffering simply because they got infected.

It’s all pretty random as to who gets hit hard and who doesn’t.


Need to Know 7: No one is safe, until we all are safe. Keep your Covid Shield up.

Like you fxxxx fed up with having to deal with this damn virus. But this is where we are.

Need to Know 8: Either we accept and adapt to our reality or else it grinds us up

Do share this where ever you can.

Until next time, please stay strong and stay safe.

Stephen

P/S/ My Feb 3 NtK issue has lots more on Covid variants and how to protect yourself.

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PPS/ Speaking of accepting our reality, from last week’s issue:

Need-to-Know 3: On our current path we’re taking colossal risks

Be sure to read: Glaciers and Why we need to learn to be naturalists

Glaciers and Taking Colossal Risks with Our Future

Why we need to learn to be naturalists

Welcome to the web version of Need to Know: Science & Insight, a new form of personal journalism that looks at what we Need-to-Know at this time of pandemic, existential crisis of climate change and unravelling of nature’s life supports. Learn more.

I guess the coach and school officials knew we didn’t stand a chance at the Canadian college basketball championships held one year in Lethbridge, Alberta. In the days before the championship started me and my teammates went on an educational tour in the Rocky Mountains

Yes, instead of getting ready to play for a national championship we went to Banff. It was the best part of the entire experience. We had a great time and lost every game. 

My clearest memory of that trip was our visit to the Columbia Icefield and the Athabasca Glacier. Tombstone-like markers showed where an enormous amount ice once covered the stony ground in years past. It was a long way to the ice face  — perhaps a kilometer — as we walked past markers from 1920 and 1930

I didn’t know anything about climate change or global warming then. In fact the terms had only been coined a year or two before. Nor did I have any intention of becoming a journalist. Many years later as I struggled to explain climate change in one of my first articles, I remembered that long walk to the glacier past all those markers. I wrote something like: “Visiting a glacier you can see global warming with your own eyes.” 

In the last week I wrote two articles about new research on glaciers:

So that visit to the Athabasca Glacier turned out to be very educational for me. My thanks to Seneca College for a completely unforeseeable, life-altering trip. 

Need-to-Know 1: Glaciers everywhere are melting at an accelerating rate

Glaciers continue to be climate change we can see with our eyes but there are many other visible “markers” now: sea-level rise, extreme weather, coral bleaching, and so on.  Scientists now call this era “The Anthropocene” to reflect the massive impacts humans have had on the Earth such as shifting the axis of the entire planet. That’s a tough one to wrap your head around. 

Need-to-Know 2: It’s easy to see climate change with our own eyes unless your head is stuck in the sand or somewhere else.

We should all be very nervous about this. We don’t know what we’re doing. We don’t even understand how big of an impact we’re having. Nor what some of the impacts are or could be. As Nobel prize-winning scientist Brian Schmidt said a few days ago: 

Humanity is taking colossal risks with our common future.

Decisions made now will affect the long-term stability of Earth’s biosphere.

There is still time, but only if we take decisive action.

Schmidt is echoing the views of many Nobel prize winners and leading experts who convened a special Nobel Prize Summit “Our Planet, Our Future” this past week. 

Need-to-Know 3: On our current path we’re taking colossal risks

I listened in on many of the sessions, and it gave me lots to think about. You can read their “Urgent Call for Action” statement here. It’s an outline for effective planetary stewardship, so worth a few minutes of your time. 

Let me say this from a non-expert perspective:

You and I, and most people in fact, know we’re in trouble

We know we’re wasteful as a society and that the current economic system is keeping us on a disastrous path.

We know we’re going down the wrong path and understand we need to change direction

We know we need to do a lot of things differently

We generally know what needs to be done: Shift to renewable energy, protect oceans and forests; reduce plastic use; cut back on meat consumption and material consumption generally; and a bunch of other stuff.   

In order to do those things, to put humanity on a safe, equitable path to planetary stewardship we need a clear vision of the amazing world we can create. I made a bit of stab at it in an NtK issue about 100% renewable energy by 2030:

Suddenly, or so it will seem, almost all vehicles on the roads will be electric, the air will be fresher and the streets quieter as you silently pull up to curb on your electric-bike where the parking meter is also a charging station.

That’s where we’re going in less time than you think.

I find it hard to articulate the details of that much better world I know we can reach. And it’s not just me. I talked to some social scientists a few years back about my frustration on this issue. They told me the path to a truly sustainable future is through the muddy waters of emotions, values, ethics, and most importantly, imagination.

"When we talk about sustainability we are talking about the future, how things could be. This is the landscape of imagination," said John Robinson of University of British Columbia.

"If we can't imagine a better world we won't get it”.

Building Sustainable Future Needs More Than Science, Experts Say

Need-to-Know 4: Imagination is the key to creating the world we want

Imagine if we all truly understood we are part of nature and utterly dependent on nature for our well being? Most importantly, imagine if we all understood how nature functions?

With that understanding, imagine how different our decisions and activities would be? We would be oh-so-careful not to damage the natural world unless absolutely necessary because we’d be doing harm to ourselves. That is what we are doing as we aware only beginning to realize.

This is what eminent University of Cambridge economist Sir Partha Dasgupta meant when he said “We all need to be naturalists” at the Nobel conference. Dasgupta recently completed a landmark report “The Economics of Biodiversity”. It’s huge, so here is a link to its main messages.

And here’s some final thoughts Dasgupta shared from his economist perspective:

We are embedded in nature.

Nature is our most precious asset

All of us are in a real sense asset managers. We are not managing well and often not managing at all.

Markets don’t work. Nor will good governance be enough.

We all need to be naturalists.

Need-to-Know 5: We all need to be naturalists.

Until next time, stay strong and stay safe.

Stephen

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New Shareable: Time to Go Big on Our Fossil-Fuel-Free Future

This new Need to Know shareable is for those folks who don’t yet realize major changes in our society are necessary and underway. And since we’re late to the climate-action party, we need to see these changes happen faster despite how uneasy it may make us feel.

My idea here is to enlist you to help people gain a bit better understanding of a key issue with a few bullet points that’s easily sharable. 

So you know what it looks like, here’s a screenshot.

To get your copy of “Time to Go Big on Our Fossil-Fuel-Free Future” shareable click the button below. It will take you to my google drive where you can download the one-page pdf file (arrow at top right). It works. It’s safe. I double checked. Do share it widely.

Time to Go Big

Warmest regards

Stephen

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Don't Miss Out On A Better Life

New climate targets bring hope for the future

Happy Earth Day plus 1! 

This one is worth celebrating as I’ll explain. Looking back, it’s clear we have turned a corner on finally taking the climate emergency seriously. Yes, climate actions have yet to meet the challenge the emergency requires but we are getting there. 

As I’ve said here before there is enormous public support for climate action. 

Need-to-Know 1: Majorities of citizens in high-income countries want their governments to “do everything necessary, urgently” 

Now a poll out this week from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication shows there is overwhelming support for participation in the Paris Climate Agreement by people in every country surveyed. Even in the US 74 per cent support it.

Not surprisingly after four years of climate-denying Republican rule, the US has the biggest group of non-supporters but they’re a small minority. 

Need-to-Know 2: Peoples in all countries want their governments to take more action on climate and to make it a priority

The poll also found that an incredible 91% of Mexicans want their government to make climate action a priority. In recent years Mexico has been hard hit by extreme weather. However, their current government under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is ignoring the public’s sensible desire for climate action and plans to ramp up fossil fuel production including coal.  At the same time López Obrador cancelled renewable energy projects.

Need-to-Know 3: Leadership can be a matter of life and death as we’ve learned to our sorrow with the pandemic. 

It’s the same with the climate emergency. Leaders’ decisions will determine the fate of billions today and tens of billions of people in the decades to come.  

When we vote, we’re putting our lives, and those of our families, on the line.

Pandemic a True Test of Leadership

So what was worth celebrating on Earth Day? 

Countries, including the U.S., announced stronger targets to tackle climate change at President Biden's Earth Day Leaders Summit on Climate. A few highlights:

  • U.S. will cut emissions 50 to 52 per cent by 2030, effectively doubling its previous target

  • Canada bumped up its target from 30 per cent to between 40 and 45 per cent

  • United Kingdom a legally-binding target:78 per cent reduction by 2035

  • The European Union also set a new target, which is also legally-binding, of 55 per cent by 2030 *

  • Japan, long a laggard, boosted it’s target from 26 per cent to 46 per cent reduction on 2013 levels

  • China, the world’s biggest emitter of carbon, will have an emissions peak by 2030 and total carbon neutrality by 2060

*Those targets are reductions compared to emissions in 1990 while the U.S. and Canada levels are compared to emissions in 2005, a less challenging baseline.

There were other commitments to boost reduction targets. Australia’s stubborn refusal to increase its previous pathetic target stood out. It is probably why Prime Minister Scott Morrison came across as churlish and insulted anyone would ask Australia to do more, never mind its fair share.

Then there was Brazil’s President Bolsonaro who came across as unhinged from reality — or maybe it was just a bad translator ;]. 

Canada needs to take 8 million cars off its roads — annually

I wrote an article on the Summit and calculated that Canada’s new target means a reduction in emissions between 33 and 37 million tons a year. That’s equivalent to taking 7 to 8 million passenger vehicles off the roads every year until 2030. Canada only has 23 million passenger vehicles. 

The experts called this new target “challenging”.

Need-to-Know 4: We’ve left significant action on climate late, so even these enhanced targets aren’t good enough. So challenging times ahead.

That said the focus right now needs to be on taking the action necessary to reach the targets we do have. The optimist in me thinks that once we get started, experience some of the benefits of a low-carbon living, our efforts and our ability to cut emissions will snowball.

And let’s hope that snowball won’t melt but just keep rolling along.

From a previous NtK issue:

We’re going to live in a fossil-fuel-free world

Suddenly, or so it will seem, almost all vehicles on the roads will be electric, the air will be fresher and the streets quieter as you silently pull up to curb on your electric-bike where the parking meter is also a charging station.

Time to Go Big on Our Fossil-Fuel-Free Future

Our part in all this is to do what we can to reduce our own emissions and,  through our example, inspire others. We will also need to publicly support and insist on climate action. Many will resist some of the changes, only able to see narrowly and in the short term. Much of that is motivated by fear of change.

Many of us have “if it’s not broke why fix it?” mentality. To be clear, we’re breaking the climate system and we need to fix it. 

Need-to-Know 5: We’re breaking the climate system and we need talk about it.

But even knowing that won’t be enough to motivate change. 

On Earth Day, Swedish activist Ingmar Rentzhog addressed the issue of fear of change in a way I hadn’t considered before. In a short talk Rentzhog explained that fear was the solution; specifically, the fear of missing out:

‘The fear of missing out is how we conquer the fear of change and reach the critical mass to stop the climate crisis.

The fear of losing money on your investments in fossil fuels; 

The fear of not making the right investment in the new clean economy;

The fear of not eating healthy green foods; 

The fear of not being able to drive a modern electric vehicle or e-bike;

The fear of being the last one to change and have a better life.’

Note: this is a brief paraphrase of the talk

Rentzhog concluded by saying we all need to move out of our comfort zones and “together we are the solution to the climate crisis”

I’ve only been vaguely aware of Rentzhog’ s We Don’t Have Time” social network based in Stockholm. Looking through their materials I see a lot people I know are involved so I can recommend checking it out and joining. I have. 

And do listen to his short talk, and let me know what you thought.

Until next time, stay safe and stay strong.

Stephen 

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