§ Living on Earth: Greening the Economy — The Future is at Hand §

by Duane Nichols on April 24, 2021

We are learning to protect & share this planet

Living on Earth: Greening the Economy, Earth Day 2021

From the PRI Broadcast by Steve Curwood, et al., April 23, 2021

Over the last 30 years human-caused emissions have increased by 60 percent. Today the atmosphere holds the equivalent of about 420 parts per million of CO2. That is not good news. We began the industrial age in 1760 with concentrations of CO2 at about half those levels and we are now living through the hottest decade in modern human history. As a result we are seeing record breaking heat waves and wildfires from California to Siberia, floods, rising sea levels and shrinking Arctic sea ice. Not to mention, record-breaking Atlantic hurricane seasons, searing droughts and massive tornado clusters. And all this climate disruption is a result of just a single degree centigrade rise in average earth surface temperatures since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

But our broadcast today is not simply a look back or lament. We are also looking ahead, to shine a light on some possibilities to head off climate disruption before civilization as we know it becomes untenable. We will consider the possibilities of economics, politics, applied science and technology to address climate disruption, though so far they have fallen short. So, we will look to see what they may be missing.

CURWOOD: Correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation, but there are two striking trends that run parallel to the alarming rise in global warming gases. One is the astonishing growth of economic wealth, and in recent years that increase in wealth in the US has been confined to the very richest. In fact, most families in the US have seen little or no gain, with many losing economic power, as many young adults today can’t afford to buy homes like the ones they grew up in. The other trend is the loss of confidence in government action at the national and local levels and the failure of international rules governing climate change emissions to go beyond the honor system.

The concentration of economic and political power related to those trends has historically thrived on the extraction and burning of fossil resources. Climate policy critics including Van Jones, Kristina Karlsson and Bill McKibben say that has to change, if we are to halt our present march toward climate Armageddon. Kristina Karlsson is a program manager for the climate and economic transformation team at the Roosevelt Institute.

JONES: The first industrial revolution hurt the people and the planet, too. The next industrial revolution has to help the people and the planet.

KARLSSON: Meaningfully addressing climate requires an economic transformation in basically all corners of our economy.

MCKIBBEN: I think we’re reaching a turning point. I think that the political power of the fossil fuel industry has begun to wane after a century or two of waxing. And our job is to accelerate that to push hard for really rapid, rapid change.

CURWOOD: There are plenty of ideas about how to preserve a livable climate. And the conventional answer so far has been to double down on approaches that have yet to work, including unproven technology. To save us many advocates say we need market-based solutions such as pricing carbon and technologies such as renewable electricity from solar, wind and other clean energy sources to power our lives. They say we just need to update the systems of the Industrial Revolution that relied on abundant fossil fuels.

GROSS: We had all this energy available, a huge quantity that had never been available before. And that allowed just a complete revolution in the world: revolutions of transportation and manufacturing, all kinds of things that we just never had been able to do before.

CURWOOD: Samantha Gross was a senior climate and energy official for the Obama Administration. Now at the Brookings Institution, she notes that by the twentieth century, oil had become the most valuable commodity on world markets.
GROSS: If you were to design a fuel to be used for transportation, you really couldn’t do a lot better. It’s very energy dense, it has a lot of energy within it for its weight and its size. It’s easily transportable. It’s a liquid, so it works in an internal combustion engine. It’s really an excellent transportation fuel.

CURWOOD: So, she calls for new technologies to power the world while avoiding more climate disruption.
GROSS: We absolutely need both cleaner energy and more energy. There’s roughly a billion people in the world right now who don’t have access to modern energy services. And so, dealing with climate change, while not providing those people with a better standard of living is no solution at all.

CURWOOD: But even with the advent of electric cars like the Tesla and pricing of solar power well below that of coal, the growing profits of green tech have yet to halt the climate emergency. More is needed, says Kristina Karlsson, program manager for the climate and economic transformation team at the Roosevelt Institute.
KARLSSON: The markets will have to be a part of this, we can’t do this without private money. But focusing on those types of mechanisms alone will not get us anywhere near where we need to be in terms of mitigating climate, and it will also further deepen the unequal structurally racist outcomes that that system has already created.

CURWOOD: She says systemic racism has distorted government policies and spending when it comes to environmental justice and climate justice at home and abroad.
KARLSSON: All fiscal policy, even if it seems completely unrelated to climate will have climate implications. So, it’s, it’s really a framing argument and a sort of a policy development principle that saying, you can’t, you can’t ever be climate blind as you’re making choices.

CURWOOD: And Kristina Karlsson adds that if human rights and fairness guide the conduct of governments and businesses it would have a more positive economic impact in the long run than self-centered free market approaches.
KARLSSON: Climate is already an economic cost and an economic drag on our economy. Not only are we actually spending money to mitigate climate disaster that’s happening now. But we’re also seeding risk in our financial system by not dealing with the issue that we all rely on fossil fuels, you know, so we are actively paying for inaction. And as the more we put it off, the more these economic costs are going to compound over time.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary Wildfire April 25, 2021 at 7:23 am

Is that it, is that the whole broadcast? They hardly said anything. Looks like they were chosen to stay within acceptable bounds–they lament the harm done by fossil fuels, climate change included, they lament rising inequality but they seem to call for the sociopaths running the world to be more responsible–not for the overthrow of capitalism, the overthrow of sociopathocracy, that is our only hope. More of the same with a few tweaks ain’t gonna do it.


Duane Nichols April 25, 2021 at 4:19 pm

… (This is a little bit better, not much better.)

CURWOOD: So, looking forward to what could solve the climate crisis some say it comes down to who has power.

WILKINSON: I think in so many ways, money and power are really the crux of the of the issue, right?

CURWOOD: That’s Katharine Wilkinson, co-founder of the All We Can Save project and editor of the breakthrough book on climate solutions, Drawdown.
WILKINSON: Money and power is so much of what has kept us stuck in the status quo. It’s so much what has caused denial delay, blockading by standing.

CURWOOD: According to Katharine Wilkinson, money determines who has the power to either maintain the status quo or transform the system, so to make the changes needed to save ourselves from climate catastrophe we have to think beyond dollars and cents, beyond national indicators like GDP.

Katharine Wilkinson is co-founder of the All We Can Save project and editor of the breakthrough book on climate solutions, Drawdown.

WILKINSON: We’ve somehow seem to have landed on GDP, it is like the one big needle that we’re all hearing about, you know, you tune into the news. And that’s the key performance indicator that you’re going to hear about, about how we’re doing as a society. And, of course, sort of when we think about things that were laid bare by the pandemic, while it was the gap between how the markets seemed to think we were doing last year and how average people were doing last year, we’re wildly divergent. And if that sort of doesn’t reveal some insanity to us, I don’t know. I don’t know what will.

CURWOOD: Katharine’s done a lot of thinking about how to build a green economy, and to her a lot of it requires reframing the issue.

WILKINSON: I think a lot of times, our mind goes to oh, so that means, you know, installing wind and solar power. And that means retrofitting, building and building alternative transit. And I think all of that is true. But I think it also means recognizing, where we already have a quote unquote, green economy, but we’ve never seen it as such. So, for example, most CARE jobs right, the CARE economy is largely a green economy. It’s largely a low carbon set of industries. Interestingly, predominantly held by women, and women of color.

CURWOOD: She foresees a green economy that is built upon unity, and says we’re moving in the right direction:
WILKINSON: Even as wealth inequality widens, even as concentrations of money and power in some way are growing larger and larger, in a smaller and smaller set of hands. We’re seeing the collective right rise up in various ways, as the corrective, the collective as the corrective to that situation and the collective as the means to shift the deployment of money and power towards a just and livable future.


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