Roger Hallam’s guide to the quickest route to hell

I was resting from scything practice in the garden, appropriately enough, and saw that a friend was meeting Roger Hallam who founded Extinction Rebellion. He urged me to watch a video of one of Roger’s speeches.

I sat and watched a 1 hour 8 minute video and recommend it to everyone. even if the beginning is a bit slow. Start at 3 minutes.

But there are lots of videos, just search “roger hallam extinction rebellion” if you haven’t seen him yet.

This is a section of his argument:

-          We have already locked in temperature rises of 2.2 degrees, despite what politicians and UN people and scientists say

-          1.2 degrees has already happened

-          Melting of icecaps is unavoidable and that causes an extra 0.5 degrees of warming

-          The emissions between now and stopping emitting in some years’ time will cause further 0.5 degrees warming

-          This takes us to 2.2 degrees

-          As the world gets warmer, you get more water vapour in the sky. For every degree of warming, extra water vapour adds a further degree because it holds heat. So that gets us to 3.2 degrees

-          If you go over 3 degrees then the Amazon is going to burn down; that will add 1.5 degrees

-          1.2+0.5+0.5+1.0+1.5=4.7 degrees

These are average temperatures, and the centre of continents heats twice as much as the coast, so average 2 degrees warming means 4 degrees in the middle of continents.

Then we won’t have enough food:

-          corn yields fall by 15% for every 1 degree increase in temperature

-          If you have 4 degrees of warming, that’s 60% fall in corn production

-          All civilisations grow and survive because they have storable grains

-          If your food production falls by half, you don’t have storable surplus

-          We are looking at falls in grain yields over the next ten to fifteen years

-          We are looking at societal collapse in that time scale.

(This is all in less time than it takes to build a nuclear power station. This means that nuclear is not a viable answer to tackling climate change. We won’t be able to feed the chaps building the plant.)

It gets more scary:

-          The planet moves between two stable states.

-          One, with polar ice, with an average temperature of 12 degrees.

-          Another, with an average temperature of 23 degrees.

-          In the hotter state, to which we are moving, there is no wind.

-          As a result the oceans become still

-          As a result emissions of noxious nitrate-sulphite gases [the name was not clear - check 29:50] fill the atmosphere

-          Mammals cannot survive this gas in the air. Humans are mammals.

-          End of.

All this within not many years.

This is worth bearing in mind when you hear cheery talk from government officials and big companies about cutting emissions by 2050 and all that. They are spouting irresponsible rubbish. Trying to sugarcoat a nasty, violent, scary and uncontrollable future.

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Rearranging nation states

Another issue raised by Bolsonaro’s crimes is how the concept of the Nation State can stop being useful to humans.

Legally the Amazon belongs to Brasil and some other South American countries. But the Amazon is bigger than Brasil – it has global importance and we are all affected by its fate. Does that mean the Brasil owes everyone some duty of care in its management? Who can enforce that duty of care? There seems to be something missing because it is not being enforced.

Now think of a human body. One day you wake up, feeling a bit chesty, and suddenly your lungs say: “We’ve had enough. We’re declaring independence. And we’re taking Sundays off.”

“Whaaaa?” You say – in unison with all the other organs. “You can’t do that. We need you. And you need the rest of us.”

“We’ll see about that,” says the left lung. “Yeah, we will,” adds the right lung. “We are clearly definable independent organs and we have the right to do what we want with ourselves.”

“Hmm,” thinks the heart to itself. “Not a bad idea. I might try that myself some day.”

“Yeah, me, too,” pipes up the appendix which can hear the thoughts of other organs.

“Fuck off,” bark the bowels, “noone needs you. you snively twat.”

And so on.

Perhaps we need to revise how we arrange nation states.

The state should not include ownership of the land and natural resources where it happens to be organised. It sits on top of the land natural resources and holds it in trust for the Living Planet. The natural resources are the interconnected living system of which all people and other life forms are part.

You are welcome to use the natural resources, but you need to put them back in good shape when you are done.

I think this is what indigenous people figured out years ago. It is obviously no longer relevant but might be useful for when life is reestablished on the planet and forms of political organisation get discussed.

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Taking climate change seriously: regime change, state failure and anarchy

Regime change is where a country or coalition of countries intervene in another country where the leaders are engaging in genocide, crimes against humanity and so forth. Say, hypothetically, a small, rogue state was expanding its chemical industry. It builds a factory capable of producing annually 20 million tonnes of CFC13, a greenhouse gas 14,000 times more potent than CO2.

The rogue state, a thorn in the side of the rest of the world, then says: “When the factory is ready, I’m going to vent 20 million tonnes of CFC13 into the atmosphere every year. That’s gonna fry you all. Unless you pay me (he puts his little finger to the side of his mouth) … one hundred billion dollars a year not to.”

Scientists calculate that if the rogue leader carried out his threat, the ensuing warming would cause more suffering to humanity than previously disposed-of despots Saddam Hussein, Gadaffi and Milosevics together.

After failed, angry diplomacy, the UN agrees on a resolution to dismantle the rogue regime. Even the US voted for it! Although they don’t believe in the greenhouse effect, they do relish the chance to boost the military-industrial complex.

The principle is established that knowingly and wilfully causing the additional emissions of billions of tonnes CO2e of greenhouse gases is likely to cause additional suffering to millions of people and must therefore be prevented.

So in go the cruise missiles and take out the leaders of the rogue state.

It is in this light that I consider Brasil under Bolsonaro which is now deliberately and recklessly ramping up the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

The Amazon is one of the world’s lungs and a fundamental part of the global ecosystem, of life on Earth. Its destruction will add significantly to climate change – perhaps another 1.5 degrees of warming – and loss of innumerable living species.

Bolsonaro’s reckless, pugnacious encouragement of an acceleration in the destruction of the Amazon forest is a serious crime. Steadily it becomes a crime against humanity. Following the logic of the CFC13 instance, the prospect of regime change must come into focus.

I don’t see any political leader in the world with the clout or integrity to push this. This raises a further issue. If the state completely fails in its moral duties, are citizens morally obliged and entitled to step in to do the state’s dirty work?

Anarchy could ensue. But anarchy might just be the best organisational model for tackling the climate emergency just now.

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T3-PIP: the small payment which could save the world…

I have been curious about the idea of lots and lots of small, regular payments by lots of people adding up to a big sum of money. And then this money being put towards saving Planet Earth from man’s desecration.

I remember from accountancy exams that it is best to tax necessities because price elasticity of demand is low. Or is that high? The point being, if people have to pay more for bread, they still buy it because they really need to eat.

I also know that if you want to raise a levy, you don’t call it a tax because right-wing people will reject it. Something like “community contribution” is better framing for Conservatives. Or an insurance premium because that sounds like business.

A lesson from the EU Emissions Trading System is that you place burdens on countable numbers of things (e.g. power stations) rather than uncountable (e.g. cars). And preferably things which ordinary people don’t really care for (e.g. fossil fuel companies and not cars).

The good news is that the kind of money needed to save the planet is very doable. Experts say that $1trn a year would be ample to implement direct air capture to suck up all the CO2 emissions and more. A few hundred billion a year invested in restoration of soils, forests and wetlands would also make a massive dint in global emissions.

From all this emerges T3-PIP. Yup, a silly name.

T3-PIP stands for Telecom Trillion for Trees (that’s the T3 bit) Planetary Insurance Premium.

Anyone who spent time on a telecom’s company telephone helpdesk has a healthy loathing for the telecom sector. Tick – suitable for political bullying.

Countable number of regulated entities. Tick – there are a few big companies dealing with data in each country.

Regular payments by lots of people. Tick – there are like four billion (4,000,000,000) mobile phone subscriptions in the world.

Budapest metro 4, October 2017: some of the four billion subscribers.

Small amounts. Tick – Say, you have four billion with a monthly contribution of $5.21 per subscription, you raise 4,000,000,000 x 12 x 5.21 = $250bn each year. I am saying, controversially, that $5 a month is a small amount for someone to pay for breaking the back of saving the planet’s biodiversity and climate.

Low elasticity. Tick – We need our datastreaming fix. Datastreaming now props up the bottom of the Maslow pyramid.

"And now tell them to add data-streaming underneath"

The charge would be borne by telecom companies and raised on megabytes of voice or data transmitted. In this way it would be progressive since marginal use of data is generally trivial. If the use is important, then people will pay for it.

The funds thus raised are then spent mainly on the large-scale restoration of soils, forests and wetlands, with a portion allocated to direct air capture.

The organisation of the whole thing would have to be outside the hands of politicians and policy-makers. It would have to be arranged by a cartel of the world’s large companies dealing in data. A cartel so powerful and with such noble intent, than it would be impossible for competition authorities to summon the political will to contest it.

Now that several countries have declared a climate emergency, I think it is timely to introduce this scheme.

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Why Tyrannosaurus burgers were ok, but Big Macs aren’t.

Anthropocene ethics is a bit different from normal ethics. The rules change with population size [1]. We need to learn to accept this and live by it, now that we are in an ecological emergency.

If you are a caveman living 60,000 years ago and you need to catch a flight to a very swampy New York for the annual conference on dinosaur security, it wouldn’t be an ethical problem from the point of view of climate change. Yes, the ride would be bumpy – the stone seats uncomfortable, and the worm and locust paté so-so – but there only seven of you on the flight, and there’s only one scheduled flight from London to New York every three months. So we can overlook the emissions there.

If you are making the same flight in the 1970s, as a distinguished professor of anthropology, where there are only a few billion people on the planet, then … well only a very few insightful thinkers know about climate change … and yes there is an oil crisis and air pollution … but the impact is miniscule. Only the rich world has aeroplanes and the flying population is still relatively modest – about one tenth of today’s.

But now if you fly to New York it is very different. Yours is one of five billion passenger flights each spewing out from a few hundred kg to a few tonnes of CO2, each contributing to runaway climate change, whose effects are now well known.

So the same act in one age is ok ethically because it doesn’t cause any harm. But in another age it is a crime except in the very generous, avuncular legal system we enjoy.

The same goes with food. Your Tyrannosaurus burger was actually doing us all a favour back then – no-one liked the aggressive and egoistical Tyrannosaurus Rex, so when we did manage to bring one down with a plucky ,well-aimed slingshot, it was burgers all round and double chips for the lad with the sling. No-one was too worried about the impact of that burger on emissions, deforestation in Gondwana, the dead zone in the Tethis Sea, or plastic packaging clogging up the Panthalassic Ocean. Now, as we all know, or should know, meat eating is implicated in a myriad of ills. ( Now, it is very bad news to eat meat.

That is hard for us to grasp. It riles us. How come if it was ok to eat meat when we were little, it is now no longer ok to eat meat?

We are used to ethical rules being stable, permanent. If something is wrong, then it is wrong, full stop. Like the ten commandments. We also like our ethical rules to be unconditional – if such and such is wrong, it is always wrong. But with environmental ethics, right and wrong change as a function of the population. The more crowded the planet is, the wronger it becomes to eat meat and fly.

Why is that so, when the impact of the individual act is just the same? It is something to do with the “if everyone did” test. When contemplating an act in the Anthropocene age (i.e. the age of billions of humans trampling over all other living things), there is an extra test to apply to see if an act is ethical or not. We have to ask: “What if everyone did this?”

This requires recognising that we are not just individuals (hard to do in an age of individualism). We have to acknowledge that we are also nodes in a vast network of individuals like a swarm of bees. Each thing we do influences others, so that the act of eating the meat burger is no longer just a personal rite. It is a signal to all the others that the act is ok. Giving that signal increases the probability that “everyone else” will do the act. Since by committing the act, we increase the likelihood of others committing the same act, it is incumbent on us invoke the “if everyone did test” to see if that act is ok.

Obviously in times of large population, the outcome of the “if everyone did” test is different from in times of small population. Hence under Anthropocene ethics, when using the “if everyone did” test, we have to be much more careful than we used to be.


[1] Not just population. Technology, too. And other things. But this is a short blog post not an essay.

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