SUMMARY: David Collings, book our “Stolen Future and Broken Present”. From Sweden, forest expert Martin Persson says tropical deforestation is still stripping the planet – for us, for consumers in rich countries. Finnish intellectual Olli Tammilehto asks can we can survive a system which rewards the rich with a license to commit ecocide?
The Jet Stream gets blown off course again – this time by Nuri, the most powerful storm on the planet. Arctic air spills down into central and eastern North America, in mid-November, while another awful storm track shapes up for Britain and northern Europe. We live through the time of climate disruption, but what does it mean?
Our first guest David Collings talks about our “Stolen Future and Broken Present”. Then it’s a quick tour of bright minds from Scandinavia. From Sweden, forest expert Martin Persson says tropical deforestation is still stripping the planet – for us, for consumers in rich countries. Then Finnish intellectual Olli Tammilehto asks can we can survive a system which rewards the rich with a license to commit ecocide? There is a better way.
This is Radio Ecoshock.
Or listen right now on Soundcloud!
What is climate change? It is not an event. It is a complete change of context in which events take place.
No wonder we have trouble grasping it… I am once again reminded of that viral video where a man filming a triple rainbow breaks down in tearful wonder, repeating over and over again “what does it mean”?
On Radio Ecoshock we go into depth with scientists who explain the funtioning of the atmosphere, soil, and sea, and the creatures who live there. Today we’re going into the humanities, to ask scholar David A. Collings “What does it mean?” Collings has written about romanticism, poetry, and “monstrous society”.
David is a Professor of English at Bowdoin College in Maine. Now he’s turned to the largest news of this or any generation: human disruption of the climate. His new book is titled “Stolen Future, Broken Present: The Human Significance of Climate Change.”
David A. Collings
We hardly know what we are looking at. Just take this short blip from the editor’s introduction to this new book. Quote:
“Climate change concerns material agencies that impact on biomass and energy, erased borders and microbial invention, geological and nanographic time, and extinction events.“
That’s almost everything. Is climate change an everything?
In his book David writes:
“What we face, in short, is perpetual adaptation – the task of making a wholesale adjustment to our reality, then doing it again … then doing it yet again. It would be better if we admitted that if we make the necessary changes too late, we will have to adjust radically, and at uneven and unpredictable intervals, for as long as we can imagine…”
It’s never going to be over. That’s one of many ways the climate threat is different from the threat of nuclear war which hung over several generations. It’s still around, but a massive nuclear war would be a short and final event, compared to climate change which will unfold over generations, and hundreds of years.
Many of us can only stand the many acts of injustice and violence in this world because we think it might get better. Four hundred years we’ve believed in “progress”. What happens to us if we think progress may be over, and things will get worse?
My listeners know climate change is real. They also see emissions going up, and the political system owned by the fossil fuel companies. We’re stuck, and what does it mean that we’re stuck? That’s the kind of question David answers, in this interview, and even more in his book.
You should listen to his argument that “for all of us in this society, the market is more real than nature.”
I was struck by David’s passages on the mortality of nature. We humans expect nature to live beyond our mere mortality – but in this case, WE may continue living, while the nearby forest or lake dies. The wild fields of my childhood have been paved over, the forest I played in cut down. I’m not sure where that leaves me.
Here is another quote from the book:
“The value of our ordinary activities begins to fray, and the entire framework of our lives becomes suspect. Climate change does not just melt the ice caps and glaciers; it melts the narrative in which we still participate, the purpose of the present day. In this sense, too, we are already living in the ruins of the future.“
One place I disagree with Collins’ book: he suggests we use carbon offsets. I’ve looked into carbon offsets, and found fraud after fraud. Even the well-intentioned ones, like protecting a forest, can disenfranchise aboriginal people, or the forest be lost to a wildfire overnight. We are just kidding ourselves – again – when we turn to carbon off-sets.
Other than that, I found the book stirred my thoughts, expressing many things I’ve been trying to say but couldn’t. I think you will like this interview.
Next up, Martin Persson from Sweden, and Olli Tammilehto from Finland, as Radio Ecoshock covers the world.
FROM SWEDEN: TROPICAL FOREST EXPERT MARTIN PERSSON
We know cutting down tropical forests drives extinction of plants and animals. It also destabilizes the climate around the world. But that’s either getting better, or it’s the fault of poor farmers who need a place to live. Wrong on both counts. Tropical deforestation is still going on, and these forests are being cut down or burned for products you and I consume.
That’s the news in a report commission for the Center for Global Development. We’ve reached the lead author, Martin Persson, an assistant professor at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenberg, Sweden.
Martin tells us where the hot spots for deforestation are – and how this is being driven by international trade. These countries include Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea – but not the Congo. Yes the forests are being cut down in the Congo, but not for international trade (just local use, so far). Except for Brazil, over half the deforestation in the countries studied came from international demand.
He lists some companies that are taking a pledge to not purchase wood taken from deforested tropical lands. These include IKEA, H & M clothing (both Swedish companies) but also Unilver and the MacDonald’s food chain.
But he’s come to realize that is not enough. The wood that is left after major corporations refuse to buy is easily soaked up by an international black market for tropical wood, and others who are willing to buy soy for animal feed, no matter where it comes from. So the next step is to ask big corporations to take an active stance with national and local governments, to stop cutting down tropical jungles.
These forests have a huge ability to either soak up excess carbon dioxide, or release it when they are cut down or burned. Persson gives us the numbers. Up to 10% of all climate change gases are related to tropical deforestation.
Their press release says:
“1.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions can be linked to the production of the analyzed commodities, with one third being embodied in commodity exports. The biggest recipients of these embodied carbon emissions are China and the EU. By elucidating the links between consumption and environmental impacts, the aim is to identify more effective measures to address tropical forest loss by targeting key commodities and countries.“
The international climate negotiations are based on the amount of greenhouse gases each country produces. We know rich countries exported a lot of their manufacturing emissions to countries like China. We also export our agricultural emissions, when we buy soy or palm oil from former tropical forest lands.
FROM FINLAND: OLLI TAMMILEHTO
Why are the rich so amazingly blind to the extreme damage caused by private planes, multiple mansions, and endless shopping? Why do millions of people struggle hard to be just like them? Because my friend, ecocide pays. That’s the system we have. The more you pollute, the more you threaten the future, – the better our society rewards you!
We’re going all the way to Finland today, to find author and independent researcher Olli Tammilehto. He’s published lots of books. I’m calling Olli about his new paper “Rewarding with a Licence to Commit Ecocide.” That was presented at the Fourth International Conference on Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity, held in Leipzig Germany, at the beginning of September, 2014.
Olli tells us about 3,000 people attended this De-growth conference. There is more support for the idea of purposely shrinking the economy in Germany, than in Finland, he says.
Interviewing many guests, I always ask myself “why do we do it”. We know the weather is strange, animals are going extinct, the oceans are damaged. And still we think about flying to the tropics for a nice winter holiday, as though there were two worlds, one for rational thought, and the other for our personal rewards.
I think Olli’s paper provides a fundamental answer. People do it because our economy rewards pollution. It would be great to have a couple of houses, and fly around between them wouldn’t it? People would be attracted to your expensive car and lavish parties. We talk about the big percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions that come from a very small group of people.
The awkward side continues: the poorest people suffer the most from the climate change mainly generated by more wealthy people. Poor people can’t exactly cut back on their energy – they only get enough to heat themselves and cook food. Plus, when the big storms come, the poor don’t have insurance, and can’t afford to move out of the way. They have nothing to rebuild with.
Right now, billions of people are facing extreme weather events that they did not cause.
I ask Olli whether Finland has doomers who are preparing for a breakdown of the economy, or even society itself? He says “yes” but not so many as are found in America.
Finland one well-known writer with an unpleasant solution for our ecological problems. Pentti Linkola says the only way to prevent the extinction of man is fascism. What is his argument? Do we need a green Hitler? It sounds alluring: since the masses will never be conscious enough to act, we need a small group to seize power and force ecological controls on everyone.
Of course, Linkola says violence may be needed. We only have to look at the record of violence-loving elites to see (a) they don’t save anything, (b) they wreck a lot of lives, and take a lot of lives and (c) we can’t really change the world toward sustainability without a willing populace.
Find Olli’s argument “The Blind Spots of Eco-Fascist Linkola” here.
One of my worries is that humans don’t really control their own lives as much as we think. We have an allegedly rational voice in our heads, but we also have some deep biological drives to reproduce, to dominate, and perhaps even to kill. Of course that is dangerously close to Pentti Linkola’s theory as well.
I ask Olli about the Finish government’s position on climate change (they favor the bureaucratic solutions which don’t really do much); and about the expansion of nuclear power in Finland. We agree that nuclear power pre-supposes and enforces a centralized government that must be willing to use force to protect the reactors – for generations.
Olli Tammilehto’s most recent book is “Cold Shower, Prevention of Climate Catastrophe and Rapid Social Change.” That was published in Helsinki in 2012.
“REWARDING WITH A LICENCE TO COMMIT ECOCIDE: High incomes and climate change“
This paper, written by Olli Tammilehto, was presented in Fourth International Conference on Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity, Leipzig, 2014, and has been published on the conference web site. You can also download the article as a PDF-file here.
THANKS FOR LISTENING AND SUPPORTING RADIO ECOSHOCK!
We are totally out of time. Check out the Radio Ecoshock soundcloud page, or get all our past programs as free mp3 files at ecoshock.org. We’ve received donations to pay the bills up to February. Thanks so much for all who donated. Now I can concentrate on making radio programs.
Thank you for listening again this week. I’m Alex Smith.