Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Big Picture: We Sit Around And Gab

WEDNESDAY · SEPT 27 · 10pm ET/PT on CBC Newsworld. . .

This week, the truth about global warming with author Terry Glavin, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, Tory MP Bob Mills, Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers' Association's Mark Nantais and former Winnipeg mayor & environmentalist Glen Murray talking about the solutions.

Tune in to The Big Picture with Avi Lewis to watch the action! For more about the doc, the talk, the show & Avi: www.cbc.ca/bigpicture . . . get involved in The Big Picture with Avi Lewis Campaign at www.HelloCoolWorld.com/BigPicture.

That's the bumpf. The Big Picture is here. The Attenborough documentary that sets the stage is here.

I didn't really have all that much to say, or much time to say anything, actually. Avi was a great host and Glen Murray was especially good, I thought, but there were lots of smart people, with lots of interesting ideas. If I'd had the presence of mind, though, I would have tried to figure out a succinct way of making these points:

To begin with, it's too late.

The great challenge we face is the work of seeing to it that we don’t make matters worse. The only realistic goal now is to slow the rate of global warming and keep the planet’s temperature down, just enough, so as to prevent the deaths of billions of people owing to global droughts, desertification, massive crop failures, and resultant starvation.

A great part of the problem is that for too long we've allowed the whole question to be cast as an "environmental" issue. And environmentalism, as a separate category of thought, as a way of thinking that erects an impermeable barrier between "nature" and "culture", isn't up to the challenges associated with global warming. It never was.

And sorry, revolutionists, but we don't need to overthrow capitalism to do these things. Capitalism has been quite effective in developing the already-existing means to scale back on greenhouse gases, and most of us in the developed world could easily meet or exceed our per-capita Kyoto obligations with relatively minor "lifestyle choices."

We need massive public investment in transportation infrastructure and renewable-energy alternatives, as well. But these huge challenges are made up of lots of small challenges, and practical solutions are already available. And it's not all bad news:

True, the United States, Canada and Australia have betrayed the rest of the industrialized world by thumbing their noses at the greenhouse-gas reduction targets set out in the Kyoto Protocol. But 163 nations have ratified the treaty. And in a perverse twist of luck, the first-round “rich nation” target of bringing greenhouse-gas emissions back to 5.9 percent below 1990 levels has actually been met – mainly because so many of Russia’s Soviet-era factories have fallen apart.

The European Union, meanwhile, has established a carbon-trading system to keep within its targets, and some countries are going a step further. Iceland continues to harness more of its geothermal power resources and is investing heavily in hydrogen engines for its transportation sector. The country plans to be oil-free by 2050. There is good news from the climate change front, everywhere.

The main thing we need to do is engage the global-warming challenge as citizens, not just as protesters or activists or consumers. We also have to reject the misanthropic reflexes that are so commonplace in climate-change debates, and reaffirm our commitment to the idea of progress. We should start to think about effective and ambitious measures in response to global warming as a necessary defence of western civilization's most cherished values. Tony Blair, whatever his faults, is one of the few developed-world leaders who clearly understands how everything is connected:

Unless we re-appraise our strategy, unless we revitalise the broader global agenda on poverty, climate change, trade, and in respect of the Middle East, bend every sinew of our will to making peace between Israel and Palestine, we will not win. And this is a battle we must win. What is happening today out in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and beyond is an elemental struggle about the values that will shape our future.

To defend those values, we should put all the Gaia-bothering behind us and face up to the objective economic and social inequalities that are such barriers to progress.

On the global-warming front, we're going to have to come to grips with the fact that there are millions of North American working people who can't afford fashionably swish little hybrid cars, and don't have the luxury of riding bikes to work from their condos. Face those kinds of facts globally and you get the really "big picture": Two-thirds of the world's people wants the kind of economic development we've taken for granted in Europe and North America, and they're entitled to it. Coal and oil are going to remain a part of the picture.

Think of the atmosphere as a global commons. There's a limit to the volume of greenhouse gases that the atmosphere can handle, and we're already exceeding that limit. What we have to sort out is a) how we're going to break out of the tragedy of the commons that's unfolding in the atmosphere, b) what the size of humanity's annual greenhouse-gas budget should be, and c) how to equitably distribute access to that budget.

The Kyoto Accord was a start. It's an embarrassing little baby step in world-scale decision-making, but even so, it's proved too much for the likes of Canada's Conservative government, and of course they're going to go to hell when they die for being such moral cowards. But it must also be said that we've all wasted precious years thinking about global warming as an "environmental" problem, and the domain of a loveable but especially inarticulate tendency within a general liberal-left pattern that has been with us since around the time of the first Earth Day, in 1970.

This pattern seriously discredited left-wing politics in the eyes of many working-class voters, who felt the cohesion of their social order under assault in this turbulent period. Liberal fellow travelers compounded the problem by indulging the belligerent posturing of the New Left, frequently adopting it as a fashion statement.

Global warming is a macro-economic problem, with vast ecological, cultural and geopolitical implications. It may be the greatest single impediment to global human progress. Its impact will be felt mainly by the poor. In other words, it's a class problem.

That's the point that I would have liked to make.

Tune in to CBC Newsworld tomorrow at 10 p.m. After the show you can contribute your own comments on-line, here.


Blogger Robert G. said...

Consider the VCR programmed.

6:48 AM  
Blogger double-plus-ungood said...

...and don't have the luxury of riding bikes to work from their condos...

Uh, condos aside, which I'm not sure have a place in the discussion, bike commuting isn't exactly a luxury, and I'm not sure why you regard it as such.

It's very cost-effective, cuts down on greenhouse gases significantly, cuts down on traffic and traffic-related accidents, cuts down on the massive car-oriented infrastucture (which also pollutes), and creates a healthier population.

So, I gotta say: WTF??

4:10 PM  
Blogger tglavin said...


You surprise me. Which I think is an old-fashioned way of saying What-The-Fuck yourself.

If you were familiar with the bleak routine of spending hours in thick traffic, twice a day, all to hold onto a lousy-paying job a great distance from your home, you wouldn't find it odd to think of riding a bike to an office from a condo every day as a luxury.

I wasn't disparaging bicycling, so there's no need to spring to its defence by pointing out its obvious virtues.

True, we all have to take personal responsibility, make some personal sacrifices and otherwise do what we can. But that doesn't change the fact that millions of people actually don't have much of a realistic alternative to the carbon-dependent lives they live.

It's not virtue they're lacking. It's the means. And that's what we need to take into account if we're going to make any real headway in reducing North America's greenhouse gas emissions.

That's what the fuck.

5:52 PM  
Blogger keefer said...

Just caught it. The whole show boiled down to a finger wagging session of "top down" versus "bottom up" approaches to the problem, (pardon the innuendo). At the risk of oversimplifying, it seemed the business/gov 'side' were signalling the masses to start consuming and polluting less or more responsibly, while the abundantly represented "green citizenry" side were, at times rather pessimistically saying they can't make a meaningful difference until business and government does something first.
But there were some interesting points about the tar sands, including your one about comforting Albertans, a point many may cringe at, but is nonetheless necessary (not to mention humane).
All in all, a good gab session, hope all 'sides' cohesively took heed.

9:16 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

I agree with you that we don't need to overthrow capitalism to achieve these things, but I don't think anyone was saying that on the show.

12:42 AM  
Blogger Stephen said...

PS I love Avi Lewis. I hope he stays on television. He's brilliant.

12:46 AM  
Blogger Scout said...

without a tv i can't watch this show....but i do remember avi lewis from the days we had one and think he's moderator supremo.

as long as we keep re-inventing the internal combution engine there's going to be reliance on the non-renewables, and probs with the alts like biodeisel and ethonyl ( which i think are great solutions for now).

we've got scads and scads of waste from logging which can easily be turned into pellets and fired in zero-emmision furnaces that are driving some industries now. an ultimate in sustainaiblity is the factories that manufacture these pellets run off them too.

but the real prob is over population, n'est pas? be it you or me or both who goes lights out due to war, or the effects of global warming (increased natural disaster), we can't save billions of lives can we? yes, we can 'get on track' for survivors, so i'm not advocating not doing anything , i just want to point out the reality that, as said, we can only slow things down. Mamma Earth is culling the flock.

We're in a transitional period over global warming...in the end we'll be forced into our own sustainable corners , the u.n.'s agenda 21 is non-coersive and addresses what the kyoto accord strives to in it's own way. within agenda 21 is the mindset that 'it starts with us'. ya ya, baby steps and all that.

capitalism/non capitalism isn't so much the question as 'how to augment democracy'....and within truer democracy lies the answer to economics. get rid of party politics and you've redifined capitalism right there.....the evolution of the system would make labels like capitalism moot, in fact, extinct.

how far is everyone really ready to go? change is pretty scary to society. i think we'll be forced into it by nature herself.

1:32 AM  
Blogger Dirk Buchholz said...

Well I don't know what to say about capitalism.This is the system that has brought us to this point.
A system which is motivated by self,and selfish gain,is going to find away out of the present mess.A problem that can only be solved by a communal response,and collective action motivated by values which are the anti-thesis of self,and possesive individualism.
I have to admit that is a headscratcher.
Then there is the "right" of the developing countries to strive for the same level of industry,and development as in the west.Sure they have just as much right,but the planet can not support a Western type lifestyle,spead over the whole world.Our way of life is dependent on the underdevelopment of many other countries.
I dont have all the answers but I can say one thing,possessive individualism is what has lead us to this crisis.
More progress(what ever that is) more technology?

2:29 AM  
Blogger Robert G. said...

Viz cycling: I've always thought it was a bit silly for people in cities like Toronto to speak of it as a serious alternative mode of transport. It's only practical for downtowners or those who have access to a decent and safe bike path, as in the Beaches. Not to mention it's only a six-month-a-year solution at best.

First time I've seen Lewis' new show. Didn't care for the format: too many guests, too much town hall.

6:35 AM  
Blogger Robert G. said...

Not that I wouldn't be in favour of an expansion of dedicated bicycle routes, where feasible.

8:32 AM  
Blogger double-plus-ungood said...

I wasn't disparaging bicycling, so there's no need to spring to its defence by pointing out its obvious virtues.

I suppose that my WTF knee-jerk was the startling thought that my weekly 100 km bicycle commute suddenly made me into a condo-living yuppie. And where is my damn condo anyway?

To explain my prickly response, I suppose my intent was to indicate that cycling is cheaper than driving, so it isn't merely a luxurious option for the super-wealthy, merrily pedaling along, whacking at pedestrians along the way with their polo mallets.

But, as you said, that should be obvious. My apologies if I came across too strongly.

10:26 AM  
Blogger tglavin said...


A 100-k weekly commute does not a latte-snuffling yuppie make.

Good for ye, bubba.


12:31 PM  

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