https://www.darkoptimism.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/10-03-26-Radio-EcoShock_Chamberlin_LoFi.mp3 Christopher Fraser of London Transition has kindly transcribed the above popular interview with Canada’s Radio Ecoshock that I posted a couple of months back....
https://www.darkoptimism.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/10-03-26-Radio-EcoShock_Chamberlin_LoFi.mp3 Above is a 24 minute interview I did last week with Canada’s excellent Radio Ecoshock. The full 60 minute show can be heard here. Dark Optimism readers may also...
See below for an interview with the ever-insightful Richard Heinberg, discussing where we should put our efforts in the aftermath of the failure of the Copenhagen climate summit. It is well worth a watch, and you might want to consider spreading it to your contacts via the "Share This" link in the bottom right corner of this post. I heartily endorse his perspective, but disagree when he argues in support of carbon taxation at around fifteen minutes in, saying that "we need to make fossil fuels more expensive". In my opinion, we do not - we need to guarantee a fair entitlement to the available energy, not ration it by the depth of people's pockets. As Richard says, "if you're taxing everybody on their use of fossil fuels - raising their cost of living - it's pretty hard to get their buy-in to that", but once you guarantee people a fair entitlement, in line with a declining cap, society can then collectively focus on keeping the price of energy as low as possible, which is a simply-understood task that everyone can buy into with enthusiasm. Richard is touching on a widely-unrecognised contradiction at the heart of present energy/climate policy discussions - the desire to raise carbon prices while keeping energy prices low. Market-based approaches struggle to see past this, but TEQs would resolve it at a stroke, through the recognition that reducing the quantity of carbon emissions can be best achieved by means other than a high price.
Below the cut is the text of my latest article for the highly-recommended Resurgence magazine. They asked me to tell the story of my own personal journey thus far, and how I ended up doing what I do. Thanks to Resurgence for permission to reproduce it here (and on my articles page). ---
Applied PhilosophyDon’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. ---
For me, there was a definite moment when my environmental awakening began in earnest. I was studying philosophy at the University of York a decade ago when, out of the blue, I received an email from my father alerting me that “a long-term survey of oil and gas resources shows that demand for oil will exceed the maximum possible supply by 2010 and the oil price will sky-rocket”. This was followed by his (enduringly plausible) outline of the likely consequences – economic collapse, mass starvation and war. I took a deep breath. My initial reaction, like that of so many in their ‘peak oil moment’, was one of shock, rapidly followed by disbelief. I wondered how there could be near-universal silence on this issue if it truly had such vast implications, and tried to assure myself that ‘they’ would surely find some solution. Nonetheless, I resolved to look into it, partly in the hope of reassuring my father. Needless to say, what I learned wasn’t particularly reassuring. As my studies came to an end, I quickly found myself with some appropriately philosophical questions to answer. The familiar post-university concerns of finding a way to earn some money, enjoying myself and caring for friends and family had to be balanced with two added factors – a sense that a ‘sound career path’ might not prove so sound in a civilisation that might be heading for the buffers, and an understanding that the world desperately needed all hands on deck if it was to have a future at all. My attempts to discuss all this with my peers met with limited success. They reminded me that many people, both in our culture and around the world, are struggling to get by, and that I would need all the time I had just to look after myself and my family. Some suggested that I should be wary of having my life derailed by all this environmentalist rubbish, which had predicted ‘the end of the world’ so often before. Others argued sadly that we must accept that it is simply human nature to go on being short-sighted and environmentally destructive. But that just sounded like a self-fulfilling prophecy. The many inspiring historical examples of human selflessness, wisdom and foresight must, if nothing else, show that we have a choice in these matters. Indeed, it seemed to me that those of us fortunate enough to have the time, education and mental health to perceive and face the circumstances of our world have a responsibility to act. If many others cannot, that is all the more reason why we must. As Paul Hawken has since put it, maybe we are the world’s immune system. And where would any of us be if our own immune system got distracted seeking its personal fortune, say, or pursuing hedonistic diversions? But while this musing was all very fine sitting in my university common room, how could I apply it to my life? My degree had failed to provide a helpful module on such ‘Applied Philosophy’ so, like everyone else, I had to make it up as I went along. Time for another deep breath. I did find one useful touchstone, a quote from the American theologian Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Wonderful stuff, but to ‘come alive’ I also needed to stay alive, so when a job offer came on the very day my bank account hit empty, I decided to take it, working as an administrator at a project for marginalised groups where I had previously volunteered. Over the next few years I worked my way up to a position I loved – managing the project’s learning centre – paid off my student debts, and spent much of my spare time learning more about the state of our world. Unfortunately, these investigations led to a growing sense that ultimately there wasn’t much point in helping people to reintegrate with society if that society itself really was running off a cliff. I realised this job was no longer helping me to come alive. I felt called to something else, but what? I didn’t know, but I left the job anyway, and spent my time reading everything I could get my hands on regarding peak oil and climate change, attending events and asking questions. Where could I best put my energies to create a peaceful, creative, resilient and diverse world? I slowly came to see that those common room discussions about human nature were touching on just one of a wide set of cultural stories that shape and define our perception of the world. That, despite its severity and urgency, ‘Peak Climate’ is just a symptom, a product of the ways of thinking we value, respect and adopt. And that it is at this level that radical change is both necessary and assured. Of course, many have discussed the need for a rapid paradigm shift – the Age of Aquarius, the Great Turning – but I was still struggling to find my role in supporting and shaping it. The resolution came when I found myself at Schumacher College in 2006, where I studied for a fortnight and felt more intensely alive than I had in a long time. This was surely a good sign, and here I had my first encounter with the fledgling Transition movement, which even at that early stage recognised the innate importance of stories and visions in building thriving, resilient communities. Over the last few years I have become ever more involved with this work, and 2009 saw the publication of my first book, The Transition Timeline, which grew out of requests from Transition communities to flesh out what a realistic, positive vision for our future might look like, and for more input on the major challenges we are likely to face as we try to create it. This allowed me to explore my fear that the Transition movement may struggle to match up to the scale of these challenges, and I also found that the process shifted my own perspective. Whereas I probably started out trying to resolve all of the world’s problems single-handedly (and demanded the same of such initiatives), I have since noticed that the people and projects I respect most aren’t those who’ve tried to do everything, but those who have done the thing that they love rather brilliantly. In so doing they have, sometimes quite by accident, contributed to shifting the stories on which cultures are built. So now I see myself not only as part of a team in my local Transition Town, but as part of a global movement to which we all lend our passions. Transition may not single-handedly 'save the world', but those who are trying to do so are certainly glad of its contribution, which seems a decent test of whether it is a worthwhile project. As my book has made its way into the world, I have found myself invited to speak and write for local groups, parliaments and everything in between, and it is good to feel that I am contributing. Yet somewhere in my soul I can feel my next move gestating. At some important level, I feel called again to re-examine my role in the world. It is time for another deep breath.
As the evidence for the utter inapplicability of free market carbon trading to our climate emergency continues to pile up, interest continues to grow in the less PR-friendly alternative - the rationing of carbon-rated energy. Yesterday, the UK Government's All Party Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil and Gas previewed a draft report commissioned from The Lean Economy Connection. The report, which I co-authored with Dr. David Fleming, emphasises the necessity of considering our pressing energy challenges alongside climate change, and argues that national energy rationing systems on the model of TEQs (Tradable Energy Quotas) will be essential to the fair distribution of fuel as shortages unfold, with implementation now an urgent priority for the UK. John Hemming MP, Chairman of the All Party group, stated that the UK government remains unprepared for peak oil: "The evidence is now strong that peak oil is either upon us or just over the horizon. Even the International Energy Agency accepts that an oil supply crunch seems to be on its way. The UK government should urgently consider the TEQs system, as I believe it's the only comprehensive and fair way to tackle climate change and the coming oil crisis.""The alternative to rationing by tradable quotas is to hold back consumption through massive price increases. This gives economic instability, unemployment and fuel poverty. We need to plan for a system to give some stability in what will soon be a sellers market for fossil fuels rather than a buyers market."TEQs were also the subject of a Parliamentary Westminster Hall debate on the 18th June, called by the Chairman of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, after the EAC came out firmly in favour of what they term 'Personal Carbon Trading' (PCT) following DEFRA's pre-feasibility study in May 2008. Despite their welcome enthusiasm, I do find this 're-branding' of the debate somewhat pernicious. Of course it is to some extent understandable - politicians deal in public consent, and words like "quotas" and "rationing" bring with them the distinctly unwelcome connotations of shortage and war. Indeed, perhaps only truly horrific words like "taxation" would rank lower in a popularity contest. Yet a moment's thought shows us that this bad name is undeserved - rationing is a response to hard times, not the cause of them, and in times of shortage we cry out for fair shares. We need only imagine wartime Britain without a rationing system. The difficulty today is perhaps that the electorate do not yet recognise the scale or urgency of the energy/climate problem we face, and so are more than happy to do without the inconvenience a solution might bring. Still, politics is politics, we might think, and in a democracy ideas must be 'sold' to the electorate (here H.L. Mencken comes to mind: "Democracy is the system where everybody gets what the majority deserve"). Yet despite the names "PCT" and "TEQs" often being used interchangeably, the distinction between the two is not merely a matter of marketing, it is the distinction between two discrete schemes, and between two very different cultural approaches. It is the distinction between a system that maximises economic growth and hopes to reduce emissions, and one that guarantees emissions reductions and lets the market (and citizens, businesses, communities...) figure out the best solutions within that context. It is the distinction between a 'market-based framework' (a la the ineffectual EU ETS) and a framework within which the market is constrained. When it comes down to it, there is no getting away from the fact that it is not PCT - an extension of the discredited carbon trading model to the level of the individual - that we need, but TEQs - energy rationing - with the size of our rations determined by energy availability and the latest science on retaining a hospitable climate. It is true that trading is a necessary part of such a scheme (both since prohibiting the exchange of rations in the past has always led to substantial black market activity, and since certain vocations intrinsically require more energy, meaning that a non-tradable equal entitlement would simply destroy many professions) but it is not the essence of the scheme. The heart of the scheme is a non-negotiable respect for the limits set by physical reality, and a desire to harness the collective genius of the populace in thriving within those limits. Sadly, the slightly subtle distinction between the necessity of utilising trading in an energy rationing scheme, and the insanity of 'trading as replacement for solution', leaves plenty of ground for the professional spin doctors to confuse those who don't have time to unpick the differences, leading us ever closer to the non-solution of a scheme designed to pander to the popular pretence that we can simply ignore the realities of our time. ---
The Dutch edition of David Fleming's seminal description of TEQs - Energy and the Common Purpose - has also recently been published.