Monbiot on Climate Change  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in

So, I think it's fairly safe to say that I have now quit smoking cigarettes. I did it by shutting myself off from society, playing a lot of World of Warcraft, taking a 10-day detox plan, and cutting all alcohol, sugar and caffeine at the same time. All in all, financially sound. Reading The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius helped.

Anyway, the following is a ZNet post by George Monbiot on climate change, altered slightly to be more relevant for New Zealand (Monbiot tends to focus on the UK). His latest book, Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning, published by Penguin, is in stores now. I recommend it, unless you intend to be able to sleep at night.

"Almost everyone now agrees that we must act," he says, "if not at the necessary speed. If we're to have a high chance of preventing global temperatures rising by 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, we need, in the rich nations, a 90% reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030. The greater part of the cut has to be made at the beginning of this period.

"So how do we do it without bringing civilisation crashing down? Here is a plan for drastic but affordable action the government could take. This is what the science demands."

  1. Set a target for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions based on the latest science. While I can't find any specific goals set by the NZ government, one Cabinet Climate Change Policy document refers to the UK's plan to reduce carbon emissions to 60% below pre-1990 levels by 2050 as "bold". That's disturbing. It goes on to suggest that "too great a focus on emissions runs the risk of remaining somewhat high level and distant from everyone’s day to day lives" and that "we concentrate on setting some bold goals or objectives, but at a level that people will be better able to relate to." Sadly, what people relate to is not always what will work, and what is distant from everyone's day-to-day lives is sometimes what has to be done.
  2. Use that target to set an annual carbon cap, which falls over time. Then use the cap to set a personal carbon ration. Every citizen is given a free annual quota of carbon dioxide. He spends it by buying gas and electricity, petrol and train and plane tickets. If he runs out, he must buy the rest from someone who has used less than his quota. This accounts for about 40% of the carbon dioxide we produce. The rest is auctioned off to companies. It's a simpler and fairer approach than either green taxation or the [EU's] Emissions Trading Scheme, and it also provides people with a powerful incentive to demand low-carbon technology. Timescale: a full scheme in place by Jan 2009.
  3. Introduce a new set of building regulations, with three objectives.
    a. Imposing strict energy-efficiency requirements on all major refurbishments (costing $5000 or more). Timescale: comes into force by June 2007.
    b. Obliging landlords to bring their houses up to high energy-efficiency standards before they can rent them out. Timescale: to cover all new rentals from Jan 2008.
    c. Ensuring that all new homes in New Zealand are built to the German passivhaus standard (which requires no heating system). Timescale: comes into force by 2012.
  4. Ban the sale of incandescent lightbulbs, patio heaters, garden floodlights and several other wasteful and unnecessary technologies. Introduce a stiff "feebate" system for all electronic goods sold in this counrty. The least efficient are taxed heavily, while the most efficient receive tax discounts. Every year, the standards in each category rise. Timescale: fully implemented by Nov 2007.
  5. Redeploy some of the money in the budget surplus and/or superannuation fund towards a massive investment in energy generation and distribution. Two schemes in particular require Government support to make them commercially viable: very large wind farms, many miles offshore, connected to the grid with high-voltage DC cables; and a hydrogen pipeline network to take over from the natural-gas grid as the primary means of delivering fuel for home heating. Timescale: both programmes commence at the end of 2007 and are completed by 2018.
  6. Oblige all chains of petrol stations to supply leasable electric-car batteries. This provides electric cars with unlimited mileage: as the battery runs down, you pull into a forecourt, a crane lifts it out and drops in a fresh one. The batteries are charged overnight with surplus electricity from offshore windfarms. Timescale: fully operational by 2011.
  7. Abandon road-widening and road-building programmes and spend the money on tackling climate change.
  8. Freeze and then reduce NZ airport capacity. While capacity remains high, there will be constant upward pressure on any scheme the Government introduces to limit flights. We need a freeze on all new airport construction and the introduction of a national quota for landing slots, to be reduced by 90% by 2030. Timescale: immediately.
  9. Legislate for the closure of all out-of-town superstores and their replacement with a warehouse and delivery system. Shops use a staggering amount of energy (six times as much electricity per square-metre as factories, for example), and major reductions are hard to achieve. Warehouses containing the same quantity of goods use roughly 5% of the energy. Timescale: fully implemented by 2012.

Monbiot continues: "These timescales might seem extraordinarily ambitious. They are, by contrast to the current glacial pace of change. But when the US entered the Second World War, it turned the economy around on a sixpence. Carmakers began producing aircraft and missiles within a year, and amphibious vehicles in 90 days, from a standing start. And that was 65 years ago. If we want this to happen, we can make it happen. It will require more economic intervention than we're used to and some pretty brutal emergency-planning policies (with little time or scope for objections). but if you believe these are worse than mass death, there is something wrong with your value system.

"Climate change is not just a moral question, it is the moral question of the 21st century. There is one position even more morally culpable than denial. That is to accept that it's happening and that its results will be catastrophic, but to fail to take the measures needed to prevent it."

The Funny Pages  

Posted by Ryan Sproull

Well, the Iranian "Holocaust cartoon" competition is over, and the results are in. As you no doubt remember, there was an amount of madness at the beginning of the year over "offensive" cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper - and subsequently a whole bunch of other newspapers. My thoughts at the time are available in the Craccum archives. After all of that, an Iranian newspaper had a much better idea than rioting, and held a competition to make cartoons about the Holocaust.

The logic is not immediately apparent. Some Muslims get violently angry about some Danish cartoons - many more non-violently angry - therefore... mock the Holocaust. Doesn't really seem to follow, until you consider that the Holocaust (and I am referring, of course, to the Nazi holocaust, not the Armenian one or any of the others) is one of those few remaining things in proper Western society that is sacred enough not to make jokes about. It's in a delightful little group along with child molestation and, if you're American, the military.

But what were they hoping to prove? According to al-Jazeera, when the announcement was made:

[The graphics editor] said the plan was to turn the tables on the assertion that newspapers can print offensive material in the name of freedom of expression.

"The Western papers printed these sacrilegious cartoons on the pretext of freedom of expression, so let's see if they mean what they say and also print these Holocaust cartoons," he said.

The spelling mistakes there are not mine, of course.

The original reason for Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten was to highlight the troubles writer Kåre Bluitgen experienced when looking for an illustrator for his children's book about the Qu'ran and Muhammad. Three illustrators declined his offer, citing events like the murder of Theo van Gogh by offended Muslims. At that point, the issue was self-censorship, not freedom of expression - that these artists refused to produce particular kinds of art for fear of violence against their person.

It quickly became about freedom of expression, however, when the ensuing violence became a kind of challenge to editors and publishers - "If you publish, we get violent. Therefore, if you don't publish, it's because we scared you into not publishing." And because sane people don't want a world where violence decides who gets to say what, a lot of people published. The original cartoons themselves really weren't all that offensive - and yes, I do get to decide that - but the fires were fuelled by very offensive cartoons that hadn't been published making the rounds and stirring up more anger.

Anyway, enter Iran's biggest newspaper, Hamshahri. They say, "You want freedom of expression? Fine. We'll publish cartoons that mock something sacred to you - the Holocaust." And to my knowledge, there have been no riots or violence as a result. Some of the cartoons are pretty good, though.

Here's one. (The images are links back to the site.)

And here's the winner.

And another.

See the recurring theme there? They're really not even trying to be offensive. None of the ones I've seen so far (there are many I haven't) are saying anything like, "How do you fit a hundred Jews in a mini?" Most of them are saying, "The Palestinians are getting fucked over, and the world - especially the United Nations - is doing nothing to help them, because they're too busy sighing about the Nazi Holocaust."

It's interesting that the original brief was "a cartoon about the Holocaust", trying to make a point about freedom of expression. Presumably, it was expected that a bunch of really offensive submissions would be made. Instead, artists across the world have used it as an opportunity to make compelling points - some mistaken, in my opinion - about certain political situations. While Hamshahri missed the point a bit when they started the competition, it would seem that the artists did not.