“We’ll Get To That Soon” Simply Won’t Get It Done

Today we examine a daunting new international report that outlines with precision what we need to do and by when, if we stand any chance of achieving net zero by 2050. We move from international-scale action to focus on NM and what we can do about climate change and the myriad other injustices that have solutions at hand. As today’s post shows, we often have a clear idea of what must be done to create a just, sustainable world. But our economic and political systems and tightly circumscribed public debate chain us to 19th century assumptions, priorities, and policies, which have brought us to this crisis. Read on!

International Energy Agency Sounds Alarm: Is Anyone Listening?

The NY Times reported on Wednesday that the International Energy Agency (IEA) had issued a detailed road map of what it will take for the world’s nations to slash carbon dioxide emissions to net zero by 2050. The Times did a good job of distilling the main points from the 224 page report, which you’ll find at the link above. The report differs from prior climate change mandates in two important respects.

First, the report didn’t come from environmental advocates or climate scientists. While it certainly relied on scientific research, the report was produced by an international organization that since the 1970s has advised the world’s political and industry leaders on energy policy. The IEA reports and forecasts are frequently cited by energy companies and investors as a basis for long-term planning. Alert to international leadership reviewing this report: long-term planning is meaningless unless immediate action begins yesterday, and the report lays out the scale of action and the time frame.

Second, rather than being aspirational and full of lofty goals, the report focuses on what needs to get done by 2050 if we are to get to net zero, an essential goal if we are to keep warming to under 1.5 degrees Centigrade. This road map’s scope and scale puts a touch of reality to our continuously talking goals while kicking the needed policies and actions down the road.

“ ‘The sheer magnitude of changes needed to get to net zero emissions by 2050 is still not fully understood by many governments and investors,’ Fatih Birol, IEA’s executive director, said in an interview.”

NY Times: “Nations Must Drop Fossil Fuels Fast, World Energy Body Warns”

The Times distilled the bones of what must be done, and it is sweeping:

  • This year, nations would stop approving new coal plants unless they are outfitted with carbon capture technology to trap and bury their emissions underground. Nations would also stop approving the development of new oil and gas fields beyond those already committed.
  • By 2025, governments worldwide would start banning the sale of new oil and gas furnaces to heat buildings, shifting instead to cleaner electric heat pumps.
  • By 2030, electric vehicles would make up 60 percent of new car sales globally, up from just 5 percent today.
  • By 2035, automakers would stop selling new gasoline- or diesel-fueled passenger vehicles.
  • By 2050, virtually all cars on the roads worldwide either run on batteries or hydrogen.
  • By 2035, the world’s advanced economies would zero out emissions from power plants, shifting away from emitting coal and gas plants to technologies like wind, solar, nuclear or carbon capture.
  • By 2040, all of the world’s remaining coal-fired power plants are closed or retrofitted with carbon capture technology.
  • In 2035, more than half of new heavy trucks would be electric.
  • By 2040, roughly half of all air travel worldwide would be fueled by cleaner alternatives to jet fuel, such as sustainable biofuels or hydrogen.

It is worth noting that the first item on the list is to stop issuing permits for new oil and gas fields. Perhaps Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez should share this finding with her legislative colleagues, who treat her so dismissively for introducing a bill to create a moratorium on new gas and oil leases. And therein lies the problem at the heart of this report. Every one of those eight milestones requires national and industry leadership to make an immediate and abrupt change in behavior — to achieve those milestones will require almost unfathomable change. The Times noted:

“For instance, the annual pace of installations for solar panels and wind turbines worldwide would have to quadruple by 2030, the agency said. For the solar industry, that would mean building the equivalent of what is currently the world’s largest solar farm every day for the next decade.”

NY Times: “Nations Must Drop Fossil Fuels Fast, World Energy Body Warns”

In reviewing the report, I almost missed the list of IEA members that is offered before the introduction. IEA member countries:

Czech Republic

New Zealand

Slovak Republic
United Kingdom
United States

Take a look at this “international” body. Do you notice any omissions? No nation from the oil producing Middle East; no nation from Africa; no nations from Central or South America. It is telling that once again the Global North feels it can sort out the world’s problems and dictate solutions to the Global South. The very same forces that have created the looming climate crisis are the ones sorting out how to reverse course.

In the end, while it is heartening to find a detailed report delineating steps to be taken to mitigate the climate catastrophe, the report didn’t touch upon how continuous economic growth is also part of this problem. Indeed, in the tables at the end of this report the IEA projects a growth in international Gross Domestic Product of well over 150% over the next thirty years. So the wheels of “progress” will grind on and the Global North will be the beneficiaries of that progress. What’s more, as we have been reporting, any gains made by implementing the steps above would be undermined, perhaps even unraveled, if we sustain our commitment to growth, as Jason Hickel (in Less is More) and an increasing number of economists make clear. Stay tuned.

What We Are Reading

I hope we aren’t annoying y’all with our refrain about the importance of reading Less is More. Here is a review of the book from Resilience, Less Is More: How Degrowth Will Save The World by Jason Hickel.” Hopefully, it will stimulate your interest. What’s more, in the first third of the book, Hickel lays out the conditions, policies and systems that have led us to this climate crisis and then how a continued commitment to growth is a path to extinction, IEA plan or no.

“Hickel’s intent is to guide readers who are new to climate change discourse and want to understand the long arc that has brought us to this pivotal moment in history. Advanced industrialization and two World Wars spread technological modernity throughout North America and Europe while solidifying the power structure between wealthy and poorer countries that would frequently stagnate the latter’s development. At the same time the profession of economics created new standards to measure economic activity, but the way economic performance was measured became overwhelmingly concerned with Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Rather than take a holistic approach to evaluating a country’s economy through indices of public welfare, mainstream economics amplified capital’s constant need to expand.”

Resilience: “Less Is More: How Degrowth Will Save The World by Jason Hickel

The IEA report didn’t really touch on wealth accumulation, racism, imperialism, our addiction to growth, or the economic and political systems that have generated these injustices.

The IEA plan also failed to acknowledge the political and economic systems that are responsible for creating the crisis we face. We have known that climate change poses an existential threat for decades. We have read report after report and policy makers continue to behave as if just having goals and aspirations will get the job done. Hence, the NM state legislature can pass SB 112 to convene a task force to study how to effect a transition to a sustainable economy while dismissing Sen. Sedillo Lopez’ legislation to simply pause the issuance of gas and oil permits.

Sadly, our governor and legislature are unable to appreciate how offering our children a solid education so that they can thrive in the future is meaningless if the future we offer them is a one-way ticket to extinction. We all realize that NM is dependent on gas and oil revenue, but we also have tens of billions of dollars in reserve, abundant wind and sun, and a regressive tax and revenue system that, if fixed, could generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year for the state. We have tools, we have solutions, we have options, but we lack the leadership and vision to appreciate the urgency of the moment and call us to action.

Bringing the Focus to NM

A looming climate catastrophe is not our only challenge, and the technical changes identified above won’t move the needle on social justice. However, if we are ever going to mount the international will to implement these technical changes, we must first address the reality that our political and economic systems will do all they can to protect their vested interests. But the morass of intersecting injustices to which we are subject are connected and they can be addressed. There are effective models out there, and economists who understand that the climate catastrophe is not divorced from, but inextricably connected to, social, racial, and economic injustice. These experts are charting a path that can address both the climate crisis and social justice. Indeed, they understand fundamentally that neither can be addressed without addressing both.

Rethink Our Democracy’s task is to build a bridge from national and international thinking and adapt these concepts to a NM context, ultimately creating NM legislation and the alliances and public support needed to advance these ideas. That will require a significant education campaign that first educates ourselves and then turns to the broader community and our legislators. Planning how to do this, conducting the research, developing the language that will resonate with New Mexicans, rural and urban, is the agenda for Rethink Our Democracy and we are conducting twice monthly Huddles to advance those plans, but we need more of you involved if we are to accelerate this effort. 

Join us in Huddle # 3 on May 25 at 6pm to participate in the Rethink process.

Register by clicking here. 

What We are Watching

May 15, 2021 on KSFR, Retake Our Democracy. Less is More with Paul Gibson — a review of Jason Hickel’s Less is More, the first of a three-part series of this groundbreaking book on what a post-capitalist world could be like and how we get there. I can’t recommend the book more highly and this 29-minute talk gives you an inkling why, as I spend a good deal of the time reading particularly insightful passages. Tune in for Part II on Saturday May 22 at 8:30 am on KSFR, 101.1 FM or streaming live from KSFR.org.

In solidarity, hope, and gratitude,

Paul & Roxanne

Categories: Climate Justice

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4 replies

  1. I’ve not had time to read the full article yet, but it sounds like a very good way to move from the larger picture to the more personal perspective (or at least state-level perspective). I’m working on doing something similar in my current posts.
    Best regards,

  2. Can I add your email to my political action group so you can see what we are talking about?
    Appreciate all you do.
    Doug Puryear

  3. First, let me say it’s great to discuss some Big Ideas like the origins of capitalism. We need to pull back from time to time to put our current struggles in perspective.

    Second, I will admit I haven’t read Jason Hickel’s book. I’ve read several reviews and listened to Paul’s opening discussion. But I have read quite a lot about the ‘de-growth’ movement, books like Kate Raworth’s “Doughnut Economics” and Tim Jackson’s “Prosperity Without Growth,” and good articles such as this from the New Yorker, “Can We Have Prosperity Without Growth,” https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/02/10/can-we-have-prosperity-without-growth.

    My bottom line on capitalism and climate change is:

    1. I’m all for the strongest possible de-growth, anti-capitalist movement (which is much more developed in Europe than in the US). I want marches, manifestos, strikes, political platforms. This is not because I favor the de-growth vision (more on that below), but because I want capitalist decision makers to be sh*****g their pants in fear that Doom is at Hand.

    2. My theory of rapid change is that only profound fear will work. This is how we got major reform during the Progressive and New Deal periods in the US. There was a large, militant, radical socialist/labor movement that threatened to take over the economy and hang capitalists from the nearest lamp pole. Then in Russia they actually did it. That got the attention of bankers and industrialists. Some of course wanted to clamp down harder, and they did (see the 1920s Red Scare). But it also made them willing in the Depression to accept a modified, regulated capitalism. Basically to head off the peasants with pitchforks.

    3. This does not mean that radical socialism was a good idea. It wasn’t, in practice. In the USSR and other real-world cases it led to dictatorship and economic stagnation and astonishing human misery.

    4. There are different flavors of ‘de-growth’ that mirror many of the long-running debates among socialists and other capitalism critics. Some favor the rapid end of capitalism and creating a “New Man” who will be at one with nature, happy to live with less in localized, low-tech, ‘sharing economies.’ Others are more along the lines of a modified capitalism. I don’t dismiss the first vision, but thinking this sort of change will happen fast enough to save the planet is delusional. If it occurs it will be the work of generations (or well-meaning dictators). Eventually it may lead to a sustainable, more steady-state economy. Maybe. But on the way it will need to navigate the need to lift the rest of the world out of poverty.

    5. Actually saving the planet will only be done within and by the existing capitalist system. Motivated by a combination of fear and opportunity. We aren’t going to abolish or take over banks and hedge funds and big corporations in the near term; we have to make them de facto allies through threats and regulation and the prospect of big returns. I think that ship is turning, but not fast enough.

    6. Last point: the realistic goal for the US is a more social democratic system, closer to Denmark than today. That means it is still capitalist, but better managed. I recommend Lane Kenworthy’s book “Social Democratic Capitalism” which offers practical steps to change the US economy. A key part of this is a reformed political system that allows the preferences of American citizens—including their preference for action on climate change—to take effect instead of being stymied by special interests.

    • The only way ‘getting there via capitalism’ will work is if all corporations are non-profit and employee owned, down to the size of thirty employees, and all salariees are capped at no more than 75k. All hierarchies in the corporate world will disappear, replaced by employee tribunals and management groups. The average person in ‘murka now consumes on average 2.75 billion calories a day working for The Company Store that cannot even feed and house the homeless in a condition that will lead to potential recovery. Yet it only takes upwards of 2500 calories a day to propel a hard-working human forward to a good night’s sleep.

      Without a massive campaign to make ande consume 75 percent LESS right now, coupled with a complete recycling of every piece of garbage that now exists and will exist in the future, and another massive effort to eliminate ALL advertising of everything using seduction, guilt, envy and addiction, we can just throw in the towel right now.

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