Editor’s Note: Scientists have been known to make modest predictions when it comes to ecological crises. This is a reason many predictions come about long before the expected timeline. The following article looks at some recent events to argue that climate collapse has already begun.
By José Seoane/Globetrotter
In 2023, different climatic anomalies have been recorded that set new historical records in the tragic progression of climate change at the global level.
Thus, in June, the surface temperature in the North Atlantic reached the maximum increase of 1.3 degrees Celsius with respect to preindustrial values. In a similar direction—although in lower values—the average temperature of the seas at the global level increased. On the other hand, the retraction of Antarctic ice reached a new limit, reaching the historical decrease of 2016, but several months earlier in the middle of the cold season.
The combination of these records has led scientists who follow these processes to warn of the danger of a profound change in the currents that regulate temperature and life in the oceans and globally. The heat waves recorded on the coasts of a large part of the world—in Ireland, Mexico, Ecuador, Japan, Mauritania, and Iceland—may, in turn, be proof of this.
These phenomena, of course, are not limited to the seas. On Thursday, July 6, the global air temperature (measured at two meters above the ground) reached 17.23 degrees Celsius for the first time in the history of the last centuries, 1.68 degrees Celsius higher than preindustrial values; last June was already the warmest month in history. Meanwhile, temperatures on the continents, particularly in the North, also broke records: 40 degrees Celsius in Siberia, 50 degrees Celsius in Mexico, the warmest June in England in the historical series that began in 1884.
And its counterpart, droughts, such as the one plaguing Uruguay, where the shortage of fresh water since May has forced the increasing use of brackish water sources, making tap water undrinkable for the inhabitants of the Montevideo metropolitan area, where 60 percent of the country’s population is concentrated. This is a drought that, if it continues, could leave this region of the country without drinking water, making it the first city in the world to suffer such a catastrophe.
But the stifling heat and the droughts also bring with them voracious fires, such as the boreal forest fire that has been raging across Canada for weeks, with more than 500 outbreaks scattered in different regions of the country, many of them uncontrollable, and the widespread images of an apocalyptic New York darkened and stained red under a blanket of ashes.
This accumulation of tragic evidence, against all the denialist narratives, makes it undeniable that the climate crisis is already here, among us. It also indicates the absolute failure of the policies and initiatives adopted to reduce the emission or presence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In this direction, in May of 2023, the levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) measured at NOAA’s global reference observatory in Hawaii reached an all-time high of 424 parts per million (ppm), becoming more than 50 percent higher than before the beginning of the industrial era and, those of the period January—May 2023, 0.3 percent higher than those of the same period of 2022 and 1.6 percent compared to that of 2019. According to the latest report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the global surface temperature has risen faster since 1970 than in any other 50-year period for at least the last 2,000 years, the same period in which international agreements and national initiatives to combat the causes of climate change were deployed. The failure of these policies is also reflected, in our present, in the persistence and strength of a fossil capitalism and its plundering and socio-environmental destruction.
Not only have these so-called mitigation policies failed, but also the so-called adaptation policies aimed at minimizing the foreseeable impacts of climate change are weak or even absent.
In the same vein, the annual report of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO, Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update) released in May 2023 warned that it is very likely (66 percent probability) that the annual average global temperature will exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius in at least one year of the next five years (2023-2027), it is possible (32 percent probability) that the average temperature will exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius and it is almost certain (98 percent probability) that at least one of the next five years, as well as the five-year period as a whole, will be the warmest on record; The IPCC has estimated serious consequences if this temperature is exceeded permanently.
How close to this point will the arrival of the El Niño phenomenon place us this year and possibly in the coming years? El Niño is an event of climatic origin that expresses itself in the warming of the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean and manifests itself in cycles of between three and eight years. With antecedents in the 19th century, in 1924 climatologist Gilbert Walker coined the term “Southern Oscillation” to identify it and in 1969 meteorologist Jacob Bjerknes suggested that this unusual warming in the eastern Pacific could unbalance the trade winds and increase the warm waters toward the east, that is, toward the intertropical coasts of South America.
But this is not simply a traditional meteorological phenomenon that recurs in irregular annual periods. It is not a natural phenomenon; however many attempts are made, time and again, to make invisible or deny its social causes. On the contrary, in recent decades, the dynamics of the climate crisis have increased both in frequency and intensity. Already in early 2023, the third continuous La Niña episode concluded, the third time since 1950 that it has extended over three years and with increasing intensity. Likewise, in 2016, El Niño led to the average temperature record reached by the planet. And different scientists estimate today that this Super El Niño may be repeated today with unknown consequences given the levels of greenhouse gases and the dynamics of the current climate crisis.
The banners of a change inspired by social and climate justice and the effective paths of this socio-ecological transition raised by popular movements are becoming more imperative and urgent today. It is possible to propose an emergency popular mitigation and adaptation plan. But to make these alternatives socially audible, to break with the ecological blindness that wants to impose itself, it is first necessary to break the epistemological construction that wants to inscribe these catastrophes, repeatedly and persistently, in a world of supposedly pure nature, in a presumably external field, alien and outside human social control.
This is a matrix of naturalization that, while excluding social groups and the mode of socioeconomic organization from any responsibility for the current crises, wants to turn them into unpredictable and unknowable events that only leave the option of resignation, religious alienation, or individual resilience. The questioning of these views is inscribed not only in the discourses but also in the practices and emotions, in responding to the catastrophe with the (re)construction of bonds and values of affectivity, collectivity, and solidarity—indispensable supports for emancipatory change.
Photo by NASA on Unsplash
Editor’s Note: For the past few decades, the environmental movement has tried lobbying, educating, and holding rallies with the notion of protecting the natural world. This approach has not led to success. Instead of the destruction of the planet being slowed down, it has been progressing (in some cases, accelerating). This inefficacy has forced us to consider other means that might have better results. The deep green environmental movement has always called for use of any means necessary to protect the natural world. The following analysis highlights how more are opening up to the idea.
This story was originally published by Grist. Sign up for Grist’s weekly newsletter here
By Kate Yoder/Grist
It’s hard to think of something more wholesome than gardening. But the New Zealand gardening collective at the heart of Birnam Wood, a new political thriller by the Booker Prize-winning author Eleanor Catton, have a rebellious streak. The guerrilla gardeners trespass on unused land to grow carrots, cabbages, strawberries, and other crops. They tap private spigots and snipe the occasional tool from a shed in a wealthy neighborhood, imagining themselves as environmental revolutionaries.
Bookshelves are beginning to teem with radical environmentalists. In the sci-fi writer Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future, a group called the Children of Kali target conspicuous “carbon burners,” knocking jets out of the sky and sinking yachts. A purported ecoterrorist also drives the plot of the mystery Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer, sending the main character on a risky mission into the world of wildlife trafficking. Then there’s Stephen Markley’s novel The Deluge, released in January, where a group of climate radicals called 6Degrees tries to avoid detection by the surveillance state as they instigate attacks on oil and gas infrastructure.
That eco-sabotage has captured so many authors’ imaginations seems to reflect a broader frustration with governments’ failure to rein in carbon emissions — a feeling that decades of peaceful protest weren’t enough, and the world is out of options. It has propelled climate fiction, once a niche genre, into the mainstream. Think of The Overstory by Richard Powers, a sweeping novel that follows activists who seek to save trees at all costs, employing human barricades, tree-sitting, and arson. It won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize and generated glowing praise from Bill Gates as well as Barack Obama, who said it “changed how I thought about the Earth and our place in it.”
History suggests that fictional stories about eco-sabotage, sometimes called “monkeywrenching” after Edward Abbey’s book of the same name, could inspire people to try something similar in the real world.`
“The world right now is ripe for radical activism,” said Dana Fisher, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland. Last week, a report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the risks from climate change — both present and future — were even more severe than previously thought. In the last year alone, heavy rainfall submerged a third of Pakistan with massive floods and China endured a heat wave more intense and longer-lasting than any in recent history. The panel of scientists called for a “substantial reduction” in the use of fossil fuels, with the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres declaring that the world needed a “quantum leap in climate action.”
Yet earlier this month, the Biden administration approved the Willow project, a ConocoPhillips oil drilling operation that could release up to 260 million metric tons of carbon over its lifetime. For progressive groups in the United States who spent recent years working with the Biden administration to pass the landmark Inflation Reduction Act, the single largest climate package in the country’s history, it felt like a betrayal — one that might lead to a shift in tactics.
“I mean, everybody knows that we are nowhere near where we need to be,” Fisher said. “And so the natural progression is you’re going to see folks, particularly young people, rise up.”
Apocalyptic storylines have long dominated environmental fiction — including Nevil Shute’s On the Beach, Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road — a frame that’s tailor-made to ramp up concern about planetary crises. “I think that a lot of climate fiction has been perhaps stuck in this mold of cautionary tales, of bad climate futures,” said Matthew Schneider-Mayerson, an English professor at Colby College in Maine.
Now reality is doing the work that fiction once did. With a quorum of Americans sufficiently frightened about the world’s trajectory — a full quarter of the population is now “alarmed” about climate change — writers are branching out. Authors are modeling for readers a transition from “apathetic awareness” to “meaningful action” by showing different kinds of political engagement, Schneider-Mayerson said.
That might explain the variety of unconventional activism in recent novels, such as the guerrilla gardeners of Birnam Wood and the utopian commune in Allegra Hyde’s Eleutheria (2022). Hyde’s novel follows a woman who joins a camp of eco-warriors in the Bahamas, after she read a guide to fighting climate change called Living the Solution. “I felt like a lot of climate fiction that I was encountering was purely apocalyptic,” Hyde told Grist. “But I wrote this because I wanted to use fiction as a space to imagine other possibilities, imagine utopian possibilities, and maybe open up that imaginative space for people.”
Eleutheria was inspired in part by The Great Derangement, a nonfiction book by the Indian author Amitav Ghosh published in 2016 that bemoaned the lack of serious literature about climate change, especially outside of science fiction, at the time. “I think it is a real call to arms to fiction writers to recognize how storytelling can and does shape how we live our lives in the real world,” Hyde said.
Another inflection point for climate fiction was the widespread popularity of The Overstory, the 512-page novel that brought attention to the ways trees communicate and wound up as a global bestseller. “It wasn’t hived off into the usual silos of climate change or speculative fiction, but was treated as a mainstream novel,” Ghosh told the Guardian in 2020, noting that he’s seen an “outpouring of work in this area” since the book’s publication.
Monkeywrenching is also spilling over into film. The movie How to Blow Up a Pipeline, coming out next month, is inspired by the Swedish writer Andreas Malm’s book of the same name, a manifesto that encourages sabotage and critiques the pacifism of the climate movement. The film adaption takes that idea and turns it into a work of fiction, following a group of disillusioned young people on a heist to sabotage an oil pipeline. The trailer shows them making bombs and features dramatic background music punctuated by klaxons. “They will defame us and claim this was violence or vandalism,” one activist says. “But this was justified.”
Previous films have tended to “pathologize” activists who destroy property, psychoanalyzing them to figure out what was wrong with them, Schneider-Mayerson said. “I think maybe there’s a sense that, like, you can kind of touch these topics, but you can never endorse it.” On the other hand, How to Blow Up a Pipeline ends with “a wink and a nudge,” according to an early review of the film. “You can almost hear the movie say that the sabotage doesn’t need to stop when the credits roll,” Edward Ongweso Jr wrote in Vice.
The idea that people might take a cue from the movie isn’t far-fetched, experts say. “I can just say for sure that there are a whole bunch of dissatisfied young people around the country,” said Fisher, the sociologist. “And if they start watching movies about blowing up pipelines, what will that do?”
Photo by Krists Luhaers on Unsplash
Editor’s note: Neither of the events are being organized by DGR. We stand in solidarity with both of these and encourage our readers to get involved in these if possible.
Community Rights US to reorganize as Association
The following is a message from Paul Cienfuegos, the Founding Director of Community Rights US, regarding some news about his movement and virtual book talks on April 1 and April 17. You can join the event here.
Greetings to all of our thousands of loyal supporters!
The Community Rights US Board of Directors has come to the decision that we no longer have the capacity to continue our work to build the Community Rights movement across the US at anywhere near the scale or scope we had always envisioned. For some time now, we have been struggling to sustain a Board large enough to maintain the critical focus of our organization. We haven’t generated sufficient volunteer energy to support our project work. We’ve been unsuccessful in our grant writing efforts, and our ongoing fundraising efforts with our human supporters have not generated sufficient funds to maintain paid staff. And so it is with some sadness, I’m announcing that last month was our final month of existence as a formal non-profit tax-exempt organization.
On the good side, at least three members of our existing Board (including myself) will continue to meet monthly to discuss next steps for our work. We have absolutely no intention of vanishing into thin air. We just won’t exist as a non-profit corporation anymore. We plan to restructure ourselves as an Association.
So if you have been meaning to make a tax-deductible donation to us for awhile now, we’re sorry but it’s already too late to do so! But a NON-tax-deductible donation is still very much welcomed, by donating to me at my Patreon account here. Monthly donors will have access to a wide variety of provocative writings, talks, and interviews that I’ve done over these past years, and will continue to do albeit less frequently. Thank you for your continuing support!
And as soon as we launch our new Community Rights US “Association,” we’ll let you know how to make donations there too!
I have been taking leadership in the Community Rights movement since 1995. As the founder of Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County (California) in 1995. As the co-founder of Community Rights PDX (Oregon) in 2012, the Oregon Community Rights Network in 2013, and Community Rights US in 2017. That’s 28 years of sustained organizing and teaching and consulting and cheerleading efforts! And to be totally transparent with you, I am feeling deeply exhausted, and don’t have the same level of energy that has propelled me for so many years.
I have a strong desire to shift my priorities towards a lot more play and rest and reading and spacious friend time and deep nature and quiet time. I am extremely proud of the contributions I have made to this national movement, and to many other social movements in the decades prior to 1995.
Last year, I wrote and published my first-ever book, How Dare We? Courageous Practices to Reclaim Our Power as Citizens. Our board and small staff have been working hard to promote the book to media, bookstores, thought leaders, and activist groups. I could not have asked for a better support team from our board and staff!
I have been having a ton of fun and gratifying experiences promoting my book to audiences of every political stripe. On February 2nd, I came to the Midwest for a month-long book tour at bookstores and libraries to ten mostly rural communities (in Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota) where I spent six intensive and truly wonderful years teaching and consulting up until covid crashed everything.
And if you haven’t already purchased my book for yourself, a family member or friend, or for your public library, now is a good time to do THAT also. Thank you! My book is now available directly from your local bookstore, as well as all the other mega-corporate stores. The paperback is the very revolutionary price of $17.76. The e-book is a steal at just $1.99. And I can offer you bulk discounts if you contact me directly.
I’ll be offering two virtual book talks in April (see poster above): Saturday, April 1 at 12 pm PST and Monday, April 17 at 6pm PST. Use this LINK to join and feel free to invite others who might be interested in learning more about our approach.
Community Rights US will continue to publish occasional newsletters to share our latest endeavors as we re-imagine ourselves as an “Association” that continues to promote the Community Rights movement, which I continue to believe is this nation’s best hope and political, legal, and culture-shift strategy to reclaim our power as citizens, as my book title states!
We will continue to maintain our incredible WEBSITE that is chock full of resource materials. As well as our substantial AUDIO FILES on PodBean, including all of my two years of weekly radio/podcast commentaries. And also our Youtube HOMEPAGE with many talks, interviews, and more. Please continue to utilize our extensive resources.
We want to thank each and every one of you for your support over these past 5+ years since our founding in 2017. We couldn’t have done it without you!
And last but certainly not least, I want to thank all of the people who made this organization run over these wonderful last 5-1/2 years…
Board members (past and present): Forest Jahnke (WI), Carla Cao (FL), Bryan Lewis (OR), Evelina Avotina (OR), Steve Luse (IA), Joan Pougiales (WI), Jenny Krol (MN), Heather Tischbein (WA), Mark Dilley (MI), Teresa Cisneros (OR), and myself Paul Cienfuegos (OR).
Staff (past and present): Kelly Brown, Eva Riversong, Jen Forti, Michelle Martin, Curt Hubatch, Davi Rios, Tyler Norman, Jimmy Dunson, and Abigail Harris.
Thank you all SO SO MUCH!
Fires, Floods and Terrorism Charges: The escalation of state repression during the climate crisis
The following is a message from Free Jessica Reznicek campaign.
It has been a year since our last webinar “USA v Jessica Reznicek, fighting the criminalization of water protectors”. During this time as Jessica Reznicek sat in prison, over 42 forest defenders in Atlanta have been charged with domestic terrorism, Department of Homeland Security & Ohio Police linked environmentalist Erin Brockovitch to the potential for ‘special interest terrorism’, and the federal government approved the massive oil infrastructure Willow project in Alaska.
As the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report issues a final warning that “swift and drastic action” can avert irrevocable damage to the world, Utah becomes the 19th state to pass a draconian “critical infrastructure” bill where protesting fossil fuel infrastructure can lead to several years in prison. Jessica’s case is not isolated and unfortunately we are truly seeing that what happens to Jessica happens to all of us.
On Tuesday, April 4th at 7:00 pm CDT we are hosting an international webinar to highlight how this frightening trend of human rights abuses is not just sweeping the United States. We will talk with land defenders worldwide who have been targeted by their governments or industry for trying to protect life on Earth. We have an incredible lineup from around the world and we hope you can join us. Our strength is in our solidarity.
Please find the info below and register here!
As global temperatures rise and make record-breaking floods and fires daily headlines, national governments repeatedly protect the corporations that fuel the climate crisis and incarcerate those who challenge them. Around the world the communities that attempt to protect and preserve their environment are increasingly met with terrorism charges, assasination, and egregious human rights abuses. In this international webinar we will explore the questions:
Does protecting clean water or taking climate action make you a terrorist?
What are the implications of governments labeling their population terrorists for political action?
Our panelists include organizers from the youth climate movement in the Philippines, the Palestinian liberation movement, the climate justice struggle in Germany, the Indigenous land defense movement in Honduras, the Campaign to Free Jessica Reznicek, and Stop Cop City in Atlanta GA.
The panelists will discuss their experiences with criminalization and how the growing repression of land defenders affects us all.
- Marlon Kautz, Atlanta Solidarity Fund. #StopCopCity in Atlanta, GA.
- Sandra Tamari, Adalah Justice Project. Palestinian Liberation Movement.
- Michèle Winkler, Grundrechtekomitee. German Climate Justice movement.
- Alab Ayroso, Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines. Youth Climate Movement in the Philippines.
- Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres, COPINH-Indigenous land defense in Honduras.
- Friends of Jessica from The Campaign to Free Jessica Reznicek.
Editor’s note: Climate change predictions have repeatedly demonstrated to be estimating disasters much later than they arrive. In spite of that, climate scientists still continue to make similar predictions. In this piece, the author – a psychologist – explores the technical and psychological reasons behind this.
By Jackson Damian / Medium
One of the clichés of climate change reporting is climate scientists claiming to be ‘surprised’, ‘shocked’ or ‘baffled’ by extreme events happening so much faster than predicted by their models and research studies.
These consistent underestimations are often explained by their ‘cautious’ approach which sounds reasonable, until you realise this has led the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — whose role is to advise humanity on the seriousness of the climate crisis — to get their advice consistently wrong.
COP27 reinforced this problem when, as ever, the IPCC based their warnings exclusively on a synthesis of climate scientist’s reports that, they knew, underdetermined both what’s already happening and the speed of catastrophic future change.
This means most people, including those in power and in the media, genuinely don’t know how desperate things already are. Even many directly engaged with the subject, in NGOs and protest groups, don’t realise concepts like limiting warming to a ‘safe’ 1.5C global average are now meaningless — because scientists won’t tell them.
People know it’s bad but not how bad. This gap in understanding remains wide enough for denialists and minimisers to legitimise inadequate action under the camouflage of empty eco-jargon and false optimism. This gap allows nations, corporations and individuals to remain distracted by short-term crises, which, however serious, pale into insignificance compared with the unprecedented threat of climate change.
Alongside those vested interests who minimise climate change assessments, underestimates by scientists have potentially devastating consequences for humanity’s efforts to react to this threat to our survival. You don’t need to be a scientist to know that misjudging the seriousness of a situation compromises any response.
This article explains why traditional climate science methods cannot keep up with rapid change. It provides an analysis of the psychological defences that prevent most climate scientists from admitting this in public when, unofficially, they all do and say they are afraid. In conclusion, we consider how scientists can overcome this irrational position, for the good of us all
How wrong are climate scientists?
The list of new climate phenomena and related extreme events that ‘surprise’ climate scientists is endless, because it literally grows by the day.
This statement of fact is not ‘doomist’ or disputed by anyone serious, including scientists themselves. Roger Harrabin, the BBC’s environment and energy correspondent, recently confessed he is ‘scared’ — because he has listened for years to scientists telling him things were far worse than they could say officially and this is evident in today’s climate extremes.
The unprecedented 40C-plus temperatures of 2022’s UK and French heatwaves that provoked Harrabin’s disclosure, were forecast in 2019 to occur sometime after 2050 by the modelling of their national meteorological organisations. Multiple UK locations then saw 40C in 2022, while elsewhere in Europe they got closer to 50C. This led Professor Hannah Cloke of the University of Reading to admit, “Even as a climate scientist… this is scary.”
More, unusually public, panicked-sounding comments from scientists followed because these unprecedented extremes in Europe, undoubtedly caused they knew by humanity’s impact on the climate, were also experienced across the entire Northern Hemisphere, not least China which suffered ‘the worst drought in human history’ and vast areas of western USA.
These, plus epic and terrible related events like extremes of drought in the Horn of Africa, floods in Pakistan (covering an area the size of the UK), Australia and Niger, heatwaves in India and Argentina, and many others — were not anticipated anything like this soon by climate science models.
Worse, this was nothing new, recent history records an accelerating number of similar phenomena including:
· The 2021 ‘heatdomes’ in British Columbia and elsewhere — predicted to occur only every 10 years after average global temperature increased by 2C i.e. again, sometime after 2050. These led Michael E. Mann, a ‘go-to’ climate scientist/commentator, to state the climate models were wrong.
· The mega Australian wildfires of 2019 — predicted to occur by 2050 by only one climate scientist who, when he said so in 2007, was ridiculed by his peers for being alarmist.
So, the answer to the question, ‘how wrong are climate scientists?’ is — disastrously. The fact is, no mainstream research paper or climate model predicted where we are now.
Why don’t the methods work?
These ‘peer-reviewed’ methods cannot keep up in a time of rapid climate change because they…
1. take years from proposal to publication — so are always out-of-date
2. must limit themselves to the consideration of fragments of the climate system, to satisfy the high statistical standards of ‘certainty’ required
3. don’t include known variables, such as methane, when measurement is problematic — these are allocated zero values which works for the maths but not for real-life
4. cannot make provision for variables they know must be significant but cannot say so ‘scientifically’ yet, including many ‘feedback loops’
5. cannot co-ordinate well with other, equally-limited studies
6. cannot consider the whole planetary system or, usually, even major system components
7. were designed for the study of nature’s usual, long-term (thousands/millions of years) pace of climate change, not the unprecedented speed of anthropogenic change.
The IPCC rely exclusively on data they ‘synthesise’ from scientific papers and models complying with these methods to tell humanity what is happening, though they know these are flawed for this purpose.
They will not consider better data until a scientist has referred to this using the same process.
In addition, they use a ‘consensus’ filter — this disregards ‘outlier’ results, so those few studies that sound more realistic alarms are discounted.
All this is compounded by the IPCC’s mind-bogglingly complicated 7-year review and reporting structure. Though designed to be thorough, this has no chance of keeping up.
This modus operandi was established at their inception in 1988 but, as Naomi Oreskes, the Harvard science historian says, the IPCC ‘set the bar of proof too high’ for their vital advisory role.
For clarity, this is the bar set by the IPCC for their synthesis of scientific evidence, not for their summaries issued to policymakers. These summaries are built on the foundation of this understated evidence but are further watered-down, under external pressures, by dubious factors such as the estimated impact of unproven technologies.
The Arctic Circle
This is where these methods get it most wrong.
Significant, unambiguous new observational evidence emerged in the summer of 2022, from Svalbard and the Barents Sea, to reveal an increase of 10C there in the past 30 years alone. Accounts of Alaskan and Northern Russian land masses recording even higher temperature anomalies have been routine for decades; in this context the Siberian wildfires of 2020 surpassed in area the rest of the world’s fires put together.
We now know the temperature across the entire Arctic Circle has increased by between 4C and 10C in four decades i.e. way above the current ‘global average’ of 1.2C, and the now-unachievable ‘safe’ limit of 1.5C. The drastic climatic consequences of these astonishingly fast increases include already altering the path and speed of the jet streams, 50–100 years faster than expected.
These increases were not built into climate models prior to 2022, one of the major reasons all bar one of the IPCC’s current ‘trajectories’ for future change have already been surpassed. Additional incorrect assumptions are regularly highlighted — a December 2022 study indicates the rate of melt of Greenland’s glacier fronts has been significantly underestimated in the models due to erroneous comparisons with events in Antartica.
The effect on leaders’ and the public’s (mis)understanding is significant. At the time of writing, on the back of the summer temperature extremes of 2022, 2/3 of the landmass of the USA is in the grip of a vast winter storm, while much of Europe experiences an unprecedented winter heatwave. Any climate scientist, informally, will say these events must be related to climate change caused by human activity. But they won’t say so publicly, because their methods cannot show this yet, so the media report the cause is subject to ‘scientific debate’ — creating a false impression of uncertainty and reducing warranted alarm.
We see similar misguided misreporting in relation to changes in other major climate elements including ocean temperatures, deep ocean currents, Antarctica, glacier retreat and biodiversity loss.
Another cliché of climate reporting is the surprise expressed at so many extreme events happening at ‘only’ 1.2C but given what’s actually happened in the Arctic Circle and elsewhere — as opposed to what the models predicted — it’s no surprise at all.
They do know – So why can’t climate scientists tell us?
This is where psychology comes into it. Climate scientists are extremely clever people but they are as human, and as vulnerable to sub-conscious needs and fears, as the rest of us.
They do know
It is worth reiterating that these highly-educated professionals do know everything outlined above to be true — they know EVERY new live observation and better-quality study or model shows this.
And it isn’t only Roger Harrabin, with his significant sample size, who says so.
The problem is also well-illustrated by the fiasco of the 1.5C average ‘limit’ which at COP27, using their methodology, the IPCC still declared realistic in spite of the fact that in 2022:
· the UN’s own Environment Program declared there was no credible path to limiting warming to 1.5C
· the journal Nature broadly surveyed climate scientists and ecologists on the average global temperature rise by 2100; 96% said it would be higher than 1.5C and 60% said it would be 3C or more
· an event at the University of East Anglia asked 60 climate scientists whether 1.5C was ‘still alive’? — 100% said no.
But, because most climate scientists will not say so in public, they enable COP27, virtually all media outlets and influential figures like Sir David Attenborough to keep misrepresenting reality.
All while, everyone agrees, every fraction of a degree beyond 1.5C of warming represents exponentially-worse consequences for humanity — and more than 3C could be unsurvivable.
The psychological reasons
Scientists nonetheless repress the fact all this points to an urgent need to change their behaviours to allow them to report ‘live’ – what they know is actually happening.
This repression process is automatic — it is a sub-conscious, psychological defence mechanism activated in response to the perceived threat that changing their ways of working represents.
The superficial element of this threat is to their basic needs; climate scientists in general are not motivated by material gain but they still need to eat. All of them, from the most junior to those contributing work to the IPCC, simply cannot vary from these prescribed ‘scientific’ methods in their activities — if they do, their work will not be accepted.
More significant for climate scientists, however, is the profound psychological importance to them of their professional standing, this is fundamental to their sense of themselves — we might say their egos ‘identify’ with this. The threat to this status that the possibility of abandoning these methods represents is experienced as a kind of mortal danger, a killing of themselves.
This ego-identification of scientists with their special status is not a new concept; it’s widely accepted as a kind of anodyne, hard-earned, superiority complex that’s generally beneficial in its consequences for society. Historically this was often seen in popular culture as an inferiority complex, producing the malevolent ‘mad scientist’, but in the era of advanced technology the isolated ‘nerd’ archetype has emerged from this shadow to enjoy elevated status and influence. The tendency towards social awkwardness of many in this group is also affectionately portrayed in shows like ‘The Big Bang Theory’.
But most scientists still feel psychologically different. They grew up apart because they were more intellectually capable than those around them. Even if surrounded by good-intentions, childhood inevitably featured isolation, in the absence of many who could connect with them at their level. Worse, a significant subset of this population experience bullying for their exceptional abilities.
Academia provides a psychological refuge among a social group of their peers, but they also discover here a competitive environment with rigid and complex rules of behaviour. These rules, to which these research methods are fundamental, are reinforced over years. They are the code they must abide by to confirm and retain their membership of the group.
It follows that any threat to this membership, as breaking these rules represents, is deeply psychologically painful. The defences and complexes activated, linked to early maturational experiences, are the most difficult to shift. They provoke sub-conscious, primitive fears. Rational argument, normally the goal of scientists, becomes difficult to engage.
These fears are reinforced by the absence of an alternative group to join if they leave — outcast, back in the ‘real’ world they would find no safe community.
Thus, ongoing repression and ‘business as usual’; thousands of limited studies and inaccurate models still flow from academia, and on to the IPCC — in spite of the desperate, wider consequences.
This is an example of collective cognitive dissonance, a behaviour which denies reality, often seen in human groups where individuals place high value on their membership.
Another crucial barrier to these scientists changing their behaviours is the near absence of any external pressure to do so — indeed the opposite is the case. Efforts to dilute climate warnings continue but even those who acknowledge the problem, enmeshed in their own obligations and related defences, don’t want to hear things are worse than scientists are already saying.
The psychology of the IPCC
The continued insistence of the IPCC on basing their advice on evidence produced by methods they know under-estimate the problem, is an extension of this collective cognitive dissonance.
Their behaviour makes no sense in the context of humanity’s failure to respond to catastrophic threat. IPCC lead scientists are not pathologically-inclined to cause harm — but they too feel unable to abandon the constraints of methods within which they are psychologically secure.
It is also likely the IPCC reinforces their emphasis on these flawed in-group methods, as a primitive defence against those non-scientific vested interests who challenge and ‘bully’ them, including in the production of their summaries for policymakers.
There is, nonetheless, one psychological factor that could shift these ‘ego-identified’ complexes and that is peer pressure, especially if this comes from senior leaders across the climate science community.
The truth is ‘unscientific’
Roger Harrabin reports scientists saying they can’t tell the truth because to do so would be ‘unscientific’. This apparent insanity, given the consequences, can be understood psychologically.
But scientists are not the only ones who need urgent analysis in this incredible context. Prioritising survival in their roles at the expense of rational behaviour is accepted, even expected, among corporate leaders and politicians, both as individuals and the collective.
It’s notable all these people come from a similar demographic— mostly white, male, middle-aged, privileged — or, if not, they are obliged to conform with the culture and social norms established by this group. It may be easier for scientists though, given the importance to them of objectivity, to break through their defences and change their behaviours.
The same but different – Divergence among climate scientists
The climate science community, like the science itself, is many-faceted and includes specialists in atmospheric sciences, fluid dynamics, meteorology, geo-science and others, as well as climatologists. More than one hundred thousand work in research, corporations, environment/habitat management, public administration, NGOs etc. Most have no direct connection to the IPCC or the media.
Only their leaders have these connections and it is no surprise, in this extreme situation, that this instinctively-conservative community is fragmenting. They currently fall into 5 main groups.
1. More of the same
In classic defence-mechanism style many scientists double-down on their existing flawed methods in response to their fears. Disappearing down the rabbit-hole of another 5-year study or designing another complex model is psychologically comfortable. Most research papers still end with the recommendation ‘more study is required…’, which rationalises this defensive behaviour but diminishes the impact of conclusions and plays into the hands of minimisers.
Ineffectual attempts have been made to change things up like, ‘attribution studies’. These calculate (using a questionable comparison to an imaginary world where human influence had not occurred) the probability of anthropogenic causation as opposed to ‘weather’ variations. Their findings are published faster than standard studies but still cause delays of many months and even then are not conclusive. Thus the summer 2022 droughts were reported in January 2023 to have been ‘calculated’ by the UK Met Office as ‘160 times more likely’ to have been caused by climate change, when any scientist would have said, informally, when they were happening, there was no chance it was anything else. Others produce ludicrous individual event estimates like ‘1000 times more…’
Anything to avoid a declaration of certainty at the time of the event, because this is not allowed by scientific method. Such convoluted compromises only make sense within the climate science community where adherence to the rules is sacrosanct — even though they know these will still cause delay in communication and misunderstanding elsewhere.
2. More of the same — but magically better
Senior climate scientist and Oxford Professor Tim Palmer told Roger Harrabin: “It’s impossible to say how much of an emergency we are in because we don’t have the tools to answer the question.’’
Former Met Office chief scientist Professor Dame Julia Slingo told BBC News in 2021: “We should be alarmed because the IPCC (climate computer) models are just not good enough.’’ She went on, “(We need) an international centre… like that at Cern… with expensive new mega-computers — to deliver the quantum leap to climate models that capture the fundamental physics that drive extremes”. Such computers — everyone knows — would take years to develop, time humanity does not have, and could anyway never be ‘mega’ enough to keep up.
It is difficult to imagine clearer cases of bad workmen blaming their tools, not least as they design the tools themselves — but it’s not that a Professor Dame and an Oxford Professor can’t see the wood for the trees, it is that they are the trees.
Most climate scientists still live deep in this area of a forest of their own creation. Their irrational obsession with improving ‘scientific’ methods as a response to this problem, clearly links to their subconsciously-driven resistance to saying anything in public without reference to these; they are looking for justification (within the rules of their community) to speak out, as they know they should. Off the record, Tim and Julia and the rest will say it is 100% certain humanity caused this unprecedented climate mayhem and — using their powerful brains instead of their limited models — can give accurate ideas of what’s coming next.
3. Ongoing denial
A small group of hardliners still refuse to look beyond conclusions derived within the limited parameters of individual studies and models. They disregard the fact these, and the big picture the IPCC obtains by considering them together, cannot tell us what’s actually going on. For them if something can’t be ‘proved’ yet by their methods — it’s not happening.
Thus many refused to accept jet streams had (inevitably) shifted because of the relative speed of Arctic warming — because their models could not yet demonstrate this. Their peer-reviewed work was published in credible journals, even when other scientists like Jennifer Francis pointed out obvious flaws, such as their inability to include the impact of the warming of land masses across the Arctic Circle. This purist group were quietened by the observations and events of 2022 but they remain influential.
Crucially, the IPCC itself belongs here — as they continue to reference only data from studies and models which they know cannot reflect reality.
4. Underestimation to ‘avoid panic’
Some scientists attempt to rationalise underestimation by claiming this avoids the paralysis the resultant panic would provoke. This, psychologically-speaking, is nonsense; history tells us the mass ‘freeze response’ they allude to will not be provoked by credible experts telling the truth. Not telling people, however, does risk confusion, paralysis and no meaningful action — which is what has played out.
These scientists collude with the ‘stubborn optimists’ in public life, people like the UN’s Cristiana Figueres who advocate maintaining a belief in things getting better, even when they look bleak — which sounds okay but, has led to magical thinking such as faith in non-viable techno-solutions and the untenable insistence on ‘keeping 1.5C alive’.
This group includes public-facing scientists like Katherine Hayhoe and Michael E Mann, popular because they say what people want to hear. Mann now acknowledges there has been no meaningful action. He still insists ‘progress’ made on ‘policy’ is ‘hopeful’, however, which is like praising the driver of a runaway train for jamming down the accelerator, before going back to talk with passengers about slowing down. So, he hasn’t found his way out of this group yet.
5. Going public
Some scientists are breaking ranks to tell it much more like it is. They include some whose reputations are established, like Sir David King, or are retired/emeritus professors like Peter Wadhams, or they are the more confident and the boldest, people like James Hansen, Makifo Sato, Jennifer Francis, Ye Tao, Bill McGuire, Peter Carter, Kevin Anderson, Tim Lenton, Jason Box, David Spratt, James Dyke and Peter Kalmus. They are not rooted so deeply within the forest and have in common the psychological trait that the existential fear in them provoked by this situation, has become stronger than any psychological threat.
Some are organising in groups such as Scientist Rebellion, The Climate Crisis Advisory Group, Scientists Warning, and Scholars Warning. Some of the youngest are breathing fire — Capstick et al in 2022 in the journal Nature Climate Change, argue that all climate scientists must get involved in civil disobedience to provoke action. Others focus on practical suggestions — but do so in silos which receive minimal attention, such as the Centre for Climate Repair.
Other academics are also realistically engaged including Jem Bendell, professor of Sustainable Leadership and Rupert Read, Associate Professor of Philosophy.
Though in touch with reality themselves, and connecting with probably several million others now across the globe, none of these or others like them have had a meaningful impact on the behaviour of governments, corporations and most individuals, nor on humanity’s omnicidal trajectory.
Scientists, collectively, telling the unvarnished truth about the desperate seriousness of the situation, right now, is something that could have this impact.
How can climate scientists allow themselves to tell the truth?
1. Admit the problem
Climate scientists must admit they are still the only ones who know the extent of the climate iceberg below the surface.
They must accept, in the face of this unprecedented threat, their primary professional responsibility now is to provide up-to-date information to humanity — about what’s really happening to our climate and to our essential habitat. This is the single most important task any group of scientists has ever faced.
They have to admit that rigid adherence to their academic methods, in this astonishingly rapid context, leads directly to their failure to communicate the truth.
They have to acknowledge the confusion this failure has provoked facilitates inadequate action, empty pledges, fantasy techno-solutions, and false-optimism.
Scientists must concede humanity urgently needs them to find new ways to communicate what they already know, not only what their methods, or some future super-computer, will allow.
2. Unite and co-ordinate
Pointing to accelerating climate-extreme events happening ahead of their predictions — and the failure of humanity to respond linked, in part, to these underestimations — senior scientists must build a new ‘permanent-emergency’ coalition of IPCC and climate science leaders from all disciplines.
This strong new coalition must overcome their psychological resistances to agree an urgent new direction for the climate science community, finding a way through the politics to co-ordinate this.
The attraction of civil disobedience as a potential catalyst is understandable — and the climate science community should support members who get involved.
Accurate information communicated effectively, however, has the best chance of provoking meaningful action, in the form of impulses to radically change originating from within governments and corporations, including fossil fuel companies.
The new coalition must collectively acknowledge it is climate scientists themselves who need to lead in these communications and ensure they are effective. To do this they will need to engage with psychological and comms experts to break through the defences of leaders in all spheres of human activity, as well as the wider population.
3. Plan and Act
This coalition must initiate a plan of action that could look something like this.
1. Announce the permanent-emergency
Getting ahead of the likely unprecedented new extremes of the 2023/2024 El Niño, issue statement to all media platforms (simultaneously from all national agencies, IPCC, NASA, NOAA, NSDIC, UK Met Office and equivalents, all university Climate Change departments, Institutes etc), declaring:
· A new state of climate ‘permanent-emergency’ is here. Comparisons with the past are now irrelevant — our climate has irrevocably changed, at a speed unprecedented in this planet’s history and will change ever faster, with devastating impacts much faster than expected.
· Traditional climate science methods could not predict this and cannot keep up — ‘live’ observation, interpretation and communication of this new climate reality will now be the priority of scientists.
· Humanity has to react without further delay. 1.5C is gone. Paris 2015 goals, COP pledges, carbon budgets etc are obsolete — radical new policies are needed.
· These must promote urgent, meaningful action in all areas of human activity, based on new ‘live’ information.
2. Initiate new Permanent-Emergency Climate Science Code of Practice
· All institutions and individual climate scientists required to adopt
· Requires all activity (teaching, funding, research, modelling, other activity) prioritises live observations, analysis and reporting.
· Requires senior climate scientists behave congruently in their professional actions — eg 40% of time allocated to external facing comms/education and personally ensuring colleagues adopt this code.
3. Co-ordinate global climate scientific resources as a permanent-emergency response
· Create new 24/7 network of climate hubs, based in existing institutions, with the primary purpose of live analysis of weather/climate events, probable future events and related parameters — all individuals and institutions to prioritise their work for these hubs.
· Ensure hubs are co-ordinated to cover and connect planet-wide climate activity.
· Task hubs with improving quality of live observations including in remote locations. Advance computer capabilities — without delaying communication of live information.
· Set up central ‘planet hub’ at the IPCC — the coalition base — operates 24/7 to co-ordinate/ integrate/synthesise work of individual hubs.
· Using psychological approaches, engage with resistance from within the climate science community and related disciplines.
· Promote emergency-first mobilisation of all academic disciplines.
· All in co-ordination with government, corporate, NGO, health, education, social care and arts etc sectors — includes delivery of rolling information programs.
4. Set up 24/7 primary communication centre at IPCC ‘Planet Hub’
· Provides rolling analysis in planet-wide report, continuously synthesises and translates technical work of individual hubs into accessible language — replaces 7-yearly reporting cycle.
· Pro-actively engages with psychological resistance in leaders and the wider public to ensure effective communications.
· Supervises parallel/reciprocal communication functions in all climate hubs.
· Engages and trains media-friendly scientists.
· Targets rolling comms/education programs at all media platforms — eradicates misconceptions, replaces with accurate narrative.
Conclusion and questions for scientists
This article is aimed primarily at climate scientists, related professions and the media, written by a psychotherapist/friend. Someone with enough post-graduate education to understand the scientific papers and the climate models, and their shortcomings, but without the professional authority to do more than hold a psychological mirror up to this group.
The aim is to encourage scientists to overcome their resistances to communicating what they know. Because if they don’t — then we all face the prospect of the end of civilised society, including academia, also much faster than expected.
It is beyond the scope of this article to argue how bad the situation is or what appropriate responses should look like. The truth is no-one knows if we have 5 years or 50 before societal collapse sets in — but there is no doubt, whatever the timeframe, the situation is desperate and there is still no sign this is properly understood.
The climate science community could have a crucial influence in closing this gap in understanding — no-one else in this arena gets close to their hard-earned authority.
From this point the author only has questions because, as we say in psychotherapy, ‘insight is half the battle’. Changing behaviours is the difficult other half. It is for scientists themselves to answer the following:
· Can climate scientists overcome the subconsciously-driven defences that prevent most of them from telling the truth in public?
· Can they re-organise themselves to take responsibility for the effective communication of the true severity of this unprecedented ‘permanent-emergency’?
· Can they lower their self-imposed ‘bar of proof’ to a rational level that allows them to competently perform, at last, this vital role — so minimisers can be negated and meaningful actions initiated?
· Can they engage with parallel psychological resistances in leaders, the media and the public to receiving this information?
· Can they play the unique part, only their expertise allows them to play, in reducing harm to billions of human beings and other species?
If they can’t, our options will be limited…
Featured image: COP15 UNFCCC Climate Change
Editor’s note: In order to fill the void of fossil fuel supplies caused by the Russia-Ukraine War, countries are opening their land for coal extraction. We recently covered the resistance in Lützerath, Germany. A similar story seems to be unraveling in Australia. The following piece, originally published in Public Eye, follows the tragic Aboriginal land grabbing by corporations spanning two continents. Despite local resistance and vigil for over 400 days, the mines have not yet been stopped.
By Adrià Budry Carbó / Public Eye
With the war in Ukraine forcing Europe to seek alternatives to Russian fossil fuels, Australia is opening dozens of coal mines – and sacrificing its natural and cultural heritage in the process. Local authorities are invoking the consequences of the European war to get projects approved, despite the fact that behind the scenes it is the interests of Glencore and Adani – both based in Switzerland – that are ultimately at play.
In remote areas of Queensland, Aboriginal people and environmentalists are organising resistance to the shovel-and-dynamite lobby, but are coming under increasing pressure from mining groups.
Ochre earth gets everywhere, as gritty as those who walk on it, omnipresent in the semi-desert landscape. A pale-yellow column of smoke – up to 50 metres high – stands out against the horizon. With no high ground to cause an echo, the blast from the deep scar of the Carmichael mine rings out with a sharp bang. The mine is located in the geological basin of Galilee, in the heart of Queensland in north-eastern Australia.
Coedie MacAvoy has witnessed this scene often. Born and raised in the region, the son of an Elder of the Wangan and Jagalingou people (a guardian of wisdom), the 30-year-old introduces himself with pride. He relates the number of days he has spent occupying the small plot of land situated just in front of the Adani Group’s concession, which the company wants to transform into one of the largest coal mines in the world. On this October afternoon, the count is at 406 days – the same number of days as the camp of the Waddananggu (meaning “discussion” in the Wirdi language) has existed.
This vigil was not enough to prevent the start of production last December, but it’s a big thorn in the side of the ambitious multinational. The company is controlled by the Indian billionaire Gautam Adani, who became the third richest man in the world (net worth USD 142.4 billion) thanks to booming coal prices (see below). In April 2020, he set up a commercial branch in Geneva with the aim of offloading its coal, and registered with a local fiduciary. According to Public Eye’s sources, Adani benefitted from the support of Credit Suisse, which enabled it to raise USD 27 million in bonds in 2020. After Coal India, Adani has the largest number of planned new coal mines (60) according to the specialist platform Global Coal Mine Tracker. Glencore occupies sixth position in this ranking with 37 planned.
Gautam Adani controls one third of India’s coal imports. As reported by The New Yorker in November 2022, the billionaire is well known in his own country too – for bulldozing villages and forests to dig gigantic coal mines.
In Waddananggu, the ceremonial flames of those known here as “traditional owners” have been burning since 26 August 2021. They are accompanied by various people who come and go; young climate and pro-Aboriginal activists, sometimes together with their children – around 15 people in total. Those who emerge from the tents and barricades to observe the thick column of smoke that is dispersing into the distance are told: “Don’t breathe that shit in!”.
The Austral protestors, the war and the billionaire
With sunburned shoulders, a feather in her felt hat covering her blond hair, Sunny films the cloud of dust moving away to the north-west, towards the surrounding crops and scattered cattle. Sunny denounces the destruction of Aboriginal artefacts that are as old as the hills, and is documenting all the blasts from this mine which – after around 15 years of legal wrangling – is expanding at top speed.
After two years of pandemic, coal mines are producing at full throttle to capitalise on historically high prices. Following the invasion of Ukraine on 24th February last year, Australian coal (the most suitable substitute for Russian coal in terms of quality) is selling at three times the average price of the past decade. Countries highly dependent on Russian fossil fuels, like Poland, have been begging Australia to increase its exports of thermal coal. In Queensland, the authorities even took advantage of the situation to support particularly unpopular projects, such as Adani’s.
Since the start of the war in Ukraine, 3.3 million tonnes of Australian coal have been exported to Europe, according to data provided to Public Eye by the specialist agency Argus Media. Close to half of these exports (1.4 million tonnes) was dispatched on 11 bulk carriers from the Abbot Point terminal, which opens onto the Coral Sea in the north-east of the country, and is also controlled by Adani.
Sunny is indignant: “They shouldn’t detonate when the wind is like this”, she says. “They shouldn’t do it at all – but even less so today!”
For Adani, the objective is to reach 10 million tonnes’ production until the end of 2022. If the group seems to be in a tearing hurry, it’s because its project was initially aiming to produce 60 million tonnes per year, transported 300 kilometres via a dual railway line to Abbot Point. This port is only a few dozen kilometres from the Great Barrier Reef: designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981, it is considered to be “endangered”, according to a report by UN experts published at the end of November 2022. From here, coal is loaded onto bulk carriers to be burned – primarily in Indian, Chinese and Korean power-plants – nearly 10,000 kilometres from there.
For Grant Howard, a former miner from the region of Mackay who spent 30 years working in the industry, the mine is an environmental and logistical aberration: “Carmichael only makes commercial sense because Adani owns all the infrastructure and makes the Indian population pay too much for energy”.
Grant became an environmentalist and withdrew to the “bush” to be closer to nature. He denounces this “anachronistic” project that is threatening to act as a Trojan Horse for other mega mining projects in the Galilee Basin, which had not been exploited until Gautam Adani’s teams arrived.
“People who continue to extract thermal coal don’t have a moral compass”, he laments.
Australia has the third-largest coal reserves in the world, enough to continue production for four centuries.
When contacted, Credit Suisse claims to be fulfilling its responsibilities in relation to climate change. “We recognise that financial flows should also be aligned with the objectives set by the Paris Agreement”, its media service states, providing assurances that, in 2021, the bank reduced its financial exposure to coal by 39 percent.
On the other hand, the spokesperson did not specify whether a client like Adani, which makes most of its revenues from coal and is planning to open new thermal coal mines, would be excluded from financing in the future. “The position of Credit Suisse in terms of sustainability is based on supporting our clients through the transition towards low-carbon business models that are resilient to climate change”, they explain.
The country’s bloody history
For Coedie MacAvoy, this is very much a personal affair. In support of the fight of his “old man” – his father Adrian Burragubba went bankrupt in legal proceedings against the multinational – he occupied the Carmichael site on his own in 2019 in order to “reclaim pieces of property” on his ancestral lands. In doing so he created a blockade against Adani’s construction teams. He survived two weeks of siege before the private security services completely cut off his supply lines.
The same man has led the rebellion since August 2021, but he is no longer alone. “I am contesting the basic right of the government to undertake a compulsory acquisition of a mining lease”, declares Coedie. With piercing green eyes, a rapper’s flow, and his totem tattooed on his torso, the rebel-looking, young man – who has an air of fight the power – is happy to continue the lineage of activists occupying the trees. “I’m not a greenie from inner Melbourne”, asserts the Aborigine.
The local Queensland government finally abolished native people’s land rights in 2019 in order to give them to the mining company, which has treated them like intruders ever since. However, following harsh opposition from Coedie and his father, they were vindicated by the courts, who gave them the right to occupy their land “to enjoy, maintain, control, protect and develop their identity and cultural heritage” provided that they don’t interfere with mining activity.
It’s a loophole in the law linked to this region’s bloody history, and to the conditions under which the land was acquired from the Aborigines. Coedie MacAvoy explains: “You know, the whites arrived in Clermont in 1860 at the time of my great-grand father. They basically shot all fighting-age males.” Aboriginal people were only included in the Australian population census in 1967. The Australian (federal) Constitution still doesn’t afford them specific rights. “We learned to wield the sword and use it to the best of our abilities. We opened Pandora’s Box”, Coedie MacAvoy maintains proudly. He kept the Irish name “borrowed” by his grandfather. Very much at ease like a tribal leader, he teaches the youngest generation Wirdi and dreams of creating an Esperanto of Aboriginal dialects, because “everything I say or do is recognised as a cultural act”. This enrages the Adani Group, which is determined to hold on to its mining concession, and frequently calls the police, though based nearly 180 kilometres away.
Public Eye witnessed how aggressive the multinational can be towards people who take an interest in its activities. During our investigation in the field, a private security services’ SUV followed us along the public road that leads to the mine, and filmed us getting out of the vehicle in front of the Waddananggu camp. Several hours later, a letter arrived by mail at Public Eye’s headquarters with an order to leave the area – “leave immediately and do not return” – and banning us from broadcasting the images filmed on site. The letter concluded by citing that a complaint had been filed with the local police and leaving no doubt as to the threat of legal proceedings.
Public Eye sent a detailed list of questions to Adani. The company did not wish to divulge any plans for its branch in Geneva or its ambitions for the development of the Carmichael mine, nor did it wish to discuss its attitude towards its critics. On the other hand, the multinational “completely” rejected our questions implying that its activities or businesses have acted in an irresponsible manner or contrary to applicable laws and regulations. “It is disappointing that Public Eye is using its privileged position as an organisation based in an extremely wealthy and developed country to seek to deprive the poorest people in the world from accessing the same reliable and affordable energy that advanced economies have been benefitting from for decades” concludes their response, sent by a spokesperson from the Australian branch of the company.
Yet, the data available to Public Eye shows that a substantial part of Adani’s coal production has been redirected towards ports in the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and the UK. Thus, not really the “poorest people in the world”.
Big money – and heroes in hard hats
The fight led by the Coedie family against the multinational may seem unbalanced. Both the federal and Queensland governments have rolled out the red carpet for mining companies, who given the historically high prices of coal must be bringing in AUD 120 billion (CHF 76 billion) in export revenues for 400 million tonnes of thermal coal (destined for electricity production) and metallurgical coal (for industrial use).
The Zug-based multinational Glencore is the largest mining company in the country with 15 mines (representing two-thirds of its production). With its Australian, Chinese and Japanese competitors, and the aforementioned Adani, it forms a powerful network of influence that has its own friends in the media and political circles. In Queensland, the coal lobby claims to contribute AUD 58.8 billion (over CHF 37 billion) to the local economy, along with 292,000 jobs, of which 35,000 are direct.
In June 2015, the former conservative Australian prime minister Tony Abbott described the Adani project as a “poverty-busting miracle that would put Australia on the path to becoming an energy superpower”. The Indian group obtained a tax break and an opaque years-long moratorium on its royalties. Under pressure, the authorities finally refrained from awarding a loan to the multinational to enable it to develop its railway line. In 2019, a report by the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis – a think tank examining questions linked to energy markets and policies – estimated the value of these “gifts” at over CHF 2.7 billion, a sum large enough to actually make the project viable.
In 2017, the journalist and tour operator Lindsay Simpson went to the homeland of Gautam Adani in the Indian state of Gujarat with a group of Australian activists. Their mission was to disrupt the company’s General Assembly and to intercept the Prime Minister of Queensland, Annastacia Palaszczuk, who was there on an official visit. Simpson told her:
The first meeting between Lindsay Simpson and the Adani Group dates back to 2013. Having acquired the Abbot Point terminal two years earlier, the Indian company wanted to increase its capacity through spectacular works undertaken directly in the Coral Sea. To do this, it sought to persuade the tourism sector to back a plan to dump three million cubic metres of dredged sediments directly in the sea. At the time, the former crime journalist at the Sydney Morning Herald had already switched to offering sailing cruises and refused to approve a related document, produced by Adani and endorsed by the Central Tourism Association, as she held the document to be made “against compensation”.
Today, Lindsay Simpson describes herself as an author of fiction and of 11 detective novels based on real crimes, “including that of Adani”: Adani, Following Its Dirty Footsteps (2018). In the book, she relates the kowtowing of local politicians to the Australian mining industry. Drawing a parallel between the colonialisation of Australia and its history of mining, she attacks the ongoing and hypocritical “tributes” paid to these “male working-class heroes in hard hats”.
Queensland’s first coal deposits were discovered in 1825, to the west of Brisbane, at a time when the region served as a penal colony for the British Crown. The large-scale exploitation of sedimentary rock that resulted, when the region became a free territory two decades later, fuelled the steamboats despatching the first colonisers.
In the “countries”, those rural areas located in the interior of Australia, the population continues to depend on these jobs, which constitute an almost exclusive source of income, along with agriculture. In the villages of Collinsville, Clermont or Emerald – where several of Glencore’s mines are located – the obstructionism of environmentalists and of defenders of Aboriginal rights is more readily criticised than the impact of extractivism. The arrival of journalists is rarely viewed positively and few agree to speak with a media outlet “whose agenda they don’t share”.
Making a living for the kids
Luke Holmes is an exception. However, bumping into him while he was watching his herd on his quadbike, he insists on the need to create jobs: “The kids need to be able to continue to work. You won’t become a doctor here.” He spits out his chewing tobacco; his two dogs panting in the background. Luke himself spent some 15 years working for a mining company, which enabled him to put aside the funds needed to purchase enough land to live off. Entry-level salaries are easily as much as AUD 45 an hour (CHF 29), nearly double that for highly qualified workers. Food and accommodation are also provided. Even though he remains grateful to Big Coal, the farmer admits that “regulation is far more flexible for coal mines than for farmers.”
It’s indeed the Coal King who reigns in this region, barely tolerating cohabitation. According to official figures, in Australia there are currently 68 projects in the pipeline to expand or open new mines, half of which are in Queensland. Faced with the rise of coal mining, some farming families have become resigned to experiencing their second expropriation with stifled sobs. To compensate, the mining companies negotiate case-by-case compensation arrangement that are accompanied by sensational announcements highlighting the benefits for local communities and the number of jobs created. Adani had promised 1,500 jobs during the construction phase and 6,750 indirect jobs. These figures have since been revised significantly downwards.
Associate Professor in environmental engineering, Matthew Currell is concerned about the impact of the coal mines over the water resources in these semi-arid regions: “The government of Queensland awarded Adani a license to pump as much subterranean water as its wants”. Impact studies were not properly conducted, denounces the author of the column: “Australia listened to the science on coronavirus. Imagine if we did the same for coal mining”. For this researcher at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), there is a clear risk of contamination or drying out of the ecosystem of water sources of Doongmabulla, which is home to communities of rare vegetation that are sacred for the Aborigines. This danger has been ignored in the face of economic and electoral interests.
The dealer and his metaphors
There is a more worrying problem at the global level – that of fossil-fuel emissions. For a long time, the debate was focused on carbon dioxide (CO2) generated by the combustion of coal. A criticism to which lobbyists have often responded by shifting the problem to the countries where the coal is consumed.
“It’s the defence of the dealer – I’m simply selling heroine, I’m not responsible for the consumers”, maintains Peter MacCallum.
In late September, the local government also announced in a fanfare that it wanted to phase out thermal coal from domestic energy consumption by 2035. No mention was made of exporting it, however. An announcement that moved Peter MacCallum to comment ironically: “This will bring us in line with Switzerland – our hands will be clean!”
Logically, environmental opposition focuses increasingly on the problem of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that is released at the point of extraction of fossil fuels. Eighty-two times more powerful than CO2, for a century it has been responsible for the increase of 0.5 degrees in global temperatures, according to one of the IPCC’s latest reports. In Australia – the industrialised country most vulnerable to climate disasters, as evidenced by the rise in sea levels or forest fires – the heart of environmental concern is shifting from burning coal to its extraction and processing. In this scenario, the “dealer-as-producer-country” metaphor evoked above ceases to apply.
New satellite imaging from NASA enabled the research agency Ember to produce a report in June 2022 analysing the methane leaks from all the coal mines in Australia. This was made possible by images produced by a satellite belonging to the US space agency Nasa. They found that these mines produce nearly double the amount of pollution caused by motorised traffic. This situation is set to worsen with the mining projects in the Galilee Basin, such as that of Adani, which have a life of several decades.
Among the most polluting open-cast mines is Hail Creek: in 2018, Glencore bought a majority shareholding and its approximately 7 million tonnes of production. Satellite images show that the mine leaks over 10 times the quantity of methane declared by Glencore to the regulatory authorities. Contacted several weeks in advance, the Zug-based group refused to let us visit the mine, citing “annual budget reviews” as the reason. Nonetheless, at the site entrance from the public road that leads solely to the mine and its checkpoint there is a sign that cites openness and responsibility as among Glencore’s values. When questioned, the company sent us an information sheet on the question of methane emissions. It describes the phenomenon as being linked to open-cast mines, vaunts their efforts to reduce leaks (by burning the gas or capturing it to convert it into electricity) and raises doubts as to the use of satellite imagery “of a discontinuous nature” when compared against their annual emissions declarations.
In Queensland, it’s nevertheless becoming hard to ignore climate change. The Great Barrier Reef, which is the region’s pride and joy and extends over 2000 kilometres, is being ravaged by increasingly violent cyclones and an acceleration of the phenomenon of coral-bleaching. According to a government report, in May 2022 a prolonged heatwave affected 91 percent of the reef. This was the fourth heatwave since 2016. The tourism industry is usually tight lipped on the subject, to avoid discouraging budding divers and sailors. However, tongues are starting to wag.
Born in California, Tony Fontes arrived on the shores of Airlie Beach in 1979 “to live his dream of diving on the reef”. He has never left. However, the Great Barrier Reef has suffered so much that today the experience is not the same as it used to be. “It’s an omerta. Instead of uniting to counter the interests of mining companies that harm tourism, operators prefer to deny the consequences of climate change out of fear that the tourists won’t come back anymore”, he denounces. For her part, Lindsay Simpson has observed the arrival of a new phenomenon that she calls disaster tourism; namely, visitors rushing to see the Great Barrier Reef before it’s too late.
The industry’s halcyon days
Yet the coal industry still has a big future. In April 2020, between the areas of Capella and Emerald, Glencore submitted permit applications for the construction of what could become the largest mine in Australia – six coal shafts producing 20 million tonnes a year. Codename: Valeria Project. Start of work in 2024, with a duration of 30 months – with the accompanying rail and electricity infrastructure. The contract is valid for 37 years, or until well after 2050, the date at which the Zug-based group committed to becoming “net zero” in terms of its greenhouse-gas emissions.
In February 2019, under pressure from its investors, the multinational – then managed by Ivan Glasenberg – committed to limiting its coal production to 150 million tonnes per year. In 2021, a year still impacted by the pandemic, it produced 103.3 million tonnes. Since then, Glencore has not hesitated to acquire its competitors’ shares in the Colombian Cerrejón mine, which will add 14 million tonnes to its own production.
Within the approximately 10,000 hectares that Valeria will occupy in the area, Glencore has already largely marked out its territory. Nine families have already been evicted and the site, on which there are two state forests, has been almost entirely fenced off. The only remaining inhabitant is a helicopter pilot living in a small house, who is waiting for his lease to expire in January 2023.
In the newsagent in Capella, which also serves as an information centre, the shop assistant hands visitors a brochure produced by Glencore, dated May 2022. It summarises the timetable of operations. “It has been going for many years. It does not come as a surprise”, she relates with an air of resignation. “We have many mines around. We know what this is about.”
One farmer, who did not wish to be named, is not pleased to be sitting “in the dust of Glencore”. In Australia, mines are emptying the countryside. Largely because the group does not have a terrific record in terms of relations with its neighbours, according to the farmer. His property shares a border of many kilometres with the future Valeria mine. Even though he has no desire to leave “this land that gave us so much and is part of us”, the inconvenience resulting from the extraction of coal will force him to.”
“People in Switzerland should realise just how invasive the mining industry is”, he says gravely.
On Aboriginal land
Scott Franks is in total agreement with this. When he opposed Glencore’s expansion project at its Glendell mine, located on the lands of his Wonnarua ancestors, the Aborigine found himself named and targeted (along with another activist) in a full page published in a local media outlet. It presented him as “seeking to stop the project” and any industrial activity over a surface area of 156km2 in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, putting 3000 jobs at stake. “The strategy is to turn the mining community against Aboriginal people – the ‘black folk’. We supported all the mines up to now, but we only have 3 percent of our land left”, says Scott bitterly.
The Glendell expansion project would impact the historic site of a massacre at an Aboriginal camp (36 deaths) perpetrated in 1826 by the Mounted Police. In its announcement, Glencore – who wanted to relocate a farm – asserts that in reality the massacre took place 20 kilometres away from the site in question, and contests the land rights of the two opponents, as well as their legitimacy in representing the Wonnarua people. In late October, the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) refused to grant Glencore a permit to expand its Glendell mine. When contacted, the mining company said that it was considering appealing against the decision given that “the 1826 massacre occurred on properties outside of the Ravensworth estate” and “the current homestead was built after the 1826 massacre”. In its response, the multinational also cited its programmes to rehabilitate mine sites and its support for young Aborigines. “We recognise the unique relationship of Indigenous peoples with the environment”, states Glencore. “We engage in good faith negotiation, seeking relationships based on respect, meaningful engagement, trust and mutual benefit.” Scott Franks’ critical response is:
“Glencore only deals with the communities it can buy off”.
In fact, Glencore appears to be increasingly concerned about its image, following the wave of court proceedings brought against it in recent years in the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil and Switzerland. In Switzerland, as in Australia, the coal giant seeks to position itself as a major actor in energy transition, highlighting its role in mining copper and cobalt, which are essential for the production of electric batteries. In Australia, its campaign entitled Advancing Everyday Life earned it a complaint for “misleading or deceptive conduct” from the consumer protection body and investors. The Swiss Coalition for responsible multinationals, of which Public Eye is a member, also attacked Glencore for “greenwashing” due to its campaign of posters in public transport and train stations in Switzerland. However, this will not easily undermine the multinational, which asserts that the three accusations were rejected. Nor will it prevent Glencore from opening new mines, just as its competitor Adani is doing.
Humour and a torch
However, at Waddananggu, Coedie MacAvoy doubtlessly has skin as thick as his father’s. He also has humour as gritty as the earth when it gets into the engines of 4x4s. At the camp entrance, he has placed numerous signs warning against non-authorised entry, at the risk of standing trial before tribal justice: “Have you seen my sign? It looks just like any other sign, and in a world full of signs nobody can tell the difference any more”. Last year, he organized his own “Carmichael Tour”, the longest leg of a ride that brought together over a hundred cyclists within the perimeter of Adani’s concession. “We have the moral ground: we are living, so we are winning.” assures the thirty-year-old.
Coedie MacAvoy was living in the regional capital, Brisbane, when the mining project was launched. He openly admits: “I don’t think that my family would have come back to this region, the place that my grandfather left at gunpoint, if it had not been for Adani”. Does Coedie, who grew up listening to his father’s words, not want to rebel against his familial destiny to do something else? Does he not feel that he has inherited a never-ending conflict? “I don’t think that my father’s generation could have been the deciding factor. They still harbour too much trauma and anger.”
On the horizon, the sun is setting over Carmichael. The cloud of dust has dissipated, and the mine is now shrouded in silence. Coedie MacAvoy takes advantage of these peaceful moments to plant a palm tree that he hopes will bear fruit in a few years’ time.
Gautam Adani – a fortune on steroids
Billionaires often evoke their modest beginnings. The son of a textile trader from Gujarat (in western India), one of eight siblings, Gautam Adani is no exception to the rule. After humble beginnings as a trader, the Adani Group, founded in 1988, swiftly diversified into port and airport infrastructure, power plants, coal mines, real estate and – more recently – media.
The rapid rise of the Adani empire was achieved thanks to a perfusion of finance and the largesse of numerous international banks. The most heavily indebted group in India has some USD 8 billion in bonds denominated in other currencies in circulation, according to Bloomberg data. The conglomerate is divided into a network of multiple companies, of which seven are publicly listed.
The energy market crisis that followed the war in Ukraine was a boon for this auto-proclaimed “self-made man”. Backed by high coal and gas prices, both his companies and personal fortune made him the world’s third richest man. In May 2022, the Swiss cement company Holcim sold him its assets in India for USD 10.5 billion.
However, in India, the close relations between Gautam Adani and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been criticized. Modi also comes from Gujarat, and was Chief Minister for the state when the businessman benefitted from new laws setting up free trade zones (which benefit from tax benefits to attract investors) where he was planning to set up some of his infrastructure. When campaigning to become Prime Minister in 2014, Narendra Modi had the use of a plane made available by the Adani Group to take him home every evening.
Gautam Adani has little appreciation for the interest in his links to the Prime Minister. This is the interpretation of his offensive in the Indian media landscape last August to take control of NDTV, one of the channels that remains critical of the Indian government. He is nevertheless well known for not appreciating questions. “Adani has a long history of intimidation of journalists and activists that he won’t hesitate to bring charges against”, states Stephen Lang, an investigative journalist for the Australian public channel ABC. In Gujarat in 2017, the local police forced his team of reporters to leave the region. His journalists were investigating the group’s tax evasion activities and attempting to speak to fishermen displaced by one of Adani’s port terminals.
Featured Image: Maules Creek coal mine by Leard State Forest via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)