November 2005


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Maurice Bazin <[log in to unmask]>
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Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 1 Nov 2005 11:01:58 -0200
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Dear all,
I found the enclosed "comment" by George Monbiot, the British  
journalist with The Guardian, quite interesting.  The Guardian made  
up a headline for it:  "Big Business is not to blame" that would turn  
us off easily, but it it is not what he points out.  As we learned  
from the Chinese peasants, "it's not that simple"...

I put this up for our List with my own comments first, my own  
justification for putting it up, because George Salzman (who revived  
us all as a group in respectful intellectual self-supportive  
interaction) has been demanding that Phil Gasper introduce his  
postings with his own comments as a Science-for-the-People person.  I  
find George's demand exaggerated because it implies that Phil doesn't  
"discriminate" enough.  But one thing that we have lived rather well  
in this Group is the confidence in each other's capacity to  
illuminate any issue in a responsible manner  (leaving out a very few  
individuals whom one has to discriminate against through "filters" at  
first). So Phil might humor George, who might humor Phil... calmly.

Monbiot points out the RESPONSIBILITY of the individual government  
technocrats who do not do their job in the service of the public. He  
also points out that the individuals within Big Business are those  
that speak out about possible technical alternative remedies to  
global warming, of course within their own business perspective. But  
this is what we have been showing all along about technology  
"choices" by whom, for whom, within which social context of forces,  
in whose interest.    And here we find individuals within business  
allowing themselves to contemplate solutions that are good for the  
public good, and can also declare that these solutions are not good  
enough for business within present rules and constraints, the  
constraints NOT imposed by those  in charge of the public interest.

What I see here in Brazil, a wild laboratory for the global  
neoliberal onslaught, is that the ideology of the Chicago Boys has  
been accepted by the very persons who are in charge of resisting it.  
Although they are elected by the general public, city councilmen and  
women legislate daily in the interest of business entrepreneurs  
(often of their own family; but that is not the point of interest  
here) just because it is the commercial humming that matters to them  
today.  Intellectually it is what was referred to at some stage of  
the French establishment's combat against socialist ideas as "la  
trahison des clercs".   And here, that treasonous attitude starts  
with the president of the republic, an ex-worker, Lula, who  
inaugurates airports saying that new airports are good for increasing  
exportations and that we need to export more soy bean...(Please do  
not stop at the relationship between million tons of soy export and  
air transport!).   He just does not look any more at the public good;  
soy agribusiness-men will fell the Amazonian forest and do their  
business while no federal, state or municipal "Environment Protection  
Agency" intervenes. Nobody, which means no one individual within  
these agencies of public responsibility does his/her job of applying  
laws (that are still on the books, coming from the more enlightened  
and responsibility-conscious days of post military dictatorship).    
There is no "pledge" to "serve" the public interest or even the  
individual's health. Public service, like the commons, is a concept  
that has been by-passed by post-modernists.     My local  
municipality's tourism agency advertises the first golf course in  
this island to which tourists came because of its "pristine  
landscapes and beaches"  (they were that way but now several beaches  
are polluted and regulations are being "broadened" to make possible  
"developing" the APP's, Areas of Permanent Protection).
Individual clerks and mayors' advisors and technical experts  
authorize the golf course and may even start learning to play golf as  
they join "the club".  None of them own the means of production; they  
are into "services", I suppose. Monsanto will sell the chemicals to  
maintain the grass of the golf course that is being built right above  
the underground water layer we all  drink from...   Activists made  
technical reports showing the dangers; the Federal PEOPLE'S RIGHTS  
PROTECTION JUDICIARY  (there is such a judicial entity here) has  
blocked the construction for the time being. But laws do not "stick"  
any more and you can find the invitation to play golf at the Costão  
do Santinho in Florianopolis in your airline magazine next time you  
fly in the Americas (It is part of the third best spa in Brazil, they  
Widening Monbiot's considerations about the state employees I'll ask  
about the role of the journalist who writes up the inviting article  
about golf playing, and the photographer who poses a model in our  
green landscape with a bikini and a golf club.
Monbiot is scratching the tip of a cruel social reality.

Corporations would act on global warming but are stalled by  
government in the name of the market,
  George Monbiot   (Guardian Weekly, oct 6, 2005)

Climate-change denial has gone through four stages. First the fossil- 
fuel lobbyists told us that global warming was a myth. Then they  
agreed it was happening, but insisted that it was a good thing: we  
could grow wine in the Pennines and take Mediterranean holidays in  
Skegness. Then they admitted that the bad effects outweighed the good  
ones, but claimed that climate change would cost more to tackle than  
to tolerate. Now they have reached stage four. They concede that  
climate change would be cheaper to address than to neglect, but that  
it's now too late. This is their most persuasive argument.
Last week climatologists at the Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado  
released the latest satellite survey of Arctic sea ice. It looks as  
if this month's coverage will be the lowest recorded. The Arctic  
could already have reached tipping point - the moment beyond which  
the warming becomes irreversible. As ice disappears, the surface of  
the sea becomes darker, absorbing more heat. Less ice forms, so the  
sea becomes darker still, and so it goes on.
Last month New Scientist reported that something similar is happening  
in Siberia. For the first time on record, the permafrost of western  
Siberia is melting. As it does so, it releases the methane stored in  
the peat. Methane has 20 times the greenhouse warming effect of  
carbon dioxide. The more gas the peat releases, the warmer the world  
becomes, and the more the permafrost melts.
Earlier this month scientists at Cranfield University discovered that  
the soils in the UK have been losing the carbon they contain; as  
temperatures rise, the decomposition of organic matter accelerates,  
which causes more warming, which causes more decomposition. Already  
the soil in Britain has released enough carbon dioxide to counteract  
the emissions cuts made since 1990.
These are examples of positive feedback: self-reinforcing effects  
that, once started, are hard to stop. They are kicking in long before  
they were supposed to. The intergovernmental panel on climate change,  
which predicts how far the world's temperature is likely to rise,  
hasn't yet had time to include them in its calculations. The current  
forecast - of 1.4C to 5.8C this century - is almost certainly too low.
Until recently, I would have said that if it is too late, then one  
factor above all others is to blame: the chokehold that big business  
has on economic policy. By forbidding governments to intervene  
effectively in the market, the corporations oblige us to do nothing  
but stand by and watch as the planet cooks. But this month I  
discovered that it isn't that simple. At a conference organised by  
the Building Research Establishment, I witnessed an extraordinary  
thing: companies demanding tougher regulations - and the government  
refusing to grant them.
Environmental managers from British Telecom and John Lewis   
complained that, without tighter standards that everyone has to  
conform to, their companies put themselves at a disadvantage if they  
try to go green. "All that counts," the man from John Lewis said, "is  
cost, cost and cost." If he's buying ecofriendly lighting and his  
competitors aren't, he loses. As a result, he said, "I welcome the  
EU's energy performance of buildings directive, as it will force  
retailers to take these issues seriously". Yes, I heard the cry of  
the unicorn: a corporate executive welcoming a European directive.
And from the British government? Nothing. Elliot Morley, the minister  
for climate change, proposed to do as little as he could get away  
with. The officials from the Department of Trade and Industry, to a  
collective groan from the men in suits, insisted that the measures  
some of the companies wanted would be "an unwarranted intervention in  
the market".
It was unspeakably frustrating. The suits had come to unveil  
technologies of the kind that really could save the planet. The  
architects Atelier Ten had designed a cooling system based on the  
galleries of a termite mound. By installing a concrete labyrinth in  
the foundations, they could keep even a large building in a hot place  
- such as the arts centre that they had built in Melbourne - at a  
constant temperature without air conditioning. The only power they  
needed was to drive the fans pushing the cold air upwards, using 10%  
of the electricity required for normal cooling systems.
The man from a company called PB Power explained how the four  
megawatts of waste heat poured into the Thames by the gas-fired power  
station at Barking could be used to warm the surrounding homes. A  
firm called XCO2 has designed an almost silent wind turbine, which  
hangs, like a clothes hoist, from a vertical axis. It can be  
installed in the middle of a city without upsetting anyone.
These three technologies alone could cut millions of tonnes of  
emissions without causing any decline in our quality of life. Like  
hundreds of others, they are ready to be deployed immediately and  
almost universally. But they won't be widely used until the  
government acts; it remains cheaper for companies to install the old  
technologies. And the government won't act, because to do so would be  
"an unwarranted intervention in the market".
This was not, I now discover, the first time that the corporations  
have demanded regulation. In January the chairman of Shell, Lord  
Oxburgh, insisted that "governments in developed countries need to  
introduce taxes, regulations or plans . . . to increase the cost of  
emitting carbon dioxide". He listed the technologies required to  
replace fossil fuels, and remarked that "none of this is going to  
happen if the market is left to itself". In August the heads of  
United Utilities, British Gas, Scottish Power and the National Grid  
joined Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace in calling for "tougher  
regulations for the built environment".
So much for the perpetual demand of the thinktanks to "get government  
off the backs of business". Any firm that wants to develop the  
technologies wants tough rules. It is regulation that creates the  
So why won't the government act? Because it is siding with the dirty  
companies against the clean ones. Deregulation has become the test of  
its manhood: the sign that it has put the bad old days of economic  
planning behind it. Sir David Arculus, the man appointed by Tony  
Blair to run the government's Better Regulation Task Force, is also  
deputy chairman of the Confederation of British Industry, the  
shrillest exponents of the need to put the market ahead of society.  
It is hard to think of a more blatant conflict of interest.
I don't believe it is yet too late to minimise climate change. Most  
of the evidence suggests we could still stop the ecosystem melting  
down, but only by cutting greenhouse gases by about 80% before 2030.  
It has now become clear to me that the obstacle is not the market but  
the government, waving a dog-eared treatise that proves some point in  
a debate the rest of the world has forgotten.

Maurice Bazin
fone:  55 48 3237 3140