Combatting Climate Change Requires A Transition To New Economic Values: An Interview With Graciela Chichilnisky


ChichilniskyClimate change represents the greatest threat facing humankind. Yet, not only is very little being done to combat the climate change threat, but there are still vocal climate change deniers around us, some of whom are even running for the presidency of the United States. Moreover, there seems to be confusion about the most effective ways to combat climate change. The latest effort by global leaders to address the problem of climate change, as reflected in the Paris Agreement of late 2015, falls short of implementing the necessary steps to save the planet.

But this begs the question. What are the necessary steps that need to be taken to prevent a catastrophic climate change scenario? In this exclusive interview for Rozenberg Quarterly, world renowned economist and climate change authority Graciela Chichilnisky discusses the nature of the problem of climate change, highlights what is at stake, and argues cogently what should be done to save the planet.

Professor Chichilnisky, it is widely known that climate change can be caused by both natural variations and human activity. Is the climate change being observed today due to natural variations or are its causes to be found in human activities and greenhouse gas emissions?
Scientists all over the world are in agreement that the climate variations we observe today are due to a global change in climate, and that increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from human activity, particularly the burning of fossil fuels since 1945, are responsible for climate change. This is not a gentle warming trend, it is the melting of the North and the South poles, and a confirmed rising level of the oceans worldwide that will engulf large areas of the planet, and include 43 island nations states.

In the United States, virtually all leading Republican figures, including Donald Trump, who has already wrapped up the Republican nomination, argue that climate change is based in pseudo-science. What’s going in here? Are Republicans so out of touch with reality, or are they simply interested in protecting vested interests in the fossil fuel economy?
The Republican party is conservative by nature and resists change, even the acknowledgment of the need for change. This is a natural human response. Denial is known to be the first psychological response to a traumatic event, and climate change is potentially catastrophic. Denial is a natural first response and can take the form of denouncing climate science as pseudo-science. However understandable the reaction may be, we cannot remain mired in the first response to a traumatic event, and need action. It is now possible to take action as there are technologies that can remove the carbon that is already in the atmosphere in an affordable way, and this is needed now to avert catastrophic climate change. But it requires moving from the stages of denial and anger to the stage of acceptance. Then we can take action and create global policy as needed.

However, there are some scientists and former astronauts who claim that NASA’s studies of climate change, for example, are based in highly complex models which have proven highly inadequate in the last. Any comments on this?
Indeed, climate models are recent scientific developments and they are complex. This is true. Nobody can predict the weather exactly for example. But the scientific evidence for the overall climate change trend is now overwhelming accepted by most scientific bodies, including the IPCC which is the UN scientific body consisting of thousands of scientists from all over the world, and nobody debates that. Read more

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There Is A Solution To Climate Change ~ And It Is Carbon Negative Technology


ChichilniskyClimate change poses the greatest threat to human civilization as we know it. Yet, governments around the world are reluctant to take drastic action to avert a climate change catastrophe even though we have the means to do so, as I will point out in the latter part of this essay.

But let’s take things from the start and look at the latest attempt of the part of the world’s governments to redress the problem of climate change, i.e., the Paris Agreement of late 2015.

In contrast to the Kyoto Protocol, whose provisions run out in 2020, the Paris deal includes no legally binding carbon dioxide emissions limits. There are no mandatory emission limits and no mandatory payments to help poor nations develop clean energy technologies, nor to mitigate the damages caused by climate change on poor nations, when the damage was historically caused by the rich nations. Mandatory emissions limits are necessary for the carbon market to operate. What is traded in the carbon market is the right to exceed one’s mandatory limits. With no mandatory limits, there can be no carbon market. The entire world is clamoring for a “price on carbon”: this is the carbon market.  The six largest oil and gas companies in the world publicly support a price on carbon (Including Shell, BP, Statoil, Total and Engie). Yet the Paris Agreement undermines the very foundation for a price on carbon by requiring no mandatory emission limits.

Why did the Paris climate change negotiations move away from mandatory targets on carbon emissions and adopted instead a voluntary approach to the climate change challenge?  Because a legally binding treaty that needed ratification by governments back home would have reduced substantially the chances of reaching any kind of an agreement.

This is certainly the case for one of the world’s biggest polluters, i.e., the United States. Any treaty on climate change that made its way to Capitol Hill would be shredded into pieces by the Republican-controlled Congress.

However, as time goes by, it is certain that more and more people will realize that the political compromise made in Paris over mandatory emissions comes at a great cost.  Our ability to control rising temperatures caused by carbon dioxide accumulated in the air is greatly hindered since voluntary agreements guarantee failure.

But there is more. As the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report points out, carbon emission cuts are not enough to slow down global warming. According to IPCC, we are headed with certainty towards an increase in temperatures by three degrees Celsius by 2100, although there are scientists who believe that two degrees of warming is “a recipe for disaster.” It suffices to recall the superstorm Sandy that closed down New York City for weeks, with flooded subways, leaving entire neighbourhoods without electricity, no schools, no law enforcement, and automobiles floating in the streets of this proud city. Climate change means an increase in the frequency and severity of such climate events. This means three or four Superstorm Sandies every year in New York, and the city cannot survive such climate change.

In addition to reducing drastically emissions through mandatory limits and adopting clean energy systems, it is now imperative that we utilize negative carbon technologies to remove existing carbon dioxide from the air. This was required by the IPCC, the scientific foundation of the climate negotiations, in its November 2014 5th Assessment Report. We procrastinated too much and now we have to massively reduce the CO2 that is already in the atmosphere in addition to reducing emissions. There are carbon negative technologies in Silicon Valley, like those employed by Global Thermostat, that are operating at SRI in Menlo Park California, which can offer a solution to the greatest threat facing the future of human civilization as we know it. This requires that we accept mandatory emission limits and reactivate the carbon market that is based on mandatory emissions, and was trading $175Bn/year by 2011.

The funding from the carbon market suffices to implement and scale up carbon removal around the world, as the IPCC requires, for example through carbon negative carbon plants that clean the atmosphere while they produce electricity- and do all of this in a low cost and profitable fashion. A proposal made by the author in Copenhagen COP15 was to use the Kyoto carbon market to offer finance to scale up globally such carbon negative carbon plants in poor nations, thus providing electricity that is needed by 1,3 Bn people around the world that currently have no access to electricity, all this while cleaning the planet’s atmosphere. This was called the Green Power Fund and required $200Bn/year for building carbon negative power plants; instead the Green Climate Fund  was made into law, changing one word in its title and severing its connection from the source of funding, the carbon market of the Kyoto Protocol.

The reason the Climate Fund had its connection severed from its very source of funding, the carbon market of the Kyoto Protocol, was none other than the insistence of the US Congress – through its unanimously voted Byrd-Hagel Act —  that there be no mandatory emissions limits.

But there is technology that can remove carbon from the atmosphere as required by IPCC. It is already operating in the Silicon Valley.

The carbon negative technologies in Silicon Valley, like those  employed by Global Thermostat, which are fundamentally different from the now defunct carbon capturing and storing technologies, can offer a potential solution to the greatest  threat facing the future of human civilization as we know it.

Such technologies, if employed on a global scale, can be used to clean the air from carbon dioxide, acting like trees do but much faster, as is needed now. Moreover, they are quite inexpensive and offer the potential of financial rewards, thus making them an attractive incentive to investors and enterpreneurs since, again, the logic of the global economy is not going to change overnight and we certainly cannot wait for the materialization of the “ideal society” for the planet and the future of human civilization to be saved.

At the same time, this is not to suggest that technology is magic. Technology does not exist in a vacuum nor can it be expected to be our robotic slave. We need to change today’s global financial institutions and the prevailing economic values as well. Economic values decide what is meant by economic  progress. Today, economic values are based on short-sighted goals and on individualistic markets that defy logic, since they assign no value to clean air, to clean water or to biodiversity on which human survival depends. Assigning no value to the global commons–clean water, clean air, and biodiversity–leads to actions that threaten human survival. This has to change and can change. In the new Anthropocene era, humans are the most important geological force on the planet, and only with the right economic values can humankind survive.

Graciela Chichilnisky is Professor of Economics and of Statistics at Columbia University, Visiting Professor of Economics at Stanford University, Founder and CEO of Global Thermostat, and the architect of the Kyoto Protocol Carbon Market. www.chichilnisky.com

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Climate Change: The Mother Of All Geopolitical Challenges ~ Interview With Graciela Chichilnisky


ChichilniskyIn this interview, Graciela Chichilnisky, a world leading economist and one of the major climate change forces in our era, talks about the reality of climate change science, the reasons why some corporate interests continue to deny the facts about it, and explains why climate change may represent the greatest geopolitical challenge facing humanity.  

Marcus Rolle: Despite the international scientific community’s consensus on climate change, there are still people who deny that climate change exists or that it is caused by human activity. In fact, some of those naysayers have been funded by corporate interests such as ExxonMobil, as revealed by Exxon’s former in-houses climate change expert Lenny Bernstein. However, the evidence for global warming is overwhelming. Why, specifically, are some corporate interests bent on hiding the truth about climate change, and what’s your opinion on the effects of global warming?

Graciela Chichilnisky: Some of the naysayers have been funded by corporate interests as was revealed by Lenny Bernstein, the in-house climate change expert of Exxon. Lenny fought me tooth and nail in Kyoto during December 1997, while I designed and then wrote the Carbon Market into the United Nations Kyoto Protocol. At the end the carbon market prevailed and is now international law, and ironically it is now advocated by six of the largest oil companies in the world and this includes ExxonMobil.

Corporate interests are far reaching and they can permeate the entire economy and the politics of a nation as a whole. In the case of fossil fuels the situation is compounded by the central role played by energy in the economy. Fossil fuels are all about energy, and energy is the mother of all markets. Everything is made with energy, your home, your car, your food and the computer on which this article is written and read. For this reason the right to use fossil fuels is very basic and it is close to land’s rights; as land’s rights, the rights to fossil fuels can be the cause of wars. It is all about values. Some say that the right to fossil fuels is about the right to use the earth’s resources, which were provided by God to humans, and they hold this as a human right whether or not burning fossil fuels can cause catastrophes and damage irrevocably the rest of the world.

Tackling climate change is like abolishing slavery. It is so deeply felt that it can cause wars. 150 years ago it was nearly obvious to everybody that slavery must disappear, because of basic human principles and of the most sophisticated arguments about freedom, civil rights and even economics. Yet 150 years ago the US fought a fratricide war that was the bloodiest in the nations’ history, and tore the nation apart to defend the right to own slaves. The South lost, but it nevertheless attempted to resuscitate the war many times despite that.

US historians say that the economic value that is at stake from abolishing fossil fuels is about the same as the value that was involved in eliminating slavery in the US 150 years ago. The abolition of fossil fuels can destroy today the largest balance sheets in the planet: these are the balance sheets of the largest oil companies. It is not surprising that emotions and economic interests of that size run amok and cloud reason.

MR: You have said that climate change is the mother of all geopolitical challenges. Can you elaborate a bit on this?

GC: Climate change is all about the use of fossil fuels: over two thirds of the world’s CO2 emissions that cause climate change come from burning fossil fuels to produce energy. Fossil fuel energy is today the basis of industrialization, and its use since WWII is what is causing climate change. The period since WWII is when the world economy globalized, where the North and the South wealth gap increased deeply and became three times larger what it was before, when abject poverty led over 1.3 billion people to live below the level of satisfaction of basic needs, and on the brink of survival. The Bretton Woods institutions were created after WWII: the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO, and they were dominated by the US that become nearly 60% of the world economy after the destruction of Germany and Japan. The Bretton Woods institutions used financial tools, denominated in US dollars, to encourage and coerce 80% of the planet’s population in the developing nations to follow a resource intensive form of economic development, leading to the over-extraction and exports of their fossil fuel resources and other important natural resources at the lowest prices ever – except perhaps for the prices we face today –and their overuse in rich nations. Fossil fuels are intimately connected with globalization – indeed they are the basis of the current wave of globalization. Fossil fuels are the basis of industrialization and they are traded through international markets: the international markets are dominated by rich nations, and these markets grew three times faster than the world economy as a whole since WWII. In these markets, poor nations that house 80% of the world population over-extract the earth’s resources within their territory for exports, and export them at prices that are lower than replacement costs, leading to sustained poverty, while rich nations who house 20% of the world’s population overuse the world’s resources and benefit from them at very low prices. This implacable process has led to a 3x increase in the world’s wealth gap between the poor South and the rich North since WWII. The image is just 20% of the world’s population siphoning and overusing the great majority of world’s resources. But the process has reached its natural limits: the increasing inequality between rich and poor nations in the world economy and the corresponding overexploitation of resources is the cause of the global environmental crisis of our times. It is threatening every nation in the world. Global environmental risks are worst for the poor nations, but every nation is at risk from the massive overuse of resources our lopsided economies and international trade policies of the Bretton Woods institutions caused. Climate change means the rise of the seas which has the same level all over the world. While the poor will suffer more, rich nations will suffer $trillions in economic losses, according to OECD reports in Paris, and will face massive immigration flows that will threaten their institutions, as the Pentagon anticipates. Read more

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Interview With Graciela Chichilnisky ~ Reflections Of An Innovated-Minded Economist


Chichilnisky

In this new interview, Graciela Chichilnisky, a world leading economist and one of the major climate change forces in our era, talks about growing up in Argentina and the legacy of the Peron revolution, her struggles with gender discrimination in a male-dominated world of science,  and the need to design new global institutions to address climate change.

Chichilnisky has published scores of books, including Saving Kyoto, and some 350 scientific articles in the world’s most prestigious economics and mathematics journals. The Washington Post calls her an “A-list star” and Time Magazine a “Hero of the environment. In addition,  Chichilnisky has made revolutionary contributions to the world economy – like creating the concept of Basic Needs and the UN Carbon Market.

Marcus Rolle: You were born in Argentine and your father was a minister in the Juan Peron government. What was it like growing up in Argentina at the time of the Peron reign?

Graciela Chichilnisky: When I was a child, Buenos Aires seemed a magical place at a magical time. Buenos Aires is a lively and beautiful city, people were interesting and intense. In reality, Buenos Aires then reminds me of New York now: a graceful old city full of live, intensity and culture. And the Argentine countryside is extraordinary – Patagonia is a huge empty land of glaciers, cattle, sheep, whales, penguins and pink flamingos. The peaceful beauty of the Atlantic Coast, the majesty of the snowy Andes that have some of the tallest mountains in the world, the Iguazu Falls in the North boundary with Brazil, the enormity of the Pampas, it was all magic.
My father was a Professor of Neurology at the University of Buenos Aires and a minister of Public Heath under Peron and he built hundreds of hospitals all over Argentina. He was the doctor of Eva Peron and a friend of Juan Peron, who admired him. I still have some of the letters that Perón hand wrote to my father. Life under Peron then was intoxicatingly eventful. Evita took on the landed oligarchy and stood firm with the “descamisados” – the shirtless. In reality Evita and Peron represented the industrial revolution while the landed gentry represented the Spanish aristocracy. Landowners vs shirtless. The land in Argentina is so enormously rich and fertile – comparable only to the Ukraine and the Great Lakes in the US – that Argentina in the 1950’s was bound to become one of the richest countries in the world. But the forces of darkness won and there were coups d’etat that removed Peron after Evita’s early tragic death, the military dictators made torture a staple and dedicated the nation to exports of natural resources such as wheat and meat. No industrialization and a war pitting the landowning oligarchs against the labor unions. This destroyed the social advances of Peron and his intentions of industrializing Argentina. Even today a visitor can observe the industrial revolution that never happened. Eventually however and with the help of Margaret Thatcher – her best role perhaps – the military lost its prestige and was unmasked as brutal and incompetent and nowadays everybody is a Peronist. The recent presidential elections pitted one Peronist candidate against another. Even my spell corrector knows how to spell Peron and Evita and despite their errors they emerged as the heroes of the people – and the military-religious complex as the villains of the people. In a way the entire world now needs a Peronist revolution to counteract the enormous inequality of wealth that was created during the period of globalization and is destroying everything and the most basic human values along with the rest.

MR: At the age of 17 you went to the US to study at MIT as a graduate student under some rather unique circumstances. Would you relate the background of the events that brought you to the US?

GC: I was finishing high school when I started taking University courses without permission – there I met wonderful professors and students who opened my eyes to the world of science and mathematics – it was a great privilege. But towards the end of the 1960’s and the beginning of the 1970’s the military staged several coup d’etats and in one of them they closed down the University in Buenos Aires. One MIT professor who was there at the time, the famous Warren Ambrose, a well known Mathematician, decided to take 6 Argentinian students to MIT to continue their studies, since the University had been indefinitely closed down. All of them were graduate students who were taking doctoral courses in Mathematics – except for me who never went to college. MIT accepted me, a single mother without a college degree, as a Special Graduate Student in Mathematics and the Ford Foundation gave me a scholarship. After a year of very hard but enjoyable work I came on top of the Mathematics PhD class at MIT — and then I became an official PHD student in Mathematics at MIT. This led me to obtain to a PhD in Mathematics, and then another PhD in Economics at UC Berkeley – two PhDs to compensate for the fact that I never got a college degree! Read more

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Climate Change And The Future Of The World: An Interview With Graciela Chichilnisky


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In this highly insightful interview, climate change authority and leading economist Graciela Chichilnisky talks about the catastrophic threats that climate change pose to the future of the world if we fail to coordinate global actions aimed at the curbing of emissions and the removal of carbon dioxide from the air through the revolutionary technology available. Professor Chichilnisky also argues, however, that technology isn’t magic, and that what is required for tackling global warming with carbon negative technologies are fundamental changes in the way the global economy and its institutions have functioned in the post-war era.

Marcus Rolle: You have been for many years one of the leading forces in climate-change efforts. How do we define climate change?

Graciela Chichilnisky: Climate change means a major shift in climate patterns, such as dramatic increase in the violence, frequency, length, and severity of climate events, including superstorms, tornadoes, typhoons, major floods, and long severe droughts, as well as other climate related environmental disasters. These events increase both in intensity and frequency as energy in the atmosphere increases, which occurs when the mean temperature increases. Climate change also means dramatic changes in long term climate patterns such as desertification, the alteration or the reversal of major ocean currents, changes in the sea level, melting of the planet’s polar caps, and glacier periods.

MR: What evidence do you think supports the argument that climate change is taking place and that the global mean temperature is driven up by human interference?

GC: The statistical evidence conforms to the definition just provided: the planet’s polar caps are indeed melting, and the sea levels are indeed rising. This has been measured and is directly observed. We have increasingly violent, frequent, lengthy and severe climate events, major floods and unusual severe droughts that do not correspond statistically to standard deviations from the mean. Thousands of scientists from all over the world who report to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have come to the conclusion that changes in temperature are associated with changes in the concentration of greenhouse gases, of which the main one is CO2, and that mean temperature is increasing due, for the most part, to the burning of fossil fuels – coal, natural gas and petroleum -– for economic purposes: industrialization. Read more

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Achille Mbembe ~ On The State Of South African Political Life


Photo: www.ru.ac.za

Achille Mbembe – Photo: www.ru.ac.za

In these times of urgency, when weak and lazy minds would like us to oppose “thought” to “direct action”; and when, precisely because of this propensity for “thoughtless action”, everything is framed in the nihilistic terms of power for the sake of power – in such times what follows might mistakenly be construed as contemptuous.
And yet, as new struggles unfold, hard questions have to be asked. They have to be asked if, in an infernal cycle of repetition but no difference, one form of damaged life is not simply to be replaced by another.

The force of affect
Indeed the ground is fast shifting and a huge storm seems to be building up on the horizon. May 68? Soweto 76? Or something entirely different?
The winds blowing from our campuses can be felt afar, in a different idiom, in those territories of abandonment where the violence of poverty and demoralization having become the norm, many have nothing to lose and are now more than ever willing to risk a fight. They simply can no longer wait, having waited for too long now.
Out there, from almost every corner of this vast land seems to stretch a chain of young men and women rigid with tension.
As tension slowly swells up, it becomes ever more important to hold on to the things that truly matter.

A new cultural temperament is gradually engulfing post-apartheid urban South Africa. For the time being, it goes by the name “decolonization” – in truth a psychic state more than a political project in the strict sense of the term.
Whatever the case, everything seems to indicate that ours is a crucial moment in the redefinition of what counts as “social protagonism” in this country. Mobilizations over crucial matters such as access to health care, sanitation, housing, clean water or electricity might still be conducted in the name of the implicit promise inherent to the struggle years – that life after freedom will be “better” for all.
But fewer and fewer actually believe it. And as the belief in that promise fast recedes, raw affect, raw emotions and raw feelings are harnessed and recycled back into the political itself. In the process, new voices increasingly render old ones inaudible, while anger, rage and eventually muted grief seem to be the new markers of identity and agency.

Psychic bonds – in particular bonds of pain and bonds of suffering – more than lived material contradictions are becoming the real stuff of political inter-subjectivity. “I am my pain” – how many times have I heard this statement in the months since #RhodesMustFall emerged? “I am my suffering” and this subjective experience is so incommensurable that “unless you have gone through the same trial, you will never understand my condition” – the fusion of self and suffering in this astonishing age of solipsism and narcissism.

So it is that the relative cultural hegemony the African National Congress (ANC) exercised on black South African imagination during the years of the struggle is fast waning. In the bloody miasma of the Zuma years, these years of stagnation, rent-seeking and mediocrity parading as leadership, there is hardly any center left standing as institutions after institutions crumble under the weight of corruption, a predatory new black élite and the cynicism of former oppressors.
In the bloody miasma of the Zuma years, the discourse of black power, self-affirmation and worldliness of the early 1990s is in danger of being replaced by the discourse of fracture, injury and victimization – identity politics and the resentment that always is its corollary.
Rainbowism and its most important articles of faith – truth, reconciliation and forgiveness – is fading. Reduced to a totemic commodity figure mostly destined to assuage whites’ fears, Nelson Mandela himself is on trial. Some of the key pillars of the 1994 dispensation – a constitutional democracy, a market society, non-racialism – are also under scrutiny. They are now perceived as disabling devices with no animating potency, at least in the eyes of those who are determined to no longer wait. We are past the time of promises. Now is the time to settle accounts.
But how do we make sure that one noise machine is not simply replacing another? Read more

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