Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Rainbow Diagram

Here is Julia Steinberger's Rainbow Diagram

Professor Julia Steinberger is a Swiss-American economist at Leeds University, who researches and teaches in the interdisciplinary areas of Ecological Economics and Industrial Ecology. Her research examines the connections between resource use (energy and materials, greenhouse gas emissions) and societal performance (economic activity and human wellbeing). She is interested in quantifying the linkages between resource use and socioeconomic parameters, and identifying alternative development pathways to guide the necessary transition to a low carbon society. Research focus on living well within planetary limits.

On the 4th of January 2020 she posted this diagram on Twitter,  listing 10 basic facts for human and planetary survival, and then footnoted it with multiple tweets to add a little help to interpretation and understanding. I've copied out her notes, with just a little editing to improve readability, below:

 The #RainbowDiagramToSaveEarth (that hashtag's definitely going to catch on.😆 No doubt.)
 (1) This is the domain of the IPCC and other large research assessment reports. So much evidence, just a few links.

(2) Future projections are given by the same reports as above. They are extremely, extremely worrying. Dire. Awful. Not. Good.
(3) is where things get interesting, because a lot hinges on what is considered "feasible" in polite scientific-policy circles. Some people consider radical change "unfeasible." I'm not one of them - I'd much prefer planetary destruction to be "unfeasible," but it's not. So…
So this is where subjectivity, rather than pure objective physical & natural science observations & modelling, enter the picture. I'll try to keep it simple and clean. If we stop emitting now, and I mean NOW, we stay below 1.5°C warming.
If we do this, and remember, all this requires is our *not* emitting, not the invention of new technologies or whatever, we can limit warming and hence limit the climate & ecological crises from engulfing much more than on our current growth trajectory.
(4) There is no doubt whatsoever that reducing emissions at the rate of at least 15% per year constitutes radical change. The IPCC reports agree on this point as well, speaking of "transformations" rather than "transitions" required to remain within 1.5°C.
Does radical change mean reducing consumption? Everyone agrees it means *changing* consumption, away from fossil energy and land-based resources, towards renewable energy, electricity-based technologies, plant-based diets. Will that be enough?
Long story short? No. Doing all we can to stop deadly planetary devastation will require both *changing* and *reducing* consumption. See UK CCC Net-Zero report: lots of supply-side change, but still some demand measures.
I decided to stop waffling and go straight to demand reductions because I think it's the crux of much hesitation and inaction, and I'd rather deal with it full frontally, and also because why the heck would we not do all we can to avoid planetary disaster? Come on.
I understand that some people might disagree with (4). My point is that reductions in consumption should be openly discussed, since they are (a) effective, (b) possible, and (c) necessary.
Not only change, we also have to reduce consumption. The "we" has to be defined: at least everybody in the middle & upper class in the industrialized countries!
So (4) is differentiated by income and need levels. Some groups need to consumer much more than they currently do, and many groups, especially the globally wealthy, need to reduce their consumption A LOT. Inequality is a core focus here.
I should mention that (4) is of course the core domain of degrowth economics, whose main theorist and proponent is the tremendous Giorgos Kallis, @g_kallis, and you should all follow him and read his books.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giorgos_Kallis
(5) is where things get interesting because this is my research area. Woohoo! But I'm not alone. Rao, Min & Mastrucci recently  published this great article on "Energy requirements for decent living in India, Brazil and South Africa" in Nature Energy.
Footnotes to (5). The main comments here were that people were not, as a mass, clamouring for lower consumption. But that's not what (5) says: (5) states universal well-being is *possible* at much lower consumption levels. So this is a scientific fact, not a majority political aspiration (yet). And this is where the 2nd socio-economic column is important: it explains my view of *why* we have to fight consumerism full-frontally: because it's the means fossil-fuelled industries use to accumulate wealth and power.
So that's a good jump-off point to talk about (6). I've been writing about (6) a lot, and so have other people. Some of the main references can be found in this google doc (page 3, under "climate & capitalism").  @NaomiAKlein is a core thinker here.
So are Andreas Malm, Ian Gough, Kate Raworth.
In terms of my own contributions to (6), they are mainly this article with @elkepirgmaier
and a nice short blog on climate breakdown, capitalism and democracy:
Moving on to (7), the core references are mainly the same as for (6): understanding how fossil capitalism emerges from the industrial revolution means that we need to see our societies as captive prey of the political economy they have created. I tried to express this here:
"The fossil giants and their adjacent industries, such as automotive & aviation, represent our current capitalist system. Our infrastructure and cities are built for them, our markets function for them, our governments are in thrall to them."
The question becomes: what can we do about this? And this is where understanding the origins of capitalism and wealth accumulation, including the origins of consumerism as a creation of corporate firms (see the excellent "Century of the Self") helps.
Because we have to unlearn (and fast) a vision of humanity as grasping, greedy, selfish, competing ever upwards: that vision itself turns us into a product, a tool of profit accumulation. It turns us into consumers. Moving away from this view of ourselves is essential for (8).
So on to (8) and popular power. If we need to unlearn seeing ourselves as consumers, we need to move towards seeing and understanding ourselves as forces of change in the world. Strangely, even in democracies, the power of social mobilization is not taught explicitly.
I have ideas why this is: probably because our democracies are the uneasy compromise between corporate wealth accumulation and preventing popular uprisings, or because teaching the power of organizing to teenagers is a downright scary proposition. Who knows.

Julia Steinberger
oil on canvas 23 x 23 cm
This portrait features in the Faces of Climate exhibition to be held at the North Sea Observatory, Chapel Point, Lincolnshire this Easter.

Wednesday the 8th to Sunday the 19th of April 2020.


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