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Week 21: The stealthy impact of slow violence... and a glimmer of light
In this issue: the Pope says enough with fossil fuels, insurers bow to GOP pressure, concerns over a COP beholden to oil & gas, and innovation on the path to net zero.
Slow violence, almost unnoticeable, yet violent. Rolling over slowly hurting the edges, just enough to make your brain record it. Present. Always there.
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The idea of slow violence can be traced back to the 1960s, though it wasn't called that back then. In 1969, the Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung – known as the "father of peace studies" – argued that violence could be enacted by more than fists or weapons. Violence, he argued, could also be "structural".
For Galtung, this kind of violence happens when a society causes harm to its citizens and their property, often invisibly, through social or health inequalities, racism, sexism or other systemic means. The victims have foreshortened lives and have suffered both bodily and psychologically. But while the impact is tangible, the blame is harder to pin down. "Personal violence shows," Galtung wrote. "[It] represents change and dynamism – not only ripples on waves, but waves on otherwise tranquil waters.
Structural violence is silent, it does not show – it is essentially static, it is the tranquil waters. In a static society, personal violence will be registered, whereas structural violence may be seen as about as natural as the air around us."
The senseless war against creation
The other side, what is on the other side? God? Creation? Hercules? Well, the Pope, the one and only Pope has a view and given he is in his own person one of God’s voices on this planet, he ought to know. This is what he says, the Pope: The world must rapidly ditch fossil fuels and end "the senseless war against creation". The senseless war against the creation. It sorts of lands hard when you read it.
In a message for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, he said a U.N. climate summit meeting in Dubai on 30 November - 12 December "must listen to science and institute a rapid and equitable transition to end the era of fossil fuel".
"According to the commitments undertaken in the Paris Agreement to restrain global warming, it is absurd to permit the continued exploration and expansion of fossil fuel infrastructures," he added.
"The unrestrained burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of forests are pushing temperatures higher and leading to massive droughts," Francis said, also criticising oil and gas fracking and "unchecked mega-mining projects”.
We have scientists and religious scholars around the world together in various ways try to tell us that things are genuinely bad, and we should stop doing what we are doing, we shrug, and we go on. What do they know about the markets and rising interest rates and geopolitics? Maybe not much but they know a lot about who we are and why we are and maybe where we have been and what we have been.
Science and Religion, ancient adversaries over the human soul, stand together across the sun and warn humanity about the perils of the future we are about to face. It is something. This is good, regardless of if you are an atheist or a believer. You can read more here.
‘Tesla files’ cast doubt on Musk’s promises
When there, on the religious and scientific path why not take a look at recent news about some “semi-gods” walking on this planet right now?
Tesla has failed to adequately protect data from customers, employees and business partners and has received thousands of customer complaints regarding the carmaker’s driver assistance system, Germany’s Handelsblatt has reported, citing 100 gigabytes of confidential data leaked by a whistleblower.
The Handelsblatt report said customer data could be found “in abundance” in a data set labelled “Tesla Files”. The files include tables containing more than 100,000 names of former and current employees, including the social security number of the Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, along with private email addresses, phone numbers, salaries of employees, bank details of customers and secret details from production, according to Handelsblatt.
The breach would violate the GDPR, the newspaper said. The data protection office in Brandenburg, which is home to Tesla’s European gigafactory, described the data leak as “massive”. “I can’t remember such a scale,” the Brandenburg data protection officer, Dagmar Hartge, said. If such a violation was proved, Tesla could be fined up to 4% of its annual sales, which could be €3.26bn ($3.5bn).
Citing the leaked files, the newspaper also reported on large numbers of customer complaints regarding the Tesla’s driver assistance programs, with about 4,000 complaints on sudden acceleration or phantom braking. You can read more here.
Musk the conspiracy theorist
And well, when you are a semi-god, you have powers that mortals don’t have, and they know it. A week ago, he tweeted after 10 pm, and he echoed paranoid anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists. “George Soros reminds me of Magneto,” he declared, likening the financier to the Marvel supervillain, both of them Jewish Holocaust survivors. In case the meaning was unclear, Musk quickly clarified to another user, “He wants to erode the very fabric of civilization. Soros hates humanity.”
Criticizing George Soros is not inherently anti-Semitic. He is one of the world’s richest men and most influential philanthropists, as well as the Democratic Party’s largest single donor, and his views undoubtedly warrant scrutiny and debate. But Musk was not taking issue with a particular statement or position put forward by Soros; he was presenting him as an avatar of evil. He painted Soros as a literal comic-book villain.
This is the language of anti-Semitism through the ages, which perpetually casts powerful Jewish actors as the embodiment of social and political ill. Rather than treat Jews like humans, who are fallible and often mistaken, this mindset refashions them into sinister super-humans who intentionally impose their malign designs on the masses.
In recent years, Soros has been a particular target of this treatment, but any Jew or Jewish institution that accumulates some measure of wealth or status tends to attract it, whether the Rothschilds or the state of Israel. In such cases, legitimate criticism is overtaken by conspiracy; the issue is no longer the conduct of the Jewish actor but their very essence.
It’s doubtful that Musk harbours personal animosity toward Jewish people. But he is a conspiracy theorist, and the arc of conspiracy is short and bends toward the Jews. “If you hate Jews buy a Tesla” is that a new marketing pitch Mr Elon has in mind? You can read more about it here. The man that will take humanity into outer space… is simply a conspiracy theorist.
GOP applauds departures from ‘radical environmental agenda’
Intimidation works. Especially when it is done on behalf of politics towards the business. Usually, it is done by rogue regimes and in places you would not expect else. This time it is not rogue states. It is not the dictator offended by something. It is legitimate representatives of the self-claimed land of the free, USA.
Gloves are off. On Thursday, French insurers Axa SA and Scor SE, as well as Allianz SE of Germany, became the latest members of the Net Zero Insurance Alliance to walk out, bringing to seven the number of high-profile defections in less than two months. Axa’s departure is particularly noteworthy, as the firm had chaired the alliance.
Since Munich Re quit the NZIA in late March, citing “material” legal risks, the group has struggled to keep other members from heading for the door. The development prompted the alliance to hold an emergency meeting on Thursday. The escalating anti-ESG campaign in the US and the explicit targeting of NZIA led several members to conclude they were safer outside the alliance.
The United Nations Environment Programme, which convened the NZIA in 2021, said on Wednesday that the exits should be seen “in light of the recent discussions within the United States.”
Discussion with USA? Such bliss. Senior members of the GOP, meanwhile, have cheered the moment. Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes said in a statement that he and his colleagues “are encouraged” to see the departures from “an alliance that was focused on a radical environmental agenda over the interests of its clients. We will continue to be vigilant and take legal action where necessary to protect Americans from the dangers of ESG.”
Americans beware! ESG poses a significant danger to Americans! It is anti-American and dangerous to capitalism! Run, run for your lives. You can read the article here and some of my quotes on what I believe is happening.
Global China vs Global US
It is, of course, more complex than this and it is utterly dangerous for Europe. Why? There are two current mega powers in the world - USA and China - and a concept of ESG challenges both of their world views at the core. Europe is a beacon of the ESG light and the challenge EU taxonomy and SFDR poses to both mega-powers was unintended yet obviously rather impactful.
Until very recently, big European powers still had global ambitions. That often meant treating poor countries as their hunting grounds. Britain sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, and France to west Africa. Together, in 2011, they deposed Libya’s leader Colonel Gaddafi. Russia adventured everywhere from Syria to Mali.
But they all over-reached. Since 2021, the UK and France have abandoned their failed foreign missions. The British army is the smallest it’s been since Napoleonic times. Only 0.2 per cent of the remaining troops are based in Asia or Oceania. Britain has reached the end of its “great game," the Foreign Office’s former lead official, Simon McDonald, told the New Statesman magazine this month. Similarly, Russia is so overextended in Ukraine that it’s even losing control of its other neighbourhood, Central Asia.
European powers still talk global — literally, in the case of “Global Britain”. France, ludicrously, calls itself an “Indo-Pacific power” based on having 1.5 million citizens scattered across various poor islands there. But the French naval chief of staff likened competing with other navies in the Pacific to “showing up in a 2CV car for a Formula 1 race”. The western military alliance, Nato, now limits itself to Europe, where it has still never fought.
Russia aspires to be the West’s bogeyman, which is like a second-division team imagining it’s Manchester City’s rival. In fact, Europe’s widest-ranging neighbourhood power may be Turkey, which benefits from what estate agents call “location, location, location”. Its neighbourhood covers Syria, grain exports through the Black Sea and the refugee crossing from the Middle East.
But outside their neighbourhood, European powers display the same impotent nihilism we deplore in others. When Sudan’s capital Khartoum erupted in fighting, the height of French ambition was to evacuate Europeans; Saudi Arabia and the US brokered a peace deal. Likewise, European powers have watched war criminal Bashar al-Assad win Syria’s civil war and start to rehabilitate himself internationally. They sold Saudi Arabia weapons that decimated Yemen. And they have abandoned the Palestinians, and Ethiopia’s region of Tigray, where more people may have been killed than in Ukraine. Our helplessness renders absurd Putin’s fantasy that the West plans to invade and subjugate Russia. We couldn’t even subjugate the Taliban.
There is Global China and Global US (for now), but not Global anything else. If the two superpowers clash over Taiwan, every neighbourhood power intends to watch from the audience, though only Emmanuel Macron has been crude enough to say so.
Read more from this brilliant article written by Simon Kuper.
ESG will never be a big game-changer without capital flows from US and China shifting towards the promised land of a sustainable future. Heroic efforts by old lady Europe, noble as they are, will remain marginal skirmishes with good old neoliberal capitalism.
Like breaking diamonds with your hands. Neoliberalism, the free-market, anti-government, growth-at-all-costs approach to economic and social policy, has dominated policy debates in the United States and much of the world for the last half-century. But it has outlived whatever usefulness it might once have had, and today its free-market fundamentalism causes more problems than it solves.
From skyrocketing wealth inequality to the climate crisis to systemic racism, neoliberalism offers no credible solutions for society’s biggest challenges. We need more than just new policy ideas to confront these seismic issues, we need a major shift in the underlying terms of debate about the economy and society. We need a new intellectual paradigm that reimagines what’s possible and offers economic justice and prosperity for people around the world.
The key is to avoid stimulating economic activity which comes at the expense of an erosion of natural capital and the environment. Such a strategy cannot be sustained over the medium term. Indeed, given the extent of the loss of natural capital over a few decades, the focus now should be on regenerative growth economic activity that replenishes, rather than diminishes, natural capital. USA and China don’t buy this one. This is where we are right now.
There are glimpses of light, bright and shining
Solar power investment is set to outstrip spending on oil production this year for the first time, the head of the International Energy Agency has said, highlighting a surge in clean energy development that will help curb global emissions if the trend persists.
“If these clean energy investments continue to grow in line with what we have seen in the past few years . . . we will soon start to see a very different energy system emerging and we can keep the 1.5C goal alive,” Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, told the Financial Times, in reference to the Paris Agreement target to limit the global temperature rise.
This year $1.7 trillion is forecast to be spent on clean technologies compared with $1 trillion on fossil fuels. Five years ago, the $2 trillion in annual energy investment was split evenly between fossil fuels and clean technology, such as renewables, electric vehicles and low-emissions fuels.
Birol said a “new global clean energy economy is emerging”, adding: “For a man like me who makes his hands dirty with data every single day this is a striking, dramatic shift.” You can read more here.
Challenges (and innovation) on the path to net zero
“It’s 2050, and you arrive at the restaurant in a car running on newly recycled batteries whose copper and nickel were once used in another EV. The waiter strides up to the table and sprinkles a pungent protein powder made from fermented microbes onto a bowl of chemical-free edamame.
As you leave, your chair scrapes on a smooth grey floor made from carbon-free concrete delivered in ready-mix sacks on a freight ship fuelled by cheap, clean-burning green hydrogen”
Challenge 1: Accelerating the deployment of clean hydrogen
Hydrogen, the most abundant chemical element in our world, emits no planet-warming gasses when burned, presenting a tantalizing solution for hard-to-abate sectors like shipping.
The batteries needed to propel a container ship would be so heavy and bulky, it wouldn’t make economic sense. Steelmaking and other heavy industries often rely on fossil fuels or high-carbon minerals not just to produce intense heat, but to create a chemical reaction.
So-called “green hydrogen” can serve as a feedstock for fertilizers and chemicals, a source of heat for steel or aluminium production, or a fuel for heavy transport, particularly when converted into derivatives like ammonia, a liquid that can be transported using existing infrastructure and equipment.
There are different ways to make hydrogen, including from fossil fuels. But green hydrogen is made by splitting water using industrial-scale electrolyzers in a process powered by renewable energy.
Despite its potential, hydrogen has played a small role in the energy transition so far. That’s because it’s still relatively expensive to make, store and transport. And despite its potential versatility, most machines and industries aren’t adapted to use it. With major subsidies for hydrogen set to kick in from the US climate bill, all that could change.
Challenge 2: Sustainable metals for an electric future
The electric future will require a massive increase in the supply of metals such as lithium, cobalt and nickel, which weren’t that useful in the motorized world of the 20th century but are essential components of today’s EV batteries. More electricity also means a lot more copper to conduct the current. BNEF expects annual demand for refined copper to grow 58% by 2040.
Shortages of rare minerals and metals could drive up the cost of the energy transition — and potentially hold it back.
But mines take years to build and can have a devastating impact on soil, water, wildlife and local communities, especially in poorer countries that suffer from a lack of regulation. A dark legacy of labor exploitation, sometimes involving child workers, already hangs over the metals supply chain.
To avoid a situation where the energy transition addresses one problem but creates another, a new generation of startups is working on ways to mine more efficiently and more cleanly — and to recycle the metals and materials that have already been used. Others are developing technologies that require fewer rare materials in the first place.
Challenge 3: Building a Net-Zero food production system
Food production has a massive impact on our world. One in four people worldwide work in farming, an activity that occupies half of all habitable land and, along with forestry and associated land uses, is responsible for 23% of planet-warming emissions.
Farming has led to drastic biodiversity loss over the centuries, and modern use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and weed killers has poisoned soils, polluted freshwater and drained aquifers. Livestock alone account for nearly 15% of human-induced emissions, a reflection of our growing appetite for meat. One of the major contributors to that is methane, a greenhouse gas that is more potent than CO2 and is released by ruminant animals like cattle and sheep.
But while other sectors like transport and power can benefit from breakthroughs in renewable energy and battery technologies, the impact on agriculture emissions is limited. Reducing the climate footprint of the food industry requires a different approach, from developing more sustainable sources of protein for ourselves to changing what we feed farm animals and pets. It also means reducing our reliance on chemicals and coming up with more resilient crops and more sustainable farming practices.
None of these methods have been scaled to the extent needed to clean up a sector that will become more vital as the world’s population grows. Startups working on technologies and business models to decarbonize agriculture raised $5 billion in equity financing in 2022, 4% of the total raised by climate tech startups globally. Funding fell 65% relative to 2021. The world needs to rapidly come up with new technologies to produce more food while doing less damage.
And if you want to read about 12 Climate Tech Innovators Building a Net Zero World this is a very good piece.
Is COP28 destined to be a flop? A growing number of Western politicians are concerned this year’s UN climate summit in the UAE will be too beholden to the oil and gas industry. Really?
The appointment was “a scandal” and a “perfect example of a conflict of interest,” says Michael Bloss, a German member of the European parliament with the Green Party, who signed the letter. “It’s like putting the tobacco industry in charge of ending smoking.” Scientists are clear that reducing the production and use of coal, oil and gas is key to meeting the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5C above preindustrial levels.
But Jaber has instead talked about the need to tackle fossil fuel “emissions,” a distinction that analysts says is out of the industry playbook and implied using carbon capture technology, which is unproven at scale, to prolong the use of the polluting fuels. The role of COP president is instrumental to the direction and objectives of the annual summit, which brings together world leaders, negotiators, businesses and civil society groups to seek consensus on how to address climate change.
The deal penned in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, did not include a commitment to phasing down fossil fuels despite broad support for the idea from nations including the EU and US, following pushback from oil-producing countries including Saudi Arabia. Experts say it is too early to write off COP28, but that time is running out for the presidency to win the confidence of the international community and show it has real ambitions to make it a success. COP presidencies must be neutral, says Alden Meyer, a senior associate at think-tank E3G: “Can the incoming president and his team rise above UAE’s own interests as a fossil fuels producer? That’s the real question.” Read more here.
We can do much better, all of us know this. There is a glimpse of a possible world in which equitable, deeply democratic processes, aided by technology, give power, a voice to all people, and enable humanity to set and achieve shared goals for the management of our precious planet.
It’s a world of local autonomy and diverse cultures with diverse priorities that are still capable of coordinating at the global level on issues like climate change and existential threats from technology. It’s a world where politics is done without professional politicians, and freedom is achieved without the disastrous side effects of capital markets. It’s a world in which we had agreed that poverty, hunger, climate change, and the destruction of nature are evil, recognised that protest and creative resistance had been necessary but insufficient, took matters into our own hands, and changed course.
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Have a great ‘not slow violence’ week!
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