Week 46: An abusive relationship

In this issue: ▸ An abusive relationship ▸ When one climate disaster follows another ▸ Remember the 1770s? ▸ IPCC authors are anxious about the future ▸ The good climate news ▸ And much more...

Dear all, 

With lights going out in Glasgow, realities, and they are indeed many and diverse, are back in the play. All around the world people are interpreting, talking about and deeply analysing what has really been agreed during those two weeks in Scotland.

How good or bad, how much progress, what does it mean for markets, what does it mean for the economy, what does it mean for the 7 billion souls temporarily visiting planet Earth. It all depends on the your perspective or your relationship with what we all are witnessing.

Let’s talk about that for a moment. How abusive is this relationship really? In the most general sense, the term ‘abuse’ describes a particular type of relationship between two things. An abusive relationship is one where one thing mistreats or misuses another thing. The important words in this definition are ‘mistreat’ and ‘misuse’; they imply that there is a standard that describes how things should be treated and used, and that an abuser has violated that standard. 

For the most part, only human beings are capable of being abusive, because only human beings are capable of understanding how things should be treated in the first place and then violating that standard anyway.

Animals in nature, and nature itself, may be very violent and destructive at times but in an unconscious, irresponsible sort of way. They cannot act otherwise. Natural violence is not intentional, but all too often, human violence is. Let this sink in. Why is to hard to talk about it?

The societies we live in normalize unhealthy behaviour so people may not understand that their relationship is abusive. When you think that unhealthy or abusive behaviours are normal, it’s hard to identify your relationship as abusive and therefore there’s no reason to seek help.

Now if we apply this to our current economic system and climate you sort of get a very clear picture about how abusive this is. 

Why? 

Well. Just four days after the landmark climate talks in Scotland in which Joe Biden vowed the US will “lead by example” in tackling dangerous global heating, the president’s own administration is providing a jarring contradiction – the largest ever sale of oil and gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

On Wednesday, the US federal government launched an auction of more than 80 million acres of the gulf for fossil fuel extraction, a record sell-off that will lock in years, and potentially decades, of planet-heating emissions. The enormous size of the lease sale – covering an area that is twice as large as Florida – is a blunt repudiation of Biden’s previous promise to shut down new drilling on public lands and waters.

Read more here.

When one climate disaster follows another

What shall we call this? Abusive? Or is it just business as usual? Is business as usual abusive or is it so that we are so numb that we don’t even react to it anymore? It is widely socially acceptable, or normalized, that we don’t react to this anymore. We stay in that abusive relationship. When you read this, maybe understand why I ended using the word ‘abusive’ in relation to what is going on.

The mentioned announcement from the US government came at the same time as this: In British Columbia, Canada, right now, a different vision is unfolding. One climate emergency following in the wake of another, indeed made possible by the previous disaster, and in a prosperous, modern, well-governed corner of the global north, with an absolutely overwhelming local infrastructure and the capacity of public officials and local bureaucracy to manage the crisis.

“It came down faster than the speed of sound,” one local resident said of a mudslide in a vivid interview with the CBC. “I just turned around, and I’m just watching the whole side of the mountain coming down and taking out these cars… everything just being swept away. Just complete panic.” She watched with her husband and 9-year-old son as three cars were carried off by the mud.

“No sooner do we get back into our vehicles, the people that were in front of us are just screaming and running,” she said. “The look on their faces, it was like a tsunami was coming. It was the scariest thing that I’ve ever seen.”

A water-treatment facility in Merritt was flooded, mixing the local drinking water with sewage. A floodwall in Mount Vernon completed in 2016 and designed to withstand a crest of 38 feet barely held — the Skagit River reached 36.79 feet on Monday night. 

Do you remember the 1770s and 80s?

Time is a flat circle. Everything we’ve ever done or will do, we’re gonna do over and over and over again. We all come from somewhere, we all come from something. Life is always in motion. Some historical experiences fade away in our Instagram realities where we fill our days with me-centric images and stories, while time chews away the distance between where we were and where we are heading.

Allow me to share a perspective. Starting in the mid-13th century, the northern hemisphere entered a period of prolonged cooling known as the Little Ice Age. This extended chill was not smooth and uniform, however, but marked by intervals of plummeting temperatures in the midst of otherwise stable warmth. Around 1770, one such interval of abrupt freezing began in the Northern Atlantic, wreaking immediate havoc on shipping, transportation and agriculture. In 1775, severe grain shortages in France caused by successive years of poor harvests resulted in bread riots throughout the kingdom. Later dubbed the Flour War, it was a harbinger of things to come.

Compounding the worsening climate, the Laki volcanic fissure in Iceland erupted in June 1783. Over the next eight months, the fissure spewed 120 million tons of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere. Across northern Europe, a “blood coloured sun” barely showed through a thick persistent haze. In addition to the excess mortality caused by the foul air, the Laki eruption radically altered the atmosphere, causing the climate of the 1780s to become extremely volatile. After a long spell of cooling, the summer of 1783 was suddenly the hottest on record. The unseasonably hot weather triggered severe thunderstorms with hailstones large enough to kill livestock.

The scorching summer gave way to an equally extreme winter of severe freezing, followed by a warm spring that rapidly melted the snow and ice which caused extensive flooding. These abnormally wild extremes defined weather patterns for years to come: dry and blistering summers interspersed by violent thunderstorms, followed by deep winter freezes, snowstorms and sub-zero temperatures.

The fluctuations ravaged the lives of the French population, ruining crops, killing livestock and creating an unbreakable cycle of hunger, poverty, stress, fear and hardship. Touring France in 1785, John Adams wrote: “The country is a heap of ashes. Grass is scarcely to be seen and all sorts of grain is short, thin, pale and feeble while the flax is quite dead….I pity this people from my soul. There is at this moment as little appearance of a change of weather as ever.”

The damage caused by these weather problems exacerbated an ongoing financial crisis that stalked the kingdom of France in the 1770s and 1780s. The finances of the kingdom had never been well-managed, as the wealthiest aristocratic families in France continued to enjoy exemption from most taxes. With the agricultural devastation and the kingdom’s already insufficient tax revenue, King Louis XVI’s ministers introduced economic and financial reforms to stabilize the Crown’s finances.

But these efforts were met with intransigent hostility from the privileged elite, who refused to accept new taxes unless the king offered equally meaningful political concessions. We all know where it ended, or where the circle was concluded, to be extended and repeated again.

Any resemblance? Yeah, we have been here before and we are going to be here again. The question is when are we going to break the spell.

IPCC authors are anxious about the future

What about this? Normalized?

Top climate scientists are sceptical that nations will rein in global warming.

As a leading climate scientist, Paola Arias doesn’t need to look far to see the world changing. Shifting rain patterns threaten water supplies in her home city of Medellín, Colombia, while rising sea levels endanger the country’s coastline. She isn’t confident that international leaders will slow global warming or that her own government can handle the expected fallout, such as mass migrations and civil unrest over rising inequality. With such an uncertain future, she thought hard several years ago about whether to have children.

“My answer was no,” says Arias, a researcher at the University of Antioquia in Medellín, who was one of the 234 scientists who wrote a climate-science report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in August (read the report here).

The social shortfall and ecological overshoot of nations

We move on to a rather interesting topic.

Previous research has shown that no country currently meets the basic needs of its residents at a level of resource use that could be sustainably extended to all people globally.

Using the doughnut-shaped ‘safe and just space’ framework, this study then analyses the historical dynamics of 11 social indicators and 6 biophysical indicators across more than 140 countries from 1992 to 2015.

What if finds out is that countries tend to transgress biophysical boundaries faster than they achieve social thresholds. The number of countries overshooting biophysical boundaries increased over the period from 32–55% to 50–66%, depending on the indicator.

At the same time, the number of countries achieving social thresholds increased for five social indicators (in particular life expectancy and educational enrolment), decreased for two indicators (social support and equality) and showed little change for the remaining four indicators.

The analysis also include ‘business-as-usual’ projections to 2050, which suggest deep transformations are needed to safeguard human and planetary health.

The conclusion? Well, sadly, that current trends will only deepen the ecological crisis while failing to eliminate social shortfalls.

World’s no. 1 oil exporter lures ESG investors with green bonds

Now onto the world’s biggest oil exporter. Saudi Arabia plans to raise billions of dollars in coming months as ESG investors seek more details about planned issuance.

Saudi Arabia’s plan to enter the market for green bonds marks a watershed moment. Some investors say it represents an encouraging step for the oil-addicted Gulf state to plot a path away from fossil fuels. Others are asking for credible evidence the debt will genuinely be green.

The upshot, though, is that the biggest oil exporter on the planet is likely to find plenty of buyers for a bond it says will be climate friendly. Read more here.

No trust in companies’ ESG commitments

This brings us to the just released Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report. The report shows that institutional investors don’t trust companies when it comes to ESG.

82% of the global institutional investors surveyed in August and September believe companies either overstate or exaggerate their ESG progress, and 72% do not believe those companies will ever achieve their stated commitments in ESG or diversity, equity and inclusion.

Read more here.

And some good news!

To end up on a positive note, here’s a page which collects all the good climate news out there:

The good climate news

We need it, it’s a way to preserve some optimism in these dark winter times.

That’s all for this newsletter! 

Kind regards,
Sasja