Ten propositions on the climate crisis

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Canadian Dimension editor Cy Gonick identifies key challenges facing the climate emergency movement

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by Cy Gonick

Reprinted, with permission, from Canadian Dimension magazine, July-August, 2011. Cy Gonick, CD’s Publisher and Coordinating Editor, made the following comments during a panel discussion on “Greening the Economy,” at the Cochabamba+1 conference in Montréal, April 16.

1. Profit maximization is the iron rule of capitalism, setting limits to ecological reform. A profit-based economy that requires continuous economic growth makes ecological catastrophes inevitable.

2. Voluntarism, technological fixes and market incentives as they have been constructed cannot achieve even the weak Green House Gas targets gov­ernments have committed to. Even so, many govern­ments such as ours and that of the USA, haven’t even initiated these market mechanisms like carbon taxes or cap and trade.

3. We need to accept that we WILL pass the terrible tipping points that climate scientists like James Han­sen have been talking about for at least a decade now. And that the catastrophes they predict will happen, gradually at first and then rapidly as the feedbacks kick in.

4. As the consequences of passing the tipping points eventuate, with droughts, floods, rising sea levels, growing numbers of climate refugees – states every­where will begin to exercise authoritarian measures to preserve order and to ensure that increasingly scarce water, food and energy resources are pre­served for the rich and to feed the material require­ments of corporate enterprise. Robert Heilbroner predicted this outcome back in 1974 in his Inquiry into the Human Prospect. Joel Kovel discussed the prospect more recently.

5. We can already see the beginnings of the move towards authoritarianism – the xenophobic response to immigration throughout Europe, the attempt to destroy unionism in theUSA, the harsh way protest­ers against austerity measures are being treated, to say nothing of police repression against G20 pro­testers inToronto. And Stephen Harper’s deliberate efforts to silence his critics by shutting down or reori­enting research and advocacy organizations.

6. It is essential for us to be critiquing market-based solutions and those, including most mainstream environmental organizations, who promote these solutions and insist on working within the system. We need to expose environmental organizations who accept funding from corporate-based foundations that are extensions of the energy industrial complex and thus allow themselves to be used by the perpetrators of climate change and bolstering their legitimacy.

7. We need to be putting forth more structurally based solutions such as stopping the tar sands, massive investment in solar, wind and geothermal renewables and expanding public transit. Yet, we should accept that these solutions are and will be totally rejected by capitalist states and that, in any case, renewable energy cannot meet the mass energy requirement of consumerism and relentless economic growth especially in the light of ongoing neoliberal globalization.

8. We need to be talking now about how we will respond to the ecological catastrophe as it unfolds and to the authoritarian actions of capitalist states to repress popular resistance against harsh austerity measures and to increasingly destructive methods of extracting oil and natural gas from less accessible sources.

9. It will be essential to show how the economy can be transformed so that it does not require continuous growth and yet provides for the basic requirements of all citizens.

10. Intellectual argument is not sufficient. Our move­ment will have to turn towards widespread forms of direct action to stop the ecocide and the austerity measures that shift the burden of the ecological crisis onto the lower and working classes.


  • I agree with Rory Short and believe these problems can be done most efficiently and quickly on the most local level possible, from the bottom up. But we find ourselves with little money. Even on a local level budgets are being cut while we are told we must grow our economy before we can accomplish anything. It is not easy convincing our local citizens that what money we have needs to go to improving public transportation, insulating our homes, decreasing our energy demands, changing our energy sources, growing food locally etc.

  • Our whole way of living is permeated through and through with an exploitative rather than a cooperative approach to the rest of creation. This approach is parasitic and after initial success eventually destroys its host. In our case, planet earth is our host and we are in the final stages of our exploitative relationship with our host. Unless we change from exploitation to cooperation we will kill our host and ourselves.

  • Not only is Gilding an ecocapitalist, he is short on transitional demands and alternatives. Yes, cut cars, whether “dirty” or less so (by a lot more than half) but that also means better, more accessible public transport and infrastructure for active transport (for cyclable, walkable towns and cities) and better urban planning to densify and undo sprawl, while ensuring pleasant, walkable urban areas.

  • Reasonable analysis, in some parts, but way overextended in others: the process of creeping authoritarianism in the U.S. has been going on for four decades, and has more to do with the neoliberal assault that began with the end of the postwar boom and its concommittant falling rate of profit and shift from investment in industrial manufacturing to finance.

  • Eco capitalism–an oxymoron. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan big business is not the solution, it’s the problem.

  • Gilding is an eco-capitalist who thinks big business is the solution to the climate crisis and believes in carbon capture and storage (and probably also the tooth fairy).

    And it’s methane he wants to “capture or burn”, not ethane.

  • Paul Gilding in his book ‘The Great Disruption’ has a very similar message, with the following suggestions:

    1 Cut deforestation & other logging by half
    2 Close a thousand dirty coal power stations within 5 years. (The Chinese are already doing it)
    3 Ration electricity. get ‘dressed’ for war – add insulation, solar water heaters hi eff lights
    4 Erect solar power or a wind turbine in every town of > 1,000 people.
    5 Retrofit 1,000 coal power plants with carbon capture & storage
    6 Create huge wind & solar farms in suitable places
    7 Let no waste go to waste – reuse it like in WWII.
    8 Ration use of dirty cars – cut transport emissions by half.
    9 Prepare for bio power with combined carbon capture & storage
    10 Strand half the world’s aircraft by 5 years time.
    11 Capture or burn ethane
    12 Move away from carbon unfriendly protein
    13 Bury 1 gigaton of CO2 in the soil. Grow loads of plants
    14 Launch a government – & community – led “shop less, live more” campaign

    Who is going to lead us all through THIS war?


    Sir Charlie Madden Bt BSc MTech MBA