Economy vs. Ecology (Remastered)

STUART SCOTT: Thank you,
ladies and gentlemen. We’ll start our next press conference now. If you’re here from the CAN press conference,
please remain. I think you’ll be very glad
that you did. The organization that I represent, or one of the organizations that I represent, is the United Planet Faith
& Science Initiative. We were sponsored here by
the Abibimman Foundation and the Interfaith Center for
Sustainable Development. Abibimman is in Africa and
the ICSD is in Jerusalem. And today our press conference will focus
on science and economics. My name is Stuart Scott. I’m the founder of the United Planet Faith
& Science Initiative. And the topic that we will be
discussing today focuses on the Arctic
methane emergency. And we have some very grave information
to share with you for those of you who are not
familiar with this subject, this aspect of climate
change. Now, a few days ago there was an article that
appeared in the New York Times online. And I took note of it, it was sent
to me by a friend. Because to me it was
a milestone really. The second paragraph reads, “Even with a deal to stop the current
rate of greenhouse gas emissions, scientists warn, the world will become
increasingly unpleasant.” And the journalist went on to say, “Without a deal, they say, the world could eventually
become uninhabitable for humans.” Now, as usual we are just focused
on ourselves, on human life, and ignoring the fact that we depend
upon other life for our own survival. And I want to make it clear
that in my view, and I think that implicit in the views
of many of you, is the fact that what we are
negotiating here is not a deal so much between the
global North and the global South, as much as we are negotiating
a deal between life on Earth, the wellbeing
of life on Earth, and money. This is implicit in the press conferences
that you will hear up here often. The last press conference that we followed
upon from CAN, where they point out the specific areas
where moneyed forces are opposing progress. But I want to make it very much clearer in
the presentation that I’ll give you today, and I’ll return to the subject
of money and economics. But let’s go to the Arctic. This is a view of the polar ice cap
in late summer, when it’s at its minimum,
in late summer of 1980. Here’s one data point just a
few years later in 2007. And lest you think I’m ‘cooking the data’,
here is the record, where each color represents
a different month of the year. Late summer being the lowest. And recently scientists began to realize that
they could no longer plot the decline of ice in a linear manner, because it was behaving
in an exponential manner. The Arctic sea ice is decaying exponentially. And it may disappear in summer, in late summer
completely as soon as next year. Some time between next year and 2020
is most likely we believe. Returning to the Arctic region I want to point
your attention to that area: A submerged shelf off of Siberia that is approximately 70 meters,
about 200 feet below water. During ice ages past it was above water and
there was abundant life there at times. And now that life is decomposed under the
sediments of that East Siberian Arctic Shelf and has turned into something else. Here’s another view, a map view of
the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. And as you’ll read the caption, it says that
that shallow ledge of submerged sea shelf is estimated to contain between 500 to 5000
gigatons – billion tons – of methane. A huge amount. To give you a sense of the magnitude, there
are approximately 5 gigatons of methane in the atmosphere of Earth today. And we are talking about from hundreds to
thousands of times that amount contained in that one shallow ledge. What you’re seeing on this slide is the release
of methane from one of several hundred plumes that were discovered when explorations
went up there in 2007. And the notation that methane is approximately
86 times as powerful a greenhouse gas as CO2. Now you will see variation in that number
for the following reason: When the methane is emitted, it’s estimated
to be above 150 times as powerful a greenhouse gas as CO2. Over 150 times as powerful. However the methane begins to decay
when it’s exposed to air and it becomes H2O and CO2. So it decays to a less impactful form of a
greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. But it does so slowly. So the 86 number is the number I’ve seen
over a 20 year period. That number is represented as approximately
23 over a hundred year period. That is, during the first year
it’s extremely dangerous, and it becomes less dangerous
over time. Now watch the methane… Those were students in Alaska whose teacher
had brought them out on a frozen lake. Because it happens in lakes as well. The sediments of the lake which
contain organic material, the organic material, when it’s digested
in an anaerobic environment becomes methane instead of CO2. And so kids have found that
it’s fun to go and poke holes in the ice and
light that on fire. It’s kind of Arctic fireworks. But it represents something very, very serious
to those of us who understand what it means because it is such a potent greenhouse gas. DR. PETER WADHAMS: So for the last
two or three years there’s been a joint Russian/Alaskan expedition going out into the Siberian Sea,
and observing this. And they’ve been seeing great
plumes of methane bubbling up all over the
East Siberian Sea. The whole zone of millions of
square miles of territory is now releasing all of its methane cover. STUART: ‘Millions of square miles is now
releasing all of its methane cover.’ That’s Dr. Peter Wadhams, and we’ll return
to Dr. Wadhams in a few slides from now. Dr. Natalia Shakhova leads a team of scientists,
joint American/Russian scientific team, studying conditions on the
East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Here are her words. DR. NATALIA SHAKHOVA: So the methane
in the atmosphere, the amount, the total amount of
methane in the atmosphere, in the current atmosphere,
it’s about 5 gigatons. The amount of carbon, preserved in the form
of methane in the Siberian Arctic Shelf is approximately from hundreds
to thousands of gigatons. And of course only 1% of that
amount is required to double the atmospheric burden
of methane. But to destabilize 1% of this carbon pool, I think it’s not much effort needed, considering the state of permafrost and the amount
of methane currently involved. STUART: And one more remark
from Dr. Shakhova. DR. SHAKHOVA: The worst thing
might happen… Totally speaking we do not like
what we see there. Absolutely do not like. STUART: Dr. Shakhova and her team
estimate the volume of methane currently being released at
approximately 50 gigatons. That is 50 billion tons of methane. It’s a pure estimate. There is no way of knowing. It could be vastly more. The question of how quickly,
we don’t know. Now that 50 gigatons would represent 10 times the
methane content of Earth’s atmosphere today. And would more than double the Earth’s burden
of greenhouse gases, including CO2. That is, we would go from a 400 parts per
million (ppm) CO2 world to the equivalent of 800 to 1000 parts per million. DR. WADHAMS: At the moment we have to
rely on Shakhova and Semiletov who’ve been doing that work. And they have expert knowledge
of the seabed conditions. And they’re the ones who are
estimating the 50 gigatons. So that could be revised up or down if further
work is done in that area. INTERVIEWER: Do you think civilization could
survive a 50 gigaton release of methane? DR. WADHAMS: No I don’t think it can. I think that the… If you look at the existing predictions
of global warming rates, what’s kind of eerie
is the fact that the business-as-usual projections, even the
cautious ones produced by IPCC, are still giving us about 4°C of warming
by the end of the century. And with 2 degrees has been
taken arbitrarily as the level beyond which nasty things happen. I don’t know why it’s 2 degrees. But that will be reached by the
middle of the century, and 4 degrees by the
end of the century. Now 4 degrees… People who’ve
calculated what that would do to food production,
to die-off of forests, to acceleration of warming due to the
various extra feedbacks that kick in… The general conclusion is pretty dire, that if you get to 4 degrees
of warming then… collapse of civilization is
what’s going to happen. Because the world won’t be able to sustain
anywhere near its present population. So the result will be chaos
and warfare. So that’s just… the eerie thing is that that’s
predicted by the IPCC report, the projection of warming by the end
of the century of 4 degrees, but nowhere do they state at all that 4 degrees is a catastrophe
both economically and socially for the planet. And now with this Arctic methane you’re simply
adding another element to the warming, even if it’s only an extra .6 [degrees]. That brings forward the date at which
catastrophic warming is achieved by maybe another 20 years. STUART: This is from one of the world’s foremost
authorities on the Arctic sea ice, Dr. Wadhams, from Cambridge University. Now here you see two polar
views of our planet. On the left the methane detected
November of 2008, and on the right November 2012. This is the “millions of square miles of territory
now releasing its methane cover.” And I’ll call your attention to the scientists
who collaborated on this report: an American, a Russian and
a Chinese scientist. And in particular to Dr. Ira Leifer. And I have a quote from Dr. Ira Leifer
for you next, in three parts. “Some scientists are indicating we should make plans
to adapt to a 4 degrees Centigrade hotter world. While prudent, one wonders what portion of
the population could adapt to such a world. My view is that it’s just a few thousand people
seeking refuge in the Arctic or Antarctica.” Very grave consequences we
face from our actions. Here is what’s known as a methane veil that’s
spreading southward from the Arctic. The yellow background is 1750-1850
parts per billion (ppb). The orange, which is spreading from the methane
release in the Arctic, is 1850 to 1950. And the red is above 1950. With a peak having been recorded in
January of this year [2014] at almost 2400 parts per billion (ppb). To give you some frame of reference
for what that compares to: Pre-industrial methane levels were estimated to
have been about 720 parts per billion. So we’ve already gone two and a half times
the pre-industrial level. And again, methane is 150 times as powerful
a greenhouse gas when it’s first emitted. Now let’s look at the consequences of that. What you’re seeing here is map of the world. This was compiled by the University Corporation
for Atmospheric Research in 2012. And it details the drought conditions in the
first decade of this century. The next three slides will go to the
one third point, the two thirds point, and the final decade of this century. Keep your eyes on the colors red. 2030 through 2039. 2060 through 2069. And 2090 through 2099. And it goes from red off the scale through
purple and violet and to finally white. In the vernacular: The Mediterranean is ‘toast’. The heartland of the United States is toast. The ability of the world to provide food will
be concentrated in just a few areas mostly in northern China, Russia,
Canada and Alaska. That will be for feeding a population
of 7 to 9 billion people. Perhaps. Now from this you have to go
to a realization, I believe. The realization that I want to
bring you all to is that the ‘operating system’ of global
civilization is seriously flawed. Now no one ever taught you in school
that we have an operating system, but we do in fact. And that operating system is known
by two names: Money and Economics. It’s in our language. “Money makes the world go ’round.” The ‘bottom line’. Everywhere you look in our language, in our reality, in our human reality,
money is running the show. In particular it’s known as
‘neoclassical economics’. And the name ‘neoclassical’ has
dropped out of the record, because for the past hundred years, the neoclassical economists have held
sway over the economies of Earth. And so it’s no longer ‘neoclassical’ economics
to us, it’s just ‘economics’. As though there were no alternative. Well there is an alternative. Now, again, we are turning… neoclassical economics, which has
harnessed human ingenuity, is turning nature, the natural world,
into money. As quickly as possible. There’s a concept known as a ‘meme’,
a viral thought form. Money is a meme. And the meme of money has promoted to
the highest positions of authority in government and in business. Those who are best at ignoring the consequences
of their actions, and best at creating… maximizing the ‘bottom line’,
creating the most money, the most ‘shareholder value’. We have a seriously flawed operating system. Our economic system will kill us. Unfortunately like a virus that
invades your body, the virus has no concept that
it is killing its host. Money is killing the host, but
humanity is the host. And when humanity disappears,
money disappears. And until we see our predicament
in these terms, we have very little hope of overcoming
the predicament. There is an alternative life-affirming
economic system called Ecological Economics.
Of course. Unless your economic system
starts with the presumption that the human economy exists
within a finite ecosphere and has to dissipate its wastes
into that ecosphere, without overwhelming the ability of
nature to absorb our wastes, unless you come to that realization you’re working with an
untenable economic system. Here is Dr. Herman Daly, who is known as the
‘founder’ of Ecological Economics. He worked for the World Bank
for eight years until he quit, because the World Bank at that
point in time had not ‘gotten it’. Now they’re getting it. But they are still not willing to conceptualize,
or not able, excuse me, to conceptualize that they have to break from
neoclassical economics. There is still this believe that
we can grow, grow the GDPs, national, global, grow, grow, grow,
corporate… We cannot. There is nothing that can grow forever
within a finite container. Now I want to introduce you to a notion of
a carbon bubble, if you haven’t heard of it. And this the flaw that is going to break our
economic system, perhaps, whether or not it is willing to change. The science of the AR5, the IPCC’s
Assessment Report 5, says that in order to stay below 2 degrees
centigrade of global warming, from 66% (per the IPCC report) to 80%
(per the International Energy Agency) of all fossil fuel reserves of all companies
and nations on Earth are unburnable. If we are to save our planet and humanity
from runaway climate change we have to write off what is estimated to be
$28 trillion of ‘stranded’ fossil fuel assets. And as investors wake up to the huge risk
involved in owning fossil fuel stocks, the bubble in those overpriced stocks
will begin to burst. This will happen. Sooner if we’re lucky.
Later if we are unfortunate. And there is the ‘carbon bubble’ at a demonstration
in the Wall Street area of Manhattan. We don’t know how soon it will happen. But there are many, many, many of us working
to make it come sooner. Now, one of the ways that it is being
burst is by many universities and other ‘fiduciaries’ around the world, those who hold the money
of others in trust. In particular, here’s the website of the University
of Hawaii’s divestment organization, which I helped design. And it points out that endowments, pension funds,
mutual funds, estates, trusts, 401-K’s… If you have your money in any collective
vehicle, then it is invested in fossil fuels unless you’ve taken special measures to divest
your money, to invest it in divested fiduciaries. And I predict that all fossil fuel stocks owned by
all fiduciaries are liable to crash in value by 60 to 80 percent. And those divesting
early will avoid the worst. We’ll take questions in the hallway.
Thank you.