Peak oil, financial crisis, climate change, and failing democracy: the crises and their possible solutions


Summary and review ‘Revolution Justified' of Dhr. Roger Cox

 

September 22, 2012

Dhr. Roger Cox has written a very interesting book: Revolution Justified, entailing a comprehensive description of the oil crisis, the financial crisis, climate change, the failures of the democratic society to address these issues, and, as a solution to these issues, a revolution through law.

Peak oil and (Political) War

Human beings have been depending on oil since the industrial revolution; oil became the new gold. Now, the resource is used in pretty much anything one can think off: from a car to our clothes. And with it, our societies have developed into a complex system. However, societies can develop in such a way until the point where costs of energy become too high to bare. A shortage in energy is the result, but a more complex society needs a bigger amount of energy to survive. And this is problematic since we are running out of this primary energy source. Already today we undergo the consequences of diminishing oil reserves and the lack of new discovered fields. Indeed, ‘Just keeping global production flat is going to require lots of new fields. We need to replace one Saudi Arabia per three years’ (equivalent to 10 million barrels per day). Worldwide oil peak is at hand and diminishing oil of 4 million barrels per day is the result. The time of cheap oil is over and societies can collapse due to this upcoming energy crises.

Hereafter, Cox delves into the problem of giant oil multinationals and their (geopolitical) power. The power of Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon, Chevron, and BP are much bigger than one would initially suspect. Cox gives clear examples of such. Furthermore, there is the power of Oil Exporting Countries, also known as OPEC. If OPEC raises the prices of a barrel of oil, the World oil price raises instantly as well as we have seen in the past.

Furthermore, Cox notices that oil is subsidized because if it is not, we would have to pay much more and our current societies is not (yet) prepared for such. The oil crisis is therefore postponed. However, even with the subsidies, we are still badly prepared for a society with its diminishing oil supplies and which should be based on renewable resources. Additionally, the high oil price diminishes societies' strength and the high oil price will fluctuate more than ever before due to the instable situations in oil and political aspects related to oil (see below). Inflation and increasing interest rates will influence the economy on every level. Finally, although many do not mention it, the credit crisis is largely caused by the increasing oil price in the period from 2004 on.

Cox then delves into the difficult geopolitical aspects of oil: he proves with examples the interrelation between oil and the wars in Iraq and Kuwait, as well as the UN intervention in Libya.

Climate change

Earth’s climate is continuously changing. The orbit around the sun, the Earth’s axis, the seasonal changes, the distance between Earth and the Sun, and the natural greenhouse effect influences the climate of our planet and makes our planet livable. The first four aspects is proved to influence our climate in a natural way. The last one, the greenhouse effect is currently however also affected by us, human beings. The natural greenhouse effect works as shown in the picture below and described in this short blog item: Climate Change

 Greenhouse_Effect.png

Source: Environment – Clean Generations[1]

If CO2 levels remain to increase, and with it global temperature, then we are at the dusk of a society and ecosystem collapse. For instance, the first islands and coastal areas have been declared unlivable and we can already speak of Climate Refugees. The increasing temperatures effects the Arctic and North pole negatively: the ice is melting. And with the melting ice, the albedo effect is decreasing, increasing the greenhouse gas effect. Furthermore, due to climate change, the oceans acidify, effecting the natural habitats of sea life, and fishing negatively. Prolonging drier weather and floods effects the agricultural sector heavily. Ecosystems are affected negatively by the increasing temperatures and extreme weather.

Moreover, according to the Stern rapport, it will cost us 1% till 2% of the Global GDP to act upon climate change accurately by mitigation and adaptation. However, the costs of inaction are estimated between 5% to 20% of the Global GDP. As such, it is even economically viable to act upon combating climate change. Thus, investing in renewable energy sources and economies would even be economically interesting.

Failures of Democracy

Without roads, there would not be cars. Without companies, there would not be an economy. Without electricity there would not be smart phones. Without a government there would not be hospitals and schools. And without governments there would possibly be no oil giants and sometimes even vice versa. In fact, Shell is twice as big as Iraq in economic terms. Yet, the energy transition necessary to overcome the oil and climate crisis is failing, partly due to the failing democratic system. As also described above, within this system, multinational corporations and the banking (financial) sectors have gained profound (geo)political influence. For instance, Shell has (geo) political power in Nigeria. If governments act strictly out of environmental and equity issues, they would need to apart from such large companies. However,  governments often depend heavily on such companies due to the economic value they bring with them. Yet, this is not the path governments should take. But hardly any politician has the courage to step up against the political influence of these companies and banks. They may even be sensitive to bribing. Nevertheless it is the task of politicians to intervene within the market to promote and push society towards the necessary transition of a circular economy. To make this change only through the democratic system seems hardly possible. The law could be a solution.

The Solution: Law

Cox starts this chapter by describing the ‘Prudent Principle’ with four criteria:

  1. How likely is the event that someone does not have the necessary care and attention?
  2. How big is the chance to have an accident as a consequence of 1?
  3. How severe may the consequences be?
  4. How onerous is it to take precautionary measure to deal with the potential danger?

These four criteria guide the law in deciding whether a certain organization, entity or person is responsible for damage: if there is a risk, the entity or person is responsible. As such, (western) states have the responsibility to protect and improve the environment and, if that same environment has a real risk to burden the citizen with severe danger of damage (i.e. climate change), it has the responsibility and duty to take precautionary and rigorous measures, execute research as well as to warn and inform the general public about the (potential) danger, especially when citizens are unaware of it. In this case, it does not matter whether the state causes the danger since the task of the state is to take care of the common good.

Moreover, Cox argues that, in the light of climate change, it can be argued that states violate globally declared basic human rights as it endangers the livability of land, the right to live, the right to public order and safety, the right on a private life and house, the right on property, the right on public health, and the right to a livable environment. However, procedures through the European Court to act upon this violation can be a long process, taking approximately 10 years. That timeframe is not available for the transition towards sustainable economies. Especially with the aims of the European Union to reduce emissions from 25 to 25% in 2020. Another solution is to use the Court of Justice, based in Luxembourg, which is institutionally bound to the European Union. The Court of Justice deals with the Union law including regulations, directives, and decisions regarding the EU. The latter can make a statement about human rights and climate change within two years, which is substantially less than the European Court. Therefore, the Court of Justice is a better solution to push states to act upon climate change. Also national courts can be used for this process.

There is no more (legal) excuse left for western states for their inactivity and lack of results for the energy transition and protection of the society against dangers of climate change. According to Cox, the  failure of democracy and the stalemate of the transition towards sustainable societies can therefore only be broken by law: a Revolution by Law.

Review and suggestions

Cox has accurately and sometimes shockingly revealed the crises we are facing today, with its possible solutions. I have read the book with great interest as fast as I could. Although I understand a book needs to have limits, I do miss three aspects: a profound description and discussion of existing climate change treaties, arguments for the rights of nature itself, and examples of implementation of the law in order to overcome the mentioned crises. Firstly, although Cox describes the IPCC, it would have been great if he also delved into climate change treaties and developments therein such as the Kyoto Protocol[2] and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)[3] as they are crucial to gain insight into existing rights and regulations regarding climate change and energy issues. Unfortunately, I have no more space left now to explain this protocol and Framework Convention and therefore, I will do that in another blog item. Secondly, Cox uses a rather anthropocentric view for arguing to protect human beings from climate change and the right to a healthy living, whereas such a viewpoint can be highly criticized from the standpoint that nature has an intrinsic value of its own, and therefore, should have its own rights as well as that it should be perceived separately from human beings and human rights. I would therefore argue in favour of globally declaring the Rights of Mother Earth, as Bolivia is promoting[4],  and aim at including the Rights for Nature in constitutions of countries, such as Ecuador has done[5]

Thirdly, others argue in favour of using not only the law, but also other models to combat climate change, including economic, financial, political, policy, project and grassroots projects and management. I feel for using different models to stimulate and enhance the sustainability transition: the law and constitution to push governments to act on behalf of the common good (based on the responsibility and precautionary principles, rights for nature and human rights), followed by other models implementing those principles, rights and regulations. Transition Towns [6] is an example of a grassroots movement which aims to address the oil crisis, financial crisis, food crisis, and climate change by stimulating independent local initiatives and solutions. In another blog article on Sustainability Is.. I have described other possible solutions such as Cradle to Cradle. To gain insight in an economic model, you can watch the Youtube video below with Jeremy Rifkin explaining the aforementioned crises and with it, the economy as a solution to these problems. 

 

 

 



[1] Link Source: http://environment-clean-generations.blogspot.nl/2011/07/greenhouse-effect.html

[2] See: http://unfccc.int/kyoto_protocol/items/2830.php

[3] See: www.unfccc.int

[4] See: The Rights for Nature, Bolivia’s Leadership http://therightsofnature.org/bolivia-experience/

[5] See: The Rights for Nature, Ecuador) http://therightsofnature.org/ecuador-rights/

[6] See: http://www.transitionnetwork.org/

 

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