By George Monbiot, The Guardian’s website, 11th September 2014

If the ozone hole had been discovered ten years later, governments are likely to have done nothing.

In The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins, a comedy made in 1971, Spike Milligan portrays Sloth as a tramp trying to get through a farm gate. This simple task is rendered almost impossible by the fact that he can’t be bothered to take his hands out of his pockets and open the latch. He tries everything: getting over it, under it, through it, hurling himself at it, risking mortal injury, expending far more energy and effort than the obvious solution would require.

This is how environmental diplomacy works. Governments gather to discuss an urgent problem and propose everything except the obvious solution – legislation. The last thing our self-hating states will contemplate is what they are empowered to do: govern. They will launch endless talks and commissions, devise elaborate market mechanisms, even offer massive subsidies to encourage better behaviour, rather than simply say “we’re stopping this”.

This is what’s happening with manmade climate change. The obvious solution, in fact the only real and lasting solution, is to decide that most fossil fuel reserves will be left in the ground, while alternative energy sources are rapidly developed to fill the gap. Everything else is talk. But not only will governments not contemplate this step, they won’t even discuss it. They would rather risk mortal injury than open the gate.

The same applies to biodiversity, fisheries, neonicotinoid pesticides and a host of other issues affecting the living planet: negotiators have tried to work their way under, over and through the gate, while ensuring that the barrier remains in place.

It wasn’t always like this. There was a time when they took their hands out of their pockets.

This week the UN revealed that the ozone layer is recovering so fast that, across most of the planet, it will be more or less mended by the middle of the century. Ozone is the atmospheric chemical that blocks ultraviolet-B radiation, protecting us from skin cancer and from damage to our eyes and immune systems, and protecting plants from destruction. It’s coming back, and this is a great advertisement for active government.

Like manmade global warming, the problem was forecast before it was observed. In the case of global warming, Svante Arrhenius predicted in 1896 that the “carbonic acid” (carbon dioxide) produced by burning fossil fuels was sufficient to raise the global temperature. In 1974, before any noticeable issues had arisen, the chemists Frank Rowland and Mario Molina predicted that the breakdown of chlorofluorocarbons – chemicals used for refrigeration and as aerosol propellants – in the stratosphere would destroy atmospheric ozone. Eleven years later, ozone depletion near the South Pole was detected by the British Antarctic Survey.

Had governments not acted, the UN estimates,

“atmospheric levels of ozone depleting substances could have increased tenfold by 2050.”

The action governments took was direct and uncomplicated: ozone-depleting chemicals would be banned. The Montreal Protocol came into force in 1989, and within seven years use of the most dangerous substances had been more or less eliminated. Every member of the United Nations has ratified the treaty.

This was despite a sustained campaign of lobbying and denial by the chemicals industry – led by Dupont – which bears strong similarities to the campaign by fossil fuel companies to prevent action on climate change.

The Montreal Protocol is one of those victories that allows us to forget. We are not wired to recognise an absence; we don’t spend our days celebrating the eradication of smallpox, or the fact that diphtheria no longer ravages our cities. But were the protocol not in force, scarcely a day would pass when the problem did not impinge on our consciousness. The UN maintains that the protocol

“will have prevented 2 million cases of skin cancer annually by 2030″.

There are still issues to resolve. Earlier this year, scientists detected four new ozone-depleting chemicals in the atmosphere, which are likely to be either industrial feedstocks or black market products. There will always be cheats and freeloaders, but the treaty can keep evolving to address new threats.

The Montreal Protocol has famously done more to prevent global warming (which was not its purpose) than the Kyoto Protocol, which was designed to prevent it. This is because some of the chemicals the ozone treaty bans are also powerful greenhouse gases.

So what’s the difference? Why is the Montreal Protocol effective while the Kyoto Protocol and subsequent efforts to prevent climate breakdown are not?

Part of the answer must be that the fossil fuel industry is much bigger than the halogenated hydrocarbon industry, and its lobbying power much greater. Retiring fossil fuel is technically just as feasible as replacing ozone-depleting chemicals, given the wide range of technologies for generating useful energy, but politically much tougher.

But I don’t think that’s the only factor. When the Montreal Protocol was negotiated, during the mid-1980s, the notion that governments could intervene in the market was under sustained assault, but not yet conquered. Even Margaret Thatcher, while speaking the language of market fundamentalism, was dirigiste by comparison to her successors: enough at any rate to be a staunch supporter of the Montreal Protocol. It is almost impossible to imagine David Cameron championing such a measure. For that matter, given the current state of Congress, it’s more or less impossible to see Barack Obama doing it either.

By the mid-1990s, the doctrine of market fundamentalism – also known as neoliberalism – had almost all governments by the throat. Any politicians who tried to protect the weak from the powerful or the natural world from industrial destruction were punished by the corporate media or the markets.

This extreme political doctrine – that governments must cease to govern – has made direct, uncomplicated action almost unthinkable. Just as the extent of humankind’s greatest crisis – climate breakdown – became clear, governments willing to address it were everywhere being disciplined or purged.

Since then, this doctrine has caused financial crises and economic collapse, the destruction of livelihoods, mountainous debt, insecurity and the devastation of the living planet. It has, as Thomas Piketty demonstrates, replaced enterprise with patrimonial capitalism: neoliberal economies rapidly become dominated by rent and inherited wealth, in which social mobility stalls. But despite these evident failures, despite the fact that the claims of market fundamentalism have been disproven as dramatically as those of state communism, somehow this zombie ideology staggers on. Were the ozone hole to have been discovered today, governments would have announced talks about talks about talks, and we would still be discussing whether something should be done as our skin turned to crackling.

Tackling any environmental crisis, especially climate breakdown, requires a resumption of political courage: the courage just to open the sodding gate.

http://www.monbiot.com

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About kingstonrenewableenergy

Kingston Renewable Energy (KRE), Hydropower products, wind energy, renewable energy products, We manufacture, supply and install. Richard Kingston KRE is the home of Fluxy, a beautiful Irish made wind turbine designed to last several life-times, and a host of other Hydro products branded under KRE hydro. KRE HYDRO- KRE are currently installing a range of Hydro products including high head low flow systems and low head high flow. These are pelton and Turgo types for high head, crossflow Banki turbines for medium to low head and Powerpal for Ultra low head. We also plan to introduce a custom timber/steel/aluminium waterwheel service for those of you who are lucky enough to have disused mills on their land and who would like to restore them to their former glory (and make a healthy profit in the process). All hydro installations are custom designed. This is necessary because everybody's land and water resource is different and to benefit from the highest efficiency and lowest payback time the hydro system must be customized according to what flow, penstock length required, and what head is available. Hydropower is currently by far the most cost effective renewable resource in Ireland under the existing Feed in tariff structure and export rate of 9c per unit (wholesale rate for bigger systems is €0.087/kWh). It is surprising how much energy is to be harvested from even a small stream and we are offering 4 to 7 year payback times on average and high profits thereafter. KRE FLUXY- It has been a long journey from when I originally set out to buy a wind turbine to power my own house in 2007 and discovered that the existing machines on offer in the market failed to meet my desires as a customer; that is, to possess an aesthetically designed machine with a low embodied carbon footprint and a long design lifespan. This led to my resolve to make this a possibility as I knew there were other like minded folks out there who had the same needs when buying into renewable energy. I have always been a keen environmental activist and had a strong understanding of engineering and material sciences which enabled me to see failings in the high tech electronically controlled machines commonly available today. These weaknesses come from over complicating the wind system with servo motors, sensors, gear trains, relays and logic circuits; fine for large utility scale turbines which are constantly monitored and have continual maintenance on site but not for a small wind turbine in the back yard to run the house. I could see that wind turbines needed to be brought back to a less complicated yet modern design that would withstand time and the turbulent and violent winds we see in Ireland and fulfilling the old engineers adage of ‘KISS’ or ‘keep it simple stupid’. With less component parts, there are less things to go wrong. My vision was to create a machine that offered the benefits of being an economic investment, a positive for the environment and also to be a design piece that our customers are proud to have flying in their grounds. And so, I present you with the fully mechanical Kingston Renewable Energy Fluxy wind turbine. Please feel free to contact us at any time if you have any questions or think you may have a good wind site. We will happily do a site assessment come rain or shine. Stay posted for the monthly blogs from our inspirational team here at KRE. Check out our latest installments in our crusade to get higher feed-in tariffs in Ireland so that we can compete with the rest of Europe in the micro-generation stakes. The Hydro section of our website will be updated shortly to show our newest installations and showcase our products. Yours sincerely, Richard Kingston

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