Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Climate Change Activism: A Post-Mortem

As I write these words, much of North America is sweltering under near-tropical heat and humidity. Parts of the Middle East have set all-time high temperatures for the Old World, coming within a few degrees of Death Valley’s global record. The melting of the Greenland ice cap has tripled in recent years, and reports from the arctic coast of Siberia describe vast swathes of tundra bubbling with methane as the permafrost underneath them melts in 80°F weather. Far to the south, seawater pours through the streets of Miami Beach whenever a high tide coincides with an onshore wind; the slowing of the Gulf Stream, as the ocean’s deep water circulation slows to a crawl, is causing seawater to pile up off the Atlantic coast of the US, amplifying the effect of sea level rise.

All these things are harbingers of a profoundly troubled future. All of them were predicted, some in extensive detail, in the print and online literature of climate change activism over the last few decades. Not that long ago, huge protest marches and well-funded advocacy organizations demanded changes that would prevent these things  from happening, and politicians mouthed slogans about stopping global warming in its tracks. Somehow, though, the marchers went off to do something else with their spare time, the advocacy organizations ended up preaching to a dwindling choir, and the politicians started using other slogans to distract the electorate.

The last gasp of climate change activism, the COP-21 conference in Paris late last year, resulted in a toothless agreement that binds no nation anywhere on earth to cut back on the torrents of greenhouse gases they’re currently pumping into the atmosphere. The only commitments any nation was willing to make amounted to slowing, at some undetermined point in the future, the rate at which the production of greenhouse gas pollutants is increasing. In the real world, meanwhile, enough greenhouse gases have already been dumped into the atmosphere to send the world’s climate reeling; sharp cuts in greenhouse gas output, leading to zero net increase in atmospheric CO2 and methane by 2050 or so, would still not have been enough to stop extensive flooding of coastal cities worldwide and drastic unpredictable changes in the rain belts that support agriculture and keep all seven billion of us alive. The outcome of COP-21 simply means that we’re speeding toward even more severe climatic disasters with the pedal pressed not quite all the way to the floor.

Thus it’s not inappropriate to ask what happened to all the apparent political momentum the climate change movement had ten or fifteen years ago, and why a movement so apparently well organized, well funded, and backed by so large a scientific consensus failed so completely.

In my experience, at least, if you raise this question among climate change activists, the answer you’ll get is that there was a well-funded campaign that deployed disinformation against them. So? Every movement for social change in human history has been confronted by well-funded vested interests that deployed disinformation against them. Consider the struggle for same-sex marriage, which triumped during the same years that saw climate change activism go down to defeat.  The disinformation deployed against same-sex marriage was epic in its scale as well as its raw dishonesty—do you recall the claims that ministers would be forced to perform gay weddings, and that letting same-sex couples marry would cause society to fall apart?  I do—and yet the movement for same-sex marriage brushed that aside and achieved its goal.

Blaming the failure of climate change activism entirely on the opposition, in other words, is a copout. It’s also a way to avoid learning the lessons of failure—and here as elsewhere, those who ignore their history are condemned to repeat it. Other movements for social change faced comparable opposition and overcame it, while climate change activism failed to do so; that’s the difference that needs to be discussed, and it leads inexorably to a consideration of the mistakes that were made by the movement.

The most important mistakes, to my mind, are these:

First, the climate change movement was largely led and directed by scientists, and as discussed here two weeks ago, people with a scientific education suck at politics. Over and over again, the leaders of the climate change movement waved around their credentials and told everyone else what to do, in the fond delusion that that’s an adequate way to bring about political change. Not so; too many people outside the scientific community have watched scientific opinion whirl around like a weathercock on too many issues; too many products labeled safe and effective by qualified scientists have been put on the market, and then turned out to be ineffective and unsafe; too many people simply don’t trust the guys in the white lab coats any more—and some of them have valid reasons for that lack of trust. Thus a movement that based its entire political strategy on the prestige of science was hamstrung from the start.

Second, the climate change movement made the same mistake that the Remain side made in the recent Brexit vote in the UK, and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign seems to be making on this side of the pond: it formulated its campaign in purely negative terms. David Cameron failed because he couldn’t talk about anything except how dreadful it would be if Britain left the EU, and Clinton’s campaign is failing because her supporters can’t talk about anything but the awfulness of Donald Trump. In exactly the same way, the climate change movement spent all its time harping about the global catastrophes that were going to happen if they didn’t get their way, and never really got around to talking about anything else—and so it failed, too.

I’m not sure why this sort of strategy has become such a broken record in contemporary political life, because it simply doesn’t work. People have heard it so many times, if all you can talk about is how awful this or that or the other thing is, they will roll their eyes and walk away. To win their interest, their enthusiasm, and their votes, you have to offer them something to look forward to. That doesn’t mean you have to promise rainbows and jellybeans; you can promise them blood, toil, tears, and sweat; you can warn them of a long struggle ahead and call them to shared sacrifice, and they’ll eat it up—but there has to be a light at the end of the tunnel, something that doesn’t just amount to the indefinite continuation of a miserably unsatisfactory status quo.

The climate change movement never noticed that, and so people quickly got tired of the big bass drum going “doom, doom, doom,” all the time, and wandered away. It didn’t have to be like that; the climate change movement could have front-and-centered the vision of a grand new era of green industry, with millions of new working-class jobs blossoming as America leapt ahead of the oh-so-twentieth-century fossil-fueled economies of other nations, but it apparently never occurred to anyone to do that. Instead, the climate change movement did a really fine impression of a crowd of officious busybodies trotting out round after round of doleful jeremiads about the awful future that would swallow us up if we didn’t do what they said, and that did about as much good as it usually does.

Third, the climate change movement inflicted a disastrous own goal on itself by insisting that nobody with scientific credentials ever claimed that an ice age was imminent, when anybody over fifty whose memory is intact knows that that’s simply not true. Any of my readers who are minded to debate this point should get and read the following books from the 1970s and 1980s:  The Weather Machine by Nigel Calder, After the Ice by E.C. Pielou, and Ice Ages by Windsor Chorlton and the editors of Time Life Books. These were very popular in their time, and they’re all available on the used book market for a few bucks each, as the links I’ve just given demonstrate. Nigel Calder was a respected science writer; E.C. Pielou is still the doyenne of Canadian field ecologists, and the third book was part of Time Life Book’s Planet Earth series, each volume of which was supervised by scientific experts in the relevant fields. All three books discuss the coming of a new ice age as the most likely future state of Earth’s climate.

While you’re at it, you might also pick up a couple of really good science fiction novels, The Winter of the World by Poul Anderson and The Time of the Great Freeze by Robert Silverberg. Anderson and Silverberg were major SF authors in the 1960s and 1970s, at a time when success in the genre depended on close attention to scientific fact, and both authors drew on what were then considered credible forecasts of an approaching ice age to ground their stories about the future. If you’re going to insist, along the lines of George Orwell’s 1984, that Oceania has never been allied with Eurasia, you’d better make sure that nobody’s in a position to check. If they can, and they discover that you’re lying, your chance to convince them to trust you about anything else has just gone out the window once and for all. That’s how a great many people responded to the climate change movement’s attempt to rewrite history and erase the ice age scare of the 1970s and 1980s.

Every time I’ve brought up this issue among climate change activists, they’ve responded by insisting that I must be a climate change denialist. That’s the fourth factor that’s contributed mightily to the crumpling of the climate change movement: the rise within that movement of a culture of intolerance in which dissent is demonized and asking questions about tactics and strategy is equated with disloyalty. I’m thinking here especially, though not only, of an embarrassing screed by climate change activist Naomi Oreskes, which insisted with a straight face that asking questions about whether renewables can replace fossil fuels is “a new form of climate denialism”. As it happens, there are serious practical questions about whether anything—renewable or otherwise—can replace fossil fuels and still allow the inmates of today’s industrial societies to maintain their current lifestyles, but Oreskes doesn’t want to hear it: for her, loyalty to the cause demands blindness to the facts. As a way to alienate potential allies and drive away existing supporters, that attitude’s hard to beat.

Stunning political naïveté, a purely negative campaign, a disastrous own goal through a constantly repeated and easily detected falsehood, and an internal culture of intolerance and demonization: those four factors would have been a heavy burden for any movement for social change, and any two of them would most likely have caused the failure of climate change activism all by themselves. There was, however, another factor at work, and to my mind it was the most important of all.

To understand that fifth factor, it’s useful to return to a distinction I made here two weeks ago between facts, values, and interests. Facts are simply statements of what happened, what’s happening, and what will happen given X set of conditions—the things, in other words, that science is supposed to be about. Whether or not anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are causing the global climate to spin out of control, whether or not books published in the 1970s and 1980s by reputable scientists and science writers predicted a coming ice age, whether or not the project of replacing fossil fuels with renewable resources faces serious difficulties—these are questions of fact.

Facts by themselves simply state a case. Values determine what we should do about them. Consider the factual statement “unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for an ongoing increase in weather-related disasters.” If the rate of weather-related disasters doesn’t concern you, that fact doesn’t require any action from you; it’s when you factor in “weather-related disasters ought to be minimized where possible,” which is a value judgment, that you can go on to “therefore we should cut greenhouse gas emissions.” Not all value judgments are as uncontroversial as the one just named, but we can let that pass for now, because it’s the third element that’s at issue in the present case.

Beyond facts and values are interests: who benefits and who loses from any given public policy. If, let’s say, we decide that greenhouse gas emissions should be cut, the next step takes us squarely into the realm of interests.  Whose pocketbook gets raided to pay for the cuts? Whose lifestyle choices are inconvenienced by them? Whose jobs are eliminated because of them? The climate change movement has by and large treated these as irrelevant details, but they’re nothing of the kind. Politics is always about interests. If you want your facts to be accepted and your values taken seriously, you need to be able to respond to people’s interests—to offer an arrangement whereby everybody gets something they need out of the deal, and no one side has to carry all the costs.

That, in turn, is exactly what the climate change movement has never gotten around to doing.

I’d like to suggest a thought experiment here, to show just how the costs and benefits offered by the climate change movement stacked up. Let’s imagine, for a moment, that there’s an industry in today’s industrial nations that churns out colossal amounts of greenhouse gases every single day. It doesn’t produce anything necessary for human life or well-being; it’s simply a convenience, and one that, not that many decades ago, most people in the industrial world did without and never thought they’d need. If it were to be shut down, sure, a certain number of people would lose their jobs, but most of the steps that have been urged by climate change activists would have that effect; other than that, and a certain amount of inconvenience for its current users, the only result would be a sharp decrease in the amount of carbon dioxide and certain other greenhouse gases being dumped into the atmosphere. That being the case, shouldn’t climate change activists get to work right now to shut down that industry, and shouldn’t they start off by boycotting it themselves?

The industry in question actually exists. It’s the commercial air travel industry.

You may have noticed, dear reader, that nobody in the climate change movement has been out there protesting commercial air travel, and precious few of them are even willing to cut back on their flying time, even though commercial air travel a massive contributor to the problems the movement claims to be fighting. I know of two scientists researching climate change who have pointed out that there’s something just a little bit hypocritical about flying all over the world on jetliners to attend conferences discussing how we all have to decrease our carbon footprint! Their colleagues, needless to say, haven’t listened. Neither has the rest of the climate change movement; like Al Gore, who might as well be their poster child, they keep on racking up their frequent flyer miles.

On the other hand, climate change activists are eager to shut down coal mining. What’s the most significant difference between coal mining and commercial air travel? Coal mining provides wages for the working poor; commercial air travel provides amenities for the affluent.

The difference isn’t accidental, either. Across the board, the climate change movement has pushed for changes that will penalize people in what I’ve called the wage class, the majority of Americans who depend on an hourly wage for their income. The movement has gone out of its way to avoid pushing for changes that will penalize people in what I’ve called the salary class, the affluent minority of Americans who bring home a monthly salary. That isn’t a minor point. There’s the hard fact that, on average, the more money you make, the bigger your carbon footprint is—but there’s also a political issue, and it goes to the heart of the failure of the climate change movement.

I’ve had any number of well-meaning climate change activists ask me, in tones of baffled despair, why they can’t get ordinary Americans to take climate change seriously. My answer is not one they want to hear, because I tell them that it’s because well-meaning climate change activists don’t take climate change seriously. If you don’t care enough about the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere to accept some inconveniences to your own lifestyle, how much do you actually care about it? That’s the kind of logic that ordinary Americans use all the time to judge whether someone is serious about a cause or simply grandstanding, and by and large, climate change activism fails that sniff test.

Ordinary Americans, furthermore, are all too used to seeing grandiose rhetoric deployed by the affluent to load yet another round of burdens onto ordinary Americans. It’s not the affluent, after all, who have been inconvenienced by the last thirty years of environmental regulations, trade treaties, or what have you. To wage class Americans, anthropogenic climate change is just more of the same, another excuse to take jobs away from the working poor while sedulously avoiding anything that would inconvenience the middle and upper middle classes. The only way climate change activists could have evaded that response from wage class Americans would have been to demonstrate that they were willing to carry some of the costs themselves—and that was exactly what they weren’t willing to do.

The bitter irony in all this, of course, is that the climate change movement was right about two very important things all along: treating the atmosphere as a gaseous sewer in which to dump wastes from our smokestacks and tailpipes was a really dumb idea, and the blowback from that idiocy is going to cost us—all of us—in blood. Right now all three of the earth’s major ice caps—the Greenland, West Antarctic, and East Antarctic ice sheets—have tipped over into instability; climate belts are lurching drunkenly north and south, putting agriculture at risk in far more places than a crowded, hungry planet can afford; drought-kindled wildfires in the American and Canadian west and in Siberia are burning out of control...and unless something significant changes, it’s just going to keep on getting worse, year after year, decade after decade, until every coastal city on the planet is under water, the western half of North America is as dry as the Sahara, glaciers and snowfall are distant memories, and famine, war, and disease have left the human population of the planet a good deal smaller than it is today.

That didn’t have to happen. It might still be possible to avoid the worst of it, if enough people who are concerned about climate change stop pretending that their own lifestyles aren’t part of the problem, stop saying “personal change isn’t enough” and pretending that this means personal change isn’t necessary, stop trying to push all the costs of change onto people who’ve taken it in the teeth for decades already, and show the only kind of leadership that actually counts—yes, that’s leadership by example. It would probably help, too, if they stopped leaning so hard on the broken prestige of science, found a positive vision of the future to talk about now and then, backed away from trying to rewrite the recent past, and dropped the habit of demonizing honest disagreement. Still, to my mind, the crucial thing is that the affluent liberals who dominate the climate change movement are going to have to demonstrate that they’re willing to take one for the team.

Will they? I’d love to be proved wrong, but I doubt it—and in that case we’re in for a very rough road in the centuries ahead.

On a less dismal note, I’m pleased to report that the print edition of The Archdruid Report is up and running, and copies of the first monthly issue will be heading out soon. There’s still time to subscribe, if you like getting these posts in a less high-tech and more durable form; please visit the Stone Circle Press website.


1 – 200 of 372   Newer›   Newest»
doomerdoc said...

Let me pour some ice onto everybody reading this blog who would consider themselves fairly comfortable, income and money wise. Nothing wrong with that, but let me just pour the ice.

The vast majority of people on this planet, including the developed world, have one thing on their they are going to pay for food and housing. That, and that alone, is the only thing that even keeps them showing up for work, let alone getting involved in anything political or activism of any sort.

You think they are going to get involved in anything as esoteric as climate change?

So you have to convince people that without climate action, they don't have food, jobs, or housing. But that's not exactly correct, is it, because the system, the vast burning of fossil fuels, is the only thing providing them with food, jobs, and housing! Quite the catch-22.

Bill Pulliam said...

Decades ago I came to essentially the same conclusion you reach, via not exactly the same chain of thought. Sadly I feel we have reached the point where all I can personally do is monitor and adjust. I still try to reduce my carbon footprint (which is already negative considering how much carbon I am allowing the vegetation on our 40 acres to do its own thing rather than "managing" it). Just because murder is inevitable doesn't mean I should not worry about commiting it. But I think our large-scale fate is about as close to sealed as it could be. And I am willing to continue enjoying some of the fruits of this horrendously unsustainable and destructive civilization for the time in which these fruits continue to be available.

4threvolutionarywar said...

Great Essay! (As usual)

A couple of points:

-There are really serious questions about whether it will EVER be possible to construct a radical political coalition around "Environmental" issues. Humans are not wired to self-organize around carbon particles per million. So many apparently smart and well meaning people have devoted so much time and energy to this project, that I tend to suspect it failed because it is a political dead end that leads nowhere.

-I have been a radical environmentalist since the Reagan era, and in that time I have been exposed to more doomsday theories than I can count. The American environmental movement has produced is a vast literature of impending doomsday going back to the sixties and before. Most of it is extremely embarrassing at this point, but everyone who was skeptical about it at the time was treated to exactly the same moral and intellectual arrogance that is now on display in the "Climate Change" movement.

-Every previous prediction of immanent doom turned out to be wrong, and now you have a terminal credibility problem even with people (like myself) who are already convinced that consumerist civilization is fundamentally incompatible with the survival of the natural world.

-The primary strategy for dealing with this credibility problem has been to demonize anyone who doesn't agree with you as a holocaust denier or a retarded cretin. That strategy only works within your own bobo in-group. When you tell someone outside of your in-group that they are a retard or a moral abomination, you are insulting them and making them into a bitter enemy. (Why is this so hard for Liberals to understand?)

-So please understand, that when you accuse someone of being a "Denialist" (or a cretin or a paid shill of big oil) because they have some skepticism about your latest doomsday theory, you are showing them the door. You can't build real political coalitions by driving people out.


Leo Knight said...

Check out "Trespassing Across America," by Ken Ilgunas. He hikes most of the length of the Keystone XL pipeline, and encounters some of the issues you raise here. I reviewed it at Goodreads (sorry, couldn't get my phone to make a link). The poverty, the desire for well paying jobs, the devil's deal endangering water sources (especially the Ogallala Aquifer), the hatred of environmentalists and liberals. He mentions that the Great Plains used to be called the Great American Desert, and in prehistoric times suffered droughts lasting centuries. Everything old is new again!

Caryn said...

Thank You, JMG. Nailed it! As usual.

Wild-fires here in Dubois WY. We are 10 miles from the flames, not yet, but presumably soon to be put on "Set", (then "Ready", then "Go" for evacuation). 950 people already evacuated, unknown number of livestock evacuated, Red Cross shelters set up at the local high school, 11,000 acres lost so far. 750 firefighters, helicopters, 747 jets dropping fire retardant mass coordination on the State level and as of yet, no containment. The air is thick with wood smoke, stinging my eyes and making it a bit hard to breathe.

It's being called a natural progression or cycle, the rejuvenation of the forests: Dried out timber burning to clear out for new growth - just not on human-pleasing timescales. In fact, We've seen this coming for decades: Winters for the past few decades have not gotten cold enough for long enough to kill the pine beetles, resulting in more and growing swaths of dead trees, not to mention lack of pine nuts, (the grizzly bears' favourite food), so not enough for them to eat, and therefore more grizzlies coming down into towns, ranches and campsites to forage and more grizzly (pun intended) deaths, (to tourists and bears alike.)

Perhaps this is #6: Fires like this ARE in fact a natural occurance. The forests DO rejuvenate this way, but Climate Change in the form of slightly warmer winters has made the dried dead zone of trees far bigger than it would normally be. One argument from the anti-climate change camp I've heard & read over and over again is that the weather disruptions we are experiencing are just unfortunate examples of nature's cycles. Sunspots, forest rejuvenation, etc. nothing we did and nothing we can do about it. In such exchanges, Climate Change Activists have usually denied these claims at all. From both sides there seems to be a need for it to be one or the other - proving me right / you wrong, or vice versa. It is sometimes both.

Venkataraman Amarnath said...

There is at least one scientist who practices what he preaches. Check Peter Kalmus's Life with 1/10th the Fossil Fuel - Turns Out to Be Awesome at

John Conner said...

Slow down and take the Train. Have not been on a plane in 15 years. Miss the places, Beijing, Budapest, Brazil, Taiwan but not the trip too and from. Most of it was to work on railroads of all things.

There were some good plans for medium high speed rail back in 2008-2010. But the affluent conservatives (who couldn't conserve anything if they had to) did a good job shutting them down - by complaining they wouldn't be fast enough. Some of the plans for the Ohio area as I remember were absolute competition for the airlines. Travel between Cincinnati and Cleavland would be cheaper and only marginally slower than a commuter flight. And most of the base infrastructure was already available. Just needed upgrades and repair, along with rolling stock.

Oh well, not much hope until a really major event happens. And it will have to be too big to ignor. I'm not sure a Blue Water event (Ice free Arctic) or loss of one of the Antarctic Ice shelves would be enough.

Cacaogecko said...

Do you see any of these fancy environmentalists digging in the dirt, chopping weeds, planting beans, raising and slaughtering and plucking their chicken dinner, etc? They know next to nothing about working on the land, having never done it.

M Smith said...

John Michael, this is one of your best. A poetic post-mortem that breaks it down into digestible pieces and puts them all together. Beautifully summarized.

Timely, too. I won't hijack the forum with a Microsoft rant but shall we just say that after my driving 4 hours round trip yesterday through a dangerous city in dangerously hot temperatures to avail myself of an advertised, free, and for several reasons mandatory service, I realized that a personal web device is no longer worth the trouble. And when I decide a thing ain't fun no more, it stops.

I don't intend to get offline completely, but will use public computers every couple of days. No smart phone, no laptop, no tablet, nothing. I figure even one less "device" in the world is a good thing, just like one car off the road. But my practical and selfish reason is it's just too hard and taking too much of my time on Earth to keep up with MS's ever-changing software, each version as bad as the last, making it their customers' problem to keep "upgraded", hiring beautiful young people with big friendly smiles and the inability to check the properties of a hard disk to staff their help desks at the mall. They have machines now that recognize a fingerprint as authorization instead of a password, but that same machine will allow a virus that was known of 4 years ago to take over the operating system from online. This is Progress. Or is it a Wealth Pump?

It's more than frustration and expense, though. I don't know if I can put it into words, but it's become a matter of personal pride in the way in which I conduct my life. I want to stop rewarding people who churn out cheap, flawed, dangerous garbage which, even more than air travel, uses scarce resources for a luxury.

I've said that before, but this time I feel as if I have some big decisions to make about the direction I go for the next part of my life. I'm scared. It is an addiction. When I thought I'd lose my connection, my sleep patterns got disrupted and it was as if a huge gray boulder were in the room when I woke up, because I had to do battle with MS again today. Then I decided to change my perspective and pretend I'd already been offline for 6 months. What would I be doing right now? I'd be wandering around in my pasture looking for wild animals or anything else interesting, that's what. So, I went and did that - and found myself smiling for the first time that day.

Troy Jones said...

This post deserves a standing ovation. I have long felt a person will have much better luck changing the world with their example than with their opinion.

The pushback I seem to hear the most is that "there isn't time" to change people's thinking through positive examples that lead to voluntary, widespread adoption of more green-ish lifestyles. Instead, we are told, action must come primarily through legislation and regulation. The fact that the costs of said legislation and regulation burden developing countries (and the poor of this country) while not so much as even inconveniencing the affluent of this country is not something a polite person is supposed to notice. "Those people will just have to make do with less so I can maintain my opulent lifestyle." Yeah, I'm sure that attitude will change lots of hearts and minds.

If I say I believe my house is burning down and I will die if I don't leave the house right now, but then I sit down on the sofa and turn on the TV, apparently settling in for a night of brain-rotting boobtube, do I really believe my house is burning down? Lots of people wonder why "the right" simply does not believe the "consensus of experts" in regards to anthropogenic climate change. This is not too hard to figure out. They don't believe it because so many on "the left" plainly don't believe it either. Certainly Al Gore doesn't. Why should anyone take anything he says seriously?

Of course I know the messenger's character has nothing to do with the validity of the message, etc. At the same time, it is a natural human reaction to look at someone whose hypocrisy is in full view and say, "well, clearly he doesn't believe a word of that sermon he's preaching, so why should I?"

David, by the lake said...

A sobering essay, John. Thank you.

Bozack said...

I am sure that JMG is correct and that climate changer activists needed to lead from the front in terms of changing their own life-styles in order to not seem hypocritical. I wonder if a spiritual element could have transformed the sacrifice into something more palatable? Successful activism in the recent past, i.e. anti-draft Vietnam protest, civil rights and same-sex marriage, was driven by the possibility of improvement in life-quality for the activists involved, while climate change activists (if honest) needed to argue for something less palatable: suffer discomfort and inconvenience now, or we and future generations will suffer a lot more in the future: a hard sell both to oneself and to the rest of the world.

Not sure how many movements have succeeded on those terms: maybe Communism sort of fits the bill - the architects were middle class people who seemed willing to embrace suffering and loss of position in order to speed up an inevitable transition to a new society and minimise war and chaos... Are there lessons from that type of movement? I have certainly read people who described Communism in terms of Christianities Holy Trinity - maybe there was a compelling way to latch climate change activism onto such pre-existing paradigms?

Marcu said...

Dear Mr. Greer,

I find your timing unnervingly prescient. Yesterday I had the opportunity to see an early screening of the film The Age of Consequences here in Melbourne. I think it was a good film. Probably one of the best in the genre. They cleverly chose to go with the US military angle and focused on increase of global instability with the hope of appealing to a more right of centre audience.
The majority of the film consists of striking visuals from around the world with snippets of interviews from mostly retired military leaders. While the film was mostly negative it did end with the obligatory fly-over shot of a field of wind turbines and solar panels.
Afterwards the lights went on, people took out their smartphones, checked for any important messages they might have missed and life went on. I found the silence with regard to taking personal action deafening. During the panel discussion one of the panelists implored that we needed to do three things as soon as possible. Firstly we need to stop all greenhouse emissions tomorrow. Secondly, we need to remove excess C02 from the atmosphere (how this was to be achieved was not mentioned but it was stated that natural methods would take too long). Thirdly we need to look at controlling solar reflection which I assume is a code word for geo-engineering.
I was wondering how many of the people around me would have been willing to make sacrifices to their own lives in order to try and mitigate the unfolding effects of climate change that was being portrayed on screen.
One of the questions from an audience member at the end was how soon he could get a link for the film to send to his Facebook friends, which constitutes the full breadth of activism from most people.
I have to agree with you that I would love to be proven wrong but I won’t be holding my breath.


The next meeting of the Green Wizard's Association of Melbourne will be held this Saturday. All interested parties are invited to attend. For those people who are unsure about the nature of our meetings, imagine a long descent support group with some intentional living discussion mixed in.

If you are interested to join us, meet us on Saturday the 30th of July 2016 at 13:00. The venue is, Vapiano, 347 Flinders Lane, Melbourne Victoria, Australia.

Send queries and comments to limitstogrowth1972[at]

Just look for the green wizard's hat.

P.S. I have created a webpage where I will post the details of the next meeting and any further details for those who don't frequent the comments here. The webpage can be found at

Cherokee Organics said...


Yeah, I've always been surprised at how the political campaigns have focused on the alternative message (i.e. negative outcomes) as a motivating agency. You know, when I was young marketing people used to say, don't talk about the oppositions products because that is what the public will hear. That fixation on negative outcomes leads people to consider that the promoted negative outcomes are inevitable. I mean look at Brexit. Oh, it will be so awful leaving the Euro. What do people hear: Leave the Euro.

I thought that they were smarter than that. It is very basic marketing.

What do you mean that Oceania has never been allied with Eurasia? Look, I don't want you to be thought of as an alliance denier, but Big Brother said... :-)! Hehe!!!

The last person I spoke with at Greenpeace, when I pointed out that none of this stuff all around us was sustainable in the long term said to me: I feel sorry for you dude. Well, I was pretty offended to say the least.

Naomi Oreskes is just wrong. Renewables will supplement the decline in the availability of fossil fuels, but they will never replace them in a like for like comparison as they are different. I've done the experiment and the results are not encouraging. They're good, but not a replacement. Of course, renewables is what our species will end up using in the long term, but it won't look like renewables today. It will be more like renewable energy in the 18th century (wind mills, water mills, wood, charcoal, sunlight collected by plants). Of course, electricity is out of the bag now and simple items and simple generators are exactly that, simple. They'll be around, no doubts about it and it was very nice of our ancestors to dig up and refine all those rare Earth materials. Just sayin...

It is a very difficult proposition to maintain credibility on the issue of global warming and travel. It is not impossible, but very difficult. People as a general rule aren't stupid and they have a very good radar for detecting hypocrisy. And that whole issue as you rightly pointed out offends peoples sensibilities and sense of entitlement. Travel is also part of the pay back for co-operating with the system as it stands.


jim said...

Although I agree with all your points, I think the big reason we haven't solved the problem of climate change is that there is no energy source that has the same or better qualities than fossil fuels. The dense concentrated energy in fossil fuels is really hard to beat. And we have a huge sunk investment in fossil fuel infrastructure and technology.

As an aside, i am keeping tabs on high altitude wind power.
If this technology pans out, it should have a very high EROEI more than 100.
But of course there is a limit on how much wind power you can extract before you start having climate impacts.

Cherokee Organics said...

Perspective is a funny thing. I didn't find your essay today dismal at all. In fact, I see the many issues that you have discussed as more of an inevitability rather than a choice thing for humanity. That may get some people pretty angry, but from my perspective, once we started burning coal all those years ago, we were done for. It is like a giant test really. We've got this super duper energy source and can we set hard limits on its use and our relationship to it? Probably not. Life is like that as you are well aware. Because I grew up largely unsupervised, nobody got around to telling me that I was meant to expect limitlessness!!! It is kind of funny but true.

And the pay back for people throwing their support behind the burn, baby, burn, fossil fuel inferno is quite good (excuse my little 70's disco pun!). Marketers would describe that pay back as the: unique selling proposition. I once heard a young lady candidly saying that what she was looking for in a guy were three things: House; Job; and car. And therein is the pay back and of course that leads to the unstated promise of enjoying a family in security. That is why people get so fearful when they feel that their security is threatened...

On the other hand, nobody told me that those things were desirable, and I must say that I found working at the top end of town in a corporate gig for many long years to be mind bendingly dull. Life doesn't have to be that way, and I am having more fun now than I ever had before. Is it tough and challenging and impose serious limitations on my choices? And is it risky? Yeah, you bet, but I've seen worse, far worse and I can tell you what dismal actually is and wondering when your head is going to be next on the corporate chopping block is far worse and probably far more inevitable. And when I was very young bloke in my first full time job, they chopped my job at the height of the recession, so there is no love for them from me.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi doomerdoc,

Hmmm. Most people outside of the developed world aren't stupid enough to rely on purchased food for day to day survival. I suggest you consider your own reliance on that system.

I recall a story which may or may not be correct, in that the English historically imposed a household tax in parts of Africa which forced people to become involved in the monetary economy not because the people wanted to purchase food, it was because they had to pay the taxes. Just sayin... Tell me if you believe this still happens today?



Shane W said...

It's always weird when I comment on something on the previous post, and it ends up being the theme the next week. Sometimes, I wonder if I triggered something, then my ego deflates and I think, "I'm sure he must've already had that planned."

YCS said...

When anyone in the middle-class suggests cutting down on some comforts, their suggestions are met with horror. I like to shock people by telling them that I loathe driving, not only the action, which is boring, tiring and repetitive, but also the idea of personal transport, which I strongly believe is ecologically immoral. Almost every instance I've been shouted down as a Luddite.

Another great example: in the consultancy I worked at over the winter break, half our team (high earning executives) flew to Canberra from Melbourne or Sydney for four days a week. All of them are so called 'intellectual' and 'educated' types, yet I heard them boast that 'flying is like taking a train earlier'. Of course, I could've asked them why they didn't just take the train (in the case of Sydney, the airport transit makes the travel time almost the same) or even better, temporarily relocate? If they cared about spending time with their children, how about they worry about their children's future too?

Of course, there's no direct train between the capital city of Australia (Canberra) and the second largest city (Melbourne). Such us the abject state of infrastructure here, which makes Sydney to Melbourne the second busiest air route in the world.

If all of us middle-class types want the government to do something about climate change, we should advocate for crippling taxes on driving (at least in cities) and flying, with the money to be put towards public transport, like Singapore does. Of course nobody does that, because the middle-class psyche in the western world is hollow and hypocritical.


JimK said...

Here is a paper I presented earlier this year at a conference on religion and climate change: I expressed pessimism about the prospects for the survival of industrial civilizations and the civilized comforts many of us enjoy due to it. This pessimism was very poorly received. The notion was that even if pessimism is justified, it is an unacceptable message. I did try to provide an optimistic message as the conclusion of the paper but it didn't seem to be the sort of optimism that folks were willing to hear. By the way I took Amtrak to get to the conference and brought my folding bike along to get around town during the conference. Inch by inch!

W. B. Jorgenson said...

If I may offer a case study: I'm considering saying I will not use airlines to travel again, but I'm deterred by the social costs. It appears people are quite hostile to anyone who chooses to do without any form of technology identified as "advanced". In addition, the alternatives are fairly underdeveloped, sometimes even having been actively dismantled. It is much more difficult to travel without airplanes, not just because the travel itself is harder, but in many cases the alternative has been discontinued.

I already refuse to drive and the effect it has on people seems quite extreme. While it does restrict my lifestyle, it also saves me money, is good for the environment and my health, and is my choice. I've looked at the trade offs and decided not driving makes the most sense. However, it takes a lot of effort and time to try to explain this to people.

And as I have an upper class background, my family uses planes fairly often to visit places, especially since we have family on the other side of my very large country. My family is already concerned I don't like technology, which for some reason is a bad thing, and I don't want another fight like the one that occurred when I tried to explain why I don't like having a cellphone.

I'm also finding I will need to make new friends, as some of my current ones are actively hostile to anyone trying to live without those pieces of technology they have.

Thus, while it's less than a good thing, the refusal of environmentalists to abandon air travel makes sense to me. How they can then expect poor people to be happy to pay costs greater than what they refuse to pay is what baffles me though.

Jon Garrett said...

I read your stuff each week, even the fiction. You're a learned man and a great writer. It is always a pleasure to visit this blog.

Sinnycool said...

In a light-bulb moment years ago I came to the conclusion that our wildly different, often mistaken and commonly irrational conflicting convictions and beliefs were the key to the human species amazing survival.

Consider this unlikely event:

1. A wise and benign alien race sends a rescue spaceship to the Earth in order to pickup select human survivors ahead of a catastrophe they know is about to destroy our planet.

2. A small group of humans, aware of the catastrophe and the coming rescue ship diligently prepares for years for it's arrival.

3. As the ship nears the earth, hidden by the Hale-Bop comet, the group self-administers fatal doses of phenobarbital: death being the only means of transporting their spirits to the waiting vessel.

Yes - the Heaven's Gate religious group was prepared for and did exactly that.

Had they been correct, they would have lived and we would have died.


So, how is such a divergent, quarrelsome and irrational species going to unite in the face of a threat like climate change that demands exactly the opposite characteristics, unity of belief and rational self-less action?

We aren't.

David, by the lake said...

@Yellow Submarine (from last week)

In addition to the others' suggestions, I'd offer William Freehling's two-volume _Road to Disunion_ series. Volume I (Secessionists at Bay) reviews the underlying issues from 1776-1854, while Volume II (Secessionists Triumphant) covers the immediate period leading up to the war (1854-1861).

Tidlösa said...

The part about "interests" is very, very true! An additional factor, I suppose, might be that climate scares are associated with the Democratic Party and its presidential campaigns. Think Al Gore. Even the Hollywood blockbuster "Day After Tomorrow" seems to have been part of Democratic election campaigning. If climate change is seen as a "liberal" issue in a polarized political climate, those who see themselves as "conservatives" will gravitate towards the denialist side. I suppose this is a subset of the "interests" thing.

I suspect that you´re not watching the DNC, but several of the speakers mentioned climate change and green jobs as a "tremendous opportunity", "the biggest job creator in America", etc. However, they also push the line that "Trump doesn´t trust science". And I suppose Californian governor Jerry Brown took a commercial jet to Philly...

Too shaky to challenge Trump´s explicit statements that workers in coal and steel will get their jobs back if he´s elected and scraps the whole climate business thing (along with NAFTA and TPP).

Part of me hopes that the whole climate change businesses really is a huge mistake from the scientists, I mean, it´s not like we don´t have other problems on our hands!

Jim said...

I have a goodly number of middle class friends that fit your description quite well. As one of them put it "When even the high priests are hypocrites there's not much hope". Yet he goes to work every day certifying buildings to meet California's strict environmental criteria and driving his electric car.

Personally I don't think there is anything that can be done. Virtually everyone who has grown up in industrial socoety is hooked on the benefits and simply can't imagine another kind of life. It doesn't take much investment by denialists to ride that wave.

My opinion is that nothing will be done until some great catastrophe happens; New York underwater, starvation in China, Christmas delayed...and the catastrophe will have to happen in the industrial world because we have proven over and over again that we don't really care what happens in small countries populated by dark skinned peoples.

Sionna said...

Climate change activists also could have protested for increased use of public transit, ideas for re-working transportation, as well as alternatives such as you mention in Green Wizardry (which I have followed up on and have found very helpful in reducing carbon footprint and energy budgets--practical actions anyone can take without incurring the wrath of extraction industry workers.)

One idea I would like to suggest is for you to consider an option for access to your books such as that used by Cory Doctorow--maybe some free ebook versions to increase public awareness of these issues. I can't find all of your works in the Canadian library system, and online versions would sure come in handy.

I think the sharing ethos of some of the internet tech folks is a hopeful approach--we don't all need to own our own hardware store or personal libraries; sharing will cut down on extraction and production of goods. Perhaps our public libraries will start to stock more of your books, as well as some of the appropriate technology books I am trying to find, but for now... not so much.

So thanks for your discussion of the obvious. Cheers!

Tidlösa said...

Doomerdoc wrote: "So you have to convince people that without climate action, they don't have food, jobs, or housing. But that's not exactly correct, is it, because the system, the vast burning of fossil fuels, is the only thing providing them with food, jobs, and housing! Quite the catch-22."

Exactly. There is no class (social group, call it what you like) in modern society with a vested interest to abolish modern society (except perhaps nomads and subsistence farmers?).

Strikes me as a problem...

zerowastemillennial said...

Not that I don't agree with you, JMG, but being born, raised, and currently living in a sweltering Southern California that is continuously on fire these days, there's something else going on too. A little bit of people not putting two and two together or not having the desire to.

I get out quite often, see a lot of family, a few friends, and find myself in public a lot and listen here and there to what people are talking about (usually nothing good), but one of the things I have noticed around here, from the blue collar all the way through and past the white, is how people talk about the weather. A lot of my sample of average Angelinos will talk about the water restrictions (they are a fact of life now) but no one ever so much as makes a passing mention of the ongoing drought. 90+ degree heatwaves consistently continue to daze and confuse, even though a dozen weeks a year are now heatwaves. Rolling blackouts and brownouts are also a fact of life in the summer, but no one makes the connection between them and air conditioning use. Beyond the stylishness of the occasional xeriscape, people still cling to their lawns and thirsty rose gardens, and wonder aloud at why it's all so hard to keep alive.

Most people I know live as though these events and phenomena are outliers, forgetting about all the other outliers that have happened, and compartmentalizing them away from all the other outliers that are going on around them concurrently.

There is a HUGE disconnect. Nobody has anything to say when it's suggested that this is what global warming looks like in action, as though it never occurred to them that anything would happen here, or -anywhere-, really, in any concrete sense. In a way, I think there hasn't been enough doom and gloom; or at least, the right kind. So far scientists and the activists parroting their talking points have been really good at talking about big picture repercussions, because those are generally safer. Bring it close to home, though, and suddenly we have a threat on our hands.

So OK, the stick doesn't work, because being the bearer of bad news makes you the bad news. What about the carrot? Idk how it worked in the past with a whole lot of detail, but the carrot doesn't seem to work too much either these days - people are too suspicious. As much as I wouldn't have voted for Bernie either, by all accounts the man had a plan, and that plan would have helped middle and working class Americans quite a bit. But as a working class American I know put it, "you're gonna help people in need by stealing from me?"

As for leading by example, I've been doing it for a few years now and I'm often treated as either the butt of jokes, a novelty, a nuisance, or (my favorite), I'm treated as some kind of Lorax that people can unload their guilt or indignation onto. Maybe it's because I'm in a city/suburb environment, I don't know.

All I know is that you're leaving out what is, to my eyes, a huge swath of America that have not yet put two and two together.

latheChuck said...

In the schedule of Bible readings used by many Christians for Sunday worship (Revised Common Lectionary, year C, proper 13), this week we have a tale of a man who has such a rich harvest that he proposes to pull down his too-small storage barns, stash the harvest in new barns, and kick back for a long cheerful rest. But God tells him, "tonight you will die, and what good will your wealth be?"

As I thought about this reading (Luke 12:13-21), I heard it as "a nation built up a sprawling civilization of suburbs, airports, and long-distance refrigerated food transport. A leader stood up before the people and said 'this is the greatest nation on Earth!' But then a voice said 'soon, you will exhaust your supply of cheap oil, and then what good will this wealth be?'"

Repent said...

This was a very interesting summary. I'm in full agreement with you as well, the climate change movement is done. Fear mongering is a dead end street with no future.

I spend most of my spare time now trying to change myself, to evolve as a person, and yes to eventually lead by example. Many, many other people are doing this same thing as well and this is a cultural change in process.

People are tired of being lied to, seeing nature being run down. People are tired of corruption, and of false hope, and of business as usual. Culture is changing, and anyone can compare how life was different in the 70's than it is now, and how that in turn differed from lifestyle's in the 40's. Still the pace of cultural change is so slow that it is often not seen or noticed in day to day life.

It's a call to everyone to wake up and evolve as a species. As common working class wage earners are leading the way:

Cortes said...

someone who put his beliefs into practice may be of interest to you JMG and serve as example to readers?:

JacGolf said...

Thanks JMG, Perhaps the Climate Change movement could put forth a vision like oh, let's say, the Lakeland Republic? I know for one I would choose to live there. Probably tier 3 or 4 to start...In a funny way, it sounds like Galt's Gulch for the masses.

Jay Moses said...

painfully true. when al gore became the most prominent public voice in the environmental movement you just knew that effective action on climate change was impossible. i would watch him fly into some forum, often on a private jet, from his mammoth private estate, to lecture others on reducing greenhouse gases. even i, a strong supporter of climate action, wanted to punch his fat, simpering face.

when you look at who supports environmental organizations such as the sierra club, green peace, the world wildlife federation etc. financially it becomes pretty clear why they carefully avoid any talk of lifestyle cutbacks for the well to do. let the coal miners, loggers and truck drivers carry the weight.

Ian R Orchard said...

To quote Angie Palmer*: "In conversations about climate.... people often express their despair at what WE have done, at what WE need to do and what WE are unlikely to do, with faces grim and foreheads sagging. And therein lies my message. For me it is not so relevant how WE respond. Ultimately I am only responsible for how I myself tackle climate change and this is where it all begins."

(*Not sure which Angie Palmer, there are a lot of them out there.)

Anthony Romano said...

I can't really argue with the overall point of this essay. But I will quibble with this...

"On the other hand, climate change activists are eager to shut down coal mining. What’s the most significant difference between coal mining and commercial air travel? Coal mining provides wages for the working poor; commercial air travel provides amenities for the affluent."

The numbers vary by source, but it appears that coal mining and related activities (transport, coal fire plants, etc.) employs far less than 250,000 people nationally. Here's once source of that information

Forbes indicated that solar energy employs more people than coal mining in this article (putting the number of coal mine employees at 93,000)

In contrast, this information is taken directly from the Atlanta international airport
"Hartsfield-Jackson is the largest employer in the state of Georgia. There are over 58,000 airline, ground transportation, concessionaire, security, federal government, City of Atlanta and Airport tenant employees."

Most of the jobs they listed in that blurb are wage-class/working poor jobs.

Chicago's O'hare airport employs a similar number of people.

We can argue about how exactly to tally the numbers but it seems reasonably clear to me that airports support more wage-class/working poor jobs than the coal industry does. The numbers work out quite differently in the natural gas/petroleum industry, and on the whole I think your point stands.

I honestly thought you were going to use your thought experiment to call out the internet with its power hungry servers and pretentious silicon valley types. The descriptive paragraph certainly fits the mark.

Leon said...

Dear JMG,

While I do absolutely agree with 99.99999% of you reasoning and conclusions on other issues, I have to ask - as someone who understands that modern science is almost by definition incapable of predicting the complex living systems behavior and as someone who remembers well the "consensus" about the new ice age killing off the last humans around 1995 or so, how do you believe that the latest scientific theory of anthropocentric climate change holds any water? Earth's climate is probably the most complex system the humans ever attempted to analyze after all... and it's changing ... like always.

P.S. A bit of background - I record weather stats on our farm here in very rural central Florida every day at 6 am for the last several years. There are some weird years for sure (like this one, for example). But so far the averages are well within the 100 year range for the area. Which used to upset me because I started this whole thing expecting the imminent crush of the existing system and so far it's doing just fine, dang it :)

P.P.S. I try to drive as little as possible every day and plant as many trees as I can every year because it just makes sense to me. Intellectual Idiots that fly to a different far away location every year to show off their Sci-Fi channel FX models of climate change (masquerading as science) don't. Which is actually what your post is all about :) So, why do you believe them?

Bob Brown said...

Excellent post-mortem, the only thing I'd add is that I think desertification and deforestation are as much a contributor to climate change as green house gases (admittedly much of that is caused by machines spewing greenhouse gases).

I'm hoping we can reach the tipping point with permaculture. I've heard Geoff Lawton talks where he said in his research that it only requires 11-14% of people to adopt something for a movement to gain momentum and become the new normal. That offers people positive life improvements (food, quality of life etc.). As you point out offering better is the only way to get people to change the way they live.



John Michael Greer said...

Doomerdoc, you've got a remarkably simplistic idea of human motivation. All through human history, most people have mostly been concerned with how they were going to get food and housing, and yet that didn't prevent the building of the medieval cathedrals, or thousands of other situations in which people decided to put something else ahead of their immediate day to day concerns. The fact of the matter is that climate change advocates presented their case in a way that failed to appeal to anyone outside their own ranks. That's not a problem with the issue; it's a problem with the movement.

Bill, and that's also a reasonable choice. I happen to have enough of a public voice that I can push for something a little more proactive, but different choices go with different situations.

4threvolutionarywar, when you say "humans are not wired to self-organize around carbon particles per million," you've missed the point. Human beings are wired to self-organize around survival and the betterment of their offspring, and if you present the current environmental situation in terms that convince them that that's what's at issue, you get things like the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act. Again, it's a matter of strategy, not a problem with the issue!

Leo, thanks for the suggestion -- I'll check it out.

Caryn, exactly. Does climate change naturally? Of course -- and that makes it all the more stupid for us to pile anthropogenic climate change on top of naturally occurring climate cycles. The fact that a sleeping grizzly may have its own reasons for waking up in a bad mood is not an argument in favor of poking it with a stick...

Venkataraman, there are several, in fact. Their colleagues treat them as freaks. By the way, you don't have to put a comment through five times; once is usually enough.

John, no argument there. Once the environment got defined as a Democrat issue -- even though most of the major environmental reforms from the 19th century until 1980 went through under GOP presidents! -- the GOP has reacted reflexively against anything green. That's one of many things that has to change.

Cacaogecko, I'd be happy just to see them turn down the a/c and take public transit on occasion!

M Smith, excellent. I have to use computers to make a living, and get around the cascading crapification of Microsoft by buying old machines that run Windows XP, and running them until they die. Still, doing without has its temptations!

Troy, exactly. The character of the messenger may not have anything to do with the validity of the message, but if you have no independent way of verifying the truth of the message, watching the messenger for signs of dishonesty and grandstanding is generally the best option for figuring out whether to trust the message.

David, you're welcome.

Bozack, it's simply not true that "hard work now for a better tomorrow" is a hard sell. When Winston Churchill told Britons he had nothing to offer them but blood, toil, tears, and sweat, they cheered themselves hoarse and threw their energies into the task of survival. That same spirit could easily be roused again, if the people who were trying to rouse it gave any sign that they meant it!

Yellow Submarine said...

More evidence the silly season is upon us, while the clown show in Philly continues.

Protestors at the Democratic Convention say they are planning to have a "fart-in" on the last day of the convention. While I think this is hilariously funny, its also evidence of how unhinged American politics is becoming. The last day of the convention should be entertaining, if nothing else...

Christopher Henningsen said...

I wonder whether the denial of recent ice-age doomerism is an American phenomenon - I've never run into it here in Canada, and I've certainly seen more than enough of the other flaws you point out. The amount of literature on the subject certainly makes it seem an impossible fact to get wrong, but then again I've heard people tell me in all seriousness that Cannabis was native to North America and Tobacco introduced by European colonists... so it's not the strangest myth out there.

Speaking of strange myths, one of my favourite conspiracy theories is that the world really was headed for another ice age, but the global elite intervened and warmed the planet with a massive ritual requiring the unwavering belief of millions...

Utter nonsense of course, a benevolent cabal of powerful occultists wouldn't have much need for secrecy. Still, better warming than cooling as I always say.

MC_Farmer said...

I think that there were just too many negatives for too many people. Everyone would need to transform their lives in a very disruptive way and no one really wants to hear that. I think you are mistaken that the positive point regarding a new green economy was not made. It was made and it scared the pants off the powerful vested fossil fuel interests. When you have only one positive spin and it flies in the face of the power structure, you are in trouble. To a certain extent all americans are "powerful vested interests" in that none of us was willing to get out of our cars, rebuild our walkable cities etc. There was just too much sunk capital in the suburban project to coin a phrase of JHK. Heck most of us were in debt up to our eyeballs and had 30 year mortgages to pay on a suburban house by the time the scientists ever bothered to even tell us about global warming. I really did not hear much about it until the 1990's. The message also suffered from the apparent morning in america that occurred when Reagan and Thatcher seemingly "fixed" the dire problem of imminent peak oil that Jimmy Carter had introduced us to in the 1970's. We all figured that this was just another false alarm. I think the problem goes much deeper than messaging and examples. I don't think Jesus could have convinced us that climate change was important when we needed to believe it. Now we are starting to believe it but most of us are just too busy trying to keep our bills paid in this economy to worry enough about it. We are sure that if we stop paying our mortgage we will end up in the cold this winter whether the climate is warming or not.

Tabatha Atwood said...

Re: Other issues- besides travel to live your principles- local food. I have been trying to learn to garden these last 3 years. This year I have finally grown some very nice looking tomato plants from seed. This has not made me happy, however, but enraged. The amount of water the tomato plants demand- here in the tomato growing zone in the tomato growing season is outrageous. That tomatoes are available all year long in all groceries at all times here in the US is preposterous, particularly as we face drought in California . We should go back to growing zone appropriate food- tax it, ban it, tax it's movement. If you believe in local food- make policy that makes it real- make your lifestyle congruent with your values.

Ian R Orchard said...

Following on from Anthony's observations about the blue collar jobs involved in the airlines, we also need to take into account the huge numbers of tourism workers around the world who depend on those globetrotting tourists. Tourism is now officially New Zealand's biggest earning industry for example.
I've tried to envisage where future jobs will come from as we phase out fossil fuels (there's no obligation for them to exist at all).
A lot may arise from agriculture having to revert to manual labour as tractors & other machinery shrink or disappear. Manufacturing may enjoy a resurgence as the sheer complexity of modern "progress" proves to be its undoing, as noted in Retrotopia.
What is obvious, and is a major reason why so many of us would rather not think about climate change, is our lifestyles are overdue for a radical reorganisation.

John Michael Greer said...

Marcu, I've seen the same thing more times than I can count. It's that sort of reaction that has convinced me we have basically nothing to hope for from the supposedly progressive left.

Cherokee, yes, it is very basic marketing, isn't it? I'm still trying to figure out why that never seems to sink in.

Jim, stop. Stop right there. What obvious solution aren't you considering? I'll give you a hint: we can USE LESS ENERGY. No law of nature requires us to maintain the absurdly extravagant lifestyles those of us in the developed world have these days...and yet people act as though that's one of those unspeakable words that causes your face to melt off if you utter it. No proposed solution to climate change is serious unless it involves using much less energy, and much less of the products of energy. Period.

Cherokee continued, I somehow managed to grow up in a middle class suburban family and come to the conclusion that being a middle class suburbanite was, for me, a pretty good equivalent of being fried on a grill in the fifth or sixth circle of Hell. I wouldn't take that kind of lifestyle, or the kind of a career necessary to pay for it, if it was handed to me on a golden platter which I then got to sell for cash. So I'm definitely with you there!

Shane, once or twice, you have triggered something, but this time I'd already settled on the theme of this week's post when I'd finished the one two weeks ago. You may just be tuning in to my mind or something. ;-)

YCS, oh, I know. Here in the north central Appalachians, enough people can't afford to drive that I'm not that much of an oddity, but when I lived on the left coast the thought that I didn't own a car or have a driver's license made people either treat me as though I'd sprouted an extra head, or get really offended because my lifestyle choices made theirs look shallow and selfish.

Jim, many thanks for this -- I'll read it when time permits.

WB, may I make a suggestion? Don't tell anyone that you've decided not to fly any more. Just don't do it. Come up with an ostensible reason to take the train -- the scenery's so beautiful, it's so nice to be able to get up and stretch your legs, you get lots of work done on the train, blah blah blah. The fact that all of those are true makes the dodge easy to pull off. Doing it that way also makes it a little seductive -- other people, hearing of this, may be tempted to take the train themselves...

Jon, thank you.

Sinnycool, that's a copout. All of humanity doesn't have to get behind it -- it would be enough if a large number of us who live in the world's industrial nations were to back the necessary changes using the political machinery that's already there to allow collective decisions to be made. To my mind, all these arguments about why a constructive response to climate change is impossible sound very much like attempts to avoid taking responsibility for the impact of one's own lifestyle on a fragile planet.

Tidlösa, no, I'm not watching the DNC. (Off-topic note -- back in the day, when the editor of a science fiction magazine wrote "DNC" on the margins of your story before sending it back to you, that meant "does not convince.") If I wanted to watch a clown show I'd go to the circus.

Jim, and by then it'll be too late to do anything that matters. That being the case, it seems sensible to me to try to change the dialogue while there still might be time, remembering the old rule of strategy that says that any positive action is better than doing nothing at all.

Bill Hicks said...

Another suggestion: stop saying "by the year 2100, blah blah blah." Very few people, especially working class people, think beyond their next paycheck let alone next year. "The year 2100," sounds like something out of a science fiction novel.

John Michael Greer said...

Sionna, the one difficulty with making my books available for free is that I have to make a living, and writing is how I do that. It really isn't that expensive to buy a book now and then, you know, and that's what allows authors to pay their bills and still spend their time writing.

Zerowaste, in my experience, when that happens, everyone knows what the score is and is desperately trying not to think about it. California is screwed, blued, and tattooed in a future of climate change, and I think a lot of people are aware of it.

LatheChuck, nice. That's just it -- Christianity, if you take it at all seriously, has plenty of tools for thinking constructively about our situation; so do other religions -- and so does rationalism. It's just that so many people are committed to not thinking constructively about it!

Repent, well, I'll hope you're right and enough people are grappling with these things to make a difference.

Cortes, thanks for the link!

JacGolf, yep. That's why I'm writing it!

Jay, exactly, and I second the motion regarding Gore's simpering face.

Ian, good. Thank you. If everyone named Angie Palmer will please adopt that attitude, we'll have taken a step in the right direction.

Anthony, but that wasn't my point. My point is that to the affluent, the coal industry doesn't matter, because eliminating it causes them no inconvenience. The airline industry? They don't care in the least how many jobs it produces -- they want it because it provides them with amenities.

Leon, yes, I figured I'd get some of this sort of obfuscation. There's ample evidence -- a little of which was cited in my post -- that global climate really is tipping out of balance, and one set of reported observations on one Florida farm (which, let it be noted, I have no way to check) does not outweigh the ongoing collapse of the Greenland ice sheet, say, or the fact that each of the last fourteen months has been the hottest such month ever recorded.

Bob, well, I'd say give it your best try, then. What I've seen of permaculture so far has been a very mixed bag, but if it works for you, by all means.

Submarine, I hope nobody flicks a lighter while that demonstration is taking place...

Christopher, oh, I don't know. I'm rather fond of ice ages, all things considered.

MC_Farmer, the thing is, that isn't the only possible positive spin, and it doesn't have to be presented in the terms you've described. What I saw was that talk about the green economy was always a sideline, and yelling about the horrors of the future was front and center. I may do a post one of these days talking about all the different ways that a positive spin could be put on the necessary changes -- it won't be one of my shorter posts, either.

Tabatha, if local food is your issue, get out there and work on it. One thing, though -- if all you have to offer is outrage, people will ignore you, for reasons discussed in my post. How can you make local food, appropriate to your own ecological region, appealing? How can you make people want that? Figure that out, and you'll get somewhere.

Ian, all you have to do is change the tax codes so that automating a job away is prohibitively expensive for business, while hiring a human being to do something is more cost effective, and the unemployment problem will be solved at once. It really isn't that difficult!

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, that's also a good point.

Patricia Mathews said...

And yet ... when I was discharged from the hospital and needed care 24/7 for the first week, my oldest daughter flew out from Gainesville, FL, to do so for several days, and then my brother flew out from San Diego, CA to finish the job. I truly needed that care.

And I will fly out to visit them later this year. It's the least I can do. And if I were to say "No, because flying causes climate change," they'd agree in principle, but would not like it that I'd put an abstract principle over seeing my own family. And my own gut instinct finds something inhuman about doing so, especially after the care they gave me this spring.

As for trains ... we're west of the Mississippi. Sorry, folks. OK - shield up against rotten tomatoes.

Cherokee Organics said...


Watch out for that fryer! Ouch! Of course you dodged that one nicely! Total respect. I got sucked down that rabbit hole for a short while and then the rabbit hole ejected me unceremoniously into the bright light of day and I had to take a hard clear eyed view of the world around me. One of the things that worries me about such a system like this one is that if you tolerate that being done to other people and join in to that system, then you never quite know when your lucky numbers are going to turn up and that always worries me. I've seen that in action in both small and large groups. It doesn't look pretty.

Hey, I'm sure you've noticed that the Clinton campaign is pursuing the same basic mistake: Don't talk about the competition... Every time they mention Trump, all people hear is Trump. They are actually selling him. It genuinely surprises me that they don't actually employ real world marketing people who have to sell rubbish things that people don't want at the coal face. I have been wondering of late whether the powers that be in those campaigns just aren't listening or maybe they believe their own hype. Dunno. It is weird though.

But then I guess, any other selling strategy means that the Clinton campaign would have to come up with their own unique selling proposition, and that is a complex matter which they are doing their utmost best to avoid.



Justin said...

Great post, JMG! Considering how important a topic this is, I'm amazed it's taken you over a decade to write about it, but well, here we are. Your observations square pretty nicely with mine. The popularly suggested initiatives to Save the Planet(tm) seem to come in two forms: pour money into renewable energy and then promise to change once renewables become cheaper than fossil fuels, or to put prices on the consumption of fossil fuels (who these prices are paid to and what they buy is a perfectly valid question the right has).

The problem with a carbon tax is that it doesn't affect people who can pay easily pay it, and because of the degree to which the products that salary class types buy so much of come from outside North America, the massive carbon footprint associated with those activities isn't captured. I don't think the Canadian government is going to have much luck imposing a carbon tax on salmon farms in Chile or electronics manufacturers in China. Carbon taxes, everywhere, really outside the leftist green parts of politics, are implicitly a problem for 'the little people'. I'm sure not a few members of the high chattering classes realize that if they had a way to impose such conditions, they could probably keep the private jets flying and the palaces in the desert cool for another 300 years if they could keep the support system for those activities running. The idea that they will succeed in such an endeavor is of course laughable. On the other hand, just type 'Agenda 21' into Google and you'll see all types of conspiracy theories that suggest that climate change is a ruse designed to cage humanity in soviet-style apartment blocks while leaving most of the planet as a playground for the rich. I doubt any part of that is really true, but on the other hand, the appearance of things suggests it.

JMG, lets hope that the first person to seriously offer Americans blood, toil, tears and sweat in service of a monumental task picks a good one.

A lot of the terrorist attacks by Muslims in the last couple weeks have been deflected by stories about how the person in question had extramarital sex (possibly even with other men!), ate pork, drank alcohol, didn't go to the mosque etc. The phenomenon these stories always forget about is that people who have been 'living in sin' for some time and then finally repent are often pretty serious about it afterwards, and throw themselves into their new ideology with incredible zeal. I don't mean to turn this into an anti-Muslim screed, but there's bits in the Quran and some of the Hadiths about how the get-out-of-hell-free-card is to die in battle against the enemy, which is one of the key tools that Islamic state recruiters use. There's some evidence that this is what drove the Nice truck attacker and possibly the Orlando one.

Justin said...

Tabitha, a funny story about local food and chattering class activism: In 2008 or so, when peak oil was almost an acceptable dinner table topic, a local actress of some fame made a big deal about how she was going to California to learn to be a permaculture farmer, and then come back and do that here in Nova Scotia. I've never actually been to California, but I've been told it has different weather than Nova Scotia. The sad part is, she seems like a nice person, and there's plenty of farmers here she could have done something cool with.

LatheChuck, I'm agnostic, but I do have a major soft spot for the Bible. If there's any book that drives home the message "this has happened before and will happen again, so deal with it" better, well, I'd like to read it.

jessi thompson said...

I don't think they expect poor people to surrender anything. They think if they can just get the right politicians elected they will pass the right laws and then green technology will save us all without any cost to anyone.

This goes back to the wage/salary divide Archdruid Greer talked about in a previous article. The salary class is totally oblivious to the fact that the wage class is constantly squeezed for taxes beyond their ability to pay so that the other classes can continue on business asusual. I do not want to typify people too much but I have noticed here in the US there's a rapidly increasing proportion of society that appears not to understand the concept of limits at all. As a waitress I deal with people who can't seem to understand why all restaurants don't carry their own favorite cheese. Why don't we have ALL the brands of soda they could possibly want? I am beginning to suspect we as a society have spoiled over half the population.

Bryan L. Allen said...

Bravo, esteemed Archdruid Emeritus! Always a delight to read your essays.

Naïveté, a negative campaign, intolerance, and a provably false assertion: all seeming to come from an attitude of superiority. "We are higher status and are your intellectual superiors; bow to our wisdom". So, to me at least, the word/concept "status" seems to have crucial relevance to why climate and environmental activists are often so clueless.

Buy a Tesla (80-100 kilo dollars), buy carbon offsets, or festoon your roof with solar panels and you demonstrate your high status. Wear old clothes, ride your rust-stained steel bike to work, and forgo owning a TV, smartphone, and car and not only have you diminished your social status significantly, lots of folks will fear you might be the next Unabomber. He did have a really ratty bike! :-)

A friend of mine likes to say: "Dollars are a pretty good proxy for environmental impact." The climate change movement has behaved as if we can buy our way out of any problems. Looks more like the solution is NOT to buy (much of anything.) And definitely pay attention that what little we buy enriches the working class rather than the effete well-to-do.

The bourgeoisie is seldom willing to sacrifice their social status under any conditions, especially when there is no threat of imminent destruction. Have there ever been cases where an entrenched bourgeoisie decided to diminish its status voluntarily? My wife is French, and so I'm aware of a case in 1789 where said class did not do so, with stern consequences...

W. B. Jorgenson said...


Thank you for the advice, however I don't think it will work at the present for me. Currently, most of my travel is done with family, and at the moment we leave together from one place. This is why this is tricky: I can't make the decision without in some way affecting other people: either I stop travelling with them and make my own arrangements, or they also change how they travel, both of which bring these issues back to the forefront.

Once I have my own life in a few years, then it will work better: I'll then just make my own plans, travel and problem solved. But if I'm going to quite air travel now, then there is no way I can see to do it other than outright saying it.

jessi thompson said...

Wow that's really cool!! I've heard farmers and gardeners and livestock breeders who keep the most accurate records learn the most. That might be why I'm not a very good gardener, though, to be fair, every year my highest crop losses come from a random human with a lawnmower. (Seriously!!! It happens EVERY year, and it's always a different person.) But I really just came here to point out that the climate has warmed a little less than 1 degree Celsius over the whole planet over the last several decades, so to find the climate change at your location also requires an intense grasp of statistics.

jessi thompson said...

A wonderful and thought provoking essay as always. My question to you, something I ponder often, and would live your opinion:
Do you think peak oil will save us from the worst effects of climate change?

Karim said...

Greetings all!

A great post and what a coincidence too it is for me.

Last week I attended a meeting of a local green leftist party during which they all argued how climate change was really a grave issue.

So I asked them why don't we all begin to change our lifestyles one step at a time, and show that we can live decently by cutting down on wasteful habits? I told them that if you want to be an alternative to the current situation, live that alternative. The response was indignant.

Most people did not want to hear that. Although most of them belonged to the wage class. All they wanted to do is political activism with the apparent goal of changing things from the top, getting governments and corporations to act. For them leadership by example is simply unnecessary. No personal commitment to actual change needed. It is indeed maddening...

What a folly, what a folly!

Martin McDuffy said...

I read every week, but rarely comment. This week, I feel I must.

I'll start with what I think you hit right on the head, and that is the issue of interests. You focus on the elites and their air travel (a luxury I have abstained from for many years now) but neglect to point out that the lion's share of people in the first world have a vested interest in the comforts provided by the status quo. Ignoring the Al Gore's of the world for a moment, let's face the fact that most coal miners, diner waitresses, an public accountants want things like air conditioning, refrigerators, and fruit from a different hemisphere. If there is a solution to climate change, it absolutely involves the dissolution of capitalism as a way of relating to one and other, as well as the dismantling of the industrial project that has swept the globe over the last two centuries.

This also speaks to the lack of a positive outcome you think climate change activists have failed to offer. Perhaps, dear druid, there is no place where honesty and positivity meet, and if they do, it is in the mundane offer of survival. No more lattes. No more Xbox. A lot more time planting potatoes and swatting at mosquitos. Not exactly a sizzling offer.

As to climate change activists, this is a strange designation. I myself have spent much time, personal treasure, and personal freedom fighting against pipelines and oil infrastructure, and I did so with comrades who demonstrated intelligence, selflessness, and bravery. My friends and I have sat high in trees, dangled beneath bridges, camped inside pipelines, locked ourselves to machinery, and done oh so much more that cannot be written about. Some of us languish in jail now, others hop from location to location as stowaways on freight trains. I speak of my dear comrades in Earth First!

To condemn climate change activists as a whole I find disheartening. There are many of us who do live with less, who do speak about a world beyond capitalism, and who are willing to sacrifice ourselves and our safety to save a parcel of land, to halt an industrial project, or to perhaps, inspire a wider movement.

Your condemnation seems applicable to rich liberals.

Leon said...

Dear JMG,

I understand (I think) what you have to deal with being a public figure not exactly aligned with the mainstream values, so I understand your reaction to my comment. Let me assure you that obfuscation was not what I was trying to achieve though. But being on the front lines like you are some friendly fire is inevitable, I guess.

I didn't check the links in this post (guilty!) but I did try to check the links in many of your earlier posts (being a reader since 2008 or so) and every time for every link that says polar ice cap is smaller this year there was a link or two that said it's actually bigger. So, that was my actual question in the comment above - how do you know which ones to trust? I mean even after filtering out the usual suspects (Fox News,CNBS, NYT, etc.) there is still enough evidence to support whatever one wants to believe in. For those of us who don't spend the whole day on the Internet, is there an easier way to see which sources are trustworthy? That's what I meant basically when I asked Why do you trust them? Sorry it was not clear.

I understand that weather records of a single farm don't matter that much (BTW, if you're ever in these parts you're more than welcome to examine the raw data, as well as to taste our lamb, chicken and homemade beer - Alexandra Lake Farm, just let me know a few days in advance) and this is exactly my problem. Last time I was in South Beach, Miami (about 3 years ago) I saw the seawater coming out of the storm drains and just a few days ago I talked to a friend on a fishing trip to the Russian tundra, who said it's been 100F or more for the last 5 days but that's exactly this - an anecdote. Does it reflect a long term trend? I don't know. How do you know? That was my question.

Anyway, please feel free to delete this comment if that's too much trouble to answer (seriously - I'm constantly amazed at how you find time to deal with all the comments and certainly don't want to add to the workload. Obviously, first I have to go and double check the links in this post.)

Thanks for all you do!

BoysMom said...

Sionna, I don't know about Canadian libraries (though I've gotten stuff on inter library loan from them before!) but here in the USA, in the several library districts I've lived in, the libraries have been very good about buying patron requests if they were affordable and available, which is to say, neither a $300 textbook nor a $200 out of print rare book. My local libraries would have no problem buying a Greer book upon request. (Each already has.)

It's great to have a book for yourself, but if you can get your library to stock them, that's also pretty good, for the author does get paid some (and I think does better by Canadian libraries than USA libraries) and also gets some increase in visibility.

Unknown said...

I strongly disagree with your explanation for the failure of the climate change activism. Unfortunately I don't have your ability for clear exposition, but I will try.

I think the success of a movement depends more on what is the actually problem than the tools used to approach it. If the movement has a simple goal, limited duration and minimal impact on people then it can be successful. If it has none of this it will always fail.
Examples in the first category are second world war, same-sex marriage etc.
The second category contains most of unsolved problems of today - malnutrition (aka overpopulation), racism, climate change, pollution, democracy etc.
All of these require constant vigilance to detect problem, make the change and review the results. They also require almost all the people to change their lives.
Your quote from Churchill from the second world war was not what made the Britons fight. The implicit alternative (and the US support) did the trick.

The global long-term impact of climate change is what caused the "mistakes" in the climate change activism too. Even a politically savvy activist has some trouble putting stopping climate change in a positive light.

I appreciate your optimism and I think it's part of what makes your blog such a pleasure to read but I don't think climate change activism ever had a chance.

fudoshindotcom said...


I would venture that the reason Mrs. Clinton's campaign is entirely negative is that she simply hasn't accumulated very many positive legs to stand on throughout her career.

The "Do as I say, not as I do." attitude of affluent climate activists seems rooted in their non-sensical belief that they somehow earned, and thus deserve, their privileges.

I don't expect to see any useful action regarding climate change until it noticeably impacts the wealth of the Affluent. At that point we'll see them hysterically wading around in their ocean front mansions wailing about how "we" must do something about this.

Maybe Next Year said...

I used to the be the kind of unrepentant idealistic jackass that would get upset with people who didn't recycle. That was until I read that the Department of Defense burns an average of 12.6 million gallons of fuel every. single. day.

After that it became difficult to care about whether people are buying plastic water bottles or not.

Hammer said...

Looks like nobody will do anything about the problem for the next 10 years, until the effects of climate change hammer down on a collapsing economy.

But fortunately we invented a revolutionary new carbon capture technology! One which produces energy instead of consuming it!

"According to the researchers, the cell generates some 13 ampere-hours per gram of carbon captured — or about 13 million ampere-hours per metric tonne. That means that a single gram of carbon could produce enough electricity to charge a (very hefty) cell phone battery four or even five times over."

They don't specify the voltage of the cells, so ampere-hours is a useless unit. Maybe they don't specify it since there's no way 1 little gram of carbon can produce 45.6 watt-hours of energy, or enough for 4 smartphone charges!

(However, I did the math and commented that capturing all emissions would produce 0.3% of the world's current energy. So this technology might not be so dubious)

American Herstory X said...

First of all, thank you for sharing your vast stores of knowledge via this blog and other media.

Second of all, humans are very selfish creatures and have always felt they are entitled to use the Earth until it is dead. Its inhabitants are seen as disposable, existing only for human survival and convenience. There is no logical connection of actions and consequences, for instance, if humans cause the whole Earth to die, then they also die. Even the best and the brightest among us fail to see the forest for the felled trees.

For instance, animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all forms of transportation (planes, trains, automobiles) combined according to the United Nations yet all of one percent of the Earth's 7.4 billion inhabitants are willing to eschew all animal products. So-called pasture raised meats -- I envision steaks floating about grazing on grass in a field -- are even worse as far as efficiencies go. Factory farms may be horrible but they are efficient. Among that one percent of plant-based people, only a fraction are avoiding flesh, dairy, and bird ova because they give a damn about Gaia.

Creating a biological child is an act of deliberate ecocide at this point, yet mention that which cannot be named, Voldemort ahem I mean anti-natalism, in a crowd and one can roundly expect shunning at an immediate or future date.

The human race acts a great deal like a Petri dish full of yeast to which a spoonful of sugar has been introduced. As one of them, I find it concerning there is no new planet to destroy, though the misanthrope in me is glad that our parasitic species will not pass Go and Collect 200 New Planets. Yes I know Star Trek: Beyond just came out. The whole premise is just so SILLY. Not a freaking chance.

Nicholas Colloff said...

With one eye on Tabitha's point on growing local, herewith a report from the UK's Daily Mail (not known for its progressive credentials) on Todmorden

It is a very ordinary, mixed town in the north of England (and I do not know how well the experiment is continuing, though the article is two years in) but amplifies many of your arguments - focus on a positive, find ways to be inclusive, meshing together different concerns and interests and create stories of what change will/could look like.

I thought climate change activism was doomed when I asked a colleague in a large international NGO what was being pursued at Copenhagen - a 'just and equitable climate change agreement' - they replied and who is expected to rally for that (even knowing what that is) I thought!

patriciaormsby said...

I want to subscribe to the print newsletter, and will send a check, but could not find out how much I should add for overseas mail. If I can get a figure for a six month subscription sent to Japan, I'll send in the check.

patriciaormsby said...

Talking about demonizing honest disagreement, it looks like I'm going to vote for Vladimir Putin in the upcoming election. They've made it easy for me. I have my choice of Jill Stein or Donald Trump--either of them counts as a vote for the man who rescued Russia from the predations of neoliberalism! That news made my day.

I find myself and agreeing and sympathizing with Bill Pulliam today. I do what I can with my life to reduce my big footprint, and will try producing biochar, which sequesters carbon. But my husband really really wants that overseas vacation and I sort of do too, though for various reasons I have a half a mind to send him off alone. He'll then tell me I'm being hysterical (his English is downright abysmal, forget about any other foreign language). International events will soon put an end to our biggest sin, so I'll probably go along once again. And, yes, enjoy it.

Oh gawd how we have screwed subsequent generations!

MichaelK said...

So, many of the most intelligent, informed and comfortably-off, middle-class and above, passengers on the Titanic, actually observed the iceberg whilst strolling along the deck before luncheon was served. Protest they did, for a while, because it seemed incredible that the mighty ship wasn't altering course, though the crew promissed not to increase speed as much as they planned to. Sighs of relief all round. We're saved! Disaster, apperently averted. And then it was time for luncheon, caviar and champange on the menu, again.

It's on hell of a political culture we've seen evolve, where unlike the passengers on the real Titanic, we can't claim ignorance about what lies ahead of us. All one has to do is raise one's eyes from desert, and look over the railing. It's not as if the iceberg is hiding from view.

It's too easy to criticise the Greens and the 'movement', way too easy. Of course had an awful understanding of 'economics', but mainly they, and about everyone else didn't really take into account the nature of our political system. Our political system is a form of inverted totalitarianism and a parody of democracy, really a form of dictatorship where the great mass of ordinary people have next to no power or influence, which makes change near to impossible. What the people think or desire, doesn't matter anymore. What matters is the power, influence and interests of the less than 1% who rule, everyone else, like the passengers on the Titanic, are just along for the ride.

Wendy Crim said...

Woohoo! Print version of Arch Druid Report ordered. Can't wait.
Great piece, as usual.
I don't get flying. I've done it (when flying out of the country) but I mostly refuse to do it. I have taken the bus a few times in my life, the train twice, but mostly we just drive when we go out of town. Load everyone up with food and games and books on tape. I much rather (and enjoy) road trips for travel. Around town, more and more, we just hoof it. Walking can't be beat! But then, I'm one of the lowly wage class. Happy to be here.

Greybeard said...

Hi JMG, well said!

I think there is something in the interests and values categories that relates to guilt. Here in the UK, our Green voting areas are bohemian middle class with huge carbon footprints (London / Brighton / Bristol etc.). While they will have many good reasons for the political leanings, I have often wondered how much relates to guilt about their own lifestyles which they largely fail to address in any meaningful way.

Secondly, can I thank you for your comments on those in the green movement who fly but I don't think it those comments should be restricted to the Al Gores of the world. For example I can barely contain my anger when druid leaders fly repeatedly while claiming to love the Earth or green political activists regularly fly away for mini holidays every few weeks.

I have struggled to deliver the narrative of less carbon. Talking with people on doorsteps I find people who are either struggling to pay the rent and buy food or people who drive and fly regularly and would not entertain any suggestion that they might need to do less of it.

Finally, we have a society that continues to talk about aspiration but where many equate this with a high income and clean job, how do we sell a vision of a society that will need far more people working on the land? I'm speaking to a couple of hundred 16 year olds next month and I bet if I ask them who would like to be an agricultural labourer when they grow up the response won't be very high...

MichaelK said...

Dear Greer,

Whilst I agree with most of your analysis and arguments, I'm not too sure about your conclusions this time around. I think you're being unfair to the 'Greens' and the ghastly political culture that exists in the United States, which makes the task of any true opposition incredibly difficult, if not impossible. Your example of gay issues is, I would contend, irrelevant; as it's a niche area compared to challenging the entire structure and direction of US-style 'capitalism', which is in another league.

I think you almost veer into parody in your characterisation of the failures of the Greens to break through to most Americans. That's too easy and an avoidance of some harsh realities about US politics and economics. Sure the Greens haven't been 'eagle-eyed' about politics or economics, but who is these days? So, given their failings and the nature of US politics, that's hardly surprising.

Even if the US was a healthy and functioning democracy challenging the economic and social system would still be a colossal task, as it isn't, the failure of the Greens is not just understandable, it's to be expected.

I think it's unfortunate that you don't refer to the Green Party's leader Dr. Jill Stein and her views. Sure, she's very political and radical, but she basically agrees with you about the incredible challenges we face in relation to the environment and specifically the dangers of 'run-away' climate change, only she puts them into an uncomfortable and harsh political perspective. Basically, and I hope I'm not putting words in her mouth, she sees the US as a corporate/military/media... dictatorship run by the 1% who have both money and power. The entire system functions to protect and promote their interests at the expense of everyone else and the environment. What's needed, she argues, is a political revolution. Now, clearly this is a somewhat 'radical' viewpoint, but to ignore it and pretend that all the Greens are simply naive or stupid, seems a bit unfair.

John Michael Greer said...

Patricia, which is why an important part of climate change activism should be advocacy for rebuilding America's passenger rail system, with the kind of dedicated tracks you get in the northeast corridor, so that people can travel across the country quickly and comfortably at a tiny fraction of the energy consumption involved in air travel. Besides, think of all the jobs that would be created!

Cherokee, I think you hit the turkey square on the head with that last shot. The reason the Clinton campaign is spending all its time talking about Donald Trump is that it's kind of hard to talk about Hillary Clinton without dealing with the fact that she's basically George W. Bush in a pantsuit.

Justin, I had a few other things to write about first!

Jessi, I'm not at all sure I agree. The costs get dumped on the poor so relentlessly that somebody has to be noticing...

Bryan, no argument there. That's always the thing that drives Caesarism -- the abusive behavior of entrenched privilege classes mounts up to the point that the rest of the population turns to a charismatic demagogue.

WB, fair enough; you know your situation, of course, and I don't. Once you have control of your own travel arrangements, yes, it does get simpler.

Jessi, that depends on what you mean by "worst effects." Certainly there aren't enough accessible fossil fuel reserves on the planet to justify the high-end estimates for climate change that were being bandied around a while back, and the imminent human extinction brigade is simply the latest version of the mentality that gave us 2012. My predictions in an earlier post here are still my best guess.

Karim, exactly. The challenge is to keep on asking that question, no matter how unpopular it is, until it becomes impossible to avoid.

Martin, my condemnation was primarily directed at affluent liberals -- not just rich, but middle and upper middle class -- so you're not wrong. I've had a lot of encounters with radicals of the kind that are actually out there engaging in protest, and I have a great deal more respect for them than I do for the folks that can't be bothered to take action -- but I'm sorry to say that the problematic attitudes I discussed in my post, especially the first, second, and fourth of them -- extreme political naivete, a habit of engaging in wholly negative campaigning, and intolerance for honest dissent -- are in my experience extremely common among people involved in the protest end of things. Maybe I've met a nonrepresentative sample, though.

Leon, thanks for the explanation. I have certain advantages here, as I took quite a few college courses in ecology and botany, as well as experimental design and statistics; I can usually figure out when somebody's shoveling smoke. One basic rule is that I don't rely on the news media at all; I go to publications of research wherever possible. Another is that I compare recent data to data published in print sources decades ago -- that way you know the older numbers haven't been fudged.

Unknown, maybe not, but the activists could have given it a much better shot than they did. It's actually not that hard to reframe the entire issue in terms of specific goals that can be tackled one at a time, and presented in a positive light -- in a country that's desperately short of jobs, how much opposition would there really be to programs that hired hundreds of thousands of people at a living wage to do some of the stuff that needs doing, for example? I'll definitely consider doing a post on how the thing could have been done.

Somewhatstunned said...

ok JMG I take your general point, though when you say:

nobody in the climate change movement has been out there protesting commercial air travel,

that is not completely true.

(Though because one of my entry points into green thought and behaviour was that of personal transport, most of the greenies I know really do ride bikes and take the train. I also live in a city with a high level of walking - and of course, I'm not in North America. All of which means I tend to have a slightly distorted picture of what is considered normal behaviour in the 'developed' world)

John Michael Greer said...

Fudoshin, oh, granted. Aristocracies always seem to convince themselves that they've earned their position of privilege and can't possibly be evicted from it -- and that conviction is among the core reasons they always end up riding the tumbril, because they stop doing the things that keep the rest of society willing to put up with their antics.

Maybe, but if you use that as an excuse not to make changes in your own life, it's a copout. Leading by example is the only kind of leadership that really matters, you know.

Hammer, stuff like that gets reported every single week. It's a great way to suck in venture capital and sell stock -- and that's all it is. For thermodynamic reasons, there's no way to get a significant amount of energy from CO2 in the air without putting more energy in than you take out.

Herstory, it's easy to cultivate despair if you spend your time trying to make other people lead the kind of lifestyle you think they should. That never worked and it never will -- and, by the way, angry self-righteous denunciation is a good way to convince people not to do what you want them to do.

Nicholas, that's an excellent example. The town of Todmorden has done more good by that one practice than all the climate treaties ever signed.

Patricia, even for the Clinton campaign, the current round of Putin-baiting is stunningly dumb. Outside of her narrow neoconservative bubble, a lot of Americans respect Putin -- certainly a lot more than respect Hillary Clinton! -- and the thought of a rapprochement with Russia is a lot more appealing to ordinary Americans than Clinton's obsessive Cold War saber rattling. (Freudian slip report: every time I try to type Hillary's last name, it comes out "Clingon" the first time around. I suppose Star Trek did manage to leave some traces in my youthful psyche!)

Michael, there again, I think you're ducking the issue. The nature of our political system didn't keep the Clean Air Act from being passed, it didn't keep same sex marriage from becoming legal, etc., etc. The climate change movement failed because it pursued its goals with strategies so ineffective that the opposition was able to walk right over it.

John Michael Greer said...

Wendy, I've flown precisely once since I moved to a part of the country with rail service; that was to England, as part of my duties as head of a Druid order, and I'd have taken a ship if we still had regular, reasonably priced transatlantic passenger liners, as we did seventy-five years ago. Now that I no longer have that job and its attendant responsibilities, it's really doubtful that I'll fly again.

Greybeard, the way forward, as I see it, consists of making the idea of a low-carbon future enticing as a whole, so that people will accept (say) a steady job working in farming as their contribution to the better future. I'll talk about that in an upcoming post.

Michael, I'm not saying that all Greens are naive or stupid, and I'm not sure where you got the idea that I was. I'm saying that the specific movement to prevent global warming made five specific mistakes, which I described in detail, and that the failure of that movement is best understood as the result of those mistakes. Some of those mistakes are shared more generally by the left, but not all. What's more, preventing global warming didn't require "challenging the entire structure and direction of US-style 'capitalism'" -- again, those are your words, not mine. It really does come across as though either you didn't pay attention to what I wrote, or that you're trying to spin it to fit some agenda of your own, and either way I don't think that's helpful.

Stunned, hmm! Glad to hear that. That said, how much attention did that get in the broader climate change movement?

ed boyle said...



Bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want to ride my bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my bike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride it where I like

bicycle race queen, 1978

Culture can be fun. A guy at work said he was jogging to lose weight, said when he had a car he had gained weight, then talked later of buying a cheap car. I pointed out how a really cool bike, fitness lifestyle would make him healthy, fit, sexy, save money.


Little red Corvette
baby you're much too fast
little red corvette
you need a love that's gonna last

Bicycle love is slower but seen internally it is faster. Reading Iliad the individual killing is brutal, heroic, meaningful, not like modern warfare. Better the old ways. Just as much if not more exciting than anonymous stuffed highway or anonymous death by machine gun at half mile distance.

Dorda Giovex said...

Actually, its a post-mortem of the kind of activism that routinely has been used by the elites to hijack grassroot movements from the control of commoners. Enviromentalism but also trade unions and socialism as intended to attention and investment into the local community and considering public goods as part of a shared, communal ownership.
This hijacking which in Europe is practiced since a very long time goes like this: there is a problem perceived by commoners.. like for example the owners of companies using scare tactics on employees to lower wages. This lead to workers organizing into trade unions to fight back and regain some bargaining power. Power attracts the elites and soon some of them raises to the top achieving things thanks to the good connections. But shortly after they are in control they start adding to the core goals of the organization others which are romantic impractical or impossible for the working people. Soon these goals are given priority and the organization loses grassroot support ,is driven into the ground and then recognized and kept alive by the elites because it keeps another grassroot movement from coming into existance. So the organization created by the people to free themselves and to gain bargainig power becomes yet another mean to control them.
I read recently "Storms of our grandchildren" of james hansen. what stroke me is how big a chunk of the book is devoted to the life of the author and the description of his meeting and talks and mistakes in the higher echelons of usa governments. His climate change policy was about convincing governments to FORCE policy on commoners! Luddites were commoners rebelling against progress imposed by elites. This is something entirely different. It is dying. And that is good.
When commoners will have their house submerged for the n-th time or burned or cars washed away in yet another flash flood. When food will become scarce and yet more wars and terrorist scares will be organized by the elites something different will pop up. Suddenly and powerfully. All this crap will be washed away by tired and disillusioned people like communism from ussr.

Sébastien Louchart said...


I eventually got my copy of Twilight's Last Gleaming from that fine publisher Karnac Books in London. And guess what? I read the book in two days! Couldn't help put it aside I had to get back to it whenever I had some time. I'm considering purchasing your other books in english and I won't be waiting for a french translation as I used to do.

I recently discovered that Pr. Dennis Meadows was a great fan of your books as it appears in a text he published on Pr. Ugo Bardi's blog 2 weeks ago. From where I stand, that's a hell of a hat tip :)

"I read John Michael Greer's books as they come out. They stimulate me to think about that future without abundant oil. I expect that will be evident by 2030."

Concerning this week's post, I can't help but interpreting it with my own national brains and eyes. The situation regarding Climate Change here in Ecnarf has also worsened since the years Al Gore's movie hit this side of the pond. Grossly, nobody gives a damn. Everything climate related is either dismissed or, when it comes to enacted public policy, seen as another move against working people. For example a recent policy from Paris mayor has banned old cars from entering the city. Nothing has been said about what's still going on around the city with the Boulevard Périphérique (a ring of 4 lanes motorways encircling the inner Paris) still plagued with trafic jams, heavy trucks and diesel personal cars. Half of the country suffered from heavy rains in May, June, still recovering. A recent announcement from the gov't said that industrial cereal farmers will get some tax cuts and the like to compensate for the decrease in crop yield.

Personally, I tend to adapt my own lifestyle with as much less energy as I can do. I still have to attend to my workplace 20 minutes driving, I take the bus sometimes. I'm planning to take it more often. I totally phased off plane travel one year ago. I still visit friends and relatives all over the country but either I travel by train (a network that still works quite well but could be better and cheaper) or I carpool. I still have to work on my food input to rely less on industrial farming and processed goods, though.

Having read the Ecotechnic Future (twice), I'm still wondering how different are the US and Europe for the matter of spiraling into descent and whether your advices are tailored for the North American or can be applied to Europeans as well (counting Britons, yes, we still share a common fate).

Anyway, thank you for giving us these weekly insights and be well.

Mikep said...

Hi John,if I understand you correctly, had the proponents of climate change mitigation only followed the strategies of Gay Marriage advocates they may have had more success. Seems unlikely to me. Life is far to short and precious to list all the ways that these are two utterly different issues so let's simple call them a very hard thing to do and a very easy thing. The first involves people actually doing something, not just a few people in one or two Western Countries but most of the World's population changing their ways at least to some extent. The second involves writing some words on a piece of paper.
I do hope that you are not suffering burn out. Perhaps it's time for another break, I would miss my weekly fix of SWPL baiting if anything bad happened to you.
Best wishes and take care of yourself.


Mikep said...

This assumes that Climate Change is a problem, I don't mean that it's not happening but rather that it may not be a problem in the sense of having a solution that we might be able to agree on and implement in the real world. If it's not a problem in that sense, then the climate change deniers are as good as right.

Shane W said...

Sigh, I'm picturing activists at a major airport, like say Toronto Pearson or Atlanta Hartsfield, protesting, yelling "shut it down, shut it down", harassing and accosting passengers as they enter. LOL, when pigs fly (pun intended)

mr. no said...

Probably all of what you say is true. Personally, I tried to avoid some of the worse contributors to carbon emissions in my life (at the time, I identified red meat and flying among the worse, after reading a number of conflicting sources).
My plan was to drive less (I achieved it to some extent), eat only chicken meat and some pork, and avoid flying, at least for vacation. Then I would advocate the same to my neighbours and friends...
Well, I have to say I was discouraged two years later after some facts:
- The climate is already profoundly affected, and even scientist cannot predict if something can be done (that explains Paris conclusions, btw)
- At current rate, the collapsing economy (and a number of excuses, ajem, terrorism...) would reduce carbon emissions anyway, and lifestyles with them (incidentally, all possibilities for investing in renewables are also shrinking fast)

Now I still have a relatively reduced footprint wrt. my peers, but I don't care anymore.


Peter Kalmus said...

JMG, my colleagues don't treat me like a freak (at least, not yet). As far as I know, they don't treat Alice Bows-Larkin like one, either. That said, I know of no other Earth scientist who is willing to give up air travel.

I'd argue that the movement's leaders' stunning failure to "walk the talk" is perhaps more emblematic of the really unprecedented challenge posed by global warming, than as a cause of the movement's failure (though it hasn't helped any). That is, our lives in industrial society are so entwined with fossil fuel that it's difficult even to envision what a new mode of living would look like, let alone to live it. Just look around you: embodied fossil fuel everywhere you look. Of course, we lived without fossil fuel a mere two centuries ago, but the myth of progress blinds us to this.

Maybe global warming is the greatest collective imagination failure the world has ever seen? The movement could use 5.3 billion pairs of magic sunglasses that allow us to see the fossil fuel embodied in nearly every aspect of our lives (we'll give the poorest 2 billion a pass, as their lives would look pretty much the same with or without the sunglasses). This is what really sets the global warming fight apart from, say, the fight against CFCs. Fossil fuels are everywhere, and there's no easy substitute.

Venkataraman, thanks for the shout out.

drhooves said...

While I wouldn't argue with your summary of reasons why the climate change movement stalled, as a former meteorologist and climatologist in the military, I look at it in a different context. The issue simply eclipsed the ability of the average American to understand cause/effect and consequences, and changes to address the issue directly conflicted with economic growth and sacrifice of lifestyles. It's one thing to succeed on the issue of gay marriage which is relatively "free" to all, but another game indeed when trying to pick the pockets of corporate owners.

IMHO, the movement would have, and could still have, far more success if highlighting the aspects of pollution, overpopulation and ecological damage of the current industrial society rather than trying to emphasize the impact that it has on the complexities of the earth/weather/climate model(s). I fear now the table has been set for a draconian event as in the form of war will now be unavoidable.

Barrabas said...

Here in Australia we were recently treated to the edifying spectacle of 20000 west australians flying across to victoria to watch cage fighter Ronda Rousey punch on with some other bird . Rhonda got knocked down unconscious in the early going and her opponent straddled her and continued to punch her in the face while she lay helpless as the crowd went wild , until the ref finally intervened before Rhonda got killed . Afterward , the 20000 got drunk in Melbourne and the next day flew back to west australia . The gdp and economy were going great guns as the panem et circenses really got going .
Fifty years ago in Australia this bout would never have happened and the twenty thousand would have either went fishing , camping, churching ot footballing .
Thats progress i guess !

Barrabas said...

Oh and by the way
Dry Ice is frozen CO 2 !

Coops said...

I'm just going to leave these here:

It's not naivety, or stupidity, or anything consciously deliberate. It's just human nature. No one is going to fix climate change, because the great mass of people are incapable of acknowledging the threat.

Gunnar Rundgren said...

The main challenge for climate change activism is the fact that tackling the issues will be difficult and require fundamental lifestyle shifts from most people in the developed world. Changes that most don't want to do, at least not until the elite has made them first. People are desperately clinging to new technological innovations to save our civilization instead of acknowledging that it will wither.

On my side of the Atlantic I don't think the climate change movement or the environmental movement have played the doom card very much, rather the opposite, I think they try in vain to put a positive spin to the messages. I think there is an increasing understanding of that you can't fight a system built around instant satisfaction with argument of the same kind,

I don't recognize the scientific arrogance of climate change activists that you describe, at least not as a general feature.

On a policy level the positive spin and the idea that there will be no hardship is "sold" under the chapeau of Green Economy or environmental jobs etc.

Wizard of Tas said...

Sounds about right. I own the property we live in and just bought a block on the other side of Tas. How long would I keep them if I refused to pay rates (tax).

nuku said...

@W.B. Jorgenson,
I sympathise with your mention of the "social costs" of giving up the use of various technologies; I’ve had a few friends make mildly disparaging remarks when I said I didn’t have a smart phone, just a simple old Nokia for text and phone calls. Ditto for not watching television. I’m in my 70’s and frankly I really don’t give a rat’s a--s what most people, including family, think of me. I’m comfortable with who I am, and the only person whose opinion I care about is my wonderful long-term girlfriend.

Aside from the issue of technology, I’ve had to let go of some friends who are deeply committed to the Myth Of Progress and will not even participate in a reasonable discussion. I found that I just could not be around them in any but the most superficial way, and that it wasn’t worth the energy it took to keep my mouth shut and avoid the inevitable fight.

I feel the same way about people who have a deeply held belief that women are inferior; there is no way I want to waste my precious time interacting with them as friends or even acquaintances.

So yes, its sometimes painful to cut loose from people whose beliefs you find abhorrent, but if you make an effort, I’m sure you’ll find a few friends who share your views. Good Luck!

Tony said...

Good analysis. On the new ice age consensus, wasn't there this paper that looked at the literature and concluded that the majority of research went for warming rather than cooling? I also seem to recall a more recent paper but can't find it.

However, I'm not sure that the activists could paint a rosy picture of the future with renewables (as envisaged by them) and not be dishonest. But I'm sure a lot of them tried. Hey, Al Gore even thinks the battle is being won.

Good point on activists not walking the walk. I presume Kevin Anderson is one of the scientists doing that. I'm not sure of the other, unless it's his colleague, Alice Bows-Larkin. Personally, I hate flying (not as in scared but as in the emissions), and try to limit it only to family visits (I emigrated a decade ago).

nuku said...

@Anthony Romano,
I think JMG’s point is that the climate activists deliberately chose to target coal mining as a “baddie” precisely because it was an easy target. A (relatively) small number of blue collar workers in a definitely non-sexy, dirty industry located in non-glamorous “hillbilly country”. Easy pickings and a pat on the back for a win for climate change.
They refrained from pointing the finger at the airline/travel/tourist industry NOT out of concern for potentially larger blue-collar job losses in that industry, but because it would have been a much harder sell to the people who actually run the country, the affluent classes. In addition, the climate activists themselves didn’t want to give up their own use of air travel.

FiftyNiner said...

JMG, et al,
It occurred to me as I did my rounds yesterday that the next POTUS will unquestionably be a person wearing pants who has spent at least the last THREE decades seeing the world only from behind the tinted glass of a chauffeur driven limousine! The Age of the Caesars has arrived for sure! However, I still view Trump in a more favorable light than Madame Clingon. It was interesting last evening to hear Obama and Bloomberg working so assiduously to hold down Trump's campaign expenses! This could turn into an honest-to-goodness LANDSLIDE!

Unknown said...


Heavy hitting article today!

I'm guessing you may have read this because it comes from the same magazine that I've seen some of your work featured on, but for those who haven't, here's the exception that proves the rule regarding giving up air travel:


Russ said...

John - I agree with most of what you've written but I have to throw you a curve. The comparison of the failure of the climate movement with the success of the same-sex marital movement is faulty. In the latter the yes or no vote doesn't affect everyone (a seemingly small minority of persons involved), neither would it cost any of us anything and it is backed by provisions of our constitution. One could argue that climate change comes under the provisions of the clean air act; it does but that requires a finding of fact that is subject to politics and debate.. AND, it affects everyone. The same-sex marriage situation is not similar. Many of us could care less about same-sex marriage since it wouldn't affect our lives or pocketbooks..
We, wife and I have been a behind-the-scenes advocates in the environmental movement for at least 50 years. When we could afford it we installed solar hot water and voltaic systems, insulation, geo-thermal heating/cooling, burned home-grown wood in our fireplace, stopped flying, bought a Prius and drove as little as possible. This computer uses XP and we don't have a smartphone or any other such electronic device except TV and stereo. The internet connection is hooked up to batteries fed by solar panels, etc. We're in our mid-80's so we don't spend a lot time learning how to raise our own food. I have been very forthright in discussions about renewables: they will not support the Western Civ. lifestyle. Enjoy your posts. Russ Day

Eric Backos said...

Greetings to the assembled Wizardren!
We in Northeast Ohio are following Melbourne’s example by holding well-advertised monthly meetings.
The monthly joint meeting of the Green Wizards’ Benevolent and Protective Association, Tower Number 440, and Ruinmen’s Guild, Local 440 will be held at 11:30 AM on Saturday, September 24, 2016. Our location is Ruko’s Family Restaurant, 9385 Mentor Avenue, Mentor, Ohio 44060, (440) 974-1914. Shining the Green Light! Public Welcome! Tables for Failed Scholars. Look for the table topper with the Green Wizard Hat.
Many thanks to John for the posting space on his blog.

Lawfish1964 said...

“The principal energy sources of our present industrial civilization are the so-called fossil fuels. We burn wood and oil, coal and natural gas, and, in the process, release waste gases, principally CO2, into the air. Consequently, the carbon dioxide content of the Earth’s atmosphere is increasing dramatically. The possibility of a runaway greenhouse effect suggests that we have to be careful: Even a one- or two-degree rise in the global temperature can have catastrophic consequences. In the burning of coal and oil and gasoline, we are also putting sulfuric acid into the atmosphere. Like Venus, our stratosphere even now has a substantial mist of tiny sulfuric acid droplets. Our major cities are polluted with noxious molecules. We do not understand the long-term effects of our course of action. But we have also been perturbing the climate in the opposite sense. For hundreds of thousands of years human beings have been burning and cutting down forests and encouraging domestic animals to graze on and destroy grasslands. Slash-and-burn agriculture, industrial tropical deforestation and overgrazing are rampant today. But forests are darker than grasslands, and grasslands are darker than deserts. As a consequence, the amount of sunlight that is absorbed by the ground has been declining, and by changes in the land use we are lowering the surface temperature of our planet. Might this cooling increase the size of the polar ice cap, which, because it is bright, will reflect still more sunlight from the Earth, further cooling the planet, driving a runaway albedo* effect? Our lovely blue planet, the Earth, is the only home we know. Venus is too hot. Mars is too cold. But the Earth is just right, a heaven for humans. After all, we evolved here. But our congenial climate may be unstable. We are perturbing our poor planet in serious and contradictory ways. Is there any danger of driving the environment of the Earth toward the planetary Hell of Venus or the global ice age of Mars? The simple answer is that nobody knows. The study of the global climate, the comparison of the Earth with other worlds, are subjects in their earliest stages of development. They are fields that are poorly and grudgingly funded. In our ignorance, we continue to push and pull, to pollute the atmosphere and brighten the land, oblivious of the fact that the long-term consequences are largely unknown.”

― Carl Sagan, Cosmos

MigrantWorker said...


I think there is more, a variation on the theme of political naivete if you like. It consists of presenting specific changes as an ultimate solution, without considering the effect of fundamentals on the specifics.

For example, you have mentioned many times how it would be an obvious thing to do to ditch the machines in favor of human labour once the tax code that favors machines is abolished. This one act would go a long way towards solving a number of environmental issues - but not even the Green party (at least not the British one) proposes it; instead they propose rather small tweaks at the margins of the tax code, which keep its current form essentially intact.

Another good example is the universal emphasis on creating jobs, understood as opportunities to work for a company or another person in return for a wage/salary. But the British Green party does not propose a similar drive to increase the number of people working for themselves - even though such a form of employment would go a long way towards relocalising industry.

I'm singling out the Green party because it is ostensibly representing the Green movement within the current power structures, thus giving it access to actual policymaking on a national level. They _could_ change the fundamentals, unlike the mere activists whose ability to change laws is greatly restricted. But they do not even try - while promising results which cannot be achieved without changing the status quo. Sure, these suggestions in paragraphs above have little support right now; but isn't it the job of a political movement to make its proposals accepted? Well, the Greens appear to have chosen an opposite route - start with what is accepted, and then make your proposals based on that. No wonder they have come to be seen as irrelevant; they basically promise an Atlantic Republic in Retrotopia's skin.


Kim Arntsen said...

Thank you for another thought-provoking post. I don't disagree at all with your overall point, but there's a few things I'd like to comment on, some of which have already been brought up by a few of the other commentators.

First, while this doesn't excuse the strategic mistakes of the climate movement at all, wasn't their objective a pretty tall order compared to most other social movements of the time? Like you said in your post on the Paris agreement, constantly emitting greenhouse gases is the foundation of "everything that makes modern industrial societies modern and industrial". Putting a stop to that would entail a major reorganization of society, and would involve nearly everyone from the rich to the very poor. I'd think that would be a very hard sell even with a good strategy. Especially when the consequences of inaction are so vague (on an individual level) and so far in the future.

I also think the comparison with same-sex marriage is kind of apples to oranges. Introducing same-sex marriage requires no new infrastructure, no energy inputs, and only involves a tiny minority of the population directly (or so I'd argue; the book I chose for your last reading assignment was a vehemently anti-same-sex marriage screed claiming it would invalidate every Christian marriage as well, but I'll get to that after your next education post). Another advantage for the same-sex marriage campaign was that it could easily be slotted into a Religion of Progress framework as the next step for Progress following on from civil rights for African Americans, feminism and so on.

The point about being able to promise people sweat and toil as long as there's payoff was interesting. Something I find slightly exasperating about the Norwegian Green Party (of which I'm an active member) is the dithering between willingness to be honest about the predicament of industrial society and wanting to keep telling voters everything will be okay and that Western middle-class lifestyles of course are sustainable with a few tweaks. There's a very strong fear of being "negative" and seen as "doomers" among some in the party, I'd say.

On the other hand, the party does promote a local equivalent of "a vision of a grand new era of green industry, with millions of new working-class jobs", even if it's not always clear where exactly all those jobs are going to come from. On that note, I'd also be very interested to see your full post on that in an American context.

superpeasant said...

Surely the question here is how the facts of anthropogenic climate change can be translated into the urgent necessary practical actions when it has to go through the utterly non-scientific process of politics?

You mention the recent referendum her in the UK on our continued membership of the EU. We have a parliamentary democracy here in which 75% of our elected representatives wanted to stay in the EU. The extreme right-wing of the Conservative Party pressured Cameron into holding the Referendum becausw they saw it as a way of overturning the will of our elected sovereign parliament .

Political elections are normally based on candidates 'laying out their stall' in their pre-election manifesto and we vote for our preferred choice. If, four or five later and we find out that they have failed on their tangible promises (higher/ lower taxes, more/less on health, education, law and order, military et etc) we can throw them out.

The referendum has been much more like a trial by jury. The 'outers' and 'remainers'(lawyers) made their persuasive arguments and then the British electorate (the jury) made their decision based on what it had heard. Bear in mind that this is not a regular election, but a once-in-a-lifetime choice. No sooner had the result been announced that the winning side were backing away from the promises they had made on slashing immigration, spending more on the National Health Service etc etc. Their campaign was based on lies. To make matters worse, the 'jury' had been grossly misled by the Murdoch media, along with other right-wing outlets such as The Daily Express, The Daily Mail etc into a vote which, very like that exploited by Trump, had hardly anything to do with Europe, but was a protest vote by the millions of the 'left behind' while the 1% prospered. The outcome is very likely to make them very angry indeed at having been cheated.

I make this comparison between Climate Change and the Brexit referendum because in both cases factually reasoned argument has been completely cast aside. In the face of a hostile media the UK Remain camp and Climate activists face equal defeat, just as Trump poses a serious threat to Clinton.

Some put it down to a complete failure of education that intelligent, reasoned debate and scientific facts are being cast aside in a wild fit of anger and unreason. I am sure that you will agree that a lot of this involves the abject failure of the American (actually worldwide) consumer dream. It has been a 50 year fraud which has driven into a state of disappointment, despair and debt which threatens the very viability of our natural life-support systems.

Finally, you end your piece by mentioning 'the centuries ahead'. We don't have centuries and if temperatures continue to rise at the current rate the world as we know it will disappear well before the current century is out.

Eric Backos said...

Hi John
Since asking your permission to use Retrotopia while student teaching, I’ve been surprised by the that-will-never-work remarks. Perhaps the matter could be considered in light of this week’s ADR – How can Green Wizardry be packaged to make as many friends as possible?

Ian Dowson said...

Hi JMG - As someone's who’s stopped flying, taking a leaf out of Kevin Anderson's book (no doubt one of the scientists you mentioned?) I like to think I’m ahead of the curve on this one ;-) Mind you, you'd think I'd admitted to being a mass murderer some of the looks I get from friends and family...

The point Kevin often makes is about how we take people along with us. So, instead of focusing on the people who have a package holiday each Summer, the people who need to cut down on flying are the middle class and business travellers taking 3,4,5 plus flights a year. Any talk of changing their behaviour by changing policy, more taxation or whatever, is rubbished so as not to stoke the ire of the great God of growth.

Anyway, I think the left should take a leaf out of UKIP’s book and look how they achieved Brexit - When James Goldsmith first started the referendum party in the mid 90's, he was viewed as a loon. Well now 20 years later we're out of the EU and the successor party, UKIP, regularly polls 15-20%. I think we need to realise this is a long game and things like degrowth, localisation, ecological economics may seem left field now but could soon be normal currency and neoliberal globalisation will seem crazy (I hope)!

The “left” whoever that is anymore need to just bite the bullet, start advocating these things now, as unpopular as they may at first be, then when the proverbial really starts hitting the fan in the coming years, we’ll be ready with an alternative.

hhawhee said...

Not to quibble, but the 1984 quote is:

"Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia"

Your point about the doom-and-gloom rhetoric as a turnoff was brought home to me a few years ago when I saw a meme that my AGW denialist friends were sharing -- a short clip from South Park with a scarey loudspeaker-like device broadcasting baleful warnings about how global warming was going to get us all. The lightbulb went on over my head then: "oh, so THAT'S how they see us." Your first point was made in connection with the Iraq War, when a beloved family member who's all-in with the Global War on Terror said, "but you make us feel so stupid, so how are we supposed to listen to what you have to say?"

hhawhee said...

whoa, I was wrong about the "Eastasia" quote and Archdruid was right. That's how quick things turn around here in Oceania, I guess.

Violet Cabra said...

JMG, I can't help but agree with the importance of positive vision in the creation of mimesis. Many of my friends have been inspired by my actions in ways that I've found surprising. A quick survey:

1) after talking about Oswald Spengler non-stop for a year and a half, several of my friends got Decline of the West from the library and read it. They got a lot out of it and weren't people I'd have thought of as 'intellectuals'.

2) while farming I talked with everyone about how genuinely satisfying the work is. One of my friends, inspired, left his cushier life to work on organic farms, citing my example as a major point of inspiration.

3) Since getting deep with herbs, using them for all of my health needs, and teaching classes, many friends of mine have started making their own tinctures, and showing a large degree of sophistication in their extraction processes and displaying a grasp of materia medica that I find impressive. One friend quit her job so she could spend more time learning about herbs, foraging and gardening! I gave her personalized, free classes of course.

I mention all of these examples because they surprised me. I didn't design to have people follow my example, I wasn't advertising. Instead I was just sharing from my own life and doing my routine, sharing it with others. People saw this and appearantly changed on their own accord and in their own unique way. The choices we make and how we talk about them are clearly important. Personal example is even more so, as is availability to help people make the first few steps on the steepest part of the learning curve.

Johnny said...


Seeing your post makes me think I’ve made some mistakes in how I approached the issue of climate change. I learned about the idea first as a concept in science fiction and then in the late 80s as a real concern, when I was about 10. From then I started to focus on learning about what I could personally do – which is an ongoing process. I did make real sacrifices, although I think they are as you describe them, simply inconveniences (I’ve never driven a car, I stopped eating meat, and I don’t use airplanes if I can help it - I’ve taken about one trip a decade since then and the first trip was to see family when I was too young to really have any say, and the last was a business trip I couldn’t get out of), still in some cases this has meant tough decisions. I was never comfortable discussing my rationale for doing these things with anyone because I felt that it would be trying to impose my morals on others (although I did post once here about veganism because I thought it was relevant), I just usually say something like “I don’t like flying,” or “I like having being able to read on the train”. People know these things about me but they don’t understand what’s really behind it, and I’ve never tried to be part of a greater movement to change people’s opinion on climate change (I think at best I’ve contributed to the “doom, doom, doom” mantra). Do you know how we should go about trying to help? My concern has always been on trying to do more personally (I think I am still quite wasteful but I am trying to get better always). Am I going about this wrong? I try to be optimistic but I feel now like that amounts to just trying to be positive in the face of an awful and worsening situation.

Nestorian said...


How about a similar post-mortem post on the Peak Oil movement as a public advocacy project?

Unlike climate change, Peak Oil never even really got off the ground in mass public consciousness, and it seems to me that some of the reasons for this failure coincide with the reasons you cite to explain the failure of climate change as a public advocacy project.

David, by the lake said...


I work at in the utility industry (at a nice, socialist municipal utility). I can tell you that the industry has seen a considerable flattening of load growth, even some load decline, which for the old-hands is just unheard of. Our utility is smaller, but we do have solid-fuel generation. The good(ish) news is that we co-fire biomass. (We are actually air permitted for 100% biomass, but there are supply-chain, economic, and operational issues that would have to be addressed first.) I've been an advocate for an upstream carbon tax (tax applicable when it comes out of the ground or over the border), which would help levelize the playing field in the wholesale marketplace. I hope to be able to move some more of my ideas along in coming years, particularly if a possible advancement opportunity does indeed materialize.

On the election, I am still amazed at the incredible blockheadedness I witness in the discussion threads. A few people are starting to speak up about looking into the causes of the working class vote migrating Trumpward, but those voices seem drowned out by those who say those people don't vote for "us" anyway, have always voted against their own economic interests (!) and "we" just need to fire up "our" loyal supporters. Senility, indeed!

I played around with an interactive electoral map the other day and came up with my projection. I gave each side their "usual suspects" -- Clinton got the west coast, the northeast (except for NH and the one electoral vote in northern ME), HI, and the Lakes region of IL, MN, WI and MI, plus CO and NM. Trump got the "fly-over" country, AK, NV, AZ, NH, that northern ME vote, the southeast including FL, and OH. (Clinton kept PA.) The result? 270-268 Trump. I see this as a very plausible map.

tokyo damage said...

Another great column, which both raises problems and prescribes strategies which I hadn't ever thought about before!

To the point of the Failure of Climate Activism:

There's some other hurdles specific to this issue (i.e. not a problem for advocates of gay marriage or other successful causes): You're telling people you're trying to convert, that THEY are the problem, not the corporations or government. We don't like hearing that.

And you're not just fighting people's lifestyles AND big corps AND governments at the same time, you're fighting an ideology of 'growth forever at all costs' which is so unconscious/entrenched that all governments from capitalism to fascism to communism share(d) it.

And you're telling people, 'OK all you have to do is change yourself, corporations, governments, and basic foundational civilizational assumptions. . . and what is your reward, should you succeed? Living like Little House on the Prairie and spending your nights knitting your own handkerchiefs."

So there's some unique challenges here, marketing-wise.

John Dunn said...

Just some simple steps. I turned off the AC a few years back. Saves a lot of energy and money. We've come to accept AC as a necessity, it isn't. Buy a clothes line: why burn a fire in the basement to dry clothes?

Commute on a motorcycle. A small vehicle uses less metal, etc. in its' production, and burns much less gas. Poor man's Prius.

This type of thing was common knowledge in the 70's. --JD

Ezra Buonopane said...

Glad to see somebody finaly acknowledge that flying is far from the only way, or even the best way, to travel long distances. I recently heard that NASA was trying to delvelop a zero carbon commercial jet liner and thought: wouldn't it be easier to bring back ocean liners? They would take a few days to cross the atlantic ocean, but even a lowly tourist class passenger on the SS United States had more room, better food, and more things to do than a first class passenger on one of today's airplanes, and with a far smaller carbon footprint. If you need to go long distances overland, then lighter than air flight is an option. The test flights of the aeroscraft prototype seem to indicate that they've solved most of the problems (such as not being able to control your own buoyancy without ballast) of the first generation of rigid airships. I suspect that this technology will become quite widespread in the next few decades; a transportation option that can cary large payloads and needs nothing more than flat ground to land on would be very useful when we can't maintain freeways and airports anymore.

Mister Roboto said...

I can't help but be reminded of the foolish-sounding rhetorical Saint Vitus's dance being done by Hillary Clinton's supporters that we can count on hearing pretty much every election cycle.

Pat said...

Could you put a link on your homepage that goes to the "Retrotopia" series. I have recommended it to people to read, but is spread out throughout your many, wonderful, posts.

BTW - your work, and writing are great. Thank you.

Ben Johnson said...

JMG - Since I wasn't around at the time, would you say the environmental movement made similar (or the same) mistakes in the late 70s - early 80s regarding the limits to growth and movement away from fossil fuels?

Bob said...

Another distinction I would draw between the success of the Marriage Equality movement and the failure of the Climate Change movement is related to your final point about sacrifice, and bearing the cost. This relates also to recent debates on the American left about whether to vote for Hillary Clinton or Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Whether I vote for Hillary or Trump, I cannot vote against big banks. The difference is this: Gay marriage is not a threat to Capitalism itself, or the people in control of (and at the top of) that system (large financial institutions). Goldman Sachs doesn't care who is or isn't allowed to get married, but they sure as heck care if the commercial air and auto industries survive. [As a side note, during your build-up, I thought you were referring to the Internet, not the Airlines. Surprise!] Meaningful climate action involves a fairly radical shift in societal behavior, as you have said many times. And while I disagree with you that NO ONE was arguing for a kind of Green New Deal (I do recall reading essays calling for letting the US auto companies fail, and having the US Government hire those workers to build wind turbines and the like), the larger point stands: Americans do not want to make sacrifices, especially if the beneficiaries are strangers. I am reminded of the old Dead Kennedys album, Give Me Convenience, or Give Me Death. 1960s radicals had to choose between Gilligan's Island and Janis Joplin, so getting people fired up and involved was eaiser (the Draft didn't hurt either), but now people have an infinite amount of entertainment at their disposal, and asking them to give even a small portion of that up sounds like a Betrayal of American Freedom, or something.

Ien in the Kootenays said...

Great post. I love your mind. Blaise Pascal formulated this basic marketing principle some centuries ago. "Before you can convince people something is true, you have to first make them wish it were true." For lefties such as myself, hoping for the downfall of corporatism, an environmental doomsday scenario has a certain appeal. Many good comments as well, though I have to stop reading them if I want to get to the gardens that are my passion, my sanity, and my contribution. I just wanted to give a shout out to some. Cacaogecko, I am your typical green liberal, and take great pride in my ability to raise and butcher chickens. Caryn in Dubois, I love what you say about two sides being right. Why is it so hard for people to think and/and instead of jumping to either/or? I did a blogpost once that starts more or less "If I could change one thing to make this world a better place, it would be to discourage thinking in binaries". Several people mentioned the cost in social relationships of living without. So true. Right now my electrity use is going through the roof. My husband has been reduced to skin and bones by a neuro degenerative disease. He keeps cranking up heat, even in summer. What am I suposed to do, let him freeze? I have been doing the eat local, with the seasons, for most of my life. I grew up that way in post war Europe and reverted back to it when I became a gardener. Overall, my life is relatively virtuous in green terms. But, oh, how I love my internet! Guilty as charged on that account. As for a positive vision, Bill McKibben offers a nice one at the end of "Eaarth". Simp,e, more local living, more done by hand, but we get to keep the internet to facilitate exactly that. When I despair of tne world I google Permaculture, urban farming, and bio char. Good things are happening.

Spanish fly said...

(Sorry, this is my definitive comment. Please, delete first one I wrote and publish this one, thanks).

Oh misery of clever middle class people!

"It's the masses who determine events"...Blah bla blah...

In this old french movie we can see that people chattering in the bus. They are complaining about everything, but bus driver keeps on driving until...ooops!they aren't going to bus stop, they are being driven to...where?
Climate change activists have been sitting on the bus 30 years but they haven't moved their arses yet...I think that scene woould be a good allegory for them; although it weren't Robert Bresson idea when filmed that in 70s.
Climate change activists don't want to get off the jet named "progress", too. It's too cold out there...

Kirby Benson said...

As a species we have a built in denial of death. Ernest Becker explored this idea in depth in his book, 'The Denial of Death'. I think it then follows that if we accept the fact of climate change we then accept the fact of impending death. This we cannot allow as it points out our mortality. We defend our religious beliefs of life after death even to the point of killing others in order to be correct. So, in this regard the denial of death and the denial of climate change are closely related.

JimBobRazrBk said...

Recovering "religious right" member here- you're absolutely right about all the anti gay marriage rhetoric. In fact, some people went a good deal further than predicting it would force pastors to marry two men, claiming it would literally cause the end of the world. Back in the days when I still tried to talk to other family members etc. who still adhere to that movement, I was always amazed that they'd dismiss everything I had to say about Peak Oil as "conspiracy theory" and "irrational paranoia," yet somehow the idea that God would destroy the earth soon and send the antichrist down as punishment for homosexuality sounded perfectly logical to them. What amazes me about this is that Peak Oil lacks any supernatural component, being simply the scientific notion that a finite planet cannot contain an infinite amount of oil, and that the current lifestyle we live is dependent upon an enormous input of oil. Yet the conspiracy theory that homosexuality will cause the apocalypse is based in nothing whatsoever but supernatural belief, lacking any scientific basis. But then again, "science" has become something of a dirty word to the people who live outside the circles of academic privilege, so adding in "This is based on science" has actually become a way to convince people like this NOT to listen to anything you have to say (much like for Global Warming.)

Robert Carran said...

I certainly can't disagree with your points about the failure of the climate change movement. Al Gore is truly the poster child, with his massive footprint being totally out of step with his rhetoric.

However, I think the biggest problem, by far, with making any real gains is the massiveness, the inertia, of the current system. And there are YUUUUGE amounts of money being made from this system. I have been in the business of "collapse now and avoid the rush" for a good 25 years now. Well before climate change became a household word. And it differs from the gay marriage issue in a very important way: allowing gay marriage (or pot smoking, for that matter) doesn't require you to change your lifestyle or consumption one iota. AND, the powers that be probably also smoke pot before gay sex at the same rate as the rest of us : )

My focus has been very much along the lines of what you suggest: provide a positive vision and be willing to get by with less myself. It's not hard. Envisioning local food production, barter, and a lower tech existence is pretty easy, and frankly, quite fun and exciting. But convincing other people to change habits has been dumbfoundingly difficult. One simple example, (of which there are many): I was in an off-grid intentional community for 5 years and my girlfriend and I tried to start up a ride share system to town, because so many people were making solo trips 45 mins into town. These were people of mostly low income who were pressed for time as well. You would think it would be an easy sell: save time and money with the relatively small hassle of coordinating. But our effort failed, in an "ecovillage" no less.

When our whole system is based on fossil fuels, convenience, and the religion of progress, it is difficult for most people to put food on the table, pay rent, and change consumption habits for one's self, much less convince others to do the same. And the real kicker is that it would be much easier if other people were on the same track. It's a question of momentum, a catch 22.

I think it's going to take some serious crash of the current system to get people on board. My strategy is to be prepared, both psychologically and practically, for when that happens. I'm thinking it won't be long...

mr_geronimo said...

They can't lead by example because they are Toynbee's dominant minorities, not the creative elites. Dominant minorities lead by fraud and violence and of course the proletariats resists as much as possible. There will be no response, no one will take the lead, because the societies that matter - West, Russia, China, India, are deep into the Universal State period, ruled by dominant minorities. The muslims don't seem to be there yet and the africans are still in their heroic age, but the muslims and the africans are irrelevant when it comes to pollution.

And the ambientalists, being salaryman or 1ers%, are dominant minority. They are not looking for their societies, they are looking for themselves. That's why they want to dump the cost on the people and on the colonies. I'd rather see the cities sink below the seas then cooperate with the tyrants.

Hammer said...

Just build a few signs saying "Do not mow garden. You are being monitored" and hang up a few fake security cameras.

Mark said...

I remember seeing an Inconvenient Truth when it came out and reading the tiny little section of the final credits that described the things ordinary people could do: which amounted too getting a smaller car and changing one's lightbulbs. I suppose the calculation was that you have to meet people where they are, and better to get people started with the baby steps than freak them out with what is really needed. Or maybe Al Gore never really bought-in to collapsing now, later or ever - he's clearly a smart man who saw the problem; but also a man who seems to like his travel and like his stuff. Either way, as you say, the real need for major, major lifestyle change was never described.

But we're all conflicted to some degree, or most of us are. Lifestyle change is the key to it. But it's hard. I don't say that as an excuse. I've been reading you for a long time, and been aware of the issues for longer, and I've taken my lifestyle down a significant number of pegs. I feel like I'm part of the solution. But I still find it difficult, if I'm honest, to talk about the issues with "non-believers" without feeling defensive or embarrassed. I just don't have the verbal chops or ego presence. So I tend to do what I do quietly, setting what example I can, without promoting myself. More and more people I know are doing that, which is very positive in terms of tangible results. But it's happening bottom-up and spontaneously, in response to real needs. Not top-down in response to campaigns.

Maybe people who can take action in their own lives tend to make very poor activists/campaigners, for climate change or anything else? And maybe people who are pulled towards activism are pre-disposed to talk more and act less? It must certainly be hard to walk one's lifestyle away from the system, while still trying to work within the system to lead people away from it. Maybe good activists are just too clubbable by nature, especially those raised in this last generation of third-way spinners?

I do look forward to hearing more about how it could have been done better, how the picture of lifestyle change could have been better painted and promoted. But it would have taken a certain type of leader to both walk and talk the talk.

Jim Emberger said...

I am a reader of your column from its first days and find myself either agreeing with you, or being persuaded by you almost constantly. This column is no exception, but I do question some of its arguments.

For the last 5 years I have been the spokesman for an alliance of community groups fighting against shale gas and climate change. It was a long fight, but we have prevailed, at least for a while, as we have an indefinite moratorium on shale gas. In that battle we learned that no one style of argument motivates everyone.

For the base of the movement the motivation was clearly and overwhelmingly the fear of consequences. Doom and gloom are extremely powerful motivators, particularly if one can link actual current events to predictions made by the movement. Fear and doom are personal and for anyone with empathy, examples of those who have suffered consequences can be powerful motivators that provide the passion any movement needs.

So I think that fear was the appropriate and necessary tactic to start the climate movement, just as it was in the case of the Clean Water Act - I remember the images of burning rivers and millions of dead fish floating in Lake Erie, etc.
Fear and doom are the staples of both US political parties currently, and apparently engender a great deal of passionate support.

Climate activists have been promoting the positive economic and health benefits of fighting climate change for some time, but those who don't need jobs, for example, aren't passionately motivated by those arguments. They are just another argument on the plus side if you are in a debate. And the folks who need the jobs are often the most resistant to change of any kind - witness the attitude of coal miners in your neck of the woods. This was also the case in our shale gas fight.

The promotion of positive outcomes works with a segment of the population, but I think it is less widespread or emotional. I believe its impact is small until the problem reaches a crisis point that can't be ignored. Then 'hope' becomes a necessary ingredient.

Also, I don't believe your examples of the opposition to gay marriage and the Clean Water Act are appropriate ones. The first, despite the amount of disinformation, really affected very few lives personally, beyond those directly involved. The CWA was passed at a time when the environmental movement was being born, and there wasn't yet a sophisticated organized counter-movement against them, because there had been no need for one.

A better example would be the fight against tobacco. In that fight the 'denier' science had to be called out specifically. And I believe that is what Naomi Oreskes is doing. She is not attacking the legitimate discussion of the issue, but is directing her remarks to those opponents who disingenuously use it as an excuse for doing nothing or as a red-herring. The 'science' does matter to a sizable part of the movement.

Finally, while I am pessimistic, and agree with your views on the future, I don't think we can say yet that the movement has failed - only that it certainly has not yet succeeded. It continues, not just in the same old ways, but in courtrooms and novel approaches by a growing and coalescing of international interest groups that for many varied reasons are affected by climate change. Too many unknowns to declare victory or defeat - but positive steps are truly coming too slowly.

Having said all that, we are in total agreement about the failure to lead by example, an issue I struggle with in my own organization - specifically on air travel.

Glenn said...

On leading by example.

For the first few years after I retired from the service and settled on this island, I crabbed every year (two months in the summer, two months in the late fall) from an 18 foot open centerboard sloop with oars as auxiliary power. Noticing how long it took to rig up, one year I left the rig and some ballast ashore and did a whole summer season entirely under oars.

One of my fellow islanders, (a transplant from Maine, retired from the U.S. Forest Service) saw me rowing the heavy sloop down the bay one day, and offered me a Peapod (small, double ended boat, originally developed for lobstermen on the east coast). "You'll need to finish it" he said. It consisted of a building form, the center bottom plank, inner stems and the rest of the wood required for planking. I was attending a boatbuilding school at the time and they offered to provide the labour if I bought the rest of the materials, as a subcontractor's delay left one class without a project.

I put most of a Pell Grant into the materials, and my daughter now has a 13 foot peapod. And this summer she is crabbing out of it while I make windows to finish our very small house.

And we give both crab and eggs to our neighbors and families.

Work hard, walk your talk. Build community.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Fred said...

I've never met anyone in person on the liberal left or the conservative right who walks the talk they spout out of their mouths. In fact the louder they shout, the more incongruent their lifestyle is with what they are telling everyone else to do.

If Trump looked at the resource and climate "balance sheets" and said to the American people, "You've been lied to for decades. Your leaders were stupid. The country is bankrupt and we are going to need to work hard together to fix this.", he'd win in a landslide. People know the system is rigged and they are regularly being deceived by those on the left and the right.

Nastarana said...

Dear Cherokee Organics, The Clinton campaign has no intention of winning this election. They plan to steal it, just like they stole the primary. The over the top scary Trump second coming of Adolph rhetoric is intended to intimidate enough of small officialdom across the country that those officials will--just this once, for the greater good,--go along with the plan, and be well rewarded. The reward is important because if they profit she gets to own them. Then, on Jan 20, Mme C. will fix us with her dominatrix glare, utter her trademark witches cackle, and say "Sure I stole it! Whatcha goin' a do about it, huh?"

Synthase said...

One thing that might appeal to the more aspirational set is an exploration of what actions one can personally take now, to give one's own descendents a real shot at a life of relative wealth and privilege in a deindustrial future.

PRiZM said...

A lot of valid points brought up in the article, many of which have been made before, so I've enjoyed reading the comments. I'm not trying to argue the point of climate change, just as Leon is neither trying to argue. There's no doubt the climate is changing and some awful dreadful extremes are happening. The one point to debate though is whether we can predict what will happen in the future, which you interestingly made strong arguments against trusting in science and scientists in your article but then used the argument in response to Leon that you specialized in ecology in university, and use different data sources than most others, and thus should be more trusted than others in how you come to conclusions. I found this reeking of hypocrisy, and all the more so as it follows an article in which you went at some length to help explain why many cannot trust those with so called scientific background. And further, I do recall when the ebola virus was of some concern in the African continent, you made a post about how it very likely could find its way to the USA and begin a major epidemic in that country, to which Bill Pulliam made a counter argument that it was not yet mutated enough yet to easily spread, which you frankly refused to consider. Now nearly two years later we can see that Ebola had indeed not mutated enough yet to cause a huge epidemic in the US. It could still indeed in the future, but we will have to wait to see. All of this I say, just to say there is no 100% determined conclusion as to what will happen to the world. I will need to consult with other mythologies, but I do believe the Norse Myth of Ragnarok concludes with the world burning for some years which is then followed by some years of never ending winters, a story which was perhaps inspired by more than just a few centuries of human experience...

Logan said...

Much as we all, no doubt, enjoy a good two minutes' hate on affluent liberals, it seems to me absurd to believe that if only the wage class could be convinced of the need to 'power down', then powering down in a controlled fashion would become possible. It would not.

The first comment above bears repeating: So you have to convince people that without climate action, they don't have food, jobs, or housing. But that's not exactly correct, is it, because the system, the vast burning of fossil fuels, is the only thing providing them with food, jobs, and housing!

Joseph Tainter got it right.

Rebecca said...

I'm a frequent reader but have never posted a comment. This well thought out article compelled me to do so. I have been advocating (online) that people cut back on consumption for years, while doing it myself. Over the last 10 years or so my husband and I have cut our consumption of everything in at least half. It was incremental of course, not overnight. I don't think a single thing we have done is a sacrifice. If anything it has increased our quality of life and we don't know why we didn't start sooner.

The thing is, I don't think most people notice so I'm not convinced 'leading by example' in our case has residual effects. In any case, leading by example was not a motivator for our lifestyle changes. They were purely personal and somewhat selfish (more free time, less stress).

I have friends and family who preach all the time about climate change and how we must "do something" (usually something drastic and top down) but they would not make even small changes in their lifestyle choices voluntarily. I don't say anything to them because I don't want to be preachy and because I would not have listened as recently as 10 or 11 years ago. I will occasionally 'preach' online even though the result is almost universally contempt and/or obfuscation as outlined in the article.

For example I have a cousin who is a self-proclaimed environmentalist and climate change warrior … but she drives 35 miles (70 miles r/t) in her mid-size SUV to get her hair cut at a boutique salon. There are numerous hair cutting places including fancy boutique ones within a mile of her home. This occurs every 6 weeks. I have never mentioned how incompatible this is with the bumper stickers on her SUV, which presumably are read many times in the mostly slow traffic to get her hair cut. And for all they know she is on her way to visit a sick aunt or something.

I also cut my husband's hair at home after watching intently men get haircuts at the local chain haircutting place and a YouTube video. I bought professional haircutting scissors and I've gotten pretty good at it. (First couple of tries I admit were frightful). I suppose we are depriving local haircutting people money but it is money we choose to spend locally on other goods and services. And since our finances are finite, it works out all the same.

I would not have been receptive to someone suggesting the lifestyle changes we have made. So apart from our own satisfaction and quality of life improvement, I don't think it is making a contribution to changing consumption habits.

Cutting overall consumption as we have done, if even 50% of people did the same, would cut GDP and jobs, mostly jobs overseas but also middlemen jobs here. I don't have an answer to that. Cutting consumption is necessarily going to cut jobs. Will this even out as people would require less wages/salary if they are consuming less? I don't know. I know that has been the case with us. They would have a lot more free time to pursue other interests but would they view this as a plus?

For us it was a relatively easy and stress free transition, but I'm not sure it would be for most people.
It is subjective in terms of what people think they need/want. However it is objectively true that we don't actually need most of the things we are conditioned to think we do and we are be better off without most of it … my husband and I have proved this to ourselves if no one else.

I'm also not sure the hypocrisy thing grates on most people.

Nastarana said...

Greybeard, in the USA, farming is considered a respectable occupation. There is hardly an election in rural areas of the country where you will not see several candidates bragging about how they are three or four or more generation farmers. The problem here is the high cost of land, and of rents in general.

Clay Dennis said...

JMG, I agree that without personal action by its adherents any kind of movement is stillborn. But climate change is such a tough nut to crack because really addressing it means changing nearly everything about our life in the modern industrial world. Even full knowledge and intellectual buy-in of the reality and consequences of climate change is not enough to make many people change. I have a good friend who left academia in early retirement because of its decline in to uselessness . He is a PHD scientist who fully believes in climate change and its consequences but clings to a future technological fix and in the eventual effectiveness of government to intact this yet unknown technological fix. He also thinks Hillary will somehow step up to the plate and become a great president (a reincarnation of FDR to be exact).

In another example My wife recently had a discussion with the water system director of a large gulf coast city. He believes in Climate change, and agrees with its affect on water supply and in fact has seen his own municipality go to desalination for a large portion of its water supply. But he firmly believes economic growth, population growth and progress will continue for this particular municipality, emotionally or intellectually ( or politically) not able to put the puzzle together and plan for the real future. I am not sure that with this kind of buy-in to the power of the status quo any amount of "example" on the part of climate change activists would have worked.

But they ( and we) should still change if only for our own sanity. My wife and I have downsized to a small condo in a district heated building ( shared system with city hall) next to light rail from Suburbia. I no longer drive ,except for using my wife's car to visit my elderly parents who live in retirement homes ( against my wishes) in exurban locals with horrible cycling access. I belong to a small urban csa where most of our food comes from and have been building up my cycling stamina so I can cover the entire urban area ( hills and all) by bike. I have also been moving my work( metal working) away from stuff in the high tech industry towards making things for farming, bikes equipment repair. Not really enough in the long run, but it makes all the difference to at least feel like you are moving in the right direction.

David, by the lake said...

John, et alia--

For everyone's consideration, the electoral map I referenced in my earlier comment:

Not necessarily likely, but I think it is plausible.

MichaelK said...

Dear Greer,

I did pay close attention to what you wrote, perhaps that's the problem? I'm not sure what you mean about my hidden 'agenda.' I'll skip that part as it's irrelevant.

I don't think you are being fair to the green, or climate change, 'movement.' I don't even think qualified as a 'movement', but perhaps that's just me?

I think your comparison and examples, of successful 'movements', like gay rights and the clean air act, are interesting, but... fanciful. Perhaps it's a question of scale that separates us? I think climate change, we are, after all, on the cusp of 'runaway' and 'uncontrolled' climate 'disaster.' A veritable planetary emergency; is way off the scale of challenges we face. I'd put it closer to the abolition of slavery in the United States, than something like the clean air act. Which compared to the fundamental and structural changes to the economy which are required, if we are going to deal with the enormous challenge of climate change, is a mere detail.

Do you really think that Congress passing a few pieces of legislation here and there is enough to change the way we live and save the planet? We can't simply 'tinker' with the system. It has to be 'replaced', or at the very least be 'reformed' root and branch.

Even if the 'movement' had recognised the five 'mistakes' you point to, would that have made any substantial difference? I doubt it very much. Power is Power and where it is in society. The powerful, who live in a 'vertual Versailles' as I term it, don't give a damn about what people or the 'movement' think or want. The people are, at most a necessary irritation, and at worse, at threat, but they are usually under control and coralled and steered away from Power.

Dealing with the challenges, (which are multiple and deeply rooted in our system of economics, call that what you will), is going to require a 'revolutionary' shift in power relationships in society.

Clay Dennis said...


I could not agree with you more on your comment about Hillary demonizing Putin. Many people I know buy in to the media story that Putin is a deranged KGB megalomanic who is only out to pad his bank account, kill journalists and support his oligarch friends. What they don't get is many people are beyond caring about those things. They see Putin as an effective statesman who does what he says, puts the interest of his country first, and seems to be in touch with the reality of the world as it is and not how his banker friends want it to be. This is the reason people don't care when Hillary demonizes trump for his personal failing, because they just want someone who gets things done. A true sign of the senility in the Hillary camp is that the more they beat up and try and tie Trump to Putin, the higher his poll numbers.

Logan said...

preventing global warming didn't require "challenging the entire structure and direction of US-style 'capitalism'"

I think it would, though. Contemporary capitalism isn't the mythical agile beast of economics textbooks; it's rather locked-in to its paradigms. What I've surely learned over the years from your eloquent explanation of catabolic collapse on this blog, is that industrial society's baseline energy needs were set when fossil fuels were cheap, and now with diminishing EROEI we can barely afford to maintain infrastructure, let alone build tens of thousands of new "green" towns to replace suburbia.

And the physical, literal inertia of the fossil fuel paradigm is appallingly immense. Even if all Americans got over their sunk-cost psychology tomorrow, that huge physical inertia of concrete and metal and houses that are unlivable without air conditioning and automobiles would still be there. And America doesn't have the surplus capital anymore to undertake the work of changing it, does she? She's throwing everything she's got into hanging on hand-to-mouth, as it were.

At least that's the scene I've been led to see.

As for personal lifestyles: I don't drive an automobile either, and I certainly can't afford to fly. Does it matter, though? If one doesn't drink one's milkshake, someone else eventually will. Since reading The Limits to Growth, recently I've started wondering whether conserving fossil fuels is even desirable, in practice. Their simulation showed that conservation implemented by political and technical means just makes civilizations's Peak higher, the crash harder, and only a few decades later. In other words, more harm to the biosphere may be done in the long run, the more we supplement with 'green' energy!

Lastly: no brusqueness or disrespect intended at any point. If it's there I apologize.

Eric S. said...

One of the most depressing trends I’ve seen in the environmental movement in general, and in particular the climate change movement that also relates to its decline is the way that it’s imbibed the proverbial Kool-Aid on techno-fetishism. I’m on Facebook (shame, I know, but it’s how some of the organizations I volunteer with conduct their business meetings…), and occasionally peek in on some of the people I engaged with in the transition town movement, from my natural history and humanities focused environmental science degree, from work in the forest service, and of course the environmental activist wing of the neopagan community and it’s always some new gimmick (it looks like you’ve already fielded one this week)… a seizure inducing video on solar roadways, super solar conductors, fusion power that’s just around the corner, some new wind turban technology that’s supposed to be designed in an innovated way that will capture more energy than we thought possible… a food forest the size of the Eiffel tower that’s supposed to feed cities the size of Paris, always in the form of sketches and 3D models… i.e. conceptual), using GMOs for carbon sequestration or to adapt to changing biomes is a common theme… and sometimes it’s even something that would almost undeniably generate more problems than it would solve… I really hope all the geo-engineering fantasies that the oh-so-rational holders of our future like to advocate for never get off the launch pad ( At best, it’s mostly the sort of “they’ll think of something” mentality that you have often talked about, and of course, you mentioned it this week, pointing out that anyone who raises an eyebrow at the latest techno-fix is going to be labeled as a denialist.

What disturbs me though, is that I was around these people and these communities in a day before this mentality emerged… and I remember the days when the discussions were on adapting households to fit a permaculture ethos, learning organic gardening methods, xeriscaping, food not lawns, grid free housing, and on down the line, of course a lot of it was rooted in the ecotopian ideal, and it took me years to shake that loose and begin assessing what somebody who lives alone, rents, and has few friends can do… it wasn’t perfect, but none of that’s even part of the discussion anymore. I remember neo-primitivism being in vogue and gosh-darn it, for all its problems I even miss neo-primitivism, it had a way of taking the prospect of a simple, horticultural society without progress or high technology and making it appealing instead of treating it with dread. None of that’s even discussed anymore, and it sometimes feels like none of that subculture ever even existed. I definitely remember that movement in the first decade of the century and it feels like it’s given up on itself. I’m looking forward to seeing where you take things next, on what can actually be done moving forward.

Paulo said...

I used to be a commercial pilot many years ago and quit for a few reasons, the main one being that what I did felt trivial and meaningless. I did it off and on for almost 20 years building up well over 10,000 hours. I have friends who have 25-30,000 hours flight time. Servicing remote villages felt okay, but flying tourists, fishermen, and hunters really bugged me. For myself, my last airliner trip was 17 years ago, and we have not traveled since except for short auto trips to visit relatives.

I do not argue with people about climate change anymore, especially if they have had a few too many drinks. Instead, I figure another one or two katrina's might do the trick. Last year I simply made a comment to my brother who was extolling the virtues of his bird-watching lifestyle and the superiority of Costa Rica. I told him that his 1 month jaunt to his ecological bird preserve spewed more carbon into the air than our driving would do for the entire year. When my sister gets the winter blues she heads for Hawaii as a cure. Last year they went to Turkey. This year to the south of France. I fire up the woodstove in the shop and build furniture or go for a walk when it quits raining.

Air travel is simply an outageous waste of resources in the same vein as the cruise ship industry. When some of my friends, workingmen all, feel an all-inclusive to a Carribean luxury resort is a natural entitlement of cutting down trees for a living I think to myself we have a very long way to fall.

M Smith said...

"Crapification." That's the word I was looking for!

I'd love to go back to XP, but the software is incompatible going back. IOW, I can't open any of my docs in XP because they were created in an earlier version of Windows. So, they've got me. If anyone reading knows something else to try, I'm all ears.

This morning my cell phone's website would not allow me to add more minutes, nor did it tell me why it failed. Another "device" that worked for six months. Guess I'm supposed to shrug, throw it in a landfill, and buy another. Oh, and you can create an account there, but you're not allowed to ask any support questions "till you've been here awhile". (Tracfone, for anyone who's wondering.)

Yeah. This wonderful at-my-fingertips tech has just caused another wasteful trip in the car for help with the blasted thing - unless I want to risk being cut off from the world, very scary when you live alone in crime-ridden, uneducated, unemployed rural area.

Which only strengthens my resolve to be done with them. This is part of the collapse, IMO. Stuff doesn't work and people are apathetic at this point. This is the new normal, along with rolling blackouts and flooded streets. The tech who insisted that an empty drive indeed had data on it is of the same mold as the LPN who will insist in the nursing home that one medication is the same as another, and when proven wrong, suffer no consequences at all just like the tech, who's still employed and still incompetent. The patient, though, that's another story....

Greg Belvedere said...

The way so many people concerned with climate change don't seem concerned with making changes in their own lifestyles has bugged me for some time and flying is one of the big lifestyle changes many more affluent folks I know don't want to make. Thanks for this one.

I find myself looking for more ways I can do with LESS and often feel like I come up short even though a lot of people can't imagine doing without some of the things I choose not to have (AC, TV, new clothes all the time, motorized lawn equipment). But I agree it makes more sense to show how enjoyable LESS can be. For example, people listen more if I talk about why I prefer the exercise and relative quiet of a push mower over the roar of a power mower.

There is always a balancing act. When I lived in Brooklyn I could walk everywhere conveniently, but my food needed to come from far away. Now most of my food comes from very close by, but walking or taking public transit where I live now would be very difficult, so I have a hybrid I bought used.

I think about these things a lot right now because I just bought a house and realized after buying it just how low a slope the roof has. It is not flat, but it is not pitched enough for shingles or even metal. I need to put a new roof on in the next few years and I'm hoping suitable "flat" roof options are still economical and available in 20+ years when the "rubber" EPDM roof needs replacement. It was really the best place in our price range and the rest of the house is well thought out and has many places I could utilize passive solar, but the roof. Maybe with global warming we won't get too much snow sitting on it.

shastatodd said...

i stopped traveling by air 6 years ago and eliminated most car travel too. it is part of my effort to try to live on a 3 ton/year c02 budget. mostly i feel like an idiot, restricting my behavior while all my "good green" friends are still living high carbon, non-negotiable lifestyles...

humans seem to delight in fueling our species funeral pyre. :(

Cyclone said...

Hello JMG, as I was reading your thought experiment about a greenhouse-gas-spewing industry that didn't recently exist, my mind leapt immediately to the internet! LOL. I suppose that comes from spending so much time around computers, dating back to the punch-card days.

I am posting here for the first and probably only time. I'm not much for posting things. I have a lot of lifetime experience with weather and climate (and computers), and I think the evidence is now overwhelming that something is up. The sudden quiet among some activists -- maybe that is fear?

Although in many respects the damage is already done, I agree that efforts must continue, to do what good can be done. If for no other reason than: it is never too late to do the right thing. (Yeah, moral judgement, heh.)

Perhaps the Trump campaign shows the way? Appeal to the interests of the non-affluent, the "wage class". Surely they have much at stake. I feel that is your message here -- am I correct?

For me, I plant lots of trees. Sequester that carbon! ...and grow tomatoes, and walk rather than drive whenever it is possible. And I've stayed away from flying for many years now.

And these days, I'm just down the road from you. I'm glad we're getting a bit of rain today! My trees are happier, and the mountains are so beautiful in the rain....

John Roth said...

I decided to do a little checking and found a few numbers. What I didn’t find was a nice line chart that gave the proportion of CO2 emissions by sector over time, broken down by automobile, air travel, coal electricity generation, oil and natural gas electricity generation, gas heating and etc. More detail would be useful. Where can I find such a beast? Preferably without a lot of pontificating to go with it.

The numbers I did find (at Bloomberg about 3 years ago) were that air travel accounts for about 10% of the carbon emissions in the US, while automobile travel accounts for 36%. Ten percent isn’t trivial, but it also isn’t the big ticket item.

And don’t think that the airlines don’t employ lots of working class people. They do. You’ve got the counter clerks, the baggage handlers and numerous others.


I think you’re right. It’s a cost-benefit decision. The more something costs, the more people seem to be able to distort the benefits. I’m reminded of one of those old Greeks, Aesop, who said something about “The Fox and the Grapes.”

Integrating gay and lesbian into normal society didn’t require people to make any substantial changes to their lifestyles. It still took a long time from Stonewall to today.


The reason that both campaigns are negative is that neither of them has a clue about what needs to be done, or any way to sell it. The difference is that Trump is a pathological liar, and Clinton refuses to lie, at least about something she may not be able to deliver.


I have a much simpler reason why the climate change movement failed. It’s what I call the “action horizon.” It’s how close something has to be for it to create action. There are five tiers, organized by % of the population in the US:

1. 10 % 50 years or more
2. 33 % within 20 years
3. 32 % within 3 to 5 years
4. 10 % within 1 year
5. 5 % immediate

A prediction that something going to happen by 2050, that’s 35 years in the future, is only going to suggest action now to about 10% of the population. Everyone else is going to tune it out.

The exact numbers need to be taken as suggestive, but this one simple table explains a whole lot of what’s happening. At least to me.

M Smith said...

Tabatha Atwood said: "We should go back to growing zone appropriate food- tax it, ban it, tax it's movement."

Aaaaaand the SJW's come out in droves shrilling about ThePoor, TheDisenfranchised, you're TAKING FOOD OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF HUNGRY CHILLLLLLLLLLLDREN...who are already being fed on someone else's efforts, assuming they're on welfare. You CAN'T tax food! TheChildren! ThePoor! The Sad Little Girl with unbrushed hair, no shoes - you want them all to DIE, and you want them to die because of your racism!

It was not a good idea to allow and encourage the notion that the desires of ThePoor in this country, who have apartments with AC, TVs, frig, stove, and indoor plumbing, cell phones, medical care, and education all handed to them, to be placed above all other considerations, all the time, no exceptions. Because this is how it turns out: an entitlement-minded "community" and those whose lucrative careers depend on keeping them entitlement-minded and peevish decree that we can't tax and restrict anything that ThePoor might feel like having. BTW, as a cultural note, ThePoor don't seem to believe in even separating the glass and cans from the household garbage, but they do get a little chuckle out of those who do.

Bob Patterson said...

This was a great article. But let me expand your treatment a bit. Just as a young boy urinating in a brook is not the same problem as 100,00 people dumping their wastes in the same stream. Consider the increasing use of sustainables (wind and solar), with truly incredible rates of increase in Germany. What are the environmental effects of acres and acres of solar panels or millions of windmills? There are bound to be effects, but no one seems to be exploring or discussing them.

over the hill and down the other side said...

This comment is off-topic--except that it continues your project of directing attention to the suicidal follies of the westernized world.

A few days ago we tried to watch (but it was unwatchable!) a recent OO7 movie loaned through our local library system. We do not receive TV.

The shocker was a 4-5 minute trailer for one of the DieHard movies starring Bruce Willis. Explosions, gun-fire, corpses flying through the air--interspersed with shots of Bruce Willis smirking into the camera.

Propaganda for "violence is fun." This is sold to a billion young men around the world--only one of many such productions--through vast capitalist distribution systems...

And we blame religion or think pitiful efforts at gun- control will stop the epidemic of senseless cruelty!

nrgmiserncaz said...

JMG - A cogent essay that captures the issues pretty clearly. I believe that part of the problem has been that scientists have been trying to pick up the torch more and more as environmental groups and politicians have had little success. They are not particularly good at advocacy, as you've mentioned before, so they end up sounding dogmatic and dictatorial. It is for the political class to take up the mantle of climate change but I doubt they will find the strength to give us blood, sweat and tears - instead it will be more planes, trains & automobiles!

As an aside, I've been following Kevin Anderson from the Tyndall Centre for quite a while and he has discussed air travel in the vein of your essay quite a bit. said...

Great post Greer.

You absolutely nailed the strategic flaws within the climate change movement and the parallels with the Clinton presidential campaign.

For me, the blatant hypocrisy of the green movement was the sight of the billionaire Al Gore jetting around the world telling the world to use less carbon! Throw in the fact that he used a massive amount of carbon to heat his vast mansion and the stink is almost overwhelming.

Not surprising that the wage class totally ignore the climate change activists these days.

On the subject of the US elections, it is fascinating to watch the Donald progress in the polls post-Cleveland. I have written my thoughts on the Convention and why he is in a strong position to win the up-coming election in November.

John, I have recently brought your twilight novel on the war between US and China over Tanzania. A cracking read so far!

Keep up the good work and would look forward to your own feedback on my blog.



Vincent said...


Will killing the oceans – is it possible to “kill” the oceans – be the greater threat to industrial civilization, or depending on your answer life itself?

sashi said...

The folks at the Possibility Alliance don't travel by planes. They don't even travel by cars. They mostly stay home and try to create a positive present and future. When they do travel, they bike or take trains and sometimes busses (they used to travel by horse and buggy but they had an accident and decided to study more about that). But they haven't inspired many people to do the same. Part of it is that most people don't want to give up all the things they're used to, including control over their work and finances, but also the means of survival they're used to, such as cars and computers and movies and cell phones. It's a public goods game (game theory) where people who "lead by example" either pay disproportionate costs, or externalize their cost to the others and piss them off.
This is Iuval from Sashi's account

Scotlyn said...

I read your post this morning, and read the following this afternoon, and it made hairs stand up on the back of my neck:

"The neo-Darwinist, mechanistic, non-autopoietic view and the principle myths of our
civilization are in complete consonance. It’s a dominant civilization that exploits the
weak. The countries that belong to our dominant constituency have currencies that
they can exchange with each other. In this money-based planetary civilization, geological and biological resources appear to be infinite. What’s more, their very existence is supposed to be a result of human activity. These myths of our technological civilization cannot apply to a Gaian, autopoietic view of natural history, like that of Chief Seattle, who said: “The Earth does not belong to man. Man belongs to the Earth. All things are connected, like the blood that unites us all” (Campbell, 1983). Neo-Darwinists have to reject that Native American perception, and any other non-mechanistic view, because it provokes cognitive dissonance in them. In the world of moneymaking machines, the Earth belongs to humans. In terms of autopoiesis, everything is observed by an observer immersed in the very thing he observes. In a mechanistic world, the observer is objective and remains separate from what he is observing. Mechanistic views should be replaced with others based on physiology and autopoiesis."

Lynn Margulis et al, essay, When the Environment becomes the Body


S.Treimel said...


An individual who understands the problem cannot wait for others to agree to a common solution before they act.
If we wait for this to affect the affluent, we may wait a long time. As Gail Tverberg points out in her latest essay , the least affluent are the first people affected by scarcity of resources. If the affluent person's seaside mansion floods, they purchase land on higher ground. If security is a problem, they hire some thugs. If food is scare or pricey, well, they have lots of cash and can buy what they need in the market. The affluent will be the last people to be affected enough to have a change of heart.
Survival is not a spectator sport, it is a participatory sport.

Unknown said...


WWII had a MINIMAL IMPACT on people?!?! Sorry, but I submit that WWII is a bad example for your point. Most data suggests that approximately 10% of the American population put on a uniform and went overseas. Heck, our entire demographic data is segregated based on the war years (The greatest generation, baby boomers, etc.)!


Cathy McGuire said...

Lots of great points about climate advocates’ mis-steps. I’d go for no-airplanes and allow coal to continue – but ONLY if they stop the mountain top removals!! Let them employ people to go get the coal, rather than use machines to destroy whole mountains (and the surrounding valleys) to “make it easier”. I’m also in favor of ending the industries that produce all the smartphone devices – toxic chemicals indeed! ;-)

I’ve watched both RNC and DNC in their entirety (glutton for punishment/ keen observer of human nature – you decide) and there’s no question the negativity was with the Republicans this time, and the Democrats offered lots of hope, courage and caring – no contest at all. And a very good video on climate change (which Trump denies), although not enough about what sacrifices we’ll have to make, and they are hopeful about the global agreement which, as you say, doesn’t go nearly far enough. But they (and not the Repubs) are at least sounding the alarm, and highlighting the moral obligation to respond. As I go around every day in patched clothes (I refuse to stop wearing something that isn’t yet a rag ;-)) and live a low-energy lifestyle, I see how far my friends (except GW friends) have to go to get their heads wrapped around even a little change. I’m not hopeful, frankly.

pygmycory said...

Greybeard, you might try asking those sixteen year olds who wants to be a permaculture farmer, or who wants to get into local food. That sounds a lot higher-status than agricultural laborer, and is considered cool by many.

Rebecca Brown said...

All of South Florida is having problems, not just Miami Beach. We are at a high point for the area (all of 12 feet about sea level) and the intersection just up from our house now floods whenever it rains instead of only during king tides. Sometimes it becomes impassable. Ft. Lauderdale just spent tens of millions of dollars building an elevated runway at the airport because of the more frequent floodwater intrusions. Our city has had to shut down 2 of 5 water wells due to saltwater intrusion, and a third will have to go soon.

Sea level rise is no longer debated down here. It's a fact, and the debate has shifted to what to do about it, with the usual technocentric vaporware solutions taking center stage. One engineer wants to inject plastic resin into the ground to keep the sea water from leaching up through the porous limestone. Other people can't understand why building levees won't work. People won't start leaving until there's serious flooding.

Speaking of, my wife has 22 months left on her contract (assuming funding holds out and the (sea) don't rise, and we're looking at relocation options. So far we're looking at parts of North Carolina, Maryland, and Rhode Island. The Cumberland/Frostburg region keeps popping up on our would a multiracial same sex family fare in your part of the world? Thanks.

pygmycory said...

Part of the problem with the environmental movement is that those who are the most visible are the ones who are flying all over the place and living in mansions. Many of us on here are making real changes and sacrifices in the name of doing what is right. But we don't have the megaphone of an Al Gore.

How do you deal with that?

Ed-M said...


Well now we know why the Climate Change Hypothesis and the attendant Activism are being refudiated, defunded and demonised all over the white English-speaking world! And Russia, too.

Here's my $0.02: it's not just talking about global warming and the coming dire events, real or imagined, that gets ignored when the speaker is an utter hypocrite who won't reduce his/her carbon footprint, most especially when it's Al Gore! Americans also dismiss those who actually practice what they preach, too; thinking of the speaker as a loser, a crank, a fringe archdruid emeritus (hehehe couldn't resist!) or even a nut who needs to be closely watched like Ted Kaszcynski.

As zerowastemillenial said, there is "a huge swath of America that have not yet put two and two together." And I'm not even sure if they'll ever do that, since being a believer in the Religion of Progress means that two plus two is always anything but four.

PS for all those who didn't read my last post on the last thread, my final version of the Retrotopia ca 2065 map is up. Thanks for all the advice and corrections, JMG!

Soilmaker said...

Excellent points. My husband and I are both scientists who understand the problems of climate change and resource depletion. We are doers, not activists! We have been working on living sustainably for more than 14 years. We moved into a country home with 2.6 acres and began our work. Over the next ten years we invested in energy efficiency with insulation, new windows and doors, etc. In many cases we recouped our investment within a few years. We installed a wood burning stove in our fireplace and reduced propane usage by 50%. We planted gardens, an orchard, wind breaks and shade trees. We added a deep pantry in the basement, canned fruit and vegetables, built a chicken coop, and started a greenhouse.

Finally, after 12 years we made our largest investment by adding geothermal (GSHP) and two 5 KWh solar PV systems with backup batteries. I can't tell you what a relief it was that first day running on solar energy. We continued to use wood for back up heat and we spend less than $200 a year in total energy costs for a 4,000 sqft home. I should also mention that over time we replaced all the fixtures and flooring with the most durable materials we could find.

Last year, unexpectedly, a wonderful earth berm home with 5.5 acres of woods came on the market and after looking at it we decided to buy it. We had thought that someday we might want to build one, and had we known this would come on the market we wouldn't have added geothermal and solar to our other house. Hindsight! We took the plunge, another leap forward in sustainable living! This year we are closing the loop on this home's geothermal system and adding solar PV system. Next year we will add a solarium/greenhouse across the front.

Unfortunately we are having difficulty finding a buyer for our previous home. Recovering even a fraction of the cost for the geothermal and PV systems is proving difficult. Buyers looking for homes in our price range aren't interested in energy efficiency or renewable energy. I find it shocking that educated, affluent people who can afford a house like ours don’t understand the value of our home compared to the poor quality, inefficient, crappy house currently being built. It would seem that planned obsolescence now applies to homes as well as appliances.

We live in a city with a population of over 100,000. Our city is home to a prominent big ten university that prides itself on developing cutting edge science, engineering, and technology for a sustainable future. One would think that there would be at least one faculty member willing to invest in a home such as ours! One would think that there would be someone that would jump at the thought of having all the work done for them! Nadda.

I think it is exactly as you wrote, people with money who can afford to invest in sustainable living don't want the inconvenience. Even people who believe climate change is real, who know it is happening, who fear the threat to their children's future still won't take real actions.

Real action means real life style changes. It means putting our money (while we still have any) into things that have lasting sustainable value, developing hands on skills like gardening and cooking, herbal medicine, to name a few and hoping we make the right decisions.

I admire the families that have little extra money yet are doing everything they can to live better on less. Not much to admire in people who see the problem, have the resources to do something, but don’t. Even worse, scientists and engineers whom are paid to teach others about sustainable living.

Thanks for all you write, you are an inspiration!

SLClaire said...

Thanks for analyzing this so carefully! Every time I read a climate change activist argue that personal change makes no difference, that only legislative change such as a carbon tax is up to the task, I have to resist an urge to fling whatever I'm reading it on across the room. Makes no difference? You must be joking. My husband and I have done much to reduce our use of fossil fuels, and it has made much positive difference in our lives. We save money (imagine getting an electric bill of $50 or less all three summer months, even using air conditioning [set to 80F] during the worst heat), to begin. We enjoy a lot more of the sounds, sights, and feel of summer, such as birdsong, frog choruses, and insect calling, because we can hear them from inside and going outside to enjoy them at closer range isn't a big shock to our systems. Because I'm well acclimated to outside conditions, I have no difficulty keeping up the garden all summer long, so we enjoy delicious homegrown foods (which saves money on grocery bills, saves trips to markets, and improves the taste of our food and the health of our bodies). While it's true that so far few salary-class folks we know seem to be inclined to join me in all these benefits, they do admit that at least the better-tasting food is worthwhile. Frankly, I wish I could convince them to set a higher temperature for their air conditioning than I have so far. It's not fun to have to wear long sleeves and long pants inside their houses in the summer - and they have it on like that even when it's comfortable (70s to low 80s) outside.

We stopped flying over 20 years ago. It wasn't just because it's cheaper for two people to drive than to fly, although that was a big part of it (and, sadly, it's still cheaper for two people to drive than to take the bus or the train, something I agree with you on the need to change). It was also because air travel is the least pleasant and most carbon-intensive way to get someplace. I have flown once, one way, since then, in 2012 when my father was dying and my three siblings were already on the scene. I flew because he would have died during the three days it would have taken me to drive 1200 miles by myself, and going by bus or train would have taken as long (I checked). However, knowing I had no time pressures on the way home, I chose to take the train home - a three day ride, on three different trains, from Orlando to St. Louis (and my mom had to drive me two hours to Orlando at that). I enjoyed the train ride greatly. It's not the first train ride I've taken and I don't think it will be the last, but it won't be as often as I'd like until the rail system is improved out this way. Not flying does require some adjustments (like needing to spend more time traveling to see out of town relatives and friends), and I have had to tell folks that they can't expect me to visit them without adequate time for planning, or expect me to attend a destination wedding if it's out of car-driving range. If they don't like it, tough rocks. I'm responsible for my own life and choices.

Lawfish1964 said...

Not to be too technical, but commercial air flight is much more economical than traveling by car. A 747 burns 5 gallons of gas per mile, so a transatlantic crossing of 3000 miles burns 15,000 gallons of fuel. With 500 people on board, that's 30 gallons per person, or 100 miles per gallon per person.

Mind you I detest flying for many reasons, and I have crossed the Atlantic via ocean liner twice. That is by far the best way to cross, particularly going east to west. Each day lasts 25 hours, so not only is there no jet-lag, but you get to sleep later every day and not even feel it. And the food and accommodations - splendid! Far better than 8 hours on a jumbo jet.

Train travel is indeed the most economical, but this country abandoned rail travel long ago as a means of moving people (other than a small piece of the northeast corridor). I would love to be able to travel by train, but unfortunately, even with subsidies, the ticket is usually twice what a plane ticket costs.

Karl Ivanov said...

Have not posted in quite a while, but I felt something needed to be brought up in regards to this post. There was, in fact, at least one environmental activist who, in my opinion, tried to offer a positive vision for the environmental movement, and also a vision deliberately designed to appeal to the wage class. That was Van Jones, and his 2008 book "The Green Collar Economy," which called for a “Green New Deal” that would create millions of jobs building out an economy based on renewables. I even had high hopes the Obama administration would follow his vision when Jones was appointed “Green Jobs Czar”- but then he got let go because of a Republican political hit on his character. And the Obama administration chose healthcare, not the environment or the economy as its central project. And we saw how well that worked out. Jones never quite got around to the conclusion of "personal example over everything", but he certainly was very articulate in taking the climate change movement to task for its elitism, and its horrible disconnect from the working class. I really wish he would get around to reading TADR. I’m starting to see part of the mentality articulated here come up more and more among my fellow young people, as well as people of color in response not just to the police killings, but the state of our country in general: "the system does not have our backs. We must look after ourselves.”

Martin B said...

Elon Musk has revealed further details of his master plan to save the world.

Those among us that own property will charge our mass-produced Teslas from our roof-mounted solar panels, enjoy our coffee and morning newscasts as it drives us to work, then send it off to earn some rental money while we are at work. A tap on the Tesla app on our phones, and it will return to take us back home.

Those slightly lower on the income scale will have to take the driverless Tesla minibus, which will pick them up at their front door then join the driverless Tesla trucks on the pollution-free highways.

Tesla is currently developing the machines that will make the cars, buses, and trucks with unparalleled efficiency.

It's all so automated and so perfect. Tesla factories look like operating theaters -- sleek and clean. But where are the workers? Who is providing the jobs and salaries to people so they can earn enough money to buy a Tesla?

Apart from a few highly-qualified engineers and investors with portfolios of government-subsidized renewable energy farms, I don't see an opportunity for anyone apart from becoming a cop to keep the great unwashed out of the electric vehicle only zones, which are undoubtedly coming, or cleaning bird poop off solar panels, or climbing to great heights to service wind turbines.

Here in South Africa with unemployment running at around 40% I don't see a future for young people. Maybe going to Mars is the better option.

Karl Ivanov said...

With regards to the election...I am very torn. I do not like Hillary. This election process truly disillusioned me once and for all about media bias and the power that the establishment has to promote its own and keep others out.
And yet… something I read right here on The Archdruid Report keeps haunting me:
“The hardest of all political choices, though, comes when the conflict lies between the bad and the much, much worse—as in the example just sketched out, between a crippled, dysfunctional, failing democratic system riddled with graft and abuses of power, on the one hand, and a shiny new tyranny on the other.”
Would Trump bring that tyranny about? In my opinion, that depends on three main things- his own will and beliefs (difficult to say with precision), how willing and able people in government will be to stand up to increasing abuses of federal power (they have already been ineffective at that in the Bush and Obama administrations- up to a point. What lines can they actually draw? Who knows.), and lastly and crucially how far the American people are ready to go. After the national humiliation and impoverishment of the First World War, the German people were ready to follow where Hitler and his cronies were leading. Thankfully, I think we are not there yet. But then- I recall it being mentioned in the comments here that no less a mind than Oswald Spengler made exactly that mistake, thinking Hitler’s positive qualities were worth the racist side, thinking that the extreme oppressive and authoritarian side of him would not end up coming out. Thoughts?

jessi thompson said...

That's brilliant!!!!!!! :D

John Brink said...

Great synopsis John. I've mentioned that people can turn off their air conditioners to help conserve on electrical consumption. AC is a major consumer of electricity. No way. I have seen some statistics claiming that the largest single consumer of energy in the US is the Federal Government. Hmmm.
We designed and built by hand a thermal heated and cooled house in a hard climate. All on wages. This should have been S.O.P. since the '70s.
Do massive numbers of office workers really need to commute to a central location to work so they can be supervised by some middle manager types trying to justify their position? Just like "a warrior is always aware of his own death" most office workers and middle managers need to know they are only an algorithm away from being unemployed.
Recently I have seen articles where elites actually sneer at the "idiot, moron, "muscle workers" in the elsewhere as if the elites IQ is so far above the unwashed masses. No matter what the circumstances the jet set envisions themselves riding the crest of any tsunami while the rest of us are submerged.

W. B. Jorgenson said...


It's just annoying that I have suddenly realized I'm surrounded by people who can be called crazy, or from my new perspective seem to be anyway. I would like to live a new life, but, in addition to the costs associated with learning the new skills, forming new habits, etc. include the social aspect of it all, which at points seems likely to be worse. Maybe it'll get easier when I'm older, but for now, it seems like a very big deal.

I appreciate your good wishes, however it's not a fun experience, and I don't think there's anything that can change that. At the moment, I'm not really too concerned about keeping my current social group, as time passes I expect to shift out of it and find a new group that suits me better, but that inevitably is going to hurt.

On the bright side, not all of my friends and family are going to be problems, and those that are do have the effect of forcing me to slow down, which, given my tendency to rush into things and then realize I'm trying to do too much, is probably a good thing.

In any case, this is a process, and I will just have to see where it leads in the next few years. I'm planning to seriously simplify my life while I live as a "broke student" for a little while, and then just never add things back.

Nbxl said...

Good post. Reflecting on my own life, I have just turned 40. I am Dutch, but grew up in Brussels, as my father became an EU-official shortly after my birth. Growing up in an upper-middle class household in a diplomatic environment, with international school, and moving within circles of various nationalities. My parents who were actually hippies when they were in their 20's, with macro-biotic food, human rights activism, environment-friendly ideas, doing things different than their parents. They lost most of that over the years as my dad’s career in the EU advanced. The long hair of my father went, the weedplants at home disappeared and the gypsy-style dresses of my mum finally remained in the closet. Two cars, living in a wealthy suburb, a second house in southern Europe, frequent holidays by plane (let’s say once in two years, though we only went on holiday as a family in a plane for the first time in my life when I was 17, which for me also was the first time flying in my life) and in ideas a bit less hippie and a bit more conservative, though they never totally fitted in with the Brussels international community and never conformed completely to its petit-bourgeois ideals.
But I realise now what kind protective bubble I grew up in. I decided to study art-history, which career-wise was not very smart. My life is definitely more modest than my parents. Been struggling from little job to little job after my studies, as career opportunities in this field are small and most work is free-lance. Tried to give an international dimension to my working life, discovered that I did not fit in the country of which I have the passport, so I decided to return to Brussels. My parents are very much on their own, and as my father had to stop working after an accident in his 50’s and they are not networkers, I did not manage to advance my working life in an international direction (though spent the last 4 years with a blind friend in Africa, who worked there as a diplomat). With help of my dad I managed to buy a small appartment in a former brewery converted into lofts, located in that part of Brussels were many of the terrorists of the recent attacks come from. Though I love living there, a variery of people live here in this building. I have no car, have a little job at a call-centre, and use public transport. Can not complain, am happy.

Nestorian said...

I, too, was raised with a conservative Christian religious sensibility, and I would like to offer an observation about people steeped in that sensibility that may prove illuminating to some:

Many commenters on this thread have been waxing fiercely moralistic about the imperative to make personal lifestyle changes because of climate change. Such moralizing is repugnant to those imbued with the conservative Christian sensibility I am describing - and it is not merely because those of conservative Christian sensibilities are disbelievers in climate change.

It is also repugnant because those who champion climate-change-oriented moralizing generally tend to be professed moral relativists, and to throw that moral relativism into the faces of those same Christian conservatives when they moralize in absolutistic terms about their own pet issues.

But at least the conservative Christian moralizers about e.g. same-sex marriage are being intellectually consistent in staking their moralizing on the claimed existence of absolute moral principles.

Climate change moralizers, on the other hand, generally repudiate any such grounds for assenting to the moralizing of conservative Christians on issues such as same-sex marriage, but then try to have their cake and eat it too by sneaking in their own absolute moral principles through the back door in order to justify their own pet moralizing.

The same kind of thing also happens a lot with other issues, such as the typical liberal insistence on the moral imperative to be tolerant - when their professed relativism precludes them from enjoining the mandate for tolerance on anyone.

Rest assured that this form of moral inconsistency is extremely grating for those of conservative Christian religious sensibility (whether Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, and even Nestorian), and I think it needs to be added to JMG's list of reasons why the climate change movement has failed.

whomever said...

Firstly, I think this is probably the best thing of your's I've ever read. I read it going "yep! yep! nailed it! Oh year, I hadn't thought like that but..."

Sadly I think a big part of the problem is that trying to reduce and simplify looks, to a lot of Americans, like being poor. And the US still has this idea that if someone is poor it's because they brought it on themselves/they deserve it. I mean, a remarkably large number of places don't even let you have clothesline in your yard; it's literally illegal/against HOA rules. And the the people who passed/support this don't even bother hiding that this is just classism. Same with cars: only poor people don't have cars, don't y'know? A few years ago GM famously had an ad that basically mocked bicycling. Then there are explicit zoning rules to try and keep out the poor but in practice end up with overly large houses and huge commutes. You have rules against growing veggies in your yard (I mean, a surprisingly large number of places, Victory Gardens are illegal). I remember some years ago reading an article about some random subdivision in Arizona that was enforcing the "yes, you'd better get a lawn" rule. When asked about this in relationship to being, you know, in the desert, the HOA president got indignant and pointed out that they had their own well, so they "have enough water". All of this has been consciously/subconsciously internalized by a lot of people into "lets conserve the earth, but WE CAN'T LOOK POOR"

This by the way is why, while I don't agree with a lot of Orlov has to write, I 100% agree with him that collapse in the US will be a complete disaster. You go down, you get shoved aside onto the dumpster. Culturally the US can't handle it.

Personally, I live in NYC, which, yes, we'll be underwater in a few decades, and I'm aware of that (and have backup plans) , but I'll nevertheless defend it in the short term: I don't own a car and (relatively) a lot of others don't either, nor does anyone judge you for it, I bike as often as I can and when I can't I take a 100% electrical transportation system, dense housing is extremely energy efficient (relatively), and it has one of the best Urban water supply systems in the world (oh, and clotheslines and veggie gardens are 100% legal, as are bees and chickens). I'm also in an area that was considered the ghetto not so long ago and I'll take this as a place to collapse over some rich suburb. African American cultural is based on the South, which means that you say "hello" and greet your neighbors, but if you put in the effort to do that, in turn everyone looks out for each other (even me, a white guy with a strange accent) and they've lived through everything. The community garden on my block is doing veggies (and oddly, the people gardening are mostly muslim south-asians, but they happily welcome anyone in and show what they are doing). So at least I have more faith in my neighbors here then in some random upper-income burbclave, and you will notice that the overlap between everyone I've just described and "liberal environmentalists" is basically zero. But I'm also aware that this too will end.

In other news, just google for "Lake Mead" and get depressed. It appears that the solution to drought and climate change is courts and the US Senate, which clearly can fix it all.

Thijs Goverde said...

Dear Mr. Greer,

how funny that you should, once again, mention 'commercial air travel' and 'leading by example' in one of your excellent posts.
Because I can still pinpoint the exact moment when I stopped taking your blog as seriously as I once did. Yes, you guessed it: it was when you flew to a conference (or was it a lecture series? I forget) in London, airily (pun intended) dismissing all criticisms from those of you readers who'd been reading you long enough, and attentively enough, to remember your link to the dead-on blog post titled 'Hypocrites in the air'.
I'm not saying that one instance of commercial air travel immediately gains you the epithet "hypocrite", it's just that I clearly remember thinking 'Oh... Oh well... I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the one who so eloquently pointed out the appaling blackness of all kettles now turns out to be a bit of a pot'.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Greg Belvedere--If your roof is nearly flat and you live in a suitable climate, you might consider getting a foam roof. Our condominium building had an old modified bitumen roof which was wearing out. Six years ago we had a foam roof put on with a ten year guarantee. It's holding up well. They are no more expensive than conventional materials, you can walk on them, the foam is a good insulator, and they are light colored which makes them reflective of the summer sun.

It is important to have the roof installed by a company that has experience with this particular technology, and you need a couple of dry and warm days to install the foam and give it time to cure. If you Google The Eichler Network, there's a link to a company that installs foam roofs.

Bruce E said...

Wow, you nailed it today!

While reading it I wanted to point out what is probably obvious to you, but you at one point seemed perplexed about something: "It didn’t have to be like that; the climate change movement could have front-and-centered the vision of a grand new era of green industry, with millions of new working-class jobs blossoming as America leapt ahead of the oh-so-twentieth-century fossil-fueled economies of other nations, but it apparently never occurred to anyone to do that."

I think it didn't occur to them simply because they never believed it. At some level they always felt there should be hell to pay for what we've done and what we're doing, and there was no way out but through some sort of punishing hell, all the way to the end, through the mouth and out the anus of Satan himself where we followed Dante's path to the promised land. That, and they made no distinction between the suddenness of a wholesale economic crash a la 1929 and a several generations worth of ever-so-slow but still geometric contraction in our economy. Heck, even a century of barely-positive but less than 1% annual growth might as well be "DOOM, DOOM, DOOM!" in its pessimism.

In my most-optimistic moods I picture us already almost a generation into such a slow crash. If you ignore the growth in the financial sector and look at the rest we haven't been growing for the greater part of two decades, and even if you don't ignore it but extend the notion of inflation beyond consumer products to financial products (equities, derivatives, bonds, CDO's, etc.) and properly inflation-correct that portion of growth, you see a steady 1-2% annual GDP decline depending on how you judge your numbers, maybe a lot more if you're ShadowStats, pretty consistently since the turn of the century, maybe even earlier depending on how you view the tech bubble of the mid 1990's. Peak oil is behind us, population growth is slowing and in some places (Japan, for example) declining, and as productive GDP per capita falls, energy consumption per capita falls with it. I see it as, perhaps, the whole "conservation by other means," and people are fooled into thinking that the economy is still growing, albeit slowly, and the real recovery that we've been expecting since it all started in 2008 is just around the corner.

It's kind of like a "virtual prosperity," were I to coin a term, and it's almost as good as real prosperity, maybe even better because it comes with people tightening their belts without realizing they are doing so. Related to this, I sometimes get perhaps a little to helpful about one aspect of Moore's Law that doesn't get as much press, but the floating point operations per Joule of energy expended has also been getting halved every 5-10 years, and virtual reality is starting to come out and the early forays into that seem pretty damn cool.

Related to this, and your point about the airline industry, the energy it takes to fly a person like me, a privileged salary class employee who can afford it, and my wife from Montreal to Paris on our summer vacation -- that energy is pretty much fixed, and the efficiency of an airplane going a specific distance with a specific payload is probably not that far from ideal. Combine that with what happened in Nice just a couple weeks back, and throw in a very energy-inexpensive virtual reality trip to Paris or to the top of Mount Everest that is stunning and checks off a lot of the boxes of what you want to do on such trips, and take away all the bad stuff like loud crowded streets, crime, long queues that take hours to traverse (can you imagine being alone with the Mona Lisa, up close, with nobody trying to pick your pockets?), and you might just have an effective placebo for travel that can salve the loss of air travel.

A glass-is-half-full type of mind might even prefer it.

Shane W said...

Man, i hated fire season in SoCal. It was one of the reasons I left, and I always lived in the flatlands where no fires broke out. The unbearable heat from the Santa Ana's combined w/choking smoke and ash. Geez, I never got used to it. I'm so glad I'm not in your shoes! Join the exodus! I can't tell you how many Calif. plates I see in KY. I will add a note of agreement about the denial. I've noticed a lot of people lately are less environmentally aware then they were 15-20 years ago. Less willing to recycle, reduce waste, etc. I'm wondering if we're just in "I don't care" mode, as it is so obvious that the Titanic is sinking, that there's this pervasive nihilism about everything, environment and conservation included.
If you or you children were wage class under 50, you all couldn't afford to jet around. You'd either have to take the bus, or not see each other and rely on the phone, or your children would have to live close by. You'd have to depend on people there in your community to look out after you. I understand how hard it is. I live in a community where the strongly ingrained norm is that you only depend upon blood relatives and do not "impose" upon "strangers" (those not blood related) Social reciprocity has gone out the window where I live in the last 30 years. As I am an only child with two aging relatives w/dementia, one who drinks too much, the lack of familial support as well as the clannish isolation worries me.
JMG, I thought that the tropics were much less prone to heating than the poles, especially with unmelted ice? I thought all the energy went into melting the ice first before noticeable heating would take place in the tropics? Am I misinformed?
I do so love it when I "read you mind" and the next week's post validates a comment. I'm like, "nailed it!" lol Tho now I'm curious as to which posts I inspired. LOL

jessi thompson said...

Why not take a road trip? They're awesome, you can stop wherever you want and there's thousands of cool places to visit on the way. I LOVE road trips. Hate flying, haven't flown anywhere in over 10 years.

nuku said...

Slightly off the topic of climate change, but related, is latest change to the solar PV situation here in New Zealand.
One utility company which owns a local electricity grid infrastructure is now charging a “solar surcharge or tax” on the bills of any customers who have a grid-tied solar electricity (PV) installation. The rationale is that the company‘s operating expenses come from billing each customer a small fixed daily charge plus a larger charge based on their kilo watt use. Since grid-tied solar customers use relatively less grid supplied energy than non-solar customers, but are still dependent on the grid during times of no or low sun, they “aren’t paying their fair share” of the grid maintenance/upgrade costs.
This surcharge was challenged in the courts and was deemed legal. Now its expected that ALL local grid owning companies will add the surcharge, making it even less economic to install grid-tied solar PV (the pay-back time was already 6-10 years).
This is a good case of the clash of interests on the issue of who pays for the grid: those with solar PV vs those without.

onething said...

American Herstory,

I find this attitude:
"For instance, animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all forms of transportation (planes, trains, automobiles) combined according to the United Nations yet all of one percent of the Earth's 7.4 billion inhabitants are willing to eschew all animal products. So-called pasture raised meats -- I envision steaks floating about grazing on grass in a field -- are even worse as far as efficiencies go. Factory farms may be horrible but they are efficient. Among that one percent of plant-based people, only a fraction are avoiding flesh, dairy, and bird ova because they give a damn about Gaia. "

to be very antilife. I don't want to get into a flame war, but the implication is that life forms are bad for the environment. Around here where I live, lots of people raise beef cattle, and I can't imagine what inefficiency you are talking about. They do provide hay in winter, but otherwise they live off the land. Grass grows for free, and rain falls from the sky.

Telling people that they are immoral unless they are vegan is pretty annoying but to think it is good for Gaia is a real puzzle. Veganism proposes an unbalanced way of living, pretending that all life forms and their manure are not part of a cycle, while wiping out large swaths of thriving ecosystems for intensive agriculture. Very strange.
If you had your way, our chickens wouldn't be alive at all. But they have a wonderful life and require only minimal feeding as they hang out at the edge of the forest and forage.

Fred said...

The comments over on are a complete 180 from the comments here on your blog. How many of those types of comments do you have to screen out here?

Shane W said...

glad to see you've come around? (Or did I have you confused w/another poster? You are in Miss. or Ala, right?

jessi thompson said...

For the most trustworthy source of information on the arctic that you will ever find, go to

Which is Neven's blog. Neven will tell you everything you need to know about the arctic, but you don't have to believe him, because in the first paragraph of the page he says "check out this page of arctic graphs" and "check out the arctic forum". The graphs page has information direct from the satellites. The forum has a really amazing community of people who are addicted to watching the arctic ice melt every summer. There are pictures from Arctic buoys. There's even a guy named Wipneus who figured out how to use raw satellite data to compute arctic extent numbers a few days before they're even released. Denialists and alarmists wander in there but you can tell right away who really knows what's going on. :D I found this blog because someone over there mentioned it.

latheChuck said...

Hammer- I followed the link to your "generate electricity while sequestering CO2" discovery, and found that it requires metallic aluminum as a feedstock. That's a problem, because metallic aluminum does not exist in nature, and reducing aluminum oxide to metallic aluminum requires lots of electricity. Now, MAYBE we can refine aluminum only when we have surplus wind/solar generation, but I'm doubtful that an aluminum refinery would respond well to intermittent operation. Though it describes aluminum as "cheap and abundant", those terms are to be taken "relative to lithium or sodium", not "relative to sand".

jessi thompson said...

They also don't specify the amount of time or materials it takes to remove that single gram of carbon from the air. But it could be promising. A single cell that removes CO2 from the air and creates energy and a useful resource at the same time? Sounds exactly like a plant cell. So my question is: is it more or led effective than a cell of say, algae.... Or a cell in a tree.

jessi thompson said...

100% agree!!! I like the bicycle too but its scary on rural roads. There's a lot of benefit in the wage class: you get to acquire real skills, you learn self-sufficiency and/or how to build a small local community AND you can't really afford to have a big carbon footprint :) I like it here!

latheChuck said...

It is possible to travel across the Atlantic Ocean without an aircraft: container ships have accommodations for guests.

That said, it takes almost two weeks to get from Philadelphia to Antwerp (and about $1000).

Nestorian said...

Re JMG's decision to fly to London, here is another anti-moralizing argument:

It doesn't matter in the end. If he hadn't flown, his seat would have empty, or else occupied by another passenger. Either way, though, the plane would have flown, and no less fuel would have been turned into carbon had JMG not accompanied it.

The same applies to any individual decision to fly or not to fly. The plane flies either way, and just as much fuel gets burned regardless.

So why moralize about morally identical outcomes?

Troy Jones said...

Apropos of this post about air travel and climate-change activists, I just read a little while ago that it's come to light what Bernie Sanders' asking price was for selling out to the establishment. Are you ready? He asked the DNC for the use of one of their private jets.

I am sorry if this offends anyone, but people who tool around in private jets are climate change deniers with their actions, no matter what rhetoric they may be spouting with their mouths. I did not agree with everything Bernie believed (or claimed he believed), but I have always thought he was a man of principle. Apparently not though. All that passion was just an act, a persona he put on for the cameras. Bah.

Varun Bhaskar said...


Spot on, sir, spot on. Late last year I had an encounter with a radical vegan, who insisted that anyone who wasn't vegan can't call themselves an environmentalist. The statement was made in a conversation where she asked me to write an article about one of the big names in the vegan community, a guy who wrote a book called "eating our way to world peace." Apparently the writer was on an international tour promoting his book. I am really surprised my eyes rolling weren't heard in the rest of the country.

So all this begs the question. How do small time environmentalists like myself, and the other readers of your blog, break the hold of the jet-set crowd? We don't have the resources to fight a machine funded and fronted by the hollywood- new york crowd.



Nastarana said...

Dear Karl Ivanov, I would ask you to consider that we have a constitution, and that Mr. Madison, Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Jay knew very well that every so often the populace elects a demagogue. A little over a hundred years before our own Revolution, a farmer turned demagogue named Cromwell had taken over the British govt. Presidents can be impeached. Supreme Court Justices can be impeached. Justices have to be confirmed by the Senate. Congress can rewrite laws that the Courts have thrown out. The constitution itself can be amended. Yes, these processes can take a while, and it is a good thing that they do.

While I have no brief for Mr. Trump, and I am afraid that wife #3 is a deal breaker--irrational, I know, but there it is-- there is enough evidence on the internet in various places to convince me that Mme. Clinton and her handlers, chief among whom is our, New Yorkers', very own Senator from Wall Street, are even now plotting to launch what would undoubtedly become WWIII. A site called Down With Tyranny has been covering the unsavory details about how Mr. Schumer, Ms. Wasserman Schultz, and others have been conspiring, not too strong a word, too pack the Congress with compliant conservadems, like the stuffed blazer who has never won an election, but who was nevertheless elevated to the Senate candidacy in PA.

There are also two alternative parties worth considering, Green and Libertarian. The Greens have a fantastic, from a leftist perspective, platform but are a bit amateurish. They are still scrambling to get on the ballot in all states, even though anyone with a grain of sense could see last winter that the Democratic establishment was never going to allow Sanders to win.

The Libertarians have a typical small govt. platform, but are calling for a non-interventionist foreign policy and drawdown of overseas bases, which, IMHO, must happen before other urgent matters can be attended to. They are also on every state ballot, the candidates are former governors with real live governing experience and no obvious scandals, and do have a slight but very real chance to carry enough states to throw the election into the House.

Clinton will naturally carry NY, but it would be quite embarrassing to her if the Greens were to get 20 or 25% of the vote, and that might be enough to convince members of the NY congressional delegation that rubberstamping whatever the WH asks for would not be good for their careers.

Justin said...

Ivanov, no, Spengler was an almost unalloyed critic of Hitler. Hitler did solve a few very real problems, and had he had a stroke in 1932 or so would have been remembered positively by Germans and the world, and rightfully so.

Patricia Mathews said...

@Whomever: Every time I start getting upset about Albuquerque's Nob Hill neighborhood being gentrified out of recognition, something like this reminds me how much worse it could be. It began as a hippie district just east of the University, and still has a (rich, aging) hippie vibe.

In Nob Hill, bicycles, backyard gardens, and even backyard chickens, are *fashionable*! As fashionable as Bernie Sanders yard signs and Save the Bees bumper stickers. Fruit trees abound, also.

And nobody has ever complained about my clothesline.

This makes up for a lot of "-tique" - iness (Ant- and Bou-, and even, replacing the old glasses shop, Opt-. ) It almost makes up for rent-grabbing "upscaling" landlords running out the last of the bookstores.

Tracye said...

I like this explanation of the failures of the climate change activists. I would add that deregulating the airline industry back in the 80's made the price of air travel on par with bus and rail and offered a quicker commute. Before deregulation, few in the middle classes could afford such tickets.

Moshe Braner said...

Slightly off-topic: M Smith wrote: "I'd love to go back to XP, but the software is incompatible going back. IOW, I can't open any of my docs in XP because they were created in an earlier version of Windows."

- you mean a later version, of Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, etc) not Windows. On XP you probably had Office 2003. You can install Office 2007 or 2010 on Windows XP, and they can open documents from Office 2013 and 2016 ("365"), no problem. I do that myself. Of course Office 2007 or 2010 are not free, but you can find legal used copies cheap. Or, if you are shopping for a used computer with XP, look for one that has Office 2007 or 2010 already installed.

siliconguy said...

A particularly good post.

I'll second the approval of E.(for Evelyn) C. Pielou's book. It's very well done, and quite calming when you see what the North American biosphere went through during the great warm up as the glaciers melted back. What's happening now is not unprecedented.

Any good temperature plot of the 20th century shows a decline from the late 1930's until about 1980. That is what had people concerned, especially since the Milankovitch cycles clearly say the climate is headed down. (David Archer, the Long Thaw, has a good description of that effect, with a great chart in the second to last chapter. We may have stopped the next ice age in 2000- 3000 years, but there is really big bottom in the cycle about 50,000 years out. We need to save the coal we have left for then.)

And yes, I've also noticed the hypocrisy of the climate change movement flying all over the world to discuss how to cut back on CO2 emissions. Hello? Skype for business? AT&T Go-to-Meeting? In the evil old heavy industrial chemical business (aka, work) we use both of them to cut down on travel. Why not the environment movement? Are they all extroverts who only function when herded together?

And the less said about vice-hypocrite Al Gore the better.

And this one was near and dear to my heart and pocketbook;

"What’s the most significant difference between coal mining and commercial air travel? Coal mining provides wages for the working poor; commercial air travel provides amenities for the affluent."

Clinton, Gore, and Babbitt used policy (and flat violation of the law in the case of Babbitt) to shut down as much mining and logging as they could in the intermountain West. Tens of thousands of wages class jobs gone, and not a few salaried jobs went with them, including mine. What was supposed to replace those jobs? Eco-tourism. Minimum wage, seasonal, and benefit free jobs in the tourism industry. It took me until W's second term to dig out of that hole; my own personal lost decade.

As I said, great post.

siliconguy said...

"But then- I recall it being mentioned in the comments here that no less a mind than Oswald Spengler made exactly that mistake, thinking Hitler’s positive qualities were worth the racist side, thinking that the extreme oppressive and authoritarian side of him would not end up coming out. Thoughts?"

Good thought up there; Hitler was surrounded by a like-minded group of cronies; Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich to name two. (Hitler called the latter "the man with the iron heart" and yes, that should scare the wits out of you.) So it comes down to how many like-minded cronies does Trump have, vs how many does Hillary have?

Trumps customers are mostly wage class, those being hammered economically are not helping his bottom line. Hillary is a tool of the 0.1%; she is promising to keep the good times rolling, as well as making some prime vacation/retirement properties in Appalachia available at very attractive prices as the miners starve out.

Which evil do you prefer? Cthulhu's indifference is probably preferable to either.

Anthony Romano said...

@JMG and Nuku

Fair enough, but I'm talking the numbers about who is on the receiving end of the proposed changes and how that affects the movement at large. Coal related jobs account for roughly 250,000 people out of 350 million people in the United States. Are those 250,000 people enough to derail the climate activist movement?

If so, then campaigning against commercial air travel would have caused climate change activism to fail even more spectacularly because more wage class people (by orders of magnitude) would be the direct targets of the proposed change.

Again I don't disagree with the thrust of the essay. Having prominent, highly visible, climate activist jetting around the world is terrible optics and a disservice to the cause.

I think that climate change activist set their sites on the biggest global emitter of greenhouse gases which happens to be coal fire power plants. It wasn't a deliberate attempt to disadvantage wage class workers. Setting their sites on a lesser emitter, air travel, would have disadvantaged just as many wage class workers.

There is no way to not disadvantage wage class workers when we are talking about changing the global economy to something sustainable. Not in the short term anyways.

So yeah the messaging is a problem, but I don't see how the movement could have addressed this differently. Coal fire powered plants are a problem from a climate perspective, and purposefully shifting the economy (as much as possible ) to alternatives would be an improvement in the short-term.

I am certainly not arguing that people shouldn't lead by example and reduce their own carbon footprint, and again, the argument JMG laid out is fair, Al Gore's lifestyle results in terrible optics.

I'm not sure how else you address this massive problem though without tackling coal related emissions.


John Michael Greer said...

Ed, maybe it's just here in the north central Appalachians, but the sort of young guys who used to go hotdogging around in cars are now hotdogging around on bikes. I consider that a very hopeful sign.

Dorda, I haven't read Hansen's book, but that doesn't surprise me at all -- and of course you know as well as I do that government policies meant to force change on the masses will always exempt the affluent from unwelcome restrictions. Typical.

Sébastien, thank you! That's something any author likes to hear. :-) As for the differences between European and American historical trajectories, that's one of the reasons my writing focuses on America -- I don't know the rest of the world well enough to hazard more than the very occasional guess.

Mikep, of course there are differences between climate change and same sex marriage; so? There are differences between any two issues you care to nane. There are still lessons that can be learnt by comparing the failure of one movement and the success of the other. As for whether it's a problem -- at this point, granted, it's mostly made the transition from being a problem to being a predicament. There are still adaptations and constructive policies that could be pursued, and they aren't, because advocacy for such things has been such a spectacular failure.

Shane, unfortunately, yeah, it would probably take some such hugely counterproductive form.

Mr. No, caring is a choice. If you choose not to care, that's not something I or anyone else can do anything about.

Peter, thank you for commenting! I'm glad to hear your colleagues aren't treating you like Max the Two-Headed Man; it would be a little more encouraging to hear that some of them were starting to follow your example, but that may be a bit much to hope for. The complexity of climate change as an issue simply means that it needs to be broken down into more easily digestible chunks, in the same way -- and for many of the same reasons -- that you'd break down a complicated research project into a series of investigations, each of which brings you closer to the goal. Since any decrease in the rate of greenhouse gas pollution helps spare our descendants some of the misery we're piling up for them, each step along those lines matters, and each can build momentum and pin down opposing forces. In a future post, I'll sketch out in more detail how this could be done.

Drhooves, that simply points up the failure of activists to make those cause and effect linkages visible in ways that make sense to others. That's a problem that every writer deals with all the time, and it's not an insuperable one -- you just need to know who your audience is, what they know and care about, and how not to insult them -- and of course this latter was one of the big problems with climate change activism.

Barrabas, panem et circenses indeed. Yech.

Coops, that's a copout. People can understand anything if it's explained to them in a suitable way. That latter means, among other things, not insulting them and not waving obvious evidence of dishonesty or hypocrisy in front of their faces.

Gunnar, to my mind it's actually a mistake to insist that there's no hardship. You can sell hardship by making sure that it's shared out equally, with the privileged classes first in line for their shares; by showing people that there's something good to be gained by it; and by presenting a powerful image of the better future that can be achieved by accepting hardship here and now. History shows that that's actually a very easy thing to do -- see every combatant nation in the Second World War for a set of good examples.

Yellow Submarine said...

Meanwhile as the Philly clown show comes to a close, things don't seem to be going too well for the Syrian hippogriffs, er "moderate Syrian rebels". Kesselschlacht, anyone?

Needless to say, the neoconservative regime change agenda being pushed by Dubya, Hillary and their fellow neocons seems to be failing pretty miserably these days, and that's not even counting the collateral damage being inflicted on the EU as refugees from Syria, Libya, Iraq and other regime change wars started by the Dubyobama admininstration pour into Europe.

«Oldest ‹Older   1 – 200 of 372   Newer› Newest»