UPDATE: A complete list of 2012 climate series pieces is available here: The Climate series: a reference post.
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This is a preface to a series of posts on climate crisis solutions. This series contains my own suggestions for solving the problem I’ve described in the previous posts — avoiding climate catastrophe.
I’m obviously not the only person thinking about this, but I think I have a perspective that’s not shared by many, so I offer these for consideration.
My thinking includes the following assumptions:
▪ The problem is essentially political, not technological. To avoid the worst consequences of global warming involves the use of power along with education and technology. Without addressing the power dimension, the solutions project will continue to fail. (More on this below.)
▪ The only “baked in” consequences are those that come with the 1½°C (3°F) increase we can’t avoid. None of the other, more drastic scenarios is inevitable.
▪ The war is worth fighting and we haven’t lost yet, regardless of the odds against us.
▪ Playing to win means playing to the end of the game.
If you don’t share those assumptions, this series may not be for you. That said, onward to the preface.
There are several baseline ideas we need to accept in order to design effective solutions. They provide context and help us understand why no attempt at a solution has yet worked. The fact is, we haven’t even come close to a solution. We’re drifting, circling ever closer to the climate catastrophe drain.
And it’s not because we’re stupid. In fact, our species is the opposite of stupid — we’re the most effective, adaptive hominid species ever evolved on the planet. We are the most recent of our relatives and the last to leave Africa. Even though we’re the babies on the block and shared the planet with millions of our genetic cousins — homo habilis and homo erectus, Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons — we out-thought and out-competed them all till we stood alone. There’s no one on earth this good at problem-solving.
If we cannot solve this problem, it’s not because of brains and technology. The truth is more stark. The lack of a solution proves that the answer isn’t brains — that the key must lie elsewhere. This series is an attempt to find that elsewhere. Make no mistake — new technology is critical. But it’s not enough.
The writer Naomi Klein comes as close as anyone to succinctly identifying the roadblocks to a climate crisis solution. Simply put, solving the climate crisis forces fundamental change. Here she talks with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now. Listen first. I’ll offer some notes after the video.
If you want to relisten, this segment starts at 42:45. For readers, a transcript is here.
First, on why denialism has taken such a strong hold, even recently, even while the message of our senses says denial is wrong:
[The increase in denialism in countries with strong culture wars is] remarkable, because what it means is that it no longer really has anything to do with the science. And the environmental movement has just been shocked by how it would be possible to lose so much ground so quickly when there is so much more scientific evidence[.] …
And the reason is that climate change is now seen as an identity issue on the right. … [When you] ask why people don’t believe in it, they say that it’s because they think it’s a socialist plot to redistribute wealth.
This is the critical insight — it’s what you need to know to solve this problem. Note, this is not an insight about the right-wing rubes. There will always be right-wing rubes. It’s an insight about the threat felt by Our Betters, who are ginning up rube-resistance as hard and fast as they can.
The rubes are being led to scream “wealth redistribution” because that’s exactly the threat. As with other modern crises, wealth redistribution is precisely what this one is about. But it’s not about the wealth of the rubes.
The solution to global warming is a direct threat to the greed and wealth of the lords of carbon, the Rex Tillersons, the David Kochs of the world. These are powerful, wealthy, driven people, and fixing global warming threatens their whole way of life. Klein again:
Why is climate change seen as such a threat? I don’t believe it’s an unreasonable fear. … [A]ctually, climate change really is a profound threat to a great many things that right-wing ideologues believe in. … [H]ere’s just a few examples what it would mean.
Well, it would mean upending the whole free trade agenda, because it would mean that we would have to localize our economies, because we have the most energy-inefficient trade system that you could imagine. … You would have to deal with inequality. You would have to redistribute wealth, because this is a crisis that was created in the North, and the effects are being felt in the South. … You would have to regulate corporations. … You would have to subsidize renewable energy[.] …
And then, layered on top of that is the fact that many of the “solutions” to climate change … play shell games, right? We have to have carbon offsets there. We have to — we can keep polluting, but we’ll plant — you know, we’ll protect a forest in the Congo[.] [But] all of these solutions are actually deepening the climate crisis [elsewhere].
We have a problem that challenges our way of life, made many times worse by the monomaniacal greed of the very wealthy few, who offer “solutions” that solve nothing. The “solutions” in fact are part of the problem, since they only serve to delay. Delay is the win-scenario of the other side; it’s their only goal.
This is an excellent explanation of the context within which we’re trying to solve our planet-wide global warming crisis. We can’t be effective, in my view, if we don’t start here. That context again:
Solving the climate crisis forces fundamental change.
Education and technology are not enough.
Negotiated “solutions” create delay.
The other side is powerful and doesn’t want to change.
It’s an unfortunate accident of history that the worst political and social event of our time — the rise of the rich in the wake of the Nixon impeachment and the total capture of our government by greedy hippie-hating monomaniacs (every word a true one) — coincides with the eve of potential self-destruction. More than coincides — to stop the self-destruction, we must stop the rich.
No other choice is pretty. How far backward would we like to devolve?
■ Where do the consequences of “only” 1½°C (3°F) warming take us? Combined with the rapidly widening wealth inequality, we could devolve to life in the 1930s — post-electricity but pre–middle class.
■ What about the consequences of 3°C (5½°F) — by 2100? James Hansen calls that “game over“, leading to a “mass extinction” scenario. Easily a famine, drought, epidemic, mass-migration scenario. (Check the chart here for U.S. temperature predictions. Translate weeks to months to get the full effect.)
At that point, would most of the country be pre-industrial? I would think so. Politically, a famine-ridden, disease-infested, mass-dying, mass-migration America would certainly not be an orderly society. For starters, say goodbye to Safeway. And gas stations. And farming. Picture that life.
More food for thought: How much of the country would be under the control of the central government? Would the central government even try, or would they see as their mandate the only mandate they see today — protection of the very rich? Who would run your town at that point? A state governor? A county strongman? This is a real science fiction scenario, and we’re not at the worst one yet.
■ At what temperature point would global warming level off simply because of societal collapse? We’re currently on track for 6°C–7°C (11°F–12½°F) — again, by 2100. Would the Carbon Lords be able to drill, pump and sell enough CO2 to get us to those temperatures before the collapse that stops them?
Because I swear to god they will try. If they succeed, the humans who follow will be mainly hunter-gatherers — they will look and live just like the homeless on our streets today.
The more I think about this, the more I want to laugh — this is so like a comic book story:
Doctor Doom (that’s him in all-black pinstripes) has a planet-eating machine that will end life as we know it.
Will the Carbon Avenger, our green-draped hero, save us in time? Look, he’s flying off to the final showdown now.
Actually, it’s just half a comic book story. Daddy Doom (our aggregate Lord of Carbon) really does have that machine; it’s called his psychopathic greed and our current way of life. But there’s no Carbon Avenger to save us. We have to do that for ourselves.
Which brings us to the umbrella problem statement. This is where we hug the monster, face facts, and focus our action where it counts. Unless all of the science is wrong, the problem in a nutshell is to put the carbon industry out of business. And everything noted by Ms. Klein above is what’s in the way.
How fast should that happen? Look back at the devolution scenarios and pick one. Death of the carbon industry — if we don’t do that soon, we lose. But if we do meet that goal, I’ll guarantee that the rest — all the good technology — will follow as fast as man can do it.
Is it fair to them, the carbon lords, to destroy their businesses? Of course it is. They’re risking the lives of 7 billion humans to satisfy hubris and greed. What could be more monstrous? Their offices are crime scenes. What could be more fair than stopping them in their tracks?
We don’t have to negotiate. We don’t have to discuss. We don’t have to explain. No one needs to seek their permission, or slow to a rate of their choosing. And we certainly don’t have to reimburse them for their lost future profits — the real beneficiaries of this psychopathic process are wealthy enough already. In a truly just world, they’d be stripped of every dime to help pay to clean up the mess we’re inevitably going to face.
What we do have to be is effective (sound familiar?). It will take a combination of actions — education, technology, and multiple applications of power — to mitigate the disaster. But especially the latter — multiple applications of power — because these men and women are digging in and doubling down. They won’t stop until we stop them.
This sounds daunting, I know, but I really don’t think it’s over, and as I said above, it’s a fight worth taking on. I don’t pretend to have the answers. I just want to help us think our way to solutions that work. If none of this helps, it’s mainly my own time that’s lost, and it pleases me to use it this way.
Thank you for reading this far. The next post will look at layers of the solution — drilling down in a process that identifies goals worth achieving, places to focus action (I see five groups) and tactics to be applied to those focal points. Much of what I’ll say is already clear to many, but maybe this thinking hasn’t been assembled in one place.
Until then, in the words of Alan Grayson — courage.
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