Michael Hoexter: Climate Defeatism is as Much a Threat to Human Survival as Climate Denial – Part 1

By Michael Hoexter, a policy analyst and marketing consultant on green issues, climate change, clean and renewable energy, and energy efficiency. Originally published at New Economic Perspectives.

In the next few years, human beings will have the choice whether, on the one hand, to preserve the better shreds of current civilizations or hold onto the possibility to found entirely new, hopefully better civilizations, or, on the other hand, to destroy the possibility for human civilization to continue and head towards human self-extinction.  We possess then an awful and, for many, unwanted power at this time. We will be facing opportunities for growth and advancement while at the same time facing compromises that will leave a good number of people dissatisfied and unhappy, as happiness is now conceived.  To opt for the first choice, humanity will need to set itself within a very few years upon a new evolutionary course that some may resist and that others may embrace.

The most immediate driver of this emergency are carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion and the rapid warming of the atmosphere and oceans, as well as the acidification of the oceans via the absorption of excess carbon dioxide in their waters, producing an ever higher carbonic acid concentration.  Most of our current satisfactions depend, at one or more points in their fulfillment, upon the combustion of fossil fuels, which produces these warming and acidifying emissions.  But as Pope Francis astutely observes in his latest encyclical “Laudato Si”, excess carbon emissions are just one instance of a “throwaway society” that attempts to solve its social and economic problems, in part, by ejecting them into a non-human natural world that has been destabilized, partially defiled and denuded by the effects of all that human refuse and all those emissions.

The “throwaway society” concept has been around since the 1950’s but rarely has a figure of a political magnitude of Pope Francis made it his or her own.  Naomi Klein has offered a similar critique of “extractivism”, also a concept that is not original with her, though that concept, I believe, places humanity in an irresolvable and unnecessary dilemma: even as hunter-gatherers we have had to “extract” from non-human nature our sustenance.  It seems as though the throwaway society concept, as familiar as it is, places us on the terrain of moving from problem to solution, without engaging in extreme self-accusation and self-flagellation for being human; it suggests the possibility of a future balance between human extraction of benefits from non-human nature and restoration of that non-human nature.

And, as news reports and scientific findings tell us, the climate system and the biosphere that depends on it are now “groaning” underneath the weight of the warming that is a direct consequence of anthropogenic carbon emissions and the denuding of forested land for a variety of reasons.  We are on target to make 2015 the warmest year on record, perhaps by a large margin.  Ocean temperatures are at record levels in many areas of the world.  Much of the visible damage is occurring in regions that are still far from the experience of those in the global political-economic power centers in the temperate zones of the Northern Hemisphere. Radical changes in the subtropical and tropical regions as well as in the polar and subpolar regions of the earth are now clearly evidence.  More northerly latitudes are showing signs that more and more carbon via methane and now fires, may be being released, signaling possible and dreaded positive feedback loops that have been predicted over the last few decades by climate scientists.  In these feedback loops, existing warming triggers new emissions from permafrost and the biosphere, heating the earth much faster than has been the case over the last several decades, taking with them valuable and familiar parts of the non-human natural world upon which our lives depend.

The climate movement in effect and self-professed concerned policymakers have, in my view, never squarely faced both the climate problem and its emergency nature with the appropriate solutions; there are at this late date signs that parts of these groups are waking up.  In the 1990’s, the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol as the predominant international climate policy was never tuned to the emergency aspect of the climate crisis, dependent as it was on applying the wrong economic tools to this immense challenge.  The rather casual cap and trade mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol, that rest on flawed notions about the role of markets and put off emissions reductions from high-emissions countries into the indeterminate future, cannot be said to have reduced emissions substantially in its various instantiations, with global emissions continuing to climb.  The fossil fuel divestment movements and now various anti-fossil fuel movements place the blame on fossil fuel companies while implicitly excusing politicians, climate pundits and our own consumption of products of the fossil fuel companies either directly or indirectly.   Demand drives the fossil fuel economy as much or more than supply but the climate movement is riveted by the notion that it could somehow stopper supply  via saying “no” over and over again, without a focus on transforming energy demand.

Squarely facing the challenge of climate change would involve an unprecedented national and global mobilization of human and material resources.  Locating the terrain of decisive action at the global level has led to a collective action problem where the relatively powerless UN can only exhort and preach comity and where the most resistant nations essentially call the shots.  By contrast, nation-by-nation mobilizations, with a degree of international coordination, would be led by various official and grassroots political leaders with the citizenry of as many countries as possible offering active support and engaging their individual energies in a focused manner upon our collective energy and climate challenges.  It would not be a bad thing for nations to compete with another to form carbon tax and tariff unions among themselves with the most ambitious nations pushing the envelope in the direction of higher carbon taxes and tariffs.  These climate mobilizations must in fairly short order refashion civilization for the long-term, targeting not 20% of 1990 emissions by 2050 but a net zero emitting society by the mid-2030’s or sooner.

Such climate mobilizations involve using the money-power and fiscal instruments of currency-issuing governments, as has happened in wartimes past, to mobilize people and organizations of people like businesses to “do the right thing” by the climate and future generations.   Many human and material resources that are now currently devoted to other purposes and pursuits will be focused upon the rescue of civilization, while resources not devoted to the mobilization will continue to be used to maintain and develop our civilizations so they may be and become more worthy of saving.  Carbon taxes and tariffs will be one means of redirecting society away from highly polluting activities.  Still, and this is still a heterodox view within climate policy circles, positive and creative engagement of government and the public as a whole is required alongside the “subtractive” disincentive of carbon taxation and tariffs.  Beyond carbon taxation, effective climate action by governments must achieve a full-employment society that is substantially more egalitarian than the current global society characterized as it is by a plutocratic system within which a few billionaires have inordinate wealth and influence over the political process.

Some of the reason that this challenge has not been faced over the 25 year history of climate policy and politics, even by those who have known better, is that, as Naomi Klein has pointed out, the political-economic philosophy of neoliberalism has ruled national and international government policy and politics for the last several decades.  Neoliberalism edits out the leadership and creative role of government and the citizenry, insofar as that government supports the general social welfare of the polity and humanity as a whole.  Instead neoliberalism preaches obeisance to an ill-defined market philosophy, where “markets” support the interests of the wealthy and the financial sector to the detriment of the real economy and society at large.

Of course the concerted campaign of climate denial in many powerful nations, mostly in the Anglophone world has also delayed climate action, diverting public discussions to whether climate change is happening rather than what to do about the increasingly obvious climate problem.  Climate denialists are for the most part also committed neoliberals who entertain unrealistic ideas about markets as being almost always superior to government.  Neoliberals and climate denialists both appeal to a paranoid core that is stronger in some people than others, that is always critical of the potential power of governments.  Grasping that climate change required more social coordination via government action rather than less, those with a primary commitment to neoliberalism have always either openly opposed climate action or sought to soften it from within.

Climate campaigners and policy advisors have ignored the most powerful instruments available for effective climate action because climate policy, including the carbon-pricing-only focus of the Kyoto Protocol and now tax-only or fee-and-dividend advocates like James Hansen, are tailored to the diminished expectations of the era of neoliberalism.  The dominance of neoliberalism on both the established political Right and Left and also the various wings of the climate movement is a tragic circumstance, the consequences of which must be brought to an end in very short order for humanity to effect its self-rescue.

Voluntarism and Determinism

That humanity faces a momentous collective and individual choice, based in part on  ethical considerations, means that there is substantial room for voluntary action or “the will” to play a role in humanity’s self-rescue.  Humanity is outfitted with a biology that enables people to imagine, create and consider options, exert choice and thereby create new actions not largely determined by biological predisposition or a predetermined evolutionary program.  There are substantial areas of constraint via physics, chemistry, biology and social and economic history but also some degrees of freedom to transform our social relationships and tool-making/tool-use and thereby, indirectly, our and future generations’ biological being over the longer term, for both good and ill.

In the political realm, climate action is not just a matter of choosing between pre-existing sides, as is the case in many political struggles.  The “side” that will save humanity or at least salvage some of its better parts, needs to be shaped by a massive public education and organizing campaign as well as individual self-education given misinformation about the role of human will, ethical intention and government in the neoliberal era.  Then it is not just a matter of choosing the current political side that says that it is “concerned” about climate action and/or ventures a few lukewarm climate policies.  Effective climate action means ensuring that ambitious policies are actually implemented that have concrete effects on emissions and greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere and oceans.  Political choice both in the voting booth and in grassroots and self-described “radical” political contexts has often meant people have had to choose from two pre-existing alternatives; the climate challenge requires people to shape via force of will the option that will save our species, in part via learning and far, far superior public information about climate solutions.  This means a good deal of work and effort of will by individuals and groups of individuals.

The substantial ethical dimension to effective climate action then means that this is, of necessity, a “voluntarist” (will- or choice-driven) movement rather than one that is wedded to a purely deterministic political-social philosophy.  Determinism and voluntarism play roles in the climate movement discussion as it has developed so far.  There are some activists who see their role as to simply educate the public about climate change until such time as the public is upset enough about climate change to demand action or institute actions on their own.  This more deterministic view accepts as a “natural fact” people’s self-assessment of their welfare and also a fundamental self-interested focus of human beings.  In a deterministic view, there is not a lot of room for either the moral ethical persuasive efforts of leaders/activists or that of receivers of climate-related messages:  they will act when they are forced to act by circumstance and no sooner.   Ultimately this is climate activists allotting themselves a passive role and not embracing a role that “makes history”, a preference for passivity that I find surprising.

If we look back at political history as well as current events, it is those political sides that possess a voluntarist attitude, an ability to engage in serious strategic thinking, and exertion of a political will-to-power that almost invariably win political contests.  The right-wing has had enormous political success in winning both ideological and electoral contests with a policy portfolio that actually undermines popular welfare and interests through clever and willful manipulation of cultural attitudes and prejudices.  The Right’s success is due to a combination of financial backing from wealthy financial interests, a sense of entitlement to win, and generally superior tactical and strategic orientation than its opponents on the moderate Left.  They have also shifted the terms of the debate on economics, almost entirely into the right-wing neoliberal framework and therefore dominate the discourse of what is possible to actually implement via government policy.  Now most nominally “left” parties are so initimidated by the Right and so lacking in their own independent perspective that they represent simply a milder version of the political program of the Right.

There, however, can be extremes of “hyper-voluntarism” on both the Left and Right which defeat their own purposes by blotting out important contours of political, social, economic, and now scientific reality to just act without a viable strategy and without effective communication with the public at large.  In the climate movement, some wish to express their individual conscience by simply throwing themselves at various targets, like fossil fuel extraction projects and sites or trying to create utopian eco-communities.  These actions may temporarily “feel good” or assuage individual consciences to those who do or fantasize about doing them but such acts cannot be relied upon to form the basis of a considered strategy to transform society and human behavior for the better with regard to climate.

To fully face the climate challenge requires a well-informed, “can-do” attitude on a mass scale, an attitude that has been undermined by decades of diminished expectations, misinformation and also depoliticization of the general population.  In this context, it is also imperative to face and understand strains of climate defeatism that might undermine efforts to rouse and inspire people to propose and fight for policies that will address the problem in the most rapid manner possible.

Climate Defeatism’s Corrosive Effects

I have lately encountered at fairly close quarters a few instances of climate defeatism that have led me to be concerned, along with some introspection on my part, that this is as significant a threat to putting into place rational climate policies, i.e. a climate mobilization, as either traditional climate denial or the imprint of neoliberalism on climate policy proposals.  Climate defeatism probably needs no definition but here is one:  it is the notion that we have already “lost” the battle to stabilize the climate and are headed for climate Armageddon.

Starting first with my own introspection: it is, admittedly, an extremely daunting task to face the climate challenge.  It is personally hard for me to write from a stance of moral exhortation as I find such a stance to be in itself fraught with danger.  I am as enamored as many other people of the excitements, comforts and seductions of our current fossil fueled society.  I enjoy travel a great deal and I also am not immune to enjoying the conveniences of using automobiles, fueled for the most part by fossil fuels.  Yes, I can imagine alternatives now to these excitements and satisfactions that may be as or more satisfying and fulfilling but that is not the same thing as putting into action a workable plan to transform our society.  That our leaders, including movement leaders, have failed to put forward realistic plans to cut emissions and transform society, makes the writing of this more onerous, writing which will make me few friends and perhaps some enemies.

For humanity to “take a new evolutionary path” and to take account of and transform its own satisfactions for the sake of future generations, is an act that means mustering much “optimism of the will” (as Antonio Gramsci and Romain Rolland called it) while keeping an eye trained on reality (“pessimism of the intellect”).  It is understandable that some may not feel this optimism or may temporarily lapse into cynicism or despair.

Ultimately, if we as a generation, want to think of ourselves has leading and having led a(n ethically) “good life”, we will need to overcome these internal and external barriers to pushing forward with effective climate action.  We must individually and collectively reorder our priorities in ways that may cause some internal pain but also involve rewards both familiar and unknown.  At the same time, I am of the belief that we should have a language for understanding the opposite of or opposed forces to living this “good life” in the shadow of climate catastrophe, one of which is climate defeatism.

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76 comments

  1. VB

    Perhaps I am a defeatist, but it seems to me we have passed the point of a rational choice some time ago. We passed it when we embraced capitalism as the only means to run the world. We passed it when we espoused self-achievement as the highest goal, and competition the worthy test of relevance. We passed it when we collectively allowed the vicious bombing of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, when we allowed the terrorisation by western governments of South America, and when we allowed another million to be killed in Iraq. And when we continually turn a blind eye to Palestine.

    The comforts that we continue to enjoy in the West have largely been achieved at the expense of the rest of the world – whether that be other people or the natural world. Now we are exhorted to take action to prevent karmic retribution from Gaia. But the fact is billions of (mainly poor) people will suffer and die as a result of the system we have enthroned. So lets be clear – climate action now, just may preserve the world for a bit longer, for the privileged few to continue to enjoy and exploit.

    I am afraid to say humanity has conclusively failed its tests – it is no great loss if we go the way of the dinosaur. Then the Earth may have a chance to renew itself, and try again. Hopefully with better results.

    1. James Levy

      I disagree. We have capacities for self-improvement via culture that evidence indicates to me the dinosaurs did not. We can change and adapt in positive ways that were beyond them or any other animal I know of. We have potential. To allow that potential to be snuffed out at this stage would, in my opinion, be tragic. It would also condemn the innocent and the guilty to the same fate, and that kind of injustice is wrong.

      9/11’s aftermath showed me that we no longer have a language of collective and self-sacrifice. It’s culturally alien to us. Freedom as we define it means unlimited choices and the choice to opt-out. But collective action closes down choices and forces us to pitch in and join the team. My father understood this when he went down to the navy recruiting office after Pearl Harbor was bombed and signed on the dotted line for “the duration plus six months.” He would go where sent and do what he was told because he believed the nation needed that in order to survive. His spirit is largely dead, killed by the Mad Men generation and their propaganda and hype and consumerism. How we get it back I don’t know, because now if we wanted to do the right thing, it would only come about at gun-point and via tyranny.

      1. VB

        Climate change means that there is no way the planet can support 7bn+ people. If you manage to slow its progress you may, lets say, make it habitable for 2bn (I suspect that’s an overestimate, but anyway). I wonder which strata of society those 2bn are going to be drawn from?

        If we really cared about humanity, why aren’t we transporting the Bangladeshi’s, who will be hit first and worst by rising oceans, to the US; why aren’t we welcoming the Africans, who are trying by any means possible to escape from destitution, into Europe – rather than letting them drown in the Meditarranean?

        As for self-improvement, haven’t seen any evidence of that to-date. Have you? We are the same petty, greedy, self-absorbed animals we have always been. Probably more so with the unabating quest for consumerism and Maslow’s ‘self-actualisation’.

        This crying about climate change now is only because we, people in the developed nations, can finally see that it is also going to affect us, and our children. And, as the author of the article writes, we now reluctantly consider toning down our lifestyles of driving, flying, etc etc – which the mass of humanity never did anyway.

        Just a further example of self-importance and self-absorption.

        1. NoFreeWill

          Pay attention to the source:

          By Michael Hoexter, a policy analyst and marketing consultant on green issues

          It represents the optimism of someone making money off of other people’s suffering who will likely die before the worst of it, who can manage to write a whole article about climate change without ever using the word capitalism.

          1. Chris B

            Yes!

            I knew there was something off about this article when he threw in the “fact” that hunter-gatherers were extractors just like us modern humans and we should not beat ourselves up about how much we love technology! That made me laugh and it stunk of techno-babble-google-and-facebook-will-fix-everything.

            I am not a defeatist, I am a realist. When I walked through Newark, NJ I sensed the enormity of the issue. Why the frack would anyone living here care about climate change when they have to struggle against capitalism every minute they are alive? Society does not give them the time and space to care about climate change.

            Looking at these issues from the sole perspective of a well educated white male living in the United States is ignoring reality. When you ignore reality is it easy to be optimistic.

            1. Dirk77

              Yes. if people are too busy struggling to get by, thinking about the future and doing right by it is a luxury. I say this because people I know are in that situation right now. In ways it’s getting worse; though understandingwise it is getting better.

            2. Michael Hoexter

              Trying to shoot the messenger because you don’t like the message, doesn’t make the reality go away… sorry!

            1. Michael Hoexter

              Again, you are trying to shoot the messenger…you don’t seem to have an answer to or reasoned critique of the message…

        2. Ormond Otvos

          Enjoy your life now, because your children aren’t going to.

          If that makes you sad, so be it. The time has passed for working together. We’ve been competing too long.

          We’ve abandoned self-control for the whiz and whirl of the rollercoaster, but there are billions who will never enjoy the park. Likely they’ll tear down the fence and kill us.

  2. John Merryman

    This issue is not going to be addressed in isolation, but as an aspect of other far reaching social and cultural changes that will be precipitated by the coming implosion of the global debt bubble.

    Quite simply the problem with capitalism is that money functions as an enormous voucher system and there is nothing more corrosive to a voucher system, than large numbers of surplus vouchers. Yet we have come to view money as a form of commodity to be saved and stored, with little regard for its social contractual basis.
    Yes, the banking system is being run by crooks, but there are deeper conceptual issues which both encourage and allow this system to blow itself all out of proportion to the larger economy and society and encourage those best able to manage it to use it as a run away rent extraction device.
    Just as government functions as the central nervous system of society, finance is its circulation system and using it to store wealth and value would be like the body using its circulation system to store fats. The result is analogous to what we see, clogged arteries((inflated investment value), high blood pressure(QE) and poor circulation in the extremities(Greece).
    Facing up to this situation doesn’t mean “Socialism!!!!” We can understand how roads function as a public medium and it doesn’t matter how expensive your car is, you still don’t get to use any more road than you need.
    So we need to start understanding that money really is a form of public medium, like the roads and not a form of private property, like the cars.
    Then we would not have 99% of the population scrounging to get by and not worried enough about the environment, while the 1% floats up on the clouds of extracted value.
    Wealth will be stored in strong communities and healthy environments, not as numbers in a bank.
    Banks will become a public function, like government.
    There was a time when government was private and the monarchists swore “mob rule” could never work, but they eventually gave people no choice but to make it work. Now it is the banks turn.

    1. susan the other

      I was puzzling over how neoliberalism, floating exchange rates, and austerity have caused the debt explosion. Policy intended to stabilize money just blew it right out of the water. And it took the environment with it. It occurred to me (Hudson probably said this a million times?) that since we do not understand exactly what money is, now would be an excellent time to define it. In terms of our extreme need to turn this mess around. We should peg money to full employment, reflecting a good economy. So if full employment, times 20/hr, divided by the total population means that one Washington is worth 8US, and one Lincoln is worth 40US, and etc. Then keeping the population as low as possible will protect the currency just as much as full employment at living wages will. That would be a good start. And in order to maintain full employment the government can to any number of green jobs programs that will make a big difference. The list of things we can do is very long, there is no lack of good proposals. And along with this mobilization, we could simply outlaw the use of fossil fuels except for absolute necessities. This of course means no more private cars and other toys. It will not prevent sea level rise to do this, but it will give us the means to survive it.

      1. craazyman

        what about cars that float? they turn into a boat when they hit the water and propel themselves. I’ve seen these. But they’d need electric power from renewable power plants. That way if the water gets too high it’s not as bad of a problem as it would otherwise be. they don’t look as good as real cars, that’s true. Or at least the real cars they used to make. I don’t own a car or drive so I wouldn’t know. I just go by what I see.

        I rented a car last year and it was a piece of visual shlt. It was like a factory somewhere squatted and laid a turd on the road and that was the car. It smelled bad too. The car-boats look almost as bad.

        I had a weird thought. I might as well admit it. It occurred to me, what if the earth is cold and wants to warm up. And the earth mind, which is so much vaster than the human mind that we can’t ever understand it, what if the earth mind sends thoughts into the human mind to get humans to dig fossil fuels and burn them. That’s weird. There might be a reality so much vaster than we can know that causes human consciousness to dig and burn fossil fuels. That’s the same reality that sends dreams into your mind. It’s like an emanation. That’s the earth mind and it has an intelligence so much vaster than ours that we’re like ants and it’s Isaac Newton.

        I remember as a kid watching ants on my backyard brick patio. They’d make ant hills between the bricks with dirt where the moss was and they’d crawl around on the patio. across the bricks. They’d walk with their 6 legs across football fields of bricks. For them it was like two miles. It’d watch them walk across the bricks in weavy lines like drunks. I’d stare at them and not think of anything, just watch and not think or try to think. They cross the bricks and go back to an anthill. What would they know of me watching them. What would I know of the earth mind? It’s weird. How it all telescopes out like cups inside cups inside cups.

        Who knows? I’d rather just not have the pollution and the heavy metals from burning coal. The warming part. Who knows? But the other stuffl, the mercury, the metals, the particulates, the acid rain, the smog. That’s serious. You can’t run from that. Or even use a boat.

        1. John Merryman

          Or it could be we are the plants method of putting more carbon into circulation.

          Eventually there will be lots of happy fishes when the sea levels rise.

          Everything we know will come to an end and we are not mentally designed to understand what will replace it because our minds process structure and form, not the dynamics giving rise to them.
          Energy goes from past to future form, as the form comes into being and dissolves, i.e. future to past.
          Our consciousness is like energy, going past to future, as the thoughts it manifests goes future to past.

          1. spigzone

            I don’t think the fishes will be all that happy with all that new living space when it’s a deadly radioactive soup.

            1. John Merryman

              Glow in the dark fishes.

              For us, a few hundred years is a big deal and a few thousand is massive, but in the larger order of things, we are a speed bump.

        2. John Merryman

          I remember as a child laying on the porch, watching this ant, when it stopped and there was this tiny cone of awareness, waving around with its antennae. Nowadays I have this problem with people a lot. Especially when driving, as we have to focus our awareness in front of us.

      2. John Merryman

        Money is debt. Every asset is presumably backed by an obligation. So to manufacture money, debt must be accrued.
        As such, it is a contract, but when we lose sight of the other side of the contract and only think of the asset, then we treat it like a commodity. In order to make the US dollar a global currency, we had to destroy our manufacturing base and then create the money to buy overseas production, which distributed dollars around the world.
        It is presumed Volcker cured inflation with higher rates, which involve the Fed buying less gov debt and selling some of what it held, but this didn’t really work until ’82, by which time the deficit reached 200 billion. Reasonably the Fed selling debt and the Treasury issuing fresh debt will have the same effect, to absorb excess money out of the system, with the added advantage the government can do a lot of pump priming with what it collects. The logical conclusion is that if there is excess money(think vouchers) in the economy, it is in the hands of these with an excess of money, as they are who buy these bonds.

        There are lots of ways a financial circulation system could be constructed. For one thing, most people have some sense of what they are saving for, housing, health, child and elder care, eduction, etc. So given the efficiency of computers, we could “invest” in these needs, rather than putting it in a bank. Lots of needs could simply be social exchange and reciprocity, such as caring for others, basic education, etc. This would mean local voucher systems that are not connected to national currencies and therefore would be beyond being taxed by them.
        A broad currency compared to a local currency is a bit like Walmart, versus the local farmers market. Both have their uses and advantages and can be used for different needs.
        Mostly people need to be educated that money is as much a responsibility, as it is a right. We have to think cyclically and not just linearly.
        Those managing a monetary system like people to think it is their property, just like a fisherman want the fish to think the worm is its own. Just remember who holds the copyright.

  3. C. dentata

    A carbon tax offset by a reduction in other taxes in the end would be a fairly simple but powerful mechanism. It also would change human behavior in fundamental ways by transforming the incentives from material consumption to conservation.

    An offsetting corporate tax reduction has been proposed. Of course the rich have to be taken care of first. A better alternative in more progressive proposals is to refund the tax with payments to individuals regardless of income. This puts money in people’s pockets and creates a tangible financial benefit for them.

    Nations would have to counter the anticompetitive effect of a carbon tax by imposing it also on imported goods. The tax could be forgiven on goods from countries that also have carbon taxes. This would encourage countries to impose their own carbon taxes to prevent that revenue from going to other countries.

    One potential impediment to such a carbon tax would be international trade agreements, which make special interest profits the paramount value in society. Useful carbon taxes may well violate such agreements.

    1. JTMcPhee

      Dare one ask who would enact the carbon tax, who would collect it, who would enforce it, who would evade it, who would just pay it and price it into the inelasticity of demand? It’s not like the corruptosarcoma has not metastasized throughout the humanosphere…

  4. financial matters

    I think Michael Hoexter makes a good point by appealing to ethical considerations.

    “Some of the reason that this challenge has not been faced over the 25 year history of climate policy and politics, even by those who have known better, is that, as Naomi Klein has pointed out, the political-economic philosophy of neoliberalism has ruled national and international government policy and politics for the last several decades. Neoliberalism edits out the leadership and creative role of government and the citizenry, insofar as that government supports the general social welfare of the polity and humanity as a whole. Instead neoliberalism preaches obeisance to an ill-defined market philosophy, where “markets” support the interests of the wealthy and the financial sector to the detriment of the real economy and society at large.”

    I think neoliberalism took a big hit from its challenge by Syriza. At first I thought by his upbringing through the political system, Tsipras would be more aligned with the Left Platform. But I think his alignment was more strongly with how to get the best deal for the Greek people at the least cost to them. This may have been naive but this simple approach has exposed neoliberalism in a big way.

    I think Galbraith has some interesting points in his Harper’s article.

    “SYRIZA was not some Greek fluke; it was a direct consequence of European policy failure. A coalition of ex-Communists, unionists, Greens, and college professors does not rise to power anywhere except in desperate times. ”

    The doubling down of neoliberalism is having its consequences. So I disagree with his point that

    “Clearly the hopes of the pro-European, reformist left are now over.”

    I think if we consider the changes that need to be made in most governments to attack big problems like climate change the ECB may be better situated economically to finance these projects. I think Paul Mason in his Guardian article makes some good points.

    “The modern day external shocks are clear: energy depletion, climate change, ageing populations and migration. They are altering the dynamics of capitalism and making it unworkable in the long term.

    If I am right, the logical focus for supporters of postcapitalism is to build alternatives within the system; to use governmental power in a radical and disruptive way; and to direct all actions towards the transition – not the defence of random elements of the old system.”

    1. susan the other

      My reply to you got moderated out. I’d just like to say I agree with what you are saying, and then some.

  5. herbert davis

    MAJOR FALLACY!
    We are not defeatist if we say the “search for the cure for cancer” is a hoax anymore than we are defeatist if we point out that “anthropogenic climate change” is a symptom of multi-causational nature. A cancer cure is good, as is shifting behaviors to reduce the causes of “anthropogenic climate change”.

    Wouldn’t we better off searching the “cause” and doing something about that? I posit that we know the answers to our problems and don’t want to face them; changing our behaviors re:cancer and climate change would require discipline and disrupt some folks profitable existence and those folks have the education and power to publish and deny the role of geometric population increase etc.

    Because many of us write articles about what we might do and how we might benefit from shifting to less harmful living we are merely whistling in the dark if we don’t change two probably insurmountable things…the population explosion and capitalism.

  6. TheCatSaid

    An author whose works highlight the power of individuals to participate in creating balanced change in light of the current challenges is Machaelle Small Wright.

    The website, perelandra-ltd ==> “About Us” has section entitled “Celebrating the Power of the Individual”. It eloquently addresses some of the issues implied by this post.

    The books and environmental balancing tools offered on the website present practical ways that individuals can make a powerful difference. As a result of using them in my personal environment I know the future offers great hope, despite the environmental and societal challenges, if INDIVIDUALS are willing to take steps to act differently in their relationships to nature.

    (Disclaimer: I don’t have any connection to the publisher. I do have personal experience successfully applying the concepts and tools in their books over many years.)

    1. NoFreeWill

      The problem is not, as this article implies, with the individual’s demand for fossil fuels. The individual lives in a society where the whole MEANS OF PRODUCTION are run from fossil fuels, so nothing they can do, except by means of collective action to overthrow the current capitalist system, will make the necessary changes happen.

      1. TheCatSaid

        Fortunately individuals sometimes do things that end up having a scope of influence that is beyond their wildest expectations.

  7. Dan Lynch

    A carbon tax would be the Milt Friedman approach. The FDR / Henry Wallace approach would be a command economy, with rationing and regulations. It’s pretty sad when today’s “liberals” can’t think outside of Milt Friedman’s worldview.

    For example, if there was a carbon tax on jet fuel, the rich would continue to fly, never mind the military and Air Force One. Solution: ban air travel. Yes, ban it! No one “needs” to fly. Life will go on if we stop flying.

    If there was a carbon tax on automobile fuel, the rich would continue to drive, never mind the military. Solution: ration fuel. Start out with a 10 gallon per month non-transferable ration, and each year the ration would be reduced 1 gallon so that after 10 years, the internal combustion automobile ceases to exist.

    At a minimum we should have a one child policy and even that may not be enough. Perhaps there should be lotteries for the privilege of having a child?

    And so on for the entire economy. This is not a new concept, it’s how we did things in WWI and WWII.

    Even if we did those things — and obviously there is no political will to do them — climate change is a runaway train. The warming of the oceans is unstoppable. The melting of Antarctica is unstoppable. It’s already happening, and it’s not going to stop happening with a lame carbon tax that reduces per capita consumption only slightly and may not reduce aggregate consumption at all if the population continues to grow.

    If you want people to stop feeling defeatist, you have to show them a realistic plan to fix things. None of the proposals put forth are realistic. Most people don’t even have a handle on the problem and have been brainwashed to believe that we have several decades to limit warming to 2 degrees C, which was always bunk. 2 degrees C would be catastrophic, and processes like ocean warming and Antarctic melting have already passed the point of no return.

    1. HotFlash

      Yes. I doubt that ‘they’ will do that, but ‘we’ can. Every dollar we spend is a precious, prescious vote, and in the language ‘they’ understand. It is a crime and a sin to wait for ‘them’ to lead us.

    2. MRW

      processes like ocean warming and Antarctic melting have already passed the point of no return

      BS. The oceans haven’t warmed. Antarctic melting? Pleeeeze. The Antarctic continent is almost twice the size of the USA (approx. 1 and 3/4). The South Pole is two miles above sea level. Take a look: https://sunshinehours.wordpress.com
      or, here:
      http://www.climate4you.com/images/NSIDC%20GlobalArcticAntarctic%20SeaIceArea.gif
      or here
      http://nsidc.org/data/seaice_index/images/daily_images/S_stddev_timeseries.png
      or this site:
      http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/seaice.recent.antarctic.png

      The tiny little section called the western ice sheet is melting, but that’s like Manhattan Island melting. Has nothing to do with the continent of Antartica.

      The global sea surface temp from Unisys Weather Information Systems:
      http://weather.unisys.com/surface/sst_anom.gif

  8. Wyoming

    I have come over the years that I have read NC to expect a critical look or comment on articles presented as this one has been. Why did that not occur today? Let’s look at what is being said here and what is being left out.

    This commentary by Mr. Hoexter fails at its most fundamental level because it misses the key part of the problem and focuses largely on a political/ideological/economic competition. It strongly leans towards the ‘progressive’ humanistic side of the dialogue on this subject and automatically assumes it stands on the high moral and ethical ground. But does it? Well not exactly.

    Mr. Hoexter is firmly in what I have come over the years to refer to as the Green BAU camp (living in opposition to the Black BAU camp). The Green BAU folks like Mr. Hoexter assume, very correctly, that continuing to follow the paths of modern civilization as we have been in the face of this crisis for some decades now is suicidal. It is. But is their approach better and does it have any chance of success. Any objective, rational, emotionless dive into the facts of the situation in terms of what is causing climate change and where civilization is in regards to the carrying capacity of the Earth will come to the conclusion that he is blowing smoke as they say.

    Both the BAU and Green BAU crowds suffer from a deep lack of understanding of the situation and thus are incapable of being able to get to the core of the problem and then work towards a viable solution. This has been pointed out to them on countless occasions and, just like the Black BAU crowd they so despise, they refuse to recognize the facts. It goes to Upton Sinclair to describe the basic situation with the two BAU camps. As he said, “You can’t get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it.” To paraphrase a bit, “You can’t get a man to understand something if his image of himself and his way of life depends on him not understanding it.” This is the trap which Mr. Hoexter finds himself in and in which all of the Green and Black BAU crowd lives. They will not look at the core of the problem as it is too much to accept or acknowledge.

    For we do not have just a catastrophic climate change problem to deal with. We simultaneously have a global carrying capacity problem to address. The two are completely interrelated and inseparable. One cannot be worked and solved if the other one is not addressed and solved at the same time. While many are familiar with climate change issues the carrying capacity issue is more obscure – but critical. The most optimistic analysis of where we are at in terms of carrying capacity is about 1 1/2 times the maximum. But a more rigorous and comprehensive look at the data and the whole global system can easily come up with numbers double that. What this means is that even if climate change did not exist that civilizational collapse was not too far into the future.

    Successfully addressing climate change and exceeding the global carrying capacity present the greatest challenge in human history. Dealing with them is not some simple political/ideological/economic system problem. One cannot fix this situation by implementing global renewable energy systems and eliminating fossil fuel use. Switching to all electric cars will not help. The core of all our problems is NOT burning fossil fuels (though it is close of course). The core problem is global population levels and a continuing rapid rise in population. The lower projections for global population are over 9 billion in 2050. One piece of data highlights why the Green BAU crowd as represented by Mr. Hoexter and his evil twins in the Black BAU crowd are completely wasting our time.

    If everyone on Earth lived a lifestyle equivalent to your typical West African (and I am not aware of anyone who is willing to do this) the global emissions of carbon would still be on the order of 9 gigatonnes in 2050. This number does not, of course, take into account the many amplifying feedbacks which are certain to be worse by then. So as long as we insist on solutions which attempt to maintain anything even resembling our current civilizational structure the problem is unsolvable as the rise in CO2 levels would never stop.

    If you want to solve this existential problem you must work immediately on the primary cause of the problem. Population levels. If you do not fix the population problem you will not be able to fix anything.

    As no one seems to be able to imagine living without some significant level of sophisticated technological civilizatonal structure our only hope of solution is to dramatically reduce global population levels. The ultimate third rail subject. This must happen of course in concert with all the things which Mr. Hoexter advocates. But absent this what he is doing accomplishes almost nothing. Carbon emissions must stop, but top soil loss, pollution of thousands of kinds, loss of water supplies, stripping the oceans of life, over consumption of hundreds of critical resources, etc, etc must also be brought into balance with what the Earth can provide at a sustainable level without collapsing any the various global ecological systems.

    Everyone wants an easy out or is holding faith in a religious or technological miracle. A somewhat immature approach but one we could predict. We deal with reality or it deals with us as they say.

  9. Starry Gordon

    Once people start to talk about ‘defeatism’ they have usually been defeated. In any event, I do not see even the beginning of a strategy here for emerging from, moving beyond, the capitalist state, which is a primary requirement for dealing with our systemic problems. The ruling class of the capitalist state will fight like demons to retain their powers and privileges, one of which is the freedom to destroy what’s left of the human environment. It is not a system which is susceptible to reform.

  10. gil gamesh

    Defeatism’s just another word for nothing left to lose. The USA will, until its end, promote maximum fossil fuel production. Because Markets, of course. This assessment represents optimism of the will.

  11. docg

    First of all, the essay doesn’t really address the issue at hand, “Climate Defeatism,” dropping it almost as soon as it is (belatedly) raised. The “defeatist” position is realistic for more than one reason. For one thing, it’s a mistake to assume fossil fuels are here simply to indulge the desires of over-indulged first-world “consumers.” They are essential to the well being and even the survival of the great majority of the world’s people. Which means that, in order to implement the absurdly extreme demands of activists such as Klien and Hansen, it would be necessary to sacrifice not only the living standards, but in many cases the lives, of billions among the poorest of the poor. Solar or wind energy is not going to heat their homes, keep their lights on, fuel their tractors, feed their families, transport them to their jobs.

    Secondly, as is widely recognized, it very probably is in fact too late to make much of a difference in the effects of climate change over the next several decades at least, if we are to believe the most commonly expressed claims.

    According to a recent joint report by The Royal Society and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, “If emissions of CO2 stopped altogether, it would take many thousands of years for atmospheric CO2 to return to ‘pre-industrial’ levels due to its very slow transfer to the deep ocean and ultimate burial in ocean sediments. Surface temperatures would stay elevated for at least a thousand years, implying extremely long-term commitment to a warmer planet due to past and current emissions, and sea level would likely continue to rise for many centuries even after temperature stopped increasing.”

    If in fact the “defeatists” are right (and Hoexter makes no attempt to refute them), we could seriously undermine the world economy and the well being of billions of our fellow humans with nothing to show for it but possibly a delay of a few months or possibly a year before the worst effects of climate change set in.

    Isn’t it better for the world to spend its resources in preparing for these events, which will be developing very slowly in any case, rather than expending valuable resources (and lives) in a futile attempt to forestall them? Especially since no one really knows for sure what the future will bring.

    1. Gio Bruno

      Actually, we need to both: stop making the problem worse while planning for plausible future mitigation.
      As an example, California has studied the sea level rise issue and knows exactly where the likely mitigation efforts will need to be applied first (Sacramento, not San Francisco; San Diego, not Santa Barbara.) Sure, our demise may be already baked in, but attempting to change/mitigate and plan for a sustainable future is the noble alternative for homo sapiens (and all the other plants, critters, fungi and amoeba that make the ecosystem function, to our benefit).

    2. Michael Hoexter

      This is the first of a three-part piece that is continued on New Economic Perspectives. I divided it into installments because it was long. I deal with defeatism in more detail on the latter two parts.

  12. DCBillS

    At least one incorrect assumption underlies your argument – that what we do in the US matters. We largely created this mess but it is now out of our control. Other nations have joined the party and many of them could care less about our ethics. The disaster is proceeding on schedule and will bite hard even if all emissions stop today (which they won’t). It is too late.

    1. Michael Hoexter

      It is convenient to think this, no? It means you think that you have no responsibility (any more).

  13. FluffytheObeseCat

    Good topic. I wish the author had gotten to it more quickly, and perhaps explored it – rather than wasting electrons deploring the status quo.
    Defeatism is the preferred “intellectual” conceit of those who don’t really understand exactly how ugly & severe the economic dislocation will be. They have no damned conception of what it would be like to live in this world when, say, 90% of the population of the Gangetic Plain must move, or die. Or what the burn over of >70% of the northern hemisphere boreal forests would do to their imagined safe havens in the global North.
    Loss of the tropics without loss of viability in the North is what most of them DO imagine….. they would not be so sanguine in discussing climate disaster all over the web and print media if they didn’t harbor such notions.
    They won’t admit that their private Idaho does not exist, and never will.

    1. jrs

      I don’t even know how such a conclusion can continue to exist when not just California has drought and wildfires (tell me something new) but Washington state does, Alaska does. How far to the poles, do they plan to go? No the conditions are not beyond what support human existence in any of those places now, but it doesn’t take that much imagination given current trends and the speed at which they are progressing.

      1. HotFlash

        The .01 percent doesn’t need much space, only the last inhabitable. The rest of us are useless eaters. So, what was your question, again?

  14. Jack Remington

    I agree that defeatism needs to be overcome. In order to do that we ( I mean the general public and journalists, politicians, etc.) need to make the continued effort to learn the realities of our predicament. This article and some of the comments indicate an insufficient appreciation of the seriousness and extent of the destruction and long-term, permanent changes that we are well into already. In order to act appropriately in a broad-based way, we need to act upon the realities we know now, not with the state of our knowledge a quarter of half a century ago. If we do not, the defeatism now will be little compared to what it will be after the new series of insufficient measures and failures.
    This article would have been great – and apropos – back in 1980 (when, for instance, William Catton’s “Overshoot” appeared), or even a decade later. But now? Some of the possibilities that existed 25-40 for amelioration have already been curtailed. The geochemical and biological state of the planet has degenerated unabatedly. It’s hard to assimilate the information, not because it’s too complex, but because it’s so painful and mind-boggling. There are various forms of denial which help to control our emotions. One is to evade not the facts of, but the irreversible severity and extensiveness of, the biological destruction and the suffering that should be cushioned as much as possible over the long-term. “Solutions” based on this latter type of denial, a type that willfully does not dig deep enough and work the imagination hard enough are bound to be too late and too little. Is this article and example of that?

  15. GlassHammer

    “That our leaders, including movement leaders, have failed to put forward realistic plans to cut emissions and transform society, makes the writing of this more onerous, writing which will make me few friends and perhaps some enemies.”

    First, if movement leaders are focused on what is “practical” then the entire undertaking is a farce. If you aren’t demanding the unrealistic, the impractical, the antagonistic, and the painful then you aren’t going to solve anything.

    Second, this isn’t about crafting the right message/plan or creating new ethics/morals. This is about challenging “power”. A “power” that can easily scuttle appeals to reason and undermine the cultural changes/environment necessary for appeals to ethics/morals. Let me be blunt, there is no end game that doesn’t involve a major shift in “power”. And this “shift in power” is why the undertaking is so difficult and why so many are defeatist.

    1. jrs

      Yes one can believe it can’t be solved (ie mitigated enough to make a difference!) on scientific grounds. But since not all scientists I’ve met are convinced of that, I’ll say I’m not certain.

      But it’s entirely possible that even so nothing can ever be solved on political grounds. Most people have very little power. Those that do use it primarily just to increase their own wealth and power and to crush all resistance to their doing so, including by those who care about the planet.

  16. armchair

    The local radio station just started playing “The End” by the Doors.

    This is the end, beautiful friend
    This is the end, my only friend, the end
    Of our elaborate plans, the end
    Of everything that stands, the end
    No safety or surprise, the end
    I’ll never look into your eyes, again

    It is easy to feel that this is, “the end,” out here out on the scorched west coast. At least I have assuaged my guilt by not having spawned, and not owning a car for decades at a time. However, I’m a jester, not a leader, so I am waiting for the leaders to come along, and becoming a defeatist while I wait, in the heat.

    It is a shame that society has tolerated so much propaganda as a serious debate. What’s the alternative? I recall being an Atmospheric Science class back in about 1992. At the time, there was a ‘debate’ about CFC’s and the gaping ozone hole they were opening up over the Antarctic. I remember a crew-cut guy in a short-sleeved shirt arguing that CFC’s were too important to give up, and anyway it was too late to worry. Guess what? The guy was also a climate denialist. He was probably hoping to buy Exxon stock with the cool job he was going to get at the Heritage Foundation. People like this owned the anti-communist rhetoric and they have owned the last 25 years. I feel like there was nothing I could do about this guy, except poke fun at him. What was the alternative?

    I guess I would argue that things have to get worse before they get better. The thing that really knocked Bush the Younger off of his game was Katrina. It was that crisis that exposed the shameful neglect of his administration toward natural disaster preparedness and toward vulnerable populations. Massive disasters may have to happen before there is change, and god knows I may be swept-up in them. Anyway, I love the foregoing post. I think there is room for those of us who have slipped into defeatism to be prepared for the future in a positive way. For example, there is a seed bank in Norway, that represents a perspective of being prepared to replant after the disasters. Call it defeatism tinged with hope for a post-disaster future.

  17. VietnamVet

    Besides inflation another reason for the Reagan/Thatcher counter coup was the unwillingness to do anything to limit growth (Jimmy Carter’s malaise). The underlying ideology of getting it while you can and the elite’s disdain of the masses are the reasons for the subjugation of the Greeks, risking a nuclear war in Ukraine, or ignoring climate change. If not addressed, there will be revolts. These problems are solvable but at a cost to both the oligarchs and the people. If mankind survives is in our hands.

  18. gcw

    While it is more than evident that urgent action is needed to address climate change, I find it curious that our ever-expanding world population (one million added every four days) is not given serious attention. I suspect it has to do with our worship of “growth,” without which our current economic systems will stagnate. But does anyone really believe population growth can continue indefinitely? As such, a time must come when growth, at least material growth, has to come to a halt. At that point, we will be forced to enter into sustainable, steady-state economies. We can wait until we are living in world of chaos, battling over ever-scarcer resources, or we can begin now to recognize the limits our planet will allow.

  19. Jack

    Literally the first words of this article are a form of denialism.

    “In the next few years…”

    Well, sorry, but when the science is saying that icecap melt is now self-sustaining and NASA is predicting a chunk of Antarctica the size of Scotland will break off by 2020, plus a whole plethora of other issues like ocean acidification and soil exhaustion, it’s already too late. We could literally stop all emissions today and it wouldn’t keep us from going past the rather arbitrary 2 degree point of no return.
    Even if the entire global system genuinely committed itself to solving the problem, it’s past the point of being solved. And the reality is that the system is incapable of even beginning to address the problem; it can only offer market ‘solutions’ that are at best meaningless except to the people who turn a profit off of them.

    I’m not saying we should just wallow around in self-pity; keep fighting the good fight, because what else is there to do besides simply lay down and die? But just know that the end result will likely look more or less the same for both approaches.

    1. Michael Hoexter

      You are taking the defeatist line….think about it…so everything else looks like denialism…

    2. Ezra Silk

      Jack,

      If we went to zero global emissions this second and did nothing else, global temperatures would increase to roughly +2.65C above pre-industrial levels in coming decades.

      That’s why people are looking into two other approaches:
      – Carbon Dioxide Removal technologies
      – Solar Radiation Management technologies

      Both geo-engineering approaches are fraught with dangers, especially Solar Radiation Management. But it appears that if we used all three carefully – net zero global emissions, Carbon Dioxide Removal, and Solar Radiation Management, there is a chance that the climate system could be stabilized.

      What Michael is saying is that you need to make a decision about whether you are going to spread the gospel of doom, making it even less likely that the climate system will be stabilized and billions of peoples lives are saved – not to mention the natural world – or concede the real possibility that we could save the situation. Nothing in the science suggests “it is all over.” Many people have already died, and tremendous damage has been done, but we are far, far away from experiencing the worst consequences of climate disaster, and there is no iron law of history that those things must occur.

  20. BondsOfSteel

    How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Climate

    Yes, I’m afraid I’ve become a climate defeatist. I used to think that climate change is a global problem and requires a global solution. Swaps, taxes, whatever will require some kind of global commitment that has real economic consequences and I think it might be beyond our ability. Heck if Europe can’t even commit to a sensible unified government what hope does South Asia have? And yes, the Greek / EU problem is a good example as any why we will fail.

    I started by thinking of the remaining carbon we can burn and how to budget it. A 20% reduction per person would probably slow down the changes enough to give technology a chance. This is doable… but I don’t think we have the will.

    But then… if you flip the equation… you realize that a 20% reduction of people will also give us the same result. Once you start looking at the problem this way, it’s not so much a climate problem as a population problem. The average carbon footprint / person just affects the maximum population. And while we may not be good at working together, we are really good at killing each other. And if we don’t do it, nature will. It’s just an exercise in Stein’s law.

    1. optimader

      With humans as the variable, in the full course of time AGW will be a self moderating problem.

  21. lyle

    One way to measure how serious the defeatists are is are they having children. If you think that times are going to get bad, why bring children into the world to experience the bad world? Of course given that a large percent of evangelicals think the end of the world is nigh is consistent with this. (But then Christianity has been expecting the imminent end of the world since the Ascension)

    1. jrs

      Yes Amen to that. If you really believe your defeatism then why have kids? Of course if you had kids ages ago in ignorance that’s another story, but people bringing kids into the world NOW.

      1. lyle

        One way to measure this is do you encourage your adult children to not have children. A lot of folks want grandkids and encourage their children to have them (sometimes it might just be revenge of course).

        1. Greg

          Growth requires people so if the locals decide not to procreate the government will just import them. I imagine the inaction by our government to control the boarders is not a fluke.

  22. Crazy Horse

    To comment on several points from previous posters:

    1- The problem of climate change is not an American problem, it is a world problem. And through its actions as an Imperial Empire striving to control the rest of the world for the benefit of a few thousand Oligarchs, America has lost any claim to moral authority.

    2- While the world economy is indeed structured around something called Capitalism (more correctly described as Banksterism or Vampire Capitalism) the root of the problem lies deeper in the energy foundations of Industrial Civilization. Fixing Capitalism is no solution to the problem.

    3- While individual humans are indeed capable of extraordinary brilliance, there is no example in the history of the species collective behavior — the testosterone-fueled drive to dominate and create ruling classes leading to wars of conquest and destruction—that should lead us to even imagine that humans can change their evolved tribalistic social behavior and thought patterns so radically as to be able to undertake the collective measures necessary in only a single generation or two.

    4- The biosphere doesn’t care about humans as a species. They will continue to expand their impact until they exhaust the planet’s resources and carrying capacity, and then population will collapse to the point where the survivors can exist within the new world or become extinct just like any other species. Human Exceptionalism is simply an intellectual construct, much like the fleeting notion of American Exceptionalism or the British Empire’s right to rule over inferior races.

    Realist is a much better label than defeatist—

    1. Newtownian

      ‘Realist’ is definitely a better term for people who feel overwhelmed but still want to keep plugging away.

      Personally I found Michael’s article pretty annoying but if it stirs people thinking on balance I guess its ok. As to why its annoying:

      1. The logic of language and the argument is nothing new to Baby Boomers from the Golden Days when people gave a damn more widely or at least affected that. All of us on the ‘utopian’ Green Left (aka watermelons) are aware of self fullfilling prophecies. So we dont need this pointed out again but rather suggestions on how to respond to a world increasingly dominated by a neoliberalism in the publich space which doesnt seem to give a damn or maybe just doesnt think.

      To give an illustration of grass roots action that may have changed the world so you dont despair – the world was nearly consumed by nuclear fire around 1982 – incident relates to Abel Archer 5 – but a soviet colonel (spelling?) acting on this knowledge that it was better to be sane – failed to push the button and we are still here. A few years later the Berlin Wall came down. The points are dont give up hope because change can occur even when things are dark. Did the message from all the protestors at the time help him. I’d like to think so. The thing is the protest movement Michael wants I think hasnt even started.

      2. Appealing to us to become more thoughtful and less pessimistic (as Michael seems to be promoting) is useful for necomers but it begs the thorny question of where next? So here are some suggestions in its absence from him based on my muddling over abotu 40 years:

      a. Attend every climate change demonstration you can, to remind yourself you are not alone.

      b. Become economically and ecologically literate and think about the connections. The latter will tell you where the worst situations in your life and beyond lie (noting you need to save yourself first else you will not be any use in saving others from the mooted eco-holocaust). The former will tell you just how disconnected from ecological reality economists are for the most part. It will also tell you how insecure your investments are (send me a letter if you figure an alternative). You might try and become an ecological economist if you feel like being a fringe dweller. Its far from boring but you wont get a job in a bank unless you decide to sell out by recycling past mantras in new guises – like Green Growth, corporate social responsibility etc.. Trust me these are as old as the dinosaurs. Do a serious tertiary course. Give something back to the planet through some ecosystem restoration.

      c. Get to know your friends and try and figure out how to shift their positions in a way that doesnt induce too much of a backlash. Shaking sanity into them doesnt seem to work though its fun to try and feel all righteous for a short time. Trouble is life is not like a Hollywood movie and slapping people is assault.

      d. Disconnect yourself from overconsumption (depending on circumstance ride a bike, buy/rent a small house or car rather than a big one. Doh! Donate the money saved to an environmental NGO you have researched and who are ok on balance. They need it and will use it better than you).

      e. Dont be an ecological masochist. You will send yourself crazy. I know a couple. They are boring and using the logic of summing up ecosystem damage they dont come up with workable solutions.

      f. Have a look at your ecological footprint more generally. Though the sums are complex being a vegetarian is pretty good.

      g. Join an environmental NGO and discover the fights and disagreements on committees and how the eco yellow brick road is not that well marked.

      These are things you can do and which will change you if you keep your sense of humour. You wont necessarily change the world but at least on balance you can try to put more in than you taken out.

  23. Jeremy Grimm

    I am most definitely a climate defeatist according to this author’s definition. But Wikipedia defines defeatism as “acceptance of defeat without struggle.” As many other commenters pointed out, the climate is unstable and heading toward an unknown but grim future. Recognizing this based on the evidence is not defeatism and not recognizing it is self-delusion. I do not know whether we are headed to climate Armageddon or not. I certainly hope not and believe “We” must now act to plan ways to lessen the impact of those problems which can be predicted. “We” must act individually, and collectively at all levels of government and across national borders. “We” … “We” … “We”.

    This “We” is the root problem. There is no “We”. “They” govern us and until that changes there will be no efforts to address climate change, as well as many other more pressing problems of the moment as Chris B points out after walking “through Newark, NJ” or South Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, Sao Paulo … and widely across our world, as other commenters point out. What have “They” done to deal with other lesser problems than climate change? Two topical problems, Greece and Medical Care, tell plainly what wisdom “They” offer us.

    Contrary to some other commenters, I do not believe “Capitalism” is the problem. The problem is “We” no longer control our governments and those who do control have no concept of the common good.

    Multiple problems worsen and will come to crisis, I fear, in a very near future. If “We” do not wrest control from “Them” in a peaceful transition, the urgent need for change will drive a less than peaceful transition, even as the changes in climate become less than peaceful. Our future is all too interesting along many vectors of change.

    Coming at this post from a different direction, the kinds of action the author proposes well match the claim of a lack of “appropriate solutions.” Carbon taxes, and other market based sops are not solutions, and not “appropriate.” Climate change comes at the same time as peak oil, at the same time as water and food near their limits, at the same time world populations are growing without constraints, at the same time economies, support infrastructures, and nations verge on collapse … The changes to come are not small or easy changes. They greatly exceed a mere stifling of an enamorance with the “excitements, comforts and seductions of our current fossil fueled society.” The wrenching depth and extent of necessary changes defeats change in this moment. As reluctance translates into time any opportunities for smooth transition will be lost, if not lost already.

    1. spigzone

      ‘We’ cannot even mobilize the worlds resources to mitigate Fukushima which is currently killing off the entire food chain of the north pacific, for starters, it is being swept under the rug and ignored.

      1. susan the other

        And we are told here in the US that we have put our best minds on this problem. But we do not have the science to glue all those subatomic particles back together and collect them. We don’t even have the engineering know-how to stop the groundwater from leaching the still melting cores directly into the ocean. I find this excuse (Oh we can’t stop water leaching into the ocean!) to be unbelievable – we do have that technology. The problem is that we do not have the follow-up technology to prevent the same radionuclides from backing up and polluting Tokyo’s water supply. It’s the Pacific Ocean or Tokyo. Take your pick.

  24. john c. halasz

    If I were a betting man, I would place my bet on no adequate response being mounted. Of course, it all depends on what odds are being offered, but I would be willing to accept quite short odds. The only problem is, how would I collect on such a proposition?

  25. spigzone

    Arriving at the conclusion of and coming to terms with the reality of it being too late to stop catastrophic global warming isn’t defeatism, it’s realism. If it’s too late, it’s too late, and the Arctic positive feedback loops now well underway say it is in fact too late. Plus of course the reality of human nature which means fossil fuel emissions will continue to increase until catastrophic global warming starts killing homo sapiens off en masse.

    Keep in mind there are hundreds of spent fuel pools around the world which means there are hundreds of Fukushima events in our future as civilization enters a time of widening and deepening chaos.

    It is what it is … a nearly dead certain extermination of all macro and most micro life on this planet.

    Heckava job there homey.

    1. Lyle

      Life has survived worse disasters in the past see the end Permian event or the end Cretaceous events for examples. Some will survive and over time come to occupy the empty niches of the ecosystem. This is what the geologic record shows. After all if you look at Chernobyl life is thriving in the exclusion zone. In fact it might be the best wildlife preserve in Europe now.

      1. Robert steffes

        Oh, life will survive, Lyle. This planet is 4.5 billion years old. Even after the Permian extinction, it took 10’s of millions of years for life to make a come back. What is far more frAgile is “civilization” and the delicately balanced climate that it depends on. We humans can’t fathom exponential growth or the consequences of shitting in our own nests anymore than bacteria in a Petri dish can. As a biologist once put it, ‘humans are too numerous, too clever and too greedy’. As previous posters have pointed out, barring divine intervention it seems human nature and the wacky institutions it has concocted will not be up the existential threat of a destabilized climate.
        A depressingly personal example: I make my living flying rich people around in jet aircraft emitting massive quantities of carbon. I know full well that this is immensely destructive, yet I have no plans to stop.
        See you all in hell.

  26. Lawrence Rupp

    Not a word here about the other real driver of our condition: OVERPOPULATION

    We have known for years what we could and should do about it. http://dieoff.org/page35.htm

    How To Influence Fertility:
    The Experience So Far (1990)

    by John R. Weeks

    This is the tenth in a series of NPG FORUM papers exploring the idea of optimum population-what would be a desirable population size for the United States? Without any consensus even as to whether the population should be larger or smaller, the country presently creates it demographic future by inadvertence as it makes decisions on other issues that influence population change.

    The approach we have adopted is the “foresight ” process. We have asked specialists in various fields to examine the connection between alternative population futures and their fields of interest. In this issue of the FORUM, Dr. Weeks discusses how fertility might be consciously influenced if the nation should conclude that lower fertility is desirable.

    Dr. Weeks is Professor of Sociology and Director of the International Population Center at San Diego State University. He is the author of the text Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues (Belmont: Wadsworth), now in its fourth edition. Currently, he is completing a federally-funded research project on infant health outcomes among low-income immigrants in California.

    ————————–

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/x0srt4kwy437c81/Toomanymouths.pdf

  27. Cocoa

    Nothing slows carbon emissions more than the Global Financial System going for the short term brass ring and crashing the entire system. We use millions LESS oil because the economic system and debt overload has hurt consumption ability. So the rich have it all and have made it to higher ground. the middle and lower classes will be swallowed up by massive deflation and global implosion. Humanity may continue, but we won’t be on the liferaft. This is what happens when the system allows primitive emotions to run the exchange model- the main one being greed.

  28. cityeyrie

    Hmm. I don’t deny that climate change is happening, but I do think that environmentalists took a wrong turn when they started focussing on it and not pollution – back in the when? late 1980s? Bio-chemical pollution (often caused by processes which also produce carbon, or by the extraction of fossil fuels) happens in specific localities and can be successfully challenged by the people in those localities. It is more immediately threatening than climate change in many places, but the odds of people getting together to stop it are much higher.

    Local bio-chemical pollution has usually an identifiable cause, and a readily seen effect. It is much more difficult for the corporate shills to deny, and more easily made the target for campaigns which appeal to people accross the political spectrum. And which can be won, directly. ‘Why did environmentalists all but give up on this kind of organising?’ is a more interesting question. And by framing their fight as against ‘climate change’ as opposed to whatever tangible damage people can see and feel, local activists against specific polluters undercut their own potential support.

    Hoexter, at least in the US context, is lazy in dismissing climate denial as mainly a ‘neo-liberal’ stance. Pollution is a also concern of many who are also unsure about or outright deny climate change. I’m not talking about corporate shills here, (or scorched-earth neoliberals) but people who know they’re being lied to about the safety of GMO foods and fracking, and whatever is happening in their backyards which is making them and/or their kids sick. They also hear the calls for zero population growth, or these days, as in many of the comments here, population reduction, to deal with climate change as a direct threat. When they see governments’ increasing interference with people’s personal lives causing so much damage (interference which effects people more the poorer they are – which one can also say about pollution), how are they to trust environmentalists’ calls for government intervention on a global scale to deal with climate change?

    This I think is the problem climate activists must face, that their cause is widely seen as an elitist attempt to get governments to further interfere with people’s day to day lives while the corporations dumping not just carbon but all kinds of more immediately dangerous toxins get a relatively easy ride. It’s not good enough to simply blame neo-liberal scorched earth economics and corporate shills, environmentalists concerned about climate change need to re-think their own strategy.

  29. cnchal

    . . . Beyond carbon taxation, effective climate action by governments must achieve a full-employment society . . .

    This makes no sense. Full employment means more consumption of energy, most of which comes from fossil fuels.

    Another angle to this problem are the odious trade deals and the ISDR (investor – state dispute resolution). The plutocrats have done a clean end run around the collective will of the people, and any new action taken by governments that impede ever so slightly the future profitability of the enterprises owned by the plutocrats will lead to financial extraction of the populace. This limits the scope of action that governments are willing to do.

    A few months ago, the Globe and Mail had an article based on Naomi Klein’s new book, about Ontario’s renewable energy program, and how an Italian manufacturer was lured into investing 10 to 20 million dollars into a manufacturing facility in Ontario. It turns out that Germany and Japan objected to this arrangement, and because of existing federal trade deals, Ontario was forced to remove the subsidies.

    The point is, no matter what the government decides to do, someone is affected, and when those someones see a potential for reduced profits in the slightest, out come their lawyers, looking to pick our pockets.

    What I think is needed is an intense research and development program to develop high efficiency solar cell technology and battery storage capacity that isn’t privatized, with the goal of being able to disconnect from the electrical grid, and eventually have no grid at all. Now, just imagine the ISDR lawsuits stemming from that.

    1. financial matters

      I think the point that Hoexter is making is that government needs to take back that power that it has given to corporations and to realize that it actually is a producer of money.

      By being a producer of money it can finance societal useful employment such as child and elder care and education as well as finance the important large research and development programs.

      It can also overrule those sort of crazy deals as the ones you mention in Canada if people recognize their foolishness.

      As Ingham well characterizes, money as a social construct is also a struggle for power.

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