Michael Klare: A Climate Change-Fueled Revolution?

Yves here. The post below by Michael Klare is hardly radical; in fact, the Department of Defense has been for at least the last five years working on geopolitical scenarios that give a large role to climate change induced political instability, such as mass migrations out of heavily populated low-lying areas. So as much as Klare anticipates more and more popular uprisings, I’d anticipate that the powers that be are expecting them and are prepared to suppress them brutally. Thus the places they might succeed are in advanced economies with comparatively little police brutality in large cities (ie, where you’d have lots of media coverage which would constrain how harsh the retaliation would be).

By Michael T. Klare, a professor of peace and conflict studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left.  A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation. Cross posted from TomDispatch

A week after the most powerful “super typhoon” ever recorded pummeled the Philippines, killing thousands in a single province, and three weeks after the northern Chinese city of Harbin suffered a devastating “airpocalypse,” suffocating the city with coal-plant pollution, government leaders beware!  Although individual events like these cannot be attributed with absolute certainty to increased fossil fuel use and climate change, they are the type of disasters that, scientists tell us, will become a pervasive part of life on a planet being transformed by the massive consumption of carbon-based fuels.  If, as is now the case, governments across the planet back an extension of the carbon age and ever increasing reliance on “unconventional” fossil fuels like tar sands and shale gas, we should all expect trouble.  In fact, we should expect mass upheavals leading to a green energy revolution.

None of us can predict the future, but when it comes to a mass rebellion against the perpetrators of global destruction, we can see a glimmer of the coming upheaval in events of the present moment.  Take a look and you will see that the assorted environmental protests that have long bedeviled politicians are gaining in strength and support.  With an awareness of climate change growing and as intensifying floods, fires, droughts, and storms become an inescapable feature of daily life across the planet, more people are joining environmental groups and engaging in increasingly bold protest actions.  Sooner or later, government leaders are likely to face multiple eruptions of mass public anger and may, in the end, be forced to make radical adjustments in energy policy or risk being swept aside.

In fact, it is possible to imagine such a green energy revolution erupting in one part of the world and spreading like wildfire to others.  Because climate change is going to inflict increasingly severe harm on human populations, the impulse to rebel is only likely to gain in strength across the planet.  While circumstances may vary, the ultimate goal of these uprisings will be to terminate the reign of fossil fuels while emphasizing investment in and reliance upon renewable forms of energy.  And a success in any one location is bound to invite imitation in others.

A wave of serial eruptions of this sort would not be without precedent.  In the early years of twentieth-first century, for example, one government after another in disparate parts of the former Soviet Union was swept away in what were called the “color revolutions” — populist upheavals against old-style authoritarian regimes.  These included the “Rose Revolution” in Georgia (2003), the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine (2004), and the “Pink” or “Tulip Revolution” in Kyrgyzstan (2005).  In 2011, a similar wave of protests erupted in North Africa, culminating in what we call the Arab Spring.

Like these earlier upheavals, a “green revolution” is unlikely to arise from a highly structured political campaign with clearly identified leaders.   In all likelihood, it will erupt spontaneously, after a cascade of climate-change induced disasters provokes an outpouring of public fury.  Once ignited, however, it will undoubtedly ratchet up the pressure for governments to seek broad-ranging, systemic transformations of their energy and climate policies.  In this sense, any such upheaval — whatever form it takes — will prove “revolutionary” by seeking policy shifts of such magnitude as to challenge the survival of incumbent governments or force them to enact measures with transformative implications. 

Foreshadowings of such a process can already be found around the globe.  Take the mass environmental protests that erupted in Turkey this June.  Though sparked by a far smaller concern than planetary devastation via climate change, for a time they actually posed a significant threat to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his governing party.  Although his forces eventually succeeded in crushing the protests — leaving four dead, 8,000 injured, and 11 blinded by tear-gas canisters — his reputation as a moderate Islamist was badly damaged by the episode.

Like so many surprising upheavals on this planet, the Turkish uprising had the most modest of beginnings: on May 27th, a handful of environmental activists blocked bulldozers sent by the government to level Gezi Park, a tiny oasis of greenery in the heart of Istanbul, and prepare the way for the construction of an upscale mall.  The government responded to this small-scale, non-violent action by sending in riot police and clearing the area, a move that enraged many Turks and prompted tens of thousands of them to occupy nearby Taksim Square.  This move, in turn, led to an even more brutal police crackdown and then to huge demonstrations in Istanbul and around the country.  In the end, mass protests erupted in 70 cities, the largest display of anti-government sentiment since Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party came to power in 2002.

This was, in the most literal sense possible, a “green” revolution, ignited by the government’s assault on the last piece of greenery in central Istanbul.  But once the police intervened in full strength, it became a wide-ranging rebuke to Erdogan’s authoritarian impulses and his drive to remake the city as a neo-Ottoman showplace — replete with fancy malls and high-priced condominiums — while eliminating poor neighborhoods and freewheeling public spaces like Taksim Square.  “It’s all about superiority, and ruling over the people like sultans,” declared one protestor.  It’s not just about the trees in Gezi Park, said another: “We are here to stand up against those who are trying to make a profit from our land.” 

The Ningbo Rebellion

The same trajectory of events — a small-scale environmental protest evolving into a full-scale challenge to governmental authority — can be seen in other mass protests of recent years.

Take a Chinese example: in October 2012, students and middle class people joined with poor farmers to protest the construction of an $8.8 billion petrochemical facility in Ningbo, a city of 3.4 million people south of Shanghai.  In a country where environmental pollution has reached nearly unprecedented levels, these protests were touched off by fears that the plant, to be built by the state-owned energy company Sinopec with local government support, would produce paraxylene, a toxic substance used in plastics, paints, and cleaning solvents. 

Here, too, the initial spark that led to the protests was small-scale.  On October 22nd, some 200 farmers obstructed a road near the district government’s office in an attempt to block the plant’s construction.  After the police were called in to clear the blockade, students from nearby Ningbo University joined the protests.  Using social media, the protestors quickly enlisted support from middle-class residents of the city who converged in their thousands on downtown Ningbo.  When riot police moved in to break up the crowds, the protestors fought back, attacking police cars and throwing bricks and water bottles.  While the police eventually gained the upper hand after several days of pitched battles, the Chinese government concluded that mass action of this sort, occurring in the heart of a major city and featuring an alliance of students, farmers, and young professionals, was too great a threat.  After five days of fighting, the government gave in, announcing the cancellation of the petrochemical project.

The Ningbo demonstrations were hardly the first such upheavals to erupt in China.  They did, however, highlight a growing governmental vulnerability to mass environmental protest.  For decades, the reigning Chinese Communist Party has justified its monopolistic hold on power by citing its success in generating rapid economic growth.  But that growth means the use of ever more fossil fuels and petrochemicals, which, in turn, means increased carbon emissions and disastrous atmospheric pollution, including one “airpocalypse” after another.

Until recently, most Chinese seemed to accept such conditions as the inevitable consequences of growth, but it seems that tolerance of environmental degradation is rapidly diminishing.  As a result, the party finds itself in a terrible bind: it can slow development as a step toward cleaning up the environment, incurring a risk of growing economic discontent, or it can continue its growth-at-all-costs policy, and find itself embroiled in a firestorm of Ningbo-style environmental protests. 

This dilemma — the environment versus the economy — has proven to be at the heart of similar mass eruptions elsewhere on the planet.

After Fukushima

Two of the largest protests of this sort were sparked by the reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants on March 11, 2011, after a massive tsunami struck northern Japan.  In both of these actions — the first in Germany, the second in Japan — the future of nuclear power and the survival of governments were placed in doubt.

The biggest protests occurred in Germany.  On March 26th, 15 days after the Fukushima explosions, an estimated 250,000 people participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations across the country — 100,000 in Berlin, and up to 40,000 each in Hamburg, Munich, and Cologne.  “Today’s demonstrations are just the prelude to a new, strong, anti-nuclear movement,” declared Jochen Stay, a protest leader.  “We’re not going to let up until the plants are finally mothballed.”

At issue was the fate of Germany’s remaining nuclear power plants.  Although touted as an attractive alternative to fossil fuels, nuclear power is seen by most Germans as a dangerous and unwelcome energy option.  Several months prior to Fukushima, German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted that Germany would keep its 17 operating reactors until 2040, allowing a smooth transition from the country’s historic reliance on coal to renewable energy for generating electricity.  Immediately after Fukushima, she ordered a temporary shutdown of Germany’s seven oldest reactors for safety inspections but refused to close the others, provoking an outpouring of protest.

Witnessing the scale of the demonstrations, and after suffering an electoral defeat in the key state of Baden-Württemberg, Merkel evidently came to the conclusion that clinging to her position would be the equivalent of political suicide.  On May 30th, she announced that the seven reactors undergoing inspections would be closed permanently and the remaining 10 would be phased out by 2022, almost 20 years earlier than in her original plan.

By all accounts, the decision to phase out nuclear power almost two decades early will have significant repercussions for the German economy.  Shutting down the reactors and replacing them with wind and solar energy will cost an estimated $735 billion and take several decades, producing soaring electricity bills and periodic energy shortages.  However, such is the strength of anti-nuclear sentiment in Germany that Merkel felt she had no choice but to close the reactors anyway. 

The anti-nuclear protests in Japan occurred considerably later, but were no less momentous.  On July 16, 2012, 16 months after the Fukushima disaster, an estimated 170,000 people assembled in Tokyo to protest a government plan to restart the country’s nuclear reactors, idled after the disaster.  This was not only Japan’s largest antinuclear demonstration in many years, but the largest of any sort to occur in recent memory.

For the government, the July 16th action was particularly significant. Prior to Fukushima, most Japanese had embraced the country’s growing reliance on nuclear power, putting their trust in the government to ensure its safety.  After Fukushima and the disastrous attempts of the reactors’ owner, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), to deal with the situation, public support for nuclear power plummeted.  As it became increasingly evident that the government had mishandled the crisis, people lost faith in its ability to exercise effective control over the nuclear industry.  Repeated promises that nuclear reactors could be made safe lost all credibility when it became known that government officials had long collaborated with TEPCO executives in covering up safety concerns at Fukushima and, once the meltdowns occurred, in concealing information about the true scale of the disaster and its medical implications.

The July 16th protest and others like it should be seen as a public vote against the government’s energy policy and oversight capabilities.  “Japanese have not spoken out against the national government,” said one protestor, a 29-year-old homemaker who brought her one-year-old son.  “Now, we have to speak out, or the government will endanger us all.”

Skepticism about the government, rare for twenty-first-century Japan, has proved a major obstacle to its desire to restart the country’s 50 idled reactors.  While most Japanese oppose nuclear power, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe remains determined to get the rectors running again in order to reduce Japan’s heavy reliance on imported energy and promote economic growth.  “I think it is impossible to promise zero [nuclear power plants] at this stage,” he declared this October.  “From the government’s standpoint, [nuclear plants] are extremely important for a stable energy supply and economic activities.”

Despite such sentiments, Abe is finding it extremely difficult to garner support for his plans, and it is doubtful that significant numbers of those reactors will be coming online anytime soon.

The Explosions Ahead

What these episodes tell us is that people around the world are becoming ever more concerned about energy policy as it affects their lives and are prepared — often on short notice — to engage in mass protests.  At the same time, governments globally, with rare exceptions, are deeply wedded to existing energy policies.  These almost invariably turn them into targets, no matter what the original spark for mass opposition.  As the results of climate change become ever more disruptive, government officials will find themselves repeatedly choosing between long-held energy plans and the possibility of losing their grip on power.

Because few governments are as yet prepared to launch the sorts of efforts that might even begin to effectively address the peril of climate change, they will increasingly be seen as obstacles to essential action and so as entities that need to be removed.  In short, climate rebellion — spontaneous protests that may at any moment evolve into unquenchable mass movements — is on the horizon.  Faced with such rebellions, recalcitrant governments will respond with some combination of accommodation to popular demands and harsh repression. 

Many governments will be at risk from such developments, but the Chinese leadership appears to be especially vulnerable.  The ruling party has staked its future viability on an endless carbon-fueled growth agenda that is steadily destroying the country’s environment.  It has already faced half-a-dozen environmental upheavals like the one in Ningbo, and has responded to them by agreeing to protestors’ demands or by employing brute force.  The question is: How long can this go on? 

Environmental conditions are bound to worsen, especially as China continues to rely on coal for home heating and electrical power, and yet there is no indication that the ruling Communist Party is prepared to take the radical steps required to significantly reduce domestic coal consumption.  This translates into the possibility of mass protests erupting at any time and on a potentially unprecedented scale.  And these, in turn, could bring the Party’s very survival into question — a scenario guaranteed to produce immense anxiety among the country’s top leaders.

And what about the United States?  At this point, it would be ludicrous to say that, as a result of popular disturbances, the nation’s political leadership is at any risk of being swept away or even forced to take serious steps to scale back reliance on fossil fuels.  There are, however, certainly signs of a growing nationwide campaign against aspects of fossil fuel reliance, including vigorous protests against hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

For environmental activist and writer Bill McKibben, all this adds up to an incipient mass movement against the continued consumption of fossil fuels.  “In the last few years,” he has written, this movement “has blocked the construction of dozens of coal-fired power plants, fought the oil industry to a draw on the Keystone pipeline, convinced a wide swath of American institutions to divest themselves of their fossil fuel stocks, and challenged practices like mountaintop-removal coal mining and fracking for natural gas.”  It may not have achieved the success of the drive for gay marriage, he observed, but it “continues to grow quickly, and it’s starting to claim some victories.”

If it’s still too early to gauge the future of this anti-carbon movement, it does seem, at least, to be gaining momentum.  In the 2013 elections, for example, three cities in energy-rich Colorado — Boulder, Fort Collins, and Lafayette — voted to ban or place moratoriums on fracking within their boundaries, while protests against Keystone XL and similar projects are on the rise.

Nobody can say that a green energy revolution is a sure thing, but who can deny that energy-oriented environmental protests in the U.S. and elsewhere have the potential to expand into something far greater?  Like China, the United States will experience genuine damage from climate change and its unwavering commitment to fossil fuels in the years ahead.  Americans are not, for the most part, passive people.  Expect them, like the Chinese, to respond to these perils with increased ire and a determination to alter government policy.

So don’t be surprised if that green energy revolution erupts in your neighborhood as part of humanity’s response to the greatest danger we’ve ever faced.  If governments won’t take the lead on an imperiled planet, someone will. 

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  1. Michael Fiorillo

    If Professor Klare’s prediction about climate-based rebellions is anywhere near as accurate as his assessment of the branding and marketing-driven “color revolutions” he uncritically refers to, then we can all expect to drown, burn and starve in our carbon shroud.

    Behind the curtain of almost all of these events has been the US State Department, the National Endowment for Democracy, USIA and, presumably, even less appetizing segments of the US government, working in conjunction with captive and/or special purpose NGOs.

    Here’s a link to a 2004 article in The Guardian about who was behind the scenes during Ukraine’s Orange Revolution: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/nov/26/ukraine/us

    1. Banger

      My thoughts precisely. But none of us is perfect–there is some merit to his argument but I don’t see much chance of green revolutions–there has to be something else going on.

  2. owenfinn

    The obscenely wealthy and powerful of the world – those who have benefited most from a world-wide system of industrialization and consumerism, want us to believe that we have only two choices – nuclear energy or fossil fuel. Of course, they say nothing about the possibility of changing the system itself.

  3. craazyboy

    I get this vision of Americans driving to the Revolution in their SUVS – with an average of 1.5 Revolutionaries per vehicle.

    1. pero no

      …and they will sit in their SUV running the aircon at full blast and tweeting on their iDevices until it’s time to have the revolution.

  4. wendy davis

    I’ll keep my own counsel on McKibben’s usefulness or not to the vast changes needed to address climate change, as many have already dissected that at sites like Counterpunch.

    But when I read this yesterday, I felt lower than a snake’s belly:

    “Yeb Sano, the Philippines’ lead negotiator at the UN climate change summit being held this weekend in Warsaw, spoke of a major breakdown in relations overshadowing the crucial talks, which are due to pave the way for a 2015 deal to bring down global emissions.

    The diplomat, on the sixth day of a hunger strike in solidarity for those affected by Haiyan, including his own family, told the Observer: “We are very concerned. Public announcements from some countries about lowering targets are not conducive to building trust. We must acknowledge the new climate reality and put forward a new system to help us manage the risks and deal with the losses to which we cannot adjust.”

    Munjurul Hannan Khan, representing the world’s 47 least affluent countries, said: “They are behaving irrationally and unacceptably. The way they are talking to the most vulnerable countries is not acceptable. Today the poor are suffering from climate change. But tomorrow the rich countries will be. It starts with us but it goes to them.”

    Recent decisions by the governments of Australia, Japan and Canada to downgrade their efforts over climate change have caused panic among those states most affected by global warming, who fear others will follow as they rearrange their priorities during the downturn.”


    With that sort of time horizon, *and* knowing that if the 2015 ‘negotiations’ lead to anything at all, they’ll be cosmetic at best. Do you all remember that absolutely nothing of value came out of the Rio 20 sustainability conference in 2012? I reported on the People’s Summit side meetings, and the fantastic declarations by several Indigenous groups from the golbal south, whose ideas could pave the way to a better future.

    Poor Yeb Sano; he should stop his fast. He’ll surely die before anything meaningful is hashed out. Yes, Michael Klare, a revolution of *some sort* will be the only way to begin to mitigate the disatrous trajectory we’re on.

    1. Banger

      I think it was inevitable that, after the economic downturn of 2008 and sane economic projections for the future show us that the post-WWII world of steady economic growth is no more. As such, environmental considerations are going out the window and a narrow focus on economic activity dominates every other consideration.

      When climate-change first became an issue twenty-five years ago I believed that as strong state and international agreements/institutions would be the path to dealing with the issue. The failure of all this leads me to believe that no change in environmental policy can come from this direction so that is why the world order must be broken and reconfigured as soon as possible. Thus we have a duty to resist in every way we can every element of the system and Chris Hedges has correctly stated. Like him I prefer it to be non-violent and it will always be so for me personally but I’m not going to criticize those that wish to take a more militant approach.

      1. Massinissa

        Banger, im wondering if a movement has to be entirely peaceful or entirely militant: Perhaps a hybridization might be most effective?

        Perhaps a large group of nonmilitants, with a smaller portion of militants (10%?) might be most effective: The majority can point at the minority and say, “Look how reasonable we are!”

        Sort of like how the Democrats try (often successfully) to paper themselves as republicans-lite.

        The only problem is that small number of militants would give the government ‘justification’ to crack down on the whole damn movement.

        1. Banger

          Actually what you are saying makes sense. Isn’t it true the the Democrats sell their brand by demonizing the right-wing Republicans as barbarians at the gate such that TINA to voting for Democrats to insure that civilization continues? This good-cop/bad-cop routine has worked brilliantly.

          As for the state cracking down–at this point we are seeing a dramatic weakening of the state so that even strong elements of the right might even sympathize with a black-block approach.

          I think we should assert who we are no matter what side we are on and just proceed believing in that things will emerge out of the mess that will be better than the current malaise. Maybe, instead, chaos and mass unrest and disaster will result–but if we’re not in the game then our positive influence will be missed.

          Personally, I believe in love and compassion for all beings–that’s just hard-wired within me–whatever I do has to come out of that. Yes, I get angry and negative but I’m working on being centered and I’ve seen improvements in myself so why can’t other and the world also see those improvements?

          1. Jim

            Banger stated:

            “ Yes I get angry and negative but I’m working on being centered and I’ve seen improvements in myself so why can’t others and the world also see these improvements.”

            If there is going to be significant cultural change then statements like “I’m working on being centered” have to become more precise (or, at least, it seems that way to me).

            You entire comment above implies that you are trying to get some of your passions/desires/impulses( or what I would call emotional habits) under some type of control or as you say “working on being centered (or as I would say attempting to incrementally replace some bad emotional habits with some better ones)

            How exactly does this take place for you? Are you talking about specific practices, techniques or disciplines? Are you also talking about not simply being possessed by anger but also partially possessing anger?

            Are you talking about practices that interrupt or partially contain deep-seated habits of anger expression? What is the nature of this interruption of emotional habit?

            If these types of things can eventually be articulated clearly, by those of us who are sympathetic to cultural reform, then it may open up the possibility of eventually putting in place some type of practical cultural agenda that is capable of reaching a large segment of the population and that is also capable of showing on an individual level that each of us possesses the freedom to begin a transformation of say bad habits into good habits—helping to overcome the inertia, implicit and explicit, within the political and economic analysis in most of the traditional left.

            One such a framework is established–individualized freedom may emerge in a particularly intense form—and this might be one way political passivity might just begin to evaporate.

    2. Newtownian

      “With that sort of time horizon, *and* knowing that if the 2015 ‘negotiations’ lead to anything at all, they’ll be cosmetic at best. Do you all remember that absolutely nothing of value came out of the Rio 20 sustainability conference in 2012?”

      You might find this link depressing / interesting

      I had a look at the report http://www.post2015hlp.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/HLP-Report_English-Access-PDF.pdf whose ancestor is Rio20+ which in turn comes from Rio 92 which in turn comes from Stockholm 72.

      Its more informative in respect to what is left out or played down.

      • Whatever did happen to the Millienium Goals??? There is a short mention but no item by item check box or reference link to such.
      • Regarding population growth there is nothing except maybe an assumption of “she’ll be right.”

      Regarding ‘ecology’ there is very little and its all cast in terms of ‘natural resources’ i.e. nature is just a mine for pursuing human dignity e.g.

      Manage Natural Resource Assets Sustainably
      Publish and use economic, social and environmental accounts in all governments and major companies 1
      Increase consideration of sustainability in x% of government procurements 3
      Safeguard ecosystems, species and genetic diversity
      Reduce deforestation by x% and increase reforestation by y%
      Improve soil quality, reduce soil erosion by x tonnes and combat desertification

      (noble but the topics are presented in a vague way)

      •Regarding climate change they say this is not the place to talk about it. So there is no goal.
      •The word ‘Ocean’ gets little mention beyond tokenism – mainly in relation to fisheries.
      •The word science gets 3 trivial mentions suggesting all we need to do is believe and things will happen magically.

      In short the old aim of general ecological sustainability has morphed into anthropocentric ‘sustainable development’ /’green growth’. This is consistent with a recent article on Christiana Figueres the UN climate commissioner who has just given up on carbon targets.

      Overall the thesis seems to now be that they should fix society using the same methods of the past 70 years while letting the planet go to shit.

  5. Paul

    I remember reading the first assessments to the White House on the geopolitical threats from global warming (climate disruption) back in 2001 IIRC!

  6. Banger

    We have the technological capacity to wean ourselves from fossil fuels but if requires substantial change particularly in the power-relations in the world which, in turn, can only come from deep cultural change. Almost the entire oligarchy is hell-bent on keeping the status-quo even if it means economic stagnation and decline.

    But for the green revolutions to occur there has to be a cultural change that seems unlikely at this time. First we have to see ourselves as interdependent and that selfishness and greed are things we ought not encourage. Those things, in themselves, would be more revolutionary than anything imaginable. Second, we need to understand that the neoliberal/globalist capitalist world economy has created stunning growth and dynamism since WWII spreading ideas, technology, consumer goods of all kinds throughout the world and it still has a lot of attraction for most people in the world. Third, the system has, in the past, decade, become increasingly rigid and resistant to change and it looks like it has to break down and fragment because it system appears to be unable to adapt to not just a major danger like climate change but also to any collective challenge like the changing economic dynamics we see all around us–this breakdown is in the first stages right now and looks different in different places.

    In the U.S.A. it looks like climate-change in particular and the environment in general is just not an issue that has resonance with any major demographic. However, the environmental issue is one of several that are causing people to lack faith in their governmental institutions. We are at a point now when we are within sight of localities breaking away from the system and rule themselves. There is hostility in states against the federal government and in counties and regions against state governments. But here’s the benefit: people are beginning to take an interest in politics and in collective solutions to their common problems it is this interest that could produce a political renaissance in this century and awaken the long dormant American pragmatic spirit which has been snowed under by decades of passivity caused by layers and layers of commercials, PR, propaganda and so on that makes most people alive today in the USA almost completely ignorant about the world around them.

    1. eeyores enigma

      “We have the technological capacity to wean ourselves from fossil fuels…”

      It’s statements like this that will guarantee that we will not do anything until it is way too late.

      Truth is we do not have the technological capacity to wean ourselves from fossil fuels unless you are talking about how we, all of humanity can learn to live with a fraction of the energy we now use.

      This of course guarantees billions of people fall into terminal poverty (while the 1% continue to thrive not unlike what is happening now).

      What is needed is a way to equitably manage a global power down and reduce consumption of all goods radically across the board.

      This is too much for any to accept so we will deny the reality, continue to pray at the alter of Technology, and ramp up the ignorance and inequality.

      Technology is an energy consumer not an energy creator.

      1. Banger

        We certainly don’t have the ability to generate the amount of power we are using today. I say we have the technology to replace the power by using what I call elegant engineering and changes in infrastructure–all of this cannot magically appear and requires cultural as well as political change but it we do have the ability to use what energy can come from renewables (remember prices change through the economy of scale).

        The engineering ability exists, the ability to make almost anything “intelligent” dramatically changes the whole range of possibilities we have. What we are facing, also, is the fact the media and their corporate masters will not examine or report on this issue so we do not grasp the totality of what is possible. The interest of the corporate elite is to create a stable, steady-state world where growth is repressed and everything is in control of the few. Any new technological breakthrough that does not serve the corporate elite’s interest in producing toys and distractions is ignored and repressed.

      2. Jgordon

        Yeah, what you said. Statements like “we have the technology” can only come from hopium smokers who can’t differentiate between wishful thinking and harsh reality.

        On the plus side though, human being could comfortable live on 10% or less of the energy budget we’re pissing away today, if only we did things differently. No new tech needed. Just plenty of good old tech, relocalization, and urban agroforestry inittiatives. Those who can figure this out early will be the ones most comfortable while the rest of life devolves into unmitigated horror as the transation to an involuntary low-energy state gets in stride.

        1. Banger

          The technology is there it is just not being reported on by the mainstream. Why do you assume I’m lying or just crazy? Don’t be so closed minded–there’s a lot going on that you may not know about or understand.

      3. Stan Musical

        I’ve posted before here about how my experiences living in so-called “poor” and “undeveloped” countries (i.e. culturally/socially-rich and as-of-yet un-destroyed countries) have convinced me of the absulute necessity of divesting ourselves of our perceived material needs. This is walking the walk.

        Some frog named Kermit called me on my “religiosity.” What a joke. Science/Tech and the myth of Progress are the world’s biggest religions.

        Turn off your TV, sell-off your iShit, stop feeding the evil mega-corps and they’ll be drownable at some point, even if not in a bathtub.

        We don’t need a revolution, we need half a revolution!

  7. Anarcissie

    I would think that if people put up with, even believed in capitalism up to now, with its inevitable destruction of the physical environment, they would simply continue to do so. But I suppose there’s no telling which straw will break the camel’s back.

    One problem at present is that, for the multitude, there is no real alternative on offer. Anarchists and communists are so few in number that most people haven’t heard of their actually different ideas. Instead, as things fall apart, people are likely to be handed palliatives and placebos, with a dose of fascism if they aren’t satisfied. (The NSA knows where you live; nice little family you’ve got there….)

  8. Joe Six Packs

    If the climate change is real and we will see the uprising of the common people in the USA, I will say: It is the gods revenge for the genocide of the Natives Americans.

    I bet this. If climate change is real, the Mexico authorithies will deny to the Americans the acess to a better places in the South of the American frontier. This is not gods revenge but tequilla vindicacion contra los gringos.

    Vaya con dios vaquero.

  9. pero no

    99% of the people in the U.S. can’t even be bothered to vote for the Green party. In other words, they won’t lift a finger to save the environment. The tiny percentage who vote green are greenwashed into believing they can save the environment by recycling their grocery bags and cans.

    This wouldn’t be the first time Michael Klare’s predictions turned out to be dead wrong though.

    1. savedbyirony

      “99%” of the American people don’t vote Green Party because they don’t know that they exist and/or run for offices, thanks to the corp. mainstream media intentionally not covering them. (Last year during the “election” while the twins were presidentially debating on the tube, Jill Stein was being carted off to jail for protesting not being included.)And you seriously misrepresent “greens” and their political behaviors. Some are outright militant and engage in eco-patriotism (or is that terrorism; very hard to say), some are hardcore activists and continually engage in environmental fights (such as the push against Keystone)which do have effects on policy decisions and some run for (and a few have won) public offices. But this article is more about latent and simmering environmental concerns of vast numbers of citizens who would never outright call themselves “Greens”. Have an energy company roll into town and start talking about fracking in the county (or dumping waste from fracking in the neighborhood) and see how many indifferent environmentalist go “green” extremely quickly.

  10. Susan the other

    Corporate profits and military adventures are the two biggest polluters. The military is the biggest polluter, and toxic polluter, but the military is aware of this and is working to lessen its environmental impacts. Just too slowly. Corporations with their profit uber alles credo also know they are big polluters, but they are focusing all their energy on hiding that fact. It’s the TEPCO syndrome. And we are locked in a dance with death and they are our partners. We the public, the consumers, and the heart and soul of humankind, need to take a stand. The most effective action would be to stop driving your car. Give it to the junk yard and write it off. Telecommute to your job. If you can’t telecommute, then refuse to accept, or show up to, a job that requires you to own a car and drive to work.

    1. Fíréan

      How much energy is used to run the data networks to allow persons to telecommute,or communite via any parts of the internet, are you aware ?

    2. skippy

      Transoceanic shipping is like 20% of toxic emissions imo.

      From a text message to a war, from a Valentine’s rose to a flight or even having a child, How Bad are Bananas? gives us the carbon answers we need and provides plenty of revelations. By talking through a hundred or so items, Mike Berners-Lee sets out to give us a carbon instinct for the footprint of literally anything we do, buy and think about. He helps us pick our battles by laying out the orders of magnitude. The book ranges from the everyday (foods, books, plastic bags, bikes, flights, baths…) and the global (deforestation, data centres, rice production, the World Cup, volcanoes, …) Be warned, some of the things you thought you knew about green living may be about to be turned on their head. Never preachy but packed full of information and always entertaining.


      skippy… sigh

  11. Tom

    I don’t think we get out of this one. It’s beginning to become clear that our habitat is degrading at an accelerating rate. In a few more years (by 2020) it will be painfully obvious to everyone that what we had isn’t coming back. Governments will crumble, infrastructure will fail, the electrical grid will collapse as will the global food supply system. Chaos will abound. When it becomes hard to find fresh clean drinking water, we won’t be far from the end.

    I pray that i’m wrong.

  12. Paul P

    Good nutshell argument on capitalism’s growth imperative as underlying the climate crisis. Mind boggling that a modern, educated civilization would cheerfully acquiesce in its own unravelling.

    Capitalism and the Destruction of Life on Earth: Six Theses on Saving the Humans
    Sunday, 10 November 2013 00:00
    By Richard Smith, Truthout | Opinion


  13. heresy101

    As an energy professional who has worked on about $250M of renewable energy contracts, Professor Klare’s projection may happen but not for the reasons he projects. Renewable energy is increasing in the US and Europe but it will not impact the CO2 increase in the world because China and India and other developing countries are moving their populations out of poverty and “green” revolts are not likely to occur in those countries.

    On the other hand, the feed-in-tariffs and renewable energy increase may lead to revolts in Europe. Britain and Germany are looking at the increase of the energy poor in their countries. See the der Spegiel article among recent one’s on this issue:

    Solar can have a small impact now, but won’t be a viable resource until energy storage is here at an economic price.
    100% of solar generation occurs during the day which is ok for knocking off the air conditioning peaks of the the summer but does truly create a “duck graph” of huge ramping of generation that REQUIRES natural gas combustion turbines to meet that ramping.

    For those worried about CO2, the best thing to do would be to go to Home Depot and buy as many $8 LED’s at 9.5 watts that the person needs. This is a 66% energy savings over compact flourescents and 84% savings over incandescent lights. The payback is around a year.

    Rather than worry about the doom and gloom from CO2, the real need is to address the lies and distortions told about the economy. The Larry Summers/Paul Krugman myth that the economy’s future is only bubbles and more bubbles. Capitalism is a dying stinking corpse and what needs to be done is to marshall all forces to change how the economy is organized and not worry about global warming because CO2 is going to monotonically increase no matter what the developed countries do.

    The political focus should be to change the economy so that the bankster’s are removed and growth is not the primary goal of the economy and profits that are no longer shuttled to the 1%. As population’s stabilize, there is need for an equal distribution of society’s wealth but the emphasis on ever increasing wealth isn’t needed in the developed world. Wall Street and capitalism has hit the wall as even Krugman and Summers admit.

  14. MRW

    A week after the most powerful “super typhoon” ever recorded pummeled the Philippines.

    No, it’s wasn’t. The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said it was the 7th.
    As meteorologist Dr. Ryan Maue pointed out, “50 of 58 Super Typhoons with pressure of 900 mb or lower occurred from 1950-1987 — only 8 in past 25 years.” You can see the hard data here. The lowest pressure in Haiyan was 895 millibars, or 26.42 inches of mercury. Look at the hard data, and you will see 16 typhoons that were even lower than Haiyan. No one will know what Haiyan will measure in as until the debris field can be examined later because the measuring equipment was damaged during landfall.

    But I’m used to reading this kind of uncritical and misinformed hyperbolic hysteria from Michael Klare, who has no science background but lots of theories that masquerade as it, such as his ‘extreme energy’ nonsense that includes the debunked peak oil.

    Today’s poor don’t suffer from climate change, they suffer from poverty, but a lot of 3rd world countries have figured out one way to get money is to cry climate change, otherwise the cash doesn’t roll in. We need to help them get electricity and clean water; the elite of the western world are trying to impoverish them by refusing them these 1st world rights. But we have no problem taking THEIR resources, don’t we.
    Maue’s LinkedIn bio says:

    Postdoctoral Research Associate — National Research Council — Naval Research Laboratory in Monterey CA.

    Extratropical and tropical cyclone research, Weather Forecasting and Predictability, Medium-range ensemble forecast prediction, Numerical Weather Prediction, Forecast Verification

    1. different clue

      Sayyy. . . don’t I remember you? Didn’t you a couple of years ago claim that there was never a single leak from even one of Enbridge’s dilbitar pipelines? And didn’t you keep ignoring me every time I said: what about Marshall, Michigan?
      What about the Kalamazoo River?

  15. gordon

    “Thus the places [popular uprisings] might succeed are in advanced economies with comparatively little police brutality in large cities (ie, where you’d have lots of media coverage which would constrain how harsh the retaliation would be”.

    Doesn’t seem likely given what happened to Occupy Wall St.

    1. Fíréan

      Green revolutions ought start at grass roots level, where people can take responsibility and empower themselves, not delegate their survival to an elite hierarchy.

  16. Brooklin Bridge

    Thus the places they [revolutionaries/Demonstrators] might succeed are in advanced economies with comparatively little police brutality in large cities (i.e., where you’d have lots of media coverage which would constrain how harsh the retaliation would be). -Yves

    Let me guess, you wrote that 20 years ago and wanted to see if we are paying attention… If you are speaking about today, you mean the MSM would actually cover something as mundane as cops brutally beating up demonstrators? Perhaps under the headline, Cops Protect Citizens From Al-Qaeda.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Did you miss that they actually did a good job of covering all the Occupy-realted beatings and even pepper-sprayings, until the 17 city crackdown, where the cops went to great and successful lengths to keep journalists way away from the action?

      They shirk big time on coverage of foreign protests, like in Greece, UK Uncut, anything related to trade.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        The way I remember it, and indeed I did miss a lot, was that the television media didn’t cover the OWS protests in any depth at all, maddeningly as usual, until the movement really went viral on the net. Then, they covered it grudgingly in snippets and stray references only giving in-depth coverage when the material was salacious (beatings, tazers, etc.) or if they absolutely had to. It followed much the same pattern with the beatings. First the abuse went viral on the net, in each case, then the media felt they had to cover the events. If the story broke on HuffPo and stayed for a day or more, it would get picked up by MSNBC and so on. If not, not.

        The main steam media shirks it’s responsibility on the coverage of so many things in so many domains that I must be missing something when you say, they shirk foreign protests and anything related to trade, as if those were the boundaries. Weapons of mass illusion, banks illegally throwing innocent families out on the street, presidential assumption of unheard of powers such as Executive assassinations with no judicial review. Documented cases of military crimes against innocents. Until Snowden, almost zero coverage of unconstitutional government intrusiveness often directly for the benefit of private enterprise. On all these things, relatively speaking, almost dead silence from the media. I’ll stop. I know you know the list better than I.

          1. Stan Musical

            Well Duh. C’mon, let’s stop wasting our time discussing the Corporate Media’s “ignorance” in all senses of the word. That cake is baked and it’s time to just ignore them in turn. Even propagande you disbelieve has insidious influences on your thought processes so tune out and turn on!

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