Time to Stop Tiptoeing Around the United States on Climate Change

Lambert here: Narain’s comments on “civil society” in the United States are especially interesting.

By Sunita Narain, Director of Centre for Science and Environment and the Editor of Down To Earth, an environment fortnightly magazine. Originally published at Triple Crisis.

This blog post, from regular Triple Crisis contributor Sunita Narain, expands on the arguments put forth in her earlier letter (with co-author Chandra Bhushan) about their recent report on U.S. government policy on climate change: “Captain America: U.S. Climate Goals—A Reckoning.” Narain raises tough criticisms here not only of the inadequate steps that the U.S. government has taken on climate mitigation, but also the complacency of U.S. civil society in counseling the world to wait for the United States to get its act together. As she points out, the world cannot afford to wait, for every day of delay further shifts the burdens of climate mitigation from the U.S. to other shoulders. —Eds.

Why should we look at the U.S. to check out its climate action plan? The fact is that the U.S. is the world’s largest historical contributor to greenhouse gas emissions—the stock that is already in the atmosphere and already warming the earth’s surface—and the second largest contributor (after China) to annual emissions. What the U.S. does makes a huge difference to the world’s fight against runaway climate change. It will also force others to act. It is, after all, the leader. And now, after nearly three decades of climate change denial, the U.S. has decided enough is enough. President Barack Obama has said clearly that climate change is real, and his country must act. It has submitted its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC)—its emissions reduction framework—to the climate treaty secretariat. The world is already celebrating—the prodigal has returned.

My colleague Chandra Bhushan and I humbly disagree. Our research, which we present in our just released report, Captain America, presents a few inconvenient truths that might throw cold water on the celebration. The U.S. climate action plan is neither ambitious nor equitable. Worse, it is but business-as-usual. When implemented emissions reduction will be marginal. Whatever reduction is achieved, whether due to increased efficiency or a shift in fossil fuel use, will be negated by runaway gluttonous consumption. We conclude, for the sake of the world’s future: American lifestyle can no longer remain non-negotiable.


Our findings are most inconvenient, we know. Our friends in U.S. civil society are sure to accuse us of playing into the hands of the Republican Party—that fearsome free-market gang of climate skeptics. Our position on the need to discuss consumption in climate change will fuel their worst fears: the world wants to close their free-market frontier. We would have agreed with them, except for the following issues.

One, the U.S. is not moving towards low-carbon growth in any respect. There is, therefore, no reason to believe that even if its current plan is not ambitious, it will lead to change in the future as the effort gathers momentum with speed and scale.

Two, more seriously, the dangers of climate change are real and the need for real action urgent. We in India are beginning to see how devastating extreme weather events can be—they are death-dealers taking lives. The world’s poorest, who have not contributed to the emissions already in the atmosphere, are becoming the most affected. This is not acceptable. Climate justice requires effective and ambitious action to cut greenhouse gases.

Three, for many years now, we have been told by our same friends in the U.S. civil society that we must always fear the return of the Republicans, for they will destroy even the visage of U.S. climate change policy. And when a Democrat president is elected, the advice is we need to “tone down,” be pragmatic and allow that “liberal” person to steer the climate course. Actually, for many years, their game of thrones has held us to ransom. Decades have gone, and deadly greenhouse gas emissions still continue to rise.

Our concern is different. U.S. lifestyle and consumption patterns are aspirational and addictive. Quite simply, everybody wants to be an American. Every citizen of the developing world wants to either live in America or live like an American. If it were possible to attain such a lifestyle and yet combat climate change, our concern would be unfounded. But that is not possible. If Americans continue to guzzle, it is not possible to expect that the rest will not follow in their footsteps. The world—the U.S. and us—cannot combat climate change without changing the way people drive, build homes or consume goods. The C-word is the C-word.

Climate change demands that the world collaborates and acts collectively. The U.S. is the world’s most powerful economy, a world leader. This leader has to point to the direction of change that must be credible and meaningful. Otherwise, the deal to save the world will not fructify.

It is also important to note that the less the U.S. does, the more it jeopardises our future. Its lack of ambition means it appropriates more space of the Planet’s limited carbon budget, leaving little for the growth of countries like India and those in Africa. Worse, these countries will be forced to make high cost changes to reduce emissions. This cannot be acceptable. It will not just shift the burden of transition to us; it also means that the U.S. will not make the transition to low-carbon growth. This is deadly for all.

So, it is time we stopped tiptoeing around the U.S. It is time to call a spade a spade: U.S. obduracy on climate change has ensured that the world today is in the danger zone and will go critical soon. Since 1992, when the framework convention on climate change was signed, the U.S. has played offence, finger-pointing at others and justifying its own lack of action. It is time the rest of us stopped playing defence. For the Planet’s sake.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. AWB

    If the US isn’t going to change, and change is irrefutably required in the face of catastrophic consequences, then we should expect catastrophic consequence.

    The assumption is sea levels are going to rise, destroying coastal habitat. Climate change is blamed for the drought in the SW US and flooding in the East.

    In fact, climate change was happening before man could possibly have effected it, and will continue regardless of man’s impact.

    Whether or not man, as a species, is rushing headlong into oblivion is another matter, but I wouldn’t list climate change at the top of this list of causes, despite the absolute and utter hyperbole presented here.

    The schizophrenia nature of this site is tiring. On the one hand, social change must be dictated by mandate to prevent Armageddon. On the other, that which is actually occurring and pushing our society closer to the cliff is the ACA, caused by mandate. You can’t have it both ways.

    Of all the issues with the potential to alter life as we know it for the worse, climate change is at the bottom of the list, since attempting to avert it will cause the same. At least you’ll be able to say, I told you so.

    Multinational conglomerates are going to have their way regardless of any activists efforts to the contrary. One of the ways this is accomplished is by group think, and that is exactly what this site promotes, liberal elitism. Lucky for you there’s a cause de jour to get worked up over.

    I realize my comment may not be well received, and I’ll tell you why. My standard for the truth is the source of truth, God Almighty, and he’s bigger than liberal intellectualism, humanism, and global warming. There is also a cause for the supernatural attacks against man, and that is the Devil, who’s evil knows no bounds and would destroy that which God created, if it were possible.

    Given there’s a common enemy, the defense against which is accomplished only by truth, all other efforts are guaranteed to fail. You cannot negotiate, wish away, ignore, overlook, deny, or otherwise avoid what is reality for every person, the opportunity to accept the truth by confessing Jesus as Lord, and believe God raised him from the dead. Then you will be saved. (Romans 10:9 – 10). Saved from what? The wrath of God. It’s the only way. One need only look at what happening in our country and in Europe to realize events are unfolding in a less than humanistic manner. Russia and China are already godless owing to their governments, what is left is Europe and the US. The Southern Hemisphere will follow the Northern. It is up to the individual to stand against the wiles of the devil, in all his forms. He is defeated one soul at a time.

    While I agree, carbon monoxide emissions are a concern, I’m not sure what if anything can be done. There’s no doubt the author of this article has a carbon footprint higher than would be acceptable in his Utopian society of alternative energy. So, basically, he or she would dictate everyone else do what he or she won’t do willingly.

    I can assure the author there are higher concerns.

    1. James Levy

      The ad hominen attack at the end of your post against the lady (not man) who wrote this is based on nothing and very un-Christian. If God did grant us stewardship of this world, He’s got plenty to be sore about. Despoiling the wonderful world you believe God gave us is a terrible thing. If you believe what you purport to believe, you should be acting every day to save lives by fighting the ruination of the biosphere.

      1. Will

        That’s actually how I talk to Christians about environmentalism – it’s simply protecting what God created. It’s such a contextual shift from how environmentalism and environmentalists are normally discussed that it usually leads to a more open conversation.

    2. low_integer

      There may or may not be some higher intelligence in the universe. Nobody knows, or has ever known. Thanks for sharing your beliefs though, as it places your abrasive posts in context.

      1. optimader

        There may or may not be some higher intelligence in the universe
        If we use AWB reflections as a benchmark for intelligence, I don’t think you need to cast the net too far to affirm the existence of higher intelligence in the universe.

        BTW, I never heard a good explanation of the “wrath of god(s)” notion. At what level of omnipotence does this ultimately unsatisfying emotion become recognized for what it it -an ugly and unproductive anger management issue?

        1. low_integer

          Yep, it’s pretty funny (to me at least) when people invoke the ‘god will punish you for not agreeing with me’ argument. Until, that is, the irrationality is embraced by groups that amplify this unstable sentiment to the point where it starts manifesting itself in tangible outcomes, like violence and/or war. It loses its comedy value pretty quickly once it reaches this point.

          Btw, looking at my post again, I should have written “some form of ‘higher’ intelligence”, though hopefully it was clear what I was trying to express.

          1. optimader

            Btw, looking at my post again, I should have written “some form of ‘higher’ intelligence”, though hopefully it was clear what I was trying to express.

            I don’t think you need to cast the net too far

            I had in mind a Fox Terrier I know

    3. rusti

      I re-read this a few times but I still have no idea what it says. Are you suggesting Naked Capitalism should run fewer posts about say, the Post Office, and more about Satan?

      On an unrelated (or possibly related? I can’t really tell) note, I’ve always wondered if I could put together an investment vehicle targeted towards climate change deniers. That crowd is so intellectually captured that it makes CalPERS’ dealings with Private Equity look absolutely adversarial, so you could get away with charging all kinds of absurd management fees if the sales pitch played to their beliefs.

    4. Ignacio

      I’m not sure what if anything can be done. There’s no doubt the author of this article has a carbon footprint higher than would be acceptable in his Utopian society of alternative energy. So, basically, he or she would dictate everyone else do what he or she won’t do willingly.

      OK, so trying to reduce our carbon fingerprint, particularly those of us that have the biggest, is an utopia. This is quite an “elegant” way of saying that you don’t give a damn on climate change.

    5. EoinW

      I’ll take your criticism of the NC community as a case of holding it up to a perfect standard, that no one can meet. Not even your Almighty God. After all, if he is a supreme being he controls everything, therefore he is responsible for all the evil in the world. if he can’t control things then what’s the point of having a broken down God to worship? or is it a case of wanting the power but without the responsibility? Human, all too human(certainly the whole concept is).

      Theology aside, I’m sympathetic of your environmental views. We’ve had many years to deal with climate change yet average people have hardly changed their lifestyles one iota. Plus the Green Party was once again virtually ignored in the Canadian elections. The climate change issue does serve two purposes: One, average people can defer to governments to carry the fight, while they go happily along their way. Two, governments can use the issue for more BIG government – big government meaning more power to the government. Neither purpose actually does anything tangible to address the issue. Yet this is the way forward for us.

      Looking at the overall picture, the destruction of the human race will come from nuclear war before it comes from climate change. Regarding the most immediate threat to our societies and our standard of living, that is coming from our own governments. There was a period of time when governments were a positive but we are now well into the era of diminishing returns. I get very angry when I see the wind farm industry expanding in Ontario and ruining the livlihood and health of farmers all over the province. Yet the government will never admit it made a mistake nor change anything. Basically Toronto combating climate change by sacrificing rural Ontario. The more power the provincial government gives itself the more harm it does. This I fear is our future when it comes to crisis management. Groups of people devising ways for others to pay the price so they can get away with paying no price. One might make the point that the developed world has been doing this to the third world for decades.

      Bottomline: humans want top down solutions to combat climate change, even though top down solutions never work and just make things worse. What we are really seeing is the typical western moral disconnect at work again.

      1. cnchal

        . . . I get very angry when I see the wind farm industry expanding in Ontario and ruining the livlihood and health of farmers all over the province.

        The ones with the windmills get paid rent, $20,000 per windmill per year for 20 years, and they love them.

        One of the freakiest sights is driving east on the 401 near Tillbury at night, and when you get to a high point, as far as the eye can see, there is a sea of synchronized flashing red lights. Each light is the top of a windmill.

        . . . The more power the provincial government gives itself the more harm it does. . . .

        I agree! The politicians are totally corrupt. Privatizing Hydro One is like selling your neighbor’s car for $10.00 and as soon as the “investors” miss expectations by a penny, here come the power rate increases, as if they aren’t high enough already. It wouldn’t surprise me if one of the biggest investors turns out to be the teachers retirement system.

    6. craazyboy

      “While I agree, carbon monoxide emissions are a concern”

      God made global warming using two oxygen atoms bonded to one carbon atom – carbon dioxide (CO2).

    7. cnchal

      While I agree, carbon monoxide emissions are a concern . . .

      It sure is, but it is carbon dioxide, a gas we exhale, and is generated when burning fossil fuels that is of greater concern.

      . . . I’m not sure what if anything can be done.

      The economy must die!

    8. KeithOK

      “While I agree, carbon monoxide emissions are a concern, I’m not sure what if anything can be done.”

      Well, for a starter, we could learn the difference between carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide when discussing climate change.

    9. DJG

      Has it ever occurred to you that one of the main problems with human life is your radical dualism? Almighty God and Satan? Radical dualism is a philosophical stance that has been unproductive for centuries. Look at your so-called first principles, which are pretty flimsy. And don’t come back with “belief,” because people will believe anything.

    10. tegnost

      “Multinational conglomerates are going to have their way regardless of any activists efforts to the contrary. One of the ways this is accomplished is by group think, and that is exactly what this site promotes, liberal elitism. Lucky for you there’s a cause de jour to get worked up over.”
      This is funny because I spent my weekend arguing with a long time friend and liberal elite who insists that the global corp is inevitable and I need to support tpp as we need to write the rules since we’re the extremely creatives that make everything up. I argued after clarifying that corps are not the problem (“you just hate corporations, but they are just a means of organization”), but rather not robustly regulating corps is the problem using as an example william k black. Something that only gov’t can do, responding to the argument that gov’t can’t do anything because bumbling humans (inferring I think that corps can fire people for “inefficiencies”, so markets…)In this way I overcame the “inevitable” meme along with listing off corporate crimes that create a not free market (they’re lying,,,volkswagon, libor, bank fraud, cost of doing biz fines,etc..) It’s not inevitable, all we need is w.k. black for atty. general. The laws are on the books right now to prosecute had the statute of limitations not been run out by obama, eric holder and their minions. I also spent a little time on the issue of greece being trapped by the eurozone as a reason why a one global gov’t would be a bad thing as sovereignty is the last bastion for the various populations around the world, while market based corporatism requires a lot of losers to pay the winners( oops, i mean the “creatives”) Lastly, I must say that your conversations with god are a personal issue and I don’t think that a widely read economics blog is an appropriate venue, you don’t know us and we don’t know you so specious claims in that arena are unwelcome, maybe in some meditative moment you can discuss this with clergy, or privately with god him/herself.
      This site is, IMNSHO, about how it’s not inevitable.

    11. Lambert Strether Post author

      Wowsers. Well, since the source of truth, the God(ess)(e)(s) Of Your Choice, If Any, has not seen fit to issue Naked Capitalism new tablets with new moderation rules, a guest, no matter how entertaining, who throws their drink in the host’s face will be moderated. As it is written, so let it be done.

    12. abynormal

      Studies have evaluated religious practices among patients with schizophrenia. A study from Switzerland suggested that about one-third of the patients with schizophrenia are very highly involved in religious community. Another 10% of the patients in same study were involved in minority religious movements.[2] Another study from the same country reported that one-third of the patients were highly involved in a religious community, and another one third considered that spirituality had significant role in their life and they carried out spiritual practices every day, without getting involved in a religious community.[3] Studies from other parts of the world which have assessed the religious practices of psychiatrically ill patients suggest that these are common in Europe[4,5] and North America.[6,7] A study found that as high as 91% of patients reported indulging in private religious or spiritual activities and 68% reported participation in public religious services or activities.[8] Some studies which have compared religious practices in patients with schizophrenia and in the general population suggest that religious involvement is higher among patients,[9] whereas others suggest that religious attendance is less in patients of schizophrenia.[10]

      Studies which have evaluated the religion in the context of psychopathology suggest that Christian patients have more religious delusions, especially delusions of guilt and sin, than their counterparts belonging to other religions (Islam).[11] Other studies have shown that compared to Christians, Buddhists have a lower frequency of religious themed delusions[19] and that protestants experience more religious delusions than Catholics and those without religious affiliations.[20] Another study reported higher prevalence of religious delusions of guilt in schizophrenia patients of Roman Catholic affiliations, when compared to Protestants and Muslims.[21] Cross-cultural studies which have compared people from different ethnic backgrounds suggest that in case of paranoid delusions, Christian patients more often report persecutors to be supernatural beings, compared to Muslims and Buddhists patients.[21] Other studies suggest that religious and supernatural themes in delusions are more common in Korean patients than Korean-Chinese patients or Chinese patients.[22]

      With regard to socio-demographic variables, reports suggest that the religious content of delusions is related to the marital status and education of schizophrenic patients.[16] Occasional studies suggest a relationship between religious delusions and cognitive deficits.[27]

      Religious coping is multidimensional and refers to functionally oriented expressions of religion in times of stress. Religious coping is operationally defined as “the use of religious beliefs or behaviors to facilitate problem-solving to prevent or alleviate the negative emotional consequences of stressful life circumstances.”[52] The concept of religious coping has been refined and categorized as helpful or positive, harmful or negative, and with mixed implications. The positive religious coping strategies include religious purification/forgiveness, religious direction/conversion, religious helping, seeking support from clergy/members, collaborative religious coping, religious focus, active religious surrender, benevolent religious reappraisal, spiritual connection, and marking religious boundaries. The negative religious coping strategies include spiritual discontent, demonic reappraisal, passive religious deferral, interpersonal religious discontent, reappraisal of God’s powers, punishing God reappraisal, and pleading for direct intercession.[53] The religious coping strategies with mixed implications include religious rituals in response to crisis, self-directing, deferring, and pleading religious coping. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4031576/

      How to Diagnose Climate Change Denial Disorder

    13. Vatch

      Others have commented on much of what you said, so I’ll just nitpick on one tiny part:

      Russia and China are already godless owing to their governments

      Actually, Russia has changed since the Soviet era. The Russian Orthodox Church has experienced a huge resurgence over the past couple of decades. Maybe they aren’t your kind of Christians, though, …

      Good luck with your jihad against the Devil.

    14. Synoia

      My standard for the truth is the source of truth, God Almighty…There is also a cause for the supernatural attacks against man, and that is the Devil, who’s evil knows no bounds and would destroy that which God created.

      Multinational conglomerates are going to have their way regardless of any activists efforts to the contrary

      Which would make Multinational conglomerates instruments of the Devil, correct? Destroying that which God created?

      Let me test man’s adherence to a couple of God’s Truths:

      Test: Thou Shalt not Kill.

      Experiment: Drones, Syria, Iraq, Lybia.

      Test: Do unto others as you would be done by.

      Experiment: Ferguson, Black Lives Matter, Voter Suppression

      If as you claim you follow God’s truths embodied in Christ’s teachings, do you have the accompanying vow of Poverty?


    15. FluffytheObeseCat

      Present day climate change is impelled by anthropogenic carbon dioxide production. Human industry and travel are the main drivers of the increase in heat at the Earth’s surface (and within the upper few hundred meters of its oceans).

      No pedantic, stilted, Pharisee appeal to God or Christ can transubstantiate a lie about it into Truth. Your disregard for the tremendous quantity of scientific evidence in support of climate change is merely pitiable; written evidence of the beam in your eye.

      The reason why your comment “may not be well received” is because your fawning appeals to God Almighty are vain, pretentious and weak. Your stagy assertion that “He is on your side!” provokes anger because it is false, and diagnostic of a self-aware liar.

      Strident appeals to “God Almighty” are — as always — the first and most obvious refuge of a bullshitter.

    16. FluffytheObeseCat

      Present day climate change is impelled by anthropogenic carbon dioxide production. Human industry and travel are the main drivers of the increase in heat at the Earth’s surface (and within the upper few hundred meters of its oceans).

      No pedantic, stilted, Pharisee appeal to God or Christ can transubstantiate a lie about this into Truth. The reason why your comment “may not be well received” is because your fawning appeals to God Almighty are vain, pretentious and weak. Your stagy assertion that “He is on your side!” provokes anger because it is false, and diagnostic of a self-aware liar.

      Strident appeals to “God Almighty” are — as always — the first and most obvious refuge of a bullshitter.

    17. two beers

      Comedy gold, Jerry. So many howlers, so little time.

      …”godless” Russia, that’s priceless. The Russians are possibly the most devout Christian nation on the planet. To them, you (and your soulless Western consumerism) are the devil.

      All y’all true believers should have a “god-off” and leave the rest of us da fuck alone.

    18. different clue

      While the sentiments seem in line with those of F Beard, the use of language seems very different. So I suspect this is a different Bible Thumper.

      The God of Selection is a Callous God, and Its first True Prophet was Darwin.
      If Mama Corn ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

    19. skippy

      AWB we were duly warned about your stripe…

      “Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.” – B. Goldwater

      Skippy…. the ev’bal is everywhere with your mob… just don’t look in the mirror… eh…

    20. different clue

      Reading this comment again with all the mispellings and scattered strangenesses of syntax makes me wonder how much more than marginally literate this commenter really is.

  2. Ignacio

    Just to refresh, according to World Bank’s data
    average world carbon emissions per capita for selected regions or countries in 2011 was:

    (tons per capita)
    World average: 4.9
    US: 17.0
    Eurozone: 7.1
    China: 6.7
    Brazil: 2.2
    India: 1,7

    1. Ignacio

      Top 10 emitters in thousands of metric tons:

      China: 9,019,518
      US: 5,305,000
      Eurozone: 2,403,352 (of which Germany: 729,458)
      India: 2,074,345
      Russian Federation 1,808,073
      Japan: 1,187,657
      Iran 586,599
      Indonesia: 563,985
      Saudi Arabia: 520,278
      Canada: 485,463

      1. Jagger

        Comparing small area/population Japan total CO2 production to large area/pop China is not particularly useful in determining the worst offenders. If you linked CO2 production to population rather than nations or regions, you would have a much better idea of the worse CO2 offenders. Those numbers are bound to be around somewhere.

      1. Ignacio

        The EU is to blame for much of it by encouraging palm biodiesel through the Renewable Energy Directive.

  3. James Levy

    Granted, she’s right, but calling out the USA is traditionally a bad strategy (hell, all strategies for dealing with this crisis so long as you have a capitalist oligarchy addicted to growth running America may be futile, but rank and file Americans HATE being lectured to by foreigners and usually act with childish obduracy when they are).

    American citizens are either going to force the hand of their government and corporations or they are not. Foreigners will play little to no role in this, and if anything my guess is the more they chastise us for our misdeeds, the more obstreperous Americans will get. In the end, the USA will come crashing down as a global power when the chickens come home to roost. The longer we wait to change or ways, the harder and farther we will fall. It’s up to my fellow citizens to ameliorate this crisis. No one on the outside is going to get us to change our ways.

    1. rusti

      Agreed, with the caveat that I think inventing excuses for why someone else should be the first to change is a human trait rather than an American one. It’s not an effective argument for inducing change as long as people foolishly think they can continue to externalize the costs indefinitely.

    2. Paul Tioxon

      Except for OPEC, during the 1st Arab oil embargo against the people of the US, who could not get gas for their cars and had to pay 4 times as much for heating oil. I was a freshman in college and the university shut down from Christmas Eve until March of next year, so they could drain the pipes of the dorms and buildings and shut down the heating system.

      After that, the US Government went on an efficiency binge, along with the private sector and the entire population. Almost every oil heater in Philly was ripped out and replaced with a natural gas heater so not another penny would go to the Arabs. Insulation and window replacement was a booming business. And we all wore sweaters like Jimmy Carter, even if we weren’t Southerners, not used to running the thermostat at 62 degrees. Solar energy showed up on the roof of the WH. Auto fuel mileage standards were imposed on Detroit, 55MPH became the national speed limit and The International Energy Agency war formed at the instance of the US Government.

      Of course, that all changed with a reactionary right wing takeover of America. The solar water heater was torn off of the WH roof, very soon, Detroit retooled, and compact gas saving cars were replaced with SUVs, which did not stop growing in size until they became a rolling efficiency apartment. It was morning in America, when the freedom killing bureaucrats and Earth Day Commissars were told to go to hell. We were free to pollute the rivers and lakes as we damned well pleased, to eat Red Dye M&Ms to our hearts content to ignore the buzzkill downers who pointed out that artificial sweeteners caused cancer along with all of the nitrites and nitrates in deli food.

      And once again by 2015, the same warnings are coming out. The air is polluted, the meats are deadly and unsustainable consumer consumption is as unbridled as a Walmart stampede for Black Friday sales specials. This time, the caution to curb our consumption is coming from worldwide perspectives in addition to the domestic environmentalists and political activists who never really went away and the right wing is ready to counter with Fox News and radio and internet information channels.

      And of course on this site, the arm chair generals of the revolution, who are ready to denounce anyone not pure and holy enough to meet their exacting standards for central castings noble savage willing to die for the cause will moan and complain, where is the left, where are the unions, where are the fighters who should man the barricades? You know, when I hear the assholes who complain that the left is too this or that, all I hear is some lazy spoiled rich kid who is pissed off the maid called in sick on a bright sunny day, just when you were in the mood for that savory ethnic dish she whips up that you love so much, and just after you just invited all your friends over for a great afternoon lunch, all handled by the ingrate of a servant who just ruined your party plans!

      There is no left. No central HQ with the perfect set of marching orders. The New Left, now older from 30 and 40 years ago are taking it easy. We have won a lot of battles, but the new ones of 2015 are going to have to be won by the people who woke up in the past few years and started to do something to try to change things. Then, they found themselves being called a commie by D. Trump. Or maybe people who don’t care about White lives, but want to really kill cops. All of sudden, you may find, that YOU ARE, the left. That there is no one going to come running out of retirement to save your ass and you will have to DIY. You are the people you are complaining about who know something is wrong and not enough is being done. Do more, and you will become the people that your parents warned you about. The anti-American complainers who don’t know how great the USofA really is, free of all faults and warts. The Eco-terrorists, the feminazis, the tree hugging hippie pot heads, the dangerous Negroes and the Jews who use them against the WHITE RACE!! I guess we can count the rapist, drug dealing Mexicans and Moozlim head chopper offers.

      Plenty of Americans don’t want to be told what to do by other Americans. Gee, that’s politics. You know, there is a reason why a politician says one thing to one crowd in one part of the country and the complete opposite to someone, somewhere else. You might have noticed the human condition is that within the same family or nation, are diametrically opposed individuals. Politics is somehow getting those yin and yangs to work out a social order on an everyday basis without tearing one another to pieces in a civil war every ten years or so when we can’t completely agree with one another. There is no final solution. No point where equilibrium lies and peace to outlast all conflict is achieved.

      The air and water pollution in addition to killing the forests and the seas has been killing us off and sickening us by the millions every year, but still we drive and stuff ourselves with artificial foods. Now, the effects are causing climate change as well as the melting of the polar ice which will trigger other changes in the ocean currents. And we have known about this science since we developed a global research perspective with the planet as a whole as the unit analysis. The International Geo-Physical Year, 1957-1958:

      “IGY activities literally spanned the globe from the North to the South Poles. Although much work was carried out in the arctic and equatorial regions, special attention was given to the Antarctic, where research on ice depths yielded radically new estimates of the earth’s total ice content. IGY Antarctic research also contributed to improved meteorological prediction, advances in the theoretical analysis of glaciers, and better understanding of seismological phenomena in the Southern Hemisphere.”


      The whole world wants to live like an American, with all of the consumer electronics, labor saving appliances, and indoor plumbing, especially toilets. We knew that as well in the 70s, and started agitating for recycling. There were no recycling programs on Earthday 1970 but afterwards, cities and towns, not just Ecology Food Coop where I worked, started to collect more and more materials, what we used to call plain old trash and throw away on barges out to sea or land fills in the middle of nowhere. At first, the neighborhoods in Philly with recycling pick ups did not include the White working class areas because the educated officials thought those kind of t-shirt wearing types would not get their responsibility to Mother Earth. When they did start pickups in those neighborhoods, the compliance was the highest in all of the city. My guess is, people everywhere in America SHOULD get a whole lot more than they are given credit for, if only given a chance.

      Tea Party types are fighting for the right to have solar panels on their roofs in Arizona and Florida against the interests of the local utilities, who are helped by the usually anti-government meddling elected republicans. I stand in solidarity with any Tea Party American who wants to smother the nation in solar panels and free us from the utilities who mostly burn coal that is the killer fossil fuel. I’m willing to bet there are a lot of rednecks in double-wides who would put up solar panels in heartbeat, just are there are passive solar row homes built over 25 years ago in North Philly with no central heating system. Somehow, the early adapters to a low carbon footprint aren’t coming from the granite kitchen counter crowd in the suburbs or the roof top observation decks of hipster gentrified urban rehabs.

    3. different clue

      Plus, Americans (like me) have the sneaking suspicion that well paid Indian University Academics want Americans to live like Indians so that Indians can live like Americans. ” The last shall be first and the first shall be last” is sold as some kind of great change. But it preserves the same duality of first and last and merely changes the places.

      American would-be de-carbonizers have a greater chance of selling de-carbonization if they can explain how it can be used to crush and destroy America’s foreign enemies (and domestic class enemies too . . . if one wants to be left wing about it). Taking America all the way off the oil standard could crush and exterminate the economies of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Co-operation Council, for example. That would cut off their funding to World Jihad.

      Abolishing Free Trade and restoring belligerent militant Protectionism could be used to bring back all our kidnapped production-in-exile currently held hostage in China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, etc. etc. etc. We could produce our own consumption for less carbon output than that production is produced for in Chindia and etc. We would also eliminate all the carbon currently emitted by all those huge ships transporting Cheap China Crap to America under the current Forced Free Trade regime. That would be a huge carbon saving right there.

      American agriculture should be absolutely protectionised. The food and fiber America grows is the food and fiber America does not have to import. The imports America can abolish equals the imports America would no longer have to pay for. And that would allow us to shrink our exports by just as much, because the imports we no longer need to pay for equals the exports we no longer need to sell to no longer raise the money we would no longer need to no longer pay for the imports we would no longer need to buy.

      And THAT’S how you sell De-Carbonization. As a defensive war against America’s internal and external enemies. And if that makes the Left mad, then that makes me happy.

  4. Ignacio

    Of course, the US plays a crucial role, but even a more crucial role plays China. Anycase the main objective should be to convince every person in every country, particularly those in the richest countries, that this has to be stopped. For instance, my family of four in Spain would be responsible for the emission of about 23,2 tons of CO2 annually supposing we are close to the spanish average. This should be divided in items: goods consumed, transportation, electricity & heating, and services so that we can figure out the best ways to reduce our contribution.

    1. Steve H.

      Even more crucial long-term is Russia, which can view global warming from a strategic point of winning, both relative and absolute. Relative due to warm-water ports, absolute if the steppes begin to be arable.

      The ‘every person in every country’ is also problematic. The more rural, the more likely to be low-efficiency burners. Several billion of those cooking on three-stone fires live lives far more determined by local than global politics.

      1. IDG

        Russia has already won the end-game unless nuclear war (which is automatic end-game for all humanity), being the massive land mass it is with varied climates and plenty of natural resources.

        That’s why the destruction of the USSR wasn’t only a political project, it was a project to destroy the population of Russian. But as much as some people doesn’t like Putin, when a relatively ‘moderate’ (Putin is a liberal by current Russian standards) strong man gets power in such times it can lead the nation through a rough period and is reversing the trend of the post-USSR decay (and embargo’s only help accelerate the process forcing diversification). That’s why the USA political establishment hates him so much, he is preventing the free raiding of the largest resource world reserve to the western decrepit oligarchy.

        They just have to wait and see the world burn while defending their frontiers (which they should be able as long as they keep a modern air force and nuclear arsenal in shape). Let’s just not hope the actual hard liners in Russia take power after Putin is gone.

        1. different clue

          Russia may have already won the end game, but Russia could lose the post-game riots even without nuclear war. Two or so million square miles of North Russia and Siberia are a combination of super-deep peaty marshes and permafrost. It is very little elevation above sea level. If it all melts and/or thaws, and begins to ooze, flow, and spread out laterally like pancake batter . . . even as the sea level is rising, a million or more square miles of Russian “land” could go under water. Then too, about half of permafrost is water by volume, meaning if it all melts and thaws, it shrinks down some, and the water flows to sea level even as sea level rises to meet the water.

          Remember a few summers ago when a super hot summer turned Russia’s historic breadbasket into a burn barrel? Won’t more warming trigger off more such bigger and better droughts and mega fires? Meanwhile, five hundred million Indians and five hundred million Chinese will want to live somewhere when their own countries become heat-death non-viable. Russia is right next door. Will an end-game victorious Russia survive the post-game riots? Time will tell.

    2. tegnost

      I would love to see riding the bus be a less stigmatized activity. and although there is always some discomfort, squeezing over, weird smells, waiting for handicapped riders to board, etc…The people who live in your city are nice generally and want to talk. And it’s cheap. And you’re not driving under the influence. And fewer people are idiots. And especially, surge routeing at rush hour! Thats right, rush hour is the best time to ride. They figured out that there are times when people regularly ambulate and so increase bus seats on the move. This “surge” phenomenon allows for more small inputs (cheap bus fares) which increases the return to the public because markets! Thats right your city owns the service and so you’re just paying yourself when you ride. Plus just looking out the window and pondering is nice too.

  5. Sluggeaux

    Not my usual area of comment, but this piece is from a very Indian perspective — and me thinks that the lady doth protesteth too much. Ms. Narain’s thesis is that American levels of consumption, and the aspiration toward them by the peoples of the developing world, are what needs to be corrected.

    The world population was a little over 2 billion persons in 1950. Today in 2015 it has more than tripled to an estimated 7 billion souls. Most of that growth has taken place in the developing world, and in particular in South Asia. While I happen to agree that profligate American levels of consumption are silly and largely driven by an economic model based on hucksterism, I also think that we could be all driving around in ’51 Packards with bad piston rings with little impact on global warming, if there weren’t so gosh-darned many of us.

    Breeding is a matter of choice, by the way…

    1. jsn

      Where you have the food and shelter security to make choices about what happens with your body, your choices may be different from those who must brook the cultural and religious strictures of an ancient and impoverished civilization for access to those necessities.

    2. Vatch

      Absolutely! Thank you. Global warming, pollution, and most environmental problems are caused by a combination of overconsumption, overpopulation, greed, and ignorance. India is the poster child for overpopulation, and they keep growing, growing, growing.

      1. subgenius

        …while the US is the poster child for overconsumption, greed, and ignorance…so does that mean we should be expecting positive change in these imminently? I have only witnessed them growing growing growing…

        1. Vatch

          Oh, there’s plenty of greed and ignorance all over the world; they’re not only in the United States. There’s plenty of overconsumption elsewhere, too, but as you say, the U.S. has the dubious distinction of being the poster child for this behavior.

          As for expecting change in any of these areas, including India’s overpopulation, of course not. We can hope for change, and improve how we live our lives, but I don’t expect improvements anywhere. It’s very discouraging.

        2. Vatch

          I forgot to ask: where have you observed consumption growing in the U.S.? Other than among the top 0.01%, of course.

          1. subgenius

            It’s the mindset…

            Here it’s ‘me me me’, ‘mine mine mine’ – to a FAR greater degree than anywhere else.

            Don’t worry, though…globally the pack is tightening – every nation seems determined to take the top spot from the current incumbent.

    3. washunate

      Breeding is a matter of choice, by the way

      No, actually, it’s not. At an aggregate level, excessive human population growth is largely a function of impoverishment, something that we in the Anglo–American world have been inflicting on large numbers of people (both domestic and foreign) for quite some time.

      Everywhere that people have the opportunity for a decent standard of living and quality reproductive healthcare, they choose to have fewer kids later in life.

      1. Vatch

        Everywhere that people have the opportunity for a decent standard of living and quality reproductive healthcare, they choose to have fewer kids later in life.

        Frequently true, but not always. In the United States, there are people who choose to have large families, despite a reasonable standard of living and access to good reproductive health care. The Duggars are the most prominent example.

        And there are places in the Third World where the people remain poor, but their birth rates are dropping. There are still too many people in most of these places, but the rate of growth is dropping. For more information about reproductive knowledge and the ability to choose small families, see the work of The Population Media Center.

        1. washunate

          Oh agreed, there are some huge families. I just read Sluggeaux to be talking at the level of societies, not individual households, with quite a rather strong judgment aimed squarely at

          the developing world, and in particular in South Asia

          as if the industrialized world was some kind of neutral observer over the past century.

          1. Sluggeaux

            I simply wanted to spread the blame, NOT to absolve the developed countries of their profligate levels of consumption (which they have refused to share). I was simply making a critique of the author’s simplistic condemnation of consumerism, when the sheer numbers of human beings despoiling the planet (everywhere) are the real issue. We are drowning in our own excrement, be it in South Asia or in Silicon Valley…

  6. washunate

    It is time the rest of us stopped playing defence.

    Well said. Many of us individual Americans do apologize for our complete and utter inability to bring about better governance here in the states.

    But however sad that is, it is the current state of affairs. Reality cannot be bargained away; it can merely be accepted or not. The reckless behavior of the USFG has been a direct threat to global security for some time now, and I for one wholeheartedly endorse a perspective of our global friends taking a more direct line in dealing with this most difficult and inconvenient truth.

    Just one quibble though with the end. It is not for the planet’s sake. The planet will be fine. It is for the sake of yourselves, your very lives and livelihoods, that you will have to stand up to us one way or another, because we have failed to restrain the worst impulses amongst us. We are coming for you (if we have not already) and your only protection is to stand united against us. Not that that will be easy, but at least it makes the choice clear.

    And by the way, be wary of others in the Anglo-American world, too. The Canadians and British and Australians and New Zealanders aren’t exactly looking out for your best interests, either.

    Sorry and good luck.

  7. Jef

    Before we bad people for wanting to live like Americans we must understand that billions of people simply want to live. Greedy buggers.

    The #1 reason stated by all entities for not wanting to adhere to emission reductions is economical because they fully understand the reality of the connection between burning FFs, the most economically vital energy source ever known to humanity, and economic vitality. Cut FF use your economy is guaranteed to tank proportionately. Unless of course you believe the FIRE economy is sustainable and growable.

    No Country wants an occupy movement or mass protests so no politician anywhere will ever be able to achieve significant reductions. Unless of course broad sweeping socialism is enacted first, free health care, free education, housing and energy equality. That and outlaw all parasitical elements of the economy usury being #1. Oh yes… elephant in room… discourage procreation, no subsidies, heavy tax on babies.

    1. pretzelattack

      do you understand the connection between runaway global warming and the potential end of civilization? profit loss statements should reflect that rather significant cost.

      1. Jef

        Do you understand life on planet earth as it is now happening?

        Do you want to understand reality and what is standing humanities way or do you just want to blurt out what should be?

        1. pretzelattack

          uh, climate change is now happening.the costs will quickly outstrip your alleged “economic vitality”. but those costs typically aren’t recognized.

  8. susan the other

    I see what I want to see and what I see now, thru several years of filtering, is that the US is actually changing the world in big ways… the war in the Middle east, otherwise so incomprehensible, is what Greg Palast called a “War for No oil” and maybe it is true. The great American engine of growth and capitalism has been shut down even as Janet Yellen talks about encouraging employment stats. We refused to take the brunt of global mitigation if the emerging economies refused to do their share. They farted around and did next to nothing and so we went underground. We stopped the production of oil and forced the changeover to natgas. We slowed the world economy to a crawl by not subsidizing other countries with all our petrodollars; we cut back on imports, we took the punch bowl away right here in the USA. Started promoting solar like there was no tomorrow; built forests of wind towers; we are very serious about managing and comserving soil and water. We might not be leading with fanfare but we are just doing it.

    1. different clue

      Well, we aren’t really doing very much of it yet, but we could. One step would be to abolish Free Trade and restore Protection and bring all our production and servicing back to America. How much electricity is wasted sending “information” halfway around the world for Indian programmers and Indian call-center workers to work on and then send the “information” all the way back here? If we outlawed bussinesses in America from using energy to send work and calls to India, think how much electricity we would not be using anymore. And therefor how much carbon we would not be emitting anymore. Taking steps like that would be decarbonizing For REAL.

      1. different clue

        Oh! Oh! I hear the Free Traderites screaming. “If we did that, they would reTALiate!”

        Well of COURSE they would. That’s the WHOLE POINT. The less trade, the less wasted energy.
        Free Trade must die, that Life on Earth might live.

  9. mark

    “Why should we look at the U.S. to check out its climate action plan?”

    India power generation from coal

    “our key findings are

    Coal generation capacity grows 300% – The total installed capacity is expected to increase three times from 159 GW in 2014 to 450 GW in 2030; under the proposed list of power plant projects. Largest (three fold) expansions are expected in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, and Jharkhand, all of which have coal reserves. A two fold expansion is expected in the states of Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Tamilnadu, and Uttar Pradesh

    Coal consumption increases 200-300% – The total coal consumption is estimated to increase 2-3 times from 660 million tons/year to 1800 million tons/year; accordingly the CO2 emissions from 1,590 million tons/year to 4,320 million tons/year”


    United States isn’t the only culprit.

  10. Gaylord

    I like Lambert’s word “obduracy” which I will add to this author’s word “gluttonous” and Republicans’ favorite term “exceptionalism” to describe the typical USian mindset and behavior. There is not much use in debating this issue — our past CO2 emissions are already enough to bring about the continued melting of the polar ice sheets, albedo loss and the eruption of more methane stored in the Arctic sea beds and tundra causing accelerated radiative forcing, and the inundation of coastal cities by sea level rise. Now, no amount of “carbon reduction” could stop the runaway process that is underway. The only remaining objective is to save any possible habitat for other species, because it is highly unlikely humans will be able to survive the coming cataclysmic disruption of our previously stable habitat. I suggest we prepare for the worst and be particularly apologetic to our children (and stop having them) — this ship is going down because we ran it aground.

    1. different clue

      Now Gaylord . . . if we were to recarbonise farm and forest and grassland soils as much as some research indicates is achievable, we could suck down and bio-sequester enough skycarbon to start de-warming the global. If we get started right about now.

      1. Gaylord

        Gee whiz, “carbonization” and “sequestration” technological panaceas wrapped in single words sound miraculous like solar energy, but on analysis they turn out to be unfeasible “solutions” because of the fossil fuel consumption required to implement them. Where are the links to this research? Like so many over-specialized scientists, the proponents probably ignore the numerous climate change feedbacks, such as greatly increasing methane emissions. Just try and sequester that.

        “We” could do this and that, but “we” have no power and most of us are loathe to change our consumptive and wasteful habits. Billions of poor people expect to improve their material standard of living so they can look like the actors in the movies. Look how in a few decades China’s cities went from masses of people on bicycles to massive traffic jams. Those who are in control have no intention of getting off the fossil energy gravy train, so nothing will be done to stem the onslaught of climate disruption. And it is too late because the ice is melting and nobody can “de-warm” it.

        1. different clue

          Gee whiz, google “biochar” and “glomalin” and “mob grazing” and “flerd”. Well, either do or don’t, I don’t care what you do. Others will google these things regardless, and think about what they read.

          Oh, and . . . here’s a website for people who are interested to google and start reading the articles on. Whether you yourself do so is a matter of indifference to me. For others, here is the website.

          And if the system of livestock-on-multi-species pasture bio-sequesters more net carbon into the soil under the livestock than is emitted in growing/transporting/processing/cooking the livestock, then eating strictly pasture-raised livestock pays the people who raise it to net-sequester net-positive amounts of carbon back into the soil. There is something people can do right there.

          Every dollar is a bullet on the field of economic combat.

  11. different clue

    Way upthread Rusti asked if he could put together an investment vehicle for manmade global warming deniers. I think it could be done and sold as a Contrarian Investment Opportunity. Simply refer to global warming as the herd consensus reality and list all the most destructive things it predicts. Then advertise all the things that WON’T happen if global warming was really a liberal hoax all along. If the sea level won’t rise then seaside land is a good investment. If there won’t be random superhuge rain dump events
    then floodplains and flashflood plains are at no greater risk than now. So advertise land in floodplains. Advertise land in southern Louisiana and assets in New Orleans and so forth.

    Take money from wannabe-Contrarian investors and spend their money on seaside land, floodplain land, etc. Seaside resort hotels in Miami, that sort of thing. Charge the same fees and charges that any investment vehicle would charge. There would be no fraud involved and it would all be completely legal. If it turned out that global warming really IS a liberal hoax, then all the investors in your vehicle would have the last laugh on all the rest of us here. But if the global keeps warming as predicted and your investors invest contrarianly in global no-warming, then the Marching Morons can keep marching until they either learn how to swim, or learn how to drown.

  12. RBHoughton

    How the Republican Party can doubt the science on climate change is astonishing.

    Who would have thought the power of money so strong they are willing to accept ridicule and abuse for their silly stance.

    1. Gaylord

      Republicans get their information from a “higher authority” — a manifestation of trickle-down economics.

    2. different clue

      The ridicule and abuse is couched in social-liberal cultural superiority terms, just like the laughter at George W. Bush for saying “nukular”. The Republicans take that ridicule and weaponize it for use against the sources of the ridicule.

      So global de-warming warriors may have to find some other way to wage and win a brainwar- of-image-extermination against the Republicans than the way they are waging it right now.

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