U.S. Climate Goals: A Reckoning

Yves here. This short post describes the danger that the US lifestyle poses to the world. And what I find disconcerting is that many Americans who know better refuse to make changes, even if it were made easier for them to do so (like use bicycles and scooters instead of cars when possible). For instance, one friend stated, “What no one says is we’d all need to live in Dutch-sized apartments with no dishwashers. I’m not willing to do that.”

Originally published at Triple Crisis

The editors of Triple Crisis blog received the following letter from regular contributor Sunita Narain and her co-author Chandra Bhushan about their recent report on U.S. government policy on climate change. “Captain America: U.S. Climate Goals—A Reckoning.” They raise tough criticisms of the weak and halting steps that the U.S. government has taken, and express apt concern about whether U.S. ways of production and consumption can long persist—let along be replicated around the world—without causing irreversible and catastrophic harm. Make sure to check out the links, to a summary of key findings and to the full report. —Eds.

We are sending you a link to our just released report, Capitan America in which we take a close and careful look at the U.S. government’s action plan on climate change.


There is also a link to our presentation on our key findings.


We write this report knowing that the threat of climate change is real and urgent. We know this because we in South Asia are already seeing horrific impacts of changing weather, hitting the most poorest and most vulnerable. We strongly believe the world needs an effective and ambitious climate change deal. In this context we ask if the U.S. climate action plan is ambitious, equitable or sufficient? We ask this because it is said that even if U.S. Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) is not ambitious, it signals a change in the country’s position. And that it will build momentum in the future. The question is if the U.S. is on track to make real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions?

Our assessment presents some inconvenient truths, which have worrying implications for our common future. The U.S. climate plan is nothing more than business-as-usual; emission reductions will be marginal at best. What is even more worrying is that the U.S. plan is largely based on improvement in efficiency. This is not enough. Our data analysis shows clearly that gains made by improvements in efficiency are being lost because of increased consumption—sector after sector.

As we explain in our preface to the report, our concern is U.S. lifestyle and consumption patterns are aspirational and addictive. Quite simply, everybody wants to be an American. If it were possible to attain such a lifestyle and yet combat climate change, our concern would be unfounded. But we all know that is not possible. The world—the U.S. and us—cannot combat climate change without changing the way we drive, build homes or consume goods. As we say it is time we accepted that the C-word is the C-word.

It is also important to realise that climate change demands we collaborate and act collectively. The U.S. has to take the lead, point to the direction of change that must be credible and meaningful. Otherwise, the climate agreement will not fructify. The problem also is that the U.S. lack of ambition means that it appropriates carbon space that is needed for development of poorer countries.

We have also pointed out our worry about the lack of critique, indeed the tendency towards self-censorship and restraint in advocating big solutions, we found in the work of big and powerful U.S. civil society groups. For instance, these groups are asking—rightly—for car restraints in many parts of the developing world. But in the U.S., they still push fuel economy standards and, at most, hybrid cars as the panacea to climate ills. There is no bus rapid transit (BRT) being built in the U.S., where over 70-80 per cent people commute to work in cars. This is where practice must also happen, so that the world can follow and emissions reduce.

We know that this report will be received with some disquiet and even disapproval. But we believe that it is important that we work towards change that is real. The threat of climate change is far too serious and the impacts far too devastating for us to tiptoe around tough questions that will determine our future survival.

We will look forward to your comments. Please also do share the report as widely as possible. The sad fact is that the inconvenient truth is not that climate change is happening, but that what we are doing is too little and too late.

Warm regards,

Sunita Narain

Chandra Bhushan

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  1. jgordon

    For instance, one friend stated, “What no one says is we’d all need to live in Dutch-sized apartments with no dishwashers. I’m not willing to do that.”

    What we are confronted with again and again is that affluent people who have jobs and (they think) security are stubbornly resistant to change. What those who want to bring about needed change discover when trying to enlist their aid is that the liberal intelligentsia caste, that caste of the ostensibly broad-minded and egalitarian-principled affluent that exists in every era, is in fact the caste most hostile to change. That’s why the guillotine was invented, and why it’s necessary.

    The clock is running out on trying to do a reeducation/persuasion campaign. Good luck with that. But next up is the guillotine.

    1. James Levy

      You’re about half right. But if you think that the Koch brothers and Mr. Adelson and the other paymasters of the Republicans are not as resistant to change as the liberal intelligentsia then I think you are just administering bile against people who should know better, often do, but won’t walk across the street to change anything. The liberal elites may be more disgraceful, but they are no more averse to change than the reactionaries.

      1. DJG

        Okay: I’m not trying to lump the comments by jgordon and James Levy, but you are both right: But it is class that dominates here. The U.S. upper-middle class (the top 5 percent) is used to getting what wants, considers much of the rest of the nation and world its servants (gardeners, nannies, waitstaff, and so on, the entourage), and will kill to defend their position. Yesterday, there was a lot of comments about the Archdruid’s diagnosis of the Middle East and the endless wars. The U.S. 5 percent will take down the whole world to keep its position. That’s what the endless war is about. And that is why the U.S. and its elites are in more serious trouble than the chattering classes and celebritariat can conceive of. We are much too used to an extractive economy, and our “betters,” by and large, are incompent. Right now, the U S of A is trying to solve this lack of seriousness with bombs and arguments about “who is a scientist” and appeals to “forgiveness” and “redemption.” What could possibly go wrong?

        1. James Levy

          Can’t speak for jgordon, but from my perspective you are more right than I was. It still leaves us in one hell of a bind.

          1. jgordon

            Well–as the Archdruid recently commented, the reactionary Republicans (and most Democrats) are the ones who are actually in favor of the most radical changes. For example, the TPP and other similar treaties are quite the radical change from the current order of the day. Yet the only “conservative” who is opposed to them (seriously, Hillary isn’t really opposed to them), is Bernie Sanders. Everyone else on the campaign trail is a flaming radical in comparison.

            And societies that are collapsing usually go through some horrific violence on the way down. Considering the violently debased and depraved culture of America–well, it doesn’t look good. Jared Diamond and Joseph Tainter both illustrate some pretty clear example of the sorts of things we can expect, if you’re interested in well-documented scholarly research on the subject.

    2. Daryl

      I like how life without dishwashers is presented as some sort of terrible hardship.

      Older folks today can tell us about the horrors of WWII and the Holocaust, in fifty years children will learn about the dark and terrible times when we had to give up dishwashers and take the bus.

  2. blert

    Water is a rate limiting compound for plant growth in a desert.

    In many areas, this or that specific fertilizer is a rate limiting compound, ammonia being typical. Its use largely doubled crop yields — practically over night. ( circa 1947 onwards )

    Sunlight is a rate limiting factor for plant growth — as any pot grower will testify.

    AND carbon dioxide is a rate limiting compound whenever these other factors are in plenty. Largely that means that jungle growth takes off exponentially as the partial pressure of carbon dioxide rises.

    It’s for this reason that every attempt at bio-diesel fuel uses hydroponics — flooded with carbon dioxide. The tempo of algal growth is nothing less than astonishing.

    This process was first attempted in a rigorous way by NASA fifty-years ago. Their hope was that a decent fraction of the food needed when in orbit could be grown right on the spot. (the carbohydrates)

    While it’s tough to prove up in a jungle, it’s easy to establish in a laboratory: the rise in carbon dioxide consequent to the activities of man MUST be a significant factor increasing both crop yields and natural growth. In particular, crops that are grown in flooded conditions (rice) figure to be affected the most.

    Because the atmosphere is everywhere, there is a strong tendency to forget that it’s a rate limiting factor for plant growth. Even now, the current partial pressure of carbon dioxide is practically at starvation levels for many plants.

    Many plants have gone extinct because they couldn’t tolerate current — practically record — lows in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

    In hot house conditions, with elevated carbon dioxide and grow lamps, cannabis grows so fast you’d swear it was moving.

    Somehow the idea has been propagated by non-chemists that nature is going to idly unreact to this bonus resource. As far as plant life is concerned the rise in carbon dioxide is like a breath of fresh air.

    Similarly, plants and mushroom thrive in bio-waste. They are the counter factor that balances out animal life.

    TED Talks featured the top African wildlife expert. (British, IIRC) Only at the end of his career he realized that he’d been wrong, utterly wrong, for decades. The ecosystem of east Africa thrives when domesticated animal herds pass through. Barren, devastated ground recovered — naturally — totally naturally — once goat herding and such was permitted.

    Such herds left droppings simply everywhere. The plant growth that followed was jaw dropping.

    The ONLY reason that the First World requires additional inputs in a major way: massive immigration — legal and illegal. The natural decision making of countless couples has stopped native population growth and thrown it into reverse.

    Europe’s population is shrinking because Europeans feel too crowded.

    It’s the Third World that has been slow to get the message. “Stop having such huge families.” With them poverty is guaranteed — now and forever.

    The massive industrialization of Red China is not just done — it’s over done.

    Hence the next evolution will be towards a dramatic reduction in commodities production — with iron and steel at the top of the list. No hectoring finger is required. This trend is locked in.

    The biggest factor in our kooky weather: soot from Chinese coal burning. Alaska is having the strangest weather — as in staggering snowfalls. It’s the soot effect.

    London stopped using coal — and the London fog of fame — went away. Imagine that.

    The level of damage done by Chinese generated soot is criminal. It boggles the mind that the CCP has let this tragedy slide right on by.

    In the meantime, snow that should be falling on California’s Sierras is landing up in Alaska and the Yukon.

    Yet none of the world’s weather geniuses can put two and two together. They don’t live in Alaska.

    1. Gio Bruno

      Water is a rate limiting compound for plant growth in a desert.

      In many areas, this or that specific fertilizer is a rate limiting compound, ammonia being typical. Its use largely doubled crop yields — practically over night. ( circa 1947 onwards ). . .

      There are just too many generalizations in this comment to address. Water is also life limiting to humans in a desert. Plant life is limited by many things: temperature , nutrients, soil microbes, sunlight (but only for green plants). As for ammonia (NH3), it is a gas. And green plants don’t use it directly (they consume the N (nitrogen) after it is generated by soil microbes.

      Now, I get the drift of the comment: climate change could have severe plant growth impacts. But many of the details mentioned are a bit too anxious.

      1. blert

        May I introduce you to Californian tomato agriculture ?

        It is standard operating procedure to inject ammonia — as a liquid — straight into the soil. Ammonia is so highly polarized that it immediately reacts with ground water to form ammonium hydrate. I will confess that the process is prone to vapors. Should you drive through during the process, your eyes will water from that which became airborne.

        The launch of mass usage of ammonia started in 1947 — as it was largely the result of the USDA and the Texas Railroad Commission. The latter body regulated Texas oil production. It stipulated that natural gas could no longer be flared at the wellhead — and that it MUST be collected and piped away. In the beginning, there was no market for natural gas anywhere close to the oil fields.

        However, methane is the cheapest source of hydrogen gas yet known. So this gas became the basis for world scale Haber process plants — for the WWII war effort. It took a while after the war for the rest of the agricultural infrastructure to scale up. Hence, massive adoption only began in 1947 — all duly recorded by the USDA.

        The government built, government paid, ammonia plants had finally found a peacetime market — and in scale.

        The increased output led directly to the feedlot industry, centered around Greeley, Colorado. But, that’s another story.

        Gio, the USDA has pamplets, films, entire books dedicated to this entire matter. It was government sponsored from the very start.

        You are entirely mistaken about how plants benefit from ammonia injection. The literature on the topic is boundless.

        NASA is the basis for the claim that carbon dioxide is rate limiting when all other factors are in plenty. This was fully researched — long before it became political — fifty-years ago.

        Even today, bio-diesel programs sponsored by the government retread the exact same ground. (!) Amazing. Naturally such laboratory rigs make it into the popular nightly news. Few realize that the current expert has merely mimicked the old NASA test rig.

        NASA wanted algae to feed astronauts. Today, algae are being genetically modified to produce hydrocarbon precursors.

        I’m not pulling these conclusions out of my ear. I’m merely bringing attention to old published NASA research that is still in the archives. Yes, the modern rigs are getting the same astonishing growth tempo. The hope is that tweaking the microbes could produce even more spectacular economic results.

        At some, distant, future point, bio-diesel will pencil out.

        Like sea water desalination, it’s just going to take an inconvenient amount of time and effort.

  3. Gerard Pierce

    “It’s the Third World that has been slow to get the message. “Stop having such huge families.” With them poverty is guaranteed — now and forever.”

    This simply proves that the authors are lacking a clue. It’s not like we haven’t known for 20 to 40 years that in the third world, large families are your only form of social security — large enough that some will survive to help with your old age.

    The book “Inside the Third World” went into great detail about the social, religious and climate problems that afflict the people of the Third World.

    These are not easy problems to deal with, which probably explains that in each generation another author lists the problems as though the Third World people could wave a magic wand and make them go away.

    Identifying part of the problems is NOT a solution.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I don’t agree that that is inevitable even in the Third World, but it is difficult to change social structures. In Bali, families live in family compounds, with more extended family groups living together. So the elderly are not dependent on their direct descendants, but can look to help from other young people who are more loosely related.

    2. Another Gordon

      There are many factors including that in a pre-industrial agrarian society children are an economic asset – more little hands to help at planting and harvest. In an urban society they are a liability – schooling costs and earnings start later, much later if high school is involved.

    3. Jim McKay

      This simply proves that the authors are lacking a clue. It’s not like we haven’t known for 20 to 40 years that in the third world, large families are your only form of social security — large enough that some will survive to help with your old age.

      I disagree that this “proves the authors are lacking a clue”. Author’s explicitly state they are looking at… “he U.S. government’s action plan on climate change.”. And they are from SE Asia, where “large family” is a tradition: they are familiar with this.

      US policy and action (or not) on Climate stands on it’s own: we either move to prepare for it, or we don’t.

      Yves’ comment about her acquaintance’s unwillingness to live in “Dutch-sized apartments” highlights our challenge: culturally, a very small percentage of Americans are willing to do what just be done (change habits). The intransigence of Government leaders, and well funded “denialist” media only makes this more difficult.

      There’s so much we could do, culturally and technologically, beginning TOMORROW here… if there there was a collective will to do it. Hard to begin, when the collective mindset “believes” GW is an unsettled question, and worse being cause mostly by “emerging” economies.

      Even here (Albuquerque), hard wired “beliefs” by policy makers puts a stranglehold on progress. I’ll give just one example:

      I’m good friends with the guy in charge of energy policy for all of New Mexico’s public school buildings. Our region is perfect for Solar: we have more clear days then any other state. All our Costco buildings, and just in last few years Smith’s (eg. our largest grocery store chain) has moved to powering all their stores, 100% with solar. Even the air conditioning and refrigerators. In Santa Fe, they started about 5 years ago with a test/demonstration project solarizing one of their local schools, worked out “the kinks”, and now have expanded this to (last time I checked) 7 of them… all 100% powered with renewable solar, good for 25 years minimum.

      My friend advising the state I mentioned (has a Masters In Engineering, and an otherwise very smart guy) rolls his eyes into his head, citing confidently 10+ year old information as to why “solar doesn’t work”. He is immutable in this POV. And, ironically… his office is on the University of New Mexico campus here and 100% powered by successful solar demonstration project done on campus powering his and several adjoining buildings.

      I found paper linked above, written by these authors… worthwhile. But there have been many very good studies. And I am firmly persuaded the bigger, more needed job… is to somehow “wake up” our citizenry and get them willing and motivated to demand needed changes. This is… hard. I wonder how many Americans currently have a firm, confident opinion (falsely fed by our media) how imperative it is Putin “must be stopped” in Syria/ME and willing US spend 100’s of millions more down are rabbit hole there, but are ambivalent about reality of GW… much less informed on what can be done to change the course.

      1. jrs

        “Yves’ comment about her acquaintance’s unwillingness to live in “Dutch-sized apartments” highlights our challenge: culturally, a very small percentage of Americans are willing to do what just be done (change habits).”

        I was recently in a discussion where this took positively bizarre directions. “I could never live like the Europeans, be a little bit poorer, take a *good* public transit system, and take two hour lunches and sit in a cafe”.

        The widespread adoption of solar power btw currently depends entirely on state and local government subsidizing it as a matter of policy. I’m saying it should be subsidized. It’s why rooftop solar is growing by leaps and bounds in California and not in Texas.

        1. FluffytheObeseCat

          Actually, if the state or Feds just kept utilities and other entrenched parties from actively thwarting distributed solar it would go a long way towards increasing its deployment in the desert southwest.

          We have reasonable payback times for rooftop solar in Nevada. A time scale of returns on investment that could easily support home improvement lending.

          I not arguing against government subsidies per se, but this thesis the authors tout – that lifestyles need to be significantly diminished in order to bring down atmospheric CO2 production – is not backed by data, and seems designed to give deniers a favorable talking point.

          I suspect it’s more designed to give elite new-Puritans an ego boost, but it’s quite a handy unprovable for the ‘other side’ as well.

          1. Jim McKay

            We have reasonable payback times for rooftop solar in Nevada. A time scale of returns on investment that could easily support home improvement lending.

            A lot of rooftop solar being installed throughout New Mexico. We did our house pretty much state of the art just over 4 years ago (and systems considerably better now): our ROI for total cost, at that time was 12 yrs of our average energy bills (less 5 years because I did our installation). This included +/- 30% cost reduction from state and fed tax credits.

            Our panels/electronics guaranteed for 25 yrs (and reasonable to expect it will work trouble free maybe 10 years beyond that). So, 13 years of essentially “free electricity from the sky” after that’s paid off. By any measure of ROI, this is a no brainer AFAIC.

            I think simply watching too much Fox News is enough to dumb someone down from seeing the simple practicality of rooftop solar (at least in sunny states).

            AFAIC however, this could/should be done on much larger scale. For example, big gains in efficiencies if entire neighborhoods join in concurrently. So many places panels can be installed beyond “farms” for public used: street medians, seeing some home siding using it now in SE Asia, and more. Even early stage designs that work for high-rise exterior panels that convert wind into electricity kinetically.

            that lifestyles need to be significantly diminished in order to bring down atmospheric CO2 production – is not backed by data, and seems designed to give deniers a favorable talking point.

            I’m not so sure about that. There’s huge efficiencies to be gained in home construction: very little will for this now. Transportation: far more 1 person per car use then is necessary… and again, most people not willing to consider alternatives. And then hi-tech public transportation both within communities and connecting them: comments in this thread observing common opposition to this is my experience as well.

            But on larger front: energy and it’s generation is not just about energy in the Climate system. Water, air is part of the entire system and integral to it: they all work together. Our misuse/waste of water is “real as rain”, as is growing shortages. Given rising populations and current usage, there will be a “peak water” event… and this is little discussed.

            To put it another way: we will never solve this only dealing with 1 dimensional conceptual models of only part of our eco system. The environment is WHERE WE LIVE, it’s our home… not an abstraction relegated secondary to… making money. The entire environment sooner or later needs to be considered and understood as a priority.

            It’s well within human capability to build economic value in ways we aren’t doing yet, that preserves and restores eco system health. Just not close to enough people thinking this way yet, willing to take the “leap” from comfort of “having enough” as they do now, to creating a new future.

      2. blert

        I’ve been preaching the need for PV arrays in New Mexico — on a grand — TVA// BPA — FDR scale for YEARS.

        1) Perfect climate, perfect conditions.

        2) Efficiencies of scale.

        3) Long distance DC transmission would permit such power to travel — economically — very far.

        4) Installed by NEC// IBEW contractors and labor to high standards.

        A tremendous number of rooftop installations are pure hack work — and are prone to trigger water leaks and roof falls.

        Just not smart.

        Down the road, one might hope that costs would become low enough to establish a hydrogen economy. It’ll never get rolling by way of roof top PV arrays.

        I can’t install PV on my house — ’cause it’s facing all the wrong ways — and has no end of ‘gingerbread’ roofing complexity. I’m not alone.

        If a large — super large — PV array in New Mexico converted power to hydrogen and oxygen gases — the way would be open to steady industrial power.

        With enough cheap hydrogen, you can synthesize hydrocarbons, which will probably always be the preferred motor fuel. ( Just too handy to give up.)

        1. Jim McKay

          I can’t install PV on my house — ’cause it’s facing all the wrong ways — and has no end of ‘gingerbread’ roofing complexity. I’m not alone.

          Do live in NME (ABQ?) There are a bunch of very effective “off the house” poles and standards for mounting panels. In ABQ, code allows them to go up (from memory) at least 30 ft. Cost is not cheap, but won’t break the bank either. Neighbors may squawk at 1st, but they get over it.

          1. blert

            I measured for that, too.

            I’m in California and my particular locale has zoning restrictions and covenants that make it simply impossible.

            My immediate neighbors, with different orientations, simpler roofs, have adopted PV arrays.

            I just object to the retail scheme.

            I’m in FDR’s camp. Go large or stay home.

            My other grand vision is for humanity to exploit// tap — sensibly — the hydro-potential of the eastern face of the Andes mountains. Some sort of ‘run-of-the-waterfall’ scheme — with a tiny containment basin — is the only way to go.

            Such a scheme would echo Swiss designs that have a very high head and modest flows.

            No attempt would be made to build significant dams// reservoirs. Heavy rain would be diverted right on by.

            The total energy resource is enough to power the ENTIRE Western Hemisphere — until the Sun dies or the Andes erode away. I’m not talking electric power. I’m talking ALL forms of energy consumption, the hydrogen economy.

            On paper it would even seem that hydrogen gas could be piped around the globe — a massively scaled up version of what has already been done in the Med between Africa and Spain.

            Yet this idea doesn’t even get written up in sci fi. Go figure.

  4. skippy

    The corporate green revolution made a packet albeit not with out consequences….

    “Borlaug’s “green revolution” has been criticised for decades by a wide variety of different groups for all sorts of reasons – ranging from making farmers dependent on a range of industrial products to soil and aquifer depletion to creating a food production system that is dependent on a finite supply of fossil fuel based inputs. One memorable description of this combined school of thought came from Zaid Hassan, who noted “there are so many criticisms around the current global food system that for a while I started wondering if in fact it had already collapsed and I was studying a post-apocalyptic food system”.

    Input-intensive monoculture farming – The primary criticism of “green revolution” style industrial agriculture is that it results in farmers becoming dependent on a range of industrial inputs – farming machinery, fertiliser, pesticides, irrigation equipment, seeds and even capital (debt) to purchase these inputs – often resulting in small scale farmers being pushed off the land (particularly if they are unable to repay their debts during a bad season) and resulting in large scale agribusinesses that produce monoculture crops that are prone to pests and diseases unless large amounts of pesicide are applied. Critics from the developing world often note that the profits from this transformation seem to be reaped by multinational corporations like Monsanto, Dupont, Cargill and Archers Daniels Midland rather than the farmers growing the crops (who often saw crop prices fall as yields increased) – and that their national food security was now dependent on foreign suppliers.

    Side effects of fertilisers and pesticides – The side effects of large scale fertiliser and pesticide use are also pointed to by Borlaug’s critics, noting increased rates of cancer and other health problems in rural areas and damage to the ecosystems that these inputs drain into (for example, the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico).

    Water and soil depletion – As a result of modern irrigation practices, aquifers in places like India (once Borlaug’s greatest triumph) and the US midwest have become depleted. Soil depletion is also a problem – since the 1880s almost half of the topsoil of the Great Plains of North America has disappeared.

    Genetically modified crops – The risks associated with genetically modified crops – the next frontier for increasing crop yields in the wake of the first green revolution, which Borlaug dubbed “The Gene Revolution” – remain hotly debated, with critics raising objections based on food safety issues, ecological concerns and economic concerns (centering on the application of patents and intellectual property rights to engineered seeds).

    Fossil fuel dependence – The inputs for green revolution style industrial agriculture are almost entirely derived from fossil fuels. Production of nitrogen fertiliser via the Haber process (mostly in the form of anhydrous ammonia, ammonium nitrate, and urea) consumes between 3 and 5% of world natural gas production. Farm machinery like tractors and irrigation pumps consume fuel, and tractor tyres and plastic irrigation pipes are made from petrochemicals, as are pesticides. Writers like Richard Manning (The Oil We Eat), Dale Allen Pfeiffer (Eating Fossil Fuels) and Glenn Morton (The Connection Between Food Supply and Energy: What Is the Role of Oil Price?) have argued that the green revolution will prove unsustainable once we have passed their peak production point for fossil fuels.

    Borlaug dismissed the claims of most critics. Of environmental lobbyists he said, “some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They’ve never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they’d be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things”.

    Borlaug was also indignant about arguments in favour of natural fertilisers like cow manure rather than inorganic fertilisers. Using manure would require a massive expansion of the lands required for grazing the cattle, he said, and consume much of the extra grain that would be produced. He claimed that such techniques could support no more than 4 billion people worldwide, well under the current global population of almost 7 billion.

    This point is still being debated, with researchers at the University of Michigan and University of California claiming that organic farming techniques can indeed feed the world. We can also increase food production by making better use of urban land (something “guerilla gardeners” are fond of – and similar ideas are being put into practice by large scale tree planting programs in India).

    Even if we don’t fully take the organic agriculture path, some of the objections based on fossil fuel depletion would seem to be solvable. If we shift completely to renewable energy sources for power production, we can eliminate a large proportion of our natural gas and coal usage, freeing the remaining reserves for agricultural applications and extending the lifespan of green revolution techniques far out into the future. Whether or not we choose to do so quickly enough remains to be seen.”

    Skippy…. one wonders if anyone would do the right thing if it did not have a profit motive….

    1. blert

      Profits make enterprises lean and effective. Government subsidies = bloat, sloth and waste… try the IRS or the Post Office on for size.

      The Israelis have reduced the cost of fresh water low enough for agriculture. That is an EPIC technical breakthrough as significant as the silicon chip.

      Robotics and hydroponics figures to dramatically increase crop yields. A sealed plant growth chamber with ideal nutrients and elevated carbon dioxide kicks out mind boggling increases in plant growth.

      Such (largely glass and plastic) structures can be located in deserts — or in calm seas.

      If algae is so grown – it can be converted to high value food via aquaculture. In the tropics the bio-efficiencies possible are astonishing. Operating and maintaining such an agribusiness would employ countless millions of semi-skilled men and women — and be a lot more ‘fun’ than back-breaking rice farming.

      The materials needed, glass and plastic tubes, lend themselves to highly automated production methods. Robotics would mean that the factory could be brought to the fields, say barged on over.

      Such intensive aquaculture shrinks the human foot print on the planet.

      And, of course, aquaculture converts more carbohydrate to protein than most alternatives.

      If the civil war in Libya were to end, it’d be an ideal location for such a scheme: close to market with plenty of cheap land — and capital that is best invested at home.

      1. skippy

        “Profits make enterprises lean and effective. Government subsidies = bloat, sloth and waste… try the IRS or the Post Office on for size.”

        Government spends money into existence e.g. all profit is resultant of government expenditure.

        “The Israelis have reduced the cost of fresh water low enough for agriculture. That is an EPIC technical breakthrough as significant as the silicon chip.”

        Must be why so much of the territorial drama over some decades is due to water rights, price does not effect replenishment rates nor change climatic conditions.

        “If algae is so grown – it can be converted to high value food via aquaculture. In the tropics the bio-efficiencies possible are astonishing.”

        Tropics are a non starter, they have done decades of failed sub] tropic Ag here in Australia, huge subsidies are required.

        Skippy…. technoglibertarins – sigh – you completely hand waved away the history above and compound error by suggesting more of the same…

        1. Crazy Horse

          It takes roughly 4000 square feet of surface area for a full cycle bio-aquaponic (combined fish and plant culture system) to produce enough protein and vegetables to feed a family of four. About the size of a suburban lawn. Give up our lawn? Live in a tiny 1,500 sq ft near zero energy passive solar house? Never! We’d rather drive the SUV over a cliff along with all the other lemmings.

          1. skippy

            Your projections are unwarranted and don’t even know what your banging on about lawn vs. aquaponic or where it came from.

            Skippy…. as with blert, you completely ignore the my original comment and its bearing on the OP of the post.

        2. blert


          Israeli tech has reached the point where desalinated sea water is financially viable… even for agriculture.

          That’s an epic game changing shift. All prior techniques were expensive. This has great significance across the Tropics as many locations are ‘thirsty.’ Even Marin County, California has a water crisis that goes back years.

          Sea water does, indeed, replenish itself. So there’s no worry there.

          The Australian tropics have no appeal. Desalinated water would be significant if the project were down around Perth. Whereas the Australian tropic zone is either too wet or too dry, pick your spot, pick your season. It’s also in the hurricane// typhoon// willy willy zone. Hence, no place to put anything, really.

          Madagascar and the Seychelles both are hard up for fresh water. The Israeli technology would permit construction of resort destinations in these exotic locations. They’d need something beyond potable water. They need terrific, super pure water… which would change everything.

      2. JTMcPhee

        I see blert knows all. Obama’s Islamic ring. Why the Postal Service is so ” inefficient. ” The virtues of Soylent Green. Ho w the Israelites have repealed the laws of thermodynamics to Free The Water. Handy guy to have around, for those of us who are ignorant.

        1. blert

          The Israeli tech uses reverse osmosis with the latest in membranes.

          These require record low pressure differentials.

          The key break through was high volume mass flow — in conjunction with stripping just a minor fraction of that flow out as fresh water.

          Previous schemes let the salt concentration build up too high. This was simply not appreciated for the longest time.

          The other trick was to draw sea water in from some depth. The top layers of the ocean just have too much biological activity — which then has to be filtered out before any attempt at desalination is made. So merely avoiding it by design proved very advantageous.

          The Post Office is a top down organization… just like any military. It’s so rigid that its employees are famous for “going postal.” Hint, hint.

          It’s also loaded to the gills with cliques, whereby the senior employees get all of the cushy work — and the noobies get the tough work. This generates plenty of bitterness — as it usually takes decades of employment to rise up into the elite, senior circle.

          As far as I know, the only folks harvesting Soylent Green are ISIS fanatics. They claim to be feeding babies to their mothers. ( cannibalism ) I hope that those tales are but psychological warfare. Yet, the babies are missing.

          I’m a handy guy to have around whether you’re a PhD rocket scientist or field hand, you betcha.

  5. southern appalachian

    I have heard of Savory and the Savory Institute. That’s carbon sequestration using active pasture management. It will increase both the fertility as well as the moisture levels of the range land. There is a book called Soil, Grass and Hope by Courtney White that is a good explainer.

    I got to hear a fellow from the Dakotas talk about it. He said, well, we increased the water carrying capacity, got rid of the hard pan, increased fertility and reduced chemical inputs to about zero.

    Anyway. Makes a good study: It takes a while to convince the academics at the land grant universities to notice, in part since states have consistently reduced funding and now universities have to generate revenue. Money is coming from large corporations, and they don’t fund research on reducing chemical inputs. If the idea happens to percolate through the academics to the farmers, that bunch are generally conservative (non-political sense of conservative) and reluctant to adopt new methods of farming. Unless they are young, which introduces a time element. And debt, as they are having to get land. And it takes a few years for a pasture to recover, which requires additional capital, as those years will see reduced income. Debt is an effective nose ring.

    It is a disruptive agricultural practice in that it does not generate the same revenue stream for the big corporations. And that in turn will effect the budgets of the universities. The permaculture institute or whatever isn’t going to fund the new ag science facility.

    All of which is to say there is considerable interest is keeping the status quo. The loss of the universities was a big blow (in multiple fields), and it appears that some are intent on finishing them off.

    Let’s see – so this is about behavior change, and we’ve got cognitive capture at our universities. And it’s rare, say, for a politician to win if funded by $25 contributions. Many people think the country is going in the wrong direction, but the governmental, academic and business leaders are strongly vested in our current trajectory. It would be surprising if they came out with a report that significantly altered that trajectory. I think it’s Lambert who often writes there is power in the streets. Good or bad, someone will pick it up.

  6. Gil Gamseh

    For the rest of humanity to have a chance at decent survival, America cannot. The USA is incapable of doing anything else but maximizing Climate Change and obstructing any genuine efforts against it.

    1. blert

      America is almost solely responsible for funding all of the drug research of this planet at this time.

      Even drugs developed overseas are looking to the American market to recoup their discovery and testing expenses.

      All other nations insist upon paying at discounted rates — or upon waiting out the patent protection, entirely. ( That policy covers most of humanity. )

      The First World is the ONLY fraction of humanity that is even mouthing the phrase Climate Change. China, India, et. al. are still expanding exponentially. ( China may have hit the wall. )

  7. rusti

    Quite simply, everybody wants to be an American.

    As an American citizen who emigrated a number of years ago, I find this increasingly baffling. My life is infinitely richer than it was a decade ago precisely because I’ve consciously abandoned the endless treadmill of consumption. I thought Karl Ove Knausgård captured this brilliantly:

    I’d seen poverty before, of course, even incomprehensible poverty, as in the slums outside Maputo, in Mozambique. But I’d never seen anything like this. If what I had seen tonight — house after house after house abandoned, deserted, decaying as if there had been disaster — if this was poverty, then it must be a new kind poverty, maybe in the same way that the wealth that had amassed here in the 20th century had been a new kind of wealth. I had never really understood how a nation that so celebrated the individual could obliterate all differences the way this country did. In a system of mass production, the individual workers are replaceable and the products are identical. The identical cars are followed by identical gas stations, identical restaurants, identical motels and, as an extension of these, by identical TV screens, which hang everywhere in this country, broadcasting identical entertainment and identical dreams. Not even the Soviet Union at the height of its power had succeeded in creating such a unified, collective identity as the one Americans lived their lives within. When times got rough, a person could abandon one town in favor of another, and that new town would still represent the same thing.

    Maybe you have to experience and understand this before you can really choose to reject it, but rolling back the clock in the age of “Groaf” isn’t easy.

    1. blert

      Everybody wants to be the fantasy Americans portrayed in film and TV.

      When queried, at the end of the Cold War, most Albanians thought that the fictive Dallas of TV fame portrayed — accurately — the capitalist lifestyle of Americans, generally.

      This ‘take’ made perfect sense in the context of locally produced Albanian TV broadcasts.

      [ They were getting their TV signal from Italy, across the Adriatic. Consequently, most Albanians speak Italian. ( Heh)

  8. jgordon

    That was a really amazing article! Just about all “wealthy” Americans are stuck in delusions that cause them needless misery.

    Lately I’ve been seeing it everywhere, these unreal mental constructs that people bizarrely take as God-given truths. Every time I walk down the street I see colorful signs and billboards full of lies that are blatantly false to me. The television, on those few occasions I come into unhappy contact with it: lies. Radio, more lies. Our entire mass media experience has devolved into a mechanism for purveying an incessant stream of delusions and lies. It’s no wonder most Americans have completely lost touch with reality. How can people internalize this crap that is so obviously bogus? I ask myself. I don’t really know. But there’ll be a reckoning for it. Imagine Brave New World where suddenly the Soma is taken away all at once. It’ll be ugly, but after that we can begin to heal.

    1. blert

      Modern American culture has become as tooled as that of any totalitarian state — for the general good of the people — of course.

      Our media of record has been totally corrupted. It’s even worse than you’ve spelled out.

      The White House is now merged with the MSM. You even have husband – wife teams straddling careers: one at ABC// CNN the other inside the West Wing !

      So, imagine the pillow talk. Yes, the media gains ‘access.’ And the White House gains puppet strings. What media executive is going to permit a harsh line on White House folly when it would mean a prompt end to his beloved’s career ?

      Hence, marrying in is the worst type of corruption. It’s emotional — ideological. The players don’t even see themselves as being on the ‘American team.’ For them they are on the media–governing team.

      Since such female spouses are maintaining their maiden names, the larger, general public is not aware that he and she are wed… Only the inside the beltway crowd is hip.

  9. Jim

    Why is it the left/progressive narrative which combines a description of climate change as an objective phenomenon with increasingly catastrophic consequences, and as well, a discourse that allies the analytic power of scientific explanation with normative conclusions–failed to induce significant societal or behavioral changes?

    Is part of the answer to be found in some of the implicit messages of this same narrative that tend to justify who can and should manage these changes to protect the future from global warming–that there is waiting in the wings certain more enlightened social forces that are best suited for discharging such planetary responsibilities.

    Is it accurate to imply that the downside to this narrative is the burden of every human being?

    Is the extreme teleological vision of human history in this narrative (an unsustainable greenhouse gassed world to come) persuasive?

    1. James Levy

      The changes will come or they won’t. The Greenhouse Effect is real or it isn’t. “Narratives” by themselves won’t alter what happens. Actions might. As for normative conclusions, which are you referring to? That it would be a bad thing if greenhouse gases cause hundreds of millions or billions of people to die because of their effects on plants, animals, and weather patterns? Perhaps we should have no normative stance on that, but I would be more wary of such a person than of someone who sees that as a really bad outcome which we should act to avoid.

    2. blert

      Have some faith.

      Current carbon dioxide partial pressures are but a trivial fraction of what Earth had in the past.

      You know, before plant life laid down the massive coal deposits seen across the planet.

      It ALL had to come out of the atmosphere, then as now. Venus is not Earth’s destiny.

      Not by a long shot.

  10. Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg

    I had the privelege of living briefly in Amsterdam and I was happy to live in a Dutch apartment. Bring it on.

  11. Jim

    James Levy wrote “actions might.”

    Well, that is one the issues I was attempting to raise in my brief comment, which led off with the observation that the catastrophism message has not resulted in “much action.”

    The main message of most climate change camp communications continue to be “catastrophism.”(large-scale biphysical impacts–the melting of ice sheets leading to flooding of coastal areas, shifting rain-fall patterns leading to flooding of coastal areas, shifting rainfall patterns leading to drought etc.)

    This distopian element of climate change is also usually depicted as essentially irreversible and non-linear.

    But have we reached the political limits of such catastrophism?

    Is such catasrophism now politically ineffective?

    What do you think James?

    1. James Levy

      I only care if its true. Telling people lies to get their acquiescence is never a good idea. If we want to live in a world of adult citizens, all we can do it tell the truth as best as we can figure it and leave it to the collectivity to act wisely.

  12. Gaylord

    Human intelligence is vastly over-rated. People generally do not respond to nature’s warnings until they are personally severely impacted, and in this case it will be (and is) too late to reverse the damage. I would like to see the adoption of a new term: ABRUPT CLIMATE DISRUPTION. This rather mild concern over climate change, with typical ignorant reactions of “the climate is always changing,” is an excuse to continue the same destructive way of life. I would also like to see more awareness of the METHANE MONSTER which now eclipses the danger posed by CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. The fact we have exceeded 350 ppm doesn’t begin to represent the threat of extinction of life on earth that methane eruptions — which have already begun — are destined to cause. Government policy initiatives are but a sick joke.

  13. BBraun

    This article recently appeared in Canada. May sound promising
    The pilot project will suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, not from an industrial plant like other such operations, with the goal of turning the gas into fuel. The operation has been capturing CO2 since May, but its primary purpose is to prove that the technology can work on a much larger scale, taking in up to one-million tonnes per day.
    The plant works by moving large volumes of air through a piece of equipment where CO2 is absorbed by a liquid solution, and then transformed into pellets of calcium carbonate. The pellets are then heated to 800 or 900 degrees Celsius and break down, releasing pure carbon.
    Soon the company will take the technology even farther, building another system that will turn the captured carbon into useable transportation fuel by adding hydrogen from renewable sources, such as solar, wind or hydro.

    1. blert

      It’ll be a bust.

      It can’t possibly compete with mother nature… the jungle.

      The ability of jungle flora to capture carbon is a wonder to behold.

      And since it costs humanity nothing… game over.

      Rising carbon dioxide level EXPONENTIALLY increase the tempo of jungle plant growth.

      In a jungle, the only rate limiting compound is carbon dioxide. Water, sunlight, minerals — these are in plenty. ( admitting the occasional mineral depletion here and there. )

      You can prove this in a laboratory, while proving it in nature is impractical.

      The coal beds of the world were laid down in Amazonian conditions. Look at how much carbon capture that was !

      [ Leaves and such drop into oxygen depleted fresh water. This continues for eons of time. Then a layer of porous sand blows atop the matter… eventually letting the matter compress and dry out. Ultimately you end up with a coal bed of various compaction and density. ]

  14. RBHoughton

    I suppose the discovery of pleasure in economising in life, of saving whatever is possible to save for some future use, would be beneficial.

  15. Colin Brace

    FWIW, I have lived in a tiny apartment in Holland with no dishwasher for nigh on 25 years — it isn’t so bad. Really.

  16. RBHoughton

    There are few examples of humanity or any part of it uniting to restrain ourselves from “if it feels good, do it.” Politics is not about directing a country to its best advantage – that only happens in dictatorships – for us we cannot change direction because our businessmen would protest. Western politics can only ameliorate the errors we make and work around them.

    Those restraints that have succeeded historically are ideological targets of propaganda conditioning like evil communism or socialism which every westerner will reject without knowing much about it. More recently we have seen the Anglosphere airwaves filled with jokes and insults about Muslims which should work to the same end. We are willingly restrained from alternative systems that could threaten existing power centers.

    So climate change will not elicit a political response beyond words until it is lucidly clear it is happening. Then our major response will be how to profit from it – construction work in all low-lying areas to preserve existing land, new ports along the Arctic Ocean to serve the new trade route. My favorite would be an invention you wear like a hat that deflects incessant rainfall using the polarity of water. And after a generation it will be normal – the benefit of mortality.

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