Gaius Publius: The Building Is Burning and All the World’s Babies Are In It — Using Force to Fight Climate Change

By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. GP article archive here. Originally published at DownWithTyranny

Who’s responsible for carbon emissions? By 1890 the U.S. had taken the dominant position and held it until 2000 (source; click to enlarge).

This piece contains a small number of simple ideas:

  • It’s going to take force to fight climate change. Asking and negotiating won’t do the job.
  • There’s no time to wait. New studies show sea level rise could be as much as 11 feet by the end of the century.
  • Just because we can’t stop all of the coming disaster doesn’t mean we can’t mitigate, perhaps even halve, its effects.

Let’s look at these points one by one.

It’s Going to Take Force

Anyone who thinks that asking the billionaires who run our government, and have done so since Reagan snatched the 1980 election from Carter, to do something effective about the catastrophic effects of climate change — that person is dreaming TV-induced dreams of public figures “doing the right thing” when right things need to be done. No one with power will do the right thing when it comes to climate change, or do enough of it to actually matter (though one person perhaps would have, had he advanced far enough).

The most we can hope for from current mainstream leadership is for people to look like they’re doing the right thing, or to do some of the right things, but not enough of them to upset the money-laden apple cart that gets them elected, or to turn the mainstream press so against them that they get the “Sanders-Kucinich treatment.” Recall that even Al Gore got the Sanders-Kucinich treatment from the press, one of the under-mentioned factors in his loss to Bush. We’re going to have to use force.

What does “using force” mean when it comes to climate action? Here are just a two examples of many I could cite. So far these are orderly uses of force. (Disorderly uses of force are likely to come later, in the form of social chaos driven by global impotent anger, and are less likely to be effective. We’ll consider that set of outcomes at another time.)

The Building Is Burning and All the World’s Babies Are In It

An example of the orderly use of force, from climate activist Emily Johnston writing at The Guardian:

I shut down an oil pipeline – because climate change is a ticking bomb

Normal methods of political action and protest are simply not working. If we don’t reduce emissions boldly and fast, that’s genocide

A little over a year ago, four friends and I shut down all five pipelines carrying tar sands crude oil into the United States by using emergency shut-off valves. As recent months have made clear, climate change is not only an imminent threat; it is an existing catastrophe. It’s going to get worse, and tar sands oil—the dirtiest oil on Earth—is one of the reasons.

We did this very, very carefully—after talking to pipeline engineers, and doing our own research. Before we touched a thing, we called the pipeline companies twice to warn them, and let them turn off the pipelines themselves if they thought that was better; all of them did so.

We knew we were at risk for years in prison. But the nation needs to wake up now to what’s coming our way if we don’t reduce emissions boldly and fast; business as usual is now genocidal.

The reason this counts as “using force,” despite the fact that nothing they did was permanent, is this — it gave them access to the courts and the “necessity defense” (emphasis added):

One major hope of ours was to set legal precedent by using the “necessity defense” and bringing in expert witnesses to testify that because of the egregious nature of tar sands crude and the urgency of the climate crisis, we’d actually been acting in accordance with higher laws.

The classic example of a legitimate use of the necessity defense is when someone is arrested for breaking and entering after they hear a baby crying in a burning building, and rush in to save her.

Because it requires a high bar of proof—you must have tried everything else, the danger must be imminent, the action must be likely to be effective—courts seldom even allow this defense to be argued, or expert witnesses to be brought; their only concern, generally, is did you break and enter? Not why.

Three of our trials (which are in four states) had already rejected the use of the necessity defense. In North Dakota, the judge said essentially “I’m not going to let you put US energy policy on trial”. But recently, I and the other Minnesota defendants were finally granted it.

I have little doubt that the awful weather events of the last couple of months played some role in this—it’s not just scientists seeing the truth anymore: the building is indeed burning, and all the world’s babies are in it.

The building is indeed burning. It’s time to not think about property rights — imagine that revolution! — and save the babies instead.

Putting the Prosecutor on Trial

A final note. Recall above that the North Dakota judge said bringing climate science into the defense would allow the defendants “to put US energy policy on trial.” That’s exactly right — and exactly what’s at stake.

Johnston comments, “I was struck by the North Dakota judge’s implicit understanding that letting science be spoken in her courtroom would have had the effect of putting energy policy on trial—of reversing, in effect, who was the defendant, and who the prosecutor” (my emphasis). Putting the energy industry on trial is precisely the tack to take.

A second example of the same use of force: Climate scientist and pioneer James Hansen is doing exactly the same thing here, and for exactly the same reasons — global justice. A small handful of the powerful super-rich should not be allowed to destroy the lives of billions of their fellow humans, born and unborn, for just a short decade or so of added profit.

Will the billionaires and the governments they control stand down and “do the right thing?” I wouldn’t bet on it — it’s going to take force. Note that orderly force can take many other forms as well, for example, destroying the stock price of fossil fuel-dependent energy companies, which I’ve written about before.

There’s No Time to Wait

The second main point is that there’s no time to wait. Every day it seems there’s new news on the climate front, all with the same message — we’re constantly wrong to the slow side, constantly comforting ourselves with underestimates of the speed of this evolving crisis.

The latest is this, a new study showing that a feedback loop in the West Antarctica ice shelf may, by the end of this century, melt enough land-borne ice to sink coastal cities worldwide under as much as 11 feet of water (my emphasis):

“With marine ice cliff instability, sea-level rise for the next century is potentially much larger than we thought it might be five or 10 years ago,” Poinar says.

A lot of this newfound concern is driven by the research of two climatologists: Rob DeConto at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and David Pollard at Penn State University. A study they published last year was the first to incorporate the latest understanding of marine ice-cliff instability into a continent-scale model of Antarctica.

Their results drove estimates for how high the seas could rise this century sharply higher. “Antarctic model raises prospect of unstoppable ice collapse,” read the headline in the scientific journal Nature, a publication not known for hyperbole.

Instead of a three-foot increase in ocean levels by the end of the century, six feet was more likely, according to DeConto and Pollard’s findings. But if carbon emissions continue to track on something resembling a worst-case scenario, the full 11 feet of ice locked in West Antarctica might be freed up, their study showed.

The result?

Three feet of sea-level rise would be bad, leading to more frequent flooding of U.S. cities such as New Orleans, Houston, New York, and Miami. Pacific Island nations, like the Marshall Islands, would lose most of their territory. Unfortunately, it now seems like three feet is possible only under the rosiest of scenarios.

At six feet, though, around 12 million people in the United States would be displaced, and the world’s most vulnerable megacities, like Shanghai, Mumbai, and Ho Chi Minh City, could be wiped off the map.

At 11 feet, land currently inhabited by hundreds of millions of people worldwide would wind up underwater. South Florida would be largely uninhabitable; floods on the scale of Hurricane Sandy would strike twice a month in New York and New Jersey, as the tug of the moon alone would be enough to send tidewaters into homes and buildings.

There’s no time left to dawdle. If we can’t end carbon emissions in an orderly way, there’s no way we can relocate all the world’s coastal cities in an orderly way. The chaos alone of all that relocation would kill most of the would-be escapees.

Mitigating Climate Disaster Isn’t All-or-Nothing

Which leads to the last point, one last word for those who’ve thrown in the towel on the likely fate of our species. Just as the climate disaster is and will be a rolling nightmare, advancing from frontier to frontier in its destruction — meaning, it won’t all happen at once, but in stages — so is disaster mitigation a rolling series of preventions that can knock off the worst climate effects one by one. But only if we act.

If we started now, for example, we can very likely prevent the West Antarctic ice shelf disaster mentioned above, according to the authors of the study.

If the divestment movement takes firmer hold, and shareholder lawsuits increase against an industry that’s been lying for 50 years about the price instability of their in-the-ground assets, Big Oil could see financial decline well in advance of major climate collapses. If Big Oil collapses, a massive, aggressive, worldwide turn to renewables would be the only safe way left to keep the world in kilowatts — a welcome and effective turn from a climate perspective.

If the necessity defense really takes hold in American (or global) jurisprudence in climate cases against Big Oil companies, they could be threatened with bankruptcy due to damage lawsuits alone. After all, how great are the damages? More than they or their shareholders could begin to think of paying. How do you price the global devolution of a species from a smart-phone culture to the New New Stone Age?

Any number of mitigating events could and will happen in the next 10 years, events that won’t cancel climate consequences — that ship has sailed — but that could offset a great many of those effects still in doubt. In that sense, it’s not “already over” — that’s way too digital, too all-or-nothing an analysis. It’s only “already over” if no one acts at all, and that’s just not what’s happening. Many, like those cited above and a great many more, are already acting, and acting with increasing force. That’s encouraging.

It’s also encouraging that the real (and so far failed) Resistance, which started with Occupy and continued through the 2016 election, has not ended. That fight — against Rule by the Rich — is also the climate fight, and thankfully, it’s not going to stop on any of its major fronts, including the battle for a human-livable climate.

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  1. Expat

    Personally, I think it’s hopeless. Our leaders are corrupt and venal. The people are ignorant and stupid. If you hope to change things in America, a country where more people believe in physically present angels than believe in evolution, you are insane or on drugs.

    The only thing that really annoys me about climate change is that most of those responsible will be dead when it gets really bad or will simply use their wealth to continue their pampered lifestyle. I suppose the only real solution is armed revolution. But then who will lead and how will we change the masses anyway?

    “Necessity defense”? Easily refutable in places like Texas and Montana. If the baby burns to death, it’s God’s will. Who are we to question that?

    Bring on the asteroid.

    1. jefemt

      You left out the notion that we can leave the Earth, successfully, and go out into space to screw up another planet. We being the uber-wealthy genetically superior uber-menches and wenches. Lots of heartache in the offing..

    2. mtnwoman

      Sadly agree with ExPat. We are too awash in corruption and stupidity/ignorance to escape the toll coming.

      p.s. Care to share which country you found to escape the US (if that’s the case),and if you’re content with your decision?

      1. expat

        I escaped to Europe, then Asia, now back in Europe (France). It’s no better. Humans are the same all over the world. The only places which really look green are perhaps Scandinavia, but they also export lots of oil of gas so it’s a bit hypocritical.

        That said, I am very happy with my decision. I can’t stomach the US anymore. It’s not that Americans are worse than anyone else, but it’s because I grew up there and was awash in the propaganda. Now I see all the veneer stripped away. I see a nation of ignorant bullies who continue to tell themselves the same lies about their history and actions. Most expats I meet are also appalled. There is nothing more eye-opening than looking at your nation from the outside.

        1. mtnwoman

          Thanks expat. I lived in Nepal for 3+ years so I get the perspective being out of the country provides.

          I’m using my vacations to scout potential countries to move/retire to. The US is headed towards Russia level oligarchy/corruption if the present trend continues.And the level of denseness,ignorance, intolerance here is alarming.

          It’s hard to figure out where vibrant democracies exist anymore. I agree with you, the Scandanavian countries and perhaps NZ for now. I think with climate change pressures Europe will be overwhelmed with refugees and strife in the coming decade(s). Good luck to us all!

  2. PlutoniumKun

    A huge problem with this of course is the spread of surveillance and ‘counter terrorism’.

    Back in the 1990’s I was involved in Direct Action on climate change and environmental campaigns in the UK. I was never a core activist, and I never considered myself particularly radical, but I was arrested at sit-ins and protests on highway schemes, I organised Critical Mass rides and I had some fun nights altering billboard signs. This was a time when the then Tory government was panicking over the Rave scene and bringing in what we thought were highly repressive laws to prevent gatherings. I well remember how the police would single out and focus on what they saw as middle class activists, knowing they felt more threatened by arrests and a criminal record than crusties and hippies. I witnessed police officers literally follow people around with video cameras, just to intimidate them. And it worked – the possibility of losing your job due to a short prison sentence was too much for some people to take, made worse by the fact that police were more than willing to lie to get the conviction (I personally witnessed, and experienced, this on more than one occasion).

    It is far worse now – with massively increased surveillance and tighter anti-terrorism laws the establishment have successfully scared off ‘respectable’ activists, and the more radical movements are also paralysed by the potential for massive prison sentences for what would once have been seen as a bit of naughty civil disobedience. In all honesty, I don’t think I would have the courage to do what I did 20 years ago now, simply because of the possible personal implications of getting caught up in a ‘clampdown’, which would certainly occur of the establishment really felt threatened.

    The only solution I think is that activists have to ‘think smarter’. The power of the divestment campaign is that it is entirely within the establishments rules of engagement, but is potentially devastating for the fossil fuel industry – much more so than a few vandalised pipelines. People need to get involved and they need to get radical – but they need to do it in a smart and focused way.

    1. Christopher Dale Rogers


      In light of the other thread posted today, Legatum: the Brexiteers’ Favorite Think Tank: Who is Behind Them?, do you think that what few actual elected political figures the Green Party has should be concerning themselves with this, that is the meme that somehow UK elections, specifically the EU Referendum, has been somehow corrupted by malign influences – see Russia, rather than by the actual culprits, namely a pretty Rightwing MSM owned by a handful of proprietors opposed to the EU, most of whom are also opposed to the Labour Party, particularly the Party now led by Corbyn?

      I ask this, because having been a member of both Parties, that is the Greens & Labour, it seems the Greens are now more obsessed with Brexit, that is overturning Brexit, than with the ecological disaster awaiting us down the barrel of a gun, and that crisis is not only about global warming, but a host of environmental crisis that when combined means our time is fast running out as a species – hence dreams of the Elite about journeying to outer space – see Elon Musk & Richard Branson.

      That much of the faux-left, among it the Greens, are now spreading the lie that Russia is indeed meddling in UK politics, that of course the UK & USA don’t do such things to others, and that funds we can ill afford have to now be spent to combat this myth, is actually truly staggering – See Molly Cato’s Twitter feed today to get an angle on this, or Monbiot, or actually Mason, who really should know better.

      Anyhow, like many others, I’m now of the opinion nothing will be done until New York, London and other coastal cities are ten feet underwater, or, we have a famine of epic proportions caused by lack of clean water, soil erosion and ecological poisoning.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Even though I usually vote Green, I find them infuriating sometimes. I couldn’t believe it when I read that in the coalition talks in German, the Greens actually made opening up Germany more to migrants one of their core demands. But I think its a common feature of small parties that they end up getting hauled around by the particular obsessions of their activists, not necessarily their voters. With the Lib Dems imploding, I think a lot of the woolly sock brigade has migrated to the Greens.

        I think its reasonable though for the Greens to be very concerned about Brexit. One thing we can be absolutely certain about Brexit is that it will be used as an excuse to undermine decades of progress in environmental legislation in the UK. The Greens rightfully I think see Brussels as the main battleground for progress as it invariably pulls national governments in its wake on this one topic – not to mention that people are more likely to vote Green for the EU Parliament.

    2. JB

      Related to divestment, if anything ever called for invoking the national security exception to the WTO agreements, it would be climate change. Article XXI gives WTO member governments a blank check to impose trade sanctions “in time of war or other emergency in international relations.” A targeted embargo of the worst climate offenders’ trade would bring considerable pressure to bear. Slowing down the trade itself would reduce emissions.

      Although only governments can apply Article XXI, a divestment campaign would be the first step in pressing for its use. Such a campaign would align climate change activists with economic nationalists, since the worst offenders are in the US and China, as the very helpful graph in this article illustrates.

      Trump is considering invoking Article XXI to protect the US steel industry, but is probably being talked out of it by advisers who argue the precedent would be dangerous. From a certain perspective, they have a point.

    3. Jeremy Grimm

      The time for “using force to fight climate change is long past”. Our courts won’t even be amused by the “necessity defense” — and if our courts were moved by that defense — all but the most famous defendants will be rendered to the tender mercies of other “jurisdictions”. Open violence — even open defiance will be punished as terrorist acts. If our forever wars have taught us nothing else we should have learned that direct open confrontation with superior force is doomed. Martyrs inspire believers. Their time may come but not now while the public remains entertained by other dramas. Regardless of that I have no wish to be a martyr and would not encourage that path to others.

      Our government is no longer ours. We live in a world owned and controlled by ruthless sociopaths and psychopaths driven by a morality of exploitation and destruction. They have crafted an Army and Police Force after their own image and will not hesitate to loose them upon us. Now is time to grow wings and fly away to wherever we can build a safe nest away from what is to come and there will be no true safety. Now is time to keep low, remain humble, and find ways to survive and help our children survive, and find ways to preserve as much of the knowledge, wisdom, and art from our age as we can. The climate is changed and will continue to change. Our society is on the verge of collapsing under its own weight.

      What is far more frightening than Global Warming are the many proposals for geoengineering. I think humankind can survive Global Warming — though after a brief period enduring decades of great suffering and collapse — implosion. I am not so optimistic about what could happen as a result of attempts at geoengineering [other than efforts to plant more trees].

  3. Steve Smith

    Why are emissions a problem in the population stable west and not a problem in the exploding population East?

    1. Wyoming

      Umm. Not exactly.

      From official UN population projections.

      North America (US and Canada) from 2017 to 2050 is expected to grow by 18%
      (add in Australia and New Zealand and it gets worse)

      Asia from 2017 to 2050 is expected to grow 17%

      Latin America from 2017 to 2050 is expected to grow 5%

      Africa is expected to grow about 100%

      Western Europe population growth is indeed expected to be flat out to 2050

      Eastern Europe has actually lost 6% of its population over the last 25 years and is expected to drop another 6% by 2050

      So Asia and the US part of the ‘west’ are growing about the same pace and well in excess of anywhere else but Africa.

      And note to Ram.

      Add Canada and the US together to get a more accurate picture as they are the same society and market and you will see that they are 3 times the emissions of the third place entity India and equal to the emissions of India, Russia, Japan, Germany and Great Britain put together. Solar power will in no way come even close to solving this problem of emissions. It will help but by itself the train still goes off the tracks. Drastic population reductions are the number one critical path item to get emissions under control and climate change slowed down.

      1. John k

        Pop reduction number 1 way…
        Yes. And climate change will, according to article, kill billions.
        So CC is both the problem and solution.

        Btw… I bet Africa does not double pop by 2050, and probably not ever. 1.3 bil more? They’re not feeding themselves now. Wars are expanding. Sahara is expanding south, cutting down trees accelerates move. (Also in process of expanding north, jumping med.).

        Med is eu wall, soon to be reinforced with eu navy vessels sinking migrant boats.

        African animals will go extinct in the wild. Ocean fishing has drained the oceans, by 2050 no significant food from oceans. More violent weather will reduce food production everywhere.

        People drive suv’s for the same reason they fly in private jets – because they can. Stopping a pipeline won’t stop the demand for fossil fuels.

        Xi has total power… smart enough to realize shanghai etc will go underwater… still expanding coal use, still trying to assure fossil supplies, e.g. Us gas from fracking.

        Much light oil already produced, moving to heavier bits, more carbon. Maybe give up? Remove disaster aid and flood ins from areas under el 100? Encourage pop to move inland? Tell NYC, NO and FL etc they’re toast?

        Then there’s India, half bill more by 2050. And twice that total in all Asia. And coal very popular there… course, they wanna be like us, so emissions will more than double.

        Did you know the us has the most immigrants? More than the next four countries combined? And they constitute half our total growth? Reducing ROW growth… but is this good for us? Our emissions/pollution?

        Maybe just move now to areas above 100 ft el… and fuggetaboutit…

  4. Ram

    Nice article, but it does not address the main problem here. The USA are not the main problem now. Photovoltaic energy generation will take care of the problem here, with time. Who is going to stop China, India and Russia from emitting more and more CO2?

    1. DJG

      Steve Smith & Ram: Comparison is not the point. There have to be massive changes in North American and in the EU (which is currently more energy efficient than the U S of A). The article makes it quite clear that this issue is of paramount importance in North America (and the EU), which have the wherewithal to change but no political will to do anything.

      In ten years, are you going to be bringing up some argument like, “But but but Myanmar’s emissions!” ???

      There has to be an environmental ethic in the West and it has to become our overarching means of action if we want to salvage anything from this mess. But but but Sri Lanka! So what?

    2. PlutoniumKun

      The US is still, by far the main problem now. China may have overtaken in absolute terms, but a high proportion of China’s emissions comes from making stuff for US consumers. Add in to this the malign influence of Washington in keeping oil and coal prices unnaturally low (through subsidy and the use of military might) and there is no question that the US has more impact per person than any other country.

      1. Wukchumni

        When the Europeans are on their pilgrimage to our Sierra Nevada National Parks, gas is on sale for 1/2 of what they would pay back in the old country.

        If we were paying $6 or $7 a gallon, many of the jobs in the hinterlands of big cities in SoCal that require a a few hours of commute to get to and fro, would be on the verge of viable in the lower echelons of employment.

      2. drumlin woodchuckles

        US consumers did not ask to have all their lower-emissions factories in the US shut down and have higher-emissions replacement factories opened up in China.
        The US ruling elites did that.

        The way to undo that is to abolish Free Trade, restore Protection, spend the next few decades rebuilding our stolen thingmaking factories here. If we import zero anything from China, then we have zero responsibility for any emissions happening in China.

        Then, behind a Rigid Wall of Protection, we can de-fossil-carbonise our economy under the self-imposed encouragement of punitive carbon-taxes. We can ban all economic contact with any country having carbon taxes any less punitive than our own. We can ban economic contact with any country emitting more carbon per measured unit output of product that our carbon output per measured unit output of product.

    3. LyonNightroad

      I haven’t seen any convincing evidence that solar can save us. The EROEI is atrocious once you really start to think about all the energy needed to sustain an all electric infrastructure. The portability of fossil fuels is a huge hurdle to overcome for any energy alternative that is generated electrically. In short, batteries are massively energy intensive to create and have a relatively short life. It’s a huge energy sink that doesn’t currently exist because fossil fuels are portable.

      1. Marlin

        Batteries can have very long lifetime. But there are trade-offs between:
        – battery lifetime (charging cycles)
        – weight and volume per stored energy unit
        – speed of charging and discharging
        – cost of production and energy consumption of production
        For smart phones, cars, etc. people lithium batteries are used mainly because of the high energy density. If you are willing to accept much larger weight and volume per stored energy, you can get essentially infinite battery life time.
        Smart phones don’t use that much energy and I strongly doubt, that cars in the future will use batteries as dominant source of energy. I guess, either some kind of overhead contact line will get used on highways, or fuel cells will be used. There is a reason Toyota was a pioneer on electric cars and then turned to fuel cells. The battery cars are gov’t / Elon Musk driven.
        In any case, the dominant storage problem, if you use solar power, isn’t the day/night cycle, but the seasonal cycle. Probably power to gas solutions are more suited to that. There are developments indicating, that high-temperature electrolysis combined with methanisation can reach more than 70% efficiency. Gas is much easier to handle. With AC, you lose something like 1% of power every 100 km and have to transform it for storage. With gas, transport loss goes down a factor of 10 (so e.g. for transporting energy from Morocco to the Netherlands the power to gas approach is better even without storage issues) and the storage problem is already solved, as already now large storage capacities for gas are available e.g. in Northern Europe.
        In any case, currently wind has a much better EROEI than solar, but the other issues are fundamentally the same.

  5. kimyo

    destroying the stock price of fossil fuel-dependent energy companies

    should such an effort be successful, wouldn’t exxon and bp just take themselves private?

    divestiture could result in the perverse effect of enriching the management of these companies.

    attacking the stock price of oil companies is a weird approach – it bears no relation to the people’s need to fill up on monday morning. if you really want to destroy exxon and bp, you must provide the people with an alternative. an actual alternative, rather than a pretend one:

    FT: How Green Are Electric Cars?

    “According to data from the Trancik Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a Tesla Model S P100D saloon driven in the US midwest produces 226 grammes of carbon dioxide (or equivalent) per kilometre over its lifecycle — a significant reduction to the 385g for a luxury 7-series BMW. But the [gasoline-powered] Mirage emits even less, at just 192g.

    The MIT data substantiate a study from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology last year: “Larger electric vehicles can have higher lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than smaller conventional vehicles.”

    1. BoycottAmazon

      Kimyo, you can add cherry picking on the location. Midwest has the highest amount of wind based energy in it’s grid, as well as nuclear and some hydro. If done in Northeast, the result would be very different, Tesla might be worse than the BMW.

    2. Andrew Dodds

      That’s something of an apples-to-oranges comparison..

      Electric cars are part of the solution, but that solution must also include the complete decarbonisation of the electricity supply – which would significantly change that analysis.

      Indeed, try running that same analysis in a place like France, where electricity-related emissions are very low, and suddenly the Tesla comes out much, much better.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        They did it in Poland, where there is a much dirtier fuel mix and EV’s still came out significantly better.*

        *with the disclaimer that there are a lot of dubious studies floating out there on EV’s and I can’t vouch for the specific accuracy of the one I linked to – although most I’ve seen that are not tainted by industry indicate that even with worse case scenarios for fuel mix, EV’s still come out better.

        1. kimyo

          they didn’t do anything in poland. you are referring to a computer modeled study.

          from your guardian link:

          electric vehicles produced a quarter less emissions than diesels when put through a full lifecycle modelling study by Belgium’s VUB University.

        2. Marlin

          You can roughly cross-check this yourself by ignoring “full life cycle” and simply calculate the CO2 emissions during driving by using fuel/electricity consumption numbers from Wikipedia and CO2 emissions per kWh for various production sources as well from the internet. After substracting as well some loading inefficiency etc. you will find, that lignite produced electricity is sufficiently dirty to make the electric car more dirty overall. Depending where you live and at which time you load your car, the relevant marginal producer may very well be a lignite fired power plant – at least in the sense, that nobody dares to shut it down due to fear of having not enough capacity to keep the lights on at all times. And this is the relevant question, not some average energy mix. E.g. in central Europe certainly electric cars are worse than diesel or benzene fueled cars. If you live in Washington state and have lots of water sourced electricity, I can hardly imagine, that the production process for electric cars is so much worse, that this advantage is taken away.

      2. kimyo

        nuclear is not a low-carbon source of energy. mining, refining, and transport of uranium all require fossil fuels. you can’t run your nuclear plant without a constant stream of trucks delivering supplies.

        there’s also that pesky ‘what do we do with the spent fuel’ issue.

        1. Andrew Dodds

          Why does the mining, refining and supply of uranium require fossil fuels? By definition we are talking about electrified transport within a zero-ff grid. And nuclear plants in operation don’t require much in the way of supplies.

          If we are also doing nuclear properly then we are using both reprocessing and breeder reactors to remove 99% of the waste problem, and ~98% of the mining problem.

          In any case, doing nuclear properly would take political will, which doesn’t seem to be there. Decarbonising the grid without nuclear on a large scale is not forbidden by physics, but very much harder than it would be with a significant nuclear contribution.

          1. kimyo

            Does nuclear power produce no CO2 ?

            This is Ranger Uranium Mine’s Pit Number 1. All of the material removed from this hole, over-burden and ore, was moved by truck.

            If we are to increase the number of nuclear power stations, we also need to increase the number of these trucks (which obviously take a lot of fossil fuel energy to build), and the volume of diesel fuel.

            …All of these chemicals, sulphuric acid, lime, amines, kerosene and ammonia are energy-intensive to make, and the energy required is in the form of fossil fuels, that produce CO2 when used.

            …In the final stage, the yellowcake is roasted at 800°C in an oil-fired furnace called a calciner.

            …The UF6 gas is converted to Uranium dioxide (UO2) powder, pressed into pellets, and baked in an oil-fired furnace to form a ceramic material. These are then loaded into a tube made of a zirconium alloy.

            …It takes a lot of steel to built a nuclear power station, and steel is made by smelting iron ore with coking coal.

            …And a nuclear power station uses lots of concrete, which is made from cement. Cement is made by crushing limestone and roasting it, using fossil fuels, to drive off Carbon dioxide. So cement is particularly CO2-intensive.

            As you can see, every step of the nuclear power cycle involves the expenditure of energy derived from fossil fuels, which nuclear electricity cannot replace. Thus it is untrue to say that nuclear energy is greenhouse friendly.

            Are nuclear power plants protected in France? Greenpeace had no problems breaking in

            A group of Greenpeace activists were able to climb their way into a French nuclear power plant, raising questions about safety and security at the facility. The French activists say all of the country’s nuclear reactors are vulnerable to attack.

            Four eco-activists scaled the walls of the Cruas-Meysse plant in the southeastern Ardeche region. The building they were able to gain access to contained pools used to cool highly radioactive spent fuel rods. Once inside, the Greenpeace activists set off flares.

            let’s say you wanted to power the fukushima cleanup operation with nuclear energy alone. how many plants would you have to build? figuring 100 years (which is quite optimistic), you’d need to build at least 3, given a plant lifetime of 30-40 years. (the penultimate sorcerer’s apprentice scenario)

            as for breeder reactors:
            Japan Strains to Fix a Reactor Damaged Before Quake

            TSURUGA, Japan — Three hundred miles southwest of Fukushima, at a nuclear reactor perched on the slopes of this rustic peninsula, engineers are engaged in another precarious struggle.

            The Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor — a long-troubled national project — has been in a precarious state of shutdown since a 3.3-ton device crashed into the reactor’s inner vessel, cutting off access to the plutonium and uranium fuel rods at its core.

            Engineers have tried repeatedly since the accident last August to recover the device, which appears to have gotten stuck.

            But critics warn that the recovery process is fraught with dangers because the plant uses large quantities of liquid sodium, a highly flammable substance, to cool the nuclear fuel.

            The Monju reactor, which forms the cornerstone of a national project by resource-poor Japan to reuse and eventually produce nuclear fuel, shows the tensions between the scale of Japan’s nuclear ambitions and the risks.

            The plant, a $12 billion project, has a history of safety lapses. It was shuttered for 14 years after a devastating fire in 1995, one of Japan’s most serious nuclear accidents before this year’s crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. Prefecture and city officials found that the operator had tampered with video images of the fire to hide the scale of the disaster. A top manager at the plant recently committed suicide, on the day that Japan’s atomic energy agency announced that efforts to recover the device would cost almost $21.9 million. And, like several other reactors, Monju lies on an active fault.

            1. Andrew Dodds


              a) Tesla have just unveiled an.. electric truck. This means that the statement ‘Diesel is needed’ is trivially false.
              b) All the chemicals you have mentioned as ‘requiring fossil fuels to make’ do not require fossil fuels to make. Obviously you can heat things without burning fuel, if required. Again, a false claim.
              c) You can easily replace an oil-fired furnace with an electric furnace. Again, this should be obvious.
              d) Although steel and iron – also used in renewable installations in large quantity – is currently made with coke, in a zero-CO2 world it would be refined with an electrolytic process. A requirement whatever your plan is.
              e) Concrete – again, used in large amounts for renewables as well – is actually a hard problem, probably requiring some form of CCS.

              You may wish to think about such things before posting them. Fixing global warming – if we ever manage it – will not be achieved by posting propaganda on the internet.

              1. LyonNightroad

                I don’t think you comprehend the scale of the energy problem. There isn’t enough lithium on this planet to create enough batteries to store even 1/10,000 of our daily energy use. Before you reply with some other hypothetical, unscaled, or unproven technology that supposedly is going to save us all, maybe spend some time researching the scale of our energy problem.

                Maybe when I phrase it this way it will be more clear to you:

                We are burning hundreds of millions of years of stored solar energy (in chemical form) in hundreds of years.

                We are burning hundreds of millions of years of stored energy in hundreds of years and we need to replace that with something that can be produced in real-time. That is a massive problem to solve. Maybe technology will save us, maybe it wont.

                1. BoycottAmazon

                  Bravo, exactly. Good to see someone who does not have their head in the clouds here.

                  Being Carbon Neutral isn’t even enough at this point. Growth in releases from thawing permafrost, (particularly below the ocean surface) of methane, carbon dioxide, and other gases is on a trajectory to exceed what man releases at the moment, while warming of the oceans and desertification greatly impact current carbon sinks.

                2. UserFriendly

                  We are burning hundreds of millions of years of stored energy in hundreds of years and we need to replace that with something that can be produced in real-time. That is a massive problem to solve.

                  It’s actually already been solved, E=MC^2 (aka nuclear). C=3.0X10^8m/s so even tiny amounts of mass release HUGE amounts of energy. There is more than enough thorium to supply the world with energy for thousands of years. Solar and wind will not come anywhere close to covering it. We are currently using the absolute worst form of nuclear and it has killed a fraction of as many people as any other source of energy. But because the oil tycoons have an incentive to scare monger everyone thinks there is no path forward with nuclear, despite lots of promising developments in new types of reactors. It’s just math though, kill billions or transition to some form of nuclear. Unfortunately the crunchy granola types that take climate change seriously live in a fantasy land where we kill off a few billion people so we can live on solar and wind. It drives me so Family Blogging nuts that both sides of this are so completely detached from reality. To the point where I just say F it, my life is crap and I have no intentions of having kids. I’m just as happy to go kill myself and let your inability to see reason kill half the planet.

              2. JTMcPhee

                Since Andrew’s comment appears to be sort of ad hominem, with unsubstantiated claims of “propaganda,” might one venture to observe that the claims he makes might also be characterized as “unsupported by evidence”?

                E.g,,, so Tesla has unveiled an electric semi-tractor. Very much a prototype. The implication that this solves the combustion costs of removing overburden, transporting extracted ore, and so forth, seem to me to be a form of gaslighting. Since of course all the externalities of those kinds of extraction will still manifest — toxic and acid runoff, and the like. And of course Tesla has not unveiled an electric-powered one of these: Of which thousands are moving great scads of Mother Earth every day…

                Same thing is true for each and every one of the other claims except the observation about cement and concrete, is also at best questionable.

                There seems to be quite a few folks speaking up here for reasons to keep doing much the same thing with our “energy economy,” or telling the rest of us that Tech will make it all right, just you wait…

              3. kimyo

                if you’re looking for propaganda, then elon is your main man. i’m just stating obvious, easily verifiable facts.

                Tesla’s Newest Promises Break the Laws of Batteries

                Elon Musk touted ranges and charging times that don’t compute with the current physics and economics of batteries.

                These claims are so far beyond current industry standards for electric vehicles that they would require either advances in battery technology or a new understanding of how batteries are put to use, said Sam Jaffe, battery analyst for Cairn Energy Research in Boulder, Colorado.

                Renewables Aren’t Enough. Clean Coal Is the Future

                “For power generation, there are alternatives to fossil fuels,” says Barry Jones, a general manager of the Global CCS Institute. “But for some industrial processes, there are no alternatives.” Examples include steel and cement, essential building blocks for all modern societies. Most steel is smelted in large blast furnaces. The furnaces require coke, a solid fuel made by burning coal in a low-oxygen environment. Not only an energy source, coke literally supports the iron ore in the furnace and participates in the chemical reactions that transform pig iron into steel. According to Vaclav Smil, an energy researcher and prolific author on the subject, producing a ton of steel requires almost half a ton of coke. Coal is also the primary fuel for cement manufacturers. “In theory, coal could be replaced,” Jones says. “But that would involve rebuilding every cement plant in the world.”

                1. lyle

                  While coal is needed for blast furnaces in the us 68% of steel is recycled (electric furnaces and minimills). It is China that is the large user of primary steel. (about 70% of other metals is recycled according to Havel). Also they are using less coke in blast furnaces some furnaces now use plastic pellets to support the iron column.

              4. Rikki O'Donnell

                “Tesla have just unveiled an.. electric truck. This means that the statement ‘Diesel is needed’ is trivially false.”

                (Following from the analysis at
                Tesla’s claim: “The truck can drive 500 miles on a single charge, which was higher than some analysts had expected. That may mean that, in terms of range, the vehicle could meet the needs of long haul truck drivers. Tesla will also build a network of Tesla “Megachargers” that will charge the trucks’ batteries to a 400 mile range in 30 minutes.”

                There apparently were eight charging ports, and with a 100kw battery behind each that would be 800Kw. To deliver 90% of capacity in 30 minutes you’d have to deliver approximately 1.5 Megawatts plus losses; batteries are 80-85% charge efficient during the bulk phase until they reach about 80% of capacity (at which point their efficiency goes down materially) and the electronics to control the charge have loss too — probably in the neighborhood of 10%. So we have a 76%, more or less, efficiency on the charge rate which means we must deliver almost exactly 2 Megawatts to the truck for that 30 minutes.

                Note that 500 kilowatts has to be dissipated somewhere for that entire period in the truck or the batteries, controller equipment or both catch on fire. This is a serious problem all on its own.

                Musk claims he’s going to “guarantee” a 7c/kwh price for all that power. How he thinks he can do this in a commercial environment where demand meters are used by law is beyond me; the first time a trucker needs to be charged at 4:00 PM on a 95 degree day there will be a very large surprise delivered in the form of the bill. Never mind that the trucker (or company) will be paying for the 25% losses too; you get to pay for the entire megawatt-hour even though you only keep 75% of it; the rest heats the air. Apparently Musk thinks that he can simply build “battery packs” to store energy and thus charge them when the power is cheaper. Ok, that’s fine and well, except (1) now you have another 25% loss, stacked (you take one when you charge the pack when “cheaper” and then when the truck is charged) and for each truck’s worth of capacity in said battery bank he gets to buy another battery that would otherwise go in the truck, plus another 25% to cover the losses when the truck is charged, plus the electronics to charge, discharge and control that “banked” pack. Somehow this all is going to “work out” to 7 cents/kwh.

                Let me make this clear: No it won’t. If Tesla guarantees that rate to the buyer then Tesla will absorb billions in losses and the more trucks are on the road and the more miles they drive the more money the company loses.

                But it pales beside what Musk claims to be able to do when it comes to charging these trucks in the first place. The average house in the United States consumes about 12 megawatt/hours of energy over the entire year, or about a megawatt-hour per month. Musk intends to suck twice as much energy from the electrical grid as your house consumes in a month in 30 minutes.

                To put some perspective on this that means that one such truck charging will place approximately the same load on the grid as 1,400 houses. One truck.

                What happens when 20 of them show up at the truck stop? You know they do that today — they fill their diesel tanks and they’re on their way, although they typically only fill said tanks half as often as these batteries will require charging.

                So it won’t be 20 of them it will be 40 since their range-before-refueling is about half of common OTR trucks now. Now we’re talking about the load of roughly 57,000 additional houses that will be instantly presented to the grid and which the grid must be able to support — per truck stop or terminal!

                Who’s going to pay to build all that out and with what will they do so? It won’t be Elon Musk.

                All of the foregoing assumes you believe 800kw of battery is enough. I’m not so sure. The math doesn’t pencil today on that and I don’t see how Tesla can overcome the deficit under any plausible scenario. Today’s diesel truck gets ~8.5mpg, roughly, fully loaded @ 80,000lbs gross (maximum 50-state legal limit.) Diesel contains ~136,000 btu/gal, so if we take 500 miles (maximum range of said EV truck) we would need ~60 gallons of fuel containing ~8.2 million BTUs if that was a conventional diesel-powered tractor. A modern diesel (with all of its computer controls and transmission) can achieve very close to 40% thermal efficiency in steady-state on-road operation (assuming ~5% gearbox and parasitic loss), which means 3.264 million BTUs have come out the business (driveshaft) end of the engine and transmission when it finishes burning that 60 gallons of fuel.

                Musk’s 800kw battery only has 2.7 million BTUs of energy in it. That’s 18% short, roughly, but in fact it’s worse than that because neither his motors or the PWM controllers for them are lossless, and remember, we’ve accounted for the diesel’s engine and transmission/accessory inefficiency. If we assume Tesla’s electric motors are 90% efficient (possible but unlikely; 85% is more-likely but I’ll give him the other 5) and the controller is also 90% efficient (possible) the stacked loss there is 19% so now he only delivers 648kw over that same period of time to the driveshaft(s).

                In other words he’s not short 18% on energy content he’s short a whopping 32%!

            2. Marlin

              As you can see, every step of the nuclear power cycle involves the expenditure of energy derived from fossil fuels, which nuclear electricity cannot replace. Thus it is untrue to say that nuclear energy is greenhouse friendly.
              The last statement is obviously factually wrong.
              Using real world production emissions, nuclear is fairly low in CO2 emissions – lower than solar power. I don’t know, if in theory it is easier to replace the fossil fuel usage in the production of solar power is easier than for nuclear power, but even if it is possible, it certainly will take decades. At the moment there is no source of power, that is produced entirely without fossil fuels, because all sources need transport and lots of other stuff, that is currently only available with the consumption of fossil fuels. Greenhouse friendly can’t mean zero emissions, but lower emissions than the alternative, that would be used for the specific case. Enforcing zero emissions in the near future is as well the end of civilization.

              1. UserFriendly

                Correct. The term you are dancing around is the emplacement rate.

                For each source, a portion of this aggregated flow is then diverted back to cover requirements for new capacity emplacement, and for operation and maintenance. This leaves a net flow of energy services to cover all other economic activity. The central model logic involves attempting to maintain the net flow of energy services at a constant level as the contributions from each source change. The change process is driven by the gradual retirement of fossil fuel supply capacity, and this is replaced primarily by renewable sources.


      3. expat

        Interesting that you cite France as a good country for EV. It’s true that France is about 80% nuclear, but this means low carbon, not low problems. France’s nuclear system is about 15 years past its sell-by date and no one wants to spend the hundreds of billions of Euros to renovate.

        As for electric vehicles themselves, they are not a solution outside of limited urban settings. Even in France, where would we get all the electricity to run these cars? Where will we get all the batteries? Where will we get the rare earth metals to build the batteries.

        Cars are not the solution, electric or otherwise. We need a new paradigm (oh, Lord, did I reallly use that expression?). I don’t know what it is but it probably involved a lot more walking.

  6. BoycottAmazon

    Anyone who thinks that asking the billionaires who run our government, and have done so since Reagan snatched the 1980 election from Carter,”

    Ai, why start what has an actual decent factual base with two gross exaggeration.

    First, the oligarchy has been running this system pretty much from the beginnning, just as Madison designed it to do.

    Rather than snatched, Jimmy (like Hillary), lost his election. More importantly , Jimmy Carter, and while we’re at it FDR too, also represented an oligarchy. However, besides the obvious difference in political experience and skills, FDR had another significant advantage over Carter. During FDR’s time in office Capitalism looked like a failed system, and enough of the oligarchy were frightened to try anything to save it. The issue today with Climate Change is the oligarchy don’t see climate change as a threat to themselves, and many of them even see it as an opportunity, per other reports here on NC.

    Regarding the Force/Violence examples applied, it would be nice if the author provided some proof that the acts were truly effective. I tend to doubt these events caused much more than an increase in carbon emissions, as the “victims” of these acts would have to invest in steps to mitigate such acts, which themselves create energy inefficiency. A better solution might be to reduce demands through actions, such as working to ban automobiles from downtown areas, turn Walmart parking lots in to park and share rides locations, etc. However, I suspect it will take a technology solution to get us out of this mess, as as Chomsky has pointed out, only a federal government that is going to pass of the benefits of basic research to its buddies is likely to do that. Sad, but seems accurate.

    (Ottis Philalithopoulos : I’ve had several posts recently not stick: Is the AI acting up, or was it human decision. if the later, then it would seem decent, one could say non-Google-ish/Twitter-ish, to email the offender(?) unless it’s an outrageous breach, in which case the offender should be banned.).

  7. Disturbed Voter

    Just say no to civilization and large human population. Sounds like the retreat of the Roman elite into Medieval monasteries. Barbarians at the gates? We have met the barbarians, and they are us.

  8. cnchal

    We need a new good, similar to what the banksters made from whole cloth, the carbon trading market.

    This new good is in the form of an income guarantee disguised as a jawb guarantee, and for those that choose to accept that jawb, to consume as little as possible, and get paid for it.

    What I haven’t been able to reconcile, is that money controls energy and paying people to not consume stuff is contradictory. That’s where economists come in. They can be assigned to unravel the contradiction, and to find the optimum tax rates for the super rich to pay for this.

    Every super yacht and private jet not moving is one less log on the fire.

    1. jefemt

      Carbon trading:one more place for LLoyd and Jamie to peel ba-zillions from the nearly empty pockets of the muppets.

    2. Utah

      I’m in favor of a fee and dividend system. The basic premise is to raise fees at the point of extraction by $10/ barrel the first year, up to $100/ barrel. This fee is then distributed to the people as a dividend quarterly or monthly, etc, to make up for higher energy prices. So, it will create an incentive to change behavior because of gas prices (remember- people were buying smaller cars and fewer trucks right before the 2008 crash because gas prices were so high) and also serve as a pseudo basic income.
      I think anyone on the basic income train should get behind this idea because there is no questioning who is going to pay for it. Energy companies will, and we will through higher energy prices. But we’ll get a cleaner future out of the deal.

      1. Wukchumni

        The only issue being that petroleum is money, the main tangible that oils the works of the world, so wouldn’t it just be an end around, er a Goals to Newcastle gig?

      2. drumlin woodchuckles

        James Hanson also supports this fee-and-dividend concept. In fact, he may have been the person who invented it.

      1. visitor

        Which is exactly why they are continuing with the emissions trading system — it did not work because they did not try hard enough, so obviously one must strive even more with the failed approach…

      2. expat

        Emissions trading failed in Europe because the politicians have no backbone. They handed out credits like candy. There was also a bit of fraud and weak accounting. No one wanted to pay the price for emissions.
        An emissions market could work, but you have to have some sort of balanced market. Free emissions credits makes for a silly “market”.

        1. Vatch

          Emissions trading failed in Europe because the politicians have no backbone.

          Backbones are also lacking in the politicians of North America, Asia, South America, etc. If Enron were still in business, they would be “earning” enormous profits from carbon/emissions trading.

  9. divadab

    Change your own life. Build community. Build local markets. Barter and trade. Abdicate from the hydrocarbon managed herd. Be a survivor and let the fools and their minders die. They won;t last long.

    This seems harsh but I agree with Expat and Plutonium that activism won;t change much and anyway aren;t most activists all about making other people change? Leading by example seems to me a better way than hectoring people who have a vested interest in not changing.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Leading by example will eventually have to lead to hectoring others to change. But the good thing about leading by example is that it gives one the personal credibility to be able to hector others in good faith.

      If others see that one is consuming half the national per-capita-consumption of energy, then those others will grudgingly grant one the credibility to hector, even if the hectoring is not liked.

  10. Bill McCullam

    n anticipation of irreversible climate warming a subcommittee of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Green Building Council proposed in 2005 a goal to reduce energy use in buildings to zero by 2030. Buildings use almost half of all energy.
    At that time the electric utility industry projected an increase from approx. 40 quads of power for the US to almost 96 quads in 25 years, that is 2030. What intervened was the depression of 2007-2008 which flattened the curve; however, this curve kept on flattening, so we are now facing a 17 quad drop from 2005 use by 2030. Utilities have responded by cancelling plans for many new power plants.
    This amounted to a savings in utility bills for the nation of $560 billion dollars by 2013. This money was spent on clothes, education, and whatever. This saving will reach $4.6 trillion dollars by 2030.
    Part of this saving results from better technology. A lot results from improvements in building design. Some is due to renewable energy sources.
    These improvements are ubiquitous and universal. State governments have been changing building codes to require improvements in insulation and the like. But, private industry has gone much farther in reducing energy consumption than mandated. Apart from a few outliers such as Denmark and Germany, surprisingly, the United States is recognized as the world leader in efficient building technology. As things stand, it looks as though we may be able to achieve our 2030 goals and head off irreversible climate change.
    This success story needs to be better known.

  11. FelicityT

    I believe it’s a big mistake to be relying on the courts here or in any other instance where radical change needs to occur. After all the courts are staffed with those who have been perfectly willing to play within the rules of the status quo and have gained a fair amount of status and success doing so. Why exactly would we expect that such a group is going to side with us on radical change until the last possible moment at which point they see the change as simply inevitable anyway? And I’d argue we’re still far from that point.

    The other mistake — though certainly a common one — seems to be the idea that activism is best done as a focused thing, focusing on single issues and pushing through change that way. The author doesn’t necessarily argue this but it is a common inclination shared among many these days. We absolutely must push for expansive, radical change, not incremental and focused. We’ve tried the incremental for quite some time — it simply does not work, does not produce the desired outcomes, and leaves too much opportunity for rollbacks while the many are focused on the next issue.

    It’s not enough to simply shut down or sabotage a pipeline — though decentralized sabotage along the entire route so would have been far more successefull for DAPL protestors than having some centralized camp — but instead the entire system must be ground to a halt. That will mean pipelines, that will mean other infrastructure (Amazon’s many warehouses come to mind as just one example), that will mean making the unjust “justice” system cease functioning, that will mean acts of defiance and gumming up the gears in your own job, etc. And it will mean others providing the support necessary to deal with the consequences faced by those engaging in direct action or their families. We all have a part to play; all are necessary and important.

    Climate change is a problem but it is also a symptom of more widespread and generalized problems — the continued normalization of inequality and human supremacy being two of the largest issues.

    If we want an actually better world and one which is more resistant to backsliding we need to develop a critique and plan of action which takes into account more than a single issue. All of our injustices are connected, some of those connections are not always clear — just like it is hard to see the mat of interconnected mycellium under the forest floor — but those connections exist and and interact in meaningful ways to reinforce the whole. Any activism which ignores this is likely doomed to fail.

    We must restore and rebuild our connections to each other — develop our own mycellium — which other commenters touch on. We must develop and spread a narrative which addresses who we are, why we are here, and what our place within the world is. This is the type of narrative which the dominant ideology uses to seduce the masses and an opposing, compelling narrative is the only antidote likely to have any meaningful chance at change.

    1. Chauncey Gardiner

      Excellent comment, FelicityT. Further, violent activism will likely lead to a violent response by those who control the only use of force permitted under law, the force of the state. For that is precisely what we have seen in the past and are seeing in the reactions described here.

      The asymmetrical reactions reflected above and in the incarceration of peaceful opponents to the War in Iraq, the 2-year imprisonment of “Bidder 70”, the violent arrests and incarceration of DAPL protestors, and the laws being passed against even peaceful assembly to protest pipelines, measure not just the greed but also the level of fear among the elite. As with the recidivists at “TBTF” financial institutions, they know full well the damage their actions have caused and will cause others and are moving to eliminate even toeholds like the CFPB that might reduce their control of the system.

      But absent their enrollment in a broad initiative to confront and address the underlying causes of global heating and to effect policy changes, I wonder if our moai, like those at Abu Akivi on Easter Island, will face the ocean?

  12. Wukchumni

    I find it fascinating to compare climate change epochs and how people back then reacted to them, blissfully unaware of the poles or even the weather beyond their eyesight. The only thing the Anasazi did to contribute to climate change was burning wood, and the deforestation they created in using timbers to strengthen the 4 & 5 story Great Houses they built in Chaco Canyon, which you ought to go see, as it’s America’s Pompeii, of sorts.

    When it hit in earnest in the guise of a long drought lasting 50 years, as their culture was post-peak and on the descent (remind you of anybody?), they hadn’t made any plan B’s, and after a decade of the drought, the only alternative was to get out dodge, and that would’ve been by foot.

    At the very same time this was happening, the crusades were going on, and if you can perpetuate far flung wars, you must be doing ok @ home, and given the chance, wouldn’t the Anasazi have rather flown to London on a 787 out of Albuquerque after getting an Uber to the airport?

    Now we on the other hand know everything about climate change, but are largely defenseless to stop it. You think i’m going to give up my car cold turkey along with a billion other drivers? ha!

    We’re as addicted to bad energy karma, as a heroin addict looking for the next fix, and likely to overdose eventually.

    All I have to do, is slide a petroleum based plastic card into a one-armed bandit, and a petroleum based hose gets inserted into my gas tank, and within mere minutes over 100 pounds of what we crave is delivered effortlessly w/o me ever seeing it or even smelling it~

  13. kees_popinga

    The phrase “Climate change” is one those Frank Luntz propaganda terms that minimizes the problem and makes it seem like an inevitable fact of nature. (Luntz may not have coined it but it’s right up there with “ANWR” and “death tax” in the lexicon of demonic reactionary genius.) It’s preferred by environmental activists over the original term “Global warming” because why, exactly? Richard Stallman suggests “Global heating” as a more accurate substitute. How about “Climate disruption”? If this is war, as suggested in Gaius’ article, then what’s needed is a “weaponized” (but catchy!) term that acknowledges this is a human blunder on a massive scale and — ideally — that our leaders are responsible. “Climate change” lets everyone off the hook.
    At the very least, writers such as Gaius should stop using the blandly reassuring phrase “Climate change.”

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I share your dislike of ‘Climate Change’. I tend to use ‘Global Warming’ but will play with ‘Climate Disruption’ and see how it plays.

      1. SKM

        Agree re “climate change”. Radiative forcing? Climate forcing???Also will experts stop telling the public “By the end of the century” x, y z may happen. Humans are not psychologically/emotionally evolved to relate to threats on that time scale – also such statements probably seem to many to imply that nothing really bad will happen until century`s end. Anyway, great to see the level of the debate on NC on the environmental disaster has risen over recent months to the high level of that on power politics and economics. Fantastic, makes NC truly the best go-to daily source on all that matters to us materially (and, of course much more)

      2. expat

        Global Climate Change is sometimes better than “global warming” when discussing the subject with your average Fox viewer. They watch Fox News and see that it is freezing and snowing in Chicago in February and immediately say, “Al Gore is a liar who hates America! You call that ‘warming’?”

        At least with “climate change” you can get them to sometimes admit that poor, brown people far away will die. They don’t care, of course, or even like the idea, but at least you get the ball rolling.

    2. Phil Stevens

      I agree that climate change is a bland term. Scientists promoted the new term because it more accurate captures the range of changes that are taking place. For example, while the globe will warm overall, some places (like the northeast US and northwestern Europe) are likely to get a whole lot colder than they are at present (as a result of the shutdown of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current, which powers the Gulf Stream and brings warm water up the east coast of the US and across to Europe).

      “Climate disruption” (apparently coined by George Monbiot) is better, but still contains within it the sense that the whole thing might be some sort of mistake, a “human blunder on a massive scale.” It’s not a blunder. The concept that fossil fuels will warm the earth has been understood for over a century. For decades, corporations like Exxon have deliberately suppressed climate science to ensure that the public didn’t ask inconvenient questions. Why do you suppose they did that?

      The real problem here is that we’re still busy trying to be nice and not point fingers. Whenever anyone suggests that Rex Tillerson and his ilk should actually be held accountable for the destruction of the planet, the liberals in the room get all antsy and break out the guitars. We need to remember the words of Utah Phillips: “The earth isn’t dying, it’s being destroyed. And the people destroying it have names and addresses.”

  14. Martin Finnucane

    Debt servitude, heroin epidemic, Black Friday, shop-till-you-drop, SUV fever, social media society, processed food, factory chicken and cow death camps, Internet porn, plastic junk toys, advertising on kids TV shows, starving Yemen, obese Mississippi, pre-teen self-cutters, mega Church mega pimps, streets without kids, academic flat-earthers, check cashing stores, buy here pay here car lots, “adult superstores” on the interstate, teenage diabetes type II, Florida.

    ISIS is not the death cult we need to be worrying about. The USA is the death cult, like Columbus despoiling and destroying everything.

      1. Wukchumni

        When I was a kid, tv commercials were often about products that appealed to the way you looked, god forbid should that woman that struck your eye in an elevator see any dandruff on your shoulder, yikes, and don’t get me started on the heartbreak of psoriasis et al. And a lot of food commercials as well.

        A sampling from 40 years ago. The only drug commercial here is for sleeping pills!, although Ben Gay makes an appearance

        Nowadays you get pummeled with commercials telling you how you can turn $84,000 worth of bills into $8,700, and be let off the hook, ha!

        1. Martin Finnucane

          I have Hulu etc. because apparently not having TV for your kids is tantamount to child abuse. But the upside is that we have no commercials. When my kids watch TV elsewhere – say, at Grandma’s – they get the whole thing, commercials and all. At the risk of being accused of pearl clutching, I have to say I’m repeatedly shocked by the advertising: corporate entities (particularly though not exclusively big food companies) invade our homes, interspersing themselves between our children and their families from a very early age, to coerce the smallest and most susceptible of us to consume consume consume. Our children are conditioned nearly from birth to eat-spend-waste-repeat, to demand that as a birthright, and to want all that. Thus, for example, a McDonald’s chicken nugget, which to the untrained eye is barely distinguishable as a food stuff, is accepted as “yummy fun,” while something some recognizable human actual cooks at home is “yucky dull.” Then the kids, acting according to the script, bully their parents into going to McDonald’s. Some $15 or $20 later, the kids are replete with this killer garbage food, and an at least equal amount of paper waste is in the trash. And we put up with this – it is all so natural.

          In a sane world, we wouldn’t put up with any of this for a second.

          1. Wukchumni

            I’ve watched the Super Bowl twice in NZ, and when the commercials are for a used-car lot or a dry cleaner in town, in lieu of the ‘Picassos’ they present to us in the states, if the game is a snooze fest on the field, there’s nothing left to hold you there aside from being amused aside from panning in on circuits. (…with apologies to Juvenal)

      2. John Wright

        Note as far as I know, only one country in the word does not add to carbon emissions:

        This is tiny Bhutan, population 800K.


        “It currently has net zero greenhouse gas emissions because the small amount of pollution it creates is absorbed by the forests that cover most of the country.”

        So currently 800E3/7E9 x 100 = 0.0114% of the world’s population is living at zero greenhouse emissions.

        This statistic is interesting, as it indicates the rest of the world is continuing to add to the problem, even those countries with enlightened policies.

        And what is the downside of continuing to produce a lot of CO2 for a USA citizen? They enjoy a better lifestyle now, with the possibility of a reduced future lifestyle, shared with everyone else in the future.

        The old saw of “we are rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic” comes to mind.

    1. FelicityT

      Excellent use of “death cult”, a good example of emotion-evoking simple language to illustrate a point, even accounting for the risk of alienating some readers — a necessary risk with all good rhetoric. The style essentially forcing one to read it to the tune of Joel’s ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ was good too.

      You are absolutely correct, the most dangerous group is the ideology which currently holds power in this country. Though it is important we don’t fall into the trap of extrapolating to demonize government in general. Not that you seem to be doing so, it is just unfortunately an all too common error made by many so it bears repeating often at any relevant opportunity

  15. Grumpy Engineer

    Using FORCE?!? This is a terrible proposal, and it would not succeed.

    To use force in a manner that actually makes a difference in CO2 emissions (unlike the symbolic short-term pipeline valve cutoffs that Emily Johnston brags about) means being truly disruptive. Like sabotaging the high-voltage lines that feed a city so that the people there cannot use electricity. [This would reduce overall electrical demand, and power stations would burn less fuel as a result. Net result, reduced CO2 emissions.] Or alternatively, permanently sabotaging the pipelines or railways that feed the tank farms near that same city, so that there was a gasoline & diesel shortage that prevented people from from filling their tanks. [Again, reduced CO2 emissions, this time from tailpipes.]

    Of course, if you actually cut off power to an entire city and left everybody’s vehicles stranded on the side of the road with no gas, you’d make a lot of people very angry. So much so that you’d find people responding to your actions with force. If you were lucky, you’d only get arrested and spend several years in prison. Disrupting the lives of that many people would not be without consequence. And is cutting off a city from electricity and fuel the right thing to do, anyway? If you do it in the middle of winter, there will be people in stranded cars and poorly insulated homes who freeze to death.

    Performing symbolic acts of minor sabotage in hopes of getting the courts (snort!) to rescue us a fool’s errand. And performing larger acts of sabotage that actually reduced CO2 emissions would generate enormous amounts of blow-back, and would be the errand of even greater fools. The only alternative is to provide better solutions (i.e., cleaner and cheaper) that let people live their lives in peace.

    And unfortunately, “better solutions” seem to be in thin supply. The countries that have most aggressively pursued renewables have electricity prices that are horrifyingly high. Denmark, Germany, and South Australia all have electricity prices that are about 3X the US average. And they haven’t even gotten to the more expensive task of providing grid-scale energy storage.

    I’m personally convinced that nuclear is the way to go, but alas, this belief puts me in the minority. And I’m not prepared to pull out a gun to force people to do things my way.

    1. IndieRafael

      Thank you for being one of the few voices in this thread speaking against the use of force to disrupt pipelines, and for explaining why it would likely backfire. I am deeply concerned about human-caused climate change. I am also deeply concerned that the US is headed for social breakdown and civil war. Normalizing the use of force for this kind of issue is a step toward civil war. If that is what Gaius Publius is advocating, then he needs to explain how he thinks that will work. By implication, civil war would render irrelevant many other issues covered on NC.

    2. Phil Stevens

      “Nuclear is the way to go” – to what? The human species is in a state of massive overshoot. The only way we can sustain our current levels of population is by depleting non-renewable (or only very slowly renewable) resources. At some point, likely within the next decade or so, we’ll begin hitting hard limits. At that point lots and lots of people will start to freeze to death, and starve, and die at the hands of others. It’s going to happen sooner or later, as any ecologist can tell you. It happens even in stable climate conditions. Climate change will hurry the process along by accelerating the loss of our resource base while our growing population accelerates the rate at which we draw it down.

      Radical reductions in CO2 emissions cannot be accomplished with anything resembling current technology without also reducing the number of people on the planet by at least two thirds. We simply cannot feed the number of mouths we have without the suicidal technologies we’ve put in place to do it.

  16. Disturbed Voter

    People are activists already. But they are doing it wrong. Everyone, rich and poor, wants to get something from other people’s labor. This is because we don’t grow our own food, we are urbanized. The city has always been a violent exploitation of the peasants. Most of the time the peasants allow it. This hasn’t changed. Once we are all proletariat … who will grow the food? Robots?

  17. JE

    I have been following energy efficiency and alternatives to fossil fuels for decades and consider our family to be at the low-pain “best case” end of the American energy usage spectrum. Meaning that we have done what we can relatively easily do to mitigate our energy usage without dramatically curtailing our lives. With all this talk of activism and change I think our lifestyle represents an achievable goal for a reality check. Our home built in the 1940s has been upgraded in terms of insulation, LED lighting, air source heat pump, etc but still uses around 23.5MWh per year from all sources (electric and natural gas). Being in MN, 17.5MWh of that is for gas heating using 600 therms per year compared to 900 average in MN. Also, we have solar panels on our property generating about 4.5MWh per year. Driving our two cars a total of 20k miles per year at an average of 35mpg (hybrid + non-hybrid) is another 19.3MWh of energy expended. Our family of 4 thus uses directly (not including air travel or energy costs of purchases) 42.8MWh of energy per year, giving back 4.5MWh via solar for a grand total of net 38.3MWh per year. Using 11MWh for the average US household electric consumption, 900 therms for heating in MN, and 33.7MWh (24k miles at 24mpg) gives 71MWh per household per year in MN. Thus “low pain” we can bring MN per household energy usage down 46% from 71 to 38.3MWh. Is that worth pursuing? Sure. Will it halt global warming? No. What we need is to cut down on driving (~40% of energy usage on average), switch to electric drive when we do, and knock down our houses and build a new stock of zero-houses with offsetting solar. Transitioning to all-electric transport will reduce end-point energy per mile roughly by a factor of 4 (to 250Wh/mile or 135mpg equivalent) and roughly 2 overall when generation (60%) transmission (95%) and battery efficiencies (80%) are included.

    Thus with a new zero-home (< 4.5MWh per year) nestled under our offsetting solar panels and an electric car our household drives half as much our energy footprint could be reduced to 2.5MWh per year. Adding a bit more solar our net energy usage could be zero even in MN. Let's do it!

    1. drumlin woodchuckles


      Using the 11MWh per year of electricity consumption per average household within the house itself figure which you have supplied, I worked it out to be 816.6 kilowatt-hours per month. If I knew how many people the average household contains, then I could work out how much kilowatt-hours per month of electricity that each personal member of the household was individually using.

      Does anyone here have the figure for average number of people in the average US household?

      1. Je

        Sorry I don’t. I got the 11MWh figure from the govt (DOE i think, search the interwebs and it’s one of the first results) their methodology discussion may give a household size number but I’m going to guess it’s like 3.8.

  18. Brian M

    Important question: How many children did the activist pop out? Pipelines are not really the underlying problem…7 billion and counting people are.

    If she had multiple children, then that in itself is a big part of the problem. Especially American children, no matter how “green”.

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