Gaius Publius: IPCC Releases Climate Report — First Thoughts

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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

I’m just delving into the new IPCC special report on the effects of limiting, or not limiting, global warming of 1.5°C (full report here), and there are a number of bottom lines coming out of it, including this one, which we reported earlier: “IPCC Manipulating Climate Report Summary to Favor Wealthy Nations.”

The reference to manipulation refers to the executive summary part of the report (titled “Summary for Policymakers“), which national representatives are allowed to edit line by line. The rest of the report is written by climate scientists, but written by consensus, which causes it to “lean conservative” in its prognostication and prescriptions.

On that last point, Climate Central wrote in 2012:

Across two decades and thousands of pages of reports, the world’s most authoritative voice on climate science has consistently understated the rate and intensity of climate change and the danger those impacts represent, say a growing number of studies on the topic.

This conservative bias, say some scientists, could have significant political implications, as reports from the group – the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – influence policy and planning decisions worldwide, from national governments down to local town councils. …

A comparison of past IPCC predictions against 22 years of weather data and the latest climate science find that the IPCC has consistently underplayed the intensity of global warming in each of its four major reports released since 1990.

The drastic decline of summer Arctic sea ice is one recent example: In the 2007 report [here], the IPCC concluded the Arctic would not lose its summer ice before 2070 at the earliest. But the ice pack has shrunk far faster than any scenario scientists felt policymakers should consider; now researchers say the region could see nearly ice-free summers within 20 years.

Sea ice predictions that are way off the mark are just the first of the prognostication failures the articl lists.

Yet taking all that into account, the bulk of which will strike most people as obvious, I still want to write several pieces about this publication, starting with this one. Greenpeace bottom-lines the report as follows:

Key takeaways

2°C is much more dangerous than thought when the Paris deal was signed. We are closer to critical tipping points and other key risks than we thought. Four out of the five main Reasons for Concern have been revised to signal substantially higher risks with lower levels of warming for humans, species and economies.

Limiting warming to 1.5°C instead of 2°C would make a huge difference for the life in oceans and land. It would protect hundreds of millions of people from frequent extreme heatwaves, halve the proportion of additional populations suffering water scarcity and help achieve sustainable development and poverty eradication goals.

Limiting warming to 1.5°C or below is challenging but still achievable, if we are fast, bold and lucky, and accelerate action on all fronts now.

Solutions exist that could enable halving global carbon emissions by 2030 in ways that support development goals, build climate resilience and deliver us healthier and more prosperous societies.

The next few years are critical for the world to embark on a transformational path to reduce its carbon emissions and increase its forests to bring emissions to net zero by mid century the latest. With countries’ current climate targets for 2030, we would have no chance. So they must be improved.

We need to think big, at all levels, with everyone on board. The challenge is unprecedented and it won’t be solved by technology or economics alone. We need better governance and deeper understanding of system transformations, agency and motivation for change. And we need to prepare for the impacts and losses that can no longer be avoided, meeting the needs of people at risk.

Greenpeace has other takeaways with more detail; the short info-sheet is worth reading in its entirety. Two that caught my eye are this one:

With countries’ current climate targets we are heading for well above 3°C. …

and this one:

To get below 1.5°C global CO2 emissions would need to be halved by 2030 and reach net zero by mid-century at the latest, with substantial reductions in other gases.

Greenpeace is doing its best to be equally alarming and encouraging, as is, I suspect the IPCC (though we’ll find out more after reading the full report). Since no one really knows the future (an obvious statement that’s still only partly true), there may be a chance to avoid the worst of the climiate outcomes by stopping our emissions “now” — meaning ASAP, on an WWII-style emergency timeline.

The problem, of course, is that even though everyone, including the Fox News drones, believes the worst is on the way, no one among the masses believes a real solution is possible. Thus, nothing meaningful will be done, since no one thinks a meaningful think can be done. A circular checkmate, to mix metaphors.

Climate Change and Confederate Flags

More on the last point later, but I do want to show you a recent Saturday Night Live take on the IPCC report, which restates the above problem in a novel and comic way. This is from their “Weekend Update” segment. After talking about the Kanye West’s bizarre appearance in the Oval Office, the hosts pivot to the climate report (emphasis added):

Colin Jost: This [Kanye West’s pro-Trump pronouncement] was pretty crazy. But look, it’s not the end of the world, O.K., because this is the end of the world. That’s right. Scientists basically published an obituary for the earth this week and people were like, yeah, but like what does Taylor Swift think?

We don’t really worry about climate change because it’s too overwhelming and we’re already in too deep. It’s like if you owe your bookie $1,000, you’re like, oh yeah, I gotta pay this dude back. But if you owe your bookie $1 million, you’re like, I guess I’m just gonna die.

Michael Che: This story has been stressing me out all week. I just keep asking myself, why don’t I care about this? Don’t get me wrong: I 100-percent believe in climate change. Yet, I’m willing to do absolutely nothing about it.

I mean, we’re all going to lose the planet. We should be sad, right? This whole episode should be like a telethon or something, but it’s not. I think it’s because they keep telling us we’re going to lose everything and nobody cares about everything.

People only care about some things. Like, if Fox News reported that climate change is going to take away all the flags and Confederate statues? Oh, there’d be recycling bins outside of every Cracker Barrel and Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Nice double use of “cracker” and two good points. First, disaster freezes action (until it doesn’t). And second, most people don’t care about the planet or “humanity” in the abstract nearly as much as they care about their kin, their immediate friends, and their tribe. So what will make the TV-watching masses care enough to act?

I’ve often thought, for example, that something as non-lethal as the permanent inability to play college football anywhere on the East Coast from October 1 through November 30 — eight solid weeks — due to constant hurricanes and torrential rainstorms might do the trick.

After all, imagine: no home games for two entire months in much of the ACC or SEC, none in Florida, the Carolinas or Georgia, ever again. Would that get the Fox News and Fox Sports fanboys’ attention, enough for them to act? I think it might, and with a lot less loss of life than something much more drastic.

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  1. Isotope_C14

    Excellent points, though I do figure that the masses are going to say it is “God punishing us for X”, and not global furnace production.

    I never understood why it was socially acceptable to lie to children about Santa Claus, and baby Jesus, or any silly religion.

    We are kind of in this predicament because we train the young to believe in lies, instead of grow as beings that can confront their existence with strength and virtue.

    1. Ignacio

      I concur. Also agree with your view on Santa. And yes, we are trained to believe in lies.

      I very much like the point that Gaius brings on climate change inaction although it is not clear to me what the reason for inaction is. I blame it on “everybody is responsible but nobody is directly responsible”. In other words “i cannot do absolutely nothing about it so I do nothing about it” Connecting the dots with the lies about heaven and hell, nobody in particular is to be held accountable on climate change when everybody is. Forget me for this but I believe that our attitude on climate change somehow resembles what I thing could be the attitude of many germans about jews during WWII. Also, for most people living day by day is too demanding to pay attention. Thus it is crucial that precisely those like Colin and Michael (as well as NC and Gaius Publius) bring climate change to the center of the stage and begin blaming those responsible. We need the Koch’s, the Porsche’s, the Trumps’s, the Merkel’s the Modi’s the Xinping’s, the Putin’s, the Al Saud’s and the likes to be held accountable for our failure.

      On the first half of the article I wouldn’t focus on whether the IPCC is conservative or not, or whether the temperature will rise by 1,5º or 3º or 4.5ºC. I have read part of the IPCC including that devoted to metodology and there is only one phrase that says it all: the only certain thing is that our world is warming well above what could be considered normal without human activities and the consequences of this are overwhelming. Focus on the consequences and the resulting chaos, blame the leaders and do something. The IPCC brings the correct conclusion backed by thousands of scientific studies, and we should focus on it. It cannot be watered down.

      Of course at the scale of personal action, one should also do something to contribute less and less to climate change and contamination.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        It is I think a classic case of paralysis in the face of overwhelming and comples needs. A key problem is not just the deniers in power in the US and Australia (and soon Brazil). Its those who ‘get’ it, but salve their guilt through tokenism, while conceding to ‘pragmatism’ when needed. In China – where the government is fully aware – and has been for years – of the consequences, they have invested massively in renewables. But they have also felt the need to promote coal use and private car use as part of the drive for development. The official explanation – and I’ve no doubt that they really believe this – is that ‘we must develop so we have the resources to change the way the economy works’. There may even be a justification for this if climate change was happening at a slower rate. But its not.

        There are numerous examples of this. The Germans investing massively in solar energy – while simultaneously supporting their car industry. In Ireland we’ve invested massively in wind energy and de-carbonising the electricity sector – in the meanwhile, the agriculture industry, encouraged by government, has massively invested in intensive dairying, which has sent emissions soaring. Its the equivalent of someone turning down the thermostat in their house, and carefully recycling their waste, while driving their kids to school in an SUV.

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        I think the problem is we are all in a system and it’s hard to do much on your own.

        For instance, I live in Manhattan, and so can consider myself somewhat virtuous since I don’t own a car, very seldom take cabs, and even though living in the North means summer air conditioning and winter heating, those take way less energy in smallish unit in an apartment building because the building has thermal mass and only some of my walls are external. But I fly on airplanes and I see some of those trips as necessary to take care of my aged mother. So how does that net out?

        Or worse, it is very hard as an American to avoid tons of what ought to be unnecessary plastic. All sorts of goods, from vitamins on up, have plastic seals. You are supposed to use plastic baggies to buy fruits and veggies. All sort of foods, like yogurts, soups, frozen veggies, are in plastic. I can go on. I can bring my own cloth bag when I go shopping to avoid the plastic bag at checkout, but that seems like a mere feel good gesture compare to all the other plastic in my life.

        1. Ignacio

          That is quite clear and I don’t mean one can live decently in the US, or in Spain, and simultaneously be carbon neutral, but surely one can, and should have in mind climate change when adopting decisions.

          My family and I live in an apartment that is heated with a gas-boiler and my car is diesel. This is to mention the main polluters I use. We have reduced car mileage by a lot and in particular never use it to commute to the city center (we have the advantage of good public transportation in Madrid). Regarding gas consumptiom, in my building each apartment has its own gas boiler which is quite more unefficient than having a central gas boiler. Years ago we subsituted our aging original boiler with a condensing boiler that is much more effective. Later I replaced all our windows with new windows that allow for much better isolation. I have also increased isolation in some rooms by adding inner isolating layers. I also replaced radiator valves with (dumb) thermostatic valves that improve heating zoning and also reduce consumption. All ligths in my house are leds and use strategies to avoid stand-by apparatuses consuming energy when not in use. When I replaced the fridge years ago my main concern was the energy efficiency of the new one.

          Let’s call it the Resistance.

          1. Anon

            Excellent commitment to energy efficiency, Ignacio. You are taking real, personal action to mitigate CO2 in the atmosphere. It is the epitome of the Resistance. We need more like you in the developed world. We also need more people taking the latest IPCC report to heart and demanding real political/institutional action to limit CO2.

            The issue, as Yves has indicated, is that we all live in a system (at least those of us in the US) that is built on carbon consumption. In my state, California, automobile use (gasoline) is nearly mandatory to get to work, or go to the grocery store; activities that cannot be “stopped” rapidly: the mortgage needs to be paid and the kids need their Cherios. Carbon consumption is baked into the living arrangement.

            Changes in lifestyle is mandatory. The effort to do so will be monumental. As are the consequences if we don’t.

        2. Alex V

          The first place to start is measuring your own impact. This site is quite useful for giving some relative numbers – the absolute values probably less so, since the inputs are for Sweden:

          You’ll be depressed by how much flying does…

          1. jrs

            the system doesn’t even support individuals in doing what they can (among it’s many and often much larger failings to enact bigger society wide change). It makes things so hard for them. Yes, why is everything in plastic!?!

            But yes flying is bad, the compromises one makes not to fly are seldom ideal either, but I figure less bad. For instance since I grew up in Los Angeles, my human connections are here. So I STAYED. How radical is that? But this is forcing the obligatory long car commutes on me of course, and that’s when I can find work, as well you know the reputation of the place, and it’s sometimes true. Spend your life in traffic. So I drive the best mileage car I can afford.

            The problems are really political but we don’t want to discuss why it’s so hard to change our politics. But that’s really what we need to be discussing.

            1. drumlin woodchuckles

              You can’t take the train if there’s no train to take.

              If train transport were restored in-around Los Angeles and San Diego and etc., would people use it? If it were user-rider friendly enough to be an actual pleasure to take the train, would people use it?

        3. Lord Koos

          The plastic thing is something I think about quite a bit lately. It is virtually impossible to not use plastic. Use of plastic packaging actually seems to be increasing year by year. paper flyers we get in the mail now have this new-fangled thin plastic laminate on them which makes them impossible to recycle. It might help if people would stop selling plastic bottled water but I see no evidence that any company is even thinking about doing that. Although I see plenty of stories in the media about plastic in the oceans, I see virtually no advocacy of reducing or eliminating plastic products.

          1. Phil in KC

            I too am concerned about plastics, especially in connection with food packaging and storage. The more I read about certain plastics, the more convinced I am that I don’t want plastics in my refrigerator, kitchen, or house. Moreover, ever since the Chinese stopped buying our plastic recycling, I have been wondering where my recycling winds up. Again, I’ve read that some Asian countries have picked up the slack, such as Thailand, Malaysia, etc., but that they are quickly becoming saturated beyond capacity and may soon stop importing our waste. What then? Does our plastic end up in the Pacific garbage patch?

            So, for example, where can I go to buy ketchup, mustard, salad dressing, and mayo in a glass bottle or jar anymore? It seems that the food industry is moving in the direction of MORE plastic packaging, and much of it can’t be recycled. But glass can be recycled, and is being so recycled–and profitably–in my region. Frustrating!

        4. Jeremy Grimm

          Individual action is constrained to what an Individual can do, and that is constrained by our Society. Effective efforts to slow, halt, or reverse Climate Disruption will require a radical change to our Society. And regardless of any such efforts, Climate Disruption will bring about a radical change to our Society and way of life. Peak Oil will also bring about a radical change to our Society and way of life. Our governments might guide the direction of change but great change is coming. I have come to believe there will be no graceful fall, no smooth transition. And I am afraid the best an Individual can do is move to higher ground far from large cities, learn and document — on quality paper — as much useful art as possible, and build a place within the local community.

          “To avoid warming of the kind the IPCC now calls catastrophic requires a complete rebuilding of the entire energy infrastructure of the world, a thorough reworking of agricultural practices and diet to entirely eliminate carbon emissions from farming, and a battery of cultural changes to the way those of us in the wealthy West, at least, conduct our lives. And we need to do all of that in two, or possibly three, decades.” []

          “Frederic Jameson’s famous dictum that ‘it has become easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism’. … If we can’t throw off these myths we will die of consumption.” []

        5. Oregoncharles

          I wash plastic produce and bread bags and use them at the store for new produce and bulk items; similarly for other containers (plastic has the advantage that it won’t break if I drop it, but I use some glass containers, too.) However, this is easier because I mostly shop at the Co-op, which encourages this sort of thing.

          In fact, the store had a program of sterilizing donated used containers and putting them out for people to use. A lot of them got reused that way, but the state health inspector shut it down on the pretext it violated the code. Evidently re-use is not a priority.

          Realistically, individuals can do this sort of thing, but it won’t have much impact until it’s institutionalized and most containers are returnable or meant for reuse at the store. That would be a big change, and would have to be done by legislation.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            I make sure to use all those stupid bags I get more than once, but I don’t remember to bring them back to stores very often. I find other uses for them at home.

      3. Robert Hahl

        I think ordinary people would do what they were told and help solve the problem, albeit with lots of complaining, if be the western powers decided to do what is needed. The issue is who would come to in charge of the world after that kind of transformation began in ernest. Not the current ruling class, and they know it, which why it being stifled.

        1. Louis Fyne

          the solution is obvious, but not talked about cuz it involves actual sacrifice.

          Buy less stuff. Eat less. Travel less. (and if you want to be politically incorrect, lecture the development world about family planning and not having 2.5+ fertility)

          Everyone, media, consumers, politicians, corporations, many environmentalists, are greenwashing, twiddling their thumbs, and hoping for a magic Star Trek thermodynamics fairy that’ll solve everything.

          1. bojang bugami

            Eat less? Why? What if the food in question is net carbon-recapturing? In that case, eating more of it will pay its farmers more to recapture more carbon and store more carbon in the soil. Like fast-moving tight-packed herds of livestock on multi-species pasture and range.

        2. John Wright

          As this is a financial/political blog, I’ll state my suggestion why I believe little will be done on the climate change front, using a term loosely borrowed from the financial industry..

          I’ll call this “Net present CO2 per capita” and this represents the integration/summation of all the net CO2 that will be expended to support a human over their lifetime, be it for food, transportation, entertainment, comfort (heating/airconditioning), medical care, “defensive” military operations or production of consumer goods.

          Net CO2 = subtracts that CO2 stored in net new tree and vegetation grown, carbon capture, and biochar.

          Perhaps the world’s leaders and elite have crudely calculated this Net Present CO2 per capita for their populations and concluded that doing anything drastic about THEIR current CO2 production would result in much local and global unrest.

          It is far easier for a politician to kick the can down the road than to tell your population they will have to drastically change their lifestyles.

          1. Lord Koos

            It’s ridiculous, because climate change in itself will produce much local and global unrest, without question. So we might as well take the medicine now… but of course as you point out, there is no political will to get it done. Very few politicians are willing to take an unpopular stance.

            1. John Wright

              As I remember, probably in the 1990’s a local US Congressman (representing Mendocino County in Northern California) suggested a 5 cents a gallon gas tax (gas was probably 50 cents/gallon then) as a way to encourage conservation.

              He didn’t get re-elected and some suggested this proposal was part of the reason.

              “Use less, walk more, drive less, eat less” is not a career enhancing message for a politician, maybe anywhere in the world.

              1. jrs

                they’re trying to lower the gas tax even now in California, of course it’s a Repugnican agenda item, and will probably not succeed, but it does show the stupid – of course it’s not used that well now but … it’s a carbon tax.

      4. drumlin woodchuckles

        These “lies” which are taught to young children are part of making childhood bearable by permitting some magic and delight to toddlers and post-toddlers. The same culture which teaches the young children about the “tooth fairy” and “Santa Claus” somehow makes sure to teach the child of 9-or-10 and above that Santa isn’t “real” in the way he or she believed at age 4-through-7, and that the “tooth fairy” really was the child’s parents all along. There are even songs about the learning of that reality. ” Last night I saw Mommy kissing Santa” comes to mind.

    2. vlade

      TBH, we’re told lies all the time. You might have been taught Newton Laws at school. Well, they are a lie. Because, you know, they are actually wrong. Any simplification is a lie – but that means, we are telling lies all the time. No amount of virtue and strenght helps an average 10 year old to understand quantum theory + its holes (so even that is a lie).

      So, the question really is, and that’s where the moral relativity slips in, is it a social acceptable (white) lie or not?

      1. Octopii

        Newtonian physics isn’t a lie at all. Within certain constraints, e.g. not at or near the speed of light, it is a highly useful and appropriate tool. There’s nothing wrong with approximations if they provide the same result.

      2. Louis Fyne

        Newtonian physics got humans to the moon with nothing but slide rulers, math, chutzpah and late nights. Not a lie. Just an incomplete explanation for the subatomic world.

        Just sayin

      3. knowbuddhau

        Y’all need to learn the difference between a lie, an intentional misrepresentation of verifiable information, and a metaphor.

        Take the ubiquitous Newtonian metaphor of a billiard table and billiard balls for atoms. Is that a lie?

        Did the universe start with a Big Bang? Obviously not. If it happened, it wasn’t big, and it didn’t bang. Is that a lie?

        Is the expanding universe really a black balloon with white dots? No, that’s a *metaphor, a vehicle or vessel for going from ignorance to understanding.

        Also, is it really being suggested that it be made illegal to teach or think in any but The One Way? How is it to be decided, what to banish, and what to teach? Didn’t Mao try that?

        We all live within a mythos, a metaphorical way of being in the way. Just because you don’t get someone else’s metaphors, doesn’t make them lies.

        Our current problem, in fact, is that we don’t have a mythos that digests the scale of our effects on the environment. As David Barash, one of my psychology professors at UW put it, we are cavemen (it was the 80s) with The Bomb.

        We don’t think of ourselves as *of nature, as *of this planet; we think we’re in civilization, and nature is over there; the planet is other than we are, we’re just on its surface.

        I remind you that this is the society that “The Conquest of Nature” built.

        We, and I mean H. industrialis, divorced nature a long, long time ago. We haven’t thought of ourselves as of the environment, like a fetus in a womb, in millenia.

        We aren’t just disembodied. We’re disembodied because *denatured.

        We’ve got Nature in a lab’s glove box, and try to manipulate it with armatures and robots and all manner of remote control, when we’re right here in it.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          And global warming is Nature’s way of oozing right through the sides of that lab’s glove box and turning the lab itself into Nature’s own glove box . . . containing all the scientists therein.

  2. thoughtful person

    No one wants to take action, to change their behavior, if they think anything they contemplate doing is inneffective, irrelevant, and meaningless. What we are looking at now is not “merely” a die off of many mostly “other” tribes members (both other species and other peoples). Now we are more and more looking at extinction – all humans, including wealthy ones who live in North America and Europe – may not see their children, or even themselves, if they are not too old yet, survive. At this point anything we do to mitigate the already started disaster might mean some few humans could survive (maybe our children? ) and perhaps some other life forms. There is hope. While many will not make it, maybe if we act as soon as we can, and any way we can, the chances that something will survive increase, and the earth won’t become a dead rock like Venus. As this awareness percolates, people are beginning to act.

    PS my NC contribution is coming soon!

    1. Bob_Dole

      I really hope you’re right with your comment at the end. I’ve been in a bit of a low-level depression for the last two years with the climate and political news around the world. I think that the powers that be (i.e. global corporations and their politicians, lobbyists and media companies) will simply deny, shift blame and ultimately just say, it’s too late, so let’s carry on doing what we’re doing. I really feel they would rather watch the world burn than realise a new solution. It’s up to the general population to make that change (and it’s obviously happening and there is resistance) but I feel we’ll be deep into famines, droughts and locked down militarised borders (a period of global fascism) before that happens.

      I hope I’m wrong.

  3. Eduardo

    “Of course at the scale of personal action, one should also do something to contribute less and less to climate change and contamination.”

    Plant-rich diets reduce emissions and also tend to be healthier, leading to lower rates of chronic disease. According to a 2016 study, business-as-usual emissions could be reduced by as much as 70 percent through adopting a vegan diet and 63 percent for a vegetarian diet, which includes cheese, milk, and eggs. $1 trillion in annual health-care costs and lost productivity would be saved.

    But then, they were placed on this so-called Ma-Pi 2 diet, a strictly plant-based macrobiotic-style diet centered around whole grains, vegetables, and beans, with some sesame seeds and green tea. What happened? A1c levels started out with a wildly out-of-control diabetic 12.6, despite daily insulin injections, and after six months eating that diet, ended up averaging a non-diabetic 5.7. And, are you ready for this? That was after they all were able to eliminate their insulin.

    1. JW

      The fact that the vast majority of human beings not only consume the (bland and gross) products of horror show factory farms but actively resent anyone who declines to…never mind that if everyone stopped it would give the planet enough breathing room to transition to renewables…how is there hope for such a species?

        1. Anon

          …and the vast majority of human beings are NOT the driving force behind Global Warming. It is those of us in the Industrialized world. The US, Europe, and parts of China make up less than half the world population.

          1. drumlin woodchuckles

            And not even we ordinary citizen-mopes of the Industrialized world. Rather the Governators and System Lords of that world who decided on purpose to turn our world into one big garage and lock us all inside it with THEIR smoky old engines running running running . . . in the deathless metaphor first offered by Bruce Sterling at his Viridian Design website.

            It wasn’t we the people who decided to destroy all the rail transit in America in a vast Bonfire of the trains, trolleys and streetcars. It was certain particular industrial sectorists in pursuit of their own special power and profit agendas.

  4. taunger

    Just a reminder that a small dedicated group has been offering real solutions to policy makers for at least 20 years, only to be rebuffed by industry, finance, and self-interested politicians afraid of the next election.

    I think NC is well aware that consumers changing habits will not solve global warming, only massive infrastructure investment in cleaner systems (energy, transportation, food production) and lifestyle change led by the corporate entities that decide current policy.

    Who is responsible is very clear if you take off the blinders.

  5. Eclair

    As I have written before in NC comments, I was born a year before the US entered WW2, and so grew up thinking the restrictions imposed were the way life was.

    Neither my parents nor my two sets of grandparents owned a car. If they had, they would not have been able to drive it due to gas and tire (rubber!) rationing. And, the only new vehicles being produced were for military use, i.e., auto plants were quickly converted to making jeeps and tanks.

    My uncle had a car and a gas card, but that was because he was a doctor and made house calls. But then he was called up, so that car went up on blocks ‘for the duration.’ I believe that farmers also were allowed extra gas rations, as well as farm vehicles. Some home delivery services brought horses out of retirement; I remember the iceman, Arthur, coming around to deliver big blocks of ice for my grandmother’s ‘icebox,’ in a horse-drawn wagon.

    The bureaucracy necessary to determine food and clothing rationing was implemented swiftly, and soon everyone had a ration card, with little detachable stamps that you handed in at the grocery when you bought your family’s allotment of meat, or sugar, or butter, or at the clothing store when you purchased a new winter coat. The operative word here is EVERYONE. No matter what your income level. Each person was allowed so many ounces of meat, or sugar or butter. Or a pair of shoes per year. No more. (I do believe that there was a more or less flourishing black market, where, if you had the cash, you could buy almost everything. The penalties for participating were severe.) So, the perception was that all citizens were suffering equally. This was important. Belt tightening had to happen to everyone, regardless of income level or social class. A by-product of food rationing was a thinning down of the population; look at group pictures taken at schools or aircraft factories in the early 1940’s, people look like a different species.

    It helped that unemployment was pretty much non-existent. If you wanted a job, there was one available. On-the-job training was provided. And, if you were retired or a stay-at-home parent, or a school kid, there were volunteer jobs: plane-spotter, warden (they went around in the evening, making sure everyone had their black-out curtains down so no lights were showing and acted, in general, as a kind of neighborhood security), collecting recycled newspapers, cans and fats.

    So, everyone suffered, everyone contributed.

    If the political will is present, our government can be incredibly efficient. Note that they also rounded up and interned thousands of Japanese American citizens and legal residents and built concentration camps to house them within two months of war being declared.

    1. Alex V

      I agree with you on the capability of people to make the required physical changes in society at a rapid pace. My worry though is that war is the only motivator strong enough to bring about such changes… I can’t think of any other examples in history not based on violent conflict that brought about immediate large scale change.

      1. JEHR

        WHEN climate change and undue warming become endemic to the whole world and when food becomes scarce and perhaps building materials and fuel are non-existent; WHEN the billionaires and all the rest of us are unable to purchase food and fuel, THEN human behaviour will change and solutions will be initiated and followed, if there is still time to do so. And that is not to even mention the requirement of excellent leadership which may not exist either.

      2. Lord Koos

        As resource scarcity increases and extreme weather events become more common, one of the effects of climate change will almost certainly be wars, unless world leadership suddenly becomes much wiser. I wouldn’t bet on that.

    2. Unna

      Eclair, thanks for this. It’s my untutored opinion that fighting Climate Change with methods like you describe is the only way to succeed. Regressive taxes like carbon taxes, meat taxes, odometer taxes, “travel taxes” anyone (?) etc only hurt (and potentially control) lower net wealth people while allowing unfettered carbon burning and environmentally destructive activities by those who can afford them. Carbon emission trading schemes create markets to manipulate and exploit for profit by the likes of Wall Street. And yet, while Climate Change is looming as an existential threat, the population is stuck in a learned passivity while the pols of both parties do their hand waving song and dance as usual; with the gods’ forsaken exception of Trump, the only “honest” ghoul in the room who admits he’s going to do nothing.

      But I wonder, which contemporary Western Societies are “virtuous” enough any more to actually pull off something like you describe? Of course there is always corruption, but it’s a matter of degree. Is there enough civic belief in the general honesty of government to allow this to work? The very common use of the word “elites” now days is a very very bad sign that the social damage in the form of perceived gulf between the bottom 90% and the top 1% as far as their differing power, self perception, and interests may already be too great.

      Where are the $1 a year men in the Clinton/Bush/Obama/Trump administrations?

      1. Eclair

        Yes, Unna, trust in government, trust in one’s fellow citizens, solidarity, the ability to work together, all these are essential factors in implementing drastic social change.

        My husband and I were visiting family in Sweden this month and we had many long discussions on just this subject. (That, and answering the plaintive question, ‘how could you have allowed Trump to be elected?). The level of trust among most Swedish people in their government is still high. Although, I did have a fascinating lunch discussion with a friend’s cousin, a working class guy, who is unhappy with the more liberal government that has been in power (until the recent no-confidence vote that ousted the Statsminister). His beef was that the government has been doing everything for the ‘public good’ but, ‘nothing for me.’ But, he was feeling that the current government shakeup was being responsive to his needs. And, both he and our more liberal family members expressed total confidence and trust in the ‘Talman’ or Speaker, the elected official whose job it is to negotiate with the parties and appoint a Statsminister.

        But, once trust has been lost in a country’s governing class, once the electorate, both right and left, feels that it has been betrayed, how do you go about rebuilding that trust?

    1. freedomny

      They are doing tons of geoengineering in the NYC area. I have mild asthma that has become much worse over the past year.

      I agree that the situation is much worse than is being reported.

  6. JTMcPhee

    I was curious, so I looked up numbers on the human population in the year I was born (Baby Boomer —- Hisssss! Booooo!). About 2.5 billion. The World Population Clock today, about 70 years later, an infinitesimal bit of Deep Time, says 7.655 billion.

    All those humans, reproducing, using plastics, eating meat, propelling themselves and heating and cooling themselves with fossil fuels (how little most people understand that bland adjectival notion, any more than they understand “fossil water” as they use up the aquifers for fracking, monoculture, swimming pools and lawns). I have read that geometric and asymptotic functions don’t exist much in the world, because they burn themselves out. And do not rise Pheonix-like from the ashes.

    Why have we humans not evolved a test to measure our manifold activities against? “Will this AI thing, or my purchase of plastic-packaged ham slices, or tinkering with genetic material for fun and profit, or doing War, make it more or less likely that my children will have a place to live that is habitable?”

    Of course that kind of thinking is only for a rarified few of us —

    The world is too much with us; late and soon,
    Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
    Little we see in Nature that is ours;
    We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
    This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
    The winds that will be howling at all hours,
    And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
    For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
    It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
    A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
    So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
    Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
    Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
    Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

    I imagine that on a blasted planet “Earth,” the winds will continue to howl — just not blow gently through the trees…

    Even way back then, there were a few “woke” people, though moved by romantic visions more than pragmatic concerns about a living future for our species. Maybe some supranational corporation will figure out and release a bit of viral genetic code that will infect us all, lull us all softly to sleep, frogs in a pot while the lords of said corporation (“Soylent Corp.” style) live it up as the world dies… Trank and soma, remember those memes?

    1. roxan

      Overpopulation is the 500 lb gorilla in the room that no one mentions. Nature will, eventually, take care of that and we won’t like Her methods. But by that time, it may be too late. The human race seems bent on suicide–what else is talk of nuclear war? Indeed, the US appears to be run by a ‘suicide cult’ bent on destruction.

  7. Wukchumni

    So far it’s been death by 1,000 cuts, heat waves, rain bombs, hurricanes, etc. It grabs our interest for 48 hours and then we all move on to the next highfalutin news, if we aren’t personally effected.

    What would it take in terms of something Mother Nature hurled at us, to collectively realize we have to change our ways?

    I’m typical of most everybody in my most contributing item to the detriment of the planet-is our pair of chariots, which would be only negotiable down to a solo vehicle, but you’ll only pry the steering wheel from my clammy cold hands~ (…rubs them together in a villiainous manner…)

    1. Lord Koos

      “What would it take in terms of something Mother Nature hurled at us, to collectively realize we have to change our ways?”

      Perhaps a super storm hitting Washington D.C. would help (in more ways than one).

    2. juliania

      Being an oldie helps. I recognized last night that the time for me to be making memories is past. The ones I treasure that become more and more vivid, are those of my youth. This is not a bad thing, and it goes against that mantra of ‘saving towards your retirement’. No! It is better, far better, to be poor in your declining years. Because then you think about your vivid youthful times – you are not youthful but happy to have experienced them. You take public transportation because you no longer have to be at work on time, and you trundle and thank folk for helping you on and off the bus – they always do, and it is good for the younger folk to do this too. Win-win.

      The times they are a-changing, and we have a challenge for our youth that is a better one than just marching off to war, though it is a war of sorts. We oldies were unashamedly profligate, no two ways about it. We cannot be proud of our achievements knowing how mindlessly we have hurt our good earth. But now we can set an example, we can forget about that cruise to the Bahamas or flight across the Pacific ocean.

      We can stay home.

  8. Carolinian

    After all, imagine: no home games for two entire months in much of the ACC or SEC, none in Florida, the Carolinas or Georgia, ever again. Would that get the Fox News and Fox Sports fanboys’ attention, enough for them to act? I think it might, and with a lot less loss of life than something much more drastic.

    Well if complacency and denial don’t work there’s always scapegoating. It’s a game everyone can play however. One could point out that the control room for our heedless growth is largely located in the precincts of lower Manhattan. As for California, last time I visited there seemed to be quite a few cars, very little public transportation.

    Perhaps one way not to get people to cooperate is by telling them–pretending really–that’s it’s all their fault. AGW is a science problem. Trying to turn it into a moral problem is not going to solve it

    1. bruce wilder

      AGW is an economic problem largely caused by bad economics.

      Economics is how our politics thinks thru collective problems and devises policy responses.

      When I look at IPCC reports, what I see is the terrible economics at work. The authors of this latest are gradually waking up to at least some of this. Nordhaus comes in for hostility. (Still got a faux Nobel though.) Some glancing at the idea that it cannot solely be temperatures and carbon — still not clear, sadly, on the need to radically reduce ALL energy use.

      Economics matters. And our economics doctrines are extremely foolish.

        1. Anon

          Overpopulation is a problem for habitat destruction and the loss of beneficial environmental systems, but it is NOT the seminal cause of Global Warming. It is not the natives in Brazil who are destroying the carbon consuming functions of the Amazon rain forest. It is not the natives in Africa who are driving SUV’s 50 miles to a job. It is not even the billions in India cramped into cities with limited electricity or their brethren in the countryside burning cow dung to cook an evening meal.

          It is those of us in the Industrialized World who readily fly over the planet, or drive 100 miles one-way for a weekend vacation in beautiful Santa Barbara, or consume prefabricated foods that have been transported thousands of miles to our stores; For Our Convenience!

          Overpopulation is important, but it is a distraction to the urgency of the Industrialized World to Change It’s Ways!!! Or, not even in the long-term, we will all be dead.

        2. Anon

          Copyright (copywrite?) that thought. Because I’m going to use it every time I hear some famous economist pontificate.

          1. drumlin woodchuckles

            Copyright ( copywrite) that thought? Ahh no . . . I will copyLEFT that thought. I hereby give away the word “fauxBel” for anyone to use. Feel free to use it and offer it to others to see if it takes off.

            ” The FauxBel Prize in Economics” heh heh .

    2. Mr.P


      “… fanboys’ attention” — a euphemism for stupid rednecks?

      When I hear someone yelling “we,” I immediately think “purity high priest,” pull out my calculator to sum the “others” that “we” doesn’t include, and click closed that browser tab.

  9. Don Beal

    I have thought for some time that specific individuals responsible for polluting, or blocking remediation, should be publicly named on a historical “wall of shame” for their kids and grandkids to admire.

  10. Steve

    I think at the DNA level of many Americans is the belief that though bad things have happened or will happen to others, even people they know well, that it doesn’t mean it will happen to them. The warnings have been out for decades and we haven’t made any progress. Even when methods to reduce our environmental impact move into the economy they are always negated by the growth in population. If we had to capacity to do what needs to be done we would have already done it. I have to go walk my dogs now and I can guarantee that since it is around 40º that I will see a couple cars idling in the driveways to warm up (my neighborhood is probably 90% Democrats who all say they are environmentally concerned).

  11. DJG

    To me, this is the main point:

    We need to think big, at all levels, with everyone on board. The challenge is unprecedented and it won’t be solved by technology or economics alone. We need better governance and deeper understanding of system transformations, agency and motivation for change. And we need to prepare for the impacts and losses that can no longer be avoided, meeting the needs of people at risk.

    And I think that what is blocking some of the action is the strong feeling among regular people, after years of Reaganite and Thatcherian propaganda that society doesn’t exist and that government is malign, that the solution will be that our betters will make everyone else suffer.

    I’m not saying that the upper middle class has suddenly to reform itself. That won’t happen. No one is going to lock the doors on the 5,000 sq ft house, abandon the Escalade, and give up perquisites.

    But public discourse has to return to everyone in, nobody gets left out. And I’m not hearing that–and definitely not here in Chicago, one corner of the Anglo-American echo chamber, where much of the litter on the streets is upper-middle-class disposables–Starbucks cups and artisanal beer bottles and such.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Also, people remember all the bright shiny new jobs they were promised they would get by selling exports to foreigners once Forced Free Trade was the Law of the World. They remember how millions of their jobs were destroyed instead.

      Now the very same people who promised them that Free Trade would bring them millions of export based jobs are promising them that Going Green will bring them millions of Green Jobs.
      They know what utter liars this Superior Virtue Morality Stuff-Strutting social class revealed themselves to have been in the matter of Free Trade. They do not expect any better or any truer from this same Superior Morality Stuff-Strutting social class when they promise millions of Green Jobs from reducing the skycarbon. And that is a problem of the upper class’s own making.

      The only type of political party and movement which could possibly rally society to support Skycarbon Reduction would be a Rigidly and Belligerently Protectionist and Anti-Trade movement devoted to DeCarbonization In One Country. And the “millions of Green Jobs” would have to be engineered into existence FIRST. And millions of those jobs would have to be making in America again the things which Americans used to make for sale to Americans who bought those things.

      Free Trade causes Global Warming. Abolish Free Trade and you can begin to DeWarm the Global. Abolish trade itself as much as feasibly possible, and we can dewarm the global even faster.

  12. Louis Fyne

    > Solutions exist that could enable halving global carbon emissions by 2030 in ways that support development goals, build climate resilience and deliver us healthier and more prosperous societies.

    All 4 of these solutions, as set forth by the IPCC, ***increase*** nuclear fission by 100% to 500%* see cite. Greenpeace HATES fission/

    Square that circle please. And please show your numbers for a solution without fission, Greenpeace.

    *page SPM-19

  13. Pym of Nanatucket

    People seem to be stunned at our collective capacity for denial, even though all humans live in complete denial of their own mortality. The development of this capacity for denial is perhaps one of our most well developed psychological traits. As we evolved and were perplexed by the nothingness of death, even though almost everything we do in life is to prepare for the future, we got really good at ignoring the future far out, and focused entirely on short to medium term. Otherwise we might all come to the conclusion that suicide is the only logical choice.

    Another evolved trait, more a societal one, is that the society which grows and consumes the most generally prevails, except in rare circumstances when resources run out. So everything built into our customs and rules is about unsustainable “go forth and multiply” strategies. The reason sustainability is not happening is that our entire economic system is completely at odds with it. There is a fear that a society which becomes sustainable might be overwhelmed in time by one that ignores these constraints. Prisoner’s dilemma.

    It’s pretty hard to go against evolved or learned strategies which previously were the key to success, and are now killing us. Cancer, from the point of view of a cancer cell, is a great thing, until the host dies.

    That last comment is intentionally extremely grim for shock value.

  14. Steve

    A note: A significant reason that makes US action so difficult, if not impossible, is the millions of “end of times” Evangelicals that see climate change/destruction as part of God’s plan. They are an extremely influential in determining US policies. Much more than most people realize.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Good point. I remember SEEing Pat Robertson on TV once years ago stating that Global Warming is a sign of the End Times and is part of God’s Prophecy and God’s Plan. And therefor, reducing Global Warming is the Work of Satan because reducing Global Warming frustrates God’s Plan and delays the Unfolding Prophecy of God’s End Times.

      So if I were to adopt my small part of a Global DeWarming lifestyle and strategy and were to be accused of Satanism by a Rapturanian Armageddonite ( of which the United States contains tens of millions), I would have to say that . . .
      ” to paraphrase John F. Kennedy, here on Earth, Satan’s work must truly be our own”.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          Well, that would be interesting. I don’t know if I could handle the shock of that happening.

  15. drumlin woodchuckles

    After all the Hazzing of the Sads that we have done here, allow me to offer a happy thought.
    Several states within the United States are majority non-nihilist. If the non-nihilist majority within those states can take command of energy policy and practice within those states, perhaps they can significantly reduce those states’ support of the Merchants Of Fossil.

    What about California, for example? I don’t know how much more electricity use California can delete from its current use. But maybe California could get more electricity from renewable sources if California thought more broadly about what renewable sources can be? For example, what if all the farmland in California currently used to grow food for customers outside of California were all used to grow high-resin thermal marijuana for the power plants of California instead? The farmers of California would still get paid. Only now they would be getting paid by the people of California for growing thermal energy for the power plants of California. How much coal, gas and oil could California displace from the power plant purchasing budgets of the power plants of California if California burned high-resin thermal marijuana in those power plants instead? And grow just only enough food in California for the people of California?

    California could do that because the High Sierra physically separates California from all the Merchants Of Fossil who are East of the Sierra. Of course the Merchants of California Fossil from California’s own oil and gas fields would still object. Those objections would have to be, uhh . . . “handled”.

    If California were to scrap plans for that silly High Speed Rail prestige project going from nowhere to nowhere, designed to destroy some of the best high-resin thermal-marijuana-growing land in all the world . . . and use the money for fairly speedy rail systems connecting the vast sticky masses of exurban commuters with the cities they commute into and out of, millions of cars could be taken out of weekday service and left inside their garages, to be quietly worshipped-in-place by their owners and only used in ceremonial journeys to sacred vacation spots by the ski slopes or by the surf.

    Think how much revenue California could destroy from reaching Big Koch and Coal, Big Gas and Oil, if California did things like that. Think what an inspiration California could be to a tight knot of several NorthEast States. Perhaps that cluster of states would be motivated to come together and do their own version of the same thing. Sweat the fossil out of their own subsystem part of the larger system. Do their part to degrade and destroy the thermal steamplant coal and oil ad gas industries. And partway destroy oil’s place in the transport sector within their own little cluster of states. And focus more and more of their survival economic activity on resources sourced from within the territory of their little cluster of states.

  16. Rosario

    I watched a Nova special last night on the Rising Star Hominid fossil discoveries in South Africa. Pretty good, though I dislike how entertainment oriented Nova has gotten over the years. Too many fast cuts, too much emotional exuberance from the presenters to be as informative as I’d like. Anyway, in one section of the show they talked about the hypotheses put forward for the “leap” between Australopithecine and Homo.

    Raymond Dart postulated that our use of tools of war pushed us toward our larger brains (“violent ape”). He was possibly informed by his bleak outlook of humanity stemming from his service as a medic in WWI.

    As time progressed, Leaky associated our brain development simply with tool use. Getting warmer no doubt, but still lacking. Magpies, Dolphins, Octopus, etc. use tools as well, but where is the human level social complexity?

    The prevailing theory today is cooperation ultimately shot our brain evolution to the moon. Seems to make sense. Cooperation is inherently complicated, tools don’t have to be, neither does violence. In fact, one can more effectively use tools or practice violence if done in a cooperative manner. Our history is proof of that.

    All that said, it is sad to think that possibly the one thing that slowly facilitated our ability to contemplate our decline on this blog, cooperation, would be the one thing that could save us, long term, if we just had enough of it. Selection for a complex world of technology should select for people who practice more cooperation and have more empathy. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll have enough time to allow the filter to work. The brutes shall inherit the Earth.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      That ‘essay’ you referred to titled “Why I am Afraid of Global Cooling” asserts without evidence “I’ve seen cracks spread in the global warming consensus” and then dithers all around the title question and finally resolves with “Will the planet warm or cool? I have no idea.” In place of being motivated by a a worrisome thing like a 6 meter rise in the oceans Eisenstein wants us to have the ‘right’ motivation. “The motivation is to serve the flourishing of life – biological and human. This commitment should not depend on the trend in global temperature.”

      This isn’t an “alternative viewpoint” — it’s simply changing the topic.

    2. Mr.P

      Thank you for this link.

      While the essay certainly could be used by some people to, as Jeremy Grimm comments, change the subject, for me, it “up-a-level”ed the subject.

  17. oaf

    Something i wrote this morning offended the algorithm???
    Sorry, Yves, my apology! Will try to do better. But, at least i read the article! ; )

  18. Jim

    All I see is the same response, everyone has to do better with less. Why less? Change the paradime, get off Earth. Make new habitable space in space. If we need double or triple the space, make it. Need 24 hour, power, aim a panel from a space colony to the sun for power. Need the high Hill to live on after you nuke your enemies, create it. But to let six people sit there? That’s wasteful. What happens if the geoengeering goes wrong? It will you know. Who dies first, in the cold they will create to undo the one degree that the tempreture went up? That enlarged the growing season. The makers or the planners? Planners cannot make, makers usually do not plan.

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