Why the Green New Deal Is the Stuff of Fantasyland

Yves here. I’ve been disappointed by the cheerleading over the Green New Deal. Its claim is that if we mobilize enough resources, we can convert to a renewable-energy-based economy and arrest the rise in greenhouse gases soon enough to prevent the worst global warming outcomes.

That might have worked if we had started 20 years ago. But as they say in Maine, “You can’t get there from here.”

The fastest way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is radical conservation. There is no doubt a lot of low-hanging fruit in terms of behavior change, particularly by businesses. But even if corporations embraced the notion that they need to Do Something, the easy stuff is not likely to make enough difference.

The false promise of the Green New Deal is that we can keep our high-consumptoin lifestyles. A lot of oxen would need to be gored if the public were to cut way back on activities like air travel that do a lot of damage. How many people are prepared to fly at most once a year or once every five years, to deal with a real emergency? And what would that do to jobs and investment portfolios? While Japan had enough social cohesion to embrace shared sacrifice in its post-bubble era (executives and top managers took permanent pay cuts to preserve employment), that capacity is notably absent in the US.

By Stan Cox (@CoxStan)is an editor at Green Social Thought. He is the author of Any Way You Slice It: The Past, Present, and Future of Rationingand, with Paul Cox, of How the World Breaks: Life in Catastrophe’s Path, From the Caribbean to Siberia. Originally published on and was produced by the Independent Media Institute

A burgeoning save-the-climate effort called the Green New Deal, explains Vox’s David Roberts, “has thrust climate change into the national conversation, put House Democrats on notice, and created an intense and escalating bandwagon effect. … everyone involved in green politics is talking about the GND. … But… WTF is it?”

Roberts goes on to give a good summary, but no one can fully answer that question until someone puts a complete plan down on paper. We do know that the vision as it’s being described by its fans (and it seems to have nothing but fans in the climate movement) explicitly draws its inspiration from the New Deal that the Roosevelt administration launched 85 years ago in an effort to end the Great Depression.

A Tale of Two Deals

The Green New Deal would emulate its predecessor’s use of public investment and hiring, improvement of wages, and socioeconomic safety nets to accelerate economic growth and reduce unemployment. That part of the vision should be pretty straightforward. But in asking whether success in reaching those economic goals could also help head off ecological catastrophe, we first need to take into account how the original New Deal worked, both as a civilian project and as it morphed into the war effort of the 1940s.

The massive public investment in the civilian economy that began in 1933 carried on through that decade. And the war production and recruitment boom of the early 1940s should be seen as an extension of the New Deal, in part because that turned out to be the spending that finally ended the Depression.

The diversion of money and physical resources into military production necessitated the creation of a War Production Board that allocated resources between the military and civilian sectors and limited production of specified civilian goods. With supplies of consumer goods shrinking and demand steady or rising (because thanks to the war, people finally had more money to spend), the government had to resort to price controls and fair-shares rationing. Then, once the war was over, both pent-up demand and civilian production were unleashed. Before long, the economy was growing rapidly.

Under the Green New Deal vision, investment in renewable energy and infrastructure production would be the mechanism for revving up the economy. But whatever shape it takes, this new New Deal would be born into a very different world from that of its predecessor—a world that can’t handle a big economic stimulus. If we are to avoid climate catastrophe, we have to simultaneously bring an end to fossil-fuel burning and develop vast renewable energy capacity, both starting right now and both on a crash schedule. That means the everyday economy must find a way to run on much less available energy.

Analyses purporting to demonstrate otherwise—claiming that current and growing energy demand can be met by 100 percent renewable generation—rely on overly optimistic technical and environmental assumptions, and on the assumption that today’s huge disparities in energy consumption among and within countries will remain in place.

Research based on more realistic assumptions shows that neither the United States nor the world can satisfy 100 percent of current, let alone projected, energy consumption only with renewable sources. And there’s no way that even a more modest but still adequate introduction of renewable energy could be achieved within a decade or even two.

Quickly phasing out fossil fuels at a time when renewable sources have not yet been phased in, affluent nations and communities in particular will have to shrink their total energy consumptiondramatically while shelling out billions to help fund renewable energy in poor nations.

The Green New Dealers nevertheless are holding out the promise of prosperity and sustainability through growth. Without asking where the energy to fuel that growth will come from, they predict that with heavy investment in renewable infrastructure, the U.S. economy will expand rapidly so that lower-income households can look forward to more, better jobs and rising incomes.

Unlike the World War II stimulus, this new green stimulus will not be accompanied by any planned allocation of resources or limits on production and consumption in the private sector. But that is what’s needed. Given the necessity for an immediate, steep decline in greenhouse emissions and material throughput, such planning and limits are needed even more now than they were during World War II.

In the 1930s, the U.S. and world economies were vastly smaller than they are today, and greenhouse emissions were far lower. Earthlings, all but a tiny handful, were blissfully unaware that continued fossil-fueled growth would one day become a mortal threat to civilization. The original New Deal could concern itself only with economic prosperity and justice. Then a second concern—fascism—emerged, and the productive forces of the economy had to be temporarily transformed. The New Deal stimulus with its war-spending extension brought back prosperity, even if material abundance had to be put on pause until the war was over.

As far as I know, no one complained at the time about the 65 percent increase in fossil energy consumption that occurred between 1935 and 1945 thanks to the growing economy. Even if there had been prophetic scientists within the growing federal bureaucracy of the 1930s sounding the alarm on future global warming, that carbon would have had to be spent anyway in order to stop the march of fascism.

Like war production in the 1940s, green energy development is an absolute imperative. It will also require us to spend emissions in the short run in order to prevent emissions over the long run. But the short run—the next decade or two—is precisely the period when a steep decline in emissions is necessary to stay this side of the dreaded climatic tipping point. During those years, we won’t yet have enough renewable energy capacity to substitute for all of the fossil energy capacity that we need to be eliminating.[1]

Sufficiency for All, Excess for None

The Green New Deal would not achieve an economic transformation; rather, it would hitch its sustainable-infrastructure investment and taxation reforms to the existing economy. It would leave the private sector untethered, free to produce for profit rather than for quality of life. Inevitably, pressure would build to crank the dirty energy back up.

To avoid that disaster, we need a strict national emissions ceiling that declines steeply year by year. Across the economy, resources must be diverted by lawaway from destructive and superfluous production, toward meeting human needs. Likewise, abuse of land, water, and ecosystems must be outlawed, no matter how much money-pain it causes those who’ve been enriched by that abuse.

Such limits are what’s missing from the Green New Deal’s vision. But because it’s still a vision and not yet a plan, there is still time to conceive a reworked version (a New Green Deal?) that has a reasonable chance of delivering on both of its goals.

Any effective strategy to drive emissions down to zero cannot also expect to spur aggregate growth; it would in fact curtail and even reverse the growth of GDP. Fortunately—well-tended conventional wisdom notwithstanding—degrowth in America would not necessarily bring on a Great-Depression-style social catastrophe.

The British scholar Jason Hickel writes that, to the contrary, “ecology-busting levels of income and consumption characteristic of rich nations are not necessary in order to maintain their strong social outcomes. We can say this because there are a number of countries that are able to achieve equally strong social outcomes with vastly less income and consumption.”

A big, laudable goal of the Green New Deal is to reduce economic inequality. We’ll have to await the unveiling of the full plan to see the specifics of how that’s to be achieved. If, as is likely, its drafters follow the politically palatable, well-worn, but rarely successful equality-through-growth route, their plan will be incompatible with emissions limits tight enough to achieve sufficient emissions reductions.

What’s needed instead is a direct cure for inequality. Expropriating the wealth of the 1 percenters would be a good start, but the necessary transformation will need to go much deeper, putting a floor under and a ceiling above individual wealth and income.

Although it really is possible to scale back our economy in a way that improves life for all Americans, such an effort will face stiff opposition at the top of the economic pyramid, the place where the fruits of GDP growth always tend to accumulate. That doesn’t mean just the 1 percent. I have argued that it’s the 33 percent of American households with highest incomes who would need to experience the steepest economic degrowth.

I’m talking about adopting but also going way beyond the Green New Dealers’ excellent arguments for a more steeply progressive tax structure (and their bad arguments for a carbon tax [2]). Limitations on resources, as well as mandatory production of the most necessary rather than the most profitable goods and services, will have their greatest dollar impact among the 33 percent (which comprises households earning more than about $90,000 annually). And within that top one-third, the greater a household’s wealth and income, the greater will be the impact, because, as Jesse James would say, that’s where the money is.

The impacts will come from several directions. An effective climate/equality strategy would reduce profits in industries not involved in green energy conversion or production of needed goods and services. Stock prices of companies not working toward the conversion would fall. Stockholders, owners, investors, and upper managers, the great majority of whom belong to the 33 percent, would bear the brunt.

If shortages and inflation were to strike, then allocation of resources could be adjusted, and price controls, subsidies, fair-shares rationing, and other policies would have to be put in place when and where they are needed. That would result in even greater shifts of income and wealth from the top toward the bottom of the economic scale.

Meanwhile, the conversion to green energy capacity and infrastructure, the costs of which have been optimistically estimated at $15 trillion for the United States alone, will be for decades to come a rapidly growing sector of a shrinking overall economy. That money will have to come from slashing military appropriations and other wasteful spending, as well as wealth, financial-transaction, and inheritance taxes. And the green buildout will have to be regulated so that it provides plenty of employment but no profiteering.

A growing segment of the climate movement rightly recognizes the link between capitalism and greenhouse warming. And I think it’s safe to say that policies like those I’ve described here would be pure poison to a capitalist economy. A socialist transformation is necessary, but that in itself won’t be sufficient to reverse Earth’s ecological degradation unlessit is also dedicated to drawing the human economy back within necessary ecological limits while ensuring sufficiency for all and excess for none.


[1] In the mainstream climate movement, the fundamental problem of falling energy supply during the conversion is generally dismissed by uttering the magic word decarbonization. Based on wholly unrealistic technological hopes, the claim is that energy generation, transportation, and manufacturing can be accomplished with ever-decreasing carbon emissions while sustaining rapid growth. Decarbonization would be a “core principle” of a House Select Committee on the Green New Deal proposed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). But research suggesting the possibility of complete or near-complete decarbonization at high levels of output has been shown to be highly deficient. Only a far more modest degree of decarbonization can be achieved within the narrow near-future time window in which we must eliminate greenhouse emissions. As if that weren’t enough, decarbonization of energy supplies has been shown to lead to increased energy demand, which in turn would lead to a treadmill effect.

[2] The carbon tax rates that would be required to drive emissions down rapidly enough would be much higher than any rates tried or proposed by anyone so far. The tax would have to be brutally heavy, even if there were a rebate to compensate low-income households. And the larger the rebate, the more the tax’s impact would diminish, because people would use that money to pay the taxes necessary to create more emissions. Meanwhile, the affluent would be able to unfairly buy their way out of reducing their own emissions, even with a high tax. They’d whine, but they would not give up any more energy than they had to. Given all that, the majority would not stand for the unfairness, and would not accept a tax/rebate system that’s strong enough to be effective.

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  1. Which is worse - bankers or terrorists

    “Social cohesion”

    There are an increasing number of discussions on this board that appear to promote this idea.

    I’d like to hear from the commentariat…how does a society improve social cohesion given today’s baseline. What is actually possible to change in today’s social media dominated, tribalized world? If it is proposed to improve social cohesion via the government, how does a government impose this in a trivialized society like ours?

    I guess I just don’t see things like compulsory military service working.

      1. nycTerrierist

        Great point!

        Would be great to ban tvs in all public places — waiting rooms, etc.

        People might re-learn how to chillax and even rehab atrophied social skills

        1. Big Tap

          Good point. In a doctors office waiting for my appointment you can’t avoid the loud TV on showing stuff I wouldn’t watch at home unless under threat of torture such as “The View”. Who thinks this is good for patients? The other type of forced indoctrination there are the constant drug ads or some new procedure to ask your doctor about on the TV on a closed loop. Isn’t be sick enough punishment?

      2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        PK mentioned dairy, as well as meat below, as something to avoid.

        I would add beer and wine…no more forest clearing to plant more barley.

        No meat.

        No beer.

        No milk.

        No wine and cheese.

        Turn pubs into community meditation rooms.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          Farming operations with fast-moving dense-packed herds of grazing animals eco-integrated into the operation bio-sequester MORE carbon than the most eco-organic operations withOUT fast-moving dense-packed herds of grazing animals eco-integrated into the operation. By now, Gabe Brown is not the only farmer showing that.

          In the teeth of that basic fact, if one still wants to say No meat and No milk and cheese, which means the farmer can not make any money or even cover his/her expenses for managing the grazing animals; then one will have to find some other way to pay the farmer for performing the service of accelarated sky-carbon suckdown through livestock eco-managed on the land.

          One way to do that would be for the farmer to sell all herm’s edible plant products for a higher-enough price to cover all the money and time costs of running the livestock.

          If one is not willing to pay the higher price for plant-based food involved in saying that the farmer may not sell any meat/milk/cheese from the soil-carbon enhancing animals on the farm, then one has no legitimate objection to the farmer selling meat/milk/cheese from the soil-carbon enhancing livestock in order to recover the time-costs and money-costs of enhancing the sky-carbon suckdown through managed grazing.

    1. rob

      cannabis clubs, and full national legalization of recreational marijauna.
      Its non violent and socially cohesive.
      People need to slow down and think more. coupled with the prospect of a fairer society, people might just be willing to chip in

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        No water thirsty weed either.

        Ban recreational marijuana.

        Instead, an hour or two of mandatory meditation (sitting quietly in a room), of any kind…zen, yoga, dao, taiji.. would be nice.

        There is an add bonus of no watching TV, no getting brainwashed, while we meditate.

        1. Wukchumni

          Why just sit there?

          You can meditate all you’d like while taking a walk in the wilderness, with no electric tethers.

          Bring some barley sodas in aluminum cans, or box wine along to indulge in @ the outdoor pub.

              1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

                When you meet the Buddha, kill him. So goes a Zen saying.

                But walking meditation is not killing time.

                In fact, Dogen got his satori doing kitchen duty.

        2. Partyless Poster

          Both beer and weed have been used by people since before civilization began.
          Acting like they are are the problem is ridiculous.
          How about something like direct mail advertising which no one would miss and is pure resource waste.
          Not everybody can be a happy monk.

          1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

            So has meat eating.

            Admittedly, meat, beer and weed are not, today, produced on the same scale before civilization began…thus the impact.

            1. Partyless Poster

              You could use the scale argument against any product.
              Scale is because of overpopulation which is really the root of the problem.
              There’s a certain sanctimonious vibe you get from a lot of vegans,
              but not everybody can physically do that diet, I was a vegetarian for 20 years or so but had to start eating (non-red) meat because I was constantly having digestive issues due to all the soy. I know of others who have had the same experience.
              Any movement that starts with banning most food and taking away legal drugs that have long been a part of the culture is a non starter

              1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

                I don’t eat meat much these days.

                Drink beer even less often.

                If people want to think about meat, they should look at bear or weed as well.

              2. Mattski

                Who knows, you could have cut down on the soy. Primerib is right that it’s the industrial production of hooch that is going to be as intensive a consumer of precious resources as anything else. Saying that ‘you could mention scale re: any product’ is precisely the point. Scale is not a result of overpopulation; overpopulation is a result of an unsustainable kind of mechanization, at scale: industrialization pointed solely at profit; the Second Law of Thermodynamics and its various correllates are now rearing their heads. . . at scale. And Prime didn’t advocate banning anything; you’ve intro’d that idea. S/he suggested we need to move away from these products, and the way we produce them. All true, if survival remains the goal.

        3. taunger

          There is plenty of water in my Massachusetts property where it is legal for me to grow my own. MLTPB, I’m having a hard time following you on this thread.

          1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

            It’s a bit weird for me too, taking banning meat eating to its logical conclusion.

            But I can see need for them, if things get really critical.

            1. ewmayer

              The ‘logical conclusion’ you seem to be pointing toward is “everyone needs to stop living”, i.e. Go Die.

              That would certainly curb emissions growth!

              1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

                Not from banning meat eating, beer drinking, cheese eating or wine sipping…I hope.

                On the other hand, banning eating, period, would lead to everyone dying.

                1. ewmayer

                  Well, you seem to be heading toward “abstain from all foods that make life worth living.” Also, why all the hating on fermented foods? Fermentation is one of humanity’s oldest food preservation methods. Anyhoo, enjoy your cruelty-free legumes or whatever … I choose to not own a car, and have no guilt about consuming (reasonable) amounts of beer, wine, cheese, coffee, chocolate and very modest amounts of meat. It’s all about getting one’s total environmental footprint down to a decently small size. (Economists hate that, though – bad for groaf!)

        4. rob

          fact is weed is better. Meditation is fine, meditation in motion is everywhere, all the time. And no reason not to have some of the good herb as well.
          People who think that “enlightenment” will come someday, and believe in spiritual growth as a panacea have been sold a bill of goods. Another old saying was when asked what happened after one gained enlightenment… well the answer was pick up that load again and toil…. just like before.
          And considering one of the best weed strains came from the himalaya’s… to think buddha wasn’t partaking is naive. No harm no foul though. When someone realizes that everything is all one, they won’t feel the need to tell people how to attain spiritual enlightenment, and how not to.

    2. funemployed

      Gov’t can provide for…

      1) meaningful, collaborative work towards publicly beneficial ends
      2) inviting public spaces within which all people can engage in recreation and the exercise of actual democracy
      3) free democratic, liberal arts education for everyone (a very different thing than happens in 99% of classrooms)
      4) much, much, much less inequality

      IMO, most people actually do want all these things

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        Regarding 1) and 3), collaborative work attitude starts in school, so 3) should include team homework assignments, and group grades, and minimal individual certifications.

        1. Left in Wisconsin

          Not disagreeing but this is completely contrary to the direction I have seen public education, even “progressive” public education, taking in the last 20 years. Moreover, it is less the overt actions (group projects are common) than the culture, which is unrelentingly neoliberal, individual achievement/rank-ordered.

          I would argue our biggest social problem, for social cohesion, for a green future, for all of it, is the culture of meritocracy. I strongly argue for not labeling everyone in the 1-20% the enemy because many of them are allies. But the culture of meritocracy IS the enemy and it is well-entrenched.

    3. Adam1

      We’re beyond “imposing” social cohesion, short of creating an outright Stalinist type police state, and even then that’s fake cohesion. The problem is that those in political power now actually like the state of social affairs, although IMHO they are playing with fire. Divide and conquer has long been a winning strategy.

      If you want to stop the divisiveness you need to present a shared and acceptable vision. There are masses of families and communities that have greatly suffered over the past 40 years or more. People who hold conservative views tend to be people afraid of losing something. There are millions of poor suffering Americans who continuously vote conservative because they are afraid of losing more than they have already lost. The right feeds them more fear to keep them voting their way. Few liberals ever offer them anything that really promises them hope. Yet if you get people of mixed views in a room together and openly discuss things and prevent discussion from degenerating into name calling you almost always find massive amounts of common ground on real substantive ideas.

      If you are going to mobilize this country you have to take on and defeat the elite, because they aren’t going go quietly. The New Deal eventually got off the ground because the elite had become frightened enough to stay quiet, temporarily, but once things got better they started chipping away at allowing the masses run the government. 1944 V-P Wallace (a peoples progressive) is removed from FDRs ticket; 1947 Taft-Hartley Act reduces union powers; it didn’t all start with Reagan they had been greasing the runway long before him.

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        Social cohesion comes and goes.

        Romans used to vote for dictators in times of need, voluntarily. If we are facing a crisis, imposing should be an option.

        A Green Dictator is one imposibilty. People can decide on that.

      2. Summer

        Enough bans have been suggested to the point where the prison population would explode.
        Most people in bare cells, with a bucket for water and a bucket for waste, appears to be the plan.

        True that we need to “stop” what we are doing in more cases than “reinvent” what we are doing…but it’s veering into a dangerous type of existential panic.

      3. Jeff W

        If you want to stop the divisiveness you need to present a shared and acceptable vision.


        A shared and accepted (I’d say) vision is key to any large-scale change. The envisioned future state helps people align their present-day behavior, elicits some behaviors and suppresses others, and has people working together toward the same thing. The focus on the future state also helps people get through the difficulties in the start-up and transition phases.

        It’s an idea—really a behavioral strategy—conveyed rather eloquently by Antoine de St. Exupéry:

        If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

        1. Summer

          That is especially relevant since it took hundreds of years of conditioning for people to reach this level of consumerism and materialism.

          Think about it: as this is discussed here in NC, billions of advertisements are playing right now, imploring people to want more, more, more.

          For everything that people are preposing bans for, are they preposing banning the advertisement of such things?

          What is really being asked of people with conflicting cues on display?

          1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

            And not a few people already have too much in their houses that they have to give or throw away.

            This will likely damage our retailers, but a ‘use what is in your closet before you buy more’ campaign is a good place to start.

    4. jrs


      or really there is maybe no ideal state of social cohesion possible, but socialist (like DSA) and communitarian movements (like transition towns) are some of them at least (those that don’t deteriorate into infighting but actually work toward positive goals) in the right mindset to make things happen.

      So find a movement that has it’s outlook right (everyone in, noone out, people and planet before profits) and that is actually doing something, even at city hall even, and that’s the philosophy and MOVEMENTS (can’t movement by themselves chance social attitudes?) we need right now.

    5. PKMKII

      More free time. When your existence is, wake up, get ready for work, commute, work, commute, eat, you can’t get a lot of that social cohesion going on when you’ve got an hour left before you sleep. Engaging in the social activities that build cohesion requires time.

      1. jrs

        there is truth to this. I know I need more social contact than I can easily get (and that’s just about my own sanity, not even about saving the world although the two may intersect), but sheesh life is demanding!!! The MAIN reason people don’t have time is we worship the god of work. Period. And it’s a false god. But social media and so on can also be distracting.

        Then add the other endless taxes on time, need for ever more education not to end up homeless so everyone is going to school with their non-existent free time because it’s never enough!, ridiculously complex health care system, tax system, political system, economic system etc..

        I think the complaint is we aren’t a Scandinavian country with that level of cohesion (and low corruption etc.). I suspect that cohesion there actually precedes a social democratic economic system. But ok, back in the U.S. we’re not Denmark, but it doesn’t mean we can’t fight for a social democratic economic system (or straight out ecosocialism if we want it!), for economic/policial/social change. Movements have changed things here before.

        1. Roger Smith

          Great point. There are lower scale, broad social issues that are really standing in the way of our capabilities to address any planetary scale issues.

    6. rc

      If you believe in Climate Change and CO2 is your prime target, then China and India should be your starting point. Thus, the West imposing environmental tariffs would be an alternative to provide incentives for cleaner, less material and energy intensive approaches.

      Personally, I think reducing all pollution and preserving natural resources like fisheries, forests, water, etc.) should be the broad goal. AI may be useful approaches to find interesting combinations of solutions when optimizing on those goals.

      Local versus global ought to be a key principle. This reduces energy consumption and builds social cohesion.

      Nutrition over processed. Leveling the playing field to nutrition versus all of the energy needed to produce processed foods that ostensibly leads to an overabundance of added sugars and carbohydrates in a diets could have multiple positive effects.

      To compete with China, the U.S. ought to us part of its financial, military, and technological power to protect the environment. Examples: We should be building naval capabilities to defend fisheries globally. We should be using tech and finance to create systems for property rights and incentives to protect resources preventing collective action problems.

    7. Whiskey Bob

      I think the Japanese example of the high earners agreeing to take a pay cut is a good idea. However, the Japanese idea of social cohesion is also one of coercion where worker’s lives are wholly devoted to the workplace and consumers are forced into fees and surcharges and other pro-business consumer-unfriendly practices. There’s also the sense of a Japanese culture that citizens must abide by. These seem like right wing nationalist tendacies often promoted by right wing parties in the West.

      I think it’s more important to focus on social alienation that’s caused by capitalism, which exists in Japan in an exaburated form. While Japanese society is one that is safe enough to let their kids outside by themselves, it is also one where workers are willing to pay a host(ess) to be a better conversation than any ordinary person they could be meeting instead. Instead of challenging the social norms and constructs, people increasingly are choosing to be herbivore men and women where their social and sexual needs are met by capitalism. A counterpart in the West would be “incels” who are unsuccessful in finding a significant other. There’s also a shared sense of dwindling living standards where it’s more common for young people to live with their parents.

      Japanese society in some ways is better at adapting to shifts in the economy than the West but I think the ultimate core of the capitalist system that affects both West and East is the root of the issue that both sides must deal with.

  2. Harvey

    In my neck of the woods, a piece in the local media is starting the conversation of the huge burden of toxic waste which is ramping up due to obsolescence of solar panels. Apparently they last about 30 years.This will be huge, and my guess is that the powers that be will be dragged kicking and screaming to address the problem. In about say 30 years.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      You have to be very careful with media reports like that. Yes, there is an issue with hazardous waste from solar panels, but the pollution impacts are absolutely miniscule compared to fossil fuels. Stories like this can frequently be tracked back to the fossil fuel industry.

      1. UserFriendly

        It’s not nothing though. The thing with PV is that you need a whole lot of material period to get significant KW and they absolutely need to be manufactured with repurposing them in mind.

        As I have been saying when it comes to the GND; Sooner or later there will be an ‘oh shit’ moment at which TPTB will start to take climate change seriously before anything besides a slightly stronger push for renewables is on the table. Some massive climate tragedy is hardly out of the question. But assuming something does happen and there is consensus we need to shift ASAP what we would need to do is to build as many wind, PV and nuclear plants as fast as possible. We need to survey every last raw material input to the supply chain for all of those and immediately invest in expanding their capacity. We would need to see what else is currently using those materials and how much of it we can divert. We would absolutely need to implement rations and price controls on anything that would otherwise be used to build electricity plants.

        This would need to be done in parallel to retrofitting and conserving and converting everything else too. As well as seeding all this in every other country as well. In case you were starting to wonder, yes this does look an awful lot like a planned economy. I’m picturing the USA right after entering WW II where it wasn’t building any cars, just tanks as the *most* capitalism possible.

    2. Nick Dortz

      Actually they don’t just last for 30 years. They degrade slowly over their lifetime, but the estimates are that they should last at least 60+ years before they need to be recycled. There’s not a lot of toxic waste in a solar panel, their mostly made of silicon, with chunks of plastic which would need dealing with. Plus the metals. By the time we get to that point, we should have an efficient recycling program in place to deal with them (and hopefully lithium batteries).

      1. WobblyTelomeres

        A friend of mine tried to quit smoking by using nicotine patches. As he tells it, his wife walked into the bathroom and noticed that he had, roughly, 20 patches on his torso. He said, “Well, I figured there was a bit of nicotine left in them when I put on a new one. Waste not, want not.”

        I can imagine a slowly degrading solar panel farm suffering a similar fate. At least in the American South. Better than a refrigerator collection, I guess.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          We should DE-electrify as hard and as fast and as much as we feasibly can. Some things we can’t. Computers need electricity to work. There will not be a steam powered computer in our lifetimes. ( And I don’t include suggestions like a little steam generator to make electricity for your computer. That’s conceptual cheating.)

          But some things CAN be DE-electrified. Home refrigeration for instance, with combo-versions or stacked versions of this:
          and this:

          After all, the less electricity we need, the less solar panels we will need.

  3. PlutoniumKun

    I don’t think anyone who has seriously looked at the figures denies that there is no one single project, plan or proposal that can successfully ameliorate climate change. Only profound economic and societal change can both reduce the impacts and increase resiliance against the inevitable climate impacts. But its one thing to acknowledge this, its another thing to attack good projects because they are ‘not enough’. Decarbonisation of existing systems is not sufficient to prevent us hitting the tipping points, but it is also impossible to avoid the tipping points if we don’t. It is sufficient but not enough.

    A Green New Deal is not a solution, but its a vital stepping stone solution – not least because a massive investment in basic research and development of a vast range of technological pilot projects is absolutely essential, and must be done as soon as possible. Its also vital to provide the seed capital to allow good technologies to ramp up to scale quickly. To give just one example of why this is important, if you read David McKays very influential book ‘Without Hot Air’ he provided projections on photoelectric energy which essentially stated that it would not competitive with coal until around 2040. He was entirely wrong. It is now, in many markets, entirely competitive – and not because of technological breakthroughs, but primarily through brute force investment in scale caused prices to crash, and this dragged the rest of the industry with it.

    And of course energy use must be reduced dramatically, but this is not just about encouraging everyone to stay at home and wear five layers of clothes. North Americans emit 3 times the amount of CO2 per capita than Swedes or Swiss, primarily because of technology and regulation. Vastly more energy efficient houses and smaller, lighter cars makes a huge difference, nevermind public transport and denser cities. Even with cars and vehicles, huge energy savings can be made through mandating much lighter vehicles (this is where so many electric car designs go wrong – they’ve invested in the batteries, but not the car weight. To give one example, the Mk 1 VW Golf weighed 790 kg. The Mark V weighs 1350kg. BMW shows how the creep of heavier and heavier vehicles can be reversed – their i3 weights just over 1,100kg through the use of composites. This is the type of technological change that can be driven by a combination of regulation and incentive.

    Agriculture and forestry is another key area – we know how to dramatically reduce emissions from land management, and even, in many cases, create carbon sinks. We just aren’t doing it. And thats nothing to do with societal change, its just a matter of regulation and yes, investment.

    So I’d strongly argue that opposing the Green New Deal because it ‘doesn’t go far enough’, is bad politics. Its a stepping stone necessary to change the direction of the economy and society. Making the fundamental and much harder changes is the next battle after that.

    1. liam

      Indeed. I’d also add, that the role of diet is the understated giant in the room. To export the average Western diet would require multiple planet earths. As someone who used to be a vegetarian, I really should return to the fold. Limiting red meat consumption is vital.

      I was struck some time ago by a comment a representative of a Peruvian conservation group made regarding the decimation of fish stocks. She suggested a potential cure was, counter intuitively, to eat more fish. In essence, eating more fish means eating less beef, which ironically lowers the consumption of fish stocks. The environmental resources that go towards the rearing of cattle is staggering.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Yes, meat consumption – especially grain fed meat (beef and pork) are huge contributors, as is dairy. Even in grass growing countries now (like Ireland and NZ), CO2 emissions are soaring due to increased intensification of dairy farming.

        But advocating widespread veganism is not going to get anyone anywhere, people just close their ears to it. People need to be encouraged one way or another to reduce meat and dairy consumption significantly, its probably the single best way any individual can quickly and easily reduce their personal impact.

        1. liam

          I absolutely agree. The key is to separate out concerns. People become vegan or vegetarian for a variety of reasons, with climate being quite far down the list for most. It’s red meat consumption that is the problem in general. And specifically cattle. Just reducing/eliminating the consumption of beef would have a massive impact. It’s not just about the resources that are used for beef consumption, but the “opportunity cost” to nature from having what should be wild land in all its glory reduced to a paddock. It’s a double whammy.

        2. Alex V

          Perhaps an approach similar to cigarettes could be used – not banned, but the social stigma has certainly been changed.

        3. drumlin woodchuckles

          Eventually so many carbon-capture farmers will be claiming their beef is carbon-capture that society will demand scientific ways to measure this to either prove or disprove these claims.

          The sooner such science emerges, the sooner this issue can be settled. I would note that Gabe Brown says that he has long invited scientists to study things on his ranch. He is also recently writing/speaking about a need to measure/verify the levels of carbon-capture taking or not taking place in the soil under a carbon-capture livestock-integrated farm operation.

    2. makedoanmend

      Thanks PK and Liam,

      I suppose it might be wrong to think there is A solution or a master plan that will work? But to do nothing is worse. Mitigation is a step in the right direction?

      It’s one of those things that society can’t fix if every individual does not contribute? And we may be too late. But to do nothing is worse – probably catastrophic.

      Would this sum up the state of play?

      And I still have 2 summer (2018) bedding plants with blooms on them today at 56 degrees above the equator.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I don’t think there is such a thing as a solution and masterplan that can work, not least because the ‘solutions’ in each country or region or continent are very different. What is needed for the US is very different than for Brazil or India or Japan. Some countries have lots of low hanging fruit – others desperately need more development just to feed their people. Some have lots of potential for renewables and more sustainable lifestyles – others have almost none.

        I don’t really see any way other than setting national budgets for carbon emissions that are binding, and encouraging local initiatives to hit them. How we get there, I’ve no idea.

        1. twonine

          Have you read RMI’s “Reinventing Fire” or the drawdown.org solutions list? Seems like a lot of the drawdown solutions improve exergy efficiency. RMI is all about energy reduction for profit. They need to add some of Mazuccato’s “Entrepreneurial State”.

      2. liam

        To add to PK’s point, a lot of, (possibly most, I think), of the low hanging fruits are to be found in the developed world. Take Ireland, (aside from cattle): imagine as a measure, to ostensibly improve the macroeconomic balance of the nation, the state was to mandate a prohibitive tax on all fossil fuel engines over 1600cc for personal consumption. We would immediately as a state be financially better off, and a non-negligible reduction in carbon would result. A small and easy to do measure.

        Some would chide such a suggestion as being a mere plaster on a gaping wound. True enough, but it does show that some of the things we can do are no brainers. We just don’t do them.

    3. Alex V

      Swedes still consume too much, and a good portion of their emissions are exported by importing manufactured goods from Asia. Taxes on flights are a political third rail as well. The Green Party is terrified to even mention them, so imagine what the more mainstream parties say.

      Swedes as a whole are definitely better than the average American when it comes to ecological footprint, but a willingness to compromise comfort and convenience for a greater good hasn’t yet become a common attitude here. And that footprint is still far too large, if the entire planet were to expect a Swedish lifestyle.

      1. vlade

        Sweden still has a quarter of CO2 emissions per the US – and the export of CO2 emissions to China is likely comparable, if not lower.

        But, one of the large reasons why the US is such a large CO2 emitter is its military, which is one of the largest oil consumers in the world (larger than many a small country).

        But the reality is that w/o China changing it’s patterns, there’s not going to be a reasonable reduction in the CO2, ever. And China is not going to drop its strategic goals just because somoene asks nicely – at least not until it starts suffering from climate change (which it will much sooner than say EU). The interesting thing then will be what will happen between China and Russia.

        Russia’s taiga is being illegaly massively logged by Chinese already (with corrupt Russian official being paid pennies to close their eyes to it), and the whole Siberia with its resources being closer to China than European Russia will, IMO, be a “fun” area to watch..

        1. Alex V

          Would be interesting to see what proportion of China’s emissions are caused by domestic consumption vs those that go into exported goods.

          Trump needs to introduce a carbon tariff on goods imported from China. Red meat for the base, would enrage Davos man to no end.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            Chinese CO2 emissions are mostly domestic – while China is a huge exporter, as a proportion of the sheer size of the country the export sector is not that big. The Chinese reliance on coal for domestic industrial and energy use is the big problem there.

            1. Alex V

              I skimmed that report, but couldn’t find any breakdown of what portion of emissions are due to manufacturing of goods destined for export. The value of exports vs domestic consumption may also not reflect material throughput, as retail price in importing countries is several multiples of the price from the factory.

              If we take the example of socks, it’s estimated China produces 1/3 of world supply, with less than 1/5 the world’s population, so it’s likely a large portion of that production is exported.


              In any case, developed countries need to take far more responsibility for the consequences of their outsourced production.

              1. PlutoniumKun

                Chinas exports are around 20% GDP (compared to around 45% for Sweden and most small and mid-sized European economies). There are no figures available for comparative CO2 emissions, but in general Chinese exports are of the high labour rather than high energy input variety, so the contribution is likely somewhat less than that. The big generators of CO2 in China (as can be seen by the geographical distribution) is construction (steel and concrete) and power generation and domestic heating from coal.

                The whole ‘its all caused by China making crap for us’ meme is not backed up by the facts. In nearly all countries, China included, CO2 emissions are caused by the domestic economy – transport, heating, construction, agriculture. Manufacturing worldwide is responsible for 20%. In short, manufacturing stuff is a significant source of emissions, but by no means the worst or most important.

                1. vlade

                  That may not entirely work (GDP as exportS).

                  For example, take steel or concrete. Both (especialy concrete) high CO2 emitters. A lot of it is used for new buildings – and since a lot of it sits empty, it’s clear waste. On the other hand, new factories are built, as is housing for their employees etc. – so to support that (exports), you have to have those emitters.

                  Similar, rare-earths mining/refining. Dirty as, but goes into lot of exports.

                  Also, the stuff is manufactured in China, but still needs to get to the EU/US etc – so a non-trivial transport is attendant.

                2. Alex V

                  Since we started the conversation based on the Swedish example, I’d still argue imported Chinese crap is a great place for the average Swede to cut their emissions. I’ve run the numbers on my personal consumption here: flying and stuff other than food are the biggest categories I can reduce my impact in. Transport and energy are already quite low carbon here. I’m only belaboring this point because it may be dangerous to assume the entire developed world can live like Swedes, as they’ve been blessed with extremely low carbon electricity by global standards.

                  1. vlade

                    Oh, a low population density countries with very viable hydro (Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, although that has farming to up the climate-gases) can have relatively high energy consumption with low imapact, no question there.

                    And cutting on buying crap, where possible, really is a good way to reduce the carbon impact.

            2. Oh

              Let’s not forget that the US and Europe et al have pushed manufacturing to China by decimating domestic manufacturing. There’s a sizable component of CO2 emissions in China because of this alone.

              1. drumlin woodchuckles

                Let’s not forget that the American masses did not ask to have their jobs pushed to China. The International Free Trade Conspirators did that to us working through collaborators like Clinton and Pelosi.

                And further, let’s not forget that the long range goal of China’s One Ball One Chain plan is to exterminate all manufacturing still existing in Europe and move it all to China.

        2. Synapsid


          China is suffering from climate change. Agriculture in the south of the country depends on the East Asian Monsoon and that is becoming changeable to a new extent; in the north agriculture depends on irrigation to a greater extent and the water sources are, roughly, in the mountains to the southeast of Tibet where the water supply is likewise becoming less dependable.

          The above is very broad brush but it points to factors that are some of the reasons the peer-reviewed literature on climate is loaded with work from China, focused on understanding on a global scale the reasons for the changes. Beijing is very much behind this effort.

    4. David Rinck

      Agreed. Having graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from a top five school I can attest that most of us are in computers or finance. Not engineering. Have one friend who lasted a year at SpaceX and moved on to Apple. The best student In my class worked in China a couple years, got sick of it, and now works on his dad’s fishing boat.

      While conservation is the best way forward, there has also been a tremendous misallocation of labor which a Green New Deal might address.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Thats a key point – there are plenty of very good engineers and scientists who would love to work on solutions, but the problem is there aren’t many people paying them. The jobs are in existing big corporations or the military. This is why a Green New Deal is vital – it is very important to provide money and structures for those working on solutions.

        1. tegnost

          somewhat related, those good engineers and scientists would have more freedom to innovate were they not required to work for large companies due to their need for health insurance. M4A please.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            Excellent point – while it may not be popular here, providing the freedom for people to take career breaks to pursue new ideas is one strong reason in favour of Universal Income over the Jobs Guarantee. An enormous number of people are no doubt stuck in jobs because they fear they can’t expose their families to the uncertainties of impoverishment or losing health, pension, etc. benefits. Its a strong argument in favour of all forms of universal benefits (and its backed by data – countries with strong social security systems are often the most technologically innovative).

    5. Linden S.

      Stan Cox’s article and PK’s comment are a great combination.

      How much of these conversations about sufficient economic growth are just the wealthy and powerful talking to each other? The assumption that we are supposed to believe is that skyrocketing GDP growth helps all of us, but it is always much more complicated than that. We can’t all be lobbyists living in Arlington.

      I think “Sufficiency for All, Excess for None” (where the All includes ecosystems) really cuts to the heart of what a populist Green New Deal (or what comes after) would have to look like.

    6. notabanker

      So I’d strongly argue that opposing the Green New Deal because it ‘doesn’t go far enough’, is bad politics.

      I agree with this, but being honest about where these policies get us is also good politics. Selling it as something it is not leaves the door wide open to the pundits that oppose it.

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        Being honest…

        I quote what Yves said above:

        The fastest way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is radical conservation.

        The false promise of the Green New Deal is that we can keep our high-consumptoin lifestyles

        It’s a false promise.

        Honestly, we have to prepare to make sacrifices.

        Additionally, reducing consumption has no side effect as far as Nature is concerned, and it will not, behind our backs, make more billionaires.

    7. lambert strether

      > So I’d strongly argue that opposing the Green New Deal because it ‘doesn’t go far enough’, is bad politics. Its a stepping stone necessary to change the direction of the economy and society. Making the fundamental and much harder changes is the next battle after that.

      I agree, vehemently. Dragging the collapse of the biosphere into the political realm is necessary for even the most partial of solutions. In fact, since the GND as of now is fluid, it makes more sense to redefine it, than to negate it for being insufficient

      1. Linden S.

        It has made the idea of a carbon tax-only climate plan pretty close to a joke, overnight. That is pretty impressive. I think most people that are relatively informed about the scale needed will now that deep federal investment is needed. I would also guess that we aren’t that far way from the same people understanding that we need central planning to bring down emissions at a controlled rate.

      2. Linden S.

        it is impressive that AOC + sunrise movement + all the grassroots activists have pretty much overnight killed the idea that a climate plan can be *only* a carbon-tax + dividend.

        i think it is hard to overstate just how fast the window moved to big government intervention, and how quickly think tank-ers who have been planning for this moment for years have been left in the dust.

      3. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        GND as of now is fluid…


        Was it brought up prematurely then?

        Would it have been better to redefine it before it was presented to the public? Normally that is how it’s done, but admittedly we don’t have time to waste.

          1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

            It’s just normally, when one presents a proposal, it’s been worked out farily well.

            Maybe it’s different this time.

              1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

                It was not a normal (non-emergency) situation, that’d be my reaction.

                Likely it will be harder or will take longer to sell a fluid proposal.

                1. pretzelattack

                  i’m not sure what you mean, this is an emergency situation -unless you’re saying the new deal wasn’t an emergency situation. by the way the population problem is more long term; i see it that we have to reduce consumption in the west drastically, and that would help solve the china problem. i don’t see us doing that, frankly, without a revolution. not advocating one nsa, i’m just saying it looks inevitable.

                  i limit my personal consumption; i don’t drive much, never fly, and would even be willing to give up weed. i eat meat occasionally but i’d give that up if necessary. i don’t see the majority of the u.s. even willing to do that much, at present, and by the time they are it may well be too late to mitigate.

                  1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

                    I meant the Great Depression was a crisis, not a normal everyday situation. And thus, there was not a lot of time to refine a proposal; so, people had to improvise.

                    1. drumlin woodchuckles

                      Well, if we start getting F6 tornadoes and Category 6 Hurricanes and volleyball-hailstones and such, then eventually enough people will agree that we are in a crisis that people will free to improvise.

                    2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

                      There may come a time for that (people having to improvise completely on their own).

                      At least for now, we can still ask for or offer personal assistance from each other, and organized help from the government, in places like here.

      4. Jeff W

        In fact, since the GND as of now is fluid, it makes more sense to redefine it, than to negate it for being insufficient

        Well, I think, given the fact that some GND—if “New Deal” means, roughly, a large-scale change effort mobilizing society—is necessary to avert global catastrophe, it makes more sense to redefine it than to negate it.

        Also, I was glad to see the post make a passing reference to Jason Hickel. He is a clear voice on degrowth—it’s, for him, a call for “radical abundance.” (He has some interesting things to say about growth in the Global North and South as well, somewhat of a corrective to the dominant Pinkerite narrative that “the world is getting quietly, relentlessly better.”)

        At least the advocates for degrowth make the argument that high consumption is not a necessary condition for well-being—in their view, we can live well, perhaps even more happily, even without high consumption, just very differently.

    8. Ray Phenicie

      You state:

      So I’d strongly argue that opposing the Green New Deal because it ‘doesn’t go far enough’, is bad politics.

      Cox says

      I’m talking about adopting but also going way beyond the Green New Dealers’ excellent arguments for a more steeply progressive tax structure (and their bad arguments for a carbon tax [2])

      So you’re both in fairly close to being in agreement.

      As to your other points, I believe Cox pretty much covers those in the direction you’re talking about; may want to take a peek at the references he cites.

    9. lyman alpha blob

      Agreed – it may not solve everything but it is already changing the conversation which itself is a huge step in the right direction. The politicians can’t keep sticking their heads in the sand once people are talking about and clamoring for a change of direction.

      Also it’s still an inchoate movement so it can be pushed in the right direction.

      Yves asks –

      How many people are prepared to fly at most once a year or once every five years, to deal with a real emergency?

      -which is a very good question and in a vacuum the answer is probably not very many, at least among those used to Western consumption patterns.

      But you have to ask the question of why do people fly in the first place? If I had the time, I’d rarely fly anywhere. My guess is a lot of people fly because of work commitments – you can’t take a bus or train from NYC to visit your relatives in LA for a week if you only have a week off. But if you have a month off, that changes everything.

      So hopefully a Green New Deal would also push for larger societal changes. It’s time for less work for everyone and more time to stop and smell the roses. Stop producing the crap nobody needs and begin producing essential products that are built for the long term. Increase public transportation, socialize medical and educational costs. Stop incentivizing larger families by limiting tax deductions for dependents.

      In short, listen to Bertrand Russel who had it right almost a century ago, discussing many of the same issues NC has taken to heart.

      I’ll just leave this here – In Praise of Idleness

    10. Ignacio

      Yes, opposing just opposing is nothing and does not help. It is really bad politics. Instead an article like this that deals with important things such as “LIMITS” to be imposed on ALL sectors to reduce emissions should start to make suggestions on this particular and important issue.

      In developed economies it is well known the distribution of energy demand amongst economic sectors and the associated CO2 emissions because the energy production structure (associated emissions and losses) is also well known. It is time to internalize this data because we have to decide who, why, how much and by what means has to reduce energy consumptiom. The great “energy wastes” can be easily identified and quantified. We should act boldly against such wastes. Then we have to analyse the impact of their removal and see if some compensation is needed or where and how to divert wasteful activities to less damaging ones.

      Yves mentioned one case in TRANSPORT. It is in particular the ABUSE of air transportation. There are ways to reduce ABUSE and, I regret to say that tourism (travelling by airplane for tourism) should be greatly sacrificed. More important that this PRIVATE PLANES AND AIRPORTS should be banned. Those must be, by a lot the most wasteful transport means. I am not going to extend on this but a lot can easily be done on this. A different case would be FAST TRAINS. These are relatively energy wasting compared with lower speed alternatives and employ electricity from the grid with a bad KgCO2/kwh multiplier (tipically although different in every state/country). Capture of solar energy by PV pannels along the railway would increase by a lot the % of renewable used by those trains. Well, etc. etc. etc.

      Anyway, one of the big elephants in the room is CONSTRUCTION/BUILDING including INFRASTRUCTURE, RESIDENTIAL, COMMERCIAL, INDUSTRIAL, PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS, and even AGRICULTURAL. Here is where many of our emissions are initiated. First, construction consumes lots of raw materials with high cost if you translate to energy. Second, once the BUILDING/INFRASTRUCTURE or whatever has been done. The way it has been done, its design, purpose and use will determine a lot of energy consumption through a more or less long life span. Energy saving building codes are mandatory, or should be, but not enough. For instance, in RESIDENTIAL BUILDING there are lots of unoccupied units. In Spain for instance there are a couple or more millions. There are also lots of low-occupational units (second houses, houses in touristic places like beaches or sky stations). Those are energy wasting units. Limits should be put to the number of such units. Any permit for new residential building should depend on the existing stock of unoccupied/low occupation units.

      Etc, etc, etc.

      There is no Green New Deal if you don’t talk and decide on all these issues.

    11. Kilgore Trout

      I agree with your post. It amounts to acknowledging that: “we have to do something more than give in to despair. There is no alternative.” Well, there is, but it’s too depressing to contemplate. As was this entire article. Most of the comments I’ve read to this point are beating around the bush while ignoring the import of the post.

      As we’ve seen from some fellow citizens’ treatment of our national parks during the shutdown, “social cohesion” even remotely like that of the Japanese has been beaten out of us–most likely by the neoliberal onslaught. Where I live, in the live free and die state of NH, I suspect the degree of enforced austerity and conservation an effective GND would require will provoke violent outbreaks from our Libertopian fellow inhabitants (I purposely avoided using the word ‘citizens”). At this late date, it all seems an impossibly steep hill to climb if we want any kind of smooth path toward a sustainable future. I’m more worried than ever for the future my two twenty-something children will likely experience. We just aren’t prepared for the extent of the changes that must occur. If nature has to make them for us, it will get very unpleasant in the US of A. The requisite changes are “unAmerican”.

  4. Henry

    Oh no, Yves’ eco austerity hopelessness!

    Anyway how about nuclear? It has some good arguments to provide stable baseload(alongwith renewables) and over a long period of time.

    1. Steve H.

      Nope. Even outside of storage costs over millenia, research the carbon footprint (gCO2/kWh). It takes a lot of energy to mine and refine radioactive minerals.

      1. JohnnySacks

        And the dissolving of Transatomic because the theoretical failure in being able to use spent fuel in their molten salt reactor was disheartening. I for one was rooting for their success in that technical endeavor.

      2. UserFriendly

        BIG FAT LIE.
        The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) Harmonization project systematically reviewed estimates of life cycle GHG emissions from electricity generation technologies. Done by NREL, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, it is the gold standard here. It even lets you break down by what type of nuclear, what type of PV. I recommend the scatter plot and un-checking what you aren’t interested in. Nuclear is less green house intensive than PV. Also, they can literally pull endless amounts of Uranium out of the ocean now and I would expect this to be even less GHG intensive.

        1. Steve H.

          UserFriendly, thank you for that link.

          What you will find is that the independence of many of those estimates is questionable. What you can see from the chart is that an estimated 50 gCO2/kWh is not unreasonable, and is in the upper extrema of the renewable methods.

          I have a great deal of respect for what you bring here, but variance is not a lie.

          1. UserFriendly

            Steve H.
            January 15, 2019 at 7:48 am
            Nope. Even outside of storage costs over millenia, research the carbon footprint (gCO2/kWh). It takes a lot of energy to mine and refine radioactive minerals.

            Where in that statement is anything about 50g? You made a (false) assertion that nuclear energy was far too GHG intensive to provide baseload. Or did you somehow think that nuclear couldn’t ever be made carbon free but PV and/or wind could? If any of them can they all can. Since the largest emission for nuclear is power to run the centrifuges, it will likely drop quickly with the grid mix. Long term deep storage isn’t very GHG intensive. The biggest hurdle in any of them getting there now is cement and silicone production, both require heats around 1500 C which is obviously much easier to do with fossil fuels.

            Sorry if I came off harsh, I am just sick to death of this stupid Exxon funded lie that just will not die on the left.

        2. Susan the Other

          Nice to know, that they can pull endless amounts of uranium out of the oceans. Some water filtering tech. And thanks to Fukushima they will also have endless amounts of plutonium as well. ;-).

      3. FluffytheObeseCat

        This is a nonsense argument. If we switch, incrementally, from reliance on fossil fuels to renewables and nuclear, the energy input into the mining, refining, transport, and recycling or storage of spent fuel will come from non-GHG sources. Increasingly so over time. If we make this kind of huge push, the change over in energy source will happen for mining and extraction at least as swiftly as for the rest of the economy.

        In a Green New Deal scenario, the likelihood that fuel mining and extraction will always generate as much GHG per unit of fuel as it does now is zero. Zero. The same is true for energy infrastructure materials. The steel, aluminum, carbon fiber, rare earths, copper wire, etc, needed to build and then maintain a renewables-based system will be extracted and manufactured with non-fossil fuel energy once the new energy base is partially built. And will rely completely on non-fossil energy once it’s in place.

        1. Steve H.

          Hi, Fluffy, I’m noticing something in this post, that I will trace back to the ‘fantasyland’ in the title. That’s a provocative but insufficient term. Deliberately provocative. Everything you say is correct.

          Here’s a refinement. Does GND refer to a limited plan based on maintaining groaf, or is it a financed response to global problem which includes adapting? Is this a definitional problem about what GND means?

          1. Steve H.

            Yup, here we go.

            How about we don’t let someone describing GND as ‘fantasyland’ define what GND means.

            Love you all, I need to not comment on this post anymore.

        2. Moshe Braner

          The “fantasy” is not in the potential for an energy transition, it is in the claim that “we” can do it without giving up any of our “lifestyle choices”. You can print money but you can’t print physical resources. (MMT non-withstanding.) Resources directed to building up the needed new energy infrastructure must come from denying them to non-essential uses. That is why the article talks about “rationing”. Do the math: https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/2011/10/the-energy-trap/

        3. UserFriendly

          Fluffy, you are correct to a point. It isn’t just the life cycle GHG value that matters; it’s how much GHG is emitted along the way, and are there opportunities to reduce along the way. With PV and wind almost all the GHG is emitted before you generate a single kW. IIRC 70ish of nuclear’s GHG emission comes from Uranium refining which is done over decades giving substantial opportunity for improvement with time. But the difference between them is negligible when you consider the that choosing not to pursue any one of them with breakneck speed just results in a guarantee of more time on fossil fuels or severe energy shortages.

  5. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Yves.

    I have just returned from Mauritius, a year after my last visit.

    The impact of climate change even within a year is quite perceptible and extraordinary.

    More and more fields are being abandoned due to drought. What was a green and pleasant land, with agriculture contributing 5% of GDP, in summer, the rainy season, is becoming brown bush.

    Many beaches are being washed away, putting the livelihoods of communities at risk. The state is spending more and more on protecting shoreline infrastructure. Some water fronts are just grey concrete, nothing to suggest a tropical idyll.

    Summers appear to be getting longer and warmer, but winters cooler. One manifestation is the number of whales coming up from Antarctica.

    The Maldives and Pacific islands are often spoken of as archipelago that will disappear. One wonders if the Mascareignes will be spared. If the islands are not, where will the millions who live there go? To the places who are causing the problem? Are the people who live in the places where most of CO2 originate prepared for this mass migration?

    1. Synoia

      Are the people who live in the places where most of CO2 originate prepared for this mass migration?

      No. They are trying to suppress migration. See BREXIT and Trump’s Wall.

    2. vlade

      Isn’t it an irony that those “unspoilt” (only in tourist brochures in my experience) bits are being destroyed by the self-same turists who flock there for the unspoilt experience?
      TBH, I’d agree that tourism is the greatest poluter of them all. The migration of nations every time there’s a long weekend, school holiday, or something like that is massive (see the impact on climate few days post 9/11). But will people be willing to abandon it? I doubt.

      Re yout migration point – of course not. Although some small islands may be relocated, those are in a way lucky, as in visible. What about the literally millions in other areas, especially in Asia, where the climate change means large swathes will be able to support a small fraction of population density they have now?

      The people living there may not want war per se, but if it will be a choice between wars and dying off, I know what they will choose (especially if it’s presented as “they are taking our water!”)

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, Vlade.

        The US armed forces published a report some years ago, warning of armed conflict arising from mass migration from areas affected by climate change.

        I noticed regular reports on French, Belgian and Swiss TV in late summer 2018. The Swiss, often fearful migration, discussed the impact of migration provoked by climate change. The debate was also noticeably absent from the anglo-saxon media.

        1. JTMcPhee

          Maybe this is the US military report you are referring to? “Trends and Implications of Climate Change for National and International Security,” https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a552760.pdf

          For some definition of “security.” Not to worry, the US military-industrial behemoth has it all scoped out, planned for, and monetized too… “We’re in charge here!”

      2. jrs

        how many people are even doing it? I suspect at this point at least 50% of the U.S. population CAN’T AFFORD to be tourists anyway, it’s really the 20-30% that see traveling all over the world as some sort of right.

    3. Lambert Strether

      Thank you, Colonel.

      It’s very good to have concrete detail like this (the no-more-bug-splats detail is the archetype here, I think).

      Can any other readers share similar details?

      1. Alex V

        Sweden had to import feed for livestock last summer due to drought when in most years it is a net exporter of feed.

    1. Louis Fyne

      uncomfortable not-PC climate debates that won’t be held in the near future….

      need for more fission (bad but better than fracking),

      family planning in developing world (lecturing sub-Sahara Africa about having less kids has terrible optics),

      less migration into the developed world (every new migrant = expanded consumption footprint)

    2. Alex V

      And you propose what exactly? Overpopulation is a dog whistle used by those living in developed countries to excuse their own overconsumption and inaction. Population growth in those developed countries has leveled off or greatly reduced recently, yet emissions from those countries keep growing. How can one expect non developed countries to see that as fair or just? In any case, assigning the blame on a national level is an exercise in futility given this is a global problem, and the fact that the entities most responsible for the crisis (energy companies) are transnational actors that purposefully structure themselves to avoid regulation.

        1. Alex V

          That proposal is not really addressing your “elephant in the room”. It’s a technical discussion of energy production and use, and excludes the moral questions of determining how many people we have on the planet.

          1. Steve H.

            > moral questions of determining


            I believe moral implies consent, and the question is rendered invalid, based on an invalid presumption.

            The invalid assumption is that human activities will turn back climate change.

            Lambert’s challenge was to provide concrete, material methods of making life better for later generations. The ‘elephant’ is a condition that must be addressed in any answer to that question.

            I am saying that a green new deal can be based on adapting to climate change. That it can be consensually scalable from individual to national levels.

            Moral questions of determining how many etc, are immoral in their basis.

            1. JTMcPhee

              Yes, let’s not talk about the “moral” issue of how many human animals, at what level of consumption and defecation, can be “supported,” at what level of degradation of the planet that we expect will Willy-nilly “support” our species, and all the other species that have not yet been exterminated by “us.”

              Because the ruling paradigm that feeds pretty much all extraction and wealth inward and upward to the Elites, has made the determination for the rest of us. And they are using Bernaysery and force and the passivity of the rest of us to make their determination stick. While they cavort about, immune to consequence and rapacious without apparent limits, “living large” while intentionally shedding negative externalities on mopes and the rest of the planet alike. A determination has been made, without participatory discussion and resolution, though so many of us participate (willingly or because “there is no alternative” or with mostly feckless objection) in that paradigm (“Why should I give up flying to other continents? Why should I forego really cool new stuff from other “Markets?” Why should I not drive a 7,000 pound SUV full of comforts and dozens of cup holders for plastic sodas from McCrapper? Why should I stop eating factory meat or factory food?”) That “moral determination” has been made, and has leapt right over any considerations of comity, and commensalism, let alone mutualism.

              So let us concentrate on tinkering with high- or low-tech “solutions,” and deprecate those who might want to ask the question of how many of this species is too many? I guess because many of us might feel a tiny bit fearful that they fall into the cohort of the “too many,” and jeez, they might not get to “enjoy” as much of the “good things in life” if there was an answer to the question that excluded them and their tribe?

              My bet is that the planetary ecosystem we were so fortunate to be born into will in fact ask and answer that “moral” question, in a way that failing to use our giant forebrains to attempt and to pursue the conclusions vigorously and uniformly in favor of sustainability, will not be pleasant for the teeming masses…

              The universe, I think, is not a “moral” place, “natural laws” and the functions of biology and ecology and thermodynamics are not “moral,” and “morality” is an indulgence for those who are privileged over others, of their own and all other species.

              What kind of political economy, what kind of ecological system, do “we” want to try to live in, and what are “we” willing to do to achieve that concrete material system?

              1. notabanker

                I must say, this is a rather insightful post and my brain is really struggling with the reality of evidence presented before it, and the wanting of it to just not be true. I’ve sat in rooms full of “highly intelligent” people whose cognitive dissonance led to conclusions that to me were obviously stupid, and now I find myself sitting in their chair on a matter that couldn’t be more vital.

                I don’t know where I’ll come down on all of this, but wanted to at least thank you for the candid remarks. I’ve always kind of been proud of being able to see the forest through the trees, but now I’m wondering whether I’ve been counting the rings on a stump. It’s a rather interesting stump, with a lot of rings, but it ain’t the forest.

            2. Alex V

              Perhaps I missed your intent with original “elephant in the room” comment and link? To me the implication was that the non developed nations were causing a majority of increases in emissions. The corollary almost universally associated with that is population growth. Is that what you were hinting at with your vague statement or did I completely misunderstand? If that was your intent, the proposal you linked to into an old comment ignores the fact that per capita emissions reductions would need to drastically outpace population growth to realize any reduction to sustainable levels. If your intent with “elephant” was different would be great to hear a clarification.

      1. jrs

        how can it be an excuse for overconsumption when not having kids probably has MORE IMPACT on environment in the long term than any single individual action anyone could take.

      2. Big Tap

        We have an overpopulation problem in the U S too which exasperates finite resourses and doesn’t help the environment. A larger population here will use and need more stuff . Do you know the U S annually adds more than a million people legally to it’s population? Not sure if the table below also counts illegal/undocumented people too.

    3. Rosario

      This is like taking a car with mechanical problems to the shop and the mechanic says the way to fix it is, ultimately, to not have a car.

      1) It isn’t an elephant in the room. There are countless international organizations well aware of population/consumption and ecological problems. It has been on the table for over 100 years. Whether spoken loudly or softly, it is absolutely there, particularly among the wealthiest of the world.

      2) As Alex V has already said, population growth is on the decline globally largely because of changes in cultural norms in conjunction with the improvement of people lives (increased opportunities, access to birth control, etc.). The big bump was largely the result of the green revolution and fossil fuels being used globally before cultural values changed fast enough to adjust to the completely different lifestyle that comes with increased urbanization and professionalism. Not planned, and plenty of damage has been done in the mean time, but this gives us a hint on how to decrease population in a measured humane, non-vulgar way.

      3) Also, as Alex V already said, consumption levels are not correlated 1-to-1 with population levels or growth. IMO, the elephant in the room has always been consumption, particularly by the wealthy, not population, recall the late 19th early 20th century eugenics and population control movements. That stuff is old hat. If we really wanted to be serious about consumption we would talk about how ridiculous it is that we feel entitled to produce flow half way around the world because we think it tastes good.

      If reducing the population is a goal of ours, and let me be very clear when I say it should be, let’s actually work toward political positions that work toward that end. Restating there are too many people over and over is exhausting, morally ambiguous, and vague.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        The problem is that there ARE way too many people, and very few people yet accept that a radical reduction in population is needed to save the biosphere.

        First, your “population growth is on a decline” is misleading, and you should know that. The population is still growing and will continue to grow. Your framing is a refusal to acknowledge the problem:

        World population projected to reach 9.8 billion in 2050, and 11.2 billion in 2100. The current world population of 7.6 billion is expected to reach 8.6 billion in 2030, 9.8 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100, according to a new United Nations report….


        2. “Morally ambiguous”? How morally ambiguous is “We are gonna have mass deaths due to biosphere destruction?” You are putting your head in the sand. Humans are locusts destroying the rest of life on the planet. You don’t have to do much looking to find articles like this:

        A global biodiversity collapse is imminent unless we take urgent, concerted action to reverse species loss in the tropics, according to a major scientific study in the journal Nature.


        A census of the biomass on Earth is key for understanding the structure and dynamics of the biosphere. However, a global, quantitative view of how the biomass of different taxa compare with one another is still lacking. Here, we assemble the overall biomass composition of the biosphere, establishing a census of the ≈550 gigatons of carbon (Gt C) of biomass distributed among all of the kingdoms of life. We find that the kingdoms of life concentrate at different locations on the planet; plants (≈450 Gt C, the dominant kingdom) are primarily terrestrial, whereas animals (≈2 Gt C) are mainly marine, and bacteria (≈70 Gt C) and archaea (≈7 Gt C) are predominantly located in deep subsurface environments. We show that terrestrial biomass is about two orders of magnitude higher than marine biomass and estimate a total of ≈6 Gt C of marine biota, doubling the previous estimated quantity. Our analysis reveals that the global marine biomass pyramid contains more consumers than producers, thus increasing the scope of previous observations on inverse food pyramids. Finally, we highlight that the mass of humans is an order of magnitude higher than that of all wild mammals combined and report the historical impact of humanity on the global biomass of prominent taxa, including mammals, fish, and plants.


        1. Alex V

          To clarify my stance, I believe we need to reduce consumption and population. There are no singular solutions to the crisis we face, but a wide variety, specific to location and society. My main objection to the implications embodied in “elephant in the room” are that those least responsible for the current predicament are most impacted. Our best hope for reducing population growth and the resultant consumption in the non developed regions of the world is to help them develop as quickly as possible (in a sustainable way – education is low impact, for example), with corresponding reductions in birth rates. Perhaps Hans Rosling was naive in this belief and all his data was wrong, but at least this narrative maintains some semblance of hope without shaming brown people for wanting have kids.

          1. Grant

            What do you mean by development though? There is at any moment in time a finite amount of resources, the environment can only be used so much as a sink for wastes before causing ecological collapse, and development to me would certainly mean at least some increase in the consumption of natural resources among poor countries. Even if we focused on collective goods like increasing access to clean water, food, housing, and healthcare, all of that requires some more resources, throughput, biomass and will generate at least some more pollution. Given that we clearly need aggregate reductions in consumption and pollution generation worldwide, how do poor countries develop without reducing the consumption of the rich countries and rich individuals within countries? Development also means, to me, that poorer countries have an increasing capacity to meet their own needs, with less reliance on FDI and imports. Would that not reduce the exports from richer countries, especially if we are aiming to reduce consumption and pollution generation? Lots of carbon gets generated alone as a result of shipping stuff around the world, often shipping components here and there, to be assembled in places like China. As Herman Daly has pointed out, development often means something in regards to quantitative differences. Like consuming more stuff, and not qualitative improvements in the lives of people with an eye on lessening aggregate consumption levels. In the “economics of a full world”, aggregate quantitative growth should now be regarded as uneconomic. I don’t think we have any chance to deal with the environmental crisis, and to at least lessen its damage and to at least avoid the worst case scenarios, unless rich countries and individuals are forced to radically change their consumption levels and habits.

            Also, given the vast differences in pollution generation and consumption between countries, we should be clearer on who exactly should have less children. If we are hoping to reduce consumption by focusing in part on reducing population, we should focus on rich countries and individuals. We should also take on the reactionary right in every religion, as they will almost certainly fight against things like sex education for women and girls, as well as increased access to contraception and abortion services.

            My fear is that the right will focus on population growth by killing more people, trapping them in places that are increasingly uninhabitable, and watching them starve to death. I am sure that Bolsonaro has a plan on how to deal with population growth.

            1. Alex V

              By development I mean making people’s lives qualitatively better as you allude to with ” increasing access to clean water, food, housing, and healthcare”. These are the basics, which even the US is failing to provide to a majority of its population, even as it consumes insane amounts of resources per capita.

              I agree with most of everything else you say. This, however, is a real problem to me:

              “Given that we clearly need aggregate reductions in consumption and pollution generation worldwide, how do poor countries develop without reducing the consumption of the rich countries and rich individuals within countries?”

              Rich countries cannot keep consuming at the same levels they are, and poor countries cannot start to consume at the same rate the rich countries are. They will also need to reduce consumption, but less so on a per capita basis. This is the point Yves has been hammering.

              To summarize:

              1. Rich countries need to consume far far less, and halt or reverse population growth

              2. Poor countries need to halt or reverse population growth, and not start consuming at rich country levels

              3. The big questions for points 1 and 2 are at what rate these things need to happen at to be successful. This will depend highly on the following factors, among many others, often at a national level, sometimes at a more regional level:

              -Types of renewable energy sources locally available
              -Local climate conditions which determine viable agriculture models
              -Population demographics
              -Water availability
              -Political geographic boundaries

              In the long term I’m optimistic that human population could be safely allowed to grow again, if we can learn to live within our means. This could be achieved by reducing per capita material and energy consumption and through technological innovation. But we are not at that point yet, and will likely not be for decades. In the meantime we should focus on making life as viable as possible for people presently living.

        2. freedomny

          I agree – there ARE too many humans on the planet. Another truth is that we are completely socially conditioned/encouraged (especially women) to procreate. Motherhood & parenthood are valued above all else with almost everything from the time you are a child leading up to that moment when you too can start/have your own family. And while humans are also biologically driven, and even though we have the intellect and critical thinking to understand that we may have overpopulated the planet….somehow “lesser” species have managed this issue better than we…


          How we view family, the bio-diverse planet, resources and our own interconnectedness needs to be transformed radically.

  6. rob

    I agree with plutonium kun above.
    The green new deal, just like the original new deal, isn’t really about being an end unto itself. It is about a shift.
    I don’t think anyone really thinks the whole problem can just be fixed and we can get on with our lives. The real issue, is to shift the paradigm away from the current one, where the pretense of profit is the excuse to doing anything immoral, to anyone and the planet as a whole.
    I have always thought that the argument for man made climate change being the main point, which is the sticking point for non-believers was wrong headed. The point should have been that climate is changing. maybe some has to do with the fact it has always changed, coupled with the fact humans are nudging the ball in the wrong direction.10,000 years ago there was a glacier dropping off sediment producing the second half of long island ny, after a glacier 10,000 years before that started it…. now, 20, 000 years later, the climate has changed. and has been changing for 10,000 years… to be getting warmer.We may or may not(and my money is we won’t ) be able to stop that trend. But we can address what we can address.
    And that is the point of cleaning up our enviroment in any way possible. All the low hanging fruit first, then the tougher stuff. In the interest of the long term, we need to move in that direction. The projects can be specific and varied.
    IMO the point of the green new deal has to be about moving in the right direction. Life isn’t going to stop. There will still be daily life, and the choices need to be informed by the overarching criteria of sustainability.
    The point where the GND can come into play will be to supply funding. This is where the “greening of the dollar” platform plank of the green party will be useful. The 112th congress had bill HR 2990 “the NEED Act” , this essential overhaul of our monetary system, will harness the benefit of creating our own money without the debt that is currently going to wall street actors who are the opposition to doing the right things. This is when the tenents of what MMT espouses to help society can come into use. But only after the money created , is done so with accountability by the governed. Not the vagaries of the banking and financial sectors.
    The perfect can’t be the enemy of the good.And the point is the shift in direction and purpose. Not some hollywood ending. Things will change, they always have… but here we are.

    1. pretzelattack

      i don’t know about wrong headed, when the climate changed before it wasn’t man causing it, now it is. seems hard to ignore that, and there isn’t a low hanging fruit way to address that.

      1. rob

        I happen to agree it is mans influence we are most up against, but my point is that that doesn’t really need to be accepted by EVERYONE, before change can be made.
        In the power generation sphere, by cutting out the coal fired plants, we can clean the air, clean the water, make improvements for local communities. Here in the south, solar power is a real option to increase power production and lose some serious pollutants. And when even the big companies like duke energy have billions of tons of coal ash to deal with, something can be done to lower greenhouse gas emissions , for other reasons.. Some places can convert to wave and tidal generation, and lose the threat that goes along with nuclear plants near large cities. Some areas can use wind, and turn the rust belt back into a viable production based economy again. That coal ash can be used to make concrete, and it can be done near a shoreline or other renewable energy source, so that cement production doesn’t have to be a significant source of greenhouse gas. There are parallel lines when it comes to objectives. Not everything has to be fought as if climate change is the only concern. That is actually what I was getting at.
        I happen to think, man is the problem here… but I am in the choir, so getting me to believe it isn’t the problem.

        1. pretzelattack

          well, specifically we have to focus on fossil fuels. man is responsible for more than all the warming (it should be cooling) and it’s happening more quickly than thought. to change lifestyles radically, the urgency of the problem needs to be emphasized. cigarettes cause cancer was an effective way of addressing that problem. not enough people think global warming is all down to fossil fuels. it reminds me of the vaccination/anti vaccination debate, not everybody has to agree that vaccinations are safe and effective, but if enough people disagree you have major public health problems. i don’t know what the tipping point is but given the gravity and urgency of the situation i’m inclined to be conservative.

  7. David

    I agree that one solution can’t fit all, and indeed that there are dangers in trying to impose macro solutions. For example, the anthropologist James C Scott has written at length about how, throughout history, states have tried to impose new patterns of development, with usually disastrous results. It turns out, for example, that traditional mixed farming of vegetables and animals, with complex interactions between them, is far more effective than modern monocultures, as well as far less vulnerable.
    My greatest fear is that initiatives like the GND will be used by the private sector simply as a means of selling their products. This has happened many times before. I remember in the 70s and 80s when worries about the environment first became mainstream, research showed that, whilst nearly all producers were changing their advertising to emphasise the environment, only a few were actually changing their products. A little later, during the period when people were frightened of eating fat, the food industry promoted “low fat” products, often full of sugar. More recently, the same industry responded to increasing gluten sensitivity by promoting “gluten free” products, which are just full of other types of garbage. So here, you can look forward to the food industry getting behind the vegetarian cause to promote “low carbon” alternatives to meat. (“Eat sugary breakfast cereals: save the planet”). And of course the pharmaceutical industry, which makes huge profits from lifestyle diseases, will not be left out.
    But I do think there is hope at the local level. In France, for example, we have AMAPs, which are voluntary associations bring farmers and consumers together. You contract with a local farmer to purchase vegetables, poultry, eggs etc. for a year, and pay quarterly, and in return receive a guaranteed supply through the year. The producers have to meet minimum environmental and other standards (many are organic) and they get better prices, whilst you pay less for the same quality than you would in a supermarket. In addition, there’s a massive energy saving from cutting out the supermarkets with their packaging, refrigeration, transport costs etc. All cities and most towns in France now have AMAPs, and the idea has recently been extended to small-scale fishing on the Atlantic coast.
    Part of the solution must lie in a return to the kind of diet most people ate a hundred years ago, to make the massive aisles of processed food and additive-chocked grain derivatives unnecessary. There are signs that that is beginning to happen, but so far it’s very slow.

    1. liam

      The amaps idea is a very good one. I wonder would such a system be possible here in Ireland. Thanks for that.

  8. farmboy

    Best analysis at https://gumroad.com/l/OilFall “The matching of EV growth with new clean energy growth is already underway. In part two, China Sudden Stop, the history of China’s revolutionary policy initiatives forms the groundwork for its next act: the killing of future coal growth, and now, through an aggressive EV adoption strategy, the killing of future oil growth. China is in pursuit of the same formula now rolling out in California, but, at a hyper, accelerated pace. While many forecasts anticipated that ICE vehicle growth would start to peak in China early next decade, that peak may now have just occurred as the entire market flipped in 2018 towards EV.”

  9. Ataraxite

    Always depressing to read things like this, to realise that even radical changes (at least within the American context) are going to be woefully insufficient.

    It occurs to me that the primary difficulty in making the massive individual changes we all need to do – basically, consume less – is that the effect of making them is diffuse, spread around the globe, and over decades of time, yet the costs are borne in the here and now. We should deny ourselves a cheap flight to Majorca, so that 20 years from now, Bangladeshis are not affected by severe floods? Morally, we should, but how many people make that calculation, and decide against the holiday?

    The unspoken truth is that the globally wealthy (roughly the West) are not going to be badly affected by climate change. Wildfires might claim a few houses, food might get somewhat more expensive, perhaps the ski season might be shorter. That’s about it. In the developing world, it will be a different story: famine[1], drought, lack of water, floods, fires and potentially resource wars.

    We have built a global economic system where greed, profit and self-interest are the foundational values. Climate change impels us to act in altruistic and human ways, fundamentally incompatible with the ever increasing acquisition of wealth (certain techno-utopian fantasies notwithstanding). The change required is going to be massive, perhaps unlike anything in human history.

    [1] For those who are interested, Mike Davis’ magisterial “Late Victorian Holocausts” deals with the effects of climate and famine under the various systems of colonialism. He makes the important point that famines are not natural phenomena, but political and economic as they reflect decisions about where to distribute globally adequate amounts of food.

  10. Gimmi Mine

    I live a low carbon lifestyle, the kind they say we will all have to live to avoid climate disaster. I live in a very well-insulated house, haven’t been on a jet in 10 years yet still travel, and I grow well over 50% of the food I consume. I drive my cars into the ground. Didn’t have kids either. I could do better. Believe me, 90% of Americans are incapable of living this way. They would perish.

    I have friends who believe they are environmentalists doing the right thing yet drive big SUV’s and hop on planes like they’re going to the store. The situation is hopeless. Only disaster will change them and it won’t be by choice. And it won’t be pretty.

    1. jrs

      why would they be incapable? I mean there are probably some things I couldn’t do for practical reasons (I can’t insulate my dwelling as I rent so it’s actually not legally my dwelling, but ..I am interested in why it is impossible otherwise).

      1. Gimmi Mine

        Have you seen how out of shape most Americans are these days? Do you have any idea how much physical strength and endurance it takes to garden? A lot. Most couldn’t do it. Nor would they want to, in part because they’ve been conditioned to look down on physical work. Working in the dirt on buggy, hot, humid summer days? Who wants to do that? Do you?

  11. anon y'mouse

    i fly less than every five years on average.

    of course, i’m a prole and too poor to make trips. also, i’ve only seen Mexico, Canada and much of the West Coast (mostly by car).

    i would take a ship to europe, if it weren’t a $3k, weeklong endeavor. of course, i would want to travel within the continent, mostly by train. i will probably never be able to save enough money to afford this.

    yes, living poor means living with limited prospects. if this “saving the planet” is to happen, people will have to curtail their dreams. now maybe you know what the rest of us have to deal with.

    what’s that term? “first world problem”?

    1. GF

      Since 80% of the world’s population lives on less that $10 US per day, I would say the earth has long ago reached its carrying capacity: http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats. The GND needs to be global or else there won’t be a world as we know it. I say pursue every currently known means for reducing GHG emissions. And never give up looking for new ways to approach this vital issue.

    2. jrs

      I haven’t flown for 10 years or so, I might fly once this year, then it would be back to not flying for a decade or ever, I don’t know. But noone could do it, bunch of nonsense. People can but yes their mindset needs to change. We need to WORK to change it and never give up!

      Some groups focus more an changing psychology if one really thinks that is the answer (maybe it is for one on the individual level), others on straightforward political change. And yes of course we need government action (and heavily taxing flying may be part of it, but of course much more than just that).

    3. jrs

      I’ve only once traveled internationally, to France – once. I have been to Hawaii by plane, with my parents as a minor. Mexico and Canada to a degree yes, but you don’t have to fly to go there. And this all was mostly decades ago, I’ve given up flying, the only exception I consider would be if my partner wanted company to a wedding on the east coast, but mostly who cares. So I focus more on eating little red meat or something. I do commute, it’s that or join the homeless! (which is more sustainable but …)

  12. jfleni

    The writer lives in a place with at least six airports within easy distance;
    wasteful and nonsensical! Seventy years ago, FAST trains went everywhere.
    If you don’t like it, better to just stay home! Much better for the climate,
    even with choo-choos!

  13. David in Santa Cruz

    So what if a Green New Deal can’t possibly put a dent in climate change that is caused by the insane over-breeding of human beings — whose population number can now be rounded up to 8 Billion and counting? The solution to over-population would be a culling of the herd, and I have serious ethical problems with that one. Slaughtering climate refugees trying to migrate in search of food is just not my cup of tea.

    I like a Green New Deal as a jobs program to replace the Military-Industrial Complex. It doesn’t have to be effective at reducing global warming overall; as long as it slows the rate I’d consider it worthwhile. I’d much rather fund research and employment directed to saving lives than live in an economy based on building killing machines, as we do today…

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      If we are looking at the false promise of the New Green Deal, and if the climate change is that urgent, using it as a jobs program could make the problem worse, as it would be doing more of the same (high consumption lifestyle).

    2. Grant

      Well, if you use the IPAT formula, population is obviously an issue, but so is per capita consumption, which happens to be very inequitable. The top 20% of the world’s population consumes well over 80% of resources. Most of the pollutants are created by rich individuals and rich societies. There are obviously limits to population, but if the poorest 40% of humanity was gone tomorrow, there would still be a huge environmental crisis, although we might have slightly more time. Is that the case if the top 20% of the population? Will a Vietnamese peasant consume and pollute as much as a middle class American does over the course of their lives? Of course not. So, to me, limiting population alone doesn’t make sense, and the implications are pretty right wing. Per capita consumption is ultimately just as important, and if we wanted to really limit population growth, we would focus on the rich countries and rich families. However, given existing power dynamics, if we were to focus on population, who would we focus on? My guess is that once the ideological right gets around to dealing with the environmental crisis, they will have zero interest what so ever in dealing with how inequitable consumption and pollution generation are. They will not be willing to pay for the fact that most carbon in the atmosphere can largely be traced back to developed countries since the Industrial Revolution too. They will focus on population, and if they limit population, they will use Malthusian arguments. Population has grown faster than food can be grown to feed people, wars and famine are just the end result of this. Reducing their consumption and lifestyles, and the system they prefer, will be unquestioned. If their consumption of resources dooms others, then out come the arguments by Malthus.

      Rajani Kanth wrote an interesting book on classical economics, and he focused on the debates over the poor laws. The classical economists like Ricardo and Malthus largely agreed on population, they said that social programs should be discouraged because increasing living standards would allow for people to have more children, which would cause resource shortages. That, to me, is the types of arguments that focusing on population alone leads you to.

      Malthus said this (he, by the way, claimed to be a man of god), “Instead of recommending cleanliness to the poor, we should encourage contrary habits. In our towns we should make the streets narrower, crowd more people into the houses, and court the return of the plague. In the country we should build our villages near stagnant pools, and particularly encourage settlements in all marshy and unwholesome situations. But above all, we should reprobate specific remedies for ravaging diseases: and those benevolent, but much mistaken men, who have thought they were doing a service to mankind by projecting schemes for the total extirpation of particular disorders. If by these and similar means the annual mortality were increased.”

  14. orlbucfan

    First time commenter. Many grateful thanks to Eve, Lambert and Jerri-Lyn (sp?). I consider NC to be my daily newspaper. That includes the intelligent, international nature of the commentariat on here. Kudos, grateful salutations, and thanks again.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      Welcome to the discussion but … what’s your opinion of the the Green New Deal? Speak up!

  15. Ptb

    First of all, thankful for the vibrant discussion.

    I generally hesitate to water down important realities for the sake of politics. However, in this case, I’m siding with those who say any green deal, or any new deal, is better than the status quo.

    This is the United States of America. Will voters have any sympathy, if told point blank that they must no longer use a 2.5 ton pickup for a daily suburban commute? That they should live in a smaller, better insulated house, since home heating is a top use of energy? Eat less meat or pay a tax for it? Not overnight $2 packages from the other side of the country?

    Start em off easy. Sunshine and lollipops, if you want political support. Then you do the old bait and switch… j/k

    Also, even if the ‘Green’ is watered down to make it palatable, the ‘new deal’s parts are valuable – first of all to stimulate widespread acceptance of the concept.

  16. Wukchumni

    To greatly reduce consumerism in the midst of climate change in a one-size austerity fits all, what better model than a Soviet bloc party?

    It would have to be totalitarian to pull it off though…

    Instead of statues of Lenin all over the place, monuments showing a graph with a hockey stick spike in temperatures, will remind those longing for the old ways, to be happy with what they have.

    1. Grant

      Well, given what is facing us, would the present inequitable and undemocratic economic system not be totalitarian? It is in many ways now. How do we use markets to address these things, since a good portion of the problem is the non-market nature of ecological damage? Otto Neurath kick started the socialist calculation debate with his full socialization plan, which did away with money and markets. Neurath question our capacity to reduce everything to a single metric, a market value or the socially necessary labor time that was needed to produce something. If we have to rely less on markets and market information (which seems to be the case), it seems that a good portion of the rentier class would be in danger. From what I can tell, many in power would rather go down with capitalism as we know it than put in place the changes we need, and the present system does seem to benefit them in a fundamental way; since markets are missing lots of information, and since pricing non-market impacts would likely decrease profitability and returns to the rentier class, cost shifting is possible provided that those that create the costs aren’t made to directly pay for them. As long as negative non-market impacts aren’t priced, that is the case. We don’t largely price the ecological impact of carbon, it is outside of the market economy, and powerful interests can realize higher profits than they would if we did price carbon (or other ecosystem impacts). They can also shift those costs to other people, future generations and the environment. Seems that this all comes down to power dynamics, one way or another. I would hope that we would push for a democratic means of addressing this, but I also don’t think that we should be naïve about conflicts that will arise regardless of the path we will take.

      Market based means like carbon taxes and cap and trade programs are highly problematic, and I don’t see the logic of analyzing this as mainstream economists do, by largely still thinking of these things in regards to individual utility maximization. Seems that the ecological economists are more on the target. They realize the limits to markets, limits to growth in thoughput and pollution generation, and they see the human economy as a subsystem of the larger ecosystem.

      1. Wukchumni

        We are free to go wherever we please @ present in these United States and beyond, what’s stopping us typically is economic apartheid, the only thing holding us back.

        The systems of our lives as so configured are completely reliant upon fossil fuel. I’m not sure how we wean ourselves off unless the powers that be greatly restricted movement, as per Communism.

        1. JTMcPhee

          Eeeeaaaaaahhh, Communism!!!!! Run!!!

          Yeah, some of us are “free to go wherever we want,” all right. One might note that the homeless have that freedom, sort of, and trailer park residents, and old people on fixed incomes, and many other categories. Lots of other examples of how millions and millions of us are locked in narrow places, not even counting the millions actually locked up in jails and prisons.

          Seems to me that the powers that be, without having anything to do with Hated Communism! except as a fear stick to terrify the mopery, have done a pretty good job of locking down the many so they can be looted, and forcing and reinforcing “markets and consumption,” while leaving “freedom” for enough of those achingly near the top of the pyramid to “afford taking pleasure,” to keep them pitching for the status quo.

          1. Wukchumni

            My parents paid for our relatives to come see us in sunny California, and the way it worked was essentially a hostage situation. My aunt could come, but her husband had to stay put in Prague, and if she decided to stay put and claim amnesty, there was hell to pay on his end, or vice versa if he came and saw us.

            Ever travel under those expectations?

            1. JTMcPhee

              So, did she get on the plane, burn petroleum to come visit? And choose to apply for asylum? No fair leaving that story just hanging…

              And from activities reported in your posts, it appears some of us enjoy that “freedom to go wherever we please,” but others, per my remark, are under that “economic apartheid.”

              Some of my forebears chose indentured servitude to pay their coal-fired passage to the Lootable North American continent. Contributing their little bit to the current situation, both in CO2 and the Great Westward Expansion and the looting, and “democracy.” I guess that was an exercise of Freedom ™, then.

              One hopes we humans might eventually do better? Or?

              1. Wukchumni

                There was no defect with my tale-nothing untoward happened-she came-she went back home…

                … except when she was watching SNL with us and Steve Martin & Dan Akyroyd were 2 wild & crazy guys from Czechoslovakia, and her English was good enough to understand them and she was so pissed off, claiming they were impostors-not Czechs!

                …lost in translation

            2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

              Maybe some free market wives wouldn’t mind leaving their husbands behind.

              “Darling, I promise, I will come back for you.”

        2. Grant

          You really aren’t free to escape the objective reality being forced on us though. Go anywhere in the world in the coming decades and things will be radically different than it is now and certainly was half a century ago or whatever. You won’t dare go to the places that continue on with the wild west of decentralized capitalism, because those societies by then will not be functioning well, they will not be dealing with the environmental crisis in ways that are democratic. We as a species have never faced this on a planetary scale, and it is just the case that capitalism as we know it isn’t sustainable. If there isn’t some form of planning, the environmental situation will get bad enough and things will be chaotic enough that you will constrained by the environmental crisis itself. I realize that having an economy that relies less on markets is difficult, and I realize that creating different institutions and policies that can deal with actual limits to growth in throughput and pollution generation is difficult, but it is what it is. In addition to those limits to growth, there are no limits really in the growth of the financial and monetary parts of the economy, since they don’t really face the same resource constraints. That is another issue that needs to be addressed. Herman Daly and Joshua Farley are two economists that have started to deal with that particular problem. Some things are a matter of choice and are ideological, but some things just are.

          The Swedish social democratic model did allow for a form of national planning that was democratic, and it was built in such a way so as to balance the calls for full employment with the challenges of inflation. So, there are real world examples of a type of democratic planning on a large scale, although this is still unprecedented. Some economists like Robin Hahnel have developed theoretical models on how to have a democratic and equitable form of economic planning that can possibly avoid the main problems with the old centrally planned economies of the past. We still should be honest with ourselves about what is facing us and how we will need to change to deal with that. We can like it or not like it, but it doesn’t really matter either way.

          I also think that the present system involves tons of coercion, and if the people in power now still have power when the crap hits the fan, their means of dealing with the environmental crisis will be brutal, and no chance it will be democratic or equitable.

  17. chuck roast

    Yeah, I’m down with the Green New Deal. Certainly it may help to actually begin civilizing us as a polity. They start building train sets up at Bath Iron Works instead of destroyers…how is that not a good thing!?

    But, recent posts and discussions at NC have illuminated the fact that after 40 years trying, we, as a national community, cannot even get a decent residential recycling program working. In order to do that, we would be required to discuss the great unmentionables…drastically minimizing packaging and standardizing containers for cleaning and reuse. I must have missed that discussion.

    High tides are gettin’ a little creepy down there on Washington Street, and I am not selling my dinghy!

  18. Grant

    I agree with what Yves said, as I think people tend to forget that while carbon emissions are extremely important, the fact of the matter is that we have a full blown environmental crisis (which is beyond just carbon emissions), and there is no way to address or to mitigate that crisis without addressing how inequitable consumption and pollution generation is. The Stockholm Resilience Center, for example, has identified nine “planetary boundaries” that humanity should not cross. We have surpassed five of the boundaries, they don’t keep track of a few yet, such as chemical pollution. The only one that we have made some progress on is in regards to ozone depletion. The data on the species extinction rate is frightening, the oceans being free of fish at current rates in a matter of decades, deforestation, plastic pollution, dead zones all over the world (huge one in the Gulf of Mexico), threats to phytoplankton (which produce a good portion of our oxygen), among other things. Rich countries and consumers are overwhelmingly responsible for this. Right now, the richest 20% or so of the world’s population consumes well over 80% of all natural resources, and the richest people and countries have spit the overwhelming majority of carbon into the atmosphere (and generate tons of other pollutants on a large scale).

    There are a few things that need to be worked out, we won’t really have any actual solutions to these problems until they are worked out. The non-market nature of these impacts, the limits to growth in throughput and pollution generation, how inequitable consumption of natural resources and pollution generation are, and the question as to whether a decentralized and chaotic market economy can operate within sustainable limits or can mitigate what is coming for us without some form of national economic planning. Given what we are facing, we should push to address this democratically and I would hope try to realize equitable outcomes. So, power dynamics are hugely important. Karl William Kapp noted that not only are many environmental impacts lacking market values, but the capacity of one group or institution to create costs and then to pass those costs off onto others, the environment and future generations is a reflection of power dynamics, what he called cost shifting. von Mises admitted that there were limits to monetizing non-market impacts, but he argued that to the extent that these heterogeneous impacts could not be given a market value, that to that extent, the economy would be “irrational”. Can we give a market value to everything, every ecosystem impact, every species, can every impact be encoded into the pricing mechanism. If we could, what would it mean that two different species or ecosystems had different market values? If not, then what? Seems to be really fundamental here. Even if these things could be priced anyway, how much would things cost if we priced ecosystem impacts? People worry about inflation from too large of fiscal deficits, what about monetizing the environmental crisis? How much would a can of soda cost if we were serious about pricing ecosystem impacts?

    1. JE

      Pricing the true costs into products and our lifestyles is a good place to start in my opinion. From the military, to oil, to water, to crop subsidies and onward we need to stop valuing destructive things and start valuing irreplaceable and sustainable things.

  19. Wukchumni

    You didn’t want to light up a new green deal in Fantasyland, the skyway to Tomorrowland was your best bet to not get busted.

  20. Susan the Other

    Rationing is the solution. When the stock market evaporates we will all need our allotment of the necessities. So to that end it would be wise for us to make that list now. What will each person need over a year’s time? Far, far less than our current consumption. Does anyone realize (I didn’t until now) that a good pair of wool sox can last, with a little darning, for over a decade? With regular wear. How old are your favorite hiking sox? If we sat down and calculated the necessities we might find that just rationing-for-all will take care of the ongoing CO2 accumulation. That still leaves the military (a problem unto itself) and enough CO2 remaining in the atmosphere to still cause global warming and catastrophe. So the technology we need might be upper cloud seeding, as high as we can go, and filtering watersheds if there is some technology to do so. But the technology could be non-existent or toxic or impossible. So that leaves us with centuries of patient dedication to the environment. Sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere is 6s without rationing. And consumer capitalism will never be viable again – to distract its from reality. So PK’s idea about pubs is genius. There should be a pub at every bus stop. I’m not sure about eliminating TVs. I kinda think that TV is part of the solution. But more pubs for sure. One on every corner. Gotta write a new children’s story. Instead of ‘Roast Beef and Mittens’ it could be ‘Wool sox and the Pub on the Corner.’

    1. Wukchumni

      When we lived in Long Island in the summer of ’69, there were laws in place that didn’t allow businesses to be open on Sundays.

      I’d start the rationing with getting us away from the concept of open all hours consumerism in a brick and mortar sense, not that the marketplace isn’t doing a dandy job getting us there by closing them for good.

      We got stopped in Sacramento-adjacent last week on account of a really potent Sierra storm, and ate breakfast the next day @ place called Lumberjacks, on the periphery of a strip mall gone 2/3rds vacant.

      The only remaining businesses did something you couldn’t get online, Thai restaurant, nail salon, hair salon, Mexican restaurant, etc.

  21. Rosario

    This kinda comes across as killing the baby in the crib. I mean, yes, it is correct that conservation is the lowest hanging fruit and the most effective route toward carbon reduction and overall ecosystem improvement, and yes most green new deal stuff is probably a pipe dream as proposed, but how one frames “going green” also requires reading the audience it is being sold to, and it should go without saying, “you can’t turn a barge on a dime.”

    More than anything, conservation needs to be pounded home in the most wealthy parts (more regions) of the world. I’m thinking New England area, Mid-Southern Cali, Chicago area, etc. These areas are, by far, where we would get the most bang for our buck in conservation. It isn’t much to tell someone in fly-over country (or anywhere in the poorer parts of the world) not to fly ever year, or every 5 years for that matter. Working in Eastern KY many people have never flown on a plane. Sure their homes are poorly insulated, and they don’t recycle or “conserve” as well as an upper middle family in Louisville (despite the Louisville family having a far greater carbon footprint via flying, international produce, etc.), but I have a hard time burdening them with the task of conservation (absent state/fed subsidy) when they aren’t really the main contributors to the problem. The urban areas are the major carbon dumps and the most densely populated, hence they are the places where conservation will have the greatest impact. Policy could be implemented more effectively (dense population and existing infrastructure/wealth). Maybe with carbon taxes on carbon expensive produce or goods brought into the city? State/fed assistance for actual green buildings? Investment in public transit and energy efficient urban design? All the people are already there why not make the living space more efficient?

    In poorer regions people want development, they want jobs, and more often than not, there could be some very basic improvements made to their lives that could be delivered with mediocre levels of investment. This is not just with solar panels, wind turbines, and other green energy cliches, I’m also thinking of green homes, businesses, municipal water, sewage treatment, roads, on-and-on. Absolutely include conservation, that is a massive part of dealing with the problem, but pushing that alone with no funding assistance and no additional long term employment strategy is a losing game. The nonprofit KFTC has pushed conservation (home insulation, efficient water heaters, etc.) effectively in KY, but it was effective largely because of KY/fed assistance. Poor people have a hard time investing in $2000 in insulation when they can’t even fix their leaking roof or purchase a working refrigerator because they either don’t have a job or, more often than not, are not paid enough with the job they have. Also, for those who argue that the rural poor should just “move to the city”, realize that much of the renewable energy potential (solar, wind, hydro) in the US are in rural areas. That development requires workers, workers that live in rural areas. If the planning was done correctly, much of the energy consumed in the cities, where conservation and efficiency should take precedence, would come from the rural outskirts, that couldn’t consume all of the energy if it wanted to.

    I say let’s let it move a bit. Critique for sure, but maybe be a bit gentle until it can at least get some traction. Christ, we can barely get a consensus that we have to do anything about climate change, so I’m fine with any discussion to get things going. I’d also ask that we give this Green New Deal thing some time to find regional voices. From what I can tell the movement is currently headed by more of the types that are easily critiqued by the article. I think we will be surprised to see there are a lot of practical people in some of the poorer regions of the country that get it more than this article’s author would suspect. I work with some of those people. First, they simply need an environment that doesn’t try to destroy every project they start. Then some funding to accelerate additional projects would be nice. It doesn’t need to be much.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      We don’t have time. The GND sounds radical but it is too little, way too late. I find you “Oh, sure, I’m on board with a toe in the water” to be depressing.

      No one is discussing approaches adequate to the scale of the problem because it would break a lot of rice bowls. We need radical reductions in energy use NOW, not “oh solar panels will save us!”

      But the alternative is mass deaths starting around at the latest 2050 when potable water becomes scarce. Probably much sooner due to climate change induced mass migrations leading to wars and starvation.

  22. Iguanabowtie

    Couple of years back we had a similar movement up here in Canada, courtesy of David Suzuki:
    I thought it was laudible, but took issue with the nuts & bolts, specifically how all the progressive spending would be financed by the international bond market. (Noted philanthropes and environmentalists that they are)
    I just dont see this kind of thing happening without total disengagement from the global economy.

  23. Eclair

    Great discussion! The consensus seems to be that a total overhaul of our System is necessary. Otherwise, we’ll be stuck with the usual rash of glossy new feel-good magazines, “Real Green Simple,” for example, that offer us 10 new ‘must-have’ products that will save the Planet.

    MMT, or something like it, to allow government spending without the fake constraints of debt. Combined with massive and instant reductions in wealth equality, both by building up the bottom and, mostly, squeezing down the very top, using jobs guarantee, some form of guaranteed income floor, at least in the beginning, and heavily progressive taxes on top incomes, wealth and inheritance. A national single payer health system so workers are not chained to jobs (at least to the shrinking percentage of those that actually offer health insurance plans.)

    This would drain the profits, and political influence, of both the insurance and pharmaceutical industries.

    Then, develop a plan to promote local food production areas, increasing the use of small scale, mixed (animals and plants) and organic (when possible) thus reducing the use of fossil fuels for pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer and transportation. This would reduce the profits, and political power, of big ag, processed food conglomerates and fossil fuel companies. Incidentally, it would mesh with the national health plans, since people should be eating fresher foods, with fewer preservatives, sugar and bad fats.

    Reverse ‘enclosure of the commons.’ Take over previously ‘privatized’ areas so we have public squares, halls for meetings, dances, music (in Sweden, there are ‘folkhuset’ in many towns; peoples’ houses), gardens, forests (in France, many towns still have their municipal ‘forets) and playing fields.

    Stop privatization. After first demonizing the concept, of course.

    This should be a start.

    1. Code Name D

      Indeed. IMMHO, the essay largely misses the point about the Green New Deal. If it seems inadequate about dealing with global warming, its because that isn’t really the intent of the GND. But rather changing governmental institution so that issues in general can be more effectively combated – including but not limited too just global warming.

      The GND dose include some environmental policies – the obvious ones at least, as an example of what it can do. But it never pretends to be the ultimate solution to what is in reality a very complex and dynamic problem. Indeed, any policy that pretends to be a “complete solution” should be regarded with suspicion. What is needed is not a “perfect policy” but a responsive one that can react intelligently to changes observed from the field.

      Is that what GND offers? Is the GND an example of a responsive policy? That is another question entirely and believe skepticism is still warranted here. I would argue that it dose ask the right questions, I am just not convinced is has produced proper answers just yet.

  24. fries

    So a total overhaul of our system is what is needed. Welcome to fantasy land. More people are concerned about which way to hang a toilet paper roll (over or under) than climate change. Look at any list of what most worries people today and climate change is at the bottom, if it even made the list. People will need to see some real climate-induced disasters, not just predictions of disasters, before change will be possible.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Help me. See above. We will have major crises by 2050 at the latest, and my bet is by 2030. You won’t be able to stick your head in the sand for much longer.

      1. fries

        Help me! My comments had to do with the likelihood of people changing their behavior, not whether the climate is changing. My opinion about the former is that they will not change unless confronted with real costs and not just the potential of real costs.

  25. Matthew Stief

    Avoiding climate catastrophe is what is fantasy at this point. No conceivable solutions could possibly happen fast enough. The goal now is mitigation not avoidance, and the Green New Deal seems right on target for that.

  26. Jeremy Grimm

    We live in a time when our Elites are busy dismantling the original New Deal. How will this Green New Deal be brought about and what more is it than green smoke?

  27. Glen

    Of course starting 20 years ago would have been better, but we didn’t. And I cannot tell you what’s going to work now, because quite frankly, nothing is going to work.

    Instead we have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting some of the GND. The GND includes such things as M4A, and restoring Glass-Steagall. It is nothing but a start, and it brings to the fore how our country responds to climate change.

    If you want to argue about what to argue about to fix this problem, fair enough. But we don’t have another 20 years unless you want to go with the “things fall apart” as your solution.

  28. Anarcissie

    To do anything serious about what’s being discussed here, you would have to do something about liberalism-capitalism-imperialism-war (a unified system). I don’t see how that is going to happen because even those falling into the soi-disant progressive camp for the most part don’t have a plan to do anything about it. Thus far most of the commentary that mentions war has been admiring, a model for how to deal with the problems, mostly entailing a large government containing enhanced bureaucratic hierarchies and authorities. If there are such hierarchies, wealth and privilege will flow upward in them regardless of the nominal ideology professed. (This is already what we observe as the capitalist state matures toward fossilization, and it was observed in the Soviet Union until the Soviet Union collapsed.) The Bismarckian Welfare-warfare state — New Deals of various colors — may make some people happy for another decade of so, but it’s not going to seriously change patterns of consumption because the lower orders, looking up, will demand the same thing the ruling class and their house servants are giving themselves: more stuff. You all need to confront the war thing if you want anything to change for the better.

  29. Rajesh K

    Not sure if this has been discussed, but surely during the conversion to GND tech, there will be a marked increase in carbon usage? After all, you can’t create the new tech with the old tech. Could that process actually bring forward the ecological timeline? There’s obviously an assumption there that creating the GND will be carbon neutral or something? If that’s the case then there’s no issue in the first place right?

    Conclusion: Japan will survive as a country and nation. New Zealand as well, because Peter Thiel can never be wrong. Everybody else? Good luck!!!

  30. cnchal

    Green New Deal.

    Tax the crap out of Davos Man to pay for human capital to do nothing. The less done, the better.

  31. Bob Simmons

    Amazing almost 100 years later “Nazi style Socialism” is being excepted by the “left”. Ah……..maybe Pol Pot’s madness wasn’t so mad after all.

    Degrowth is the next radicalism. Frankly, I always thought if Marx had lived another 30 years, he would have been the Unabomber before the Unabomber.

    Degrowth rejects the urban elites and the “rural” material extraction centers that needs the growth in the elite urban centers to grow…………talk about the dialectical paradox. It would shake up the boring “liberal/conservative” axis thing as well. That has run its course. Politics is more more diverse than that. It is duelism that the elite like, it makes a easy black/white situation to divide and conquer.

  32. Pelham

    At this late date, we basically need to forget not only fossil fuels but also wind and solar and bet everything on nuclear power, don’t we?

  33. baldski

    Looking at just cars in the US, 14 factories that manufacture cars are maybe headed to closure because the public does not want them anymore. They want trucks and SUV’s!

    Hauling a 150 lb. person around in a 3100 lb. Honda Accord has never made sense to me, but hauling the same person around in a 5000 lb. Ford F-150 really boggles my mind but that is all you see advertised on NFL games-Trucks. It must be macho to drive a truck.

    To get Americans to give up their trucks and SUV’s will require martial law.

    1. Code Name D

      I am not so sure. For starters, if you are going to be stuck in traffic six hours a day, with the kids in the back seat for most of that. Would you really want to do that in a tiny Accord? Or would you rather have an SUV that is basically like a rolling living room? SUVs are also better with handling detreating roads filled with pot holes. In in my situation, where you have such poor drainage that the streets reliably flood, requiring the high ground clearance.

      Give the people better roads. Change the housing codes so that affordable housing can be had closer to work. And you might see people more inclined to use smaller cars rather than SUVs.

  34. knowbuddhau

    How is flying “only” every year, or 5, such a hardship?

    I’m already living pretty close to the bone. Didn’t know GND included a promise of no personal sacrifice. I don’t see it, in itself, as the whole solution, which is in recognizing that we aren’t exceptional to living in balance with our environment. This sea change we’re looking for ain’t gonna change itself.

    We’ve been making up our economies, and the stories we tell to make sufficient sense that they go on benefiting the Right People, with very little regard, and next to no respect, for that long-term balance, for centuries now. (28, by Michael Hudson’s count.)

    No, I don’t expect GND to solve every problem, and way too many will still think the environment is something “over there,” that one may care for or not, but caring don’t get you paid or the goods, so the plague of Industrial-scale Consumption Disease (on the Affluenza spectrum, no doubt), will continue.

    Still think, on principle, it’s a worthy step in the right direction. Fully expect politics to SNAFU it, but I’m hoping for at least at C effort. That’s where we’re at. We’ll need to take at least two, and repeat as needed, to get anywhere. And I don’t think we have to solve or prevent climate change to make changing our fundamental approach to nature worthy. Way too late for prevention. This Baby’s on its way.

    Just as with anything that looks like progress in politics, I have grave doubts about Bernie, too, esp. for post-election actions. Still the best shot we have, from here, at this time.

    There are already people being devastated by the excess energy in the climate system, being crushed by the juggernaut us industrialists set rolling, and we’re still adding more, per person, all the time. Flying is hardly a necessity. The least we can do is the least we can do.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      A lot of people I know fly multiple times a month for business. Most selling and negotiations happen in person.

      I fly several times a year to mind my 91 year old mother. People also fly for weddings, funeral, graduations, to go to college, etc.

  35. Craig Dempsey

    Trump? Did I miss any discussion of our current ferociously anti-environmental government? As a start at turning us around, GND sounds like a useful tool. Yes, we need much more, but first we have to start. Besides things listed above, I would add that we need to work on improving walkability scores (how many people can actually walk from their homes to useful destinations like libraries, stores, doctors and restaurants) and getting solar awareness built into new houses and commercial buildings (both passive and active solar design features). How often does a house design reflect any awareness of which way the sun will shine on it? We can improve lives without increasing the GDP. Perhaps that is what the radical capitalists fear.

    I share great frustration at decades of failure, but somehow we have to get the ball rolling. Some of that is just getting bad ideas out of the way. For instance, various population control groups maintain that liberating women, providing comprehensive sex education, and having readily available, affordable birth control and abortion would quickly stop population growth without any coercion. Advanced countries already have declining populations. Indeed, without immigration, the United States would have a declining population as well. Now, if the Pope and the Republicans would just get out of the way!

  36. David

    The New Green Deal. Sounds great. Probably works too as advertised in PowePoint. Try implementing it in the real world. As SpongeBob says after Plankton tells him that he is going to rule the world…”Well good luck with that”. The basket of deplorables will probably squeal like a stuck pig as well as plenty of poor liberals when they find out what sacrifices will be asked of them. Didn’t seem to go over well in France. Also, I doubt many elites will be willing to give up their private jet travel, but they could be persuaded to give up their plastic straws. What is sad to me is that so many people flock to AOC’s New Green Deal thinking it will bring on Utopia. Can’t wait till 2030 rolls around.

  37. Laurne

    There is much to be concerned about just by observing what is happening with respect to the drought that has been ongoing in Cape Town, and the Johannesburg region. Loss of arable farmland, loss of irrigation, loss of 30,000 jobs in agriculture, just this week, due to the drought. The local news carries the best coverage, and note as well, the escalating violence within these communities. One town, population 6400 received 100,000 bottles of water, namely, Laingsburg, West Cape, for the fact that they have come to no more water in the tap. Resolving this is untenable.

  38. Rod

    It’s late-now early, now mid-day but I have to say this short Intro by Ms Smith: the ensuing Link to Mr Cox’s piece: and the 189 lively comments(to be FAIR) have been very good for me today-er-yesterday, especially. And I am going to try and add something to the topic in that order.
    From my part of the country, people in Maine want to get to the point uncomfortably fast.
    But why not? Twenty Years ago we all could have been nicer getting all this going, also.
    Ms Smith is so correct that it is not trivial to start today with Radical Conservation to set the pace. Our KWH gluttony has been so oversold there is an abundant harvest of to be started everywhere-cities especially.
    And with the correct PR; what BigNameBigBusinessBigBuildingBigCityBuildingOwner would want to be identified with gobbling up all those low hanging KWHs?
    And yes, our current Consumption Economy is going to change-way radically-like the climate will because of that ‘choice’ of using a Consumption Economy. IMO
    As for the Air travel and “a lot of Ox…do to jobs and investment portfolios.”–please bear with me…
    Because: ms Smith questioned America’s(just as in place and maybe temperament) capacity, or capability, or maybe requirements, for Social Cohesion, in the context of addressing the oncoming climate disaster to any effect(relative to now).
    Well, of course, how could you not? IMO Just like ‘Which is worse-bankers or Terrorists'(henceforth wiwbot) started the lively comments with it. And I promise I’m going to get back to that.
    As for Mr Cox’s analysis of the GND, well he gets to Ms Smith’s bottom line in 23+/- more paragraphs. Maybe he’s from my part of the country and I certainly cannot add anything to it.
    However, IMO, that GND should be before Congress today-enacted Thursday- signed and implemented starting Friday. And of course following Ronald Reagan’s advice to Trust but Verify- only daily. And tweaking its robustness and usefulness to the Commons as often.
    Of course, IMO, ‘Commons’ don’t work so well or last without Social Cohesion. Which is why I’m trying to get back to it.
    Like: with some Social Cohesion, what Public Corporation operating under the US Constitution wouldn’t agree to promote an ever evolving GND? And; with that same Social Cohesion what Corporations Licensed to use the public’s Broadcast Wavelengths wouldn’t be willing to promote the same valid and robust GND Initiative? Go ahead–Identify yourself to a Nation being Socially Cohesive on Climate Change.
    Now I haven’t asked him, but don’t ya’ll feel certain that John Stewart–or someone of the same mindset surely would be available to develop those clever 30 second PSAs that will run for free-every hour-to assist the Publics awareness creatively. like that 70’s Keep America Beautiful only more sincere-minding the Social Cohesion behind the message and in lieu of the impending Climate Disaster. Right?
    And that is why I think it is the first comment–in Topic and Timestamp. No Social Cohesion, no Real Climate Fix-ups
    And then there is the Social Cohesion Social Capital Interface.
    Whew I’m dizzy but not done.
    That first comment by wiwbot asks Social Cohesion Development questions. Ms Smith asks a variation of the same-IMO.
    Well I’ll speak for myself and start with myself–as a unit within society that has to move to Social Cohesion in order to face the oncoming Climate Crises with any forceful effect. Like I can choose to change me and the stuff I do to reflect my concern about getting rolled over by what is coming and to come each new year past my time. Others have. It’s an I see by their example type of thing.
    And then more Social Cohesion is achieved when there are more choosing good social values.
    Values–Choosing Values–the topic is dicey for me this late, this far in, and with this crowd.
    But I can see my finish line, so why not?
    Not to be vague at the last moment I won’t broach LOVE, but instead offer some values like WISDOM; RESPECT; COURAGE; GENEROSITY, and TENACITY. I will not belabor their usefulness to fighting the Climate Change.
    The list of Societal Values that support the Social Cohesion necessary to earnestly address climate change–as though our live depended on them doesn’t have to be long. Maybe shouldn’t be long.
    But has to be earnest.
    And then then are those traits we need to cultivate again-vision/creativity/curiosity/compassion/ et al–in order to survive —and that’s enough wandering that way to catch my drift.
    Second to last, I’ll tell of chatting with a Lakota a couple of years back about Values. Said straight up and out that having Shared Values and Traits had sure kept his Tribe focused and Socially Cohesive for awhile in all sort of storms.
    First Hand Testimony to the Value of Social Cohesiveness 2 years and 2 months before I could use it or even really contextualize it–with that prompt from Ms Smith and wiwbot.
    Next to last –the Air Travel thing using the creativity trait. IMO, everything’s pretty flux-y at the moment. I haven’t flown in a couple of years: and because I plan to to cross the pond the next time on a very crowded boat(most cargo for least carbon-like trains can be) please bear with me another moment—-
    I also use less than 700KWH/mo of Nuclear Electricity(not exactly by preference): grow some of our own food organically: grow acres of trees over naturalized understory: drive old but mpg competitive to new vehicles using ‘pre-owned and reconditioned parts: and etc so I may well have a bit of a Carbon Offset going.
    That’s what being creative in this small flux-y window of the moment can provide.
    Being HONEST about the same: well that’s a hocus pocus looking good on paper while there is still narrow window trope.
    But if Ms Smith or Mr Strether need to fly anywhere for their fine work during this shrinking flux-y window of adjustment-they can use my hocus pocus on paper as theirs and i’ll plant more trees.(sorry to slip back to the Social Cohesion/Social Capital again. IMO evidence of it’s ‘stickiness’)
    I’ll plant Conifers-green 12 months a year and, IMO, god given Carbon Capture genies.
    And when aspects of getting to the Social Cohesion needed to address our caused Climate Change by necessity disappears that shrinking flux-y window–some real and honest alternatives to Air Travel for Smith and Strether will be set up(but not solved.
    Solved, fortunately or unfortunately, will be by our grandkids and their kids. Solved by them, that is, if we show them by raising them with the best Values and Traits of Social Cohesion necessary.
    I know the future ahead will, at least, make them eager to re-stabilize this precious, special sphere in space. But they will need the really big and powerful tools only embodied by humans working together with other humans–embodied in Social Cohesion. Isn’t that why it really keeps coming up hear at NC?
    Finally, since the oncoming Climate Crises is going to change the current Consumption Economy and it will get bent to this arc-won’t so those questions about Jobs and Investment Portfolios?
    But, you know, that’s IMO, right?

    1. Rod

      Despite the embarrassment of not getting to fully edit those remaining grammatical slips fully fast enough, to me that felt good to pull together and put out there. And, to be FAIR, change that comment count from 189 when I started to the 198 it was when I posted it.

  39. Whiskey Bob

    I don’t think that the Green New Deal AND reducing our carbon footprint are mutually exclusive.

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